The diplomatic courier landed on the shuttle pad outside the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, watched by several figures standing silently on the pad. After a few minutes, the landing ramp was lowered and a medical transport unit floated down the ramp. A tall, hooded figure walked alongside the unit, his attention totally focused on the still form lying in the stasis chamber. Two healers moved forward to check the injured boy and the senior healer looked up at the tall Jedi master reassuringly.
"We'll take him from here, Master Jinn. Why don't you go get some rest? It'll be hours before we'll be able to tell you anything."
"I'd rather stay beside Obi-Wan. If he should awaken without me there, he might be frightened."
"He won't wake for a while, Master Jinn," the healer said gently. "When he does awaken, he will have a long convalescence and that is when he will need you the most. And – forgive me – but you look as if you are in need of rest."
"He's right, Qui-Gon," Mace said.
"Leave the boy to the Healers you must," Yoda said with quiet authority. "Come with me now you will."
Qui-Gon sighed. "Yes, my master." He looked at the healer with barely concealed anxiety. "You will inform me once you have more news of Obi-Wan's condition?"
"You have my word," the senior healer said.
"I'll stay with young Kenobi – if you permit, Qui-Gon," Mace offered. "It won't be the first time that I've watched over an injured padawan."
Qui-Gon's face lightened and he squeezed Mace's shoulder gratefully. "Thank you, my friend. That would be a kindness."
Mace patted his hand. "Don't worry, old friend. All will be well."
Qui-Gon watched as the floating med unit bearing his injured padawan, followed by Mace and the healers, made its way into the Temple. A throat clearing behind him made him turn to the diminutive Jedi Master and bow his head respectfully.
"Hmm." Yoda looked him over critically then gestured for Qui-Gon to follow him. "Better you have looked, my Padawan."
Qui-Gon gave him a wry look as they entered the Temple. "The last two days have been – difficult."
"Lost your gift for understatement you have not."
Qui-Gon was grateful to see that Yoda was leading the way to his own suite of rooms instead of Qui-Gon's. At the moment, he didn't think he could face the painful emptiness of his rooms, devoid of his padawan's lively presence. The thought that the irrepressible spirit of his apprentice might be permanently dimmed made his breath catch in his throat.
The familiar smells of decaying bog brought him out of his walking catatonia and he automatically made his way to his usual chair in his master's suite. Contrary to the wild speculation of some of the initiates, Master Yoda didn't actually have the swamp of his native Dagobah recreated in his suite of rooms, but the air circulation system was set to simulate the familiar scents of the planet. It had taken Qui-Gon awhile to get accustomed to it as a new padawan, but now those familiar scents were comforting instead of nauseating, reminding him of the many years he had spent at his master's side.
A cup of tea appeared in front of him and he sipped it gratefully, finding it seasoned just the way he liked it. The old master may have been over seven hundred years in age with a dozen trained padawans to his credit but he never forgot anything about them – a fact that was embarrassing but at times like this could be very comforting.
"So." Yoda sat down across from him with his own tea, his sharp eyes studying Qui-Gon intently. "To me you will tell what happened."
Qui-Gon closed his eyes. "You have my report on the mission."
"Report I have. Facts, yes. Your feelings I do not have."
Qui-Gon sighed. "What I feel is that three young lives have been permanently affected by something that should never have been allowed to happen. Bruck Chun had an incredible gift for the Living Force, something that should have been nurtured. Instead, because of an arbitrary system, he was sent away from his home, from everyone he knew, from everything he had worked for since he was a child. We are told that there is no shame in being sent to AgriCorps but the fact of the matter is that our initiates feel shamed, unwanted. Even Obi-Wan has lingering doubts of his self-worth because of this. Bruck has received no counseling, no help with overcoming his anger and shame. Is it any surprise that when he saw his old rival who had unexpectedly succeeded where Bruck had failed that he would react violently? I'm surprised that more of our displaced initiates don't turn to the Dark Side."
Yoda nodded gravely. "Problem it is. Problem has always been."
Qui-Gon opened his eyes and glared at his old master. "That's the Council's answer to everything – that it has always been this way. There has always been violence and injustice, too, but no one would say that because it has always existed it should be allowed to continue."
"Recover will young Bruck."
"Yes, but at what cost? And Obi-Wan – " He halted and bowed his head, unable to continue.
"Much guilt in you I sense."
Qui-Gon looked down at his hands. "I didn't believe my own padawan when he insisted that he was innocent, and I punished him for something he didn't do."
"Reason you had to believe him guilty?"
