His eyes are wide, pale, pleading and accusing with the same intensity.
"Master Qui-Gon, I don't understand. What's wrong with you?"
"Nothing, Obi-Wan. Leave me to myself."
I turn from him before he can argue, reach my private cell in a few strides, and shut the door.
I love the Force. I love the Jedi. They are my family, my soul, and we are all one heart. But then why do I sometimes feel my chest growing tight, my breathing becoming weak and shallow when they surround me?
How can it be that sometimes, for no reason at all, I feel like a river crying out under the weight of pollution, so filthy and tainted I want to gag?
Sometimes I roam the Temple halls, staring at stranger after stranger in brown robes. They walk by, serene, their hearts full of light, but to me their eyes look as dead as dry, smooth stones.
Those times are upon me now.
I can hardly bear to look at my Apprentice. His eyes aren't lifeless, not all the way, but I do love him, so it is almost more than I can stand to see him as a raw, half-trained young Jedi on the edge of another world.
What, I wonder, almost in horror, is that other world I have started him on the path towards? Obi-Wan: brash, unformed, a mixture of youthful idiocy and vital potential struggling against each other. Will I live to see him become just another pair of eyes staring at me, blank and just a little questioning, from under the hood of a Jedi robe?
At these times, our few possessions seem more likely to be accidentally broken. Books fall off high shelves, potted plants shatter in empty rooms, stones collected from mountain brooks fall over and chip.
I've had things crack into pieces as I held them gently in my hands. Once a small statue of a woman holding a kaliptra's skull, shaped from clay by my first Apprentice. Fortunately it could be mended, and the cracks give it character. Once a wooden bowl, unfortunately full of boiling water. The pain of my scalded hands woke me from this other state then, but that was a long time ago. Now whatever has hold of me isn't nearly as willing to release me.
At times I hate what I am, a Jedi, a Master, and that word is heavy in any Jedi's throat. When the deadness, the blank stares, the burning infection are at their worst I blindly ask why my parents gave me up to face this fate, why my Master opened my eyes to see this ugliness. When I am stronger my Knighthood is clothes someone else has dressed me in and I burn with shame. I know that whatever is happening I am not master of it.
Meditation comes hard. What should flow like water feels like lifting huge chunks of durasteel up stairs. I kneel on the floor of my cell for hours.
The effort to quiet my mind and find a healing stillness is so great that sweat pours off my body and drips, stinging, into my eyes, and for a long time the more I meditate, the worse it gets. The more I focus the more wrong things are, the more impossible it seems for me to release myself to the Force. I can do nothing but let the feelings come and believe that with patience and strength, I will find my way.
Finally, exhausted after hours of futile meditation, I feel myself rise above something, and there I find my peace. Peace like drifting on a river of air up in the cool bright sky, peace like a drop of water in a high white cloud must feel. Sometimes I actually see my body crouched on the floor below me, my face utterly blank. But I also feel a loneliness that pierces me like a blade under my heart. Still I don't want to, cannot, leave this place I have found with its purity and isolation. Loneliness is not the worst thing in the galaxy. Whatever this feeling of corruption is, it is worse.
I cannot help but wonder as I struggle, if I am fallen. If I have succumbed to an evil so insidious that even before I noticed it, it was too late. Is this what it feels like to be newly on the dark side?
I don't think I have lost the light. My soul is troubled, but it is not violent, greedy, or dark. I have searched myself as best I can, and I could swear this feeling comes over me when I am at my closest to the true Jedi path. I know that I do not see all, but I will not lie to myself. If I am a slave to darkness I can only hope, probably in vain, that someone who sees more clearly than I do will pull me from the cold.
If I have given in to the dark side I have searched myself ruthlessly and do not know it. In the end I can only live by the truth I know.
I know this feeling will pass in time, break like a fever and fade away. It always does. The alienation and suffocation, the clarity, will be like shreds of a waking dream. Everything I'm on the edge of understanding will be lost. All my strife will be for nothing. I won't even remember that I've been anything but low and uncentered, until the next time I come back to the Temple and my mind is smashed open. I will make Obi-Wan very nervous for a day or a week with my strange behavior, then I will be back to normal, which is to say I will make him only slightly nervous.
