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."
Imagine the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the 2003 cartoon version of Clone Wars. Now imagine that Obi-Wan reliving his life 10 times in a row. That's this Obi-Wan in a nutshell. Just 10000% Done.
"Obviously the youngling has lost his mind."
Qui-Gon says that, but how well he believes it he's not so sure. Even if it wasn't for the brutally honest conviction Obi-Wan Kenobi seems to have in his own words, as nonsensical as they sound, there was the training duel. The boy had beaten his opponent without mercy, without difficulty, without so much as hint of irregular breathing never mind sweat. It really was like watching a Master smacking around an unruly student.
And then there is the boy's Force presence. Qui-Gon wouldn't have called it stronger than it should be, or weaker than it should, but now that he's looking into it… it's not the Force presence of an initiate, wild and outreaching and curious. No, it is the honed presence of a trained Force sensitive, restrained and controlled and void of emotion.
And that is what disturbs him about Obi-Wan Kenobi the most, he thinks. The lack of emotion.
"Hrmm," Yoda answers, running his fingers slowly over his chin as they watch the boy being examined by a healer. Master Vokara Che has her eyes shut as she rests her fingertips on the ginger hair of the odd initiate. Kenobi is looking up to her, his expression utterly bored and disinterested, bordering on hostile though he doesn't feel hostile.
"What he says isn't possible," Qui-Gon says and looks at the old Grandmaster. "Is it?"
"Is it, indeed. So quick we should not be to dismiss the powers of the Force. Odd this is, but lie Obi-Wan Kenobi does not," Yoda says and looks up. "Believe it he does and old his spirit is. Whether telling the truth he is I do not know, but believe he does."
Qui-Gon folds his arms and looks through the glass of the observatory at the medical room again. Master Che is frowning subtly as she moves her fingers through the initiate's short hair and Kenobi's eyes slid away from her, disinterested in what she's doing. After a moment, he reaches for a near by datapad – one of the Healer's – and starts without so much as by your leave poking through it.
Qui-Gon frowns. There is no doubt a lot of confidential information on the healer's datapad – the initiate shouldn't be fiddling with it. Yoda makes no move to stop it, though, and the healer if she even notices it says nothing.
"If possible it is, carefully we must tread," Yoda says. "And if not, still careful we must be. Whatever occurred has, powerful it has made this young Initiate."
"Inability to care doesn't make you powerful, only cruel," Qui-Gon says and shakes his head. "He's dangerous."
Yoda glances at him and opens his mouth – but before he can say anything, there's a gasp in the medical room – and then, a scream.
Qui-Gon jolts with surprise as in the room Master Che wrenches herself from the initiate, all but tearing her hands off his head and backing away. Her breathing is suddenly erratic, her eyes wide – she looks and feels horrified.
"What was that?" she demands in horror.
Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn't even look up. "Several galactic wars' worth of trauma," he says disinterestedly and taps away at the datapad. "I told you this was a bad idea."
"No – that's, that – what was that?"
That makes Kenobi look up, if only very briefly. "Oh, that – a Sith," he says and shrugs and turns back to the datapad. "One of them anyway."
She opens her mouth to argue and then stops, takes the boy in, and shakily gathers herself. "I – need to take another look."
"You're not going to like it," Kenobi says, but doesn't object when she goes to lay her fingers on his head again, brushing them across his forehead, into his hair. He doesn't even look up as she, obviously shaken, sinks back into his mind.
"Sith," Qui-Gon repeats, disbelieving – or trying to go for disbelieving. Problem is, he knows Vokara Che well, they'd been initiates together and the twi-lek is everything but easy to fool, especially when she's in her element. Whatever she saw in Kenobi's mind, it would have to be… very grim to shake her.
She's sweating now, her blue skin glistening under the overhead lights and her eyes moving rapidly under her closed lids – and Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn't even care.
"Hrm," Yoda answers, looking troubled, his eyes narrowing as he watches Healer Che. "Inform the council we must of this, if proven truthful Obi-Wan Kenobi is. Question him we must. If truthful he is, then for a reason here he is."
Qui-Gon lets the words settle in for a moment. "According to him, this is the tenth time he's been here," he says wryly, uneasily. "That means whatever he's doing, he's failed nine times already."
"Always in motion the future is," Yoda says and looks at him. "On a mission you think he is?"
"Why would the Force sent him back if he wasn't?"
"So think this is the doing of the Force you do, hmrm?"
Qui-Gon sighs and turns his eyes downwards, to him. "If this is possible – and I hardly think it is – what else could possibly have the strength to do this, but the Force itself? If this is possible then it can be only the Will of the Force that made it so."
Yoda considers him silently and then turns his eyes down again to the medical room. Kenobi has turned his eyes off the datapad and is looking at them through the glass. He still looks bored, irked even with the whole thing, but he's letting the healer manipulate his head and mind however she wants.
Healer who is now shedding silent, constant tears as she slides her fingers through his short cropped ginger hair.
Qui-Gon frowns and Kenobi looks away, back to the datapad. "What are you looking for?" he then asks turning his eyes to the healer.
"The starting point," she answers without opening her eyes, drawing a shaky, wet breath.
Kenobi eyes her for moment and then closes his eyes briefly. Master Che draws a quick, shuddering breath and frowns, her palms lifting, almost pulling away from him, but his fingers keep their contact. "Ah," she says, the tears easing off now. "Oh, that is… Oh. Is that –?"
"Hm," Kenobi answers, opens his eyes, and turns them back to the datapad. "That is," he agrees and continues perusing the datapad. "You can go faster, you know. I can take it. There's not much you can do to damage my mind at this point."
The healer frowns without opening her eyes and then lays her palms on his head again. Kenobi frowns minutely and then closes his eyes as Master Che shifts through his mind. Eyes shut, he looks older and younger, almost ageless – and he still looks tired.
Qui-Gon had seen Obi-Wan Kenobi before. It had taken him time to remember, but he'd been there in other exhibition duels before, and he'd seen this ginger boy fighting. He hadn't really stood out then, not outside how aggressive and forceful his fighting style was, how affected he got during his duels. Qui-Gon hadn't bothered to exactly press him into his memory, but he has the vaguest memory of considering the boy very emotional.
Very few can remain calm and emotionless when they have a Healer poking around their heads, shifting through their private thoughts and memories. This apparent lack of interest in what she's seeing, the utter lack of shame or even a hint of private concern, is… disquieting to witness, especially from someone so young, who usually are so easily embarrassed and defensive about their own wandering thoughts.
When Che pulls away, Kenobi doesn't even seem to notice the change – and he pays no attention to her as she turns away to wipe her face clean of the tears she'd shed for whatever she saw. "You are," she says and draws a shaking breath. "A very strong man, Master Kenobi."
"You are a very strong woman, Master Che," the initiate answers without looking up, without feeling. "Go on, make your report. I can wait."
She lets out a choked laugh. "Yes, yes you can," she agrees and for a moment she rests a hand on his shoulder. "I am so sorry."
For the first time, the initiate looks almost a little moved – he glances up at her and frowns a little what he sees on her face. He almost looks uncomfortable as he nods and looks down. Che squeezes his shoulder tightly, almost desperately, for a moment and then walks past him, leaving the strange initiate alone in the medical room.
Master Che is wiping her face again with a cloth as she enters the observatory, and close up it's obvious how effected she is. She's still shaking a little as she goes down to kneel to face the Grandmaster.
"Saw much you did in Young Kenobi's mind," Yoda comments worriedly. "Truth he is telling, then?"
"There is no way to fake the sheer… multitude of memories he has," the healer says quietly, squeezing the cloth in her hands. "That man has lived a very… very long time. His mind is hundreds of years old."
Qui-Con swallows and looks at the healing room again. Kenobi is reading the datapad in apparent boredom, shifting through whatever he's seeing with easy flicks of his fingers. He doesn't look old; he looks like a foolish, lonely thirteen year old boy, sitting alone on a medical gurney, still dressed in initiate's simple tunics.
"Why is he here?" Qui-Gon asks. "If he's telling the truth… why?"
The healer shakes her head. "In the beginning, he… wanted to save people. Quite a number of people," Master Che says and runs a hand over her lekku uneasily. "There is a terrible… terrible galactic war in his past, in our future, that he sought to prevent. That and quite a number of regrets he carries, losses he suffered that he wanted to stop… that is why this begun."
"He failed," Qui-Gon guesses.
