Stranger (In A Strange Land) - AssassinOfRome - Star Wars (2024)

Chapter 1

Chapter Text

Anakin hadn’t been sure of quite what to expect from the eventual confrontation aboard The Invisible Hand; perhaps the Chancellor strapped to a chair and Dooku wandering around monologuing. What had hadn’t ever anticipated was a large glowing pool in the centre of the room, into which a strange dark-haired man was repeatedly dunking his prisoner.

“I must say, Anakin, my expectations of the count certainly have dipped.” Obi-Wan called, not missing a beat though Anakin could feel his confusion through their bond. They’d been tailing Dooku for weeks, and his kidnapping of Chancellor Palpatine was the perfect opportunity for The Team, as the holonet had so imaginatively titled them, to get out of their star-ships and do some honest-to-Code Jedi Work. Meaning saving innocents, saber fights, and in the case of Obi-Wan, some elegant/cheesy one-liners. The stranger certainly smiled, his bright teeth gleaming.

“Glad to see my little rejuvenation hasn’t marred my features too strongly.” He chuckled. Now he was looking closer, Anakin could see the resemblance; it was the same long face and cold eyes that Anakin had come to despise, but now wrinkle-free and clean-shaved. He couldn’t have been older than forty, displaying his new robust strength by tugging his prisoner out of the water. “What of you, Chancellor?”

In any other circ*mstance, Anakin would have shrieked. The man he’d known as Palpatine looked like he had been scalded by a geyser, so red and blistered was his face. But underneath, his features looked younger than Anakin had ever seen him – younger than on Naboo, certainly. His hair was a brownish-red, maybe a shade or two duller than Obi-Wan’s, and his face smoother, though he still had shadows under his eyes. He looked stockier too, the strength of a healthy youth returned to him, even as he cried out.

“Anakin! Run – he’s too strong!” He gasped, the strange liquid dripping from his face. The way his voice crackled with pain made Anakin’s heart stop, as he thought of all the kindness Palpatine had shown him, especially after… Anakin swallowed, trying to settle his thoughts. He could not afford to lose his temper again, especially not with the Chancellor so vulnerable. “Get help – you’re no match for him! He’s a Sith lord.”

Anakin glanced at his master, whose spine straightened ever so slightly. Though they’d faced their fair share of dark-siders, Anakin knew the Sith had carved a particularly gaping hole in his master’s heart, perhaps even moreso than Anakin’s hatred. The war had worn everyone thin, including his master, and a surprising venom leaked through Obi-Wan’s shields when he wasn’t careful. But whenever Anakin had asked, it had been quickly damned up and denied behind Council teachings and false serenity. Obi-Wan was like a bow-string, being stretched tighter and tighter with every life lost to the fighting. Anakin could only hope he wouldn’t snap before the end.

“Chancellor Palpatine – Sith lords are our speciality.” Obi-Wan kept his voice light, and even winked at the Chancellor, but his jaw was still clenched tight as he narrowed his eyes at his grandmaster. If he felt anything other than disgust for the man, it was better hidden than his anger. “What have you done, Dooku?”

“Merely a little experiment, boys.” Dooku leered, taking a hand off the Chancellor to pat his now plump cheek. Palpatine attempted to struggle away, but Dooku returned his grip, clenching even harder. “A little… dance in the Fountain of Youth, shall we say?” He smirked down at his prisoner, giving him a little shake that made Palpatine whine with fright. “Fancy another, Chancellor?”

As he pressed Palpatine’s face perilously close to the liquid, Anakin found himself taking a step forward, his lightsaber igniting almost without his input.

‘Anakin, keep back!’ Obi-Wan, ever the voice of reason, called out over the screeching battle outside, though in truth he hadn’t spoken at all. The words went unspoken, appearing in Anakin’s mind like a whisper, soaked in his master’s warm presence. He’d always seen force signatures in colour, and Obi-Wan’s was the sepia of old paper and fresh tea. Dooku, on the other hand, was drenched in the iron-red of freshly-spilt blood. Anakin felt the Force crackle around his fingers, as Dooku shoved Palpatine into the arms of two waiting Super Battle Droids, who quickly confined the Chancellor into glowing cuffs. ‘We don’t know what that substance is.’

‘It’s on the Chancellor – that’s all that matters.’ Anakin snapped back, in no mood to negotiate. Palpatine was as much family to Anakin as Obi-Wan was – as friendly as a favoured uncle, and as generous as a father. To see him cowering was like watching his master flinch as slavers whipped his back – a sight he could not stomach for long.

‘Then we do it together.’ The words came out less as a resigned sigh and more as a heartfelt promise; he could almost feel Obi-Wan’s hand squeezing his shoulder in support, as he too lit up his blade. Even after all this time, Anakin was surprised to see a hint of hesitation as his master moved into his opening stance. The Code taught that a Jedi must be ready to take a life every time he lit his blade, and he knew such a decision weighed heavily on his friend’s mind. Still, it seemed for Anakin, he would do anything.

‘I was about to say that.’ The humour, to anyone else, would have been considered ill-timed, but Anakin felt Obi-Wan smile through the bond, before they both dove forward.

The first few moves were nothing more than circling, testing the reflexes of their enemy more than attacking. Obi-Wan, through a stylish feint, had managed to sneak behind, but it had very little effect as Dooku blocked both blades with ease. Their blades slowed, as they reconsidered each other.

“You know, I’ve been looking forward to this. A youthful body is such a luxury – one I see neither of you can truly appreciate.” He – like practically every other master Anakin had met – rolled his eyes at Anakin’s dark-tinged robes and raised a doubtful eyebrow at Obi-Wan’s slightly greying temples. His smile deepened, and he stepped back, saluting with his saber. “Let’s see if you younglings can keep up.”

Anakin had fought his great-grandmaster before, never quite able to conquer the other man’s immense talents. But this younger Dooku was almost untouchable – he had all the technique of a seasoned warrior, coupled with the strength and speed of a knight. Anakin found even his best blows glanced off the other man’s saber and his dirtier moves left him unbalanced, tumbling in the wake of his opponent. Any boasts he’d been planning died in his throat as Dooku stepped effortlessly over his body.

Obi-Wan was struggling too, his face carefully blank as he stood his ground. His technique was still as flawless as ever, but Soresu afforded so little opportunity to attack that his master was slowly being driven backwards. By the time Anakin pushed himself off the ground, Obi-Wan was dripping in sweat, just about managing to dart away.

Charging forward, Anakin managed to land a few solid blows against Dooku, forcing him up a set of nearby stairs. He could hear Obi-Wan following, but the droids began firing at him. Palpatine, so close to their guns, wailed in fear, growing louder as Obi-Wan began to deflect the bolts. He was careful not to get any near Anakin or the Chancellor, but such dexterity required him to jump on the rim of the pool, to save losing an ankle to a stray shot.

His now tenuous position seemed to deepen the droid’s resolves, and Obi-Wan had to keep leaping up to avoid their gunfire. Anakin knew Obi-Wan’s balance was impressive – he’d seen his master spring from practice staffs in the Jedi Temple, and run across the ropes of rickety bridges. In those exercises, Obi-Wan had always seemed unflappable, a perfect pillar of dignity and calm even in the heat of battle. So poised and perfect he might as well have been a statue.

But statues didn’t stumble, and men did. Anakin watched in horror as Obi-Wan landed a little too hard on his left foot – his weak foot, his bad knee that gave him trouble on rainy days as much as he refused to admit it – and staggered. He overcorrected and lost his balance further, arms flailing as his lightsaber fell from his grip and rolled away. There was only time for Anakin to glimpse the fright in his master’s bright blue eyes as he started to fall.

Even Dooku froze when his grandpadawan landed with a splash into the glowing pit.

“Obi-Wan!” Anakin cried, pushing against Dooku with all his might. It was enough to send the other man careening into a nearby wall, which cracked beneath him. The man sat, dazed, but still had enough forethought to send two more droids in Anakin’s direction. If he’d been focusing, Anakin could have taken them out with a single swipe, but his concern for Obi-Wan made his limbs heavy and they took advantage of his distraction, firing perilously close to his ribs. With a cry more like a wounded bantha than a man, Anakin forced himself to turn back to the fight.

As Anakin took care of the droids, he felt Dooku push himself to his feet, sliding back over to the Chancellor with feet as slick as an oil spill. He did spare a glance for Obi-Wan’s collapsed body, but made no effort to pull him out of the pool. Instead, he and Palpatine seemed to have a silent conversation. Anakin wasn’t focusing enough to see the scowl that crossed Palpatine’s face, but he was sure it conveyed all the rage Anakin was expending on his droid opponents. By the time the last bucket of bolts fell, Dooku had secured the Chancellor to himself, and was dragging him close to the door.

“Make your choice, Skywalker.” He almost sang out as he activated the door panel. “Your precious Chancellor or your dear master – you cannot save both.” Anakin was sure he imagined the shake in Dooku’s voice as his eyes flicked towards the strange liquid. “Not that saving him would do much good – he’s probably inhaled enough of that to fill his lungs already.”

Anakin knew he should follow – that he should reclaim the Chancellor and complete his mandate, as Obi-Wan would have no doubt ordered. But the thought of his master – of Obi-Wan – choking to death on foreign fluid, his eyes streaming as he silently screamed for help…

Anakin couldn’t leave him. Not for all the stars in the sky.

Hearing Dooku and Palpatine’s footsteps retreat, Anakin dove towards the pool. Obi-Wan was still inside, but its green liquid was quickly becoming red and murky from a serious head wound. Luckily the water wasn’t particularly deep, and Obi-Wan was face-up, so there was very little chance of him drowning. Yet it continued to lap over him, with a strange blurring effect - from what Anakin could see much of its damage had already done. Robes that had once been well-tailored to Obi-Wan’s body now billowed around him, the liquid slowly eating away at the cuffs and collar. His left hand, which was draped against the pool’s rim, was smaller than Anakin had ever seen it, the nails bitten down to the quick. Anakin laced its fingers in his own, reached into the water and wrapped his arm around his master.

Almost immediately, a sharp burning pain spread through his arms, growing stronger until it covered his entire body; Anakin’s eyes squeezed shut involuntarily, and he held in a scream. Worse still, it felt like each of his thoughts was being ripped out of his mind, piece by aching piece. His first impulse was to let go and scratch at his skin, hoping to ease some of the scalding sensation, but he gritted his teeth and forced himself to centre on Obi-Wan. For some reason, picturing him seemed to help, and Anakin played a little game with himself as he heaved Obi-Wan out of the water. It was one his master had taught him for stressful situations as a way of keeping him in the present moment. He prayed it would work.

Picture something serene. His master had always suggested natural beauties, such as waterfalls or forests, but Anakin settled instead on Obi-Wan himself. How did he stand? How did he move or talk or laugh? How many freckles were on each cheek? Did his hair fall left or right? What were his eyes like – not just the colour, but the crinkles around the edges? He found himself focusing on his favourite memory of Obi-Wan; the spar they’d had just before Zigoola, all sparkling eyes and cheeky grin. It gave him enough strength to clutch tight and yank Obi-Wan over the lip of the pool and onto the dry ground. As soon as he was settled on the floor, Anakin heard Obi-Wan’s breathing lurch as he coughed out the strange liquid.

Only then did Anakin turn to himself, pulling off his soaked outer tunic and desperately trying to pat his leggings dry. His left arm was throbbing so intensely that he keeled over, cradling it to his chest. It was if the stump was on fire, and he could feel his vision beginning to blur. On the edge of his vision, he could see a distraught R2-D2 rolling into the room, whistling with fright. Anakin dragged him forward with the Force, and fumbled around for the emergency messaging system.

“This is Anakin Skywalker,” he sobbed out, sinking to his knees. His breath felt like it was being caught up in his chest, his throat tight as the words struggled out. He wasn’t even sure which frequency he was dialling, but trusted R2 to send the message on. “We’ve failed – Dooku took the Chancellor and Obi-Wan and I are injured. Requesting immediate back up, I repeat – immediate backup.”

Before he could receive a response though, darkness crept in at the edges of his eyes. The last thing he saw as he slumped forward was the durasteel floor coming up to meet him.

Chapter 2

Summary:

“Just remember – gentle introductions at first.” His padawan reached down and squeezed his hand, her face calm enough that he nearly didn’t notice the nervous twitch of her lips. “He may look like Obi-Wan, but he’s a scared kid who doesn’t know where he is.”

Anakin wanted to retort – to say something stupid to make her smile – but he took a deep breath, and stepped forward. There was a little viewing station before the actual room, where staff could see their patient from behind a glass screen, and that was where Anakin caught his first glimpse of the changed master.

Anakin meets the newly-changed Obi-Wan. He certainly is a handful.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The one thing the Holonet never mentioned about daredevil escapades is how often their central heroes ended up in a hospital bed, slimy all over from the remnants of bacta.

Anakin swore he could smell that sh*t in his sleep. Not that it was necessarily unpleasant – it just smelt too clean. For someone who’d grown up on a dust-ball, bright strong fragrances such as citrusy bacta turned his stomach. Or maybe it was the injuries. Honestly, most days it was difficult to tell.

“He’s coming around.” The voice came from above him, soft and gentle, even as the palm on his shoulder held him down firmly. He opened one eye to see a blur of orange hovering to his left. “Easy, Skyguy. You’re in the med-bay.”

“Snips? What are you-“ He blinked, and felt his vision refocus. Ahsoka, looking a little older and a lot more exhausted, stared back at him. Her lekku were longer. Her braid was still gone. He found himself swallow back tears and shame and yet more bacta. “It’s really you. What are you doing here?”

“You called me.” Her face softened, though he could see the worry tucked away in her eyes. “You sent out a distress signal – I think it was for the council. But you said you and Obi-Wan had been hurt and…” She glanced away, probably checking some chart or reading. Distantly, he could hear the stomping of trooper boots; maybe there was a healer in the room too. “How do you feel?”

“Dizzy, but alright. I just need to-“ He shuffled backwards, trying to ease himself upright. Eventually, he had to use his hands to push up, and rather than feeling the creak of mechanics, he found his fingers sinking into the soft linen.

Ten fingers.

Pulling his hands up to his eyes, he couldn’t help but gasp at the sight of his right hand. No longer hidden away behind his glove, he stared at soft pink flesh he hadn’t seen in years. Gently, he flexed each finger, running his palm over everything he could reach.

“Skyguy?” Ahsoka asked, leaning forward.

“That’s my hand.” He mumbled out, not able to tear his eyes away. Stars, he had nails again! And cuticles and knuckles and fortune lines. “My… my real actual… Ahsoka, I have my hand back!”

He couldn’t help it – he let his hand wander to hers and squeezed tight. It felt so good to hold her, to hold anything but especially her. He had his padawan, he had his hand – what else could he need?

“Deep breaths, Skyguy. Let me just comm Kix and-“ Ahsoka patted his shoulder and turned slightly. Anakin felt the glamour slip as she moved, his brain finally jolting back into place. He found himself rubbing his face as his memory trickled back.

“How did this-“ He paused, and frowned. Slashing blades. Frightened voices. Green liquid. “The pool. The Chancellor – Dooku has the-“ He went to sit up, to grab his saber and charge from the room. What was he doing lounging in bed when Palpatine was still in danger. He and Obi-Wan were supposed to…

Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan who had looked so tired. Obi-Wan, who had stumbled and fallen. Obi-Wan, who’d slipped into that burning liquid and hadn’t spoken since.

“Where’s Obi-Wan? Is he alright?”

“He’s… alive.” Some of the tightness in Anakin’s chest loosened, but not much. “Awake even. But Ma-Anakin-“ Anakin flinched at the stumble – as much as he craved Ahsoka’s light smile, she’d never be his padawan again. Not thanks to the f*cking Council. Before he could grow too bitter, he forced himself to focus on Obi-Wan, even as Ahsoka stammered. “He’s… he’s…”

“He’s what, Ahsoka?” Anakin felt his hands – both new and old – clench into fists, his mouth drier than a desert. The war had brought all sorts of injuries to their troops and fellow Jedi. He didn’t remember Obi-Wan getting shot, or losing a limb. Maybe the fall had paralysed him – maybe his master would never walk again – maybe he’d been-

“He’s a kid.”

“What?”

“He’s a kid – mid-teens by the looks of things. And you’re not much older. Here.” Anakin reached down and passed him a small hand-mirror. Taking it in his right hand – and wasn’t that a novelty – he lifted the glass to his face and gasped again.

The first thing he noticed is that his scar was gone, as were his curls. He’d never been that vain about his appearance – not compared to Obi-Wan, who fussed over his facial hair whenever he could – but Padme had liked his longer hair, and Anakin had enjoyed not having to attend Temple haircuts. Unfortunately, his precious locks had been shorn back into the ugly padawan cut, and his hands reached up to fidget with the heavy braid trailing down his shoulder.

“Holy sh*t.” He whispered, touching his cheek. He looked healthier than he had in months, fresh-faced and bright-eyed. Had he really lost so much weight? Had the war weathered him so badly? “What happened?”

“No-one is sure; we’d hoped you’d have some answers.” Ahsoka looked at him hopefully.

“The last thing I remember was…” He paused, and set down the mirror. His brain was still foggy, and thinking hurt, so he had to frown. He caught sight of his reflection and wanted to laugh – had he always been so pouty? “We were going to rescue Palpatine and… and Dooku was there. There was this pool full of something and… it was making Palpatine young again. Dooku was young too and –“ Anakin froze, lifting the mirror again. God, the padawan cut really was awful. “Do you think it was some sort of serum? Obi-Wan fell in the water and I got wet pulling him out. Do you think the pool was doing this to us?”

“We can’t be sure until we get you back to the Temple. We’re a few hours away, tops. We would have taken you straight back but with all the fighting around, it was safer to fly out of range and wait. And besides, we didn’t know if-” Ahsoka spoke lightly, as if going to the Temple were as simple as taking a shower. But he felt the spike of worry in her force signature, quickly hidden away. Would she really return to the place that had spurned her, just for the sake of himself and Obi-Wan? Her two mentors who had failed her more than they could possibly imagine?

And how could they just go home, with Palpatine still lost? Not only did Anakin personally worry for the Chancellor’s safety, he knew returning to the Council, having failed their mission and damaged Obi-Wan, would be excruciating. Thanks to their weakness, Dooku could be anywhere in the galaxy by now, building up his terrifying army. And that was before even considering that he’d let a Sith Lord slip through his fingers. Again.

“The Temple? No way – we need to get back to Dooku and-“ He pushed himself up further, but stopped, frowning at his friend. “Wait, Ahsoka… what are you wearing?”

In all the time he’d known her, Anakin could count on one hand the amount of times he’d seen her in her full Jedi robes; she confessed to finding the thick fabric stifling and heavy on her small body, and in the heat of battle, it never made sense to insist on formal clothing. But now, she was wearing the full costume, billowing as it was. The folds of brown fabric threatened to swallow her, and Anakin could see the sheen of sweat on her forehead. He peered closer and realised it wasn’t even Ahsoka’s clothing – that had been confiscated during her expulsion. Judging by the neat stitching on the elbow, she was wearing one of Obi-Wan’s robes, huddled up inside it like a blanket.

“There’s… there’s just one more thing.” Ahsoka turned to him, and paused, scanning her eyes over his face with equal parts concern and doubt. “You seem to have all of your memories, right? You know who I am and where we are.”

“Well yeah. I mean, some stuff is fuzzy but-“ He rubbed a hand over his eyes, trying not to growl. His temples were throbbing already.

“Obi-Wan doesn’t. We can’t tell if it’s the head injury or whatever the f*ck this is but…” Ahsoka shook her head. “He’s confused and non-co-operative. He needs medical attention, but won’t let anyone near. I thought if maybe I could pretend to be Master Tii, he might let me close enough to slip him a sedative, but he saw through it.” She swallowed, and Anakin could see the glinting sheen of unshed tears.

“Skyguy, he… he keeps asking for Master Qui-Gon.”

*

If it had been him in the medical bay, Anakin knew Obi-Wan would have been his side in an instant, probably with a fond frown or a stack of paperwork – his master had a habit of keeping busy even when Anakin was ill, just to give the illusion of normalcy. But as Ahsoka led him through the halls of her ship, he could feel his feet dragging in their reluctance.

“I like what you’ve done with the place.” He mumbled, almost to himself. The Council had been reluctant to give Ahsoka anything, but she had successfully argued her importance to the war, and so had been rewarded with her own small ship, with a selection of 501st men at her command. It had been a wrench to lose Rex, but there was no-one else he had trusted to accompany Ahsoka safely to Mandalore. Except, she had never made it passed the edge of the Inner Rim, before Anakin’s call had sent her sweeping back into his life.

Silently, they had agreed not to discuss Ahsoka’s position before the business with Obi-Wan had been settled. A thousand apologies bubbled on his lips, but he forced them down to focus on the matter at hand. Still, he couldn’t help but smirk when Ahsoka told him the name of her ship.

The Truant , after all, was a ridiculously fitting title.

Once they reached the medical bay, Anakin felt his feet root into place outside the door. The main ward was mostly quiet, their troops hale and hearty having not fought since their last leave period. But the private room – a luxury on such a small ship – was a bustle of energy, with troopers traipsing in and out with a variety of equipment. Some Anakin recognised, and he signed with relief upon seeing Kix enter, carrying a datapad. Thank God he’d volunteered to work with Ahsoka too.

“Just remember – gentle introductions at first.” His padawan reached down and squeezed his hand, her face calm enough that he nearly didn’t notice the nervous twitch of her lips. “He may look like Obi-Wan, but he’s a scared kid who doesn’t know where he is.”

Anakin wanted to retort – to say something stupid to make her smile – but he took a deep breath, and stepped forward. There was a little viewing station before the actual room, where staff could see their patient from behind a glass screen, and that was where Anakin caught his first glimpse of the changed master.

Ahsoka had said Obi-Wan was restless, pacing around his private room and levitating objects to keep the medical staff at bay. That energy seemed to have faded, and instead Obi – no, the kid, Anakin just couldn’t think of him as Obi-Wan – sat cross-legged on the bed, mediating. He looked around Ahsoka’s age, maybe a year or two younger, and his nose seemed slightly too big for his face. His auburn hair had once been carved into a typical padawan style, but was now long overdue a cut, flopping into his closed eyes. Shockingly, he had no braid, but there was a little tuft trailing just behind his ear where it should have been, unadorned and ragged at the edges, like it had been sawn off. Anakin frowned at the sight of it, and his wariness made him notice the twitch in the boy’s long fingers. Before Anakin could blink, he had grabbed the medic in front of him, tossing him to the ground and stealing his blaster. The other troopers balked, and dropped their medical devices, holding their hands up as the boy aimed the gun at their stomachs.

“Get back!” He growled, shoulders set. “I said get back, all of you.” He spun neatly on his heel, to set his aim on Kix. If Anakin hadn’t been searching for it, he never would have noticed the shake in the boy’s hand. The kid swallowed and straightened his back. When he spoke, his Coruscanti accent was crisp and polished – Anakin had heard nobles speak with worse diction. “By Section 287 of the International Galatic Code, I demand to know what ship I am on, and who its captain is.”

“That’s enough, Padawan!” Pushing forward into the medical room, Anakin tried to make his voice sound as commanding as possible, but it came out a bit squeaky. Still, the boy flinched and uncertainly turned the muzzle towards Anakin. Ahsoka was holding up her hands, but more in a peace-making gesture than out of fear. “Obi-Wan, put down the weapon.”

“Who are you? What is this? How do you know my name?” He snapped in quick succession. Only on the final question did a hint of pleading creep into his tone. “Where is my master?”

“Easy, kid – we’re just trying to help you.” Ahsoka took a step forward, and the kid moved the gun, but the Force didn’t shriek; there was no intention to shoot, at least not yet. “I’m Ahsoka Tano, Commander of this vessel, and this is Jedi Master Anakin Skywalker.” Anakin nodded, secretly thankful that Ahsoka had guessed his charade – the kid needed something to defer to, after all. “Your master isn’t here right now, but it’s our responsibility to take care of you while he’s gone.” She paused, her tone softening. “You’re hurt; these are medics here to help you-“

“That’s Mandalorian-style tattoo work.” Damn, the kid was sharp. He scowled at the trooper closest to him, who had decorated his head with an elaborate mandala pattern – Anakin thought his name was something like Lotus. As all the clone medics were, he had a gentler temperament, which didn’t warrant the dangerous glint in the young padawan’s observant eyes. “Why would Jedi killers want to-“

“We’re Jedi! Look at our sabers.” Ahsoka reached down to her belt, pulling out her shotos. Anakin followed her lead, holding his saber in front of him. He’d forgotten just how perfect it felt in his hand, how the Force sung through him like this. The boy, however, didn’t relax.

“Lightsabers can be bought for a high enough price. Or owned by those who have Fallen. How can I trust you?” He backed up a little, a flicker of desperate hope crossing his face. “That you know my Master?”

Ahsoka glanced up at him, sighing quietly. Despite everything, she would be useless here – she’d only known Qui-Gon from anecdotes and Temple scripture, something that this Obi-Wan would see through in moments. Anakin couldn’t fare much better, with his memories of the wise calm Qui-Gon marred by time and perhaps unwarranted fondness.

The only one who knew anything serious about Qui-Gon was –

No. Thinking about… him… at the moment was like a punch in the throat. Almost on reflex, Anakin reached into his belt again, wanting to run his thumb over the precious gift Obi-Wan had trusted him with all those years ago. It was the only relic Obi-Wan had kept of Qui-Gon, and when he’d pressed it gently into Anakin’s palm on his thirteenth birthday, Anakin had felt so overwhelmed by the love of not one, but two masters. It didn’t matter that it was a little, relatively useless present – it meant the world to Obi-Wan, and it meant the world to Anakin too.

Gently, he pulled the river-stone out of its compartment, and held it out to the boy, whose eyes widened in shock.

“Look. You know what this is, right?” He held the stone higher, so its red ripples shone in the light. It hummed lightly in his palm, sending calming pulses through the room. But the boy looked frantic, patting his hospital gown with one hand as if looking for pockets.

“That’s my river stone.” He insisted, and for a second, Anakin thought he would snatch it out of his hand. But instead, the boy reached down the front of his gown and pulled out a little leather pouch he’d been wearing around his neck. He fumbled with it, eventually managing to tease it open with his spare hand and tip it open. “How did you-” There was a clatter as something dark spilled onto the floor, which the boy quickly scooped up, and held in his hand. It was the same stone, perhaps a little less scuffed, but still with the tell-tale chip in the top. When the boy raised his palm to Anakin’s, the two stones started to levitate of their own accord, and both Jedi snatched them back, tucking them away. “What’s happening?”

‘Trust me, Obi-Wan. Please just trust me on this.’

“You felt that, right – that flicker? That’s our bond.” Doubt still lined the boy’s face, but his shoulders slumped, the muzzle of the gun dropping. Discreetly, Anakin used the Force to turn the safety back on. “Stand down, Padawan. We’re trying to help you.”

It took a few more moments, but eventually Obi-Wan dropped the weapon and sagged down onto the bed, breathing hard. Anakin assumed it was partly because he couldn’t stand much longer; his face was the same off-white tinge as his hospital gown and his knee – his bad knee – looked bruised and swollen from what looked like a break. From this angle, he looked even smaller, wrapping his arms around himself. Despite his best efforts, Anakin could see he was trembling.

“Hey, hey.” Anakin sat down next to the boy, ignoring his slight flinch. “It’s going to be alright. We’ll be back on Coruscant soon, and the Council will be able to answer your questions, I promise. But first, we need to get you feeling better, okay?”

“I’m not an initiate – you don’t need to baby me.” The kid swiped at his cheeks, trying to push back the blush. He stared warily at the troopers, who had only just started to relax. “Are those… those men going to examine me?”

“If you don’t want them here, they won’t stay.” Anakin glanced at the men, who nodded. “But they will be able to help better than I can. I’m only field trained – they’re medics.” He leaned forward, trying to catch a glimpse of the boy’s averted eyes. “I’ll stay with you.”

“Only… only one. Two if you absolutely must.”

“Okay. You just stay there and try not to… break anything.” Ahsoka turned to follow, but Anakin shook his head, nodding at the kid. Ahsoka had always been better at soothing younglings, and besides, he needed to talk to Kix. “Either of you.”

*

Seeing Rex after all this time wasn’t quite the reunion it should have been – there wasn’t time for much more than a pat on the back before he was grilling Rex about their distance from Coruscant, and what to do next. After a few quick words, he and Kix were heading back to the kid’s room, where the rest of the medical troopers were waiting outside, trying not to look nervous.

“He still causing trouble, men?”

“No, sir. Commander Tano managed to get him settled. But whenever we enter, he panics again.”

“He’s feeling crowded – you know what…” Still he couldn’t bring himself to say the name. “… he’s like at the best of times. Turning into a kid again has him freaked out enough. Adding injuries to that… we should keep troopers to a minimum. Kix, you and your best man come with me.” Kix nodded, and evaluated his team, before nodding towards Rex. Anakin let out a sigh of relief – even if Rex wasn’t as medically minded as other troopers, there was no-one better in a crisis.

“How is he, sir?” Rex asked, hesitating even as Kix entered. He could hear mumbling from inside – Ahsoka and the kid talking about something. “The men said he was throwing things. Should I be concerned for the safety of this vessel?

“No, no – he’s no danger. At least not when we’re with him. He’s scared sh*tless; I can feel it in the Force.” Anakin confessed, scrubbing a hand over his face. “You’ve got to be gentle with him, Rex – he’s not himself and-“

“It’s okay, General. I’ve had my fair share of dealing with shinies.” Rex glanced at the glass. “What are we telling him? He must have figured out that-“

“I’ll explain to him once you’ve treated that leg injury. I don’t want to stress him out too much.” He paused, and averted his eyes. “If anyone asks, I’m a Master.”

“And Commander Tano?”

“We’ll talk about Ahsoka when this is over.” The men nodded, and Anakin returned the gesture. “You two have everything you need? Good – let’s get back in there.”

*

“I’m Rex – I’m the Captain of the troopers here on the Truant. You have any questions about us or the ship, you let me know, okay?” Rex hadn’t so much as flinched upon seeing the boy for the first time, and still treated him like the respected general. He was so polite that the boy frowned.

“And I’m Kix, I’m a healer under… Master Skywalker.” Kix hadn’t been much of a liar and Anakin couldn’t blame him for his hesitation. Anakin looked barely old enough to own a pilot’s licence, let alone mastery of the Force. “I’m going to examine you now. If you want me to stop at any point, just say.” The boy nodded, not meeting Kix's eye. “Now, when did you hurt your leg?”

“A few nights ago? I was coming back from the archives late at night and I… I took a fall.” Anakin didn’t trust that pause, but let it slide. The boy winced as Kix brushed his gloved fingers over the bruised flesh. “Is it broken?”

“Could be.” He hummed, and pulled a device out of his belt. “Just let me-“

“What the hell is that?” The kid scrabbled back into Ahsoka’s arms where she held him tight, rubbing little circles into his shoulderblades. Kix stopped, and held the device forward, letting the kid look closer at its workings.

“A biometric scanner. I can hover it over a body part and it lets me see any injuries, infections or foreign bodies that could be causing distress. May I?” The kid shut his eyes as Kix scanned his leg, but opened one eye when nothing painful happened. Kix nodded to himself, and noted something down on his datapad “Yep – you’ve ruptured your patella. You’ll need surgery at some point but for now, some ice, bacta and a splint will help you feel a little better.”

Surprisingly – or perhaps unsurprisingly, considering who he was, the boy shook his head, his braid thumping against his shoulder.

“No bacta – it doesn’t hurt that much.”

“Padawan, if Kix says you need bacta, you’re having bacta. No Force tricks to numb the pain.” Kix raised an eyebrow and turned away, to give them the illusion of privacy. Ahsoka shot Rex a knowing look. Anakin leaned in closer. “Trust me kid – I did the same thing to my knee a few years ago, and I know how much it hurts. Honestly, I’m surprised you can still walk.”

“So am I.” Kix’s voice sounded suspicious, but he didn’t act on it. Instead, he lifted the scanner again. “Any other complaints? Master Skywalker said you had a head injury.”

“He hit his head on a concrete corner.” Anakin winced, remembering all the blood. The wound must have been stitched already, but the kid paled at the mention of it. Or perhaps it was just the scanner again.

“Yep – says here you’ve got a nasty concussion and-“ The medic stopped, frowning down at his device and tapping it with his palm a few times. “I… I’ve never seen that before.”

“What is it?” Anakin sat up, and caught the kid clutching Ahsoka’s hand out of the corner of his eye. Kix huffed and shook the device, but it seemed not to change. When he looked up, his gaze was concerned as it skated over the kid.

“It’s like… like there’s been some liquid injected into his brain – it’s burnt through his memory cortex.”

“My memory? There’s nothing wrong with my memory.” The kid sniffed, trying to straighten up as if that would give him age or authority. He even tried to move off the bed but Ahsoka stopped him. “Look, I’ve tried to be patient but if you’re going to keep- ah!”

At first, Anakin assumed he’d jarred his knee – something he’d done countless times after leg injuries. But the boy lifted his hands to his head, holding on tight to his copper hair. His face screwed up in pain, tears leaking from his eyes as Kix stood forward and took his shoulders in hand.

“Easy, easy. Let’s get you lying down, okay?” With some help from Ahsoka, they eased the kid back against the pillows where he lay, eyes closed. “Is it a migraine?”

“No – I – maybe?” His voice had retreated back into a whisper, and there was something else tucked in there that Anakin couldn’t place. “I feel dizzy.”

“Do you think you’re going to be sick?” Ahsoka glanced at Kix, who produced a plastic bowl out of nowhere and held it out. The kid hesitated, then took it.

“Not sure.” He confessed, pressing it against his stomach and curling up around it. He looked miserable, his face pale from pain and nausea. Without thinking, Anakin stroked back his hair, tucking a stray lock behind the boy’s ear. The kid’s eyes flickered closed, and he gave a happy little hum, which deepened when Anakin sent a healing wave through his fingers.

“How’s that feel, huh?” The kid nodded, settling against the pillows. “Better?”

“Sir, if you can keep him calm and horizontal, then maybe it would be best if he stays awake for now.” Kix glanced down at his scanner as if it were about to bite him. “I’d like some time to study these readings, and maybe take some more before we land.”

“Understood. You do what you need to, Kix.” Kix nodded and both he and Rex exited. Like the excellent Captain he was, Rex waited by the door, guarding them against the rest of the ship. Anakin met Ahsoka’s eye and smiled, before gently shaking the sleepy teen.

“Kid? You still with me?” He asked, voice low. The kid nodded, his face crumpling a little. Anakin wondered whether he should call Kix back, when a droplet of water landed on the sheet, followed by another and another until it became a torrent.

“I’m sorry.” The kid was sobbing, and Anakin could finally understand the shift in his voice. Not only was he holding back whimpers, but his accent had vanished, settling into something softer and more rural. His master had never sounded like that, not even after his worst nightmares. “I’m sorry – I’ve been such a nuisance and –“

“Hey, it’s alright.” Anakin hesitated, then reached out and wrapped his arm around the kid’s shoulder. He was tiny, fragile-boned like a bird, and much much too thin. “This all must seem really strange to you.”

“I started my day in a field and now I’m on a ship.” He whispered into his pillow and Anakin frowned. Ahsoka seemed to pick up on the inconsistency in the kid’s story too, but before they could quiz him, the kid wiped his eyes. “Where am I, Master Skywalker?”

“You really want to know?” Anakin sighed, and let him go, gently turning the kid until he was facing him. The medical lighting made his pale skin drain of any colour it had left. “Twenty years in the future. You had an accident – you fell into a pool of weird liquid and… when I pulled you out, you weren’t my thirty-eight-year-old master. You were-“

The kid blinked, turning his gaze between the two strangers in front of him. Ahsoka reached into a nearby drawer and pulled out the standard-issue calendar she’d had the forethought to hide away, pointing to the date. The kid reached for it, and flipped through the pages, holding them up to the light.

“You know if this is a joke, it’s really not funny.”

“It’s not a joke, little one.” Anakin used the Force to grab a nearby datapad – the look of distaste on the kid’s face was so familiar that Anakin shuddered. Still, he forced himself to get typing, and eventually pulled up the most recent Holonet article about them. By the luck of the stars, they hadn’t figured out Ahsoka was no longer part of their team, and so the photo was slightly older, featuring all three of them debriefing after a mission. “Look.”

“Is that – is that me?” The boy reached up to stroke his jaw, and for the first time Anakin noticed the little dimple on his chin that Master Kenobi had gone to great lengths to cover.

“Yep. And that’s Ahsoka, and that’s me.” Anakin reached down and pointed at a little floating pod on the left of the image. “Look, that’s Master Yoda. He uses a hoverchair now.” The kid blinked, peering closer at the photo. If his opinion had shifted, it didn’t show on his face. “Look, kid, I know this is all a bit difficult to believe but do you think you can hold out until we reach the Temple? Then the Healers can take a good look at you, and we’ll hopefully be able to answer a few more of your questions. Do you think you can trust us for a few hours?”

“A lot can happen in a few hours.” The boy’s eyes were still wary, but he nodded. “I can try. But if I… if I need to leave, swear to me you’ll let me go.”

“We won’t hold you hostage, but you really, really should come with us.” Anakin pleaded, trying not to think about the kid leaving – it made his stomach ache. “And it’s not like you could get that far without credits and with that leg injury.”

"Let there be truth between your heart and the Force.”” The kid’s voice was soft as he recited the old teaching, and Anakin felt his eyes prickle. He remembered Master Kenobi humming such things against his hair on the long nightmare-filled nights of his first month at the temple, rocking him back and forth as he cried himself hoarse. It was how Anakin learned most of the code, wrapped up in those warm strong arms. That voice kept him calm, lingering long into his dreams.

And coming now from this child.

"All else is transitory." " Anakin and Ahsoka spoke together, which made them smile. Neither of them had been scholars, not like Master Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon before him. But they knew their call and responses, and for a moment it felt like they were back in the Temple, sharing lessons in Master Kenobi’s little kitchen as he made tea.

Oh. He should probably get on that – Obi-Wan tended to get cranky if he couldn’t get a cup of tea every few hours. And this kid was probably parched beyond belief.

“Now, is there anything you need? Water, food – I’ll check with Kix that you can eat-“

At the mention of food, the boy stiffened, and Anakin prayed he wouldn’t start arguing again. But before he could open his mouth, the kid’s stomach gave a worryingly loud growl. Cheeks flushing red, he clamped his hands around his waist, as if to stifle the sound.

“Yep, definitely food then. Ahsoka, see if you can –“

“On it, Master.” She nodded, reaching over to squeeze the kid’s shoulder. He was still holding the datapad, but he smiled shyly up at her. “Take it easy, kid. I’ll see you in a little while.” When she was a few steps away from leaving, she nodded to Anakin. “Master, can I speak to you outside for just a second?”

“Of course, Padawan.”

Ahsoka, as soon as he reached her, tugged Anakin into the waiting compartment, not far enough to reach Rex but enough to stay out of the kid’s earshot. They stood together in silence, watching as he toyed with the device.

“What a mess.” She sighed, playing with the end of her lekku like she did when she was nervous.

“You’re telling me.” Anakin nodded, but then turned to her and reached out for her hand. “I’m sorry I dragged you into this – you don’t have to come back to the Temple if-“

“I think you’re going to need all the help you can get with this one.” She nodded to the kid, and then lowered her eyes. “This doesn’t mean I’m not angry at you, or them. I don’t know how long I can stay.” She glanced at Rex, and then back at the glass. “But I’m not going to take our issues out on that kid. He’s been through hell already.”

“Has anyone comm’d the council?” Anakin asked, dreading the thought even though he knew it was crucial. The thought of Mace Windu learning that his esteemed colleague was currently a teenager causing accidental lightshows with a data-pad… He was thankful the man didn’t have any hair because it would have surely been ripped out by now.

“They blocked my frequency, and Rex hasn’t been able to get through.” Ahsoka hid the shame in her voice quite well, but not enough for Anakin to ignore it. “We’re en route to Coruscant, and should be back at the Temple in a few hours’ time, but we need to keep Obi-Wan settled now. Kix says much more strain and… well, the kid can’t take much more.”

“I’ll watch over him.” Anakin vowed, watching his charge fight back a yawn.

His charge, his responsibility. How the hell was he supposed to do this? He’d already f*cked up one padawan, from the tight set of Ahsoka’s shoulders. He’d sworn never to take another, but here he was, with another broken kid on his hands. With his master gone, who was he supposed to ask for-

The weight of his sudden realisation hit Anakin like a sack of bricks.

This is what Obi-Wan had felt like, after Qui-Gon died.

Scared. Overwhelmed. Alone.

“Skyguy?” Ahsoka’s voice cut through his worries, giving his fingers a squeeze. “You okay?”

“I’m fine. It’s just…” Anakin wiped his eyes with his new hand and sighed. The kid looked nervous now, setting the datapad aside to grip nervously at his bedsheets as he waited. “f*ck, he’s so young.”

“He’s going to be okay, Master. We’ll figure this out.” Ahsoka slipped her arm around his waist and pulled him into a full hug. “Together.”

Anakin clutched back, though his heart sank lower than ever. The last time he’d promised someone that… well the results sat in front of them, trying not to cry.

No, there wasn’t time for defeatism now. Obi-Wan needed his help, and he was going to fight with every atom of his being to get him back.

But now, he thought, as he returned and sat by the bed – now he had babysitting to do.

The Jedi Council were never ever going to believe this.

Notes:

Okay so I absolutely didn't intend to crack out this next chapter quite so quickly, but people seemed excited and the idea wouldn't leave me alone! I can't promise updates this swiftly all the time, or updates of this length, but for now let's keep going with it!

Please let me know what you think below, and if there's anyone or anything you'd like to see! I've got some plans for where this is going, but I love getting suggestions!

Next stop: the Jedi Temple!

Take care of yourselves, and trust in the Force :D

Chapter 3

Summary:

“I am Anakin Skywalker, requesting immediate transfer to the Jedi Council. It’s an emergency. Code 275138.” He resisted the urge to twitch.

“It always is with you.” The padawan mumbled, though his eyes widened as he checked his chart of emergency codes. 275138 was a real doozy – serious injury/ailment of an on-duty master. More common with the war, but still worrying. “Patching you through.”

“Skywalker!” Mace’s voice, somehow, remained firm and unimpressed. Anakin swore he could kill a Bantha, bring it back to life, teach it to tapdance and elect it Supreme Chancellor and Mace Windu would still barely twitch his lip.

Except… except now he was gaping, eyes and mouth wide. The other masters matched his expression, some ranging more towards concern, or astonishment. Anakin was pretty sure Adi Gallia fell out of her chair.

For the first time in his fourteen years at the Temple, Anakin Skywalker had rendered the entire Jedi Council speechless.

Anakin informs the council, Vokara Che runs some tests, and the kid finally gets a new name.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

As he sat and waited for the Council to pick up his comm, Anakin wondered precisely how he was going to explain his new little charge.

The kid had calmed down considerably, though his attention certainly flared when Kix brought him a cup of tea and some bread to nibble on. He’d made short work of the food, wolfing it down with a desperation that Anakin had only seen in the slave-pits of Tattooine. When the boy caught him staring, he’d looked away, cheeks flushed with shame.

“Sorry – that was… undignified.” He rubbed his face – with those odd dimples Anakin couldn’t quite reconcile himself with – chasing away the stray crumbs. Ahsoka had nodded at the tray, her eyes pleading with Kix but he shook his head. For medical reasons, Anakin knew the boy couldn’t have much more, just in case it messed with any anaesthetic he needed to have, so he nudged the cup of tea forward without any judging comments.

The warm liquid worked its magic and soon the kid was yawning again, his eyes flickering closed every few seconds before he would sit bolt upright again, blinking hard. After performing a few more scans, Kix had deemed it alright for the boy to sleep away the rest of the flight. Anakin knew there was cause for concern when the kid didn’t even argue, curling up on the bed and drifting off the second his head hit the pillow.

Ahsoka had volunteered to keep an eye on the kid as he slept, and with Kix nearby to see to any medical emergencies, Anakin felt comfortable enough to slip into an empty room of the ship to comm the Council. He barely had time to think about how he would begin, when he was met by a sour-faced senior padawan scowling at him. It was rare to find someone not awed by the majesty of his great reputation, so Anakin had respect for the grumpier individuals he encountered, but he didn’t have time for such appreciations with the kid around.

“The Jedi Council is in session and will not be taking any messages at this time. Do you need me to organise a meeting for you or –“ He chanted out, tone flat. Anakin sighed, and tried to use his best “Chosen One” voice. All it usually achieved was making Obi-Wan click his tongue and Ahsoka roll her eyes, but it tended to work on others.

“I am Anakin Skywalker, requesting immediate transfer to the Jedi Council. It’s an emergency. Code 275138.” He resisted the urge to twitch.

“It always is with you.” The padawan mumbled, though his eyes widened as he checked his chart of emergency codes. 275138 was a real doozy – serious injury/ailment of an on-duty master. More common with the war, but still worrying. “Patching you through.”

“Skywalker!” Mace’s voice, somehow, remained firm and unimpressed. Anakin swore he could kill a Bantha, bring it back to life, teach it to tapdance and elect it Supreme Chancellor and Mace Windu would still barely twitch his lip.

Except… except now he was gaping, eyes and mouth wide. The other masters matched his expression, some ranging more towards concern, or astonishment. Anakin was pretty sure Adi Gallia fell out of her chair.

For the first time in his fourteen years at the Temple, Anakin Skywalker had rendered the entire Jedi Council speechless.

“Is this some sort of transmission error?” Master Fisto asked after a few moments of stunned silence. “A problem with our projector or-“

“No Masters. We ran into some difficulties on our rescue mission.” In any other situation, Anakin would have laughed at their shocked faces. Now it made his stomach squeeze and he swallowed hard.

“Do you have the Chancellor?” Recovering his composure (and his scowl), Mace Windu frowned at him.

“No – Dooku stole him away again.” Anakin sighed at the disappointment rippling through the room. Pleasing them should have been a Trial all on its own – one he had never managed to pass. “I’m not sure exactly what he was using but… somehow Dooku had found a way of making himself young again.” The Council didn’t gasp, but he could see their frowns deepening and the concern rippled off their bodies, even in hologram form. “There was a pool of liquid that I’m fairly sure was the source, but I’m not sure what it was. Dooku used it on himself and the Chancellor – I think it might have been an intimidation technique in order to weaken Palpatine’s political and physical strength.”

“Where are they now?”

“I don’t know. We lost them after…” He swallowed, the roof of his mouth uncomfortably dry. “After Obi-Wan fell in the pool.”

“Hurt, Master Kenobi is.” Yoda, who had been silent up to this point, stroked a claw across his chin. “Clouded, his force signature has become.”

“He’s got a few injuries, Masters, but nothing life threatening.” Anakin watched the tension ease from some of the Council member’s shoulders. “It’s just… well…”

“Spit it out, Skywalker.” Quinlan Vos, who was stood in the centre of the room looking decidedly unrelaxed, crossed his arms.

“He’s younger than me.” He paused and flexed his fingers. It still felt bizarre. “Younger than I’ve ever known him.”

“An infant, he is?” Yoda asked, co*cking his head to one side. “Or older?”

“Older – maybe fifteen, sixteen.” Anakin thought back to the boy in the bed; he was really quite small, in height and weight. Could he be younger? Maybe, but his brain seemed particularly sharp. Knowing Obi-Wan, he could be a toddler and still able to cite the Galatic Code. “And… and he doesn’t remember anything beyond that age. He didn’t recognise me, or Ahsoka, or Rex. He doesn’t know what’s going on.”

“Concerning, this is, very concerning.” Yoda hummed. “Return, you will, to Coruscant?”

“We’re on our way, Master Yoda. Ahsoka assures me we’ll be landing soon.” Anakin winced the second the words were out of his mouth, as various members of the council scowled.

“Ahsoka… Tano?” Mace asked, barely hiding his scorn. “What are you doing together?”

“She received our distress call and rescued us. We’re on her ship now.”

“Concerning, very concerning.” Yoda repeated, though it was difficult to tell if his issue was with the kid or Ahsoka. “See us, you will, upon landing. A representative, we will send.” The old Jedi glanced down at the map he and the other council members had been studying before the call. “Difficulties to the war effort, this issue presents.”

“With all due respect, Masters, I’m taking…” Why was he still hesitating to call the kid his Master’s name? Something about it felt wrong. The name, if names could feel such a way, was almost heavy in his mouth. “I’m taking Obi-Wan to medical first. His injuries – his condition – what if it worsens?”

“Are you arguing with the judgement of the Council?” Mace bristled.

“Masters please.” A soothing voice filled the call and Anakin relaxed; only Depa could soothe Windu’s wounded pride, and he smiled at her in thanks. “Anakin is clearly concerned for his master – that is not unreasonable.” She turned to him directly, eyes kind. “Will attending to medical needs soothe your concerns, Knight Skywalker?”

“Yes, Master Bilaba.” He nodded his head. “And it may save Obi-Wan’s life.”

“Then you must go.” Mace relented after a nudge in the ribs from his padawan.

“Land then – a platform, we shall vacate.” Yoda agreed, stroking his chin again. “A representative, we will send. From the Council, and the Halls of Healing.”

“Yes Masters. Thank you for your time.” Sensing his time was up, he quickly signed off and disconnected, taking a deep breath. Part of him had wanted to start screaming whenever the Council questioned his logic or judgement or – for Force’s sake, they still had a vendetta against Ahsoka and she’d been proven innocent.

But as much as his rage pooled, there was a little voice still niggled in his head, raising its eyebrows and crossing its legs in different ways to code to Anakin precisely how much trouble he was in.

No – Anakin couldn’t think about him now. He had to get back to the boy.

*

When Anakin returned to the med-bay, the kid was sat up, looking a little brighter. Ahsoka had dug out a set of cards from somewhere, and the two were engaged in a healthy game of sabacc. Despite everything, it looked like Obi-Wan was winning.

“Hey Skyguy.” She asked, setting down her hand. “Everything go okay with the Council?”

“They want to see us both, but I said the kid needs medical attention first. They weren’t best pleased but Depa talked them down.” Anakin rolled his shoulders, trying to work out his excess tension. Ahsoka too was frowning but softened when the kid tapped her hand.

“Depa? Depa Billaba?” He asked, confusion written all over his pale face. “But she’s a padawan.”

“Not anymore, kid.” Anakin found himself smiling. It dropped away thought as he though harder. This kid, despite his fighting behaviour, was pretty innocent. His Master was pretty reticent about his apprenticeship, but he’d never mentioned being involved in an intergalactic war as a kid. “Look, when we get back to the Temple, you’re going to realise a lot of things have changed. People are older.” He paused, swallowing. “People are gone.” The kid blinked, glancing between him and Ahsoka. “Are you going to be able to handle it?”

To his credit, the kid didn’t answer immediately, with some bullsh*t brave response. Anakin knew he would have – he’d have been insulted that someone would question his abilities. The kid certainly didn’t look happy when he spoke again, but his face was as serene as worried could get.

“We are all one in the Force.”

It was a typical philosophical answer that said everything and answered nothing. Anakin wanted to keep pushing, but Rex entered the med-bay. The kid still stiffened, but didn’t threaten a fight.

“General, we are beginning our descent.”

“Thank you, Rex.” Anakin turned back to his friends, and saw another body trundling towards him, shining in the light. R2 reached out with his zapper and gave his leg a tiny poke. Much nicer than he could have been, but still disgruntled. The kid was stunned.

“Master Skywalker, that R2 unit seems unusually interested in you.” He peered closer, bright eyes curious.

“Oh yeah – R2!” Anakin reached down, and patted R2’s side, generating a grumpy whistle. “Sorry buddy – it’s been a hell of a few hours. I’ll give you an oil-bath to make up for it.” There was a string of beeps, and then R2 swivelled his dome. “Come and meet ...” Anakin paused, the name still not coming. Luckily, R2 finished the sentence with his own chattering. “This is my droid R2-D2; he accompanies me in battle and on my duties.”

“Oh… Hello… droid.” The kid, bless his heart, held out a palm as if to shake hands. R2, chuckling electronically, gave it a light tap with his zapper.

“We call him Artooie.” Ahsoka replied, running a palm over R2’s dome. “Hey bud – sorry we’ve been ignoring you. But the Masters got themselves into another scrape and needed our attention for a while.”

