Obi-Wan Kenobi opened his eyes slowly, taking in the pearly, opalescent Tatooine dawn. The air in his home cave was chilly and he shivered a little, drawing his blanket over his body as he lay in his bed, trying to calm the turmoil in his mind.
Every morning, Obi-Wan greeted the dawn in the same way. He awoke with a moment of slight confusion, and then memories of his last meeting with his erstwhile Padawan-turned-Sith-Lord would make him groan in remorse. Every morning the same way, and most nights the same dream, the dream of their last lightsaber battle in which he had lost Anakin forever. Even now, ten years after Yoda had sent him to this desert exile to watch over Anakin's son, the memories of Anakin's fall from grace and his own failure were as fresh as if it had happened only yesterday.
So many things I could have done. So many things I could have said. So useless to brood. So impossible to stop. Must try to stop.
Obi-Wan shook himself and stood up, stretching. He dressed quickly and then crossed his cave from his sleeping quarters past the small sitting room toward the small kitchenette set against one wall of the cave and began to make breakfast. Like all other aspects of Obi-Wan's life he was remarkably abstemious about the food he ate. Breakfast was a simple bowl of gruel flavored with some dried fruit and a steaming mug of caf.
He sighed as he started getting his breakfast together. He was low on the gruel. Mentally, he began ticking off some other items he needed and decided it would be a good day to go to the market.
After breakfast, he slipped on a hooded cloak, hung his lightsaber on his belt and set off for the ten-kilometer walk past the Dune Sea toward Anchorhead.
Once outside the cave, Obi-Wan looked around for signs of activity that would indicate danger from the Sandpeople. That was a lesson he learned long ago. Early on, when he had first come to Tatooine he'd been attacked by the native marauders and narrowly escaped being killed. After that Obi-Wan began to watch the Sandpeople, noting their movements, studying their tactics. He also cast out for their presence through the Force whenever he left the cave; consequently, he was never surprised by the Sandpeople again.
There were signs of recent activity judging by the footprints and sandcrawler tracks not far from the cave, but seeing this made Obi-Wan relax. These were signs of nearby jawa activity. Jawas, whatever their thieving propensities, were skittish and would flee at the first sign of the Sandpeople, their feared nemesis. The prints in the sand looked recent and unhurried. Obi-Wan nodded to himself as he continued his walk.
He reached the dusty, sleepy settlement of Anchorhead late in the morning and quickly made his purchases. Fortunately, money was no issue for him. Obi-Wan's old Jedi master had been the scion of a very wealthy family. Qui-Gon had never used his money, and had never needed to use his money. Surprisingly, though, he had made a will naming Obi-Wan his sole beneficiary. When Qui-Gon was killed, his fortune passed to Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan had been very touched, not so much by the amount of the money as by the gesture. It was the type of bequest a father might make for a son, even if the gesture was so un-Jedi-like, so worldly.
Like his master before him, Obi-Wan never expected to spend the money. He had expected to live and die in the bosom of the Jedi community, fed and housed by his brethren whom he loved better than the mother and father he had never known.
And now, the Jedi were all but extinct, their temples and libraries destroyed, the legions of knights and masters brutally hunted down and murdered by his own Padawan, Anakin Skywalker-now and forevermore Darth Vader.
Stop, stop, Obi-Wan told himself. You promised not to brood today.
Obi-Wan looked around, surprised at where his feet had taken him. He had come to the center of Anchorhead where the small clay settlement school stood. About forty children were playing in the dusty schoolyard outside and Obi-Wan looked them over quickly until he found the one he was seeking.
The young boy was of average height compared with his peers and was actively engaged in a chase game with his friends. The twin suns of Tatooine glinted off his hair, bleached to a very pale, sandy blond.
Obi-Wan's heart never failed to skip a beat whenever he saw the ten year-old who looked so much like his father had at the same age-the age when Anakin had become Obi-Wan's Padawan learner.
It never failed to shock him how alike the two boys were and yet, how different. Anakin had been marked by his years of slavery and his separation from his mother. There were resentments inside Anakin that never fully went away-resentment of his years of bondage, resentment over the strict rules and regulations of the Jedi Order, and finally, never spoken but sensed, a lingering resentment that the Jedi, with all their money, power and prestige had never seen fit to give Anakin some peace of mind by freeing his still-enslaved mother.
Luke had none of these issues. He was a fairly happy, well-adjusted boy. His aunt and uncle who had been initially reluctant to take on the boy, frightened of the changes that were sweeping the galaxy in those early, dark days, now loved him completely as the son they never had. There was more steadiness and resilience in Luke's character, a trait Obi-Wan suspected came from Luke's mother.
But the Force was very powerful in the boy. To someone Force-sensitive like Obi-Wan the Force surrounded Luke almost like an aura. To Obi-Wan's tired eyes, this was the last hope for the galaxy, this young child who played with the characteristic abandon that children have, unaware of what changes awaited him in the future.
Obi-Wan watched Luke for a few minutes. Luke continued his play and then suddenly, stopped, aware he was being watched. Another boy collided into Luke, making him stumble and fall. Luke looked up until he saw Obi-Wan standing just outside the boundaries of the schoolyard.
"Ben!" Luke called out with a happy smile. He scrambled to his feet and ran toward Obi-Wan. "How are you, Ben? I haven't seen you in ages."
The young, eager face was alight with the inner joy of a well-adjusted child. Obi-Wan had never seen that among any of the children in the Jedi Temple. There were gifted children, children with almost frightening intelligence and prescience, even children with amazing calm and serenity, but none of these children, torn from their homes as infants had known the utter love and security of a stable home with loving parents, and none of them would project that sense of ease with himself as Luke did so powerfully and without conscious awareness. If nothing else, seeing how well Luke had been nurtured all these years gave Obi-Wan a measure of comfort.