Master Che shakes her head and turns to Yoda. "Whatever he meant to in the beginning, whether he succeeded or not, to doesn't matter anymore. Those changes he made are unmade when he came back. He's stuck now," the twi-lek says. "He lives out his life, he makes great changes, and then he dies… and he returns here, again and again. Nothing he's done has made a difference and he doesn't know how to stop now."
Yoda runs a hand over his mouth, turning his eyes to the medical room. They're quiet for a long time, digesting the words. Qui-Gon still can't believe it, it's too fantastical, too utterly ridiculous – but… but it's hard to dismiss the findings of a mind healer. He'd like a second opinion maybe, just in case Kenobi somehow fooled Che, but…
It's not his place. And he can feel it in the Force – there are no thread of falsehoods here. Whatever Kenobi is, whatever he is doing, it's not trickery. Master Che's disturbance is honest, her feelings true and pure. She believes, and Kenobi believes, and Qui-Gon has hard holding onto his suspicion at the face of their conviction.
Still. It's all so fantastical.
And there sits Kenobi, all of thirteen years of age, utterly indifferent to the confusion he's causing.
"Proof we now have… but how is this possible?" Yoda wonders. "Unheard of it is."
"To us, yes, but…" Che frowns a little, glances at Qui-Gon and then turns to look at Kenobi again. She presses her lips together for a moment and then lowers her eyes. "That man – he's immortal in the Force," she then says.
"What?" Qui-Gon asks together with Yoda, both their eyebrows rising.
"When he died the first time, he joined the Force and kept his sentience intact," she says, a little helpless. "I could feel it. It was… I can't even think it, never mind put in into words, but I know. He is immortal in the Force. In his first life he learned how to… join the Force and stay and it made him powerful beyond… beyond anything."
"That's not –" Qui-Gon starts to say and Master Che shakes her head.
"And you," she says, looking at him almost sympathetically. "You, Master Jinn, are the one who taught him how."
"The Whills," Kenobi says, eying them with that look of weary resignation and irritation that seems to be his resting face at this point. "You called them the Force Priestesses, but I think they were the Whills. There were also these beings called the Ones, who were basically Gods of Force that I met during my first – and second and fourth and also briefly in my seventh lives – who were beings made of Force. Might be that they were once part of the same species."
The boy shrugs his shoulders, uncaring. "I have no idea who was the first, but I think Qui-Gon was the first human. He – passed on before he mastered the ability fully, it took him good twenty years to manage to manifest his voice and form in detectable way to others. I had more time and long stretches of absolute seclusion to learn, though, so…"
"Nearly twenty years in a desert," Master Che murmurs.
"With only my thoughts to company me, and meditation to pass the time," Kenobi agrees, glancing at her. "Long enough to master any ability, and I only sought to master this one – I dare say I did rather well," he mutters sarcastically and then turns his eyes back to Qui-Gon and Yoda. "I eventually passed on and then was faced with the powers now at my disposal. Force flows through all things, space and time. To return as I did, it only takes the tracing of a thread. After that, I was myself again, young and alive and oh so excited to change history."
"And change it you did," Yoda comments faintly.
"I did," Kenobi agrees. "It didn't turn out how I liked it. Another war took the place of the one I sought to prevent – a bigger, darker war, one of honest, true emotion rather than manipulation and treachery like the one I fought in. It had infinitely more casualties too. Turns out people can do unimaginably horrible things to each other when they believe they're in the right. In comparison my previous, Sith engineered galactic war was more like sterile little board game."
The youth shakes his head, ignoring their horror entirely. "So when I died for the second time, I went back… for the second time. This time intending to prevent two galactic wars," he says. "As you expect, it didn't go quite as well as I hoped this time either. That was the second shortest life I had," he muses. "I was just little over thirty when I died."
"And you kept trying and failing," Qui-Gon says, trying to make sense of this.
Kenobi glances up. "Yes, but you mistake the failure, Master Jinn," he says wryly. "My failure was never my inability to prevent bad things from happening, or even my ability to make bad things worse. My failure was ever believing I could ever shape history to my liking, that anyone could. Even Sith aren't so stupid, and I know many a Sith."
Yoda taps his stick against the floor, frowning, obviously trying to grasp onto something concrete in this horrible conversation to hold onto. "Sith," he repeats. "Return the Sith will."
"The Sith never went anywhere," Kenobi says with a shrug and reaches for the datapad he'd been fiddling with. He hands it over. "Currently the Master will be Darth Palgueis – also known as Hego Damask II, the Magister of the Intergalactic Banking Guild. And then there is his apprentice, Darth Sidious – also known as or Sheev Palpatine, currently a minor administrator to the retinue of the Senator of Naboo. Eventually he'll be the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic and then Emperor of the First Galactic Empire, if their plans work out."
Yoda accepts the datapad from him with a hand that barely shakes while Qui-Gon stares at the boy in mounting horror.
"Wait about twelve years and Sidious will kill Plaguies," the boy offers with a disinterested wave of his hand. "Sidious will be easier to kill without Plaguies around – trust me, I've done it both ways."
"You're talking about assassination," Qui-Gon says, his voice faint.
"It was the simplest solution. Not that it mattered much – the moment they were dead, there were hundreds of other Dark Side users happy to claim the title of the Sith," Kenobi says and peers up at him. "You really can't help the judgement, can you? It just comes naturally to you."
Qui-Gon leans back a little, uneasy at the bored tone of accusation. He hadn't meant to sound accusing; at this point he was barely keeping pace with what he was learning, never mind having enough time or will power to actually form judgements about it.
Shaking his head Qui-Gon turns his eyes to Yoda, who is shifting through the datapad. Kenobi had pulled up news reports of the Holonet – one of the banking guild, another about some minor incident in the planet of Naboo, involving the Senator's house. In the first a muunilist male is shown – Hego Damask II Qui-Gon assumes – and in second there is human man in the background who isn't named, but who judging by the seating arrangement and slightly less elaborate robes, must be Sheev Palplatine.
"Troubling this is," Yoda muses, frowning at the datapad and gripping it so hard in his long nailed fingers that Qui-Gon is surprised it doesn't crack. "Think you do that we should… kill these Sith?"
"I don't really care one way or the other what you do about them, if anything," Kenobi admits. "But I thought you'd appreciate the information."
Yoda glances up at him, unimpressed, and Kenobi stares back, disinterested. A battle of ancient giants, Qui-Gon thinks for a moment and his head aches at the implications – that he might actually believe all this nonsense.
There is a honest to Force time traveller amongst them giving them terrible news of the future, and it's this… this creature of disrespect and indifference.
"The Sith matter not to you?" Yoda asks, eyes slightly narrowed. "Evil they are. Of the Dark side they are, these ancient enemy of the Jedi. Terrible the news their return is."
Kenobi eyes him, his expression flat. "The Sith matter very little in galactic scheme of things," he says then. "Sure, they must be terrifying to you. But there are so many things so much worse than a mere fall to the dark side is."
Yoda blinks at that while Qui-Gon straightens his back, eying the youth with disquiet. "You said the Sith engineered a war," Qui-Gon accuses. "A galactic war."
"They did. A very clear cut, sterile war – they even did us the kindness of engineering us a pair of armies from scratch so that no conscription was necessary. It was quite skilfully engineered conflict," Kenobi says and closes his eyes. "The most brilliant, terrible bit of manipulation ever engineered and they did it on galactic scale."
Qui-gon swallows, beyond disturbed by the lack of emotion in Kenobi's voice. "Then how can they not matter?"
"Because the wars that happened without them were worse, and in those wars hundreds of billions died and entire worlds burned," Kenobi says and looks up at him. "I'm not saying the Sith are good, perish the thought. All I am saying is that they are hardly the be-all-end-all of sentient evil."
Qui-Gon swallows, staring at him. "Just because conflict is smaller in scale than the alternative doesn't make it justified or just," he says, shaky in his uneasy. "You should seek to prevent both."
Kenobi just eyes him like he can't quite muster up the strength to even bother explaining his point anymore. Shaking his head he turns to look at Yoda instead. "I've done just about everything I can think to the Sith, in my time, short of joining them," he says. "Do what you want with them – I don't care either way."
Yoda clears his throat at that and glances up at Qui-Gon, who fights the urge to pace away the anxious energy now coiling inside of him. This is all too much, this is… this is too much.
"Very well. But now do what will you, Obi-Wan Kenobi?" Yoda asks then, lowering the datapad. "Course of the history you can alter with the knowledge you have. Altered it before you have and different effects your actions have had. Care you do not anymore, hrm? Yet here you are, and changes you have already made. What will you do next, hrm, in this timeline?"
