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.”
Sorry this took so long - I know everything that's going to happen in this story and this chapter still proved to be impossible.
Also, Happy Star Wars day everyone.
Obi-Wan couldn't help but imagine the look on Anakin's face if he saw him leading half the Jedi High Council through Coruscant's lower levels in search of precisely the right kind of discreet drinking hole. Somehow, in spite of all evidence he was offered to the contrary, Anakin still clung to his view of the Council as being hopelessly remote, distanced from the real world atop their exalted tower. Obi-Wan didn't understand it; and now that he was on the Council it was even a little hurtful. He wished Anakin could see that they were all Jedi. They had all fought and bled across a hundred worlds, trying to keep a little light alive in an increasingly dark galaxy.
For all its flaws Coruscant was where the Temple was and that meant it was home, and he and his fellow Council members walked through the dark and dingy tunnels as readily as they walked through the halls of the Senate building. Possibly more readily, actually. The spice dealers and swoop gangers who eyed them as they passed were more honest and upfront in their intentions than any politician he had ever met. Their body count was probably a lot lower as well.
“Are we going anywhere in particular?” Adi asked him as she turned back from pressing a few credit chips into a beggar's eager hands.
“Just a little place I know,” he told her. “It should just be up ahead on the right here...unless it's been shut down.” That was always an unfortunate possibility. “Ah, no, here we are.” He rapped on the metal door and a shutter was flung open immediately.
“What you looking for?” a voice demanded.
“Discretion,” he answered and the door was pulled open.
Depa shook her head. “I think that's the worst password I've ever heard.”
“At least it gets straight to the point,” he said with a light smile. “Shall we?”
The inside was just as he remembered it; dimly lit with a few widely spaced tables and a snoozing ithorian tending bar. The man who had let them in scowled, not so much as glancing at their faces, and held out a hand. “Cover charge.” Obi-Wan paid him. “Right, sit where you want.”
They found a table near the back of the room. Depa smiled as she sat down. “You know, Mace, this reminds me of that place on Corellia. The one where we met up with Ishgo Dar and you, ah, generously 'gave' him all your credits.”
Mace gave her a sidelong glance. “A Jedi must always be compassionate.”
Obi-Wan shook his head and signalled for some drinks and, when they arrived, drained his immediately and signalled for another. “I did say I intended to go for unhealthy coping mechanisms,” he said as he caught Mace looking at him.
“Oh, I know,” Mace agreed wryly, knocking his own drink back. “And I'm here to keep you company. But please, Obi-Wan, for my sake pace yourself. I promised myself the morning after I was Knighted that I was never again going to let myself get so drunk that Master Yoda had to drag me home.”
Depa laughed. “I would give a lot to have seen that, Master.”
“I seem to remember, my padawan, that the morning after your own Knighting I had to scrape you up from the kitchen floor,” Mace said dryly.
The day after his Knighting Obi-Wan had been caught up in arrangements for Qui-Gon's pyre, reading through Anakin's sparse medical records and trying to arrange for him to get his vaccinations, reading everything he could about the Sith, reading everything he could about trauma symptoms in children, trying to figure out where to even start when he was going to have to teach his new padawan everything... That had been the day he'd called Dooku to inform him of Qui-Gon's death as well. He remembered his Grandmaster staring at him stoically through his stumbling explanation before hanging up the call without so much as a word. It hadn't been long after that Dooku had left the Order for good. He wondered; if he had been able to find better words back then was it possible they wouldn't be in this war now?
“Obi-Wan?” Plo's voice handily pulled him away from his past failings and back to his current ones.
“Sorry,” he said. “I was thinking about the morning after my own Knighting. That was the first time I made Anakin jadufruit flatcakes. It was six months before he was comfortable enough to admit he hated them.” He smiled crookedly to himself and finished his drink.
“Do you ever regret it?” Adi asked. “Taking a padawan so young, I mean.”
“No,” he said, astonished she could even ask. “Anakin has been the brightest light in my life for well over a decade now. I could never regret those years.”
“Not even when he cut all the sleeves off his robes and tunics?” Mace asked with a snort.
He remembered that; Anakin had been eleven at the time. “Don't remind me,” he said and he hadn't expected to laugh tonight. “The quartermaster wouldn't let me requisition any more cloaks even temporarily so I was up most of the night sewing.”
Depa was smiling. “Why in the world did he want to cut his clothes up?”
“It was that holo drama, 'A Light in the Temple',” Mace answered unexpectedly. “One of the characters ran around in sleeveless robes. It was very popular amongst the initiates and younger padawans for a while – Skywalker wasn't the only youngling to try out the look. He was the only one to destroy his entire wardrobe though.”
He smiled into his drink. “Anakin has never believed in half measures. Why do you even remember that, Mace?”
“While you were sewing I was stuck for hours in meetings with Creche Master Oswin, trying to convince him that we couldn't sue the program makers.”
He chuckled at the thought. Really, at the time he would probably have agreed with Master Oswin. Anakin had been obsessed with the show and it had been extremely aggravating. Still, the warmth in his chest wasn't just from his drink.
The conversation wound on talking about padawans, their misadventures and triumphs. He wondered if Qui-Gon had ever spoken of him like this. There had been times when his master had been proud of him after all. Perhaps when Tahl had still been alive...he could imagine the two of them sitting together like this, talking about him and Bant. That time between those first tumultuous years of his apprenticeship and Tahl's death had probably been the point where their relationship had been at its strongest. When he had most often felt those rare flashes of pride through the bond.
He remembered that mission on Ryushi; the look on Qui-Gon's face when he'd led the children out of the cave system, battered and bleeding but safe. Alive. He'd felt Qui-Gon's joy and affection surrounding him then, a warm mental embrace that had been so proud, so...so loving. Qui-Gon had loved him, at least then. Even if he hadn't been wanted he had been loved.
That mission had only been a few week's before Tahl's death, and so it had been the last time he'd ever felt Qui-Gon's embrace like that. By the time Qui-Gon had managed to climb his way out of the pit of rage and despair, by the time Qui-Gon had been able to look at him and see him again, Obi-Wan had no longer been a child to be coddled.
He wished he'd made more of that moment. It was one of his cherished memories now, yes, but at the time he'd been focused on the younglings in his care and on his own pain and hunger and he'd missed so much.
“Obi-Wan.” Depa was looking at him, kindness shining in her eyes. “Might I ask you something?”
His lips quirked. “You can always ask.”
“I was wondering if you might tell us how you gained Padawan Nataya's trust? Not the details, if they are personal, but I gathered that there was something we missed.”
Plo nodded intently. “I hope we never encounter another situation like this but the burden shouldn't rest on your shoulders alone.”
