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Forgiveness

Chapter Text

I've been tryin' to get down to the Heart of the Matter
But my will gets weak
And my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore
               --Don Henley, "The Heart of the Matter"

The airlock finally shut behind him, he leaned against it, grateful for the much longed for privacy. A Jedi might not crave danger, adventure, or excitement, but it was not unusual to wish for a little time alone.

It had been a rather long stretch of missions. Jedi were spread so thin these days, more often out of Temple than in, that he sometimes wondered if he would recognize the galactic capital should he ever get back to it.

Now that's a bit of an exaggeration. Coruscant was not a planet one ever forgot. Even though it was constantly in flux, it was always recognizable.

Besides, some things stayed the same. Or at least were still there. Certain people. And he was pretty sure they would be recognizable.

He hadn't been gone that long.

And the sooner he got moving, the sooner he would be there. Finally. With effort, he pushed himself to stand, then headed up to the shuttle's cockpit. The station's flight control droids gave him clearance to leave, and with a touch of Jedi-enhanced speed, he finished programming the hyperdrive and blasted his ship into hyperspace.

Years ago, it would have been a real live person negotiating his departure. Today, only droids. With the war dragging on and the clones marching ever toward their expiration dates, civilian jobs were being replaced with more and more complex droids to free up people for military service. He wondered whether it should bother him more that he had no one breathing to talk to, or that he preferred it that way. The hyperspace computer beeped, confirming all systems were functioning within acceptable parameters. With no one to answer to and nothing more to do beyond monitoring the systems, he turned down the cabin lights, untied his hair and leaned back in the pilot's seat. Ten hours until he came out of hyperspace. Twelve hours until he would be home.

And with luck, twelve hours and fifteen minutes until he was with the person he missed most.

Outside the ship, the stars streamed by, faster than light.

He came awake a standard hour before his hyperspace jump was scheduled to terminate. A few minutes in the refresher had him back to mostly presentable. The sleep had done him good, but he didn't want to be seen looking like he had just rolled out of the pilot's chair when he disembarked.

Even though it was true.

Washed up and tidied, he examined his face in the mirror. There was no denying it now; he was definitely getting old. The color was draining slowly from hair that couldn't pass for blond much longer; the smile lines under his eyes had morphed into crow's feet. He was a bit too thin. They were going to make him eat when he got home, that much was certain.

He pulled out the fresh tunics and pants from his locker, his 'going-home' clothes that were always clean, neat and free of holes, not to be put on until duty was done and Coruscant was practically in sight. The last trip home he had jumped the blaster and had dressed as soon as he had made the jump, only to come out of hyperspace two hours later to find orders sending him back out again. It had taken him a standard month before he had found a laundry facility that would press proper creases for his next hypothetical homecoming.

He would not compromise on his appearance. He would notice if he arrived looking unkempt.

He hoped there wouldn't be any problems when he arrived. Not that he couldn't expect certain . . . tensions.

You should have dealt with that years ago.

He stared out the cockpit window a moment as he settled back in for the jump to real space.

He  forgave him. You should have too.

A chime brought his attention back to the controls, and the stars slowly drew back into their familiar constellations. Coruscant, the bright, polluted, populous center of the Republic, loomed ahead.

You did forgive him. Just like he said you would. Even after everything that's happened, he still knows you best.

He sent out a hail signal to flight control. Almost home.

Two hours and fifteen minutes. He is waiting.

He  is waiting.

 

* * *

He stumbled, nearly missing the step down as he reached the bottom of the boarding ramp.

He is here.

"What are you doing here, Dear Heart?" He moved to embrace him but was rebuffed. Unsure of this strange welcome, he took his lover's hands, and looked around the landing bay. "You know you aren't supposed to be in this part of the Temple alone. Where's Bant?" Across the bay, a starship powered up.

Another Jedi being sent out for Sith knew how long.

A one-man ship.

"You're . . . late . . ." With the powerful engines beginning to roar, he couldn't quite make out the words.

"I'm late? I'm not late, Love. I'm right on time. In fact," he glanced over at the chrono. "Because you came down here where you're not supposed to be, I'm back in your arms a full twelve minutes early." He forced a smile, hiding his sudden anger at Bant, or Tahl or Master Kit, or whoever the Sith Hell was supposed to be watching him. If they let him get this far, who knows what could have hap—

Banishing those thoughts for the moment, he leaned down, a kiss to his forehead, his lips tracing a gentle path across the scarred temple.

The ship finally left the hangar, leaving a silence almost as loud.

"Why don't we get you inside and cleaned up and then I'll call Bant," he tried not to grate on the name, then frowned. His love was glaring at him, the same glare he always made when he thought he was being dismissed.

"YOU'RE TOO LATE!"

The harsh scream echoed off the metallic hulls. The droids paid them no mind.

Truly anxious now, he gripped his lover by the shoulders, sensing the deep turmoil beneath the surface. For all that this man had been through, he still could hide so much. The Force whispered a warning, not of danger, but a cold wind of fear before the coming storm.

"What's the matter, Love? What am I too late for?" He searched his mind desperately. "I thought Master Qui-Gon's party was in three days."

The wind kicked up, and the sudden cold chill settled into the pit of his stomach as the words left his lips.

Oh Force, what happened . . .

"Did you . . do something, Love?" He didn't want to ask.

"YOU'RE TOO LATE, GAREN! YOU'RE TOO LATE!"

He almost wanted to cringe against the emotional assault, but he couldn't. He had to play the strong one.

Even though he never would be.

"YOU'RE TOO LATE, GAREN! THEY HURT HIM AND HE'S GONE NOW!" His chest was heaving. "HE'S GONE AND NOW WE CAN NEVER HAVE CAKE AGAIN!"

Cake? Birthday cake?

"Um, I'm sure we can get you some, some cake, Love," he rubbed at Reeft's arm, but he could still feel the chill, even through the tunic sleeves. Reeft's body temperature was normally a bit cooler than his own, but he shouldn't feel that cold. Force, what happened? He looked into his eyes, hoping his voice and a little Force could soothe his partner enough to get him back home. "Even if there is no party, we can still have cake."

Reeft looked down at the floor, all the fight suddenly draining out of him. Garen knelt down, clutching at his hands, trying to keep him from shutting down and shutting him out.

"What's the matter, Love?"

"He's gone, Garen. You're too late." Reeft swiped away sudden tears before meeting his eyes. "We can't have cake because he's not coming back." Half-falling, Reeft knelt down and Garen caught him. Once safe in his lover's arms, the Dressellian began to cry in earnest. "He's not coming back, Garen. They hurt him and now we can't have cake."

Only knowing something very bad had happened, Garen stroked his head and back, letting him cry. He was in no hurry to face the bad news beyond the hangar doors.

"It's alright, Love. Cry it out." Crying often seemed to help.

"I should have known you'd be here."

Garen stiffened at the familiar alto and bit his lip against an acid reply as he shifted Reeft to his shoulder to glare at a face all too recognizable.

"Should have known? How about you should have been with him? Where in the hell were you when he got all the way down here, Knight Eerin?"

He expected her to scream back at him. He was so angry at her that surely she would feel it and respond accordingly, Jedi vows be damned. How dare she let him just wander off?

She glared at him with her good eye. "Actually, Knight Muln, I was in the 'fresher. Usually your husband behaves well enough to let me take a piss without wandering off. Unfortunately, just as I sat down, someone must have started broadcasting they were back in town, because when I came out, he was gone."

He opened his mouth to retaliate in a manner which, if observed would likely lead to disciplinary action from the masters, when she looked away. Suddenly she was as forlorn and downtrodden as the man in his arms. The cold feeling returned.

"I'm sorry, Garen, you didn't deserve that. It's just . . it's just been a hard couple of days, with everything, and he was up half the night and he's been terrified for you ever since it happened."

Bant was pale, drawn. Dry. Her usually moist skin was flaking, even though her robes were still damp. A sure sign of deep distress.

"What happened, Bant?" he finally asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

"They hurt him, Garen," Reeft mumbled into his shoulder before pulling away to wipe his nose on his sleeve. "He won't come home now."

Garen looked to Bant, no longer angry, just wanting to know the truth before fear ignited into anger once more. Bant looked away; her blind eye seemed to stare right through him.

"They killed him, Garen," she said softly, each word painful to say. "The Sith."

"They killed Obi-Wan." She crumpled in on herself, not falling so much as slipping to the floor in defeat. "He was on his way home, Garen." She was sobbing freely now. "He was supposed to be coming home."

Garen slid along the floor, pulling Bant to his other shoulder, and the three friends mourned quietly for the fourth who would never return. Bant continued to cry. Garen wondered if this was the first time she had allowed herself to since the news came out. He wondered how long ago it had happened, how long his friend had been dead.

Obi-Wan was dead.

Obi-Wan is dead.

Reeft lifted his head and stared at him for a long moment. He was just about to kiss him in reassurance when his lover spoke.

"He knew you would forgive him, Garen. I told him. He knew."

With a cry of pain, Garen began to weep.

 

* * *

We shouldn't be doing this.

With a sigh, Garen picked up the small tea set he had purchased for the party and looked it over.

Why did they insist we go through with this?

To be perfectly honest, it wasn't really a set, which was exactly why he had bought it. He had been on a backwater planet, close to absolutely nothing, when Reeft had sent him a garbled message about birthday cake and to ask him to bring home balloons. A day or so later, Bant had sent a message explaining that a party was in the works for Master Qui-Gon's seventy-fifth birthday, and she'd tell him if Obi-Wan was coming only if he promised he would come himself.

He had heard the unspoken jab at his masculine pride. Obi-Wan finally would be come home. He was welcome to attend if he buried the hatchet.

He had actually thought about it for a full four minutes before he kicked himself. It had been ten years. He had gotten over the incident. He had gotten over his hubris. He understood, even if he would never like it.

And Reeft wanted balloons.

So he had picked himself up on his first free afternoon of the mission and headed over to the local craft market. Master Qui-Gon had always loved hand-made things wrought from natural materials, and Obi-Wan often liked to 'read' an object's Force signature; even as a child his aptitude for the Unifying Force made him a natural for sensing weak remnants of the Force signatures of those who had used and made such things.

He had passed by many different artisan's booths. Tapestries, apparel, toys. He did buy a small stuffed creature for Reeft, who he knew would love the feel of the downy 'fur'. But he didn't see anything that really spoke to him about Master Qui-Gon.

And then he passed the booth of the local tinker and reseller, and there it was. It wasn't even supposed to be displayed as a set. It was just a mixed assortment of mismatched tea service items. A golden teapot with green and red lilies on the sides and lid. A bright green dairy carafe. A white sweetener bowl with prim blue stripes on the rims and knob. And two utterly mismatched cups and saucers.

He had almost laughed when he had seen the cups. One cup was huge, better suited to caff addicts than sophisticated tea drinkers. While still porcelain, it was the color of pewter with delicate botanicals picked out in green. With his own talents tending more toward the middle than toward either the Living or Unifying Force, Garen could sense little from the cup itself, but it felt . . . right. And then he looked down at the other cup. At first glance it had seemed almost dainty compared to its companion. Also porcelain, it was much smaller, clearly suited to tea over caf, too small for guzzling but too large for those highly sweetened, overly-caffienated beverages that could simply not be drunk in anything but minute quantities. He had picked it up to look at it more closely. It looked plain, pure white in the shadows, but when he brought it into the sunlight, the surface suddenly sparkled into bright, prismatic colors as if it were carved from an impossibly large opal.

It reminded him of Obi-Wan's smile, rarely seen but dazzling.

It had been too long since he had had a reason to smile.

Frowning at the cup and saucer, Garen lifted it carefully out of the box, placed it on a high shelf in his closet and locked the door. When he had unpacked from his mission, after he and Bant had composed themselves and put Reeft down for a nap, he had found the box and had been tempted to just smash the whole lot. He had wanted to, but it seemed wrong somehow. And Reeft broke enough plates.

He supposed he could give it to Master Yoda or something. It was just the right size for a portion of that hideous slop he called food. The delicate handle would well suit his crabbed little hand. The ancient master would probably enjoy meditating on the dancing light of that cup in the sun.

It looks like his urn.

Eyes shut, grimacing against the pain, Garen sank down to his knees in meditation.

It was so hard pretending to be the strong one.

 

*  *  *

He rose from his meditation to find Reeft sitting across from him, an odd expression on his face.

"Why are they having the party, Garen?"

He tried to smile reassuringly. "It's still Master Qui-Gon's birthday, Love. He's not going to turn seventy-five again."

Reeft nodded as his husband helped him into his 'nice' vest, teal shimsilk with a slight iridescence. A sophisticated piece that when seen across a room could make Garen forget everything Reeft had lost. Everything they had lost.

"Do you think he'll have another one next year? He didn't have one last year, or the year before . . or . . or whenever."

A ray of sunlight danced across the silk on Reeft's back.

Light from the Warrior's Flame played across the tall slender urn, hidden colors flashing then vanishing back into the porcelain.

He stared at the play of light.

"Garen?"

"That's not him!"

He had yelled. They had never heard him yell before.

Not in the field. Not in the Temple. Not in anger, nor in jest.

"Garen?"

"That's not him, Mace!"

Everyone stood, aghast as he had raged at the perfect white urn, glistening in the light of eternal flames.

Mace stared at him, wrinkled eyes wide as if frozen in horror.

"You promised you would bring him home! That's not—,” He had choked on the words as Bant and Tahl reached him, pulling him into a hug to douse his rage in.

"That's not him," he sobbed, shaking his head. "He promised he was coming home."

"Garen?"

"He promised."

Yoda's gaze never left the flame.

THWACK!

"Ow." Garen looked up, startled. "You hit me." He looked down at the stuffed toy at his feet. "With a peko."

Reeft rolled his eyes in an exaggerated fashion. "You weren't listening, Garen."

"I'm sorry, I was lost in thought."

He almost laughed. "I noticed." His face grew serious, then sad. "You were in the wrong moment, Garen. Don't leave me alone while you're still here."

He closed his eyes until he swallowed down sudden tears, then forced himself to smile. "Come here, Love. Let me tie up your vest. You don't want to go to the party with your clothes hanging open."