Kenobi shrugs. "I have no idea. I have no plans, no goals, nothing," he admits with a sigh and closes his eyes. "Do what you want with me, Master Yoda. I really don't care."
Qui-Gon looks away, running a slightly shaking hand through his beard. And that's the worse thing, isn't it? So much foreknowledge and all the power there in – Kenobi is like a seer, now, the most powerful seer recorded... and he plans on doing nothing, nothing at all. The indifference is beyond distressing. And what more – the boy really means it when he says, do what you want with me. As if his own continued freedom, comfort or even existence no longer matter to him.
They could throw this boy into torture chamber and leave him to rot and he wouldn't give a damn. And that's… that's too much.
He shares a look with Vokara Che, who looks up at him. Qui-Gon arches his eyebrows, wondering. Is the boy depressed, has this all… affected his mind beyond apathy? It must have, if it really all did happen. Kenobi is implying a lot of wars – and even one is enough to damage person's mind irreversibly. That, these repeated lives – and no doubt, repeated failures – couldn't have left no marks on him.
Che looks at Kenobi and her expression is weary and sad – but not pitying. She looks concerned more than anything. She says nothing though, keeping her counsel to herself.
Yoda takes a breath and makes a decision. "Talk to the council you will. Tell them everything you will," the Grandmaster says, his tone weary.
"Sure," Kenobi agrees without bothering to open his eyes. "Most of them won't believe me, but sure."
Yoda sighs and shakes his head. "Believe they will, in time," he says and looks away. "Too much you know – hard to discredit your power is. Further proof there will be, when your knowledge is confirmed."
Kenobi shrugs. "If you say so, Master Yoda."
"Care you don't," Yoda says and eyes the boy sadly. "Hmr. A Master you should take," he then muses.
"There is nothing anyone here can teach me that I don't already know," Kenobi says, unenthusiastic. "It's waste of time and the Master's efforts would be better expended on someone who actually might benefit from their teaching."
"Teach you they perhaps can't. But guide you, yes. Bond with you," Yoda says and now Kenobi looks at him. "Faded you are in spirit, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Know it well I do – age does this. Weary we become as old we become. Too young in body you are for a student, now. But a Master, young and strong, might yet ground you. Bond you should; strength of will from it you may draw."
Kenobi stares at him and then lifts his head. "So that's how you do it," he says in realisation. "You draw your purpose from your students. That's why you teach the crèches, isn't it? To be with younglings."
"Brighten greatly my old age their youth does," Yoda admits with a brief, complicated smile and reaches out to pat Kenobi's knee. "Bond you have not in while, have you?"
"Not… not in two lifetimes now," Kenobi admits and frowns little, looking almost confused, uneasy. "Not in over hundred and fifty years now, as time passes for me."
Yoda nods in understanding. "Feel the difference you will, when in contact with a younger spirit you become," he promises and looks at Qui-Gon.
"No," Qui-Gon says, half horrified of the idea. "It's – I'm sorry Master," he quickly offers and glances at Kenobi, "But no, I don't feel – qualified."
The look Kenobi gives him is beyond unimpressed and Qui-Gon coughs awkwardly. "No," the boy – the immortal – agrees flatly. "I agree with him – it's not going to be him."
"No," Yoda agrees with a wry expression. "Right temperament it takes to bond with an old mind – fitting for it Qui-Gon Jinn is not."
Thank the Force, Qui-Gon thinks and then feels immediately guilty for it. When he looks at Kenobi the boy is watching him – there is no censure in his eyes, no judgement, just terrible weariness and understanding before Qui-Gon can't bear it anymore and has to look away – at something, anything else, than at that well of lonely exhaustion in Kenobi's eyes.
Vokara Che is looking at them, glancing between Yoda and him and then looking at Kenobi. For a moment she looks like she might speak up, might offer it – but in the end she looks away, closing her eyes. Whatever she'd seen in Kenobi's mind... she doesn't think herself up to the task of facing it again.
Kenobi if he notices her consideration and silent rejection at all makes no move to acknowledge it one way or the other.
"To the Jedi High Council we will take this matter," Yoda says and straightens his back. "To their collective wisdom we will look. Curious I am whether told them before you have."
"Yes. Never this soon, though," Kenobi admits. "Usually I make sure I've proven myself first, so I sound little less like complete lunatic."
"I'm – sorry," Qui-Gon offers, as he, Kenobi and Master Che wait outside the council chambers for Yoda to call them in. "I understand I have been your Master before, but – I really am not up to the task again. I'm sorry."
Kenobi has his eyes shut and for a moment Qui-Gon thinks he is going to ignore the words entirely, pretend he's not listening at all. "Trust me, Master Jinn," Kenobi finally says. "You have nothing to be sorry about."
Vokara Che frowns a little at that, glancing at Kenobi who doesn't open his eyes. Qui-Gon looks at her as her lips press tight together – then she looks away, her expression uneasy. Kenobi is lying, then, and badly too.
"Somehow I don't believe that," Qui-Gon mutters.
Kenobi smiles, mirthless. "I mean every word," he says without inflection in his voice.
What the hell had he done to this boy? Somewhere, a version of Qui-Gon had been this boy's Master, and it had left scars so deep Qui-Gon can almost feel them rasping against the air with every breath Kenobi takes. Kenobi still fells emotionally vacant more than anything – but even so, there is undercurrent of hurt and bitterness there that makes Qui-Gon's skin crawl.
A version of him had hurt this immortal impossibility badly, and Qui-Gon doesn't dare to ask how. He doesn't want to know.
Kenobi releases a breath and opens his eyes. There are shadows under them that make his irises look bleached of colour – like the spiritual exhaustion is bleeding into the physical form now. "I don't know what I'm doing," Kenobi suddenly says, his voice faint and almost confused. "What the hell am I doing?"
Qui-Gon opens his mouth, but he can't think of an answer – Master Che only looks uneasy as she eyes the initiate. Kenobi says nothing more, turning his eyes to the door to the council chambers just as they shift quietly open.
"Enter the Council Chambers you will now," Yoda tells them from the doorway. "Much to discuss there is. Come."
Kenobi looks like he'd rather jump off the window, but he turns to follow. Qui-Gon shares a look with Master Che over his shoulder and she shakes her head subtly.
Together they enter the council chambers.
"You must understand, this is a little too much," Ki-Adi-Mundi says, as they all stare at the three Jedi in front of the Jedi High Council. Master from the Halls of Healing, still a little young but well respected Vokara Che. The renegade Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn who, as always, looks like he would rather be anywhere than before the High Council. And the initiate, thirteen years of age, staring at them with void of emotion in his heart.
"This is downright unbelievable," Mace Windu says with a wave of his hand. "If thing of this nature was possible, I don't think such an ability would've gone without this council knowing about it."
"Ah, but all of the Force we do not know. Much we know, but eternal the Force is," the Grandmaster answers from his seat – there is no question about what he believes, he was the one who brought the matter in front of the council. "Other sects there are, other abilities – and much history lost long to us."
"I think if someone had ever came back in time, it would've been noticed," Windu says, frowning.
"Perhaps not," Plo Koon muses, his face aimed ahead, his gaze probably on the supposed traveller of time amidst them. "Should such a thing ever have occurred, there is little reason for it to have happened within our Order. It is not the way of the Jedi to regret and seek to change the past – but to learn from it. History is not for the Jedi to determine."
Kenobi's eyes slide over to the Kel Dor, but he says nothing, just stands there, his posture easy and relaxed, his hands loose at his side. No Padawan braid, no tail, just even straight hair cut, and initiate's simple tunics – not even a learner yet – and he stands there without hint of nervousness or unease.
"Tell me, young one," Plo Koon says and leans forward a little. "Why did you come back the first time?"
"We shouldn't humour him," Windu says with a frown.
"Then humour me," Plo Koon says and looks at the boy again. "Please."
Kenobi eyes him in silence for a moment and then he offers a crooked, mirthless smile. "I thought I could determine the history and shape it to my liking," he says.
It's almost like the boy is actively trying to get them to disbelieve – and dislike – him.
"Indeed?" Plo Koon says, his voice calm. "And what kind of history would be to your liking?"
"One where the Jedi lived and the Galaxy didn't burn."
"This is ludicrous," Yarael Poof mutters while Koon leans back, humming deep under his filter. "Master Windu is right, we shouldn't be humouring this level of ridiculous arrogance. The boy can't possibly be telling the truth."
