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Sorry if it looks like this is rushed, but I’m trying to get this posted. I have a bunch of reviews and commentaries and whatnot waiting to be posted, and I want to get to work on the sequel, so I thought I would post this first. 😉

[11/2/2013: Changed tagging to reflect current story status; aka, completed.]

Chapter XIV

                Obi-Wan rummaged in the closet. Tossing his slave tunic aside, he picked up the shirt that Padme had just bought for him at the market. It was a somewhat rough material, an oddly bright shade of vibrant electric blue. Obi-Wan snorted softly. It was her idea of a joke, a subtle probe. Sort of. Of course, subtle was far more up his alley than hers. He preferred more muted cool colors, something Padme had obviously somehow picked up on, and this tone of blue didn’t qualify. It was, of all things, most definitely not subtle. Obi-Wan sighed. He was going to stand out like a bantha in a snowstorm.

On the other hand, if everyone else was dressed the same way…

Obi-Wan held up the shirt. It did look rather nice, he decided, even though it was too fancy for his own taste, with the slashed sleeves and delicate embroidery in silver thread that seemed to be so dear to the heart of the Naboo. He looked over at the mirror. Without the markings on the left half of his face (Jubal Naberrie’s concealer was a miracle), his reflection didn’t look like him at all, and at the same time it was more him than he had ever looked since that day…

Obi-Wan struggled as the man’s hand came down again. He gave vent to a cry of pain as the needles pricked his face, again. A none-too-gentle hand rubbed the pigment across the lacerations and Obi-Wan kicked out as hard as he could. He didn’t understand what was going on, any of it. How could he? He was only four.

                “Blasted nuisance!” one of the men howled, clutching his midsection. “Hold him down tighter, you idiots!” The man leaned in close, Obi-Wan froze. “You know what they’re doing, don’t you?” Trembling, Obi-Wan shook his head. Mother! Where was his mother? Oh, that was right… he had seen her die last year. He was lost, alone.

                “This is your identification,” the man snarled, his lips curving back in a nasty grin. “You’ll never be able to escape, you little runt. Anyone who sees you will see these marks and bring you back. That’s what it is. It’s your badge of shame.” Obi-Wan bit his lip to keep from crying out. The nasty-smelling blue pigment burned. It hurt like nothing else could. Obi-Wan struggled as the man with the needles came forward again. He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take. The grayness at the edges of his vision deepened, swallowed him up. Everything went black.

                Obi-Wan sprang up. He was lying on a cot somewhere, he wasn’t sure where. The agony was gone, but it left behind a terrible numbness. Obi-Wan rushed across the room to the mirror. He stared at his reflection, appalled.

                It was the face of a stranger looking back at him.

                The right side of his face looked normal, but the left was adorned with sinuous, twisting tattoos. Obi-Wan stared, tears running down his cheeks. He felt wrong, violated. He gripped the small pendant on the necklace that was the only thing he had left of his mother. She was gone, for good.

                He was completely and truly alone.

Obi-Wan jolted back to reality to find himself still looking into the mirror. But it wasn’t his reflection he was looking at—it was Siri’s.

She stood behind him, in the doorway, mouth wide with horror. Obi-Wan spun around to face her, instinctively drawing the cloak across his body, but it was too late. She had already seen the scars.

Obi-Wan froze, uncertain of what to do next. His breath was already coming with a shudder to it. A hot flush flickered across his face. He couldn’t breathe properly, his heart was racing; it was the horrible second he knew that he was about to lose control, have a panic attack… or worse. Siri stepped forward, eyes still bright with horror.

“What,” she breathed, “did they do to you?”

