Opening oneself to the Force puts one slightly beyond the reach of surprise, per se, Obi-Wan thought. None the less, when he opened his eyes after he had been one with the Force in death, he was perhaps a bit bemused. It felt a bit like coming out of any other deep meditation, although perhaps a bit more so.
He felt very centered in the Force, and mostly unshockable. Which was a good thing, given his current circumstances.
He didn’t recall meditating particularly deeply when stuck between laser gates on the way to the Royal Palace of Naboo, trying to catch up with Qui-Gon. Then again, he wouldn’t recall that, would he? Because here he was, opening his eyes and seeing his long dead master and their long-dead foe waiting to replay the fight of so long ago as if it were happening here and now for the first time.
All of it tinted, once more, by the rosy glow of the laser gates. He also hadn’t remembered that particular aspect of these traumatic events. And it certainly felt very real, with details he would never have remembered.
So had his whole life and death from this point on all been a vision?
Taking Anakin as a padawan, celebrating his knighthood, and then watching his fall into darkness.
Taking Luke as a student, celebrating his defeat of Darth Vader, and then watching his descent into despair at his own student’s betrayal.
Watching his own poor name’s sake fail to notice the power he had in the light and seek in the darkness what could never be there.
It didn’t feel like a vision. It felt like a life long lived and a death long… experienced, as it were. And knowledge hard gained that neither the dark nor the light could truly be killed, and the further separated they were, the worse they each were.
And here he was again, an observer as the pendulum of Light and Dark and the Skywalker family fate began to swing once more:
A Jedi would be killed.
A Sith would be mutilated.
The Jedi order would be decimated.
The Sith’s Empire would be destroyed.
And whole worlds would die in the escalations.
What exactly had happened to him and with him, he would deal with later, as time allowed. For now, he would deal with what was in front of him. Be here now.
And what was happening now had to stop.
He was tired of it. Not tired in the way he had once been, had been for so many years during the wars and during his long exile. No, he was tried of it as a young father might be tired of a disobedient but beloved child. He had been one with the Force and knew more than many about the powers of both the dark and light sides. A martial victory could place one or the other in power for a time, but such power to either side would only make the Balance more difficult to achieve.
It was not the kind of situation that was solved by killing anyone. In fact, most situations were not best solved by killing someone. Given how many situations he’d tried to solve by killing someone, he must have been particularly dense not to have realized this sooner than he had. Whether time travel or particularly intense vision, apparently the Force itself had thought Obi-Wan so dense that it took extreme measures to teach him that lesson.
It had worked though. He had a lifetime of killing and he was done with it.
He hung his light saber on his belt, put his hands on his hips, and waited for the laser gates to cycle off once more.
He breathed strong and deep as he waited. Thus, when the gates cycled off, he was ready. He didn’t bother running. Instead, he bellowed down the hallway, “MAUL! ATTEND ME!”
Both Maul and Qui-Gon jerked around at that. Their faces alone were enough to make Obi-Wan smile with some amusement.
But while Qui-Gon was shocked into a moment’s inaction, Maul was caught and summoned.
Old Ben Kenobi had spent decades in hiding, which had largely consisted of using the force to tell people they were not seeing what they saw. Maul had spent the years of his apprenticeship learning blind obedience to a master.
It was not surprising that he obeyed. But it was still amusing to see the odd dance that had Maul run down the hallway towards Obi-Wan, even as Qui-Gon tried to fight him.
Maul had made it back to where Obi-Wan was still standing in the middle of the ludicrous hallway of laser gates, while Qui-Gon was still several sections away. And both Qui-Gon and Maul looked like they weren’t at all sure what to think about this turn of events.
Qui-Gon at least seemed to know he wanted to get back to where Obi-Wan and Maul were. Maul, didn’t seem sure what to do about being trapped with Obi-Wan, who still looked like a young knight, rather than the elder master who’s voice had summoned him. Maul fiddled with his sabre staff but didn’t turn it on again. It would be cramped quarters for any kind of fight, anyway.
Obi-Wan took advantage of the uncertainty to start the conversation.
“I had a vision just now. You kill Qui-Gon, I kill you, and Darth Sidious aka Palpatine takes my padawan, who I inherit from Qui-Gon, to replace you.”
Maul shook his head, as if to clear confusion, and Obi-Wan wondered what the Force felt like around him right now. “You know…?”
