Force, I'm tired.
Closing his eyes, Qui-Gon Jinn leaned back against the wall and sighed, heavily. Tired, bone-tired, fatigued, worn out, exhausted, I wonder how many words there are for just plain tired. He sighed again, feeling the air pass through his lungs, soothing him and listened to the silence.
It was quiet in the Temple hallway, the lighting subdued. It was almost peaceful enough to sleep right there but Mace Windu had wanted to talk. And so Qui-Gon waited patiently outside of the Jedi Councilor's private office until Mace could see him, using these few moments to catch up on some much needed rest.
His mind began to wander as the minutes dragged on and Qui-Gon drifted closer to sleep. Why Mace would want to talk was a puzzle. The report on their latest mission had been given this morning and, although there were plenty of questions, the Council seemed satisfied.
Probably there's another crisis and Mace just wants an immediate rescue by the Great Jinn. He chuckled sourly. My, aren't we full of ourselves. But he sobered quickly, thinking back over the past month.
This last mission had been a disaster right from the start. He and Obi-Wan had just returned from trying to avert yet another diplomatic upheaval, exhausted in mind and body, needing desperately to rest, when they were hauled into the Council chambers and told to go stop a war. They had arrived on Scalous with scant preparation, still worn and tired when the whole thing exploded literally in their faces. Barely off the Republic cruiser, they were pelted with blaster fire, bombs bursting around them. Racing through the streets, fighting at every turn, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were finally able to reach the so-called peace talks only to find most of the delegates dead. After that, it had been a nightmare of staying alive while trying frantically to get some semblance of order. Nothing worked and, at last, Qui-Gon realized the futility of further action and called the Jedi Temple. They were picked up the next day. The Council was not happy about the results. For that matter, neither was Qui-Gon.
"Not our finest hour," he murmured.
Moving slightly to get more comfortable and wishing for someplace to sit, Qui-Gon wondered what was taking Mace so long and then let his thoughts drift again. He was so tired. The missions seem to be getting rougher. Or it could be the fact that I'm almost sixty and have been running and fighting most of my life. At least, Obi-Wan seems to recover quickly. Oh, to be that young again. He chuckled wearily.
A moment later, Mace's door slid open and out stomped a very angry Jedi Knight. It was Ales'tka, a slightly-built older woman, well known for her prowess with the lightsaber and gentle diplomatic skills. Qui-Gon knew her slightly, passing one another over the long years, but was astonished to hear her shouting. Shouting at Mace.
"You haven't heard the last of this, Windu. How dare you treat me this way...how dare you." She growled in fury and turned to storm off. Not looking, she crashed right into Qui-Gon Jinn. Seeing his puzzled face, she burst into tears. "Oh, no, not you, too". With that, she pelted off down the corridor, sobbing.
Qui-Gon turned to follow her, hoping to offer some comfort, but Mace said, "Let her go. She'll be alright." And he motioned Qui-Gon into his office.
"Take a seat." Mace's voice was subdued. As he sat down behind his desk, the Jedi Councilor couldn't quite look Qui-Gon in the eye. A slight tickle of concern flitted across Qui-Gon's face as he eased into the only other chair in the room. It was still warm. Obviously, Ales'tka had been sitting in this very spot for some time.
Qui-Gon knew that he needed to speak up now before Mace tried to talk him into yet another mission. He had to be firm this time for his sake and for Obi-Wan's as well. He leaned forward, capturing Mace's attention.
"I just wanted to tell you that I can't agree to any more missions for a while. Obi-wan and I are both exhausted and need some time to refresh ourselves. A vacation or retreat for at least a month. The Council, as you know fully well, has been assigning us to constant missions for the past year and a half and no breaks in between. I doubt that we have spent two days at the Temple in all that time. Frankly, Mace, you know what the field is like. You can't keep sending out teams that are exhausted even before they leave. It is not effective and can lead to great mistakes in judgment. I'm serious, Mace. At least a month."
At first, Mace Windu was astonished by what he was hearing. But running through the gamut of emotions from confusion to sad to stoic left his face shuttered and drawn. He finally put up his hand to stop Qui-Gon.
