"So," Obi-Wan says. "There's a Sith controlling the Republic."
Dooku stares at him, lightsaber humming in his hand. "It's a miracle you made it to knighthood if your listening comprehension is this terrible," he says. "Did it really take you actual years to understand what I told you?"
"I was a little distracted by the pure evil and the torture, you have to forgive me."
"I really don't."
"I may have been... hasty in my dismissal of your offer."
Dooku drums his fingers against the hilt of his saber. "You would turn traitor to your Republic after all this time?"
"Not publically," Obi-Wan says.
"I have no need for spies. You're not that special."
That's concerning, but not surprising. "I'm not offering myself as a spy. I will not help you hurt my men, or any of the others in the GAR."
"I'm uncertain what you think you can offer me, then."
"I want to bring Sidious to justice. And I'm aware that, as I am now, I am a very public figure. I can't risk revealing my hand. Yet I can't bring forward Sidious' identity to the Jedi Council without proof, even if you were willing to tell me who he is. Which leaves me in rather a bind. But I have come up with a plan."
"Oh good," Dooku says. "I've heard of your plans, Kenobi. And again, I ask you, what is in this for me?"
Obi-Wan deactivates his lightsaber. "You hardly strike me as the sort of man who enjoys answering to someone who thinks himself your superior.”
"Nor am I naive enough to believe you and the Jedi will simply let me be once my master is dead. Try harder, Kenobi. Preferably without lying to me, this time."
"Technically I haven't lied," Obi-Wan says, lightly. "I simply know you won't like the truth."
"That you intend to kill me."
"No," Obi-Wan says, and risks a step closer. "Not at all, Grandmaster. I intend to bring you back from the Sith."
Dooku opens his mouth, then pauses briefly. "That is a very carefully chosen statement. You still believe, then, that once one has called upon the dark side one cannot return to the light."
Obi-Wan presses his lips together. "I believe that I cannot provide any lure strong enough to bring you back to the light fully. The dark offers options that the light does not, everyone knows this, and I know you desire both power and knowledge. But I don't think the Sith philosophies suit you particularly. I think the Sith suit your needs at the moment, but quite frankly, Count, I think you're smarter than this. And I know you have more dignity."
"You think yourself an expert on many things now, don't you? The Sith arts. Human psychology. Me."
"I know that you were raised by Yoda and that you raised Qui-Gon," Obi-Wan says. "I know that you rule Serenno well, even if through a form of government which I find highly objectionable. And I do have some common sense, as much as my troops may argue otherwise. So. Help me kill the Sith. Sith or no you're still the leader of an entire interplanetary movement. There will still be a war. I'm sure you can find ways to keep yourself occupied that don't involve galactic domination or senseless murder."
Dooku smirks a bit. "I will tell you who Sidious is," he says. "Though I think it may complicate your plan. But I want some form of insurance. A guarantee that you will not turn on me, first. This puts me in a very precarious position."
"I said I want the Sith brought to justice," Obi-Wan starts, but Dooku moves suddenly, his hands heavy and hard on Obi-Wan's shoulders even as his saber gently reattaches itself to his belt.
"There is no room for Jedi squeamishness in this plan of yours. There can be no trials, no detainment. If you intend to defeat Sidious you will do so by killing him. There is no alternative. Do you understand that, Padawan of my Padawan? Because if you do not, then we have nothing further to discuss."
Obi-Wan had expected the objection, but not the ferocity of it, and he finds himself flinching backwards.
"Fine," he says. "Yes."
Dooku shakes his head, amused. "So easily convinced? You are either lying, or closer to the dark than I thought."
"As I said," Obi-Wan says. "I possess some common sense."
"Mmhm," Dooku says, and then cuts into Obi-Wan's mind, rending his shields apart with such ease that it takes Obi-Wan precious seconds to realize what's happening. By the time he has yanked his shields back up and forced the elder man out, Dooku is already stepping away, nodding.
"There," he says, when Obi-Wan glares at him. "Insurance."
"I already regret this," Obi-Wan says, bitterly. "I assume you saw all you needed to?"
"I did," says Dooku. "It's a terrible plan. It is truly amazing that you are able to balance your ego with your lack of self-worth. Such contradictions should have torn you from the light years ago."
"Was that meant to be a compliment?"
Dooku turns away. "It really, really wasn't."
Obi-Wan Kenobi dies in an explosion while investigating an underwater fuel production plant rumoured to be under CIS control. There is no body, and what remaining DNA evidence that might remain is washed away by the ocean long before anyone can investigate. Anakin collapses in the middle of a sparring session with Ahsoka when the training bond that he and his former master had never broken is torn away with no warning, leaving only a blank space where Obi-Wan's mind has always been.