As loath as he was to speak about it that did make sense. He took a moment thinking about where to start – and felt Mace's warm support through the Force as he matched him drink for drink. “She was afraid,” he started. “We all recognised that, I know, but I wonder if you fully realised that she was far more afraid for her master than she was of him. She knew what he was doing was wrong and wanted to protect him.” He thought again of the brightness in her eyes, the stillness of her hands and part of him wanted to run back to the Temple right now, to make sure she was safe and happy. He fought down the impulse, reminding himself that he had already agreed to meet with her for lunch tomorrow. She was safe now.
Adi leaned in towards him, her brow creased. “Surely she must have realised that it wasn't her responsibility to protect him in that moment?”
“Must she?” He refocused, shrugging slightly and keeping his hands deliberately still. “From the moment they enter the creche we teach our children to be independent, compassionate, selfless, loyal and brave. No doubt from her point of view she was doing precisely as she had been taught; protecting those who needed it, both Master Krin and the people who need Jedi help.” That had certainly been how he had felt about it. Qui-Gon had been doing good for the galaxy; stopping that for his own concerns had seemed unthinkably selfish. “She didn't want to be taken away from him. She was afraid that without her his condition would worsen.”
“Worsen?” Plo asked, his eyes bright behind his mask.
“From what she said I gather that for the last six months she has been principally responsible for keeping her Master functional, focused and in the right place at the right time.” Unwillingly he remembered learning how to make all of Qui-Gon's favourite meals, coaxing him to eat, drink, shower – do anything but go on missions or sit staring into the dark. “I strongly suspect that were we to check thoroughly we would also find that most of the paperwork Master Krin has submitted over the last few months has, in fact, been completed by Nataya.” Which left the unpleasant thought that there may well have been tens of thousands of lives depending on the battle plans of a sixteen year old.
“That poor child,” Depa sighed. “We must make sure she gets a chance to rest and heal.”
Adi nodded. “Students should not be forced to be carers.”
Depa turned to her with a frown. “That would suggest that Jedi who need some help with their disabilities should not take padawans.”
“That's a completely different situation,” Adi argued. “That would be something agreed between master and padawan – and the healers, if necessary. Not one child, alone and unsupported, shouldering responsibilities they are not ready for.”
He cleared his throat. “Anyway. She needed to be assured that Master Krin was not going to be cast out and forgotten, and that the situation was not her fault.”
Plo nodded slowly. “On previous occasions we have been alerted to problems with master/padawan relationships by problems with coursework or engagement with other masters. With this war taking up so much of our focus we need to pay closer attention.”
His tongue felt heavy in his mouth. He took another drink and felt it burn. “Coursework and classes aren't always a good way to tell anyway. You might focus on studying to keep your grades up and your record clean so no one notices anything is wrong and gets you and your master in trouble.” You might try and present yourself as perfect in the hope that your master will notice and say he's proud of you. His hypotheticals were nowhere near hypothetical and everyone knew it and that too burned.
Mace's warm force presence pressed up against him, Adi, Depa and Plo not far behind. Gentle. Cautious. Reassuring. He was grateful for their support – he was – but he couldn't bring himself to lean into it, couldn't let them think of him as weak or broken. He took a deep breath and centred himself like a good Jedi before pouring himself another drink like a terrible one. By now he'd had quite a few and since filtering the alcohol's effects away was rather contrary to the point of the evening he was most definitely feeling it. There was guilt associated with that, a certainty that he was being ridiculously self-indulgent and he shouldn't let himself be impaired while on duty. ( Technically he was off duty, wasn't he? Except he was never off duty. )
While he'd been taking his little moment Depa had gracefully pulled the conversation away from him so he was no longer in the spotlight, and while he could still feel their concern it was no longer near as pressing. He was never quite sure what to do with concern, and he could admit that was something of a problem. Perhaps he should go back to seeing a mind healer...if he could ever find the time.
“Obi-Wan!” Depa called to him with a smile. “You've read Truwin's thesis on Cultural Relativism, haven't you? Come and help me tell Mace that he's wrong.”
Perhaps at the very least he could allow himself to enjoy the warmth of friendship.
The evening wore on. He drank more, and Mace kept up seemingly with little effort. As strange as it might sound it helped. Made him feel like they weren't simply here to keep an eye on him. Honestly he'd never liked drinking alone – normally Quinlan or Garen would keep him company. The conversation stayed light; away from the war and from Padawan Nataya and Master Krin, and certainly away from Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn...right up until he found himself in a booth near the back of a bar, alone except for a bottle of brandy and Mace Windu.
“We did notice,” Mace said, his hands clasped together, his gaze intent. “No matter how clean your record, or how good your grades, the Council did notice that you were completing all of Qui-Gon's reports. Just as the healers noticed that you were exhausted, malnourished and too often injured. I'm sorry that we weren't able to help you. Please don't think that no one noticed – or cared.”
“I know,” Obi-Wan said, looking down at his drink and swirling the liquid around. “I remember you talking to me, trying to get me to admit something was wrong. It was me that wasn't ready to talk about it.”
“No,” Mace said, his Force presence full of soft regret. “You were hurt and I couldn't find the words to help. I let you down. I'm sorry.”
He glanced up long enough to flash a small smile. “Even if I'd ever blamed you I would have forgiven you long ago.” Qui-Gon had needed him. He'd gone back to their rooms after meeting with Mace in the Council Chambers, the memory of concern in his mind, and Qui-Gon had been sitting in the dark, staring at an old datapad. He hadn't even noticed Obi-Wan was gone. “It did help, I think. Knowing someone was paying attention.” Qui-Gon certainly hadn't been. “He didn't want me.”
There was silence for a long moment. He didn't look up, even when Mace eventually spoke. “He didn't see what he was missing.”
“It wasn't as though anyone else wanted to train me,” he said with a swell of old bitterness that surprised him. (Unwanted.)
Mace's surprise lurched in the Force. “That's...I didn't know you still thought that.”
He drew back a little, in spite of himself. “It's true.”
“Oh, Obi-Wan. We really have let you down.” Mace paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts before leaning forwards intently. “You know Yoda was trying to push you and Qui-Gon together. He had foreseen that you would be a good pairing and so he discouraged any other knight or master from asking about you. The rest of the Council fell in line.”
Truth sang in the Force, and that...that hurt. Not that he had ever noticed any potential master looking at him with interest back then. And he had been looking. “I suppose it really doesn't matter now.” The past was in the past. He wished he had moved past it as well as he'd thought he had.
“You should be proud of all you've accomplished,” Mace said, his eyes fixed on Obi-Wan's face. “Because none of us helped you like we should.”
He forced a wry smile. “Pride is hardly an appropriate Jedi attitude.”