Obi-Wan felt as if he was about to pass out. A long beat in the room and the tension was growing all the time. Obi-Wan closed his eyes briefly. Get a grip, Kenobi! he mentally snapped at himself. He opened his eyes, refocused. “You weren’t supposed to see that,” he said, voice almost steady. He turned away and was about to pull the shirt on when a gentle, soft hand on his back stopped him. Obi-Wan froze again, stomach twisting. Why couldn’t she let well enough alone? Couldn’t she see he was about to be sick as it was? Muscles tightened, his whole body stiffening, he could feel the blood draining away from his face. He was going to have another flashback, a panic attack, faint, do something completely ridiculous, he just knew it.

“Show me,” Siri requested softly. It was as if someone else was in control of Obi-Wan’s actions. His mind still screaming out in protest, he slowly dropped the cloak away… and hit the floor. Hard. Obi-Wan leaned back against the bed, his shoulders heaving, struggling to control his breathing. In. Out. The situation was completely beyond his control, and that hit Obi-Wan hard. Why am I so upset? he thought. I shouldn’t be this upset… Is it because I’m so controlling? Why do I have this need to be in control? Why does it have to be like this? It was the biggest difference between him and his master. Qui-Gon could go with the flow; Obi-Wan needed to know something about the mission beforehand, to plan, to think. It was the divide between the Living and Unifying Force; Qui-Gon could live with things as they were, whereas Obi-Wan needed to learn to let go… He mentally rolled his eyes with the irony. Even though Qui-Gon seemed to believe that it was the least likely thing possible, Obi-Wan was very much the same as many Sith, at least as far as mechanics went. However, when morals were added to the equation, he went far beyond them.

Siri’s hands ghosted over the scars, both older and more recent. She seemed shocked that anyone could do that to another living person. “That’s what the Sith are,” he replied to her unspoken thought. Siri’s hand paused on a singular scar, dark, slightly ridged.

“What’s this?” she asked. “I can tell what the others are—electricity burns or lightsaber cuts, or… whip lashes. But what’s this?”

“It’s a burn,” he said, looking down. “I was branded.” He showed her the mark on his arm.

“What’s… branding?”

“It used to be used to mark cattle, until some group of bleeding-heart politicians blacklisted it as cruel and unusual. It involves heating a piece of metal—a branding iron, they call it—and then pressing it to the skin. One of the Sith favored it as a torture method.”

“They tortured you?” Siri whispered. “How dare they!” She clenched her fists indignantly. Obi-Wan pulled the tunic on, somewhat fiercely.

“It’s nothing, they’re only scars. It’s all in the past,” he said. “It’s been and done, and nothing can change it. What’s done is done. What’s gone is gone.” Siri frowned.

“But it’s so unfair—so wrong!” she complained.

“I have to release it, Siri,” Obi-Wan said softly. He buttoned up the shirt’s collar, again drawing the fair veil across the horrid realities that scarred his existence.

“You think you can wash those scars off your back?” Siri snapped. Obi-Wan’s eyes were hard, cold.

“No. But at least I have a choice.” He took a step nearer, eyes as cold as ice and hard as flint and sharp as tempered, beaten steel. “The Sith may wash the blood off, but they can never get their hands clean. I have the choice not to ever get my hands dirty, and I don’t want to start it up again.” He pulled the collar straight, resuming a lighter tone of voice. “Well, what do you think? Presentable?”

“You look rakish,” Siri joked. Obi-Wan frowned.

“That’s not quite what I was trying for,” he said. “I was hoping for respectable.”

“That might be hard, since you’re more respectable than the rest of the galaxy. Which makes you a radical.”

“Does that even add up?” Obi-Wan asked rhetorically. “Oh, wait, it does make sense.”

“Did you just agree with me?” Siri gasped. Obi-Wan shot a mischievous grin at her.

“From a certain point of view.” Siri frowned, trying to reach below the surface, wondering how everything could change like that in less than a moment. It took reason, rather than a probe… his mental shielding was good enough that he seemed to be Force-opaque. But he was multi-layered, and seemed to be able to think on so many levels at once that she was completely lost. By the time she reached this realization, Obi-Wan was already halfway down the stairs.