“01010100 01100101 01101100 01101100 00100000 01101101 01100101 00100000 01110011 01101111 01101101 01100101 01110100 01101000 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01001001 00100000 01100100 01101111 01101110 00100111 01110100 00100000 01101011 01101110 01101111 01110111 00100000.”

“Hey, no need for sass-mouthing.” Anakin chuckled, seeing the kid’s surprise at his knowledge of binary. Even Master Kenobi, famed linguist, had never been able to master droid-speak. “’Soka, pack those cards up. Kid, you’re with me.”

“I can walk!” He insisted stiffly.

“If you can make it over here without stumbling, I’ll let you walk off this ship.” Anakin folded his arms, but it was apparently the wrong thing to say. Jaw clenching, the boy clambered to his feet, using the bedpost as a support. He made it about halfway, step by agonising step, before his injured knee buckled, and he collapsed into Ahsoka’s arms. Anakin stepped forward and swept him up in a typical bridal hold, taking care not to squish his lower legs.

“I wasn’t actually expecting you to try, kid.”

“Then why did you-“ The boy blinked up at him, genuine confusion in his face. Anakin resisted the urge to hug him harder.

“Never mind.” He replied, instead. “If I carry you like this, are you okay until we get to the chambers? Or should I try a different hold?”

“It’s… fine…” The kid seemed almost lulled by Anakin’s presence, resting his head on Anakin’s chest and breathing deeply. He seemed to struggle keeping his eyes open.

“He’s been like this a lot – perky one minute, sleepy the next.” Ahsoka frowned, stroking R2 to keep her fingers busy. “Kix can’t figure it out.”

“Hopefully Healer Che can.” Anakin gave her shoulder a pat, and started to walk. “Come on – time to go.”

*

The landing platform was quieter than Anakin had expected; in truth, he’d assumed it would be packed out with masters of all types coming to gawk at the Dynamic Duo in baby form, but only two stood waiting for them. Anakin’s heart lifted when he saw neither were humanoid, but had matching orangey skin.

“Master Koon, Healer Eerin.” He bowed as much as he could whilst still holding Obi-Wan. “Man, am I glad to see you.”

“Master Yoda thought it would be best to send out a familiar welcoming party for… for young Obi Wan.” Plo Koon’s voice bubbled through his mask, hiding what Anakin assumed was a fond smile. “How is he?”

“In a lot of pain, though he won’t admit it. The substance we fell in was pretty acidic so he’s got burns all over though we managed to calm them somewhat. He’s also got a leg injury and a headache we can’t shake.”

“Sounds like classic Obi – why have one injury when you can have fifteen?” Bant sighed, pressing a webbed hand to the boy’s forehead too. “And feverish too. Healer Che should see him immediately.” She glanced up at him, her silver eyes flashing. “You too, Skywalker. We need to get you scanned and treated too. The Council will want to see you, but we can keep them at bay for a few hours on medical grounds.” Her gills contracted, and if she could blush, she would be. “Apologies, Master Koon.”

“None needed, Healer Eerin.” Master Plo replied, eyes focused on the child. “I do believe our esteemed guest is waking.” He leaned closer, keeping his expression calm. “Obi-Wan? Can you hear me?”

“M’ster… Master Plo?” The kid blinked his eyes open, squinting up at his new companions. Cradled in Anakin’s arms, he looked every part the helpless baby that Anakin knew his master would hate being considered as. But he couldn’t help it – especially when he raised one fist to rub at his sleep-crusted eyes. “Master, I had the strangest dream.”

“Not a dream, kiddo.” Anakin leaned in too, and watched the confusion flicker over the boy’s face, before it settled into understanding. “How are you feeling?”

“Hurts.” He mumbled, wincing as Bant pressed close to his knee.

“I’m sure it does – I remember how much you whined about this the first time.” She chuckled. The kid’s eyes widened, and he tried to sit up, but Anakin held him tighter.

“B-Bant?” He stopped struggling and watched as she came closer to his face. Gently, he reached out with one hand and brushed against her shoulder. Bant reached up and cradled his fingers in her own.

“Hey, Obi.”

“You weren’t joking.” The kid whispered, glancing at the three faces with awe. “We really are in the future.”

“From a certain point of view.” Master Plo’s face creased again, and he took a step back to allow Anakin to move through. “Now, little one, would you prefer to be carried as you are to the Healer’s Ward, or would you like us to use the stretcher?” He glanced down at their feet, where a porta-stretch had been folded up. The kid shook his head, clinging tighter to Anakin’s robes.

“Like this.” He stopped, and released his fingers a little, swallowing. “If that’s-“

“Of course, Padawan.” Anakin let his voice drop into a softer tone, which made the boy relax against him. “Let me know if I’m jostling you too much.”

*

“And here I was thinking I would get through one week of my professional career without a visit from Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Vokara Che sighed, but her smile was fond. She even spared a little wave to R2, who had paused outside the doorway. Droids weren’t allowed in the med-bay to protect the equipment, and it wasn’t until Anakin gave him orders to return to their rooms did he trundle off, whistling as he went. “Place him on the bed, Skywalker. Now, what seems to be the problem?”

“Well-“

“Besides the obvious, Skywalker. That will require scans and blood-tests. But I was told he has other injuries.” The Twi’lek’s clever eyes watched as the kid winced upon being placed down.

“Minor burns all over – we think we’ve pretty much treated them, but you might want to check for infection. A headwound.” Anakin gently eased the boy’s head so it was resting comfortably on the pillow. “And damage to his knee; Kix said he-“

“Ruptured his patella, yes.” The woman’s response was brisk, and she ran her fingers over the boy’s body. “Use of bacta patches is good in a pinch, but I’d like him submerged. Though I sense that will not be possible for at least a few days.” She sounded unimpressed, which made the boy bite at his lip. “I’ll splint the knee and keep an eye on it until after the Council decide what their plan is.”

“And the headwound?”

“Ah yes.” She turned her gaze upward, and gently probed at the site, stopping when the boy hissed in pain. “We’ll need to scan him, but the early results seem like it’s only a surface injury. The blood loss may have contributed to the headache more than the knock. Have you been eating, little one?”

“M-Master Skywalker gave me some bread.” He stammered, twisting his fingers. Now, in the familiar but unfamiliar temple, his bravery had whittled down into quiet resolve and thrumming nerves. Anakin could feel it through his bond. “But I wasn’t allowed anymore, just in case I needed surgery.”

“At least you’ve been listening in the countless lessons I have given you, Skywalker.” Healer Che smirked. “But seeing as you won’t be having surgery any time soon, I suggest we get a proper meal in you, and then some stronger painkillers. Did you give him a hypo?”

“No, Healer Che – only some brufine tablets. One dose when he first woke and more just before we landed.” The kid nodded, though he winced at the pain in his head.

“And are you in a lot of pain now, child?”

“Twinges. I’ll survive.” He smiled grimly, but sat up straighter.

“Understood.” Healer Che nodded, then turned to Bant with a knowing look. “He’s in agony – give him root of lavescoe.”

“What? I’m not-“ The kid began to argue, but yelped as he jarred his knee with moving. It took the calming hands of Master Plo on his shoulders to settle him down.

“I have learned to speak your language, little one – before, it seems, you have learned to speak it.” Healer Che glanced at Master Plo, who also nodded. “If you truly felt well, you wouldn’t have even mentioned it.”

“Healer Che is never wrong, it seems.” The Kel Dor Master chuckled, laughter bubbling through his mask.

“While that’s kicking in, and we see to food for you both, I’d like to get a few readings, Skywalker. We’ll treat you as a baseline on which to measure Kenobi. It won’t be long – blood tests, a quick brain-scan, mouth swabs.” She paused, and wrinkled her nose. “And a shower.”

“You might want to do a dexterity test too, Healer.” He raised his hand and wiggled his fingers, watching her eyes widen in barely concealed fascination.

“Is that –“ He nodded, and her Force signature shone. “How extraordinary. We shall test that too!” She turned away, muttering something to Bant. Anakin turned to walk away, but felt the kid wriggling uncomfortably, both in his bed and his mind. When he looked down, the kid’s eyes were wide and shiny.

“Hey, it’s alright kid. I’ll be back in a little while.” He reached down and squeezed his hand. “Try and relax.”

“I will stay with Obi-Wan.” Master Plo’s voice was soft, and Ahsoka nodded her own agreement. “Get yourself seen to, Skywalker. You will need all your strength to face the Council.”

*

Vokara Che’s tests certainly were an experience, Anakin thought as he stretched out his hand. She’d been almost as exacting as a battle as she’d taken his blood and measured every inch of his body, studying his hand and face and breathing. He almost hoped she’d be gentler with the kid, but doubted it. He wouldn’t be able to see, as the Council had summoned him and Ahsoka moments after he’d finished proving to Healer Che that he could still touch his toes.

Anakin hated Council meetings. The room, though beautiful, was always cold from the large windows, and he found himself getting distracted by all the passing traffic. His concentration was even worse though, as he found himself staring at Obi-Wan’s empty chair. God, what Anakin would do to have him hear, smirking and rubbing his beard. Even a disapproving shake of the head would be appreciated.

His stomach clenched as he forced himself to look at Yoda.

“Skywalker. Much trouble you have found yourself in. Again.” Usually, the old troll would lace his words with fondness, but this was a cold opener. “Responding to treatment, Master Kenobi is?”

“He seems to be doing okay, Healer Che is running a few tests now.” Anakin decided to be as direct as possible, to match the Council blow by blow. “His memories match his age. He didn’t recognise me, or Ahsoka.”

“Ah yes, Commander Tano.” Mace raised an unforgiving eyebrow. “What brings you to the Temple?”

“Anakin comm’d for assistance – he must have hit my frequency instead of yours by accident.” Ahsoka replied snippily, folding her arms. Anakin couldn’t blame her – if he felt uncomfortable, she probably felt maniacal. “Guess it’s time I excused myself.”

“Ahsoka, stay exactly where you are.” He ordered, and saw the surprise on everyone’s face, including Ahsoka’s. “She helped us – she didn’t need to but she saved our ass, and after all you’ve done, I think maybe you could at least thank her.”

They were going to get kicked out, they were absolutely going to get kicked out now. What would they do? Would they have to leave the kid behind? What about getting Obi-Wan back? How would they-

“A stressful time this is, for us all.” Yoda conceded, the tips of his ears twitching down in sorrow. “Thank you, The Council does.”

“Thank you, Master Yoda.” She nodded, more grateful than Anakin expected. He wanted to reach down and squeeze her hand, but forced himself to stay still.

“Will you allow Ahsoka to stay for a few days?” Anakin asked. “The k - Obi-Wan trusts her.”

“Our guest, Commander Tano must be.” Yoda nodded sagely. “Sleep in your quarters, she shall.”

“When shall we visit Obi-Wan?” Shak Tii asked, her musical voice soothing.

“As soon as possible.” Mace insisted, but Anakin shook his head.

“I wouldn’t recommend that, Masters.” They turned to him, looking unimpressed. “You won’t get much out of him after Healer Che’s tests. He was already exhausted when he arrived, and he’ll be even more so now.” He thought back to the kid’s worn face when he collapsed onto the bed for the first time. “He needs rest, before you start questioning him.”

“The Council will make its own decision on that, Skywalker.” Mace sniffed.

After no-one else spoke, Ahsoka and Anakin both thanked the Council and left, waiting until after they’d left the esteemed halls to start grumbling.

“Arrogant pricks.” Ahsoka growled, as they walked back to the medical bay. “How do you put up with it? Why do you put up with it?” She paused, and stared at him. “You’re the Chosen One, and they treat you like some youngling.”

“They’ve never liked me, ‘Soka. Not even when I was a youngling.”

“Then why not-“

“I can’t.” His voice stopped her short. “The Jedi is my life, Ahsoka. I have to be here.” They stared at each other for a moment, before Anakin forced a grin. He hoped it didn’t look as fake as it felt. “Besides, if this is the sort of trouble Obi-Wan gets himself into when I’m around, imagine how bad it would get if I weren’t here.”

“Cody would have a heart attack.” Ahsoka admitted, but still frowned. God, they hadn’t even thought about telling the 212th – what would happen to them? As he dreamed, Ahsoka tugged on his wrist. “But Skyguy… you can’t just live for Obi-Wan. That’s not fair.”

“Why not?” He frowned, confused. “He did it for me when I was his padawan.”

“Exactly.” Ahsoka’s voice was laced with a worry he didn’t understand, but he let her wrap herself around his waist for a moment, before they returned to the medical bay.

*

“Master Che?” Anakin ducked his head into an office he’d never seen before. Ahsoka had been left with the kid and Plo, whilst Bant had lead him to Vokara. He hoped it wasn’t more tests. He was tired and hungry, and he wanted to check on the kid. “You wanted to see me?”

“And yes, Anakin. Come in.” Using the Force, she pulled up a chair and he sat down, feeling a twinge in his back. “If you don’t mind, I need to run a few questions by you about precisely what you saw and felt on the Invisible Hand. Nothing too personal – I just need to know how you and the others interacted with the liquid.”

“Go ahead.”

“Right.” She nodded, and set down her papers to watch him carefully. “So you said to the Council that you only briefly touched the liquid, in order to rescue Master Kenobi, correct?” Anakin nodded, and she pulled a pad out, taking notes. “But he was fully submerged, and remained that way for quite some time, yes?”

“Right.”

“What about Dooku and the Chancellor? How much younger did they both appear?”

“Well, both had colour to their hair which I’ve never really seen before.” Anakin mused; even on Naboo, Palpatine had seemed elderly and statesmanlike. Like he was Chancellor long before his time. “Maybe both in their forties?” He thought about the jet black tone of Dooku’s hair. “Early forties.”

“That’s a lot of time to regress – more than either you or your master.” Healer Che wrote fast, but neatly. “And did you see either of them touch the liquid?”

“Dooku, no, other than to dunk the Chancellor.” He swallowed, trying not to relive the Chancellor’s screams. “It was like waterboarding – he’d put him in for maybe five seconds at a time and pull him out again.”

“But brief, you say?” Vokara looked up from her pad, as if searching for a pattern, then turned back to watch Anakin’s face. Her gaze was analysing, but didn’t feel as cold as Windu’s. The silence stretched longer than Anakin liked, but he couldn’t bring himself to break it.

“Remarkable, truly remarkable.” She mumbled to herself, pulling out two chunky medical forms. “I mean, obviously this is a dangerous piece of weaponry in the wrong hands, but… not only are you younger, but it appears your bodies have reverted to their precise younger selves. No scars or signs of wear since the ages you have settled on – and what injuries you have are identical to those captured in your earlier medical files.” She flicked it open to Anakin’s nineteen-year-old entry. The face he’d seen in the mirror earlier glowered up at him. “It’s as if you’ve been plucked from the past and placed here.”

“Except I’ve got all my memories. Or most of them, at least.” He was still a little fuzzy in patches; her test had proved that, but for the most part, it was sound. “And Dooku and the Chancellor seemed to keep theirs too – Palpatine could recognise adult me even in his younger form, and Dooku knew me too.” He swallowed. “So why can’t Obi-Wan?”

“My initial thoughts were the head injury causing a form of amnesia but seeing his scans, I can’t quite settle on that idea.” She pursed her lips and leaned closer. “How did it feel – the changing? Was it just pain in your body or-“

“My thoughts did go fuzzy for a little while. It felt like someone was in my head, trying to yank my memories out.”

“But you fought back – how?” The pad returned, as did the scribbling. Anakin tried not to wriggle.

“I focused on Obi-Wan. I guess I remembered him as his current self so… so maybe that kept my brain in its current state.” He shrugged when she raised an eyebrow.

“Perhaps – and Obi-Wan was unconscious so it could be that his memories were more easily stolen away. That or increased exposure to the liquid causes memory-altering side effects.” She glanced down at her notes again, expression uncertain. “I shall have to make more enquiries, but we will find an explanation for this.” Gently, she reached across the desk and took his hand. “And if at all possible, we shall bring your master home.”

“Focus on the kid first.” He replied, gruffer than he intended. “What did you find during his scans?”

“He’s even more curious than you are. Based on his current injuries – minus the head wound, of course – I can pinpoint his age to exactly 16 and 7 months; New Aposolon took its toll and both Padawan Kenobi and Master Qui-Gon, and the injuries he received on that mission are in the newly healed stage of recovery.” Her expression twisted a little. “That knee has always been a mystery but hopefully this time we can set it properly so it no longer causes him any pain.”

“He said he took a fall after visiting the Archives.” Anakin offered, but she didn’t look convinced.

“Possible – the only record I have of it was him arriving several days after it had been broken with no explanation on how the original injury occurred. He’d done some damage to it before on New Aposolon but that was a sprain, not a break.”

“Anything to explain the tiredness?” He asked, thinking of the child cradled in his arms.

“Well, I don’t think hurtling twenty years into the future would make any of us particularly perky.” She replied, and at any other time, he would have laughed. “Could be the medication – Master Kenobi tends to stay away from inorganic painkillers as they make him drowsy. Could be the stress – could be anything at this point.”

She paused, and flipped open Obi-Wan’s file. It was even thicker than his own, which was no surprise considering their difference in age. But many different coloured tags were used, and Anakin dreaded to think of all the injuries and illnesses they represented. Obi-Wan always seemed so careful, but his file clearly indicated otherwise.

“Obi-Wan is also noticeably underweight – consistent with the reports from the time, but certainly concerning. Bloodwork reveals he’s anaemic too, which isn’t a surprise. We shall have to modify him a vitamin-rich and high calorie diet, especially if you two are going to be training and travelling. That will not be easy.” She sighed and Anakin wanted to join her. Obi-Wan was the first to give away his rations, or skip meals to make sure others were eating. Even during rest periods, he was often so caught up in his work that he would miss whole days of meals, having to be dragged to dinner when he or Ahsoka found him pale and trembling at his desk.

“Training?” Anakin’s brain backtracked to her last sentence and he frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Well, far be it from me to override whatever the Council instructs but…” She didn’t sound pleased, but stopped herself, fingers trailing over the files. “You are still needed for the war effort. Though you are not quite your more experienced selves, both you and Master Kenobi are still fit and healthy, highly trained in saber combat and good strategists. I can’t see the Council denying your skillsets in this time of great need.”

“He can’t fight – he’s just a kid.” Anakin insisted, turning to see the boy on the bed, chatting quietly to Master Plo. “He doesn’t even know there’s a war.”

“Padawans younger than him have seen combat.” Healer Che’s eyes followed his, settling instead on Ahsoka. “I suggest you let the Council break the news to him. He cannot stay ignorant forever, but…” She stopped, and looked at her file, then at the child. “Perhaps let him have one more day of rest before launching him into this conflict.”

*

They managed about four hours before the Council barged in.

The kid was in one of his sleepy stages again, but Anakin felt less worried, considering he could see the remnants of their shared meal resting nearby, waiting to be cleared away. The kid had been quick with his food again, which he and Healer Che had noted with concern, but the food seemed to satisfy him and he didn’t ask for any more. After a little conversation, the kid had just dropped into a doze when Mace Windu appeared in a nearby doorway, only just held back by the Twi’lek healer.

“We apologise, Healer Che, but we really must see Kenobi.” His voice was toneless, but he kept his eyes fixed away from the child. “It’s a matter of great urgency for the war.”

“Unless you are asking for a padawan’s report on the First Galatic Conquest, I don’t see to what extent an exhausted child who is missing twenty years of his memory will be able to help.” She leaned in closer. “Skywalker has not told him of the war, and neither have I.”

“Do you think he is too fragile to deal with the information?” Master Windu asked, pulling himself up to his full height. “War is a reality we all have to face, and keeping it from him will only strengthen any paranoia he has that we are lying to him.”

The Healer frowned, but moved aside. Behind Windu trailed in Yoda, looking meditative, and Quinlan Vos, smirking.

“You will be discreet. You will be sparing with details. And you will be no more than fifteen minutes.” Healer Che set her hands on her hips. “If he becomes distressed or unwell, you will leave immediately and shall not return until I authorise it.”

“Knight Skywalker – representatives from the council are here.” Her tone was light, but Anakin could feel the displeasure rippling off her. The kid moved in his sleep, expression creasing.

“But he’s –“ He tried to argue but the council paused. For the second time that day, Master Windu looked stunned.

“Stars above.” His words trickled out eventually.

“f*ck me, he’s small.” Quinlan leaned in close, a vulnerability trickling into his eyes. “Maybe he is too young to remember me – we didn’t meet properly until the Stark Hyperspace War and –“

“M’st’r?” Anakin wanted to scowl; the kid had been peaceful before the herd of Masters had come thumping in. “Where-“

“Padawan Kenobi.” Mace quickly averted his eyes, focusing instead on the Kel Dor by his side. “Apologies for the interruption, but there are things we as the Council need to discuss with you.”

“Ah… yes…” The kid frowned, blinking. He glanced at Master Plo, then at his guests, and sat up straighter. “Proceed, Master Windu.”

“Your knowledge of current affairs needs some updating but our intel suggests-”

“Give the kid a minute to wake up, will you Windu?” Quinlan pushed forward and knelt by the kid’s bedside. His voice was soft, and he held up one of his dreadlocks so the gold glinted in the light. “Hey, shortie. Remember me?”

“Qui-Quinlan?” The kid blinked in surprise, then leaned forward, voice barely a whisper. “Are you on the Jedi Council?”

“Not a chance, kid.” Quinlan chuckled. “Skywalker’s distress call interrupted my debriefing with the Council, and well –“ He ruffled his hand over the kid’s auburn hair. Anakin winced at the thought of the kid’s head injury, but he didn’t argue. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world. How are you feeling?”

“Master Vos, this is not the time for pleasantries.” Mace snapped, causing all heads to turn back to him. “Master Kenobi, do you have any knowledge of the current state of the Galaxy?”

“The last thing I recall is some debate over the Hyperspace Corridor but…” The kid’s voice was prim and proper, back to his Coruscanti accent. “I sense that is not what you mean.”

“We are at war, Master Kenobi.” He had shifted his gaze to somewhere just above the kid’s shoulder, not looking him in the eye. “A faction known as the Separatists have emerged threatening to divide Core Worlds from –“

“Master Windu, I do not wish to be presumptive but-“ Anakin was stunned that the kid’s voice slipped out, but it did. “Perhaps it is best if you spare me any politically significant details until I have finished my current course of treatment.” He glanced at Vokara Che, who was smiling through her surprise. “I confess I do not remember anything you are mentioning, and we do not wish to compromise my memory or the validity of any further tests I need to be subject to.”

“Spoken wisely, you have.” Yoda, still in his hoverchair, floated closer. A hint of delight crossed the boy’s face. All younglings loved Yoda.

“Master Yoda!” His glee was dampened by a frown as his eyes flickered over Yoda’s white hair.

“Surprised you are, to see such age on my face.” Yoda chuckled. “Surprised am I, to see such youth on yours.” He reached out, and stroked a claw over the boy’s face, careful not to nick him. “Healer Che – to test him further, you require?”

“I would like to repeat my previous work tomorrow morning, after a full night of rest. It would help me determine how permanent Padawan Kenobi’s memory loss is likely to be.”

“Then tomorrow afternoon, reconvene the council shall.” The grandmaster nodded, patting the boy’s cheek again. “Rest, young Obi-Wan shall need, if answers we are to find.”

“Master Kenobi, Padawan Kenobi, Young Obi-Wan, Old Obi-Wan - I don’t know about all you grandmasters, but I’m getting confused.” Quinlan flicked his hair, looking calmer than Anakin sensed him to be. “Is there anything else we can call you, kid? To make things easier in the meantime.” His eyes sparkled. “That or we could start calling this kid No-bi-Wan. Or Baby-Wan.”

“Ben.” The answer came quickly, too quickly. “It’s the name Master Qui-Gon and I have always used for undercover missions.” He explained, then swallowed. “Where-where is Master Qui-Gon?”

“Away from the Temple at present, and unable to return.” Anakin replied quickly, glaring at Windu before he could respond. “We’ll talk about him tomorrow.”

“But-“ The kid looked uncertain, but Ahsoka patted his hand.

“Tomorrow, Ben.” She promised, and he eased. “Remember what you said about compromising your tests.”

“Yes, Masters.” Anakin had hoped that would be the end of the conversation, but he could see the curiosity building in the kid’s eyes. “So this… war.” He still tripped up on the word. “How big is it? A few star systems close to the Core?”

“It’s everywhere.” Mace said dryly and Anakin winced. Obviously, the threat was very great and the Jedi didn’t tend to mince words, even with padawans, but that seemed harsh. “Which is why we need you up and running as soon as possible.”

“E-everywhere?” The kid stammered, face paling at an alarming rate. “What-what am I supposed to do about an everywhere war?”

“Fight in it.” Mace replied briskly even as the kid started clutching at his bedsheets. “You’re one of our best – our High General. You liaise between our army and the Council and-“

“Master Windu-“ Ahsoka had her eyes fixed on the kid, who had gone from white to grey in a matter of seconds.

“-are responsible for battle strategy across the galaxy and-“ The older Master blathered on, looking serene and focused. The kid was wheezing now, eyes flickered around the room.

“Mace, you really should-“ Plo’s voice was stern but muffled behind his mask, so Mace kept talking. He still stared forward, only glancing out of the corner of his eye at the kid.

“- with the assistance of Knight Skywalker and-“ That was the final straw for the kid, who closed his eyes, raising his hands so one curled into his neckline of his robe, and the other fisted into his hair, pulling tight. Around him, cups and plates began to hover as he croaked and whimpered.

“STOP IT!” Anakin yelled, pushing Mace aside. The kid, assuming the order was to him, froze, eyes wide. Around him, everything clattered to the ground, smashing everywhere. His breathing stopped its dreaded lurching, but fell completely silent, almost as if he were choking. Anakin stroked his shoulders. “Hey, hey, hey. Relax kid. Just relax. It’s alright. Nothing’s going to-“

“I told you not to upset him!” Vokara Che all but roared, striding forward and separating master from student. In one smooth move, she pressed her hand against his forehead and the kid fell back onto the sheets, breathing heavily. With her eyes flashing, she turned to the cluster around the bed. God, there were so many people – no wonder the kid had flipped. “Out – all of you! Now!”

In shamefaced silence, the Council and other guests slipped out of the room, just as Vokara Che slid a curtain around the kid’s bed.

“Hey!” Anakin grabbed Mace’s shoulder and turned him around. “If you’re going to dump all that sh*t on the kid, the least you can do is look at him.”

“He is… difficult to look at, at the current moment.” Mace admitted, voice uncharacteristically shaky. “The shatterpoints around him are confused and conflicting. It’s like staring at a supernova.” If there was any further hint of vulnerability in Mace, it fled as he straightened up. “The Council will meet tomorrow to discuss his future. We are relying on you to act as his interpreter in these confusing times.” With a flick of his eyes, he gave Ahsoka a slight nod. “Commander Tano should also attend.”

With that, Mace and the rest of the Council - including a reluctant Plo - turned and walked away from the Healing Halls. Only Master Yoda lingered, watching from his holochair as Master Che’s silhouette worked behind the curtain.

“Unpredictable, the Force is, but never wrong.” He stroked his chin for a final time, before following the rest of the Council. His croaky voice echoed down the corridor, leaving Ahsoka and Anakin baffled. His words, however, rang with truth.

“Much we have to learn, through the wisdom of children.”

*

“We had to give him a sleep suggestion.” Vokara Che’s tone was apologetic when she finally allowed Anakin and Ahsoka back in after a few minutes. Her expression was still stern, but she softened around them. “I understand it is… distressing to see him in that state, but I’m sure it will not last long. When he is given all the information, he will settle.”

“If that’s how he responds to finding out about his role in the war, I’m worried about how he’ll take learning about Qui Gon.” Ahsoka confessed, looking at the curtain. Her lekku twitched. “They were close, weren’t they?”

“In the end.” Che replied cryptically, before laying a hand on Anakin’s arm. “He will be well, Skywalker. And if he is not – well, he will always have a bed here.” She smiled, and gave him a pat before letting him go. “Speaking of, you and Commander Tano should probably return to yours. He will not wake again tonight.”

“Can I say goodbye?” Anakin asked, surprising himself.

“You will see him tomorrow morning, Skywalker.” The healer sighed, and gave a little nod. “One minute. No talking.”

Gently, she opened the curtain, and allowed Anakin to slip through. He thought Ahsoka would follow, but she shook her head and settled outside, keeping watch. He loved her, in that moment. His Snips, despite everything, had never ever let him down.

The kid was fast asleep – not flat on his back like he’d been placed there, but curled on his side. His breathing was soft, but all the rest in the world couldn’t hide the shadows under his eyes, or the tension still resting in his face.

“I’m sorry about that, kid – Master Windu is a…” He made himself stop, running a gentle hand through the kid’s hair; it was falling into his eyes again, and Anakin knew how much his master hated not being able to see through his fringe. He found himself cupping the boy’s cheek gently. “You just take it easy, okay? No stress.”

Letting his eyes drift shut, Anakin pushed forward with the Force, trying to fill his touch with comfort and happy memories. Eventually, the kid’s face relaxed a little more, and he smiled. Anakin let him go, and watched as the kid nuzzled the pillow.

“Sleep well, little one.”

Notes:

God, that was a chunky one. It was mostly scene-setting, but I wanted to establish some of the relationships, and introduce some of the Jedi babes <3 I don't think I'll keep Mace this cold all the time, but we needed some tension! Also I wanted to establish the kid as different from Obi-Wan, so he'll be called Ben from now on. I already love him, and I hope you do too!

The next chapter absolutely won't be this long - it'll be a few scenes I originally had tacked on here but I figured they needed their own time to work. But they do feature Padme, and soft Ahsoka-Anakin moments so stick around if you want to see that. Following that - Ben meets the Council!

Please let me know what you thought, or what you'd like to see. I'm really grateful for all the comments so far <3 Somehow, this idea really has taken root in my brain, and I've planned a lot in advance :D

Chapter 4

Summary:

“I’m pregnant.”

Anakin wanted her to repeat herself, to hear those fateful words again, but he knew the truth and he didn’t want her to feel on edge. His stomach, however, was rolling like a sea, and for a moment he wanted to be sick on the floor. His head was spinning, her little picture twirling like a ballerina, as the words sunk in.

She was pregnant. With his baby. He was going to be a father.

In which the author remembers that this is Revenge of the Sith, and so the plot threads need to be set up.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The walk back to Anakin’s quarters had been made in silence, but once they reached the rooms, neither Anakin nor Ahsoka could hide their reactions. No-one had been in the rooms for months, but they were soaked in Master Obi-Wan’s presence. The sensation was so strong that, if he hadn’t have known better, Anakin would have assumed Obi-Wan was tucked away in his bedroom, meditating or on the brink of sleep.

“Stars…” Ahsoka muttered after a while, her voice echoing around as their steps interrupt the dust. Anakin’s new hand fumbled for the lightswitch, and when his fingers found the right button, a warm golden light settled over the rooms, highlighting its surprisingly cluttered interior.

Anakin had seen other master/padawan rooms on visits with friends, and all were minimally decorated, bordering on empty. Their sleep-couches were perfect pure white, their surfaces clear or sometimes decorated with lush green plants. Occasionally, a simple but hearty meal would be bubbling away on the stove.

The apartment Obi-Wan, Anakin, and for a long time, Ahsoka, had shared couldn’t have been more different.

As he stumbled on his third wing-nut, Anakin felt a little guilty for the sheer amount of droid parts he’d left lying around. There was an inky black stain on the far corner of the carpet where motor-oil had seeped out, never to be removed, and bits of wire and circuitry were spread everywhere, some even attached to the ceiling by sheer force of tape. They wrestled for space with the many knick-knacks Qui-Gon had collected from his travels. There had been many more when Anakin was a padawan, but Obi-Wan had purged all but the essentials from the apartment. Gone were the little levitating jade balls that used to float around the room, holding cloaks and carrying dishes to the sink. Gone was the small fleet of ceramic animals that used to make realistic noises and sometimes could even move. Gone was the thick wooden pipe that was either a musical instrument, or drug paraphernalia, depending on who you asked.

What remained though were precisely one tea set, three blankets and eighty-four house plants.

Anakin reached for one such plant, a once-proud summer fern who had bloomed almost constantly and shed its blossoms all over the floor, only excused by its wonderful scent. Now, the blooms had faded under their neglect, the leaves dry and brown, too old to wilt. Anakin swallowed hard. Obi-Wan would be furious; he’d worked so hard to sustain the plants, even though they weren’t to his taste. Usually they were a little wilted after long missions, but never all quite this dead. Anakin had never been quite sure how Obi-Wan managed to keep them fresh from a galaxy away.

And now he might never know.

Turning his head, he reached down onto the sleep-couch and pulled out one of Master Qui-Gon’s blankets. It was thick and heavy, slightly scratchy, but not enough to be unpleasant. Ahsoka had always liked its bold and beautiful pattern, but when he handed it to her, she shook her head.

“I’ll see if I can filch some extra bedding from the Quartermaster. I think I still know the passcode.” She smiled bravely, though her eyes kept drifting to the kitchen, where Obi-Wan had set out all the utensils for tea. It had become their little tradition – home from mission, bicker over who got to shower first, then share a pot of sapir tea. Anakin let his eyes drift closed.

“Sure thing.” He replied, trying to soak up all the energy in the room. Obi-Wan was particularly strong, but Ahsoka’s Force presence also still streaked around the room. She was never supposed to stay with them, having her own bed in the padawan dorms, but she had curled up so often on their couch that it had been thought of as hers. When she had been kicked out of the Order, they were supposed to remove any reminders of her, like Obi-Wan had done for Qui-Gon, but Anakin had argued for every scrap and eventually Obi-Wan had given up trying to remove anything.

Stars, he was thankful for it now.

He heard the gentle padding of Ahsoka’s feet as she moved back towards the door, but she froze in the middle of the room, her Force signature clenching. When Anakin opened his eyes, he tracked her gaze to the ajar door of Obi-Wan’s room. If he squinted, he could see the edge of an incredibly neat bed, and a few datapads sat on the side.

The door slammed shut. Anakin hadn’t even realised he’d used the Force on it until it was already closed.

“If you want, I can take the couch and you can use my room.” Anakin offered when she turned around. She didn’t look surprised, just a little upset. It was quickly brushed away.

“We probably shouldn’t get into that habit.” She shrugged and Anakin frowned; when she’d been his padawan, they’d switched sleeping places often, with Ahsoka taking the bed after gruelling training days, and Anakin flopping onto the couch when he worked late into the night on his droid-projects. But she shook her head again.

“Ben will need somewhere to sleep eventually. When he’s here, we should probably establish a routine.”

“We?” Anakin asked, which made her flinch. He’d hoped Ahsoka would stick around, but hadn’t expected it. The Council had treated her appallingly, and she’d made her opinion on the Order very clear.

“Just a thought.” She muttered, turning back towards the door. She had one foot in the corridor when Anakin found his voice.

“Hey Snips?”

“Yeah Skyguy?”

“Thank you. For today.”

“No problem, Anakin.” Gently, so gently that he barely felt it, a pulse of affection ran through their stilted bond. He savoured it, and tried to send the same back.

As soon as Ahsoka’s footsteps faded down the corridor, Anakin flopped down on the couch, hiding his face in his hands for just a moment, before taking a deep breath. He could fall asleep right here, if it weren’t for a niggling pressure on his back. By all rights, the couch should have been much more uncomfortable than it actually was – it had been Master Qui-Gon’s after all. But usually, it was the perfect place for an afternoon nap, or to collapse after a long day. Except now. Anakin wriggled, and pulled out something warm and brown from behind his back.

Obi-Wan’s cloak – his favourite cloak. The one he saved exclusively for Temple business, and never admitted to still having, lest the Quartermaster insist he wear it on missions and risk losing it. As much as Obi-Wan preached no attachment, Anakin had noticed him clinging to tiny things every so often, before dismissing them from his life the second anyone questioned him. He’d lost many a book or pair of boots or backpack to the judging eyes of the Council.

But not everything had been taken. His river-stone he passed onto Anakin with all the respect of a treasured gift. He still drank sapir tea from the same chipped mugs he’d shared with Qui-Gon in his training. He hid his robes, and hair products, and a little statue of the Jedi Prime Anakin had made from nuts and bolts in his early apprenticeship.

Obi-Wan treasured things. And now he was gone.

Anakin hadn’t even noticed he’d put the cloak on, until its familiar scent wafted around him. Though it dragged on Obi-Wan, the cloak was still too small, even for his padawan body. It stopped a few inches short of his wrists and was tight at the shoulders, but it was soft and warm. Anakin pressed his nose into one of the folds and breathed hard. Tea, and flimsiplast and dust. The electric crackle of the Force.

Home.

Anakin yelped when his commlink began beeping and flashing, shocking him out of his thoughts. Initially he assumed it was Ahsoka, with some question about food, but when he triggered the hologram, the woman who appeared was smaller and paler, with a worried look on her face.

“Padme!” He gasped out, trying to school his features into something more respectable. Stars, he hadn’t even thought about her, a scarcity since their wedding day. Usually he fell asleep thinking of her warm eyes or her gentle hands on his waist, but with all the battling and their new predicament, he’d barely thought about himself, let alone his wife.

Luckily, she didn’t seem to pick up on his distraction, or if she did, she didn’t mention it. Instead, her lovely face spread into a wide grin.

“Oh Ani, I was so worried.” She whispered, leaning in closer as if to examine every inch of his face. As she did so, Anakin could see the tear-tracks on her cheeks. “There were whispers – that you had been killed.”

“I’m alright.” Anakin glanced down and noticed he hadn’t activated his hologram function – perhaps a wise move, considering his new appearance. Still, he couldn’t help but feel detached from her, a thought that made his heart ache. “It feels like we’ve been apart from a lifetime.”

“So show me your face.” A frown scrunched her eyebrows. “I want to see you, Anakin. I’ve missed you. Missed your eyes, your smile-“

“I can’t.” His voice sounded harsh, even to him, and he saw her flinch. “It’s just… something has happened, Padme.”

“Are you hurt? What’s wrong?” Her voice was so gentle, so worried, that he felt himself weakening. He knew he shouldn’t tell anyone – not even her – until the Council had decided. But the secret ached in his heart like so many others he’d forced down, and his mouth started to run away with him.

“I’m fine – it’s just…” He tried to stop, but the words kept coming. “Obi-Wan and I got into a mishap aboard the Invisible Hand – there was this liquid.”

“Anakin Skywalker, quit stalling and tell me what’s happened.” He could see her placing her hands on her hips, eyes shining like the Queen she had always been to him. She was his angel – not a fluffy little cherub with downy wings, but a powerful warrior with a voice that could move mountains. Still, he had to protect her how he could. She was bright enough to burn stars, and he had to help her stay solid.

“Okay just… are you sitting down?”

“Anakin!”

“Please don’t be angry – we’re trying to fix it but –“ He didn’t know why he sounded so uncertain; there was nothing he could do. But Padme’s expression softened, and she reached out for him.

“I will love you no matter what you look like, Ani.”

“Are you quite sure about that?” Anakin sighed, and turned on the projection. Padme’s eyes immediately jumped to his face, and she started scanning him for injuries. Only after a few moments of intense searching did she notice his missing curls, which made her curse and then start laughing.

“That f*cking haircut.” She chuckled; even on their wedding day, she had made her distaste for it known, through their happy laughter and deep kisses. It had become something of a joke between them, with Anakin always threatening to cut his hair back whenever they were bickering. Padme had made him swear not to, just as she swore never to wear full face-makeup again. “Is it some sort of disguise or –“ She stopped, her expression turning serious. “Where’s your scar?”

“That’s just it – I don’t have it anymore.” He reached up and waved with his new hand. “Hey, angel.”

“Is that your hand?” She gasped, and then looked closer. For the first time in his life, he was actually able to wear his wedding ring, and it twinkled. He knew he’d have to remove it when Ahsoka came back, but he savoured the feeling all the same. “What happened? Did you sacrifice your hair for a miracle?”

“No, no.” He wanted to laugh, but found himself growing even more serious. “There was this liquid and… well, it turned me young again. Only a few years because I only reached in to save Obi-Wan.”

“Obi-Wan’s young too?” Padme’s concern for his master was touching; the two had become good friends, especially since Zigoola. Anakin was glad for it. His master needed someone to lighten up around, and Padme liked having someone to dance with during formal events; in her words, Anakin was an appalling dancer, as agile as a Gundark and twice as heavy footed. “How young?”

“The healers think he’s about sixteen.”

“Whoa.” Padme blinked, and Anakin caught her playing with the medallion he had given to her. She must have been thinking back to just before Naboo – the first time they had all met, when Obi-Wan was around Padme’s age now. Stars, that felt bizarre to think. “He must be making their lives hell.”

“He’s not.” He mumbled, running a hand through his hair. “He… he doesn’t remember anything past his apprenticeship with Master Qui-Gon. He… he doesn’t remember me. Or you, or Ahsoka, or the war.”

“Poor kid.” Padme’s voice was equally soft, her big brown eyes worried. “What are you going to do?”

“Wait, I guess. There’s nothing else we can do.”

Anakin had expected a meditative silence to fall between the two of them, but not for it to stretch so long. Padme was one of the only people he found he could be comfortably quiet with – he didn’t have to banter or bicker or be anything other than himself. But her projection flickered like a guttering candle, and her expression scrunched up as little hitching breaths echoed through the room.

“Are you… are you crying?” He leaned in, and saw the shine of tears on her face. “Padme, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Just…” She tried to sound cheery, wiping her cheeks with her palm, but her hands were shaking. “Something wonderful has happened.”

“Better than this haircut?” He joked, trying to make her smile again. She paused, and pressed a hand to her stomach.

“I’m pregnant.”

Anakin wanted her to repeat herself, to hear those fateful words again, but he knew the truth and he didn’t want her to feel on edge. His stomach, however, was rolling like a sea, and for a moment he wanted to be sick on the floor. His head was spinning, her little picture twirling like a ballerina, as the words sunk in.

She was pregnant. With his baby. He was going to be a father.

“That’s…” Joy like never before sprung into his heart, but his mouth was more conflicted. What would happen to them? Would Padme be alright? Birth was hard for any woman, and he’d seen his fair share of failed pregnancies on Tatooine. What about her work? Would she have to go back to Naboo? Would he have to leave the Order? What about Ben? What about Ahsoka? What about-

He made himself pause and smile. He stroked Padme’s tiny cheek. She was his world, and deserved his attention. “Th-That’s wonderful.”

“What are we going to do?” Her cautious voice replied. Stars, he hadn’t seen her in weeks. How long had she known? How lonely had she been?

“We’re not going to worry about anything right now.” He whispered, wishing he could press his forehead against hers. Distantly, he heard footsteps in the corridor, but refused to entertain them. Right now, he wasn’t General Skywalker, or Knight Skywalker, or even Skyguy. He wanted to be Anakin Naberrie, husband to the wonderful woman in front of him. “This is a happy moment.” He touched his wedding ring, and longed to touch her.

“The happiest moment of my life.”

Notes:

Hey everyone! So this is a bit of a filler chapter - think of it as a Chapter 3.5, if you will. It was originally the end of the last chapter, but it felt too long.

Quick question: would anyone want to see multiple perspectives for this fic, or should I just stick with an Anakin-centric narration? I think as character arcs separate, I'll end up bring in Ahsoka-centric and Ben-centric scenes, but is that something people would like earlier so it doesn't jar?

Please let me know in the comments below, and any other thoughts you have - I really appreciate them, and it makes all the difference to my plans!

Next chapter - Ben meets the full Council!

(Also does anyone know why some fics end up at the top of the of the new works feed and some end up in the middle? I keep updating this only to find when I post, it ends up as the third or fourth fic in the Obi-Wan tag? Any guidance would be helpful - I've never had this happen before. I write on Word and then copy-paste my work)

Chapter 5

Summary:

“This is… rather a lot of people.”

The Council Chambers were fuller than Anakin had ever seen them. Even during Ahsoka’s expulsion, there had been a few hologram-filled seats. Now, every chair was filled bar one, and around them were swarms of other people.

Ben and Anakin face the Council, and emotions start bubbling.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“You sure you’re feeling okay?” Anakin stopped his pacing to set eyes on the teenager sat opposite him. Since collecting him from the ward, Ben had been quiet, but it was difficult to tell if such silence came from pain, worry, or even Ben’s natural personality. The kid was certainly much less chatty than Ahsoka had been at his age, hands folded neatly into his robes and posture almost unnaturally perfect. He’d been cleared only hours before by Healer Che, who had given them both strict instructions that if Ben should flag at all during the Council meeting, he was to come straight back and rest. They had both agreed, but Anakin didn’t need to be a Master to see the reluctance in Ben’s eyes.

“Never better.” Ben nodded, adjusting the top of his boots. They weren’t the cherry-red his master favoured, instead the simple Temple-issue brown. In fact, they were a little big around his legs, but Ben’s teenage body had been blessed both with larger feet, and long thin limbs that hadn’t quite filled out yet. Finding anything that fit him was a challenge. “Besides, as you were all so quick to inform me, there’s a war on. Hardly the time to dilly-dally.”

When Ben stood, brushing himself down, his robes billowed around his waist. Anakin could see the belt had been tied as tight as it would go, but the whole outfit still hung loose. He hoped Ben was eating enough. Healer Che would never let him out of her sight without a semi-decent meal in him, but he knew his friend could never keep down food when he was truly worried. Perhaps that’s why the boy was so thin.

“Hey, if you need more time, you’re welcome to it.” Anakin offered, but the kid said nothing. Instead, he shifted his weight to his other foot, wincing as he did so. Anakin glanced down but Ben twitched his robe closed before Anakin could get a better look. “How’s your leg?”

“Do you fuss like this with all your padawans, or am I just special?”

“Oh, he’s a mother-hen definitely.” Ahsoka chimed in, smirking as she approached. R2 gave a loud whistle, which muffled Ben’s relieved sigh. “You ready, kid?”

“Believe me - I’ve been through worse.” He joked, but Anakin and Ahsoka just looked at each other. Most of their morning had been spent pouring over Obi-Wan’s now unlocked files, trying to get a read on the kid’s personality. Though they only had time to work through the most basic reports, they’d been surprised at how active and stressful Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship had been; he’d crossed half the galaxy by the time he’d turned sixteen, and had written enough reports to fill his own book in the Temple library. Before Ahsoka could question Ben though, the Council Chamber’s swung open, revealing two clone guards. After the perfunctory bows, they were lead into the centre of the room, where Ben swallowed and looked around.

“This is… rather a lot of people.”

The Council Chambers were fuller than Anakin had ever seen them. Even during Ahsoka’s expulsion, there had been a few hologram-filled seats. Now, every chair was filled bar one, and around them were swarms of other people. It seemed like every master was in attendance, or at least one from every Temple discipline. Jocasta Nu stood with her fleet of researchers. Vokara Che and Bant were stood behind Yoda’s chair, though their other medical colleagues must have been back in the Healing Halls. Most of the generals were back too – Quinlan, Luminara, Aayla. Even Rael Aveross was leaning against one of the windows, though he straightened upon seeing the young Obi-Wan. Once he started laughing, he couldn’t stop, wiping tears of mirth away from his eyes. Ben frowned.

“Oh you boys have done it now.” He hooted, clapping a hand on Ben’s shoulder with a practiced ease. “I always wondered how you fit into our disaster lineage, Kenobi, but seems you’re the most chaotic of us all.” He reached up, as if to tug at Obi-Wan’s braid, then stopped when his fingers found nothing to pull. His expression softened, his fingers lightly squeezing. “If I didn’t know better, I’d have said Qui Gon was behind this – he’d be laughing his ass off at all this fuss. Good job, kids.”

“Master Skywalker, was that… was that Master Aveross?”

“Yep.” Anakin replied with a wry smile. He really hadn’t spent that much time with Rael, despite everything. Part of him suspected Obi-Wan had kept them deliberately apart but the older Jedi was funny and smart and glowed with goodness. “Why, do you know him?”

“Only of him. Master Qui-Gon mentioned him but-“ Ben paused, eyes flicking over Anakin. It was a gaze Anakin didn’t quite recognise, though he knew Obi-Wan to be a keen observer. This was like being scanned with a laser, as Ben tried to absorb every inch of information. “Last time I heard he was on Pigal.”

“Well, there certainly is a story there.” Anakin nodded, trying to think back on the stories he’d been told about Pigal and her rebellious child queen. Obi-Wan told it only when he was particularly happy, usually after a successful battle or a few drinks. Did Anakin remember all the details? If not, the whole story might have been tucked away inside Rael Aveross, never to be told again. “You’ll have to look it up after this is all over.”

Anakin had expected some witty response, but it never came. Instead, the kid was searching through the crowds almost desperately, trying to catalogue every face both new and old. He would linger on those he recognised for a moment, before quickly looking away. The longer he searched, the tighter the frown around his mouth grew. Eventually, he was chewing on his lower lip, eyebrows scrunched together.

“You okay, Ben?” Ahsoka asked gently, taking a step towards him. The kid straightened, shaking his head as if trying to dislodge his thoughts. His voice was cheery when he spoke, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“Is this what all council meetings are like now? Qui Gon always hoped they would become more representative of the Order as a whole.” There was no mistaking it now. Ben had lingered on his master’s name, and Ahsoka shot Anakin a despairing look. Whilst looking at the files, they had been debating whether to tell Ben about Qui Gon before or after the meeting. Though they’d originally agreed to sit him down and explain before seeing the Council, Vokara Che had advised against it. Ben’s best interests had been her focus, but Anakin felt his stomach twist with guilt as he tried not to look the boy in the eye.

“Not quite, Ben.” He answered lightly. “I think they’re all here to see you.”

“Me? What do you-“ But before Ben could continue, Mace got to his feet and clapped once. The gathered masters fell silent, pressing themselves against the windows of the Council Room. The clone guards directed Anakin and Ben to the room’s centre, and Anakin saw the kid snatch one last glance at Ahsoka as she was swamped by the crowd.

“Gathered masters, please quiet yourselves. The Council is now in session.” Settling himself down, he gestured to the rest of the Council, who clasped their hands almost in unison.

“Step forth, Knight Skywalker. Step forth…” There was an awkward pause, as Kit debated which title to use for Ben. Montrails twitching, he gave a half shrug and carried on. “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

“The Council welcomes you.” Mace spoke gravely, folding his hands into his cloak. The traditional introduction flowed from his tongue with ease. “What news do you bring?”

Everyone turned to Ben; tradition dictated that the most senior Jedi in the presenting team spoke first, usually a Master or these days, a general. Glancing down, Anakin could see Ben blinking as he tried to find a response. His face was pale and waxy already, sweat beading on his brow. Was he nervous of public speaking or just in pain?

“Before we begin, Masters…” Mace huffed at the interruption, but Anakin continued anyway. “May I request a chair for Ben?” Ben’s head twisted towards him, shock evident in his wide eyes. Anakin faced forward, keeping his gaze on the Twilek watching him cautiously, before giving a discreet nod. “Healer Che suggested he should not remain on his feet for extended periods of time.”

“Of course.” Mace replied tactfully. Everyone’s eyes darted around the room, before focusing on the only available seat which was dragged into the centre of the room. “Take… take your own seat, Kenobi.”

‘My seat?’ The thought rippled through Anakin’s side of the bond, as Ben eased himself down into the low chair; he knew Ben wasn’t consciously projecting, but it was still surprising to hear the doubt in his master’s presence.

‘Welcome to the Council, kid.’ Anakin sent back as he settled behind him, trying to sound warm and fond. Ben still flinched.

“Much to discuss, there is.” Yoda banged his gimmer stick on the floor and peered at Ben. “Well enough for such conversation, you are?”

“Yes Master.”

“Then begin, we shall.”

“Knight Skywalker tells us your memory has been affected, alongside your body.” Shaak Tii’s voice was melodic as she tilted her head. “What exactly can you recall?”

“From my perspective, the last place I remember being is this Temple.” Ben’s voice was crisper than ever, as he took the time to address as many council members as possible. Anakin had seen Obi-Wan do the same thing countless times, albeit more subtly. It was a technique to put those around him at ease, and give the impression of focused attention, he’d always said. The kid was a born negotiator. “I was still technically on probation following the Melida/Daan incident-“ Ben didn’t quite flinch, but he tapped his foot awkwardly, the sound echoing around the room. Anakin had seen the title in the files they’d skimmed and made a mental note to return to it. “But when Master Qui-Gon discovered the distress signal of Master Tahl, we were duty-bound to follow it, as all Jedi are according to Principle 324, which states that any Jedi must respond to any active Jedi distress request upon decoding it.”