But even when I wish from the bottom of my heart that I had never been knighted, I cherish every second. I do not want it to end. The peace after the pain is so sweet, even if it is as thin and empty as mountain air. And these feelings must come from the Force and I have never felt anything so powerfully before. If this is the Force I want it to fill everything in me, even if it is fetid with suffering. This is where I have to be. This feels right. I feel as though I have betrayed myself somehow, let myself die a little, every time a comfortable calm once again returns to my inner world. I have fought too bitterly to be what I am to deny it and let it sleep.
This time I will not let that happen. Half because I don't dare waste this conflict and half because I hope giving the madness a voice will heal it, I do not scare my Apprentice by meditating until something in my mind just gives out, and I simply must sleep, curled up on the floor of my room. Instead I climb to the top of the Council spire and very likely scare the Council by going down on my knees before them with my head bowed, something I do even more rarely than falling asleep on the floor.
The sun is going down outside, incandescent like molten glass, in a hot rose and orange haze. Durasteel towers and pyramids loom in front of it, hard and metallic. I look at the Council, surprised at being interrupted, but this time I am the one who barely sees. The pool of milky light on the mosaic in front of me holds my interest more. Do they see stone in my stare, or just the wild eyes of an ascetic who has been out in the wastelands too long?
I spread my hands and speak, my voice calmer than I would have believed. "I sense a great sickness, that I cannot understand. Please, help me to cure it."
I let my head hang, my hot tangled hair falling around my face. There is a moment of burnt out silence and then, when I've almost forgotten where I am, a half dozen voices start talking at once.
A bang echoes throughout the room as Yoda slams his staff against the frame of his chair, bringing the Council to order. "Help you seek from us, Qui-Gon? Well you are not, no," he says, almost to himself, shaking his head, a frown wrinkling his face even more, almost as if he is disappointed.
"I feel as if I have been contaminated somehow. I can free myself, but it always returns. Even when I am cleaned, I am detached, chilled, drifting. I am . . . lonely. I am tired of feeling this isolation."
Plo looks at me with what must be concern. It's second nature for me to see his emotions behind the protective technology, but he is so far away now and the current of Force he wraps around me in support seems like heat-shimmer. "Did something happen to you on the mission to Togoria? You could have come to me about it, Qui-Gon."
"Know you what causes this? An attacker do you sense, or brought this imbalance on yourself have you?"
"I feel it among Jedi. Whenever I come back to the Temple, or gather with other Knights. They all seem like strangers to me." I search for words to make them understand without baring my soul too much, then gradually I become so much in the flow of the Force I hardly know what I am saying. Speaking is a relief, though, and I wonder why I waited so long. "They are lost and don't know it. They are hungry and eating themselves. Forgive me my weakness, but sometimes I fear the Jedi, the Temple and you twelve. Something is wrong down to the dust of the outer rim."
"Qui-Gon, calm yourself." Mace's cool solid voice breaks me out of a half trance. "The Jedi are safe. It takes fewer Knights than ever to keep the peace." He almost smiles worriedly. "We have the wisdom and strength of centuries to defend against any enemy."
Mace, I have a bad feeling that won't be enough.
"A disturbance many have sensed in the Temple. Comes and goes in cycles it does. The source of that disturbance, you are. Feel it I can." Yoda reaches out a knarled hand slowly, as if seeing how close he can come to touching a fire.
"You sensed this!" In outrage I look from one Council member to another, searching for some explanation. They have known what was happening to me since this began? They watched as I doubted, as my sense of the Force was altered beyond my comprehension, as I nearly choked, as I wondered if I had turned to the dark side, as I tried desperately to clean myself, as I felt alone in a chaotic universe? They watched again and again and did nothing?
Why? Is there something I am meant to learn on my own? I can accept that they didn't try to help, I'm almost glad of it, but I at least deserve my privacy.
"Knew a Knight's mind was at the center of it, no one did. Unexplained it was."
"And now we have answers," Master Piell adds. "And Master Jinn can be helped."
"Me? Masters, what is wrong is greater than myself. It is bound up in everything."
"I'm sure it must seem that way now. But if your mind and spirit are disturbed, then of course the peace and light of the Temple would be painful to you."
