Jabiim. It was just one battlefield among many in the conflict that would become known as the Clone Wars. As on any battlefield, many died. A place of brutality, violent death and strangely, mercy, in the form of aid and comfort to one's enemy for it was one thing to destroy in the heat of battle. It was quite another to watch the wounded die when an enemy could reach out a hand and save the injured. Imprisonment was better than slaughter, when the option existed. No unnecessary deaths were how Jedi waged war; it was how they conducted war and how they expected their troops to do.
Jabiim. It was just one of many battles that the famed Jedi team of Kenobi-Skywalker were involved in, and it was nearly their last. In its aftermath, lives were forever altered.
Jabiim. It was a planet and a battle mired in muck and mud; the only thing certain rain and death. Ground was gained and ground was lost. The currency of real estate was blood. Lives were lost. The reason for fighting was lost. Hope for victory was lost.
He who endured, would win, but victory would be hollow since so few would still be standing.
Ebb and flow, victory and retreat, the front was always moving, never static. During one rapid retreat, a disabled Republic AT-AT had been abandoned. It was an ungainly troop carrier, well armed, with tall jointed legs giving the crew a high vantage point. The legs were its weakness: disable one and the entire thing crashed down. Should it topple forward, the forward crew compartment nearly always snapped upwards, sparking at its connection with the boxy compartment behind, resulting in a fireball of exploding energy and ammunition.
The charges meant to destroy it and keep it out of enemy hands had misfired. The opposition forces had repaired it and were now using it against the Republic forces. Retaliation was swift and merciless; the AT-AT was heavily targeted. With a loud thunk its support legs buckled and the troop compartment collapsed into the ever-present mud. The AT-AT burst into flames as troops scrambled to escape the fiery hell. In moments the flames would reach the ammunition and those still inside would be trapped.
Nobody deserves to die trapped in a blazing inferno, neither friend nor foe, Obi-Wan Kenobi thought, and leaped to his feet. It would be an agonizing death: lungs struggling for air and breathing only superheated fumes, lungs melting under the onslaught. Skin blistering and blackening, hair aflame, flames literally consuming one from outside as well as inside.
"We've got to pull them out of there," he roared, and led the charge to save those they were trying to destroy just minutes before. The Jedi grabbed his comlink to contact his padawan for assistance as he dashed forward, re-attaching his lightsaber to his belt with the other hand, ARC Trooper Alpha as always at his side. Obi-Wan Kenobi ran with purpose and determination; he ran into destruction as the AT-AT exploded. Searing heat exploded outwards, as the shock wave of the blast flattened everything with its range and molten fragments rained from the sky. Within a range of a hundred meters, nothing living was left.
His padawan, Anakin Skywalker, could only gape from the ground where the shock wave had thrown him, stunned, as his comlink conversation with his master was suddenly cut off and the awful reality sunk in.
Obi-Wan Kenobi was dead.
Chapter 1. Echoes of Silence
Silence. The silence hung in the air, a grim reminder of happier days long past. This silence was not the peace that usually enveloped the Jedi Temple; this was the silence of absences, of emptiness, of a time of war.
Silence, so much silence enveloped the Temple these days, other than in the crèche and class rooms of the younglings. War had all but emptied the Temple of masters, knights and older padawans, for war had not yet been left to mere machinery. War was waged by sentient beings; war demanded beating hearts and weary souls. If war was fueled by greed, aggression and envy, it fed on death, decay and despair.
The wide halls echoed with the occasional footstep of a Jedi – home on leave or home to heal. The soft babble of the fountains that were usually a comfort in the periphery of one's hearing was a roar in the eardrums, its pulse matching the beating of blood within one's heart.
The hangar, too, was silent now; the mechanics back at their task of maintaining and repairing the Temple's fleet of ships. Now alone in the silence, Jedi Knight Siri Tachi stood watching what could no longer be seen. The ship had left moments before; even now it was in orbit, soon to leave Coruscant behind. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker's leave was over; they had returned to war.
The reunion between old friends had been far too short. Bittersweet. Siri had returned to the Temple before Obi-Wan and Anakin left; their leaves overlapping. It had been the first time in months Siri had seen the two Jedi. War had left its mark on them both, for they were in the front lines constantly, pulling off impossible stunt after impossible stunt. War had made them heroes in a galaxy desperate for them.