“Well?” Obi-Wan asked. “What do you think?” He stepped off the lowest step, then turned around. Qui-Gon stood.

“At least you don’t look like yourself,” he said.

“And I don’t look like the Phantom of the Opera, either,” Obi-Wan added.

“Come,” Qui-Gon said. “We must report to the Council. In the meanwhile, I’m sure Padme can make all the other necessary arrangements.”

“Absolutely,” Padme said. The three Jedi bowed and went out.

As they passed through the streets, Siri noted, “You seem a little on edge.” Obi-Wan sighed.

“It’s that obvious?” he said. Siri sighed.

“Well, not exactly, but it is there. What’s wrong?”

“I guess I’m just a bit… nervous,” Obi-Wan said thoughtfully, scuffing the toe of one boot as he walked.

“About what?” Siri probed. Obi-Wan sighed.

“About going before the Council, I think,” he said thoughtfully.

“Why is that such a…” Siri began.

“I’ve never gone before the Council before,” Obi-Wan admitted. “At least not assembled, and definitely not in person.” Siri raised her eyebrows.

“Really?” she asked. Obi-Wan nodded, silently. Siri smiled. “Well, it’s not really anything to be worried about. Getting grilled with a bunch of questions and cross-questioned and completely intimidated by a certain bald Jedi Master is about the worst that can happen.” Obi-Wan sighed.

“I guess… You’ve never had stage fright, or the real-world equivalent of it, have you?”

“Nope,” Siri said cheerfully.

The plains of Naboo have been described as gorgeous, and holopics of them on the travel agencies are known to make the city dwellers of Coruscant or Taris gape. However, no holopic or holovid can do true justice to the majestic, yet humble, world, whose name is spelled out in those five simple letters.

The plains of Naboo are no less than breathtaking. Rolling hills spread for miles upon miles around, cloaked with deep, rich green, like a soft mantle of velvet. To the man or woman who has spent the entirety of their life cooped up in a city where green is only a dream, a flashback to a memory that is older than themselves, the effect is like a breath of fresh air after hours of being caught up in choking fog or smog. Something about those open plains speaks to the very heart of any person.

On those breathtaking plains, in a small rift between two hills, the Jedi Council was gathered. As the three Jedi approached, then made their respectful bows, Obi-Wan could not help but think of Erin Kenobi, the famous outlander Jedi, coming supplicant before the Council in the years before Deriaka’s reign had begun. There was a famous picture, or had been—had it been found and burned, along with all other artistic references to the Jedi?—of that meeting. Obi-Wan listened in silence as his master outlined the report, then he repeated his own report, facing straight forward, trying hard to remain calm. The tension in his core wouldn’t let up, no matter how hard he tried to relax. As Obi-Wan completed his report, he released a slow breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. Yoda smiled.

“Done well, you have,” he said. Obi-Wan barely heard the next few words, almost giddy with relief. Siri delivered her master’s report, which was duly noted. The Council meeting was swiftly completed, and the gathering broke apart into informality.

“Padawan Kenobi.” Obi-Wan bowed.

“Master Windu,” he greeted in return.

“A word, if you please,” the Korun master said. Obi-Wan bowed and followed him off, unconsciously folding his hands back, as if to slide them into his wide sleeves, then stopping as he realized that he wasn’t wearing the robe that he usually wore while on missions. A faint smile quirked on Windu’s lips. “You suppressed your nervousness well, Padawan Kenobi,” he said. Obi-Wan stiffened slightly. Windu made a swift motion with one hand. “Peace.” Windu continued. “I merely wanted to tell you that the Council wished to commend you for your actions. Your plan for what will happen this afternoon was direct, but will be effective, I believe.” Obi-Wan bowed, silently. “War is coming, young Padawan. The board is set, and the pieces are moving. There shall be no turning back from this moment on. We will need young warriors like you, Obi-Wan. Your intelligence has been invaluable, but we are also going to need you on the battlefield. Now, if you would kindly return, we have your little event to attend.”