"Hello, Luke," Obi-Wan greeted. "How are you?"
"I can't wait to get out of school," Luke said, scowling at the building behind him, "but otherwise, I'm okay." His face brightened up again. "During vacation, Biggs and I are going to put together our own racing pod. We're getting the parts together, now."
Pods. Just like his father. Again, Obi-Wan felt the familiar tug on his heart. "That's wonderful, Luke."
"Hey, you!" The angry voice of an approaching teacher startled them. "I thought you were warned to stay away from him, you mad old hermit!"
Obi-Wan backed away from Luke, anxious not to cause trouble. "I'll be seeing you, Luke," he whispered, as the boy was led away back into the schoolhouse by the teacher.
Obi-Wan adjusted his bulging satchel over his shoulder and began the long trip home. He passed through the gates of Anchorhead and looked around the sandy dunes for any signs of danger before heading home.
There were no signs of movement, but a glimpse of white in the sky from the corner of his eye caught Obi-Wan's attention. He glanced in that direction again, but now saw nothing. For a brief moment, Obi-Wan had thought he'd seen a cloud, a rare occurrence that hadn't been reported on Tatooine in over fifty years.
Cloud indeed! Obi-Wan scolded himself harshly. Likely you're getting desert blindness or the sandy blight. There hasn't been rain on this planet in over two millennia!
How Obi-Wan missed rain. He hadn't seen rainfall in ten years, not since he began his exile on Tatooine.
He paused for a moment to remember the delicious sensation of water on his upturned face. He remembered skipping through puddles as a young Padawan. And he remembered Kirjala.
Kirjala. Now that was odd. Obi-Wan hadn't thought of her in years, but he could never think of rain without thinking of her.
Obi-Wan had been sixteen and Kirjala fifteen when they had gone as Padawan learners with their masters to the steamy jungle planet of Mirasor on a mission to rescue a kidnapped Senator's daughter.
The only woman Obi-Wan had ever loved, a woman whom he hadn't seen in a decade. In the rare moments he thought of her, he would reach out for her through the Force, but he no longer felt her presence. She must be dead, Obi-Wan told himself despairingly the first time he reached out and didn't feel her. He schooled himself to stop thinking of her to shield himself from further pain.
But traitorous memories of their only kiss, shared under the rainy jungle canopy of Mirasor, would occasionally seep into his thoughts.
They had succeeded in their mission. The Senator's daughter, a horrible and ungrateful Cerean was safely on her way back to her home world.
Obi-Wan and Kirjala had been the ones who had found the cave where the Cerean girl had been held. They were the ones who dispatched the kidnappers while their masters had been searching in other directions.
Delirious with happiness over their victory, Obi-Wan and Kirjala had embraced each other, at first, dancing with joy, and then feeling the sudden passion heat up their skin. They were so young and so unprepared for the sensations their kiss could bring. But Obi-Wan would never forget it. The feeling of her slender body in his arms and her warm lips, kissing each other while the rain poured over them, making cool runnels along their skin. The sudden, rapid pounding of his heart. And the feeling of the Force so strong within him that it shook him to his core.
They had drawn apart suddenly, frightened at what had transpired. Kirjala's brown eyes still held passion but also grief, as though she had known this would be the only kiss they could ever share.
They stood facing each other, coming to terms with their passion, using every ounce of discipline they had obtained over the years to overcome the urge to succumb to their longing. And they had gone on with their lives. Kirjala to become a Jedi Healer, and Obi-Wan to follow his master and become a warrior in the service of the Republic.
So strange I should think about her today, Obi-Wan thought and then realized his musings had taken him nearly home.
It was mid-afternoon when Obi-Wan returned to his home cave. He suddenly sensed something different, like a bend in the Force, but couldn't identify the source. He unslung his shoulder satchel and slowly entered the cave. After his eyes adjusted from the change in lighting, he realized why he'd been so spooked.
Kirjala Antell sat on a low settee waiting for him.
"Hello, Obi-Wan," she said.
The first thing Obi-Wan noticed were her eyes. They were still the brilliant green of jades, and the last time Obi-Wan looked into them he had seen bitterness and resentment. Both were gone now, replaced by a look of intense weariness. There were faint shadows and smudges under her eyes, and she appeared much thinner than before.
The second thing Obi-Wan noticed was her aura. Obi-Wan had an ability to see the Force aura surrounding people. He needed to concentrate very hard to see it, but it was a skill very few Jedi possessed. Earlier in the schoolyard, he had seen the bright blue aura that enveloped Luke, shining with possibility. Kirjala's aura was a very mellow violet, but it appeared weak, and around its edges, Obi-Wan could see tendrils of black working their way into the violet. It was a very strange blackness, though; not like the blackness that enveloped Anakin's aura when he finally and forever turned to the Dark side. This blackness didn't hold Evil. Obi-Wan stood in puzzlement for a minute before Kirjala's low voice startled him back into attention.
"Aren't you going to say anything, Obi-Wan?"
"I no longer go by Obi-Wan," he replied, trying to keep his voice steady and calm. "I'm known here as Ben."
"Yes." Obi-Wan couldn't stop looking at her, was almost unable to believe she wouldn't suddenly vanish like a ghost.
Kirjala smiled. "No wonder it was so hard to find you. No one knew 'Obi-Wan'."
"What brings you here, Kirjala?" Obi-Wan asked. It was only one of thousands of questions he suddenly wanted to ask her. Strange. He hadn't felt this alive, this curious about anything in a long time.
"You don't sound very welcoming, Ben," Kirjala said. "Here I've been waiting for you for the past four hours. How about offering me a drink and something to eat?"
There was a mocking tone to her voice that Obi-Wan didn't like very much. He tried to focus on her aura once more, on that strange blackness, and again, drew a blank. "I only have simple things to offer," he said. He went to his small kitchenette and began to prepare a late lunch for them both.