"Qui-Gon Jinn, that is not why you are here. We will not be assigning you any missions."
Qui-Gon interrupted him, a slight admission to his fatigue and leaned back in his chair. "Glad to hear it. Obi-Wan needs to complete his final studies for the Trials in six months and fieldwork is not helpful in that area. So why did you want to talk to me then?"
Mace's face drew even more closed and unhappy. He lowered his eyes for a second and then raised them, frustration and pity and resolve flitting across his face. His voice was firm.
"Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, as per the Senate Appropriation Jedi Finance Edict, we have to reduce the number of Jedi Knights at the Temple by ten percent. Due to your poor record in the past year, the Senate oversight committee has designated you as one of those to be discharged."
Qui-Gon frowned, confused. "Discharged? What are you talking about?"
Mace grimaced. "We can no longer financially support all of the Jedi. We will have to turn away over a thousand knights to live life as they can, away from the Temple. Unfortunately, because of your failures recently, you were chosen to be one of those to be released."
"But... " Qui-Gon looked thunderstruck, incomprehension and confusion mirrored in his eyes.
"Qui-Gon, I had no say in the matter. The Senate Oversight committee looked over all the records of the last ten years. In the past year alone, your team has failed its mission twice."
"But, out of twenty-one missions, twice is more than acceptable."
"I agree wholeheartedly but the Committee does not. Any failure is considered grounds for dismissal. I am truly sorry, Qui."
Qui-Gon was stunned. The Temple was his home, his family, the only life he had ever known or wanted. And now he was being told to leave. It was incredible. It couldn't be true. It was some ghastly joke. He couldn't think, couldn't breathe. Qui-Gon just sat there, mouth open, eyes unfocused as Windu continued. And his words kept coming, garbed, nonsensical. What was Mace saying? He couldn't focus on what was being said. The words came out confusing, and almost without sound. He frowned, leaning in, and tried to listen more carefully.
"You will be given a severance package consisting of two weeks pay for every year of service after you became a Knight. You will also receive your pension in a single sum. You will be given three sets of clothing befitting a civilian and a one-way ticket to any destination you choose." As he spoke, Mace was placing items on his desk, a thick packet of paper, a credit chip and a passage ticket. "The clothing is in your room already. Please leave behind your Jedi garb. You will not be allowed to wear it or perform the duties of a Jedi Knight when you leave the Temple. If you do, the Order will have to take action. You must leave behind your lightsaber as well. It is four o'clock now. You have until nine o'clock tonight to vacate the premises. Do you understand?"
It was quite a while before Qui-Gon realized that Mace had finished talking. He blinked several times to brush the tendrils of confusion and anger beginning to surface. He shook his head and frowned at Windu.
"I don't understand. What Finance edict? Why are you turning me out of my home, cutting me off from my family? What about Obi-Wan?"
The Jedi Councilor was no coward. He had faced death more times than he could count but he hated doing this to one of his best friends. So he took the painless way out and answered the easy question first.
"Qui, I know it's been a few dozen years since we took Galactic Finance class but the principle has remained the same. The Jedi Order has always been financed mainly by donations but over the past hundred years, the donations have been slowly declining and more and more of the credits needed to run the Order have come from the Republic Senate. The Senate now pays for sixty percent of our expenses, mostly for services rendered. They are demanding the right to check our financial situation and make the Order more efficient. There were several subcommittees formed to investigate where and how the money is dispersed. This year, the Senate passed bills insisting that we reduce our expenses."
Qui-Gon shook his head, still stunned. He leaned further in towards Windu, anger lining his face. "How dare they? They do not listen to the Force's will. They are bureaucrats with no knowledge of how or why we exist. What is going on?"
Mace sighed. "I agree but the Order must comply with the wishes of the legal government. They have threatened to cut off all credits if we do not accede to their demands." He sighed deeply, despairing of doing this yet again but he had no choice. "We have tried everything to cut expenses. The heating and lighting were reduced, the food became simpler, the classes are larger, some of the gardens were allowed to die or turned to food production. More missions were placed on fewer Knight/Padawan teams because it was cheaper. We have done everything possible to reduce expenses. There is nothing more we can do but to let people go."
