A Tatooine Tale

A Jedi Shall Not Know Love

Inhale

The duty of a Jedi is to protect those who cannot protect themselves and to maintain peace in the Republic, but most important is to follow the will of the Force.

The first blush of morning, like each one before, came with faint purples that bled into the dark sky; slowly burned red, bright orange, and then a sharp unyielding yellow as the smaller of Tatooine's twin suns surged over the heat rippled horizon.

On the five hundred and twelfth day of his self-imposed exile, Obi-Wan Kenobi would be there, as the intense morning light tore into the fading remnants of night. Nearly two years spent on the sun soaked planet in the Arkanis Sector of the Outer Rim Territories and he had not missed a single daybreak.

Maybe he should consider his count of the days doubled as each one brought two sunrises. The thought was abandoned just as quickly as it had come into existence. His time there was long enough without pointless notions compounding the punishment.

Forty-three thousand light years from the galactic core and it was not far enough. It would never be far enough to escape the past, or the memories of what had once been and never could be. All the distance of space could not keep his demons at bay, for they would follow him no matter where he went. Manifesting in his dreams, in his waking hours, his ghosts were never far away.

The memory of the dead–all of his fellow Jedi–was tempered by the reality of the living. It seemed with every death, every voice in the Force lost, a piece of him had died as well. Through battle and slaughter the Jedi had dwindled, sometimes he saw or felt their deaths, other times he just knew. Yet, with time, he had hardened to the small pains, the growing emptiness, it was a necessity of his continued survival.

He was not alone in suffering; a galaxy shuddered under the black fist of the Empire.

While blood still flowed through his veins and life beat in his chest, escape was not an option. He lived with the knowledge that it would only be a matter of time before he would be brought into conflict with the Jedi's destroyers once more. He would be found.

For now, he had an abundance of time. Each morning began in the same prescribed manner–with a single step. Before the blistering suns could unleash their full fury on the new day, while a touch of chill still lingered in the predawn air, he set out from the domed hut, draped in the familiar shelter of his cloak. Some mornings, he wished his daily regiment did not begin so early, so that he could miss the coolness that brushed his skin, the wispy reminders of the past, of worlds with temperate climates and crisp spring breezes. With each morning, he rose to begin the daily regiment without pause, knowing that if he were to fail that, he would be lost to the ever changing sands of the desert.

With a determined step, Obi-Wan left the protective confines of the hovel at the edge of the Dune Sea he now called home. After only a few paces, he turned to look back at the cupola of the run down living quarters. Its drab gray, brought on by years of sandblasting, a lonely beacon in a never-ending ocean of tans, was strangely comforting. While it did not look like much, cleaning and care had improved the dirty, sand clogged hut he had found abandoned nearly two years ago.

Sometimes, when he found a moment of pause, he wondered what had happened to the previous owners. Not that it much mattered, the beings that inhabited the barely hospitable planet shifted as often as the sands.

In the cruel environment, in the mercilessly scorched days, and in a tale of the harsh shadows that cut across the sandy floor, he found insights he never expected. Even among ruin there is life; a single plant could sprout up through the nutrient deprived sands. Hope could thrive. A piece of him began to see the dusty boy that had been his apprentice in a new light. He had grown to appreciate the hardships that had littered such a young life. A piece of him wished that he could understand, but it was only a very small part. His heart could not take the pain of dwelling someplace where there were no answers, where only an empty landscape remained. It did no good to dwell on what could not be changed, a lesson he had often struggled with. Thinking about the past could not repair the wrongs wrought upon it; if so, his master would be alive and this nightmare that he lived, only a specter that faded with the morning light.

Thoughts of Anakin and what may have been overburdened the heart and made his days needlessly longer. His padawan was a part of the past.

Former apprentice, he silently reminded himself before turning a pale blue gaze toward the red streaks that cut into the dark purples of the distant horizon.

Over the gentle crests and falls of sand dunes, the sound of a Bantha's bay echoed far in the distance, casually reaching into the Force there was no warning in the ancient energies.

Most of the equipment surrounding the hut had been damaged and stolen by scavengers, namely Tusken Raiders, long before he had arrived there. For the first few weeks after he had decided to stay there, Obi-Wan's attempts at repair were routinely devastated by Sand People raiding parties during the blackest part of the night. During the days, his work was often interrupted by shots taken at him with their projectile rifles. He had learned well what fearsome creatures the Sand People were. In his travels to and from Anchorhead, he had passed the ravaged remains of travelers who had fallen prey to the masked creatures.

In his own battles with them to protect himself and his meager belongings, he had unintentionally imbued them with fear. Certainly, he had been trying to drive them away, but the reaction he had achieved had surprised him. After all, Jedi do not seek to inspire fear, yet by their mere presence sometimes induced it; he had witnessed this many times. Except, he did not think there was much that normally frightened the fearsome Sand People.

A broken-down speeder had stranded him far from home during the terrible heat of the day's zenith; his shadow the only shade to be found for as far as the eye could see. On the verge of heatstroke, he had no chance of escaping them as they approached on their great wooly banthas single file to hide their numbers. They must have been perched on a rocky outcropping when they spied him trudging through the loose sand of the plains below.

He accepted that soon his bones would be bleaching under the savage rays as the Sand People closed the distance behind him before breaking ranks and drawing a circle cutting off his path. The soft thud of heavy wrapped boots as they slipped from their shaggy mounts, landing on the loose desert floor. In an instant, they tightened their circle around him, aiming their long rifles and barking orders or warnings in their unknown tongue.

Sunburned and dehydrated, his strength fleeting, Obi-Wan turned to face his attackers and for a moment, he was grateful that at least death would be delivered by strangers and not by at the hand of someone he had once called friend.

With the long ease of habit, as unconscious as breathing, he drew his lightsaber from beneath the protective layers of the farmer's poncho he had worn into Anchorhead on a mission to find supplies. A poor disguise, if there was one, for he no more looked like a moisture farmer than he did an Alderaani prince, but it garnered little unwanted attention. The streets of the various cities to mark the planet's surface were painted with the blood of those who had allowed their gaze to linger too long where it was not welcome.

The flash of the stark blue blade seared through the air as he deflected the bullets fired at him. The hum and snap of contact, hissed through the desert stillness as his quick moves drove his would-be killers back.

Precious few projectiles had been fired. Precious few breaths of exertion passed over chapped lips before it was all over.

The half dozen masked figures retreated; leaving him alone in a circle of trod upon sand, the tiny hills and valleys a microcosm of the Dune Sea.

As suddenly as that, he was alone.

In the twilight of morning, Obi-Wan stared down at his roughened hands and wondered, as he often had, what it was that had frightened them so. Was it that he fought back? Certainly others did and it only hastened their fate. No, it was something else. He knew that, but all he had done was raised his lightsaber in defense, yet the action had spared his life without costing another and maybe, just maybe that was all that mattered.

He lived.

Really, all he wanted was to be left alone.

Alone.

Such a cruel word if ever there was one.

And yet, it had not always been that way.

The Force once sang with the harmony of thousands of sensitive beings, the very air alive with its power, minds humming with awareness of everything. The source a living Temple bustling with beings from all over the galaxy in the heart of a city planet. To be alone, even for the tiniest while was a cherished and sometimes frightening thing. For in the Force, in the Temple, the crush of being surrounded was powerful.

Sometimes in dreams, in those early hours when consciousness drifted in and out of a sleeping mind, he imagined an orchestra of auras. Thousands of voices just at the edge of his thoughts, but then he would awake, and there was only silence in his ears and in his mind.

Obi-Wan doubted that he would ever grow accustomed to the quiet that now permeated his life. The only sounds he heard, the soft slosh of fine sand crystals were scattered with each fall of well-worn boots over the gently sloping ground. With every step, his heels sunk into the loose ground, leaving a trail behind in the freshly wind swept surface. Staring ahead, he noted the absence of his previous day's trail. Gone, as if he had never been there. The thought did not bother him the way it might have in his youth.

His path took him past the abandoned old equipment and the carefully repaired and maintained moisture vaporator that supplied the valuable water to his small home. After morning exercises, he would begin the daily maintenance of the equipment. The brutal heat and damaging grains of sand made the daily chores a requirement, lest he would wish to give up the luxury–necessity–of water. Nearly silent footsteps carried him toward the plain that overlooked the sea of sand that flowed to the edge of the sky.

Fiery reds blazed from the horizon in a striking fan of colors that pierced the fading night as the smaller of the two suns climbed into the morning. The larger brother star was only a step behind, radiating a purplish-orange glow.

Reaching far above him, the cloudless sky was a mixed palette of brilliant hues that would soon be washed out to dull tans and blighted blues. Color, much like water, was a precious commodity. Only in the brief moments at dusk and dawn was the drab world saturated with pigment.

A weak breeze, a warm harbinger of the sand storms that swept across the dusty world, ruffled his salted ginger locks as he stepped just beyond the rocky, protected area that partially surrounded the hut. Another storm was in the brewing, he idly thought, but then brushed if off, as sand storms were common in the Dune Sea.

With a ragged sigh, Obi-Wan's gaze swept the vast horizon of nothingness. The nighttime winds and the dry storms that sometimes ravaged the plains had carved low sandy hills. Slowly his gaze fell to the burnt colored rock at the edge of a patch of flat shale rising from the sandy tides. Millennia of wear had created a smooth platform with a light dusting of granules across the sun blistered surface. As he approached the edge of the natural practice platform, Obi-Wan loosened the grip on the collar of his worn reddish-brown cloak, a vestment of who he had once been, in his heart, who he would forever be.

Stepping from the shifting sand onto the hard shale, he tugged at the edges of his cloak, allowing the richly colored material to fall open, draping over broad shoulders before drifting across his bare chest. Warm flesh met the remnant of chilled air and fully awakened his senses.

Callused fingers rubbed a frayed seam and he wondered just what he would have to do the day the cloak became too frail to wear. His time wrapped in the comfort and familiarity of the past had diminished already, the Jedi having donned a farmer's poncho for public outings.

Rough-hewn trews, the color of the landscape, were far easier to replace than his cloak. There were a few shops in Anchorhead that could accommodate him and if things were desperate, with a bolt of fabric and time he could fashion suitable clothing, the only payment a few pricked fingertips.

There was that word again: Time.

It seemed he could not escape it. Shifting his broad shoulders back, he allowed the heavy cloak to slip free, baring sun-gilded skin as his thoughts returned to the task of his daily ritual. Taking the cloak by the collar, he was careful to keep it from dragging across the ground, but no matter what he did, the grains still clung to the hem. Fingers brushed over the fraying edge of the material, dusting the grit away before he carefully folded it in the proper manner to store a cloak in a way unchanged in millennia in a way few now knew.

Examining the material piled in his hand, Obi-Wan allowed his gaze to shift slightly, focusing on a spot on the ground. There was no place in this forsaken world where sand did not rule. With a frown, he placed his cloak on the dried clay, wondering why he had taken the time to clean the grains away; there would only be more clinging to the material when he picked it up again.

In the end, he knew why. It was the act, simple as that. He had to do it because that was all he had.

Acting without conscious thought, Obi-Wan reached up and pressed the callused tips of his fingers to the roughened patch of skin just above his heart where an ache possessed the flesh. The coarse, round scar tissue was stiff under gentle massaging.

Closing his eyes, another sigh escaped him. He was not strong enough to fight the pain that plagued his heart. A touch of anger welled in him before being carefully pushed into a tiny ball and left to drift in the energies of the Force. Anger would not help him.

There was nothing he could do to ease the pain; a part of the past, its memory would endure.

Opening faded blue eyes, he returned to his quiet preparations. Pulling each of his carefully polished boots free of his feet, bare soles pressed onto the still warm practice area. Studying the worn leather, he brushed the tip of his thumb over a scratched boot toe.

They had been custom made to fit; comfortable as any worn pair of boots the first time he pulled them on. It would be unlikely that he would ever find any to match their quality here on Tatooine. The raw red iron oxide color was rare on the desert world, or so he had noted in his few years of habitation. Dark browns and pale sandy tones ruled, even in the clothing, the wearers blending in with the forbidding terrain.

For now, he would treat the boots with care, mending and oiling to preserve them as long as they would last. Kneeling before his folded cloak, Obi-Wan reverently placed them on the sand. He made sure the toes were aligned with the fold of material. Their placement reminding him of the small inset in his room, in the apartment he had once shared with Anakin, the soft coral walls that so perfectly offset the natural tones of his clothing.

The suns were turning from their oranges and deep yellows to pale whites. Soon the heat of the day would once again rule, he did not have the time to sit and reminisce. That was for later.

