A/N: It has been one year and eight months since I started writing this arc, and we're finally, finally at the end.
On to Reprise IV.
There hadn't been time to arrange a conference room, so the Chancellor's war council - or at least the members who hadn't left Coruscant for their home planets' own war councils - met in his office, pressed in around his desk in a crowded circle. Mace and Obi-Wan squeezed into the room and found seats near Mas Amedda and Bail Organa.
Palpatine was the very last member to arrive, taking a seat at the back. Obi-Wan swivelled in his seat to see the Nabooian raise an apologetic hand to the Chancellor as he sat. Something in Obi-Wan's gut began to burn with anger, but Master Windu caught his eye and glared a warning. Obi-Wan turned back around and closed his eyes. Drawing on the Force for strength, he threw up the the shields surrounding his mind, blocking out all thoughts of Palpatine and the Sith. He was too tired, these negotiations were too important. He clung to the thought of Garen, of the comfort of his friends and Master Rhara. Courage, he tried to tell his own heart, but he was a dismal optimist. Courage.
The sound of doors hissing shut made Obi-Wan open his eyes. Then, the doors locked, and the office swelled with a soup of claustrophobia and anxiety. The council sat in audience as Finis explained the situation. His tone was easy and his words were so clipped that they made madness sound mundane. It took a full fifteen seconds before anyone could find something to say.
"A meeting?" Mace Windu broke the silence with uncharacteristic incredulity. "A meeting?"
"Yes, Master Windu," Finis said, with the smallest bur of irritation, "that is what I said."
"It's unheard of." Even Bail Organa, diplomatic to a fault, wore a frown.
"He doesn't actually think you'll meet with him." The Kuat's Naval Secretary was incredulous, looking between the Chancellor and the council. "It's a trap, obviously."
"I'm not so sure it is," said Finis, and while many senators erupted into scoffs, many others waited and listened, including Obi-Wan. "The Republic has never had official dealings with Geonosis. We've never had reason to. As… inopportune as the current moment is, Poggle may very well see this as a singular opportunity to make contact with the most powerful polity in the Galaxy."
"And its leader," Senator Thane reminded. "He's not the head of some up-and coming planet, he's a warlord."
"Geonosis hasn't waged a war with another sovereign planet in centuries," Finis pointed out.
"Because they've been so busy warring with themselves," Thane countered.
"And have been seeking political stability ever since they started," Finis shot back. "The Republic can offer them that."
"As did the Federation, for a time," Kuat's Secretary came back. "With all due respect, your excellency, the Geonosians have no reason to spare any goodwill for us, not after this disastrous mission."
Senator Iblis was twisting his mustache between forefinger and thumb. "The Geonosians are first and foremost engineers," he said to the group. "That's why they allied with the Federation. Their handiwork is dangerous, but they themselves are self-absorbed fighters. They fight each other, they kill each other for stability, but they can't afford to attack the Republic, not at this moment, when we've destroyed their largest benefactor."
Finis fixed the Corellian with a blank stare. "You're saying I should agree to meet with King Poggle, Senator?" he asked.
Iblis faltered. "I'm saying Poggle's desperation could make him amenable. It's still incredibly dangerous."
"Too dangerous," Sheev Palpatine piped up from the back. His forehead was wrought with worry and reservation. "I have advocated for negotiations, Sir, and I stand by my recommendations. However, meeting in-person seems an unnecessary risk."
"If I refuse," Valorum said, "Poggle will not accept the terms we've put forward. He'll want more. He may decide to declare war, after all."
"Then extend the offer," Palpatine said. "Propose a contract for droids; an exclusive contract."
Obi-Wan could not believe what he was hearing. "Offering Geonosis political validation is one thing," the knight said, turning to glance at Palpatine before looking back at the Chancellor, "offering them lucrative business to manufacture killing machines is quite another."
Mace Windu cleared his throat. "Sir, you know I do not relish the idea of a droid army in the Republic." His eyebrows were drawn into a deep and wary angle, but his voice was steady. "However, in this case I must agree with Senator Palpatine. The meeting is far too dangerous. Concessions may be your only viable option."
Obi-Wan stared. To feel betrayed required understanding; Obi-wan's confusion displaced trust completely. Mace glanced at him, and maybe the master was trying to communicate something in that look, but he was no longer speaking a language that Obi-Wan understood.
Palpatine looked surprised; surprised and vindicated. Obi-Wan felt the Force crawling under his skin.
"They are hardly equivalent alternatives," Obi-Wan said eventually, and turned beseechingly to the Chancellor. "The droids are the most dangerous part of the Geonosians, as Senator Iblis has said." Obi-Wan gestured to the Corellian, who looked uncertain in being included in the Jedi's argument. "Paying the Geonosians to manufacture droids is paying them to manufacture more danger - and to usher it right into the Republic. There are too many unknowns surrounding the Geonosians' management of the droids."
"If I do not bargain with the purchase of an army, Master Kenobi, what do you propose I bargain with?" Valorum asked.
Obi-Wan paused. He didn't like what he was going to suggest, but he hated it less than agreeing with a Sith lord. "If you meet with Poggle now, you are meeting with him at his weakest. His armies have been decimated, his benefactors are dissolving as we speak. If you extend your hand now, he'll be compelled to take it."
"Poggle is a warlord," Thane reiterated.
"But if we deny him the right to his droids, he won't be for much longer," Obi-Wan shot back.
"It wouldn't negate the need for a bargain," Bail Organa spoke up, face rippling with uncertainty, "even if - and that is a very large if - you meet with him to negotiate, Chancellor, he will want something larger than a lump sum."
"Then grant him the political validation he's looking for," Obi-Wan broke in, appealing to Valorum's own sensibilities. "Meet with him, show him that you acknowledge Geonosis as it hasn't been for centuries, consider reopening their trade routes."
"Trade routes?" Admiral Titian, silent the whole meeting, was outraged. "So they can hijack our hyperspace lanes and reroute entire economies?"
"I'm not sure you're qualified to bandy about trade routes, Master Kenobi," Valorum said, voice even but not condescending. "However, I take the point."
"Forget trade routes," said Senator Iblis, "lower their tariffs, and it's all the economic motivation Poggle will need."
"We're talking about a weapons dealer, your excellency," Sheev Palpatine cut in. "If you want to cut any kind of deal with him, you're going to have to speak their language. Take the weapons he's dealing, or destroy them through war."
"Or trade what droids he already has in exchange for diplomatic sovereignty and access to an economy that doesn't necessitate dealing with the Hutts," Obi-Wan said.
"You honestly think he won't deal with the Hutts after this?" Admiral Titian was looking at Obi-Wan as if he were a child. "The Hutts have the whole damn system in their pockets."
