"Obi-Wan!" The girl's voice was surprised and delighted at the same time. Obi-Wan Kenobi looked up from the bread rolls that he was separating in order to hand them out, one at a time, to the homeless and hungry citizens who'd gathered at the soup kitchen. It was one of a few kitchens on the lower levels of Coruscant that the Jedi Temple helped to maintain, and this week, Obi-Wan and his master Qui-Gon Jinn were on the roster to help out.
"Phar!" he exclaimed in the same tone of voice, looking at the girl he'd met while 'volunteering' at a rehabilitation program of the Coruscant Correctional Facility a year before. It had been his master's idea, a way of keeping Obi-Wan busy during a period of physical therapy. Obi-Wan hadn't seen Phar Swife since his arm had mended completely and his volunteer time had ended, but he'd found himself thinking about her occasionally. This wasn't where he had expected to see her again, however.
"Look at you," Phar Swife laughed. "You've grown up. How old are you now, seventeen?"
"Sixteen," Obi-Wan corrected her. He remembered that Phar wasn't quite a year younger than he was.
"You look much more mature," Phar assured him. "Must be the Jedi in you."
Obi-Wan felt himself blushing slightly as he asked, "What are you doing here? I thought you had a foster family on the other side of Coruscant."
Phar shot a guarded glance to the dark, brooding young man next to her and there was, for an instant, an awkward silence. Then she used her entire arm to indicate the four or five males in line behind them, all wearing the same shade of dusky red jackets. Like Phar's, the other jackets were also dirty, and even torn in places. "Oh, you know. I missed my brothers."
"Brothers?" Obi-Wan frowned slightly. As far as he knew, Phar only had one – but then he looked again at the group, which included a small, miserable-looking Rodian and a mangy-furred Togorian. Phar had sometimes spoken about her "family", meaning the small swoop gang she'd met up with on the lower levels. "Oh, you mean the gang brothers."
"Yeah, the gang, yeah. But I'm careful now! I'm reformed after my little spell in Coruscant's Correctional Facility Three Oh Eight." She smiled that smile, the one that made her entire face light up, then elbowed the dark young man. "Isn't that right, Drive?"
So that was Hyperdrive, or just plain Drive. When they'd been together during the rehabilitation program, she'd spoken about him the most, as he was her real brother. Obi-Wan had got the impression that he cared quite a lot about his little sister, but he didn't really look like it now. In a gruff voice, he merely stated, "We make sure she's careful."
"Careful not to steal, or careful not to get caught?" Obi-Wan wondered aloud, smiling back. Phar's smile was infectious, as he well remembered. He'd always come away from a meeting with Phar with a grin on his face, and now he wondered why Drive wasn't grinning along with them.
"Read my mind, Jedi, then you'll know the answer already!" she joked, her eyes twinkling. Obi-Wan found himself hoping she'd flash that smile again, but although it teased the corners of her lips, she didn't let it break all the way through.
"Come on, come on, stop holding up the line," Drive growled, giving Phar a slight shove with his hip.
"Sorry," she giggled, then leaned forward and whispered, "He always gets grumpy when he's hungry. His stomach works at hyperspace speeds, you know!"
Obi-Wan smiled sympathetically at the young man, as he knew what it was like to be hungry. For the week that they would be volunteering at the soup kitchen, he and his master would be eating only one small meal each evening. Qui-Gon had suggested the exercise to help Obi-Wan learn compassion by understanding what the homeless were going through. Obi-Wan always had an appetite, and fasting only made him hungrier. But Drive ignored the gesture, grabbing his bread roll with a scowl, then moved away, taking Phar with him.
After the meal, when Obi-Wan was helping to clean up the dirty plates and silverware, Phar came and stood close to him. "Hey, how's your arm?"
"It's fine," he replied, demonstrating.
"That's good! What are you doing here, anyway? I thought they didn't let young, good-looking Jedi like you into kitchens like these."
"What's age got to do with it?" Obi-Wan asked, mystified, but also a little gratified at being called good-looking.
"I don't know! Maybe you could tell me why all the Jedi I've ever seen here are either old, or hairy or scaly, or both!"
"We all take turns coming down and working in places like these," Obi-Wan began to explain, but just at that moment, Drive came up and said, "We're going now, Phar."
"Be right with you, brother," she replied, flashing Obi-Wan that dazzling smile.
"No," he corrected her, "We are going now, Phar."
The smile faded, and Phar allowed herself to be led away.
Entering the Temple again, Obi-Wan saw a familiar initiate standing on one side of the great hall. The boy was tall and slender in an awkward kind of way, and when he caught sight of master and padawan, he bounced forward. "Hi, Obi-Wan, hi, Master Jinn!"
"Hi, Dyar," said Obi-Wan, groaning inwardly and hoping that Qui-Gon would simply greet the boy in passing, so that Obi-Wan would have an excuse not to stop.
But Qui-Gon stopped and smiled back. "Hello, Dyarbin."
"I built a new droid! Look!"
"Again?" Obi-Wan asked.
Qui-Gon had already glanced down, and Obi-Wan did as well, trying not show the touch of impatience that came over him. An indeterminate amount of legs or arms extended outwards from an ungainly jumble of parts. Two of the appendages had caught hold of Qui-Gon's robe and now the droid was pulling itself up, hand over hand (or rather, pincer-grip over pincer-grip). As it got closer and closer to Qui-Gon's hair, Obi-Wan could not help smiling.
"Can it go down as well?" Qui-Gon asked mildly.
"Of course!" Dyarbin spoke a command, and the droid reversed direction. "What do you think, Obi-Wan?"
"Wonderful," Obi-Wan said, trying not to sound sarcastic. Although he couldn't see what use a robe-climbing droid would be, or why Dyarbin insisted on showing him something new every day, he still felt a wave of appreciation for Dyarbin's ability and imagination. He himself had done a lot of tinkering when he'd been that age, and knew how difficult it could be, even with instructions. Dyarbin just threw things together and made them work. It was his one obvious talent – he didn't seem to be good at anything else, especially things that were important for padawans like lightsaber technique, acrobatics, or even diplomacy. Still, Obi-Wan reminded himself, not everybody with a high midichlorian count was automatically padawan material, and the Temple would find a place for him to serve.
"If you attached a small brush to one arm, it could climb up the curtains and clean the curtain rods," Qui-Gon suggested in such a tone of voice that Obi-Wan could not tell if he was serious or not.
Dyarbin laughed. "That's a good idea, Master Jinn! This arm, or that one?"
"Why don't you show it to your group mother and let her decide?" Obi-Wan asked, hoping that Dyarbin would take the hint and go.
"I will!" Dyarbin said as the droid clattered to the floor, but he made no move to leave. Instead, he commanded it to turn it around. "Do you want to see it climb up your robe now, Obi-Wan?"
"Don't you have to be at meditation now?" Obi-Wan asked more pointedly, stepping to one side to avoid the droid. He was familiar with Dyar's schedule now because the boy had told it to him. In fact, the initiate had been making a point recently of bumping into Obi-Wan in the hall and talking incessantly to him while showing off his latest droid creation.
"Yes, but I finished early," Dyarbin explained off-handedly.
"A Jedi never skimps on meditation," Obi-Wan told him firmly, repeating what his own master had often told him.
"Yes, but when the Force shows me how to adjust the motor, why should I meditate any longer about it?" Dyarbin asked in complete innocence.
"There's more to meditate about than just motors," Qui-Gon said with a smile. "Go on, now."
"If I do well at meditation, will you come and spar with me, Obi-Wan?" Dyarbin asked. He was good at ignoring things he didn't want to hear.
Obi-Wan cringed inwardly, having been hoping to avoid that very question. "Not to-day, Dyar."
"Can we talk about it to-morrow, Dyar? I'm not sure what my master has planned for me this week," Obi-Wan hedged tactfully. "And anyway, you have to really meditate, not just sit there and think about motors."
"I'll do it. I'll see you to-morrow, then!" Dyarbin picked up his droid and bounced away, and Obi-Wan could hear the boy singing "Med-i-TA-tion" over and over again in a snippet of an off-key tune. He grimaced, but quickly schooled his features back to a calm expression as soon as he sensed Qui-Gon glancing in his direction.
When they were back in their quarters and getting their things ready to go down to the training room and spar, Qui-Gon stopped suddenly and looked at Obi-Wan. "I thought you liked Dyarbin, but this isn't the first time I've seen you act impatient and anxious to get rid of him."
Obi-Wan felt his heart sink. He hadn't been subtle enough. "Master, I do like Dyarbin, but lately he's been ambushing me."
"Ambushing you?" Qui-Gon raised his eyebrows in a silent plea for more clarification.
"Following me around, popping out at me whenever he can. And he makes a new droid to show me – every day! Then he always wants to spar with me."
"Why is that a problem, padawan?"
"Well ... he's not very good at it. It's boring to fight against him. It's not a challenge."
"You think not?"
"He can't get out of the way fast enough. He's not very coordinated, either, and he falls down a lot. I could 'kill' him three times before he gets up again – in fact, every move I make could be a kill point. And half the time he just stops fighting and starts talking about some droid he wants to build. I don't know why he wants to spar with me all the time, when I can trounce him with one hand tied behind my back, but he just keeps asking and asking."
"And you like a challenge in sparring?"
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied.
"I will give you one to-day, then," Qui-Gon said, a very slight smile on his lips.
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan replied, not sure whether he should be happy or not. He had the feeling he had just let himself in for a very intensive, exhausting session.
They went to the training rooms and found an empty one, then began to warm up. When they were ready to fight, Qui-Gon removed something from a pocket and motioned Obi-Wan to approach him. "Put your arm behind your back – no, your right arm."
"I gave you a good idea, didn't I, Master?" Obi-Wan asked, remembering his earlier comment about fighting with one hand tied behind his back. He knew it was an effective form of training, and one that most Jedi practiced in case one arm was ever injured, but it didn't mean he had to like the off-balance way it made him feel.
"You did indeed," his master nodded. Qui-Gon ran a soft cloth rope around Obi-Wan's waist from the back, crossing it in front, then bringing the ends back around and tying them around his wrist, firmly but not too tightly.
Coming back around in front of Obi-Wan, he waited until his padawan had used his left hand to unclip his saber from his belt and activate it, then nodded. "Let us begin."
Obi-Wan lowered himself onto the couch with a groan, wincing as he accidentally rubbed a welt. He'd been right. It had been a very challenging session – he was covered with lightsaber burns and could barely move for exhaustion.
"Take your tunics off and I'll put some salve on your back," Qui-Gon said, heading into the refresher to get the tube.
Obi-Wan obeyed silently, sitting forward so that his master could reach the burns across his back and shoulders. The bacta salve was cool and made him jump at first, but then it turned warm as it began the healing process on each injury.
"Master?" asked Obi-Wan as he pulled his tunic back on and turned around to face Qui-Gon again. "Why do I feel as though I've failed when I have a session like this with you, and why doesn't Dyarbin ever feel as though he's failed when he does worse than this with me?"
"You haven't failed. I'm proud of you for doing your best, and I certainly wasn't making it easy for you," Qui-Gon replied, reaching out to ruffle Obi-Wan's hair. Obi-Wan smiled at the sign of affection.
"And how do you know that Dyarbin doesn't feel as though he's failed?"
"Well, he doesn't act like he's sad or anything. He never goes away with a frown on his face. He says "ouch" when he gets burned, but other than that, he doesn't seem to care what happens when we spar."
"He probably doesn't," Qui-Gon said. With a small smile, he added, "I think we both know what Dyarbin cares about the most."
"But if he doesn't care, then why does he always ask me?"
"It sounds to me like a case of hero worship," Qui-Gon announced, his eyes twinkling in amusement.
"Hero worship?" Obi-Wan was surprised.
"You said he was ambushing you, building a new droid every day for you to look at. He wants your attention, Obi-Wan, because he admires you. And he asks you to spar, because that gives you the chance to do something that you like doing, while being with him, which is what he likes."
"Oh," Obi-Wan replied, suddenly seeing his meetings with Dyarbin in a new and different light. "I think I understand."
He'd had his own experiences with that feeling of wanting attention and approval from somebody that he looked up to. But as he and Qui-Gon knelt down to meditate, Obi-Wan found his thoughts drifting to Phar and how he suddenly wanted her attention and her approval, especially if it came with that smile again.
