Obi-Wan in disgrace. When I first saw that haunting E2 picture of Obi-Wan, head down, cloak pulled close, I wondered what could possibly bring him to ruin, if indeed, that is what the picture suggests. Though Obi-Wan's fate in this story is entirely my own creation, it is set solidly in E2 and hints strongly of E2 storylines. With the trailers now released, this story has already vaulted to the status of AU. Some people would ask, "Why bother?" I can only reply that the story demanded to be written.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi, do you fully understand the nature and seriousness of this tribunal?"
Clenching his jaw, Obi-Wan stared over Mace Windu's head into the clear blue Coruscant sky. He took a calming breath and said, "I do."
Sunlight flooded the Jedi Council chambers, throwing half of the council members into silhouette and half into high relief. Obi-Wan stood with his back to the silhouettes, facing Mace and Yoda. With their features partially in shadow, their expressions became even more unreadable. The presence of the twelve masters surrounding him was oppressive, and a chill clung to Obi-Wan, despite the comforting warmth of his cloak. Two steps behind and to the right, Anakin's barely concealed tension radiated outwards. It was tinged with a heat that worried Obi-Wan. Through their Master-Padawan bond, he sent a warning pulse urging caution.
Mace's mouth was moving. Obi-Wan blinked his thoughts into focus. Mace said, "I repeat, this hearing is being recorded. A copy of the recording will be made available to you if you request it. Is this understood?"
Obi-Wan's gaze flicked to the metal ball, with it's large eye, hovering just to the right of Mace. Three other vidcams were recording the proceedings, one on each side and one behind him. His every twitch would be analyzed. Obi-Wan nodded.
"Are you willing to lower your shields and allow your reactions to be made known to the members of the Council for the duration of the question period?"
Anticipation tinged the air. Anakin's silent 'No!' resounded through Obi-Wan's mind. The Jedi closed his eyes for a second and met Mace's intent black gaze. Clearly, he said, "I am."
"Please do so now," Mace replied.
Nodding, Obi-Wan cleared any residual emotion from his mind. That is what the Council would be monitoring; his thoughts would still be his own. Living with his shields in place was as natural as breathing after 34 years - they not only kept his emotions from others, they protected him from being inundated by the emotions of others. It took an effort of will to lower the shields completely, something he never did unless he was meditating in the Force. Twelve presences probed the deep space void that Obi-Wan opened to them. Hands clasped before him, Obi-Wan squeezed his fingers tightly to stop from shaking.
The minds withdrew, but their sharp regard remained focused on the lone Jedi, like scavengers waiting for the wounded prey to finally collapse so the feasting could begin. Obi-Wan closed his eyes and centered on his own breathing.
After a moment in which Obi-Wan sensed stirrings in the Force, Mace declared, "Let it be known that the members of the Jedi Council affirm that Obi-Wan Kenobi has willingly lowered his shields to submit to this examination." Mace paused, adding, "State, for the record, why you stand before this tribunal, Knight Kenobi, so that we may know you fully understand the charges you are facing."
Mace's formal tone felt like a slap in the face. Force, but I could come to despise the requirements of tradition. Obi-Wan gave thanks that he had rehearsed the answer to this question. "I am charged with gross misconduct and violating key precepts of the Jedi Code. In addition, civilian charges of destruction of property and piracy have been stayed pending the outcome of this hearing."
"And to what incident do these charges relate?"
"Ten days ago, while on a mission in the Duro system, I commandeered a Republic naval vessel and destroyed a ... production facility of a dubious nature."
"That you deemed to be dubious. That has yet to be determined." Oppo Rancisis spoke from behind Obi-Wan. The Jedi chose not to answer as he visualized the masses of flowing white hair that almost made the master look like a Wookiee. Bushy eyebrows were undoubtedly straining to meet in a fearsome scowl. Obi-Wan stared straight ahead, fixing on a spot just above Mace's dark brown scalp. He couldn't quite say he'd felt animosity in the comment by Master Rancisis, but neither had there been any encouragement. It could prove to be a long day.
Mace cleared his throat. "That seems as good a spot as any to begin the questioning. Tell us about this facility and why you were sent to investigate it."
"The details are in my report," Obi-Wan replied.
Mace arched one eyebrow and pointed a finger in the general direction of the vidcam above him. "For the record ... Knight Kenobi."
A whisper of disapproval brushed Obi-Wan's mind. Master Tiin exercising his telepathic abilities, no doubt. Obi-Wan stared at Mace while he decided how to proceed. "This Council sent me, along with my Padawan, to the Duro system to investigate odd rumors about a factory - rumors about evil experiments and unusual sightings. I found the rumors to be ... substantiated." He paused. "As you all know, the factory turned out to be a cloning facility."
"Had you ever seen a cloning facility before this?" Master Tiin asked.
"Then how could you know what you were looking at?" Tiin challenged.
"I understand the principles. I understand incubators. I understand row upon row of what looked to be modified bacta tanks occupied by human males that all had the same look about them. It wasn't difficult to reach the obvious conclusion."
"A lot of races bear the misfortune of 'all looking alike' to outsiders. You could have simply been standing in a medical research facility."
Obi-Wan felt a rising ire, which he easily dampened. He turned his head to address Tiin where he sat, two chairs from Yoda. "I am a human male, Master Tiin. I am able to differentiate amongst members of the species."
Tiin's leathery faced looked carved from stone. "Did you run a genetic sample? Did you ascertain that the beings were truly human, and not humanoid?"
"There was no need."
Obi-Wan snapped his gaze forward as Rancisis broke in. "Where there is room for error, there is need."
The Jedi clenched his fingers tightly once again. He would not rise to the bait. He would not give them the satisfaction of seeing him lose his composure. He could sense Anakin behind him, struggling to control himself, and longed to comfort his Padawan. The Council was too focused on him to notice Anakin. They should never have insisted the boy stand beside him through this. Maybe they were being kind. Maybe they were allowing him one ally in a hostile setting.
Mace's voice was quiet. "Why was there no need?"
Slowly, Obi-Wan replied, "You read my report."
The insistence of that soft voice drew Obi-Wan's gaze. He stared at Mace for a long time, then finally replied, "I stood in the presence of some of those men from the tanks. They were not human." He flexed his cramping fingers. "They were an abomination to the Force."
A ripple of disquiet ran through the circle of Jedi masters. It was Adi Gallia who put voice to what Obi-Wan suddenly knew every member was thinking. "You can't mean that sentient beings who are not human are ... abominations?"
Frustration was beginning to stir. Obi-Wan fought to keep the hard edge from his reply. "Of course that's not what I mean. They were like ... droids in casings of flesh. They did not register in the Force the way anything natural does. Their signatures were twisted somehow - completely unnatural, and tainted by the Dark Side."