Of the two, Anakin Skywalker was "the" hero and the face of the Republic. He had been dubbed the Hero of Naboo at nine, as Holonet reporters constantly reminded its viewers. His youth and good looks had made him the poster boy of the war – much to his master's consternation and amusement. War did not need to be prettified, in Obi-Wan Kenobi's view. It did make, however, for a lot of teasing in a world where sometimes one forgot the sound of laughter in the screams of the dead and dying.
Those who appreciated dignity and strength rather than youth and good looks – the dependable versus the flashy – found their hero in the older man, the "negotiator" forced to fight, though his mature good looks were hard to deny. The gray that spotted his temples lent him a maturity that belied the youthful glint in his eyes while the slight slump of his shoulders bespoke a man burdened by duty and responsibilities.
A young man and an older man, staunch defenders of the Republic - good guys - Jedi. They were the best of the best, trusted by their Order and trusted by the Chancellor. Larger than life.
They were long gone, but Siri still saw them – him - in her mind's eye. Not that same man, but that man as he had been not so many years ago: the young man with a straight back, smiling eyes and a braid below his shoulder marking his padawan status, a smooth and beardless face only marred by frowns of concentration when not broken by grins - the Obi-Wan of memory, from a time long past. It had been a time when the future stretched before them with infinite promise, before loss and duty had marked them both.
Siri and Obi-Wan had had one day to catch up on events, just one after months of separation, just one for friends of many years. Just now, the two had departed, back to war, back to battle, destination Jabiim.
It was not usual for Siri to feel Obi-Wan's absence so keenly. They had been friends for years; had known each other even longer. She knew him almost better than he knew himself, and she knew it was only deep immersion in and faith in the Force that allowed him to keep his serenity in face of war. He faced battle with the same courage and unwavering faith that he faced life, but more than a year of war had worn at him. His spirit was discouraged, his resolve tested, his soul weary of the never-ending destruction and pain that was an inevitable result of war. What the man occasionally struggled with, the Jedi accepted without complaint.
His very struggle was what had allowed Obi-Wan to retain his humanity in a time of inhumanity, for Obi-Wan refused to be hardened by war, to be numb minus pain, to be a killer without conscience in the service of a principle that demanded lives in sacrifice: too often, innocent civilians. For the most part, the enemy forces were armies of droids, non-sentient and their termination more of a mechanical disabling than taking of life.
Leave had done the Jedi good: the sparkle in his eyes was unforced, the mirth of his soul unrestrained and his wry humor evident. His padawan seemed more at ease, too, his brooding and silences broken by smiles and good humor.
Siri had seen them off. Her hand had dropped on Obi-Wan's arm as he turned to leave: something told her to hold onto him. The gesture had surprised Obi-Wan; he had looked at her with something of a question in his eyes.
"Be safe," she urged.
Obi-Wan's eyes had crinkled at her. "If the Force wills it," he said, his voice, as always, gentle and with a hint of humor. He glanced at his padawan, and added with a wink, "assuming Anakin continues to rescue me from each situation he drags me into, I'll be fine."
"Now, Master, you know you get yourself into those situations on your own."
A snort greeted that obvious fallacy. "At whose urging? Usually, following in your footsteps when you throw tactics to the wind and rush off on same damn-fool idealistic crusade; calling on the Force as I go."
"You mean complaining to the Force, don't you?" Even Siri hid a smile at that jibe.
A masterly glare, spoiled by a twinkle, tried to quell the padawan. "No, asking for the wisdom to not follow you. I really should know better by now. I never needed so much rescuing when I worked alone or when you were young and actually followed my lead."
If the two started bickering and teasing each other, they'd never leave. Obi-Wan might be a member of the Jedi Council, his appointment fairly recent and still a source of bemusement to the Jedi himself, but no mere Council member could quell Siri Tachi.
"Watch his back, okay, Anakin?" At the young man's nod and easy grin, Siri added with emphasis, "if I have to lose you, it better be after I haven't seen you in a long while, not while the memory of you is fresh."