Rising once more, he slowly turned his back on the worn remains of his previous life and took ten paces across the shale surface, still warmed from the heat of the previous day.

The suns, in their battle to tear free of the horizon, cast their radiance across the sandy plains. The comfortable temperature of the morning was turning hotter, more forbidding, as invisible waves of heat raced past the near motionless figure. A slight shift brought the Jedi face to face with the only tangible adversaries on the desert world worse than the raiders that roamed in the distance–the suns. The brilliant oranges and yellows of the new day brought his eyes to mere slits. Raising a tanned hand to shield the pale blue from the harsh radiance, he stared silently out, listening to the echoes of far off craft speeding across the lonely dunes to the thunder of freighter engines blasting away from Mos Eisley. There was little across the vast plains to obstruct and absorb the sounds.

Sometimes in the darkest hours, he thought he heard far away screams only to realize they were his.

But darkness has a way about it. Sometimes the most shadowed places are hidden within the brightest lights. In the morning and throughout the day, the blazing fires of the twin suns scoured the planet, leaving little shade. But in those crevices nearly hidden from the naked eye, the blackest of shadows rose, biding their time until the planetary spin turned them toward the blackness of space and their reign allowed to spread.

Eventually though, morning always came, and with it the rebirth of the light. There was always hope as long as the suns rose.

Pulling his hand away from his face, he stared at his open palm. Thick wear lines covered the once tender skin where long years of devotion to an ancient weapon had worn deep calluses. Nicks and scars littered the rugged flesh, reminders of a hard life and battles fought.

Drawing his fingers to into a tight fist, Obi-Wan's hand shook as knuckles turned white under the powerful grip. With a sigh, he loosened the fist, sweeping his hand through the air, gentle guidance of the Force sent the sand that lightly dusted the natural practice platform skittering away from him.

A long, slow breath drew in the dry air and he held it in his lungs until they began to ache. Exhaling, he relaxed his rigid posture, allowing tense muscles release from the night filled with unbidden memories of the past. Not even the bright suns could burn away all of the nightmares that had gripped him during the dark hours, robbing him of sleep, of joy, and of peace.

His calm center a desperate dream always just beyond his reach. It had been a part of him for so long that he had taken it for granted, but now its absence was acutely felt especially in meditation. Finding a sense of balance was like a cruel game of hide and seek that had no end, always chasing after the calm that eluded him.

Orange sunlight splashed across his skin, imbuing it with warmth, easing the soreness that had settled into his muscles from long hours fighting the encroaching darkness.

If only the day were like the mornings, full of hope, newness.

If only it could stay with him, warming him, filling his aching spirit.

Soon dawn would pass into the harsh heat of the day.

For now, there were moments.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

As Obi-Wan exhaled, he shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he gracefully moved through a simple three step exercise. Each footfall over the dusty tans that painted the desert floor was accentuated with a breath. The motions remained slow as he turned and swept his right arm across his chest.

Breathe in.

Thick ginger lashes brushed over the lightly blushed skin as soft blue fell behind closed eyelids. He did not need his vision to perform a kata familiar since he was an initiate.

Breathe out.

Tight muscles loosened as he breezed through the first level kata. The terrors of the night, the ache in his heart drifted as he easily stepped into the second level kata with grace that could only have come from a lifetime of practice. The simple, controlled moves stretched muscles and prepared him for the more complex actions of his morning ritual as his thoughts shifted from the dry heat and gritty existence to the coolness of the Temple air recycling system and the smooth, clean marble floors.

In time with his gentle motions, another breath filled his lungs. The crest and fall of his chest shimmered with a thin sheen of moisture under blazing yellows. Soft planes of muscles shifted under the skin of his shoulders as bare feet danced over the shale beneath.

Falling into the ingrained motions of the ancient kata, his mind slipped free of the restraints of blood and bone. Weary thoughts reached out, mingling with the awesome presence of the Force. The energies flowed around him like the oceans of Minaar, wrapping him in gentle, floating comfort.

The ethereal power source was all encompassing, enveloping a battered spirit and filling the chips in his mental armor. Yet, it seemed there was never enough to heal his wounds. He longed to feel the tiny wisps of energy drawn into a fountain, a mighty river like the one that flowed through the great Jedi Temple on Coruscant.

Used to flow.

Now only drifts, passing memories, clung to the Force's energies. A sensation, a thought, and he would turn expecting to see an old friend, smile at a familiar gnarled tree in the Room of a Thousand Fountains, or catch a flowery hint of Naboo aristois. Just as they appeared, they vanished, leaving nothing but the vast emptiness of the present.

Breathe in.

All was left were dreams and fading memories.

The Temple was gone.

The signatures of the thousands who had communed in the energies of the Force were lost.

Those he had cared for, called friend or loved, no longer among the living.

Save him.

Alone.

_________________

Exhale

Our path is often a solitary path, but it is not lonely, for we revel in the energies of the Force.

Bright azure slashed through the still air of the small training cell as a gangly fourteen-year-old Anakin Skywalker bounded over the soft green floor mat. His lightsaber flashed about in a quick succession of preordained moves as he sprung and danced across the room. The soft tans of his clothing a mere blur of motion as the tip of the blade grazed the gray stone walls.

The blue fire licked the edges of the mat, singeing it as he completed the final movements of the saber bearing kata before coming to the rest position he had started from minutes earlier.

"Very good, Padawan," came the familiar cultured Core accent of Obi-Wan Kenobi as he stepped from the wall farthest from the practice floor. His polished leather boots echoed over the blue veined marble that covered the floor.

At the mat, keen eyes noted the youth's heavy breathing from the exertion. Anakin straightened under the watch, shifting his shoulders back in a thin façade of recovery.

"What is bothering you?" the older Jedi asked as he folded his arms across his chest. The creamy outer tunic pulled at his shoulders, elbows and tightening along the taut muscles around his back and gently curving spine.

"Nothing," Anakin quickly replied, slicing his blade through the air. After a pause, he sheepishly added, "I am just tired."

"I am hardly surprised," came the frank reply. The serious tone of the words melting as a small grin tugged at the corners of his mouth.

Bright blue eyes glanced up from the floor; the white overhead lighting cast harsh shadows across the youthful face. His intense gaze meeting the older Jedi's often wearily patient expression.

"I was not the one who sat up all night repairing a maintenance droid," Obi-Wan said as he paced a few steps across the floor. His arms still folded across his chest as his gaze fell across the soft colors of his tunic. Serves you right, echoed in the young master's voice, but such brutally honest words were never put to voice. There were always better ways of getting a point across.

Falling back into a relaxed pose, Anakin's straight shoulders drooped as he shifted and checked a slight singe in the material on his upper right arm. Offering a mischievous look, the eager apprentice said, "Call it meditation."

Quirking a brow, Obi-Wan held his apprentice's gaze before turning and walking slowly along the outer edge of the mat again. "Only if you are in a maintenance hangar."

Anakin laughed as he too began to pace, matching the older Jedi's step, turning when Obi-Wan did. "I'm sorry, Master," the blond haired youth said. "The noise soothes me. Concentrating on fixing the droid relaxes me." His hands waved animatedly about as he went on. "I can't meditate most of the night like you do."

Obi-Wan stopped, his vision filled with the wall of the chamber, muscles rigid refusing to obey the simple, mental request of looking toward the boy.

Anakin continued to tread the length of the practice cell, undamaged by the words. He extended his arm as he walked, holding the saber hilt out for quiet inspection before moving it through the air in an imagined battle.

For a moment, he thought he sensed pride in the apprentice for revealing a truth about the older Jedi but the emotion left as quickly as it had appeared. He had thought his long nights in mediation were better concealed from the boy. How wrong–apparently–he had been.

Hardly a boy, Anakin was as tall as Obi-Wan, since his most recent growth spurt.

Withdrawing from the mat, the Jedi returned to the wall, leaning against it. He pushed any thoughts concerning his late night activities to the back of his mind. The revelation had rocked him but it had no bearing on the moment. "Back to practice," he said, he would concern himself with questions later. "We do not want to be here all evening."

Firing off a bright grin, Anakin returned to the center of the mat. "Yes, I have a droid to finish."

"You could go to the common areas. Hang out with agemates."

"I could."

Which always meant no.

"Again," came the soft order coupled with a hand gesture to continue.

"Yes, Master," Anakin firmly replied, the even tone of his voice mirroring the focus in his face.

"And try not to be so sluggish this time."

There was a pause, then the sound of the electric blade moving through the air. Obi-Wan observed the performance. Anakin moved quickly across the floor, his brow furrowed in concentration as he leapt from one exercise to another with accuracy far beyond that of his agemates. Far beyond the capabilities of anyone at that same age, Obi-Wan was both amazed and terrified by the implications. He feared that soon, Anakin would surpass his ability to teach.

"Another case of padawan torture?" a decidedly feminine voice purred from behind.

Obi-Wan glanced over his shoulder but was unsurprised to see Siri Tachi blocking the open doorway to the corridor. He did not require sight or her voice to know whom it was, he could sense her fiery presence from halfway across the Temple.

She was silhouetted against the bright light of the corridor. Her curvaceous figure accentuated by the skintight leather unisuit she preferred to the usual Jedi tunics. The revealing tan and reddish brown outfit was the bane of many a conservative Jedi.

He was convinced that she was thrilled to upset convention to the dismay of many of the masters. Admittedly, he took some enjoyment from the stir she caused, remembering what it was like to bask in a maverick's glow. A rebellious streak had been nurtured in Siri during the years she spent working undercover to end the slaver Krayn's illegal operations. The reasons for her participation in such a deadly game, were important, as all missions are, so many lives depended on the outcome. Still, it was unfair to press a padawan into such a duty while they were still trying to form their identity as a Jedi. It was difficult enough without compounding the trials of undercover work.

The first glance, in the female Jedi's direction was often shocking to Obi-Wan as his thoughts of her always were of the padawan she had been. Any hint of beauty hidden behind shapeless robes and tunics, hair butchered into the short padawan style predominantly worn by her male counterparts. She had, for all intents and purposes, been just one of the guys.

There was no mistaking her for that now.

With a wicked grin, Obi-Wan said, "Just wait until you have a padawan." In the silence that followed, his attention focused back on Anakin's practice. The youth's speed was still a little off, but he was not entirely sure it was due to a long night wrestling a troublesome bot. Rather, he suspected Anakin's newfound height and lengthened limbs were the culprit. There was certain clumsiness in some of the moves; ones that Anakin had been very adept at only months ago.

It would take time, he decided, for the apprentice to grow into his body.

"Is that a threat, Master Kenobi?"

"No," came the calm reply as he pressed himself against the cool stone of the wall. Stifling a grin that threatened to become a full-fledged smile, Obi-Wan added, "Jedi do not threaten. It is merely a simple wish that one day, you too will know the pleasure of training an impressionable young mind." He could sense her unmasked ire rising and waited a beat before adding, "Hopefully, one that is just like you." After all, he should not be the only one to suffer the joys of being a master.

"Ancient curses do not scare me," the female Jedi replied as she crossed the marble floor to where Obi-Wan was observing his padawan's practice. Leaning into the wall, she shifted forward, placing her lips just centimeters from his ear and whispered, "Now I may not carry large chunks of the Code in my head like you, but I am sure revenge is against the rules."

"I would hardly consider it revenge." He offered her a teasing look and a soft chuckle.

The flowery scent of aristois petals sweetened the usually sweat tinged air. The strange contrast grabbed his attention inspiring a deep inhale, greedy for the lovely smell.

"Oh? What would you call it?" Siri asked still remaining so close, her words barely above a whisper.

"Master," Anakin called out, followed by a hiss of pain.

The flowers forgotten as Obi-Wan jerked to attention, his pale blue gaze zeroing in on the apprentice standing in the center of the mat with his disengaged lightsaber tight in his grip. "Saved by my padawan," he mumbled as he strode across the chamber and onto the green padding.

"That's just sad," Siri replied from a few steps behind.

"What happened?" Obi-Wan inquired. Silently, he chastised himself for having to ask, he should have been paying better attention.

"I did it again," Anakin irritably announced as he twisted, revealing a smoldering section on his practice leggings. "I never did this before. I was good at the Thunder Kata before we went to Malnus."

"You also grew considerably taller in those two months," Obi-Wan pointed out softly as his concerned gaze met the youth's. "It will take time to adjust to your new reach." Checking the material on the youth's leggings, he decided the skin was just singed. "You are still cutting too low in the first position of the second movement." The statement was often repeated and yet the youth never quite grasped the consequences of the error in style. "Your growth spurts are only exaggerating this."

