The greatest boon Ned Stark knew in this life, was that the Force granted him visions of those wonderful souls who had been his children in his last life – and bugger every Master who might scold him for his attachments. He was a father. Of bloody course he was attached. By that same measure though, some of those visions left him weeping, or in cold sweats, for the horrors his witnessed. For their deaths, and for what those who survived had endured.
Fortunately, his master hadn't ever scolded him for his visions of his family. As Master Terra had pointed out, it wasn't like he was able to affect anything. For one thing, the world that had been his home planet in his previous life wasn't anywhere in Known Space. For another, Ned knew that all of that which he witnessed in his visions had happened long ago, relative to his life now.
Furthermore, he did not choose to have such visions. They were granted to him by the Force. Ned could no more stop himself from having visions of his family than his friend Tholme's new padawan could control his psychometry. Actually, that wasn't the best comparison, as young Quinlan did control his psychometry. Even if that control was pretty much exclusively in the form of wearing gloves basically all the time.
"Master Stark! Master Stark! Have you chosen a padawan yet?" the boy Ned had just been thinking of called.
"Quin, Master Stark was obviously meditating," another, younger boy hissed as he tugged on Quinlan's tunics. "We're sorry to disturb you, Master," the lad added with a deferential bow.
"It's alright, young one. I had actually just finished my meditation," Ned assured the child, before he turned a raised eyebrow on Quinlan. "And I have not, though I'm guessing you're hoping to change that?"
"Obi-Wan would be a great padawan for you, Master Stark!" Quinlan insisted earnestly. "He's a hard worker, and good with a 'saber, and -!"
Ned held up a hand to halt the torrent of recommendation.
"And your friend, who will soon age out if he is not taken as someone's padawan," Ned finished for him.
Quinlan winced, and Obi-Wan hung his head dejectedly.
"I do spend time with Master Tholme, Quinlan, and he's told me all about the various things you get up to and worry about," Ned reminded the kiffar boy before he turned his attention once more to the paler of the two children before him. "I've also heard a tale or two about you, specifically. Usually in connection to another initiate called Bruck Chun?"
Obi-Wan winced, and his shoulders came up around his ears.
"Chun's a bully, but Obi-Wan is always the one getting in trouble for it because he continually refuses to speak up," Quinlan huffed, very unhappy about this particular thing.
Ned hummed, and finally stood. Which took him from being almost at eye-level with the boys to towering over them significantly.
"That was not well done of you, Obi-Wan. How will Initiate Chun learn that his actions have consequences if you allow him to get away with bad behaviour?" he asked pointedly.
Obi-Wan winced, and bowed his head.
"Sorry, Master Stark. I... I hadn't thought of it that way before. I'll remember, and do better from now on," the boy promised.
"Good. Now, before I make any decision: Initiate Kenobi, have you been spending time with any other Masters up to now?" Ned asked. "Because that's usually an indication that the Master is interested in taking you as their padawan."
"Only Master Yoda and the Masters in charge of the clans and classes, Master Stark," Obi-Wan answered. "Master Yoda especially, but I'm pretty sure that's just because I have a lot of visions."
"Alright," Ned said softly.
The two boys faces lit up with hope.
"Does that mean -?" Quinlan asked, eyes shining and smile wide.
"Master?" Obi-Wan nearly begged.
Ned smiled, and fluffed Obi-Wan's hair with one hand. Just as he'd once done to Robb, to Jon, to Bran, to little Rickon.
"It looks like I'll have to talk to the quartermaster about moving me into a different apartment," he said. "One with room for a padawan."
"Thank you, Master Stark!" Obi-Wan said. The boy was nearly crying with joy, smile wide and his happiness ringing in the Force.
Quinlan hugged his friend, just as happy and beaming. No sign of tears from the kiffar boy though – he was too busy being proud of and happy for his friend finally being claimed as a padawan.
"Now, I'll freely admit to not being the best teacher for things like astro-navigation or slicing," Ned said as he led his new padawan into the training salle, "but I am recognised as one of the foremost strategists and combatants of the Order. I also know a few things about economics and politics, though I'll freely admit to strongly disliking the latter."
