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Every Saga Has Its Beginning

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Every Saga Has Its Beginning
by Anne Higgins

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away ... something a little different happened. ...

Prolog
Endor
An Ending

Obi-Wan Kenobi exchanged smiles with his former apprentice. He'd never called him Padawan, doubted that Luke Skywalker even knew the word, but it fluttered across his own mind. The word and all the pain that came with it.

Somehow he managed to hold the smile until Luke turned back to the celebration, went to join his friends to begin planning a galaxy freed with the death of the Emperor. Freed, as Obi-Wan was now free. His life's mission was at an end. Palpatine was dead. Betrayed and killed by the apprentice who had been Obi-Wan's first Padawan.

Yes, he'd used the word for Anakin Skywalker. The word he'd never told Anakin's son. Much of the pain it caused him flowed from his failure to keep Anakin from the Dark Side. Much, but not all. Not even most.

He wasn't flesh anymore, so he did not sigh as he felt Yoda fade away. After more than 900 years the Jedi Master had finally claimed the reward of what he called Forever Sleep. Enjoy it, first of my two Masters. Oh, how well you have earned oblivion's embrace. The bitterness of the thought surprised him. He was supposed to be in better control of his emotions than that. Control, always control.

Yet he had begun to doubt that wisdom. Darth Vader had been conquered, the Emperor destroyed by a boy who had only tenuous claims to a Jedi-level of control. He could feel the waves of emotion crashing through Luke -- the slowly fading tendrils of fear and euphoria caused by the battle aboard Palpatine's Death Star, the grief eased by the final spirit appearance of his former teachers and the father whose soul he had saved, the love he felt for his friends, the passion for one former smuggler in particular -- yes, Luke was nothing if not emotional.

It seemed to Obi-Wan that Luke had channeled and used those emotions to guide him through his battle with his father and the Emperor. Used, not controlled or denied. He had some experience with that himself. Though he had taught his students as he had been taught, as he had been expected to teach them, Obi-Wan had always known that he would have died young if not for the grief and rage that had all but consumed him as he'd faced his first Dark Lord of the Sith.

He struggled for a moment to block the memories of his battle with Darth Maul, but found himself unable to do so. It had been the beginning of the end, yet at the time it had felt like triumph at a terrible cost.

He could sense Anakin at his side. If he looked, he knew the father Luke had wanted to see would shimmer and change into the nine-year-old boy he'd once been -- the image Obi-Wan associated most with Anakin. The boy who had been a hero of the battle for Naboo. A boy years away from his seduction to the Dark Side. The boy he had failed.

He'd done his best to teach Anakin the ways of a Jedi, but the boy had been so full of churning emotions. Like his son. His son who had learned to use them and had saved Anakin. ‘Is that how I failed you, Padawan?' he wondered. Would all that had happened have come to pass if he had taught Anakin to embrace his feelings and use them instead of focusing on control, control and more control?

Again he felt that desire to sigh despite the fact that he no longer had lungs to draw in the breath to do so. He gathered the reigns of his doubts and turned his attentions to Anakin.

A boy looked up at him with blue eyes that beseeched him to answer the questions racing through the mind behind them.

Yoda's Forever Sleep. Rebirth to a new life. Watching over Luke for a time -- with a thought, he relayed these choices and more to his Padawan.

Anakin frowned, shimmered and became a young man. /I will go to Padme,/ his mind whispered, an ache of longing in the thought. Once more the blue eyes regarded Obi-Wan. /Not once in all these years did I stop loving her, missing her. Where ever she is, that is where I wish to be./

Obi-Wan nodded. /Think of her until nothing of the universe exists but her, then ... let yourself go./

Anakin nodded. /Goodbye, my Master./ The eyes closed, and in a mere three beats of a living heart, he vanished.

Now Obi-Won stood alone, his essence caught between the universe he had known and What Came Next. All he had to do was choose. Only he could not. The burdens of too many failures weighed him down, told him he was undeserving of the oblivion that whispered so seductively in his thoughts.

Too unworthy for sleep. For a new life. For ... the something else Anakin had gone to. An agonizing need to atone gripped Obi-Wan, and he knew he would never know peace. He almost laughed at the irony of it all -- on the night of the triumph he had longed for, he felt only the pain of his failures.

It had all been so unnecessary. If only. ... If only. ... By the Force, his mind wailed in despair, he was so sick of ‘if only.'

He bowed his head in defeat, yet there was no one to punish him. No one to pass judgment. No one to tell him what to do next. But once there had been. After Yoda. Before it had all gone wrong. Oh, yes, once there had been.

The pain of the first of many wretched failures washed through him, and Obi-Wan embraced it, filled his soul with the agony of loss, the regret, the guilt. And when it was so full he could hold no more, he focused on that one moment, the one he'd lived over and over again each time he allowed himself to feel anything at all. He focused on it with every ounce of his will, every pulse of the Force that burned within him, then he let himself go, and cast his essence upon the tides of time.

Naboo
A New Beginning

Obi-Wan blinked and saw a haze of red. What? He had a split-second of awareness as the future merged with the present, then he moaned. The wrong moment, his mind screamed, then the thought was gone, and he seethed with frustration as he watched his Master settle himself on the floor to meditate four force fields away from him.

He knew he would never make it through them all before the fields cycled from active to inactive, then back to active. Yet only one wall of shimmering red separated his Master from the Dark Lord of the Sith. Qui-Gon Jinn would be locked in battle with Darth Maul while Obi-Wan remained cut off from him. And he knew in one agonizing flash of insight that it would be too late by the time he reached Qui-Gon's side.

Grief and rage swept through him, and he could smell the smoke of a funeral pyre, feel the heat of the flames as he watched in the grips of a cold so great he longed to throw himself into the fire.

Then that odd shift of time and awareness touched him again, and he could see himself a day from now embracing the soul-destroying guilt as he found the emergency switch that deactivated the multiple force fields. If only he had know it was there before. ...

But now, he did know. Before.