Despite all the misery I've gone through, I don't think my sense of the Force has ever been clearer, so what he's thinking is the last thing to occur to me. "You think I'm mentally ill?"
"Or that your life force has become weakened and damaged. Bursting in here like this, it isn't like you, Master Jinn. You seem quite disturbed over what are only whispers in the Force, at best. Mostly you are being swept away by emotion, I think."
"I admit that I've been frightened, and confused, but it seems deeply, deeply right that I should feel that way. It has been an awakening, not an illness, Masters."
"Right for everything to feel wrong?" Mace sighs, leans forward and folds his hands between his knees. "You are powerful in the Force, but has it ever really given you peace? I've watched you since your knighting, and deep down, it has only left you wilder. Rest and a healer's counsel could do much to clear your mind. I know it's hard on you sometimes to feel so deeply. Hard to take in everything. It would be no wonder if you got a little lost from yourself."
"Strength lies in openness. And I have never felt more myself."
Yoda gives Mace a knowing look. "If lost you are, the only one you would not be."
Mace nods. "Within the past few generations, Knights have begun breaking down, falling into trances they can't wake from, or becoming psychotic."
"You see, something is wrong. It's affecting others, too."
"Qui-Gon, most of the ones I'm talking about fell irrevocably to the dark side."
And so might you have. The accusation is silent and obvious. I shudder imagining other Jedi going through what I'm going through and not making it out alive. Never knowing that their turmoil might have a purpose, until it became too much and the only solution they could see was violence to tear it all apart, or oblivion just to find silence. Never knowing they were not alone. I do find myself almost angry at that. At first the thought that I might have turned to the dark side seemed almost too horrible not to believe, but now that Mace brings it into the open, it barely touches me. I just go cold at the thought of Knights surrendering to their fear and anger and not knowing why.
"Maybe they didn't have to. Maybe in the end there was nothing else left for them."
I've only made him more suspicious. Mace's eyes narrow to deadly serious slits. "The dark side is always a choice."
"I didn't mean it wasn't, only that we might have failed them."
Mace stares at me, teeth gritted, and almost growls, "It's always the same argument, Qui-Gon. The Force may be speaking to you, but this is nothing we haven't heard time and again. If you would only accept what it means to be a Jedi, we would all be a lot more at peace. But because you struggle under the code, you want to scatter the Jedi to the four winds."
"Kindly stop trying to ram the code down my throat. It is not the same. I never thought things could be this wrong before." This needs to be told and heard. It demands a voice. I must show them.
"Your control is weak. The Force around you is disturbed, roiling, chaotic . . . ugly. Turbulent enough to nurture darkness. We can all feel it. I think we need to protect Master Qui-Gon, and ourselves."
Protection. They'll abandon me on a distant moon or planet, drug me, or strip me of the Force. And if they think I'm more than half lost they'll kill me.
"Perhaps that would be best." Mace sighs and turns to Saesee. "Master Tinn. Tell us, what do you see in his mind?"
He nods without saying a word. They call him 'The Silent One' when they think he can't hear, because he hardly ever speaks at Council without being asked. He closes golden eyes and focuses on me. Suddenly the setting sun is burning in my brain. His searching mind flows through mine like warm acid. I gasp, even though it shouldn't hurt, he isn't even using the Force and is trying to be gentle. When I open my eyes I stare dazed into the real half set sun. The light flows over everything in the room and all of Coruscant like blood. Red, seeming to pulse like a sluggish heart. Lulling like the shifting crackling heat of embers. For a moment I see shadows around everything, in everything, and then I hear Saesee's deep gruff voice.
"He has not lied to us. As Master Koth said, the Force rages around him and within him, but he has a light user's compassion. He sees us all as half-lived shells. It hurt him when I searched his mind. He has no hate, but is afraid, especially for his Apprentice."
"Your Learner? Why of him do you think?"
"I have trained one to kill or die for you, Obi-Wan is the second. He is going to be a Jedi; he deserves to be a true Jedi. You can't have him unless I'm sure you deserve his service." I cringe inwardly at the desperate possessiveness of what I have just said, but even though the words are wrong, it's the truth. They would posses him, I think.
