Two months after the war started, Obi-Wan Kenobi walked through Dex’s front door on a rare beam of Coruscati sunlight with a dark-haired man in tow. His companion’s unremarkable gray uniform was impeccably pressed, his hat was cradled in his black-gloved hands, and the scar on his face was neither new nor old. Dex did not make it a habit to be behind on the news, so he knew this face, (everyone knew this face) and if the face hadn’t given it away, then the ramrod posture held by solid shoulders would have betrayed him as a soldier even before he finished casing the exits.
Dex slapped Obi-Wan on the back before scooping him up in a hug, and the mystery man looked at him steadily. Dex knew a challenge when he saw one, so he spared the man his typical enthusiastic friend-of-Obi-Wan greeting, and offered a nod instead.
“Cody, this is Dex. Dex, Cody.” Obi-Wan said, smiling. “Cody is the Marshall Commander who is helping me wrangle the 212th and, well, the rest of the Third Systems Army, and I’ve promised to introduce him to real food today. We’d like a table for two, please.”
“I think I can find some space.” Dex said, ruffling Obi-Wan’s hair in a way that made him squawk like the teenling he vividly remembered, and made Cody’s eyebrows hit his hairline.
Dex escorted them to Obi-Wan’s usual booth; the one with the best view of the holoscreen that showed podracing scores, which had once been the only way to get young Anakin to sit still long enough to eat a full meal. Anakin had loved the diner on sight, drawn in by the bubbling atmosphere and greasy fumes wafting through the red and yellow interior.
From his kitchen window, where Dex retreated once he had dropped the menus on the table, he had a clear view of the two of them as they talked quietly, which meant he had a clear view of the curious moment when Cody picked up the menu. Dex saw a glimmer of suppressed panic flit briefly through his eyes as he turned the page, and then the next. The conversation at the table had stalled, and Obi-Wan was now watching Cody closely, caution in both his eyes and movements as he busied his hands. After a moment, Dex watched his friend make a decision, and then point to something on the menu in front of Cody.
“I’ve had this one before, and I think you might like it.” Dex could hear him say, before the voice grew too soft for him to pick up. Dex looked at the two of them, huddled over the menu that now lay flat on the table as Obi-Wan shared anecdotes and stories about select orders, and felt his heart clench and ease at the same time. Cody barked a laugh and Obi-Wan looked up at him with no small degree of wonder, as if he had never heard it before.
Dex’s sources, invaluable things in the underbelly of Coruscant, had been clear about the origin of the soldiers. Kaminoan-made, with as much say in their lives and how to live them as a child’s pet. Grown for the republic, they said, for the honor of fighting for its freedom. Dex knew what slavery looked like. This ‘army’ didn’t sit well with Dex.
Now, Dex watched as Marshall Commander Cody of the Third Systems Army perused greasy food choices from a fingerprint stained menu, more relaxed after Obi-Wan’s outline of the basics. Dex allowed himself to stop frowning, and got back to work. Food, after all, was important stuff.
* * *
It was all too long before Dex saw Cody again, once more on Obi-Wan’s heels as the Jedi strolled into the diner. Cody’s grays were still impeccably pressed, but the hat was gone, and the Commander greeted him with a smile and an outstretched hand. Dex clasped it. He would get the hug next time.
“How are things, boys?” Dex said after they had been seated in the usual booth, his notepad out in front of him. Flo flitted by and dropped two mugs of caf on the table before zooming off again. Obi-wan stirred a bit of cream into his.
“Oh, it’s the same as always,” Cody said drily. “The war does its best to kill us and we do our best not to let it.”
Dex barked in laughter.
“I’ve heard the same thing said about our Fritzle Fries.” He said, endeared to this version of Cody that he felt he’d been allowed to meet.
“Oh, well, in that case, let’s order some for the table.” Obi-Wan said.
“Hold on, now, I’d hate to use up all our luck at once.” Cody said, meeting Obi-Wan’s eyes with insolent innocence. “Force only knows when you’ll decide to ignore your next life-threatening injury, and I’d hate for it to be the congealed Fritzle grease on top that finally does you in.”
Dex had a very difficult time smothering his laughter. Obi-Wan scoffed, muttered something under his breath that made Cody say ‘what was that?’, and turned his attention to the menu before frowning.
“Why am I even looking at this?” He asked. “I’ll take the Nuna Salad Sandwich.”
Cody was quiet, perusing.
“Still making up your mind?” Obi-Wan asked idly, needling, and Cody shot him a withering stare.
“Anything I can help with, there?” Dex asked.
