This is a continuation of What the Heart Hides. Now that the horror of Jabiim has been faced, new truths, these of the heart, will be explored. How does a Jedi love, when love is forbidden, or how does one reconcile one's heart with being a Jedi - is such possible? May be overstating the rating, but better safe than sorry.
A grin split the padawan's face as he stood in the doorway.
Sometimes, it seemed, the Force offered an opportunity too good to pass up, regardless of the consequences. This was one of those; it stared the padawan in the face and dared him to ignore it.
What better way to celebrate, than to be irritating? He would relish the reprimand, the rebuke, the reminder that life was back to normal.
After all, when two Jedi sat so close together their two heads almost seemed to touch, blonde hair and red-brown hair different and yet harmonious, as complementary as their two personalities – well, what self-respecting, impudent padawan wouldn't take advantage?
It was a perfect setting for a padawan in search of a reason to needle his master. Needling was good; needling was normalcy after the turmoil of the past few months – of demons fought and some slain, of pain and anguish and grief now replaced by happiness and relief.
Anakin Skywalker mentally rubbed his hands together in anticipation. Life was, finally, good – really good, and so he was going to be bad, really bad.
"Aw right, you two, break it up!" Obi-Wan looked up and frowned as his padawan walked in; turning his attention away from the data pad he and Siri had been studying. Anakin plastered a particularly mischievous look on his face as he planted his hands on his hips, undeterred by the not-amused gaze directed his way. Ignoring said look, having had plenty of practice in so doing, Anakin continued cheerfully, "You don't want to be mistaken for love-struck dewy-birds, now do you, Master?"
"Padawan!" The eyebrows had gone up, not drawn together, so puzzled irritation hadn't reached to true annoyance. Yet.
Even so, the slight stiffening of Obi-Wan's posture hadn't escaped the padawan's notice.
The Force may have given him the opportunity, but it hadn't dictated the tactics, and Anakin could now see that to continue in such a manner would definitely earn him a deserved scolding, for Obi-Wan tolerated little in the way of open disrespect. His lips were already thinning, a warning Anakin intended to heed. To continue would cross that unspoken line, a goal the padawan had never intended.
Anakin threw up his hands in apology and looked at Siri with a shrug, a glint of merriment in his eyes that she returned. "I told you I'd be a happy padawan next time Master was unhappy with me. Unfortunately, I've been too good; I couldn't wait any longer. See how happy I am?"
"I do, but I don't think your poor master understands," Siri replied, glancing at Obi-Wan before turning a mischievous smile back at the padawan. "Obi-Wan's had more than enough stress lately; I suggest you tell him why his being unhappy makes you happy."
"Told Siri what, Padawan?" Obi-Wan relaxed into his what-have-you-done-now-Padawan-and-what-must-I-do-to-extricate-you look. Siri's amusement along with Anakin's good cheer was infectious, even if his words had been verging on impertinence, so Anakin plastered a look of angelic innocence upon his face.
"That I could hardly wait for your first scowl or reprimand and since I hadn't earned any lately, I thought I would provoke a reaction." At his master's startled look, Anakin grew earnest, his sincerity obvious in the way his eyes softened as they returned the look. "Now I know you've recovered from – well, all that has happened. My master is back in all the ways that count. You're back, really back."
"Ah." The hint of a smile twitched the older Jedi's lips, a second of dawning realization for the man that preceded the sure to come reaction of a master to an impertinent padawan.
The knowledge of just how badly he had anticipated this moment brought a lump to Anakin's throat. Obi-Wan was back; his master was back – the man whose funeral had taken place weeks before – the man who had spent days in the care of the healers upon his return – the man who had broken down in silent tears not a week before when a healer's mind probe had breached the barriers separating horror from reality.
That man was not the master he knew and had mourned. That man was now gone; this man before him was the man he remembered from before – before Jabiim, before falling victim to Asajj Ventress, before captivity and torture had transformed the man and master into one he barely recognized and who was now, finally, back before him.
Not one hundred percent back, not with his access to the Force still sporadic and unexplained, but the haunted man unable to sleep for nightmares had receded into the past. This was the Obi-Wan Kenobi of old, who seemed torn between amusement and dismay at his padawan's irreverence.
