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A Matter of Ethics

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Obi-Wan lay stretched out on his stomach in the Meditation Garden, diligently studying his physics datapad. He had a backlog of schoolwork to make up after his experiment with deliberately goading his master, and he was determined to clear it up as soon as possible. So far, after two works of intense work, he had managed to catch up in his Languages and Astrophysics classes, two of his favorites. And once he had finished Physics, that would only leave Cultural Ethics. Unfortunately, it was also his least favorite subject, and the fact that the instructor had just assigned them a mid-term essay just made it more difficult. If it hadn't been for Sedik lending him his old datapads from the class so that he could review the classes he had skipped, Obi-Wan knew that he would never have caught up.

And once he was caught up, he thought that he might have a hope of persuading Qui-Gon to lift his restriction. A slight hope, but better than none.

Displacement of the air around him made him look up to see his friends plopping down on the ground beside him. Bant grinned over at him, indicating his prone position.

"Are you still uncomfortable sitting, Obi?" she asked.

Obi-Wan flushed, pushing himself up so he was sitting. "No, just got used to that position, I guess."

Sedik laughed at that and reclined on an elbow. "And to think that before I got tangled up with you, Obi-Wan, I never knew the joys of trying to find a comfortable position to study in."

Obi-Wan grinned. "Or for eating."

"Or sleeping," they said in chorus, laughing.

Reeft shook his head, totally mystified. "How can you laugh about it? Didn't it hurt? And don't you hate your masters for doing that to you?"

Sedik looked thoughtful for a minute. "Yes, it hurts, but I could never hate Master Irina."

"Besides, it's much worse when Master Qui-Gon goes all quiet and gets that disappointed look on his face." Obi-Wan shuddered. "I'd rather have him spank me every day than go through that again." He paused for a moment then grinned. "Well, maybe that was a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean."

"Besides, Reeft," Bant said with a grin. "Everyone knows that all your master has to do is threaten to send you to bed without supper and you're toeing the line."

They all laughed, and then Garen sighed and tossed his datapad bag on the ground in front of him. "Well, if I don't pass this mid-term essay in Cultural Ethics, my master may spank me. Have any of you taken a look at what old Gibbons gave us the assignment? An essay on Plonett's Directives regarding emergent civilizations."

Reeft looked dismayed. "There is no way that we're going to have that finished by the end of the week - the research alone will take days."

"Looks like another all-nighter at the library," Garen said with a groan. "Well, guess I'll head over after dinner. You guys up for it?"

Bant nodded. "I'll be there, and I'll bring the snacks." Reeft perked up at the mention of food and agreed to meet them.

"Obi? Sedik?"

"Grounded," they both said in chorus and then grinned at each other.

Garen rolled his eyes. "Come on. Master Jinn's so tied up with the Senate that I'm sure he won't notice if you sneak out after dinner."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Sorry, Garen. Master would know somehow - and I think my backside's earned enough punishment for a year. Sedik might be able to give you pointers." He looked over at Sedik. "You must have had this class, what, two years ago?"

"And I've heard that old Gibbons teaches the same old thing, year after year," Garen added.

The older padawan nodded. "Yes, Master Gibbons has a set pattern."

"Did you save your class-notes? Maybe they can help us?" Bant said.

"Sure. Strange as it may seem, I liked that class and kept all my stuff."

Obi-Wan grinned at that. "Your secret's safe with us."

"Anyway, I gave all my old padds to Obi-Wan to help him catch up. You're welcome to look through them and see if any of them help."

"Thanks!" Garen said fervently. "My life is riding on this grade." He looked over at Obi-Wan. "What d'you say, Obi? If you can't come out to the library tonight, would Master Jinn allow us to come over for a study session?"

"I don't know," Obi-Wan said honestly. "But I'll ask him and let you know at dinner."


 

Qui-Gon had readily agreed to the study session, provided that only studying was involved and that it ended before Obi-Wan's curfew. Garen, Reeft and Bant arrived promptly, greeted Master Jinn politely, and then descended like starving padawans on the snacks the master had set out. Qui-Gon chuckled and, realizing that he would never be able to concentrate on his upcoming mission briefing amidst the noise, he retreated to his room.

Bant sorted through Sedik's datapads, looking for his notes on Cultural Ethics. "Here they are. Force bless him - Sedik must have recorded every word that Master Gibbons said, and here's his research notes on Plonett."

"Even better - here's his essay," Garen exclaimed, holding up another padd.

"We can't use that," Obi-Wan said.

"Why in the Force not?" Garen demanded. "It'd save us days of work. We can look over what he wrote and use the most pertinent literature references."

"But it's not right," Obi-Wan protested.

Garen sighed. "How is that any different from using his class notes?"

"I don't know," Obi-Wan said slowly. "It's just - we're supposed to be researching this ourselves, coming to our own conclusions. Not using someone else's thoughts and opinions."

"Oh, all right," Garen grumbled, setting down the padd. "You know, Obi, you're getting to be awfully prudish."

"What a horrible thing to say!" Bant exclaimed. "And I happen to agree with Obi-Wan."

"All right, all right!" Garen muttered. "I put it down, didn't I?"

The study session went well, each of them choosing one of the texts regarding Plonett's guidelines and summarizing it to share with the others. Using Sedik's notes to help interpret some of the more obscure texts speeded up the process as well. By the time Qui-Gon came out of his room to remind them of curfew, they were already putting away their padds and making arrangements to finish up the next day after lunch.

"How did it go, Padawan?" Qui-Gon asked as the two of them restored the room to its normal order.

"Pretty well, Master. I think that we should be able to finish the research part by tomorrow afternoon. Then it's just a matter of developing our essays from the information." He sighed as he wiped down the table. "I only hope I can have it done before the end of the week."

"Obi-Wan." As his padawan turned to him inquiringly, Qui-Gon grasped him by the shoulders and smiled. "I'm very proud of you, Padawan. You've done excellent work in your classes these past two weeks, and your instructors tell me that your classroom behavior is back to normal."

Obi-Wan flushed, delighted at the unaccustomed praise. "Thank you, Master. I've been doing my best to make up for – you know."

"Well, you've succeeded, Padawan. In fact, provided you finish up this essay on time and are caught up in all your classes, I'd be willing to lift your restriction starting this weekend."

