The city of Sienca was large, industrial, and covered with an uninteresting mix of construction, factories, overpopulated tenement buildings, and filth. It was an easy place to get lost in. As Qui-Gon Jinn ducked behind a building to escape a rush of blaster bolts, he conceded that while he was not lost, he was not exactly sure of his location.
The mission to Taro Tre had been horrible from the start. The negotiations for which the native population had requested Jedi mediation had degenerated into name-calling, taunts, and violent threats. It didn’t take long to realize that his and Obi-Wan's presence would not help. When negotiations abruptly broke down, Qui-Gon knew their very lives were in danger.
They’d made it halfway through the city, heading for the spaceport on the outskirts, before the fighting had begun. Riots erupted within minutes; disgruntled citizens spewed forth as if from nowhere to take up arms against anyone that looked out of place.
By the time Qui-Gon had fought his way free of the press of bodies, Obi-Wan was no longer at his side. They were several blocks away from each other, forced to flee in different directions to keep from getting killed. It was only the presence of the training bond, shining brightly in Qui-Gon's mind, that kept him from frantic worry for his Padawan.
Qui-Gon made a flying leap, catching the rungs of a rusty fire escape ladder and climbing to the top of a crumbling tenement. From the roof, he could see spirals of smoke rising into the sky from multiple points in the city, including the spaceport. It wasn’t the most reassuring sign, but the sight of the three rusting communication towers marring the skyline told him he was closer to the port than he had originally thought. He hoped their transport was still intact.
Obi-Wan, where are you?
There was a moment of tense silence, and he could feel Obi-Wan struggling to form a coherent reply. His Padawan’s mental talents were still shaky, but after a bare three years together, it was to be expected. Some Master-Padawan pairs couldn’t manage telepathic sending at all.
Somewhere nearby, Master, Obi-Wan said at last, exhaustion in his mental voice. They'd been on the run for hours, and the young man's reserves were dangerously low. Do you know if lightsabers can deflect slugs?
Slugs? Qui-Gon blinked, for a moment wondering if the rioting natives had resorted to throwing mollusks instead of bricks.
Obi-Wan heard the thought, and laughed. Don't I— OW! Don't I wish!
Padawan? Qui-Gon demanded. What happened?
Just a scratch, Master.
Qui-Gon frowned in concern and annoyance. To his sixteen-year-old Padawan, a scratch was nothing to be concerned with, even if said 'scratch' was as long as his arm and gushing blood. They're using slugthrowers, I take it. The weapons were made of wood and plasteel, and fired a slug of metal at high velocity. Archaic, but just as deadly as a blaster.
Rifle variant, but yes, Master. I decided running for my life was the better part of valor.
Wise decision, Padawan, Qui-Gon replied, his lips quirking up slightly at the young man's humor. It was just developing, and tended to be sarcastic and morbid. Rampaging Banthas would never get him to admit that he enjoyed it more than a Jedi Master should.
There's a bronze spire in the distance. Do you see it?
Yes, Master. If it's the one we saw on our way in, the spaceport is only a klik farther north.
It is. Meet me there. And your lightsaber will not deflect a slug, but it will melt it.
Qui-Gon turned as a blaster bolt hit the ground next to his feet. The natives didn’t seem interested in giving up on bagging themselves a Jedi just yet.
He ran, diving off of the roof and hitting the ground a moment later. There was a faint sound of surprise from above, but he didn't plan on sticking around to find out how impressed they were. He wanted his Padawan, and he wanted the hell off of this planet.
Obi-Wan was waiting at the foot of the spire, his back against it. He was grim-faced, ignited lightsaber in his hands, as he defended himself against attack. Several of the locals were approaching, firing blasters and slugthrowers. The fact that their own blasts were hitting them as Obi-Wan deflected the energy didn't seem to occur to them.
Riot mentality, Qui-Gon thought in distaste. No help for it…
Qui-Gon ignited his lightsaber and intercepted two blasts as he joined the fray. Obi-Wan gave him a quick, grateful glance. They settled back to back, the spire behind them, and worked in concert to defend themselves and each other. Qui-Gon was relieved to see that the cut on Obi-Wan's arm was shallow, not even bleeding. For once, the boy had been honest about his injury.
The slugs were a nuisance, sizzling through their lightsabers and leaving a noxious stink behind that made his eyes sting and water. The blaster bolts they were turning back were doing an admirable job of cutting down their opposition, but still the remaining few kept on firing, edging closer as they did so.
Enough of this. Qui-Gon reached out with the Force, collapsing an already-weakened wall and burying two of their attackers in the rush of debris. He was considering doing the same to another wall when Obi-Wan fell to the pavement, his lightsaber clattering to the ground, their bond falling silent. The event had happened so quickly that not even the Force had been able to grant him sufficient warning.
Instinct and long years of experience took over, guiding his movements to protect them both. His Padawan was injured but alive; he dared not spare even a glance to see to anything else. In moments, only two opponents remained—he dispatched them and clipped his lightsaber to his belt before turning back to his Padawan. “Obi-Wan?”
He couldn't stop the cry that emerged from his throat. Obi-Wan was sprawled on the ground, eyes closed, pale as death. Blood was flowing from a wound near his temple. Slug, he thought, identifying the cause of the damage. It must have slipped through the boy's guard when they were both distracted.
Qui-Gon cursed himself, slugthrowers, and the planet in general as he searched for a pulse, unaware of the tears that tracked down his face. Beneath his fingers he felt a beat, low and thready, and the Force spoke to him of the rest of the damage. Not life-threatening. Not fatal.
Releasing a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, Qui-Gon probed the wound with the Force. The slug had impacted with the boy's skull but had not penetrated. As he worked to stop the bleeding, he noticed the way the cut from the slug ran from the edge of Obi-Wan's forehead well back into his hair. Even with Force healing, there was a chance his Padawan would have one hell of a scar.
He did all he knew to do, then gathered Obi-Wan up in his arms. Healers were what Obi-Wan needed now. He drew on the Force and ran for the spaceport, grateful that the fighting seemed to have moved away from them. The path to the ship was clear.
* * * *
Qui-Gon wasn't sure why he chose to return to Coruscant, even as the ship accelerated into hyperspace. There were medical facilities much closer to Taro Tre, but he wasn't about to question the instinct that had prodded him to enter those coordinates. The Force had never sent him down the wrong path, and he would have faith that it was the right thing to do.
He found the small ship's medical kit and returned to Obi-Wan's side. His Padawan was laid out on the bunk, still and pale, and showed no signs of waking. Qui-Gon found a blanket and covered him, adding another blanket to stave off the shock he knew Obi-Wan's body must be suffering. He cleaned Obi-Wan's wounds, removing blood and dirt before applying an antiseptic gel over both cuts. That done, he settled down cross-legged on the floor next to the bunk.
Obi-Wan? he tried cautiously. Qui-Gon had suspected a concussion, at most, so this continued unconsciousness was starting to bother him. Can you hear me, Padawan?
Silence answered him. Their bond was far too quiet, and felt…wrong. Even in sleep there was the staticky presence of thought and emotion running through their mental connection, a system that allowed him to ascertain Obi-Wan's well-being.
After several years of constant presence, the silence was deafening.
Qui-Gon enclosed one of Obi-Wan's cold hands in both of his own, staring down at the still form. Hold on, Obi-Wan. Stay with me, he pleaded. The thought of losing his Padawan was unthinkable, not after all the boy had come to mean to him.
There would be no Melida-Daan, no Telos. Whatever happened, Qui-Gon would not leave Obi-Wan's side.
* * * *
“I don't know what's wrong with him.”
Qui-Gon lifted his head, and Healer Terza could tell that it took a long moment for her words to penetrate his exhaustion. “What do you mean, you don't know?” After a four-day trip through hyperspace, and another day on Coruscant without rest, Master Jinn was starting to look as pale as his Padawan.
Terza was unfazed by the threatening tone in Jinn's voice, and doubted he was even aware of it. “I mean that aside from his obvious injury, I'm not sure what's wrong with him. He shouldn't be unconscious like this.” She was a Master Healer, and the unresponsive boy in her Ward was baffling her. Terza did not like the feeling.
His expression didn’t change, but there was a flash of worry in his eyes. She sympathized. “Explain to me what you can.”
She nodded. “The slug that hit him fractured his skull, but the damage was superficial. We've already repaired that. The brain doesn't appear to be injured beyond some tissue bruising from the impact of the slug. It was a sudden burst of pressure, but it should not have been enough to cause this comatose state.”
Terza watched as Qui-Gon sank bank into his chair at her words, turning weary eyes to the young man in the bed beside him. The wound from the slug had been healed to a faint pink line, the new scar lying stark against the white of Obi-Wan's skin. Head injuries were unique to each patient. Lasting sleep was not uncommon, but the silence of the bond that Qui-Gon had described disturbed her, for she felt it, too.
Terza walked forward, checking the boy’s vitals with practiced hands, and still she could hear nothing from Obi-Wan; he had no presence in the Force aside from a faint buzz that told her he still existed. She placed her hands on the young man's face, breathing in as she called on the Force. With a tendril of thought, she reached out to touch his mind, and jerked her hands back as she encountered white noise and angry static. “Force gods!”
“What? What happened?” Qui-Gon was standing next to her before she registered movement, his hands on her shoulders. He gazed into Terza’s eyes, and some distant part of herself quailed to be subjected to such intense regard by the other Master. The rumors about Jinn were well-earned.
She rubbed at her temples with both hands, trying to fling off the last vestiges of confusion the contact had created in her mind. “I'm not sure, but I can't reach him.” Terza closed her eyes for a moment, taking deep breaths to re-center herself. “You try.”
Qui-Gon hesitated before placing a hand on Obi-Wan's forehead, and she could feel the delicate manipulation as he reached out to touch the boy's mind. Frowning, he shook his head after a long moment. “Nothing. I don't sense anything.”
“Nothing?” Terza blinked several times, for the answer was not what she’d expected. “Qui-Gon, I tried to touch that boy's mind and got smacked with the mental equivalent of a static probe. You say you sense nothing?”
“I sense that he's alive. Other than that? No, nothing.” Qui-Gon sighed, his big frame slumped over in weariness and concern. One of his large hands brushed Obi-Wan's short, spiky hair, before he looked at Terza with watery, exhausted eyes. “What can we do?”
Terza hated to speak the words. She hadn’t said any such thing about a patient in at least two decades. “I don't know.”
* * * *
That evening, Qui-Gon was huddled in his cloak on that same chair when a visitor found him. He looked up in surprise as the tiny Master entered the room. “Master Yoda.” He struggled to stand, but Yoda waved his gimer stick at him, motioning for Qui-Gon to stay where he was.
“Master Qui-Gon,” Yoda greeted him in a soft voice, his large green eyes luminous in the dim light. “How is your Padawan?”
Qui-Gon settled back down in the chair, Force-willing his exhaustion away. “I don't know, Master,” he said, regret in his voice. “The Healers are not certain why his condition remains this way.”
“Hmmm.” Yoda lifted himself into the chair on the other side of Obi-Wan's bed. He looked down at the unconscious youth, a sad cast to his features. “Concerned, I am. Concerned, we all are.”
“Yes,” Qui-Gon whispered.
Yoda's ears twitched as he placed his clawed hand on Obi-Wan's chest. Closing his eyes, the ancient Master muttered to himself under his breath for a few minutes. Qui-Gon could feel the Force swirl around the other Master and leaned forward, curious. Perhaps Yoda would succeed in waking Obi-Wan where the Healers had failed.
Yoda drew his hand back and opened his eyes, frowning. “Unusual, this is. Yes, yes. Most unusual.”
Yoda looked up, his eyes wide and startled, as if he had forgotten Qui-Gon was present. “Wait, we must. Nothing is there that we can do.”
“Nothing? Nothing at all?” Qui-Gon sank back, hopes dashed, trying not to despair. Something was wrong, very wrong. He did not often see Yoda so concerned, or so distracted. “Yoda, please. There must be something to be done.” His voice cracked on the words; he needed rest more than he had thought. “I cannot just sit here and do nothing.”
Yoda tilted his head, regarding Qui-Gon with a fond smile. If the Master had further concerns about the young Padawan, he had hidden them well away. “Perhaps there will be. But first, rest you must.”
Qui-Gon shook his head. “No. I'm not leaving him.”
Yoda sighed. “Idiot old crecheling of mine. Leaving him you will not be. Rest you need, or fall on your face you will.” Yoda turned his attention back to Obi-Wan, patting the bed. “Watch over him, I will. Return in the morning, you shall. Then reach him, you will.”
“But I can't reach him. I've tried—” Qui-Gon winced as an invisible force smacked his shins.
“There is no try. Teach you that eventually, I will!” Yoda glared at him, his eyes hard, and Qui-Gon knew this battle was not his to win.
Yoda’s gaze softened. “Rest, Qui-Gon. Take time, this might.”
* * * *
The old troll was right. Qui-Gon opened his eyes to sunshine the next morning and knew that he felt better after enjoying his first true rest in almost a week. His first act upon waking was to inspect the training bond, feeling a moment’s intense disappointment to find the silence exactly the same.
But, he consoled himself, it could be worse. Much worse.
He showered and dressed, stuffing the clothes he had abandoned on the floor the night before into the laundry chute. Then he went to the kitchen, making tea out of habit. Sipping the hot beverage and letting the liquid soothe his aching throat, Qui-Gon leaned back against the counter and sent a tendril of thought down to the Healers’ Ward.
The same, he is, Yoda informed him, sounding grumpier than usual. Breakfast, you should eat.
Qui-Gon considered the state of his stomach and shuddered. Breakfast was one thing he didn't need, but he had little say in the matter. His shins would suffer for it if Yoda realized his suggestion had not been followed.
He raided the freezer, even managing to put some interest into it. Obi-Wan liked to cook, and had prepared and frozen quite a number of things for quick heating. Qui-Gon cooked as well as a Hutt sang, and both of them feared the commissary, but his Padawan could take several little things and turn them into culinary wonders.
There were elements of Obi-Wan everywhere he looked in his quarters. Some days it still amazed Qui-Gon how quickly and thoroughly the boy had insinuated himself into Qui-Gon’s life in the past three years—and how grateful Qui-Gon had been for it. His Padawan had filled the large, empty gaps in hearth and heart, and the thought of losing that scared the hell out of him.
While his breakfast heated, Qui-Gon leaned against the counter, scrubbing his face with his hands. Please wake up, Obi-Wan. I no longer know what I would do without you.
* * * *
Qui-Gon was striding down the hall, cloak billowing out behind him, when someone called his name. He forced himself to stop and turn, burying his annoyance out of long practice. The last thing he wanted was someone delaying him with Temple matters. He had already been away from Obi-Wan's side for too long, and his skin practically itched with the need to be present.
He caught sight of Mace Windu and resisted the urge to frown. He would wait and see if his friend was bringing Temple business to his attention or not. If so, Qui-Gon could strangle the Councilor at his leisure.
It was that last thought that made him realize he could probably use some more sleep.
“Qui-Gon, you walk faster than most people run,” Mace said, smiling. Not Temple business, then, or Mace would be addressing him by title.
“Mace.” He nodded in greeting.
Mace had many years of experience in reading him. “You look ready to strangle someone.”
“Very perceptive,” Qui-Gon said, smiling a little. His anger did not leave him, but it eased somewhat. Mace was a good friend, when he wasn't being infuriating. “The Chancellor’s office received a message from Taro Tre, regarding Sienca. The planetary government has decided that Obi-Wan and I are responsible for their descent into civil war, and are calling for the Senate to return us to Sienca for proper punishment.”
Mace cursed under his breath, careful not to be heard by the Jedi passing nearby. “They don't know when to quit, do they? I wish that we hadn’t agreed to send a team at all. We thought it was a lost cause in the first place, but the Senate insisted. I'm sorry that you and Obi-Wan are suffering because of their blindness.”
Qui-Gon shook his head. “Finis has assured me that Taro Tre will be verbally flogged for its request.” It wasn’t a true punishment, but Finis Valorum’s response would set the tone for the Senate’s further dealings with the wayward planet.
“Ouch,” Mace said, but he looked more pleased than concerned. “Taro Tre may soon find themselves ostracized from the Republic. This is not the first time that their actions have proven...undesirable.” Qui-Gon snorted at Mace's diplomatic phrasing. “Chancellor Valorum thinks a great deal of you, and of Obi-Wan, especially with the work the two of you have been doing for him of late.”
When Qui-Gon looked away, Mace laid a hand on his arm. “How is he, Qui-Gon?”
“The same,” Qui-Gon replied, directing his gaze at the floor. He had never dealt well with sympathy, especially after Xanatos. He supposed it was a credit to himself that he was not fleeing from the comfort his friend was offering. Then again, Qui-Gon was certain that the credit should be given to the young man who lay unconscious in the Healers’ Ward.
“He's going to be all right, Qui-Gon. He's strong in body and mind, and just as stubborn as you are.” Mace grinned at him.
Qui-Gon looked up at that, raising one eyebrow. “I am not stubborn. I'm—”
He bit off the flow of words as something changed. He whirled around, feeling an integral part of his mind fall away from him.
Panic surged forth; acid burned his throat. Obi-Wan! He was running for the Healers before he gave it conscious thought.
Mace followed, keeping pace with Qui-Gon as he made for Obi-Wan's room in a blur of Force-enhanced speed. They both drew up short in the doorway; Yoda’s eyes widened in surprise as they appeared. “Wrong, something is?” the old Master asked.
Qui-Gon stared at his apprentice, who was lying in the bed and looking exactly as he had the night before. Every machine he could see confirmed that Obi-Wan was fine, if still unconscious.
“What happened?” Mace demanded.
“He...it...” Qui-Gon swallowed and shook his head to clear it. “The bond. It's...gone.” He could feel in his mind where the training bond had been, but there were no mental ties remaining between himself and Obi-Wan.
“Gone?” Mace echoed in disbelief. “Your training bond?”
Yoda's ears shot up, his eyes sharpening in concern. “Tell us what you felt, you will,” he demanded.
Qui-Gon walked towards the bed, hesitant, almost afraid his Padawan would vanish before his eyes. “I was speaking with Mace, and the bond snapped.”
“Snapped?” Yoda stared at Qui-Gon. “Felt this, you did?”
“Yes, Master,” Qui-Gon said, touching Obi-Wan's hand with the brush of his fingers. Still warm. Still alive.
His heart seemed willing to beat a normal rhythm again, but Qui-Gon’s thoughts were gibbering that this did not happen. Training bonds did not break—not without help. Not even his bond with Xanatos had snapped upon the darkened man’s suicide. The old threads had merely unraveled, giving way in the Force like water washing away sand.
“I thought he must have died. I was afraid that his injuries...” Qui-Gon drew in a shaky breath. “I was afraid he was gone. But he's still here.”
He noticed Mace and Yoda exchanging pointed glances and made a face. They seemed more concerned about his mental well-being than Obi-Wan’s. I am not that fragile, thank you, he wanted to retort, but held his tongue.
Mace glanced at the readouts the machines produced, frowning. “There's been no change in his condition for the last half hour, and we got here in less than two minutes. And you say your bond with him is gone?”
“Completely,” Qui-Gon nodded, sitting down in the chair he'd claimed as his own. “There's nothing left of it.”
“Master Yoda, what could have caused this?” Mace asked the question Qui-Gon couldn’t quite bring himself to voice. “Did you feel anything?”
Yoda tapped his gimer stick against the arm of his chair. “Feel anything, I did not. What caused this, I know not. Call to him, you should. Reach him you might.”
Qui-Gon met Yoda's eyes for a long moment before nodding. “Very well.”
He took Obi-Wan's unresisting hand in his own. The physical contact was unnecessary, but reassuring. With a deep breath, he centered in the Force and reached for his Padawan's mind. Obi-Wan?
Nothing answered him, but Qui-Gon thought he felt the briefest flicker of awareness. Encouraged, he followed it, and was caught up in a surge of violent emotions and images that slammed into him like a tidal wave.
Blood and pain. Flames roared up, licking at his skin, catching at his clothing.
He gasped, retching, and found himself on the floor. Mace was clinging to him, pinning his arms and yelling something that Qui-Gon couldn't make his mind interpret. It sounded like his name, and he realized he was fighting the other man's grip in near-mindless terror.
He forced himself to relax, and discovered his body was crackling with tension. Muscles had gone tense and tendons pulled at joints, making pain radiate down his limbs. Drawing air into lungs that felt starved, he looked up at the chair to find Yoda gazing down at him, worry in the ancient Master's eyes. “What...what happened?” he rasped. His throat was sore, as if he'd been screaming.
Judging by the concern Mace and Yoda were broadcasting, maybe he had been. He swallowed, trying to soothe his dry throat, and tried again. “Please. What happened?”
“You tell us,” Mace said, helping Qui-Gon up off the floor and back into the chair. “You were fine one minute, screaming and raving the next. What did you see?”
Nothing, Qui-Gon started to say, and realized that it wasn’t true. “I don't know. It's muddled...”
He leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to put his benumbed brain back into some sort of order. Focus. Focus. He needed to focus. “I saw…a fight, I think. I don't know what kind. Something violent. Frightening. And...” Qui-Gon sorted through images and emotions he'd experienced, and stumbled across one that was still blinding in intensity. “Grief,” he said, and felt it keenly once more. “Horrible grief, like part of my soul was dead and the remaining half was forever keening in pain at the loss...”
Qui-Gon stopped speaking in surprise, because the words had not been his own. “A pyre. Someone's pyre.”
When he glanced up at the others again, Mace looked stunned. For that matter, so did Yoda. Qui-Gon mentally filed that away—Yoda did not look stunned very often. “What's happening to him?” Qui-Gon whispered. “What the hell is wrong with my Padawan?”
“Know we do not, Qui-Gon,” Yoda answered him, looking at Obi-Wan. “React to you, he did not.”
“And there was nothing in the Force from him either,” Mace said, frowning. “Whatever is happening to him, we'll have to wait for him to tell us.”
And if he never wakes up, we'll never know. Qui-Gon closed his eyes, releasing the pain in his heart to the Force. “With your permission, Masters, I'll try again.” When Mace opened his mouth to protest, he held up one hand. “Later. And I won't try it alone.” He didn't add that his head was pounding, and making another attempt right now would have been damn near impossible, anyway.
“Good,” Mace said, crossing his arms. “You were trying to crack your own skull open on the floor, caught up in what you saw. Terza doesn't need another patient.”
Qui-Gon smiled faintly. “Agreed.”
Yoda nodded. “Yes. Again, you will attempt this.” Almost as an afterthought, the Master added, “Necessary, it may be.”
* * * *
Two days later he had been unable to reach Obi-Wan in any way, meeting the same silence he had since Sienca. There was not even a repeat of the pyre-vision, which left Qui-Gon frustrated and weary.
Questioning others, he discovered that the silence was for him alone. Everyone else who tried to seek his Padawan’s presence came up against some sort of mental wall, usually an uncomfortable one. To Terza it varied in intensity, from buzzing sensation to shock probe. Mace said he didn't feel anything overt, but it gave him a headache to make the attempt. Master Poof had tried to reach Obi-Wan, and had gone away rubbing his head and muttering about knives stabbing him in the eyes.
Yoda wouldn’t describe what he felt, but surmised that Qui-Gon’s accomplishment had something to do with the faith Obi-Wan had in his Master. He also theorized that Qui-Gon would be the only one to succeed in reaching the boy a second time. It made Qui-Gon all the more anxious to do so. Something had to change.
Walking back into Obi-Wan’s room after a quick conference with Terza, he was aware of a difference, the barest ping on his senses. He cast out a wide net in response, searching for Obi-Wan's presence, but found nothing. Disappointed, he walked to the bed and then stopped, breath stilling in his chest.
There was a mark on Obi-Wan's upper left arm, standing out in stark red relief on his pale skin. It ran from his elbow up towards his shoulder, disappearing under the thin sleeve of the loose shirt he’d been clothed in. The redness was fading as Qui-Gon watched, healing with unnatural speed.
“Terza!” Qui-Gon yelled, reaching out to touch Obi-Wan's arm. He knew the injury for what it was.
Terza was by his side in moments. “Qui-Gon, what is— what's that?” she said, reaching out to touch the healing burn. “Stars, Qui-Gon. Is that what I think it is?”
When Qui-Gon nodded, she probed the wound—now barely more than a faint white line—with her fingers and the Force. “Force gods, Qui-Gon. I've never seen anything heal like that, not without help. Is he doing it?”
“Not consciously. He's still not…present. But Terza, this is a lightsaber burn.” Qui-Gon traced the path of the new scar with one finger. As with all old lightsaber burns, Obi-Wan’s skin was now silk to the touch. “No one’s been in here. This is…this should not be possible.”
Terza hesitated a moment, then pulled back the sheet covering Obi-Wan. “Look for more.”
He paused. “Do what?”
The Healer looked at him with a mix of amusement and impatience. “Look for more,” she repeated. “Whatever is happening to him is affecting him at a physical level. Maybe if we can ascertain the origin of this wound, then we can deduce the cause of this comatose state. You know your Padawan's body, and I've got access to his medical records. If we find something that wasn't here a week ago, we'll at least have more information than we do right now.”
Within moments the two of them had methodically stripped the young man down to his underclothes, and Qui-Gon found a second lightsaber burn scar. This one was on his right thigh, larger and messier than the one on his arm. There was a matching scar on the back of Obi-Wan's leg where the supposed lightsaber had pierced through. “Terza...”
“I see it,” she replied, her voice soft. She touched the scar almost reverently. “You said you saw a battle.”
“Yes, but the burn on his arm only just appeared. This one is new, too. The texture matches.” Terza nodded her agreement.
Forcing himself to impartiality, Qui-Gon began searching his student for new, unexplained wounds. No more lightsaber burns were to be seen, but there were several other scars of varying types that Qui-Gon knew had not been there before.
“Qui-Gon...” Terza frowned, touching a new scar that adorned one of the Padawan's ribs. “This boy looks like he's been living in a war zone. Whatever is going on inside his mind is not pretty.”
Qui-Gon stared at the web of new scars that now covered Obi-Wan's left foot, looking like a spider’s web of pink welts. Qui-Gon had no idea what kind of injury could have caused it. Tracing the web with one finger, he sent out a mental call to Yoda.
If Qui-Gon thought Yoda was stressed before, it paled in comparison to Yoda's reaction upon seeing Obi-Wan's mysterious new scars. The ancient Master turned to Qui-Gon, serenity replaced by frantic concern. “Reach him you must, Qui-Gon. You must find him, or lose him we might.”
“Master?” Qui-Gon took and held Obi-Wan's right hand in both of his own. “Why?”
Yoda glanced away, but not in avoidance. “Uncertain, I am. Only this I know: Reach him you must, and now, it must be. Or wake, he will not.”
Qui-Gon touched Obi-Wan's spiked hair, feather-caressing the soft red strands. Yoda’s words were pressing on every fear he had. He pushed back, calling upon every bit of serenity he possessed. “If I succeed…what do I tell him?”
“Whatever is happening to him, go along with it. Speak to him about it.” Terza caressed Obi-Wan's arm, and random sparks of her healing gift flared in Qui-Gon’s mind. “The best thing would be to ensure that he knows you would welcome him back. Interfering with this...whatever this is, could do more harm than good.”
He nodded. Yoda looked at him and spoke, voice firm. “Find him. Quickly. Now.”
Qui-Gon centered in the Force and went looking for Obi-Wan, diving deep into his student's mind before he realized the Force suggestion that had accompanied Yoda's words. He wasn't sure what to expect, did not know if he could even gain his Padawan's attention if he found him.
He didn't expect to find himself in a large, airy room. Qui-Gon looked about; the place he stood in was filled with simple lines and textures, but still managed to reek of royal opulence. White-washed walls were hung with embroidered tapestries, shining with silken threads. Delicate paneled curtains of fine lace were pulled back from tall windows, and outside he could see gardens, well-cultivated and beautiful.
The room was a suite, lacking only a cooking area to keep it from being a self-sufficient chamber. A wooden door seemed to lead out, and through it Qui-Gon could hear distant voices, muffled but imbued with uneasy tension.
The bed was clothed in white linen, too large for a single occupant. There were far too many pillows, most of them tossed aside. Sitting on that bed was a man.
He was perhaps twenty years younger than Qui-Gon, a full human dressed in the more traditional Jedi garb of tan tunics over matching leggings. There were high brown boots to finish the ensemble, which lay discarded at the foot of the bed. A lightsaber of simple design hung from his belt. Copper-blond hair fell to the man’s shoulders, framing an angular but attractive face. The full beard was the same shade as his hair, and the color was a pleasant match for his eyes.
The stranger was warrior-lean, resting in a careless slouch that spoke of comfort with his own body. Young, yes, but Qui-Gon had no doubt that the man was a full Master, not a Knight.
Beautiful, Qui-Gon thought, but that impression was forgotten as he looked closer. There were lines on the younger man’s face that spoke of weariness, and storm clouds raged in his eyes. Something had happened to this man, Qui-Gon realized, even as a breeze from the open window ruffled his hair. Whatever the incident was, it had left telling scars. Behind that stormy gray surface lurked a muted sadness. There was a set to his jaw, telling Qui-Gon that this man did not smile often.
He took a step forward, hesitant, not sure if he should intrude. He was supposed to be looking for Obi-Wan, after all, but this man’s obvious disquiet bothered him.
The Jedi must have sensed something, because he looked up. The soft cry that left the man's lips was heart-wrenching. “Qui-Gon?”
Oh, Force, no! What happened to him to cause such pain? “Obi-Wan?” he whispered, and knew that there was disbelief in his tone.
The younger man barked out a dry sob. “I know, I look rather different. But you...you look the same.” There were tears glimmering in Obi-Wan's eyes. Now that Qui-Gon knew it to be him, he could see the ghostly echo of the boy in the man before him. Oh, to know that Obi-Wan could grow up to be this!
“Oh, Qui-Gon. I've made such a bloody mess of things. Can you ever forgive me?”
“Of course I can,” he said, taking a step closer. He made a show of looking around. “Though, the suite looks clean to me.”
Obi-Wan stared blankly at Qui-Gon for a moment before laughing. His laugh sounded rusty and ill-used. “I missed that. I missed you.”
Then come home, he almost said, and clamped down on the urge. Somehow, he knew it was the wrong thing to say.
Qui-Gon swallowed, raising one hand to touch the long copper hair. It was as silken as the lightsaber burn scars. “I promise you, Padawan. I have never left your side.”
“I—I know. I mean, I thought...” Obi-Wan reached up and caught Qui-Gon's hand, holding it in both of his own. Those hands were warm and alive, and Qui-Gon felt his heart ache at the contact. “I hoped you would be with me, watching me muddle my way through this. But I was never sure. I never felt anything, never sensed...” He sighed, and smiled up at Qui-Gon. “I had almost given up, honestly. I didn't think I could bear it anymore.”
Relief turned to alarm, and Qui-Gon struggled to hide it. He sat down on the bed next to Obi-Wan, looking worriedly into the man's changeable eyes. Part of him was trying to insist that it was impossible, that his Padawan was a child still. Yet he could not deny the very real man sitting before him. “Talk to me, Obi-Wan. Tell me what troubles you. I promise I am here to listen.”
Obi-Wan smiled, his eyes drifting back towards the open window. “Oh, Qui-Gon. What doesn't trouble me?” he chuckled, rueful. “I've tried so hard to do what I promised you. I'm trying so damned hard—" He broke off, lapsing into frustrated silence.