The gang was back the next day, but at first, Obi-Wan could not see Phar among them. He felt a moment of disappointment until he suddenly spotted her farther down the line, half-hidden behind the Togorian with the dirty, mangy fur, and then he felt himself start to smile.
"Well, we're here again," Phar said as she came up. She took her bowl of soup and came around the table to stand next to him. Drive gave her a glare, but stalked off, and Obi-Wan noticed that he found a seat where he had a clear view of his sister. A moment later, Phar's voice made him turn his head. "We thought we'd caught a few crates of food falling off the back of a transporter, but then Security showed up and accused us of stealing it, so we had to run. We were hungry all night – we could hardly wait to get here to-day."
"I'm sorry," Obi-Wan said sympathetically.
Phar flashed him that brilliant smile, making him feel as though his few simple words had made the situation better immediately. Suddenly, she dug into a pocket of her trousers and extended a comlink on her open palm. "By the way, you dropped this yesterday."
Obi-Wan stared at it in surprise, his hand going automatically to his belt. She was right, it was his. He didn't understand how he could have dropped it, as he hadn't used it yesterday at all. Usually, it was in a secure pocket, but he couldn't explain otherwise how it had come to be in Phar's possession.
"Thank you," he replied, putting it back into its proper place. "I never noticed it was missing."
"You've got to watch out for your things," she laughed.
"Yes," Obi-Wan replied absently, looking into her eyes. For the first time, he noticed that they weren't actually brown, as they appeared to be from a distance, but were actually an odd shade of green. He saw his own reflection in them, and could have looked forever, but after a moment, Phar broke the contact, making him aware of the food line again. Dishing up a plateful of soup for the next being, Obi-Wan murmured an apology for having made him wait, then turned back to Phar only to see her wandering away and sitting down across from Drive.
She came back about ten minutes later, though, as the line was coming to an end, sliding around behind the table to stand next to Obi-Wan again. "Can I help you wash up?"
Obi-Wan looked over to Qui-Gon, who considered the request in silence for a moment. For Obi-Wan, it seemed like an eternity. Why didn't his master just say yes? None of the other beings who ate at the kitchen ever volunteered to help.
"I'm not going to steal the spoons," Phar joked.
At length, Qui-Gon replied, "Thank you, Miss Swife, we would appreciate your assistance."
"You can call me Phar, you know."
"I know," Qui-Gon nodded. Obi-Wan wondered why his master insisted on being so formal with her. Maybe he just didn't know her well enough. After all, it had been Obi-Wan doing the volunteering at the correctional center, not Qui-Gon.
"I'll wash and you can dry, Obi-Wan," Phar said, rolling the cart of dirty dishes into the small kitchen in the back of the dining area. Obi-Wan followed as she put the plug into the sink and began to run the hot water.
"Don't forget the soap," Obi-Wan said, squatting down to get the squeeze bottle from the cabinet underneath. To his surprise, Phar leaned her leg heavily against his shoulder, almost making it impossible for him to straighten up again. He had to shift his weight and ease himself away from her.
"So is it true," Phar asked, taking the bottle from his hands while looking him in the eyes, "that Jedi can use the Force to enhance ... every performance?"
At the word "every", she squeezed the bottle vigorously so that a long stream of liquid soap spurted into the water. Her eyes remained fixed on his, however, and her expression showed genuine curiosity mixed with flirtatiousness and also a strange, desperate hope. Feeling vaguely uncomfortable without knowing why, or exactly what it was about her words or her actions that produced such a feeling in him, Obi-Wan looked away, latching instead onto a triviality.
"You're using too much!" he protested, grabbing the bottle back again. "You'll have suds up to the ceiling!"
"I like bubble baths," Phar said slowly, still looking intently at him. "Don't you?"
"I don't know," Obi-Wan replied shortly, having bent down again to replace the bottle where it belonged. "I've never had one."
"What? You've never had one? Do you even have bathtubs at the Temple, or just cold showers?"
"We have bathtubs," Obi-Wan explained as he straightened up, feeling faintly guilty as he remembered that Phar and her gang probably didn't have such comforts if they lived in the lower levels. "And hot showers."
"I took a bubble bath every day when I lived with my foster family," Phar said quietly, her voice sounding wistful. "It made me feel ... luxurious. Like a rich woman. But Drive ..."
She was silent for a long moment, and Obi-Wan finally asked, "Drive doesn't like bubble baths?"
Phar looked at him blankly, as though he had interrupted a daydream and she'd only heard the sound of his voice but not his actual words. Then she smiled a little and changed the subject. "You didn't answer my question."
"What was it again?" Obi-Wan asked, wondering why his normally good Jedi memory had let him down, but at that moment, Drive appeared in the doorway with a stack of soup bowls to add to the cart. He stood there and stared at them until Phar's smile faded completely. Grim-faced now, she picked up a handful of spoons, then turned to the sink and plunged them into the hot, sudsy water.
"The question was, could you come down and visit us sometime?" she asked innocently. "You could use your lightsaber to help us kill a few vrelts."
"We don't have vrelts," Drive said. "The Jedi doesn't need to visit us and we don't need his help."
"We do have vrelts!" Phar protested. "Remember the one that almost bit me? You said you'd hunt down and kill anything that hurt your sister. Remember?"
"Yes, I would. But I don't need Jedi help to do it," Drive snarled. Phar didn't answer, but Obi-Wan was aware of tension in her body.
Eventually, Drive turned away and went back out to pick up more plates, and Phar said quietly, "I need Jedi help. And ... I've never seen your lightsaber before."
"No, I guess you haven't," Obi-Wan said, glancing down to where it hung on his belt. "They wouldn't let me wear it when I helped out at the rehabilitation program."
The tension had disappeared from her body, and Phar threw back her head and laughed out loud. Surprised, Obi-Wan looked at her, not comprehending what was so funny. She didn't explain, but her laughter was contagious, and before he knew it, he was giggling along with her, not even stopping when Qui-Gon appeared in the doorway with another stack of bowls.
Back at the Temple again, Obi-Wan didn't see Dyarbin waiting for them at the entrance, but when they were halfway across the great hall, he came leaping down the stairs so fast that Obi-Wan worried he might slip and roll the rest of the way. "Hi, Obi-Wan, hi, Master Jinn, I've made a new droid, look!"
Trying extra hard to hide his impatience and remember how important it had been for him to get the attention that he'd craved during his own episode of hero worship, Obi-Wan smiled and admired the squat, ugly droid with its uneven number of appendages. Inwardly, however, he was wishing that it was Phar meeting him and showing him something that she'd created.
"Look, it can shoot a little bolt of electricity! Shoot!"
Obi-Wan jumped as the tiny electric spark hit his hand, and tried not to ask what it would be good for. "Very nice."
"And I did really well on my meditation! So can I spar with you to-day? Please, Master Jinn, has he got time to-day?"
"Yes, he certainly has," Qui-Gon replied.
Obi-Wan stifled a groan and nodded obediently, hoping that Dyarbin hadn't noticed his slight hesitation. "What time, Master?"
"You'll have an hour right before supper. In fact, Obi-Wan, you could practice with him the rest of the week while we're here on Coruscant. But you must excuse us now, Dyarbin, because Obi-Wan has many things to do before then."
"Thanks, Master Jinn! I'll be looking forward to it, Obi-Wan, and don't be late! One hour before supper!" Dyarbin gathered up his droid and leaped back up the stairs.
When he'd disappeared around the bend, Obi-Wan turned to Qui-Gon. "Master, please don't think I'm being disrespectful, but – the whole week?"
"You are not being disrespectful, Obi-Wan; however, the fact that you asked at all means you still need to work on patience and tolerance. The opportunity to learn is here, Obi-Wan, let us take it and be grateful."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan sighed. He knew he had to practice his patience in order to truly earn the title of Jedi. He knew he wasn't responding properly to Dyarbin and that he had to do better. He just wished that Qui-Gon would find a way for him to learn patience and tolerance with Phar instead.
After another lightsaber session in which Obi-Wan's left hand was tied behind his back, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan knelt down in meditation in their quarters. At first, Obi-Wan was successful in losing himself in the Force, but after a while, his attention wandered, and he found himself thinking of Phar yet again; her brilliant smile, the odd colour of her eyes, the way she tilted her head ...
The voice of his master finally drilled into his consciousness, and he opened his eyes, looking up sheepishly.
"How was your meditation?"
"Not – not very good," Obi-Wan admitted. "I was distracted."
"By – Phar. I was thinking about Phar."
"And what was so interesting about Miss Swife?"
To Qui-Gon, she was always Miss Swife, even here in their apartment. Obi-Wan wondered again why his master never referred to her as Phar, as she'd offered, or even by her full name Potiphar. He seemed to be purposefully keeping her at a distance, and Obi-Wan had no idea why.
"Everything. Nothing. I don't know. I just know I can't stop thinking about her," he confessed, then added, "I was feeling a bit guilty that I live here in the Temple and always have enough to eat and warm clothes to wear."
"I understood that Miss Swife was placed with a foster family who was able to provide her with those things as well," Qui-Gon said.
"Phar left. She said she missed her gang," Obi-Wan explained.
"If she left the family voluntarily, then she is taking the consequences of her choice."
Obi-Wan sighed. "I suppose. But why would she do that – choose to live on the streets in the lower levels and have to be dependent on soup kitchens or – or even crime to survive?"
"I don't know, Obi-Wan. You said that she missed the gang. Perhaps that feeling of belonging is more important to her than anything else."
Obi-Wan was silent as he tried to comprehend this concept, trying to remember what Phar had told him about the gang when he'd visited the correctional facility to work in the rehab program. Back then, he hadn't got the impression that belonging to the gang was the most important thing to her. If he recalled correctly, she'd been more excited about the chance to be part of a foster family and be allowed to go back to school. Once, she'd even admitted to being a little nervous as well, wondering if they would ever kick her out, and hoping she'd never give them reason to. He wondered again why she'd gone back to the gang.
"Master, she invited me to come visit her – and the gang. She said I could use my lightsaber to help them kill a few vrelts."
"Kill a few vrelts?" Qui-Gon looked at him sharply.
"She said they did have vrelts there, Master, and that one almost bit her once. May I go visit her? To – to help?"
Qui-Gon was silent for a long time and then finally replied, "No."
Obi-Wan was silent, but in answer to his unspoken question, Qui-Gon said, "I don't feel it would be a good idea."
"Why not?" Obi-Wan asked, carefully controlling his voice so as not to sound disrespectful.
"I do not know, not yet," Qui-Gon mused. "Sometimes we must trust the Force without knowing why. Perhaps if you meditate, you can tell me."
Obi-Wan frowned, feeling strangely defensive. Had that been a suggestion, an order, or a rebuke? He had been meditating – well, at least until he'd started thinking about Phar, and that had really only been for just a moment or two, right at the end, just one single stray thought about her smile.
Obi-Wan glanced up at the unusually sharp tone of voice, feeling guilty. "Sorry, Master. I was just – thinking."
"I see. Take your socks off."
"My socks, Master?" Obi-Wan asked, obediently shifting from a kneeling to a sitting position and tugging on the first one.
Qui-Gon stood up in one fluid motion and went to the shelves on one wall of the living room, taking down a small rectangular box. When he'd removed the object from inside, Obi-Wan could see that it was a stiff feather.
« Concentration exercises," Qui-Gon announced. "You will have to learn to deal with the distraction of me tickling your feet occasionally with this feather. Handstand."
Obi-Wan obediently put his hands down in the middle of the living room and flipped his feet up, using the Force to keep his balance.
"The cushion from the couch." Qui-Gon stepped closer to Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan levitated it into the air.
Obi-Wan reached out with the Force for them, too.
Size matters not, Obi-Wan reminded himself as he levitated Qui-Gon until the man's feet were level with his eyes, careful not to bump him into the ceiling. It was taking a lot of concentration already, even without the feather, but he knew that his master was right to introduce such a difficult exercise. He knew that he'd been distracted by Phar, and that he was thinking of her at inappropriate times. He had to learn how to put her out of his mind and concentrate on the moment. But knowing how much he needed the discipline didn't make acquiring it any easier, and at least twice, he dropped everything that he was levitating, including Qui-Gon. The session was gruelling, but mercifully brief.
"You may get up now," Qui-Gon announced after his second hard landing.
Obi-Wan put his legs down and straightened up slowly, letting a wave of dizziness wash over him.