"What do you know of the Dark Side?"
Obi-Wan shifted to face the Twilek master who had taken Ki-Adi-Mundi's seat on Council. "To my knowledge, I am the only one in this room who has been face to face with a Dark Side adept. I know exactly what it feels like."
A wave of compassion rolled over Obi-Wan, followed by Yaddle's quiet voice, "Perhaps, made you too eager to see the Dark Side, your encounter with the Sith warrior did. Perhaps, see darkness, you do, where exists, it does not."
The sight of Qui-Gon being run through by a red blade flashed across Obi-Wan's mind. Churning emotion forced him to take three calming breaths. The pain abated, but not before it was noted by every being present, he was sure. His voice was hoarse. "No. I know what I felt. Ask Anakin. He was there. He felt the same thing."
Anakin's cloak whispered as he made a move to step forward. Mace's hand shot up. "No. A Padawan is too much under the influence of his Master to be an effective witness."
The Padawan's frustration lashed out through the Force for a micro-second, causing Obi-Wan to wince. He said, "Then no purpose is served by his presence. I request you allow Anakin to withdraw from these proceedings."
"Denied." Mace's flat tone brooked no argument. "Master and Padawan always stand together, whether it be to face discipline or receive reward."
Obi-Wan inclined his head in acknowledgment. The Council went on to grill Obi-Wan regarding every aspect of what he'd felt. It was forty minutes before that avenue of inquiry finally ran its course. Obi-Wan's head was beginning to throb. He silently cursed his lack of sleep the previous night. This day was a critical juncture in his life - he could feel it - and the best he'd been able to do for most of the night was meditate and review his testimony.
After several moments of silence, Mace said, "Even if this Council agrees with your judgment that you were dealing with clones, that still doesn't explain why you felt driven to act so hastily." Obi-Wan opened his mouth to speak. Mace cut him off. "I know. I know. It's in your report. You claimed to gain access to computerized documents that implied these clones were to be used in a military conspiracy against the Republic. Yet you have no such documents. Your explanation of the files being coded with latent viruses that activated when you downloaded them, destroying everything on your datapad including visuals of the facility, seems almost too ... convenient."
Obi-Wan immediately bristled. "Are you implying that I'm lying, Mace?" As displeasure pelted him through the Force, Obi-Wan glanced at Yoda. You know I'd never lie, Yoda. Why aren't you saying anything? Anything at all. You haven't even asked a question. The diminutive Jedi Master pursed his lips and stared past Obi-Wan's shoulder with an unseeing gaze. Obi-Wan struggled to keep his shoulders square as the ire drained away. His gaze slipped out the window and he watched a passenger ship vectoring toward space.
"Are you lying, Obi-Wan?" Mace's voice had dropped. It shimmered with a dangerous air.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes. Let them probe his mind; he had nothing to hide. He stood, passive, waiting.
Again the voice intruded. "Are you lying?"
Softly, Obi-Wan replied, "Have you ever known me to lie, Mace? Has anyone on this Council? Do I have a history of deceit? Is there a reason, that I am unaware of, that leads you to question my veracity?"
The voice hardened. "For the record, Obi-Wan."
The Jedi's eyes flew open. He glared narrowly at Mace for a full thirty seconds, then bit out, "For. The. Record. No. I am not lying."
The silence stretched tautly until it was quivering. Obi-Wan forced his heartbeat to slow to its normal tempo. Force help me, I'm in real trouble here. Tension gripped his neck as he waited for the questioning to resume.
The Twilek master, Grif Doluna, said, "I fail to see the reasoning behind your haste. As we speak, a Senate committee is exploring the ethical considerations of cloning. Why did you not forward your findings to that committee for further consideration?"
One eyebrow twitched. Obi-Wan said, "There was no time to take it to committee, as noted in my report." His gaze bounced to Mace's and away. "Everything we uncovered suggested the conspirators were on the verge of implementing their plans. The large numbers of ... mature clones housed in barracks at the facility confirmed that finding."
Rancisis spoke up. "And who are these conspirators?"
"We weren't able to determine that."
"The members of the board of Trans-Galactic Enterprises, perhaps?"
"Perhaps," Obi-Wan replied mildly. "Since TGE owned the facility, that would be the logical place to begin an investigation."
"Do you have any idea of the uproar your actions have caused in the Senate?" asked Rancisis.
"Yes. TGE many not have Senate representation, but it holds an unhealthy measure of influence amongst a great many Senators." Obi-Wan paused. "Much as the Trade Federation did ten years ago."
"Enough," interrupted Mace. "Trans-Galactic Enterprises is not on trial at this hearing." He leveled a stare at Obi-Wan. "Slurs and innuendo are not tactics befitting a Knight of the Republic."
Obi-Wan bowed shortly. "My apologies, gentle masters. My remark was completely unwarranted." However true. "May I ask if a search is being conducted for the second facility."
"There has been no corroborating evidence to support your testimony of a second facility. No documents. No rumors."
"But there were several files clearly linking the Duro facility to another. A search must begin immediately."
"That's enough, Obi-Wan," Mace replied.
Urgency thrummed through Obi-Wan's mind. His clenched fists dropped to his side and he stepped forward. "We've done nothing but delay the conspirators if we don't find that other facility, Mace. We have to find it."
Mace jumped to his feet, his expression thunderous. "I said enough! Knight Kenobi, compose yourself." He glanced around the chamber. "I call a recess. We'll resume in fifteen minutes." Mace strode from the room. The other Council members filed out silently.
Obi-Wan sank to sit cross-legged on the floor. He buried his face in his hands.
A hand rested on his shoulder. Anakin whispered, "Master, the vidcams."
"I don't care, Anakin." No. I do care. Force help me. I care too much. A few seconds later he lifted his head and met his Padawan's concerned gaze. "Thank you. I'll be okay now." He sent a corresponding pulse of thanks through their shared bond, then composed his face into peaceful lines and drew on the Force to regain his center. Intense questioning with shields down was far more taxing than he'd anticipated. And they hadn't even touched on the difficult questions yet.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi, are you prepared to resume giving testimony to this tribunal?"
Obi-Wan met Mace's forbidding stare and nodded. His shields were already down. He promised himself he would not lose control. The questions returned to the facility and the evidence Obi-Wan had discovered regarding the conspiracy. Almost an hour later the subject shifted.
"What was your state of mind when you wrapped up your investigation?" It was the first time Even Piell, the fierce Lannik warrior, had spoken.
Obi-Wan kept his eyes front, though the Lannik was off to his left. "I was determined."
Piell continued, "To do what?"
"Don't you mean, to destroy the facility, despite its status as a privately-owned civilian factory?"
"It was what I felt the Force leading me to do," Obi-Wan replied quietly. A lapse of silence followed his statement.