It is a great loss for the GAR. A victory for the CIS, but one lacking any true value in the arena of public opinion, for to celebrate the death of a Jedi strikes most beings who know of them as crass, no matter the politics of the situation. For the tenday after news of his death hits the holonet the steps of the Jedi temple are covered with flowers and candles and a variety of other offerings. The Republic mourns with the Jedi in a grand display of performative grief that all the news networks rush to capitalize upon.
"I think I'm going to vomit," Asajj Ventress says, flicking the holo-display on the wall off and pouring herself another drink.
"Charming," Dooku says, flatly. He hasn't even been paying attention to the broadcast, too busy on his personal datapad moving funds between accounts of questionable legality.
"I never asked to be part of the ad campaign for military action," Obi-Wan says, stiffly, snatching the bottle from Ventress and refilling his own glass. "I found it rather abhorrent, actually, but I could hardly refuse."
"You could have," Dooku says. "You always have a choice.”
"You'll pardon me if I chose to attempt to actually change the system instead of running away at the first signs of adversity," Obi-Wan snipes back. He is, perhaps, more drunk than he should be, but Anakin had finally made a public statement and Obi-Wan has been fighting off nausea all afternoon.
Dooku still doesn't look away from his datapad. "I gave forty years attempting to change the Jedi from the inside. But yes, I'm sure those eighteen months you spent frowning disapprovingly were very taxing."
Obi-Wan arches an eyebrow. "Truly? To my memory and per my master's stories you were barely ever on Coruscant. Pray tell, how did you work to promote change within the Jedi from the mid and outer rim?"
"You are not as omniscient as you think yourself," Dooku says, dismissively. "And Qui-Gon often interpreted my absence from his affairs as an absence from the temple itself. Your Master had his own set of biases, never doubt."
"I'm very aware of Qui-Gon's biases, thank you," Obi-Wan says. "And more likely to remember them than you are, given your... advanced age."
"Are you trying to prove a point about the effects of dark side use or are you truly just this bored?"
Obi-Wan shrugs slightly. "Can't it be both?"
"So. Tyranus," Obi-Wan says, leaning back in the armchair he's claimed over the past few days and taking a small sip from the brandy Dooku has poured him. It's doubtlessly expensive, but that doesn't mean it isn't terrible. Or poisoned. "Seems a bit pretentious, doesn't it? More the sort of thing you'd hear in a children's story."
"Sidious chose it," Dooku says, an explanation with no hint of his own opinion on the matter behind it.
"Oh, well, in that case I'm sure it's a very noble, Sithly name, my apologies." He's restless, being forced to remain on Dooku's ship after almost being spotted by a security monitor when retrieving a scroll from a library on Arkanis. He had under-estimated the physical security on the climate-controlled vaults, and unfortunately lightsaber damage is distinctive enough to draw attention, so he'd been forced to find alternate methods.
He'd made the mistake of mentioning the close call off-hand to Dooku, and now he was confined to the ship like a youngling. And not a Force suppressor or prison cell in sight. Dooku might have a great deal to lose if it came to light that he has been harboring Obi-Wan, but Obi-Wan's entire plan would be rendered worthless if proof of his survival were to reach, well, almost anyone. Bad enough that Dooku is incapable of stifling his pride and stubbornness well enough for Sidious to truly believe him subservient. The discovery that Obi-Wan had faked his own death would certainly have Sidious' suspicions high.
"Tell me, do you actually have any sort of plan to defeat Sidious or will you simply irritate him to death while you labour under the false impression that you possess a sense of humour?"
Obi-Wan smirks a bit. "It certainly seems to work on you. Perhaps I'm just practicing. I've already killed one of his apprentices. Tell me, how does it feel to hold the same position as the being that killed your former Padawan?"
Dooku's fingers flex on his own glass, but he makes no other sign of anger. Even his presence in The Force remains steady, not the roiling turbulent rage of Ventress or Maul, but rather still and serene like a pool of water, dark and cold and deep enough that the bottom is out of sight. "I serve Sidious in name only," he says. "I saw an opportunity, and I took it. I'm sure your master taught you to use every tool at your disposal."
Obi-Wan should really have expected that showing up at Dooku's fortress with only the power of their lineage and a one-page plan as his shields might result in increased reminders of his own youth, but this concern had hardly been at the forefront of his mind. "My Master also taught me not to give into the dark side and become a Sith. Just some basic lessons. Rather critical to one's continued career as a Jedi."
"You were right," Dooku says, and Obi-Wan leans forward.