Yoda laughs. "Hold his soul in cupped hands, do you?" He clamps his two clawed hands together, one over the other. "Would you deny him Knighthood? Make him a shadow of you, to save him?"
He's daring me to say yes, to reveal myself as a power-hungry monster. I don't want to make Obi-Wan like me, but I don't want him to be like some of the Knights I know.
Yoda shakes his head and sighs. "Save him you would not that way."
"You know I can't do that. But I am his Master. I must protect him. I won't train him for an order I can't trust."
Mace is relentless. "That may not be our most pressing concern right now. You don't seem in any state to care for an Apprentice. If you can't get past this, Obi-Wan may have to go with another. He won't need to pay the price if you cannot teach him anymore. We will see to that. He is steadfast, brave, and skilled in the Force. Dozens of Masters would be glad to complete his training."
"It would be worse for him if you separated us." But that might not even be true. Sometimes I think he would be relieved to leave me and go with another Master more like him, who sees the universe as he does.
Mace leans in close to look down at me, quietly exasperated and ready to end this. "Qui-Gon, I think the sickness is in you. In your mind, your spirit, or your sense of the Force I don't know, but as much as you might like to think so, it is not the fault of this Council. Nothing we can do will change it."
They don't understand. I can't show them what I am seeing. I have failed, and I'm starting to feel sick and suffocated again, crushed between an irresistible force and an immovable object. The Force snarls in me at being denied. My own feelings echo it. I was sure that, this time, differences of ideology would mean nothing. That we were all light Jedi and not really that different. Do they realize how much this hurts me? I clench my hands into fists so they won't shake and straighten myself into the meditation pose. "I refuse to leave until I am heard. The Force is trying to tell me something. I can't shut it out. I don't dare to."
"The Force is tearing you apart." Plo says, his translated voice low as his skin color shifts slightly toward purple, a sign of sadness. "You're as pale as death. When was the last time you slept or ate? I know the separation is unpleasant, but it might help you to rest from the Force . . ."
"No!" Oh, please, no. "You can't . . . I will not . . ." My sight grows dark in terror of the memory. I remember the penance of rocks and water. Darkness and the hazy flash of glowpanels from outside Yoda's cell. The bland, slightly bitter taste of manta in my mouth. It makes you sleepy, and when you wake up, the Force is something you might have dreamed of. I was young the first time they gave it to me, I thought I could handle it. I was so wrong. I couldn't truly conceive of being without the Force.
He means well, I tell myself. He means well, even though he thinks the best cure for me is something I was once punished with.
I remember Yoda speaking formal ancient words, telling me to become as a rock in the river of the Force. Such a poetic way of putting it. I thought I was going to die. I think a lot of me did die. I felt like a tangle of winterkilled brambles inside, twisted, thorny, hurtful to myself. Yoda came for me in the morning and led me up to the Council tower, to right where I am now as a matter of fact, and told me to spend the day here in meditation. Without the Force I couldn't find it in me to do anything so helpful. Sometimes people start running when they become utterly lost. The world was hollow, I was hollow, and I quickly forgot what it felt like to be whole. Being without the Force hurt so much that I raged against any hope because I would never have the strength to realize it. The sun took years to cross the sky. Even in memory, even looking back now, I could swear I knelt there for a lifetime. But the sun did set, the drug wore off, and I was resurrected. Yoda came and led me home. I only made it halfway back before I passed out from sheer exhaustion, joy, and relief.
I will not drink manta. I will not be separated from the Force. As hard as it is, I know what I feel now is only awareness. I won't blind myself. Leaving this sensitivity naturally is the only thing I have regretted in years. The thought of intentionally muddying it is revolting.
"If you, if any of you, truly care what happens to me, hear what I am saying. There is danger, but there is still time. I can't change things alone. I don't know what will happen if I try . . . Please, you all are of the unifying Force. I need your unity with me."
"You made it clear long ago, Qui-Gon, that you want none of us. Your ways can't be ours. It would destroy the order as we know it. There can be no unity on these terms."