“Well you see, Dex.” Cody said, still furrowing his brow at the menu in front of him, “I could die quite literally any day now, and if I’m meant to go out, then I want the last real food I’ve eaten to be good stuff. Got anything you recommend?”
He placed his menu down and folded his hands primly on top of it.
Obi-Wan focused a long-suffering stare across the table at Cody, and Dex could feel the tingle of a well-worn lecture coming on, so he nipped it in the bud.
“Well, I’ve got Spicy Gargon Gumbo and a Scalefish Fillet that are both fresh, and tend to be customer favorites.” He said, flipping his pad closed. “And the Manaan Sliders with Ahto City Cheese are a favorite of Obi-Wan’s, so you can’t go wrong with that.”
Cody nodded decisively. “I’ll try the Spicy Gargon Gumbo.” he said. “And if by some miracle I make it back here a second time, we’ll see about working down the list.”
“Good plan.” Dex said with a wink. As he left they began squabbling again.
“Any day now? Really? You’re going to leave me with all the paperwork?”
“Who am I to determine the will of the force, Sir?”
“The will of the—Cody.”
“What, suddenly it’s not a good enough explanation?”
Dex shook his head fondly and ducked past the squeaky doors into the quiet, fragrant safety of his kitchen.
* * *
The next time he saw Obi-Wan, he had a familiar face in tow. Or rather, several familiar faces in tow, but none of them were Cody. The three men held themselves as rigidly and as uncomfortably as Cody first had, and each had a few small bars of color gracing the otherwise-plain canvas of their gray uniforms. Dex had seen enough military uniforms to know without asking that they were a few of the higher-ups in Kenobi’s battalion.
When the menus were set down in front of them, they balked at the sheer number of options—perhaps Dex really did need to downsize—before delight took over, and then they perused the foods with rapt attention. There was cautious joy in Obi-Wan’s eyes as he watched his men make their choices, conferring around the table about the flavors of certain ingredients that they were sure they’ve tried before, no really, on that one planet. Dex’s sources had told him more than once about the rations that the troopers were given; the protein cubes and ration bars that barely counted as edible, let alone fair sustenance for enhanced clone trooper and jedi metabolisms alike.
If Dex spent extra time spicing the fry-ups, testing them until they were just right, then that was nobody’s business but his own.
* * *
Three months later Dex did steal the hug, and Cody only put up a minimal protest. He counted it as a victory.
Cody smirked up at him once his boots were back on the floor next to Obi-Wan (who was due to be hugged next), and it was a good look on him; particularly paired with the general ease and confidence he had long grown into. Cody led the way to the booth this time, slid in on his preferred side (which left his back to the wall), and stirred a bit of sugar into one of the mugs of caf Dex had brought over.
“How’s the war, boys?” Dex said.
“Well, it’s going.” Obi-Wan said drily. “I think we’re winning this week.”
“I don’t know,” Dex said, “Seems like it’s taking an awful long time and I’ve had ingredients from Separatist planets on backorder for months."
"Supporting the enemy, Dex?"
"We all need hobbies. Anyway, think you could speed it up a bit?”
“Oh, we’re trying,” said Cody in a suspiciously cheery tone, “But Obi-Wan keeps flirting with Ventress and Grievous. Personally, I think the war could have been finished months ago if he’d only put his back into it.”
“What! If—I—now that’s just—”
Cody didn’t give his general’s indignant squawks the airtime to approach real-word territory. He smiled peacefully up at Dex. “The Scalefish Fillet for me, today.” He said.
“I don’t—entirely untrue—”
“Excellent choice.” Dex said. “I have it on good authority that this scalefish kicks all the way to the table.”
“It what?” Cody said, unable to hide his fascinated horror.
Obi-Wan, forgetting his perceived slight, cackled—cackled—and Dex pinned him with a raised brow.
“He just means it’s fresh.” Obi-Wan said, choking down his laughter but not bothering to hide his grin.
“Well how was I supposed to know that?” Cody demanded, but his eyes were warm as he bantered. “I don’t know a single thing about Scalefish.”
“My, what a gap in your education we’ve discovered.”
“Don’t tell the Kaminoans, they’ll recall me.”
“And Kamino a water planet, too. They’ll be very disappointed.”
“Just because Kamino is a water planet doesn’t mean it has Scalefish. That’s a bit presumptuous of you, isn’t it?”
Dex left them to their familiar chatter and tossed an order in for a Mandalorian orange pudding on the house while he was at it. His most reliable sources had passed grim intel to him about the untold horrors of the war that the Republic would never allow the holo-news to print—the bodies stacking up on distant planets, soldier and civilian alike; the inexorable destruction of cities, towns, homes; the psychological toll it took when your enemy did not need to sleep or eat, only hunt until you and all of your friends and brothers were more meat and blood ground into the dust on a planet they had never seen before and would never want to see again.