A brightly flushed Anakin sighed, then frowned, but did not meet his master's look as his shoulders sagged and he glanced away in embarrassment. "You knew it would come back to haunt me," he said in a low voice.

"Because he did it too," Siri said before Obi-Wan could reply and set the boy at ease. "You are picking up his bad habits."

Quickly facing the wall, Anakin was not fast enough to hide the smile that lit his youthful features. Ignoring the sly grin and Siri's smug expression, Obi-Wan said, "Remember, keep your shoulders straight when you step into the second movement." Further accentuating his point, he retreated a few paces from the two and wielding an imaginary lightsaber, he stepped through the motions. He flowed from position to position with the ease only acquired in a lifetime of intensive training. The shear speed of his movements, defied the audience of two to follow every nuance as he easily turned about, slashing his imaginary saber through the air. As he approached key points, he highlighted weaknesses he had witnessed in the youth's style describing the flow of the Force through proper form.

When Anakin nodded in understanding, the ginger haired Jedi left the center of the mat. He briefly noted that Siri paused, as if to say something, but then in silence, she too left the practice floor, finding safety far beyond Anakin's saber reach.

Obi-Wan watched her approach; grateful she had chosen not to say more about his training methods. It was enough that he had already engaged in an argument concerning his padawan's training in front of the youth.

The domineering Master Melkat, the Nikto Jedi who had hunted down Praemus Zambori, the notorious raider of the Mid-Rim, had since kept his distance after a quietly tense discussion. Melkat had expressed great concern that Obi-Wan was not teaching the fifth level barehanded kata precepts the way the venerable master would have liked. He attempted to take over the lesson, reminding Obi-Wan that he had already trained two knights far better than a young man who thought himself so bold to take on a padawan the instant his braid was cut.

The remark was less veiled than others he had been faced with since his master's death, but he struggled to remain calm in the face of it. His concern had been that Anakin would blow up and make a scene. A calming pulse guided through the thin training bond had eased the boy's rising emotions and allowed him to stand calmly by.

Obi-Wan's refusal to back down and let Melkat have his way probably only did more damage to his reputation leaving him open to accusations of stubbornness and defiance. But he could not, not for himself and not for Anakin's sake back down. He had to be strong, even if that meant standing alone.

Melkat had huffed and stormed off, muttering something about insolence, leaving Obi-Wan with nothing but his own example to show Anakin the proper Jedi behavior. He allowed the remarks to slip away and then casually returned to the training session as if they meant nothing. A curious look from the padawan was all he allowed before bustling Anakin on with his lesson.

In no way would he allow the youth to see the effect of Melkat's words on him. He was not an upstart that Master Yoda over indulged.

Turning his attention back on the center of the chamber, Obi-Wan faced his waiting apprentice's bright blue gaze. Coupled with a sigh, he said, "Do it slowly and make sure your blade is set on an extremely low power level this time."

"I am not an initiate, Master," Anakin tensely replied.

"Yes, but another saber burn and you will find yourself under the care of a couple student healers."

Anakin straightened then quickly made adjustments on the silver and black hilt in his grip.

Mercifully, a threatened visit to the healers was often all it took to keep Anakin humbled. If only he would consider the consequences before speaking or acting out.

A slight nod from the young master to proceed was all the boy needed before activating his weapon and bounding into the kata once more. He moved with speed and grace until the instant the powered down blade caught his ankle, bringing about another hiss.

With long strides, Obi-Wan quickly moved to his padawan's side to check the ankle burn. Kneeling on the mat, his off-white draped knees sank into the soft green foam material; he vaguely noted Siri's distant gaze focused on him. Without addressing the look, he tended to his apprentice, doubting that he could be that interesting.

Yet, he could feel her intense stare against his back.

"It isn't so bad," Anakin said as he bared his reddened ankle.

"Just imagine how it would have been if you had not further dampened your weapon." The older Jedi lightly tugged on the edge of the scarred legging revealing the extent of the injury. "A few bacta bandages and a healing trance should help that."

The blond haired boy frowned.

"You need the practice in Force healing anyway."

Anakin huffed. "Somehow I don't think that Master Dirad meant for me to injure myself just for practice."

"If it happens, use it."

"Yes, Master," the apprentice said in a soft but understanding tone.

Behind him, Obi-Wan could hear Siri shift slightly, but it felt as if her gaze never left his back. He was beginning to wonder why she was there; after all, she was not exactly dressed for a workout. Her tight leather unisuit was hardly as forgiving as the lighter weight clothing designed to free up movement and inhibitions and take in the joys of sport and practice.

Reaching out, Anakin pressed a hand to his master's shoulder aiding in his balance as he raised his wounded foot slightly. "As long as I don't have to go to the healers, I don't care."

"I have little love for them myself, but sometimes, you just have to face your fears and deal with it," Obi-Wan said dryly. It was how he survived each day.

"I can't believe it," Siri said with a trace of laughter in her voice as she drew a little closer to the two Jedi. "Someone more afraid of going to the healers than Obi-Wan Kenobi?"

"Fear and dislike are two different things," Obi-Wan said as he smoothly stood up. Then looking the tall youth straight in the eye, he added, "Their bedside manner may be questionable at times, but in the end they are just trying to help."

"I know," Anakin quickly replied. "I am not afraid, I just don't enjoy it." Walking gingerly across the chamber, he stopped at the bench and gathered up his sparse belongings. He stared at his boots, then gripped them tight but refused to put them on. He cocked his head to the side briefly catching Siri's intense gaze still focused on Obi-Wan. "Why would Master be afraid of the healers? Isn't Healer Bant supposed to be one of his closest friends?"

Dragging her attention away from her fellow knight, she met Anakin's concerned look. "Of course, Bant is a dear friend." Her red painted lips trembled as a wicked smile threatened to stretch across her face. "She just has a very rough bedside manner."

"And cold hands," Obi-Wan said softly as he took the youth's rich brown cloak and hung it over his arm.

"Well, I wouldn't know about that," Siri laughed.

Guiding his barefoot padawan toward the door and the brightly lit corridor, Obi-Wan stole another glance at Siri. "Other than embarrassing me in front of my impressionable young apprentice, why exactly are you here?"

Anakin smirked before pulling his cloak from his master's hold and separated himself from the two older Jedi. "You know what? I think I will go and tend to my burns. A healing meditation sounds good about now," he added with a thoughtful nod and a slight blush coloring his cheeks. Before Obi-Wan could respond, Anakin bolted through the corridor around casually passing Jedi before disappearing around a corner.

"No padawan to save you this time," Siri softly teased as he stared down the open hallway in shock.

"Oh, lucky me," Obi-Wan said as they continued down the narrow corridor filled with others coming and going from various practice chambers.

"I was looking for a sparring partner."

"Ah."

When he did not immediately volunteer, she turned and lightly popped him in the shoulder with her fist. "How about tonight?"

"I have–"

"After Anakin goes to sleep."

"If he does."

__________________________

Inhale

Grains of sand scored the rough pads of Obi-Wan's feet as he continued with the morning practice. His thoughts focused on the warm, arid desert air that filled his lungs, expanding them until they ached before releasing his breath. He longed for moisture, even that found in a ship's recycling system. He missed the cold of space. The infinite stars that surrounded him like beacons in an eternal curtain of night. Every breath echoed footfalls perfectly timed to the rhythm of his heart. The twin suns turned from fiery red to brilliant orange fading into yellow as their rays extended across the dunes. The cruel light bleached the colors from everything it touched.

How he missed bright reds and blues. Royal flags cast high over government buildings surrounded by brightly colored gardens. He missed the sensory explosion of Coruscant's lower levels where glowing tubes of a myriad of colors spelled out every kind of attraction available. What he would give to see the constant stream of wildly emblazoned air speeders snaking through the unnatural caverns of the city planet.

The splash and fall of water was a sensory pain unlike any. The Room of a Thousand Fountains was gone. The crystal waters cascading over stone nothing but a fond memory. The green, every shade from the bright tender colors to the deep aged of large old leaves. He missed every bit of it, often craving any touch of paint that reminded him of the gardens, of those moments of cool, fresh peace.

The sweep of his hand through the heated air carried the wish for cool liquid splashing over his open palm.

A dream.

Twisting about in a carefully choreographed turn, taut muscles stretched, glistening in the brightening day. The rising temperature and exertions drew precious beads of moisture clinging to his skin, drying in the sun's heat, wasted.

Scattering sand, powerful legs launched him from the shale surface, bounding and flipping, landing with grace before repeating the quick actions again and again. The harsh line of the distant horizon a mere blur as he executed a swift series of attacks on an invisible opponent. The same he had many times brought on living opposition. A surprised cry, the sudden end of a battle or the life saving feint lasted only a moment before vanishing in the bright light of the morning.

The rush of blood through his veins thundered in his ears as his motions grew quicker. Imaginary monsters draped in black filled his vision as he struck out at unseen foes.

A menacing tattooed face was met with the heel of his barefoot. A distinguished gentleman, former Jedi turned Sith, vanished with the single stroke of an imaginary lightsaber. Not even the Force could take all of his pain away. Some of it remained, no matter how hard he tried to accept it or tried to let it go as part of an unchangeable past so he worked out his frustrations–his pain–through memories and the sweat of his body.

Spinning about to face another phantom enemy, he struck out, willing his hand to connect with the chest of the last remaining dark figure. An elegant move in the midst of the dance was brought to an abrupt stop.

Instead of a towering figure shrouded in black, at the fleeting edges of memory was a dusty nine-year-old boy in ragged attire staring worriedly at him. Before he fully registered the figment of his imagination, it was gone, drifting like the sand across the plains.

This ghost was no different than all the others that lurked just beyond his reach. Phantasms out of the corner of his eyes, vanishing the instant he turned.

No, the boy was just a stray thought, a memory that should be paid no mind.

For unlike his other ghosts, the boy still lived.

_____________________

Exhale

A Jedi will fight many battles but the one inside will be the greatest.

The narrow corridors of blue and gray that connected the various rooms of the Temple training center were bustling with knights and masters moving from one station to another during the late hours of the Coruscant night. Padawans of all ages were forbidden from entering during the dark cycle, so they were off dreaming of future knighthood, struggling through various studies, or just spending some quiet time with friends.

It was the older Jedi's hour.

Usually, Obi-Wan Kenobi would not care when he worked out, as long as there was an empty practice chamber for him to do so in. Yet, there was something alluring about the late hours, when there were no curious youths, and masters and knights were often polite enough to keep their distance and leave him to his solo practices. Sometimes he preferred to be alone and not watched or criticized with keenly watching eyes.

Entering the relative quiet of the blue chamber and allowing the heavy door to swoosh closed behind, he faced the white-lit room with its grayish-blue faux stone walls and floors. Real stone was not used to line the cool room, but instead a form of duracrete that could be spackled on over saber gouges that invariably scarred the smooth surfaces.

As he crossed the chamber, the reddish-brown material of his cloak slipped from his broad shoulders. Caught before the hem could drag the ground, he carefully folded the material up. A small bench lined the wall just beyond the edge of the practice floor. In the blue duracrete above the synth wood seating were three insets for storing belongings. Stepping over the low bench and straddling it, Obi-Wan deposited his cloak in the first cubby, then slipped his utility belt free, allowing the pommel of his saber hilt to clatter against the pale tan surface of the bench as he set the belt down. After giving a quick wince to the pained sound, the Jedi gently pushed the weapon to the side as he imagined his master–Qui-Gon Jinn–quirking a brow at such rough treatment. He could almost hear one of many speeches on how the weapon was life and how it should be treated with respect.

A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

Heavy fingers brushed over a weary face, then tugged on the short hairs of his ginger beard. He was too young to feel so old, he silently thought as he took the edges of his tunic in hand. Creamy colors slid off, revealing lightly freckled shoulders. Setting the folded clothing in the inset and separating the silver and black saber hilt from his utility belt, he then also tucked the leather away.

Sinking to the lacquered bench, he pulled his boots free and set them back against the wall. For a time, he just sat there, enjoying the near silence. Through the thick walls, the muffled, distant sounds of sparring matches could be heard, but did not bother him, for he was used to the constant noise of growing up in the Jedi Temple. The constant hum of laughter and voices from the thousands that moved about the great structure to the sense of never truly being alone filled his time at home. A part of him could not imagine a life without such companionship.

Untangling himself from the bench, Obi-Wan stood and stretched, giving an extra few centimeters to his full height. Padding quietly across the cool stone floor, he stopped in the center and stole a quick glance about before allowing his eyes to slowly slip closed. The simple chamber was no different than all the others spread about that section of the Temple, except in minor variations of color. He often preferred the blue and gray, feeling it to be less distracting. His thoughts fell to his breathing as he concentrated on taking slow breaths in and out.