"I'll be fine. I have Anakin with me," he reassured her. "It's not like you to worry. Are you having one of my 'bad feelings'?"
He had then patted her hand, the one still lying on his arm. It was an unusual gesture for him, for Obi-Wan rarely touched her. Never big on physical gestures, he had all but avoided touching her since the day long before as padawans they had stepped away from love and firmly onto the Jedi path.
"You big gundark – no. It's only – we haven't seen each other in so long, and now I'm going to miss you all over again. I haven't seen Garen or Reeft in ages, either. We knew life as a Jedi would pull us in different directions, but none of us knew we would be pulled into a war that could separate us forever. Just be careful."
With a sideways look at Anakin that indicated he fully knew he would be mercilessly teased later, Obi-Wan leaned over and pressed a kiss onto Siri's forehead before turning to board the ship, a smile still in his eyes. Anakin stared at Siri, then at Obi-Wan, and with a shrug he followed his master up the ramp.
Resisting the urge to brush fingers over the kiss that lingered in the memory of flesh, Siri still stood, long after the shuttle was gone.
Aboard the ship, Anakin plopped down and favored his master with a knowing grin.
"Yes, Anakin?" It was Obi-Wan's long-suffering quizzical gaze.
"Watch your back, Knight Tachi said. Then you kissed her."
"I did not…," Obi-Wan folded his arms and at Anakin's disapproving glare, sighed. "It wasn't that kind of kiss, Anakin. Don't try to make something out of it that was not there. I've known Siri many more years than I've known you. That was a far cry from a, ah, romantic kiss."
It certainly had not been "romantic," meaning passionate as Anakin defined it, but it had been incredibly gentle. Knight Tachi hadn't visibly reacted, which meant something in itself – normally, she would have lobbed a sharp tongued barb at his master, not stood quietly with soft eyes and parted lips. While Obi-Wan looked perfectly serene, Anakin knew him well enough to know that inside he was squirming just a little bit. Anakin scratched his head, deciding how to irk Obi-Wan the most.
"For someone as unimaginative and stodgy as you, it might have been."
"Stodgy? Half the dashing team that graces the Holonet almost every night? Poster boy's companion and sidekick?"
Obi-Wan sure could play the wide-eyed innocent.
"Who's paying attention to their publicity now?" The mocking tone was deliberate. Obi-Wan's teasing on the subject made Anakin just a bit uncomfortable, for it hit too close to home. He liked the attention and the praise; knew as a Jedi he shouldn't care about such things.
"Your publicity, Padawan. Anything to do with you I pay close attention to, as your master. I will continue to do so until the day you are knighted – and probably beyond."
"Someday I can tell you to quit watching my every move; that I'm your equal."
"Oh, no, never my equal," Obi-Wan returned in all seriousness. "You shall far surpass me; at times, you already do. You shall be an extraordinary Jedi once you have reached knighthood and I shall be proud to know that I am the one who guided you on your first steps to knowledge of the Force."
If his words were meant to deflect his padawan's teasing, it worked, though that was not the intent.
"Pride, my master?"
"Pride, my padawan." Obi-Wan reached over and fingered Anakin's braid. "I shall, of course, release that emotion shortly after experiencing it. But I will feel it; I already do."
Anakin flushed and grinned at his master. He cherished these all too few moments when Obi-Wan showed the man inside the Jedi, the proud almost-father. Obi-Wan too often adopted the role of master and teacher; he had had to seek outside the Order for the parental figure he yearned for and had found: Chancellor Palpatine. Only with the Chancellor was he free to be both man and Jedi, unconstrained by roles and expectations, free to be who he was. As with Padme. His wife, too, accepted who he was as well as who he was expected to be.
"The Chosen One;" he might be, but with those two, he was chosen to be friend and confidante, with Padme, also lover and husband.
To them he was Anakin Skywalker.
To the Jedi he was "padawan," and "Chosen One," seen in the context of his role and rank within the Order. Even to his master, he, too often feared: his fears and joys dismissed and expected to keep private, not on public display.
He feared that Obi-Wan rarely saw him, only expectations; only the Jedi everyone thought he should and could be; the one he knew he never would be.
That night on Tatooine had proven that.