"Circumstantial evidence. I should have known Obi-Wan well enough to know that he wasn't capable of doing that. I should have trusted him."
Yoda nodded sagely. "Hard to trust you find it still."
Qui-Gon nodded. "My own failing, Master. Obi-Wan shouldn't suffer for that. I wouldn't be surprised if Obi-Wan blamed me. If I had listened to him, none of this would have happened."
Yoda tilted his head, studying his former apprentice. "Perfect you are now, my Padawan? Know all that will happen?"
"Of course not, Master, but – "
"Blame no problems solves. Learn from the past you must."
Qui-Gon sighed and wearily rubbed his eyes. "Yes, Master. You are right. I will try to release my guilt to the Force."
"Good." Yoda nodded, pleased to have won that round with his stubborn former padawan. "Rest now you will. Sleep. Better things will seem in the morning."
Qui-Gon was surprised to find that he slept well that night, although he suspected that his diminutive master might have had something to do with that. He managed to eat a little breakfast before making his way to the Infirmary, forcing himself to a normal pace instead of running through the Temple like an initiate. On entering the infirmary, he was surprised to see one of Obi-Wan's friends sitting beside his bed instead of Mace. Sedik rose hastily and bowed to the master Jedi.
"Good morning, Master Jinn. Master Windu asked me to let you know that he was called to a Council meeting, but he will stop by afterwards. I offered to sit with Obi-Wan till you could come."
"Thank you, Padawan Sedik. That was most kind of you."
"Obi-Wan's my friend," Sedik said simply, glancing over at the young man lying so still. "I – it's hard to see him like this, isn't it, Master Jinn? He's usually so full of energy, always in motion."
Qui-Gon heard the forlorn tone in the young man's voice and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "He will be all right. Obi-Wan's not the type to give up without a fight."
Sedik nodded and turned away, surreptitiously wiping his eyes with his sleeve. "Well, I better get to class. I'll stop back by later, if that's all right."
Qui-Gon nodded. "Of course."
Once the other man had left, Qui-Gon sat down in the chair next to the bed and placed his hand over the smaller hand of his apprentice, lying so still on the blanket. Only the fact that he could feel the young man's life force shining clear and strong kept him from panicking and seeking the nearest Healer.
"Padawan," he murmured, brushing a hand over the soft, spiky hair. "All will be well. I promise."
"And so do I." Qui-Gon turned to see Master-Healer Efret standing in the doorway, smiling at him. "Good morning, Master Jinn. You are looking much better this morning."
Qui-Gon nodded but said, "Obi-Wan? How is he?"
Master Efret consulted his datapad. "Your boy is remarkably lucky, that's how he is. By all rights, that kind of Force attack should have killed him. It's fortunate that he has such strong shielding – fortunate also that you were shielded or you'd be lying on this other bed in much the same shape."
Qui-Gon felt a small sense of relief at that; the fact that he had been shielded against his apprentice had been troubling him. "Will he recover? The healers on Benabeen spoke of brain damage, physical or mental handicap - "
"Obi-Wan is young and strong. Thanks to the quick work of the healers in putting him into stasis, the damage was limited. We were able to heal the damaged areas completely. I have no doubt that – given time – he will make a full recovery."
"It isn't going to happen overnight, Master Jinn," the healer said frankly. "As you've been told, the mental shields kept him from being killed and prevented any major brain damage, but the Force pressure against them has badly bruised his brain. It will be some time before he will be able to use the Force without pain. He won't be able to erect even the most basic of mental shields to begin with, so he will need someone with him at all times to provide external shielding until he's strong enough."
Qui-Gon nodded. "And his body?"
"His body's had quite a shock, like receiving a lightning strike, and it will have caused some serious but not irreversible nerve damage. It will take a while for him to re-educate his muscles to obey his mind, although we will put him through physical therapy to speed his recovery. But I don't anticipate any lasting handicaps."
"Thank the Force!" Qui-Gon murmured. "Once he awakens, how soon can he come home?"
Master Efret frowned. "It would be better if he remained here until we finish his rehabilitation."
Qui-Gon shook his head. "Obi-Wan hates hospitals. I'm sure he'd recover much quicker in a familiar environment."
"It will be a lot of work for you," the healer warned. "He has to have a special bed that can be manipulated into different positions and a gel-pack mattress to keep from getting bed sores. He will require constant attendance to shield him, feed him, bathe him, and manipulate his muscles. He will tire quickly and I expect his appetite will be low so it'll be tricky to tempt him to eat. It would be better for you if he were to remain here."
"He is my padawan, and I will do whatever is necessary to aid his recovery."