Reeft complied, hugging him, then allowing himself to be dressed. As Garen finished his last knot, he poked him gently on the forehead.

"You need to tie up yourself. You don't want to go to the party with your mind hanging out."

"My mind hanging out?"

Reeft tapped his own temple. "Yes. You've got a big hole."

He blinked. "I've got a hole in my shields?" He looked inward, startled. He didn't have a hole in his shields, but Reeft was right. Most of his guards were down.

Far more than he usually released while in Temple.

"Since when?" he asked, mostly to himself.

Reeft shrugged. "Since Bant told you. You're much better now than you were at the funeral." Garen stared at him, his jaw dropped. Reeft shook his head, dismissing the faux pas as so much spilled milk. "Don't worry about it." He tapped his temple again. "I was extra noisy so everyone just thought it was me."

Garen blinked again. The tears were getting harder to swallow.

After a long moment, he picked up his gift and the birdfeeder Reeft had painted for Master Qui-Gon. "Come on, Love. We don't want to be late."

Reeft looked down at the birdhouse he had worked on for Obi-Wan. A gaudy thing it was, bright colored spots all over the walls with a cotton puff in the chimney and a roof seemingly thatched of silver glitter. It sparkled in the light thrown off the cloud cars streaming by their windows. Like Obi-Wan's teacup, it too was being left behind.

He had sparkled too.

Garen looked up at his husband.

Maybe we all did back then.

"Can we put Obi-Wan's bird house in our tree? By the stream, in the Big Forest Garden?"

Garen smiled, but his lip trembled. "Of course, Love." With one last check to his re-formed shields, he made his way for the door, gifts in hand and husband in tow. Reeft took the bird feeder off the top as they went. He preferred carrying his own presents.

They entered an empty lift and headed down to main hub so they could walk to Qui-Gon's tower. Garen turned to gaze at his husband, but looked away when Reeft noticed.

"What are you thinking now?" Reeft squeezed his hand. He couldn't tell if it was to reassure him or to comfort himself.

"Did you feel him?" He squeezed back gently. "Did you feel him yesterday, when we were at our tree after the funeral?"

Reeft shook his head solemnly. "Not yet. I didn't feel him. Just like Master Dyas."

Garen nodded. "Me neither."

 

*  *  *

Despite his reassurances to Reeft, Garen found the party to be a painful trial to endure. Three hours of putting on a brave face and pretending to be cheerful and happy and that he didn't notice that Master Qui-Gon was somewhat . . . medicated.

Under other circumstances, he supposed it would have been pleasant. Plenty of good food, good friends, warmth and safety. Music discs of Ithari celebratory chants playing softly in the background. Bant, Tahl and Anakin buzzing about, serving guests.

Well, Anakin buzzed about. Bant sat by the buffet, monitoring the food and checking the chrono as if it were a pot set to boil, while Tahl fussed over the birthday boy, whose smile grew fainter every time he looked to the door to greet someone new.

Garen had the sinking feeling that he was still waiting for Obi-Wan to come through the door.

He promised he was coming home.

Thankfully they had abstained from singing and blowing out candles. Garen half-expected Master Qui-Gon would insist they wait for Obi-Wan, so that they could recreate the a capella quartet they had driven their elders crazy with in their youth. Bant sliced out generous cake portions while Anakin passed them around the room on a tray. Determined to carry on until the bitter end, Garen took some cake for himself and Reeft, squeezing Bant's arm in support when she looked as if she would burst into tears right there at the table. She had looked so drained yesterday that he had volunteered to go pick up the cake from the Temple kitchens himself. Fortunately, it had been an in-house job; the cooks had taken the initiative and had removed the "and Welcome Home, Obi-Wan" from the icing order without being asked.

Across the room, Tahl was gently trying to get a reluctant Qui-Gon to take his piece of cake. Confused, he looked at the chrono, then at the door for a long moment.

The expression on his face was heart-breaking.

Unable to think of anything to say that would help, Garen swallowed down his own emotions and returned to Reeft, still sitting on the rug near the room's large holo-comm screen. It had been a gathering place for young padawans at least as far back as Garen could remember. Astrophysics problems, romantic dilemmas and quite a few sabacc games had been puzzled out here, always under Master Qui-Gon's careful eye. There were some newer stains and burns in the rug from Anakin's many mechanical projects, not to mention a few Garen had put in it himself. Even now, the next generation of Jedi sat in this place, seeking its familiar comforts; Anakin's daughter, barely old enough to understand what had happened, snuggled up against her father's padawan, a truce called in their often comical battle of wills. Leia clutched a pristine, stuffed v'elv cat, looking at the all the tall strangers warily. For his part, Padawan Solo uncharacteristically picked at his food, as distressed at the whole ordeal as his master, though he had only met Obi-Wan once, and hardly under endearing circumstances. Then again, Bant had mentioned Master Qui-Gon mentoring the boy until Anakin took over his training, and even the master had once referred to Han as Padawan Number Four and a Half. He may not have known Obi-Wan well, but this was still a huge blow to his family. It was little wonder the boy wasn't hungry.

Then again, some people are always hungry.

Reeft turned to him, and Garen presented him with his fresh slice of cake with a flourish.

Reeft looked at the cake for a long moment, then shook his head.

"No. Thank you, Garen."

He could not hide his surprise. "But you love cake, Darling." He sat down next to Reeft on a low bench, concerned when his husband only stared at the rug and shook his head. "Bant said it had the mixed berry filling you like so much."

Reeft stiffly raised his head and to glare at him. "He's not coming home, Garen. No cake!"

Alarmed, Garen put the cake aside and held up his hands in a placating manner. "All right Love, I'm not going to argue about it. You don't have to eat it if you don't want to." Reeft nodded and Garen passed their slices on to a pair of older initiates from Qui-Gon's meditation class, wondering when the master had given up teaching sabre classes. The youngsters smiled wanly, and like Han, picked and played with the cake more than ate it, but at least it wasn't obviously going to waste.

Somehow Garen thought it would be best not to plague Master Qui-Gon with leftovers from this particular party.

Garen sighed and stretched his back, lingering scars and old injuries protesting. And all I did was sit here. He looked around at the assembled Jedi and friends. Everyone was getting old. Old, worn and tired. Bant, who normally forced herself to keep active and engaged, sat alone, almost listless, as if the struggle to walk or even look at her fellow Jedi was just too much of an effort today. Bail Organa, usually the subtle life of the party, nursed his punch and barely spoke. Anakin, the unflappable knight despite the turmoil of his youth, seemed anxious, overly eager to keep the party moving despite the depressive air. Garen noticed that the young, sun-kissed slave boy from Tattooine had grown old enough to have strands of silver in his golden locks. Even Tahl, so strong despite her blindness for as long as he had known her, looked suddenly frail and tired. Uncharacteristically harried, she fretted over Master Qui-Gon.

Master Qui-Gon.

Master Qui-Gon had been many things to all of them over the years. To many a teacher, to few a student. A mentor, a friend, a father figure, or something more. He had lived a long, full life, and had always been a vibrant, quiet man for as long as Garen had known him. In the early years of Obi-Wan's apprenticeship he had been distant, sometimes cool, but little by little he had opened up like the first buds in spring. Despite the disagreements between them, Garen had no doubt that Obi-Wan had been the sun that had melted the frost that gripped his master's heart. Even though he had not stepped foot in the Temple in fifteen years, his light had still reached them, as surely as the sun above shone down on them, its rays traveling through the chill vacuum of space.

But now night had fallen, and it seemed as if dawn would never come again.

In a way, he mused, Obi-Wan was the only one among them who would never grow old. Or at least their memories of him. It was not that he didn't age; Garen had seen the occasional holo transmission, and while he had still been angry, he had done his best to ignore them, but even he could see that Obi-Wan had lost the fresh newness of youth. But somewhere in his heart, somewhere where he could still hold warmer memories, before the bitterness and anger, he had denied it. In that same place where Bant still rolled both eyes, where Siri still walked in the light, where Reeft was still . . . whole . . . in that place Obi-Wan was still the same shining youth that had walked out of the Temple to take on the darkness in the galaxy. The memory of him remained unchanged and he had never returned to discredit it.

Now he never would.

Reeft tugged at his sleeve and Garen blinked away tears that threatened to fall before giving his husband his full attention.

"What is it, Love?"

"Come on," Reeft stood and tugged him to his feet. "I want to show you the quilt we made. Ani said we could look at it but we have to leave it in the room."

He looked over and caught Anakin's nod before he allowed Reeft to lead him off to the padawan room in Qui-Gon's suite. Few party-goers took any notice of them, and those that did likely assumed they wanted a moment alone, or that Reeft needed a break from the crowd.

Reeft led him through the door and shut it behind them as Garen brought up the lights.

He gasped in shock as he saw the bedcover. "Reeft? You and Bant made this?" Garen walked around the bed, admiring the quilt from all angles. "Force Love, it looks just like the old one."

"It's not exactly the same." Reeft turned over a corner at the foot of the bed. "Obi-Wan said that the binding wasn't right on the old one. He said he wanted to make a stitch like this on the back . . . but he didn't have time." Garen ran a finger along the neat stitches, feeling the faint Force signature that had been left by his lover's hand and marveling at the work. For all that had been taken away, Reeft could still surprise him.

"You did a wonderful job, Love."

Reeft smiled faintly as he lay the cover back down and smoothed away the wrinkles. "Do you think . . . do you think he likes it, Garen?"

"Who? Obi-Wan?" It took him a moment to figure out who Reeft had meant. He just wasn't used to talking about his estranged

dead

agemate so casually.

Reeft nodded, somewhat sheepishly. "We . . . we told him we had a surprise but we didn't say what." His lower lip trembled and his whole face puckered with emotion. Garen hurried over to pull him into a hug. "We didn't tell him in the letter, Garen, and he didn't know and I tried to find him in the Force when we were at our tree and I couldn't and I wanted to ask him if he liked it because we worked really hard on it and he didn't get to see it and he's dead now." Reeft was crying against his shoulder.

Garen held him, rubbing his back soothingly. "I'm sure he loves it, Reeft. I'm sure he's with us right now and he can feel just how hard you and Bant worked on it and he wishes he could tell you."

"Then why can't we feel him?" Reeft wept. "Why didn't he come back like he promised?"

That's not him!

Apparently, they weren't the only ones who couldn't feel Obi-Wan in the Force.

"I don't know, Love," Garen sighed, kissing Reeft's crown. "I don't know. Maybe . . . maybe they just hurt him too badly and he couldn't come back. Or maybe he had a lover and he's with them now." Reeft nodded against him, sniffling, and Garen dug out a tissue from his jacket. "Or maybe he is here, and we just can't feel him because we're all so upset."

Reeft lifted his head and wiped at his nose. "So you think he would come to see his surprise?" Garen nodded and Reeft wiped at his eyes. "Good, 'cause we worked really hard and I want him to see it, and he said he was looking forward to it."

Garen started a moment, replaying back their conversation. "He said he was looking forward to it? When did you speak with him?" He tried not to get upset, it's not like there was anyone left to be angry at, but old habits die hard.

Reeft shook his head sadly. "No. He wrote a letter to Bant and told her to tell me that he was looking forward to it. He never commed me."

He better not have com—

He took a deep breath. You forgave him, remember?

"Did he usually send your messages to Bant?" He looked his lover over carefully. Reeft didn't seem upset by the correspondence.

Of course he was never the angry one, even though he should have been.

Reeft shrugged and pocketed the tissue. "He used to ask Bant how we were doing, and if we were happy. Bant used to write stuff to him for me too."

Of course Bant had never mentioned this to me.

"He never just wrote to you directly?"

Reeft looked him in the eye. "He didn't want to piss you off, Garen."

Garen winced.

"And he knew you wouldn't stay mad at Bant if you found out." Reeft slowly sat on the quilt and tugged Garen to sit beside him, still looking at him intently. Intensely. "He loved us very much, Garen. That's why he did what he did and that's why he never got mad at you back." Reeft cupped his cheek, frowning at him. "He wanted us to be happy together, Garen. He wanted you to be happy."

Garen stroked Reeft's head, smoothing over wrinkled skin, jagged scars, tear tracks, trying not to think of yesterday's Council meeting.

He wanted you to be happy.

"I know, Love. I know." He patted his pockets, looking for another tissue. Reeft grinned slightly and pointed to the dispenser on the end table beside him. Garen turned around and reached for one, his gaze falling on the assorted knick-knacks and bric-a-brac on display. As he wiped his eyes, one object in particular caught his notice.

"Reeft," he asked as he picked up a dark, lacquered box, as long as his hand. "Is this what I think it is?" His fingers traced the delicate painted orchids on the lid, and he looked around, noticing finally that many of the other items in the room were equally familiar.

'This is where you keep them? Sheesh, Kenobi. It's like an orgy in a box.'

'Shut up, Muln. At least it's more discreet than in my utility belt, unlike some people I know.'

Reeft peered at the box around his shoulder. "Do you think he took the condoms out before he left the Temple?"

Garen could not quite hold back a hysterical laugh. It was either that or start crying again. "He probably needed them. All those damsels to rescue and then educate in the ways of the Force."

Reeft clung to him, giggling. "Open it."

"What?" It was one thing to laugh like a ninny, but even he wasn't angry enough to violate Obi-Wan's private life.

Reeft rolled his eyes. "You always did before." He lay his head against Garen's shoulder. "It would make him laugh."

It would make you laugh, Love. He almost hoped Obi-Wan would forgive him, but decided it would just make them even instead.

He opened the box, and in that moment knew Obi-Wan would have forgiven him far worse.

"Look, Garen." Reeft pulled a small holo-print out of the box. "It's us. At our tree."

Together, they gazed at the holo of the three of them, taken on a much more innocent day, before the Sith, before the war, before the galaxy had gone insane, a mere two decades ago.

'You two go first!'

They all shined back then.

'Why? Aren't all three of us supposed to be participating here?

'Because you're both human. I don't know how humans do it.'

'We are? I thought we were Jedi.'

Laughter. Bright, happy laughter.

'Don't worry so much, Reeft, just watch more holofilms.'