"Of course," Kirjala replied. "I would have been surprised if you offered me anything grand. You'd never buy anything luxurious for yourself, would you?"
The bitterness had seeped back into her voice, but it was a faint trace of what Obi-Wan had heard the last time he saw her. That day, she and a score of other Jedi were embarking on a star cruiser with the intent of fleeing the galaxy, to hide until the Jedi Purges were over. She had tried to persuade Obi-Wan to come with her.
"Come with us," she had entreated, "What else is there for you here? The Jedi are dying, and there's nothing we can do about it."
"I need to stay. I promised Yoda I would watch over Anakin's boy."
"Always the same with you!" Kirjala had said, becoming angry for the first time since Obi-Wan had met her. "It's always for someone else, never for you!"
"Isn't that what Jedi are supposed to do? Aren't we supposed to use our powers in the Force to help others?" Obi-Wan had challenged.
"Is that what you do? Are you really that selfless?" Kirjala had mocked. "Always doing good-that's our Obi-Wan. Always wearing that hair shirt of suffering. I think you like being a martyr. You like this noble and grand fa?ade! You make yourself suffer because you think it makes you better than others! Let me tell you a secret, Obi-Wan. You're no different than any other man in this galaxy. You're a man. You have needs, too! You're a fool if you think that by denying yourself, you're helping anyone! That's the problem with the Jedi order. That's why we're all dying! We hear the distress call and like idiots we go out there to help, and we're slaughtered like nerfs. There's nothing left for us in the galaxy now, and if you think that by watching over the son of a Sith Lord you'll be able to help, you're crazy."
"There's good in the boy," Obi-Wan said, defending Luke.
"You were taken in by his father, weren't you?" Kirjala asked, and Obi-Wan winced. "He used his skills in the Dark Side to wrap himself in Light! What makes you think his son isn't doing the same?"
"He's an infant!"
"He's doomed to repeat the evil of his father," Kirjala said. "Get away from all of this. Come away with me! We'll start anew somewhere else, beyond the borders of this galaxy."
"What makes you think there's anything better out there?" Obi-Wan asked, more disturbed that Kirjala could so easily abandon the code of the Jedi than the fact that she was leaving.
"At least it will be a safe place."
"You would leave this galaxy to collapse in chaos without a backward glance?" Obi-Wan wondered if he ever knew this woman who stood before him, asking him to discard the beliefs and teachings of a lifetime. He was starting to get a little angry, as well.
"What has the galaxy ever done for us? A miorr is up in a tree, a house is on fire, a person needs to be rescued, and the Jedi are called. Now in this time of crisis and need, the galaxy is anxious to help the Emperor and Vader to hunt us down! Don't be a fool!"
"I must stay."
"Please, Obi-Wan!" The mocking light had died out of her eyes, and she was pleading. "Come with me. At least until things settle down. I would never ask this of anyone else, but you-you remember that day on Mirasor, don't you?"
Obi-Wan's righteous anger faded at the sadness in Kirjala's voice. "Of course I do."
"That was almost twenty years ago. And I've waited for you ever since."
Obi-Wan gave her a sad look. He had longed for her since that day on Mirasor, as well, but schooled in rigid Jedi discipline, Obi-Wan had never allowed himself to cross the line of propriety with her in all those years since. He told himself this was the way of the Jedi; that all other behavior was improper, unworthy. Now, he wondered if Anakin had seen through him and had known what a hypocrite Obi-Wan had been. That under all his tough talk forbidding love, that Obi-Wan burned for a woman he would never allow himself to have. He looked into her jade green eyes and made the admission he once swore he'd never make, "I love you, Kirjala."
Kirjala's breath came sharply. She looked into Obi-Wan's blue eyes long and hard, finally recognizing the truth. "You love me, but that's not enough. You won't come with me because you love being a Jedi more."
"That's not why I'm-"
"Spare me, Obi-Wan!" Kirjala said, and her aura turned bright red in her fury, the fury of a scorned woman. "I don't want explanations. This is the last time I'll ever see you. And I curse you! I call on the Force to curse you with loneliness and suffering until the end of time-beyond life, beyond death!"
Obi-Wan shuddered in his kitchenette as he heated water and began chopping vegetables to make a soup. Kirjala's curse certainly seemed to be coming true. "You never answered my question, Kirjala," Obi-Wan said. "What brings you to Tatooine? Why have you come back?"
Kirjala hesitated for a moment, and then said, in a low voice, "I'm dying, Obi-Wan."
Dying! For a moment, Obi-Wan stood stunned. Was that the cause of the blackness that encircled her aura? He looked more closely at her, understanding now the weariness, the smudges under her eyes and the thinness.
He left the kitchenette sat down on the small lounge chair next to her, his knees almost touching hers. The sitting room area was very small and cramped, with only the one battered lounge chair and matching settee, a small wooden table that doubled as a dinner table and coffee table, and several shelves lined with the few Jedi relics Obi-Wan had been able to salvage from the death throes of the Jedi Order, plus the precious tomes of bound books printed on expensive flimsies, which were Obi-Wan's only luxuries, and which shared space with the stacks of data discs Obi-Wan used to follow the events in the outside world. A few fading curtains used to partition the cave into rooms hung limply from their rods. No knick-knacks, holographs or plants adorned the walls and shelves. The cave was nearly devoid of personality, and as sterile as a dormitory. Until Kirjala had sneered at the surroundings, Obi-Wan had never noticed how little of himself resided in the cave all those years.
"Are you sure?" Obi-Wan asked, feeling an unexpected catch to his heart. For so long after Kirjala had left, he thought all that was left was his love of her memory. He thought the passion and the pain had gone forever. And now, thirty years after their only kiss, he found that his emotions hadn't diminished by one iota. I see her more clearly now, the rational part of himself said. I know she's not the perfect woman wrapped in the Light, and yet, I can't change how I feel about her.