Efret sighed, knowing the futility of arguing with this Jedi Master when he had made up his mind. "Very well. As soon as we know that he won't lapse back into a coma, you may move him back into your quarters. I'll arrange for a special bed to be brought there – it won't fit in the padawan room so you'll have to make space for it in the common room." Qui-Gon nodded, mentally arranging the furnishings and noting what could be stored elsewhere for now. "And you'll want to enlist help or you'll be worn into the ground in no time."
"And when I talk about tiring, I mean both physically and mentally, so you will have to ease off on his studies and his training for awhile. I don't expect any long-term affects, although his knighthood may be pushed back a bit because of this. Then again, he's a bright young man and should be able to make up the ground he's lost once he's recovered. Just don't let him overdo it."
"How soon before he wakes up?"
"Well that, I'm afraid, is up to young Kenobi here."
Qui-Gon blinked at that. "I beg your pardon?"
"Obi-Wan is hurting and part of his mind is hiding away until it's safe to come out." He placed a gentle hand on Obi-Wan's forehead. "When he's ready, he will wake up. Of course, it wouldn't hurt if you encouraged and reassured him. Try to contact him through your link – it won't be as strong as it usually is and you'll feel the pain he's feeling, but – "
"I'll do it," Qui-Gon said quickly. He settled back in the chair and reached out to take his padawan's hand in his, then closed his eyes and dropped into a meditative state.
Obi-Wan Kenobi drifted alone in a cold sea of gray. Blurred, indistinct images drifted past him and he tried to reach out to them, to bring them into focus. A searing flash of pain lit up the grayness, making his whole being throb with the agony, and he screamed into the coldness surrounding him, ready to beg for release from the pain. It hurt so much and he was so cold and alone.
He was gradually aware of gentle warmth surrounding him, familiar and warm like that old blanket he had slept with in the crèche as a child, and he turned into it gratefully. The warmth cradled him close, soothing his fears, taking away the pain. There was a familiarity to it and he felt as if he should be able to give it a name. Agony pierced him at the thought but he pushed away the pain, trying to focus for just a moment, reaching for the knowledge he needed.
And then it fell into place and he had a name. /Master? /
A sense of joy mixed with the warmth. /Yes, Obi-Wan. I'm here./
/What – happened? /
A tender touch seemed to brush over his forehead, lying in a soothing balm of Force healing along his battered mind. /You were hurt, my Padawan, but it's all right now. It's okay to wake up. /
/I know, Padawan, but it's time to come back now. We're all worried about you. /
He tried to concentrate on the words but waves of gray pain washed over him. /Worry – probably leads to the Dark Side. /
There was a ghost of a mental chuckle. /I'll have to ask Master Yoda. Now, come, Padawan. /
Impossible not to obey that voice. He followed the trail of warmth, feeling the grayness around him grow thinner even as the agony increased. And then the warmth was back, easing his pain again before encouraging him to continue, leading him out of the sea of gray.
The slight stirring of the hand under his brought Qui-Gon out of his meditative trance. As he leaned over the bed, Obi-Wan's eyes fluttered open and Qui-Gon couldn't help the smile that broke out on his face.
"Welcome back, Padawan."
"Master," Obi-Wan murmured, wincing against the bright light of the medical bay before Qui-Gon ordered the lights to quarter-brightness. "Where – "
"You're on Coruscant, my Padawan. Do you remember what happened?"
Obi-Wan tried to remember and then gasped at the pain. Qui-Gon quickly and gently spread soothing numbness along the mental injury and Obi-Wan went limp with relief.
"Nothing to be sorry for, and in time the pain will lessen."
A wisp of a memory floated to the surface and he clutched at his master's hand. "Ansel?" he asked. "And Bruck? Are they okay?"
Qui-Gon sighed; it was like his tenderhearted padawan to be worried about the boy who had hurt him. "Ansel is fine. Bruck deflected the Force blow in enough time to save him from harm. Unfortunately, Bruck wasn't able to shield himself. His brain was wiped completely."
Obi-Wan's eyes shadowed. "Poor Bruck," he murmured. "What will happen to him now?"
"He's been sent to a rehabilitation center where he will be re-educated, and his friend chose to go with him." He gently caressed his padawan's troubled face. "It could have ended much worse for all of you. I am thankful that you have revived, my padawan, but you need to rest and let sleep heal your injuries."
"You just made me wake up," Obi-Wan grumbled, even as his heavy eyelids drifted closed. "Make up your mind, Master."
Qui-Gon chuckled and ran an affectionate hand over the boy's face. "You're going to be just fine, Padawan."