Beginning with the simplest of motions, Obi-Wan stepped forward and started the most basic of katas; one he had learned as a young initiate, a simple step, a turn, followed by a twist, and then repeated. Every muscle and joint loosened with the easy motions as he continued to focus on his breathing and allowed the tensions that built up over the day to slip away with each gentle move.

There were no expectations placed on him here in the solitude of the practice chamber, save those he imposed upon himself. However those were more daunting than anything another could have placed upon him. His duties, to his padawan, to his Order, made up every fiber of his being. It was not just an exercise of body, but of spirit.

Feeling tight muscles become sufficiently warmed and loosened, ready for the coming workout, Obi-Wan stilled his motions and sank to his knees. In the meditative position, his hands pressed lightly just above his knees, he maintained his unwavering focus on his breathing.

In.

Out.

Pushing the random thoughts and emotions to the side, he sought his center, finding it readily, a gift of a truly calm mind. Some days were more difficult than others to find it, but not today. All of the stresses and feelings that accompanied being a young and often uncertain master bled away with each slow release of air.

His hands pressed against the pale trews that sheltered his warm legs as he imagined the invisible burden being lifted from weary shoulders.

The crisp, clean air of the blue room filled his lungs creating an even crest and fall of his chest. Warm, moist air exited through slightly parted lips.

He lived for these moments. Remaining perfectly still, his breathing was all that mattered; just for a little while there was nothing else. Tense muscles continued to relax, leaving a distant ache in their wake across broad shoulders and down his gently curving spine. When the physical reminders of his battles with a headstrong apprentice had waned, he smoothly rose to his feet and went into action. Callused footpads pressed to the smooth surface beneath, but his thoughts were far from the chill it offered.

The soft leggings clung to the shape of powerful legs; muscles shifted and redefined with every movement. Under the white light of the high ceiling, planes along his shoulders glistened with a thin sheen of perspiration. Strong arms reached out, pressing an imaginary foe back as he swiftly moved over the floor.

In the light breeze brought on by his movements, his short, feathered locks grew ruffled. Ginger strands fell forward, lightly brushing his dampened forehead. Quickly advancing through the motions of a barehanded kata, he stole a bit of concentration to reach out through the Force and touch his padawan through their training bond. Sensing that the youth was asleep and rightly so, after going nearly two days without rest, he gently withdrew.

Drawing his thoughts away from Anakin, he returned his attentions to his own needs, which more often than not fell to the wayside.

Closing his eyes, Obi-Wan continued through the ancient dance, the Force guiding his moves, as his heart thundered within his chest wall. He exhaled the spent air, drawing in another breath as he twisted about fulfilling each stage of the kata. It was followed by a quick sniff of the calm air, before he continued the dance unbroken.

A hint of aristois enlivened his senses. The sweet smelling flowers, a symbol of love to the Naboo, inspired another inhale of the lovely fragrance as it reminded him of places in the past.

With a turn, he opened his eyes to meet the steady, sapphire gaze of Siri Tachi. The female Jedi stood silently by the synth wood bench. Her deep brown cloak was draped over the smooth seat next to where Obi-Wan's lightsaber lay.

Her sleek silver weapon was placed upon the pile of material.

"You almost inspire me to practice katas," she said with a trace of laughter.

"One of these days, I will," he replied in a low, slightly burred tone, then offered up an infectious smile. Even in knighthood, her attitude had changed little in his memories, calming exercises were not her favorite, having preferred more active meditations. He was often grateful in these brief encounters at the Temple that she remained the tempestuous padawan that had been his rival in youth. Yet now, he had little desire to compete against her. They were knights. Equals.

Friends?

Maybe not that far, but they were still close agemates and fellow Jedi.

Siri smirked as she reached up and brushed through her damp feathery blond hair that drooped and clung to her skin before grabbing the tan towel that draped her slim shoulders. "Sorry about being late," she said as she pulled the material free, letting it fall to the edge of the bench. "I was over in the gym. There was a free spot on the bars," she added with a rosy-cheeked grin. "Couldn't resist."

"I see," he said with understanding. Knowing he would have partaken such an opportunity had it arose but there always seemed to be someone waiting for their turn at the bars. Languidly reaching out, he called his saber hilt from the bench to his hand with a graceful action.

She paid the act of Force theatrics little attention. Sliding her hands over the pale blue, second skin, tank top and shorts, before finally resting them on her shapely hips. "So why you are hiding in here?"

"I am hardly hiding," came the husky reply as he moved through a simple exercise gripping the hilt of his dormant lightsaber.

"There are larger practice floors in the bigger rooms."

Obi-Wan stopped his exercise and turned to face her again. "I assumed you wanted a more private practice chamber." He had never considered taking the exercises to a larger floor, as few partnered practice sessions were for public display. The open floors of the larger rooms invited audiences and critique. It was about the exhibition. He had nothing to show or prove and had not figured Siri would either.

"Doesn't matter," Siri flippantly replied with a wave of her hand. Balancing on one foot, then the other, she kicked off the lightweight shoes that many Jedi utilized for walking about the Temple practice chambers and in private when full dress was not required. With the toe of her foot, she pushed them under the bench and picked her lightsaber up. "So tell me," she began, flashing a wicked grin as she walked onto the practice floor, "What punishments have you imparted on your dear sweet padawan now?" As she walked, she made careful adjustments to the power settings on the hilt.

With a warm chuckle, Obi-Wan replied, "Lessons are not punishment, regardless of what Anakin thinks. Besides," he went on as he stepped into the center of the floor while checking his own weapon for the proper lower power adjustment, "he was sleeping when I left him."

"Wimp."

"He is just a boy," Obi-Wan quickly said. A protective look glittered in his eyes. "Two days without sleep is hard on anyone."

"With the right meditations–"

"He is still fighting to control his thoughts."

Siri paused, her eyes frozen on him as she studied his uncertain posture. "Interesting choice of words."

Shifting slightly, he met her rich blue gaze and silently held it. Maybe he gave away too much. Concern filled him, feeling he had been too free with his words. He had grown to be guarded of his words, especially when speaking of Anakin because it only invited question or concern in his abilities, but never the help he sometimes needed.

Siri was the first to break the gaze. She glanced to the wall then back at Obi-Wan. "Wild fighting? Or should we start with something more standardized?" A moment of silence lingered before being shattered by the sound of an activated lightsaber blade.

Obi-Wan attributed the change in subject to a tender mercy; he would not have wanted to try to explain his words, if, of course, he could explain. "What would you prefer?" he asked, grateful to be moving away from the subject.

The female Jedi arched a blond brow. She turned slightly, glancing over her shoulder. "Lady's choice?"

"Within reason," he said. Always careful of what he was agreeing to, having learned the hard way several times with a sneaky young apprentice.

"That's just not fun." She reached out. Battle roughened fingers pressed against the sweat dampened flesh of his upper arm.

Held breath released as pale blue eyes fell to the instant of touch, her hand so warm against his skin.

When the moment had lasted too long, she stepped back, pulling her hand away.

Obi-Wan quickly raised his gaze to her but said nothing as a feeling of absence briefly welled in him before dispersing.

Without offering him a look, her vision fell to the floor as she said, "Well, since I asked, I will let you choose."

The sweet smell of aristois wafted through the air.

"You are so gracious."

"Aren't I?" Siri laughed. A gentle smile tugged at her red painted lips.

"Let us do the wild fighting last then."

"Coward. You are just afraid I will win," came a tease as she twisted to face him.

"You? Win?" A mischievous gleam lit his eyes. "I do not remember you being such a comedian."

Deactivating her saber, Siri folded her arms across her chest in an incredulous look. "I don't have to be Master Yoda to foresee someone will be limping away from this."

"Is that supposed to frighten me? You will have to try harder."

"No one ever accused you of being smart," she playfully shot back.

Shaking his head, Obi-Wan asked, "Why is it again, I agreed to this?"

"You enjoy my company and don't get enough abuse in your life."

"Of course." He briefly met her even gaze, but then allowed his pale blue eyes to drift along the strong line of Siri's jaw and down over the creamy skin at her neckline. With a shallow breath, he pulled his attention away, thumb activating the blue flame of his lightsaber. Tightness tugged in his chest as he swiftly cut the blade through the air, gripping at the hilt and struggling to maintain his focus on the impending workout. The Force flowed through him as he completed a few quick steps. In the midst of a simple turn, he caught her intense appraisal. "What?" he exhaled.

"Just thinking," she said as a thoughtful look bled across her features. Shaking her head, the quality of her voice suddenly light and impish, "Let's do the Storm Kata."

At the almost delight in her voice, Obi-Wan quirked a ginger brow and shifted to meet her bright look. Something faintly teasing twinkled in her eyes. "I am going to regret this, I just know it."

"When was the last time you practiced with a grown up?" she said in a low tone as she approached the ginger haired Jedi.

"A while." It was an honest enough answer, one that was oblique enough to serve his needs like it had since he was a young padawan. It could have represented days, weeks, even the actual more than a year since he had sparred with anyone beside Anakin. And all Siri was really asking for was an upper level partnered kata common among knights and masters.

"I am sure Anakin won't get too jealous," Siri laughed as she turned her back to him, and stepped into a simple saber bearing kata to warm up. Her short blond hair feathered lightly against the back of her neck, accentuating the gentle shift of muscles that vanished behind the blue of her snug top.

Wondering why he was allowing such distractions, Obi-Wan turned away and swept the tip of his saber blade about readying himself. The sound of the energy weapon cutting through the air for the thousandth time was seared into his memories. "Anakin, I am sure, is grateful to you for rescuing him from boring katas." Gathering his wayward attention, he concentrated on the image of his young apprentice and wished for a way to help calm the youth's restless spirit.

Breaking the silence that had filled the chamber, Siri announced, "I'll be the thunder." She quickly took up the proper position for the ancient dance.

"Naturally," he said, facing her.

Her eyes widened. "Excuse me?" Using the violet tip of her saber blade, she waggled it at her grinning companion.

Ignoring the implied threat, Obi-Wan continued to tease, "It just seemed fitting you would pick something loud."

She narrowed her gaze. "You are going to pay for that."

"I am sure I will."

Without warning, Siri burst into a flurry of action, only to find her lightsaber locked in a firm block by Obi-Wan's. A blossomy scent tinted the air.

Tipping his head up, the bearded Jedi sniffed the air. "Flowers," he mumbled over the crackle of lightsabers.

Siri instantly backed away. "Laundry freshener," came an apprehensive tone.

"Naboo aristois," Obi-Wan firmly stated.

Shock spread across her face. "Of all the flowers in the galaxy–"

A small gasp escaped her as Obi-Wan boldly stepped forward through her defenses and drawing close, sniffed the fragrant air along the tender skin just below her blond framed ear.

He could feel heat flush his skin at his daring move, surprised at how easy a thought had become action.

Siri's soft, quivering breath caught his attention just before she retreated from his close presence. "The scent is muted," she said quickly, a tremor in her voice. "It is not meant to be noticeable."

"Then why wear it?"

The hum of sabers filled the air as Siri bound backward and lightly struck out. Over the flash of blades, she said, "Because I like it."

The lilting bouquet enlivened Obi-Wan's memories of time spent in the garden of the Theed Palace following the liberation of Naboo from the Trade Federation. All the hours he spent kneeling among the blossoms, trying to put his head back together after his battle with the menacing Sith lord, the death of his master, and the consequences of a grieving promise made.

Peace had come to him in the midst of the flowers, tightly wrapped buds on the cusp of exploding into beautiful blooms of reds, pinks, delicate yellows and ivory whites guarded by thorny stems.

It had been nearly five years since the gentle fragrance had teased his senses. And yet, he would know it anywhere, for there was no scent in all the galaxy that was so closely linked to such an internal storm of emotions as fear, grief, shock, yet even hope, happiness and solace bloomed amidst the torrent. He had wept until the pain eased, until his spirit could deal with the hurt, the bushes of flowers a silent audience.

In the garden, surrounded by the aristois, his jarred spirit had sought his calm center. The forgiving aroma of delicate blooms had given him focus, each inhale had taken in the sweet scent and provided a balm when he needed it the most.

A light swipe of Siri's lightsaber danced over the blue duracrete floor. The electric hum of her violet weapon brought Obi-Wan back to a moment.

Fitting, he thought as he took a step to the side, that Siri would choose that particular fragrance. Lovely on the surface but barbed to protect herself.

"Are we going to dance or just stare at each other?" she asked as she twisted slightly and then brought a hand up and rubbed the muscles along the back of her shoulder.