“Impressive, your knowledge of the Code is.” Yoda’s praise made Ben flush slightly; the old troll was not known for being free with his compliments, especially to padawans, but Obi-Wan had always seemed like an exception. To see such surprise was unnerving. “But your perspective, we wish to hear.”

“Apologies, Masters.” Ben looked down at his feet, shoulders hunching under his oversized robe. “The Council had not granted us clearance to travel off-world, but we felt the need of Master Tahl was strong enough to warrant such an indiscretion. We found ourselves on New Aposolon where…” Ben hesitated, screwing his eyes shut as he spoke. Anakin had never taken his master for shy, and he wasn’t one to flinch from the grim details of a mission, but he also wasn’t one to share them so openly in front of a crowd. “Where we found Master Tahl in an isolation tank, drugged to near death.” His voice picked up as he rushed through the mission details, and Anakin felt his stomach drop as he glanced at Ahsoka. Having pushed herself forward, she stood with arms folded as she scowled at the council. He could practically hear the grinding of her teeth. “She had been imprisoned by a being called Balog, and Master Qui-Gon managed to apprehend him-“ Ben curled up smaller, hugging himself. “But Master Tahl succumbed to her injuries.” There was a moment of silence, before he looked up. “We brought the criminal and Master Tahl home.”

“Is your return your last memory, young one?”

“No, Master Plo.” Ben turned to the Kel-Dor, swallowing. “We returned to the Temple, and laid Master Tahl to rest but…”

“Speak freely, Kenobi.” Plo continued, ignoring Mace’s grimace from the other side of the chamber. “These events happened long ago, and you shall not be punished for your honesty now.”

“Master Qui-Gon grieves for Master Tahl – he needs my support more than ever. He barely eats or sleeps, cannot meditate and will not talk. I’ve been looking in the archives for an answer, but I slipped and hurt my knee.” Despite the aching honesty of his early words, Anakin saw the boy’s eye twitch when he mentioned his injury. “Master had just agreed to take me to the Healers when I must have passed out. The next thing I recall is waking up in Master Skywalker’s ship.” He turned to Anakin and frowned. “I sense this is not the usual progression of events.”

“Twenty-two years have passed between your last memory and the present.” Mace broke through, his voice rumbling. “War has broken out across the galaxy, both from those wishing to separate from the Republic, and by the growing presence of the Sith.”

“The Sith?” Ben squeaked, though no-one batted an eyelid. They’d all been equally shocked at the discovery the first time it had happened. “How? Who?”

“Uncertain of that, we are.” Yoda’s claws tightened around his stick. Several of the Council members wriggled in their seats, looking away from Ben as he spoke again. “However, Fallen, your grandmaster Dooku has.”

“Dooku? Never!” Ben shook his head, the nub of his padawan braid swinging as he narrowed his eyes at the assembled masters. He seemed to be scanning their faces for any faults; for signs that the Council was testing him. His voice grew faster again as he spoke more and more. “He was a critic of the Council, yes but… but not a Sith Lord. I would have known - Master Qui Gon would have known! Let us go and reason with him and we ma-“

“Obi-Wan.” Anakin stepped forward and put his hands on the boy’s shoulders, turning him away from the Council’s judging gaze. They were all looking down, perfectly serene statues, even as Anakin knelt by the kid’s side. From this angle, he could see the horror building on Ben’s now chalk-white face. Stepping back, Ben pulled away, mouth half open as he turned back to Yoda. The grandmaster’s ears had twitched down, the only sign of his sadness.

“He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Ben’s voice was little more than a whisper, but it made every master in the room hang their head. Grief – more than Anakin had felt even at a Jedi funeral – echoed around the now silent room. Seeing their distraught faces made Anakin realise that, with every Jedi lost, the Order members lost a brother or sister, mother or father, child or grandparent. Most poignantly, even the gruff and joking Rael Aveross seemed to be choking back tears at the sight of the lonely padawan in the middle of the room, now hugging himself against the sudden chill. “How long?”

“Thirteen years.” Windu’s voice was toneless, but he managed to meet Ben’s eye for a few moments before looking away with a wince.

“How?”

“Killed by a Sith Apprentice, he was. The first in a thousand years, his duel was.” Yoda paused, and his words were soft when he spoke again. “Together, you were, in his final moments.”

“He – We – I –“ The kid scrambled, looking around at the faces even more frantically than before. A few masters stifled sobs when he set his scared eyes on them – Bant hid her face in Healer Che’s shoulder, and Ahsoka had tilted her chin fully up, to keep the tears in her eyes rather than letting them fall.

“Obi-Wan, if you need to take a break-“ Plo Koon was almost on his feet, to approach the hunched boy, but stopped when the child spoke.

“No.”

Anakin wasn’t sure what to expect. More floating objects? An explosion of tears? A cry of pain? He took a step forward, ready to sweep the child up in his arms. But Ben unfroze, breathing deeply. There was serenity in his expression as his hands unclenched.

“I’m fine.” He replied, voice clear. “I’m alright.” Less certain now, but his posture was more relaxed so he kept going. “So I am… masterless again.”

Another great wince from the room.

“In the time since Qui Gon’s death, you were granted the ranks of Knight and Master.” Ben’s eyes widened at the words, but he nodded. “The council will discuss the technicalities of your rank, but in the meantime, it would be wise that you be assigned to a suitable master to continue your training. This shall be debated at length-“ For the first time, Mace acknowledged the crowd, and Anakin winced, realising just how small the Jedi seemed – never before had all the Masters of the Order fit into one room. “But know that the war has reduced the pool of available masters greatly.”

“I’ll take him – I take Ben Kenobi as my padawan learner.” Anakin spoke the sacred words as he again set his hands on Ben’s shoulders, but this time they stayed put. Ben was watching him, eyes wide.

“Distrust this decision, I do not.” Yoda shook his hoary head. “One padawan learner, you have already lost. To risk one so valuable, this Council must not.”

“I’m not lost!” Ahsoka broke free from the line of masters, scowling hard. “You wrongfully accused me, unfairly dismissed me, and tried to buy my silence with hints of a promotion!” Her voice rang through the chamber and its shocked silence. “If anyone lost me, it was you. Anakin was never a distrustful Master; he always had faith in me.”

“Attached, he was. And attached, you are.” Yoda banged his staff on the tiles.

“Master Kenobi did his best to keep you in line, but in his absence, there is no-one with strong enough knowledge of the Code to oversee this arrangement.” Mace’s voice lingered on the final word as he glanced between Ahsoka and Anakin.

“So you’re going to choose the Code over the best partnership in the army? In the Jedi? Hell, in the Galaxy?”

“That’s enough, Ahsoka.” Anakin shot Ahsoka the sternest glare he could muster, and she stepped back. He hated having to oppose her, but he could hear Obi-Wan in his head pleading for patience. He made sure to speak calmly when he turned back to the offended council. “Masters, I really am the best person to train Obi-Wan. We understand each other, even now. We trust each other.” He could see Ben frowning at him, and sighed. So much for plausible deniability, he thought as he silently apologised to his absent master. “We have a training bond.”

“Still?” Several members of the council blurted out in unison, as their audience gasped. A shocked laugh jolted out of Rael Aveross, who was quickly silenced with a glare from Quinlan Vos. Ahsoka was biting her thumb, looking anywhere but at Anakin as Master Plo’s eyes widened behind his mask. Shaak Tii looked scandalised, Kit had hidden his face in his hands and the famous vein was throbbing in Mace’s forehead.

“Exactly this kind of attachment, warned against I have.” Yoda stamped his gimmer stick again, scowling fiercely. Ben winced, tense under Anakin’s hands. “Unhealthy, this is.”

“Perhaps. But also extremely useful.” Plo, having collected himself, swooped in even as the other masters turned on him. “Masters, it takes years to build a functional training bond, let alone one fit for combat. If Kenobi and Skywalker can build on those already established foundations, we could have him back to his usual fighting conditions in record time.”

“So you’re just going to exploit their bond in order to what – train up a child soldier even faster?” The betrayal in Ahsoka’s eyes as she turned to her beloved friend rivalled a burning sun, growing hotter and brighter as she glared at the entire council one by one, including Anakin. “Do you even hear yourselves?”

“Severed long ago, such bonds should have been.” Yoda continued, as if not hearing either of them. “Words we shall have, when Master Kenobi returns.”

“And… and will he return, Masters?”

Ben was twisting his robe through his fingers, not sure where to look. For the first time, Anakin noticed the kid was covered in freckles. Not just a dusting over his cheeks, but all over his nose and forehead too. Without a beard to cover most of his face, Anakin could see so much more of him, could track every frown and flinch. The mask of calm Ben was currently wearing didn’t fit quite right, tense around his eyes.

“We cannot be sure. Madame Nu is dedicating her entire research team to the endeavour, but there is no telling what she will find, if anything.” Mace admitted as Jocasta Nu stepped forward.

“Ben, this is an incredibly difficult time for you, and this council understands if certain liberties need to be taken in order to ensure your health and wellbeing.” Madame Nu had served on the Council for many years, before a vision from the Force had lead to her redirecting her talents to research - a resignation in all but name. Her presence had been much missed on the deciding body, but she slipped into the role with ease, like putting on an old coat. Even Yoda was deferential to her. “We also understand that you are a wise and logical young man, and we trust your judgement. Where does the Force tell you you should be? We can place you on the research team, if you would be comfortable there, or return you to the Padawan quarters, should that be more suitable.”

All eyes settled once more on Ben. Anakin didn’t envy the poor kid; he remembered the many times he’d been subject to their questioning gazes, though admittedly not so many at a time. He couldn’t help but wonder why so many Masters had assembled beyond the main council, but he knew the decision about Ben would be one of monumental signficiance for the Order. To rest that all on the shoulders of one frightened kid – that was a feeling the Chosen One could understand.

“If it’s all the same, Masters, I would like to stay with… Knight Skywalker.” Anakin felt a warm pulse in his bond, and realised Ben was nudging at him. Had he been projecting? Perhaps unconsciously. If Ben felt it, it didn’t show on his neutral face. “He is of my lineage, and seeing as you cannot take padawans, Master Yoda, and my grandmaster is Fallen and my master is-“ An undeniable hesitation, but one swallowed down before it could cause another fuss. “Gone… tradition dictates we stick together. He also has valuable information on my usual routine and responsibilities.”

“An eloquent argument.” Mace replied, nodding his head in acknowledgement. “The council will still discuss the matter, but we will take your opinion into account. You are one of us, after all.”

“Is he?” Ahsoka’s voice chimed in again, and Anakin closed his eyes. He didn’t want to scold her in front of so many people but even he knew there was a line between criticism and impertinence. He’d crossed it often enough, after all.

“Ahsoka-“ He began, but Ahsoka stepped into the centre with them. She ignored the murmuring behind her, and held her head high.

“Master Kenobi had a great many responsibilities, alongside his Temple presence.” The Council frowned, leaning forwards to listen closer. “Will Ben remain High General of the Republican Army?” The murmuring continued, and Anakin felt Ben squirming under his hands. He rubbed the top of his arm, trying to keep him still. “Will he remain a member of the council?”

“Unprecedented, this change is.” Yoda admitted, stroking his chin. “Discuss this further, the Council shall. Accompany us, Masters Che and Nu shall.”

After a silent staring contest between Yoda and Windu, the Master of the Order rose to his feet, clapping once again.

“We shall take a brief recess, and will summon you all when we have made our decision.” He addressed everyone, but fixed Ahsoka with a grim stare towards the end. “Perhaps we should all take this time to meditate on our emotions.”

With his words, the crowd dispersed, filtering through the doors as the Council retired to a further chamber. Ben wilted once they were out of sight, but before Anakin could speak to him, he had pushed himself to his feet, following the spectators out into the corridor. He passed R2 without looking down, even when the droid gave a little disappointed whistle. Ahsoka quickly filled the boy’s vacant position, hands firmly on her hips.

“Are you just going to sit back and let them do this?” She asked, glaring up at him, her lekku twitching as she spread her hands wide. “Skyguy, he’s a kid – he’s not a general, or a council member! No child should have this much responsibility forced upon them!”

“Padme did.” Anakin let his gaze flicker towards the window; if he took a proper look, he would be able to see the Senate building. “You did. And so did I.”

“And look where it got us.” Ahsoka continued. The half-step of distance had never felt so wide.

“This is war, Ahsoka.” Anakin barked, moving closer to the doors on the other end of the chamber. “We can’t all just walk away whenever we feel like it.”

“That’s not fair.” Ahsoka growled, trying to grab his arm. Before she could make contact, Anakin dropped to one knee.

“I wasn’t trying to be.” He snapped back, pressing his ear against the door so he didn’t have to see the hurt creep into her expression as she turned away from him. Now that everything was quiet, he could make out the slightest hint of voices, and pushed himself closer.

“Loathe as I am to admit it, Commander Tano is right.” Kit Fisto was the first one to sneak, his voice low and strained. “He must not keep his Council seat – even a wise child is too immature for such business.”

“But look to the code!” Ki Adi Mundi cried out, and Anakin could hear the rustle of flimsiplast. “Once one accepts a position on the council, such responsibility cannot be revoked except in the case of expulsion or death. Once removed, one’s position may never be restored.” The quote generated a multitude of sighs. “We do not wish to expel Master Kenobi – he is one of our most valuable members.

“Look for caveats.” Plo Koon’s voice was much calmer, though tinged with uncertainty. “Surely in the case of illness, it is possible to appoint a representative; we could apply such rules here.”

“Who would we select?” Shaak Tii could barely be heard, but Mace turned to her with a begrudging look in his eye.

“Master Skywalker would be the natural choice, considering his knowledge of the army.”

Anakin could feel his heartbeat pulsing in his ears, as a warm feeling twisted in his stomach. Replacing Obi-Wan on the council? Even thinking it felt wrong – Obi-Wan served the council like he was born to it, with more dedication and reverence than he ever treated his command of the army. Sure, he took his military work seriously – too seriously sometimes – but advising the Jedi felt like Obi-Wan’s purpose. More than being a soldier, more than research, more than even being Anakin’s Master, which twinged in ways Anakin didn’t want to think about.

But a Council seat, just for him? It would be an incredible honour; only the very best Jedi were invited onto the Council, and to hear Mace Windu of all people admit that was a surprise in itself. And a seat on the council would prompt a promotion. He’d finally be a Master.

Anakin tried to revel in the thought – tried to picture Watto’s scowling face as Anakin marched over and proclaimed himself Master – when Ahsoka started tugging at his sleeve.

“Skyguy.” She hissed, her eyes turned away from him. Anakin tried to brush her off, pressing closer to the door.

“Quiet, Snips – I’m trying to-“ He could just about hear Yoda’s response, when Ahsoka’s sharp elbow dug into his ribs.

“Anakin.” Her tone was more pointed now, and Anakin rolled his eyes before following her gaze to the other side of the corridor. A wide set of doors led to a balcony overlooking the city, and Ben was leant against the railings, oversized robes billowing around him as he hung his head. R2 was gently butting against the boy’s legs, chirruping sadly.

Any thought he had of promotions slipped away as he moved towards the lonely figure.

“Coruscant’s a beautiful city, isn’t it?” If Ben had been crying, he’d done a good job of hiding it; his voice was clear and though his eyes were watery, the chilly wind was just as probable a cause as emotion. “I haven’t spent a lot of time here since I became a padawan. Has it changed much since I last saw it?”

“Some things are new.” Anakin nodded to the Senate Building, which had been rebuilt just before Palpatine had become Chancellor and glistened in the sunlight. His stomach tightened when he thought of Padme in there, working away with Bail or chatting with a colleague, or even just sitting alone. Maybe she was thinking about him. Maybe she had her hand secretly resting on her stomach, picturing their baby growing. “Most things are the same.”

“Not everything.” Ben replied, staring straight ahead. His gaze was slightly unfocused, not taking in any part of the skyline. After a while, he spoke again, voice quieter. “What happened to his body? Is he buried in the Temple?”

“We had a Jedi pyre for him, Master – Obi – you said he would have preferred to be out under the open sky.”

“He loved the breeze.” Ben curled his hands into the voluminous sleeves of his robe. It was too late though; Anakin had already seen his hands starting to shake. “Would always stop and savour it when we entered a new world. You can tell a lot about a planet by its breeze.” He swallowed hard, and blinked harder. “I really am never going to see him again, am I?”

“Through the Force-“ Anakin started, but Ben snorted, looking up.

“All things are possible, I know, I know.” He laughed, a tiny bitter cough of a sound that forced itself out of his chest. “I just… I didn’t expect him to be… gone. I keep turning around, expecting him to be there.”

“I get that. Believe me, I do.”

“I’m sorry – I’ve been so inconsiderate.” He sighed, and scrubbed at his face with his sleeve, a gesture that made him seem both younger and older at the same time. R2 gave a low whistle. “You lost your master too.”

“Hey, look at me.” He gently took Ben by the chin and tilted his head up, still surprised by the dimples on his face. But he used his other hand to squeeze the top of Ben’s arm gently, and smiled. “We’re going to get through this. We’re still the dream team, even if you are a little shorter than I expected.”

Ben gave a nod, but before he could respond, Windu had emerged, followed by the Council. The other masters flocked back into the room, surprisingly harried for such a stoic order. R2 gave a huffy beep but remained outside. Ben and Anakin entered last, standing shoulder to shoulder. When the chair was offered again, Ben shook his head.

“The council has reached its current verdict.” Mace was expressionless as he invited Ben to step forward. “You shall henceforth be titled Apprentice Kenobi, as to not demote you from your earned rank of Master.”

Anakin nodded to himself – an unusual choice, but a fair one. It certainly would make things easier in conversation, but he could see the concern creeping onto Ahsoka’s face as Mace continued.”

“Your other current responsibilities also will not be stripped from you, though you shall require an escort from this Council to continue your duties as General of the Republican Army.” Anakin swallowed as Ahsoka’s hands tightened into fists at her sides. Ben hissed in a little surprised breath but nodded. “Master Koon has volunteered to take this post, though if his duties require him to be elsewhere, another Master will continue to accompany you.”

“You also will remain on this Council, though your duties will be more administrative for the foreseeable, and you will not be required to vote in Council decisions but may if you feel you are educated enough on the subject. Is this understood?” His gaze was stern as he turned to the processing boy, but the apprentice bowed as low as he could.

“Yes, Master.” Ben winced when he straightened, though he didn’t go so far as to lean against the chair or Anakin.

“Every reasonable attempt shall be made to return you to your former self, unless such actions damage the health of you or other members of this Order or the Republic at large. Until then, and if none are found, you will remain in the care of Knight Skywalker. He may accompany you to Council meetings, or attend them in your stead should your health or education require your absence. He will also advise you in military matters concerning your command of the army.”

Anakin straightened, swallowing. It was a lot of extra responsibility – nothing he couldn’t handle, of course, and duties he’d often craved. He’d been attempting to show Obi-Wan how useful he was as an advisor since his childhood, and though he’d been praised for his military skill, he’d never been invited to the Council before, even as a proxy.

This was the next step to everything he had ever wanted.

“Knight Skywalker – you have guardianship over this padawan, and you will be given access to the materials of this Council.” Mace turned to him, but there was no warmth in his eyes. No shine of admiration, or relief at Anakin’s presence. “But we do not grant you the rank of Master.”

What?

Anakin felt a stabbing pain low in his stomach, as if Mace had reached over and jabbed him with a lightsaber. He could feel his cheeks burning as the roomful of eyes settled on him. Ben looked confused, Ahsoka stunned. Of course they were – a seat on the Council, even during temporary stays, was a privilege for Masters. To expect Anakin to do the extra work and remain a Knight?

It was outrageous. It was unfair.

But before Anakin could retort, he felt a tiny pulse through his bond. It was fainter than the earlier exchanges they had shared, definitely unintentional and possibly not even a thought Ben was acknowledging. Still, it trickled through his mind like Naboo sunlight.

“Master Skywalker can help. I have a master who can help me.”

Anakin was stunned at how fresh and new the thought sounded in Ben’s voice, as if he’d never heard such a thing before. But before Anakin could interrogate further, Mace began speaking again. Anakin wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake him, to rip and pull at his robes, to scream to the tops of the Temple Towers. But he forced himself to calm, thinking of the little presence by his side. His Padawan.

“Apprentice Kenobi’s injuries allow us to precisely age him, so it will be your responsibility to consult Master Qui-Gon’s training notes, to determine where he is in his education, and to train him accordingly.” Vokara Che and Jocasta Nu nodded in acknowledgement, and Anakin could see they were now holding large folders, no doubt full of useful information. “Apprentice Kenobi will also attend regular padawan classes where possible, in order to build interpersonal skills and practice group combat skills, though with his other responsibilities, he will not follow as strict a schedule as other Temple Padawans. Once you are healed, and before those lessons begin, the Council will test your skills to ensure you are placed in the correct band for your talents.” Ben’s forehead creased as Mace spoke; his master had always been nervous during exams. Anakin remembered how it had taken him nearly four tries to get his Coruscanti piloting licence, despite being a natural flyer; he would come home from a failed test looking crushed, only to brush it off and spend the rest of his day teaching Anakin Basic or meditation or katas like a master three times his age. Anakin had never understood it.

“However, these decisions are not taken lightly, and you will both be observed throughout Apprentice Kenobi’s training by members of this council, to ensure that the appropriate standard is being met. Is this understood?” Mace had apparently finished his tirade, as he turned to both younger Jedi. Ben woke up from his daze first, and bowed again, as low as he could without tumbling.

“Yes Master.”

“Yes Master.” Anakin copied him, the words gruff from the strain of holding back others.

“The Council also reserves the right to revoke any of these privileges if circ*mstances change enough to alter the agreement made. If a cure is found, or difficulties emerge in your training, we will convene again.” Mace turned to Yoda, who nodded once. “Meeting adjourned. Everyone, return to your prior duties until called again.”

Once again, the room emptied, Masters going through one set of doors and the Council through another. Plo gave them a smile before leaving, and Vokara said some things to Ben about returning to the ward for the night, but Anakin didn’t hear either of them. All he could think about was the churning in his stomach, and the tap of Ahsoka’s foot against the ground. She waited for the room to clear before glowering at Anakin and turning away, ignoring R2’s little whine as she passed.

“Ahsoka – Ahsoka!” He called out to her, jogging to stay up. Ben followed swiftly too, and everyone stopped when they remembered how difficult it was for him to move at such speeds. Still, Anakin turned from his current padawan to his former one, holding up his hands. “Look, I know what you’re going to say and-“

“I’m going back to my ship.” She replied, tone blank even as she fished a commlink out of her belt and pressed it into the kid’s hands. “Ben, take this. If you need anything – if you ever need anything –“ She turned pointedly to Anakin and raised a defiant eyebrow. “Dial that and I’ll be there.” Softening, she reached up and patted the boy’s freckled cheek. “You can do this. You shouldn’t have to, but you can. May the Force be with you.”

“May the Force be with you, Ahsoka.” Ben nodded and watched her go in silence. R2 trundled along with her to the end of the corridor, but stopped as she slipped out of sight. “Well, she certainly is a character.”

“She’s been through a lot.” Anakin snapped, folding his arms. Of all the times for Ben to rediscover his sarcastic side, now was the least appreciated. Where would Ahsoka go? Would she stay on the ship, and wait for another chance to track down Maul? Anakin felt sick at the thought of Mandalore under siege, but his selfish side wanted to beg her to stay. He couldn’t do this on his own.

“Ah yes.” Ben spoke lightly, looking down at the commlink in his hand. “Well, as somebody currently going through ‘a lot’, I can sympathise.”

At that, Anakin let himself look properly at the kid. He was still pale, though less deathly so than the beginning to the proceedings, and he’d stopped sweating. But tiredness had replaced his worry, the adrenaline that had carried him through the meetings slowly fading away. Still, he stood strong, keeping the weight off his injured knee as they walked out of the hall. Hopefully Healer Che would allow him an overnight bacta wrap, to get rid of any residual pain.

“How are you holding up? Want me to take you back to the Med-Bay?” He asked, eyes flicking over to the chair. Ben shook his head.

“Not just yet – Master.” He faltered, but tried to mask it.

“It takes some getting used to, I know.” Anakin shrugged. “You don’t have to call me that, if you don’t want to.”

“But it’s protocol.” Ben glanced at him suspiciously; Anakin snigg*red at his indignaition.

“You were trained by Qui-Gon Jinn and you still cling to protocol?” He smiled, then sighed fondly. “Actually, that explains a lot of things.”

“Does it?”

“He was so proud of you, you know that, right? I didn’t know Qui Gon very long but… he lit up when he talked about you.”

“You must have known a different Qui Gon.” Ben sighed. “Or perhaps he knew a different Obi Wan.”

“Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t.” Anakin mused. “But coming from someone who knew a very different Obi Wan, I’m… I’m proud of you too.” He felt a tightness growing in his throat, but swallowed it down. “There’s no-one I’d rather have at my side.”

“Even if I’m shorter than you expected?” Ben asked, smiling wryly. Anakin couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Ben, it’s been a hard day, with many stressful revelations in it. Do you think you can take one more?” Ben frowned, but softened as Anakin slid a friendly arm around his shoulders. “You don’t get much taller, kid.”

“f*ck.” The curse sounded odd in his accent, which was nowhere near as crisp as it had been in the meeting. “How bad is it?”

“You say you’re 5ft 10, but it’s really more like 5ft 8.”

“f*ck.” He repeated, but laughed along with Anakin. He looked so much younger with a grin on his face.

“Hey, if you promise not to keel over, or snitch on me to the Healers Ward, how do you feel about getting dinner outside of the Temple? I think I know a place you’ll like.”

Notes:

Hey guys! Here's the latest chapter; I'm not actually the biggest fan of this, but I'm not sure what's wrong with it. If you notice anything off, please let me know. I want to make the best work possible, and I appreciate all your feedback <3

Also let me know if you want the Dex scene I wrote for the end of this - I like their interaction, it was just a little clunky

Take care of yourselves and have an awesome day/night!

Chapter 6

Summary:

When Anakin eventually escaped from the meeting, he darted down to the training salles, not stopping to greet his fellow Jedi. Swiftly, he entered Salle Six, and paused.

A lone figure stood in the centre of the room, practising katas. His flaming red hair, bright in the morning sun, was the clearest clue of his identity, but Anakin could tell just from his movements who the padawan was. It was encouraging to see that Ben’s technique was both precise and powerful; he moved with a natural grace Anakin recognised, though his steps were more hesitant.

In which Ben starts his training.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Anakin Skywalker hated early mornings. Not quite as much as he hated sand, but they were up there.

During campaigns, he understood the importance of waking early; it was important to get as much of a head-start on the enemy as possible, and if that meant beginning before sunrise, he could see the purpose. That didn’t mean he liked it, though. Most days, he would huddle under his blankets, dozing away until either Rex had to shake him away, or Ahsoka would jump on his stomach, forcing the air out of his lungs and a scowl onto his face.

At the Temple, Anakin’s morning routine had always been much gentler, and though he had many gripes with the Jedi Council, their choice of mattresses was not one of them. He would spend as much of the morning as he could drifting in and out of consciousness until the sunlight streaked into his eyes, and he could smell a warm cup of tea resting on his bedside table. Obi-Wan was a naturally early riser – Anakin often doubted whether he even went to bed, when he saw the shadows under his Master’s eyes – and he would always wake Anakin up with soothing words and a hot drink. Some would call it indulgent, but Anakin was never lazy. He worked incredibly hard, and if he took a little more time in the mornings to achieve that, well then that was between him and his Master.

Only once had Obi-Wan ever threatened to be more forceful. Anakin really had been taking the piss though, pretending to sleep over an hour after he should have been at morning meditation, trying to skive off an exam. Getting Anakin to revise at all had been like pulling Zillo Beast fangs, so Anakin hadn’t blamed Obi-Wan for getting frustrated. In any other circ*mstance, seeing Obi-Wan looming over his bed with a pot of icy water, ready to dump the whole thing on his stubborn student, might have been well deserved.

Except Anakin had been dreaming that night. Dreaming of Tattooine, and the slave pits, and worse ways to wake up.

So when Anakin had seen the gritted teeth and furrowed brow of the man he called Master, he’d screamed fit to shake the planet. Obi-Wan, hit with a sudden burst of fear through their still new training bond, had reeled back, floating the pot to the other side of the room, where it nestled itself without spilling a drop. Once it was safe, Obi-Wan had dropped onto the bed, apologising profusely and sweeping his sobbing student into his arms with words of comfort as he stroked his hair. Anakin remembered burying himself into Obi-Wan’s shoulder, holding on tight to the warmth.

Now he was so cold, he found himself shivering all the time. It was like his arrival on Coruscant, when the rays of only one sun barely warmed his fingers, let alone his body. Waking up to both a shrieking alarm-clock and a comm full of messages didn’t help either; having Mace Windu be the first voice he heard every morning made Anakin’s shoulders slump.

Still, he thought as he blearily shoved on his warmest robes, at least his padawan was getting to sleep in. Leave periods were scarce in the middle of such an enormous war, but even the Council couldn’t deny Ben’s need for a few days off, to reacquaint himself with the Temple and his body. Officially, this meant Ben wasn’t required to attend any meetings or classes, and unlike his master, wasn’t expected to drag himself up at the arsecrack of dawn to oversee battle plans. As Anakin passed by his door, he paused but heard nothing. Lucky little sh*t was still asleep.

It wouldn’t always be the case, though. With Ben officially released from the Halls of Healing, he would be expected to resume all his duties at the start of the next week, granting Anakin only a few days to get a sense of his skill-level before they were launched into a fuller than average training regime. They weren’t officially Temple-bound, but the understanding was they would be spared from explicitly risky missions until Ben’s talents had been proven; how long that could be was unknowable. Anakin wasn’t quite sure how quickly he could get Ben ready, but he’d been dreaming up a few training techniques to start them off. For the first time, he was thankful to have trained Ahsoka under war conditions; at least he had some idea of what a teenager could achieve in such a strained environment.

In fact, he might have been dreaming a bit too hard, as Mace Windu interrupted the General’s meeting to glare at him.

“Skywalker!” He barked, scowl deepening as Anakin jolted out of his thoughts. In front of him was a large hologram map covered in arrows. Anakin knew they denoted different military strategies, but he couldn’t for the life of him recall whose was whose. Now he wasn’t thinking so intently, his eyes were itching with tiredness, and he had to fight back a yawn. How did Obi-Wan get through these things without caff? “I’m sorry, are we boring you?”

“My apologies, Masters, I was just-“ Anakin felt his cheeks burning, but Yoda rapped him lightly on the knee with his gimmar stick.

“Time to daydream, there is not.”

“Have we received any word from the Chancellor?” Anakin’s voice came out weaker than he intended, as he straightened his back and leaned forward. He’d only been in the meeting for half an hour, but he could already feel the adrenaline pumping in his veins. He didn’t want to sit around discussing strategy; they were needed on the ground, working through the locations the Council were discussing.

“Commander Cody and the 212th are running interference, seeing as they’re currently grounded. There was an alleged sighting of Dooku near Genosis, but the informant is unreliable.” Plo admitted, giving a shrug. “Dooku can’t hold such a highly prized figure for long without someone noticing.”
“Has anyone checked less… reputable sources?” Quinlan asked, flicking his dreadlocks over the shoulder so their gold tips danced in the light of the hologram.

“Master Vos, now is not the time for dabbling with pirates.” Shaak Tii narrowed her eyes, sounding more like a scolding teacher than a military general.

“Hey, I’m just saying – they’re observant.” Quinlan leaned back in his seat, folding his arms. “Nothing passes by Hondo Ohsaka; maybe we should get in touch.”

“He wouldn’t speak to any of us.” Mace admitted, shaking his head. “Perhaps Obi-Wan-“

Silence fell, as the Council swivelled to look at Obi-Wan’s seat. The seat Anakin was sat in, feeling more like a lost Bantha than a Jedi General.

“We’ll have to think of something else.” He announced, keeping his gaze locked on the hologram so he didn’t have to see Mace rolling his eyes. No way was he going to let Ben, even fully healed, anywhere near pirates. Not unless he absolutely had to.

“How goes his training, Skywalker?” Plo asked gently, cutting through the tension. “Is he recovered enough to spar?”

“We’re practicing for the first time today.” Anakin confirmed. “Hopefully, I can get a sense of what he’s capable of and work from there.”

“Dedicated, Padawan Kenobi was.” Yoda stroked a claw over his chin as he murmured. “Dedicated again, he must be.”

After a brief pause, conversation turned back to the Outer Rim sieges and Anakin settled back in his seat, trying not to get too distracted. Still, when his comm pinged, he couldn’t help but sneak it out of his pocket, glancing down at the tiny screen. He recognised the code, but had never programmed it in as a contact, lest his comm fall into the wrong hands, and expose the depth of their relationship. The message brought a smile to his lips, which he hid behind his hand.

‘Thinking of you – dinner? x’

He didn’t dare type back a response, not while Windu was lecturing, but the thought made his heart leap, then sink into his stomach. He’d have to be a lot more careful about visiting Padme with Ben around; as a padawan, Ben would be living practically in his pocket, and would notice if Anakin took frequent trips to Coruscant.

As if reading his mind, his comm pinged again.

'Bring Ahsoka and Obi-Wan too – it will be nice to have a family meal. I’ll even get some oil for R2. x'

Anakin’s heart clenched at the thought – all the people he loved in one room. It was what he’d pictured on the long lonely nights where he couldn’t sleep.

As subtly as he could, Anakin skated his thumb across his comm.

Will do x

**

When Anakin eventually escaped from the meeting, he darted down to the training salles, not stopping to greet his fellow Jedi. Swiftly, he entered Salle Six, and paused.

A lone figure stood in the centre of the room, practising katas. His flaming red hair, bright in the morning sun, was the clearest clue of his identity, but Anakin could tell just from his movements who the padawan was. It was encouraging to see that Ben’s technique was both precise and powerful; he moved with a natural grace Anakin recognised, though his steps were more hesitant. He progressed with ease through technically difficult manoeuvres, growing increasingly complex. Where most padawans would tire, he seemed to draw strength from the challenge, limbs still taut even as he began to add kicks and flips to his routine. He was certainly more advanced than Anakin had been at his age; he nailed moves that most padawans didn’t even attempt until their early twenties. The only concern Anakin had was that Obi-Wan’s face lacked the serenity required for a truly perfect performance. Even from a distance, Anakin could see his winces and twitches, his jaw clenched as his eyes screwed up tighter. Such a serious expression reminded Anakin of the first time he’d seen Obi-Wan practicing, aboard the ship taking him to Coruscant for the first time.

“Obi-Wan is a fine student, is he not?” Qui-Gon had caught him snooping, coming up behind Anakin to peer at the younger Jedi, who was kicking higher than Anakin had ever thought possible. Even in the cramped conditions of the ship, Obi-Wan’s movements were graceful and controlled. Qui-Gon had chuckled fondly, eyes shining. “We must not disturb him, little one. The performing of katas is a difficult and private process, and a Jedi Knight needs as much practice as they can get.”

“I don’t think he likes me very much.” Anakin had pouted, as he allowed himself to be led away. Qui-Gon had glanced down at him, tilting his head to one side as he thought.

“Whatever gave you that impression?”

“He doesn’t talk to me.” Anakin had replied, remembering Obi-Wan’s brief nod at their first meeting. He knew Obi-Wan could talk; he’d said loads of things to the Captain and Master Qui-Gon – he just hadn’t spoken to Anakin. “He doesn’t smile, or laugh at my jokes.”

“Obi-Wan is very serious.” Qui Gon had confirmed. They’d been walking past a set of crates, and almost instinctively, Qui Gon had scooped him up and set him on the highest one, so they could look at each other, eye to eye. “Too serious. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like you.”

“He smiles at you.” Anakin has pouted, folding his arms.

“He does now.” Qui Gon’s voice had rumbled, serious where it should have been jovial. A sadness had crept into the older man’s eyes, something that had never been explained, and perhaps never would. “Obi-Wan’s trust is something to be earned. A difficult task, but certainly a worthy one.” Qui-Gon had turned back down the corridor to where Obi-Wan was still practising, his distant footsteps echoing through the corridor. When he’d turned back, Qui-Gon’s eyes had been shining with pride, as he patted Anakin’s cheek. “You two will make a fine pair, if the Force wills it.”

What would he have said, seeing Obi-Wan like this, and Anakin racked with helplessness?

Ben had moved into another kata, and Anakin frowned as he watched the neat, clean moves. He seemed to be attempting a Sarlaac Sho, one of the most complex katas practised by the Jedi, and an exhausting one to boot. For most Knights that would be their entire days’ worth of training, so for Ben to be practising it even before sparring was crazy. It was more of an aerial piece, focusing on flips and jumps; Anakin watched as Ben leapt and cartwheeled around the free space. He was a little less precise on these moves, occasionally wavering or veering off track, but he certainly had the speed and dexterity. When Ben finished, switching with difficulty from a handspring into a roundoff but landing strong, Anakin resisted the urge to start applauding. Instead, he spied Ben’s comm sitting on top of his Temple-issue canvas bag, and with what Obi-Wan would have called a misuse of the Force, willed the little device into his hand. There was only one frequency programmed into it, and he dialled it as quickly as he could, tucking himself behind the wall as he muttered into it. Ben was watching the footage of his attempt, wiping the sweat off his face as he stared intensely at the little screen.

“Ahsoka – Ahsoka do you read me?” He asked, as he heard a rustling from the other side of the comm, followed by a tired groan. Anakin glanced at the clock and winced. Okay, maybe it was a bit early for civilians, but Ahsoka had spent most of her life as a Jedi. She could deal with one more morning start.

“Ben, what are you-“ Ahsoka’s voice, rough from sleep, shifted as she realised her audience. Anakin could practically hear her scowl. “Anakin, this comm isn’t for you.”

“Snips, can you come to training salle six? You’re going to want to see this.” He let his excitement leak into his voice, hoping to catch her attention. Instead there was more shuffling and a low moan.

“Anakin, I’ve got-“ Her voice sounded muffled, as if she had shoved her face into her pillow.

“He just landed a near perfect Sarlaac Sho.” Anakin felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle as he spoke. Ben was still none the wiser, taking a long drink of water and rolling his shoulders. “At sixteen.”

“Bullsh*t.” Ahsoka’s voice was rightfully doubtful, but he could hear the tinge of awe as she got to her feet. “I’m on my way.”

The comm’s closing beep was louder than Anakin would have liked, and Ben turned around, eyes wide and wary. Anakin was forced to creep out apologetically but even then, Ben didn’t entirely relax. Instead, his face flushed red, gaze flicking occasionally to the recording screen.

“Master!” He squeaked, trying to face Anakin and delete the footage at the same time. “I’m sorry I didn’t-“

“It’s alright, I should have said something.” Before Anakin could intervene, Ben had typed something into the recorder and the footage was gone. Anakin was hit with a pang of sadness; he would have liked to show Ahsoka the kid’s routine. Still, it wasn’t Jedi practice to dwell. “You’re early. Our session doesn’t start until seven.”

“Well, I saw the salle was empty, and I thought I’d reacquaint myself before we get started. Wouldn’t want to slow us down by being unfamiliar with my environment.”

“You’re sweating. Have you been sparring?” He leaned in, and examined Ben’s face. As exhausting as his warm-ups had been, the kid didn’t look too tired. He held his head high, his posture was perfect. Even his panting had stopped, which was remarkable. The last time Anakin had completed a Sarlaac Sho, he’d wanted to collapse onto the dojo floor and not get back up again.

“A few practice moves. The Temple is warmer than I recall.” Anakin raised an eyebrow but decided not to push it, instead grabbing a towel from the rack and tossing it to Ben. He caught it effortlessly but frowned down at it.

“Dry yourself off while I warm up, and then we’ll get started.” Anakin turned away from the boy and started a few katas of his own. After the lengthy council meeting, it felt nice to stretch his muscles again, and he felt stronger than he had in weeks thanks to his new younger body. It was strange to have an extra hand though, and his balance was a little off as he bent over backwards in a cartwheel, before lifting himself up onto a single hand. To compensate, he let himself fall into a light meditative trance. He was only half aware that he was bouncing around the salle as Ben had done before him. Combining his older talents and his newer muscles meant he could spring higher, and move faster. Experimentally, he found himself pulling out his lightsaber and incoroporating its presence into his routine. He was delighted to learn he could still perform his favourite move, The Tattooine Twist. Starting as a somersault, it progressed through a series of leaps and twists before ending on a roundhouse kick hard enough break an opponent’s jaw and a hard downward swipe with his blade. By the time he returned to himself, Ben was in front of him, watching with wide admiring eyes.

“Pretty neat, isn’t it?” Anakin stretched his shoulders, almost lazily. Ben stepped forward, tilting his head to one side.

“Who taught you that?” He asked. Anakin chuckled, returning his lightsaber to his belt.

“Developed it myself. It’s a combination of forms two and four, with a bit of Vapaad thrown in. You like it?” Anakin couldn’t help but preen a little; Obi-Wan had never shown so much interest in his inventions, accusing Anakin of showing off. Maybe he was a little, but it felt nice to see someone take an interest.

“It’s very impressive.” Ben’s compliment was reserved, but he was still smiling.

“Yep, the Council can bitch all they want but they can’t fault my technique.” Anakin smirked, but put his thoughts aside as he straightened up. “Right, let’s get started. You’ve done all your stretches, right?”

“Yes Master.” Ben stood to attention, lightsaber hilt in hand. He didn’t ignite it though, waiting for instructions.

The instructions never came.

Anakin wasn’t sure what had caused it, but he was suddenly struck into silence. Yes, he’d trained a padawan, and had spent his fair share of time in the creche working with the younglings, but what was he supposed to teach his own Master? The kid was clearly advanced, moreso than Anakin had thought. He didn’t want to patronise, but he also didn’t want to push Ben beyond his limits.

“How did Master Qui-Gon usually train you?” He asked, turning away to cover up his embarrassment. This was stupid – he was the Master, he should know what to do. Ben stood still, blinking owlishly up at him. “It’s not like you sparred all the time; the guy was like a mountain.”

“We focused on basic forms mostly. Building up a strong skillset before moving onto more advanced techniques.” Ben almost seemed to be reciting it, as if he’d spoken such words before over and over. He was staring down at his boots, the remnants of his braid brushing his cheek. “Does the Temple still have practice dummies?”

“Yeah, for Initiates.” Anakin frowned; there was no way a kid of Ben’s obvious skill was still working with practice dummies. He ran a hand through his hair and looked around. “No, we need something more interactive.”

“Perhaps a simulation, Master. You would be able to observe, and I’m sure the catalogue is updated enough that there’s no way I could have memorised any route.”

“Good idea, kid.” Anakin smiled at Ben, before moving over to the salle’s programming desk. This was the device that had recorded Ben before, but now by opening different software, he could generate a preprogramed simulation for Ben to work on. Reaching into the box below, he handed Ben a round white helmet, which the padawan slipped on without a word.

Jedi simulations truly were a thing of beauty. Simply by wearing a helmet, one could be virtually transported to any planet, terrain, or weather condition, with an accuracy that bordered on the uncanny. Operated externally by a master, any number of difficulties could be added. Anakin settled for a relatively difficult situation – battle on a muddy planet in the pouring rain. As he selected the weather conditions, he saw his padawan hunch, shivering from the artificial cold. Still, he straightened soon enough, standing still as he waited for instructions.

“Alright.” Anakin called to the boy, who turned his head but didn’t speak. “This is going to be a challenge, okay Ben? I usually wouldn’t throw a Padawan in at this level, but I need to know how you function in combat. If you can’t keep going, just say and we’ll stop. Got it?” Ben nodded firmly and Anakin smiled down at the desk. “Go.”

Anakin allowed Ben a few moments to get used to the simulation before introducing the first opponent. He’d started simple – a clanker infantry droid on mid-low difficulty setting. Yet his padawan didn’t move.

“Ben? You okay?” Anakin called.

“Friend or foe?” Ben asked, holding his lightsaber cautiously in front of him. Anakin swore to himself – of course the kid didn’t know; he’d missed twenty years of military history.

“That’s a battle droid – it’s what we’ve mostly been fighting against.” Anakin called out, programming the droid to raise its blaster and start firing. “See what you can do with it, and once we’re finished, I’ll let you know if you were right.”

Ben nodded, and raised his saber, taking slow calculated moves as he sized up his opponent. He managed to bat back the blaster fire, though Anakin could already tell he was less confident in saber practise than he had been in katas. His technique, though far from clumsy, lacked the finesse of his earlier work. Still, he quickly figured out the droid’s firing pattern, and made short work of the clanker.

When he was confident Ben could hold his own, he added a second opponent and then a third a few moments later. Usually, he would filter obstacles in slower, and telegraph exactly what he was doing, but he needed to see how Ben reacted to unexpected difficulties. In that respect, the boy was marvellous. His moves became more instinctive as the challenge increased, but his performance was still technically impressive. Once Ben had cut down the three initial opponents, Anakin added three more, and began tinkering with the simulation’s lighting. Ben faltered the first time the room completely dimmed but quickly righted himself, his saber casting its blue tinge over the scene.

Though Ben coped admirably with the vast array of challenges Anakin threw at him, both environmental and opponent-based, he did begin to tire quite quickly. Three minutes before the scheduled end of the simulation, he took a nasty blow to the arm and became unbalanced, struggling to keep up momentum as the opponents circled. He was down to his last two, the sweat dripping down his face. Anakin watched him take a deep breath and pull himself up to his full height, before springing up and kicking out with both legs, knocking each opponent back a few steps. By the time he landed, he’d bought himself enough time to finish them off separately, his lightsaber swirling in a perfect figure eight, then before being plunged straight into the floor as the simulation faded.

Anakin sat back, and allowed the simulation to time itself out without adding any more opponents or distractions. Ben had already proven his skill, and deserved a chance to catch his breath; Anakin knew from experience that sometimes fights ended prematurely, and that was worth training for too. Plus, the kid couldn’t keep going for much longer – in a realistic situation, Anakin would order him to stop fighting, and to move somewhere to rest and regroup.

When the simulation finished, Ben was on his feet instantly, quickly belting his saber and standing to attention. His face, though less flushed than before, was twisted with concern.

“Is everything alright, Master?” He asked, swallowing hard. “I know the landing was clumsy; I’ll work on-“

“Ben, that was amazing!” Ahsoka’s voice rang from the door; Anakin had felt her presence approaching, and had hoped she had caught the end of the fight. Judging by her bright smile, she had seen all that and more.

“What?” Ben looked taken aback, staring at their enthusiastic faces. His posture relaxed a tiny amount as Anakin set a warm hand on his shoulder.

“We’ve never seen you move like that.” He admitted, thinking back to some of Ben’s quicker attacks. “There were Makashi moves in there, right?”

“Yes. Well, attempts at least.” He shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck. “Apparently my Ataru is impressive considering my age, but the form lacks precision. Master Dooku has been-“

There was a heavy silence, and Anakin clenched his fists unconsciously. For once, he could feel the ligaments stretch as he uncurled. Ahsoka was calmer, not able to focus on Ben as she nodded slowly. The boy swallowed.

“You learned from Dooku?” Anakin managed to say after calming himself.

“A few moves, yes, but not for a while. He was my grandmaster.” Ben admitted with a slight sigh. Any fondness in his voice was quickly masked with shame as he fiddled with his sleeve.

“’Soka, did you bring your shotos?” Anakin forced himself to sound bright, turning to his previous padawan, who patted her belt. “How about a real spar?” He stepped back, admiring his two companions. “I figured because you guys are similar ages and sizes, it might be easier for me to see you two spar and pick up on your techniques from the outside, before we fight each other. That make sense?”

“Yes, Master.” Ben half-bowed and moved into position on the other side of the dojo.

“Let me limber up first, Skyguy.” Ahsoka insisted, stretching her hands up over her head. “Ben, take five and get some water.”

Ben glanced at Anakin, not moving until he got a nod. Anakin noticed the relieved slump of his shoulders as he relaxed, taking a few somewhat undignified gulps of water. Ahsoka gave a pointed cough and looked away, starting her warmup routine. She had always been much slower than her masters, focusing on long languid movements that were nonetheless strong and powerful. If Anakin zapped through his movements, she flowed like a river.

It didn’t take too long for her to be ready though, and by gently nudging in the bond, Ben was quickly in place. Anakin stood between them, feeling a surge of pride as he watched both of his padawans settle themselves. Is this what Obi-Wan had felt, looking at him and Ahsoka? He smiled, raising a hand.

“Alright – assume stances.” Anakin watched as Ahsoka drew both blades, something that caused Ben’s eyes to widen for a second, before he settled back into calm. Whilst Ahsoka took a side-on stance, Ben raised his blade in front of him, holding on with two hands and bending his knees.

“That’s a Form IV opener.” Anakin announced before he could stop himself. Ben nodded, looking confused.

“Yes – is… is something wrong with-“ He started to straighten up, but Anakin shook his head.

“No, not if that’s how you feel comfortable.” He forced himself to turn back into the centre. “When I drop my hand, you will begin.”

After a silent count of three, Anakin dropped his hand and stepped back. Though both started with slow careful movements, the fight quickly built momentum. Ben was fast, but Ahsoka was faster. Her twin blades dazzled the younger apprentice – Anakin winced at the thought of the boy facing Grievous. But despite his struggles, Ben did an admirable job of holding his own. He was quick to flip over Ahsoka if he sensed her trying to back him into a corner, and he was very good at meeting her attacks head on, not flinching from a difficult fight. He used the surrounding environment particularly well, bouncing off nearby pillars to gain extra height. Still, Anakin could sense something off about the boy’s technique, as if he were holding back. He simply couldn’t keep up, especially when Ahsoka began fighting dirty. The duel ended when Ahsoka swung her foot under Ben’s ankles and sent him tumbling to the ground with a painful sounding thud. Ahsoka was over him in a second, blade against his neck.

“I yield.” Ben bared his throat as he let his head fall back on the dojo floor. Ahsoka turned off her saber and gave him a few seconds to catch his breath before holding out a hand to help him up. Anakin noticed he didn’t quite spring up as easily as he had before, favouring his left side.

“Well done kid – you had me on the ropes for a minute there.” Ahsoka beamed and the kid nodded back, still panting. Anakin moved forward to greet them, congratulating them both before turning to Ben with a more critical eye.

“Seems to me your weak spot is stamina. Do you find you get tired a lot when you fight?”

“Master Jinn and I do not usually spar for so long.” Ben admitted, scrubbing a sleeve over his face. “I have been building my strength with hiking but-“

“Different type of stamina, kid.” Anakin watched him more carefully; he seemed exhausted from the bout. “Have you thought about using a more stationary form? Your Makashi is strong but…”

“But what?” Ben frowned, snapping to attention with perfect posture. It was almost scary how rigid he could become at a moment’s notice.

“Well, the Obi-Wan we know was a master of Soresu.” Ahsoka admitted.

“Soresu?” Ben paused, and then laughed. “No, that can’t be right – I haven’t the balance.”

“Not yet.” Anakin noted. “You’re putting a lot of energy into your aerial manoeuvres – it’s good practice, but if you can’t sustain it, you’re only opening yourself up to attack when you run out of power.” Anakin watched the boy’s face shift. “Recentering yourself lower to the ground could allow you to put more strength into your swing, and build speed.”

“Or I could improve my aerial technique and not have to reconsider my form.” Ben countered, his voice strict. Anakin frowned.

“Yeah, but why bother?” He crossed his arms, and stared down at Ben. “We’re at war, Ben. We don’t have time for perfection; we need results. And if you can’t hold your own for possibly hours at a time, you’re going to get yourself, and potentially others, killed.”

Anakin had been expecting more of an argument, more of a negotiation as Ben set forth his reasoning for sticking with the aerial moves he was working so hard to perfect. There were plenty of arguments in his favour – aerial moves were good for a range of opponents and terrains, and well as being potentially dazzling to unsuspecting attackers. He was not expecting Ben to hang his head, directing his words to the floor.

“Yes Master. You’re right. Forgive me.”