Trusting this strange insight -- if nothing else it was something to do besides wait in an impotent rage -- he spun on his heel, then ran to a small, hidden set of controls to the right of the lock. He ripped the protective cover off the over-ride switch, but did not press the button. ‘Wait,' he told himself, resisting the inner voice that screamed at him to go to Qui-Gon immediately. He must wait until the fields cycled off or his Master would be caught unawares.

His chest heaving with each heavy breath anxiety forced into his lungs, he watched the red energy vanish, then heard the sound of lightsabers crashing together. Hand shaking with fear for Qui-Gon, he slammed his fist down onto the over-ride, then ran towards the battle.

The corridor seemed miles long, his legs felt leaden, but somehow, he covered the distance, stepped over the threshold of the final field -- the field that should have blocked his path until it was too late -- then he was at Qui-Gon's side.

He swung his lightsaber up, the shimmering blade catching and deflecting a thrust of Darth Maul's weapon that would have penetrated Qui-Gon's defenses and ended the Jedi Master's life.

Oh, Obi-Wan could see that so clearly. Could feel the grief and rage coursing through him as if it had actually happened. He screamed in protest, then shoved Qui-Gon aside, using both his muscles and the Force to hurtle the other man across the room.

Vague images of falling into the pit behind him tickled his mind, but he did not allow the Dark Lord to drive him backwards. Drawing on the emotions screaming within him, he attacked, while an uncanny awareness of each of his opponent's coming moves guided him.

Strike to the left, up, to the right, down. Leap forward and over to avoid the counter-attack. Land, spin and his energy blade cut through flesh.

A shriek of pain erupted from Darth Maul, he staggered backwards, then fell into the pit he'd tried to make Obi-Wan's grave.

Memory echoed the scream as he tumbled to oblivion. A silence followed -- brief and wretched with the roar of Obi-Wan's blood racing through his pounding heart as he fought to calm himself. Something in him wanted to fall to his knees, gather a dying body to his breast and weep, but reality no longer matched his visions.

He swallowed, deactivated his lightsaber and turned to see Qui-Gon struggling to sit up.

Stunned only, stunned -- Force, he'd not meant to throw him so hard -- and gloriously alive. A sob caught in his throat, then he ran to the other man's side.

Dropping to his knees beside his Master, Obi-Wan pulled him up and into his arms, then buried his face in the hollow of Qui-Gon's neck. Tears began to spill -- tears of joy and dizzying relief instead of grief -- tears which turned to sobs that shuddered through his entire body when the Jedi Master's arms encircled him.

"Hush, Padawan," Qui-Gon's deep voice murmured into his ear, while he got both himself and his apprentice to their feet. "It is all right."

No, it wasn't. But it might be. Clinging to that thought allowed Obi-Wan to release his iron grip on his Master's tunic.

Qui-Gon took a moment to brush the tears from the younger man's face, then he turned. "Come, Obi-Wan, we are still needed."

Determined that his Master would survive this day, Obi-Wan pushed back the specters wailing in his mind and hurried after him.

*

The small freighter lifted out of its berth, then rose up into the skies over Tatooine. Obi-Wan concentrated on the controls, not at all interested in the view that had his passengers chattering with excitement. While traveling from planet to planet had long ago become routine to him, all but one of them had never been off-world, never known anything beyond Mos Espa and a life of slavery.

He took a measure of comfort in knowing that he was taking them to a life of freedom on Naboo. But only a small measure. As had been everything since the Jedi Council had assigned Qui-Gon to negotiate with the Trade Federation over the Naboo blockade, this too was tainted. Tainted by the many slaves of Tatooine he had been unable to free. Tainted by what coming here had cost him.

His conscience had screamed at him to pick up his lightsaber and free everyone. Instead he had left his weapon on the ship and purchased the slaves. With Queen Amidala's funds. Not that he'd told this to the owners he'd been negotiating with. Bad enough that he had committed the unpardonable sin of saying yes when asked if there was some way Naboo could repay the Jedi, he hadn't been about to compound things by doing or saying anything that could drive up the drain on the Queen's treasury.

A handsome woman with long dark hair and kind eyes sat down in the co-pilot's seat. Shmi Skywalker. Her freedom was the price he'd set on his service to the Queen. Though startled by the fact that he had set any price, Amidala had quickly agreed. Had even contacted him during his flight to Tatooine and given him the names of two of Anakin's friends. She requested that he purchase them and their families as well.

The boy would not be alone this time. Would not be surrounded by those who did not believe in him or openly distrusted him. He would have his mother, his friends ... and Qui-Gon.

The pain tore at Obi-Wan again at the emptiness inside his mind where Qui-Gon should be. All he had to do to end it was lower his mental shields, but shame had caused him to raise those barriers. Now, he did not think he could endure allowing his Master back into his mind, only to lose him when Anakin took Obi-Wan's place as the Jedi's Padawan.

His hands moved over the panel, then the ship gave a slight shudder as it leapt into hyperspace.

"How long until we reach Naboo?" Shmi asked.

"Six hours." He set the autopilot, then stood. "I should change." He wore a blue tunic and robe to give credence to his tale of being an employee of a minor aristocrat seeking to re-staff his home after the servants had been killed or run off during the invasion of Naboo. Fortunately, for the royal treasury, the slave owners had all bet unwisely during a recent pod race and were fairly desperate for funds. There had been no inflated prices, no need to bargain for hours, allowing him to accomplish his task in less than two days' time.

She touched his arm. "Perhaps you could sleep a little as well? I could stay here and call you if anything looked wrong."

He smiled slightly. Qui-Gon had spoken well of her and of his regret at having to leave her behind. Obi-Wan had known her for only a short time, but he could understand Qui-Gon's fondness for her. "I am not tired."

An obvious lie. He'd seen his reflection -- pale face with dark circles that screamed of exhaustion under his eyes -- so he had the grace to blush when she gave him a disbelieving look.

"I will try," he sought to make amends, but knew it was hopeless. Every time he closed his eyes. ...

She gave him a pleased smile. "And you should eat something as well."

The thought made his stomach churn, but he nodded, then went to the small room that served as his quarters. He shrugged off the colorful clothing, but hesitated to replace them with his Jedi garb. It felt wrong to put them on, but the cabin was cool and he needed to wear something.