"And what gain would from lies he get, hm?" Yoda asks, casting a glance at him. "And how trick could he not only myself, but Master of the Mind, a healer such as Vokara Che? Trick two Masters this Initiate would have – no small feat."
They all turn their eyes back to the middle of the hall, to Qui-Gon who frowns a little uneasily and shifts his hands to the sleeves of his cloak, to even out his body language. "I believe the boy also," Qui-Gon says. "This is far too elaborate for it to be a trick, and…" he casts a glance at Kenobi and trails away. "Lying here would gain him nothing but censure. There would be little point to it."
The boy glances back and then looks away.
"Master Jinn, you must realise how this all sounds," Windu says.
"Believe me, Master, I do," Qui-Gon mutters and shakes his head. "And I enjoy the concept even less than you do, I believe, but if my opinion and my judgement carries any weight, then please know that I believe this boy to be entirely, even all too brutally, truthful."
Kenobi closes his eyes briefly and lowers his chin – somehow, that statement matters to him more than the Council's disregard of him so far has. How very interesting.
Windu draws a breath and leans back in his seat.
"Say this youth we believe, and his testimony as accurate we accept," Yaddle says from her seat slowly. "To the Jedi Order this much this will mean."
If the boy is truthful, a time traveller with nine life times worth of memories of varying courses the future would take from here on out, then yes… it would mean quite a bit. The boy is worse than a seer; this is bigger than a mere vision.
"Dangerous such knowledge might be," Yaddle says and looks at the rest of the council and then at Windu and Plo Koon. "Change the course of History it can, indeed, it already must have."
Windu's expression is placid as he leans back, eying Kenobi who looks back, expression careless. "We require proof," the Master of the Order finally says. "Beyond testimonies. Can you prove your knowledge, initiate Kenobi?"
Kenobi blinks slowly at that. "How do you prove a future knowledge?" he asks. "Everything is time sensitive, nothing will be proven until it happens. Or should I tell you things of the past and present I shouldn't know at this time and can only learn in future, perhaps in possession of a higher rank? Codes of this Council perhaps, the oaths you swear when you enter it, the exact number of seat of the Council's Lounge in the Senate? All of that could be dismissed as information illicitly acquired from the archives or with good guesswork."
Kenobi's words are met with silence and frowns, which he meets with unimpressed expression. "There is no point to this. I've stood here four times now, explaining this all to you, all with same results," the boy says. "You never believe any proof I give to you – not until few months down the line and at least fourteen accurate predictions of future events of my account. I even have a list of exactly fourteen events I will soon be writing down for you in excessive detail, which will happen, one after another, in following three months."
The council doesn't seem to know what to say to that straight away, so, Dooku finally speaks himself. "And then what happens?" he asks. "What will this Council do when they finally accept your knowledge as accurate."
The boy's eyes slide over to him almost boredly. "You lock me up. It's worded differently – that I should remain in the safety of the Temple because of my situation, for my safety, for the safety of those around me, to preserve the clarity of my vision… but the essence is the same. My knowledge is deemed too dangerous and too disruptive, something that must be managed with care and wisdom – and so I am locked up in the Temple."
Dooku runs a hand over his whiskers to hide his smile. Yes, that sounds exactly like what this council would decide to do. "And did you stay locked up?"
"Twice, with increasingly terrible results," Kenobi says flatly and looks away. "After that I stopped bothering with it."
It ruffles a lot of feathers around the council chambers. Even though they don't believe, the implied insult hits home. Of all of them only Yoda doesn't look affronted, only concerned as he eyes the initiate.
Windu clears his throat and turns his eyes to Vokara Che. "Tell us again what did you see in Kenobi's mind."
Dooku leans back in his seat, crossing one leg over the other and watching Kenobi's face as the healer launches into retelling of the boy's mind, the glimpses she'd gleaned of it during her scans. It's a lot. Long career from Initiate to High Council Member – from a boy to a General in several wars. War between clones and droids – and then, war between thousands of worlds and all their peoples, between massive fleets. Jedi dead again and again – first under a single order carried by allies, then by hordes of bounty hunters, assassins, poisons. Once, under a massive bombing that took out not only the Jedi temple, but good chunk of Coruscant too.
Kenobi's expression stays entirely, completely disinterest during all of it, even when Che tells them again about the many Sith she'd seen in his mind – and how many of them Kenobi had personally slain. The only time there is any reaction from Kenobi is when Che mentions his own Padawan, turning to the Dark Side, but even that is a mere tired closing of his eyes.
No smugness of lie well told, of trick perfectly executed. No arrogance or righteousness. There is nothing on Kenobi's face, none of his emotions echo into the Force. Even his body language is lacking. He's not controlling himself, there is no sign of poise or posture in him – he just… stands there.
Dooku has felt more emotion coming from a cooling corpse than this lad.
"All these scenes were in detail, with sensational information, smell, feel, touch… but with wear and tear of time that all memories suffer in humans," Vokara Che tells them. "Human mind is flawed and every time it recalls a memory, that memory is not so much remembered as it is remade in the image of itself. It's that wear, that blurring of the peripheral, that proves the memory true. False memories are generally too perfect; the aging of a recollection is hard to fake. What more, I could feel the Force in his memory and that is entirely impossible to falsify as far as I know."
"You felt the Force?" Windu asks.
"As Master Kenobi felt it, during the time those memories were imprinted upon his mind," Master Che nods.
There is a moment of silence as the council considers this, staring at Kenobi with increasing unease. They won't believe him without proof, of course, in that Kenobi is completely accurate. But the boy's confidence – or rather his utter lack of doubt – makes them wary.
Dooku can already guess at Windu's ruling here. Kenobi would be to stay within the temple, under watchful eye of Knights and Masters, and he would make his list of his proving moments and events. In the time before they would be proven accurate, he would be tested for further future knowledge and mastery abilities beyond his years. Kenobi is a Jedi Knight, Master and Council Member – some of things several times over – so he would have skills greater than those of a mere initiate. Kenobi would be called to prove his abilities, time and time again, until the Council would eventually bend to the inevitable and accept his knowledge as accurate.
And then, yes, they would lock the boy up, manage him with the care given to a high explosive. His future knowledge would be recorded in a thousand holocrons, to be screened and managed and debated on endlessly. And then the Jedi order would have to face a terrible power in their possession – the ability to determine future.
Some would vote that it wasn't theirs to change. Others would vote that it was their duty to try and prevent future ills. And with Kenobi's knowledge proven accurate, so would his report of the Sith be proven also, and that would become a key point of thousand arguments in this hall. To deal away with the Sith before they act would prevent future ills – but to deal away with them before they have done any ill at all would be predeterministic fatalisim and utterly illegal.
A pre emptive assassination is hardly the Jedi way.
The debates would continue for months, for years. Some changes would be made with great care no doubt. Perhaps Kenobi's wars would even be prevented – or they'd swing into the worse ones that resulted in the absence of the previous conflicts. Whichever way it went, Kenobi would become their Seer, their Guiding Light and their terrible Secret Weapon all at once, rotting away in gilded prison, carefully watched and hallowed and feared, while he was used to change the future for the better.
No, Dooku thinks, eying the boy who is watching the council around them with hint of exasperation. He can see it too, it had probably happened just like that to him in his previous times and, like he said before… he wouldn't bother with it anymore. They'd try and hold their terrible Seer – and then five hundred years of mastery and countless wars worth of experience would tell, and they'd find themselves unable to hold him in check.
Dooku slides his eyes away from the boy to Yoda, who is stroking his chin with a worried expression. Sensing his gaze, Yoda turns to look and his frown deepens – his old Master can see it too, like a trail markers on a predetermined map, leading to a pitfall.
"A break to discuss this I suggest," Yoda says and stands up. "Much there is to consider and whatever decision there is to be made, hastily it made cannot be."
There's almost a collective sigh. "Agreed," Windu says and also stands up. "Thank you, Masters Jinn and Che, for your time. You are dismissed. Kenobi," he turns his eyes to the boy. "Wait outside, please, we will call you in once we've had a moment to discuss this."
The boy bows his head briefly and then turns to follow Qui-Gon and Che out. Dooku watches them go and then looks at the other members of the Council as they stand to stretch their legs and then congregate into groups to talk the matter over.
One of them doesn't, however. One of them stands and follows Qui-Gon, Che and Kenobi out of the council chambers entirely. Dooku frowns after Master Sifo Dyas, glances at Yoda and then quickly stands as well, and heads after Master Dyas.
Jinn and Che are hesitating outside while Kenobi has taken seat on the bench by the window, overlooking the city of Coruscant. Sifo Dyas is approaching him, passing Qui-Gon and Che by with a brief nod.
