"I think he's hiding something."
"Anakin?" Luminara's sharp tone drew Obi-Wan's gaze
Half expecting to see censure in his friend's face for leveling
such a charge at his padawan, Obi-Wan was relieved to note nothing
more than open concern. He nodded and returned his attention to
the yellow pinja fruit in his hand. He balanced the disc-shaped
fruit on a blue plate and poised a knife above it.
Mid-slice, he paused as Luminara said, "What makes you
think such a thing?"
Obi-Wan stared at the knife for a few seconds, then lifted
his gaze once more. Luminara returned his regard, raising slender
eyebrows high over blue eyes so deep that a person could dive
into them and never surface. Obi-Wan blinked to prevent himself
from doing just that. He sliced the fruit as he talked. "It's
nothing I can pinpoint, more just a feeling I have. Sometimes
when we're talking, his face ... shuts down, like a droid switching
"Do you sense anything through the Force?"
"No." Obi-Wan scowled. "And that's what has
me the most puzzled. It's like he's a blank data-disc. I can't
read him at all. He's shielding heavily, which is what makes me
think he's hiding something. But I don't know what. I hope he
hasn't done something foolish. Since Geonosis ... our trust level
has diminished for some reason. Or, his has. And when I challenge
him on it, he draws more deeply into himself."
"Well, if you're calling him a droid or a blank data-disc,
I can certainly see why he might not want to talk."
"What do you mean?"
"He probably wants to be treated like the young man he
is, not like some machine."
Obi-Wan's scowl deepened. "I'm not calling him those things
to his face. I'm concerned for him and am making every effort
to be reasonable. He's the one refusing to talk."
"Have the two of you ever been open with each other,
really shared your feelings?"
Obi-Wan released a slow breath. "We don't have the kind
of close relationship you had ... with Barriss." He shifted
his cross-legged position, uncomfortable with being the first
to mention Luminara's dead padawan. She nudged him under the low
table, as if to signal that it was okay. His shoulders relaxed
and he continued, "We respect each other, like each other.
At least, I like him. Most of the time."
"Maybe he's picking up on ... the other times."
"I don't dislike him. But he frustrates me to the
outer limits. I don't understand him, Luminara. I just don't -"
A giggle froze Obi-Wan. He narrowed his eyes and peered at
his friend. "I should very much like to know what you think
is so funny."
"Nothing you've said." Luminara tapped the plate,
drawing his gaze to the intricate tattoos decorating her finger
joints. "I have never seen pinja served in such tiny pieces."
Obi-Wan observed his handiwork, or rather his slaughter, of
the fruit in question. He dropped the knife with a clatter and
gave Luminara a wry glance. She burst out laughing. Obi-Wan smiled.
Force, but it was good to hear her laugh again.
"Oh, Obi-Wan, thank you for tonight. I needed this so
much. A chance to relax and not worry about whether I'm reacting
properly or saying the right thing. A chance to get away from
the awkward glances and abrupt changes of conversation when I
walk into a room. A chance to laugh." She cupped her hand
over his, her face suffused with a golden glow.
Sudden longing surfaced; Obi-Wan quashed it. He was not going
to let a desire that could never be satisfied ruin this moment,
or their friendship. Still, her touch sent sparks of uncomfortable
awareness skittering up his arm. Feeling like a clumsy teenager,
he jerked his hand free and stumbled to his feet.
He muttered, "You must be thirsty. I'll be right back."
Obi-Wan retreated to the kitchenette. He braced his hands against
the counter and inhaled calm. This was the first time he had gotten
together with Luminara since he had saved Padm? Naberrie
from a terrorist attack and had spent several days squiring her
through the streets of Coruscant to safety. Since he had kissed
Padm? while thinking of Luminara, wishing ... Obi-Wan set
aside the memory. Wishes had nothing to do with reality. And the
reality was that he and Luminara were both Jedi, both dedicated
to service in the Order. Friendship was all Obi-Wan could ever
seek, was likely all Luminara ever wanted. He would not make the
mistake his master had made. He straightened and pulled two glasses
off a shelf.
"Something else is bothering you." Luminara spoke
from the end of the counter.
Startled, Obi-Wan held his reaction to a twitch of his eye.
He didn't look at his friend, but busied himself with filling
"Obi-Wan, ... what is it?" Luminara crossed her arms,
her hands resting over the copper- and bronze-colored metal bands
that covered her upper arms.
Pasting a weak smile on his face, Obi-Wan turned and held out
her glass. She took it, but didn't move. Obi-Wan shrugged. "I'm
tired. Master Yoda has me attending meetings all day, every day.
He has decided that I should be the Jedi representative on the
Military Council that Bail Organa is heading up."
"And on top of full-day meetings, I hear you're still
spending hours in the training rooms, honing your lightsaber skills.
That can't be helping your fatigue. But that Military Council
is just to mollify the Senate, isn't it?"
"Yes. They're afraid that the new military is wielding
too much power and want to make sure that they have their say.
I'm not sure who insisted the Jedi have a voice in matters, and
I'm completely baffled as to what I did to Master Yoda to get
him so upset with me that he would appoint me to the post."
Luminara chuckled. "Before you know it, they'll be making
you a general."
"Force forbid. So far, my mandate is restricted to voicing
my opinion on strategies and not committing the Jedi to the fight.
Ever since Geonosis, Master Yoda has been striving to keep us
from being drawn deeper into the conflict, despite heavy Senate
pressure to the contrary. We need to regain an air of neutrality
if we're ever to be effective as negotiators in the conflict."
"It might be too late for that." Sadness shadowed
That she was still mourning the loss of her padawan was plain
to see. Obi-Wan stepped beside her and leaned against the counter.
He gave her a gentle bump with his shoulder, earning himself a
watery smile. He wished he could take her pain away - a wish
as pointless as any other he had made recently.
Luminara sniffed. "So tell me about this committee."
"That one word about sums it up. It's a committee. Endless
talk. Although I do admire the deft way Bail handles the various
members, including the military personnel. He has a fine mind."
Obi-Wan paused. "Despite his taste in clothing."
"Obi-Wan! That's terrible. Why would you say such a thing?"
He smiled at Luminara's reaction. "It's hard to take a
person seriously when he's decked out in so much ... frippery."
"So much ...?" Luminara peered up at Obi-Wan, eyes
now clear and dancing. "And just what frippery is he guilty
"Oh, you know. The frills at the collar and cuffs."
Obi-Wan pointed at his own neck and wrists. "The braid and
excessive ornamentation on his tunics."
Luminara swung around to stand before him. "One could
say the same thing about you, dear Jedi. Look at you. Undertunic,
tunic, stolla, sash, belt, lightsaber, and a cloak when you go
out. Isn't that ... excessive?"
"Is it?" She tapped her tattooed chin and quirked
her eyebrows. "And what about me, Obi-Wan? Do I wear ...
"Well ..." Obi-Wan ran an assessing gaze over her,
a grin crinkling his eyes. "Now that you mention it, that
head covering comes dangerously close. I've always wanted to ask
you why you wear it. Surely it would be more comfortable to simply
"Like my tattoos, my head covering is traditional to my
home world, though I'm sure you know that. A woman leaves her
hair unbound but covered. So it satisfies tradition, but also
serves to keep my hair out of my eyes so I can see to fight when
"You must keep it short under there, though, or it would
be uncomfortably hot."
Luminara smiled. She set down her glass and slid her hands
to the back of her neck, then pulled off the covering. Obi-Wan
blinked. Her hair hung thick and straight, almost ten centimeters
below her collar. A black waterfall. He itched to feel the shimmering
folds flow through his fingers.
In a conspiratorial whisper, Luminara said, "You must
pretend I never did this, for on Mirial, only a woman's lifemate
is supposed to see her hair."
Lifemate. Obi-Wan squeezed his eyes shut and drained his glass.
He set it down with a thump and moved to step past Luminara. She
stopped him with a hand on his chest. "What is it? What's
"Tired. Yes, I know. And you're also being evasive."
"Thank you for that observation. You, my friend, are being
Obi-Wan opened his mouth and snapped it shut. Padm?
had called him that. He eyed his friend warily. "Very well,
I agree. Obnoxious is a better word for your behavior."
A clear laugh burst from the smaller Jedi. "You know I
was referring to you, Obi-Wan Kenobi."
With a look of mock indignation, Obi-Wan started to protest,
but found himself beguiled by her amazing blue eyes and the way
they were sparkling with laughter. His expression softened. He
shook himself and laughed. "You are absolutely right. I am
completely obnoxious. Just ask my padawan."
"Ask me what, Master?" Anakin's voice came from the
The two Jedi exchanged amused glances. Obi-Wan grinned as he
realized that Luminara hadn't heard Anakin enter the apartment
either. The padawan popped his head around the corner. Surprise
flickered over his features, then disappeared.
Tilting his head, uncertainty in his voice, Anakin said, "You're
in a good mood."
"Yes, as it happens," Obi-Wan replied. He crossed
his arms. "And you're back a little early. I thought the
shuttle from Obroa-Skai didn't arrive until closer to midnight."
"A good pilot, I guess." Anakin nodded at Luminara,
his gaze lingering on her unbound hair for a few seconds. Obi-Wan
could almost see the snide comment forming on his padawan's lips,
though Anakin merely said, "Master Unduli. It's good to see
you smiling again." He sent Obi-Wan a dubious glance, as
if he could not quite believe his master capable of making anyone
smile. Obi-Wan arched one brow.
"Thank you, Anakin. And you are looking well, too,"
Luminara replied. "Though I must say that the leather trimmings
you sport come, well, dangerously close to frippery. Wouldn't
you agree, Master Kenobi?"
Obi-Wan snorted and swallowed his rising laughter, a task made
more difficult by the puzzled look Anakin wore. The padawan hesitated,
then said, "Master? I spoke with Padm? via comlink
on my way to the Temple, and I promised her I'd give her a hand
with a project she has on the go." He paused. "If that's
okay with you, I mean."
"You want to go over tonight?"
"Right away, if you don't have anything pressing for me
The boy was being very deferential, not his usual arrogant
self at all. His eagerness to see Padm? was showing. Obi-Wan
found it hard to object to his padawan's friendship with the senator
when he drew so much strength from his own relationship with Luminara.
Still, he let Anakin chafe under a harsh gaze for a moment. When
Anakin's face started to fall, he said, "Don't focus on the
negative, young padawan. Your thoughts betray you. And whatever
you do, ... don't overstay your welcome."
A smile broke across Anakin's face. "Of course not, Master."
He spun and disappeared. The door whispered closed seconds later.
Obi-Wan stared at the spot where his padawan had stood. He
was relieved to have Anakin gone. The boy was very astute. The
last thing Obi-Wan wanted was to have him notice what Luminara
had so far failed to see - that she inspired feelings in him
Luminara dropped her head covering, jerking Obi-Wan from his
reverie. She bent over and picked it up, her hair falling across
her shoulders and into her face. When she straightened, Obi-Wan
smiled and reached over to brush a strand of hair out of her eyes.
His fingers lingered on her temple. Their eyes met.
The sapphire pools drew him into their depths before he realized
what was happening. He couldn't look away, not even when he saw
understanding dawning in them.
Luminara blinked and looked away, breaking the spell. "Oh,
Obi-Wan." Her brow puckered. Her hand fluttered between them,
then dropped. "I ... I should leave." She wheeled away
and darted toward the foyer.
Obi-Wan caught up to her beside the sofa and grasped her arm.
"Please, Luminara, don't go. I refuse to let my ... foolishness
... get in the way of our friendship."
Slowly, she turned around and peered into his face.
"Please stay." Panic edged his thoughts. "I
can't lose your friendship. You are the only one I can talk to
the way we do." He gave her a hopeful smile. "Laugh
with me, Luminara. Laugh at my stupidity."
"It's ... not funny, Obi-Wan. It's heart-wrenching. It's
touching. It ... hurts."
Obi-Wan touched his finger to her lips. "I can assure
you, that was never my intent, my friend." He flung his arms
out. "Hit me."
"I had the audacity to hurt you. So hit me. Your hardest
swing. I won't even defend against it."
Luminara covered her mouth, muffling a laugh. "Stop it."
"I mean it. Knock me out cold."
This time the laugh broke free. "Okay, I'll stay. You
are so pathetic."
Obi-Wan grinned. "A truly pathetic, and apparently obnoxious,
lifeform. And I'm forever grateful that you have more compassion
than I when it comes to such things."
Seriousness cloaked her features. She cupped her hand along
his jaw. "I value our friendship, too, Obi-Wan, more than
I can say. You know as well as I that it can never be more than
that. So tell me what I can do to help you. To help us."
Gripping Luminara's elbow, Obi-Wan steered her toward the table
and the now soggy pinja fruit. "To begin with, you can put
that head covering back on."
"What? Don such needless frippery?"
Obi-Wan groaned. "Have mercy, friend."
An hour later, the two Jedi were still laughing with easy camaraderie.
They exchanged tales of missions gone awry, each enduring the
other's good-natured teasing. Luminara relaxed on the sofa, while
Obi-Wan stretched out on the floor, propped on his elbow. He tossed
bits of fresh pinja at her, which she easily caught, alternating
between popping the fruit in her mouth and throwing pieces back
Obi-Wan said, "Do you remember our joint mission on Ansion?"
Luminara snorted softly. "I remember you riding those
great beasts like you had been born to it, while the rest of us
were jostled about and bumped and bruised and almost tossed to
"I remember you throwing handfuls of sand into the air
and our hosts getting most disgruntled with your ... lack of talent.
Until the sand started molding into pictures before our eyes.
It was one of the most incredible displays of Force control I've
even been witness to. When you rose in the air, the sand spiraling
around you, the silence was so profound ... I do believe you even
impressed my padawan."
"High praise indeed."
It was Obi-Wan's turn to snort. "You have no idea how
difficult he is to impress. His abilities have made him arrogant."
"Well, he is supposed to be the Chosen One."
"Chosen to drive me to an early funeral pyre."
"I know, I know. Add irreverence to my list of crimes,
along with obnoxious and Force knows what else. You'll have to
ask Anakin for a complete listing. He can catalogue my faults
much more efficiently than I."
"You have so many. It must be difficult to keep track."
Obi-Wan leveled an annoyed look at his friend. She smiled broadly.
He flipped another piece of pinja at her, which she threw right
"No more. I'm going to burst soon."
Dropping the fruit back on the plate, Obi-Wan flopped onto
his back and stared at the ceiling, content to share the silence
with Luminara. Her presence glimmered in the Force, a soothing
balm. His relief at their getting past the awkwardness of his
revealed feelings was enormous. He knew, with Luminara's help,
he'd overcome this unexpected, unwelcome love and return to the
simpler devotion of friendship. They would be able to share a
lifetime of evenings like this one. A smile played over his lips.
"What are you -"
Luminara's question was cut short by the door chime sounding.
Obi-Wan rolled over and pushed to his feet. "Enter."
At his command, the door slid into the wall.
A Mon Calamari initiate stepped into the apartment and bowed.
"Masters." He straightened and faced Obi-Wan. "Master
Yoda requests your presence, Master Kenobi. He asks that you meet
him right away, in the Star Room."
"Thank you," Obi-Wan replied. "I'll do so."
The young learner bowed again and hurried into the corridor
as the door hissed closed. Obi-Wan gave Luminara an apologetic
She held up her hand. "It can't be helped." A twinkle
entered her eyes. "Perhaps you've been put on active duty,
Obi-Wan curled his lip. "A commission I will only accept
if you are made my second-in-command."
"No, thank you. I will stick to negotiating."
"Well, my padawan often calls battle aggressive negotiations,
something you are quite adept at when the situation calls for
it. You'd be a natural."
"All the same, I will remain a simple Jedi. You will have
to bask alone in the glory of battles won." She rose and
smiled up at Obi-Wan. "I'm hopeful your ego won't puff up
"You never can tell. What with my endless list of faults,
egomania is certain to be included somewhere."
Luminara smiled. "True enough." She slipped her arms
around his waist. "Please tell me I can still do this."
Obi-Wan returned the hug. "Always. Even if I ever have
the misfortune to become an egotistical general." He pressed
his cheek against the top of her head and inhaled her sweet herbal
"Would you really consider such a post?"
"If the Council required it, though I'm certain it will
never come to that." Another of his faults, according to
Anakin - his desire to do the will of the Council. Why a simple
concept like unquestioned obedience was so difficult for Anakin
to grasp, was beyond Obi-Wan's understanding. The boy had to have
a reason for everything.
Luminara stepped back. "We'll talk tomorrow. Maybe we
can connect at lunch. I'm on Coruscant for the next few days,
Obi-Wan nodded. "The Force be with you."
"And with you, dear friend."
Luminara left Obi-Wan standing in the middle of the room. After
the door closed, he sighed and looked around, then tidied up,
rinsing dishes and stacking them in the sterilizer. He wiped his
hands on his stolla, pausing to finger the soft material, a smile
tugging at his mouth. Frippery. He set aside his mirth, grabbed
his cloak, and headed for the Star Room.
Master Yoda was waiting, a scowl marring his forehead. In deference
to the master's size, Obi-Wan sank to his knees and sat back on
his heels. He inclined his head in greeting.
Yoda huffed and began to pace, his gimer stick tapping the
stone floor. It brought forth the memory of Yoda fighting Dooku,
the stick and old age forgotten in the cocooning power of the
Force. Yoda was a many-layered mystery, even to those who knew
him well. Obi-Wan watched and waited. It was several moments before
"Transpired, an unsettling development has."
"In the Clone War?"
"Mmm." Yoda halted and narrowed his eyes. "Spoken
to Senator Amidala recently, have you?"
"Not since the terrorist incident at the Bothan Embassy.
Yoda didn't reply. He waved his hand and activated the star
map, turning the room into a miniature galaxy, then studied the
stars for several moments. Finally, he used his gimer stick to
point at a grouping of lights.
"The Hapes Cluster," Obi-Wan said, wondering at the
change in subject. He knew he need only be patient and Yoda would
reveal the reason.
Nodding, the ancient master said, "Returned from Hapes
today, aboard a public transport, Jedi Shemdireh did. Wandering
the lower levels of the ship, he was, when he heard a disturbance
and rushed to it, frightening off an attacker. He stayed to help
the victim, but too late, it was. Handed him a pouch, the victim
did, and with his dying breath said it must reach Senator Amidala."
Obi-Wan raised his eyebrows. "A diplomatic courier?"
Yoda's ears flattened. "A personal courier."
"Really." Obi-Wan paused. "You opened the pouch."
Yoda clamped both his hands on his stick and lifted his chin.
Obi-Wan recognized that look. Far be it from him to question the
motives or actions of the wisest of all Jedi masters. He schooled
his features to blandness and waited for Yoda to continue.
The Jedi master frowned at Obi-Wan for a moment, then said,
"Has her own network of spies, the senator does. Discovered
the whereabouts of Count Dooku, they may have."
Shocked, Obi-Wan stared at Yoda, unable to summon words as
his thoughts skipped in all directions. That Yoda was expecting
a response was evident in his expression. Obi-Wan cleared his
throat. "Well, that certainly explains why her courier would
be a target for murder."
The furrows in Yoda's forehead deepened. "Know nothing
of this, you do?"
"Of course not, Master. I would never condone -"
"Yes, yes. Suspect you, I did not. I merely sought to
confirm my belief." Yoda resumed pacing. "Concerned,
I am, that the senator is acting alone. Without Senate knowledge.
Without our knowledge. Why?" He jabbed the air with
his stick. "Know this, we must. The senator still does not
realize how dangerous Dooku is. Only the Jedi know, that darkness,
he has embraced. Stopped, she must be, from continuing her hunt.
And then ... find Dooku, we must. On this, much depends."
"Go to the senator, you will."
"Yes. If the murderer was sent by Dooku, then alerted
he might already be. Act quickly, we must, before he disappears
"And if Padm? refuses to stop looking for Dooku?"
Yoda narrowed his eyes. "Allow that, I will not. A Jedi
matter, this is. Hold you responsible for her actions, I will,
and for her safety."
Obi-Wan held his tongue. He wondered if Yoda realized how stubborn
a young woman Padm? was. If she had set her mind to the
task, stopping her might be akin to stopping a stampeding herd
of nerf. His thoughts crashed to a halt. Anakin. Did he know what
Padm? was doing? Is that what he was hiding?
"Hm?" Obi-Wan blinked rapidly.
"Hear me, you did not." Disapproval stamped Yoda's
"I'm sorry, Master. What did you say?"
Yoda pointed at the chair in the center of the room, and the
packet on its seat. "I said, take the pouch and return it
to the senator."
"But surely you don't want her to know where -"
"Her pouch, it is. Keep it from her, I will not. Use reason,
you must, to achieve your goal."
Obi-Wan started to speak, then stopped. He had the feeling
that Yoda had just doomed him to failure. Giving Padm?
that pouch would be like releasing a heat-seeking missile when
the target was in sight. He stood and picked up the packet. "Are
you certain this is what you want, Master?"
Yoda rapped his stick on the floor. "Question me, you
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan took a quick breath and spoke
before he could think better of it. "It's just that Padm?
sometimes thinks with her heart, not her head."
"Then, do her thinking for her, you will."
"But she -"
"Dismissed, you are, Obi-Wan."
Clamping his mouth shut, Obi-Wan gave a short bow, then strode
from the room. His boots slapped against the marble floor. Master
Yoda had to know that Padm? would try to chase after Dooku
once she knew where he was. Why did Yoda want that?
Scowling, Obi-Wan rounded a corner, scattering a group of older
initiates. Their surprised mutterings followed him down the corridor.
He continued, unheeding, his pace eating up the distance to the
nearest landing bay.
He wasn't looking forward to the coming argument with Padm?.
And he already knew whose side Anakin would take.
Captain Typho greeted Obi-Wan in the foyer of Senator Amidala's
multi-storied apartment. "Master Kenobi, it's a pleasure
to see you again."
Obi-Wan bowed. He genuinely liked the head of Padm?'s
security. He was a stern fellow who took his duties very seriously.
Obi-Wan had never asked, but assumed Typho had lost his left eye
in the line of duty. The eye patch lent an even grimmer aspect
to the man. "How are you this evening, Captain?"
"I was fine until you walked through the door." Obi-Wan
gave Typho a curious look and the man continued, "You only
seem to show up when trouble is on the radar screen."
Pulling his cloak close about him, Obi-Wan said, "Surely
you misjudge ..."
Slightly taller than Obi-Wan, Typho straightened to his full
height and skewered the Jedi with a keen eye. "Are you here
only for a visit, then?"
Obi-Wan inclined his head. "I confess, I'm here on business."
A quiet snort escaped from Typho. "I thought as much.
Senator Amidala is in the main lounge, with Anakin if I'm not
mistaken. Shall I announce you?"
"That won't be necessary. I'll find my own way."
Obi-Wan bowed again and swept past the diligent captain. He doubted
Typho ever mistook anything.
Obi-Wan strolled along the outer corridor, eyeing the blurred
lights of Coruscant traffic by night. He paused and straightened
his cloak. He was stalling, he knew. He didn't want to argue with
Padm?. Though he'd known her for over ten years, their
friendship was still quite new and precarious, especially given
Anakin's sometimes defensive attitude toward him and Padm?'s
obvious loyalty to Anakin.
Everything always came back to Anakin. The boy had defined
his life since the day they had first met. I lost my master
twice, first to Anakin, then to the Sith's blade. Refusing
to let the old resentment take root, Obi-Wan closed his eyes,
admitting that he sometimes wondered (feared?) if Anakin
would be central to the rest of his life. Likely all masters had
similar thoughts. When Anakin achieved knighthood, Obi-Wan would
begin to walk a solitary path. An odd thought, that. He had always
been either padawan or master. It would be strange to have to
account for only himself. Strange, but ... not unwelcome. The
stress of keeping Anakin in line was fatiguing.
The lanes of traffic came into focus, and Obi-Wan realized
he had been standing before this window for several moments. He
sighed. He had an assignment and pointless musing would not see
it done. Hands clasped before him, he strode toward the archway
at the end of the hall and into the lounge.
Obi-Wan jerked to a halt, eyes wide.
On the other side of the room, oblivious to everything, Anakin
and Padm? were embracing.
And kissing. Passionately.
The Jedi master tried to clear his throat around the lump clogging
it. The sound barely registered. Heedless, Anakin continued to
... to plunder Padm?'s lips. Obi-Wan worked his jaw, but
no words emerged. What were they doing?
As he watched, Anakin swept Padm? into his arms, still
kissing her, and started for the hall leading to the senator's
bedroom. Alarm thrummed through Obi-Wan's veins. The bedroom.
He found his voice.
The shout almost caused Anakin to drop Padm?. He jerked
his head up, eyes round, cheeks flushed deep red. He set Padm?
down and she brushed at her gown, studiously avoiding Obi-Wan's
"What do you think you are doing?" Each word was
punctuated by a cracking step forward.
"I -" Anakin's nostrils flared and he pushed Padm?
"This is completely unacceptable." Obi-Wan fought
to control his rising anger.
"No buts." Anakin's lips pressed together. Distress
and something darker flickered over his features. Obi-Wan halted
before the padawan and crossed his arms. "You are behaving
in a manner unbecoming a Jedi. One does not take advantage of
friendship in such a reprehensible way. Seduction, Anakin? What
are you thinking? Are you even thinking? Come to your senses
Through clenched teeth, Anakin said, "You don't understand."
"Nor do I want to. This time you have gone too far, young
one. You will learn your place and will start behaving
according to the Code -"
"Blast the Code!"
