Obi-Wan wakes up tired.
For a while he just lies there, in the bed he knows all too well. A small cot that teeters on the edge of rock solid and too soft all at once – a thin, soft mattress, too soft to truly cushion the stone hard slap of metal underneath which the Jedi Order has at some point of history decided passes well enough for a bed for a Jedi. And how like the Jedi it is, this pretence of softness hiding the solid core beneath.
He'd been used to these beds once. Once, he'd slept on little else than something very similar – often it even was stone, sometimes it was stone without anything in between to cushion it's harshness like there is here. Once, it had been if not pleasant then at least good enough.
Damn but he hates these so called beds now.
Turning to lie on his back he sighs and lets his eyes fall open. It feels as though they should feel grimy and dry, as if he's slept with face full of sand – he feels like he's slept with face full of sand, and gotten it stuffed down every pore too. But his eyes open easy and perfect and his vision is crystal clear, none of his old familiar cataract to be seen, even the sun burned blind spots aren't there, of course not. Funny, how he still misses them, that spot right in front of his vision where things blurred – it's been longer than lifetime since then, but he still looks to the damage of Tatooine to limit him.
But no, his vision is perfect, his eyes feel fine, feel perfect, and even sleeping on this hard slap of idiocy hasn't done any damage. His back feels perfect, his shoulders are fine, and nothing aches after sleeping on a surface so unyielding.
Above him is smooth white surface of a ceiling, all but polished. Above him there is a ceiling lamp, a softly arching dome, unlit. To his left there is a window – not a real one, but rather a screen, a simulated window to ease the otherwise enclosed space of the windowless cell.
Obi-Wan takes a breath and then releases it. He knows the colour of that ceiling, the shape of that lamp, the design of the fake window. He knows all of it too damn well.
He doesn't want to be here, not again.
Sighing, he lifts a hand and checks his knuckles. Bruised, aching, there's a cut on the middle knuckle that's bled and dried into a thin, stinging scab. Burns on his wrist – burns along his arms too and now that he's becoming more aware of his body he can feel them on his shoulders, his sides, on his neck.
Why this point again? Why is it this point, all damn the time?
With steady fingers, he examines the bruises on his knuckles and burns on his wrist. The knuckles had been cut open on another boy's teeth – and on a wall he hit when he missed his face. The burns he got from a training saber, it's setting set as high as it would go, high enough to burn skin if not cut through it. A training match – no, a beating, disguised as a training match. His beating on them, because in his youth, Obi-Wan Kenobi was a gullible idiot who believed everything as it was presented to him, and questioned only himself and his self worth.
Sighing, he lets his hand fall and stares up at the unlit lamp in dismay.
He's thirteen, again. He's in the Jedi Temple in Coruscant, again. Once upon a time that would've given him joy – once upon a time, it had. He'd woken up here and he'd wept wretchedly with joy and thanked and thanked and thanked Force for the gift it had given him. Granted, it had taken him a full day of confused failing to understand his gift and oh how joyous he'd been. Going from having lost it all to regaining it all…
He recalls vaguely dancing, jumping, running out of the room, burns and all, and just running around the Jedi temple, so full of joy that they'd sent him to the Healers to see if he'd gotten his hands on stims, he'd been so delirious. Fifty seven years and thirteen and he'd been so hopeless young and naive.
He's thirteen, now too. Or will be, soon enough, in four weeks time. Yesterday, he thinks wearily, he'd been goaded by a fellow initiate to an unlicensed sparring match and in his infinite wisdom, thinking himself so wise at his nearly thirteen years of age, Obi-Wan Kenobi had decided to teach his fellow initiate a lesson. A final beating to set him straight and put him in place. He's been so proud of it too.
Has he already gotten the word from his Crèche Master that he's been all but banished from the Jedi order? Aged out into the service corps – AgriCorps in his case – to be a farmer for the rest of his days. Tomorrow he'd be pulled aside by Yoda for one last exhibition match, him and his so called childhood rival would go against each other under the eyes of a Master looking for a new Padawan – ordered to look for one, not really wishing for one. Qui-Gon Jinn would look at him, see what he would want to see, and look away. Obi-Wan would be sent into AgriCorps.
