Actions

Work Header

Can't return to who I was before

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan raises his lightsaber, not to guard, but to surrender. He could draw the fight out longer, and maybe he should. He’s a distraction, here to occupy Vader’s attention so the twins and their smuggler friend can escape.

He doesn’t extend the fight.

In his last act, he is petty, denying Vader—Anakin—Vader the opportunity to beat him in a true fight, and he is selfishly leaving this next battle in someone else’s hands.

It is, he believes, a fitting way for him to meet his end.

#

Obi-Wan blinks.

Do Force Ghosts have eyes?

Above him is a model of the Core Worlds. It’s an odd thing to see upon waking up. Upon dying? He rubs his eyes and—

He stares at his hands. They’re small. There are no thick veins, standing tall as the skin around them shrivels and withers. There are no sunspots, no dark tan from the harsh climate on Tatooine. He touches his chin. His skin is smooth, not even a hint of a bristle. The hair on his head is short.

He bolts upright as his heart pounds dangerously fast in his chest. This, at least, is familiar, the jolt of adrenaline spurring him into action. But he doesn’t look around and see his troops. He doesn’t even see the dilapidated hut he’s called home since his self-exile.

His bed is too small. No. It should be too small. If he were an adult, his feet would hang over the edge. But this bed contains him easily. He is too small.

He draws one breath and then another, conquering his fear before it can disturb the others. Once his thoughts have quieted, he realizes where he is. The Temple. The Initiate dorms. He’s in the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and it sings with life. No, not just the Temple. The Force itself is humming, alive in a way he thought was only a distant memory.

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

Those are the words he threw at Vader. They were bluff or taunt, a pitiful last stand. But they were a fool’s words, and the Force has made it clear Obi-Wan is a fool. Because he’s a child again, brought back to the beginning.

Why?

Perhaps it is a lesson in arrogance. He was convinced his destiny was to be a Jedi Knight. In secret, he dreamed of being a great one. Instead, his failures stacked one upon another. He failed to save Qui-Gon, failed to save Anakin, failed the Order and the galaxy itself. Is this a lesson in accepting the will of the Force? Should he quietly accept the decision to ship him off to the AgriCorps?

Or maybe it’s a lesson in selflessness. Does he become Qui-Gon’s padawan and ensure the man survives Naboo and can be the master Anakin deserves? If it is…Obi-Wan will not heed this lesson. Naboo and Maul, it is years away, and despite his new body, he is tired.

No, he will follow the path originally laid out for him. With his hands buried in the dirt, he will find peace.

#

When the other initiates wake up, Obi-Wan follows, neither the fastest nor slowest amongst them. He doesn’t talk. No one thinks it’s odd, nor do they try to lure him into conversation. He has a vague idea of when he is but despite living through these events before, he doesn’t know exact details. His memory isn’t quite as efficient as a droid’s.

After morning mediation, his clan attends morning meal together in the dining hall. Obi-Wan walks through the line, tray in hand, and tries not to stare too long at all the food on display. Living on Tatooine made even the frugalist Jedi seem as though they led a decadent life. He ate meat he was better off not identifying, chewed suspect plant matter, and swallowed bugs whole rather than shudder through crunching them between his teeth.

He sustained himself with the Force whenever he could which kept him alive but only by the barest definition of the word. No wonder he was out-matched by Vader. He was malnourished, out of practice, and he didn’t have any fight left in him. Anakin was always seeking to prove himself better than Obi-Wan. Light-hearted competitions over who could kill the most droids in a battle and spars which weren’t quite as friendly as they should have been.

Their duel on Mustafar wasn’t light-hearted. And their confrontation on the Death Star hadn’t been much of anything, not even a last stand. Does that timeline still exist? If it does, did Luke and Leia escape? Did they meet up with the Rebellion? Have they found a way yet to win?

His heart aches for Bail, a dear friend dead along with the rest of his planet. Obi-Wan thought he’d never feel the pain he did after Knightfall. Until Alderaan. Because of course, one horrifying genocide wasn’t enough for his lifetime. He needed to live through two.

A sharp elbow brings him back to the present.

“Quit lingering.” Bruck’s sneer is familiar and almost calming. There was a time Obi-Wan thought this was the worst the galaxy could throw at him. He almost wants to wrap himself in Bruck’s childish taunts and insecurities. Instead, because Obi-Wan’s still standing as if his feet are frozen in carbonite, Bruck elbows him again. “Trying to memorize what food looks like?”

Obi-Wan allows himself a smile. It isn’t a child’s smile, innocent or even fond. It’s a twist of his lips, bitter like the regrets he brought back to the past with him. “There’s hardly a need to do so. It isn’t as though I’ll starve in the AgriCorps.”

Bruck stands there, open mouthed, shock leaking into the Force. Obi-Wan steps neatly around him and fills his tray before he finds a quiet corner to sit in. He eats everything without tasting any of it.

He wonders how long he has until he’s re-assigned. If he doesn’t fight with Bruck, will he stay here until his thirteenth birthday? Does it even matter?

#

He sits through his classes and idly takes notes but doesn’t pay any particular attention. As soon as the day’s learning blocks are done, he disappears into the archives. It’s free time and most initiates take advantage of the training salles. Before, Obi-Wan would have been with them. But he doesn’t need fancy lightsaber skills to coax a dormant plant to grow and take root.

Embarrassingly, he doesn’t know much about farming. The first time he lived his life, he was resentful of his fate. He poured his focus into lightsaber training under the mistaken belief that the Jedi wanted warriors. Even once it was clear he was bound for the AgriCorps, he took no steps to enlighten himself.

He embraces his fate this time around. He selects primers on the variety of farming the galaxy holds; hydroponics, aquaponics, geoponics, aeroponics. He finds detailed compilations of staple crops and, as he browses, a fascinating article on agriculture as a method of terraforming.

He burrows in the archives with his treasure trove and reads. He doesn’t surface until a polite throat clearing draws him out of a dissertation on the six types of hydroponic farming.

A fond smile brightens Master Nu’s eyes, but she turns her lips down as if trying to appear stern. “Initiate Kenobi, while knowledge is food for the soul, it is not food for the stomach. You need to attend evening meal.”

Obi-Wan casts a forlorn look at the cozy corner he’d made for himself, plush seating serving as a fortress for him. At least he can bring his datapad with him. Master Nu can’t keep him from reading while he eats. He stands to acknowledge her words, and she escorts him toward the exit. “What are you studying? I can assist you with finding additional materials.”

“Farming.” The coals of old shame smolder, but Obi-Wan doesn’t allow them to grow into flames. There’s nothing shameful about discovering the will of the Force. Perhaps, there is shame in his resistance and reluctance, but he is past those both now. “They will provide training in the Corps, but I want to build as much of a foundation as I can before I begin my service.”

Master Nu’s frown overtakes her face. “I know Master Jinn was harsh in his refusal, but you are not yet thirteen.”

“The Force spoke to me.” Obi-Wan tucks his hands into his sleeves. “If I come tomorrow, you will assist me in finding more advanced material?”

“Of course.”

Obi-Wan bows as he offers his thanks and then he heads to the dining hall. He passes through the line, accepts what the droid on duty thinks is best for him, and settles down with his plate and his tablet propped up in front of him. He tunes out everything around him as he reads.

Farming is fascinating. He hasn’t given much thought to food during his life. He grumbled about ration bars like the rest of the army, he would politely sample everything during diplomatic missions, and toward the end, he mostly stopped eating all together, but he didn’t think about it.

Reading now…this is life at his fingertips.

No wonder Qui-Gon was always bringing plants back to his quarters. Obi-Wan reads up on a spindly plant which is sentient enough to act as an alarm system. He absently puts something in his mouth.

There is a “super tuber” on Yavin IV, a root vegetable with sufficient nutrients for most humanoid species to live on it and nothing else. There’s an entire directory of these “super” crops; different depending on the species and their dietary needs. Obi-Wan holds the blueprint to galaxy-wide peace in his hands and—

He’s chewing on his fork.

He stabs something on his plate and sticks it in his mouth so his chewing has a purpose.

#

Obi-Wan pays little attention to his classes. He’s learned all this material before. It’s imperative he add new knowledge to his memory. Of course, there is book learning and there is practical application, and Obi-Wan knows the importance of both.

There will be time to get his hands dirty once he is in the AgriCorp, but like he told Master Nu, he wants a foundation. There is a sense of urgency, from himself he believes, not the Force, but it urges him to action. Learn, do, gather as much information as possible so he can do the most good.

He spends an afternoon in the kitchen garden. He sits amongst the herbs and spices, breathes in their scent and attempts to distinguish their signatures within the Force. He has little success. The Living Force was always Qui-Gon’s strength, not his own. His chest pinches with a familiar pain at the thought of his master. But then, there’s the cool balm of relief. Qui-Gon is alive. He isn’t Obi-Wan’s Qui-Gon, and he never will be, but he’s alive and that’s enough.

One of the kitchen droids gives Obi-Wan a basil plant and a nudge out the door. Obi-Wan carries it to evening meal with him. He places the potted herb on his tray and scans the dining hall. His agemates are here, some senior padawans, a scattering of knights. There are even a few masters as well.

Qui-Gon is one of them, his Force signature familiar but aching in the Force. If Obi-Wan remembers his childhood correctly, he was recently rejected, quite publicly and thoroughly, by Qui-Gon. Should he allow his pride to keep him from speaking to his mentor again? Should it keep him from learning what Qui-Gon is uniquely suited to teach?

Obi-Wan squares his shoulders and approaches where Master Jinn and Master Tahl eat in companionable silence. Master Tahl is the first to notice him. Her eyes are bright and seeing. Obi-Wan sketches a formal bow and hopes it hides his reaction to seeing her alive and well.

Qui-Gon is the next to notice him. The air around him chills as he turns his full disapproval on Obi-Wan. If he was still a youngling, Obi-Wan would wilt beneath it. With years of experience, Obi-Wan weathers the stare. His countenance stays cool and collected, even as he aches and rages deep within himself.

“Master Jinn.” Obi-Wan greets him with an even deeper bow.

“Initiate Kenobi. I didn’t expect to hear from you again.”

I held you as you died. You tasked me, with your final breath, to train Anakin. I did as you asked. I know I failed but, please, don’t turn me away. Fear, insecurity, none of those are useful to him. He releases them into the Force. With senses honed by war, he’s aware of the attention they attract, all the gawkers eager to see him humiliated again and the concerned gazes of his friends.

“I understand why you would expect as such, and I would like to preface a bold request with the promise not to repeat a question which has already been answered.”

Qui-Gon’s curiosity is almost as heavy as his irritation. He wears them both openly so that even an initiate, as Obi-Wan is supposed to be, would be able to pick up on them. “A request?”

“You are an expert in the Living Force. Given where my future will take me, I would like to request your tutelage in the time leading up to my departure from the Temple. I have begun extensive reading on the subject, but there are concepts better understood through doing and seeing.”

Master Tahl’s attention is motherly, concerned and a little proud. Qui-Gon is a riot of emotion. Carefully controlled, of course, and he releases his feelings to the Force as he sorts through them. “You ask for my training after I have declined to take you as a padawan?”

There’s snickering behind him, and Obi-Wan is sure many of the onlookers are eager to see him lose his temper or burst into tears. Instead, Obi-Wan tips his chin up in a show of quiet strength. “Teaching is not the same as accepting a padawan learner. I believe we will be an agreeable match.”

Qui-Gon can’t help his laugh. “Oh?”

“You are a master who does not want a padawan, and I am an initiate who does not want a master. You can teach me without concern for fear of attachment or worry at leading me on. And I can learn from an expert before I begin the next stage of my journey.”

“This is unorthodox.”

A smile tugs at Obi-Wan’s lips. “As I said, Master Jinn, an agreeable match.”

Master Tahl laughs, bright and amused, nothing like Qui-Gon’s earlier derision. “I like you, little one. Come, sit.”

“Thank you for the offer, Master Tahl, but I wait for Master Jinn’s response. I have behaved poorly in the past by pushing myself at him when I was unwanted. I will not do so again.” Obi-Wan meets Qui-Gon’s gaze evenly. “One word from you, Master Jinn, and I will not bother you again, I swear. But if you are willing, I would like to learn from you.”

Qui-Gon strokes his beard. “You are well-spoken. Unusually so. Did Master Yoda put you up to this?”

“No, master.” Obi-Wan balances his tray on one hand and reaches into his robes for his tablet. “You can see the texts I’ve downloaded if you require proof of my sincerity.”

Qui-Gon accepts the tablet and flips through the titles. He hums quietly to himself. “You have a focus on the rehabilitation of desert planets.”

“The lack of natural water makes it an interesting challenge. I know I am not yet ready for that level of difficulty, but it is something to aspire to.” Obi-Wan braces himself for another rebuke, for allowing his pride and ambition to get the better of him again.

Instead, Qui-Gon shifts over to make a space next to him on the bench. “If I am in the Temple, I will attend evening meal, and you may tell me what you’ve learned and ask me questions. We can discuss more depending on your progress.”

It’s better than the rejection Obi-Wan feared, even if he can sense Qui-Gon’s doubt. He rejected Obi-Wan because he found him lacking, and his opinion hasn’t changed. Obi-Wan will change it. Not for the purpose of becoming Qui-Gon’s student again, but he will give the man a reason to think warmly of him before he leaves.

He places his tray on the table and then moves his basil plant so it rests between them. “I know how to read sentients’ Force signatures. Will you help me do the same with plants?”

Qui-Gon hesitates for a moment. Did he doubt Obi-Wan’s commitment? Or perhaps this is more intimate than he was hoping for. But Qui-Gon gathers his resolves and gives Obi-Wan a curt nod. “Close your eyes.”

Obi-Wan obediently shuts his eyes.

“You can feel the sentients around you. They’re bright spots in the Force, even when they aren’t Force sensitive. They bustle. They brim with life but, more than that, with possibility. Plants are quieter. Their existence is simpler with fewer directions to branch out in. You have to quiet the world around you and focus in order to find them.”

It’s difficult. Master Tahl’s curiosity pulls Obi-Wan’s attention. Across the room, he senses Bant, just as curious but also concerned on his behalf. There are a cluster of senior padawans who wonder why Qui-Gon wastes his time with Obi-Wan. And then there is Qui-Gon himself. It takes all of Obi-Wan’s self-control to keep from wrapping himself in Qui-Gon’s Force signature and damning the rest of the galaxy.

This new life is a lesson in selflessness and atonement. He will learn the Force’s lessons, no matter how harsh they are. He filters out the sentients around him. It leaves the world duller at first sight. But then he spots the curl of light, nothing as blazing as those in the Temple, but there nonetheless.

Hello there, he thinks.

The basil plant unfurls one of its small leaves.

It’s not time for that yet. Qui-Gon says.

The Force vibrates with Obi-Wan’s excitement. It isn’t the same as having their training bond, but that’s Qui-Gon’s voice in his head. Under Qui-Gon’s gentle nudging, the basil plant curls up again. When Qui-Gon withdraws, Obi-Wan does as well.

“You must be careful,” Qui-Gon cautions. “Many plants are susceptible to your thoughts. They will respond to your encouragement whether it is in their best interests or not. The Corps will teach you to accelerate the growth process. I will teach you control.”

Obi-Wan inclines his head in deference to Qui-Gon’s guidance. “Yes, master. Thank you.”

“That is enough for today.” Qui-Gon pulls back, creating an unbreachable distance between them both physically and in the Force. He exchanges a look with Master Tahl, and his eyes pinch at the corners. “You may eat your meal with us.”

Obi-Wan doesn’t want to strain their hospitality. He eats as quickly as he can and doesn’t engage them in conversation. As soon as he’s done eating, he can curl up with his datapad and continue to read.

“There’s an exhibition tomorrow,” Master Tahl says. “Are you attending?”

Qui-Gon bristles like a quilled boar. Obi-Wan chews and swallows to give himself time to weigh his words. “I am not. I am not foolish enough to believe there will be no danger in the Corps, but saber training isn’t the best use of my remaining time at the Temple.”

Master Tahl seems surprised at his resolve and then sad. “You’ve given up on finding a master?”

“I listened to the Force which I should have done from the beginning. My path lies elsewhere. I hope you enjoy the demonstration.”

“We won’t be attending,” Master Jinn snaps, cold and aloof again.

We may not be,” Master Tahl says with a sharp look. “However, I will be.”

Obi-Wan doesn’t want to be in the middle of their argument. He’s already given Qui-Gon enough reasons to dislike him. He slips a roll and a piece of fruit into his pocket, clears his tray, and disposes of it so he can leave.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan does his morning meditation with the rest of the initiates, and once he has a free block, he meditates again in the kitchen gardens or the Room of a Thousand Fountains. Plants are simpler than sentients. They calm him in a way people with their buzzing thoughts and frantic signatures can’t. He’s glad the Temple is thriving and that traveling back has given life to those who lost it, but it’s overwhelming to him after his solitude on Tatooine.

There is so much life in the Force. He could easily grow lost in it. He sometimes does. He chases Force signatures – Mace, Yoda, Bant, Qui-Gon. Retreating to the gardens helps, and with each meditation session, he gains more control over himself.

Of course, studying is just as important as keeping his mind orderly and clean. He spends a week eagerly soaking up every lesson Qui-Gon is willing to teach before Qui-Gon is sent on a mission. Obi-Wan doesn’t learn about it from the Council or Qui-Gon himself, the way he would have before. It isn’t until he shows up to evening meal and sees Master Tahl sitting by herself at their usual table that he understands.

She notices him before he can detour. Once they make eye contact, it would be rude to leave, even though it’s what he would like to do.

Master Tahl’s expression softens as if bracing him for her bad news. “He’s overseeing the signing of a treaty.”

Obi-Wan nods and glances down at his tray. The food is unappetizing as usual, but there will be no distraction of a conversation while he eats tonight. He sits across from Master Tahl and eats under her steady stare.

After his meal, he retreats to the Room of a Thousand Fountains. He curls up next to a bushy, flowering plant, and continues to read.

#

Obi-Wan misses his conversations with Qui-Gon. The Force gave him his master back and then took him away. It seems cruel, but he reminds himself the Force is neither kind nor cruel. The Force simply is. Qui-Gon was needed on a mission, so he went. Soon, it will be Obi-Wan’s turn to leave. He isn’t allowed to keep Qui-Gon in this life. He has been presented the opportunity to keep him alive, but it will be done from a distance.

With more time on his own, Obi-Wan devours his reading materials. He wants to make Qui-Gon proud, a foolish notion given that Qui-Gon isn’t his master and Obi-Wan is far too old to crave such things.

And yet.

Obi-Wan has reports prepared by the time Qui-Gon returns. The man isn’t flushed with success. He doesn’t strut around the Temple despite successfully navigating a difficult negotiation. He wears a slight smile on his face, and his Force signature is calm, at peace, as if this reminder of his success helps soothe the hurts from old failures.

Obi-Wan knows much about the aches of failure.

Qui-Gon steps into line behind Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan bows to him in greeting. “Welcome back, Master Jinn.”

“Thank you, Initiate Kenobi. How is the Temple?”

“Peaceful.”

The droid at the first station scans Obi-Wan and then chitters at him. Obi-Wan scowls in response, his expression darkening further when the droid hands him a chalky drink. It’s a supplement, one he has no need of. He attempts to put it back and is scolded for his efforts. Conceding, he takes the shake along with the other food deposited on his tray.

Some of his good cheer returns when he sees their usual table is empty. Master Tahl isn’t here which means he’ll have Qui-Gon’s full attention. He chokes down his shake while he reviews his notes. Qui-Gon’s progression is slow as he stops to speak with everyone who approaches him. It means Obi-Wan has enough time to finish his meal and clear his tray before Qui-Gon makes it over.

“Hungry this evening?” Qui-Gon asks.

“I didn’t want it to grow cold as I talked.”

Qui-Gon chuckles and waves at Obi-Wan to begin as he tucks into his own meal. Obi-Wan launches into a summary of everything he learned in Qui-Gon’s absence. He begins with super tubers and ends with the ideal crop rotation in order to keep soil healthy while still hitting the nutrition requirements for humans, Twi’leks, and Togruta. He didn’t finish his study of Wookie diets or he would have more to speak on.

When he finishes, he looks to Qui-Gon for approval. The Jedi master has a pensive look in his eyes. He swirls his spoon in his stew. “What if your Twi’lek caught the yellow fever?”

Obi-Wan’s stomach plummets with familiar disappointment. Of course, starvation isn’t the only problem sentients face. And he requested Qui-Gon to be his mentor which means it’s Qui-Gon’s role to direct and expand his studies. But Obi-Wan had a clear focus tonight and couldn’t Qui-Gon have commented on that before asking for more?

“I only scratched the surface.” Obi-Wan’s voice is wooden without any of his previous animation. “Thank you for your direction, Master Jinn. I’ll return once I have a complete report.” He gathers his datapad and leaves.

The archives are quiet at this time of night. He connects his datapad to one of the transfer wires and begins to search and download new information. Food is only one necessity. He needs to account for medicine, shelter, clothing. Depending on the planet, nets might be useful for fighting or traps. Weapons are needed for hunting or protection.

His focus was too narrow and simple. But putting together a survival profile with all these factors…to do it for multiple species and multiple climates…how is he supposed to learn all of this?

With a lifetime of study ahead of him.

Obi-Wan’s datapad chimes to tell him the download is complete, but he doesn’t disconnect it. He stays in his chair, the weight of another lifetime keeping him down. And, with this a life spent as a farmer rather than a general on the front lines of a war, it will be an extended one. The thought of another life stretching out ahead of him, one longer than the one he’s already lived fills him with dread. He’s tired.

Master Nu approaches quietly. “Did you find everything you needed, Initiate Kenobi?”

Her concern reaches toward him, and he knows it would feel pleasant, like an embrace, if he allowed it to reach him. He stands and disconnects his datapad. He cannot afford weakness or regrets. He will not be an archivist. He will not be a knight. He will be a farmer, and he has research to do. “Yes, master, thank you.”

He retreats to the gardens. He finds an out of the way patch of grass, comfortable enough for him to stretch out on. The bubbling of a nearby fountain drowns out any outside noise and allows him to focus on today’s study; plants and their medicinal properties.

#

If Obi-Wan expands his study of plants to include more than food, he has to narrow another aspect of his focus, or he’ll be bogged down in sheer volume of information. It still takes fifteen days, but he composes a thorough report on how to reclaim Trigolath for humans or Twi’leks.

He isn’t completely satisfied with his work, but he knows Qui-Gon won’t hesitate to correct him. Besides, he hasn’t been to evening meal since beginning this project, and he misses his mentor.

He endures the busybody droid as it clicks at him. It relays its scan results down the line, and Obi-Wan ends up with a cup of green sludge along with the rest of his meal. He eyes the thick liquid and wonders if it was worth coming back.

I will tell your minder if you don’t drink the whole thing and return tomorrow, the serving droid says.

Obi-Wan clicks back at it, nothing appropriate for polite company. The droids titter, flustered, but they’ve made their orders clear. Obi-Wan takes his tray to where Master Jinn, Master Tahl, and Master Tholme sit. He hesitates next to the empty seat. This isn’t their usual group, and he doesn’t want to presume.

While he waits for a lull in the conversation so he can present himself, someone shoulders past him and takes the empty seat. Obi-Wan calls on the Force to hold his tray steady so his meal doesn’t splatter across the floor.

“Snooze you lose, Obi-Wan.” Quinlan Vos offers a cheeky smile as he plops himself down next to Master Tholme.

Like everyone else here, Quinlan is young. His features are soft, still round with lingering adolescence and without the jagged edges formed from years of grief and loss and rage. Even the yellow of his tattoos are brighter, welcoming, rather than a portent of what his eyes once looked like.

“Padawan,” Master Tholme chides.

Quinlan’s unrepentant but his outburst did pull Qui-Gon out of his conversation with Master Tahl. He looks over Obi-Wan without surprise. If he sensed Obi-Wan’s presence from the beginning, why ignore him? Is it a lesson in patience? A reminder Obi-Wan has nothing to offer?

“We haven’t seen you in some time,” Master Tahl says. “We were worried something happened to you.”

A curious thing to say. What kind of danger could befall him in the Temple? Well…his mind tries valiantly to pull up the horrifying footage from Anakin’s march on the Temple, but Obi-Wan holds it at bay. He is here to prevent that kind of damage.

“I checked the healers, but you weren’t there.” Quin pokes Obi-Wan’s side, a hard jab. “You aren’t hiding injuries, either. When’s the last time you were in the salles?”

“This afternoon after second meal.”

“For fun.” Quin pokes him again and beams, as if demonstrating how to have fun.

Obi-Wan doesn’t step out of his reach because it would be conceding defeat. He does, however, fix Quinlan with his most superior look. Given that he’s all of twelve standard, he doubts its effectiveness. “I don’t have time for fun. I am making the most of my remaining time at the Temple. It is neither productive nor efficient to spend my afternoons in the training salles.”

Quin cranes his neck to look around Obi-Wan. “Did someone shove a stick up your ass when I wasn’t looking?”

“Quinlan!” Master Tholme barks.

Quin, of course, is undeterred. “Wait, are you a Council padawan now? It would explain a lot.”

Master Tholme grabs Quin’s ear and twists it until the younger boy yelps. Even while being chastised, Quin can’t keep quiet. Obi-Wan doesn’t remember if Quin learned stillness from the Shadows or if, deeply buried, he already knows how to regulate himself.

“I am not a padawan.” Every time Obi-Wan says the words, they come easier. He addresses Qui-Gon now. “Would you like to hear my report on Trigolath?”

“You need to eat first.” Master Tahl taps the cup of sludge on Obi-Wan’s tray. “This is what the droids hand out when people neglect their bodies. We haven’t seen you at evening meal in fifteen days. Will the droids report having seen you at second meal during that time?”

Droids are snitches, Obi-Wan thinks. He meets Master Tahl’s gaze evenly as he replies, “I’ve attended some of them.”

“Why are you neglecting your health?”

“I’m not. I take my meals elsewhere so here are fewer distractions. It’s—”

“A more productive and efficient use of your time?” Master Tahl finishes.

Obi-Wan nods. “Precisely. And, given the nature of my study, there is often food around. I recently learned I’m allergic to bantan.” It’s a small fruit which grows on thorny bushes. It consumes carbon dioxide and generates oxygen which makes it a good plant for most sentient life, but it requires too much water to be grown efficiently on anything but planets with heavy rainfall.

“What have you learned about Trigolath?” Qui-Gon asks.

Master Tahl holds up her hand before Obi-Wan can speak. “You can give your report once you’ve finished everything on your tray. And if you want to continue your research with Master Qui-Gon, you will attend each meal and eat what the droids give you.”

Obi-Wan’s pact isn’t with Master Tahl, but when he glances at Qui-Gon, he waves his hand as if agreeing to her demands. Or, more likely, not caring much either way. Obi-Wan survived a war and an exile on Tatooine. He can handle half a year in the Temple. Besides, if these masters are so interested in hovering, why did none choose him as a padawan?

These are uncharitable thoughts unbecoming of a Jedi. Obi-Wan releases his bitterness into the Force and sits on the other side of Master Tholme.

“You have a report?” Quinlan asks, nosy as ever.

Obi-Wan hands the datapad over with one hand and chugs his sludge with the other. He’s careful not to touch Quin’s hands, and the other boy notices. He covers his hurt with a smile. “Afraid of what I’ll see?”

“Practice on the datapad, not me,” Obi-Wan says. There’s a lifetime of memory and trauma packed into Obi-Wan’s head. He isn’t sure what it would do to Quin to glimpse any of it. Not that Obi-Wan’s eager to give up his secrets.

Quinlan grips the datapad in two hands and closes his eyes. “You like Master Nu. That’s weird. She likes you too. That’s even weirder.” Quin grins but he doesn’t open his eyes. “The younglings are loud and interrupt your studying. Your irritation is eclipsed by your guilt. Wow. That packs quite a punch, doesn’t it? You—” Quin’s eyes snap open, and Obi-Wan’s afraid of what Quinlan saw. The older boy slouches in his chair, covers his reaction with a sleazy grin. “You really like research, huh?”

“Quinlan!” Master Tholme’s patience reaches its end. “You will assist Master Nu in the archives after evening meal for the next seven days. Perhaps you will learn to keep your mouth shut there.”

Obi-Wan chokes down what’s on his tray so he can speak with Qui-Gon before the meal ends. He only makes it through part of his presentation. Qui-Gon doesn’t wait for a natural pausing point. When he’s finished, he stands, and Obi-Wan fumbles mid-sentence and marks his report so he knows where to pick up tomorrow night.

“Walk with me,” Quinlan says as the masters depart. “I’m sure you need more material.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be associated with you.” Even as he says it, Obi-Wan falls into step with the older boy.

Quinlan scoffs as if he can’t conceive of such a notion. “I meant it when I said I missed seeing you around the training salles. We were good.”

“And I meant it when I said it’s no longer a good use of my time. I’m going to be a farmer.” And you’re going to live. You’re going to thrive. I will give up everything if it means a better life for everyone else.

Quinlan makes another noise, angrier this time. “Jinn rejects you as a padawan and then assigns you homework? Where does he get off?”

Master Jinn agreed to assist me in preparing for my future. I’m grateful for his assistance.”

“Bruck isn’t happy you aren’t training.” Quinlan switches subjects as if he recognizes the futility of his first. “He thinks you’re scared of him so now the padawans have to spar with him to put him in his place.”

Obi-Wan glances at Quinlan but doesn’t respond more than that. He won’t have any more luck with this subject. Just as Obi-Wan and Bruck’s path has diverged, so has Obi-Wan and Quinlan’s.

Quinlan narrows his eyes. “I felt your allergic reaction when I read your datapad. I felt your eyes water and your throat close up. I panicked, but you didn’t. Weird, huh? It gets better, though. You healed yourself. You filtered the toxins out of your system. Since when do you have healing abilities?”

Obi-Wan tucks his hands into his sleeves. It was foolish of him to give Quinlan his datapad. There’s a reason Quinlan became one of their best investigators. He is smart and intuitive. Even knowing better, Obi-Wan was tricked by his feigned nonchalance.

“I’ve been studying.”

“Farming and plants and planetary rehabilitation and healing?” Quinlan’s disbelief rings loudly in both his tone and the Force. His interrogation is put on hold when they reach the archives. Master Nu gives them a look which could petrify wood. Quinlan sketches an insolent bow. “Reporting for punishment duty.”

Master Nu is too dignified to groan, but her left eye twitches. “You will serve here in silence, and I will speak to Master Tholme about punishing me when he’s meant to be teaching you. Obi-Wan, is there anything I can help you with?”

“I’m going to pull all data we have on Mandalore and Concord Dawn,” Obi-Wan tells her. “May I enlist Padawan Vos’s assistance? We’ll use the terminal furthest from your circulation desk.”

“Suck up,” Quinlan mutters.

Master Nu shakes a finger at Quinlan before she ushers them out of her sight. Obi-Wan brings his friend to the furthest terminal, as promised. It also puts them out of earshot of anyone else using the archives.

Quinlan, staying true to his contrary nature, doesn’t pick up where they left off but asks instead about Obi-Wan’s new project. “Why Mandalore? It’s a bone-dry desert full of bounty hunters. And there’s no way they’d let even Corps workers near their planet.”

“War has ruined their planet. Weapons discharge, continuous destruction, they’ve altered the landscape of their home. They may not let the Corps near their planet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t do a write-up on it. I want to prepare suggestions on how to reclaim the planet. One day, I’d like to present to the Senate. Maybe, Mandalore would allow the AgriCorps to help. But even if they don’t, they’ll have the blueprint of how to do it themselves.”

“More homework for Master Jinn?”

“It isn’t homework. He’s teaching me.”

“Teaching you?” Quinlan starts to raise his voice. He takes a steadying breath. “I was there when he rejected you. And now he’s teaching you?”

“Teaching is different than accepting a padawan. It’s less of a commitment.”

“So he’s lazy.”

Obi-Wan glares at Quinlan as the computer runs his search. “He’s a master and you should treat him as such, no matter your personal quarrel with him.”

“My personal quarrel? Obi-Wan, he treats you like shit. If you won’t stand up for yourself, I will.”

I approached him. I will not be his padawan. I will not be anyone’s padawan. I am going to the AgriCorps. I only seek to learn as much as I can from a master of the Living Force before I go.”

Quinlan shakes his head. “What happened to my friend who wanted to be a Jedi? You stop coming to the salles, you hole up in the gardens, you voluntarily write reports for Qui-Gon Jinn. Obi.” Quinlan’s voice cracks. “What happened?”

Obi-Wan looks around to confirm they’re still alone. Even still, he takes a step closer to Quin. “You know my connection is to the Unifying Force. After Qui-Gon rejected me, I had a vision of the future if he’d taken me as a padawan.”

“And what was so terrible that you’ve given up on your dreams?”

“He died.” Obi-Wan’s voice drops to a near whisper. “I was his padawan, and I failed him when he needed me the most.” Memories threaten to overtake him. He pushes them aside, but they don’t go far. He’ll have to meditate if he doesn’t want nightmares tonight.

Quinlan reaches out, and Obi-Wan flinches. With a sad smile, Quinlan pulls his gloves out of his robes. He puts them on and this time, Obi-Wan holds still as Quinlan pulls him in for a hug.

“You don’t want to see it,” Obi-Wan tells him.

“Visions show you one possible future. They aren’t set in stone.”

“This one won’t come to pass, because I will not be Qui-Gon Jinn’s apprentice.” Obi-Wan steps away from Quinlan’s comfort and presses a few keys to transfer the new material to his datapad. “I’m going to the AgriCorps. I’m going to save people, Quin. I’m going to do something good with my life.”

Quinlan watches the download bar on the terminal. “You sound older than Master Yoda. How long was your vision?”

“A lifetime.”

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan didn’t tell Quinlan the full truth but even a partial truth leaves him feeling lighter. He attends midday meal under duress, because Quinlan threatens to tattle to Master Tahl if he doesn’t. In revenge, Obi-Wan spends each meal describing in detail, his hypothetical plans to restore Mandalore’s climate.

Is this something he could present to Satine? Not yet, obviously, but once she’s in power? Will she make it into power without Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon assigned to her protection? He stops himself before he is sucked into this blackhole. He will not be on the missions he was in his other life. He must trust the Force to guide the Jedi in the correct direction.

Besides, he already has his plan. He’ll create a thorough, exhaustive report and present it to the Senate. He doubts he’ll be allowed on Mandalore. They’re a proud people, and they have a complicated history with the Jedi. But if Obi-Wan can offer this solution as a peace offering or as an apology, he will.

Speaking of…Obi-Wan’s steps slow as he spots the man sitting next to Master Jinn. Regal in his bearing, with silver hair a distinguishing feature, the man at Obi-Wan’s usual spot is unmistakable. Count Dooku. Fortunately, Obi-Wan’s shields are strong, and his emotions crash into the barriers rather than flood the room.

He reaches for his saber, but his fingers close around empty air. He doesn’t carry a weapon as a twelve-year-old initiate. He almost drops his tray and by the time he steadies it, his opportunity to flee is gone. Master Jinn waves him over, open and friendly.

Contrary bastard, Obi-Wan thinks.

Obi-Wan sets his tray down on the table and bows to the masters in turn; Jinn, Tahl, Giett, Tholme, and finally Dooku.

Qui-Gon gestures to the open seat. “Initiate Kenobi, this is my former master, Yan Dooku. Yan, this is Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

“An initiate?” Dooku looks Obi-Wan over, evaluating. His smile is warm, paternal if a bit condescending. Obi-Wan searches for any hint of darkness but doesn’t see any.

“Not for much longer,” Obi-Wan tells him.

Dooku laughs and beckons for Obi-Wan to sit. “Is that so? What lucky master is taking you as their padawan?”

The tension at their table ratchets up. Dooku raises his eyebrows, clearly taking note of it. Obi-Wan wishes his hands were free so he could tuck them inside his sleeves. “I’m destined for the AgriCorps.”

“Destined? You sound like you spend too much time with my former master.”

“Master Yoda instills respect for the Force and its will in all the younglings who pass through his Temple.” Obi-Wan still remembers the heavy weight of the galaxy after the Purge. Reeling from Cody’s betrayal and then Anakin’s, feeling the loss of each Jedi as they were cut down, he found his strength in Yoda. They were a team of two, grim and determined despite the obstacle before them.

Dooku laughs and waves off Obi-Wan’s scandalized expression. “Very well, Initiate Kenobi. If you didn’t approach a table of Jedi masters in search of one to train you, what did bring you here?”

“Master Jinn has been supplementing my education. My connection to the Living Force leaves much to be desired, a failing I wish to remedy before I leave the Temple and lose access to its resources.”

Dooku looks between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. He nods to himself as he strokes his beard. “You are the young man Yoda wants in our line. Qui-Gon declined to take you as a padawan and yet, you convinced him to teach you. You must be quite the negotiator, young one.”

Obi-Wan flinches at what had once been his nickname. He tightens his shields so no one can dip into his head and see any of the memories inside it. He takes his tray to the seat furthest from Dooku and puts his head down and eats.

The adults quickly forget about him and return to their conversation. Count Dooku doesn’t return to the Temple often, and they’re all curious to hear his stories. Obi-Wan eats quickly as is his habit, but before he can slip away, Master Tahl notices his empty plates. “What do you have to share with us tonight?”

“I have no desire to intrude on your evening.” Obi-Wan keeps his gaze carefully on the table. “I am going to return my tray and then meditate.”

“Nonsense,” Dooku says. “Don’t change your routine on my account. I’m curious about this gathering of the minds. What is tonight’s topic?”

Dooku was part of the Jedi team which dropped onto Galidraan, sabers ignited. It had been a misunderstanding, but one that ended with Jedi and Mandalorians dead on both sides. It solidified the Jedi as the Mandalorians’ ancient enemy. It resulted in the destruction of the True Mandalorians which gave rise to Death Watch and the New Mandalorians. It set Jango Fett on his path of hate and revenge. It was, in some ways, the first step toward the Clone Wars.

No doubt, Mandalore is a touchy subject for Count Dooku, and Obi-Wan has no desire to broach it. This Dooku isn’t the one who fell, who worked with Ventress and Savage and Sidious, who helped lead the Separatists in the Clone Wars and who delighted in taunting Obi-Wan at every turn. This Dooku hasn’t lost his way, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing for Obi-Wan to fear from the man. 

“Go on,” Qui-Gon says, motioning with his hand, as if Obi-Wan is a pet, here to perform tricks.

“My primary focus is on crops.” Obi-Wan speaks slowly and measuredly, giving himself the time to think and formulate a response. “Master Jinn pointed out how it was a narrow focus. Sentients require more than food in order to live, but it is a starting point. And, I suspect, the AgriCorps will have divisions and specialties the same as they do here in the Temple. We will work in teams in order to cover a wide array of subjects.”

“You’ve very hard on yourself,” Dooku observes.

You once put a Force inhibitor around my neck and used a training droid to zap me every time I couldn’t sense where the danger came from. “If I am derelict in my duties, people will die. I only wish to do the best I can for as many as I can.”

“A noble goal,” Master Tholme says.

Dooku narrows his eyes as if he can see into Obi-Wan’s head. A moment later, Obi-Wan feels the nudge of Dooku’s mind against his. Obi-Wan’s shields flare up in response, conditioned to protect himself from this man no matter how hurt or tired or conscious he is.

“You have uncommonly strong shielding for one your age,” Dooku says.

Master Giett tsks his tongue, a reprimand Dooku doesn’t acknowledge. Obi-Wan keeps his posture loose and his expression even. If Dooku pushes, Obi-Wan’s shields will hold, but it will expose him to scrutiny he isn’t prepared to handle. “I’ve been told I have anger issues, and I have sought to correct them.”

“By hiding?”

Obi-Wan projects the calm he feels. It’s the gentle ebbing of a wave against the shore, the light breeze on a summer morning, the feeling in his chest when he sits in his favorite garden. It’s the calm he learned on Tatooine when he had nothing to learn but patience. He spreads it to Dooku first and then the rest of the masters.

“Oh, that’s lovely,” Master Tahl sighs.

“Qui-Gon didn’t teach this to you,” Dooku says.

“I have learned acceptance and understanding from Master Jinn.” No, Qui-Gon didn’t teach him the way he’s taught him in the Living Force, but Obi-Wan has learned from him all the same.

“You—” Dooku’s face undergoes a series of transformations—surprise, irritation, awe. “We’re quite far from my original question to you. What did you plan to discuss tonight?”

Obi-Wan’s smile is as bland as his initiate’s robes. “I’m afraid evening meal is at its close, Master Dooku. I need to take my leave so I can attend to my evening duties.”

“You’d make a good diplomat,” Dooku tells him.

“In another life, perhaps.”

#

Obi-Wan’s morning meal is interrupted by Master Drallig. There aren’t many reasons the battlemaster might want to talk to him, but Obi-Wan still pushes his tray to the side and gives him his full attention.

“I haven’t seen you much recently, Initiate Kenobi.”

“I attend my daily sessions.”

“You used to come for extra practice during your free blocks.”

“I used to think I would be a Jedi Knight. Saber skills won’t be as useful to me as others once I join the AgriCorps.” He knows better than to believe there will be no danger, but he can drill on his own to keep his fighting skills fresh. He needs to learn things he doesn’t already know while he’s here. Besides, avoiding the salles is the best way to avoid Bruck Chun.

“I would like you to participate in an exhibition. There is another initiate who wants to display his skills for the masters, and you two are well-matched.”

“It would be best for another initiate to spar with Bruck, one who also has hopes of being chosen. We may be well-matched in skill, but we are mismatched in motivation.”

Master Drallig’s affable expression hardens. “You know what’s best?”

Chastened, Obi-Wan flushes and ducks his head. “No, master.”

“You will face Bruck Chun in an exhibition. Since you lack motivation, I will provide it for you. If you do not put forth a strong effort, you will be assigned to the quartermaster every evening until you depart for the AgriCorps. Do you understand?”

He’ll lose valuable research time and, worse, he’ll be stuck inside storage rooms and closets with no access to the plants he’s grown fond of. Obi-Wan lowers his head even further. “I understand, master.”

Master Drallig takes his leave, and Obi-Wan brings his half-full tray to the garbage bin. One of the main reasons he’s avoided the training salles is that they are all monitored, and he has knowledge he shouldn’t. He knows forms he hasn’t been taught. He honed his skills in war. He knows how to fight dirty, how to fight when survival is the objective.

He can’t show any of those without drawing suspicion.

He has to somehow fight Bruck as if they are equals, as if Obi-Wan has none of this knowledge or advantage.

Maybe he should have been practicing all along.

#

Obi-Wan arrives at the exhibition room early. He didn’t have time to meditate before the match so he takes a risk and enters a battle meditation so he can clear his mind and warm up at the same time. He cannot afford any slips which means his mind and his body need to be perfectly disciplined.

Master Drallig was clear in what he wants; Bruck Chun’s skills displayed for everyone who attends. Obi-Wan can do it, but he won’t do it indiscriminately. He’ll show Bruck’s strengths and weaknesses. It will be the masters who evaluate them and then decide if they want him as a padawan.

Bruck’s acceptance doesn’t hinge on Obi-Wan. A heavy weight lifts from his shoulders, one he’s carried for decades without realizing it. He wasn’t the reason Bruck wasn’t chosen, just as Bruck wasn’t the reason for Obi-Wan’s failures. If no one chooses Bruck, the blame rests on Bruck himself and perhaps the Order. But Obi-Wan is free from it.

Obi-Wan’s next movements are easier. Free. He’s free. Unlike Bruck, who is at turns stiff with tension and jittery with aggression, Obi-Wan is loose. There’s no pressure on him. Whether he impresses or doesn’t, his future is known. All he has to do is put in enough effort to avoid punishment.

Obi-Wan completes his warm-up and strips to his base tunics. He drinks from his water skin and grins as his friends cheer and wave for him. He idly twirls his training saber. It isn’t the one he’s used to, the saber he built and used for years, rationing his practice because if it broke while he was on Tatooine, he had no way to fix it.

This is a better weapon to wield. This saber has no history weighing it down. It’s a tool to be used and, when he’s finished with the match, he’ll return it to its case and continue with his day.

Master Drallig clears his throat. “Initiate Chun, Initiate Kenobi, you are both here today for an exhibition match. You will use training sabers set to their lowest setting. The match will be awarded to the first party to land three hits unless I step in and end it earlier. Do you understand?”

“Yes master,” they say in unison.

“This is an opportunity to show what you have learned in your years in the Temple. Do the Order proud. Take your places.”

Obi-Wan settles into his starting position. He holds his lightsaber defensively, ready to activate once needed. They have been tasked to show what they’ve learned. His mistake, when he was twelve the first time, was thinking he was supposed to show off his saber skills. The masters want to see more than that. Patience, strategy, compassion. There are a dozen things the masters up there will be looking for.

“Begin.”

Obi-Wan ignites his saber and falls back on defense as Bruck charges forward. Obi-Wan meets each attack with a parry. Bruck shows off his raw power but also his impulsiveness and his fear. Obi-Wan parries a blow and shoves. It catches Bruck off guard and knocks him back.

Rather than pushing the advantage, Obi-Wan settles into his defensive position again, but this time he leaves his left side exposed. Bruck notices and targets the weakness. Obi-Wan doesn’t allow him to land the hit, but it begins a sequence where Obi-Wan leaves openings for Bruck to notice and target. It’s almost like training with Anakin.

Thinking of Anakin is painful, and Obi-Wan stumbles. He tucks and rolls, but Bruck catches him with his saber. The first hit of the match is awarded to the other boy.

Obi-Wan springs to his feet, a wide distance between him and his opponent. He’s showcased Bruck’s offensive abilities. It’s time to highlight the opposite. Obi-Wan changes his grip on his lightsaber and uses quick footwork and quicker hands to put Bruck on the defensive. Once he has the boy flustered, Obi-Wan slows his movements, draws them out and makes them obvious. Bruck responds correctly to each one.

By the time Obi-Wan’s showed Bruck’s offensive and defensive skills, sweat drips down his spine. There’s still only one hit awarded between them which means the match is far from over. Obi-Wan deflects Bruck’s attacks as Bruck returns to his comfort zone, offense.

Master Drallig clears his throat. The sound cuts through the harsh breathing of both initiates. It’s a reminder that Obi-Wan is being held to a standard of performance, even if it’s a different standard than Bruck. He isn’t sure how Master Drallig can tell he’s holding back, but the battlemaster is unimpressed. And if Obi-Wan doesn’t impress him…

Bruck swings his saber down in a heavy-handed attack which leaves him far too exposed. Obi-Wan easily taps his hip with his saber and then gets his weapon up in time to keep Bruck from cleaving him in two. Their sabers crackle against each other. Obi-Wan drops and rolls and then springs to his feet on the far end of the arena. He stalks the perimeter of their arena and studies his opponent. It’s 1-1. Does Obi-Wan need another hit to impress Master Drallig or does he need to win?

Bruck grows tired of waiting and charges. They battle fiercely, because Bruck is desperate and Obi-Wan is clumsy in his new body. Bruck manages a hit and Obi-Wan notches one in return. Tied 2-2, they both disengage to catch their breath. Bruck’s face is bright red. Sweat soaks the collar of his tunics. Obi-Wan isn’t any better off. He’s neglected this aspect of his training and while he has the memory of fighting, he doesn’t have the endurance for it.

Tired, his instincts kick in. He initiates the attack this time, because he knows he has a limited amount of strength left. He must defeat his opponent before he’s too weak to do it. As their sabers clash and burn against each other, the room around him disappears. His opponent fades until this could be any of a dozen different duels he’s fought over the years.

He’s brought back to his last duel, his final one. It wasn’t much of a fight. Vader was younger, stronger, and had the dark side to back him up. Obi-Wan’s opponent leaps at him, and Obi-Wan sees a red blade. He raises his own saber to defend himself but—

Luke.

Leia.

He’s here as a distraction. There’s a hum of interest around him. Stormtroopers abandon their duty in order to watch. He doesn’t sense Luke’s desperation, not yet. Vader sneers at him and presses the attack. Obi-Wan counters clumsily to buy Luke and Leia time. But he isn’t fighting to win. No. It’s time for the final distraction.

Obi-Wan raises his blade and holds it out in front of him.

The enemy lightsaber sings as it cuts through the air. Obi-Wan takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. He’s ready for this. Maybe, this time, it will actually end.

Luke shouts his name and then—

Someone punches him in the face.

The cartilage in his nose crunches and Obi-Wan stumbles back. The pain is sudden, overwhelming, and he opens his connection to the Force. He can’t afford distraction. He falls into a defensive position, ready to face whatever Separatist faction has found him.

Only, in front of him is an angry boy with a shock of white hair.

That isn’t right.

He’s on the Death Star.

No, he’s in the Clone Wars.

That still isn’t right.

Bruck’s mouth moves, but Obi-Wan doesn’t hear the words. Master Drallig steps between Bruck and Obi-Wan and—

Exhibition match.

Obi-Wan is in the Temple, and he just seriously fucked up.

He groans and tilts his head up toward the ceiling. And then he chokes as blood trickles down his throat. He rights himself in time to be swarmed by his friends. Bant wiggles her fingers and asks if she can try her healing on him. Garen calls him an idiot. Quinlan glares at him with his arms crossed over his chest. Obi-Wan blinks and tries to focus on his surroundings. He’s in the Jedi Temple, and it thrums with life. He is safe. The galaxy is safe.

“I can feel your pain.” Master Jinn approaches. It would be funny the way the young ones part so he can step through, but Obi-Wan doesn’t feel like laughing.

“Sorry.” Obi-Wan closes off his connection to the Force. It keeps his pain within which hurts, but it’s better than accidently sharing it with the rest of the room. Besides, the threat is gone. It’s safe to hurt.

“It wasn’t a censure.” Qui-Gon is frustrated as if Obi-Wan’s a puzzle he can’t solve. No, as if he’s a puzzle Qui-Gon thought he solved and now realizes he was creating the wrong picture. “Where did you learn to channel your pain like that? It’s a battle skill.”

“I read,” Obi-Wan answers. Quinlan’s amused disbelief is loud in the Force.

Healer Vicciari hurries over with a wet cloth in one hand, a syringe in another, and her two other hands free. She uses one free hand to grab Obi-Wan’s wrist and hold him still as he tries to escape. She wipes the blood from his face and then his hands with a healer’s efficiency. She jabs him with the syringe and then pops his nose back into place.

“Ugh,” he says.

She pats his head. “You’re welcome, Initiate. I’m sure Master Drallig will debrief with you, but it can’t hurt for you to hear this lesson twice.” She grips his face between two of her hands. Her expression is severe. “Never expose your neck like that in a duel again. Humans are weak there.”

That was the point, Obi-Wan thinks but he knows better than to voice it. He bows instead. “Thank you for your counsel, Healer Vicciari.”

“You were calm.” Quin’s voice rumbles with something far from calm. His earlier amusement is gone. “You help your blade up in surrender and you were calm.”

“A Jedi faces all challenges with serenity,” Obi-Wan says.

“I’ll break your nose again.” Quinlan steps forward as if he intends to follow through.

Qui-Gon holds his arm up to keep Quin out of reach. “It was a foolish move, Initiate Kenobi.”

If Obi-Wan cared about Qui-Gon’s opinion, maybe he would be hurt right now. Or maybe whatever Healer Vicciari jabbed him with blocks that pain as well.

“What was your thought process?” Qui-Gon asks.

Why do you care? You rejected me. My training is not yours to oversee by your own choice. Some of Obi-Wan’s thoughts must leak through, because Qui-Gon almost looks ashamed. Obi-Wan sighs and gathers his control tightly in his mental grasp. “I felt my control slip and my emotions grow chaotic. Surrendering the fight was better than surrendering myself.” He can only hope Master Drallig saw it the same way or he’ll spend the rest of his time here on punishment duty.

Or…maybe they’ll see his surrender for what it was, giving up, and they’ll cast him out sooner. He’s had enough time to be assured of Qui-Gon’s health. Whatever lessons Obi-Wan gains from the man who was once his master, he’ll have better instructors in the Corps. There is no point to his remaining in the Temple.

Thus decided, Obi-Wan’s emotions settle again. He has a purpose and a plan.