Obi-Wan's breath caught. He scowled, carving deep lines between
his brows. His voice was deadly quiet. "What ... did you
"You heard me."
Anakin started to turn away, but Obi-Wan yanked him back. "You
had better have a reasonable explanation for your outburst, my
young padawan learner."
"Stop calling me that!"
Obi-Wan's grip tightened. "Explain your actions now, or
we'll return to the Temple and you can explain them to Master
Anakin shook himself free. His face distorted as he fought
an inner battle, the intensity of which surprised Obi-Wan. Finally,
Anakin blurted, "We're married."
For a long moment, Obi-Wan forgot to breathe. His heart failed
to beat. With a roar, his blood resumed rushing through his veins.
A merciless pounding began behind his eyes. Anger erupted. "How
dare you lie to me! What in blazes do you think to gain by -"
"It's true, Obi-Wan." Padm?'s voice struck
the Jedi momentarily dumb.
Groping behind him, Obi-Wan felt for the sofa and sank onto
it. He stared blankly at the pair before him, rubbing his chilled
and clammy fingers, noting his icy toes, deciding he was going
into shock. That was ridiculous. One did not slip into a state
of shock from simply hearing that ...
"It's true?" he whispered. "True?" He leaned
his elbows on his knees and buried his face in his hands. Without
looking up he asked, "Was it true when we were fleeing through
the streets of Coruscant, Padm??"
Obi-Wan snapped his head up. "You sought my friendship,
yet you said nothing."
"I couldn't. It was Anakin's ... It wasn't ..." Her
brow wrinkled as she battled dismay.
Anakin said, "Padm? told me to tell you, Master.
Remember? That night in your room, right after you had rescued
her? But ... I couldn't. I knew you wouldn't understand."
"I wouldn't understand." Obi-Wan laughed, a short
bark. "What's to understand? You're an aspiring Jedi Knight,
forbidden from forming such attachments - and for a good reason,
I might add - and you just up and, and ..." Another bark.
"You're dead right I don't understand." He stood and
began to pace. "How long?"
When no answer was forthcoming, Obi-Wan halted before Anakin.
"I said, how long?"
Anakin avoided his gaze. "Right after Geonosis. When I
escorted Padm? back to Naboo."
"When you ..." Obi-Wan scowled, something niggling
on the edge of his awareness. He narrowed his eyes. "Where?"
"I told you, Master. On Naboo."
"No. Where on Naboo?"
"Up in the lake country where we first hid from the assassin.
There's a villa -"
"Blast!" Obi-Wan spun and strode to the window. Hands
folded tightly across his chest, he saw nothing, his sight turned
inward, to a vision he'd had the night Anakin had tried to tell
him. Anakin and Padm? kissing, a shimmering lake behind
them. He spoke quietly, to himself. "The Force showed
me, but I refused to see. It tried to warn me, but I ignored it.
Am I so Force-blind then? So insensitive to its leading?"
Silently, he cried, Master, help me. But there was no reply,
only rising despair. I knew they liked each other, but still
I agreed to let him escort her home. If I hadn't ... This is my
fault. I've failed. Again. Oh, Force. He slumped into a chair
beside the window and closed his eyes.
Summon quiet. There is no emotion; there is peace. Set
Absorb the truth. There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.
Accept it and learn.
Breathe in calm. There is no passion; there is serenity.
Breathe out anger.
Seek the Light. There is no death; there is the Force.
Resist the urge to strangle Anakin.
Questing inward, Obi-Wan reached for his center of calm. It
proved as elusive as catching the wind.
"Obi-Wan?" Small hands clasped his. "Obi-Wan,
are you all right?" He blinked his eyes open and stared at
Padm?, crouched before him, concern wreathing her features.
She was incredibly beautiful. He could see why Anakin was attracted
to her. She said, "I've never seen you like this, Obi-Wan.
Please don't be angry. It will be all right. I promise."
The promise of a politician. Obi-Wan winced inwardly at his
judgmental attitude. He pulled his hands from her grasp and stood.
He studied Anakin as he weighed their options. Padm? moved
to stand beside Anakin and took his hand, facing Obi-Wan as if
waiting for sentencing. Obi-Wan crossed his arms, holding his
cloak close and warding off the chill he felt. After several minutes,
he said, "We can fix this."
Anakin's expression turned quizzical. "Fix?"
Obi-Wan nodded. "Yes. What kind of a ceremony were you
married in? Civil?"
Padm? said, "A local holy man performed the rites."
"Good. That's easier. We'll travel to Naboo and get the
Anger contorted Anakin's face. "We'll do no such thing."
Obi-Wan stepped forward. "Be mindful of your feelings,
Padawan. Do not let them control you. This is the only reasonable
"Space reason!" Anakin's limbs quivered. "I
will not pretend the last few months never happened! Padm?
is my wife. I love her and she's going to remain my wife."
"Patience, Anakin. Think this through. You have to realize
"Realize what, Obi-Wan? That you are totally incapable
of understanding me? I already know that. Do you even know what
love is? Have you ever once felt love for anyone? If you
had the slightest clue what it feels like, you'd know I can't
turn my back on our love. Tell me, Master, do you have
a heart or a central processing unit?"
Obi-Wan strove to tamp his surging frustration. "Not only
is that a highly unfair accusation, it has no bearing on this
situation. I'm concerned for you and I'm trying to help."
"By making the situation disappear? It's not going away,
Obi-Wan. We are married - and we're staying that way."
Shaking his head, Obi-Wan pinched the bridge of his nose. "Don't
you realize what you've done?" Eyes pleading, he met his
padawan's steely gaze. "All your life you've wanted to be
a Jedi. I can't begin to recall how many times you told me that.
And now, on the verge of success, you would throw it all away?"
"I'm not throwing anything away."
Obi-Wan gaped for a heartbeat. "That's ... Think,
Anakin. For once, take a moment and think it through. If
we don't deal with this, you will be expelled from the Jedi Order!"
"Now who's the one dwelling on negative thoughts?"
"Expelled! And all our hard work will be for nothing."
"Be careful, Master. Your thoughts betray you. Our
hard work? It seems all you're really concerned about here
is how this will affect your standing as a Jedi master."
Obi-Wan jabbed his finger at Anakin. "Don't twist my teachings
and throw them back in my face." He dropped onto the sofa,
forearms on thighs, and stared at his hands, willing his anger
to subside. His breath huffed out in short bursts. As he focused
on the Force, his breathing began to even out, his muscles started
Padm? sat beside him and spoke softly. "It was
wrong of us not to tell you sooner, Obi-Wan, but you have to try
to understand how we feel. Put yourself in our position. If it
were you and Luminara -"
"Master Unduli?" Anakin cried.
"Hush, Anakin. Please, Obi-Wan. If you had a reasonable
chance at making a life with the one you love, wouldn't you take
Puzzlement lacing his tone, Anakin said, "Obi-Wan and
"Anakin!" Padm? said. "Stop being so
rude. Obi-Wan, please talk to me." He lifted his head and
she continued, "You trusted me with the secret of your heart.
I won't betray that. Neither of us will." She shot a pointed
look at Anakin. "But tell me the truth, wouldn't you marry
her if you could?"
"No." Obi-Wan held Padm?'s brown gaze. "No.
We are Jedi. Nothing can change that fact. We are both committed
to the Jedi Order. There is a reason for the proscription about
loving. It's not to be cruel, it's not because the Order wants
to control every aspect of our lives, it's not because Jedi lack
hearts. It splinters our focus, gives our enemies a target. Anakin
is a Jedi. You are now his point of weakness. Anyone wishing to
attack him, need only target you. Luminara and I will remain mere
friends because it's the right thing to do, because as friends
we support and strengthen each other without demands, without
... draining expectations."
"There is strength in love," Padm? whispered.
"And there is madness. I've seen both, Padm?. I
was younger than Anakin when my master found love - with
another Jedi. She was ripped from his life, kidnapped, then killed.
It drove him to the brink of madness, to the shadowlands bordering
the Dark Side." Obi-Wan rested his hand on Padm?'s
shoulder. "I loved Qui-Gon as a father. He was my master
and I was helpless in the face of his despair and grief. I almost
lost him then, but I fought to save him with every gram of strength
the boy I was possessed." He shifted his regard to Anakin.
He needed to speak as he never had before - maybe all this had
happened because he was too reserved with his feelings. "I
know we sometimes disagree, but you are my padawan. I care deeply
for you and ... I don't want to lose you, Anakin. I'm fighting
for you, here, now. Please help me."
Anakin gave him a pained look. "I love her, Master."
"You are a Jedi, Padawan."
"I love her too much to leave her."
"Are you willing to pay the price your love will demand?
Are you willing to give up your dream?"
"She is my dream. She is my life."
Oh, Force. I failed you, Master. Forgive me. Obi-Wan
closed his eyes. Help me to forgive myself.
The silence stretched into awkwardness. Finally, Padm?
said, "Obi-Wan? I know this is a bad time to ask, but ...
why did you come here? Was it to get Anakin? Are you being sent
on a mission?"
The assignment. He'd forgotten all about it. Setting aside
his worries for the moment, Obi-Wan stood and folded his arms,
his training as a Jedi re-asserting itself. He sent Anakin a glance
warning him their discussion wasn't over, then faced Padm?.
"A courier of yours was returning to Coruscant from the Hapes
Cluster. He was murdered aboard the transport."
A frown puckered Padm?'s brow. Her eyes darkened to
Her silence was telling; she knew what that courier had been
searching for. Obi-Wan felt the pouch beneath his fingers, tucked
under his sash. If he didn't give it to her, she wouldn't know
about Dooku. One less argument. One less worry. Master Yoda's
admonition rang through his thoughts. Obi-Wan sighed. Much as
it would make things easier, he couldn't disobey Yoda. It went
against a lifetime of learning and trust. Slowly, he pulled the
pouch from its hiding spot and held it out to Padm?. "He
gave this to a Jedi before he died, with instructions it be delivered
She took the packet and turned it over. "It's been opened."
Obi-Wan nodded. "By Master Yoda. I read the contents,
as well, on my way over here. I don't know what kind of game you're
playing or why you're searching for Count Dooku, but apparently,
you've found him." He arched his brow. "It's your move,
"I hate the way he suddenly began calling you Senator.
He says it with such ... contempt, it makes me want to -"
"Shh." Padm? touched Anakin's lips and snuggled
closer. She glanced at the bedroom door, acutely aware of Obi-Wan's
presence on the other side. She knew he wouldn't stoop to eavesdropping,
but he might be monitoring Anakin's feelings through their master-padawan
bond. "He sees my searching for Dooku as a plot hatched by
a scheming politician. My duplicity only proves his low opinion
of my kind. Don't you see, Ani? Our silence about being
married has shattered any trust that may have existed between
him and I. His faith in us is ... shaken. I can't say I blame
"Well, you never told me about him and Master Unduli,
and I'm not holding that against you." Anakin paused and
stroked Padme's hair. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"For the same reason I didn't tell him about us. It wasn't
my secret to tell. Though his secret was much less harmful."
She sighed. "He shouldn't have had to find out this way.
I never thought to see Obi-Wan Kenobi so ... so ..."
Padm? heard the satisfaction in Anakin's tone and was
tempted to hit him. She sat up and frowned at him. "That's
right. Upset. He's always in control, always calm."
"The perfect Jedi." Anakin sneered.
"Perhaps. Is being in control so bad, Ani? I have to be
in control when I'm in a meeting or at a negotiating table, and
I often wish I had his exceptional discipline. Did you notice
that every time his control started slipping, he withdrew and
regained it? It cost him terribly to stay calm in the face of
our revelation. He has feelings as much as you do; he just chooses
to keep them in check."
"Why are you defending him?"
"Why are you being so callous? He's your master. And because
of us, he's deeply disappointed. More than that, Ani, he's hurting.
I didn't need Force abilities to see that. Doesn't it bother you?"
Anakin shrugged and looked away. Padm? pursed her lips.
He was sulking. He couldn't be reasoned with when he was like
this. She slipped off the bed and crossed to the window. Lifting
one of the blind's slats, she peered outside. She hated having
to stand as a buffer between the two men. A little more reasonableness
on both their parts would go a long way to healing their rift.
Instead, it seemed to be growing.
Warm fingers clasped Padm?'s shoulder. She closed her
eyes and dropped her hand. The blind clattered. Anakin's voice
sounded right beside her ear. "We could sneak away. Chase
Dooku without our self-appointed shadow." He planted a kiss
below Padm?'s ear.
"No, Anakin. Running is no better than hiding."
"But you heard him. The Jedi want us to back off. Well,
I'm not going to. I have a score to settle with Dooku."
The count needed to be stopped, but why had she ever let Anakin
talk her into this search? Maybe because she had never expected
it to yield any results. Padm? caught a glimpse of Anakin's
outstretched golden arm, flexing, forming a fist. She shuddered.
"Are you cold? Let's go back to bed." He gently turned
Padm? around and kissed her, a deep probing kiss that left
no question as to his intent.
Drawing back, Padm? shook her head. "I ... I'm
tired, Ani. I don't want to ... Not with Obi-Wan in the next room.
It's like having your father here."
Anakin threw a resentful glance at the door. "Why did
you let him stay?"
"He didn't give me a choice. He's not going away, Anakin,
not until this business with Dooku is finished. You heard him:
Yoda charged him with keeping me safe. You've told me yourself
how stubborn he is when it comes to completing an assignment."
"To the letter, exactly as the Council directs."
Anakin frowned. "So what are we going to do about it?"
"We aren't going to do anything. He didn't say
he was going to force us to comply. So we are going to calmly
continue on. If he wants to come with us, then let him. The extra
lightsaber will come in handy if we actually catch up to Dooku."
Anakin snorted. "Dooku won't defeat me a second time.
I still think it would be easier to knock out a window and -"
Padm? clamped her hand over Anakin's mouth. "Not
another word, unless you want to be first out that window - without
a safety cable."
Lowering her hand, Anakin chuckled. "I've done worse."
An image imprinted itself on Padm?'s mind: Anakin free-falling
through the canyons of Coruscant. What was frightening was that
he had done just that - and likely enjoyed it. Another
shudder raked her spine. Could hunting Dooku prove to be more
She had a bad feeling about this.
The data-disc twirled through his fingers as he surveyed the
deserted command center with satisfaction. A few scattered papers,
a broken monitor, an overturned chair - it had the look of a
place abandoned in haste. A cold smile touched his lips.
A robotic voice interrupted his inspection. He arched one dark
brow and waited for the droid to continue.
"Your shuttle is ready for take-off, Count Dooku."
"Thank you. Wait for me there. I shall join you directly."
As it was programmed to do, the droid sketched a bow before
retreating. Yan Dooku inclined his head, though the droid did
not see. He demanded courtly manners from all his minions, be
they automated or sentient beings. It amused him - and was no
less than his rightful due.
Taking one more turn around the facility, he paused and casually
pressed his thumb onto a dusty surface. Cloak swirling, he strode
toward the exit with a martial posture. As he passed the last
counter, he flicked the data-disc, then paused to watch it tumble
to the floor, land on its edge and roll to a stop, partially under
a chair leg.
He smiled again and headed for his waiting shuttle.
Spine stiff, Anakin walked behind his master and Padm?
toward the waiting ship. A Naboo yacht. Obi-Wan had thought it
better if they didn't use an official Republic transport. Padm?
Obi-Wan had thought a great many things - and he had voiced
every one of them. In the process he had either ignored whatever
Anakin had suggested, or he had outright rejected the ideas. He
always sounded so blasted reasonable, that Padm? usually
took his side before it could even become an argument. Anakin's
resentment simmered below the surface, waiting for an excuse to
And now, Anakin could tell by his purposeful stride that Obi-Wan
considered himself in charge of this mission, despite his continued
attempts to talk them out of going.
Obi-Wan jogged up the landing ramp and swung left, heading
toward the cockpit. Anakin paused at the base of the ramp. This
ship was slightly longer than a royal cruiser, with a narrower
wing span, but of similar design. Silver instead of gold, as sleek
as its more opulent counterpart. Anakin imagined Obi-Wan slipping
into the pilot's chair. His jaw clenched. He wondered if he could
come up with a reason for Obi-Wan to leave the ship, if only for
a moment. That's all he needed to get the ship airborne; it was
already prepped, its engines running.
Padm? paused at the head of the ramp and peered down
at Anakin. "Are you coming? If you've changed your mind,
it's not too late to tell Obi-Wan and go home."
To face the Jedi Council for daring to enter the forbidden
state of marriage. At least Obi-Wan had agreed to a truce on that
issue until this was over. If nothing else, the hunt for Dooku
gave Anakin time to mentally prepare for when he would stand before
the Council. He would show them no fear. And he would not back
In a simple blue flightsuit trimmed with silver, her hair pulled
back in a braided bun, Padm? looked so tentative, so ...
vulnerable, that Anakin had to smile. "Hang on. You know
I haven't changed my mind." He strode up the ramp and framed
her face with his hands. "I was right all those years ago
on Tatooine, you know. You are an angel. My beautiful angel."
As she started to smile, he kissed her, reinforcing his words
with a lingering touch.
Anakin lifted his head to see Obi-Wan leaning against the open
bridge hatch, arms crossed, watching them like a Hutt eyeing a
pile of credits. He remained unmoving as Anakin and Padm?
paced up the aisle and brushed past him to enter the cockpit.
Obi-Wan stepped onto the spacious bridge behind Anakin. He
paused by the astromech droid in the center of the flight deck
and patted its silver dome. "Hello, Artoo." The droid
whistled and tooted in reply.
The smile Obi-Wan gave the droid irritated Anakin. He crossed
his arms, not bothering to keep the challenge from his voice.
"So, Master. Who's the pilot? I'm sure you've already decided."
The smile fell away. Obi-Wan considered his padawan for a moment.
Anakin sensed Padm?'s narrowed regard, but kept his gaze
on Obi-Wan. He knew he should be treating his master with the
respect demanded of a Jedi, but Obi-Wan's scorn, his condemnation
of the previous night, still tainted Anakin's feelings, painting
them dark and defensive. His disappointment. No, not that.
Padm? was wrong. Obi-Wan wasn't distressed; he was his
usual faultfinding self.
The older Jedi said, "I expected you to pilot the ship,
Padawan. After all, you are the best pilot here, if a trifle suicidal."
Surprise blanked Anakin's thoughts for a nanosecond. He bit
back a smile as he slid into the pilot's seat. "All right."
He gripped the yoke. "It's nice to see you finally confirming
my superior skill. Next you'll be admitting I'm better with a
lightsaber." He toggled a switch, retracting the landing
ramp and closing the outer hatch.
"It takes more than physical skill to be a good Jedi,
"So you admit I'm better than you."
"Only in your mind, young one. Tactics are half the battle.
You have to out-think your opponent."
Tension gripping his shoulders, Anakin lifted off. He eased
the ship into traffic and vectored toward the outbound spacing
lanes. Obi-Wan always found a way to turn compliments into criticism.
Nothing he ever did pleased his master. Sometimes he wondered
why he kept trying.
"I'm not needed here. I'll retire to my cabin," Obi-Wan
said. "Do either of you have a preference in quarters? Since
there are three cabins available, I'll take whatever is left over."
Anakin steered around a lumbering freighter and increased forward
speed. "Padm? and I are going to share the forward
"You most certainly are not." Irritation flared,
but before Anakin could retort, Obi-Wan continued, "I tolerated
last night because we were in the senator's home and the choice
was hers. But here, we're essentially on assignment. I'll have
nothing taking away from your focus, Padawan. That includes your
lovely ... wife."
"We're the only ones onboard. Who's here to see, or care?"
"You have no right." Jaw clenched, Anakin kept his
eyes on the control panel as he jabbed at the number pad with
a golden finger, entering the hyperspace co-ordinates. "Artoo,
confirm co-ordinates." The droid beeped twice.
"I have every right. I'm still your master. And before
you think to circumvent my orders, think again. I will
enforce them. Count on it." Obi-Wan paused. "In fact,
I think you've just made my choice for me. I'll be taking the
Anakin gritted his teeth as air hissed between them. Padm?
reached over from the co-pilot's chair and laid her hand on Anakin's
arm, her touch bringing with it a measure of calm. "Please,
Anakin, Obi-Wan, this isn't worth bickering over. Obi-Wan is
your master, Anakin, and I think we should respect his wishes."
"Wishes? Orders, you mean. Watto was less demanding when
I was a slave."
Anakin could feel Obi-Wan's stern gaze. He reinforced the shields
in his mind as he activated the hyperspace engines. He leaned
back as stars elongated into iridescent streaks, unsure whether
that was a quiet sigh he had heard.
"Very well, then," Obi-Wan said. "I'm sure you
two would rather be alone." In the reflection of the viewscreen,
Anakin saw Obi-Wan incline his head. "Anakin. Senator."
"My wife has a name."
A pause. "Of course she does." Obi-Wan's reflection
gave a short bow. "Amidala."
The cockpit door hissed open. The Jedi's steps rang down the
metal aisle. The door closed, cutting off the sharp sound.
As he turned aside, Anakin's smile was cut short by Padme's
perturbed expression. "Ani, you were baiting him. You shouldn't
do that. Was he angry? Is that why he suddenly became so formal?"
Anakin shrugged. "He sometimes gets like that when he's
feeling ..." His brow furrowed. "... uncomfortable."
He returned his gaze to the hypnotic whirl of hyperspace.
Uncomfortable. That was ridiculous. Obi-Wan had the most amazing,
irritating ability to adapt to any situation. Ever calm. Anakin's
frown deepened. But he hadn't been calm last night. Anakin hadn't
thought anything could jolt Obi-Wan Kenobi out of that famous
Jedi reserve. His brow cleared. It almost made his master more
Anakin looked over, then leaned over. He gave Padm?
a smile and a kiss. The shadow in her brown eyes lifted. Anakin
grinned. With Padm? at his side, he was ready for anything.
He had a good feeling about this mission.
There is no emotion; there is peace. No comfort pervaded
those words today. Obi-Wan sat cross-legged on his bunk, palms
lightly cupping his knees. There was no solace to be found anywhere
on this ship, not even in the knowledge that he was missing days
of Military Council meetings, nor had there been for the previous
three days. The whole situation was exceedingly awkward. Obi-Wan
released a measured breath and inhaled the same way.
Anakin had challenged him each day, acting like he expected
Obi-Wan to condone his and Padm?'s union. That's what letting
them share quarters would amount to - acceptance. Absolution.
Some days, the boy didn't have a radiation particle of sense.
Not a boy. A man. A married man. Oh, Force.
A hitch entered Obi-Wan's breathing; he stretched outward,
drawing the Light to himself, wrapping it around him like a favorite
old cloak. Serenity returned.
Anakin exhibited an appalling lack of control. That was the
problem - teaching control to one who had no desire for it. To
one who reveled in the thrill of the moment. Anakin spun glorious
auras in the Force when he was on the edge, racing at breakneck
speeds, pushing speeders through vertical dives almost impossible
to pull out of, free-falling, anything where life was at risk.
He seemed to equate control with ... slavery.
And Anakin Skywalker was, above all, a free spirit. One who
apparently refused to be tamed.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and scowled at the bulkhead. Had Anakin
married simply because it was forbidden? A different form of risk,
one that placed his future in peril instead of his physical being?
No. Not consciously, at any rate. The affection he had observed
between Anakin and Padm? was genuine.
What I could have with Luminara.
Never. To succumb to his passions would be to repudiate who
he was, what he would always be. A Jedi.
With Jedi power came the responsibility to wield it wisely,
for the benefit of the galaxy. That only happened when you were
aware every moment, in control at all times. If he could not impart
the importance of control to Anakin, his failure would be complete,
for without control, Anakin could never achieve knighthood.
I promised you, Master. I promised to train the boy.
Obi-Wan released an agonized breath. His master, with his affinity
for the Living Force, would have been a better teacher for Anakin.
The Force had chosen Qui-Gon for the task; Obi-Wan had received
the assignment by default.
Because I let him die.
Some days, the task of training Anakin felt like a punishment
for that failure. No! Obi-Wan slammed the side of his fist
against the bulkhead, immediately regretting the action when pain
spiked up his arm. He flexed his fist.
No. He refused to yield to his negative thoughts. He would
follow his master's lead - focus on the moment - and
leave the rest where it belonged, in the Force. Obi-Wan massaged
his hand. Isn't that what Mace had told him? That if Anakin were
the Chosen One, the prophecy would be fulfilled?
No matter what.
That put matters out of Obi-Wan's control. And he freely admitted
that he very much liked being in control. Acknowledging that weakness
was much easier than letting it go.
A rap on the door shifted Obi-Wan's focus outward. "Enter."
The hatch swished into the wall and Padm? greeted him
from the corridor. "We'll be coming out of hyperspace in
a few moments." She peered at him. "Did you injure your
Obi-Wan halted his massaging. "It's nothing."
She gripped the metal door frame. "Obi-Wan ... I want
to apologize for -"
He held up his aching hand. "No. We need to focus on what's
waiting for us, not on what cannot be settled today. This is not
the time to discuss your ... union."
"But Anakin -"
"Or Anakin's behavior. Focus on the moment. On the mission.
Dooku is a dangerous opponent. We cannot afford to underestimate
him; nor can we let anything distract us."
Padm? sighed. "I admire your dedication, Obi-Wan.
I realize you don't want to be here, that you're only here because
Master Yoda ordered you to protect me."
