The cool air of the chamber settled heavily, oppressively around them. Standing motionless in the center of the dim, vaulted room, Dooku was waiting for them, the Dark swirling almost tangibly around him. Obi-Wan tried to tell Anakin to wait, to think, but the boy activated his green lightsaber and rushed headlong to attack the former Jedi. The Master could only watch as the crooked blue bolts of lightning caught his Padawan and flung him like a child’s toy into a corner, but then he found himself fighting for his life against a far older and more powerful warrior. The very air seemed to waver around him, and the cut of the crimson saber that sent him reeling to the ground in agony came as a complete shock. And then Anakin was fighting again, barely able to walk without staggering, but fighting. A few moments later the boy was wounded too, and crumpled to the floor, staring in bewilderment at the place where his arm had once been. Looking up, Obi-Wan saw that the Sith about to kill them both was not Dooku anymore, but the eerie Darth Maul, hatred gleaming out of his yellow eyes as he thoughtfully drew back his double-bladed lightsaber… Obi-Wan was still unable to react, even when the dark dome at Geonosis warped into the well room on Naboo where Qui-Gon was dying, Darth Maul shrieking in a cruel triumph. A voice – a woman’s voice; whose? Padme? Siri? – broke coldly in on his thoughts. “I understood the Jedi were supposed to protect their Padawans, Master Kenobi. And I also thought that it was unacceptable for a Padawan to stand by and watch his Master murdered.” He turned quickly to face her in the anteroom of the Senate office, trying to disagree, to say that he had tried to save both Qui-Gon and Anakin, but the words would not come, and she wasn’t there to hear them if they had. As Senator Organa turned away in disgust, he was suddenly dropping like a stone, falling from the upper level of Galactic City to the dark alleys below.
Obi-Wan tumbled from the bed, still ensnared in the sheets. Muslin ripped as he dropped to his knees on the floor. Shreds of tattered cloth hung about him like the tattered, ripped shreds of his life, hanging in pieces around him. Obi-Wan sank back onto his heels. Resting his elbows on his knees, he put his head in his hands. A lancing pain shot through his head, the beginnings of a migraine. Why, Master? Why? He was screaming inside. He could deceive Anakin, tell him that he was all right, really, but he could not deceive himself. Nightmares, always nightmares. Flashbacks – and premonitions. It was becoming too much for one person to carry. The Force was not always conscious of the frail vessels that held the souls aligned with it. He had been bent to the breaking point, and beyond. Everything he had once held dear was coming to pieces in his hands, and he felt powerless to stop it.
Obi-Wan began to sob silently.
Nasriel’s eyes snapped open as she felt the disturbance. She quickly scanned the whole quarters. Ben was still asleep, undisturbed by the interruption in the Force’s ripples. He had not suffered in the same way she had, and slept easily. Obi-Wan, on the other hand – she could sense he was awake. Slowly, Nasriel slipped out of bed. She could feel nothing from the Jedi Master, which probably meant that he was shielding his mind, heavily, unusual for him. Nasriel paused in front of the door to his room. It was closed, and she could hear nothing inside the room. It was not for her to invade her Master’s privacy. Maybe she should just go back to bed… But no, the Force had called her here, insistently. If something was wrong… Slowly, Nasriel reached toward the panel, something in her almost screaming, wanting for her not to be needed.
But she was.
The door slid open, and Nasriel looked in on a room in perfect order, furnished with a Spartan asceticism. A shelf held a line of books, geological samples, feathers, shells, pressed flowers, and the other paraphernalia of an amateur naturalist. The desk was in perfect order, papers piled neatly at one side, prepared quills and inkbottle lying across the top.
However, the bed was a mess. The quilt was hanging down, half-on and half-off, and it looked like Obi-Wan had torn the sheets in a panicked attempt to escape them. Claustrophobia? Was that it? Was he claustrophobic?
Then Nasriel saw Obi-Wan. He was obviously oblivious to her presence, kneeling on the floor by the side of the bed, his head in his hands, auburn hair tousled, tears running down the arm that was closest to her. He was murmuring, softly, bitter but silent sobs racking his slender frame. The broad shoulders were shaking, his chest heaving. He was barefooted, dressed in only the leggings and the innermost layer of his tunic. “Please, Master,” Obi-Wan whispered, his voice broken, shaking, betraying a world of inner pain. “Please – just – come back. I need you.”
Nasriel stood petrified in the doorway for what seemed like a long time, appalled and astounded and unsettled by the sight. She had only seen the Jedi Master before, only the courageous, powerful hero. The person she saw now was vulnerable, painfully so. Nasriel almost turned to run. She needed for him to be strong, to take all her problems on his shoulders, to make her troubles go away.
But now, she had to be the strong one. The Force had decreed it. Damn the Force. No, not a Jedi thing to do. Hesitating a little, Nasriel walked forward to stand beside Obi-Wan. Still hesitantly, she touched his shoulder.
Instantly, he turned on her, eyes hard. They softened back to normal as soon as he saw who it was, but they were more sad, dull, charcoal gray now than blue. “Nasriel,” he said tonelessly. No inflection, no feeling. Just sheer pure exhaustion. Even the pain had been carefully kept out of his voice. However, he could not hide the shadowed eyes, the flushed cheeks, the tortured breathing. Nasriel wasn’t sure what to do. The Force was whispering to her again. On an impulse, she dropped to her knees as well and hugged him tightly.
He was too tired to stiffen at her touch, as he had before. Tears dampened the rough, soft material of the nightdress she was wearing. For now, silence was all that was available, and it was good.