Dex knew Cody and Obi-Wan would not speak of it. He did what he could, and his boys deserved dessert.
* * *
The doors opened a few months later to admit Obi-Wan and a new group of men, these ones different than the last. They stood tall, but they fidgeted. Their uniforms were undecorated. Their hairstyles and visible tattoos were more haphazard and less regulation than the last group. Not command positions, then, these men were foot soldiers. Dex knew the type.
They were quietly reverent of the man in front of them, Dex could see it in their posture, and in the way they talked carefully around him; including him in their jokes but avoiding any boundaries. How they kept their distance but still gravitated towards him. They sat straight in their seats at the usual booth, expressions betraying nothing but a slight horror at the menu set in front of them, eyes flicking towards their general every now and then.
Obi-Wan took it in stride, but Dex could see the way it itched at him in how he twitched every so often, unsure whether to offer advice on the food or mind his own business. Obi-Wan settled for a healthy balance, monologuing to the air about one dish or the other. One of the men cracked, snorted, and it set off the whole table as they rushed to share stories about foods they’d heard of, both positively and, more importantly, negatively. Obi-Wan’s smile was genuine this time, and the table was neither quiet nor cautious for the rest of the afternoon.
Dex set down a full pot of caf—the collective eye bags at the table deemed it necessary—and waited to hear what they had chosen.
* * *
Kenobi was such a regular customer that apparently even death couldn’t keep him away. Not even a tenday after the headlines that took Dex’s breath away broke, the man himself was back at his doorstep, Cody in tow.
He scooped them both into a hug, and thus couldn’t miss the rigid tension in their bodies. He released them after a short, indulgent moment, and took a step back to study them properly. Something had changed, and he wasn’t sure it was something a source could help him puzzle out.
The two of them were uncomfortable in a way Dex had never seen. They seemed to be taking turns staring at each other and then looking away before the other could notice. Dex escorted them over to the booth and handed them their menus, expecting much of the same at the table, but he was unashamedly intrigued to see the opposite come immediately into effect. Now that they were seated across from each other there was nowhere else to look. They each inhaled shakily as their eyes met, and Dex had the surreal experience of suddenly feeling like a trespasser in his own kriffing diner.
“What can I get for you boys?” He asked after loudly clearing his throat.
Cody barely looked at him, his steady eyes glued to the once-dead man in front of him. “I’ll take the Manaan Sliders.” He said softly. Obi-Wan seconded in a quiet voice, and that was that.
Dex, after a brief clap on Obi-Wan’s shoulder, accompanied by a quip about cockroaches that Obi-Wan answered with a wry smile, retreated to his counter to start the caf.
The two men in the corner of his diner stared at each other with a gravitational pull unmatched by anything Dex had seen outside of space. They seemed heartbeats away from leaping across the table, or at least reaching out to each other, but now that they had gotten the staring out of their system their gazes flitted around the diner, taking careful note of the other customers, and Dex knew it would never happen.
There was a ring of the bell on the front door, and another familiar face walked in. Rex nodded cheerily to Dex and headed to the booth on instinct—he had been here enough with Anakin to know the drill. He fondly grasped the back of Obi-Wan’s neck on arrival and shook him gently, a grin on his face. Dex watched him gesture flippantly at Cody, telling him to budge up. In dramatic fashion, Rex detailed an injury that needed more space than sitting next to his ‘big karking lump of a brother’ could give him. Cody rolled his eyes, but got up without a single protest and settled in at Kenobi’s side instead. There was barely a single inch of space between them, and Dex knew he wasn’t imagining the relief in Obi-Wan’s eyes. Rex’s smile was knowing as he cleared his throat and picked up a menu, injury mysteriously forgotten.
The tension seeped slowly out of Obi-Wan and Cody as they each stared at the other’s hands folded in front of them on the table. Obi-Wan made a quiet, hesitant comment, looking up once more to meet his eyes, and Cody laughed hoarsely and bumped his shoulder against the other man.
Dex pretended not to see them close that last inch of space on the bench as they shakily sank a bit closer, pretended not to see them hold hands under the table.
* * *
Nearly half a year later, Obi-Wan was back. The group of men accompanying him that day were raucous. They were young—their eyes bright and their hair unruly and their cheekbones sharp, wild grins not yet permanently tempered by the horrors Dex knew they had already seen. Still capable of enjoying a day out, still capable of ribbing each other over their food choices.
“You’re going to order what?” One of them squawked. The other bristled, another snickered, and the fourth reached across the table to sock the first in the arm. They all sprawled for space, each intent on taking up more room than the last, even if it meant some pushing and shoving to do so.