Obi-Wan gave her a slight smile. "What makes you think
I don't want to be here? I want to see Dooku brought to
justice as much as any Jedi. What I don't want, is for you to
be involved. It's much too dangerous."
She pursed her lips. "Are you treating me like glasswork
again? Implying I'm much too delicate to fight?"
An argument from their days spent together on the streets of
Coruscant, one that coaxed another, broader, smile from Obi-Wan.
"I'm not foolish enough to lay such a charge before you,
Senator. But do you realize your skills as a Force-blind warrior
are no match for Dooku?"
She sniffed. "That ... is why I included two Jedi in my
"Very wise of you, Senator." Was it? Dooku had defeated
"Padm?. My friends call me Padm?.
We were friends not so many days ago. I would still be your friend,
if you would let me, Obi-Wan. Anakin and I both need your friendship."
"Friendship implies trust. Not just giving, but receiving."
Padm? bit her lip. Obi-Wan could sense her distress
radiating outwards. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I would
give anything to erase those months of silence."
Obi-Wan felt a tinge of remorse. He wanted to overcome the
worry, the ... distress he had been battling since the moment
he had witnessed that telling embrace. He wanted to accept Padm?'s
apology. It was ... impossible. No, not impossible - just painful,
and so very hard.
Instead, he chose to take his own advice. "Focus on the
moment, Senator. On the mission. Our survival may depend on it."
Padm? glanced over her shoulder as Obi-Wan entered the
cockpit and took the navigator's seat behind Anakin. Artoo was
their navigator, but the seat offered an excellent view of the
planet growing ever larger in the viewscreen. Mottled browns with
a smattering of pale green, very little blue.
Obi-Wan had waited several moments before following Padm?.
Perhaps he had needed the time to regain his composure. Perhaps
she had upset him again when she had only meant to make things
right. How do you repair a friendship fractured by distrust?
From the corner of her eye, Padm? watched as Obi-Wan
fixed his regard on the planet. His sharp gaze reminded her of
... a shadow slayer. His features hardened, almost imperceptibly.
He knew this place.
"Anakin?" Padm? shifted in her seat. "What's
the name of this planet again?"
Without turning, Anakin replied, "Melida/Daan."
A glance at Obi-Wan revealed him to be unmoving. Maybe he wasn't
even listening. She said, "Were you ever sent here on a mission?"
The ship quivered as atmosphere wrapped around it. Padm?
frowned. "Didn't the computer files mention something about
it being torn apart by civil war?"
"That was well before my time," Anakin replied as
he banked the yacht left, heading for the northern hemisphere.
"It said there hadn't been any open conflict here in over
seventeen years. Why?"
Seventeen years. Obi-Wan would have been a padawan then, a
few years younger than Anakin was now. Padm? peered at
the landscape as it became more defined. Vast tracts of rocky
"Padm??" Anakin said.
"Hm? No reason. I was just wondering why Dooku would have
chosen such a peaceful place, so far from current hostilities,
for his command center."
Glancing askance, Padm? saw Obi-Wan's eyes narrow. He
sat up straighter. Over Artoo's sudden beeping, he said, "We
"I see it," Anakin said.
Padm? peered at the forward sensor and the twin blips
arrowing toward them. "Friendlies?" As she spoke, the
"I don't think so," Anakin replied. "Shields
Taking a breath, Padm? settled at her controls and re-routed
all available power to shielding, suddenly ruing that they were
flying weaponless. She stole a glimpse at Obi-Wan. Except for
the fact that his restraint belts were in place, he now appeared
... relaxed. Anakin, on the other hand, looked flushed, intense.
A smile played with the corner of his mouth. Padm? strapped
in, yanking the belt as tight as it would go.
Two starfighters flashed by, one on either side. Rear sensors
showed the ships circling around to approach from behind. Padm?
adjusted the shields, double aft.
The first hit jolted the ship left. As Anakin leveled it out,
Obi-Wan said in a mild tone, "I think they mean business."
"They haven't even tried to communicate," Padm?
said, glancing at the dark comm panel.
"You know what Jar-Jar would say." Anakin winked
at her. "How rude."
Another laser found its mark, making the yacht shudder.
"Pay attention to your piloting, Padawan."
Anakin grinned. "Yes, Master." He pulled the yoke
and dove for the surface.
The fighters followed. Padm? gripped the chair's armrests
as Anakin worked to evade the attack, juking the controls about
in a random pattern. Red beams streaked by the ship. Two more
found their mark.
Padm? said, "Shields are down forty-five percent."
Anakin jerked the ship right. "Re-route all extra power."
"Okay." Anakin's voice went suddenly calm. "Then
Padm?'s eyes grew wide as Anakin veered right and down,
straight toward a cliff face. A cleft appeared. Anakin stood the
ship on its wing and shot into the narrow chasm. One of the blips
disappeared. The gap widened and Anakin leveled out. Rock flashed
by, impossibly close. The ship dipped under a natural stone arch.
Banked left, then right. A pillar loomed ahead. Anakin laughed
as he steered around it going - Padm? glanced at the power
levels - almost full throttle.
"Just like the canyons on Coruscant," Anakin said.
"Without the power couplings," Obi-Wan commented.
The blip on the rear sensor remained. Several more hairpin
turns and the canyon opened to a broad valley. A double salvo
rocked the ship. Anakin's knuckles turned white on the yoke, his
countenance now grim.
"The starboard shield is down," Padm? said,
worry creeping into her voice.
Another hit. The yacht shook and began pulling right.
"I don't think I can hold it." Anakin spoke through
"You are not allowed to crash, Padawan."
"Yes ... Master."
Padm? bit back a cry as the ground rushed up to meet
Obi-Wan bit back a groan and opened his eyes. His head pulsed
in time to the emergency lighting blinking overhead. He squinted
past the pain and peered at the viewscreen, covered by a spray
of dirt and uprooted shrubbery.
He shifted his attention to his padawan, slumped over the controls.
Anakin's Force signature was vibrant, as always. When Obi-Wan
nudged him through the Force, Anakin stirred and whispered, "Padm??"
Again, louder. Padm? moaned. Her eyes fluttered open. The
young couple reached across the console toward each other. Their
fingers intertwined. Only then did Anakin turn.
"Master? Are you all right?"
"Fine. And you?"
"My ribs feel bruised."
The yoke. Obi-Wan nodded and studied the transparisteel for
damage. "We were expected."
"I don't know what makes you think that." Anakin
unstrapped and helped Padm? to her feet. "This seems
to have become the standard greeting Jedi receive upon arrival
on a new planet."
"Hardly, my young padawan." Obi-Wan released himself
from his restraints and pushed to his feet. He rubbed his neck,
trying to ease the knot of tension. "Get Artoo to run a full
diagnostics report, structural and mechanical."
"I'm aware of what I need to do, Master."
Obi-Wan started to speak, then stopped. Anakin was a good pilot.
He did know what to do. "Good. See to it. I'll check
on the whereabouts of our escort and see what this crash looks
like from the outside."
Sounding indignant, Anakin said, "I didn't crash, Master."
Obi-Wan gave his padawan a dubious look.
"It was an emergency landing, that's all."
Padm? hit Anakin on the arm. Obi-Wan snorted quietly
and headed for the landing ramp. It protested as it opened, a
shrill grinding sound that caused the pain in Obi-Wan's head to
spike. He winced and switched the controls. The ramp hovered mid-air.
He strode off the end and dropped the meter to the ground. Agony
bolted through his skull, then subsided. He took a deep breath
and scanned the area.
The ship had cut a deep furrow into the earth, and now lay
with the front third buried by debris. Other than dents and scratches,
Obi-Wan couldn't see any exposed damage. He climbed onto the ship's
hull to get a better look around. His padawan had landed on a
narrow strip of green bordered by fields of boulders. A good pilot,
Off to the left, black smoke spiraled up from behind a starfighter-sized
slab of granite. Obi-Wan slid off the fuselage, pushed through
thick undergrowth, then scrambled over rocks and between massive
boulders. He paused when the wrecked fighter came into view, and
glanced back at the yacht. The fighter must have been traveling
too close. Debris from their impact must have blinded him.
Obi-Wan advanced toward the crumpled ship, suddenly reluctant.
The canopy was torn away, and the pilot lay half out of the cockpit,
arms dangling as if he were reaching for help. Obi-Wan felt for
a pulse. Nothing. He stared at the back of the cracked helmet
for a moment, then gingerly lifted the pilot's head and peered
under the visor.
He didn't recognize the man. Relief whooshed out of him as
he let go of a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. He
gently released the dead pilot and sat on the nearest boulder,
willing the tremor in his hands to cease. Not Nield. Not anyone
he knew from his time on Melida/Daan. He wiped his mouth and beard,
and berated himself for reacting so foolishly. Insects buzzed
as he centered himself in the Force.
When a tentative calm reasserted itself, Obi-Wan headed back
to the ship. Anakin met him at the head of the landing ramp. "What
took you so long, Master?"
"Our second escort crashed when we went down. I went to
check on him." Obi-Wan peered at the horizon. "He didn't
"Too bad. It would be nice to know if Count Dooku had
sent him, or if he was local."
"Dooku, I think." The style of flightsuit didn't
match his memories.
Anakin nodded. "Diagnostics indicate we should be able
to fly. The underbelly collapsed a few millimeters, so the landing
gear is useless, but there are no stress fractures. The right
stabilizer is damaged. I was just going to see what I could do
with it. Do you ... want to give me a hand?"
Obi-Wan blinked and focused on his padawan. He felt as if he
were viewing him from a great distance - from twenty-two years
ago. He needed some time alone. "I trust you to make the
repairs, Anakin. I'll be in my cabin."
Surprise flickered across Anakin's features, quickly replaced
by a smile. "I'll let you know as soon as we're good to go."
With a nod, Obi-Wan retreated to his cabin. Two hours later,
a knock jolted him from his mostly painful recollections. Though
he had felt compelled to face the memories, he was glad for the
interruption. Anakin informed him they were going to try lifting
off. Obi-Wan made his way forward and took his seat behind his
The engines whined, building to a crescendo before the ship
shuddered and began to rise. Padm? clapped; Anakin gave
her a grin.
Staring at the darkness beyond the viewscreen, Obi-Wan said,
"How far are we from our target co-ordinates?"
"A little less than five thousand kilometers," Anakin
"Stay low to the ground. Avoid population centers. And
no running lights. Use the Force to navigate."
Anakin smiled and edged the power upwards until it registered
three-quarters. They hurtled through the night, flying blind.
Exultation rolled off Anakin in waves. Padm? gave Obi-Wan
a concerned look. He shrugged. If Anakin made a mistake, they
wouldn't have to worry about picking up the pieces - there'd
be too few to bother with.
Obi-Wan considered pointing that fact out to Anakin, then decided
against it, too weary to face a clash with Anakin right now, and
unwilling to mar his padawan's luminescent joy. Let this be a
test of Force control - and let Anakin pass it with ease. He
closed his eyes and plunged into his much-needed center of calm,
immersing himself in the Light.
A shadow hovered on the horizons of his mind. He gathered strength,
preparing for the moment it would reveal itself.
"Ani, please slow down," Padm? whispered.
With a grin, Anakin said, "Don't worry. We're almost there."
"How can Obi-Wan remain so calm when you're trying to
kill us all?"
"Ever calm, that's my master." Calm on the outside,
at least. Anakin shrugged. "He's hiding inside the Force,
Padm?. Shielding himself from my ... recklessness."
"Well, it's very inconsiderate of him to do so when I
can't do likewise."
Anakin chuckled. "Trust me, Padm?. I'd never let
you get hurt."
"I do trust you, Ani." Padm? sighed. "I'd
just trust you more if you were going a little slower."
"Okay, since you put it that way, I'll slow down."
Anakin toggled the power levels to half impulse, then to a quarter.
"We're here, aren't we?"
Anakin quirked one eyebrow and glanced at Padm?, noting
her flashing eyes. "Yes."
"You are such a tease."
"The quickest wit in the galaxy," came the comment
from behind Anakin.
"Only in a dozen or so systems, Master. Jedi shouldn't
exaggerate, you know."
At Padm?'s unladylike snort, Anakin smiled again. He
set the ship down behind a ridge. They had raced through the night
to meet the rising sun. It broke over the rocky crest in a blaze
of gold. Squinting against the glare, Anakin twisted a dial, darkening
the transparisteel, then turned to face Obi-Wan. "Shall we
head out now, or do you need to rest, Master?"
Obi-Wan's eyebrow twitched. "I'm not the one who spent
the journey in focused concentration."
"The Force energized me. Padm?? What about you?"
"I'm tired, but I'd rather go. I'm too keyed up to sleep."
"Anakin's flying does that to a person."
"It wasn't Anakin's flying," retorted Padm?.
"It was your orders. Fly low. No running lights."
Anakin smirked at Padm?'s defense of him, pride infusing
"Yes, his skills are quite remarkable under such circumstances."
Obi-Wan stood abruptly. "But I did not specify a speed, Senator."
He paced from the cockpit.
Another rebuke wrapped in praise. Anakin hammered his armrest.
He jerked to his feet. Padm? rose and blocked his path,
both hands radiating warmth where they pressed against his chest.
Anakin lost himself in her compassionate umber gaze, then gathered
her into his embrace and inhaled her sweet scent. He whispered,
"I'd go crazy without you."
"You're so much stronger than you think, Ani."
"No, I'm not. You are my strength. I love you so
They shared a gentle kiss. Padm? broke it off, and pressed
her cheek against Anakin's chest as she hugged him.
"I love you, too, Ani."
Anakin glanced over her head to the open hatch. "He's
"Obi-Wan? He's your master. Why would you say such
"If what you said about him and Master Unduli is true,
he could have what we have. But he's too ... blinded by the Code.
Too rigid. It's a wonder he defied Master Yoda to take me as his
padawan. But even that was only because he felt bound by his promise
"He was motivated by love."
"Not love of me. Until Qui-Gon died, I was just a pathetic
"Ani! Obi-Wan would never call you that."
"He did. Just before Qui-Gon came and took me from my
mother. Jar-Jar slipped and told me about it." Anakin pulled
Padm? closer. "He had no idea ... about my life as
a slave, about me, my dreams. I was just an inconvenience. He
had it so easy, growing up as Qui-Gon's padawan. He never faced
what I faced, never felt lost or alone ..."
"You can't know that."
"Please don't defend him." Anakin framed her face
with his hands, one flesh, one metal. "I'm still an inconvenience
to Obi-Wan. Especially when I don't do things his way."
He glared at his robotic hand. "He wants a droid, not a padawan."
"Maybe we could give Threepio to him." Padm?'s
attempt to lighten his mood didn't even draw a twitch of a smile.
She cupped her hand over Anakin's prosthetic. "You'll never
be an inconvenience in my eyes."
"Just that little boy from Tatooine."
"I can't even see him any more, Ani. I see the man he
has become. A man I love terribly."
Anakin bent his head down so his breath whispered across her
lips. "Actually ... I think you're very good at it."
He claimed her lips in a slow dance that pulled him into a
vortex of passion, fed by her warm response. She stepped back,
leaving him gasping for air. Cheeks flushed, eyes gleaming, Padm?
shook her head when Anakin stepped toward her. "Obi-Wan's
"Anakin! So is Count Dooku, if we haven't delayed too
long already." She retreated to the hatch, one hand resting
on her blaster's holster, and cast Anakin a winsome smile. "Coming?"
Anakin rolled his eyes. "Artoo, lock down the ship. Don't
let anyone onboard except the three of us." He reached for
his cloak, then decided against wearing it, and headed after Padm?,
his lightsaber thumping against his thigh. He caught up to her
at the base of the ramp.
"Where is he?"
Padm? pointed at the ridge, where Obi-Wan crouched beside
a rock the same size as he. Like Anakin, he had left his cloak
on the ship. He didn't move as they approached and knelt beside
Anakin gave a cursory glance to the shattered city in the valley,
then returned his regard to Obi-Wan. Subtle emotions flitted over
his master's face, but never landed, signs of turmoil an untrained
eye would never see. Ten years had taught Anakin what to look
for. Even then, he was rarely certain of what lay beneath Obi-Wan's
serene exterior. Except when he was being lectured.
At this moment, Obi-Wan's poise seemed as fragile as the broken
city at which he stared. It puzzled Anakin, and, he realized,
"What is this place?"
Padm?'s question drew Anakin's regard back to the ruins.
Crumbling outer walls, barely a building intact. Walls and half
walls jutting up like the decaying ribs of a kryat dragon's skeleton.
Anakin wrinkled his brow in thought. "I'm pretty sure
the co-ordinates matched those of Melida/Daan's former capital."
"Zehava," Obi-Wan whispered. Even in the warm morning
light, his face looked pale.
Anakin opened his mouth, snapping it shut when Padm?'s
fingers clamped on his arm. He scowled at her motion for silence,
but held his tongue. They turned their attention to Obi-Wan.
When he finally continued speaking, it was in a soft, trance-like
tone. "They fought over this city for centuries, the Melida
and the Daan. Control alternated back and forth, wiping out entire
generations, fueling the dispute with martyrs. Then the Young
rose up. Youths from both sides who just wanted the killing to
stop ..." Obi-Wan closed his eyes, whispered a barely audible,
"Oh, Cerasi," then fell silent for several minutes.
He opened his eyes and said, "The Young defeated both the
Melida and the Daan. With the help of ... the Jedi ... they negotiated
a lasting peace." Obi-Wan stood abruptly and crossed his
arms. "Except it didn't last. Five years later - seventeen
years ago - a short, vicious war reduced the city to rubble.
All sides agreed to abandon Zehava and start afresh. The new capital
lies 500 kilometers to the southwest."
Anakin rose and held out his hand to pull Padm? to her
feet. He didn't release her hand, but caressed her thumb with
his own. "How are we supposed to locate Dooku's lair in that
"It won't be hard," Obi-Wan replied. "I know
exactly where it is."
Padm? tilted her head, not looking half as surprised
as Anakin felt. He narrowed his gaze, his tone dubious."
And where would that be?"
"Very near the city center. The Hall of Evidence on Glory
Anakin heard the surety in Obi-Wan's voice. It was annoying.
But it felt right, which was even more irritating. He cleared
his brow and quashed his annoyance. Obviously, Obi-Wan had studied
the available background information more thoroughly than he had,
though he was certain he had perused everything the scant databanks
on the ship had to offer.
There was something about Obi-Wan's reaction to this place
that was vaguely disturbing. Anakin couldn't quite target what
it was. "Master?" When Obi-Wan met Anakin's gaze, he
asked, "Who was Cerasi? A Jedi that was killed here?"
Obi-Wan's grey-blue eyes clouded over. He turned away without
The shadow haunted Obi-Wan's steps. He knew its name now, could
taste its bitter gall. It was Betrayal and it cloaked this place
in a suffocating shroud. I left this behind. I moved past it.
The putrid stench of bitter memories rose up to clog Obi-Wan's
senses and cloud his mind.
Obi-Wan stood atop a pile of stones that had once been part
of Zehava's nearly impenetrable defenses. He studied the rubble-strewn
street before him - and he knew. Dooku had chosen this site to
taunt him with the memory of his betrayal.
His betrayal of the Jedi. His betrayal of Qui-Gon.
Needing air, Obi-Wan inhaled deeply. Ashes mixed with oxygen.
He dropped his gaze to the charred rock at his feet and nudged
it with one boot. Yes, he knew with absolute certainty that Dooku
had chosen Melida/Daan because of him. What he didn't know was
how Dooku had known he would join the hunt.
Anakin and Padm? pulled themselves up to stand beside
Obi-Wan. Padm? wiped black hands on her blue flightsuit,
leaving mournful streaks. Obi-Wan glanced up from them, arrested
by her concerned expression.
"You were the Jedi who brokered that peace, weren't you?"
"No." Obi-Wan felt his face harden. He looked away,
to the partially collapsed tower behind Padm?. "Qui-Gon
He leaped from the rock pile and strode down the street. He
heard Padm?'s running steps, followed by Anakin's heavier
ones. They caught up to him, matched his pace and flanked him,
like guards leading him to an interrogation.
"But you were Qui-Gon's padawan," Padm? said.
"That's right," Anakin added. "You told me that
you became his padawan just after you turned thirteen. And all
this happened seventeen years ago. So five years before that,
when peace was first achieved, you were already-"
"I'm capable of doing the math, Padawan." Obi-Wan
kept his gaze forward.
"But you had to have -"
Halting, Obi-Wan glared at Anakin. "Had to what? Had to
have been at my master's side? Blindly-devoted, unquestioning,
unthinking, unbending Jedi that I was and am? Where else could
I have possibly been? Isn't that right, my padawan learner?"
He folded his arms to stop them from shaking. "Let me tell
you this, young one: honor is a choice. Obedience is a path we
choose. And so is disobedience. Each path has its own price."
He glanced at Padm?. "Possibly its own reward, but
always its own burden."
Obi-Wan took three steps before Anakin grabbed his upper arm
and swung him around. He shot an irritated glance at the offending
hand; Anakin released his grip, looking suddenly contrite. A look
that lasted only seconds. Belligerence entered the padawan's voice.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"None of us are free, Anakin. Our only freedom
is in choosing our form of slavery. We can be slaves to our integrity
and ideals, or we can be slaves to our baser natures, our passions.
Once one is chosen, changing allegiance comes at a terrible price."
Obi-Wan marched away, looking neither right not left, aware
of Zehava's corpse all around him, reminding him of his past choices.
His wrong choices. He reached for the Force, but it grazed his
senses and slipped away.
Anakin shouted, "The galaxy isn't black and white, Obi-Wan!
It's full of shades of grey."
Without slowing or raising his voice, Obi-Wan said, "Look
around you, Padawan. This is what darkness has wrought. Look upon
this destruction and tell me there is no Dark Side. Tell me you
would rather stumble around, lost in the grey shadowlands that
give way to darkness, than to serve the Light. Grey is a terrible
place to be, young one. It is a lonely, perilous precipice where
a single misstep can plunge you to ruin."
Padm? half ran to keep up with Anakin's long strides.
She grasped his hand and held tight, her eyes on Obi-Wan's rigid
"I never said there was no Dark Side. Do you have any
idea what he's talking about?" Anakin whispered harshly.
"I'm not sure, but I think he's talking about himself."
Except for that comment about rewards. That had been aimed at
her. Obi-Wan had made it clear which path he thought Anakin trod
upon when it came to her.
She caught Anakin's doubtful look and sighed. "Please
leave it be, Ani. Give him some space and let him deal with his
She nodded. "He was here, all those years ago. Whatever
happened hurt Obi-Wan very deeply. Can't you see it? In the way
he's walking, the way he's talking. It's like the wound has re-opened
and the ghosts hovering around him are prodding it."
"Are you sure you aren't Force sensitive?"
Padm? snorted. "Years of political wrangling teach
you to read other beings - how successful you are in doing so
determines how long you survive in the arena. Jedi are adept at
hiding their feelings. That I can read Obi-Wan at all just confirms
the depth of his pain."
"You must be very good at your job."
Anakin chuckled and squeezed her hand. Padm? knew she
should be irked that Anakin was ignoring the fact his master was
troubled, but his obvious pleasure in her was ... a refreshing
balm. She smiled up at him and was rewarded with dancing eyes.
As they walked, he leaned down and kissed her cheek.
Ahead, Obi-Wan disappeared around a corner. Padm? glanced
around. The hush of this ... graveyard ... became acute. Cold.
Anakin's warmth radiated through their linked hands, repelling
Padm?'s sudden unease.
The silence was broken by the ricocheting whine of laser fire.
"Master!" Anakin released Padm?'s hand and
dashed toward the street onto which Obi-Wan had turned. The whistle
and ping of lasers grew louder. Dread gripped Anakin's thoughts.
He shoved it aside.
Rounding the corner, Anakin skidded to a halt. Obi-Wan hunkered
beside a burned out speeder turned on its side. Hampered by his
position, he warded off a hail of fire from battle droids advancing
through the rubble of a ruined building on the left.
A red beam whizzed past Anakin's face. He ducked and glanced
right. Droids approached Obi-Wan from that side as well. One had
Obi-Wan yelled, "Get out of the line of fire, Padawan!"
Another shot narrowly missed Anakin. He didn't need any other
encouragement. He retreated to the corner where Padm? was
crouched and peering at the battle, blaster in hand. He touched
her arm. "Pick off as many as you can, but retreat if they
head this way."
She gave him a suspicious glance. "Where will you be?"
"I'm going to circle around and attack from behind."
Anakin didn't answer. He was already running. Five meters along,
a door was wedged partly open by debris. He clambered over and
into the shell of what was once someone's home. Chunks of ceiling
and broken furniture blocked his path; he vaulted from one heap
to the next, never slowing to get caught by the miniature avalanches
he set off. One final leap carried him to the top of a dilapidated
Below him, the last of a dozen battle droids were marching
into the street from the ruin where they had lain in wait. They
poured a steady stream of laser fire into the blackened speeder
protecting Obi-Wan's back.
Anakin opened himself to the Force and hurdled from the four-meter
wall, the Force enhancing his leap. He hit the ground and rolled.
His lightsaber snapped to life as he sprang to his feet, the first
swing cutting down two droids. He spun and danced, slicing his
way down the line of mechanical enemies, his saber a blur, the
Force flooding through him.
The remaining droids noticed his presence and wheeled to attack.
Anakin somersaulted back and up, landing on a toppled archway.
His lightsaber wove a green shield. Two droids fell from deflected
shots. Then another. He flung out his arm, sending the last three
droids smashing into a semi-collapsed wall.