Obi-Wan stared at his master, stunned. He hadn't even had to present his case for leniency, hadn't had to muster one argument in his defense. It was incredible – wonderful –

It was all too easy.

His eyes narrowed as he looked at his master. "We're being sent on another mission, aren't we, Master? That's why you're willing to lift my punishment."

Qui-Gon's lips twitched at that. "Why, Padawan, what a suspicious mind you have!"

"Master," Obi-Wan said sternly.

Qui-Gon chuckled and threw up his hands in mock surrender. "Very well, Padawan. Yes, we're being sent on a mission in about a week. And, since this looks like a long one, I thought that you might like to have some free time to spend with your friends before we leave."

Obi-Wan smiled, grateful for his master's consideration. "I'd like that, Master. Thank you."

"Just remember that you have to finish your school work first," Qui-Gon cautioned.

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan gave his master a goodnight hug and headed to bed.

 


 

Qui-Gon came out of his room in the morning to find no breakfast on the table and his padawan's backside sticking out from under the couch. "Padawan?"

Startled, Obi-Wan lifted his head and smacked it into the underside of the couch. "Ow!"

"Obi-Wan, do you mind telling me why you are hiding under the couch?"

"I'm not hiding, Master," Obi-Wan said indignantly, crawling out from under the couch. "I'm looking for something." Sitting up, he looked over anxiously at Qui-Gon. "Master, when we were cleaning up last night, did you happen to find a loose padd and set it somewhere?"

"No, I didn't, Padawan." Qui-Gon crossed his arms, studying his apprentice. "I trust it wasn't your homework. I don't think your instructors will buy the excuse of 'the couch ate my homework'."

Obi-Wan shook his head, but the faint line of worry didn't leave his forehead. "No, Master, it's not mine. I borrowed some old notes from Sedik to help catch up since I skipped those classes, and I was going to return them to him today. Only I can't find one of them."

"I'm sure it'll turn up, Padawan. Now, go shower and change while I make breakfast."

It was Obi-Wan's turn to look puzzled. "But I already did, Master."

"That was before your desire to get closer to the couch showed up the inadequacies of our housekeeping," Qui-Gon said with a smile. Obi-Wan looked down at his tunic and made a disgusted noise as he saw the dust and dirt smeared all over the front of him. With a sigh, he headed into his room for his second shower of the day.

 


 

Obi-Wan and his friends finished up their research in the afternoon with a general feeling of satisfaction all around. Reeft broke up the study session to head to weapons' training with his master and Bant hurried off to the infirmary to put in a few hours at practice labs, leaving Garen and Obi-Wan to clean up the impromptu picnic lunch.

Obi-Wan looked over at his friend several times before saying, hesitantly, "Garen? Remember that datapad? The one with Sedik's essay on it?"

"Yeah, I remember," Garen said casually. Too casually, and he wasn't looking at Obi-Wan.

"I couldn't find it this morning, and I wondered if you or one of the others might have accidentally picked it up with your own padds."

Garen turned and met Obi-Wan's eyes directly. "No, you're wondering if I took it."

"Garen, I didn't mean – "

"Well, I did. I took it, and I did it on purpose."

"But why? We've already got all the notes we need – all we have to do is write the essay."

"Obi, I stink at writing essays," Garen said frankly. "And if I don't pull an Outstanding on this one, I'm going to fail the class. My master has already said that if I fail this class, I'll have to repeat it next term." Tears now formed in Garen's eyes. "He - he also said I won't be allowed to go on any missions till I passed it. I'd have to stay here if he has to go on one."

"Oh, Garen," Obi-Wan said sympathetically, hugging his friend. He knew how he would feel if Master Qui-Gon told him that, how he had felt when his master had gone on a mission while he was ill. "It'll be okay. Look, you know I'm pretty good at that essay stuff. Why don't you write it out and I'll look it over and give you some pointers?"

Garen pushed back slightly, shaking his head. "Obi, no offense and I know that you're good, but Sedik's essay is brilliant. It was all so clear the way he put it. I couldn't even hope to come up with something like that."

Obi-Wan's eyes widened. "You aren't planning on copying it, are you?"

Garen lifted his chin, meeting his friend's eyes challengingly. "And why shouldn't I?"

"Because you'll get caught, idiot! Master Gibbons is bound to recognize it!"

Garen shook his head. "Gibbons doesn't keep old essays; he gives them back. And after teaching this class to over 100 students in the past 2 years, how could he possibly remember one essay."

"But – Garen, it's cheating!" Obi-Wan looked at his friend with troubled eyes. "If you get caught, you could be in really serious trouble. An ethics violation - you'll be put on probation at the least, possibly even dismissed from the Order."

"I won't get caught," Garen said firmly, and then his eyes narrowed. "Not unless you tattle to someone."

Obi-Wan's face paled at that. "Garen, you know I wouldn't turn on a friend like that!"

"No, I don't," Garen said frankly. "You're changing, Obi-Wan. Ever since your illness, you've become so serious, so set on doing the right thing all the time, that you're practically become a virtuous bore. Well, except for that stuff you pulled to get Master Jinn mad at you. But even then, you did it to get him to notice you, not for the fun of it. Sometimes I don't think I know you any more."

"We all grow up, Gar," Obi-Wan said feebly.

"Yeah? Well, if this is what growing up is all about, then maybe I don't want to. And maybe I don't want to be a Jedi, either." Garen picked up his padd bag and left.

Obi-Wan sat on the ground for a long time, his mind a tangle of thoughts, until a mental nudge from his master reminded him that he was late for sparring practice. Feeling suddenly older than his fifteen years, he dragged himself to his feet and headed for the training rooms.

 


 

Qui-Gon set a casserole on the table and glanced over at his apprentice with a troubled frown. The boy was sitting on the meditation mat but it was obvious that he wasn't meditating, just staring blankly out the window.

For the past day and a half, Obi-Wan had been too quiet. He had been distracted during his training session the previous day and, although he had done better today, it was obvious that something was troubling him still. Also, that morning he had looked like he hadn't slept at all. Discreet inquiries to his teachers had garnered the information that the padawan wasn't having any problems in his classes, and both Bant and Sedik – his closest friends - had looked at him blankly when he had tentatively asked them if they knew what was bothering the boy. So he had decided to go to the root of the problem, and had informed his padawan that they would be dining in their suite that evening.