“I think you can risk a little pride,” Mace said, dry as a bone, before growing serious once again. “I fought beside Qui-Gon countless times. We had many differences of opinions, but I would say I knew him very well. I would even have called him my friend. And I have to say – he could be a complete dick.”
Taken entirely be surprise, he laughed. “Oh, he was such a dick,”
A broad smile graced Mace's face. “Ha! Yours was the last voice we needed. That's it, the majority of the Jedi High Council has officially ruled Master Qui-Gon Jinn a dick. It's official, I'll enter it into the archives tomorrow.” He gestured exuberantly, if a little wobbly.
He shook his head, the corners of his mouth still twitching. “Really, Mace.”
“Really.” Mace's eyes flickered down to the empty glass in front of him and he smiled ruefully. “I did ask you to pace yourself.”
It was late, or, from another point of view, early when they left the bar; five distinguished Jedi Masters, three of whom were even able to walk convincingly in a straight line. Obi-Wan was feeling pleasantly disassociated, the alcohol providing a warm barrier between him and the rest of the world. They had nearly reached the elevator to return to the surface level when a familiar voice he had never heard before screamed in pain from somewhere below. That was a clone. That was a clone, in pain, far from any battlefield.
They were Jedi; it was in their nature to run towards signs of distress. Even as Obi-Wan sprinted towards the nearest barrier he could feel his fellow Council members right beside him, and they vaulted over the edge and fell down, down, down as one, using the Force to slow them at the last possible moment.
There was a small mob gathered, a dozen or so, gathered around a single fallen trooper, seemingly unarmed and unarmoured, his arms pulled around his head defensively, his legs pulled up to protect his abdomen, while his attackers were wielding batons and shock sticks. One pulled his leg back, readying a kick. It never connected; Plo surged forwards with Force-given speed, scooping the attacker up before any of them had even registered the Council's presence.
The fight, if it could even be called that, was incredibly short. In no time at all they had the mob dismayed and disarmed, corralled up against the wall while Adi called for the Coruscant security force.
Plo was by the trooper's side, helping him sit up. “Are you alright, son? What happened?”
The trooper blinked a few times, evidently struggling to focus, a slow trickle of blood running down the side of his face. “I'm okay, jus' some bruises, I think. Thanks for the save...” His eyes widened as he looked around and took in just who had come to his rescue. “....Generals!”
In other circumstances his shock and alarm would be almost comical. “What happened?” Obi-Wan asked, stepping forwards to support his other arm, and now that he was close up he had seen this man before, though they'd never spoken or been introduced. He was part of the 501 st , and his mind flashed back over old battle reports and plans. “Dax, isn't it?”
“Yessir,” Dax agreed, with that faint, painful flicker of pleasure they all got when someone new acknowledged their chosen names. “Some of us wanted to try someplace other than 79s. We went to a cantina in the lower levels and I, uh, left early.” He coloured slightly, making it clear that he hadn't left alone, and he in no way wanted to talk to any High General about it. “These hut'uns jumped me as I was making my way back.”
Probably just opportunistic predators then. There were many on Coruscant who weren't happy about the war, and some of those had managed to twist things around to put the blame on the clones, rather than on the Senate and the Jedi Order. “They'll be arrested,” he promised. “And we will all be happy to act as witnesses if you wish to press charges. I'm sorry, this is unacceptable.”
Plo had produced a first aid kit from somewhere and was seeing to Dax's injuries. Adi had finished with her call and was talking to Mace, who along with Depa was keeping the prisoners restrained.
They should have done more to get the clones rights by now. That had been the idea when the Order had taken command of the GAR. Even with the notoriously slow pace of the Senate, no one had thought it would take more than a few months, at the very most. It was self-evident that the clones were people, just like any others, and in battle after battle, year after year they had proven themselves brave, loyal and trustworthy. By now they should have been full citizens of the Republic, able to decide what they wanted to do with their lives, free to choose whether or not they wanted to serve. They shouldn't have to desert just because they didn't want to fight. What had gone wrong? How had they failed so badly? Now there were those – even amongst the Council – talking as though they would need to wait until after the war to make any progress. As though it would take winning the war for the clones to earn their freedom.
Grief and anger rippled through him. The Jedi couldn't even take care of their own anymore. He thought of Qui-Gon, and wondered if they ever had.
He was so tired. They – he – had failed so often, and so badly.
The sound of footsteps had them all alert for a moment before a group of armoured troopers in 501 st blue came rushing round the corner and, behind them -
“Anakin,” he smiled, his mood lifting immediately. “I thought you were with Padme.”
The tension ratcheted up immediately, and really, even if Anakin wanted to hide their relationship what was wrong with acknowledging that he and Padme were friends at least? “Master! I...what are you....that is, yes, I was with Senator Amidala for a short while this evening, but when we were finished...I mean, when our meeting was concluded....she had to work, and I went back to the Temple but you were gone ,” he said, with a hint of indignation that made Obi-Wan wince. “So I went out with Rex and the troops.”
“General,” Rex chipped in, saluting crisply. “Generals. I see you've already tracked down our missing lamb.”
“Captain Rex, General Skywalker!” Dax's salute was a little sloppy. “Sorry, sirs, I got waylaid.”
“We heard the call for the security forces,” Rex said, glaring over at the group Mace, Depa and Adi still had against the wall and, with a couple of hand signs, the remaining troopers stepped up to keep an eye on them.
Everything seemed settled. Anakin was frowning at him suspiciously and Force, he was tired. It had been an exceptionally long day, he was decidedly somewhat drunk, and he wanted to go home. He took a few unsteady steps forwards and offered a bright smile. “Rex. Have you seen your brother?”
Rex turned his head to look at him and for a second his incredulity echoed loudly in the Force, followed swiftly by his amusement. “You're going to need to be a lot more specific, General.”
“Cody,” he answered. He'd asked Cody to discreetly check in with the 321st, hadn't he? They'd need to discuss that tomorrow, along with doing the resupply, and reorganising four battalions into three. Dimly he was aware of Anakin taking a couple of steps towards them as Rex turned away, speaking into his communicator.
“Cody, you might want to get down here. We've got your General.”
“Obi-Wan, are you drunk?” Anakin asked incredulously.
“Your powers of observation grow stronger, my padawan,” he said, making sure to properly enunciate each word.
Anakin's eyes were huge. “In front of the Council?!” he hissed, dragging Obi-Wan away by the arm as though trying to hide him.
There was something rather endearing about that. “Technically, these days, anytime I drink I'm in front of a member of the Council. Unless I'm not there, I suppose.”
“We've been with him all evening, Knight Skywalker,” Mace cut in suddenly. “I can assure you, Master Kenobi is not in any trouble with us.”