Anakin peered at the other company of droids, just in time
to see the last one jerk and collapse. He powered down his blade
and blew out his breath.
A hush shrouded the street. Then Padm? burst from cover,
darting toward Obi-Wan. Anakin's heart tripped. Master!
He reached Obi-Wan before her and knelt, his search for injuries
aborted by Obi-Wan's fierce expression. Anger brushed Anakin's
senses, causing a fissure of alarm. Was Obi-Wan angry at him?
"Are you okay, Master?"
"Fine." The word was bitten off. Sharp.
"You are not fine," Padm? said from beside
Anakin. "I saw you get hit."
At the stubborn look seeping into Obi-Wan's eyes, Padm?
sighed and directed a pointed glance to where he clutched his
left arm. She crouched, laid her blaster on the ground, and peeled
Obi-Wan's fingers back. Blood encirlced a gash in his sleeve.
Trying to be gentle, Padm? wedged her fingers into the
tear and opened it to her inspection. The laser wound was shallow
and had already stopped bleeding. Above that injury, a second,
older one, drew her eye. From his fight with Dooku, she realized.
Sitting back on her heels, she said, "We need to clean
that, make sure infection doesn't set in. How did it happen? You
seemed to be fending off the attack."
"A shot pierced the speeder." A heavy scowl marred
"That could happen to anyone," Padm? remarked.
His voice dropped. "It's less than I deserve."
The ire in that declaration startled Padm?. She exchanged
a worried glance with Anakin and studied Obi-Wan. His expression
was distant. He was angry with himself, she realized.
"I don't understand, Master." Anakin said.
Obi-Wan blinked and glanced from Padm? to Anakin and
back. He pushed to his feet and hooked his lightsaber on his belt.
Padm? watched him scan the street. He said, "I reacted
exactly as Dooku wanted. I let where I was distract me."
Padm? and Anakin rose at the same time. Padm?
said, "Do you mean Dooku chose this place as his base because
he knew it would bother you?" When Obi-Wan nodded, she said,
"But that means he knew you would come. How could he know
Obi-Wan peered at the devastation ahead, the scarred landscape,
searching for signs of further trouble. "Dooku was once Yoda's
padawan. He knows his master well." His thoughts blinked
back to Geonosis. 'Master Kenobi, you disappoint me. Yoda holds
you in such high esteem.' He yanked himself to the present. Apparently,
Qui-Gon and Dooku had discussed Qui-Gon's various missions -
along with his padawan.
And his padawan's mistakes.
Halting his thoughts, Obi-Wan reached inward, toward his center
of calm. One could not change the past; one could only learn from
it. Melida/Daan was the past. Qui-Gon had forgiven him and had
taken him back.
But still ... the memory of the way Qui-Gon had flinched when
Obi-Wan had told him he was staying on Melida /Daan - Qui-Gon's
visible but silent struggle, his pain, the way he had refused
to look at him, had turned away without a word - that memory
rose to haunt Obi-Wan anew. The remembered pain washed through
him and he closed his eyes, seeking to release that hurt to the
Force, seeking to weave the Light's comfort around him.
A touch caused him to start. Padm? dabbed at his burn
with a med-pad. He winced at the fire the contact awakened. He
stood motionless while Anakin handed her a small roll of gauze
from the med-kit compartment on his belt. Without speaking, Padm?
wrapped the bandage around Obi-Wan's arm, tunic and all. Her silence
was ... soothing. It spoke of understanding, of friendship.
Anakin said, "How could Dooku know our route to know where
to place an ambush?"
Obi-Wan replied, "Likely, he has droids positioned throughout
Padm? said, "Then we will need to ... focus on
Her gentle chiding caused Obi-Wan to send her a wry glance.
"You should know I don't appreciate having my own words flung
back in my face. But your point is taken. Dooku will not find
me so easily distracted a second time."
She smiled. "Of course not."
Obi-Wan rotated his shoulder and nodded to himself. The burning
was already fading. A mere surface wound, unlike the one above
it. Dooku had sliced deeply when he had struck. The healers had
reconstructed the damaged muscles, voicing their disapproval when
Obi-Wan had refused cosmetic repair. Some things were not meant
to be forgotten.
He started down the street. "Keep your senses open, Padawan.
We must be cautious."
Obi-Wan heard the mild reproach in that reply. Again deserved.
After all, it wasn't Anakin who had walked into a trap. He lengthened
his stride, unclipping his lightsaber as he went, relishing its
familiar grip, its weight and the way it felt like an extension
They proceeded down smashed avenues, skirting craters and collapsed
buildings. Anakin and Obi-Wan let Padm? keep to the center
of the roadways while they spread out, alert to the slightest
suggestion of danger, eyes constantly flicking over the ruins.
Nothing stirred. The only sound was the whisper of Padm?'s
During the next hour, the totality of the devastation began
to wear on Obi-Wan's mind. He had heard about the battle that
had leveled Zehava, about country-dwelling Melida and Daan sweeping
out of the hills, each intent on reclaiming the city and renewing
the feud, but seeing it ... Smelling air still acrid after seventeen
years. Feeling the rubble of broken lives beneath his boots.
How many of his friends - people who had dedicated their lives
to establishing peace by whatever means necessary - had died
during that final attack?
Not Nield. Obi-Wan knew his fear of seeing his friend dead
in that fighter's cockpit had been irrational, for Nield still
occupied a seat in the unified government. Obi-Wan blinked. His
old friend had become a politician. He glanced at Padm?,
aware of the nudge in the Force. The momentary guilt. Not all
politicians were faithless.
But she had broken faith, his faith, even as
she had kept Anakin's. Could he fault her for remaining loyal
to the one she loved? As Nield had remained loyal to Cerasi, even
in her death.
He glanced around, seeing Zehava in a new light. Perhaps Nield
had pushed for the ruined city to remain untouched, a testimony
against the deadly forces unleashed by the desire for power. Zehava
stood as one massive Hall of Evidence - a scar to remind the
people to be vigilant against future evil. Like his own scar from
Approaching a corner, Obi-Wan held up his hand, halting Anakin
and Padm?, who were slightly behind him. He motioned for
them to join him. They did, searching his face with curious eyes.
He whispered, "This is Glory Street. Our destination is
a plaza, two blocks west. The Hall of Evidence is a long, low
black building, no windows, only one entrance."
"It sounds like another trap," Anakin said.
Obi-Wan conceded the point with a single nod. "Nevertheless,
that is the location of Dooku's base." He eyed Padm?.
"I would prefer it if you waited here, Senator. The risk
"Is mine to take, Master Kenobi."
He studied her a moment longer, seeing her brown eyes blacken
with determination. He said, "Very well. Anakin -"
"I will guard her with my life, Master."
"I expected no less. I was going to say, watch our
backs." Obi-Wan thumbed the control on his lightsaber,
but didn't ignite it. "I'll take the lead."
Obi-Wan expanded his knowing as he searched through the Force,
mildly surprised to find the way before them devoid of life forces
except for a few skittering rodents. Droids, though hard to detect,
were easy to hear. If you were listening. He strode into the middle
of Glory Street, mindful of every sound.
The plaza came into view. It was remarkably untouched. Obi-Wan's
mind folded in on itself. Again, he saw the forces aligned against
each other. The Young and the Elders, led by Nield and Wahutti.
One Cerasi's friend; the other her father. Again, he saw her popping
up through a grate in the fountain and running toward the Hall,
red hair flying, shouting for them to stop. Through the tunnel
of time he saw himself running toward her, saw the shots ripping
into her body, saw himself cradling her as she died.
He slowed to a halt. Oh, Cerasi, why did peace require such
a high price?
"Master? Do you want me to take the lead?"
Obi-Wan scowled and stared at his lightsaber. "No, Padawan."
"You seem ... distracted."
Inhaling slowly, Obi-Wan chose not to answer. Anakin was right,
of course. He scrutinized the plaza, seeing nothing but dust,
sensing no menace in the lingering melancholy of this place. His
memories seemed a bigger threat to him than Dooku at this moment.
He inhaled again, gathering glimmering threads of the Force, finding
the serenity he needed, sensing his padawan's puzzlement.
Staring at the door that led down into the Hall of Evidence,
Obi-Wan perceived what they would find. He suspected Dooku was
greatly amused by this game he was playing.
"Master?" Anakin resisted the urge to shake his master,
but only because he sensed Obi-Wan touching the Force. Instead,
he lowered his own shields for a moment and did something he had
not done in a long while: he reached out through their master-padawan
bond with a pulse of concern.
Obi-Wan tilted his head, his expression thoughtful. "Proceed,
my young padawan."
Anakin shared an odd glance with Padm?.
Obi-Wan said, "It's empty. Let's see what Dooku has left
behind for us to find."
"Empty?" Anakin's shields snapped back into place
as irritation spiked. "Then why did you lead us on this little
"Because I only just realized it."
"So ... what was this? Some game designed to taunt you
because of whatever happened here when you were young? A message
... meant for you?"
Obi-Wan arched one brow. "Possibly."
"Yes, is what you mean. You weren't even the one
looking for him. We -" Anakin broke off and stared at his
master. His nostrils flared as knowing seeped into Obi-Wan's eyes.
He lifted his chin, defiance surging.
"We." Obi-Wan folded his arms. Classic lecture position.
"You talked Padm? into financing a search for Dooku."
Anakin knew the drill. Let your master describe your offense
without judgment - even though his posture screamed condemnation.
"Yes, Master." Anakin narrowed his gaze. Now he was
supposed to be thankful for a thinly disguised lecture-cum-tirade
designed to aid his own journey and enlightenment. He knew them
all by heart. Rather than wait for this one - sure to be the
set-aside-self-and-focus-on-service talk - or invite more unbiased
descriptions of his shortcomings, Anakin wheeled and stalked toward
the entrance to the Hall of Evidence.
He jogged down the wide steps and entered the building without
pause, trusting in Obi-Wan's assessment. He tapped a control panel
by the door, surprised when banks of overhead lights flickered
to life. Whatever this Hall had been previously, it was now one
big, deserted control center, complete with hastily abandoned
workstations and overturned chairs.
Anakin zeroed in on the raised dais at the far end of the room
and paced toward it. In the center of the platform, an ornate,
old-fashioned desk squatted like a sleeping beast. Its wooden
surfaces were imbued with echoes of life-force, an island of warmth
in a sea of cold, lifeless metal. He stepped onto the dais and
ran his fingers along its fluted edge, then sat in its equally
out-dated pedestal chair. Dooku's chair. He could feel it.
Obi-Wan stood in the doorway, watching him like he was a mynoch
chewing on a power cable. His voice echoed off the polished black
walls. "I wasn't aware I had dismissed you, Padawan."
"I am serving the Jedi, Master. I'm tracking down
a criminal who needs to be brought to justice."
A pause and Obi-Wan said, "Could I at least deliver the
lecture before you respond to it?" He stepped inside, glancing
around, his face bland to the point of being droid-like. Anakin
knew he was remembering what this place had been and cataloguing
Padm? entered and palmed the door control. It swished
closed. She scanned the room, her expression verging on frustration.
Obi-Wan started to stroll around, his manner alert, as if he
expected the chairs to rise up and attack him. He halted and met
Anakin's gaze. "It's your motivation that concerns me, Padawan."
His motivation was his business. Why should Obi-Wan care so
long as the results were satisfactory? Anakin scowled as he felt
a quiet prod, a ripple in the Force. He bent his head and started
searching the desk drawers. He sensed Obi-Wan continuing his search
of the workstations, thankful his master wasn't pushing the issue.
It was this place ... it had a strange effect on Obi-Wan, one
that caused turmoil to leak outward from his aura. Anakin wasn't
sure if he felt concern, or relief that his master's focus lie
elsewhere for a change.
Anakin's fingertips bumped something in the bottom drawer.
He touched the multi-faceted object, then took it from its nest,
keeping it out of sight as he examined it. A holocron. Anakin
stared. An encrypted Jedi encyclopedia. He held it loosely, not
wanting to activate the hologram of the gatekeeper. Had Count
Dooku taken this from the Archives?
A thought sent a small shockwave through Anakin's mind. Perhaps
Dooku hadn't stolen this holocron; perhaps he had made it.
Obi-Wan glanced up sharply. He stared at Anakin. The Force
vibration, not even a ripple, was gone now. He was certain it
had come from his padawan.
"Is something wrong, Anakin?"
The padawan shifted, then raised his head. "No, Master.
I just had a ... disturbing sense of Dooku's presence." He
stood and strode toward Obi-Wan, his almost perpetual scowl in
place - until his gaze shifted to Padm? and his countenance
Obi-Wan shook his head and crouched by a chair where he thought
he'd spotted something. He found a data-disc, half hidden under
the leg. He twirled it through his fingers, trying to decide why
this disk concerned him.
Padm? hopped onto the ledge beside him, her frustration
evident in the way she clenched the edge of the countertop. Anakin
joined her, laying his arm across her shoulders. Such casual possessiveness.
Obi-Wan turned from it and sank into a cross-legged position as
he continued to finger the disk and puzzle over it.
"Tell me, Master." Anakin's tone was conversational,
in a studied sort of way. "What happened here that bothers
you so much?"
Obi-Wan's fingers froze. Did he owe his padawan an explanation?
He resumed fiddling with the disk, eyes fixed on it. He felt a
familiar nudge, as light as ever, not demanding, only prompting,
always giving him the choice. Follow or turn away.
The Force swirled. Anakin had reached out through the master-padawan
bond in the plaza, for the first time in months. Obi-Wan needed
to give something in return. But ... The shadow hovered by his
shoulder, whispering darkness, breathing deceit. Betrayal.
You forgave me, Master.
Obi-Wan inhaled and opened himself to the Light. In a timeless
moment that had to have lasted several, the truth revealed itself.
Obi-Wan's eyes flew open. He flowed to his feet and stood before
Anakin, searching his padawan's closed features. Anakin returned
the stare without blinking.
Folding his arms, Obi-Wan said, "I betrayed my master."
Interest sparked in Anakin's eyes. He straightened. "You
... betrayed Qui-Gon? How?"
"I became one of the Young. I thought I had found a cause
worth living for, friends worth dying for. When he left Melida/Daan,
I refused to go. I gave him my lightsaber."
"Your lightsaber," Anakin whispered. Louder, he said,
"But that's a Jedi's life. To give it up ..."
Obi-Wan clenched his jaw. Even now, it was hard to say. "Is
to cease being a Jedi."
Turmoil churned in his padawan's gaze, and Obi-Wan knew he
was wondering how he would be able to give up his
lightsaber. Something the Council would certainly call on him
to do if he did not agree to annul his marriage.
Padm? said, "What happened?"
Obi-Wan tucked the data-disc into his belt and gave his beard
a single stroke. "At first it was ... exhilarating. I was
part of something bigger than myself, something important. But
then, attitudes began to shift. Bit by bit, I was isolated by
the Young, rejected because I was neither Melida nor Daan. Only
Cerasi stood by me. I existed in greyness. I could barely touch
the Force. For the first time I knew what it was to be alone.
When Cerasi was killed ..." Obi-Wan took a soothing breath
and felt the Force upholding him. "I was devastated. I realized
I had turned my back on the one thing that was truly bigger than
my selfish desire to belong, the one thing truly worth committing
"The Jedi," Padm? said.
With a nod, Obi-Wan continued, "I had to humble myself
to ask the Jedi for help. The Young's victories were decaying;
the situation was spiraling out of control. Yoda sent Qui-Gon
back. When he handed me my lightsaber, the Force rushed to me
and welcomed me home."
"He forgave you? Just like that?" Incredulity laced
"No. He neither forgave me nor accepted me back as his
padawan. Not for quite some time." Obi-Wan squared himself.
Stance wide, he let the truth shine forth in his eyes as he held
his padawan's gaze. The truth he had only just realized. "Betrayal
is often a killing blow to a relationship, my young padawan."
Anakin searched his master's face, and Obi-Wan saw understanding
alight. "You think I betrayed you, don't you, Master?"
Of all the feelings Obi-Wan had been struggling with since
discovering Anakin's secret, the one that had hit him the hardest
was one he hadn't even identified. Until now. "You did, Padawan.
And not just me. You betrayed the Jedi and all to which you claim
to have committed yourself."
Ire waged war with the desire for control in Anakin's features.
"That's not true. All I did was marry the woman I love. I'm
still committed to the Jedi."
"Really? You went behind my back. You deceived me with
months of silence. You knew of the prohibition, and you
willfully defied it. You chose the path of disobedience, my padawan,
just as I did so many years ago." You hurt me, Padawan,
as I hurt my master. And now I know why it was so hard for Qui-Gon
to forgive me.
How could he have been so blind? All the pain he had felt upon
facing the place of his past betrayal had been amplified by his
own sense of being betrayed by Anakin. It was so obvious, and
yet, so difficult to move past. Anakin hadn't meant to hurt him,
any more than he had meant to hurt Qui-Gon. He knew he had to
forgive his padawan, or the hurt would fester in his own soul,
mutating into resentment, or possibly something darker.
Obedience is a path we choose. Obi-Wan hesitated for
a second, then chose to forgive Anakin. The feeling would follow,
it was enough to know the deed was done.
Something approaching defiance entered Anakin's eyes, making
Obi-Wan sigh inwardly with frustration. He released the emotion
into the Force - he could only control his own reactions, not
Anakin said, "And will you forgive me, Master?"
He doesn't ask, he only wants to know if I will give. He
feels no remorse. Obi-Wan arched one brow. Now was not the
time to reveal his decision. "Forgiveness is the most precious
gift one can receive. As my master before me, I cannot give it
lightly. When trust is broken, it is difficult to rebuild, fragile
and more easily destroyed a second time. Perhaps the better question
is: are you willing to help me rebuild the trust between us?"
Anakin slid to his feet. "If it means having to do everything
your way, then I'm not sure. I'll have to think about it,
Obi-Wan had done all he could do for the moment. He felt at
peace with what had transpired. "Fair enough." He glanced
at Padm?, who had listened to their exchange with extreme
attentiveness. The understanding in her brown eyes gave him hope
that all was not lost. "Now, perhaps it is time we had a
little talk with Count Dooku."
"How are we supposed to do that?" Anakin said. "He
could be anywhere in the galaxy. We don't even know where to begin
Obi-Wan took the data-disc and flipped it through the air to
his padawan. "Yes, we do. He left us an invitation. He wants
to be found, my young padawan. I would hate to disappoint him."
Anakin caught the disk and eyed it with a predatory gleam.
He slid it into a pouch on his belt and nodded. "Let's go,
then." He paced toward the door.
Obi-Wan gave Padm? a short bow and waved his hand. "After
She dropped to the floor and peered at him for a few seconds.
"Thank you, Master Kenobi."
Obi-Wan watched her walk away. He had the feeling she had just
thanked him for his honesty, not for his manners. He smiled and
followed her. Anakin was already at the door controls, impatience
clouding his face. Padm? stopped in front of the door and
gave him a smile. Anakin grinned and palmed the controls.
Over the swish, Obi-Wan heard a familiar, whir-click.
Droids. He yelled, "No!" as he dived at Padm?.
Obi-Wan hit Padm? from behind like a runaway speeder
at the same second twin bolts of agony burrowed into her thigh.
Anakin screamed, "Padm?!"
Jedi arms wrapped around her; she hit the floor, the wind driven
from her lungs. Over the roaring in her ears she heard Obi-Wan
yell, "The door!"
"There's no lock!"
Padm? wheezed, desperate to breathe. Finally, air rushed
back into her body and she gasped. Her body shuddered, and arms
held her more tightly. The spots before her eyes began to fade,
revealing a scowling Obi-Wan. Fire consumed her left leg.
Metallic thudding matched the pounding in her skull.
The scene flashed through her mind: turning from Anakin, catching
a nanosecond's glimpse of droids before Obi-Wan had tackled her.
He moved slightly, causing pain to flash outwards from her leg.
She bit back a moan as the spots blanked her vision again. The
agony was building as the initial shock wore off.
"It won't hold them long, Master. I'll take Padm?.
How is she?" Anakin said.
"Her leg is injured. It will have to wait until we get
out of here."
Padm? felt extra hands slide under her. Anakin. Obi-Wan's
hands withdrew. Anakin lifted her, bumping her leg. She screamed.
The pain engulfed her, sucking her into a black hole.
"Master, Padm? fainted." Anakin trembled at
the power of the fear rising up, threatening to overtake him.
"That's likely for the best, Padawan. We have to move
Obi-Wan spun away from the sharp look Anakin shot toward him,
and headed toward the center of the room, pivoting, searching.
Anakin blew out his dread, eyes fixed on Obi-Wan, willing himself
to draw strength from the ... stillness ... radiating outwards
from his master. If there were ever a time he needed Obi-Wan's
infuriating calm, it was this moment. He couldn't bear it if they
couldn't save Padm?. He held her close and moved farther
into the room, away from the relentless hammering on the door.
It was beginning to buckle. They didn't have much time.
"Here!" Obi-Wan leaped onto a counter and stared
at the ceiling. "It appears I'll owe yet another escape to
a ventilation system. One has to wonder if they were a Force-inspired
Anakin glared at his master. "I don't care! Hurry up."
As he ignited his lightsaber, Obi-Wan gave Anakin an enigmatic
glance. "No snide comments in the face of danger, my padawan?
Don't you feel like engaging in aggressive negotiations
any more today?"
"No! I want to get Padm? to safety!"
"As do I, young one." He flicked his wrist four times,
severing a bolt securing each corner. Obi-Wan stepped aside as
the grate cover fell away.
Anakin peered upwards. "Where does it lead?"
"Straight to the roof, apparently. I see another grate
and what appears to be a metal canopy above that. I need you to
lift me so I can cut through."
Nodding, Anakin closed his eyes, already reaching for the Force.
Obi-Wan's Force signature glowed strongly in his mind. Without
hesitating, Anakin manipulated the Force, holding and lifting
his master through his thoughts.
"Not too quickly, Padawan, or you'll slam me into the
grate and you'll have two unconscious people on your hands."
Anakin pursed his lips and slowed the rate of ascent.
While he concentrated on holding his master mid-air, part of
him mind catalogued the hum of the lightsaber, the battering of
the door, Padm?'s heartbeat. A moment later, a clatter
sounded. And then another.
"I'm through. Boost me just a little higher."
Anakin pushed with the Force. His master's startled yell made
him cringe. Perhaps he had used a little too much ... force.
"Send Padm? up, a little gentler than you did me,
if you please."
Squinting upward, Anakin saw a disheveled Obi-Wan eyeing him.
"Sorry, Master." Behind him, metal creaked. He didn't
look, but concentrated on levitating Padm?'s limp body
toward his master. She rose, rotating slowly, her head lolling
back and arms dangling. Anakin stared, refusing to let the worry
overwhelm him, refusing to lose his grip on the Force.
He was shaking when Obi-Wan reached down and grabbed her, hauling
her onto the roof. Blaster fire spun him around, lightsaber already
in hand. He deflected several shots from the single droid firing
through a crack where the door was wedged open.
Anakin hopped onto the counter and repulsed two more shots.
He gleaned Force tendrils, latching onto them and jumping straight
up. He shot through the vent and twisted to land on the roof beside
"What now, Master?"
"I've already alerted Artoo by comlink. He's traced our
exact co-ordinates through the link and should be lifting off
right about now." Obi-Wan tugged his sash from beneath his
belt and began to tie it around Padm?'s leg.
It wrenched Anakin's gut to see Padm? hurt. He turned
from the sight to peer at the sky. Since his master was already
dealing with the wound, he paced toward the edge of the roof.
Obi-Wan shouted, "Anakin, no!"
Three blaster bolts whined past Anakin's head and he ducked.
He lifted his chin to peer over the edge, drawing another flurry
of shots. "I take it the building is surrounded."
"A safe assumption, Padawan."
"Dooku needs to make up his mind. Either he wants us to
face him or he wants us dead."
"I have a strong feeling it's both. He will be disappointed
if we let a few droids kill us off, since he wants to do the job
himself, but he wants a worthy challenge, so he's testing us."
Anakin scuttled back and knelt by Padm?. He held her
hand and glanced at her wounded leg. A circlet of blood stained
Obi-Wan's sash. "And what do you want, Master?"
"Oh, I want Dooku to be disappointed - about a
great many things. But this isn't one of them. I would rather
not be defeated by his mechanical puppets."
Anakin listened to the clattering below them. The droids were
trying to find some way to follow them up the shaft. He scanned
the horizon, anxiety nibbling at his resolve. He was just about
to complain about Artoo's slowness when he spotted the yacht approaching
low, with no running lights. Anakin smiled. Artoo was a quick
The perimeter droids started peppering the yacht with laser
fire as soon as it appeared over the plaza. The pinging grew louder
as the ship hovered above them, repulsors hissing, and the ramp
Obi-Wan ignited his lightsaber and motioned for Anakin to get
Padm? to the ship. He stayed close, re-directing several
blaster shots that ricocheted off the hull toward them. The ramp
floated two meters above the roof. Anakin grabbed the Force and
leaped, charging up the ramp the instant he touched it. A laser
bolt followed him into the ship, zipping past his metal arm so
close it singed cloth.
Behind him, Obi-Wan shouted, "Take off, Artoo!"
While Obi-Wan headed toward the cockpit, Anakin hurried into
Padm?'s cabin and laid her out on the narrow bunk. He brushed
loose tendrils of hair from her eyes, bent over and kissed her
forehead. Her eyes fluttered open. Eyes dark with pain. Anakin
channeled slender threads of the Force into her body, an unraveled
skein of warmth and comfort. The tension in her limbs and face
eased a little. She mouthed, I love you.