"And many worlds besides, we deal with them when we have to. The Genosians haven't always manufactured battle droids, they can't have forgotten so quickly." Obi-Wan replied. He looked to Valorum. "I don't relish the idea, Chancellor, but it's better than outfitting ourselves for war in armor we don't fully understand."
Valorum was quiet. While the senators buzzed about their ideas and suggestions, the Chancellor chewed on the inside of his lip.
Obi-Wan glanced at Palpatine, and at Mace Windu. The elder Jedi looked almost in pain, muscles bunching in nervous rhythms along his jaw, around his eyes, in his neck. He had one finger pressed firmly into his mouth, as if he was stopping himself from speaking.
Behind Mace, Palpatine wore a similar expression of worry. Quietly, he tapped the Master of the Order on the shoulder. Mace turned, and the two began conversing in low tones beneath the buzz of argument in the room. Obi-Wan watched helplessly, unable to hear what they were saying. He turned and saw Titian arguing with Bail Organa, Iblis with Thane, the Kuati Secretary with everyone. Valorum sat silently at his desk, immobile.
"Master Windu." The Chancellor's voice broke through the noise, and the room quieted. Mace turned away from Palpatine to look up at the Chancellor.
"What would you recommend?"
Anxiously, begrudgingly, all eyes turned to the Jedi. Mace Windu was, excepting perhaps Mas Amedda – and even that would be contestable – the second most powerful man on Coruscant. Considering the Jedi Order's involvement on Geonosis, his opinion would have no insignificant bearing on the Chancellor's decision.
It took a long moment for Mace to respond. When he did, he did so with reservation. "There is no comfortable solution, Sir, and none that I can fully support. However," Obi-Wan wondered if the master was trying to avoid his eye, "this meeting is far too dangerous."
The room was silent, but Obi-Wan's mind was blaring. Images flashed in his mind, of Feemor, of Palpatine whispering in Feemor's ear, in Mace's ear, of his own fading vision as Feemor choked the life out of him.
"I agree with Master Windu," Sheev Palpatine said. Obi-Wan's jaw wanted to fall open.
"I disagree," he said, and when the assembled company looked at him aghast, it took him a moment to realize that he was a low-ranking knight who'd just contradicted his ultimate superior, in public, in front of the Chancellor. He dug in his heels. "Buying peace through a tainted army is more dangerous than meeting with Poggle to find a diplomatic solution."
"It is very likely a trap," Mace held his ground.
"And we know it is, and we can be ready for it."
"And if things go wrong, it's non-negotiable war," Mace said.
"And if things go wrong with an arms deal, it will be non-negotiable war, and his troops will be housed in our barracks," Obi-Wan shot back. "I apologize for my impertinence, master, but I cannot condone it."
Mace stared at him, a mixture of anger, worry, and deep disappointment. Obi-Wan looked to the Chancellor instead.
"Thank you, Masters Jedi, senators." He looked at his desk. "I have much to consider. I will let you know when I have made my decision."
They waited in the senate building for the Chancellor to reach a verdict. Mace and Obi-Wan sat together in uncomfortable silence on a small balcony high above the surrounding skyline.
"It will be a trap," Mace said eventually. Obi-Wan didn't even look at him.
"Then we spring the trap."
"Is that what Qui-Gon taught you?" he let out a humorless laugh. "Sounds about right."
"Buying an army is a much larger trap," Obi-Wan shot back at him. "And far more costly."
"An army is something we can take in one by one, something we can ingest, scan, scrub, take apart and put back together again," Mace told him. "We can ensure neither Poggle nor the Sith get a hold of them again."
"But Palpatine wants us to buy Poggle's army," Obi-Wan protested, "he obviously has a plan for it once it's in Republic Space." Mace was unfazed.
"Yes, he does, because he thinks that we don't know who he is. He thinks we don't know that he'll try to turn them back to his side. But we do know. We'll find whatever darkness he sneaks in with them, whatever could be used to turn them against, and well snuff it out – just like we did with the clones."
"With the clones?" Obi-Wan whipped his head up, confused. Mace looked at him, and realized belatedly that Obi-Wan hadn't been privy to Dooku's hunt for the biochip programming. He gave a regretful sigh. Ben Kenobi and Obi-Wan Kenobi were two vastly different people, but when it came to matters of galactic importance, Mace often forgot where one ended and the other began. He wished he had the luxury to feel guilty about it.
"You know who had them made," the Master said. "We made sure he couldn't touch them. We can do the same with the droids." But Obi-Wan was still reeling from this new revelation.
"You're saying he could - could have turned the clones against us?" He thought of Cody, of the chubby-cheeked boys he'd seen on Kamino.
"Could have. We put a stop to it. Bail Organa, the Kamino Accords, the Coalition of Sentient Rights. They helped legislate a solution without letting the Sith know we knew."
Obi-Wan's mind was still reeling. "Droids aren't sentient," he burst. "We can't use the same excuse twice,"
"No, but we can find a new one. The army isn't going to march in here over night, Obi-Wan, they're going to have to go through process, and we can press our advantage while they do. Bail is not our only ally. The whole Coalition, Herdessa especially, even Valorum is a close ally of our Order. If I warn him, if I ask him to do something as the droids are in holding, there is a high chance that he'll listen."
"And a high chance Palpatine will be right there, whispering in his ear, and we don't even know what that can do to someone weak in the Force-"
"I think we do," Mace said, eyebrows raised, glancing at Obi-Wan's neck.
"Feemor isn't weak," the knight hissed.
"No," Mace hissed, tired of arguing, "but he was afraid, as are you."
"And you're not?" Obi-Wan demanded.
Mace glanced at the bruises still evident on Obi-Wan's throat where they peaked over the top of his collar. "Of course I am," he said, looking away. "I just know how to control it."
The noise and stench of air traffic filled the pause between them.
"You're giving him exactly what he wants," Obi-Wan said.
"I'm doing what I sense is right," Mace replied.
"As am I."
The Jedi looked to one another, and neither could find anything else to say.
"Masters Jedi," said a droid, peeking through the doorway, "The council is called to reconvene for a verdict."
The headline would spread like wildfire through the afternoon: Chancellor Valorum to Meet with King Poggle for Peace Talks.
Obi-Wan and Mace returned to the temple, where they held their breath with the rest of the galaxy.
The smell of bacta and disinfectant was a shortcut through Ben's memories, and as the Jedi master approached Cody's hospital room, he was reminded of a time he'd gone to visit his commander in medbay after a particularly nasty battle, one that had left Cody with a long, jagged scar down the side of his face.
