It all happened in an instant of noise and confusion and terror. There was a sudden, ear shattering boom and a flash of painfully brilliant light, though Qui-Gon's back was to it. The beautiful crystal dome that had housed the negotiations shattered as the shock wave slammed into it, sending a thousand deadly, glittering prisms arching through the air. The shards tinkled as they struck the marble floor, creating music that might have been beautiful if it weren't for the cries of the wounded.
Amid all the cacophony, Qui-Gon heard only one sound. A scream, torn from an all too familiar throat. He crouched, his cloak wrapped about him, his arm flung up to protect his eyes from the last of the flying crystal, and listened with horror to Obi-Wan's cry, cut off as suddenly as it had begun.
A moment later he was spinning around, the safety of the delegates forgotten in his fear for his Padawan. Obi- Wan lay only a step behind him. The younger man was unconscious, sprawled across the polished floor, his face scored with small cuts, his eyes clenched closed. It was then that Qui-Gon realized that Obi-Wan had not understood the change in the resonance of the Force, had not turned away as his Master had...
Sensing that Obi-Wan was alive, if not unhurt, Qui-Gon savagely pushed his concern for his Padawan aside and forced his attention to the delegates of the two nations between whom he had been mediating peace. He found the Penarii delegate stunned but unharmed, aside from a few scratches. Across the table Qui-Gon could see others already taking care of the Bisha representative, who appeared to be more seriously injured.
It didn't matter. Now that the Jedi Master knew both were being taken care of, now that duty was satisfied he turned all his attention to his apprentice. The medics, who had been on standby for just such an emergency, had already arrived at the scene. However, there were a number of injured and they had not yet found their way to Obi-Wan when Qui-Gon returned to him.
"Obi-Wan," he murmured, his voice tight with worry, and reached out to the Force to learn the extent of his Padawan's injuries. Qui-Gon's senses began at Obi- Wan's feet and traveled upward, his tension relaxing just a bit as he sensed no injuries beyond cuts, no broken bones, no internal damage. Then...there was something not quite right. A small twist in the Force that suffused Obi-Wan.
Qui-Gon's breath caught in his throat as he pinpointed the anomaly. His eyes. There was something wrong with Obi-Wan's eyes. Prying open one lid, Qui-Gon was relieved to see that the orb was whole. He checked the other eye, resigned to finding an injury but clinging to the memory of the other healthy eye. To his surprise, Qui-Gon found the second eye as undamaged as the first. He frowned, puzzled, but was pushed back by the medics before he could investigate further.
Glancing around to confirm that all the injured were being taken care of, Qui-Gon followed the medics that were carrying Obi-Wan to their transport. He couldn't help but be a little irritated at their lack of urgency, but the Jedi knew that Obi-Wan's wound was not life- threatening. The medics allowed Qui-Gon to ride with them, and they soon arrived at the hospital.
Obi-Wan, given preference due to his diplomatic status, was immediately whisked away, leaving Qui-Gon in the visitor's lounge. The wait seemed interminable, but at last a man dressed in a faded purple uniform approached. "Master Jinn?" he inquired. Qui-Gon nodded his head in confirmation. "Obi-Wan did not sustain any serious injury beyond his eyes, I'm happy to report-"
"Beyond his eyes?" Qui-Gon asked sharply.
The man smiled, a touch sadly. "The flash from the explosion burned his retinas..."
"But...?" Qui-Gon said leadingly.
The doctor shook his head. "The damage is quite irreversible. I am sorry, Master Jinn, but there is nothing we can do."
Qui-Gon buried his shock under a mask of serenity. He listened patiently to the doctor's warnings about Obi- Wan's emotional state upon discovering the injury, but all he could think was that surely the healers on Coruscant would be able to repair the damage. Surely Obi-Wan would regain his sight.
Qui-Gon was sitting with Obi-Wan two days later when the young man finally woke up. "Master?" Obi-Wan asked, blinking in confusion and pushing himself up onto one arm.
"I'm here, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said gently.
Obi-Wan turned his head towards the sound. "Something's wrong, isn't it." It wasn't a question.
"Yes," Qui-Gon forced the syllable past a tight throat, and was relieved when it came out sounding normal.
Obi-Wan raised a hand and held it before his face. "It's not the lights...it's my eyes," he murmured, a tremor running through his frame. "Oh, Force..." He lay back and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes as if he could restore his sight through sheer will. Obi-Wan let out a long, shuddering breath and visibly took a grip on his emotions. "Can't they-"
"Not here," Qui-Gon broke in.