"Dinner, Padawan," he called. He heard Obi-Wan's faint sigh but the boy pushed himself to his feet and headed towards the table, detouring to wash his hands at Qui-Gon's reminder. Qui-Gon tried to initiate several items of conversation, asking about his apprentice's classes and daily activities to try to get the boy to open up, but only got single syllable responses. He watched as Obi-Wan pushed around the small amount of food he had served himself and sighed.

"Enough, Obi-Wan. It's food, not a sculpting medium."

Obi-Wan looked up at him, startled, and it was clear that the boy hadn't even been aware of what he was doing. Qui-Gon put down his own fork and stood up.

"Well, it's clear that this isn't working, so I suppose we should just give up on dinner for the moment." He moved to the couch and patted the seat next to him. "Come, Padawan; I think it's time we had a talk."

Reluctantly, Obi-Wan got out of his chair and joined his master, staring intently at his hands instead of at his master. But Qui-Gon hadn't raised two previous padawans without learning something – he reached out and took Obi-Wan's hand in his.

"Obi-Wan, whatever it is, you can tell me," he said quietly. "No matter how bad it is."

Obi-Wan flushed and looked up at his master. "Oh! No, it's not – it's not like that, Master. I'm not in trouble."

Qui-Gon gently stroked one of the flushed cheeks. "Then what is it, Padawan?"

Obi-Wan looked down at his hands again, flushing even more. "It involves someone else, and I promised that I wouldn't tell."

"Obi-Wan, if someone made you promise not to tell, then they are probably doing something that you both know is wrong," Qui-Gon said seriously.

Obi-Wan sighed. "Yes. I know that it's wrong but – Master, I don't know what I should do."

Qui-Gon squeezed his apprentice's hand. "Why don't you tell me the problem – you don't have to use any names – and I'll see if I can help you."

Obi-Wan nodded then, hesitantly, said, "All right. What if you had a friend who was about to do something wrong? Not something dangerous or evil, just something - unethical. Something that could get him in a lot of trouble if he was caught. Big trouble, Master, bigger than I've ever gotten into. And you've talked to him but he won't listen. So you can either keep quiet and maybe he won't get caught. Or you can tell someone, only he'll get in so much trouble."

"I see," Qui-Gon said quietly. "So the possibilities are that he may get away with it, he may be caught without you saying anything which would get him into serious trouble, or you can tell and he'll get into trouble as well."

Obi-Wan nodded glumly. "And I feel responsible, Master, because I kinda provided the temptation, although I didn't realize it at the time."

"We're all tempted, Obi-Wan. If you didn't deliberately act in a way to get your friend in trouble, then his decision to succumb to temptation was his own choice."

"I suppose so." Obi-Wan sighed and slumped on the couch. "So what do I do, Master? If I don’t tell, he could get in trouble, and if I tell, he will get into trouble. Besides – " He bit his lip and looked away.

Qui-Gon grasped his apprentice's chin, turning his head. "What, Obi-Wan?" he asked gently.

Eyes dark with unhappiness met his. "Master, do you think I'm becoming a prude? Am I – am I too serious? No fun to be around anymore?"

Qui-Gon's heart ached for his padawan, and he pulled the boy into his arms for a hug. "No, Obi-Wan, I don't think that you're becoming anything of the sort."

Obi-Wan gratefully buried his face in his master's shoulder, relishing the comfort of the big arms wrapped around him. "You're sure? I'm not becoming a virtuous bore?"

Qui-Gon couldn't help chuckling softly. "Not that I've noticed, Padawan. And I think Master Windu would second that opinion – how in the world did you get that much starch in his laundry?"

Obi-Wan managed a slight snicker at that. "I've got friends in Housekeeping. Besides, he deserved it for saying that you should spank me or he would."

"But Padawan, you wanted me to spank you," Qui-Gon pointed out.

"That's besides the point," Obi-Wan said indignantly, then realized that he had just admitted to pulling a prank. Cautiously, he peeked up at his master. "Am I in trouble for that?"

Qui-Gon smiled and shook his head. "It was just a prank, and it didn't seriously harm you or anyone else. However, I think you should join your friend in Housekeeping for – let's say – two days of laundry duty."

Obi-Wan sighed. "Yes, Master." He settled more comfortably on Qui-Gon's lap, resting his head against one large shoulder, and let his eyes drift closed. Sleepily, he thought that he was too old to be snuggling for comfort in his master's lap, but it was comfortable here, and he hadn't slept well the night before, and it was too much effort to stay awake any longer.

Qui-Gon sat for a long while, cradling his sleeping padawan on his lap, and mentally sighed. Obi-Wan was facing a difficult decision and one that Qui-Gon could not make for him. And the knowledge that there would be even more difficult decisions ahead of the boy didn't help. For one weak moment, he wished that he could somehow keep his apprentice safe within these walls, shield him from the heartache that lay ahead. But not only was that impossible, it was also a disservice to Obi-Wan. His padawan would have to learn by making his own decisions and mistakes. Qui-Gon just hoped that they would get easier - and, knowing that they wouldn't, that he would be able to endure watching Obi-Wan make them.

 


 

It was a more-rested if not a more-content padawan that greeted him at the breakfast table the next morning. And it seemed as if some sort of decision had been made.

Obi-Wan looked at him a little sheepishly. "Sorry that I fell asleep like a crèche-baby," he said, embarrassment flushing his cheeks.

"It wasn't the first time that I have put you to bed, Padawan, and it won't be the last," Qui-Gon said, smiling. "And there's no need to be embarrassed."

"Easy for you to say," Obi-Wan grumbled. "I bet your master never had to put you to bed."

"You'd lose that bet, Padawan." Qui-Gon helped himself to a muffin and raised an eyebrow at his apprentice's surprised expression. "What? I thought that my old master had regaled you with every embarrassing moment from my own apprenticeship."

"But - you're so big! And Master Yoda's so - um - "

"Surely, Padawan, you don't think that size matters, do you?" Qui-Gon allowed a corner of his mouth to quirk upward. "Not after all of Master Yoda's lectures on the subject."

Obi-Wan tried to picture Master Yoda floating Qui-Gon's sleeping form through the elderly master's suite, and then tried to picture anyone tucking his master into bed. He shook his head, unable to visualize either, and heard his master laugh.

"Never mind, Obi-Wan. I know how hard it is to visualize impossible things before breakfast." Qui-Gon took a sip of his tea. "So, have you figured out a solution to your problem?"