Qui-Gon didn't dare ask what this promise was. Terza had warned him not to interfere. Gods. “It's all right, Obi-Wan. I know that you're doing your best. That's all I would ever ask from you.”
“Am I doing my best, though? I wonder.” Obi-Wan sighed. “I'm afraid of him, Qui-Gon. I'm afraid of my own Padawan.” He laughed again, but this time it was bitter. “What kind of Master fears his own student?”
“I suppose that would depend on the student as well as the Master,” Qui-Gon replied, trying to hedge his way through this. Obi-Wan spoke as if Qui-Gon was well-aware of the situation. He would have to be careful. “I have always trusted your insight, Obi-Wan. Are you right to fear him?”
“I don't know," Obi-Wan said, his grip on Qui-Gon's hand tightening. “It’s…I look at him, and can hardly believe we've been together so long. Eleven years. He'll take the Trials soon, and sometimes I'm so proud of him I think my heart will burst. He's made it, despite everything we've been through. He's absolutely head over heels in love with Padmé, and they feel so right together. They’ve already been married. They think I don’t know, but it’s hard to hide that sort of happiness. But sometimes...” Obi-Wan's voice dropped to a whisper. “Sometimes when he smiles, all I feel is cold. I feel like death is gripping my heart.”
Qui-Gon felt an answering chill in his own heart. All of the signs were there, all of the signs that he had missed with Xanatos. Obi-Wan was seeing that which Qui-Gon had been blind to. If this was a fever dream, it was far too real. “What does the Council think?”
Obi-Wan snorted. “The Council. I sometimes wonder if they're thinking at all. ‘Whatever happens is the Will of the Force.’ Right. I haven't believed that since I was seven years old.”
Qui-Gon was torn between laughter and shock. Laughter at his Padawan's typical disdain for the common lament, and shock that the normally respectful young man would criticize the Council so openly. He hadn't the slightest idea what to say. “Obi-Wan...”
Obi-Wan turned to face him, blue-green eyes wistful. “Do you love me, Qui-Gon?”
Qui-Gon looked into those changeable eyes and smiled, reaching up to trace the lines on Obi-Wan's face. It was such an easy question to answer; he was doomed, that was certain. “Of course I do, Obi-Wan. You have always been the light that guides my heart.”
Obi-Wan smiled at the words. For a moment, the radiance that had burned in him as a child was back, turning his eyes to blue-green flame.
Qui-Gon heard the sound of someone approaching, and there was a knock on the door. “Master?” A man's voice, soft and deep. The mysterious Padawan, Qui-Gon guessed.
Qui-Gon turned back to Obi-Wan and noticed with dismay that everything seemed to be fading. “Will you be all right?”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Yes. If you love me...” The younger man drew in a deep breath. “Then I can face anything.”
* * * *
When Qui-Gon woke up, he was on the floor. Again. “You fell,” Terza explained in a gentle voice. His head was pillowed in the Healer's lap, and the rest of him was sprawled out on the floor. Everything ached, pounding in time with his heart.
Terza placed her fingers on his temples. Within moments the pounding faded, and he sighed in relief, feeling that same horrible tension as before leaving his limbs.
“Worked, it did.”
Qui-Gon turned his head, dazed to find that he had the strength to do little else. Yoda sat on the floor beside him, gimer stick laid across his lap. “Wait again, we must. Fine, Obi-Wan will be.”
“Master?” Qui-Gon managed, the word slurred. His tongue felt thick and heavy, immobile. For that matter, so did the rest of him. “He'll be...all right?”
Yoda nodded. “Wait, we must. But return to us, he will.” The diminutive being gave Qui-Gon an inscrutable glance. “Tell us what happened, you will?”
Qui-Gon glanced around the room and realized that Mace was there, along with Yarael Poof and Depa Billaba. “Wasn't like before," he said, too tired even for complete sentences.
Terza, however, was not the Healer in charge of Obi-Wan's case for nothing. A moment later, he felt the woman send him a strong pulse of energy. This time he had enough strength to sit up, but leaned against Terza gratefully when she provided the support. “It was...I found him. But when I did, I wasn't sure at first that it was Obi-Wan.”
“What do you mean? Surely, as his Master, you can recognize your own Padawan,” Poof interrupted him. Depa and Mace both glared at the other Council member, who subsided with a placating wave of his hands.
“He was older. Much older.” Qui-Gon closed his eyes. “I'd guess that he was in his forties.” Certainly no younger than thirty-five, not with the lines that had carved paths across Obi-Wan’s elegant features.
He definitely had everyone's attention now, if the abrupt silence was any indication. Mace let out a low whistle. “Ambitious, isn't he,” he said, a statement that made no sense to Qui-Gon at all.
“Explain, you will.”
“That's what I'm trying to do,” Qui-Gon opened his eyes, glaring at the others. “But you people keep interrupting me.”
He felt more than heard Terza's soft laugh.
“I'm sorry, Qui-Gon,” Depa said, offering him a gentle smile. “Please tell us what you can.”
Qui-Gon considered his words. “It felt like...it felt like I was somewhere else. Another planet, but I don't know which. Clean air. I don't think I've ever been there before.” He told them what had happened, but he was too slow, for his memory of the vision began to fade. Qui-Gon could scarcely remember what had been said, and knew that he had forgotten things. It struck him as strange, but no matter how hard he concentrated, the strands of memory eluded him.
Had he really told that elder version of his Padawan that he loved him? Qui-Gon shook his head, uncertain.
By the time Qui-Gon finished speaking, he was aching, tired beyond belief. Yet he suspected that sleep would be a long time in coming. There were too many questions to ponder.
“This person that Obi-Wan believed was his Padawan,” Depa frowned. “Did you see him?”
Qui-Gon shook his head. “No. I lost the contact first, but I heard his voice.” He hesitated. “None of it felt like a hallucination, Masters. I have never experienced anything so vivid. But I don't know what it was, or how to explain things any more clearly. All I know is...” he trailed off, catching sight of Yoda’s worried eyes. “Something terrible happened to him. He seemed so...lost.”
As he spoke the words, Qui-Gon remembered the overwhelming grief that he had touched on, and the image of the pyre. “Whatever it was, it's not making his situation any easier.”
“Situation?” Yarael shook his head. “For all we know, the boy could be caught up in a strong series of Force visions. You did say that Kenobi was developing a gift for prescience.”
“Master Yarael, forgive me, but you misunderstand,” Qui-Gon said, narrowing his eyes at the Quermian Master. “I doubt that even Master Yoda has ever had a vision of that clarity. It felt real. It felt exactly the same, talking to Obi-Wan, as it does while I sit here and talk to you now. I could tell no difference.”
No one found anything to say to that. At last Yoda stirred, blinking his large eyes at Qui-Gon. “Nothing to do right now, there is. Sleep you will, Qui-Gon.”
Qui-Gon had enough time to be annoyed at the troll for using a sleep compulsion on him before he drifted off.
* * * *
Despite Yoda’s optimistic words, two more days passed with no change in Obi-Wan’s condition. Qui-Gon was hard-pressed to be patient. The memory of what he had experienced had faded to faint echoes, but he still vividly recalled the weariness in his Padawan’s eyes.
At this juncture, it was a weariness Qui-Gon shared. Days of sleeping only when forced to were taking their toll. Dark circles had appeared under his eyes, and his hands were shaking, no matter what he did to control the tremors.
I’m getting old, he thought as he sipped on a mug of caff, a beverage he tended to avoid. He’d gone longer without sleep in the past, but the years had certainly piled up since then. He smiled for a moment, knowing full well what his Padawan would say to such a declaration.
Qui-Gon shook his head. It was a wonder that Healer Terza hadn’t drugged him yet.
He glanced up as he sensed the woman in question approach. She smiled at the mug in his hands. “Want to switch that out for tea? I have a stash hidden in my office.”
Qui-Gon stood up from his cross-legged position on the floor (he’d grown to hate the chair) and stretched, wincing at the protest his back made. “That sounds wonderful. Good morning.”
“Morning, Qui-Gon.” She eyed him, and he recognized that studious look that was damned near Healer-universal. “When was the last time you had anything to eat?”
He thought about it, and realized he had no idea. “I’m hoping it was yesterday.”
The Healer snorted in amusement. “Your Padawan is going to have a field day with you when he wakes up, Qui-Gon. There’s really no need for you to both suffer. I have—”
Terza paused, her head tilted to one side as if listening, before her demeanor shifted into alarm. She rushed for Obi-Wan’s bed just as the machines signaled an alarm of their own.
Before Qui-Gon had time to realize what was happening, the tone of alarm changed as all of his Padawan’s vitals flat-lined. He darted forward, only to have Terza shove him out of the way.
“MOVE!” she roared. The woman brought up one hand and slammed it down on Obi-Wan’s chest, over his heart. There was a bright burst of Force energy as she commanded life to return to the boy’s body.
Obi-Wan lurched, actually rising up off of the bed in response to the rush of intense energy. Qui-Gon eased the shaking, adrenaline-shocked body back down into place, probing his mind for signs of awareness. There were none, and the electronic warbling quieted as Obi-Wan’s life-signs returned to normal.
Qui-Gon turned just in time to catch a slumping Terza, lowering the woman into a chair. The Healer’s golden features were gray with exhaustion.
“Thank you,” Qui-Gon whispered, kneeling down to wrap his arms around the woman’s shuddering frame.
Terza’s laugh was a bare whisper. “You’re welcome. And thank you,” she said, as Qui-Gon worked to bolster up her depleted energy levels before she could lapse into shock. He’d seen Healers save lives this way in the past, only to succumb to shock and unconsciousness themselves.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” he said after a few minutes, voicing the unspoken opinion.
She sighed, nestling closer to him as she tried to maintain her core temperature. “No, it shouldn’t have. There were no physical problems to cause that reaction.”
When the mind dies, the body goes with it, Qui-Gon thought, and repressed a shudder. He decided to take Obi-Wan’s unchanged mental state as a positive sign. Anything else was unacceptable.
Terza seemed to agree with him. “Master Yoda had better be right,” she muttered.
* * * *
It was Terza who ordered him to bed down in his own quarters that night, and he went more or less agreeably. Qui-Gon remained on his feet long enough to strip down, and when he slept his dreams were hazy, jumbled images of life in a desert—a solitary existence led by a man who looked decades older than Qui-Gon, a Jedi who was worn and faded around the edges. His tunics, rough copies of the traditional Jedi style, were perfect for the intense heat. There was pain in his watery blue eyes that spoke of physical aches, but the shadows that accompanied the pain were harder to look at.
Qui-Gon wrenched himself out of the dream, abandoning the harsh isolation for the reality of Coruscant’s night. He got out of bed, irritated, as the last vestiges of sleep cleared from his mind. The dream felt like a Force vision, and it was the exact sort of thing that led him to avoid reliance on prescience in the first place. Vague warnings about a distant future were not helpful, and he didn’t even know the identity of the Jedi he had seen.
Realizing that further attempts at sleep would prove fruitless, he dressed in the dark and made his way to the Healers’ Ward. He wanted company, even if the company he sought was in no condition to respond to his presence.
He felt a moment’s surprise when he found Mace leaning against the wall outside Obi-Wan’s room, waiting for him. “Morning,” he groused. He hadn’t wanted other company. Just his Padawan. Just his Padawan, dammit, please, Force, enough of this!
“Not a good morning?” Mace asked, raising one eyebrow at the abbreviated greeting. The other Master looked far too alert for this abominable time of morning, which meant that he would have spent the night in Council-related meetings. Yet another reason Qui-Gon did not want the job.
“I haven’t made up my mind yet, and it’s too early to qualify. What’s your excuse?”
Mace smiled, an expression that always eased the stern air he maintained. “I’m here to check on Obi-Wan, same as you. We’re all concerned about him,” he added, when Qui-Gon looked at him in surprise. “The two of you are shaping up to be one of the greatest teams we have.”
“Protecting your investment?” Qui-Gon asked, and no measure of control could keep the heavy sarcasm from his words. No, he definitely wasn’t at his best this morning.
“Among other things,” Mace agreed, unperturbed.
Muttering under his breath and grumbling about Council manipulations, Qui-Gon palmed open the door and stepped inside.
It took him a moment to realize that Obi-Wan’s bed was empty.
“Qui-Gon.” Mace’s voice was pitched low, and he tilted his head to indicate direction. Standing in front of the room’s window, wearing the rumpled loose pants and shirt of the Ward, was his Padawan.
Obi-Wan didn’t seem to notice their presence. He was staring out, wide-eyed with awe and wonder. His left hand lifted to touch the window, and he shuddered as his skin pressed against the glass.
Qui-Gon was loathe to disturb him, even though relief sang through every nerve in his body. Bless that little green troll. “Obi-Wan?”
The response was startling. Obi-Wan whirled, the wonder on his face turning to shock. He stared at Qui-Gon and Mace, looking for all the worlds like a cornered wild animal.
Qui-Gon took a hesitant step forward, leaving Mace to guard the door, just in case. “Padawan, are you all right?”
Taking two steps back in response, Obi-Wan pressed his back against the window, then slid down it to kneel on the floor. Shaking his head as if to clear it, he looked up at Qui-Gon. “I’m…I don’t know. I’m trying to decide whether I’m in heaven or hell.”
Mace joined Qui-Gon, since it seemed that Obi-Wan wasn’t going to bolt for the door. “What’s the last thing you remember?” the Councilor asked.
“Being dead,” Obi-Wan replied. Qui-Gon’s breath caught at the off-handed manner in which the words were spoken, and he heard Mace stifle a sharp exclamation.
“Well,” Qui-Gon tried, wishing that Terza or Yoda were here with them. This was not what any of them had expected. “You’re not dead.”
“I’m not?” Obi-Wan turned his head, looking back out the window, and both of his hands were clenched, his knuckles stark white.
Mace’s voice had the rumble of authority in it when he spoke. “Padawan Kenobi, do you recall your mission to Taro Tre? The riots on Sienca?”
Obi-Wan looked up at Mace in obvious surprise. “Of course I remember Taro Tre. Big, ugly mess that we should never have been involved with in the first place. I took a slug to the head and spent a solid week…well, here.” Obi-Wan glanced around at the room in question.
He’s speaking as if it happened some time ago, Qui-Gon realized, chilled.
“And why are you calling me Padawan, it’s been…” Obi-Wan trailed off, realizing that both men were staring at him in confusion. His eyes grew even wider than before. With a strangled cry, Obi-Wan launched himself forward. Qui-Gon made a half-hearted attempt to stop him from reaching the door before he realized that his Padawan had a different destination in mind.
Obi-Wan stumbled into the room’s tiny ‘fresher, staring open-mouthed at the mirror above the sink. Qui-Gon watched, rooted in place, as Obi-Wan touched the healing scar on his forehead with trembling fingers. It was the only injury on his body that hadn’t healed with the same rapid speed of the other mystery wounds.
Then his Padawan yanked his shirt down, revealing the top of the new vertical scar that bisected his sternum. Obi-Wan made a choked, surprised sound, and then touched the Padawan braid that trailed down to just brush his shoulder. His eyes turned almost as pale as his skin; he swayed on his feet, and Qui-Gon’s paralysis broke just in time to rush forward, catching Obi-Wan as he fell.
Mace called for Terza while Qui-Gon sent out a questioning tendril into the young mind, and found not the feared silence, but a jumble of unconscious thought. Qui-Gon ran his hand through Obi-Wan’s hair, and realized that he couldn’t stop shaking.
* * * *
When Obi-Wan awoke again, a few hours after dawn, he was hesitant to speak, no matter how hard Qui-Gon tried to draw him out. After an hour of near silence, while Obi-Wan stared out at Coruscant’s skyline, Qui-Gon settled in to wait. He was a Jedi Master. He could be patient. Obi-Wan would speak when he was ready.
It took him far too long to recognize that Obi-Wan was not just staring at the brightening sky; he was meditating. Conscious meditation, no less, which required a skilled mind.
Qui-Gon wanted to say something—a word of praise, a query—but in the end he did not. Thus, his Padawan remained unaware of the fact that his Master was quietly trying not to panic.
Terza arrived, ready to give the young man an intense physical exam. Obi-Wan, generally shy in front of a Healer’s scrutiny, seemed not to care. Qui-Gon watched as Terza documented the scars that covered Obi-Wan’s body, including the newer lightsaber burn on his chest. It was very faint, as if the healing it had received had been more effective than previous attempts. When Terza pointed out the lightsaber burns, Obi-Wan shrugged. “They’re nothing new,” he murmured, seeming to focus on the Healer for the first time. “I know how they got there.”
Terza smiled. “They’re new for us, Padawan Kenobi. When you became my patient upon your return from Taro Tre, these scars did not exist. They appeared while you were unconscious. We were…very concerned.”
“Hmm.” Obi-Wan fiddled with his Padawan braid with one hand, as if still surprised to find it there. “That’s interesting.”
“You’re as infuriating and as reticent as your Master,” Terza said, throwing up her hands.
Obi-Wan glanced over at Qui-Gon, a wry smile on his face that Qui-Gon had come to associate with his Padawan’s sense of humor. “I’ll take that as the compliment it surely must be.”
“Flattery will not let you escape an explanation, Padawan,” Qui-Gon said, trying to sound stern and failing. He was too happy to see Obi-Wan conscious to pretend otherwise.
Obi-Wan nodded. “Of course. Healer Terza?”
She frowned. “I’d prefer to have an explanation for those scars, Padawan.” When he merely looked at her in silence, she sighed. “Fine. Patient-Healer disclosure aside, I can’t force you to tell me.”
Obi-Wan bowed his head. “Thank you.”
Terza shook her head, not liking his answer but accepting it. “There’s no reason to keep you here any longer. Physically, you’re fine, but you’re going to be prone to—”
“—Dizziness from the head injury for a few days. Don’t over-exert, mild exercise only, no lightsaber work, no holovids, and you’ll give me a gel to rub on the scar, morning and night, to finish the healing. Yes, I know.” He took in Terza’s flummoxed expression and grimaced. “Sorry.”
“No, don’t be sorry. That’s what I was going to tell you.” She continued to stare, her dark eyes huge. “In fact, that’s exactly what I had intended to say, word for word.”
Obi-Wan smiled, but there was a great deal of sadness in the expression. “I know,” he repeated. He stood up, reaching for the clothes that Qui-Gon had brought from their quarters. Obi-Wan stared at the white tunics for a long moment before beginning to dress.
“You know,” Terza repeated, resting her hands on her hips. “How did you know?”
“That,” Obi-Wan muttered, almost to himself, “is a very long story.” He faced Qui-Gon a pensive expression on his face. “Qui-Gon—wait. That isn’t right. Master,” he said, bowing with his eyes closed, as if fighting off the dizziness that Terza had warned him about. “I owe you an explanation, yes, but I feel it is one that the Council should hear, as well.”
Qui-Gon realized he was staring at Obi-Wan. Who was this ultra-polite, refined, bewildering man that had replaced his exuberant Padawan?
He nodded, deciding that at the very least, this was the fastest path to getting the answers he wanted. “Very well. When?”
Obi-Wan offered him a wan smile. “Please. As soon as possible.”
* * * *
Mace Windu and Yoda exchanged glances as Qui-Gon walked into the Council chamber, followed by Obi-Wan. The young man stopped just inside the doorway, looking around at the twelve Council members with an unidentifiable expression on his face. Qui-Gon had to fight the urge to glance around, as well, not expecting a full convening of the High Council. Yoda must have had a hand in it, he realized, and it was not a reassuring thought.
While the Council had been informed of Obi-Wan's strange coma, and the flashes of experience Qui-Gon had picked up through tenuous contacts, none of them seemed quite sure what to make of the Padawan who walked up to stand at Qui-Gon's side. If Obi-Wan noticed that he was breaking protocol by not standing just behind his Master, the young man paid it no heed. Neither did Qui-Gon care. The Padawan who had trailed him all the way to the Council Chamber was vastly different from the boy who had accompanied him to Taro Tre. It wasn’t just his voice; his pace, the way he moved and walked, was different, his bearing calmer—and Obi-Wan was hiding much of his presence. The energy that had always suffused the young man was muted, hidden behind mental shields of amazing complexity.
They both bowed to the assembled Masters, Obi-Wan swaying on his feet as he did so. Qui-Gon reached out to steady him, and Obi-Wan gave him a grateful smile. Another change; before, his Padawan would have been mortified to show weakness before the High Council.
“Padawan Kenobi," Mace spoke, when the wave of dizziness had passed. "Your Master said that you wished to speak with us.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Yes, Masters,” he said, his voice still holding the same soft inflection from the Healers’ Ward. At first Qui-Gon had attributed it to the obvious disorientation Obi-Wan had awoken with, and to the subdued atmosphere of the Ward. Now he was not so sure.
“Then you experienced a vision you would like to share with us,” Yarael Poof stated.
“I—No, Masters,” Obi-Wan said, and Yarael stopped his typical head-swaying in surprise. Obi-Wan studied the floor for a long moment before looking up. The expression on his face was intense, that of a man used to being heard. “What happened to me was not a vision. At least, it is not like any vision I have ever experienced.”
Saesee Tiin looked at Obi-Wan, gaze sharp. “And you have such great experience with visions, then, that you can decide this?”
Several eyes widened at the quiet confidence in Obi-Wan's voice. Depa leaned forward. “Your Master tells us that your prescience has only just begun to emerge. That hardly constitutes a lifetime's experience, Padawan.”
Obi-Wan didn't reply, but gazed at her in quiet reflection before he looked at Mace. “You had planned to send us to the Corellian system tomorrow to investigate pirate activity along the local trade routes. The Trade Federation claims to be losing thousands of credits in profit from the incursions, funds that the Republic will have to compensate them for.”
Qui-Gon looked around at shocked faces, barely aware of the matching expression on his own face. “It's true, then?”
When Mace nodded after regaining his composure, Qui-Gon turned to stare down at Obi-Wan.
The young man shrugged. He seemed apologetic, but Qui-Gon doubted he regretted his words. The responses, perhaps.
“The Federation is lying, coincidentally,” Obi-Wan continued. “They're doctoring the ships’ logs to show that cargo was loaded that never existed. Then their own ships, equipped with gravity wells, drag the cargo vessels out of hyperspace. The Captain reports that pirates board and take the cargo. Sitting out in deep space, there's no one to witness it. They're hoping to gain a great deal of money from this venture, and use the funds to solidify their standing in the Senate.”
Adi Gallia glanced over at Mace. “I told you so.” If the circumstances had been different, Qui-Gon would have been fighting a smile at the Corellian Master’s smug look.
Mace glared at Adi. “We have no way of knowing that this intuition is correct. A team will still have to be sent to evaluate the Trade Federation's claims.”
“But not Master Jinn and Padawan Kenobi," Eeth Koth put in, seeming to surprise everyone except Yoda and Obi-Wan. “If a second team can verify what Obi-Wan has told us, then we will know beyond a doubt that the boy's vision was correct.”
The Council murmured among themselves for a few minutes, finalizing a new course of action that would necessitate making new decisions about what available Jedi teams to send.
Obi-Wan took to staring out the nearest window, a new habit that Qui-Gon found disturbing. His Padawan had never been given to such intense periods of reflection.
Yoda, Qui-Gon noticed, was paying little attention to the rest of the Council, and instead was gazing at Obi-Wan. “Take you long it did, to discover this information?”
Obi-Wan nodded, refocusing his attention on Yoda. “Yes, Master. Over a month. They covered their tracks well. We managed to put a halt to the false raids, but never came up with enough evidence to prove their guilt. Their power grew quickly, after that.”
“Hmmm.” Yoda rested his clawed hands on the arms of his chair. “A long time it has been for you. Yes, yes,” Yoda confirmed, when Obi-Wan’s eyes widened. “A long time it has been.”
Qui-Gon fought the urge to grit his teeth in annoyance. Obi-Wan knew what was going on, but wasn't talking. Yoda had a very good idea what was going on, and was being just as cryptic as ever.
He met Mace's eyes, and the other man shrugged in response to his silent question. Qui-Gon felt a little better. At least he wasn't the only one at a loss.
All of the Jedi training in the world couldn't stop the frost that bit at his nerves when Yoda asked his next question. "How long was this, Obi-Wan? How long were you gone?”
Obi-Wan hesitated, mindful of the gazes upon him. “Over forty years.”
Qui-Gon decided patience was only meant to go so far. “Please, Obi-Wan. You're not making any sense!”
“I know,” Obi-Wan replied, ducking his head to hide a smile. “I’m sorry about that. But I am unsure how to explain something that I don't understand myself.”
“Try,” Qui-Gon suggested, tucking his hands into the sleeves of his robe. To hell with Yoda’s maxim. “I can't possibly be any more confused.”
Obi-Wan looked up at him before nodding. “I suppose not.” His eyes darted back to the window, and seemed to take comfort in the sight of Coruscant’s traffic-heavy skyline.
“Forty-two years ago, I awoke in the Healers’ Ward under Healer Terza's care, with a horrible headache and a healing slug wound to the head. I had slept for some time, recuperating from the wound. Two days later, after being fully cleared, Master Jinn and I journeyed to Corellia, as I just informed you.”
“Excuse me?” Master Yaddle's eyes had gone wide. “You remember waking in the Healers’ Ward...before?”
Obi-Wan nodded, the wry smile making a brief reappearance. “Yes. I know how it sounds.” He turned to Qui-Gon, holding out his hand with a questioning look.
It took a moment to realize what Obi-Wan was asking for. Qui-Gon unclipped the young man's lightsaber from his belt. It had spent so many days hanging next to his own that he had forgotten the extra weight at his side.
Obi-Wan took it, wrapping his hand around the hilt. For a brief moment, there was an expression on Obi-Wan’s face that Qui-Gon could not even come close to describing.
“Not only was the Corellian mission long, it was not without its dangers. I slept most of the journey, as did my Master, since he had just spent a week neglecting his own health.” Qui-Gon hid a smile at the mild rebuke in his Padawan's words. “As a result, neither of us was as alert as we should have been. A day after our investigation began, we were attacked. I ignited my lightsaber for the first time since Taro Tre, and it did me the honor of blowing up in my hand.”
With that said, the young man held out his right hand, revealing a white crisscrossing of scars that marked his palm. Like the web pattern on his left foot, Qui-Gon had been left baffled as to the source. “I am fortunate that these are the only scars I carry from the incident.”
Qui-Gon allowed his focus to flicker back and forth between the scars and Obi-Wan's lightsaber, held in his left hand. “The power cell is fluctuating,” he said as the realization struck. “I can't believe I didn't notice that.”
“You said that then, too, along with a great smattering of words that I had no idea were in my Master's vocabulary.” Obi-Wan smiled. Scars or not, the memory seemed to be a fond one.
Adi motioned for Obi-Wan to come closer, allowing her to study the scars on his palm. “Remarkable,” she murmured, touching the messy patterns. “Damage from the casing?”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “We spent hours picking shrapnel out of my hand. Quite unpleasant.”
Adi released Obi-Wan's hand, and he rejoined Qui-Gon in the center of the room. Obi-Wan clipped the lightsaber to his belt, but in a different location than before. The shift in position would denote a different style of defense that didn’t match any known variant of Form IV.
“As Master Yoda has already deduced, I lived my entire life. It—it’s disorienting, to say the least, to wake up. Here. Again.” Obi-Wan pressed the heel of his hand to his head, closing his eyes.
Qui-Gon did not feel a spike of panic in the Force, but he was close enough to the younger body to sense it physically. Obi-Wan began to tremble, his shoulders bowing as if under an incredible strain.
“Obi-Wan?” Depa leaned forward in concern.
Obi-Wan gasped in response, flinging his head back, his throat working as he attempted to breathe. He was trying hard to regain control, and losing.
Qui-Gon reached out before anyone else could move to help, laying a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. “Breathe,” he ordered, his voice gentle, but laced with a powerful suggestion. This, he could do.
Obi-Wan complied, taking several harsh breaths as he struggled to calm himself. His eyes opened, and Qui-Gon was surprised to see tears forming. “It's all right, Obi-Wan. Relax,” he soothed with his voice and a mild touch of the Force. It was the best he could do, with the training bond gone.
Obi-Wan blinked back the moisture before bowing his head. “Forgive me,” he whispered. “It has—it’s been a long time.”
“There is nothing to forgive, Obi-Wan,” Mace said, his tone gentle. “Visions can often be stressful and traumatic.”
“If it had just been a mere vision, I would be much happier,” Obi-Wan replied in a dry voice. “Those I can handle.”
Qui-Gon well-remembered the emotions he had sensed in his attempts to connect to Obi-Wan. When he looked at Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon could indeed see the glimmerings of the man he would soon become. The boy’s dark auburn hair could fade to copper-blond, as it had when they had been on long-term assignments on sunny planets. The cast of Obi-Wan’s features had already settled, even if he had height and build yet to gain.
“He's telling the truth, you know,” Qui-Gon said, and saw Mace and Depa nod in agreement. “Something terrible happened. I caught glimpses of...many things. Most of them made little sense, but the feel of them was unmistakable.”
Obi-Wan's brow furrowed. “You tried to reach my mind while I was in the Ward, then?”
“Padawan, the entire Council tried to touch your mind. Your Master was the only one to achieve any degree of success.” Mace looked annoyed, as if it were a personal affront that a maverick Jedi had managed to do something the strength of the Council could not.
“What did you sense?”
“Quiet. Silence,” Qui-Gon said, at the same time that Mace said, “Static,” and Yoda said, “Potential.”
Obi-Wan crossed his arms, looking down at the floor. He muttered something, that Qui-Gon thought might have been, “Not possible.”
“The training bond between us snapped at one point. I had thought that something happened to you, but you seemed fine,” Qui-Gon added. “That’s why it’s no longer present.”
"No," Obi-Wan shook his head, refuting the explanation. “That’s not it. Nothing happened to me.” He looked up, meeting Qui-Gon's gaze, and his eyes were shadowed with old pain.
With a realization that felt almost like a physical slap, Qui-Gon stepped back. “Me. Something happened to me.”
Obi-Wan continued to stare at him with haunted eyes, but did not answer. He didn’t need to.
Obi-Wan swallowed and nodded. “Yes. I did not...deal with it very well, I'm afraid. In fact, I didn't deal very well with a lot of things.” He looked away, as if searching for something, and locked eyes with Yoda.
At last he seemed to settle, serenity and peace weaving through the young man's Force signature like a well-worn cloak.
Qui-Gon wanted to stare; the transition was amazing.
“Here is what I can tell you. I became a Knight at the age of twenty, after Qui— after my Master recommended me for the Trials. They were not,” Obi-Wan smiled tightly, the expression unpleasant, “what I had expected them to be, especially as they were not even held on Coruscant. The Council felt that I had performed well enough for certain events to supersede the normal Trials. I wish that it had not been the case.
“I took a Padawan Learner the next day.” At the Council's surprised rumble, he held up one hand. “Please. I would not normally have done so, but I made a promise, and I intended to keep it. The boy needed to be trained, and no one else was…able to do so. It was through no fault of his own that his only option was a brand-new Knight.”
Obi-Wan smiled again, more sadness than joy in the expression. “He was...he became one of my best friends. But events conspired against us. Against all of us.” His gaze went distant.
“A threat against the Jedi?” Yaddle questioned, her green eyes shining with worry. “What is this threat?”