Piell picked up the thread and continued. "I am a warrior. I act. But I also seek confirmation before I act. Did you think to do this?"
"I thought about it. But I knew there was no time."
"You knew beyond any certainty that attacking a civilian installation full of sentient beings was your only recourse?"
Obi-Wan drew a slow breath. "There were no sentient beings, per se, and, yes, I was certain."
"I could feel the Living Force's leading as clearly as I feel this cloak upon my shoulders."
"So you focused completely on the moment, with no regard to the Cosmic Force," commented Plo Koon in nasal tones necessitated by his anti-ox mask. Obi-Wan glanced at the Kel Dor sitting to the right of Mace. Plo added, "Much as your old master would have done."
"A most disruptive influence," Rancisis said.
Through clenched teeth, Obi-Wan replied, "My master is not on trial here, either."
"No, he's not," soothed Plo Koon. "He was a good friend, and his integrity was unmatched. But, nevertheless, one needs to look beyond the moment when making such a momentous decision."
Obi-Wan remained silent. A single beat of comfort coursed through his bond with Anakin.
Mace glanced toward the Padawan, narrowed his gaze thoughtfully and said, "I think it's time to discuss the Republic battle cruiser, Peacemaker. When did you first become aware of its presence in the system?"
"My report states that ..." Obi-Wan trailed off and began again. "As soon as we entered the Duro system. I contacted the vessel to report our presence and proceeded to the surface."
Piell took over the questioning again. "And when did you decide to involve it in your plans?"
This time Obi-Wan pivoted on his heel to face the Lannik master. "As soon as they were formulated. I had Anakin set a direct course to the Peacemaker after launch."
"And upon docking, you took over the vessel's command."
"No, Master Piell. As my report clearly states," Obi-Wan paused and challenged the Jedi master with a pointed look before continuing, "I presented myself directly to the captain to inform him of the situation."
"And how did the captain respond to your report?"
"He didn't. He was so high on glitterstim that he could barely focus his eyes, never mind understand a simple sentence."
"Are you so familiar with the effects of this illegal drug that you could immediately diagnose the captain's problem?"
Obi-Wan clenched his jaw and let the insinuation hang between them. Softy he replied, "I have seen the effects often enough on the denizens of the middle and lower reaches of Coruscant. Perhaps you should descend from the heights once in a while - you might be surprised what you'd discover."
A strong wave of disapproval slammed into Obi-Wan from Master Tiin's direction at the same second that Mace's warning sounded. "Knight Kenobi, I have no desire to have additional charges brought against you. Cease with the unwarranted accusations."
Not taking his gaze off of Piell, Obi-Wan replied, "I expect the same courtesy, Master Windu."
Piell ceded the point with a slight nod. But Obi-Wan could tell he had made a grave error in defying the Lannik. A drop of sweat ran down his cheek and into his beard, and he absently wondered if the vidcam had recorded it's passing. He berated himself silently in the stillness. It was like they were purposely goading him. To what end? To justify a judgment that had been predetermined? Mace seemed to have buried his friendship somewhere deep within. Yoda continued to keep his silent vigil. The unrest in the air was stifling.
Piell continued as if nothing untoward had just been said. "Where was the captain's second-in-command while this was happening?"
"The first mate had escorted me to the captain's quarters, and was present."
"Your report states that you confronted the first mate and demanded he take control of the ship." Obi-Wan waited for the Lannik to continue. Piell leaned forward. "And when he refused to admit the captain was unfit for duty, you took command."
Obi-Wan nodded tersely. There was no point filling in details everyone knew - that the man had been terrified, both of the captain and of himself. The entire command crew had reeked of incompetence, which was why it had been so easy to take control.
Piell said, "And then you proceeded to order the crew to destroy the alleged cloning facility."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and nodded again.
"When did you receive a commission in the Republic navy, Knight Kenobi?"
Meeting Piell's shuttered gaze, Obi-Wan said, "You know full well that I hold no such commission."
Something approaching a sneer flitted across Piell's features. "So you admit to seizing control of the Peacemaker illegally." When Obi-Wan didn't answer immediately, Piell asked, "Am I correct?"
"Technically," Obi-Wan replied.
"Is there some other angle that should be considered here?"
"What I did was right and necessary."
"And illegal," countered Piell. "It's hard to occupy the moral high ground when you're breaking the law to do it."
Pain sparking up from his wrist alerted Obi-Wan to the tight grip encircling it. He forced his hands to relax. His shields seemed to be rising of their own accord, and he labored to keep them down. He knew his defensiveness was radiating outward. He ignored the focused attention of the twelve masters and drew on the Force to regain his composure. After a moment he reopened his eyes to see Piell nod again, this time in victory.
Obi-Wan wheeled back to face Mace. He searched the dark face for any sign of charity, but found a blank wall. Yoda would not meet his gaze. He strove for calm as he awaited the next salvo.
Oppo Rancisis's gravely voice battered him from behind. "Do you understand what Jedi precept you violated when you took control of that Republic ship?"
Feeling like a novice being lectured by an irate tutor, Obi-Wan dropped his gaze to Mace's intertwined fingers. Mace leaned back and raised his hands, steepling them under his chin. Obi-Wan continued to stare as Mace's index fingers tapped his chin.
Rancisis said, "Tell us what precept you violated."
Obi-Wan blurted, "Serve, never rule."
"And do you understand the principle behind that code?"
"Of course I do."
"Yet still you commandeered the Peacemaker in order to wreck destruction, knowing full well that you were walking a thin line on the edge of your own undoing, knowing full well it could open you to temptation from the Dark Side."
Inwardly, he answered, You're wrong. Sometimes service is found in leadership and in taking control, as the Council well knows. Obi-Wan turned his attention to Yoda's averted gaze as he said, "I was walking firmly in the path of Light when I gave the order to fire." Yoda met his gaze for two seconds, then looked away.
"Is that your only defense?" Rancisis asked.
"In this room, it should be the only defense I need."
Obi-Wan had a bad feeling about this. After continuing to question him for two more hours before retiring to reach judgment, the Council had only been cloistered for an hour. It should have taken far longer to review the hours of testimony, in conjunction with his written report. Obi-Wan tried to meet his Padawan's gaze before they re-entered the Council chambers, but Anakin was strangely withdrawn, almost as if the boy was upset with him.
Master and Padawan moved to the center of the room, where they'd spent most of the day, and again faced Mace. Through the day, the sun had migrated around the tower, and now the dark Jedi master was the one silhouetted. The light glared into Obi-Wan's eyes, making him squint.
"We have one issue needing clarification before we pass judgment," Mace said. Obi-Wan tilted his head slightly to the side and blinked repeatedly. Mace continued, "Is it true that Fleet Commander Bail Organa has approached you with an offer to serve under his command?"