Obi-Wan's grin faded. "Yes, Master," he said with a sigh. "I'm just not sure that it'll do any good." And with that cryptic comment, he went off to class.

 


 

For the next several days, everything seemed to be back to normal. Obi-Wan had tried once more to talk Garen out of his plan and, when he failed, had crossed his fingers and hoped for the best. The week ended satisfactorily as Obi-Wan turned in his assignment and, true to his word, Qui-Gon lifted his grounding. And best of all, he had finally regained his pre-illness fighting form. The resounding "Well done, Padawan!" from his master had been like music to his ears.

On his first day of freedom, he and his friends asked for permission to go to the fair at the park. He and Sedik had exchanged smiling glances as they arrived, remembering the day two years before when they had come here along with two former friends of Sedik's. They had been foolish enough to engage in a practice match and had been caught by both of their masters. Obi-Wan flushed as he remembered that it had also been the first time that his master had spanked him for his misbehavior - although it had certainly not been the last. This day, however, was one of pure fun, and all five padawans indulged themselves in treats and games just like much younger initiates. And they returned to the Temple well before curfew, although so dirty and sticky that their masters had immediately dragged them off to their rooms for thorough scrubbings. Even so, it was the most fun that Obi-Wan had had in months.

It wasn't until the middle of the week that his whole world crashed in flames.

 


 

Obi-Wan had finished his last class for the day and was gathering his padds when Garen entered the classroom, slamming the door behind him.

"Gar! I was wondering where you were when I didn't see you in class today. Want to head over for lunch - " His voice trailed off as he took in the fact that his friend was trembling all over. "Are you sick, Garen? Do you need me to call your master or take you to the Healers?"

"Yeah, I'm sick," Garen snapped. "Sick of you."

Obi-Wan's eyes widened at the harsh tone in his friend's voice, and then sudden realization came to him. "Force, they found out about the essay, didn't they?"

Garen gave a short bark of bitter laughter. "Found out? Oh, yes, they found out. Thanks to you."

"To me?" Obi-Wan blinked at the accusation. "But I didn't tell anyone. I didn't even tell my master about it!"

"Well, someone did! Master Gibbons not only knew that I had copied the essay, but he also knew that it was Sedik's."

"He must have remembered it after all - I told you that it was a bad idea to copy it word for word!"

"Well, you were right. As usual. I hope you're happy." Garen said bitterly, turning to go.

"Garen - wait! What happened? Are you - are you in serious trouble?"

"Yes," Garen said flatly, his back still to Obi-Wan. "He brought me up before the Council. I'm on probation. My master and I are being sent to Hoth, to help establish a settlement there. If I'm a good boy, they'll review my case in six months and decide whether I can come back here or whether I'm to be dismissed from the order."

"Six months!" Obi-Wan echoed, shivering at the idea of being stuck for that length of time on that frozen planet. "That's awful! But we'll all write you, keep you up on the latest news."

"Don't." Garen turned back to him, and the ice in his eyes froze Obi-Wan's heart. "Don't write me. I'd just as soon never hear from you again."

Stunned, Obi-Wan watched his friend - his former friend - walk out of the room.

He sat down at one of the desks, and it was a long time before his legs would stop shaking long enough to let him stand. Then, still feeling dazed, he headed towards the dining hall to see if see if his other friends had heard the bad news.

Bant and Reeft were sitting at a table by themselves and Obi-Wan carried his tray over to join them. As he approached the table, he could see that both of them had already heard. Bant was silently picking at her food, her large eyes glistening with tears, and Reeft was staring at his untouched plate. Obi-Wan had never seen a time with Reeft hadn't been able to eat, but then again, he and Garen had been best friends since they were small, practically inseparable. Obi-Wan saw that his eyes were red and swollen from crying.

"Hi," he said quietly. "I guess you heard."

Bant looked up at him and her eyes brimmed over with tears. "Oh, Obi-Wan! How could you do that? He was your friend."

Stunned at this sorrowful accusation, he looked over at Reeft but the other boy was ignoring him. His breath caught in his throat and his shaking hands wouldn't hold the tray any longer. Dropping the tray, he turned and ran back to his room, barely making it into the bathroom before everything he had eaten that day came back up.

 


 

He didn't know how much later it was when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder, but he knew it wasn't his master. He flinched at the touch and tried to pull away but the person wouldn't release him; instead he tilted Obi-Wan's head up to run a cool washcloth over his face. Sedik's eyes looked down at him, cool and gray as ice, and Obi-Wan felt his stomach roll again.

"Easy, Obi-Wan," Sedik murmured. "It'll be all right."

"I didn't do it," Obi-Wan said hoarsely. "I didn't tell on Garen."

Sedik's eyes softened slightly. "I know." He helped Obi-Wan to his feet and propped him up at the sink. "Wash your face and brush your teeth while I make a pot of tea."

Obi-Wan nodded, cleaning himself up with hands that still shook slightly. Catching the odor from his tunic, he grimaced and striped it off, changed into a clean one, then went into the main room.

When Obi-Wan came into the common room, he found Sedik sitting at the table sipping on a cup of tea and looking around him with an oddly wistful look on his face. He poured Obi-Wan a cup as the younger boy slid into a seat.

"I've been called in front of the Council," he said quietly.

Obi-Wan's teacup clattered on the table as he nearly dropped it. "Why?"

"They want to know how my essay from two years ago turned up with Garen's name on it this year. I'm going to tell them the truth of course - that I have no idea how that happened. Do you, Obi-Wan?"

Obi-Wan nodded, looking down into his cup. "It was with the other padds you loaned to me, and Garen found it while we were studying. I didn't realize it was missing until the next day and, when I talked to Garen, he admitted that he had taken it. I tried to talk some sense into him, but he was desperate to pass that class. He thought - he didn't think anyone would notice."

"If he had checked, he would have known that Master Gibbons often has me come into his class to talk about Plonett's Directives after mid-terms - it's a favorite study of mine. I've recited from my essay so many times, he probably knows it by heart."

"I tried to talk him out of it, really I did!"

"Why didn't you come talk to me, Obi-Wan?" Sedik asked, a note of despair in his voice. "I can understand if you felt you couldn't talk to Garen's master or to Master Gibbons, but if you had told me about this, I might have been able to do something. Talk to Garen, maybe."