Obi-Wan hesitated. “I could tell you, but you would not believe me. And as yet, I am not certain that it will be necessary. Either way, things were—bad, for everyone, not just the Jedi. Many of those loyal to the Republic went into hiding.”
Qui-Gon knew that Obi-Wan was not telling them everything, not by half. “Why can't you tell us?”
“Everything I ever learned about temporal physics screams at me to keep my mouth shut,” Obi-Wan replied, with another one of those casual, careless-seeming shrugs. “Theories or not, I feel they may be valid in this case.”
“Why?” Yoda was turning his gimer stick over and over again in his hands. “A temporal anomaly you feel this may be?”
“I'm not sure. It makes sense in some respects, but not in others. I cannot recall any case that would fit the profile. The scars on my body should not be there, as those events have not happened to me yet. But they exist.”
Obi-Wan's familiarity with the subject was intriguing, since Qui-Gon knew that his Padawan was not scheduled to study temporal physics for another year. “It's simple, and yet it's not,” Obi-Wan said, and his fingers drifted up to touch his short Padawan braid again. “If my experience was merely a possible future, then giving you information on events that may not occur would be frustrating as well as pointless. While I've already encountered several instances of knowing things before I've been told—” Mace snorted at that, “—I'm not willing to let that influence my actions for the next decade.”
“Fair enough,” Mace agreed. “But what if your vision matches, exactly, every event that is to come for the next year?”
“But it hasn't,” Obi-Wan countered, shaking his head. “Already there is a marked difference. If the Council's decision regarding the Trade Federation remains the same, my Master and I are no longer going to Corellia. That means that there will be an entire month that will not be as I experienced before.”
Obi-Wan offered the Council a self-deprecating smile. "I am also not the same person I was before I awoke, before I went to Taro Tre. I was Knighted; I raised a Padawan to Knighthood. Among other things.”
“But it was merely a vision,” Yarael protested, and gained Depa’s agreement. “It was not real.”
“Real?” Obi-Wan turned his head and stared at the Jedi Master. “Who are we to decide what is real?” He shook his head, as if frustrated. “We are taught from the creche onward that our focus determines our reality. The very nature of that statement implies that there are many different meanings within our lives. Our focus is always changing. When we look at the world through our eyes, we see one reality. When we look at the world through the Force, what we see can be quite different. So, yes, what I experienced was real. Even if I didn't retain physical scars as proof of the experience, I know,” he paused to tap his temple with one finger, “that in the ways it truly matters, there is no difference.”
Qui-Gon couldn't help the expression of fierce pride that appeared on his face as he watched his Padawan verbally flay the senior Master. Yarael, however, was not willing to concede the point so easily. “Padawan Kenobi—”
“Enough,” Yoda interrupted, his voice sharp. “Argue for years we could, on this question. Unnecessary, it is.” With that he slid out of his chair, approaching Obi-Wan with slow, steady steps.
Obi-Wan knelt down; Yoda smiled at him, reaching out to rest his hand on Obi-Wan's arm. The young man smiled back, meeting Yoda's eyes with warmth and a tiny hint of amusement that Qui-Gon did not know how to interpret.
“Mmm,” Yoda hummed, searching Obi-Wan's face. The Force coalesced around them, a beautiful configuration that made no sense but took Qui-Gon's breath away nonetheless.
Whatever it was he was looking for, Yoda seemed satisfied. “Right, he is,” Yoda announced. “No more should Obi-Wan tell us. But discuss his future, we must.”
Qui-Gon felt himself pale. That sort of statement from Yoda usually held serious consequences. “Master Yoda—”
Yoda smacked him in the shin with his gimer stick. “Calm yourself, Master Qui-Gon. Mean to worry you, I did not. Your Padawan Obi-Wan is, and discuss our decision with you we shall. But rest, you both need.”
It was a dismissal if Qui-Gon had ever heard one. “You're right,” he admitted as Obi-Wan stood up, catching himself on Qui-Gon’s offered arm when he would have stumbled.
“Still bloody dizzy,” Obi-Wan muttered, loud enough for Qui-Gon and Yoda to hear. “Thank you, Qui-Gon.”
“You're welcome, Padawan,” Qui-Gon replied, watching as Obi-Wan recovered his equilibrium. “Better?”
Obi-Wan nodded, and they both bowed to the Council. This time Obi-Wan did not wobble, but Qui-Gon could see that he was biting his lip with the effort to remain upright.
Mace was rubbing his temples with his fingers as he regarded the two of them. “We'll contact you tomorrow, after we've discussed this.”
“Wait.” Depa raised her hand. “May I ask you one more thing, Padawan Kenobi?”
Obi-Wan inclined his head. “If I can answer you, I will, Master Billaba.”
She smiled. “Healer Terza says that while you were in her care, several lightsaber burn scars appeared on your body. How did you get them?”
He did not smile back. “You do not ask the easy questions, Master. I received them in many different lightsaber battles. I almost lost several of them.”
“Who were you fighting?” Qui-Gon heard himself ask. Stupid of him, but his own inborn curiosity would not be denied.
Obi-Wan's jaw tensed, his eyes glittering with some unnamed emotion. “Old friends.”
* * * *
Obi-Wan trailed him all the way back to their quarters, and it had nothing to do with the young man suddenly remembering proper protocol. If it weren’t for Jedi training, Qui-Gon suspected that Obi-Wan would have been gaping outright.
Every time Qui-Gon glanced back to check on his Padawan, the boy’s eyes were darting around, taking in all aspects of Temple architecture and life. Qui-Gon had the distinct impression that Obi-Wan was trying valiantly not to stare at each passing member of the Order.
They reached their quarters without incident, a fact that left Qui-Gon releasing a quiet sigh of relief. He wasn’t certain that Obi-Wan would be able to handle curiosity from friends right now. Hell, Qui-Gon didn’t think that he was up to questions yet, either.
Once inside, Obi-Wan stopped dead in his tracks. Then, before Qui-Gon could say a word, he proceeded to touch everything.
Qui-Gon watched, realizing he was witnessing an intense act of re-familiarization. There was nothing in the common room that was not investigated, by quick touch or by being picked up and explored with nimble fingers.
Those marvelous shields Obi-Wan now possessed let nothing slip, but Qui-Gon could read body language when no other options existed. His Padawan was deeply upset, disturbed by everything surrounding him, and shaken by his meeting with the Council.
Before Qui-Gon could decide what to say, Obi-Wan beat him to it. “Whose was this?” he asked, holding up an ornate pipe, meant for tabac.
“Mine,” Qui-Gon answered, raising both eyebrows. “I had no idea it was even still here; I haven’t used it in years.”
To his surprise, Obi-Wan chuckled, putting the pipe back on the shelf with a smile. “You misdirected me,” he explained, when Qui-Gon gave him a questioning look. “When I asked once if you ever smoked, you said it made your throat burn. So when I found that…”
“You never even suspected it would have been mine,” Qui-Gon finished, amused. He pointedly did not think about why Obi-Wan would have been going through his things. Hearing about his eventual death before the Council was bad enough. “But I don’t remember you asking me.”
Obi-Wan’s brow creased, his amusement vanishing. “I hadn’t yet.”
Right. Qui-Gon shook off his discomfort, along with a wave of very unwelcome foreboding. “Lunch, then? I skipped breakfast, and so did you.”
“Oh, no, thank you,” Obi-Wan said, shaking his head. “I’m not in the habit of…” He trailed off, laying one hand against his stomach. “Right. Sixteen,” he murmured. “Lunch sounds fine.”
“It should sound fine; it’s your cooking,” Qui-Gon replied, still trying to shake off instincts that were screaming wrong, wrong, wrong! at Obi-Wan’s behavior.
“Is it?” Obi-Wan asked. Qui-Gon half-turned and found Obi-Wan regarding him with genuine curiosity.
Force. This was so very wrong!
They managed to put something acceptable together, Qui-Gon helping more than usual. Obi-Wan had been forced to announce, with an almost shy air, that he couldn't remember where everything was stored.
The meal passed almost in silence until Qui-Gon, in desperation, began a discussion on temporal mechanics that caught Obi-Wan's attention. Changed or not, Obi-Wan’s fascination with logic and the sciences remained. They delved into a lively debate on the popular theories the Temple Masters taught.
This changed young man was brilliant, Qui-Gon realized. Not that his Padawan had ever faltered in his studies, but the intelligence revealed both by Obi-Wan’s answers, and the manner in which he delivered them, was astounding. The Temple teaching masters were going to be beside themselves with joy.
After lunch was finished, and a stalemate reached on the debate after they realized they both agreed with one particular theory, silence descended. Qui-Gon hated it, but wasn’t sure how to change it. He didn’t know what to say, and neither, it seemed, did Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan wandered out onto the balcony and leaned against the railing, watching the busy sky. Qui-Gon kept one eye on his Padawan, and the other on the reports, news, and messages he’d spent some two weeks ignoring.
“Can I help?” Obi-Wan asked some time later, startling Qui-Gon. He’d managed to lose himself completely in his work, after all.
“I don’t think so,” Qui-Gon decided. “I need to be able to tell people that I read their missives with my own eyes, instead of asking my Padawan about it. Why don’t you check your own messages?”
Obi-Wan looked baffled by the idea. “I wouldn’t have the slightest notion of what to say.”
“Well, you just did a long stint with the Healers. Telling them you’re not dead would be a good start,” Qui-Gon suggested, smiling.
To his surprise, Obi-Wan blanched. “While now true, I find myself highly uncomfortable with that idea.”
Qui-Gon found himself mentally reviewing the confrontation in the Council chamber. “You told us that you’d lived your entire life,” he hedged. As impossible as it seemed, as impossible as it should have been…
Obi-Wan sat down across from him and nodded. “I did.” He crossed his arms; once again the expression on his face was indecipherable. “I lived my life, and I died. I did not regret the manner of my passing in the slightest. And now I am here, alive, and of all things, sixteen Standard years old. I remember a life that, were the greatest Masters of the Order to be believed, never happened.”
Put like that, Qui-Gon had to admire Obi-Wan’s self-control. “I’m surprised that you’re not panicking.”
“Panic is for when the crisis is passed,” Obi-Wan said, with such warmth and wryness and experience that it made Qui-Gon’s heart swell with affection.
“When is this crisis over with, then?”
“I…” Obi-Wan looked confounded. “I…oh.”
It struck Qui-Gon that he couldn’t answer that question, either. Until that moment, he realized he had half-expected this problem to just…go away. Obi-Wan would wake up and be his Padawan again, and they would move on (minus that cancelled trip to Corellia). It was a fool’s hope, but an easier thing to contemplate than the fact that Obi-Wan was forever changed, and nothing was going to be the same again.
Obi-Wan went back to the balcony, settling down on his knees and drifting off into meditation in the space of a few heartbeats. Impressed, Qui-Gon watched him for a while, soaking in the young man's altered Force aura until he had re-familiarized himself with it. Not as good as a training bond, but it would allow Qui-Gon to keep track of Obi-Wan.
He finished his backlog of work, and realized that with Obi-Wan’s status in limbo, there was little else to do. After several half-hearted attempts at reading, Qui-Gon gave up and went to seek his own meditation.
* * * *
Late that night, Qui-Gon lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling. His room was illuminated by the glow of a single candle. His attempts at meditation had failed, and instead sleep had crept up and caught him unawares. Now he was regretting the mid-day rest, because he was wide-awake, and it was after midnight.
He was reviewing the events of the past two weeks in his mind, trying to come to terms with the powerful experience his Padawan had been through. After consideration, he had no doubts about the authenticity of Obi-Wan’s vision. The few moments that he had spent in that other life, offering comfort to a lonely man, was all the proof he needed.
His problem lay in the fact that the young man who had shared his life these past three years was now a stranger.
Sighing, Qui-Gon got up, dressing and collecting both belt and lightsaber. There was bound to be an empty training salle at this time of night. Working himself into exhaustion had to be better than turning the same bewildering thoughts over and over in his mind.
He exited his bedroom and halted his steps, surprised to find Obi-Wan still awake. The young man was seated at the kitchen table, with parts from his half-dismantled lightsaber spread out before him. “Padawan?”
Obi-Wan looked up, startled. “Sorry, Qui—Master. I couldn't sleep.”
“Nor could I,” Qui-Gon said, walking forward and then stopping again, his instincts as a teacher warring with the knowledge that Obi-Wan seemed to be well aware of what he was doing.
Obi-Wan noticed his hesitation; he smiled and waved a hand in invitation. Qui-Gon shook his head at himself and sat down at the table. “How is it?”
Obi-Wan held up the old power cell. “I must have damaged it on Taro Tre, but I can't remember how. I managed to wheedle an X-T Twenty-Nine out of Master Callero a few hours ago, though. Of course, that means I had to replace other things, as well.”
“An X-T?” Qui-Gon frowned. The X-T series had a much stronger power-rating than the power cell Obi-Wan's lightsaber used. “Those are meant for multi-crystal blades. Yours is a single.”
“I know,” Obi-Wan said, popping the new power cell into place. “I have the rest of the replacement parts installed, so as soon as I place the new brackets, I can do something about that.” He picked up a tiny spanner, adjusting the placement of a bracket before sealing it into place.
“Did you wheedle a new set of focusing crystals out of Master Callero, as well?” Padawans were not allowed access to lightsaber crystals without their Masters until they had been granted leave to choose their own. If Callero had given his Padawan access, then, vision or no vision, he was going to have to have a serious talk with the other Master.
Obi-Wan looked up in surprise. “Of course not. The one I have will do just fine.” He bent back to what he was doing before Qui-Gon had a chance to say anything else. Instead, he settled for watching Obi-Wan work.
Mild disbelief quickly turned to respect, for his Padawan was rebuilding his lightsaber with the deft skill and Force touch of an accomplished Knight. Obi-Wan put aside all of the parts that were still functional, to return to Callero later. Those that were damaged or worn he disposed of, and at last turned his attention to his focusing crystal.
Obi-Wan picked up the Illum sapphire in his hand, turning it this way and that as he inspected the crystal from every angle. The Force was flowing around him, a strong part of his inspection. “I wasn't wrong,” he murmured to himself, then laid the crystal down on the table. He touched the crystal with one finger, and Qui-Gon jumped as a shard of the crystal broke off with an audible crack.
Obi-Wan looked up, confused. “What? What is it?”
It took effort to stop staring at his Padawan. Qui-Gon picked up the crystal shard, examining the perfect edge. “That was...” He swallowed. “That was incredible. Obi-Wan, I can't even do that.”
“No?” Obi-Wan looked perplexed by the admission. “I had thought you one of the most likely to do so.”
“Your confidence in me is flattering.” Qui-Gon shook his head. It was flattering. “How did you do that?”
“I just...I asked it to. I wouldn't, if it wasn't a good idea, but this sapphire has the strength to be cut that way without developing flaws.” Obi-Wan was blushing. Blushing. “I didn't mean to show off. It's just better than using a cutting tool. And in the past, I've not had the option of having a tool handy to re-shape a crystal.”
“Don't be embarrassed,” Qui-Gon chided gently. “I was just surprised, and very impressed. I would be honored if you would show me how.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Of course. Give me your hand,” he said, holding out his own.
Qui-Gon complied, and felt a mild jolt as their fingers touched. Obi-Wan didn't seem to notice; Qui-Gon dismissed it as leftover resonance from working with the Ilum, since the crystal was a natural energy channel.
Obi-Wan guided Qui-Gon’s fingertips down to touch the larger crystal. Qui-Gon opened himself to the Force, feeling the energy flow through their joined hands and down into the crystal. The Ilum seemed to speak to him, whispering in his mind of possible paths for the break to take. Was it his imagination, or did the crystal appear to welcome the break? The Living Force seemed to agree with that thought. No matter how many times it was cut, the crystal would always be part of a greater whole. The crystals in Qui-Gon’s own lightsaber had not been nearly so cooperative during their last reshaping.
There was a tingling sensation in his fingers, and an answering vibration from the crystal, and Qui-Gon gasped as the stone split in two. He looked up to find Obi-Wan grinning at him, and he realized that he was grinning as well. “So all of my lectures on the Living Force paid off, did they?”
“You might say that,” Obi-Wan replied, eyes dancing.
Qui-Gon rubbed the tips of his fingers, which were still tingling. “Incredible,” he murmured, watching as Obi-Wan placed the three crystals into their appropriate brackets. He must have been working with the Force to adjust the mechanism, for the confined space did not allow room for even the smallest tools.
Why do this now? Qui-Gon wondered. Obi-Wan would have recognized, as Qui-Gon just had, that he would have to upgrade the casing soon. The lightsaber hilt Obi-Wan held was meant for smaller hands, close to being outgrown. Putting that much work into a hilt that was nearing retirement age seemed…frivolous.
Because it was something to do, something under Obi-Wan’s control, Qui-Gon realized. His own coping methods were gardening, or writing, or harassing the Archive staff on Tahl’s behalf. Obi-Wan, it seemed, took apart complex pieces of machinery—a far cry from his early forays into model-building.
With a final, satisfied sigh, Obi-Wan sealed up the casing and held out his completed lightsaber for review, a practice that even the most seasoned Masters maintained. Qui-Gon didn't have to touch the hilt to feel the sense of rightness and balance the lightsaber emanated. To a Force-user, it was a work of art. “Try it.”
Obi-Wan stood up, adjusted his grip on the hilt, and ignited the lightsaber. The pale blue blade emerged, humming with the modulated strength of a multi-crystal blade. He made several passes through the air, eyes narrowed in concentration. “Not bad,” he said at last.
“I'll admit, I didn't expect you to build a lightsaber like this until after you were Knighted,” Qui-Gon said instead, feeling a twinge of remorse when Obi-Wan extinguished the blade.
“Actually, I didn't build a lightsaber like this until I was in my thirties, when I lost my third lightsaber.” Obi-Wan clipped the rebuilt lightsaber to his belt.
Qui-Gon hesitated for a moment. Obi-Wan had offered the information in a casual manner, but had tensed afterward, as if afraid to say more. “Third lightsaber?” he repeated, struggling to process that. He was still on his second, size adjustments aside. “I'm guessing that your first loss was Corellia.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “I’m not as neglectful with my belongings as that sounds,” he said dryly.
“What about the other two?”
“Uhm.” Obi-Wan ran a hand through his hair, visibly uncomfortable and trying hard to put it aside. “The second lightsaber, I lost to a melting pit. When it came time to rebuild my lightsaber, my heart wasn't really in it. The third time I lost my blade...well.” He frowned. “Let's just say that building a more powerful lightsaber became a necessity.”
Qui-Gon couldn’t think of a suitable reply to that confession. “Would you like to try it out?” he suggested instead.
Obi-Wan raised one eyebrow. “I thought I just did.”
Qui-Gon rolled his eyes, to Obi-Wan's obvious delight. “Sparring, my Padawan. I had planned to do so anyway, hoping that working off some energy would allow me to sleep.” Then he stopped, realizing his mistake. “I'm sorry,” he said, mentally kicking himself for the lapse. Granted, considering what this day had held… “I had forgotten what Terza said.”
Obi-Wan shrugged, unconcerned. “No, it's all right. Terza doesn’t know that I can heal as well as I do.”
Qui-Gon found himself surprised yet again. “Heal?” he repeated, feeling foolish.
Obi-Wan pointed to his temple, and Qui-Gon was startled to realize that no trace of the slug's impact remained. “I hadn't even noticed," he admitted, and added “advanced Force-healing” to his growing list of Obi-Wan's new skills. He was not so bad at Force-healing himself, but was wise enough to save his efforts for when no actual Healers were present. “No dizziness?”
“I wouldn't have been able to work with the crystal like that if my head was spinning,” Obi-Wan pointed out. “I'm fine, and I promise to say something if it starts to bother me.”
“Well,” he hesitated, but gave in when Obi-Wan offered him a challenging smile. “Let's go, then.”
They found an empty practice room with ease; there were not enough nocturnal members of the Order to keep the facilities occupied at night. He watched Obi-Wan perform a series of warm-ups while running through his own.
At first, his routine was gentle, as if Obi-Wan was used to stiffer joints. Qui-Gon shrugged off that thought (Obi-Wan had not been old enough), and soon his Padawan launched into far more strenuous exercises, anyway. Routines had been altered, with new and unidentifiable ones mixed in.
Qui-Gon was coming to realize that Obi-Wan had the skills and strength of personality to be a Knight in his own right, for all that he was just sixteen. But when Obi-Wan turned those blue-green eyes back to him, Qui-Gon had to amend that thought. The personality behind those eyes was much, much older.
They bowed, faced off, and Qui-Gon signaled the beginning of the fifth kata. Obi-Wan fell into the opening moves of the kata with easy grace, but after a moment seemed to catch himself in the midst of a maneuver.
Qui-Gon watched but said nothing, even as he worried. The fifth kata was one of their favorites to perform together, and Obi-Wan’s rendition had been flawless since he was fourteen years old.
When Obi-Wan stumbled a fifth time, he cursed and stepped back. “Wait,” he said, shaking his head. “This isn't working.”
“I had noticed,” Qui-Gon replied, lowering his blade. “Dizzy?”
“No,” Obi-Wan said, glaring at the floor as if he could burn holes through it. It seemed to be a variation of his contemplative stance. After a minute of tense silence, he burst out laughing. “I'm an idiot!”
“I could argue with that,” Qui-Gon said, glad to hear the young man’s mirth. His bearing was reserved, but his laughter was not, and it was good to see that some part of Obi-Wan remained unconstrained.
“Could but won't?” Obi-Wan sighed, still smiling. “This is embarrassing, but—”
Qui-Gon frowned. If Obi-Wan had developed some sort of mental hindrance with sparring from his vision, it would have to be worked through. “But what?”
Obi-Wan waved one hand over his head. “I'm used to being taller.”
The Jedi Master stared at him, incredulous, before they both burst out laughing.
Qui-Gon wiped his eyes, only then realizing how tense he had been. “How much taller?”
“Just a bit more,” Obi-Wan said. “I'm doomed to be much shorter than you, never fear.”
Qui-Gon snorted in disbelief. “Never fear? Obi-Wan, you're not the one that has to duck through the doorways on most transports.”
Obi-Wan laughed again. “True. It appears as if I'm going to have to finish growing up all over again.” He seemed more amused than aggrieved by the thought.
Obi-Wan handed his lightsaber to Qui-Gon. “Let me try something. I still want to spar, but I'll have to find my balance again, first.”
“Take your time,” Qui-Gon said, leaving the arena floor to sit on a nearby bench. “At this rate, we have all night.”
Obi-Wan nodded in absent agreement, already centering himself and taking up an open-handed position that Qui-Gon recognized as a form of unarmed combat. Then the young man sent himself through a series of moves that were much more complicated than the warm-ups, or the kata.
Qui-Gon thought it an odd choice, but it seemed to be helping Obi-Wan. The movements began to smooth out, starting to flow into each other as his Padawan performed a series of leaps and kicks that were near-Mistryl in technique.
He was sweating when he sat down on the bench next to Qui-Gon, breathing hard. “Not usually benched after something so simple,” he said, dropping his head back and closing his eyes.
“Did your instructor prefer claws or needles?” Qui-Gon asked, curious.
Obi-Wan opened one eye, giving Qui-Gon a sideways glance. “Neither. Staff.”
That answered that, then. “Where the hell did you find a Mistryl guardswoman willing to teach you?”
Obi-Wan smiled. “Tatooine. She was far from your typical Mistryl, however.”
When they went through the fifth kata again, it was as though nothing had changed. Bodies and minds in tune with the Force, they completed the exercise flawlessly. Qui-Gon nodded his approval when Obi-Wan signaled for an open spar, and the two of them danced across the room, neither of them gaining ground on the other.
Here, Qui-Gon found, were serious changes. His Padawan’s dueling skills were possibly on par with Qui-Gon’s own. The aerials that Obi-Wan had preferred were almost non-existent; he was now grace and fire, his style grounded in techniques that would be best suited to true combat, not the dance of a kata. Qui-Gon hid a frown at the thought and began using his greater physical strength against Obi-Wan, wanting to see how his Padawan would react.
As their lightsabers clashed together, Obi-Wan's eyes widened as he felt the force of the blow. He twisted away, curving around in a fluid arc with a speed that Qui-Gon almost couldn’t follow to deliver a strike to Qui-Gon's unprotected side. He whirled, a microsecond from not catching Obi-Wan’s blade in time.
Obi-Wan gave him an innocent smile.
“That smile hasn't fooled me since you were thirteen, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon muttered, parrying the swift, sweeping blows Obi-Wan dealt him. Blast, but he was on the defensive again.
“Of course not, Qui-Gon.” Obi-Wan's smile grew. Then he was in the air, flipping over Qui-Gon in a blur of motion.
Qui-Gon thrust his lightsaber back over his shoulder, catching Obi-Wan's blade and feeling his muscles cry out in protest at the unusual position. He batted the other blade away and turned, the duel turning into a rapid exchange of blows that sent them from one end of the training salle to the other.
Qui-Gon stepped back, lowered his blade and held up one hand. His lungs were starting to burn. He wasn’t used to getting this kind of workout from anyone except Micah. “That's enough of that,” he said, trying not to pant like a draft animal as he bent over to rest his hands on his knees.
“Oh, good,” Obi-Wan replied, sinking to the floor and wiping rivulets of sweat off of his face. “I think I could sleep for a week, now.” It startled Qui-Gon to realize that Obi-Wan wasn’t quite used to sparring like this, either, and still the younger man had almost managed to wipe the floor with him.
"Oh, no you don't," Qui-Gon retorted. “You only get to sleep for a week once a year. You've already surpassed your limit, Padawan.”
Obi-Wan smiled and nodded, clipping his lightsaber to his belt before getting back on his feet. “For the rest of the night, then.”
Qui-Gon straightened up, taking in Obi-Wan's relaxed expression. It was the first time he'd seen the young man truly at ease since waking in the Healers’ Ward. “That, I will agree to, Obi-Wan.”
* * * *
Qui-Gon awoke the next morning, relieved to find that he felt better. No less bewildered by the unusual situation, but the awkwardness he had fought against most of the previous day was gone.
When he exited his bedroom, Qui-Gon found Obi-Wan already awake, and that he had pulled up the larger viewing screen on the main terminal. It was a newsfeed; a Senate broadcast, a highlight of the week’s events.
“Why in the Force are you watching that?” Qui-Gon asked. He did so, at times, but didn’t see the point in indulging in that form of torture first thing in the morning. It was far preferable to read the transcripts, and skip the useless chatter. He could get all the gossip he wanted from Finis.
Obi-Wan was resting his chin on his clasped hands, an annoyed look on his face. “It’s been a while since I’ve witnessed the Galactic Senate do anything,” he said. “So I wondered: Would time and distance bring wisdom, and with it the ability to understand the meaning behind the decisions that were made?”
“And?” Qui-Gon asked.
Obi-Wan’s face morphed into such a look of disgust that Qui-Gon started laughing. He left his Padawan to view Senate foolishness, intent upon entering the kitchen to prepare breakfast.
Instead, Qui-Gon found breakfast already made. As much as he appreciated the effort, “Did you sleep at all?”
“Sort of, after I plugged up my ears. It’s very loud here.”
Qui-Gon turned around and stared at his Padawan. Of all the complaints he had ever heard about the structure of the Temple, too loud had never been one of them.
Obi-Wan paused the feed, glancing over at him. “I lived in a very quiet place.”
Qui-Gon nodded. One thing he had observed: the food, in its communal piles, had yet to be touched. “Turn off that drivel and come eat with me.”
Obi-Wan smiled. “Yes, Master.”
* * * *
They were called before the Council after twelfth hour. Obi-Wan was calm and relaxed, and had remembered to stand in his usual position just behind and beside Qui-Gon.
Qui-Gon wished for the same calm. He had come to his own conclusions during the night, before drifting off into sleep. They were not things he could easily accept, but he would, for Obi-Wan's sake. He would wait for the Council's opinion on the matter before offering his own, but suspected they would come to the same decision.
There was a long moment of silence as the Council regarded them both. Qui-Gon felt a touch of unease between his shoulders. They were up to something, but he was not certain of what.
Mace leaned forward. “Obi-Wan. We find ourselves agreeing with you, and with your reasons for not sharing the full extent of your experience with us yet. But if the danger is as great as some of us feel that it may be, will you help to prevent it?”
“I had planned to do everything within my power to ensure that certain things do not come to pass,” Obi-Wan said. His voice was quiet, but there was a hint of steel underneath. “I hope that I will not have to, but I am not so naïve as to believe otherwise. I will make you this promise,” he continued. “There is a certain event that will occur several years from now that is—well, definitive. If this event occurs, I will share my experience with you. Completely.”
The Council members glanced at each other and nodded. “Acceptable,” Mace said in agreement. “And we honor the faith you place with us in making such a promise.”
Obi-Wan seemed surprised. “I—Thank you.”
“Hmm. Move on, we will. One other thing there is to discuss,” Yoda said, and looked at Qui-Gon. “Master Qui-Gon, more time you have spent in Padawan Kenobi's company than we. Tell us, you will, what your opinion of Obi-Wan is.”
Qui-Gon's eyes widened. That was getting to the point with a vengeance! “Very well.” He clasped his hands together, beginning to answer, when he paused. Once he said the words, it would put into motion the very thing he least wanted...but he was a Jedi Master, and he would give Obi-Wan the honor he deserved.
“Masters, I do not have a true opinion on the matter of my Padawan's experience. I have not really had the time to come to terms with the changes that have occurred, but that there have been changes cannot be disputed. I can tell you what I have observed.”
“Do so, you will,” Yoda instructed, leaning forward in his chair to pin them both with a steely gaze.
“He is balanced. There is a strength and clarity of purpose to Obi-Wan that was not present before Taro Tre and his injury. His fine control over the Force has gone from questionable to outstanding, and I will not say such a thing lightly. I watched my Padawan reconstruct his lightsaber last night, converting a single crystal blade into a tri-crystal blade with practiced ease. He...” Qui-Gon paused, still struggling with what he had witnessed. “He separated his old Ilum crystal with the Force, and even though he showed me how to do it, I do not dare attempt it.”
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Obi-Wan blushing again, and still did not understand the response.
“Padawan Kenobi, may I see your lightsaber?” Mace asked, holding out his hand. Wordlessly, Obi-Wan unclipped the weapon from his belt and gave it to the senior Councilor.
Micah Giett, seated beside Mace, leaned closer. “Remarkable,” he said, touching the hilt with one finger. Qui-Gon felt the currents of the Force shift as the Master probed the weapon. “Very well done. How long did it take you?”
“Two hours?” Obi-Wan hazarded. “I was not paying that much attention to the time.”
Mace paused in his examination, and every Master in the room who carried a multi-crystal blade looked up in surprise. “Two hours?” Micah repeated, one eyebrow rising in disbelief.
When Obi-Wan nodded, Mace looked at Qui-Gon, who could only shrug back in response. “It could not have been longer than four hours.” Which was an amazing accomplishment in itself; reconstructing a lightsaber was no simple task, even when the crystals were not being changed. It was usually easier to build a new one than to re-model an existing lightsaber.
Why hadn't he realized that last night? The more Qui-Gon considered Obi-Wan's actions, the more awed he became. No one was meant to learn so much, so quickly.