The engines revved, carrying them up and away from Zehava.
Good riddance, thought Anakin. Dooku had yet another
thing to answer for.
The droid tilted its head, humming as it did when receiving
a transmission. It clicked and straightened its head. "My
lord, the ground troops report that all three targets escaped.
Their ship is now space bound."
Yan Dooku peered out the bubble windscreen of the cockpit at
the variegated browns of Melida/Daan. Nothing less than he expected.
He hoped Kenobi had appreciated his ... homecoming.
"Jump when ready, FA-4."
"Yes, my lord." The droid pilot accelerated away
from the planet. A minute later the ship made the jump to hyperspace.
For several moments the mesmerizing tunnel of light captured
Yan's gaze. Again, curiosity arose as to why Master Sidious had
insisted on his leaving that holocron behind. Kenobi wouldn't
hesitate to turn it over to the Council to be destroyed. He suspected
the reason revolved around that whelp Kenobi was training, though
he wasn't sure he cared to speculate. Still ... someday he
would need an apprentice. If Skywalker's impulsiveness could be
tamed, he might make a suitable candidate.
Yan rose and informed the pilot he would be in the lounge.
He entered the regrettably cramped space and stretched out on
the only acceleration couch. What the ship lacked in size it made
up for in speed. And he wanted to arrive at their destination
well before Kenobi so he could prepare a proper welcome.
It had been brilliant of his assassin to time that courier's
murder to coincide with the arrival of a Jedi. Either that, or
the Force had truly been with him. It had assured Kenobi's involvement
as nothing else could. Yoda was so predictable. The friendship
between Senator Amidala and Kenobi had guaranteed Yoda would send
his favorite pet on this mission.
A pet for a pet. Yan smiled. How amusing that Master Sidious
still harbored anger over a decade old, especially since that
wrath was not aimed at him. Obi-Wan Kenobi had no idea how powerful
an enemy he had made that fateful day on Naboo.
The fool. Even when he had been told the truth, Kenobi had
denied it, clinging to the notion of a Republic that no longer
existed. A Republic where peace and justice ruled. That dream
was dead - and no good men existed with strength enough
to resurrect it. Power came to the powerful, and what made one
powerful rarely allowed for goodness.
Now Kenobi ... was the epitome of a good Jedi,
believing without question whatever his masters told him. Acting
without question, just as the Jedi demeaned themselves by letting
the Senate dictate to them. Yan snorted. How his padawan
had ever trained one such as Kenobi was beyond him. It had to
have driven Qui-Gon mad, faced with such rigidity day after day,
though Yan didn't know - Qui-Gon had spoken about his padawan
very little in those last few years, except to say that Kenobi
would make a good Jedi. As if that were a compliment. The
fact that Kenobi was unable to think or act outside his little
Jedi box was reason enough to see him dead.
It was reason to see most Jedi dead.
Brave, but foolish. That seemed to have become the unofficial
Jedi motto. And Kenobi was about to live by it yet again. He had
to know he was walking into a trap. But walk in, he would.
He would live by it - and die by it.
Anakin sat cross-legged on his bunk, aware of the faint vibrations
of the hyperspace engine. He closed his eyes and lifted his face
to the ceiling, letting the thrum wash over him, soothe him.
The engine was running smoothly because of him - a fact that
gave him great satisfaction. He was the one who had discovered
and repaired the cylinder that had been creating a hiccup in the
energy cycle. Of course, Obi-Wan's praise had been served up with
a reminder that it was Anakin's landing that had damaged the ship
in the first place, so it was only right that Anakin repair the
problem. As if Obi-Wan would rather Anakin had plowed into boulders
than greenery - that would have taken care of any question concerning
Before the rising irritation could gain a foothold in his mind,
Anakin shunted the feeling aside and emptied his mind of everything
except the engine's hum. After a few moments, he expanded his
knowing beyond himself, noting Padm?'s quiet aura in her
cabin - she was still sleeping - then moving on to sense his
master's Force signature in the cockpit.
The way the Force enhanced Obi-Wan's presence, Anakin knew
he was meditating. Anakin opened his eyes and stared at the hatch.
A shiver of tension passed through his abdomen. He willed himself
Anakin reached out and dimmed the cabin lights to minimum.
He withdrew the palm-sized object from his med-kit and set it
on the pillow.
A Jedi holocron. A dozen questions swirled to the surface of
Anakin's mind; there was only one way to answer his curiosity.
His hand hesitated over the crystalline vault of Jedi knowledge
as he was assailed by misgivings. He knew what Obi-Wan would expect
him to do - hand it over like an obedient padawan and apologize
for concealing its existence from him.
He would. Anakin took a slow breath. He would hand it over
to Obi-Wan as soon as his master ceased his meditations. His hand
quivered. It was only a holocron. What harm could there be in
activating it, just to find out which Jedi master had created
No harm. After all, knowledge was a cornerstone of Jedi teaching.
Anakin activated the holocron and sat back, palms resting on
his thighs. The holocron began to glow from within, like stardust.
A small blue figure flickered as static ran through it, then consolidated
and hovered above the holocron. A ghostly miniature of Count Dooku,
cape fluttering, hands loose at his sides.
Turn it off.
The face of the man that had taken his right arm captivated
Anakin. Even as a holo, Dooku exuded a commanding presence. The
tension returned. Anakin's heartbeat accelerated slightly, like
a speeder merging into traffic.
Turn it -
"Greetings, Jedi. I am Yan Dooku, the gatekeeper of knowledge.
Before you pose a question, consider this: there is no Light or
Dark Side. The Force is one vast spectrum of power. The Dark Side
is merely a term frightened Jedi leaders have created to infect
others with their fear of powers they do not understand. Ask yourself
if you are one of the weak-minded who quails at the thought of
such power, or if you are one of the few truly courageous enough
to grasp all the Force has to offer. If you are the former, crawl
back into your decaying Temple and continue hiding from the truth
- I want nothing to do with you."
Dooku's holo fell silent and seemed to regard Anakin with eyes
that missed nothing. Anakin's pulse hammered erratically.
Yoda's voice whispered, "The Dark Side, I sense in you,
Count Dooku." Anakin couldn't remember ever hearing Yoda
say that; where had that thought come from? The words seemed to
bounce off rock, like in a cave. Geonosis? He had been unconscious
while Yoda had battled Dooku.
Confusion rippled through Anakin's mind, but still he sat,
transfixed by the blue figure. The Dark Side. What if Dooku was
right and Yoda wrong? His breathing sounded loud in his ears.
Sudden echoes of anguish tore through his soul. I will be
the most powerful Jedi ever. I promise you.
Anakin's fingers dug into his knees. The moment stretched as
he stared at the holo, still silent, waiting for a first question.
He had to focus on his hand to get it to lift, to reach out, to
deactivate the holocron. His breath whooshed out as Dooku's figure
disappeared. He covered his face with shaking hands and strove
to regain his composure. Droplets of sweat tickled his fingertips.
Dooku's words ricocheted through his thoughts. To grasp
all the Force has to offer.
No. Anakin lifted his head. No. He tucked the holocron back
into his belt pouch and rose from the bed. A second of vertigo
tremored through him. He blew out his breath and started for the
Down the corridor, toward the cockpit, Anakin's steps slowed
as he passed Obi-Wan's cabin. He halted in front of Padm?'s
door and rested his palm against it. He closed his eyes as uncertainty
He reached toward the door panel. He needed to talk to Padm?,
to figure out -
Anakin froze as Padm?'s door slid into the wall, his
gaze swallowed by the shadowy cabin, unable to penetrate the gloom.
"Padawan? What are you doing?"
Was that a hint of accusation in Obi-Wan's tone? Anakin's nostrils
flared as he sought his center of calm. He turned his head to
see his master, stance wide, arms crossed, eyes ... concerned?
No, he had to be mistaken.
Obi-Wan stepped forward.
Anakin said, "It's not what you think, Master. I just
wanted to ... check on Padm?, and talk to her if she was
awake." His fingers brushed against the med-kit pouch on
his belt and lingered.
Obi-Wan's blue-grey eyes turned speculative. He closed the
distance between them. "I believe you, Padawan. I was meditating
and felt a slight disturbance in the Force." He laid his
hand on Anakin's shoulder and Anakin stifled a wince. Obi-Wan
spoke softly. "I know you are worried about her, but you
mustn't let that worry control you. Concentrate. Scan her life-force.
The bacta ointment is speeding her healing, as are your Force
ministrations. She will likely be up and about tomorrow."
"I ... I know, Master." Anakin looked away. "It's
just that -" The holocron seemed to be burning a hole through
his belt. If he didn't speak, it would burn right through and
drop to the floor. "There's something -"
I will be the most powerful Jedi ever.
Obi-Wan squeezed Anakin's shoulder. "Relax, my young padawan.
Discharge your fear into the Force."
... infecting others with their fear ...
"I'm not afraid, Master. I'm not afraid of anything."
An amused smile settled on Obi-Wan's lips. "None of us
are immune to the effects of fear, Anakin. It's what we do with
it when we feel its touch that matters. We must acknowledge it
and release it."
"Yes, Master." Anakin's fingers played with the latch
on the pouch. "But I'm not afraid."
"There's no question you are one of the most fearless
beings I have ever encountered." Obi-Wan dipped his chin,
indicating Anakin's hand. "But in this instance, your fidgeting
is betraying you."
"Is ... something else bothering you, Padawan? Something
besides Padm?'s injuries?"
Anakin couldn't bring himself to answer. Obi-Wan would be furious
with him for not handing over the holocron right away. Anakin
could already feel the sting of his scorn. Right now, this moment,
the genuine concern radiating from his master was such ... a welcome
change. He didn't want to lose that. He couldn't stand the thought
of more criticism.
"Padawan, what is it?"
He would get rid of the holocron himself. No one need ever
know of it. "Nothing." Anakin's hand lowered to his
side, even as his shields rose a little higher. "Nothing,
Master. You're right. I'm worrying when I shouldn't be."
He nodded toward Padm?'s bunk, shrouded in darkness. "I'd
like to sit with Padm? for a while, ... if that's okay."
Obi-Wan dropped his hand and stepped back. "Very well.
But keep the hatch open."
As if they would do anything when Padm? was recovering
from double laser burns. Anakin's lips thinned. He nodded tersely
and walked into the darkened cabin. The shadows enveloped him.
Padm? stretched and glanced around her cabin. She was
bored. Restless. She didn't care if Obi-Wan had told her to stay
off her feet as much as possible; she needed to move. Besides,
it had been two days. If she stayed in bed for the remaining thirty
hours it would take to reach their destination, she would be so
stiff she wouldn't be able to move.
Twinges of pain zipped through her thigh like tiny electrical
pulses as she swung her legs over the side of the bunk. She paused
for a moment, weaving her dark hair into a loose braid and waiting
for the discomfort to fade. That wasn't so bad.
Hand braced against the wall, Padm? slowly rose, balancing
on her uninjured right leg. She shifted some of her weight to
her left leg, wincing when a stronger shock of pain gripped her.
It quickly passed, replaced by a dull palpitation. She could stand
With tentative steps, Padm? made her way to the entrance.
She paused to don a thick, floor-length robe that Anakin had discovered
in with the extra refresher supplies. He was always so thoughtful
- and there was no way she could get her flightsuit on without
help right now. Neither did she think Obi-Wan would appreciate
her stumbling around the ship wearing only a camisole and underwear.
She grimaced and yanked the belt snug.
Padm? limped to the cockpit, still leaning on the bulkhead.
Her leg throbbed with each step. Even with that, it felt good
to be on the move. The hatch swished open and Padm? entered
the flight deck. Empty.
A trilling beep sounded.
"Oh. Hello, Artoo. I didn't see you hiding in that corner.
Do you know where Anakin and Obi-Wan are?"
A whistle. Padm? didn't feel like plugging the astromech
droid into the console to get a translation. "Never mind.
I'll find them. The exercise will do me good."
The droid emitted what sounded like a mournful sigh.
Padm? smiled. "Don't worry, Artoo. I'll be fine.
I have the best care outside of the Jedi healing wards in the
She turned and began the arduous trek toward the aft of the
cruiser, past the cabins and the galley. The small lounge was
deserted. With a grimace, Padm? sank onto an acceleration
couch and rested for a few minutes.
A memory surfaced, of Anakin at her beside, deep in concentration,
of the warmth that had shielded her mind from pain, and of the
love suffusing that warmth.
Smiling now, Padm? stood and hobbled across the open
space toward the cargo bay. They had to be either there or in
the engine room. Knowing Anakin ... A Corellian would place his
credits on the engine room.
At the cargo bay door, she paused. Faint sounds penetrated
the reinforced metal. Apparently, the Corellian would have lost
Padm? touched the door controls. She entered the mostly-empty
space slowly, arrested by the sight of the two Jedi in heated
battle. Her heart lurched. A few seconds of observation revealed
that they were merely sparring. As Padm?'s heartbeat resumed
a normal pace, she berated herself for thinking the worst.
But they were so intense, so focused, they hadn't even noticed
Padm? blinked, noticing Obi-Wan's lack of attire. He
was stripped to the waist, his upper torso bathed in a sheen of
sweat that emphasized his muscles, his mature, powerful build.
Padm? flushed and forced her attention aside. In comparison,
Anakin was completely clothed. He had always found space to be
uncomfortably cold. Beneath his leather stolla, sweat had soaked
the front and sides of his tunic. They had obviously been practicing
for some time.
Since they showed no signs of stopping, Padm? sidled
over to the meter-high duracrate upon which Obi-Wan's tunics were
neatly stacked. She pushed them aside and settled on the crate,
eager for the chance to watch Jedi in practice combat. The distraction
was rendering her leg pain less noticeable.
As she watched, Anakin feinted and stepped toward his master.
In a move almost too quick to follow, Obi-Wan disarmed Anakin.
The darkened lightsaber clattered to the deck.
Anakin snatched up his weapon and began to orbit around Obi-Wan.
The master pivoted once, then halted while his padawan continued
Padm?'s gaze was drawn to Obi-Wan's exposed left arm.
The smaller, already-fading laser wound was eclipsed by the red
gash above it. Surely the Jedi healers could have at least lessened
the severity of the scar. It looked so ... angry.
"I've already -"
Padm? studied Anakin. His lips thinned in a familiar
gesture of frustration. His circling continued, a stark contrast
to Obi-Wan's utter stillness. When he spoke, the words were forced
through clenched teeth.
"I must concentrate on the inner circles of defense."
"That's right. We were both trained to fight in the middle
and outer circles. Very effective against lasers, even against
Jedi with similar training." Obi-Wan flexed his left arm;
the scar seemed to smile. "Dooku defeated both of us up close,
in the inner circles. His archaic style is designed for lightsaber
duels. We must learn -"
Circling behind Obi-Wan, Anakin struck without warning. Padm?'s
gasp was cut short when Obi-Wan spun and successfully blocked
the blow. For long seconds, the locked blue and green blades sizzled
and spat. They seemed thinner than usual, less virulent. Some
sort of low-level training setting, Padm? decided.
Obi-Wan wheeled away. Anakin followed. "So you want me
learn from Count Dooku, do you, Master?" He attacked with
something akin to ferocity.
His face lined with concentration, Obi-Wan fended off the initial
flurry. Finally, he said, "We must always seek to learn from
our opponents." He fell silent as the battle continued. Several
moments later, Anakin closed in and Obi-Wan sent his lightsaber
cartwheeling through the air.
Before it could hit the deck, Anakin stretched out his arm
and the weapon flew back to his hand. The green blade flashed
to life and arched down. Again, Obi-Wan blocked and forced Anakin's
blade to hissing immobility.
"Do not let your frustration control you, Padawan. You
have the Force ability to defeat me. Look how well you are doing
with your off hand - you have already overcome that obstacle.
But you cannot just trust the flow. You must anticipate."
He stepped back and parried two quick blows. "Think."
Padm? cringed at the tension coiling in Anakin's limbs.
Robotic hand clenching and unclenching, he stalked around Obi-Wan
like a Trandoshan whose prey had escaped. This time, Obi-Wan did
not expose his back to his padawan.
The master whispered, "Calm, Anakin."
Padm? found herself repeating the phrase in her mind
like a mantra. Calm, Anakin, calm.
Gradually, Anakin's movements changed from jerky to lithe.
His features smoothed. Padm? realized she was breathing
When the two Jedi joined battle again, even Padm? could
see that Anakin was holding his own in close. Though Obi-Wan's
forehead gleamed, a half smile tugged at his mouth. Anakin frowned
as he pressed the attack.
Another hail of blurred strikes and Anakin's lightsaber sailed
toward Padm?, landing centimeters from the duracrate. He
spared her a glance as he summoned the weapon back to his grip.
"You enjoy humiliating me." The green blade extended
"No, Padawan. I enjoy seeing you stretch beyond what you
think you are capable of." The blue blade winked out. "Enough
Anakin switched off his lightsaber and sketched a bow. Obi-Wan
returned it, then shook his head. A spray of droplets flew in
every direction from his collar-length hair. Anakin stepped back
with a scowl as he allowed his master to proceed first off the
Obi-Wan halted beside the duracrate and toweled himself with
his undertunic. Padme's gaze flicked to his chest. The sour odor
of sweat caused her nose to wrinkle.
Answering her questioning look, he said, "I dislike having
to make a dozen repairs on my tunics after a sparring session.
A little burn ointment is simpler." Obi-Wan smiled and slipped
into the undertunic. "My apologies for offending your nose,
Senator. I shall head directly to the refresher." He arched
his brows. "How is your leg today?"
Since Melida/Daan, the way he said senator had softened,
almost to the point of sounding like an endearment - the way
he used to call her friend. Padm? held to the hope
he would soon remember how to pronounce her name. She smiled.
"It's healing quite nicely, Master Kenobi."
Obi-Wan nodded and glanced over his shoulder to where Anakin
hovered behind him, scowl still in place. "Good job, Padawan."
He picked up his other clothes and strode from the cargo bay.
Anakin's scowl deepened.
"What's wrong, Ani?"
"I'm waiting for the but."
Padm? tilted her head and listened to Obi-Wan's quiet
whistling. She shrugged melodramatically. "No buts today,
my darling padawan. Your master is apparently pleased with your
efforts ..." She gave him a mischievous glance. "...
despite your being unable to hang onto your weapon."
Anakin snorted. "For months, he's been spending every
spare moment practicing while I've been doing courier runs for
the Council. He didn't take his defeat very well." He stepped
close and his blue eyes cleared. "I like the way you say
darling padawan much better than Obi-Wan's my very young
"I'll tell him for you. Maybe he will start calling
Anakin touched his left fingers to Padm?'s mouth. "No,
thank you." He leaned forward and his lips replaced his fingers.
Moments later, Anakin straightened. "Maybe Obi-Wan is planning
to take a very long shower. We could -"
"No, Anakin." Padm? had to quell her rising
desire as she gave him a severe look. "You don't want to
do anything to wreck your master's good mood."
"It's not his mood that concerns me." A boyish
grin split his face.
Padm? suppressed a laugh and schooled her features.
"Carry me to my quarters, darling padawan." Hope sparked
in Anakin's eyes, disappearing when Padm? added, "Then
you may proceed to your own cabin and follow your master's lead.
You stink almost as much as he did. Like a baby nerf instead of
Anakin swept Padm? into his arms. She managed to conceal
the shiver of pain.
As he strode forward, Anakin said, "You are a heartless
woman, Padm? Naberrie Skywalker."
"Yes, I am." Padm? smiled up at him. "But
I think you know who stole my heart and reduced me to such a mean
Anakin's smile lit his features in a way that always melted
Padm?'s insides. She rested her head against his chest
and listened to his steady heartbeat. It was a good thing she
had already given him such a firm "no". She didn't think
herself capable of refusing him a second time.
Obi-Wan slouched in the pilot's chair, fist tucked under his
chin, as he stared at the readout. What had been the cause of
that microburst transmission that occurred while he had been meditating
two days ago? Artoo's diagnostics couldn't even pin down its origin.
He shifted his gaze to the hyperspace swirl. With all the minor
glitches they had discovered since leaving Melida/Daan, what was
one more? All the other ship's systems seemed to be displaying
problems, so it was hardly surprising that communications would,
too. The circuits had to really be scrambled if point of origin
couldn't be traced.
It was almost time to exit hyperspace. Obi-Wan knew he needed
to focus on what was waiting for them, but his mind kept leaping
back to that transmission. He had a bad feeling about it.
Qui-Gon had always said to trust your feelings. But there was
nothing he could do about this one - he had tried it all. Nothing
but give the worry to the Force.
Obi-Wan sighed. A precept that was sometimes easier said than
Padm? entered the cockpit and slid into the co-pilot's
chair. She was back to wearing her flightsuit. He gave her tentative
smile a brief nod.
"You're moving much better today."
"Thanks to your and Anakin's diligent care. My leg's barely
aching at all. Only quick movements set it off."
"Well, let's hope you don't have to move quickly, then."
Obi-Wan glanced over his shoulder. "Where's Anakin?"
"Fiddling with the electrical system. The hot water disappeared
as soon as I stepped under the 'fresher spray."
Obi-Wan lifted one brow. "That could make for a quick
Padm? gave him a look of mock indignation. "You
are laughing at me, Master Kenobi. That's most ... un-Jedi-like."
"Did I laugh?" Obi-Wan returned his attention to
the readout so she wouldn't see him smile.
"Not out loud, perhaps."
Obi-Wan didn't answer. He enjoyed this gentle banter - it
was reminiscent of their friendship. He peered at the data stream
as his thoughts jumped back to that night. Would he have rather
not walked in on Padm? and Anakin, lived in ignorance
and kept his trust? Padm? would still be his friend. Anakin
... would still have a future as a Jedi. And he wouldn't be in
a position where he had to turn his own padawan over to the Council
for punishment - and, unless Anakin changed his mind, banishment.
How could they think the love they professed was worth the
price they would have to pay? Obi-Wan could not imagine Anakin
finding peace in any situation outside the Jedi Order. Whether
or not he was the Chosen One, he was meant to be a Jedi.
Padm? interrupted his thoughts. "What has you looking
so somber? Meeting Dooku?"
Obi-Wan shifted and studied the young woman for a moment. Even
in a simple bun and unadorned flightsuit, she was beautiful. And
he knew her to be a woman of integrity, possessed of inner beauty.
How could she ask Anakin to give up his life? Her expression turned
curious. He said, "I don't want to offend you, but may I
ask a personal question?"
Curiosity faded to uncertainty. "I ... suppose."
Obi-Wan glanced at Padm? rubbing her leg, likely not
even realizing she was doing it. "Do you love Anakin, or
do you simply love the utter devotion with which he loves you?"
Indignation flared, darkening her brown eyes. "That ...
"Is impudent, I know. But I would like to know."
Padm? stiffened. "I happen to love your padawan,
Master Kenobi. For you to imply otherwise is ... reprehensible.
I would never have agreed to marry him just ... just to feed my
vanity. I'm not so completely selfish as you seem to imply."
Taken aback by the vehemence of her response, Obi-Wan spoke
quietly. "I'm not implying anything. I'm only seeking to
"You know what it is to love. Why can't you accept that
your padawan could do likewise?"
"It's not the loving. It's the choice to willfully destroy
that boy's life. His future."
"His ..." Padm? worked her jaw, the fury evident
in her every line. "I've done no such thing. I only want
what's best -"
"He will be banished from the Order, Senator."
Why couldn't he make her realize that?
"No. It's not as bad as that. We'll explain everything
to the Council. They'll understand. I will always support Anakin
in his work as a Jedi."
"Being a Jedi is not an office job that you leave behind
you when the chime sounds ending your shift. It's a way of life.
It defines your thoughts, your actions, your every moment. It
is the most serious and deepest of commitments."
"I know that. And I fully support Anakin's commitment.
It is so unfair of you to just sit back and pass judgment without
... without ..."
"Pass judgment about what?" Anakin's voice came from
the cockpit entrance.
Obi-Wan winced inwardly. He shouldn't have brought this up.
He peered at the hyperspace countdown. Three minutes.
When Padm? didn't respond to Anakin's inquiry either,
Obi-Wan could sense his padawan's growing turmoil. He could feel
Anakin's eyes on the back of his neck. The shockwave of anger
that accompanied Anakin's realization, exploded outward from his
aura and hit Obi-Wan like a physical blow.
Blast. "Padawan, control your feelings. Let go
"Let go ..." Anakin spoke through clenched teeth.
"You broke the truce. You promised you wouldn't bring this
up, then when my back is turned ..."
Obi-Wan swung to his feet as Anakin sucked in oxygen. "Enough,
"No! It is not enough! How am I supposed to trust
you, when you so easily break your word? You want me to
prove myself trustworthy, but you can do anything you -"
"Enough." Stepping up to his padawan, Obi-Wan folded
his arms and peered into roiling dark blue eyes. "I was out
of line. I apologize."
A deep frown creased Anakin's brow. "You ..."
"Apologize." Obi-Wan felt Anakin's anger leaking
away. He let go a slow breath. "I may have spoken the truth
as I see it to Padm?, but you're right. I had agreed
to not discuss your ... union until after the mission." Why
did he have so much trouble even thinking the word, marriage?
He glanced at Padm?'s shuttered expression. "I hope
you will both accept my apology. It won't happen again."