“Who your master is? Oh yes.”
“And you’re going to try to kill me now, so I can’t kill your partner?” Maul was clearly attempting to be mocking. Even more clearly, he still wasn’t at all sure who or what he was dealing with, when it came to Obi-Wan.
“No, I thought I might just change things and take you as my padawan. My partner will keep his new padawan, and I’ll take you instead.”
“That will not happen!” Maul seemed almost relieved to be back on some sort of script.
Obi-Wan looked at him with open curiosity. “Why not?”
“Because…,” Maul trailed off. Loyalty wasn’t exactly a Sith trait. Desire for power was, and a live Jedi padawan to whatever Obi-Wan felt like right now was much more powerful than a dead Sith apprentice. Tradition certainly precluded anything like Obi-Wan’s offer from being made or accepted, but Obi-Wan had given up on tradition decades back, or quite recently and in the blink of an eye, depending on one’s perspective, he supposed.
Maul still didn’t turn on his sabre staff.
Obi-Wan kept the grin mostly internal.
Let Qui-Gon train Anakin. Obi-Wan was going to assure that the light and dark sides of the Force never pulled the universe apart between them. He wasn’t quite sure what had happened to him or why, but here and now, he would follow the leadings of the Force. And teach his new padawan to do the same.
Chapter 2: The Jedi Council
The Force is with Mace Windu
Mace Windu thought being a member of the Jedi Council was pretty close to the worst of all possible fates and the current situation was not changing that impression.
The Jedi Order as a whole addressed a wide variety of problems across the known (and a portion of the unknown) galaxy. Easy problems were given to padawans, to give them experience. More difficult problems were given to Knights or Masters of the Jedi Order. For the long term success of both Order and Republic, it was just as important for the members of the Jedi Order to get the experience as it was for the problems to get solved.
The only problems that went to the Council members were the ones that no single Jedi Master could solve on their own. Thus, the only problems that went to the Councilors were the most hideously complex, subtle, and difficult, ie, the most frustrating ones that no one knew what to do with.
And frankly, there weren’t all that many of those.
So the life of a Jedi Council member was long stretches of stultifying boredom alternating with periods, both short and long, of really irritating uncertainty and interminable committee meetings.
As always, when such a problem arose, Mace wasn’t sure whether to be pleased that at least he had something to actually focus on, or annoyed at the mess that was presented.
Somehow their current problem was still a purely bureaucratic one despite the presence of a very real Sith apprentice.
Darth Maul aka Padawan Maul bared his teeth at Mace and Mace wanted to just bury his face in his hands and pretend that none of this was happening. Instead he raised an eyebrow and stared down the young Sith apprentice. Maul finally flinched and stepped a bit closer to Obi-Wan, seeking protection in his Master's shadow as padawans tended to do when confronted with unhappy Council Members.
And it was clear that Obi-Wan offered protection and provided it
Qui-Gon Jinn at least looked as unnerved as any of them at the current situation. Possibly even more unnerved, since in addition to everything else, he also found himself in the unusual position of not being the most irritating trouble-maker standing before the council at the moment.
Young Anakin watched Obi-Wan with blatant hero worship in his eyes. “Padme said it took real power to turn an enemy into an ally.”
“So, Padawan Kenobi, you claim to be a Jedi Master now?”
Obi-Wan smiled gently and spread his arms slightly, presenting himself to the council. “What does the Force tell you I am?”
Most members of the Jedi Council spent their time at council in a half-meditative state so that they could properly feel the will of the force even as they listened to reports and read bureaucratic nonsense.
Thus it was that the Force made it really obvious that there were currently two Jedi Masters and their two padawans standing in front of them even though, to outside eyes, it looked a lot like one Jedi Master (in desperate need of official censure), one Jedi knight (with the same need), one Sith apprentice, and one random ex-slave child who'd wandered in.
"I propose that we accept Qui-Gon's choice of Padawan Anakin, allow it official approval and let them be on their way. Anyone want to dispute that?"
And he was not the only one who thought the whole thing irritating and mostly wanted it out of their hair. Let Qui-Gon deal with some kid who was too old to actually train. It would be a nice lesson for him, and wasn't the Council suppose to allow learning missions, in order to improve members’ understanding of the Force?
"Set precedent, such acceptance would." And there was Yoda. As far as Mace could tell, Yoda was always half-meditative and half-crazy-cranky, and he wouldn't let anything pass.