Mace returned the lightsaber without a word, but motioned for Qui-Gon to continue. “Obi-Wan has a fine understanding of Force Healing. Terza will be able to verify that Obi-Wan has recuperated from the original injury. Were it not for the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in, he would undoubtedly be mission-cleared again.”
Adi Gallia glanced up, looking at the place on Obi-Wan's head where the slug had hit. “Not even a scar. Healer Terza may try to recruit you.” Obi-Wan shook his head, and Qui-Gon smiled. There was little chance of Obi-Wan agreeing to that. “How did you learn?”
Obi-Wan paused before letting loose a sigh. “I spent a very long time living alone. I had to become self-sufficient, or suffer the consequences. I learned through necessity and a great deal of trial and error.” He offered Adi a wry smile. “Learning to set your own broken bones is very interesting.”
Qui-Gon hid a wince. That was one he'd dealt with himself. “His skill with a lightsaber is greatly altered. He seems to be utilizing a mix of the Third and Fourth forms. I could be mistaken—it felt like there was more involved when we sparred.”
“You're not wrong,” Obi-Wan said. “Towards the end I was stepping up to the Sixth. I also know the vapaad, but I'm not very good at it.”
“At least you're honest about it,” Mace offered Obi-Wan a faint smile. The vapaad, the Seventh Form, was one of the most brutal of all Jedi forms of combat. Mace Windu, its creator, was the only Master in the Temple who could use it with any success. “Who taught you?”
Obi-Wan ducked his head, smiling back. “Who else, Master Windu? You did.”
“And if you know the Sixth, then I've got someone to practice with,” Micah said, cheerfully. “There's only seven of us that use that one.” Yaddle, one of those few, seemed pleased as well. “Anything else, Qui-Gon?”
“Just one other, and I realized it from watching him work with the Ilum.” Qui-Gon paused. Obi-Wan was not looking at him, but there was a very strange expression on his face. “His understanding of the Living Force is even greater than mine.”
There was a muted uproar at that, and Qui-Gon let it wash over him. He took no personal pride in the fact that out of all the Jedi in the Order, it was well known that he had one of the strongest connections to the Living Force. Perhaps Master Yoda could claim a greater strength, but the tiny being never confirmed or denied this.
Obi-Wan shook his head and gave Qui-Gon a tiny smile. “You certainly know how to stir them up, Master.”
“A question,” Yoda said, pointing his gimer stick at Obi-Wan. “Agree with him, you do?”
“About my understanding?” Obi-Wan frowned. “I honestly couldn't say, Master. I daresay Qui-Gon Jinn is one of the few people who could recognize such a thing, but I've never given it any thought. I long ago came to a point in my life where I stopped looking at the Force as one or the other. It simply...is.”
Qui-Gon pondered that in silence. He had honestly despaired of ever getting his Padawan to pay attention to the Living Force. Now it seemed his student had found his peace and more. “If ever a Padawan were more ready to become a Knight, I could not name one so,” he said, the quiet words falling into sudden silence.
His pronouncement was met with no contradictions. As one, the Council turned their eyes to Obi-Wan, who returned their collective gaze with a passive air. No protests, no shock, no joy. He simply accepted it and waited.
Of course, if the vision could be trusted, Obi-Wan had been through this before. The Council would only be confirming a rank and state of mind that Obi-Wan had reached long ago.
The Council turned their attention back to Qui-Gon, and he braced himself. It didn't surprise him in the least that Mace was the first to speak.
“You have thought someone ready before, Qui-Gon,” the man said, frowning at him. “The name Xanatos comes to mind.”
Qui-Gon managed not to flinch at the reminder. “Perhaps that was willful blindness on my part.”
“Willful blindness?” Micah repeated, though at least he, unlike Mace, did not look like he was ready to pounce.
He smiled. “I do not like being wrong.”
Beside him, Obi-Wan stifled a sudden snort of laughter. “I never thought I'd hear you say that.”
“Neither did I,” Micah said, grinning for a moment. “It's nice to see you thinking clearly. For once.”
“Don't push it, Mic,” Qui-Gon growled back.
Yoda gave Obi-Wan a sober look. “A Trial we think you have already had, Obi-Wan,” he said. “Terrible your experience was, though joys it did have, yes?”
Obi-Wan nodded. “It was not without its moments. If the Force had any purpose in showing me what it did, it forced me to witness and live through the worst fears anyone could have.” He smiled again, but the haunted look was back in his eyes. “They were certainly mine.”
“We understand, Obi-Wan,” Depa said, her voice gentle. “What we ask...” She paused. “As Qui-Gon tells us, your skills are much refined. A demonstration of such understanding of the Force would be a gift to us, coming from one so young.”
“A demonstration?” Obi-Wan went from surprised to thoughtful in the blink of an eye. “I suppose...” He looked down at the tiled floor with a curious gleam in his eyes.
“I would advise that everyone hold still.” With that he closed his eyes, his head tilting back.
The stone mosaic pattern of the Council chamber floor started to move.
In keeping with Obi-Wan's advice, Qui-Gon forced himself not to step away as hundreds of tiny pieces of decorative tile rose up into the air. Yoda's eyes went wide as the glimmering bits of tile began to swirl through the air, coming together in a pattern. At first there was only one, but that soon became two, and then three separate designs were floating and moving, each one perfectly controlled. The multi-hued pieces of translucent stone caught the light from the sun, adding to the beauty of the configuration.
Obi-Wan stood at the center of it all, his eyes closed, expression tranquil. Mace reached out to touch one of the tiles, and it danced just out of reach of his fingers.
Depa, almost as sensitive as Qui-Gon was to the currents of the Force, had tears rolling down her cheeks. “Oh, Obi-Wan. That's beautiful.”
It was enough to make Qui-Gon realize that he felt the same awe. He could feel the energy patterns Obi-Wan was creating all around them, a brilliant tapestry only highlighted by the tiles under his control. “How?” he whispered. This display, this demonstration, was one of the most dazzling things he had ever seen.
This was the Jedi that his Padawan had become, and it was almost unbelievable.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and looked at Qui-Gon, his control never slipping as he allowed each tile to drift down, finding their old homes in the floor. “Grains of sand. I had so much time to think, so much time to feel.” His words were halted, as if he weren’t quite sure he knew how to answer the question.
“I was alone, for a very long time. I wanted to be able to connect. I needed the balance, the peace. So, I manipulated the sand, which is far more difficult than this. It's hard to find the individual grains, make them dance around you.” The last of the stone pieces settled into place with near-silent clicks.
Obi-Wan still seemed outwardly serene, but the peace that Qui-Gon had felt from him during the display was gone. He felt like crying, and had no idea why he was consumed by such a feeling of grief.
“Agree with you this Council does,” Yoda said at last, with a nod to Qui-Gon. The ancient Master was smiling, his eyes filled with merriment and no little wonder as he looked at the young man by Qui-Gon's side.
“Master Jinn,” Mace said, solemn-eyed. Qui-Gon swallowed and nodded. He withdrew a knife from his belt, one he had tucked away after dressing that morning. He had felt—no, known—that it would be necessary.
Obi-Wan faced him now, staring up at him with a strange jumble of emotion in his eyes. Qui-Gon knew that his own eyes reflected much of the same; he had expected this day years from now. Instead, he was losing this bright presence after a mere three years.
“We could wait for witnesses, if you wish,” Adi suggested.
Obi-Wan shook his head. “I— No. I mean, you’re here,” he said, and Qui-Gon knew that Obi-Wan did not mean the Council. It warmed his heart like nothing else.
Qui-Gon smiled down at Obi-Wan. “Padawan Kenobi,” he said, his voice little more than a low rumble. He knew the words—had even done this once before, in a time long distant—but the words simply would not come. The traditional phrases seemed trite and silly when faced with this. He reached out to touch his Padawan’s braid, the dark auburn length that had only just grown long enough to brush Obi-Wan's collarbone. Not enough. Not nearly long enough.
Obi-Wan drew in a sharp breath at the contact, but his eyes never faltered, not even when Qui-Gon drew the knife across the braid, severing it in one swift stroke. He took Obi-Wan's shaking hand, pressing the coiled length into the young man’s palm. Only then would words come.
“I Knight thee, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Qui-Gon said, his voice still soft, but strong enough to carry throughout the chamber. “May the light you bring to the Order always burn as brightest flame.”
Obi-Wan looked down at the braid in his hand, smiling. “I should have known not to expect tradition from you, my Master. But I find that I am very traditional.” He held the braid out to Qui-Gon.
His jaw clenched. “Obi-Wan, no. I—I had little to do with this.”
“No!” Obi-Wan said fiercely, surprising him. “No. You had everything to do with it. Don't you ever, even for a moment, believe otherwise.” He offered it again, his gaze becoming pleading. “Master.”
Still, Qui-Gon hesitated, but Mace was not going to let him escape the situation. “Force's sake, Qui-Gon, take the damned thing!”
Qui-Gon glared at the man, even as Obi-Wan grinned in relief and Yoda's ears twitched with suppressed amusement. “Very well, since I am outnumbered,” he said, as if Obi-Wan weren’t offering him one of the things he had most wanted in the galaxy to receive.
Qui-Gon accepted the braid, twining it around his fingers. It was silk. Silk like lightsaber scars. For a moment, he wasn’t sure if he was grateful or disturbed.
“Thank you, Padawan,” he said, and grinned. “Knight Kenobi.”
Obi-Wan offered a mischievous smile in return. “Master Jinn.”
They faced the Council again, once more standing shoulder to shoulder. Expecting to be dismissed, Qui-Gon was surprised anew when Obi-Wan bowed to them. “Thank you, Masters,” he said.
“You are most welcome, newest Knight,” Mace replied, his voice grave. Adi was smiling, while Yaddle had a huge, pleased grin on her tiny face. Yoda was tapping his gimer stick against his seat, but it would have taken a Force-blind being to not know that the old Master was gladdened by the proceedings.
Obi-Wan tucked his hands into the sleeves of his robe, some of his earlier hesitation returning. “Masters, may I make a request of you?”
“That didn’t take long,” Micah noted, to Qui-Gon’s amusement.
Mace seemed curious, but nodded. “Of course, Obi-Wan.”
“Thank you, Master Windu. Master Giett,” Obi-Wan added, which made Micah grin.
Qui-Gon felt a tingle of unease, but it had nothing to do with whatever request his Padawan wished to make. He touched the Force, surprised to find the foreboding that seemed to center around Micah. Qui-Gon gave his longtime friend a worried glance, unnoticed by the other Master.
“My Masters, I made a promise, a long time ago. Well,” he paused, smiling when Yoda chuckled. “You know what I mean. That promise involved a young boy living on a planet on the Outer Rim. He has the potential to be a great Jedi. I would like your permission to make contact with him.”
“The boy you promised to train,” Adi guessed, and Obi-Wan nodded.
“More to your request there is,” Yoda said, lowering his ears and giving Obi-Wan a level stare.
Obi-Wan inclined his head in acknowledgment of the Master's words. “Yes. There are certain difficulties involved. The first is that he resides on Tatooine, a world not governed by the Republic.”
“He has not been tested, then,” Mace surmised.
“If he exists,” Depa said, voicing the obvious doubt. “How old would he be?"
Obi-Wan paused, as if counting. “He would be five Standard.”
“Do you plan to be his Master, then?” Saesee Tiin asked.
Obi-Wan did not flinch, but Qui-Gon had the distinct feeling that it had been a near thing. “That would be up to him, I think,” Obi-Wan said after a moment. “I realize that he is already far older than is preferable, but I do not think it would be a problem in this case. Either way, his age is irrelevant to a more pressing concern. He is a slave.”
Micah raised an eyebrow. “You request that we buy this slave, to bring him to the Temple for testing?” While such a thing was not unheard of, it was definitely unusual.
“Yes Masters,” Obi-Wan replied. “It is at great cost, I know. I believe we would gain far more than we would lose. However, there is another problem. Republic credits are of little value on Tatooine. An alternate method of payment would have to be found.”
Eeth Koth caught Obi-Wan's eye. “You could simply go in and take him. Even if he is implanted with a tracking device and the usual explosives that accompany a slave in Hutt territory, a Jedi can easily overcome such obstacles.”
Qui-Gon resisted the urge to bristle over the other Master's words. Obi-Wan had made this request, and it would be up to Obi-Wan to answer.
He need not have worried; Obi-Wan gave Master Koth a flat stare. “While slavery is deplorable and not legal within the confines of the Republic, Tatooine is beyond such concerns. Slavery is a way of life on that planet. I hate to think of it this way, but I would be stealing legally owned property, even if that property happens to be sentient life. The boy's owner would still suffer from the loss, and he was not a bad sort, if a bit misguided.”
“It is unfortunate, but we may not be able to grant this request,” Mace said, steepling his fingers together. “The purchase of a slave is a major undertaking, even for a Force-sensitive child. While it is true that it is merely an accident of birth that has placed this child in a dreadful situation, we do not have the means to search for and retrieve all of the children born outside of the Republic.”
Obi-Wan narrowed his eyes. Qui-Gon braced himself, recognizing the expression. The new Knight was mentally digging in his heels, preparing to fight this out over the long haul.
“Both arguments are valid, Masters,” Obi-Wan said. “And while I will abide by the Council's decision not to retrieve the boy through approved methods, I will not be able to let it go at that. I made a promise, and I will keep it, even if I must handle the situation alone. But this is an unusual situation. The boy I speak of has a midichlorian count of over twenty thousand.”
Qui-Gon stared at Obi-Wan. He was not the only one doing so, and he took a moment to enjoy seeing a floored expression on Mace Windu’s face for the second time in less than a week.
Yoda managed to take in the information without visible amazement. Ears raised, he regarded Obi-Wan in concern. “Certain, are you?”
“Yes. I ran the blood analysis myself. The results were off the chart.” Obi-Wan closed his eyes, pressing the fingers of his right hand to his temple.
“Are you all right?”
Obi-Wan looked up at Qui-Gon and nodded. “Yes. Just a bit of déjà vu.”
Micah managed to stop the murmuring in the Council chamber by holding up both hands. “I say that we allow this retrieval. A boy with that kind of potential might become a danger to himself, and others, if his talents remain untrained. The last thing we need to discover ten years from now is a rogue Force user with dangerously unstable abilities.”
“Wait,” Yarael Poof interrupted. “We do not even know if this boy exists. He could have been a creation of the vision, a manifestation of the Force. We would be putting time and a large amount of credits into an effort with no result to show for it.”
Depa eyed Yarael, smiling as she countered his argument. “If he does not exist, the money is not lost. If he does exist, the expenditure will be compensated by a bright young life with grand potential. If he was merely a manifestation of the Force, then the only thing Knight Kenobi and Master Jinn will lose is travel time.”
Qui-Gon experienced an odd moment, hearing the new title Obi-Wan held slip from Depa's lips. “I am glad you chose to include me, Master Billaba,” he said, “because I would be going with him, regardless.”
“And…” This was Yaddle, who peered across the Council chamber to exchange looks with Yoda before she continued speaking. “If this boy exists, it will certainly serve to prove the veracity of what young Obi-Wan tells us.”
Obi-Wan's shoulders slumped in visible relief as the rest of the Council nodded in agreement. “Thank you, Masters.”
“Don't be so quick to thank us, Obi-Wan,” Saesee cautioned, but he was smiling. “Tatooine is a dangerous place.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “I am aware of the danger, Master Tiin. I used to live there.”
The young man's statement stilled any further warnings Saesee might have given him. It did serve to illuminate Qui-Gon as to where the grains of sand had come from.
Micah and Mace looked at each other, communicating silently, before Mace sighed. “Very well, then. For your first mission as a Knight of the Order, we grant you leave to depart for Tatooine and seek this child. May the Force be with you both.”
* * * *
Obi-Wan tilted his face up, closing his eyes as rain poured down on him in the artificial environment of the gardens. It was a blessing, it was wonderful, it was all of the things he had missed, spending eighteen years on a desert world alone.
Rain drenched his face, his hair, his clothing, and he gloried in the sensation. Once, long ago, he had disliked rain and mud. The dampness had been irritating for a young Padawan who had grown up in an environmentally controlled Temple.
Obi-Wan sighed, knowing he was attracting attention and not caring. There were other Jedi in the garden, but they were sensibly doing their meditation under canopies and shelters. He probably seemed a bit strange, sitting out in the rain. Then there was the fact that he looked to be a Padawan, but lacked the braid that would signify his status.
He was having such a hard time reconciling his old life with this new one.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes as he sensed the approach of another, smiling when he saw Yoda. His only surprise lay in the fact that Yoda had not sought him out before this.
“Troubled, you are,” Yoda said by way of greeting.
“The Force has given me a miraculous gift,” Obi-Wan replied, wiping rain from his face. “But I have...misgivings.”
“Hmm.” Yoda settled down on the grass beside him, his robe soaking up water from the wet grass. “Afraid, you are, that real this is not.”
Obi-Wan ducked his head, offering Yoda a soft smile. “You could always read me well, Master.” He glanced around the garden; the rain was beginning to taper off. “What I lived through was real. Yet so is this. I am afraid I will wake up and this will be gone, that it was just an illusion. I’m afraid that I’ll wake up alone.”
“If part of the Force you had become, alone you would not be,” Yoda pointed out.
“But alone I was,” Obi-Wan countered, running his fingers through the wet grass. “I made a choice, Master Yoda. In my dream, I lived my own death.”
Obi-Wan paused, amused by his choice of words. Yoda did not question his meaning, though he could sense that the ancient Master very much wanted to. “Instead of joining with the Force, I remained in the world of the living, as much as I was able. I had promised to look out for two young lives, and had been guiding one of them on the path of the Jedi. I could not abandon him to that fate alone. There wasn’t—there was no one else to leave the task to. Though eventually, I did get him to you.”
“Happy, I must have been,” Yoda said, a sarcastic edge to his voice. “A Padawan I have not had since Dooku. Decided I did, years ago, that no more Padawans I would take.”
Obi-Wan chuckled. “You were less than enthusiastic. You saw the necessity of it soon enough, though. But, when I had the option of truly becoming one with the Force, I heard someone calling me. It was a voice I had not heard in a very long time. I answered, expecting…well, I’m not sure what. Instead, I woke up in the Ward.”
Yoda sighed, his eyes half-closed. “See, I can, how difficult this is. But strong you are, Obi-Wan. Strong you have always been.” He poked Obi-Wan in the thigh with his gimer stick. “Faith you must have, that the Force will lead you down the right path. Feel the Force now, do you not?”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan agreed, and closed his eyes. The Force was there, comforting in its embrace, whispering of its presence to him. He breathed in, smelling rain and earth and the abundance of growing things in the meditation garden. All of these things sang to him, bound together in the web of energy that he had eventually learned to see.
“Yes,” Yoda murmured in quiet enthusiasm. Obi-Wan could feel the Master's pleasure in his intense connection to the Force. “What does it tell you, crecheling mine?”
Obi-Wan laughed. “To take what I can get, and not worry so damn much.” He opened his eyes to find Yoda looking up at him, a familiar glint in his eyes. “Don't hit me with that stick of yours, Master. Terza will not be happy if you send me back to the Healers with gimer-like bruises.”
“Hmmph,” Yoda grumbled, but he was smiling, and merely prodded the ground with the end of his stick. “Something else is on your mind. Speak to me of it, you wish to?”
Obi-Wan shifted, drawing his legs up to his chest and resting his chin on his knees. “The Force has a warped sense of humor, Master. For years I waited, hoping that one day I would have the opportunity to tell someone how I felt about him, even if I had to wait until death brought us back together again.” He sighed, a rueful grin on his face. “Now I have that chance, and I'm sixteen. I'm sixteen again!”
He shook his head when Yoda chuckled. “You go ahead and laugh. It's not illegal for you to get laid.”
The little Master laughed outright, a loud, delighted sound, surprising the few other Jedi who were meditating in the gardens. “Patience, you must have.”
Obi-Wan glanced down at Yoda, suspicious. “You know exactly who I'm talking about, don't you.” It was not a question—he’d seen that mischievous glint in Yoda’s eyes far too often to be fooled now.
Yoda nodded. “When eight hundred years old you reach, obvious some things will become.”
“Yes, some things do become more noticeable with experience," Obi-Wan said in the driest tone he could manage. “What do you think my chances are, Master?”
Yoda's expression was carefully neutral. “Always in motion is the future, Obi-Wan.”
Obi-Wan gave a pained cry and lay back in the grass. “I just knew you were going to say that.”
They laughed together, drawing curious stares from the other Jedi. “Feel better you do, yes?”
“Yes Master,” Obi-Wan said, grinning up at the holographic sky. The rain had stopped; he was soaked through, and felt better than he had in days.
“Good.” Yoda looked pleased. “Waiting for you, Master Qui-Gon is. Keep him waiting you should not.”
* * * *
Qui-Gon Jinn sprang from his bunk, landing in a crouch on the floor of the tiny cabin, his unlit lightsaber in his hand. The cry that had awoken him was not repeated, but he could feel the stark terror emanating from the next room.
He paused long enough to pull his robe on over his sleep pants and raced into the young man’s cabin, falling to his knees next to the bunk. Obi-Wan was writhing, arms raised as he fought unseen demons. His face was drawn, his mouth open wide in a silent scream. “Obi-Wan,” he said, catching the young man by his shoulders when Obi-Wan thrashed against him. “Obi-Wan!”
Obi-Wan's eyes flew open, wide and panicked. “Obi-Wan, it's me. Relax,” Qui-Gon soothed. “Breathe, Obi-Wan. It was just a dream.”
For a long moment the young man's body remained tense, his hands clenched into fists. “Qui—?”
“Yes, it's me, Obi-Wan. I'm here.” Qui-Gon breathed a sigh of relief as Obi-Wan shuddered and relaxed, falling back onto the bunk. “Nightmares again?”
Obi-Wan groaned and threw his arm over his eyes. “Force, yes,” he said. “I haven't had a cycle this bad since...well...” He shrugged, smiling wearily up at Qui-Gon. “It's been a while. I'm sorry I woke you, Master.”
“Nonsense,” Qui-Gon replied, sitting back on his heels as Obi-Wan's breathing began to even out. They were on their fifth and final day's journey through hyperspace, and nightmares had plagued Obi-Wan the entire time. He was beginning to see why Obi-Wan had become something of an insomniac. “Do you remember anything?” he asked.
Obi-Wan sighed. “No. I have—I have all sorts of different nightmares. But this particular one comes and goes in specific cycles. I never remember any details when I wake up. All I know is that something terrible is happening to me and I can do nothing about it.” He shuddered again, goose bumps forming on his arms and bare chest. “And I've never really cared for being helpless, Master.”
“You can call me by name, you know,” Qui-Gon said, smiling when Obi-Wan looked up at him in surprise. “You keep catching yourself. I am not averse to my former Padawan calling me by name.”
“I—all right. I was not sure if I should.” Obi-Wan sat up, placing his feet on the floor. He grinned. “Qui-Gon.”
“Don't let the privilege go to your head or anything.”
Obi-Wan laughed, as Qui-Gon had hoped he would. “I wouldn’t dare to let it.”
“You should try going back to sleep,” Qui-Gon suggested. “We still have a few hours before making planetfall.”
Obi-Wan shook his head, running his hands through his sweat-soaked hair. “No... No. I think I've slept enough.”
Breakfast was one of the few meals that Qui-Gon managed not to mangle, Tahl had told him once. A quick blend of grains was cooking on the tiny galley stove while he waited for the tea to steep. Simple fare, but as long as he kept it thus, nothing burned.
Carrying everything into the main hold on a tray, he found Obi-Wan already at the table, hair still damp from his shower. Not once had Obi-Wan used the sonics for cleansing, and seemed to be trying to soak up water at every opportunity.
Obi-Wan's attention was focused on the datapad he held, the information flying across the screen so fast that Qui-Gon could comprehend none of it. He’d seen the talent among other Jedi before, but Obi-Wan had taken it to extreme levels. Qui-Gon could feel the young man's serenity, but it was marred by the faint crescents under his eyes that spoke of many restless nights.
He didn’t wish to disturb Obi-Wan's concentration, but the decision was taken out of his hands when Obi-Wan looked up. “Breakfast?”
“Breakfast,” Qui-Gon replied, setting the tray down on the table and unloading its contents. “What is that?”
Obi-Wan put the datapad down, reaching over to snag a mug of tea. “Just the news feeds for the past week or so.”
“Another refresher course?” Qui-Gon asked, taking a seat. His own tea mug was the first thing in his hands. Caffeine first; food could wait.
“I suppose you could call it that,” Obi-Wan smiled. He’d done something similar every morning while they traveled. The first few days, it had been Temple records—his own, and Qui-Gon’s, and what they had done together for the last year. When Qui-Gon asked him about the self-study, Obi-Wan had seemed embarrassed, muttering something vague about a bad memory.
Obi-Wan stirred the warm bowl of grain with his spoon before beginning to eat. Qui-Gon was content to watch, at first, feeling melancholy. He missed the mischievous grin Obi-Wan would offer him when presented with any of his Master's cooking, usually with commentary on how ration bars were preferable. He missed the teasing, the familiarity they had with one another.
He wasn't about to lose any of that without an attempt to save it. “What? No sounds of complaint?”
“I've had worse.”
Qui-Gon looked down at his food. “Really? You'll have to tell everyone else that. Mace swears up and down that there's nothing worse in the galaxy.”
“I'm sure the infamous Master Jinn is quite capable of defending his own culinary talents,” Obi-Wan said.
Qui-Gon opened his mouth to protest, and noticed that Obi-Wan was grinning down at the table. “I have been doing so for years, with little success,” he said, beginning to feel better. Maybe things were not as bad as he feared.
“Perhaps you should devote your energies to improving the quality of the presentation, instead?” Obi-Wan looked up, his eyes dancing with suppressed mirth. Imp. Force-delivered imp.
Qui-Gon hid a relieved grin. The mischievous spirit was still there, lurking underneath the veneer of sober and stoic man.
He made a show of stirring the cooked grain with his own spoon. “This is improved.”
Obi-Wan laughed aloud, a rare sound of late. “Then perhaps I'll put in a good word for you after all, Master Jinn.”
“I would appreciate it,” Qui-Gon replied, smiling. The rest of the meal passed in comfortable silence.
Obi-Wan pushed his empty plate aside, leaning forward with serious eyes. “Qui-Gon, may I ask you something?”
“What do you think? About what's happened to me?”
“What do I think?” Qui-Gon drank the last of his tea, pondering the question. It was not an easy one to answer. “I believe that nothing happens by accident,” he said at last. “The Force must have shown you what it did for a reason.”
Obi-Wan snorted. “You'll forgive me if I wish that the Force had chosen someone else.”
“Forgiven, and understandable.” The nightmares Obi-Wan suffered from made it easy to offer sympathy. “May I ask you something, Padawan?” Obi-Wan nodded. “Why is this boy so important to you?”
“Ah.” Obi-Wan grinned. “You mean, why is this boy so important that I rush out to the Outer Rim as soon as my braid is cut to find him?” When Qui-Gon merely waited for a response, Obi-Wan sobered. “Even if Master Poof is right, and what happened to me is just a complex Force vision... As you say, I must have experienced it for a reason. Everything I am tells me that this is important, that he needs to be found before—” Obi-Wan paused.
“Before what?” Qui-Gon prompted.
“Before he really is too old to train,” Obi-Wan finished, frowning.
Qui-Gon let it go at that, though he was left with the feeling that Obi-Wan had meant to say something else entirely. “Are you all right?”
Obi-Wan lowered his eyes. “I have all of these memories in my head, but I'm the only one who experienced them. I have no basis for comparison, no one to discuss any of it with. I keep wanting to mention things, but then I realize they haven't happened yet, and may never happen. I feel...isolated. I mean,” he continued in a rush, before Qui-Gon could speak. “I know you,” he said, pointing at Qui-Gon. “But you don’t know me.”
“But I’d like to,” Qui-Gon replied in a soft voice. “I would very much like to know who you have become, Obi-Wan.”
“What if you don’t like what you find?” Obi-Wan asked. Qui-Gon couldn’t tell if the question was meant in jest or truth.
“We’re none of us saints, Obi-Wan. Regardless of everything, I will be here any time you need me. You don’t have to go through this alone,” Qui-Gon said, his words both comfort and promise.
“I’m glad.” Obi-Wan’s eyes were illuminated by his warm smile. “I missed you, Qui-Gon. I really did.”
* * * *
Qui-Gon decided within the first five minutes of exposure that life on Tatooine must be an acquired taste. Master of the Living Force or not, the planet's barren landscape and harsh environment did not suit him in the slightest.
He followed Obi-Wan into Mos Espa under the brilliance of two glaring suns. The young man seemed oblivious to the heat, and was making his way through the streets as if he belonged there.
For such an out-of-the-way planet, Mos Espa was crowded, and all manner of species were wandering about. His danger sense was constantly being set off by those passing by. “Rough place,” he commented.
Obi-Wan chuckled. “Oh, it has its charms. Just keep an eye to your personal belongings.”
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. “Fearless enough to steal from Jedi?” While the robes they wore were commonplace, they had not bothered to disguise who they were.
“With Hutts running the place?”
“You do have a point.” Qui-Gon watched a group of children run by, tossing a ball back and forth between them. Their spirits had not been broken by their environment, he was glad to see. Others they had walked past had not fared so well. “You mentioned this planet having its charms.”
“The native species are easy to get along with, if you can come to some sort of understanding with them. Unfortunately, the settlers tend to shoot first and ask questions later when it comes to the Tusken tribes. The Sand People have pretty much declared war on the outlying farms,” Obi-Wan explained.
“How did you fare with the tribes, then?” Qui-Gon asked.
Obi-Wan smiled. “They adopted me.”
Somehow, Qui-Gon wasn’t the least bit surprised.
Obi-Wan stopped to talk with an old woman minding a vegetable stand, conversing idly in a local tongue Qui-Gon didn't understand before paying for several pieces of fruit and continuing. “Otherwise, the weather doesn't offer much, but the sunsets are incredible.”
Qui-Gon accepted the fruit Obi-Wan handed him, biting into a tart, succulent mouthful. Like many desert fruits, it was delightful. “You know this place well.”
Obi-Wan stopped at a street corner, and they both watched as a gigantic quadruped ambled past, being led by two tiny Jawas. “As I said before, I lived here. For a long, long time.” Obi-Wan closed his eyes, pressing the heel of his hand against his forehead.
Qui-Gon remembered what Obi-Wan had said in the Council chamber about the sand. It was one thing to hear Obi-Wan say he had lived here, but this deplorable planet was where his Padawan had spent years in solitude? By the Force, why?
“Obi-Wan?” Qui-Gon touched his shoulder, concerned when Obi-Wan's eyes remained closed, his entire being radiating tension.
“I don't know if I can do this,” Obi-Wan muttered. “I—I don't understand what's happened, Qui-Gon. I feel like I'm living in a dream and any moment I'll wake up to some harsh reality. How can I be here?” He swayed on his feet; Qui-Gon half-pulled, half-carried the young man into the shade of an alley.
Obi-Wan dropped to his knees, his entire body trembling. Qui-Gon knelt in front of him, feeling panic and dread tangle the currents of the Force around them.
He gently pulled Obi-Wan's hands away from his face. “Obi-Wan, look at me.”
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and gazed at Qui-Gon in desperation. “Please be real,” he whispered, eyes filling with unshed tears. “I need you to be real.”