"I've spent two years crossing the galaxy going from one physician to the next. No one knows what I have, and no one knows what to do for me. Ironic isn't it, a Jedi Healer and I can't heal myself?"
"How do you know you're dying? There must be some hope!" Obi-Wan felt the desperation creep into his words, and groaned inwardly. He had thought, after all these years, that he was finally achieving a sense of equilibrium, of calm, of acceptance of his life. He was dismayed to find how easily his equanimity could be destroyed.
"I feel the Force diminishing around me," Kirjala said.
"What does it do to you? How did you get this?"
"I don't know how I got it, but I'm fairly sure it happened outside the boundaries of this galaxy. We spent six years out beyond the Tingel Arm. We stayed on a planet called Caraille. It was far, far beyond the Outer Rim; it took us nearly a year to reach it. Then, we all started getting sick. Tai, Yestrid, Syphr, Leda, Bacara and Tannis. Finally Kairishi, Delria, Leonti and I decided to return here to try to find a cure."
Obi-Wan heard all those names, feeling a separate stab in his heart. He grew up with them, trained with them, and loved them. Tai, Tannis and Leonti had been Padawan contemporaries with Obi-Wan. Yestrid, Leda and Delria had been among the hundreds of knight-teachers who had imparted their wisdom to Obi-Wan during his years of training. Bacara and Kairishi had fought alongside Obi-Wan during the Clone Wars.
Every person Kirjala mentioned held a separate piece of his heart, and now, they were all gone, leaving him with an empty, broken feeling. And yet, he wasn't surprised. Hadn't he felt their deaths over the last few years, each like the snuffing out of a candle? "Wait," Obi-Wan said, realizing that several names were missing, "What about the others who went with you?"
Kirjala appeared a little shocked for a moment, and then, after a long pause said, "They were killed. We were caught on the last outpost on our way out of the Galaxy... Vader... he..."
"I understand," Obi-Wan said, not wanting to hear more stories of the atrocities committed by Vader.
"Very busy, your little Padawan," Kirjala said. "Since I've returned, I've heard of the stories-even the stars in the Galaxy seem to have diminished...are any of our old friends left?"
For a moment, Obi-Wan was tempted to mention that Yoda still lived, but the cool hand of caution stilled his tongue. Yoda and his secret retreat on Dagobah were secrets too precious to be dropped by a careless tongue; Obi-Wan couldn't bring himself to admit that he couldn't quite trust Kirjala, but she had been gone so long, and there was that strange aura that unsettled him so much.
"I have been in contact with no one," Obi-Wan said, finally, hedging his answer, although he couldn't quite bring himself to look into her eyes. Quickly, he changed the topic, "What of Kairishi and Delria and Leonti? Where are they?" Even as he said it, Obi-Wan was fairly sure he knew the answer.
"They've died," Kirjala said, hollowly. "One healer after another, planet after planet and no one could tell us what was wrong. One by one, they just got weaker and weaker, and faded-" Kirjala's voice choked on a sob.
Obi-Wan looked into her eyes to see if there was any fear-fear of the fate that awaited her, but there was none. Her eyes merely held grief and resignation.
Finally, after a few minutes, Kirjala regained her composure. "If everyone else is gone, why are you still here? Why hasn't Vader come down to visit the same fate on you-the one person in all the Galaxy I would have thought he'd hate the most."
Obi-Wan winced at the words, but considered his answer. "Tatooine is where he was born, and where he saw his mother die. It holds only unpleasant memories for him. Perhaps that's why he has avoided this world."
"Ha!" Kirjala's voice held strength and contempt. "As if he had any right to have any but unpleasant memories. Vader gave up that right when he turned to the Dark Side. He deceived himself into a lifetime sentence of bitter memories and false visions. But then, he always did that, didn't he? Always distrustful, even of his wife, the most loyal woman in the Galaxy-"
Kirjala's words trailed off and they both remembered the day Padm? had come to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant to beg for help. The day Padm? realized there was no safety for any in the galaxy, including her and her unborn children. The day she realized that she had been betrayed by an older man she had trusted and a younger man she had loved.
With Yoda's help, Obi-Wan and Kirjala had taken Padm? to Alderaan where Viceroy Bail Organa had agreed to guarantee Padm?'s safety by installing her as one of the ladies-in-waiting for his wife. Within days the one-time Queen of Naboo had become Ran?, Lady-in-Waiting to Viceroyal Princess Taurina of Alderaan, and the woman once known as Padm? Naberrie Skywalker disappeared forever.
Obi-Wan pulled his thoughts away from those memories and sighed tiredly as he looked at Kirjala. He had promised himself not to succumb to remorse and regret. "Why are you here?" He asked, suddenly. "If you are so ill, why-"
"I don't want to see another doctor, another healer, another charlatan," Kirjala said. "I want to die in peace."
Obi-Wan resisted the almost overwhelming urge to gather her into his arms. This was too much. To see the woman he loved after so long, only to be told she would die-"How much longer?" he asked, in a choked voice.
"I don't know. I feel a little more of the Force seeping out of me every day. I-I get attacks-painful, sapping attacks. In between them, physically, I feel the same. My muscles, my organs, all seem to be working fine. It's the living Force that I feel weakening with each attack. It could be months, it could be weeks or even days."
Obi-Wan turned away to hide the pain in his eyes. "I-I'll get you that food."
He returned to the kitchenette and completed his task, making some soup and heating some bread. He brought out the food and found that Kirjala had fallen asleep on his battered old lounge chair. In repose she looked so young and vulnerable. So peaceful. She had curled into a fetal position, and a lock of stray dark hair had fallen over her face. Despite her illness there was a faint flush to her cheeks.