"I believe Dyarbin is waiting for you."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan sat down to pull on his socks again, and his boots.
Dyarbin was in the hallway outside the training room when Obi-Wan arrived. He appeared to be talking to some other initiates, but as Obi-Wan got closer, the tone of their voices told him that it wasn't exactly a pleasant conversation.
"You gonna overpower him with that droid? Huh? Is that what it's for?"
"Yeah, I mean, it can shoot bolts of electricity! Obi-Wan better watch out! He's in mortal danger!" The Devaronian spoke sarcastically, but Dyarbin protested, "No, they're harmless, you just get a little shock. I wouldn't hurt -"
"You should build a whole army of droids, Dyar, you need every advantage you can get!"
"'Cause otherwise Obi-Wan could just – push – you – around!" The Bothan boy put his paws on Dyarbin's shoulder and punctuated his words with three hard shoves that sent Dyarbin backwards into the wall.
"Oww!" Dyarbin cried out, looking hurt and confused. Watching him reminded Obi-Wan of the times he'd been teased by others, and he felt a sudden, urgent wish for Dyarbin to defend himself, if not physically, then at least by verbally defusing the situation. But Dyarbin obviously could not think of any reply at all, nor did he even shove his way out of the attack. He simply stood there, expecting the worst. No, Obi-Wan decided, Dyarbin would never be chosen as a padawan. But the Temple did not exclude anybody, and tried hard to guide its children to where they could best use the talents they possessed. Dyarbin would probably end up doing something with electronics.
"Hello, Dyarbin," said Obi-Wan loudly. As he'd expected, the initiates jumped slightly, then tried to hide their surprise as they turned around to face him. They bowed respectfully and then walked away.
"Hello, Obi-Wan," Dyarbin said, smiling in relief. "Do you know what? They thought I was going to try to overpower you with my droid. They thought that the electrical bolts were too strong and you might be killed! But that's silly. I'd never build anything that could hurt anybody. You didn't get hurt when it shot you this afternoon, did you? It was just a little shock, right?"
"Right," said Obi-Wan, managing to control a small burst of impatience as they went into the training room. "Ready to spar?"
"Just a moment, Obi-Wan, I have to put Shooter away. Do you know why I call my droid Shooter? Because he can shoot little bolts of electricity." Dyarbin grinned, then placed the droid on the floor next to the wall and fumbled for his lightsaber. "Or did you want him to spar with us?"
"No, thank you. I think it's enough if it's just the two of us."
"Yes, you're right." Dyarbin gave a little giggle.
Wincing, Obi-Wan tried not to think of Phar and how nice her laughter had sounded in comparison to this annoying whinny. He and Dyarbin bowed to each other and then each stepped back and ignited his lightsaber. There was a very long pause.
"Well, come on, attack me," Obi-Wan finally said.
"Oh. Sorry." Dyarbin came at him with an overhead chop that Obi-Wan easily parried. Dyarbin retreated a step and Obi-Wan held back from swinging his lightsaber around to the boy's neck as he stood there considering. At length, he tried a low swing which Obi-Wan simply hopped over.
After several minutes of defending against the painfully obvious attacks, Obi-Wan began to daydream of how much more exciting it would be if he were visiting Phar instead, and killing the vrelts or anything else that threatened her. Maybe he'd even get a borrat. That would really impress her. He'd seen a life-size holo of one once, and it had been longer than he was tall, with ferocious looking tusks, and spines, and claws. If he got one of those, Phar would give him one of her dazzling smiles as thanks – she might even squeeze his hand. Both hands!
Obi-Wan's pleasant daydream was abruptly truncated by a searing pain in his arm and he cried out in surprise.
"Sorry! Obi-Wan, I'm sorry! Are you badly hurt? Shall I get some bacta? Maybe one of the healers? What if your arm falls off?" Dyarbin danced around agitatedly, seeming absolutely horrified.
"No, I'm fine, it's all right," Obi-Wan replied. "Calm down, Dyar, it's nothing."
"Are you sure?" Dyarbin asked.
"Yes, yes, I'm sure." After a moment, Obi-Wan added dutifully, "Good move, Dyar."
"Was it? Was it really?"
"Yes, it was. You caught me. A bit higher and it would have been kill point."
Dyarbin grinned with pleasure, and Obi-Wan shrugged inwardly, thinking that it didn't take much to make the boy happy. Really, he'd almost been doing him a favour by not paying attention.
As they sat down to their simple meal of soup and bread, Obi-Wan caught Qui-Gon looking at him with an odd expression on his face, one that he couldn't classify immediately. Remembering their earlier conversation and the unusual sternness in his master's voice, Obi-Wan asked, "Master, are you angry with me?"
"Why should I be angry with you, Obi-Wan?"
"Because of my ... feelings for Phar?"
"No, Obi-Wan. A crush is perfectly natural thing and I expected it to happen to you sooner or later." Qui-Gon stopped eating and regarded him with a small smile. "Actually, I was surprised when you didn't develop feelings for Princess Fabafabia."
Obi-Wan tried to remember Princess Fabafabia, but saw only Phar's face. After a moment, he quickly changed the subject. "Did you ever have a crush on someone?"
"Oh, yes," Qui-Gon admitted, to Obi-Wan's utter and total surprise. "Twice."
"Twice?" Obi-Wan echoed. "What did you do? What happened?"
"Nothing." Qui-Gon looked amused for a moment at Obi-Wan's obvious disappointment, then added more sternly, "We Jedi are allowed to have feelings. But we cannot allow them to rule us, and in many cases, we cannot act upon them at all. You must overcome this crush and not let it interfere with your training. You've made good progress with your anger and controlling your temper in the time that we've worked together. I know that you are capable of learning to control your other emotions and not wallow in them."
Obi-Wan nodded to acknowledge this wisdom, then paused, and finally got up the courage to ask, "Master, do you like Phar?"
"Whether I like her or not is immaterial, Obi-Wan. I am concerned for you, that's all. I am unhappy when you let yourself get distracted during meditation, for instance. A Jedi cannot afford to voluntarily interrupt his connection to the Force like that."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied, feeling grateful that Qui-Gon had not been there to see how he'd let himself get distracted during the match with Dyarbin. His master would be radiating disapproval if he'd seen even that tiny lapse in concentration, even though it was mostly Dyarbin's fault for being so boring and not being able to challenge Obi-Wan enough. Why couldn't Qui-Gon let him go down to Phar and concentrate on vrelts or borrats instead? Thinking of Phar again, remembering how she'd complained of having been hungry all night, he picked up his bread roll and looked at it for a long time. At length, he asked, "May I give this to Phar to-morrow?"
Qui-Gon considered the request. "You may, if you can do it so that nobody else sees you. I don't want to have to control a riot down there if people think that others are getting more to eat than they are."
Obi-Wan blushed slightly. He hadn't thought of that, but he still put the bread aside. Although his stomach growled once in protest, he ignored the feeling, thinking how much more Phar would be suffering from hunger, and began to plan a way to slip her the roll without anybody noticing.
The next day at the soup kitchen, Drive and Phar were close to the end of the line. Qui-Gon had volunteered both himself and Obi-Wan for guard duty, patrolling around the food line and between the tables to make sure that everybody remained peaceful throughout the meal and nobody tried to steal from the weaker beings. Two other Jedi were doling out the food, and so it was easy for Obi-Wan to sidle close to Phar as she finally came through the door. His mouth dropped open in surprise, however, as soon as he got close enough to see that she had a black eye.
"What happened to you?" he gasped.
Phar hesitated, glancing hesitantly towards Drive. The boy glared back, and after a moment, Phar lifted her head rebelliously and straightened her shoulders. "I wanted to wash my hair yesterday night. I had my head under the water, turned like this, but something startled me, and when I came up, I hit my eye on the tap."
"Just an accident, Jedi, nothing that concerns you," Drive growled.
Obi-Wan stared at her, wondering why he had the feeling that they were both lying. It wasn't just because he couldn't imagine the accident being the way she'd described it. Surely there would have been a scrape mark from the edge of the tap? There was something else that bothered him as well – but a gentle touch through the Force from across the room caught his attention, and he glanced over to Qui-Gon. His master made a circular motion with one finger, and Obi-Wan nodded obediently, then took up his round again.
When he passed the line again, Phar reached out and plucked at his sleeve. "How long are you going to be working here at this kitchen, Obi-Wan?"
Opening his mouth to answer, Obi-Wan suddenly realized that after his week-long shift was over, it would be a long, long time after that before he saw her again, if he ever did. The knowledge made him stop and stare deeply into her eyes as he murmured, "Just until the end of the week."
"Is that all? You worked at the rehab center for longer than that."
"I was recovering from an injury and wasn't allowed to go out on missions," he said apologetically.
"Oh, yeah, your arm, I remember."
"Are you injured now, is that why you're here?" Drive cut in, looking Obi-Wan up and down as though trying to probe for weaknesses.
Obi-Wan tried to control a burst of impatience at the interruption and answer politely. "No, I'm not injured. My master thought it was a good time for us to work here, that's all."
"Did your master say it was the will of the Force?" Phar asked, pulling away as Drive's overprotective hand tried to turn her in another direction.
"I think he only said it would be a good learning opportunity for me." As though the merest mention of Qui-Gon had triggered the action, another touch came through the Force. Obi-Wan acknowledged it with a slight wave of his hand, but could not step away just then, because Phar was speaking again.
"What are you going to do after you're finished here?"
"Probably go on a mission."
Hating to take advantage of her momentary speechlessness, but knowing his duty, Obi-Wan bowed ever so slightly to end the conversation and began to circulate among the tables again. It seemed to demand an excessive amount of effort to keep his mind on his task and not always glance over to Phar. He also couldn't shake the feeling that Qui-Gon was keeping a closer eye on him, almost the same as he did with the more-threatening individuals that visited the soup kitchen, and Obi-Wan felt irked by the thought.
Because Phar and Drive had come so late, most of the other beings had already gone by the time they'd finished eating. Robbed of the chance to wash dishes with Obi-Wan, because the other two Jedi had already started, Phar jumped up instead and began to clear some of the remaining plates. When she had a small stack, she approached Obi-Wan, flashed him that smile, and asked, "Where shall I put these?"
"I'll show you," he said, leading her towards the cart. She added the plates to the pile and settled the silverware in the upright basket, then remained where she was, staring up at him. "So, you gonna come visit us sometime soon?"
"I – uh – I'm not allowed," Obi-Wan admitted.
Phar looked as stricken as though she'd just been sentenced to death. "What? Why not?"
"My master said so." Disturbed by her obvious disappointment, Obi-Wan glanced around quickly to make sure nobody was watching them too closely, then reached into his cloak and brought out the bread roll, passing it discreetly to her. "Here. I saved this for you."
"Thanks!" Phar gave him a good effort of a smile, but it wasn't the dazzling kind. Unfastening her jacket a little bit, she pushed it inside. Obi-Wan could see a triangle of bare skin just below her collarbone, and looked away quickly, feeling embarrassed. When he looked back, she had fastened the jacket again.
"Do you always do what your master tells you?"
"Even if ... it was the will of the Force but he told you to do something different?"
"He wouldn't," Obi-Wan said, confused by such a question. "My master always follows the will of the Force."
"But what if the Force was only talking to you and not to him?"
"It wouldn't," Obi-Wan said automatically, but he was already wondering if such a thing was possible.
"Are you sure?"
He was silent, considering, and in that moment, Drive came up and grabbed Phar by the arm. "Come on, let's get out of here. They're going to close any moment now."
"We've still got a few minutes," Obi-Wan protested.
"Well, we haven't," Drive growled. "Come on, Phar."
"Ask your master again," Phar urged.
"Phar, come on."
"Stop it! Obi-Wan's right. We still have a few minutes! I'm not doing any harm, I'm just talking to him! Leave me alone!" Phar snapped.
"Come now or take the consequences," Drive repeated through gritted teeth, and Phar twisted suddenly in his grip as though trying to get away from something that pained her.
"What consequences?" Obi-Wan asked, staring at him suspiciously.
"None of your business, Jedi. She's my sister and she's nothing to you."
"I'd better go," Phar said in a small, defeated-sounding voice. "See you to-morrow, Obi-Wan."
She took two steps towards the door, then looked back at him. "If the vrelts don't eat me in the meantime. They're always so violent, you know."