Obi-Wan swallowed hard. "I never thought of that," he said in a small voice.

Sedik closed his eyes and shook his head, a slightly crooked smile on his face. "Ah, Obi-Wan! So smart and yet - " He drew a deep breath and opened his eyes. "The other day, I said that I had never gotten into so much trouble before I met you. I was joking, but - but my master is not."

Obi-Wan's eyes flew to Sedik's face, startled. "What?"

"Master Irina has forbidden me to have anything more to do with you, outside of public Jedi functions, like class or competitions," Sedik said quietly, his eyes on the table. "She gave me this time to come here and tell you personally, to say goodbye."

"Goodbye?" A wave of searing anguish swept over Obi-Wan and he blinked back sudden tears. "But - but I don't understand!"

Sedik sighed. "Neither do I, but I have to obey my master." He glanced over at the clock and stood up. "I have to go now. The Council - "

Obi-Wan nodded, his throat too choked for words, and stood up to walk the older boy to the door. At the doorway, Sedik muttered, "The hell with it," and turned, hugging Obi-Wan tightly. "I'll miss you, my friend," he said in a voice rough with tears.

Obi-Wan clung to him, tears running down his own cheeks. "I can't - you're the only friend I have left! I can't let you go!"

"You have to," Sedik said gruffly. "We don't have any choice in this matter." He pulled away slightly, taking Obi-Wan's face between his hands. "It won't be forever, Obi-Wan. We'll find a way to get past this, I promise."

Obi-Wan couldn't speak but he nodded even though he didn't really believe it. Sedik palmed the door open and stepped out in the hallway, nearly running into Qui-Gon as the master came racing down the corridor at Force-enhanced speed. Qui-Gon stopped, staring in surprise at first Sedik's drawn face and Obi-Wan's tear-stained one.

"Take care of him, Master Jinn," Sedik said softly. "He's had a really rough day."

Qui-Gon nodded. He had felt the burst of anguish from his padawan while sitting in the dining hall and had headed for his suite as fast as he could. Now, seeing both of the boys so distraught, he still had no idea what was wrong but whatever it was, it obviously wasn't good.

He guided his padawan into their rooms and, for the second time in a week, found himself cradling Obi-Wan on his lap. Only this time, the padawan was openly sobbing, and Qui-Gon was at a loss to know what to do. When asked what was wrong, Obi-Wan had wailed, "Everything!" and had cried harder.

Finally, after a prolonged period of soothing, he managed to reduce Obi-Wan's tears diminished to faint hiccups, and he tried to determine the problem again. "What has happened, Padawan? Did you and Sedik have an argument? Is he the friend you were worried about last week?"

Obi-Wan shook his head and drew a deep breath. "It's a long story, Master."

"Then I suggest you go wash your face while I clean up here, then we may sit comfortably and talk."

Obi-Wan nodded and slid off his master's lap, heading towards the bathroom. He paused in the doorway and looked back at Qui-Gon shyly. "Thank you, Master."

"You're welcome, Padawan. I hope that you know that you can always come to me when you have any problems, no matter how bad things seem."

Obi-Wan nodded again, then disappeared into the bathroom. Qui-Gon dumped out the cold pot of tea sitting on the table and washed the cups. A signal from the communit interrupted him and he was a little surprised to see Mace on the other end. He had rather hoped it was Sedik, wanting to make-up whatever was wrong between him and Obi-Wan. He noticed that the other master was looking more solemn than usual.

"Mace. You look a little stiff - did my apprentice starch your clothes again?"

Mace sighed. "I'm afraid it's more complicated than that. You and your padawan are required to appear before the Council in an hour."

Qui-Gon frowned. "What is this about, Mace? First I find Obi-Wan in tears, and now you're being all mysterious. Is Obi-Wan in trouble?"

"I doubt it, but we need to ask him some questions regarding an Code of Ethics violation."

Qui-Gon frowned. "Does this have anything to do with Padawan Sedik?"

Mace hesitated. "Perhaps you had better discuss this with your apprentice."

"Master?"

Qui-Gon turned his head to see Obi-Wan standing in the doorway, eyes wide as he saw Master Mace on the view screen. "Thank you, Mace. We'll be there in an hour." He turned off the screen and turned toward Obi-Wan. "Padawan? Can you tell me why the Council wants to see us in an hour?"

Obi-Wan sighed and sat down on the couch, drawing his knees up against his chest and wrapping his arms around them. "Master, do you remember last week when I was looking for a missing datapad of Sedik's?" Qui-Gon nodded. "It was his essay on Plonett's Directives, the one that we had been assigned for a mid-term essay. Garen found it while we were studying that night. And he took it." He buried his face against his knees. "If I hadn't had it – if Garen had never seen it – everything would be all right."

"Why did Garen want Sedik's essay?" Obi-Wan muttered something. "Padawan, I cannot hear you when you are talking to your knees."

Obi-Wan lifted his face. "He copied the essay and turned it in as his own."

Qui-Gon frowned. This was a breach of ethics, something taken very seriously by the Jedi as their reputation as being fair and honest was what made them highly valued for negotiations. "Why would he do such a thing?"

"He was afraid that he would fail the class. If he did, he'd have to stay here at the Temple to retake the class while his master went on a mission, and they've never been separated."

"I see." Qui-Gon studied his padawan's downcast face. "This is the problem you were talking about last week. What decision did you make at that time?"

"A bad one," Obi-Wan said lowly, not looking over at his master. "I tried talking to Garen again but when he refused to listen, I – I kept silent and hoped that he wouldn't get caught."

"But of course he was."

Obi-Wan nodded, still not looking at Qui-Gon. "And Garen thinks that I turned him into Master Gibbons. He – he said that he never wants to speak to me again. And Bant and Reeft both think that I did, too. So I might as well have done it since I'm being blamed. Only – only I didn't even though I knew that I should have." In a small voice he asked, "Are you very disappointed in me, Master?"

"Oh Padawan." Qui-Gon moved to sit next to Obi-Wan on the couch, gathering the boy in his arms. "No, I am not disappointed. It was a difficult decision, and in a situation in which there was no obvious right answer."

"You would have told Garen's master, though, wouldn't you?" Obi-Wan asked with a sigh.

"Probably – but that is from my perspective and years of experience and not yours, Padawan. I can sympathize with the fact that you didn't want to get your friend into trouble."