The chill reached all the way to his bones before he relented and dressed. Once again he looked every inch the Jedi Padawan, but he felt unworthy of it.

Wrapping his heavy brown clock tightly around him, he sat down on the narrow shelf that served as a bed. He'd never heard of a Jedi who had dared ask for payment, no matter what form it took. But Anakin needed his mother. He was nine, not a babe in arms who could bond with a creche master and be raised as a child of the Jedi. No, he was a boy who knew and loved his mother, who was lost without her.

That had been one of the mistakes they had made the first time. He picked up his compad, but did not activate it. He'd spent hours frantically inputting every scrap of information he could remember. His future self had sacrificed eternity to warn him, but already he'd forgotten most of it. By saving Qui-Gon, he'd changed things. For the better or not, only time would tell, but it had made his ‘memories' false and already they had faded away like the details of a surreal dream faced with the morning sun.

But he'd written almost all of it down. Then he'd purged the file unread. What good did it do for him to expect what might not happen? No, he couldn't anticipate the future. That would lead to its own errors. Of that he was certain. A Padawan's certainty. No trace of the Knight, then Master he'd become remained in his mind. It had been absorbed, leaving him as he had been before the battle with Darth Maul. Except that he knew a few things.

His mind had retained what common sense should have made obvious the first time he'd lived through it all. Except grief had made him foolish. Grief and the ever lingering hurt that Qui-Gon's last words had been of the boy and not for him.

Now he was forewarned, resigned to the hurt, and the grief it would be to lose Qui-Gon, not to death, but to another who needed the Jedi Master more. Needed him more than one lonely, disgraced Padawan who loved his Master with all his heart and soul. His soul.

Obi-Wan had never so much as kissed another in passion or love. His Master had always been a source of affection for him, but the day Obi-Wan had come into his sexual awareness, his soul had looked upon Qui-Gon and had seen its other half. He had been of an age that made even acknowledging this out of the question, but the silence had lasted into his majority. Either somehow Qui-Gon did not feel the pull in his own soul or he did not wish a soul-bond with his apprentice.

Obi-Wan had opted against pursuing any other relationship. He had heard that a soul denied its mate could be appeased with another love, but had not found anyone who inspired him to make the effort. Perhaps once Qui-Gon was no longer part of his life, he would try.

He shivered and pulled his robe even tighter. He had sacrificed his Knighthood to free Anakin's mother. Worse, his actions would reflect poorly on Qui-Gon's abilities as a Master.

First Xanatos and now Obi-Wan. Two failed apprentices. He could practically hear both Qui-Gon and the Council thinking along those lines. At best, Obi-Wan would remain a Padawan for many years, but odds were he would end up a farmer after all. Sick at heart, his soul aching with loneliness, somehow that notion lacked the horror it had when he was approaching his thirteenth birthday. Quiet, but hard, important work, it might be the balm he needed to at least attempt to heal.

Far better to be a farmer than the cause of a Jedi purge and an Empire's rise. The details might have vanished -- well, all but one -- but he knew the results of his first failure would forever haunt him.

He'd taken steps to make certain Anakin would remain on Naboo and not end up on Coruscant -- where he would be surrounded by those who viewed him with fear and suspicion -- and that Qui-Gon would be his teacher.

A heavy sigh shuddered through him. He would be the one surrounded by suspicion. Xanatos had turned to the Dark Side. He would be expected to follow the same path. His own certainty that such was not his fate would mean little.

How ironic that he'd worked so hard to get Qui-Gon to accept him as a Padawan and save him from the fields, when they would have all been far better off if he'd been left to a life of urging plants to take seed and grow.

He tried to use that version of the future to soothe himself enough to sleep. Tried to picture himself in a sunny field surrounded by life, but it led to visions of Qui-Gon with Anakin ... and Shmi. As much as he wanted his love to be happy, he could not bear to envision it, but jerking away from the image sent his mind into the depths of a different vision. The only part of his previous reality that remained clear down to the smallest detail -- Qui-Gon's funeral pyre.

Oh, Force, no. Master –

His despair and anguish must have leaked through his shields for suddenly he could feel Qui-Gon's mind pushing again for contact, reaching for him. He almost gave in this time, too weary and lonely to take up the same battle to keep Qui-Gon out of his mind he had fought during the voyage to Tatooine. Even his Master's anger and disappointment had to be better than this emptiness. But he knew he'd never have the strength to survive losing the link again. That gave him the energy he needed to restore his shields. No. Never again.

He got up, then decided to go back to the cockpit. He'd fly the damned freighter back to Naboo manually. At least then he wouldn't have time to think. Or regret.

*

Numb with exhaustion, Obi-Wan switched over to the automatic systems for the landing on Naboo. The last thing he needed was to make a mistake and crash the ship. Instead he concentrated on making certain the craft's systems were allowed to function without interference.

By now Chancellor Palpatine would be on Naboo and aware that Obi-Wan had gone for Anakin's mother. With luck he would dismiss the action as one of meaningless sentimentality, but counting on that would be a mistake. Not that he was mentally or physically a match for a Sith Master. For that was the one fact he'd retained -- had made a point of retaining -- Palpatine was the enemy.

He knew if he felt the Force being brought to bear against the ship, he could re-establish his link with Qui-Gon in an instant. The two of them would be able to land the vessel safely.

Fortunately it did not come to that. The ship settled into its berth on Naboo without incident while a small group watched. Amidala, her handmaidens, Anakin and ... Qui-Gon.

No, he couldn't face his Master now. He needed to sleep first. Needed to gather some semblance of strength. He lowered the exit ramp, but did not move towards it himself. Instead he slipped to the back of the ship, then out the rear airlock.

He regretted missing the reunion -- he would have liked to see the look on Anakin's face, would have liked to have had that image to draw on when he reflected on what the last few days had cost him. It would have made all those lonely years to come much easier to endure. But even that simple pleasure was denied to him.

Out of the hanger and into the streets. He kept his eyes cast downward, speaking to no one beyond murmuring his thanks to a man who stopped to help him up after he stumbled and fell. The second time it happened, he had to reassure those who helped him that he did not need a trip to the med center. When they looked on the point of insisting, he used the Force to cloud their minds long enough for him to escape.