Reeft's eyes widened.

'Not those holos. Oh forget it, just do this.'

And he had kissed him. Reeft had watched them with hungry eyes, and somehow he had known, deep inside, that he and his lover were destined to be together . . . forever.

But his first kiss had been with Obi-Wan.

His only other lover. His only human lover.

Their only other lover.

Reeft pulled a small jar from the box, an intimate gift, now empty of the high quality lubricating cream. When he unscrewed the lid, a faint musky scent drifted out, bringing memory into sharper focus.

'I say we should do it. We're adults now, we're all good friends, we trust each other and won't laugh at each other. Who better to do it with?'

'You're right, Garen. Even I have this kissing thing down, mmm, and we've talked it over. We're all together tonight, who knows when we'll have that again.'

'True. And our masters are out tonight. It's unlikely we'll be interrupted.' Rustling. 'Another opportunity like this will not come our way soon.'

'Let's do it! Garen has the barriers and I brought some fruit to help keep our strength up. And Obi-Wan, you have the glow lights, so we can actually see what we're doing.' Reeft began tugging at his tunic. 'What are we waiting for?'

More rustling, as branches moved, the leaves swishing softly. Reeft had latched onto his neck, suckling noisily. His blood began to rush in his ears and he felt warm, so warm as hands roamed. More rustling, and oh, they were both coming to him and they were going to let him try it first . .

The leaves rustled again and then there was a thump from below. Reeft stopped suddenly and it was only the concern in his future husband's voice that silenced his protest.

'Obi-Wan! Are you alright?'

He could barely see in the dark, but then it could have just been his arousal dulling his vision. Below them, Obi-Wan cleared his throat.

'I'm not losing my virginity in a tree.'

'What?'

'But Obi-Wan, it's our tree. We've talked about everything here.'

'We kissed here.'

A long moment of silence.

'Do either of you want to explain to our masters why we fell out of a tree naked with splinters in our asses, or do you want me to?'

Another long silence.

'Reeft dear, our good friend has a point.'

Reeft squirmed against his erection and he gasped. 'So do you, but I think you're right. His is better.' He pulled away. 'I'm not explaining that one to any of the masters.' A kiss. 'See you in a few, Garen.'

He moved away. 'I'm coming down, Obi-Wan.'

Thump.

'If we pool our credits, a temp room won't be so bad between the three of us.'

'Not to mention that there aren't any showers in trees.'

More laughter.

'Hurry up, Garen! I want to try sex in the shower tonight too!'

With effort, he calmed himself and jumped. For the briefest moment he was in free-fall before his friends steadied him with the Force, cradled from gravity's will until his feet touched the ground.

Before the next dawn all three of them had learned a new way to fly.

Chapter Text

Storming into his apartment, he barely got his clothes off before he hit the shower.

His skin flushed red under the hot, pounding water. Closing his eyes, he doused his head in the spray, wanting to wash the filth from his mind more than from his body.

Force, take it away, please take it away.

The pipes groaned as he turned the spray up as hard and as hot as it would go. The room immediately filled up with an impenetrable cloud of mist, blocking out the cold reality beyond the doors of frosted glass. The water continued to pound from above, near scalding as he rubbed at his face and hair, trying in vain to scrub those images away.

Take it away, oh sweet Force, just take it away.

He reached for the Force, for the energy field he had been taught to feel since childhood, but it skittered out of reach, his emotions far too strong to allow it, no matter how desperate his need.

Please.

It was futile. Shaking, his hands fisted in his hair, he slowly sank to his knees, slumping in the pounding, searing spray, his breath coming in sobs and gasps.

Please.

He knew he was in a bad way if he was talking to the Force, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

If you can't take it away, please don't let Reeft hear me.

The water continued to drive into him, and he slouched further, his will and his grasp of the present world slowly draining with the water. A bar of soap, dislodged by either his hasty, jerky movements or the powerful spray, slipped along the shower floor to rest against his thigh. He picked it up, mindlessly working it into a lather, then brought the suds up to his face, the familiar scent of daul nectar and itris washing over him.

Daul and itris, washing it away.

'So, here we are. Tonight's the night.'

They had used this soap that night, so long ago.

The three of them had dusted themselves off, gotten into the temp room, and then stood around, looking at each other, wondering what or who to do first. Reeft had suggested they should start by taking their boots off. Their earlier bravado gone, they had nervously done so, then stared down at their sweaty socks.

Obi-Wan had deliberately sniffed the air, then declared he was going to start by taking a shower. He and Reeft had stared as their usually reserved friend nonchalantly stripped off his clothes on his way to the refresher. Reeft had eyed the Alderaanian cherries he had brought, his nerves sparking his always ravenous appetite. He had dug his stocking foot into the rug as the water had turned on.

'Are either of you joining me?' Such an innocent tone for a far from chaste invitation.

It wasn't a luxuriously large shower, but they had made do.

Garen rinsed the suds from his face for the third time and tugged on the dial, but the water temperature remained the same. Later that night his skin would be chapped from the excessive washing, but he couldn't care about it now. He had to wash it away. All—

blood on the walls

of it away.

Determined, he grabbed his exfoliar sponge and lathered it up, then began to systematically scrub his arms and chest. Scrub it out of his head. Scrub it out of his skin.

Bruises. Lacerations. Blistered burns.

They had showered together many times after training, or occasionally washed up on joint missions, but suddenly it had been different. Suddenly it had been acceptable, if not expected that they look each other over. Suddenly they didn't have to try to avoid touching, to fear lingering too long.

He had stepped into the shower next, so nervous he was probably shaking, and Obi-Wan, lathering his hair, had grinned at him before ducking under the spray. While the suds rinsed away, he caught Reeft's eye over Obi-Wan's shoulder as he stepped in from the other side. Still a bit uneasy, he unwrapped his own bar of soap and began to scrub self-consciously, wondering if Obi-Wan really was the virgin he claimed to be if he could look so relaxed in a situation like this.

Obi-Wan had finished rinsing, wiped his eyes clear, then with another knowing grin, offered to wash Reeft's back. Reeft had blushed a browner shade of gray before turning around with a nod, and Garen had marveled as the blush extended down his whole body, from cheek, to . . . well, cheek. Without a word, Obi-Wan began sudsing the Dressellian before him, strong pink hands smoothing over the darkening flesh, massaging into the hidden wrinkles and crevices. He felt his own manhood stir as Reeft sighed, but he could not take his eyes from those hands. Hands that he wished were his hands.

Such elegant hands burned.

He had looked down at his idle hands, blushing as much at his full erection as at his own inactivity. Reeft had sighed again, deeper this time as Obi-Wan worked at a stubborn knot, and he had trembled, wanting to join in and not sure how. It had been his idea after all.

'Wash my back, would you, Garen?'

He had looked up, suddenly face to face with that grin, and it was confident, unafraid of misstep or rejection. We're all good friends, we trust each other and won't laugh at each other. His own words. Obi-Wan wasn't afraid, because he knew, deep in his soul, that no matter what happened intimately between them, they would all still be friends.

No matter what happened.

He hadn't lived up to that unspoken pact.

Garen scrubbed lower, harsher than necessary to clean. The hot water and rough treatment stung, but the slight pain provided a distraction, something else to focus on.

Naked, bruised genitals.

Now richly lathered, he had reached out, settling his hands on the shoulders a handspan lower than his own. Obi-Wan had stretched beneath them, hummed his encouragement and continued bathing Reeft who was now facing him. Arms akimbo, the Dressellian had closed his eyes, still sighing as Obi-Wan's hands slid across his broad, muscled chest. Obi-Wan half-chuckled, a happy sound as Reeft suddenly squirmed back and leaned forward again. Confused, Garen peered over Obi-Wan's shoulder, almost spooning against him as he bent forward to see.

And he did get an eyeful.

Reeft's phallus, flushed a deep coffee color, jutted up toward his taut belly, the normally smooth overskin wrinkling as it contracted to reveal the sensitive head, itself a rich brown-rose shade. The Dressellian was panting, and the organ bobbed with each breath.

He had never seen his friend visibly aroused before.

Obi-Wan had leaned into him a bit, giving him a better view. Fascinated, he had watched as Obi-Wan held his hand out flat and directed the shower stream at that rosy head and as the water hit, Reeft cried out and trembled, his phallus dancing in and out of the stimulating spray.

'I think he likes it, Garen,' Obi-Wan had chuckled again.

'Oooh, oooh, it's good.' Reeft panted, even after the spray stopped. His overskin retracted further, revealing more of the engorged, brown-rose shaft.

Garen swallowed, not sure why.

'Should I do it again, or do something else?'

He could hear the smile in Obi-Wan's voice, but the conspiring look in Reeft's eye sent shivers through him. Reeft glanced down and he followed to look at his hand on Obi-Wan's hip, tantalizingly close to Obi-Wan's erection. He and the Dressellian shared a look. And he understood.

'No, I think it's Garen's turn.'

Obi-Wan did not. "Garen's tur—”

He didn't give Obi-Wan a chance to finish, grasping at the swollen organ with his still slippery hand, squeezing, rubbing, tugging, his eyes never leaving Reeft's face, even as Obi-Wan gasped and fell against him in shock. Mouth wide open as he sucked in air, his usually graceful friend flailed about, unable to regain firm footing in the face of such pleasure. Reeft stepped forward, catching those provocative hands, and Obi-Wan almost perversely calmed, able to enjoy now without fear of falling. Trusting, Obi-Wan had closed his eyes and leaned into him as he continued his passionate massage, while Reeft watched with keen interest, kissing and nuzzling on occasion, but never letting his attention to the movements lapse.

Blue-tinged fingers, desperately clawing, even in death.

He understood.

After a time he must have started getting better at it, or hit the right spot because Obi-Wan's harsh breaths grew into more vocal cries, his eyes opened to stare at nothing, or perhaps some Force manifestation. As Obi-Wan's tense trembling suddenly increased, Reeft pulled away from fondling his testicles to watch. He stroked once . . . twice . . . again, and with a near-howl, Obi-Wan climaxed in his arms, legs giving out completely as semen erupted over his hand. Leaning against the shower wall, he gazed at Obi-Wan's slack, blissful expression, marveling at his friend's utter trust in them, while Reeft stared at the softening penis, his hand slowly coming up to touch. Obi-Wan breathed a soft moan against his shoulder as Reeft collected some stray ejaculate on his fingers, testing the feel and texture against his skin, then looked him straight in the eye.

'Is it supposed to be this color?'

He understood then. Reeft was there to learn.

Obi-Wan had laughed.

Reeft was there to learn about him.

Dried semen on shredded clothes.

He was there to learn about Reeft.

They couldn't face the enormity of their future together, but with Obi-Wan there, with his confidence and love born of friendship, they were able to take those first steps without drowning in unchecked passion. Obi-Wan had been their buffer.

They were taking advantage of him, and they both knew it.

No matter what happened. If Obi-Wan knew, it didn't seem to matter.

Garen hadn't been able to bring himself to ask.

Broken bones.

Garen pulled at the temp dial again; even in his knight's quarters the water heating system had its limits and his shower had inevitably chilled from scalding to palatable. Shivering, he tried to reach his own back, but Reeft wasn't there thank the Force Reeft isn't here and he really couldn't make a good go of it. He wondered how many years Obi-Wan had been washing his own back.

Deep claw marks, four red lines gouged down his back from shoulder to hip.

Catty bitch.

Eventually, they had managed to get out of the shower and dry off before continuing their youthful explorations. Not that they had actually made it to the bed. Reeft succumbed to orgasm under two pairs of hands on the open room rug, while he had been treated to a blowjob in the overstuffed chair that he would now consider middling, but at the time had been utterly overwhelming.

It hadn't been the last time Obi-Wan's mouth and Reeft's eyes had overwhelmed him.

Frustrated, Garen tugged at the dial yet again, but the water had cooled. He hadn't been able to wash the images from his mind, but at least the horror had diminished.

Blood on his thighs.

No, the horror was still there. What diminished was his inability to deal with it.

Obi-Wan was dead. If there had been any part of his mind doubting it, the still pics he saw at the public Council inquiry had blown it away. Holos of the quarters where he had been savagely attacked and then left to die. Testimony from the healers and med techs who had treated him in vain. Records from his autopsy.

He had been found in his room, broken, beaten, unable to walk, but tracks on the floor clearly showed he had been on his belly, crawling across the burning floor to the door when the smoke overtook him. Garen knew he shouldn't have been surprised; Obi-Wan was never one to give up and die.

Well, he was never one to give up.

The med techs testified how they had set up artificial respiration, how the pulse had been weak, but even with the smoke inhalation and blood loss, he had held on for more than an hour before they finally lost him. How they had restarted his heart three times before it just wouldn't start again.

Not that Garen needed to hear them tell it. Obi-Wan's body had borne wounds not only of the Sith but also from the healers. Hypodermal ports hooked up to nothing still stuck in his arms. Defibrillation gel drying on his chest. The end of a breathing tube.

They had some respect for his dignity. None of the holos had shown what the Sith had done to his face.

Even in the classified meeting that followed, after Master Qui-Gon was finally, gently made to leave, they never showed his face. As far as Garen knew, of the entire Council, only Master Windu had actually seen Obi-Wan's whole body before his cremation.

'Cremation, his choice was. Spare you this pain he wished.'

Considering the long hours Windu had been spending in Yoda's quarters, they had gotten off quite easily.

Too easily.

A Jedi life was a hard one, and it was just getting harder.

You idiot. You should have expected this. Prepared for this.

Garen turned off the now frigid water and pulled a towel off the bar to dry his face on, stifling a sob as he did.

Force, how am I going to explain this to Reeft?

The end of his towel trailed in the receding water, soaking it through, but he didn't care.

Obi-Wan was dead.

The last of the water drained away.

Obi-Wan was dead and they wanted Garen to replace him.

He couldn't live in the moment because it was too painful, but it was hard to be mindful of the future when he might not have one.

Slowly, as if his body ached as much as his mind, he sat upright and pushed open the shower door, letting the steam escape into the humid, dripping 'fresher before he worked up the will to stand, much less the will to face Reeft.