“Anakin’s right, if he is being a little dramatic.” Ahsoka gave Ben a little friendly nudge in the ribs, but the boy didn’t smile. “And besides, when you fight in the style most comfortable to your body, you gain confidence as well as skill. People tried for years to talk me out of using a backhand, but when I acquired my extra lightsaber, I realised I’d been preparing myself for dual-wielding the whole time.” Ben lifted his head a little. “It’s about finding out what works for you.”

“Yes, Master.” Ben repeated, his voice a little stronger this time.

“I’m not a Master, kid. Not even a Jedi anymore.” Ahsoka sighed, and stepped away, patting Ben on the shoulder as she did so. Once released, Ben slipped away to start tidying the equipment. Anakin and Ahsoka watched him work, but chose not to intervene; if he wanted a bit of space, they’d give it to him. “Any more plans, Master Skywalker?”

“I think we should wrap up here for the day. Senator Amidala asked if Ben and I would visit for dinner; she’s got some concerns about the Chancellor.” Anakin deliberately refused to make eye-contact with Ahsoka, who was smiling wolfishly.

“Sure, the Chancellor is what’s concerning her.” She folded her arms, smirking. “Have you got any meetings to attend?”

“Nothing official until next week.” Anakin dropped his voice. “They’ll be a place for you. There always is.

“You’ll have one more dinner guest than usual, remember?” Ahsoka tipped her head towards Ben.

“Still…” Anakin rubbed the back of his neck. “Padme misses you, Snips. I…”

Before Anakin could continue though, Ahsoka’s comm began to beep. When they glanced down, they saw a message from Rex, with some rather choice Mando’a phrases that made them both laugh. With a smile, she patted the top of his arm, and turned away.

“Catch you later Skyguy.” She raised a hand and waved at the padawan. “See you around, Ben!”

“Goodbye Commander Tano!” He trotted back over to Anakin, standing perfectly straight. “Is there anything you’d like to run through, Master?”

“Nah, we’re done for the day. I was thinking we’d freshen up, get you a schedule for next week’s classes, and then we could head into the city. Some members of the Senate wish to discuss our plans for rescuing Chancellor Palpatine.”

“Ah yes. He’s missing, isn’t he?” Ben sounded uncomfortable. He’d been fully briefed about the war and his part in it, and no doubt the padawan felt guilty for letting such a valuable figure be stolen away due to his injuries.

“Come on, grab your stuff or we’ll miss the -” Anakin announced, seizing Ben’s backpack from the side. His arm bowed under the weight and he frowned. “Jeez kid, what’s in this thing?”

“Just some light reading.” Ben pulled back the flap to reveal at least five increasingly chunky books. “Master Nu recommended them, to help me catch up on the history of the war.” He puffed his chest out a little, shining with pride. “You can’t tell what information will be useful.”

“If nothing else, you’ll build up your back muscles lugging this thing around.” Anakin laughed, then paused. “Oh Ben – one last thing. Come here.”

“What do-“ Before he could finish, Anakin reached forward and nudged the nub of hair just behind Ben’s ear that was brushing against his jaw. It was a strange length – too short to be a sixteen-year old’s braid, but too long to be anything else. Its end were almost feathered, like a newly cut pony-tail. Ben shuddered when Anakin touched it, keeping his eyes firmly on the floor.

“Where’s your braid?” Anakin asked softly. In the back of his memory he could recall Obi-Wan’s braid. It had been the longest he’d ever seen, swinging almost as low as his waist and decorated at intervals with bright thread. Only when Anakin was acquiring his own colours did he realise how accomplished Obi-Wan had been; he’d had every variety except his white thread, for healing. Anakin had remembered how sad he had felt, seeing all that work being tucked into Qui-Gon’s hand at the funeral pyre. “Did it get lost when you-“

“No.” Ben’s voice was tight, his words clipped and his accent strong. “Master Qui-Gon had to remove it when… when I left the Order. I wasn’t allowed to grow a new one until after my probation and then… well, Master Qui-Gon wasn’t in a braiding mood.”

“I was worried you were going to say something like that.” Anakin sighed, and took the nub in hand. “Look, we’re not exactly the most traditional lineage for braids but…” His fingers twisted as best he could, and soon there was a tiny stubby plait, roughly the size of his thumb. Anakin then reached down, and pulled two items out of his belt. The first was a simple leather tie, perfect for finishing braids. The second was small and round, amber-coloured and catching the light.

“This was a bead my mother wore on a necklace when I was growing up. It was part of my braid, and Ahsoka’s. And now it’s on yours.” Anakin gently nudged it up the base of Ben’s braid, then used the tie to secure it. Once he was finished, and Ben was looking at him with wide hopeful eyes, he patted the boy’s cheek.

“There. A new start, Apprentice.”

Notes:

Okay so this felt like a bit of a filler chapter while I try and work out what's going to happen next - I've got the main story arc worked out, but I've got a few gaps before we get there. Is there anything in particular you'd like to see? I've definitely been drawing ideas from the comments - including (...), who pointed out that Qui Gon and Anakin never actually talk about Obi-Wan in the film's canon. Guess I've got to do everything in this goddamn house ;D

So what would you guys like to see next? I've got some more Padme stuff written, but I'm really excited to bring back Dooku and Palpatine, as well as our boy Cody, who I have been sleeping on. Dude's going to have a heart attack when he sees Baby-Wan.

Please let me know what you think down below, and thanks as always for reading! Have a good day, take care of yourself and be kind!

Chapter 7

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Is he going to follow us everywhere?” Ben asked, his voice getting lost in the crowded streets of Coruscant. Anakin was used to looking down to find his master (and thank the Force for his bright hair) but trying to keep an eye on Ben as they walked to Padme’s quarters was its own challenge. The kid was dwarfed by most species, especially Pau'ans and Wookiees, who buffeted him around like a leaf on the wind. Still, he was quick, and able to dash through little gaps between people to return to Anakin’s side. That was, when he wasn’t tripping over the astromech that was following his path.

“What – R2?” Anakin smirked down at their companion and stretched out to give him a pat. “Yeah, he’s part of the team.”

“He’s a droid.” Ben sounded unimpressed, almost losing his footing as a Leffingite squeezed past him.

“The droid part of the team.” Anakin shrugged, and nudged his padawan to a quieter patch of the street. “Keep up, Ben – now’s not the time to get distracted.”

“Sorry Master – I just –“ Ben paused, catching his breath. His eyes were darting around the buildings, wide with curiosity. “I expected the future to look different.” His gaze caught two beings squabbling with raised voices and wagging fingers. “But not that much has changed.”

“Two decades isn’t as long as you think.”

“It’s more than my entire life. This one, at least.” Ben countered and Anakin winced. “Those are new.”

Anakin followed his padawan’s gaze up to the many holoscreens that shone around the city, displaying everything from news to sport to weather seven systems away. Most of the time they were muted, simply projecting colourful adverts to the people below. But in the corner, there was an Elomin reading the financial sector’s latest report. Stocks were down again. What a surprise.

“The holonet’s become more important for tracking the war’s progress. Palpatine thought it would be good for all citizens to be informed of all times about what’s going on.”

“Isn’t that a breach of confidentiality?” Ben frowned, watching as footage from the latest battle was broadcast to the citizens down below. Not a lot of people were even paying attention.

“Well, we don’t tell them everything. Just the official statistics.” Anakin shrugged, and then tugged at his padawan’s outer robe. It was big on him, trailing on the ground; it was only through a miracle of the force that it wasn’t being stood on constantly. “Keep your hood up though – we don’t exactly want a reporter figuring out you’re…”

“Yes, Master.” Ben nodded, jogging to keep up. Thankfully, he’d chosen to leave his straining backpack in their apartment; it would have been a nightmare moving through the crowds with such a weight on his back. Anakin didn’t even know why Ben was carrying so many books; they barely had time to read, even if Anakin had been so inclined. “Forgive me but… why are we going to a senator’s apartment?”

“Padme Amidala’s part of the Loyalist Committee and a close personal friend of Palpatine’s. I told her I’d inform her of any developments in his rescue.” Anakin spoke quickly, not meeting his padawan’s eye. He felt a twinge of guilt at his briskness; Obi-Wan would have teased him for his evading answers, but the kid didn’t know any better.

“Including…?” Ben looked down at himself, and then up again, raising an eyebrow.

“Including you, little one.” Anakin resisted the urge to ruffle his padawan’s hair. “Senator Amidala is the most trustworthy woman I know; she won’t tell the holonet, or anyone.”

“More trustworthy than a Jedi?” Ben’s response was slow, considered – diplomatic even. It made Anakin scowl.

“Don’t get co*cky, kid.” He huffed, pushing forwards. “Besides, Senator Amidala’s been involved in this conflict since its inception; she might have valuable insight on - kid?” Anakin turned on his heel to see Ben had frozen in the middle of the street, blinking hard. Anakin jogged through the crowds back towards him, causing some other pedestrians to grumble. However, after one good look at their robes, the people began to swerve around them. Perks of being a Jedi, Anakin supposed. “Ben… you okay?”

Ben didn’t speak, but at least he had the decency to point. Above them were the typical holonet advertisem*nts for drinks and food and ways to pass the time. But laced between those were portraits of the Jedi in their full armour; a PR move made by Palpatine to get the public used to their defenders. Anakin stared at the one closest to them, the one that had captured Ben’s attention.

And Obi-Wan stared back.

“He’s very… impressive.” Ben mumbled after a while, blinking. The portraits cycled through three different stances. The first, the one Ben had noticed, was a fighting stance – Obi-Wan with his lightsaber out and his jaw set tight. The second, the one they were looking at now, was calmer, his face meditative and smiling serenely. The third, which it switched to when Anakin blinked, was Obi-Wan with his head tilted with a hint of a frown, his expression that mix of fondness and resignation that Anakin had lived with for over a decade.

“He was so grumpy that day.” Anakin forced himself to speak, and Ben finally turned away from the projection, which had started its cycle again. “The Council had triplebooked him for meetings, and they’d been comming him non-stop, so when the makeup artist tried to put some concealer under his eyes he’d snapped at her that they were eyebags of honour, and should be accurately reflected in promotional material.”

“Sounds cheery.” Ben replied, but Anakin could see he was holding back a smile. All too soon, it was ripped away as a Twi’lek barged into them, turning only to curse before carrying on her journey. When Ben righted himself, any trace of cheekiness was gone.

“Are people always so disrespectful to the Jedi?” He asked, as they took a left and then a right, winding their way through the city. Anakin shook his head.

“Most people are respectful, as they always have been.” He sighed. “But resentment has been growing, especially here on Coruscant. People are scared we’ll bring the war to their doorstep, rather than keeping it in the uncivilised Outer Rim.” Anakin made his voice purposefully snooty; he couldn’t bear people who tried to privilege Core Worlds. As he saw it, it was all one galaxy, and it all needed protecting.

Luckily, his wife thought so too, as Anakin paused outside of the Senate Building.

“Did you ever come here with Master Qui-Gon?” Anakin asked as they stepped inside and were immediately scanned by a security droid. Based on Ben’s flinching, he hadn’t. “There’s been some changes – security is higher but we’ve pretty much got all access passes. If anyone asks what you’re doing here, give them your comm code and they’ll let you through.”

“Yes Master.” Ben nodded, following Anakin into a lift. They had to wait a moment, as R2-D2 seemed to be in conflict with the security team, whistling and beeping. Eventually though, he was let through, chirping happily. Anakin tapped in Padme’s floor code and felt his stomach swoosh as the lift began to move. In the privacy of the elevator, he and Ben both lowered their hoods. Anakin glanced over his shoulder, and basked in the orangey glow of twilight over Coruscant. That colour always made him think of Padme, of sneaking into her rooms for the night, and holding his wife as the sun set.

Padme. He’d finally be able to see her, to hold her.

“You seem a little tense.” Ben faced forward, but Anakin could see how he would occasionally glance up. He’d assumed the kid was as entranced by the sky as he was, but when Ben’s gaze lingered, he realised the kid was looking at him.

“Not at all.” He swallowed, straightening up.

“You’re sweating.” Ben countered, folding his hands into his robes. “Should I be nervous?”

“I’m not sweating.” Anakin tried to keep the whine out of his voice, though his heart was hammering. “And no. It’s just Padme.”

“On first name basis, are we?” The slow, sleek tone was back, but before Anakin could respond, the lift doors opened and he was accosted by bright cold.

“Oh Master Anakin, it is truly wonderful to see you again!” He hadn’t programmed C-3PO to feel joy, but something in his tone betrayed it; he seemed to shine even brighter than usual as Anakin clapped him on the shoulder. The droid gave a stiff little half turn and paused as it scanned Ben. C-3PO couldn’t squint, but he sounded like he wanted to. “And who is your friend?”

“C-3PO, this is Obi-Wan. We ran into some trouble fighting-“

“Is that Anakin?” Padme’s voice trickled through the apartment, and Anakin’s heart lifted at the sound of socked feet running through the room. However, she didn’t pause in front of Anakin, instead stopping to stare at Ben, who was watching her like one would a man-eating plant. “Oh I’d forgotten about the dimples!” She giggled, gaze skating over his face before she took a deep breath, and controlled herself. Her giddy smile slipped into something more serene. “Sorry, that wasn’t very professional of me, now was it?”

“Ben, this is Senator Padme Amidala.” Anakin nodded, and Ben gave a full bow, his braid falling forward as he did so. “Padme, this is… Ben Kenobi.”

“So the rumours are true.” Padme peered closely at Anakin’s face. “The holonet’s been going crazy with sightings of two new padawans moving around the city. But they never in a million years would have guessed-“ She paused, and held up her hands. “My apologies, I am being a terrible host. Take a seat, gentlemen.”

“Thank you, my lady.” Ben’s voice was soft, as he took his seat, his robes folding around him. God they were huge on him. “It’s an honour to meet you.”

Padme watched him for a few moments, her eyes growing sadder as she filled the pot with leaves. Anakin knew it was purely for Ben’s sake – both he and Padme preferred caff, and usually if he were here alone, they’d dip into Padme’s supply of sweet Alderaanian wine. But tea was neutral, diplomatic – friendly without being intimate. At least, when prepared by non-Jedi.

“You don’t remember who I am, do you?” She sighed, setting the water to boil. “That’s a pity. You and I are good friends, Ben. Your master saved my life.”

“Qui-Gon?” Ben’s leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “How-“

“Perhaps another time.” Anakin cut in, feeling his stomach twist. It wasn’t that he wanted to keep the facts of Qui-Gon’s death away from his padawan; he just remembered how hurt the kid had been in the Council Chamber. If staying quiet meant reducing that kind of pain, he’d do it in a heartbeat. “Padme’s the senator for Naboo.”

“A beautiful world, I am sure.” Ben’s compliments were sincere, but vague. Padme squinted.

“Have you never visited?” In truth, it was a surprise – Naboo had always been a main feature of galactic diplomacy and even if Ben had only visited a handful of worlds with Qui-Gon, Naboo was almost a given destination for a young padawan diplomat.

“No, ma’am. Most of my apprenticeship has been spent solving conflicts in the Outer Rim.” He explained, voice soft. “I meant no disrespect to your homeworld, ma’am; I haven’t even visited my own yet.”

“Stewjon, right?” Padme questioned and surprise flickered over Ben’s face, before he gave a little stiff nod. “I’ll take you there one day – it’s a rainy world but lovely all the same. Every being should know where they came from.” Anakin watched Padme pause, then swirl a spoonful of honey into Ben’s tea before handing it over. “How are you finding Coruscant? It must be different from what you remember. My view alone seems to change every day.”

“I am very intrigued, I must admit.” The tips of Ben’s ears turned pink and Anakin had to look away, trying not to coo. “I have not had chance to see its new features in the evening before.”

“By all means, feel free to use the balcony. C-3PO, accompany Apprentice Kenobi to the balcony, and answer any questions he has about the skyline.” Padme smiled kindly, patting the droid’s arm. Anakin thanked the stars she was so respectful; he couldn’t have trusted C-3PO to anyone else. “C-3PO is a mine of information; he’ll tell you anything you need to know.”

“You are very kind, my lady. Thank you.” Ben stood, and bowed, before following C-3PO out onto the balcony. R2 accompanied them, and Anakin waited until his whistles were out of earshot, before moving closer to his wife. Padme’s gaze was still fixed on the doors.

“He’s a nice kid.” Padme mused, before smiling slyly. “More polite than you were the first time you came here.”

“What’s with the honey?”

“Obi-Wan’s always had a sweet tooth, not that he’d ever tell you that.” She smirked, then frowned again. They both watched as Ben turned slightly to listen to C-3PO, his thin wrists clutching the bannister. “And… I don’t know about Jedi standards, but on Naboo we’d call that malnourished.” Her expression grew stern. “Have you taken him to Dex’s?”

“As often as I can. He eats more there than at the Temple.” Anakin confirmed. He was happy Padme had remembered Dex’s; they’d only visited a few times, and it had hardly been fine dining, but she loosened up there more than he’d ever seen her do outside of Naboo. His padawan had done the same, becoming adorably chatty as he quizzed Anakin on the new world. It was a vast improvement on his stiff, shy presence in the Jedi mess hall. “The other kids, they stare. I can’t blame them but-“

“Not helpful. I know what that feels like.” She pressed a hand to her stomach, and Anakin’s pulse skyrocketed.

“Has anyone said-“ He started, shuffling closer to her on the couch.

“They wouldn’t dare.” Her voice was firm, but she looked down. “But my handmaidens have noticed. I’ll have to tell them soon, Ani, before they guess. And you know they won’t say a word.”

“Don’t let anyone know until you have to.” He clasped her hands and sighed. “I’m sorry – we shouldn’t have to hide like this. If there was any other way, I’d-”

“I knew the risk when I married you.” She raised his hands to her mouth and kissed each finger softly. “And I don’t regret my choice, not for a second.” She leaned close enough that Anakin could feel her breath on his cheek. A few inches, and he could capture her lips with his own. “I lov-“

“Mistress Padme, young Master Ben is asking what precisely the range of my linguistical abilities is.” C-3PO chimed, and Anakin near threw himself onto the other side of the couch.

“Sorry, I’m just…” Ben was even redder than before, his cheeks pink from eagerness. There was no sign he had seen his master’s indiscretion though, as his gaze was focused on the droid by his side. “I like languages. A fully functioning protocol droid truly is a marvel.”

“Well bless my bolts!” C-3PO crowed, half turning to smugly wiggle at R2, who gave a low unenthusiastic beep. C-3PO waddled until he was by his master’s side, leaning down slightly. “You should listen to him, Master Skywalker, it’s about time I was-“

“We all know you’re marvellous, Threepio.” Anakin replied, patting the droid’s waist, trying to steady his racing heart. “After all, I made you, didn’t I?”

“You made the protocol droid?” Ben glanced between his master and his creation, tilting his head.

“Yes – Anakin’s a wonderful mechanic.” Padme beamed, leaning closer. There wasn’t a trace of their intimacy on her face, what little flush she had blending with her makeup. “I remember when we first met-“

“Maybe we should get the business out of the way before dinner.” Anakin cut her off, making both his companions frown.

“… yes, of course.” Padme watched him out of the corner of her eye, before folding her hands into her lap. “Has there been any developments on the Chancellor? What happened after you-“

“After Obi-Wan got hurt, I had no choice but to call off the mission. Dooku got away, taking the Chancellor with him. We have no idea of his current location, or Dooku’s plot for him.”

“How was he, the last time you saw him?” Her voice picked up in pitch and speed as worry set in. “Dooku didn’t hurt him, did he?”

“No but…” Anakin watched his padawan fidget. Undiplomatic, but understandable. “Well, here’s the thing. They’re both younger too.”

“How young?” Padme scanned her eyes over Ben. “Your age or –“

“No, they’re still grown men.” Anakin admitted, trying not to dwell on the memory of Dooku’s smirking face. “Maybe early forties, both of them.”

“Did they have their memories?”

“Seemed like it.” Ben had scrunched up small again, tugging against a loose thread on his robe. Anakin wanted to stop, to let the kid relax, but he knew he had to keep informing Padme. “And Dooku’s in his fighting prime. He’ll be much more dangerous now.” A shudder passed through the room. “I’d suggest upping your security as much as you can, Senator. It could be that he plans to kidnap more officials.”

“I understand.” Padme replied, though her tone was far from agreeing. “What are the next steps? Attempt to track them down or –“

“When we can.” Ben blurted out, shoulders tightening. “We don’t exactly have any leads.” Padme nodded, breathing deeply.

“My apologies, Ben. It’s just… Palpatine and I are both from Naboo, and we have been close all my life. To think of him in a Sith Lord’s grasp.” Padme’s voice faded away as she blinked up at the ceiling, trying not to let her tears spill. Ben bowed his head respectfully.

“Your concern is perfectly understandable, ma’am.” His words were soft, but Padme still stood, looking away from them as she bustled towards the kitchen. C-3PO’s joints whirled as he followed her.

“I’ll just go and check on dinner – please excuse me, gentlemen.”

Silence fell on the apartment; even R2 stopped beeping, though he tilted as if hanging his head. Anakin watched Padme bustling in the kitchen, wiping her eyes with her palm as she fussed with cutlery.

“She is devastated.” Ben had followed his gaze, and Anakin wanted to make him turn away. This was a private moment, not for prying eyes.

But Ben wasn’t prying – he was just trying to help. Obi-Wan would have acted like nothing was happening, but the kid was clearly concerned, moving to stand. Anakin pressed him back down again.

“How could she be anything else? Palpatine is her mentor – she’s never known life without him.”

“Master, I’m fine.” Ben replied, tucking himself further into his robe as he spoke. Anakin frowned down at him, as he watched his padawan stare firmly forward. “You needn’t coddle me.”

“I – I wasn’t.” Anakin stammered, not sure what to do. Guiltily, he realised he hadn’t even been considering Ben. He swallowed hard. “I didn’t mean to.”

Before he could continue, Padme and a fleet of serving droids appeared, setting up an elaborate table full of food in the blink of an eye. Naboo hospitality had always surprised Anakin, but Ben looked stunned at the shining silverware and groaning plates of food. It wasn’t a three-course meal, instead one large banquet style. Anakin could see nerf steaks and fried tubers, green leafy vegetables and glistening orange cenora roots. There were even fluffy dinner rolls; Anakin’s favourite. His stomach growled under his robes, and judging by the flush on his padawan’s cheeks, his was doing the same.

“Dinner is served, gentlemen.” Padme sat herself at the head of the table, her voice only a little strained. “Have as much as you like; if you’re anything like the other padawans I’ve met, you’ll be starving.” Padme patted the seat next to her for Ben, and whispered to him behind her hand. “I always make sure to stock up my larders when Anakin visits.”

“So my Master is here often.” Ben narrowed his eyes. Anakin, who had taken a bite of bread, coughed, spreading crumbs everywhere. Padme raised an eyebrow, reaching for a plate and filling it with a large serving of everything, before passing it to the padawan.

“Information on the war is rapidly changing. In times like this, it’s often profitable to combine information and a meal.” She replied smoothly, taking a sip of her water.

“Naturally.” Ben nodded, and glancing up to check with his master, took a small bite of the cream-covered steak that had been placed in front of him. His eyes drifted shut as he chewed. “This is excellent, my lady.”

“Thought you’d like that. Your older self is very fond of Alderaani cuisine.” Padme scooped an extra portion of tubers onto the padawan’s plate, stopping with the spoon halfway between serving bowl and Ben. “Oh, you won’t remember Bail, will you? Such a shame – you two get along famously.”

“Bail?”

“Organa. Senator for Alderaan, and another friend.”

“I did not imagine I would be so popular in the future.” Ben admitted, taking small civilised bites. Anakin wasn’t sure how he was managing to stay so dignified – he’d only trained half as hard as Ben, and he was wolfing down his food.

“War brings many allies, both personal and political.” She mused, before turning to her husband. Her eyes, calmer now, sparkled with mischief. “How are the greens, Anakin? Certain I can’t get you a pear?” She leaned back to Ben, whispering again. “Your Master is many things, but good at eating his vegetables is not one of them.”

“He prefers bugs.” Ben laughed, but the expression quickly drained from his face, along with most of its colour. Slowly, he raised a hand to his forehead, his eyes glazing over. “F-forgive me… I don’t know where that came from.”

“That was a memory.” Anakin’s throat was tight as he leaned forward. He could feel a strange pulse echoing through his bond, like when his master was having a vision or in deep deep meditation. “Are you remembering things?”

“I don’t –“ Ben’s voice sound even more strained, his face screwing up. “It was just a flash –“

“Focus on it.” Anakin reached forward and grabbed his arms over the table, watching for any shift in his face. “Maybe if I just –“

“Master I-“ Ben stammered, hands latching onto Anakin’s. He was doused in sweat, palms clammier than Anakin had ever felt them. But something in his Force signature was rippling, like a fish under the surface. Anakin tried to push forward, to reach for it himself, but it slid away. “I don’t think I can –“ Ben was struggling too, and something in the Force bit back, causing Ben to yelp.

“Anakin, stop.” Padme glared at him, before sliding a hand over Ben’s shoulder blades. “Just breathe, sweetheart.”

“It’s gone.” Ben choked out after a while, unfurling from himself. Disappointment carved itself into lines around his mouth as he hung his head. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hold onto it.”

“It’s alright.” Anakin tried to keep his voice light, but his heart was sinking. They’d been so close – he could feel it in Ben’s Force signature. If the kid had held on a little harder – “It’s a good sign. Maybe it will come back in parts.”

“Here, have a drink.” Padme filled the boy’s glass with water, kicking Anakin under the table as she did so. “Anakin, can I speak to you?”

Padme got to her feet, and there was something about the way she moved, or the way the light caught on her dress, but suddenly all Anakin could see…

Was a baby bump.

Small – barely noticeable, probably invisible to anyone not looking for it, but definitely there.

Padme was pregnant. With his child. In the middle of a galaxy wide war.

“Actually, excuse me, Senator – please may I use your balcony? I should inform the Council immediately of this development.”

“Of course, Anakin.” She nodded, her brow creasing with worry as he stood as quickly as he could. “Are you al-“

Anakin all but dived out of the apartment, drinking in gulps of cool air. It was properly evening now, the city stained an inky blue by the night, flecked through with bright city lights. Anakin tried to count them, to feel the cool of the balcony bar on his palms, tried to cling to anything that felt like home.

Keep it together, Skywalker. He told himself. You have to keep it together.

Picture something serene. That had worked before when he had pulled his master out of that foul liquid. But now, all he could envision was his tiny padawan, limping from his injured knee, holding back tears in the Council chamber, ducking his head away from Anakin’s chastisem*nts. There was nothing serene about the kid, no matter how hard he tried to present it.

God, the kid – the kids, he should really say. He had barely even considered Padme, and their baby growing more every day. He was going to be a father, something he’d never even experienced, let alone planned. A surge of love rippled through his heart as he thought of the baby – who would no doubt have Padme’s striking eyes and dark hair – but having one? He’d have to leave the Order, leave Ben, leave the war to someone else. His brain flashed back to Ahsoka – oh God his other child, how had he started the week with none and ended it with three – pressing her beads into his hand and walking away. Could he turn like she had, and carve his own way in the world?

He couldn’t do that. He just couldn’t.

At exactly the wrong time, Anakin’s comm started beeping and he fished it out of his pocket only to groan. Already it was full of messages from Windu and the Council, asking for their whereabouts. He knew he technically should have signed himself and Ben out on leave, but then they would ask questions, and for once, Anakin wanted to have some time off without answering a f*cking questionnaire. In truth, he knew he should inform the Council – if Ben was having flashes of memory, perhaps Vokara Che could stimulate that in the Healing Halls, and bring back vital information.

But that would mean leaving Padme before they’d even discussed the baby in the room. Either of them really; Ben’s story had barely been told and already they were leaving. And what would the Council even do to Ben, to test his memory? Would it mean more time in the Healing Halls, where Ben would wither like a poorly planted flower under those overbright lights?

Anakin forced himself to take in one, two, three deep breaths. Usually at this point, Obi-Wan would say something to make him smile, or would pull him into a light trance, just until his heart settled. But he wasn’t here – the one time Anakin needed him and he’d f*cked off.

Tipping his face up to the night, Anakin sent a prayer through the Force. He wasn’t even sure where it was going, but he knew he had to pull it out of himself before it festered.

Help me, Ancient Ones. What am I supposed to do?

Anakin was saved from having to decide by a strange rumbling through the floor. At first, it was subtle enough that Anakin thought it was just his nerves, but eventually he heard the chinking of glasses and the pedestrians below stopped walking and started darting for safety as powerlines swayed. He grabbed on tight to the bannister, trying to wish it still again. Had he caused this? He knew he was powerful, had felt the Force singing in his veins before, but not like this. It didn’t even feel like it was coming from him.

“Anakin? What’s going on? Are you alright?” Padme was by his side in a minute, Ben hot on her heels. In the apartment they’d just vacated, books fell from their shelves and the elaborate tea set Padme had been using tumbled onto the ground, smashing everywhere. After a particularly violent shudder, R2 fell onto his side, squealing. Padme turned at the sound and gave a little frightened yelp.

“What’s happening?” Ben’s shocked expression was back, and Anakin resisted the urge to sweep them both under his arms and hold them tight. Instead, his padawan was staring up into the sky, face ash white. “The screens, they’re-“

“Greetings, people of the Republic.” The shaking stopped as a deep rumbling voice echoed from every screen. A tableau flashed up, which made the people below shriek. Two men, roughly in their forties, filled the screen – one bloody and bound, with a dirty towel in his mouth as a gag, the other neatly dressed, his dark hair smoothed back from his face and dark eyes smug as he circled his captive.

“I, Count Dooku of the Separatist cause, have… started negotiations with your Chancellor. Don’t worry, he is experiencing the very best care; it’s taken years off him, shall we say?” Dooku chuckled, even as Palpatine struggled against his bonds, his screams muffled by the rag that Dooku stuffed further into his mouth.

“However, he and I have reached an impasse in our opinions, one that could perhaps prove fatal, without some… additional negotiators. The Jedi have been so helpful in the past; it would be a shame if they did not witness the future taking shape.” Dooku reached down and squeezed Palpatine’s bruised cheeks, before pushing him away so that his chair fell to the ground, and the Chancellor slumped, knocked unconscious. “If you want to see your precious Palpatine again…”

Dooku paused, and leaned closer to the camera. Anakin felt like the Count’s pitch-dark eyes were boring into his very soul, like two black holes sucking in the light.

“Bring me Obi-Wan Kenobi. Alive and unharmed.” Anakin vaguely heard Ben gasp, but couldn’t look away. “No trackers, no troops, no weapons. We wouldn’t want to make a mess in front of the Chancellor, now would we?” He kicked the man’s chair hard, sending ripples through the room, before turning back to his audience.

“I’m sending our co-ordinates to the relevant individuals. If a single soul attends beyond our specifications, they will be slaughtered, and so will your Chancellor.” Anakin felt his commlink buzz and flinched when Ben’s did the same. “Do not try to defy this, or all of Coruscant will be blasted into oblivion.”

Eerily, Dooku’s eyes tracked down and to the left, locking on to Ben’s position, even hundreds of miles away. When he settled on the spot, the older man smiled, showing his sharp, shining teeth.

“And if you are hearing this, Master Kenobi, I hope you anticipate our meeting as strongly as I do.” Something in his face changed – it wasn’t a softening, but instead the man looked rather desperate. “Remember the prophecies, my boy.” Dooku’s voice dropped, lower and slower, his tone almost soporific as he spoke the ancient words. "The danger of the past is not past, but sleeps in an egg.”

“When the egg cracks, it will threaten the galaxy entire.” Ben chanted along with the old man, repeating the words over and over to himself even as the screens winked out and the street eventually returned to normal.

“Ben? What does he mean?” Padme asked, allowing Anakin to scoop her into an embrace. Anakin just needed to hold her, to feel her heart against his hand. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t know.” He admitted, feeling her shake against him. Or perhaps he was shaking against her. It was all he could do to turn away from her worried face and focus on his student. “Ben?”

“The prophecy.” Ben whispered, tugging hard on his almost non-existent braid as he rocked back and forth, staring at nothing. His mouth moved silently for a few moments before he choked. “It’s all true.”

He froze and turned to Anakin, not with the eyes of a Jedi Master, or even a Jedi initiate. The boy stood in front of him was weary and worried, so small in his borrowed robes and borrowed body. His voice was little more than a gasp as he spoke.

“The time of prophecy is at hand.”

*

Hidden on the other side of the galaxy, Yan Dooku chuckled as he untied the greatest Sith Lord the Galaxy had ever seen.

“That certainly attracted their attention. An ingenious idea, Master.” Sidious, now free, scowled at him, rubbing his wrists. Perhaps Dooku had been a little too rough, but Sith weren’t known for their gentleness. He smirked back.

“Your fascination with Kenobi will be your undoing, Tyrannus.” His master’s voice croaked and Dooku frowned. That wasn’t the chastisem*nt he’d been expecting.

“He is much changed in the Force. Can you not feel it?”

“Are we not all altered?” Sidious turned and looked in a nearby mirror, flashing it a deadly grin as he touched one newly youthful cheek. Without the reverence of age, he looked deceptively sweet. No-one would suspect a thing. “Requesting him was a mistake.”

“Don’t you want to see what the serum looks like on an… unwilling participant?” Dooku countered, catching his own younger reflection in the mirror. It truly was marvellous, feeling so young and strong again. It made everything so much… easier. “Perhaps it is torturous.”

“Perhaps.” Sidious snapped. “But do not forget our objective. Skywalker is the target.”

“And where Kenobi goes, Skywalker follows.” Dooku reasoned, stepping back from his master. The other man’s rage was like a burning in the force, and he knew better than to be caught in it. “It was subtler this way. They would never suspect our target is Anakin if we focus on Kenobi.”

“You do not catch a fish by focusing on the bait.” Sidious straightened, brushing some dust off his shoulder before moving towards the door. “Get into position, Tyrannus. I’m sure the Jedi will be here sooner than we think.”

And with that, Dooku was alone. When he was certain he had no chance of being spied on, he pulled out a datapad and scanned through a short video he had been sent by an operative. Two young padawans, leaner than they should be, were training in one of the Temple’s dojos. The smaller of the two was doing most of the work, flipping impressively and moving his saber in motions that spoke more of potential than talent. As he lifted his blade, Dooku paused the video, and took in the young man’s face. Twisted with emotion as it was, it was still recognisable, even with the disgusting attempt at a braid barely reaching his jaw.

“Padawan Kenobi.” He whispered out into the Force, and even half a galaxy away, he felt a shudder. “Build your strength. Your grandmaster will meet you soon.”

Notes:

So here’s the next chapter! I decided to focus on Padme first because I felt like I’d been ignoring her a bit too much, and Anakin really needed that moment of “oh f*ck imma be a dad”. Also, considering the next chapter is going to be more Council/mission based, it seemed better to give Cody his moment there. But he is coming and from the draft I have so far, he is concerned about BabyWan. Also also: a plot! I remembered this story is actually supposed to have stuff happening in it, more than people just looking at BabyWan and being like “mind if I just – adopt?” I gave a bit of that mom vibe to Padme, not just because she’s a woman, but I figured she has some maternal vibes. But she’s still a badass senator, and we’ll see her doing that too! Don’t worry; she’s not the only one who wants to take care of Ben *side-eyes Anakin, Ahsoka, and Dooku*

Also, just before we go – a little bit of housekeeping. This’ll be lengthy, so skip if you want.

First, about canon: I’m using Revenge of the Sith as the basis for this fic, so there are going to be several scenes that aren’t identical to the original story, but very much rhyme – like the Padme-being-pregnant reveal – however we’ll be moving further and further away as time passes. However, I'm playing very fast and loose with the Clone Wars canon: I haven’t seen the whole show, so if I get the timeline wrong, or there are bits that aren’t mentioned/are incorrect, please bear with me. If there’s going to be a massive detachment from the Clone Wars canon, I’ll put it in the tags.

Same goes with Legends stuff + the Jedi Apprentice series – I’m looking on Wookiepedia for information when I find it, but no doubt I’ll miss some stuff. I am also significantly changing the age in which Obi-Wan leaves the Order on Melida/Daan; his basic timeline looks a little something like this:

13 – Bandomeer + Becoming Qui-Gon’s Apprentice
14 – Xanatos
15 – Melida/Daan + Leaving (and returning to) the Order + Probation + Ilum
16 – New Apsolon + Qui-Gon’s grief
17 – Reunion with Qui Gon + Pigal
18 – Takes a nap? Maybe? Please, Force let the boy sleep.
19 – Mandalore

Also – I’m keeping the books (where I’ve read them) canon: so Wild Space by Karen Miller and Master and Apprentice with Claudia Gray is canon – hence Rael Aveross my boo showing up. I’m working through Revenge of the Sith by Matt Stover atm so elements of that will feed in too. However, I haven’t read everything, and don’t have access to a lot of the material, so I’m bringing in what I can find and what resonates.

Briefly, on Ben’s sexuality – I have no immediate plans to put Ben in a relationship (thought I would be very interested to hear people’s thoughts on that). Just know that I come from the UK where the age of consent is 16, but I will not be putting Ben in relationships with anyone significantly older than him, or really in any relationships while he’s still a kid. Maybe as he gets older, depending on where the story goes, but not at the moment. Also, that big old pool of acid is still there – so we have options? Who would you like to see with Ben? No-one is also an option here; I’m really making up some aspects as I go. [Also just in case I have to say this, the de-aging in this fic isn’t a kink thing. If that’s what you’re into… sure if it’s consensual, legal and healthy but… not here fam].

Final note – influences from the fanfic world! This fic really wouldn’t exist without some of these amazing works, and I really should credit them for their inspiration <3 However, I am going to try and keep things different. My main inspirations are:
- The More I Live to See the More I See This Life is Not About Me by K_R_Closson; I adore the clones in this fic, and especially how they interact with a very different Obi-Wan, taking into account his mistreatment. Your Cody gives me life!
- Master Mine by little_tales; I really like how you write the younger Obi-Wan, and your focus on plot is just *chef’s kiss*.
- Rejuventation by BigFatBumblebee; I love the idea that the Force loves Obi-Wan so much it will make him baby just so he’ll rest.
- always given, never taken by Kittycombs; god I miss this fic! I love your tiny grumpy Obi-Wan and Anakin’s panicky Master vibes.
- There is no Pain (I Tilled the Sorrows of Stone) by Meysun; not a de-aging fic but honestly the best Padawan Kenobi I’ve ever read including canon. Give this fic all the love!!!
- Probably way more that I have forgotten about! I’ll cite them in the author’s notes as and when they pop back into my head <3

Sorry for the info dump, but I hope it will be helpful for navigating! If you have any further questions, feel free to leave them below and if not, you can find me at sandfordsmostwanted on tumblr!

Chapter 8

Summary:

“Now, take a look at these documents and tell me what you see.”

“Should he be reading those?” Anakin winced. In truth, he had wanted to keep Ben away from the war for as long as possible; despite his clear capabilities, he was still just a kid, and a frightened one at that. Unlike Ahsoka and the other younglings, he’d not grown up hearing of the war as background noise, so to plonk him straight into battle seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. But his apprentice was still Obi-Wan.

“I’m High General of the Republican Army, and they’re registered under my clearance code.” Ben muttered, not looking up from the papers though he looked more concerned with every page. When he had skimmed them all, he sighed and handed them back. “I must confess, I can’t make head nor tail out of them, Master Windu. Seems I’ve been slacking in both my padawan and military duties.”

“Unexpectedly turning into a teenager tends to do that to a person.”

Anakin and Ben solve some puzzles. Now with more Cody!

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Glad you could finally make it.” Windu drawled as Anakin and Ben entered the Jedi War Room, sweating from running. R2 trundled behind them, beeping furiously, but quietened when he took in the sombre forms around them. Master Windu was at the head of a large table, with a holo-map of the galaxy spread over it. To his left stood Quinlan Vos, gold accents shining in the half-light. To his left, was Plo Koon, arms folded. “I suppose the one benefit of an enormous, city-terrifying hostage broadcast is that it finally made you two turn your comms back on.”

“Mace, I’m sure they were just training-“ Plo started, but Windu glared him into silence.

“Outside of the Temple? With no means of communication? During a war?” His voice was softer now, but that was almost worse, laced as it was with icy resentment. “It’s irresponsible, Skywalker! Do you not understand how vulnerable you both are, especially like this?”

“We didn’t mean to-“ Anakin began, but Windu raised a hand to silence him.

“It doesn’t matter what you meant, only what you did.” Disappointment dripped from his tongue like sewer water. “Where were you?”

“It was my fault.” Ben answered smoothly, before Anakin could even start stuttering out a response. His padawan’s expression was neutral, though he clasped his hands tightly behind his back. “I asked Master Skywalker if we could explore Coruscant after my combat training. He indulged my curiosity. And it was my responsibility to check the comms were charged last night, but I fell asleep before plugging them in. We turned them off to conserve battery.” He hung his head, the picture of apologetics. “Apologies, Masters. It won’t happen again.”

“I expected better of you, Apprentice Kenobi. I will not repeat my mistake.” Windu replied solemnly, and a genuine tightness formed in Ben’s shoulders as the Grand Master of the Order handed him a thick sheaf of papers and turned his back on the pair. Quinlan and Plo shared a look, but said nothing. “Now, take a look at these documents and tell me what you see.”

“Should he be reading those?” Anakin winced. In truth, he had wanted to keep Ben away from the war for as long as possible; despite his clear capabilities, he was still just a kid, and a frightened one at that. Unlike Ahsoka and the other younglings, he’d not grown up hearing of the war as background noise, so to plonk him straight into battle seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. But his apprentice was still Obi-Wan.

“I’m High General of the Republican Army, and they’re registered under my clearance code.” Ben muttered, not looking up from the papers though he looked more concerned with every page. When he had skimmed them all, he sighed and handed them back. “I must confess, I can’t make head nor tail out of them, Master Windu. Seems I’ve been slacking in both my padawan and military duties.”

“Unexpectedly turning into a teenager tends to do that to a person.” Anakin resisted the urge to squeeze the boy’s shoulder, but tried to send a comforting wave through their bond. Ben stood a little straighter. “We need to focus on getting you back into shape for battle; there’s nothing slacking about that.”

“There’s no point improving my body if my brain can’t keep up.” Ben pressed his hand against his mouth. When he was older, stroking his beard always made Obi-Wan look contemplative and sombre, exactly the right tone for a General. On this child, it was worry incarnate. “What does it mean, Master Windu?”

“They are the current codes received by members of the Jedi Council.” Master Plo responded instead, taking back most of the documents but laying out three different coloured files. “We’ve got our best minds working on breaking them, but already we can tell there are variations dependent on who received the messages. Master Yoda’s code differs from Master Windu’s, who differs from Senator Organa’s.”

“Senator Organa received a code?” Anakin frowned, picking up the dark blue file, which was decorated with Bail’s name and photograph. He looked different, dressed more formally than ever, with a sombre expression on his usually friendly face.

“As de facto head of the senate with Palpatine gone, he’s been receiving all messages for the Chancellor’s office.” Plo continued. “So far, no other civilians have received the information, but it might be worth checking on the Senator for Naboo. She may well be tangled up in this mess too.”

Ben glanced between the masters, and then turned to the astromech who had tucked himself into a corner. “R2 – please can you return to our rooms and collect my backpack and notepads? I think I need to start writing these names down.” Ben’s shoulders slumped at his acknowledgement of his failures, but Anakin had to admit, it was responsible.

“Is there any correlation between the codes so far?” Anakin asked, as R2 wheeled away.

“Nothing yet.” Plo replied, turning to the kid. “We were wondering if you might have any ideas, Apprentice Kenobi.”

“Me?” Ben blinked hard. “Why would-“

“He did ask for you specifically.” Windu doubled down, watching Ben with a scowl. The kid swallowed, not meeting his gaze. “Why was that?”

“I-“

“He was probably just curious to see if his little magic potion worked.” Quinlan spoke for the first time, pulling up an image of Dooku’s video, frowning. “I hate to say it, but Dooku’s looking good for his age.” He sighed, sneaking a glance at Ben out of the corner of his eye. “He’ll present a bigger threat than ever, and that’s even without using the Chancellor as bait.”

“You didn’t fight him.” Anakin rubbed a hand over his face. “Strong as Grievous and twice as fast. He’s got moves I didn’t even know about.”

“Perhaps a more advanced master-“ Windu started, but Quinlan frowned, expression stony.

“Perhaps a more advanced master would end up falling into that weird liquid and getting himself kiddified.” He was clutching the console hard enough that his knuckles jutted out. “You said it yourself – Obi was a master of Soresu and even he couldn’t stop Dooku. The Chosen One didn’t stand a chance. What is one of us going to do against him?”

“There won’t be only one of us if we get Ben back on track – he’s younger too, and if we train him enough, he’ll be the fastest Jedi we have.” Anakin nodded at his charge and watched his brow crease. He didn’t have Master Kenobi’s deep frown yet, but with enough time and stress, it would return.

“There won’t be one of you regardless – the Council voted that Apprentice Kenobi must be accompanied into military action by a Master.” Windu asserted, which made Anakin’s stomach clench. “Master Koon volunte-“

“That’s too many boots on the ground; if something goes wrong, we’d risk losing three battalions.” Anakin retaliated, trying to keep his criticisms practical. All too often, he’d been accused of going after opponents’ personalities. So what if Mace Windu was a cold-blooded bitch – if his strategy was right it didn’t matter. But risking three prominent Jedi against a strong opponent with unknown resources? It was asking for trouble.

There was a long, uncomfortable silence, as the three masters stared at each other. They must have been talking through an exclusive bond, and Anakin felt the hairs on the back of his neck begin to twitch.

“Who said you would be going with them?” Windu asked smoothly, and Anakin banged his fist down on the desk. Of course, of course they were going to act like this!

“Ben is my padawan – my responsibility!” He growled. “We’ve done missions like this countless times, even with a padawan. And Ben’s already more advanced than Ahsoka was at his age. What’s changed?”

“Ben has. Like it or not, Skywalker, you are both much less powerful than you think in these bodies.” Quinlan admitted, sounding uncharacteristically serious.

“He landed a perfect Sarlacc Sho yesterday.” Anakin retorted, and the masters sent a ripple of surprise through the Force. “Could you do that at his age? Can you even do that now, Master Plo?” It was an unfair gloat; saber combat was not the pilot’s speciality and never had been, but Anakin felt acid bubbling in his stomach. How could they judge Ben’s performance without even seeing him? “You can’t leave us behind – you definitely can’t leave him. Dooku asked for him specifically.”

“And why is that, Apprentice?” Windu turned to Ben, who was staring into space. “Apprentice? Apprentice Kenobi!”

“Apologies, Masters, I was just –“ Ben jumped, shaking himself and swallowing hard as his fingers started to fiddle with the edge of his robe. But there was a new focus in his eyes, as he looked at the files.

“Daydreaming.” Windu muttered dismissively, ready to turn back to the maps.

“Thinking.” Anakin snapped back in response.

“A credit for your thoughts, Apprentice Kenobi?” Plo’s voice was soft as he leaned down to be closer to Ben’s height.

“Perhaps I am speaking from naivety but…” Ben started, lifting the files. “You’re all treating this like a battle.”

“We are at war, kid.” Quinlan’s voice was gentle if a little patronising. Anakin wasn’t sure how to respond; he instinctively wanted to keep defending Ben, but if the kid was getting confused -

“I know but… well, it doesn’t make sense. Strategically.” Ben spread his hands wide. Even as they did so, they looked small, the sleeves of his robes folded back on themselves. “Dooku had the element of surprise – we had no information about his whereabouts, so why volunteer it? And why keep the Chancellor alive?”

“The Chancellor’s ransom is the highest ever ordered by the Republic.” Plo explained, pulling up the figure. Anakin’s eyes watered – it was more than the income of Tattooine alone. “Handing over the Chancellor would make Dooku a very rich man.”

“He already owns a planet – how much richer can you get?” Quinlan grumbled, but Anakin didn’t tear his eyes away from the number.

“If Dooku wanted the money, why not just say so?” He asked, before he knew what he was saying. The masters frowned, but Ben nodded. “We could wire him the credits and he could release the Chancellor in an escape pod. Happens all the time in hostage situations.”

“So it’s not a hostage situation.” Windu’s eyes widened.

“There’s more at stake here than we realise.” Ben was stroking his chin again, and this time it did look meditative, as mumbled words escaped from between his fingers. “The danger of the past is not past-“

“That’s what Dooku said, right?” Anakin blurted out, drawing the attention of the masters. “And you said it with him. What did it mean?”

“It’s an old Jedi prophecy. Master Jinn had me study them when he was…” Ben paused, and a light flush rose up his pale cheeks. It wasn’t from meekness – his eyes were too sad for that. “Otherwise indisposed.”

“I’d forgotten how unorthodox Qui-Gon’s teaching methods were.” Windu groaned, rolling his eyes. Ben’s blush darkened. “I suppose you think it’s some sort of warning.”

“I think it is the musings of a previous time.” The apprentice replied firmly, before glancing back at Dooku’s image. “Though I can’t see why it would concern Dooku now.”

“Well, if we’re talking about prophecies-“ Anakin started, but the War Room doors opened before he could finish his point. With a jolt, each of the Jedi reached for their sabers, but quickly relented when they saw the clone trooper’s orange visor.

“Commander Cody sir, reporting for duty.” He chanted, then gave a solemn nod. “Apologies, Generals. I did not mean to intrude but I thought you would appreciate an update.”

“Commander, have you decrypted the co-ordinates?” Windu replied smoothly, as if he weren’t tucking his robes back around his waist.

“We have the decryption, but it’s not co-ordinates. At least, not that we can reconcile.” Cody handed over new files, each thicker than the ones Ben was examining again. “There are too many digits, sir, even in a single message. And we already have three.”

“Five. We received them too.” Anakin replied, and he felt Cody’s eyes lock on him as he took off his helmet. “Take a look at our comms and tell us what you notice.”

“I’ll need to give them to the team, but initially, I can’t see anything. No repetitions or similar digits.” He shook his head, as if trying to clear his thoughts, before searching the room. “What does General Kenobi make of the situation?” Cody turned automatically to Anakin’s left, then frowned at the empty space. Glancing down, he locked onto the apprentice and his eyes widened, scar stretching.

“I’m not quite sure what’s going...” Ben started confidently enough, but his words soon trailed away as he looked up. There was a moment of silence, as Ben and Cody stared at each other. Without helmets or hair products, Cody and Obi-Wan were usually about the same height, but now Ben barely came up to his shoulder.

“Is… is this some sort of a… joke?” Cody stammered after a few moments of silence. Anakin had never heard him sound so uncertain. Usually, he took all of their Jedi bullsh*t without flinching, but perhaps this was too much.

“Nope. Cody – meet Obi Wan.” Quinlan clapped an arm around Ben’s shoulder, which made the boy sway a little. “The same weird Sith sh*t that f*cked with Dooku de-aged Obi-Wan, and we haven’t been able to reverse it.” He could hear the Masters grumbling about his cursing, but honestly there wasn’t a better way of putting it until they had a name for the liquid.

“So the General is-“ Cody co*cked his head towards Ben, who glared back.

“Here.” He snapped, and Anakin felt a thump in their bond, almost like Ben was stamping his foot. Anakin frowned – Ben had been relatively genial to everyone else, but something about Cody wrangled him.

“Do you still remember-“ Cody asked, his voice uncharacteristically soft.

“No, he doesn’t.” Anakin cut him off before Ben could reply with whatever snide tone was building in their bond. “But he’s still Obi Wan. Same personality, same values, same brain. Just… younger.

“We’re calling him Ben. Makes it easier.” Quinlan smirked.

“A shiny.” The nickname tumbled from Cody’s lips before he could stop himself, which made the commander blush. Anakin was tempted to pull out a holo-recorder; he hadn’t even known Cody was capable of such things. “My apologies, sir, I didn’t mean to-“

“You did no harm… Commander.” Ben turned swiftly on his heel and moved to the other side of the desk. He kept a wary distance from Cody even as Windu beckoned him over.

“Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, can we please return to the matter at hand?” Windu raised a single eyebrow at the boy. “Kenobi, you were saying something about prophecies.”

“Ignore me. It was just –“ He paused, rubbing the side of his temple. “What concrete information do we know about the message?”

