Epilogue 2

Bonds II

Outer Rim, Tatooine, six months after the execution of Contingency Order 66

A few hours later into the frigid Tatooine night, and with his guests shown to their respective sleeping areas, Obi-Wan Kenobi moved back into the now-empty living room. He leaned back into his aging servo-recliner, and let out another weary sigh; finally alone again for the first time since they arrived.

It was an unusual observation, considering that Ahsoka, Captain Rex and Derek Sunsetter had only arrived a matter of hours ago; and yet Obi- Wan felt sure he had aged another decade in those few hours. It was certainly not that he tired of their company; in fact the arrival of two young Jedi did incalculable good to the elder Master, and renewed the sense of hope that all was not lost to the Sith, and Anakin's - Vader's betrayal.

But it seemed that things were never as simple as Obi-Wan would have liked.

Much of what the Padawan told him was more or less predictable; Obi-Wan couldn't fault her for becoming close with a man who had risked everything to save her life, and had stuck by her side ever since. Nor was he ignorant of the fact that companionship and perhaps even intimacy could prove to be shelters from the pain and loneliness that followed in the wake of Order 66.

But a predictable Ahsoka wouldn't be Ahsoka at all. So perhaps it should not have surprised him to find that she had unwittingly followed the example of her Master, or that she had found love and companionship in her clone savior.

Love. A word that spawned so many complex and conflicting thoughts in the mind of this seasoned Master. A force so strong it seemed beyond control of the most stringently disciplined Jedi, yet so fragile a single word could destroy it forever. It was beautiful, mysterious, dangerous, and not particularly pragmatic.

Ahsoka's words had sounded simplistic at first, but there was a depth and profoundness to them that shook the elder Jedi's lifelong beliefs. For Ahsoka, love was not some guilty pleasure to be wrapped in secret; rather it gave meaning to the very virtues that the Jedi aspired to. It bound separate persons together, and gave them purpose and strength that was beyond what any one could muster.

The reserved Master in Obi-Wan regarded this new point of view with suspicion. And yet, part of him wondered if the young Padawan might be right.

"General Kenobi?"

The deep baritone of Captain Rex's voice, spoken low and laced with something akin to wariness, or at least caution, interrupted Obi-Wan's musings. He turned halfway in his seat to acknowledge the clone as he approached, leaving the room where he - and Ahsoka - had been sleeping.

Obi-Wan tried to shake away the thought as he greeted the former Captain, beckoning with a single hand. "Just Obi-Wan, Rex. There's no need for formalities any longer."

Rex hesitated for a moment, before venturing in an uncertain tone, "Master Kenobi?"

Obi-Wan arched a brow, then smiled. "If you insist. Please, have a seat."

The other man did so, finding on a small bench that had been displaced from where it normally stood near the table. Half-facing Obi-Wan, Rex remained silent at first, bracing his elbows on his knees with his eyes fixed on the floor, and his emotions guarded.

Obi-Wan took a moment to regard the remarkable man that was Captain Rex - other than his weapons and the protective vest which he had discarded while in the bedroom, the clone was still outfitted in the desert uniform common to the three travelers. The gray and tan material that composed his pants and shirt was offset by subtle hints of color; a blue sash was tied about his wrist just below his sleeve, and what appeared to be a section of dirty-white plastoid hung around his right arm like a large bracelet; perhaps a remnant of the battle-worn armor that he had worn so proudly during the war.

Rex's face was somewhat hidden by his position, but Obi-Wan could still make out the familiar, rugged face of Jango Fett. Cruel as it sounded, few had ever considered what changes a clone trooper would undergo should he live long enough to be affected by his genetically-accelerated aging; it was a problem that was never supposed to present itself, and Jedi and politician alike overlooked the issue.

As it was, Rex did indeed show burgeoning signs of advanced age, though these could be confused for the marks of a hard and warring life; his brows were laced with faint lines, and his blonde hair - looser and not as closely cropped as it had been the past - had lost much of its natural sheen. While from a distance he still had the body of Human in his mid to upper twenties, and his true age was several years younger than Ahsoka, Rex bore the marks of a hard past, and the telltale signals of an even harder future. Unless circumstances miraculously changed, Ahsoka would easily outlive her life partner, who would spend the last years of his short life as a decrepit invalid.

