Obi-Wan bundled his hands up into his robes, feeling a deep chill burrowing into his bones as he walked through the corridor of the Negotiator, still managing to smile warmly at all the troopers he passed along the way. Honestly he was glad that they'd had to make the jump to hyperspace when they had. He wasn't absolutely certain how much longer he could have kept up his appearance of serenity in the face of the Council discussions – as it was he had been aware of the concern from his fellow Councillors. He would be fine, of course. This wasn't about him, but Mace thought he was best placed to help and he would. All he needed was a little time to meditate and gather his thoughts. Hopefully he would get that chance.
First, though, he needed to talk to Cody. Unerringly he followed the Force through the ship until he reached the gym. He slipped in and leaned against the wall, watching as Cody ran through some hand-to-hand drills with Void Company. They were doing well, and he smiled to himself, noticing that a couple of the moves Cody was incorporating were pure Soresu. Oh, at some point he needed to take Cody into some of the initiate classes. They always needed more experience fighting against highly capable non-Jedi – it was so easy for those raised in the creche to believe that Force sensitivity was all you needed. And Cody was a brilliant teacher.
Cody wiped his brow and glanced across the room at him with an enquiring tilt to his head. Obi-Wan gave him a reassuring smile and span a couple of quick hand signals – Rendezvous, Soon, Later – and Cody nodded and turned his attention back to Void Company. Obi-Wan only lingered a few more moments before heading out and back to his office/quarters.
They weren't terribly large in the scheme of things – room enough for the narrow bunk, the desk and a battered sofa and low table which the Temple Quartermasters believed were still safely back on Coruscant. Their inclusion meant that there was barely enough floor space to turn around, but he spent so much more time here that he wanted to be comfortable. Actually, looking round, there were probably more of his few personal possessions here than there were in his rooms back at the table. The ceremonial glass kal that Satine had given him. The meditation mat that had once belonged to Siri. The incredibly delicate tea set Anakin had made him shortly after he'd been awarded the rank of Senior Padawan.
The plants Qui-Gon had left behind.
He stared at them for a long moment, carefully not letting any memories surface, and even then he could feel his emotions spiralling. Let it go. Let it all go. It was decades in the past and he had moved on.
With a deep breath he sat down and let himself sink into the Force. He should deal with the turmoil in his own mind, should seek to know himself absolutely so as to be properly prepared – but instead he looked outwards, his mind brushing ever so delicately over the lights around him, the thousands of lives on board the ship. His troopers, his people. As ever it was a comfort to simply know they were there.
In that state of meditative consciousness he was well aware when the light-that-was-Cody approached his door and he opened his eyes – and the door – the second his Commander knocked.
“You might want to consider leaving it a beat longer if you want it to seem natural,” Cody told him dryly as he walked in.
Obi-Wan shrugged innocently. “The Force is completely natural. Won't you please sit down? Would you care for some tea or caf?”
“Some water wouldn't go amiss, thank you, General.”
“Of course.” He glanced over as he rose to get it and noticed that Cody's hair was still shower-damp. “I didn't mean you had to rush over here straight after your work-out, Commander. You could have taken more time to relax.”
“Relax...remind me again?” He raised his glass ironically before taking a long drink. “So you wanted to see me, sir?”
“Yes.” He hesitated for a long moment, folding his hands over his lap. “There was a couple of things. Or, rather, one singular thing with a number of complications. First of all I know we were planning on starting the resupply as soon as we arrive on Coruscant this evening but I'm afraid that will have to wait.”
“Ah. Council business?” At Obi-Wan's nod he went on. “I could make a start by myself if you prefer, sir.”
“No, it will go a lot faster with the two of us working together. Perhaps we could rearrange for tomorrow morning, if you have no other plans? That would give you time to catch up with your brothers tonight – I believe Rex is still on the planet.”
“That would be fine, sir. Now, what's the rest?”
“That...is more difficult.” He reached up and rubbed his fingers across his beard. “This is all entirely confidential, you understand.” Cody gave him a look and he replied with a brief, strained smile. “I trust you implicitly, you know that. But this isn't my story to tell and I'm loathe to let it spread to anyone who doesn't need to know.”
“But I need to know?”