Yet another black mark against him for misuse of his Jedihood, but he was beyond caring. Heartsick, exhausted, he slipped into the shadows. He knew he couldn't keep going, that he would collapse soon. Finding someplace to do so in peace was the only thing that kept him on his feet. He could barely think, so he trusted in the Force to guide him.

Minutes later, he all but collided with a smooth stone wall. He glanced around. The small, rounded building was closer to the palace than he would have liked, but he could go no further. At least no one seemed to be nearby.

There was no door barring the entry way. The only light came from windows as equally uncovered as the entrance, and he had to blink a few times to adjust his eyes to the dimness after being in the afternoon sun. At first it didn't dawn on him where he had sought shelter. One large room filled the structure. Rows of tiers encircled a cleared area adorned by a narrow stone altar. An altar topped with a grating. Then it came to him. Not an altar. A stone pyre not prepared for use.

In a heartbeat, what he saw shifted. Burning wood filled the empty stone cavity, smoke filled his lungs and only stars shown through the windows. Cold, so cold. He fought to find the words to reassure the frightened boy standing next to him, hoped he made some sense when he spoke. All while his heart screamed for him to move forward. To embrace the warmth of the fire and chase the chill from his bones.

A sob caught in his throat. He'd failed. Twice now. He would never be warm again, would be helpless to do anything but shiver and watch the galaxy go up in flames. So cold.

"Master, no. ..." He'd tried so hard to honor his promise. Tried and failed. Not again, by the Force, he could not live through that again. Not without. ...

"I'm sorry," he whispered to the boy, then stepped forward. He did not think it odd no one tried to stop him as he entered the flames, dismissing it as proof he should not go on alone, that he should be at his beloved Master's side.

The flames danced all around him, but did not burn. He settled down on the grating, then curled up around Qui-Gon's body, and tried to find warmth in fire and death, but felt only the cold. Despair gripped his heart. Would even the pyre reject him?

Then he knew warmth. For one blessed moment he thought the flames had accepted him, but then something was lifting him up. Off the pyre. Away from where he belonged.

"No!" he shouted, trying to break free from his misguided savior. He reached towards the pyre, where Qui-Gon's body had caught flame. "Master, don't leave me!"

The sight gave him strength enough to wrench away from the grasping hands, and he threw himself back on to the stone. But he wouldn't catch fire. He clung to the burning body, screaming for his Master, but the flames wouldn't touch him.

Again hands seized him, jerking him up and around, then lips pressed to his. Warmth suffused his mouth, began to spread, pushing against the chill shuddering through his body.

/Obi-Wan ... hear. .../

His lips parted, allowing entry to a probing tongue. Warm, so warm.

/Hear me, Padawan. Let me in./

What? He became aware of a voice sounding in his head, knew it must have been there for some time, but he'd not been able to hear it over the roar of the fire. The fire. ... Master.

"No!" A shout echoed throughout the room, and Obi-Wan flinched, losing contact with the kiss. Strong fingers gripped his jaw with bruising force, jerking his head up to look into dark blue eyes. "I am here, not there. Do you see me, Obi-Wan?" /I am here. With you. Alive./

"Master?"

Qui-Gon nodded, his face pale and tight with worry. "Yes, my Obi-Wan. I am here."

"But ... the fire. ..." He wanted to look back towards the pyre, but his Master's hands held him fast.

"Listen to me, Padawan. You are going into psychic shock. Do you understand? You must fight it or you will be lost."

Yes, he understood. A not uncommon reaction to a powerful vision, dealing with psychic shock was part of any Padawan's training. But Obi-Wan had never had the gift of foresight and had no practical experience in fighting back.

He wanted this to be real. To be in the arms of a living, breathing Qui-Gon. One who cared enough to fear for him. Who knew enough to use a kiss to focus him. But it was too close to fantasy. His mind raged at him that his only choices were to die with his Master or find the strength to live in a world where Qui-Gon's heart belonged to another. He had no strength left and the fire called to him.

/No, Obi-Wan! I beg of you, do not leave me./

Leave him? He had not been the one who had claimed a training-bond with another. Had not been the one who had turned his back on the Padawan who loved him and had expected Obi-Wan to support him. Why? What had he done that it was so easy for his Master to reject him?

/No, no, not easy. Never easy. But Anakin –/

"Is more important than me." He managed a moment of perfect focus. "He will do well if you train him here. As for me. ..." /I think I prefer the flames to lonely fields./ He cast his mind toward the pyre, intent on surrendering.

"No!" Qui-Gon shouted and a wave of Force energy swept through Obi-Wan grounding him in the here and now. Both of them knew Qui-Gon could not sustain the hold for long, but the Jedi Master had not finished with him. /You are mine, Obi-Wan Kenobi. I will not let you go./

/Yours, yes. But cast aside. I am too tired to stay. Let me go to my Forever Sleep./

/By the Force, Obi-Wan, don't do this. Do not force me to. .../

Too tired and too cold to even begin to understand, Obi-Wan did not answer. He simply let himself drift, waiting for the moment Qui-Gon loosened his grasp. Perhaps the flames would reject him and he would end up back here. He would let fate decide.

Vaguely he heard a most un-Jedi-like curse, then the cold closed in again. Qui-Gon no longer physically held him, though if anything, his grip on Obi-Wan's consciousness increased.

/As ever my beautiful Padawan, you make life a challenge./

Obi-Wan gasped as Qui-Gon's body pressed down against his, the shock of skin to skin, snapping him back to some sense of his surroundings. He was lying on the thick warmth of Qui-Gon's cloak, and his Master had apparently stripped both of them. Lips began to caress his neck, hands to stroke his body. Each touch searing him with warmth. For a moment his sluggish brain couldn't comprehend what was happening, then he felt something stretching his anus and he knew.

Qui-Gon was about to make love to him. But they could never do so casually. Such an act between them would initiate the soul-bond. It would ground him, make it impossible for him to drift away from the reality that included his lover, but it would also entrap Qui-Gon in a permanent bond he'd never shown the slightest sign of wanting.