"I believe the word you should use is 'acknowledge', Master Yoda, rather than 'set'." Obi-Wan Kenobi spoke with gentle refinement, that did little to mask the challenge he just made. "Such action would acknowledge a precedent long set that Masters of the Jedi Order follow the will of the Force in their choice of padawans."
"False leadings, some Masters feel. Guard against that, the Council must."
Obi-Wan nodded. "Indeed. The Council must judge the Master's sensitivity to the will of the Force. The Council must judge Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his ability to feel the Force, rather than judge Anakin Skywalker and the reason why the Force has drawn him to learn from a Jedi Master."
And somehow Obi-Wan Kenobi who looked like a young Jedi knight but felt like an experienced Jedi master had won a point against Master Yoda of the Jedi Council because the questioning changed direction.
“A vision, you say you had?”
“That seems the most reasonable assumption.”
“A vision you do not think it was.”
“No, Master Yoda. It did not feel like a vision.”
"Much experience, in this episode, you had?"
"Yes, Master Yoda."
"A padawan, you trained?"
"Yes, Master Yoda."
"A Jedi Master, you were?"
"Yes, Master Yoda."
"A member of the Jedi Council, you were?"
And there was a decided guilty start. "I wouldn't make any claim to that, Master Yoda."
Hah! And that was definitely the equivalent of a Yes. No one wanted to admit to being of a level that would place them on the Jedi Council. That would risk them actually being put on the Jedi Council and no one, barring the most inexperienced padawans, actually wanted a place on the council.
Mace was up and declaring before any of the others had fully thought through the implications of Kenobi’s response.
“I nominate Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as my successor on this Council!”
Unlike most of the other Jedi Councilors who had accepted their fate and now trained for reach (both geographically and chronologically) and sensitivity, Mace still yearned for actual physical missions and continued to train for speed.
(Yoda might be the fastest hopper on the Council, by natural abilities, but he actively trained to slow down for proper contemplation.)
It was the perfect solution: it kept Maul at the temple as a Council padawan, and thus under supervision; it kept Kenobi at the temple as a Council member and thus under supervision himself; and it got Mace off this damned Council and back into the field.
He basked in the glares of the other people in the room. The Force was definitely with him.
Chapter 3: Sheev Palpatine
thanks to my sister for her excellent beta reading services!
Sheev Palpatine should have been at new heights of power since he killed his master Darth Plagueis, but instead he was beginning to think he had a nemesis in one Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Of course, as a well-respected senator, he called Kenobi “friend”, but that just meant nemesis to anyone who knew anything about it. Although Sheev still couldn’t tell if Kenobi knew anything about anything, really.
That Kenobi had survived the siege on Naboo was not particularly surprising, but that he had not only survived the assassin Sheev had sent but then suborned the zabrak to his own side was infuriating! Sith were known for suborning Jedi to the dark, but Sheev couldn’t think of a single other case in which a Jedi had suborned a Sith to the light. It shouldn’t have even occurred to a Jedi to try!
Sheev wasn’t even sure if Kenobi’s thwarting his every attempt to woo the Tattooine boy was even intentional. The Jedi master had simply invited himself along to the first few meetings Sheev had arranged with Anakin and led the conversation so circuitously that Sheev found himself choosing his words carefully to avoid pitfalls, with Anakin most obviously bored.
They drank tea at those meetings. Or at least, tea was served. Both of them made appreciative noises at the tea and picked up and set down the cups frequently.
One of Sheev’s spies had relayed that Anakin had once asked what the point was since both cups were always still full at the end of each meeting. Kenobi had apparently explained that it was a combination of ceremony and a demonstration of just how difficult a skill shifting mass unobtrusively was. With anyone less understanding than Sheev, Kenobi had apparently told Anakin, he’d have to ensure that his teacup was empty by the end of the hour. And then suggested that Anakin work on that skill.
Anakin had decided that he was not interested in extra lessons in Force use for a rarely-useful skill, and that the meetings with the Senator were boring and ceremonies were stupid. So now, rather than trying to subvert a young boy of prophesy to the dark side, Sheev found himself somehow having regular ‘teas’ with Kenobi alone.
Sheev wasn’t even sure if Kenobi considered him a friend or an enemy, but he was certainly keeping him close. Thus, after Sheev had given up entirely on Anakin, Kenobi had invited Sheev to the Jedi temple for a luncheon.