Obi-Wan yawned and let his eyes close completely, then drifted into a painless, easy sleep. And as he slept, he was aware of a warm presence keeping him safe.
Two nights later, Obi-Wan lay awake in the infirmary bed, staring at the ceiling and trying not to make a sound. A sudden tingling throughout his body that felt as if every nerve in his body was clamoring for attention had awakened him. This had been happening on and off for the past day and the healers said that it was a good sign that he had not suffered any permanent nerve damage. Obi-Wan sourly thought that it was easy for the healers to say that – they weren't the ones suffering through this.
His master lay sleeping on a cot nearby, his face lined with exhaustion, and Obi-Wan was determined not to awaken him. Qui-Gon had been at his side the entire time since Obi-Wan had come out of the coma, his physical presence a comfort against the terror of being unable to control his body, unable to shield against the thoughts and feelings of those around him. His master had shielded him and attended to all his needs, seemingly unconcerned that Obi-Wan was as helpless as a baby, and his casual attitude had dissipated Obi-Wan's own embarrassment. Still, it would have been easier if his room hadn't become some kind of communal center, with healers coming and going all the time and people dropping in to see how he was. He longed for the peacefulness and familiar surroundings of home.
The tingling in his body intensified, turning to red-hot fire, and Obi-Wan couldn't control the groan that escaped his lips. In an instant, Qui-Gon was leaning over his bed, a cool hand pressed to his forehead.
"The tingling again, Padawan?" Obi-Wan nodded weakly. "How long?"
"Fifteen – minutes."
"Why didn't you wake me?" Qui-Gon picked up his left arm and began massaging it as he directed a little Force healing to the area, encouraging the nerves in their attempt to reintegrate with his system.
"It didn't seem that bad," Obi-Wan said weakly, not wanting to admit that he had been more concerned for his master's sleep.
"This is not a test of your physical endurance, Padawan," Qui-Gon said in mild reproof. "And I will not collapse from lack of sleep for a few days. Next time, wake me immediately."
Obi-Wan flushed, aware of the futility of trying to hide any thoughts from his master now. "Yes, Master."
Qui-Gon finished with his arms and started on his legs, and Obi-Wan had to bite back another groan. He didn't know which was worse – the pain from the nerves or from the massage. Qui-Gon expertly rolled him over to his stomach and repeated his ministrations along Obi-Wan's back, and the padawan sighed as the last of the pain was massaged away.
"Thank you, Master," he murmured as Qui-Gon pulled the covers back up over him and tucked him back in.
"You are most welcome, Padawan. Is there anything else you need? To relieve yourself? Water? Something to eat?"
Unexpectedly, tears came to Obi-Wan's eyes. "Home," he whispered. "I need to go home."
Qui-Gon sympathized with the longing in Obi-Wan's voice. "I know, Padawan. I will speak to the healers again in the morning." His hand caressed the boy's head. "Sleep, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan felt the nudge of suggestion along with the words and let himself drift back into sleep.
"Careful, Qui-Gon," Mace admonished, hovering in the doorway of Qui-Gon's rooms and trying to stay out of the way.
A week after Obi-Wan came out of the coma, the healers finally gave in to their requests to release Obi-Wan into his master's care and sent them home. Qui-Gon had opted to carry his padawan the short distance through the Temple to his quarters instead of using a floater and he managed to hide his concern that Obi-Wan seemed to have lost weight since his injury. Now that he had the boy back under his watchful eye every minute, he would make certain that Obi-Wan gained back the weight.
Obi-Wan buried his face against his master's shoulder, avoiding the curious stares of the crowd gathered around his master's quarters. Without the presence of his mental shields, he felt exposed and vulnerable, and he was grateful for the shielding that his master extended over him.
Qui-Gon glared at his friend over the head of his padawan. "I am being careful. What I need is for you to stop hovering before I accidentally drop Obi-Wan."
At the back of the room, Bant clapped her hands over her mouth to suppress a giggle and Sedik rolled his eyes. "At this rate, Obi-Wan will be back in the infirmary before the end of the day."
"Not if my master has anything to say about it," Bant said with a laugh. "He's glad to have Master Jinn out from under foot. He had to threaten to sedate Master Jinn to get him to sleep last night."
Qui-Gon settled Obi-Wan on the special bed set up in the common room, noting with concern that his padawan's face was considerably paler than it had been on leaving the infirmary.
"Are you all right, Padawan?"
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said weakly. "Just a little nauseous."
"Here." Yoda emerged from the kitchen with a cup of tea. "Good for upset stomachs this is."