And that bought him a few seconds before Anakin turned his attention back onto Obi-Wan, hurt in his eyes. “You went out drinking with the Council? Are you alright? Why didn't you call me?”
“I thought you were with Padme,” he said, vaguely certain he'd already said that. But that wasn't the whole story anyway. He hadn't wanted Anakin to see him like this. Hadn't wanted him to see what a mess he was.
“I mean...” Anakin looked between him and Mace. “Why were you out here? Was there a mission, or is this official Council business?”
Mace sighed. “Just a night off, Skywalker. Closest we've come to official Council business was officially declaring Qui-Gon Jinn a dick.”
Obi-Wan closed his eyes. That...was a mistake. One that Mace would never have made sober.
He opened his eyes again just in time to see Anakin drawing himself up to his full height, tension radiating off every inch of him. “Qui-Gon Jinn was a great man,” he said, the storm threatening. “He doesn't deserve being bad-mouthed now that he's not here to speak up for himself. Particularly in front of his padawan. ” He said that with a meaningful look towards Obi-Wan, as though Mace might have somehow missed their relationship.
Mace went to say something and Obi-Wan would have spoken up but then he became aware of a presence approaching and he turned and smiled. “Cody.”
Somehow, his Commander was by his shoulder. “Good evening, General.” He looked around, assessing the situation. “So, are we trying to help the seppie assassins by bunching all their most high profile targets in one spot?”
He smiled a little, taking comfort in the presence of most of his favourite people. He wondered if he could come up with a reason to call Ahsoka down here as well. Maybe Padme and Bail too. And the rest of the 212 th . “I don't believe that was the plan, no. Just an unexpected side effect.”
Cody was studying him and he could feel the weight of his concern. “Bad night, sir?”
He hummed non-committally, glancing over to where Anakin was still glaring at Mace, though he thought there'd been another exchange or two he'd missed.
“Qui-Gon was supposed to be my master too,” Anakin snapped, fire in his eyes. “In an ideal world, he'd have raised me.”
Obi-Wan flinched, and for once it wasn't just Anakin's rejection that made his blood run cold. For a second he imagined Anakin - back when he'd been a child, back when he'd been so insecure, so desperate for affection and approval – having to navigate Qui-Gon's black moods, being ignored for weeks on end, having no-one to talk to, no-one to reach out to, tending to his own injuries while piloting the ship back to the Temple because Qui-Gon had locked himself up in the cabin and refused to be disturbed, being backhanded across the face because he'd pushed too hard at the wrong moment...being alone. Being hurt and frightened and alone.
He was standing directly in front of Anakin before he knew it, his hand pressed to Anakin's cheek. “I would never have let him raise you,” he promised. “You were always far too precious.”
Anakin stared at him. “Obi-Wan...?”
Suddenly conscious of everyone looking at him, he stepped back, tugging at his sleeves and vaguely wishing he was wearing his robes. “Yes. Well.” He turned ever so slightly, and Cody was there immediately, solid, supportive, not judging. “I believe I would like to go home now.”
“Of course, Obi-Wan,” Cody said, reaching out an arm for him. “I've got you.”
“Thank you.” His eyes flickered over the assembled company quickly and he offered a genial smile. “Goodnight, all.”
He ignored everything else, leaning on Cody, trusting him to get them home.
So, I initially imagined I'd have this story finished in less than a month. And it's taken four months. I'm sorry about that, but at least it's finished, and now I'm going to get back to In the Spotlight.
I hope you all like the conclusion.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Obi-Wan woke abruptly with a splitting headache and a feeling of gentle regret. He kept his eyes shut tight and reached out into the Force, taking solace in the familiar ebb and flow, the cool presence wrapping itself around him.
He was lying in his bunk on the Negotiator, pressed up against the wall, Cody's bulk lying beside him, their shoulders pressed together. It was nice, he thought absently. Warm. They were both clothed so clearly nothing inappropriate had occurred – not that he thought for a second that Cody would have tolerated any kind of advances on his part while he was so impaired. It wasn't the first time he'd woken up with Cody beside him. The clones were culturally extremely tactile, seeking and giving comfort through touch. There had been times when Cody, responsible and conscious of his rank and responsibilities, hadn't wanted his brothers to see his fears and uncertainties and sometimes, somewhere along the line, he'd come to Obi-Wan instead. And, sometimes, in spite of his words to the contrary, he was certain that Cody's true purpose was to offer comfort, not just receive it.
For the moment he lay still, wondering whether he could just keep his eyes closed and drift back to sleep. But then he heard Cody tapping at a datapad and immediately felt a rush of guilt. “I hope you haven't been working all night.”
“Not at all,” Cody replied, seemingly not even a little surprised that Obi-Wan was awake. No doubt he'd noticed a change in his breathing or something. “Matter of fact I only woke up myself a while ago. Figured I'd let you sleep as long as you could. How are you feeling?”
“Ah, not quite at my best, I admit.” He had opened his eyes now and Cody was looking down at him appraisingly.
At his answer he nodded and reached out to the side before offering Obi-Wan a glass of cloudy, fizzing liquid. “Got Rex to get this from Kix last night. Figured you might want it. And no, I didn't say it was for you, though Rex would have figured it out. He won't say anything though.”
Right, Rex had been there last night as well. He remembered. “Thank you, Cody,” he said, sitting up and taking his medicine obediently. It tasted foul but he knew that his head and stomach would thank him for it. “About last night...” he started awkwardly, when the liquid was gone and there was nothing else to immediately distract himself with.
“How much do you remember?”
He thought for a moment about feigning amnesia but immediately decided against it. Drinking to forget was one thing, drinking to the point of actually forgetting would make him a liability and be one more thing for Cody to worry about and he really didn't need any more of those. “All of it, I'm afraid.” He gave what he hoped was a disarming smile. “I distinctly remember saying a couple of things that Anakin will no doubt be seeking an explanation for. And while I'm slightly muddled as to just what point in the conversation you arrived, I rather expect I owe you some explanations as well.”
Cody was shaking his head before he'd even finished speaking. “You don't owe me anything, Obi-Wan. I'm here if you need to talk but you don't have to.”
The use of his first name was strangely calming. He liked to think that he and Cody were friends, but they were also both workaholics who took comfort in formality. “Well. Thank you. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to go and freshen up a little. Please don't feel you need to stay. I really didn't intend for you to waste your leave babysitting me.”
He took long enough to feel a little more human and to lose the taste of rot from the back of his throat, but when he stepped back in, dressed in a fresh tunic and leggings, Cody was still there, sitting on the sofa in front of a pile of datapads, a couple of bowls of cereal and a platter of fresh fruit.