"Good Force – and you chose a particularly obnoxious way of doing so. Siri might be offended," Obi-Wan looked at Siri, who looked anything but offended. In fact she seemed rather mirthful as she switched attention between master and padawan. "Or perhaps not – what am I going to do with you both?"
"You can kiss me, Obi-Wan Kenobi." Siri batted her eyes at said Jedi. Her attempt to sound sultry and provocative was spoiled by her burst of laughter – until she caught a glimpse of the Jedi's barely perceptible wince and glance at his padawan.
"Your response is just as inappropriate as my padawan's remarks," he chided gently.
Siri's chin came up.
Anakin inwardly cringed. The female Jedi would be quick to respond to the perceived rebuke no matter how gently delivered it had been.
Much to his surprise, Siri's look softened and she sounded almost apologetic. "It's a paraphrase from a particularly bad holomovie – too low brow for your tastes. I just couldn't resist. Sorry, Kenobi."
"As a Jedi, any gratuitous and overly dramatic display of false emotion played for laughter or melodrama strike me as neither funny nor dramatic," Obi-Wan said severely. "Hence you shall never hear me proclaiming my undying love for the woman who completes my soul and drags me to the height of, er, ecstasy."
As this was a near perfect quotation from the holovid referred to, Anakin found himself somewhat speechless when normally he would be poking fun at his master's pretentiousness. He wasn't the only one – Siri was gazing wide-eyed at Obi-Wan who was gazing back at her with one eyebrow raised. Strangely enough, the near challenge ended when Siri dropped her eyes and looked away, conceding some strange kind of victory to her friend.
Anakin coughed, remembering how he had found that holomovie an inspiring prelude to his own night of passion, as he and Padme had giggled over the romantic ardor of the two leads all the way from holo-theater to bedroom, quoting and re-quoting passionate proclamations of eternal and undying love between fervent kisses until such time as they reached their own height of ecstasy.
Finally regaining his power of speech, he teased, "Ecstasy? Master, with all due respect, you just don't have the personality for despair or ecstasy," he faltered when his master flinched, painful memories shadowing Obi-Wan's eyes. Siri, too, noticed; she reached out to pat his master's hand. Anakin stumbled to break the awkward silence that had fallen. "– oh, Master, I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Padawan." It was an automatic response, the I'll-be-fine-in-a-moment response born of habit; the master reassuring the padawan in that split second of regaining equilibrium.
Dealing with the aftereffects of Jabiim had done what Anakin had once thought impossible: brought Obi-Wan into deep emotional turmoil. Without the comfort and aid of the Force, the Jedi master's emotional reserve had been breached and the inner man laid all but bare. While he still held his emotions close, the padawan had seen his master's emotional core when his shields had been breached by pain and sedatives and found it more vibrant than he had ever suspected.
After a deep breath and release of same, Obi-Wan acknowledged Anakin's apology, seemingly not offended and back to his normal serenity.
"Despite the evidence of your own eyes not many days past, I see the events of the recent past have only somewhat altered your perceptions, Padawan. Perhaps that is only as it should be." A hint of sadness underlay the words as if the Jedi was profoundly aware of something within him not visible to his padawan.
Anakin crossed the room to kneel in front of his master and took the formerly twisted and broken hands within his. Such strong hands, made weak, such gentle hands, even when weak, soft hands that now only lacked the worn calluses to be the hands he remembered correcting his lightsaber grip, soothing him through nightmares or childish illness, or clasping his shoulder in unspoken approval. He suddenly tightened his fingers around those hands as Obi-Wan gaped at him in surprise.
"Master, no – I just – it's just hard after all these years for me to see you other than you've always been, especially now that you've been able to lay those memories to rest."
Was it only a week or so since he'd spent most of his nights wakening Obi-Wan from his tormented dreams, wiping away the memory of his captivity and torture with soothing words and warm arms? His own nightmares were buried even deeper, born of a time when Obi-Wan Kenobi was presumed dead and only the padawan knew that his master was alive, suffering, and in terrible pain.