"Master," Qui-Gon says a little warily when he spots Dooku following him.
"Padawan," Dooku nods. "Quite the quandary you brought us."
Qui-Gon opens his mouth to argue, as always, but then he glances at Che and then at Kenobi and sighs instead. "I suppose I did, even if I remember none of it," he mutters and shakes his head. "Force immortality. Of all the things, it's not what I saw in my own future."
"Nothing of this is what any of us saw," Dooku agrees, his eyes following Sifo Dyas. Except, he thinks, perhaps for one. "Are you here in the temple for long?"
"It was meant only to be a pit stop – I have a mission lined up," Qui-Gon admits. "This," he motions at Kenobi. "Rather disrupted my schedule however, and I haven't yet been given the order to set out, so I do not know. It is up to your Council, I fear."
"Then, time permitting, do come by later so we may share a cup of tea together," Dooku says. "It has been a good long while, my student, and I would quite enjoy chance to catch up you."
"It has indeed, Master, and I would enjoy it myself," Qui-Gon agrees, watching Kenobi. "You're not here merely to invite me for tea, though."
"No, I'm afraid not. Excuse me, Padawan, Master Che," Dooku says, bowing his head briefly to the healer, before turning to follow Sifo Dyas.
"… tell me about it," Sifo is saying. "The wars – is there no way to prevent them?"
Kenobi is staring out to the city, listless. "I haven't been able to. If it's not one war, then it's another – if not that, then it's a series of unconnected, bloody conflicts, sieges, blockades, that might not be called a war officially, but they're essentially the same thing. The galaxy is priming for divergence and if there is a way to stop it, I haven't discovered it."
"So, it's not just one thing," Sifo Dyas says. "No key point to change."
Kenobi says nothing for a moment and then looks up. "The cloners aren't the answer, trust me."
Sifo Dyas straightens up a little at that
"I loved many of those clones like they were my own brothers, and every time I prevent them from coming to existence it feels like I kill them all – but they are not the answer," Kenobi look away. "You don't prevent a war by preparing for it – and in the end, the destruction of the Jedi Order always happens the fastest at the hands of the clones. Nothing quite like having an army of hundreds of thousands of mind controlled slaves at your disposal, when you have a kill order to execute."
"Dear Force," Sifo Dyas whispers.
"What are you talking about," Dooku asks sharply, looking between Kenobi and Sifo.
Kenobi glances at him, takes him in, and then looks away. "Master Dyas sees the future – he's foreseen the wars for years now and no one's listened to him. Soon, he will – or would – get frustrated and start acting on his own to prevent it. In one of my pasts he… via quite bit of outside manipulation… commissions the creation of a clone army – the same clone army I spoke of. To defend the Republic from the war, I believe?" he glances at Sifo. "In doing so you made the war you sought to prevent possible – the Sith used your army as one piece on their board and made another to match it on the other side, and we had nice little clinical war for three years across thousands of star systems, with hundreds of thousands of losses, including most of the Jedi Order."
Kenobi hum and then looks at Dooku. "And you were one of the Sith who kills him."
"… I was what?" Dooku asks, stunned. "I do what?"
"You've already started to doubt the Jedi Order and the Council, haven't you?" Kenobi asks, pointed and knowing. "You're going to start studying other disciplines soon. In twelve years you will leave the Jedi Order behind and eventually begin learning other ways of manipulating the Force. This will eventually lead the Sith to you, and eager for more knowledge, for power, for order and discipline… you join them. Darth Tyranus, the Second Apprentice of Darth Sidious. You will be the leader of the other side of the war he," Kenobi points at Sifo Dyas, "makes possible. Count Dooku of the Confederation of Independent Systems. You kill Sifo Dyas for his army and eventually Sidious leads you to your designated public death at the hands of his third apprentice, and Sidious is left with an Empire to rule. All thanks to you two."
Dooku opens his mouth and snaps it shut while Sifo Dyas gapes at him in silent horror.
Kenobi watches them impassively. "Are you sure you want to know more about the war?" he asks flatly and turns his eyes back to the city.
The words settle on them like net of chains, and for a moment Dooku struggles to draw breath. You've already started to doubt, said so plainly like it was given that he had, that he would. Had he? Dooku thinks of council meetings and Master Windu's dedication to tradition, the firm belief of Order's dedication to neutrality, how slow they are to act on any matter…
He thinks of Kenobi locked up in a gilded cage, how obvious that fate seems for the boy, and yes, yes, he doubts it. He doubts the Council's wisdom, he doubts it greatly.
Running a hand over his beard, Dooku looks up at Sifo Dyas who is frowning now. Then, slowly, he takes a seat beside the impossible boy. "You've taken steps before to prevent this," he says then.
"Killing you, you mean? Yes," Kenobi says without care. "I poisoned your tea once, gave you a heart attack – and for Master Dyas I arranged an accident that crashed him down hundred and forty Coruscanti levels, dead instantly on impact. I also took out the Sith who manipulated you, of course. We still had a war, that life, a different war from the one I fought. A True War of true intent."
By the Force, the lack of emotion in the boy's voice as he speaks of assassinating them is disturbing.
Kenobi looks at them, first at Sifo Dyas and then at Dooku. "You two are the Jedi Temple's best example of a road to hell being paved with good intentions," he muses with a wry sort of cold amusement.
"And what are you, then?" Dooku asks, giving him the look.
Kenobi considers that. "The road worker, probably," he muses. "I tried to stop the war – any of them, all of them – seven times in various ways. Eight, if you count my first life. It doesn't really seem to matter much either way. Still, here I am. Still trying. At this point I think I can claim ownership for the road."
For a moment future hangs open, a gaping maw of thousand terrible teeth, yawning at them in boredom. Then Dooku shakes his head. "Which was the best outcome of all your attempts?" he asks.
Kenobi closes his eyes. "By which measure? How many people died, how many Jedi died, what the political situation was after wards? My first life had least overall casualties, almost all Jedi died and afterwards the galaxy was ruled by autocratic Empire ruled by Sith Emperor. My second life had billions of casualties, but hundreds of Jedi survived, and after wards we had a semblance of democracy – the galaxy was split in three, though, between the Republic, the Confederation of Independent System and Council of Neutral Systems. My third life I have no idea, I was locked away in the temple and died barely twenty years into it when the Jedi Temple was bombed. My fourth life I escaped, I killed you two and we had another true war, billions dead, most of the Jedi dead, I have no idea what state the galaxy was left afterwards though probably good, considering they developed Planet Killers that life. My fifth was shortest; I tried again, failed again, war started nearly ten years too early and I killed myself after barely sixteen years - "
"Stop," Sifo Dyas says softly and runs a hand over his face. "Please, stop."
Kenobi stops and opens his eyes a crack, the terrible monotone of his voice cutting off. Dooku stares at nothing in particular, trying to get the echo of the boy's voice out of his ears – trying to get the images it had roused out of his mind. There are… so many implications that he can hardly keep track of them and yet they reveal themselves to his imagination and he can almost feel inexorable horror of it, an inevitable destruction in motion.
In time, he will look to this conversation – he will try glean wisdom from it, make a timeline of it. If Kenobi stays within the Jedi Order he will try and get more information out of him and use it to his advantage, try and prevent the future but right now… Right now locking Kenobi up in a gilded cage and throwing away the key seems a little more tempting after all.
"I don't know what is the best outcome," Kenobi says, ignoring their expressions, their silence, their horror. "What's the measuring stick here? Lives lost, lives saved, years lived, the duration of the war, how long it takes to get there? The end result maybe? Is it a win if we still have democracy after billions die, or is it a win of we scrape through it with mere millions dead, but end up living under an Empire instead? What exactly is the qualification of a good outcome here?"
It sounds almost rhetorical asked in that tone of cool indifference, like he's talking of an academic thought experiment – rather than the future of the entire galaxy.
Sifo Dyas draws a breath. "This is your tenth life," he says then.
"You've tried to prevent the war eight times, counting your first, you said. Does that mean that in one of your lives you didn't?"
Kenobi says nothing for a moment, eying Coruscant. "Ninth life, my last life," he says then. "I walked away. It was the longest life I had. I did nothing and I cared for no one and thanks to that I lived for nearly hundred and thirty years in peace."
The silence following the words almost echoes.
"It was probably the worst life I had," Kenobi muses and then looks up as behind them the doors to the council chamber open again and Yoda calls them to return. The boy glances behind them and stands up again.