“Well, it’s numerical – we tried running it through every known language, but no words are generated, other than nonsense. Obviously, that might change with the new comm codes, but it’s unlikely. May I see your devices?” Cody held out his hand and Anakin did as he was told. Ben, however, needed a second reminder, his mind elsewhere. When he handed his comm over and Cody’s hand brushed against his, Anakin felt a pulse through their bond, as if Ben were yelling.

“Is that all you’ve got?” Anakin answered sharply – too sharply, considering Cody’s surprised expression. He tried to soften his tone again. “If it’s not co-ordinates, then why did Dooku say they were? How can we trust anything he’s been saying?”

For the first time during the meeting, a hint of defeat crept into Windu’s force signature, and Anakin felt his heart plummet. Without being able to trust Dooku, they didn’t have a single lead on the Chancellor. Mace began questioning Cody and Anakin felt his attention drift. He only just noticed R2 returning, dragging a backpack alongside himself. He nudged against Ben’s leg, and accepted the distracted pat on the head Ben thanked him with.

Was Palpatine alright? Anakin glanced at the video freeze-frame, not paying attention to Dooku but the Chancellor. He was certainly younger, but to Anakin he would always seem a frightened old man. Palpatine had trusted him, had hoped Anakin could protect him. And Anakin had let him down. If only he hadn’t been so disarmed by Dooku – if he’d just focused… then Obi-Wan would be with them, safe and whole. Then they’d have the Chancellor back. He was the only person Anakin could truly relax around, who knew all his secrets and didn’t judge. Who else knew about his marriage? Who else could he tell?

What if the Chancellor never got the chance to meet Anakin’s child?

‘Master Skywalker?’ Ben’s voice through the bond was quiet, cautious. He was whispering, even in the safety of their minds. Physically, he was leaning over the desk, analysing the files with a carefully blank expression. Occasionally he would look up, catch sight of a clone and shudder before returning to his work. Thankfully, his distraction meant he hadn’t sensed Anakin’s anxious thoughts, though the boy did flinch when Anakin slammed his shields down as fast as he could. He liked the kid but there were some things he hadn’t even told his master, let alone his padawan.

“So if it’s not co-ordinates, what else could it be?” Anakin announced, trying to keep his voice level. “It’s still numbers, right? Could it be some sort of binary?” Anakin felt a little tinge of victory when the masters glanced at each other in surprise. The Jedi – even Obi-Wan – had always been so snobbish around droids, never truly considering their value. It would be poetic, if their ignorance was keeping them from the true answers.

“Could be – but it’s not standard binary at least; we tested for that.” Cody responded, bursting Anakin’s bubble. The clones were more mechanically minded, which was unsurprising considering how they were treated as fleshy droids most of the time. But they didn’t have the language skills of a Jedi. Straddling the two disciplines was rare. Sometimes Anakin wondered if he were the only one capable of taking on such a task.

‘Master Skywalker?’ The tugging was there again, stronger this time. Anakin pictured himself building a small wall between himself and his padawan, a reminder for the younger Jedi to keep his shields up. It made very little difference, and Anakin had to send a whispered message through their bond.

‘Not now, Ben.’

“If not that, how about a different numerical use? Maybe it’s a time, or a year, or a…” Anakin felt the tendrils of his thoughts slipping away, and resisted the urge to snap at Ben, who was still thumping against his brain. “A weight or something? Maybe it’s specifications for a ship!” Anakin grinned to himself and began pulling up a catalogue of starships; one of his most favoured resources at the Temple. Maybe Dooku was leading them to a fleet? If only he could-

‘Master Skywalker!’

‘What?’ Anakin glanced at Ben, then turned fully to look at his padawan. The colour had drained from his face and he was blinking rapidly, his gaze not straying from Cody’s face.

‘I think I need to lie down.’ Ben mumbled, stepping uncertainly away from the desk. He swallowed hard and raised a hand to his forehead to push back his hair.

‘What? Is it another vision?’ Anakin inched closer to the kid, who stiffened. ‘Are you feeling unwell again? Are you sick? Dizzy? Is your vision blurry?’

‘No but… I think I’m hallucinating.’ He let out a shuddering breath, glancing at Cody before quickly averting his gaze. ‘All of your soldiers have… have the same face.’

Anakin softened, and stifled a laugh. Mace glared at him, but Anakin couldn’t help but smile at his padawan.

‘Ben-‘ He paused, trying to think of how best to phrase it. Had cloning been even a concept in Ben’s young life? He’d seen how the boy had startled at a biometric scanner – some leaps in technology had been much faster than others. The clones were the epitome of that.

‘I noticed it before on the medical ship but I assumed it was the headwound. I must still be concussed if-‘ Ben’s voice, even in the Force, was frantic. It was almost astounding how serene his face was in comparison, though Anakin could see a slight fidget in the boy’s hands as he turned a map over.

‘No Ben, you’re fine. Cody and his men – they’re clones.’

“Clones?” Ben blurted out, and all eyes – especially the troopers’ – focused on him.

“Something you would like to share with the room, Apprentice Kenobi?” Windu raised an eyebrow, but Anakin stepped in this time.

“Ben hadn’t realised we were using cloned soldiers. He tried to discreetly discuss it with me, but the surprising revelation got the better of him.”

“Is this going to be a problem, Apprentice Kenobi?”

“A problem. A problem.” Ben repeated, before brightening up. A smile – a real full smile – blossomed across his now joyful face. “That’s it!”

“Ben?” Anakin asked, glancing at Quinlan, who shrugged.

“It’s not a hostage situation. It’s not a battle.” He pulled out the files, breathless with enthusiasm. “It’s a puzzle! Dooku’s sent us a riddle!” He reached into his backpack, and pulled out a holo-pad and an almost disgustingly large book. “And the prophecies are the key.”

“I don’t follow.”

“You’ve all been treating Dooku like he’s some… powerful warlord. And maybe he is now but… I only know him as an archivist.” Ben gave a little shrug, half-glancing at the hologram of his grandmaster. “It’s exactly his sort of move to set a ridiculously difficult puzzle so we wear ourselves out before facing him.”

“How do you know this?” Windu narrowed his eyes, and Ben fixed his eyes on the floor.

“He… he used to set me them – games – when… when I couldn’t sleep.” He admitted, cheeks burning red. There was a pause, and then he met Windu’s eye. “I know this is what he’s doing. Look!” He flicked open his book, and pointed to a beautifully handwritten page. “This is the prophecy Dooku recited to me – he knew I’d know it because he taught it to me.” His finger skimmed down the side of the page before settling on the prophecy’s final line. “And look – line 3131971, page 4520.” He pointed to the numbers on the screen. “My part of the code.” Anakin would have been gloatingly smug, but Ben only reached for a datapad, scrolling through quickly. “And look at Master Yoda’s.” Like the Jedi himself, the code was much shorter, only a few numbers. “398.6. That’s the prophecy section of the archives.” He turned the pad around, revealing the library archive.

“What are you suggesting?” Plo asked, stroking his mask. “That we align everyone to a verse of prophecy or a room in the library? What would that achieve?”

“Some prophecies are vague but others have fairly specific detail. Perhaps it will lead us to a person or a planet.” Ben explained. “Failing that, Dooku might be trying to direct us to a specific place in the library that could hold our next clue.”

The masters looked at each other. Quinlan seemed to be holding back a laugh, Plo was nodding approvingly, and Windu was rubbing his forehead.

“Inform the archive. We need as many copies of the prophecies as possible.” He announced. Anakin must have imagined it, but he swore he could hear Windu’s voice echoing through the force.

‘I hate this f*cking lineage.’

*

If discovering Dooku’s puzzle and been complicated, solving it seemed much, much more difficult.

He, Ben and the masters had worked through the night, only pausing for a brief council summit where they discussed Ben’s theory, much to the approval of Master Yoda. The old troll had looked almost sad for a second, recalling his time solving puzzles with his padawan, but whatever grief he had moved quickly into the Force. Since then, various masters had dropped by to try their hand at the riddles, but with no success.

As much as Anakin had tried to nudge his padawan toward bed, Ben was having none of it, delving himself into his work. He was pawing through as many different editions of prophecy as he could get his hands on, making copious notes, and Anakin guessed he should just leave him to it. In an attempt to help, he had slipped out to the kitchens, preparing some hot drinks and a plate of crackers in the hopes of getting some food into his padawan. Dinner with Padme had felt like a lifetime ago.

Nudging the door to the war room open, Anakin smiled to see his padawan sat with Cody, their heads together. Usually, Anakin felt a bolt of jealous toward anyone getting close to his master, but Cody was a special case. Obi-Wan always lit up around him, and it was reassuring to see the kid do the same. Anakin paused at the doorway, hearing their faint conversation.

“Apologies, Commander.” Ben was rubbing the back of his neck, looking sheepish. “I was terribly rude to you earlier.”

“You thought I was a hallucination, sir - I don’t blame you for being a bit snappy.” Cody smiled. It was a little less formal than his usual address, but Anakin knew the clones were particularly fond of children. They’d raised Ahsoka as one of their own, after all.

“Yes, well…” Ben paused, and fixed Cody with a strange look – focused, but missing something. “We’re close, aren’t we? You and I.”

“You’re my general, sir.” Cody confirmed. “We spend a lot of time together.”

“It’s more than that, but I can’t put my finger on it.” Ben sighed, putting his hands in his lap. “You’ve got a presence about you. I’ve noticed it in a few people I’ve not met yet, but have known for years.” He shook his head, running his hands through his hair. “Gosh what a sentence.”

“You do come out with them, sir.” Though he sounded neutral, Anakin knew Cody was trying not to laugh.

“What I mean is…” Ben nodded, more to himself than anyone else. “You feel… familiar. Like Master Skywalker, and Commander Tano, and even that droid.” Anakin smiled fondly; of course Obi-Wan was attached to R2. Padme owed him fifty credits. “I’m supposed to know you.” His expression, once soft, turned sad. “And I don’t.”

“But you will. In time.” Anakin stepped in, moving closer to the pair. “Any updates, Ben?”

“Not here. I’ve tried corresponding each code as a line number but most of it is nonsense.” Ben sighed, but then his nose started twitching like a rabbit and he glanced hopefully at the tray. “Is that tea?”

“I thought you’d like it.” Anakin smiled, and put the tray down, before nudging another cup over to the commander. “I got you caff, Cody.”

“Thank you, General. You didn’t have to.”

“I don’t have to do a lot of things, but I do them.” Anakin reached out instinctively and gave Ben’s braid a little tug. The padawan smiled, surprised but pleased. “Like trying to give this brat a bed-time.” He saw the excuse brewing and held up a hand. “Don’t – I know what you’re going to say.”
“I’m perfectly fine, thank you very much. Meditation allows Jedi to sustain themselves outside of normal parameters.” He and Cody chanted in unison, though only Anakin attempted Obi-Wan’s stuffy accent. “Sound about right?”

Ben was silent, his eyes suddenly a little wet. He took a long sip of his tea to hide it.

“You… you do know me well, don’t you?” He choked out after a while.

“Unfortunately.” Anakin joked, trying to ease the tension. Then he leaned in close, pointing to the book. “These prophecies. They’re important, aren’t they?”

“Apparently so.” Ben nodded. “Master Qui-Gon certainly thought a lot of them, as did Mas– as did Dooku.”

“Yeah well, they’re pretty special stuff.” Anakin joked, turning to his own page. It was weird to think of himself like that – a child of prophecy. Obi-Wan hadn’t ever insisted on it, telling Anakin it would go straight to his head, but he’d heard whispers. He’d even been read his own prophecy by Master Yoda, during his padawan initiation ceremony. He skimmed his hands over the words, and read them carefully, trying to picture Obi-Wan’s deep soothing voice.

"A Chosen One shall come, born of no father, and through him will ultimate balance in the Force be restored."

Anakin paused, skimming his fingers over the middle clause. He’d never felt odd not having a father before – many slaves did, and he was sure the prophecy wasn’t literal. It couldn’t be…

Could it?

He tried to think of the stories his mother had told him. He’d never asked – not directly – as her face would twist in pain, and she’d mutter something about him being her little miracle as she swept the sand out of his –

Anakin froze. He read the words again. He groaned as he turned to his own code number.

39780 – the exact cost in credits of an Outer Rim slave. His skin crawled at the sight of it.

He was going back. He was going back to Tatooine.

Notes:

Just managed to sneak this one in before the end of Star Wars day - I had to rewrite the whole thing because something was off, and even now I'm a bit :/ on it. I struggle with plot, so please let me know if something seems up.

Not sure when this will next update - my dissertation is due on Thursday (yeet) so I will be spending most of my week working on that, and then I'm taking a few days off just to rest <3 But I love this so much! (Also apologies if the editing is a lil janky - I'm very tired).

Also waaaay far in advance - I've somehow planned a sequel to this. Would you guys be interested in that? We've got a long way to go, but let's just say, it would be blending prequels, original trilogy and sequels together.

Please let me know what you think, and May The Fourth Be With You - Always!

Chapter 9

Summary:

Anakin hated sand.

Yes, his dislike of sediment had been the butt of almost a thousand jokes by Padme, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka and even Rex when he was feeling daring. But as he felt his scalp begin to itch, he couldn’t help but despise the gritty little bastards that seemed to sneak into every orifice.

In which Tatooine brings out the worst in Anakin.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Anakin hated sand.

Yes, his dislike of sediment had been the butt of almost a thousand jokes by Padme, Obi-Wan, Ahsoka and even Rex when he was feeling daring. But as he felt his scalp begin to itch, he couldn’t help but despise the gritty little bastards that seemed to sneak into every orifice.

Squinting, he made himself stare out at the near-blank horizon. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see some wary locals staring back, scowling. He couldn’t blame them – outsiders rarely came to Tatooine, and they certainly weren’t known for bringing enormous armies of identical men with them. No doubt someone would already be ratting them out to the Hutts – f*ck, was Anakin really going to have to talk to Jabba the Hutt again whilst trying to look for a Sith Lord?

A bead of sweat rolled down his neck and he swatted at it irritably. Luckily, he’d kept his hand tucked in, otherwise he would have hit an approaching Ben in the face.

“Really, Master, this can’t all be necessary.” At least he seemed brighter – at least, bright enough to be a more typical whiny teenager. Cody had taken advantage of the boy’s brief nap on the flight from Coruscant to take some measurements and had managed to cobble together a near-complete suit of armour for him to wear. Already he was panting from the weight and the heat. “There’s no way we’ll be able to infiltrate a Sith stronghold if I’m clanking louder than the battle-droids.”

“With all due respect, sir, if what General Skywalker has been saying about your training levels is true, we need you as protected as possible.” Cody’s voice sounded calm and reasonable, but Anakin knew him well enough to hear the incredible glee he felt at finally being able to get his general coddled up in protective wear. Three years of nagging had culminated in a slight tug of an erroneous strap. “How does that feel?”

Anakin felt a moody little pulse through the force, followed by a stream of hot-uncomfortable-heavy-sweaty before Ben realised his shields weren’t as strong as they should be.

“A little loose.” Ben admitted with a sigh, turning to the side. Anakin could see a slight gap between the end of the breast-plate and Ben’s ribs; nothing too serious but enough that a well-placed blade or a shrapnel fragment could pierce through. “Should I stand straighter?”

“Wouldn’t help even if it were possible.” Anakin watched Cody tug in vain at the strap, trying to make it fit but there simply wasn’t enough of Ben to fill out the plating. “You run small, kid. Wish we could have got a few more decent meals in you before shipping out.”

“Quit fussing, Skywalker; Ben knows what he’s doing.” Anakin fought back a growl. Usually, he liked Quinlan Vos, but the Council choosing him as the master to accompany Ben felt like a slap in the face. Sure, as a shadow he didn’t exactly have a battalion behind him, and he did have local knowledge from his time undercover on Tatooine but Anakin could have handled that and more by himself. He didn’t need babysitting.

At least Rex was here, graciously loaned from Ahsoka and raising an eyebrow at Vos. In truth, he’d wanted his two best friends to stay together, but Ahsoka had insisted on Anakin taking down Dooku with the best of the 212th at his back. She hadn’t said what she would get up to in the meantime, but he knew it would be as far from the Council as humanly possible. Her face when she’d heard Ben was going with him was a sight he wouldn’t soon forget. As a compromise, he’d left R2 in her care – or Ahsoka in R2’s depending on the situation. Stroking the comm he wore on his new wrist, he felt a little safer knowing he could call any time. The weeks they’d spent out of touch made his blood run cold.

“Can you sense anything?” He asked, looking down at his padawan. At least he was close by, sweaty as he was. Ben was peering out into the desert, either curious or trying to keep the sand out of his eyes. “You’re more in tune with Dooku’s Force signature than either of us – can you feel him nearby?” Ben shook his head and sighed.

“It’s never been my strong suit, and it really has been years since I’ve seen him.” Whether Ben was talking about his own timeline or Anakin’s was uncertain, but he didn’t look pleased either way.

“Do you know anything that could lure him out?”

“Aside from myself?” Ben didn’t sound enthused. “I doubt it. He’s got resources, and assistants; he won’t need to personally retrieve water or food.”

“How about the Chancellor?” Quinlan chipped in, and Anakin resisted the urge to groan. “Come on Skywalker, your closeness with him might as well come in handy.”

Irritatingly, the other Jedi did have a point, and Anakin paused, allowing his eyes to drift shut. His thoughts shifted like the sand, one over the other with no particular preference. He could feel the planet’s population like shells on a beach, distinct when examined closely but all blending into one and being worn down by the beating sun. His stomach churned uncomfortably. No wonder Qui-Gon had been able to find him so easily; he must have stuck out like a hot coal.

Trying to push his nausea aside, he tried to go deeper, drawing on his memories. Visions of Palpatine swum before him – the older man’s fond smile and warm hand on his shoulder on Naboo, his guidance throughout his apprenticeship, his kind council after the death of his mother.

His mother. Anakin’s throat grew tight as his wandering mind carried him to her grave site, throbbing in his brain like an aneurysm. To be so close, to be in this stupid childish body once more; it felt like he’d lost her all over again. He could feel the gravel of her grave digging into his palm, the tightness in his jaw as he gritted out his failures. This time, he didn’t have Padme to comfort him, her petal-soft Force presence so far away.

But there was a little hum by his side, the one he had craved as he’d held his mother through her final breaths. Logically, he’d known there was little Obi-Wan could have done, and even less that Ben could do now, but he’d wanted to reach out and feel his friend in his mind, the way he could now. Ben didn’t push, or even ask questions; instead, he just sat in Anakin’s head, warm and safe and there. Anakin opened his eyes and glanced at the kid, who was talking quietly to Cody. Did he even know what he was doing?

“Nothing so far.” Anakin admitted with a half shrug. “We’ll need to get closer for me to lock on.”

“Where’s the best place to start looking?” Ben glanced between the two masters. Anakin pointed at a clutch of rounded rooftops, sticking out of the sand like eggs.

“Mos Eisley – it’s the hub of this place, and pretty much everyone passes through, one way or another.” Anakin turned to the troopers. “The three of us, Rex and Cody will take on the city, and the rest of the troops will stay here guarding the ships. We can’t afford to lose any parts before we find the Chancellor.”

“Is it dangerous?” Ben asked, voice carefully calm. Anakin wondered just how many serious missions his padawan had been placed on. He’d seen his fair share of struggle at Ben’s age, but the galaxy had been fracturing since the Sith had returned, even before the war.

“It’s a space-port.” Quinlan chuckled. “But you won’t need the full nine yards.” He turned to the commander, nudging him in the ribs. “Ease up on the armour, Cody. The kid’ll bake.”

Better than getting blasted. Cody grumbled into the Force. It was rare Cody ever let his thoughts slip, but he knew how seriously the commander took his general’s safety. He’d been ranting for years about Obi-Wan’s increasingly scant armour, and though Anakin could see the issue from both perspectives, his Jedi training usually won out.

“I hate to admit it, but Vos has a point.” Cody turned to him, and Anakin could feel the betrayal, even behind the other man’s helmet. “Arm and leg guards only. Protection with flexibility.” Cody folded his arms and Anakin rolled his eyes. “And a shoulder-chest plate.” There was another pause but Anakin shook his head. “Everything else should be covered by his cloak.”

“Cloak? We’re going to –“ Anakin ignored his whining and instead unclipped the final part of Ben’s uniform from his belt. The kid fell silent, staring at Anakin’s hand. “Is that-“

“Yep. I’ve been holding onto it for you.” He smirked, and gently pressed the lightsaber against Ben’s hand. His fingers wrapped around it instinctively. Anakin could feel the kyber singing. “Usually that’s Cody’s job. If you ever lose it, check with your commander first. He usually picks up whatever you put down.”

“Am I that forgetful?” Ben mumbled more to himself, looking closely at the hilt. “I don’t recognise the design.”

“You made this one after you became a Master. Said you needed something sleeker, and a little less flashy.” Anakin resisted the urge to chuckle at the memory; he and Obi-Wan had argued for weeks about what components should remain on his master’s saber. If Obi-Wan could have had his way, the whole thing would be plain, neat and clean with no flourishes at all. “It worked because they put you on the council three moons later.”

“That fast?” Ben’s eyes widened further, but there was a downward twitch to his mouth which made Anakin stop pushing. He watched as Ben ignited the blade and made a few practice blocks.

“How does it feel?”

“Heavy.” He admitted, attempting a spin with much less grace than usual. “The grip is better but –“

“It’ll get easier. With time.” Anakin gave Ben the softest smile he could imagine, but it slid from his face as the kid turned away to take off his excess armour. With every piece removed, Anakin felt his stomach twist tighter and tighter. In his heart, he knew the kid would do better with less coverage, and he’d seen (and fought for) his promising combat skills, but here in the Tatooine desert, he was struck by how inexperienced Ben still was. Sure, Ahsoka had been young, but she’d been trained for combat and her natural confidence had been much stronger. In the very least, her weapon had been balanced. Ben had been cobbled together with bits of other warriors – Master Qui Gon, Dooku, what little Anakin had managed to teach him, and the weight of his future self. And those were just the people Anakin knew about – the kid had had a rich and varied life Anakin didn’t even know how to ask about. What was he supposed to do? How was he supposed to help?

As the kid stepped out into the sun, armour lessened and lightsaber in his belt, Anakin reached into his pocket and pulled out the only thing he knew for certain would be of use.

“Ben?” When he’d captured the kid’s attention, he tossed a small white tube towards him. Ben caught it in one hand, and frowned at the gift. “Put this on.”

“What is it? Some sort of bacta solution?”

“It’s suntan lotion.” Anakin gave a toothy smile to his fair-skinned friend. “You burn like the bottom of a cooking pot.”

*

“Skywalker, we’re just walking in circles.” Quinlan Vos moaned on their fifth patrol of the Mos Eisley streets. Even Anakin had to admit their route looked similar, and not just from his nightmares. He’d walked these streets so many times, knew all the businesses and their shady owners. He noticed Blando had raised the price of black melons. At least something was new.

“Let’s just go into the cantina and gather local knowledge. You can find out all sorts of things from the locals.” Quinlan offered, but Anakin bristled at the thought. Cantinas were dirty disgusting places - the arse end of the galaxy – with Tatooine the worst of the worst. Inside was the scum of the world, getting drunk on dirty liquor paid for with the blood of innocents, and outsider lingered penniless orphans begging for a scrap of bread and being kicked in the face for their pains. One girl was wailing through the agony of a broken nose, and it was still only morning. Anakin knew if he stepped foot inside, he wouldn’t be able to get the stench off for weeks.

Besides – Watto liked the cantina, and Anakin wasn’t sure if he ran into the slimy bastard that he’d be able to stop himself from committing a second massacre.

“General Skywalker? Is everything alright?” Rex asked, his voice gentle even through his mask. Anakin wasn’t sure if the clones wearing their buckets was helpful; it was attracting enough odd looks, but at least it kept those staring from trying their hand at picking Anakin’s pocket. Clones weren’t exactly a staple on Tatooine, but they were still a recognised symbol of the Republic. A safety net, should things turn sour.

“Look, even the kid’s parched.” Quinlan’s whining continued, as they both turned to see Ben hitching his backpack further up his spine, the books inside jostling. Despite the lotion and the hood, Ben was absolutely covered in freckles already, and his cheeks looked a little pinker than they should have been. But his eyes sparkled as they turned towards Anakin, and Ben pressed a finger to his lips before slipping into the crowd and out of sight. Even his Force signature shrunk down to the tiniest of threads. Anakin started pawing at strangers, desperate to catch a glimpse of his wayward student, but the boy was gone.

“Ben?” He whispered, blood thrumming in his veins as the churning sea of faces remained empty of his padawan. “Ben!”

“You’ll give us away, sh*t for brains.” Quinlan grabbed his arm, and tugged him into a doorway, where he swept up a few abandoned tankards and passed them around. “Now, watch a Shadow at work.”

At first, there was no noticeable change, and Anakin could feel Cody’s ire joining his own as they watched the Benless scene. But eventually, Anakin allowed his mind to adjust to the general bustle and look through it. First, he noticed a loaf shifting on a nearby bakers stand, then an apple disappearing from a fruit-seller’s cart. The mournful beggar girl also moved, as if lured by something, and more hungry infants joined them until there was a little cluster in an opposite alleyway, all gathered together watching something. After what looked like a heated discussion, they all dispersed, holding a crust of bread and a chunk of apple. The street returned to normal, and Anakin moved back out into its general flow, trying to seem like he was wandering along to look at a nearby ship parts stall. Eventually he caught a hint of a brown blur passing through the crowd and slammed his hand down roughly at his elbow. As if catching an arrow mid-flight, Ben returned to view, scowling and trying to twist away as Anakin fisted a handful into the back of his robes and dragged him back towards the group.

“Master let me-“

“What the f*ck do you think you’re playing at?” Anakin grabbed his padawan by both shoulders and shook him, fingers digging into the robe enough to feel the plastoid underneath. “Don’t you ever disappear like that again!”

“Local children are a goldmine of information.” Ben squared up, his expression fixed though his eyes shone with stubbornness. It was a side Anakin had always known lingered under his master’s impressive control – hell, it was its bedrock. But usually, he was much more fluid, giving the illusion of pliability until he turned around and struck with a well-placed argument. The kid didn’t have that skill, but stood firm. “I knew if I asked them someone would have seen –“

“I don’t care.” Anakin retorted, darkly delighting in the surprise on Ben’s face. “You think of an idea, you tell me first. Through the bond if you can’t do it out loud, but you tell me and you wait for my approval. Understood?”

“I was just-“ Ben, almost admirably, kept trying to argue, but Anakin could see the fight had left him. Just a little extra pressure and he’d back down. Funny, he could so rarely get his master to capitulate, but his padawan was much easier.

“Am I understood, Apprentice?” He dropped his voice and Ben stood straighter, head down.

“Yes, Master.” He whispered into the sand, and Anakin felt his stomach twist with guilt. Ben’s shame mirrored their time in the dojo, except this time, there was no Ahsoka to help ease the awkward conversation. Ben just looked small.

“What did you find?” He asked, lightening his tone, but the boy didn’t look up. Instead, he passed over a piece of delicate white fabric. It was some soft of crushed velvet, too ornate to be a handkerchief, and threaded through with golden embroidery. It wasn’t any language Anakin recognised, but the object hummed in the Force. Alarmingly, the hum grew stronger the closer Anakin came to touching the sticky red blood that marred the left corner.

“This. One of the locals noticed a well-dressed man drop it a few nights ago; he was carrying a heavy load so he didn’t notice it was gone.” Ben relayed, watching as Anakin passed it to Quinlan. The other Jedi winced for a second, as if hit by sudden feedback. When he relaxed, he gave a weary nod.

“That’s Dooku’s alright.” He moved it closer to his face and recoiled at the scent. “Recent too. But the blood’s not his.”

“It’s the Chancellor’s.” His heart had plummeted on seeing the blood and hadn’t stopped since. “Did the local say which way they went?”

“Through the desert, towards the Hutt Palace.” Ben replied grimly.

“f*ck a Hutt.” Anakin muttered under his breath, and straightened his shoulders, turning east. “We’d best get started then.”

He started to walk and only stopped when he saw five pairs of incredulous eyes staring back at him.

“We’ve got an estimated three hours until sundown, sir. Two and a half once we pick up extra battalions from the ship.” Rex supplied helpfully. Anakin fought back a groan.

“So we’ll take advantage of every moment. Besides, I know this terrain well enough to keep going in the dark.”

“So do the krayt dragons.” Quinlan retorted, shaking his head. “You’re not serious, Skywalker. Crossing Tatooine at night? That’s a suicide mission.”

“The longer we wait, the more risk we run of the Chancellor being executed. We’ve already wasted enough time.” Anakin knew keeping his tone firm would eventually convince the men, but he didn’t anticipate the slight flinch in the Force from Ben. All eyes turned to their highest ranking, yet youngest member.

“You heard Master Skywalker.” He replied after a moment, hitching up his backpack. “Let’s get moving.”

*

Walking, it turned out, only worsened Anakin’s terrible mood.

They were trudging through the last rays of sunlight, having made much less progress than Anakin would have liked. The men, though far from slow, struggled in the sandy terrain, and the sheer number of them made it difficult to weave through the Tatooine streets. He was thankful they hadn’t brought the entire battalion, only the choicest warriors in case Dooku turned nasty, but there were still too many. The locals were getting riled, especially as they moved further out to the outskirts of town.

Quinlan and Ben were irritating him too. They were nattering away, telling stories as if the weight of the galaxy didn’t rest on their success. He could understand Ben being a little more relaxed as he chatted with Cody, but Quinlan should have known better. Anakin growled to himself and moved forward, trudging on in silence. Rex was by his side, but wisely said nothing.

They were in the very last street before the desert when Ben paused, holding up the entire group. Anakin turned, ready to snap, when he saw Ben kneeling close to a frightened-looking woman, holding out the last of the bread and apple he’d given to the children. As she moved towards him, Ben gasped at the large cut on her cheek, and the bulge near her jaw with a light that blinked under her skin. He shuddered, rubbing his shoulder where his own tracker had been lodged. Putting it in someone’s face was a punishment for slaves that had removed their own in an attempt to flee. No wonder the woman snatched the bread and fruit before scurrying away.

“Master, that woman – we have to-“ Ben started to move towards her, but Cody pulled him back into line. Anakin folded his arms.

“What? Haven’t you ever seen a slave before?” Anakin hissed. He was expecting Ben to snark back, to make some grumpy comment about not being under-estimated, or even a recitation of galactic history. Those were all techniques Obi-Wan had used before when they talked about slavery. Of course, he usually just peddled the Jedi bullsh*t of “The Force Moving In Mysterious Ways”. Anakin had gotten used to tuning him out.

He wasn’t, however, expecting Ben to stop in his tracks, staring at him with wide worried eyes.

“Slavery?” He whispered, glancing between where the woman had been and where his master stood now. The colour had drained completely from his face. “What kind of a future is this?”

For a moment, no-one said anything. The clones never would, but Anakin felt a ripple of concern through their collective Force signature. When he allowed himself to think about it, the reality of their existence kept Anakin up at night, rubbing his shoulder and trying to think of a way out, after the war. Would the Clones get their own planet? Citizenship? Or would they just –

He forced himself to stop, and swallow, turning away.

“You said it yourself, not a lot changes in twenty years.”

“But surely –“ Ben stepped forward, moving in front of him, as if his slight weight alone could stop the turn of the tide. “All of the Republic’s wealth. We could-“

“But they won’t.” Anakin spoke simply, not wanting to elaborate on the horror. “Simple fact is people don’t care about slaves, Ben. They just care about their own selfish little lives, and don’t care who makes their clothes or picks their fruit.” He felt a shifting amongst the Clones, whilst Vos stayed uncomfortably still. “Or who dies in the dust of Tatooine. Even our soldiers are-”

“Hey, cut the kid some slack.” Quinlan interrupted, scowling fiercely as Ben’s jaw dropped. “He’s not a slave-driver.”

“He’s not a kid.” Anakin growled back, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck rise. “He’s a Jedi – he needs to learn the harsh truths of the world now, or he’ll remain as ignorant as the rest of the Council.” He folded his arms, daring Quinlan to challenge him. Any other Jedi and he would have been formally rebuked by now, but he knew Vos had his own doubts about the Jedi leadership. “He already knows them, deep down. Obi-Wan knew about slavery. He’s High General of the Clone Army, for f*ck’s sake – what’s that if not a slave driver?”

“That’s enough, sir.” Of all the voices to cut through Anakin’s rant, he hadn’t expected Rex’s. The commander looked a little too angry to be truly neutral, but he wasn’t sure where that rage was directed. It certainly wasn’t at Ben, who was staring at each of the identical soldiers with a queasy horror. It wasn’t at Vos, who for once registered shame on his golden-tinted face. It wasn’t even at Anakin, judging by the reassuring pat Rex gave his shoulder as he stepped close enough. Anakin made himself pull away and stare out at the horizon.

“Sorry. It’s this place it… f*cks with my head.”

Ben opened his mouth to ask a question, but stopped when Cody nudged his arm and shook his head.

“Then let’s get out of here as quickly as we can.” Rex replied, making a subtle hand gesture that got the troops moving again. He and Anakin led in silence once more, and tried not to concern themselves with Ben and Cody, who had fallen to the back, talking in hushed voices.

And Vos circled, glaring at Anakin, without saying a word.

*

Eventually they did have to stop, sooner than Anakin would have liked, but much later than reasonable. They’d kept going until troopers started to stagger, unused to such unsteady terrain. It would be no use to come all this way just to sprain ankles on the sand, so the troops quickly set up bedrolls and fires. Tents, after some debate, were also erected; there was no sign of a sandstorm but the breeze was picking up, and it was better to at least try and have the structures fall, than to not try at all and be taken by surprise by the weather.

Ben, surprisingly, was an excellent camp marshal, assigning each trooper an appropriate duty and watching them with a careful and practiced eye. Vos and Anakin agreed to survey the area for threats, and by the time returned, there was the wafting scent of cooking rations, and cheery campfires to sit around. With the resting point established, Ben was perched near one such fire, head bowed over his book of prophecy. Only he’d have time to read on a military mission. Anakin sank down next to him, and the boy shut his book with a thump.

“You’re from this place, aren’t you?” He asked, voice gentle but cautious. Anakin hated that his padawan already knew to be careful of his temper; he hadn’t even known Obi-Wan had a temper until six months into their training, when he’d put a bucket full of Galadrian goo above the fresher door.

“Unfortunately.” Anakin kicked a pebble and groaned at the feeling of sand leaking into his boot. God, he’d be feeling that for miles.

“You must have a good memory to remembering loathing it even as a baby.”

“Not that good.” Anakin sighed and stared out onto the horizon. He supposed there was no sense in hiding things, not now. Any intention he’d had to introduce Ben to the facts of his existence a little more slowly had gone out of the window with Dooku’s transmission. “I lived here until I was nine. Qui-Gon found me and brought me to the Temple.”

“Nine?!” Ben turned his head so sharply Anakin marvelled his neck didn’t snap. “I was late for a foundling and I was three. How did the Council-“

“They didn’t have much of a choice.” Anakin wished he had pockets so he could thrust his hands into them. “You know the prophecies, right? You know about the Chosen One.”

“A Chosen One shall come, born of no father, and through him will ultimate balance in the Force be restored.” Ben quoted, his voice lilting easily over the ancient words as his fingers found the correct page. Anakin felt a chill run through him.

“Yeah, well…” He spread out his palms and gave a half shrug. “You’re looking at him.”

Ben looked at the page, and then back to Anakin. Then back to the page. Then back to Anakin.

“But – that’s –“ He stammered, re-reading the words and rifling through other pages with the demeanour of a madman. Eventually he shook his head, pouting. “The prophecies aren’t literal!”

“Aren’t they?” Anakin raised an eyebrow; the kid looked like his head was going to explode. “Dooku’s taking them literally; that’s why he’s sent us on this scavenger sh*tshow. And I really don’t have a father; my records on the system go haywire every time they attempt a paternity test. They’ve done all sorts of experiments on me to try and figure out why I’m not just a clone of my mom.” He sighed, and pulled his robe tighter around himself, swallowing. If his mom were here, she wouldn’t be acting like he had. She wouldn’t shout or scold, even if he really did deserve it. She would have seen Ben as the lost little kid he was and pulled him into a warm hug.

“You were a slave, weren’t you?” Ben’s voice was much much softer now, the book tucked away. Anakin appreciated that. He was more than a prophecy, than a few lines of ancient text. “That’s why they didn’t find you.”

“They didn’t find me because they didn’t look. It was dumb luck Qui-Gon met me.”

“Dumb luck…” His padawan mused, nudging his backpack. Secretly, Anakin hoped the kid regretted bringing the bulky nightmare, but he knew Obi-Wan would never be parted from his precious books if given the chance. “Or the Will of the Force.”

Ben spoke the words so sombrely that Anakin couldn’t help but burst out laughing. His padawan looked shocked, before allowing himself a little giggle. Eventually they were both chuckling so hard that Anakin had to wipe away tears from his face.

“Dooku’s a fool if he thinks I’m the centre of the universe.” His laughter died away but his smile didn’t fade. “There’s probably hundreds like me – a quirk of slave mistreatment. Or maybe I do have a dad and my mom was just… ashamed or confused or didn’t know.” He sighed.

“Food’s ready, Generals.” Rex announced before Anakin could get morbid again, handing out silver foil packets to each Jedi. Ben took his gratefully, then frowned when Cody pressed an extra against his fingers.

“I think you’ve-“ He tried to push it away, but Anakin shook his head and guided the kid into sitting down.

“Nope. Double rations until you fill out that chest-plate, kid.” Anakin turned to Kix, who gave a solemn nod. “Doctors’ orders.”

“I didn’t realise I’d been taken in by a fleet of mother hens.” Ben grumbled, but dug into his food without further complaint. The clones, ever respectful, didn’t stare as the kid ate, faster than they’d ever seen the General. Obi-Wan was more likely to hand out his rations to another than finish them, much to his medic’s dismay – Ben, on the other hand, was just about remembering to chew. Anakin glanced at Quinlan, who shrugged.

“Well, be thankful you have, otherwise you might blow away in this breeze.” Anakin said lightly, before digging into his own meal. The kid must have been starving, because the rations were gluey and flavourless, making them difficult to bolt down. Setting down his fork, Anakin peered at his charge. “How did you disappear like that before? I’ve never seen you do that.”

“It’s notice-me-not.” Ben swallowed and shrugged, as if it were obvious. “A reflective force power – it causes anyone but the most astute observer to glide over you in crowds.” He glanced up at Anakin with a frown. “Do they not teach it anymore?”

“Not at padawan level.” Quinlan replied, inching closer to Ben. “Do you remember who taught you?”

“Oh.”

The kid closed down his ration packet and looked into the fire, worrying his lower lip between his teeth.

“It’s not your fault, kid.” Quinlan’s tone was comforting, but the kid just curled up smaller. “Dooku always liked to push the boundaries of what a Jedi could do.”

“Are you saying it’s a dark-side ability?” Anakin couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice and Ben cringed.

“A true Jedi has no need to conceal themselves.” Quinlan’s tone turned snooty as he mimicked some long-dead Council member, before shaking his head. “It’s bullsh*t really. I mean why give us cloaks?”

“They’re good for all weathers, cheap to produce and difficult to hierarchise.” Ben replied snippily, tucking himself tighter into the voluminous robes. Quinlan rolled his eyes.

“I forgot you had the Code memorised at this age.” His sighs turned fond, and gently he wrapped an arm around the kid’s shoulders. Ben stiffened, but didn’t push him off. “There’s nothing dark-side about you, kid.”

Ben blinked at him, saying nothing. Instead, he gave a little nod and Quinlan let him go with an extra squeeze. Anakin watched as Ben returned to his books, this time pulling out an old-fashioned notepad as he read to make copious notes. Occasionally he would glance up at Anakin and scrawl something down but didn’t ask any further questions. With some gentle prompting, he was reminded to finish his second meal pack, albeit much slower, and to take some sips of water.

The rest of the meal passed in relative quiet, only punctuated by the whine of desert flies. Other troopers around other fires laughed and chatted, but their voices eventually died away as sleep took over. Theirs was the last full group awake, occasionally discussing tactics for the next day, or directions over the sands. These suggestions also grew sluggish as the night cold descended. Anakin watched Ben’s eyes start to slowly blink, growing more and more frequent. He turned his pages less, head nodding.

“I’ll take the first watch. You two get some sleep.” Anakin offered, nodding towards Quinlan and Ben.

“But I-“ The younger resisted, but had to stop to hide a yawn in his sleeve.

“Ben.” Anakin watched as the firelight darkened the shadows under Ben’s eyes. Gently (and improperly) he raised his hand and hovered it over Ben’s book, until the weighty tome floated into his palm. The padawan’s fingers twitched at the sudden absence. “It’s alright. This isn’t a punishment. Just rest.”

Ben paused for a second, then tucked his robe more securely around himself and lay down. Tugging his hood over his face, and turning his back to the fire, it was only a few minutes before Anakin could feel the tension easing from his padawan as the kid fell asleep.

“Guess I’ll turn in too.” Quinlan gave a bone-cracking stretch, before lying back, resting his head on his splayed arms and staring up at the sky. Anakin couldn’t tell precisely when the older man fell asleep, but soon the camp was filled with light snoring.

Glancing down, Anakin stared at the well-worn book in his hands. Jocasta Nu would have a fit if she’s seen the ancient tome surrounded by so much sand, but as he flicked through, Anakin couldn’t help but feel this was the right place for such an object. Legends said that Tatooine was one of the oldest parts of the galaxy, almost unchanged since its inception. That, more than Ben’s exam-style answer, was why Jedi wore robes; they’d come from the ancient sandy planet, and would return there someday. As the planet’s three moons shone their light down on the archaic words, Anakin felt a settling of his soul. Reading, something he’d always struggled with, felt easier.

He allowed his eyes to skim over the poems and prophecies, focusing more on the small explanations that followed, either in neat typing, or the clean handwriting of Jedi long gone. There were a mix of languages and styles, and he wondered if he could pick out any of his master’s handwriting. A green-tinted scrawl at the top of the “Chosen One” page looked like it could have belonged to Yoda, and a deep slanting script could have been Dooku’s.

But at the bottom, in almost identical pencil, was Obi-Wan’s handwriting. On the right were Ben’s new additions, still dark against the page and smudging under Anakin’s fingers. Yet by its side was a lighter writing, half-worn and hard to make out.

Functionally, it was a list, and one he recognised – it was his own name, his midichlorian count, and his date of birth, written as assuredly as the confident verses above. But underneath was a smaller, fainter note, with the handwriting shakier than Anakin had ever seen it. And he’d seen Obi-Wan sign documents with half his internal organs leaking out a few times.

Anakin squinted at the little words, and swallowed hard.

He is the Chosen One. He will bring balance. Train him.

Anakin had read the official transcript of Qui-Gon’s death more times than he could count. One month, as a moody teenager, he’d made it a habit to take it out on loan from the archive and leave it lying around his and Obi-Wan’s shared apartment. To his childish mind, it served as a reminder of Anakin’s success on Naboo – especially if his master was feeling nit-picky about Anakin’s flying abilities. But looking back on it now, Anakin realised how cruel it must have been for Obi-Wan to have his master’s death plastered about his home, a home already steeped in Qui-Gon’s memory. If Obi-Wan had felt one inch of the gut-spinning loss Anakin felt every time he turned to talk to his master only to find Ben in his place, he would have curled up in a ball and sobbed. How he had felt worse and said nothing, Anakin would never understand. He sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. He’d been a sh*tty, sh*tty apprentice. And now he was being a sh*tty master too.

“Kid still asleep?” Rex asked, his helmet off as he stared up at the stars. He hadn’t asked his second-in-command to stay awake, but knew Rex would support him through the first watch without asking. Anakin wasn’t even sure how long he’d been staring at the pages, so it was nice to know a genuinely watchful pair of eyes had been caring for the camp.

“Spark out.” Ben, no doubt delighted to be out of his hot and heavy armour, had curled up into a ball, nuzzling into his arm like a little tooka kitten. At some point, Cody had settled down next to him, watching over the tiny Jedi even in his sleep.

“You might as well join him.” Rex stretched, frowning when Anakin didn’t lie down. “Everything alright, sir?”

“Yeah I just…” Anakin clambered to his feet, and felt his back click. He grabbed his saber and tucked it neatly into his belt. “I need to take a walk.”

“Don’t go far.” Rex warned, though he didn’t try to stop his general. Anakin nodded and let his restless feet move.

He didn’t need to look around to know where he was trudging, but he did. Tatooine looked different at night – not prettier, and certainly not calmer with all the villains tucked away in dark alleyways, but different. It was like a navy blanket had been thrust over the desert, and the stars shone brighter here than anywhere in the galaxy. Warm light flickered from near the Lars homestead, so far from the city, but Anakin didn’t approach it. It wasn’t them he’d come to visit.

His mother’s grave was the widest and tallest, but he didn’t need any visual markers to remember it. Its sleek grey finish, the ugly slanted writing, all of it was burned into his mind. Sometimes, it was the last thing he saw before falling asleep. He wanted to say he dreamed of Padme, but the disgusting thumb of marble poked through his brain, taunting him.

Anakin collapsed to his knees in front of it, curling up tight.

“Mom.” He whispered, as soon as his throat was clear enough to speak. “Mom, what am I supposed to do? I’m not fit to take care of people, not like you were, but now everyone’s expecting me to know exactly what to do. The Jedi, the Army, The Council, even Ahsoka. I can’t be everything they want me to be, not all at once.” He felt hot heavy tears roll down his face, splashing onto the ground. “I’m not ready for this. I thought I was, that I could do it all on my own. But I can’t. How did you do it? How did you know what to do?”

Anakin was so overwhelmed in his grief that he didn’t even notice a presence behind him until he felt a sharp prick at his neck. He turned around to paw at yet another pesky desert fly but instead a half-full needle clattered to the ground. Immediately the world started to shift and Anakin slumped to the floor, close enough to see a pair of dark boots approaching.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Skywalker. It hissed, sick pleasure dancing through the force. “Back where you started. How… poetic.”

As Anakin slipped into unconsciousness, his final thought was that, for all its menace, the teasing voice in his brain simply didn’t belong to Dooku. Dooku’s voice was bassy and low, his laugh a rumbling chuckle.

A sharp, smug cackle followed him into the abyss.

Notes:

Hey everyone! Apologies that this update took a little longer than expected; I finally finished all of my university work (hooray!) and have leapt head first into applying for teaching assistant jobs, so that’s been taking up a lot of my time. I also got incredibly bad writer’s block on what to do with this scene, but I’m back on track now. We’ll be going in a slightly different direction with the next chapter, which is fun – let’s just say, we’ll see things from a certain point of view.

Also please let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see, for characters or the fic in general – as I’ve been going, your thoughts have really been helpful, shaping the structure of this fic. Soon we’ll get back on the more stable footing of Revenge of the Sith so I’ll have something to write around, but these last four or so chapters have been really off-the-rails from my original plan. And I have listened to your comments and there will be no Ben relationship in this fic. Maybe in the sequel, depending on how I work that. You’ll have to stay tuned!

Thank you so much to everyone for keeping up with this work – it’s been really inspiring and has given me a way of working through this difficult time. This is by far the longest thing I've ever written (I realised earlier that it's longer than Hamlet, and this update makes it longer than The Great Gatsby which... as an literature student makes me feel incredibly strange) but I'm so excited for where the future leads! I owe you all so much <3

Best wishes, and stay safe! Eat, drink, take your meds, have a shower, call someone you love and take care of yourself! :D

P.S. In the process of writing this, I just got hit with the sudden inspiration that baby Ben probably looks like a mix between Ewan McGregor (obvs) and Tom Holland so I made this edit as a sort of cover for this fic! (https://sandfordsmostwanted.tumblr.com/post/618089349972656128/ten-minute-edit-of-tom-holland-as-deaged) Feel free to hop on over and say hi!

Chapter 10

Summary:

Anakin was lying on the floor, bright red blood staining his golden hair. Before Ben could get a closer look, two strange droid creatures had grabbed him, pinning him against a wall. Only then did Ben see how still his Master was. Only his chest moved, and even that was shallow. The droids bound Anakin to the wall with vibrobonds, and turned expectantly to two shadowy figures on the other side of the room. Ben tried to focus on them, and on their mumbled conversation, but a searing pain ran through his head, and when he opened his eyes, he was back at the camp.

“Sith – Sith have him.” He stammered out, rubbing his temple. The world jolted a little, and Quinlan swayed when he crouched in front of Obi-Wan. Or Obi-Wan swayed. It was hard to tell.

Anakin is missing, and it's up to Ben, Quinlan and the troops to track him down.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Having a nightmare, Ben thought, was bad enough.

Having someone else’s nightmares – well that was a truly unique terror.

Initially, his surroundings had been familiar; he’d spent the first few months after being claimed as a padawan dreaming of the same dank and dirty corridors. His master’s footsteps were always inches ahead of his own, close but too far to catch up to. In part, this was due to the cold metal collar digging into his throat, getting tighter with every twist and turn of the horrid warren. It would beep too, getting louder and louder until he found himself slamming into a metal wall. At that point, he would be entirely alone, and with no saber to cut through the panel separating him from freedom, he would be forced to sit and wait, waking up only as the collar exploded into a thousand pieces, taking him with it.

Except, to Ben’s mounting horror, his dream continued beyond the explosion. The corridor was much longer this time; he could feel his lungs burning from the lack of air, and his legs trembling as they fought through the constant sprint. With every step he took, voices cried out for his help as tableaus glowed on the corridor walls, lit up by fire beetles that swarmed every surface and threatened to trip him as they crawled up his legs. Some voices he recognised – Bruck, Xanantos, a chorus of the Young begging for their parents as bullet fire ricocheted around them. Even Master Tahl, who had been calm in her death, sobbed at him, her unseeing eyes searching for his as she scrabbled around. Some he didn’t know at all. One bend in the corridor was lit up by a man on fire, his skin melting and two smoking holes where his eyes had been, though his mouth still gaped open in a screech. The horror-show was enough to make him stagger, and he found himself tumbling into a stranger’s arms.

Except when he looked up, she wasn’t a stranger. He didn’t know her name or recognise her face, but something in his soul lurched. She was older than him, or perhaps he was aging in his dream too, because when he pressed his forehead against hers, they were roughly the same height. She latched her fingers into his hair and he cradled her in his arms, trying to catch his breath. Though the corridors had made him dizzy, for a moment, all was still.

“You cannot stay. As much as I want you to. As much as you want to.” Her tone was gently chiding and she tugged at his collar. Now that she had reminded him about it, the blasted thing was beeping incessantly, almost masking her final words.

“You and I are always running out of time.” She whispered as she faded from his hold. His fingers scrabbled with the empty air, and he fell to his knees, curling up on the cold stone floor. He could have stayed there forever, clinging to the remnants of her, but a shout jolted him back to focus. The air around him crackled with energy, the hum of clashing lightsabers mingling with the buzzing of a wicked red ray shield. He tried to run, hearing the grunts of his Master in combat, but the floor was sliding and his knee flamed with pain, threatening to crumble underneath him. He managed to throw himself in front of the penultimate shield, but no further – any attempts to keep moving, and he felt his body burn, his hair singeing until he was gagging at the smell. He stumbled back and watched his Master battle.

Qui-Gon still seemed enormous, even to Ben’s older body – he towered over his opponent like a mountain, silvered hair swinging. But what his strange red-and-black opponent lacked in size, he made up for in speed, and Ben gasped at the strange weapon swinging back and forth. He’d never seen anything like it, joined in the middle and twirled like a staff with all the deadly potential of a Sith saber. He found himself bouncing up and down, desperate to help. Qui-Gon was powerful, but not as flexible as he once had been, and his middle was difficult to defend against such a weapon.

The thought crossed Ben’s mind as quickly as it did the creature, who smacked his hilt against Qui-Gon’s head. His master stumbled for half a second but that was all it took. The monster’s weapon plunged into Qui-Gon’s chest, and Ben’s world faded into red and black.

He moved on instinct, clashing his lightsaber against his opponent’s. He didn’t remember the shields coming down, or any of his moves – he was fighting, and fighting for his life. Sound was condensed down into beats – blade on blade, feet on floor, heart in his ears, and that constant f*cking beeping. Where panic should have been curling around his lungs, he could feel only rage. He would kill this beast and eat its heart.