"I thought real was subjective," Qui-Gon replied, cupping Obi-Wan's face with his hands.
"Right now, I don't give a damn," Obi-Wan surprised Qui-Gon by saying, and leaned further into the comforting touch Qui-Gon offered.
“I'm here, just as I said I would be. Focus, Obi-Wan. Focus on the here and now.”
Obi-Wan released a deep, shuddering sigh, his eyes regaining their sharp focus. “Thank you.”
“Anytime,” Qui-Gon said, resting his hands on Obi-Wan's thin shoulders and sending a reassuring pulse of energy to the young man. “What was that about?”
“A really, really bad case of déjà vu,” Obi-Wan said with a weak grin. He shook his head, allowing Qui-Gon to help him get to his feet. “It's just odd, Qui-Gon. I suppose I'll get used to this. Or go insane, one or the other.”
“I doubt you will go insane, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon replied, giving Obi-Wan's hand a reassuring squeeze and releasing it. “Just keep your focus where it belongs.”
Obi-Wan smiled at him. “I'll keep that in mind.” He resettled his cloak about his shoulders and led them back out onto the street. “Come on. It's this way.”
“It” turned out to be the slave quarter, a series of rough-hewn buildings that seemed to radiate equal amounts despair and warmth. Qui-Gon had a hard time sorting out all of the emotional imprints the place held.
Obi-Wan looked over each of the buildings in turn, as if searching for something. “Do you feel it?” he asked, his eyes unfocused as he concentrated.
Qui-Gon paused, reached out into the Force. Underneath the emotional chaos, he could sense what Obi-Wan meant—a bright, flaring spot of immense Force potential amid a wash of faint lights.
“Is that who we’re looking for?” Qui-Gon asked, dazed.
Obi-Wan nodded. “Yes.”
He led them to the furthest block of houses at the end of the street, pausing at the front entrance before skirting the building and heading to the back. Qui-Gon followed, curious at Obi-Wan's choice as they found themselves in a sandy courtyard. Parts were scattered all over the place, most of them showing signs of serious attempts at repair.
Obi-Wan stopped moving, staring in frank astonishment, and Qui-Gon followed his gaze.
A small boy was sitting on a stone bench, frowning at a circuit board held in his small hands. The boy's eyes were a strong, piercing blue against his tanned face. He was thin, but not desperately so, and his unkempt blond hair shone in the sun. It was almost as bright as his presence in the Force. Now that he was aware of it, Qui-Gon wondered how any Jedi could have been to this planet since the boy's birth and not sensed him.
The boy's eyes narrowed, as if noticing their scrutiny, and he looked up. The circuit board was dropped and forgotten as he ran across the yard, straight for them. Qui-Gon tensed, half-expecting a fight from an angry child, protective of what little he might own. But nothing could have prepared him for what happened next.
“OBI-WAN!” the boy yelled, a sound of pure delight.
Obi-Wan's mouth fell open. He was wide-eyed as he dropped to his knees, just as the boy threw himself into Obi-Wan's arms.
“I knew it! I knew it, I knew you'd come for me!” the boy was shouting over and over again, not relinquishing his stranglehold on Obi-Wan's neck.
With a hesitant smile, Obi-Wan wrapped trembling arms around the boy. “Anakin?” he whispered. “You… You... You know me?”
The boy pulled back enough to look directly into Obi-Wan's eyes. “Yeah. And you know me. I knew you wouldn't forget about me, Obi-Wan.” The boy smiled, and his expression was heart-aching. “Ben.”
Obi-Wan uttered a choked sob and tightened his arms around Anakin, rocking back and forth on the hot sand. “Ani...oh, Ani...” His words trailed off into murmurings of reassuring nonsense.
“I've been waiting for you,” a quiet voice said near Qui-Gon's shoulder. It broke his shocked paralysis; he whirled, startled that someone had gotten so close to him without notice, and found a woman standing before him. She had dark hair and eyes, and the weathered features of someone whose life had been hard. But there was a smile on her face, and her eyes were kind as she looked up at him. Qui-Gon found himself, for one of the few times in his life, at a complete loss for words.
She seemed to understand, her smile fading a little as she glanced down at the two boys clinging to each other. “It's all right. I'll explain what I know... and perhaps Ani can fill you in on the rest.”
Qui-Gon forced the words out of a tight throat. “Who are you?”
She gave him a curtsy that would have done a noble proud. “Shmi Skywalker, sir Jedi. Anakin is my son.”
* * * *
Somehow, Qui-Gon and Shmi got Anakin and Obi-Wan inside. The two did not separate, and seemed largely unaware of their surroundings.
Shmi sat them all down at a table in a plain but serviceable kitchen, and boiled a foreign tea for Qui-Gon and herself. He wrapped his hands around the cup, not even caring at the moisture that collected between the mug and his palms. Obi-Wan sat in a single chair, with the boy balanced on his lap. They were content to cling to each other, and Qui-Gon was content to let them.
It gave him time to recover.
“It happened about three weeks ago.” Shmi began speaking without preamble, staring into her mug with distant eyes. “Anakin came down with one of the local sicknesses. All of the children pick them up at some time or another, and Ani was no different in that regard. But when the fever went away…” She trailed off, lifting distraught eyes to Qui-Gon. “He would not wake up. Watto was angry that we were missing so much work, but even he couldn’t deny that my son was—was very ill.” Her gaze fell once more to the tea mug.
“Watto would be your owner?” Qui-Gon managed to say the word politely enough, but numerous Outer Rim missions had left him with a serious distaste for slave-owners.
Shmi nodded. “I spent days watching over Ani. They were the most terrifying days of my life, Master Jedi,” she whispered. “And when he woke up, he was different.”
“Not that different, Mom,” the boy piped up at last, smiling at Shmi. “I just know stuff. Like Obi-Wan, and Master Qui-Gon.” He hesitated when the Master in question stared at him, dumbfounded.
“You know my name?” Qui-Gon managed after a long, uncomfortable moment, while Anakin squirmed in embarrassment. “How?”
Anakin shrugged and looked up at Obi-Wan. “You didn’t tell him?”
Obi-Wan gave the boy a half-hearted, apologetic smile. “I haven’t said much. I wasn’t sure what was safe to talk about.”
“Oh.” Anakin mulled over this for a moment. “Is it—is it okay, if I tell him this? It wouldn’t hurt anything, would it?”
Obi-Wan nodded. “I don’t think it would hurt. Just try not to go into details.”
“That’s okay,” Anakin said, unconcerned. “I don’t really remember a lot of details, anyway.” He turned his attention back to Qui-Gon. “You were the first Jedi I ever met. You were on Tatooine for some reason—I don’t remember why. You, and Padmé…" Tears welled up in his expressive blue eyes.
“Easy, easy,” Obi-Wan whispered, holding Anakin close again. “It’s all right.”
“No, it isn’t,” Anakin retorted, but didn’t protest further, and allowed himself to be soothed by Obi-Wan’s touch and murmured reassurances.
Qui-Gon sat back in his chair, his earlier thoughts regarding Anakin’s powerful presence in the Force coming back to haunt him. No wonder Obi-Wan was so close to this boy, if Qui-Gon himself was the one who had discovered him. Or would have, he amended. But who was Padmé? Another Jedi, perhaps, someone he had yet to meet? Where had Obi-Wan been during all of this?
He shook his head. The more he thought about it, the more questions he had. It was doubtful that he would get answers to them all, given the caution that Obi-Wan had displayed regarding future events, even before a full Council.
Anakin dried his eyes with his shirt sleeve, and Shmi reached across the table to caress his cheek. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I just really miss her.”
“So do I.” Obi-Wan smiled and ran his hand through Anakin’s shaggy hair. “What do you remember, Anakin?”
Anakin frowned, biting his lip. “Not—Not a lot, really. I mean, I remember you and Master Qui-Gon. I remember the Jedi…and I remember…” His eyes went wide. “Bad things happened. Didn’t they, Obi-Wan?”
Obi-Wan closed his eyes. “Yes,” he whispered. “You remember that?”
“Kinda.” Anakin picked up Obi-Wan’s hand and held it in both of his own, touching the lightsaber calluses on Obi-Wan’s palm. Qui-Gon was disturbed to realize that Anakin bore the very same callus marks on his own small hands.
“But it’s all fuzzy,” Anakin said. “Like it’s stuff I shouldn’t remember. Not yet, I guess. But I remember you waiting for me. At the end. Before…before we woke up.”
Two tears escaped Obi-Wan’s closed eyes, rolling unheeded down his face. “I remember that, too,” he replied, almost choking on the words.
Shmi smiled, but her eyes were moist. “You and Obi-Wan were all he could talk about,” she said to Qui-Gon. “I don’t understand what’s happened to my son, Master Jedi, but it must have been good, to lead the two of you here.” She gave Qui-Gon a look that could only be described as quiet pleading. “Will you take him with you? Is he to become a Jedi?”
Qui-Gon paused, glancing at Obi-Wan. The young man looked down at Anakin in turn. “It’s your choice, Ani. Always has been.”
Anakin didn’t hesitate before replying. “You know it’s what I was meant to do. But I can’t go anywhere, not without Mom.”
“Anakin, no!” Shmi protested. “You can’t think of me in a situation like this. You have your entire life ahead of you!”
“Actually, he’s right,” Obi-Wan interrupted her, his voice gentle. “I can’t ask him to leave without you. Fortunately, that’s not a choice any of us will have to make.”
Qui-Gon just managed to suppress his laughter. “I thought the amount of credits you asked the Council for was a bit high.”
Obi-Wan favored him with a mischievous grin. “I told them the amount was necessary. I didn’t say why.”
Anakin stared up at them both, comprehension dawning in his eyes. “You mean it? Both of us? You’re going to get us both from Watto?”
Shmi glanced around the table in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
Obi-Wan smiled at her. “After I speak to Watto in the morning, you will both be free. If you have no objections, of course.”
Shmi gaped at him in stunned amazement. “Objections? I—No!" She smiled, an expression of such brilliance that it eclipsed the careworn lines of her face, revealing the beauty that servitude had tried so hard to suppress. “That’s wonderful! Ani, can you believe it?”
Anakin grinned, hugging Obi-Wan again. “Thank you! Thank you, Obi-Wan, thank you so much!”
Shmi pressed her hands to her face, wiping her streaming eyes. “Yes. Thank you.” She raised grateful eyes to Qui-Gon, her smile tremulous but no less beautiful as she cried in happiness. “Thank you so much.”
* * * *
Qui-Gon followed voices until he stood in the doorway of Anakin’s tiny bedroom, watching as Anakin showed off his projects to a bemused Obi-Wan. “…and this is Threepio, of course,” the boy was saying, pointing at a half-assembled droid. The droid’s torso and head were intact, but his limbs were a jumbled mess at the base of the torso, and there were no coverings to be seen. “I found him at Watto’s, back in the scrap pile. They were going to toast him, you believe that? So I brought him home. Watto didn’t even notice.”
Obi-Wan was touching the droid’s unwieldy frame with a hint of a smile on his face. “He looked quite a bit different, the last time I saw him.”
“Yeah, I remember,” Anakin nodded, with a disgusted look on his face. “Did you see what Bail did to my droid? I mean, come on. Gold?” He shuddered while Obi-Wan laughed.
“Well, he is a protocol droid,” Obi-Wan said, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
Anakin rolled his eyes. “Yeah. That part, I liked. Got upped from six languages to six billion. He was a regular walking linguist, just like someone else I can mention.”
“I hardly know six billion languages, Ani,” Obi-Wan refuted, raising an eyebrow at the boy.
“Well, no. But you know enough of them.” Anakin turned, spied Qui-Gon lurking in the doorway, and blushed to the roots of his hair. “Uhm—Hi, Master Qui-Gon. We were just…uhm…talking.”
“It’s all right, Ani,” Obi-Wan soothed him, grinning. “I don’t think we’ve done any damage by discussing the future of one unfortunate droid. What is it, Qui-Gon?”
Qui-Gon smiled. It was good to see both of them talking without reserve, especially Anakin, who had no issues with being a chatterbox. Judging by the number of mechanical projects the boy had crammed into the space, he was a very talented chatterbox, as well. “I’m going to head back to the ship before dinner. The Council should hear of our progress.”
“You mean the Council should hear about the fact that I’m not crazy, and Anakin really exists,” Obi-Wan replied, but his eyes were dancing with good humor. “That’s probably a good idea. You’ll be careful?”
Qui-Gon drew himself up to his full height in mock-indignation, the top of his head just brushing the low ceiling. “I’ll have you recall that I was a full Jedi Master long before you were born, Padawan-mine.”
Obi-Wan grinned and bowed in response. “Of course, Master Jinn. How silly of me to caution prudence.” He sobered a bit. “Just bear in mind that a lot of the locals are damned near immune to suggestion, Qui-Gon. It can be troublesome, especially among some of the packs.”
Qui-Gon bit back an annoyed retort. Obi-Wan lived here for a long time, he reminded himself. Anakin alone is proof enough that his experience was real, or as real as it can get. He knows this place better than you do. “I’ll keep that in mind. I’ll be back soon,” he said, stepping close enough to ruffle Anakin’s hair. The boy grinned up at him with adoring eyes.
Qui-Gon thought about the container in his belt-pouch that held a sample of Anakin’s blood. There was an analyzer on the ship that would be able to read the boy’s midichlorian count, and at this point Qui-Gon was nervous about what he would see. “I trust the two of you can keep out of trouble.”
Anakin gave him the proper bow of a well-trained Padawan, his arms crossed as if he were enveloped in a Jedi cloak. “Yes, Master.”
Shmi caught him at the hovel’s front entrance, biting her bottom lip before she addressed him. “Forgive the question, Master Jedi, but…this is real, isn’t it? This is happening?”
I imagine Obi-Wan is still wondering much the same thing, Qui-Gon thought, but he nodded. “Yes. I assure you, it’s very real.”
“The same thing happened to Obi-Wan, didn’t it?” she guessed, giving him a searching look.
“Yes, but it was not an illness. He took an injury to the head that should have been, at worst, a severe concussion. Instead, it was…” Qui-Gon noticed the sympathetic look on Shmi’s face and smiled. “As you said of Anakin, he would not awaken.”
Shmi seemed to relax further, the hesitant look in her eyes becoming genuine warmth. “Do you think that this has happened to others?”
Qui-Gon resisted the urge to wince. That was a horrid thought, one that hadn’t even occurred to him. “Lady Skywalker, for the sake of the loved ones who would surround them, I genuinely hope not.”
She smiled. “I am Shmi.”
“Qui-Gon, then,” he said, and held out his hand. “It is a great pleasure to meet you, Shmi.”
Shmi shook his hand, her grip as strong and callused as his own. “Master Qui-Gon, I’m glad to be able to say the same.”
He made his way back through Mos Espa, retracing his and Obi-Wan’s steps. At one point the old woman Obi-Wan had purchased fruit from waved at him, and Qui-Gon obeyed the silent instruction and stepped close to her stand. She was packing up for the evening, gathering her wares with deft hands despite her age. “Storm will be passing through tonight, Master Jedi. Make sure you’re in shelter by sundown, or you’ll be eatin’ more sand than you was ever comfortable with.”
He gave her his thanks; she tossed him another of the tart fruits and refused to accept payment for it. After that, he encountered no more obstacles aside from the oppressive heat, and reached the borrowed shuttle a few minutes sooner than expected.
Two cabins, engine and cargo space, a two-seat cockpit, a ’fresher sized for midgets, and one small galley; Qui-Gon settled onto the floor in the latter and ruefully reflected that the flight back to Coruscant was going to be cramped and uncomfortable, at best.
Qui-Gon set the holo-recorder down in front of him, letting the matrix activate and map his image before opening a channel. Someone must have been expecting his call, for he was routed through to the Council in record time. He could see Yoda, Mace, and Micah; if anyone else was present, they weren’t displayed due to the size of the feed.
Once greetings were exchanged, he felt it wisest to jump straight to the heart of the matter. “There is a complication, Masters.”
“Oh?” Mace leaned forward, curious. “The boy does not exist?”
Qui-Gon shook his head. “The boy does indeed exist, Masters. His name is Anakin Skywalker. He and his mother live in the slave quarter in the port of Mos Espa.”
He paused as Micah and Mace exchanged startled looks. Yoda didn’t seem bothered. He seemed to have expected this, and given his strange new relationship with Obi-Wan, that didn’t surprise Qui-Gon at all. “His presence in the Force is astounding, Masters. It’s like a bonfire set against a candle flame.”
“That strong, is he?” Micah asked. “But then, if his midichlorian count is as Obi-Wan claimed, perhaps it’s not so strange. Have you taken a count yet, Qui-Gon?”
“I’m running it now,” Qui-Gon replied, just as the machine beeped to announce the results. He glanced up at the monitor, his eyes going wide despite his expectations. “It’s as Obi-Wan said. The results are off the chart.” He sharpened his focus. “Twenty-three thousand, if the equipment is functioning correctly.”
Mace whistled. “We’ll test a new sample when you bring him to the Temple, but there is no reason to believe the blood-analyzer is incorrect.”
“He’ll have to spend some time with the Healers, anyway, growing up where he did,” Micah noted.
Yoda tilted his head. “A complication you mentioned, Master Qui-Gon.”
“Yes.” Qui-Gon folded his hands in his lap. “Masters, Anakin knew us.”
“Knew you?” Micah sat upright in his chair. “What do you mean?”
“It appears that Anakin and Obi-Wan had the same experience, Masters. Anakin knew both of us on sight, and it seems that they both have similar memories. The boy has admitted that he doesn’t remember everything, however. Obi-Wan is thankful for that, and so am I. He is only five years old. He should have the chance to grow up on his own.”
“Are you sure?” Mace asked, his dark eyes narrowed in concern. “Is there any way to verify this?”
“I’ve been speaking with the boy’s mother. As close as we can estimate, Anakin lost consciousness from a local illness at almost the same moment that Obi-Wan did, when he was struck down on Taro Tre. They were both unresponsive for the same amount of time, and they seem to have awoken at the same moment as well.” It was hard to judge on that one; he and Mace had found Obi-Wan already awake, and Obi-Wan had no clear idea of how long he had been standing at the window.
The Council was silent. Mace and Micah looked pensive, though Micah’s expression was mixed with a bit of elation—the man had always loved a challenging situation. Yoda’s gaze was something Qui-Gon could only describe as brooding. That was the most shocking thing to Qui-Gon. Master Yoda, teacher of younglings, wisest of Jedi, did not brood.
After a long, tense moment, the old Master shook his head, tapping his clawed fingers on the gimer stick resting in his lap. “Bring him to us, you must. Secure his freedom yet, have you?”
“No, Masters. It was late in the afternoon when we arrived. Obi-Wan and I have plans to approach the owner tomorrow.”
Yoda nodded. “Retrieve him, you must. Important this is. Linked, they are.” He hummed a few notes, sounds that spoke of the Master’s state of mind. “Feel it, you do?”
“Yes,” Qui-Gon agreed. It had been obvious almost from the beginning that Anakin must have been the Padawan that Obi-Wan spoke of. But why had it been Obi-Wan to take this boy as his apprentice, especially when Obi-Wan himself had just been Knighted? There were many capable Knights and Masters that could have trained Anakin, himself included, if Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship was done with.
And why, Qui-Gon wondered as he closed down the comm, did Obi-Wan make such a promise in the first place?
When Qui-Gon returned to the Skywalker home later, with the first sand-storm laden breezes beginning to choke the air, he found Obi-Wan on the floor, gasping for breath and red in the face. A triumphant Anakin was sitting on top of him. “He was getting all broody,” Anakin explained in a cheerful voice, poking the downed young Knight in the ribs.
“Was…not!” Obi-Wan wheezed. Then he laughed as Anakin tickled him, trying to wriggle out of the little boy’s grasp. “Please, no more! I beg you!”
“Promise not to brood?” Anakin leaned over Obi-Wan in blatant challenge.
“Promise!” Obi-Wan gasped. "No more brooding!”
Anakin grinned, pleased with his efforts, as he let Obi-Wan up off the floor. “If I had known that would work so well, I would've done that years ago. I could have saved us all a lot of trouble.”
Obi-Wan sighed, rubbing at the back of his neck. “Very well. If you see me brood overly much, you have my permission to do something about it. As long as it doesn’t interfere with my dignity.”
“Right,” Anakin agreed with a nod, while Qui-Gon tried very hard not to smile at Obi-Wan’s discomfort. “Not in public. Roger.”
Dinner was a noisy affair. Anakin was enthused about their coming freedom, though Shmi still seemed dazed that by this time tomorrow, she would be a free woman.
“I’ve been a slave since I was four,” she told her Jedi audience, passing Anakin a bowl of fruit once the meal itself had been devoured. “I don’t know what I’ll do with myself.”
“Well, first you’re coming to the Temple with Anakin,” Obi-Wan pointed out, accepting the bowl from the boy and picking out something round and orange before passing the dish to Qui-Gon. “We’ll worry about the future when it gets here.”
“I’ve never imagined such a thing,” Shmi said, peeling the skin off of a pebbly red fruit. “I’ve lived out on the Rim all of my life. Is Coruscant really like they say?”
“Nah,” Anakin replied with his mouth full. Obi-Wan elbowed him, so Anakin swallowed fruit pulp before spreading his hands. “It’s a lot, lot bigger! I mean huge!”
Shmi stared at her son, who blushed and looked down at his empty plate. “You said the same thing happened to you,” she said slowly, looking at Obi-Wan. “What happened, exactly?”
Obi-Wan used the action of peeling another sliver of orange fruit to excuse his silence. He was trying to be casual, trying not to frighten Anakin’s mother, but Qui-Gon could sense Obi-Wan’s sudden tension. “We lived our lives, and remember them. It seems like we couldn’t have, but I have scars now that I didn’t have three weeks ago. I imagine Anakin does, as well. I remember how they got there, but according to what the Temple Jedi witnessed, they shouldn’t be there.”
“Yeah,” Anakin spoke up. “The scars are the cool part.” He pushed up the sleeve of his tunic, revealing a jagged white scar that ran up his left arm. “This one’s from a pod race I was in,” he said, and Shmi went pale.
Anakin looked guilty about his mother’s reaction, and quickly explained. “It hasn’t happened yet, and I guess now it’s not going to. But the scar’s still there. There’s more than this, lots of little things. What’s weird is that some of the scars I remember getting, I don’t have. There should be a big one right here.” He pointed to his right eyebrow. “But there is a big scar up near my right shoulder, one that goes all the way around. I don’t remember how I got it. It looks kinda like a burn.”
Obi-Wan touched Anakin’s right shoulder with his fingers, brushing against the rough cloth. “I remember how you got it. I’m glad that you don’t.” He shook his head and looked up at Qui-Gon. “What did the Council say earlier?”
Qui-Gon smiled. It wasn’t the most blatant change of subject, but it wasn’t the most subtle, either. “They’re very curious about Ani, and are probably racking their collective brains to try and explain how you both could have experienced the same thing. Of course, anyone with a midichlorian count of twenty-three thousand…” he trailed off, still trying to wrap his mind around the concept. Not even Yoda’s count was that high, and the ancient Master’s, at sixteen thousand, was one of the highest known. “It’s an incredible thing. Who was his father?” Qui-Gon asked Shmi.
To his surprise, Shmi looked down at the table, knotting up a cloth napkin in her hands. “There was no father.” She drew in a deep breath. “I carried him, I raised him. There has never been anything else for us.”
It was a not-so-subtle way for Shmi to say that the father was inconsequential. Had she been raped? She had been one of a scant handful of women on a remote station, Qui-Gon had learned, and that sort of thing wasn’t uncommon amongst slave populations.
Or was it? Studying the woman before him, the Force murmured to him of other things, and Qui-Gon was not so sure.
* * * *
He found Obi-Wan out on the balcony later that night, once the sandstorm’s howling winds had ceased. Anakin had at last gone to bed. Whether the boy was sleeping or not was anybody’s guess. Shmi herself had bid him goodnight a few moments ago, offering them space on the floor of the main room. Several coarse but serviceable blankets had been stacked nearby. “Obi-Wan?”
Obi-Wan’s back was to him as the young man knelt on the rough stone floor. His face was tilted up, a stray breeze ruffling his short hair and clothing. “I love it here at night,” Obi-Wan said, his voice soft. “There are never clouds, and no traffic. You can see every single star. I would sit out at night for hours, no matter how cold it was, just watching them. I guess it became sort of a meditation; despite everything that had changed, some things would always be the same.”
Moved to hear such words from the young man, Qui-Gon walked over and laid a hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. “Was it a comfort?”
Obi-Wan blinked and looked up at him, the points of stars reflected in his eyes. “Sometimes. I usually managed to see it that way.” He looked up again. “You can see Alderaan’s sun from here. It’s tiny, what with it being so far into the Core, but it’s there.” His eyes filled with a strange melancholy. “And then sometimes, the things that you thought would always be there, are suddenly gone.”
Qui-Gon didn’t know what to say to that, chilled as he was by the words. “Why didn’t you mention the prophecy to the Council?”
Obi-Wan jerked back in surprise. “I thought you would figure that out,” he said at last, with a rueful smile and short, mirthless laugh. “It’s not in your nature to look the obvious in the face and not see it.”
Qui-Gon settled down cross-legged beside Obi-Wan. “I suppose not. But—he is the Chosen One, isn’t he?”
Obi-Wan nodded. “The One who will bring balance.”
Qui-Gon rested his hands on his knees, contemplating the stars as his companion was doing. Obi-Wan was right; Tatooine boasted one of the most incredible night skies he had ever been privileged to witness.
“Did he?” Qui-Gon smiled when Obi-Wan gave him an odd look. “If you both lived out your lives in that vision, then at some point the prophecy must have been fulfilled.”
Obi-Wan shook his head. “I suppose it must have. But I don’t think I ever quite figured out what the prophecy really meant. There were so many things that ‘balance’ could have applied to. And, there is a reason I did not tell the Council.”
“I would very much like to hear it,” Qui-Gon said, adding, “if you feel you can tell me.”
Obi-Wan remained silent for a long time, and the night air grew colder. At last he sighed, a surprisingly bitter sound. “The Council reacted strongly to Anakin’s presence, and especially to the thought that he might be an ancient prophecy brought before them. They frightened Anakin when they tested him; unnecessarily, I always felt. But they were themselves afraid, and I think it tainted everything that ever happened to us.”
Qui-Gon absorbed this information and thought that it made sense—too much sense, really. He was well aware of how tradition-bound the Council could be, clinging to narrow interpretations of the Code even when it flew in the face of all good sense. “So you feel that we should not tell them?”
“If they’re half the Jedi I believe them to be, they will figure it out for themselves.” Obi-Wan smiled when Qui-Gon chuckled. “It may be better that way. Give them time to adjust to the idea, and maybe Anakin won’t suffer for it.”
“You’re very protective of him,” Qui-Gon observed.
Obi-Wan swallowed hard, as if pained, before speaking. “Anakin had a very difficult life. You have no idea how grateful I am that he remembers so little of it. I truly do hope that he never remembers everything. It would be a terrible burden.” Obi-Wan looked down at his clasped hands. “The Force has given him a second chance, and I mean to see that he has opportunity to see it through. I just want him to be happy.”
“And what about you?” Qui-Gon asked gently. “Anakin is not the only one with a second chance. Will you take advantage of it as well?”
Obi-Wan smiled, his eyes full of starlight as he looked at Qui-Gon. “I already am.”
* * * *
They met with the owner of the Skywalker family the next morning. Watto turned out to be an overweight blue Toydarian, possessed of calculating eyes and far too much stubble on his chin. "What do you want?" Watto snapped in Huttese, not even bothering with the barest of pleasantries when Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan entered his shop.
“Good morning, Watto,” Obi-Wan replied in the same tongue, letting his cloak fall open to reveal the lightsaber at his belt. “I have a business proposition for you.”
“Business, eh?” Watto switched to Basic, his eyes widening as he took in the lightsaber hanging at Obi-Wan’s side. His wings flapped a little more furiously as he gained height, giving Qui-Gon a cursory inspection. Qui-Gon said nothing, merely rested his hands on his hips, the motion betraying the presence of his own lightsaber. Obi-Wan had asked him to follow his lead, and that he would do. It was bound to be interesting.
“So,” Watto said, crossing his arms over his round belly. “What brings Jedi to my store? I hope you’re not expecting a special deal. This isn’t the Republic, you know!” he said, and cackled.
“We know,” Obi-Wan replied, a funny half-smile that amused and annoyed Qui-Gon making a brief appearance. “This is about the Skywalker family.”
Watto looked alarmed. “Did they send you here? Are they saying I’m not good to them? I am, you know. I don’t hurt them. I even like them! Little Ani is a good kid. For a human, anyway,” he amended.
“I know you don’t hurt them. You’re certainly a sight better than the Hutts. As it stands, they’re rather fond of you, as well,” Obi-Wan soothed the Toydarian. Qui-Gon could only watch and be grateful that the Council had seen fit to knight Obi-Wan. This was a Jedi Knight he stood with, strong in the Force and a master of tact, besides. “We’re here because we wish to help them.”
The alarm faded, and the calculating look was back. “You're here on Search? You can’t find Force brats elsewhere, you’ve got to come out here and snatch up my hard-earned property?” Watto snorted. “No way, Jedi. You think I’m just going to hand over that boy to you?”
“Of course not,” Obi-Wan said, crossing his own arms to mirror the other’s pose. “But would you have something against a proper transaction?”
Qui-Gon hid a grin. He could see the signs: Watto was already hooked, and his Padawan was doing an expert job of reeling him in. It was simple, yet elegant, and if Obi-Wan handled an irate slave owner with this much aplomb, he couldn’t wait to see the young man in action, facing off against seasoned diplomats over a negotiation table.
I look forward to it.
The voice in his mind was so soft that Qui-Gon almost missed it. Obi-Wan?
The bond may be gone, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan replied, his voice still just as quiet. It was not pitched that way on purpose, Qui-Gon realized. It was from disuse. But I can still hear you, a little bit. Rather like an echo. I missed it.
Qui-Gon felt so much relief in that moment it was a wonder it wasn’t a visible presence. He hadn’t realized how much he had missed his Padawan’s mental voice until it returned. As did I, Obi-Wan.
Watto, meanwhile, was staring at Obi-Wan, suspicion in every line of his squat body. “You want to buy the boy?”
Obi-Wan nodded. “And his mother. I don’t want to separate a family. You would agree, I’m sure. I know that Toydarians hold family in great esteem.”
Watto moved a little away from them, scowling. Qui-Gon was amused to realize that Watto was play-acting, as well, both he and Obi-Wan participating in some sort of time-honored trader’s game. “I haven't been getting much work out of them lately. What with the boy being sick, and his mother staying with him… Still, it would take a lot for me to consider parting with them, Jedi. They’re normally a great help to me. I would have to replace them somehow.”
If Obi-Wan felt any anger over the thought of Watto using the money to buy more slaves, he hid it well. “I understand. If you could name a price that you think would be sufficient—”
“Republic credits are no good here, Jedi. I need something real!” Watto snapped, irritated.
Obi-Wan reached into his belt pouch, holding up a fifty-count of Cho-Mar, a currency the Hutts had spread through most of the Outer Rim systems. Not as good as Wupiupi, but still more valuable to the Hutts than Republic credits. “This will be fine, I’m sure.”
