… here we go again. I would like you all to know that this was an unnecessarily difficult story to write, because I constrained myself to write it without the use of a particular word. No prizes for guessing what word.
Returning home from telling Master Che that Master Obi-Wan will be back in an hour, that he is injured, that Ben seems to be fine, I barely have time to close the door, set an alarm for an hour, before I collapse onto my bed, completely spent. An hour later, the alarm jolts me out of dreamless exhaustion. An hour. Ben said an hour before they were home. Breathe. I take a cold shower to wake myself up; dress hastily; go back to my room to grab something out of a drawer, slip it into my pocket; head back to the medcenter.
I still have fewer inhibitions around general underhandedness than most Templars, so it’s easy for me to mind-trick my way past enough med apprentices to reach Master Che in person. She recognizes me at once, which for some reason I had not expected.
“They are home,” she informs me, without preamble. “Ben is fine. Obi-Wan… is not fine, at present.” I must look as frightened as I feel, because Master Che says more gently, “I forgot you’d not been with us long. I’d swear Obi-Wan is made of elastic: he bounces back from the worst the Galaxy can throw at him. It will be a fortnight, probably less, before he’s back on the mission roster. Don’t worry, child.”
I nod, fish the glasses out of my pocket, hand them to her.
“Master Kenobi left instructions that should exactly this circumstance occur, I was to request that you make the necessary arrangements for these to become… unnecessary.”
Master Che smiles; I didn’t know she smiled. “I certainly shall. I shall also tell him that you reminded me.”
“Please don’t,” I say. “You insult Master Kenobi’s faith in me by the very suggestion he would need to be informed that I have carried out his orders.” When Master Che doesn’t reply, I bow, then leave, wondering if her silence means that she is convinced Master Obi-Wan has no faith in me at all, or that she is convinced I do not deserve what trust has already been bestowed on me. She knows him better than I do. Everybody, it seems, knows him better than I do.
I don’t think I’ve ever been up here in the Temple when there’s nobody in the Sentinel quarters, when I can’t just run downstairs to find Jiron if it all gets too much. Not that I haven’t tried, slipping away to Ninth Lower, hoping to wake up finding it was only a dream. Feeling my heart sink on finding instead only the duracrete corridors, cold, dark, echoing; deserted. I’ve never felt so alone in my life.
The cold hollow in the pit of my stomach does not ease when Ben comes home in the evening. I make tea, send a droid to the kitchens to fetch some supper – Ben says he’s too tired to face everybody in the refectory – sit down, listen silently, attentively, as Ben tells me about the mission. He’s obviously troubled, so I ask what, in particular, is worrying him.
“In the explosion,” Ben manages, “I was behind Master Obi-Wan, so I wasn’t as badly hurt. But there’s something wrong with – I don’t know, Master Che said – could it be like flash blindness? You know more about this stuff than I do – Master Che said he can’t… see properly.”
Admiring the healer’s subterfuge in adroitly distracting attention to a more plausible problem without revealing the true center of the issue, I smile slightly, lay one hand over Ben’s.
“I am quite sure,” I say, “that Master Obi-Wan will be fine.”
“Yeah,” Ben replies, sounding unconvinced – well, why should I be able to convince him of anything? “but Master Che says it’s not something she can – can fix. He’ll have to go to the medcenter in town.”
I’ve been doing some surreptitious research over the course of the week – learned a little about what’s involved in the surgery Master Obi-Wan will need to have to mend his eyes. While I’d suspected that something like this might come up, that it might be something the Temple healers couldn’t handle, it’s got Ben rattled.
“You don’t have to take my word, Ben,” I promise, because I know my word will never be enough. “Master Che said he’d be fine. You can trust her, I guess.” To my surprise, Ben nods, accepting the assurance. “You look like you could use some sleep,” I suggest, wary of appearing to give orders. Although Ben is two years younger than I am, five years less experienced, he is a Kenobi, a blood-relative of the man himself. I’m a Saalisan Sentinel, so, by my blood lineage, by my teaching lineage, neither any Shendi Human nor any Templar Jedi should want to have anything to do with me. I know that; I know Ben is Shendi by birth, Templar by fate, so by extrapolation Master Obi-Wan is too; I’m just grateful to be ‘adopted’.
But Ben is tired enough not to care who is suggesting what to him. After he has retired to his room, I remain, meditating, not drawing extra energy from the Force, just resting in its peace. In the distance, though physically nearby, there is a whisper of someone familiar. I investigate, delicately, crushing the irrational hope that after all these weeks it might be… it isn’t. I find a confusion of time, a confusion of place, flung adrift in a senseless void.
Then was smoke, noise, horror at a potentially fatal mistake. Now is a hint of something warmly viscous all around, an acid taste, the idea of something over a face – uncertainty – what happened to Ben?
I’ve found Master Obi-Wan in the Force; by the shape of things, I’m guessing he’s in a bacta tank. I’m also guessing he doesn’t like it very much. My soul sighs, though whether in relief or disappointment I don’t know. I show him that Ben is largely unhurt, worried about him, but now sound asleep. For myself, I remain stationary in the Force, unobtrusive, reassuring without being noticed. We meditate together-not-together like this for a while, rocked in the gentle currents of life, unified in the Force.