Given that Kenobi had been impeding him in new and unusual ways, it was particularly irritating for the man to also be so gracious and accommodating.
“I know that you have had some care for young Anakin ever since he became friends with Queen Amidala, so I thought you might enjoy seeing his progress,” Kenobi said without even a hint on his face at the sheer hypocrisy of that statement after preventing just such oversight for over a year.
Sheev somehow managed not to grit his teeth, and instead gave a grandfatherly smile. “I do have fond memories of the boy. And some concerns regarding a child, to whom my people owe so much, living in such close quarters with your own padawan’s violent history.”
Kenobi smiled serenely back at him. “They’ve been good for each other. My padawan is a skilled fighter and is becoming a talented teacher of those skills, while Anakin has such ability to keep to the light even in dark circumstances, which he teaches my padawan as well.”
“If such lightness can be taught, then that is skill indeed.” Sheev hoped the implication was clear: he doubted very much in that ability.
“Come, we will watch them train.”
So Sheev found himself standing in one of the desert-terrain training arenas in the Jedi temple, watching his old apprentice train a bright young child who had not a hint of malice in his nature. Clearly there was still plenty of malice in Maul’s own nature since he noticed the observers, grinned meanly at his old master, and then went out of his way to show exactly how much he ignored all of Sheev’s teachings.
Sheev wondered if Maul was showing particular gentleness and kindness in this training just to rub it in Sheev’s face. In this time and place, Sheev could not beat Maul half to death for each kind word or have his flesh stripped from his bones for each gentle correction. Pain and fear and anger were to be taught as well as fighting skills! Not this travesty of skill without hatred.
Sheev turned away from the lesson, refusing to watch it to completion.
Kenobi merely nodded to the two students to continue their training and followed Sheev, casually guiding him along the edge of the sandy training arena.
“Tell me, Sheev, how much of this sand do you think you could hold in your hands?”
“Why do you ask?” Sheev tried to keep the deep suspicion out of his voice, and make it just a mild query. Casual. Between friends.
Kenobi reached down and with both hands scooped up some sand and held a pile of it in his cupped hands. “With open hands, I hold a mountain.”
“I think I might call that a molehill at most,” Sheev pointed out rather dryly.
Kenobi smiled appreciation at the sally but carried on. “I lose sand as soon as I try to close my hands.”
He brought his hands together so that they made a closed capsule rather than an open bowl. The majority of the sand fell back to the ground. “Not a single grain can escape as they did before, but I hold much less.”
Sheev found himself snarling at the Jedi in a lack of control that he had thought had been beaten out of him long since. It would have revealed his dark nature as Sith to any Jedi other than Kenobi. Kenobi didn’t even let it distract him from his demonstration. And Sheev remained unsure if Kenobi was simply so single-minded that he didn’t notice, or already well-aware of Sheev’s nature.
Kenobi’s hands shifted again so this time he was grasping grains in two closed fists, even as most of the remaining sand fell.
He opened his hands again and offered the remaining grains of sand to Sheev. Snarling once more, Sheev slapped the hands aside, but Kenobi merely smiled and shook his hands out letting the last few grains fall back to the ground.
“The more overt the control, the less success there is. So which method of holding on is the most successful?”
“You have spent too long training simple-minded children and fools.” Sheev couldn’t even pretend to be pleased with that heavy-handed metaphor.
“Thus it’s particularly lovely to have a meal with you, who are neither a child nor simple-minded.”
But if the sand metaphor was heavy-handed, the meal was barely less so, for all it was well done. He’d gotten himself at least somewhat more under control by the time he surveyed the table and thus could comment genteelly enough. “This is an interesting selection of foods.”
“Yes,” Kenobi agreed mildly. “It’s amazing what different cultures can make of foods that others would consider too corrupt to consume, much less enjoy.”
The spread was of pickled vegetables, aged cheeses, yogurts, charred mold forms, and fermented beverages. Every dish was an exquisite example of nourishing corruption, clarified to high value.
Sheev offered to prepare them both plates and Kenobi blandly acquiesced, as if he had not spent the last year pushing tea and cakes around to avoiding poisoning. It was particularly vexing because Sheev didn’t actually have any useful poisons on him at the moment. Darth Plagueis would have been so disappointed in him.