“Hmmm.” Watto flapped away, grumbling under his breath with a dark scowl on his face. Then he rounded in the air, glaring at Obi-Wan. "Eighty thousand!” he barked.
Qui-Gon opened his mouth to comply; the Council had given them ninety, at Obi-Wan’s request. Obi-Wan beat him to it.
“That’s ridiculous,” the young man scoffed. “A woman almost past childbearing age, and a five-year-old boy? Fifty thousand.”
Watto’s eyes widened. “Damn Jedi, trying to break me! There’s no way I’ll accept that. Seventy-five!”
Obi-Wan didn’t seem impressed. “Sixty.”
“Seventy!” Watto roared, a brilliant effort from such a small being. “They’re worth far more than that, Jedi! Take it, or get out of my shop!”
Obi-Wan smiled. “Deal.”
Watto opened his mouth and then snapped it closed. “Deal?”
“That is what I said, yes.” Obi-Wan offered his hand, palm up.
Watto regarded it, then smacked Obi-Wan’s hand with his own. “Deal, Jedi.” He flapped closer, hovering almost nose to nose with Obi-Wan. “You’re going to take care of them, right? I know you want the boy, but you’d better be good to them both. You hear me?”
Obi-Wan met the Toydarian’s gaze squarely. “I have already sworn to do everything in my power to keep them both safe.”
Watto nodded. “Good enough.” He hesitated, some of the scowl fading from his expression. “Tell them to come say goodbye to me, yeah?”
* * * *
“Obi-Wan?” Qui-Gon stepped out into the courtyard, looking around. The young man was sitting on the bench where they had found Anakin yesterday, his robe draped across his lap. He glanced up as Qui-Gon approached, smiling a little. “They're finished packing up,” Qui-Gon explained. “Shmi and Anakin are ready to leave whenever we are.”
“So I'm the only straggler,” Obi-Wan noted. He reached out, taking and tugging on Qui-Gon's hand until he obeyed the silent instruction and sat down on the bench beside Obi-Wan. “Thank you for coming here with me.”
“It was the least I could do,” Qui-Gon protested. “Though you hardly needed my help.”
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. “Didn't I? Qui-Gon, you helped me more than you realize. I'm grateful to you.”
Qui-Gon opened his mouth to reply, and instead found himself asking a question. “What's going to happen to Micah?”
Obi-Wan sat up straighter, frowning. “Force, are things happening so soon?” He shook his head. “How did you know?”
“I felt something during the Council meeting that seemed to center around him.” Qui-Gon sighed; foresight was not his strength, and rarely did the Force speak to him about things that might yet be. “Are we going to lose him?”
“No,” Obi-Wan replied, his jaw set. “We're not going to lose any of them.” His expression softened. “I meant what I said, Master. If there is any way to keep things from happening as they did, I will do everything I can to make it so.” He stirred the sand at his feet with the toe of his boot. “I'd like to show you something.”
Before Qui-Gon could say anything, the sand began to shift, moved by unseen hands. He watched, fascinated, as patterns appeared, crossing the ground in an intricate web.
Obi-Wan grinned at Qui-Gon's rapt expression. “Watch,” he whispered, still holding Qui-Gon's hand. “Feel.”
The sand rose into the air, not in a solid mass, but grain by individual grain. The quartz grains caught the rays of the afternoon sun, reflecting white light and looking like stars.
Indeed, that was what Obi-Wan had done, Qui-Gon realized, recognizing the patterns for what they were—the constellations in Tatooine's night sky. He could feel the Living Force identifying each individual grain, even as Obi-Wan bound them together as part of a greater whole.
Obi-Wan tilted his head to one side, considering, and the grains of sand floated closer together, coalescing into the likeness of a human DNA helix. The image animated, moving with fluid grace under Obi-Wan's control.
“That's beautiful,” Shmi whispered. Qui-Gon turned to find her and Anakin standing in the courtyard doorway, both of them staring at the incredible display.
“Wizard,” Anakin agreed, his eyes round as he watched the helix shimmer in the light. “Am I gonna learn how to do that again?”
Obi-Wan smiled and released his hold on the sand, letting it fall. “I'm certain you will.”
* * * *
Anakin loved space. Anakin loved the shuttle. Anakin loved the control panels. Anakin loved the engines.
Qui-Gon sank down at the galley’s small table, exhausted. It had been too long since he had spent time in the creche, and he was no longer used to the incredible energy possessed by young, tiny beings.
Shmi had finally corralled Anakin, forcing him first into the ’fresher, and then into the small cabin they were sharing. Qui-Gon was almost certain he had heard Anakin’s mother threaten to sit on him to make sure Anakin stayed in bed for the night cycle.
Obi-Wan had taken up residence at the table earlier, and was fiddling with his datapad. The slave controllers that Watto had given them—deactivated, now—were sitting on the tabletop. “I’m surprised you haven’t destroyed them yet,” Qui-Gon said.
Obi-Wan looked up from the datapad and gave the controllers a sour look. “Tempting, but I think it would be a better idea to hand them off to Master Tet Wuq. If he doesn’t have an override code for that particular model yet, he’ll appreciate the chance to make one.”
“I hadn’t even considered that,” Qui-Gon admitted. Tet Wuq had turned consistent Outer Rim missions into a flair for breaking up slavery rings. If the controllers were useful, the Weequay Master would doubtless appreciate it.
Obi-Wan smiled. “You think of the now. I think of the five months from now. It balances out nicely.”
Qui-Gon managed to smile in return, but it was a near thing. Obi-Wan’s casual words had caught him by surprise, and filled him anew with regret for the apprenticeship lost to that damned vision. They would have been brilliant together.
“What are you doing, then?” Qui-Gon asked, eager to fill the space between them with words before his melancholy could be noticed. “More things to catch up on?”
“Oh, this?” Obi-Wan shook his head. “No, this is math. What with spaceflight and being on two different planets, I was counting hours, trying to find out how many more nights of the cycle I had to look forward to.”
At first, Qui-Gon had no idea what Obi-Wan meant. “The cycle—you mean that same cycle that plagued you all the way to Tatooine?” he asked, horrified.
“The very same,” Obi-Wan confirmed, but didn’t seem worried about it. If anything, he only looked tired.
Qui-Gon frowned as realization struck. “You didn’t sleep at all last night, did you?”
“No.” Obi-Wan put the datapad down on the table and slid it aside. “I didn’t want to startle Shmi, nor did I wish to wake up a five-year-old child by screaming.”
By all the little gods. Qui-Gon realized he was staring at the young Knight. “How much longer, then?”
“Six days, maybe seven—the cycle is fourteen days, but Coruscant has a longer spin than Tatooine, and the shuttle is on a Core cycle. I’ll be fine a couple of days after we get home.”
Qui-Gon had the distinct feeling that Obi-Wan wasn’t telling him everything. “How many cycles?”
The face Obi-Wan made in response more than confirmed Qui-Gon’s suspicions. “Three times a year.”
“Force, Obi-Wan, how long has this been going on?”
For some reason, that made Obi-Wan grin. “For us, or for me?”
“It’s both now, isn’t it?” Qui-Gon countered.
Obi-Wan’s eyes widened. “I—I suppose it is. I…” He rubbed at his face with both hands. One of the new scars, a shallow, white channel following along a tendon line, was visible on the back of his left hand. “I’ve been dealing with this for a long time. It started after—it started when I was in my thirties.”
The admission chilled him. That gave Obi-Wan leeway for at least fifteen years of disturbed sleep, if not longer. He was too cavalier about it, too comfortable with a problem that was making Qui-Gon sick to his stomach just to contemplate. “Force, what happened to you?”
“I don’t remember,” Obi-Wan whispered. The confident air, the Jedi mask: both faltered for a brief moment, and underneath dwelt a man who had been set adrift. It stole his breath; Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi had never looked upon Qui-Gon Jinn with eyes that were both so old and so utterly lost.
Obi-Wan shook himself, shields and Jedi demeanor settling back into place. “The cause of the cycle is blocked,” he pointed at his temple with one finger, “in here. I never worked through it, and after a time, I really didn’t care to try.”
“Ah,” Qui-Gon managed, swallowing hard. “Self-induced?”
“No.” Obi-Wan blinked at him, surprised by the question. “Not at all. I wouldn’t have put up with that for long, believe me. It’s Jedi work. You can tell, if you dig deep enough, and know what to look for.”
Qui-Gon couldn’t restrain a shudder. No Jedi, no Healer, would block off memories for casual reasons. There were too many things that could go wrong, and it was a belief of many (himself included) that you should know everything possible about your own mind. No matter how painful the memories were, boxing them away was a potential weakness that others could exploit.
Obi-Wan must have been following his thoughts, or perhaps what Qui-Gon felt was being blatantly advertised on his face. “Considering the unique nature of my situation, I decided it was better just to leave things alone.”
Qui-Gon nodded. “Healers?”
“Eventually, maybe,” Obi-Wan conceded, though he didn’t seem pleased by the idea. “I’ll have to make do in the meantime.”
Obi-Wan gave him a wide, lopsided smile. “You do not ever want to see me strung out on any stimulant stronger than tea.” He tapped the datapad. “I plan to keep myself occupied tonight, at least, and I’m used to being awake.”
“More news feeds?” Qui-Gon asked. He was curious about Obi-Wan’s aversion to stimulants—that had to be a tale worth hearing. He had one or two, himself, and Micah was bound, under pain of immediate, messy death, not to share the first one.
“No. I’ve had enough news and records and prophecy and business and sand and—” Obi-Wan stopped his verbal list when Qui-Gon laughed at him. “Music, Qui-Gon. I’ve missed out on a lot, and would love to hear some old tunes once more.”
Qui-Gon noticed the amusement lurking in his Padawan’s eyes. “Some of those old tunes are new, aren’t they?”
“Brand new,” Obi-Wan admitted, grinning. “This is so fucking weird.”
“Careful, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon said, raising both eyebrows at the sudden introduction of foul language. “Keep doing things like that, and I’ll start to wonder if there’s a person underneath those pristine manners of yours.”
He wasn’t wrong; Obi-Wan’s eyes were positively dancing with suppressed delight. “I am very polite when I’m nervous, and that’s the only hint you’re getting, Master,” he said, smiling, and got to his feet. “I’ll do my musical explorations up in the cockpit, and leave you the other cabin and its sole, plank-like bunk.”
“Be still, my heart, at such a wondrous gift,” Qui-Gon retorted dryly. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?”
Obi-Wan shrugged. “As I said, I’m used to not sleeping. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
Qui-Gon let it go, but couldn’t help but think that Obi-Wan was forgetting about the five restless nights that had preceded their time on Tatooine.
Thus, he was more or less prepared for the rending howls that disrupted his sleep, some hours later. Qui-Gon jerked upright, wide-eyed, with his heart in his throat. Forget the shouting that had roused him from sleep the previous nights. The noises coming from the fore of the ship were horrendous.
A moment later he realized it wasn’t just noise. Stark, choking terror was warping the threads of the Force, polluting the ship.
Anakin, Qui-Gon thought in alarm. Obi-Wan’s earlier concerns for the boy flooded him, joining his anxiety about his Padawan’s well-being.
The noises cut, and as Qui-Gon hit the cockpit doorway, he realized that Anakin had gotten there first. The boy was in Obi-Wan’s lap, talking a klik a minute with Basic and Huttese jumbled together.
Obi-Wan was whiter than his clothes, petting Anakin’s hair and back with hands that shook violently. “I’m sorry, it’s all right, it’s okay, Ani—”
“No, it’s not!” Anakin shouted, and then gave vent to a heaving sob. “We were supposed to be okay, you were supposed to be okay, and you’re not!”
“Ani—” Obi-Wan tried, but Anakin lapsed into soft, miserable cries, so he shook his head and looked up, meeting Qui-Gon’s eyes. I’m fine, he mouthed.
Qui-Gon pointedly looked down at Obi-Wan’s hands, which were still trembling, and then back up at Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan flushed, averting his eyes. “As fine as I can be,” he muttered.
Shmi was standing in the galley when Qui-Gon turned around, a homespun robe wrapped around her lean frame. There was strain showing on her face that Qui-Gon suspected he shared. “What they went through. It was awful, wasn’t it?”
Qui-Gon sighed, trying to breathe out some of the tension that gripped him. “I am beginning to suspect so.”
* * * *
“Come on, Mom!” Anakin yelled, bright-eyed with enthusiasm. When she came close, he grabbed his mother's hand and practically dragged her down the boarding ramp. “You've got to see this!”
Shmi had just enough time to give Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon a bewildered smile before her son pulled her out of view. “Ani, I'm sure it's wonderful, but it's not going... any... where…” Her voice trailed off into stunned silence.
Obi-Wan grinned as they heard Anakin say, “Isn't it great?”
At the bottom of the ship's ramp, they found Anakin hugging his mother, who was staring, wide-eyed, at the cityscape before them. “I'm glad to see that adjustment to Coruscant isn't going to be a problem for Anakin,” Qui-Gon murmured.
Obi-Wan shook his head. “It never was. He loved the place from the first moment he saw it. Never looked at Coruscant the way most people do, as someplace horrid. I...” He stopped speaking, lapsing into silence.
Qui-Gon regretted the uncomfortable tension that grew between them, but could think of no way to break through it. He wasn’t even certain what had caused it.
Micah was waiting for them on the landing platform, as was Yoda. Micah was grinning at the way the little boy was escorting his mother along. “Lady Skywalker, welcome to Coruscant,” he said, giving Anakin's mother a graceful bow. “I am Master Micah Giett, and my companion is Master Yoda.”
Yoda nodded at Shmi, smiling at her. Qui-Gon shook his head, amused. Yoda was doing his harmless ancient elf act for the Skywalker family.
“Master Jinn and Knight Kenobi tell us that you are between homes at the moment," Micah continued. “You are welcome to stay with the Jedi until a new solution presents itself.”
“Thank you.” Shmi nodded, but Qui-Gon could tell that she was confused by the offer, and unsure of how to respond.
Micah gave her a gentle, understanding smile and turned to the boy. “And you must be Anakin.”
Anakin gave Micah a quizzical look. “I don't remember you.”
“Ani!” Shmi found her voice in order to scold Anakin for the strange greeting.
Micah wasn’t bothered. “Well, I suppose we shall have to remedy that. I serve on the Council, young Skywalker.”
Anakin nodded. “Okay. Pleased to meet you, sir,” he said, offering his hand. Micah shook the tiny hand with a solemn expression.
Then Anakin turned to Yoda, grinning. “You, I remember,” Anakin announced, and to the tiny Master's astonishment, hugged him.
“Well!” Yoda’s eyes were wide, his ears flying up in surprise. “A warm-hearted youngling you are, to hug an old Master so.” He chuckled, touching the beaded necklace hanging around Anakin's neck. “Welcome home, young Skywalker.” Only Qui-Gon noticed when Obi-Wan glanced away at that, wiping at his eyes with his fingers.
“I hate to make it sound like an unpleasant welcome, but our first stop will be the Healers,” Micah explained, leading them all back into the Temple proper.
“Yuck,” was Anakin's response.
* * * *
Terza greeted them with her apprentice, Abella, who had been off-planet during Obi-Wan’s time in the Ward. Obi-Wan did his best not to stare at the girl, who was looking at Obi-Wan as if she wished to ask at least fifty questions.
Terza, meanwhile, was quick to send Shmi and Qui-Gon off with Abella, taking on Anakin’s review herself. “And yours too, not incidentally,” she said in undertone to Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan tried to resist the urge to hide. Terza didn’t know it, but he was quite familiar with the look she had just given him. Fortunately, he had Anakin to use as a distraction, and the matter of a deactivated explosive implant to remove.
"There we go," Terza said, lasering the incision closed before laying a hand over the mark. Obi-Wan felt the woman send Force energy into the new wound, and Anakin twitched.
“Sorry,” Anakin mumbled an apology, as Terza's hand fell away. “That tickled.” There was not even a hint of a scar from removing the detonator, Obi-Wan was glad to see. “Thanks, Healer Terza.”
Terza grinned at her newest patient. “You're welcome, little Skywalker,” she said, tweaking his nose. At first, the Healer had been bothered by the fact that Anakin had greeted her by name, striding right up to hug her around the legs, but she was coping gracefully, Obi-Wan thought.
“Now then, I've just heard from my Padawan,” Terza explained. “Abella says that she's finished removing your mother's detonator. Both of you are going to get the Healers’ special today, to make sure you're fit and healthy. But first, a blood test.”
“Right,” Anakin said, as she picked up a blood analyzer. “You wanna know how many bugs I've got in my system.”
Terza snorted out a laugh. “They're midichlorians, Anakin.”
Anakin shrugged. “Midichlorians, bugs. Whatever.” He watched, curious, as Terza tagged herself with the analyzer first, wiping away a single drop of blood on a sanitized cloth. “Why'd you do that?”
“Well, considering the unusual amount of bugs in your system,” she said, which made Obi-Wan grin, “I'm going to calibrate it against two other known midichlorian counts, first. Then we'll know for sure that your count is accurate.”
“Oh.” Anakin gave Obi-Wan a mischievous look. “I think she means you're next, Obi-Wan,” he stage-whispered.
Obi-Wan sighed at Anakin’s sense of dramatics, but played along. “I'm afraid so,” he agreed, offering his hand. “Should be twelve point five thousand, Healer Terza.”
“Not bad, not bad,” Terza said, continuing the teasing routine. “You've outdone this old Healer, at least.”
“You aren’t old,” Obi-Wan protested with a smile. “Not until Abella has grand-Padawans.”
The Healer smiled and turned away, waiting for the results.
Anakin scooted closer and wrapped his arms around Obi-Wan, seeking reassurance. He had been doing that a lot since leaving Tatooine, especially once Obi-Wan had no longer been able to hide the fact of his nightmares from him. “Are they going to test me again? You know, like last time?”
Obi-Wan rested his chin on top of Anakin's head as he hugged the boy in return. “Yes, they're going to test you again. And no, I very much doubt it will be like last time. You've already made a good impression on Master Yoda and Master Giett, and they are both respected members of the Council. You have no reason to fear, Ani.”
There was a sudden, quickly muted, spike of astonishment. Obi-Wan glanced up to find Terza staring at him. “What is it?”
The Healer shook her head, glancing away. “It's nothing. Nothing important, at any rate. Ready for a bug-count, Anakin?”
Obi-Wan gave her a thoughtful look, but let it go. Anakin grinned, held out his hand, and Terza pricked the tip of his finger with the needle. He stuck the wounded finger in his mouth before the Healer could hand him a cloth. "Don't need it. It'll only bleed for a second."
Terza rolled her eyes, as if under constant deluge from such inanities. “Children!” she muttered.
* * * *
"Well, now for the horrifying results," Terza announced, walking into the Ward’s private waiting room. Padawan Abella, a furred Chitanook with large dark eyes and a cheerful demeanor, followed at her heels.
Shmi looked up, her sudden tension at Terza's words melting away as she took in the Healer's light-hearted smile. Qui-Gon felt a moment’s sympathy, suspecting that Shmi was unused to gentle teasing, especially in a medical environment.
Anakin, who was perched unselfconsciously in his mother’s lap, gave Terza his full attention. Qui-Gon put down the datapad he’d been trying to focus on. It had been difficult, to say the least; already the Council had assigned him a new mission, and he was supposed to leave in three days. There was no mention of anyone joining him.
Qui-Gon looked over at Obi-Wan, who sat cross-legged in a nearby chair, clear-eyed and listening as Terza went over the results of the medical scans with the Skywalkers. It's too soon, he thought, saddened, and wrenched his attention away from his former Padawan. He owed Terza the courtesy of listening to her, at least.
“You're both as healthy as can be expected, living where you did,” the Healer was saying. “I'm putting you both on mandatory water consumption for the next few weeks. Those little headaches you've been having?” Terza looked at Shmi. “They're dehydration-induced. Once we get your insides soaked, they shouldn't bother you anymore.”
“You,” Terza continued, turning to Anakin, “could use several dozen good meals. You weren't so bad off, according to your mother, but the fever you picked up, and your subsequent bout with unconsciousness, has left you nothing but bones.” Anakin grinned at that. “I'm putting you on a vitamin supplement to make up for what you've lost. You've received the full range of inoculations, now, and you get another round of boosters in two weeks.”
Anakin shrugged, unconcerned with the threat of more hypospray injections. “It was worse before. I didn't just have to get the Temple inoculations. I had to get shots for everything.”
Obi-Wan gave a quiet laugh. “Could have been worse than that. You might have been allergic to the dyptherias immunization.”
Qui-Gon winced, shaking his head at the reminder. “That was most unpleasant.” His fifteen-year-old Padawan had been violently ill for days, right in the middle of a mission, and there was no help for it but to see the effects through. Obi-Wan had never complained, even though the bond between them had told Qui-Gon of the boy's abject misery as he camped out in their cabin's tiny ’fresher.
It was hard to believe that it had only been six months ago. Right then, it felt like years had passed.
“And, of course, there's the midichlorian count,” Terza said, hesitating. “You, little Skywalker, are astounding. Twenty-three thousand.”
“Sounds like an infestation,” Obi-Wan deadpanned.
Anakin clapped both hands over his mouth, stifling a sudden fit of giggles.
“Obi, that's not funny!” Abella exclaimed, mortified.
Anakin nodded, removing his hands to reveal a wide grin. “Yes! Yes, it is!” the boy gasped out, then put his hands over his mouth again. Obi-Wan's shoulders shook with silent laughter. Qui-Gon was left with the distinct impression that he was missing out on a joke.
Terza crossed her arms. “If you two are quite finished...” She waited expectantly while the two in question got themselves under control. If she was surprised that it took only moments, Anakin recovering his calm with a Jedi's quickness, she made no mention of it. “The Council will speak with you tomorrow about testing,” she said to Anakin. “In the meantime, I've already received a housing assignment for you, Lady Skywalker. Anakin will stay with you, for now, and you will still be close by if he gets accepted into the creche.”
“That sounds fine. Thank you very much,” Shmi responded, giving the Healer a graceful nod. “I appreciate everything you're doing for us.”
“Think nothing of it,” Terza waved her off. “You are deserving of every courtesy, for everything you have endured.” Shmi smiled, but her cheeks reddened, and she looked uncomfortable at the sentiment. She settled her arms more securely about her son, who squirmed in silent protest.
“I have work to do here, but Abella will escort you to your quarters,” Terza said, and her Padawan nodded, stepping forward and waiting for Shmi, Anakin, and Obi-Wan to rise before leading the way from the Ward.
Qui-Gon, following, was halted by Terza's gentle hand on his arm. “Qui-Gon, I need to speak with you.”
He turned, caught by the intense gleam in her eyes. “What is it, Terza?”
She bit her lip, visibly disconcerted, before leading the way back into the Ward proper. “Come with me. I have to show you something, and I really don't know what to make of it.”
Curious, he followed her back into the exam room she'd used for Anakin's physical. Terza picked up an analyzer, staring at it for a full minute before she spoke again. “Qui-Gon, when I tested Anakin's midichlorian count, I tested myself and Obi-Wan first. I wanted other confirmed counts, so I would know Anakin's to be correct.” She drew in a deep breath, then handed him the analyzer.
Qui-Gon glanced down at the read-out, which was displaying a count of twenty-two thousand. “I don't understand. I thought that Anakin's was twenty-three?”
Terza turned back to him with wide eyes, her hands knotted together so tightly her knuckles were white. “That's not Anakin's count.”
* * * *
“We don't have much,” Shmi was saying, holding Anakin's hand as they followed Abella down the corridor. “We don't need that much room, really.”
“Well,” Abella said, her eyes twinkling with humor, “The Quartermaster was going to put you in one of the diplomatic suites, but I talked him out of it. You could get lost in those things!”
Shmi smiled back. “I thank you. I fear I am already lost, and would at least like to know where I am in my own room.”
Obi-Wan and Anakin exchanged mischievous looks as Abella stopped and opened a door, leading them inside. South tower, Level 28, Suite 30, Obi-Wan repeated in his head, memorizing the address.
“Wow!” Anakin breathed, taking in the room with large eyes. There was tan, soft carpeting on the floor, blending in with the tan and cream-colored furniture in the main room. A small kitchen was visible off to the left, along with three doors on the right that led to two bedrooms and a 'fresher, respectively. The warm tones reminded Obi-Wan of Tatooine, but the overall feel of the space was peaceful. “They can do cozy!” Anakin exclaimed.
Obi-Wan grinned and draped an arm across Anakin's shoulders. “It's just that we're too busy to make our own places this nice. When you're running around the galaxy, your only concern when you get home is that you have a bed. Or really, any horizontal surface works just as well.”
Anakin snickered. “That explains the old couch.”
Obi-Wan tugged on a lock of Anakin's hair playfully. “Shhh. I happen to like that couch.”
Shmi investigated the room in silence, running her hand along the back of a comfortable-looking plush chair. With a shocked, shy look on her face, she walked into the first bedroom. “They've already brought our things!” she cried in surprise.
Anakin's face lit up, and he bolted into the other bedroom. “Wow! And Threepio didn't lose any pieces from being carted around!”
Obi-Wan watched as the boy jumped onto the bed, digging into his two small bags from Tatooine. This was better than before, when he’d brought Anakin home and discovered that everything the boy owned in the world could be held in both of Obi-Wan’s cupped hands. Even the most frugal of Jedi had still possessed more belongings than Obi-Wan Kenobi’s new Padawan.
Abella stepped close to Obi-Wan, jolting him out of the memory. Her eyes narrowed, her nose twitching. “Obi?”
Obi-Wan turned to look at her. Abella had been a creche-mate of his, and still used a short form of his name. It was strange to hear it again, but unlike many other things, it made him smile. “What is it, Bella?”
“Well... I was wondering.” Abella led them away from Anakin’s new bedroom and reached up to tug on her own short braid, her expression questioning. “I didn't want to say anything in front of everyone,” she continued in a rushed whisper. “Your braid's gone. You're not leaving us, are you?”
He smiled, taking his friend's furred hand in his own. “No, Bella. I'm not leaving.” He drew in a deep breath. He was going to have to share the news sooner or later, and Abella was a good place to start. “I've been Knighted.”
Abella's eyes went wide, her mouth hanging open in shock. “Knighted?” she squeaked. “But Obi-Wan, you're—you're sixteen! You've only been a Padawan for three years! You...” she trailed off when he said nothing. “You're serious!” she gasped.
“I am,” he nodded, offering her a wry smile. “If it makes you feel any better, I am not the youngest Knight there ever was.”
“The hell with that!” the girl exclaimed. She lowered her voice again. “Obi, this is incredible! How—I mean, why did the Council—” She waved her free hand in the air, flustered.
“Listen,” Obi-Wan said, waiting as she calmed herself. “Tell everyone to meet me in the commissary for dinner tomorrow. I'll tell you all what I can.”
Abella frowned. “Well, it'll just be myself and Bant, then. The others are all off on missions, running around the galaxy like Killi birds without heads.” She shook her head, clearly an indication that she felt she had gotten the better bargain as a Healer assigned to the Temple. “And what do you mean, you'll tell us what you can? What's going on, Obi?”
“It's—complicated,” he hedged. When she stared at him, expectant, Obi-Wan sighed. “You'll just have to trust me, Bella.”
She ran her hands through her short-cropped mane, pinning him with a fierce glare. “You'd better have a good story for us, Obi.”
He was saved from a reply as Anakin appeared in the doorway of his room, grinning. “C'mere, Obi-Wan! You've got to see this!”
Obi-Wan let himself be dragged into chaos by the happy child, and wondered where Qui-Gon was.
* * * *
“Force, I'm tired,” Obi-Wan announced, hanging up his cloak as the door to their quarters closed behind him. “I swear I'm going to get a decent night's sleep even if it kills me.”
“Sleep is rarely fatal, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon said, emerging from the kitchen with a mug of tea in his hands. He watched as Obi-Wan sat down on the couch, propping his feet up on the table as his head lolled back. He really did look tired, Qui-Gon thought, taking in the harsh lines on the young man's face and the dark crescents under his eyes. “I could put you under tonight, if you like. It may help.”
Obi-Wan opened his eyes, letting out a gusty sigh. “Suggestion tends not to work on me anymore. But I may be willing to give it a try. Even a little sleep would be better than...”
“Waking yourself up screaming?” Qui-Gon finished, sitting down in the chair opposite the couch. They had managed to avoid another incident like the one in the cockpit. Obi-Wan had been willing to sleep on the floor of the tiny cabin, citing long experience sleeping on a roof composed of rock. Qui-Gon, appalled, had insisted they share the plank masquerading as a bunk.
It had kept the noise levels down, and Anakin hadn’t been disturbed again. But the boy knew the nightmares existed, and every morning he had given Obi-Wan a keen, searching look that belonged on a much older face.
Qui-Gon, meanwhile, had discovered that Obi-Wan fought like a demon when caught in a nightmare’s grasp. More than once, he’d lost his breath to a misplaced, flailing elbow, or the less-misplaced closed fist. Thus, Qui-Gon wasn’t at his best, either, and it wouldn’t be long before the allure of sleeping in his own bed became overwhelming.
“It's only for another day or two,” Obi-Wan said, crossing his arms and closing his eyes again. The posture seemed easy for him, as if he were used to trying to rest in that position. “Unless this turns into one of the sporadic fifteen-day cycles. That one is always a surprise.” Obi-Wan settled himself more comfortably on the couch, looking as if he could drift off to sleep right then and there. “What did Terza speak with you about?”
Qui-Gon didn’t hesitate. “She just wanted to rave about midichlorian counts, is all.” He knew it was Obi-Wan's silent desire to change the subject that had prompted the question. However, that was one subject he wasn't ready to speak of just yet. “How are they settling in?”
Obi-Wan smiled. “Anakin is ecstatic. Shmi is...handling it, and Anakin is doing his best to help her. Though I think I stunned her when I gave her the Cho-Mar credits we had left.”
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. “Twenty thousand credits? The Council agreed to part with that much money?”
“Actually, Master Giett suggested it. It will be enough for Shmi to start a new life.” Obi-Wan looked amused. “I think the Council is very excited to have a walking Midichlorian advertisement on their hands, and they're feeling generous.”
Qui-Gon laughed, almost choking on the tea he had been drinking. The young man might have been tired, but it didn't seem to be hampering his sense of humor any.
“Thanks,” Qui-Gon said, wiping tea from his beard with as much dignity as he could muster. “Now I'm going to be thinking of that when we present Anakin for testing tomorrow. You do like to challenge me, don't you?”
Obi-Wan snorted. “The legendary Master Jinn is surely able to maintain a straight face before the Jedi Council.”
Qui-Gon smiled in response to the teasing. “There have been moments, Padawan. There have been moments. But I'm afraid I'm too tired to reminisce, unfortunately. I'm going to bed.”
He took the now-empty mug back into the kitchen and rinsed it out, leaving it to dry in the sink before turning out the lights. Back in the main room, Qui-Gon found Obi-Wan on his feet, standing in front of the couch with a hesitant expression on his face. “Yes, Obi-Wan?”
“I—Qui-Gon, if your offer still stands..." Obi-Wan gave him a crooked smile. “I would like to try and get some sleep. Could you...?”
“I will do my best,” Qui-Gon promised.
Obi-Wan looked relieved as he led them back to his room. The young man stripped to his leggings swiftly and without the faintest hint of his old modesty, and sat down on the edge of the bed.
“Don't need to do anything else?” Qui-Gon asked, kneeling at the bedside.