“I arranged for some breakfast,” he said calmly.
For a moment Obi-Wan stood, struggling to articulate just how much he didn't deserve Cody, but before he could find the words Cody gestured him over with a datapad. “The quartermaster finished the audit last night. There was a bit of a panic earlier, looked like we'd lost twenty crates of grenades, but it turned out they'd just been stored in the hobby room by mistake. Hopefully this isn't related to Elsewhere trying to take up juggling again.”
He smiled as he sat down. “Maybe once he can manage to keep five apples up for more than a couple of minutes...”
Cody gave him a look. “No. No grenade juggling. Not ever. That's where I'm drawing a line and I am perfectly willing to make it a fleet-wide order.”
Chuckling as he grabbed a pear and a datapad, he set himself to approving medical requisitions, shaking his head immediately. Unfortunately they were going to need more bacta than that if they were heading into the conflict on Ishetar.
Time passed by quickly, the two of them talking easily as they worked through the first stages of the resupply. Obi-Wan was surprised to realise that an hour had gone by and while they'd been working he'd eaten all his cereal and half of the fruit. Thinking back he wasn't even sure if he'd eaten anything yesterday. That wasn't good.
He sighed and put the datapad down, rubbing his eyes frustratedly, trying to push back the familiar feelings of guilt and shame. Trying to focus on what was important. “Did you have a chance to talk to anyone from the 321 st ?”
Cody laid down his datapad. “Yes, I met a few of them yesterday afternoon – before the rumours started flying that they were on permanent stand-down. Your investigation was successful, I take it.”
He winced, remembering Nataya's fear and misery. “For a given value of success, yes.”
There was silence for a moment. “He did it. He hurt his commander.” The shock was clear in Cody's voice.
Obi-Wan just nodded, not willing to say the words again. He noticed the tremor in his hands and carefully laid them flat against his thighs. “We're absorbing the 321st into the 3rd System Army. I thought we could rearrange them, the 108th and the 216th into two attack battalions. They're going to need support – counselling, perhaps. They may well have excellent reasons not to trust Jedi. We're going to need to make sure their commanders are fully briefed – and completely visible. They need to know someone is on their side.”
“We'll take care of them.” He paused a moment. “Commander Nataya...if she's able, I suspect they'll want to see her.”
That made sense. He should have thought of that himself. “I'm meeting with her in a few hours. I can certainly ask her.”
“You're meeting her again?” Cody paused for a moment, laying down his pad. “What's she like?”
“She's very bright. Very driven. Earnest. She wants to help everyone and she hasn't quite learned yet that she can't.” He smiled to himself. Even with everything that had happened to her Nataya had remained endearingly hopeful.
Cody was looking at him, his brow furrowed.
“Do we need to start talking about how to fit a Jedi commander into the battalion?”
He took a sharp breath. “No. Definitely not.”
“You like her,” Cody pointed out. “And she's going to need a new Master, right?”
“Not necessarily,” he protested. “Master Krin is going to be assessed, both by the Council and the mindhealers. He might be able to finish her training.”
The look Cody gave him was both patient and shrewd. “But you don't want him to.”
“No. No, I don't,” he admitted. “He hurt her. And I find that even though I am supposed to believe in the possibility that anyone can redeem themselves I can't imagine anything he could do that could make me comfortable moving past that.” Qui-Gon had promised him more than once that things would change, that he would be more attentive. Both times he had struck him he had sworn it would never, ever happen again. He closed his eyes for a long moment. “But I will not see her taken away from one Master too broken and blinded by this war to take care of her only to give her to another with the same problem.”
There was a long moment of silence broken by Cody swearing vehemently. “You would never hurt a youngling.”
“Deliberately? I certainly hope not. But Cody, we both know that I struggle to take care of myself some days. I am certainly in no position to care for a padawan.” He glanced meaningfully down at the breakfast that Cody had brought him. “This is hardly the first time that the thoughtfulness of you or one of your brothers has been the only reason I've remembered to eat.”
Cody reached out a hand and grasped his wrist, squeezing lightly. “There's nothing wrong with needing a bit of help.”
“No,” he said, in spite of the shame inside. “But nor does it make one prime child-raising material.” He tried to smile. “I do try. But I'm afraid I often fail. I apologise for burdening you all.”
There was another long moment of silence. “If it helps, you're not the only one.”
He turned sharply to look at Cody.
“Not me,” Cody reassured, on catching his eye. “But some of my brothers...on Kamino calorie intake was very strictly controlled but it was still one of the easiest areas to get around. So eating or not eating became about control or defiance for some of us. And then once we left and we weren't so completely monitored, well, that brought a whole new series of problems. The point is, you're not a burden, we're just including you in the protocols we've figured out for ourselves. It's why even the shiniest trooper will shove a ration pack at you when you're going over something.” He nodded down to the datapads. “You eat better when you eat while you're working.”
He did. Taking time out to eat when there were so many things that had to be done made him feel guilty and anxious and that made it very difficult to choke food down. “I had no idea that was a problem among the troops. If any of them need anything - “
“ - the medics would come to you,” Cody told him. “You nearly always take the ration bars when they're offered which is why the medics haven't talked to you.”
There was a question implicit in Cody's words. He sighed and stroked his beard. “You are aware, I'm sure, that a Jedi can use the Force to go for long periods without water, food or sleep?” Cody nodded, a slight hint of disapproval on his face, so Obi-Wan continued. “Used properly it is a perfectly legitimate – and safe – practice.”
Cody was always quick on the uptake. “Are you saying you use it improperly?”
He sighed again. This was the first time he had ever actually told anyone this. The healers had taken care of telling the Council, with his permission of course, and while his friends - and Anakin - were aware he'd had some issues he had chosen not to burden them with the details. “When I use it consciously I am very careful to use it properly. The problem is all too often I use it without knowing.”
“I don't follow.”
“It's not a technique that we teach to the young,” he explained. “It can be extremely unhealthy for those still growing. But when I was much younger I was involved in a war for six months. There were no Jedi around, my fellow soldiers were my age or younger. Children. Supplies were often short and I found that I could go longer than the others without eating without suffering ill effects, so I frequently gave my share to the younger ones. After that it became something of a reflex, I'm afraid. I pushed feelings of hunger, thirst, exhaustion and pain aside with the Force so readily and so often that eventually my body would do it automatically before I even consciously registered the sensations.”
Cody stared at him. “You mean you don't feel hunger?”