“You showed incredible control throughout the bout.” Dooku joins their small party, and Qui-Gon steps aside to give up the space directly in front of Obi-Wan. “Watching you guide the other initiate around the salle, it was as though you were the instructor and he the student. I did not know you were so advanced in saber technique.”

Obi-Wan’s revealed too much. It was unavoidable, but at least he will be gone soon. Obi-Wan Kenobi will fade from the memories of everyone here. He’ll be just another washout in a long line of them. Obi-Wan scuffs his foot on the ground. “I was simply—”

“Do not dishonor either of us by lying to me,” Dooku interrupts. “You speak like a diplomat, you have the work ethic of an archivist, and the saber skills of a knight. Why has no one taken you as a padawan?”

Ah, another round of humiliation before he’s permitted to go. Obi-Wan can’t help his look at Qui-Gon. The angry, bitter part of him wants to make the man answer. But he’s too tired for a fight. Dueling Bruck and reliving his own memories has wrung him out. “I am overly emotional, prone to attachment, and I fail the most important tasks set before me.” It’s a wooden, rote recitation. Bant’s concern flares in the Force. Even Qui-Gon softens toward him. Obi-Wan scowls at the floor. He doesn’t want pity.

“Whoever told you those things were wrong, and I will prove it if you allow me,” Dooku says.

Obi-Wan’s gaze snaps up to the man. It sounds as if…no. No.

“Obi-Wan Kenobi, will you do me the honor of becoming my padawan?” Dooku asks.

The exhibition room falls silent around them. Obi-Wan stares at the man. His words have all failed him, frozen with shock. This is…this is not the plan. He came back to a pivotal moment in time, and it was obvious what the moment was. Would he become Qui-Gon’s apprentice or join the AgriCorps? He knew the results of one choice. It was only logical he was supposed to choose the second.

Dooku has presented a third.

“Say yes!” Bant encourages, as if she thinks he doesn’t understand the significance of this moment.

It’s quite the opposite. He alone knows the significance of this moment, and he cannot answer without thought. “Would it offend you if I meditate on this?” Obi-Wan asks Dooku. “This is unexpected, and I must seek the Force’s guidance.”

If Dooku is offended by Obi-Wan’s hesitance, he doesn’t show it. “I will be in the commissary for evening meal tonight. You will give me your answer then.”

Obi-Wan bows deeply and then heads straight for the herb garden.

Chapter Text

Count Dooku has extended an offer of mastery.

Obi-Wan sinks to the ground in time for his thoughts to overwhelm him. He falls into a sea of memory. The containment field on Geonosis. Battling on Dooku’s flagship. Imprisoned on Serenno. Captured by Ventress and dragged back to Dooku as a prize. He doesn’t have a single pleasant memory of Dooku from his other life.

But that isn’t the man who made the offer. That man was lured from the Order by the Sith. He made a clean break from the Order after Qui-Gon’s death. He allowed Sidious to feed his pride and fear and ambition. That man doesn’t exist.

Not yet?

Or not at all?

Obi-Wan could prevent it. If he agreed to be Dooku’s padawan, he could be the anchor that keeps him in the Order. At the very least, ensuring Qui-Gon’s survival on Naboo should keep Dooku’s mind closed to Sidious. If the Separatists are denied their greatest speaker, their greatest political influence, and their greatest general, their reach and influence will be diminished.

The Force sent Obi-Wan back for a reason.

He wondered, at first, why this moment. Why not after the twins’ birth when he could have made the choice to keep them together and train them? Why not when he was deciding whether or not to join the rebellion? Or Mustafar when he could have killed Anakin or worked harder to save him? Why not Naboo or Tatooine?

Hell, why not any of the times Palpatine arranged for Obi-Wan and Anakin to “rescue” him? Obi-Wan would have let him die in a heartbeat.

But no. He was returned here. It seemed so obvious. His options were Jedi or the AgriCorps. He had lived out the first, now he would live out the second.

Simple. Straightforward.

And now this.

He asks the Force what he should do, but the Force doesn’t answer. It put him in this moment, but it is up to him to decide which path he takes.

What are the advantages to the AgriCorps? He could help people. Maybe Mandalore could be restored. Maybe even Tatooine. If he reshapes the land, could he also reshape its people? The AgriCorps would be a retreat. He would remove himself from politics, the Jedi, from everything he failed the first time. Is it selfish to do so? Is it lazy?

If he stays, he has a difficult path ahead of him. He has the knowledge of an entire lifetime. He knows who the Sith Lord is. Is it enough to alter Sidious’s plans and save the galaxy? Is it enough for Qui-Gon to live and for Anakin to have the master he deserved? Or will Obi-Wan need to more directly involve himself in affairs? 

He wishes Mace was still a friend and colleague. He wants to consult the expert in shatterpoints. He wants to ask what to do at a crossroads like this. But he doesn’t need to. One option is safer for Obi-Wan. There is good he could do in the Corps, but what good is a farm if the Separatists burn every planet they invade? What use is medicine to those hunted down and killed by the Emperor and his minions?

It’s tempting to take the easy path, but this second life isn’t meant to be easy. It’s a punishment. It’s penance.

He will be a Jedi again, and he will help Anakin bring balance to the Force. It’s too great a weight for one person to carry on their own.

Obi-Wan opens his eyes and regrets it. The sky is too bright above him, even though it’s dimmed in deference to the night cycle. His comm chirps at him, a repeating alarm. His appointment with Dooku!

Obi-Wan jumps to his feet and then stumbles as his muscles protest. They’re stiff as if he’s been meditating for longer than a few hours. He turns his alarm off and takes a moment to stretch. He’s working his hamstrings when he senses another being. He falls into an open-handed defensive stance, the way Cody taught him after his commander realized how often Obi-Wan lost his lightsaber.

Count Dooku lifts his eyebrows as if he thinks Obi-Wan’s actions are quaint.

“How long have you been here?” Obi-Wan asks. His heartrate increases, fear at being vulnerable with an enemy at his back.

“Not as long as you have. You missed evening meal.”

Oh. He missed their appointment. Obi-Wan studies the man’s severe face. Perhaps, all his meditating was for naught. “Have I missed my opportunity to accept your offer?”

“I must admit, Initiate Kenobi, my pride took a hit in how long you’ve been here. You have, in fact, missed two evening meals. Was it such a difficult decision?”

He spent an entire day meditating? He’s missed much more than a meal and an appointment with Dooku. He’s missed an entire day of classes. Focus on the moment. Dooku asked him a question, and Obi-Wan knows he must be as truthful as he can. “I am aware of Master Yoda’s efforts to bring Master Jinn and me together as a team. When Master Jinn rejected me, I realized I would never become a padawan. I have spent the time since preparing myself to join the AgriCorps.”

Obi-Wan chances a look at Dooku, but the man’s severe expression gives away none of his emotions. “Your offer surprised me. It forced me to confront my assumptions and my doubts. This is a turning point in my life, and there is a great deal of pressure to make the correct decision. I apologize for the time I took. I promise, I meant no offense against your person. I needed to be sure.”

“And are you?”

“Yes. If you will still have me, I will be your padawan learner, Master Dooku.”

“Then I believe a haircut is in order, young one.”

#

They present their partnership to the Council, Obi-Wan receives the dreaded padawan buzz cut, and then Master Dooku brings Obi-Wan to their shared quarters. Dooku gives the quick tour; the kitchen, the communal space, the bedrooms, and the fresher, and then leaves Obi-Wan to unpack. Given Obi-Wan’s dearth of personal items, he finishes quickly and joins Master Dooku in the communal room.

Master Dooku stands near the couch, his posture and bearing almost intimidating. He looks over at Obi-Wan and there’s warmth in his eyes which is present nowhere else. “I am your master now. I am in charge of your wellbeing; your diet, your training, your discipline.” He places extra emphasis on this last one. “It has come to my attention that you missed all of your classes today.”

Day One and he’s already in trouble. Obi-Wan ducks his head, but he withholds any apologies. Master Dooku seems like the type who wants action rather than words.

“I have spoken with each of your instructors,” Master Dooku says. “You have extra assignments and duties you will complete, without complaint, in addition to apologizing. Meditation and reflection are important but not at the expense of others.”

“Yes, master.” Obi-Wan accepts the flimsi he’s given with his punishment duty. He has a paper to write on the challenges of defending pacifism, kitchen duty, a meditation session with the younglings, and extra saber practice. Obi-Wan tucks the flimsi into his robes. “And you, master?”

“You do not need to earn my favor as you have not lost it. You kept me waiting, yes, but it was a lesson in pride. We are students of the Force our entire lives.”

And possibly second ones as well. Obi-Wan bows his head and accepts Dooku’s words. So far, Dooku has come across as…reasonable. Stern, yes, but also kind in unexpected ways. Obi-Wan started his apprenticeship with Qui-Gon in the red and never came close to earning his approval.

“May we go over your routine before I retire for the evening?” Obi-Wan asks.

“My routine?”

“Do you prefer to shower in the morning or evening? Would you rather eat meals here or in the commissary? If here, should I cook? Do you have preferences? Should—”

Dooku holds his hand up for quiet and chuckles as he does. “You have many questions. I suppose you did have plenty of time to come up with them.”

Obi-Wan flushes at the reminder. “I want to be the best padawan to you that I can be.” He will inspire Dooku with his dedication to the Order. He will keep the man on the path of light, and they will support Anakin on his journey. Surely, if the Order stays united, they will have the strength to defeat Sidious. If there is no slaughter on Geonosis…if the Clone Wars never happen…

“We’ll discuss routines after we spar. You’ve been sitting inactive for quite some time. A trip to the salles and then we’ll stop by the commissary.”

“I follow your lead,” Obi-Wan says. He’s hungry but not unbearably so. It’s been over a day since he ate which should be a warning sign, to Dooku, at least. Obi-Wan stopped answering those warnings a long time ago. Qui-Gon was never attentive to things like regular mealtimes and sleep times. For all he knows, he learned it from Dooku.

Regardless, Dooku told Obi-Wan the plan. They will train and then he’ll eat and then, presumably, sleep so that he can attend tomorrow’s lessons and start his punishment duty.

They go to the armory and collect Obi-Wan’s lightsaber. Now that he’s a padawan, he’s allowed to carry it with him rather than only when he’s supervised in the salles. Obi-Wan curls his fingers around the hilt of his saber and frowns. He was preoccupied earlier when he faced Bruck, but now he’s aware of how wrong his lightsaber feels.

“What do you notice?” Dooku asks.

“I’ve outgrown my saber,” Obi-Wan answers. It makes sense. This crystal was chosen by a very different version of himself. He turns the weapon over in his hands. He’s amazed he was as successful as he was against Bruck.

Dooku favors him with an amused look. “That is your conclusion. Give me your observations.”

Obi-Wan shoves down his irritation and answers again. “I have a beginner’s grip, one for someone who doesn’t have a preferred form. The crystal should hum as a melody between my Force signature and its but it twangs. Ergo, I’ve outgrown my saber.”

“Well presented.” Dooku’s still amused, a mixture of paternal and condescending. “Our first order of business will be to build you a proper lightsaber. Can you use this one for our training tonight or should we hold off until you’ve built a new one?”

Obi-Wan examines his saber again. “I won’t be a good sparring partner with this.”

“Obi-Wan, you’re twelve years old. I didn’t ask you here as a sparring partner but as my padawan.”

Right. He’s a child. Still… “You were pleased with my performance against Bruck. I don’t want to disappoint you.”

Dooku’s smile fades, leaving him serious again. He rests a hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “I was impressed with how you handled yourself against an opponent I expected to be your equal. I don’t expect you to be my equal. I will train you and develop your skill, but tonight I want to teach you how a spar can be comforting. Your place in the Order is not on the line. Neither is your life. This is a form of relaxation.”

Obi-Wan feels foolish for needing such reassurance, but he does need it. He takes a centering breath and then steps back, breaking the contact between them. He powers up his saber and smiles at the familiar blue light. Outside of the lessons since he woke up here, he can’t remember the last time he had a light-hearted spar.

Is he even capable of it?

“Can we begin with katas?” Obi-Wan asks.

“Most young ones are eager to spar,” Dooku says. He powers up his own saber and turns the power down to training level. “But each master-padawan pair is unique. We can begin with katas. It will give your body time to warm up after such an extended period of inaction.”

#

Obi-Wan spends the next few days accepting congratulations from others in the Temple and serving his punishments. Meditation with the younglings is a fun challenge, like herding tookas. Their Force signatures are bubbly, and their concentration level is terrible, but he turns it into a game. For their final exercise, Obi-Wan sinks into his own meditation and tells them to try and pull him out of it.

He holds out until they team up and throw him into a fountain. He returns them to their crechemaster who laughs openly at Obi-Wan as he drips on the floor. The younglings swarm him and beg for him to return to play with them.

Kitchen duty is also fun. No one told him where he had to work so he spends his time in the herb gardens. He cares for the plants and encourages them to grow a little faster and a little bigger.

By the time Master Dooku has arranged a trip to Ilum, Obi-Wan has cleared his punishments and has regular visits scheduled to both the creche and kitchen gardens. For the trip, it’s the two of them, a pilot, and a pilot-in-training, because Dooku didn’t want to wait for the next youngling trip.

Obi-Wan has his lessons to keep up with. He’s sure Master Dooku has a training plan, but he’s given the first hour to himself. He wanders through the small transport, lingering on each small thing. There was a burst of activity at the end of his life, but before then, he spent years in isolation on Tatooine. He’s still growing used to water showers and spaceships.

He shivers and breathes in recycled air. Normally, he would find both things disagreeable, but it’s better than sand and searing heat. He finally understands Anakin’s strong dislike of sand. There were many things he came to understand better about Anakin after Mustafar. What if he’d tried to understand him better before? Instead, it was Palpatine who wormed his way into Anakin’s confidence, who twisted Anakin into something evil.

Padawan? Is everything alright?

Forming a training bond with Dooku had been a risk. So far, Obi-Wan’s shields have protected what he needs to protect. Dooku can pick up on surface level thoughts and emotions, the same as anyone doing a basic mind skim.

Still, it’s best to stay disciplined. Reflecting on sand, master. I apologize for disturbing you.

Sand?

Obi-Wan sends back an image of a desert and a sandstorm and laughs as Dooku’s disgruntled expression comes clearly through the bond.

#

It doesn’t take Obi-Wan long to find a new crystal. His return to his master is delayed when he hears the call of a second crystal. He goes deeper into the cave and relies on his senses until it grows too dark and damp and then he relies on the Force.

When he emerges, he has three small crystals in the palm of his hand. He has a whole lifetime’s worth of knowledge and experience, but there are things he doesn’t know. He tries to release his frustration, but he doesn’t manage it completely.

“Am I destined to lose my saber often?” He won’t ever be a dual wielder, but maybe he is supposed to construct three sabers, his primary weapon and two backups.

Dooku chuckles as he ushers Obi-Wan toward their transport. “I should hope not. Your lightsaber is your life. You shouldn’t be careless with it.”

“But why three crystals?”

“You’ll have to research it when we return to the Temple.” Dooku’s amusement leaks through their bond, and Obi-Wan can tell he knows the answer. Obi-Wan’s frustration kindles, because he wants to know now, but he accepts that he must be patient.

He closes his hand around the crystals and holds his fist to his ear. They hum, their song weaving through each other and into his Force signature. He may not know why he needs three, but he knows with certainty these crystals are meant for him.

He slides the crystals into a little pouch, but he hangs the pouch from his neck instead of his belt. He tucks the bag beneath his tunics and imagines he can feel the warmth of the crystals against his skin. Their hum settles into his psyche, a form of active meditation. They keep him company while he sits in the cockpit and does his classwork, interrupted only by firsthand lessons the pilot offers.

Your lightsaber is your life. How many times did Cody unclip Obi-Wan’s saber from his belt and return it to Obi-Wan after battle? The last time he saw Cody, Cody handed Obi-Wan his weapon with a huff as if he wanted to be annoyed but couldn’t quite manage. And then --

The last time he saw his friend, Cody shot to kill. Did Cody survive the end of the Clone Wars? Did he survive the rise of the Empire? Did he serve Vader like so many other troopers did? It doesn’t matter now. This is a new timeline.

Padawan?

Obi-Wan curses and strengthens his mental walls. Am I projecting again?

Nothing concrete. You seem distressed.

I have visions. I’m working to keep them from affecting me. I should be present in the moment.

Stuffy advice. The Force gives you visions for a reason. What was this one about?

Betrayal. I’m going to meditate on it. I apologize for disturbing you.

Obi-Wan—

Obi-Wan withdraws as if he didn’t hear his name, as if he doesn’t know what Dooku was going to offer. This Dooku isn’t the same as the other one, but they wear the same face, and Obi-Wan struggles. Sidious was the mastermind, the one who lined up the tiles. Dooku was only a tile, but he was an important one to tip over. Obi-Wan will do his best to prevent it this time, but he must remain vigilant and guarded in case he can’t.

Obi-Wan breathes deeply through the familiar ache in his chest. First, he must find peace within himself. And then he can turn his attention to what changes he can and should make.

#

Madame Nu assists Obi-Wan in locating primers on lightsaber construction. She even helps him sift through the information until they can isolate the sections on lightsabers which require multiple crystals. Because of his respect for her and the archives, Obi-Wan doesn’t snap his datapad or put his fist through the terminal. He reads the text, calmly removes the pouch from around his neck, drops it on the floor, and walks out of the room.

He goes deep into the Temple gardens. He weaves through trees and shrubs, crosses brooks, and delves until he can’t hear anyone else. He drops to the grass and curls his hand into fists.

Three crystals are used in the construction of dual-phase lightsabers. It’s a useful weapon. He would be able to expand and retract the blade if needed during battle. He could seamlessly switch between forms as his blade adjusted to the style he fought in. It would be an agile, dynamic weapon, and he has no doubt he could learn to master it.

But it’s the same one Vader used.

A dual-phase lightsaber killed the Jedi who survived their troops’ betrayal.

It killed Obi-Wan.

It’s the weapon of the Sith and even if it would give Obi-Wan advantages in the field, he won’t use it. There are a multitude of darkside powers. Some of them could have given him an edge in the Clone Wars, in exile, in his meager aid to the rebellion. He didn’t use any of them. He won’t use this either.

Dooku finds him sometime later. The man wrinkles his nose at the dirt, but he sits down next to Obi-Wan in the grass. Obi-Wan discreetly checks the man’s tunics. They’re made of the same simple fabric as Obi-Wan’s. It’s the man who lends the clothes a regal air, rather than the other way around. He supposes Padmé was a queen even while dressed as a handmaiden.

Dooku pulls the pouch of crystals from his pocket. Obi-Wan doesn’t flinch, he felt their hum as Dooku approached, but he does turn away. Emotions churn inside of him like the seas of Kamino during a storm. He opens himself to the Force so he can release them before they overpower him.

“That is quite the reaction,” Dooku says. “What brought it on?”

“You know.” Even now, the crystals reach for Obi-Wan. He holds himself tight and still, resistant to their call. No longer comforting, their song is like a siren’s. It’s a lure, a temptation, and he will hold out against it. He lived an entire life in the light. He will not falter in this one.

“I wish to discuss it with you.”

Obi-Wan pulls his knees up to his chest and wraps his arms around his shins. Tucking himself into a ball feels safe, as if he can disappear from view. He glances at Dooku. The man lifts his eyebrows and then pulls a pierja fruit from his pocket. He bites into it and his teeth cut easily through the soft yellow flesh. It isn’t the kind of threat Obi-Wan is used to from the man. There is no Force inhibitor, no stasis cuffs, no whips or staves or Sith artifacts in sight. But it’s still a threat. Dooku brought food. He’s prepared to wait Obi-Wan out.

“Three crystals are used in the creation of dual-phase lightsabers,” Obi-Wan finally says.

“They are.”

It shouldn’t surprise him that Dooku already knew the answer. He enjoys asking Obi-Wan questions he knows the answers to, whether because he wants to hear Obi-Wan’s opinion or send him on a research quest. But this is different. Dooku knew, from the moment Obi-Wan emerged from the caves, what the crystals meant. He welcomed Obi-Wan onto their transport with a smile and a sweep of his arm. Does he hope to plant the seeds of darkness inside Obi-Wan’s soul? Has Sidious already reached out to him? Are they cultivating allies? Is—

NO!

Dooku lifts his eyebrows in reaction to Obi-Wan’s agitation.

Obi-Wan takes several measured breaths before he trusts himself to speak. “Dual-phase lightsabers are a Sith weapon.”

“Dual-phase lightsabers are a weapon,” Dooku corrects. “Weapons are not evil, padawan. They can be used for good or evil but they themselves have no alignment. Tell me your concerns.”

I don’t want to end up like Vader. I was tempted by the darkside, more than once, but I resisted. What if I don’t have the strength to do It again? What if trusting you to guide me was the wrong choice?

Obi-Wan swallows thickly. “Master Jinn rejected me as his padawan, because I am too old and too angry. He saw too much potential for darkness inside of me. I don’t want to prove him right.”

Dooku steeples his fingers and considers his words for a long moment before he speaks. “Qui-Gon rejected you, because he isn’t ready for another padawan yet. He doubted you because he doubts himself. If I agreed with Qui-Gon’s assessment, I wouldn’t have made an offer to you. Your Force signature hums with potential. I’m sure you know, potential can be tipped in many directions. I trust between your nature and my teachings, you will grow into a fine Jedi.”

“I have doubts.”

“We all have doubts. I encourage you to share them with me so we can work through them together. You must confront them and then grow. Tell me what you’re afraid of. We will conquer it together.”

“I’m afraid the other Jedi will see my lightsaber and eject me from the Order.” Worse, what if they treat him as Anakin was? Powerful, but a ticking explosive with no one sure when the explosive would trigger and how big its blast radius would be? If Obi-Wan has to live with the entire Order’s doubts on top of his own, he’ll buckle within the year.

Dooku’s expression softens into something almost sad. He touches Obi-Wan’s stubbly padawan braid. “Your lightsaber will attract stares, because it is an advanced weapon for one your age. But the crystals would not have called to you if you weren’t ready for them.”

“But what if this is a test?” Obi-Wan knows he should shut his mouth, nod his head, and accept Dooku’s words, but his master told him to question, to raise his doubts. What if this is a test? Perhaps, he’s meant to reject the crystals and their meaning.

“And who is testing you? Qui-Gon can’t tamper with the crystals on Ilum. Not even Yoda can.”

“The Force,” Obi-Wan answers. Wasn’t sending him back a test? A challenge to make better choices this time, to usher in a more peaceful era. Every moment, every decision is a test, and if he fails too many of them the galaxy will fall to ruin.

“Easy,” Dooku says. He shifts his hand to Obi-Wan’s shoulder and urges him to steady his breathing. “The Force does not test us. The Force, like a weapon, is neither good nor evil. It simply is. How we use it, that is where intent lies.”

“I don’t know what the right answer is,” Obi-Wan whispers. He doesn’t know. Why did the Force choose him?

“Then trust me,” Dooku says. “You are a natural with your lightsaber. The kind of weapon you’ll build with these crystals will be dangerous, but every weapon is dangerous.”

“I want to increase my meditation blocks,” Obi-Wan says. “And I want to focus on katas and discipline more than sparring. But I will learn.” He clutches the pouch containing the crystals in his hand. He will build himself a saber like Vader’s. But this one won’t be red. It won’t be used to kill unless he has no other choice. He will use to protect and defend. He’ll make it a Jedi’s weapon.

“I’m sorry I’m weak.” Obi-Wan leans into Dooku’s side.

“You’re hardly weak.” Dooku, rather than recoiling, shifts and welcomes Obi-Wan’s presence against him. “It hurts, I’m sure, to remember the rejections from the Jedi here. But when those memories surface, when you doubt yourself because of them, I want you to remember something.” Dooku pauses until he has Obi-Wan’s full attention. “I chose you.

Oh. Obi-Wan brushes his master’s mind, because he needs the reassurance of thoughts, not just words. Dooku is a politician with a silver tongue. He can spin the truth as a lie and tell a lie as if it was the truth. But through their bond, Obi-Wan feels his satisfaction, his pride, and a focused fury that so many hadn’t seen Obi-Wan’s worth.

It’s the fury which sends a shiver down Obi-Wan’s spine. It isn’t dark, but it could be. He eases the emotion without thinking about it. “If one of them had said yes, I wouldn’t be your padawan. I suppose, in a way, it was a good thing none of them wanted me. You and I are a good fit.”

“We are,” Dooku agrees. He releases the fury at Obi-Wan’s prodding. “Their blindness is my gain. I will only boast modestly as you become the most accomplished padawan in our Order.”

Obi-Wan scoffs, more comfortable now that they’re jesting. “You can’t boast modestly.”

“Now you are an expert?” Dooku’s tone is warm, still teasing, and Obi-Wan burrows more firmly against his side.

“In some things, master.” Obi-Wan looks at the pouch in his hand. “I will become an expert with my lightsaber. Its unique properties mean I will need to have a mastery of many forms.”

“You showed glimpses of several during your exhibition. But you are correct. You do not have an easy path set before you, padawan, but we will navigate it together.”

Chapter Text

The life of a Jedi isn’t a glamorous one; whether they’re stuck in deep space travel, stuck on an Outer Rim planet, or stuck at the Temple. They have reputations for being space monks, above such comforts as beds with mattresses, expensive brandy, and colorful clothing.

Dooku enjoys the finer things in life. He doesn’t have access to all of them while he’s in the Temple so Obi-Wan does his best to see that what can be accomplished, is. He makes sure their laundry is done regularly and put away once it’s returned. He keeps their quarters neat and clean. He’s the first awake each morning, and there’s always a hot cup of tea waiting for Dooku when he emerges from his room.

“You make a strong cup of tea,” Dooku says one morning as he sits at their small table and sips the offering.

Obi-Wan glances up from his datapad to show he heard, but he doesn’t give a response. He returns to his reading for his Cease Fires and Treaties: How to De-Escalate Conflicts course. It’s an advanced class, one Dooku helped him enroll in. Apparently, he remembers saying Obi-Wan would make a good negotiator and now that he has control over Obi-Wan’s schedule, he’s going to help mold him into one.

“How are you with food?” Dooku asks.

“Would you like to take first meal in our quarters?” Obi-Wan isn’t sure where Dooku takes first meal. On the mornings he remembers, Obi-Wan stops by the commissary for something small. He’s never seen Dooku eat in the mornings, only slowly sip his tea while Obi-Wan preps for his classes. He figured Dooku enjoyed the quiet in the morning which is why they don’t go to the commissary.

“Yes,” Dooku says as if this is a decision he’s only just come to. “We’ll take first meal privately in our quarters, you’ll continue to take second meal with your friends between classes, and we’ll take evening meal in the commissary so you and Qui-Gon can continue your discussions.”

“As you wish, master. Do you have any preference for what we eat?”

#

Obi-Wan isn’t, by anyone’s definition, skilled in the kitchen. Fortunately, first meal is basic. He cooks a kind of grain each morning, usually porridge or oatmeal, and then provides small bowls of toppings; brown sugar, dried fruit, slivers of almonds. He dishes a bowl for his master and then one for himself, and as they eat, they discuss their plans for the day or review any bits of Obi-Wan’s coursework he has questions on.

On the fifth day of their new arrangement, Obi-Wan realizes he now consistently eats three full meals a day. Obi-Wan’s oatmeal sticks in his throat like the glue Anakin used on his model spaceships. He grabs his glass and swallows its contents down with big gulps. But water is rare, precious, and he glugs it like a Hutt.

He makes it to the fresher before he throws up, emptying his stomach until there’s nothing left.

A cool hand touches his forehead. “I admit, I did not expect this reaction,” Dooku says, puzzled, as if Obi-Wan has presented him with a question on Vergog’s Theory and not thrown up for no reason.

“I apologize,” Obi-Wans says. His stomach has settled now, but he continues to kneel in the fresher, just in case.

“I should be the one apologizing. I did not intend for my actions to make you sick.”

“I—” Obi-Wan falters. He doesn’t know how to explain his complicated relationship with food, with water, with everything. The clones would call it battle fatigue and the mind healers would call it post-traumatic stress, but it all boils down to the same thing. He’s reacting to experiences that, as far as anyone here is concerned, he hasn’t actually experienced. His file says he grew up in the Temple. How does he explain the impact of war, of exile, of being denied even the basic dignity of his own name?

“Rinse out your mouth and join me in the kitchen,” Dooku instructs. “I’ll prepare something simpler for you.”

“I’m the padawan. I should tend to your needs.”

Dooku tugs lightly on Obi-Wan’s hair, to gain his attention, not harm him. “You are my charge and my responsibility. You gift me with your care and your service but ultimately, I tend to you.”

Obi-Wan opens his mouth and then closes it. Qui-Gon—well. Qui-Gon isn’t his master, is he? It isn’t Obi-Wan’s place to determine which teaching method is best. He is tasked with adapting to his current instructor.

“Thank you, master.”

With a huff, Dooku sweeps out. Obi-Wan pushes to his feet, rinses out his mouth, and tries not to think about the water he uses to do it. On Tatooine, this would be a waste, but he isn’t on Tatooine. There are no water shortages on Coruscant. Denying himself the things he needs while he’s here won’t help anyone on the Outer Rim. If he wants to help them, he’ll have to travel there and do it the hard way.

He returns to the kitchen on shaky limbs. He’s grateful when Dooku motions for him to sit. He’s even more grateful for the cup of tea his master hands him. It smells different than their usual tea. The scent of it settles his stomach. A sip is even better. By the time Dooku presents him with two pieces of buttered toast, Obi-Wan’s well enough to eat it.

“We need to discuss this,” Dooku tells him. He notes Obi-Wan’s now-rigid posture and holds a hand out for peace. “Did something in particular trigger this reaction?”

Obi-Wan shakes his head. “I felt unexpectedly unwell. I apologize.”

Dooku’s gaze hardens, irritation backed by a flicker of anger. “Do not lie to me, padawan.”

He is not a Sith, but he is powerful enough that the Sith Master wanted him for an apprentice, Obi-Wan reminds himself. He cannot tread lightly or thoughtlessly around his master. Obi-Wan ducks his head as he sifts through his memories for enough truth to be believed but not questioned. “Sometimes, food makes me ill. It isn’t normally this bad.” He’s used to low-grade nausea, part of the reason he avoided meals before. This is the first time he’s made himself sick in this life.

“Are there particular foods we should avoid?”

We, as if Dooku will limit himself because of Obi-Wan’s weakness. Obi-Wan shakes his head as his shoulders draw up, hoping to provide him with some kind of protection against Dooku’s attention. Shame curls at the edges of his mind. He’s created charts and lists, tracked his consumption and his unease to find the connection, but there is none.

“Padawan.” Dooku leans back in his chair as if he hopes to put Obi-Wan at ease. Despite claiming Obi-Wan’s attention, Dooku pauses as he chooses his words. “Jedi face many trials throughout their path. Some are fixed; initiate trials, padawan trials, knight trials. Some are tests put before us by the Force. But a Jedi’s entire life is not intended to be a trial. You are not weak for avoiding what brings you discomfort or pain.”

“I’m not lying,” Obi-Wan insists. At Dooku’s raised eyebrows, Obi-Wan flushes, but he isn’t discouraged. “You can tell when I am. Listen to the Force, am I lying now? I don’t know what foods cause it. There’s no pattern. It just…happens.” Another weakness to add to my profile. Obi-Wan’s chrono chimes, and Obi-Wan’s grateful for the reprieve. “I must leave for my classes.”

He hesitates but once Dooku nods, Obi-Wan bolts out of his chair. He grabs his bag and makes it to the door before he circles back to clean up their dishes from first meal.

“Go,” Dooku says. His amusement is light in the Force and almost covers for his lingering concern.

Obi-Wan goes.

#

Obi-Wan had expected Dooku to be at least a little weird about Obi-Wan’s continued lessons with Qui-Gon but, if anything, Dooku encourages the partnership. The jaded part of Obi-Wan wonders if Dooku has grown tired of him already. He didn’t come to the Temple in search of a padawan. Maybe Yoda did put him up to it.

What does it say about him that Obi-Wan has a chance at living his life again, and he’s still unwanted?

“Your thoughts are dark tonight,” Qui-Gon comments.

Obi-Wan pulls his emotions into himself and strengthens his shields at the censure. “I apologize, Master Jinn. You have my full attention.”

Qui-Gon quirks an eyebrow but doesn’t argue with Obi-Wan or press further on the subject the way Dooku would. Qui-Gon motions to the two rows of plants before them. “Would you like to apply your knowledge tonight? The Jedi grow as much of their own food as they can to keep their costs down. Give these plants a nudge.”

They’re in one of the many greenhouses, a large building filled with row upon row of staple crops. The Temple is huge. It descends deeper into Coruscant than Obi-Wan ever knew. They have entire levels of these greenhouses. They use technology to provide the correct light and atmosphere in order to replicate the plants’ natural preferences. Of course, it isn’t natural which is why Temple food never tastes quite right.

It’s an enormous amount of space to dedicate to something, especially when space is at such a premium on Coruscant, but after serving in the Clone Wars, Obi-Wan understands the need to be self-sufficient. How often was he cut off from his troops or supplies, stranded with nothing but what he could figure out on his own? If Coruscant is ever sieged, the Temple won’t be starved out. If the farming planets which provide the bulk of the food to the planet suffer a blight or a blockade, the Temple won’t suffer.

Of course, it wasn’t enough to save them from extinction as Sidious’s hands, but it’s proof there’s some thought directed at the Order’s continued existence. And now Obi-Wan’s been shown this secret place. The heart of the Temple is the creche, where their future grows strong, but this is as vitally important.

Obi-Wan closes his eyes and reaches out to the room. It doesn’t brim with energy the way the creche does, because plants are far more subdued than sentients, especially younglings. But these plants brim with life just the same. They’re young, and they curl tightly around their hum of life, guarding it until it’s strong enough to survive. Only then will the leaves unfurl and the stalks grow taller.

Obi-Wan reaches out to the nearest plant. Hello. Let me help you. He’s seen the braces farmers create for their plants, trellises for them to climb and weave their vines through. He anchors the Force to the ground and creates a support for the plant to lean on. He coaxes its growth. The roots sink deeper into the ground and the stem grows higher. It curls around the brace Obi-Wan made and draws from Obi-Wan’s strength.

It’s slow but the plant grows taller. Its stalk branches out into multiple stems and those grow as well. Its seeds develop and dangle down. They grow larger and fuller, and then—Obi-Wan feels the first spark of life. It’s sharper and brighter than anything he’s felt from a plant before.

Yes. He wants to feel it again. He reaches for the next plant. Its wary, shy maybe, but he coaxes this one as well. Anther spark as life blinks into the galaxy. It’s the opposite of Knightfall. He was flat on his back at the bottom of a cliff, then. He ached. He was confused. He was trying to wrap his mind around what had happened when he felt the first prick, like stabbing his finger with a needle. It was sharp and sudden and then there was a second. And a third. They built on each other until he was a mess of holes, bleeding out with no way to stop it.

But this…this is breathing life into the galaxy. He sinks deeper into himself and casts his presence over the whole room. Can you hear me? Tiny leaves rustle in response. Live, he orders and pours himself into the room. Sparks of life pop up all over the room and it fills him with a giddy sense of wonder.

Live, live, live. It becomes his mantra, and he soars higher and higher until…

He plummets, hard and fast. The air around him grows cold. No matter how far he falls, he never reaches the bottom. Even though he knows it would hurt, he would like to hit it, just because it would be the end of his descent. Instead, blackness rushes up at him. It doesn’t slam into him. It engulfs him. It seeps through his eyes, his mouth, his eyes and nose until it’s all he can see, taste, hear, and smell. It chokes him and when he tries to drag in a breath, he breathes in the darkness instead.

#

Obi-Wan wakes up and his entire body aches. It’s familiar enough that he doesn’t panic. It’s dark around him, but he recognizes the press of fabric against his eyes. Blindfolded. He adds this new detail to his soreness and concludes he’s been kidnapped. It’s annoying but not exactly new.

He holds himself still so he can gain more information before he alerts his captors to his consciousness. His body is sore and weak as if he’s recovering from a bout against a strong flu. He was most likely electrocuted, then. A run in with Dooku? Ventress? He almost hopes slavers have him. At least they’ll underestimate him. His throat is dry and his eyes itch. His lips are as dry as his throat. He pushes such physical irritations to the side. He cannot afford distraction.

He’s on a bed which is more comfortable than he’d expect given his status as prisoner or slave. Someone has gone out of the way to capture and incapacitate him, but they care about his comfort? It doesn’t make sense. His head is heavy and it hurts to delve too much into his circumstances. Mind games means this is most likely Ventress.

Only, there is no heavy collar around his neck or insultingly thin bracelets around his wrists. His access to the Force isn’t restricted. Actually…none of him is restricted. There are no bindings or restraints. The only thing is his left hand. His palm is damp, his skin is warmer than the other. Someone is touching him. His heart rate spikes, and the machines around him beep in warning.

Shit.

Next to him, someone startles into wakefulness. Obi-Wan presses his advantage before he loses it. He bolts upright and calls to the Force to aid him. Only a small tendril answers. He gasps as he realizes why Ventress didn’t bother with inhibitors. There isn’t anything to inhibit.

“Step back and let us work!” A familiar voice barks out orders, but Obi-Wan isn’t sure why he recognizes the voice. One of Ventress’s accomplices? One of Bail’s many connections?

Obi-Wan may not have access to the Force, but his men ensured he isn’t useless. He rips the blindfold off, because he has to rely on his five human senses now. He blinks against the bright light. Around him, everything is blurry shapes, some darker than others. Drugs, then? Fucking kidnappings.

He uses his meager connection to the Force to grab a scalpel off the tray near him. He sweeps it out, a warning to the people who surround him.

“Where did he get that?” someone shouts.

They’re scared. Good. Obi-Wan launches himself out of bed. He needs space, a defensible position until his senses sort themselves out. Something slams into his chest and knocks the breath out of him. He gasps as he’s thrown back on the bed. No! He struggles, but he isn’t strong enough.

Someone pins him down. They use a strap to restrain him, and he screams even though he knows better. Keep quiet, show no weakness, don’t give them the satisfaction. Fingers press against his wrist until his fingers spasm and the scalpel falls.

There’s more yelling, but Obi-Wan can’t make out the words as his legs are pinned and strapped down. His arms are next. The blindfold covers his eyes again. Someone touches his face. Their hands are warm and calloused from wielding a lightsaber. Obi-Wan jerks but there’s nowhere for him to go.

“It’s okay. I am here.” Thumbs brush under his eyes and wipe away his tears. “You’re in the Temple with the healers. You’re safe.”

Obi-Wan shakes his head. He knows this voice. This is a cruel trick, not his usual style, but Obi-Wan knows he isn’t safe. He strains against his bonds, but they hold tight.

“Padawan,” the voice—Dooku—says.

Obi-Wan stills.

“That’s right.” Dooku’s Force presence washes over him, a soothing balm against the lack of his own. It fills the spaces where Obi-Wan’s own well of power should be. I’m here and you’re safe, young one. The healers put a blindfold on you, because they’re worried about light sensitivity. They didn’t mean to alarm you.

It sounds…right, but Obi-Wan can’t trust his own senses right now. He’s physically and Force blind at the moment. His head aches, sharp pain behind his eyes and a pounding in his skull. Attempting to escape has only made himself worse. Fresh tears spring into his eyes. It’s a waste of precious fluid, but Obi-Wan’s too weak to stop it. I hurt.

I know. Dooku’s concern wraps around him, gentle and comforting, and it feels real. Sleep and allow the healers to do their work. You’ll feel better when you wake. I will not leave your side, I promise.

It shouldn’t soothe him. He should keep up his guard, but he can’t. I don’t understand, Obi-Wan admits. If this is a trick, he’ll pay for it the next time he wakes, but he can’t keep himself awake any longer.

#

Obi-Wan opens his eyes and there’s no blindfold this time. He takes in the bed he’s on, the privacy curtain, the machines which suggest he’s in a healer’s room. Finally, he notes his master, slumped in the chair next to Obi-Wan’s bed. His hand holds Obi-Wan’s. He is asleep and looks perhaps the most undignified Obi-Wan has ever seen.

The machines around them chirp quietly. Obi-Wan notes the restraints holding him down. Despite his practice with these situations, he panics, and the machines betray him. Dooku jerks to wakefulness as the machines call out their warning. Obi-Wan studies the man. No pronounced wrinkles. His expression is soft. He’s worried. This is Master Dooku, not Count Dooku.

Healer Che opens the curtain and enters his space. “Welcome back, padawan.”

“I haven’t gone anywhere.” And he won’t anytime soon. He tugs on his restraints to prove his point.

“You were at risk of harming yourself. You’re more coherent now. I will undo your restraints as long as you remain calm.”

“I accept your terms.”

Dooku turns his face into his shoulder but not before Obi-Wan catches his smile.

Healer Che undoes Obi-Wan’s leg restraints first and then his chest. She does his arms last if she knew he’d try to speed up the process. He hates the Halls of Healing. A medical droid approaches with a tray in either hand. One is full of syringes. The other bears food. Obi-Wan blanches at both offerings.

Healer Che runs her hands from Obi-Wan’s forehead down to his toes. Her expression doesn’t change during her evaluation, but when she steps back, she reaches for the medical tray. She plucks a syringe from the others. Obi-Wan pushes himself into a sitting position even as his muscles scream in protest. His arms are too shaky to support himself and he slumps back against his bed. Calm, he orders himself, but his heart continues to beat erratically, and the machine next to him reports this failing to everyone in the room.

Obi-Wan is weak, and he is defenseless. There are no weapons in easy reach. He vaguely recalls a scalpel but his memory is fuzzy. Because of the drugs? Because of whatever Healer Che is going to inject him with?

“What are you holding?” Dooku asks.

Healer Che pauses. She looks from master to padawan to machine. Her expression is concerned for a moment before it smooths back into a healer’s impassivity. “It’s a booster. Padawan Kenobi overexerted himself. This will bolster his immune system and prevent him from getting sick as he recovers.”

Dooku holds his hand out to Obi-Wan. “Your arm please, padawan.”

Obi-Wan hesitates, but he has no advantages here. He still isn’t sure Dooku is a friend, but he can’t successfully fight the master Jedi. He places his hand in the man’s. It exposes his inner arm to the healer. She injects him with the booster. She places the empty syringe on the tray and selects the next one. “This is a growth hormone. It will encourage your body to heal.” She waits for Obi-Wan’s nod before she injects this one as well.

They go syringe by syringe with an explanation for each one. By the end of it, Obi-Wan has to offer up his other arm. He feels like a pin cushion. There was something to give him a bit of energy, and he’s grateful for it, because he isn’t keen to fall back asleep. Dooku helps him sit up and then Healer Che adjusts his bed so it will support his new position.

“I’d like you to eat,” Healer Che says. She places the second tray on the table attached to Obi-Wan’s bed. There’s a bowl of broth and a cup of nasty sludge. Neither of them is appetizing.

“No, thank you.”

Healer Che narrows her eyes. “You can eat what’s on the tray or I can hook you up to a feeding machine.”

“Do you have a straw?” Obi-Wan asks. Once he’s handed one, he sticks it in the sludge. He tries to pull the liquid up, but it’s too thick, and he doesn’t have the strength for it. Fighting tears, he abandons the sludge and turns his attention to the broth. He lifts the spoon, but the utensil trembles in his hand. If he even manages to dip it in the broth, the broth will spill before he makes it to his mouth. He drops the spoon onto the tray and turns toward the far wall.

He’s useless.

He shouldn’t be. He’s Padawan Kenobi which means he’s a child. He hasn’t been kidnapped or tortured. He isn’t recovering from a long battle or hard mission. He’s in the Temple. The last thing he remembers is training with Qui-Gon. They were in the greenhouse and—

“Oh,” he breathes quietly. He turns back the other way. The curtain is closed again, only Obi-Wan and Dooku in the little space. “I poured my life force into the garden.”

“If it was the garden, you would be fine. An entire greenhouse, padawan. You brought an entire floor of crops to bloom months before their intended harvest.”

“Ah.”

His response is clearly inadequate, because Dooku’s anger flares in the Force. His nostrils flare, and he releases the emotion, but his expression doesn’t soften. “You almost died.”

There’s something else, but Dooku doesn’t want to tell him. Obi-Wan takes only a moment to puzzle it out. “Master Jinn blames himself. He took this as proof he shouldn’t be in the Temple around impressionable young minds. Where has he banished himself to?”

“Bandomeer.”

Fuck.

Obi-Wan tries to sit up straighter, but he slips back into his original position. “He’s wrong. It was an overreach on my part. He instructed me to encourage the growth of one plant, and I threw myself into the whole room. It isn’t his fault.”

“My former padawan is going to Bandomeer to assist in negotiations between Offworld Mining Corporation and the Arcona Mineral Harvest Corporation. It will be a difficult negotiation, the kind Qui-Gon excels in. And my current padawan,” Dooku levels a stern look at Obi-Wan, “is going to obey the healers and recover. Now, what are the options Healer Che gave you?”

Eat or have tubes shoved in his body. Obi-Wan hates being connected to machines. He doesn’t like being trapped or having things inside him. But he can’t drink, and he can’t lift a spoon which means his options aren’t actually options. “I’ll call for Healer Che.”

“What are the options Healer Che gave you?” Dooku repeats with the same patience he does whenever Obi-Wan skips ahead of a question to the final answer.

“Eat or be hooked up to the feeding machine. I—I can’t—” Shame burns through Obi-Wan, and he ducks his head as if he can spare himself some of it. “I don’t have the strength for spoon or straw.”

Dooku doesn’t say anything. The silence lasts long enough for Obi-Wan to chance a look at the man. He watches Obi-Wan, steady and patient, as if he’s waiting for something. For what? Obi-Wan can’t feed himself. What’s his other option, then? His gaze is drawn to Dooku’s hands, strong and capable and—no. He can’t ask his master to feed him. It’s demeaning to both of them.

“What are your options?” Dooku asks, almost gently, when it’s clear Obi-Wan needs the nudge.

“The machine. Or asking for assistance.”

“Indeed.” Dooku tucks his hands inside his sleeves and waits.

Is this a test? Obi-Wan hates it when he doesn’t know the right answer, especially when Dooku does. He knows he’s supposed to be the padawan, but he has an entire lifetime of knowledge. Whenever Dooku leads him to an answer it feels patronizing.

“You’re my master,” Obi-Wan says. “I can’t ask you—” Obi-Wan cuts himself off. He can’t even vocalize the possibility of it.

“You are my responsibility,” Dooku reminds him. “I will care for you when you need it.”

Obi-Wan still can’t believe it. Would it be worse to let Dooku feed him or to be hooked up to the machines? He hates the machines, but to trust Dooku? To make himself vulnerable in such a drastic way? Obi-Wan fidgets with his sheets. “Will you—will you help me?”

“Of course, padawan.”

Dooku feeds him the broth while it’s still warm. The protein sludge is more of a struggle, but Obi-Wan finishes all of it. It’s pathetic how swallowing has worn him out. He expects Dooku to mock him, to see a triumphant smirk or hear low laughter. Instead, his master lowers Obi-Wan’s bed so he’s lying down again. He dims the lights and settles into his vigil at Obi-Wan’s side.

Master Dooku, Obi-Wan reminds himself. This isn’t Count Dooku. He pulls his blanket up to his chin to ward off the cool air. After a moment, he snakes his hand out and holds it palm up. He can’t bring himself to ask, but Dooku doesn’t make him. He grasps Obi-Wan’s hand in his, and Obi-Wan drifts off to sleep.

Chapter Text

It takes three days before Obi-Wan is allowed out of the Halls of Healing. He’s still weak, because it takes a long time to recover after draining nearly your entire life force. The gardeners can’t believe how well the crops are doing. Apparently, Obi-Wan altered the plants’ DNA and they’ll now have faster and more bountiful harvests. One of them suggested the Council reconsider Obi-Wan’s future and reassign him to the AgriCorps.

At the time, Obi-Wan didn’t know what had been said. All he felt was a wave of fury and possessiveness from Dooku. Learning the cause went a long way to making him feel wanted. And if Dooku needed the same reassurance, Obi-Wan is completely dependent on him after his release from the Halls of Healing.

Three days after Obi-Wan’s release, his connection to the Force has returned, and he has the stamina to roam the Temple on his own. His first order of business is to scour the Temple until he finds Qui-Gon. The Jedi is in one of the training salles and engaged in a complicated program with three training droids. Despite the difficult program, the droids are no match for the Jedi master.

Obi-Wan waits until Qui-Gon powers down his saber to announce his presence. “Master Jinn.”

Qui-Gon’s gaze flicks to Obi-Wan and then away. Guilt hangs heavy in the air between them. “Padawan.” Qui-Gon inclines his head as he returns the greeting. “Is there something I can assist you with?”

“Master Dooku says you’re leaving soon for a complicated negotiation, well-suited to your skills.”

“Better suited than some things.”

It’s the perfect segue. “The fault lies with me.” Obi-Wan doesn’t like the dark circles under Qui-Gon’s eyes or the weary acceptance which wears on his posture. Obi-Wan has firsthand knowledge of failure and how it can grind a person down. He had many long years on Tatooine to reflect on his various failures. It was fortunate there was only one final thing required of him at the end; death.

But Qui-Gon has an entire life before him. “You were clear in your instructions,” Obi-Wan says. “I disobeyed. I can promise you, I have learned from my mistakes. I will not repeat it. But it was my failure, not yours.”

“You could have died. You almost did. You were under my care, and you ended up in the Halls of Healing. There is a reason I do not take another padawan.”

“You’re afraid.”

Qui-Gon’s gaze is sharp and angry, but he doesn’t speak.

“We learn from our experiences.”

Qui-Gon’s gaze hardens further. Obi-Wan knows when to make a tactical retreat. He and Qui-Gon never had an easy relationship. Both of their scars ran too deep. They constantly tripped over each other’s triggers. In Qui-Gon’s eyes, Obi-Wan is a child and an unwanted one. He’s a painful reminder of past and present failures. Obi-Wan cannot help him through this trial.

“Would you like someone to care for your plants while you’re away?” This, at least, Obi-Wan can do.

“Master Tahl has already offered.” Qui-Gon clips his lightsaber to his belt. “Good evening.” He strides out without waiting for Obi-Wan’s response.

Obi-Wan lingers in the salle as he debates what to do. He’ll continue to chip away at Qui-Gon’s stubbornness after the man returns from Bandomeer, but Obi-Wan has to first make sure he will return. Last time, Obi-Wan was there to help. It won’t be him this time, but someone else needs to go. But who? And how to warn everyone?

He swings by the commissary to pick up evening meal and reassure his friends that he hasn’t found his way into new trouble. When he returns to his quarters, Master Dooku sits at the table and contemplates the pot of tea. Obi-Wan sets their meal down and pours a cup for each of them.

They eat quietly and afterward, Obi-Wan clears the table and does the dishes. Then, he’s at a loss. He should study, he has catch-up work from his stint in the Halls, but he’s off-kilter. While he was in the Halls, Dooku stayed at his side the whole time. Obi-Wan fell asleep and woke up with his hand firmly held.

When he was released, he was weak enough to be dependent on Dooku. His master eased him to his feet in the morning, escorted him to the table to eat and then to the couch to rest. He was able to use the fresher on his own, thankfully, but his washings were limited, and he knows Dooku lurked outside the room in case Obi-Wan’s knees gave out and he needed help.

As humiliating as the experiences were, there was always a supportive hand or touch on offer. He searches for it now, even though he has no need of it. He survived on Tatooine on his own. Sure, he clasped Luke’s shoulder a few times and the boy turned his face into Obi-Wan’s chest after they found his family murdered, but those were different touches. Those were the kinds he was used to from the war.

Dooku settles on the couch with his robes arranged around him. He has a drink on the end table, but he leaves it untouched for now. There’s space next to him for Obi-Wan to sit, but Obi-Wan hesitates. He doesn’t want to make himself a burden or insert himself where he’s unwanted.

“You’re thinking very hard, padawan,” Dooku observes without looking up from his datapad.

Obi-Wan flushes and disappears into his room to gather his study materials. He stops next to the couch when he returns. “May I sit next to you?”