Obi-Wan set the food down on the table and sat down next to her on the settee. He took her thin hand in his, stroking the silky-smooth skin and felt a measure of unutterable peace steal over him. Despite all the years, all the separation, all the heartache, she was, forever, a piece of his heart. Now that she had come back to him, even to die, Obi-Wan felt a measure of unexpected happiness just watching her.
"I'm so glad you're back," he whispered.
The next few days they avoided talk about Kirjala's illness or their separation. There were no reminiscences over the state of the Galaxy, Vader, or the Jedi. Instead, they talked of good times of their youth, places they'd visited, things they enjoyed. They left Obi-Wan's cave near sunset each night for a stroll in the desert, returning as night fell, sometimes sitting outside the cave to watch the stars in the sky as they ate their supper.
At night, sleeping in his hastily assembled guest bed, Obi-Wan would think of Kirjala across the cave partition, sleeping in his bed, listening to her shallow breathing and feeling her through the Force, Obi-Wan would wonder how things could have been different. What if he had forsaken his promises and gone with her? His imagination would sometimes lead him down those impossible roads-at first he would imagine scenes of domestic bliss-but they all returned to the same painful conclusion: Obi-Wan could never live with himself if he didn't follow the ideals he had set for himself, and broke the promises he had held sacred.
On the fourth day after Kirjala's arrival, Obi-Wan awoke in the early dawn as usual, still plagued by the same nighttime dreams of his fight with Vader. He stood in the small kitchenette preparing breakfast again, and this time, allowed himself to remember again. As he prepared the fruit, his hands trembled as his mind wandered along those old worn paths back to the past:
By the time Obi-Wan and Kirjala had reached Alderaan with Padm?, the galaxy had changed forever. The holovid news they saw on arrival showed Obi-Wan's one-time Padawan with his newly revealed master. Chancellor Palpatine had crowned himself Emperor Palpatine in a shocking ceremony before the Senate. The Senators, acting as though they had been enchanted, raucously approved the death of the Republic. Obi-Wan became violently nauseated as he watched the scenario unfold.
As his first act as the Emperor, Palpatine had declared the Jedi to be outlaws. Almost immediately, simultaneously, the Jedi Temple on Coruscant had been overrun and destroyed by the new 'Imperial' stormtroopers. Hundreds of Jedi Knights, Jedi Masters, even Padawans and initiates were massacred. Palpatine and Vader acted fast, fanning out through the galaxy, hunting down and destroying the Jedi one by one.
Obi-Wan and Kirjala had not dared return to Coruscant. Some Jedi, not believing that Jedi should hide or not believing that two Sith could wipe out the entire Order had tried to fight Vader and his master. All had paid for their mistake with their lives. Using the Force, Obi-Wan and Kirjala sought out other Jedi, who shell-shocked as they were, had gone into hiding, as well. The others came, singly or in pairs, numb with disbelief that their way of life, their belief in the Order of the galaxy, their best friends and loved ones were gone.
Sustained by the belief that he was responsible for Anakin's fall, Obi-Wan managed to send a message to Anakin and arranged to meet with his former Padawan one last time. They met on the volcanic world of Althati; not a place of Obi-Wan's choosing, but he was readily willing to concede such a small thing for the greater victory he hoped to achieve.
The Anakin who met Obi-Wan at dawn in the Althati plains was vastly different from the young Padawan whom Obi-Wan had trained and advised and...loved. This Anakin, while still handsome and prepossessing now had only coldness in his crystalline clear blue eyes. More than that, what clutched Obi-Wan's heart in fear, was the color of Anakin's aura. It was almost completely black. Only a small rim of blue remained, strengthened when Anakin asked his first question:
"Where have you taken Padm??"
"Do you really think I'd tell you now, Anakin?"
"Tell me!" Anakin snarled, the blue in his aura turning crimson, as he took out his new, red lightsaber. "You know where she is! Tell me and I might spare your life!"
At that, Obi-Wan shook his head, but activated his own lightsaber. "Is this what you really wish to make of your life? You would reject the teachings of a lifetime and turn to the Dark Side-for what?"
"For the ultimate goal. When my mother died, I made a promise that one day I would be the most powerful Jedi in the Galaxy. The Dark Side has given me this strength. You-you were always so jealous of me, of my abilities-you did your best to hold me back by feeding me lies. Now, stop stalling, and tell me where she is!"
"What makes you think I would know?" Obi-Wan goaded, even as he tried to fight back his own anger toward Anakin. All those years of earnest effort, of hard work, of conscientious teaching, of love-how could Anakin so easily forget what Obi-Wan had done for him? How could he turn so easily?
"Don't lie to me, Obi-Wan!" Anakin said, his control breaking as he slashed forward with his blade.
"Anakin, you don't want to do this," Obi-Wan replied as he parried the blow.
"Stop calling me that! I am not Anakin Skywalker! I am Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith. Anakin Skywalker, your little Padawan, is dead, as you will be!" Vader slashed forward again in a volley of furious blows.
"Stop this! You don't want to do this!" Obi-Wan protested, blocking each blow. If not for the perilous situation, Obi-Wan could almost imagine himself back in the Jedi-Temple, training with his Padawan. But this was no training session. One of them would not leave the Althati flats.
"Perhaps if you can stop your lies for once and tell me where Padm? is I might consider sparing your life!" Anakin said, feinting low for another slash.
"Why? So you can destroy her as you have destroyed yourself? Turn her from a good, noble, honorable person-someone who has dedicated her life for the true good of this galaxy-into another little puppet for your Emperor?"
"Why are you being so stubborn about telling me?" Vader's voice held almost a tinge of desperation.