The criteria for a meditation anchor, in a pinch, are that it must be external, must be steady. Other things may be desirable, but nothing more is necessary. Halfway across the Temple from Master Obi-Wan, separated but close, I am motionless in the Force. I’m being an anchor for him… in a pinch. Because nobody else is around. It lasts until he works out the nature of the anchor: the bright flare of recognition comes less than a second before he vanishes, discarding the meditation. I am discarded as well; I console myself firmly that it was not me, that something happened in the medcenter to pull him back to the ordinary Galaxy. After a while, I go to bed, but not to sleep. I don’t want to disturb anybody with stray dreams tonight.
In the morning, Ben sets off early to the medcenter, to visit. Although I go with him because he asks me to, I leave quietly from my vigil in the corridor while Ben talks to Master Obi-Wan. I go home, keep working on the experimental data from the laboratory until I realize I don’t care what the relative yields of two synthesis reaction mechanisms are – I just want to know if Master Obi-Wan is all right. But someone is waiting for these figures, so the figures have to take priority. All day, I receive word through the efficient Padawan gossip service. In the mid-morning, it is Master Che says Master Kenobi is so much improved she’s considering releasing him to go home – though not on the mission lists, of course! At noon, it is a highly informative request for enlightenment: why, please, is Master Skywalker going with Master Kenobi to the medcenter downtown? At dusk, it is a two-word message from Ben: they’re back. I go to the top of the hangar-bay steps, find Ben is already in the bay with the others, laughing, joking. Like a family.
“… I do not look like a pirate,” Master Obi-Wan is protesting. Indeed, he doesn’t… much. The patch over his left eye is white, held on with tape by the look of it.
“You do,” Anakin says, grinning. I fleetingly wonder if all Templar Padawans and ex-Padawans are as disrespectful as Anakin, but decide it seems implausible.
“…go back in a week to have the other one fixed,” Anakin’s former Master is saying jauntily. He sounds happy. Better, he sounds elated. I’m glad.
I slip away, retrieving the papers from my room to file in the Archives. When the calculation sheets are stowed in the appropriate file box, I don’t return home. Instead, I fold myself deftly into my favorite little nook of the Archives, where two bookcases, not quite meeting in a corner, leave a comfortingly narrow cranny between. I sit there, knees drawn up, trying to warm the tight core of misery in my chest into melting. Damning thoughts nibble at the edges of my mind: you don’t belong here, you’re not wanted here. Try as I might to silence them by reasoning that I haven’t really asked, I don’t know I’m not wanted, I can’t shake the idea that I shouldn’t be in the Temple, I should be out on the road with the Sentinels, not bothering anyone.
Someone says hey; I look up just far enough to see boots I don’t recognize. I’ve been crying, which, besides being bad form, leaves me in a total mess. Worst of all, I soon discover that the boots standing in front of me belong to Anakin.
“Been looking for you,” he says, leaving me to guess at the subject of the sentence. “Obi-Wan’s okay, thanks for asking,” he adds sarcastically, an unvoiced but clearly articulated accusation of not caring accompanying the words.
“I care,” I respond to the charge. “I just don’t want to – to be in the way.” Anakin sits down abruptly, cross-legged, hands folded in his lap like a youngling’s, gazing at me earnestly.
In a quite different, much softer voice, he says, “I know what it’s like to feel that you don’t belong in the Temple. It doesn’t get much easier, but you do learn to cope.” I’m clinging to the lifeline he’s thrown me, when he smiles. “Anyway, kid, after ten years of me, Obi-Wan’s the best in the business when it comes to dealing with misfit Padawans. I guess I’ve broken him in for you.”
“Thanks,” I reply.
Anakin looks alarmed. “I was joking.” I don’t think he’s certain I know what a joke is, because he changes the subject quickly. “Seriously, kid. Your Master’s wondering where you are. There’re two things you need to learn about Obi-Wan: he can take just about anything in stride, but you do not ever keep him waiting.” He grabs my hand to pull me to my feet; after one glance at my face, gravely offers me his handkerchief. “Boshuda, you’re a mess,” the Chosen One laughs. Until this moment, I’d forgotten to be shy of him, of his glittering reputation. I resolve that as nobody outside the Order has ever succeeded in awing me, nobody inside ever will again either. I’m Sentinel raised; not scared of anyone.
Except maybe Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Anakin flashes me an encouraging smile, moments before he waves the door to the quarters open. Master Obi-Wan is playing sabacc with Ben, but looks up as the door opens.
“So glad you could join us…” he murmurs, the epitome of perfect manners.
“Deal us into the next round,” Anakin instructs Ben. Once I have a good hand of cards to hide behind, I dare to meet Master Obi-Wan’s gaze again. To my surprise, he doesn’t seem to be angry that I’ve been AWOL all day.
“Thank you,” he says. “You did well in trying circumstances.”
“We come to serve,” I reply, the standard response to you-did-well compliment, though my heart is pounding with excitement. He said I did well. He said that. He did. I take a breath, so I’m calm as I play my cards. “You do look like a pirate,” I tell my Master.