“More than that.” He screwed his eyes shut for a second, pressing his thumb and forefinger into the bridge of his nose. “The first solo mission I had after I was knighted lasted three weeks. It was complex, constantly threatening to spill over into violence, although in the end the situation was resolved peacefully. I was pleased. And then on my return to the Temple I blacked out as soon as I had finished meeting with the Council. Apparently for those three weeks I just – hadn't eaten. The thought of food had never crossed my mind because I'd been unconsciously using the Force to influence my consciousness. Like the mind trick but on myself.” That was what the healers had eventually figured out. At the time all that had really mattered to him had been Anakin crying at his bedside, begging not to be left alone. “That was the first time anyone including myself was aware of the problem and while I have been working on it ever since I admit I find myself backsliding these days.”
“The Force can do that?” Cody's face was grim. “That's kind of terrifying.”
He shrugged. “Technically I'm doing it. But yes, I admit it is.” After all these years he was used to it, but that first realisation that his mind was betraying him in such a way – and using the Force to do it, no less – had been truly awful. He was ashamed to admit it but it had always been easier to cope when he was taking care of someone else. He had never failed to take care of Anakin, and in so doing had generally managed to take care of himself. It was when he was on his own that he struggled most. “Part of my regular meditation involves checking in on my physical state to help me remember basic self-care. It's a routine the healers helped me develop.”
Cody looked somewhat appeased at the mention of the healers. “That's good. But if you need help, if you find yourself..backsliding...or whatever, please let me know. I can help you.”
“I'll try,” he promised.
There was a moment while Cody nodded a few times, as though busy compartmentalising what he'd heard. “So you said this had been going on since you were a youngling? And your Master never noticed?”
He simply shook his head and shrugged. There had always been many other matters vying for Qui-Gon's attention.
Cody nodded as well and left well enough alone. “But you don't think Commander Nataya is going through the same thing?”
“Not as far as I can tell,” he said, wincing slightly at the thought. “And the healers know what to look for now. I believe Healer Orenes wrote a paper on me to enter into the Archives which is, I suppose, a kind of distinction.”
“Hardly the only one you've earned,” Cody said with a snort.
He gave a meaningless smile.
“Sir...Obi-Wan...this doesn't change anything about you, and it certainly doesn't mean you aren't fit to look after a padawan.”
“Maybe some time in the future,`” he allowed. “Maybe after the war. But not now, Cody. I was raised by a Master who could never put me first. I won't do that to anyone else.”
Cody reached out and took his hand, squeezing tightly before letting go. “Who knows? Maybe the war will end tomorrow.”
“Maybe it will.” He said the words but he didn't mean them. When he closed his eyes he could never see peace ahead of them. But Cody was here and they could make the best of this moment here and now. He wasn't alone; he had friends who were willing to help him. He wasn't going to let any of them down.
He took Cody's hand again. “Thank you.”
He and Cody managed to get some more work done in companionable silence before Anakin landed on the Negotiator, his Force presence a familiar tangle of anxiety, angst and determination. No overt anger at least, that was something. He wasn’t sure precisely what it was that Anakin wanted to talk about but at least he wasn’t in trouble with his padawan for betraying his master’s memory.
He gave Cody a small smile. “Anakin is on his way. I suspect you probably want to be somewhere else.”
“If that’s what you want, Obi-Wan,” Cody said, already moving to gather up his datapads.
“Yes, I think it would be best. I suspect this conversation is going to be fraught.”
Cody paused and looked at him. “If you need an out, comm me. I’m good at plausible excuses.”
“I’m sure you are. Thank you, Cody. For everything.”
“It’s what friends are for. Right?”
It was only moments after Cody had left that Anakin stood hesitating outside his door. With a wave of his hand he opened it, not wanting to draw this out any longer than he had to.
“Good morning, Master,” Anakin walked in holding a sealed heated flask and a box from the little tea shop he was fond of. “I brought breakfast.”
“Good morning, Anakin,” he said with a smile, his heart melting slightly at the thoughtfulness. Too often these days they seemed to only communicate by fighting – either with each other or against the world.
Anakin came over to sit next to him and gazed sheepishly at the left over plates from the meal he had shared with Cody. “Oh. I guess I’d expected to catch you earlier at the Temple. Sorry.”
“No matter. I’m happy you thought of me. And I admit I may have missed dinner yesterday, so perhaps a snack wouldn’t go amiss.”
With a sharp glance at him, Anakin stood abruptly and stalked over towards the teacups. It was the set he’d made Obi-Wan years ago, and for a long moment, to Obi-Wan’s bewilderment, he stood holding one of the cups, gazing down at the dark blue and gold swirl. “You stayed here last night.”
“You asked Cody to take you home.”
He frowned, confused and a little concerned. “Anakin, if you’re thinking anything improper, I can assure you – “
“What? No!" Anakin pulled a dramatic face. "No, I wasn’t thinking anything improper, and don't worry, I made sure that the Council wasn’t thinking anything like that either.”
Oh, Force. At some point he was going to need to find out the details of that conversation. Preferably before Depa started teasing him about it. “Then I’m afraid I don’t quite see where you’re going with this.”
“We were on Coruscant. And you went home. And this,” he gestured wildly around the little cabin, the teacup still in his hand. “Is home.”
Ah. “These past few years I’ve spent rather longer here than in my rooms at the Temple,” he said carefully.
“I know,” Anakin said, walking back over to the sofa and laying two teacups down, towering over Obi-Wan and still somehow seeming like he was looking up to him. “I went to your rooms this morning. Obi-Wan, they’re still practically bare. I’m not even sure you’ve unpacked. If my code hadn’t let me in I wouldn’t have been sure I had the right room. I couldn’t even feel a hint of your Force presence.”
He sighed. “Oh, Anakin.”
“Sometimes I’m afraid that we’re going to lose you to this war,” he said in a rush, like he’d been holding onto the words for a long time. “You’re the best General there is, and I know we need you but I also know how much you hate it. Sometimes I think that you’re going to lose yourself in clever tactics and strategising and forget how to come home to me…us.”
“I’m honestly not sure what I can do about that,” he admitted. “I’m not sure what you want me to say.”
“I’m not sure either. It’s just…I can’t remember the last time I spoke to you without the war coming up, or without knowing that at least half your attention was out there, or focused on paperwork or orders or something. I’m glad you went out last night, even if I’d rather if it was with me rather than with the Council,” His mouth twisted into an expression of distaste. “But even then I get the impression you were drinking ‘cause you were miserable rather than for fun.”
Ah. So now they were talking about last night. “Last night was an aberration. I’d had a somewhat difficult day.”
“I just want you to relax for once.” He opened the flask and poured out two cups of tea.“Please. If there’s anything I can do to help you…” He pressed the cup into Obi-Wan’s hands.
He took it and the scent of warm, heavy spices hit him immediately. One of his favourite blends. “I admit I’ve never been good at asking for help.”