The sound of Feemor Gard's laughter had no place in Ben's old memories, and brought him into the Here and Now.
"Meaner than Vokara Che? Force, I hope not," the Jedi was chuckling in the other room.
"You've never been in the military," Cody griped back, and though Feemor might not have heard it, Ben knew to recognize the humor hidden there. "But what are they gonna do, chop off my other leg?"
"In my experience, it's best not to give military doctors reason to think anything needs chopping off," Ben said as he came through the door - and of course, he would know. "Be it leg or otherwise."
"Master Kenobi," Cody nodded respectfully from his seat on the bed.
"You really ought to call me Ben," Ben said, and glanced Cody up and down. Though the clone appeared more recovered than he had the previous day, his opioid drip was gone and in its place was a courageous but tired scowl. "How are you faring?"
The agent shrugged resignedly. Ben noticed that he was looking anywhere - at Ben, at Feemor, at the ceiling - but at his own lap and legs. "Apparently, they've ordered a prosthesis fitting already. They're transferring me to a civvie hospital in the morning. Was supposed to be today, but HQ's a bit preoccupied with finding an escort guard for the Chancellor."
"Ah," Ben's face found a frown. They'll all heard the news of yesterday's verdict. "Do you know anyone in Secret Service?" he asked the clone.
Cody raised his eyebrows. "Oh, is it SS they're sending? Makes sense. They haven't told me anything. I'm not sure if its because I'm in hospital or because I was on Geonosis."
Ben shrugged. "It may be both – they've not told me anything either. I gather Valorum wants everyone involved in the fighting to stay well away until after the negotiations."
"Wise of him," Cody said.
"Aye, even me," Feemor sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. "I've heard nothing but what's on G-RAN." The three men shared a short silence of communal ignorance. Ben was happy to see Feemor back in his normal nut-brown robes and tabards. However, there remained a haunted, gaunt look about him, and it made Ben remember the toll of Geonosis not felt in flesh and bone.
"How's Aola?" Ben asked at length.
"I don't know," the older master answered. "The Council's holed up with her. Or at least, Master Yoda is." He looked Ben in the eyes. "He's seeing her through the Trials Chamber."
"What?" Ben's eyes widened, brows coming down to meet them. "More trials? After Geonosis?" Perhaps it had been wishful thinking, but Ben had hoped Geonosis would substitute for Aola's Trials, much as Kamino had for Obi-Wan's.
"It's not a full run of all five," Feemor explained. "Just the trial of Spirit. Master Yoda is… worried for her." He paused, and visibly wilted as he whispered, "as am I."
It was a daunting prospect. Ben knew that Aola had not done well in the aftermath of the fighting. Perhaps they'd crafted this Trial as a mercy; if she was truly not yet ready to be a knight, they would save her from herself early. "She will honor your teachings, and will be an excellent Jedi Knight," Ben encouraged him. "She's too stubborn not to."
It made Feemor smile, as fleeting as the sun on a cloudy day. "I hope so," he said.
"Ugh, kriff." Cody's exclamation drew the attention of both Jedi, who turned to see the clone bent over the stump of his leg, wincing through pain. He grabbed hold of the rail on his bed hard enough to make it creak.
"I'll call a padawan," Ben said, "to get you something stronger for the pain."
"No," Cody grit through his teeth. "Don't. I have to…" he paused as the pain intensified. "I have to get used to it."
Ben wanted to insist otherwise, but then he remembered when Anakin had lost his arm, and the painful, sleepless weeks after the injury. He went to perch on the edge of Cody's bed and grasped the man's shoulder, exuding a sense of calm and health through the Force.
"The pain will lessen considerably when you have a prosthetic," he said.
"Oh yeah?" Cody growled, preoccupied. "Know from experience, do you?" Cody glanced at Ben's hands and legs, as if expecting one of them to sprout wires.
"From a certain point of view."
Cody grunted. He remained bent halfway over his leg until at last the cramps subsided, and he propped himself back into a sitting position, sweat lining his brow.
Ben's commlink chirped at him. He answered it.
"Ben," it was Mace Windu. "Do you have a moment?"
Caught off guard, Ben stumbled over his answer: "Ah, of course."
"Meet me in the Council Spire." The connection cut off, and Ben shared a taut look with Feemor. They both knew that Mace was the Chancellor's de facto war advisor; they both knew what he would want to talk about.
"Excuse me," Ben said, dipping his head politely, "I should go."
His absence left Feemor and Cody alone in the quiet room, monitors beeping, hospital bustling beyond the closed door.
"Aola told me about the datachip," Feemor broke the silence first, expression kind and guilty. "None of us can thank you enough."
Cody didn't respond, because if he had, he would've had to admit that when he took the chip, he'd done it for her.
Feemor may have sensed the direction of his thoughts. "You said you'd give your life to protect her, and I'm glad it never came to that," he glanced at Cody's leg. "But I am very sorry it's cost you so dearly."
The ghost of a memory resurfaced, a brief but vivid recollection of Aola holding him in the cramped ship, hands slick with his blood, skin covered in sweat and sand. She'd held him together by Force and her own sheer willpower. "All things considered, I think I got off pretty well," Cody said, trying to make light of the weight on his mind, "I think I was too afraid to die with her around. She would've followed me down and flogged me for it."
Feemor let out a laugh and nodded. "So she would have. It's her way."
"Her way seems to work alright," Cody conceded.
"Aye, so it does."
Each man to his own mind, they fell silent and considered the raw, unbending strength of the woman they'd grown to love.
The Council Spire was empty. Ben rode the lift alone in silence, and crossed the wide, richly appointed hallways overly aware of the noise his boots made on the marble steps. There were not even guards on the councilroom doors. Inside, Ben found the council seats abandoned but for the hunched form of Mace Windu. The Korun was facing away from Ben, perched on the back of the chair that, in another life, had belonged to Obi-Wan. Ben could see the Master's deep scowl reflected in the window.
"This never happened before, did it?" Mace asked.
"The parlay, you mean?" Ben moved slowly to lean up against the adjacent chair.
"Mmm," Mace hummed a reply. Ben glanced at him. Under the dark skin of his jaw, muscles ticked away to the rhythm of his uncertainty.
"No, it didn't," Ben answered. Mace sighed, crossed his arms, and leaned back.
"Obi-Wan's the one who convinced him to do it,"
Ben turned his head in surprise. "What?"
"I told Finis that the meeting was far too dangerous - incidentally, so did Sheev Palpatine."
"Oh," Ben could see where this was headed.
"Obi-Wan disagreed with us both. Valorum, it appears, took his dissent to heart."
It was a windy day. They watched the pockmarked clouds play shadow puppets with the setting sun. Behind them, the gold mosaics of the councilroom floor danced in light and shadow, but neither Jedi was in a mood to appreciate it.