"Dance. The Storm Kata." Taking up position across from her, Obi-Wan held out his weapon in a defensive stance.

____________________________

Inhale

Orange light flooded across the desert floor, broadcasting the rising heat of the day as the two suns burst from their sheaths, burning away all but the blackest shadows. There were few days in the Tatooine year that did not begin this way and it offered Obi-Wan little reason to give it any more attention than usual.

Graceful movements carried him over the warm shale practice area as he took care moving from one solo kata to another. Each motion taken at a slow pace, so not to bring undo injury from an incorrect landing. There was no rush. He had plenty of time.

He had forever.

The thought brought a slight hitch in his breath, disrupting his movements. Closing his eyes, he forced the air out of his lungs as he easily regained his place in the ancient dance.

Desperately, he tried to push the thought of indefinite exile out of his mind, wishing it would leave with the simplicity of exhaling. Stepping out, a twist of his ankle, a shift and a hard right angle as he continued through the motions. Through closed eyes, electric red filled his vision as the twin suns exerted their influence over him.

Breathe in.

Faded cerulean eyes opened to the harsh amber glare that left colorful spots dancing in its wake. The random flashing of blues, greens, reds, black and white masked the oranges that splashed over sand grains.

Breathe out.

As the speckles faded, stark images shimmered at the periphery. A turn, the quick adjustment of his gaze revealed nothing but the open plains. Yet his mind, succumbing to the loneliness, the lack of companionship in any form of which he had never truly known before, was playing tricks on him. The desert heat was giving form to mirages his heart longed for.

Tall figures in brown cloaks drifted and vanished before he could lay eyes upon them. Gentle, teasing laughter, merely the call of a distant lizard unbroken by the rolling dunes. Even the Force taunted him, whispers of familiar signatures that disappeared before he could touch them, leaving only a void in the energy source and reminding him how truly alone he was.

Obi-Wan accepted the hauntings, not possessing the strength to ward them off.

Not wanting to.

They were as much a part of his life as their flesh and blood counterparts had once been. Sometimes, even in the face of pain, he longed for a whisper, a voice, a familiar touch even if it abandoned him within a moment.

A hint of flowers sailed by in the desert air, the aroma so powerful in his senses. If he allowed its touch–its memory–to overwhelm him it would crush his heart. Even as his strength threatened to give in a moment of psychic weakness, he managed to push the phantom scent away.

The golden sheen of sweat glistened against his skin, shimmering with every flex and relaxation of muscles. The two fiery orbs cast their light across his golden skin, bleaching the color from his clothing, his life, as the blackest shadows trailed him.

____________________

Exhale

Love and lust are as powerful of emotions as hate and fear. All of which will lure a Jedi to the Dark Side.

The crackle and hum of lightsabers clashing echoed off the sandstone walls of the private sparring chamber at the end of the long corridor not often traveled by other Jedi. Blues and violets electrified the silver veins lacing through the faux-rock as two combatants battled for dominance.

Siri Tachi flew over the smooth surface with lightning quick speed as she attacked her opponent in a rapid succession of light hits. Driving the blazing tip of her saber blade forward, she stabbed at Obi-Wan, who easily avoided the blows. He laughed as agile springs carried him away from the low powered weapon.

"Stand still," she playfully growled as she took another swing at him. With every movement, her blond plaited hair whipped against her back, brushing between her shoulder blades and against the deep green two-piece workout gear she wore. Much like her favored unisuit, the outfit fit her like a glove and did little to hinder her swift movements as she rushed after her spry sparring partner.

More warm laughter filled the air as Obi-Wan bounded beyond her extended reach, easily parrying the lunge. "I thought you wanted a workout," he teased. Sweat dampened ginger locks clung to the nape of his neck, even as he twisted about in another block. The sparring match–the game–had gone on for nearly a standard hour without a break and he thought it could go easily for another hour. "Do not tell me you are already tiring?" he said in a mirthful tone as he leapt back, avoiding a determined attack.

Holding Siri's violet lightsaber in check, he reached through her defenses; his thumb brushed over her smooth cheek and then caught the curled tip of her blond braid. The hair was so soft that it slipped through his fingers.

"Hey!" she snapped, pulling free of the light tug and retaliated with a light singe to the other Jedi's wrist.

"I have to admit," he said between breaths, as he quickly withdrew his hand before locking her gaze with his, "I like your hair longer."

"You are like a child!" she cried out before breaking through his defenses and lightly swatting him across the cheek with her hand.

Breaking off, Obi-Wan retreated, nursing the mild sting just above his beard line. At least, this time there would be no red mark to sport for a day. "I never pulled braids as a child," he said in mock offense, then flashed a grin.

"I didn't have a braid as a child." Siri tugged on her short plaited hair then let go, allowing it to hang down the back of her neck. Taking her saber hilt in both hands, she held it out defensively. "If I had known you were going to take so much enjoyment in it, I wouldn't have let my hair grow out."

"Only fair," Obi-Wan said as he struck out only to be halted by Siri's weapon. "You have gotten a handful of mine more than once recently."

"Not my fault you are going for the disheveled look."

Her teasing words caught him by surprise and he almost took a burn across the wrist because of it. Leaping to the side and out of the way of a wild swing, sabers violently met and sparks flew as the two blades rebounded and each raced forward in another attack. Obi-Wan rushed her, slicing deep into the smaller Jedi's defenses and nearly disarming her with a powerful down stroke.

A grunt and a huff accentuated a quick dodge and flip that saved Siri from a bout-ending blow as she struggled to catch her footing.

Giving her no quarter, Obi-Wan closed the space between them once more. The pale blue of his saber blade grazed the tender flesh of her shoulder along the edge of the deep green shirt strap.

A pained hiss escaped between clenched teeth before she dropped to the floor just below Obi-Wan's reach and kicked out. The larger Jedi easily avoided the obvious incursion, but a secondary leg sweep caught his ankle and sent him tumbling to the cool lacquered wood floor.

Springing to her feet, Siri slashed the blade toward the fallen Jedi only to have him roll to safety and regain his footing. Shifting his weight to one leg, he launched a powerful kick toward her chest, but she flipped backward, avoiding contact with his bare foot. Before he could complete the motion and finish with a saber attack, fire laced up his right arm just above the wrist where violet cut through his defenses and the low powered blade scorched flesh.

Siri ducked out of the way of a counterattack only to catch the tip of his blade across her left thigh. With the slightest stumble, she regained her footing and before Obi-Wan could finish her, she thrust out and left a stinging red line just above the waist of his worn leggings across his spine.

Kicking back, Obi-Wan entangled a leg between hers and tripped her up. A startled gasp escaped the female Jedi as she was caught with a powerful arm. At first she struggled against the hold, but then eased as he pulled her roughly to him. Her heaving breaths and the rush of her heart were felt through the simple act of touch. Her sapphire eyes locked into his briefly before he allowed his gaze to shift, tracing down the straight nose to delicately painted coral lips that barely parted with each exhalation, over her gently rounded chin, to the narrow line of her creamy throat and finally to the crest and fall of her chest.

"And what would you call this move, Master Kenobi?" she whispered between breaths as her free hand seductively slid up his lightsaber bearing arm, sending small electric tingles into his flesh.

His senses were charged by the flowery scent of aristois. How lovely, he thought, as he leaned in a little closer to take in the wonderous scent.

That moment of distraction–weakness–was all Siri needed. A wicked smile painted her lips as she suddenly kicked up off the floor, drawing in and twisting before wrapping slim legs around his neck. Were he anyone else, she would have easily snapped his neck, but instead settled for throwing him off balance. Using his offset momentum to her advantage, she arched her back, her bare hands landing on the polished floor before she flipped him over her.

Obi-Wan cried out in surprise as he went flying. Still entangled in Siri's legs, he was unable to catch himself and crashed to the floor with a dull thud and a groan. "Ow," he moaned, sprawled flat on his back and staring up into the starry white lights that littered the high ceiling.

"Ugh, men! You get distracted so easily!" she growled as she rolled away from him and crawled to her feet.

"Me?" Obi-Wan huffed as he too found his footing and raised his weapon up again before reactivating it, a hint of Siri's perfume still strong in his senses. "This would be much easier if you would not wear that particular fragrance."

Siri just laughed and something very knowing glittered in her eyes.

"I think that qualifies as cheating," Obi-Wan said, realizing the reason behind the wonderful fragrance was quite devious, quite maddening, on her part.

"Only padawans cannot control themselves," she purred. In a sudden flurry of action, she bounded forward, cutting high, blades clashing before twisting apart as the sparring match continued. Weapons flashed through the air as Obi-Wan chased her across the floor in a series of spark filled meetings until he had her cornered against the sandstone walls. She leapt to the side, but a swipe of his blade left a singe mark across her upper right arm, forcing Siri to slide along the smooth stone as she tried to retreat.

Obi-Wan continued to shift, careful to keep her pinned until she wildly lashed out. A directed thrust ran the edge of the violet blade across his side. He gasped in pain, hastily retreating from the saber play as he pressed a hand to the red burn at his side. Mercifully, blades were kept at a low setting or she really could have hurt him. Pressing the pain into the Force, he returned his attentions to his grinning opponent.

"Want to take bets?" she asked casually, moving into the relative safety of the open practice floor.

"On what?" he returned as he clumsily blocked a quick strike.

"On who's going to need more bacta when this session is over?"

Defending against her suddenly renewed attack, Obi-Wan managed to say, "You will." Then he caught her free arm just above the wrist in a commanding hold and elicited a startled yelp. Holding her hand perfectly still, he met her fierce gaze with a steady one.

Siri tugged at the hold on her wrist but it did not give. "You don't think I can fight you single handed?" To prove her point, she struck out, only to be met by Obi-Wan's azure blade over their heads. His strength pushed her weapon to the side.

Never once did he pull away from her stare. Through his grip on her wrist, he could feel the rapid pulse and flow of blood through her veins. Yet, it was nothing compared to the thundering of his heart every time he touched her.

Breaking loose of his hold, she threw herself into attack, driving him across the reflective floor. Playfulness slipped away as Obi-Wan struggled against the quick onslaught that drove him across the floor. He silently chastised himself for allowing his thoughts to drift, as they did far too often in these late evening sessions. Since they were initiates, he had always known her to be one of the best, but each time they sparred, it grew more difficult to keep an upper hand. For two years, since that day Siri had gone looking for a sparring partner, both repeatedly walked away from their matches comparing evenly earned scorch marks. He did not know if it was just improvement on their parts or the fact that they had grown very accustomed to each other's fighting style.

He could sense her moves easily through the Force, but more intensely than the usual Force sight, as if they shared a low level training bond. Still her speed and agility gave the bouts the excitement that regular practice sessions lacked.

Obi-Wan also secretly accepted there might be more.

Siri's absence was most strongly felt upon returns to the Temple only to find she and her apprentice, Ferus, were in the field. He missed the nightly practices when forced to go without her company. This last time had been three months.

Yet, even after three months without a shared sparring session, they fell back into old habits and games easily.

The violet blade met the pale blue just above the handle, the powerful chop knocked Obi-Wan's hand back but he maintained a tight grip on the hilt. Just as Siri twisted her blade about to deliver the "kill" blow, he deactivated his weapon and lunged under her raised arms.

"What–"

Siri tried to leap out of the way, but Obi-Wan caught her by the waist, sending them both crashing to the floor. Her saber tumbled across the wood with a clatter. A winded grunt escaped her when she was smashed underneath Obi-Wan's larger body, who quickly rolled off her.

Strong fingers and even sharper fingernails dug into the skin of Obi-Wan's shoulders as she held on, rolling with him until she was securely on top. Straddling his sides, she proudly perched on his lower abdomen.

"This worked out well," she announced, staring down at him as she pressed her hands against his bare shoulders.

Obi-Wan slowly exhaled as he rested against the smooth floor. The burn across his lower back was cooled by the chill surface. Staring up into her smug look, he said, "I am glad it worked out for someone." This was not quite the result he had imagined, but being Jedi, he would accept and work to overcome the adversity.

Releasing her tight grip of his pinned shoulders, she kept her hands planted against his moist flesh. A gentle smile tugged at her soft lips as roughened fingers leisurely traced across his collarbone, skimming over the smooth ridge and then down over his chest. Playful fingers glided over warmed skin before combing through gently curling ginger chest hairs.

The action inspired a soft chuckle as he shifted under her.

"Don't tell me you're ticklish?"

"Of course not," Obi-Wan said with a laugh as her fingers danced a little more exuberantly over his skin.

An index finger played with the soft curls of the thin line of hair trailing toward his abdomen. "I do enjoy being on top," she purred. "So much control."