For a moment he contemplates resigning himself to that fate. Decline the exhibition duel tomorrow and disappear into the Service Corps and do nothing but plant trees for the rest of his miserable existence. Let the galaxy turn, let wars rage and darkness fall and Empire raise and ignore it all in favour of plot of land and mindless toil. Except…
Obi-Wan takes a breath and then releases it. Then he closes his eyes and concentrates onto the Force just for a moment. Take me, take me, take me, he begs and Force ignores him in favour of healing his bruised knuckles and burnt flesh, a kindness that Obi-Wan hardly deserves and desires even less.
With the minor aches and stings gone, his body feels like – nothing. It's so young and healthy that it almost lacks sensation entirely, so perfectly formed that it doesn't feel real. A puppet of flesh, containing his far too old spirit. Obi-Wan breathes just to feel his ribs expand and then he rises from the bed. His knuckles are still smeared with blood.
Without another thought, he heads for the fresher to clean up.
The next morning, he eats a last meal with people he'd once thought his best friends. They're all children – infants – compared to him, but he'd loved them once, he still loves them as much as he can love anything anymore.
Bant Eerin, a Calamari female. She strived to be a healer of worlds and became, like all Jedi, a destroyer instead, a great General of the Grand Army of the Republic who waged hundred wars under water and won most of them.
"I'm sure you'll do fine," she says, trying to console him for something that has ages ago lost its hurt. "It's… not the sort of life you hoped for, but you'll still be a Jedi, right?"
"A Jedi farmer, sure."
Garen Muln, a great friend, another great General – one of the few survivors of the Jedi Purge, he ensconced himself in Ilum and nearly starved to death there. It was Vader who eventually killed him – one of Obi-Wan's first best friends killed by his last.
"I'm sure it won't be bad," he says, patting Obi-Wan on the shoulder. "And you get to go on adventure! Off the planet! That's exciting isn't it?"
"Yeah, sure," Obi-Wan agrees. "Better than being stuck here, anyway."
Reeft, of whom Obi-Wan remembers very little even after all these times – he never made it to General, he was dead by the time the war started, his life cut short at the hands of bounty hunters on some Jedi Order sanctioned mission.
"I don't mean to be greedy, but are you going to eat that?" he asks and Obi-Wan sighs and shoves his whole tray over to him.
None of them mean much anything to him now. They had, once, as much as friends can mean to Jedi, but now he's too old and they're too young and he just… can't bring himself to care. He's lost them so many times that the losses have long since outpaced the gains here.
Around them, the hall is full of Jedi, eating their morning meals. Initiates and padawans, knights and Masters – good hundred Jedi at a glance, all more or less busy with the task of refuelling their bodies. All their food is similar in design, no matter the species. Generic protein, vitamin and mineral supplements with fresh vegetables and fruit for taste – and synthetic meat for the carnivores in the style they require – enough to nourish the body and please the taste buds, with minimal effort and minimal complexity. Nothing as extravagant as actually cooked meals for the Jedi, not in the temple, no sir.
Strangely, it makes Obi-Wan miss the ration bars and survival rations.
Someone throws something at him and Obi-Wan sighs as it hits the air around him and stops there, caught in Force. A fruit, half spoiled – thrown by another initiate. The very one young Obi-Wan had beaten up the previous night.
"Y-yeah," the boy – Bruck – says somewhere behind him, sounding a little uneasy about his attack having been so stopped. "Yeah, you just take that and plant it, Oafy-One, grow yourself nice big tree out of it like all the rest of the farmers."
The fruit is still floating by his head. Obi-Wan picks it from air and considers it. A barabel fruit. It's been squeezed and rolled to make it softer – it would've splattered like a popped water balloon if it'd hit. Shaking his head Obi-Wan pushes himself up and away from the table – ignoring the way Bant grabs his wrist and Garen puts a hand on his shoulder.
"It's not worth it," Bant says quickly.
"Let it go," Garen adds, leaning in and speaking under his breath. "He's just egging you on. Don't let him get to you."
"I'm just going to the fresher," Obi-Wan says and glances down. "It's fine. Let go."