 Dooku gestures to the space next to him. Obi-Wan could easily sit on the end, plenty of space between them. Instead, he tucks himself against Dooku’s side. He holds himself completely still and waits for censure or reprimand. For an agonizing moment, nothing happens. The room is silent save for the thunderous beat of Obi-Wan’s heart.

And then, Dooku lifts his arm up. Obi-Wan shuffles closer. He pulls his feet up onto the couch and stretches his toes toward the far side. He opens his reading and settles in. He feels the tension in Dooku’s body as if this as new for him as it is for Obi-Wan.

Three pages into Obi-Wan’s reading, Dooku relaxes. Obi-Wan’s pleased to know this is something which benefits both of them. It will make it easier to ask for in the future. He makes it through three chapters before his attention fades. He reads the same paragraph three times as his eyes droop. He misses important words and can’t wrap his mind around the meaning. He growls, frustrated, and before he can try again, his datapad is plucked from his hands. He chases after it, but Dooku sets it out of reach.

“Your instructors understand,” Dooku tells him.

Obi-Wan knows what it’s like to be found wanting. He wasn’t good enough for anyone in the Temple. He finally earned a place at Qui-Gon’s side and then spent his entire apprenticeship disappointing the man. Even when he became part of the Jedi Council, he was young and questioned often. He has everything to prove.

“It’s too early for bed,” Obi-Wan says. He sounds like a child, whiny and obstinate.

Dooku arches an eyebrow. He also plucks a pillow from the chair next to him and rests it on his lap. “You may stay up a bit longer, but only if you rest. You’re still recovering.”

Obi-Wan sighs, but he shifts until he can lay his head on the pillow. Dooku runs his hand through Obi-Wan’s hair which surprises Obi-Wan at first. But then he thinks about it. Dooku is aloof and distant but every time Obi-Wan asks for something, within reason, it’s granted. He was looking for contact tonight, and Dooku has provided.

His eyes flutter closed, and he smiles at the touch. Lulled like this, half-asleep, he remembers the last time he had a genuine, gentle touch. He and some of the 212th popped down to a nearby planet to see if there was any fresh food. They could survive on rations, but morale was better when they could do some hunting or foraging.

Jester was in charge of packing, and Obi-Wan never learned where the mistake happened, but they were short two tents. It was a tight squeeze in the three tents they did have. Obi-Wan slept at the very far end of one. Cody elected himself the barrier between Obi-Wan and the rest of their tent-mates. He spent the night with Cody’s arm wrapped around his waist.

The pleasant memory fades as he recalls the last time he saw Cody. His commander handed him his lightsaber. If Cody had been trained any worse, he would have rolled his eyes. “Your life, General,” he said, echoing the words Obi-Wan spoke to Anakin time and time again.

Obi-Wan grasped his lightsaber, a riposte on the tip of his tongue. And then Cody opened fire. Obi-Wan fell off the cliff, tumbled down and down and—

Obi-Wan jerks upright. His tunics stick to his back, and his forehead is damp with sweat. He breathes too fast and too shallow.

“Padawan?” Dooku asks, his concern almost suffocating.

Damn it. Obi-Wan needs to stop sleeping in front of witnesses. His episode in the Halls was explained by trauma even though he’s sure Healer Che has several questions on where that trauma came from. But how does he explain this?

Oh.

Bandomeer.

“I had a dream,” Obi-Wan answers. He doesn’t need to fake the tremble in his voice or the matching tremble in his hands. He’s unsettled and afraid.

Dooku draws Obi-Wan to his side again, offering his steady presence, both physical and metaphysical, for Obi-Wan to lean against. “An unpleasant one, I gather?”

Obi-Wan chuffs a quiet laugh. “There was another boy. He was older than me. He had long black hair. He said It’s been a long time, Master.”

Dooku grows still. “What do you remember about this boy?”

Obi-Wan draws on every bit of his memory until he paints an unmistakable picture of Xanatos du Crion. The details around him are more vague, this was supposedly a dream after all, but Obi-Wan gives enough detail to make sure Qui-Gon won’t be caught off guard on Bandomeer.

Once Obi-Wan finishes, Dooku is quiet. All of his thoughts and feelings are pulled in tight, hidden by his shields. It is, as some planets say, the calm before the storm. Obi-Wan has used the tactic before, notably in battle. In the midst of a violent, chaotic campaign, he would pull everything to a standstill around him, evaluate the situation, and then fling himself back into action.

“I need to speak to some people. Will you be alright on your own?”

“Yes.”

“Put yourself to bed. I will see you in the morning.”

“May I stay on the couch until you return?”

“You’re half-asleep. I would wake you up—Ah. That is your intention.” Dooku studies Obi-Wan for a moment, his gaze searching, but Obi-Wan doesn’t reveal his secrets. “Very well, but when I return, there will be no complaints.”

“Yes, master.”

Obi-Wan prepares for bed. He cleans his teeth, uses the fresher, and changes into pajamas. By the time he returns to the communal room, Dooku is gone. Obi-Wan’s curious, of course, who Dooku is going to confide in. Qui-Gon? Yoda? Mace? It’s difficult to settle on the couch. He is used to being in control of, or at least aware of, every situation. But as a padawan, he can only set things in motion and then trust those around him.

He pulls the blanket up to his chin and closes his eyes. With a wave of his hand, he dims the lights in the room.

#

Obi-Wan wakes up when the door slides open. He jerks to alertness and reaches for a saber which isn’t clipped to his waist. Panic overtakes him for a moment before he recognizes his master in the doorway. Safe, his senses assure him, and he sinks back down on the couch.

“To your bed now, padawan.” Dooku urges Obi-Wan to his feet and guides him to his bedroom. Obi-Wan faceplants on his bed, and he hears Dooku chuckle before his master drapes the blanket from the couch over him.

“Everything’s okay?” Obi-Wan mumbles.

“I’ve shared your warning,” Dooku says. “Now, we prepare and trust in the Force.”

Trust, Obi-Wan thinks bitterly before sleep pulls him under again.

#

Obi-Wan is the first awake, and he showers quickly before he starts breakfast. He hums to himself as he moves through the kitchen. He fills the tea kettle and sets it to boil, sifts through the fridge for the ingredients he wants, and sets the table as breakfast cooks.

The eggs are plated and the toast has just finished when Dooku emerges from his room. Despite the early hour, he is as put together as always, as if he doesn’t leave his room unless he is perfectly groomed.

They eat in companionable silence. Dooku doesn’t say anything until Obi-Wan clears their dishes. “I will be out for most of the day. I expect a report on your classes over evening meal. Your free block is yours to spend as you wish with one exception. I do not want you in the gardens or greenhouses without supervision.”

Obi-Wan bows his head in acknowledgement. He gathers his things for the day, and he and his master exit their quarters together. They part ways at the end of the hall as Obi-Wan turns off for his first class. He is almost caught up since his bout with overexertion. Bant still eyes him, worried he’ll drop at any moment, and Siri will scowl at him for being stupid or, if he looks well enough, will sock him in the shoulder.

His crechemates are in most of his classes, but it isn’t until second meal that Quinlan has the opportunity to join them. The older boy grins as he spears a root vegetable and holds it up for inspection. “I wonder if any of Obi is in this.”

“Ew.” Bant wrinkles her nose.

“Wait a few years, and you can have as much of Obi in you as you can stand,” Siri says with a smirk.

It’s Garen’s turn to say, “Ew.”

Quinlan laughs and takes a bite out of the tuber. Technically, it’s a food which should be cut into small pieces, but Quinlan shows no inclination to do so.

“I’m sure Master Tholme has taught you manners,” Master Rhara chides as she approaches their table.

“He tried.” Quinlan adopts a tragic tone. “I’m a slow learner, you see.”

Master Rhara is here with a purpose, because she isn’t pulled into Quin’s ridiculousness. She taps Garen’s shoulder. “Once you’re finished, return to our quarters and pack a bag. We have a mission.”

Garen, predictably, shovels the rest of his food into his mouth. Master Rhara sighs but she doesn’t scold him. She reserves her sharp look for Quinlan which means Master Tholme will receive a chastising note. Obi-Wan takes Garen’s empty tray and waves him off. He has more important things to do than clear his spot.

“Thanks, Obi!” Garen waves to them and then books it out of the commissary. Siri’s jealous gaze follows him out.

“It’ll be your turn soon,” Bant says.

“It’ll be Obi’s first.” Quin nudges Obi-Wan under the table. “Has Dooku said anything about your first mission?”

“I have to fully recover first, I imagine.” If Obi-Wan hadn’t been stupid…no, it’s best he isn’t going to Bandomeer. The events won’t happen in the same way as last time, and the overlap might confuse him. Master Rhara and Garen will keep Qui-Gon safe.

“Maybe you’ll have an easy first,” Quin says. “A coronation, with drinking and dancing.”

“I don’t care for dancing,” Obi-Wan says.

“Ah, but you’re an expert on drinking?”

Obi-Wan sniffs and tilts his nose up like the snooty senators on the holovids. Quinlan slaps his thigh and laughs. He does an impression next and then pokes Siri until she joins in. By the end of the meal, their sides all hurt from laughing.

#

Obi-Wan usually spends his free block with Qui-Gon or his own master, but neither of them are an option today. The training salles are open, and he could probably find a partner if he went, but he isn’t in the mood for a spar. He wanders until he finds himself outside the mechanics’ garage.

He enters and is met with the chill of a closed system with artificial air. The scent of oil and electrical discharge hangs heavy in the air. People work hard on ships and droids. Obi-Wan approaches the front desk where he’s greeted by a suspicious droid. “This is not a daycare.”

“And I don’t need a minder.” Obi-Wan looks around. “I want to be useful.” The space reminds him of Anakin, and his chest aches as he remembers panicked searches through the Temple. How many times had he found Anakin napping in a bed of spare parts or tinkering with the droids?

Obi-Wan is assigned to clean the freshly repaired droids, because he’s young and untrained and isn’t trusted with anything else. He accepts his task and brings his cloth to where a short line of droids wait for a clean-up before they’re allowed to leave.

They chatter amongst themselves, and Obi-Wan realizes this is a good opportunity to practice his binary.

Have you been here long? He asks.

The camera ports whirl to face him. Lights flash as the droids beep. One of them, an R2 unit, shifts from leg to leg, excited.

One at a time, please.

The R2 unit zaps the other two to shut them up. Obi-Wan can’t help but wonder if all astromech droids are built sassy. They chat about the garage, which mechanics have steady hands, which ones sweat too much, and who has the best stories.

He learns Gregor has a crush on Milna. Once, he dropped a wrench on D4’s head when Milna approached and smiled at him. D4 is indignant over this while R2 mocks it in short chirrups. Obi-Wan laughs and tries to explain how emotions sometimes make sentients clumsy. D4 says this is a design flaw. R2 cackles and flashes its lights as if plotting to play matchmaker.

I’ve created a monster, Obi-Wan says.

R2 sifts through the cleaning cloths until it finds one without a spot of grease on it. It uses a pincher claw to pick it up and hold it out to Obi-Wan.

Bossy.

“Are you talking to them?” The humanoid who joins him has dark red skin and white hair. Her mechanic’s jumpsuit says Milna on the name patch. Ah, this explains why R2 practically vibrates with excitement. The droid wheels off, cackling, and Milna watches its departure, concerned. “Did I scare R2?”

“R2’s on a mission.” Obi-Wan shakes his head and beckons to Q32. “And to answer your first question, yes, I was talking to them. Droids have a lot to say if you know how to listen.”

“Most humanoids can’t learn binary.”

Obi-Wan shrugs. “I have the time and motivation.”

Milna looks him over, amused. “Ah, yes. You’re ten, going on fifty?”

Close enough. Obi-Wan ducks his head. “I’ll be thirteen soon.”

“Ancient.” She smiles to take the sting out of her teasing. She turns her smile on the crowd of droids Obi-Wan amassed. After he cleans them, most of them linger to gossip with him or try to sneak in another cleaning. “Anything good to share?”

D4 beeps a loud warning not to snitch, and Q32 pokes Obi-Wan with one of its spindly arms. Obi-Wan offers Milna an apologetic smile. “I’ve been sworn to secrecy.”

An alarm sounds a few feet away from them, and Milna takes off. She rushes over to where R2 broadcasts its distress. Gregor runs from the opposite direction. Once they both reach the astromech unit, a heavy net drops over the three of them.

Victory! R2 proclaims.

Obi-Wan face palms and smears engine grease on his forehead.

#

Obi-Wan stops by the commissary on the way to his quarters to pick up late meal for himself and his master. He sets the table and pours drinks. When Dooku enters, he looks from the food to Obi-Wan and he presses his lips into a thin line. “Did you prepare this yourself?”

“No, master.” Obi-Wan isn’t sure what he’s done wrong. Is his cooking so terrible? Should he retrieve first meal from the commissary as well? He isn’t a chef, but what he makes is edible. Of course, his own palette isn’t discerning. No doubt, Count Dooku is used to finer things. Maybe—

“I have no desire to flavor my food with engine grease. Wash up and join me at the table.”

Oh. Obi-Wan hasn’t cleaned up since the garage. He retreats to the fresher and scrubs his face and neck and hands. He’s still dirty, he’s sure, but tomorrow morning’s shower will take care of it.

“There is nothing less hygienic in this galaxy than teenage boys,” Dooku mutters when Obi-Wan rejoins him.

Obi-Wan can’t help his impish grin. “I’m only twelve, master.”

Dooku’s lips twitch as a smile tries to break through his stern exterior. He covers for it by taking a bite of his meal. He sighs, disappointed, but he takes another bite. “I look forward to our first mission.”

Maybe Quin is right, and Obi-Wan’s first mission will be something diplomatic, where Dooku can be wined and dined. “Garen left on a mission today.”

“Yes. He and Master Rhara are accompanying Qui-Gon to Bandomeer. Master Yoda tells me you have visions. This is a skill we will train and master just as we would with lightsabers.”

“Did I see someone bad?” Obi-Wan asks.

Dooku hesitates a moment, as if debating how much to say. “You saw a boy I believe to be Xanatos du Crion, Qui-Gon’s former apprentice.”

“The one who Fell.”

“Yes. If he is on Bandomeer as your vision implied, this is no longer a mission for a single Jedi. Qui-Gon will handle the negotiations as he was originally assigned. Master Rhara and Padawan Garen will investigate Xanatos’s involvement.”

“Will Garen be okay?” Obi-Wan remembers the feel of the collar around his neck, his fear when he realized bombs were planted everywhere, his calm acceptance when he realized what he’d have to do. He doesn’t want Garen to know the heavy weight of a collar or the heavier weight of choosing between his own life and countless others.

“We must trust in the Force,” Dooku says which isn’t nearly as reassuring as Obi-Wan wants it to be.

#

As the days pass, Obi-Wan not only fully recovers his strength but finally begins to expand on it. He doesn’t have the excuse to curl up with his master on the couch and while he’s grateful to be independent, he misses their casual touches as Dooku assisted him.

Adding to his restlessness is his guilt over Garen going to Bandomeer in his place and his worry for the three Jedi who don’t know what they’re walking into. His skin feels stretched too tightly across his frame. The troopers talked about it sometimes, a design flaw the Kaminoans hadn’t eliminated during their creation; this need for touch.

Obi-Wan should be above such things. He’s a grown adult for all he’s trapped in a boy’s body. But he sways toward his master when they’re in their quarters, and he leans over Siri’s shoulder for a few moments of closeness before she shoves him away.

The next time Obi-Wan has a free block, he drags Quin to the training salles with him. It’s an easy sell, but Quin’s enthusiasm falters when Obi-Wan sets his lightsaber on the bench with his outer tunics.

“What’s this?” Quinlan asks.

Thinking about the troopers gave Obi-Wan an idea. He’s down to his base layers, and he rolls his sleeves to his elbows. “I can practice sabers with Master Dooku and Master Drallig. We should practice our hand-to-hand.”

Quinlan laughs as he strips down to his base layers as well. “Hand-to-hand? I can’t believe Dooku would let you do something so common.”

“Which is why I’m practicing with you. I bet you know all kinds of tricks.”

“Nothing fit for polite company.”

Obi-Wan rolls his eyes. He bounces on his toes, impatient for Quinlan to step into the center of his ring. Once he does, Obi-Wan charges. It isn’t a finesse move, and Quinlan easily catches him and uses his momentum to send Obi-Wan flying. With a touch of the Force and a twist of his hips, Obi-Wan lands on his feet.

Quin’s lips quirk up as if he realizes Obi-Wan’s serious. It’s his turn to charge. Obi-Wan’s used to fighting for his life and the fate of the galaxy. This—this is fun. War is a terrible thing, but physical exertion is necessary, and the Force sings around him as he spars with his friend.

He knees Quin in the stomach and pins him on the ground for two seconds before Quin wraps his legs around Obi-Wan and flips him. They trade blows and in the beginning they toss each other around the room and use the Force for fancy acrobatics. As the fight drags on and they tire, they grapple more until they’re mostly wrestling.

Finally, Quinlan pins Obi-Wan with his knees clamped tightly around Obi-Wan’s waist and his forearm against Obi-Wan’s neck. Obi-Wan could break the hold, but the itch under his skin has settled. Quinlan is a steady weight on top of him, and he relaxes against the mat. “I yield.”

“Fucking finally.” Quin collapses on Obi-Wan which earns a grunt but no complaints.

They both breathe hard and neither are inclined to move. Obi-Wan would greedily stay here all night if he could. Their sweat mingles and cools, their bodies are sticky and smell, and they’re both wrung out. But the tension Obi-Wan has carried with him for days is gone. It’s as close as he’s gotten to peace in years. He tucks his face against Quin’s neck and prays the boy doesn’t comment or judge.

They stay where they are until the evening meal bell rings.

Quinlan groans. “I won so you should fetch me food.”

“Ha.”

Quinlan pokes him. “I’m serious.”

“You should’ve bet before we fought.”

“Next time.”

Obi-Wan grins at the promise of a next time. “Shower and then food?”

“Shower will take too long. Food first.”

“Master Dooku will lecture me again on hygiene.”

“Aw, Obi, you don’t shower enough?” Quinlan knuckles Obi-Wan’s hair and Obi-Wan half-heartedly knees him in the side. “Just wait, soon Dooku will pound on the fresher and tell you not to clog up the drain.”

“Ugh, gross.” Obi-Wan rolls them so he’s on top. He stands and pulls his shirt up to wipe his face. He isn’t looking forward to going through puberty again. He still, intellectually, understands the concept of desire and sexual release, but his body hasn’t shown any interest yet. Soon, though, it will be fluctuating hormones and uncontrollable reactions. Why couldn’t the Force send him back to eighteen? Or twenty?

Quin, also on his feet now, drapes an arm over Obi-Wan’s shoulders. “Come on, Smelly-Wan. I’ll report on your shower to Dooku myself. We’ll have to shower together so I can give an accurate report.

“You’re a menace,” Obi-Wan tells him. He sweeps Quinlan’s feet out from under him and then sprints for the private fresher.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan and Dooku leave on their first mission before Qui-Gon returns from Bandomeer. As Obi-Wan’s friends guessed, it’s an easy one. An acquaintance of Dooku’s family requested Dooku’s presence at his birthday celebration. It isn’t quite the coronation Quinlan predicted, but it’s a soft mission nonetheless.

Garen’s first mission involved a race, crashing a speeder, and hot-wiring a swoop bike. They were gone long enough for most of his wounds to heal by the time he returned, but he has a few scars from kissing a cliff face during his race. Quinlan’s first mission was worse; though, with Quin’s penchant for exaggeration, Obi-Wan isn’t sure he believes him.

All Obi-Wan’s friends had adventure and danger. They had an opportunity to prove themselves useful to their masters. Obi-Wan’s attending a party. Is this a sign the Council doesn’t trust him? He knows he’s young and a fresh padawan, but this mission has such obvious training wheels, it’s insulting.

Though…how many “easy” missions did he and Qui-Gon go on, only for them to turn into a clusterfuck?

During the days leading up to their departure, Obi-Wan attends his classes as usual. Each evening, he and Dooku practice manners, from how to properly greet each member of the Lorrainian monarchy to which utensils to use when. This is a culture of subtle insults. Setting a person’s place with only three of four forks could force them into giving grave insult during the dessert course. It’s a place where sparking someone’s temper is an ever-present goal and has serious repercussions for the one who loses their cool.

“This is a challenge,” Obi-Wan realizes on their second night. “The Council is testing my control.”

Dooku looks up from their meal. His surprise melts into amusement and then something darker. “A friend of my cousin asked for my presence at his birthday celebration. This is a social call. It isn’t a test from the Council.”

A social call? Yeah, Obi-Wan will keep that to himself. If his friends’ laughter over his “mission” was bad, it’ll be ten times worse if they realize it didn’t even make that low bar. Social call.

Despite Dooku’s belief, Obi-Wan knows a test when he faces one. His master may be attending for the food and drink and the opportunity to catch up with a friend, but Obi-Wan will use this…social call to prove he isn’t a loose cannon.

On the day they depart, Obi-Wan carries their things to the small ship which will take them to Lorraine. There are two personal quarters on the ship, a guest quarters which doubles as storage, a fresher, a small room which serves as a cargo bay and mess hall, and the cockpit. It’s a compact little ship. Obi-Wan’s grateful they won’t travel long in it.

He stows his master’s things in the largest of the quarters and then stows his next door. Exploring the cockpit reveals this to be an older model. They have hyperdrive capabilities, but they aren’t top notch. There are limited weapons so hopefully they won’t end up in a firefight. Obi-Wan plots their course as he waits for Dooku to arrive.

He does his math, twice, and then putters around the ship to learn every last inch of it. He comms Quinlan requesting any and all updates on Master Jinn and Garen.

Finally, Dooku arrives. He carries a crate with several wrapped packages inside. At Obi-Wan’s look, he smiles. “We’re going to a birthday celebration, padawan. It would be impolite to show up without a gift.”

Obi-Wan inclines his head. “I’ve stowed your belongings and set our course. We can leave when you’re ready.”

Dooku gestures as if to say once you can be bothered. Obi-Wan reaches for the button to close the landing ramp when a loud trill stays his hand. He glances at Dooku, but his master is just as confused as the R2 unit from the mechanic’ bay zooms into their ship.

A moment later, Milna jogs into their sight, her red skin even darker with the exertion. “Sorry.” She gulps in a breath and braces her hands on her thighs. “Bugger is fast. And very insistent it travel with you.”

“We have an astromech,” Dooku says.

The speedy R2 responds rudely, and Obi-Wan laughs even as he crouches next to the interloper. D9 is a serviceable droid.

R2-D5 beeps sadly as it describes a future trapped in the mechanics’ bay to rust and fade into obscurity. Obi-Wan crosses his arms over his chest and intends to stay firm, but R2 trills mournfully to reinforce its point. Obi-Wan glances at his master. “I worked on this droid the other day. It’s in tip-top shape.”

“And the droid we already have installed?”

“I cannot vouch for its state as I haven’t interacted with it.”

Dooku’s lips twitch as he holds back a smile as if he doesn’t want to encourage either Obi-Wan or R2. “Make the switch if you like. But if this one causes any trouble,” he stares down the droid, “I will ensure it never leaves the Temple again.”

R2 wisely keeps its comments to itself.

Milna helps Obi-Wan switch out the R2 units. As she reassures R2-D9, Obi-Wan notices the darker patch of skin on her neck. It almost looks bruised as if…he looks away with a smile. He’ll have to tell R2 about this new development.

“He has personality, but he’s a good droid,” Milna says as if Obi-Wan needs convincing.

“I imagine we’ll become good friends by the end of our journey.” Obi-Wan bids Milna and D9 farewell and boards the ship again. He raises the landing ramp behind him before any other stragglers can waylay them.

R2, now looped into the communications system, chats with Obi-Wan as he makes his way to the cockpit. It tells him how glad he is for an adventure and then critiques Obi-Wan’s flight path. Obi-Wan scowls and, upon realizing R2 is correct, scowls harder.

“What is it?” Dooku asks.

“My math isn’t as sound as I would like.” Obi-Wan makes the necessary corrections. “R2’s path will see us to Lorra in three hours less than mine.”

“Safely?”

R2 beeps its offense as if it isn’t a perfectly reasonably question. Dooku, who doesn’t understand binary, understands the tone. At his sharp look, R2’s whistles lowly in apology.

“I didn’t realize you were studying binary,” Dooku says as they clear the landing pad.

“I like languages and droids are good friends to have. They’ve often overlooked so people say things in front of them they wouldn’t in front of sentients.”

“You’re cultivating allies.”

“I’m cultivating a varied range of skills.” Obi-Wan takes them out of orbit and then sets the auto-nav to follow R2’s course. “Prince Devani is a friend of yours?”

“He’s closer with my cousin, but he is a friend of Serenno.”

“I thought Jedi weren’t allowed attachments?”

“We are discouraged from them. The Council believes close attachments lead to strong emotions such as jealously, greed, and fear. It isn’t the attachment but the response to it which they caution against. If you were in a situation where you had to save hundreds of lives or the woman who birthed you, which would you choose?”

“Hundreds of lives. I don’t even remember my mother.”

“Ah.” Dooku smiles. “But if you did remember her? If she raised you until you were ten and then gave you to the Temple? If a bounty hunter held his blaster to her head and you heard her lullaby in your ears, would you make the same choice?”

I killed my brother to save the galaxy. Or, at least I thought I did. “The needs of the many,” Obi-Wan answers but his throat is tight. Anakin failed this test. His attachment to Padmé drew him down a path of fear and darkness. He is why the Council warns against such relationships.

“Not everyone can make the same choice,” Dooku says. “Emotion clouds judgement and interferes with logic. I have friends, yes, and I keep in contact with my family and home planet, but those connections don’t rule me.”

Obi-Wan is struck at how arrogant Dooku is. How hasn’t the Council censured him for it? He hears their warnings and then ignores them because he sees himself above such weaknesses. Is this how Sidious tempted him into Falling? Did Dooku think he could hold out against the lure of the dark? It didn’t work. Despite his confidence, the darkside swallowed him whole.

“I will have to meditate on this,” Obi-Wan says hoping for an end to the conversation.

“The Jedi cultivate attachments. When you’re first brought to the Temple, you’re placed in the creche with a group of agemates you journey with from youngling to initiate. You form bonds with them and your crechemaster. The strongest bonds, those last as you become padawans and some develop into pair bonds. And then, of course, there is the master-padawan relationship. The Order only wants certain attachments.”

Dooku steeples his fingers and stares out into space. Obi-Wan feels the heavy press of his thoughts, but he doesn’t press as the man thinks through what to say. Finally, with a long exhale, Dooku turns back to Obi-Wan. “You wanted to be a Jedi more than anything.”

“Yes.”

“What would you have done to achieve your goal?”

I would have sacrificed my life to show Qui-Gon I could uphold the standards of the Jedi Order. I would have become the perfect padawan. I would have set aside my wants and desires so Anakin could be trained by my master. I—

“Anything,” Obi-Wan whispers.

Dooku’s smile is sad as he touches Obi-Wan’s stubbly braid. “That is the attachment the Jedi encourage more than any other, one to the Order itself. They tell me to cut my connections to Serenno so I don’t follow the interests of my home planet. They tell children to give up memories of their families so they aren’t swayed by blood. The Temple is your home and the Jedi are your family. They tie your loyalty to them in every way.”

It sounds sinister when Dooku puts it like that. Obi-Wan’s immediate reaction to reject it. But this isn’t Count Dooku. This is Master Dooku. If these are the thoughts which led him on his path to Falling, Obi-Wan needs to listen and remain vigilant. He won’t allow Dooku to Fall again.

He can’t help but reflect on Dooku’s words. How many times did he put himself in danger for the Jedi? He smiles as his mind conjures an image of Cody, irritated but brisk as he reports on every instance from the Clone Wars. Obi-Wan didn’t put his life on the line for the Jedi. He did it for the galaxy. For his men.

Was that an attachment? What was the alternative? His troops were sentient. He wasn’t going to send them into battle as if they were expendable. The generals who took that approach, ones like Pong Krell, they were tainted. Were evil. If Obi-Wan wasn’t attached to his men, then he would have been something even worse.

How can one live with no attachments? Ah, but the Temple doesn’t preach no attachments. They caution against them because they fear they’ll cloud decision making. Obi-Wan never allowed his feelings for his men to keep him from making the necessary decisions. He never let his love for Ahsoka hold her back when she was needed.

He has attachments, dozens of them, and he knows they may one day cause him great pain when they’re severed. But he would never choose them over the greater good. That is the mandate of the Jedi.

Dooku chuckles softly. “You thought this would be a boring mission. And yet, here we are debating radical philosophy.”

Obi-Wan stares at his hands. Is this a Trial? Is Dooku already corrupted? Does he seek to bring Obi-Wan down with him? How is he supposed to be Dooku’s padawan if he can’t trust him? “When you chose me to be your padawan, I wondered if I should try to be a perfect one so I would never shame you or make you doubt choosing me.” It’s what he tried with Qui-Gon, it’s what he tried later with Anakin, and it hadn’t ended well either of those times. “But you didn’t choose a nebulous possibility of myself. You chose me. Do you seek to mold me into someone else?”

Should I fear you?

Dooku rests his hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “You are still a child and as you grow, you will become someone different. As your master and closest companion, I will influence who you become. But no, I don’t have an image of who that will be. I want to see who you believe you should be.”

Obi-Wan breathes easier even though he knows he can’t afford to let down his guard completely. “I doubt that is what the Council wants.”

 “The Jedi Order isn’t infallible,” Dooku says. “As individual Jedi, it is up to us to do what is right and affect change both within the Order and without.”

Last time, Dooku lost hope in the Jedi ever changing, and he left in order to force that change from the outside. It didn’t end well, but his intentions were good. Obi-Wan will commit to helping him make those changes from within the Order. Because he’s right. They aren’t infallible. Obi-Wan saw the Order falter, saw it eventually fall, but he has hope it can change.

If not, why was he sent back?

#

Lorra is a planet with rich landscapes. There are forests and plains, deserts and tundras. There are two capital cities; Lor, which is built into a mountainside and Ra, a coastal city. Once, Lorra was made up of two warring peoples, and each capital served as a stronghold.

After the Ishar line united the people under one central government, they kept both seats of power. Lor is the fall and winter palace and Ra, where they land, is where the royalty spends their springs and summers.

Prince Devani Ishar is the firstborn child of the deceased Prince Timar. His younger sister, Princess Mia, is the heir to the throne and, from Obi-Wan’s reading, she is the favorite grandchild of King Zibar. Unlike some monarchies which pass rulership down based on birth order or sex, on Lorra the ruling monarch grooms their successor from their pool of heirs.

While Prince Devani was favored, and spoiled, by his father, it is Mia who will wear the crown when her grandfather’s reign is over. Obi-Wan wonders if there’s any resentment between the two siblings.

Obi-Wan lands their ship in Prince Devani’s private hangar. He lowers the ramp and gathers his belongings. He schools his surprise behind a blank, polite mask, when he sees the prince has come to greet them himself.

His hair is black and longer than Obi-Wan’s and it flops artfully to the side like a holovid star. His eyes are brown, but they aren’t soft like freshly turned dirt or comforting like Obi-Wan’s favorite tunics. There’s something hard in them which makes Obi-Wan shiver despite the warm air from the hangar.

“A cape old friend?” Prince Devani laughs as he spots Dooku. “It’s like you want to offend.”

Dooku laughs in return as he grasps Prince Devani’s forearms in greeting. “I didn’t have anything appropriate to meet with royalty. I hoped to take advantage of your hospitality for myself and my padawan.”

Devani looks past Dooku and notices Obi-Wan. His smile fades as if he doesn’t care for children. He covers it with another laugh. “He’s small enough, I’m sure we can find something for him. I wanted to bring you to lunch right away, but now I have to sneak you into my wing. We can’t go anywhere until you’re properly outfitted.”

Dooku shows no concern for what’s a clear violation of protocol. Obi-Wan’s nerves flared at the first censure, but if Dooku isn’t worried, he doesn’t need to be either. As his master talks with his friend, Obi-Wan sets to helping R2 down.

Devani spots the droid and his lips curl downward again.

Bad taste, R2 says.

Obi-Wan discreetly pats R2’s dome in agreement.

They sneak into the palace, even going so far as to duck into side halls whenever they hear voices. It’s almost like one of his old missions with Qui-Gon except there isn’t any actual danger. By the time they reach the prince’s wing, Devani is loose and laughs as if this is some kind of game.

“I’ve missed you,” he tells Dooku. There’s no deception to his words or stance. With the tight pants and even tighter shirt he wears, Obi-Wan would be able to see any twitch or fidget. “I’ll arrange for my tailor to visit, but you won’t be presentable until dinner at the earliest. I ought to withhold the good brandy.”

Dooku holds his hands out. “Would you do that to a good friend?”

Devani laughs again. “Settle in. I’ll see you soon.”

He leaves, whistling to himself. Obi-Wan has a vague dislike for the man, but it isn’t based in anything concrete. Devani dislikes children, dislikes droids, and apparently is bored enough to demand a Jedi’s presence at his birthday so he can sneak around. He’s foolish, but he isn’t evil. Obi-Wan shrugs off the Force’s unease and follows Dooku into the largest of the bedrooms.

Dooku pulls back the comforter on his bed and runs his hand over the sheets. He sighs. “There is nothing better than Lorrainian silk. This will be a very good week, padawan.”

#

They aren’t permitted to leave their rooms until they have new clothes. While Dooku is content to sit on his bed of Lorrainian silk and “meditate”, Obi-Wan is restless. He retreats to his own room, which is larger or more lavish than he needs, and pulls out his study materials. Since it’s common for padawans to go on missions of varying lengths with their masters, all classwork is designed to be done either in-Temple or via datapad. Obi-Wan has recordings of lectures, he has readings, and he has assignments, plenty to occupy him.

He works until a knock at the door interrupts him. Obi-Wan opens the door. The man on the other side wears the same form fitting outfit Prince Devani had. The fabric isn’t as fine, and the embroidery is different, but Obi-Wan has a bad feeling about his new wardrobe.

The man, Bishka, is Devani’s tailor. He sweeps in with a small army of droids who carry various fabrics and threads with them. Dooku emerges to see what the commotion is about. Bishka, who frowned at Obi-Wan’s tunics, outright glares at Dooku’s cape.

Bishka takes their measurements and then sets up shop right there in their common room. Obi-Wan curls up in a chair and the smallest of the droids scuttles over to show him the threads it carries.

What are you? It asks.

I am Obi-Wan. I am a Jedi padawan.

What is a Jedi? What is a padawan? What is an Obi-Wan?

Obi-Wan chuckles but doesn’t know how to answer. The droid chitters at him and then tries to explain. You belong to the prince. The droid points to the gold and blue fabric a different droid is measuring and cutting. Obi-Wan frowns at the suggestion he belongs to someone. You are not family. You are not tailor. What are you? The droid points to the embroidery on Bishkar’s shoulders.

A picture begins to form. The colors of the clothes show which household they are a member or guest of and the embroidery designates occupation.

I am a guest.

The prince has many guests. What are you?

Obviously, this isn’t an advanced droid. Obi-Wan debates how to answer when R2 charges out of Obi-Wan’s room, alarms blaring. The smaller droid squeaks and ducks behind Obi-Wan’s feet as if Obi-Wan will protect it.

R2, these are guests.

R2’s answer is too rude to repeat. The other droids all beep, scandalized. Obi-Wan doesn’t drop his head into hands because he’s too well-trained, but he’s tempted.

Dooku looks up from his conversation with Bishkar. “Obi-Wan, tell R2 it can be respectful or it can charge quietly in your room.”

R2 plants itself at Obi-Wan’s side like an aggressive bodyguard. Once Obi-Wan’s sure the dramatics are over, he takes out his datapad and continues with his classes. It takes three hours for their first outfits to be completed; Dooku’s by Bishkar and Obi Wan’s by a droid.

“We’ll have the rest by tomorrow morning,” Bishkar says. “But now you at least have something.” He sniffs at Dooku’s cape again as if it offends him.

“Thank you for your hard work,” Dooku says.

Bishkar hands them each an outfit and gestures with his hand. Dooku strips down where he is so Obi-Wan does the same. He keeps his eyes on the floor as he sheds his tunics and he pulls on his new outfit. It is a casual outfit, but he bets it’s worth more than all his possessions combined, except his lightsaber. It’s form fitting but isn’t stiff. He has a full range of motion in case he needs to fight. But there are no billowing sleeves for him to tuck his hands into, no hood for him to pull over his head. He’s clothed and yet completely on display.

Dooku looks odd in his version of the outfit. They wear the same colors, blue with gold embroidery, but their embroidery is different. He’s used to seeing Dooku in dramatic capes or a sharp military uniform. This clinging fabric is vulnerable, it leaves everything on display, and yet his master pulls it off.

“Lorrainians despite deception,” Dooku says for Obi-Wan’s sake.

“What do your markings mean?” Obi-Wan asks.

Dooku points to two connected golden rings. “This is the friendship between Serenno and Prince Devani.” He points to the embroidery which stems from it. “These tell a few stories of past visits. I believe this is my favorite Lorrainian brandy.” He glances at Bishkar and smiles. As he continues to explain the marking, a partial picture of himself appears.

Obi-Wan looks at his mostly bare shoulders. “What about mine?”

Bishkar touches a whirl of gold thread. “You are a child. You’re under the protection of Count Dooku. You don’t have any stories connecting you to the prince. Some will dismiss you because you don’t have a connection to the prince, but your connection to Count Dooku will warn unsavory folks away.”

Obi-Wan considers what he said. “Is there a large danger from unsavory folks in the palace?”

“Not from the palace.” And then, as though realizing he’s said too much, Bishkar clears his throat. “Prince Devani requests your presence for dinner now that you are properly attired.” He takes his droids with him and leaves in a hurry.

Obi-Wan will have to meditate on the information he let slip.

#

Obi-Wan is ignored at dinner as all of Devani’s considerable attention is directed at Dooku. It means Obi-Wan can eat slowly and observe his surroundings. There are no droids here and only two other sentients, two humanoids which bring out the courses and refill their glasses.

Obi-Wan was permitted to taste Dooku’s wine. It’s sweet, a good complement to the meal. He doubts he’ll be allowed to taste the brandy later, but spirits have never been his weakness. In fact, all of this, the thick slabs of meat, the syrupy glaze, the butter-soaked potatoes, it’s all too rich for his stomach. He nibbles here and there, but he can’t manage even half of his plate.

Dooku, for his part, also ignores Obi-Wan as he speaks to Devani with admiration. Obi-Wan feels a flicker of jealousy and sends the unwanted emotion to the Force. Dooku is catching up with a friend. Even if he spends the whole week in the man’s company, Devani is not a Jedi, and he will not replace Obi-Wan as Dooku’s padawan.

He knows he struggles in this area. The long stretch he spent as an initiate, unwanted and certain he would be cast out and then Qui-Gon setting him aside for Anakin…these are deep wounds he’s never properly addressed. Their pain has lingered through one lifetime and bled into another. He’ll meditate on it and dedicate himself to being better.

After the meal is over, the adults leave for the lounge. Devani promises a smoky brandy and the finest rolled cigars Lorra has to offer. Obi-Wan gratefully accepts the out when Dooku suggests he work on his studies.

He’s escorted to his room by a girl who isn’t much older than him. She wears blue for Devani’s household, but the color and cut aren’t as nice as his. Her embroidery is gold and black, the two colors wind together over her shoulders.

“I’m a servant,” she explains. “Princess Mia prefers people to be people and droids to serve, but Prince Devani likes sentient servants. Anyone can program a droid, but only powerful people can make other people do what they say.”

Obi-Wan feels a flare of anger which he covers with a polite smile. “Thank you for lending me your assistance.”

She brings him to his room, but she comes inside with him. She doesn’t snoop. Instead, she bounces on her toes as if she has too much energy. “You didn’t like dinner?”

She wasn’t one of the two in the room. Obi-Wan wonders how she knows.

She pokes his stomach, where there’s no round bulge. “You didn’t eat a lot.”

He notices her own stomach, slightly rounded where it stretches the fabric of her outfit. This is an unexpected, and unwanted, development. He looks at his flat stomach again. He can’t push his food around his plate until meals are over. If he doesn’t eat, people will be able to see. “I have a small appetite.”

“But you’re supposed to be growing. Do you want to come to the kitchens? I bet we have something you like.”

Master Dooku told him to go to his room and do his homework, but it can’t hurt to make friends. He should probably ask permission, but he remembers one of Qui-Gon’s favorite phrases. Better to ask forgiveness than permission.

With a grin, Obi-Wan holds out a hand. “I’m Obi-Wan.”

“Serra.” She clasps his forearm and then leads him back down the hall. They slip through a door Obi-Wan hadn’t noticed before. Some kind of servant’s corridor. The stairs take them down three levels.

They leave the darkened stairwell for a bright room full of activity. Ovens line the far wall and heat steams form them. Voices call out orders, new scents burst in the air as things pop and sizzle on the stoves. Obi-Wan, who had little interest in dinner, finds himself looking around the room in interest.

“Serra, what did I tell you about bringing in strays?” A woman in the skintight outfit of Lorra barks from her station. Her back is to Serra and Obi-Wan, but she clearly knows when someone has entered her kitchen. She has embroidery form her shoulders to her elbows, more than Serra and Obi-Wan. He wants to know what it all means.

“He’s not a stray!” Serra bounds over to the woman and goes up on her toes to kiss the woman’s cheek. “He came with the Jedi.”

All movement in the kitchen seems to cease. It isn’t the first time Obi-Wan’s been met with suspicion. He notes the weapons in the kitchen; pots, pans, boiling water, knives, and the exits as well.

“I’m a Jedi in training,” Obi-Wan says because this culture values honesty. “I’m called a padawan.”

“He isn’t like the stuffy one.” Serra ducks as the older woman swats at her. “He isn’t! Look at his shoulders.”

The woman approaches and inspects Obi-Wan’s embroidery. “You don’t have much of a story.”

“Exactly!” Serra looks hopefully from Obi-Wan to the woman.

“A lack of information can disguise the truth,” Obi-Wan says, explaining the woman’s doubts to his new friend. “In this case, my story is sparse, because I am new to this planet and don’t have any stories to tell. Has the prince always disliked children?”

The woman raises her eyebrows. “As far as I can remember.”

“Prince Devani and the stuffy Jedi sent Obi-Wan away,” Serra says. “They’re drinking in the lounge so no one will be looking for him. He’s hungry.” She pokes his stomach to prove her words to the woman.

“I didn’t come here to be a burden or a bother,” Obi-Wan says.

The woman’s suspicion melts away, and she points at a small table in the corner. “Sit. I’ll prepare you each a plate.”

It’s pointless to argue, so Obi-Wan allows Serra to tug him over to the table. She peppers him with questions about the galaxy and the things he’s seen.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan meditates as soon as he wakes up. There is something off about Lorra, and each thread of unease leads back to Prince Devani. Is it simply disgruntled workers who resent their employer?

A man who believes in exerting power over sentients is not a good one, but are his crimes enough to require interference? Dooku sees him as harmless. Because their interests align?

Obi-Wan needs more data. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he will have plenty more time to interact with Prince Devani. He will listen to the Force and allow it to guide his actions. If there is something more sinister at play, he will not allow Dooku’s friendship or sympathies to keep him from doing the right thing.

Once Obi-Wan finishes meditating, he moves the furniture to the edges of the common room and does his katas. He picks the simplest one and focuses on the way the Force moves through him. This is another kind of meditation.

He’s halfway through his second repetition when he feels another presence in the room. Since Dooku doesn’t say anything, Obi-Wan finishes what he’s doing. At the end, he turns to Dooku and bows. “Good morning, master.”

“Good morning. I see you’re occupying yourself well.”

“I am.”

“How was your adventure last night?”

Obi-Wan isn’t surprised Dooku knows. Now that he’s been caught, he gives his own accounting. “I made a friend last night. I did study and go to sleep at a reasonable time.”

Next time, tell me.

At the reminder of their ability to communicate without words, Obi-Wan ducks his head. Yes, master. Will we take our morning meal here?

Amusement seeps through their bond. “Yes. Prince Devani is…indulgent, and we did not sleep at a reasonable time. I doubt we’ll hear from him before mid-meal. I’ll send a droid to bring us our meal.”

“A droid? I was told Prince Devani prefers sentient servants.”

Curiosity trickles through the bond now. Dooku places their order and then turns back to Obi-Wan. “Were you on an information gathering mission last night?”

“Only incidentally. Something isn’t right, but I haven’t found the source of my discomfort yet.”

“Hmm. Keep your senses sharp and let me know what you learn.”

“Yes, master.”

#

After morning meal, there have been no messages from Prince Devani, and no delivery of a second outfit. Dooku looks at the space Obi-Wan cleared, decides it’s big enough, and they both train with their sabers. They can’t duel but there’s enough space to practice. Obi-Wan, since he brough his knowledge back with him, prefers Soresu. It’s a defensive form, used to protect others. This is his own brand of the form, adapted to fighting alongside his men in the Clone Wars.

Master Dooku, of course, wants him to expand his skill set. Obi-Wan has the knowledge of all the forms, even if he’s lost the mastery of them since ending up in this body. He doesn’t have the strength or size for Ataru yet, but Dooku doesn’t push him in that direction. No, he pushes him toward Form V.

“I like Shien,” Obi-Wan says, willing to compromise.

“I’m sure you do.” Dooku’s indulgence is backed by a certain stubbornness which means Obi-Wan won’t win this fight. “Its greatest strength is its ability to deflect blaster bolts. But we’re going to focus on Djem So.”

Obi-Wan breathes steadily and maintains a serene expression as Dooku causally discusses Anakin’s preferred fighting style. It’s an aggressive, relentless assault meant to wear down and disarm the opponent before your own strength is sapped. Obi-Wan knows it well enough that he was able to train Anakin, but he has no desire to make it his own strength.

“You shield well, but the tighter you shield, the more I know I’ve struck a sore point.” Dooku delivers this lesson without censure or sympathy. “You prefer defensive styles, but you cannot win by defense alone.”

“Djem So isn’t a good fit for me.”

Dooku smiles and gestures toward his padawan. “Yes, little master, tell me your analysis.”

Obi-Wan’s being mocked, but he grits his teeth and answers as if Dooku’s question was genuine. “I was almost removed from the order for my impulsivity. Djem So will feed my worst qualities.”

“I have yet to see any evidence of this impulsiveness you reference. Additionally, we have addressed this, Obi-Wan. You cannot avoid what you fear or your fear will rule you. In learning Djem So, you will confront and conquer those qualities you fear.”

Obi-Wan’s argument, which boils down to I don’t want to, has no chance at winning against Dooku’s. He looks down at his feet and tries not to sound too bitter as he says, “I await your instruction, master.”

#

Obi-Wan’s clothes are soaked with sweat by the time Bishkar arrives with their new clothes. The tailor looks at Obi-Wan and wrinkles his nose. Laughing at the disgruntled expression, Obi-Wan trots off to shower. When he emerges, Bishkar is gone and there is a full wardrobe in his closet. There are sleep clothes, workout clothes, and then day clothes arranged from casual to fancy.

We’re joining Devani for lunch, Dooku says over their bond because he’s too dignified to shout even from one room over.

Obi-Wan selects one of the more casual outfits and pulls it on. He meets Dooku in the common room and grins at their matching clothes. He ducks as Dooku tries to pinch his ear and the man’s fingers brush Obi-Wan’s braid. Both of them pause, Obi-Wan’s mischief forgotten.

“We have a few minutes before we’re expected. Sit and let me redo your braid,” Dooku says.

Obi-Wan’s braid isn’t long, but it still feels good to have his master comb it out and then rebraid it. One day, it will be longer with breads and threads to represent his challenges and studies. Right now, he only has the yellow bead to signify his status as a padawan. Maybe he’ll be allowed to fashion a band out of gold thread to signify his first mission.

Dooku wraps the strands of hair over each other; padawan, master, and Force all woven together. Even though it’s over quickly, Obi-Wan is settled at the end of the ritual. He sends his gratitude through their bond, because he doesn’t have the words for what he’s feeling. Dooku squeezes his shoulders in return.

In the other timeline, Dooku was cold and aloof. Here, he isn’t free with his affection, but he isn’t stingy with it either. Obi-Wan always knows where he stands with the man.

They join Devani on a balcony overlooking the ocean. The water is deep blue, the color of sapphires, and it twinkles as the sun catches it just right. Obi-Wan wonders if they might have a swim before they leave. His time on Tatooine was decidedly without water, barely enough to drink let alone dunk his entire body in. And now, looking outside, he sees an ocean stretch all the way to the horizon. Idly, he wonders what horrors dwell in the shallows. Hasn’t he learned that anything beautiful, anything peaceful has something darker lurking at the edges?

There is no peace, he thinks.

The table is already set with a generous spread of food. Devani beckons to Dooku with both hands and then holds his ground rather than meeting Dooku halfway for their embrace. He presses a kiss to the air above each of Dooku’s cheeks. Obi-Wan, of course, isn’t greeted. He sits to the left of Devani and across from his master. He keeps quiet as he fills his plate with the plainest of the foods.

“You have him trained well.” Devani points his meat fork at Obi-Wan. Well, one of his meat forks. There are three of them at this meal. Currently, Obi-Wan wields his fruit fork, a utensil with a single tine.

“Obi-Wan is a credit to the Jedi Order,” Dooku says, his voice warm with the praise. “He’s eager to learn Lorra’s customs.”

“I suppose you’ll bring him to all the parties, then.” Devani doesn’t bother to hide his feelings on the subject, as though he believes his friendship with Dooku matters more than Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship. “Some of them won’t be fit for young eyes. It is my birthday, you know.”

Dooku nods as though he understands. And then, for Obi-Wan’s benefit, he adds, “In Lorrainian culture, birthdays are celebration of life.”

“Virility.” Devani winks.

Ugh, sex, Obi-Wan thinks. It’s loud enough to transfer across the bond, and Master Dooku laughs, surprised into a genuine reaction. Obi-Wan flushes and applies himself to his meal in order to hide.

Devani looks between the two of them, unhappy as he realizes he’s missed something. Dooku, also picking up on the negative emotion, claims his friend’s attention. “Tell me about tonight’s dance.”

“Oh.” Devani waves his hand dismissively. “I moved it to tomorrow night. I want to make sure you’re fully rested for it. You still remember the Lorrainian dances, don’t you? I’ll send my best instructor for a brush up.”

They reminisce about a ball they attended years ago. Obi-Wan filters out most of the conversation, but he notes how often Devani sneaks a look at him as if to say look at this rich history I have with your master. Obi-Wan is chewing a piece of melon when he senses a flicker of movement outside. Years of training keep him from turning and giving himself away. He sharpens his senses and serenely continues chewing.

Padawan?

We’re being watched. Someone is in the far tree.

Dooku lifts his glass and sips as he turns toward the balcony. He sets his glass down and keeps his attention firmly on their host, even as his senses project outward as well. He leans in and pitches his voice low. “There’s a rather determined man with a camera in the tree.”

Devani sighs as if this is troublesome, rather than dangerous, behavior. “Must be for the tabloids. I would ask if you wanted to give them a show, but I know I’m not your type. That Twi’lek on Rabanastre, however…”

The two men laugh and Obi-Wan adjusts his position, so he won’t be easily caught by the camera.

#

The dancing master arrives with a small retinue; three assistants and a large stick. Obi-Wan eyes it warily. It’s too short to be a quarterstaff and too long to mimic most blades, but it seems solid and heavy enough to provide “encouragement” if Obi-Wan is slow in his lessons.

The dancing master looks around the room in disappointment. “Where is the older one?”

“Out.” Obi-Wan offers a bland smile. He may not be in a war, but he won’t freely give information to outsiders. “You can come back later if you’re here for him.”

“I’m here for you. Your father already knows how to dance.”

It’s a leading statement, and Obi-Wan acknowledges the clumsy attempt with a raised eyebrow and nothing else.

“He’s handsome,” one of the assistants says. He wars the same blue uniform as everyone else Obi-Wan has met so far. His eyelids are painted gold to match the embroidery on his shoulders. His lips are gold as well. There’s a shimmery sheen to his face, more make-up. He pulls a pad out of his pocket and sighs as he shows the screen to Obi-Wan.

