Chapter 1

It was raining. Kriffing raining. On top of everything else.

Anakin Skywalker pulled his right foot out of the sucking morass of mud and debris, and then his left foot. Standing for too long in one place meant slowly sinking into that place, up to your kneecaps. He didn't mind dust and sand and grit. But mud! Take it and shove it. Cold droplets spattered on his upturned face, which felt good. He was still hot and sore and bruised from the savage battle. He could swear even his prosthetic hand was aching in exhaustion.

But there wasn't time to think about that now.

Through the driving sheets of moisture, the clone nicknamed Cody was slogging his way forward. He had a number, CT-something-something, but Anakin couldn't remember it. Cody probably preferred to have a name anyway, like a real person.

As soon as the white-armored officer was close enough to hear, the question burst out of the young Jedi's mouth. "Where is he?"

The helmeted head cocked to one side, a little. "With respect, sir, we are looking. It's a large battlefield, and there are many casualties. Not to mention obstacles." The ruined cadavers of massive battle machines littered the plain. Yeah. It was quite a mess. Anakin might feel proud, if he didn't feel so…

"That's not good enough, damn it! Find him!"

The clone was a genetic copy of Fett, rumored to be one of the toughest bad-asses in the galaxy. He tore his helmet off with one hand and stared down the brash young General, brown eyes hard and shining. "With respect, General, you're the one with special powers. Can't you find him?"

Chisszk, the barve had nerve. He could be court-martialed for that. But he hadn't misjudged his man. Anakin merely scowled back at him. Rain ran down both their faces, washing away sweat and blood and trailing filth. Cody's armor was dented and burned. Anakin's tunics were slashed and torn and ruined. They stood locked in sopping opposition for a long moment.

Anakin exhaled. "I've been trying… but he might be seriously injured," he admitted. "I can't feel him. You've got to find him. That's an order."

"Right." Cody jammed the helmet back in place. Clones took orders. Everybody knew that. It was as universally true as the statement Jedi will sacrifice themselves for others.

"Vape it, Obi Wan!" The young General yanked his right boot out of the slush, and then his left. Kriff this. He set off across the body-strewn field himself. In the mud, the stained heaps of white armor looked a lot like stained heaps of white tunic. You really couldn't tell the difference. One mangled pile of bone and flesh was pretty much the same as the next one, once you got down to it, once the Force was gone. He dragged his way across the sticky terrain, water now gluing his clothing to his body, running chill down his spine. Kriff. Kriff.

Then he spotted it – a crater the size of an oozball field. That would be the biggest mess of all, the place where the Seppie tactical base had been set up, the nerve center of their operation. Some of the slagged metal was still smoldering in the rain, sending up stinking rivulets of heavy smoke. The mud was blackened with the aftermath of the explosion. Clone bodies were sprawled everywhere, often half-covered in the broken remains of battle droids. Anakin sloughed through the ooze, around the perimeter.

Something flickered at the edge of his awareness, and he caught his breath. There. There. Here. He was running, sliding and tripping through an endless vista of mud. He kicked aside some droid bits, leapt over a clone's inert body, dropped to his knees in the squelching dark filth.

"Master! … Kriff, master." His hands were slipping in mingled scarlet and slime.

A weak voice chided him. "Language, Padawan."

"Not your Padawan anymore." Kriff. Kriff. He really should watch his mouth. He grabbed a handful of tunic, got one arm under Obi Wan's shoulders, hauled him up out of the mire. They went down again.

"…Sloppy footwork," Obi Wan smiled, eyes sliding shut as his too-heavy limbs slid back into the pool of muck beneath them.

Anakin caught him. The rain kept coming.

"Well, really..." Obi Wan muttered in annoyance, "….seen better days…"

"Shut up, master. I'm getting you out of here." His mind ground back into gear, thoughts rushed in to fill the gap left by panic. He groped for his comlink, summoned Cody's medics. The minutes seemed like hours.

He couldn't really tell how much of the blood was actually a wound, and how much was just rainwater and mud and dribbling scarlet. He found Obi Wan's 'saber, lying in the ooze a half-meter away, and called it into his own hand, clipped it at his belt. The clones finally appeared, with a hover gurney and a bunch of other stuff. Anakin stood back, completely soaked through, coated in clinging filth all over his front and up to the elbows of both hands.

The war had barely begun, and already he had begun to hate war.

Anakin delivered the report to the Council alone, and dripping wet. So what if he looked like a drowned akk pup? The blue holoprojector field would conceal the greater part of the filth, and besides, he was a hero – the commanding officer in a campaign that had just put a serious crimp in the Separatists' plans for the Mid Rim. And even the Council would have to acknowledge that fact now.

"Well done, Skywalker," Mace Windu's flickering image admitted. Anakin thought it sounded a bit reluctant, as though praise had been torn from unwilling lips, but he gave the Korun master credit: he was honest. And he meant the words.