Feeling for Vader through the Force, Obi-Wan almost stumbled from the cold, blackness he felt there, but he was able to understand the desperation in Vader's voice. So, Palpatine had taunted Vader about Padm?'s fidelity. He thinks she's been unfaithful with me. Obi-Wan wondered for a moment at the simplicity of it all. That was all it really took to turn the impressionable, impulsive and insecure young man.
"You fool, Vader!" Obi-Wan said. "You know Padm? is all that is good and honorable! How dare you insult her with your suspicions?"
This taunt enraged Vader further. "You love her! You've always been jealous that she loved me, not you! For all your talk about Jedi being detached, about love being forbidden-you were a liar! You betrayed me with my own wife, and you dare to lie, now?"
"On my honor, never," Obi-Wan said, parrying another blow. He was becoming very tired, and he was now dangerously close to the edge of the flats, below which flowed Althati's fiery rivers of lava. He knew that he would soon have to take an offensive stance. "I aided her, but nothing more. You were the one who put her into danger."
"Damn you forever, Obi-Wan!" Vader shrieked, bringing his lightsaber down from high. Obi-Wan sidestepped the blow, and, carried by is own momentum, Vader fell, screaming, over the edge of the flats down into the lava.
Pain. Obi-Wan felt only pain, no relief at the end of this duel. This was not how it was supposed to end. From Qui-Gon's death on-how many more deaths would there need to be? How many more people would he fail?
"Obi-Wan!" the agonized voice shook him out of his reverie.
Dropping the plate of fruit on the ground, Obi-Wan quickly ran toward the back of the cave, bursting through the partition to where Kirjala lay in a ball of pain on his bed. She was sweating, and her breathing was coming in short, agonizing bursts. She opened her eyes as he entered the room, and they were glittering, almost wild.
"Kirjala!" Obi-Wan could feel her pain across the room, each spasm biting into his heart.
"My-my bag! Get my bag!" Kirjala gasped.
Obi-Wan quickly picked up her battered bag. "What do you need?"
"G-guh-glitterstim," Kirjala managed to say.
Obi-Wan reared his head back, a little horrified by the thought. Jedi never poisoned their bodies with cigarras or spices or any others of these toxic substances. He found the long, thin vial of sticks, which must have cost a small fortune on the open market, and pulled out one of the sticks. He gave the brown, glittering stick a look of revulsion and then turned back to look at Kirjala.
She was lying in twisting, wracking spasms, her face grey from her agony, and her breathing labored. Her aura swirled around her; the violet now very bright intermingled with the black, the colors writhing in a frightening, macabre dance. Obi-Wan felt a rush of compassion flow over him. Who was he to judge her when she was suffering so intensely? He brought her the glitterstim.
Kirjala took the glitterstim from him with shaking fingers, the spasms tormenting her, and making her writhe. She put the stick into her mouth and snapped the tip off. Almost immediately, the glitterstim stick began to smoke. She took a few erratic puffs, and then her spasms started easing. She soon began to shake less, and to become calmer. After several minutes, her breathing reverted to normal, and she eased out of her rigid pose.
Sweat was still glowing over her brow, and Obi-Wan took an old towel to wipe it away. "Better?" he asked.
"Where did it hurt?"
"Everywhere-but mostly in my stomach. It's almost always a different organ. It attacks one after another. So far, it hasn't gotten to my heart. The-the others always died when it got to their-"
"Don't tell me!" Obi-Wan said, not wanting to hear more.
"You looked horrified," Kirjala said, managing to give a weak smile. "Don't you remember? 'There is no death; there is the Force'."
"That's not what bothers me," Obi-Wan said, his voice rough with emotion, "It's the suffering that's so pointless."
Kirjala straightened out her twisted body, and lay back again. "It doesn't seem so bad when you're here."
Obi-Wan's breath caught in his throat. "I'll be here as long as you need me."
The next morning, Kirjala was well enough to leave the cave. Obi-Wan was short on supplies again, and proposed a trip into Anchorhead.
The trip was uneventful. Obi-Wan had been concerned that the walk would be too much for Kirjala, but she seemed to thrive on it.
This time, Obi-Wan brought more credits than usual, and spent more time in the markets, buying better, richer food, and some small luxury items. This is ridiculous, he thought to himself, you're acting like a lovelorn youth, buying presents for his girl. Nonetheless, he spent more money than he had in years.
Kirjala didn't buy anything; nor did she suggest any purchases. She wandered around the little market place, slowly, with an interested look on her face, but said little.
When they were ready to leave, Kirjala turned to Obi-Wan: "Where is Anakin's son?"
Obi-Wan paused, startled. "He's here, of course. Likely at school, right now."
"I'd like to see him."
Obi-Wan's eyes narrowed. He remembered vividly Kirjala's last words about Anakin's son. Why in the galaxy would she want to see him? Much as he despised himself, he probed at her through the Force, trying to determine her intent. If she was aware of this, she didn't protest or block him. He could sense no harmful intent, and finally relented. "All right, let's go to his school. They're due for a play break in a half hour. We can eat a little lunch while we wait for the children to come out."
Luke came out of the school with a gaggle of his schoolmates half an hour later. They commenced playing a riotous game of tag in the schoolyard almost right away.
For several minutes, Obi-Wan and Kirjala watched Anakin's young son at play. Kirjala said nothing, and Obi-Wan turned to look at her. She appeared to have some tears in her eyes.
"What is it?" Obi-Wan asked.
She shook her head. "I want to go back."
They returned to Obi-Wan's home in silence. Once inside, Kirjala went to lie down for a rest, while Obi-Wan prepared a light supper. He brought the food in to her.
They ate their supper silently, as well, but it was a companionable silence, not an uncomfortable one. Again, Obi-Wan wondered about life as a normal man, married with a wife. Would I have been happier? Could I have been content being anything other than a Jedi? Perhaps that was my problem all along. Perhaps if I'd tried to do something else, the Galaxy would be very different now. Was that the cause of my downfall? Pride in my love of the Force? I definitely loved the Force more than I ever allowed myself to love any person. Perhaps if I loved Kirjala more...perhaps if I'd loved Anakin more...