They share a confused look but let him go. He turns around and then he's face to face with Bruck and his friends – whose names Obi-Wan has forgotten lifetimes ago. Bruck straightens up and tries to look unaffected. "I always knew you wouldn't make it," the white haired boy says. "You stupid clumsy oaf."
Obi-Wan walks towards him and then past him without a glance in his way
Bruck would eventually fall to the Dark side, he thinks as he throws the ruined barabel fruit into a recycler. Well, Bruck would stumble down to it, more like, flailing and writhing – and then keep on stumbling all the way down to his death. Another lost padawan, another fallen Jedi no one would ever miss.
Once he would've cared, one way or the other. He'd feel guilty or sorry or guilty and sorry and maybe responsible too, somewhere in there. Or he'd feel vindicated, like justice was served for childhood of torment and names and tricks and traps. Now…
Obi-Wan just doesn't care.
He doesn't care about anything anymore.
The Jedi Temple wraps around him, full of Force and Light and so many lives once upon a time so terribly precious to him. He should feel joy for it. He's seen this temple dead and empty, watched it being ruined and tainted, watch it be painted black as the new Emperor claimed it as the Imperial Palace and tore down thousand of generations worth of Light side history. To see this temple as it was, not restored but still unstained…
He should feel happy about it. He tries to, tries to muster up an emption other than this weariness that has taken root in his soul, but there's nothing there. Just echoes of what once was, the hopeful young padawan he used to be, the brave knight, the bright Master, the Councillor and General but now…
There is a group of Masters ahead of him and Obi-Wan automatically bows his head to them as he passes them by, but he doesn't really see them, doesn't really look at them.
"Ah, Obi-Wan," a voice he knows too well. "Talk with you I wished."
Obi-Wan looks and there is Yoda, sitting on a hover chair good meter and half above the floor, over his head – to put him on eye level with the nearly two meter height of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn.
"Masters," Obi-Wan says, his tone even despite everything. He quickly clasps his wrists as he bows his head again, hiding the minute tremor of his fingers under the cover of his sleeves. "What can I do for you?"
Yoda blinks at that and then motions to Qui-Gon. "Master Qui-Gon Jinn this is – back early he is. Decided it has been that your exhibition match with Bruck Chun in front of Master Jinn you shall have, despite your recent… troubles."
Qui-Gon looks at Obi-Wan, his expression impassive and calm, his eyes steady and watchful. He's heard of the beat down, by now, and he has already made his judgement.
It's almost enough to rouse something in Obi-Wan. Old longing and ache, wrapped in regret and frustration and – betrayal. You did this to me, Obi-Wan thinks. You don't know it, you will never know it, and maybe it wasn't your intention – but you did this to me.
Years of self doubt and unease followed by even longer years of frustrated uncertainty and anxiety under a task too hard, a duty he was ill equipped for. He'd never been enough for anyone, not as initiate, not as padawan, certainly not as a knight. As Master, maybe, finally, once he was loose from the bonds Qui-Gon had laid on him, but then he'd been tangled in the bonds of Anakin Skywalker, from there on all the way to his death, so full of such terribly ingrained regret and remorse that he couldn't free himself from it even in death.
And there was Qui-Gon, with Force, with powers beyond his imagining, with means beyond understanding, and all the reasons to make use of them. And so Obi-Wan had taken his regrets and his failings and he'd carried them with him back to the beginning.
Again and again and again until he forgot how to not do it.
You did this to me, Obi-Wan thinks and he feels something. It might be hate. Most likely it's just resentment. He still loves Qui-Gon far too much to really truly hate him, but by Force, he's so bitter. So old and so bitter and there are so many people he can aim that at, and Qui-Gon is right there, right in front of him – the very first person who broke his heart and left him in ruins.
"Obi-Wan?" Yoda says and he realises he's been quiet too long, staring at his old Master.
No. It wasn't Qui-Gon's fault. He hadn't meant for Obi-Wan to love him and he hadn't came back with him – he never came back, no more than Yoda did. Only Obi-Wan was stupid enough for that. Only Obi-Wan was hopeful enough. This ruin is his and his alone.
"I decline," Obi-Wan says and turns his eyes ahead onto the open corridor before he can see Qui-Gon's reaction.