It's a picture of Dooku and Devani from second meal. His master is caught in profile, smiling at something Devani said. His master’s hair is graying, but it’s still mostly black, and the silver spots lend him distinction. Objectively, Obi-Wan can see that he’s handsome. He still wrinkles his nose.

It’s almost enough to distract him from the odd situation. Why was there paparazzi outside second meal? Devani knew they were there. he could have removed them but didn’t? And why doesn’t the prince’s household know about the visitors? And Devani requested a private visit with Dooku while Obi-Wan took lessons. He cleared Dooku out before the dancing master arrived. To invite more questions and speculation? But why?

The dancing master ushers Obi-Wan forward. “Prince Devani has requested I teach you our most popular sets, so you won’t be caught wrong-footed at tomorrow’s opening celebration.” He lifts the stick and frowns as Obi-Wan doesn’t cover his flinch.

Fortunately, the stick isn’t punitive. The dancing master places it on Obi-Wan’s shoulders and makes him curl his arms around it.

“Posture!” the dancing master declares. He introduces Obi-Wan to the common steps and makes him practice. It’s like a kata and once Obi-Wan masters the basics, he graduates from a stick to a partner.

The young girl puts a hand on his left hip and clasps his right hand in hers. “As the more experienced partner, I lead.”

Much more experienced,” Gold-lips drawls.

“I would lead him too,” the girl says. “I’m the best dancer in our class.”

“It isn’t shameful to be led,” Obi-Wan says as they move about the room. She slows her movements so he can keep up. “I’m grateful you’re sharing your knowledge with me.”

“Serra was right about you,” she murmurs, too quiet for the others to hear. They finish their turn about the room and the girl steps back and bows. “I hope I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

“It would be an honor if you led me around the floor there as well.”

Gold-lips scowls.

#

Obi-Wan takes evening meal in the kitchen with Serra. He helps her with her chores afterward, because he enjoys being busy, and the work is done faster with two. It means enough time for a walk, and they slip out of the palace through a service tunnel. Remembering last time, Obi-Wan sends a message to Dooku through their bond. I’m getting some fresh air.

Be careful you’re aren’t spotted. Devani’s having fun with his “mystery guests”.

So, it is purposeful. The only question is whether it’s the behavior of a vain, bored royal or if there’s something deeper beneath it. I will, master.

Obi-Wan feels Dooku pull away. He follows Serra through scrub brush until they reach the sandy beach. She urges him to follow her to where the loose sand grows compact. The water is dark like the sky around it, and Obi-Wan is more wary than he was this afternoon when it was daylight.

“Do you have sea monsters?” Obi-Wan asks. At Serra’s blank look he adds, “Wriggling tentacles? Massive teeth? Slithery things?” Obi-Wan’s been attacked by hundreds of threats from droids to sentients to wildlife. He isn’t sure there’s anything worse than what lurks in dark water.

“Not this close to shore, but there’s a kraken in the ocean display in the center of the city. I think it’s massive, but Princess Mia says it’s small for its species. If you want to see one, you can take a submarine tour, but my mom says it’s a waste of money.”

“Plenty of things to scare you on the surface,” Obi-Wan agrees. “I met a friend of yours, I think. She’s a dancer.”

“Kelga? She’s good people.” Serra slips off her sandals and rolls her pants to her knees so she can step into the water. “She’s working the dance tomorrow. I will too, but where you won’t see me. Do you know the difference between stick and finger food? All the plates will have sticks to trip people up.”

“Wet is a stick food, dry is a finger food,” Obi-Wan recites. “Except meat. Meat is always a finger food, and it’s polite to lick your fingers afterward.”

“A partner can do it, but only a serious partner.” Serra’s cheeks flush pink in the dim light from the moon. “You aren’t old enough for that, but someone might try it on you. Don’t let them.”

Obi-Wan has some more research ahead of him tonight. While licking another sentient’s fingers has sexual context in his culture, it sounds as though there’s something more to it on Lorra. For now, though, he takes his own sandals off so he can join Serra in the shallow water.

#

Obi-Wan and Dooku arrive at the celebration together. They’re largely ignored, and Obi-Wan’s grateful even though he knows it won’t last long. Whatever game Devani is playing, he aims to pull Obi-Wan’s master to the center of it. Obi-Wan still hasn’t figured out why.

As a waiter passes by with a plate of melon, Obi-Wan spears some of the orange fruit for himself and his master.

Dooku takes the offered stick with a smile. “Thank you. Do you remember the rules?”

“Yes. Don’t let anyone lick meat juice off your fingers.” As soon as he says it, Obi-Wan winces. If Quin was here, he’d have a litany of dirty jokes. Fortunately, Dooku is too proper to say any of them.

“I would hate to lose you to marriage,” Dooku says with a smile.

“I was worried about losing you.”

“I’m not looking for a spouse.”

But here, they can trick you. You may not be looking, but others might be.

Astute, padawan. I have been avoiding political marriages longer than you have been alive. I’ll be fine.

Could this be Devani’s angle? No, he wouldn’t trick Dooku into marrying him. The prince is lazy and excessive in his indulgence, but he isn’t stupid.

They continue to sample appetizers. Obi-Wan’s tried everything at least once by the time Prince Devani makes his grand entrance. The band plays a slow tune which grows louder and faster until the doors fly open and the prince strides in. Camera flashes go off, and he grins for them.

He’s in a rich blue bodysuit, the fabric practically molded to his body. It ripples as he moves and shows off the muscles in his thighs and the cut of his arms. He wears a crown, gold with blue stones set in it. It’s off-kilter and when he greets his sister, she adjusts it for him.

Princess Mia is clad in the dark green of her household. Her embroidery is gold as well, and it winds from her shoulders to her wrists, a storied history displayed if only Obi-Wan knew how to read it. The siblings exchange some playful banter which is caught and recorded by the hovering cameras. The prince moves past her to smile at his admirers and greet his supporters. He finally reaches Dooku, Obi-Wan’s master standing on his own, because Obi-Wan wants to avoid the cameras.

“Yan,” Devani greets with the warmth of someone speaking to a close friend.

“Prince.” Dooku bows elegantly.

Devani chides him. “You aren’t of Lorra, my friend. You don’t need to bow to me. Greet me as one of yours.”

Dooku grasps his hand and pulls him in for a hug.

The cameras flash again.

#

Obi-wan eats until his belly stretches his shirt and he dances with Kelga, laughing as she leads him all across the floor. He avoids his master and Prince Devani, and by the time the party is in full swing, he might even consider that he’s having fun.

He declines a sample of fresh meat, because he doesn’t want to take any risks. Soft laughter comes from behind him, and he turns to see Princess Mia. Her outfit is a single piece of fabric, shirt and pants together. It must zip up the back. He’s glad he doesn’t have all that fuss when he has to pee. And then he realizes he’s thinking about the fresher in front of a princess.

He bows deeply. “Princess Mia, your reputation precedes you.”

“As well as the reputation of my people.” She plucks a cube of meat from the offered plate and then licks the juice from her fingers. She takes the plate from the server and holds it out to Obi-Wan. “There will be no marriages tonight, little one. You are safe.”

Obi-Wan did his research. Not only is the marriage binding, but the ceremony is required to take place instantly. From what understands, it’s an honor to become engaged at an important party. The danger should be greater at a party as grand as this, Except… ”No one would upstage the prince at his party.”

Mia smiles and nudges him with the plate. “Astute observation. What’s your name?”

“Obi-Wan Kenobi.” At her insistence, he plucks a cube of meat from the tray. He eats it and then chases it with the flavor dripping down his fingers. He hopes he’s done now. Even if he’s safe from marriage, he isn’t safe from making a mess.

Princess Mia passes the plate back to the server and holds her hand out to Obi-Wan. “Will you dance with me?”

There’s no polite way to refuse so he places his hand in hers. He follows her lead and keeps up a steady stream of small talk, the niceties he learned living near the Senate. He can talk about nothing for hours, but he puts in a bit of effort here, if only so he can see the princess smile. She has black hair like her brother, and she’s tall like him as well. Her outfit is not nearly as elaborate as Padmé’s were, but Obi-Wan is still reminded of another fierce royal.

He draws on the Force to alert him to the cameras in the room, and he angles himself so they only ever see the princess or the back of his head. She notices his game and encourages it, spinning him away from the cameras and then reeling him back in to the relative protection of her arms.

The song crescendos to a finish, and Obi-Wan bows his thanks. His cheeks are warm from the exercise, but he doesn’t breathe unsteadily. His strength has truly returned from his bout with overexertion. Master Dooku and the healers will be pleased.

“You were a lovely partner,” Princess Mia says.

“All credit goes to my teacher, Kelga.”

“I saw her earlier. Let’s give her our thanks together.” Princess Mia keeps her hand on the small of Obi-Wan’s back, and she guides him through the crowd as easily as she guided him across the dance floor.

Kelga, surrounded by a gaggle of children, brightens when she sees Obi-Wan. Her expression becomes more guarded when she spots the princess. Rather than taking offense, Princess Mia nudges Obi-Wan forward as her ambassador.

“Princess Mia wishes to extend her compliments on your skill as an instructor,” Obi-Wan says. “I would like to thank you as well. Your tutelage kept me from embarrassing myself or my master.”

At the word master, the children’s gazes snap to him. The Force thrums with their alarm.

“There are no slaves on Lorra,” one of the teenagers says. Her voice is full of confidence, but she looks to Princess Mia. “Right, Mama?”

“Slavery is not permitted on our planet,” Princess Mia agrees.

Obi-Wan offers the teenager a reassuring smile. “Forgive me. Where I’m from, master is another word for teacher or mentor.”

Now, surprise ripples through the group. The same girl speaks. “You’re a Jedi.”

You should already know this, Obi-Wan thinks. “I am a Jedi in training. My—my mentor, Dooku, he is a Jedi.”

“He’s the one in all the pictures with Prince Devani. Are they friends?”

“Their families know each other.” Obi-Wan weighs what more to say. The words he speaks must be the truth, but there’s no one forcing him to speak. “I admit, the world of princes and princesses and counts is foreign to me. I wasn’t raised like this.”

“And yet, you speak as smoothly as a diplomat.” Princess Mia smiles to take any accusation out of the words. “I’m going to find another dancing partner. Enjoy the rest of your evening, Obi-Wan.”

She departs, leaving Obi-Wan with a horde of children who aren’t nearly as willing to leave him alone.

“You were a gentleman,” Princess Mia’s daughter says. She tucks her black hair behind her ears. “You can tell when boys aren’t, because their pants get all tight.” She gestures to Obi-Wan’s crotch. “But you weren’t gross, so I won’t punch you.”

“Tika!” one of the boys hisses.

Tika rolls her eyes. “I’m a princess. I can do what I want.” She eyes Obi-Wan. “Do you want to dance?”

“Will you punch me if I step on your toes?”

Tika beams. “Don’t do it and you won’t find out.”

Chapter Text

The dances and feasts were invitation-only, but today’s celebration is public. It’s an opportunity for the general population to call out their love to the prince while he waves imperiously from a raised platform.

Padawan, Dooku chides.

Obi-Wan points to his face, a calm, serene politician’s mask. He won’t cause offense, but his mind is his, a place for him to express his true feelings.

“You will make a good diplomat,” Dooku tells him. “I’m afraid it’s not as exciting as some of the other paths.”

“I would rather defend our Republic with words than sabers.”

“You are talented with both. To neglect one would be a mistake.”

Obi-Wan bows, his way of ending a discussion without admitting defeat. Dooku smiles indulgently and guides him down the hall. They wear their lightsabers today, unmistakably Jedi even clothed in the Lorrainian style and Prince Devani’s colors.

Obi-Wan longs for his tunics and cloak. He knows his loyalty isn’t divided, but it certainly appears to be. His feelings sour more when they reach the platform, and his master is given a place at the front beside Devani. Without a cloak or tunic, Dooku’s saber is on full display. Jedi aren’t props. Devani treats Dooku as though he’s an accessory. See my shiny Jedi? Don’t you wish you had one? The mystery guests to stir up interests, the paparazzi to catch a glimpse, the grand introduction at the dance, all of it led to this moment, Devani and Dooku side-by-side on a platform in the heart of the city.

But why?

Princess Mia and her children stand to the side even though she’s the heir to the throne. The king isn’t center frame, either. All the focus is on Devani and the Jedi at his side. Is this some kind of power play? Devani is ambitious, but he must know Dooku won’t aid him in a coup.

Obi-Wan, his assessment of the platform done, turns his gaze to their surroundings. The streets are packed with Lorrainians who wave flags and shout for their prince. They cheer whenever he deigns to acknowledge them. But for a man so obsessed with attention, his full focus isn’t on the crowd. His gaze darts higher, to the nearby buildings, before he forces it down again.

Is he worried about snipers? Obi-Wan is twitchy about being out in the open, but the Force holds no warnings. Still, Obi-Wan looks around with care. There are two buildings well-suited to a sniper nest, but he doesn’t see or sense anything. Same with the next two buildings. Obi-Wan’s gaze sweeps over a residential building and—

A flash of silver as the sun reflects off something shiny. A window decoration? A fan? If it’s danger, the Force should shout at him. He squints as if he’ll be able to zoom in with his eyes the way he could with binoculars. By the time he realizes there is a figure in the window, the sniper fires.

Obi-Wan leaps forward and somersaults over the royals and his master. He draws his saber mid-air and as soon as his feet hit the ground, he deflects the blaster bolt safely into the platform.

His master ignites his own saber as he urges Devani behind him where he’ll be safe. The crowd, realizing what’s happened, panics. They try to run, but the street is clogged with bodies. They push and shove, uncaring of anyone but themselves, the perfect recipe for a stampede.

#

It takes six hours to calm the streets. There were no additional attacks which Obi-Wan is certainly grateful for, but it doesn’t make sense. There was enough chaos for a trained sniper to take advantage and yet, one attempt and no more.

He reviews the security footage for answers with Princess Mia and Evman, the head of palace security. Elsewhere, in the prince’s wing, Dooku is with Devani, acting as confidante and bodyguard.

“No, wrong angle.” Obi-Wan draws a quick sketch of the platform, the roads, and the buildings. He marks the window he needs to see. “Get me footage of this. Please.”

“You saw what happened?” Evman shifts through the feeds. “I thought the Force whispered to you.”

Obi-Wan’s lived an entire lifetime, and he’s still caught off guard by how many different ways people can misunderstand the Force. “I saw movement and then a blaster bolt.”

Evman fiddles with the console. His shoulders draw up and he presses a few buttons. His anxiety increases and then he says, “We don’t have that footage.”

“What?” Princess Mia demands.

Evman pulls up a fuzzy feed. “This is what the camera recorded. A cut wire, maybe?”

Maybe? Send someone to check! Why wasn’t this discovered before?”

Something isn’t right. Obi-Wan makes copies of what footage there is and brings it back to his room. With R2’s help, he projects the video onto multiple screens. They don’t have where the shot initiated from, but they have where it landed.

Obi-Wan watches himself flip through the air. Hmm. He needs to tighten up his form. He rewinds to study the trajectory of the bolt and determine its target. The king is the most obvious as the current ruler, but he’s safely behind his two security guards. Princess Mia, the next logical target, also wasn’t in the line of fire.

The sniper aimed for Prince Devani.

Why?

He plays the footage again.

“Vanity is not the Jedi way.”

Obi-Wan doesn’t look away at the sound of his master’s voice. He points as his past self deflects the blaster bolt. “It’s a good thing I practice Shien.”

Fondness drifts through their bond. “A testament to your initiative. But where you don’t take initiative, I am here to encourage. Pause. Play the last five seconds again.”

Obi-Wan obediently skips back. He sees what his master noticed. “The bolt was going to hit Devani’s feet.” He plays the recording again, at half speed. Devani moved. “If he stayed put, the blaster would have hit the platform. He flinched. He noticed.”

“Tell me,” Dooku says.

Obi-Wan takes a deep breath and, remembering his master’s preferences, holds off on conclusions. Facts first. “I was uncomfortable at being so exposed. I noticed Prince Devani glance at the nearby buildings. I spotted a glint of metal. I dismissed it, because the Force held no warning. And then the sniper fired. He didn’t pick the best perch, he gave his position away, and he aimed to miss his target.”

“I would like to speak with this sniper.”

“There’s no video of the area. Faulty wiring.”

Dooku’s eyebrows climb upward. “Indeed?”

“Is it time to analyze the facts we have?”

R2 beeps and changes the security feeds to live news reports. Four different stations all show Devani protected by two Jedi. The chyron claims Devani, not the royal family, has the favor and protection of the Jedi Order. The proclamation is followed by a montage of Dooku and Devani interacting this past week.

“Disappointing,” Dooku murmurs. “I need to collect more information before I confront Devani. What does palace security think of recent events?”

“It would be worth speaking with Evman. They should have caught the faulty camera when doing a security check for the event.”

“I want you to keep an eye on Devani. Until we know what’s happened, we must act as if he’s the target of a plot.”

“Yes, master. May I change into my Jedi clothing?”

Dooku’s smile is brief but fond. “It would be a good idea for us both.”

They change and go their separate ways. Obi-Wan’s unease grows as he approaches the prince’s wing. He flips his hood up and focuses on being unremarkable. He treads lightly and when he hears footsteps, he presses himself against the wall. It’s easy to direct the passing guard’s attention elsewhere. It reminds him of the Death Star and that is a flashback he doesn’t need right now.

Obi-Wan’s almost reached the prince’s door when he hears hurried footsteps. He presses his back against the wall as the new guards burst into the prince’s room. “You must come quickly! Your wing has been compromised.”

Their panic rings hollow in the Force, but Prince Devani hurries to obey.

“Bring everyone with you,” the guard on the left insists.

“But—”

“Or do you not care for their safety?”

Prince Devani bristles at the censure. “Everyone, we’re moving to a more secure location.”

Everyone is a few servants and a gaggle of children. He recognizes Kelga and the other dancers, Serra and some of the other servants. There are many Obi-Wan doesn’t recognize. All told, there’s sixteen of them. Obi-Wan has a bad feeling about this.

Master, they’re moving the prince. I’m shadowing the group.

Be careful and keep me apprised. There’s more going on than we know.

The guards don’t notice Obi-Wan but Serra does. He holds his finger to his lips before she can give him away. Her brow wrinkles, confused, but she stays quiet. Obi-Wan trails the group through the servant passageways to a hidden hangar. He keeps his master updated as he slips onto the skiff. He flips his hood over his head and pretends to be cargo.

Twenty minutes later, they pull into a new hangar. Obi-Wan stays still as the passengers are unloaded and ushered away. Once the room is clear, he begins his search.

The capital is in an uproar. Dooku’s voice is faint. Dozens of children are missing.

I believe I know where they are.

The warehouse brims with life. Fear thickens the air, but there have to be dozens of sentients packed into the building. Obi-Wan creeps down one hall and then another until he hears voices. There are guards outside the doors, so he circles back and slips into the vents. He crawls until he has a view of the room.

There are five guards inside and more outside. Of those in the room, two wear the bodysuits of the Lorrainians. The rest wear jackets with a lightning charred tree on them. Slavers. Fury hums through Obi-Wan’s veins.

Prince Devani stands before the leader, his chin raised, as if he doesn’t realize how badly things are going for him.

There are nearly forty children in the room, the newcomers mixed with children who are frightened and dirty. Some have scratches on their arms or bumps on their heads. They must have been snatched from the city streets in the chaos after the sniper fired.

Obi-Wan surveys the opposition. If it was only the men in the room, he would drop from the ceiling with his saber ignited, but there is a pair of guards outside each of the three doors.

“You shot at me!” Prince Devani stands defiantly in front of the leader, a large man with two blades and a blaster strapped to his waist. “That wasn’t the deal.”

“The deal?” The leader’s lips split into a smile. “The deal was twenty bodies a month. You broke the deal first.”

Devani searches the room for a friendly face as his situation finally seems to sink in. “What do you want?”

“An example of what happens when you break your word with the Charred Tree Slavers. You’ll look good in my throne room, little prince.”

Obi-Wan doesn’t like Devani, but his stomach still twists at the man’s proposed fate.

“My family will find me.”

The leader laughs. “Your family, with the help of your pet Jedi, have discovered your little scheme. I give it three hours before they decide you fled and call off the search.”

Not when there are close to a hundred children in this facility, Obi-Wan thinks. His master may no longer care about his former friend, but he’ll search the entire planet to find the children.

“I am a prince of Lorra!”

Obi-Wan gives the room half his attention as he decides to take action. He slips out of the vents and targets the first set of guards. They’re tired after an early strategy meeting. It’s easy to coax them to sleep. He drags their slumbering forms out of the way and binds them with their belts for good measure. He stashes their weapons in the ceiling.

He moves to the next set of guards. Once the perimeter is taken care of, he slips into the main room. There are still two Lorrainian guards, two slavers, and the slave leader, but he’s worked with worse odds.

One of the slavers cocks his head. He wears body armor but no helmet, and Obi-Wan notes all his weak points. “Something’s wrong.”

Force sensitive, Obi-Wan realizes. He isn’t powerful enough to be a Jedi and isn’t trained enough to filter through the thick cloud of emotions in the room and pinpoint the problem, but he’s still a threat. Obi-Wan works his way through the throng of children to blend in with them and buy himself more time.

“Obi-Wan?” Serra hisses.

“Shh. I’m here to rescue you.”

“By yourself?”

“When things get hot, drop to the floor.”

Serra nods and then the message ripples through the group. A moment later, Kelga pushes her way to the center. “I can help.”

Obi-Wan weighs her sincerity against the chances she’ll be hurt. At her stubborn scowl, he hands over a vibroblade. The son of a security guard is given the single blaster he didn’t store in the ceiling.

“Step aside,” one of the slaver’s demands.

The kids part until Obi-Wan is revealed. He stands out in his Jedi attire.

“The runt?” Devani demands.

“Shut up.” Obi-Wan and the leader speak at the same time. They size each other up. Obi-Wan breaks the stalemate by shrugging his cloak to the floor. He unclips his lightsaber but doesn’t ignite it yet.

“Will you surrender peacefully?” he asks.

The leader laughs. “To a baby Jedi?”

“There’s no need for insults,” Obi-Wan says mildly. “Children, get down.”

Once all but the two with weapons drop to the floor, Obi-Wan ignites his saber. The slavers shoot, and Obi-Wan springs into motion. He deflects two bolts back to their source. The two Lorrainian guards drop to the ground with blaster burns in their chests. Obi-Wan spins and sweeps his saber in a side arc to deflect the next round of bolts. These ones sizzle harmlessly into the walls and ceiling.

Kelga wields her blade with a dancer’s grace. She slips up to a slaver and stabs him where his armor is weak at the shoulder. She spins into her next move, and the slaver switches his blaster for a blade in time to parry. The son of the security guard fires his blaster at the Force sensitive. The slaver sweeps his hand out as if he’s seen too many holovids about Jedi. Unfortunately, he puts enough will behind the motion for it to work.

“No more blasters,” Obi-Wan says after the deflected shots almost hit one of the children. He charges the Force sensitive and the leader. They may be mercenary, but they aren’t trained. They spring apart as Obi-Wan cuts forward. To keep them apart, Obi-Wan throws a hand out to shove the other Force user into the far wall. It’s enough to daze him, and Obi-Wan trusts Kelga and the security guard’s son to handle him.

Obi-Wan turns his attention to the leader. The man has a long blade in his dominant hand and a shorter blade in his other. They aren’t as dangerous a lightsaber, but the man knows how to duel. He catches Obi-Wan’s saber between his blades and smirks. Obi-Wan kicks him.

The leader stumbles back and, while his guard is down, Obi-Wan pulls the knife from his hand and sends it skittering across the floor.

“You’ll fetch a good price,” the slaver says.

“You won’t sell me.” Obi-Wan charges again. The slaver grips his remaining blade in two hands. He’s strong, but Obi-Wan is quick and has years of training on his side. He is pressing his advantage when the Force calls out a warning. Electricity crackles through the air, and he twists in time to only catch the very tip of the electrowhip across his shoulder.

He’d forgotten about the second slaver. Sloppy.

The whip snakes out again. Obi-Wan jumps back to avoid it, but it gives the lead slaver time to recover his second blade.

“Obi-Wan!” Serra’s cry pulls his attention from his fight.

The Force sensitive, while untrained, is a quick study. He has Kelga pinned to the ground with an outstretched hand. I shouldn’t have shown him that. No, I should have pushed him harder and cracked his skull.

The electrowhip coils around Obi-Wan’s neck. It doesn’t choke him, yet, but the threat is as present as the hum which means at any moment, he could be shocked into unconsciousness. Serra’s wide eyes fill with tears as if she realizes she distracted him. She’s only a civilian, she doesn’t know better. Obi-Wan should have paid better attention.

Three against one are still good odds, especially since two are focused on him. He needs to eliminate the Force sensitive. Kegla’s vibroblade sits abandoned on the ground, just out of her reach. Obi-Wan doesn’t give himself away by closing his eyes, but he does reach out to the Force. A tug and the blade rises from the ground and then buries itself in the Force sensitive’s chest.

The whip around Obi-Wan’s neck tightens and then comes alive. Obi-Wan screams, even as the weapon does its best to choke him. He swings blindly with his saber but doesn’t connect with the length of the whip. His vision grows spotty but before he passes out, the whip loses its shock.

He returns to the present and the scent of blaster discharge. The son of the security guard trembles in the aftermath of his shot, but he was steady when he was needed. Obi-Wan shakes the whip from his neck and faces the lead slaver.

Disoriented from the shock and having trouble breathing, the fight is more evenly matched this time around. Obi-Wan slips under the leader’s guard, the man’s sword kept out of the fight. But he has a dagger as well, and the blade bites deeply into Obi-Wan’s side. With a curse, Obi-Wan extends his blade until the point of it is at the man’s throat.

“Do you surrender?” he demands.  

Obi-Wan is a child. He sways on his feet, he has electricity burns on his neck, and he’s bleeding from what could be a fatal wound on his side. The slaver laughs. “Do you?”

Before Obi-Wan can answer, Kelga springs forward. She has a pair of binders from one of the slavers, and she captures the leader’s wrists before he can react. Obi-Wan pulls the weapons from his hands and puts them safely out of reach. And then he staggers and falls to his knees.

“We need to send for pick-up,” Obi-Wan says.

“You need medical attention.” Serra kneels at his side. She pulls his hand from his wound so she can look at it.

“No. Pressure.” He tries to put his hand back, but she doesn’t let him.

“We need a med kit or a droid,” Serra says.

“Med kit won’t help much.” He needs a healer. But first, they need to be safe. “There may be slavers, still. I need to be functional.” He lifts his lightsaber and wishes there was a better solution. “Does anyone have something I can bite down on?”

#

Obi-Wan’s skin is clammy with cold sweat when his master bursts into the room in a swirl of capes. Such a flair for the dramatic.

“I can hear you,” Dooku says. Despite his dry tone, he rushes to Obi-Wan’s side without a care for the rest of the room. Obi-Wan knows it’s because his master has assessed the warehouse and determined there is no danger or anyone who needs immediate attention but still, it’s nice to be his master’s priority.

His master’s frown deepens, and Obi-Wan groans softly. “Am I still projecting?” The pain makes his head fuzzy. Or maybe it’s the blood loss. He stopped the bleeding, but he bled a lot before he could. Also, pain. Has he mentioned that?

“I felt your pain,” Dooku says. He rests his hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “It served as a beacon when I searched for you. I’m sorry for what you had to endure, but I’m here now. Let me help you.”

“The children are alive and unharmed.” What’s the Jedi code? Others before self? Was that a Qui-Gon special? Obi-Wan’s rapidly losing this connection to consciousness.

You are a child.”

“I’m a padawan,” Obi-Wan says with as much gravitas as he can muster. And then he lifts his cloak to reveal the cauterized stab wound. The flesh is angry and red, stretched tight like a—well, like a burn. It isn’t Obi-Wan’s preferred method, but it worked. “I didn’t pass out in case there were more hostiles.”

“When we return to the Temple, we’ll discuss appropriate mission goals.”

“We went to birthday party and broke up a slavery ring.” So much for a soft first mission. “A high pain tolerance will aid me in our future.”

“Rest,” Dooku commands, but he doesn’t use the Force so Obi-Wan props himself up on his elbows and observes as his master turns his attention to the rest of the room. His considerable attention focuses on Devani who stands between two guards, these ones in Princess Mia’s colors. “He will face trial?”

The guard on the left answers. “Princess Mia and King Zibar have removed him from the line of succession. He will be tried in a common court.”

“Yan,” Devani begins.

“You used our friendship to further your political ambitions. Obi-Wan will carry a scar from your greed and idiocy for the rest of his life. Be glad I believe in Lorrainian justice.”

The temperature in the room drops several degrees. In moments like these, Obi-Wan sees the flicker of the Sith his master could become. While Obi-Wan is grateful for the support, he won’t be the reason his master tips toward the darkside. Determining it’s time to leave, he pushes into a sitting position.

Dooku notices and marches over. He points a forbidding finger at him in warning. “You will not so much as twitch until a medic has seen you.”

“The wound is closed.”

“Yes, you won’t bleed out on the warehouse floor. Did the blade nick an organ? Are you bleeding internally?” Dooku’s expression softens. “You did what was needed to ensure we would find you alive, but you aren’t a healer.”

If it was Cody at Obi-Wan’s side, Obi-Wan would protest, but Cody would mean he was in an active warzone. He and Dooku completed their mission. He is a padawan which means he isn’t in charge. He can rest.

“Okay,” Obi-Wan says softly.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan returns to the Temple with his master and after they present their mission report to the Council, he’s escorted to the Halls of Healing like an errant child.

Like a devious padawan, Dooku corrects. I know you weren’t intending to go.

I don’t need to.

Dooku, proving why he’s one of the wiser Jedi, doesn’t continue their conversation. He simply sees Obi-Wan to the capable care of Healer Che himself. His words are for her, a clipped breakdown of Obi-Wan’s injuries and the request that she keep Obi-Wan at least overnight for observation.

“I’m fine,” Obi-Wan huffs once it’s only him and Healer Che.

She’s as unmoved by his assertions as Dooku is. “According to my scans, you aren’t.”

“I was checked for internal bleeding and didn’t have any. I have a scar, but it’s proof of past injury, not current.” It’s an ugly scar, above his left hip. It isn’t the first mark on his new body, but it’s one of the first. He’s sure he’ll have many more before his apprenticeship is done.

His hand comes up to rub his neck, an action that gives away more than he intends. He still remembers the feel of the electrowhip as it pulled tightly around his neck. And he’ll never forget the pain when it lit up. There’s a red mark on his neck that has faded somewhat, but he isn’t sure yet whether he’ll have a scar here as well to remember the mission by.

“It’s Temple policy for all Jedi to go through a post-mission medical examination,” Healer Che explains.

Obi-Wan huffs and flops back against his pillow.

Healer Che pulls a stool up next to his bed and sits. “You know we don’t only address physical ailments in the Temple, correct?”

Obi-Wan wishes he fought Dooku harder on the way here. This is worse than bacta and IVs and droids monitoring his every movement. Healer Che wants to talk.

“It isn’t as though I was kidnapped like the children were. I smuggled myself onto the transport and followed. I knew the danger and went anyway.”

“You saw someone die,” Healer Che says gently.

Oh. Right. Would this be his first exposure to death in such a way? He isn’t sure. Either way, he must not look suitably distraught. “I didn’t kill him.” Of course, that’s its own discussion. “I could have. Maybe I should have. Because I didn’t, he was able to hurt Kelga.”

“Killing is never a Jedi’s first choice,” Healer Che says. “But sometimes it is necessary.” She reaches out as if to touch him and then reconsiders. “I can’t tell you how to make that decision, but I will always speak with you whenever you want to discuss it.”

“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Obi-Wan tells her honestly. “But I don’t want others to suffer because of my selfishness.”

He feels her pain, a brief flare in the Force, before she locks her emotions down tightly. “That’s a good place for us to begin.”

#

When Obi-Wan is released from the Halls of Healing, he feels wrung out despite the full night of sleep. He slips into the commissary for first meal, because he doesn’t want to cook. He eats something light and bland, as much of a contrast to Lorra’s cuisine as he can find.

His friends quickly spot him and ambush him before he can leave.

“You’re back!” Bant sits close enough to touch him. “How was it?”

Obi-Wan knows padawans hear what the rumor mill churns out. Only the Council will hear the official report. Other Jedi could access it, if it was a public mission, and they were curious, but in this case, the details are determined by the speaker.

“It was a week of parties. I danced with a princess.” Obi-Wan picks at his food, and he’s glad for the high collar of his tunics. He doesn’t have a complete ring of scarring around his neck, but he will carry faint, electrical burn marks on his skin for the rest of his life.

Bant gasps.

“No, you didn’t,” Reeft says.

“I really did. And she was beautiful.”

“How beautiful?” Quinlan asks. His smile comes a beat too slow, as if he can pick up Obi-Wan’s leftover distress, but he commits to helping Obi-Wan weave his story.

By the end of the meal, Bant wants to visit Lorra for the food and the oceans and Reeft wants a mission where he gets to dance with princesses and be personally fitted for a wardrobe.

The next day, Garen returns from Bandomeer, and his stories of freeing slaves and disarming explosives and a lightsaber battle between Master Jinn and his former padawan Xanatos become the talk of the Temple for the next month.

#

Obi-Wan expects Qui-Gon to avoid him after Bandomeer, and he intends to give the man space, but Dooku doesn’t give either of them the option. When Obi-Wan returns from his hand-to-hand session with Quinlan, his hair still damp from his post workout shower, both Master Dooku and Master Jinn are in the common room, seated at the small table.

“I can—” Obi-Wan already turns back for the door as Qui-Gon stands, no doubt mumbling an excuse of his own.

“Sit,” Dooku commands and his former padawan and current padawan obey.

Obi-Wan sits at the table and uncovers the plate Dooku kept warm for him while he was out.

“How is Padawan Vos?” Dooku asks.

“Annoying.” Obi-Wan huffs and rubs this thigh where he’ll have a dark bruise by morning. “But training with him makes me better.”

“Master Tholme appreciates you tiring him out.” Dooku pauses as he brings his mug up to his lips. He looks Obi-Wan over with a slight frown. “You’re thirteen? And Stewjoni?”

“A bit early for sexual maturity,” Qui-Gon comments, as if he can read the direction of Dooku’s thoughts.

Obi-Wan wouldn’t mind an occupied sarlacc pit to leap into. Surely being digested until death would be better than this.

“But about the right time for sexual budding.”

“Oh, gods,” Obi-Wan mutters. His face is scarlet, he could probably fry an egg on it if he was so inclined. “Quin and I—it isn’t like that.”

“There’s no shame in sex, Obi-Wan,” Dooku tells him as if this isn’t the worst conversation they’ve ever had. “He is older than you which, if you want a partner with experience, I don’t blame you. But if he is pressuring you—”

“Did I do something wrong?” Obi-Wan interrupts. “Is this a punishment?”

Master Dooku holds his hands out as if he makes an offer of peace. “Is there a subject you’d rather discuss? Where did you leave off in your studies with Qui-Gon?”

Sneaky bastard, Obi-Wan thinks and, oops, he may have projected too much, because Dooku raises his eyebrows at him. Obi-Wan quickly directs his attention toward Qui-Gon. “Would you be amenable to continuing our lessons? Princess Mia gifted me blue roses from Lorra. I can show you them if you’d like.”

“Food first,” Dooku says before Obi-Wan can get more than halfway out of his seat.

Obi-Wan drops back down onto his chair. “Have you ever been to Lorra, Master Jinn? They have sea monsters. Apparently, people pay for submarine tours so they can see them. I personally believe there’s enough danger in the galaxy looking for me without looking for it.”

Qui-Gon stops glaring at his plate. “Wise words. I have never been to Lorra, but Bandomeer is home to a major AgriCorps outreach. I asked them if they had any training materials for an interested padawan. It perhaps isn’t the most conventional name day present, and it comes late, but it’s yours if you would like it.”

Dooku shakes his head fondly at the two of them. “Only you, Qui-Gon, would give someone work as a gift. And only you, Obi-Wan, would look so eager to receive it.”

Obi-Wan pushes his mushed tubers around his plate. “The life of a Jedi isn’t easy, master, and I don’t want an easy life. But…” He glances at Dooku and then at Qui-Gon and wonders if he should admit this to them or keep his revelations between himself and Healer Che. “The Temple is my home. And it’s a temple. It is peace and serenity, where we return after missions that are anything but. Plants are not sentient, and I would never equate the two, but it is a relief to meditate in the gardens, surrounded by life, especially when I know what the loss of it feels like.”

Dooku’s teasing smile fades, and Obi-Wan misses it, even as he welcomes this new expression, a softer version of pride and something sad. “We all find our ways to heal. I’m sorry you had to find yours so early, but I’m glad you are comforted.”

“I understand now,” Obi-Wan says with a glance at Qui-Gon. “Why you always loved plants.” It takes him a moment to taste the wrongness in the words but by then it’s too late. He spoke of Qui-Gon in the past tense, spoke of him with familiarity he shouldn’t have. He holds his breath and waits for censure, but neither man seems to notice.

“They’re good companions,” Qui-Gon says.

“They don’t mind your morning grumpiness?” Dooku asks.

“I am not grumpy in the mornings,” Qui-Gon says with all the dignity he can muster. “I am simply…reserved before my first cup of tea.”

Obi-Wan laughs quietly as his master and his former master bicker.

#

Obi-Wan is in the archives working on his Mandalore thesis when Dooku speaks to him through their bond. Return to our rooms and pack, padawan. We’re being sent to rescue another Jedi.

Obi-Wan wastes no time. He shoves his datapad and his ration bar into his satchel and he sprints from the room. He makes it to his quarters and first packs a bag for Dooku and then one for himself. By the time he has them set on the couch, his master sweeps into their quarters with Qui-Gon at his heels.

“I should be the one going,” Qui-Gon argues.

“The Council assigned myself and Obi-Wan to this mission.” Dooku speaks with the waning patience of a man repeating himself.

“Master Tahl is my friend.”

Oh, Obi-Wan thinks, quiet dread filling his stomach. Melida/Daan.

“And she will need you,” Dooku says. “But your mind is clouded with your fear. You will wait here for us to return with her.”

“I can help you better than a child.”

Obi-Wan draws his shoulders up as Qui-Gon lashes out. He knows Qui-Gon isn’t targeting him. He would be angry no matter who Dooku’s apprentice was, because they were assigned to rescue Tahl instead of him. The words still hurt.

“Enough.” Dooku’s tone is chilling and brooks no room for further discussion. “My padawan and I will see this mission done. You will stay in the Temple and reflect on the dangers of attachment.”

Qui-Gon splutters, but Dooku takes his bag off the table and leaves. Obi-Wan hurries after him.

“This might be a mission better suited for a more experienced pair,” Obi-Wan says as he follows Dooku to the hangar.

“Don’t allow Qui-Gon to fill your head with doubt. We were given this mission, and we will see it through.”

“Yes, master.”

#

Obi-Wan has a choice to make. No, Obi-Wan has several choices to make. Does he lead Dooku straight to Tahl? How many “visions” can he justify before Dooku begins to question? Doesn’t he have a duty to help her as soon as he can? What of his duty to the Young?

Cerasi.

“The planet is ravaged by civil war,” Dooku says as they travel through space. “Master Tahl was attempting to negotiate a peace when she was taken hostage.”

“They are not prepared to give up their war, then.”

“So it would appear. Our mission is to locate her and bring her back to the Temple.”

“And the negotiations?”

“They will be put on pause. If the Council decides to send a new team, they will, but it is not our mission.”

Obi-Wan draws a slow, even breath. “Yes, master.”

#

They land at the spaceport, but Obi-Wan doesn’t allow them to be drawn into a trap. Instead, he leads them to the Young. Seeing Cerasi and Nield, all the others, his chest aches with a long-forgotten pain. It will be different this time, he promises.

“My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi, and this is my mentor. We’re here to find a friend of ours.”

“We heard they captured a great warrior.” Nield looks over Obi-Wan and Dooku with a critical eye. “Another weapon in the wrong hands.”

“Will you help us find her?” Obi-Wan asks.

Nield shrugs with the weight of too much responsibility on his shoulders. “They’ll find another weapon. They always do.”

“The war has gone on for generations,” Dooku says. He holds his hands up in a peaceful gesture as the Young turn on him with hostility and confusion. He sits on an overturned crate. “Do the Melida and the Daan remember why it began?”

“No.” Cerasi sits on a different crate. Her skin is pale from so much time spent underground. She rubs her mouth with dirty hands. A little girl approaches her with wide eyes and cupped hands, but Cerasi turns her away with a shake of her head.

Obi-Wan pulls a ration bar out of his pack. He opens it and holds it out to the girl. She snatches it from his hands and then eats it in three large bites. He isn’t sure she chews before she swallows. It’s what he remembers most from his last life; the hunger. He packed his bag as full of food as he could, but he isn’t sure it will be enough.

“There are the Halls of Evidence,” Nield says.

Cerasi spits on the ground. “Shrines to war. We used to have shrines to the gods and goddesses. We used to have harvest festivals and flower blossom dances. Now, there’s only death and destruction and war. Can you help us?”

“We’re here for our friend,” Dooku says. “But if she is being held by one of the warring factions, we might have to fight our way to her.”

Cerasi doesn’t understand, but Nield nods. “We will bring you to your friend. You’ll take out everything you can along the way?”

Here, Cerasi makes a protesting sound, as if she thinks they’re blackmailing Obi-Wan and Dooku into helping.

“You’re tired of the fighting,” Obi-Wan says quietly. “You’ve been orphaned and abandoned by war. The people who are supposed to protect you are the ones hurting you. And you don’t have their skill or bloodlust so you’re at a disadvantage. Our priority is our friend, but we will lend whatever aid we can in the process.”

The little girl from earlier approaches Obi-Wan with wide eyes and gaunt cheeks.

“A communal meal first?” Obi-Wan offers. “It’s a tradition of our people.”

Dooku’s curiosity is almost palpable. It only grows as Obi-Wan pulls ration packs out of bag. They’re the just add water kind, and the Young are delighted as a bit of water creates blue bread before their eyes. He doesn’t share everything he brought, because he isn’t sure how long he’ll be here, but he makes sure everyone is able to eat.

That night, he and Dooku bunk down on the hard ground. Obi-Wan does his best to quiet his thoughts. He’ll need his rest ahead of tomorrow’s journey.

#

They’re quicker this time than the last time he was on this planet. They aren’t distracted by the Daan, and they don’t walk into a trap. They don’t need to see the horrors of the war firsthand, because they accept what the Young tell them.

They shave entire days off the rescue mission, and Obi-Wan allows himself to hope it will be enough. He’s been a captive before. He’s been tortured before. He knows how being alone wears on a person until hope fades and is replaced with doubt and fear. He will not be able to save Master Tahl from future nightmares, but he hopes to save her from as much pain as he can.

Obi-Wan and Dooku split up as they near the prison. Obi-Wan is part of the distraction while Dooku will go with the small strike team to infiltrate the prison.

“You could do a lot of good here,” Cerasi says as she and Obi-Wan lead their team to the streets.

“I know.”

“We can’t do this on our own.” Cerasi holds her head up, proud, determined, but her gaze is heavy with the knowledge that hope isn’t enough. She knows they’re outnumbered and outgunned. Those she’s responsible for will starve if they aren’t shot or blown up. And yet, she keeps trying, because the alternative isn’t any better.

Isn’t this why Obi-Wan is a Jedi? To help people?

Will he truly turn his back on his master again?

Will Dooku be as forgiving as Qui-Gon had?

“You aren’t alone,” Obi-Wan says.

She looks over at him, her features hard. “For how long?”

#

They cause chaos in the streets and draw as many of the enemy as they can from the prison. Once they draw them out, they engage them with explosions and traps, hold their attention so Dooku and Nield can rescue Tahl.

Obi-Wan keeps his saber clipped to his belt, because it’s too obvious to use. He wields a blaster and uses the Force when he can get away with it. With a surprise attack like this, it’s enough. Besides, their goal isn’t to kill everyone they encounter. The goal is to subdue. They look to confiscate or destroy weapons but people? The whole point of this is for people to live.

We’re clear, padawan, Dooku says through their bond.

Obi-Wan makes the motion to fallback. He and Cerasi detour on their way back to the hideout, because there’s a warehouse and even if there’s only a few blaster-singed blankets left in it, it’s more than they currently have.

They find a veritable treasure cache. There’s food, freeze-dried but still edible and some clothes and even a few weapons. They take everything they can carry and join the others in the sewer network.

Obi-Wan’s breath catches at the sight of Master Tahl, weak and unmoving on the makeshift med bed. He rushes to her side and wishes, not for the first time, that he possessed any kind of talent for healing.

“She needs more than Melida/Daan can offer,” Dooku says. His cape is singed and the scent of blaster discharge clings to it. His hair is mussed, and his expression is tired and worn even though it was a relatively easy jailbreak.

“You’re leaving.” It isn’t a question, but Nield still manages to sound both condescending and disappointed.

“Look what we found,” Cerasi says to distract the youngest of the Young. She opens the first crate and hands a new piece of clothing to everyone here. Their excitement over something new to sleep on is nothing compared to their excitement at the food.

They swarm Cerasi who fends them off with laughter and a promise to have a feast celebrating today’s victory and their new friends. Obi-Wan looks over at Dooku, and he knows they can’t stay for it. Every moment they linger is one Master Tahl doesn’t receive the treatment she needs. Still, he feels the same pull as he did last time to stay, to help.

“We don’t have a mandate,” Dooku says and he sounds legitimately torn.

Obi-Wan reminds himself the reason Qui-Gon wasn’t objective last time was because his concern for Master Tahl outweighed his rational thinking. Which is, of course, why the Order cautions against attachment. Why Dooku refused to let Qui-Gon accompany them.

“There are two missions and two of us,” Obi-Wan says, testing this new opportunity.

Dooku watches as the children struggle to be patient as Cerasi assembles their feast. His gaze is drawn to the smallest of them, who wears a shirt like a dress, the garment far too large on him. “We don’t have a mandate,” he repeats.

“We could have been separated,” Obi-Wan says. “Your priority is to get Master Tahl proper medical attention. And then you can return for me.”

Dooku opens his mouth and then looks at their attentive audience and switches to speaking through their bond. You want me to leave you alone in the midst of a civil war?

Obi-Wan thrums with leftover fear from the last time this happened. He forces himself to breathe through it. Dooku isn’t Qui-Gon. Already, there have been changes. Surely, there can be more. With the knowledge you will return. As you said, we don’t have a mandate to aid the Young. But no one would deny you a mission to retrieve your padawan. Master Tahl needs the Halls of Healing and the Young need someone on their side with a knowledge of strategy.

I would be gone for quite some time.

You don’t trust me? Old pain from being Qui-Gon’s padawan settles in his chest.

You are thirteen. You’re young even for this group of rebels. I do not doubt your conviction.

Master Tahl came here to broker peace. I can see her mission through.

Dooku wavers but it’s out of concern for Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan can’t exactly tell him he’s far older than thirteen and has more battle experience than possibly anyone in the Order. All he can do is project his steady determination.

After what seems like an interminable amount of time, Dooku nods. Being a Jedi often means making difficult choices. Know I do not want to leave you here. I will return for you as soon as I can. Defend the Young but within reason.

Obi-Wan bows deeply, the most respectful he’s ever been to this man, in either timeline. Dooku hesitates only a moment before he squeezes Obi-Wan’s shoulder and then leaves with Master Tahl.

Obi-Wan takes a deep breath before he goes to join Cerasi in herding, and feeding, the children.

#

It isn’t easy.

Even with his lightsaber and knowledge beyond his years, he’s in the middle of a violent civil war. He doesn’t have Commander Cody at his side and a battalion of the best troopers in the Republic at his command. He is one Jedi with a force of children who are starving, scared, and exhausted.

“We need a plan.” Obi-Wan observes the crude, hand drawn map they have of Zehava and the surrounding area. It’s been two days since Dooku left. Obi-Wan needs to keep everyone alive until he returns, with a full negotiation team. He taps his fingers. “We have two main objectives. First, survival. We need food, fuel, and textiles for both clothes and blankets. Second, sabotage. We need to target their weapons and defenses. It’ll be more difficult for them to kill each other without blasters and bombs.”

“And maybe once they’re hungry, they’ll decide to farm instead of fight,” Jenah says.

Obi-Wan nods, even as he pushes such considerations into After. After the war, they determine their planet’s future. After the war, they determine occupations. After…

He runs his hand through his hair, short and stubbly but slick with grease. He’ll be far dirtier before this campaign is over.

“Supplies first,” he says. “Do we need to do recon or do you have targets?”

#

Obi-Wan thrives at war.

He knew it, even if he didn’t want to admit it during the Clone Wars. It was a struggle, of course, in the beginning. But given that the beginning was chasing Jango Fett to Kamino, chasing Jango Fett to Geonosis, being captured and nearly killed, and then fighting for his life in the arena with dozens of Jedi and hundreds of clone troopers at his side, it’s understandable that it took him some time to catch up.

Once he did catch up, he quickly became one of the best generals in the army. He can process large amounts of information quickly, he’s a talented strategist, and he knows how to make difficult decisions. Thrust back into the middle of a conflict on Melida/Daan, he guides the Young as if they were his 212th.

When he’s at their base, he trains with the Young. When he’s on a recon mission, he leads his small team and ensures each one of them makes it back. When he’s part of an offensive strike, he serves as a target in order to protect the rest of them in the best way he knows how.

By the fourteenth day, he is tired. His soul aches with the death on this planet. Even with a Jedi on their side, the Young have casualties. He carries little Devinkh to the nearest Hall of Evidence and lays him to rest. He wants to haul the Melida and the Daan in and show them the child who will never draw another breath. He wants to know if this damn war is worth the price. Do they even register the cost of the war anymore? Do they realize they’re killing each other?

Obi-Wan has seen too much death in his lifetime to understand how people can so casually murder each other.

But, like a good general, he sets his feelings and his exhaustion aside and he plans the next mission. They know where the Melida make their explosives. With the manufacturing plant gone, they’ll have to resort to blaster fire or maybe even their own damn hands. Will they be as eager to kill if they have to do it up close and personally? If they have to squeeze the life out of someone, will they value that life more?

#

By the twenty-first day, he is hungry. No one has much in terms of supplies, not the Melida, not the Daan, and certainly not the Young who scrounge for what scraps they can find. Obi-Wan gives as much of his own rations as he can to the little ones. He draws on the Force to sustain him, but it won’t last. Already, his cheeks grow gaunt. His stomach doesn’t growl anymore as if it’s given up on telling him he needs food. As if it knows he won’t do anything about it.

#

“This isn’t working!” Cerasi stares at their map, updated with targets they’ve hit and targets they still need to plan for. She’s near tears, frustration and fury, and she curls her hands into fists as if she’s clinging to her last bit of hope. “They just find new ways to kill each other. We have to stop it.”

“No, we have to stop them.” Nield’s words are as dark as his expression. “They were raised like this, they can’t change. We burn the old ways to the ground and then build something better.”

“No!” Cerasi stares him down before she looks to Obi-Wan for backup.

“I don’t want to see you become killers,” Obi-Wan says. Their hands aren’t clean, no one’s are on this planet, but the Young cause far less death than either of the other factions. If there is to be any hope for Melida/Daan, they must end the cycle of violence.

“We’ve tried it your way,” Nield says. He taps the map. “We’re no closer to peace.” He spits the word. “than we were before.”

No, Obi-Wan thinks with shame and a touch of disgust. They didn’t try things his way. “We’ve tried to limit their means of destruction and it didn’t have the desired result. But before we move to mass murder, we should try talking.”

“Talking?” Cerasi asks. Even she sounds as though she has doubts. “Isn’t that what the other Jedi tried?”

“We will bring both sides together at once,” Obi-Wan says. He rubs his hand over his face and expects to feel a too-long beard. Instead, he’s met with smooth skin. How many lives could have been saved if he tried this approach from the beginning? No point in regrets now. “We’ll sit them down, and we’ll force them to confront the costs of the war. They can’t agree on who started it? I don’t care. We will make them agree on who ends it.”

Obi-Wan speaks with all the authority of a Jedi Master, and the cobbled together war room is silent in the wake of his words.