In silence, the three of them return to the council chambers, Dooku and Sifo Dyas with no idea what might have been discussed behind closed door. Dooku doesn't really care – it couldn't have possibly been worse than what the boy told them, that shaky, terrible future of choices that seems to sit on Kenobi's still slim shoulders, depending on his utterly careless shrug to decide which way it will fall.
The Council takes their seats, and Kenobi stands before them, alone and without fear, a slim boy of thirteen – immortal of centuries worth of experience
Yoda takes a breath and speaks. "Suggest before I did that a Master Obi-Wan Kenobi needs," he says. "And true that still is, whether this council believes his words or not."
Dooku frowns and looks at Kenobi – whose expression twitches, just a little.
"If the boy is lying –" Windu starts to say.
"Then a Master set him right will," Yoda says, glancing at him. "If proven true he is, some support hurt him will not. In either case an initiate he is right now, thirteen years old in four weeks, and in need of a Master as such he is. Come whatever later may that still the truth is."
Kenobi frowns slightly at that and Dooku watches the expression develop with interest. For the first time, the boy looks conflicted, even hesitant. A Master could be a ball at the end of a chain for someone like him, a restraining and restricting weight holding him forever back. Never mind the fact that it must be a little bit insulting too, to force a Master on someone who is beyond a Master himself.
The council exchanges looks of indecision and unease while Yoda leans forward. "Accept a Master would you, Obi-Wan Kenobi?"
Some of the councillors look almost offended by that – Dooku can almost imagine them thinking it, that it isn't up to the Padawan to accept a Master, it was the other way around. No one says anything, though, and Kenobi eyes Yoda for a long moment, searching his face and saying nothing.
"Surely you wouldn't shackle any old knight to me, knowing what I might know might be the truth," Kenobi then says and his tone is almost sarcastic. "It will be someone in this Council, hm? Only a Councillor might manage someone like me. Are there any actual volunteers – or will it be the one who draws the short straw?"
There is a silence, uneasy and tense and long lasting, before Yoda finally breaks it. "Well?" he asks and looks around. "Volunteers are there?"
The members of the Jedi High Council barely meet his eyes before they look away, signalling their unwillingness to step forward. Dooku watches them without an expression and then looks at Kenobi, who doesn't look particularly surprised – or impressed.
Dooku sighs and stands up. Kenobi's eyes shift to him sharply and then narrow. "I volunteer," Dooku says and watches Kenobi's expression. "But knowing what he does of me, I doubt young Kenobi would have me for a Master."
Not, if he's slated to become a Sith Lord of all things. Good grief, even thinking about it seems ludicrous, and yet – and yet, it rings with terrible, inevitable truth. And Kenobi certainly believes it – to him is a fact so certain he's flippant about it.
"Knowing what he does of you?" Windu asks. "You believe him?"
"Unfortunately, yes," Dooku agrees and folds his hands into the sleeves of his robe with a wry sigh. "I believe every word."
Kenobi stares at him silently, his eyes narrowed. Then he looks around – whether it is to see someone else volunteer, or to watch the Council members' expressions, Dooku doesn't know, but he's patient – he can wait for Kenobi's final decision, rejection though it surely must be.
"I also volunteer," another voice then speaks.
Dooku half expects it to be Sifo Dyas – but it isn't. Sifo Dyas has leaned back in his seat and shows no sign of even thinking about standing up to volunteer. No, the speaker has a deeper voice, distorted by a filter.
Plo Koon stands up gracefully. "I volunteer to become young Kenobi's Master," the Kel Dor says and clasps his hands together calmly.
Kenobi's eyes move to him much slower than they did to Dooku – the surprise is slower this time, more uncertain and hesitant. Dooku is a little disappointed. Had he been the only one to volunteer, Kenobi might've been assigned to him regardless of whether the boy chose him or not due to lack of other options. But Plo Koon…
Why the Kel Dor would offer it, Dooku doesn't know, Plo Koon is as inscrutable as ever. But he is also known for things Dooku has never had the patience for – kindness, understanding, tolerance, acceptance. Whatever Plo Koon might become in the many futures Kenobi knows, Dooku rather doubts the man ever becomes a Sith Lord. He doesn't have the temperament.
His offer would be of honest concern and intend, not because of intellectual curiosity and somewhat self serving interest. And Dooku is self aware enough to know that it's why he'd like take Kenobi on as his Padawan – sure, he could possibly help the boy, maybe change the future for the better… but more than that he could gain from the boy. Which, honestly, makes him somewhat surprised that Sifo Dyas didn't offer at all – he too has much to gain.
Kenobi glances his way, considers it and then turns to Plo Koon. "If my choice matters, I'd choose Master Koon," he says.
Dooku sighs and goes to sit back down. It's a kinder fate for him, he supposed. Plo Koon would do well by Kenobi, he might even be able to help him, heal his spirit. Yes… it is a better fate, waste though it might end up being.
"… however Master Dooku can do more with me," Kenobi continues and Dooku stops, frowning. Kenobi looks his way. "With my knowledge Master Dooku could change the future in ways I don't think Master Koon could."
Dooku frowns at the boy and falls to sit down, leaning back. Kenobi looks calm, even the uneasy shifting and murmuring of the Council around him doesn't affect him. Dooku lets himself imagine it – Kenobi calm at his side, supplying him with all that knowledge, all that intelligence, aiding him with his plans, whatever they might be be. Kenobi would aid him, he realises. Kenobi wouldn't even care if he became a Sith, would he?
After all, the wars engineered by the Sith were no better or worse than the wars that occurred naturally. If anything, Kenobi seems to prefer them.
Dooku runs a hand over his bearded chin and glances at Plo Koon, who looks back, utterly unreadable. Plo Koon would be a kinder fate – Dooku would be a greater one.
Who's to say which one is better?
Obi-Wan Kenobi feels static in Force. Not merely stationary and settled, like most Masters of Force do, but his Force presence is that of soft white noise, like background radiation or ambient gas – it blends into the background while also at the same time disrupting it with its very presence, making the Force around it resonate with him.
Whether it is intentional or something he developed over the years without intending to, is hard to say, but it makes him hard to read. His emotions, and Plo Koon doesn't for a moment believe he truly lacks them, are masked by the static nature of his Force presence and his movements do not radiate into the Force like most people's do. Obi-Wan Kenobi telegraphs little and gives nothing away.
What the boy – or perhaps the Master within him – thinks of Plo Koon is hard to say. Is he disappointed that it is not Master Dooku standing there in Plo's place? He doesn't show it. Plo is generally few initiate's ideal of a chosen Master – a Kel Dor made for a difficult padawan and would make no doubt for a worse Master for a human. Already there are issues to be addressed because of his species…
But he had been Kenobi's first choice and that matters.
"Master Koon," Kenobi says, looking up at him.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi," Plo says with a nod. "Tell me, how do you wish to be addressed?"
Kenobi had had no objections to being called young one but it's starting to become obvious that it is the wrong thing to say. Initiate doesn't fit, and Plo isn't sure if Padawan will be accurate either. Whether his tale of the futures lived and pasts left behind is entirely truthful, Plo doesn't yet know, but Kenobi himself believes it. To call a boy so young physically a Master…
The boy blinks slowly. "Ben," he then says. "Call me Ben."
Plo arches his brows at that a little and then nods slowly. No titles then. Very well. "Ben," he agrees, as warm as the filter allows his distorted voice to be. "The Council have made their decision concerning you, but the final choice rests with you. When Master Dooku and myself volunteered, you showed interest in both and the situation concerning you is special. If you rather have Master Dooku than myself, feel free to say so – no one will judge you for it."
The human boy tilts his head a little and then lowers his gaze. "I've only ever had one Master," he then says. "Qui-Gon Jinn was my Master on all the lives where I had one. I don't know what the outcome might be under Master Dooku – I know it would be different, though. His interests lie in areas where my knowledge would be useful. He could change the future."
A very neutral answer, Plo muses. "If changing the future is what you want," he says, just as neutral.
Ben says nothing for a moment, his eyes somewhere in Plo's chest rather than his face. Difficulty in meeting the filters in place of eyes? Most humans do – it is their nature to look for eyes for emotional information, and it is uneasy for them to be met with the goggles instead. Plo has always done his best to convey feeling and sentiment in body language instead, but the lack of lips to smile with or eyes to communicate meaning with has always made interactions with more facial-feature heavy species… difficult.
It's one of the many reasons why Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ben, would be his very first Padawan.
But this is hardly about him.