He couldn't replace Obi-Wan.

After an unknown length of time, his skin dried and as the temperature dropped, turned to gooseflesh in the wet chill. When his mind felt chilled to numbness, he raised his head, finally ready to face the rest of the world, or at least the rest of his apartment.

Reeft sat on the commode, waiting for him, eyes patient and sorrowful.

They stared at each other a long moment, a silent communion of inseparable souls.

He couldn't replace Obi-Wan, but he could very well die like him.

Garen burst into tears.

 

* * *

"What's psilomil?"

"What?" Garen tried not to choke on his own reaction.

"Pee-sigh-low-mill. But I don't think you are supposed to say the 'p.'"

"You're right." Garen gave the Correlian chili a few more unnecessary stirs while he stalled for time. "You aren't supposed to pronounce the 'p.' Why do you ask?"

It wasn't every day that his mate asked him about mind-altering drugs.

Reeft shrugged. "Bant took me to see Master Qui-Gon today while you were with the Council. She gave him some pills and the bottle said 'psilomil.'" Reeft's brow furrowed. "They didn't look like they helped all that much."

Wincing, Garen carefully placed the lid back on the pot, then led Reeft to sit with him at the table. Long experience had taught him that his lover would pester him until he got a satisfactory answer. In the past, Reeft would have used some excruciating form of sexual teasing to loosen his lips. Today he would probably just throw a loud tantrum.

Not that Garen was sure if the tantrum would be harder to bear than this discussion.

"We shouldn't gossip about Master Qui-Gon, Love, but psilomil is a kind of medicine."

Reeft chewed nervously on his lip. "What's wrong with him, Garen? How is he sick? Is it his heart?"

Garen sighed. Ever since Reeft had overheard him telling Bant that Obi-Wan had ultimately died of heart failure, he had become obsessed with the idea that all of their hearts were in immediate danger of ceasing. It had gotten bad enough that Garen had almost scheduled a chest scan, just to reassure his husband.

Not that Qui-Gon's tender heart wasn't the problem.

"No, Love. I don't know if Master Qui-Gon has any heart conditions but psilomil is used to treat brain imbalances and emotional problems."

Reeft stared down at the table, deep in thought, and rubbed at the scars on his temple. "Like my medicines?" he asked at last.

Garen nodded. "Like them, yes, but the psilomil doesn't do the same thing."

Reeft frowned and he picked at the hem of his tunic. "I think it was bad medicine, Garen. It made him act sleepy and boring. He just sat there and stopped talking to us and he stared." The Dressellian shuddered at the memory. "It was like he was turned off, like a droid." He paused, almost gathering his nerve. "Does my medicine make me act like that?"

Ah, so that's what is bothering him.

"No, Reeft-love. You have very different medicine. Your medicine makes you calm, but it doesn't make you shut down like that." He tried to smile reassuringly. "In fact, you seem to chatter more when you've been taking your meds and you aren't so nervous."

Reeft gave him a slight smile, but the concern didn't leave his eyes. "But if Master Qui-Gon's medicine makes him so bad, why are they giving it to him?"

Garen sighed. He's not going to let this go.

"I don't think Master Qui-Gon is acting like that because they are giving him the medication, Reeft, I think it's because they are lowering his doses and weaning him off it. Psilomil doesn't make you feel like a zombie until you start coming off of it."

Reeft suddenly gave him a piercing glare. "How do you know? Did they give it to you?"

Sith. There were some things Reeft was better off not knowing.

"Yes, Reeft. The healers gave it to me for a short while a long time ago. Fortunately I wasn't on it for very long and I had my friends around me to help me feel better sooner when I stopped taking it. That's probably why Bant brought you over to spend time with Master Qui-Gon. It helps to have your friends around."

Reeft looked away, still frowning. "What does it do? Why did you take it? I don't remember you taking it." His eyes wandered as if they were searching through his memory for a similar bottle of pills.

Garen closed his eyes. "Psilomil is often used in Force-suppressing cocktails for criminals, but when it's used by itself, it is most often used as a bond-suppressor. If one Force-sensitive person is traumatized, the psilomil is used to prevent other parties from feeling it." He knew he should look at his husband, should reassure him, but . . .

He bowed his head in shameful silence.

The timer on the chili sounded before the pot turned itself off.

For a long time, neither one of them looked up or spoke.

Reeft worried at his scars again. "They gave you those pills when I got hurt, didn't they?" His shoulders sagged. "So I wouldn't hurt you."

Garen stood and came around the table, reaching to draw Reeft in, resting his lover's head against his belly and stroking him, soothing him. "I was pretty upset at the time, Love. I sometimes think they did it protect you from me, not me from you. They took me off it when I calmed down and you were well enough to see me."

Reeft nodded against him. "I remember."

They were silent together for a long time. Garen was about to suggest they eat their dinner when his lover started suddenly.

"But he's dead, Garen. It doesn't make sense."

Garen pulled away, confused. He wasn't sure what Reeft was getting at, but at least he wasn't still focusing on their shared medical history.

"What do you mean, Love?" He took out Reeft's favorite bowls and ladled out generous portions. Reeft loved Correlian chili.

"You said the psilomil turns off bonds."

"It turns down bonds, Love. It doesn't break them."

Reeft nodded, undistracted. "Okay, it turns down bonds. So they aren't as strong and hurt people won't hurt other people they have bonds with."

"Yes."

Reeft turned to glare at him as if he was missing something obvious. "But Obi-Wan is dead, Garen. He can't hurt through his bond because he's dead. Why would they have to turn down Master Qui-Gon's bonds if they won't hurt him?"

Garen brought the food to the table and handed Reeft a spoon. Reeft clutched the utensil tightly, waiting for Garen's answer. Garen chewed at a bite of chili as he formulated his response.

"There are other reasons to turn bonds down, Love," he said at last. "Sometimes you need to turn it down if someone is using a bond to control you or if you are using it to control someone else."

"Like criminals."

"Yes, like criminals. Don't forget to blow on your chili, it's hot." Garen frowned, still gathering his thoughts. "Sometimes if a master-padawan bond is really strong, or if one of them has to go undercover amongst Force-sensitives, a bond will have to be turned down, though they usually opt for meditation exercises instead of psilomil."

Reeft nodded, mid-blow, then began to eat, his attention uncharacteristically on Garen instead of his food.

"And sometimes, like when a Jedi dies unexpectedly, a bond can break, and what remains is very painful. It hurts because the brain keeps trying to reconnect and re-establish the bond, but there is nothing there to link up with. Eventually, the brain gives up and it hurts less, but if it was a very old or very deep bond, this can take a long time. Sometimes they give a bond suppressor like psilomil to suppress the broken bond so it doesn't hurt as badly." Garen stirred his chili with a hunk of whole-grain bread. "Master Qui-Gon must have had a pretty deep bond with Obi-Wan for them to go straight to psilomil though, because there are less harsh drugs they could have used."

Reeft swallowed, then looked up at him. "You must love me a lot if they gave you that drug because I was hurt."

Garen smiled. "You know I do."

Reeft looked down at his bowl. "Thank you for the chili, Garen."

"You're welcome, Love."

 

* * *

Garen picked loose threads from his second least-tattered robe as he sat in the Council waiting room. It was rapidly becoming his third least-tattered robe, but he supposed it was better than reverting back to nail biting. His robe could be changed a lot sooner than his nails would grow back.

And he had the sinking feeling that his late master would probably come back from the dead just to smack him if he actually started biting his nails. Rarely, the ancient masters had returned from the Force to bestow knowledge on their living brethren if some calamity had become dire enough. Deep down, Garen knew that to Master Rhara, gnawed fingernails were a crisis of epic proportions.

After a long time, the docent on duty called him to the desk and directed him to a side chamber. Garen took a deep breath and entered. For some reason he had always found a meeting with one or two of his elders to be far more intimidating than the full council. Perhaps it was the close, almost claustrophobic scale of the side chambers, or their bare, spartan decor which left visitors nothing to look at, and alternately, left councilors nothing to attend to except their visitors. Perhaps it was because those windowless rooms were used primarily to relay sensitive information.

Secret news was rarely good news.

The room was empty. Slowly, silently, Garen let the breath out and settled onto a meditation cushion. His councilor would come in time.

For now, he could only wonder what wretched, life-altering challenge they would throw at him today that they had forgotten to tell him about yesterday.

Perhaps they thought he had had enough yesterday.

He closed his eyes and began a breathing exercise to quiet his mind. If he wasn't already certain that his braid had been cut long ago, he would have sworn this hellish week with the Council had actually been his trials.

After a time, the door opened. Garen looked up a moment later to find himself face to face with Mace Windu.

"Have you come to a decision about this assignment, Knight Muln?"

So much for beating around the bush.

Garen looked away. Unfortunately, there really wasn't anything to look at, other than the dark, bare walls. "I haven't decided to refuse it outright," he said at last. "But if this is truly my decision, I will need more information before I would willingly accept."

Windu nodded. "Fair enough. You know I can't tell you everything unless you accept, but I will answer what I can. I trust that you realize this conversation cannot leave this room, because whomever the position goes to, yourself included, would be endangered by such talk."

Garen cleared his throat. "I haven't told Reeft, if that's what you are asking. He knows something is wrong. Hell, he probably knows the Council is reassigning me, but I haven't given him any details about it. No sense worrying him anymore than I already do."

"Yes." Mace raised his hand, the Force in his gesture, and Garen felt a strange, prickling itch under his skin, that quickly faded to a barely discernible annoyance.

Force shielding. This was sensitive information.

"How much do you know about Knight Kenobi's mission?"

"Other than it killed him?" Mace winced in response and Garen instantly regretted it. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that." He sighed, trying to now remember bits and pieces he had been willfully ignoring for years. "I know he was hunting down Sith, I suspect he was trying to identify the ring leaders, Darth Tyranus and Darth Sidious that are rumored to be behind half the battles in this war."

Windu remained expressionless, neither confirming nor denying this.

"I know he had regular missions, treaties, trade disputes, diplomacy, but he always seemed to be in the thick of it, or nearby. And he never came back to the Temple. Never. Assuming he didn't have some cabana or poolside service somewhere, I take it he spent his downtime on covert operations, like the one where he rescued Padawan Solo."

"Han told you about that?"

Garen snorted. "Han told Reeft about that. I had to listen to second-hand retellings of Obi-Wan the Slave-Trading Pirate for months. I just hope he dropped that persona because Reeft has a big mouth."

"He did and he does." There was no condemnation there, merely a statement of fact.

"Other than the fourteen Sith Apprentices, that's really all I know."

"Seventeen."

"What?"

"Obi-Wan killed seventeen Sith Apprentices and turned Jedi. Well, sixteen and a half. His attackers put one of their own out of her misery after she was fatally wounded."

"Mercy killing among the Sith?"

"Or cold practicality."

Her misery.

"Who was it?"

"That's classified for the moment."

Garen bit back a retort. You're a Jedi knight, not an impulsive Padawan. "Yes, Master." They sat in silence for a moment. "So Obi-Wan killed three more Sith before he died?"

"Yes." Another awkward silence. "You do know that if you take this position, you will have to review the classified information from his death? You'll be expected to learn his successful strategies, and learn to avoid the attacks that took him down? You know that you will have to read his journals and reports, to get into his head and take over his work?"

Garen looked Mace in the eye. "If this is about the argument the Obi-Wan and I had, that was a long time ago. I've forgiven him and I've learned to forgive myself. I may not have gone out of my way to reach resolution before he died, but our past conflicts are not going to prevent me from doing my job or being objective about it. Whatever problems I had with Obi-Wan personally, he was a fine knight and a hard worker. He put all of himself into his missions and his loss was a blow to the Order. And if I have to read his journal or his reports or his little black datapad to keep myself alive, I'll do it and he would want me to."

Mace returned his gaze. "I was asking if you could handle prying into the life of a dead lover."

"Oh." Garen looked away. "You knew about that?"

"Obi-Wan had to disclose his past intimates when he took the position. He had to sever more attachments then most Jedi are ever called to do."

Garen shuddered. Attachment. A way out. He couldn't do that.

"We won't be asking that of you."

"Oh."

They sat in silence for a time.

"Why am I not being asked to give up the attachments that Obi-Wan was?" Garen asked at last.

Mace inclined his head slightly, not a full nod, but it indicated he was pleased with Garen's line of questions.

"You aren't being asked to make the same sacrifices because you aren't being asked to take on Obi-Wan's old mission. You are being offered what would have been Obi-Wan's new mission."

"New mission?" Perhaps he had been missing something, but everything they had been telling him had made it sound just like the work his late friend had been doing for years.

Yes, he could admit it. Obi-Wan, his late friend.

"The Council had called Obi-Wan back to the Temple. His work had become too dangerous, even for a 'Sith-killer' like him. His identities were becoming compromised, his work was being observed. Too many people he had worked with, who knew his objectives and methods, had turned. And to the Sith, he had become a most dangerous adversary. He was getting too close and it was only a matter of time before they would have to do something about it. So we called him home. The Council decided to remove him from the field agent roster and appoint him as a mission coordinator here at the Temple. Use him to analyze and organize other, younger knights whose identities were more anonymous, those who would fly under the Sith's sensor grid. We suspected he was close to unraveling the mystery and we knew we couldn't afford to lo—” Mace trailed off, and for a moment his face contorted in pain. "Unfortunately, we were too late. And Force help us, I hope his life's work and knowledge didn't die with him."

Garen digested this for a long while.

"Would I have to go on missions?"

Mace's expression relaxed slightly, almost relieved that Garen still had not refused outright. "Yes and no. Yes, you will have missions, but not like the kind you've been having. Fact finding, sensitive interviews in classified facilities, investigating the scenes of incidents perhaps, but none of those back to back marathons that keep you out of Temple for months. Probably nothing more than a fortnight at most and that includes travel. There is an initial mission that would be perhaps three weeks total, but afterwards you would be able to conduct your investigations through collaborators already in place."

"The initial mission is to contact the collaborators?"

"More or less. It is also to help you understand the nature of their work, and to learn to communicate with them. Needless to say, such sensitive information needs careful encryption and it helps to have everyone on the same page beforehand, or rather, to have one person on everyone's page."