With good reason, as far as Ned was concerned. Getting your head chopped off because of politics (and an insane boy-king) was never going to endear it to him, and he'd not exactly been fond of it even before that happened.
"So you'll continue to have classes here in the Temple, get the benefit of learning from people who have whatever subject as their speciality, and I'll help with your assignments when you need as I am able. Except here," Ned said, as he set down the bag he'd been carrying over his shoulder. "Here, I am the first and the final word."
"Yes Master Ned," Obi-Wan said obediently. There was also that eagerness shining in his eyes that Ned had seen before in his sons, and in Arya, when he watched them at their sword lessons. Hells, he'd even seen it in Benjen's eyes, when Ned had been his younger brother's sparring partner back when they were children.
"Today, we'll start with these," Ned told his student, and withdrew two wooden swords and shields, just as he and all his family had learned with. "I know that you've been using your 'saber in classes up until now, and we'll do some 'saber work today as well. A lightsaber is weighted differently to a real blade, and I'll have you know how to use both."
"May I ask why, Master Ned?" Obi-Wan queried hesitantly as he accepted one set from his master.
"Always," Ned assured the boy. "And in this case, the answer is because there will likely be times and missions where using your lightsaber is not an option. I'm sure you know that Master Tholme and your friend Quinlan take missions where they cannot actually be known to be Jedi."
"What would happen, do you suppose, if they used their lightsabers on a mission like that?" Ned proposed to his student.
"Nothing good," the student said.
"Nothing good," the Master confirmed. "On the other hand, what would happen if you tried to block a slug-thrower with a lightsaber?"
Obi-Wan winced again.
"I'd get splattered with molten metal, at least," the boy answered.
"Right, but if you used something solid to block the slug, like a metal version of this shield, that would be much safer," Ned explained. "Which is why I'm going to teach you to use them. Because the galaxy is not a safe place, and I want you to be able to protect yourself from anything and everything that thinks to threaten you."
"Thank you, Master."
"Alright, first lesson. Keep your shield up, or I'll ring your head like a bell," Ned instructed with a smile.
Obi-Wan grinned back, and obediently lifted the shield he was handed.
Ned woke to the feeling of distress ringing through the bond he had with his padawan. The sound of a scream from Obi-Wan's room came just as Ned had flung his sheets off and planted his feet on the floor. He hurried to the child's side.
He made sure that the lights were on as he settled Obi-Wan against him. Ned rocked the boy and stroked his hair and radiated as much comfort through the Force as he was able. A routine he was familiar with from when he had been a father, though the bit with the Force was a rather fantastic new addition to the post-nightmare routine.
Obi-Wan hiccuped a couple of times before his breathing evened out and Ned judged the boy to be calm enough to talk.
"Alright now?" he checked.
"Yes, thank you Master. Sorry for waking you," Obi-Wan said softly.
"I'm glad you did," Ned countered. "I'd never want you to wake up distressed like that and not have anyone there to help and comfort you afterwards, and I am honoured to be able to fulfil that role for you. Can you tell me what your vision was about? It was a vision, wasn't it?"
"It was," Obi-Wan confirmed. "There was... so much pain, Master. People fighting, dying, some for ideals, some for survival, some because fighting was the only thing they knew, and some just because they hated."
Ned grit his teeth and scrunched his eyes shut just for a moment, and released his own pain at what the boy in his arms had just seen. Just suffered through, for all that it was his mind and soul, rather than his body, that had endured the suffering.
War. Ned Stark had grown up with soldiers. He'd said so to Varys, once. In the deepest of the Black Cells and with only a single burning torch to illuminate their conversation. He'd learned to die a long, long time ago. He knew what war was. It didn't take a lot of description for him to recognise it again in Obi-Wan's thin description of his vision.
"Could you tell," Ned asked carefully, "if your vision was of the past, of the future, or of something that was happening right now somewhere else in the galaxy?"
"No Master," Obi-Wan admitted.