Plo takes in the young human's body language. His face gives away little, his eyes are so still and unseeing one might mistake him for a blind person, but his body gives the presence of emotion away. The tensing of his shoulders, the breath he draws, how he stands, his hands carefully still and loose at his side, not gripping, not clenching, just loose. The boy hides behind a seemingly loose expression of physicality, but it's a study of disinterest and he's tense all the same, even hesitant.
This is unknown ground to him, and the boy is torn between two choices.
Plo sighs. "I know why you would want Master Dooku for your Master," he says. "However you named myself first – and this hesitation means that the two options weigh nearly equal in your mind. Why did you name me, Ben?" he asks gently. "I have none of Master Dooku's political leanings, nor do I have his great wisdom in matter concerning the galactic state of affairs. So why me?"
The boy looks up at his face. "Because you might actually be able to teach me something," he admits. "Dooku can't."
Interesting, very interesting. "And what is that something?" Plo prods.
Kenobi gives him a very wry sort of smile. "How to care," he says and looks away. "But at the same time I don't know if I can bear it. Being able to care, again."
Plo says nothing for a moment, considering him. The honesty is a little surprising, but at the same time… "I don't believe it's something you've lost," he then says. "You do still care – you care enough for this to matter to you. You have only buried the ability so deep that it hardly affects you now – but it is still there, and I can see it in you." Even if he can't sense it, he can see it – he can see the side effects of it, and occasionally there are cracks where it bleeds through.
Under the shell of detachment, Ben Kenobi feels very strongly indeed.
Ben frowns a little. "If I've buried it, it's for a good reason," he mutters. "There's a reason why Jedi Order preaches on about the importance of releasing your feelings and being detached."
"Perhaps," Plo agrees quietly. "The word of the Code that of peace, knowledge and serenity but the ideal state is that of harmony. Tell me, Ben Kenobi, are you in harmony?"
"Balance," Ben says, or rather mouths soundlessly and looks up. "No," he then says. "I'm not. But it's not about me, none of this is about me."
"To me it is," Plo says firmly and then slowly kneels in front of the boy, to meet him on a slightly more level ground. "I don't yet know if I believe you, Ben Kenobi. Intellectually I do, the proof is hard to refute… but my heart shies away from it because in the existence you have explained lies a thousand terrible horrors that I can't imagine and my heart abhors such an existence. But as you are now, as I see you right now… you need help and I would like to help you if I can."
Ben swallows, staring at his face, hesitating.
"The council has decided that I am to be your Master," Plo says. "But the final decision is yours. If you'd rather have Master Dooku, I will agree to that wish and step aside for him. But before you make that decision, know this. Under my charge, nothing will stop you from going to Master Dooku, to share with him your knowledge if that is what you wish."
The boy watches him silently for a moment. "I'm not a child in need of reassurance," he then says almost warningly… but he sounds mostly confused, like he isn't sure how to handle this, how he's supposed to react.
"Perhaps not," Plo says gently. "I'd like to give it to you anyway. This knowledge you have, you wish to do something with it, yes? But at the same time you would choose me because of whatever you think or hope I can offer you, what Dooku can't. Nothing says you can't have both. My aid – and Master Dooku's guidance."
After all, there is no way Dooku would not wish to seek Ben out for his knowledge. And he is not the only one – already Plo has been not so subtly directed to encourage the boy to share his knowledge, record it and save it, especially so if it proves correct. With Ben's comment concerning Dooku and Dooku's very well documented cunning in such matters as those of State and Politics…there is very real possibility that Dooku will all but be assigned to bring that knowledge out of Ben.
"Need you he does spiritually," the Grandmaster had said. "And know it he does, and for that first he named you. But right he is concerning my Padawan – use his knowledge well Dooku could and glean much wisdom and foresight from it."
In the end, Plo had been chosen by Master Yoda because of his more lenient nature and Master Mace had acquiesced to it because the idea of Master Dooku as sole director of Ben's power is an uneasy one to him. But the knowledge is still there and if proven correct and accurate… it would have to be utilised by someone. And Plo knows himself well enough to know that he is not the best option for that.
It takes a moment as Ben considers his words long and hard, Plo can almost hear his mind working, weighing his options, their potential repercussions. "Will I be expected to always stay in the Temple?" he then asks.
"It was discussed and the Council would prefer it," Plo says honestly. "But no, I will not expect it of you. You would be my ward – but I will not be your warden."
The boy's expression twitches a little at that and he almost, almost smiles. "Of all the Jedi I've ever known and I've known thousands of them… You've always been one of the kindest, Master Plo," he then says and takes a deep breath. "Yes. Yes, I would like you to be my Master."
"Then it is done," Plo says simply and Ben's shoulders slump a little. It might be relief or release of tension or disappointment – perhaps all of the above – but the boy doesn't look so resigned to his fate anymore. Good, Plo thinks. This one thing he has already done with some semblance of rightness. There are worse beginnings for a Master.
"You do realise there is very little you can teach me, though, right?" Ben then says, giving him a look. "I'm almost five hundred years old – there's little I haven't mastered at this point."
"Indeed. If anything, I am more fitting to be your student rather than the opposite," Plo agrees and stands up. "But this is hardly about tutelage, is it?"
Ben nods slowly, watching him thoughtfully. "I suppose not," he muses and folds his arms. "It's not going to be easy for you, you know – bonding with me. The last bond I had was…" he trails away and shakes his head. "It was unequal and I think unpleasant for my student."
"I would very much like to hear more about that, if you wish to tell me about it later," Plo says thoughtfully, motioning the boy to follow him. "I am prepared to do what I must to make this as easy for the both of us it can be. Obviously some compromises will have to be made."
"Yes," Ben says slowly, watching him closely. "But it will be hard for you."
Plo nods slowly, even as he wonders at the emphasis of it – Ben is trying to convey that it would be hard for him because of who he was, not merely because of what Ben himself might or might not be. "I made this choice knowingly, Ben," he says finally. "I am prepared."
Ben looks like he doubts that very much, but he doesn't argue.
Plo eyes him for a moment and then nods. Seems like they've decided. "We can talk more about this once the bonding is at hand. Right now, there is much to do. We must inform the council of your decision and then I'm afraid we will have to move."
"Move?" Ben asks, confused.
"My quarters are calibrated for Kel Dor physiology," Plo explains. "You would choke there – the atmosphere as no oxygen or nitrogen." He would have to from here on out wear his filters even in his personal quarters but it would be a small price to pay, one he's even used to – it is how his own Padawan years went, after all.
The boy hesitates. "I – don't want to put you off your quarters, Master Koon," he then says slowly. "How about I wear a mask instead? An oxygen gear is easier to get than for you to move just because of me."
"A kind offer, but an impractical one," Plo says gently. "It is much easier for me to wear a filter than it is for you to carry around an air tank. Do not worry about it – I am used to it."
The boy frowns at him. "There was a time when I went around in thirty kilograms of armour plus another twenty of other gear day in and day out," he says wryly. "Oxygen tank is nothing. Your quarters is the only place where you can go without filters, correct? Everyplace else, nearly every planet in the galaxy, is designed for human average physiology."
"A Jedi is expect to endure difficulties, and it is a small price to pay," Plo says slowly.
"Then I will have no trouble paying it," Ben says, giving him an unimpressed look. "I'm not going to be the reason you loose your last place of comfort, Master Koon. No – I will wear a oxygen mask instead."
Plo hesitates, eying the boy, marvelling the commanding finality of his words. He's not quite sure how to argue them. "See?" he then says. "You care quite a deal, Ben Kenobi." The boy scowls at him and Plo chuckles. "Very well, we will procure oxygen gear for you," he says and rests a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Now come, let us meet with the Council and get to work."
"Are you sure you can manage it?" Ki-Adi-Mundi asks, while Ben talks quietly with Yoda and the other councillors talk amongs themselves. "The boy is a human, the requirements for healthy living situation are quite different."
"Whether I manage it or not seems to be somewhat inconsequential – Ben has decided he will manage it whether I like it or not," Plo admits with some amusement. "If it turns out too difficult, it might be possible for him to have his own room apart from my quarters – if push comes to shove he might even keep his room in the initiate wing."
Ki-Adi peers at his face worriedly.
"It's not as if I have not thought of this before, my friend," Plo says gently. "Or that I have not considered the difficulties, the risks. I am prepared to face them, whatever they may, as they come."