"Perhaps Obi-Wan was right to oppose Palpatine," Ben said. Mace sighed.
"I'd expect better from you, Ben."
"What?" Ben looked at him.
"You honestly think this parlay is a good idea?"
"Do you think agreeing with a Sith Lord is a good idea?"
"I don't know," Mace admitted. "I can't know his mind. But he's a master manipulator, impossible to read. I can't tell where he's headed next."
"Neither can I. Or Obi-Wan," Ben said mournfully. "I wish I had an answer."
"So does Obi-Wan. He's scared, you know. Terrified. After what happened to Feemor, Aola, Cody, Garen…"
"You think he should have been pulled from this assignment."
"It was not my call to make, unfortunately," Mace snapped. "And Obi-Wan has certainly made up his mind about this meeting." Mace said the word with pronounced distaste.
Ben's shoulder sagged. "If he's made up his mind, there's no changing it."
"Obi-Wan's mind hardly matters; but he's managed to turn Valorum's head, and the rest of us must follow wherever he leads - and it may be to war."
"Maybe," Ben said, hoping desperately that it was not.
"I suppose we'll know soon enough," Mace said, expressionless. "He left with his escort this morning."
"Did we send anyone to guard him?"
"I wanted to. I would've gone myself, but with all that happened on Geonosis… Finis thought it best the Jedi were not involved." Mace gripped the loose fabric of his sleeves in stressed clumps. "And I suppose he could be right."
"I suppose so," Ben wasn't sure what else he could say. The conversation fell away.
They stared out of the windows and watched as the wind drove the clouds away so that pillars of sun shone down on the sparkling skyline below like spotlights. After a long moment, Ben said,
"This really is one of the best views in the city."
Mace scowled. "The best view to sit helpless and watch," he grumbled, and Ben did not try to cheer him up. Though neither would admit it, Mace and Obi-Wan were alike in that regard: once they'd resolved to think or feel a certain way, there was no moving them.
However, Ben mused, Mace had learned his lessons of forbearance long ago. He was not sure Obi-Wan had had the chance.
Since returning from the Senate, Obi-Wan had sought solitude. He wandered the gardens, the loneliest halls, or else hid in his own room. Today, he found refuge in the planetarium, Qui-Gon's favorite haunt. Though Qui-Gon himself was not there, there was something profoundly comforting about the deep hum of the bronzium planets moving in their courses, a resonance that reached into Obi-Wan's chest and made him remember.
Remember his days as a child when Qui-Gon was there to absorb the blows of the world, the days when Tahl would sit here with him while Qui-Gon made an ass of himself in front of the Council. The days when his knighthood was only a daydream. The days before he'd met Ben, before he'd known about the Sith, about Palpatine, about everything. Obi-Wan's heart continued to beat, but it felt slow and tired. He tucked his chin to his chest and fell into a meditation trance.
He remembered this place. It was the mountain range he'd seen before, as a young boy of fifteen, as a man of twenty-two about to be knighted. He looked back over his shoulder, and saw far in the distance, a younger version of himself, freshly scarred and standing clean and bright in the fresh air. He was not looking down at his older counterpart, but looked instead out across the sky, the sun, the dark clouds.
Obi-Wan turned to face his own environs, and his bare feet squelched in tarry mud. It was not raining, but it must've rained recently. There were trees blown over by wind, and shrubs drowned by water. A jungle lie ahead, eerily quiet. Lightning crackled in the dark clouds above, but no thunder followed it. Obi-Wan remembered seeing those same clouds in the distance, before he was knighted. He remembered dreading them. He realized that he'd never actually thought he'd have to see them up close.
He turned his eyes to his feet to see where the path led, but there was only mud and silence. In the place of his mind where the had Force whispered its wills for decades and more, he felt nothing. He ached.
"Obi-Wan," a voice spoke, and Obi-Wan lifted his head and opened his eyes. Master Yoda was a few paces away, leaning heavily on his gimer stick.
"Master," the knight was surprised to find his voice hoarse from disuse. He must've been there for hours; the windows were alight in an orange sunset that limned Yoda's sparse hair in furious gold. "I'm sorry," Obi-Wan said, "I didn't hear you coming."
Yoda did not seem to care. "Obi-Wan," he chided again, and came closer, tilting his head to peer at the young man through the dusk. "Always look inside you do," he pressed a clawed hand to the knight's chest. "Find the Force there, you may, but not only there. Look outside, look to the horizon, you must."
"Master, I've tried, but I-"
"Do or do not," Yoda began, and Obi-Wan closed his eyes in regret. "There is no try, hmm." He poked the knight with his cane. "Taught you that, I did."
"Yes, Master, many times," Obi-Wan replied. "But I've yet to understand it."
"Hmm," Yoda hummed, more subdued than before. "Young, you are. Time to learn, you have."
"I wish to learn, Master, but the Force is silent. I cannot hear it, I cannot feel it." He shook his head. "And of all times…"
"Silent is the Force, or silent is Ben Kenobi?" Yoda guessed, and it made Obi-Wan pause. "The Force, is he? A whole horizon, is Ben Kenobi? Conceit, it is." For emphasis, Yoda clunked Obi-Wan on the head with the knob of his cane.
"Ow," Obi-Wan rubbed the spot.
"Feel that, you did," Yoda griped as only ancient men can, and added in complementary wisdom, "Feel the Force, you can. Broaden your mind, broaden your focus, you must. Choke yourself you do."
Obi-Wan wanted to try, he wanted to do, but he was far too tired. If Yoda sensed this, he ignored it.
"Get up you will. Up, up. Leave you brooding I will not, but other things to do I have. See Knight Tarkona to her chambers, I must."
That gave Obi-Wan pause mid-crouch. "Knight…?" he began.
"In two days time," Yoda confirmed, hobbling on. When Obi-Wan remained frozen, Yoda looked back at him.
"Surprised, are you?" the wizened Jedi asked with some offense.
"No, Master," Obi-Wan rose and the smile on his face felt foreign. "Not at all."
Obi-Wan fell into bed that night and slept fitfully, plagued by dreams of dark clouds and silent lightning. He awoke somewhat disoriented and found that he'd slept in. Qui-Gon was probably waiting outside with tea, ready to harangue him for it.
As he pulled on his trousers, he kicked a book that had fallen off the edge of his bed, and he remembered that he'd promised Aola he'd return it weeks ago, before Geonosis.
Aola. A smile spread across his face, and Obi-Wan dressed quickly, scooping the book up under one arm.