Shock blanked Obi-Wan's mind. How could they know that? Bail would never reveal such a thing. Were they monitoring his every conversation? As the shock receded, irritation filled the void. Obi-Wan rasped, "I don't see that as being pertinent to this tribunal."
"Just answer the question, please," Mace said.
"Thank you. And how did you respond?"
Obi-Wan hesitated. "I ... haven't."
"You are a Knight of the Republic. As such you couldn't possibly accept such an offer. Why didn't you say 'no' immediately?"
"I can't answer that, because I have no idea what made me reluctant to reject the offer."
"Perhaps you enjoyed your little taste of power," Rancisis said, his voice awash in cunning.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and didn't respond. Silence cloaked the chamber. Finally, Mace said, "Obi-Wan Kenobi, you have met all the requirements of this tribunal. You willingly lowered your shields and answered all questions put forward. You may raise your shields." A relieved sigh hissed past Obi-Wan's lips as his mind was once again hidden from prying eyes. Mace continued, "It is now my duty to ask you to present any further defense against the charges you face."
Obi-Wan opened his eyes to slits and strained to see Mace's features through the glare. "I have no further defense." Anakin's silent cry of denial slammed through his mind. He cringed inwardly.
"I am forced to remind you of the seriousness of these charges, Obi-Wan. At this time you may question your Padawan as a witness, if you so desire."
"My character stands on its own merits."
"Other material witnesses?"
With each word he spoke, Obi-Wan could sense the tension rising, from Anakin most of all. The boy was fairly quivering, yet he felt nothing at all at that moment, as if the Force were shielding him from the reality of what was happening.
"Am I to understand that you decline to mount any defense?"
Obi-Wan could barely discern the concern deeply etched into Mace's features. "That is correct."
Mace's voice dropped to a whisper. "Do you think that is wise, Obi-Wan?"
"I am following the Force's leading in this, Mace."
"I fear you have misread the Force's intent this time, my friend." Formality returned to Mace's voice. "Obi-Wan Kenobi, are you prepared to receive and abide by the judgment of this tribunal?"
"Very well." Mace paused to clear his throat. "Before I proceed, I should explain that the civilian charges have been dropped. The military is seeking no redress, and Chancellor Palpatine himself talked the Senate into reimbursing Trans-Galactic Enterprises for their loses, providing the Jedi Council takes full responsibility for your punishment in this matter."
A cold hand gripped Obi-Wan's heart. The outcome had been predetermined. Force help me to stand up under this.
Mace expelled a short breath. "Obi-Wan Kenobi, by judgment of this tribunal, you ... are to be stripped of the title of Jedi Knight and excommunicated from the Jedi Order." Obi-Wan staggered forward. He brushed away Anakin's hand and forced himself to stand on trembling legs. Mace's relentless voice droned on. "The training of your Padawan will be assumed by another master. It is required that you vacate the Temple before midnight this very day."
Blood pounded through Obi-Wan's ears as the sun drilled into his unblinking gaze. How could this be happening? He was a Jedi. He was a ...
Squeezing his eyes shut, then re-opening them, Obi-Wan struggled to focus on Mace.
"I said, for the record, do you understand the judgment?"
With great effort, Obi-Wan straightened and stared at Mace's silhouette. He pressed his lips together for a second, then replied in a clear voice, "For the record, I understand perfectly."
Without waiting to be dismissed, Obi-Wan spun and headed for the exit. A brusque, "Obi-Wan!", stopped him a meter from the doors. He didn't turn around. Mace's voice was almost inaudible. " The Force be with you."
Obi-Wan strode from the Council chamber with Anakin close behind.
The door whooshed closed behind him. Obi-Wan stood, limbs frozen from shock. What was wrong with him? In the far recesses of his mind, he'd known this was a possibility. Disbelief slammed into him and his stomach began to roil. He needed fresh air. Now.
Lurching from carbon freeze, Obi-Wan took the stairs down two at at time, and reeled onto the balcony skirting the floor below the Council chambers. He clutched the railing and stiffened his arms, extending his left leg behind him as if stretching in preparation for a sparring match.
And then Obi-Wan tried to breath. Slowly. Calmly. His stomach continued to churn. Instead of slowing down, his breathing sped up. In seconds, Obi-Wan was sucking air in short, ragged gasps. A tiny voice inside told him he was hyperventilating. I must regain control. Inhaling a large gulp of air, Obi-Wan held his breath until his brain was screaming for oxygen, which, in his shaken state, wasn't long. Little spots danced on the edges of his vision. Finally, he expelled his breath in a restrained hiss. Only then did he allow his lungs to refill. Slowly. Completely.
A measure of calm returned.
Obi-Wan forced his vise-like grip on the balustrade to loosen. He raised a trembling hand and wiped his clammy forehead with the cuff of his tunic. Awareness returned, and Obi-Wan sensed the aura of shimmering anger just behind him. His head drooped. Force help him, he hadn't wanted Anakin to see him like this. He shouldn't have been made to witness any of that. Couldn't the Council see how they were alienating the boy? A boy no longer. A young man.
Straightening, Obi-Wan stared, unseeing, at the spokes of traffic radiating out from the Temple. His voice sounded strangely detached to his own ears. "Calm yourself, Anakin."
"Why should I?" The Padawan's voice seethed.
From deep inside, Obi-Wan found the strength to pivot slowly, cross his arms and lean against the railing. Measuring each word, he repeated, "Calm yourself. You are still a Jedi, Anakin Skywalker. Behave like one."
Anakin's arm flung out. "They betrayed you!"
Pain stabbed into Obi-Wan's thoughts. You think I don't know that? Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a second, then met his Padawan's fiery gaze. "They did what they had to do."
Clenching his fists, nostrils flaring, Anakin stared at the Jedi. Ex-Jedi, Obi-Wan thought with an inner sigh. Ex-master, for that matter. Anakin narrowed his gaze; his voice quavered "The Senate demands a blood sacrifice and the Council serves you up on a platter, and you defend them?"
"I'm guilty of the charges, Anakin."
"You did what you had to do. You did what was right! And now they aren't even going to search for the second facility. They've guaranteed that the thing you tried to stop will happen. Your sacrifice was for nothing. You crashed and burned for nothing, Obi-Wan! Don't you feel anything?"
Obi-Wan's patience fell away. Ire laced his low, soft reply. "You saw how I reacted a moment ago. What do you want me to say? Yes, it's tearing me apart. I have been stripped of my identity and it's killing me. Does it make you any happier to hear it?" He unclipped his lightsaber and stared at it, refusing to let it quiver under his shaky touch. Almost to himself, he said, "In the end, nothing has changed. I am a Jedi, whether part of the Order or not. It's all I've ever been, and all I ever will be, no matter what the Council says. But I will abide by the Council's ruling because to do anything else is ... impossible."