Dooku glances up at the ceiling like praying to a god for patience. "Tyranus. It is a ridiculous name. And as you say, more suited to a children's story. Yet that could be said of the most fundamental understanding of The Force itself. Light and dark sides, really? No one wakes up one day and decides ‘Well, I suppose it's as good a day as any to start running around as an embodiment of every negative emotional concept known to civilization, and perhaps lose all sense of self-control or logic while I'm at it'."
"Don't forget the red lightsaber," Obi-Wan offers, though he doesn't particularly like where Dooku is going with this.
Dooku ignores him. "Whoever made the Jedi beholden to the Republic made the most important political move of the millennium."
"You're saying it wasn't a Sith?"
Dooku shrugs. "I doubt it. But when the Jedi have set themselves up as a pure moral good, the 'good guys' in the storybook if we're to continue beating the metaphor to death, it places anyone who might stand against the Republic in even the smallest things as a villain."
"Don't tell me you truly care for the plight of your Separatists?" Obi-Wan scoffs.
Dooku presses his lips together. "Care, not really. But I certainly understand it. Their position is valid-- perhaps even necessary to ensure their continued survival. Serenno does not permit slavery, nor do any of the major crime syndicates have a foothold there. We are utterly self-sufficient in all areas-- energy, agriculture, production, etc. So I hold no personal stake in this cause. But there are hundreds of world's for whom the Republic's deliberately cultivated ignorance is a death sentence, carried out over decades. The droid armies are unquestionably a deliberate ploy by Sidious and myself to make the CIS less human, less relatable, but they are also needed because, put simply, the worlds who wish to fight do not have the populations to offer an army. People are sick, malnourished, untrained, more involved with the business of survival than war. It is why the idea of mass secession hadn't become praxis until very recently."
"This is all very fascinating, but I hardly see how it justifies a fall to the Sith, or what it has to do with Force use philosophy. There wouldn't even be a war against the Republic without the Sith, so your logic falls a little flat."
Dooku sets his glass down hard on the small table between their chairs. "There would be no war without the Sith. Instead, one of two things would happen." He's suddenly gone from politician to teacher, and Obi-Wan feels himself straightening up in automatic reaction. "Firstly, the outer rim worlds who have gone ignored by the Senate would fall so completely to crime, poverty, or corporate greed, that the populations would die out. Illness. Mining instability. Conflict. More and more worlds would start to fall and by the time Coruscant noticed there would be no reasonable way to stop it.”
“Alternatively, the issues that plague the outer rim would begin creeping further and further towards the centre. We're already seeing some of this in the mid-rim. Slavery suddenly becomes prison labour. Food shortages and resource scarcity become humanitarian crises that never quite make it onto the agenda for the meeting. Citizens are taxed into poverty and never see the programs and resources their money pays for. Eventually, the Republic becomes a dictatorship in all but name, with a few core worlds clutching their wealth and calling it self-protection."
Obi-Wan sits back, almost disappointed. "I, too, have studied basic political theory. I'm not naive to the Republic's failings."
"Clearly you are!" Dooku almost rises from his seat, and there it is, the flash of rage and darkness lapping over Obi-Wan's shields like liquid ice. "The Jedi will always be associated with the core worlds. It is already too easy for most beings to associate poverty with moral failings, but with the Jedi standing at the Senate's shoulder shining the light of goodness and purity on everything they do, there is even justification."
"The Jedi are meant to be neutral peacekeepers," Obi-Wan says. "I'll admit, in the past few years we've become more connected with the Senate than I'd like, but that's no doubt a result of Sidious."
"In part, perhaps, but he simply encouraged a trend that was already in place."
Obi-Wan sighs, suddenly very tired. "Well. Once we've proven the Chancellor’s true identity, I have a feeling all that will change. It seems less and less likely that my contacts can turn the Senate against him even enough to shift public perception. There's no way to have him voted out without manufacturing a reason, and that offers too many risks. After this, your Separatists may have won the war by default."
The attacker takes Obi-Wan by surprise. He's distracted, trying to contact Ventress without losing his fingers to frostbite, and the partially armoured body connecting with his back carries him hard face first into the concrete wall of the building next to him. He twists his head to protect his nose from being broken -- not that he'd feel it in this blasted cold -- but his arm is bent at an awkward angle and he can't reach his lightsaber.
"Two questions," his captor says, low and even, and Obi-Wan let's his entire body go limp with relief. He has no idea why this man is here, and knows that the discovery of his own deception could be devastating, but hundreds of battlefields and medbays and late nights over paperwork and whisky and loss has conditioned him to associate Cody with safety.
"All right," he says. "I’ll do my best to answer."
Cody backs off enough to let obi-Wan turn around, his parka rubbing against the dull grey armour plating of Cody's military jacket. No 'trooper' white here. Obi-Wan keeps his hands well away from his lightsaber, and he can tell Cody is confused by his deliberate vulnerability.