Kenobi’s gaze on them was fond, but his smile was sharper these days and didn’t quite reach his eyes the way it used to. Wrinkles had folded themselves into the corner of his eyes and on the sweep of his forehead even when he wasn’t smiling or frowning. Gray hairs dotted his beard, catching the sunlight. The bags under his eyes seemed permanent. Dex wasn’t sure if Kenobi knew he was in the habit of picking at his nails, but the half-dried blood crusted along the side of his left thumb was a dead giveaway to near-constant abuse.
On his next trip past the table, Dex discreetly tucked a napkin and a band-aid under the corner of Obi-Wan’s caf cup.
* * *
Time spun faster, and much had changed the next time Obi-Wan and Cody graced Dex’s diner. The war, of course, was ceaseless, and Dex had recently gotten a new fry machine, something he informed them of as he seated them.
“Just caf for us today, please.” Obi-Wan said apologetically, and if Dex didn’t know the man he would never have noticed the tension in his shoulders, masked by the careful way Obi-Wan smiled.
They sat on the same side of the table this time, comfortable in each other’s space, and Dex twitched in surprise as he set down a pair of salt and pepper shakers just in case. Things were apparently progressing much faster between them than he had expected, and he retreated to the kitchen with an unbecoming feeling of smugness.
It wasn’t until a third man joined them, another soldier, that he understood, and he groaned in disappointment.
The mystery man caught his attention quickly, though. He was twitchy, and kept tugging at the chestplate of his pure white armor, as if it didn't fit quite right. When the man pulled his bucket off, Dex clocked the small tattoo on his forehead, and was suddenly glad their booth was in the corner that saw the least foot traffic.
The soldier that the holo-news named Fives spoke quietly, and his hands trembled around the empty mug in front of him. His actions were carefully controlled, but his eyes were panicked and he grew more frantic as he talked.
Obi-Wan extended a steady hand across the table while Cody took a quick visual sweep of the diner, meeting Dex’s eyes with a nod on his way. Dex noticed that Cody had lines around his eyes that matched Obi-Wan’s now, and gray flecks speckled in his dark hair. He didn’t even know how old Cody was, technically, but he was too young for that kind of weathering, for the weight of responsibility that had put them there.
Fives breathed deeply, visibly relieved by whatever Obi-Wan was whispering to him. Cody turned back, and Dex could see the battle lines being drawn in the sand as two of the greatest minds of the GAR did what they did best.
In three short minutes, they exchanged terse words of agreement all around. Fives slipped his bucket back on, and very calmly exited the diner.
Cody and Obi-Wan stayed where they were for another few moments, serious eyes meeting over the salt shaker between them. They exhaled in tandem before Obi-Wan nodded, and whatever they had decided upon was set into motion.
The commander slipped out of the booth next, his hand lingering on Obi-Wan’s under the table for a fraction of a second so small that Dex would never have seen it had he not been looking. Obi-Wan took a deep breath, visibly steeling himself, before he dropped their credits on the table and followed his Commander out.
Dex flipped the flatcake on the griddle in front of him with a satisfying thwack, and quietly deleted the security footage from the last ten minutes before it could be logged.
* * *
Two days later, Obi-Wan was back, and the men he brought with him were barely men at all. They were very young—cheeks plump and smiles shy, and they took in every inch of the hazy red-and-yellow diner with a wide-eyed wonder that no amount of military training could beat out of them.
Dex seated them at the usual booth and noted with a pang how they tucked close to each other on the benches—not quite like a pile of nervous tookas, but close enough to each other that they were never really out of physical contact.
Kenobi’s eyes, as he watched them peruse the menu, watched them shoot uncertain glances at each other for some sort of grounding or guidance, were hollow. Oh, he painted on a cheerful grin for them, offering the same witty anecdotes that he had for Cody a near lifetime ago, but Dex knew how to read a man’s face for a tight jaw and wounded eyes and a deep feeling of unfairness when looking at young lives about to be cut short. Obi-Wan couldn’t hide the grief already lurking behind his best attempts at laughter as he looked at the young men—at the children in front of him. Dex knew how to count a man’s frown lines and stress creases and wiry, multiplying gray hairs and draw his own conclusions about what put them there.
But perhaps he was just projecting. Perhaps it was a willful attempt to ignore what else he could see. Dex felt unease sweep through him as he looked back once more.
Obi-Wan’s eyes betrayed him; they always did. This time they held a burning finality, a certainty of upcoming change. A resolution steeled by the sight in front of him like storm clouds bolstered by the hot winds of the oceans on Naboo.