"On Coruscant?" The note of hope in Obi-Wan's voice made Qui-Gon's heart clench painfully.
"I don't know," he murmured, his voice as steady as ever though his emotions were in turmoil. He had not contacted the healers on Coruscant, though he could have. The Jedi Master couldn't bring himself to make the final call, the one that could kill all hope...
However, he had spoken to the Jedi Council. The negotiations had been all but completed when the bomb had gone off. It was obviously a last ditch effort to disrupt the peace process before treaties had been signed. The effect it actually had, both the representatives having survived, was quite the opposite. Angered by the attempt, both delegations had decided to spite the person responsible for the attack by signing the drafted treaty immediately. The Council had agreed that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were no longer needed and gave them leave to return to Coruscant to rest and to heal.
"Master, I should like to be alone for awhile," Obi-Wan quietly.
"Of course," Qui-Gon said, and touched his Padawan's shoulder gently before rising to leave.
Obi-Wan waited to hear the soft hiss of the door shutting before sitting up and leaning forward, cradling his head in his hands. He couldn't help but blink repeatedly, half expecting the darkness that trapped him to lift with his eyelids. Obi-Wan put a hand to his mouth to stop a soft cry of panic. Coruscant, he seized the thought desperately, they can help me on Coruscant.
Qui-Gon cut his end of the communication, and glanced reluctantly at the door of his room. Obi-Wan knew he was making the call, and would expect him soon. As Qui-Gon had feared, the healers at the Jedi Temple came to the same conclusion as those who had diagnosed Obi- Wan. He would not see again. In the three days since they'd left for Coruscant, Qui-Gon had resigned himself to the possibility. He felt now only regret...and worry. Obi-Wan had been too quiet, too calm lately.
The Padawan had to be in almost constant contact with the Force just to walk without tripping. Simple objects suddenly become unpredictable obstacles. Despite this, he was so tightly shielded against all other contact with the Force that his bond to Qui-Gon had been all but cut. There had to be a lot of pain lurking behind those shields, but Obi-Wan showed none of it.
After a long moment, Qui-Gon rose and went to see Obi- Wan. The older man found his apprentice sitting cross- legged on his bunk, a tiny earplug in one ear playing an audio recording of the information that scrolled up, unheeded, on the screen he held. Qui-Gon felt a gentle brush of the Force, and then Obi-Wan looked up, his eyes open but unfocused. "Yes, Master?" he inquired.
"I've just heard from the healers," Qui-Gon said slowly.
Obi-Wan read the content of the call from his tone of voice before another word was said. "I see," he said, and winced involuntarily. Qui-Gon waited for more of a reaction, but none came.
"Obi-Wan," he said firmly, "you need to deal with this."
"What do you want me to do?" Obi-Wan asked, anger finding its way into his voice. "I'm not supposed to be angry about this!" he stood and tore the earplug from his ear. "About all these things I'm never going to see, all the things I'm never going to see again." He threw the earplug away from himself. "I'm not supposed to be afraid of the things I'll miss because I can't see them, I'm not supposed to be terrified of what's going to happen to me when we get to Coruscant.... No! I'm supposed to deal with it!" He was flushed with anger now. "Well, I've been trying!"
Qui-Gon went straight to the heart of the tirade. "When we get to Coruscant," he said, his voice level, "our lessons will continue as normal, Padawan."
"As normal?" Obi-Wan asked incredulously, his grip on his emotions having deserted him entirely.
"Defend yourself!" Qui-Gon snapped instead of answering, and drew his lightsaber, igniting it and bringing it crashing towards his student in one smooth arc. Obi-Wan's instincts took over before he even registered the command, his lightsaber flying to his hand from the shelf where it sat. He brought it up to block Qui-Gon's stroke, the impact sending ripples of the Force coursing through him. "The Force," Qui-Gon said piercingly, "has nothing to do with your sight!"
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said, his fury deserting him for surprise at his own actions. Qui-Gon turned to leave, unaccountably a little angry himself. That he should think his place as my Padawan depends on something as irrelevant as sight, he thought, realizing he was angry with himself, I have failed him somehow.
In his cabin, Obi-Wan sat back down on his bed, feeling a little bit empty after having vented his anger and his fear. Then, fingering his lightsaber, he reached out tentatively for the Force. He'd only touched the Force reluctantly in the past few days, partly to hide his turmoil from Qui-Gon and partly out of the unreasonable fear that the Force would react differently to his touch.