The food was quite good, too. It really just added insult to injury that the meal was both sophisticated and expensive; a spread that Sheev himself might have put together to taunt a Jedi guest with the same message of delicious corruption. And instead, Kenobi turns the whole thing around and delivers it to him. Infuriating. Sheev must find a way to one-up him at their next tea.
After some quiet in which they both just enjoyed the food, Kenobi spoke. “I did have an ulterior motive in inviting you here.”
Sheev vaguely wondered what sort of double or triple or quadruple blind that statement was even supposed to be. Of course there’d been an ulterior motive, but whatever he was about to confess to wouldn’t be it.
“Ah, you merely want me for my political power.” He tried to sound teasing. He wasn’t at all sure if he succeeded.
“You are amassing a great deal of it, and I admit that there’s a great deal I’d like to see done. It has occurred to me that if you were to become high chancellor,” Kenobi spoke casually, just dropping it into conversation as if it were nothing, “then you might be interested in expanding the Republic. I’m sure Anakin would be eternally grateful if Tattooine were brought into the Republic and thus had slavery abolished. But no,” Kenobi brushed aside the visions as if they were not everything Sheev wanted: the high chancellorship, a war of aggression, and a debt of gratitude from the Chosen one, all wrapped together.
“No, I wanted to ask you about your plans for the future.”
“My plans.” Sheev wasn’t even sure what to say to this. Kenobi had literally just laid them out.
“Yes. What are your goals? If you’re okay with telling me, of course.” He spoke with easy humility, as if Sheev could just end this conversation here and did not need, with the need of an addict, to see exactly where Kenobi was going with this line of questioning.
“I would actually like to be supreme chancellor.” Sheev attempted to mimic Kenobi’s casualness, as if the burning desire were merely a vague pipe dream.
“And if you had a choice,” Kenobi started and then trailed off.
“If you had a choice between being the supreme chancellor of an expanding and prospering republic, with all the power but also bureaucracy that entails, versus being the supreme emperor of a shrinking empire, with the absolute but diminishing power that entails… which would you pick?”
And that was the question, wasn’t it? The crux of the issue that Kenobi had been building up to for a year, a Jedi consorting with a Sith lord, whether knowingly or not, to lay out the binary option with these heavy-handed metaphors.
He wanted to be the supreme emperor of an expanding empire! And looking at Kenobi’s face, the Jedi knew it. Knew that Sheev craved power the way others craved air.
The question was as harsh as anything Plagueis had ever asked him, only lacking the jealous sadism of his former master.
Sheev gave up all semblance of kindly persona as he leaned forward to hiss in this Jedi’s face: “I will have a grand and growing empire.”
Kenobi didn’t even flinch.
“A growing republic,” Kenobi held his hands cupped open and then closed them into fists, “or a dying empire.”
Kenobi was relentless. “Power or the semblance of power. You must choose.”
And Sheev knew the answer.
The answer was what had guided his whole life until now. For decades now, he had hidden what he truly was, in order to achieve power.
He would soon have the power to control the republic as it currently was. He had always thought that would be the end to the deception. That after achieving the High Chancellorship, he’d reveal himself, become Emperor and Dark Lord, raising the Sith to primacy across the universe. He would violently quell the inevitable rebellions that would arise. He would be all-powerful!
It had been his dream. It had never before occurred to look critically at the idea of an all-powerful emperor.
As Kenobi had so bluntly pointed out, power and control could be two very different things. The subtle forms of power that Sheev exceled at had people volunteering to do his bidding. Kenobi himself seemed willing to play along as long as the corruption was at least somewhat nourishing. The complete control of an all-powerful emperor would ultimately have less power, as people and planets attempted to flee his grasp.
As deadly and painful as a lightsaber burn, his planned future was ripped away, and Sheev was trapped by his own avarice. With a few metaphors over a luncheon, Kenobi destroyed Sheev’s dream, revealing it for the fallacy it was. The self-knowledge was no help. Kenobi was as cruel as Plagueis had ever been in stripping Sheev of all self-delusion, and looked at him with eyes just as merciless.
Kenobi never even gave him the respect of a physical fight like any other Jedi might have, if they discovered one such as Sheev. Instead, he just offered Sheev his words and a choice that was no choice and watched as Sheev tore himself apart in the decision.
Power must come first.
He would play the kindly ruler who smiled and hide his rage for eternity, rather than willingly lose one drop of power.