In the Temple, Siri finally turned and walked slowly away from the hanger; the swishing of her robes the loudest sound there, next to the blood pounding in her head. Obi-Wan had kissed her, and no kiss on the lips, no passionate declarations of love, could have been so tender or had such an effect on her. The kiss was Obi-Wan: warm, gentle, and compassionate as the man himself, the man still beneath the Jedi, too long hidden behind duty and responsibilities.
In its own way, it was more romantic than the ones they had shared years ago as teenagers for this arose from no youthful passion of awakening desire; it was a gift from the heart and the touch of a gentle man – intimate because for the moment it had seemed only the two of them existed.
Even in those days, flush in the first knowledge of young love, teetering between life as lovers or life as Jedi, Obi-Wan had never been much of a romantic, big gesture guy. Deeply passionate he was, but his feelings ran too deep for outward expression and were too long buried by training and necessity. They had both expected to die, that time in the doomed ship, and in the recognition of there being no more tomorrows, they had let go of restraint and shields and admitted what they had denied even to themselves for so long.
They had meant to live their final moments together, to die together, content to lie in each other's arms; lips occasionally brushing in a gentle caress, wanting, needing, denying their wish to explore their feelings when so little time remained to them. It was enough to know they would die holding each other, knowing full well that their masters would find them in whatever broken pieces they might then be…together, but having died as Jedi.
Because they loved each other and had finally admitted it, there was an ease between them that came only then; the way that Obi-Wan cradled her head between gentle hands as their lips met, the way she wrapped her arms so tightly around him that they seemed to merge though they remained separate. But they had not died, and they knew that to be Jedi was to not act on their feelings, deny them if possible, but hide them, they could not. Love without possession, love not pursued – it was the only way to stay true to themselves and to their chosen life paths.
Somehow their masters had known anyway of the feelings they were just discovering and learning how to handle; had known that ultimately the only lasting happiness the two padawans would find would be in parting. Neither could have lived happily having left the Order; living without each other was almost as difficult. But both were meant to be Jedi – they knew it, their masters knew it, and Yoda knew it.
Siri's master, Adi Gallia, was a quiet and serene woman, cool and detached, but she had given her padawan her understanding and quiet counsel to help her through it. Obi-Wan's master, despite his deep connection to the Living Force, had handled it far less effectively. He had immediately enlisted Yoda's aid to speak to the young man, and the two of them had counseled Obi-Wan to end the affair before it had begun, after it had already ended. Neither Siri nor Obi-Wan had yet admitted the truth of its ending, despite their mutual knowledge that what had never been could never be.
Obi-Wan had needed understanding and guidance; he had received a lecture, gently delivered though it had been. Qui-Gon was a master when he should have been a friend, a teacher when he should have been the wise paternal figure that Obi-Wan had needed at the time. The time for that had not yet come: the heart needed tending before the mind. Because Qui-Gon Jinn had not been gentle with his padawan's emotions, intervening when he should have listened and speaking harsh truths when he should have counseled, Obi-Wan learned to hide his pain and grief in silence and quiet obedience.
Saying "goodbye" to what might have been and could never be had been difficult, more so when Siri saw in Obi-Wan's eyes his deep misery and loneliness. She, at least, had her master to guide her through the pain as she grieved for what could never be, not isolated in despair as was Obi-Wan with his master's emotional withdrawal after his initial intervention. Obi-Wan had been pale, his face drawn and lined, his eyes old and broken, his heart locked in silence and pain, when they gave up any possible future together.
They were Jedi, and now each knew the sacrifice the life demanded of them. They had paid the price.
Their parting had been difficult, hearts and minds brimming with unspoken emotion as they parted ways with a touch of fingers and eyes that held only pain. That was the last time Siri, or anyone really, saw the real Obi-Wan's pain, for he learned how to hide it inside himself.
When, years later, he had come back to the Temple a knight, Qui-Gon having fallen in battle on Naboo, it had been hard to see his inner anguish. Obi-Wan had mastered the Jedi façade of perfect calm by releasing his emotions into the Force.
But not long before, for just one moment there in the hangar, the façade had cracked, the gesture speaking as the man would not. Inside Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi there still existed that open-hearted, giving young man; for once, he had allowed himself free expression of what he too often kept tucked within.