Ned sighed. A vision of the past would be best, for all that it would therefore be needlessly tormenting this child who was now his boy. A vision of the present... would not be ideal, for it was possible that the fighting was too immediate and too distant for them to do anything about. For action to sooth Obi-Wan's shaking. A vision of the present would, in fact, be the worst option, for as little as they would be able to address it. Which just left...
"Then we shall act as though your vision is of the future, and prepare for when you encounter those people and events that you saw tonight," Ned decided as he rubbed comforting circles over Obi-Wan's back. "Not right now though. Right now, you will shower and change out of the sleep clothes you've sweated through, and I'll change the sheets on your bed, and then we'll go and make ourselves something warm to drink. It will help with the shaking."
"Yes Master," Obi-Wan said softly. He didn't even try to deny that he was, indeed, still shaking. It wasn't anything violent, but the lad was still coming down off the adrenaline kick he'd gotten from that vision.
"Good lad," Ned praised gently, and pressed a kiss to Obi-Wan's hair just above his ear, before he let the boy out of his hold and helped him out of his bed.
Obi-Wan collected a change of clothes from his drawers and ducked into the fresher, and Ned set about stripping the bed of the sheets which, thankfully, were not as drenched in fear-sweat as the boy's pyjamas had been. They were however a bit damp, and definitely smelled of the fear-sweat. The mattress was fine though.
Ned bundled up the damp sheets and started to put fresh sheets on the bed. Obi-Wan was back before he was done (the wonders of a sonic shower), and helped to finish up the task. After that, they moved into the kitchen section of their quarters and set about making a warm drink with honey, milk, and a little bit of one of the spices from the spice rack. It was a recipe that Old Nan had used to make for him when he was a boy, and for his brothers, and for Lyanna, and for all his children. It was a comfort to him then, and it was a comfort to both himself and Obi-Wan now. Even if the exact spice that Ned mixed in with the honey had to be different, by the simple fact of the spices available to Old Nan then, and the spices available to Ned now, were not the same. Some certainly tasted alike though, and that was enough for this.
"Do you have visions, Master Ned?" Obi-Wan asked quietly as he cradled his mug in his hands.
"I do," Ned answered as he basked in the feeling of the heat from the mug warming his bones, and the smell of the drink reminding him of home and happier times. "Mine are almost always visions of the past though."
"How do you know that for sure?" Obi-Wan asked.
"Because I know the faces in my visions as the faces of the children I had fathered in my previous life," Ned revealed to the boy with a smile.
Obi-Wan blinked in shock at that.
Ned chuckled at his boy's shocked face and ruffled Obi-Wan's hair gently before he took a sip of his drink. Obi-Wan followed his example tentatively, only to sigh into the drink and (finally) relax.
"Real fighting, battles and wars, are dreadful things," Ned said quietly. Their apartment was quiet though, so he hardly needed to raise his voice at all. The Quiet Wolf was a moniker he could hold onto in this life as well, though no one knew to call him by it save for Master Terra, who had learned Ned's story over his own padawanship. "They hurt your soul just as much as your body."
Obi-Wan nodded silently, and took another sip of his drink.
"When my master, Master Terra, learned that I remembered my last life, that I was having visions of the lives of those I'd left behind, and that there was war in my past and my visions, he took me out of the Temple and to a professional psychologist for trauma counselling. He sat there with me through every session, held my hand and offered his comfort, and he helped bridge the gap of understanding between the psychologist and myself," Ned revealed. "Helped put things into words for me when I didn't know how to say something, just because I didn't have the words for it. I'm going to insist on the same for you, Obi-Wan."
"Alright," Obi-Wan agreed, his voice small. "You'll be there?"
"Trauma counselling isn't an easy thing, and the more support you have around you for it, the better," he said. "And you're not the only one getting this kind of help, if it makes you feel better about it. I still visit my psychologist regularly about my visions."
Obi-Wan frowned, just a little, in thought.
"You're wondering why I want you to go to an out-of-Temple psychologist when there are an in-Temple mind healers," Ned guessed.