Me. Garen closed his eyes, deep in contemplation. For all that its potential dangers, the position was tempting. More time to be home with Reeft. Time in Temple to catch his breath and work on his sabre work against fellow Jedi instead of against droids and enemy fire. Time to actually live instead of just work for months only to be interrupted by caretaking.

Other than the fact that if the Sith found out he was on their trail he was a marked man, it was almost a cushy position.

Well, cushy for a Jedi.

And certainly a position worthy of the executioner of seventeen Sith apprentices and turned Jedi who hadn't been home in fifteen years and who didn't deserve the death the Force had dealt him.

A death Garen didn't want either.

"Would I have been considered for this position if Obi-Wan hadn't died?"

Mace actually startled at the question. "What do you mean?"

"You are offering me Obi-Wan's new position. Would I have been a candidate for it if Obi-Wan hadn't died?"

Mace's expression was unreadable.

"It's a simple enough question." Garen released his irritation. He had to admit part of his motive in asking was his own ego, but he also needed to know what was expected of the position. And what the Council expected from him.

"Yes, it's a simple question, Garen. But some of the answers to that are classified." Mace seemed to ponder his own knees for a long moment. "Obi-Wan was naturally our first choice for the position. We did not want to contemplate replacing him of course, but we did." Councilor Windu seemed to be mulling over his next words with care, testing the price of revealing hidden truths. "He did know at all times his death was a possibility." Mace raised his head to look him in the eye. "Obi-Wan did recommend you as a replacement for this new position."

"I see." Clamping down hard on his ego, Garen choked out the question that had been festering for days. "Would I have been considered for Obi-Wan's old position?"

A beat of silence.

"No. At the time Obi-Wan began searching for the Sith in earnest, you were eliminated from the candidate pool."

Garen closed his eyes. "Because you thought I'd turn?"

Mace said nothing.

"Because Bruck turned?"

"The Council decisions are considered classified, Knight Muln."

"And Aalto turned, and Quinlan turned and even Perfect Siri turned?"

"You were engaged for commitment, Garen. That alone could eliminate you from such a pos—”

"I wasn't married yet." He could admit it now. "Was it because I let my fear overwhelm me and Obi-Wan had to save me from myself? So I wouldn't turn? Was that the reason?"

Was that the reason Obi-Wan died instead of me?

Mace's expression seemed to be warring between compassion and self-censorship. "Obi-Wan was the most qualified for the job and the one in the best position to end his personal attachments."

"Do you think I will—"

"Fear you turning, the Council did not."

Garen whipped around, startled. A votive sparked to life in the gloom to reveal Master Yoda, observing from the shadows.

Even Mace look surprised. Both men stared down at him for a very long time.

A realization dawned.

"You didn't consider me for the position because you thought Reeft would turn."

Yoda nodded, pleased that he had solved the puzzle but saddened that he had had to.

"Created this position was, after recovered Reeft was. Badly hurt was he, but the greatest damage to his equilibrium was. Great concern there was as to whether he would return to the Light, or go forth into Darkness. Dark emotions you had also, but overcame them you were able. Let go of his fear, Reeft can not."

For a moment, Garen was in their bed, holding his husband close, soothing him through the nightmares and memories. He knew Reeft could never return to the field, could never again be an active Jedi.

He hadn't considered the notion that Reeft could become a Sith.

"Crude was the Sith's attack, but without purpose it was not. Destroy his equilibrium they did. Destroy his peace. Kindle his fear and disrupt his serenity. His control thoroughly they did break. His intelligence they did not."

"The Sith have gotten better at it since Reeft." Mace was facing a shadowed corner, but it was clear he was seeing some far darker memory in his mind. "Their attacks have gained . . . more surgical precision." His fisted hands shook. "Once serene and powerful Jedi, mutilated in mind and body. Their control, their sanity ripped away." He turned back to Garen. "Not all of our brethren turned by choice, Garen. They were broken, driven, twisted." He shut his eyes against the memories too classified to even be discussed with his mind healers. "Some of them make Reeft look . . . merely bruised. You should know that before you make this decision."

Unbidden, the image of his beloved smiling at him over last night's chili came to mind. The thought of that face twisted and evil was almost more than he could bear.

"Did Obi-Wan turn?" He noticed a dark stain on his thigh and realized he was crying. Again. "Did he turn before he died, from what they did to him? Is that why none of us can feel him in the Force?"

Mace gaped at him. "Speculation at Obi-Wan's mental state at the time of his death is classified information." Mace shook his head. "Even if we knew, we would not reveal that, regardless of whether you take the position."

Garen wiped his eyes with the corner of his robe sleeve. Almost without him realizing it, it had become his most-tattered robe over the course of this short meeting.

"I'm not asking because of the position. I'm asking because he was my friend."

"We can't tell you that—”

"Leave us you should."

It took Garen a long moment to realize Master Yoda was talking to Mace and not to him. Windu hesitated a moment, then stood, bowed an apology, then left. A slight flare in the irritating energy field a moment later told the two remaining when they were finally alone.

Yoda climbed up onto the stool Mace had vacated, studied Garen a moment, and then reached into his robe. Garen watched as the ancient master held up a small stone, green and white and worn smooth by some alien sea. Slowly, the stone rose and floated toward him, then settled just in front of his crossed ankles.

"Holding this stone Obi-Wan was when found he was. Recovered from his body in the morgue it was. Meditate on it you will."

Not an offer, but a command. Steeling himself, Garen released his anxieties, then opened his mind. Almost immediately, impressions etched into the stone filled his mind.

Pain.

Agonizing pain.

Smoke in the air. In his lungs. In his brain.

His mind was burning.

Force, the pain, but had to keep going. Fire burning his skin, and he wanted to die, he wanted the pain to end, but he had to . . .

He promised . . .

Coming . . . going toward the door, toward the dim Force signatures that might be Sith but he had to get out of the smoke . . .

His hands were burning but he couldn't see the flames . . . his eyes weren't right . . . they had done . . . something and he couldn't see his hands . . .

His other senses began to fail in turn, leaving only the pain that also began to ebb slightly. He pushed himself harder but his muscles were freezing. Giving out.

Dying.

'Master!'

The darkening world spun as he tried to lift his head. The pain flared, like a nova. Something was gravely wrong there, he shouldn't move, but he . . . he couldn't stay here . . . because . . .

He tried to move again and his head struck the floor. He had to move because he promised . . . something . . . and he . . .

Images flew through his head like a flock of birds. Master. Lovers. Brothers. Friends.

Master.

Master.

Promised Master.

No longer able to feel his limbs, to feel anything but the pain, he tried again, tried to drag the broken remains of his body. The agony rose but he pushed, he pushed through it . . he

Everything, even the pain, faded to a pinprick of consciousness.

So . . . sorry . . . broke . . . promise

And the light that was Obi-Wan Kenobi was snuffed out.

Garen didn't try to stop the tears. Shaken, he handed the stone back to Master Yoda.

His own face had been in Obi-Wan's mind as he had died. Reeft's face.

Even Bant's face, still whole as it had been before she had been wounded.

And of course, Qui-Gon Jinn's. First and ultimately last.

No, Obi-Wan hadn't turned. Even though he probably should have. Anger and pain might have saved his life, even as it would have taken his soul. And so he had died.

At last the silent tears stopped, of their own accord.

"I'll take the position."

Master Yoda nodded. "Trust you the Council does. Know we do that serve the Order well you will. Adjourned this meeting is. Explain to Reeft you may, but tell him not what entails position. Five days hence, three week trip you will have. Prepare Reeft, you will."

"Yes, Master."

"Assigned mind healer you will be. Argue you will not. Need for this position you will. Keep from healer confidential information, explain, Mace will."

"Yes, Master."

Yoda nodded and looked down at the small green and white stone, as if preparing for a meditation of his own. The Force shield remained in place, but it seemed Garen was dismissed.

Garen stood and walked toward the door.

"Killed, Darth Talon has been."

He froze, his hand on the knob.

"No other Jedi she will hurt. Tell Reeft you may, but keep quiet you will."

"You're certain?"

"Public this knowledge in two weeks will be. Prepare him for gossip and questions you must."

Prepare him because you will not be there to comfort him when the story gets out.

"Yes, Master. Thank you, Master."

Yoda opened his eyes to grant him a meaningful glance.

"Thank you, the Council does. Thank you, I do. May the Force be with you."

"And with you, Master."

I'm going to need it, aren't I?

Garen stepped out into the hall, and the Force flared up around him, comforting after so long in the half-blinding closeness of the shielded room.

It was time to find Reeft.

Chapter Text

The room was spacious.

Spartan, but spacious.

Quietly, even a bit nervously, Garen sat down at the large desk, a metal and wood antique that had been recently pulled from storage and hastily scrubbed. A small patch of dark, greasy fuzz denoted a spot the cleaning droid had missed. The drawers were empty. The datapads were freshly recycled. The overhead lighting had been changed, but no supplemental illumination had been added. He leaned back and his chair squeaked, alarmingly loud in the otherwise silent room.

He had never had his own office before.

Slowly, he spun a few lazy circles in his chair, testing it for squeaks of course, yes it needed a little grease, before he stopped to face the window, a flick of the wrist opening the curtains with the Force. Dramatically, they were flung from the windows to reveal . . .

A busy air thoroughfare and a distant brick wall.

Oh well. Apparently, slaying fourt— nay, seventeen Sith Apprentices was not going to earn one an office with a view. Or their replacements for that matter.

But it was an office with a window and that was more than any of his peers had. Not even Jocasta Nu, retired knight, keeper of Jedi knowledge and master of the discipline of enforcing silence, had anything more than a 'holo window' in her office.

It was quite the step up from single man ship to Coruscant office with viewless window. Yes, he was moving up in this world.

Too bad it was because other people were leaving this world.

BEEP!

Garen whipped the chair back around to face the door, all attention.

It took a second beep for him to realize it was his personal docent on the office-comm.

He had never had a personal docent before.

"Knight Muln?" the docent asked from his desk in the front office. "Knight Skywalker is here to see you."

He hadn't been expecting anyone. Without any signal from him, his holo calendar lit up, showing him the many open time slots that his personal docent would soon be stylusing in.

For a moment, he debated scheduling Anakin for later, when he had the place set up as he liked it, but he had only been in the office less than a quarter of an hour. While he actually had had subordinates before, he wasn't used to having them this quickly for an assignment this important. In an office still this unprepared and unfamiliar. Not that this was a reasonable excuse to turn the knight away. And it's not like there are shiploads of other people lined up to see you. But strangely, even though he didn't know what to expect, even though he barely knew what he was doing, even though he knew the office was not yet personalized to his tastes, that it had been in fact set up for someone he had spent the last ten years actively disliking, he didn't mind it.

His hand moved to hit the reply button when the thought occurred to him. For the first time all week, he was almost centered and at peace with himself. Maybe I have finally forgiven him.

And he didn't want to be alone in here.

Not that he wanted to appear as if he didn't know what he was doing. Another Force flick closed the curtains, creating the imposing illusion that this position afforded him a view and he was keeping it to himself. Business first.

"Send him in." Garen posed himself to look busy.

As Anakin entered the office, Garen made a show up fiddling with his datapad and granting him the briefest glance before waving him into a chair. He waited for Anakin to settle, and then a few moments more before laying the pad aside and facing Anakin.

"Yes, Knight Skywalker?"

"If you don't mind the presumption Sir, datapads work better when you actually switch them on."

Garen fought a blush, without complete success.

"So much for professionalism," he sighed. "Sorry Anakin, but I just got here. I don't have any idea what the hell I'm supposed to do first, I am wholly unprepared for this job and . . ." He trailed off, not sure what he was going to say. "It shouldn't have even been my job to begin with."

Anakin nodded. "I know. Master Windu told me about it this morning. About how this was going to be . . ." He trailed off, suddenly unable to look at his new mission supervisor. "Master Qui-Gon doesn't know."

Garen let out a tense breath he hadn't realized he was holding and leaned back in his chair, covering his eyes. These were harder boots to fill than he had thought.

"He didn't know that Obi-Wan wasn't going to be sent back into the field?"

Anakin shook his head listlessly. "No. He had planned for thr-three days." His voice hitched and Garen glanced at him, alarmed. "He had hoped for more of course, but . . . that was all he felt he could expect."

"Obi-Wan had never been back for longer than that."

Anakin shook his head, angry at himself a moment for being a grown man, in fact a knighted Jedi, who was tearing up over his old master. But Qui-Gon was not just his master; he was the only father he had ever had. He had not known Obi-Wan well, but Qui-Gon's grief was so deep, so pronounced, that he could not help but mourn his master's happiness and vitality.

"He was never here when Obi-Wan came back. We were always called away, sent on some emergency mission or special project for the Chancellor. It was so rare in the first few years, but something always came up. And then he never came back at all." He wiped his nose.

"It was hard growing up in his shadow. Hearing the stories, but like everyone else, never getting to see him. But to Master Qui-Gon, he was human. His student and friend. I wanted to resent him sometimes, because to everyone he was so perfect, and somehow I had to follow this act and do even better because I was the Chosen One and all that poodoo. But Master Qui-Gon would read me his letters, and he was so . . . normal. Obi-Wan didn't know he was a legend. He didn't know half the knights wanted to bed him and half the initiates wanted to be his padawan. He didn't know how ha-, how happy those letters made our master . . . how much Master Qui-Gon wanted to see him."

I wanted to resent him sometimes, because to everyone he was so perfect.

"He wasn't perfect, Anakin. And no one expects either of us to replace him."

Anakin wiped his eyes and turned to face Garen, his gaze intently avoiding his eyes. "How is Reeft taking all- this?"

Garen shrugged. "He liked the office. Loved the spinning chair. Said the desk was good for playing with clay. Of course he didn't know it was supposed to be Obi-Wan's either. He doesn't know what I'm doing, only that I'll be in the Temple a lot more and sending other Jedi out into the dangers of the galaxy. I feel like he's still waiting for the other shoe to fall, but he's not really ready to know any more at this point."