Nield nods, a curt jerk of his chin. “If they don’t, we begin again.”

Obi-Wan feels the press of darkness around him and knows he can’t afford to fail.

#

It is another stretch of days before they’re able to establish a meeting. Obi-Wan’s lost track of how long he’s been here. Dooku should have returned by now, he thinks, but he pushes it to the back of his mind. Regardless of if he should be here, Dooku is not. It is only Obi-Wan, and it is his duty to bring peace to Melida/Daan.

And to make sure Cerasi survives.

Wehutti of the Melida arrives with a small retinue. Gueni of the Daan does as well. Obi-Wan gestures for the two leaders to sit at either end of the table.

“We are here today to discuss peace,” Obi-Wan says. On the long side of the table sit Cerasi, Nield, and Rica. Obi-Wan has claim to the other long side. He isn’t neutral as a true Jedi would be, but he is as close to an arbiter as they’ll get.

“There won’t be any peace with him,” Wehutti sneers with a glare for his opposition.

Gueni, breathing harshly through his mask, holds his hand up in a rude, unmistakable, gesture.

“You wish to continue your war,” Obi-Wan says mildly. He looks at Wehutti and his gaze lingers on the man’s left ear where a black ring marks his status as a widower. Next, he looks at Gueni and the breathing mask he would die without. “Despite everything it has taken from you?”

“I’ll take the same from him,” Wehutti says.

“Revenge?” Obi-Wan sighs. He looks to Gueni to see that the man is just as determined. “You kill because you have lost, and he kills because he has lost and you continue this cycle until what? Everyone is dead?” Anger bubbles under the surface of his calm. “Look at the children.” He tips his head toward the three across from him. “You should be raising them, loving them, providing for them. Instead, you damn them.”

Wehutti and Gueni both snap their attention to him, united as they bristle.

Obi-Wan doesn’t give either of them the respect of his gaze. “You orphan them, either through killing or abandonment. You starve them, instead of feeding them. You turn them into killers instead of teaching them a trade. Is that what you want?” Now, Obi-Wan turns the full weight of his disappointment on the two leaders. They wilt as quickly as Anakin once did. “Is this the legacy you’re proud of? What glory is there in warping innocence like this?”

“We raise our children strong,” Wehutti says, but there’s a waver in his voice.

“You aren’t raising me,” Cerasi says. She holds her head high, proud and defiant. “We are raising each other. And strength isn’t found in killing. We’ve found our strength in survival, but we want more. We want something better.”

Rica looks over at his grandfather. “I don’t want a life of fear, but that is all you’ve given us. We’re afraid of footsteps, in case our hideout has been compromised. We’re afraid of empty streets, in case it’s a trap. We’re afraid to sleep and afraid to move. We want a better life. If you were truly our guardians, you would give us one.”

Ours is the better way,” Wehutti says. “And we will all prosper once Melida is governed by us.”

Daan is the name of our planet,” Gueni argues.

“You will pick up weapons for your children, but you won’t lay them down?” Obi-Wan asks.

“We have to protect them,” Wehutti says.

Gueni scowls even as he nods, agreeing.

“Then protect us by putting an end to the war,” Cerasi says. “You think you’re only killing each other, but we’re caught in the crossfire.”

“Your mother—”

“She wouldn’t want this,” Cerasi tells her father. She pours all her conviction into her words. “She loved you for your gentleness. She used to sing to me, songs from a time of peace.”

“I was going to give it to her.” Tears well in Wehutti’s eyes. “I was going to bring Melida under our control and make her a queen. But they killed her, and now it will be your legacy.”

“No.” Cerasi shakes her head. “I don’t want to be a queen, and I don’t want you spilling blood in my name. Nield and I founded the Young, because there are so many children being left behind. Being forgotten. If this is what you want, a grand fight to the death, we’ll give you one.”

Wehutti and Gueni both look surprised.

“We’ll build you an arena,” Nield says. “You can pour your forces in and battle until you’re all dead. And then we’ll build a better future for the Young.”

“We don’t want to,” Cerasi says and though her voice is soft, it’s hardly weak. “We want you by our side. Our fathers,” she looks to her father and then turns to Gueni, “our grandfathers. We want to do this together. But if all you care about is yourselves, then take your feud away from us, and solve it once and for all.”

“They’ll cheat,” Wehutti says.

“Only because we know you will first,” Gueni says.

Obi-Wan settles in for a long negotiation.

#

They succeed. It takes six days and a refusal to let either party leave the room except for a fresher break, but they successfully broker a peace and put an end to the civil war.

He knows, that even though they call it an end, this is only a beginning. Peace, after all, is hard won and even harder kept. But there will be representatives from the Melida, from the Daan, and from the Young and together they will usher in a new era for the planet.

Melidaan, so named in the charter they signed.

They exit the building, and they’re greeted by sunlight. Obi-Wan keeps his senses sharp, searching for any hint of danger. He will not allow Cerasi to die like she did last time. There will be no sniper to steal her life from her.

Obi-Wan rests his hand on the building as he’s hit by a wave of exhaustion. The mission is over. Where’s Cody to bully him to his bunk and promise to keep watch so he can catch a few hours of sleep?

No, there is no Cody here. But he does sense someone familiar. He looks out at the assembly of people waiting for them. There are the Melida on one side, the Daan on the other and between them, enforcing a tenuous peace, are the Young. But mixed in with the Young are—

Jedi.

“Master Dooku,” Obi-Wan breathes. His first step is a stumble. His second is no better. He would faceplant except the Force buoys him. It’s his master, supporting him until Obi-Wan reaches his side.

“My padawan,” Dooku says, his voice fond and his hands gentle as he touches Obi-Wan’s face. Looking up at him, Obi-Wan doesn’t understand how he ever Fell. His master is good.

“You came back for me,” Obi-Wan says. He didn’t even have to beg.

“Of course, I did.” Dooku draws him into an embrace even though Obi-Wan is filthy and no doubt smells even worse than he looks.

“We negotiated an end to the war.” Obi-Wan looks up and hopes to see pride on his master’s face. It’s a lesson he should have learned by now, and if it was Qui-Gon Jinn standing before him, he wouldn’t dare hope. But Dooku isn’t Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan has a chance at pleasing him.

“A bonus,” Dooku says. “I asked you to remain alive until I could return for you, and you did.”

Warmth infuses their bond, and it feels better than any shower or dessert or fine clothing ever could. Obi-Wan wants to wrap himself in this feeling and hold onto it forever.

Someone clears their throat next to them.  

Obi-Wan turns to see Master Mundi. He hastily steps away from Master Dooku even though they’ve already been caught in an un-Jedi-like display. He bows deeply to the Council member. And then he spots Master Gallia and his friend Siri next to her, and his insides grow cold. Two Council members?

“I apologize for my distraction,” he says. “Welcomes to Melidaan, Master Mundi and Master Gallia. Welcome to you as well, Padawan Tachi.”

“Melidaan?” Master Gallia asks.

Obi-Wan gestures to Cerasi who holds the agreement, signed by all three factions.

“And here I thought we would be here for a long time,” Master Gallia says.

Obi-Wan begins to speak and then remembers he’s only a padawan, and these are two highly respected Council members.

“What is it?” Master Dooku prompts as if he can sense Obi-Wan’s unease.

“We have a peace treaty,” Obi-Wan says, quietly, as he separates the Jedi from the others so they won’t be overheard. “But it has been decades of war. There will be flare ups, and they are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. I’ve spent most of my time with the Young, and they are malnourished, behind on their vaccinations, and their clothing is insufficient. I would assume the conditions were similarly unfavorable for the Melida and the Daan as well. They need help reestablishing a society or they’ll fall back into war.”

“Well spoken,” Master Mundi says. “Master Gallia and I are here with the full authority of the Council behind us. We will evaluate the situation and provide as the Force dictates.”

Obi-Wan can’t help but stiffen slightly. Why should the Force have to tell you to do the right thing? Shouldn’t we know and do it on our own?

Master Dooku’s hand curves over Obi-Wan’s shoulder again, and he tucks Obi-Wan against his side. “With two Council members here, I am sure you have things well in hand. May I take my padawan to our second ship and bring him home?”

“Of course,” Master Gallia says. “If you would send a copy of your full report to us once you’ve presented to the Council, I would appreciate it.”

Obi-Wan bows again and then leans heavily against his master as the world tilts alarmingly around him. He wants a shower, a hot meal, and then to sleep for the entire journey to the Temple.

A fine idea, Master Dooku says.

“Wait!”

Obi-Wan turns to see Cerasi run toward him. She skids to a stop and glances at Master Dooku with the same suspicion all the Young have toward adults. She grabs Obi-Wan’s hand and curls her fingers around his. “There’s a supply ship. It brought food for a celebration feast. You’ll stay for it, won’t you?”

Obi-Wan wants to decline, because the sooner he is gone, the sooner he can rest, but he drudges up the remnants of his strength. “Of course.”

#

Obi-Wan is able to shower and change into fresh tunics which does wonders for his mood. A bit of caf when Master Dooku isn’t looking and he has enough energy to attend the celebration feast. He dances with Cerasi and then teaches the youngest of the Young one of the dances he learned on Lorra, and he samples a bit of food here and there.

His stomach protests. It’s tight, cramped from lack of use, and yet it’s a yawning chasm. He’s at turns hungry and overfully full. He’s constantly nauseous. There will no doubt be a long, uncomfortable session with Healer Che when they return to the Temple.

“Where’d the cute one go?” Siri asks, finding Obi-Wan despite his best attempts to blend in with the drapes.

“The cute one?”

Siri tuts her tongue. “The girl you clearly stayed for. Master Dooku says he was separated from you and had to choose between brining Master Tahl home and searching for you, but this makes a lot more sense.”

“Cut it out,” Obi-Wan says, more seriously than he intends. Maybe, in his last life, he had an adolescent crush on Cerasi. But this time, he only had the focus for one thing; making sure they all survived. They were his responsibility, and he did it. There’s peace here now and, with even more hard work, there will be a thriving planet and culture again.

“Alright, alright.” Siri holds her hands up in a gesture of peace. “But seriously. Where did she go? If you aren’t interested…” Siri trails off, no doubt as Obi-Wan’s fear spikes in the Force.

Where is Cerasi?

He scans the room and doesn’t see her. There are a lot of people here, yes, but not that many. He spots Nield and cuts through the crowd, uncaring of being polite. He even interrupts Nield’s conversation with Master Mundi without so much as a “pardon me”.

“Where’s Cerasi?” Obi-Wan asks.

Nield glances at Siri and then huffs. “Went for a walk with Mako. She wants to show him the fields. You filled her head with all that nonsense about plants and now she wants to be a farmer.”

Obi-Wan allows himself to breathe easily again. A romantic walk is nothing to fear.

And then the ground rumbles.

No, he thinks.

“Was that a tremor?” Master Gallia asks, drifting over.

No.

Obi-Wan looks at Nield and then they both start running. Master Gallia reaches for him, and Siri calls his name, but he doesn’t heed either of them. Master Dooku opens their bond, but all Obi-Wan can project is a litany of no, no, please no.

He runs toward the plume of smoke. He knows he’s too late, but he runs anyway. Stupid, to let his guard down. Foolish, to grow comfortable and confident. They weren’t safe. They’re never safe. He reaches the edge of the field and pauses. The ground is blackened and charred where the hidden mine was triggered.

He charges forward even though there are no doubt more hidden mines. Maybe the Force will warn him of that danger. He reaches the blast site and drops to his knees. Cerasi and Mako are dead. At first, he doesn’t believe it. How could it happen this way? There was a treaty. There was peace. And they were out enjoying it and happened to walk over a buried mine?

Why? Obi-Wan screams to the Force and the Force doesn’t answer.

Why wouldn’t you let me save her? Why am I here if it’s just to watch them die again? Why would you ask this of me?

Is this his fate? He returns to Melida/Daan and saves Cersai from a sniper, only to lose her to an explosion? Will he duel Maul on Naboo and save Qui-Gon only to lose him to gundarks on their next mission? Will he keep Master Dooku from Falling, only to lose him a Coruscant traffic accident?

“Obi-Wan.” Master Dooku reaches his side and kneels next to him in the dirt. “Padawan.”

“I don’t understand.” The Force won’t answer but maybe his master will. “Why couldn’t I save her? Why am I here if I can’t protect anyone?”

“Oh, little one,” Master Dooku says.

Obi-Wan buries his face in his master’s shoulder and screams.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan is quiet and withdrawn on their return to the Temple. He doesn’t change once they’re in the Temple itself. Around him, the Force hums with life, with possibility, but it doesn’t cheer him the way it did when he first returned. Will he lose them all again? How is he supposed to change the course of an entire galaxy if he couldn’t even save one girl?

He sits through his medical exam and doesn’t protest, even when Healer Che tsks over his weight loss and lack of general care. He accepts the diet she uploads to both his datapad and his master’s and promises to follow it to the best of his ability.

He nods dutifully when she arranges twice weekly sessions so she can monitor his health. It seems like a monumental effort to care so he doesn’t. He nods, he bows, he does what he’s told as a good padawan should. Qui-Gon would be proud, he thinks and then nearly dissolves into hysterical laughter in the middle of the hallway.

He attends his classes and his training sessions with both Master Dooku and Master Jinn. He visits Master Tahl, pleased to see she’s nearly recovered from her ordeal. They found her faster this time, and she was brought to the Temple with haste which means she didn’t lose her sight. Her system was weakened by the drugs, and she will always have a slight tremor in her hands because of it.

She has nightmares which Obi-Wan learns one afternoon when they take tea together in her quarters.

“We both survived,” Master Tahl says as she sips her drink. She looks him over with familiar warmth and an emotion he hadn’t been able to name in his previous life.

She…loves him. He often thought of her in a maternal role. He struggles now, against what he felt before and his wealth of experiences. He shouldn’t need a mother. But a support system? Even adults need those.

“We both carry reminders,” Obi-Wan says. His own tea is a different flavor. It’s bitter, something Master Tahl initially wrinkled her nose at, but she’s made sure she has it in stock each time he comes over. Obi-Wan doesn’t particularly care for the taste, but the flavor is strong enough to register. Sweet tea makes him sick and anything mild amounts to drinking hot water.

“Master Dooku shouldn’t have left without you,” she says.

“You needed immediate medical attention. And I was hardly the only child in the warzone. I was, I imagine, the one most well-equipped to handle it.”

“And are you?” Tahl asks gently. “Handling it?”

“I am,” he answers evenly.

“Are you handling it well?”

Now, Obi-Wan flushes and ducks to avoid her knowing gaze. He wakes up each morning, attends class, attends his training. He sleeps each night and only sometimes wakes with nightmares. He eats, most meals, and when he can’t bear the sight or scent of food, he can usually manage a supplement shake. He isn’t sure he’d categorize himself as well, but he isn’t as poorly off as everyone implies.

“My master had to make a difficult choice,” Obi-Wan says, because the one thing he is certain of is that this isn’t Master Dooku’s fault, and he wants no blame or censure to fall on his shoulders. “If he had his way, it wouldn’t have been the choice presented before him. I—” Obi-Wan weighs his words. “Being forced to choose between two bad options doesn’t mean he wanted to leave me.” Obi-Wan flexes his fingers as he finds an unexpected well of frustration.

This is the source of his unease. He’s seen the looks leveled at his master and heard the mutterings. Dooku, of course, has glided above all the criticism, but Obi-Wan’s indignant that any of it should reach him to begin with. “He didn’t. He did leave, yes, but it wasn’t an eagerly or maliciously made choice.”

“Well-spoken,” Master Tahl says. “I fear I haven’t found your same calm. I find myself angry with your master for prioritizing my life over yours.”

“Your life was immediately in danger. Mine was not.”

She offers him a placid smile. “We could debate this topic for days and never reach an agreement. I doubt this is what Healer Che meant when she suggested we have tea together.”

“Everyone treats me now as if I’m fragile.” Obi-Wan can’t help his sullen tone. “They should know I’m not. I survived guerilla warfare and lack of food and sleeping on the ground with little in the way of blankets.” His gaze hardens. “I survived.”

“You did,” Master Tahl says. She rests her hand over his and her skin is warm from the heat of her mug.

#

Bruck Chun catches Obi-Wan when he wanders the halls alone. If Obi-Wan paid more attention, he would have noticed the boy approach, but Obi-Wan still has episodes where he drifts through time rather than stays firmly present in it.

The consequence of his inattentiveness is that his childhood bully pulls him into an even more out-of-the-way hall.

“It only took two missions before your master left you behind.” Bruck’s face is twisted, ugly with his anger. “How many until he doesn’t bother coming to get you again?”

The Force swells around them, power available at the tips of Obi-Wan’s fingers. He could throw Bruck into the wall and crack his skull. He could pin the boy to the floor. He could pull a page from Vader’s book and squeeze an invisible hand around the boy’s throat.

He can do anything.

The thought is as terrifying as it is humbling.

Obi-Wan breathes in and then, slowly, breathes out. Around them, the Force settles as he tells it it isn’t needed. He isn’t Vader. He isn’t even Anakin, prone to fits of temper. He isn’t a child without control. He is Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master, and he will not falter, no matter the temptation.

“He’ll always come for me,” Obi-Wan says. “He chose me.” And that’s the fundamental difference between this apprenticeship and his last. Qui-Gon didn’t ever choose, not truly. Yoda arranged for them to bump into each other on Bandomeer. It was necessity that drove them to work together and then guilt which drove Qui-Gon’s offer.

Master Dooku’s offer was in good faith. He wasn’t under duress. If anything, he was discouraged from choosing Obi-Wan, but he chose him anyway. He didn’t leave Obi-Wan on Melidaan willingly. He did it because it was the best of two bad options. And then, he returned. He didn’t force Obi-Wan to choose between what was right and the Jedi Order. He didn’t make Obi-Wan beg to regain his favor. Obi-Wan never lost it to begin with.

Pleasure accompanies this thought, along with a wave of relief which leaves behind a sense of calm he hasn’t felt since before Melidaan.

Padawan? Master Dooku inquires.

I’m glad you’re my master, Obi-Wan responds.

Answering pleasure filters through the bond, tinged with surprise as if Master Dooku didn’t expect Obi-Wan to feel this way or ever admit it.

Caught up in his conversation with Master Dooku, Obi-Wan forgets about his other conversation. Bruck, never one for patience, reminds Obi-Wan of his presence with a two-handed shove. Obi-Wan stumbles back against the wall and hits his head against the unforgiving surface.

“You think you’re better than the rest of us now?” Bruck demands. Fear and insecurity bleed into the air around them. “No one wanted you! I heard they were going to send you away early.”

“It’s a good thing they didn’t.” Obi-Wan gathers his calm and uses it as a buffer against Bruck’s stronger emotions. “It took longer for me than most, but I have a master. The Force has plans for me.”

“What about me?” Bruck asks, his voice a near whisper. And then, enraged at having admitted weakness, he throws himself at Obi-Wan again.

Obi-Wan is prepared this time, and his brings his arms up to bear the brunt of Bruck’s attack. He doesn’t want to fight, but his other option is to retreat. No, there are other options.

Master, I could use an extraction. He projects his location and his situation and emphasizes that there is no need to overreact.

Master Dooku huffs at Obi-Wan’s commentary, and then makes his way to them with speed. Obi-Wan shifts his attention back to the fight. Hand-to-hand is something he practices diligently with Quinlan. While he isn’t back to his Clone Wars proficiency, he’s skilled enough to deflect Bruck’s blows with minimal pain to either of them.

“This doesn’t look like the training salles.” Master Dooku manages to sound imperious and dismissive at the same time.

The two boys quit fighting.

“He started it,” Bruck says.

Master Dooku raises his eyebrows. “Hmm. And you didn’t end it? Extra lessons in diplomatic resolutions for you, initiate. And you, padawan.” Through their bond, Master Dooku projects acceptance and reassurance. “Extra meditation is in order.” He extends an arm and Obi-Wan obeys the silent command. He scoots ahead of Bruck and allows Dooku to escort him back to their quarters.

“That is the boy you dueled when I decided to ask you to be my padawan,” Master Dooku says once the door to their quarters slides closed behind them.

“Yes.”

“Did he say anything before he attacked you?”

Obi-Wan hesitates but tells the truth. “He said you left me behind and then asked how long until you left me and didn’t return for me.” Obi-Wan feels the flare of his master’s emotions and quickly says, “I told him it would never happen. But that’s a lie.”

“Oh?” Master Dooku’s voice dips dangerously.

“Only Sith deal in absolutes,” Obi-Wan says, reciting a common maxim.

“Which itself is an absolute,” Dooku points out.

Obi-Wan’s lips quirk in a smile. It’s something he’d noticed as well, but no one had ever answered his questions about it. He sobers quickly. “You had to make a difficult decision on Melidaan. It would be foolish and shortsighted for me to assume there would never be a situation where you had to make another difficult choice. I don’t think you want to.” Obi-Wan meets his master’s gaze and implores him to understand. “You chose me. You don’t want to leave me and walk away. And I don’t want you to do it either. But the Force doesn’t always care for what we want.”

Master Dooku doesn’t answer right away. When Obi-Wan pokes at his shields, he receives only a sense of deep concentration. Finally, Master Dooku sighs and ushers Obi-Wan toward their couch. “You’re correct. A Jedi’s life is full of difficult choices. I want to make you promises and ease your fears, but I am reluctant to promise when I’m not certain I can follow through.”

Master Dooku sits down and then clasps Obi-Wan’s hands and tugs him forward until Obi-Wan stands between his knees. Like this, Obi-Wan is taller than his master. Master Dooku sends peace through their bond. “What I can promise you is that I chose you. I saw something precious in you, and I didn’t want it extinguished by the AgriCorps or another master. You are my padawan and no matter how often we are separated, know it is not because I want to be. I will return for you whenever and as soon as I can.”

Love pours through their bond, and Obi-Wan doesn’t know whether he should step closer or lean back. “That sounds like attachment, master,” he whispers.

My padawan, Master Dooku says with love and pride and a touch of possession. He offers a reassuring smile. “Will you report me to the Council, Obi-Wan?”

Obi-Wan laughs despite himself. He shakes his head.

“The Jedi have forgotten how to adapt,” Master Dooku says. “We’ve become too rigid in our ways. Change begins within. We’ll show them a better way.”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan agrees. Besides, attachment is only dangerous when it puts the greater good at risk. Master Dooku showed he was still impartial when he left Obi-Wan on Melidaan. “Will you teach me Makashi?”

If Master Dooku is surprised at the transition, he doesn’t show it. “You want to specialize in fighting other Jedi?”

Sith, Obi-Wan corrects, careful to keep the thought to himself. The Sith are out there, and he knows, at some point, he will face them. If he begins preparing for it now, he could change the fate the galaxy. “I want to learn my master’s preferred form. I’ve read up on it. It goes beyond the physical. It’s a psychological duel. And there is an entire branch dedicated to strategic retreat.”

“Who am I to decline an eager student?” Master Dooku releases Obi-Wan’s hands. “We’ll begin once I put together a curriculum. Do you have homework or are you off to the salles with Vos again?”

Obi-Wan grins at the disapproval in Master Dooku’s voice when he references Obi-Wan’s friend. “Not today. Quinlan’s on a mission. I commed him to let him know I was alright after Melidaan.”

“You weren’t alright,” Master Dooku says. Before Obi-Wan can object, he asks, “Do you need to see your friend before our next mission?”

Obi-Wan perks up at the thought of something new. He was afraid they’d be grounded for an entire year after Melidaan. “Where is the Council sending us?”

“Patience, padawan,” Master Dooku counsels.

#

They leave on a retreat. Obi-Wan’s first mission was a party and now his third is a vacation but anyone who might mock him for it no doubt holds their tongue when they recall his second mission. He and Master Dooku depart for Quabbin, a peaceful planet known for its forests and gentle lakes.

When they arrive, Obi-Wan unpacks their things in their quarters and then goes with Master Jeku for a tour. The Force is quiet here, almost reverent as if it’s afraid to stir beyond a whisper. It isn’t quite peace, but Obi-Wan isn’t sure what to make of it.

Master Jeku shows him the archives, the commissary, the common rooms, and the hobby rooms. There is a room for art with pottery wheels and massive canvases and smaller sketchbooks. There is a room for games and another for textiles where a loom takes up an entire wall and shelves full of yarn take up another.

There is so much to do here and yet no one moves quickly or with purpose. The residents drift in and out of rooms as they please. On this third day, Obi-Wan encounters an older Jedi in the art room. He works one of the massive canvases, layering paint as he creates a picture. Obi-Wan doesn’t see the shape of it yet in the brushstrokes.

“Such a small brush,” Obi-Wan remarks. He thought the Jedi would use something with a wider reach. “Do you intend to be here long?”

The Jedi laughs quietly as if Obi-Wan’s made a joke. “I don’t intend to leave, little one.” Obi-Wan bristles at the moniker, and the Jedi pauses and evaluates him. “Hmm. Little in body, perhaps, but not in mind. I am Neru.”

“Obi-Wan.” He studies the canvas again. “What are you painting?”

“The Force guides me.”

Obi-Wan looks away but not before Neru catches his shuttered look.

“You doubt the Force?” Neru asks.

Obi-Wan shakes his head. He doesn’t doubt the Force. No Jedi could. But. “I doubt its active participation. The Force simply is. We act on it, not the other way around.”

“So certain,” Neru says.

Obi-Wan traces swirls of dried blue paint. There’s white mixed in as well. Is it water? Sky? He won’t know until Neru paints more of his vision. “If the Force determines our path, why does it choose some of us to suffer?” He thinks of Bruck, afraid and angry. If someone chose him, could he heal? If the Force didn’t cut him off from support, would he live a different life? No, Obi-Wan won’t believe that the Force is cruel. The Force simply is. Sentients make their own way; their own mistakes, their own triumphs.

“Ah, you ask the difficult questions.” Neru hums as he dips his paintbrush in the water to cleanse it.

“We draw on the Force. We can use it for good or for ill, but the Force itself is neither of those things.”

“It simply is?” Neru repeats.

Obi-Wan inclines his head.

“Little ancient one,” Neru says. He holds his palette out. “Which color should I use next?”

#

The day after he meets Neru, Obi-Wan realizes why almost all of the residents are older. There are a handful who aren’t, but their souls are heavy. One woman wears a mask over her face because her lungs no longer process oxygen on their own. Soon, even the mask won’t be enough. A young boy, older than Obi-Wan, uses a hoverchair because his muscles atrophy more each day. Soon, even the chair won’t help.

Those are the two who give him the clues to understand where he is. Once he does, he understands the odd weight of the Force here. He understands why it feels familiar, like the desert of Tatooine when the weather here is nothing but pleasant.

He makes the connection and then walks calmly to his quarters and vomits until his stomach is empty. When he emerges from the fresher, his eyes rimmed with red, and his body shaking, Master Dooku waits for him.

“Is this like first meal?” Obi-Wan demands.

“I didn’t expect the reaction I provoked then,” Master Dooku answers calmly.

Which means he expected this one. He brought Obi-Wan here, not to a retreat but to a house of death. Betrayal cuts through him, and Obi-Wan’s knees tremble, but he doesn’t collapse. He leans against the wall. “Why?” Will they be here when one of the residents passes into the Force? Will Obi-Wan have to feel it again? Will it spark a chain reaction, life extinguished one after another after another until he and the Force both scream in pain?

“You worried me on Melidaan,” Master Dooku says. He keeps his distance as if he knows he’s unwelcome. “You cannot save everyone, my padawan.”

Obi-Wan shakes his head. No. He will not learn this lesson. He refuses. The Force sent him back. He has a mission, a purpose, and he will see it through. He will save them all; Qui-Gon, Dooku, Anakin, Padmé. The clones. He will save Cody and Rex; Waxer and Boil; Fives and Echo. The Force will sing with life.

He exits their quarters and Master Dooku doesn’t follow him.

#

Obi-Wan haunts the art room. He and Neru don’t always speak, but Obi-Wan is always there. It’s easy to find the Jedi’s presence in the Force. It’s just as easy to see where death encroaches. It’s like a rot, eating away at his vibrancy. Obi-Wan isn’t a healer, but he was once master to the Chosen One. He finds the edges, and he cannot repair them, but he can hold the line.

Two days of this and Neru looks at him with something sad in his expression. “You cannot stop it, little ancient one.”

“I can,” Obi-Wan tells him. No point in denying what he’s doing. They can both sense it.

“Not forever. I have made peace with it.”

“How?”

Neru sighs and sets his paints aside. “It is not a lesson you can teach, only one which can be learned. My acceptance doesn’t lead to yours. It was a difficult journey. My padawan met her death in battle. She was a master herself, then. I thought for a time, it would be kinder to die without warning. But she was mid-mission. Her death left a task unfinished. I don’t believe I would like that.”

Obi-Wan looks pointedly at the large mural before them.

Neru’s laugh turns into a cough, and the man doubles over as he coughs as if trying to dislodge death itself. When he straightens, there’s a speck of blood at his lips. “Look at the painting again. Tell me what you see.”

Obi-Wan studies the painting. At first, he doesn’t know what he’s meant to find. But then, he sees the blues and whites, how they’re layered and swirled. Above them is a patch of green and the brushstrokes don’t match. Where yellow flows into orange and then red is a different style entirely. Obi-Wan’s throat swells, and it takes two tries to swallow.

“You are not the only artist of this piece.”

“And so I will not leave it unfinished.” Neru smiles at Obi-Wan’s frown. “Will I paint this whole canvas? No, but that is not the task I’ve given myself. I come here each day and paint while I have the strength. Each day, I complete my task. I am at peace, little ancient one. I am ready.”

“You…wait for death?” Obi-Wan can’t imagine. Even during his exile on Tatooine he wasn’t waiting for death. Hoping for it, maybe. But he had a purpose. Survive. Train Luke. Bring balance to the Force. He could not die until his task was complete. Isn’t that why he’s alive for a second life? To finish what he couldn’t before?

Neru scoffs. “No. Death will come when it comes. In the meantime, I live.”

Obi-Wan doesn’t understand.

#

Obi-Wan and Master Dooku train in the largest of the common rooms. They often draw a crowd, residents interested in seeing a lightsaber battle or interested in teaching. The first time one of them corrects Master Dooku, Obi-Wan holds his breath. But his master only bows, his posture somewhat rigid, and says, “I thank you for your advice”. And then he soundly trounces Obi-Wan in their bout.

They practice all of Obi-Wan’s forms, taking advantage of so many Jedi here. His Makashi, his newest form, improves the most, but his Soresu becomes more grounded and his Djem So more focused. His Ataru struggles, because he doesn’t have the energy for the most acrobatic of the moves.

“You carry a great burden,” Neru says as Obi-Wan pants on the sidelines and recovers his strength for the next set of drills. “If you do not release it, you’ll wear yourself down.”

“Someone must carry it,” Obi-Wan says. And the Force chose me. He wipes his forehead on his sleeve. “Someone must finish it.”

“You’re very concerned with completion,” Neru says.

“I’m not allowed to rest until I finish,” Obi-Wan says. And then, because that’s not quite accurate, he adds, “and I must do it right.”

“This drive doesn’t come from your master. He’s much too sensible.”

Obi-Wan takes a drink from his water bottle and then goes to run through his Ataru drills again.

#

The darkness eats at more of Neru’s aura, despite Obi-Wan’s best efforts. I am a failure, he thinks as he watches the Jedi Master paint.

“Hardly.” Neru doesn’t look away from the turtle he paints. “Or, perhaps we all are. Death is inevitable. If it reminds of our shortcomings, it is to keep us humble. I prefer to take comfort in its certainty. There is an end to all things.”

“And if there isn’t?” Obi-Wan asks. He looks past the mural and into a world which no longer exists. He feels the heat of Tatooine’s suns and the sting of sand and hears the screech of a krayt dragon. He feels the cold of spaceflight and hears the measured march of the clone troopers through The Negotiator’s hallways.

“There is,” Neru says. “If you’re still going, you haven’t reached it yet.”

Obi-Wan meets the other Jedi’s gaze and wonders if he knows how accurate little ancient one is.

#

Obi-Wan sits at Neru’s bedside once the disease invades his lungs and his heart and confines him to his bed. The healers say it isn’t much longer now.

“You didn’t finish the ocean,” Obi-Wan says.

“It isn’t mine to finish.” Neru remains placid and calm, his aura at ease even as it shrinks.

“The Jedi teach us to accept what is outside of our control,” Obi-Wan says. “But how do you know what’s inside your control and what’s outside of it?”

Neru smiles, but his muscles don’t have the strength to hold it for long. “The same way you learn everything, little ancient one. Trial and error.” He laughs weakly at the expression on Obi-Wan’s face. “I gave you wisdom when I had the strength for it. I have little to offer now.”

“Then accept, instead.” Obi-Wan holds on of Master Neru’s hands between both of his. He doesn’t try to fend off death. He knows he can’t and, more importantly, he now recognizes the insult it is. Neru has lived a life of dignity and, in his own mind, a full life.

Obi-Wan bows his head over the Jedi’s hand and offers peace and comfort as the Jedi joins the Force. Like this, it’s as though he drifts away, his soul departing his mortal shell and dissipating into the Force. This isn’t the sharp, brutal pain of Knightfall. It isn’t pleasant, but it doesn’t rip Obi-Wan apart either.

#

When Obi-Wan goes to the art room the next day, L’Cuchi has a paintbrush in three of her six arms, and she adds a school of fish to the ocean scene.

#

“I understand the lesson you wish to teach me,” Obi-Wan tells his master after a sparring session which wore them both out. “But I do not accept it.”

“Few lessons are taught in a single sitting,” Master Dooku says.

Three days later, they depart for the Temple.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan returns to the Temple stronger than he left it. The first time he and Quinlan spar after his return, he’s able to pin the older boy without much difficulty. Quin, of course, complains that Obi-Wan’s been sneaking extra lessons and demands they spend four days a week in each other’s company instead of two.

“I don’t see the harm in it,” Master Dooku says when Obi-Wan brings it up at first meal.

Obi-Wan pauses, sips his tea even though it doesn’t have nearly the amount of caffeine he would like, and then squints at his master. “You dislike Quinlan.”

“It’s good for you to have friends,” Master Dooku says. “You have differing futures within the Order, but there is opportunity for overlap in your training.”

“What does that mean?” Obi-Wan asks, because Master Dooku enjoys speaking in riddles, and Obi-Wan only sometimes understands them.

“If you insist on learning, you will learn well,” Master Dooku says.

#

The next time Obi-Wan and Quinlan show up at the salles to practice their hand-to-hand, there is a Jedi there waiting for them. She shakes her head at the way they form fists, at how they settle their weight, and where they aim their hits.

Obi-Wan hurts at the end of their session, but it’s the hurt of sore muscles, of growth spurts, and he eagerly looks forward to their next lesson.

#

In between training with Master Dooku, training with Quinlan, and training with Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan works on his Mandalore Reclamation Thesis. What started as a way to pass the time before he was shipped to the AgriCorps has become a project. Obi-Wan isn’t a scholar, he won’t use it to graduate university, but he can use it to help people.

A research binge between missions showed him a major event he’s already changed by coming back in time. He didn’t even do anything to directly affect this one. But when Master Dooku took Obi-Wan as his padawan, he took Obi-Wan on missions. Like the mission to Melida/Daan.

The Melida/Daan mission meant Master Dooku couldn’t go on the Galidraan mission. When Obi-Wan first saw Master Dooku in this new time, he had been working on his Mandalore these, and he had assume Galidraan already happened. It’s why he avoided talking about his research. He was afraid of offending Dooku. But while Galidraan had happened in his time, it hadn’t happened in this one.

It has now. The Jedi team who answered the distress call showed up late because of engine trouble. They arrived to the carnage of a fight between Death Watch and the True Mandalorians.

The report had been light on details but from what Obi-Wan could tell, Jango Fett survived. And he hadn’t been captured or sold into slavery. He escaped, barely, and with a small number of loyal followers. Three Jedi were killed by Jango Fett, but it wasn’t the massacre it was in Obi-Wan’s time.

Does Jango Fett still hate the Jedi the way he did in Obi-Wan’s time? If he doesn’t hold the same grudge, will there be no clones? Without Dooku to act as general, will there be no Separatist army?

Obi-Wan doesn’t know the answers. But he does know Sidious’s position is weakened, and the Jedi’s is stronger. Obi-Wan will strike after Naboo. Once he knows Sidious is the master Sith, once Maul is dead, he will end the line of Bane. The galaxy will be free.

Free to recover from the damage Sidious’s influence has caused. To recover from the damage sentients do to themselves.

There are wars to end and refugees to help and planets to restore.

Mandalore is as good a starting point as any.

Because this is the greatest lesson Obi-Wan learned in a lifetime of lessons; the Sith win by division. Hope wins with numbers, with unity. The more stable the galaxy is, the harder time Sidious will have rattling its foundations. A strong Mandalore and a strong Jedi Order will both go a long way to keeping the galaxy stable.

With that in mind, Obi-Wan posts his thesis on one of the public forums. It isn’t complete, and he isn’t an expert in agriculture, but it’s a starting point. Maybe the AgriCorps will take it and finish it. Maybe Satine will see it and implement it once she’s duchess.

But helping Mandalore is only part of his project. Helping the Order is the other part, and it’s the one Obi-Wan has more control over.

#

“How are you sleeping?” Healer Peg’ae asks. She’s a kind woman with three eyes which never blink at the same time. It means, when she wants, she can look at Obi-Wan without pause. Her attention is unnerving and not because she has three eyes.

Obi-Wan thought there wasn’t a place in the Temple he disliked more than the Halls of Healing. And then Master Dooku arranged weekly visits for him with Healer Peg’ae in the Pools of Reflection.

Sitting on the edge of one of the pools, Obi-Wan avoids the question for the moment and dips his fingers in the water. There are healers for the body and healers for the mind and he respects the profession and the hard work the healers put in to keep everyone healthy, but he’ll never be completely comfortable with it.

Healer Peg’ae wants to know everything about Obi-Wan, and he needs to make sure she never does. It’s an exhausting balance to maintain.

Speaking of exhausting… “Could be worse,” Obi-Wan answers. He knows fitful sleep. On the Negotiator, he woke up at the slightest sound in case it was a warning. On his cot on Tatooine his sleep was even lighter and plagued by nightmares of Cody shooting at him, of Anakin’s march on the Temple. How many times had he awoken with a gasp, reached for the comforting Force signature of another and was met with only emptiness?

At least now when he wakes, his bond with Master Dooku is there to remind him he isn’t alone. And, recently, he’s gained a second bond. Pair bonding with Quinlan had been unexpected, but it’s a comfort to him, and he’s selfish enough to cling to it.

“But it could be better?” Healer Peg’ae asks. Her question is a gentle prompt, a nudge for Obi-Wan to open up and talk.

“Do all Jedi see mind healers?” Obi-Wan asks.

“I can’t discuss my other patients with you.”

“I’m not asking for names,” Obi-Wan says. “How many of us require your services?”

Healer Peg’ae considers her answer before she crosses her legs and leans back in her chair. “It’s strongly encouraged for all Jedi to regularly see a mind healer. Just as you shouldn’t neglect your body, you shouldn’t neglect your mind. In actuality, we don’t see every Jedi regularly. However, those who come to see us as padawans often come to see us once they’re knights or masters.”

It’s Obi-Wan’s turn to quietly sift through his thoughts. There are a dozen things he could say. He could ask if she feels the creeping, smothering darkness that blankets Coruscant. He could ask her if she is seeing fewer and fewer Jedi with deeper and deeper problems. He could try and gain an ally against Sidious.

But no.

The more people who know, the higher the chance Sidious will act, and it isn’t time yet.

“Why is the Order structured the way that it is?” Obi-Wan finally asks.

It isn’t the question Healer Peg’ae expects. She regards him for a moment. “Can you be more specific?”

“One master and one padawan,” Obi-Wan answers. “Padawans are chosen young, before they’ve developed enough to know who they are or who they want to be. If they don’t know themselves, how is a master supposed to?”

“The Force guides us,” Healer Peg’ae answers, but it’s an automatic answer. She glances above Obi-Wan’s shoulder after she says it, as if she’s putting more thought into it.

“Does it?” Obi-Wan presses. He’s put enough thought into this for both of them. “Or is that what we tell ourselves to justify our vanity and assuage our doubts?”

He knows he’s caught Healer Peg’ae off guard, because her careful, gentle mask slips to show a flash of true surprise.

“The Temple takes in children who are Force sensitive,” Obi-Wan says. “We have a creche to raise them in. We have classes and instructors, but our focus is narrow. Why aren’t there classes taught by members of the Corps? Why don’t we receive a well-rounded education? Instead of being chosen at thirteen or kicked out, why don’t we dedicate ourselves to truly educating and raising our children?”

Obi-Wan stands up, unable to contain the energy inside of him. Words aren’t enough. He paces as he continues. “Why not begin apprenticeships later? At eighteen-standard or whatever the age of majority is for that particular species? Padawans have rotations. They learn about farming and piloting and mechanics. They learn and practice diplomacy. And yes, they learn to defend themselves. And then, once they’re older and they know themselves, they apply to one of the Jedi divisions. Then, they have specialized apprenticeships.”

On one of their first missions, Master Dooku told Obi-Wan their role was to change the Order from within. Obi-Wan has lived through the Fall of the Jedi Order. He knows it’s flawed, but it isn’t broken. It isn’t irredeemable. The Jedi are his family, the only attachment he’s allowed, and he wants to see them survive.

“We aren’t living up to our potential,” Obi-Wan says. “This Temple, it isn’t a Jedi Temple. It’s a training program for knights. But knights are only one of the specializations Jedi have. If we’re truly the galaxy’s peacekeepers, why do we pour the most resources into our fighting corps? If we are an Order, a community, why do we limit ourselves to one master and one padawan? Why don’t we take advantage of our diversity and learn?”

Obi-Wan cuts himself off. He takes a deep breath as he gives Healer Peg’ae time to react.

“This isn’t a recent thought,” Healer Peg’ae says.

“I was raised in the Temple,” Obi-Wan tells her. “It’s the only home I’ve ever known. And then I was told I wasn’t good enough. I was being sent away. I was twelve. If I live to be the average age of my species, I’ll live to be one-hundred. I had lived one-tenth of my life, and I was being judged on it. My future was being determined based on twelve short years. You have extensive training and education in mind healing. What does it do to children to be under that kind of pressure?”

“It is flawed,” Healer Peg’ae says. Her third eye darts around the room, never settling long on one thing, as if she’s uncomfortable with the problem Obi-Wan has brought to her.

“Will you help me?” Obi-Wan asks. “We tell the younglings the Force loves all its children and in the same breath, we tell them if they aren’t good enough, we’ll send them away. There is nothing wrong with the Corps. But there is something deeply flawed with how we frame them.”

“I will help you,” Healer Peg’ae promises. She uncrosses her legs and takes the pad off her desk. “You would make a good crechemaster, you know.”

Obi-Wan looks down at his hands. Already, he has callouses from his lightsaber which are too thick to ever truly fade. He imagines, for a moment, a life spent in the creche. A life spent allowed, no encouraged, to freely love and show his affection. And then he pushes the dream aside. “I am meant for war, Healer Peg’ae.”

“Hmm.” She taps her stylus against her pad. “Tell me more about that.”

#

While Obi-Wan is meant for the frontlines of a war, Quinlan is meant for the edges of it. Obi-Wan knows his friend is training to be a Shadow. He also knows how easy it is for Shadows to lose themselves. He doesn’t want to lose Quin. Not again.

The pair bond helps.

It’s dangerous, giving someone an in to Obi-Wan mind, but Quinlan respects Obi-Wan’s mental boundaries just as he respects Obi-Wan’s physical ones. Quinlan doesn’t use his touch to ferret out Obi-Wan’s secrets, and he doesn’t use their bond to do it either.

They do use their bond, though, strengthen and reinforce it whenever they can. Obi-Wan knows a war for the fate of the galaxy is coming, and he will need as many allies as he can gather.

Tonight, Obi-Wan uses the threads of their bond to find Quinlan on Coruscant’s second level.

“What took you so long?” Quin demands when Obi-Wan reaches him. Quinlan’s cloak hides his most distinguishing features, but Obi-Wan would recognize his Force presence anywhere.

“Master Dooku didn’t give me official permission to leave the Temple,” Obi-Wan answers. “It meant none of the Temple guards would let me through.”

Master Dooku has continued to encourage Obi-Wan’s friendship with Quinlan, but he always makes sure there’s a lesson involved. Whether it’s coordinating instructors to teach them new skills, sending Obi-Wan to some of Quinlan’s shadow training, or this.

Obi-Wan’s just shy of sixteen which means he can’t leave the Temple grounds without permission from his master. Master Dooku told Obi-Wan if he could make it out of the Temple undetected, he was free to join Quinlan tonight, and there would be no consequences for sneaking out. If Obi-Wan was caught, he would serve his punishment without complaint.

Now that Obi-Wan’s here, he realizes there was a third option. He could have stayed in.

“And miss all the fun?” Quinlan asks. “How did you get out, anyway?”

They head for Little Keldabe, because Obi-Wan is in the mood for Mandalorian food. “I impersonated Master Dooku. The Temple guards are less concerned with people going out than in so they didn’t pay close attention.”

“I’m both proud of you and concerned with our security. Maybe we need to step up our training exercises. Use them to test the Temple’s security and response times. And then improve them.”

“We should,” Obi-Wan agrees. “Talk to Master Tholme about it. I’m sure your crew can wreak plenty of havoc in the name of improvement.”

“You’ll be a part of it too,” Quinlan says. “Impersonating a Jedi to other Jedi? That’s ballsy. And we need that kind of thinking if we really want to stress test our security system.”

“That’s for another day.” Obi-Wan grins as they enter Little Keldabe. It smells like spices, and he turns them toward his favorite little diner. “Tonight, we’re relaxing. Healer Peg’ae tells me I need better balance.”

“Oh?”

“Apparently, I have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and if I don’t unburden myself every once in a while, I’ll collapse under the weight of my own expectations.”

Quinlan stops in the middle of the street to laugh. He doubles over and clutches his stomach as he entire body shakes.

“It isn’t that funny,” Obi-Wan says.

“Tell Healer Peg’ae she has a knack for understatement.” Quinlan wipes his eyes and then ushers Obi-Wan into the diner.

There is a menu screen mounted on the wall behind the counter. It’s written in Mando’a, but Obi-Wan’s kept up with his understanding of the language. He scans the offerings until he finds what he wants.

“This is the beauty of our galaxy,” Obi-Wan tells Quinlan before he orders a number seven. He asks for medium heat. And then he orders Quinlan the blandest thing he can find.

The woman behind the counter looks between them and grins before she punches in their order.

“What did you say?” Quinlan pokes Obi-Wan’s side as Obi-Wan’s smile matches the woman’s. “Is this going to be like the time you ordered for me, and I burned off all the tastebuds in my mouth? It took weeks for me to taste anything again.”

“I’m taking pity on you this time,” Obi-Wan says. He brings Quinlan over to a quiet table in the corner.

Keldabe, the original on Mandalore, began as a fortress. And as time progressed, it grew from fortress to stronghold to city and now to a full-fledged metropolis. It’s Mandalore at its best, dozens of species living together in one place, blending their own cultures in with the Mandalorian way.

Keldabe is known for its open markets and its diverse food offerings. And Little Keldabe has carried on that tradition. Obi-Wan ordered Naboo fish with a side of Wookie rice and Toydarian vegetables, and it will all be spiced in the Mandalorian style.

“I don’t understand why you love this place so much,” Quinlan says. “What’s wrong with a good Corellian barbeque?”

“Nothing but we’re celebrating my victory sneaking out of the Temple which means I get to pick what we eat.”

“Mandalorians and Jedi are supposed to be ancient enemies,” Quinlan says.

Obi-Wan rolls his eyes. “Back when Mandalorians were conquerors and Jedi weren’t neutral. That was centuries ago. We can be friends now.”

“You want to be friends with everyone,” Quinlan says.

I want to save everyone.

Obi-Wan tsks his tongue. “Jealousy is not the Jedi way, Padawan Vos.”

“I don’t know why I like you,” Quinlan says.

Obi-Wan beams as a droid wheels over with their food. Obi-Wan’s plate is a riot of color. His fish is a pale yellow, dotted with red spices. His rice is brown but with bits of green sprinkled in. And his vegetables cover at least four shades of purple. He thanks the droid and then looks across the table at Quin’s plate. Everything on it is a dull beige.

“You think you’re funny, don’t you?” Quin asks.

“Quinlan, my dear friend,” Obi-Wan leans in. “I’m fucking hilarious.”

#

Obi-Wan shares his food with Quinlan, and they clear both plates and split a Keldabe cake between them. When they finish, Obi-Wan brings their dishes to the counter where the droid on duty thanks him for not leaving the table a mess.

Obi-Wan replies in binary and then is pulled into a ten-minute conversation which no doubt would have gone longer if Quinlan hadn’t come to fetch him.

“Mando’a, binary, what other languages are you studying in secret?” Quinlan asks as he marches Obi-Wan out of the diner.

“I’m not learning any of them in secret. And my Huttese is quite good now as well.” Obi-Wan shakes off Quinlan’s grip. “Communication is important. Have you met my master? Everyone says I’m on the diplomat’s track. I—” Obi-Wan falters for a moment, because he feels someone’s gaze on him. The hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.

Rather than whirl around and give himself away, he loops his arm through Quinlan’s and leans against his friend’s side. “I believe in improving relations across the galaxy.” Obi-Wan laughs, a touch too high and a touch too long and then he sways as if he’d had too much to drink at dinner.

Obi? Quinlan asks.

Obi-Wan does a quick scan of their surroundings, but he doesn’t see anything out of place. He backs Quinlan up against a nearby wall and then ducks his head to nuzzle at Quinlan’s neck.

“Look around,” Obi-Wan whispers. “Is anyone watching us?”

“Several people,” Quinlan answers. He draws in a short breath as Obi-Wan curls a hand around his hip. Obi-Wan’s second hand is on Quinlan’s shoulder. He’s careful to keep both touches; well, not friendly but not overly sexual. “Are you looking to put on a show?”

Obi-Wan steps back, but he grabs Quinlan’s hand and brings him down a side street. Obi-Wan’s senses still all tell him someone’s watching them. And it isn’t the kind of gawking a bit of PDA would garner.

“Ah,” Quinlan says quietly. He turns them down a different street, this one narrower and less crowded. “We have a tail.”

It’s Quin’s turn to act. He pushes Obi-Wan against the side of a shop and kisses him. It catches Obi-Wan off guard. He hasn’t been kissed in…in years. Quin’s body presses against him. He’s solid, steady, and the physical comfort is matched only by the parallel press of Quin’s mind. Obi-Wan is surrounded by a sense of safety and security and friend.

He nearly loses himself to it. Or maybe he does lose himself, because one moment, he’s kissing Quin with a desperation he didn’t know he had, and the next, Quin is gently easing back and murmuring reassurances as he does.

Even as Quin opens a sliver of space between their bodies, his mind is still tucked against Obi-Wan’s. His hands frame Obi-Wan’s face, and he tilts Obi-Wan’s head up until they’re looking at each other. Obi-Wan’s gaze darts to the left, embarrassed, but there’s nowhere for him to hide. He looks back at Quinlan, expecting judgement.

There’s no censure in Quinlan’s eyes. It’s the opposite. Quin’s entire face is relaxed, and he offers nothing except acceptance through their bond.

“You’re having a rough time of it,” Quinlan says softly.

Obi-Wan casts his senses out, but there’s no one following them anymore. Either, he’s paranoid and there never was someone or they didn’t care for the show. It means Obi-Wan and Quinlan are the only two on this little side street, and Obi-Wan allows himself to sag back against the wall. Between the durasteel at his back and Quinlan at his front, Obi-Wan’s held up.

“I’m managing,” Obi-Wan says.

“As your friend, I’d like you to do better than manage.” Quinlan brushes a loose strand of hair out of Obi-Wan’s face.

Once Sidious is gone, Obi-Wan can relax. But until then, he needs half his attention on the present and the other half on all the possibilities for the future. It’s a good thing he isn’t Qui-Gon Jinn’s padawan again. He is certainly not focusing on the moment.

“Let’s grab a drink before we head back,” Obi-Wan says.

“You aren’t legal on Coruscant yet.”