"All these years I thought it was just me you wouldn't defend. Blast it, Obi-Wan, you should have defied them. You should have at least spoken up in your own defense. And you should defy them now. Tell them to fly into a black hole. You know you want to."
Obi-Wan turned away. He stared at the crystalline sky. How could it still be so bright when the shadows surrounding him were so deep and cold? Do not defy the Council, Master. Not again. 'I will do as I must, Obi-Wan.' Those words had been spoken on this very spot, he suddenly realized. A sigh slipped past his lips. Obi-Wan silently replied to his master, And I will do as I must, Qui-Gon. Anakin's anger frosted the edges of his mind. How could he turn it? How could he make him understand?
"What would it have accomplished if I had spoken out in there?" Obi-Wan asked. "Each Council member held my report. Each one knew why I did what I did. To argue against my fate any more than I did would only entrench the rightness of their decision."
An eerie stillness cloaked the younger man. Anakin stepped up to the rail and rested his forearms on it. "So, in true Jedi fashion you're simply going to accept. Accept the ruling. Accept the pain."
Turning and copying Anakin's pose, Obi-Wan continued to stare at his weapon. The weapon of a Jedi Knight. Why hadn't they demanded he hand it over to them? He whispered, "To do less is to dishonor all that I have believed in."
Anakin nodded his head. A hard edge returned to his words. "Then accept this, Obi-Wan. I'm glad you are no longer my master, because I don't think I'll ever be able to look into your eyes again without seeing your cowardice. Even if you do join Bail Organa's command, you will only be hiding from the real battle. It's right here, and you're running from it. You. Are. A. Coward."
Anguish lanced through Obi-Wan's soul as Anakin's anger pummeled him. He knew that nothing he said or did at that moment would turn that mounting fury; he'd never felt so helpless. His reply was barely audible. "I'm sorry I failed you."
With a snort of disgust, Anakin pushed away from the balustrade. Panicked, Obi-Wan spun and grabbed his sleeve. "Where are you going?"
Anakin knocked the hand away. "What do you care? You're not my master." He hesitated under Obi-Wan's intense gaze, then said,"Padme's."
"Don't leave the Temple like this. You need to talk to someone. Let go your anger."
"Maybe I don't want to let go of anything just yet. Maybe my anger is better company than you are." Anakin brushed past Obi-Wan and strode away.
Obi-Wan slid to the floor of the balcony and rested his head against the ferrocrete balustrade. Which betrayal cut deeper? Anakin's? Or the Council's? Obi-Wan already knew the answer. He whispered, "I failed you, Master." His head fell forward. "I failed you both."
Only a few small items remained to be packed. A quiet tap at the door pulled Obi-Wan away from his task. He swept his hair back from his brow and shook himself out of his robotic state as he crossed the room. The door retracted into the wall to reveal a small quivering child. Obi-Wan knelt before the anxious initiate with a puzzled frown. The dark-skinned boy stepped back, black eyes growing round with fear.
Obi-Wan cleared his brow. "Don't let fear control you, child. Push it aside and face your fears boldly." He softened the statement with a smile.
The boy swallowed hard, nodded and straightened up to stare Obi-Wan in the face. The Jedi fought to keep the frown from returning. The child was afraid of him? Bad news couldn't possible travel that fast.
"There's no need to fear me, little one. Who told you what happened?" Obi-Wan asked quietly.
"W-we all watched the judgment, s-sir."
That explained the oddly empty hallways when he'd made his way back to his quarters. Obi-Wan squelched the irritation that flared. Nothing had been said about the tribunal being broadcast. Had it just been within the Temple, or had the whole of Coruscant witnessed his downfall? Obi-Wan returned his attention to the still quaking youngster.
"So what do you want?" He couldn't keep the gruffness from his voice, and cringed when the child shrank back again.
"I, I ..." The boy took a breath and hitched himself up. "M-master Yoda sent me. He asks that you see him before you go. He said he'd be in his usual meditation spot."
Before Obi-Wan could commend him on his bravery, the boy wheeled around and fled. Obi-Wan stood and scowled at the swiftly retreating back. He had looked to Yoda to defend him during the tribunal, at least marginally. It had stung that the Jedi Master hadn't said a word. What could he possibly have to say now?
Obi-Wan returned to his packing, stuffing the last few items into his bag carelessly. He retreated to the bedroom and emerged a few minutes later in the civilian garb he'd found on his bed when he'd returned to the apartment. He fingered the cuff of the dark blue tunic with its white neckline, sand colored surcoat, and matching blue breeches, unable to recall a time when he hadn't been garbed in Jedi browns. He adjusted the belt, his hand brushing over his lightsaber, clipped where it always hung. With a sigh, he rolled up his Jedi garments and squeezed them into the bag, fastening the bulging pack on the second try.
The temptation to linger until Anakin returned was strong. Obi-Wan's gaze swept over the apartment, memorizing each detail. At the sight of Anakin's most recent reclamation project - a half assembled med-droid - an overwhelming sadness began to swell inside and Obi-Wan knew he couldn't bear to wait; he had to leave before his strength deserted him. He closed his eyes and projected his thoughts outward. The Force be with you, Anakin.
His boots - his Jedi boots - rang out loudly over the polished floors as Obi-Wan approached the Room of a Thousand Fountains where Yoda was waiting for him. He was already tiring of the stolen glances, the faces turning away, the endless display of backs. Would these forever be the reactions he met with? Force give me strength.
As he stepped through the archway into the fountain room, a flash of salmon and Jedi brown caught his eye. He dropped his pack just as his childhood friend, Bant, threw herself into his arms. The Mon Calamari Jedi sobbed uncontrollably against his chest, soaking his tunic.
"Shhh, shhh," Obi-Wan soothed as he stroked her back. "It's okay, Bant."
"How can you say that?" Bant cried, then returned to her weeping.
Obi-Wan held her at arms length and injected a mock sternness into his voice. "Calm yourself. Look at this mess. The first new tunic I get in ages, and you're going to ruin it before I get out of the Temple."
Bant's large watery eyes blinked. She sniffled. "How can you joke about this, Obi-Wan?"
He rested his knuckles against her cheek. "You know how much I hate tears." Her eyes shimmered dangerously. "Oh, no. Don't you dare start up again. I'm running a little low on jokes today, I'm afraid."
"Oh, Obi-Wan." Bant slipped into his embrace again. He held her tightly, resting his chin on her head. He sighed softly.
"Please, please promise me this won't destroy you. I couldn't bear it," Bant whispered.
"It won't," Obi-Wan replied. "I already promised Qui-Gon I'd do what I must." If only I knew what that was. He forced cheeriness into his voice. "Believe it or not, many people live happy, productive lives beyond the walls of the Temple."