Anakin sighed. "It's kind of the same with Luke and Leia. They know something is wrong. They're so perceptive, and they can feel the wrongness all around. But what can I tell them? They aren't even old enough to be initiates yet. All they know is that someone from their bedtime stories isn't coming to visit like he was supposed to and Master Qui-Gon doesn't even notice them anymore." He bit his lip, unable to continue.

"How bad is Qui-Gon, Ani?" He hesitated a moment. "Reeft said he was on psilomil."

"Yeah, he was." Anakin rubbed the brace on his weak arm, something he only did under stress. "They have him mostly weaned off it, if he isn't already. He's still kind of listless. We have to keep checking on him. Making sure he's eating, sleeping, bathing, that sort of thing. It's not like he's forgotten how, it's just . . . it's like he doesn't notice the planet is still spinning, and that his stomach is empty and his hair needs to be combed. I keep finding him sitting in Obi-Wan's room, rearranging things, dusting, straightening until he falls asleep on the bed. Once on the floor. But . . . but I think he's getting a little better. Yesterday when I came in he was sending out his laundry. I didn't tell him to do it, he just did it himself. And he watered the plants. He's not the same but . . . but I think he's coming out of the fog."

"With psilomil it might take a few more days. Give it some time and keep being supportive."

They were both silent for a long moment.

"We took his lightsabre away."

Garen's eyes flashed in alarm. "You thought he would harm himself?"

Anakin shrugged. "He was completely irrational, Garen. When Mace told him . . . he just couldn't handle it. They had to sedate him." His injured hand shook slightly. "Even after he woke up, it still hadn't sunk in. He kept talking as if Obi-Wan were still coming and was just slightly delayed, and when he still didn't come . . . I don't know which was worse, when he wouldn't give up hope or when he did. And now . . . Well, he's an old man, Garen, we're not going to have him around forever. But I think part of him died with Obi-Wan and I just don't want to lose the rest of him too."

"He helped you when your mother passed. You don't want to lose him, but you can't return the favor, can you?"

Anakin looked away, blinking again. "No, I can't." He gave a rueful laugh. "I'm just not Obi-Wan. I couldn't replace him in life, Garen. I sure can't replace him in death." He glanced around the office. "And now you'll be sending me out into the field, so I won't be around for Master Qui-Gon either. Not that I blame you."

"You know I'll keep an eye on him. Just like you keep an eye on Reeft. We're all still a family, Ani. We're not going to abandon him."

"I know." Ani lowered his head into his hands. "I was just never very good at being helpless."

"Meditate on that you should, hmmmm?"

Anakin rolled his eyes. "You're pretty pushy for a senior knight, you know."

Garen rolled his eyes. "No, I'm not. That's just what Obi-Wan would have said if he were here and since this was supposed to be his office, someone had to say it."

Anakin looked surprised. "I knew Reeft was Obi-Wan's friend, but you never really talked about him. We're you close to him?"

"We . . ." Garen trailed off, too stunned for a moment to speak. Their argument had been years ago, but the unresolved issues had been stark in his mind for so long, that it seemed absurd, almost ludicrous, that Ani would not have known at least something of their history.

Particularly being Qui-Gon Jinn's padawan.

"Yes," he said at last. "All three of us grew up together. He was my best friend after my husband. Obi-Wan was supposed to be a witness at our wedding. But then Reeft was captured and . . . things happened, and . . . and he went on his mission. We really never saw him after that." You never wanted to see him.

Anakin stared at him carefully. Chosen One and diplomat, he had clearly picked up on the fact that Garen wasn't telling the whole story by any means. But he didn't call him on it.

"Well, since you were close to Obi-Wan, if you can think of anything to help Master Qui-Gon, or if you could stop by and see him, I would be grateful."

Garen nodded. "I will." He took a deep breath and released it before trying to steer the conversation back to normalcy. "Was that what you came to speak to me about, or did you have some other reason for seeing me?"

"Ah! Yes!" Ani cried, suddenly remembering why he had come in here in the first place. "I have a package for you." The younger knight picked up an evidently heavy, oblong container off the floor and placed it on the desk. "Or rather, Obi-Wan received a package, but since you inherited his job, I figured you should probably inherit his mail too." He shrugged again. "It wasn't addressed to me and Master Qui-Gon is in no condition to handle this kind of stuff. If he gets any more of it, I'll refer it to you."

Garen glanced at the low box, about as wide as his chest and as deep as a handspan. It was plain, non-descript, but covered in real brown paper, not seal-plast. Understated, but sophisticated. Classy.

"Who is it from?"

"Senator Organa."

Garen felt his eyebrows hit the ceiling.

"Bail Organa? Senator and Prince of Alderaan, Bail Organa?"

Anakin looked at him strangely. "Bail Organa who was at Master Qui-Gon's party but was too gracious to ask what we did with the package he sent the dead guest of honor. One and the same."

Garen glanced down at the box, suspicious. "Did you check it for pipe bombs?"

"What?!"

"Um," Garen bit his lip, trying to put it delicately. "Let's just say he and Obi-Wan had something of a falling out back when you were still enduring puberty."

Cautiously, Anakin leaned away from the box. "A diplomatic falling out?"

"A romantic falling out."

"Oh." Anakin blushed a moment. "I didn't know the Senator was . . um,"

"Bisexual."

"Right. I mean, I've met his wife, she's friends with Padme, and . . .

"I'm sure she knows about it. The bisexuality I mean. Alderaan is rather liberal. She might not know about Obi-Wan and Bail, however. If I recall my dates correctly, they married about five years after the . . . breakup."

"The Senator did not seem upset with being invited to the party. He even seemed to look forward to seeing Obi-Wan." Cautiously, Anakin reached for the box, but did not touch it. The hairs on Garen's forearm pricked up as Knight Skywalker probed the box with the Force, then chuckled.

"Well, Muln, it's definitely not a pipe bomb, but all the same, you might want to test it before using it, just to be sure of course." Anakin's eyes danced, assuring him that whatever was in the box, it was medically harmless. With a sigh, the younger knight rose to leave, joints creaking a bit. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a pair of twins to get fed, bathed and put to bed and only Han to help me. Padme is off at some diplomatic committee meeting tonight."

"No rest for the weary."

"I keep offering to trade." Anakin shuffled out. "Take care of yourself, Garen. I'll see you before you leave so we can discuss mission objectives."

Garen blinked. "Right." He made a note to discuss with Yoda exactly what he was and was not supposed to be discussing with subordinates. Not to mention to determine exactly what they did and did not know already.

The door closed behind Skywalker and Garen looked down at the box on the desk. Obi-Wan's box on Obi-Wan's desk.

My desk now.

He poked at the container cautiously.

And if I have to read his journal or his reports or his little black datapad to keep myself alive, I'll do it and he would want me to.

Apparently, that would have to extend to gifts from disgruntled former lovers as well.

Carefully, he unwrapped the paper and opened the plain wooden box inside.

"Well, this is awkward."

Nestled inside the carefully hollowed and lined box lay a very expensive bottle of fine Alderaanian wine. And a small card.

The wine didn't look tampered with.

He opened the card.

Dear Obi-Wan,

Congratulations on your new position. Please accept the enclosed to celebrate your long overdue return until we can properly toast you in person. Knowing that you are a busy man, and no doubt your time is in high demand, nevertheless, we hope you can join us for dinner and pleasant conversation on the twelfth at 18:00. Looking forward to reminiscing about the past and making plans for the future in these turbulent times.

Best wishes,

Bail and Breha

Congratulations? Wine? Dinner next week? Bail and Breha? He glanced back down at the bottle.

Wine.

And for that matter, how did the Senator of Alderaan know about Obi-Wan's new position when he was only told about it in strictest confidence in Force-sealed chambers?

When even Qui-Gon didn't know.

No, something just didn't add up.

Puzzled, he picked up the bottle and activated his data terminal.

Access information: wines of Alderaan.

* * *

"I want to make love tonight."

Garen looked up from his reading, startled.

"What?"

Reeft sat down next to him, laying his head on his husband's shoulder. "I want to make love tonight, Garen. You've been home for days and days and we haven't yet." He picked at his sleeve nervously. "You don't want to?"

Carefully, Garen tipped back his husband's head and kissed him soundly on the lips. "I love you, Darling. Utterly." He kissed him again. "We don't make love every night, but I would never not want you."

Reeft blushed slightly, and huddled closer. Garen put his datapad aside, welcoming the distraction from his rather dismal work, and wrapped his arms around his lover. Silently, they shifted closer together, soft kisses giving way to more intimate caresses. After a time, Reeft shuddered slightly in his arms, then pulled away, eyes bright.

"Let's go to bed, Garen."

Hand in hand, they walked back to their bedroom, Garen turning down the lights as they passed. Reeft's smile grew wider as his husband lit the soft lanterns in their bedposts, then slowly began to undress him. Reeft usually set them to change colors all night when he had to sleep alone, but Garen preferred soft pink hues to 'hide his wrinkles.'

Of course, being a Dressellian, Reeft rather admired those wrinkles.

Across the room, the light peeking from under the door to Bant's adjoining apartment clicked out. Garen was home, they were together, and it was their time. Reeft wriggled out of his undertunic and began to tug at his husband's belt, impatient. Garen chuckled, surprising them both; they hadn't laughed once since he had returned. It hadn't seemed a good time for laughter.

He wanted us to be happy.

They had wasted enough time on sadness and ghosts that wouldn't haunt them. Garen captured two wrinkled, gray hands and kissed their owner soundly as he backed him up and lowered them both to the bed.

Reeft squirmed in delight as his suddenly determined lover shucked off their remaining clothes and slipped in between the sheets, startling at the sinful feel of Decende satin. He remembered Bant's knowing look as she had helped him change the sheets that afternoon and laughed himself.

They would be happy.

It was their duty to be happy and to make each other happy too.

Reeft gasped as Garen lapped at a nipple. His lover's hands skimmed over his body, and he clenched his buttocks at both memory and in anticipation. Garen had always been a careful lover but had become much more cautious since . . . Reeft only referred to it as 'when he got hurt.' Before he had been hurt, they were both careful, loving with each other, but afterward, something changed. Confidence was shattered. Even together, they had felt lost. For a time, they could not be intimate, long after the physical wounds had healed. After such radical change, they had simply lost the ability to read each other. Years later, they had mostly gained that back.

But for all that they could read, the words were different now. They could never be the way they were, or the way they were supposed to have been. But despite it all, they could and would be happy.

They were happy.

Reeft gasped as Garen slid over him, his tongue seeking each and every sensitive crease in his lover's neck. It was a caress he had been employing since long before Reeft had been hurt; in fact, before they had lost their virginity. Obi-Wan's skilled hands had found quite a few ticklish spots, but Garen had always been a bit more bold in his explorations. Or perhaps Obi-Wan had known even then that their future did not include him, and he had simply been more reserved.

"I love you." It was a statement that had terrified Reeft in his captivity but had been his salvation during his recovery. Some days it had been an affirmation he quite literally had lived for. Garen's hands slid under his back, and he cried out as his lover rocked against him, their phalluses sliding against one another. Reeft's hands snaked down to capture them both, holding them together. His lover buried his face in his neck, muffling his moans. He turned his head to drop pleading whispers into Garen's ear.

"I love you, Garen. I want you, Garen. Please, Garen. Inside me, please." He squeezed their phalluses together once to further his pleas, then released them as his lover began trailing kisses across his face, tracing lines both natural and Darkness-wrought. When they had removed the bacta-seals and allowed him to see himself for the first time after, he had screamed, terrified at the claw marks running down his face, convinced his lover, his friends, would turn their backs on him, repulsed. Obi-Wan's pained look had told him it was bad when they had rescued him, but he hadn't known how bad and Garen wasn't there. They hadn't let Garen see him, and his own terror prevented his asking for him.

Fear had turned to anger, and in his rage, he had smashed the healer's mirror with the Force, the power of the exploding glass driving everyone from the room. Unchecked, he had hurled all the sharp fragments into the far wall, banishing them until they could no longer reflect his face through his tears. They must have sedated him then, because the memory ended soon after and the next time he woke, he was in a dim room in his lover's arms, stiff and thirsty from a long sleep. Garen had been singing to him softly, carefully stroking at the scars as if they were some new feature to be learned and memorized, not a vile deformity. Garen still loved him despite his disfigured body and crushed soul. Garen never gave up on him, and together they had taken those first limping, painful steps back into the light.

"Alright, Love. You'll have me. Always, Love, always." Garen kissed him soundly, then pulled away to retrieve their lubricant. Reeft leaned back against the pillows and sighed, staring up at the pink lights dancing across the ceiling. He smiled as Garen came back, dropping a kiss on his lips before sliding down his body to prepare him. He continued to watch the rosy play of light as his lover caressed him, spreading his legs, slick fingers touching him intimately while whispering loving endearments.

He would always associate pink light with his first steps out of that dim room, not because it was the color of dawn, the time of rebirth, but because they always made love under pink lights.

"I'm ready, Garen. I want you, please."

Garen kissed his way up his lover's body, pausing at his chest to press his lips against his heart, feeling Reeft's pulse, assuring himself that his lover was indeed warm and alive beneath him. Reeft squirmed against the hard member digging into his hip, his anticipation from the preparation shading slightly into impatience.

But only slightly. Garen hesitated because he loved him and would wait until the end of time for his own pleasure if he wasn't sure Reeft was ready.

"Forgive my carefulness, Love. You're sure? I don't want to hurt you." Garen stared into his eyes. "I'm here, Love. Are you ready?"

Reeft smiled up at him, his expression shockingly innocent considering the circumstances, and nodded emphatically. "I'm ready Garen. I know you won't hurt me."

Garen winced, as he always did at those words, but Reeft had learned long ago it was the only statement that would reassure him. After a long moment, Garen leaned down, gifting his lover with a long, lingering kiss that ended on a breathless "I love you." Reeft clutched at him, never wanting him to leave. Not the planet. Not the room. Not the bed.

And then Garen was inside him.