Qui-Gon held the cup to Obi-Wan's lips since the boy's hands were shaking too much for him to hold it, then looked over the assembled crowd. "All right, everyone. Obi-Wan needs his rest, so everyone just go home. You can visit him later – one at a time."
Bant and Sedik quickly made their farewells and slipped out, followed by the rest of Obi-Wan's friends who had been trying to hover unobtrusively in the background. Mace left after assuring Qui-Gon that he would be available should his friend need help with his nursing duties. Finally, only Yoda was left sitting quietly in the low chair reserved for his visits, watching while Qui-Gon tucked Obi-Wan in and dimmed the lights. Within minutes the boy was asleep, his healing body exhausted from the short trip.
Qui-Gon settled on the floor next to his former master, watching his sleeping apprentice with troubled eyes. "I don't like this, Master. The slightest exertion completely wears him out, and he seems to spend most of his time sleeping."
"Given your right arm for this a week ago you would have done," Yoda reminded him. "Better he is. Time it will take."
Qui-Gon sighed. "I know. It's just that I keep looking for signs of the Obi-Wan I know and they aren't there."
"Impatient you have always been, my padawan. In the Force you must trust."
"Yes, Master," Qui-Gon said. But in his heart he knew that some people never fully recovered from such injuries, that although it was easy enough to mend the body, the spirit was hard to repair when damaged. And deep inside, he began to fear that Obi-Wan would never be the same.
Qui-Gon came out of his room carrying his travel bag and hesitated in the doorway. "Master Yoda, are you certain that you can do this. Perhaps I should stay…"
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and suppressed a sigh. For the past month since he had been released from the Infirmary, Qui-Gon had hovered over him. In the beginning when he had been weak and easily tired, it had been a great comfort to have his master at his beck and call. Qui-Gon had cared for all of his needs, feeding and bathing him, carrying him to the bathroom when needed, massaging his muscles to keep them in tone. He had tempted his apprentice's faint appetite by cooking his favorite dishes. He had amused the bed-ridden boy by reading to him and playing board games with him. He had soothed away the pain during long, dark nights and helped Obi-Wan sleep. But now that the padawan's health was improving and he was allowed out of bed for short periods of time, he found the constant hovering more than a little annoying. He had actually been a little relieved when the Council had decided to send Qui-Gon to oversee a treaty signing on Xedaria. At the same time, his heart ached at the thought of being apart from his master for so long.
Qui-Gon, on the other hand, had been extremely reluctant to accept the assignment. He knew that Obi-Wan was well enough to leave him and, since he had been instrumental in arranging the terms of the original treaty, it was only logical that he be sent on this mission. And Master Yoda had offered to watch over his padawan while he was gone, although he wasn't sure if that should make him feel relieved or more worried. Only the knowledge that this was his duty had made him accept.
Yoda scowled at him. "Raised fifteen padawans I have. Look after one I can."
"We'll be fine, Master," Obi-Wan said with what he hoped was a reassuring grin. "But if you don't hurry, you'll miss your transport."
Qui-Gon nodded and crossed the room to ruffle his padawan's hair. "Be good, Obi-Wan, and mind Yoda while I'm gone. And listen to the Healers. And don't overdo it. And - "
"Master," Obi-Wan said with patient amusement. "Go."
Qui-Gon chuckled and bent to brush a kiss over Obi-Wan's forehead. "Very well, Padawan. I will see you in two weeks."
Yoda let out a sigh of relief as the door closed behind Qui-Gon. "Thought that on the transport I would have to put him myself." He looked over at the now-silent padawan, lying still on the bed with his eyes closed, and his heart went out to the boy. This was the first time since Obi-Wan had become a padawan that the two had been separated for any length of time. "Some tea I will make you, Padawan."
Obi-Wan nodded, eyes still closed, and hoped that this would be the only time that his master had to leave the Temple without him instead of just the first time. Some future warning tingled within him, something he couldn't put his finger on but which involved danger to Qui-Gon without Obi-Wan at his side. He drew a deep breath and tried to release his fears to the Force.
Yoda woke in the middle of the night, instantly alerted by the muffled groan from the living room. He sighed and got out of the bed in the padawan's room of the suite where he had been sleeping the past week, padding into the living room. In the low light, he could see that Obi-Wan was writhing on the bed, biting his lip as he tried to contain his groans. In the past few days, the Healers had intensified their physical therapy to help restore the muscle tone lost during the time he had been bed-ridden. It was exhausting and draining for the boy, and he often suffered from painful muscle spasms during the night as his body struggled to reintegrate itself.
Yoda gently placed his hands on the boy's body. "Relax, Padawan. Breathe."