"But....how is this possible? What about the children, the Padawans? What about Obi-Wan?" The confusion in Qui-Gon's mind remained. The numbness blossomed, threatening to overtake his thoughts and turn him into something deadened and mechanical. He just sat there, unable to move, unable to think, unable to.... "What about Obi-Wan?" he demanded, anger rising anew.
Mace avoided the more difficult question a second time. "The children will continue to be taught as they always have. The Senate can do nothing there since the parents and the Order sign a contract when the child is given up. We must continue to care for them and train them until they succeed in graduating to a full time position as Knights, healers or some other profession. After that, they will be evaluated each year and either continue in the Order or move on."
"But, this is unbelievable. We are servants of the Force, not some non-profit organization that caters to the whims of the bureaucrats. And you haven't answered me. What about Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon's face hardened.
Mace sighed again. "Obi-Wan will take his trials next week. We are sure that he will pass easily and become a full-fledged knight. As a way of reducing expenses, he will be required to take a Padawan immediately and go out on missions as quickly as possible. He will not be allowed to contact you for at least six months and, of course, you will not be able to contact him."
Qui-Gon leaned forward again and began shaking his head, more and more angrily, his hands grasping and ungrasping as though to throttle the Jedi Councilor. Not allowed to see my Padawan. Not even to go through the Knighting ceremony.
He began to mutter and growl at Windu, the fury rising. "Not allowed to see him. NOT ALLOWED. How dare you do this? It's bad enough that you have taken away my life, my home but you are taking away the child that I raised. I love my apprentice, he is my family and now I can't even see him. How could you?"
Mace lowered his eyes and sighed yet again. "Qui, it's for his own good. You are angry and likely to get angrier before this is all over. You can't let him be dragged down with you. It was hard enough getting the Senate committee to see reason about just letting you go. He was part of your team and they wanted to get rid of him as well. Back off, Qui-Gon. Do what is best for Obi-Wan. Accept this, please."
Mace's voice was pleading, trying to cut through the thick fog surrounding Qui-Gon's soul. He couldn't comprehend what was going on, the words again tangling in his confused mind. The fury had abated, leaving him numb and depressed. What am I going to do? He shook his head, slowly. Do what the Force wills as always. But the Force was strangely silent, and he was alone.
Qui-Gon got up from the chair, slowly as though he were a thousand years old, and turned to leave.
Mace Windu spoke softly, "Qui, I need your lightsaber now."
Qui-Gon nodded, unhooked the saber he had built with his own hands so long ago and looked it over carefully, memorizing the look and feel of it. He closed his eyes, swallowed hard, and handed it to Mace. There were unshed tears clouding his vision when he opened them again.
"Mace, I will always be a Jedi, until the day I die. A Jedi is not defined by clothes or wielding a lightsaber or rescuing people. The Senate cannot dictate who is a Jedi. The Order cannot dictate who is a Jedi. Only the Force."
Mace spoke again. "Yes, Qui-Gon. I know."
As he again turned to go, Mace placed the discharge papers into Qui-Gon's trembling hands and whispered a final farewell. "If it's any consolation, I will be leaving tomorrow."
Qui-Gon shot him a quick pitying look. "Goodbye old friend." And left Mace's office for the last time.
Qui-Gon walked slowly back to his quarters. He heard nothing, saw nothing, the thoughts running around and around in his fogged brain. Leave my home. Leave my life. Leave... leave... leave... The echoes hurt his heart, the pain only now beginning to blossom in him. How can I leave this place? When the door to his apartment unexpectedly materialized in front of him, Qui-Gon was taken aback. He had no memory of how he had gotten there.
He started to go in but then hesitated. Once past that door, he would have to pack his few belongings and never return. Worse, he would have to tell Obi-Wan what had happened. Suddenly, Qui-Gon dreaded the coming emotional storm. He wasn't ready to hurt Obi-Wan but he knew that he must. Breathing deeply to rid his mind and body of the anger, despair and exhaustion threatening to overwhelm him, he tightly controlled his emotions and opened the door.