Reeft moaned, his face contorting with pleasure. Above him, Garen groaned in his efforts to keep still until his lover's body relaxed, but Reeft found the sudden spasms to be more pleasurable than uncomfortable. As the initial storm calmed, his manhood began to throb, the overskin retreating. He pulled Garen closer, trapping his erection between them. The rasp of crisp hair, the corded steel of the knight's abdominals, and the wonderful slick shaft, filling him, just as Garen's love filled all the torn out holes in his psyche. It was moments like this that Reeft almost believed that he wouldn't always be After. That something better, something more whole could someday be achieved. An After After.

Then Garen began to move, and After was burned away by Now.

Reeft began to pant in time with the gentle thrusts, each one filling him, drawing Garen deeper into his body, intimate caresses to soothe a still battered soul. Gradually, the rhythmic surges began to increase in tempo. Above him, Garen's face glistened with sweat, his hair growing a bit damp, as passion warred with control. Control would win, at least for now. When they had first reinitiated intimate relations, Garen would not allow himself release until his partner climaxed; he did not relax until Reeft was satisfied. After so many years, Reeft sometimes wondered if he even could anymore. Fortunately for them both, they had learned each other's alien forms well, and getting one another off had rarely proved a problem, even if the order of events was predetermined.

And oh, but how Garen had learned how his body worked. Strong hands had slipped down to squeeze his buttocks before they glided back up to his hips, expertly tipping his pelvis such that his seminal glands lined up with the hot, hard penis thrusting inside him. He gasped, feeling the warmth first, and then, sweet bliss as the rigid organ raked across the triplet glands. He cried out, signaling to his lover that once again, his aim was true. Garen gasped, enjoying the feel of running his phallus over the uneven nubs almost as much as Reeft did. Trembling, Reeft shifted his hips just so, and the next thrust left him breathless. Deep inside him, his glands began to swell, drawing in fluid as they prepared for climax. Wanting it to last, wanting Garen to keep reveling in their love-making as long as possible, he clenched down, determined to hold on until Garen was close and they could both let go.

His glands began to pulse, a new delicious pressure building as his testes filled, activating his seed. Not that it would matter to Garen, shuddering above him, but his control was so fine, he would have made quite the breeding stud back on his homeworld. He grew lightheaded as his scrotal sac began to fill. The engorged tubules strained against this building pressure, the need for release rising with every heartbeat. Clenching harder against the delicious burn, Reeft moaned as Garen's hand slipped from his hip to tease his phallus before running a single finger along his sac, now a smooth, unwrinkled terra cotta bulge, taut as a drum head. Garen's pupils dilated as his fingers, still slick with lubricant, toyed with the deep, rosy slit in his lover's phallus before he slipped a silken bag over the entire organ, and grabbed it hard through the cloth. Reeft's mouth opened wide in a silent scream of ecstasy as his lover pressed against him, the beautiful pressure now too much to resist, even as the thrusts never slowed.

"Let go for me, Love."

Reeft came.

Thick semen gushed into the bag, the silk shielding Garen from a faceful of pale green fluid the texture of heavy cream. There were just some aspects of the Dressellian male orgasm that were uniquely unsuited for receiving anal intercourse. Not that Garen complained. He was always ready to offer up his rectum should Reeft want him that way, as he found the sudden cool jet to be quite enjoyable from the inside. And not having to scrub semen off the ceiling was worth a little preparation and self-control.

Needless to say, adolescent wet dreams were particularly trying for young male Dressellians.

Reeft reached for him weakly, and as his spent lover stroked his face, Garen came, shuddering.

Chapter Text

I find I cannot ask Garen for his forgiveness. I don't expect him to understand that the sins I have committed against him were committed out of love and loyalty, not anger or deception. Desperation, yes, but not deception. I do hope that someday he can forgive me, not for me, but for himself. The Sith recognize his talents as well as I do. I can only hope that his anger for me does not linger, that it doesn't provide a toehold for the Dark Side. It pains me to know that what I have done might someday prove to lead to his destruction, but even in hindsight, after many hours spent meditating, I still haven't found any better alternatives.

I will miss him.

He had thought he was finished crying.

Garen huddled in the dim common room, trying to muffle his sobs while Reeft slept on after their love-making. His husband always slept soundly after intercourse and it wasn't uncommon for Garen to take this quiet time for himself, to meditate or finish sensitive work that Reeft could not be privy to. Thus he sat, alone in the night, reading and re-reading Obi-Wan's mission logs.

Garen's story, that Reeft and Siri had been taken by force, and that he had failed to hold off their attackers, proved inconsistent with the physical evidence. The weapon trajectories, the blasted destroyer droids, the positions of the diplomats' bodies, and Muln's wounds, only enough to render him wounded and unconscious, can only lead me to one conclusion. Garen was intentionally left alive and Reeft was taken by force . . . I don't know why Siri spared Garen. I don't know whether I should hope Reeft is still alive.

He had wondered at the time why Obi-Wan had left Siri behind to the Sith's torment. It had been many weeks later that the Council finally told him that Siri had in fact escaped and had orchestrated Reeft's kidnapping as part of a foiled offering to her new master. He had been wracked with guilt that his innocent reassurances to his half-mad lover that their friend would be rescued soon had been unwittingly cruel.

He had been grateful that he had never seen the woman who had been Siri Tachi again. He knew, intellectually, that he was skilled enough, particularly as a pilot, to make him a valuable asset to the Sith should he turn. He was even aware of several attempts that had been made to do just that. But he had never encountered Darth Talon, the wretched bitch that had never gotten over what she perceived as her one imperfection and had been seduced into turning an artificial limb into a clawing instrument of torture. For reasons which remained her own, she herself had never come after them again. He used to think she refused to revisit her failure, but in retrospect, this was unlike her, as she was or as she had been. Siri was never one to let failures lie. And with Reeft so changed, so tormented, he would have been an easy target right after it happened. It would have taken so little to push him over the edge.

Now he thought she was too scared of Obi-Wan to touch either of them.

He was grateful his friend had killed her before he died.

I can't believe that Reeft isn't still alive, because if he had passed into the Force, I would stand a chance of reasoning with Garen. Their mindlink to each other is strong, much stronger than anything I have had with either of them, in fact, stronger than anything I have ever had with any lover. Siri, or some other dark agent must be torturing him, breaking him down, for Garen to be acting this way. Garen, he acts like a madman, spurring us on to find his partner in moments of lucidity, only to be interrupted by psychic waves of pain, anguish, darkness and fear. I can sense only the barest fraction of it; apparently my own link with Garen had not grown as fallow as I imagined. We've tried to block their link with drugs, shielding, even Force-influence, but to no avail. Either Garen cannot release these emotions or he will not, out of fear of losing all connection to Reeft.

This can't go on. He cannot go on like this. If there were some way we could weaken the link, if we could shut down or shunt away some of the emotional burden, Garen might be able to help us pinpoint Reeft's location. As it stands, he is too overwhelmed. The pain, the Darkness, the cold fear is driving out everything else. His own fears are growing, and that is what worries me most of all. We Jedi are forbidden deep attachment for this reason; alone we might save ourselves, but if the one we cherish falls, then what? Reeft is slipping to the Dark, and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

I fear to think what will happen to Garen when he falls.

He had never asked whether Reeft had in fact turned, or as Obi-Wan put it, fallen to the Dark Side. He had never asked whether Reeft's madness was in reaction to, or to prevent a fall. He had woken up on a ship, already in hyperspace, speeding his critically wounded lover home. He had raged, screaming in his cell like a prisoner, demanding to be let out, demanding to know how they could leave without his partner, unaware that Reeft was in fact on board, and unaware that the healers had had to resort to almost illegal doses of psilomil to stop his body from seizing when Reeft had momentarily stopped breathing. Most of all, he demanded to be let out so he could beat the living shit out of Obi-Wan for all that he had done and all that he himself hadn't been allowed to do. Even through the drugs, the Darkness lingering in Reeft had been bleeding off through him, and Obi-Wan made a convenient target.

When he finally saw his former friend again many days later, he had only had time to get in one good punch before Windu and Fisto intervened. Rumor had it that he had knocked a tooth loose and he had cherished that thought for years before deciding it was harmful and beneath him. Upon reflection, he had let it go.

It was only after that that he realized that Obi-Wan had made no move to fight back.

He never saw him again.

The healers can't give him any more drugs, and they have exhausted their shielding capabilities. The link is too strong, and the Dark is so powerful, even I can feel it, weak as our mutual link is. Unfortunately, it isn't strong enough for me to sense Reeft's location either. We're stuck in a cruel paradox. Garen's link is too strong to look for him, mine is too weak to see. We are running out of options and Reeft is running out of time . . .

I have spoken to Healer Virtril to see if there is any way we can strengthen my link to Reeft as we have not made any headway into weakening Garen's. At this point there is only one way to save Garen and that is to stop Reeft's torment, either through rescue or death. Even at my knighting I didn't expect to face nightmares like this.

Healer Virtril agrees that would be an excellent tactic, but any drugs he could offer would leave me too vulnerable to fight, or worse, could lower my shields and make me even more vulnerable than Garen. All he can suggest is that I try to get Garen to lower his shields to me, to yield to me so I might connect through him to Reeft from a psychologically more secure position. I would have more faith in this if Garen were lucid and responsive. Force knows how I can get him to notice me, much less link with me with what he is going through.

I don't know what to do, but I have to try. I could never forgive myself if I let either of them fall and there was something I could have done to stop it.

His memories were hazy, jumbled, confused, but now, after all the anger, all the pain, and all the self-incrimination had been worked through, he could see that Reeft was right.

He had wanted them to be happy. There had been no darkness from him. At the time, he had not felt betrayal or jealousy or lechery.

In those dark moments Obi-Wan had been a candle to cling to, and all he had offered was love, pure and simple.

It had been a touch first. He hadn't noticed anyone was with him initially, the darkness in his mind had clouded his eyes and he might have destroyed the lighting panel, he wasn't sure. But it was a familiar touch, a familiar smell, a familiar voice that called out to him.

Stay with me. Focus on me. Open to me like you used to.

Stroking, intimate touches, like his lover but Reeft wasn't here . . .

Remember Garen? We used to do this together, all three of us together. One of us would get excited and then we all would feel it. Can you feel me, Garen? Please, Garen. Let me in. I can't feel him, you have to let me in.

Lips on his ear, hair on his neck, but Reeft had no hair, and strong, warm hands, tugging off his sash, opening his tunics, sliding over his sensitive belly and he gasped as his trousers were unfastened and his erection began to grow.

Yes, Garen, open to me. Feel me. I can't reach him unless you let me in. Open your mind. Focus on me. Feel me . . . Yes, you can, don't tell me you can't, yes, you can. Open to me.

Gentle kisses, warm, familiar, but not Reeft, and the tickle of a beard that had not been there when . . .

Warm bliss enclosed his penis and he cried out, this time for the blinding pleasure in the terrifying darkness. The pain kept coming, the fear, the raging blows and torment, but there was an island to cling to now. He had been unable to hide his own fears from Reeft and now he was equally unable to hide his pleasure. His security. His love.

Obi-Wan continued to suck him, and all he could think of was his love for Reeft. The Force, the Light began to fill him as he tensed, and unconsciously he sent it to his lover, sent all of it, sharing this as they shared everything and then Obi-Wan swallowed and he came.

For a moment he felt it, unashamed as all three of them linked deep in his mind, and in that moment, the Dark was driven back, thrown back at their tormentors, and the three of them stood together in the Light.

And then it was over, and he looked up to see Obi-Wan leaning over him, his seed still on his friend's lips instead of his lover's. He opened his mouth, too stunned by the realization that he had betrayed his lover to understand why it had happened.

"I know where he is, Garen."

His face twisted in anger, and the Darkness flooded back in.

"I'm sorry."

He never saw the fist that knocked him out.

"I'm sorry."

Obi-Wan left him behind.

After we entered hyperspace, Healer Virtril informed me that Garen appeared to be stable for the moment, though his condition likely hinged on Reeft's. I could get no word from anyone on Reeft's condition, but even with my limited sense of the Living Force, I know it isn't looking good for him.

He's alive, and for that I am grateful. I don't know whether it will be better for him to live or to be released from this life, but I know that he will not die alone. Should he die, it will be among people who love him who will ease his pain.

I don't know what to do about what happened with Garen.

I must do something, I know that. I committed a crime against him, and it's not something I take lightly. When it happened, I didn't have time to think about what I had done. I didn't have time to examine my feelings about it. I had to go because time was running out every second. When I got back, I threw up. The healers thought it was from seeing what they had done to Reeft. It wasn't.

I raped him. I can't deny that. I raped him.

My hands are still shaking.

Garen stared at the words, trying to make sense of them.

I raped him.

Shivering, he turned to look at his lover, still sleeping peacefully in their bed.

I raped him.

He had been angry. He had been angry at himself for being too weak to help Obi-Wan. He had been angry at himself for his infidelity to his lover. He had been angry at Obi-Wan for being the vehicle of that infidelity. Most of all, he had been angry at Obi-Wan for leaving him behind.

It had never occurred to him that Obi-Wan would have considered it rape.

I could never forgive myself if I let either of them fall and there was something I could have done to stop it.

"For Force's sake, Obi-Wan, what else were you supposed to do?"

As he sat in the dim light, neither the Force nor Obi-Wan provided any answer. Pulling out a handkerchief, he wiped his eyes and nose.

"There wasn't anything else you could have done."

It was that simple. There wasn't. Nothing he could have done or not done differently. Obi-Wan hadn't been the only person agonizing over what-ifs and should-have-beens. The journal entry had been written just after it had happened. In the decade since, after ten years of analysis and blame, Garen had not found any alternatives.

And that was what had angered him the most.

I raped him.

"Oh, Obi-Wan, I was never mad at you for that." He hadn't resisted. And Obi-Wan did have a point; it was rather a gray area in terms of consent. He really had been in no position to decide what he wanted, much less put up a fight. But he hadn't wanted to resist. He had been terrified, alone, and when Obi-Wan came to him . . . he wasn't alone anymore.

He couldn't have resisted because it had been the only way out of the Darkness.

I've confined myself to my quarters. Master Windu refused to secure me in the brig, and I suppose I shouldn't go there anyway since that is where they are holding Garen for his own safety.