Obi-Wan grimaced, but nodded.
"I don't mean to question you, Master, but..."
Ned chuckled softly, and took another gulp of his drink.
"No, it's fine. You won't learn if you don't ask questions, after all," he assured his padawan. "I'm going to take you to a psychologist because a psychologist won't tell you to release your pain into the Force and just forget about the vision as irrelevant. A psychologist won't tell you to focus on the present moment instead of your anxieties. A psychologist won't tell you that the pain in the vision is not yours as though that were all you needed to hear. As though it was possible to meditate your trauma away."
"No," Ned said firmly. "It isn't, and it's why your friend Quinlan knew me well enough to ask me to take you as my padawan. Master Tholme takes Quinlan to a mind healer here in the Temple, and I sneak your friend out, with Master Tholme's knowledge and permission, to see a psychologist. The same one Master Terra took me to, and the same one I will be taking you to as well."
Obi-Wan nodded in understanding.
One of the wonders of the lightsaber was how easily it cut through nearly everything. There were a few substances that resisted a lightsaber, but the flesh of a slaver was certainly not one of them.
"I don't know what I expected you to do when I told you that I'd found out he was keeping slaves, but I'm pretty sure this wasn't it," Obi-Wan said as he blinked in shock at the decapitated head as it rolled across the floor.
"Freeing slaves is an act that is much easier to do when the slave owner, and his enforcers, are dead," Ned pointed out as he deactivated his lightsaber and hung it upon his belt once more. "Killing scum like this also means that they can't go and find more slaves after we've finished freeing the ones currently held here. A more permanent solution, if you will."
Obi-Wan nodded in understanding.
"Isn't, er, wasn't he an important government official around here though?" Obi-Wan checked. "I mean, I know he was, we were here to help with mediating a dispute in which he was one of the principles. But, um..."
"Oh, I don't pretend it won't be a mess and a half to clean up and straighten everything out," Ned allowed. "But this is a job worth doing, and is therefore worth doing well."
"Yes Master," Obi-Wan said with a smile. "I guess we're not going to be back at the Temple any time soon, then."
"No," Ned admitted, a little less happily. Not that he was unhappy to be away from the capital and doing something extremely useful, but there were other considerations. "I'll have to notify the Council that we found out one of the government officials here was a slaver. They'll know not to expect us back for another year, as we root out all the rest of the corruption and see to fixing up their system of government."
"You've done this before," Obi-Wan realised.
"Multiple times," Ned agreed with a nod. "It's why the Council never sends me anywhere near a Hutt if they can help it, as I absolutely will kill them without a hint of remorse, and free their slaves. Not that the Council are against freeing slaves either, but apparently killing Hutts is easier done than the fall-out is coped with."
Ned grinned down at his padawan, and Obi-Wan giggled. The reputation of the Hutts was normally nothing to giggle at, but in this context, and with his master having just killed a slaver, it was a little bit funny.
"Though I'll admit, usually the slavers aren't government officials on Republic worlds," Ned said, as a frown overtook his features again. "What with slavery being illegal in the Republic and all."
"...Will we be getting any back-up, Master Ned?" Obi-Was asked.
Ned chuckled, his frown banished by his padawan's innocent questioning.
"Not from the Council," he said with a grin, "but I've made a few friends, and contacts, over the years who will be able to help us here. I expect we'll both make more before we leave as well. It's important to keep up with contacts and friends like these, Obi-Wan. You can't neglect them, and only call on them when you have need. You have to actually be a friend, in order to have friends like these."
"What about what the other Masters say about attachment?" Obi-Wan asked. Not defending the Order's line in the sand there, but genuinely curious.
"I mostly ignore it," Ned advised. "I'm attached to my old Master, I'm attached to my friends, and I am very attached to you. As long as no one is getting hurt because of it, then it's fine."
Obi-Wan nodded thoughtfully.
"Really, Master Stark?" Mace asked, tone weary and plaintive once the explanation was complete. "We send you to negotiate a within-system trade dispute, and you kill the governor of Galidraan? One of the primary parties involved?"