And he had considered them at length, and often. Every time a promising young initiate aged out, a thought occurred to him to step forward and claim them for his tutelage, but there we always those difficulties…
Over ninety percent of the galaxy are of the human average biology. Kel Dor are rare in their difficulties in assimilating to greater galactic society due to their species physiology and anatomy – and of course… their mental requirements. Humans are generally a psi null species outside the Force Sensitive – and even those sensitive were generally weaker than even the weakest Kel Dor.
As a Force sensitive Kel Dor, Plo was in a very susceptible position indeed. So much so that it sometimes astonishes him beyond belief that he ever made it to a Master never mind member of the High Council. Due to his sensitivities and even fragility compared to majority of the galaxy, he was always deemed… unsuitable for the rigours of teaching.
And of all potential Padawans, Ben Kenobi is hardly the best potential option. A spiritually wounded and mentally scarred blank wall of a person, he's just the type of student who could ruin a Master like Plo Koon. But at the same time… Ben had named him first, and as much as he tried not to be affected by it, Plo is indeed affected by it. And more so by the boy's willingness, even demand, to make strides for Plo's comfort, rather than expecting him to conform to his instead.
"My friend," Ki-Adi says softly and clasps his shoulder. "If there is anything I can do to help, please do not hesitate to ask."
"Thank you, Master Mundi," Plo says and nods – and then he turns to his – his new ward.
Ben is watching him past Yoda's diminutive form, eyes narrowed. Yoda says something and whacks the boy across the knee with his stick, making Ben snap his eyes down to him. Ben nods, once and again and then gives Yoda a face Plo doesn't think he's ever seen someone give the Grandmaster. Like he doesn't for a moment believe whatever Yoda is saying and even as he nods in affirmative, Plo gets the feeling he will be doing nothing of whatever the Grandmaster is telling him.
Plo smothers a chuckle. This would be interesting, if also somewhat disconcerting.
Ki-Adi is also watching Ben and Master Yoda, and he sighs. "Anything at all," he says firmly. "I still have that terrible Kel Dorian poison somewhere in my cabinet if you need it."
"Or-Ko-O is hardly poison," Plo says dismissively. It's not even particularly strong, as liquors go – something of a beer equivalent he thinks.
"It's made of mostly sulphur," Ki-Adi says flatly.
Plo gives him a look of feigned confusion. "… yes?" and chuckles at Ki-Adi's sigh and rolled eyes.
Though Dooku is disappointed and there are some doubts about Plo's and Ben's suitability to each other, no one argues the match. Ben is moved to his quarters with his meagre initiate belongings – and with surplus of oxygen gear to support him. Due to Plo's sensitive physiology they can't put oxygen even into the boy's own personal bedroom – it would spill into the rest of their quarters too easily, and spill of such quantity could very easily kill Plo if he did not get a filter on in time – and so the boy must wear masks even while asleep.
"I don't mind," Ben says, time and time again, his voice harder each time, when Plo or anyone offers doubts about it. And he means it too, and puts words to action very quickly and determinately, having himself fitted for a mask and tank pack as soon as he can.
It's almost appropriate, in a way. Ben's mask is not exactly like Plo's own filter – Ben's mask is a black construction much bulkier in design due to the pipes leading to the tanks he carries on his back. Because of the danger of spilling, Ben's mask has extra seals as well, fitting the mask around his entire jaw rather than merely his chin. It hides the lower half of the boy's face much like Plo's own filter does, and in a odd way… they match.
"We will get a lighter one designed for you," Plo promises while checking the seals of his mask. The mask straps around the boy's neck a little awkwardly – due to human tendency for perspiration they can't rely on the air seals alone, unfortunately – and Plo decides quietly that if the boy wants to grow out his hair beyond the usual Padawan cut to cover the straps, he would not mind.
"It's fine, Master Plo," Ben says, his voice a little distorted by his mask, and takes out the goggles next. Due to the slightly higher content of argon and methane in Plo's quarters, he too will have to wear eye protection – the long exposure might otherwise damage his retinas.
His goggles are see through, unlike Plo's filters – he doesn't have to filter out UV light, after all.
"How do I look?" Ben asks, once he's fitted the goggles on. Unlike the mask, they do not need to be secured by a strap – there no danger of deadly quantities of oxygen being released from his eyes after all – and so the adhesive of the goggles themselves is enough.
"Hm," Plo answers, a little torn. Even his own master rarely wore such gear because of him alone, and Tyvokka had been very accommodating with his needs. Ben Kenobi is proving himself both very headstrong and very compliant at the same time. What an odd combination it is. "You look well fit for visiting Dorin, I must say."
"Good," Ben says and takes a deep breath. There is a hiss of oxygen being released from one tank and then the sound of his exhale being re-captured by another. "Yeah, this will do," he decides and he sounds almost satisfied.
"Good," Plo Koon agrees and if he could have, he would have smiled. Strange thing to find satisfaction in, in troubling himself for the comfort of others, but… Plo is hardly the one to judge him there. "Now, let's see about getting you settled in."
Now that the atmosphere situation is sorted out, the rest is a little easier. Of course, the whole situation also means that Ben cannot eat in their quarters or properly wash himself there, but Ben seems to be fine with using the communal fresher and as it is he and Plo hardly eat the same type of food anyway, so even if Ben could've removed his mask long enough to eat in their quarters, there isn't food there for him to eat. But aside from that…
Ben gets a room fit for a young Padawan, with bed fit for human and enough storage space to put away his few belongings. The boy then spends a curious moment looking around in the main living area, examining the Dorin plants Plo has on nearly every surface.
"They maintain a little more natural Dorin atmosphere," Plo explains when Ben peers at one twisting purple wine which has completely covered that section of the window sill and good sum of the wall space as well.
"I hope you don't expect me to know how to water them," Ben says thoughtfully. "I've never been terribly good with plants."
Plo chuckles and slowly removes his filter. Ben glances his way but says nothing, his half hidden expression not changing one bit at the sight of Plo's lower face unmasked. "That is fine, I daresay I can manage them as I have so far," Plo says, undistorted and clear and looks around. There is only one chair there and he hums. "I suppose I will have to have a couch added. I admit – I rarely have guests."
"Hm," Ben answers. "I don't suppose you have cushions?"
"Yes, here," Plo says, and for the next hour or so they go around the quarters where Plo show his new Padawan where everything is. Ben follows him with silent intensity, seemingly memorising everything, paying extra attention to the drawer where Plo keeps his extra filters and his emergency anti-oxidants.
Eventually, Ben has seen everything there is to see – like most Jedi, Plo doesn't have much, in truth the plants he keeps are about as extravagant as his possessions ever got. They return to the living room, where Ben sets a cushion on the floor and kneels down on it.
"We need to talk about the bonding," Ben says, eying the plants again.
"Indeed," Plo agrees and considers the boy. "Letting it form naturally seems like the safest option here. If your presence in the Force is anything to go by, you are considerably stronger than I am – a forced bonding will do neither of us good."
Ben turns his eyes to him. "It's the only way we can form it," he says, almost apologetic. "I'm sorry – I'm… a little beyond letting natural bonds just happen."
"… ah, of course," Plo muses. One so old and so strong would be too much in control of themselves for that, would they? "Have you bonded intentionally before?"
"Yes, I have," Ben agrees and rests his hands on his knees. "It's not easy, it was anything but easy the last time I did it, but… But I think it's the only way I can bond these days."
"Hmm," Plo hums, noncommittal. What a terribly sad concept, being unable to form attachments at all, being unable to grow close to people. For a Kel Dor, it is all but unthinkable. "How many bonds have you had, if you don't mind my asking?"
Kenobi takes a deep breath that makes the oxygen tank hiss and then releases it slowly. "Eleven," he says then. "I think it was eleven, yes – but some of those were same bonds repeated. Same master a few times, same student…"
"And none in last hundred and fifty years?" Plo clarifies.
"No, there was no one in my last two lives," Ben agrees.
Plo nods consideringly and watches him for a moment. "I suppose we need a mind healer to assist us then," he muses.
"Hmm," Ben agrees and makes a thoughtful face behind a mask – and that would take a while to get used to, Plo Koon muses, not being to see a human's full expression for once. "I think know a good one we can ask."
Ran out of time to write so call this, "eh fuck it"-the chapter. First time writing Plo. I love him a bunch. Also i don't remember him having a padawan mentioned in canon so I went with "he's never had one, but why??" and then reasons and that might be untrue in legends but i am late for work now and i dont caaareeeeeeeeee
anyway Plo won with 80-something votes. Dooku lost with 60-something. Also co-mastering got bunch a votes and even though Yoda wasn’t even in running somehow he got 3 votes?? So going with... something, idk.