Speech required too much of him, but he managed to focus enough energy to project a mental protest. /No, don't do this. Don't sacrifice yourself for me./

/Shut up, Padawan. I am weary of fighting fate. And you are so beautiful. .../ With that Qui-Gon penetrated him – body and soul – sweeping Obi-Wan into a maelstrom of pleasure that unraveled both of them, then rewove them – two separate bodies, two linked minds, one soul.

He screamed in release, the ecstasy of the birth of his new self roaring through him in unendurable waves of pleasure. Yet somehow he did endure.

"Obi-Wan?"

Gasping, he looked into a pair of deep blue eyes. "My love," he whispered, "I see you. Only you." He hoped it reassured the older man for all else was beyond him.

Lips pressed against his forehead. "Sleep, my precious love. Sleep."

And a healing darkness enfolded him.

*

Obi-Wan woke up to find himself alone in a comfortable bed. He felt no sense of alarm -- his restored sense of time and place told him he had slept away the better part of two and a half days. He sat up and stretched. Long and hard, his muscles screaming with relief.

/Good afternoon, my sleepy one./

He smiled and felt the Force caress his cheek. /It feels like it should be morning, Master./

/I am your lover now, Obi-Wan. Whatever the future may bring, I have no desire to be your Master in this./

He felt strangely shy at the thought of dropping the title he'd used for so many years, but melted inside at the gentle reminder. /Yes, of course, Qui-Gon. Where are you, my love?/

/In the communications center. I will return as soon as I can. Take the time to refresh yourself and eat something./

Amused, he chose his words quite deliberately. /Yes, Master./

/Imp./

Obi-Wan laughed, felt another lingering caress, then was as alone as he would ever be again – his thoughts were his own, his mind open or closed as he chose, but Qui-Gon's essence pulsed within him with each heartbeat. He wanted to bound out of the bed and dance for sheer joy, but knew better.

The spirit might be willing, but the body had taken a side trip into prolonged bed rest. If he didn't want to fall flat on his ass and alarm the man who shared his soul, he needed to take things slow for a time. Carefully, he stood up, felt a little dizzy from the effort, but it quickly passed. Once it had, he made his way to the refresher, used the saniunit, took a quick sonic shower, then pulled on the robe hanging on the back of the door. It smelled slightly of Qui-Gon and he wrapped himself tightly within it.

When he returned to the bedroom, he found a tray sitting on the bed. It held a bowl of thick soup, a loaf of crusty bread and a second bowl heaped high with a frozen confection. /You do love me./

/Madly. Now eat./

He resisted a second ‘Yes, Master,' sent his own caress through their bond, then sat down to eat. The smell made his mouth water and his stomach growl loudly, but he ate slowly, not wanting a stomach ache to send him back to bed.

The door chime sounded as he finished off the bread. He used the Force to trigger the door release, and Anakin stepped into the room. The boy regarded him with an air of shyness, then said, "Master Qui-Gon said you were feeling better."

Anakin looked uncomfortable, unsure of his welcome. "Much. Come in. I was just about to indulge in something sweet. Care to join me?"

The blond head nodded.

"Come sit with me then. We can share the spoon."

He let Anakin have the first bite. A grin rewarded him.. "It tastes a lot like frozen pallies."

Having no idea what that was – some sort of Tatooine fruit no doubt – he sampled the dessert, then offered, "To me it tastes like Alderaan gessa root." One of his favorite treats. As Qui-Gon well knew.

"You've been to a lot of places."

Obi-Wan nodded, then proceeded to entertain him with a few highlights from his more outrageous adventures as Qui-Gon's Padawan.

Anakin laughed throughout, but quickly grew solemn again when Obi-Wan fell silent. "Pad – The Queen told me it was your idea to free my mother."

"Yes, I thought you belonged together."

"Thank you."

He sensed the boy's confusion. "But?"

"I didn't think you liked me very much."

As he'd been careful to be at least pleasant to him from the moment they'd met, that surprised Obi-Wan, then he considered a certain conversation on the landing pad before they'd made the final trip to Naboo. The conversation and where Anakin had been standing.

"You heard what I said to Master Jinn, didn't you?"

The boy he'd called ‘dangerous' nodded.

Oh, Sith. "Then I owe you an apology. I was hurt and speaking in anger."

"Then you didn't mean what you said?"

He shook his head. "You will be a powerful Jedi, Anakin. Some will fear that, but you will also be a good man. Let no one tell you differently. Least of all me."

Much damage had already been done. Careless words by members of the Council and Obi-Wan had planted seeds of doubt in the boy. He must do all he could to make certain they never took flower. "Remember, Master Jinn believes in you. And he is one of the wisest men I ever met."

It was shamelessly playing on Anakin's obvious case of hero-worship where the Jedi Master was concerned, but he felt the doubt within the boy ease. It was a beginning.

As if the need for reassurance had kept him too preoccupied to notice earlier, Anakin tugged impatiently at the stiff collar of his dark tunic. It exactly matched the color of his eyes and was decorated with gold and silver thread.

"A bit of a change for you."

Anakin grimaced. "Governor Billbo said that if I'm going to marry Padme, I have to look the part."

"Marry?"

"Padme ... Queen Amidala said ... proclaimed? ... me her consort." He looked fairly confused by the whole thing, but did seem to have a grasp of the important part. "We'll get married when we're both grown up, but I knew that the first time I saw her."

Obi-Wan couldn't stop the smile. When they'd spoken via comlink, he'd begged Amidala to find some way to prevent anyone from taking Anakin back to Coruscant. He'd not expected her to come up with something quite so spectacular. Not even Master Yoda would be able to find a way around that particular declaration. "I suspect you'll make a good match." His smile broadened. "But I'm afraid you will have to endure a few stiff collars."

Anakin made a face, then got up. "Master Qui-Gon said I shouldn't stay long."

"Master Jinn," he corrected with a gentle smile. "When a Jedi has more than one name, you use the final one unless told otherwise."

A nod answered him. "Then you would be Padawan Kenobi?"

"Yes, but call me Obi-Wan." Another smile was rewarded with a smile.

"My friends call me Ani."

"Thank you for keeping me company, Ani. I would have been very bored if you hadn't stopped by."