"If, if, if! What good do recriminations do?" Kirjala asked Obi-Wan, startling him out of his thoughts.
He gave a little chuckle, "I should have taken my own advice and been mindful of my thoughts."
"Anakin was prophesied as the Chosen One. If fate decreed him to be the Chosen One, then fate decreed his downfall, as well. You were only an instrument of fate, Obi-Wan."
"That thought gives only bitter company," Obi-Wan said, as he stirred his soup around, listlessly.
"It was not all failure, you know," Kirjala said, as she took a bite of bread.
"What do you mean?"
"Anakin's son. When I saw him today, I-I realized you were right. There may be some hope after all. Anakin-I always thought something was broken inside him, but his son...all I could detect of him was Light. Perhaps you were right to do as Yoda said and watch over the boy."
Obi-Wan said nothing as he thought of the orders Yoda had given him.
"The one for Tatooine. You must protect him."
"I, Master Yoda?" Obi-Wan had been astonished.
"Remorse, I sense. You feel you have failed. Free yourself, you must, of this thinking. Failed you have not. But not done yet is your work. Protect and guide Anakin's young you must. The only hope left in this Galaxy they are."
And so, Obi-Wan had watched over young Luke for the past ten years, thwarted of any opportunity to truly give Luke any guidance or protection by the fierce determination of the Lars'. He had waited patiently, trying not to give in to the despair that was slowly engulfing him as he saw the gap widen between himself and Luke, and saw the evidence around him of the increasing entrenchment of Palpatine's evil Empire.
That night, the nightmare of the lightsaber duel came to haunt him again. He awoke bathed in sweat as usual. The only thing that was different was that this time, Kirjala was bending over him. With a wet cloth, she was tenderly wiping his forehead. She gave him a gentle smile when she saw him open his eyes. "You were having your nightmare again."
"I'm sorry to have disturbed your rest," Obi-Wan said, trying to even out his breathing.
"I've heard you moaning like this every night," Kirjala said. "Don't you ever dream of anything else?"
"Not lately," Obi-Wan said, barely able to remember a night with a pleasant dream. He sat up.
Kirjala sat down next to him on the bed, still wiping away the sweat from his brow. Lying with her so close to him and receiving her unexpectedly tender ministrations, Obi-Wan found his breathing become ragged again, and not from the nightmare.
"Stop." He said, suddenly.
Kirjala's hand stilled. "What's the matter?"
"Please, stop wiping," Obi-Wan said, although part of him desperately wanted her to continue. Her touch was light and pleasing, and Obi-Wan could not remember the last time he had been ministered to like this.
"It's making me uncomfortable."
Kirjala stared at him in astonishment for a moment and then suddenly laughed. "So the great paragon Obi-Wan Kenobi proves he is human after all!"
Obi-Wan drew back, alarmed by the wealth of meaning in Kirjala's voice. He thought he knew what she was saying, and it terrified him the way no lightsaber duel or vicious beast he ever battled could.
"You-you don't know what you're saying," Obi-Wan said. "You can't mean-"
"Tell me to go now, then!" Despite her illness, Kirjala reared back with the swiftness of a nexu. "Tell me you never want to see me again! Can it be that your devotion to that dead code, the code of the Jedi order still has you enslaved? Have you heard nothing that I've said? I love you, Obi-Wan! I've gone across the galaxy to find you!" Kirjala's voice choked. "I came because I thought you loved me still! Or is it all gone? Have you become nothing but a dusty relic in this forgotten backwater? Have you died already?"
As she spoke, Kirjala moved closer to him again, almost challenging him. Despite the dark smudges under her eyes, her gaze still mesmerized Obi-Wan with the beautiful green eyes that had haunted his dreams for decades. She stood so close to him, and Obi-Wan could only think of crushing her to his chest, and kissing her lips hungrily. The memory of their kiss on Mirasor, the touch of her hand. The thoughts leapt into his mind, unbidden. Obi-Wan felt himself trembling as his desire for Kirjala warred with the ingrained beliefs of a lifetime.
The Jedi are gone, Obi-Wan told himself. What is there to lose? Trembling slightly, Obi-Wan reached forward and took her hand in his own. He lowered his head, capturing her lips in his, nearly devouring her in his hunger. She was so soft, so pliant. Her lips tasted of nectar. Her arms around him were pulling him down, and he felt he was drowning. Instead of trying to save himself, for the first time in his life, Obi-Wan allowed himself to know happiness. He lowered Kirjala onto the bed.
Over the next fifteen days, Obi-Wan existed in a state of near-perfect happiness bordering on euphoria. All the barriers he had erected around himself were gone. Kirjala taught him to love unreservedly and more importantly, how to laugh. Life had always been so serious, and lately had been increasingly bitter for Obi-Wan, but Kirjala swept that all away with her infectious laughter. Obi-Wan's nightmares starting easing and he would now sleep peacefully, with his head cradled in her arms.
During the days, they learned the ten thousand little things, the intimate details about each other that both astonished and amused them, making their love grow stronger. Every activity, even the most mundane task seemed to hold its own charm for Obi-Wan now; the days seemed brighter, and the nights were no longer endless, agonizing vigils. Even the desert, which Obi-Wan had loathed now seemed to be a place of austere, mystical beauty.
The worry lines eased from Obi-Wan's face and he appeared to be a man ten, even fifteen years younger than he was. He was energized and felt more alive than he'd been since Vader's fall. The Force seemed to be stronger around him than ever before.
Kirjala appeared happier as well. The black was starting to ease out of her aura, and the dark smudges began to disappear from under her eyes. She gained a little weight, rounding out her sensuous curves, and there was more of a sparkle in her eyes.