"You think I'm back to my normal self?" Obi-Wan gazed at his padawan; then shook his head. "In a way you're right, Anakin, but not entirely. I had to change to survive, even if just a bit, even if I don't show it. Inside I'm different, not the same man I was. Outside – well, habits of a lifetime are not that easy to overcome. Someday I'll actually manage to teach you how to don this Jedi façade."
A casual tug on the braid brought a grin and an eye roll from the padawan. That was pure Obi-Wan, a humorous deflection of anything that touched him deeply, only now Anakin knew it for what it was, not what it masqueraded as.
"It's not for your lack of teaching – it's for lack of me learning." His repartee earned him a return grin from both Jedi – and not even a long-suffering sigh from his master this time. Siri seemed about to speak, before biting her lip as if deciding it was not her place to comment to either man. Any of Obi-Wan's friends could not help but be aware in a least a small way of the trials and tribulations of his training – certainly Anakin had shared with a few friends, too, what he perceived to be the inadequacies of his training.
Padmé and Palpatine were able to offer support without truly taking sides, just as Siri was now doing. As blunt as the female Jedi could be, she rarely interfered between master and padawan. Lately, most of her energy had been directed at helping her friend recover; there was no doubt in Anakin's mind that Siri was just as much responsible as the healers for the fact that Obi-Wan had been able to shed the horrors that had chained him long past the time his physical chains had been broken and left behind on Rattatak.
Someone, presumably Siri, most have decided Obi-Wan needed a diversion from reality and cajoled him into watching a holovid – and chosen one that must have given his master fits. He preferred boring documentaries or historical dramas, not fluffy romance.
"Um, Master, why are you able to quote – deplorably short of any passion – from Beyond Forever? I can't imagine you voluntarily watching that even if Master Yoda threatened you with a month of eating nothing but his stew if you didn't – and he wouldn't do that, would he – it's not his secret vice, is it?"
With a little dry cough, Obi-Wan admitted, "A certain someone thought I needed an evening just to relax and suggested downloading an 'amusing' little holovid that had become rather a hit. Despite a misgiving or two, I owed this certain someone for all her support and encouragement since my return, and, well, quite frankly, I rather looked forward to some light escapist entertainment. I trusted her judgment in this as in all else; I perhaps was wrong to do so."
"You snickered a time or two," Siri defended herself, lightly punching her friend in the arm. "Don't play the beset-upon Jedi master to your padawan in front of me. Especially since I never told Anakin that the 'great Obi-Wan Kenobi' was having a great time despite of, or perhaps because of, his derision and scorn for the corny dialogue."
Without missing a beat, the Jedi said with great dignity, ignoring Siri while addressing her words, "Despite Siri's attempt to pretend it was I who was deriving great enjoyment from that treacle-dripping spectacle, it was she who was greatly entertained: she persisted in mocking every so-called sappy declamation of love."
With that said, Obi-Wan crossed his arms and sat back with a satisfied humph.
"Mocking you, you mean, which was much more fun and amusing," Siri interrupted. "You have no idea what it's like, Anakin, to sit next to someone like Obi-Wan during such a – insipid melodramatic holovid full of overly emotional flourishes delivered so poorly. You have probably guessed that your master does not like the mushy romantic parts. I, however, being rather more adult -."
"You were making 'smooching' noises…."
"…which you shut up," Siri retorted. "I was just trying to entertain you since it wasn't."
"Er, well, you weren't complaining about my method of shushing you," Obi-Wan said, crossing his arms and giving Siri a complacent grin. When she only huffed at him, he looked at her hands and smiled, and rather to Anakin's surprise, Siri tucked her hands away and studiously avoided looking at Obi-Wan.
Neither seemed inclined to elaborate; all the more reason to seek an explanation. "And that was?" Anakin encouraged.
The two Jedi looked at each other, and Obi-Wan lifted his hand even as Siri reached to raise it, grinning at each other. Anakin shook his head. Obi-Wan rarely shushed him with a finger across the lips, but then he had the bond to do so far more effectively with a soft mental admonishment.
"She then tried to nibble on my fingers."