Now the Force responded to his will in a familiar rush. For a moment Obi-Wan though it had come more easily, more completely than before...and then he realized that it was his focus that was more complete. In the complete absence of visual distraction, his entire being centered on the Force and made it his fifth sense.
The whole ship resonated with the Force, and each of the crewmembers was a concentration of energy. Among them, Obi-Wan could easily pick out his Master. Qui- Gon's presence in the Force was like a well that brought water up from beneath the ground, where the other people on the ship were simply a part of the flow. Overwhelmed for the moment, Obi-Wan withdrew from the Force and sat on his bed feeling slightly stunned. He lay back, lost in thought, his fear and anger forgotten.
The next morning, Qui-Gon was just sitting down in the ship's galley to eat when Obi-Wan appeared in the doorway. Qui-Gon watched intently for a moment, curious. Obi-Wan had hardly left his quarters in the first few days of the trip home, much less appeared in a public place. Now, the uncharacteristically timid stride he'd displayed moving from the hospital to the ship was gone. He strode into the room confidently and made his way directly to sit across from Qui-Gon.
Qui-Gon raised an inquiring eyebrow, and had just remembered his Padawan couldn't see his expression when a small smile found its way onto Obi-Wan's lips. "Master," he said, "this is amazing."
"What is?" Qui-Gon asked curiously.
"I've been told that when one sense is...lost...the others tend to compensate. I didn't realize that that applied to the Force as well." Obi-Wan explained. "My focus is sharper than it's ever been. The Force responds to me so quickly..."
Qui-Gon reached out to touch the bond between them and couldn't help feeling a little stab of pain when he found it as closed off as ever. Obi-Wan must have sensed the touch, for he immediately looked a little uncomfortable. "I'm not quite ready to open myself up to people, Master," he said after a moment. "This is all a little...overwhelming." Qui-Gon nodded his acceptance, but a thread of worry took up residence next to the ache of loneliness that had grown in him the past few days.
Their meal passed in silence, Obi-Wan lost in his perception of the Force and Qui-Gon lost in thought. I'm his Master, the older man mused, troubled. I ought to be guiding him now, helping him to read the Force. Instead, he has shut me out.
The presence in his mind that Qui-Gon had resisted so long ago had become a companion he took for granted. His bond to Obi-Wan grew from a necessary element in instruction to a source of strength and insight. Now, with Obi-Wan's mind shielded against him, Qui-Gon felt oddly incomplete.
The Jedi master looked up from his meal and watched his apprentice for a moment. There was a touch of caution in the movement of Obi-Wan's hands as he manipulated the utensils, a slight hesitation as a bite of food was raised to his mouth.
He needs to do this alone, Qui-Gon realized. He needs to know that he is still capable, still independent, and still strong. The thought calmed his worry, but it did not soothe the ache of the empty place his mind and heart.
Obi-Wan sat down on his bed and pulled away from the Force a little. He was tired and exhilarated and a little confused. His visit to the galley and the exploration of the ship afterwards had lifted his spirits as he learned to 'see' through the Force. Yet there was so much Obi-Wan didn't understand. A lifetime of experience reading expressions and body language had contributed to his insight into people's emotions and motivations. Now he found himself puzzling the same information out of ripples and fluctuations in the Force that he'd hardly noticed before. After his exploration, Obi-Wan felt he finally understood what his Master meant when he told him to be mindful of the living Force.
His Master. Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan knew that if he opened himself to their bond Qui-Gon would provide the grounding he needed, would help him find his way through this as he had through so many other things. Yet Obi-Wan couldn't bring himself to lower his shields.
I am still his Padawan, Obi-Wan reassured himself. He will still train me...but I am not whole. The Padawan touched his closed eyelids gently. What does he see when he looks at me now? Obi-Wan wished desperately that he could have understood the thoughts and emotions behind the Force ripples that Qui-Gon had generated during their meal. But not enough time had passed; he did not understand the movements of the Force fully. Could not, without help.
Slipping into his sleep pants and lying back on the bed, Obi-Wan couldn't help but laugh at himself. I won't open the bond until I understand more, and I can't understand without opening the bond. Force, I'm hopeless. Obi-Wan sighed deeply. That is not the true reason you shield yourself so tightly. Thoughts and emotions show so clearly in the living Force...how obvious would my own feelings be, if I relaxed control? The Padawan shook his head. You're a fool. If it would be obvious now that you love him, it was obvious a long time ago. But, as he forced himself to sleep, he held onto his shields as tightly as ever.
To Obi-Wan, Coruscant was a pulsing mass of life so overwhelmingly complex and intertwined that he caught himself reaching through the Force for his Master more than once. "Master?" he asked aloud.