"Don't make light."
An easy request to fill, my friend. Obi-Wan let the silence speak for him as he crushed her against his chest. He brushed her mind with the Force and pulled away.
Bant clasped his wrists and searched his face. "Please keep in touch."
Obi-Wan smiled sadly and kissed her forehead. "That's a promise I'll gladly keep, my friend." He picked up his bag and strode away, her gaze boring into his back until he rounded a corner.
Yoda was waiting for him, just as he'd said. As Obi-Wan approached the grotto created by giant ferns and sided by a gentle brook, he felt the Jedi Master's deeply worried scrutiny. He wondered why Yoda would bother to lower his own shields at this point. He met the concerned gaze with one he knew to be artificially calm. He hoped this numbness could somehow last a lifetime, but knew it would wear off sooner or later, and then, ... then he would most likely crumble.
Obi-Wan dropped to sit cross-legged before the Jedi Master. He waited. Yoda wanted to talk. Let him talk. The silence extended until the diminutive green Jedi squirmed slightly and looked away.
"Glad, I am, that you came," Yoda began. "Afraid, I was, that you would not. To be expected, is your scorn." He sighed. "Deserve it, I do. We all do. Succumbed to fear, we did." His voice grew strident. "Blackmailed us, the Senate did. With no subtlety. With no shame. Threatened to strike a committee to investigate and stymie the whole Order, they did. Feelings run strong against the Jedi right now."
Obi-Wan dropped his gaze to his upturned palms. He didn't want to hear justifications. And he certainly didn't want to hear the pain lacing Yoda's confession. He resisted the gentle nudging in the back of his mind. He squeezed back the moisture blurring his vision and deliberately dropped his shields, letting his utter unrelieved anguish steamroll over Yoda for a moment, then corralled his emotions and shut them back inside. In the pulverizing stillness, he heard Yoda's rattled breathing and felt the tiniest grain of remorse. His gaze remained glued to his hands.
Yoda's voice shook. "Forgive me, Obi-Wan. Please forgive me, so forgive myself, I may."
Obi-Wan covered his face with his hands and ground his palms into his eyes. He refused to weep like a babe. As a child, he had loved Yoda dearly; as a man he had respected him deeply. It couldn't come to this. Torn apart by fear and unforgiveness. It couldn't be the will of the Force. He cried out silently for some kind of reprieve. Aloud, he croaked, "Why?"
"Justice had to be seen to be done."
"Justice!" Obi-Wan jerked his head up and lashed out as he glared at Yoda. "There was no justice done today - the galaxy was entertained by a mock court and given the chance to scoff at the Jedi. Your justice is a travesty. Today, chaos gained a foothold in the heart of serenity. All because the Council gave into fear. You gave into the Dark Side. You. Not me. I can feel its laughter vibrating through my soul. Can't you feel the darkness surging round about us?"
"For a long time now, have I felt the gathering storm." Yoda's voice was quiet and full of strength, pulling Obi-Wan up short. He scanned the Jedi Master's countenance with its narrowed eyes, compressed lips and level bat-wing ears. Yoda continued, "Searched endlessly for the source of this disturbance, I have, but find it, I cannot. Failed the Jedi, I have. Failed you, I have."
"You believe me." The burden lifted almost imperceptibly.
"Never, for a single moment, did I doubt. A Jedi you were. A Jedi you remain."
"And the others?"
"Know in their hearts that you speak the truth, they do. Easier, it was, to sacrifice you than to face the wrath of the Senate. Crushed Mace, it did, to head up that hearing."
Obi-Wan sighed. Small comfort that is. He reached deep into his bag, pulled out a lightsaber, bold and simply styled, and laid it reverently at the Jedi Master's feet. He unclipped his own weapon and laid it beside the first. He stared at them. Master and Padawan, together again. He closed his eyes and a kaleidoscope of memories spun through his mind - green and blue blades clashing in an endless parade of sparring sessions; sweat and laughter and pain mixed together in a heady ambrosia of remembrance. He opened his eyes to find that Yoda's image had blurred again.
Throat convulsing, Obi-Wan whispered, "Qui-Gon's blade. And mine. The Council neglected to ask for them earlier. Or perhaps I fled before Mace had the chance. I am no longer a Jedi Knight. I have no right to a blade." He ran his fingers over the hilts, then pushed them towards Yoda. "Take them."
Triumph filled Yoda's reply. "Told them, I did, that do this, you would. Full of honor, you are, Obi-Wan Kenobi. And full of Light."
Puzzlement clouded Obi-Wan's thoughts. He blinked, taken aback by Yoda's odd reaction. "What are you talking about, Master?"
Yoda lifted his chin and arched his brows, deepening the furrows lining his forehead. "Demanded, I did, that if you gave up your blades unasked, let you keep them, the Council would."
"I ... don't understand. You're not taking the lightsabers from me? Either of them?"
"Of course not. A Jedi you were. A Jedi you remain."
"How can that be?" Obi-Wan asked himself.
Yoda tapped him with his gimmer stick. "Born that way, you were."
Obi-Wan gaped at Yoda's horrible attempt at jesting. Was he going crazy? Was Yoda going crazy? The Jedi Master seemed suddenly happy to see him leaving. He slowly slid each lightsaber into his bag and tightly secured the fasteners, all the while eyeing Yoda warily.
"I'd better go," Obi-Wan said as he rose.
"No. No." Yoda poked his thigh with the gimmer stick again. "Stay, you must. Know something, you must."
Obi-Wan sighed. "I'm glad you're feeling better, Yoda. But its been a Hutt-awful day. I'm dead on my feet and I don't even have a bed to collapse on."
Yoda paused. "Received the credits, you did?"
"The credit chip is in my pocket. The Jedi retirement plan leaves a lot to be desired."
Yoda pursed his lips, then his expression lightened. "Sit. Sit. One minute more."
The niggling began at the back of his mind again. This time Obi-Wan didn't fight it. He sank to his knees and sat back on his heels. Energy leaked from his pores as he watched Yoda perk up and cap the top of his infernal stick with both of his taloned hands. His eyes drooped closed as he waited for Yoda to speak; something he'd become uncommonly good at.
"The Force's will, this is," declared Yoda.
Obi-Wan's eyes sprang open. He stared aghast at the Jedi Master. Yoda's ears lowered. "Look at me like that, you will not. Walked in the path of Light when you gave the order to fire, you said. Felt the certainty as you feel your cloak, you said." He leaned forward, green eyes sparking. "Know you this, Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Force it was, that held my tongue in that hearing. The Force it was, that refused to let me speak as decided judgment, we did." Yoda paused dramatically. Obi-Wan frowned at his obvious enjoyment of the moment. The Jedi Master sat back and proclaimed, "Wants you out of the Temple, the Force does."