Obi-Wan arches his brows. “I impersonated Master Dooku to make it out of the Temple. I’m sure I could do it again to buy myself a drink.”

“Only yourself? How selfish of you. You’re going to dirty Master Dooku’s pristine reputation.”

Obi-Wan laughs and twists out from under Quinlan so they can head toward a busy tapbar which should serve their purposes. “Have it your way, Vos. A drink for me, a drink for you, and no thinking for twenty minutes.”

“I bet you a second drink you can’t even manage ten.”

Obi-Wan grins and holds his hand out. “Deal.”

Chapter Text

“Mandalore has been a particular interest of yours has it not?” Master Dooku asks.

Obi-Wan glances at his classmates as they head to their next course. Obi-Wan has the feeling he won’t be making it to his saber lesson today. He falls into step with Master Dooku. “It has.”

“You are aware of the two factions vying for control of the planet?”

“Death Watch and the New Mandalorians,” Obi-Wan answers. “The True Mandalorians were led by Jaster Mereel, but he was betrayed and killed by Death Watch. His heir, Jango Fett, was on Galidraan for the fight between Death Watch and the True Mandalorians which has, as far as I can tell, ended the True Mandalorians’ participation in the conflict.”

Master Dooku’s expression doesn’t change, but he gives off a slight air of being impressed. “Death Watch has moved against the New Mandalorians. The former leader of the New Mandalorians was killed in an attack on Keldabe. His daughter, Satine Kryze, has reached out to the Jedi Order for help.”

Satine. Obi-Wan’s chest grows tight at the thought of the young woman he had been willing to walk away from the Jedi for. The last time he saw her…well, he watched her die. He pushes down all his emotions surrounding her death. “And the Jedi Order is responding?”  

“Satine Kryze advocates peace and non-violence. Death Watch wishes to return Mandalore to its conquering days. Neither the Republic, nor the Jedi, wish to see a Mandalorian expansionist movement.”

“We’re going to Mandalore, then?” Obi-Wan asks. He’s been on this mission before. He can do it again.

“It’s a delicate situation. The Council has seen fit to send two teams.”

“Two teams?” Obi-Wan asks.

#

Master Tholme and Quinlan meet them at their transport. Both Jedi are solemn as Master Dooku and Obi-Wan, equally solemn, walk up the landing ramp with them. This is different, Obi-Wan thinks as Quinlan heads straight for the cockpit to set their course. Last time, it had been Obi-Wan and Master Jinn. How will the situation change with having four Jedi?

Obi-Wan takes the position of co-pilot. By the time they lift off, Masters Dooku and Tholme are seated behind them, their safety harnesses fastened.

“What do we know about the situation?” Master Tholme asks.

“Death Watch bombed Keldabe,” Obi-Wan says. “They used the bombing as cover to infiltrate the former fortress. They assassinated Duke Krzye. His daughters escaped the takeover and managed to contact the Jedi Council, but they’re pinned down. We have to find them before Death Watch does. I assume Death Watch plans to use them to legitimize their leadership. And if neither Satine nor Bo-Katan agree to help, they’ll be killed or kept as hostages.”

“There are whispers of upcoming nuptials between Satine and Pre Vizsla,” Quinlan adds. “Given that Pre Vizsla’s father killed Satine’s father, I don’t think she’s too eager to be his bride.”

“What are our orders from the Council?” Obi-Wan asks. “Are we helping Satine and Bo-Katan keep their power on Mandalore or are we only tasked with their personal safety?”

“Personal safety is the priority,” Master Dooku says. “But the Council believes all of Mandalore’s people will be safest with Duchess Satine in power.”

Obi-Wan leans back in his chair as they travel through hyperspace. The broad outline is the same as the first time he did this mission, but some of the details have changed. For one, it sounds as though Keldabe isn’t a smoking ruin. Smoking, certainly, and no doubt in the process of being occupied by Death Watch, but it hasn’t been completely razed. Why the change? And how will Bo-Katan’s presence change things?

In Obi-Wan’s previous life, she had joined Death Watch. Will she defect before they reach Mandalore? Or maybe she’ll be kidnapped and brainwashed. Maybe…he doesn’t know. They will arrive on Mandalore, and they will rescue both sisters. Maybe having each other to rely on will lead to more changes.

“Bounties are already out on both Satine and Bo-Katan,” Master Tholme says. He pulls up both bounties and displays them for all four of them to study.

“Preferably brought in alive,” Obi-Wan says. “That’s good. What’s the plan?”

“We’re on an official Jedi transport,” Master Dooku says. “We’re here to evaluate the situation and provide aid. We aren’t a neutral party, but if Death Watch attacks us, they’re committing an act of war against the Jedi and, by extension, the Republic.”

“So the bounty hunters will aim for our heads and Death Watch will claim ignorance,” Obi-Wan says.

“Indeed,” Master Dooku agrees. “Our role is to restore peace to Keldabe and protect Satine and Bo-Katan as they claim their titles.”

“The Council said they were sending two Jedi,” Master Tholme says. “They made no mention of accompanying padawans. I hope you’re prepared to put your stealth skills to good use.”

“I am,” Quinlan answers.

“You and I will be the public presence?” Obi-Wan asks his master. “We’ll draw the attention and allow Master Tholme and Quinlan to search for the sisters?”

“Precisely,” Master Dooku answers. “And while they use their stealth skills, you and I shall use our negotiation skills. We’ll bring Keldabe back under control so it’s ready for Duchess Satine to rule.”

Obi-Wan inclines his head. “It’s a good plan.”

#

Cody was fond of saying that no plan survives engagement with the enemy.

As soon as they receive clearance to dock in Keldabe’s spaceport, their transport is rocked by heavy fire.

“Shields are failing!” Obi-Wan shouts as warning lights flash on the console.

Quinlan alters their course, the last thing he can do before an ion cannon fries the electronic systems. It’s enough to avoid a collision course with Keldabe itself, but it’s a hard landing in the outlying forest. Obi-Wan’s chest feels bruised, and the harness dug into his thighs in a way which will be painful later.

For now, he checks on the others. Quinlan groans but he rouses quickly enough when Obi-Wan lightly slaps his face. Master Dooku and Master Tholme are stirring so Obi-Wan doesn’t shake them. Instead, he grabs their emergency packs.

He hands them out and then they open the hatch to the transport. They’re met by a hail of blaster fire, and Obi-Wan ignites his saber to deflect it in order to clear the exit for the others.

“So much for our surprise,” Quinlan mutters. He ignites his saber as well and together they provide enough of a distraction for their masters to get free of the transport.

Obi-Wan tosses a grenade in the direction of the heaviest blaster fire. When it explodes, it’s enough to shake the ground. Obi-Wan runs for Keldabe, and he urges the others to do the same.

What was that? Quinlan asks.

A sensory grenade, Obi-Wan answers, speaking to both Quinlan and Master Dooku. It will interfere with visuals but also thermal imaging. It won’t last long.

They’re almost to the city gates when four Mandalorians with jetpacks shoot at them from above. This time, it’s Masters Dooku and Tholme who turn to face the assault.

Go! Master Dooku urges. Find the Duchess and her sister.

Obi-Wan assumes Master Tholme has given Quinlan similar orders, because Quinlan keeps pace with Obi-Wan as they enter the city. There’s a crowd outside the gates, as if they’re curious to see the fight. The crowd works to Obi-Wan and Quinlan’s advantage, because they can lose themselves in it. They become two travelers instead of two Jedi.

Obi-Wan spares a moment to worry for Master Dooku. But Master Dooku has Master Tholme to assist him, and they can hold their own against four members of Death Watch. Hopefully their victory will be enough to inspire the residents of Keldabe.

“I thought they were a warrior culture,” Quinlan murmurs as they make their way through the crowded streets.

“There was a time being Mandalorian meant being a warrior,” Obi-Wan says, his voice pitched equally low. “But they’re no longer exclusively warriors. And the New Mandalorian movement prioritizes nonviolence where possible.”

“A drastic shift.”

Privately, Obi-Wan agrees.

He and Quinlan make it to the Keldabe Great Hall without incident. It’s an imposing building, and the mounted Mythosaur skull presiding over the entrance does nothing to soften its appearance. It was once a meeting grounds for the various clans. It was the home of the Mand’alor, and there are statues of past Mand’alors lining the entrance hall.

Today, Obi-Wan and Quinlan break off for the dormitories. There isn’t a Mand’alor, not like ones who built this city and its signature features, but there are the best and most protected rooms in the city within these walls. If Duke Kryze and his children stayed in the city, this is where they would have been housed.

With the commotion outside, Obi-Wan and Quinlan have an easy path through the Great Hall. It isn’t until they’re in the dormitories that they run into trouble. Death Watch clearly wasted no time making themselves at home here.

The first room Obi-Wan and Quinlan duck into has signs of being lived in. The bed is unmade, there are clothes hanging out of the open dresser, and flimsis are scattered across the table.

“We need to get a fresh wave of recruits.” A voice drifts down the hallway, growing louder as the person comes closer. “The next time there’s a fight, I don’t want to be stuck on guard duty.”

Guard duty? Obi-Wan asks Quin.

Quin moves until he’s on one side of the open door. He gestures for Obi-Wan to take the other side.

“Haven’t you heard?” A second voice now, this one sour with bitterness. “It’s an honor to guard the princess.”

Princess? Obi-Wan casts his senses out. He can pick up on two individuals who are making their way closer to where Quinlan and Obi-Wan are hidden. Do they have Satine? Bo-Katan? They clearly have one of the Kryze sisters.

“Do you think if we get them both one of us will be allowed to marry the spare?”

“I think you’re an idiot who won’t last the month. Hey, why is Bern’s door open? I guess he’s inviting a surprise inspection.”

The more experienced member enters first. Quinlan waits for the second to enter as well before he launches himself at the first one. Obi-Wan takes the second. He knocks out the being’s comm system as he tackles them to the floor.

“You have a princess?” Obi-Wan asks. He has the Death Watch member pinned face-down which means Obi-Wan hasn’t been seen yet.

“Don’t say anything!” The Death Watch member Quinlan has handled practically shouts at their counterpart, but it’s too late.

Obi-Wan doesn’t need words. As soon as he said princess, his Death Watch person started thinking. It’s mostly images, but it’s enough for Obi-Wan to know where Bo-Katan is being held. He knocks out his opponent with a well-placed blow to the head and then scours the room for something to use to bind them. It isn’t the most secure binding, but it will be enough.

Quinlan follows Obi-Wan’s lead. They leave one Death Watch member shut into a closet and the other crammed into the fresher cabinet.

Bo-Katan is being kept deeper in the dormitories. Obi-Wan leads Quinlan through the halls. They take out two more patrols along their way. And then they pause outside the room where Bo-Katan must be held. Obi-Wan can sense her, or at least he assumes it’s her radiating indignation and fury and, buried deeply beneath it, a thread of fear.

Obi-Wan and Quinlan exchange a look. Obi-Wan throws the door open and then somersaults into the room to avoid the immediate blaster fire.

“Idiot!” someone hisses. “We’re in here too!”

The blaster fire stops immediately. Someone grabs Obi-Wan and throws him into the wall. Obi-Wan recovers in time to twist and plant his feet against the wall. He pushes off and slams into his attacker. Once he has the room thoroughly distracted, Quinlan slips in to help.

Between the two of them, they dispatch the guards in the room with ease.

The three of them, Obi-Wan amends when he turns, only to be faced with the sharp point of a beskad. Bo-Katan, her red hair hanging limp and loose around her face, holds the weapon level with Obi-Wan’s neck.

“We’re here to help,” Obi-Wan says, because he knows better than to use the word rescue. Bo-Katan is young and she’s proud. And, from the bite marks on one of the guard’s arms, she’s scrappy and can hold her own. “Does Death Watch have your sister as well?”

Bo-Katan shakes her head. Apparently deciding Obi-Wan and Quinlan aren’t a threat, she steps back and lowers her knife. Then she pats down each of the guards until she’s assembled a somewhat terrifying arsenal of weapons.

“Do you know where she is?” Obi-Wan asks.

While Obi-Wan isn’t a threat, he isn’t trusted yet either, because Bo-Katan doesn’t answer. Instead, she does another pass of the guards, this time stripping off any armor or clothes she’s interested in. At her sharp look, Obi-Wan turns his back. He nudges Quinlan and he does the same.

Bo-Katan had been wearing a dress when they first saw her. When they turn back around, she’s in pants and a shirt with mis-matched armor covering her chest, thighs, and arms. She has weapons strapped to her waist and an ammo belt slung over her shoulder. She tips her chin up, defiant, and Obi-Wan’s heart aches. He looks at her and sees himself on Melida/Daan. He sees Cerasi and Nield. He sees Padmé fighting for her home on Naboo. He sees Anakin and then Cody and Rex, Fives and Echo. An endless stretch of childrenmade to fight and compromise and die.

“Obi-Wan?” Quinlan asks, softly, carefully, and Obi-Wan doesn’t understand until he wipes at his eyes and his hands come away wet.

“Sorry,” Obi-Wan says. “We should go.”

“Go where?” Bo-Katan asks.

“It’s your choice,” Obi-Wan says. He feels Quinlan’s surprise in the Force, but he trusts that Quinlan isn’t showing any outward signs of it. “One of us can bring you to safety while the other searches for your sister or we can stay together.” Obi-Wan, carefully so he doesn’t startle Bo-Katan, shows her the hilt of his lightsaber. “We’re Jedi.”

“You’re a little young for Jedi aren’t you?” Bo-Katan asks.

“Older than you, princess,” Quinlan says.

Obi-Wan raises his eyes to the ceiling, but, to his surprise, Bo-Katan laughs. “It’s Bo-Katan. And I want to get out of here before their friends show up.” She gestures to the unconscious bodies on the floor.

“One quick thing,” Obi-Wan says. “Bo-Katan’s on to something.”

#

When they leave the room Bo-Katan was being held in, all three of them are wearing a mismatch of armor. Obi-Wan’s chest aches again, and he stumbles where he takes up the rear, caught between the present and memories of his other life.

Like all the other Jedi, he swaggered into war, armed with his ideals and the Force. It took one battle before Cody convinced him to wear vambraces. And then, as the war dragged on, Obi-Wan adopted more and more pieces of armor. He never covered his whole body like his troopers did. He had to balance protection with flexibility. But this, running through the Keldabe Great Hall, with armor protecting his softest spots, he can’t help but remember the Clone Wars.

It takes two days of navigating storm drains before they reach Satine’s hiding place. Obi-Wan’s glad he’s still rear guard, because it means he has a moment to stare before she notices him. She’s younger than the last time he saw her, but she’s no less proud. No less regal.

Even down here in the tunnels, dirty and hungry and tired, on the run from the people who killed her father and want to take her title, she’s confident. She knows who she is, she knows what she wants, and she expects everyone to fall in line behind her.

“Well, here she is,” Bo-Katan says. “What now?”

“We retake Keldabe,” Satine says. “We restore peace and then we usher in an age of prosperity.”

Before Obi-Wan or Quinlan can say anything, Bo-Katan groans.

“Are you stupid?” Bo-Katan demands. “Death Watch wants to use us. And if they can’t use us, they want to kill us. They bombed our city! This is war.”

“No.” Satine looks around the dimly lit hideaway. “War is what’s destroying us. It’s time for a New Mandalore. The Jedi are here. They’ll eliminate Death Watch, and then our planet, our people, they will be ours again.”

Bo-Katan spits at Satine’s feet. “You might be okay with hiding behind others, but I’m going to fight.”

Both sisters turn to the Jedi as if expecting them to take sides.

“Safety first,” Obi-Wan says. “And then we can discuss plans for the future. Death Watch has taken the Great Hall. They have eyes on the spaceport. And there are bounties out on both of you.”

“I assume now is when you tell us the good news?” Bo-Katan asks. Her bravado is biting and it barely covers her fear.

Obi-Wan reminds himself that she was held prisoner while Satine was down here. Not that here, with the damp walls and company of rats is anything to write home about. Both sisters have had their trials. It’s Obi-Wan’s job to be patient and understanding.

“The good news is Keldabe isn’t the only city on Mandalore,” Obi-Wan says. “We will get you out of Keldabe and then regroup once we’re safe.”

“And what about the people here?” Satine asks.

This is why Obi-Wan loved her in another life. She cares about her people, and she’ll risk her own safety if it means protecting them. “There are other Jedi here,” Obi-Wan answers. “They’ll protect the city. Have you explored the storm drains? Do you know how far they extend?”

“They’ll lead us outside the walls,” Bo-Katan says.

“We want a southern exit, if possible,” Obi-Wan says. “It’ll keep us furthest away from where our transport landed. And our goal is Cyalare which is southeast of Keldabe.”

“You know our geography well,” Satine says.

“Mandalore has been an area of study for me,” Obi-Wan says. And then he laughs at himself. “I’m sorry. We never introduced ourselves. I am Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi padawan. This is my fellow padawan, Quinlan Vos.”

Senior padawan,” Quinlan corrects with a smile meant to put the sisters at ease.

“Obi-Wan Kenobi?” Satine asks. “You wrote the Mandalore Reclamation paper.”

“War has ravaged this planet,” Obi-Wan says. “But enough time and enough care can restore it.”

“What?” Bo-Katan asks.

Quinlan answers, because Obi-Wan’s too busy staring at Satine. She looks at him as if he carries all her hopes in his hands. “It’s a farming thing,” Quinlan says. “Obi figured out a way to heal the land through plants.”

“It isn’t as impressive as it sounds,” Obi-Wan says. “The amount of time and labor it would take is enough to turn most people away. It’s the kind of project which would take generations.”

“But we can begin the work,” Satine says. “And give our children a legacy to be proud of.”

“We already have one,” Bo-Katan snaps.

And here they were again. Obi-Wan glances at Quinlan. He offers a minute shrug. It isn’t their place to mediate between the sisters. Maybe Bo-Katan will provide an alternative to Satine’s vision of Mandalore.

“We need to go,” Obi-Wan says. “It won’t be long before Death Watch realizes Bo-Katan is missing. We need to be out of Keldabe as soon as possible.”

#

It takes them the better part of the day to reach their exit point. There’s too much sunlight for Obi-Wan to be comfortable leaving yet.

“We want the cover of darkness,” Obi-Wan says. He looks over at Satine and Bo-Katan. Both are strong and neither of them complained as they journeyed through the dark and the damp, but this isn’t the kind of life they’re used to. “You should catch what sleep you can.”

“What about you?” Satine asks.

“We need supplies,” Obi-Wan says.

“You’re going above ground?” Bo-Katan asks.

“I’m going to assess the situation and if it’s safe, yes. Quinlan will keep watch while I’m gone. But we’re going to be traveling on foot to Cyalare. We need food and water. Quin and I have some, but not enough for all four of us and the length of our trip.”

“I should go,” Quinlan says. “Stealth is more my strength than yours.”

“Mine is good enough for this,” Obi-Wan says. And then, to prevent further argument, he adds, “If something happens, you have contacts and safe houses I don’t. They need you more than me.”

“Obi—”

“I’m not planning on getting caught,” Obi-Wan says. “A quick search for food and then I’ll be back in time to catch a few hours of sleep before I take watch.” Obi-Wan sends a wave of assurance through their bond. He doesn’t need to tell Quinlan to trust him, because Quin does.

He takes his bedroll out of his emergency pack and sets it on the ground for Satine. He heads back the way they came as Quinlan sets Bo-Katan up with his own bedroll.

Obi-Wan’s adventure above ground is multi-purpose. While Quinlan’s Shadow skills far exceed Obi-Wan’s, it doesn’t mean Obi-Wan’s are poor. It simply means Quinlan is well-suited to his Jedi path. Obi-Wan, with the hood of his cloak flipped up, drifts through the market like he himself is a shadow. Or perhaps a breeze. Those around him feel his presence and they turn to look, but they never see him.

He takes what he needs from the stalls and leaves credits in their place. He tries to speak with Master Dooku, but their connection is too faint. He takes comfort in there being a connection at all. Master Dooku, wherever he is, is still alive.

Obi-Wan and Quinlan will take the Kryze sisters to Cyalare and attempt to contact their masters and the Jedi Order from there. Obi-Wan’s hopeful enough things have changed in this timeline that they won’t have to flee Mandalore itself. It had taken a year, or close to it, last time to install Satine as Duchess of Mandalore.

When Obi-Wan joins the group in the storm drain again, both sisters are sleeping. His steps are silent, and his breathing is soft enough not to wake anyone. He warned Quinlan of his return so he doesn’t startle his friend.

“Sleep,” Quinlan says, jumping on the offensive. “I’ll wake you when it’s my turn.”

Obi-Wan doesn’t expect to fall asleep with all the adrenaline in his system. His body screams danger danger danger, but he rests his head on Quin’s thigh, and allows Quinlan to wrap his Force signature around Obi-Wan’s.

I’ll keep us safe, Quinlan promises, and Obi-Wan slips easily into sleep.

Chapter Text

They eat fresh fruit, the softest of the fruit, the ones which will bruise most easily in their packs, before they head out. The fruit is accompanied by soft bread and hard cheese. Obi-Wan hands a basic pack to each sister. There are rations and a few necessities in them, but Obi-Wan didn’t have the time or the funds to fill them.

They’ll need to resupply in Cyalare. And Obi-Wan might have to resort to theft if they can’t make contact with any of their allies.

For now, they begin their escape from Keldabe. The city was originally a fortress which meant it covered for the weaknesses of sewage and drain pipes. This particular pipe opens to a long drop. If they had jetpacks, they would be fine, but they don’t.

Which means good, old-fashioned rope.

Obi-Wan secures the end to the grate. He tugs on it, hard, to test the strength of the metal grate. With a nod, he drops the rest of the rope down, down, down until he loses sight of it in the darkness.

He’s the first to begin the journey down. Satine is next and then Bo-Katan. Quinlan is the last of their group to go. Once they all have solid ground beneath their feet again, Quinlan shakes the rope and, with a bit of help from the Force, the knot at the top comes undone.

Bo-Katan carries the excess rope as Quinlan re-coils it. They multi-task, walking as the two of them work. Obi-Wan keeps his senses on high alert. He had gone above ground for information as much as supplies. No one on the street was talking about Bo-Katan’s disappearance yet. It didn’t mean much, because Death Watch no doubted wanted to keep their mistake quiet until they recover Bo-Katan.

It means whatever search is happening is happening quietly. No doubt the bounty hunters have been apprised of the situation, and they’re on the lookout for both sisters now instead of only one. Obi-Wan estimates their head-start will give them enough time to reach Cyalare. Which means they have to get off planet. They can’t dodge both Death Watch and bounty hunters unless they can put more space between them.

I know, Quinlan says when Obi-Wan projects enough for Quinlan to hear. Our orders are to keep them safe. Tholme and Dooku can handle themselves. We’ll leave a message and then get off planet. We need to treat this as an undercover mission. Long-term and new identities.

They don’t tell the sisters yet. Instead, they walk through the forest until the sun begins to rise. Obi-Wan and Quinlan set up a shelter which blends in with the surrounding trees and then they settle in to sleep. Well, three of them do.

Obi-Wan takes first watch.

#

It takes four nights of walking to reach Cyalare. They don’t have to do anything to alter their appearances, because they all look dirty and worn down. There’s no hint of detailed embroidery on Satine’s dress, and Bo-Katan’s stolen clothes are over-sized and nothing like the finery her family is known for.

Their other distinguishing feature, their hair, is too muddy and greasy to tell the original color. Obi-Wan catches Satine’s longing look toward the water fountain in Cyalare’s main square, and he prepares himself to tell her they can’t clean themselves until after they’re off planet.

“We have friends here,” Satine whispers as they pass through the streets.

Obi-Wan tilts his head toward Cyalare’s Great Hall. It isn’t as grand as Keldabe’s, but it’s still where the rulers gather. A black banner with Death Watch’s sigil in red hangs proudly from the window. Satine’s gasp is cut off by a sob which in turn, she tries to swallow back.

“We aren’t safe here,” Quinlan says. “We need the spaceport.”

“We’re running?” Bo-Katan demands in a loud whisper.

Obi-Wan doesn’t dare touch her, but he makes his tone as reassuring as he can. “Only to regroup. This is your home, and you will not be a stranger to it.”

She still doesn’t trust him, and Obi-Wan isn’t certain she ever will, but she gives a jerky nod to agree with his plan. At least, for now.

They make their way toward the spaceport. They don’t have the funds to secure passage, and they can’t afford the attention that stealing a craft would bring. It means they’ll have to smuggle themselves aboard a ship. It’s a dangerous path, but they don’t have any better options.

We stay together, Quinlan says before Obi-Wan can consider the advantages and disadvantages to splitting up.

While it will be harder to hide four people than two, Obi-Wan doesn’t argue. They’re stronger when they’re together.

Quinlan and Bo-Katan are the first to slip onto the freight transport. At the next guard rotation, Obi-Wan and Satine follow suit. They hide themselves in the vents, near the engines so the heat will cover their heat signatures in case anyone checks the ship for stowaways.

The heat means Obi-Wan sweats through his tunics. The smell is bad. The slimy feel of his skin and how it turns the dirt caked on his skin back into mud is worse. He closes his eyes and does his best to meditate and think on nothing until the ship finally takes off.

It’s a large transport but a small crew. It means, once they’re in hyperspace, Obi-Wan’s comfortable enough to move. Quinlan takes the sisters to one of the small storerooms to stretch their legs and eat something. Obi-Wan does some reconnaissance.

He starts with the largest of the cargo holds. The cockpit is too difficult to access, and the other public areas have too high of a risk of detection. The cargo hold will tell him what’s being transported and that should help him determine where they’re going.

He opens the first crate and swallows back an impressive curse when he sees the grenades carefully nestled alongside each other. He goes to a different stack of crates. This one reveals blasters. Another holds long-range rifles.

If this transport is full of weapons, then it must be Death Watch. The most logical destination is Concordia. They can’t reach it.

New plan, Obi-Wan tells Quinlan. We blow the ship and take the escape pods to the nearest planet or moon.

#

Obi-Wan watches through the viewport on his pod as the transport explodes. All it took was relocating a crate of grenades to the engine room and then sabotaging the cooling system and its back-up. It gave them enough time to get in the escape pods and put enough distance between themselves and the ship to avoid any damage.

There’s a bump as Obi-Wan’s pod lands in a wide-open field. He checks the sensors to make sure he can breathe in this atmosphere before he pops the opening on his pod. He steps out of it, grateful for fresh air rather than the recycled air of the pod.

He sees Bo-Katan step out of her pod as Quin’s lands. Last to land is Satine. The four of them meet at Satine’s pod and look around. The field they’re in extends as far as they can see in every direction. At first, Obi-Wan thinks it’s some kind of tall grass. And then he looks closer.

“Wheat,” he says. “We’ve landed on someone’s farm.” He squints as if it will help him see a greater distance. He doesn’t see any structures. He looks around again and sees the weeds growing and the haphazard growth of the wheat. “It was someone’s farm,” he amends. This is wild growth. No one’s attending to it anymore.

“Everyone get your packs,” Quinlan says. “We walk north for four hours. If we don’t see anything, we turn back and camp at the pods. Then tomorrow, we do the same thing but we go east.”

Obi-Wan shoulders his pack, heavier now with some of the weapons he took from the transport. He makes sure they strip the pods of their emergency supplies before they set out.

It’s a long walk through the field and an even longer walk back. Obi-Wan and Quinlan move the pods until they’re close enough to use as four corners for their structure. A tarp secured over the top gives them a roof and their blankets on the wheat gives them a makeshift bed.

On the third day, they’re met with success. At hour three, a smudge appears on the horizon. By the time hour four ends, the smudge has become some kind of building. Obi-Wan cautions them against rushing for it. They can’t sap their energy by increasing their pace, and they have to scout the building to make sure it’s safe before they approach too closely.

Once they’re close enough to see that it’s a modest home with a workshop and storage building attached to it, they’re also close enough to see the damage it took at some point. There is carbon scoring on the walls and holes in the roof and in the sides.

Obi-Wan stays with Satine and Bo-Katan as Quinlan investigates. Obi-Wan feels a wave of despair that has him out of his crouch and ready to charge before Quinlan pulls at Obi-Wan’s mind. He tells Obi-Wan to stay put and then closes their bond as much as he can.

“What is it?” Bo-Katan asks because she can sense something’s wrong. Her hand drifts down to the blaster she keeps on her hip.

“The house is empty,” Obi-Wan says. His throat feels swollen and his eyes are full of tears, a reaction to secondhand emotion. He can’t imagine how much worse it is for Quinlan. “But memories linger. Quin’s more sensitive to them than other Jedi.” It’s a good way to explain Quinlan’s psychometry without giving away Quinlan’s secrets.

“Someone died there?” Satine asks.

“More than one someone,” Obi-Wan answers.

When Quinlan gives them the all clear, they approach the house and see the damage up close. There was clearly a fight here, and the house was raided, either before or after. Whatever happened, it happened a long time ago, but Quinlan’s eyes are haunted in a way that suggested whatever happened had been quite bad.

“We can stay here tonight,” Quinlan says. “There’s a well out back. It won’t be warm, but at least we can wash.”

Obi-Wan wanders through the house as the sisters take the first wash. It’s a small, two-story home with the common areas on the first floor and bedrooms on the second. There’s a larger bedroom with a bed big enough for two. The attached fresher implies this was the parents’ room.

It’s been ransacked for anything of value, but there’s still plenty Obi-Wan thinks is valuable. There are blankets, pillows, clothes, all things that the four of them desperately need. There are another three bedrooms. Two had clearly been lived in, and they were tossed in a similar way. The final bedroom is a guestroom, or that is Obi-Wan’s assumption, because there are no personal touches like the other rooms have.

Using the Force, Obi-Wan lifts the mattress from the guestroom and brings it to the first floor. The first floor is one open room which serves as a kitchen, a place to eat, and a place to gather all in one. He sets the first mattress in the center of the room. He rests Quinlan’s pack by it.

He brings the next mattress downstairs. By the time all four are on the floor of the room, the sisters have returned. Quinlan takes the next wash while Obi-Wan ostensibly keeps guard.

“Pick a bed,” he tells them. “We can rig up curtains for privacy, but it’s best for us all to be in the same room.”

“This one yours?” Bo-Katan nudges Quinlan’s pack. It’s the only mattress which has any kind of claim to it.

“Quin’s,” Obi-Wan answers. “There are clothes. They’re musty and some of them have been eaten by moths, but they’re better than what we have.”

He gestures to the laundry lines he strung up in the room. He’s airing out the most complete articles of clothing he could find. There are pants and shirts mostly. There are a few plain dresses, but whoever lived here, they preferred pants or shorts.

Quinlan returns in nothing but his spare cloak, the cleanest garment he has. It covers everything, but Satine still looks away with a flush reddening her fair skin.

Obi-Wan takes his turn with the bucket and the well. He scrubs himself as clean as he can with water and a rag. He feels a million times better than he had before. Warm food and a full night’s sleep, and he’ll be practically as good as new.

Like Quinlan, Obi-Wan returns only wearing his cloak. He pulls a pair of pants off the laundry line, shakes them out, and then puts them on. He has to tie the drawstring quite tight to keep them up, and he has to roll the cuffs so he doesn’t step on them, but they’re clean. Ish. There’s no blood on them, at least.

“We’ll check out the other buildings tomorrow,” Quinlan says. “But it’s been a long few days, and we can all use some food and some rest.”

Obi-Wan divies up their food. Knowing there’s a field of wheat outside and the possibility of other crops growing nearby, he’s more generous with their food than usual. This will be the last of what he bought on Mandalore, but they have the ration packs that Obi-Wan and Quinlan originally brought with them as well as the ones from the escape pods.

They aren’t in danger of starving. It puts this mission ahead of many Obi-Wan’s been on before.

“Who do you think lived here before?” Satine asks as she stretches out on her bed. It’s one of the single mattresses. Bo-Katan has the other. If Obi-Wan planned to sleep on the double mattress, he would feel guilty, but he and Quinlan will never be asleep at the same time. They can share a bed.

“I don’t know,” Quinlan answers.

He could find out, but Obi-Wan would never ask him to. What good would it do to put a name to the pain and suffering Quinlan must have sensed?

“Go to sleep,” Obi-Wan tells them. “It’ll be morning before you know it.”

#

All the machinery is missing which means no transport, but the outer buildings aren’t completely empty. There are tools and containers and other knickknacks. The storage building is picked clean of food, but Obi-Wan finds seeds.

If they plan to stay here for a long time, they could be useful.

The greatest discovery, of course, was the small garden on the side of the house. Or, it had been a small garden, until time and lack of care led to it growing out of control.

“I can do something with this,” Obi-Wan says. Wheat can be ground into flour, but it’s a laborious process. A garden with this kind of diversity, however…Obi-Wan can put it in some kind of order, and he can keep it growing. They can have a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

It’s why he’s the one who stays at the house with Satine and Bo-Katan while Quinlan goes in search of a larger settlement, somewhere he can gather information from and, hopefully, get a message out to the Council.

Obi-Wan can still feel his bond with his master. There’s silence on the other end because of the distance between them, but Dooku is alive.

Before Quinlan leaves on his first journey, he and Obi-Wan spend an entire day moving the escape pods from the field to the workshop. If anyone investigates the transport explosion, they don’t want the escape pods to lead the investigators straight to them.

Once Quinlan is gone, Obi-Wan tries to give the days a kind of order. In the morning, Satine and Bo-Katan both help him with the garden. After first meal, Satine hand-grinds wheat into flour while Bo-Katan checks her traps and snares for any wildlife she might have caught.

After second meal, Obi-Wan and Bo-Katan train. Satine stays inside where she doesn’t have to see it. Bo-Katan has a solid foundation, and she’s a quick and eager learner. She and Obi-Wan practice hand-to-hand mostly, building their strength and endurance for when they’ll undoubtedly need it.

It’s after last meal, when it’s too dark to do anything, but too early to sleep where the day seems to drag.

Tonight, though, Obi-Wan has a plan. He takes a few cannisters out of his bag, a spur of the moment purchase from when he was in Keldabe. There’s just enough light from the stars and a neighboring moon for what Obi-Wan aims to do.

His arranges his armor pieces before him. They’re all black, because he took them from members of Death Watch. He wore them because they offered protection he couldn’t refuse but with this opportunity, he’s going to paint them.

“What are you doing?” Bo-Katan asks.

“I’m going to paint my armor,” Obi-Wan answers. “Would you like to join me? I’m afraid I don’t have the full range of colors, but anything is better than wearing their colors.”

Bo-Katan sits next to him with her collection of armor. “What colors are you going to use?”

“Green and blue are my colors,” Obi-Wan says. “Duty. Reliability.”

“You know a lot about Mandalore and our culture,” Bo-Katan says. She peers at the cannisters as if seeing what other colors Obi-Wan has. She keeps the gold and the red for herself. Vengeance and honoring a parent.

“The Jedi and the Mandalorians were once enemies,” Obi-Wan says. Bo-Katan nods as if she already knows. “There is peace between our people, but it’s fragile. The wounds of war are easily reopened. I’ve learned about Mandalore, because the more our people understand each other, the fewer misunderstandings and chance of old fights returning to the surface. Or, so I hope.”

Obi-Wan opens the green paint and begins to cover the black on his first vambrace.

“There is a lot for our people to learn from yours,” Satine says. She doesn’t join them and their paints, but her voice carries easily from her mattress. “The Jedi are peacekeepers. When there is conflict, their first reaction is to deescalate it.”

“We try,” Obi-Wan says. “But we’re far from perfect, and we often have to rely on our lightsabers.”

“But you’re trying. I want my people to do the same. All we have ever known is war and conflict. What has it gotten us? We’ve almost destroyed our home planet. In the days of the conquerors, it didn’t matter, because they would go and claim another, but we aren’t conquerors anymore. We need to look after what is ours.”

“Well spoken,” Obi-Wan says.

“Looking after it means protecting it,” Bo-Katan says. “It means taking up arms to defend it. You want to destroy what makes us us.”

“I want to keep the best parts of us and cut out the rot,” Satine says. “No more clans and houses. No more divided allegiances and constant fighting. We will be united. We will all be New Mandalorians, and we will know peace.”

“You’re trying to erase our history.”

“How can we move forward if we’re weighed down by the past?” Satine counters.

Bo-Katan purses her lips as she paints her armor, mostly gold but with red accents. She doesn’t agree with Satine, but she isn’t willing to push it right now. Because she’s afraid if Obi-Wan takes Satine’s side then she’ll be alone? Because her options are Satine or Death Watch?

“Did you know there’s a Little Keldabe on Coruscant?” Obi-Wan asks. “I like to drag Quinlan there with me when we’re both at the Temple. He’s a baby when it comes to spices.”

“And you?” Bo-Katan asks.

“I would never claim to have the palate of a Mandalorian, but I’m not afraid of a little adventure with my meal.”

Bo-Katan laughs and for the first time since Obi-Wan met her, in either timeline, she sounds her age, like a child, young and happy. “Is that your excuse for your cooking? It would taste better with spices?”

“You don’t like my cooking?” Obi-Wan fakes offense, and Bo-Katan laughs again.

She shifts closer to him so their arms brush as they paint their armor. She tells him about her favorite foods and her favorite seasonings and the best pranks she pulled on off-worlders.

#

It’s a quiet life they carve out in the abandoned farmhouse. Obi-Wan flexes his farming muscles for the first time in a very long time. He uses the Force to coax plants into growing before their time. He has them staggered so they can have a small harvest every two or three days. He’s excited to tell Qui-Gon about his success when he returns to the Temple.

It’s a simple life, as well. The farmhouse has been abandoned for so long that what tech it does have doesn’t work. There is nothing to do but their chores and then sleep. Obi-Wan is quickly bored. He suspects Satine is as well, but she doesn’t say it.

Bo-Katan, though. She’s restless.

When Quin returns, fourteen days after he left, Obi-Wan isn’t the only one glad to see him. Bo-Katan runs out to meet him once he’s in visual range, and she talks to him the entire walk back to the house. She’s eager for any kind of stimulus which is evident when Obi-Wan picks up the train of their conversation.

They’re discussing wheat threshers.

Obi-Wan ushers Quinlan inside and isn’t subtle in checking him over. There are no apparent injuries. Quin’s fatigue is no doubt related to the amount of walking he’s done. He seems as though he’s kept himself fed well enough, but Obi-Wan still sits Quinlan down at the table and fetches a vegetable platter and some jackrabbit jerky.

“What news do you have?” Satine asks once Quinlan’s cleared his plate.

“We’re on Concord Dawn,” Quinlan answers.

“Fuck,” Obi-Wan says. He sits down heavily on his chair. A moment later, he springs out of it because this—they’re—oh, gods.

“Obi-Wan?” Satine asks and her accent curls around his name until it sounds foreign.

“Obi?” Quinlan approaches Obi-Wan carefully, as if he’s afraid Obi-Wan will spook.

“Don’t touch me,” Obi-Wan warns, because Quinlan doesn’t need to see what’s in Obi-Wan’s head right now.

There are no coincidences in the galaxy. The Force guides and for some reason, it’s guided him here. “This is the Fett homestead,” Obi-Wan says, because of fucking course it is. He’s in Jango Fett’s childhood home. He’s standing where Fett’s parents were killed. Where his entire life was changed due to Death Watch and then Jaster Mereel. “I’m wearing Jango Fett’s clothes.”

“Jango Fett?” Bo-Katan looks around the house with new eyes. “Is that true? This was his home?”

“Jaster Mereel sought refuge here from Death Watch, and the Fetts opened their home to their Mand’alor.” Obi-Wan rests his hand against the wall and trusts to house to hold him up. “They were killed for it. Arla Fett was taken by Death Watch and Jango Fett was adopted by Jaster Mereel.”

“And then Korda VI,” Bo-Katan says, picking up the story. There’s enough light in the house for Obi-Wan to see the way her eyes blaze, as bright and fierce as her hair. “Where is Jango Fett now? Why isn’t he fighting Death Watch?”

“Because then Galidraan happened.” Obi-Wan closes his eyes. “Death Watch against Jango and the True Mandalorians. Neither side won. Neither side lost. The Jedi arrived and made the situation worse. Jango is…” Obi-Wan doesn’t know where he is. Does it matter?

“The True Mandalorians,” Bo-Katan says softly. “There are three factions.”

“What?” Obi-Wan asks.

“I don’t want to follow my sister,” Bo-Katan says. “I want to follow Jango Fett.”

“What?” Obi-Wan asks again.

Chapter Text

Satine and Bo-Katan fight. They shout. They scream. Bo-Katan stomps her feet and Satine cries, and Obi-Wan and Quinlan stay out of range.

“We have to split up,” Obi-Wan says quietly, one night when both sisters are asleep. It should be Obi-Wan’s time to sleep as Quin keeps watch, but they’ve put this conversation off for too long. It’s difficult to find privacy when they’re supposed to be alert and guarding the sisters at all times.

Quinlan sighs, a deep exhale, but he doesn’t protest. He knows what Obi-Wan knows. Satine and Bo-Katan will never see eye-to-eye. If Bo-Katan is forced to stay with Satine, she’ll eventually be radicalized. Join Death Watch.

A sharp ache blooms behind Obi-Wan’s eyes. He pinches the bridge of his nose as if he can stave off the headache. Satine and Bo-Katan are sisters, born to House Kryze. They’re both Mandalorian. They both know their culture and the effects of the new civil war. They both saw their father killed.

But they reacted differently.

Satine saw violence break out, and she wants to end it. No one else will lose their father, because she will bring safety and security to her people. She’ll do it through peace, as nonviolently as possible. A new Mandalore.

Bo-Katan lived the same experiences, but she’s come out of it believing her safety is her responsibility. She’ll learn how to fight so no one will hurt her or her family again. Security is earned through blood and sweat, through hours of training and a host of allies.

Satine is who Obi-Wan wishes he could be. But it’s Bo-Katan he relates to more.

“You should take Bo-Katan,” Obi-Wan says. “Your connections are better than mine. You’ll be able to find Jango Fett.”

“And you?” Quinlan asks.

“I’ll help put Duchess Satine Kryze in power,” Obi-Wan says. He hangs his head. “It can’t be Bo-Katan. Not while Satine is alive. Not while Death Watch infects the system. We can’t ask a teenager to lead a war and watch her people be killed.”

“Satine’s also a teenager,” Quinlan points out.

“But she’s going to end the war,” Obi-Wan says. Is this the right choice? What will it mean for this timeline if Bo-Katan and Jango meet? What has it already meant that Jango wasn’t enslaved after Galidraan? What changes will come about if Bo-Katan doesn’t join Death Watch?

What happens if Jango and Bo-Katan challenge Satine’s rule in a handful of years?

“I wish Master Dooku was here,” Obi-Wan admits. “I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do.” He leans against Quinlan’s side and allows himself a moment of weakness. Quinlan is strong and steady, and he doesn’t falter under Obi-Wan’s weight. He wraps an arm around Obi-Wan’s shoulder to pull him in closer.

“I sent a few messages through backend channels,” Quinlan says. “Once they reach the Council, they’ll know we’re alive.”

“But there’s no way for us to get new orders. We have to decide. We’ve already decided.” They’re splitting up. Quinlan will take Bo-Katan to Jango Fett, wherever he’s hiding, and Obi-Wan will keep Satine safe until they can return to Mandalore. “I wish we weren’t splitting up.”

“Sentimentality?” Quinlan asks. His voice aims for teasing, but he doesn’t quite manage it. He sounds tired, as if this mission is wearing on him as much as it’s wearing on Obi-Wan. But beneath the exhaustion is something fond.

Obi-Wan sets words aside, because they don’t need them anymore. Their plan has changed, and in the morning, they’ll split up. But for now, Obi-Wan reaches out through their bond, until his mind embraces Quinlan’s, like the best kind of hug.

#

Obi-Wan urges the entire garden to bloom, and he spends a day preparing as much easy-to-carry food as he can. Ration packs save lives, but they’re not his first choice if there are other options. He scatters the seeds across the freshly-turned dirt in the hopes that if anyone else stumbles across this house, they’ll be fed by the garden as well.

The next morning, Obi-Wan and Satine set out north. Quinlan and Bo-Katan are already gone. They’re going the way Quinlan had gone before. They’ll resupply at the small settlement and, if they’re lucky, find someone willing to take them to the nearest spaceport.

To keep them as safe as possible, Obi-Wan and Satine will leave the planet from a different spaceport. It’s fourteen days on foot to where they’re going, provided they walk at a steady pace for most of the day. Maybe they’ll get lucky as well and find someone to give them a ride for at least part of the trip.

“It was nice,” Satine says as they start walking. They’re each wearing clothes which once belonged to someone in the Fett family. They each have a full pack on their backs, but Satine’s is lighter, because Obi-Wan was careful as he packed their things. “I’ll miss it.”

Obi-Wan doesn’t need clarification. Even if Satine didn’t glance back at the farmstead, a wistful look in her eyes, he would know what she was referring to. The farm had been quiet, peaceful, a safe haven even after they learned who once lived there. But it was only a respite. They can’t spend their lives hiding from the reality of the galaxy.

Well, Obi-Wan can’t. “Is that what you want?” Obi-Wan asks. “We can create a new identity for you, find a place for you to make your home.”

“I know where my home is,” Satine says with the surety of self that Obi-Wan always admired about her. “And it would be selfish to find my paradise and keep it to myself. I have a responsibility to my people. But the feelings I had there? Safety, warmth, peace; those are what I want all my people to feel.”

This conviction is why Obi-Wan was attracted to Satine in his first lifetime. He feels the same pull this time, but he resists it, because he knows where her conviction leads. Her ideals, he agrees with. Her methods are where they diverge.

“I like Little Keldabe,” Obi-Wan says as they walk through the tall stalks of grain.

“So you told Bo-Katan.” Satine’s words are clipped, fresh pain evident in them.

Bo-Katan is a sore subject. Satine feels betrayed and abandoned. It means now probably isn’t the best time for Obi-Wan to share his thoughts on Mandalorian culture, but he has to at least try. “Do you know what I like most about it?”

“The food?” Satine asks.

“That’s part of it. To me, the strength, the beauty of Mandalorian culture is its diversity. Keldabe is known for its open bazaars for the mix of food, because to be Mandalorian is to embrace a culture. It’s about adding one’s personal experiences to the greater whole. Keldabe shows Mandalorian culture at its best. And then Little Keldabe, it’s the same. It brings Mandalore to Coruscant.”

“Where did you come by your fascination with my people?” Satine asks.

A year on the run with Satine when he was much, much younger. An entire war fought alongside some of the best Mandalorians he knew. The clones were made in Jango’s likeness, but they weren’t exact copies of Jango himself. They were created in labs, raised with a purpose, and then told they weren’t people. They were fodder for a war.

They found themselves in distant memories of Jango Fett. They eagerly learned Mando’a and then adapted it to their own needs. Obi-Wan taught what he knew and learned what they created. There’s no way to put it into words, even if Satine could believe the journey Obi-Wan’s been on.

“There is so much death in the galaxy,” Obi-Wan says, because this is the truth even if it isn’t the answer she asked for. “I want it to end.”

“So do I,” Satine says. “And I’m beginning at home, with my own people. We will shed our past and evolve into something better.”

“And those who don’t want to?” Obi-Wan asks.

“The galaxy is a large place,” Satine answers.

Obi-Wan sighs but lets the subject drop for now.

#

Two attackers drop thanks to a stun bolt from Obi-Wan and another from Satine. Contrary to what some believe, Obi-Wan doesn’t enjoy killing. It’s a last resort. And, given his current company, it’s practically forbidden.

There are dangers to leaving their attackers alive, but there are costs to killing them as well. Obi-Wan shuffles forward, mindful of the deep ache settling into his thigh from where part of a building fell on him earlier. His arms are a painful mix of scratches and blaster burns. He and Satine will need at least half a day to tend to their wounds and rest.

It would be easiest to kill the two beings who tracked them. Slit their throats, dump their bodies, and by the time anyone came to investigate, Obi-Wan and Satine would be long gone.

“Ben,” Satine says softly, gently, as if she knows the direction of his thoughts.

Ben. He doesn’t even have his own name anymore. It’s like he’s back on Tatooine. The war is over, is lost, because Obi-Wan couldn’t deliver a killing blow when he had to. He’s a ghost, a pale imitation of a once great man. He’s—

He’s not that man. He’s not Old Ben Kenobi. He is Obi-Wan Kenobi, and he is undercover as Ben, because he’s trying to keep the Duchess of Mandalore alive.

Obi-Wan shakes his head to clear it. He kneels beside the two attackers and ignores the pain in his leg. Both attackers are wounded, and they’re unconscious, their minds open and vulnerable. Is this morally better than killing them? Obi-Wan doesn’t know. But Satine wants as little death as possible, and Obi-Wan’s always aimed to please.

He slips into the first attacker’s mind. He plants memories of chasing Obi-Wan and Satine. And then he plants a false trail to follow when the attacker gains consciousness. Obi-Wan does the same to the second one. It takes a toll on him, this kind of Force expenditure, and he sways once he’s on his feet again. The world flips alarmingly, and he turns so he vomits on the floor instead of their attackers.

Satine helps him limp out of what had been their safehouse. Obi-Wan draws on his reserves to shield them from notice as Satine searches for an empty apartment for them to crash in. He may or may not help as they stumble up a set of stairs.

The last thing he remembers is the world spinning again before it goes dark.

When Obi-Wan wakes, Satine is asleep on the couch. He takes stock of his body. Stiff, bruised, aching when he tries to move. He pulls the blankets back and winces at the deep purple bruising on his thigh. When he calls on the Force to ease some of his pain and maybe even jump start the healing, it feels as if he’s driven a spike into his head.

He gasps and then curls into the fetal position. The Force is still there, surrounding him as it always does, but his connection to it is weak. There’s nothing to channel the Force’s power. If he tries to heal himself now, he’ll only end up hurting himself worse.

He needs a week, maybe even two if they can manage it to recover. It won’t happen here. This is a hotel room and at some point, someone will notice it’s occupied by nonpaying customers.

He looks over at Satine. She’s lost weight since they’ve been on the run. Her cheekbones are sharp, and her nose is more pointed without the softness her face used to hold. Her hair is limp and dirty. There are circles under her eyes, only one of the signs of how exhausted they both are.

But they’re alive.

Obi-Wan clings to this.

They are alive, and they’re caught in a complicated dance of staying ahead of the bounties on their head and trying to meet up with the other Jedi sent to help them.

#

“You’re good at this,” Satine says and even though her voice is weary, words weighed down with the never-ending fight, she manages to sound accusing.

Obi-Wan looks around at the smoking remains of the trap laid for them. There are charred bodies and pained groans from the ones still alive. Obi-Wan gives each living assailant a mercy kill. He isn’t sure if it’s a mercy meant for them or for him.

It’s been more than a year on the run. This timeline isn’t the other one, and Obi-Wan has no idea when any of this will end. He’s fallen back into the mindset of General Kenobi. Because yes, he is good at this. He learned to be.

“You think it doesn’t make me sick?” Obi-Wan asks. He kills the last of their attackers. There’s no sense of victory, not even relief. The battle is over, but the war stretches endlessly on. He wipes his face on his sleeve. His sleeve comes away marked with soot and blood.

“You’re good at it,” Satine repeats.

“You think I don’t want peace?” Obi-Wan demands. This is different from last time as well. They fought then, but it wasn’t like this. Here, now, Obi-Wan’s furious with Satine’s judgement. How dare she. She doesn’t know him. She doesn’t know what’s shaped him. “But peace isn’t freely given. You have to fight to get it and then fight to keep it. A true leader,” Obi-Wan allows his own voice to dip, to go dark and low to see the way Satine recoils, “A true leader fights for their people even though it means they can never enjoy what they fight so hard for.”

“I’m not you,” Satine says.

“No,” Obi-Wan agrees. “You’re not.”

#

They ran out of medical supplies weeks ago and stealing has become too dangerous. Obi-Wan is delirious with fever when they’re found.

He sees the cape, the lightsaber, and he staggers to his feet as he ignites his own saber.

“Ben, what are you doing?” Satine shouts.

We meet again, Count Dooku, Obi-Wan thinks. He takes his place between Padmé and danger. Where is Anakin? It’s odd for him not to be at Padmé’s side. Obi-Wan could use an ally here.