“I need your help,” he said simply. “Alright.” He took a deep breath and leaned forwards. “General Krin and the 321st have been grounded pending the results of a Council investigation. During a routine examination his padawan, Nataya, was found to be malnourished and carrying several poorly healed injuries.” Cody's eyes went wide but he didn't interrupt. “Knight Tiree, Krin's first padawan died six months ago and he didn't take it well. The healer's were concerned he was neglecting her and so approached the Council. Then the day after General Krin was told he wouldn't be returning to the frontlines immediately an initiate approached Master Yoda reporting that she'd seen Master Krin shaking Padawan Nataya. The healers investigated but there were no marks and Padawan Nataya denies it all completely.”
“I see.” Cody looked over at him keenly. “So you're going to be getting to the bottom of it? What do you need from me?”
“Are you close to any of your brothers with the 321st?”
“I wouldn't say close but I know a few to talk to.” His brow furrowed. “You want me to check for witnesses? Because no vod is going to be happy talking about their Jedi's relationship with his Commander.”
Obi-Wan shook his head. “No – well, if you happen to find anyone who does want to talk that would be helpful. But I want you to try and find out how they feel about Master Krin. Padawan Nataya isn't the only one under his control. I'm afraid if he would hurt her or even neglect her, he may have done the same to his troops.”
Cody nodded slowly. “I'll find out what I can, as quietly as I can. You can count on me.”
“I always do.” That was one weight off his mind.
“Sir?” Cody was looking at him worriedly. “What are you going to be doing this evening?”
The words burned on his tongue. “The Council have tasked me with speaking to Padawan Nataya.” The Council had asked, and he had agreed, and he had seen the look in Mace's eyes, the regret and the apology. He knew exactly why he had been the one called on.
It was humiliating to think that even now the Council looked at him and remembered Qui-Gon's unwanted padawan.
No matter. He could help so he would.
The Temple gardens were busier than he'd seen them for a while, but the Force still sang a more sombre song than he remembered. Many Jedi were home. Many more were not and too many would never come home again.
He'd arranged to meet Padawan Nataya in an out-of-the-way part of the gardens. As he approached he could see her crouching by the mirror pool, a golden-furred Cathar, her dark mane braided with silka beads. She had a knife in her hand and was focused on carving a piece of wood, not looking up as he drew nearer.
“Good evening, Padawan Nataya,” he said as he quickly threw up a simple ward that would suggest to anyone approaching that they go somewhere else.
“Master Kenobi!” She leapt to her feet and quickly bowed low, her woodcarving falling to the ground. “I'm so sorry, I didn't sense you approaching.”
He winced inside. Fantastic first step, Obi-Wan, startle the poor child out of her wits and no doubt make her worry about being spied on. “I apologise, padawan,” he said, carefully changing his shields so they didn't conceal his Force presence quite so much. “The fault was mine. I've only newly returned to the Temple and apparently I haven't adjusted yet.” He offered her a warm smile. “This war affects us all. Shall we sit?”
“As you wish, Master,” she agreed. She sat in a perfect meditation pose, as far away from him as she could without risking seeming impolite. He admired the effort even as her drive towards perfection made his heart ache.
“Do you know why the Council asked us to talk?”
She answered immediately, her voice polite but insistent.“Yes, but there's no need. Master Krin hasn't done anything wrong.”
“No one is saying he has,” he said, holding up his hand and trying hard not to think of another young padawan, trying so hard to be perfect, making a similar plea to Mace. 'Master Qui-Gon treats me well.' “But there have been some troubling occurrences and we – the Council – have to know what's happened. It's our job to look after both of you. Now I know that the healers and Master Yoda have already tried to talk to you about this. If you would rather speak to -”
“ - I don't want to talk to anyone! I just want everyone to forget about everything and for things to go back to the way they were!” She clasped her hands over her mouth for a second, her ears twitching agitatedly. “I apologise for my outburst, Master Kenobi.”