"Right,” Cody says. His voice is calm, steady, but Obi-Wan can feel the hum of shock and joy and anger all just below his steady surface. "First, and most important. Did you fall?"
Obi-Wan releases a relieved breath, looks right into Cody's eyes and tears down all his mental shields in the hopes that somehow it will help to communicate his sincerity. "No."
Cody studies him for a long moment, then nods. "I'm glad. Second question." His hands tighten on Obi-Wan's upper arms. "Did you know about the chips?"
Obi-Wan frowns, mind skidding to follow the unexpected divergence from his predictions. "The... what?"
"The chips," Cody repeats, hard. "In our heads."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
Cody watches him. Obi-Wan pretends he can feel the warmth from his body through their layers. "In every brother's head," he says, finally. "Computer chips. Well, organic neural chips, but close enough. Designed to control us. To force us to do... something. To take away our free will."
Obi-Wan is horrified by the concept, but even more by the ramifications. "And who would control you?"
"I don't know. We didn't get that far before I left.”
Obi-Wan exhales hard. "I think I have a decent guess as to who it would be. Cody. These chips. Is there a way to deactivate them?"
"Experimental brain surgery," Cody says, shortly. "Kix thought maybe the right degree of electric shock. Either way, not the sort of thing the Republic would be willing to fund. Not for all of us."
"You left?" Obi-Wan asks. "Aren't they looking for you?"
Cody laughs sharply and it turns into a cough. "Dozens of brothers die on every mission. It was a lot easier to fake my death than it would be for... other people."
Obi-Wan winces. "Yes, well."
"Necessary?" Cody asks, quietly.
Obi-Wan digs his teeth into his lower lip, scraping at the chapped skin there until he tastes blood. "I think so," he says, finally. "It was a better plan than anything else I could think of, and given the stakes I believed -- and still do believe -- that the cost was... acceptable."
"We almost lost Skywalker," Cody says, not gentle. Obi-Wan appreciates it.
"I suspected you might. That's not the only reason to fear Anakin's fall, I'm afraid."
Cody frowns slightly. "You've already given up on him," he says, startled.
Obi-Wan tenses. "That's not true. Anakin's position is... delicate. And if my plan is successful he will have no reason to take that step over the line."
"Right," Cody says. "I suppose you'd better tell me this plan, then."
"You're not going to like it," Obi-Wan says, sing-song. Cody steps back and Obi-Wan's body sways after him instinctively before he forces himself to straighten up. "I'm working with Count Dooku. In the loosest sense of the word."
"I can already tell I'm going to regret being sober for this conversation," Cody says.
Obi-Wan snorts. "I regret being sober for this entire war, yet here we are."
Obi-Wan's first thought upon waking is that when the war is over he's moving to a desert. Hottest he can find. Heatstroke will be a perfect way to die.
Cody. Finally not stumbling over using his first name. Also alive, which Obi-Wan realizes he already knew. It turns out months of absence did nothing to dampen the fragile force bond that had been developing between them during their time with the 212th, and now that they're practically living out of each other's pockets whenever they're on Serenno at the same time or working a mission together, it's only gotten stronger. Obi-Wan didn't mean for it to happen, but he can't bring himself to break it. Especially not after Cody's reassurance that he was entirely ok with it.
"Cold," Obi-Wan says, which he feels sums up his current mental and physical state quite nicely.
"I'm aware," Cody says dryly. "You've probably got a few bruised ribs and possibly a concussion, but we're safe for now."
Obi-Wan forces his eyes open to the view of a bland beige ceiling. He rolls his head carefully -- a pillow, definitely a good sign -- and sees Cody still bundled up in his jackets and scarf sitting on the bed beside him. There's a slick of bacta across his cheek, and he's holding himself stiffly, but he appears otherwise unharmed. They look to be in a generic bedchamber, small night table beside the bed and an abstract painting on the wall that is probably mass-produced. Obi-Wan's boots have been removed and there's a thick quilt tucked in around him, but the rest of his winter gear is still weighing him down, only his jacket unzipped.
"Did you book us a hotel room to avoid the soldiers trying to kill us?" Obi-Wan asks.
Cody sighs. "That was one time. No, we’re here on the charity of some helpful strangers."
"Oh good," Obi-Wan says. "More people's memories to blur. I do so love taking away innocent's agency and free will, thank you."
Cody smiles back thinly. "Next time I'll be sure to leave you to get shot. Or captured. Besides, without the beard you're practically unrecognizable."
"Don't remind me. Looking in mirrors has recently become traumatic."
"It's an excellent disguise."