The sun has gone down now and I feel starkly revealed, trapped in the shaft of light that falls in the center of the circle. Light gleams reflected in the eyes of the Councilors. These are supposed to be the best, the wisest, the most clear seeing of the Jedi. They look at what may be the best, and are certainly the truest, parts of me and see them as flaws. I'm not fighting them. I asked for their help! So many times I have stood here, spoken my heart's truth, and been questioned. So many times I have stood here, thinking I must be following the code, if not in word than surely in spirit, and then felt my Masters' disapproval like a blow between the eyes. Many more times than I have realized until now. I was just doing the best I knew. I was doing what was my nature. Perhaps that nature has simply been violated one too many times. One way or another, I think this is the last time. I am not defiant. I am not reckless. I am just not like them.
I am also, I realize, in danger of losing control of my emotions at the moment. Fear will not make them listen now, I must let it go. Anger will not ease the ache of past wounds, I must let it go. I still my thoughts. The Force fills me, soothing anger and softening anguish, but as soon as I'm empty of passion, something just as murky creeps in to take its place.
After all this I'm tumbling back down into the place where the things that mean the most to me are horribly wrong. The revulsion and the sense of being trapped I feel every time the Temple gates close behind me are worse than ever. For a moment I lose myself in it, and my only thoughts are desperate, longing images of deep space and uninhabited planets and the knowledge that I must get out now. But now I see that everything is connected, and there is no escape. What is wrong at the Temple is wrong everywhere.
The powerful living Force I've invited in flays my senses raw and twists the universe out of all recognition. First it overwhelms my mind, then my body. Fevered pain and pressure swells behind my eyes. I can't seem to use the air I'm breathing, I start to strangle on it. Once, when we were young, Plo and I were captured by a squad of Bothan military police. They tortured us; the animals ripped off his breathscreens and left him like that for days. This is what it must have felt like. I think I hear my name called in rising anger and worry, but I can't speak, and the world the voices come from is distant and ominous. I shut my eyes, wrap my arms around myself, trying to protect myself, even though it crushes my breathing more.
It's like being in the lowest buried levels of Coruscant feels through the Force. The emotions and memories pile up around the living. It's like walking through the stuffy hot dark and feeling the dully blazing, shifting auras of the brutal, the desperate, the consuming, the crushed, the lost, and the surviving, brushing up against me. Everything I sense through the web of the Force is like this. There's a hopeless, painful caring buried deep in my distress, one of the things that helped me believe I wasn't drawing on the dark side.
A thousand things slowly dying are screaming in my head, begging me to help them, because no one else can hear. But I can't help. I failed. I can only languish with them.
Hands push me down hard onto my back and hold me down, bodies crowd around me. Why must they touch me? Why can't they leave me alone with my pain, alone with the Force? Suddenly I feel like I've been shocked and for a disorienting second I think it must be the Force lighting I've read about, consigned to the dark side solely because it is so agonizing, ripping through me. Then I taste familiar life force and I realize: not the utter energy of the dark side but the healing power of the light. The Jedi around me are feeding me their essence, trying to heal me, and it's like poison.
I love myths, legends, parables, and folktales. Once I came across a fable from my homeworld. A brother and sister were walking by a pool and saw a fish swimming just below the surface. They scooped it out of the water and tossed it up on the grass so it wouldn't drown.
I struggle but I'm too weak. I hear strained voices, or maybe they're mind voices, snapping back and forth. It doesn't matter, they don't make any sense anyway. If I concentrate very hard I can see a whirlpool of faces and thoughts above me, vivid but only for fractured seconds.
Mace, confused as his searching streams of energy tell him there is nothing wrong with me except I'm dying. Yoda, his eyes as bright and cloudy as the hearts of galaxies. I hear none of his thoughts, but for the first time I have a wordless understanding of how truly old he is, how many centuries he has observed. Saesee, kneeling calmly back from the rest, watching, sure I am doomed and sorry for that.
Then it all fades away and I am left staring up blankly through the circle of faces. I cling to the Force deep inside, despite the wailing in my mind and the pain. There's nothing else I know how to do. It burns for me like a star amid the desolation. Just when I think I can't bear anymore, serenity starts like a tiny protective sphere of Force deep inside, then starts to grow, slowly surrounding me and I feel that loneliness again, pure, perfect crystalline. Loneliness from everything but the Force. It's as still as the starfields I longed for a moment ago, quiet, luminous, ethereal, pure water from the heart of the universe. The Force divine and elemental, a power I only faintly dreamed of. The center that will always restore itself. It takes away the pain and ends separation, tugging at the deepest part of me, enfolding me in beautiful light. All my life I have desired such deep harmony with the Force. What is there to leave behind? My body burning without air? A universe I don't belong in? Obedience to a code I can't always believe? Jedi who realized I was not one of them, not really, long before I did?