It was a letdown but Obi-Wan, thankfully, was still asleep. Qui-Gon sighed. He knew that he was avoiding the final confrontation but he turned into his own room and began to pack. It didn't take long. Qui-Gon was never one to collect "things" but he had a few items, a drawing from Obi-Wan, a cup from Tahl, a rock or two from previous missions with his Padawan that were too precious to leave behind. He looked at the clothes on his bed. They were typical civilian attire, not ones that he would have chosen but the choice had not been his. He began to strip off his Jedi garb, lingering on each piece, remembering the past. Again, his anger surfaced and he pressed hard to bury it. Now was not the time. At last, the Jedi robes, tunics and all that he had worn lay on a pile on the floor.
Let them pick it up he thought bitterly. I need to get clean and clear of this place
He showered and changed into one of the garments on the bed. He had chosen at random, not caring. To Qui-Gon, they were ill fitting, pulling at the arms and legs, scratchy and uncomfortable. He thought darkly Get use to it, Jinn..., his mouth hardening I'm taking the boots! He packed the rest of the clothes in his bag and closed it. Such a small container for so long a life. The depression was threatening to overwhelm him again, but rather than give in to it, Qui-Gon moved to the table in the sitting area, sat down and started to look through the dismissal papers.
He was not happy with the results. The "pay" that a Jedi received was mostly in food, clothing and shelter at the Jedi Temple. A small stipend was usually granted to all for additional items. When he calculated the total sum of his severance pay and retirement, he was aghast to find that it was so paltry. The whole of it wouldn't even pay for six months rent on the mid-levels of Coruscant. Perhaps, it might buy a small farm in the Outer Territories but nothing closer. A Jedi never needed to think of money; everything was provided so that he could concentrate on the Force and on the missions. Now, Qui-Gon needed to think of what to do next. He couldn't live on this, not here. He rested his weary head in his hands and softly groaned.
A small sound made him start and turn. Obi-Wan was leaning in the doorway, yawning.
He sounded exasperated as he asked, "Master, did you get any sleep at all? You know you need to get some rest." He stopped and looked more closely. "Why are you wearing civilian clothes? We have another undercover mission?"
Qui-Gon avoided the questions. "Padawan, sit by me, please."
Obi-Wan looked at him and sat down, frowning. "What's going on?"
Qui-Gon smiled slightly. He loved his Padawan very much, as a beloved student and remarkable friend. He would miss him terribly but the truth was ripping, tearing at Qui-Gon's heart. Tell him now.
"Obi-Wan, I have some good news for you. You will be taking the trials next week. When you have passed them, as I am sure you will, the Council would like you to take a Padawan learner immediately."
Obi-Wan's face lit up. He leaned forward happily, grinning, "Next week... Oh, I'm ready, Master. I'll make you proud."
"I am already proud of you, Padawan. Trials do not need to tell me that you will make a great Jedi Knight."
Obi-Wan smiled even more merrily. "When you cut off my braid at the Knighting ceremony, I'll remind you of that..." He stopped, grin suddenly gone and looked at Qui-Gon, perplexed. "Master, what's wrong?"
Qui-Gon's face had gone pale and something in his eyes died. He whispered, "I won't be there, Obi-Wan."
"What... What do you mean, won't be there? Of course, you....are they sending you on a mission alone?" His Padawan frowned. "Is that why you are wearing those clothes?"
Qui-Gon sighed wearily and shook his head. "I won't be there because..." His throat tightened so much that he could scarcely speak. "They are turning me out of the Order. I have to leave tonight, never to return."
"But...why?" Obi-Wan's voice crackled with astonishment and confusion. His frown deepened.
The Jedi Master laughed bitterly. "They ran out of money."
Qui-Gon shook his head again. "They have been using Republic funds to help defray costs of the Order. They are now being forced to economize by the Senate or else lose all funding. And they can't afford to do that right now." He sounded more bitter than before. "They have sold their souls for a few credits."
He stood up and began to pace. "They are dumping about a thousand knights, discarding them to live as best they can. Oh, we are given a few thousand credits for leaving but it is not nearly enough to live on, especially here." He stopped and looked at Obi-Wan with tears in his eyes. "They took my lightsaber, they took my Jedi garb, they took my calling and worst of all, they took away my Padawan."