Obi-Wan tried to relax, drawing in slow breaths as he had been taught since a child, surrendering his body to Yoda's soothing touch. After a few long moments, he could feel the knots of tension in his legs and back begin to ease and the uncontrollable trembling slowed. He drew a deep breath of relief.
"Sorry, Master Yoda," he murmured, embarrassed that he had been unable to help himself and that he had awakened the elderly Jedi again.
"Apologize not," Yoda said, patting his back. "Here to help I am. Tea we shall have, then sleep, hmm?"
Obi-Wan nodded and propped himself up in the bed. His whole body still tingled and he knew he wouldn't be able to sleep for a long while now. He was grateful for the Jedi Master's company but his heart ached for the return of his master. Qui-Gon appeared just as eager to return home, calling every day to ascertain that Obi-Wan was well. He sighed – one week passed, one week to go.
Yoda returned with the tea and settled on the foot of the bed, his sharp eyes studying Obi-Wan's face. "Amuse you shall I until sleepy you are?"
"Yes, please, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan said, sipping his tea and willing his body to relax. "Tell me some more stories about when my master was a padawan."
Yoda chuckled. "Scamp you are, young padawan. Displeased with me your master will be when he returns."
"Then we won't tell him," Obi-Wan said with a glimmer of his former mischievousness.
Yoda chuckled and began to tell the story of the time when Qui-Gon had audaciously reprogrammed the Council's food replicators so that they would mistake salt for sugar and water for milk, resulting in an appalling meal just when the Supreme Chancellor had been invited for lunch. That story led to another in which Qui-Gon had rescued a young orphaned merikat during a flood, nursing the pitiful creature back to health. Unable to leave the creature behind when they left the planet, he had smuggled it onboard their cruiser and successfully hid it from his master during the three-day trip back to Coruscant. Trouble had occurred, however, when Yoda decided to report to the Senate before returning to his quarters. Qui-Gon had secreted the sleeping merikat in the sleeve of his robe but the creature had been awakened by the noise in the Senate chamber and escaped from the padawan. It had then proceeded to let everyone know its displeasure at being awakened by biting and clawing several of the Senators as it jumped from one box to another, eluding capture. Qui-Gon had finally cornered and secured the merikat, and the creature had become the newest addition to the Temple menagerie, much to the delight of the Initiates.
Obi-Wan lay back in his pillows, laughing. "Poor Master Yoda! It's a wonder you survived my master's apprenticeship!"
Yoda nodded gravely, only a twinkle in his eyes betraying his own amusement. "A second trial my padawan was. If driven me to the Dark Side he could not do, nothing will."
"Master must have spent more of his apprenticeship standing than sitting, from the stories you tell."
Yoda shook his head and sighed. "Stubborn that one is. Argue with me he would when in trouble. But good heart he has." He hopped down from the bed, collecting Obi-Wan's cup. "Now sleep you will, Padawan, or after me with a stick Qui-Gon will come."
"I'd like to see that, Master Yoda." A light Force swat made him laugh and then he obediently snuggled down into the covers.
It all started with a broken teacup.
A month had passed since Qui-Gon's return from Xedaria, during which Obi-Wan's rehabilitation had progressed rapidly. The Healers had gradually allowed him to resume most of his normal activities and he was back in his old bed in his own room. Obi-Wan had almost despaired when he realized how far behind he was in his studies and how much ground he had lost in his lightsaber training, but he had thrown himself into his work eagerly at the beginning. That was before he realized that something was wrong with Master Qui-Gon.
It wasn't anything that most people would notice, probably no one except another padawan. Master Qui-Gon was unfailingly polite towards him and infinitely patient, not that he hadn't been a kind and patient master before. But during the first week that he was allowed to practice, Obi-Wan had noticed that something was different. He was working his way through the first kata, the most basic one that all initiates learned to do till they could perform it in their sleep. Toward the end of the first section, he had lost his timing and badly performed the final sequence. And then again, towards the end of the second section, he had totally lost his balance and flubbed the footing, nearly falling on his ass. As he finished, extinguished his saber, and bowed to his master, he expected a sharp criticism on his performance.
However, Qui-Gon had merely said, in a mild tone of voice, "That will be all for today, Padawan."
Obi-Wan gaped at him. "You – you don't want me to go through it again?"
"No, I think that is sufficient for today. You may shower and change."
Obi-Wan blinked and stared at him. "And no additional drills? Balance exercises? Meditation? Nothing?"
"I believe that I said that will be all for today, Padawan," Qui-Gon said, his voice taking on a stern tone. "Is there anything in that sentence that you fail to understand?"