"He got into trouble anyway," Obi-Wan said softly. "He's on probation and has been sent to Hoth for six months. If I had told his master before Garen turned in the essay, he would have just had his master's punishment. I – I deserve to be punished for my misdeed."

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "Not a misdeed, Padawan, merely a mistake." Qui-Gon smiled and ruffled his apprentice's hair. "We all make mistakes, Obi-Wan. It is how we learn from them that matters most."

Obi-Wan was torn by both relief that he was not to be punished and the deep conviction that he deserved it. "Do you think that the Council will see it that way?"

"I expect so. Despite appearances to the contrary, they were all young at one time and made mistakes."

"Even Master Yoda?"

Qui-Gon smiled. "Even Master Yoda. But don't tell him that I said that."

Obi-Wan grinned. "Your secret's safe with me, Master." Then his grin slowly faded as he recalled the last time he had said that.

Qui-Gon noticed the change in his apprentice's mood, the return to his earlier unhappiness. "What is it, Padawan?"

"It's about Sedik."

"I saw that you were both upset. Did you have an argument? Was he angry about the padd?"

"No, he was actually pretty understanding, although he said that he wished I had told him, that he would have talked to Garen about it. It's – " He paused, swallowing hard so that he wouldn't burst into tears like a baby again. "Master Irina thinks that he gets into too much trouble around me. She has forbidden him to have anything to do with me outside of official Jedi functions."

Qui-Gon sat up sharply and frowned. "What? Why would she say that?"

"Because it's true," Obi-Wan said simply. He looked away, biting his lip to keep back the tears.

"Padawan," Qui-Gon said gently, turning his apprentice's face back towards him.

"You know it is, Master! I bet that he never even got into any trouble before he met me!"

"You'd lose that bet, too, Padawan," Qui-Gon said humorously but Obi-Wan didn't smile. "Sedik is a very high-spirited young man, and I'm sure that he got into plenty of trouble before he met you, it's just that Master Irina didn't call him on it. And he is perfectly capable of making his own choices – I don't see you pulling him kicking and screaming into any of your pranks."

Obi-Wan smiled at that, a little wistfully. "He did come up with some pretty good ones." The smile faded again. "Garen hates me, Reeft won't talk to me, Bant cries every time she looks at me, and now Sedik – " His voice broke.

Qui-Gon hugged him. "It'll be all right, Padawan," he said, privately resolving to talk to Master Irina. "We're going on a mission in two days. Give them all a chance to calm down, and I'm sure that you'll find that they're still your friends."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said, but the doubtful tone in his voice told Qui-Gon that he wasn't holding out any hopes.

"In the meantime, the Council is expecting us and we shouldn't keep them waiting."

 


 

 

Obi-Wan returned from the meeting with the Council in a foul mood.

In all fairness, that wasn't the Council's fault. They had been extremely understanding, only wanting to verify that Garen had taken the padd of his own will, that he hadn't been coerced into it by anyone, and that Sedik had been unaware of the situation – all things that Obi-Wan readily confirmed. They had listened with grave attention when he admitted his own misdeeds – leaving the padd where Garen would be tempted to take it and his failure to inform any of the masters, even his own, of the situation. He had expected – no, he had wanted – to receive some sort of reprimand but, although the Council members agreed that he had been misguided, they also agreed that it had not been through willfulness but rather his concern for his friend and year-mate.

After they were dismissed, Qui-Gon sent Obi-Wan back to their rooms while he sought out Master Irina. And so it was that the guilt-ridden padawan arrived back in their suite alone. Stymied in his need to be punished, he stomped into the common room, stripping off his cloak and throwing it in a heap on the floor. He stomped into his room, leaving the cloak in the common room, and sat down to pull off his boots. With a growl of frustrated anger, he picked up the first boot and threw it against the wall, hard. The sound of it smacking against the wall and the smudge it left behind was somehow satisfying, and he picked up the other one. Deciding that the door would make an even louder sound, he hurled it with all his strength at the closed door, completely forgetting about the door sensors – and that he had forgotten to lock the door closed.

To his horror, he saw the door swoosh open and the boot go sailing through the air into the common room. A loud crash and the tinkle of broken glass told him that this landing had been disastrous. With dread, he went to the doorway and looked into the common room.

The boot lay squarely on a shelf of the shelving unit where they stored shared books as well as various items that Qui-Gon had acquired or had received as gifts over the years. Obi-Wan's heart nearly stopped as he saw that the boot now lay amidst a pile of lavender glass, the shattered remnants of a crystalline sculpture of Force-sensitive glass that his first padawan had crafted for Qui-Gon upon her elevation to the knighthood. He closed his eyes and wished that he could crawl into a hole and die.

 


 

"Hello, Qui-Gon. I can guess what you're here about." Master Irina stood in the open door to her suite and gestured for the older master to come in. "Sedik is in class, so we can talk privately. He's already very upset about this matter, and I don't want to exacerbate the situation. Would you care for some tea?"

"Thank you, no. I don't want to leave Obi-Wan alone for long – he's in a bit of a fragile state at the moment."

"Which I have contributed to by forbidding Sedik to play with him, no doubt," Irina said, never one to beat around the bush.

"I would not deny that it contributed." Qui-Gon drew in a deep breath. "I don't know if you are aware of the full situation, but Obi-Wan's other friends are under the impression that he told Master Gibbons that Padawan Garen had cheated and, consequently, aren't speaking to him. Now that Sedik's been forbidden to see him, Obi-Wan has been left without any of his peers for support. And you know that within a day the story will be all over the Temple and, without anyone on Obi-Wan's side, he'll be absolutely isolated."

"He seems to have you firmly on his side."

"I'm his master, not one of his peers."

Irina sighed. "Look, Qui-Gon, I'm just as upset about this as you are. As often as Obi-Wan is in and out of this place, I've felt like I had a second padawan. He's a dear boy, but you can't deny that trouble follows him everywhere he goes."

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "Would it help to know that I've felt the same way about Padawan Sedik on occasion?"

Irina looked indignant, opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it again and shook her head. "He is a handful." She looked at Qui-Gon sternly. "However, I get the feeling that you are inclined to laugh at their pranks. Your own pranks were practically legendary when I was a padawan."