"Decline you do?" Yoda asks, surprised.
"Yes," Obi-Wan says. "I respectfully decline."
"Your last chance this it to exhibit your abilities before a Master," Yoda says warningly, worryingly. "Your last chance this is to become a padawan learner."
Obi-Wan closes his eyes, coaxing that last feeling in his heart and taking solace in its strength. Bitter resentment has never been something he'd been able to hold, but he holds it now. "I appreciate the offer, but I decline."
"Why?" It's Qui-Gon who speaks now, his voice calm and even and painfully, achingly dear. "Why decline this last chance?"
He casts no allusions to doubt or fear or pride, but somehow he conveys all of it anyway – that Obi-Wan fears failure, that he doubts his own abilities, that he's too proud to bow his head again when he'd been failed once already. All true and all wrong.
Why decline this last chance – because he's taken it too many times and it never turns out how he wants it to. He expects too much of Qui-Gon and Qui-Gon fails to deliver. He is too strange and Qui-Gon grows to distrust him, always looks into him for darkness and for signs of fall. It's an unbalanced pairing now – Obi-Wan is so old and Qui-Gon is so young in comparison. And there is nothing left for Qui-Gon to teach him that Obi-Wan didn't master hundreds of years ago. They are never equals.
Why decline this last chance – because he can't bear to bring himself to it.
"Because my heart is full of hate," Obi-Wan says and looks at the two Jedi Masters. Both their eyebrows arch at that, the only sign of surprise and astonishment they will allow. "And I am tired of trying to contain it. And you don't want a padawan bound for a fall."
He waits, curious for their reaction and answer to that. It doesn't matter to him, these pale reflections of people he once knew don't matter to him, but they still echo what the people he once knew might have thought.
Yoda can't bring forth a reaction, not beyond surprise and then concern which too he restrains. Qui-Gon's surprise turns to disapproval and cool detachment. "You are right," he says. "I would not choose a padawan bound for a fall. And frankly I find your resignation to it disturbing."
Obi-Wan almost musters a smile at that. He's not very surprised, though. Judgement comes so easy for Qui-Gon, even now – or perhaps especially now. Shaking his head at it, Obi-Wan turns his attention to Yoda and waits for his judgement.
"Soon you are to make such decisions of your fate," the Grandmaster says. "Young you are, Obi-Wan, and quick to give into a moment of disappointment. To feel doubt or grief or bitterness is not to fall, and hate a very strong emotion is – sense it in you I do not."
Obi-Wan's eyebrows arch. "You don't?" he asks, and he thinks he is surprised at that. He searches his emotions. As strong as they seem in comparison to the grey apathy that dominates him… they are also vague, and already slipping away from his grasp. Even the bitterness he feels for Qui-Gon is trickling away like sand between his fingers – he can't hold onto it.
"Hate in your heart you say you have," Yoda says. "Sense it I do not. Tired you are, disappointed, yes. But hateful you are not."
Disappointment there too, then, Obi-Wan muses wearily. Pity – he'd been entertaining the thought of becoming Sith this go around, it's one of the few things he hasn't tried yet. But if he can't hold onto his hate… then he can't hold onto the Dark Side either, can he? How can you fall without hate? Can you fall without hate, without greed, without anger?
Can you be corrupted when there is not enough of you left to be corrupted?
Yoda hums, watching him closely. "Have the exhibition match you must, Obi-Wan," he says.
"And if I don't care to?" Obi-Wan asks because – because that's what it boils down to, isn't it. He doesn't care to.
Qui-Gon scoffs at his choice of words and Yoda frowns. "For me do it. Ask this sincerely I do," he says. "Perform for your Masters for one last time you should. Please."
Obi-Wan looks at him – and something old looks back. Just for a moment, Obi-Wan can feel the years on Yoda. The Grandmaster of their Order is over eight hundred years old – nine hundred when he finally passed on. Obi-Wan isn't that old yet – by his calculation he's around five hundred now. Where does his strength at the face of all those years come from? How is it that Yoda is still so… full of purpose?
Because unlike me, he hasn't been stuck repeating the same mistakes for the last hundreds of years, Obi-Wan thinks, bitter and jealous for one faded moment before that too slips away.