"No, Master," Obi-Wan said obediently and headed off to shower and change.
He was puzzled – normally such an abysmal performance would have warranted him at least an hour balancing on one foot, repetition of the sections he had missed until he could perform them perfectly, and meditation exercises to strengthen his connection to the Force. Obi-Wan shrugged, thinking that his master was most likely going easy on him to start with, but that day set the pattern for all the rest of the training sessions. No matter how poorly Obi-Wan performed, Qui-Gon never set him additional drills, just patiently correcting his mistakes and letting him continue.
Then one day, in frustration at being unable to accomplish a tumbling move that had been so effortless before the injury, Obi-Wan had lost his temper and thrown his saber against the wall. He had been aghast a second later, falling to his knees and waiting for his master's wrath to descend upon him, and was stunned when Qui-Gon merely handed him back his saber and said, "Again, if you will, Padawan." It had taken all of Obi-Wan's control not to burst into tears at his master's indifference and run from the room.
This evening, Qui-Gon had insisted on an early bedtime as an earlier sparring match with Sedik had left the younger padawan wiped out and shaking. The master Jedi had left his padawan to finish his meal while he showered, and Obi-Wan had abandoned the pretense of eating to go about his usual task of washing up the dishes. As he cleared the table, however, his unsteady hands had lost their grip. The teacup and saucer in his hands had tumbled to the floor, shattering the cup into a hundred pieces. His master had heard the noise and rushed back into the room to find Obi-Wan staring with stricken eyes at the mess. And then his master had said only two words.
The words had been gently spoken with no hint of reproof in them but they had sent Obi-Wan scurrying into his room. He flung himself onto his bed, trying not to sob in his despair. In the days before his injury, such carelessness would have brought a lecture about taking on tasks that he was not fit to handle and he would have been required to clean up the mess he created. And the fact that he had disobeyed Qui-Gon's orders would have merited a stern talk. The fact that Qui-Gon had done neither, had sent him to bed without further comment while he cleaned up the mess just as if Obi-Wan was a guest in his suite, was somehow even worse.
His master no longer seemed to care what he did.
The next day, it was a decidedly pale and miserable Obi-Wan who sat beside his master at the annual saber competition. Just three months earlier, he had been looking forward to this competition eagerly as Master Qui-Gon had said that this year they would fight together in the Pairs competition. Now he sat forlornly on the bench watching his friends compete, not even strong enough to compete in the Singles. Even Bant was occupied, sitting beside her master in the Healers' enclosure. And his master hadn't even spoken to him since looking at him once early in the competition, a look that seemed to reflect his disappointment in his padawan.
He applauded listlessly as Sedik advanced through the Junior Padawan competition, remembering how he and the older boy had speculated on their matches. They had been sure that Sedik would advance to the finals and Sedik's opinion was that Obi-Wan would as well, and they were looking forward to a friendly competition. When they announced the final round, he suddenly couldn't bear it any longer. With a muttered apology and comment about needing the bathroom, he left the hall and sought refuge in the gardens.
His master was disappointed with him and unhappy with being saddled with a hopeless apprentice that even an Initiate could take in a fight – and that probably with one arm tied behind their back. He was just too polite to say so to Obi-Wan. Yes, he had nursed Obi-Wan during his illness and cared for his needs, but no doubt that had been from his care and concern for all helpless creatures. Now that Obi-Wan was no longer helpless and in need of his care, Qui-Gon had no doubt recalled that Obi-Wan's own foolish actions had caused his injury and illness. He probably didn't even love Obi-Wan anymore, wouldn't even bother to correct his padawan's behavior if he were to act up, not like he had been quick to do in the past. Of course, there was only one way to find out.
"Obi-Wan, where are my tunics?" Qui-Gon demanded, emerging from his chamber dressed in his bedrobe. He found his padawan sitting at the desk, working in a half-hearted fashion on his homework. Qui-Gon bit back a comment that Obi-Wan should have finished that the night before; he knew that the boy was having trouble catching up with his class work and was more than a little discouraged.
Obi-Wan shrugged. "At the cleaners."
"I thought you dropped them off two days ago. They should have been ready yesterday."
"Forgot to pick them up."
Qui-Gon bit back a sharp remark about his padawan's recent "forgetfulness" that seemed to be centered around his master's needs. The tea that Qui-Gon preferred was "forgotten" in the shopping supply list while Obi-Wan's was in plentiful supply. Chores around their rooms were also "forgotten" although Obi-Wan appeared to have plenty of time to waste with his friends. And now his clothing.