"I was hungry."
"I'm not an appetizer," Obi-Wan countered.
"No?" Siri tilted her appraisingly. "Main course – no, dessert!"
As his master shook his head in despair, Anakin shook his head at the teasing. "Aw right, aw right. Enough. You're making me hungry."
When the two looked at each other, and winked, Anakin cringed. Two Jedi masters in a playful mood - it just wasn't right. Jedi were supposed to be serious and high-minded – especially his very own Jedi master.
"Hungry for your kisses," both Jedi chanted at the same time, then plastered a look of innocence on their faces. Anakin's jaw dropped even further. It had been romantic when Padmé repeated the phrase, fisting her hands in the fastenings of his shirt as they tumbled into bed, but hearing two Jedi masters so blithely repeat the line without the passion was downright – nauseating.
"Argh," he managed to croak.
"Yes, it does sound ridiculous," Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. "Can you imagine anyone saying that in real life?"
Um, yes, I can, Master. Anakin cleared his throat and to divert the line of conversation, decided to tease back. "So I guess your evening with Siri cheered you up, anyway, maybe even taught you a lesson – about the nature of 'true love?'"
"Good grief, no," Obi-Wan vociferously denied.
"Aw, c'mon, Master, the way those two spoke of the eternal fire burning within, their passion enough to ignite the stars –" he sputtered to a halt with a humph as Siri covered her grin with one hand as his master merely stared at him, the corners of his own mouth twitching. "What!"
"I may be a Jedi and not versed in matters of love, but I happen to believe your so-called 'true love' is richer for the absence of sickly sweet sentiments expressed in the most flowery of words. Such ardor and passion, I would think, arises mainly from hormonal lust and must just as quickly burn out. Surely true love is built on a foundation of affection and knowledge of the other."
"Well, well, well, dissertations on love from – ah - is merely an abstract argument for Jedi," Anakin said dismissively, covering his near lapse. In this subject, he was the expert, but he would never tell Obi-Wan that. "That's merely affection as I see it. Siri – what do you think?"
"Well…" Siri looked between both men. "My experience is just as, ah, limited as Obi-Wan's. I'd agree with your master, though – lasting love is based in affection and friendship, and true intimacy is the sharing of one's inner self with another."
"That seems a reasonable definition for Jedi who have little to no knowledge of the subject," Obi-Wan agreed. He quirked an eyebrow at Anakin. "You disagree, Padawan?"
Anakin knew enough not to bring passion into the discussion for a second time. Both Jedi would be quick to quote there is no passion from the Code to him. It was obvious neither of them had ever been in love, for what they spoke of was a deep affection, not love. One had to experience love to understand it.
Love was so much more than affection. Love was sweaty palms and dreams in the night. Love was the tingle in lips and the electric sparkle of nerves throughout one's body at the touch of the loved one. Love was need and desire and want; love was the willingness to sacrifice all for the happiness of one.
Love was Padmé – in his heart and in his arms. Love was knowing he could not live without her – and counting the hours until they were reunited when they were apart.
Love – was capable of anything on behalf of the loved one. Love was bound by nothing.
As soon as Anakin left, Siri let loose the giggles she had been holding in.
Obi-Wan stared rather quizzically at her. "My padawan's departure has been known to be a source of relief in the past, but never a cause for merriment. Have I missed something?"
That set Siri off again. "Obi-Wan, you're being – so – so Obi-Wan. Clueless. Nope, Anakin has. I think your padawan fancies himself an expert on the subject of 'love,' but I don't think he believes we know anything at all about the subject."
"I should hope not," was the retort. A pause was followed by a prim, "Jedi shalt not know love."
To which adage and twinkling eyes, Siri snorted in disbelief. "You do know that came from a crabby old Jedi master a millennium ago who couldn't get a date back in the days when Jedi were allowed to marry."
"He was probably one of your ancestors, too, Kenobi."
"Now why would you assume that? I'm not looking to marry anyone and finding no luck. Nor am I 'crabby.'"
After a suitable pause for thought, Siri offered, "Grumpy?" She tilted her head sideways with a roguish grin.