“Padawan,” Dooku says.

His voice is slippery, and it tries to break through Obi-Wan’s defenses. There are no padawans here. This is a trick. A trap. Obi-Wan touches his hair. It’s long because all the bounties showed him with close-cropped hair and a smooth chin. He has a scraggly beard and hair to his shoulders. Tucked underneath the overgrowth is a thin braid.

A padawan braid.

Obi-Wan stumbles back.

A trick. A trap.

No. It can’t be.

He drops his lightsaber and clutches his head. Where is he? Who is he?

“Who am I?” He asks. His lips are dry and chapped. He burns from the inside out. His forehead is hot to the touch. Is this Mustafar? Is it his turn to burn in the lava?

“You are Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Dooku says, but that isn’t right. If this is Mustafar, then Dooku is dead. “You are my padawan, and it’s time for you to rest.”

“No,” Obi-Wan says. Rest is a trick. It’s a lie. “There is no peace. There is no serenity.” He calls his saber to his hand. He uses a two-handed grip, because he doesn’t have the strength to hold it otherwise.

“Oh, my child,” Dooku says. His Force presence slips through Obi-Wan’s shields as if they aren’t even there. As if there is some backdoor which allows him entrance. Rest, Dooku pushes.

Obi-Wan crumples to the floor.

#

There are half-a-dozen things jabbed inside of Obi-Wan. Before he can start ripping them out, his hands close around someone else’s. He stops glaring at the IVs and the machines around him and looks at the man sitting at his bedside again.

Master Dooku.

The man opens his eyes, no doubt woken up by Obi-Wan having pulled hard on their joined hands. The worry in Master Dooku’s eyes is pushed back in favor of relief and a wave of fondness, but the worry lurks there, ready.

“Where am I?” Obi-Wan asks.

“Coruscant.”

He’s in the Temple, then. Something seems off about that. Obi-Wan tests his memory, but it worsens his headache so he abandons introspection for more questions. “Where was I?”

“Tralfalgor,” Dooku answers. “A planet within the Mandalore system.”

Mandalore. He was on the run with Satine. “Why are we no longer together?”

“Your wounds were more extensive. She’s at the Temple as well, but you aren’t in the same room. I know it’s difficult. You spent almost two years together.”

“Two?” Obi-Wan leans back against his pillows.

“Healer Che and Healer Peg’ae say once you’re healthier, you can see Satine, but you need to rebuild your physical and mental strength first.”

“Quinlan? Bo-Katan?”

“Safe,” Dooku promises. “A full debrief also has to wait until you’ve healed more. You’ve only just come out of a rather intensive healing trance. You were in rough shape when I found you.”

Something lurks at the edges of Obi-Wan’s mind. Lightsabers. Confusion. “I thought you were a threat.”

“Unsurprising. For two years, everyone you encountered was a potential threat. Now that you’re awake, you’ll be visited by Healer Che and Healer Peg’ae. In a week, we’ll evaluate and see if you’re ready for other visitors.”

“I dislike the Halls of Healing,” Obi-Wan says.

“I know.” Dooku brushes Obi-Wan’s hair out of his face. “But you will not be left here alone. I promise.”

#

Obi-Wan heals slowly, even with the best the Temple has to offer. He’s allowed his coursework before he’s allowed visitors outside of the healers or his master. His coursework gives him something to occupy his mind, but only for so long.

After three weeks, he’s allowed out of the Halls. His first stop is the Room of a Thousand Fountains. When Qui-Gon visited, he brought Obi-Wan a sweet vine. It helped, to have something living in his room, but it’s nothing compared to this.

He drops to his knees on the grass and then tips forward until he’s facedown and touching as much of the ground as possible. As much as Healer Che did for his body and Healer Peg’ae did for his mind, this is what soothes the last of the aches he carries.

He’s in the Temple, and it’s brimming with life.

He mediates there on the grass until Master Dooku finds him and brings him to their quarters to eat. Qui-Gon joins them for the meal. They talk about Temple gossip, about the new flowers planted, and Obi-Wan soaks up every bit of information they share.

None of it is current, or even past, at least it isn’t anything to fill in what happened during the past two years while Obi-Wan was running from planet to planet.

The next day finds Obi-Wan in the gardens again.

He isn’t the only one.

Satine, in a blue dress with gold embroidery, stands surrounded by orange flowers. The flowers have two petals which look a bit like a beak if one tilts their head just right. Navy blue accents or a bit of purple look like an eye.

“They’re called birds of paradise,” Obi-Wan says to announce his presence. “I’m not surprised you like them.”

Satine looks at him and then looks away. Obi-Wan hadn’t expected a grand reunion, but this indifference? It’s their first time meeting since their journey together. Is she upset at being Temple-bound? Has something happened while Obi-Wan’s been healing?

“Has the Republic declined to aid you?” Obi-Wan asks. Shouldn’t being on Coruscant be good for her cause? She’s safe from Death Watch here, and she can personally appeal to the Republic and the Jedi Council for what she needs to save her people.

“They will aid me,” Satine answers. “They want peace for Mandalore as much as I do.”

They want to see Mandalore neutered, Obi-Wan thinks, but he doesn’t say it. He’s too weary for another round of arguing with Satine. He only wishes there was something he could do to dissuade her from the path she’s on. Peace, yes, but not at the cost of an entire culture’s history and identity.

“Is there any word on Bo-Katan?” Obi-Wan asks.

“Your friend is back.” Satine looks away from Obi-Wan. “He says Bo-Katan is safe. That she found a friend. Jango Fett isn’t a friend. He’s an extremist, and you delivered my sister to him. They say the two of them are hunting for the darksaber.”

That could change things, Obi-Wan reflects. It would give Mandalore someone to rally behind. And if the rumors have reached Satine, even here at the Temple, they must have reached Mandalore itself. Maybe there will be more resistance to Satine’s reforms if there is hope of the Mand’alor’s return.

“I don’t understand you,” Satine says. “How can you not see the cost of violence? Your teacher came to rescue us, and you tried to attack him. Battle fatigue, war visions, they haunt you, Ben. Return to Mandalore with me. Heal. You’ll never have to fight again.”

It’s tempting but Obi-Wan knows what will happen if he doesn’t fight. He knows what dangers lurk in the galaxy, waiting for the opportunity to rise up. He cannot let down his guard, no matter how it wears on his soul.

“You can’t promise me that,” Obi-Wan says. “If what you say is true, Jango Fett and Bo-Katan are going to rally a resistance to your rule. There is more fighting in Mandalore’s future. You have the Republic on your side, which means you’ll have the Jedi as well. There are other worlds who need the Jedi as well. That is my future, Duchess. Helping those who need it.”

“Your future is violence,” Satine accuses. “And your legacy will be death.”

“It already is,” Obi-Wan murmurs. He recognizes that there is nowhere productive for this conversation to go. He bows, not as one would to a respected mentor or a friend but as a Jedi would to a ruling power. “May the Force be with you, Duchess.”

He leaves her to her flowers and wonders what it means for the galaxy that Jango Fett and Bo-Katan Krzye have teamed up.

#

Master Dooku scolds Obi-Wan when Obi-Wan approaches with questions and the knowledge to ask them.

“I’m recovered,” Obi-Wan says, because he’s sick of all the coddling. “The galaxy changed while I was out of touch, and I need to know why and how.”

Master Dooku sighs but he gestures for Obi-Wan to sit on the couch in their shared quarters. “Would you permit an old man a moment of sentimentality before we begin?”

Obi-Wan rolls his eyes. “You aren’t old.” He sits and tries not to tense as Master Dooku stands behind him, out of Obi-Wan’s line of sight.

“I would like to do your braid,” Dooku says, kindly not addressing Obi-Wan’s lingering hyper-vigilance. “It’s been quite some time.”

“I’d like that,” Obi-Wan says softly. He pulls the rest of his hair up and out of the way so Dooku has easy access to the growing braid. Obi-Wan didn’t touch it while he and Satine were on the run. The threads are fraying and discolored, if they’re even still there. He’s sure there’s bits of dirt and blood and other things mixed in with his hair.

Master Dooku doesn’t comment as he carefully undoes the braid. He cleans the strands of hair, and his knuckles brush the back of Obi-Wan’s neck as he works. Every touch sends a wave of assurance and peace and belonging through their bond.

Obi-Wan finds himself fighting back tears before Dooku even begins to braid. And then Dooku begins the process. He slides the first bead into place, Obi-Wan’s padawan bead. As he does, he pushes memories of first seeing Obi-Wan in the commissary, full of knowledge and a sneaky defiance. And then Dooku’s surprise at Obi-Wan’s skill in his bout against Bruck. The rush of pride when Obi-Wan agreed to be his padawan.

Dooku deftly braids—Force, master, and padawan all in harmony. And then he introduces the thread to mark Obi-Wan’s first mission, their trip to Lorra. More memories. Pride, again, at Obi-Wan taking initiative and spotting discrepancies. Worry when Obi-Wan stowed away with the slavers. Fury when he found Obi-Wan, barely clinging to consciousness because of what Devani had done.

Another length of braid. Another thread and the memories which came with it.

By the time Master Dooku reaches the end of Obi-Wan’s braid, Obi-Wan is glutted on emotion, and his mind is full of warm, soft memories which don’t belong to him. And then Master Dooku slides a final bead on as he ties off the braid.

“You have done well,” Master Dooku says. One of his hands rests on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. The other captures one of Obi-Wan’s hands and guides it to the end of his braid. “You have shown yourself adaptable and capable beyond all expectations. I am proud to call you my Senior Padawan.”

“Oh.” Obi-Wan breathes out slowly. He curls his fingers around the bead and Dooku’s fingers as well, until he’s holding them both. He’s a Senior Padawan. He’s done well. “Thank you.”

“It’s well-deserved,” Master Dooku says. “Now, I believe tradition dictates your agemates take you out to celebrate. I tried to have Quinlan Vos assigned to another mission, but I didn’t succeed which means he planned the event. If you end up in prison, I will not bail you out.”

Obi-Wan laughs. “If we end up in prison, we haven’t learned as much as we should have. Quin’s here?”

“He is.” Master Dooku smiles and ruffles Obi-Wan’s hair. “Go, see your friend. I know you’ve been waiting. Tomorrow, we’ll have a lineage meal. If you think Master Yoda’s stew is unfortunate, wait until you have it while hungover.”

Obi-Wan laughs and leans into his master’s touch for a moment longer.

The fight is difficult, and it is hard, and there are days he wishes he could lay down his weapons and let someone else pick them up instead. Satine’s vision of peace is a dream Obi-Wan wishes could come true. But peace must be guarded, and Obi-Wan is uniquely suited to the task.

Still, moments like this are important. The care of his master, the anticipation of a night with his friends, a celebration with his lineage. These are the reasons he fights. They make the pain and the struggle worth it.

It isn’t a permanent peace. It isn’t the pacificist ideal Satine yearns to create.

But for Obi-Wan, it is enough.

Chapter Text

In his first lifetime, Obi-Wan spent more years as a senior padawan than most. He figured it was a sign of his many failings. Qui-Gon kept him as a padawan to try and teach him as much as he could. It was Obi-Wan’s fault for learning too slowly or not well enough.

This lifetime takes a similar path. He turns twenty and remains a padawan. He turns twenty-three and most of his friends are knights. He’s on more solo missions than joint missions with Master Dooku, but he’s still a padawan.

By the time he turns twenty-five, he’s beginning to develop a bit of a complex.

Master Dooku must pick up on his unease, because he takes Obi-Wan to one of the finer restaurants on Coruscant. Both of them left their Jedi robes behind for the occasion. Master Dooku, of course, wears something in the style of his home planet. Obi-Wan wears one of the many diplomacy outfits he’s accumulated over the years.

“Obi-Wan, I could knight you anytime,” Master Dooku says after he’s given the waiter their order. He’s blunt, Obi-Wan’s master, something that Obi-Wan has always appreciated. “I should knight you. But I am selfish, and I am not ready to part with you yet. I can’t stall for much longer. You deserve to be knighted, and your last three missions have been solo. Master Yoda is not subtle.”

Obi-Wan laughs, glad that his lack of advancement isn’t due to a flaw of his. “We could be a master-knight pair.” He enjoys working with Dooku. They’re well-matched, enough overlap to be interested in the same kinds of missions but with enough differences that they complement each other.

“Not for some time, I’m afraid. The Council will keep us apart to discourage attachment.”

“It seems a shame to spend all these years cultivating our chemistry, only to split us up once we become our most effective.”

“Indeed,” Dooku agrees.

They’ve continued to discuss what they perceive to be flaws in the Order throughout Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship. In recent years, Master Dooku’s frustrations have grown. The Senate gains more power over the Order, both through the assignments they’re given as well as the budget they’re given to function.

More and more often, they appear to follow the will of the Senate and not the will of the Force.

Mandalore is a point of contention between Obi-Wan’s master and the Council. The Republic supports Satine’s rule, no doubt because she is a pacificist and they see her as easier to control. Not to mention, a de-fanged Mandalore is one that’s safer for the Republic. But there is a strong resistance to her movement. Even with Arla Fett, rescued and now safe with Satine, there are True Mandalorians who resist Satine’s reforms and keep hope alive for the return of their Mand’alor.

The Republic and, by extension, the Jedi, help keep Satine in power, defending her and her policies. They shouldn’t. This should be an internal issue. The only reason Satine’s government is the recognized power is because the Senate put her in power.

It isn’t the only instance of the Senate propping up governments or rulers sympathetic to them or their desires. Only last year, Garen and his squadron were air support for a rebellion on Midgor. And then, once Vishar named himself ruler, Midgor was suddenly more willing to over-mine their planet in order to trade with Republic-aligned planets.

There is corruption, and it doesn’t all stem from the Sith.

They certainly don’t help, but they aren’t at fault for all of the galaxy’s problems. Soon, Obi-Wan will face Sidious and exterminate the Sith threat. And then the real work will begin.

He hasn’t thought about the Sith in some time. He knows it’s almost time for Sidious to kill his master. It’s why he couldn’t seek out Anakin earlier. Or warn Padmé to bolster her planet’s defenses. These are two tragedies he must allow. But then, he will prevent the rest.

He’ll need allies. He can count on Master Dooku as one. His master believes in him, trusts him, and if Obi-Wan asks for help, he knows Master Dooku will give it. Will the two of them be enough to defeat Sidious? Will a confrontation be enough to convince the rest of the Council of Palpatine’s identity and gain their support?

Maybe Obi-Wan can arrange for Palpatine to visit the Temple after he becomes Chancellor. A gesture of good will. No, he cannot allow the man inside. What if he harms the younglings?

“Your thoughts are deep tonight,” Master Dooku says.

Obi-Wan pulls out of his thoughts with a sheepish smile. “Reflecting on the future. Something is coming. I hope we’re ready for it.”

#

They crash-land on Tatooine. Obi-Wan feels a familiar presence and at first he thinks it’s Anakin. But he doesn’t have a bond with Anakin yet.

Quinlan? Obi-Wan asks, because their bond feels more solid than it has in quite some time.

Busy, Quinlan responds.

It’s enough. Quinlan is on Tatooine for some reason. Obi-Wan puts it out of his mind for now. While he was distracted, he was assigned to the recon team, along with Qui-Gon and Padmé. Master Dooku is staying behind with the rest of the Nubians to guard them and their ship.

Obi-Wan had been curious how this mission would change with three Jedi instead of two. So far, it’s proceeded accordingly.

He is a witness this time as Qui-Gon offers up their ship as collateral for his bet on Anakin’s upcoming race. He watches as Qui-Gon attempts to gain Shmi’s freedom as well as Anakin’s and the hyperdrive, but Watto turns him down. An expensive part and two slaves is too much for one bet.

Which means Obi-Wan needs a new strategy. They cannot leave Shmi on Tatooine. She deserves her freedom. Every slave on this planet deserves their freedom. He can’t help all of them, not yet, but he can help her.

Maybe.

He has the advantage of knowing Anakin will win his race. If he had the funds, he could bet on it and make enough for Shmi’s freedom. He doesn’t have funds. All he has are the clothes he’s wearing and his lightsaber. The first won’t fetch a good price and the second isn’t something he can pawn or bet with.

He has a very bad idea.

He leaves Qui-Gon and Padmé to seek shelter with the Skywalkers and then he ventures through the city until he finds Quinlan’s hideout.

“I’m supposed to be undercover,” Quinlan huffs when Obi-Wan enters after a perfunctory knock.

“You don’t have any local currency, do you?”

“Do I look like a bank to you?”

Obi-Wan hands his lightsaber to Quinlan. “I need you to watch this for me. Also, pick me up here at dawn.” Obi-Wan hands over the information. “And if you sense any distress over our bond, ignore it.”

“Uh, no, no, and no.” Quinlan moves so he’s blocking Obi-Wan’s exit. “What are you planning?”

“I need a substantial sum of money, and I don’t have much time to acquire it.”

“This is a pain house.” Quinlan frowns at the address and then at Obi-Wan.

“Qui-Gon’s found a Force-sensitive,” Obi-Wan says. “He’s going to free him and bring him back from the Temple and leave the boy’s mother behind.”

“This is dangerous,” Quinlan says but he’s already backing down.

“I can handle it,” Obi-Wan promises. “But I’m going to be a mess afterward. I need you there so no one takes advantage of me. And then to guard a healing trance if you can spare the time.”

“I can’t believe people think I’m the troublemaker out of the two of us,” Quinlan grumbles. “I’m going to monitor you. If you need help, signal me, and I’ll be there.”

“Thank you,” Obi-Wan says and he means it. He leans up to touch their foreheads and then he heads out.

#

Planets like Tatooine have pleasure houses, where sex is sold and bargained for. But they also have pain houses. The latter pays better which is why Obi-Wan seeks to sell his pain rather than his pleasure. He always found it odd that pain houses were so populous on Tatooine.

Apparently, dealing pain to slaves is different than dealing it to volunteers. There are levels of sadism, but Obi-Wan has no desire to delve too deeply into the heads of those who are willing to pay such large sums to try and make him scream.

There is a contract negotiated at the beginning, brokered by the proprietor of the house. The implements Obi-Wan will permit to be used on him, the kinds of pain and how long they’re allowed to last. And then there’s the matter of payment. The longer he holds out, the more he’ll earn.

The being who sits across from Obi-Wan has a hungry look in his eyes. He wants to hurt Obi-Wan, and he intends to enjoy it. There will be no rescue from Cody. Anakin and Torrent won’t arrive and mock him for needing a save, yet again, as they fuss over his wounds.

But there is also a finite end to this suffering.

All he has to do is endure.

Obi-Wan places his clothes in a small locker. He uses the sonic and then heads into the room he’ll occupy for the evening.

He’s blindfolded, as if cutting off his sight is supposed to disorient or frighten him. His hands are cuffed and then lifted over his head so he can be suspended from the ceiling. This is, unfortunately, a rather common situation for him.

His assailant begins with a whip. It cracks across Obi-Wan’s back. It’s a sharp lash of pain. It feels as though it should have broken skin, but he knows it didn’t. He sucks in a breath, but he exhales it slowly. No screams or begging.

Not yet.

The pain is unrelenting. His assailant is smart. He varies the tempo so Obi-Wan can’t anticipate it. He varies the types so Obi-Wan can’t grow used to it. He strikes Obi-Wan with a variety of instruments, each worse than the last.

Still, Obi-Wan doesn’t scream.

Tears soak through his blindfold, but he knows how to weather pain. It is only his body being harmed. And it’s no less than he deserves. He is the one who never came back for Shmi. He is the one who didn’t heed Anakin’s dreams. He is the one who discovered the clones and chased after Jango Fett instead of investigating more and granting them their freedom. He is the one who allowed Sidious a foothold in Anakin’s mind. He is the one failed to stop Anakin on Mustafar.

He does not scream, because what is this pain compared to the Jedi Purge? To Alderaan’s extinction?

He does not beg for it to end, because he deserves this and more.

#

Obi-Wan is hazy when the session ends. He’s fairly certain his assailant tries to argue for more time. He thinks he’s even offered more money, if he allows his assailant to split his skin, to have another hour. But then someone familiar is there, someone safe, and Obi-Wan is bundled up and whisked away.

“That was hell,” Quinlan says, and his voice is strained as he helps Obi-Wan settle onto the cot in his room. Quinlan’s expression is pinched, as if he means it.

Obi-Wan can’t help but laugh. “You want to play who hurts more right now?”

“No. I want you to rest.” Quinlan coaxes some water into Obi-Wan’s mouth.

“Don’t feel bad for me,” Obi-Wan says. He winces as he tries to find a position that doesn’t hurt. “I failed, Quin.”

“You didn’t.”

“You don’t remember,” Obi-Wan says. “My money. Bet it all on Anakin.”

“Healing trance first,” Quinlan says. “This isn’t my specialty, so I can’t force it. You have to help.”

“Mmm,” Obi-Wan says. The world grows blurry around him. His pain eases, floating high and away. Or maybe he’s the one floating away, and his pain is grounded in his body. It’s a good question for Bant the next time he sees her. No, she’ll want to know why he’s asking. He’ll…he’ll just…

#

Obi-Wan feels like hell when he wakes up. He feels as though he stood out during a sandstorm until it stripped away his clothes and then his skin and then continued to beat on him.

He looks worse, his body a collection of red marks and purple bruises. At least his assailant stuck to the contract and left his face alone. Quinlan helps Obi-Wan into his tunics and then hands him his winnings.

“Take better care of yourself,” Quinlan says. He brushes his lips over Obi-Wan’s forehead, one of the few places that doesn’t hurt, and then ushers him out the door.

Obi-Wan staggers through the alleys, looking like a drunk or maybe a spice-addict. Fortunately, he’s left alone. And when he reaches Watto’s, Qui-Gon is still there with the Skywalkers. From the looks of it, Obi-Wan’s interrupting a tearful goodbye between mother and son.

“What’s her price?” Obi-Wan asks.

“What?” Watto asks.

“What?” Qui-Go and Padmé echo.

“Lady Skywalker. What’s her price?” Obi-Wan might come across better if he didn’t have to lean on the counter for support, but he’s not at his best right now. He could really use another healing trance. And to actually stay in it for a substantial amount of time.

“You missed my race,” Anakin tells Obi-Wan. He pouts, with a wobbling bottom lip and everything.

“I knew you’d win,” Obi-Wan says. “And now, a final piece of business before we go.”

He negotiates with Watto and then hands over the requested amount. He offers Shmi a shaky smile. “Your life is yours,” he tells her. And then his legs buckle, and he has to cling to the counter for support.

Shmi and Padmé help him limp back to the ship. Qui-Gon walks with Anakin and occasionally throws confused or disapproving looks in Obi-Wan’s direction. It isn’t until they’re at the ship and Master Dooku is there, hovering and worried, that Obi-Wan realizes there’s someone he didn’t warn about last night.

“Fuck,” Obi-Wan says.

“Language,” Master Dooku tuts. “And an explanation. You closed off our bond.”

“I didn’t want you to worry. Before you scold me, I’m pretty sure there’s a Sith on our tail.”

“What?” Master Dooku demands.

Obi-Wan sways in Shmi and Padmé’s grasp. This was a miscalculation, perhaps. He’s in no shape to fight Maul like this. Hopefully Master Dooku and Qui-Gon will be enough. Maybe they’ll even get lucky, and they’ll manage to kill him. And actually kill him, not whatever Obi-Wan did on Naboo last time.

Master Dooku and Qui-Gon rush past him, their lightsabers in their grips.

“That’s handled, then,” Obi-Wan mumbles. “I need a bed.”

“You need a healer,” Padmé says. “What happened to you?”

“Best not to ask.”

They escort him to one of the cabins and ease him down onto the bunk. Obi-Wan breathes out slowly. “Once Master Dooku is back, could you send him in here? I need his help to sleep.”

#

Obi-Wan spends the entire flight from Tatooine to Coruscant in a healing trance. It means he’s only achy as he stands in the Council Chambers with Master Dooku, Qui-Gon, Shmi, and Anakin. This is similar to his first life and yet, completely different.

For one, there’s no repudiation.

Qui-Gon can’t try and set him aside, because he isn’t Qui-Gon’s padawan.

“Let me see if I understand.” Mace Windu draws a breath as if he’s hoping for patience along with oxygen. Obi-Wan almost feels bad for his friend. “While fleeing Naboo, your ship was damaged, and you landed on Tatooine. Whereupon Master Jinn decided to gamble with Queen Amidala’s ship on a podrace.”

“I won,” Qui-Gon points out.

Mace continues as if Qui-Gon hadn’t spoken. “And while this was going on, Padawan Kenobi submitted himself to a house of pain in order to accumulate enough funds to bet on this same race?”

“What is one evening of pain in exchange for a lifetime of freedom?” Obi-Wan asks.

“And then, while leaving, you encountered a darksider?” Mace finishes.

“A Sith,” Master Dooku corrects.

“This Council hasn’t determined your opponent to be a Sith,” Master Droom says.

“I don’t need the Council to determine what I have seen with my own eyes,” Master Dooku says.

The Councilors mutter amongst themselves.

“Discussing this opponent yet, we are not,” Master Yoda says.

Qui-Gon steps forward as if this is his cue. “Anakin Skywalker is powerful in the Force, Councilors. More powerful than anyone I have seen before. He hasn’t had a traditional Temple upbringing, but there is still time to train him.”

“Despite popular tales, we do not separate children from their families,” Plo Koon says. “Lady Skywalker, what are your thoughts on your son’s education?”

“He wants to be a Jedi,” Shmi says. “If you can promise to watch over him and keep him safe, I will entrust his care to you.”

We can’t promise that, Obi-Wan thinks. He isn’t sure it would be better for Anakin to be left untrained. He would accidentally harm people, instead of purposefully. No, this time will be different. He’ll be raised by Qui-Gon, the way he should have been. And Obi-Wan will kill the Chancellor before he can whisper poison in Anakin’s ear.

“Will Obi-Wan be my teacher?” Anakin asks.

The entire room seems to still.

“Padawan Kenobi?” Mace asks. He has a thoughtful look on his face. “Do you have dreams, Anakin?”

“Sometimes. But they’re normal dreams. Like winning podraces. And rivers running through the canyons again and ice cream every day. Obi-Wan has special dreams. I, uh, sorta peeked while he was sleeping?” Anakin looks sheepishly around the room.

Oh gods, Obi-Wan thinks. His healing trance while he was on the ship. Anakin somehow tapped into his memories. Before Qui-Gon, or any of the Council members can ask any more questions, Obi-Wan approaches Anakin and then kneels so he’s on Anakin’s level. He clasps the boy’s hands in his. Force, he’s so young. So hopeful.

“I can’t be your teacher,” Obi-Wan says. “I’m still a student. That’s why they call me padawan. See Teacher Dooku?” He motions with their joined hands to Obi-Wan’s regal looking master. “He’s my teacher. But Teacher Jinn has already offered to train you. You would be part of my lineage. We would be like cousins.”

“But I saw it.” Anakin juts his lip out, stubborn. “You shave my head and then braid my hair. You call me Little Ani. I like that.”

“I will be your friend,” Obi-Wan says. “And I can help teach you, but I can’t be your teacher.”

Not again.

“You deserve someone with experience,” Obi-Wan says. “Besides, if I was your teacher, I would always be telling you what to do and bossing you around. This way, I can help you cause trouble.”

“What kind of trouble?” Anakin asks.

He doesn’t look swayed yet to the plan of Qui-Gon training him. Obi-Wan leans in and then whispers, loudly enough for the rest of the room to still hear, “I know the codes to the droid hangar. How many mouse droids do you think we can reprogram in one night?”

“None,” Mace answers, trying to sound stern, but he looks amused, as if he knows what Obi-Wan is doing.

“Dreams, you have had?” Master Yoda asks.

“The future is always in motion,” Obi-Wan answers, repeating what at least half the people in this room have told him at one point or another. “My visions are a possibility, not predestination.”

“Have you had many about young Skywalker?” Plo Koon asks.

A lifetime’s worth.

“Some,” Obi-Wan answers. “But I believe Anakin’s path is his own. It shouldn’t be shaped by my visions or the prophecies of others.” He glances at Qui-Gon, a warning. “But while the Council discusses Anakin’s future, might I intercede with his present? Shmi and Anakin should both visit the Halls of Healing for a full physical and any vaccinations they’ve missed out on. And a trip to the quartermaster, as well.”

“See to our guests,” Mace says. “Yan and Qui-Gon, you both stay. I want to hear more about this darksider you faced.”

Chapter Text

Queen Amidala makes no headway with the Senate, same as last time. Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Anakin accompany her back to Naboo, also in keeping with the last time. But they add two to their numbers. Master Dooku and Shmi Skywalker.

“We’re going to war,” Qui-Gon had told Shmi, and Obi-Wan could have told him that wasn’t a winning argument, especially seeing as he was bringing Shmi’s son into that very war.

But Shmi had met his gaze evenly and said, “We help those who need it. That is the code.”

And that was that.

#

Obi-Wan keeps track of similarities and differences as Naboo happens again. It’s…odd. With his other missions; Melida/Daan, Mandalore, those were different enough from the first time that he didn’t lose himself. He loses himself sometimes here.

He reaches for the steadying comfort of his master, and it’s Dooku who responds. He falls into step behind Qui-Gon and then realizes he’s shadowing the wrong Jedi. By the time they infiltrate the palace, Obi-Wan has a headache.

And when the party splits, Master Dooku sticks with the queen to help her negotiate a new treaty, while Obi-Wan follows Qui-Gon to where Darth Maul is waiting. Obi-Wan shouldn’t. He should send Master Dooku in his place. Or have Qui-Gon and Dooku swap.

But Obi-Wan is selfish. He knows how this fight went in one lifetime, and he has spent years preparing to make sure it would go a different way in this one.

Still, when he sees Maul, waiting for them, something in Obi-Wan’s chest tightens. Fear rises up, thick enough that he chokes on it. It’s enough that Master Dooku sends a wave of reassurance. He bolsters Obi-Wan’s strength with his own, and it’s enough for Obi-Wan to join the fight.

Even with all of Obi-Wan’s training, Maul is a formidable opponent. It doesn’t help that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon don’t fight seamlessly together in this timeline. And it certainly doesn’t help that Maul recognizes early on that they’re each other’s weaknesses.

Maul doesn’t have to worry about an ally. Even if he had one, he wouldn’t care about harming them. Maul spins his saber and attacks in a way that forces Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to either risk hurting each other or retreat.

Qui-Gon brings his lightsaber down in a powerful, two-handed swing, and Maul leaps out of range. Only a last-moment dive and roll keeps Obi-Wan from taking Qui-Gon’s blow to the shoulder.

They—

They can’t win this fight.

The revelation causes him to stumble. Obi-Wan brings his lightsaber up in time to block Maul’s attack, but he can’t block out his thoughts. He and Qui-Gon cannot win this fight.

Well.

Maul attacks Qui-Gon with deadly speed and grace. Qui-Gon defends against each strike, but he’s slower and slower with each movement. Another few minutes, and he’ll stumble. Obi-Wan sees the ray shields turn off. He takes a deep breath and then raises a hand and sends his former master flying through the air.

Maul’s saber scorches the floor where Qui-Gon had been standing. He looks up, surprised, to see his quarry so far away. And then the shields come up again, and Maul’s surprise gives way to delight. He turns to Obi-Wan, who still has his hand out-stretched, proof of what he just did.

Obi-Wan holds his lightsaber out to guard.

“I have the darkside.” Maul prowls forward, and he calls the dark around him like a smothering blanket. “You cannot hope to defeat me.”

“I trained under the greatest living master of Makashi,” Obi-Wan says. He is uniquely suited to this fight. And if he doesn’t have to worry about Qui-Gon, he can truly unleash his decades of knowledge. Obi-Wan smiles, calm, like he had been before his duel with Vader.

Maul hesitates, as if he doesn’t like Obi-Wan’s confidence.

“Come now,” Obi-Wan taunts, and he is General Kenobi now, who faced Ventress and Grievous, who dared them to come at him in order to protect his men. “I’m one Jedi padawan. I heard fear leads to hate. Is that the darkside’s secret? You’re all afraid?”

“You don’t scare me!” Maul bellows and then charges, reckless with his stung pride and his fury.

Obi-Wan has trained in Makashi with Dooku, but he is a master of Soresu in his own right. He meets Maul’s attack and holds his ground. When Maul spins and sweeps his saber out, Obi-Wan leaps over the blade.

He lands on his feet and then holds his saber out in a defensive position again.

Maul attacks relentlessly. Obi-Wan turns each attack away. With each success Obi-Wan has, Maul grows more unhinged. He becomes sloppy with his saber. More importantly, he becomes predictable, falling into the comfortable and the familiar.

Obi-Wan waits until he understands the pattern and then he goes on the offensive. It’s his turn to move with speed and purpose, to drive Maul back. There is no echo here, no shadow of his former self that Obi-Wan sees in his peripheral vision. He fought Maul with desperation in his first lifetime.

In this one, Obi-Wan is confident.

He will have to bisect Maul higher up this time. Cut through his hearts. There will be no resurrection for him. He will not harm Satine. He will not track Obi-Wan to Tatooine.

This time, he will fucking die.

Obi-Wan pulls from the Force to bolster his movements. The Force flows through him. There’s no hint of darkness, even as Maul radiates it. Obi-Wan isn’t motivated by fear or hatred. He isn’t even motivated by revenge.

Duty.

Honor.

Necessity.

He drives forward. Distantly, he hears someone shout his name. In his mind, someone tries to reach him, but he cannot afford the distraction. He is one with the Force. And the Force is one with him.

His lightsaber cuts through flesh with barely more resistance than it cuts through air. He aimed better this time, and his blade cuts through both of Maul’s hearts. The Zabrak falls to the floor in pieces. His cauterized flesh burns and the odor is enough to make Obi-Wan gag.

He stumbles back as he coughs. His hand comes away speckled with blood.

He looks down and sees the hilt of a knife sticking out of his mid-section. Where had that come from?

On the floor, several feet away, is half of Maul’s saber. The other half is nowhere to be seen. Obi-Wan doesn’t remember that part of the fight.

Had Maul stabbed him?

Obi-Wan sinks to his knees, because he isn’t sure he’s capable of standing.

From there, it only makes sense to lie the rest of the way down.

He bleeds copiously from his wound. It must be why the world goes hazy around him.

When his vision clears again, his head is cradled in two large hands. He blinks up at the concerned face of Qui-Gon.

“Oh,” Obi-Wan says. His head is in Master Jinn’s lap. It is Obi-Wan dying this time around. “This is a change.”

“Shh,” Qui-Gon says. “Save your strength.”

“I hope I’ve done enough,” Obi-Wan says.

Palpatine is still out there, plotting, and no one knows to be wary of him. But Qui-Gon lives, and he’ll protect Anakin. Master Dooku has stayed with the Order, stayed in the light. It’s enough. It has to be enough.

Obi-Wan closes his eyes.

#

“Now do you believe me?” Master Dooku is angry. His fury resonates through Obi-Wan’s bones. Obi-Wan’s teeth chatter, like he’s all bone with no flesh to support it.

Master Yoda’s ears flatten, cowed.

More anger. It’s tinged with fear.

No, Obi-Wan thinks. That path leads to darkness.

Protective fury, white-hot. It rips through Obi-Wan’s mind. Like a concussive blast, his ears ring afterward. He strains to hear muffled sounds and then they echo in his head.

They drag him back down.

#

“Always two, there are,” Yoda says.

I know, Obi-Wan thinks. I can name the second. He tries to reach out, but his mind is trapped. There’s a cage around him. He pounds against it until his hands bleed. He screams until his voice gives out.

Drugs. They blur his mind and slow his responses.

No. No!

He fights against them, but they pull him into numbness. He knows, but he can’t act.

With no other options, he drops his shields and screams.

#

Obi-Wan wakes up.

He can’t help but wonder if he’ll ever die.

His hands feel oddly light. He looks at them. They’re the same as he remembers. Calloused. Strong. Scarred.

Empty.

And that is what’s bothering him. When was the last time he woke up in the Halls of Healing and his master wasn’t at his bedside?

Naboo.

Qui-Gon!

“Easy!” Healer Che rushes in, and she plants a hand on his chest and holds him down against the bed. “Easy, Obi-Wan. I need you to relax.”

“Qui-Gon?” Obi-Wan rasps. His throat feels dry, tight, as if something had scraped the inside of it.

“Healthy and safe,” Healer Che promises. “He’s with Anakin in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. The boy is still mesmerized by water.”

Obi-Wan nods. That’s good. Qui-Gon is safe. Something niggles at the back of his mind. Qui-Gon isn’t the one who holds his hand when he’s hurt. No. It’s someone else. Master. But not Qui-Gon?

“Dooku?” Obi-Wan asks.

“Meetings with the Council,” Healer Che answers.

Obi-Wan slumps back against his bed.

“I’ll tell him you’re awake,” Healer Che says. “He’s been worried.”

“Maul?” Obi-Wan asks.

“You need to rest,” Healer Che says.

He grips her hand. It’s tight enough that it’ll bruise, that it must hurt, but he can’t make himself let go. “Is he dead?” Is he coming back?

“You killed him,” Healer Che says gently. “The Council had a pyre for him. He’s one with the Force now. It will give him the peace life never did.”

Safe, Obi-Wan thinks.

“Yes,” Healer Che says, “You’re safe.”

Oh. Obi-Wan’s lost his filter. He should sleep again and hope it’s returned when he wakes up again.

#

The next time Obi-Wan wakes up, his head is clearer. Unfortunately, it means he’s aware of his body and how much pain it’s in.

“The wound itself was bad, and the blade was poisoned,” Healer Che explains. And then she bats Obi-Wan’s hands away from his torso. “Quit poking at it.”

Right now, all Obi-Wan can see is the white bandage covering the wound. “Will it scar?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“I have scars too!” Anakin rushes into the room, surprising both Obi-Wan and Healer Che. Anakin, of course, doesn’t notice the alarm of either of the adults. He scrambles onto the chair next to Obi-Wan’s bed and then pulls up his tunics to show off a rough patch of scarred skin on his abdomen. “That’s from the first time I rolled a pod! Wanna see my others?”

“Only if you tell me the stories,” Obi-Wan says, answering before Healer Che can scold Anakin. He is exhausted, yes, and he is in pain, but Anakin provides a welcome distraction. If his exuberance is also enough to distract from who isn’t here…

Well.

#

Healer Che is sneaky. Once she realizes Obi-Wan is willing to indulge Anakin, she appoints Anakin as Obi-Wan’s caretaker. It’s Anakin who hands Obi-Wan shakes and pleads with him to “just drink a little bit of it, please? For me?”. It’s Anakin who chatters to Obi-Wan to keep boredom from driving him out of the Halls early.

If sometimes Obi-Wan coaxes Anakin onto his lap and cries into the boy’s tunics, because he’s so bright and kind and innocent, no one says anything about it.

No one says anything about the conspicuous absence of Obi-Wan’s master, either.

He came by once, to see Obi-Wan awake with his own eyes, and share a few words, and then he apologized for being forced to work and left again. Something is wrong. When Obi-Wan’s head isn’t filled with Anakin’s stories, Obi-Wan turns over this puzzle.

Is Dooku angry that Obi-Wan prioritized Qui-Gon’s safety over his own?

Is he angry that Obi-Wan bisected his opponent?

Does he fear he’s losing Obi-Wan to the darkside?

Even Qui-Gon has spent more time at Obi-Wan’s side than Dooku. The first time Qui-Gon came, he thrust a potted plant at Obi-Wan and then left again. The second time, he stayed longer, if only because Anakin made himself at home on Qui-Gon’s lap and refused to get up.

Now, master and padawan are common visitors.

“Look!” Anakin turns to show off his stubbly little braid. “And Teacher Jinn has a matching one!” He tugs, not very gently, on the single braid nestled in Qui-Gon’s hair.

Obi-Wan can’t help his chuckle. It’s a sign of how far his recovery has come that it doesn’t hurt. It pulls a bit, but he doesn’t tear any stitches or open the wound again. His laughter trickles into a smile. “It’s very plain,” he tells Anakin, mock serious.

Anakin picks up on the tone, because he doesn’t deflate. Qui-Gon recognizes the impish humor behind it, because he starts to gather the breath to deflect.

Obi-Wan’s quicker. “You have a bead in yours. And look at mine.” Obi-Wan holds his own braid out so Anakin can see it.

“Woah.” Anakin leans forward, one hand braced on the railing of Obi-Wan’s bed and his knees digging into Qui-Gon’s thigh. “Your braid is long. And colorful!”

“It tells a story,” Obi-Wan says. “When I’m knighted, my braid will be cut. Traditionally, the padawan presents their braid to their ma—teacher to thank them for their guidance and a reminder of their partnership.”

“Cool,” Anakin breathes. He taps one of the threads. “This one feels sad.”

“Does it?” Obi-Wan glances from Anakin to Qui-Gon. “Your empathy levels are quite high, Anakin.”

“My what?”

“You feel things very strongly,” Obi-Wan says. “Not only your own feelings but others as well.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Anakin scoffs as if this is common knowledge. “Mom told me some people are born with big hearts, because they need to hold a lot of feelings. How come your string is sad?”

Obi-Wan feels for the thread Anakin references. He can also feel the resonance. His empathy levels have always been high as well. It meant he and Anakin, when they really got going, turned into a feedback loop, escalating each other until their emotions reached dangerous levels.

Anakin has Qui-Gon now, Obi-Wan reminds himself. He rubs his thumb over the thread. “This marks my visit to Quabbin. It wasn’t a typical mission. Teacher Dooku took me to a place where Jedi nearing the end of their lives would go to find peace. It was supposed to be a lesson in letting go.” Obi-Wan allows himself a small laugh. “I told Teacher Dooku I refused to learn the lesson.”

“You can do that?” Anakin asks.

“Say no?” Obi-Wan nods. “You should always take the time to reflect on why you’re saying no. In my case, I did not agree with the lesson, so I did not learn it.”

“That was after Melida/Daan,” Qui-Gon says softly, as if he knows exactly why Dooku would have taken Obi-Wan to a Jedi hospice.

“I know I cannot save everyone,” Obi-Wan says. Cerasi was proof of that. Even in a galaxy where he was given a second chance, Obi-Wan could not keep everyone alive. “But it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. And it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t grieve when I fail.”

Qui-Gon’s expression is warm and open, proud of Obi-Wan in a way he rarely showed when Obi-Wan had been his padawan. “We need more Jedi like you, Obi-Wan. I made a grave misjudgment of you.”

“You didn’t,” Obi-Wan says. “You judged me as I was, and you were correct. But that scared, angry boy grew up. I am grateful for the opportunity Teacher Dooku gave me, but your fears were not unfounded.”

“Whatchya talking about?” Anakin twists between them, unhappy at being left out. Qui-Gon winces as Anakin’s knees grind into his thigh.

“When I was a little older than you are, I asked Qui-Gon to be my teacher,” Obi-Wan says. “He said no.”

“What?” Anakin gasps, outraged on Obi-Wan’s behalf.

“It all worked out,” Obi-Wan says, because while he’s flattered by Anakin’s loyalty, he doesn’t want to cause Qui-Gon any more pain or guilt. “Besides, if Qui-Gon was my teacher, he couldn’t have been your teacher.”

Anakin stills. “Like in your dream?”

One of these days, when Obi-Wan isn’t recovering from being tortured or recovering from near-death, he’s going to have to find out exactly how much of Obi-Wan’s “dream” that Anakin saw.

“Right now, a teacher can’t have more than one student. But that’s a silly rule, and there are some of us who are trying to change it,” Obi-Wan says. He carefully doesn’t look at Qui-Gon.

“Really?” Anakin perks up again. “Teacher Jinn likes to bend the rules. If I find a friend, can we both be your students?” Anakin turns to plead his case with Qui-Gon.

Obi-Wan laughs at the chaos he’s caused and takes a few moments to breathe deeply and not think as Qui-Gon attempts to negotiate with an over-enthused nine-year-old.

Qui-Gon clears his throat. Obi-Wan looks over and realizes that Anakin’s now gone. It’s only him and Qui-Gon in the room. This isn’t exactly a positive development.

“They might let you take a second padawan,” Obi-Wan says. “I know the Council is worried about Anakin’s attachment. Having to share you with another padawan might help.”

“It took me many years to be ready for another padawan.” Qui-Gon speaks carefully, as if worried about their shared, painful history. “I’m not sure I’m ready for two. But you weren’t in the Council Chambers for most of our discussions regarding Anakin. Did you learn of their doubts from your dream?”

Obi-Wan shrugs. He doesn’t want to discuss his other life.

“How much did you see?” Qui-Gon asks.

“I saw Naboo,” Obi-Wan answers. “I saw you take on Maul alone while I was trapped behind the ray shields.” Obi-Wan stares up at the ceiling. “I saw you die. And then I avenged you. I know what you’re going to say. Focus on the present. But I can’t. The future is always in motion, and I knew enough to change it. You lived. I lived. A good day for our side.”

“You were willing to trade your life for mine.”

Obi-Wan shrugs again. “I saw a future without you in it. It isn’t a future we want. I’m tired now.” Obi-Wan deliberately turns away from Qui-Gon.

Thankfully, Qui-Gon takes the hint and, for once in his life, doesn’t argue with Obi-Wan.

#

The Force is heavy, as if it’s weighted with possibility on the day Obi-Wan is released from the Halls of Healing. Master Dooku is there when he’s released, and he offers Obi-Wan a smile and then his arm.

“I’ve missed you,” Obi-Wan says.

“I’m sorry.” Guilt and regret flow across their bond before Dooku consciously yanks them both back. “As I’m sure you can imagine, the Council was quite busy after another encounter with a Sith.”

“They believe now?” Obi-Wan asks. If they believe in the Sith, they’ll know there’s a second one out there. It puts him one step closer to having allies on his side against Palpatine. With Maul gone, Obi-Wan doesn’t have long to act before Palpatine seeks out a new apprentice.

“No,” Master Dooku says. His voice is clipped, but he isn’t angry with Obi-Wan. It’s the Council that has him unhappy. It isn’t the first time, and Obi-Wan doubts it’ll be the last. “And since the body was burned, there’s no additional proof. Only what we saw and felt.”

Obi-Wan notes that they don’t turn toward their quarters. They must be going to the Council Chambers, then. “They want my testimony?” He’s surprised he hasn’t been asked already. During the Clone Wars, he gave more than one report from a med-bed.

“Patience, padawan,” Master Dooku says, and there’s that tinge of pride-guilt-regret again.

Obi-Wan is disquieted as they enter the Council Chambers. Even seeing Qui-Gon and Anakin there doesn’t put him at ease. Anakin, small and quiet at Qui-Gon’s side, checks to see if anyone is watching and then waves. Obi-Wan offers him a smile in response.

And then he bows to the Council. “You have requested my presence?” he asks.

“This is a joyous occasion,” Mace says.

Oh, Obi-Wan thinks as Master Dooku faces him, rather than standing two steps ahead and to the right.

“You are the first Jedi to kill a Sith in a thousand years,” Master Dooku says and there’s a hint of defiance in his tone, as he reminds everyone in the room that it was a Sith and not a darksider. “But you are so much more than a single battle. This is proof.” He touches Obi-Wan’s braid, a summary of Obi-Wan’s successes and struggles over the years.

“I had a good teacher,” Obi-Wan says.

“I told you before we left for Naboo that you deserved to be knighted. I held back and so you had to do something so great, I could not put it off any longer. Raising you has been my greatest joy.”

Obi-Wan smiles, unable to form a verbal response. He didn’t have this in his first life. He had been knighted after Qui-Gon’s death. It was done by the Council, Mace standing in for Qui-Gon. They spoke the traditional words, which Dooku and Obi-Wan do, but there was no personal touch.

There was no warmth flowing through the bond, affection and pride and nostalgia twined together. Obi-Wan didn’t have a bond last time, only the ragged remains of one, after Qui-Gon was ripped from Obi-Wan’s mind with his death.

In this time, Obi-Wan turns to present his back and his braid to his master. Dooku cuts the braid, and it’s long, but it isn’t heavy enough for Obi-Wan to feel so light after it’s gone.

When Obi-Wan turns around again, Dooku places the braid in Obi-Wan’s hand. “Welcome, Knight Kenobi,” Master Dooku says.

Obi-Wan’s smile grows. He looks at the coil of hair in his hand. And then he extends it to Dooku. Dooku reaches for him and then he curls Obi-Wan’s fingers into a fist around the braid.

Obi-Wan’s smile falters. “What?” he asks weakly.

Around the room, he feels the pings of surprise and alarm. Masters don’t refuse their padawan’s braids. It isn’t done.

“This is yours, you have earned it,” Master Dooku says. There is something distant in his gaze. He seems to pull away from Obi-Wan, without moving from where he stands at the center of the room.

It’s the bond, Obi-Wan realizes. Master Dooku is reeling in his side of the bond.

“What are you doing?” Obi-Wan asks. He grips the bond as tightly as he can, but it doesn’t matter. Bonds cannot be forced. If Master Dooku wants to break it, Obi-Wan can’t stop him.

“Knighting you was my final action as a member of the Jedi Order,” Master Dooku says. “Recent years have taught me the futility of affecting change from within. I will now urge change from without.”

Obi-Wan feels the pop in his mind, as the bond is plucked from its anchor. His mind is emptier, quieter, and he can’t help but scrabble at the space, like tonguing where a tooth used to be.

This can’t be happening again.

“Master, please.” Why have you forsaken me?

“Be careful, Knight Kenobi,” Master Dooku says, and his voice is cold, like he’s already slipping into CountDooku. “The Jedi Code prohibits attachment.”

Obi-Wan presses his hands to either side of his head. There is no bond. Qui-Gon lives. Dooku lives. And Obi-Wan is unwanted.

He raises his gaze to the ceiling, even as he falls to his knees.

Why? He demands of the Force. Why?

The Force doesn’t answer.

Obi-Wan screams.

Chapter Text

Obi-Wan isn’t afraid of falling. It isn’t arrogance, it’s confidence. He’s seen Fallen Jedi like Xanatos. He’s seen Sith like Vader and Maul and Sidious. What they all have in common is that when they are in pain, when they are angry or scared, they project their emotions outward.

When Obi-Wan’s distressed, he’s always had a tendency to collapse inward.

The light inside of him, it may sputter out, but he will never turn to the darkside.

It takes some time to convince the Council of this after his collapse in the Council Chamber. He knows they don’t entirely believe him. He knows they’re worried despite the number of healers and councilors who have searched his aura for any hint of darkness.

But in the end, Obi-Wan Kenobi is a Jedi knight, and they have no reason to keep him confined to the Temple.

“Anakin and I are going to Korda II,” Qui-Gon tells Obi-Wan, once it’s become clear to everyone that Obi-Wan is going on a mission, whether they approve or not. “Duchess Satine has requested a negotiator. She wants to strengthen ties with the Republic.”

“No doubt because the protests against her rule are gaining strength,” Obi-Wan says. He has his own quarters now. A knight’s quarters, something he’s never had before. He had gone from a padawan living with Qui-Gon, to having a padawan of his own. Knight’s quarters only have one bedroom. They’re smaller, and it means it’s easy for Qui-Gon to follow Obi-Wan through them.

“She’s a pacificist,” Obi-Wan continues. “She is incredibly smart and politically astute. She doesn’t need you or Anakin to help with negotiations. In fact, you’re going to butt heads.” Obi-Wan chuckles, almost sad he’ll miss it. “What she does need, however, is a visible Jedi presence. A reminder that her rule is supported by not only the Republic but the Jedi Order.”

“Obi-Wan—”

“It is a shame on our Order, but it is a fact that Jedi killed Death Watch and True Mandalorians on Galidraan,” Obi-Wan interrupts. Qui-Gon isn’t his master. He doesn’t have to defer to him. “Satine is reminding anyone who stands up to her rule that the Jedi Order who killed them, give their support to Satine. You’re being used.”

“And you sound like Yan.”

Obi-Wan flinches and then, angry at himself for the reaction, stuffs a few changes of clothes into a travel bag.

“Come with us,” Qui-Gon says. “If it’s Korda II you object to, we’ll give the mission to another team. There is plenty of work for Jedi in our galaxy.”