Obi-Wan shook his head. Now that he was trying to relax, his exhaustion was palpable. “Too tired.”
Qui-Gon smiled. Force, please let this work. “Lie down, Obi-Wan. Let's see if we can remedy that.”
Obi-Wan nodded and did so, settling into a comfortable position with a barely audible sigh. Qui-Gon brushed his hand through Obi-Wan's short hair. “You’ll have to grow this out.”
Obi-Wan sighed again, some of his tension easing at the caress. “I’ll think about it,” he said. “Qui-Gon, if this doesn't work, I apologize in advance if I interrupt your sleep.”
“Again,” Qui-Gon teased, carding his fingers through Obi-Wan's hair once more. The simple gesture had worked many times to calm his Padawan in the past, and it did seem to be helping now. “Trust me, Obi-Wan.”
The answer was soft, firm, and startling. “With my life.”
Qui-Gon blinked away sudden, unexpected tears and rested his hand on Obi-Wan's forehead. “Sleep.”
The Force-compulsion almost didn't take, Obi-Wan fighting it at an unconscious level even as his eyes began to drift closed. “Trust me, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon said again, whispering in Obi-Wan’s ear. “Rest.”
It took a far greater application of the Force than Qui-Gon was used to, but the command finally seeped through. Qui-Gon sighed in relief as Obi-Wan's body obeyed, slipping into deep slumber.
He sat there for a while longer, still running his fingers through Obi-Wan's hair. “And dream of better things.”
* * * *
Micah Giett looked from Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan, a strange smile playing at his lips. Qui-Gon was almost certain that Micah had placed a bet on Anakin’s existence, but he didn’t have time at the moment to see if anyone on the Council looked more peeved than usual.
“Who presents this child for testing?” Mace asked in a solemn voice.
Obi-Wan rested his hands on Anakin’s thin shoulders, his voice clear and strong. “Masters, I do.”
Qui-Gon stood beside them, impassive, a silent observer. The Council was very interested in Anakin, and they were not bothering to hide it. He could feel their intense scrutiny of the boy, the same scrutiny that Obi-Wan had been subjected to only days ago.
Mace, to his credit, gave Anakin a reassuring smile when Anakin began to fidget. “Anakin Skywalker, come forth.”
Anakin hesitated, looking up at Obi-Wan. “It’s all right, Ani,” Obi-Wan whispered the reassurance. “He won't bite.”
Anakin gave him a brief grin. Obi-Wan squeezed his shoulders, and Anakin took a few steps forward to stand in the center of the room. Mace nodded at them; Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan bowed before leaving the chamber.
Outside, they found Shmi waiting for them, gnawing on the tips of her fingernails. She nearly bolted from her chair as she saw them. “Where’s Ani? Is he all right?”
Qui-Gon smiled at her. “He’s fine. The Council is going to test him now. Then they’ll decide if he has a place here.”
“Oh,” Shmi replied, relaxing. On the trip from Tatooine he and Obi-Wan had taken turns filling her in on the life of a Jedi. She had listened attentively, but most of her questions had centered upon what Anakin’s life would be like if he were accepted for training.
Aside from her worry for Anakin’s fate, the woman looked reborn, free of the stresses she had lived with all of her life. Obi-Wan and Anakin had insisted upon taking her to the Market District that morning, and her rough clothing had been replaced with a tunic and long skirt of dark red. Her hair was unbound, hanging in loose waves down her back. She kept tugging on the new clothing, the motions of one whose life had drastically changed in short order.
“How long do we wait?” she asked.
“It may take a while. Testing is one thing, but Master Yoda will want to discuss Anakin's unusual situation with him.” Obi-Wan took her by the arm when her hands began to wring together again. “But there's no sense in standing out here pacing the corridor. Why don't we go get something to eat?”
Shmi hesitated, her eyes darting to the closed Council chamber doors. “I'll stay," Qui-Gon offered, resting his hand on her other arm. “Anakin already told me that you skipped breakfast.”
She managed to look relieved and exasperated all at once. “That boy—! All right. You'll tell me the moment you know anything?”
“Of course,” Qui-Gon agreed. Obi-Wan grinned and led her down the corridor.
Qui-Gon, at odds, wandered over to the window, settling to his knees before it. He followed the patterns of traffic for a few minutes, and before he knew it he had dropped into a light trance.
It was Adi's hand on his shoulder that roused him sometime later. Stifling a yawn, Qui-Gon rose and followed her back inside. Anakin was doing his best to remain still, giving a fair approximation of serenity, but once he saw Qui-Gon he broke into a broad grin.
“I passed,” Anakin whispered, his eyes lit with inner joy.
Qui-Gon smiled back, taking Anakin's small hand in his own. “Congratulations, Initiate Skywalker,” he whispered back.
The boy beamed at him, then looked around when he realized Qui-Gon was alone. “Where's Mom? And Obi-Wan?”
“Obi-Wan escorted her to the commissary for lunch,” Qui-Gon told him, while Adi reclaimed her seat. “We didn't think you would be done this soon.”
Mace cleared his throat. “Anakin Skywalker, you are hereby welcomed into the Jedi Order, being of sound mind, heart, and a follower of the Light. Do you know and understand all that is expected of you?”
Anakin nodded. “I do, Masters,” he said, his young voice carrying throughout the chamber.
“Master Jinn, as one of his Searchers, do you stand witness?”
Qui-Gon squeezed Anakin's hand when the boy gave him a wide smile. “I do, Masters.”
“Welcome you are, Anakin,” Yoda said, climbing down from his chair and hobbling over to the boy. “Join the younglings in the creche, you will. See me there often you will, hmm?” Yoda smiled, prodding Anakin's arm gently with his gimer stick. “Several older children have come to the Jedi this year. Your age, two of them are. Join with their clan, would you like?”
Anakin’s smile grew brighter. “Yes, Master Yoda. I'd like that a lot.”
Qui-Gon felt a sudden, intense feeling of relief, though he could not have explained why. “Anakin, why don't you go meet Obi-Wan and your mother in the commissary? I'm sure they'd very much like to hear the good news.”
“Wizard!” Anakin agreed, but hesitated before he moved. “Everything's okay, isn't it?”
Obi-Wan's right, Qui-Gon thought, hiding his surprise. The boy is very perceptive. “Of course, Ani. I just need to have an argument, and the Council is always willing to provide one.”
“That’s silly,” Anakin said, just as a stick collided with Qui-Gon’s shin.
Yoda chuckled. “Start them yourself, you do. Your own fault, it is.”
Anakin hid a grin with his hand. “Have fun, Master Qui-Gon.” He bowed to the Council and left the room, his walk becoming a run as the doors swung closed behind him.
Micah leaned forward. “All right, my friend, you've managed to pique our collective curiosity. What is it you need to speak to us about?”
Qui-Gon waited until Yoda had returned to his chair. “Masters, Healer Terza discovered something unusual yesterday. She doesn't know what to think about it, and to be honest, neither do I.”
“Something about the Skywalker family?” Adi asked, her eyes filled with sudden concern. The Corellian Master had taken a quick liking to Anakin, and to Shmi. “The medical reports she sent us said everything was fine.”
“Aside from having a new Initiate with a monstrously high midichlorian count,” Eeth Koth pointed out in obvious pleasure.
“No, no, everything is fine in that respect,” Qui-Gon said, to ease Adi’s concern. “Terza ran a midichlorian count on herself, and then on Obi-Wan, to use as a basis against Anakin's own count. She wanted to be sure that the analyzer was reading correctly, so she would have official results for Anakin's file. The analyzer was indeed working correctly; she tested it on several other Jedi, myself included, after Anakin's blood test.”
“Spit it out, Qui-Gon,” Mace interrupted him. “Whatever it is you're dancing around, it can't be that bad.”
Qui-Gon considered glaring at Mace, but it wasn't worth the effort. “Masters, Obi-Wan's midichlorian count is different.”
Yoda's eyes widened. “Oh? Different how, Master Qui-Gon?”
He buried his hands in his robe sleeves, because otherwise he felt he might start clasping his hands as nervously as Shmi Skywalker had been. “It was originally twelve point five. That is the count recorded in his files.”
“I take it that this is no longer the case,” Depa said, frowning. “It's not unheard of for counts to change a little as we age, Qui-Gon. Mine went from eleven thousand to eleven point two when I was a Padawan.”
Qui-Gon licked dry lips and forced himself to continue. “Masters, it is now twenty-two. Thousand.”
For the first time in his life, Qui-Gon Jinn reduced the Jedi Council to absolute silence. If the situation were any different, he would have enjoyed the accomplishment. But this time, it revolved around one of the most important people in his life, and Qui-Gon could only hope the Council had a better idea about what was going on than he did. He argued with the Council, yes, and would fight them tooth and nail if he thought it the right thing to do—but above all, Qui-Gon knew that there was wisdom to be found here.
“Masters, he doesn't know. When Terza asked for his count, he gave the original.”
Saesee Tiin looked troubled. “Is such a thing possible? We know that Anakin and Obi-Wan shared their vision, but that could not explain this drastic a change. Could it?”
“Many things have happened recently that aren’t supposed to be possible,” Micah said, slumping back in his chair, looking pensive. “Obi-Wan must be hiding much of that strength, at least unconsciously.”
Qui-Gon agreed with that; the young man's new skills, shielding, and fine control aside, his presence in the Force seemed no more powerful than it always had been. “What could this mean?”
“I don't know,” Mace admitted, as the other Masters also shook their heads. “This—we need time to think about this, Qui-Gon.”
“Tell him, you should not,” Yoda spoke up, his voice more troubled than Qui-Gon had ever heard. “For now, best this might be. Enough he has to think about, hmm?”
“I'm not sure if that's the best idea, Master.” Qui-Gon sighed, offering the ancient Master a tight smile. “But as I hardly know what to think of this myself, I'll agree to it for now.”
* * * *
“Well, what do you think?” Obi-Wan asked the little boy beside him, who was holding his hand in a vise-tight grip.
Anakin looked around the room, taking in the Initiates already present, each involved in different activities. They were standing in the main area designated for the clan Yoda had assigned Anakin to. It was a bright space filled with toys, books, Jedi teaching tools, art supplies, and even a vidscreen in one corner. There were two Jedi who acted as the Falcon Clan’s primary caregivers, a Knight and a Master. Obi-Wan knew the Master well; the furred Wookiee female, Master Terrilanar, had watched over him several times when he was small. At three hundred years of age, her fur was beginning to turn gray, but she was possessed of boundless patience and a sense of humor that children responded well to.
“It's wizard! Am I going to live here?”
Obi-Wan pointed to a doorway which led into a dark room. “In there is the dormitory for the Falcons. You sleep there, sharing a large sleeping chamber with everyone else. Even Terrilanar stays with you at night.”
“Oh.” Anakin nodded his understanding, looking across the room. Qui-Gon and Shmi were speaking with the other Knight, a gentle-voiced Camaasi woman named Zulis Faar. “I'll be fine in here, Obi-Wan. You know that. But what about Mom?”
“Do?” Obi-Wan blinked, taking in Shmi's relaxed posture. Anakin's mother had been overjoyed to hear of her son's acceptance into the Order, and was learning all she could about where Anakin would be living and who would be taking care of him. Obi-Wan had already spoken to the two Knights, making sure that Anakin would be allowed to visit his mother while she was still on Coruscant.
Terrilanar, to his relief, had understood. The elder Wookiee did not have the problem many creche masters did, who felt that the children in their charge should have no contact with their families. Terrilanar believed that family strengthened a child's commitment to the Order. After all, she had once said, families were of the people Jedi swore to protect. Obi-Wan suspected Yoda had remembered this, too.
“Well, yeah. I mean, I'll have friends and Terrilanar and everything, but Mom will be alone. She'll be lonely, Obi-Wan.” Anakin tugged on his hand, and Obi-Wan knelt down on the floor so Anakin could whisper in his ear. “You know, they were all happy together on Tatooine. I remember that.”
“Really,” Obi-Wan replied, mulling that over. Truthfully, he had been giving the matter a lot of thought, himself. “You know, I haven't seen my family in a long time. Perhaps I should call them. Who knows? Maybe my father would agree to a trip to Coruscant.”
Anakin grinned. “You think so?”
Obi-Wan grinned back, pulling the boy into a hug. He did miss them, there was no doubt about that. “I'll do my best.”
* * * *
“All right, Obi-Wan Kenobi,” a stern voice demanded. “It's time for you to talk.”
Obi-Wan looked up from his dinner to find Bant and Abella glaring down at him. “Can't you ask nicely?”
Bant sighed, rolling her large, expressive eyes. She put down her tray and sat down next to Obi-Wan. Abella mirrored the gesture, sitting on the other side of him and effectively blocking him in. “We want an explanation,” Bant said, giving him the Calamarian approximation of a smile. “Please.”
“I suppose Bella has already told you that you're sitting next to Knight Kenobi, and I could pull rank and keep everything to myself,” Obi-Wan said, smiling down at his tray.
Abella snorted. “You wouldn't dare.”
“Besides,” Bant added, stirring the contents of her tray with a fork. “I'll pout, and you haven't been able to resist that since we were in the creche together.”
Obi-Wan held up his hands, grinning. “I bow before your superior arsenal, my friends.” He sat back, staring at each one in turn until Bant began to squirm under the scrutiny.
“Sorry,” he murmured, turning his attention back to his tray. “I just—I missed you. Both of you.”
“You really did get hit in the head, Obi.” Abella pointed at him with her fork.
“You've only been out of it for a few weeks. It hasn't been that long since we spent any time together.”
Obi-Wan felt himself pale, and Abella lowered her fork in confusion. “Has it?”
“I suppose not,” Obi-Wan allowed, and filled his two friends in on what had befallen him since Taro Tre. He didn't dare reveal any of his new memories to them, because it would create questions for which he had no answers.
Abella knew something was not being said, and was not happy about it, but she didn't press him. Bant, for the most part, forgot to eat as she listened to him speak.
“What are you going to do, exactly?” the Calamarian girl asked, giving up and pushing her tray aside. “Knight or not, you're still our age. You're not even legal on most worlds, yet! How are you going to work?”
“I suppose I'll be working with a partner out in the field,” Obi-Wan mused, pushing aside his own tray. He had been thoroughly reminded within just a few bites exactly why it was that he had once avoided the commissary. “Or I can always stay here and torture the Initiates.”
“That little boy you brought in would love that, I'm sure,” Abella said, shaking her head. “A count of twenty-three thousand! I can't imagine what that must be like!”
“It has its moments,” Obi-Wan said in a stilted voice, not realizing he was clenching his fists tightly enough to gouge his palms with his nails. “Bella, could I ask you not to mention anything further about that?”
“Why not? It's an incredible thing, Obi. We should be glad of how strong in the Force he's going to be!” Abella said in frank amazement.
“Yes, it is an incredible thing,” Obi-Wan agreed. “But he will be spending the majority of his time among the Initiates, and you can't have already forgotten what that was like.”
Bant shuddered. “After what I watched you go through, there's no way I could forget, Obi-Wan. Bella, he's right. Once that boy gets older, he’ll have enough problems to deal with, without also being harassed over his midi-count.”
“Well, well! Look who's finally deigned to grace us with his presence!”
The timing on that, Obi-Wan decided, could not possibly have been better if he had planned it. Dear gods, he’d actually managed to forget that voice.
Abella glanced up and sighed. “There's no need to be rude, Davrin.”
The boy, already in the midst of mocking Obi-Wan, had little patience for the Apprentice Healer. “I wasn't speaking to you, furball.”
Obi-Wan relaxed his hands and looked up to find Davrin, friend of Aalto, former companion of the deceased Bruck Chun, standing in front of their table. The large boy was resting his hands on his hips, his entire being radiating aggressive tension.
“Hello, Padawan Davrin. I trust you're having a pleasant evening?" Obi-Wan asked.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bant gape at him, and resisted the urge to sigh. No, he had not handled Bruck and his friends very well as a child, he remembered. After Bruck's death, the abuse he had suffered at the other Padawans’ hands had worsened, especially when Davrin was alone. Fortunately, it had been infrequent, if only because Obi-Wan had been away from the Temple so often.
Davrin was studying him with a malicious gleam in his eyes. “I see your braid's gone, Kenobi. It's about time the Order realized how worthless you are. You should never have come back from the Corps, anyway.”
“I see that your powers of observation have not changed since we last spoke,” Obi-Wan replied, and realized that he was fighting the urge to smile. Words that had once wounded him now amused him; it was far too easy now to exchange verbal parries with Davrin. He would have to be cautious, or he was going to wind up starting another blasted war among the Padawan-set.
The boy's eyes narrowed. “You'd best watch it, Oafy-Wan,” he retorted, resorting to the cruel nickname of their Initiate days. “Nobody's seen Master Jinn around all day. I'll bet he's glad to be rid of you.”
Obi-Wan clenched his jaw so tightly that his teeth ground together, and ignored the sudden pain as he calmed himself. The amusement vanished as quickly as it had arrived. How in the worlds had someone as cold as this boy been taken as a Padawan Learner? Bruck might have had moments of friendliness, even if they were never directed at Obi-Wan, but Davrin had never been anything but cruel.
“He's not been cast out of the Temple, Davrin,” Abella responded, her tone frosty. “The Council has knighted him.”
Davrin laughed outright. “Oh, right! That's the story Kenobi gave you, I'm sure.”
“Tell me, Davrin,” Obi-Wan spoke, placing a warning hand on Abella's arm when she would have snarled back. The beginning of an idea was forming in the back of his mind. “Would it make you feel any better to believe that?”
Davrin snorted. “You think you're so high and mighty, Kenobi, that anything that happens to you bothers me?”
Obi-Wan resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and merely inclined his head in a graceful nod. “Then believe what you will, as there is little we can say that will persuade you otherwise.”
When Davrin realized nothing more would be forthcoming, he stalked off, fuming. Abella turned to him, her dark eyes full of worry. “Why did you do that, Obi-Wan? You don't have to take that from him anymore!”
Obi-Wan sighed, feeling the ghosts of old aches touch him for a moment. “And it would not have done any good to tell him off, either, Bella. If you can't change someone's mind, then you simply have to work with his own preconceived notions.”
Bant smiled. “I see it.”
Abella looked at the other girl. “You see what?”
Bant patted Obi-Wan's shoulder with her webbed hand. “I see the Knight before us.”
Obi-Wan smiled at her, draping his arm around her shoulders and pulling her into a quick hug. “Thank you, my friend.” Then he sat back, letting their conversation drift to other things, and waited for the firestorm.
He didn't have to wait long. Davrin did not waste any time telling all and sundry among the Padawan set of Obi-Wan's supposed fate. Before Abella had even finished eating, their table was surrounded by friends and colleagues, all of them wanting to know exactly what was going on.
“Did you really get kicked out?”
“Davrin says they're going to send you off to the Corps. Obi-Wan, I don't want you to go!”
“I heard Master Jinn plans to leave the Order and that's why your braid is gone, because you're getting a new Master. Is that true?”
“Someone said they knighted you! The Council wouldn't do that, would they? You haven't been a Padawan anytime!”
“Wait, wait, wait!” Obi-Wan laughed, holding up his hands. “To answer your questions: No. I am not leaving the Jedi. Master Jinn is not leaving the Jedi. I am not getting a new Master."
Obi-Wan deliberately did not answer the last question, waiting until he had silence again. They were attracting a great deal of curiosity from the Knights and Masters in the commissary, as well, who were trying to listen in without being obvious about it. “In fact, Master Jinn and I are supposed to spar together in a half hour, in the public training salle. You're welcome to watch. Of course, if you don't mind standing witness as a Jedi Master wipes the floor with me.”
Suddenly, they had the table to themselves again as everyone rushed off to either finish their meal or run to get good seats in the salle. Abella let out a long whistle and turned to Obi-Wan. “That was intense. What are you up to?”
Obi-Wan offered them an innocent smile and picked up his tray. “Whatever gave you the idea that I was up to anything?”
“Uh huh,” Bant muttered in disbelief. As he walked away, Obi-Wan couldn’t miss her next words. “Bella, I think we should go find ourselves a seat in the training salle.”
“Good idea,” the Chitanook Padawan said.
* * * *
Qui-Gon made his way over to where Obi-Wan knelt on the practice mat, his lightsaber held in a loose grip as he awaited Qui-Gon’s arrival. “Padawan, what in the worlds are all of these people doing here?”
The training salle was jam-packed, especially considering most Jedi were in the habit of eating dinner at this hour. It wouldn't have bothered him if they were present to spar, but most of the crowd was seated in the stands. Waiting.
The unexpected presence of a gathered horde of Jedi didn't seem to be bothering Obi-Wan. “I spoke to Padawan Davrin during dinner, Master. You remember him, of course?”
Qui-Gon nodded. Mention of Davrin, or his friend, Aalto, usually meant trouble. “Of course. What did he say?”
“Well, he might have gotten the impression that you, I, or both of us are leaving the Order. Padawan Abella tried to dissuade him of the notion, but it doesn't seem to have worked.” Obi-Wan glanced over at the stands, where Davrin and Aalto were sitting.
Qui-Gon turned and caught sight of the rude gesture they offered Obi-Wan, and narrowed his eyes. Both of them looked down at the floor in a show of repentance, but Qui-Gon wasn't fooled. Neither of them was sorry, and would likely do it again the moment his back was turned. Qui-Gon looked forward to the day when the two young Padawans would decide to grow up.
Obi-Wan stood, stretching as he did so. “They've been spreading the rumors throughout the entire Temple, Master. I mentioned to some friends that we were going to spar this evening, so I suppose everyone here wants to see what's true and what isn't.”
“Really.” Qui-Gon shrugged out of his robe, running through his warm-up exercises while Obi-Wan waited beside him. “Very clever, Obi-Wan.”
Obi-Wan smiled. “I learned from the best, Master Jinn.”
“Does your Master know he raised a manipulative sneak, Knight Kenobi?”
Obi-Wan followed him out to the center of the practice area, grinning. “Well, if he didn't before, he certainly does now.”
They faced each other, igniting their lightsabers and crossing blades. Pale blue and emerald green sparked and hissed at the contact, and the crowd that had gathered fell silent. Oh, but he was going to enjoy this.
“You got us into this, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon said, noting that the young man’s playful expression was back in full force. “What shall we do?”
Obi-Wan offered him a casual shrug. “We shouldn't disappoint our audience, Qui-Gon. Open spar?”
Qui-Gon nodded his agreement, and in that moment Obi-Wan was on the move. As suddenly as he disengaged from the start position his blade was back, and Qui-Gon swung his own saber up to block, reversing to slice at Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan danced away, grinning. Qui-Gon felt an answering grin form on his own lips as he followed Obi-Wan, deciding a test of his former Padawan's agility was in order. He darted in, swinging low and then high, forcing Obi-Wan to jump and twist to avoid the lightsaber.
If he had Obi-Wan on the ropes, it was only for a second; Qui-Gon found himself reacting on instinct, blocking a swing that would have singed neck and hair if left unchecked. Sith, he's fast! Qui-Gon thought in stark amazement, allowing himself to be pushed back as Obi-Wan came at him in a flurry of strikes. The duelist he faced today was far more at ease in his own skin than the last time they’d sparred, and it showed.
Qui-Gon realized that there was the distinct possibility that he had just been out-matched.
He pushed back, and they danced around each other, neither of them gaining or losing ground. Qui-Gon leapt away from an oncoming attack, but not quickly enough to avoid being marked. A burn appeared on his tunic sleeve, not deep enough to touch skin, but visible nonetheless. Qui-Gon growled; Obi-Wan snickered and wove his way out of Qui-Gon’s renewed assault.
It took Qui-Gon a moment to catch up, his eyes and the Force letting him know that Obi-Wan had abandoned the Third Form for something else. The young man’s stance had shifted, his blade-work now unfamiliar. Qui-Gon kept trying to engage the other's lightsaber and couldn’t quite manage to do so.
Obi-Wan turned, bringing his blade up in a thrusting arc, and Qui-Gon narrowed his eyes as he defended himself against it. He knew the move, because it was one Master Giett used when they sparred. Dammit, he switched to Sixth Form on me. He was almost certain he could hear Mic cheering.
Qui-Gon pressed in close and swung down, making Obi-Wan drop and roll away. Two can play at that game.
Gritting his teeth, Qui-Gon forced his body to shift out of the form he had used for over half of his life, returning to the stance his Master had taught him as a Padawan. He had only drilled in it since, enough to remember the motions—never around Obi-Wan, if only because the boy's agility had made him a natural for the Fourth.
Allowing himself a smile, he watched Obi-Wan advance. They circled each other like wary animals, bright-eyed and waiting for the moment to pounce.
When Obi-Wan leapt to attack, Qui-Gon was ready, darting out with his lightsaber to deflect Obi-Wan's blade away. He turned his defense into an attack, driving farther inward before Obi-Wan could recover.
Obi-Wan backed away, a burn marring his thigh. He raised startled eyes to Qui-Gon before returning to the rhythm of the fight.
Qui-Gon's advantage was gone after that, because Obi-Wan began to demonstrate that he was well-versed in the Second Form, as well. A few more furious exchanges found them locked together, body to body, where Qui-Gon's greater height and weight was a distinct advantage.
As their eyes met, Obi-Wan seemed to shrug. He grabbed Qui-Gon's wrist with one hand, offering him a feral grin. “Bye, Qui-Gon,” he said, and Qui-Gon hardly had time to blink before Obi-Wan brought the Force to bear and used it to send him flying.
Qui-Gon twisted in midair, sending out a wave of Force energy in response. He heard a startled yelp just before he hit the floor, botching his recovery roll and landing flat on his back. The air left his lungs in a rush, and for a moment he could only lie there, stunned.
Then Mace was standing over him, looking down at him in concern. “Qui-Gon? Are you all right?”
Qui-Gon drew in several deep breaths before he found his voice. “Who won?”
Mace sighed; Micah’s laugh rang out from the stands. Mace helped Qui-Gon to his feet. “Neither of you, but you two managed to impress the hell out of everyone, if that was your intention.”
Qui-Gon realized that he and Obi-Wan were being applauded by the gathered Jedi. “They're congratulating us for hitting the floor?” he asked, still feeling a bit addled from the bad fall. He accepted the towel Mace offered, mopping sweat from his face.
“I don't know whether to be flattered or appalled,” Obi-Wan drawled in agreement as he walked over, Micah now at his side. Then he stilled, stiffening, before giving someone a graceful bow. “Master Dooku.”
Qui-Gon turned to find his old teacher standing behind him, smiling. “Master,” he blurted in surprise, before bowing himself. “I did not realize you were here.”
Dooku chuckled, walking forward to wrap Qui-Gon in a swift embrace. There was quite a bit more silver in his Master’s hair, but Dooku was still a striking, robust figure.
“I've only just arrived, and I'm afraid I'll be leaving again in the morning,” Dooku said in honest regret. “But when I heard you and your Padawan were to spar, I couldn't resist the opportunity. I must admit, I was surprised to see you resort to the Second. I remember quite well how much you disliked it.”
“I still dislike it,” Qui-Gon replied, grinning. He and his Master had their differences, but at that moment, Qui-Gon was genuinely glad to see the older man. The unexpected visit was a bit of normalcy in what had been a hellish, strange, disconcerting month. “I was hoping for a tactical advantage, but it doesn't seem to have worked.”
“Yes, I noticed!” Dooku turned to study Obi-Wan, a curious glint in his eyes. “That was an impressive recovery, young man. You defended quite well against a form that is rarely used. Quite commendable.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Thank you, Master Dooku. Your words are kind.”
“I have to say, I couldn't believe it when I heard the Council had Knighted you, young Kenobi,” Dooku continued, stroking his full beard as he regarded Obi-Wan. “But after that display, I have to agree with them. You possess great talent, my friend.”
Which was exactly what Obi-Wan had planned for, Qui-Gon knew. There were few Jedi standing witness to the bout that would fail to recognize the skill Obi-Wan had revealed.
“Thank you again,” Obi-Wan said, bowing in response to the praise from the senior Master. “I had an excellent teacher, as I’m certain you know.” He straightened, tugging ruefully at his burnt leggings. “If you'll excuse me, Masters.”
“Of course, Obi-Wan,” Micah said, slapping him on the shoulder. “Go get that burn taken care of. We Masters need to rub in the fact that Qui-Gon was tossed across the room by someone half his size.”
“Micah,” Qui-Gon growled, but Micah only grinned in response. “Fine. You spar with him and see how far you fly.”
Obi-Wan smiled and turned away. Qui-Gon watched him go, and for a moment he was unnerved. Obi-Wan had been at ease until Dooku had joined them, the casual teasing disappearing into perfect politeness. He shook his head, trying not to worry about it. Dooku had been a rare presence during Obi-Wan's apprenticeship, and they were practically strangers. That would explain Obi-Wan's sudden formality, being uncomfortable around someone he barely knew.
Qui-Gon paused a moment as a thought struck him. Waving Micah to silence, he pitched his voice to carry across the salle. “Knight Kenobi.”
He hid a grin as the babble of voices hushed in stunned amazement. Mace gave Qui-Gon a sour glare as Obi-Wan looked up, already pinned in by Padawans Bant and Abella. “Yes, Master Jinn?”
“We should do this again tomorrow, I think. Are you interested?”
The half-smile was back, setting off Obi-Wan's dancing blue-green eyes. “That sounds fine, Qui-Gon. Though tomorrow, I'm going to win.”
Qui-Gon's answering laugh was swallowed up by the sound of a roomful of shocked Jedi all beginning to speak at once.
* * * *
Obi-Wan was out on the balcony again. He was dressed only in his undertunic and leggings, and the light color stood out in sharp contrast against the darkened sky. Qui-Gon stepped up beside him, leaning against the rail. The breeze went to work, tugging at his hair and clothing playfully.
“I spoke with the Council this evening,” Qui-Gon said, following Obi-Wan's gaze up into the sky. No stars were visible, not here. He wondered if that was the cause of the sadness he felt from Obi-Wan. “They want to send us back out into the field soon.”
Obi-Wan nodded, dropping his gaze to the flow of traffic visible some distance away, restricted from entering Temple airspace. “Yes. Yoda mentioned that you have already been assigned a new mission.”
Qui-Gon didn't miss his wording. You, not we.
He sighed, resting his hands on the cool metal railing. So much had happened in so little time, and he was still trying to wrap his mind around it all. It saddened him to know that he would not even have the pleasure of Obi-Wan's company beyond the next two days. The press of the cycle of nightmares had ended, and Qui-Gon was due to depart.
Better to make a clean break, he thought, ignoring the pain he felt. It was the right thing to do, something Qui-Gon should have offered Obi-Wan days ago. “You're a Knight now, my Padawan. It does entitle you to quarters of your own.” He forced himself to smile. “I'm sure you're tired of finding the occasional pathetic life-form in your bed upon waking.”
Obi-Wan smiled, still watching the traffic. “It was not so bad as that, my Master.”
“Nevertheless, you should have them. You deserve your privacy, after all. Besides,” Qui-Gon couldn't resist adding. “when you take an apprentice of your own, it would be very difficult to explain why both of you are sharing a Padawan room.”
Obi-Wan nodded, though he still seemed reluctant. “Very well. You're right, of course.”
“Good.” Qui-Gon rested his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder for a brief moment. “I'll leave you to your thoughts, then.” He turned and retreated back into their quarters, and did not see the sad blue-gray eyes that watched him go.