He was surprised to find the living room empty, but Qui-Gon was an early riser and was likely well into his schedule for the day. Obi-Wan pulled on his cloak and, holding the book under one arm and trying to contain the smile that threatened to break through, jogged his way to the Gard/Tarkona apartments. He knocked and let himself in.
"I'm looking for Knight Tarkona," he grinned, coming into the apartment to peer into the main living space. "Has anyone seen her? Short, testy, sharp elbows, you'd know if you met her."
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon looked up from his spot on the couch. He wasn't smiling. Beside him, Feemor and Aola hadn't yet noticed the newcomer, and were staring wide-eyed at the holoscreen in front of them. Aola looked close to tears. Obi-Wan could not see the screen, but the Force was shattered in dark blue, and his smile dissolved.
"What's this?" he asked timidly. Qui-Gon waved him over. Obi-Wan moved around the console to stand at Qui-Gon's side where he could see the news broadcast.
"...unclear at this time where the shots came from, whether from the crowds or from the Geonosian delegate itself."
"Geonosis?" Obi-Wan repeated. Qui-Gon said nothing.
"For those of you just now joining us, at 0743 this morning, CHB News reported that a single ion shot has been fired in the middle of the Peace Talk meeting between Supreme Chancellor Valorum and Geonosian ruler Poggle the Lesser. We've just now received a report confirming that…" the newscaster had to pause in her report, apparently stunned by what she read on her prompter screen. "That Chancellor Valorum was struck by the blast and was pronounced dead at 0902 onboard his cruiser following evacuation. It is reported that Herdessan fighters are en route once more to Geonosis, to be joined by the Kuati Fleet…"
Obi-Wan's entire awareness tunnelled in on the holoscreen, and he imagined that lightning struck in dark clouds above; this time, he heard the thunder split The world in two. Aola's book fell from his grasp and clattered to the floor.
Shock was not a sufficient concept. When the news of Valorum's death broke, the whole galaxy stood still. And then it began moving again at lightspeed. There were protocols in place for just such a circumstance; Finis Valorum was not the first Supreme Chancellor to die by assassination, and as soon as his death certificate was authenticated by his personal physician, the wheels of political process began turning.
The senate convened. Mas Amedda drafted articles of war. The Senate voted to enact them. Every Navy from every Core World and every Mid Rim and Outer Rim world who could muster a fighting force were put on standby. Geonosis was put under instant embargo. A Republic blockade appeared overnight. Between Kuat, Herdessa, and Corellia's combined forces, Geonosis would be occupied for a while yet.
On Coruscant, Valorum's young assistant typed up a ballot with shaking fingers. The Republic had many political parties, and within hours of the news, all twelve had submitted their nominations for the next supreme Chancellor. The Senate would take a vote that evening.
Finis' wife and daughter were put under twenty-four hour protection.
In the Jedi Temple, the High Council was locked in their spire under guard, crafting a response to Geonosis and drafting a full report for whomever would become the next supreme Chancellor.
Yan Dooku slipped into the Senatorial booth of Alderaan midway through the candidate hearings.
"Senator Organa," he greeted. Bail turned to see him.
"Master Dooku." The prince seemed uncharacteristically shaken. "Please, sit." Dooku did, and cast a sideways glance at the senator as he rubbed his goatee nervously between thumb and forefinger. There was only one aide in the booth. All others were presumably occupied with comm calls and emergency plans. An intern ran past their booth down the hall, a comm and a datapad in had.
"I'm surprised young Obi-Wan didn't beat me here," Dooku had to raise his voice as the room swelled with applause as the young senator stepped down from the podium after delivering her platform. "He's become very keen on political process these past years."
Bail looked at Dooku in surprise, but just as the applause died down into eerie quiet, Bail's expression evolved into first sadness, then resolve. "You should tell him to stay away," the prince said coolly. "At least for now."
Dooku felt a tremor in the Force. "Why?"
Bail realized the master must not know. "He was the one who suggested Valorum agree to the meeting," Bail explained. "Obi-Wan was the one who pushed him to go to Geonosis in the first place."
Dooku felt not unlike he had all those years ago on Galidraan; betrayed, saddened, angry. But this time, he did not feel it for himself, but for the whole Order, and for Obi-Wan. "I see," he said.
"There were only a handful of people on the committee," Bail said, "and they'll forget in time - or at least they'll pretend to. But until then… oh, here's one of them now," Bail sat up a little straighter, and Dooku turned with him to see Sheev Palpatine step up to the podium.
Dooku could not have explained what he felt, seeing the Sith Lord there, smiling, his brow set in stern and wizened lines. It felt like a deja vu, a memory of a memory. Perhaps he was experiencing the same undefined dread that generations of Jedi had been feeling for eons. Perhaps the great spiked wheels of the cosmos had finely turned around to prod at reality once more, pricking some distant ancestral memory in the Force.
Or perhaps it was his old Sentinel's heart frozen by the sight of his lifelong fears come true.
"I did not realize Senator Palpatine was a candidate," Dooku said, masking his horror with professional skill,
"He's grown fairly popular," Bail told the Jedi. "He's been the chairman for The Committee on Galactic Commerce for over a year. That committee has been instrumental in guiding efforts to eradicate the droids, I'm sure you know. Given current circumstances, that experience alone makes him an attractive candidate. He was also…" Bail paused, looking down at the ground, "he was very vocal in his opposition to the parlay with Geonosis. He and Obi-Wan had a bit of a row. I understand they argued quite a bit in committee meetings as well."
The slight against Obi-Wan was unpleasant for both of them. "I was led to believe Knight Kenobi offered the most productive contributions to the committee," Dooku said.
"Yes, he did, but he's not a politician. He was never going to get the credit."
Dooku took in a long breath and let it out again.
"-ust be prepared to fight this Federation, fight the Geonosians, fight whatever armies they have hidden amongst us," Palpatine was saying, voice fluttering in between politic composure and righteous conviction. "But we must take heart. We have been standing our ground against the mindless attacks of the Federation and their allies for years. We know our enemy. We know how to fight them. And, most importantly, we know how to win!" The crowd erupted in cheers, and Dooku stared, frozen in place where he sat.
"And we know we will win! The Republic remains the last bastion of peace and justice in a war-torn galaxy, and we will always extend the hand of truce before the armaments of war. Finis Valorum gave his life for that belief. I will uphold that belief to the best of my ability. But there comes a time when peace cannot be protected with peace. When good men die and innocent worlds are made to suffer death and war, it is no longer time to reach out our hands, but time to reach out our shields and our swords." More cheering. Bail scrubbed his beard harder, shoulders hunched.