"The death toll would have been twice as high had it not been for the timely destruction of the tactical base," Ki Adi Mundi added, nodding gravely.

Anakin bowed. Of course they had to remind him that not all the credit was his – but he was willing to share the glory with Obi Wan, a little. "I'll tell Master Kenobi. It was his command."

"And his condition?" Master Windu added, a genuine note of concern creeping in beneath the gruff tones.

Anakin released a breath. "It's bad but the medics think he'll live."

"Recalled to Coruscant you both are," Yoda huffed. His hunched shoulders looked a bit more hunched. One hundred Jedi had perished on Geonosis; nearly as many again in the first few months of the war. Every extinguished life seemed to chisel away at the tiny master, carving a new channel or crevice into his already age-worn face. It was absurd, but Yoda had never looked old before now.

"Yes, master. We will make all due speed."

Report finished, everybody loaded back in the cruiser's belly, the battlefield smearing into a mangled clot of mud and debris as they rose into the atmosphere, Anakin was at last free to clean up. He discarded his thrashed clothing, borrowed replacements from the naval uniform supply, washed the dried mud from his hair – finally growing out of its Padawan crop, more tousled now, looking less like a roughly trimmed miralla hedge – and took time to carefully clean the grit from his prosthetic's delicate joints and servos. Tabards and belt back on, with the two 'sabers, and he was ready to face the rest of the ship again. Clones and naval officers gave him some space now. They looked at him, not just past him to his master. He was somebody. He was a Jedi, and they knew it.

He made a beeline for the med-ward.

It was full. Full of the efficient clone medics, and their genetically identical assistants and brothers, all of them tending to their maimed and moaning – and genetically identical – brothers. Hundreds of golden-skinned, dark eyed men with a dark scruff of hair and a fierce stubborn gleam in their dark eyes murmured and bustled and thrashed and moaned and shouted orders and ground out curses. It was a kaleidoscopic scattering of one face and one voice. It made finding Obi Wan ridiculously easy.

Anakin threaded his way across the busy deck, between neat rows and moving obstacles, until he found his master. The clones had seen fit to partition off this one cot with curtains, for some reason. Certainly they afforded each other little privacy, nor did they seem to crave it. But the Jedi merited at least one degree of separation, apparently. Sergeant Axx, the clone medic in charge of this end of the operation, was looking a bit harried – another predictable indication of his patient's identity.

Anakin shoved aside the pale curtain and barged in. "How is he?"

The poor medic looked up at him and ran a hand over his tired face. "Cooperating better, sir," he reported. "…Now that we've knocked him out. With all due respect, sir."

Anakin smirked. "That's quite all right, Sergeant. Believe me, I understand."

The clone looked palpably relieved. Probably thought he had violated a sacred tenet of the Jedi religion by dumping so many chems into the wounded man's system; and if you had asked Obi Wan, he likely would have agreed. But Anakin took a more pragmatic approach to such things, and they were many light-years away from a Temple healer, so what else was anyone supposed to do?

"So what's the damage? I need to let our people on Coruscant know."

Emboldened by Anakin's approval of his crisis management style, the sergeant relaxed into a less stiff and formal attitude. He rubbed one knotted hand over his shaven scalp. "Well, General, it ain't pretty. Corker and Shag – those two came through here earlier with minor abrasions and burns – they were in that unit. And it sounds like the General took the brunt of it when the tactical unit blew."

"Of course he did," Anakin muttered. Kriff it, master.

"Yeah," the clone continued. "They said the explosives had a faulty timer and went off before the whole squadron got out. Apparently General Kenobi …uh…threw? the men into the clear and then sorta shielded them from the shrapnel and so on – I couldn't make sense of it but they swear that's what happened. I guess he took a few chunks of metal in the chest, arms, legs. Lucky he didn't get hit in the head, too, except a little scrape here and there. Had to dig a couple smaller pieces out." The medic stopped, self-consciously, and then decided to plough onward. "If you don't mind me saying so, sir, you Jedi oughta wear some armor out there on the battlefield."

Anakin nodded darkly. Not a bad idea. "You're right," he said.

"With all due respect, General.."

"Thank you, Sergeant. Take good care of him for me."

The clone understood that last bit, Anakin could see it on his face. Axx's job was to take care of his brothers, so he probably got the basic sentiment just fine. As he departed, the young Jedi reflected on the clone medic's advice. Armor really wouldn't really be a bad idea at all. Especially for Obi Wan, who had no sense of self-preservation whatsoever. He was the kind of person who led every charge, taunted every captor, and had been known to fling himself head-first through windows five hundred stories above street level in order to pursue an escaping assassin. And then lecture his Padawan about caution and restraint in the next breath. That might work fine and dandy in the regular, everyday routine of Jedi life….but Anakin was sure of one thing. If his master kept at it now, here, in the war – he was going to get himself killed.

And Anakin wasn't going to have that. He began to formulate a plan.