Mixed emotions flickered across Anakin's face. His glare softened,
but only slightly. He opened his mouth to speak - only to be
silenced by the hyperspace warning signal.
The moment was lost. Obi-Wan stifled his frustration and stepped
aside. "One minute until reversion to real space. Your chair
Anakin sniffed and peered at the viewscreen for a few seconds.
He nodded and brushed past Obi-Wan to take his seat. Padm?
gave them both an enigmatic look and faced forward. Obi-Wan took
the navigator's chair, his mind now fully on the mission.
He toggled a switch and his monitor brought up this quadrant's
navigational charts. He had paid little attention before now,
leaving Artoo to help Anakin with astro-navigation. Oh, he knew
the target co-ordinates, but hadn't bothered to place them in
his mind's eye. That had been a mistake.
Anakin announced reversion to real space. Obi-Wan felt the
sublight engine kick in, but didn't look up.
He ran his finger over the screen, tapping it when he noticed
the name of the next system Rim-ward. The Meerian System. Bandomeer.
Another name from his past. But not one that touched a nerve -
it was the planet where Qui-Gon had accepted him as his padawan.
Dooku was playing another game, but Obi-Wan was missing the point.
What system was this? The monitor read 'YG-6312'. A meaningless
designation assigned by some scientist. Nothing that triggered
"Target planet is in sight," Anakin announced.
Obi-Wan turned his attention to the planet beginning to fill
the viewscreen. "A name?"
"Just a designation. YG-6312-a. One of three designated
planets in the system."
Hardly a surprise. Obi-Wan studied the planet. Mostly blue
and white - a water planet like Mon Calamari. He glimpsed Padm?
gaging his reaction to the planet. He shook his head and she returned
to her own study of their destination.
The yacht shimmied as they entered the atmosphere. They dropped
below the thick cloud cover and swooped over a seemingly endless
Anakin said, "Confirm planetary co-ordinates, Artoo."
He glanced at Padm?. "Nice of the Count to give us
such precise directions. We'd be searching for days, otherwise."
Nice, indeed. Obi-Wan narrowed his eyes and squinted at the
horizon. Tension began to collect in his limbs. He reached inward
to his center of calm and the anxiety dissipated. He cupped his
right hand over his left bicep, tracing the ridges of the scar
beneath his tunic. Dooku would not find him so easily defeated
a second time.
"We should be making visual contact in two minutes,"
Obi-Wan straightened, all attention focused forward. A speck
appeared on the horizon, quickly growing in size to become a brown
landmass. "Slow to quarter impulse, Padawan."
"Yes, Master." Anakin reached for the throttle.
The whitecaps became discernible as the ship slowed. The landmass
jutted up sharply from the water. Obi-Wan's squint carved deep
furrows between his eyebrows. There was something familiar ...
A loud thud and the ship rocked, its wing skimming a wave and
sending up an arching spray.
"What was that?" cried Padm?.
"Nothing's showing on radar," Anakin said as he increased
Obi-Wan gripped his armrests. "Switch to infrared."
Anakin muttered a Huttese curse. "The airspace above us
is swarming with heat sources. Must be lifeforms from that island."
He paused. "Big lifeforms."
Another clunk and the ship veered dangerously before Anakin
brought it under control. Through gritted teeth, he said, "Whatever
they are, they aren't friendly."
Before Obi-Wan could agree the ship was pounded by a double
strike. Padm? gasped as a third blow, directly above the
cockpit, drove the nose toward the water, giving them a far better
view of the whitecaps than Obi-Wan wanted.
"Poodoo," Anakin whispered.
Water crashed over the viewscreen.
Anakin hauled back on the yoke. The nose of the ship had started
to lift when the first wave had broken over it. Now his hands
shook with the strain of trying to break free of the water sucking
at the ship.
The yacht skipped across several crests, its hull crumpling
a little more with each impact, as if the ship were striking ferrocrete
instead of water. A loud crack and groan reverberated through
the cockpit. The ship lost all forward momentum.
"What happened?" Padm? asked.
Anakin didn't need to look at Artoo's readout. "A belly
seam gave out. The underside is splitting open." He tore
at his restraint belt. "We have to abandon ship."
Padm? leaped to her feet. Anakin followed. He halted
when he caught sight of Obi-Wan's dark expression.
Obi-Wan blinked and focused on Anakin, his eyes grey and stormy.
"This is hardly your fault, Padawan. At least you kept us
on the surface."
Anakin glanced at the submerging viewscreen. "Not for
long." He headed aft and yelled, "Come on, Artoo!"
The ship moaned and creaked as it foundered. Power flickered
out, replaced by strobing emergency lights. The ship began to
list to the port side. Dishes Anakin had left on the counter clattered
out of the galley in front of him.
Ahead, Padm? was already digging through the storage
compartments between the lounge and cargo bay. The ship screamed
as it tilted more. The storage doors swung wide and the contents
tumbled out. Padm? jumped back with a yell.
"What are you looking for?" Anakin said. "We
need to get -"
"There." Padm? pointed at a glaring orange
bundle. "Life-raft. Now we just have to find a way out."
The landing ramp was submerged. Anakin said, "Cargo bay
ramp." It was on the starboard side.
The ship listed a few more degrees, and the wall became the
floor. Artoo squealed. Anakin spun to see Obi-Wan righting the
droid and setting it on the new deck. Artoo whistled its thanks.
Uncertainty swamped Anakin. "Master?"
"There's no time for messing with hatches, Anakin. Sense
where the waterline is and cut above it."
Anakin nodded. He jumped onto the nearest couch, glad they
were all secured to the deck, and climbed onto the upended arm.
Taking his lightsaber, he switched it on, studied the ceiling
- now wall - for a second, then plunged the blade into it. Slowly,
steadily, he carved through several layers of durasteel.
"Hurry, Ani," Padm? said. "I can hear
water leaking into the cargo bay."
Sweat beaded on Anakin's upper lip and along his hairline.
He drew deep, oxygen-rich breaths, shoring up his trembling muscles
with the Force.
The emergency siren started whooping. Anakin snorted. A little
late for that. He could hear his master whispering, "Steady.
That's it. Good."
The lightsaber completed its circle. Anakin pushed with the
Force, sending the metal plug flying away from the ship. He glanced
out the hole. "We've less than a meter clearance, Master."
"Here's the life-raft," Obi-Wan said. "Catch."
Anakin turned and snagged the oversized bundle, the Force-enhanced
toss almost throwing him off balance. He shoved the raft out the
hole and followed, careful not to touch the still-hot metal edges.
Triggering the inflation device, Anakin threaded the tow rope
through his metal fingers and let the inflating raft fall into
"Padm?," he called down the hole, "get
out here. Hurry."
He watched her scramble up the couch. Water lapped at his ankle.
She stood and stretched toward the hole. Anakin reached down with
his left hand and grabbed hers. She clutched his forearm with
her free hand. He leaned back, then pushed from his knees to his
feet as he hauled her out of the ship.
Padm? threw her arms around Anakin's waist as he stepped
back. The ship creaked and shifted, almost pitching them into
"Jump into the raft." Anakin gave Padm? a
She jumped, just as water started pouring into the makeshift
hatch. The durasteel hissed, spewing tendrils of steam into the
air. Anakin tried to see beyond the gush of water.
Anakin caught a glimpse of silver and white. He jerked back,
narrowly missing getting smacked by Artoo as the droid shot from
the hole with a scream. He heard a splash, but all his attention
was focused on the hole.
The ship began to sink faster. In seconds, Anakin was knee-deep.
He stared at the disappearing opening, barely able to breathe.
Anakin startled. He steeled himself, wheeled and lunged, landing
half in the boat. He kicked while Padm? grabbed his tunic
and pulled. He rolled into the raft, gasping for air, for relief
from the rising dread.
The raft began to rotate. Anakin sat up and glanced around.
Artoo was clinging to a safety line on the stern with clamped
pincers. Anakin scowled at the vortex beginning to form, water
swirling around the raft.
"We'll be sucked under." Anakin unlocked the oars
and began to row with every ounce of energy he possessed. He was
making little headway against the pull of the whirlpool. Padm?'s
brown eyes held his gaze, reflecting his worry.
The raft began to surge forward. Anakin paused, oars poised
above the water. Still the boat continued steadily away from the
Padm? twisted around. "It's Artoo!"
Anakin craned his neck to see past Padm?. A churning
wake spread out behind the little droid. Anakin laughed with sheer
relief. "Artoo! Your built-in fan drill. That's brilliant."
Artoo whistled and continued to propel them away from the crash
A muffled roaring drew Anakin's gaze to the center of the vortex.
A mass of bubbles and roiling water broke the surface in a sputtering
geyser. Silence fell with the last water drop.
Artoo ceased acting as the outboard motor. Anakin stared at
the still water, willing Obi-Wan to surface. He felt Padm?'s
eyes as the blood drained from his face. His lungs seized up,
only able to wheeze in a trickle of air. He scanned the surface
of the water as far as he could see. No tell-tale dark spot bobbed
Waves washed over the crash site, as if it had never been,
and carried the raft toward the distant shore.
A shadow passed over the waves and the raft. Anakin ignored
it. He heard Padm?'s voice but couldn't make sense of the
His breath started to come in ragged gasps as he tried to fight
past the blinding pain, to scale the wall of fear preventing him
from accessing the Force.
No! The cry echoed through his mind. He couldn't lose
his mother and now Obi-Wan, too. It wasn't fair. This couldn't
be happening. Obi-Wan was the closest thing he had to a father.
Don't let it be true. Oh, Force. Almost the last thing
they had done was argue. Let it be a dream.
Wake me up!
Anguish ripped from his throat in a long drawn-out wail. "Obi-Wan!"
Anakin's cry shivered over Padm?'s skin. If possible,
he looked more distraught than the night he had told her about
slaughtering the Tuskan Raiders that had killed his mother. His
face was as white as Artoo's body.
Padm? crawled across the rubbery floor of the raft and
snuggled against Anakin's side, needing comfort as much as she
wanted to give it. She coiled her arms around his midsection and
held tight. He didn't react.
He felt so cold. Worry mixed with the grief. "Ani? Ani,
please talk to me." A tear escaped and flowed down Padm?'s
Oh, Obi-Wan. What had he told her once, that he was
a difficult Jedi to kill? A trickle of tears followed that first
one. Obi-Wan hadn't been killed. He had died making sure everyone
else made it to safety.
A swell lifted the raft momentarily. A shadow swept over them.
Padm? peered into the sky. Her eyes grew round. She
straightened and shook Anakin's shoulder. "Ani, we have a
Anakin blinked but his eyes didn't focus. Padm? shook
him harder. "Anakin! Snap out of it!"
His eyes cleared. She winced at the depth of pain glittering
there. He frowned. "What?"
Padm? pointed skyward. Still frowning, he looked up.
His jaw dropped.
Above them, a silvery creature circled. It looked to be nearly
half the size of the cruiser, with an oblong body and a wing span
at least a third wider than its length. Powerful legs were tucked
against the massive body.
As they watched, it spiraled higher, then closed its wings
and began to dive, streaking toward the water. Toward them.
It took Anakin a heartbeat to register what was happening.
That thing thought they were its lunch. He glanced at Padm?'s
fearful expression. She was never afraid. He scowled. She'd be
killed if he didn't do something.
"Artoo, get us moving."
Anakin squeezed his eyes shut and stretched for the Force with
swelling desperation. It crashed over him, fed by his fear. He
flashed his thoughts outward, to the creature. Its mind was ...
ravenous. He tried to wedge his thoughts in, to take control,
but the animal was too focused on food. On them.
Chest heaving, Anakin gathered the Force and struck. He opened
his eyes to see the creature veer and dive into the water, a mere
two meters from the raft, which bobbed over the waves created
by the impact.
The creature shot out of the water several meters away, a man-sized
green fish wriggling in its beak, and flew toward the island,
its great wings lifting in slow, graceful flaps.
"That could have been us," whispered Padm?.
"It wasn't." Anakin scrutinized the skies for more
of the creatures. He could see dozens of specks circling the far-off
island. Their destination. He grimaced. "But it looks like
we're heading toward its nesting grounds."
"How far away is it?"
"I'm guessing at least fifteen kilometers." Anakin
tilted his head. "Artoo, can you propel us that far?"
The droid emitted a mournful drone.
"That's sounds like a 'no'," Padm? said.
"The salt water is probably seizing up its circuits."
Artoo gave an affirmative beep and Anakin nodded. "I thought
so. Take us as far as you can, Artoo, then we'll haul you into
"What about those creatures? This bright orange is sure
to attract more of them."
"I'll take care of them." Anakin scanned the overcast
skies, almost wishing another one would make an appearance -
anything so he didn't have to think about ... Anakin sniffed and
pressed his lips together, barring any thought of ... what had
He walled himself in, walled the pain out, focused on the moment.
Only the moment.
It wasn't long before he got his wish. Every so often, one
of the distant creatures would leave its orbiting of the island
and head out to sea. Hunting. Anakin tracked each one with utmost
care. Now, one of the creatures was heading in their direction.
Anakin found the creature in the Force. He could tell by its
vague hunger that it hadn't spotted them yet. Before it could
focus on them, Anakin took control of the primitive mind and steered
it away from them. It made a wide circle and sailed westward.
Two more creatures met the same harmless fate. After an hour
of zigzagging, Artoo struggling against crosscurrents, the small
droid signaled that it was unable to continue. It took Anakin
and Padm? together to pull the droid into the raft. It
landed on its side.
"Sorry, Artoo," Anakin said, "I think you'll
have to stay like that for now." He patted its dome.
Padm? took the oars before Anakin could protest. "You
have to keep those, those draigons at bay."
Less than fifteen minutes later, Padm? admitted defeat.
"The currents are too strong."
Before they traded places, Anakin gave her a kiss. "Thank
you for trying." She nodded but looked disgruntled.
The shore was much closer. Artoo had to have gotten them halfway
there. Now Anakin could see cliffs, and beyond those, smoking
cones that could only be volcanoes. Not his idea of a pleasant
retreat, but he doubted Dooku had pleasant in mind. The draigons,
for lack of a better name, were certainly effective sentinels,
for they had to have been what had knocked the ship from the sky.
Had they behaved naturally, attacking an intruder, or had they
been driven to attack? Anakin sighed. It didn't matter at this
point. He began to row.
Padm? acted as lookout, reporting any move in their
direction by the draigons. Each time one headed their way, Anakin
continued rowing as he stretched out through the Force to turn
the draigon away. Each successive warding off drained a little
more energy, took a little more concentration. The mindlessness
of rowing helped to keep his mind clear and open to the Force,
though except for that one channel of power, he kept his innermost
self ensconsed behind thick walls, safe from the threatening grief.
Thirst soon parched his throat. Padm? discovered a pouch
set into the rear panel that contained a collapsible jug and water
purification tablets. The resulting potable water was flat, but
did the job.
The afternoon wore on. As they neared the island, the number
of draigons spotting them increased, as did the effort it took
to turn them away. Three times Anakin had to resort to knocking
them away with an invisible fist.
They could hear the crash of the surf when the attacks stopped.
Relief surged as Anakin decided the water had be too shallow for
diving this close to shore. His muscles quivered as he leaned
into it, putting what little energy remained into a final push
for the shore. Artoo whined when a wave picked them up and hurled
them toward the rocky beach. The bottom scraped against rock as
the raft came to a rest.
Anakin slumped over the oars, nausea stirring his stomach.
He swallowed rising bile and tried to inhale enough oxygen to
get his limbs to stop shaking.
The memory, of the water gushing through the hole in the ship's
hull, slammed into him. Anakin threw himself to the side, doubling
over the inflated wall as he retched and heaved until his stomach
could offer up nothing beyond painful spasms.
He heard Obi-Wan's voice saying, "This is hardly your
fault, Padawan." But it was. It was.
Yan Dooku peered through the electro-binoculars. The scene
- tinged amber by the hologram through which he looked - was
one that brought frustration boiling to the surface.
A droid. The padawan. The senator.
Where was the master? Yan's eyes narrowed. Kenobi was attempting
to play with him. Concealing himself, trying to outflank his position.
The fool would soon find that he had picked the wrong opponent
in a battle of wits.
And what if Kenobi hadn't escaped the ship? What if he were
dead? Highly unlikely. Yan zoomed in closer, focusing on the padawan.
But if Kenobi had not survived his welcoming committee ... the
padawan would pay for failing to safeguard his master, for failing
to keep him alive for the death that was planned for him.
Yes, no matter what Master Sidious had said in regards to the
boy, Skywalker would pay dearly, Yan promised himself. And he
was a man of his word.
Padm? rubbed Anakin's back as he vomited, then fought
dry heaves for several moments. Her eyes brimmed with tears. She
was certain he was suffering from more than just exhaustion. She
didn't know how to ease his pain when she could barely keep her
own from spilling over.
She lifted her face to the sky and watched the monstrous draigons
circle high overhead. The way they floated with wings outstretched
made her wonder if some of them were sleeping on the fly. How
long until one noticed them here?
Anakin sat up and turned toward her, misery distorting his
features. "I was too slow. Just like with Mom. Too slow ..."
"No, Ani." Padm? pulled him into her embrace.
"You did everything you could." She held him for a minute,
feeling his tears soak her flightsuit. Finally, she whispered,
"I'm sorry, Ani, but we have to get off this beach before
a draigon comes to investigate."
He pulled back and nodded, looking almost relieved to have
something else to think about. "It's ... going to be dark
soon. I think we should, should just hide until morning, when
we'll both be more rested."
"Yes. Let's get Artoo unloaded." Padm? considered
the rocky shore. "Maybe we can turn the raft upside-down
and jam it between two boulders. It would provide us with a little
They set to work. After releasing a little air from the front
and rear sections of the raft, they searched for a suitable site.
Anakin spotted it first. When they flipped the raft over, they
were relieved to discover the underside was a dark brown, far
less eye-catching than the top and sides. They wedged the raft
between two boulders sheltering a narrow strip of sand, causing
it to buckle in the middle like an inverted 'V'.
Padm? brushed her hands on her flightsuit, and surveyed
their makeshift tent with satisfaction. It was almost dark. Already
a moon had slipped over the horizon. Anakin helped Artoo get positioned
in a rock cleft where the droid could stand watch.
He returned to her side. "How's your leg? I'm sorry if
I made you do too much."
"It's okay." Padm? took Anakin's hand and
squeezed. "It's aching a little, but not much more than a
fresh bruise might." She peered up at him. "What now?"
Anakin shrugged. "Sleep, I guess. I'm sure a plan will
present itself in the morning."
Padm? smiled weakly. She wondered if Anakin knew how
much he sounded like Obi-Wan sometimes, using his phrases, his
inflections. She looked away, and her breath caught at the sight
of a third moon rising over the ocean. One red; two blue. "Look,
Ani. Isn't it beautiful? How many moons does this planet have?"
"I think the data mentioned five."
Though she could have soaked in the vision of the multi-colored
moons for longer, she could hear the fatigue in his voice. "Let's
get some sleep."
Under their raft-tent, Padm? stretched out on Anakin's
left side. She laid her head on his chest and draped her arm over
his stomach. His heart beat a steady rhythm beneath her ear. His
arm curled around her shoulders. His fingers caressed her upper
Moments later, Anakin took hold of Padm? and rolled
her over him so she was on her back. He propped himself up with
his metal arm and brushed trembling fingertips over her cheek.
"Don't hate me, Padm?."
"I could never hate you, Ani." His lips silenced
her, tentative, exploratory.
He lifted his head. "I need ... " He drew a shuddering
breath. "Force help me, Padm?, I need to know ...
to know we're alive. To ... to fill this emptiness before it swallows
me whole." He kissed her again, more insistent this time.
"I love you so much. I would die if anything ever happened
to you. I just want to ..."
Padm? framed his face between her hands. "It's
all right, Anakin." She smiled, though he couldn't see it
in the darkness. "We are married after all."
Anakin groaned. "Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes, darling padawan." Padm? stopped,
afraid she had said the wrong thing.
A second later Anakin's lips whispered over hers. "Teach
me to love you even more."
"I don't think that's possible. You're already a master
in that." Before she could say more, Anakin kissed her again
and swept her away on a tide of passion.
Anakin woke with a start, his heart pounding in his ears, drowning
out the nearby surf. He sat up, trying to pinpoint the source
of the disturbance. Something didn't feel right.
Moving slowly, so as not to disturb Padm?, Anakin untangled
his limbs from hers, groped around until he found his belt, and
backed out of the shelter on his hands and knees. He straightened,
a shiver causing him to remember his leather stolla, still draped
Memories of their fierce, desperate loving flickered through
his mind. Not loving - more like impassioned comfort. He set
the thoughts aside to focus on his unease as he fastened his belt,
his fingers seeking his lightsaber's reassuring feel.
Picking his way over the rocky beach, Anakin made his way eastward
along the shore. The horizon was melting from grey to a pale gold.
He had to skirt around several immense boulders, shallow waves
lapping over his boots. The brine clogged his nostrils with its
The nearby cliffs retreated slightly, giving way to a wider
shore. Anakin stopped. Ahead a dark form lay amongst the rocks,
half in water. Anakin approached cautiously.
The sun broke over the horizon, revealing the form to be human.
Heart in his throat, Anakin sprinted forward. Before he even got
there, he could tell. The layered tunics. The belt. The high boots.
Anakin fell on his knees beside his master, barely noticing
the pain that spiked up his legs. He rolled Obi-Wan onto his back
and scanned his deathly pale face. Anakin held his breath and
touched his fingers to Obi-Wan's neck, seeking a pulse, as he
stared at the breathing apparatus still lodged between his master's
A pulse. Anakin could just feel it over his quivering fingers,
but it was there. A laugh of sheer joy exploded from him. It was
answered by a moan, barely audible. Anakin swiped at the stray
tear and gently extracted the breather from Obi-Wan's mouth.
His master inhaled reflexively, the breath shuddering through
Anakin took an icy hand, eyes fixed on it as he rubbed vigorously.
His relief flowed out in a whispered stream. "Thank the Force,
Master. Don't ever scare me like that again. Do you have any
idea how, how much I ... Never mind. You'd probably lecture me
for worrying too much. But why didn't you contact me, let me know?
I know, I know. Don't focus on the negative. All that matters
is that you're alive. And I found you. Thank the Force. I found
A hoarse voice said, "What ... took you ... so long?"
Anakin's gaze shot to Obi-Wan's face. The sight of those bloodshot
blue-grey eyes under salt-encrusted eyebrows brought a grin to
Anakin's face. "Sorry, Master. You should have called."
Obi-Wan licked at cracked lips. "Did." He closed
his eyes. "A wall."
His hand stilled. Anakin stared at his master as realization
sank in. The shield he had created in his mind to keep the pain
at bay ... had also prevented Obi-Wan from connecting through
their bond. Guilt eroded his happiness. He forced the feeling
aside. There was nothing he could do about it now. Obi-Wan was
alive, he reminded himself. Focus on that.
"Come on, Master. Let's get you back to the shelter."
Anakin stepped over his master and slid his robotic hand under
Obi-Wan's shoulder blades, then hoisted him to his feet. Though
Anakin could see Obi-Wan struggling to stand, he sagged, a dead
Blowing out a breath, Anakin shifted and bent his knees to
swing Obi-Wan over his shoulder in a rescue lift. Obi-Wan grunted,
but didn't protest. After a moment, Obi-Wan's limbs dangled slack
and Anakin knew his master had lost consciousness. Probably for
the best. Over someone's shoulder wasn't the most comfortable
way to be transported.
His long strides ate up the distance back to the overturned
raft. When the shelter came into sight, Artoo started to whistle
and beep. The sound brought Padm? scurrying out of the
temporary tent, blaster in hand. She froze when she spotted Anakin.
Another grin broke free. "He's alive, Padm?."
Padm? gaped at the figure flung over Anakin's shoulder
as he drew near. "Obi-Wan? But how?"
"I don't know. He didn't stay conscious long enough for
me to find out." Anakin halted by the shelter entrance and
absorbed Padm?'s expression of growing wonder. "His
breather was still in his mouth, so I have to assume ..."
"That he swam? All that way? No wonder he's unconscious."
Padm? pointed at the shelter.
Anakin nodded and lowered himself to his knees. With Padm?'s
help, Obi-Wan was soon comfortably positioned. Anakin regretted
the lack of blankets as he laid his stolla over his master's chest.
He sat cross-legged at Obi-Wan's head and simply stared, recalling
the abject grief he had suffered yesterday, amazed at the difference
a day could make.
If only his mother could have survived her deadly ordeal. Would
a day have made the difference for her? If he had been a day earlier,
she might still be alive. He had been too slow.
Obi-Wan frowned in his sleep. Anakin's fingers reached out
and sought to smooth his brow. Anakin hadn't been too slow in
this case - he had been too ... selfish, too absorbed by his
own pain to hear his master's call. Obi-Wan had spent close to
eighteen hours in the water and had been saved ... by his own
stubbornness, no doubt. Not by his padawan as should have been
Anakin hadn't thought he would ever be thankful for
Obi-Wan's obstinacy. But he was.
Padm? dribbled water over Obi-Wan's parched lips. She
looked up and they shared a smile. Her brown eyes glowed with
the knowledge that it would be all right.
Left hand still resting on Obi-Wan's head, Anakin extended
his artificial limb. Padm? wrapped her fingers around his
golden digits and squeezed. Thanks to a myriad of sensors, Anakin
could feel it, could almost pretend that she was holding his real
hand. They were all alive - that's all that mattered at this
moment. Not Dooku, not the fact their ship was lost.
