The Temple was peaceful, the corridors silent. Most residents had retired for the night to sleep or meditate, or were occupied with other quiet pursuits.
Anakin walked along miserably beside his teacher, wondering what he could say to make amends. "Master? I know I really blew it this time."
Anakin flinched. "I'm sorry – I know you're angry because you just went away for a couple days and Master C'Baoth –"
"Master C'Baoth. What did you tell him you were up to?"
"Uh, well, I didn't exactly tell him. At all, really. It's just that the Dug won the race earlier today by cheating – he actually killed another driver – and then he challenged me to a fight because he thought he could get away with that kind of thing and he didn't like that we confiscated the prize money, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought he can't just go on being smug and doing evil deeds and why shouldn't I teach him a lesson? I'm a Jedi and he's a scumbag."
Obi Wan came to a full halt and scowled, arms folded across his chest. "You are a Jedi who chose to behave like a …scumbag…this evening. So where is your moral high ground, my young Padawan?"
Anakin hung his head.
"And I won't even ask how you came to be involved in that race or what you were doing anywhere in the vicinity of that racing strip in the first place."
"You told me about it!" the boy protested.
"Your role as a Jedi is not to run about Coruscant teaching any being who insults you a lesson."
"You showed him, though – didn't you?"
"I saved your pathetic neck," Obi Wan growled, "And we ran for our lives like two mangy street dogs. Is that glorious enough for your tastes, Anakin?"
The Padawan quailed. "Master!"
"Let me assure you: if I intend to teach anyone in that arena a lesson, it won't be the Dug," the Jedi Knight continued, unrelenting.
They had reached Anakin's quarters. Sulkily, the boy hit the access control, and the door hissed open.
To reveal an empty room. Bed, desk, and floor were neat and uncluttered. Free of junk, spare parts, tools, and half finished tinkering projects. Anakin entered, stunned, and turned a slow circle. "It's gone," he said, in a daze. "All my stuff….it's gone."
"Serve you right," Obi Wan grumped behind him.
The boy's shoulders slumped. He stared disconsolately at the bare chamber, his mouth set in a grim line. He looked back up at Obi Wan, eyes shining.
"It wasn't me," the latter said, impulsively, although he had a fair guess who might be responsible for the removal of Anakin's toys.
A single tear trickled down the boy's nose. He wiped it away with a fierce swipe of his hand. "I know," he said. Then, without warning, he flung his arms around his mentor's waist and buried his face against the older Jedi's tunics, sobbing.
Unsure quite what to do, Obi Wan gently lowered himself to one knee and wrapped his arms about the boy's violently shaking shoulders.
"I hate him!" Anakin was bawling, his words muffled against Obi Wan's chest. "I hate him! He's scary and he he's mean and he doesn't care about anyone and he wants me to do things I don't…I don't …I hate him!"
"Anakin…" Obi Wan said helplessly.
"It's like he's inside of me and I can't get rid of him and I want him to go away and he scares me, master! And don't don't don't please don't give me away to him – I can't do it, I don't want to, please don't let him. I hate him!"
The sharp tone shocked the boy out of his hysterical rant. Anakin took a hitching breath and pulled away far enough to raise two glistening blue eyes up to his teacher's face.
"Listen, Padawan. I promised you that I would train you and protect you until you are made a Jedi Knight. Nobody, least of all Master C'Baoth, is going to cause me to break that vow."
Anakin's sniffles subsided, though he didn't let go his painful grip. "I'm glad you're back," he mumbled.
"It certainly wasn't a moment too soon." Obi Wan carefully extricated himself and stood up. "You could have been killed tonight, Anakin."
"I'm sorry, master." The boy studied his boots. "So…good night?"
Obi Wan tipped the boy's chin upward with one hand. "Not so fast, Padawan. You and I will be having a talk first thing in the morning."
The promise of strict discipline dissolved any lingering doubts in Anakin's eyes. He nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, master. First thing."
Obi Wan smiled, a very little, and exited with a shake of the head. After he had a talk with Anakin, it was going to be time for another talk with the Jedi Council. High time.
Jedi Master Mace Windu listened and watched the proceedings in the Council chamber with a great deal of amusement. Not that his stony visage betrayed even a hint of that amusement; he maintained his grave composure perfectly, only occasionally exchanging a swift, guarded look with Yoda – a glance that told him the ancient master was enjoying this almost as much as he was.