He shook his head. “It's fine, Padawan, please don't apologise. You are caught up in a very stressful situation through no fault of your own. And I know you don't want to talk about it, no one ever does. You are free to leave at any time – I promise I won't try to stop you and I certainly won't follow you. But ignoring this problem will not make it go away. The Council will have to act on the information and suspicions we do have.” He hoped anyway. It seemed all too possible that the Council would bow to the pressure from the Senate and from the Chancellor's office and send Krin and Nataya straight back into the middle of the war. Even now he had Generals on the field who should still be out recovering from their injuries. But they didn't have enough people and more and more of the non-Jedi the Chancellor kept passing their way saw clones and civilians alike as acceptable collateral damage.
A burst of complicated emotions broke across her shields and her shoulders slumped. “I...what do you want to know.”
He didn't want to push her too hard too quickly. “The healers found you were malnourished when they examined you. Can you tell me how that came about?”
She licked her lips nervously. “Sometimes I forget to eat. It's not Master Krin's fault. I get caught up in other things and I forget to eat, that's all.”
“Does your Master remind you?”
“He's very busy too,” she said quickly. “I'm almost an adult. I should be able to take responsibility for feeding myself.”
“But do you have the time and opportunity to eat?” he asked. “Even with the war Master Krin is responsible for your schedule and your duties and lessons. Is there time for you to eat and sleep?”
She raised her chin and looked at him. “If I asked for a break Master Krin would stop what he was doing immediately and get me food or whatever I needed. He cares about me. I need to make him proud.”
He could feel her desperate sincerity and he was so, so sorry. “How does he feel when you ask him for a break?”
“I...” She stopped, her brow furrowed. “How does he feel?”
“Records show you have a strong bond, very difficult to block. That can be both a blessing and a curse. How does he feel?”
“Well, frustrated, obviously. He wants to get on with what's important.” She hesitated and then continued quickly, her words falling over each other. “Not that he doesn't think I'm important, but since Tiree died he wants to focus on winning the war. That's what matters.”
The whisper of the Force brushed insistently against his mind, urging him on, and he leaned forwards and spoke without letting the memories hurt him. “He feels frustrated and irritated that you're interrupting him. That you can't simply push through it. You hate disappointing him and you're afraid his frustration will become resentment.”
She stared at him, her shoulders hunched, fear in her eyes.
He smiled sadly and offered her comfort and reassurance through the Force. “That was how I used to feel whenever I was forced to remind my Master that I was a living being who required rest and nutrition. I learned to push my body harder than I should and picked up some self-destructive bad habits along the way that I struggle with to this day. Those were not lessons that my Master intended to teach me, and I can assure you that Master Krin doesn't want that for you either – and nor do I.”
For a long moment she continued to stare at him then, with a wordless cry, she pushed her Force presence up against his like a crecheling seeking comfort. He welcomed her, soothed and reassured her, like he used to when Anakin had nightmares as a child, and with that comparison in his mind he automatically opened his arms and promptly received an armful of crying padawan. She was too overwhelmed to speak but threw her feelings and impressions towards him – desperate love and concern for her Master, loneliness, fear of rejection, grief, helplessness, self-loathing...
“I'm sorry,” she gasped at last. “I'm sorry. I should...Master Krin has hardly talked to me in months. He...he doesn't even look at me anymore, except when I do something wrong. I want to help him, but he's so cold and closed off. And I'm trying to take care of him, and everything else, to make things easier for him, but I have to rest sometimes, I have to eat, and there isn't any time, and there's always more important things to do, and I feel so weak and Master Krin is so disappointed in me...”
“Oh, child,” he murmured as the storm subsided, still rubbing her shoulder gently. “Your physical and emotional needs are not weakness. They should always be your Master's first priority.”
“You can't take me away from him,” she managed through gulping sobs. “He needs me. Now that Tiree is dead I'm all he has.”
“No,” he said, kindly but firmly. “I know it feels that way but he has the Order too. Help is always there for any Jedi who can reach out for it. Which is not to say,” he went on quickly as he felt the anxiety thrumming through her, “That I'm going to drag you away from Master Krin and prevent the two of you from seeing each other again. There are a range of options and you will both need to spend considerable time with the mind healers and the Council before all of us come together to agree what is best for you going forwards.”
She raised her head timidly. “I get a say?”