“I know,” Anakin said, busying himself with his own cup, and adding a truly appalling amount of honey. “I used to think it was because you were too stuffy to admit when you needed it.” He didn’t say what he thought now. "I didn't know Qui-Gon. Not really, I know that. But he freed me from slavery and he talked to me like a person, and he believed in me maybe even more than Mom did. And he died a hero and later you told me stories....I thought he was everything a Jedi was supposed to be." He was breathing hard, staring down into his tea.
"He was a good man and an excellent Jedi," Obi-Wan said truthfully.
Tea spilled over the table. "But he wasn't, was he? Because if he was really a good man, if he was a good Master, then the thought of him raising me wouldn't make you feel like that."
"Anakin - "
" - he raised you!" Anakin shouted, his face red and blotchy. And then, quieter. "He hurt you, didn't he? You were a child in his care and he hurt you."
He didn't know what to say and he reached out to the Force, begging for comfort, for calm, for answers. Instantly, and to his surprise he felt Anakin's force presence answer, pushing up against him, wrapping around him like the warmth of twin suns.
"I'm sorry," Anakin said, quieter still. "I shouldn't have shouted. It's just...he hurt you. And I keep thinking of things I've said over the years...I hurt you. And I didn't mean to. And I'm sorry. And I won't ever mention him or any of this again if you don't want me to, I just wanted you to know I'm sorry."
Taking a long sip of tea, he considered, his mind whirling. The offer was tempting. But right now Anakin was thinking the worst and that wasn't fair to Qui-Gon's memory. "You have to understand," he said at last. "Qui-Gon was a good man and an excellent Jedi - "
" - Obi-Wan - "
He held up a hand. " - please let me speak, Anakin. He was both of those things. But he was not prepared to be a Master. When I first met him being saddled with a padawan was the very last thing he wanted."
"Were you assigned to him then?" Anakin asked, drawing his ridiculously long legs up onto the sofa. "Like me and Ahsoka?"
"No," he said, with a flat chuckle. "It would be truer to say that circumstances, and my own peculiar stubbornness, assigned us together. There was a rather hectic situation on Bandomeer after I had already been sent away from the Temple. In the end he was too good a man to turn me away again, even though I know he wanted to."
Anakin stared at him incredulously. “He still didn't want you? But you're you.” He gestured at Obi-Wan somewhat grandly, like he was some kind of prize. “No, that can't be right. Once he got to know you he must have wanted you really.”
Obi-Wan smiled gently. “We shared a natural Force bond almost immediately.” He tapped the side of his head meaningfully. “When I say he didn't want me that's not just my impression. It's how he felt. But he felt he was duty bound to train me and he tried to do his best by me.”
“But he hurt you,” Anakin said again as though nothing else mattered. “Even if he didn't want you he should never have made you feel like he didn't want you. That's just cruel. But...it can't just be that. I mean, that's bad enough, but that wasn't all you were feeling last night.”
He sighed and let his head drop forwards into his hands. “Do you remember,” he said, knowing his voice was muffled but letting his meaning carry forwards through their own Force bond. “When you became Ahsoka's Master you had to read and sign an agreement about how you would treat her.”
“Yes, of course. It was just basic stuff.”
“Yes. Well, there was nothing like that when Qui-Gon first took me on. The Council introduced it during the latter stages of my apprenticeship.”
He could practically hear Anakin's teeth grinding. “You mean the Council introduced it because of your apprenticeship. Don't you?”
“Mace had to fight half the Council to get it introduced. There was a lot of resistance from the old guard. Masters thought that having specific rules about the treatment of their students was insulting – that they didn't need to be told to make sure their padawans were fed and cared for and their injuries treated. That was just obvious.” He lifted his head and smiled but still didn't turn to look at Anakin. “Qui-Gon never was a fan of what's obvious.”
He felt Anakin's rage burning white hot in the Force.
“Calm yourself,” he said, broadcasting reassurance and serenity. “It was all a long time ago and it was never as basd as all that. You know I'm fine.”
“How could he do that?” Anakin demanded in a low voice. “If I had the chance I'd - “
“ - he's dead, Anakin. And I have put it all behind me for the most part. But yes, what I said last night was the truth. I would never have let him be entrusted with another child's well-being.”
“How could you even have prevented it?”
He rubbed at his beard and spoke reluctantly. “There were situations that arose during our time together that had I raised them with the Council even long after the fact would have been enough to put a stop to that. And no, Anakin, I have no intention of discussing them further. Qui-Gon was a good man who made many mistakes in his life. Let that be enough.”
Anakin was staring at him, brow furrowed. “You didn't deserve that. You didn't deserve any of that.”
He took a deep breath. “No. No, I didn't.” The words were sincere. These days most of the time he even believed them.
“May I hug you, Master?”
Without saying anything he simply opened his arms and let Anakin rush towards him. The hug lasted a long time. Longer than any time he could remember Anakin hugging him since he was a teenager. And right alongside it was Anakin's Force presence, wrapped around him protectively, lovingly. It brought a lump to his throat, and even after Anakin finally pulled away he didn't trust himself to speak for several minutes.
“There was something else I wanted to say about last night,” Anakin said eventually. “Not about Qui-Gon. Or...sort of about Qui-Gon? More about you and me.”
He nodded and waited patiently.
“I've never been good with words. Not like you are. It's not just that I say the wrong thing, sometimes it's obvious to me what I mean and I don't get that people are reacting to what I say, not what my intentions were.” He took a deep breath and pulled his hand through his hair roughly. “Last night I said that Qui-Gon should have been my Master – and I know I've said that before – to you – but the way everyone reacted, I don't think – I mean, I saw the way Master Windu was looking at me...” He looked at Obi-Wan helplessly. “I realise now that what I was saying could sound like I meant that I wanted Qui-Gon instead of you – maybe even that I wanted you to die in his place!”
He actually chuckled slightly. He had been getting worried. “Anakin, I promise even at my lowest I've never truly considered that you might secretly want me dead.”
“Well, good,” Anakin said, but he didn't look completely reassured. “But it's not just that. It's...you shouldn't have been my Master. You know that right?”
It had been a long couple of days and his emotions were still raw – he couldn't completely suppress the flinch.
“No! Not like that,” Anakin blurted out, shaking his head frantically. “I'm saying it wrong again, just let me...” He stood up and paced around as much as the cramped quarters allowed. Obi-Wan watched him and waited, still confused, still hurting but hopeful. Finally Anakin turned back towards him. “I heard a rumour that Knight Muln is considering taking on a padawan.”
That was news to him, though he hadn't had a chance to so much as talk to Garen in months. “Well, it's about time,” he said, blinking at the abrupt change in subject. “He's been knighted well over a decade now.”