Quickly reaching up, Obi-Wan grabbed Siri and rolled her onto her back. His hand pressed protectively against the back of her blond crowned head, cushioning it against the hard floor. "I know," he whispered. His pulse thundering so loudly that it nearly drowned out his thoughts.

"No fair," she softly growled as she shifted under his weight. Her body was so warm, her pulse just as erratic as his.

"All is fair," the rest of the words were muffled as he pressed his lips to hers. His heart thundered in his chest, shocked by his own actions, but it quickly abated when Siri reciprocated. Her fingers slid along his cheek and neck.

His brain was awash in a dizzying array of emotions as conversations and brushing touches gave way to more through hungry kisses. Siri indulged the madness of the moment, reaching past recently inflicted saber burns and entwining her fingers through his ginger mane, drawing him ever closer.

The intoxicating scent of aristois danced in his senses as he pulled his lips from hers and planted gentle kisses along her chin and down her throat. A soft gasp escaped Siri as she wrapped her arm around his neck while the other gripped a powerful arm. The rush of blood through his veins was met by the pounding of Siri's heart. Her pulse was powerful under his touch. Every fiber of his being on fire as he nuzzled against the side of her ivory face before pulling her to him. A timorous sound rose up from deep, but Siri did not let go.

With one hand firmly planted to the chill floor, Obi-Wan pushed them into a sitting position. Siri shifted with him, wrapping her legs around his waist, her arm tight across the back of his neck. Her free hand pressed against the warm flesh of his chest. The smell of flowers overwhelmed Obi-Wan's senses.

The female Jedi tilted her head to the side, exposing the tender skin of her neck. The tip of Obi-Wan's nose brushed the soft skin below her right ear as he took in the scent of her perfume. Their lips again brushing together before demanding kisses traced down her throat.

He felt the hitch in her chest as he planted soft kisses along her collarbone. The powerful emotions, the want and need to touch her, to feel her skin against his, were addictive. He pressed a large hand to the side of her face.

"Obi-Wan," she whispered, pressing into him. Her tender lips caressed his skin.

His hands slid along her sides over the smooth green material of her top, drifting to her back where he massaged the tightness along her gently curving spine. Her warm fingers sought out his and guided them to her breast where he could feel the pounding of her heart through clothing.

Short trembling breaths slipped free over slightly parted lips.

The smell of Naboo flowers fired in his brain as he leaned in for another whiff of the sweet scent.

Siri's hand pressed to his heart.

Battle roughened fingers, surprisingly gentle, slid along the muscles of her back, up her neck as Obi-Wan drew her close for another kiss. Desperate emotions tugged as their spirits entwined, becoming one with passion. Framing her face in large hands, he laid light kisses over her soft lips and along her smooth cheek. Glancing past the loosened strands of blond hair that brushed against the nape of Siri's neck, he caught sight of the silver and black hilt of his lightsaber laying a short distance away.

Pain bloomed within, his heart aching, as he suddenly pulled back. Concerned sapphire eyes met his and after only a moment, the look eased to understanding. She said nothing but just sat there, her legs still wrapped around him, arms draped over his shoulders.

The reality was they were Jedi, and such commanding, encompassing emotions were frowned upon. The power of such affections overwhelmed reason. To give into them would be denying their vows to the Order.

"I am sorry," he whispered in her ear.

Siri reached up and pressed a free hand to the side of his face, stroking the soft hairs of his beard. "For what?" she asked, pain reflected in her eyes. "For reminding us of our duties? Of who we are?" Leaning forward, she offered up a gentle kiss, but her lips quickly retreated from his. Her eyes closed, long dark lashes brushing her cheek as she sadly shook her head. Sorrow, hurt and embarrassment weighed heavily in her voice, "We are acting like hormonally charged padawans."

With a frown, the grief of the moment crushing his heart, Obi-Wan buried his face in the crook of her neck. Strong arms held her close as she rested her head against his shoulder.

He consoled himself, for if nothing else, he could hold her for a little while longer.

________________________

Inhale

A gentle sweep of his hand crossed the rising suns as he continued the graceful movements of the barehanded kata. Breaths came slowly and evenly as he completed the final stages of the ancient dance. Its motions ingrained in his very being as memories of a great practice hall lingered.

Sometimes, he could almost smell the recycled air circulating through the vents. Sometimes, he imagined himself still an apprentice practicing late into the evening hours, eager to perfect a complex kata, eager to prove his worthiness of being a Jedi.

His motions paused as he stared at an open palm, the orange sunlight casting a fiery glow to his fingertips. Those memories of the past seemed futile in respect to the present and his mistakes.

Pushing on though his morning ministrations, he continued the sweep of his hand. Fading memories of the life before crowded past calm thoughts as he envisioned the pale blues of the apartment he once shared with his master and the corals of the one he shared with his apprentice. He missed those colors, the muted ones especially since pastels that were rare on the desert world. Variety of reds, browns, oranges and yellows were aplenty.

The splash of crystal clear waters over red stone a drifting memory. The sound alien to his new environment, water a rarity, a desperate necessity rather than an accepted luxury to be played with.

Even now the memory of the bright sapphire of Siri's eyes were fading, the colors robbed by the bright suns. He wondered if in a year, he would even remember her face.

She was one of the last who still had familiar features, all his other ghosts blurs in the afternoon light. Even squinting did not sharpen the memory.

Maybe it was for the best.

Maybe.

Yet, the katas maintained.

In those moments, when fear and loneliness overcame him, he often found himself silently praying to the Force, wishing only for the strength not to forget the katas. He would as soon forget his name than give up the peace that the ancient exercises offered him.

He would cling to the dances and the pieces of Code that still held in his weary thoughts. Those were his alone and they would remain until the day his life ended by whatever means.

_____________________

Exhale

With a conflicted heart, a Jedi's mind cannot be clear.

Across the polished wood floor of the private practice chamber, electric blue and violet danced. The familiar hum was dampened by controlled breaths and carefully timed footfalls. A sizzle filled the air when the two blades passed centimeters from each other as the two figures moved through the dimly lit chamber. Soft blue light lit the ceiling, emulating the night sky. From a hundred tiny light fixtures, like stars, golden light cascaded down over the two dancers as they stepped through the early stages of a partnered kata.

Every inch glowed with the faux natural lighting that permeated the chamber. Along the walls, safe from the practice floor, sat small benches and cubbies cut into the wall securing discarded boots and cloaks. A tunic lay folded gently on the edge of one of the long benches in the careful, ordered way they performed the kata.

Cool colors splashed along the edges of the room and defined Obi-Wan and Siri's outlines as the light shimmered over their damp, exposed skin. Every coordinated movement shared by the two Jedi fell with a precision borne from long months of practice in the art of the ancient Kata of the Heart. Bare feet pressed to the floor in silent accuracy as the performers mirrored one another. Their bodies sliding off each other as they twisted around the invisible center of the room.

Their gazes remained locked as they walked a slow circle around each other. Their full powered lightsabers held to their sides, but ready to strike with the barest notice.

Raising a slender leg, Siri stretched and placed her step within Obi-Wan's. The soft, worn material of his practice leggings brushed against the bare skin just above the inside of her knee. Her tight plum colored workout shorts and sleeveless top did little to hinder her movements as she slipped closer to her companion like a moth to a flame.

Obi-Wan stole a small smile as he felt the heat of her body against his.

Never breaking their gaze, Siri shifted allowing the tip of her violet blade to skim close to the floor, then grazing the edge of Obi-Wan's bare ankle before sweeping it back up.

Moving through the prescribed dance, a gentle sweep of the ginger haired Jedi's lightsaber cut across Siri's shoulder, his reach carrying the deadly weapon safely away from her. In the close quartered passing, his soft exhale fluttered through the blond hairs framing her right ear.

The sweet scent of aristois tickled his senses.

Yet, the moment was tainted. The galaxy was tearing itself apart. Worlds were on the verge of seceding from the Republic. The Jedi's resources were strained and time at the Temple became even more rare by the day.

He and Anakin only just returned from Ansion and Siri would be leaving in the morning for Delerak; their time so brief. All they had was this moment, unknowing of when they would dance together again.

Heartbeats pulsed in quiet rhythm as the two bodies moved in harmony. Arms and legs entwining, then easily stepping out as they moved apart, then together again.

Her shuddering breath caught his attention, yet it was not born of uncertainty. Her movements were as crisp as his, with an accuracy that was so required of the trusting dance.

With full powered lightsabers in hand, their lives depended on pure, unwavering trust. Of which, Obi-Wan gave without reserve. In such close quarters, he could almost feel the blood rushing through her veins without the benefit of touch. Or maybe it was his, the soft swoosh in his ears. The question was easily remedied as he reached out, breaking the dance for a moment and pressing a hand to the side of her neck, sliding it down across her throat and chest.

She was so warm to his touch. His fingers lingered against her skin, not wishing to be parted from her. Through the Force he felt a gentle smile, love, hidden behind her mask of concentration. Without fear, Obi-Wan allowed his shields to relax and the well of emotions to slip free.

Without shattering the rhythm, the dance continued as they shared a single exhalation. Bringing his hand up, Obi-Wan brushed callused fingers over her high cheekbone and traced down along her jaw line. The feather light touch inspired a smile in the focused façade. As he gazed into her bright eyes, it took all of his will power to keep from breaking with the kata. All he wanted was to pull her into his arms, to feel her touch against his. Unsatisfied longing haunted his pale blue eyes. He pressed his lips together, fighting back the desire to lean forward and kiss her workout blushed cheeks, her tender, pouting lips.

A quivering breath escaped him as Siri pressed into him; her free hand gripped his bare shoulder. All he wanted was to hold her and keep her there, but she twisted away in the continuing pattern of the dance. Pain flooded his heart as she slipped away, moving just beyond his reach.

Every time they danced, the weight in his heart grew heavier, the longing during the days–weeks–of her absence more powerful.

In the safety of the small practice chamber, away from leering eyes and rude intrusions, the two Jedi quietly continued the ancient kata that had long fallen out of favor of the increasingly conservative Jedi Order.

In the nearly two millennia since the Masters Abolon and Heliawa had committed their private dances to writing, the Kata of the Heart, the Lovers' Dance, had rarely been brought to life. Yet, in the dimly lit room, it glowed with the passion and energy of the two performers.

The ache grew more powerful each time the dance pulled Siri away from him, but she was never truly absent. The Force bridged the distance of flesh with a bond of spirit.

The kata's rebirth had come quietly without fanfare. When mounting passions threatened to overwhelm sparring matches, a cure was sought through a visit to a small garden favored by the elderly Chalactan Jedi, Master Esrae and Knight Nasin. Over many decades, they had shared a great companionship and had been known to practice the ancient kata.

Marriage within the Order, for the reason of love was rare and highly frowned upon. A Jedi was married to their duty. The care of the padawan, the mission, the protection of others, and the constant seeking of a calm center always came first. The emotional bonds of love were distractions that had often led to disaster. A Jedi's focus could not be split between love and duty, yet, for many decades, the Temple bound archivists, Esrae and Nasin, had reveled in the joy of love, living together not only in flesh but in spirit.

An early morning walk, unusual for the two young knights, found the elderly Jedi in their favorite spot deep in the tiny garden. The two tattooed figures sat silently on a narrow bench, each draped in their traditional dark cloaks, Esrae wore the wide hooded headdress common among many female Chalactan Jedi. Her deep purple clothing was almost black against Nasin's midnight blue cloak. Sheltered under the fold of material were their hands, tightly clasped together. Visible only to those who stood before the two Jedi, an act that would only be found in the safety, far away from passing gazes, never to be shared in public corridors.

Jedi were not without compassion and rarely were they solitary creatures. Most enjoyed the fellowship found in the Temple and long lasting friendships.

It was only when the heart sought more that conflict arose.

Obi-Wan had known the gravity of his question when he posed it to Siri. Would she join him in the dance? It had come after many a sparring session ended with the two emotionally tried Jedi facing each other from the safety of opposite walls, fearful that a single touch would spark the fires within. Wants and needs were overcoming them and they knew it could not be allowed to continue.

The Kata of the Heart demanded emotional clarity, an untroubled heart.

Absolute control.

Their feelings could be shared through the dance, through restraint and focus.

Master Esrae had silently followed them with her gaze long before the two Jedi left the gently curving, pink stone footpath and walked across the thick carpet of green grass to where the two older Jedi sat. Flowering tuka vines draped around their private area, spilling blues, yellows, reds and purples all around them as sweet smelling flowers bloomed.

For Obi-Wan, there would never be enough flowers in the garden to drown out the sweet scent of aristois.