"Why?" Obi-Wan blurted.
Yoda scowled. "Know this, I do not. But look inside. Know it to be true, you must."
Obi-Wan gave him a dubious look. He barely stopped himself from rolling his eyes. He exhaled slowly, then inhaled calm. The Force had been his strength all day and it hovered closely. As he opened his senses, the luminous essence cocooned him and filled him with growing conviction. The same conviction he'd felt when he'd destroyed that cloning facility, and with it, unwittingly, his future. The future he thought he'd had. Now he sensed a new path unfolding before him. Apart from the Order. But still a Jedi. A smile touched his lips. He focused his eyes and stared fondly into Yoda's knowing gaze.
"You really enjoy being right, you old troll."
Yoda harumphed. "A troll, I am not. When 878 years old you reach -"
"Look this good, I will not," Obi-Wan finished the statement, laughing at Yoda's overly stern visage. "Thank you, Yoda. You always could put things into perspective for me."
One ear twitched. "Forgiven, I am?"
Obi-Wan smiled sadly at the tentative tone. "There was never anything to forgive. You did what you had to do."
"Of course," Yoda agreed. "And do as you must, you certainly will."
Obi-Wan's smile fell away as he nodded. "Force, but it hurts, Master. This is the only home I've ever known. The Jedi are the only family I've ever known."
"Ah. So admit, you do, that related to trolls, you are."
A smile returned to tug at one corner of Obi-Wan's mouth. "I'll miss you, Yoda."
Yoda's cheerfulness disappeared. "Miss me, you will not. Keep in contact, we must. On this, all depends. Coming, the storm is, and prepare, we must."
Obi-Wan frowned. "I fear for Anakin. How will he fare in all of this? He's very vulnerable right now and this day hurt him terribly. I failed him, Master. He holds the Council in such contempt. How can I walk away with his trust so battered and his training unfinished?"
"If the Chosen One, he is, balance will come, no matter what we do."
Obi-Wan let his breath leak out slowly. "I wish I'd had the purity of faith Qui-Gon had possessed."
"Few are those, whose lives are consumed by the Living Force. An honor it was, to train him, and then watch him train you." Yoda narrowed his eyes. "Terrible, you look. Go. Rest."
Obi-Wan scanned the green face. Yoda was right. It was time to go. He stood and flung the pack over his shoulder.
"The Force be with you, Obi-Wan."
"And with you, Yoda." He started to turn away and paused. "Tell Mace the same for me?"
Yoda's ears raised. He nodded. Obi-Wan bowed low and walked away without looking back.
At a side entrance to the Temple, Obi-Wan hesitated, sadness shrouding him once again. Force this is so hard. Will it ever stop hurting? He retrieved his cloak from the bag and slipped it on. It settled over his form with a sigh. Obi-Wan re-adjusted the pack and pulled his hood close around his face. He retreated into the anonymity of its comforting shadows and stepped into the waning daylight. Don't look back. Forward only flows the Force. Keeping his gaze lowered, Obi-Wan left the Temple for the last time.
Obi-Wan Kenobi paced into Bail Organa's office unannounced. Dark head bent over his desk, Bail was working late, as Obi-Wan had known he would be. The Fleet Commander looked up sharply. He startled and popped to his feet. "Obi-Wan!" Bail leaned forward on his fists, as if steadying himself.
The Jedi swayed slightly as his last reserve of energy evaporated. He stumbled forward and collapsed into a chair.
"Stars alive, man. You look terrible," Bail said.
"Thanks." Obi-Wan rubbed his beard wearily.
Bail eased back into his chair. He rested his elbows on the desk, cupped his right hand with his left, and studied Obi-Wan, brown gaze darkened with concern. "It just came over the newsvids. Sithspawn, I don't know what to say."
Obi-Wan pressed finger and thumb against his eye sockets in an attempt to ease the dull ache behind his eyes. He should be thankful the Council hadn't broadcast the tribunal outside the Temple. All he felt was numb.
Bail thumped the desk, making data-discs jump and scatter, and drawing Obi-Wan's gaze. His features contorted as he said, "Blast them! The Senate is behind this."
"Not on good terms with your former colleagues?" Obi-Wan asked, slightly bemused by Bail's violent reaction.
"Why do you think I took this appointment? I had to get out of that poisonous atmosphere for a while."
Obi-Wan shrugged, too exhausted to bother discussing politics, something Bail never seemed to tire of. He stared blankly out the window behind the Fleet Commander's desk. In the silence that followed, unspoken consolation seemed to flow from the man that Obi-Wan was happy to call a friend.
"Why did you come here, Obi-Wan?" Bail asked quietly.
Steering his drifting attention back to Bail, Obi-Wan said, "I hear you might have a job opening."
One dark eyebrow arched slightly. A speculative look entered Bail's gaze and he straightened. "I do. On my personal staff, as it happens. But I'm not sure you're a suitable candidate."
Obi-Wan scowled and shifted in his chair. "Why not? I was suitable three days ago."
Bail shook his head slowly. "Aside from the fact that I'd have to justify hiring you?" He reached out and activated his holovid, then sat back in his chair, fingers steepled. The holo of a female newscaster flickered to life. "In local news, the tribunal of Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi wrapped up today. The knight was accused of violating several Jedi regulations relating to an incident in which he hijacked a military vessel to destroy a Trans-Galactic Enterprise facility in the Duro system. The Jedi Council dealt harshly with one of their own, expelling Kenobi from the Order." The holo dissolved into one of Obi-Wan, looking stern and unbending, as he told Mace he understood the judgment. The newscaster resumed, "Kenobi was unmoved as punishment was meted out. Reaction in the Senate-" Bail cut the recording short.
Obi-Wan stared at the holo-projection base. He gripped the arms of the chair to stop from shaking.
"Well?" Bail asked softly.
Their gazes met. Obi-Wan frowned. "Well, what?"
"You are remarkably calm for someone whose world has just imploded."
Irritation pricked Obi-Wan's mind. He stared dully at Bail as he waited silently for his friend to explain himself. Instead, Bail said, "They were right, you know."
Obi-Wan fought to hide his shock. "Who was right?"
"The Jedi Council." Bail leaned back and steepled his fingers. "I was a little surprised they actually had the courage to step out and finger one of their own."
Strain radiated out from Obi-Wan's eyes as he fought to keep his gaze open and his composure in tact. What was wrong with Bail? A moment ago he had been all set to blame the Senate. Now ... "They were not right. They caved in to political pressure. They acted out of fear." He forced his hold on the chair to relax.
"No. They found you guilty - and you are."
"You don't even know the whole story."
Bail shrugged. "True. I only know what you told me when we visited. And even from the little you told me, I know you're guilty."