As I merge with the light a memory comes over me. I remember the silence and the sacredness of the Council chamber the first time I was brought here as a small child. The high ceiling, the cool pale light, the seated ring of exalted Masters, the red and tawny intricate mosaic radiating inwards and outwards. All of it rooted deep, the memory a painful, chronic stagnation through every cell. It was like a shadow of this light, trying and failing to be this. Faintly, I realize my distant heartbeat is slowing, and I've stopped fighting for breath.
It is a place of sterile peace, I can share it with no one, and it isn't enough to wash away the pollution, or save me. I'm becoming one with the Force and I'm dying of it. I never thought death would be bound up in enlightenment.
But this is the elemental core of the Force. I want so much to go into it. Must it be spoiled for me? Why do my feelings tell me I could not be content here? I will be free, released, pure spirit and energy. What does it matter that this power is above all the richness of life and I will never truly touch anything again? Everything has a price. Why does it feel like betrayal to do what is any Jedi's goal? As if I had a choice. As if I could stop myself from fading into the energy of the cosmos. But this close to the Force I can't avoid the answers. The Force is possibility, to live with it is a choice. I have the power to go on to something else, and I must.
I gather myself and move beyond the core of the Force. My heart is breaking to leave it, but it is also beating again. I feel the Force, not infected or pure, but only wondrously alive and more intimate than ever, pulsing through me. I am brought back to the beginning, back to myself. I should want to rage at the universe for being dragged through hell and back just to be shown my own reflection, but I don't. I'm overjoyed because I'm going to survive and because there is something greater than life destroying perfection.
I relax, breathe, feel my pulse, already wondering how I could have forgotten how to do something so simple. Pain melts away. I can see the Council looking down at me, relieved but confused as they feel my strength returning. I can still see hurt and infection inside all of them, but no blank stone eyes, no empty shells, not anymore. They are human, things of the Force like everything else. My eyes slip closed and everything falls away.
I dream of water. Greenfall trees with their feet in the muddy bank and their branches in the current. Water foaming bright in rapids. Raindrops and ice slowly breaking rock. Undercurrents that could suck down a man, a boat, a starship. The River of Light at my homeworld. Hard rain. Water that will not be denied its own level. Water cloudy with sand or mud or algae or mandersnake spawn. Warm and cold currents falling and rising. Bottomless wells. Tides as salty as blood. The sound of a slow shining river at night.
I woke up a few hours ago, and now the sun is setting again. The glow globes are off, and red twilight fills my bedroom. I feel weak and used, but also very light. I sit up in bed with a blanket around my shoulders, bare feet tucked under my knees, watching the lights come on in the skyscrapers outside. Obi-Wan brought me a bowl of my favorite rajo leaf tea when I first woke up and it's gone cold on the table next to my bed.
They tell me I have just been sleeping deeply. It happens sometimes, they say. Under great stress and emotion, or when performing extreme manipulations of the Force, a few Jedi die and become one with it without physical harm. No one really understands why it happens, but since I've survived, for all anyone knows, it will never happen again. I'm glad they have their explanation, so I don't have to give them one.
After I blacked out, they called the Master Healer, Sarks, up to the Council chamber. He found me undamaged in mind, spirit, and body, and brought me down to my home to wake up in my own time. Since I did I've been thinking, mourning the Force and the Jedi, and contemplating what happened to me. I opened up to the Force and it is still with me now. Everything seems new. Everything is not right, but I am new. I am tired now, what I know is a weight on me, but I have the will and the strength to keep traveling, to work, to hope.
Obi-Wan is with me now, and in many ways that is a comfort. It's strange, but I don't fear for him any more. I'm not so sure he doesn't fear for me. He has a cold, resigned, watchful stare now. I can feel him watching me, even when he leaves the room. I don't much like being looked at that way, and I don't like Obi-Wan having to wear that look. He is trying to understand what happened, waiting for this Force ecstasy to take me again. He doesn't need to and I tell him so. I tell him about the Council, my visions, and the things I don't understand myself. Because, you see, this time I remember everything. I will never feel so lost and escape into isolation again, and I know in my peace now that I am not debased.