"I look like a youngling."
Cody pats his knee. "A teenager, at least. Don't sell yourself short."
"Are the patrols still out there or can we make it back to the ship?"
Cody shakes his head. "I haven't seen any for the past hour, but I don't think we should risk it yet."
There's a knock at the door before Obi-Wan can reply, and a young woman pokes her head in. "He's awake, I assume? I heard you talking."
"He is," Cody says. "And not even concussed, which, for this one, is a miracle."
"Congratulations," she says, coming fully into the room, closely followed by a little boy. "The word right now is that the Republic troops are pulling out at sunset, so you'd best stay here until then."
"Thank you for your hospitality," Obi-Wan says, pushing himself into a sitting position, breathing out the pain from his ribs into the Force. "You are very kind."
She shrugs. "We all know what it's like to be categorized as collateral by the Republic.”
The child comes closer to the bed. "Yesterday my friends and I blew up one of their tanks."
Obi-Wan stares. The woman ruffles her son's hair. "You didn't blow it up. What have I told you about exaggerating?"
He sighs, as if she has placed the weight of the world on his shoulders. "There was definitely some fire," he says, petulantly. "Aya was throwing rocks at the clones inside, and when they came out to figure out where they were coming from I got underneath and cut a bunch of wires in the engine. When they tried to get it started everything started sparking and going on fire, and they all seemed really mad."
"Yes," Cody says, to Obi-Wan's unvoiced question. "It sounds like these kids have made a game of sabotaging Republic equipment."
Obi-Wan thinks back to campaigns when he and his men had shot after unseen saboteurs, remembers the good men who had died or been permanently injured as a result of malfunctioning equipment. The little boy looks pleased, in that way that any child does when they've gotten away with mischief, but Obi-Wan can also sense an underlying pride in the boy for his actions, the fierce sense of having done one small thing towards making things safer for his friends and family. Obi-Wan wishes he were still unconscious.
Perhaps sensing his unease, the woman gives her son a gentle push toward the door. "Go on, why don't you go check on our other guest?"
Obi-Wan tenses. "You rescued someone else?"
Cody puts a hand over his mouth. "Oh yes they did."
The boy nods furiously. "A B-2 got short-circuited during the fight," he says. "I'm helping them replace their conductors."
"A droid," Obi-Wan says, keeping himself from drawing his saber through force of will.
"A B-2, yeah!"
"And you're... fixing it?"
"Of course," the boy says. "We helped you guys, didn't we?"
"And once it's fixed?" Obi-Wan asks.
The boy glances at his mother, then down at the floor. She sighs. "It's fine," she says. Obi-Wan gets the feeling it's less that she thinks they're trustworthy and more that she's confident she can ensure their silence if necessary.
"I... I mess with their programming a little," the boy admits. "Not much! Just enough to take out the compliance protocols. I never do anything but that!"
"I believe you," Obi-Wan says. It seems the expected thing to say.
"Most of them go back to the army," the boy says. "But sometimes they go do other stuff. If they want to. It's just not fair-- most of the droids don't have a choice about fighting. If somebody tells them to do something, they've gotta do it, even if it means they get hurt or die."
"It's the one thing," his mother says, "that makes me wonder if the Republic is as bad as the newscasts say. At least the clones have a choice."
"Excuse me," Cody says, and disappears into the fresher.
Obi-Wan looks at the boy. "You remind me a great deal of another little boy I once knew," he says. "He liked droids very much, as well."
"What happened to him?" the boy asks, like he's already expecting a tragedy. Obi-Wan winces.
"He got to go on many adventures," he says. "He's still going on adventures, actually. He's happy, I think."
"Is adventures a meta-- metaphor for dead?" the boy asks, stumbling over the clearly new word.
Obi-Wan shakes his head. "It's not. He really is having adventures. I promise."
"Hmm," the boy says, and then turns away.
"I'm sorry," his mother says. "Cassian can be... rather blunt, sometimes."
"It's quite all right," Obi-Wan says, even though it isn't at all.
Cody comes out of the fresher once their hosts have left, closing the door behind him. Obi-Wan says, "He reminds me of Anakin."
"I know," Cody says. "Can you hold off on your self-pitying guilt party until after my existential crisis, please?"
"So she’s finally finished sulking," Dooku says, when one of his droids sends the message that Ventress' shuttle is on an approach vector to the estate. Obi-Wan has been taking advantage of his encrypted comms and holonet access setup in the house to reach out to his contacts in the Senate, but he's been the only living being at the estate for the past month. Dooku is out on the frontlines -- or as close as he ever gets -- and Cody is still on Camino. Obi-Wan knows his mission is only to retrieve unprogrammed chips and all the research on their function, but he wouldn't be surprised if Cody returned with some of his newly-decanted brothers. Obi-Wan would have a hard time leaving infants in the Caminans’ care with the knowledge of the chips, and he doesn't have the same connection that Cody does.