But he never got the chance. With an almost lazy push of the Force, the fiend jolted him back until he was tumbled into the strange hole in the middle of the room. He scrabbled for purchase, but his older body felt so much heavier and it was all he could do to hang onto the edge. His arms shook, but the real pain was in his fingers, crushed under a boot. He wailed as he felt the bones snapping. When he looked up, his torturer seemed to be constantly shifting.

First, the strange red-and-black beast, sharp teeth and golden eyes flashing. Then a white-bearded man, chuckling and grinding his foot down further. A man with a jetpack holding a gun to his face, a bald woman cackling, a strange metal beast whose claws dug into his palms enough that he was left holding on with one hand. He tried to swing upwards, nails skimming against a black cloak only to trigger an ominous cackling laugh.

“Kenobi – still clinging on. You should have Fallen years ago. Well better late than never.” The cloak-wearer turned to leave, but Ben tugged tight on the robe and felt it fall away. There was a final shift in the stranger’s stature, growing taller and leaner, hair falling down to his shoulders and shining in the light. Bright burning eyes met Ben’s own. Gold again, like the beast’s.

“Master.”

Anakin dropped to his knees, and for a second Ben thought he would grab hold of him and pull him into his arms. But he leaned in close, stinking of sulphur as he wrapped his hand around Ben’s throat, pushing the collar in tighter and tighter. Ben clawed at his master’s hands, choking.

“I – Hate - You.” He whispered, and let go.

Ben was falling, falling, head over heels, tumbling down into the dark abyss. The last he heard before he hit the ground was a deep rasping laugh and the collar’s final long beep. He closed his eyes, bracing for impact when –

“Ben? Ben! Wake up!” Hands were at his shoulders, shaking and he thrashed against them, pawing at his throat.

“Get it off! Get it off!” Ben heard himself scream. His shaking fingers couldn’t find any purchase though, and he tugged at whatever he could find. He needed air, needed to take just one breath and he could –

“What? What are we taking off?” Cody’s voice was about as far from the calm authoritative tone Ben knew as he thought possible. Ben blinked up at his worried face, watching the scar around his eye crinkling. There was some stirring near his head, and he glimpsed dark boots kneeling next to him.

“Can’t – breathe –“ But even as he spoke, he gasped and his lungs filled with cool, if dusty air. Cody’s face softened and he nodded to someone Ben couldn’t see. He risked another breath, swallowing as he tugged at his collar.

“Kid, there’s nothing there.” Quinlan was by his side now, running a hand down his arm. “You were dreaming.”

“The collar – I thought – it was so… real.” Ben pressed a hand to his throat, and felt only goose-bumped skin. His pulse thrummed hard against his fingers, everywhere slick with sweat.

“Easy, easy.” Cody ran a hand through Ben’s hair, and he nudged against it unconsciously, turning his face fully to one side. It was easier to breathe like this, glimpsing behind the soldier’s body to the lightening horizon. Was it dawn already? It only felt like a moment since he’d fallen asleep. “In and out, okay. That’s all that matters right now.”

“Where’s Master Anakin?” Ben croaked out after catching his breath. He looked up fast enough to catch a worried glimpse passing between Quinlan and Cody. All three sets of eyes turned to Anakin’s spot at the campfire, which was empty.

“Where is Skywalker?”

“He took a walk, sir, a few hours ago.” Rex confessed, swallowing as he met his brother’s eye. Ben pushed himself up onto one elbow, glancing around and finding nothing. “I haven’t seen him return.”

“You let him just walk around Tatooine? With a Sith Lord on the loose?!” Quinlan growled, getting to his feet and running a hand over his face.

“Comm him, Rex. Away from here.” Cody ordered, setting a hand on Ben’s shoulder. The padawan closed his eyes and opened them again several times, praying each time that when he could see again, Anakin would be in his perch, watching him. His throat throbbed and he gave a little cough, which caused Cody’s frown to deepen. “Hey, hey, it’s alright. You’re alright. Can you sit up?”

“I woke the whole camp.” Ben brushed away Cody’s hand and sat himself up, taking a few deeper breaths whilst trying not to notice the clusters of troopers watching him and whispering to each other. A shudder ran down his spine, and he wrapped his arms around his knees.

“We would have woken anyway.” Cody reached down, and pulled out his canteen, pressing it against Ben’s hand. “Here, have some water.” More as an incentive not to talk, Ben took a gulp of the warm dusty water, resisting the urge to cough. “How do you feel?”

Ben didn’t say anything, looking down at the floor. In the distance, he could hear Rex and Quinlan arguing, and rested his chin on his kneecaps. If he felt like focusing, he’d be able to interpret each word, pulling apart their conversation, but the background hum of discontentment was enough to make him shiver. For dawn on a desert planet, Ben felt awfully cold.

“Does he – he have nightmares?” He asked after a while, looking up at the commander. To his credit, Cody didn’t blink, but a pulse of sadness rang through the Force. “Your Obi-Wan?”

“He doesn’t sleep long enough for me to find out.” He replied, and Ben could not for the life of him tell if the older man was joking. Cody reached down and plucked up the boy’s cloak, tucking it around his shoulders. “What shook you up so badly?”

“I don’t know – it was all so… messy.” Ben closed his eyes, and tried to think back, feeling his temple throb at the effort. All the faces, becoming blurrier with every attempt to recognise them. Even the blonde woman was little more than a smudge. Only the golden eyes remained with him, shared by the beast and his Master. “I think I… I must have tapped into his memories.”

“What makes you say that?” Cody asked, and Ben shook his head, attempting to chug down more water. It caught in his throat and he coughed messily. Cody gently tilted the canteen down and they both winced as precious drops of liquid sunk into the sand. “Slowly – just a few sips. Don’t want you to choke.”

“I saw faces – people I don’t recognise.” He debated going into detail, but the thought of describing the Anakin he’d seen made his stomach clench and his heart race. Something told him that had been the scariest vision, but he’d seen other things. Now that he thought more carefully, the man with a jetpack had a helmet shape similar to Cody’s – was he some friend of the troopers? Then why was he trying to hurt Ben? Or Obi-Wan, perhaps more accurately? Why were all these people fighting him? He didn’t want to hurt anyone; he never had. And where was his master caught up in all this?

“Hey, hey – shhh…” Cody’s voice cut through his questions, and Ben became aware of light patterns being traced in his back from Cody’s soothing hands. He leaned close and hummed some strange tune, a jumble of sounds trickling from his mouth. “Udesiir, adi’ka. Haalur.”

“What-what are you saying?” Ben had always been fascinated by languages, but this was a tongue he’d never heard before. Deep and low, almost tribal, he wanted to lean in and listen, to be caught up in the chant. But Rex and Quinlan had returned to them, looking grimmer than before.

“There’s no response, General.” The soldier admitted with a sigh, shaking his commlink. “I can’t get hold of him.”

“Did he say where he was going before he left?” Quinlan questioned, scowling when Rex shook his head. “Great. Just like Skywalker to get himself abducted at the worst possible moment.”

“I’m sure my master didn’t – didn’t mean –“ Ben thought back to the golden eyes, and shut his mouth. Surely that creature couldn’t have been his master – not Anakin, who made jokes about his height, and complimented his saber technique and stuck up for him in front of the Council. But he thought back to his master’s harsh words in the market and swallowed. No – that was just a one off. Ben’s fault, for being so rebellious. Master Qui-Gon had had similar issues with his behaviour. He just needed to get better, and Master Anakin wouldn’t get so cross.

“Hey, don’t you worry, ad.” Rex must have taken his focus for worry, as he squatted down next to Cody. Their faces were identical, apart from the scar and Rex’s white blonde hair, but Ben could see tiny variations. Cody had a crease on his forehead from frowning. Rex had laughter lines around his mouth. But their eyes were equally warm. “We’re going to get him back, safe and sound.”

“Ben, you’re bonded, right? See if you can feel him.” Quinlan asked, turning to him with slightly desperate eyes. Feeling everyone’s gaze turn on him, Ben tried to stay calm, closing his eyes.

First, he tried tugging on his padawan bond, in the hopes that Anakin would at least respond. When nothing came, he tried moving down its long and winding strand. It was a bizarre feeling, like walking through a bog, and it felt nothing like trying to find Master Qui-Gon ever had. Their bond had been like a vine, strong and bright, but occasionally prone to thorniness that kept Ben from getting too close. This strange new-yet-old bond with Anakin was more like coiled wire, strong but liable to overheat. And it had so many twisting paths and avenues – for a moment, he found himself not close to his master, but instead watching the Lady Padme, who was sat in front of a Senate Council, holding a file over her stomach as she listened to a dark-haired man talking. As he dragged himself out of that vision, he sensed a looming darkness up ahead. Every inch of his being wanted to pull back, to return to Quinlan and the troopers and safety, but he forced himself onward. The gloom parted and his vision cleared, but the sight was nothing to celebrate.

Anakin was lying on the floor, bright red blood staining his golden hair. Before Ben could get a closer look, two strange droid creatures had grabbed him, pinning him against a wall. Only then did Ben see how still his Master was. Only his chest moved, and even that was shallow. The droids bound Anakin to the wall with vibrobonds, and turned expectantly to two shadowy figures on the other side of the room. Ben tried to focus on them, and on their mumbled conversation, but a searing pain ran through his head, and when he opened his eyes, he was back at the camp.

“Sith – Sith have him.” He stammered out, rubbing his temple. The world jolted a little, and Quinlan swayed when he crouched in front of Obi-Wan. Or Obi-Wan swayed. It was hard to tell.

“Did you see where?” He asked gently, but sighed when Ben shook his head. “Try again.”

“Let him catch his breath!” Cody chided, but Ben was already pushing himself under again. He knew better than to try and find those shadowy figures again, and instead allowed his mind to move outwards. Using Anakin as a tether, he felt as if he were floating, phasing through walls and upwards until he could make out the shape of a building, surrounded by sand.

“Big… dome… strange… dark…” He tried to focus but everything was fuzzy. His eyes ached and he had to squint against the brightness of both suns; it felt odd to feel daylight in such a shadowy place. He could feel his hands, slick with sweat, struggling to hold onto the bond.

“I need details, Ben.” Quinlan’s voice was at his ear and he gripped on a little tighter. “Want me to help you?”

“How-“ But before he could answer, Quinlan’s presence blossomed by his side. He dared not turn his head towards his friend, lest he lose hold of the rope, but he could feel the other Jedi prowling around like a panther, cataloguing his surroundings.

“Found it.” He said after a while, his voice sounding strained, and he set his hands on Ben’s shoulders. “Time to go, kid.”

Slowly – achingly slowly – Ben walked himself back to the other end of the bond, shuddering as he did so. When he opened his eyes, they were back in the camp, and Cody was handing him yet more water. This time, he took small, frequent sips, as Rex moved closer to Quinlan.

“Can you get coordinates, sir?” He asked, holding up a tracking device, but Quinlan shook his head.

“No, but it’s distinctive enough.” He ran his hands through his dreads and sighed. “They’re using Jabba’s Palace. Couldn’t see any sign of a Hutt myself but they’re probably still lurking.”

“How are we going to get inside?” Cody asked, side-eying the still trembling padawan by his side. Ben sat up.

“We should leave a few men here at camp, just so if things go south we can get the ship running as fast as possible.” Ben spoke, the words flowing after each other as if he were reading from some manual – even he was surprised by their coherence. Quinlan was nodding gently. “Then, we should do the same upon reaching the palace, to give us backup should we need them after confronting the Sith. I’d say only a few soldiers need infiltrate the palace with us – Commander Cody, who would you recommend?”

“Rex and I tend to accompany you and Master Skywalker into discreet conflicts, but it may be necessary to leave one of us behind to guard the men outside and lead a second attack.” Cody replied, sounding both surprised and impressed.

“We can guard, sir.” Two troopers moved forward, sharing the same marigold paint as Cody but in different positions. Ben turned to them and watched carefully.

“I’m sorry – I don’t think I caught your names.” He tried for a serene smile, but his voice sounded a little harried even to himself. If the troopers noticed, they didn’t say anything.

“I’m Boil, that’s Waxer.” The one on the left nodded to the one on the right, and Ben tried to devote their paintjobs to his memory. His temple twinged. “We’re kind of a package deal.”

“Would it be unwise to separate you, then?” Ben asked gently, and watched the two soldiers look at each other. He could feel the Force winding them together but after a silent conversation, they both shook their heads.

“If you order it, General, it will be done.” They confirmed, almost in unison. Cody gave a fond little sigh.

“It’s a good plan, General, and I trust both men to keep watch over their men.” He confirmed, but glanced at his charge. “Do you want to stay with them? You’ve already had a hard morning, and a march on top of that might ruin your chances in an encounter.”

“My master is missing. I cannot stay behind.”

“You best get that armour back on while it’s cool, kid.” Quinlan noted, in lieu of a confirmation, and Cody sighed. “there’s nothing worse than adjusting those straps when you’re sweaty.” Ben kept himself quiet, though as he shuffled into his armour he wanted to groan. Already, the first sunrays were sneaking between the plates and warming him. Buckling his belt, he took out the sun lotion and spread it all over his face. At least there was one mistake he wouldn’t repeat.

“How do you not collapse into a puddle?” He eventually asked, watching Cody put the finishing touches to his own armour. It was an all-over suit, scuffed in places, but also shining. The marigold paint had been reapplied countless times with a steady and dedicated hand.

“We’re engineered for armour. Our temperature regulates itself dependant on our climate.” Cody scooped up his helmet from the floor and wrapped his knuckles against it. Ben resisted the urge to ask to try it on – he wasn’t a baby, after all.

“Do you have any other… alterations I should know about?”

“There’s a file. I’m sure you’ll have fun reading it back in the Temple.” Cody’s eyes twinkled, but Ben didn’t let himself feel so hopeful, as he crossed his arms.

“If we get back.” Ben mumbled under his breath, turning away. Oddly, his attention was turned to Boil and Waxer. The two troopers were standing very close, fully dressed but pressing their helmets together.

“What are they doing?” He asked, unsure of how to react. Cody went stiff next to him.

“It’s a Keldable kiss.” He explained, trying to sound impartial and failing spectacularly. “It’s usually an offensive move but…” He was quiet for a moment, and when he spoke again, he sounded even more nervous. “Well sometimes it’s used to convey closeness when we’re in our buckets.”

“Buckets?”

“Helmets, sir.” Cody replied, putting his on and fiddled slightly until his voice rang through clear. “In built microphones and breathing equipment, as well as protection.” As impressed as he was, Ben kept his eyes focused on Waxer and Boil, who seemed to be mumbling something to each other.

“And they’re doing that gesture because…?”

“It’s affectionate, sir.” Cody paused, and he could hear the soldier clearing his throat, looking around without focusing on any particular spot. “Boil and Waxer are very close.” He spoke slowly, and Ben scowled at the thought of being patronised, but a second look at the clone pair made his eyes widen and a little noise acknowledgement drifted from his mouth before he could stop it. Cody’s voice was tense when he spoke. “I hope that won’t be a problem.”

“Not to me. Jedi are not supposed to feel… affection in such a way, but we don’t resent in others. No matter what configuration it comes in.” Ben smiled as he saw the couple – who must have been eavesdropping – relax, and gently stroke each other’s cheeks through the buckets. Ben paused, and frowned at Cody. “Did my older self-“

“He never mentioned it.” Cody replied neutrally, and Ben made sure to ask Anakin about it. He couldn’t see his stance on other people’s love changing in twenty years, and if he criticised others for same-sex attraction he’d be uncharacteristically hypocritical, but clearly things had happened to his older self that had made some fairly significant dents in his personality. For a moment, the thought of the woman flashed in front of him, before he shook it away again. “But he was more familiar with Mandalorian culture.”

“Are you all… Mandalorian… then?” Ben asked, trying to avoid the previous topic but finding himself more intrigued as Cody nodded.

“Our buir was.” Ben squinted at him. “Buir is Mandalorian for father. It’s what we call our… I guess you’d call him our originator. The man we were cloned from.”

Cody’s tone had gotten cagier, and as much as Ben wanted to push, he decided to stay quiet, making some final adjustments to his armour. He could already feel the straps digging into his shoulders, but he thought of the soldiers in their heavy white suits, and found no room to complain.

“Do you know Mandalorian innately, or did they teach you?” Ben asked, once he and Cody had settled. The strange tongue Cody had used before was fascinating.

“We’re good at learning languages but the first few groups of us were taught by our buir, and we taught the rest.” Cody paused, and turned to Ben. Even with his bucket on, Ben could picture the sad smile that Cody’s fondness shone with in the Force. “You actually helped some of the shinies, sir. Your older self is fluent.”

“Fluent? In Mandalorian?” Ben wanted to laugh, but fought it down.

“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking – why are you so reluctant about Mandalorian culture, when your older self isn’t?” Ben paused, and blinked at Cody. Before this whole experience, Ben would have assumed peace between Mandalorians and Jedi was impossible – it was like asking fire to be friends with ice. Cody noticed his shock and faced forward, military stiff. “Forgive me – it was just… Rex mentioned you recognised a vod’s tattoo-work and called us-“

“Jedi killers. I recall.” Ben winced at his own prior words and tugged at his braid. Master Qui-Gon would have had his hide for being so unsympathetic to alternative cultures. “I apologise – I was ignorant and frightened.” He swallowed and gave a little shrug. “It was just – I have never been to Mandalore but all I have heard of the place from the Temple was… violent. Tales of Jedi being beaten and killed by a warrior race bent on destroying us.”

“Apology accepted. And don’t beat yourself up about it – I doubt our shinies would be as friendly to a seppie if they suddenly woke up in one of their camps.” Cody replied. “But that violence isn’t the case, you know – not anymore. Mandalore is a mostly peaceful world, thanks to D-“

“We should get started – make use of the low light.” Quinlan reached into his belt and produced two ration bars, passing them both to Ben. “Breakfast will have to be on the move.”

“What?” Ben tried to shift the snacks along, but no trooper would take them. He pressed a hand to his stomach. “I’m still full from last night.”

“You won’t be after an hour’s march. Just put them in your belt for later if you really can’t manage it.” Quinlan narrowed his eyes at Ben. “Weird – I remember you being ravenous at this age.”

“That’s an exaggeration surely.” Ben shook his head, and folded his robes to hide himself away; he was getting quite impatient with all the staring eyes. “I’m not a krayt dragon; I’ve never been ravenous!”

“No. And that’s what concerns me.” As Quinlan turned and lead the first of the men forward, Ben looked down at the ration bars in his hand. Stowing one in his belt, he unwrapped the smaller of the two and took a slight nibble. Despite its bland taste, his stomach – now away and grumpy for food – demanded more, and by the time they were marching properly, he’d finished the whole snack.

He tucked the wrapped away in his boot and fought the urge to pull out the second bar. No – that he needed to save. He wasn’t going to sacrifice future sustenance for the sake of some temporary relief. He wasn’t going to go hungry.

Not again.

**

Trudging to Jabba’s Palace was surprisingly easy, but with little architecture, it would have been quite difficult to miss the giant looming crop of buildings. With its long dusty road, it was almost like they were being invited in, especially as there seemed to not be a guard in sight. When the door swung open with the slightest of touches, the remaining soldiers lifted their weapons. Ben and Quinlan nodded at each other, powering up their sabers.

Leaving Boil and most of the soldiers at the door, the two Jedi, Rex and Cody and three other soldiers entered the building. Their footsteps echoed in the halls, and the glow of the lightsabers revealed nothing. Ben swallowed.

“I have a bad feeling about this.” He mumbled more to himself, but Quinlan nodded, moving forward. For a palace, the place was oddly silent. Candles shimmered on the walls, and Ben tugged his cloak back around himself, trying not to think of the fire beetles from his dream.

“Where is everybody?”

“Well, if a Sith Lord dragged the Chosen One through your halls, you’d clear out pretty quick too.” Quinlan asked, creeping forward. He was by far the quietest member of their party, his feet barely making a sound as he slid across the sandy floor.

“Hutts aren’t known for their speed.” Ben countered, but Quinlan didn’t seem to be listening. Instead, he had moved towards a large set of doors, peering inside and cringing.

“This way.” He jerked his head forward. “But hold your breath.”

The main room was smoky, with a metallic tang to the air that Ben could taste. The foul air had nowhere to escape, as each door bar the one they had entered through had been locked down. The floor was covered in bodies – Twileks and Jawas and other creatures Ben didn’t even recognise. Some had clawed at the doors in an attempt to escape but none had succeed, leaving only bloody streaks in their wake. Everything had been knocked over and smashed – chains dotted the floor, as did pieces of cloth, and some strange leathery substance. The room was almost unbearably hot and seemed to crackle with sparks of electricity; one trooper touched a table and received a shock in his hand for the trouble.

The smell, though, was worst of all. Alongside the smoke and metal, there was a nauseating mix between spoiled fish, rotten fruit and something strong and stinging that Ben knew to be Spice in the air, enough to make some of the troopers’ gag even through their helmets. Ben raised his sleeve over his nose and tried to focus, moving forward.

He regretted it immediately, his boot sinking into a sticky and warm substance. Ben glanced around and saw it was everywhere – on the floor, on every wall, even on the ceiling. That was what the metallic odour came from, and Ben tried not to think too hard on the blood-red colour of the substance. He was only standing on the edge of the goop, but he could see a central section, blacked beyond belief. Just behind that was a fat snake-like lump, oozing from one edge. Quinlan kicked it and shuddered.

“What is all of this?” He asked, bracing himself for the answer. Even before Quinlan spoke, Ben felt his stomach roll, and gritted his teeth.

“This, Ben, was a Hutt.”

A chorus of groans rang through the room from the troopers, before Cody shushed them sharply. Ben couldn’t blame the soldiers though; he too was breathing through his nose in an effort to calm his nausea. He hopped back from the gunk and started scraping his boot against a nearby patch of stones, trying to ignore the staining at his toes.

“What could have caused that sort of damage?” Cody asked in a low voice, moving towards Quinlan. The Jedi shrugged, dreadlocks tinkling.

“If I touch it, I’ll know for sure, but just by looking-“ Quinlan peered down, then pulled away when the smell got too much to bear. “Some sort of lightning. Force electricity, probably.”

“No Jedi has that sort of power.” Ben replied, still scraping. He wanted the gunk off – he wanted to be clean, and sand-free, and feel the hum of the Temple around him and -

“We’re not dealing with a Jedi, Ben.” Quinlan came closer and tilted Ben’s chin up. Ben tried to look away, and Quinlan tapped his cheek. “Look at me. The Dooku you know is gone – has been gone since Master Jinn died. No matter what he says or does to you, he’s dangerous. He’s tried to kill you and Anakin before.”

“But maybe we could – “

“You can’t.” Quinlan gave him a squeeze. “Sith can’t be reasoned with, not when they’ve reached the levels of Dooku.” He paused, a darkness in his eyes that he rubbed away with a sigh. “Believe me, I know.”

“Then we have to get Master Skywalker out of here.” Ben gave a little nod, and Quinlan let him go. No-one spoke as Ben looked around, feeling through each doorway for some hint of his master. Finding nothing, he paused and closed his eyes, sending a prayer into the Force.

‘Let me find him. Let him be safe.’

Opening his eyes, Ben expected his gaze to be turned to at least one of the doorways, but instead, he found himself drifting towards a small vent in the wall. Its panel had come loose in the scuffle, and a quick inspection proved that he would be able to fit through into a maintenance hatch with relative ease, though none of his party would be able to squeeze through behind him.

Turning on his heel, he was surprised to see all the soldiers staring at him expectantly.

“What are your orders, sir?” Cody asked, after a long silence passed. Ben blinked, and glanced at Quinlan, who also seemed to be waiting.

“O-orders?” He stammered.

“You’re technically still the most senior officer on this mission, and with Skywalker gone, no-one outranks you. Not even me, unless we’re in a life or death situation.” Quinlan’s expression was uncharacteristically sombre. “We need your approval before we start.”

“I’m not sure what to do with you all at the moment.” He admitted. “But I know I’m small enough to get through that gap. If I climb through and find a service hatch to rewire, I can activate the door lock and get us all moving.” He turned to Quinlan and tried to stand taller. “Will you let me try?”

“What happens if you run into someone?” Quinlan asked. “There are Sith lords lurking, and who knows how many battle droids. What would you do if you got surrounded?”

“Improvise. This is not my first war, Master Vos.” He heard himself snap back. Quinlan’s eyes widened, and Ben swallowed, willing himself not to think about it. No-one but him had mentioned Melida/Daan – maybe no-one remembered. Either way, he couldn’t risk losing yet another master. “I need your permission to do this.”

“No, you don’t, High General.” Quinlan spoke firmly and Ben gave a little nod, resisting the urge to pull on his braid. “If you think this will work, then we go with your plan.” Quinlan tapped at his commlink and gave Ben a pointed look. Reaching into his belt, Ben found a similar device and hooked it around his ear. “But stay in contact. And if things turn south, get out of there. We’ll reconvene and think up something else.”

“In the meantime, we’ll get working on these doors, just in case there’s a manual way to break through.” Cody gave him a little nod, and Ben felt a pulse of worry-trust-hope through the Force. It was enough for him to straighten his shoulders and nod. Discreetly, he shed himself of his cloak and armour – ignoring Cody as he did so – and even removed his boots and belt. He debated taking off his outer tunic, to give himself a few more inches, but figured it would make very little difference. Once he was stripped down, he stood in front of Quinlan, who adjusted his commlink.

“Anything you don’t like, you get straight out of there, okay?” Ben nodded, and Quinlan mirrored him. “Alright. Good luck, Apprentice.”

Resisting the urge to salute, Ben crouched down, and clambered into the maintenance hatch. A little while in, he realised it was a tighter squeeze than he’d planned, and regretted his extra layer, but the tightness eased after he found a ladder to clamber up. The upper routes were a bit bigger, and covered with panels. Ben paused for a moment to watch a cable light up with power, the flash trailing down and out of sight. Some panels were made for tools, others for hands. None, however, were open, and he kept crawling despite the claustrophobic feeling. He could also, in the back of his mind, feel the looming darkness from before.

“How’re you doing, kid?” Quinlan’s voice was a soothing balm to his quivering nerves, but he forced himself not to get distracted.

“It’s okay – this must be some sort of repair path, because I’m not seeing anything that’s blocking my way.” He replied, trying to keep his tone level. “There’s little panels on the walls, but nothing that looks complex enough to be door controls.”

“Remember, they’re probably made with droids in mind.” Cody’s voice, distant and quiet, reminded, and Ben glanced at the panel nearest to him. True, he could see a slot for a droid arm, but also a flashing screen about the size of his hand. He’d not seen a biometric scanner this rudimentary since his youth.

“Or slaves.” Ben reached out and lined his palm up against one of the screens, but not close enough to touch. His fingers were a little long but would have worked in a pinch. “Some look like they need handprints. Small handprints.”

“I wouldn’t put it past Jabba to use kids.” Quinlan said something else that sounded like a Huttese curse, but Ben wasn’t paying too much attention. Instead, he saw a hint of light from the other end of the corridor, crawling forward, and nearly cutting his hand open on the edge of a wonky panel. It must have been an escape hatch, as it was made up of grating, rather than a solid panel. He leaned over it, looking down.

“There’s a gap – I can see through into the room below.” There wasn’t much to see – the only hint of movement coming from a computer screen, which was running some sort of programme. Beside it were some boxes, and a large mass, covered up.

“Anything of interest?”

“No – it’s quite dark.” Ben squinted at the screen. “There’s… something… covered with sheets, and a computer. Maybe this is the service room.” He tore his eyes from the room, and fiddled with the grate, managing to dislodge one of its bolts. “This grate is loose – I can probably work it free and drop down into the room.”

“Try it. Maybe there’s some door controls on that computer.”

“Wait… I think I hear something.” Ben felt himself crawling forward without really planning it, and kept moving until he was settled in front of another grate, a few meters along. This room did contain people, ones Ben recognised. It took a moment for his brain to catch up, but eventually he noticed the golden hair of his master, bound against the wall.

Ben felt his stomach give an uncomfortable jolt. The scene was playing out exactly as it had in his vision – uncannily so. Even the murmured words seemed the same, though Ben still couldn’t pick them out. At least now he could see the figures, or at least the tops of their heads. One was hooded, the other a thatch of dark hair, smoothed back and shiny. He turned his focus to Anakin, searching for the headwound. Sure enough, it was bleeding sluggishly across Anakin’s face.

“I can see him!” He whispered into the comm, and heard a hum of confirmation from Quinlan. “He’s not moving but he’s kneeling so he can’t be dead. I think he’s unconscious.”

“Who else is with him?”

“Guards – four at least. And… Ma- Dooku.” Ben tried not to linger on his grandmaster, but felt himself drawn to him anyway. “He’s talking to someone. I can’t see –“

“Where’s the Chancellor? Ben, do you have eyes on the Chancellor?” Ben swallowed and glanced around. He wasn’t as explicitly familiar with the Chancellor’s body as he should have been, and knew nothing of his Force signature, but the room was empty aside from Anakin, the droids and the Sith.

“No – no-one’s here except…” He craned his neck, trying to see around the grate’s limitations, but it creaked ominously beneath him.

“What was that?” Cody asked, and Ben didn’t need to be nearby to feel his worry.

“The panelling’s thinner here, but I can still fit.” He shifted himself slightly so his weight was equally distributed onto both hands. “Glad I didn’t eat that second ration bar.”

“Don’t get stuck, kid. We won’t be able to retrieve you.” Rex warned, making the shute seem twice as small. But Ben wiggled his hips a touch and was reminded enough of the scarce room to settle himself.

“What are the exits like? Any doors, windows?” Cody questioned and Ben glanced around. There was a surprising amount of natural light for a dungeon.

“One door in and out and some large glass windows to the left of Master Skywalker.” He confirmed, and in the background, Rex and Cody started to mumble.

“Is Skywalker bound?” Quinlan asked and Ben nodded, before realising his mistake.

“Yes – they’ve got vibrobonds on his wrists, chest and throat.” He winced at the thought, his own throat tightening at the memory of his dream. He hoped his master wouldn’t wake in this state, though no doubt a seasoned knight wouldn’t panic like a padawan.

“Anything else in the room?” Ben squinted down, trying to make out the strange blocky shape at the head of the room and making the panel squeak again.

“A throne of some sort and…” He guessed, and paused when the dark-haired figure bowed, and turned towards the closer door. Ben began to crawl backwards, feeling himself get stuck more frequently as his clumsy body grew confused at the sudden shift in direction. “Dooku’s on the move. He’s leaving – he’s in the room from before. I’m having to move backwards.”

“Keep your eye on him.” Quinlan ordered, and Ben let himself fall silent until he was at the other viewing grate, where he watched Dooku typing on a nearby computer before moving over to the black sheets. “What’s he doing?”

“He’s moving those sheets from before. He’s unveiling something. It’s… it’s…”

Ben froze, as the room was bathed in a sudden green glow. The sight alone made his skin feel slick and burning, and he had to focus incredibly hard to realise there was no liquid gushing into his nose, mouth and ears. He wasn’t drowning – not now.

“Ben?” Cody’s voice was soft through the commlink and Ben came back to himself. Only the throb in his knee remained.

“The pool. The pool of liquid I fell into. It’s here.” Ben spoke without thinking, and was surprised at his own insistence. But the pool felt so familiar, and the odd sensory memory was so accurate that he could see the Force warning for what it was. Dooku was making some adjustments to a nearby panel and Ben peered down to try and get a closer look. “If I just-ah!”

Unfortunately, he’d leaned on exactly the wrong bit of panelling, which came loose and clattered to the ground, making Dooku turn and pull out his saber. Ben tried to tuck himself away, but the sudden movement made another hole and this time he couldn’t keep his balance, tumbling through the ceiling and onto the floor below, smacking his knee against the edge of the pool as he did so. Dooku leapt back as the liquid inside surged, but luckily none escaped. Ben rolled and hit his shoulder on the floor, but didn’t stop to groan, dragging himself to his feet and reaching for his belt.

But as Ben was igniting his blade, Dooku was retracting his, the red glow fading from his face. In its place sat a look of such pure wonder that Ben was caught up in it. He lowered his weapon, feeling it hum in his hand.

Dooku took one shaky step forward and then another. The rich fabric of his cloak whispered as he moved, and Ben remembered how it felt against his shoulders. He’d been a tiny padawan then – perhaps only a few weeks into his apprenticeship – and they’d visited the snowy Hoth with Master Dooku. Qui-Gon had neglected to mention the terrain, and both had been forced to shiver in their standard robes until Dooku had clicked his tongue, glared at Qui-Gon and tucked his warmer cloak around the small boy, patting his cheek for good measure.

The same hand reached down and cupped Ben’s jaw again, butterfly soft and warm beneath his glove.

“Grand-padawan.” Dooku’s rich voice rumbled out as he reached down and gave his braid a little tug. “What have they done to you?”

Notes:

Hey everyone! Sorry this chapter took so long, and isn’t as good as others – I’ve really been struggling with my mental health, and I feel like I wrote myself into a bit of a corner. Hopefully we can pick up action and get back to the Revenge of the Sith structure. For now – crawling through vents is the best I can do. I hope it’s not too awful.

How did the Ben perspective shift work? I’m thinking of doing the next few chapters from his view point, just because there’s more juicy Dooku content that way. Also, ships aren’t going to feature in this, but Ben very much said bi rights <3

Also, would it be worth cross-posting this on my tumblr? I’ve been struggling with AO3 formatting sometimes and this fic gets buried quite quickly. I’m on Tumblr as sandfordsmostwanted, so come and have a chat, if you feel like it!

Please let me know what you think – I’m so grateful for all the comments, and they really make all the difference to plotting and motivation <3 Also thank you to CallToMuster for pointing out my Jocasta Nu plot hole which I have now fixed :D Seriously, anything like that is so helpful – I am very new to this fandom and I write this very quickly when I get going so stuff like that always slips through.

Best of love to you all, and thank you for all the feedback – I never dreamed I would write anything this long, or have this much response <3 I’ve only really written for small fandoms before this so I’m overwhelmed. I love you all :D

Stay safe, stay well, and May The Force Be With You!

Chapter 11

Summary:

As Dooku’s fingers wrapped around his braid, Ben became aware of his two choices.

First, his brain zipped through the logical route. According to all the information he’d been given, this man was a danger, a threat to the Republic, and at this very moment, a threat to his master. His mission was to extract the Chancellor from this evil-doer’s clutches, rescue Anakin, and get them and all their men clear of this wretched place. Bringing in Dooku, though preferable, was entirely optional.

But his heart – his traitor’s heart that was always leading him down the wrong path – throbbed hard as he looked up at the familiar face.

Ben and Dooku have a little chat – and more.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

As Dooku’s fingers wrapped around his braid, Ben became aware of his two choices.

First, his brain zipped through the logical route. According to all the information he’d been given, this man was a danger, a threat to the Republic, and at this very moment, a threat to his master. His mission was to extract the Chancellor from this evil-doer’s clutches, rescue Anakin, and get them and all their men clear of this wretched place. Bringing in Dooku, though preferable, was entirely optional.

But his heart – his traitor’s heart that was always leading him down the wrong path – throbbed hard as he looked up at the familiar face. Dooku now was about the age Ben remembered him, when he would infrequently drop into training sessions with Qui-Gon, or invite them to work alongside him on diplomatic missions. This was the Dooku who had taught him how diplomats danced, which fork to use for which meal course, how to get the highest sheen on his boots. This was the Dooku who corrected his saber grip for Makashi, who reminded him to keep his back straight whilst boxing, who helped him recover after nightmares that had felt real enough to be visions. How could he be all the Council said he was? What had happened in twenty years to turn his heart so cold? And did Ben really want to know all the wicked things he had done?

Ben took a step back and tried to catch his breath. What would Master Obi-Wan do? Ben tried to think back to his diplomacy lessons, on what to do when you found yourself surrounded by opponents. He dipped his head in a half-graceful nod, pulled out his still functioning commlink –

And smiled.

“Dooku, funny dropping in on you like this.” He tried to keep his voice light, as he tossed the device to the floor. If Dooku noticed any trembling in his tone, he didn’t indicate it. They moved in slow circles around each other, feet pacing almost silently on the cold floor. Both their weapons stayed retracted. “I must say, you’re looking rather spry. New haircut?”

“Funny, coming from the man with a nerf-tail.” Dooku raised a striking black eyebrow, and Ben forced himself to keep a steady gaze, rather than flinching like a youngling. The older master had called him a man – perhaps it would be best to keep up that assumption for as long as possible. Locking his shields down as tight as they would go, Ben tried to scrabble in the back of his mind for any hint of the older Obi-Wan. “I take it you’re here for Skywalker?”

“And the Chancellor, if you’ve got him lying around.” He found himself grinning, and internally blenched at the almost teasing tone of his words. Is that what his older self was like? A joker who never took anything too seriously? That didn’t seem to fit, either with a Jedi Master or a High General. And yet the words flowed from his tongue like honey.

“Naturally.” Dooku laughed, a slightly clipped version of his usually hearty chuckle, as if someone had seen his grandmaster laughing and had clamped down on his joy. It made the hairs on the back of Ben’s neck stand up. “How did you enjoy my little puzzles?”

“An elegant bantha-chase, if ever I’ve experienced one.” Ben fought the urge to wink and found himself lifting a palm, and staring at his nails, occasionally flicking a wary gaze at Dooku. Now that he was closer, he could see a little shaking in his palm, and clenched both hands harder on his blade. They were dwarfed by its length and for the first time, he noticed an ache in his shoulders. He’d never used such a heavy saber. If this had been Master Obi-Wan’s, it certainly didn’t fit right now, even though the crystal inside hummed comfortingly.

“Well, I had to check that brain of yours wasn’t too damaged in your little submersion.” Despite his teasing tone, Ben caught Dooku leaning a little closer, eyes squinting as he watched his opponent. Ben straightened his shoulders and returned to a guard position. Was he giving himself away? No wonder his older self had grown a beard – it was so much easier to hide his expressions that way. “I’d hate to lose the finest knight the Order has produced in a decade to a vat of goo.”

The finest knight? Surely Dooku had overplayed his hand there – Ben had known since his time as an Initiate that he was just shy of average for a Jedi. He’d been lucky to train with Qui-Gon, and it had made him a better student, but he was far from perfect. And how could he be, with Anakin in their ranks? The Chosen One was surely their best and brightest, even if right now, he needed Ben’s help.

Swallowing, Ben ignited his blade, and watched Dooku’s expression freeze. The hum of the weapon echoed around the empty room. Rather than stepping back, or powering up his own blade, Dooku stayed completely still.

“Where is the Chancellor, Dooku?” Ben asked, feeling a growl crawl up his throat. His eyes darted towards the door where he knew Anakin lay, but a gentle press of his mind through the facility showed no other signs of life. If the Chancellor were here, his signature was either weak or blocked, easy enough to do with a Force neutral individual.

“Did your little spy-hole not reveal the truth?” Dooku asked, voice colder now as he followed Ben’s gaze. They looped in another wide circle, staring at each other. Ben tried to remember how his master moved, the elaborate dance of his saber technique fuzzy in his mind. “Or are you still as blinded as that frog you Jedi call a grandmaster?”

“Speak more softly, Count.” Ben took a step forward, raising his blade to first stance, fighting the urge to point with his spare hand. It hummed so close to his face that he could feel the heat on his cheek. “Wouldn’t want to incriminate yourself any further.”

He expected the goad to push Dooku into action, but if anything, the opposite happened. Instead, the older man’s shoulders seemed to slump, and his dark eyes shone with something Ben couldn’t place but caused his throat to tighten.

“Are we not too far gone?” Dooku whispered, barely audible over Ben’s blade. “You, I, this rotten Republic of ours – we are waist deep in blood, Obi-Wan. Have we energy left to return to the shore?”

“The Force provides to those who seek its call.” Ben kept his voice firm, but he could feel his blade shaking slightly in his hand. He tensed his arm, and felt his shoulders ache.

“Ah yes, the Force does. But both sides beckon, child.” Rather than stepping to the side again, he moved forward, and Ben adjusted himself to step backwards, trying to calculate how far he was from the wall. He needn’t have worried though, as Dooku shook his head sadly. “How could they send you to war like this? Barely more than a boy. Can you even wield that saber?”

“You had no such qualms about Mas-Anakin.” Ben snapped back, only catching himself at the last moment. Still, his temper bubbled and even deep breaths struggled to keep it under control. “Or Ahsoka. Or the thousands of children who have died in the wake of this war they did nothing to provoke.”

“At least we do not march said children to their deaths in painted armour.” Dooku responded, eyes flashing. Ben swallowed, taking another step back. “You have seen Kamino, Master Kenobi. You know how quickly those troopers are forced into adulthood, to bear the burden of this war. Did they provoke it?” Ben flinched, and turned his gaze to half an inch above Dooku’s shoulder, the same technique he’d used when Master Qui-Gon had turned his disapproving gaze on him. He clenched his lightsaber tighter, knuckles popping. “The Jedi are hypocrites and charlatans, sat in their ivory tower, pontificating as the world burns around them. And the Senate – no wonder the Sith were able to creep so easily into their ranks. They were so busy staring up their own rears that they didn’t notice a fox in the henhou-.”

“Enough talk.” Ben snapped, hating the way his stomach squeezed. This time, he did raise his hand, pointing at the older man. Despite its unfamiliarity, the move felt smooth and practiced, and the tension in his shoulders eased, though only one hand now took the weight of his blade. His jaw clenched tight. “Release the Chancellor and Anakin.”

“On what grounds?” Dooku’s voice was soft, but laced now with steel as he too raised his blade. Watching closely, Ben could see its hilt was unique, curved and fitting perfectly into the other man’s hand. He’d never seen a construction like it, certainly not from the Dooku he had known. Ben swallowed.

“You are surrounded.” The words came out firmer than he’d thought possible. He caught sight of his commlink, still winking and glowing, and prayed he’d made a good choice in discarding it. “General Vos and our troops are on your doorstep. Come in willingly, or we will take you by Force.”

“Well then - it seems a duel is in order.” Dooku finally finally ignited his blade, and Ben felt his nerves chill at the sight of its blood-red shade. Ben remembered how proud he had been when he’d seen his grandmaster’s blue blade as a padawan; with Yoda, Qui-Gon and all his friends wielding green blades, he’d felt completely alone until he saw his grandmaster’s saber next to his. But now was far from the time to get melancholic, as Dooku entered first position, a catlike grin crossing his face. “Wonderful – our encounters have always been so brief before now.”

As Dooku began to move, Ben realised why their duels had been so brief before; the grandmaster was the fastest opponent he’d ever faced. He moved like a man half his age, flexible as a youngling. It was all Ben could do to get a few token hits in – Dooku’s curved blade afforded him so much more control.

Pulling out of the direct conflict, Ben tried to think as quickly as he could. Dooku was taller and stronger, and they were probably equal in speed. All Ben could think to do was challenge him on multiple levels, bouncing as high as he could over the master, and using the computer desk and the edge of the pool as springboards to keep himself higher. When pushed, he moved lower too, making himself a small target as he rolled and swerved around his relatively stationary opponent.

But after landing hard on his feet and feeling his weaker knee tremble, he realised his mistake. Already he was dripping with sweat, panting hard, while Dooku looked unphased. In a few long strides, Dooku was back in his face again, swishing his blade as fast as it would go. Ben managed to force him back, and they stared at each other.

“Do you know what the problem with your technique is, Master Kenobi?” Dooku peppered his words with a few more blows, that Ben only just managed to deflect, arms screaming from the strain. “You always play sabaac three moves ahead. I can see your techniques, and in a luckier world, you would win. But this world is not made of long-term luck.” Ben risked a lower slice and was deflected. Dooku looked pleased for a second, before swinging his blade to Ben’s undefended side and scalding his boot. “You must stay in the moment, and work with each hand you are given, as you are given them.” He shoved his blade against Ben’s and made him stagger, pressing him closer and closer to the wall. “Look too far ahead, and you lose the game. Evaluate what you have now, not what you might have in future.”

They broke apart again, and Ben became aware of just how poor his stamina was. Sweat dripped now into his eyes, and he curled his shoulders in, panting. He tried to cling on to the Force but found nothing to hold. Even his strange opening stance was more painful than soothing now, as he returned to it.

“Interesting. A master’s hold…” Dooku hovered his blade close enough to Ben’s wrist that he could feel its heat inches away from his skin. He tried to centre himself, to look the older man in the eye without flinching. Such focus meant he didn’t notice Dooku knocking his boot into his ankles, toppling Ben to the floor. His saber slipped from his fingers, and in two deft movements, Dooku had it turned off and in his grip. When Ben scrabbled up to his knees, Dooku was staring at him with his dark unreadable eyes. “But a padawan’s footwork.”

Ben didn’t answer, but his silence was taken as confirmation. Dooku’s blade came up inches from his face, thankfully not on his braid side - if it had, the lock of hair would have been cut clean off. Still, an unruly lock of hair was being singed, filling the room with a disgusting scent. Ben swallowed, and allowed himself to ease his shields a little, just enough to push a message through.

‘Master, if you can hear me, I need you. I can’t do this on my own.’ He begged. When no pulse came back, he felt himself begin to shudder.

“When we were developing the Elixir, there was always the risk of losing more than just our physical years - the Dathomir witches warned us of that much.” Dooku’s rich voice cut through his thoughts, and Ben forced himself to straighten. He tried to stand, but his knee screamed at him to stay still. “But we overcame it with will, and determination, and… a desire to stay in the moment, shall we say? Wouldn’t Qui-Gon be proud of us?” He chuckled, but it was tinged with unease, and it forced him back into his colder words. “When we found Skywalker, we assumed you’d stumbled upon our little fail-safe. You both have always had such power.” Eyes shining with pride, he stopped, and turned his gaze on Ben again. He raised a hand, but faltered, and let it flop back to his side. “But what happened to you, little one? Where did Master Kenobi go?”

“Where did Master Dooku go?” Ben bit back, feeling tears burn in his eyes. The hyperbole his grandmaster had used before was simply accurate when applied to the man himself, and to see him pulled so low made Ben’s heart ache. “You were one of the greatest Jedi of your generation – of any generation. And yet you turn tail to the Sith.”

“Such black and white thinking. And they say only a Sith deals in absolutes.” He scoffed, but Ben could sense again that uncomfortableness. “There is only one universal truth, Obi-Wan, and you know it as well as I.” He paused, and dipped his head, dark hair staying stubbornly in place as his voice rumbled out. “Everybody wants.

Ben frowned. What? That was it? That was Dooku’s great philosophy – the reason for his Fall? Two words that explained nothing.

“I don’t follow.” Ben admitted, averting his eyes. Dooku tutted like a schoolmaster and resumed his circling. He puffed out his chest, readying himself for a sermon. Ben’s knee throbbed.

“There is a charming little legend from one of the outer rim planets that sums it up quite nicely. It says that when their people were made, they were double creatures. Two brains, two hearts, two souls, in one body.”

“Clearly, they’d never met a Besalisk.” Ben tried to claim back his snarking, but Dooku turned cold eyes on him.

“Quiet, boy.” He snapped, before taking a deep breath, and beginning his circle again. “The legend said that these people were so content that they angered the gods. And in their infinite wisdom, such gods split the creatures, and flung their other halves to the ends of the earth, so that they could not meet again.” Dooku suited this, long elaborate speeches that allowed his voice to echo through the room. And something was so musical about his voice that Ben felt himself desperate to hear more. “Devastated by the loss, the creatures spent their lives looking for their other halves, often travelling the world in their pursuit. But not everyone was so adventurous.” Dooku’s face darkened, sorrow creeping into his eyes. “Some would match with the nearest person, and convince themselves they were happy. Others would make another half out of whatever they could find, and treat their creations as love. Finally, some would glut themselves on whatever filled the void until they sickened and died for their wanting.” His voice slowly turned into a snarl as his story continued. “The point of the story is that we are born with a hole in us, a gaping wound that demands to be felt.” Dooku clenched his fist, and turned it towards Ben. “And everyone will do whatever they can to fill that void. Everybody wants.”

“A true Jedi wants for nothing but the wellbeing of others.” Ben recited, trying to conjure more of the Code into his shaky mind. He could picture the words, written repeatedly in his own sloping handwriting. He’d taken to copying them out, and reciting them under his breath, every night after Melida/Daan. It made him feel connected, somehow, like a wound being stitched shut. The ancient words kept him company when the nightmares crept in.

“Find me a true Jedi then.” Dooku challenged, eyes flashing. “And don’t say Qui-Gon. Stars above know he wanted more than most.”

“Wanted what?” Ben blinked up at the older man, heart fluttering in his chest. The question of what Qui-Gon had haunted him since before his apprenticeship, and try as he might, Ben had never found the right answer. He knew exactly what Qui-Gon hadn’t wanted – he hadn’t wanted another maverick, or a strict rule-follower, or a shadow, or an absent padawan. He hadn’t wanted an early riser or a late sleeper, a laugher or a solemn child, a glutton or a picky eater. In his worst moments, he had convinced himself that what Qui-Gon hadn’t wanted most was Obi-Wan. To have the answers so tantalisingly close-

“To be proven right.” Dooku replied simply, as if the fact had been as obvious as the sky’s colour. He even gave a little shrug. “A trait he got from me, I pride myself on. He was always too cynical to take the Council at their word – was always out looking for other answers. And all he ever wanted was to bring those answers home and shove them in Yoda’s wrinkled old face. Why do you think he clung to the Chosen One so? He cast you to the ground with nothing but the hope of a boy. He chose Anakin over you, because he was so desperate to finally be right.”

“I don’t-“ Ben felt his throat tighten, the ghost of a scream echoing through his mind. Dooku’s words were sincere, the Force glowing at the truth in his words, but Ben had no memory of them. But something low in his stomach ached, and he shook his head. “That can’t be-“

“They haven’t told you, have they?” Dooku looked crushed for a moment, before his expression hardened. “Of course they haven’t – why would they risk you turning tail too? You were always their perfect little Jedi, the selfless boy who lost his master and trained his replacement. Who parroted the Code and lost his heart in the meantime.” Dooku took a step forward, his cheeks burning as he ranted. “They left you in a warzone and you came running home.”

Ben didn’t realise he’d moved until he was back opposite Dooku. With no blade, he was hammering his fists against the other man’s chest, an animalistic roar bursting from his throat as he scrabbled and fought. Any attempts to control himself – to get in a strategic jab at Dooku’s ribs, or a kick at his feet – were either dogged, or weakened by the sheer rage Ben felt. All it took was a tiny shove from Dooku and he was flat on his back again, wearier than ever. Ben tried to push himself to his feet, but couldn’t, fire ripping through his body as it shifted. Dooku was standing over him now, leaning closer every second. Ben flinched away, closing his eyes.

“But it doesn’t have to be like this.” Ben had expected a blow, not a soft, slow voice. He opened one eye to see Dooku kneeling opposite him, his arms spread wide, a saber hilt in each hand. But their blades were hidden, and his eyes held no hatred. Instead, they were open, and almost… warm? “Come away with me. Together, you and I can expose both the Jedi and the Sith. We can create a better world without either of them.” Ben managed to sit up, and found himself drifting closer. His body ached, fear thrumming through his pulse. And that voice was so safe, so trusting. Ben wanted to stop, to reconsider, to wait for this all to make sense. “We need not fight, Obi-Wan. There need not be a war.” Dooku tucked his own saber into his belt, and held out a hand. “It can all be better. All you have to do is trust me.”

Ben wanted to take it, he really did. For all Dooku’s cynicism, something true burned in his words, strong and clear like nothing had been yet. It would be so easy to let that feeling wash over him.

But Ben was a Jedi, and like all Jedi before him, he pushed his cravings into the Force, sending out a final frightened message.

‘Please, someone, help me.’ He called, to any heart that would listen. His shields had long fallen, but the world didn’t flood back in. He felt completely and utterly alone, adrift from his time and himself. He wanted to go home. ‘I don’t know what to do.’

Three things happened in alarmingly quick succession, enough to shake even the most practiced Jedi from their focus.

The first thing Ben noticed was the sound of footfalls in the corridor behind him, what sounded like a hundred boots clanking over the floor, along with the rustle of armour and blasters. They were too far to pick out any distinctive voices, but a pulse of the Force revealed Quinlan and Cody, close on his tail. If he could hold out a few minutes more, they’d be with him.