Qui-Gon shrugged. "As long as they aren't dangerous or harmful to others, I'm inclined to be lenient. After all, they're just boys, barely more than children. Sometimes, seeing how often they handle dangerous situations and risk death, we forget that."

Irina nodded slowly. "Very well. I cannot promise anything, but I will think over the situation again and meditate on it."

"That is all that I can reasonably ask," Qui-Gon said. Bidding her good-bye, he headed towards his own rooms.

 


 

The late afternoon sun was shining through the windows in the common room when Qui-Gon entered. He found his apprentice sitting cross-legged on the meditation mat and was immediately aware that his padawan was upset about something. He sighed and removed his cloak, carefully hanging it up while noticing that Obi-Wan's own cloak was wrapped around the boy still. An unusual sight on the bookshelf caught his attention and he paused, frowning at the sight of a familiar boot sitting in the middle of the shelf. He looked back at Obi-Wan and saw the boy swallow hard. This was the source of the distress them.

Picking up the boot, he said, "Padawan, I hardly think that your boot makes an appropriate decoration for our living area."

Obi-Wan drew a deep breath. "Master, I believe that we need to have a long talk." He pushed back the cloak around his shoulders, revealing the fragmented bits of the sculpture laid out carefully on the mat in front of him.

Qui-Gon felt a momentary shock, a surge of anger and loss, and then drew in a deep breath. Carefully releasing his anger to the Force, he knelt down on the mat across from Obi-Wan.

"Padawan, would you care to tell me how this came to be broken?"

Obi-Wan nodded, his cheeks flushing but his voice steady. "I was angry. Instead of meditating on the cause of my anger and releasing it to the Force, I threw my boot against the wall in my bedroom. It felt so good that I flung the other at the doorway. Only - only the door opened and the boot landed on the shelf." He swallowed again. "I - I am sorry, Master. I know how much you treasure this, that it holds special memories of Knight Sella for you."

Qui-Gon reached out a finger to touch the shattered sculpture. "Yes, it does, but it is a thing, an object. Even without it, the memories will remain. However, you know that it has not been completely destroyed." He closed his eyes, picturing the sculpture as it had been, and deftly manipulated the Force-sensitive glass back into its original shape. A slight increase in the temperature along the sheered joints, and it was almost seamlessly repaired.

Opening his eyes, he looked at the sculpture critically and nodded to himself. "That will do." He looked at his padawan and said, "You could have done that, Obi-Wan, and I would have never known."

"I would have known," Obi-Wan said quietly, his finger gently tracing down a nearly invisible seam. "Every time I looked at this, I would have known what I had done. How I had made it less than perfect."

"Hardly perfect," Qui-Gon said, and gestured to the sculpture. "Do you see that broken corner there? Sella did that herself on the night she gave it to me. She had had one too many celebration cups and dropped it - I nearly didn't catch it. And the crack that runs down the side there? Xanatos - doing practice katas in the common room." He smiled a little wryly. "You have merely added to the tradition of damage by my padawans - in your own spectacular fashion."

A laugh escaped from Obi-Wan before he could clasp his hands over his mouth, mortified that he could find humor in this situation. No doubt, as his master had once dryly commented, he would make some appalling jest even at the moment of death. Which might not be too far off.

"I am far more concerned about the emotions behind this destruction, Padawan," Qui-Gon said, his voice grave now. "I have spoken to you before of the dangers of letting your anger get the best of you."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said, bowing his head repentantly. "I thought that I had it under control."

"And yet something triggered it today. What was it, Padawan?"

Obi-Wan sighed. "I don't exactly know, Master. It's just been such a horrible day, with one thing after another, and then when the Council didn't say anything, it was just too much - "

"One moment, Padawan. The Council had plenty to say - I have never known a time when they didn't - but perhaps they didn't say what you wanted to hear. So what is it that you wanted the Council to say?"

Obi-Wan lifted his head slightly, still not meeting his master's eyes. "They didn't blame me for any of it, Master, and they should have."

"Is it that they didn't blame you - or that they didn't punish you?" Obi-Wan bowed his head lower and Qui-Gon could see the flush on his cheeks. "I know that you blame yourself for this, Padawan. I expect that you wanted some form of punishment to relieve your guilt."

"I deserved to be punished," Obi-Wan whispered, but Qui-Gon shook his head.

"That is not your decision to make, Padawan. I am the one to determine when you should be punished and what form that punishment will take. I will say this for the last time, Padawan: we each make our own mistakes, and you must allow Padawan Garen to take responsibility for his own errors and to grow from them, as I allow you to do. I will not punish you for that matter."

Obi-Wan didn't know whether to be relieved or unhappy about that, but relief seemed to be winning the internal argument. For the first time all day, he felt a sense of peace and acceptance descend on him.

"Which, of course, makes my decision about what to do about this situation more difficult," Qui-Gon said, gesturing towards the sculpture. "We have spoken on many occasion about your need to control that temper instead of letting it control you. I believe that tomorrow spent working in the gardens while you contemplate the nature of anger and its uses for good or ill will do you some good."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said resignedly.

"Very well." Qui-Gon stood up and carefully restored the sculpture to its original place on the shelves, then turned a dining chair around and sat down in it. "Let's finish up here and then I want you to take a short nap before dinner."

"M-Master?" Obi-Wan was startled. "I thought you said you weren't going to punish me."

"For the incidents involving Padawan Garen, no. However, you are well aware of my feelings regarding this one area that you have a problem controlling. We have had more than one conversation on this matter, and my response to this will be the same as it has been in the past." He patted his leg. "You know what to do, Padawan."

Obi-Wan sighed and stood up, moving slowly to stand beside his master. Slowly, he loosened his pants and pushed them down to his knees, then settled in place over his master's lap. He flushed with embarrassment as he felt his master push his pants completely off his legs and then flip up his tunic to expose his bare bottom for punishment. He squirmed a little as Qui-Gon settled him more firmly across his lap and then winced as a swat reminded him to stay still. Knowing that any attempt to put his hands back would earn him additional punishment, he wrapped his arms around his master's leg and waited tensely for Qui-Gon to begin.

"All right, Padawan, what is this punishment for?"

"For failing to control my temper - again. For allowing that temper to control my actions instead of using my head." He winced as another swat landed on his exposed backside, followed by several more as Qui-Gon efficiently covered his backside with swift, sure strokes.

"And why is this such an important lesson for you to learn, Padawan?"