* * * *
The next morning, Qui-Gon found himself in front of a familiar doorway, raising his hand to ring the door chime.
“Come in,” filtered through the speaker before he could do so. Qui-Gon smiled and opened the door, stepping into Tahl's quarters.
Tahl was sitting on her battered, beloved couch, surrounded by her usual collection of datapads. She looked up from the one in her lap, smiling a welcome. Even though her sight had been gone for several years, she had never lost the habit of facing whatever it was that held her attention. “Good morning, Qui-Gon. You feel like you need tea.”
Qui-Gon nodded, taking off his cloak and hanging it up next to the door. “Tea would be nice, yes.” He walked into the kitchen, passing Tahl's deactivated guide-droid and sparing it an amused glance. “Shall I make it for two?”
Tahl stretched her arms up over her head, turning off the datapad that was still broadcasting audio in an older dialect of Alderaan. “Yes, please. Force knows I haven't even been to bed yet.”
He waited for the water to boil, searching the counter for the tea blends. “Tahl, where in Force's sake did you put the tea this time?”
She made an annoyed sound that could have been swearing. “I didn't put it anywhere. That blasted droid did. Check underneath the sink.”
The tea was there, along with a stack of dishes that he knew belonged elsewhere. “New programming mod?”
“Uh-huh. It seems reaching up into the cabinets is dangerous for the blind, and I should crawl around on my hands and knees to find things.” Tahl snorted her opinion of that idea.
Qui-Gon smiled, pouring the steaming water over a strong red blend that they could probably both use. He carried both mugs back out into the main room, handing Tahl hers, handle out. “What's so fascinating that you've forgone sleep to study it?”
“The Alderaan Treatise of 3866,” she replied as she took the mug, waving at the cluster of datapads. “I always wanted to study it, and I don't have anything better to do at the moment. After I finish my dissection, Depa wants me to put together a lecture on it. I look forward to starting a great many arguments.”
“I'll have to attend this lecture, if I'm on Coruscant at the time.” Qui-Gon sipped at his tea, taking obscene comfort in the fact that it was nearly hot enough to scald his tongue.
“That's good to hear, Master Jinn, as the lecture would no doubt be boring otherwise. But I get the feeling you're not here to discuss Alderaanian history.” Tahl sat the datapad aside, turning her full attention to him. It was, as always, like being studied under a microscope. Qui-Gon was familiar with the sensation.
“This is about Obi-Wan, isn't it?” she guessed, when he didn’t speak right away.
Qui-Gon sighed. “I take it you've heard.”
“I've heard all kinds of things,” Tahl replied, her voice mild. “But I'm not sure what's true and what isn't.”
Qui-Gon set his mug down on the table, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair. He had practically fled his own quarters at dawn, unwilling to watch as Obi-Wan made ready to move out. Closing his eyes, he began to speak, telling Tahl about everything that had happened since the Council had sent them to Taro Tre. It took a long time, and when he was finished, his tea was stone cold.
“That's incredible, Qui-Gon, and you know I won't say such a thing lightly,” Tahl said. She leaned forward, using a touch of the Force to re-heat his cold tea before handing it back to him. “Going by what you've told me—Force, Qui-Gon. Do you realize that mentally, he's our age?”
Qui-Gon gaped at her, stunned. Each time he had done the math—forty years over sixteen—and still he hadn’t grasped that fact.
“Hmm.” She smiled, picking up on his shock. “I guess you hadn’t. I doubt anyone really has. Well, perhaps Master Yoda,” she amended. “I think the little troll knows more about what's going on than he's admitting.”
Qui-Gon smiled back. “As usual. Tahl, there's something I haven't told the Council, but I've got to speak to someone about it.” He got up and started to pace.
“Anakin's midichlorian count is twenty-three thousand, I mentioned that to you. But while we were on Tatooine, I kept feeling something, like the Force was trying to guide me in a certain direction.” Qui-Gon ran one hand through his hair to keep it out of his eyes, only then realizing he had forgotten to tie it back. There had been other things on his mind that morning, to be certain.
“According to Lady Skywalker, Anakin doesn't have a father. I don't know if she’s being literal, or if she simply doesn't know anything about him beyond....” Qui-Gon waved his hand, an unconscious gesture that Tahl would probably sense, anyway. “Well. You know. She was a slave all of her life, and may not have had a choice. I wasn’t comfortable prying into the matter further with the lady in question, that’s for certain.”
Tahl's sightless eyes widened. “Yes, I can see why you didn't bring that up with the Council. Qui-Gon, that sounds like the Prophecy of the Chosen One.”
“I know,” Qui-Gon replied, sitting back down to stare at her table. “I asked Obi-Wan, and he confirmed my suspicions. That was apparently the case during their vision, and though the prophecy must have been fulfilled, he's not sure what it applied to.”
Tahl mulled over that for a few minutes. “There's more, isn't there? You wouldn't be this tense otherwise.”
Qui-Gon released a long breath, willing some of his stress to dissipate with it. “Terza took Obi-Wan's midichlorian count while we were in the Ward. His count has jumped from twelve thousand to twenty-two thousand, Tahl. I did tell the Council about that, but they don't know what it could mean. I don't either. He and Anakin are linked so strongly already, but a strong bond couldn't create that kind of midichlorian increase. Or would it?” He ran both hands through his hair this time, pushing it back behind his ears. “I'm afraid I'm at a loss.”
Tahl tapped her fingers on the arm of the couch, contemplating what Qui-Gon had told her. “It sounds like I've got a new research project on my hands.”
Qui-Gon looked up, feeling hopeful. “Then you will look into this? I'd spend the time in the Archives, myself, but the Council is already sending me out again.”
Tahl laughed. “Qui-Gon, even if you didn't ask me to, I don't think I could resist this. If Anakin and Obi-Wan are linked that strongly, the prophecy might have some sort of explanation. There's more than one translation of it, of course, not to mention the challenge of finding the original. It was written after Kun's fall, by one of the Jedi who survived the war..." She trailed off, muttering to herself under her breath. His friend had caught the scent. If there was information to be found, Tahl would have it sorted in no time.
“Tahl?” Qui-Gon captured her attention again, smiling, knowing she would hear the smile in his voice. “Thank you. I do appreciate this, more than you know.”
“Qui-Gon...” Tahl sighed, leaning over to find and hold Qui-Gon's hands with her own. “I know very well what this means to you. Obi-Wan is practically your other half, for all that he's so young. Well,” she corrected herself, grinning. “Sort of. The two of you work brilliantly together.”
His smile vanished. “Yes,” he said. “We did.”
Tahl noticed, of course. “Qui-Gon?”
“I'm sorry, Tahl. I need to go.” Qui-Gon walked to the door and slipped into his cloak, ignoring Tahl's worried glare. “Thank you for speaking with me, my friend. I'll see you later?”
“Of course,” Tahl replied, and he stepped through the open door. Before it closed, he heard her mutter something that sounded suspiciously like “Stubborn idiot.”
When Qui-Gon returned to his rooms later that morning, Obi-Wan was already gone.
* * * *
It didn’t take Master Tahl long to decide that it was time to find out what all of the fuss was about. It was a nice walk from her quarters in the West Tower, and it wasn’t long before she was taking a turbolift into the heights of the East Tower.
“Seven... Eight... Nine...” Tahl stopped, running her hand across the door until she found the raised plate that listed the room's occupant. It was blank, but she could sense someone inside, deep in concentration. Obi-Wan Kenobi was the only recent move listed in the Temple directory, so this had to be the right place. She pressed the door chime and waited.
After a moment the door opened, the slight rush of air stirring her hair back from her face. “Obi-Wan?”
“Tahl!” Obi-Wan's voice responded, his surprise audible at first, but gone when he spoke next. “Welcome. Come in,” he said, taking her hand and leading her into his quarters. She smiled at his thoughtfulness; Tahl had worked for over two years now on sensing the placement of objects with the Force, but she still stumbled on occasion. She practiced flexing those senses now, feeling as he led her around two boxes, a single chair, a table, and then a couch.
“Please, sit down,” Obi-Wan said, his voice refined, polite, and very adult. She noted the changes, prepared by what Qui-Gon had told her that morning. It was all part of a fascinating puzzle, centered on a young man she had come to care for deeply, despite the odd beginning to their relationship.
Tahl settled onto the couch, her senses already working to map out the rest of the room for her. It felt empty, beyond what she had already sensed, and Obi-Wan's voice echoed enough to tell her that the walls must also be bare. “I hope you don't mind me intruding,” she said, her words dropping into the air, coming back to her ears with a bell-like vibration. Empty rooms, empty walls.
Ah, to be a new Knight again, Tahl mused. She didn’t miss those days. “I wanted to come and see how you were getting along.”
“I don't mind at all,” Obi-Wan said. She heard the smile in his voice, and there was no mistaking that he was pleased to see her. “You're a welcome interruption, actually. Would you like some tea? It's the only thing I have to offer at the moment, save water.”
“Tea is fine, Obi-Wan,” Tahl said, smiling her acceptance. If there was anything she appreciated about Qui-Gon, it was the tea he made, and she was a caffeine addict if the Jedi had ever had one. Obi-Wan had been learning the art; it would be interesting to see what had become of the skill. “Do you have a green?”
“You're in luck,” Obi-Wan replied with a wry lilt to his voice. She listened as his footsteps receded into what must be the kitchen.
“What did I interrupt? I'm in an inquisitive mood today, I warn you.”
She heard him give a quiet laugh; he was still some distance away, but her sensitive ears couldn’t miss it. “Well, new Knight I may be, as I'm sure you've heard by now—”
“—but I still have to finish off all of the required coursework. I've been neglecting to unpack in favor of that. The sooner I get it all completed, the sooner I can make myself useful to the Order again.”
“All of it? Obi-Wan, that's horrible!” she blurted, appalled in spite of herself. At sixteen years of age, he was subject to two more years of coursework to complete the Galactic standard of education, as well as the specialized fields of study Padawans were given in the Temple.
“It's not bad, really,” Obi-Wan countered, his voice floating closer as he returned to the common room. He held out one mug of tea; Tahl felt the heat of it come near and reached out to take it, letting her hands seek the warmth emanating from stoneware.
Her hands wrapped around the mug on the first try. Tahl took a deep breath, savoring the pleasant scent of the gentle green tea Obi-Wan blended.
“I—well, I don't sleep that much,” Obi-Wan said, as if to explain. The chair to her left creaked as he sat down in it. “I took advantage of that to refresh myself on academic expectations. I requested and was then allowed to skip the busywork and jump straight into the necessary exams. I’m just about finished.”
“When did you start?” Tahl asked, sipping her tea and sighing. The blended green was exceptional.
“Er.” She sensed mild embarrassment. “Last night.”
Tahl was glad she was busy savoring the tea, or she would have choked mid-swallow. That more than confirmed what Qui-Gon had said about Obi-Wan's advanced knowledge!
“That's...very efficient of you,” she managed to say. The words felt trite, but that was why Qui-Gon was the diplomat, and Tahl hid in the library.
He laughed, unoffended. “Don't be afraid of hurting my feelings, Tahl. I know I'm—Hmm. I guess 'unusual' would be the word. You're taking this much better than the Temple instructors, never fear. I've received excellent marks on all of the exams, and half of them were convinced I must have cheated.”
“What are you going to do about that?” Accusations of cheating were serious, and could hinder or stall his progress towards active Knighthood.
“I told them that if they felt that strongly about it, they should take it before the Council. That will stop a lot of problems before they start.” Obi-Wan shifted in his chair. Seeking a more comfortable position, not nerves, Tahl decided.
“Fortunately, they seemed to realize I was sincere. Instead, I've been assigned some extra little assignments.”
“I'm going to be even more curious.” Tahl smiled, sipping her tea and remembering what her Master used to say: Curious is another word for nosy, my Padawan. “What subjects do you have extra work in?”
“Temporal Physics, Poetry, Advanced Hacking—”
Tahl snorted; she’d cultivated that little hobby in Obi-Wan a year ago. Qui-Gon had never really forgiven her for that. “Advanced Binary Coding, Obi-Wan,” she said in her proper Master voice.
She felt his amusement, hearing the soft clink of ceramic against wood as he set his mug down on the table. “Hacking. Coding. In that course, there is little difference.”
Tahl wondered what his skills were like, now. He’d shown talent a few scant weeks ago that she suspected might one day rival her own, and her fingers itched to challenge him. “You'll never hear me admit that publicly. What else?”
“I still have another language requirement to settle, so I'm preparing an essay in Shyriiwook. I'll meet with the instructor later for verbal confirmation.”
It seemed there were surprises still left to uncover. “You speak Shyriiwook?”
[Fluently, my friend.] Tahl jumped as the sounds of Wookiee speech, the familiar rumbling purrs and howls, emerged from the human throat she knew was nearby.
“Well!” Tahl said, recovering her aplomb. “You shouldn't have any problem passing. You're bound to floor Master Reynaar.” The Wookiee Master took great pleasure in torturing his students as they struggled to learn the complex tongue, no easy feat even for Jedi.
“It’s not Master Reynaar I’m concerned with,” Obi-Wan admitted. “I'm thinking of describing my current situation for the paper on Temporal Physics. Once I get Master Kovin and Master Haffar arguing theories back and forth, they'll forget all about me.”
Tahl laughed. Haffar and Kovin had a notorious reputation for shouting matches about physics. “Just try to get a grade out of them first, Obi-Wan.”
“I'll keep that in mind,” he replied, the chair creaking again as he stood up. There was the sound of stirring paper as he lifted something from the table, and a further rush of air as his arm stretched out. “More tea?”
Only then did Tahl realize her mug was empty. “Yes, please,” she said, eager for more.
The mug was taken from her hand, and Obi-Wan’s footsteps carried him into the kitchen once more. Tahl leaned forward, skimming the tabletop with the tips of her fingers. There weren’t a lot of Jedi who resorted to paper, for any sort of reason, and she was a nosy Noori Jawa.
There were several datapads, which she ignored. The paper was under her fingertips now, plain and serviceable. Smooth enough for crisp writing, but rough and noisy and not sturdy enough to hold a decent ink. Pulling the paper closer, Tahl tried not to feel guilty for looking—she had warned him, after all.
Running her fingers along the smooth sheet, she found the beginnings of words. Her fingertips were smarter than her eyes had once been. She knew the stylus was cheap, filled with a light ink. The indentation of the words had been pressed into the paper by the strength of Obi-Wan’s hand, the shape of them easy to translate.
“Is this your poetry submission?” Tahl asked, giving him fair warning.
“Yes,” he replied. Distant, as he was still in the kitchen. “It's not very good, but I remember being a lot worse at writing. You're welcome to read it, though I doubt I could stop you.”
She grinned and turned her attention back to the page. As her mind translated what her fingers were tracing, her smile began to fade.
That I thought was
Awakens to me
Not pale or transient
But whole, clinging to me with
All parts forgotten—
A lie between us holds
Everything within it
Years stolen in one last breath
But forgiveness now entwines
Two become mythical as one—
Or so I continue to dream.
She lifted her head from the page, knowing that her shock was easily read on her face. “Obi-Wan?”
She heard him set both mugs, heavy with liquid, down on the table. “That bad, is it?”
“I... no,” Tahl whispered. Poetry was not her strong suit (her tenure in Master Kita-Tai’s class had been a miserable failure) and it wasn’t the words, themselves. It would be easy for such a passage to be trite. It was the feeling behind each line that tore at her.
“This is beautiful. I mean, it's dark and sad, but maybe that is the grace of it.” Tahl put the first paper aside, stilling the slight tremble of her hands. There had been a strong emotional imprint on the page, one that had entwined itself with the words, and she was having trouble dislodging it. “You lost someone,” she said as the realization struck. “Someone that meant a great deal to you.”
“Yes.” Obi-Wan was sitting again, the barest trace of sadness tingeing his aura of calm. She felt a moment of hesitation from him, and then he said, “There's another one, as Master Kita-Tai required two for the final grade.”
Tahl was almost afraid to read it, considering the personal nature of the first one, but her inborn curiosity would not allow her to pass up the chance to read more into Obi-Wan’s morphed personality. Brushing her fingers across the page, she began to read.
Who are we to stand
On the shoulders of those around us
We are risen only to fall, prey
To the very thing that drives us to be
Who we are
It was innocuous enough, but the hair on the back of her neck stood up anyway as she finished. That's a warning if I ever heard one, she thought, suppressing a shudder.
“Well," Tahl forced a light tone, “if you don't pass, I will personally have words with Master Kita-Tai. And I want copies.”
She didn't miss his surprise. “I don't need them," Obi-Wan said after a moment. “After I get them back, the originals are yours.”
“Thank you.” Tahl took up her refilled tea mug, still trying to work through her own unease. She hoped Kita-Tai wouldn't spend too much time brooding over the poems. The second one was pulling at her, and when it was back in her hands, she was taking it straight to Yoda.
* * * *
“What in the worlds...?” Obi-Wan's voice trailed off, and he stared in consternation at the group gathered outside of his door.
Bant grinned out from under the large arm that was currently slung across her shoulders. “Well, sir Knight? Are you going to let us in or what?”
“I—yes. Hell, yes!" Obi-Wan stepped back so that the group Bant had assembled could enter. “I thought Bella said that you two were off-planet for the next week, at least.”
Garen had a huge grin on his face as he stepped forward, pulling Bant along with him. The boy had gone through an incredible growth spurt in the last year. Now that they were in the same room, Bant could see that Garen was almost twice Obi-Wan's size.
“That's how it was supposed to go, but the situation changed,” Garen explained, staring around at the empty apartment. “Reeft, myself, and his Master got sent home early. Bella pounced us as soon as we stepped onto the landing platform, just about shedding her fur off to tell us the news.”
Reeft peered out from behind Garen, wearing his usual shy expression. “Hi, Obi. Or do we have to call you Knight Kenobi now?”
Obi-Wan snorted in response. “Only if you want me to call you Padawan Reeft,” he threatened.
“Oh, Force, no!” Garen let go of Bant and picked Obi-Wan up in a hug that had to have been squeezing bones together. “Congratulations, my friend.”
Obi-Wan was a bit rumpled when Garen released him, but he was still smiling. “You seem to be taking it better than Abella.”
“Yeah, well,” Garen shrugged. “I've known since we were in the creche that you were Knight material. If the Council's gonna wake up and recognize that, I'm all for it.”
“Besides,” Bant said, trying to steer things in the proper direction. “You're the first of our crechemates to be knighted. That calls for a celebration.”
“Celebration?” The way Obi-Wan said the word, you would think Bant had threatened to set his hair on fire.
“Uh huh.” Garen nodded in affirmation. “By the way, nice place. Who's your decorator, Kenobi?”
“I don't exactly have a wide range of belongings,” Obi-Wan retorted, waving to the half-unpacked boxes.
“Good thing we prepped for a hole-warming, too,” Reeft said, plopping down on the couch. “Because this place could sure use it.”
“I hope that doesn't involve setting the place on fire,” Obi-Wan said, confirming Bant’s suspicions.
“There's no need for extreme measures.” Garen paused, taking in the bare white walls. “Not yet, anyway.”
“Bella's bringing the food—”
“And the liquor.”
Reeft glared at Garen when he was interrupted.
Garen turned to Obi-Wan with a mournful expression. “Only Bella is legal, so we plied her with our best Padawan Pouts—”
“Ugh,” said Bant, throwing herself down on the couch and giving Garen a disgusted look. “Padawan Pouts? That's horrible.”
Garen continued, oblivious. “—and she's also bringing your Hole-Warming, Knighting, We're-So-Glad-You're-Not-Dead gift.”
“It's a special occasion and all,” Reeft said.
“And we know you like rocks,” Bant added.
“So we got you a boulder.”
Garen flashed Bant a smug grin as Obi-Wan collapsed into the other chair, laughing. “You're going to make Bella carry it all by herself?” Obi-Wan asked.
“Well, come on. We're all Jedi here,” Garen drawled. “You know, that whole 'size matters not' thing?”
“You're in rare form tonight,” Reeft observed.
Bant crossed her arms and gave Garen a stern glare. “I'm telling Master Micah and Master Binn that you're not allowed to have any more caff.”
Garen's horrified wail of denial blended in with their laughter.
The gathering remained small and informal, a rare opportunity for five long-time friends to catch up on each other's lives. Bant found herself watching Obi-Wan as the night wore on, concerned and trying not to show it. He was quiet, more so than he had ever been, and sometimes she caught him staring out the window, looking at nothing and everything. The lost look in his eyes disturbed her for reasons that she couldn't name.
The Trials must have affected him deeply, Bant thought, though he would not speak of what had happened.
If the others noticed that Obi-Wan's attention wandered during the evening, they said nothing, and did their best to steer him back into the conversation. It was a worthy effort, if only because they soon learned that their friend's mischievous sense of humor had become more pronounced since they were last together.
When he opened the present they'd bought for him, Obi-Wan laughed until tears rolled down his face.
“We told you we got you a rock,” Reeft said with a grin.
Obi-Wan shook his head, lifting the large wall tapestry from its protective box. “That you did. This is incredible.” He held it up, taking in the intricately detailed mountain that dominated the cloth. “I love it.”
“You should hang it out here. That way you've still got plenty of room in the bedroom to hang up porn—” Garen's suggestion was cut off by Abella clamping her hand over his mouth.
“Why don't we just hang it on you?” she suggested sweetly.
All too soon the evening was over, and the Padawans began to disperse. “I'm shipping out again tomorrow,” Reeft said, giving Obi-Wan a quick hug. “Master Binn and I are going to the Corellian system to join up with Knight Pell and Skarft. The Trade Federation is being dishonest, and the Council wants us to seek proof of their actions.”
Obi-Wan didn't seem surprised. “Be careful out there. The Federation is used to thinking that money can buy them out of any wrongdoing.”
“Whoa, you did get knighted!” Garen teased. “Free advice and everything!” He gave Obi-Wan another bone-crunching hug. “You all get the pleasure of my company for the next few days. I'm taking advantage of the break and going for my frigate classification. Master Micah is going to love being co-pilot for that one.”
Abella shooed the two boys out, then turned to wait for Bant, who hesitated. “Go ahead,” Bant suggested, watching as Obi-Wan began to clean up the room.
The Chitanook girl noted the direction of Bant's gaze, and gave her friend an encouraging smile. “Good luck,” she whispered, and let the door close behind her.
Following his example, Bant helped Obi-Wan clean up the detritus of their impromptu party, depositing of the trash in the kitchen's recycler. The hanging was draped over the back of the couch, a temporary home until it could be placed on the wall.
They worked in silence until Bant realized he was not going to speak on his own, and verbally cornered him. “Obi-Wan, what's wrong?”
He glanced up, and though he tried to hide it, she could still read the surprise in his eyes. “I—nothing's wrong. Not really.”
Not really? Bant wasn't about to let such a nebulous response go that easily. “You've been distracted all night, I know you have. You haven't changed all that much that I can't recognize my own crechemate's brooding.”
He smiled, ducking his head in recognition of her words, but the smile faded almost as fast as it had appeared. He sighed and walked over to the glass door that led to the balcony, leaning against it. “I wasn't brooding.”
That was a change; normally Bant would have to poke and prod for at least a half-hour to get answers out of Obi-Wan. “Then what were you doing?”
The silence that met her question stretched out, filling the room as the minutes passed and he didn't answer. When she considered repeating the question, he spoke. “Grieving.”
That was not any kind of response she could have expected. “Obi?”
“I called my family today,” he said, wrapping his arms around himself. “I spoke to my little brother. Do you remember when I told you about him?”
“Yes,” Bant said, nodding and stepping closer. “He sounded as if he was a lot like you, without the troublesome aspects.”
He laughed, but there was more distress in the sound than humor. “He's a year younger than Anakin. I remember the last time I went home, a… a few years ago. Owen was just starting to walk, but he still needed help. So, I took him outside, and we walked through my father's fields in the greenhouse all afternoon. I was using the Force to push the grass aside to make it easier for him, and he didn't understand why he couldn't do the same thing. But he kept trying, Bant. Stubbornness runs in the family.”
“That's a beautiful memory, Obi-Wan,” she said, keeping her voice soft. The emotional temperature of the room had nosedived, and Bant didn’t want to startle her friend.
Obi-Wan nodded, though Bant didn’t think he’d really heard her. “I was there for my mother's funeral. Did you know that?”
“No.” Bant shook her head. “No, I didn't know that.” It was, she was almost certain, the first time he had mentioned it.
“I didn't really know her. The rest of the family, and the neighbors, they were polite about it, but I could still hear them. I appeared to be quite the cold, heartless child, not even crying at my mother's funeral.”
“That's not true, Obi-Wan,” Bant argued, her concern mounting as she sought to comfort him. “You're one of the most caring people I know!”
He raised stricken eyes to her. “Am I?” He turned away, staring out the window. “He died. I felt it when it happened. It hurt, even though he didn't really like me towards the end.”
Died? Bant was bewildered. She could make little sense of what he was telling her, but the emotions he was projecting told her everything she needed to know. Her friend was upset, hurting, and she had to do something about it.
“I couldn't even cry,” Obi-Wan whispered, so distraught it made Bant’s own heart burn in sympathy. “I wanted to, but I couldn't, just because of the situation I had placed myself in. What kind of person would willingly do that to themselves, Bant?”
Watching Obi-Wan tremble, struggling to hold onto his control, was too much for the Calamarian girl. She walked forward and wrapped her dearest friend in a hug, shushing him as she would a child in the creche. “It's all right, Obi-Wan. It's all right. Whatever happened, it's all right now.” She heard him draw in a ragged breath. “Let it go.”
As if the words were a trigger, Obi-Wan collapsed against her, sobbing onto her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he gasped, and Bant knew that the words were not for her. “I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry...”
Bant held him, all she could think to do, holding on as his slender body shook with the force of his grief. In a distant part of her mind, Bant decided that she was no longer in a hurry to face her Trials—not if this was the result.
The storm was fierce, but after a time it began to ebb, and Obi-Wan regained control of himself. By then, they were both sitting on the floor, and he was cradled in her arms. “Thanks,” he rasped, his voice cracking on the word.
“You're welcome. I think you needed that.”
Obi-Wan sighed, giving her a tremulous smile that made his eyes luminous, bloodshot or not. “I suppose I did. It was—everything just sort of hit me all at once.”
“You've had a busy week,” Bant agreed, brushing her hand through Obi-Wan's spiked hair. “You know, you should let this grow out. I bet you'd look great with long hair.”
Obi-Wan raised one eyebrow, the expression so familiar, so classically his, that she couldn't help but grin. “Not that I didn't plan on doing that anyway, but is there any particular reason?”
“I've heard that humans have a thing for red-heads,” she teased, laughing when he blushed.
“Thank you, Bant,” Obi-Wan said again when she quieted, his expression serious. “You have no idea how much it means to me to have you here.”
She smiled, hugging him close, the words warming her heart.
* * * *
“A partner?” Qui-Gon paused, his tea mug halfway to his mouth. “No. Absolutely not.” He was due to depart that evening, though had done little to prepare besides read the mission briefing.
He heard Mace stifle a sigh, putting his own mug down on the table. “Qui-Gon, wait a—”
“I don't want a blasted partner, Mace,” Qui-Gon growled, getting up from the table. “I would very much prefer to work alone.” Again, he added to himself.
Force, it had only been two days! Who would have thought he would miss Obi-Wan this much? Qui-Gon hadn’t had anywhere near this level of difficulty when his first Padawan had been knighted. Of course, his first Padawan had buried himself in research and half the time was unreachable, regardless of if he was missed or not.
“Would you hear me out, at least?” When Qui-Gon said nothing, Mace took his silence for acceptance and continued. “You know we won't force you to remain with anyone you're incompatible with, Qui-Gon. All the Council asks is that you work with a partner for this mission. If you can’t stand him, you can both go your separate ways when it’s over.”
Qui-Gon sat back down at the table, tempted to bury his face in his hands. “And if I refuse?”
Mace grinned like a predator that had cornered his prey. “Well, you're both going to Cardova II anyway. You might as well be prepared to work together.”
“All right, Mace. You win—for now.”
It's only once. As soon as the mission is over, I can go back to... To what? he wondered. Brooding? Qui-Gon shook his head, amusement warring with irritation.
“Well, that's settled, then.” Mace stood, placing his empty mug in the sink and retrieving his cloak. “Your new partner will be waiting for you out on Platform Three, along with your transport, which will arrive at fourteen-hundred hours.”
Fourteen-hundred hours? Sith! Qui-Gon cursed, standing and dumping out the rest of his tea in the sink. “Thank you, Mace, for kindly not telling me that the departure time had been moved up.” He now had just under an hour to get ready.
Mace just laughed, to Qui-Gon's annoyance. “I'll show myself out. May the Force be with you, Qui-Gon.”
It was only after Mace left that Qui-Gon realized he had forgotten to ask his new partner's name.
He made it outside in record time, finding the platform as fourteenth hour struck. Platform Three was empty except for a lone figure, cloaked and hooded against a wind that had turned chill in the past day. Qui-Gon breathed a sigh of relief as he realized the transport had yet to arrive. Hurrying through the Temple without trying to look like one was in a hurry was taxing, to say the least.
Qui-Gon walked forward, eying the cloaked figure with no little curiosity. Shorter than he was, the figure was dressed in a dark brown robe, hood up, emanating a sense of peaceful calm and patience—but his identity he had masked, as if trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. Qui-Gon could not even begin to guess at the Knight's name.
Then the robed figure turned, dropped back his hood, and grinned at Qui-Gon. “You're late.”
Qui-Gon stopped short, aware that he was staring at his former Padawan. “Obi-Wan?”
Obi-Wan's grin broadened. “Come now, Master Jinn. Did you really think, after all the trouble Yoda went through to get us together in the first place, that you would be rid of me that easily?”
The familiar teasing broke Qui-Gon's paralysis. He laughed, striding forward to clap his hand down on Obi-Wan's shoulder. “I suppose not,” he admitted, and bless Yoda, anyway. “I didn't know you would be here.”
Obi-Wan shrugged. “Neither did I, not until this morning. The Council decided to see if we could still work well together.” He smiled. “What do you think?”
“I think I owe the Council a debt.” Qui-Gon grinned. “I was not looking forward to working without you, my Knight.”
“Good.” Obi-Wan nodded, eyes dancing. “Because neither was I, my Master.”
They waited together companionably for the transport, which was, by now, very late. Qui-Gon wouldn't put it past Mace to have sent them both out here like this on purpose.
As they talked, passing the time, Qui-Gon could not help but sense the quiet air of satisfaction Obi-Wan was emanating. “You're up to something, my former Padawan,” Qui-Gon observed.
Obi-Wan nodded. “My family is coming to visit after we return from Cardova.”
“Your family?” Qui-Gon wracked his brain for names. “Your father and brother. Cliegg and Owen, was it?”
“Mmm-hmm.” The satisfied air was back, accompanied by a hint of smugness. “Anakin and Shmi have agreed that we should all spend some time together when they arrive.”
Qui-Gon chuckled as the source of the young man's feelings became clear. “Obi-Wan Kenobi, are you playing matchmaker?”
Obi-Wan gave him a look in return that was all innocence, the surest sign that he was anything but. “Whatever happens is the will of the Force, Qui-Gon.”
Qui-Gon's answering laugh was swallowed up by the sounds of the approaching transport, arriving at last.