Obi-Wan reached out and gripped his Master's hand, still confused. "You aren't making any sense. How can they take me away from you?"
"Padawan, I am not allowed to contact you again."
"What!" Obi-Wan's anger was almost palpable.
"If, after six months you wish to speak with me, you will be allowed to. However, I don't think that is a good idea."
"Master, you are not making sense again. Why shouldn't I?" His anger was fraying into confusion.
"They are punishing anyone who fails even once." Qui-Gon placed his hand upon his Padawan's shoulder and smiled slightly. "I know that you will not fail. But they may think that you are tainted by my failures or my defiance of the Council's orders. You can't afford to contact me."
"I don't care about that."
"But you must think about it. I will leave word with my brother. If, after the time allotted, you still want to speak with me, he will know where I am. But, Obi-Wan, I will understand if you do not." Qui-Gon's eyes filled with tears again. "I will understand."
Obi-Wan stood quickly, his mouth pinched in disbelief, his eyes defiant. He reached down and grabbed his Master's shoulders, shaking him. "Well, I don't. Master, you must fight this. It isn't right. They can't do this." The Padawan's words came fast and furious. "Fight them. You must."
"Obi-Wan, it is already too late."
"Yes, Padawan. Too late by far. Not for me, I will be alright." Qui-Gon smiled slightly, trying to give encouragement and defusing Obi-Wan's anger. "But for the Order, it was too late the day they acquiesced to Senate jurisdiction. The day they put credits over the Force and rewarded loyalty with dismissal. They have brought fear into the Temple, Padawan, and trust is now gone. It's too late."
"No," the apprentice whispered. "It can't be."
"Accept this, please," Qui-Gon's words echoed Windu's earlier statement. Maybe Mace understood better than I thought.
"No." Obi-Wan's face was dark with anguish as he shook his head.
"Padawan, help me. Do this one last thing. It is time for me to go. Escort me out."
Obi-Wan nodded and then flung himself into Qui-Gon's arms, hugging him fiercely, trying not to cry. Qui-Gon wrapped his arms around his apprentice in a enveloping embrace, trying to memorize this moment, warm in the love of the only family he had ever really known. They remained like that for a while, unable to let go, wanting to make it last forever. But nothing lasts forever. Qui-Gon drew a deep breath and shook his Padawan loose.
"Come, Padawan. It is time."
"But where will you go? What will you do?" Obi-Wan tried to make the moment last just a little longer.
Qui-Gon picked up his bag and opened the door. One last look and then he turned towards the exit, breathing deeply as the weary weight of this day settled onto his shoulders. He called back to Obi-Wan, "Coming?"
"Just to the exit door of the Temple. No further."
"I will be alright. I might become a bodyguard or a bouncer in a dancehall."
"Or a pirate..."
Qui-Gon laughed at that. "Yes, my young Padawan, or a pirate.
And suddenly, there they were, at the exit of the Temple. Qui-Gon dropped the bag and wrapped his arms around Obi-Wan one last time. "Be strong, Obi-Wan. You are my strength and my joy. Watching you grow into the Knight you will become has been an honor. Remember me."
Obi-Wan laughed quietly, "How could I forget? Who else would give their Padawan a rock for their birthday?"
"Who else indeed?" Qui-Gon smiled and whispered. "Goodbye. And may the Force be with you." He picked up the bag, went through the door, not looking back, trying not to hear Obi-Wan's voice catch as he whispered back, "Master, the Force will be with you always."
The Temple door closed behind him.
And Qui-Gon Jinn was alone.
Turning to look at the home now forbidden to him, Qui-Gon Jinn was overcome with a wave of exhaustion and regret. Slumping down onto the stairs, he drew his legs up and curled into himself, wrapping his arms around his torso and letting his head rest on his knees.
Tears crept down his face as he muttered, "Force, I'm tired." And then, with his resolve crumbling and the loss overwhelming him, Qui-Gon whispered, "What am I going to do now?"
He sat there a long time. Then, knowing that he couldn't stay, Qui-Gon Jinn, Jedi Master, rose, picked up his bag and walked slowly away. His footsteps faded little by little and finally, the night was quiet.
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