"Senators of the Galactic Republic. We have reached out our hand, and we've lost our leader; a wise man, a good friend. If he were still here, I know that Finish Valorum would not let the Geonosians lead us into more lies. He would fight back! I have been leading the fight against the Federation since the crisis on my own dear Naboo. Now, in this time of galactic crisis and tragedy, I invite you to join me in the fight for freedom and peace in our dearest Republic."
Uproarious applause. Dooku could not move. Bail sank deeper into his seat.
"For whatever he said in the war council," Bail said, glaring as Palpatine basked in the ovation, "I trust Obi-Wan a thousand times more than I trust that man."
Dooku glanced at the plauditing masses, and then at the new frontrunner of the campaign. "You seem to have a lot of people to convince, your highness," he said.
Bail looked sad. "I always do."
That evening, Sheev Palpatine was elected by a wide margin to become the next Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic.
"Obi-Wan?" a voice echoed through the darkness.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, not wanting any company at all, least of all his own.
"Obi-Wan, I know you're– ah." Ben Kenobi shuffled to a stop at the base of the crumbled wall and looked up at his younger self.
"If I join you up there, are you going to push me off?"
Obi-Wan said nothing. Ben shrugged, and began to climb.
When the elder man arrived at the top and found a seat, Obi-Wan did not even turn and look. Ben gazed out at the wall that stretched above the main doors. It was a massive mosaic set with ancient, foreign runes and symbols, depictions of Jedi as they appeared centuries ago, as they still appeared today. The top of the wall stretched into blackness, too tall for the small lamps the Kenobis had brought with them. Peering down to the floor, Ben could see the cracked place where he'd appeared from the past, eleven years ago.
Eleven years. Eleven years to change. Some things, it seemed, never would.
"You heard the news," Ben assumed. Obi-Wan took in a breath like a statue coming to life.
"It's my fault," he whispered.
"I told him to go. I told him to agree to the meeting. Palpatine said not to. Master Windu said not to. Feemor tried to warn me. I…" Obi-Wan stared at nothing. "I thought I knew better. I thought I was following the Force, but it's so quiet, it's so silent, I can't…" the knight closed his eyes and rubbed his face. "Valorum is dead because of me. Palpatine - a Sith is our Supreme Chancellor because of me. Because I was too afraid to see what was happening until it was too late."
"You and I have a nasty habit of taking credit for things that are much larger than ourselves," Ben said. He thought of the guilt that had weighed him down for decades, the fear, the self-loathing. "Do you really think that Valorum would have lived if he'd taken Palpatine's advice?"
Obi-Wan was very still.
"If there's one thing I've learned about the man in all my years," Ben continued, "it is that he has contingencies for contingencies. Perhaps he was banking on you to convince Valorum to go to Geonosis. Perhaps he was setting up an equally nasty trap for him if he decided not to. We'll never know. But to pin this all on your own actions is sheer conceit. You did not make Valorum's decision for him."
Obi-Wan sat up and stared at the wall with Ben. "He's still dead," the knight said. "And I cheered him on as he jumped off a cliff. Force, I've been so blind."
That guilt, Ben knew, was not a selfish one. He nodded sadly. "I'm very sorry."
They were quiet for a long while, savoring the silence of the chamber around them. Stories and stories above, the Galaxy descended into chaos.
"Ben," Obi-Wan asked, sounding like a boy of fifteen. "What do I do?"
Ben didn't answer right away. For weeks, months, even years, Obi-Wan had been begging him for guidance, waiting on him to instruct his every move. Ben knew he was too far removed from the galaxy he'd known to offer Obi-Wan any real insight into the present day, but he also knew that Obi-Wan was treading water in a ocean far deeper than anything anyone had ever prepared him for. Maybe he wasn't looking for help, Ben realized. Maybe, he just wanted to understand his place in the bizarre cosmos.
"What does the Force tell you?" Ben asked quietly.
"The Force is silent," Obi-Wan said around a lump rising in his throat. "I can hardly feel it at all."
Ben took Obi-Wan's hand in his own and gave it a tight squeeze. "Can you feel that?"
It was the kind of reassurance creche masters offered younglings, but Obi-Wan leaned into it as a man with nothing else. "Yes," his voice wobbled.
Ben drew on the Force and willed a bit more strength into his grip, into Obi-Wan's hand, his heart. "What about that?"
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, too tired or too weak to draw on the Force for himself. "Yes," he said.
They sat with hands gripped together while Obi-Wan tried to hold onto the Force. Ben could feel his heartbeat in his hand, growing to beat in time with Obi-Wan's. He watched the younger man's face, and for the first time in years, remembered how incredibly young he was.
I would have only just now taken Anakin as an apprentice, he realized. He remembered those hard early days, the tears, the fear, the grief. He remembered Mace Windu's teaching and comfort, and considered how lost he would have been without it. I had the destiny of a child on my shoulders - but Obi-Wan is trying to carry a galaxy he doesn't even understand.
"Obi-Wan," Ben broke the reverie with a soft voice, but in the empty hall it pierced the air like a shot, "I think it's time you knew."
Obi-Wan's eyes fluttered open. "Knew what?"
Ben's braced himself. "Everything."
Obi-Wan looked up at him in surprise, but Ben only gripped his hand harder. "Meditate with me."
They fell into a trance together, Ben leading, Obi-Wan following along. As they plunged headfirst into the childhood memories they shared to the divergent lives they'd lived, tears ran down Ben's face. He couldn't be shielded as he had been with Mace; Obi-Wan knew his mind too intimately for that. The truth of his past tumbled out in vivid tableaux of friends, enemies and strangers framed in the tragedy of before. Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Padme, Cody, Mace, Palpatine, Anakin, and in the midst of it all, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi who could not die.
Ben escaped the meditation and opened his eyes to see Obi-Wan jerk his way back to the present with a shout. The knight's face was ashen white, as white as his knuckles that gripped Ben's arm for support even as he lost his balance and began to fall.
"Obi-Wan - Obi-Wan, no no no," Ben caught the knight by the arm just as he fell fully backwards from the wall. Obi-Wan's dead weight cast both Jedi over the edge. Ben caught his younger self and cushioned their fall, boots crunching in the gravel of the crumbling wall. He sat Obi-Wan up against the base of the wall and the knight leaned into the cool stone.
"I think I'm going to be sick," Obi-Wan said, swallowing hard. His face shone with sweat. "How… how do you," he glanced at Ben, a new light of understanding and horror in his eyes, "how do you keep that all in your head? How do you stand it?"
"Because the Force put me here to see wrongs turned right." Ben gripped Obi-Wan's shoulder. "And whether or not I can feel the Force working, whether or not I can see it, I move forward. I don't know what end I'm running to, but I know exactly what I'm running from, and every small change is a victory."