"Alright," he says and bows his head. "For you, Master Yoda."
Obi-Wan grips the lightsaber hilt and releases, grips and releases. It doesn't fit his hand right. He's made more lightsabers over the years than he cares to count, and this one is not one of his. It's all but factory produced – probably made by Huyang himself. The hilt is very generic and uniform, very easy to hold and with nary an embellishment. It's designed so that it is impossible to turn it to a lethal setting; the most you can kill with it is maybe a fly.
He doesn't like the feel of it, he decides. It's about as much of an opinion he has right now of anything – he doesn't like the feel of a training weapon.
That's something, he supposes.
Bruck Chun stands in front of him, also holding a training saber. He's nervous, sweating already, angry – his anger radiates into the Force like pulses of heat, quick and fast to dissipate. Nothing like the cultivated white-hot hatred of the Sith. Still so much more than Obi-Wan can manage.
No, Obi-Wan thinks wryly. With his emotions being as they are, he can never be a Sith himself, can he? If he can't even reach a Bruck Chun level of agitation, he can never hope to reach Maul's insane hatred or Vader's weaponized cruelty – never mind Sidious nearly artful, corrupting malice. The Dark side is, unfortunately, completely beyond him.
Then Bruck Chun attacks. It's a sloppy attack, a mad forward swing. A hint of form to it – little bit of third, little bit of fourth, hard to say if he's actually trying to go for something specific though. Mostly it just looks like he's swinging his lightsaber as fast and as hard as he can, hoping to hit.
Obi-Wan meets the glowing blade with his own in a sharp crash of plasma blades meeting, and then aims Bruck's blade away from himself with a twist of his wrists. It's a simple enough technique, difficult to master because of the way lightsabers are constructed – there is a hint of magnetic field to the blades, which gives them a slight attraction to each other. Normally initiates of Bruck Chun's – and Obi-Wan's – age are far too inexperienced to combat it, and only way they know how to separate met blades is to simply pull them apart. Normally, they don't know how.
Obi-Wan manipulates the magnetic flow by twisting the blade and manipulating the Force, makes the offending blade slide across his own in a electrified screech and when it meets the floor Obi-Wan detaches his own blade – and slashes it up sharply and right across Bruck Chun's chest.
If they were fighting with real blades, it would be a killing blow.
Attack, parry, attack – match.
"Enough," Yoda commands as Bruck Chun staggers back, yelping in pain as his tunics are signed, and the burn no doubt radiates across his chest, from hip to shoulder. Obi-Wan returns to guarded stance, lightsaber held up in front of him – Bruck usually tries to attack again in this match.
"What the hell was that, Oafy?!" Bruck demands and grabs his training saber tighter. "Some stupid trick? Fight properly!"
He attacks again – with similar result. This time Obi-Wan knocks his blade aside with a hard block and then swings across Bruck's stomach. Another singed burn mark across his tunics, another yelp of pain.
"Argh!" Bruck yelps, staggering again and almost dropping his training sabre. Obi-Wan returns to his starting pose and waits.
"Stop!" Yoda calls again, coming forward, and Bruck ignores him, attacking again – this time with sharp thrust. It's a feint, a bad one – Obi-Wan goes to snap it aside just as Bruck turns the thrust into a swing, and their blades shriek past each other – Obi-Wan steps aside Bruck's swing and then jabs his lightsaber hard right to the middle of the other boy's chest.
A third killing blow, this time strong enough to not just send Bruck staggering back, but to knock him off his feet entirely.
"My chest, my chest – he put a hole in my chest!" Bruck wails, squirming and scrabbling at his singed tunic to see. There is no hole – but there is an angry red burn mark there, right in the middle. Under it a deep purple bruise would soon form, Obi-Wan knows. It would hurt, too, no doubt already does.
"You -!" Bruck says and levers himself up to his elbows, reaching for his training saber – before it's snatched away from him by tug of the Force, and into the awaiting hand of Master Yoda.
The Grandmaster comes to them, stands between them before Bruck is done gaping at the Master and then he looks between them with a dark scowl. "When match is called end, ended it has," he says sharply to Bruck and then turns to Obi-Wan. His expression is – disturbed.