Second was an internal feeling, ringing through his brain. There were no words at all in this case, instead only images. For a moment, it was as if the world had flickered green, his heartbeat shifting into the sound of a bubbling brook, and the harsh lights morphing into tree-dappled sun. Warmth spread through him, like an arm wrapped around his shoulders, and he loosened into it even as it began to fade, a whisper of breeze flickering over his cheek and tugging at his braid. When the feeling was gone, Ben’s eyes were drawn to Dooku’s face. The older man had gone pale – no, bloodless, colour fading from his cheeks and lips and his eyes turning into two pools of disbelieving darkness. Dooku faltered, almost dropping his blade.

Which made Anakin’s appearance all the more terrifying.

Ben for a moment wondered how his master had freed himself from his bonds, but was quickly rid of that assumption when he saw the large clumps of wall Anakin dragged along with him. He seemed not to feel their weight, nor the pulses of electricity surging through his wrists and throat. In fact, they almost seemed to make him shine, his golden hair fire-bright and his eyes glinting in the dimly lit room. He raised both his hands and slammed them down, shattering the wall fragments and leaving him free. Something must have deactivated in the wrist binds as they snaked off his wrists and lay limp and useless. With one hand, he ripped the final bond from his throat, and fashioned it like a whip around his hand, lashing out at Dooku. The grandmaster jolted backwards, and dropped Ben’s blade, which flew to Anakin’s hand and ignited.

If Ben’s duel with Dooku had been fast, the conflict between Anakin and the grandmaster was like lightning. Ben had just enough time to roll out of the way and drag himself to his feet, before the two masters were sparring. The two were titans of their craft, leaping forth with everything they had. Sometimes, they were so in tune with each other that they deliberately missed striking each other, their sabers swinging in a light show that would dazzle any child. But what was even more impressive was their athleticism. They leapt and bounded, using every surface as a launchpad. Anakin feared nothing, even running along the edge of the pool, sending liquid sloshing everywhere. Dooku followed him with ease, lighter-footed but slower. However, his final jump was much more elegant.

“My, you have grown strong, child. Even in this form, you are a wonder in the Force.” Dooku laughed as they landed, eyes bright with the chase. But when they faced each other again, Dooku co*cked his head to one side, and frowned. “To think you are being controlled so – well, it boggles the mind.”

“Controlled?” Ben asked, but no-one acknowledged him. Instead, Anakin stalked forward.

“Quiet, Dooku.” Anakin snarled. Without even turning his head, Anakin started to address his padawan. “Ben, find Vos and Cody. Get yourself somewhere safe.”

“The boy goes nowhere.” Dooku replied, shooting out a hand. Suddenly, Ben felt a strange clamping around his body, and the more he struggled, the less he found he could move.

“Let him go.” Anakin’s voice was ice cold but Dooku didn’t flinch.

“I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. Doubt. Conflict.” Dooku’s tone had matched the one he’d used earlier with Ben, but had much less effect. If anything, Anakin looked angrier. “It need not be like this. If you both just step back from the bonds that intwine you, you will grow more powerful than you know.”

“I said be quiet.”

“Master, maybe you should just listen to –“ Ben felt a pulse in the Force thrust him backwards, though he couldn’t tell where it had come from. Neither Dooku nor Anakin had thrust out their hands, but still he felt the Force pushing against his chest. Around it was a thick, oily feeling, that pressed Ben back even further.

Colliding with the edge of the pool, Ben only just managed to roll out of the way before even more liquid spilled over the side. However, the manoeuvre jarred at his ribs and he lay on the floor, gasping for breath. His vision hazed around the edges with pain. When he attempted to drag himself towards the warring Masters, his vision blurred into one large mass of grey, and he collapsed back onto the floor.

Bizarrely, the grey turned itself into the greenery again. There was no dappled sunlight this time, and he tried to reach for it, to feel the warmth on his cheeks but something blocked his path, like a hand in the middle of his chest. He was free to move now, and tried pushing forward, but the hand remained.

“You cannot stay here, child.” A soft lilting voice warned, and Ben felt his eyes prickle at its familiarity. He tried to follow it, but it grew fainter.

“Please don’t leave me. Not again. Please, M-“

“It is not your time.” It whispered, and Ben felt a last fond tug on his braid, before he snapped back to wakefulness.

Forcing his eyes open, Ben gaped at the sight before him. Dooku was hovering in the air in front of Anakin, brown eyes bulging with fear. His hands, reduced to two smoking stumps, still scrabbled for his throat. Horrible rasps echoed around the chamber, as Dooku’s face purpled, veins throbbing.

In contrast, Master Anakin had never looked more statuesque, his handsome face void of any emotion other than a deep, focused frown. His hand was raised in front of him, as if holding an invisible goblet, arm almost painfully straight as he brought his fingers in closer. For a moment, his eyes flashed golden.

“Master!” Ben gasped out before he could stop himself. Of the three gathered men, only one turned to Ben, and he was no Jedi. Palpatine’s mouth had been murmuring something to Anakin – perhaps more diplomatic expressions of Ben’s fright – but it fell still, pale lips pressing together. Was he really going to give up, and stay silent? Was he really about to let Anakin finish Dooku? Stumbling to his feet, Ben called out again, moving closer. “Master, let him go!”

“Stay out of this, Ben.” Anakin snarled, though his grip on the air loosened, and Dooku wheezed in a few more desperate breaths. Ben moved as close as he dared, and saw that his master’s forehead was beaded with sweat, tears lingering in his now firmly blue eyes. “He is the cause of this – of this war, of all the deaths, of your pain as much as mine.” The more Anakin spoke, the more he seemed to be convincing himself. “He’s too dangerous to live.”

“He must face a trial.” Ben insisted, trying not to look at his grandmasters’ smoking sleeves. “He is unarmed!”

“Keep back, Ben.” Palpatine called from the corner where he was cowering, and a chill ran down Ben’s spine at the unearned familiarity. Anakin’s face didn’t shift and if anything, he leaned closer. “He’s still dangerous.”

“Master –“ Ben dragged himself closer to his master, staggering as he moved. Neither Jedi turned to him, even as he called out. “Let him live. Please.” By now, he was at Anakin’s sleeve, and clung on tight, shaking his master slightly. “Please let him live, Master.”

For one moment, Anakin’s eyes narrowed, and Ben wondered if he would just continue. But instead, he met Ben’s eye, and let his hand fall. Dooku toppled backwards, wheezing filling the now silent room. Ben dove over to him, running his palms over the other man’s cloak. He was curled up in a ball, eyes closed tight.

“Dooku?” He forced himself to use the man’s surname lest he ignite Anakin’s temper again. Dooku whined in response, turning his head towards the cold floor. A deep burbling noise came from his chest, and when he coughed, he spit out blood. “Dooku, can you hear me?” The man barely whimpered this time. “If you can hear me, touch my arm.”

Dooku forced his eyes open. They were horrifically bloodshot, veins burst all over his face. His throat was nearly black from bruising, and his stumps caused ash to flutter through the air as he raised one feebly. Wincing as he did so, he raised what was left of his right hand to Ben’s chest, and traced a crescent over the white robes before falling still.

“Is he-“ Palpatine’s voice sounded weedier than before, but was laced with concern.

“He’s unconscious.” Ben confirmed, pressing a hand to the other man’s bruised neck. A little flutter met his fingers. “There’s a heartbeat.”

“Are you alright, Chancellor?” Anakin asked in a carefully neutral voice. He turned the Chancellor to keep him from staring at Dooku and Ben.

“I’m fine – I just – is he-“

“He’s still breathing, sir.” Anakin replied, but the words brought him no joy. In fact, he looked as if he were going to continue talking, when the sound of voices greeted them.

“BEN? BEN, ARE YOU HERE?” Quinlan roared, close enough that his blade hummed.

“GENERAL KENOBI? GENERAL SKYWALKER?” Cody’s voice joined his, and Ben felt himself sagging with relief. He paused for a moment before calling again. “CHANCELLOR PALPATINE?”

“We’re here! We’re in here!” Palpatine wailed, clinging to Anakin, and within moments, the room was swarming with troops and the Jedi General. Quinlan raised his saber, ready to fight, but it dropped as he took in the carnage.

“f*cking hell – what happened in here?” His gaze flickered between Anakin and Dooku’s prone body, but the Chancellor cut in before anyone else could speak.

“Dooku imprisoned Anakin and I, and was fighting against young Ben here, when Anakin fought him off.” His voice was steadier now, and almost proud, as he watched Anakin. Quinlan paused, then dropped into a bow.

“Chancellor.” He spoke smoothly, but Ben could see a tight muscle in his cheek; a sign of Quinlan’s doubt. “It’s good to see you alive and well.”

Ben tried to crane his neck further, but was stopped by a figure dropping to their knees beside him. Seeing Ben flinch, the trooper quickly removed their helmet, and Ben caught sight of a scar curving around the trooper’s eye.

“Hey, hey – it’s just me.” Cody kept his voice soft, and Ben tried to talk, but his eyes kept tracking down to Dooku. What if he got back up? Cody was too close – he couldn’t fight against a Force user – he was too - “Look at me, vod.” Cody gently tapped his cheek, and nudged Ben’s chin to face him, peering into his eyes. “Concussion – leg injury – your wrist okay?”

“I-“ Ben took a deep breath and pulled himself to his feet. His head was swimming, and he wanted to flop back down to the floor, but he forced himself to straighten. “See to Dooku. He’s still breathing; we need to get him stable.”

“Are you alright? Are you hurt?” Anakin was patting all over him, and Ben winced as he set his hand directly against his throbbing ribs.

“Just a few bumps and bruises.” He tried to smile, laugh coming out more as a whistle. “Maybe I should have kept that armour on.”

“Is that all? If he hurt you, Ben, I’ll-“ Anakin’s face tensed up again – less fearsome now, but almost Gundark-like in its protectiveness.

“I’m fine.” Ben insisted, putting his hand on his master’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”

For the first time, Anakin looked like he might crack. His face was pale, panting from the strain of the battle, and Ben could see burn marks on his throat from the electro-bonds. But his eyes were the worst part, blue now but wet with sorrow as he purposefully kept his gaze from Dooku.

“I’m sorry, Obi-Wan.” He whispered, voice quiet enough that only Ben could hear. He was shaking now, trembling under Ben’s hand. “I didn’t mean to…”

“You were simply protecting your apprentice, Anakin. There is nothing to be ashamed of.” Palpatine’s words glided over the conversation. “You should have seen him before, gentleman. Ripped himself from a wall when he felt his padawan was in trouble. I’ve never seen heroism like it.”

Before Ben could say anything, he felt his knees buckle once more, the world spinning. Luckily, this time, Cody’s gentle grasp on his waist stopped him from hitting the floor. Instead, they both lowered down and the commander held him still.

“Easy, vod. Deep breaths.” A gloved hand ran through Ben’s hair, and the world shrunk down to matching Cody’s breathing. Faintly, he could hear Anakin talking again. Any trace of that earlier vulnerability was gone.

“Get them both on stretchers and back to the ship as fast as you can.” He instructed, sounding very far away. “I’ll bring the Chancellor.”

Ben thought his master had forgotten him, until he felt a gentle nudge against his mind. It was like a hand in his, squeezing tight.

“Just try and relax, Ben. We’ll be home soon.”

This time, as Ben was lifted onto a stretcher, there was no greenery behind his eyelids. Instead, all he could think of was blue on red and Dooku’s heavy words.

“It need not be like this. If you both just step back from the bonds that intwine you, you will grow more powerful than you know.”

***

A few hours later saw Ben in his quarters, curled up on his bed. He knew he should be up and giving orders, but the painkillers he’d been given for his leg made everything blur together. Lying still, he was told, was the best way to keep himself from puking the medicine back up. Though the nausea had mostly faded, he was still inclined to believe them.

As dull as he felt, he still tried to reach out with the Force. Dooku’s signature was nothing more than a flicker, but at least it hadn’t snuffed out entirely. Quinlan felt distracted, and the clones all hummed together. He was sure if he could put in a little more effort, they would feel distinct, but his temples were throbbing and –

There was a gentle knock at the door, which opened to reveal his master, holding a tray. He felt less like a burning fire now, and more like the summer sun. He’d showered, and his face and hair were bright.

“Hey – I brought you some tea.” He set the tray down on a nearby desk, and helped Ben sit up slightly, before pressing a warm mug against his fingers. “Put extra honey in it too. You’ve earned it.”

“You did most of the work.” Ben replied, taking a long slow sip. The liquid warmed his belly and he let himself breathe out. Anakin perched on the end of the bed, watching him fondly.

“I never would have gotten free if you hadn’t tried to rescue me.” He patted Ben’s unhurt ankle and smiled, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I knew you’d come. Obi-Wan’s always picking up after my mistakes.”

“It’s not your fault you got captured.” Ben replied, wanting to reach out for Anakin’s hand.

“I should be more careful. I’m a master, for f*ck’s sake.” Anakin tore his gaze away and ran a hand through his hair. The same one he’d used to choke Dooku, Ben realised with a jolt. Except now, it looked soft and safe and… human. “I left you alone and vulnerable, and it nearly got you killed.”

“I just… I shouldn’t have let Dooku get so…” Ben stammered but let his voice trail away.

“He’s a pretty convincing guy, I must admit.” Anakin chuckled bitterly and then sighed. He met Ben’s gaze again, eyes now brimming with worry. “But you’ve got to be more streetwise, kid. This isn’t the world you’re from. This is war, and people will say whatever they need to win.”

“What if I’m not ready?” Ben whispered into his mug. He’d been naïve to let himself get tricked by Dooku, and it wasn’t a mistake they could afford to make twice. But it had felt so right, so true. Was he that much of a fool? “What if I’m too-“

“Well then, you have to get ready. Because it’s not going to wait around for you, kid.” Anakin huffed out a breath and sat up, slapping his hands against his thighs. When he smiled at Ben, he was shining like a star. “Hey, enough of the heavy stuff. We both need to unwind a bit. How about a meditation?”

“T-together?” Ben asked, feeling a spark of hope. He’d always loved shared meditations, but Qui-Gon had so rarely had time, and he’d not practiced it with his friends since his creche days.

“Yeah, why not? Might give me a bit more insight into how you tick, kiddo.” He gave Ben a gentle nudge, and then frowned. “What? You not like them or something? Master Kenobi always insisted-“

“It’s not that. I just…” Ben shook his head, and let himself smile, setting down his mug. “Come on, let’s do it.”

“Okay then. But nothing too deep. We’re trying to relax, remember?” Anakin helped Ben onto the floor and snaffled a few pillows for them to sit on. After a little bit of wriggling to get comfy, and an impromptu bout of giggling, they finally fell into each other’s minds.

He hadn’t known entirely what to expect from Anakin’s mind, but as soon as he reached it, he felt at home. No doubt, as a master, he’d spent countless hours in similar meditation with his padawan, and so the sunny field where they lingered was incredibly familiar. Here, Anakin felt more carefree and they spent a while chasing each other around, playing some strange form of tag. The sky was impossibly blue, the grass incredibly green, and when they flopped down next to each other, it was as soft as clover. The sun was just warm enough to be comfy, and Ben felt no shame in stretching out and absorbing all its warmth.

He must have been basking longer than he thought, because all too soon, Ben could feel gentle arms around him, guiding him back onto the bed. He mumbled, trying to find his way back to Anakin’s mind, but felt a pat on his waist instead.

“It’s okay, it’s okay. Time to rest.” Anakin gently tucked the sheets around him and settled his head onto the pillow. “G’night, Ben. Sleep well.”

“G’night Master.” Ben yawned, and watched his master give a little wave, and leave him to sleep. Turning over, Ben caught a glimpse of his battle-scarred tunic hanging up against the wardrobe. He wanted to look closer, but his sleepy brain would not follow his commands. As he drifted off, warm and comfy, he had one final puzzling thought.

Funny, looking at it now, the crescent that Dooku had drawn…

Well it looked a bit like a “C”.

Notes:

Heya!

So I took a bit of time out from this fic – my personal life got real hectic, and I needed to focus on that for a while. Also Dooku was giving me a real crisis; he’s such a chatty boy (in fact, I’ve probably got one too many big dramatic speeches in here but hey, he likes to monologue) so I had to find a way to get everything out, whilst keeping a bit of that Jedi mystique. I don’t know if I agree with his perspective on the Jedi, but it certainly seemed like what Dooku thought, and the Jedi are problematic af. I wanted to get a bit more Obi-like Ben too, and don’t worry, Anakin’s escape will be described from his perspective when we get back to that. And there will be consequences for everyone’s actions.

Honestly, this chapter is a bit of a Frankenstein, though hopefully it doesn’t read that way; it’s a combination of a few drafts, and I’ve taken the best ideas and put them into an understandable order. This is also what my style of “sticking to the source material” is going to be like – similar scenes that either play out differently or rhyme with the canon material.

For anyone interested, Dooku’s little mythology lesson is based on a Greek theory of soulmates allegedly found in Plato’s Symposium, though I can’t find concrete evidence of it. I liked the image, and it sounded like something that would intrigue Dooku, so hey! Star Wars bullsh*t time!

I won’t set any promises as to when this will update – I didn’t write anything on this for over a week, and then gushed it all out in an evening while procrastinating – but I do still very much love this idea. Next time, at least – we’ll be back on Coruscant, and there’s some surprises in store for Ben and Anakin!

Please let me know what you think below – I take on board all comments and I’ve been so so honoured to have received so much guidance and love from you guys! <3 It’s really made these dark times a little easier to bear :D

Take care of yourself, take care of each other, and stay strong!

Chapter 12

Summary:

They didn’t need a child. They needed Master Obi-Wan, General Obi-Wan. This serum could restore him, if only Ben could be brave enough to take it. Then all their troubles would be over. He could stop holding everyone back.

Getting grounded might be the least of Ben and Anakin's problems...

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“You’re grounding us?!”

Ben winced as he watched his master pacing like a caged varactyl in front of the unimpressed hologram of Mace Windu. A small part of him was relieved that Anakin was moving with such ease; their brief stint in the Healing Halls had done them both a world of good, and even Ben’s knee felt better than it had since this whole business had begun, meaning he could now stand with ease in front of the council. But the enforced convalescence had triggered a twitchiness in his master that no amount of bed rest and joint meditations would soothe. When he saw Anakin’s hand tighten into a fist, the memory of Dooku’s bulging eyes made Ben shiver.

“Temporarily.” Master Plo’s smooth voice cut over the silence. He too appeared only as a flickering hologram, his true seat somewhere on the opposite side of the galaxy where the war raged stronger than ever. Though his mask did much to hide any tension in his face, one clawed hand rested on the hilt of his saber, as if ready to spring into action. “Whilst we evaluate what your latest excursion has revealed.”

“Excursion? You mean when we single-handedly brought in the most dangerous figure in the war, and rescued the Chancellor, without spilling a drop of blood? That excursion?” Anakin ran a hand through his hair. His ranting had brought a sweat to his brow, and Ben wondered if they should return to the Healing Halls, or at least find a spot somewhere more serene.

“A punishment this is not.” Master Yoda leaned forward, banging down his gimmer stick hard enough to echo around the nearly empty chamber. Only he and a handful of other Council Members were seated, fewer than Ben had ever seen in his brief meetings with Qui-Gon, and some Masters were present only in voice, their signals stretched too far for imagery. How many fronts did this war rage on? “For your padawan, this decision, we make.”

That was enough to make Anakin stop in his tracks, flicking his gaze back to Ben. Before they could discuss it though, the Council doors opened, and Vokara stepped in, looking even more pressed than his master. In her arms, she held a datapad, a pair of thick glasses resting on her lekku.

“A possible remedy has been found for Apprentice Kenobi’s condition.” She announced, holding up her research. But Anakin’s eyes never reached the datapad, instead flicking between the twin grim visages of Yoda and Windu.

“Where’s this information from – Dooku?” He sounded more frantic than any military general should, but Ben couldn’t blame him for his wariness. His own stomach was turning backflips. “How do you know you can trust him?”

Ben swallowed, and looked down at his chest. He’d been given fresh robes, but had stashed the ones Dooku had marked in his backpack, the Force thrumming as he did so. Tightening his shields, he remembered the mix of blood and ash – the strange shape Dooku had struggled to form. Was it an accident – a twitch of damaged limbs stretching out in vain? Or was it a message? Dooku had set them puzzles before, had revelled in their bafflement. And he had fought so hard to mark Ben, battling against pain and unconsciousness to swipe at him. Was he trying to hit him - to claw at the person who was ultimately responsible for his dismemberment?

To hold his grandpadawan for a final time?

At first, Ben thought only his thoughts were spiralling, but as Anakin stepped closer, he realised the second thrum of unease he was feeling came from his master. There was no time to delve deeper into these feelings though, or even send a comforting thrum to his master, as Yoda spoke again.

“Starved of oxygen, Master Dooku’s brain was. Alive he is, but much weakened.” Yoda shook his head, ears twitched down despite the serenity on his face. Ben swallowed and glanced at his master, who seemed to be searching for a comforting face he didn’t find. In his memory, Ben had only ever been a padawan, though he knew from everyone else’s perspective, he’d brought up a padawan of his own. What was it like to be responsible for another life, to have a child in your care? He felt like he’d never be ready for such a challenge, but if Anakin had grown into the capable knight Ben had seen, he must have done something right along the way, no matter how wrong and strange it felt now. But to lose that child… it was a horror that didn’t bear thinking about. And yet for Yoda, Qui-Gon and now, even Anakin, it was a reality. “Unconscious, he remains, despite treatment.”

“There was also substantial damage to his throat, especially the larynx.” Master Che’s tone was far more pointed, as she narrowed her eyes at Anakin. Ben wanted to tug at his collar, picturing the tightness around his neck that he’d seen in Dooku. “If he wakes, it’s uncertain as to whether he will ever be able to talk.”

“If?” Ben couldn’t help but squeak out, though no-one paid him any attention. Could Master Dooku die like that, slipping away quietly rather than in a grand final gesture? No, that couldn’t be – his grandmaster always always had the last word, no matter how controversial his words were.

“Well, who is the cure from, if not Dooku?” Anakin asked, handing back the datapad and folding his arms.

“While you were… dealing with the Chancellor,” Master Windu sounded unimpressed, flicking his eyes over Anakin, who tensed. “General Vos managed to acquire samples of the liquid found at the site of Dooku’s capture. Our teams have been running constant tests.” His gaze hovered over Ben for a second, before turning back to the medical professional. “Master Che, if you’d like to explain.”

With a nod, the Twi’lek settled her glasses on the bridge of her nose and tapped at her datapad, pulling up two holograms covered with facts and figures that Ben could only squint at. He glanced at his master who shrugged.

“We can’t say for certain what its composition is, but it bears striking similarities to the clone aging serum found on Kamino.” Master Che announced, showing the components of each liquid next to each other. Ben wasn’t sure what any of the figures meant, but they were fairly similar. However, something else – unlabelled in the diagram – was present in Dooku’s serum.

“Dooku mentioned Dathomir witches.” Ben tried to focus on the healer, ignoring the swivelling of every other eye onto him. Instead, he clasped his hands behind his back, and tried to stand taller. “Could they have gotten their hands on some serum and… enchanted it?”

“Perhaps; we shall look further into it.” Master Che nodded, typing for a few seconds before turning back to the Council members. “The similarities between the two liquids has led us to believe that using the Clone serum on Apprentice Kenobi may return him to his older self.”

“You don’t sound certain.” Anakin still hadn’t unclenched, raising a suspicious eyebrow at the data. Master Che scowled back at him, eyes flashing.

“That is because I am not.” She snapped back, and Ben noticed the shadows under her eyes. How long had the medical teams been working on him? He stared at the floor, hoping to avoid meeting anyone’s gaze. Suddenly, he felt as sweaty as his master. “You must understand – this procedure is risky, and far from a cure, but without Dooku to interview-“ She stopped, taking a no doubt soothing breath before her temper could entirely run away with her. Ben was surprised to feel her Force signature nudging against his, like cool fingers checking for a fever. “We perhaps may never know the true essence of this liquid.” She paused again, turning off her projection. “We are therefore forced to take these more experimental routes or abandon the idea of recovering Master Kenobi completely.”

As the data faded away, so did any noise from the fellow council members. Rather than asking further questions, they stared intensely at each other, and at Master Che. As Anakin put a hand on his shoulder, Ben realised with a jolt that they were all talking through their bonds, deciding his fate from the safety of their own heads. He screwed his eyes tight, trying to mimic Master Che’s soothing inhale but he could feel his hands shaking. Would he have no say in his own treatment? Even Anakin gently tugging on his braid did little to soothe his rage. At least, he told himself he was angry. Anger was easier to push down than fear.

“What – what would this procedure entail?” He asked, fighting to keep his voice level. Vokara Che looked startled, turning back to him with wide eyes. But when she spoke, she had recovered herself. For half a moment, she reached for the datapad, no doubt to bring up another diagram, but instead turned to him with an open, honest expression.

“Weekly shots of clone serum for at least three months, before a potential submersion in a serum tank, should your body react positively to the treatment.”

“Three months?” Anakin yelped before Ben could get a work in edgeways. He was frowning now, his handsome face twisted with doubt. “Master Che, may I remind you that we are at war. No Jedi stays on planet for three months, not even Master Yoda!” Anakin turned his attention to the front of the room, where Yoda stared back, head tilted as if thinking very deeply. “Ben can’t command an army from a serum tank.”

“Then perhaps he should not command an army.” Master Che’s tenuous charm exploded from her, as her lekkus trembled with emotion. Ben was reminded of Ahsoka’s impassioned words on a similar subject, and how she had been silenced. Glancing around, he caught a few Masters averting their gazes, though the more military-focused generals calmly stared back at her. “Masters, please – this is getting ridiculous. He is a child – a medically compromised child. How often will you return him to me injured or worse?”

A child. That’s how Master Che saw him, how Ahsoka and even Anakin saw him. Hell, even Dooku had thought twice upon seeing the braid tucked behind Ben’s ear. And Ben had let himself fall for it, and Dooku. If Master Skywalker hadn’t come barrelling in to save him, he’d be a Sith chew toy, and it would have been all his own fault. How could he have been so foolish, so childish?

They didn’t need a child. They needed Master Obi-Wan, General Obi-Wan. This serum could restore him, if only Ben could be brave enough to take it. Then all their troubles would be over. He could stop holding everyone back.

Closing his eyes, he battled down within himself, to find the techniques that had convinced Dooku before their duel. Luckily this time, his footwork wouldn’t give him away, as he settled into what he hoped sounded like The Negotiator. He tried to let the persona wash over him, but felt a little ripple low in his belly – a cry from the Force. He ignored it, and looked up.

“Each of us have co-existing opinions, but that does not mean we should privilege one perspective at the expense of another.” He spoke slowly, smoothly. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Master Windu watching him expectantly. “Master Che, we thank you for your dedicated research, but I must ask – is there any way I could take the serums and travel? Perhaps a lighter dose over a longer span of time – enough that I could travel between doses?”

“It’s possible.” The woman mused, glancing at her datapad as she nodded. “But the effects would be more difficult to monitor.” Her gaze turned stern again, as she cast it over the entire council. “I’d want you here for at least a month, to check your blood regularly for infections or allergens.”

“Thank you, Master. And Master Anakin, do you realistically believe we could stay sedentary for a month, while Master Che runs these checks?”

“With Dooku out of the way, we’ll have bought ourselves some time.” He admitted, voice gruff and expression carefully blank. “But Grievous is still out there. We’ll have to get moving eventually.”

“Understood, Master.” Ben nodded, trying to ignore the guilt gnawing at his stomach. He hadn’t even cast a second thought to the cyborg that had been stalking around the galaxy while they mopped up their mess with Dooku. Hopefully the council had kept an eye on him, because Ben wouldn’t have had a clue about his current location, and he wasn’t confident Anakin had been keeping up either. How could he, with Ben constantly eating up his attention? The gnawing was strong enough that he knew to continue talking though. His behaviour was simply unacceptable at this point. Master Kenobi surely would have never lost track. “Now, assembled Masters, may I request additional classes during my grounding? I feel I am not up to scratch with my abilities, and if I am to remain here, I may as well put that time to good use.”

“But what about resting –“ Master Che started, but was quickly cut off by a stunned Anakin.

“Ben, you’re doing fine –“ If he’d looked even half an inch to his left, he would have seen his surprise mirrored onto the healer.

“Assembled masters.” Ben lifted his chin, keeping his gaze fixed forward. Calm, poise, purpose. “Do I have your blessing?”

“A true master knows he will always remain a student.” Master Windu replied, nodding. Around him, other council members similarly expressed their agreement, some stroking their chins. “What do you need, Apprentice Kenobi?”

“War studies, certainly – I am far behind what I expected to understand about this conflict.” Ben admitted, trying not to look at Anakin. His master had done his best to fill him in, as had Cody and Quinlan, but even his copious notes couldn’t keep him up to track. “Group combat too, both with Jedi and troopers, should you allow it.”

“Master Skywalker will escort you to daily briefings with your men when they are on-world. What you do with that time is at your own discretion.” Master Windu steepled his fingers under his chin. “Your commander can be grounded at a moment’s notice, should you need him.”

“Many thanks, but I must decline – the 212th need a competent leader, and as they cannot find that with me, Cody will lead them as brilliantly as he always has.” Ben smiled, trying to fill the room with the pride he felt for his men. He saw it flicker across several council member’s faces, and Master Plo finally let go of his saber. But the joy stopped dead at the front of the council room, where two large green eyes, deep and unreadable as forest pools, stared back at him. Ben swallowed, and inclined his head. “Master Yoda, you seem troubled.”

“The form and the function, considered we have. But what of the mind?” He lifted a clawed hand, and Ben felt as if it were running through his hair, even at a distance. “United will Master Kenobi’s body and memories be, should this process take place?”

Silence fell once more, and with it, Ben’s hopes. Master Yoda was right, of course, as he always was. It wouldn’t be enough for his physical body to change, though it would bring at least some easing to the situation. They needed Master Kenobi’s brain too; a general’s strategy, a diplomat’s charm, a Jedi’s faith.

For a moment, Ben wondered about how heavily this had all weighed on Master Kenobi. He’d taken to thinking about that older self as another being entirely, because with every sentence he heard, the man seemed less and less like himself. Somehow, he’d been strong enough to handle all of this without so much as a batted eyelid. Ben longed for that, as did everyone around him.

“On that matter, we cannot be certain, Master Yoda.” Master Che answered eventually. “All we know is our clones do not gain the memories of Jango Fett as they age; they never have.” She then paused, and turned to Ben, considering him through her cool blue eyes. Ben had the strange feeling that he was being scanned by a med-droid.“As he ages, Ben will recover the neural pathways of his older self, so muscle memories for combat may return, but specific memories of events and people seem unlikely.”

“But Ben can still access some memories of his older self.” Anakin blurted out. “Remember, when we were-“

“Don’t mention Padme!” The thought was so loud and clear that Ben thought he’d spoken it aloud, but when there was a lull Ben realised it has merely been yelped through their bond. He sent back as subtle an acknowledgement as he could and nodded.

“Meditating. On the way back from Tatooine.” His voice rang surprisingly clear. “I remembered a… personal anecdote from earlier in the war.” There was an expectant pause, and perhaps even a few wry smiles. Ben tried not to wriggle under the pressure. “At least, that’s what Master Anakin assumed it was.”

“What did you remember?” Master Plo asked, his voice kind but curious.

“A strategy we would use – sort of an old joke. Something I never would have known otherwise.” Ben lied smoothly, tightening his shields. He watched the faces of the council members twitch. Too much, he thought, as he loosened up a little.

“How did this memory manifest itself?” Master Windu cut over the suspicion. “Did you have to focus intensely?”

“No, we were just chatting.” Anakin jumped in. “We were eating a meal and it seemed to just slip out of him, like it would have with Master Kenobi.”

“I was relaxed.” Ben whispered to himself, not noticing the faces around the room grow sombre. He was too busy trying to summon the feeling. Padme, to his left, charming and kind. And Anakin, basking in her glow, content to be home with her. He felt like he fit with them. “Happy.”

“Happy, you say.” Yoda hummed with a frown. “Possible to achieve this ‘happiness’ again, you think?”

“Perhaps.” Ben pulled himself into the room again, trying to focus. Now was absolutely not the time for childish daydreams. “And as I age, hopefully my meditative skills will recover alongside my combat ones.”

That seemed to appease most of the Council, but when Ben turned to the two figures that mattered most, he saw them instead locked in their own silent conflict. Yoda’s pensiveness hadn’t faded; in fact, his eyes looked even deeper and darker. By contrast, Anakin felt like a scorching sun.

“Uncertain, you are, Skywalker.” Yoda’s tone was carefully neutral.

“I agree with Ben, but…” He swallowed, turning to his padawan. Something flickered across his face “It wasn’t easy, getting that memory. It hurt you, remember.”

“Only a headache. I get plenty of those.” Ben realised he’d spoken too quickly when he caught a wince rippling through the faces of those around him. Anakin inched closer, a hand on his shoulder.

“Blasé as you are being about this, Apprentice Kenobi, do you believe that it is a sustainable practice?” Master Windu met his eye and briefly, Ben felt a strange pulse from him. Something spiky and shattered and… scared. Nothing he’d ever felt from Mace before.

“I can do this, masters. I must do this.” He squared his shoulders and tried to ignore the tightness in his chest. “The Force wills it.”

Notes:

… sometimes you’ve just got to put one word in front of another until you have a chapter.

I’m trying to be less negative about myself, but honestly, this is my least favourite chapter of this work. I’ve written it over and over and it just feels like an infodump, no matter how I phrase it. Luckily, it’s meant I can liven up the next few chapters, but this one was a slog. Do any of you have any advice on how to avoid situations like this? Usually I try to combine stuff like this with action but… I just didn’t have any. I hope it’s not going to kill the fic – I really love this AU.

Also I was having a really lovely chat with KCKenobi, and they suggested writing some little sub chapters in this ‘verse that aren’t necessarily in the story itself. Would you guys like to see that? If so, is there anything in particular you’d like to see? I have a Dex scene from a few chapters back that could become its own fic.

Also also on a very happy note, thank you so much for 100 bookmarks! I never thought I’d ever reach that many, and I’m so thankful for everyone who reads this fic, and who comes back every chapter :D

Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and remember – if you’re having a rough day, there’s at least one person here that cares for you, and wants you to be happy <3

Chapter 13

Notes:

Hey everyone!

It’s been a hot minute since I updated this but this time it’s for good reasons! I’ll put them in the end note just so I don’t clog up here, but I just wanted to hop into say thank you so so much for all your help and reassurance over the break!

Also!!! This fic has art now!! The incredible harpisterrant drew this piece (https://archiveofourown.org/works/24916522) which I am just in love with! Thank you so so much – I never expected anything like this and I am so grateful you took the time to grace us with this cool work!

Edit whilst finalising this chapter: HOLY sh*t THIS FIC HAS OVER 10,000 READS?! I legit am close to tears everyone – I never thought that anyone would even read this, let alone to this extent!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Four weeks into their new routine and Anakin was ready to pull out his hair. At least it had grown out enough to pull.

Ben’s treatment plan was gruelling, stressful, and straining in equal measure. Master Che had done her best to make it palatable, making the serum doses little and often, usually every other day. Still, their daily trips to the Healing Halls for check-ups ate up hours of their lives, as she would prod and poke. For the first few injections, Anakin had stubbornly insisted on being dosed just as much as his padawan, wanting to know how strenuous the new medical regime was for Ben. But though his hair had grown, and he’d felt a new strength surge into his younger muscles, he’d also fallen victim to paralysing cramps in his restored hand, that no painkillers or meditation could shift. He’d tried to push through it, but when the pain had become so intense that he’d started dropping objects – including at one point his ignited lightsaber – as the spasms took hold, he’d had to leave Ben to it. Still, Anakin wheedled his way into every appointment, and so had watched every time his poor padawan’s face had screwed up, as yet another needle plunged into his arm.

To his credit, Ben never complained, and the effects of the serum were clearly taking hold. His hair had grown even faster than Anakin’s, though the only sign of that after multiple trips to the Temple barber was Ben’s braid, which now thumped against his shoulder when he walked. Within eight doses, Ben had needed to be fitted for new tunics and leggings, growing taller by the day. Though he attempted to be discreet about meals, Ben was also always ravenous, wolfing down his food at a pace that surprised even Anakin. His master had always been a light eater, somehow managing to make nibbling on ration bars seem dainty, but it was comforting to see Ben act his age just a little bit. He never asked for extra portions though, and Anakin had started stocking up on snacks, to help tame his padawan’s grumpy stomach. Dex’s had never been so busy with business too, Anakin making sure to treat his student whenever he could. When Vokara Che had announced Ben had aged up to seventeen, Anakin joked that they should get him a birthday cake, and though the comment had resulted in a thirty minute lecture from Master Che about healthy meal plans, Anakin hadn’t missed the way his padawan’s eyes had lit up at the thought of something sweet.

However, any extra weight Ben had gained didn’t exactly stick around long, as he never seemed to stay still. Far from the restful retreat Vokara Che had suggested, Anakin found his and Ben’s workloads swelling the longer they spent in the Temple. Anakin was taking on more teaching responsibilities, on top of his war obligations. Bizarrely, he had also been the subject of quite a few public relations talks on the holonet. Suddenly all anyone wanted to hear about was his dashing rescue of the Chancellor. Posterboy was the word Obi-Wan would have used, in that light teasing tone Anakin missed enough to ache.

Ben, on the other hand, didn’t say anything, but Anakin couldn’t blame him. The kid was run off his feet, darting between classes and the Archives, and the dreaded Healing Halls. Mealtimes and medical visits were really the only time they managed to spend together, and when Anakin had filched Ben’s datapad that morning to attempt to book in some Master-Padawan training time, he’d sworn out loud at the sight of Ben’s exploding timetable. In one day alone, he’d joined an early Council meeting about developments in the Outer Rim, booked a stint in the holoconference chamber to deliberate with both the 212th and 501st about military rationing, been allocated into a three hour sabre practice class with the senior padawans, and had faced a flight simulation exam, before attending a post-dinner moving meditative walk around the Room of a Thousand Fountains with Master Plo. Anakin had offered to accompany them, but had been denied by both master and apprentice, citing a need for privacy as they worked. That made something low in Anakin’s stomach twist, but he shook it off. Other masters instructed padawans all the time, especially in war. Master Obi-Wan had directed Ahsoka enough times. It was normal. So normal.

Still, Anakin glanced up with relief when his padawan trudged back into their shared chambers, even though the sky outside was beginning to dim as night crept in. Clearly the walk had been bracing, as his cheeks were flushed red and he slid over to the kitchenette sink to get a deep drink of water before he could speak.

“You took your time.”

“Apologies, Master. Our meditation session ran a little longer than expected.” Ben’s tone was clipped as he set down his glass. Rather than taking a well-earned seat though, his attention turned immediately to washing the dishes Anakin had left in the sink since breakfast. Only Anakin’s dishes, he realised with a jolt – either his padawan had washed his own, or he’d skipped breakfast entirely. Glancing away, Anakin tried to push down the uncomfortable feeling curling up in his stomach.

“So that’s why they didn’t want me joining you.” He grumbled instead, looking at the door. “Meditation’s never been my strong suit – Council probably thought I’d just distract you.” He reached down to fiddle with his arm, only stopping when his fingers met warm skin rather than smooth cables. For the first time, he found himself missing his prosthetic; he’d gotten rather used to fidgeting with it when he needed to. “Hope Master Plo hasn’t worn you out too much - our presence is required elsewhere this evening.” Anakin purposefully turned away, not wanting to run the risk of smiling at his student. Palpatine had sent him the invitation that morning, and Anakin had gladly accepted. It was about time Ben got a little bit of attention for his self-sacrificing ways, and the Chancellor had always known how to throw a party.

“But Master! I’ve booked a room in the Temple Archives for the evening!” It was comforting to finally see a bit of grumpiness from the teen, though Anakin had wished his initial reaction to be more joyful. “Master Nu said she’d unearthed some additional Sith scrolls for me to take a look at.”

“Well if she’s unearthed them, they’re not exactly going anywhere.” Anakin reasoned, which made Ben huff. “Come on – the Chancellor himself requested us.”

“The Chancellor?” Ben paused, turning so sharply that his hands dripped sudsy water onto the kitchen floor. His eyes were wide, blinking quickly. “What does he want?”

“Didn’t say - there’ll be food though.” Anakin gave a shrug, but Ben’s shoulders were just as tense as he turned back to his task. “What?”

“Master, I…” He paused, wiping his sponge around the edge of an oat-crusted bowl. “You’re… close to the Chancellor, aren’t you?”

“Yes? What of it?” Anakin folded his arms and scowled at his padawan’s back.

“I just… are you sure that’s wise?” Ben asked, glancing over his shoulder. “I’ve been reading as much as I can about… about our Order in times of war. I’m only scratching the surface but…” He picked up a plate, scrubbing away at its surface as he spoke. With every word, he pushed harder, as if trying to polish it to a blaster-bright sheen. “As Jedi, we’re supposed to be politically neutral, and with you being so prominent-“

“Neutral? Ben, we haven’t been neutral since this war started.” Anakin sat up straighter. “Besides, maybe neutrality’s not the best option at the moment.”

“Surely impartiality is the only way to govern fairly.” Ben sniffed, as he rinsed a cup and made to put it into the drying rack.

“Oh yeah – I’m sure the slaves of Tatooine wake up every morning thanking us for how fairly we govern.” Anakin snarled. “Children abandoned on war-ravaged worlds can take comfort in how impartial we are.”

Whatever Ben’s response was, it was cut short by a flinch and the sound of shattered porcelain. Anakin blinked down at the once-cup that now sat in shards on the floor. His padawan quickly joined it, attempting to scoop up the broken fragments.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean – I can fix it.” He scrabbled at the mess, only stopping when he saw there was nothing to be done. Anakin dropped to his knees beside Ben, curling the Force around the fragments and nudging them down the disposal.

“Are you okay? Did you get hurt?” Ben took his padawan’s hands in his own, checking for cuts. The boy said nothing, head bowed. Anakin gave his wrists a little pat. “Ben?”

“I don’t mean to be so clumsy. It just slipped.” His padawan’s voice came out little more than a whisper.

“I’m not angry with you.” Anakin ignored the water seeping into his leggings and moved closer, trying to push comfort through the Force. Ben felt like a glacier, cold and remote. “I’m sorry for startling you – I just get so frustrated.” He sighed “The Council don’t like Palpatine; I get it. But he’s the only person that seems to be doing anything about the injustices in the galaxy.” He sat up, and put his hands on Ben’s shoulders, squeezing gently. “Look, if we get time, why don’t you ask Palpatine about his policies yourself? He’ll be more than happy to talk to you, and you always said first-hand accounts are better research than dry old textbooks.”

“Well… it couldn’t hurt, I suppose.” Ben looked up, a hint of curiosity sparkling in his eyes. Anakin smiled and helped him to his feet. Together, they moved in comfortable silence as they prepared to leave, Anakin quickly instructing the cleaning droid to mop and sweep the kitchen floor in case any suds or shards had been missed. As Ben tugged on a robe, Anakin caught sight of some fraying at the base of his braid.

“Hey, c’mere. Your braid’s falling out.” Removing the loose tie, Anakin threaded his fingers through the silky hair. It was much easier to braid with two hands, he reasoned, and soon the strand was as neat and tidy as Anakin had ever made one. Even his own hadn’t been quite so precise – except when Obi-Wan took the time to plait it. Once his mother’s bead and the tie were reattached, Anakin padded his padawan’s cheek. “There. Feel a bit better?”

“Yes, Master.” Ben gave a tight smile, and with that, they got ready to leave.

**

But Ben’s relief didn’t last long. In fact, Anakin felt it slip away the second Ben entered Palpatine’s personal chambers. Glancing around, Anakin couldn’t help but agree with him. Rather than a calm, controlled dinner party, Palpatine seemed to have invited half of the Senate, and the room was filled with sparkling glasses of alcohol and lively music. It seemed more like a wedding than a wind-down.

“This doesn’t look like a summons.” Ben’s eyes darted to his master, and he shrunk into his robes, stepping backwards. “Master, is this a –“

“Ah yes, the guests of honour!” Palpatine’s voice rang out over the chatter and as he spoke, the other guests raised their flutes and cheered. Anakin felt himself blush as the Chancellor bustled towards them, arms spread wide. “Hello boys. I hope you don’t mind but I’ve put together a little soiree to thank you for rescuing me from that awful hovel.” He turned over his shoulder to address his previous conversation partner – a smartly dressed Bail Organa, who was nodding along. But Anakin wasn’t paying too much attention to the Alderaanian man – behind him stood Padme, dressed in a rich red gown and almost glowing in the light. “You have no idea what a relief it is to breathe free air again.”

“My knowledge of capture is limited, Chancellor, but I have heard how thrilling a Jedi rescue is.” Bail turned from the Chancellor and gave a shallow bow. “The Senate owes you two a great debt.”

“Thank you, Senator…” Ben returned the gesture perfectly, but his eye twitched as he examined Bail’s face. The two stared at each other, Bail trying for a comforting smile, but Anakin could feel the agitation rolling off his padawan.

“Oh, of course, you won’t remember Bail, now would you?” Palpatine broke in merrily. “Bail Organa meet Benjamin Kenobi – our illustrious high General who has been rather unfortunately…” Palpatine tapped a finger on the tip of his chin. Anakin could see the sweat forming on Ben’s brow. Eventually, the Chancellor grinned, clapping his hands. “Altered, shall we say?”

“Padme did mention that you were incapacitated, General, but I didn’t picture –“ Bail was frowning now, glancing between Padme and Ben. Her own mouth had grown tight-lipped in a way that made Anakin’s palms grow clammy. He was about to retort when Ben gave a rather fearsome frown, first aimed towards Palpatine, but then turning on his master.

“I rather assumed we were keeping this under wraps.”

“Well you probably should stop galivanting around the galaxy then – no doubt such fresh faces will end up all over the holonews.” Palpatine chuckled, nonplussed by the comment. Instead, he reached for Anakin’s bicep and gave it a pat. “Anakin, I cannot say enough how wonderful it is seeing you looking more like yourself. Don’t those curls suit him, Senators? And I see you are growing into an equally handsome and sprightly young fellow, Apprentice Kenobi.” He smiled even as Ben paled, and with a snap of his fingers, the Chancellor had summoned a waiter, with a tray full of glasses. Its crowning glory though was a decanter of golden liquid, bubbling away. “Now, can I get anyone a drink? Such an occasion calls for the very best!”

“I shouldn’t, Chancellor.” Bail waved his hand genially. “Someone’s got to fly the speeder after all.”

“And none for me, your Excellency.” Padme spoke quickly but ended her sentence with a flattering smile. “Early morning meeting.”

“Not even a splash, Padme?” When she shook her head, Palpatine paused for a moment, and then shrugged with a laugh. “No worry, I shan’t force you.” Eyes twinkling, he turned to Anakin, who felt his cheeks begin to heat at the pulse of shock he felt radiating from Ben. “Anakin, a glass? I know you prefer red but –“

“I probably shouldn’t. Not with a padawan.”

“Oh tosh, we’re all friends here!” Palpatine chuckled, pouring the syrupy liquid. “I’ll give him a glass too, if it will make you feel better.”

“Our vows explicitly forbid -“ Ben began, but Palpatine patted him on the shoulder as he cut him off.

“Oh, what Yoda doesn’t know won’t hurt him.” He smiled, pressing the glass into Anakin’s hand, and quickly filling a second. “There – just enough for a toast.” If anything, it looked fuller than Anakin’s, but he knew better than to draw attention to it. Ben was holding the glass tightly, staring at his master as if waiting for confirmation. He flinched when Palpatine clinked his goblet against Ben’s. “To our shining Knights! Or should I say, Masters?”

“Not yet, Chancellor.” Anakin swallowed, glancing away as his cheeks grew even hotter. Luckily, senators didn’t usually understand Jedi hierarchy, so he’d been able to talk his way around his lack of promotion with Padme. But Palpatine knew all and bit his lip apologetically at having said anything in the first place.

“Still nothing?” Palpatine patted his arm, his mouth temporarily thinning in sympathy. “Well then it will come soon, Anakin, after this victory. You captured one of the war’s greatest criminals without taking a life – surely that’s enough to grant you status. And that’s without keeping an eye on this little rascal here.” He reached out to ruffle Ben’s hair, but the boy dipped away before he could be touched.

“There’s more to mastery than training a padawan.” Ben replied sharply. Silence filled the room like a noxious gas, seeping out even past their little group. Around, some groups began to whisper. Padme and Bail didn’t seem to know where to look, and now that Ben had realised his tone, he stared stubbornly at the ground, silent as a grave. Never had he seen his Master so undiplomatic – he could charm even the most grating enemy and would have been right at home talking to the Chancellor. Why couldn’t Ben exude the same welcoming calm? What had got him so worked up? Luckily, before Anakin could get too caught up in his thoughts, Palpatine gave a gracious nod.

“As you say, Master Jedi.” He rolled his eyes affectionately at Anakin, before holding out an arm. “Come, let’s head into the main room. The chefs have prepared a truly delightful feast. Better than that Temple fare, I’m sure.” He gestured through a doorway, where Anakin could see an elaborate golden room, complete with dance floor and even more guests. The other guests moved through, still gossiping.

“We’ll be through in a moment, Chancellor. I just need to have a word with my padawan.” Taking the Chancellor’s handwave as permission, he put his arm around Ben’s shoulders and pushed him as subtly as possible back the way they had come. Still, the music and ringing laughter followed, as did Ben’s sour expression.

“Hey, can you lighten up a bit?” Anakin asked as soon as they had found a patch of quiet. His padawan said nothing, eyes flicking towards the exit. “Chancellor Palpatine is honouring us, and you look like I’ve just dragged you to a funeral!”

“You knew this was going to be a party! You should have told me what was happening!”

“It’s a surprise party, Ben - the whole point is that you don’t know!” Anakin threw his hands up, pacing as he glanced back into the shimmering room. Padme was chatting to some senators Anakin didn’t recognise. She was in her element, which for some reason made Anakin want to be as close as possible. What was she saying? Was she talking about them? “I get that you’re nervous, but that’s no reason to be rude to the Chancellor.”

“I’m not nervous – I just don’t feel comfortable…” Ben started, fidgeting with a loose thread on his sleeve. That too would need to be replaced, but not because he had outgrown it. In fact, the robe itself looked rather threadbare and big but strangely familiar.

“What – having a drink? You used to drink ales with Qui-Gon all the time; you told me so!” Ben blinked and co*cked his head to one side before giving a very small nod. Anakin sighed, and patted his padawan’s shoulder. “Look, we’re not going to stay long – just enough to be polite, and then we’ll go back to the Temple. A few hours, tops.” Ben’s frown somehow deepened further. “Relax, Ben. This is a celebration! We’ve earned a night off.”

“If… if you’re certain, Master.”

“I am. Now get that down you. Corellian Courage, you used to tell me.” Anakin tapped his glass against Ben’s and they both took a long drink. “I’ll make sure you’re sat with Bail. He’s a good guy – you get along and he’s great with kids.”

As Anakin turned and lead his now grumbling padawan back into the party, he smirked.

‘Not a kid’, his ass.

*

Once Ben had been cajoled into the party, he seemed to adjust, eating and talking as much as the other guests, though he did quieten around the Chancellor or other people he didn’t know well. Anakin noticed him filling up his little plate with cakes and macarons and other sweet treats and nudged Padme as he did so. With a fond smile, she directed the boy towards the chocolate mousse – her favourite – and then brought him over to a discussion she was having with Bail and Anakin. In the meantime, someone had given his padawan another glass of wine, and he was taking little sips as he listened to the politicians debating. Occasionally, he would wrinkle his nose like a tooka at the taste, but he never put the drink down. Instead, most of his focus seemed to be directed towards Padme, as she battered Bail with her words.

“I’m not surprised they’re trying to uproot them!” Padme gestured emphatically with a spicy pastry and Anakin hid a smile. Of course, she would be craving something hot enough to match her passionate words. “Statues of slaveholders in predominantly non-native communities is harmful, and constantly reinforces Coruscant’s human-centric social hierarchies.” She crossed her arms, her dress pulling tighter across her stomach. Luckily, no-one seemed to notice the bump and she quickly unfolded. “We don’t have statues of anti-Gungan advocates on Naboo – it’s offensive!”