“Actually, that's well within the average time for a knight to take their first padawan,” Anakin said. “I looked it up. Only about ten percent of knights take on a padawan within the first few years of them being knighted, and that's mostly exceptional circumstances, like with Vos and Aayla.”
He supposed he'd known that on some level. But he'd been waiting a long time to have a chance to repay Garen for his 'kind' help in raising Anakin. Let's see how he liked trying to persuade a sugared up, overexcited youngling that it was bedtime.
“And there's only one Jedi in all the Order's recorded history who took on a padawan the same day they were knighted,” Anakin added meaningfully.
He winced. “I was young and ill-prepared. I know I was arrogant to think I was ready to be a master, and if that - “
“ - don't you dare apologise!” Anakin exclaimed, rushing forwards and crouching down in front of him, grabbing his hand. “It wasn't arrogance at all. I needed you, and you stepped up, because that's what you always do. It's who you are. But you were young, and you should have had a chance to be your own man, to figure out who you were and who you wanted to be, and it's my fault you didn't get that.”
“Anakin.” He covered Anakin's hand with his own and gave a gentle squeeze. “I wanted to be your master. It was an honour and my pleasure. I've always known who I wanted to be; a Jedi knight. Qui-Gon's padawan. Your master. And even if that wasn't the case it would never have been your fault. And I'm so sorry if anything I ever did or said made you feel otherwise.”
“Not anything you said,” Anakin muttered, turning his face away.
Something else occurred to him. “Anakin, you're younger now than I was then, and you have a padawan. Are you feeling overwhelmed?” He'd thought Anakin and Ahsoka were doing well now, but maybe he had missed something.
“No – well, yes, but I wouldn't ever want to lose her. Snips is great and I wouldn't give her up for anything, but I definitely wasn't ready for a padawan and I wouldn't have gone looking for one if the Council didn't assign her to me. And we both know that was because they were worried you were my only real connection in the Order. They wanted to make sure I didn't go completely off the rails if our bickering ever got too much.”
Or if Obi-Wan died, but neither of them had to mention that. He smiled. “Personally I think it was more about Yoda's persistent belief that all problems in this lineage can be solved with more grandpadawans for him.”
Anakin looked at him, brow furrowed. “You and Qui-Gon?”
He nodded. “I believe Yoda had been trying to persuade Qui-Gon to take another padawan for years. I was simply the one that stuck. And by my understanding he was trying to persuade Dooku to take on a student right up until he left the Order.”
“Well I'm glad that didn't happen,” Anakin said, pulling a face. “Ventress is bad enough.” He sat back down. “Anyway, we've gotten away from the point. I just wanted to explain – yes, when I was a kid I did used to imagine that Qui-Gon was my Master instead of you, but that wasn't ever because I didn't want you. Or, well, sometimes it would be because I was a stupid kid and I'd tell myself that Qui-Gon would let me stay up all night to watch the Grand Rally, or that Qui-Gon wouldn't make me do the extra credit assignment for Etiquette, and that Qui-Gon would take me on all his missions...”
Obi-Wan couldn't help but give a soft huff. “Oh, he would have, believe me. It's up to the Master to decide what the Padawan is ready for and Qui-Gon was a great believer in learning from experience.” And in not being held back by any burden such as his padawan. “I believe I still hold the record for the most time spent in the healing halls for any junior padawan.”
“Oh.” Anakin licked his lips. “Well. Back then I imagined that Qui-Gon would be the perfect Master. And while you were on missions I would daydream that he would be there, teaching me all the basics, and then you'd come home and it would be different because you wouldn't be in charge. We'd be more like equals, and we'd have fun together all the time, like when you took me for icecream, or when you helped me reprogram the mouse droids to follow Vos around, and you'd tell me stories and,” he paused, grimacing. “And you wouldn't have been so sad and stern all the time. You would have been my brother.”
“I am your brother,” he said softly.
“I know.” Anakin leaned against his shoulder. “But you're the brother who raised me, and sometimes...often, I just...well. You know what I'm like with authority figures. Sometimes you just get mixed up in all that and I resent you even though you're you.”
He was aware of Anakin's resentment, but he hadn't realised that it was something Anakin was actually struggling with. He'd thought – well. He'd thought it was understandable. “Anakin,” he began. “I'm saying this as your brother who cares about you, not your Master or a Councilmember. Maybe you should think about going and talking to one of the mindhealers about this. I will always listen to you but I don't know how much help I can be.”
The tension beside him was papable and for a moment he was certain that Anakin was going to lose his temper and stalk off the way he had many times before. But instead he pursed his lips and nodded a couple of times. “Alright. Maybe I will. If you do too – and actually talk to them, about Qui-Gon and what he did to you, and about the war and everything.”
“I believe therapy is generally considered ineffective if one has to be coerced into it,” he pointed out, and as Anakin's face darkened, he smiled. “No, I had been thinking I should go back myself. Though to be perfectly honest I have no idea where I'm going to find the time.”
“I'll try if you will,” Anakin said, vaguely threateningly. “No, really, Obi-Wan, are you okay? Are we okay?”
He took a deep breath. “I do believe we're going to be.”
“Master Kenobi!” Nataya's delight on seeing him was evident, both in the Force and on her face as she waved at him across the garden. “You came!”
“I told you I would see you today,” he said as he gave her a bow, letting his own fond affection shine through.
“Yes, but I thought you might be shipped out, or might be caught up in other things,” she explained, slightly bashful. “I know how busy you are.”
“I still have a couple of days in the Temple,” he told her. “And even once I've left, if you wish to talk to me please feel free to comm me. I won't always be available, but I'll always try to get back to you when I can. I promise.”
“Thank you. For everything I mean.” She hesitated for a moment, chewing on her lip before pulling her hand out from behind her back to reveal the woodcarving she had been working on yesterday. “Here. I wanted you to have this. Only if you want it, I mean.”
It was an incredibly detailed carving of a hawk in flight and he felt his breath catch as he took it in his hands. The Force sang through it, capturing feelings of loss and longing, but above all of hope. “It's beautiful,” he said fervently. “Thank you, Nataya. I will treasure this. You have a rare gift.”
She blushed and looked aside. “It's nothing. Just a hobby.” Her stomach rumbled loudly.
He chuckled. “Why don't we go and have some lunch, padawan? You can introduce me to your friends.”
“Of course, Master,” she said, her eyes sparkling.
He felt lighter than he had in a long time. And when the Negotiator left orbit the little wooden hawk took pride of place in his quarters right alongside Anakin's tea set.
Thanks for reading, please let me know what you think - and if you want to talk to me I'm anotherhawk on tumblr.