I never thought I would consider myself to be among those dangers.

While most prisoners are not privy to the onboard communications, I'm making an exception for myself until we are safely docked in the Temple. I need be informed in the event of an attack to help defend us. My duties have not lapsed, even if my judgment has failed me.

When both Garen and Reeft are secure with the Temple healers, I will approach Master Windu again. I will go to Yoda if I have to. I can't let this be swept under the rug of a mission report or pretend this didn't happen, no matter how much I want to. No matter that Garen was so out of it he might not remember it at all. No, I can't run from this, because running would only lead to Darkness.

I just hope I'm not already too late.

"Darkness for whom, Obi-Wan?" Garen stared down at the datapad, puzzling out the friend he thought he knew. "Did you think I would turn, or was it you?"

The entry ended. Apparently, his dead friend did not care to elaborate.

He stared off into space, turning the dispatches from Hell over and over in his mind. Obi-Wan had always been a rule-follower, holding himself to an exacting standard, often to a fault. It was little wonder he would take a black and white approach to the situation. In fact, he was quite likely to deal with himself more harshly than he would another.

But initiating intimacy was not exactly an unheard of technique for combating Darkness-fueled mind control, provided the participants had a solid sexual history. Which he and Obi-Wan had had, regardless that he had been engaged to Reeft at the time. The Council would likely have investigated to ensure the initiator had not acted out of Dark intent, but under the circumstances, it would not have been considered a crime. Rape, even if the victim called it that, would not have been punished without dark intent. It was even in the field manuals. So why had Obi-Wan believed he should be punished? It made no sense.

I presented my report to the Council and formally turned myself in to their custody. Master Windu looked, well, incredulous. I suppose he must have failed to grasp what actually happened, and in light of everything else (the revelations about Siri, Garen's brush with madness, and Reeft's injuries) I really can't say I blame him. I can only hope the other Council members took me more seriously.

They opted to send me to the Mind Healer's Ward. Beyond a competency test, I don't believe they can actually do anything. I refused medication, and even Healer Seddens admitted he really wouldn't know what to give me beyond a mild sedative and pain reliever.

I don't want the sedative. I was in my right mind when I did it, or at least I was rationally aware of what I was doing. I don't think I need medication and pills won't erase what I've done. (Of course, those who do need drugs are often those least qualified to judge whether or not they need them. Regardless, I see no evidence that meds will help the situation.) I don't want the analgesic because, . . . I don't want to be in pain, but I don't feel I deserve the relief. Which is of course a completely irrational frame of mind to be in so perhaps I should be on pills.

But the ache gives me something else to focus on besides my crime. And I need that. Survival instincts it seems are rarely rational.

. . .

I'd best put myself to sleep instead of staring off into space. The healers just drugged my juice.

It made no sense, but Obi-Wan's mind, however meandering, had been intact.

Puzzled, Garen retrieved his new console, and entered the security codes. There had to be more to it. Perhaps there was some regulation he was missing, or some sort of reverse loop-hole that made whatever Obi-Wan did a unjustifiable crime in his mind. Perhaps Obi-Wan, however lucid, had been out of his usually rational gourd at the time.

Fortunately, his new position afforded him higher security clearance levels.

And nosiness is justified when it's your ass on the line.

He managed to keep his hands from shaking too badly as he typed in the mission number from memory.

Mission KWS09- 75432685754:

Personnel:

Co. M. Windu
Co. A. Gallia
Ma. G. K'Go
Kn. O. Kenobi
Kn. G. Muln
Kn. S. Tachi
Kn. R. Eerbaar
Kn. P. Zoren
Hl. S. Virtril
Hl. F. Fens
Hl. L. Quila
Co. Yoda (report only)
Hlp. S. Froid (report only)
Hlp. F. Razure-Krain (report only)
Hlp. R. Seddens (report only)

 

 Froid and Razure-Krain he recognized as the mind healers who had treated Reeft and himself. Outside of Obi-Wan's journal he had never heard of Healer Seddens, but if he was in the final report, his friend had needed more psychiatric care than he realized.

Cross References:

Council policy, KWS09-SI-42776, passage of
Eerbaar, Reeft, abduction/torture
Eerbaar, Reeft, mental health status
Eerbaar, Reeft, mental trauma,
Eerbaar, Reeft, physical limitations,
Eerbaar, Reeft, retirement
Darth Talon, initial

Darth Tyranus, suspected
Gallia, Adi, Council retirement
Kenobi, Obi-Wan, detention
Kenobi, Obi-Wan, field promotion
Kenobi, Obi-Wan, mental trauma

Kenobi, Obi-Wan, Sith Investigation
Muln, Garen, mental trauma
Quila, Lalaine, elevation
Tachi, Siri, expulsion
Virtril, Sussan, field promotion

 

Garen stared down at the console. Before his new position he had thought he had known that horrendous mission inside and out. He had learned otherwise in the days since, but he was starting to wonder exactly how far down this sarlacc hole went. He had known Siri had turned, but not that it had precipitated her master's stepping down from the Council, though he should have in retrospect. He had known of course that he was in treatment, but he had no idea his predecessor had been privy to the records thereof. And of course, he had known that the whole fiasco had caused the Council to establish the Sith Investigation Task Force and had granted Obi-Wan the position he himself had wanted for all the wrong reasons at the time, but he had no idea Obi-Wan had also been detained.

Detained?

Obi-Wan had a criminal record over this?

He accessed the archives kept from him so long.

Kenobi, Obi-Wan, detention

Reported: Co. M. Windu, Co. Yoda, Hlp. R. Seddens
Re: Mission KWS09- 75432685754

MW:

As per Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi's request, the Council has considered his admission of raping Knight Garen Muln during the course of the mission to recover Knight Reeft Eerbaar. Under the circumstances, we did not feel it right to detain him as he requested, and thus he has been committed for the time being to the care of Hlp. Seddens for a mental evaluation. After Kenobi was removed from chambers, I shared my impressions of the mission and my understanding of Knight Kenobi's actions. Myself and the rest of the Council are in agreement that when the extraordinary conditions of the mission, Knight Kenobi's honest answers in regards to his motivations, and his success in locating Knight Eerbaar as a result, are taken into consideration, we will not take disciplinary action against him unless requested by Knight Muln.

RS:

Patient (Kenobi, Obi-Wan) was initially anxious and agitated upon entering my care. Initial exams indicated he was suffering physical and mental exhaustion, as well as mental trauma consistent with dealing with Dark-side users or mental linking with tormented or insane Force users. Patient refused medication but calmed his agitation when informed he was being placed in a secure ward for observation. Patient remained anxious but was not disruptive; in fact, he was unusually cooperative and forthright.

Patient is lucid, level-headed, and was clearly aware of attempts to surreptitiously sedate him to treat insomnia. I can see no evidence of a mental break with reality, insanity or Dark influence. I am concerned by patient's refusal of analgesics, and feel he is at risk for depression or post-traumatic stress disorder in the long term, but he is clearly stable for the moment.

While it is my personal opinion from what I know of the mission that disciplinary action is unwarranted in the legal sense, some sort of disciplinary action may be necessary to help the patient deal with his own actions. I would recommend community service of some kind as sanctioned by the Council. A slap on the wrist would be preferred to a lifetime of self-recrimination.

MW:

After a heated conversation with Knight Garen Muln, it has been determined that the Council will not take disciplinary action against Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the alleged rape of Muln, primarily as Muln does not allege Kenobi raped him. After a calmer conversation with Knight Kenobi, it has been decided that the Council will not take disciplinary action against Muln for assaulting Kenobi (which is not alleged as I took part in holding Muln back), primarily because Kenobi refused to press charges. Both knights have again been referred to their psychiatric healers in regards to these incidents.

MW:

On the advice of the Disciplinary Board, the Council has drafted and passed Policy KWS09-SI-42776, to clarify the Jedi position on this matter. On the advice of Hlp. Seddens, Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi has been assigned to assist in reconstruction efforts of Virstak IV for the next three months. The work is mind-numbing drudgery and utterly miserable for Force users, but not particularly dangerous. Should the Force disagree with our decision, his new position upon completing his sentence provides ample opportunity to render justice. I would not choose to sentence him at all, but the Jedi cannot afford to have him distracted by guilt in his new position, nor can he. If three months of mud-slogging, backbreaking labor is what it takes to clear his conscience, it is cheap at any price.

Hlps. Razure-Krain and Froid also feel it will serve Knight Garen Muln and Reeft Eerbarr well to be separated from Kenobi for the time being, to prevent any unforeseen bond regression or personal conflict.

I do hope Obi-Wan and Garen can resolve this. It is painful to see their friendship destroyed by the actions of the Sith.

Y:

Completed community service Knight Kenobi has. Reinstated for duty he has been. Considered a risk for future transgressions he is not. Classified as Acknowledged Sexual Threat (AST) he is not under KWS09- SI-42776 policy, which applied retroactively has been.

On his assignment Obi-Wan has gone. Visit his master he has been unable, nor willing to speak with him Knight Muln is. Unfortunate this is. Most unfortunate.

Feeling oddly numb, Garen shifted access to the Jedi Policies database, already knowing what he would find there. He was not disappointed.

Policy KWS09-SI-42776 was in fact the policy that shielded Jedi from rape charges when sexual intimacy was used to manipulate bonds in Force users under Dark influence. Applied retroactively, Obi-Wan would not be prosecuted, although he had fully expected to be. Garen scrolled through the legal text, frowning at citations for sources he had already read. He often wondered where his and Reeft's place in history would be, but a footnote in sex crime policies was not what he had envisioned.

Was this why you never saw us again, Obi-Wan? Was this why you never tried to contact me?

Bant had finally confessed yesterday that Obi-Wan didn't know he and Reeft were coming to the party. Puzzled, he had asked if Obi-Wan would have been upset, not at seeing him so much as seeing him unexpectedly. He had thought Obi-Wan would have known who was coming to his master's party, after all. Bant had shaken her head.

'He missed you, terribly.'

Terribly.

It was sad. Utterly sad. But he finally knew what had happened and could finally see the whole tragedy through a different pair of eyes.

His own were finally dry.

One tenet of Jedi philosophy stated that if you knew your enemy well enough, they would cease to be your enemy, arguing that all conflicts at their heart were misunderstandings. Garen always thought this philosophy must have emerged from a time in history without the Sith.

A different tenet of Jedi philosophy stated one could never truly feel another in the Force if they were not first at peace with them. Usually this applied to sexual relationships; the young often believed this was bantha fodder their elders taught them so they would strive to attain serene Jedi love instead of falling into base, animalistic lust with each other. But sometimes Garen wondered.

With Obi-Wan gone so long, so many issues had remained unresolved. Reeft would likely never resolve them. Bant was in too much pain right now. And Master Qui-Gon . . . he had somehow never gotten over Obi-Wan leaving him.

Obi-Wan left many people behind in fulfilling his duty.

Maybe he isn't at peace with any of us. Maybe that's why we can't feel him.

It was a sobering thought.

"I have made my peace with you, Obi-Wan. You kept your distance in life. Please don't do so in death."

Garen turned down the lights, then crept quietly back to the bedroom where Reeft still lay, undisturbed. Once inside, he dimmed the bedpost lamps further, then climbed into bed.

Just before he drifted off, he thought he felt something, but it slipped away as he succumbed to sleep.

* * *

Epilogue:

In the deepest part of the night, he rose from his bed and lit a single candle in the darkness.

Everything was in its place. The chores were done. The preparations were made. All the minor details he could see to beforehand were taken care of.

He opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out his last sheet of cream-colored stationary. There was little point in saving it now, and it would not be needed for its original purpose.

Writing by hand was a lost art. It was really rather sad, he thought, as he dipped his pen into the inkwell and began to write. He hoped the recipient would find his penmanship legible.

My dear Anakin,

I will not ask your forgiveness, as I don't expect it for something like this. I do ask that you not blame yourself for this, because this is not your fault. I am a stubborn old man, and this decision is mine alone.

Please don't think I don't still love you, and that I had forgotten about you. You have been an outstanding apprentice, a true friend, and are a remarkable man. You have brought joy to my life, and many good memories that I will always take with me. If I were to fault you in anything, it is that you take tragedies personally. Sorrow comes to all of us, and I do not want to add to your burden today.

I cannot speak of your faults without mentioning my own. I have always been told that I feel too deeply. I'm sure the parade of people and pets through our lives was proof enough of that. It certainly was for Obi-Wan.

Please do not blame him for this either. I do not do this because I love him more than I love you. And while I would likely not do this for you, it is not because of how I feel for you, but who you are. You have a family, a wife and children, and if something had happened to you, I would swear my loyalty to them, and care for them in your stead.

The others will tell you I did this out of madness and despair. While it is true that I have not been myself, I am not crazy, and I have not lost hope. I have not succumbed to Darkness. I have taken the only choice left to me.

Obi-Wan, like you, was my apprentice, my friend, my son and my brother. They killed him, and he died all alone. I never told you, but when I was struck down by the Sith, he stayed with me, he didn't let me die, he threatened to follow me and drag me back, kicking and screaming. I don't know if he did. I don't know if he even remembered saying it. But he never left my side. And he died all alone.

I don't sit in his room waiting for him to return. I sit in there, trying in vain to sense him, to feel him, to assure myself that his soul escaped from their evil, even if his body didn't. It is a terrible misery I wouldn't wish on anyone, but don't think I do this to end the pain.

I have do this because I cannot find him here. Not in these rooms. Not in this world. Not on this level of existence.

I don't know what awaits me after I leave my quarters this morning, and there is little I plan on taking with me. Nevertheless the memory of you and your family, and my love for all of you are among the few precious things that will sustain me on my journey.

Please tell Mace I am not angry with him, and to be at peace, because I am at peace with him. Please tell your wife to keep fighting for what she believes in. Please tell Han that I have gone to be with Obi-Wan.

Don't forget that I love you and that if there was any way I could have found him without hurting you, I would have.

May the Force be with you, my padawan,

Qui-Gon Jinn

Silently, Qui-Gon sealed the envelope and placed it on his desk.

Without a word, he turned off the light, raised his hood, and left his quarters.

It was time to begin his journey.