For the first time in years, Dex nearly fumbled a mug. He shook his head to break his reverie, and got back to the kitchen. He had meals to make, and he felt more than ever that he had to make them right.
* * *
As unexpectedly as it had started, it stopped. That last day, the door swung shut on Obi-Wan Kenobi’s final group of wide-eyed soldier boys, and Coruscant grew quiet as her roots shook. Nobody could say exactly what was happening, nor did some of them particularly care at first, but the streets always knew when something was up, which meant Dex always knew when something was up.
He knew what the holo-news had rumored uncovered about the chancellor, and his own sources had confirmed all that and more. Scandal, death, evil, treachery, mind-control, murder, planned genocide—the words bit at him as he eyed the Jedi Temple hovering on the cold skyline during his pre-dawn walk to the diner twelve standard hours after the senate had called an emergency session and then locked the doors. The few political reporters who had been lucky enough to be locked in said that there was an emergency election to replace Sheev Palpatine, who was being deposed for high treason. The holo-net said the Jedi temple was closed, but that clones in armor of all colors had been seen cycling through in droves, each emerging with a bacta patch on one temple. The gossip rags said that multiple bodies had been removed from the Chancellor’s office, and that Obi-Wan Kenobi was dead. Dex knew how to read between the lines.
A tenday after the verdict, after the indictment of corruption and evil that rocked the republic to its foundation, aided by recorded proof from a trooper’s helmet cam, the door to the diner swung open. Perhaps force sensitivity was catching, because Dex looked up, his heart in his throat, before he heard Obi-Wan’s greeting, before he heard Cody’s measured steps. He was on the other side of the counter before Obi-Wan could finish cracking his brittle, tired smile, and Dex wrapped his boys up in a careful hug.
“Well done.” He whispered, and he felt Obi-Wan grip him tightly for a moment. It was early, and the diner was empty (they weren’t technically open just yet), so Dex took the opportunity for one last squeeze before he gathered himself and released them.
He shepherded them over to their booth, taking careful note of Obi-Wan’s limp, and of Cody’s steady hand hovering behind him, ready to catch the other man if he stumbled. Obi-Wan was pale, but happy; his hands shook ever so slightly as he braced them on the table to sit. Dex saw the plastic of a medbay bracelet poke out from under his robe.
His sources had never been able to tell him exactly what happened in that office in the senate building, only that a team of Jedi had walked in unannounced, requesting an audience with the chancellor, Obi-Wan Kenobi among them. Thirty minutes later, after one hell of a ruckus upstairs during which the whole of the coruscant guard was summoned, Obi-Wan had been hurriedly carried out by a fellow counselor, unresponsive and with burns singeing his robes nearly black. The jedi temple had not provided news on his survival. Looking at his friend now, Dex wondered if that was because they, too, were unsure if it was a guarantee.
“I’m glad to see the both of you,” Dex said roughly, locking eyes first with Cody, who had cuts and bruises decorating his hands and the side of his head and deep, purple bags under his eyes, and then Obi-Wan. His gaze stuck on the weary Jedi master. In the days after the incident, the one thing his sources were blessedly certain of was that when all was said and done, Sheev Palpatine’s was the only body on the floor of the Chancellor’s office. Dex was immensely, helplessly grateful it wasn’t two.
“We’re glad to be here,” Obi-Wan said, his voice sounding every inch and more of how tired he looked.
“What can I get you this morning?” Dex asked, unable to temper his own joy even a smidge.
“Anything.” Cody said hoarsely, his eyes lingering on Obi-Wan even as he dragged his gaze upwards towards Dex. “We’ll take anything.”
Dex nodded once, sharply. “I’ll see what I can do for two heroes who single-handedly thwarted a would-be galactic dictator.” He said, and laughed at the twin groans of protest behind him as he strode off.
Dex paused briefly at the counter when he reached it, pulling out two mugs for caf and flicking the grease-slick button to get the machine working, and then took the opportunity to observe his two guests. Their eyes were soft and hopeful, and their hands were grasped above the table even as a few more early-rising regulars trickled in, and if Dex didn’t have eyes and ears that alerted him to the other clientele he would say Cody and Obi-Wan were alone in the diner, alone on Coruscant, alone in the galaxy.
The electric sign on the outside of the window, still bright in the hazy darkness of the morning fog, cast a colorful neon glow across the pair; a backlit halo of multicolored light. They spoke quietly, idly, slowly, as if for comfort more than necessity, and Cody’s thumb swept absently over Obi-Wan’s hand. Their eyes never strayed.
Dex shook himself into motion and strode into his kitchen, and the creaky door swung shut behind him.