“You get a say,” he promised. “Things cannot continue on as they have been, but it might be that after some time for reflection and some work with the mind healers your apprenticeship continues with simply a little more supervision. Or it might be that it's decided that Master Krin simply isn't capable of teaching a student at this point in his life. If that's the case then your training would be completed by another Master.”
“He hurts me sometimes,” she whispered, staring down at the ground. “Accidentally, I mean. He pushes me too hard in training – he just doesn't want me to die like Tiree, I know that – or when I make a mess of things he gets exasperated because he's scared for me, and he grabs me or shakes me hard enough to leave bruises, and I'm a Jedi. I'm fighting in the war, I should be tough enough not to...not to mind.”
“Oh, Padawan, I'm so sorry. It's not a question of you being 'tough enough'. You should never have to experience being hurt by those who are supposed to love and protect you. Betrayal carries a pain all of its own.”
“He doesn't mean to,” she said fervently. “He's always sorry and he always heals the bruises.”
He closed his eyes briefly. “Just because the wound is gone does not mean its healed.”
“Did Master Jinn ever hurt you?” she asked in a rush like she couldn't quite believe her own daring.
The Force wrapped around him, comfort and warning both. “Yes,” he said simply. “On several occasions in similar circumstances to the ones you encountered with Master Krin” The Force nudged him again. “And twice deliberately.” He could feel the spike of shock running through her and he had to bite back the words he longed to offer in Qui-Gon's defence – it had never been that bad, Qui-Gon had been suffering and had reacted badly, there had been extenuating circumstances and he'd hated himself after. But she was looking for a connection, she was drawing parallels and he wasn't going to risk indirectly validating what Krin had done to her. “He was a troubled man who suffered great losses in his life,” he said instead. “He needed help – we both did. But when it was offered we both insisted nothing was wrong.” He smiled at her and let the warmth and pride shine on through. “I'm glad you're not repeating my mistakes.”
“Thank you for telling me, Master. I...I was afraid it was my fault. Because I'm not good enough. But if it could happen to you then it can't just be that, can it?”
All his life he'd never been good enough, never measured up. But if this child's sense of self-worth somehow rested on his own, even a little, then he would raise them both up anyway he could. “There is nothing anyone could do to deserve that treatment,” he promised. “And you are an excellent padawan and a very promising Jedi. In every way you are good enough.” He paused, looking at her carefully. She was sitting a little back from him now, her hands twisting in her lap.“There's something else you want to ask, Padawan?”
“Do you still love him?” She looked up at him and quickly looked away.
“Master Qui-Gon?” She nodded and he smiled sadly. “Oh, yes. I love him, I miss him, and I am grateful for his teaching. Just because Master Krin may not be the best thing for you at the moment does not mean you have to cut him out of your heart. But equally you can choose not to acknowledge him if you don't wish to. Your feelings are your own. The mindhealers will help you understand them, but no one can tell you how you ought to feel.”
She nodded again and he could sense her distress and exhaustion. (Somewhere, buried deep inside he could sense his own.)
“May I tell the rest of the Council and the Healers what we have discussed today?”
“Would you like me to bring you to your friends, or to the Halls, or would you prefer to stay here a little longer? I am happy to keep you company as long as you like.”
“You must have more important things - “ she started.
“ - you are important, Padawan, Nataya.”
“Then...will you meditate with me?” She looked abashed. “I've been struggling to find peace lately.”
He smiled warmly. “It would be my pleasure, Padawan.”
Afterwards he sent a message to the Council and the healers and saw Nataya safely ensconced in the new orphaned Padawan dorms, with those of her friends and old creche mates in the Temple immediately rushing to her side. She would be fine for now which left him to make his report to the Council.
It was easy to talk. He tried not to let himself think, and when he finished a despondent pall hung over the room. “Terrible news, this is,” Yoda said, his ears drooping low. “Hoped I did that wrong we were.”
“We need to keep a closer eye on those Master/Padawan teams that are on the front lines,” Plo Koon said, clearly distressed. “They may need more support than they're getting.”
“We shouldn't be letting this one rotten apple ruin the bunch,” Eeth Koth argued.
“But we shouldn't assume that there is only one 'rotten apple'” Adi Gallia said, the words clearly distateful to her. “Especially when that 'rotten apple' was one of our best not so long ago.”