Taking several slow breaths, Obi-Wan said, "How can you say that? The Force was guiding me."
"Is that what you'll say the first time you step out of line under my command?"
Obi-Wan glared at Bail, who dropped his hands into his lap and glared back. Bail said, "Well? If we find another cloning facility and you're under orders not to destroy it, are you going to disregard those orders? If I order you to complete a mission and you decide the Force is telling you otherwise, what are you going to do?"
"How can I know that?" Obi-Wan clipped. "I would fulfill my duties to the best of my abilities. You can't expect more than that."
"I have to do much more than that," Bail replied. "I have to be able to trust you, Obi-Wan." He paused and leaned forward. "Can I?"
"You would ask me that?" Obi-Wan refused to show Bail how much his words hurt. It was shades of the tribunal all over again. Force, Bail was his friend. He clenched and unclenched his jaw in time to the throbbing in his head.
Durasteel edged Bail's words. "The military is not nearly so lenient with wrong-doers."
"I am not a wrong-doer." Obi-Wan was half out of his seat before he realized what he was doing. He sat back down, and forced himself to breath slowly and evenly. It chilled him that that was how the galaxy would view him henceforth.
Bail continued as if Obi-Wan had said nothing. "You'd be serving twenty years in the brig, or in a hard labor camp. Some severe types of insubordination even call for execution."
Obi-Wan's whisper was harsh. "I can see coming here was a mistake."
"So leave," replied Bail. "Run and hide. Show the galaxy how weak the Jedi truly are."
Obi-Wan glared at the ex-politician. As their gazes clashed, a blinding need unfurled deep inside - the need to scream, to hit something. Obi-Wan pressed his lips together. His nostrils flared as he strove to dampen the desire to strike out. His muscles began to tremble.
"What do you know of it?" Obi-Wan asked in a tight voice. "What have you ever lost? Your life has been one long series of open doors. You've never had to fight for anything. I gave my life and soul, and fair amount of blood, to the Jedi. My loyalty is unquestioned. Force, I could serve a lifetime of hard labor and never flinch under the load if I knew the Jedi stood behind me. But they've cut me loose. Disowned me. I ... no longer have the right to name myself as Knight. My padawan will be trained by another. They. Took. My. Identity." He cleared his throat and whispered, "Execution would have been merciful."
"You expect me to believe you prefer death to dishonor? The cowardly way out to a chance to redeem yourself? What a load of nerf crap."
With a sweep of his hand Obi-Wan cleared half of Bail's desk. Bail didn't flinch. Obi-Wan leapt to his feet, chest heaving, as he drilled his gaze into Bail's. "What do you want?" Obi-Wan spun and kicked the chair beside his. It flew backwards and crashed into the door. Obi-Wan wheeled back to face Bail. "Just back off, Bail! Sithspawn! I'm not a droid. I passed through the flames and I'm a pile of ashes." He flung his arm out, pointing a shaky finger out the window. "I just walked away from the only home ... the only life I've ever known. Do you think I found that easy? Do you think I did it willingly? I thought you were my friend. I came to you because I ..." Obi-Wan choked back the misery clogging his throat and whispered, "I have nowhere else to turn."
Still Bail sat unmoving.
"Are you my friend, Bail? Maybe you'd rather show me your back, like so many did in the Temple today."
Something approaching a sneer crept across Bail's face.
Obi-Wan clenched and unclenched his fists. Frustration mounted as he stared at Bail's insolent expression. The desire to strike out flared into a conflagration searing his soul. Force help him, he needed to hit something. He spun and lunged toward the fiberplast partition hiding a conference table. "Ahhhhhhh!" Obi-Wan drove his fist through the partition.
Bail was on his feet and around the desk before Obi-Wan had extracted his aching hand from the hole he'd made. Bail grasped his shoulders and smiled. "I'm glad that wasn't my face. Feel better?"
Obi-Wan frowned. "Not particularly. I think I broke my little finger." He stopped and glared at Bail, realization slowly dawning. With his left hand, he grabbed Bail by the collar and gave a shake. "You glob of Hutt pus, you wanted me to do that."
Bail laughed and gave Obi-Wan an abrupt hug. He slipped from Obi-Wan's slack grasp and returned to his chair. Obi-Wan stared at his scraped knuckles for a few seconds, a part of him wanting to hang on to his indignance even as it slipped away. He sat back down.
"Was that really necessary?" Obi-Wan peered at his noticeably pleased friend.
"Yes. Admit it: you do feel better."
"I'll admit no such thing." A reluctant smile started to crinkle his eyes. Obi-Wan fell serious. "For the record, Bail." He grimaced at his choice of words. "Don't ever, ever goad me into losing control like that again." He rubbed his throbbing finger.
"Agreed. I just needed to know it was there."
"You're as bad as Anakin, needing to see my pain." Obi-Wan narrowed his eyes. "Do you really think I'm guilty?"
Bail sighed. "On paper, perhaps. But I know you, Obi-Wan. I know you would never do something like that unnecessarily." He looked deeply into Obi-Wan's eyes. "I trust you. Completely."
Obi-Wan nodded tersely as he swallowed the lump of emotion in his throat.
Bail continued, "I'm proud to call you a friend, Obi-Wan. I'd be pleased to have you serve under my command. Still, there are times when I wonder if you feel ... anything at all ... under that Jedi shell. I'm not sure I can work with a blasted saint."
Obi-Wan stared uncomprehendingly at Bail. Suddenly he gave a short laugh. "That's what that was all about? You couldn't be more wrong on that score. Maybe I should ask Council for a copy of the holo-record. Then I could show you the moment when I told Even Piell he needed to descend from the heights to see how the common folk live."
The eyebrow arched again and amusement sparked gold in the brown eyes."I would like to see that." Bail's voice dropped. "I feel so blasted helpless, Obi-Wan. I wish there was something I could do for you."
"Give me a job."
"You had that the second you walked in the door."
Obi-Wan grunted. He said, "And a bed."
"There's an empty apartment in the officers' barracks that's yours for the asking."
"Thank you, friend."
"Will you be okay?"
Obi-Wan nodded slowly. "Believe it or not, I'm right where the Force wants me." He sighed.
Obi-Wan met Bail's concerned gaze and looked away. He let his head fall against the high back of the chair and stared at the grey ceiling. It reminded him of the heavy mist obscuring his path and he scanned it hungrily, looking for a sign of things to come. "I don't think I'll ever get used to it, Bail."
"Used to what?"
"You know how beings always want to know what you do, ... what you did."
"Yes. What of it?" Bail's kindly tone urged him to continue.
"I ..." Obi-Wan paused and averted his eyes, suddenly reluctant to see anything of the path before him. "I don't think I'll ever get used to saying, 'I was once a Jedi Knight.'"
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