"Wouldn't any Jedi be after some of Anakin's escapades in the past?" Obi-Wan crossed his arms, daring Siri to disagree. "Especially when, as his master, I was the one held responsible?"
"Qui-Gon would have been patient."
A sigh greeted that, though a smile played around Obi-Wan's lips. "As was I, generally. Remember, even I, the so-called and falsely labeled 'perfect padawan' drove Qui-Gon to grumpiness - occasionally."
"Not just Qui-Gon." Siri leaned over and patted Obi-Wan's cheek as he humphed at her. "You irritated the heck out of me, too, love. Still do, at times."
It wasn't the first time she'd called him "love," perhaps the third or fourth time since his return to the Temple. It was an endearment he had never expected to hear – from anyone, quite frankly. Rather than making him uncomfortable, it rather comforted him. His heart had reached to her, indeed to all that was good in life when he was in desperate need and the Force was not at hand.
It acknowledged the truth of their hearts without romanticizing it, proof that love indeed was a glow that warmed from within. It was a love that fit within the realities of a Jedi's life; unconditional and unattached, hence one he could accept, not struggle to deny.
"You called me 'love.'"
"You noticed, foolish one. Do you object?"
"Seriously?" He pinched his nose, pretending to consider the thought, and then grinned. "In private, no. I rather like it. What should I call you, I wonder – 'Tweedles' after your Crèche toy? I suppose in time an appropriate endearment may suggest itself to me."
"Try 'yes, dear,'" Siri suggested, eyes twinkling.
"'Yes, dear.' Hmm, it has possibilities. On the other hand, should I as a member of the Council be in a position to give you a mission to which you objected, I should hate to be in the position of disputing you with a 'yes, dear' when duty would require a 'no, dear.' Sorry, Tachi, that endearment is not suitable."
He smirked as Siri feigned disappointment. "Snoodles?" he offered, remembering Siri's lisping requests for Saureian noodles at a similar age. Pet names, if simple, he supposed he could accept – he'd lived with "gundark" as a nickname for years. His padawan, now – he snorted to himself. No doubt Anakin, should he ever be foolish enough to get entangled into some sort of lasting romantic relationship, would be full of gushing "my darling's," or, he shuddered inwardly, 'my dearest angel" or "goddess of my heart."
"How about I shush you – unless you want to shush me again?"
"For what reason, 'Tweedles,' or is it 'Snoodles'?" Obi-Wan questioned, looking sideways at her with raised brow, not finger.
Siri huffed and brought his finger to her lips and pressed a kiss to it. "Because I love how you tell me to shut up."
"Where's my padawan when I need him - I take my life in my hands anytime I try to shush you up." His eyes twinkled at her. "I do not feel like risking life and limb at the current time, so you are free to – don't nibble – my finger. It's there because you put it there, Tachi, remember."
"You haven't removed it."
"Female logic. So, Knight Tachi, how would you tell me to shush up?"
Obi-Wan may have been joking; his eyes widened when Siri wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. He sighed once her lips released his and shook his head. "I'd hate to have Anakin walk in on something like that."
"I'd have to tear your clothes off and ravish you before Anakin's eyes before he'd think we knew anything of love."
As expected, Obi-Wan shook his head, no doubt holding back a comment about how crude and crass he found that remark, though considering the quickly extinguished spark in his eyes she could not be sure. Well, he had earned that remark, considering his response to her kiss had been to bring up his padawan – the least he could have done was return it.
"Don't flirt with me, Tachi – you know my feelings."
Siri captured one of his hands and ran her thumb over the palm. "I know." His words had held a strange vulnerability that cut her teasing short. She raised the hand to her lips and placed a light kiss on it. "I do know. I also know you haven't reconciled your feelings with your sense of duty – just know I have no such qualms anytime you feel ready to have that talk we postponed."
Only days ago, yet it seemed a lifetime ago when his first un-sedated night in the Healers' Ward had resulted in a nightmare so terrible that the Force had prompted her to Obi-Wan's side. It had prompted her "I love you," and his hesitant, but heartfelt admission of the same.