And yet, Obi-Wan knew that Ahsoka would stick by Rex no matter what condition his body succumbed to; her earnestness and the intensity in her eyes as she spoke of the ex-Captain left no room for doubt. And while Obi-Wan could not say he approved of the Padawan's choices, Ahsoka could hardly have fallen for a better, more devoted man than Captain Rex.

The Jedi Master breathed a sigh, before addressing the clone. "I trust you'll forgive me for overlooking you during our earlier discussion, Rex."

The former officer shook his head as he sat up. "No need, sir. I understand your responsibility to them, as Padawans. I don't want to interfere."

Obi-Wan nodded, then continued, "I'm sure you also understand that I am incapable of thanking you enough for what you did, in saving Ahsoka's life." He hesitated, trying not to be overwhelmed with his own emotion as he added, "And on behalf of... Anakin, I must thank you as well for sparing his Padawan."

The mention of Anakin seemed to open an unexpected bond between the two men; as the former Padawan and former superior of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Captain Rex, respectively, the young Knight had also been a genuine friend of both men. While his own relationship with Anakin had been far different from that Rex had, Obi-Wan could sense the shared pain and understanding between them.

Rex finally shook his head, before answering, "I'm just... thankful that I was able to step in. That I was able to make the right choice." The clone's eyes darted to the floor for a moment, and his brows furrowed in a question that had no doubt been burning a hole in Rex for far too long. However, it was with the dread-laden voice if one who already knew the answer that Rex finally ventured, "Was Commander Cody with you when the order went down?"

Obi-Wan had expected the question, but he couldn't answer immediately, only nodded, and tried to banish the image of the yellow trimmed helmet of his right-hand-man turning to direct the nearest cannon to open fire on his own General. "I'm afraid so... Cody was never as inclined to think on his feet, as yourself."

"He was a good man," Rex insisted in a dark tone, his eyes returning to the floor. Before Obi-Wan could apologize or attempt to clarify the misunderstanding, the former Captain continued in a more subdued voice. "The Contingency Orders are the most deeply ingrained of all the flash-trained directives. We don't even have conscious memory of them until they're called out, and once they are, the impulse to obey them... it's as close to an instant reflex as the Kaminoans could get out of us." He looked up to meet Obi-Wan's eyes, before adding, "He probably never even thought about you, before he opened fire."

There was no mistaking the remorse, the bitterness and the simple grief in Rex's otherwise stoic tone. At the same time, Obi-Wan appreciate the strange and illuminating perspective of Cody's brother; it did feel right to think of the Commander's action as reflexive and thoughtless, a deed committed far too soon for second thoughts. Perhaps Cody would have felt regret immediately after the order, or perhaps he would have felt compelled to throw himself fully into his new task, believing that any camaraderie he'd once shared with his General was forfeited forever by now.

Holding back another sigh, Obi-Wan nodded. "Thank you, Rex. I appreciate your insight in this... matter. I've often wondered whether there was anything I could have done, that might have made him choose differently."

"You couldn't have," Rex said with finality. "You didn't do anything wrong, General Kenobi. Along with Generals Secura, Plo Koon, you were one of the most respected Jedi among the corps. Not to say that all clones regarded the Jedi the same way, but this order went far deeper than a soldier's trust in his superiors. It went right to the heart of what makes a man... a man." The ex-trooper glanced away, before adding in a distant voice, "His own free will, the right to make his own decisions."

"It would seem to me that there was little choice on either side in this matter," Obi-Wan mused, his eyes not leaving Rex's lowered head.

"With respect, General Kenobi," Rex countered suddenly, "this was all about choice. Every sentient being has that right and that responsibilty, no matter what code they ascribe to or what genes they inherited. Maybe most of my brothers didn't realize it, but they all made a choice before executing Order Sixty-six, whether they knew it or not."