Upon seeing the elderly Jedi, Obi-Wan made a silent prayer to the Force to be only as happy in old age. He could imagine himself gray and tiring on a bench in one of the gardens with Siri by his side.

The female Chalactan's deep purple lips drew into a sad smile as the younger Jedi knelt before them.

Obi-Wan and Siri did more than just ask. They offered the details of their story, the heartache that was silently consuming them. They begged for knowledge of the ancient kata.

Throughout the softly spoken conversation, Esrae sat with her eyes closed as Nasin leaned forward and listened intently to their words, his dark gaze shifting from one to the other.

As Obi-Wan confided that he was not ready, not willing to give up the time he shared with Siri, he reached out and took her hand.

Mere children, Nasin had whispered at the act, but not unkindly.

Esrae's dark eyes opened and she studied the waiting Jedi.

There was fear in Obi-Wan's heart that she would reject their pleas and keep the secret of the Lovers' Kata hidden.

You are only inviting pain, the master said. Her purple nailed fingers tightening around Nasin's hand.

They were already in pain.

You think this kata will save you? She paused and met Obi-Wan's even gaze. From lust, maybe, but not from the true feelings of your heart, she added. Field Jedi should not suffer a deep relationship. Love distracts, and that is the reason why it is forbidden.

Understanding her words did not lessen the torment. Siri's hand was so small and delicate wrapped in his.

In the end, not even Esrae could deny their requests.

A timid beginning had given way to harmony as energy blades swept down between them–separating them–drawing lightly above the smooth wood finish. Ever connected through the spark and sizzle of their weapons, of their spirits.

Obi-Wan reached out to his partner, fingers grazing the sweat dampened skin along the fine line of her neck. A soft gasp escaped her; an electric tingle chased the tips of his fingers as they slid down to the hollow at the base of her throat.

Through the smallest touch, he could feel the rush of her heart. Longing painted her sapphire gaze.

With an exhale of pent up breath, he moved through the layers of the kata, guided by the energies of the Force, by the wants of his heart. For a moment, the burdens of apprentice and duty drifted away.

There was nothing beyond the moment, beyond Siri Tachi, the fiery blond who had once been rival, then friend, and now

The dance paused.

Energy pulsed between them as she leaned into his touch, nuzzling against the fine ginger hairs of his beard. His heart thundered as her fingers entwined with his.

A shuddering breath escaped slightly parted lips as Siri pressed harder into his bare chest. Her long plaited hair tickling his skin.

Sweeping the tip of his saber safely out of the way, he leaned into her. His hand tightened over her smaller one as he stared down into her bright blue eyes that reflected that same sense of longing. The rhythm of their hearts pulsed through the energies that swirled between them.

A small frown glossed over her lovely features as she pulled away, once more allowing the kata to continue.

The gentle motions were swept away in favor of a more active stage of the ancient dance. Damp blond strands lightly brushed against Siri's pale forehead as she spun with inborn grace, easily sending her blade slicing between her and her companion as she stepped into a lunge, driving her blade forward and cutting through Obi-Wan's defenses. He did not move to block, instead just twisted out of the way as the dance brought him around to face her once more.

Throughout the performance, Obi-Wan was taken in by the pain glittering in her eyes. Her emotions muted, but not shielded from him, just as he allowed her to sense his powerful feelings raging inside.

Every move, every breath, every look betrayed their serene appearances. Each step was a struggle to maintain the boundaries of the dance.

Yearning tore through him as he released his hold of her hand. Fingers touched briefly before parting in the choreographed manner as they retreated from one another, the distance across the practice floor more expansive to the mind than the physical reality.

In the pause, dangerous emotions were quelled with calming breaths. Returning to the slow motion battle of the kata, the only way of expressing forbidden feelings, the two Jedi clashed. Blue on violet flashed through the air, meeting in powerful blocks as light exploded between them.

Breaths grew short as languid motions once more became frenetic, yet the controlled sweep of the deadly blades only grazed exposed flesh, leaving light singe marks. Siri hissed as a burn graced her upper right arm. After a quick series of slashes and blocks, she left a thin burn stripe across Obi-Wan's shoulder blade.

At every turn, the soft sizzle of scorched flesh followed by a quick intake of breath filled the practice chamber.

Each singe of the full powered blades was a hallmark of what he could never truly possess, a reminder of Siri's soft caress. The sting of sweat seeping into the reddened flesh brought a sharp breath.

The Force swirled wildly between the two, as sabers repeatedly clashed. Grinding and exploding, sparks rained down between them as they met in one powerful block after another. Pressing hard against their blades, strength and will battled for dominance.

A sizzle filled the air as the two blades slid down to their hilts. The heat radiating against their bare hands as the two combatants remained locked in battle. Azure and violet blazed in their eyes as they both succumbed and their bodies twisted together and slid apart. Muscles strained as weapons repeatedly met in a violent display of emotions.

Years of sparring matches had only honed their abilities, had taught them the other's strengths and weaknesses. The growing bond only emboldened with the hours spent together.

The glowing intensity of their full powered weapons splashed cool colors over their glistening shoulders. Small droplets traced down Obi-Wan's spine and warm muscles shifted with every movement.

Simultaneously disengaging their lightsabers, Obi-Wan took Siri's wrist in a firm grip and pulled her close. A harmony of flesh moved them though the dance as their motions slowed once more.

She pressed against him, breath hitching as his lips brushed the soft skin below her ear. Drawing her arm up, she combed her fingers through his thick, damp hair.

Stealing a moment from the dance, Obi-Wan took in the sweet taste of her lips with a small kiss. A so very human reaction to love and yet, he was too weak to hold back.

The intoxicating scent of aristois only made him bolder.

Indulging in another kiss, Siri placed the palm of her hand to his chest just above his heart. With silent understanding, he broke away, taking a few steps back. If they did not press forward, the dance would never end.

As if that were a terrible thing.

Mirroring each other, they ignited their lightsabers, casting cool tones over their bodies. Exchanging gentle smiles, they leapt into action, and with speed and grace their blades wildly danced over the polished floor.

The soothing currents of the Force waltzed about the chamber as it guided the two Jedi with grace through the complex kata. Deadly weapons mingled over tender flesh as their bodies twisted about each other.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

A gentle look, the barest touch of skin as they moved through the steps. Within the sanctity of the practice chamber, protective shields and defensive countenances fell. There were no masters, no onlookers, and no padawans to hide from. There was only man and woman as they danced the secret kata, the Lovers' Kata.

Siri spun, reaching out into the dimly lit edges of the chamber with the fiery tip of her lightsaber, but once more she found her free hand imprisoned within Obi-Wan's powerful grip.

She offered no resistance as he pulled her back to him.

There was only the dance.

The near silence, except the constant hum of lightsabers ended with a gasp as Siri met the unyielding wall of Obi-Wan's chest. She tried to twist away, but he did not release his hold on her.

In a close quartered battle, their blades flew above flesh, dancing above their locked wrists as the kata went on.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Mirroring, they both deactivated their weapons, but Obi-Wan refused to release her wrist. Walking a slow circle around each other, his grip loosened. As if held by invisible bindings, their wrists continued to touch as they slid through the closing stages of the dance, their gazes never breaking.

A slight breeze ruffled the short strands of hair behind Siri's ear as she pressed her wrist against his.

Offering a tender smile, Obi-Wan remained focused on the moment. A pain slowly built in his chest as the sound of other practice cells bled into their private chamber.

Wrists twisted until palms pressed together. Fingers interweaved as they moved in perfect rhythm over the wooden floor.

Brushing his thumb along the inside of her slender index finger, he could feel the rough calluses of a lifetime of saber training. Sliding his thumb down the warm flesh, he traced it along a spot as soft as the skin along her cheek, then over a rough patch of scar tissue. For a moment, he massaged the little bit of tough skin.

Looking past her hand, he met her laughing blue eyes. Siri offered a warm smile that took on a hint of sadness.

Silver and black hilts were still held tight in their free hands. Obi-Wan gripped his lightsaber, the familiarity strong in his mind, a part of him since he was very young. A symbol of who he was. Tearing his gaze from Siri's, he followed the gentle curve of her sleek form down to the lightsaber in her hand.

Lovely long fingers wrapped around the silvery body of her weapon, her grip tightening and loosening in a pattern similar to Obi-Wan's.

Standing toe to toe, fingers still entwined, their blue gazes met. Tears welled in Siri's sapphire eyes as all the weight of duty, obligations, and Jedi Code settled in them. "My heart aches."

"I know," he breathed.

She tightened her grip on his hand. "We cannot do this."

"I know." Freeing his hand from hers, he brought it up to her cheek. Warm tears traced down her smooth skin, catching against his fingers. She leaned into his touch. He kissed her lips, then her tear stained cheek before pressing his forehead to hers. "I know."

________________________

Inhale

The distant roar of a low flying ship caught Obi-Wan's attention as he moved toward the end of the solo kata. Short of a journey into one of the small stations, that echo was as close as he came to civilization, and calling the stations civilization was questionable. The sounds of a ship, the baying of a bantha, or the scuttle of small lizards over the loose floor traveled hundreds of miles over the sands, nothing to break and diminish the noise. Sometimes in the late hours, he could hear the scurrying of tiny lizards that inhabited the drought stricken world. During the bright hours, a void filled the dunes where the sentient were the only ones unwise enough to leave the safety of their hovels and strike out into the blistering heat of the day.

The orange sky was fading to the white-yellow glare that ruled the daytime hours as Obi-Wan slowed his exercises. His golden skin blushed from the exertions of the morning, colored from the time spent under the menacing glare of the stars the planet orbited.

Reaching up, he pressed the heel of his hand to the rough scar tissue above his heart. Most other physical scars on his body had been minimized with treatment but on the battlefield such luxuries did not exist. The wound was merely healed and nothing more. The reamed flesh a constant reminder.

A throb radiated from the damaged skin and pulsed throughout his chest. There was nothing to salve the pain. Loneliness was a weapon greater than any grand army. It killed slowly, stealing a little life at a time.

Yet, he was unable to combat it. All he could do was live with the pain and wait and hope that it would not be for naught.

_________________

Exhale

The deadliest foe to a Jedi is distraction.

The churned reddish-brown soil of Ternak Minor threatened to swallow the Jedi with every step. Obi-Wan Kenobi pushed through the dirt, his scuffed boots sinking deeper as he closed the space between he and the command transport.

The large, low-wheeled craft had been mired in the churned remains of a road that had been hammered with cannon blasts destroying the smooth surface. A team of Clonetroopers fought to free it of the sinkhole that was devouring the gunmetal gray tank. The mounted cannon helplessly aimed skyward. Useless.

Droplets of water fell from the gray, overcast sky, lightly freckling everything. Dampening the dust enough to make it stick to everything, yet not enough to wash it away.

Pressing mud caked hands to the cool steel; Obi-Wan tried to push alongside the other armored figures. When the growling beast of a machine sprayed damp dirt back on its help, the Jedi broke free, retreating from the mess.

Looking up over the tank where the captain with his red insignia branded armor called orders out, Obi-Wan barked, "We either get this moving now or we abandon it!"

"That is not advisable," the captain called back over the roar of the engine.

The Force argued and Obi-Wan knew they were sitting targets at the base of the small valley.

"It is a trap!" the Jedi called out just as the first in a volley of bright orange blasts exploded around the small unit. Pain filled cries rang out as the Clonetroopers were struck down.

Just as Obi-Wan was about to call out to the men struggling with the tank, a cannon blast rocked the terrain quickly followed by another, making the warning moot. Dirt, debris and bodies flew through the air. The Jedi crashed to the hard soil, air exploding from his lungs as he rolled over the sloping ground.

Icy splashes of water stung the skin of his scraped cheek as the blunt trauma of impact bled from his mind. Explosions thundered through the air, as orange streaks cut through the black haze that was rising up from the demolished remains of the tank.

Spitting the grit of dirt and blood out, he pushed himself to his hands and knees.

"Master!" his apprentice's voice called out in alarm.

"Anakin," he whispered as he clawed his way back to a standing position. A ringing filled his ears but he was not sure if it was from the tank blast or the constant shower of blaster bolts that flashed through the smoky air.

The standing troopers moved about, finding shelter where they could and returned fire. The smoking, charred forms of blown apart white armored figures littered the reddish-brown soil. Under the sound of explosions, a multitude of pained groans filled the electrified air.

With lightning quick reflexes, Obi-Wan took his lightsaber in hand, the blue blade bursting to life as he easily deflected several bolts that came too close. He moved toward the mobile communications unit where the battered captain was calling orders, his armor scorched black from the explosion, and streaked with other, less savory, substances. Anakin arrived at the same time defending against the bolts targeting them.