The boy paused at the door. "Master Jinn said he would ask the Council to allow him to train me here. Will you stay, too?"

Obi-Wan did not know. The Jedi Council had yet to decide his fate, so he gave an honest answer, "I'd like to."

Alone once more he sat down on the bed, then ran a comb through the clump of longer hair at the back of his head. A knight tail they called it. Except for their braids, Padawans were required to keep their hair short, but a Padawan approaching knighthood was allowed to grow it out in the back. He remembered how proud and happy he'd been when Qui-Gon had told him that, if he cared for the idea, longer hair might suit him. In truth, he didn't like the way it looked, nor, he suspected, did Qui-Gon, but having the right to grow his hair and not doing so had been unthinkable.

He bound the strands of hair, then lay back on the bed. The list of Padawans who had reached his level but failed to become Jedi Knights was very short. He would have given anything not to have shamed his Master by adding his own name to that list.

Tired despite his long rest, he drifted off on that unhappy thought.

*

A kiss woke him. He smiled even as he opened his eyes, the weight of his lover pressing down against him chasing away the phantoms he knew would haunt his dreams for many years to come. But they were only nightmare images now. He would never mistake them for anything else again. A beautiful midnight blue gaze held him fast. /Not alone. Never again./

Qui-Gon did not answer, but offered a smile. A very troubled smile.

Oh, Sith. How had he forgotten something so important? "I'm sorry, Qui-Gon. I know you did not want this."

Those incredible eyes blinked. "Not want this? Make no mistake, my love, the ache in your soul was always echoed in mine."

"I don't understand. If that's true, then why –?"

"I am more than twenty years older than you."

"Age matters n--"

Two fingers across his lips stopped him from repeating a variation on Master Yoda's favored words of wisdom.

"In this, it does. You know it does."

He kissed the fingers that would have kept him silent. "My love will keep you young."

The nature of a soul-bond wove their life forces together as well as their souls. Qui-Gon would not age another day for the next twenty years. It was a form of protection against the older man's true concern.

"My love, you were too weak, too disoriented to actively participate in the bond," Qui-Gon confirmed his suspicions. "I was unable to prevent your life force from becoming irrevocably entwined with mine." He kissed Obi-Wan. "You will not live one heartbeat beyond my own death."

He knew it should have disturbed him – they lead dangerous lives and his chances of a violent death had increased two-fold – and regretted that it pained his Master. Yet a wave of pure pleasure passed through Obi-Wan. He had the strength within him to endure his love's death. Once. But not twice. Never twice. "I'd go mad if it were otherwise." In truth, he was not certain he hadn't the first time. All he remembered was his Master's death and the grief that had become a part of him for the rest of his life.

"Then you must find it in your heart to forgive me."

"What is there to forgive?"

"I could not keep our life forces apart, but I could balance them." Another kiss. /I will not live on without you either./

A part of him was horrified. He did not want to be the cause of his lover's death, but it was nothing less than he had asked Qui-Gon to accept. /You love me that much?/

/Yes. You are everything. The greatest joy of each day has always been your shining brightness within my mind. Now, more than ever. My beloved Obi-Wan, we will always be together./

His heart's desire reality, Obi-Wan gathered up his fears and let them go. /Then all is how it should be./ This time he initiated the kiss, then moaned softly when Qui-Gon's tongue slipped into his mouth.

Obi-Wan had been so lost in the visions threatening to consume him the night they had bonded, that in many ways, each touch felt like the first time to him.

He gasped when his lover's beard scrapped against his neck, giggled when long hair teased his nipples, then screamed when a hot mouth engulfed his cock. It was torture, it was ecstasy, it was ... love, and he found himself laughing from pure joy.

/Not exactly the reaction I was going for./

/Sorry, but it feels so good./

/It gets better./

Obi-Wan moaned loudly, and Qui-Gon chuckled around his cock, making him squirm. Two hands seized his hips, holding him in place. Two? He'd gradually become aware of a feather light touch caressing the entrance to his body. "What–?"

He felt amusement skittering through him. /The Force has many uses, young Padawan./

Energy, warm and almost fluid, swirled around him, then into him. He gasped as it began to expand, gently stretching him. It caused him no pain, but made his flesh tingle. He could have come from that alone, but the hands on his hips lifted him, draped his legs over broad shoulders, then Qui-Gon entered him.

It felt incredible. Nothing separated them, not even their own sweat, yet Qui-Gon's thrusts rode fluid waves of Force that prevented any discomfort. He came with a shout, his own climax spurring his bondmate's, then they collapsed together in a heap.

Yes, all was definitely as it should be.

*

The next morning he was far from certain of that as he faced the holographic members of the Jedi Council. To show her support of Obi-Wan, the Queen had granted the use of her throne room for the encounter, while Qui-Gon had admitted he'd pleaded his case for days, but both efforts appeared to have been in vain. It was obvious the Council saw Obi-Wan's inability to handle his exhaustion and psychic shock to be as damning as his request to Amidala.

He answered their questions, gave what explanation he could, but had guessed the way of things the moment he'd seen their faces. "I am sorry, Masters," he finished. "I await your judgment."

Mace Windu looked at him. "It is obvious to us that you are not ready for knighthood, Padawan Kenobi. Master Jinn's request that you undergo the Trials is therefore denied."

"Great potential we saw in you," Yoda said. "See it still we do. Remain a Padawan you will for at least three more years."

Obi-Wan blinked in surprise. He'd not expected so light a sentence. But they were not finished.

"You will both return to Coruscant," Windu broke the news.

"But ... Master Jinn must remain here," Obi-Wan protested. "He must train Anakin."

"Trained the boy will be, but more than one Padawan a Master may not have." Yoda's tone had a definite ‘and you know it' edge to it.

Yes, Obi-Wan had known it, but he'd been so convinced he would be stripped of his rank he'd not really considered the consequences should he not be. "The Queen requested Master Jinn," he reminded them. "She might not accept another." By the Force, he would see to that. Every ounce of his being screamed Qui-Gon must be the one to train Anakin.

"Unfortunate that would be. Untrained he will go or separate you must."