"Will the Council expect us to report?" Obi-Wan sincerely hoped not. He needed time to adapt to Coruscant's hum of energy.
"No, Padawan. I gave my report to Master Yoda en route." Qui-Gon turned and smiled at Obi-Wan, who responded to the goodwill he could sense, if not the expression.
The two Jedi made their way to their quarters in the Temple quickly, both of them eager for a shower and rest. The few people they encountered in the halls all glanced at Obi-Wan a second time, their expressions ranging from curiosity to pity. Qui-Gon realized that word of his injury had gotten around, and glanced at his Padawan with concern.
Obi-Wan walked with his chin up and his stride firm. He stopped in front of their quarters confidently and ducked in without hesitation. Inside, Qui-Gon found him breathing deeply to calm both his anger and his tired trembling. "Obi-Wan?"
"I don't want to be pitied for what I've lost," the younger man said. "I want to be respected for how I'm dealing with it."
"Give them time," Qui-Gon said. Give yourself time.
"Is that going to be everyone's first reaction to me, now? Pity?" Obi-Wan asked, anguish coloring the edges of his voice. "Is there nothing left in me to inspire respect? Admiration?" #Love?# his mind asked, as clearly as if he'd spoken it. Qui-Gon reached out to comfort him, but Obi-Wan jerked away from the gentle touch on his arm. "I don't want pity from you, either," he grated, and strode from the room.
#It's not pity, Padawan. It's support,# Qui-Gon mentally called after him. There was no response and, reaching out, Qui-Gon found that Obi-Wan had sealed the tiny crack in his shielding. For a moment, the Master considered leaving his Padawan to find his own peace...
No. He's alone enough inside his own mind. He should not be alone outside it.
Qui-Gon found Obi-Wan in the meditation gardens. Coruscant, being both the literal and figurative center of the galaxy, was the natural location for the Jedi Temple. Yet, for an order as sensitive to life as the Jedi, the planet's natural rhythms were suppressed to a level that many found stressful. To provide relief, the meditation gardens had been planted centuries before.
The gardens were huge. Nearly a dozen separate, carefully climate controlled rooms supported vegetation from every corner of the galaxy. Some of the rooms had giant glass windows that looked out over the city, but many did not. They were a haven for Jedi seeking peace, a place to find oneness with the Force.
It was late in the day, and the sun was just setting when Qui-Gon quietly joined his Padawan in one of the gardens. Obi-Wan stood before one of the windows, looking out over a city and a sunset that he could not see.
"I was not offering you pity, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said aloud, to be sure his Padawan would hear him. "I was offering support. There is no weakness in accepting it."
"I know. Thank you." There was no life in Obi-Wan's voice as he spoke, and Qui-Gon wondered sadly if his Padawan's mischievous spirit would ever return.
After a long moment of silence, Obi-Wan spoke again. "I can sense it, you know. The sunset. I can feel the warmth on my face. The Force...resonates differently as the light fades. The city grows quiet, less frantic. But I can't see it. I don't think I'd realized until just now that I'd never see a sunset again. But I won't. And you know what? I can't remember what the last one I saw looked like. I wish I'd paid more attention."
Obi-Wan grew silent again, and his Master wanted desperately to reach out to him, to hold him. But he knew the touch would not be accepted. The Padawan went on. "I can't stop thinking of them, now. The things I'll never see. The sunset. The flare of my lightsaber as it ignites. The stars as the hyperdrive kicks in. Water rich planets, just before we land..."
Obi-Wan's voice ended in a choked sob, and Qui-Gon could stand it no longer. He reached out, laid a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder, and sighed in relief as the younger man turned into the embrace instead of away from it. Qui-Gon held him close, his arms wrapped around his Padawan, his head bent to brush his cheek over Obi- Wan's hair.
The shields between Master and Padawan crumbled, and Qui-Gon reached out to hold Obi-Wan in his mind even as he held him in body...and one more thing was added to the list. #The look on your face when I tell you I love you.#
#Obi-Wan. My Obi-Wan. Never think it would be anything but wonder and joy.#
#You love me? Now?# Obi-Wan's mental voice was slightly dubious.
#I love you, Obi-Wan. I will always love you. I think I always have loved you.# Qui-Gon assured him, and bent his head to kiss the younger man.
Obi-Wan's whole being focused on that kiss. Nothing else existed but the warm press of Qui-Gon's lips against his, the wet heat when Qui-Gon parted his lips and Obi- Wan accepted the invitation, the taste of his Master... And then there was more. The brush of Qui-Gon's hand against Obi-Wan's skin as he drew off the younger man's tunic.