Rex was now looking him straight in the eye, and he must have seen the confusion in Obi-Wan's face at the apparent contradiction in his words. "I've been wrong about many things, but I'm thoroughly convinced of this, Master Kenobi. Not choosing for oneself, and giving control of your own actions to another is as much a choice as is outright insubordination. The only difference is that, for most of us clones, we never realized we had that right to begin with. And once you've given it up... that's the last choice you're likely to make."

Obi-Wan felt a little taken aback at the profundity of the ex-Captain's argument; thinking on his feet seemed a laughable description Rex's sharp and forceful reasoning. The man could easily hold his own in discussion with any Master. "You seem to be saying it's a matter of self-awareness, then?"

"You could put it that way," Rex agreed, "Somehow or another a man realizes he holds the right to choose for himself... and then it's damn hard to take it away."

Obi-Wan nodded, then continued with another probing question. "Is that how you were able to spare Ahsoka?"

Rex grew tense at the Padawan's name, and Obi-Wan knew he was beginning to push into very... complicated territory. But it was a discussion both men knew was coming, and Rex didn't hesitate long before answering. "Without a doubt. After the initial shock, the impulse, I realized exactly what that Order was going to do. It was intended to rob me of what made me a man, to turn me into the blindly loyal droid the Kaminoans had wanted us to be. I couldn't let that happen... if I was going to follow that order, I knew that choice had to be my own."

"And you couldn't choose to kill... Ahsoka?"

Again Obi-Wan watched as Rex grew tense, though the question was an honest one and was asked gently and without insinuation. Still, there was some defensiveness in Rex's response. "Absolutely not. I knew her too well, once I had a chance to process the scope of the Order, I knew I couldn't execute her for some alleged crime committed somewhere far away. And even if somehow she was implicated...," a shudder ran through the clone's frame, and his eyes narrowed. "If she had fallen that day, it would have been over my charred corpse."

Obi-Wan nodded once more, his face not betraying any of the conflict and trepidation he felt when he asked his next, most intrusive question. "And how did your choices then, affect your feelings for Ahsoka now?"

It was a blunt and invasive question, but the former General decided not to make any pretense of placating Rex, or to heap praise on him in hopes of deflecting his indignation. Obi-Wan knew his former apprentice's Captain well, and he knew that Rex neither needed nor wanted pandering references to his valor, or to past achievements. Even a clone trooper knew romantic entanglements were forbidden for a Jedi, and Rex could not possibly be unaware of that hard fact. Though they were now allies, a silent and tense confrontation was brewing between the two men, one representing the ancient orthodoxy of the Old Order, and the other, a living example of breaking from the same.

The ex-Captain cast a glance towards the door behind which his Jedi lover lay asleep, and Obi-Wan noted how he seemed primed for a fight, muscles tense and fists clenched, though he made no threatening moves. Instinctively, Rex was ready to defend what he thought his; yet this primal reaction clashed with his deeply-held deference and respect for Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"My feelings, as you call them, for her had no conscious bearing on my decision not to execute Order Sixty-six. In addition, there was nothing of that sort between us, before or immediately after the order. We became close, incredibly close, but nothing more than friends and comrades."

Rex's voice grew more distant as he spoke, and Obi-Wan could discern that the other man's memory was being refreshed. "In fact, if there was anything between us at that time, it was specially avoided on both sides. Personally I felt it both improper and impractical to even consider such a relationship. I was Ahsoka's friend and supporter, and I'd do whatever I could to help her succeed in her task. I told myself I was strong enough for her, that her aims were good and right, and that was enough for me."

"That lasted for the first few weeks. Then when we learned the truth about the Emperor..." something between a sigh and a growl slipped from Rex's lips. "I lost it. To realize the war, my brothers, everything I fought for was all a farce... I couldn't take it anymore. So I gave up."

Rex's voice failed him for a moment as he struggled to choke back the emotion that seemed to overcome him. "I gave up... but she wouldn't give up on me."

Something about the recollection of that past moment, which must have surely been a turning point for Rex, gave the clone new confidence, and his words were infused with certainty. "That's when I realized things were changing. What had started as my effort to support and assist Ahsoka had evolved into something much deeper, and much more interdependent. I began to realize I needed her as much or more than vice versa . I began to realize she meant more to me than any cause I thought I believed in."