"Shall I go welcome her back?" he asks Dooku's image on the holoscreen.
"You will do as you wish, as always," Dooku says. "I will address her absence myself when I return."
"I'm sure you will," Obi-Wan says, darkly.
Outside the air is crisp, verging on chill, and as so often happens, still, he finds himself missing the warmth of his Jedi robes.
"Not one word," Ventress says, as soon as she steps off the shuttle. Obi-Wan is about to start providing as many words as possible when a second figure exits onto the landing platform.
"Ahsoka?" he says, the incongruity of her presence so startling that any hope he has of concealing himself from her is far gone by the time he considers it.
"Hi, Master Obi-Wan," she says, quietly. She doesn't seem surprised. Ventress clearly told her then. Obi-Wan is oddly grateful.
"What are you doing here?" He glares at Ventress. "If you've kidnapped her--"
"I haven't, settle down," Ventress waves him off. "Do you think so little of me, dearest?"
"Absolutely," Obi-Wan says, sharply.
"She didn't kidnap me," Ahsoka says. "I... I didn't have anywhere else to go."
"Anakin--" Obi-Wan is stepping forward, as if he is ready to go after his former Padawan right there and then. And, perhaps, he thinks, he would be. It takes all the mental discipline he possesses not to poke at the still tender emptiness where his end of the bond should be.
"Is fine," Ahsoka says, a little bitterly. "Well, he's not dead, at least. Not that you'd deserve to know if he was."
"Ahsoka," Obi-Wan says, automatically scolding, and then he stops himself. "Yes. Well. We must all make sacrifices in war."
"Yeah," says Ahsoka. "I figured that one out all on my own."
"What happened?" Obi-Wan asks.
Ventress says, "Can you have this conversation inside? It's about to rain."
"There's not much of a conversation to have, Asajj," Ahsoka says, lightly. And then, to Obi-Wan, "Got accused of terrorism, was almost executed with the council's go-ahead, dramatically proven innocent at the last minute and wasn't exactly keen on remaining a Jedi after that because not everyone in our line is a masochist. Decided I'd much rather run away from my responsibilities and come learn new and exciting forms of politics and Force manipulation from my Grandmaster."
Obi-Wan winces. "Haven't you ever heard of 'do as I say, not as I do'?"
She stares flatly. "You do remember who my master was?"
The tense hits him harder than he expects, and he tucks his hands up into the sleeves of his jacket to hide the way they've clenched up.
“A fair point. I know you know, but I feel I have to say it. This is not a safe place for you. What I’m planning—“
“Oh,” Ahsoka waves him off. “Asajj told me about the plan. I’m going to help.”
Obi-Wan pinches the bridge of his nose. “I… really should have expected that.”
“Probably,” Ahsoka says, and walks past him without another word. Right. Well.
“I suppose I’ll have to deal with that,” he says.
“Nah,” Ventress says. “Let it fester. See what happens.”
For a second, Obi-Wan actually considers it.
“And that, Master, is why simply buying half of Naboo isn’t actually a solution to the issue,” Ventress says, clicking off the holo-projector.
“I wasn’t—“Dooku starts.
“You absolutely were,” Ahsoka says, amused. Dooku sighs.
"Does it bother you, to call him Master?" Obi-Wan asks suddenly, hands folded in front of him on the table, aiming for casual. "I always wondered about it, but I never felt the time was right to ask Anakin."
Beside him, Cody gently rests his face on the table. Ventress stares down at Obi-Wan, the controller for the map still raised.
"I'm not having this conversation with you."
Obi-Wan leans back, dipping his head in an apologetic bow, but Dooku's attention has been caught.
"No, please, Asajj, do tell. After everything you have experienced in your life, given the circumstances we live with daily, does an honorific bother you?"
"Of course it doesn't," she snaps.
Dooku's eyebrows inch upward. "One would think you'd know better than to lie to me, child."
She doesn't respond to Dooku, instead turning back to Obi-Wan. "Did you ever think that maybe the day you rescued your idiot apprentice from slavery might be a good time to ask him? If not then, certainly the day you were proclaimed his Master in front of your entire ridiculous council."
"Having just lost my own Master to a frankly almost unbelievably horrific end -- half of the Council didn't even believe Maul was a Sith, they thought I was hysterical from grief -- I'm sorry I wasn't considering every single facet of Anakin's training immediately."
Ventress snorts. "Yes, yes, I'm sure you were very pathetic. You're not the only one to lose a Master to a violent end. Not all of us had the luxury of a safe space to grieve."