She still suffered attacks every few days-anxious episodes when Obi-Wan would feel every nerved ending in his body tingling with sympathetic pain. He prepared Kirjala's glitterstim sticks for her wordlessly, noting that sometimes she would need two even three for the pain to begin to subside.
In between attacks, Kirjala refused to be treated as an invalid, even refused to discuss treatments or listen to Obi-Wan's pleas that she see another doctor. She wanted to live to the end, and would be grateful for each day she had.
One night, after they ate their supper, Obi-Wan turned on the glow-lamp and settled himself in his lounge chair next to the new one he had bought for Kirjala. He leaned back with a sigh.
"Credit for your thoughts," Kirjala said.
"I'm not troubled," Obi-Wan reassured her. "On the contrary, I've never known such-contentment. You don't know how happy you've made me by coming back."
"Oh, I think I do," Kirjala said, seriously. In the dim lamplight her profile looked so perfect, so serene. "It's you who doesn't know how much I needed this-needed you."
Obi-Wan's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"After all this time-you finally admitted you were mortal; admitted that you loved me-and you showed me. Just being with you has made me stronger-not physically, but here-" Kirjala taped her temple. "You don't know how close I was to breaking before I came here."
Kirjala shook her head. "You would've had to have been there with us. One after another-Tai, Yestrid, Syphyr-as each one died I became more and more desperate. I saw them all in agony in their final moments before the light just snuffed out of them. I was so frightened...I guess I became a little crazy. Just before I came to you I had a half-formed thought to go to Palpatine instead."
"Palpatine!" Obi-Wan's voice caught in his throat.
"You don't understand the desperation! I was willing to sell my soul to the Sith-to bargain for half a damned life...I-I was planning on telling Palpatine about you, about the boy-"
"Luke?" Obi-Wan asked more aghast than before. The night air seemed to become chillier by the second.
"I didn't think of him as Luke. I thought of him as Anakin's Sithspawn brat-I thought I could use him to bargain for help. I thought if a Lord of the Sith could defeat the Jedi-perhaps he could also cheat death for me. I don't know what I was thinking. All crazy thoughts!"
"What happened? Why didn't you go to him?"
"I was on Ando at the time. It was the monsoon season then and as I was making my decision it started to rain-sometimes now I wonder if the Force sent that rain. It was an absolute downpour-and-and it made me think of you," Kirjala's voice lowered, "I remembered our first kiss on Mirasor and the feel of the rain. I told myself I would come to you-if I had any hope for salvation it would be through you."
"Why didn't you tell me any of this?"
"You had to choose me for yourself," Kirjala said. "You had to decide for yourself-and you did. I-I can't tell you what its meant to me. Don't you see? I had been so afraid I would die and become nothing, but these days with you, I've felt the Force around me stronger than ever. I know now, they're not just words, they're truths: 'There is no death, there is the Force.' I know I'll be one with the Light. And I'm content."
Obi-Wan shook his head. He couldn't bear to hear this talk of death any more. Her words, despite their underlying comfort, were stabbing him to his heart.
Kirjala's lips curved into a smile. "Poor thing," she said, finally, as she came to sit with him in the lounge chair, drawing his head to her chest. "We won't talk of such things any more. I-I just wanted you to know."
When Obi-Wan looked up at her, Kirjala's smile was radiant, and she caressed his bearded face. "Let's go sit out under the stars and enjoy the night."
Kirjala died the next morning. As Obi-Wan arose in the dawn, she had turned to him with a smile that suddenly froze into a grimace of pain. She clutched at her chest and Obi-Wan quickly reached for her bag, digging through it for more glitterstim sticks.
Kirjala shook her head, and after a few moments, the pain seemed to ease out of her features again. She relaxed and smiled at him again. Her voice was soft, but clear and sweet: "I love you, Obi-Wan-and I'll always be with you in the Force."
Her eyes closed and her body disappeared. Her clothes crumpled into a ragged heap on the bed.
Obi-Wan fell to his knees in stunned shock, clinging to the fine linen of her gown as to a lifeline. He stared at the empty spot on the bed where Kirjala had been just moments before, and his mouth worked soundlessly in disbelief and horror. He placed his hand on the indent of the pillow where her head had rested. It still retained the last traces of her warmth. He couldn't make himself believe that she would never come back to rest her head in that spot again.
Afterward, Obi-Wan would never be sure how long he stayed there trying to make his numbed mind accept that Kirjala was gone. Finally, a nascent sense of understanding crept into his bewildered brain. She was gone. Really gone. And then he wept ? he wept for all the times in his life he wanted to cry but couldn't. For Qui-Gon's death. For Anakin's downfall. For the end of the Jedi. For Kirjala.
Late that afternoon, Obi-Wan gathered Kirjala's things together in her satchel and left his home cave. He slowly made his way up a sand dune ridge and buried her things deep down in the sand. Her grave held no marker and the spot was invisible to all but a loving heart.
Obi-Wan Kenobi returned alone to his cave as the early evening stars were beginning to twinkle in the sky. He suddenly felt tired, so very tired. He returned to the bed he had shared with Kirjala and lay upon it, waiting for the storm of grief and anguish to come. Instead, he felt a curious mingling of sensations: sorrow, certainly, but underneath that was a feeling of thankfulness-that in her short stay she had gifted him with love and laughter that he would be able to carry forever, that he could use to sustain himself for the future-and a sensation of peace which he hadn't felt since Anakin's fall. Lying with his head on her pillow, he could almost imagine he felt her by his side with her hand softly caressing his hair. The thought carried him slowly into sleep.
No nightmares of lightsaber battles or despair haunted his sleep that night. He slept peacefully; his nocturnal thoughts were peopled by pleasant thoughts. And it may even be that he dreamt of rain.
Original cover by Cosmic. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.