"The boy was insolent enough to run away from the Temple without permission – without even leaving a communication behind," Jorus C'Baoth was saying. "Has that happened many times before, Master Kenobi?"
Obi Wan looked for his part far less unsettled than he had the first time the two of them had been together in this chamber. In fact, his feet were unconsciously planted in the classic Form IV offensive-ready position. Mace suppressed a rebellious smile.
"I'm not sure I grasp the significance of your question, master," the young Knight responded with a politeness that seemed to freeze the very Force to ice.
C'Baoth turned glittering eyes to Yoda.
"Hm. Many times before, yes," the old one supplied, ears twitching humorously.
"And what, pray tell, have you done about this?" C'Baoth thundered at the young Jedi beside him. "You cannot allow your Padawan to disappear into Coruscant's underlevels at will, Master Kenobi."
"Oh, I agree," Obi Wan demurred. "In the past, I have always hastened to find him when he goes missing. And thus far I have always succeeded. Pray, what did you do when you discovered he was missing?"
Jorus C'Baoth lowered his eyebrows, sinking his eyes into deep shadow on either side of his hawk nose. "A Jedi should not go running after his Padawan like some kind of stray puppy," he growled. "It is unfitting."
The younger man's eyebrows rose fractionally. "A Jedi should do whatever is necessary to accomplish his duty, without thought to personal embarrassment," he answered mildly. Mace had to press his steepled fingers against his lips to maintain his façade of calm.
C'Baoth glared down at the young Knight. "I think I am experienced enough to know what the Jedi path entails," he cut in, sharply. "Thank you for your opinion."
"And what is the boy doing now?" Mace asked, watching both Jedi closely.
"He is assisting Master Shui in the outdoor gardens," Obi Wan said. "There was some…manual labor that needed to be done. I believe Master Shui gave all four staff members the day off."
C'Baoth stiffened. "Such a punishment will not deter the boy. His energy needs to be channeled by a wise hand, not wasted on such useless tasks."
"Benefit from the gardens, we all do," Yoda put in. "Useless the task is not."
The tall Jedi made a curt bow of acknowledgment. "I merely intended to point out that the boy is difficult to handle. I think my concerns about his placement with an appropriate teacher are validated by this turn of events."
"The Council agrees," Mace said slowly. "Your concern is appreciated." He caught Obi Wan's eye. "It is of utmost importance that we place Anakin with the best mentor possible."
C'Baoth straightened and flicked a witheringly triumphant glance at the Jedi standing beside him. Obi Wan disdained to notice it.
"Returned form Ilum you have," Yoda addressed the latter person. "Anything to say on this matter, have you, Obi Wan? Still determined to keep your word, are you?"
The Jedi Knight looked at Yoda and then at Mace. He bowed slightly. "I hope I will always keep my word, masters. Especially the promise I made to Anakin before this entire Council when he was formally made my Padawan. But above all, I hope I will be guided by the Living Force more than my own will or ambition. Anakin's training is indeed a daunting task, one which I wonder daily whether I will be able to accomplish."
"You admit that you doubt yourself?" C'Baoth scoffed.
"I have much to learn," Obi Wan continued quietly. "But the Force is my ally, and a powerful ally it is indeed."
Yoda nodded sagely, and grasped his stick.
"Well?" C'baoth demanded, growing impatient, and confident of a swift decision in his favor.
"Decided the matter is," Yoda huffed. "Anakin Skywalker will remain with his present master. No more discussion of the subject will the Council tolerate." He skewered C'Boath with a look of cold warning, centuries of authority blazing in his green-gold eyes. The Force roared, bright and with the unspoken reprimand. Even a few of the Council members flinched in their seats.
Jorus C'Baoth managed to bow without conveying the slightest amount of respect, his enormous frame shaking with contained emotion, and swept from the room, wrapped in the tattered shreds of his own dignity. There was a heavy silence in his wake.
Mace released a controlled breath. Most amusing indeed.
"With your permission, masters, I should go," Obi Wan said after a lengthy pause. "Before my Padawan drives Master Shui to distraction."
Yoda beamed at him. Yes, yes. Go now you should.," he commanded gently. "Go and teach your apprentice. And learn yourself."
"Yes, master….I shall."
He bowed, his dark cloak sweeping gracefully against the mosaic floor. Just as he rose, his eyes caught Mace Windu's and returned the hidden smile. The Force leapt and played around him as he turned and quietly took his leave, the new saber gleaming softly at his side.