Obi-Wan takes a moment to release his grief, gone familiar and dull with age, to The Force, and then another to release his anger, as well. When he glances up it's to realize Cody and Dooku are both watching him.
Dooku would have read the reports on Qui-Gon's death when it happened, and Obi-Wan had spent a frankly humiliating night during one of their longer campaigns with Cody and a bottle of rotgut, pouring his insecurities and resentments into an ugly mess on the floor of the tent. Qui-Gon, unsurprisingly, had come up a lot. Ahsoka looks uncertain, gaze flicking back and forth between Obi-Wan and Ventress like she's seeing them both for the first time. Surely, he thinks, this is not the first she's heard of Obi-Wan's unconventional knighting. Surely, she'd been given access to Ventress' file while still part of the GAR.
"We have all suffered losses," Obi-Wan says, finally. "I'm sorry I brought up such a painful topic."
Ventress makes a face. "I don't want your pity."
"And I'm not offering it. Yet I would grieve the loss of any life."
"There is no death, only The Force," Dooku says. Obi-Wan almost agrees, but stops himself.
"That is hardly a comfort for anyone not raised in the Jedi. And a barren one even for those of us who were."
Dooku frowns at him. "The Jedi did many, many things wrong, but the rules on attachment are there with good reason."
"I will certainly not be lectured by you on any matters of Jedi teaching," Obi-Wan bites out.
Dooku leans back, clearly amused. "Your willingness to acknowledge the flaws in the Jedi may be starting in a foolish place, but have no fear, this is hardly the hill I want to die on. I often wonder if you and the others who spend lifetimes in unquestioning service to the Jedi don't have more in common with those who started off slaves."
Ahsoka sucks in air between her teeth.
"Do not," Ventress says, her voice almost a snarl, turning fast on Dooku, one hand falling toward her lightsaber.
Dooku meets her gaze. "Control your anger, do not let it control you," he says, evenly, and then -- inclining his head briefly -- "That was... poorly said. I apologize."
"Yes, it was," she says, and turns away, walking out without another word. Cody and Ahsoka are having a conversation entirely through facial expressions, but Obi-Wan is still watching Dooku, curious. His own apprentice had almost moved against him and yet the anger he'd felt from Dooku has already vanished, nor is there any pride in the violence. If anything, Obi-Wan might say the older man is contemplative. Obi-Wan, who feels like the entire conversation necessitates a very stiff drink and about three days of meditation, is fascinated. He has never understood how Dooku could have raised Qui-Gon in a relationship of mutual respect, or how he had been known as one of the Order's greatest minds before his fall. But now, with the passion and fire of the Sith fading more and more every day, Obi-Wan thinks maybe he understands.
He's startled by Ahsoka's hand on his arm. "It did bother him," she says. "Skyguy, I mean. But not forever. He would have told you, otherwise. Eventually."
"I do hope so."
Ahsoka shakes her head. "I know so. I know my Master. Former Master. Whatever." He senses no regret from her. Somehow a teenager has managed to simultaneously be a better friend to Anakin and a better Jedi than Obi-Wan has managed.
"A shame, what Sidious is planning for him," Dooku says. "Though I can't really blame him when it's that easy."
"Has he told you that is his plan for certain?" Obi-Wan asks.
"Of course not, but he hardly needs to."
"Oh," Ahsoka says, softly. "Oh no."
“Oh yes,” Dooku says, amused.
"It's only a theory, Ahsoka," Obi-Wan says, gently. She shakes her head.
"No, it makes sense. And... the Count is right. It wouldn't be that hard. I need to tell Rex to keep an eye on Anakin."
"You can't," Obi-Wan says, gently. "The clones' shields are decent, but we can't risk Sidious or Anakin overhearing any stray thoughts."
"I taught Rex to shield properly," Ahsoka says, glancing down.
Obi-Wan squeezes her hand. "Many of us helped our men develop better shielding, it's nothing to be ashamed of. I had even started teaching Cody how to use a lightsaber. For those rare occasions where he might need--"
"Literally every battle, right?" Ahsoka cuts him off.
"Every single one," Cody agrees, immediately. "I think we have joint custody by this point."
"My point," Obi-Wan says, loudly, "is that warning Rex would only serve to put him in danger. And besides, how would you explain where you got your information?”
"I guess you’re right," Ahsoka says. "But we should do something."
"We can only wait," obi-Wan says, hating himself. "Hopefully we will be able to kill Sidious before his plans for Anakin come to fruition."