"Would you shut up about those kriffing vrelts!" Drive hissed.
Obi-Wan watched them leave with a heavy heart.
During meditation that day, Obi-Wan tried extra hard to keep his mind on the Force, but it kept wandering back to Phar. At first he found himself considering what Phar had asked, if it were possible for the Force to speak to him without Qui-Gon knowing it, and then, before he knew it, he was remembering how Phar had opened her jacket, revealing the bare skin just below her collarbone. Had she been wearing anything underneath that jacket at all? The idea made his cheeks burn with embarrassment, and he felt guilty for even wondering. Opening his eyes hastily, Obi-Wan checked to see if Qui-Gon were staring at him in consternation, already planning another session of concentration exercises, but Qui-Gon's eyes were still closed in deep meditation. Greatly relieved, Obi-Wan exhaled as silently as he could, and tried to get back to something approaching meditation before his master noticed this latest lapse.
It seemed like forever before Qui-Gon finally opened his eyes.
"Master, is it possible for the Force to talk to me and not to you?" Obi-Wan asked before Qui-Gon could inquire about his meditation.
Qui-Gon frowned as he considered this question in silence for a long moment. "Theoretically, it must be possible, but just at the moment, I can't think of any specific examples in which this situation might occur. Can you?"
"Not specifically, no. I was just wondering – theoretically. If there was something the Force wanted me to do, for instance, and it -" Obi-Wan paused, wondering how to put it tactfully – "didn't involve you?"
"Hmm. If you felt the Force guiding you to this theoretical action, then I'm certain that I would be able to feel through the Force that I should let you go by yourself," Qui-Gon mused. Then, quite suddenly, he asked, "Are you trying to tell me that you felt the Force telling you to go visit Miss Swife and kill vrelts?"
Obi-Wan glanced up in shock and guilt, wondering if he were really that transparent. Chagrined, he decided he must be, otherwise Qui-Gon would not have asked. Regretting that he could not be other than truthful, he shook his head. "No, Master."
Qui-Gon nodded in acknowledgement. "Nor did I feel the Force allowing me to let you go. In fact, I felt quite the opposite, that you should stay far away from Miss Swife."
"But why?" Obi-Wan exploded. "What's so wrong about our friendship? What's so dangerous about her?"
Qui-Gon regarded him steadily for a long moment, not speaking, until Obi-Wan realized exactly how childish and petulant he'd sounded, and blushed with shame.
"My padawan," Qui-Gon asked gently, "you are being very disrespectful towards me. Your desire for the friendship of Miss Swife seems to be causing you to neglect your Jedi training."
Obi-Wan considered the statement, but immediately rejected the idea that it might possibly be true. Still, because Qui-Gon was obviously waiting for some kind of response, he murmured, "I'm sorry if it looks that way to you, Master."
"I felt very strongly through the Force that you should not visit Miss Swife. What did you feel, Obi-Wan?"
"Nothing," he admitted, glancing away.
Qui-Gon waited patiently.
"I wasn't able to feel anything, Master," Obi-Wan admitted, dragging his eyes back to where they belonged. "I wasn't able to meditate to-day at all. I just kept thinking about her. I know I shouldn't. I will make a better effort in the future."
"Have you decided to abandon your Jedi training and move in with Miss Swife, Obi-Wan?"
"What?" Obi-Wan could not believe his master had just asked such a question. "No, of course not! I just want to help her!"
Qui-Gon was not easily convinced, however. "You still wish to continue your training and become a knight?"
"Yes, Master, I do."
"Obi-Wan, no Jedi can serve two masters. You must decide which one you want to follow. If your heart is truly set on becoming a knight, then you must follow the will of the Force. If you cannot feel the Force yourself because you are too distracted, you will have to trust me to guide you, and I feel that it is wrong for you to visit her."
Miserably, Obi-Wan sighed, "I will do as you say, Master. I do trust you! But why – why is it so wrong?"
"I do not know." Qui-Gon sighed. "I don't often have visions of the future like Master Yoda. I feel the will of the Force, I don't see it. But if you were able to pull yourself together long enough to meditate, you might well be shown the answers you seek, or at least feel the will of the Force for yourself."
Obi-Wan knew that the gentle rebuke was justified, but couldn't help asking, "Master – can I still be friends with her?"
"Meditate on it, Obi-Wan. Concentrate on the Force, and tell me this evening what you feel," Qui-Gon replied, standing up. "You may leave our quarters only to seek out one of the meditation chambers or one of the gardens. You may not go elsewhere and you may not leave the Temple."
"Where are you going?"
"I shall find a practice room and review my katas," Qui-Gon said. "I might even go around the obstacle course later. Don't forget your appointment with Dyarbin. I'll see you at suppertime. And Obi-Wan, may the Force be with you."
"And with you, Master," Obi-Wan mumbled dutifully.
Qui-Gon gathered up his training bag and left, and as soon as the door slid shut behind him, Obi-Wan groaned. He knew it was his own fault that he was being disciplined, and that only made him feel worse than he already felt about the restrictions that had been placed on him. But the question about his commitment to the Jedi had stung quite a lot. Although he well knew that Jedi did not normally get involved in relationships, he also had to admit that he was searching for a compromise, a way for himself to innocently enjoy Phar's company on occasion and still remain a Jedi. Obi-Wan realized that the current situation might well look otherwise to Qui-Gon, perhaps even threateningly so. He'd just have to find a way to convince his master that he was still as trustworthy as ever, and so he tried again to concentrate his mind on the Force instead of on Phar, and really meditate this time. He had just achieved something approaching success when the chirping of his comlink interrupted him, and he groaned again in frustration before answering it.
"Obi-Wan?" came the breathless female voice from the other side.
"Phar?" The surprise left him all but speechless.
"Oh, Obi-Wan, I need help!"
"What kind of help?"
"I've – I've cut my hand really badly and I need some bacta. Please come, Obi-Wan! I'm afraid I might bleed to death!"
"Phar – I'm not allowed to come." There was only silence, and after a few moments, he began to feel cold with worry. "Phar? Phar, are you still there?"
"Yes ... I really need your help ..." She sounded weaker. "The blood ... is really gushing out."
"Isn't Drive there with you?"
"No – he and everybody else have gone out."
"You've got a bandage around it, right?" Obi-Wan felt sick, knowing that she was not only hurt, but completely alone.
"Your hand," Obi-Wan reminded her gently. She sounded distinctly shocky. People died of shock, even when their injuries weren't life-threatening. Maybe he really should go down and help. It wasn't as though he would be going because of his attraction to her. It was because she was hurt and needed assistance, and he was a Jedi, sworn to serve and protect.
"Oh ... we don't have anything here that I can use for a bandage."
"Isn't there a medical center close to where you are? I know there's one not far from the soup kitchen, maybe you can get to it."
"The free clinic's closed," she sighed. "And ... I don't have enough money for the other one. Please help me."
"Take your jacket off and wrap the sleeve around your wrist. Pull it tight. That should help stop the bleeding," Obi-Wan instructed, but he didn't like the idea of her not having anything to wear. She'd be shivering – she really needed a warm blanket.
There was silence except for a few rustling sounds, and then Phar asked plaintively, "Can't you come, Obi-Wan? Please? I really need your help. I don't know when Drive and the others will be back – it could be hours, maybe not even until to-night."
Obi-Wan considered. For that brief moment where he actually had been meditating, he thought he'd felt the Force telling him not to go. But, he told himself, it had been so brief that he couldn't be sure of what he'd felt. And this was an emergency. He could be there and back very quickly; there was still plenty of time before his appointment with Dyarbin, so he wouldn't even have to be late. And as for his master telling him he wasn't allowed to leave the Temple, well – wasn't it supposed to be easier to get forgiveness than permission? Or so he'd once heard. He'd gladly take the punishment when he got back, if he could only be certain that Phar was all right.
"Yes, all right," he said. "I'm coming. Hang on, Phar, I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Great!" she squealed, sounding better already.
Obi-Wan raced around their quarters, gathering up the emergency medical box that they kept in a cabinet in the refresher and pulling the extra blanket out of the wardrobe in his room, then ran down the corridor to the lift. At the Temple doors, however, Obi-Wan faltered. There was still a chance to turn back without having disobeyed his master. If he went on, he knew that Qui-Gon would be very disappointed in him. Hadn't he just told his master that he trusted him? Hadn't he just agreed that he'd stay in the Temple? And yet here he was, going out, doing exactly the opposite. The thought made him wince in anticipation.
And yet it was an emergency! Surely Qui-Gon would understand. Obi-Wan was sure that his master would forgive him after hearing about Phar's serious injury, and though he might still have to discipline Obi-Wan, it wouldn't be so very bad. Obi-Wan also decided that he didn't necessarily have to explain to his master that he'd gone against the Force, because the moment had been so fleeting that he couldn't be sure that he'd felt anything at all, and so there was no reason to mention it in the first place.
Sitting in the public transport that was headed in the direction of the quadrant where Phar lived, Obi-Wan tried once to meditate. He could not find peace in the Force, however, just an uncomfortable feeling. Deliberately, he brought himself out of the trance and closed his mind to the Force, gripping the medical box to remind himself of what was going on. Phar needed help. He was a Jedi. It was his duty to help those who couldn't help themselves. That was all he had to think about at the moment.
At the transport stop, he had to com Phar for directions. Although he didn't have her code, it was easy to program the link to connect again with the last comlink connection. As Obi-Wan waited to hear the first chirp, he wondered vaguely how Phar had got his code in the first place. He didn't remember giving it to her.
"Obi-Wan?" Phar called out joyously almost before the first chirp had ended.
"I'm here," he said, relieved that she was still alive and coherant. He'd almost expected her to be too dazed to be of much help, but she was able to give him clear directions to where the gang was currently squatting. Obi-Wan had never descended so many levels before, and the farther he went down, the darker it became. No sunlight penetrated these urban canyons, and evidence of vrelts and other wild creatures became more prominent as he continued.
At last, following Phar's voice on the com, he came to the right level and found the building that Phar had described. He supposed it had once been an apartment building, to judge by the pattern of the windows and doors, both above and below the cracked, narrow, treacherous walkway. Some of the plasteel windows were cracked, as though they'd been hit by air traffic some centuries ago, and one or two were missing completely.
"Obi-Wan?" Phar appeared suddenly in one of the doorways where the door was jammed in a half-open position, and waved vigorously to get his attention, although she was not far away. "In here."
Switching off his comlink and returning it to the correct pouch, Obi.-Wan slipped in sideways, and Phar grabbed the blanket out of his arm. "Is that for me? Thanks!"
"How's your hand?" Obi-Wan asked, feeling confused. He'd expected to find her lying in a pool of blood, but here she was, acting as spritely as ever. He couldn't see either hand, as they were now both hidden under the blanket.
"Your hand. You told me that you'd cut it. I brought a med-box."
"Oh, my hand!" Phar backed away. "Come with me and I'll show you. Careful, watch where you're going."
Reluctantly squashing the first flicker of suspicion, Obi-Wan followed her through a maze of tripwires in the remains of what had once been an entry hall; some were thick and obvious, others were made of threads so fine that they could hardly be seen.
"The alarm system's pretty primitive, I know, but it lets us know if someone or something is trying to get in," Phar said. "Not everybody can find a place, even down here. My room's over here."
Many hundreds of years ago, Obi-Wan surmised, the gang's hideout might once have been a luxury apartment. The room in which they emerged was not only large, but there was also a window taking up most of one wall, although the bottom two thirds of it had been covered over with metal plates, leaving only a thin strip at the top to admit a dubious amount of light. He could see some large crates piled in one corner. One was open, revealing what appeared to be pop-n-serve meal trays. Obi-Wan blinked in surprise. If he were seeing correctly, then why did they come to the soup kitchen in the first place?
A corridor led to other rooms, but Phar led him in the opposite direction, to a small room branching off from the main one. He had no idea what it had once been. A library, a dining room, a kitchen? There was no window here, or else it had been covered up as well, and the light from the sloppily-rigged overhead fixture was dim. Debris of various broken mechanical things had been pushed into the far corner and there was a thin, dirty mattress in the small remaining space on the side by the door. Phar laid the blanket down on it and unfolded it enough to cover the mattress. "Thanks, Obi-Wan. The Force must have really inspired you. This'll make it much better."