“I—” Obi-Wan hesitates as something occurs to him. Dooku rarely visited him in the Halls of Healing, but Anakin and Qui-Gon were frequent guests. “You knew. You knew he planned to leave. Or you guessed. And what? You thought if you pretended to care, I would become part of your new dream team?”

“Obi-Wan—”

“No.” Obi-Wan resumes packing. “I don’t need your pity. And I don’t need your missions. As you said, there’s plenty of work for Jedi in our galaxy. I already have an assignment.”

When he first woke up in the Halls of Healing, distraught at the loss of his bond with Dooku, Obi-Wan had been tempted to march into Palpatine’s office and drive his lightsaber through the Sith’s chest. The only reason he didn’t was because he had been restrained and was unable to leave his bed. By the time he was mobile, he had seen the folly of his plan.

He can’t strike at Sidious from a place of desperation or anger. And he certainly can’t do it alone.

There is still time before the Clone Wars begin. He can take some time to level out and find allies. Maybe he should team up with Qui-Gon and Anakin. They could be useful against Sidious. And maybe they will be. But Obi-Wan won’t be their pity partner.

In his first life, he was spared from seeing how much more Qui-Gon cared about Anakin than he ever did about Obi-Wan. He won’t subject himself to it in this life.

“Where are you going?” Qui-Gon asks.

Obi-Wan hesitates. It will be public knowledge soon enough. Refusing to answer is petty but not productive. “Tatooine. So no, I don’t think you and your padawan should join me.”

“Tatooine?” Qui-Gon repeats.

“Slavery is illegal in the Republic,” Obi-Wan reminds him. “And Tatooine is, technically, a Republic planet.” It didn’t take much nudging before Bail and Padmé agreed to put in a formal request. And once the request was in, all Obi-Wan had to do was snatch it up. “I’ll have a large Republic relief team with me. And if the Hutts decide to make it a fight; well…” Obi-Wan shrugs. “After my fight with Maul, no one doubts that I have the skills needed.”

“It’s an ambitious task.”

“Have to top Sith-slayer somehow.” Obi-Wan smile is lacking any warmth. “You won’t talk me out of it. I speak Tusken, did you know that? Both their verbal and sign language. There aren’t many who can make that claim. I’m needed.”

“I worry at you going alone.”

“I’ll hardly be alone. Did you know we had an operative on Tatooine when we were there with Anakin? The Jedi have been preparing for this possibility for years. We only needed the official request in order to act.” Obi-Wan sighs, because he can feel the worry radiating from Qui-Gon. “I promised you on Bandomeer that I would never Fall. Have a little faith, master.”

Obi-Wan makes a shooing motion with his hand and, miracle of miracles, Qui-Gon leaves without another word.

#

It takes nearly two years, but they topple the Hutt’s hold on Tatooine. Quinlan and the other Shadows had done most of the work, weakening the power bases until the Hutts and rival syndicates turned on each other. Amidst the chaos, Obi-Wan and the Republic stepped in and took control.

Slavery is not only illegal in name but also in practice. There are relief programs available; housing and med-centers available to those who need it. There are work programs created in order to keep people busy as well as to create the infrastructure needed for a successful society.

There is a tall hill to climb, and Tatooine will never be an easy place to make a life, but it’s a start. There are Jedi and Republic officials given postings there, because they will have to remain vigilant. The Hutts were not pleased with their ousting and will likely retaliate.

Obi-Wan’s role concludes with a wedding. Not his own. Shmi Skywalker, who had immediately answered the Republic’s call for volunteers with knowledge about Tatooine, is marrying Cliegg Lars, a local farmer. Cliegg had been instrumental in gathering the local farmers and getting them to listen as Obi-Wan explained the changes coming.

Cliegg wasn’t the quickest to pick up Tusken, but he was one of the most determined. And now, he is fluent enough to speak with the tribes which drift through. There is peace and trade between the two groups now. It is change. Positive, tangible change, and Obi-Wan feels more stable than he had when he first came to Tatooine.

Of course, because Shmi Skywalker is getting married, Qui-Gon and Anakin arrive for the wedding as well.

“The Council wants you to stop by the Temple before your next mission,” Qui-Gon says after the ceremony is concluded and everyone is celebrating. He and Obi-Wan are under the large tent set up for the reception. The wedding itself took place under Tatooine’s blazing suns, but the celebration is permitted to happen in the shade.

Obi-Wan sips his drink. Spiced black milk. The spice covers the worst of the scent and taste. The Tuskens still laugh at those who can’t drink it straight from the melon, but Obi-Wan will take their laughter over gagging. Black milk is a taste he never managed to acquire.

“I’ve sent regular mission reports,” Obi-Wan says. Neat, detailed, formatted updates to the Council and then something less formal to Healer Che and Healer Peg’ae.

“They want to see you in person,” Qui-Gon says.

“And you’re my escort?” Obi-Wan asks.

“Do you need one?”

Obi-Wan sighs. “No.”

“Tatooine has been good for you,” Qui-Gon says.

Qui-Gon has been Obi-Wan’s master, has been a father-figure, has been an impossible standard for him to live up to, and a disappointment. It’s too many things for one person to be. When Obi-Wan first landed in this timeline, he had been beyond grateful to see Qui-Gon. And he’s still glad the man lives, but he’s exhausting for Obi-Wan to be around.

“I did more traditional negotiating than aggressive negotiating,” Obi-Wan says. “I know what you all thought at the Temple. That I was coming here to vent my frustrations with my ‘saber. That I would wrap my aggression in a good cause and set myself loose.”

Qui-Gon is quiet for a moment, which is as good as agreeing.

“How is Anakin?” Obi-Wan asks.

“Adjusting,” Qui-Gon answers. “We’re at the Temple more often than I prefer, but he benefits from the structure of Temple learning, and he has quite a bit to catch up on. He’s still curious. He’s still kind. Our quarters are slowly being taken over by droid parts.”

The fond look on Qui-Gon’s face is enough to stab at Obi-Wan’s most vulnerable parts.

“He was excited to receive the invitation to the wedding. He feared we wouldn’t be allowed to go, because it would signify an attachment. He asked if we could send a present in our stead.” Qui-Gon hums and tucks his hands inside his sleeves. “A Jedi should care. We would not do our duty as well if we didn’t. But we can’t elevate one person over the rest of the galaxy.”

“It’s a difficult concept,” Obi-Wan says.

“It is. But denying Anakin his connections would be wrong.”

“I’m certainly not going to argue with you,” Obi-Wan says.

“A first.” Qui-Gon smiles but it fades when Obi-Wan doesn’t smile at him in return.

“Did you know,” Obi-Wan pauses and weighs his words. “On my first mission with Dooku, we discussed attachment. The Jedi cultivates our attachment to our masters, to our lineage, to the Order itself. They discourage others to eliminate competition. You’ve always prioritized the will of the Force. Odd, isn’t it, that it’s the Grandmaster’s lineage who all lean toward heresy?”

“Are you having doubts?” Qui-Gon asks.

“No.” Obi-Wan exhales deeply. “I know my purpose, and I will not stray from it. It hurt to lose Master Dooku, but I’ve hurt before. And what is a bit of pain to one person compared to what will be gained?”

“You speak of a higher purpose,” Qui-Gon says.

“The will of the Force.” Obi-Wan smiles, fleetingly. “I have preparations to make before I leave. Enjoy the celebration, Qui-Gon.”

“I’ll see you at the Temple.”

#

Obi-Wan intends to head straight for the Temple, but the Force nudges him in another direction. Kamino isn’t on the way to Coruscant, but it isn’t completely out of the way, either. Obi-Wan uses the Death Wind Corridor to take him most of the way there.

He isn’t sure what draws him to Kamino. He has changed the course of the galaxy. Or has he? Dooku has been gone for two years. That’s long enough for Sidious to claim him. Long enough for him to find a new progenitor.

Obi-Wan lands at Tipoca City, intending to assuage his own doubts. The ships he sees in the hangar worry him, though. Added to that, the sheer swell of life, and Obi-Wan panics. He isn’t proud of the way he rushes through the rain to the main building. He isn’t proud of the way he abandons all of his Shadow training, all of his Jedi training, and barrels inside.

Distantly, he’s aware of alarms and a response team, but it doesn’t penetrate the fog in his head. The Force here sings and he knows this song.

He runs through familiar halls, chases a familiar tune, and when he finally skids to a stop, he’s in front of a small child, no more than six or seven.

The boy looks up at him with eyes that are already too solemn. There is a scar curved around one of his eyes, and Obi-Wan’s chest aches. He reaches out, but he doesn’t touch, aware that this child doesn’t know him.

“Are you hurt?” Obi-Wan asks.

The boy touches the scar. “Not anymore. They tried to take Rex away.”

Rex. Obi-Wan’s soul cries out in pain. “What’s your name, little one?”

“Cody. You aren’t supposed to be here.”

“No, I’m not.” But neither are you.

Obi-Wan’s aware of the footsteps behind him. He raises his arms, slowly, above his head. He laces his fingers against his skull. It isn’t a surprise when he feels the press of a blaster against his head.

“Intruder found and detained,” a familiar voice says. And then, directed at Obi-Wan, the voice says, “Will you cooperate?”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan says. He chest feels hollowed out. Whatever fight he brought with him into this timeline is gone. The clones exist. He didn’t change anything. The galaxy is still damned.

He bows his head as the cuffs are secured around his wrists. Tears roll down his cheeks.

“Are you hurt?” Cody asks. He peers at Obi-Wan with the innate curiosity of a child. He shuffles closer, only to be scolded by whoever has Obi-Wan in their custody. It backfires, because Cody’s face hardens into a familiar, stubborn look. “Protocol says prisoners are not to be harmed.”

“He didn’t hurt me,” Obi-Wan tells Cody.

Cody turns his assessing gaze on Obi-Wan. “This place hurts you. Why?”

“You aren’t the interrogator,” the voice says. “Return to your lessons, Cod’ika.”

Cody wavers but after a moment, he snaps a salute and then runs off. Once Cody turns the corner, Obi-Wan slumps in his captor’s hold. The man behind him grunts but easily adjusts. Obi-Wan is dragged down a different hallway and then deposited in a room that has only a table and three chairs in it. There is a door, a wall with what is no-doubt a one-way window, and then smooth gray walls the rest of the way around.

Obi-Wan looks over his captor.

He’s much older than Cody. He has the height and build of adulthood. He isn’t in armor as if he had been relaxing when Obi-Wan set off the alarms. Obi-Wan looks over the broad chest, the thick biceps, and thicker thighs. Could Obi-Wan take him in a fight?

Maybe.

Instead, Obi-Wan says, “I have a lightsaber clipped to my belt. It’s hidden at the moment by my cloak. There is a knife in each of my boots, and a garotte wire woven into my left boot.”

The man looks amused as he steps forward to pat Obi-Wan down and divest him of his weapons. “Panicking now? Do you think cooperating will mean we’ll go easier on you?”

After the man takes Obi-Wan’s weapons and sets them out of reach, he sits Obi-Wan down at the table and attaches his cuffs to a chain there to keep him in place. As if it was some cue, the door opens and three people enter.

Obi-Wan would recognize Jango Fett anywhere, especially given that he’s in all his armor except for his helmet. Bo-Katan, as well. And then, behind Bo-Katan is a woman who looks startingly similar to her. Almost as if—

“Sith fucking hells,” Obi-Wan says. “You cloned both of you?”

Jango Fett sneers, and Obi-Wan feels years of personal hatred and generations of Mandalorian hatred for Jedi beat against his shields. “You seem to know a lot about what’s happening here, jetii.”

“Fuck,” Obi-Wan says. He contemplates banging his head on the table. “What happened? Why did you do this?” Galidraan wasn’t the complete disaster it was this time. Bo-Katan met up with Jango to keep him from being alone. Why the clones still?

“You and your Republic took my planet and my people from me,” Jango says. “I’m going take them back.”

“With an army of clones,” Obi-Wan says. “Are you stupid?”

Bo-Katan stalks forward. She grabs a handful of Obi-Wan’s hair and then slams his face into the table. Blood trickles down his face as she yanks his head back up so he’s looking at her. “You and your hypocritical Order put my dar’manda of a sister in power. We have the numbers not only to retake Mandalore but restore it. We have your paper. The one about recovering from agricultural devastation.”

That seems like a lifetime ago. No, this nightmare of a clone army is a lifetime ago. Obi-Wan laughs and tastes blood in his mouth. He laughs and laughs and when Bo-Katan slams his face into the table again, he chokes and then he’s crying.

“Did you break him?” Jango sounds more annoyed than concerned.

“I wasn’t that rough,” Bo-Katan says.

“Who commissioned the army?” Obi-Wan asks.

“Like I would tell you,” Jango answers.

“Does your benefactor know you plan to betray them? I doubt they commissioned the army for you.” Obi-Wan spits a wad of blood and mucous on the floor.

It’s Jango’s turn to step up and loom at Obi-Wan’s side. “You think you know everything, don’t you?”

“I know a lot,” Obi-Wan says. “I know this army was commissioned by a Sith!”

“And how do you know that?” Jango demands.

“Because I’ve seen the future! I’ve seen the vode go to war! I’ve seen them die and felt each of their losses! I know what the galaxy has in store for them. You aren’t Mand’alor. You don’t even deserve to be Mando’ad. You’ve let them be created in your image and then let their choices be stripped away. That is not the Way.”

Jango grabs a fistful of Obi-Wan’s hair. He’s prepared for another table-slam, but a hand on Jango’s wrist stops the man from acting. Jango growls. “Alpha-17,” he warns.

Obi-Wan twists to get another look at the man. Is that really Alpha-17? Obi-Wan reaches out with the Force and, huh. It isn’t an exact replica of his Force signature, but it’s similar. And then Obi-Wan notices that Alpha-17 has a few inches on Jango. He’s broader too, even though Jango’s in his armor.

“It isn’t exactly cloning, is it?” Obi-Wan asks. He knows better than to taunt his enemy, but he’s tired and so, so done. “The Kaminoans improved on your genetic code. They’re you, except better.”

Obi-Wan hears a crunch as his nose meets the table. And then it’s Alpha-17 who claims his attention. “You deserved that one.”

Obi-Wan shrugs.

“I’m part of the Alpha-class,” Alpha-17 says. “There are fifty modeled after Prime-1 and fifty modeled after Prime-2. We were designed to be bigger, stronger, and we aged more rapidly in order to train under the Primes and then train the vode in turn.”

“Is there a reason you’re sharing our secrets with the jetii?” Jango demands.

Alpha-17 grasps Obi-Wan’s chin in his hand. It isn’t gentle, but it isn’t nearly as rough as Bo-Katan and Jango had been. “I was trained by Prime-1. I know how to hunt jetii. The first rule is that nothing is impossible. If you scoff, if you assume a jetii can’t do something, you are dead.”

How many Jedi had Jango killed in this timeline? Obi-Wan’s very aware that the hand gripping him belongs to someone who can do everything Jango can do and then more. Obi-Wan swallows.

“You have seen the future?” Alpha-17 asks. “A jetii vision?”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan whispers.

“You can’t believe this shit,” Bo-Katan says. “Jango—”

“Show me,” Jango interrupts. “Show us.”

“You don’t want to see it,” Obi-Wan says. “You—”

Alpha-17 reclaims his attention. “Show us.”

Obi-Wan closes his eyes. He reaches for Alpha-17, for Jango, for Bo-Katan. He learns the Bo-Katan clone is Alpha-51. He does the lightest mind link he can manage and then opens up his memories. Geonosis, the first time, when Jedi and troopers died by the dozen. The first time he met Cody and his commander was reserved, distant, as if he found Obi-Wan lacking. The first time Cody fell asleep in his quarters because they were trying to finish casualty reports. The Remembrances, how they stretched on and on, a haunting melody which filled the halls of The Negotiator.

Umbara, where the troopers fired on each other. Zygerria where Rex was abused and tortured. Battle after battle where troopers were slaughtered. Death, death, death. And then, Cody, a slight smile on his face as he handed Obi-Wan his lightsaber on Utapau.

Obi-Wan yanks himself out of the memory before they can see what happens next. He gasps and then turns to Alpha-17. “Is that what you wanted to see?”

“That won’t happen,” Jango says. “I won’t let it. They will not serve the jetii. They will not fight the Republic’s war.”

Obi-Wan shakes his head. “We’ve been over this already. They were commissioned by the Sith! You don’t think he has a failsafe? That he’d just let you have an army?”

Oh. Oh, Force.

Obi-Wan gags but he stops himself before he vomits.

“I need a med-bay,” Obi-Wan says. “I need a scanner and one of you.”

“Why?” Jango demands.

Because Cody shot me, and it never made sense. Because the army was commissioned by the Sith, and of course there was a failsafe.

“Alpha-51, fetch a handheld scanner from medical and return here,” Alpha-17 says.

Obi-Wan’s thoughts are a tangled mess as they wait for Alpha-51 to return. Bo-Katan paces. Jango mutters angrily. Alpha-17 is steady at Obi-Wan’s side, nearly inscrutable in the Force. When Alpha-51 returns, she hands the scanner to Alpha-17. He motions for her to lie down on the interrogation table.

“Scan her head,” Obi-Wan says. “That would be the most logical place.”

“The most logical place for what?” Bo-Katan asks.

“An override.”

Alpha-17 pauses his scan. He tilts the scanner toward Obi-Wan so he can see the screen. Yes, there on the readout of Alpha-51’s brain is something that shouldn’t be there.

“What is it?” Jango demands.

“I don’t know,” Obi-Wan answers.

Jango grabs him by the front of his robes and shakes him. “What is it?”

“I don’t know!”

“We will find out,” Alpha-17 says. “We take this to Prime-1’s quarters. There’s no surveillance there.”

#

Obi-Wan remains chained as Alpha-7, who is a medic, and one of the medical droids perform brain surgery in Jango’s personal quarters. They pull a tiny sliver of a chip out of Alpha-51’s brain.

Jango, who apparently has some skill with splicing, takes the chip and cracks what’s on it. Obi-Wan knows the moment he figures it out, because his horror leaks into the Force. It’s followed swiftly by fury.

“It’s a command chip,” Jango says. “It’s a list of orders.”

Obi-Wan isn’t the only one to rush over to Jango’s terminal. He scans the list, stomach tightening with each one. And then he sees line item sixty-six. He barely makes it to the fresher before he throws up. Order 66. Execute the Jedi.

Cody’s betrayal wasn’t a betrayal. It was a hijacking.

Obi-Wan vomits again.

A hand touches his shoulder, and Obi-Wan flinches. He doesn’t deserve it. Touch. Comfort. He knew denying the troopers their rights was wrong. He tried pushing through a citizenship bill. But he had never even guessed that—

Bile this time and it burns his abused throat.

The hand curls around the back of Obi-Wan’s neck. It’s there through his shaking, through his sobbing. It’s there as he falls apart and then it steadies him as he pulls himself back together.

When he stands, he isn’t entirely surprised to see that it’s Alpha-17 crammed into the fresher with him.

“You know who is behind this,” Alpha-17 says.

It isn’t a question. He guides Obi-Wan back into the living room.

“He’s a Sith,” Obi-Wan says. “A dar’jetii. I’m not even sure he can be killed. But yes. I know exactly who he is.”

“We remove the chips,” Alpha-17 says. “We do it secretly and quietly, so we don’t raise any concerns. Once the vode are free, we hunt this dar’jetii, and we kill him.”

“Just like that?” Obi-Wan asks.

Alpha-17 smiles. “As you said, we are the Prime, but better.”

“Okay,” Obi-Wan says. Plan. Strategy. He can do this. He hadn’t gone up against Sidious yet, because he needed allies. What better allies than highly trained, very deadly Mandalorians? “We can’t bring all the Alphas, and we shouldn’t bring the Primes.”

“Explain,” Alpha-17 says.

Obi-Wan holds up a hand. He goes to the fresher, rinses out his mouth and then splashes some water on his face. Already feeling better, he returns to the room. He paces as he talks. “We can’t afford for Sidious to realize we’re onto him. The Kaminoans will be suspicious if the Primes and all the Alphas leave. If a selected number of Alphas leave, the others can cover for them and keep the Kaminoans and Sidious in the dark. Besides, if we fail, someone needs to remain who can look after the vode. On that note, you should prepare for evacuation. Subtly, of course.”

“There are still vode in the incubators,” Alpha-17 says. “They’re decanted in batches but with regular aging, there is a significant gap.”

“Regular aging?” Obi-Wan asks.

“The Alpha-class was accelerated. Results were sub-optimal.” Alpha-17 bares his teeth, challenging Obi-Wan to ask.

Obi-Wan doesn’t.

“Then we must succeed,” Obi-Wan says. He holds up his cuffed wrists. “Could I trouble someone to take these off?”

Chapter Text

“You knew me,” Alpha-17 says.

Obi-Wan looks up from his contemplation of hyperspace. The ship they’re on isn’t very big. It isn’t designed for all the passengers on it. He’s done his best to give the Alphas space, remaining in the cockpit as they entertain themselves however they choose.

“In your other life,” Alpha-17 elaborates. “You knew me.”

“You aren’t him,” Obi-Wan says which is more of an answer than he wanted to give.

“Tell me,” Alpha-17 says.

Obi-Wan gestures for him to take the copilot chair. He watches space pass them by for a few moments before he speaks. “We were captured by Separatist forces. Tortured. It isn’t a pleasant story. None of it is, really.”

Alpha-17 doesn’t seem fazed by the prospect of having been tortured in another life. “Your memories of Cody are warm.”

“Until he ordered our battalion to fire on me.” Obi-Wan turns his chair away from Alpha-17. He sighs. “This Cody isn’t the one I knew either. No one is. I am grateful I’ve been given the opportunity to change things, but it’s as though I’m walking through fields of ghosts. Everyone I know died, and the people I see now aren’t them. They just wear their faces.”

“You should come to Mandalore with us when this is over,” Alpha-17 says.

Obi-Wan laughs. He can’t help it. Cody, his hardened, tough-as-nails commander, had once described Alpha-17 as the toughest vod the Kaminoans decanted. They had bred the aggression and attitude out after the Alpha-batch, but Cody always suspected that Fox had a bit of Alpha in him.

The point is, Obi-Wan must be in dire need of comfort if Alpha-17 is offering it.

“You do know what we’re doing, correct?” Obi-Wan asks. “Either we fail, in which case we are dead, and the galaxy is fucked. Or we succeed, in which case I have assassinated the Chancellor of the Republic. There’s no happy ending for me. But there will be for others, and that is enough.”

“Shitty,” Alpha-17 says. And then, “We’re having a strategy meeting. Join us.”

It isn’t a request so Obi-Wan checks their course and then follows Alpha-17 to where the rest of their crew is waiting.

#

Obi-Wan has been preparing for this moment for over ten years. It doesn’t feel like nearly enough time as he enters the Senate Chambers. Even with a lifetime tacked onto the one he’s lived so far, he isn’t prepared. How is he supposed to defeat a Sith Master?

Palpatine is waiting for him in the Senate Chamber.

Obi-Wan had requested a private meeting, an opportunity to see the gears of the Republic, and Palpatine had agreed, despite the last-minute, and odd, request. Does he suspect? Does he know?

Obi-Wan offers a bright smile as he looks at the unassuming man in front of him. “Sheev Palpatine, former Senator from Naboo, current Chancellor of the Republic. Darth Sidious, Sith Lord. Are there any titles I’m missing? I’d hate for this to be uncivilized.”

Palpatine’s pleasant, almost fatherly expression sours immediately. He seems to age before Obi-Wan’s very eyes, turning from a middle-aged man to a wizened, elderly one. “Kenobi,” he says, in a raspy, low voice.

“And now that introductions are done, we can get down to business.” Obi-Wan keeps up his charming, negotiator smile, even as he trembles with a mixture of fear and anger. This is the man who destroyed everything and everyone Obi-Wan ever loved. And he’s attempting to do it again. “Will you come in peacefully?”

“On what charges?” Sidious asks, clearly humoring him, as he tries to figure out his next move.

And by next move, Obi-Wan means the most efficient way to kill Obi-Wan and dispose of his body. “Treason, for starters. Funding and encouraging the Trade Federation to invade your own planet. Training Darth Maul and setting him on Queen Amidala. Murdering Darth Plagueis. I don’t know his non-Sith identity, but I do know you killed him.”

“You know a lot,” Sidious says. “Far more than you should.”

Obi-Wan knows the next stage of the plan. All of this hinges on him. Even though it’s his purpose, it’s why the Force sent him back, he shies away from it. But, he has always done his duty.

“Sith thrive on fear and suffering,” Obi-Wan says. “I have a lifetime of it. Do you want to see?”

Obi-Wan opens his mind and shoves the memories of his past self at Sidious. It’s an entire lifetime of pain for Sidious to gorge himself on. Hopefully, enough to distract him from what’s happening in this lifetime.

 

Obi-Wan is twelve. There are tears running down his cheeks, because the Jedi don’t want him. He wasn’t good enough for anyone to choose, and then he was bad and they’re sending him away. He won’t ever be a knight and help people. He’s stupid. Useless. Oafy-Wan, just like Bruck said.

“A failed initiate?” Sidious asks, delighted. He digs deeper.

The slave collar is tight around Obi-Wan’s neck. It hurts but not as much as being cut off from the Force. He’s afraid. Afraid of being whipped. Afraid of being forgotten. Afraid he’ll die here. And then Master Jinn rescues him. Obi-Wan’s hope is short lived, because there’s a door, and they can’t get it open. There’s only one solution. Obi-Wan has a bomb around his neck. He will die, but everyone else with live.

It’s enough.

 

Master Jinn’s scowl is fierce and anger radiates off of him. “You will obey me, padawan, and return to the Temple with me and Tahl.”

“The Force wants me here,” Obi-Wan says. “There are people who need help.”

They fight and then Obi-Wan is left behind. Master Jinn has chosen Master Tahl over him. But why should Obi-Wan be surprised? Master Jinn never wanted him. He made it clear at the Temple. Whatever respect Obi-Wan had earned on Bandomeer, he’s lost it now. He gave up his dream for the Young.

They are worth it.

 

“I will train the boy,” Master Jinn tells the Council.

Obi-Wan has had a bad feeling since Master Jinn returned to the ship with a little boy in tow. He never expected this. But why not? His apprenticeship has been a series of small betrayals, exchanged between the two of them. This is where it always was going to end.

“Have a padawan already, you do,” Master Yoda says.

“He is ready for his Trials,” Master Jinn says.

Sidious cackles. “So easily set aside.”

 

“No!” Obi-Wan screams but the Force doesn’t answer. Master Jinn slides to the floor, wounded by Maul’s blade.

The ray shields go down, and Obi-Wan charges forward. He attacks Maul with renewed strength. He defeats the Sith, and then he kneels at his master’s side. He draws Master Jinn’s head into his lap. He runs his fingers through his master’s hair. He knows there’s nothing he can do now but give him comfort before the Force reclaims him.

“Obi-Wan,” Master Jinn rasps.

Obi-Wan leans in. “I’m here, master.”

“Promise me, you will train the boy.”

Obi-Wan’s stomach sinks. His master’s last words to him, and they aren’t for him. They’re for the boy. For Obi-Wan’s replacement. He bows his head. “I will. I will train him.”

 

“Your life, General. You should be more careful with it.”

Obi-Wan takes the lightsaber Cody holds out to him. “Thank you, Commander. I’m glad to know it’s in good hands when it isn’t with me.”

Cody’s expression is fond, and Obi-Wan goes to look into the canyon their camp is set up on the edge of. He hears the chirp of a comm. He turns to see who is contacting his commander. Cody’s shoulders are stiff. There’s something unreadable in his expression.

Cody signals and then the men fire.

Obi-Wan tumbles over the side of the cliff.

As he falls, all he can think is what / how / why. And then he hits the hard surface of the ground, and pain radiates through his body. It doesn’t fade. It grows worse, and it takes him three shuddering breaths to realize what he’s feeling.

The Jedi.

The Jedi are dying.

“Oh, this is lovely,” Sidious says. “What more do you have for me, Kenobi?”

 

Obi-Wan’s horror claws at his throat but doesn’t escape. How is there any escape from this? Anakin, his face in shadow because of his hood, but with yellow eyes glowing from the dark. He strides through the Temple and cuts down anyone in his path. It doesn’t matter their age. It doesn’t matter if they plead. It doesn’t matter if they knew him or if they were strangers.

“You gave me my apprentice,” Sidious says. “Did I ever thank you?”

 

“You were my brother!”

Mustafar is hot. The sulfur burns the inside of his nose and throat. Obi-Wan’s emotions are as volatile as the volcanoes which dot the planet’s surface.

The fight is painful and brutal. It ends with Anakin, mortally wounded. It ends with Obi-Wan, walking away. It ends with Padmé, screaming and dying and bringing life into the galaxy.

It doesn’t end. It never ends.

 

Luke turns into Obi-Wan’s shoulder and sobs at the sight of his aunt and uncle’s farm as it burns. Everyone Obi-Wan touches is in danger. Anyone he cares about, they are destined for death.

 

Obi-Wan has not felt pain like this since—since the Purge. His chest aches and his soul weeps as he realizes what has happened. Alderaan is gone. He doesn’t understand how, but it happened. Dead. Billions dead in a single moment.

He is tired.

When is it enough?

 

Obi-Wan faces off against the Sith that used to be his apprentice. All he needs to do is buy enough time for the twins to escape. He has always been willing to trade his life for others. Isn’t that what he learned on Bandomeer?

He raises his lightsaber, not to guard but to surrender.

And his padawan, his brother, kills him.

 

He wakes up with a gasp in the Temple. A mobile spins slowly above his bed.

“What is this?” Sidious asks, a note of honest curiosity in his voice. “What an enigma you are, Kenobi. What other secrets do you have?”

 

Cerasi dies and Obi-Wan screams.

Sidious laughs and it slides, oily and wrong, through Obi-Wan’s head. “Did you truly think you could change anything?”

 

Dooku closes Obi-Wan’s hand over his padawan braid.

Leaving.

His master is leaving him.

This isn’t supposed to happen.

Sidious’s cackling echoes through the chamber. “A second lifetime, and you still haven’t learned. You were never enough. What can you do against me?”

Obi-Wan struggles to ground himself in the present, to remember why he’s here and what he’s doing. He shoves away old hurts and ancient aches. He is in front of Sidious now. The man’s gnarled fingers are on his head. Sharp nails press into his skull.

“I have learned,” Obi-Wan says. His voice is raw, as if Sidious scraped him out when he was rooting through Obi-Wan’s memories. “Do you really think I came alone? The time has come. Execute Order 66.”

Obi-Wan is close enough to see Sidious’s surprise at the command. And then his glee. The blaster bolts are aimed at Obi-Wan’s back. He knows how fast they travel. He knows where the Alphas are stationed. He knows how long to wait, wait—

Obi-Wan drops, pulled to the ground with the help of the Force.

Sidious shrieks as he’s hit with blasterfire. He stumbles, but he doesn’t fall. He doesn’t die. He hisses and throws out his arms. Wherever the Alphas were, they aren’t now. Obi-Wan only hopes the Force-toss didn’t kill them.

Obi-Wan turns over, but before he can stand, there’s an invisible hand wrapped around his throat. It squeezes tightly, choking him. Even though he knows it won’t help, he tries to grab it. He claws at his throat instead and scores angry red lines against the faint scar from the electrowhip on Lorra. It doesn’t help.

His vision goes dark and then it clears again, the pressure lessened.

“Even with a second chance, your legacy is failure and death,” Sidious says. His smile is cruel. “Do you really think I’ll let you die? If I strike you down, you’ll become more powerful than I could ever imagine.” He laughs and a shiver runs down Obi-Wan’s spine.

Did the blaster bolts weaken him at all? Is he bleeding out? Is there any hope?

“No, you are mine now,” Sidious says. He curls his hand and Obi-Wan chokes again. “I will keep you in Force suppressants, and you will remain at my side. You will watch as I order an air strike on your precious Temple. You will tell me every leader of the rebellion, and I will lay their bodies at your feet. You will watch as Alderaan meets its fate again. Maybe, I’ll even have you press the button.”

“No,” Obi-Wan says. Begs, really. His feet scrabble against the smooth floor, but there’s no purchase. Tears slide out of his eyes.

Sidious laughs, the cackle of a man who has lost his tether to reality. He squeezes his hand, and the pressure increases on Obi-Wan’s throat. Black spots his vision. A little more and—the pressure lets up. Sidious’s smile is all sadistic glee. “No, Kenobi, you will not die. You will witness my victory. You will serve as a reminder of the futility of hope.” Sidious spits the word. “You will be the first to bow and declare me emperor. I will rule this galaxy! I will—"

A lightsaber slides through Sidious’s body, and the Sith chokes on his words. The saber rips up, parting his rib cage, his sternum, his throat, and then his head. Obi-Wan sucks in air as Sidious falls to the ground. Behind him, stands Dooku. Count? Master? Tyrannus?

Obi-Wan looks at Sidious’s body. “Is it over?”

“Yes,” Dooku answers. He kneels at Obi-Wan’s side. “It’s over. Rest now, padawan.”

Obi-Wan is exhausted. His head is an open, throbbing wound from where Sidious had ripped through his memories. Part of him longs to fall into this embrace and sleep. But part of him is wary.

“Your saber isn’t red,” Obi-Wan mumbles. This is important. He doesn’t remember why.

#

Obi-Wan wakes up in the Halls of Healing. Slumped in the chair next to his bed is Dooku. His hand is clasped tightly around Obi-Wan’s. Obi-Wan smiles and his smile grows as his master stirs.

“I had the strangest dream, master,” Obi-Wan says. And then he registers the presence of someone else in the room. He turns to see a familiar figure lurking in the corner of his room.

Jango Fett. No, not him.

Commander Cody. No, not him either.

Alpha-17.

Memories rush back, and Obi-Wan turns in time to puke into the bucket Dooku helpfully holds out for him. It’s hell on his already abused throat, and tears sting Obi-Wan’s eyes. He settles back against his bed.

“Not a dream,” Obi-Wan rasps.

Healer Che bustles in before Dooku can respond.

#

Obi-Wan’s permitted a walk in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. Ostensibly, he’s still recovering. It’s why he hasn’t been hauled in front of the Council or the Senate, but it won’t last much longer. He almost wishes they would just do it and get it over with.

He has spent this lifetime, living toward a specific moment. Now that it’s happened, he isn’t sure what comes next. He doesn’t like the uncertainty.

His senses alert him to the fact that someone is following him. It isn’t Alpha-17, who is Obi-Wan’s ever present shadow. Bodyguard? Whoever is following him, their Force signature is light. Young. They are stalking him. Hunting him? But it isn’t something for him to fear.

Obi-Wan turns into one of the secluded parts of the garden in hopes of drawing out this mysterious stranger.

A young Togruta pops out of the bushes. She bares her teeth in victory, not threat. Her eyes are big and blue and take up almost her entire face. The white markings on her face are faint against her skin, not yet fully developed.

“Hello, little one,” Obi-Wan greets. “Are you lost?”

“No. I found you.”

“Indeed, you did. What is your plan now?” Obi-Wan sits on the bench under a blooming tree. He pats the space next to him and Ahsoka scrambles to join him. She settles up on her knees, so they’re closer in height.

“You’re Obi-Wan Kenobi,” she says.

“I am.”

“I’m Initiate Ahsoka Tano. Will you take me as your padawan?”

Obi-Wan’s too surprised to guard his reaction. “Pardon?”

“Everyone wants to be your padawan,” Ahsoka says. “Healer Che has been chasing people away from the Halls for days. But I’m the first to find you so I get to ask first.”

Obi-Wan exhales slowly. Her enthusiasm is gratifying, but it presses on old aches. Is this a second lifetime he’s destined to want her and then have to let her go? “Ahsoka, I won’t be taking a padawan.”

“Why not? You killed a Sith apprentice when you were still a padawan, and then you helped Master Dooku kill a Sith master as a knight. You have the best lineage.”

“Where did you hear about that?” Obi-Wan asks. He knows the Temple gossip mill churns quickly, but he hadn’t expected initiates to already have heard about what happened at the Senate.

“There’s a video,” Ahsoka says. “It’s everywhere. The crechemasters tried to keep us from watching, but they couldn’t. Does your throat still hurt? I can make you tea. Or, um, I can get some from the commissary. I’m not allowed to cook yet.”

“I’m sorry, you saw a video of my confrontation with Sidious?” Obi-Wan asks.

Ahsoka nods. “You were very brave, Master Kenobi. And he was really mean. I’m glad he can’t hurt us anymore. Was he really the chancellor?”

“He was,” Obi-Wan says. “Ahsoka, I appreciate your initiative and your drive, but we should return you to your crechemaster before anyone worries.”

“Or I could stay with you. Nothing bad will happen to me while I’m with you.”

“I appreciate your faith, little one, but I’m afraid I must insist.” Obi-Wan stands. After a moment of hesitation, he holds his hand out to Ahsoka. She hops off the bench and then grips his hand tightly, all the way back to the creche.

After he’s successfully handed her off to her crechemaster, Obi-Wan crosses his arms over his chest and glowers at Alpha-17 until the man approaches him.

“Did you record the fight with Sidious?” Obi-Wan asks.

“Of course,” Alpha-17 answers. “I also distributed it across every channel I could access.”

Obi-Wan pinches the bridge of his nose. “Why?”

“Because we assassinated the Chancellor of the Republic, and the galaxy needed to know why. Have you given any thought to what you’re going to do now that your mission is complete?”

“Have you?” Obi-Wan shot back.

“The Primes have already reached out to Mandalore’s current ruler. The Kaminoans will honor their contract which means another two million vode. We’ll settle in the Mandalorian system, raise ourselves, and then do whatever the hell we want. That’s what it means to be sentient and free, doesn’t it?”

“And you still want me to go with you?”

“As you said, this place is haunted by ghosts. Besides, there are no more decommissions allowed. Whether the vode are born physically different or even Force sensitive, they will live. The Force sensitive ones will need teachers.”

“Oh, Jango will love that,” Obi-Wan mutters.

“Prime-1’s opinion is irrelevant,” Alpha-17 says. “You were right. He was raising us for his war. We have agreed to help take Mandalore, but we are not his. We belong to ourselves.”

“Well,” Obi-Wan says. “Congratulations.”

#

Finally, Obi-Wan is summoned to the Council.

He arrives, prepared to stand trial for his recent actions. He isn’t prepared for the crowd of people—witnesses?—that fill the room along with the councilors. Is this supposed to be a humiliation? To show his failure in front of Qui-Gon and Anakin? Are Quinlan and Bant here to help restrain him?

Does the Council really believe, after everything, that Obi-Wan means the Order harm?

Alpha-17, as always, follows Obi-Wan into the room.

Mace gestures for Obi-Wan to sit. Too tired to protest, Obi-Wan does. His confusion grows when, instead of interrogating him, Mace gestures to someone else.

Bant and Quinlan take a seat a few feet away from Obi-Wan. Bant clears her throat and glances at Obi-Wan before she directs her gaze to Mace. “Councilor Windu, what can I do for you?”

“When did you first notice something was different about Initiate Kenobi?” Mace asks.

Oh, Obi-Wan thinks, and he closes his eyes.

“He was twelve,” Bant answers. “One day, he was different. He felt different in the Force. Tight. Like he was holding everything in. Normally, Obi-Wan’s feelings leaked out, and he was scolded for it. But then he stopped letting Bruck provoke him into fights. I was excited at first. I thought he was listening to the masters and changing. But then he stopped doing anything.”

“Did you tell anyone about your concerns?” Mace asks.

“Yes.” Bant sounds a little affronted that he thought she hadn’t. “But the crechemaster dismissed my observations. Obi-Wan was nearing his thirteenth birthday. Any changes were assumed to be him trying to impress a master. I tried to explain that it was the opposite, but it didn’t help. I didn’t tell anyone what I suspected after that.”

“What did you suspect?” Mace prompts.

“Obi-Wan changed.” Bant shrugs. “I didn’t really have the words for it. It’s why I tried to talk to someone. But once I was shut down…and then things moved quickly. Obi-Wan became Master Dooku’s apprentice, and then we were all in and out of the Temple and any changes, it was easy to assume they were because of our new experiences.”

“Thank you,” Mace says. “Knight Vos, when did you notice a difference with Initiate Kenobi?”

“Around the same time Bant did.” Quinlan pushes an apology and a silent plea to trust through the bond he and Obi-Wan share. “But I was older, and I had more evidence. Obi had always been emotional, but he was suddenly solemn. Closed off. He didn’t want to train in the salles anymore, even though it was his favorite thing. He was studying with Jinn—I mean, Master Jinn—even though Master Jinn had refused to take him as a padawan. It was weird.”

Quinlan slouches in his chair, as if this meeting is beneath him, and he fiddles with his hair. “One evening, Obi-Wan handed me his datapad. He practically dared me to take a reading from it. It was—” Quinlan swallows, his throat bobbing as he searches for the words he wants. “Intense. The strongest impression was Obi-Wan having an allergic reaction. I felt his throat close up. And then I felt him filter the toxins out of his body.”

Quinlan anticipates Mace’s next question. “I confronted him about it. He was twelve. He shouldn’t know how to do that. He told me he’d had a vision. And when I pressed him about his sudden change, why he was learning about farming techniques instead of at the salles, he told me he was going to the AgriCorps. In his vision, Jinn took Obi-Wan as his apprentice and later died. He wanted to change the future.”

“Thank you,” Mace says. “Is there anything else either of you two would like to add?”

They shook their heads and then took their places with the rest of the witnesses. Mace called Healer Che to the table next.

“You know I won’t give you details,” Healer Che says, jumping on the offensive. “There is such thing as healer-patient confidentiality.”

“I understand,” Mace says. “Did you notice anything odd or different about Initiate Kenobi?”

“Yes.”

Mace draws a breath.

“There were inconsistencies with Initiate Kenobi’s reactions and his known experiences.” Healer Che folds her hands on the table. “And that is all I’m willing to disclose.”

Mace exhales slowly and then inclines his head in both thanks and a dismissal.

Qui-Gon and Anakin sit at the table next. Obi-Wan tucks his hands into his sleeves and wishes he could be anywhere but here. Must he really listen to this nonsense? What does it matter whether they believe he has visions of an alternate future? It doesn’t change what he’s done in this time.

He listens, along with everyone else in the room, as Qui-Gon describes the differences he noticed in Obi-Wan. Anakin chimes in with what he picked up from Obi-Wan’s “dreams”. There are murmurs when Anakin talks about being Obi-Wan’s padawan, about a few memories that are too concrete to be a vision.

And then Dooku sits at the table.

Obi-Wan thinks he handles it very well, given that his former master is neatly dissecting their entire apprenticeship and noting how Obi-Wan wasn’t the typical Jedi.

“The Naboo invasion changed things,” Dooku says. “My apprentice, who had shown himself capable and beyond many of his peers, set himself apart again by defeating the first Sith we had encountered for many, many years.” Dooku’s smile twists into a frown. “The Council refused to believe that the Zabrak was a Sith. There were those who did believe, and they knew we couldn’t afford to dismiss the Zabrak as a darksider. He was a Sith, and Sith always came in pairs.”

Obi-Wan has a bad feeling about this.

“We needed to locate the Sith master. It was suggested that as the one who defeated the apprentice, Obi-Wan should be the one to search for the master. I didn’t want to see him put into that danger, so I volunteered myself in his stead.”

Obi-Wan explodes out of his chair. He spins away from the Council and their startled reaction, the way half of them have their sabers out and the other half are prepared to draw. Obi-Wan runs a hand through his hair as he stalks toward the windows which overlook Coruscant.

Long-forgotten, faded dreams return to him. While recovering after Maul, he’d seen snatches of meetings between Dooku and—

Obi-Wan spins to face Master Yoda. “You can’t help yourself, can you?” Anger comes easily, rushing up to fill the emptiness inside of him. It burns away the hurt, but it’s dangerous. Obi-Wan releases it into the Force, stays still and breathing slowly until he’s fully in control. “You convinced me that I was unwanted. You were so certain you knew my path that you forced me on it. You turned other masters away from making me an offer. You sent me away. All to engineer what you thought was the perfect master-padawan pair.”

Obi-Wan can’t help but look over at Qui-Gon. The man seems surprised at first, and then his expression turns sad, as if he’s understanding what had happened in Obi-Wan’s previous life.

“I was prepared this time,” Obi-Wan says. “I wouldn’t be Qui-Gon Jinn’s padawan, but it was my choice. I would go to the AgriCorps and see what the Force held for me. And then.” Obi-Wan’s gaze slides toward Dooku now. “Master Dooku made an offer. In spite of your plans, Master Yoda. He wanted me. You have no idea what that meant to me.” Emotions rise up again, threatening to choke him.

“And then he rejected me,” Obi-Wan says, his voice barely above a whisper. “All for your fucking agenda!” Obi-Wan takes a deep, gasping breath. “Apologies, Councilors, witnesses.” He bows to each group in turn. “That was an uncivilized outburst.”

He bends over and braces his arms on his thighs. His breathing is short, ragged, never enough air for his lungs. He can feel the Jedi in the room reach out, probing, testing to see if they should offer to help, but he lashes back at each of them. He doesn’t want them. He doesn’t need them.

“That’s a shitty recovery position,” Alpha-17 says, briskly. He doesn’t ask for permission as he strides up to Obi-Wan and then pulls him into a better posture for breathing. “Who taught you?”

“Not you,” Obi-Wan says snippily.

Alpha-17 just laughs.

“And you are?” Mace asks.

“Alpha-17,” Alpha-17 drawls.

Mace doesn’t know enough to know how disrespectful the tone and the lack of “sir” is, but Obi-Wan does. He gapes, impressed and a touch worried at Alpha-17’s recklessness.

Alpha-17 grins and then grabs one of the chairs, spins it around, and then straddles the back as he sits down and addresses the Council. “I am part of the second batch of clones produced by the Kaminoans. I am a clone of Prime-1. You may be more familiar with him as Jango Fett.”

“Clones?” Mace echoes.

Alpha-17 turns to Obi-Wan. “The Jedi didn’t know?”

Obi-Wan laughs even though it isn’t funny. “No idea. You were created for the Jedi but at the order of a Sith.”

Mace clears his throat. “Alpha-17, do you have something to add regarding Obi-Wan Kenobi?”

“We were ostensibly made to fight a war for the Jedi,” Alpha-17 says. “A war that I believe we’ve now prevented. Regardless, we were trained to fight alongside Jedi. And we’re clones of one of the most infamous Jedi killers in the galaxy. We learned that too.” Alpha-17 smiles, all teeth and threats. “The first rule of dealing with Jedi is nothing is impossible.”

This is too much for Councilor Droom. “Are you saying you believe in time travel or visions that span an entire lifetime?”

“I don’t disbelieve it,” Alpha-17 answers. “Do I think it’s probable? No. But I don’t rule out the possibility. As soon as you underestimate a Jedi, you die.”

“What made you consider this possibility with Obi-Wan?” Mace asks.

“He found us. Kamino’s been wiped off all the maps in the galaxy, but he knew where to find it. And when he saw one of my brothers, he called him by name. The Kaminoans gave us designations, but Kenobi knows our names. And then he showed us parts of the future.” Alpha-17 grins. “Kicked the Primes’ asses into gear.”

“You shared your vision with others?” Plo Koon asks, curious.

“I did but it was for a reason,” Obi-Wan answers. “I don’t intend to share with anyone else. It was…” Obi-Wan trails off, determining how best to explain. And then he remembers that they’ve all seen the footage from the Senate Chambers. “You heard what Sidious found in my head. It wasn’t pleasant. Everything I have done has been to avoid that future coming to pass. Why would I then show what I have tried so hard to keep from happening?”

“Was it that terrible?” Depa Billaba asks.

Obi-Wan sighs. The answer, of course, is yes. “You heard Sidious say he would make me watch as he ordered an air strike on the Temple. In my previous life, his apprentice led a march on the Temple. When I walk through the halls here, I sometimes see it. Bodies on the floor. The whimpers of the dying. The gardens burning.” Obi-Wan opens a channel to his grief so everyone in the room can feel it.

“I’m sorry,” Depa says, and she pushes comfort at him, sorry for both the question and for what he’s been through.

Obi-Wan smiles as he brings his shields back up. “Am I to be imprisoned?”

Surprise ripples throughout the room.

“Imprisoned?” Mace asks.

Obi-Wan gestures to the set-up. “This was a trial, was it not? Conducted by the Jedi Order rather than the Republic, because they have no hope of holding a Force-sensitive, especially one with training like I have.”

“This was an inquiry,” Mace says. “There is no trial. You defended the Republic against the gravest of threats.”

“Oh.” Obi-Wan wasn’t expecting that. “What happens now, then?”

“That is for you to decide,” Mace tells him.

#

Obi-Wan has packed his meager belongings, bought a new comm, and given the number to those who might want it. When Jango and Bo-Katan arrived with a full invasion force behind them, Satine invited them to the negotiating table to broker the terms of a peaceful transfer of power.

Satine is now on Kalevala, overseeing her peaceful utopia. As promised, once the vode assisted the Primes in securing they system, they spread out amongst planets of their choosing to live their own lives. Alpha-17 has coordinated from the Temple, remaining by Obi-Wan’s side as Obi-Wan figured out his next steps.

Alpha-17 hasn’t said “I told you so” yet, but it’s a long flight to Néarchi. There will be plenty of time.

Dooku is on Mandalore itself, serving as a Jedi Ambassador to the new government and assisting in creating the first Force-sensitive school on the planet in its history. If Obi-Wan needed proof that he had changed things, there it is. Yan Dooku and Jango Fett, working side by side.

Obi-Wan had late meal last night with Quinlan and Bant, and he saw Qui-Gon and Anakin this morning, which means there is only one final person to see before he goes.

Mace refuses to accept Obi-Wan’s lightsaber when Obi-Wan tries to hand it over.

“I’m leaving the Order,” Obi-Wan explains and then holds it out again.

Mace, the asshole, clasps his hands behind his back. “You are allowed to keep your lightsaber. You have both the training and the discipline.”

Obi-Wan huffs. He clips his lightsaber to his belt. “This is why I’m leaving, you know.”

Mace raises his eyebrows in a clear request for more information.

“I have memories of being a councilor,” Obi-Wan says. “I know you drink brandy at formal functions to seem sophisticated, but your true tastes run toward fruity and brightly colored.” Obi-Wan’s lips quirk up on Mace’s surprise. “I know you, but you don’t know me. Everyone here is alive, but I’m haunted by the dead anyway. I held Qui-Gon in my arms as he died and yet, he’s teaching seminars on the Living Force. I fought a war with Adi Gallia, but she sees me a green knight. I was many things; a Jedi master, a councilor, a general, a brother and a hermit. But what I am…” Obi-Wan shakes his head. “For so long, the Temple was my life. Being a Jedi was how I defined myself. But now, I think I must find myself outside of it.”

“I understand,” Mace says. “I cannot imagine the path you have walked. You are always welcome here. We will not turn you away, but you may choose to never visit. I hope the Force will be kinder to you now.”

“It was kind,” Obi-Wan says. “It allowed me to save everyone. Kindness doesn’t mean painless. You—there are things I am seeing that I cannot explain to anyone, because they don’t understand the significance. But there is hope in the galaxy, again. There are trials in our future, but we are better prepared to meet them this time.”

Mace nods. “May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

“And with you as well, Mace.”

Obi-Wan readjusts his pack and then heads to the Temple hangar. Alpha-17 is at their ship, waiting for him.

“Took you long enough,” Alpha-17 says.

Obi-Wan rolls his eyes. “It was fifteen minutes, at most.”

“That isn’t what I was talking about.” Alpha-17 smirks and ushers Obi-Wan to board first. “I told you, you would make your home with us.”

“If all your brothers have attitude like yours, I might change my mind,” Obi-Wan says. He tosses his bag into one of the cabins and then proceeds to the cockpit.

“We’re all assholes in different ways,” Alpha-17 says. He takes the pilot’s chair. “Prime-1 had quite the range.”

Obi-Wan snorts as he helps plot their course to Néarchi. “And Prime-2?”

“She’s fucking violent. The sisters are all cutthroat. It makes training fun. You’ll see. Alpha-51 has already started a tournament bracket and a betting pool.”

“This is your idea of a good time?” Obi-Wan asks.

Alpha-17 grins as he gets the clearance for takeoff. “You’re going to fit right in with us.”