“Master Krin is clearly unwell,” Mace cut in with a sigh. “He was distraught when I confronted him with the knowledge from Master Kenobi's initial report. Right now he wants to be kept as far away from his padawan as possible in case he hurts her again.”
Obi-Wan knew he should feel compassion for Krin, but he remembered Nataya's pain and distress and found that he wanted the other Master buried in the deepest, darkest hole he could find. His own anger was hard to stomach. “Hopefully the mind healers can help them both,” he said nuatrally. “In the meantime we need to decide what to do with the 321 st .” Before they started getting pressure to just declare Krin fit and send him straight back out there.
“We don't have any spare generals,” Mace said with a sigh. “Does anyone know of any young Knights ready for their own command?”
There was silence. There simply wasn't enough of them. These days the Order was stretched unbearably thin.
“We'll need to split them up,” he said. “I can take them into the Third System Army. With some restructuring I can shift them, the 108th and the 216th into two attack groups and still keep the utility fleet supported.” Knight Veil would be able to handle the larger command, and while Knight Soma was still mostly a non-combatant they were still perfectly capable of providing Jedi support to the utility fleet while Commander Rockdrop took command.
“That should make things simpler,” Mace said with some relief. “Thank you, Master Kenobi.”
“Do you want me to take charge of reassigning the 321st?” Plo asked him directly. “I'm conscious you only have a few days on planet and you already have plenty of responsibilities.
The offer was kindly meant but he still experienced a sharp shock of concern. “We can't just split them up! We'd risk separating friends or riddur. Our men have little enough as it is.”
He felt a wave of concern and reassurance coming from his fellow Councillors. His tone had been too sharp and his words too defensive. He wasn't the only one who cared for the clones wellbeing. Oh, he was in urgent need of some time and space to regain his balance.
“An excellent point, Master Kenobi,” Plo continued serenely as if his outburst had been as calm and measured as it should have been. “What would you suggest?”
He took a careful breath. “Believe it or not, Cody and I have actually developed some paperwork for this very purpose the second time this happened. We found it worked best if matters were explained to the battalion as a whole and then the request forms were distributed by the unit commanders. They already know their brothers best.”
“Would you mind forwarding this form on?” Plo asked. “To all of us. Sadly I suspect we will all need it sooner or later, and you are quite correct; we should be making all the accomodations for our men's comfort that we can.”
He nodded, weary beyond belief. He felt like a young, terrified padawan again.
Mace approached him at the meeting's conclusion. “I'm sorry for asking you to do that, but I'm very glad it worked.”
“She just needed someone she thought could understand,” he replied.
There was a flash of regret in the Force. “You look exhausted, Obi-Wan. I hope you're going to rest tonight?”
He considered prevaricating, but honestly he was too tired. “I can't rest right now,” he said as lightly as he could. “Tomorrow I'll work and I'll meditate and maybe I'll get to sleep after that. But tonight I'm going to go and indulge in some unhealthy coping techniques like the terrible Jedi I am.”
Mace nodded slowly, looking like he had taken the words far more seriously than Obi-Wan had wanted him to.
It was night when he left the Temple, dressed in civvies and regrettably alone. None of his agemates were on the planet and Anakin had plans for tonight. No doubt he was spending time with Padme, and it was a shock to realise he actually felt some resentment. Oh, that wasn't fair, Anakin was in need of rest and comfort too. He should be glad his padawan was finding peace with his wife, since Force knew he hadn't been able to find it with Obi-Wan for a long time. It was his job to take care of Anakin, not the only way round. He'd always sworn he would never be like Qui-Gon.
He was so caught up in his feelings of guilt that he almost missed the croup of Council members waiting for him at the entrance. Mace, Plo, Depa and Adi looked at him with a range of soft smiles and gentle hope.
He blinked. “Can I help you?”
“We were hoping we could help you,” Adi said, her voice soft and musical.
“If you want to indulge in 'unhealthy coping mechanisms' that's fine, Obi-Wan,” Mace added. “But you don't have to do it alone.” That same wave of reassurance moved towards him, comforting, offering.
Accept the help that is offered.
“Thank you,” he said, his mouth dry. “I would appreciate some company.”