He was able to see both her hands now, and there was no cut on either of them. Feeling confused and somehow betrayed, Obi-Wan cried, "I thought you said you were hurt!"
"I did say that," Phar agreed, coming over to stand between him and the doorway. She reached for the med-box and tossed it onto the mattress.
"But you haven't cut your hand."
"Oh, Obi-Wan. I had to say something, didn't I? And it worked, it got you away from your master." She smiled that smile up at him, but for the first time, it didn't have its usual effect on Obi-Wan.
"Can you guess how I got your com code?" she asked, still beaming at him.
He shook his head, starting to feel annoyed.
"You didn't drop it the other day. I took it from you, and one of my friends in another gang put it through a codefinder."
"You took it?" At first he was confused, and then realization dawned. "You stole it?"
"I borrowed it, Obi-Wan. I could hardly ask you for the code right in front of your master." Phar came closer and laid her hands flat on his chest, moving them towards the opening of his robe, and then pushing the robe aside. She was looking at him intently, and Obi-Wan felt his annoyance warring with the new, vaguely familiar sensation that was trying to take over. After a moment, he recognized that Phar was staring at him in the same intense, almost mesmerizing way as when she'd squeezed the bottle of washing up liquid into the water, back at the soup kitchen. Was it just his imagination, or was this feeling not quite as uncomfortable as it had been before?
"Are you feeling the Force right now?" Phar asked suddenly.
Caught completely off guard by the question, Obi-Wan managed to stammer, "What Force? I mean, uh – no, not just at the moment. Why?"
Phar moved her hands down his arms, sliding the robe off. It fell in a heap around his feet. "But you've got to feel it or you can't use it, right?"
"Uh, yeah, right, but -"
Phar reached for the fastening of his belt. "So reach out for it. Feel it. We'll probably only have this one chance, we've got to do this right."
"What?" Obi-Wan squeaked, looking down at her hands and wondering what she was doing.
"Sleep with me," Phar said, as though it had been obvious. "And you have to use the Force to make sure I get pregnant."
"Sleep with you?" Obi-Wan stepped backwards in alarm at the same instant as his belt came off in Phar's hand, and got his feet tangled in his own robe. It took him a few seconds to work his way clear of it.
"Yes, sleep with me," she smiled, dropping the belt and approaching him again. "Don't be shy. Just go along with me. I've got this all planned out. You use the Force to make sure I get pregnant. Then you can take me to live in the Temple with you, 'cause the child will be a Jedi just like you. And I'll always have enough to eat, and a warm place to sleep, and Drive won't be able to touch me."
"Huh?" Obi-Wan asked, bewildered by the plan. Surely she was too young to be thinking of this sort of thing? He knew he certainly was.
"You didn't really believe I hit my head on the tap?" Phar pointed to her black eye. "My brother's an awful spoilsport. He took me away from my foster family and made me come back here, just 'cause he was jealous. Didn't want me to have anything he couldn't have. 'Course he didn't say it. He called it 'keeping the family together'. I could have finished school if it hadn't been for him. And now that I'm here, he doesn't let me have any fun. Doesn't want me to even look at other people, especially not any nice boys like you. He doesn't let me go on any raids, he only lets me out for mealtimes because they're legal! He calls it 'protecting' me, making sure he doesn't 'lose' me again. Hah! The way he protects me, I want to get lost! But once I'm in the Temple, he won't be able to lay a finger on me, 'cause I'll be the mother of a Jedi."
Phar came forwards again, but this time, her hands went to the fastenings of her own jacket.
"Um – it doesn't work like that –" Obi-Wan tried to explain, but his tongue got tangled as his eyes followed the motions of her fingers, and he wasn't able to tell her that the Jedi Temple only took children, never the mothers. After a moment of staring, he finally, truly realized what she was about to do. The knowledge was like a cold shower, and he blurted out, "This is wrong."
He tried to push past her to the door, but Phar blocked him by throwing her arms around him and standing on his feet. "How can sex be wrong when it's in all the books? Where do you think I got the idea in the first place?"
"Wh-What books?" Obi-Wan tried to free himself without hurting her, or even touching her too much. She refused to let go.
"The Jedi Romance Series. I've read them all! I know all about it!" Phar locked her hands behind his back and began to tug. She wasn't strong enough to move him, however.
"Jedi Romance Series?" Obi-Wan echoed in utter bafflement. "I've never heard of such a thing."
"Don't worry. Like I said, I know all about it." For a moment, though, Phar's confident voice faltered and she looked hesitant, but then she lifted her head and added, "I've read them all and I'll tell you anything you need to know as we go along."
Obi-Wan stared at her in consternation, automatically holding his ground as she tried again to pull him in the direction of her bed. When he finally found his voice again, he stammered, "I don't know about any Jedi Romance books, but I know this isn't in the Jedi Code. Jedi are supposed to strive for virtue, not for – not for this!"
"Virtue?" Phar repeated, sounding exactly as baffled as Obi-Wan had done before. "That's not in the books!"
Mustering his courage and desperation, Obi-Wan began to tickle Phar's ribs until her grip relaxed, and then he pushed her forcefully away so that she sat down hard on the mattress. He bent down and scooped up his robe and belt, then made for the door. Phar reacted faster than he had hoped, however, leaning forward far enough so that she could grab the corner of his robe as it went by.
"Please!" she pleaded, holding it tight as she stood up. "Just this once! That's all it would take if you did it right!"
Obi-Wan stopped and turned, wanting to repeat what the Jedi Order had drilled into him from infancy, that Jedi were celibate, but Phar had pulled close again and was trying to find the waistband of his trousers. Dropping his robe and belt in order to stop her hands, Obi-Wan reflected in one detached part of his mind that he'd never been so grateful before for the many layers of tabard and tunics that he wore. At that moment, however, they were interrupted by scuffling sounds and muffled laughter out in the large room. Phar froze, looking alarmed and angry. "Oh, stang, they're back early! If you hadn't been so virtuous, we could have done it by now!"
Obi-Wan grasped her wrists to push her away, but Phar dug her fingers into his tunics. When she spoke, her voice was low and quiet, and sounded afraid. "Quick! Hide! If Drive sees you here, he'll kill me!"
But Obi-Wan had no intention of remaining even one more minute with her in that tiny room, and began to pull her hands away from his clothes. "No. I'm going."
After a split second of indecision, Phar relaxed her grip, then took a deep breath and let out an ear-splitting screech. "HELP! RAPE! HELP!"
Utterly shocked, Obi-Wan let go and backed away two steps. Phar continued to scream, however, and when Obi-Wan turned towards the door with a vague thought in his mind of escaping, he ran smack into Drive.
"Rape! He tried to rape me!" Phar panted. "Look, he was already taking his belt off!"
Obi-Wan raised both his hands and tried to speak rationally to Drive and the other gang members. "That's not true -"
He didn't get very far. Drive hauled back and hit him across the face with his fist, and Obi-Wan, who had closed his mind to the Force in order not to experience that uneasy feeling, never sensed it coming. Coming from Drive's left hand, the blow sent Obi-Wan staggering into the pile of debris on the other side of Phar's little room. Drive stalked over and leaned down, no doubt wanting to pull Obi-Wan up for more, but Obi-Wan exploded back up at him, acting on instinct and the result of years of training. Throwing him hard to one side, he moved for the door again, but the other members of the gang had crowded around the narrow entrance, and he collided with the small, miserable-looking Rodian in the middle. The Rodian fell to the floor and Obi-Wan struggled to keep his balance, realising with a start that his lightsaber was on the floor along with everything else in his belt.
"Get him!" Drive shouted. "Nobody touches my sister!"
"I didn't touch her!" Obi-Wan shouted back, but several hands and other appendages caught and propelled him backwards into Phar's bedroom again. Seeing the shadow of movement out of the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan twisted away, and the blade that had been raised only glanced off his upper arm instead. It was a different pain than the burn of a training lightsaber, but he classified it as equally harmless in the split second that it took for him to turn back and kick out with one foot, catching Drive hard in the stomach. Except that it wasn't Drive. It was another human, trying to get in on the fight. He stumbled backwards, his hands over his abdomen, then retched suddenly.
Drive barrrelled into Obi-Wan, slamming him sideways into the wall and leaving him no time to regret his mistake. The blade went into the same arm again, deeper this time. Shouting with the pain, Obi-Wan twisted away, then dropped to a crouch, head-butting Drive in the stomach and sending him across the room to the debris in the corner. The knife fell to the floor with a clatter. With his left hand, Obi-Wan reached down and caught his belt by one end, lifting it off the floor, but had no time to detach his lightsaber or ignite it. The mangy-furred Togorian had clapped a great paw onto his right shoulder. Pulling him back and up and propelling him into the opposite wall, the Togorian then balled his paw to a fist with the intent of driving it into Obi-Wan's solar plexus. Obi-Wan pulled his knee close to his chest and kicked, landing it hard between the Togorian's legs. The punch lost its impact halfway through.
But yet another gang member had squeezed into the tiny room just far enough to deliver a hard kick to the side of Obi-Wan's knee. Still somewhat rattled from the Togorian's attack, Obi-Wan was knocked to the mattress, but rolled from his side onto his face preparatory to getting to his feet again. He didn't get higher than knees and one arm. As though he'd been waiting for that moment, Drive had grabbed a heavy piece of debris from the pile in the corner, holding it above his head with both hands. Brutally, he slammed it several times into Obi-Wan's back, not always missing his spine, and Obi-Wan went down under the barrage.
Falling to his knees at Obi-Wan's feet, and still clutching himself with one hand, the Togorian reached out angrily and raked the claws of his other hand down the part of Obi-Wan's leg that he could reach. His howls of pain and anger increased a notch as his claws caught briefly on the edge of Obi-Wan's boot, but then he managed to free them, and reached out for another swipe, higher this time.
Shouting in outrage at the pain of the deep gashes in his buttock and thigh, searching frantically for the Force that he had cut himself off from, Obi-Wan scrabbled to separate his lightsaber from his belt. Eventually, it came free in his hand, and his chance to get up came only a moment later. Still swinging his debris, Drive hit the Togorian across the arm by accident just as he was reaching out for Obi-Wan's back. The Togorian roared indignantly, then lashed out with his injured arm, catching Drive across the knee with his claws. Freed from the continual barrage of blows, Obi-Wan staggered to his feet and ignited his saber. The battle stopped instantly, and those around the doorway pulled back a little.
"Let me through," Obi-Wan commanded quietly, but the gang members remained where they were, looking stupidly to Drive for orders. The young man was holding his knee in both hands, but managed an angry, pain-filled shout of "Don't let him get away!"
Without thinking, acting on instinct now, Obi-Wan called on the Force. It poured into him, surprising him with its intensity, and he realized he'd been secretly afraid that the Force might have refused him, the same way he'd refused it on the way down here. It was a relief to discover that it was still there, still willing to let him use it. Thrusting out his hand towards the gang, he sent a wave of power in their direction, knocking them over like a tower of children's blocks. He followed the wave, scarcely waiting for the gang members to hit the floor, and moved as fast as he could to the entry hall.
Outside on the walkway, Obi-Wan hobbled along towards the corner of the building, aiming for the bridge to the next building where there were stairs that led up to the next level. It was a complete shock when Phar came racing around that corner and skidded to a stop about two meters away. He'd thought she was still inside; he hadn't realized there might be other exits from the apartment, or maybe she had come out behind him and run around the building in the opposite direction. He'd hardly been travelling very fast. The sight of her, with her jacket still partly unfastened, only filled Obi-Wan with disgust now, and for the first time in his life, he wanted to spit. Gripping a knife in one hand, Phar looked at him with contempt as well. Obviously, she was itching to use it, but didn't quite dare.
"Why did you have to ruin my plan?" she hissed in a low, angry voice. "I actually liked you until -"
Something behind Obi-Wan caught her attention, and she glanced over his shoulder.
Turning slightly, Obi-Wan risked a glance as well. Drive and the Rodian had come out onto the walkway, and the Rodian had something in his hand that he was preparing to throw. Obi-Wan groaned inwardly; to add insult to injury, he'd allowed himself to be caught in a simple scissors maneuver. The only way to get out was to leap across the chasm to the walkway of the next building. The section just opposite to him still had part of a safety railing; he'd have to clear that and yet not knock his head on the underside of the walkway just above it.
"I'll bring that Jedi down!" the Rodian shouted, lifting one arm and letting something fly.