Obi-Wan as struggling to maintain composure. He shook his head, mind still running circles. "Palpatine-" the name held new abhorrence. "This isn't a victory, Ben."
"No, it's not, but we must hold onto the Force."
"How? It's too much, it's too dark. I can't feel the Force, or hear it."
"Then you must hold on more tightly."
Obi-Wan curled in on himself - whether to cradle his head or to stop his nausea, Ben couldn't say. He spread a hand on Obi-Wan's back and gripped the base of his neck reassuringly. "As long as there is darkness, there will be light to meet it - even if its so small now you can't see it. You must hold on. You must move forward, just as I have."
Head bent into his knees, hands wrapped around his head, Obi-Wan began to cry. Ben couldn't blame him. After a while, however, he said,
Obi-Wan sniffed, and lifted his head by a matter of millimeters.
"Get up," Ben said again, and coaxed his own creaking limbs to stand. He heaved his younger self up by the arm. Obi-Wan stood, looking and feeling like a ghost. Ben looked him in the eye.
"You have seen the worst. You've seen the galaxy fall, as I did all those years ago. You've seen the Sith rise and conquer, and are about to step out into a galaxy where they've won their first real battle." He gripped Obi-Wan's shoulder hard until the knight met his gaze. "But the war is not over. It's hardly begun. Now come on. We all have work to do."
Ben never told him what work belonged to him, so Obi-Wan passed the next several days in a haze, not wanting to speak to anyone about whatever role he may have played in Valorum's assassination, not able to speak to anyone of what Ben had shown him of the past. He sought refuge in the familiar: in Qui-Gon's morning routine of tea, in duels, in the archives, in meditation.
He meditated more than anything, more than he spoke, more than he slept. It amounted to little, but slowly, something like a suspicion was forming in his mind. He kept it to himself.
As worlds around the galaxy braced for droid incursions, as the Kuat Shipyards fired up their forges, as Sheev Palpatine prepared to take the oath of office, Obi-Wan gathered with the rest of his lineage to celebrate a small victory amidst catastrophe.
"Congratulations, Lola," Feemor was the first to say when Aola had emerged from the Hall of Knighthood. "You've done us all proud - me most of all." The master hugged his former apprentice and kissed her on the forehead. Aola was beaming when she drew away, bouncing with excitement. She turned to her friends and peers and raised her severed silka braid aloft, and they all cheered and began distributing celebratory snacks.
Obi-Wan picked at a slice of Bant's homemade muja jam cake and remembered Garen's knighting party, where they'd intentionally poisoned him for the fun of it. He found himself smiling despite the pain.
"And it's Master Gard now, properly this time," Qui-Gon smiled as he approached his former padawan a ways away from the excitable young people. "Twenty-four years later and he's finally gone and grown up."
"Not all of us can become masters in our thirties," Feemor absorbed the badgery. "You're welcome, by the way."
Qui-Gon laughed and wrapped an arm around Feemor's shoulders. Both men were facing away from Obi-Wan, and it gave the knight a better view of their grey hair. Qui-Gon's hair still had a bit of brown clinging at the ends, but it was faded and dim. He wondered if there would be any brown left at all, next time he saw his old master.
"-Obi-Wan's next, you know." Hearing his name snapped Obi-Wan out of his reverie.
"I'm sorry?" he said, and found that Feemor and Qui-Gon had both turned to face him.
"Qui-Gon says you're next," Feemor grinned. "What do you say, you think you can break Qui-Gon's record and make Master before thirty-eight?"
"Thirty-seven," Qui-Gon corrected.
Obi-Wan huffed. "I don't think I want to try." Feemor laughed.
"Record or no, you should take an apprentice," Qui-Gon encouraged. "You'd make a marvellous teacher."
In his melancholy, it did not occur to Obi-Wan to take the praise lightly. "I'm not so sure that I would," he confessed. Qui-Gon and Feemor seemed surprised by his pessimism, but did not pry.
"Well," Feemor said, "I'll let you know if I spot any promising young ones in the Clawmouse clan." He smiled. "I'm to be the new clanmaster by the spring quarter."
"What!" Qui-Gon exclaimed.
"Feemor, that's fantastic," Obi-Wan said. Feemor was grinning wide.
"Master Trelalay is retiring, and she's agreed to train me as her replacement. The Council approved it just this morning."
"Does Aola know?" Qui-Gon asked. Feemor laughed.
"Yes, I didn't even have to tell her - she had a vision, apparently." Feemor looked back over his shoulder at his former apprentice. "She says my first class will be adorable, but the second one will be nightmarish." He shook his head and glanced off to where Aola was posing with friends who wanted to take still-holos to commemorate the occasion. "I'm not sure why she felt compelled to share that second part."
"Master!" Aola called, and waved Feemor over. One of Aola's friends from the medical corps was holding a camera.
"Ah, excuse me," Feemor stepped away. "I'll be right back."
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan watched as the master went to take pictures with his former pupil.
"He'll make a good clanmaster," Qui-Gon mused aloud. "I've always known he didn't have a heart for the field. He's a braver man than I."
"Hmm," Obi-Wan agreed. His eyes strayed to some distant point, and his smile faded. Qui-Gon watched him with a sad expression. Obi-Wan had been stuck in a depression since the assassination. Qui-Gon understood why, but he had no purchase on the situation to bring him out of it.
"I meant what I said," he spoke eventually, and waited for Obi-Wan to look back at him. "You would make an excellent teacher."
Obi-Wan mustered a small smile, but there was little heart in it. "Maybe one day," the knight said. "No time soon, I should think."
Qui-Gon smiled. "Don't speak too loudly; that's just what I said before you foisted yourself into my life."
They shared a quiet chuckle, each reminiscing to themselves. "I ought to say my congratulations in person before I have to leave," Qui-Gon said regretfully.
"Leaving already?" Obi-Wan said, unregistered panic hiding in his voice.
"Master Drallig is sick, and I'd promised I'd cover Ataru lessons today," Qui-Gon explained. "I'll see you at the apartment for dinner." As the leonine master strode away, Obi-Wan blurted,
Qui-Gon turned, confusion on his face. He waited while Obi-Wan floundered.
Obi-Wan blinked a few times, staring at Qui-Gon's brow, the lines on his face, the set of his nose, the bright grey of his hairline. "Never mind," he said with a smile. "I'll see you then." Qui-Gon gave him a slight frown, but shrugged and turned away. Obi-Wan watched him go.
"Are you gonna eat that?" asked a voice. Obi-Wan jumped and looked down to see Anakin Skywalker peering hungrily at his uneaten cake.
"Um, no, I don't suppose I am." He handed the cake to the padawan and watched it disappear in three massive bites.