"One day I finally realized... my decision, my choice was her. Forever, or as long as she would have me, I'd fight for her and support her and die for her, not because of some abstract ideal, but because I loved her."

Rex paused, presumably to let his words sink in, though no such thing was necessary for Obi-Wan. It was clear to the Jedi Master that he had underestimated both Ahsoka and Rex, and the depth of experience and understanding both of these young heroes possessed. He could only nod, indicating to Rex that he should go on.

Rex obliged, growing thoughtful once more, his deep voice taking on a musing tone. "It was strange... foreign at first. I'd never truly made a choice for myself before. Every decision I made, in battle or otherwise, was in some greater context, for justice or for the Republic or my brothers. I had even gone so far as to tell my men that they must learn to make their own decisions, but I had never really learned to choose my own way of life."

Rex's voice grew more adamant and forceful as he approached the conclusion of his argument. "When I realized I loved Ahsoka, the pieces finally fell into place. I was finally ready to choose the life I wanted, not just adapting what was prescribed by some directive or code. Life with Ahsoka... as a warrior and a soldier, but with Ahsoka, was the life I wanted. That was my choice."

Rex paused one more time, taking a breath and lowering his eyes to his boots while he hesitated. Finally he looked back up, just meeting Obi-Wan's gaze before speaking.

"Fortunately - or not, depending on your point of view - she made the same choice."

Morning came quickly on Tatooine. The thin atmosphere did little to mask the harsh rays of the first sun as it slipped above the horizon, to be joined in short order by its solar twin. Even in the comparative cool of Obi-Wan's desert dwelling the heat soon became more than was comfortable, enough to rouse almost any sleeper to face a new and unforgiving day.

The morning went by as quickly as it came; a simple breakfast accompanied Obi-Wan's relating his own story of survival and loss, of Anakin's betrayal and the fall of the Jedi. The tale was a difficult one to tell and to hear, and by the time the Master had finished describing the fateful duel on Mustafar, there was not a single dry eye in the house - an unusual occurrence on a desert world.

But not everything was shared - as much as Obi-Wan would have liked to have told the entire truth about Anakin, his secret marriage and surviving offspring, he couldn't bring himself to do so. It was too dangerous a secret to risk spreading, and the future of the Jedi Order could be jeopardized if the wrong people learned the truth of Skywalker's living legacy. And from a certain point of view, if these young adventurers didn't know about it, one could argue it hadn't happened at all as far as they were concerned.

It was an uneasy decision, but one Obi-Wan believed was necessary.

And there were other, more immediate decisions that demanded his attention.

The discussions of the night previous had made it abundantly clear to Obi-Wan that he was not going to be talking Ahsoka - or Derek, for that matter - into compliance with the old ways regarding attachment. Nor could he bring himself to consider using what authority he had to demand such compliance; the mere thought was awful. These young Jedi had not come to their conclusions lightly or without thought, nor were their arguments without merit.

The conflict raged within the seemingly serene Master as he listened to his fellow fugitives talk around the dining table. Try as he might, Obi-Wan would never forget the role that attachment had played in the fall of his apprentice and brother. It had seemed to confirm everything the Jedi had feared; love had spawned fear, fear led to anger and ultimately tragedy for both Anakin and his young wife. It seemed inescapable - the bond between lovers, or even close friends, was so raw and so intimate that surely no one could withstand the agony of losing them.

Obi-Wan's eyes slipped to Derek. In many ways, so much like Anakin. Youthful and brash, a fighter and a lover. A young man who had been forced to confront the tragic loss of the one person he valued over all others, to face the real and present danger of his own bitterness and anger.

And yet, Derek had by all appearances, held strong. And not by withdrawing or retreating from his emotions, but rather - in what seemed to be a case of fighting fire with fire - by embracing even more fully his attachment to his fellow survivors and friends, looking to them for strength and for compassion.

"It still hurts, hurts more than I can bear, but... but at least I know I'm not alone."

Alone. How many times Obi-Wan himself had struggled to confront his inner darkness alone. It was the Jedi way, after all - a life of self-sacrifice and solitude. And yet... was it possible that the Force willed for something vastly different?