"Yes, Master?" He comes to the doorway quickly and stands there, looking as determined as he does when about to begin saber practice.
"I've been frightening you, haven't I?"
His eyes widen. That's the most openly I've ever talked about all this. He stalks to the edge of the bed and sits there with his back straight and his hands folded in his lap. "Master, what happened?" he says softly, ready to wait all night for an answer if he needs to. "They said you almost died. I sensed . . . it was like the Force was about to just swallow you up."
"I had a vision and tried to share it with the Council. It was a hard vision to see, but I think I learned what I needed from it. I have moved past it now."
"What did you see?"
I sigh and look out the window into the dusk for a moment, then stare at Obi-Wan for a long time. The Council didn't believe me, didn't understand, or didn't care. Will he be any different? Maybe it was hopeless from the start. Even on my knees, I demanded. I know from experience that the Council usually only hears a loud voice, but some things can only be said with a soft touch. I thought because they are the power at the top of the Jedi, they could change things, but perhaps because they rule the Jedi they cannot act as they need to.
"I saw that you will have to be very careful, my Padawan." I can't protect him and I shouldn't try, but I will teach him as long and as best I can. I swear I will not sacrifice you, Obi Wan. "Examine who you are and what you see. Find a true center in yourself and let no one destroy it." I shake my head. "Mostly I just saw very clearly, and it frightened me a little."
"Frightened, Master? Do you know what it's been like watching you wander around here like an animal in a cage, being a little frightened by things no one else can see? You've been like a possessed creature, even though you denied it."
"I didn't lie to you, Obi-Wan. Until now I truly did not remember what happened to me at the Temple. I'm sorry."
He looks down and away from me for a moment. "Why did this happen to you?"
"I'm not sure. There are still things I felt that I don't understand."
Obi-Wan looks up, hard and determined. "For all your skill and strength and wisdom, some Jedi look down on you because you go your own way so much. Now the Force itself nearly kills you. I worry." His voice softens and becomes quiet, almost as if he is talking to himself. "If you followed the code you would be on the Council. If you followed the code you would sleep better, Master."
I put my hand on his shoulder, feeling body heat, pulse, and individual life force through the robe. "If you only knew . . . I suffered, but I also experienced such power. And I have learned better who I am. I call that worth it. I am safe now." I smile, perhaps he will understand some day. "You won't have to suffer though these moods of mine again."
He sighs. "Are you sure you're all right?"
"Yes, Padawan. Only worn out." And a little less naive about my place in the Jedi. I used to think that the way I am, the way I am different, was no more or less than what I knew was right, what I had to do to be at home in my own skin. But maybe it has more meaning and purpose than just that.
"I'm glad," he says, then stands and turns to leave.
As he moves into the brightly-lit common room I have a moment of panic, I doubt myself, thinking I must take him and run and never look back. Then I breathe deeply and slowly let go of my fear. I'm getting to be like the Council, who only know how to cling to things or abandon them, who see only the past or the future. I hear Obi-Wan in the next room, opening packages, setting out pots, pouring water, beginning to prepare evening meal. There is still time. I will work and I will hope.
But a part of me that doesn't know the meaning of the word fear is still straining to be gone. No life is easy, but there would be a rightness, a harmony in leaving. Right now I am in the rare and comfortable state, despite everything that is difficult and uncomfortable, in which either choice has the subtle positive weight of the universe behind it. I am at peace with the Force, but that doesn't mean I will never be tangled up in someone else's order again. No life is easy, but alone I wouldn't have to fiercely guard the wild pulse of the Force inside me. I could simply give it a home and it would be my home. But now I know that can never be. I will leave the Jedi dead.
Whether I have a greater purpose than I thought or not, it doesn't matter. I couldn't leave. If that was what I wanted, I might as well have died up in the Council chamber. My place is here. How can I leave my family when I know they are sick? How can I give up before the end? The Jedi and I are not one heart, but I do love them.
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