Ever since Ben took him as apprentice, Obi-Wan had not been closely involved with Anakin Skywalker except for occasional meals in the refectory and the occasional run-in on the academic levels. But looking at him now, the knight could not help but feel that his heart was being pulled toward the boy by the gravity of a star. Hope and fear mingled together in the face of the young Chosen One, and Obi-Wan fought against the visions of what had been to consider what could be. It was wonderful and terrifying.
Force, how did Ben do it?
"Omffng," Anakin mumbled appreciatively, licking jam off of his thumb, "so good." Icing and jam clung to the edge of the boy's mouth, and he licked it off and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "Do you think there's more?" The padawan pivoted around to look not only at the snacks table, but also at the plates that other celebrants carried with them around the hall. Obi-Wan laughed.
"Not for you, I suspect. How many slices have you had so far?"
"Two and a half."
"And a half?"
"Master Ben only ate half of his."
"Well I think two and a half is more than enough." Obi-Wan frowned suddenly, looking at Anakin's neck from behind. "What happened here?" He pulled down the boy's collar to uncover a red burn mark just below his hairline.
"Oh, that was Sarsan," Anakin complained. "We were sparring, he got me pretty good that time."
"Rude of him, to aim above the neck," Obi-Wan said, folding hands into opposite sleeves with a disapproving frown. Anakin only shrugged.
"Nah, I was poking fun at him. I deserved that."
The knight contained a chuckle. "I see."
"I told him I'd get him back tomorrow, though." Anakin was hit by an epiphany. "You should come and spar with us! Sarsan didn't believe me when I said I'd sparred against you, he'd be so surprised, it'd be wizard!"
"I'm sure it would be, but I'm afraid I'm busy tomorrow, Anakin."
"Aw," the padawan deflated. "Why?"
"I'm leaving on an assignment."
"What?" Anakin seemed genuinely distraught. "Where are you going?"
"I'm not entirely sure yet," Obi-Wan confessed. Anakin's frown grew deeper and more hurt.
"When are you coming back?"
"I…" Obi-Wan glanced up and saw Ben watching him from across the room. He hadn't told anyone but Mace Windu of his plans, so it was impossible that Ben knew. But somehow, Obi-Wan thought he would have been able to guess. He wrenched his eyes back toward Anakin. "I don't know, Anakin."
Anakin wilted, and Obi-Wan was suddenly reminded how young the boy was. "Hey," he said, "I'll be back," he promised. "You'll be the first to know, and we can have a spar then, alright?"
"Okay..." the padawan muttered, unconvinced. The fact that Anakin seemed so affected when they saw each other so seldom gave Obi-Wan pause. He took a knee to meet Anakin at eye-level.
"You shouldn't worry about unknowns, Padawan Skywalker."
Anakin's eyes gazed into his own. Piercing and blue, they looked far older than their owner. "You're running away," the boy accused. Obi-Wan blinked and leaned back.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Why are you running away?"
Obi-Wan could not answer. He was running away, and he knew it. It was his plan to run away, Away from the Temple, away from Coruscant, from the funeral, from the politicians. But how could this boy understand that?
"Are you running away from the Jedi?" Anakin asked, fearing the worst. Now, Obi-Wan shook his head.
"No, Anakin, no, never that." On some compulsion buried deep in another man's memories, he brushed his hand over Anakin's hair. "Just…"
Obi-Wan glanced at Ben, who was watching the pair with fascination and apprehension. Obi-Wan looked back at Anakin.
"I have work to do away from here."
"What kind of work?"
Obi-Wan shrugged absurdly, "I'm not sure yet." The knight glanced again at Ben. "Listen to your master, Anakin, he's a wise man. And… and look after Master Jinn, too, will you? He worries when I'm away, though he won't say so."
"Okay," Anakin promised, still unsure, "but when will you be back?"
"When the Force guides me home." He stood, and gave the boy a smile. "May the Force be with you, Anakin."
"And also with you," Anakin watched, dumbfounded as the knight turned to leave.
Obi-Wan gave his congratulations to Aola and Feemor and left for the landing docks without telling anyone why.
By the time Qui-Gon arrived back at his apartments that evening, Obi-Wan was already well into hyperspace. The Master found a small note left for him on the kitchen table.
Ben has told me all that he knows. I've gone to find answers, to try and make things right. I don't know how long I'll be gone, but I know that I've outstayed my welcome here on Coruscant. The galaxy is large and the Sith's plans are vast. I have to do what I can.
Before you are angry with me, remember I am only honoring what you taught me after a lifetime at your side. There is spicy dorha pasta in the 'fridge, please don't cook yourself into an early grave while I'm away. I look forward to the lecture I'm sure you will have prepared for my return.
May the Force be with you,
Qui-Gon read it and sank into his seat. He looked over at Obi-Wan's empty bedroom and sighed.
Palpatine was inaugurated later that week. Though Ben tried to keep Anakin occupied within the Temple, there were holobroadcasts everywhere.
"Who is that?" Anakin asked around a mouthful of tubers, gazing up at the silent news broadcast playing in the refectory. Ben followed his gaze to see Sheev Palpatine, bedecked in the robes of office, waving to crowds packed into the legislative district for the inaugural parade.
Glancing between Anakin's unassuming face and Palpatine's carefully crafted mask, Ben couldn't help it when a memory resurfaced, a lifetime old.
"And you, young Skywalker; we shall watch your career with great interest."
"That's the new Supreme Chancellor, Anakin," Ben replied shortly, and stabbed his salad harder than he needed.
"So he's in charge of the Jedi?" Anakin said.
"No," Ben said. "The Jedi answer to the Force and the Force alone." He hoped it would remain true. "The Chancellor is in charge of the Republic."
Anakin was squinting. "But aren't the Jedi part of the Republic?"
"Eat your dinner, Anakin."
The padawan didn't need to be told twice.
Ben lost sleep that night.
Mace Windu had been required to attend the inauguration, but as soon as he returned to the Temple, he went to work.
"It's an expansive to-do list, that's for sure," the Master of the Order grumbled, scanning the docket projected in the map-room. "You sure about all of this?"
"Master, have you been sure about anything Ben has said for the last ten years?"
Mace glared at the comm. "I didn't ask for your cheek, Kenobi." He looked back at the research he'd compiled with Obi-Wan's help and scratched at his chin. Hutts, Pykes, Mandalorians, Dathomirians, crime syndicates, and more. If Palpatine wanted to dismantle the Republic from the inside out, they'd have to dismantle his empire from the bottom up.
"Well," said the Master of the Order to the disgraced Knight, "you've got your pick of the lot. Where would you like to start?"