"Master!" Obi-Wan gasped aloud. "Won't someone see us?"
"The gardens are high above most of Coruscant," Qui- Gon murmured, bending to nibble at Obi-Wan's shoulder, his hands playing over the younger man's torso, "and this garden is not often visited."
Obi-Wan was too hungry for his Master's touch to argue anymore. He simply reached out to relieve Qui-Gon of his clothing, fingers brushing skin lightly as he did so. The touch was a tease, an exploration and a promise all at the same time. It was a glance.
Warm air played over bare skin, and Qui-Gon gently lay them down on the short, soft grass. He caressed Obi- Wan with his eyes. Every line of his body seemed more beautiful, every scar a memory, a part of Obi-Wan's spirit. Qui-Gon shared his wonder and his desire with his lover through their bond and took as much pleasure in that closeness as he did in his caresses.
#I'm sorry,# Obi-Wan thought, sensing the loneliness that only now was being relieved. #I didn't know.#
#If that isolation had to be felt before I could have this joy,# Qui-Gon replied, #there is no need for an apology.#
"I love you," Obi-Wan murmured aloud, and drew Qui- Gon down on top of him. The heat of skin against skin sent pleasure flaring through both men, and they simply enjoyed the contact for a moment. Then hands moved to touch, to caress, and Obi-Wan found himself arching into his Master's hands. Pleasure bloomed everywhere those hands touched him. Through his haze of pleasure, it occurred to Obi-Wan that he ought to be returning the pleasure instead of hanging onto Qui-Gon's shoulders and grinding his erection against his lover's thigh.
#I want to do this for you, love,# Qui-Gon told him, picking up on the thought. #This closeness gives me as much pleasure.# Then one of Obi-Wan's nipples was engulfed in wet heat, and he moaned loudly as Qui-Gon sucked firmly, drawing the bud into his mouth and teasing it with his teeth.
"I...I want to share something with you," Obi-Wan gasped out. His hands buried in Qui-Gon's hair, he drew the older man up for a kiss and reached out along their bond to bring Qui-Gon's mind closer to his. #Look. Feel the force as I feel it, now.#
Suddenly a web of life unlike anything Qui-Gon had ever felt before sprang into being. His and Obi-Wan's love for each other, their desire, their pleasure at each other's touch rippled through the Force and had an invisible impact on everything around them.
Then the sensation dimmed. #It can get overwhelming,# Obi-Wan admitted.
Qui-Gon kissed him deeply. #Thank you.#
All thought was lost in the rush of sensation as their rhythm grew faster, more urgent. Qui-Gon kissed the soft flesh of Obi-Wan's throat, bit gently at the muscle of his shoulders and thrust eagerly against the younger man.
Obi-Wan came with a cry of passion and release, and the peak of his pleasure drew Qui-Gon's own orgasm from him. They lay in the circle of each other's arms for a long moment. Studying his Padawan's face, Qui-Gon was startled to see tears running down his lover's cheeks. "Obi-Wan?"
"I want to see you now," Obi-Wan whispered, bowing his head. The next thing he knew, he was being pulled to his feet, catching clothes as they struck him. "Master?"
"You must be clothed to leave the gardens, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon pointed out, dressing himself. Mystified, Obi- Wan dressed quickly and allowed his Master to lead him back to their quarters.
There, to Obi-Wan's amusement, Qui-Gon quickly stripped them both again. He moved behind his Padawan and wrapped his arms around him. "Look," Qui-Gon said. "Use my eyes, and look."
Obi-Wan reached out through their bond and was met halfway and drawn close. He blinked with eyes not familiar to him and automatically looked up a little. Then he adjusted for their difference in height...and found himself looking into a mirror. The reflection there made him catch his breath. Both of them naked, Qui- Gon embracing him from behind, the two of them wearing identical expressions of contentment. As Obi- Wan watched, a hint of wonder crept onto his face and pleasure tinged his Master's.
After a long look, Obi-Wan withdrew behind his own eyes again. #Thank you,# he thought. #Thank you for giving me that.#
#I will give you whatever you desire,# Qui-Gon sent back. A mischievous grin, almost forgotten, teased the edges of Obi-Wan's lips. #Oh dear. I'm going regret that, aren't I?# Qui-Gon chuckled.
"I doubt it, Master," Obi-Wan murmured, grinning wider and turning to embrace his Master. "I doubt it."