The Force ensconced them in a bubble of serenity. Anakin reveled
in the warmth, made sweeter by Padm?'s presence and love.
Everything would be fine. He could feel it.
He had felt worse, he knew he had. He just couldn't seem to
dredge up a memory of when. It wasn't pain so much as ...
helplessness. He felt so weak, he could barely wiggle his little
finger. Liquid trickled over his lips. He licked at it.
Finally, Obi-Wan summoned the energy required to open his eyes.
Two concerned and hopeful faces floated above his, surrounded
by halos of garish orange.
He tried to speak but only managed a rusty croak. Padm?
shushed him and lifted his head. She could be very bossy, at times.
Brackish water trickled over his lips and down his throat. He
swallowed to keep from choking, then whispered, "More, please."
Padm? obliged and more soothing liquid squirted into his
She lowered his head to a pillow of sand. Obi-Wan closed his
eyes and spoke quietly. "How long since you found me?"
"Four hours, Master. You really should rest some more."
"Yes. I don't think ... I have any choice." Obi-Wan
sighed and slipped back into troubled dreams. Of his padawan's
fear and Dooku's laughter and water washing him away, always away,
when he needed to get closer. Finally the dreams were swept aside
as the soothing river of Force engulfed him and submerged him
in its timeless healing flow.
When next he awoke, he was alone under what he could now see
was the overturned raft. The air was heavy, stifling. Sweat gathered
in his hair and pooled at the base of his neck. Dooku came to
mind and his thoughts flew to his lightsaber. He was relieved
by the comforting feel of its hilt resting against his thigh.
Cloaks were easily replaced, but his lightsaber ... was the only
thing that stood between him and whatever death Dooku had planned
Anakin's head popped into view and disappeared again. "Padm?,
The two young people crawled under the shelter, their body
heat immediately adding to the rising temperature. Obi-Wan eyed
the clear jug in Padm?'s hand. This time, he propped himself
up on his elbows while she gave him a drink.
Obi-Wan grimaced. "That's terrible water."
"I know," Padm? said. "Purification tablets
only do so much to make salt water drinkable."
With a nod, Obi-Wan laid back. His energy was returning, but
he didn't see any reason to exert himself at the moment. He wanted
to be as rested as possible before facing Dooku. Something that
would happen soon, he was certain.
"Master? May I ask what happened? I was so sure ... I
mean, when you never surfaced ..."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, only to have a flood of memories overtake
him. The water pouring into the ship with such force he knew he
could never get past its flow. Getting his breather in place with
seconds to spare. Anchoring himself while water flooded the ship
and pulled it under the surface. The dive to the ocean floor,
too fast, almost causing him to black out. The jarring impact.
Swimming out the hole Anakin had carved and getting clear of the
ship before it slid off the shelf that had temporarily arrested
its descent. Swimming back to the surface, slowly, so bends didn't
incapacitate him. Too slowly.
Surfacing to ... nothing. No raft in sight. No answer to his
call. Just a wall of pain. And the realization Anakin thought
him dead. Hours of crawling through the ocean, mostly underwater
where the surface waves didn't bother him. Endless swimming, floating
on the surface to rest, followed by more swimming. Fighting currents,
one predatory fish, and closer to shore, the rip tide that had
almost dragged him back to the depths. His connection with the
Force becoming tenuous as his energy waned.
Obi-Wan frowned. He didn't recall the last kilometer or so.
He remembered surfacing and seeing the island, silhouetted by
the light of five moons, unsure whether he had the strength to
reach the shore. But after that ... he couldn't say whether he
swam the distance or was carried by the rising tide.
"Master? Are you okay? If you'd rather rest some more
..." Anakin trailed off into a quiet sigh. Not quite frustration,
but edging that way.
"No. I don't want to sleep any more." Obi-Wan took
a few breaths, centering himself, then, as a Jedi reporting to
the Council, he recited what had happened after he had levitated
Artoo out of the opening with rather more force than necessary.
When he finished, the silence was almost as thick as the heat.
Finally, Anakin said, "See? Didn't I tell you he was stubborn?"
"Ani, that's terrible." Padm? took Obi-Wan's
hand, her fingers running over his knuckles. "We're both
very thankful you're so ... tenacious, Obi-Wan."
"My padawan's assessment is a fair one, Senator. But I
do appreciate your concern."
"Concern?" Padm? said. "Anakin was ...
You have no idea how -"
...distraught Anakin had been, Obi-Wan finished silently.
Oh, he knew. He had felt the fear. It was heartening in one aspect,
but totally inappropriate. A Jedi should never be ruled by his
feelings to the point of incapacity. Anakin should never have
shut himself off the way he did. But Obi-Wan couldn't bring himself
to point out that fact. He knew the pain of losing his master.
After all, it was a flash of inappropriate emotion - anger -
that had given him the wherewithal to defeat that Sith creature
when Qui-Gon had been killed. A moment of pure rage born of pain.
One that still shook him if he unlocked the memory. Yoda was the
only one who knew of it - the Jedi master had searched his soul
and declared him free of the tainted shadow.
Obi-Wan's diligence against a repetition of the event was extreme.
As was his concern when his padawan exhibited impatience, even
hints of anger. Obi-Wan knew the vile taste of darkness. He sometimes
wondered if he were too hard on his padawan in his efforts to
Pushing to a sitting position, Obi-Wan studied the rocky beach
beyond their shelter. Slender shadows falling to the east. Past
midday. He suddenly felt that they needed to be moving.
"I don't suppose either one of you has a stash of nutrient
bars tucked away?" Obi-Wan asked.
"No," Anakin replied. "Do you?"
Obi-Wan checked a pouch. He pulled out a single bar, its wrapping
sodden. He opened it and sniffed, unable to hide his grimace.
"A bit salty, I'm afraid." He held it out. "Any
In unison, Anakin and Padm? said, "I'll stick to
Tossing the bar aside, Obi-Wan said, "Good choice. Now
let's see this island that harbors Dooku's next trap."
Obi-Wan crawled into the open. He sat back on his heels and
looked around. Ocean in front of them, cliffs behind, draigons
overhead. Obi-Wan blinked.
Draigons. His mind folded. An emergency stopover at a nameless
planet on the way to Bandomeer. He shook his thoughts clear and
scanned the cliffs, noting the caves dotting the rock faces -
caves dug by the sharp-clawed draigons. How had Dooku found this
place? And why?
Deep down, Obi-Wan recognized that he was bothered by how much
Dooku knew of his own years as a padawan. Obi-Wan had met Dooku
a few times, but only in passing. It was obvious that Qui-Gon
had remained close to his former master, to the point of discussing
his own padawan's successes and failures. Likely Qui-Gon had sought
Dooku's advice when he could. For how many years? Right to the
end, when Obi-Wan's and Qui-Gon's differing philosophies had caused
friction between them? Friction, Obi-Wan reminded himself, but
never disunion. They had always worked and fought as a team, their
bond forging them into a single unit.
Something he had always strived for with his own padawan. Something
he had never quite achieved. Another failure. No. Obi-Wan
rejected the negative thought. Dooku was waiting. There was no
room for failure this day, not even for thought of failure.
Obi-Wan stood, pleased he felt no weakness in his legs. The
Force had restored his energy. His fingers rested against his
lightsaber."Have you searched for Dooku's lair?"
Anakin and Padm? flanked him. His padawan said, "A
little. I didn't want to explore too far afield with you ..."
He gave Obi-Wan a quizzical glance. "Are you sure you feel
up to facing Dooku, Master?"
"Very sure. Now, what did you discover?"
Anakin pointed at a promontory that stood out from the nearest
cliff like one of the free-standing towers on Coruscant. "I
can't explain it exactly, but near the top of that outcropping,
there's ... a presence. Not Jedi, but ... with echoes of it."
Obi-Wan nodded. "Who else but Dooku? Very good, Padawan."
He squinted as he studied the slender cone of rock, with tapering
sides, not quite vertical, that would make for a relatively easy
climb. "I don't see any cave openings up there." After
another moment's scrutiny, he said, "There's something -
a discoloration in the rock."
"It could be the play of light," Anakin suggested.
"Or it could be Dooku concealing an entrance." Obi-Wan
glanced at Padm?, then Anakin. "There's only one way
to find out."
"We're going to climb up there?" Padm? sounded
Obi-Wan tilted his head. "Your leg is still recovering.
I think you should stay behind with Artoo."
"Not a chance. There's extra carbon rope with the raft.
I'll tether myself to Ani."
Obi-Wan heard the obstinacy in her tone. And they called him
stubborn. He turned his gaze back to the waiting precipice.
"I won't let her fall, Master." Anakin paused. "We
did have some difficulty with those draigons on the raft. If they
spot us on the cliff, we won't have any protection."
"How did you defend against them on the raft?" Obi-Wan
"With the Force."
"And I can assure you that the Force will be with us on
that cliff, young one. You should know that by now."
Do you know I'm here, Dooku? Obi-Wan flung the silent
challenge at the towering rock. Prepare yourself to meet my
blade. Unless you cede, its justice will be swift and sure.
Lowering the electro-binoculars, Yan Dooku smiled. He knew
Kenobi had survived. The fool didn't have sense enough to succumb
to a simple death like drowning.
It wouldn't be long now. He relished the coming confrontation.
It was not just his master's vengeance that would be meted
out this day. Obi-Wan Kenobi would pay for both the deaths he
had caused all those years ago on Naboo - though Master Sidious
need never know about his desire to avenge Qui-Gon. The last pure
acolyte of the Living Force. If there had been more like him,
more willing to stand up and do as the Force willed instead of
what the Council demanded, perhaps Yan would not have forsaken
the Order ... But in the end even Qui-Gon had rejected Yan's quest
for understanding the arts few had the courage to even think
about, never mind study. Their convictions had diverged on
that one point, and though it had declined after Kenobi's initial
betrayal, their friendship had remained. Until Kenobi had failed
to protect his master.
Yan scanned the sky, green when seen through the amber hologram
screen that hid his sanctuary from the ravenous eyes above. Green
with a few golden clouds floating on the breeze. Quite pleasant.
A perfect day for a Jedi to die.
"Freeze," Anakin whispered.
The others did so, Obi-Wan above him, Padm? below him.
For what had to be the tenth time, Anakin extended himself through
the Force, entering the mind of the draigon falling from the sky
toward them. He planted the vision of rock, just rock, nothing
to eat on the cliff. He pictured the ocean. A fish. Big, green,
A gust of air ruffled his clothes as a translucent leather
wing, twice his own height, flapped less than a meter from his
face. The draigon caught an air current and drifted out to sea.
"That was a little too close," whispered Obi-Wan.
"Sometimes I think you enjoy seeing how long you can leave
it before you turn them away."
"Not true, Master. This one was very hungry."
"Well, I have no desire to see myself served up as the
main course for a nest of squawking baby draigons." Obi-Wan
Anakin grimaced at the image that brought to mind. "Nor
do I, Master." Drowning was bad enough; how could he explain
that one to Master Yoda? He reached for the next handhold,
taking extra care to remain aware of his surroundings. He was
glad they were almost there, and that the steep climb wasn't overly
difficult, just time-consuming. Still, the combination of physical
and mental exertion was draining.
Minutes later, he sensed the rope go taut a nanosecond before
it happened. Below him, Padm? stifled a gasp as she slipped.
Anakin braced, barely giving at all when the rope jerked against
his waist. He peered under his right arm, watching as Padm?
regained her footing, then gave him the okay signal. The rope
slackened as she pulled herself up. Force, but Padm? was
brave. This was the third time she had slipped. The first time
she had cried out, but now that she knew Anakin wouldn't let her
fall, she was close to silent.
Anakin shifted his weight and allowed himself a moment's rest,
pressed against the cliff. A rock jutted against his belt, digging
his med-kit pouch into his side. He could feel the outline of
the holocron. He peered out at the watery horizon and wished he
had left it in his cabin. It had been in his hand as he had searched
the room for a hiding place, but at the last second ... he had
slipped it back into the pouch. That holocron should be at the
bottom of the ocean right now. That's where it belonged. Not -
Inhaling sharply, Anakin pushed all thought of the holocron
aside. Focus on the moment. He lifted his gaze, studying the rock
for his next handhold while his artificial limb held him securely
He had finally found a use for his metal hand. With a thought,
he had deactivated the pain signals, so it remained unaffected
by scrapes and bruises - unlike his aching left hand. He found
himself relying on it more as they ascended the cliff, knowing
its grip would not fail, knowing he could trust his and Padm?'s
safety to its golden fingers.
Above him, Obi-Wan stopped frequently, clinging to the rock
face as he marshaled his strength. Anakin suspected he was coming
close to overtaxing himself after exhausting himself in the ocean
such a short time ago, but there was no point in saying anything
now. They were over three-quarters of the way to the top. Obi-Wan
only had to find the energy to go a short distance more.
And then he had to face Dooku.
Anakin shunted aside his negative thoughts. And was immediately
glad he did. Another draigon was heading toward them, drifting
in downward spirals. This one was only curious. Anakin stretched
out through the Force and easily turned it aside.
Peering upward, Anakin saw that Obi-Wan was only meters from
a ledge that was directly below the increasingly visible hologram
of rock. From this angle the holo shimmered in the light, like
a midday mirage on Tatooine. Anakin paused to rest again, letting
his prosthetic take most of his weight, as he tracked Obi-Wan's
progress. He felt Padm?'s hand brush his heel, but didn't
look down. Obi-Wan was trembling, ever so slightly.
As Anakin watched, his master's grip gave way.
Obi-Wan felt himself sliding. Down the slope. Into the past.
His fingers brushed over a crack and he jammed them in, his
left shoulder wrenching as his slide came to an abrupt halt. Finding
purchase for his feet, he hugged the warm rock and squeezed his
Now he knew why Dooku had chosen this place. Another reminder
of failure. It was here that a young boy, aching to be Qui-Gon
Jinn's padawan, had finally realized his dream was dead. That
Qui-Gon didn't want him, would never want him. The pain - the
agony of defeat - rose, fresh as the day he had first felt it
almost twenty-three years ago. Obi-Wan exhaled. No. He pushed
past the pain to touch the Force. The Light absorbed and dissipated
the remembered hurt. This place had not been the end of the path,
but merely a rocky beginning that he and Qui-Gon had overcome.
It had strengthened their bond, not weakened it.
Obi-Wan smiled. Dooku had not chosen wisely this time.
"Are you okay, Master?" came a whisper from below.
"Yes, Padawan. More than okay."
Feeling suddenly invigorated, Obi-Wan pulled himself up the
remaining three meters to the ledge and settled down on it to
await his padawan's arrival. He slipped into a light meditation
that was more reflection than contemplation. He lifted his face
to the warm sunlight, recalling sparring and laughter and learning.
Battling together, healing together, meditating together. Master
and padawan. Together. More than just teacher and student. More
than comrades in arms. Not quite father and son. But friends.
The breeze caressed his cheek and Obi-Wan's eyes sprang open.
Master? He shook himself and watched Anakin as he helped
Padm? onto the ledge. The Force seemed to whisper, and
he tilted his head to listen. He hadn't been enough of a friend
to his padawan, too much the teacher, too focused on being a good
master. Obi-Wan nodded. That needed to change. Luminara had hinted
at that fact. He only hoped it wasn't too late.
Anakin echoed Obi-Wan's cross-legged position. Padm?
slumped against Anakin, massaging her thigh. His left arm draped
across her shoulders. Obi-Wan studied them. In ways, they seemed
to have become more of a team in a few short months than he and
Anakin had ever been. Which made it less likely Anakin would leave
Padm?, and more likely he would be banished from the Order.
Obi-Wan looked away. That worry was a distraction he could ill
afford right now.
"How long do you want to rest, Master?"
"I had fifteen minutes while I waited for you. We don't
want to try Dooku's patience too much, my young padawan. Five
minutes more, then if you feel ready, I think we should proceed."
"Very well, Master. I'm ready when you are."
After a few more moments of letting the Force refresh him,
Obi-Wan stood, his head just reaching the bottom of the hologram
and what could now be discerned as a cave entrance.Anakin crouched
and motioned for Padm? to stand. Of the three, she looked
the least prepared to face conflict - the climb had strained
her injured leg.
Obi-Wan nodded at his apprentice. "Follow my lead."
The young couple exchanged glances. Obi-Wan quirked a brow.
So they had discussed his right of leadership on this mission,
had they? They would just have to live with it. Dooku had set
a trap for him - he wasn't about to let anyone else walk
into it first.
Without another word, Obi-Wan curled his fingers over the ledge
and sprang up with a boost from the Force. He passed through the
electrical warmth of the hologram and landed a meter inside the
cave, hand on his lightsaber. He was greeted by silence.
As he looked around, he heard Anakin helping Padm? up
from the ledge. The large cave, almost circular, stretched the
whole diameter of the rock spire. On the far side, another hologram
hid a second entrance. Sunlight filtered through the holo, casting
an amber glow over everything.
Dooku stood silhouetted against that far opening. Silent and
Obi-Wan took two steps forward. The cave had once been two
semi-circular caverns and now only a narrow stone arch separated
them. This half contained nothing but an acceleration couch with
two silver crates stored under it. Another step. No obvious signs
of technology. This place was no command center. It served a single
"Greetings, Master Kenobi." Dooku's deep voice echoed
slightly in the empty chamber. "How pleasant of you to visit
me in my humble abode."
"How could I refuse such a ... carefully worded invitation?"
Obi-Wan continued his cautious approach, eyes scanning the cave,
ears listening for the arrival of a ship carrying droids. He glanced
at Padm? and Anakin, noting his padawan's tense posture,
lightsaber already unclipped.
Anakin started forward. Obi-Wan held up his hand and motioned
for the padawan to circle around to the left while he continued
a direct approach. "Together this time, Padawan."
Amusement entered Dooku's face. He arched his dark brows. "Surely
you haven't come to receive a second lesson in defeat, Master
Kenobi? There is no Yoda to save you this time, you know."
Obi-Wan smiled. Dooku's needling couldn't harm him while he
was centered in the Force. He crossed under the stone arch and
paused, four meters away from the older man. "You'll find
I'm a quick learner, Dooku. But I have no desire to fight you.
In fact, I need to thank you."
Though it was quickly hidden, the surprise that flashed across
Dooku's face was satisfying. From the corner of his eyes, Obi-Wan
saw Anakin stop and glare at him as if he'd sprouted brain tails.
Dooku lifted his chin, his silver beard appearing gold in this
light. "May I ask why ...?"
Inclining his head, Obi-Wan said, "For leading me to Melida/Daan,
of course. What you meant for harm, the Force used for healing
"How unfortunate that your ... enlightenment will not
save you." Dooku's smile didn't reach his eyes. He pointed
at the near wall.
Obi-Wan spun, but too late. A blue forcefield sprang into existence
between the two chambers, powered by transmitters hidden in the
arch. On the other side of the energy barrier, Anakin and Padm?
stared at him, horror stamping their faces.
Yan could feel the fear emanating from young Skywalker, and
he reveled in it. The padawan was terrified of losing his master
- and well he should be. Yan clasped his hands behind his back
and strolled along the mouth of the cave before turning to face
"Do you understand, yet, why I have chosen this setting,
Kenobi? Why I led you first to Melida/Daan before bringing you
here? Please, share your new insights."
Kenobi's hand flexed over his lightsaber, but he left his weapon
untouched. His gaze kept flicking to the forcefield. Yan knew
the truth would occur to the man soon - even Jedi caught on eventually.
Finally, Kenobi said, "You wanted to crush me with the
reminder of how I betrayed the Jedi."
"Not just the Jedi, young fool."
Kenobi conceded the point with a nod. "True. I betrayed
my master, but he taught me the power of forgiveness."
Yan glimpsed Senator Amidala limping around the perimeter of
the other chamber. He dismissed her. The padawan stood before
the glimmering barrier, repeatedly clenching his golden fist,
frustrating rolling off him with the power of the ocean's surf.
And something else. Yan narrowed his gaze. A faint shadow of ...
himself. Well, well. He had received the transmission that the
holocron had been activated, and now Skywalker carried it with
him. Odd that Kenobi hadn't mentioned it.
Yan's gaze flicked back to the open features of his opponent.
Kenobi didn't know about the holocron. How interesting. In a gesture
of studied grace, Yan unhooked the chained medallions holding
his cape and swirled it over his head before tossing it aside.
The metal clinked as it landed on the floor. Kenobi tensed, ever
With a dismissive flick, Yan said, "Forgiveness is a sign
of weakness. Only one response is suitable for betrayal."
He paced away from the lip of the cave's mouth. "Qui-Gon
never wanted to take you as his padawan, you know. Yoda forced
him to it." Kenobi's stillness was irritating. "He didn't
want you, just as you didn't want your padawan."
A trace of hostility rippled out from Skywalker. Yan smiled.
"Did Yoda force you to it, as well?"
"No." Kenobi finally moved, sidling toward the center
of the floor. "Against Master Yoda's wishes, I took Anakin
as my padawan, to fulfill a promise to my master." Kenobi
glanced askance at the boy. "I have never regretted my decision."
"How fortunate for you. I'm sure Qui-Gon did regret
his. In fact, I know he did." Yan dropped his voice
to a whisper. "Twice betrayed."
Kenobi returned to stillness. Yan could see the understanding
beginning to dawn as the Jedi's gaze jumped from him to the forcefield
and back. "You wish for my death to echo Qui-Gon's. With
my padawan watching helplessly." His jaw clenched.
A reaction at last. Yan was beginning to wonder if the fool
was more machine than man. He nodded. "The only suitable
death for one such as you, for a master of betrayal."
Skywalker began to pace along the wall of energy, his entire
focus on his master. The senator continued running her hand along
the cave wall. If not for Master Sidious's express orders against
it, he would have enjoyed dispatching them after he was finished
"If you think to shock me with such a charge, you're sadly
mistaken, Dooku. I've accused myself of the same thing for years.
But again, I must thank you for opening my eyes to something that
only became clear when you activated that forcefield." Kenobi
glanced at his padawan and Yan could almost feel the pulse of
warning in that look, the signal for the boy to calm himself.
It didn't work. Kenobi said, "Qui-Gon ran ahead. When he
should have waited for me to back him up, he didn't. Just as I
should have kept my padawan at my side while approaching you.
We both cut ourselves off. I carry a measure of blame for his
death, but ... so does he." There was wonder in Kenobi's
voice. Yan pressed his lips together. The fool continued, "Anakin
will carry no blame for my death, if it comes this day."
His expression turned thoughtful. "Some believe you left
the Order because of Qui-Gon's death. And now you stand denouncing
me. You've turned yourself into a judge, but you judge wrongly,
Dooku. I ask you to reconsider. Return to the Temple with me.
Stand before the Council and explain your actions, accept your
responsibility. I will guarantee your safety if you need such
Shock and growing anger radiated from Skywalker. Kenobi's offer
did not sit well with his padawan.
"Very good, Kenobi." Yan stepped toward the man.
"Ever the faithful Jedi, seeking reconciliation even where
there can be none. Seeking peace when what you desire is vengeance.
Think of all the dead Jedi on Geonosis and ask yourself if you
truly wish to safeguard me, the author of such destruction.
Those Jedi were as foolish as you, Kenobi. They only met the fate
they deserved, as you will meet the fate you deserve." He
glanced at the padawan, who was nearly quivering with frustration,
his lightsaber clenched in his left hand. "Prepare to see
your master die, boy." Hatred filled Skywalker's eyes, almost
causing Yan to laugh. He was going to enjoy this.
Yan unclipped his lightsaber. His thumb hovered over the switch.
He felt the power swelling and welcomed the familiar sensation.
Anakin's anger was palpable. Obi-Wan tried to connect through
their bond, but it was walled off. Raising his lightsaber, he
said, "Padawan, calm yourself." The words had some effect:
he felt Anakin's turmoil shift as he struggled to rein in his
"Yes, boy," Dooku said. "You must greet your
master's fate with Jedi acceptance."
Obi-Wan could sense Anakin's control slip. He suddenly realized
that Dooku was playing on Anakin's fear to distract him. Though
he regretted the necessity, he set aside concern for his padawan
and focused on Dooku alone.
As if sensing his attitude shift, Dooku assumed the en garde
position. Obi-Wan did likewise, shifting his weight to the balls
of his feet. For a moment, gazes locked and neither moved. Dooku
powered up his blade.
The forcefield winked out.
Obi-Wan stepped back, repelled by the shock of anger that burst
from Dooku. The Count flung out his hand. Blue lightning streamed
from his fingertips, hurling Padm? away from the hidden
control panel she had discovered. She struck the wall with a thud
and crumpled to the floor.
"No!" Anakin's tormented wail echoed as he leaped
and blocked the lightning with his lightsaber.
Dooku waved his hand. The acceleration couch sailed toward
Anakin, clipping his arm as he jumped back. His lightsaber appeared
to be yanked from his grip by an invisible hand. It flew between
Dooku and Obi-Wan, out the cave's entrance. Anakin charged at
"Enough!" Obi-Wan's command halted the padawan. "Anakin,
see to Padm?. This isn't your fight. I will handle it."
Emotions warred over Anakin's features. He clearly wished to
inflict harm upon Dooku - reason enough to keep him out of the
way. He was perilously close to losing all control. Obi-Wan silently
willed his padawan to back down.
"Yes, boy. Stay out of the way, or you will lose more
than just an arm." Dooku gave Obi-Wan a condescending look.
"Let your master die the honorable Jedi death he so desires."