A new Master? Allow someone else to form a bond in his mind? Stunned by the very idea, he couldn't stop himself from reaching out along their bond. Hands settled on his shoulders while his lover sent a soothing touch through his mind.

"We cannot be separated. Obi-Wan is too inexperienced to handle the strain of having two Jedi Masters bonded with him."

He hadn't thought of that. It was the lack of privacy that had alarmed him.

Yoda did not mistake Qui-Gon's meaning. "You have soul-bonded with your Padawan."

"Yes."

The disapproval he saw made Obi-Wan flinch, but beyond another mental caress, Qui-Gon did not react.

"Unfortunate. Two Padawans you may not have."

To Obi-Wan's horror, Qui-Gon agreed. "I will speak with the Queen, convince her to accept another Master for Anakin."

"No!" Obi-Wan shouted, spinning around to face his Master. "You must train him. Force, can't any of you see that?"

"Calm yourself, Padawan." /My love./ "He is strong with the Force. He will thrive with any Master."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "You're the only one who really believes in him." He turned slowly, his gaze moving from one Council Member to the next. "All your collective wisdom, and none of you have ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy?"

There was no sign of yielding in the faces that stared back at him. He could almost hear them thinking Jedi serenity and control would overcome all. And how could he blame them? Hadn't he thought that after Qui-Gon had died? Hadn't he been certain he could bury his feelings and train Anakin himself? For the first time, he regretted clearing his compad. If he could give them details beyond the night of the funeral, anything beyond the knowledge Anakin would fall to the Dark Side if they failed him. ... But all he had was a nightmare of losing his Master. His feelings of foreboding would be attributed to that. He had failed Anakin. Again.

Qui-Gon's hands tightened on his shoulders. "We will return to Coruscant as soon as we can arrange transport."

No.

Windu nodded. "Then we will turn our attentions to who should best serve as the boy's Master."

No, no, no, "No." He did not shout the word. It was soft, but determined, drawing everyone's attention back to him. "No, Master Jinn, must train him."

He turned into his Master's embrace once more, reached up, then drew Qui-Gon's head down to kiss him. /By the love you bear me, trust me in this. It must be you. No other./

It was obvious fate had decreed it would not allow two Jedi Knighthoods. The choice was a simple one -- Anakin must be trained, and Obi-Wan no longer truly believed. He stepped back and out of Qui-Gon's reach.

He drew his lightsaber, activating its lowest setting – a small cutting edge that would not scorch. "Anakin Skywalker will be a great Jedi Knight one day," he said, dropping to one knee before Mace Windu's hologram. "I will not."

He reached back and with one strong cut severed the knight tail. He placed the hair and the lightsaber at the image's feet. "I am no longer a Jedi."

Standing, he walked toward the throne room door. /Obi-Wan?/

/This is my home now. Look to what is best for the boy and stay with me./ He smiled slightly, then left.

*

He walked the corridors of the palace for a time, his mental shields quite deliberately raised to block Qui-Gon's thoughts. But his lover was a part of him now, and he could feel the other man's sorrow and regret. He wanted to reassure, to support, but knew he had pushed as hard as he could. Qui-Gon must make his own decision in this.

If need be, Obi-Wan would train the boy himself. He felt he could do it now. Oddly knowing the worst had happened with Anakin had put an end to his certainty that it would. The boy had a good heart. It only needed to be nurtured along with his Jedi powers. Yes, he could do it. With Padme and Shmi's help. But Qui-Gon would be the better teacher, the better father figure. And, of course, however skilled Obi-Wan proved as a trainer, he could not offer Anakin a Jedi Knighthood. Only a Jedi Master could guide him to that goal.

He shook his head in wonder. All his life Obi-Wan had dreamed of being a Jedi Knight. For years his greatest fear had been that he would fail, but now he'd walked away. Incredibly, he found he did not have it within himself to regret it. But it was simple enough to know why. His heart had changed. It no longer could embrace a way of life that followed the carving above the entrance way to the room where the Jedi Council met in the temple on Coruscant.

There is no emotion; there is peace.

He had much emotion churning within him. Even fear. Yet he felt no call to the Dark Side. He had used fear and anger to defeat Darth Maul. Not rid himself of it or controlled it, but used it. To his mind that was the way of things – not what he felt, but how he used it.

There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.

But knowledge grew from recognizing ignorance. Which made ignorance almost precious.

There is no passion; there is serenity.

He almost laughed at recalling that one. He burned with a white hot passion for his lover. Knowing it was returned, knowing his passion and love were met with equal strength from Qui-Gon brought him serenity. Its absence would have brought him nothing but pain.

There is no death; there is the Force.

A comfort now that he would share his journey beyond this life with Qui-Gon, but it had not brought him the slightest ease when he'd watched the flames take his Master's body.

No, he did not believe. Not anymore. But what now? He sat down on a marble bench to think. A Padawan was chosen by a Master anywhere from the tenth to the thirteenth birthday. By that time, much had been learned from a childhood spent training in the Temple. Which meant Anakin had less training than a toddler. If they treated him like a typical nine-year-old Jedi, he would be frustrated and angry with his inability to perform to expectations. But if they gave him the remedial training he needed, it would have to be challenging enough to keep a boy, not a baby, interested. He sighed. This was not going to be easy. And perhaps not a job they should tackle alone.

An idea began to form, but before it could take firm root, Obi-Wan sensed that he was not alone. He tried to ignore the other presence, assuming it was someone going about the tasks of the day, but found it did not fade. He became certain he was being watched, the eyes upon him so intent they almost burned his flesh.

He looked up and was not surprised to find Palpatine standing a few feet away, regarding him with intense pale eyes.

Obi-Wan stood up. "Is there something I can do for you, Chancellor?"

A smile that made his skin crawl graced a face others might have described as kindly. "I apologize. I did not mean to stare," he said. "I was just trying to recall when it was I last saw a Jedi without his lightsaber."

Sith! Did he know? Obi-Wan fought against a sense of alarm, but then caught the irony of the curse he'd used and recovered his composure in an instant. "I have no need of it," he answered.

"Ah. For some reason I thought a Jedi always carried one."

He shook his head. "Only when away from home. And this is my home now."

"Hmm, you will be teaching the boy then?"