"Love is something that holds us all together... it shows us that we're all weak in some ways, and we need others in our lives to make us whole."

Holding, binding together. Unison, cooperation, symbiosis... the collaboration of independent parts towards a whole that was greater than them all. Like cells in a body, swiftly coming alongside a broken vein, bonding together to defend and to heal their injured fellows. Was it possible that this was the way of the Force, and not the sterile, lonely, detached lives that the Jedi proposed?

What if Anakin had known such companionship? What if he had been able to freely and openly share his hopes and his fear for his wife, and received comfort and support rather than stigma and condemnation? What if, when faced with the possibility of loss, Anakin had been surrounded with fellow Jedi who were capable and willing to feel his pain and his fear, willing to be attached to him as a friend and brother in need?

It was impossible now to know; perhaps nothing could have halted the tide of darkness that was overtaking the galaxy. Obi-Wan knew better than to dwell on what could have been. His own duty was clear; to safeguard and to preserve the beginnings of a new Order of Jedi, a new hope for freedom and justice for the galaxy.

But what of these young ones, brave and bold and eager to affect change in their new galaxy? They were not even all Jedi, and yet united in purpose and in spirit. Bonded together by trust, individual choice, and... yes, love, not merely the rigid code and ascetic ideals of the fallen Order.

Could it be that these brave heroes might foreshadow the very will of the Force, for a new kind of Jedi?

Obi-Wan wasn't sure he could say that, at least, not yet. There were too many questions, and far too much hurt and pain in his own past for him to embrace such radical ideas. And the question was not for him to decide, in any case. That task would fall to a new Order, to a new generation, as represented by these young Padawans.

Padawans. To some the old tradition may have appeared meaningless after the collapse of the Order, but it felt right that these brave young people should be granted the final mark of initiation into the ranks of the Jedi Knights. Ahsoka and Derek had more than proved themselves worthy of the title; and Obi-Wan was no stranger to the more unorthodox ways a Padawan may face his Trials. As one of the last surviving members of the Council, he was also very likely the only person they would encounter in a position to grant them the rank of Knighthood.

The decision was not made lightly, but it did not take long for Obi-Wan to come to absolute certainty about it. The worthiness of the two Padawans was not questionable, and it was right that the legacies of their respective Masters be honored as well. Their willingness to explore forbidden paths and challenge ancient orthodoxy was both challenging and refreshing, and their calm and reasoned defense of their choices belied humility and intellectual courage at once. However one wished to classify the complex tiers of the Trials, Obi-Wan was confident that the two Padawans would exceed every count.

The choice was made; when Ahsoka Tano and Derek Sunsetter left Tatooine, it would not be as orphaned Padawans, but as Jedi Knights of the Republic.

"Well then," Obi-Wan said as he stood from the bench. "I'm glad you are all present this morning. As you might have expected, I've been spending some time considering our discussions last night, and I've come to a decision. Ahsoka, Derek, if you please," he motioned for the Padawans to follow him to the open living area. As they did so, Obi-Wan slipped his lightsaber from his belt, and continued speaking. "It seems clear to me, in light of our time together so far, that the will of the Force would dictate a change in status for you both."

Ahsoka and Derek cast startled glances at each other and at Rex, who stood near the table with a questioning look on his face. Obi-Wan smiled, before removing his robe and turning to the former Captain.

"Captain Rex, on behalf of the High Council of the Jedi Order, may I ask that you observe this Knighting?"

A few days later...

"I just hate leaving you on this dustbowl, Master Kenobi. You sure you won't come with us?"

Ahsoka's voice was frank, if a little disappointed, though seeing that she had asked the same question more than two dozen times previously she probably had some inkling that there was more to Obi-Wan's refusal than met the eye. But the Master gave no further clue as to his reason, only smiled and shook his head. "I'm afraid I cannot, Ahsoka. This is my assigned place for the time being, and I won't be leaving any time soon. There is much at stake in my remaining undiscovered by Vader, until the time is right." a Almost surprisingly, Ahsoka seemed to accept his answer as sufficient; perhaps she thought it logical that as highly known a Jedi as himself would remain anonymous until a strategic moment. The topic had come up more than once during their visit, and Obi-Wan had been consistent in his response. He had already gotten the solemn word of the three adventurers not to divulge his presence or survival, and Ahsoka had taken the warning most seriously.