Feeling the familiar urgent stab of the Force, warning him of danger, Obi-Wan knew that there was no time to prepare for such a jump, and simply ducked. The missle flew over him in the same instant that he realized it would hit Phar instead, and he looked up just as it thudded into her forehead. She crumpled instantly, landing half on the edge of the walkway, and slid off, disappearing soundlessly over the side.
"Phar!" Drive screamed frantically, along with the Rodian, and Obi-Wan heard the same name coming out of his own mouth as well. He'd fallen to his knees when he'd ducked, having to support himself with one hand against the pain in his back. Now he shuffled sideways and peered over the edge, but there was nothing to see, no convenient roof of a lower building, just the sides of this one and the next one, stretching down into a dark infinity. Lifting his head again, he looked back to where Drive was standing just behind the small Rodian, both of them motionless with utter shock. The Rodian had frozen in the act of lifting up a second piece of debris to throw.
"What have you done? You killed her!" Drive roared.
Reaching out to the Force, not only to help him overcome his own shock but also to help him be able to move in the first place, Obi-Wan made himself stand up and dive towards the opposite building. He caught the railing with one hand and brought his legs around to the side, swinging them over. Landing initially on his feet, he lost his balance and dropped to his knees immediately afterwards, sending a jolt of agony throughout his body.
Scrambling to an upright position as fast as the pain would allow, Obi-Wan allowed himself a quick look back. Drive had been shouting at the Rodian and there was a clang as the smaller gangmember dropped the second piece of metal he'd equipped himself with.
"You killed her! You killed my sister!"
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean it! Drive, I never meant to hit her!" the Rodian babbled. There was the sound of fist hitting face, again and again, and the Rodian's voice reflected increasing pain as he cried out, "I was aiming for the Jedi! I told you I'd bring him down! No! Please! He shouldn't have ducked! Drive! No!"
Gritting his teeth and pulling on the Force even more in order to be able to walk, Obi-Wan limped away, still holding his lightsaber ready in case Drive should come after him. It seemed to take forever to get back to the upper levels of Coruscant. Once, a long, long time ago, there had been lifts and escalators that worked, but now they were still, and Obi-Wan had to transverse each step under his own power, feeling the pain deep in his leg increase with every movement, and the pain in his back and ribs increase with every breath. He walked slowly, weighed down as much by the sorrow and guilt in his heart as by his injuries, and kept his lightsaber ignited until he actually arrived at the nearest transport stop. Realising that he was now being stared at by people who neither looked nor smelled like gang members, and were too well-dressed for the lower levels, Obi-Wan finally switched his lightsaber off and lowered his arm.
His arm hurt and there was blood trickling down inside his sleeve. With shaking fingers, Obi-Wan clamped his lightsaber under one arm, then undid his sash and tied it tightly around his upper thigh in a feeble attempt to staunch the stronger bleeding there. He'd just finished when he caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye, and reached automatically for his saber, but it was only the arrival of the transport. The other people moved away from him in alarm, and kept their distance even after they'd boarded. Obi-Wan found that he didn't blame them. If he'd been able to edge away from himself, he'd have done so, too.
If only he hadn't gone down there, Phar would still be alive! Even if she'd wanted to seduce him, it didn't mean that she'd deserved to die, and especially not from a missle that had been intended for him. If only he hadn't ducked, if only he'd blocked the throw with the Force. The Force. If only he'd listened to it in the first place, he wouldn't have been caught in such a compromising situation, and things would have been so different. Obi-Wan sighed miserably, cutting it short because of the agony in his spine and ribs. Why hadn't he trusted – or even listened to – his instincts and stayed in the Temple? Why hadn't he called Qui-Gon and asked for help as soon as Phar had contacted him?
Because he'd wanted to help, he remembered, but mostly, he'd wanted to be with her. He'd let his emotions rule him. He'd been afraid that Phar was dying, bleeding to death, and it had given him the perfect excuse to rush to her side. But she hadn't even been injured. She'd lied to him, and because of that lie, he'd disobeyed his master and deliberately ignored the Force. Now Obi-Wan was going to have to confess to Qui-Gon that he had no excuse at all for being guilty of the two worst sins in the Temple. Not only that, but his actions had led to the death of another person. He might as well have killed her himself; it came down to the same thing. He felt sick knowing that Qui-Gon would probably have to dismiss him from the Order, and knowing that he well deserved such a fate made him feel even sicker.
When the transport landed, Obi-Wan moved wearily to the door and exited, then limped along the walkway that led in the direction of the Temple's door. He was weak and shaky and his progress was correspondingly slow, but eventually, he reached the main entrance. In order to gain access to the Temple again, he had to undergo the same retinal scan that he'd been subjected to before he'd gone out, and while he was doing so, the guard took one look at him and commed the infirmary. Weak and lightheaded from blood loss, Obi-Wan sank down onto the nearby bench and waited for the Healer team to come pick him up. In a way, he was relieved that he didn't have to face Qui-Gon immediately, in the state he was in, but in another way, he wanted to get it over with, too.
The healer padawans arrived and did the routine check-over, then covered the wounds on his arm and leg with bacta bandages before helping him onto their hover-stretcher. Laying flat hurt even more than sitting upright, but they were already covering him with a bright blue blanket and fastening the straps over it, and then he was being whisked away towards the lifts. On the way into the infirmary, however, they almost collided with another hover stretcher coming from the second lift, and Obi-Wan was shocked to see Qui-Gon walking alongside, holding the hand of whoever it was.
"Master!" he called, trying to pull one hand out from under the blanket despite the pain that his struggles caused. Qui-Gon looked over for a short moment, obviously surprised, but didn't get a chance to speak before the other stretcher pulled ahead, sweeping him along with it to enter the infirmary first.
Obi-Wan was taken to a private examination room. Although he'd expected Master Healer An-Paj, who seemed to be around most of the time when Obi-Wan was injured, it was instead a female Healer just a few years shy of being ancient, and her very young, very new Devaronian padawan, who checked him over. The Healer was patient and thorough, explaining every step of every examination, and the result of every scan, which showed some cracked vertebrae and ribs, two of which were also broken as well. She was also, despite her age, strong enough to help Obi-Wan sit up and roll over onto his stomach as needed, using the Force to dull his pain receptors so that the movement did not result in agony. When it came to cutting Obi-Wan's trousers away, however, she let her padawan do it, encouraging him at almost every snip, then questioned the boy about the wounds. The Devaronian hesitantly, but correctly guessed that it had been a Togorian, and was both relieved and astonished to discover he was right. Obi-Wan kept opening his mouth to ask for Qui-Gon, but could not get a word in edgewise.
"Now, with this kind of injury, padawan, we'll want to put him in a horizontal bacta tank -" the woman intoned.
"Please, can somebody get my master?" Obi-Wan finally broke in, lifting his head slightly to emphasize his words. Pain radiated throughout his body; down his arm and leg, and from his spine along his ribs, but the need to confess was stronger, and he persisted. "He's in here somewhere. I saw him when I came in. Please. I really need to talk to him."
The Healer frowned at the interruption, then sent her padawan to find Master Jinn. The boy returned only a few moments later and reported, "Master An-Paj says that Master Jinn will have time to see you soon, but he's desperately needed over there just at the moment and that you should be patient."
"Sorry, Padawan Kenobi, but wounds like these don't have time to be patient. Let's get you into bacta now," the Healer announced, giving the repulsor stretcher a nudge with her leg to get it moving.
Obi-Wan was too surprised to protest as she guided the stretcher out of the room and down to the bacta tank gallery at the end of the corridor. Why had Master An-Paj answered, and not Qui-Gon? Who in the galaxy could be more important to Qui-Gon than him, his own padawan? Surely he'd seen that Obi-Wan was hurt, too! Or was he already rejecting Obi-Wan, having guessed by one single look that disobedience had led to his injuries? Almost afraid to hear the answer, Obi-Wan nonetheless lifted his head again and glanced around for the healer padawan. "What is my master doing?"
"Holding that other boy's hand," the Devaronian said bluntly.
Another boy? Qui-Gon couldn't already have somebody else in mind to be his new padawan, could he? The thought hurt more than any physical torment, but he tried to accept it, knowing it was no less than he deserved. "Do you – do you know who it is?"
"Yeah, it's Dyarbin-the-Droidmaker. He's badly hurt – I don't know what happened, though."
Dyarbin? Hurt? Obi-Wan felt even worse than he'd felt before. He didn't know what had transpired, but he had a feeling that it wouldn't have happened and Dyarbin would not have been hurt if he'd only been there, and hadn't skipped the appointment to chase after Phar. The wave of guilt that washed over him was thick and heavy, and he almost wished he'd died back in the gang hideout, instead of having to come here and face the consequences of his actions.
"Padawan, how do we refer to our patients?" the Healer prompted as they went around the corner and the door to the bacta tank gallery opened in front of them. Obi-Wan listened miserably, almost certain that he'd never hear Qui-Gon say the word "padawan" to him again, and felt the threat of tears in his eyes.
The healer apprentice answered, "I meant, it's Initiate Goloda."
"That's better. You wouldn't like if it people went around calling you Salaffa-the-stethoscope-swinger, would you?"
The Devaronian looked confused, as if to say that they already did, but shook his head anyway. "No, Master. Sorry, Master."
They stopped next to a horizontal bacta tank, and the padawan reached to pick up the mouthpiece of the respirator. "Now what, Master?"
"Fit it carefully into his mouth, yes, that's right. Can you breathe through your nose for a moment, Obi-Wan? Put the straps over his head, like that, yes, good. Pull them a bit tighter, that's right." The master gave it an experimental tug, then stepped back. "Now, padawan, look into his eyes, feel the Force, and put him to sleep."
The Devaronian stared intensely into Obi-Wan's eyes, waved his hand in an overly dramatic gesture, and in an obvious imitation of his master, intoned, "Sleep now."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes automatically, but opened them again as soon as he realized he was not falling asleep. The padawan looked disgruntled, but tried it again.
"Master, it's not working," he finally admitted.
"Are you feeling the Force?" the master asked.
"I'm try – I thought I was."
"Allow me," said a deep voice. Obi-Wan glanced up beyond the Devaronian and froze guiltily. Qui-Gon!
Wanting to remove the mouthpiece of the respirator so that he could say something, Obi-Wan reached belatedly for the straps, but Qui-Gon caught his hand and lifted it gently away. "You're badly hurt, Obi-Wan. We'll talk later. Sleep now."
When Obi-Wan became aware again, he was lying on his stomach on a bed that was both yielding and supportive, and the pain of his injuries had been reduced to a dull ache in his spine and ribs.
"And one here," said a voice above him, the voice of the ancient female Healer.
He felt something settle against the skin of his back and begin vibrating just enough to be tangible – a bone knitter.
"Is that all?" asked the Devaronian padawan.
"Yes, that's all."
"Between the two of them, have we even got any bone knitters left?"
The female laughed a little. "Yes, a few. Don't worry. Good morning, Obi-Wan, would you like to sit up now?"
With the Healer's help, Obi-Wan managed to sit upright and even pull on an infirmary tunic while the padawan raised the head of the bed. He settled against it gingerly, then relaxed as he felt the warm, gelatinous mass inside the mattress conform to support him without pushing unduly on the bone-knitters.
"Can I have a drink?" he asked. The padawan brought him a cup and held it for him as he drank out of the straw. It tasted like bacta, of course. Everything would for a while.
"My droid!" came a panicked voice from the other side of the room. "Where's my droid? I can't find my droid!"
Obi-Wan turned his head to see Dyarbin sitting in the bed next to him, searching frantically under the covers.
"Did you have it here with you?" the female Healer asked.
"Yes! Master Jinn put it right here in my hands before I went to sleep!"
The Healer leaned down and picked up a jumble of parts from the floor. "Is this it?"
"Shooter!" Dyarbin exclaimed happily, reaching out for it, then cutting the motion short with a moan. "Ugh, it still hurts!"
"It will twinge for a while. Lay still now," the Healer told him. "You can do a healing meditation until breakfast comes. You, too, Obi-Wan."
The Healer and her padawan went out, and Dyarbin looked over at Obi-Wan with a pained, confused expression. "Do you know what?"