He felt a push against his shields. Damn. He did not want the Sith Master to know he was aware of his identity. He needed time to convince Amidala Naboo would be better served by a different representative and deprive him of the power of his position in the Senate. Which meant he could not allow himself the luxury of hiding behind mental barriers that should not be in place during a pleasant conversation with a non-Force user.

Gritting his teeth against the violation, he drew his defenses tightly around his knowledge of Palpatine, keeping all else behind nothing more than the mild shielding a Jedi normally kept in place. A coldness entered his mind almost instantly.

It was like being caressed by slime, and he shuddered.

"Is something wrong, young Jedi?"

"A headache," he dismissed it as he would have were he not aware of the cause.

"Yes, I had heard you had been unwell."

The coldness grew sharp, and the pain increased. "Mostly exhaustion. I'll be fine with more rest."

"It must have taken a great deal of effort to defeat your opponent. I find myself curious as to what could have caused a Jedi such difficulty."

He gasped slightly. The Sith was no longer probing, but punishing. His revenge for the death of his apprentice.

"It was not difficult," he answered, forcing youthful arrogance into his voice instead of the contempt he really felt. "I cut him in half and tossed him down a chute like week-old garbage."

"Then it was you and not your Master who made the kill."

He'd forgotten Qui-Gon had insisted on keeping that detail hidden. His Master had said merely that they had faced and defeated a skilled enemy together. He'd not wanted his Padawan to become the focus of a Sith Master's revenge.

‘Idiot!' he chided himself, then groaned loudly, his knees collapsing.

Palpatine caught him. "You are ill. So desperately ill."

His stomach twisted at the Force-enhanced suggestion, chills shuddered through his body, while his mind felt like it was being ripped to shreds. How much could he fight it, yet keep his awareness hidden? "It hurts," he cried out, letting it echo through the bond.

"I should take you to the med center. You must come with me."

"No," he protested, knowing to go with this creature would be to go to his death. "I want to go to my quarters. I want Qui-Gon."

"You are too sick for that, young Jedi. Much too sick for that. You need help. I will give it."

Through eyes watering from pain, he looked at Palpatine and knew. It was not his death the Sith sought, but a replacement for his apprentice. It left Obi-Wan with no choice. He had to fight back, could not allow a deeper hold in his mind. "No, I--"

"Obi-Wan!"

A sob of relief tore at his throat and he jerked away from Palpatine, stumbling a few steps into his lover's arms. Qui-Gon's embrace enfolded him. Immediately, the cold presence in his mind vanished. Apparently Palpatine was not yet ready to face down a Jedi Master in all his protective glory.

"Ah, Master Jinn, I was about to take the boy to the healers. He seems very ill."

"My thanks, Chancellor." Obi-Wan was lifted up, and he let himself settle comfortably in Qui-Gon's arms. "I will see to his care."

Resting his throbbing head on Qui-Gon's shoulder, he did not allow himself to think of anything but how warm and safe he felt. Qui-Gon would take care of him. He would be fine now. Whatever was wrong, he would be fine now.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Palpatine's jaw tighten briefly, then he nodded. "I should prepare for the Celebration. I hope your charge recovers enough to join us."

He turned and left. No doubt off to practice some boring, hypocritical speech.

A healing warmth passed into his mind, banishing the chill and easing the pain. Almost purring he nestled closer to the powerful body carrying him, his nose pressing into the hallow of Qui-Gon's neck.

/He is the Sith./

Ever perceptive was his wonderful love. /Yes, Qui-Gon. And he seeks a new apprentice./

/We must keep a careful eye on Anakin./

‘We.' /Then you will stay./

/My place is with you, my Obi-Wan./

Somewhat alarmed by that choice of words, his hand snaked down to Qui-Gon's waist, but to his utter relief, his fingers closed around a lightsaber. No Jedi of any conscience would keep the weapon after he had renounced the Order.

Qui-Gon's lips brushed his temple. "I did offer it to them. I told them I would stay here and train Anakin as a Jedi Master or as one who is considered a master of the Force. They were far from pleased, but I believe they hope to keep some control in the matter by allowing me to remain a Jedi."

/Control Qui-Gon Jinn? I suppose there is a first time for everything./

/Imp./ Qui-Gon lowered him, and Obi-Wan felt their bed against his back. To his delight, his lover did not release him, curling up with him instead. /My precious imp./

He could feel the concern churning within the older man. "Don't worry, my love. I am well." /I needed only your touch to heal the hurt./

/I see the need for caution, Obi-Wan, but don't you ever let someone hurt you like that again./

"Yes, Master," his tone was dry, but loving. It amazed him how easy it was to use the former title as a teasing endearment.

Qui-Gon glared at him, but faint amusement twinkled in his eyes, and Obi-Wan sensed the fear his lover felt for him ease. "Are you always going to call me that when I try to make you see reason?"

"Probably."

"Imp."

"That's ‘precious imp' to you."

"Hmm, more like impossible brat." /But a beautiful one./

Obi-Wan smiled and snuggled closer.

/Sleep, Obi-Wan. I will wake you in time for the festivities./

/I am tired, but we should discuss Anakin./

/Later, my sleepy one. The most important thing has been decided – we will train him together./

He smiled. /Yes, but he is not the only one who needs us./

/What do you mean?/

/What could Palpatine's apprentice have been other than one like Anakin? Someone who was not identified as strong with the Force until he was deemed too old for Jedi training. How many others are like that?/

He nuzzled Qui-Gon's throat with the tip of his nose. "We must find them." /We must train them to use their gift wisely. Show them there is something more to the Force than Jedi servitude or the depths of the Dark Side./

A sudden stillness settled over his lover. /Qui-Gon?/

/I was wrong, wasn't I?/

/About what?/

/Anakin is not the Chosen One./ He pressed a kiss against the top of Obi-Wan's head. /You are./

Obi-Wan blinked, then saw the truth of it. /You were not wrong, my love, but ... sometimes you get a second chance, and that changes everything./

/You will bring balance to the Force./

/No, we will. Together./

/Sleep, my Chosen One. Sleep./

Obi-Wan obeyed. And his dreams where full of plans.

end