It was all the Force's doing; the one good thing to come from his ordeal. The love both had buried deep inside since its first awakening when they had been just senior padawans had resurfaced – hers, by the supposed shock of Obi-Wan's death, and his, by his need to find something good from his past to hang onto while his present had threatened to strip him of everything he held dear.
During his greatest need, the Force had then guided her to be Obi-Wan's support during his recovery, choosing her as its messenger in its absence – an absence Siri hoped would not last much longer. Obi-Wan had endured far all too much already; he should not have to endure the fickleness of the Force as well.
"Yes, my dear friend, I do know. In that, at least, you have felt free to confess your heart, and even occasionally to demonstrating it." His few kisses, gentle and caring, sprang from his heart, not his loins when they came, more precious than any jewel or clever word.
"We are both are pledged to service, to the Force. I gave my life into its keeping long ago – we both did."
"Our lives, but not our hearts."
Obi-Wan was silent, though he pulled his hand free and cupped her chin.
"We sacrifice much to serve the Force." His thumb traced her lips before he dropped his hand and moved slightly away from her. "Our commitment to the Force comes before any personal desires. Siri, I hope I'm an honorable man. I'm a Jedi, first and foremost. It was my choice – it is my choice, no matter what I feel for you. I will admit the truth of my heart, but don't expect much more from me."
"You still feel that the Force was not speaking to us? That it didn't find a way to connect us?" The Force had brought the two of them together, outside of time and space, during Obi-Wan's captivity, Siri had no doubt. She had been awake, she had smelled the sour odor of an unwashed body and seen the bruised face and more importantly, she had felt the touch of his lips when he had called to her. On opposite sides of the galaxy they had been only a hand span apart in the Force.
Surely this wasn't it – the discussion they had postponed because emotions ran too high in the confusion of his return and recovery. The Force wouldn't bring them together, just to see them part again – yet, perhaps, this, too was a test of their ability to let go once again.
"I don't know," Obi-Wan admitted, rubbing his chin. "My heart spoke to me, yes, but wouldn't anyone, even a Jedi, reach for something good to combat the pain, something pure and good when the Force was out of reach?
"I needed the memory of you – that time you said you loved me before we thought we would die together, all those years ago – of Anakin, of all that is good in my life to grasp onto when that mask," his face darkened, but remarkably his voice never faltered, "when that mask tried to strip everything decent and good from me. I have let that memory go; it has been replaced by the truth – the wonderful truth that our love didn't wither away and die. I need nothing of your love, now, to sustain me. I only want it, and that is my own personal, human, selfish desire. That is what I can't reconcile."
"Have you tried?" Master Yoda, even her own master, had urged her much as the Force had, to accept her love for Obi-Wan as a way to heal him. "Follow your hearts," each had counseled, "guided by the Force," regardless of the Order's views on such. To what means, by what expression, was yet unclear.
Only Obi-Wan himself seemed hesitant to do more than voice his love, finding any expression of it difficult. Without the clear voice of the Force to guide him different, the man who implicitly followed its wishes held fast to his knowledge of the tenets he had grown comfortable with.
"No, not once." He laced his hands over Siri's. "I had to heal. I couldn't have done so without you. Without the Force, I had to be more human, more man, than Jedi. Now that the healers think they can repair my connection, that I can once again be the Jedi I once was and want once more to be – I don't know where that leaves the man in me. I'll always love you; but telling you so may be all I'll be capable of."
She nodded, leaning into his shoulder as his arm came around her.
"We go back to where we were?" Back to friends, back to hiding their hearts as they had done for the better part of two decades?
"Never back." His hand brushed her cheek; a gesture Siri instinctively understood. He rested his head against hers, his voice soft and yet firm.
"I won't hide, from either you or myself. Never again. The truth is out, and I don't want to put it back into hiding."
"But not - forward?"
There was a moment of silence that seemed an eternity. When the answer came, it was low and soft, and terribly uncertain. In that very uncertainty, Siri found hope.
"That I don't know. To know something is not to act on it; as Master Yoda says, always in motion is the future. I shall trust in the Force to guide us in this as in all other matters."
The Jedi in Siri had no choice but to agree.