Anakin shot Obi-Wan a glance, one that seemed to contain a
shadow of regret. Obi-Wan nodded and Anakin ran to Padm?,
who was just beginning to stir. Obi-Wan fixed his regard on his
"Not quite the well-trained puppet that you are, Kenobi.
Too bad you will never get the chance to rectify your poor instruction."
Obi-Wan smiled. "Do you plan to kill me with words, Dooku?
You certainly seem to have a surplus of them. If you seek to gain
the satisfaction of seeing me strike first, you will be waiting
a very long time."
Dooku sneered. "Ah, yes. Another foolish Jedi teaching
rears its head. Defense, never attack."
Instead of responding, Obi-Wan let himself savor the refreshment
of the Force infusing the stillness within. He waited, saber unlit,
for Dooku to make the first move. The golden light filling the
cave glimmered with the awareness of impending conflict. On the
edge of Obi-Wan's awareness, Anakin's presence hunkered, not focused
on him, but on Padm?. For all intents, it was just Dooku
and himself, as if the forcefield were still activated.
Dooku struck. The blow drove Obi-Wan back a step. Blue and
red blades spat as they locked. Obi-Wan had forgotten how strong
Dooku was - strength enhanced by darkness. He twisted his wrist,
forcing the red blade to the side.
The battle began in earnest. Furious strikes and counterstrikes.
Dooku stayed close, seeking to breach the inner circles of defense.
Obi-Wan repelled his attacks. Step by step, he retreated under
the onslaught. It took all his concentration to ward off Dooku,
anticipate his moves, block his laser-fast blows.
Sweat trickled down Obi-Wan's neck. He wheeled away from an
undercut. A whisper in the Force sent him backpedaling out of
Dooku's reach. His chest heaved as he listened.
Dooku advanced, victory gleaming in his eyes. He circled. Obi-Wan
pivoted. Dooku attacked. Obi-Wan parried and retreated out of
blade's reach. In a heartbeat, the Force reminded Obi-Wan of the
other reason this place was important to his past - and
his future. It was the first place where he had ever given himself
totally to the Force, in a desperate battle against swarming draigons.
Nothing held back. Not even his life.
Marshaling his strength, Obi-Wan warded off another flurry
of blows and retreated again. He could see the certainty of his
death in Dooku's expression. Obi-Wan offered acceptance of that
fact to the Force - he would fight the remainder of this battle
as it should have begun: not anticipating, but letting the Force
Letting go ... letting the Force ...
Obi-Wan smiled as the Light heeded his invitation and took
control of his fate.
Foolish Jedi. Defeat was at hand, and he smiled.
Yan felt the re-direction of the Force. He hesitated, taking
in Kenobi's serene countenance. From a long-forgotten corner of
his mind, Master Yoda's voice whispered, "Luminous beings
At the intrusion, his thoughts turned to stone. Kenobi's pathetic
powers were no match for his. Luminous or not, this Jedi's crude
matter was about to be dispatched.
Had Qui-Gon exhibited the same tranquillity before his death?
Quite likely. His padawan had never feared death.
Yan lunged. His red blade hissed. Kenobi parried the attack
and fought back with a skill that surprised Yan. Early in the
fight, he had wondered if Kenobi had been studying sword play
- now he knew.
The battle fluctuated, neither side giving way. Yan broke off
and circled warily, looking for an opening. His breath was coming
hard and he worked to control it. "I commend you, Master
Kenobi. You haven't been idle since last we met." He sought
to give himself a moment to regroup.
Kenobi didn't move, not even to protect his back when Yan paced
behind him. "A Jedi never passes an opportunity to study
an opponent. I'm not quite the fool you take me for, Dooku."
"I prefer Count Dooku, or my lord, if you
"A stolen title doesn't make you worthy of respect, ...
Yan channeled the flare of anger to his waning energy. He would
not be pricked by mere words. He said, "I will enjoy teaching
your padawan learner the true nature of the Force, Kenobi."
The Jedi blinked. As quickly as Yan had felt the tremor of
unease, it was gone. Yan circled again, until he faced Kenobi's
back. He thrust his blade forward.
Kenobi spun and blocked the strike.
The Force consumed Obi-Wan, transformed him into a mere conduit
for its power. He had felt such purity of Light only a few times
in his life as a Jedi, and each time it filled him with awe of
the majesty that was the Force.
Dooku was transparent. The Force revealed his every move before
he made it, exposed every tell-tale muscle twitch and eye blink.
Time slowed, lengthened, allowing Obi-Wan ample time to follow
where the Force lead in a deadly dance as intricate and beautiful
as the Force itself. Obi-Wan gave no thought for himself; there
was only the Force.
In the back of his mind, he could feel Anakin and Padm?'s
attention, their silent encouragement feeding into the positive
flow of energy.
And he could feel the warmth of Qui-Gon's smile.
Yan stumbled back, barely shifting his blade in time to block
Kenobi's blow. Frustration roiled through his veins. His age was
working against him. He hadn't thought the contest would become
one of perseverance.
For the first time he considered the possibility of defeat.
The thought summoned a fresh wave of wrath and power. And a vague
disquiet deep in the shadows of his mind - a disapproval that
prevented him from using less than honorable means to defeat Kenobi,
that came from ... he wasn't sure.
Yan fought, wielding the full force of his anger, raining down
a storm of powerful blows. He banished the disquiet, banished
the doubt. But still, he couldn't breach Kenobi's defenses.
If he could not achieve physical conquest, he would do the
next best thing. The victory was his, regardless, for as long
as Kenobi's padawan kept his holocron a secret.
Yan reached out his thoughts and called the creature chained
to his will.
Kenobi pressed the attack, forcing Yan backwards until he felt
the gaping void behind him. As Kenobi arched the blue blade toward
his torso, Yan smiled.
And powered down his lightsaber.
The red blade vanished. Obi-Wan stemmed his attack, his blue
blade halting only centimeters from Dooku's chest.
Mockery entered the older man's eyes. "Ever the Jedi.
It makes you quite predictable, Master Kenobi."
Obi-Wan didn't answer as he sought to regulate his breathing.
Neither did he move his blade. He noticed Dooku's heel sliding
Anakin bellowed. Obi-Wan half turned to see his padawan charging,
then spun back as Dooku launched himself through the hologram
and out of the cave. Anakin lunged at him and overbalanced. Obi-Wan
snatched his padawan's tunic hem and yanked him back to solid
Switching off his lightsaber, Obi-Wan watched Dooku land on
the back of a draigon. The creature flew over the ocean, its great
wings flapping with lazy grace.
"You had him!" Anakin shouted.
"Calm yourself, Padawan."
A ship dropped out of a cloud and vectored toward the draigon.
Dooku's sailship - Obi-Wan recognized it from Geonosis. The craft
matched the draigon's speed. Dooku reached up to grab a cable
Obi-Wan couldn't see, and was lifted off the draigon's back.
"You could have ended this! Why didn't you kill him when
you had the chance?" Anakin shook his golden fist in Obi-Wan's
face. "He deserves to die!"
Obi-Wan turned from watching Dooku's escape, his expression
severe. "A Jedi does not kill unarmed opponents, my
very young padawan."
Nostrils flaring, Anakin flung his arm outward. "You let
him get away! The victory was yours!"
"A victory gained by murder is the meanest defeat. Outcome
is not everything. If you compromise your integrity to achieve
your goal, all you are ... is compromised. And the Force is no
longer with you. A Jedi without the Force as his ally is a mere
shadow of what he was meant to be. I know who I am, young
one. Compromise is not an option." Obi-Wan peered across
the rocky headlands, turned golden brown by the hologram, butting
against emerald waters.
Obi-Wan felt Anakin's anger seeping away. They would have to
talk about this further. A glint caught his eye. But not right
now. Apparently, they were about to receive company.
Glancing at Padm?, who had joined them and was holding
Anakin's hand, Obi-Wan hesitated. Was her presence the only reason
Anakin had released his ire? Setting aside the thought for later
consideration, he noted she appeared unscathed by Dooku's attack.
He nodded. She returned the gesture.
"You distracted Dooku at a critical moment, Senator, finding
that control panel. I hope you are not paying too dearly for your
bravery." When Padm? shook her head, Obi-Wan asked,
"Does the panel you discovered also control the holograms?"
"Yes," Padm? replied.
"Anakin, de-activate this one so our guests can see where
we're situated." He indicated the blip that was taking the
form of a Republic Cruiser.
"I'll do it." Padm? headed across the cave
with a barely discernible limp.
The hologram winked out. The cruiser approached the cave entrance
and hovered, rotating and sliding into position so the landing
ramp was aligned with the mouth of the cave. The ramp extended
to reveal a very small, very familiar form.
"Master Yoda!" Anakin cried. "How did you know
where to find us? You're too late, though. Master Kenobi ... let
Yoda's ears flattened. His lips pursed. He leaned on his gimer
stick and said nothing.
Obi-Wan folded his arms. "You used us as bait." He
caught sight of Jedi robes in the shadows behind Yoda. His cloudy
gaze held Yoda's green one. "No, that's not quite right.
We were ... a distraction. Don't you think I had the right to
know such a thing?"
Yoda lifted his chin. "Use that tone with me, you will
not, Master Kenobi. Tell you, I could not, for Dooku would have
seen the knowledge in your eyes. Appeared alone, you had to, or
the surprise was lost."
Obi-Wan snorted silently. "Anakin was right. You were
"Wasted time, we did, tracing our tracking device to the
bottom of the ocean."
"I'd offer to retrieve it for you, but I've had enough
swimming for quite some time." He had never dared, nor ever
been able to hold onto irritation when facing Yoda. He gave the
ancient Jedi master a slight smile. "Do you have room aboard
for a few passengers?"
Yoda's expression lightened; his green eyes sparked. "Room,
we have, Master Kenobi."
Obi-Wan inclined his head. "Thank you." He paused.
"Could we land on the beach for a few moments? We need to
retrieve Senator Amidala's droid and my padawan ... needs to find
Yoda directed a heavy scowl at Anakin. "Lightsaber, hmm?
A Jedi's life, his lightsaber is. Never, should a Jedi
lose it. Careless, that is."
Anakin lowered his head. "Yes, Master Yoda." From
the corner of his eye, he gave Obi-Wan a withering glance.
Obi-Wan swallowed his laughter and leaped across the small
gap to the landing ramp.
Obi-Wan finished his verbal report, the last words seeming
to echo around the Jedi Council chamber. He stood, hands clasped
before him, and stared over the heads of the only two masters
When neither Yoda nor Mace spoke, Obi-Wan's gaze drifted around
the perimeter of the room. It felt almost desolate with all the
other masters' chairs removed, a mere shell of what it had been.
Certainly not the focal point of power he remembered from when
he had served as Qui-Gon's padawan. The masters who had survived
Geonosis had abdicated their Council seats, opting to serve the
Jedi in the field where they were needed most. Only Mace and Yoda
remained, with the unanimous approval of the Jedi.
Still the silence stretched. Obi-Wan closed his eyes and strove
Mace finally spoke. "How did you feel about your padawan's
Staring into obsidian eyes, Obi-Wan repeated what was in his
written report and what he had already explained, "It took
me some time to realize, but ... mostly I felt betrayed."
"Now ... I have forgiven him. I could do no less than
my master did for me."
Mace leaned forward and studied Obi-Wan. Apparently satisfied,
he sat back. "Have you told him?"
Obi-Wan considered this. "Not in so many words, I suppose.
I should ... all things considered."
Yoda said, "And what things might those be?"
Obi-Wan gave Yoda a puzzled look. "Considering that he's
facing banishment, of course."
The two masters exchanged hooded glances. It was Yoda who broke
the awkward silence. "Know the will of the Council so well,
do you, Master Kenobi?"
A frown settled on Obi-Wan's brow as he stared at Yoda. "What
do you mean? Surely you aren't going to let him continue as a
Jedi? He has shown no remorse. He continues to refuse to consider
annulment of the marriage. We have no alternative but to -"
"Obi-Wan, you must understand." Mace stood, drawing
himself to his full height, forcing Obi-Wan to look up. "The
Dark Side is rampant right now. It cloaks its acolytes from our
view, including the Sith that has remained outside our abilities
to locate for over ten years. It draws powerful Jedi like Count
Dooku into its web of deceit. We cannot allow someone as
... gifted as Anakin Skywalker to venture out from under our protection.
He must remain a Jedi."
Blowing out a breath, Obi-Wan strove to come to terms with
what he was hearing. "I should very much like to know how
you plan to handle this illicit marriage then. Will you make it
public? Are Jedi now allowed to seek such intimacies, the prohibition
shattered by a headstrong teenager?"
Mace gave Obi-Wan a quelling look. "The marriage will
remain a secret, known only to the beings in this room, along
with those on Senator Amidala's staff who already know."
"That's ridiculous!" Obi-Wan spun and marched to
the window, to the spot where Even Piell used to sit. "I
refuse to be party to such a deception." He stared at the
late afternoon traffic; it blurred in his vision.
"You have no choice." Mace's tone was stony.
His padawan: the Chosen One, the exceptional one, and now ...
the exception to the rule. Resentment whispered through his thoughts;
he shunted it aside. Not turning, Obi-Wan braced his hands on
the ledge. "A Jedi always has a choice. The paths of obedience
and disobedience are always before him. This cannot be the will
of the Force. I cannot train Anakin under such conditions."
"Why not?" Yoda's voice grated across Obi-Wan's nerves.
Why not abandon integrity? Why not abandon truth? Obi-Wan unclenched
his jaw. "Because I will no longer have a shred of validity
in Anakin's eyes. Nothing I say will hold any authority. I assured
him that he would be facing banishment, as I live and breathe
the Jedi Code, I assured him. And now ..." His voice dropped
to a whisper. "... it appears I have lied. How can I possibly
continue as his master?" Pain knifed between his ribs. Pain
of defeat, of failure. He labored to accept it, to release it
to the Force.
"Very well," Yoda said.
Hope rose, soothed the hurt.
The ancient Jedi master said, "Too old he is, to be given
a different master. If continue to train him, you will not, then
take his trials, he will."
"No!" Obi-Wan spun around, horror welling up at the
thought. "You can't do that!"
"Master Kenobi, calm yourself." Yoda slapped the
tile floor with his stick.
"But you can't! He's not ready!"
"Stop! Difficult you are being, and tolerate it, I will
not. Do not speak again until under control, you are."
Obi-Wan glared, chest heaving. He closed his eyes and swallowed,
then sank to the floor and leaned against the wall below the window.
Cool seeped from the stone into his body. He focused on the caress
of its smooth touch, the fine grain of texture not even noticeable
through his tunic, except for his awareness through the Force.
The pattern of tile beneath him. Obi-Wan let the flow surround
him, infuse him, show him the truth. He caught an echo of a vision
that lingered in the room: a dark valley with multiple shadowy
paths. Perhaps he judged Yoda and Mace too harshly. They did only
what they thought best; they did not choose lightly to set aside
tradition and walk this questionable path.
When he opened his eyes, Obi-Wan stared at the chamber doors,
beyond which Anakin waited. No matter what, Anakin had now passed
out of his reach. He could no longer shape the young man's destiny.
As he accepted that painful truth, gave up all thought of control,
a burden lifted, replaced by the soothing presence of the Force.
Quietly, Obi-Wan said, "It doesn't feel right. I'm certain
that Anakin will be able to overcome any physical obstacle you
present to him. The more difficult, the more he will excel. But
he needs guidance. He is too often governed by his emotions. I
admit that Padm? is a calming influence in his life, but
Yoda said. "Know what happened on Tatooine, do you? When
young Skywalker found his mother?"
Obi-Wan didn't comment on the change of topic. "He told
me she died in his arms, that he had to fight his way out of the
"Mmm." Yoda's eyes were hooded. "Felt
nothing, you did, when he found her?"
"When Anakin was on Tatooine ... I was exploring Dooku's
lair on Geonosis. My senses were strangely muted - the cloaking
effects of Dooku's Dark Side powers, I expect. Then when I was
enjoying the hospitality of the dungeon, the forcefield restraints
were modulated such that I couldn't even sense Dooku when he stood
two meters away. Why do you ask?"
Obi-Wan almost scoffed. Yoda had a reason for everything he
did or said. He would have to question Anakin about the incident
again. He scowled, realizing he no longer held that right, that
Anakin was under no obligation to answer any of his queries.
Yoda said, "Afraid, you are."
The frown faded and a smile flitted over Obi-Wan's lips. Still
he stared at the door, tracing its sunburst patterns. Was the
sun rising or setting? "Only in the way a master worries
over and hopes for his padawan's success. I feel ... the Force's
presence. I know now the path I must walk. No, Master Yoda, I
am not afraid."
"Then accept the Council's ruling, you will?"
Obi-Wan inhaled several times, deep and slow. He rose and moved
to the center of the room, finally turning to face Yoda and Mace.
He studied each in turn, noting their serious expressions, their
concerned eyes. They were as doubtful as he. Even so, Obi-Wan
felt a familiar tug. Why would the Force lead them down such an
He bowed low, acquiescing to a presence only felt. "I
accept the will of the Force, Masters. May it be with us all."
As he spun to leave, he caught Yoda's mildly disapproving gaze.
He strode out of Council chambers that seemed suddenly devoid
Outside the chambers, Obi-Wan halted in front of Anakin and
folded his arms. The doors slid closed, shielding them from curious
eyes. First acknowledging Padm?'s presence with a nod,
he studied the young man for long moments. His padawan no more.
Concern darkened Anakin's blue eyes. Finally, some hesitation
over his fate, perhaps even remorse over his actions. Obi-Wan
arched one brow. No. Not likely.
Obi-Wan's own words filtered through his thoughts. Honor
is a choice. Obedience is a path we choose. It lay before
him now. The Force beckoned. It only required a single step. Each
moment was but a single step. Focus on the moment.
"Qui-Gon never let me forget that a Jedi's life is a hard
one," Obi-Wan said. "Not all are suited to it. But for
those who succeed, for those who do what they thought they could
not, the reward ... is truly knowing who they are. A priceless
gift that few receive."
He could see the knowledge in Anakin's eyes now - the certainty
that he was about to be cast out of the Jedi Order. Obi-Wan didn't
disavow Anakin of his notion. It was Yoda's place to reveal the
will of the Council, not his. Obi-Wan reached out and clasped
Anakin's shoulder. "I'm sorry I could not be the master you
needed." When Anakin would have spoken, Obi-Wan rushed ahead.
"I only have one thing left to offer you."
Obi-Wan dropped his hand and watched the creases on Anakin's
forehead deepen. No one could scowl quite so earnestly as his
pad-, as Anakin.
"What is it, Master?" the younger Jedi whispered.
"My friendship." Obi-Wan extended his right hand
and took the first step on the path.
Anakin stared at the offered hand with a blank expression that
turned to puzzlement when he lifted his face. "I don't understand,
A smile tugged at Obi-Wan's mouth as he savored the sweetness
of obedience. "My friends call me Obi-Wan." He shot
Padm? a wry glance. "I'm asking for the chance to
be a better friend than I was a master."
Anakin started to protest; Obi-Wan silenced him with a look.
He cleared his brow. Some habits would be difficult to break.
After searching Obi-Wan's face for a minute, Anakin reached
out with his metal hand. It was warm as it clasped Obi-Wan's.
The older Jedi nodded and released his grip. "Now, Pad-"
He shrugged and offered a slight smile. "Best not keep the
Council waiting any longer, Anakin." As the young man turned
away Obi-Wan whispered, " The Force be with you."
The chamber doors closed behind Anakin. Obi-Wan felt a worried
gaze. He set aside a faint sadness and turned to the young woman
still standing beside him. "Anakin will need you more than
A smile broke through her concern. "So I'm Padm?
again, am I?"
"If you can tolerate the friendship of one rather obnoxious,
"I might be able to ... if he will forget what I called
him during a trying time."
"Becoming my friend was a trial?"
"You're being deliberately difficult, Obi-Wan."
"But not obnoxious, I hope."
"I see what you're up to." She shot a glance at the
doors. "But, I'm afraid you failed, Master Kenobi. You can't
distract me from my worries today."
"Failure and I are old friends." He bowed, preparing
to take his leave.
The fear in Padm?'s voice stopped him. "What's
happening in there?"
"That's not for me to say." He reached out and traced
her jaw with his index finger. "You're a brave woman, Padm?.
You'll face whatever comes with grace. If you and Anakin ever
need my help ... just ask. I won't fail you again."
Obi-Wan wheeled and strode to the stairs. He jogged down a
level and slipped onto the balcony ringing the spire. Countless
times, he and Qui-Gon had discussed their Council debriefings
here, a tradition he had continued with Anakin. A sense of Qui-Gon
still lingered here; perhaps that was why Obi-Wan kept returning.
He longed to talk to his master, just one more time. But wishing
was pointless. Regardless, he knew that Qui-Gon would tell him
Let it go.
Obi-Wan's heart stopped. When it re-started, it was hammering.
He had often heard Qui-Gon's voice in his head, but had attributed
it to his own subconscious recalling his master's teachings. But
this ... this voice had been outside his head. Obi-Wan turned
slowly, his hands reaching behind to grip the balustrade. He searched
the empty balcony. There was something ...
He had heard it. He wasn't mad. Tentatively, Obi-Wan
said, "Master?" He felt suddenly foolish, speaking to
the air. Chiding himself, he stepped away from the rail.
Release it to the Force, Padawan.
Obi-Wan's knees wobbled. He grabbed the railing again and closed
his eyes, fighting back surging emotion. How could this be? He
took a shuddering breath. Did he care? It was real, that's all
"Why?" Obi-Wan whispered. "Why did you take
so long to come to me? I've needed your counsel so often ..."
You are ... difficult to connect with, my friend.
A strangled laugh escaped. Difficult. Anakin would be the first
to agree. "I failed you, Master. I didn't train him the way
Let it go.
Obi-Wan nodded. He would leave the past where it belonged.
It had been the Force's leading to offer Anakin his friendship,
and he had obeyed. They would be friends, he could feel
it. There was so much he wanted to tell Qui-Gon, so many questions
he wanted to ask. Obi-Wan smiled. "I talk to you sometimes,
you know, as if you're really in the room."
The smile turned to a broad grin. Obi-Wan opened his mouth
to speak, but was interrupted by pounding footsteps.
Luminara burst onto the balcony, looking as if she had run
up the spire's stairs instead of using the turbolift. No cloak,
head covering askew, chest heaving. Obi-Wan laughed, drawing her
puzzled gaze. As she walked toward him, she shed all signs of
upset, dignity and grace returning to her movements.
Halting before him, Luminara planted her hands on her hips
and turned her face up to his, subjecting him to close scrutiny.
"Obi-Wan, I thought ... I was certain I felt ... that you
needed me ..." Her voice trailed off and a slight pucker
appeared between her brows. "But you are ... fine. I can
feel your tranquillity." A scowl crept onto her brow. "Why
are you so peaceful?"
"My apologies. I can try to regain my previous state of
agitation, if you wish."
She tapped him on the chest. "Don't be foolish. What happened
in the Council? Can you talk about it?"
Obi-Wan shrugged. "I don't see why not. It will soon be
common knowledge." He released a slow breath. "Anakin
is to take his trials."
"But he's not ready, you've said so many times."
"My opinions on the matter are no longer relevant. I ...
need to tell you something, my friend, to have someone to whom
I can speak openly ..."
Slender dark brows arched. "Something I'm not supposed
"Your secret will be safe with me, Obi-Wan. You know that."
Hesitating, Obi-Wan stretched out his senses, expecting a cautionary
feeling, but the Force was silent. Thankfully. In remarkably few
sentences he detailed Anakin's secret marriage and what the Council
When he was finished, Luminara studied him for a moment. "You
were right that he was hiding something. More than either of us
ever imagined. I sense ... that you've already forgiven him. You've
accepted the Council's ruling and moved on." She reached
up and cupped her hand along his jaw. "I'm proud of you,
Laying his hand over hers, Obi-Wan smiled. "I've released
it all, my friend. My hopes, my disappointments. I see the path
before me - the path of obedience."
"Yes, you have released everything. I can feel
it." Luminara's expression turned questioning. "I know
I have no right to ask ..."
"Ask anything. You are my closest friend."
"That night, in your apartment ... What I saw in your
eyes that night is gone now, and I know it's for the best. I treasure
your friendship, Obi-Wan." She bit her dark bottom lip. "Now
that it isn't a problem, could we ... could you ..." She
took a sharp breath. "Would you kiss me? Just once?"
Obi-Wan stared. "But you were ..."
"So very tempted that night, Obi-Wan. If I hadn't tried
to flee, I might have ..."
"You want to kiss me." Amazement filled his thoughts.
"Oh, you can be so difficult sometimes, Obi-Wan."
Luminara slipped her hand from beneath his. "Yes. I wanted
to that night, and I want to right now. To ... see what it might
have been like."
"Several people have told me, today, how difficult I can
be." When Luminara would have stepped back, he rested both
hands on her shoulders. "I would very much like to kiss you,
Luminara. Just once." Obi-Wan smiled as he leaned toward
Let it go, Padawan.
Luminara's eyes grew wide. Obi-Wan touched his finger to her
lips and quietly said, "I will, Master. In a minute."
Obi-Wan stared into Luminara's vibrant blue eyes, and slid
his hand around to cup the back of her neck. Her hair teased his
fingers. Lost in the depths of her shimmering gaze, he lowered
his head until her breath whispered against his cheek. He closed
his eyes as their lips met.
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