"Because - because giving into anger is - is taking a step - towards the Dark Side," Obi-Wan said between gasps for breath.

"I will not lose you to the Dark, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, his voice stern and yet Obi-Wan could sense the deep affection that lay behind that determination. "And if I have to turn you over my knee every day until your knighting to prevent that, then I will." He intensified the swats, going over the pink skin again until it was bright red.

"Not - necessary - Master." Obi-Wan was sobbing openly now. "Promise - never - again."

"Much as I would like that, Padawan, I expect that we will have much more work to do in this area." He finished up the spanking and rubbed his hand soothingly over the sobbing boy's back. "All done, Padawan."

Obi-Wan pushed himself up, turning to sit in Qui-Gon's lap instead, and flung his arms around his master's neck, burying his face in Qui-Gon's shoulder as he sobbed out his remorse and regret. Qui-Gon rubbed his back soothingly, murmuring reassurances of his caring, of his faith in Obi-Wan's ability to master his inner demon, until Obi-Wan's sobs settled into hiccups.

Obi-Wan dragged his sleeve over his wet face. "C-corner time, M-master?"

Qui-Gon shook his head and gently pushed Obi-Wan off his lap. Leading the way into the boy's room, he gestured toward the bed. "Bed, Padawan. I want you to get a couple hours sleep before dinner - I have plans for afterwards and you will want to be well rested."

Obi-Wan stretched out on the bed, face down, already feeling drowsy. "Plans, Master?" he murmured sleepily. "Will I like them?"

"I hope so, Padawan." He picked up the boot lying beside the wall where Obi-Wan had thrown it. "Oh, and Padawan?"

"Mmm?"

"Next time, use a more orthodox method of putting your boots away."

Obi-Wan snickered slightly at that and drifted into sleep.


 

Obi-Wan tried to study his Sabacc cards and determine his next move - not easy because his body was more interested in what was going on in the room around him. Across the table, Qui-Gon sat looking as impassive as ever, which didn't help in the least because his master would look that way whether he had a winning or losing hand. However, as the small stack of chips in front of Obi-Wan indicated, luck was running his way tonight.

Wondering again what had possessed his master to drag him out of their suite and down to the common area, he decided on his discards and nodded slightly to his master. It could have been worse - his master could have decided that they needed to spend the evening in the library, and at least the chairs here were well cushioned.

Qui-Gon considered his options for a moment, then called and laid out his cards. Obi-Wan grinned and laid down his own.

"Got you, Master," he said triumphantly and Qui-Gon laughed, shaking his head.

"You are getting too good at this, Obi-Wan. I shall rely on you to support your master in his old age with your Sabacc skills."

"Then you had better have an alternate means of support, Master," Obi-Wan said dryly. Qui-Gon chuckled and shuffled the deck, setting it up for another round. "And just why did we come here, Master? Everyone is staring at me - they must have heard what happened by now."

"Exactly, Padawan," Qui-Gon said. "You can't hide in our rooms forever, and even though we are going off-planet in two days, you'll have to face them all some day. Best to do it now, before the rumors have a chance to get any wilder. Besides, I had a request to bring you here."

"A request - " His bewilderment changed to stunned surprise as Sedik stopped beside the table.

"Good evening, Master Jinn, Padawan Kenobi," Sedik said politely. "Is there room for another player at the table?"

Qui-Gon stood up. "You may take my place, Padawan Sedik. Obi-Wan has already fleeced me thoroughly, and I believe I need liquid refreshment to revive my crushed ego. And you had better watch yourself – Obi-Wan is on a winning streak."

Sedik chuckled at that. "Thank you, Master Jinn. I'll be careful." He sat down across from the still-stunned younger padawan and grinned. "Who deals - you or me?"

Obi-Wan tried to speak but his throat didn't seem to be working. He cleared it and tried again. "You - I thought Master Irina forbid you - "

Sedik grinned at Obi-Wan. "Between us, your master and I made her change her mind. She says that at least she knows what I'm up to, in a general sort of way, when I'm with you. And that she's gotten accustomed to my being grounded at least one week out of every month, that she wouldn't know what to do if I wasn't under foot."

Obi-Wan laughed, feeling better than he had in days. A slight clearing of a throat next to them made him look up again, and he nearly fell out of his chair.

"Hi, Obi," Bant said softly. "Do you have room for one more?" Numbly, Obi-Wan nodded and Bant settled in the chair to his right, while Reeft sat in the one to his left.

"You going to finish that, Obi-Wan?" Reeft asked, gesturing hopefully towards the plate of snacks that Qui-Gon had procured earlier.

Obi-Wan grinned and pushed the plate towards Reeft. "Help yourself."

"Are you guys going to eat and talk, or are you going to play?" Sedik demanded with a laugh.

"Play," Obi-Wan said decisively, picking up the dealer's paddle. "And you guys had better watch out - I'm feeling really lucky tonight."

 

Across the room, Qui-Gon watched the scene with satisfaction and smiled at Master Irina as she joined him him. "I see you changed your mind."

She shrugged. "What can I say? I've gotten accustomed to Obi-Wan being around. Besides which, Sedik was determined to see your padawan no matter what I said. I decide that my arm and patience would give out long before he did."

Qui-Gon chuckled at that. "You are a wise woman, Irina."

"Just a practical one, Qui-Gon."


 

Obi-Wan entered the common room of their suite, humming a little tune that seemed to have stuck in his head. After playing Sabacc for an hour, they had abandoned the game room for Bant's where they had devoured more snacks while the Calamarian girl played her latest tri-vid for them. It had been almost like the old days, Garen's absence being the only shadow on their fun. Best of all, before he had left, Bant had hugged him and quietly asked him to forgive her for doubting him, which he had readily done. Sedik walked him home and they had made plans for a last sparring match before Obi-Wan went off-planet.

Obi-Wan hung up his cloak, noticing that his master's was there as well, and walked into the common room to turn off the light that Qui-Gon had left on for him. He paused by the bookcase for a moment, studying the sculpture. Funny that he had never noticed its little imperfections before, and how they really didn't detract from the whole. In fact, Obi-Wan thought that they gave it a little character, raised it from being merely pretty and decorative to being something meaningful. He traced a gentle finger down the slight seam formed when Qui-Gon had melded it together, what he thought of as his contribution to the piece. Then, with a contented smile, he turned out the lights and went to bed.

 

The End