"He was a slaver," Ned reiterated. "You know my stance on those who would buy and sell people, Master Windu. Whatever race, species, or rank they are."
Mace sighed deeply, and Plo Koon chuckled from his seat in the Council Chamber.
Ned's glowing blue holo-image flickered a little as Obi-Wan moved into view of the recorder on their end.
"We'll stay here until everything is sorted out, including the trade dispute we were originally sent to deal with," Ned assured the Council, "but if someone would please forward Obi-Wan's learning modules for him to study in his down time while we're here, that would be very much appreciated."
"I'll make sure it happens, Master Stark," Master Yaddle assured him with a cackle.
"And I'm happy to be on call if Padawan Kenobi has any questions you have trouble answering, Master Stark," Jocasta offered with a smile.
"Thank you, Masters," Obi-Wan said with a bow, before he turned to his own Master. "Master Ned, a small fleet of Mandalorian ships just entered atmosphere."
Every member of the Jedi High Council stiffened slightly in their seats. The enmity between Jedi and Mandalorians was legendary, and all of them were now reasonably concerned for the single Jedi Master and his Padawan that would now likely have to contend with an entire battalion of them.
Ned just blinked.
"It appears I have urgent matters to attend to," he said. "If you will excuse me, Masters?" he asked.
"Send us a comm immediately if you need reinforcements," Mace ordered. "Actually, comm anyway, regularly, so that we know you're still alive."
"Of course, Masters," Ned agreed.
"May the Force be with you," the Council bid.
"May the Force be with you," Ned and Obi-Wan answered before their glowing blue forms flickered out.
"I... am surprised that I don't have a bad feeling about this," Master Sifo-Dyas offered.
"Well, that's something," Mace grumbled.
"Stark," greeted the leader of the Mandalorian group.
"Mereel," Ned answered solemnly. "Or is it finally, officially, 'your majesty' these days?"
The vocorder in the helmet had a hard time interpreting the amused snort, but it was nevertheless recognisable as what it was.
"Oh here we go. Who's the bigger problem right now? Death Watch or the Militant Pacifists?" Ned asked.
"Kyr'stad are the ones causing violent trouble, but the New Mandalorians look like they're going to turn to the Republic for back up, which will just throw another problem into the already seething pot," Mereel replied. "But what are you doing here?"
"Killing slavers, apparently," Ned answered. "The assignment was negotiations, but then my padawan discovered the governor's ties to various slave rings, and, well. You know how that goes."
"You chopped his head off, didn't you?" Mereel said, but it wasn't a question. Not really.
"He obviously wasn't using it," Ned defended himself lightly.
"Obviously," Mereel agreed. "We had a contract from the governor here to put down some violent protesters."
"Peaceful protesters," Ned corrected, "who wanted very sensible things. Like to not be sold into slavery when they couldn't repay the debts that the governor had manufactured in the first place."
"Good thing you beat us here then," he said, and nodded towards Ned's young shadow. "That your padawan then?"
"Yes," Ned confirmed, and waved Obi-Wan forward. "Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, come and meet Mand'alor Jaster Mereel, leader of the True Mandalorians, he/him."
"Your baji here saved my shebs when my second in command turned out to be a traitor, right in the middle of a battle field," Mereel explained as he extended his hand for Obi-Wan to shake.
"Master Ned is amazing," Obi-Wan stated serenely. "Um, but, how can a pacifist be militant? If it's alright for me to ask."
"Because they want to eradicate violence, even from our history," Mereel said. "The New Mandalorians think that because our history has been so violent, then our culture is violent, and if our culture is violent, then it should be eliminated. From our religious beliefs to our language."
"That's wrong of them then," he said.
"It is," Ned said, a proud smile on his face. "But now isn't the time for discussing Mandalorian politics. We've got work to do, and if you were interested in helping, or even just killing any other slavers and looting their properties, that would be appreciated."
"Oya!" the man said, and it was easy to imaging he was grinning toothily beneath his helmet.
"Oya!" echoed the other Mandalorians behind him.