“Why don’t they just democratically petition to have them removed?” Ben whispered, nudging against his master. The boy had brightened, watching the two seasoned diplomats at work. When had his own negotiating skills bloomed? He’d assisted Qui-Gon on many an off-world mission, but they ranged from court visits to jungle expeditions.

“They have been – but The Senate argues we’ve got bigger problems, with the war effort and everything. I don’t see why we can’t just melt them down and use them for blaster metal myself. Two Porgs, one stone.” Anakin shrugged.

“Look, I don’t like these guys being commemorated anymore than you do, Padme, but you can’t just rewrite history.” Bail retorted, and Padme seemed to be revving up again, when Ben took a gulp of his wine, cleared his throat, and shook his head. All eyes turned to him, and for a moment, there was silence, before Ben began to speak.

“If the statues cannot be removed, then perhaps something could be added to them, to give greater context.” He replied, his voice balanced and lilting. “An additional plaque, stating the individual’s actions from both perspectives. I mean, as much as our Code stresses that we should remain in the moment, a Mundburkian reading would suggest that one cannot see truly see their heirs, if they do not also look to their ancestors.” He stopped, clasping his hands together as everyone blinked.

“How wonderful!” Palpatine crowed as he made his way through the crowd, breaking the silence with a cheery laugh. “It is a delight to see such eloquence in a man of your age. And such opinions – you certainly are well-versed in your scholarship.” Anakin didn’t miss the light flush in Ben’s cheeks at the compliment. “A credit to your order, if your order valued such things.”

“I don’t un-“ Ben started, flicking his gaze towards Anakin, when the Chancellor made a tutting noise and slapped his own wrist.

“Forgive me for speaking out of turn, Master Jedis – it is not my place to critique the Temple’s teaching method.” He spoke with mock sorrow, but brightened again, leaning into the middle of the group. “It’s just… your colleagues always seem so… well aloof about the whole thing. Considering the ethics of combat, but not its technicalities. It makes working politics around them so difficult.” He shook his head but then shrugged. “But we mustn’t grumble, must we, Senators? They are the backbone of this war, are they not?”

“We’d be lost without them.” Padme replied, having cooled considerably. Anakin met her eye and she turned away, trying not to smile. Discreetly, he clasped his hands behind his back, and watched as Padme did the same. It was the closest they could come to touching each other, no matter how much he longed to twine his fingers with hers. He almost missed Palpatine’s nudging, lost in the lull of her company.

“But enough shop talk. Dance, chat, eat – especially you, Apprentice Kenobi.” The Chancellor’s spiny elbow nudged against Ben’s ribs. “Enjoy that metabolism while you have it.”
And like that, he was gone again, lost in the crowd of the party. Anakin marvelled at his ease – the man seemed born for leadership. No Jedi Master – not even Yoda himself – could command a room like Palpatine could. Like all the great speakers Anakin had ever known, he could get the world to hang on his every word. What was it like, being listened to like that? To have every word treated as valuable, rather than brushed aside? What did that power feel like?

But before he knew it, Anakin found himself on the dance floor, or as close as he could get to it without a partner. The music was bright and fast, nothing like the club tunes in the lower districts, but something to dance to. Padme was looking out wistfully at the other pairs, her hand pressed temporarily to her stomach before skating away again.

“Senator Amidala, may I have this dance?” Anakin took her fingers in his own and savoured the brief contact. He expected her to do the same, but instead, she pulled away, turning to his padawan, who was watching the room warily.

“Perhaps I prefer a younger partner.” She winked at Anakin; usually he would find such gestures charming, but instead it burned like acid in his stomach as she took Ben’s hand as gently as he had taken hers. “Ben, has anyone taught you the Boxnov Three-Step yet? You were quite the mover last time I checked.”

“N-no, ma’am.” Ben stuttered, flushing again. “I only know a few basic waltzes.”

“Well perhaps it’s my turn to rewrite a little history.” She grinned and tugged him out onto the glinting dancefloor.

*

One dance turned into two, and then five before Anakin got the chance to find his padawan again. By then, Padme had waltzed with representatives from all around the galaxy, but not her own husband, he thought sourly. He tried to drink more, hoping that the bubbly liquid would return his bright spirits, but if anything, it made things worse.

“You’ve clearly relaxed. Having fun?” Anakin kept his eyes focused on the dancefloor, where his wife was now swaying with Bail, whispering something to him. Anakin scowled, and took another sip. “Padme’s really something, isn’t she?”

“It certainly is refreshing to see a young woman have it all.”

“What?” Anakin turned sharply to his padawan. The alcohol though had loosened his tongue, and he replied with honesty.

“Well, it must take great skill to balance senatorial duties and approaching motherhood. When is she due?”

“Still not with you, Ben.” Anakin gritted his teeth and tried to turn it into a smile as Padme glanced at him. She too had unwound, giggling away as Bail made some unheard comment.

“Please – Senator Amidala is many things, but a master of disguise she is not.” Ben snigg*red, his gaze a little unfocused. “And there’s not much room for a baby bump when you’re dancing.”

“Padme’s not pregnant.” Anakin tried to laugh the comment off, but his heart began thudding. How could he tell? Padme always dressed in ridiculously elaborate gowns that hid her shape and tonight was no different. In fact, she was almost drowning in excess fabric, and her arms and face were as slim as they had always been.

“Master, I don’t-“ Ben paused, and softened, clearly changing tactics. “I’m not judging her, I just-“

“She’s not pregnant, okay?” Anakin snapped, finally bringing a flinch to his apprentice. He forced himself to not stare too closely, scouring his mind for an excuse instead. “We should get you back to the Temple anyway – it’s past padawan’s curfew.” In any other circ*mstance, he would have laughed at the idea of one of the war’s finest generals still having a bedtime, but Anakin wasn’t in a joking mood.

“Master I-“

“Perhaps the wine was a mistake.” Anakin nodded to himself, watching out of the corner of his eye as Ben stared at his boots. “I’ll talk to Bail – he can take you back while I see Padme home.”

“Master I-“ Ben looked like he was about to argue again but fell quiet. “Alright, I’ll say my goodbyes.” He paused and rubbed at his temple. Now that his flush had gone, he looked ashen. “I do feel a little headachy, I must admit.”

“Drink some water before you go and before bed.” Anakin nodded towards a fountain of clear water near the other end of the hall. “And no staying up all night researching. You’ve got your first proper check-up tomorrow, and there’s no sense in wearing yourself out before it.”

Ben nodded, and made his way over to the fountain, drinking a few goblets as Anakin spoke to Bail. The conversation had the unexpected benefit of breaking up his and Padme’s waltz, and seeing the turn in his temper, also suggested leaving. It wasn’t the first time Obi-Wan and Bail had left an event together while Anakin snuck home with Padme for a night, so the Chancellor didn’t bat an eyelid when the four of them approached. Ben looked even paler in the glamorous light, tucking himself up small.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to cut the evening short, Chancellor. My padawan isn’t feeling well.” Anakin moved closer and dropped his voice to a whisper. “He’s still adjusting to the injections – they said exhaustion is a common side effect.”

“Such a shame. Do you need me to call you a cab?” Already, the older man had set his hand on his pocket, where his communicator was sat.

“No need, sir. I’ll drive him back.” Bail shot a smile at Ben, who returned it shyly.

“But your speeder only has two seats, Bail. Really, let me just-“ He pulled out his device and started to dial but Bail shook his head.

“I’m happy to walk, Chancellor. Anakin said he’d be my escort.” Padme took a step closer to Anakin and Palpatine gave her an almost knowing look.

“Well, I can’t argue with that.” Palpatine chuckled, then paused, a wetness creeping into his eyes. “It really is a pleasure to have such fine faces at my table – you shall all have to visit more often. Bring some youth back into this office.”

“You can do that yourself now, Chancellor.” Anakin joked, nodding towards a nearby mirror mounted just next to Palpatine’s desk. The man turned and jumped at the sight of his own reflection, running a hand through his coppery hair.

“Why, yes!” He nodded, touching his clearer brow. “I had almost forgotten – though I must say it is wonderful being without back pain. I see now how you all have so much energy!” He laughed and clapped his hands together for a final time; a dismissal if Anakin had ever seen it. “Now, off you get before I start yammering again.” Anakin felt his chest warm, even as Palpatine turned his gaze solely onto his padawan. “Feel better soon, Benjamin. No doubt we shall be seeing great things from you once you’re back on your feet.”

Ben nodded and gave a queasy smile, and all too soon, the four of them were ushered out into the cold Coruscant night. Bail and Padme traded a few last words, hugging as they parted. Anakin swallowed, noticing just how much Padme’s belly brushed against Bail’s torso. Her dress was incredibly thick, but had Ben been right about feeling it when so close?

“Maybe I should take you back – you’re a little warm.”

“I’ll be fine with the Senator, Master. Besides, the Lady Naberrie needs an escort.” Ben ducked his head shyly, so that his braid thumped against his shoulder. “Don’t worry about me, Master. See to your duties.”

“You’re my duty, Ben.” Anakin gave the braid a little tug and settled it back into place but nodded. “Okay. But I’ll be back before you know it.”

With that, Ben and Bail started moving down the street, as Padme and Anakin turned to travel uptown. Yet Anakin couldn’t help but glance back to the pair, as they clambered into Bail’s speeder. With a jolt, he realised why Ben’s robe had looked so familiar. It had been Master Obi-Wan’s – his “best robe” as he called it, though it had long since seen better days. In fact, the quartermaster had tried to get his hands on it many times, but Obi-Wan never let it leave the apartment. Despite its frayed cuffs and patched elbows, he wore it to every important function, both inside the Temple and out. He’d worn it while dancing with Satine on the last night Anakin had seen them together, during some function to raise funds for the war effort. He’d worn it for Anakin’s knighting, as brief as the ceremony had been.

Regret slithered in as he watched Ben tuck the oversized garment around his tiny body, but it was too late. By the time Anakin had thought of turning back, they’d already driven off into the night. Still, he watched them go as long as he could, until they were just a little light in the sky.

“You okay?” Padme asked, tugging at his sleeve. He turned back to her and, after glancing around to make sure they were truly out of sight, pressed a kiss to her cheek.

“Let’s get home.”

**

“Thank you for driving me home, Senator. I don’t know what came over me.” Ben ran a hand over his face, wiping away the last of the sweat. In truth, the cool night air whipping around him was a lovely balm to the sick feeling that had settled in his stomach, but he forced himself to keep his eyes closed as Senator Organa took a few corners faster than Ben would like. Coruscant at night seemed brighter than he remembered, all flashing light that made his temples throb.

“Knowing you, probably a migraine you’ve been supressing for about a week. There’s a bottle of water in the dash if you want it.” Fumbling about but keeping his gaze comfortingly forward, Senator Organa pulled out the unopened beverage and held it out. Ben glanced at it, and at his new companion, before taking a few tentative sips. Thankfully, it managed to wash away some of the metallic tinge Palpatine’s wine had left on his tongue. “You and I went on an extended mission a few years ago – got to know each other quite well.”

“Oh.” Ben felt his shoulders tighten, and sat the bottle in his lap, resisting the urge to fiddle with its lid. He risked a glance to the side and saw Senator Organa’s face in profile. He was a handsome man, with an affable smile and kind eyes. A face you could trust, his mind whispered, though he pushed it down. Master Qui-Gon had taught him better than to blindly trust outward appearances. “Were we… close?”

“Close enough that I know that even at your current age you were never a ‘rascal’.” Bail paused, watching Ben carefully. “And to know that something’s bothering you. Spill, kid.”

“I… it’s nothing. Just a headache.”

“If you’re sure.” Senator Organa replied after a moment of silence, giving a little shrug and another smile. Though he didn’t push the issue, Ben noticed him subtly slowing down, and taking turns gently as they neared the Temple.

As they approached, Ben couldn’t help but be soothed. The world, apparently, had changed a great deal since he’d last been at home in it. A war raged on, politicians mixed with Jedi, and some were even unmarried and pregnant – despite his master’s denials. The city expanded seemingly every minute, cameras and lights were everywhere, and the steady crackle of anxiety in the air was only soothed by booze and other elicit substances, by everyone from the scum of Lower Coruscant to the Chancellor himself. But one thing would never change – the Temple still gleamed, high on its hill, its marble exterior unweathered in the storm. The Force around it hummed, blessedly quiet in a sea of uncertainty. Ben took a deep breath, wishing he could match its steadfast calm, but as always, finding himself wanting. He bowed his head, humbled by its might.

“It’s okay, you know. To be overwhelmed.” Senator Organa spoke softly, his gaze following Ben’s as they stared at the Temple, only to watch him carefully as he looked away. “It can’t have been easy, being thrust into all this.”

“A Jedi endures.” Ben replied, the words as stoic as the Temple itself. Master Qui-Gon had never liked the doctrine of the Jedi – had felt the Force in living things and in actions and in movement – but Obi-Wan took comfort in the ancient words. They were wisdom, great gifts handed down from one generation to the next, never altering or yielding. Strong foundations, from which great deeds could spring. If, of course, the Jedi in question could find a foothold.

“Yeah, well – you don’t have to do it alone.” Senator Organa pulled into a landing platform, and once they had stilled, put a hand on Ben’s shoulder. Usually, he would have flinched from such familiarity, but Bail Organa shone in the Force, a well of warmth. When he held out a commlink number, Ben took it, almost without thinking. “I’m serious, kid. You need anything, you call this number, okay? Day or night.”

“Do we have a lot of midnight chats, Senator Organa?” Ben raised an eyebrow, and for the first time that night, heard Bail’s rumbling chuckle. His eyes sparkled when he laughed, Ben realised, and it was a lovely sight to see.

“No, I can’t say that we do. My phone bill couldn’t take the strain.” His smile softened, and he gave Ben’s shoulder another pat before opening the door and letting his companion out. When Ben exited, his legs felt a lot less shaky than when he had entered. “Take it easy, Ben. Try to get some sleep.”

“Thank you, Senator – Bail.”

“G’night, kid.” Bail adjusted the setting on his speeder, but looked up once again, nodding at the number clasped in Ben’s fingers. “Remember – call me if you want to talk.” His gaze glanced upward again, at the Temple’s towering front. “Especially if you want to talk to someone who’s not all… Jedi about things.”

Ben gave a final nod and watched Senator Organa’s speeder drift off into the night. The swimming in his head had returned, leaving his eyes droopy and itching and he suppressed a groan as he headed back to his and Anakin’s shared chambers. For placed just inside their living space was Master Nu’s trolley of books, no doubt brought up to their rooms at great difficulty from the Archives staff. He glanced guiltily between the door of his bedchamber, and the stacks of books. Sleep beckoned, but he forced himself to sit down at their kitchen table, cracking open the smallest tome he could find.

One chapter, then he would let himself rest.

One page.

One paragraph.

One senten-

Before he knew it, Ben had slumped over, cheek pillowed on the ancient text. But as his nose filled with the comforting scent of aged parchment, a wine-sticky darkness crept into his unguarded mind and started to prowl. As the last of his thoughts surrendered to sleep, he got the sense of a pair of yellow eyes watching him from the other side of the city.

**

“Ben was twitchy tonight, don’t you think?” Anakin asked a little while later, lounging on Padme’s bed as he watched his wife brush her bountiful curls. Already they had changed into their sleep clothes – an opulent onyx outfit for Anakin, and a silky silver slip for Padme that, if anything, seemed to emphasise her swollen stomach. His mother had always told him that pregnant women, when well-loved and well-fed, had a certain glow to them, but stood in the gentle gleam of the city, Padme was like a walking star. She shone – her eyes, her smile – and he watched, bathing in the wake of her. His angel and his child, united as one.

“I’d be too if I were dumped in a dinner party with a bunch of people I didn’t know and expected to talk about someone else’s politics. I think he did quite well, considering.” Padme arched an eyebrow, but her sarcastic smile faded as Anakin met her eye. In moments, she was by his side, rubbing her hand along his shoulder blades. Immediately, he felt himself relaxing as he drank in her blossom scent. “You said it yourself, the injections cause exhaustion and he’d had a long day. Palpatine grilling him probably didn’t help.” Her fingers paused, and Anakin could see his beloved’s mind working away, a frown marring her beautiful face. “Did you catch him calling Ben ‘Benjamin’ all the time? That was… unusual.”

“Was it?” He asked, trying to jolt his thought to join the speed of hers. Padme had always been so bright and clever to him – even a casual conversation with her made him feel like a dundering oaf. He’d actually started reading and researching more, just to feel on level footing with her nimble mind. Obi-Wan had been delighted to share his books of philosophy, but if he’d known the reasoning, he would have no doubt snatched them away again with a lecture about attachment. “That’s just his name, right?”

“Satine always said…” Padme started, but then her face twisted into sadness. Anakin felt his own heart sink at the mention of the lost duch*ess. She and Padme had grown close, despite the war, and her passing had marked such a shift in his master that it hurt to think about it. So, he swallowed hard, and forced a smile.

“Enough about them.” He reached out and slipped his arm around Padme’s waist, stroking her cheek with his other hand. “The rest of this evening is just about you and me.”

“And baby makes three.” She mumbled, gently adjusting his grip so his hand rested on the swell of her belly. “I was thinking –“

“Dangerous habit.” He brushed his nose against her temple, pressing a kiss to the apple of her cheek. He could feel her smiling that way, even as she pushed him away.

“Ani.” She warned, prodding him with her hairbrush. She paused, almost hesitating, before rubbing at her stomach. “I want to have our baby back home on Naboo. Once this senate term finishes, we can go to the Lake Country where no-one will know. Where we can be safe.”

“We’ll make it a race. Who finishes first; you at the Senate or me and the war?” He tried to joke, but Padme frowned again leaning closer.

“Do you think it will be over that quickly?” Anakin hoped it was his loving wife asking the question, rather than the precocious politician, but even with Padme he could never be sure. Instead, he hoped to distract her, lifting her hand to kiss it.

“We’ve got Dooku in custody. As soon as he wakes, we’ll get him to spill about the other Sith Lord and the war will be over.” He spoke quickly, not wishing to linger and risk giving away any military secrets. Besides, thinking of the war, here in this sacred space, made his heart thump hard and his stomach slosh. Maybe the wine had been a mistake. He felt sticky and hot, far from a romantic husband.

“What makes you think he’ll talk?” Padme asked, tilting her head enough that a silky curl rippled off her shoulder. Anakin found it easier to look at that than her dark earnest eyes.

“I’ll find a way.”

“Ani –“ Padme started again but Anakin pressed a finger to his lips. Padme’s frown deepened, clearly annoyed at having been silenced. Anakin knew he was in dangerous territory, and so wound the lock of her hair around his finger, stroking her cheek.

“Shh, my love.” He coaxed, pressing a kiss to her forehead, hoping to smooth out its creases. “There’s no war here, not in this room. Not tonight.” Gently, as to not disturb her bump, he lay down on her lap. Instinctively, Padme’s fingers slipped into his curls. “Tell me about the Lake Country.”

“I know the perfect spot. Right by the gardens.” Her eyes drifted shut as she spoke. If there was any topic to distract Padme with, it was Naboo. Safe in her arms, Anakin let himself relax. “There’s a lemon tree and golden light shines all over the east side as the sun sets. And there’s plenty of rooms, for the baby and us, and Ben-“

“Ben?” Jolting into wakefulness, Anakin sat up sharply enough that Padme winced, pressing a hand to her side. Anakin’s eyes widened, but she shot him a reassuring look as she resettled herself. God, she really had gotten bigger while he’d been away. Was the birth soon? It wasn’t exactly something he knew much about, and Padme hadn’t felt confident enough to see a medical professional who wouldn’t blab. She’d been making do with a med-droid, who was competent at many things, but dating pregnancies was not one of them.

“You’re not going to leave him behind, are you?” Padme asked, once she had gotten herself comfortable again.

“I- I can’t make him come with us.” Anakin stuttered. He hadn’t pictured Ben in their comfortable little life, but now that he had, all he could see was flashes of red hair and freckles, and a full laugh as Ben was no doubt pounced on by their adoring little one.

“But we always planned that Ahsoka would –“ Padme countered, and Anakin felt his stomach clench again.

“Ben and Ahsoka aren’t the same.” He snapped, folding his arms. “Why are we even considering this – Ben’s injections will kick in before the baby is born and he’ll be Obi-Wan again.” And there was no chance of his master joining them. Anakin had only allowed himself to imagine that scenario once, and though Obi-Wan had seemed so happy, tucked away meditating in one of Naboo’s flowered gardens, the fantasy had collapsed the second he remembered the trauma Obi-Wan had encountered on the planet. He would never return there – just as surely as he would never leave the Order. It was a joke even picturing it.

“Why are you fighting me on this? I was just trying to-“ Padme’s voice was ratchetting up, as if planning a whole debate in her brain. Anakin swallowed, knowing even in their casual discussions he could never win against her fearsome mind. All he could do was kiss her again, startling the thoughts from her brain.

“Just – let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?” He said, once they had parted. Padme didn’t seem entirely convinced, but she was quiet. “There’s a lot of moving parts at the moment. We should take it one day at a time.”

“You’re probably right.” She replied, pressing kisses against his jaw. “I’m just saying – we’ll have a lot of room. If a few more of those bedrooms are filled, then that’s fine with me.” She paused, and cradled his face in her hands, suddenly solemn. “Your family are my family, Ani, just as mine are yours. They will always have a home with us.”

“You are so beautiful.” The words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them. “Every time I see you I just… I can’t think straight.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “You’re an angel, Padme, and you light up my life like a thousand shining stars.”

“I forgot how cheesy you were at this age.” She giggled, pressing a hand against his chest, and clasping around his dressing gown. “Come on – we should get to sleep. You’ve definitely had too much to drink if you’re getting all soppy like this.”

“Do you not like my poetry?” He teased, and she leaned closer, tracing a finger over his kiss swollen lips.

“Well I can think of a few things that mouth might be better suited for.” She smirked and pulled them both down onto the bed. Anakin grinned, and slipped an arm around her waist, allowing himself to be lost in her embrace.

But as they settled themselves to sleep some time later, Anakin found himself staring at the ceiling, a strange pressure on his chest. He knew that all things were in balance, that great sorrow came with great joy.

But something didn’t feel right. And as he closed his eyes, that something inched closer.

**

Darth Sidious was never one to relax. Force knew relaxation was not the way he had charmed the ridiculous Republic into his grasp. Neither had it been a relaxed hand that had slain his former Master and won him the mantle of Sith Lord.

But as his council room emptied, he allowed the sickly smile of Palpatine to slip from his face, as he settled down into his plush chair. Now alone, the room seemed larger, his breathing echoing around the empty space. No amount of red décor would make this den seem homely.

Overall, the night had been a success. Organa and Padme had been their typical tedious selves, and he’d thought their rambling discussions in diplomacy would never end. But through their fog of inane chatter, he had caught Senator Amidala pressing a hand to her stomach, hidden to everyone but him by the groaning snack table. God, she was getting enormous, swelling up like a fattened heifer with Anakin’s whelp. How she had obscured her shame for so long was more a statement on the moronic public than her own cunning, but surely her secret could not stay so much longer. Unfortunately, Anakin had not yet revealed that little tidbit to his doting mentor, so he had no concrete timeline on how long until the sow’s labour came. However, seeing how often Anakin’s gaze flickered over to her, he knew there was plenty of time to sour their minds.

Yet perhaps Amidala’s bastard wasn’t the only child ripe for manipulating.

Master Kenobi had been a thorn in Sidious’ side for too long – so pure and precious that Anakin would never be parted from him. But this child – this youngling – oh, he was fresh bait of a very different kind. Dooku had sung praises of his young grand-padawan, but this “Ben” as they were so idiotically calling him was a joke in comparison to his older self. Tiny and trembling, barely able to drink a glass of wine without sobbing to the Council. What little respect Sidious had held for the revered Master Kenobi was wiped clean. A bumbling fool, like every other Jedi, and attached to his rules like a limpet. Not to mention his devotion to his master. The way the boy had looked at Anakin, so small and unsure and so achingly desperate to please? Hilarious. It would have been nauseating if it weren’t such an intriguing prospect.

Leaning back into his chair and lacing his fingers under his chin, he dug deep and settled on the twin presences of Anakin and Ben, flowing through the Force like brother rivers. It was almost too easy to drip his poison through them.

And on the other side of the city, Anakin Skywalker began to toss and turn, dreaming of his wife, screaming his name in child-bed agony.

Notes:

So there’s the update! I hope it wasn’t too much of an anti-climax; we’re back to a bit more set up but I tried to keep it fast-paced and detailed. I didn’t plan to leave it this long between updates, and honestly, I’m a little rusty but I think I’ve cracked it.

First, reasons for not writing! I just got my final degree results back, and I achieved a first class and a high first in my dissertation! I don’t really know how that translates around the world – I think it’s like a 3.7 GPA but I’m not really sure what that means. What’s more important is that I achieved those marks while working 2-3 jobs, in the throes of grief and COVID-19 anxiety, and I’m the first woman in my family to get a degree which is so cool! Sorry if this sounds weird or bragging; I’m just super excited because I’ve wanted this since I was a kid and now it’s here! I also started my driving lessons immediately after, and have been trying to take care of my physical health, so I’ve been a bit maxxed out. But I’m back writing! :D

Second, thank you all for your lovely reassurances about “info-dump” chapters – I’ve really taken them on board. I also started doing some research into how to structure conversations to be more dynamic, so hopefully that shows a little bit in this chapter. I’ve started thinking of this section as Act 2 – we’re going to start mounting up the tension now, and we’ve got less character introductions, and more preying on what we already know – but I couldn’t get this far without introducing the man, the myth, the legend himself – Bail Organa (who Ben lowkey has a crush on because who doesn’t?). Also I’ve spent this time off plotting out more concretely where I want to go in this act. Part of the reason this chapter took so long is that I kept adding in scenes that actually flow more naturally later on, rather than just getting to the point! Also quick side bar – obviously I don’t agree with any of Palpatine’s comments about pregnant women (though he is so fun to write!). And apologies for bringing in a bit of contemporary politics. I know I definitely read fanfic as an escape from the real world but I needed a political topic and it just sort of wrote itself!

Hopefully you’ll be able to tell the more succinct flow, but please let me know if you don’t! Any and all criticism (as long as it’s fairly constructive) helps this story, so feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. Next, we’re going to see a bit more of what those dreams are doing to our poor boys, and also how these generals are coping with a bit of wartime pressure. Also expect Ahsoka to be out here spitting truthbombs, and maybe a little surprise with Padme! I really want to rectify one of this series’ biggest problems which is giving the female characters little to do, so I’ve come up with a fun little plot nugget for our girls. Stay tuned to see exactly what’s up!

Chapter 14

Summary:

“I… I think I’m having premonitions.” Anakin admitted, resting his chin on his knees like a youngling. To his credit, Yoda did not judge, instead continuing to watch over the greenery, though he raised a claw to his own chin.

“Premonitions? Premonitions.” He mused, before co*cking his head to one side. “These… visions, you have –“

“They’re of pain, suffering.” Anakin choked out, squeezing his legs. “Death.”

“Yourself, you speak of?” Yoda paused, as if waiting for a response. When Anakin didn’t reply instantly, he leaned closer. “Or someone you know?”

“Someone.” Anakin swallowed. That, at least, was the more accurate answer.

In which everyone has a bad time.

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

On Tatooine, the sand was never still.

Though it could look as though it were merely resting, baking under the burning suns, such thinking was naïve – fatally so. One day a dune would be hovering near a home, the next it will have swallowed it whole. The sandstorms came and left nothing in their wake.

Which was why, Anakin assumed, his nightmares featured them so prominently; the scenario he found himself in was wearily familiar, though he knew it was irrational. Trapped in the eye of a desert storm, it was all he could do to watch as the torrent swept around him. In amongst its swirling winds, he swore he could hear voices – whispers and screams, moans of pain, dying screeches. He clapped his hands over his ears, trying to block out their cries, staring out into the whipping grains themselves.

But always the sands would shift and switch, and to his horror, they started to form tableaus.

To his left, Ahsoka running faster than she could sustain against some unseen horror scraping against the ground. Though she would glance over her shoulder every other step, no amount of effort spared her from the bullet that ripped through her collar. Even with the wound, she kept trying to crawl towards him, her blood-stained fingers straining for his own. When he tried to grab back, she disappeared into the dust. No amount of screaming could bring her home.

Anakin fought forward still, searching the spinning sands for a way to escape. But the winds turned to walls around him, and no matter how hard he punched against them, there was no breaking through. His gaze travelled upwards, and for a moment he could see the Temple. But rather than shining, it crumbled in on itself. He raised his arms over his head, half to cover himself from the tumbling structure, and half in a desperate attempt to keep it standing. As he pushed, the sound of children pierced his ears.

One voice rose above the others, though, and Anakin found himself pulling at his hair, trying to focus on anything else. Pain, loss, drowning – he could cope with those, but not that cry. But Ben was already at his side, with charred robes and a bloody face. He was hammering on what was left of the walls, beating his shaking palms against what looked like a ship’s window, sobbing and pleading. Anakin tried to scoop the distraught boy into his arms, but he too faded, leaving only his robes to drop to the floor.

Anakin swept up the garment, but it began to wriggle and fight in his hands. He dropped it, and watched as it blew outward, as if filled by an invisible form, before collapsing into a shroud. Anakin dropped to his knees to see the corpse, and heard it wailing.

“Ani!” Padme was screaming, her face sweat and strained as her hands clutched the white maternity gown she wore. Most of its base was stained with blood, mixing with the sand to make disgusting grit that seeped in between Anakin’s fingers as he reached for her. “Help me! Please!”

Anakin tried to respond, but the only sound he could make was a baby’s wail. The sand rushed to fill the void of his mouth, scratching at his eyes, hiding Padme from view. He struggled, he swatted at the sand, but it was darkening the corners of his vision, piling up over him, threatening to drown him. He was breathing it in now, low into his lungs. It made him splutter and wheeze, every breath rasping and low. He couldn’t see – he couldn’t move – he couldn’t –

Jolting up in bed, Anakin Skywalker fought back a scream.

Coughing hard, he heard a light moan next to him, and glanced down. Padme was curled on her side, perfectly at peace as she dreamed. His surroundings, far from the gritty yellow of Tattooine, were the cool blue of a Coruscant night, the sheets beneath him silky. He pushed them off a little more violently than he’d intended, but it was a blessing to feel the cool air around him.

He was home. He was safe. Padme was safe.

Easing himself to the edge of the bed, Anakin put his head in his hands. His heart was racing, thrumming against his throat, and his forehead was slick with sweat. Forcing himself upright, he staggered away from the bed, stopping only to grab the dressing gown Padme had gifted him. He needed to see the sky, to see the stars and know he was truly at home.

The marble of the porch floor was cold beneath his feet, but Padme’s fountain bubbled comfortingly, and the ships sailing past were like little fireflies. Counting them helped his heart to slow but nothing could stop the twisting low in his gut. Squatting on the horizon were storm clouds, ready to dredge the day.

For the first time, he stopped to wonder if Ben had gotten home safely, a thought that made him tense up again. How could he have abandoned his padawan like that? Bail – as much as Padme liked him – was no Jedi, was not incorruptible. What if Bail had kidnapped him, had taken him somewhere to be beaten and tortured and –

“Ani?” Anakin jumped at the voice – sounding so much like his mother’s – but it was only Padme, leaning against the doorway. With one hand, she rubbed her eyes, while the other supported the weight of her stomach. Her hair, usually so disciplined with its pins and plaits, was ruffled from her pillow. But her eyes were laser-focused as soon as they settled on his face. “What’s bothering you?”

“Nothing, angel.” He tried to turn back to the view, but Padme was by his side in seconds, rubbing his shoulders with a frown. Her hand reached down to hold his.

“You’re freezing. How long have you been out here?”

“Only a few minutes.” He lied, and then shot her a smile he didn’t quite feel, lifting his arm. “Come warm me up.”

“What were you dreaming about?” She asked, after snuggling into his chest. Her touch and smell soothed him almost instantly, the blossom of her hair to clear when he kissed the crown of her head. “I could hear you mumbling but-“

“It’s… it’s nothing.” He swallowed and watched the skyline. On the other side of the city, the first lanterns were being lit in around the Tower of the Council. “I should get back to the Temple soon, before the rain. I shouldn’t have left Ben this long.”

“When are we going to start being honest with each other?” Padme prodded him gently in the ribs, and Anakin sighed. Damn his beautiful, brilliant wife. Obi-Wan had always said he was a terrible liar, and the way she could see through even his smallest fibs was testament. “Was it about him?”

“Not exactly.” Anakin cupped her cheek in his hand. That was neither a truth nor a lie, as Ben’s terrified eyes had flashed through his nightmares. But it was her face, twisted in pain and surrounded with screams that haunted him most. He stroked her temple, relieved that at least in this moment, it wasn’t throbbing as she wailed.

“It was… it was about you.”

“Another nightmare?” She asked and Anakin winced. Had he really been so obvious? True, he hadn’t exactly slept well since the start of the war, but his nightmares had carved themselves into almost every night he’d spent with Padme since their wedding. They’d never been so bad, or so vivid, and so he’d thought he’d done a better job at hiding, but from her worried tone, he’d clearly failed. Again.

“Like the ones I used to have about my mother.” Suddenly, it was hard to meet her eye, and Anakin folded his arms to ward off the night chill. No amount of meditation could scour that black mark from his soul. No wonder those nameless screams had so chilled him. Mixed in amongst the whimpering of those he loved was the final death rattle of a village of Tuskens, slain by his blade as white-hot anger had blinded him to mercy. He had tried to atone – he’d saved whole planets since then – but nothing ever stopped those screams.

“Tell me.” Padme’s arms were now on his biceps, squeezing lightly. He met her eye, and felt a pressure in his throat, as if all his guilt were trying to crawl up from where it had slumbered for so long, low in his belly.

“I don’t remember – it was all so…” He closed his eyes, trying to recall the dank room he’d seen her in. But to do that, he’d had to wade through other miseries – Ahsoka with a gun to her head, Ben banging frantically on a star-ship window. “There were flashes – different scenes. Pain and loss and…” With a last effort, he remembered her laid out and writing, her white gown stained with spreading blood. “You died. In childbirth.”

“And the baby?” Anakin didn’t miss how she clutched at her stomach, her nightdress rippling. Of course she would think of their little one first – she really was the most selfless woman he had ever met.

“I don’t know.” He felt his voice crack, and let his hands join hers. In that moment, they were a family, one that no war could rip apart.

“They’re working you too hard, Ani. The stress you’re living with – no wonder you’re having nightma-”

“I won’t let this one become real.” Anakin cut her off. He knew how much she hated that, but he couldn’t bear to have another conversation about mind-healers and time off. Padme knew as well as he did that there simply wasn’t time for such things, no matter how much he needed them. The war had sent their healers to every corner of the galaxy, resources stretched paper-thin. It was hard enough getting a wound tended to, let alone… whatever he was feeling. And even if he’d had access to the support, Anakin couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t just a dream. His visions – those he’d had of his mother – they’d been real before. All talking about them would do would shut down any routes into actually doing something about it. The Council would ground him in a heartbeat, and more than likely take Ben away and -

“And neither will I.” Padme’s voice cut through his worries, as did her hand in his, pressed over his heart. There was his angel, the woman he adored, protecting him with a gentle touch and a firm promise. When her lips pressed against his forehead, he wondered how he could worry, with all he needed so close. “We’re in this together, Anakin. You and me. Always.”

“Always.” He echoed. And if he held her a little tighter that night, well it was just because he was cold.

**.**

Within half an hour, Anakin was back in the Temple, sneaking through as to not be caught by the few Jedi who frequented the halls at such a time. Mainly nocturnal species lingered around, but the odd master and padawan duo could be found returning from missions, and sometimes whole classes if they’d been taking part in astronomy lessons the night before. But in the first light of dawn, Anakin met no-one. He was only a short walk away from the rooms he shared with Ben, when he felt a tugging, low in his gut, and his feet found themselves walking a new direction. Anakin sighed, leaning into the will of the Force, and found himself in the Room of a Thousand Fountains, resplendent as ever.

This had been his master’s favourite room – the one he always flocked to after a long absence from the Temple. As often as he could, he would meditate by the waterfalls, or take long walks amongst the wide array of flowers, stopping to smell their blossoms. He seemed to bloom himself, in the balmy air and simulated sun, a peaceful smile on his often tired face. Once, Anakin had even caught him dozing under a powerful oak. That had been a lovely day, hard won after Anakin’s first padawan exams, where Obi-Wan had stayed up most nights of the week to help his pupil practice. Anakin had celebrated with swimming lessons from Bant, while Obi-Wan snoozed.

But Obi-Wan was not in the room, not that Ben would ever sneak out without his master’s knowledge – if anything, he seemed more of a stickler than Obi-Wan had ever been. Instead, tucked under the same oak was a little bundle of robes, which shifted to reveal a green head and two long ears.

“Beautiful, the dawn is. Yet share her beauty with many, she does not.” Yoda’s eyes were closed, his face a picture of perfect bliss as Anakin found himself sitting beside him. “Recall, I do, how little you have loved mornings.” Yoda opened one eye, and chuckled. “Worry not. Much the same, your master was, at your age.”

“Master Obi-Wan was the earliest riser I ever knew.” Anakin retorted, curling his arms around his knees. The room wasn’t cold – in fact, it was rather humid – but the position felt soothing. “Besides yourself, of course, Master.”

“From necessity, did such traits spring.” Yoda sighed, and unfurled himself properly. Anakin was struck, not for the first time, by just how small he was. Even when he stood, Anakin doubted the grandmaster would come to the top of his boot. How did so much power, so much control, fit into such a tiny body? “Here to admire the view, you are not. What troubles you?”

“I… I think I’m having premonitions.” Anakin admitted, resting his chin on his knees like a youngling. To his credit, Yoda did not judge, instead continuing to watch over the greenery, though he raised a claw to his own chin.

“Premonitions? Premonitions.” He mused, before co*cking his head to one side. “These… visions, you have –“

“They’re of pain, suffering.” Anakin choked out, squeezing his legs. “Death.”

“Yourself, you speak of?” Yoda paused, as if waiting for a response. When Anakin didn’t reply instantly, he leaned closer. “Or someone you know?”

“Someone.” Anakin swallowed. That, at least, was the more accurate answer. In his dream, he hadn’t seen himself at all, only feeling the tightness in his chest. That had been too painful to be death. Padme, Ben and Ahsoka, on the other hand, had all fallen, the light seeping out of their eyes as blood spilled from their lips. Anakin shuddered, feeling sweat bead again on his forehead.

“Close to you?”

“Yes.” Anakin resisted the urge to snap and took a deep breath. Really, Yoda was as much a negotiator as Master Obi-Wan, effortlessly teasing information out of Anakin. It took all his control to keep Padme’s name from spilling out, her twisted face haunting his vision. No amount of stunning scenery could clear that from his view.

“Careful, you must be, when sensing the future, Anakin.” Yoda chided, his voice dropping low as he wagged his finger in disapproval. “The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.”

“I won’t let these visions come true, Master Yoda.” Anakin made to stand, but the old troll grabbed his sleeve and tugged him down again.

“Death is a natural part of life.” Yoda reached down by his side and lifted up a wilted rosebud. He held it for a second, then using the Force, sent it floating through the air until it rested in the river. Neither of them spoke, until it had drifted entirely from sight. “Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not.” He paused, and for a moment, the grandmaster’s ears twitched downward before he straightened his whole body to soldier stiffness. “Miss them, do not.”

Anakin’s first impulse was to scoff, to brush off the platitude or ask for guidance on how to achieve such an unattainable goal. But as he held his tongue, he watched the older Jedi’s face. It was withered and ancient, lines cut equally deep in sorrow and joy. It was the face that had seen hundreds of thousands of dawns like this one, and all the lives they contained. Perhaps it was easier to divorce oneself from worries after reaching such a great age. It would be like an albatross living in a world of mayflies.

“Attachment leads to jealousy.” Yoda counselled, getting to his feet. Anakin didn’t offer to help – he wouldn’t insult the master by doing so – but as he struggled upright, Anakin saw how his clawed hand lingered over an ancient carving, etched onto the oak’s surface. Two Auberesh symbols – a Quek and a Trill, intertwined. A long-ago love story, Anakin’s heart realised with a lurch. But Yoda’s face held no such softness. Instead he looked sterner than ever. “The shadow of greed, that is.”

“What must I do, Master Yoda?” Anakin pleaded. If the old Jedi had let so many lives pass him by, he must have had some tips on how to do so. He couldn’t be in as much pain as Anakin was feeling, not over and over for so many lost loves. No being could be – Anakin could barely stand it as it was.

“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” Yoda spoke softly, and collected his gimmer stick from where it lay against the tree. With a nod, he shuffled off, leaving Anakin even more baffled than before.

**.**

Of all the injuries Obi-Wan had sustained over the course of this blasted war, he never thought the most painful would be a stiff neck.
See blaster bolts and lightsaber burns could be soothed by bacta, the pain of a well-won wound easy to push down, or release into the Force. A headache, even a migraine, often thrummed with the knowledge of futures half-seen, or from a powerful bond filled with hope. But bone pain was difficult to ignore, jarring him with every move, reminding him of his follies and failures. He was getting old, he was getting tired, and the constant drumbeat of misery seemed to grow ever closer with every crack of his spine.

Pushing himself upright, Obi-Wan waited for the throb in his shoulders that usually lectured him against another night asleep at his desk. Certainly, his mouth felt dry and stale, and a stray piece of paper was stuck to his forehead. But as he sat up, he felt no pain, heard no clicks. Only the stretch of strong muscles. When he reached to rub at the nape of his neck, he felt only the fuzz of razor-shorn hair and –

A padawan braid, half wrapped around his wrist, and glinting with a familiar purple bead.

Distantly, he heard his chair clattering behind him but didn’t see it fall. Instead, he turned on his heel, drinking in his surroundings. Gone was the predictable blankness of his chambers on the Negotiator, the last place he’d laid his head, what felt like a lifetime ago. Instead, warm sunlight dappled over his face from a half-drawn curtain in his living room. The room he shared with Anakin, at the Temple.

Obi-Wan took a deep, gulping breath, and then another. And then another. But the room didn’t change.

Screwing his eyes shut for a moment, Obi-Wan tried to focus. As impossible as this all seemed, there had to be some logical explanation for it. Blindly, he wandered over to the corner of the room, where Anakin had hung a mirror years ago. He’d complained that it was hard to have the smart, neat robes of a Jedi without an external reference, and whined that Obi-Wan was so unmaterialistic that he didn’t even know what he looked like most days. Little had he known about the hand compact Obi-Wan had tucked into his bedroom drawers, to check his hair and beard every morning before waking his judgemental padawan, but the decision to add a mirror to their simple rooms had been beneficial for the most part. Particularly now, as Obi-Wan opened his eyes, and gawked at the stranger’s face in front of him.

Stranger, he realised after a few moments, was far from an accurate term. The boy in the mirror was him – a him he’d never expected to see again. His hair was slightly overgrown from a padawan cut, but the braid trickling down his shoulder was proof. Yet, even if he’d been shaved bald, his youth was apparent in his eyes. Shadowed as they were, they held none of the wrinkles Obi-Wan had noticed cultivating on his brow. His cheeks and jaw were free of facial hair, even of stubble, but looked sharp, as if good meals were uncomfortably infrequent. Most surprising of all was that his skin, pale as it was, was littered with tiny brown freckles – a galaxy of sunspots where weariness had been before.

A child. He was a child again.

He reached for the mirror, pressing his fingers against the cold glass and wondering for just a second if he would slip through. Instead, a screeching filled his ears, as if he had raked his fingernails down the shiny surface, and he couldn’t help but wail, clutching at his head. The world spun, and he stumbled, colliding with the table and feeling his knees buckle. That lingering pain had remained, burning as he sunk to the ground.

‘Ignore it – fight it.’ A strange silky voice whispered, making him shiver. ‘Come to me, Padawan. There is much to discuss.’

“Who – Where –“ Obi-Wan managed to choke out before another wave of pain washed over him. He reached up, fingers scrabbling on the desk for something – anything – to help him, and wrapped around the cool metal of his commlink. As he struggled to find his saved contacts, the voice began again.

‘You know where to go – just let me lead you.’ If he focused hard, he could almost recognise the tone. A man’s voice, a deep voice, more of a rumble than he’d expected. He wanted to lift his head and listen harder, but he forced his fingers to keep moving. Eventually, they settled on the first contact, and pushed hard.

As the dial tone started, the pulsing in Obi-Wan’s brain grew stronger and stronger. It forced him to his feet, and he staggered towards the door. From brief glances around the room, he could see traces of his old life with Anakin, not Qui-Gon, as his youth would suggest. Piles of podracing magazines hidden under the coffee table, his seven copies of ancient Alderaanian poetry that Anakin had bought him as a “finally-on-the-council” present, a pile of wires that Anakin had intended to turn into a – a –

Remembering hurt. The pain swelled behind his eyes so badly that he lurched over and started to gag. The commlink, still beeping, threatened to slip from his fingers, so he held on even tighter. He relaxed for a second when he heard the hint of a human voice, but his hopes were soon crushed at the robotic tone.

“This code is unavailable. Recording a message in three… two… on-“

“Anakin? Anakin, where are you?” Obi-Wan cried out, pressing his back against a wall, as he tried to stop himself from moving forward. A few more steps and he would be out of their apartment, and with still no answers to his predicament. “Are you here? Are you safe? Are you –“

‘Forget him. Come to me, Padawan.’ The voice was louder this time, thundering in his ears. He felt his feet walk of their own accord, no matter how much he tried to drag them. Before he could even think, the door was open and he caught a hint of breeze against his bare cheeks. ‘I have the answers you seek. All you have to do is come.’

From that point on, Obi-Wan allowed himself to give in to the strange sensation. Really, it was all he could do to keep moving – the rock of his footsteps was the only thing to calm the storm in his mind. He found himself dipping through corridors, as if to pass unseen through the thriving temple. Or perhaps it was to avoid the light coming from the enormous windows. Usually, he would find himself caught up in the beautiful brightness, but it stung his eyes and made the sickness roiling in his stomach worsen. Still, he trudged forward through the darkness, taking as deep breaths as he could manage. It felt like there was a rope around his chest, pulling him forwards.

Eventually, he found himself steps away from the Healing Halls, where the whispering seemed strongest. He tried once again to keep fighting, but his muscles screamed from the effort of merely staying still.

‘You are so close now, little one. A few more steps, and I shall tell you everything.’ The voice teased, warm and familiar. Screwing his eyes tightly shut, and fighting the rolling of his stomach, he forced his nerveless fingers to move a final time, pressing against the very last frequency on his commlink. It rang and rang, and Obi-Wan was almost certain it would give up, when a distant, tired voice responded.

“Ben? Did you find Master Obi-Wan’s comm-“

‘Ignore her – ignore it – come, Padawan!’

“Ahsoka.” He panted, wishing he could, just for a second, take solace in her words. Though strange and confusing, he craved any hint he could that she was safe. It had been so long since they had spoken, after all. “Please – I know you… I know you must despise me and…” She had to know, she had to know before his brain melted and he couldn’t say anymore. She had to know he was sorry. “And you’re right to. But please – I don’t know what’s happening and I’m-“

“Master?” She sounded so small, so far away. Their poor padawan, who he’d left in the cold, as Qui Gon had left him, as he felt now, shaken from his own brain. “What – where are you?”

“Temple. Healing Halls.” He huffed, pressing himself against a wall in a desperate attempt to slow himself. “S-something’s pulling me.”

“Pulling you?” Ahsoka repeated, and Obi-Wan really wished she wouldn’t. The corners of his eyes were going fuzzy with the pressure of resisting, head pounding.

“Where’s Anakin?”

“Can’t – reach –“ At the sound of Anakin’s name, the strange voice began to scream, and he dropped to his knees, holding his head. Dimly, he noticed something spilling out of his ear, warm and sticky and red. “Ahsoka, please – I can’t fight it.”

“I’m coming. You stay right there.”

Well, Obi-Wan thought as he collapsed onto the floor, he didn’t really have much choice.

**.**

On the other side of the city, Padme frowned at the stormy sky. She was not a fool, and didn’t like being treated like one.

It had been bad enough at Palpatine’s party, where she had been bored almost to tears by the pontificating senators who had hung about her before the guests of honour arrived. Though she had talked with them, only Bail had actually been listening to her, the others so pompous they could only discuss their own issues, and stuff themselves on the rich food. Even the Chancellor barely looked at her, his hungry gaze focused on the two newcomers.

She hadn’t liked how Palpatine looked at Ben, how he had fawned on and teased him. He had never done so with Obi-Wan, confessing to her in confidence a suspicion of the genial Jedi. He’d never gone so far as to claim to dislike Obi-Wan, only to hint that he was too calm, too dedicated to his principles. She had never believed him, but it was uncomfortable to hear a man she had respected for so many years make such comments about another trusted friend.

No, the only other time Padme had seen Palpatine’s eyes flash so was when watching Anakin during the celebrations on Naboo, all those years ago. Even then, it had seemed strange to her how he could slip from the solemnity of Qui-Gon’s funeral to the cavorting of the peace celebrations, but her head was so full from the previous days that she had not time to consider it. Still, she did not trust Palpatine’s interest in the boy.

That, amongst many other things, was why she had not told him of the baby. She was sure he could be discreet, if given the right incentive, but she didn’t want to know what that was. Besides, she had seen enough children twisted by this war. Herself, a queen at only fourteen and a symbol for democracy before her childhood had even finished. Ahsoka, stripped of the home and culture she had fought battles for. Anakin, forced to grow up so sharply into a military hero with no thought for his own wellbeing. And now Ben, once a man, now a boy, being dragged through the same process and being praised for his bravery.

She would not allow the same fate for her baby.

She pressed a hand to her stomach, feeling the child kick. Sometimes, it felt as if it had a thousand legs, all pressing against her lungs and bladder. Other times, she pictured a little fish, floating around in Naboo’s perfect waters, sedate as no living creature could be. Inside her, it was shielded from pain and war and loss.

She only hoped Anakin, back amongst the Jedi, was equally safe.

Padme felt a rush of power as she stared at the Temple, one she had only felt when giving her most righteous of speeches. Though she was looking out at Coruscant, her heart thought of her beloved Naboo, of the little camp where Anakin had lived as a boy, of the war-torn planets he had described, of her own ravaged Senate.

The world was fair and foul, dark and delightful, ever changing as the river and always worth fighting for.

She would need to be strong, for her husband, for herself and the child turning with in her.

Without thinking, she opened the hand not cradling her belly, and felt a small thump against her palm. She closed her fingers and brought it close to her face, so she could see what had hit her. In her hand, she found the japot snippet that had been resting on her bedside table.

She was still by the window, having not moved a step. And yet, there it was in her hand.

Padme swallowed, and stood straighter, holding it out in her now flattened palm. It was such a little thing, so dainty that when she wore it, she could barely feel it against her skin. So little and light, so easy to lift, so easy to –

Padme again felt the rumbling in her veins, warming through her arm until they reached her hand.

The snippet began to float.

As soon as she realised what had happened, she gasped sharply, and the japot dropped onto the floor. Her hands pressed against her belly, where the child inside twisted and kicked.

Had they – had she – how had it moved?

It had come to her, as if by magic.

As if by the Force.

Notes:

Hi everyone - don't worry, this is as much a shock for me as it is for you.

I honestly didn't expect to ever get this chapter out. Since the last update, life has changed dramatically for me. I lost another beloved relative in October 2020 which really wiped out my creativity for the rest of the year. I've also had a lot more responsibilities - I'm now eight months into my first "real job" (a Special Educational Needs Teaching Assistant) which I love and feel honoured to be doing in these difficult times, but it's taken a lot of my time and energy. I've also been learning to drive, applying for teacher training and have been working on my own fiction projects, which leaves me not a lot of time for this story. As much as I love it, and have ideas for where to go next, I can't promise any more updates.

But I did want to get something out today, on this one-year anniversary of Stranger. Throughout, you have all been so supportive and have given me the strength to keep going with my work. Your feedback has always been kind and thoughtful, and I am so grateful you would take the time to read these words. I am constantly crazily grateful.

I hope this update is at least somewhat intriguing - it's been stitched together from sections written months apart, so it might be incoherent, but I wanted to give some hint as to where the characters are going from here. Any feedback you wish to leave will be most gratefully taken <3

Best of luck, and love to you all!

H

Stranger (In A Strange Land) - AssassinOfRome - Star Wars (2024)

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