"Well, can't say I share your taste in vacationing spots, but I'm glad we were able spend this time with you. Your advice will help a lot in organizing other... rebels, I guess." Ahsoka frowned at the unfamiliar term, then shrugged. "We have a lot of work to do."

Obi-Wan cracked a small grin. "That you do, young one. But I have faith in you and your companions, and I trust the Force to guide you all." He hesitated, his gaze resting on the two men who stood bent over the speeders, and added, "It may be that the paths you are exploring, even those that I cannot follow, will pave the way for the very return of the Jedi."

"I hope so," Ahsoka whispered, her eyes flicking to one of the two men. "Sometimes I wonder if it's just... wishful thinking, just believing what I want to be true. I don't think so, but I've never... I mean, before now, I never really made..."

"Made a choice of your own?" Obi-Wan offered, his eyes also resting on Rex's sun-drenched figure. "I don't have all the answers Ahsoka, this is frankly an area of Jedi doctrine that I'm not willing to speak to. But I will say this: you're feelings are genuine, as real as the Force itself. I cannot endorse everything you've learned, but that was never my role. Perhaps it is yours to explore a new kind of Jedi way... or, to find your own way."

Ahsoka was watching him with wide eyes, her mouth parted as though drinking in his admonition. "Consider that your assignment, Ahsoka. Or, should I say, Knight Tano?"

Ahsoka blushed at the title, though it was followed by a heavy sigh. Obi-Wan didn't need to wonder what she was thinking. "Anakin would have been proud of you, Ahsoka," he murmured, placing a hand on her shoulder. "He always wanted you to succeed."

"I know... I just..." Ahsoka took a breath, and sighed before offering a small smile. "Thanks, Master Kenobi."

"Ahsoka?" They both turned as Rex approached from where he and Derek had been working at the landspeeders. "We've gotten word of our next contact. We'll need to leave soon to make the rendezvous."

Ahsoka turned back to Obi-Wan, who nodded in response. "It sounds like your next adventure beckons, then."

"I guess it does," Ahsoka agreed, flashing a smile at Rex. "Duty calls."

The clone nodded, before extending a hand towards Obi-Wan. "It's been an honor, Master Kenobi."

"The honor is all mine, Rex," Obi-Wan answered as he shook the other man's hand. "Take good care of your Jedi Knight, mind you," he added with a wry smile at Ahsoka, who rolled her eyes dramatically. "Don't let anything go go her head."

"Yes sir," Rex chuckled, winking at the young woman now leaning against his side.

"Derek," Obi-Wan addressed the dark-skinned Jedi Knight who was also walking towards them. "Be strong, young man," he murmured, gripping Derek by the shoulder. "Your Master would be thrilled for you, and for your strength of mind and heart. And I know your friend would be as well."

Derek's head lowered as he answered in a low tone. "Thank you, Master Kenobi."

"Stick with what you told me, that first night, Derek. I cannot guide you in these things, but the Force will, and has." Obi-Wan released his grip, stepping back to regard the small group.

"Well," Ahsoka said, glancing at her companions and finally at Obi-Wan, "I guess this is goodbye."

Derek added, "Thanks for everything, Master Kenobi."

"It's been a honor, General - sorry, Master Kenobi," Rex grimaced as Ahsoka and Obi-Wan chuckled.

"As I said before, the honor is all mine," Obi-Wan answered. "I am more than happy to have served you in any way."

There was a moment of silence before another word was spoken. Finally as Rex and Derek began to turn back towards the vehicles, Ahsoka stepped forward, speaking almost in a whisper. "May the Force be with you, Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan gave a small smile, before laying a hand on her shoulder one last time. "Ahsoka, the Force will be with you," he murmured. "Always."

Author's Note: Thanks to all who reviewed the previous section! Hope you enjoyed!

Also, the mention of Cyrodil tea in the first part was a reference to laloga's one-shot, Small Luxuries. Be sure to check it out!

Thanks for reading; a review would be most appreciated. :)