"While I was waiting for you to come spar with me, those bad boys took my droid and hid it up on that highest bar on that highest level of the obstacle course! Then they ran away and left me to get it down all by myself! I climbed up, but before I could reach it, I slipped and fell all the way down! I must have broken every bone in my entire body! Even my funny bone! It hurt so bad, I thought I was going to die! I couldn't move and I could hardly breathe!" His voice sounded more accusing than Obi-Wan had ever heard it, and he felt nauseous with guilt.
"I'm sorry," he said weakly.
"Master Jinn came along just then and found me – and he got my droid back! He just used the Force, and zap, there it was!"
"Why didn't you use the Force to get it down?" Obi-Wan asked, wondering why Dyarbin had felt obliged to do things the hard way.
"You know I can't," Dyarbin snorted. "I can only move really small things with the Force. Engineering things. I told you that once. The droid was too big and too heavy, and too far away. I know Master Yoda always says that size matters not, but it does. To me, anyway."
"Oh." Obi-Wan winced inwardly. If he had been there, he could have used the Force to get the droid for Dyarbin. Or maybe he could have prevented it from happening in the first place. His presence might have been enough to send those boys on their way again, just as it had been the other day. Feeling miserable, Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a moment so that he wouldn't have to look at Dyarbin. Guilt pressed down on him like a heavy weight, making it hard to breathe.
"Obi-Wan, where were you? Why didn't you come to spar with me? Master Jinn was also surprised that you weren't there yet."
Obi-Wan felt tears pricking his eyelids, and had to swallow before he could answer, "I'm sorry, Dyar. I – thought that – that someone else needed my help -"
"What kind of help?"
"Just – help. But they didn't really. It was a – trap."
"A trap? What kind of trap?"
"They wanted a Jedi," Obi-Wan reported sadly. "They just wanted a Jedi."
"Did they try to kill you?"
Dyarbin was uncharacteristically quiet for a few moments and then he said, "I wish you'd been there. It really hurt."
"I'm so sorry," Obi-Wan said again, but Dyarbin continued, "Those bad boys are going to be scrubbing refreshers for the rest of their lives, if they're not kicked out completely! I'm glad, but thinking about it doesn't make the pain go away."
"I know," Obi-Wan sighed.
Dyarbin turned his head towards the window, and Obi-Wan felt his rejection like a stab in the heart. As much as he'd wished for the boy's hero worship to come to an end, he'd never intended to let Dyarbin down, and certainly not to crush his feelings like that. More fervently than ever, he wished he'd listened to the Force and stayed in the Temple. He had felt the Force's warning when he'd been meditating, he really had. He just hadn't wanted to listen, and had tried to convince himself that there hadn't been anything to feel, that it had all been just his imagination. Dyarbin could so easily have broken his neck when he'd fallen. As it was, he'd been badly hurt. Obi-Wan didn't believe that the boy had broken all the bones in his body, as he'd claimed, but there must have been a lot of damage that now demanded lots of bone-knitters. Why hadn't he been there to prevent it all from happening? He hadn't thought that such a seemingly simple act of disobedience could have such tragic results. If only he'd listened to the Force! So many things could have been different now – Phar would still be alive, and Dyarbin would not have been injured, physically or mentally.
Just after breakfast, there was a knock at the door. Obi-Wan hoped that it would be Qui-Gon, but was disappointed to see a young healer padawan showing a middle-aged Twi'lek male into the room.
"That's him over there," the padawan said, pointing. The Twi'lek thanked him with a smile, then came into the room and approached Dyarbin's bed.
"Hello," he said. "That's a wonderful looking droid you have there."
Dyarbin grinned and held it up. "I made it myself! It can do all sorts of things!"
"I can see that." The Twi'lek took the droid in his hands and sat down on the side of Dyarbin's bed to examine it. "This is good work, but would you like to learn how to build bigger and better droids, and lots of other kinds of electronic things, too?"
"Yes!" Dyarbin shouted, making Obi-Wan wince.
"Well, my name is Relleg Isom and I work in the Jedi School of Electronics. I've heard of your great potential, and I'd like to invite you to come live in our school and learn with us."
"Yes!" Dyarbin shouted again, starting to stand up. "Can I come now? What can I learn first? Can I design starfighters, too?"
"Stop, stop, stop," Isom laughed. "I had wanted to take you with me to-day, but now I've just heard that you're here in the infirmary for a good reason. You have to heal those bones first before you can get out."
"They're healed, look! I've had the bone-knitters on all night!" Dyarbin began to bounce up and down on the bed as much as he could with the gelatinous mass absorbing his movements.
Watching, Obi-Wan cringed and wondered how anybody with Dyarbin's intelligence could also act so childishly. The focus of his embarrassment changed quickly, though, when he remembered that Qui-Gon now had good reason to wonder the same thing about him.
"It doesn't hurt at all! See, I'm fine! We can go now."
Dyarbin leaped onto the floor, obviously preparing to race out the door, but as he landed, his motion ceased abruptly and his entire body crumpled with pain. "Ow ..."
Obi-Wan reached out automatically, hoping to make up for his previous failure by helping now, but a warning pain stabbed through his back. It was the Twi'lek who picked Dyarbin up and settled him back in bed, wiping the tears from his cheeks with one long finger.
"I don't think I've ever seen anybody quite so excited to be part of our school," the Twi'lek smiled. "However, the fact remains that you are not fine and we cannot go just yet. You lay here quietly – no more jumping on the bed – and I'll come get you as soon as the Healers tell me you're ready, all right?"
"All right," Dyarbin sniffed, hugging his droid tightly. "How long do you think it will be?"
"A day or two, I think the Healers said." Isom was already detaching himself from Dyarbin and backing up towards the door.
"Two days?" Dyarbin looked as stricken as though Isom had told him two years. "But I want to go now!"
"I know. But you have to get well first. I'll see you then."
"See you," Dyarbin replied with obvious disappointment, then shot Obi-Wan a reproachful look as though to say that it was all his fault. Feeling a new spear of guilt strike him in the heart, Obi-Wan glanced away.
Isom smiled and went out. He must have had a word at the Healers' Station, because a few moments later, Master Healer An-Paj himself came in. "What did I hear? Somebody's been jumping out of the bed? That's not good for healing bones, Dyarbin. I think we're going to have to do some more scans to see if you've damaged anything."
Left alone, Obi-Wan closed his eyes. Immediately, Phar's face sprang to mind, and Obi-Wan was surprised to notice that he was feeling not only guilt, but also a growing sense of anger. Now that he had time to think undisturbed, he realized that she must have been planning her little scheme for quite a while, and had probably only been waiting for the right Jedi to come along. Hadn't she said something about only seeing older, non-human Jedi there at the kitchen? And she'd stolen his comlink that very first day they'd seen each other – he still wasn't sure how she'd managed without him sensing anything. Had she calculated that he would be blinded by her brilliant smile, or had she simply hoped it? She'd certainly flashed it at him often enough - maybe she really had liked him. It didn't matter anymore.
The second time, she'd volunteered to wash up, just so that she could be alone with Obi-Wan in the back room. He remembered now – she'd asked him about the Force enhancing performances. Now that he knew exactly which performances she'd had in mind, Obi-Wan felt his cheeks redden with embarrassment as he recalled the incident. At the time, he'd been so innocent! He hadn't realized what it was about her that had been making him so uncomfortable, but now he did.
It was all so clear in hindsight. Obi-Wan remembered Phar asking how long he'd be working at the soup kitchen. As soon as she'd found out it wouldn't be much longer, she hadn't hesitated to put her plan into effect. Grudgingly, Obi-Wan had had to admit that she'd had a good ruse to lure him down to the hideout. He couldn't think of anything that would have worked better than appealing to a Jedi for help, especially for a situation that could appear to be life or death – or serious injury.
So it had been a good trap. But Obi-Wan knew he had walked into it willingly. He'd deliberately disobeyed his master. He'd deliberately ignored the Force and he'd deliberately shut his mind to it. Even before that, he hadn't really bothered to control his feelings. He'd indulged himself with thoughts of Phar, which had led to his distraction during meditation and lightsaber practice, and – though he hadn't admitted it to Qui-Gon yet – even during the lessons he was supposed to have been learning that morning.
It was a long list of serious transgressions, and Obi-Wan had a sinking feeling that he already knew what his punishment was going to be. As he was trying to prepare himself mentally to hear that he would have to leave the Temple, the door to the infirmary room opened and Qui-Gon came in.
"How are you?" Qui-Gon asked, pulling up a chair and sitting down next to Obi-Wan's bed.
"I'm – recovering, Master."
"I have to apologize," Qui-Gon said, "for not being able to come when you asked, yesterday. I found Dyarbin lying in the obstacle course with several broken bones, and I thought that he needed my presence more than you did – not that he would have let go of my hand anyway. I didn't know that you were that badly hurt until they told me you were in the bacta gallery."
"It's all right," Obi-Wan said quickly. "But, Master, I have to apologize. I disobeyed you."
Looking grave and a little sad, Qui-Gon said, "Tell me what happened."
"Phar commed me," Obi-Wan reported. "She said she was hurt and needed my help because everyone else had gone out. She made me think she'd cut her hand and was bleeding to death. I took a blanket and a med-kit. I thought I could be there and back before I had to spar with Dyarbin – I knew you'd told me that I shouldn't go, but I thought it might be easier to get forgiveness than permission."
He stopped, then added, "I, uh, don't think that anymore, Master."
Qui-Gon nodded in acknowledgement, then said, "Go on."
"Well – Phar wasn't hurt. She'd lied to me, just to get me down there. She wanted to seduce me." Obi-Wan shook his head at his own stupidity. "She said that she wanted to get away from Drive. She said that she wanted to have a Jedi baby because she thought that she could come to live in the Temple then, and she'd be safe from him. Master, I tried to explain, but she wouldn't let me. She was telling me to use the Force to make sure she got pregnant, but I think she was just trying to ... to sleep with me. And she was taking my robe off and undoing my belt, and it fell on the floor, and then she tried to pull me into her bed! I had to tickle her to make her let go, and just at that moment, Drive and the others came back. She heard them coming and ... started screaming rape."
Obi-Wan was silent for a moment, then went on. "I don't know if she was just angry with me for not doing what she wanted, or whether she was truly afraid that Drive would beat her up. But if it was true, Master, then why didn't she just ask for help? Why didn't she just tell me what was going on and ask me to take her away, instead of this whole elaborate plan?"
"I don't know," Qui-Gon said quietly, sounding regretful. "I don't know, Obi-Wan."
"It might have been true," Obi-Wan sighed. "She said Drive was mistreating her. She came to the soup kitchen with a black eye once. But – the more I think about it – the more I think she was just playing it up. She'd lied to me once, about cutting her hand, to get me to come down. Maybe this was part of the trap. Maybe she was just trying to get my sympathy so that I'd really ... do it with her."
"It's possible. Maybe she wanted both things, but we will never know for sure," Qui-Gon responded.
"Why didn't you sense something?" Obi-Wan asked, trying not to sound demanding or accusing.
Qui-Gon looked at him sharply. "I did sense something, Obi-Wan. I sensed danger. If she had even thought of asking for our help, the Force might have guided me differently. But she seemed to have had her plan in mind even before you two met up on the first day, and the Force warned me accordingly."
Obi-Wan was silent, abashed at having asked such a stupid question, and hearing in the answer an eerie echo of the conclusion he'd only just come to - well after the fact. He also heard an echo of Qui-Gon telling him to stay away from Phar, and heard his own voice announcing that he would do just that. Remembering how he'd stopped at the Temple door and had almost turned around, only to go on anyway, right after reassuring his master that he trusted him, Obi-Wan felt hot with shame.
After several moments, Qui-Gon asked, "What happened after Phar screamed rape?"
"They all came running in, and Drive attacked me. I didn't want to hurt him, Master, I just wanted to get away. I tried to explain, and I tried to leave, but they wouldn't let me go. They just started attacking me. Drive came at me with a knife at first. I managed to knock it out of his hand later. There was a Rodian, and somebody else who kicked me so that I fell, and a Togorian – he ripped my leg open with his claws."
Remembering the pain and the blood, Obi-Wan shuddered. "Drive wanted to kill me, and the others looked like they wanted a good fight, too. Drive got something heavy next and was hitting me with it like he wanted to break my back. I finally got my lightsaber again, and managed to stand up, but I didn't want to hurt anybody. I just wanted to get away. So I Force-pushed everybody away from the door and walked out."