Obi-Wan had used techniques more befitting of a master duellist than barely trained initiate. It would be disturbing. It would be down right alarming, especially for someone like Yoda, who has seen young Obi-Wan fight before and knows his skill level.
Qui-Gon is there too, walking towards them in long strides, his expression hard. "Who taught you to fight like that?" he asks.
Obi-Wan looks at him and then at Yoda. Then he shuts down the training saber, swinging it around in his hand and handing it over to Yoda. "No one," Obi-Wan says to Qui-Gon.
"You couldn't have learned how to fight like that on your own," Qui-Gon says. "Those were some advanced parries you used and you manipulated the magnetic fields of your blade – learning how to use that takes years of practice. Who taught you how to do that?"
"No one taught me," Obi-Wan says again and glances at him wearily. Qui-Gon is looking for a secret Master, maybe, a clandestine meeting between an initiate and an overly proud knight with allusions of becoming a Master perhaps, to explain away Obi-Wan's abilities in way that satisfied his suspicions. But truth is – no one taught Obi-Wan. He taught himself. Experience taught him.
He had always, always been his own best teacher.
Qui-Gon presses his lips together tightly and looks at Yoda. Then he looks around them, to the silent group of initiates who were watching. Bant is there, as is Garen and Reeft. Obi-Wan had completely blocked them out, and now that he looks, they look… stunned. Confused. Even a little afraid.
"Take Bruck Chun to the Halls of Healing," Yoda says to the initiates. "Leave us, you will."
"Wait, what about me, this is my exhibition duel –" Bruck starts to say.
"Leave us," Yoda commands in tone that brooks no arguments. Bant is the first to move, skittering forward nervously and going to help Bruck up – the human boy shrugs her off and stands up by himself, wavering a little. He winces – the burns must be starting to really sting now.
Bruck gives Obi-Wan a heated glare and then turns and marches off, the others following him, casting glances back at Obi-Wan. Then he's alone with the two suspicious Masters.
Obi-Wan smothers a sigh and runs a hand over his eyes, shaking his had at their judgemental, uneasy expressions. So pointless, all of it is so utterly pointless. Exhibition duels and childhood grudges – how fast all those things lose their meaning in the real galaxy.
This method of training Jedi died a very quick death when Clone Wars begun and Jedi started dying faster than they were being trained. Masters lost the privilege of choosing their own padawans and were assigned them instead. The whole tradition of aging out ended and instead initiates became padawans the moment they completed their lightsabers, rather than when a Master deigned to choose them for training. Some Padawan became knights without ever having Masters at all, all too soon, all too young – to be quickly cut down in the war.
There simply was no room to waste Jedi anymore. The war demanded more.
The Jedi Order of this time is so terribly arrogant, so self righteous towards itself, so damn wasteful. Pointless.
"Obi-Wan," Yoda says and Obi-Wan looks up with a sigh. "Explain yourself you will."
"What, exactly, do you want me to explain?" Obi-Wan asks. "My fighting abilities or my inability to care about any of this nonsense?"
"Have some respect," Qui-Gon says sharply and Obi-Wan almost scoffs back at him.
"Change I sense in you," Yoda says, eying Obi-Wan. "Weariness I sense in you – altered your mind is. Happened something has. The fight yesterday was it? Or something else?"
Obi-Wan looks at him. For a moment he entertains a number of lies he could spin – has spun in past to justify his changes. Knock to the head, a vision, a dream, a nightmare – a realisation of his terrible future ahead of him and the desperate need to do better. Some of them worked, others didn't – and he just doesn't care.
"This morning I woke up in a terrible excuse of a bed, one I haven't slept in well over a hundred years, waking into my tenth re-run of my miserable excuse of a life," Obi-Wan says flatly. "I've fought this stupid duel ten times now, I've displayed my abilities to esteemed Master Jinn ten times, to ensuing ten rejections and then following into ten misadventures on our way to Bandomeer where he might or might not under the risk of my inevitable death choose me as his Padawan."
They stare at him, the spiel too incomprehensible for even a reaction. Go figure. "What's changed, Master," Obi-Wan says, "is that I've lost the ability to give a fuck."