The apprentice growled through gritted teeth, "They knew we were heading this way! How?" His dark cloak singed and ragged as he swiftly pulled it free, allowing the material to fall to the damp ground. It was only in his way right now.

The ground shook, forcing Obi-Wan to struggle to maintain his balance. The chill of the increasing rainfall was cutting through his tunic, adding stiffness to his bruises.

Along the ridges at the top of the valley, shadows moved disfigured by the wall of gray water that was falling and seeping into the ground. The churned up mud made the soil slick and the battle all the more difficult. Running figures slipped and fell, only a few rising again.

"Concern yourself with that later," the older Jedi responded. Over the noise and blinding explosion of lights, Obi-Wan yelled to the kneeling officer. "Can we retreat?"

"Negative," the Clonetrooper replied in a controlled tone. "Mirakan's forces have closed the pass."

Obi-Wan hated the masks; it made it difficult to read them, forcing him to be depended on their voices, which offered little inflection and the Force to guide him.

Pain filled cries rose up over the sound of weapon discharges as they cut into the surrounded Clonetroopers and their Jedi commanders. In twos and threes, they fell.

"What about air support?" Anakin asked through gritted teeth he was shoved back by the force of a powerful bolt he caught with his bright blue saber blade.

"Right. We need air support," the ginger haired Jedi said to the commander. The acrid smell of burnt flesh and scorched metal assaulted Obi-Wan's senses.

"They are twenty minutes out, General!" came the clipped response.

"Then we will just have to hold out until then." Spying distant movement out of the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan pointed toward the road ahead. "Shore up those defenses!"

"Yes, sir."

The blond haired young man drifted close to his master. "We won't last that long against those cannons."

"Faith, Padawan," came the curt reply as he sent an orange bolt back toward the dark gray figures moving just beyond the Republican unit's reach. Racing over the dark red-brown mud and stepping over the white armored bodies that littered the ground, Obi-Wan took up position at a weakness in the defenses.

The familiar presence of his lieutenant was just a step behind. This was not the first firefight he and Anakin had been caught up in, and the Force be with them, not the last.

"The equipment is too slow!" Anakin called out over the din of battle as his lightsaber cut swiftly through the air sending several bolts snapping harmlessly into the soft ground.

Rain sizzled against the electric blue blades as the Jedi easily kept their attackers at bay.

"We need something fast!" Anakin continued through clenched teeth as he quickly stole a glance about. "I can speed ahead–"

"There is no cover!" Obi-Wan shot back over the hum of his lightsaber. "You would be too much of a target."

Clonetroopers fell all about as the circle dwindled under the continued barrage. Laser cannons exploded against the soil sending clods of damp dirt crashing into the soldiers.

"Master, I can out run them! If I can take out that main cannon–"

But Obi-Wan did not hear Anakin's words. Pain bloomed in his mind, tugging at his thoughts. He grunted in surprise and gasped for air as agony laced through his being, tearing apart everything in its path.

His heart, his soul was on fire.

The rage of battle faded into a gray haze as his thoughts turned to the Force. Reaching into the energies, he sought the source of his pain. "No," stole from trembling lips. He grasped at torn ribbons through a surge of emotions. "Siri?"

A piece of him that had been warmth, love and hope shattered. The shards pierced his spirit, leaving it in tatters. Robbed of a part of himself, he allowed his defenses to falter, his lightsaber to dip as he struggled with the pain in his soul.

"Master!"

The apprentice's words were muffled and distant. All he was aware of was the void in his heart.

"Siri," he whispered.

Orange filled his vision and he suddenly felt as if he were floating. From numb fingers, slipped the hilt of his lightsaber as it tumbled to the muddy ground. Winded, he gasped for air that never came.

"Master!" Anakin's terrified cry sliced into the murky haze that filled his vision.

Chill penetrated Obi-Wan's skin from the falling rains as he stared blankly into the weeping sky.

"Help!" came the padawan's scream, closer now.

The dampened sound of blaster rifles filled Obi-Wan's head as panicked hands gripped his shoulders, tightening on the tunic material as he was tugged out of the immediate line of fire. The smell of burned flesh irritated his nostrils. Soaked material brushed against his cold cheeks as he was pulled over the wet ground. Within the haze, Obi-Wan saw white figures.

Troopers, his dulled thoughts established. Numbness clawed up his extremities.

"Master," Anakin called out, his voice hitching as Obi-Wan's motionless form was held close. The soaked deep brown material of the younger man's sleeve floated above the Jedi's face, protecting it from the falling moisture.

The pain in his body quickly overwhelmed the pain in his spirit. The ginger haired Jedi gasped, precious little air seemed to fill his lungs and he desperately gulped more. The stiffness of the cold was working its way into his muscles.

"Hang on," the apprentice said.

Did I fall? Obi-Wan wondered. Why I am lying here in the midst of battle. I should be doing something. Fighting, helping, something.

Looking up into the midst of the fighting soldiers, Anakin cried out, "Medics! Help, Master has been hit!" Terror laced his voice as he protectively cradled the older Jedi's head. "Medics!"

Hit.

Realization slowly came to the older Jedi. He was wounded. Shot in the chest. But instead of reaching into the Force for help, he sought beyond his needs. Seeking the warm end of a tender spiritual bond he had formed with Siri Tachi.

The name of his beloved slid through pallid lips.

"What?" Anakin asked leaning close. His soaked blond padawan braid tumbling forward and spilling across the scorched material protecting Obi-Wan's chest. "Master?" He brushed trembling fingers through the older Jedi's damp hair. "Master, hang on, help is coming. You are going to be fine."

Nothing but a hole remained in the once quiet connection of his heart.

"Don't die on me, Master."

The frightened words burned past the dark fog that was filling him and he shifted his gaze to the source. Anakin's worried eyes met his. It would have been so easy to let go, so easy to let the Force sweep him into its energies. Pushing the physical pain back, he allowed his anchor to the world of flesh and blood to drift as he reached further into the swirling currents. Again, he sought that little piece of Siri that he had kept secreted deep in his heart. Gone.

Grasping desperately for that warm familiarity, trembling lips mouthed, "I love you." Words he had been fearful to utter before now found only emptiness. He was alone. Tears welled and slid down the side of his face as a gasp for air turned into a sob.

She had left him.

Anakin pressed a hand to his master's shoulder offering up healing energies through the Force.

No.

No!

He was too weak to fight, in too much pain to stop the apprentice's attempt at help. He did not want to be saved. He did not want to live.

Siri was gone.

No more dances.

No more laughing conversations.

No more.

Sensing Obi-Wan's distress, but not knowing the cause, Anakin begged, "Master? Master, please hang on." The twenty-year-old cradled his master's head, sheltering his face from the rains. "Help is coming. Don't die, Obi-Wan. Don't leave me."

Pushing through the pain, he met the bright blue eyes staring down at him once more.

Anakin.

Duty.

Pulling his thoughts from the tattered ends of his bond with Siri, he focused on his living apprentice. There were more than enough destroyed bonds for one day; sparing Anakin that pain was his only goal now. The blond haired youth should not worry. He was not going to die. Not today. The Force had other plans for him, duties to carry out.

No, he could not let go. He had not yet been released from his duty. There was still a padawan to lead into knighthood.

He had made a promise.

________________________

Inhale

Staring into the dulling golds and reds of the new day, Obi-Wan offered a soft sigh to the open plains. He often wondered why the painful stirrings in his chest inspired such an act. The drawing in and pushing out of dusty, dry air; the heavy exhalation that could do nothing to change the past. It would not ease the present and had no bearing on the future. It was a futile gesture. Yet, one he was could not fight.

Shifting beneath the fiery gaze of the twin suns as they began their silent trek across the paling blue sky, he folded his arms across his chest in a well-worn fashion. Pulling his weary gaze from the tans and sepias that ruled the daytime desert; his attention fell to his waiting boots and cloak.

They were all he had now, a few bits of worn, fading clothing and a lightsaber. Tattered remnants of a physical life he had once had.

There were still his memories and it was the little things that he missed the most. Warm fingers pressed to the cool marble columns that supported the Great Hall. Shimmering flecks of silver reflected in smooth stone. The soft sound of teasing laughter that resonated through heart and mind. A passing smile accentuated by the sweet fragrance of Naboo aristois. The calm, serene atmosphere of the Temple archives in the late afternoon.

The pain of loss weighed against his heart and nearly overwhelmed him. He closed his eyes and took another breath, waiting patiently for the ache to fade. There was no hurry to take up his meager belongings. The day was still early, the heat far from its apex. He had time. He always had time. And yet, there were things to do, chores to fill his day, lessons to remember and meditation to ease his troubled spirit if only for a little while, if only to save him from the waiting.

The second sun had not completely broken free from the wavy black line of the horizon. There was still time before he sat down to a quiet breakfast of bland dried fruits and stale bread. It was a lifetime away from the noise that always filled the Jedi Temple's great cafeteria. As he had in his younger years, he would eat what suited him, though these days little did from the limited selection he could afford. The silence was often overbearing and he pushed through the chore quickly. There had been times he had craved the quiet meals, sitting at the small square table in the apartment he had once shared with his master, his padawan.

Mirthless laughter escaped him at the reversal of fortune. Brushing away the frivolous thoughts, Obi-Wan brought his focus back to the here and now. Time enough for one final kata.

Falling into a relaxed stance, he mentally reached out brushing the eternal energies of the Force, his only remaining companion. Allowing the ancient power source to flow through him and his mind to still, he stepped into a familiar kata.

With remembrance as bright as the last time he had performed the ancient dance some years ago, he swiftly went through the motions. Yet, they were nothing more than a series of prescribed movements, lacking emotion, heart and a partner.

Gentle currents in the Force swept about, as he twisted into a simple turn, his bare feet landing on the sandy floor with precision.

Casting into the energies–his silent companion–he reached for familiarity, for a touch of something if only in dream, but the Force only maintained its aloofness, offering him no comfort but its presence.

Returning his attentions to the dance, he moved with easy grace over the gritty practice surface in a quiet exercise of spirit and flesh. Muscles stretched and pulled, shifted and glided over the dusty tans and reds of his forced environment.

He was not merely biding his time. He was remaining ready, because whispered in the gentle ebb and flow of the Force came warning that the war was far from over.

After a life as a diplomat, soldier and general, he was still not released from his duties. Not free to enjoy peace. Destined to wait alone until the time came.

Yet, Jedi that he was, faced the blurry window on a future that mercilessly warned him that he would carry his lightsaber until the day he died.

Until the day he was acquitted of his duty.

It was only fitting, he silently decided as a gentle sweep brought his right arm across his chest as he easily stepped into the next position, that he died fighting as so many Jedi before him had.

As Siri had.

The image of the elderly Chalactan Jedi masters flashed through his mind; a dream of watching a sunrise from the comfort of garden bench, his beloved at his side. The quickened pace of his heart rushed blood through his veins as he picked up the pace.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

He reached out with his bare hand, seeking contact with warm flesh, but found only empty air. The ache only grew in his heart as he continued through the Lover's Kata.

Envisioning a slender partner wielding an imaginary blade, he cut low then high, dancing through the air with a grace only a lifetime of study could bring. He moved, twisting and sparring with an invisible partner, seeing a glimpse of golden hair, a flash of a violet saber, but only with his eyes closed. A flourish as he leapt over the sandy surface countering and blocking thrusts and parries driven only by phantoms.

The graceful fall of a bare foot to the heated shale. Black shadows teased and played alongside Obi-Wan as he bound backward, dodging an invisible attack.

He would face whatever challenge; he would fight until the end of his days.

The scattering of sand on the rock whispered like gentle laughter.

They would not take his life easily, for that was all he had left to give. His heart, his world had already been brutally wrenched from him.

Faith lingers. Spirit fades. And body endures.

With his extended reach, the imaginary tip of his saber grazed the longer of the twin suns. The Force willed his continuing life, even if he must suffer alone.

In the wild moves of the ancient dance, he touched the enlivened energies of the Force. Brushing against the familiarity of those he longed to join, he stole a small smile. Closing his eyes, the dance continued, each movement perfectly ingrained in memory.

As long as the Force wills he live, he shall live.

He will honor the lives of those gone before, those whose lives and deaths had forever marked his existence. His service to the memory of his Order would be his tribute. He would do his duty, watching over young Luke, and would not fail him where he had faltered and lost the father.

Yes, he would do that and then his loneliness could finally end.

So caught up in the ancient dance, performing the masculine half of the Kata of the Heart, he did not notice the smaller footsteps alongside his on the sandy floor.

—fin—