Obi-Wan stopped, and Qui-Gon waited patiently until he continued. "I was out on the walkway, trying to get to the bridge that led to the next building. Then Phar came around the corner in front of me. I don't know whether she got out of the apartment through a different door, or whether she just slipped out behind me and went the other way around the building. But when I looked back, Drive and another member of the gang, a Rodian, were behind me. The Rodian threw something, a piece of metal, I think. I felt the Force warning me of danger, so I ducked, and ... it hit Phar. She fell. She fell off the walkway. I looked down, but I couldn't see her ... there was nothing. And I thought Drive was coming for me, so I jumped to the next building and got away."
Stopping again, Obi-Wan took a deep breath. "She's dead ... and it's my fault."
He waited, half-hoping to hear some kind of reassurance, but Qui-Gon was silent, and Obi-Wan could see him take a very deep breath. Abruptly, he stood up. "Padawan, I need to think."
He went out of the room, and Obi-Wan was left feeling stunned. What was Qui-Gon going to do? Although he sincerely hoped that his master would go to a nearby garden and meditate, then come back soon, Obi-Wan could not helping worrying that Qui-Gon was headed for the Council room instead. He wanted to protest, to tell his master and the Council that he could still be a Jedi, that he wasn't irredeemable, but even as his mind formed the words, he wondered if they were true. Maybe he was too reckless, too impulsive, too emotional. Occasionally, when used in a saber for the first time, lightsaber crystals were found to have tiny flaws at their centers, flaws which distorted the energy flowing through them and rendered the lightsaber instable, possibly even dangerous. They had to be discarded as soon as the flaw was discovered. Obi-Wan felt like one of those flawed crystals, and was certain that he was going to have to go as well.
It seemed like an eternity before Qui-Gon came back, but it was not much more than an hour. He sat down again, looking slightly more relaxed, and asked, "Is there anything else I should know?"
Obi-Wan nodded slowly. "Master, when I was meditating, just before Phar commed me, I felt through the Force that I shouldn't go. It was just for a moment, because I was interrupted, but I did feel it. And I – ignored it. I tried to convince myself that I hadn't heard anything, but it was a lie. I really felt it, but I closed my mind to the Force and went down there anyway. I almost stopped at the Temple doors, but I didn't, I just went on. And when Drive attacked me the first time, I didn't see it coming. I didn't let the Force warn me of that danger."
Anger and disappointment seemed to war on Qui-Gon's face, and Obi-Wan almosted expected him to jump up and go out again. At length, however, Qui-Gon sighed deeply. "I see that I am at fault here, too. I have not impressed upon you the importance of obeying the Force at all times, in every situation. If I had been a better teacher ..."
Obi-Wan felt yet another sharp stab of guilt, and shook his head vigourously. "Master, no! You taught me well! The fault is in me, only in me! I knew I was doing wrong, but I did it anyway. It seemed so important at the time, and yet I knew exactly how disappointed you'd be ... You have no cause to blame yourself. You are a good teacher - the best one any padawan could ever have. The problem is me, not you! If I had only listened! If only I had obeyed you and stayed in the Temple! But I didn't! I'm responsible for Phar's death, and – and Dyarbin wouldn't have been hurt, either, if I'd been where I was supposed to be."
His voice caught on the last words and he felt tears come to his eyes. "I'm so sorry! I wish I'd listened to you! I wish I'd listened to the Force! I didn't act like a Jedi, and I know I don't deserve to be one any longer."
"Obi-Wan," said Qui-Gon gently, coming out of the chair to sit on the side of the bed. He extended his arms, but Obi-Wan hesitated, certain that he didn't deserve any future kindnesses at all. His desire for some form of comfort won out quickly, however, and he leaned forward for an embrace. After several moments, though, Qui-Gon let go and gently pulled away, and Obi-Wan settled back against the bed. He felt almost sick, however, waiting for Qui-Gon to say something.
"Obi-Wan, you are sixteen, and a padawan. But even if you were a knight or a master, or even Master Yoda himself, you would still be allowed to make mistakes," Qui-Gon said. "The tragedy is that a Jedi's mistakes come at a high cost. In this case, a life is over that might have been spared. We cannot go back and save her, however, nor can we ruin the present for the sake of the past. We can only allow it to teach us. Will you ever again knowingly act against the will of the Force?"
"No, Master. Never again," he stated. Qui-Gon's words echoed in his mind. ... at all times, in every situation ... Grimly, Obi-Wan determined that he would remember them and act accordingly, no matter how far away from the Temple and the Jedi he ended up.
"Then you have learned a valuable lesson at a very high price. That's not to say that you won't also be disciplined. You'll have to take the consequences, like everybody else who makes a wrong choice, and because your transgressions were serious, Obi-Wan, the consequences will be equally serious. But in this case, they won't include dismissing you from the Order."
Obi-Wan didn't quite feel the relief he'd expected to feel upon hearing those words.
"The first thing will be making sure you don't sneak out again. I will speak with Temple Security, and ask them to change the code of your retinal print files from 'cleared' to 'denied.'"
"Why should I want to sneak out again?" Obi-Wan asked unhappily, lowering his gaze. "Phar is dead, Master."
"I know you, Obi-Wan. You've probably been sitting here ever since you woke up, going over everything you did wrong and convincing yourself that you're not worthy to be a Jedi. Just a few minutes ago, you told me that you feel you don't deserve it."
Obi-Wan squirmed slightly at how accurate Qui-Gon's statement was.
"With that in mind, I don't trust you not to dismiss yourself from the Temple and run away."
Weighing the possibility in his mind, Obi-Wan found that Qui-Gon actually had a good reason for that lack of trust.
"It would only make things worse," Qui-Gon said quietly. "Believe me. It would destroy you, and I don't want to see that happen. I care about you more than you will ever know, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan lifted his eyes to meet his master's. "How can you want me to stay? Master, I deliberately disobeyed you! I ignored the Force and I'm responsible for Phar's death ... !"
"Then you must make sure you honour that death by learning the lesson it teaches. Leaving the Jedi won't give you that opportunity."
"If only I'd listened to the Force, and not gone down there in the first place ..." Obi-Wan mumbled, looking away.
"If only you had never met Miss Swife, if only I hadn't sent you to volunteer at the Correctional Center, if only you hadn't needed physical therapy, if only you hadn't injured your arm, if only the Council hadn't sent us to rescue Princess Fabafabia, if only I hadn't taken you as my padawan," Qui-Gon said, quite serious. Obi-Wan glanced up sharply, hurt, but Qui-Gon went on without stopping, "If only my master hadn't taken me as a padawan ... There is little point in agonizing over the game of 'if only', padawan. You must decide here and now how you will react the next time you have to make a decision. That will be the time to remember this experience and what you learned, so that afterwards you will not have to say 'if only'. That is what you must do to give meaning to the death of Miss Swife."
"I will follow the will of the Force next time, and every time, Master!" Obi-Wan declared.
"That is good, padawan." Qui-Gon nodded approvingly. "And you should know that you can't take all responsibility for her death upon yourself. After all, you did not throw the thing that hit her. You didn't even drag her outside with you, it was her own decision to follow. And in ducking, you did listen to the Force when it warned you of danger, which is the right thing to do in any circumstances."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan agreed slowly.
"Tell me something, Obi-Wan. Did you, even once, think of breaking your vow of celibacy and doing as she asked?"
"No!" Obi-Wan protested, unable to hide his initial shock at the question, then blushing yet again as he thought of her advances. "I wouldn't have gone down there if she'd asked me straight out to sleep with her. I truly thought she needed help!"
"That shows me that at least part of your motivation was a sincere desire to help her. That speaks in your favour, Obi-Wan. Another thing is the way that you did not want to hurt any of them. You tickled Miss Swife to get out of her embrace, and you Force-pushed the others away from the door. I am glad that you didn't compound your original mistake of not listening to the Force by acting even less Jedi-like and using undue violence," Qui-Gon mused.
"I never - it never occurred to me," Obi-Wan admitted faintly.
Qui-Gon acknowledged this with a small nod. "If I thought that you were not capable of seeing where you went wrong and taking steps to avoid it next time, I would indeed consider dismissing you. As it is, I'm glad to see that you are learning from these mistakes already. And, you were right about one thing."
Qui-Gon's stern voice softened somewhat and his eyes twinkled a little. "It is easier to get forgiveness than permission. I could never have given you permission to go down there, and especially not to go against the will of the Force, but I can forgive you, Obi-Wan. I know what motivated you and I understand why you did what you did."
Obi-Wan relaxed a little. "Thank you, Master."
"But being forgiven does not mean that you won't have to take the consequences of your actions. Unfortunately, no punishment can bring back a lost life. But from it, you can learn never to ignore the will of the Force again. And there is also the matter of disobedience to the rules of the Jedi. The Code requires a detachment from others that you were not able to give in Miss Swife's case. It is also expected that a padawan will obey his master unless he has a very good reason not to do so - a reason which you did not have. If you had been following the will of the Force, it would have been different. But you ignored both the rule and the Force. As soon as you are released from the infirmary, I will relinquish you to the Duty Squad."
Obi-Wan winced. Even though Dyarbin had brought it up, Obi-Wan hadn't stopped to consider that this alternative to being kicked out of the Temple might be applied to him. The Duty Squad was often referrerd to as the Refresher Corps because it consisted of students and padawans who were being formally punished by having to spend their day scrubbing. Mostly, they were sent around to the many refreshers throughout the Temple, occasionally they were sent to the kitchen to wash dishes by hand, or to other parts of the Temple to clean corridors. Part of the punishment was having to wear a bright orange coverall, another part was having a strictly regimented routine that included an hour of stretching and exercises in the morning before breakfast, and breaks for meditation mid-mornings and mid-afternoons. The Squad Master controlled them frequently, but at random intervals, and anybody who was caught not being active enough, or deep enough in meditation, was given a point.
"Two weeks for disobeying me without a good reason," Qui-Gon continued.
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan reflected that he had never been part of the Refresher Corps for more than one day each time, and those occasions had been during his initiate years. Now the memory of the evening ritual came flooding back to him; kneeling on the floor of the lounge and trying not to be nervous while his caretaker went through the required formality of petitioning to the Squad Master for him to be released. The first time, he'd been so worried that the single point he'd earned would be enough for the Squad Master to refuse the petition and insist on keeping him there an extra day. Although the Master had mentioned the point, he'd then gone on to report that Obi-Wan had been working hard otherwise, and as he had seemed to have learned his lesson, he could be released back to his caretaker.
"And six weeks for ignoring the Force," Qui-Gon finished.
"Two months?" Obi-Wan still recalled the relief that had flooded through him each time he'd been released, and the giddy feeling of liberation as he'd walked away from the Lounge, even after only one day of punishment. How was he going to get through two months of it? He remembered, suddenly, the time there'd been a padawan kneeling in the Lounge as well, a little to one side. When Obi-Wan had been allowed to stand up and leave, the older girl had been the last person left, resting so quietly on her knees that she might have been in a meditation trance, and never once glancing up. He had an inkling now of how she must have felt, seeing the others going, and yet knowing that nobody was going to come for her and she would have to stay behind.
"Two months," Qui-Gon confirmed. "Rules are like the safety railings on the roof of a high building. They are meant to keep us within safe boundaries, physically and spiritually. If we choose to break them, we also choose to accept the results. By choosing to break my rule of always following the will of the Force, you also chose to accept these consequences."
"I didn't stop to think about the consequences," Obi-Wan admitted. "I thought – it wouldn't be so bad."
"I know. That's why I'm making your punishment relatively harsh," Qui-Gon said. "So that you will stop and think next time, and listen for, then do, the will of the Force. It might well be necessary to break a rule or two on occasion. This punishment is to encourage you to only do it when the Force tells you, and not for your own personal desires."
Obi-Wan nodded. "Yes, Master."
"In addition -"
Feelng his heart sink at the thought of yet more punishment, Obi-Wan was tempted to inform his master that he was sufficiently encouraged, but bit back the words, not wanting to make things even worse.
"- I will petition to be allowed to join you for meditation each rest day, and, if I'm allowed, one other evening a week," Qui-Gon continued. "Your discipline does not have to include total isolation."
Obi-Wan exhaled in relief. "Thank you, Master."
"You will make a great Jedi someday, if -"
"If you can only save me from myself," Obi-Wan interrupted, and they smiled at each other.
Original cover by Jenn-Kenobi. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.