He keeps picturing Anakin with yellow eyes. A red lightsaber. It's easier than it should be, and he feels, very suddenly, like he is outside of his body, like the room and the people in it are something distant, seen only through the filter of memory or vidscreen. Cody touches his shoulder-- Obi-Wan can see the place where skin rests on cloth, knows, logically, that he should be connecting this with sensation, but he can also see Anakin, burning--
Dooku says, "You know that weapon is your life?"
"I can't believe you let Grievous find you," Ventress says, as soon as Obi-Wan is conscious and aware enough to comprehend the words. "And then you got blown up. By his droids. By General Grievous' droids. Because he discovered you're alive. I'm quite frankly embarrassed to know you, darling."
"You should have left me," Obi-Wan says. "Someone else would have come to rescue me eventually. I could have waited." Given that the movement required just for speaking has brought tears of pain to his eyes, he's not entirely sure this is an accurate statement. "Not that I don't relish any opportunity to wake up to your lovely face."
"You," she says, "are lucky you still have a face. Grievous is dead, by the way. I killed him. Your secret is safe. You're welcome."
"I'm not grateful. I will not condone death in my name. Grievous may have been an incredibly unpleasant individual, but I do believe he's been through enough suffering."
"Well, it's all over now," she says, amused.
He tries sitting up, and immediately regrets it.
"What part of 'you were blown up' don't you understand?" Ventress asks. He's pretty sure he blacked out for a minute or two, because she's moved to the other side of his bed and is doing something to his IV line.
"Are the others all right?"
"We're fine," Ahsoka says, from the foot of his bed. "And we would have been fine even if we'd waited for you to get out. What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't willing to take that risk," Obi-Wan says, firmly.
"You can try sitting up again in a minute," Ventress says. "Most of your remaining injuries are superficial, though you're going to need a while in a bacta tank to deal with all the burns. But your internal injuries were healed."
Obi-Wan smiles at Ahsoka. "That takes a lot of skill. I'm very impressed."
She shakes her head. "It wasn't me, Master Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan frowns. "Then--"
"Dooku," Ventress says, shortly.
"Using The Force to heal someone requires the light," Obi-Wan says.
"Please call him on that, I dare you," Ventress says.
Obi-Wan smiles to himself. "Cody?"
"Is doing your holo-call with your senator friends," Ventress says.
"We figured if anyone knew all your plans, it would be him," Ahsoka adds. "And with the layers of masking on the transmission it isn't like they'd be able to tell his accent or facial expressions are different than yours."
Obi-Wan nods. "How are we explaining Grievous' death?"
"Bad luck," Ahsoka says, shrugging. "Something mal-functioned on his ship and he wasn't smart enough to get away before it exploded."
"An unfortunate aspersion to cast on the dead," Dooku says, striding into the room. "When we all know there is only one here stupid enough to remain that close to an exploding hyperdrive."
"Hello, Grandmaster," Obi-Wan says, smiling winningly up at him. For all of Ahsoka's assurances that he had healed Obi-Wan, all he can sense from the Count now is anger and darkness, frothing just below the edge of his control.
"If you insist on getting yourself killed," he says, "there are far cleaner ways to do it."
"I made a choice. I couldn't have gotten to the escape pod in time, and I wasn't going to let Ahsoka and Cody pay for my mistakes."
"We had enough time!" Ahsoka says, sharply. "Don't bring us into this!"
"Besides, Asajj was there to ride to my rescue," Obi-Wan says, instead of 'you used the Light to heal me.' He's trying not to be smug. It's difficult.
"Next time, leave him to die," Dooku says, glancing up at Ventress then returning his glare down on Obi-Wan. He really is a very tall man. Obi-Wan is cursed, it seems, to be surrounded by people taller than he is.
“I am willing to die if it means completing our goals,” Obi-Wan points out. “You know this.”
Dooku drops a hand like he’s going to touch Obi-Wan’s shoulder, then folds his hands behind his back instead. “That you are willing to die to defeat Sidious is one thing,” he says. “But you will cease this ridiculous habit of needless recklessness and self-sacrifice.”
“Careful,” Obi-Wan smirks. “It almost sounds like you care.”
Dooku leaves, which is probably a good thing, because the flare of icy rage that Obi-Wan’s words had caused was perhaps the darkest thing Obi-Wan has felt from him since they had last fought each other from opposite sides. It’s startling not only for its ferocity, but for the way Obi-Wan is so open to it, the way he has to scramble to shield himself.
“And that,” Ventress says, clearly amused, “is why the Jedi are destined to fail. No one can exist in society without attachments, and that’s what attachments lead to. And yes, I do plan to tell him I told him so.”
Ahsoka makes a pained noise. Obi-Wan meets her gaze.
“I think,” he says, very carefully, “you need to talk to Anakin. As soon as possible.”