It was obvious that Obi-Wan was harboring some resentment towards his master and Qui-Gon knew that they should talk about it but he shied away from anything having to do with Benabeen. It was hard enough to know that Obi-Wan blamed him for what had happened without hearing the words from his padawan's mouth.
Every time he watched his padawan struggle to master a skill that had been second nature only a few months earlier, Qui-Gon felt his heart ache. He knew that he should correct the boy, have him repeat the drills till he got them perfected, but he could not bring himself to do that when Obi-Wan was clearly trying his best. Then there was the day when, in frustration, Obi-Wan had thrown his lightsaber against the wall. Qui-Gon had been about to severely chastise his padawan, both for his loss of temper and possibly damaging his weapon, but the terrified look on the boy's face as he fell to his knees appalled him. Feeling sick at heart that his padawan would fear him so much, all his anger had evaporated. Gently, he had reassured Obi-Wan and returned his weapon.
Then, at the competitions, he had felt the stiffness and misery radiating through the overly thin body sitting beside him as he watched his friends and year-mates performing. His own misery was almost as great as he compared this listless figure to the exuberant, glowing boy at the previous year's competition, and he felt as if his heart could break. He couldn't blame Obi-Wan when he muttered an excuse and fled the room. His own guilt nearly consumed him daily as he watched the boy struggle to regain his life.
"Very well, Padawan," he said quietly. "I will pick them up myself after my meeting with the Council."
Qui-Gon returned to his rooms to put on his clothing from the previous day, shaking the wrinkles out as best he could and pulling on unpolished boots, then he hurried off to his meeting. Watching him out of the corner of his eye, Obi-Wan knew he should have been embarrassed to be sending his master off looking less than perfect since he had always taken pride in his master's appearance, knowing that it reflected on both of them. But the only thing that he was aware of was a deepening sense of despair.
Looking at the clock, he realized that it was lunchtime and dragged himself to the dining hall where his friends were waiting for him. He was aware of the concerned looks of his friends as they talked about classes and exams, discussing who thought that they had passed what and who thought they might have to repeat a class. Obi-Wan had been excused from the usual exams while the teachers tutored him privately to help him catch up on the lessons he had missed, and this fact seemed to distance him even further from his friends. He toyed with his food, his appetite gone, and said nothing.
Bant leaned close to him and murmured, "Are you all right, Obi-Wan? Should I summon the Healers or Master Jinn?"
At the sound of his master's name, he could feel the tears build up behind his eyes and bit his lip hard to stop them. He sensed the look that Sedik and Bant exchanged and heard Sedik quietly ask the others to leave.
"What's wrong, kid?" Sedik asked gently.
"My master doesn't want me anymore," Obi-Wan whispered.
Bant laid a gentle hand on his knee. "Obi-Wan, you know that's not true. Master Jinn haunted the Infirmary while you were ill and forced them to release you so he could care for you himself, and Master Yoda practically had to shove him onto that ship to handle the Xedarian negotiations."
"That was before he realized how - damaged I am."
"Damaged?" Sedik asked. "The healers said that you will recover fully, it'll just take time."
Obi-Wan blinked hard. "I can't get anything right during practice, and I'm so far behind in my studies that the teachers are thinking about dropping me back one level. Last week I dropped and broke his favorite cup and he didn't say anything."
"You're over-reacting," Bant said patiently. "What did you expect him to do - spank you?"
Obi-Wan flushed and Sedik said hastily, "Master Jinn knows that it's going to take awhile before you're in top form again. Of course he's going to take it easy on you."
"You don't understand!" Obi-Wan was nearly in tears now. "This past week I've been an absolute brat – forgetting his laundry, not doing my chores, skipping classes, being disrespectful – and he treats me politely, like a stranger!"
"That doesn't sound like Master Jinn," Sedik said doubtfully. "My master would have me scrubbing the floors on my hands and knees."
"Maybe he's worried that this is just part of your illness," Bant said hesitantly. "I mean, the forgetfulness and attitude changes could be."
"Well, I'm going to make him pay attention to what I'm doing!" Obi-Wan said determinedly, wiping his eyes with his sleeve.
Sedik immediately looked wary. "What are you going to do?"
"Master Yoda told me about some of the pranks Master Qui-Gon pulled when he was a padawan. I'm going to do the same things – there's no way that he can ignore that." Determined, Obi-Wan got up and left the dining hall.
Bant and Sedik exchanged troubled looks. "Do you think we should tell Master Jinn?"
Sedik hesitated and then shook his head. "If Obi-Wan thinks we told on him, he'll never trust us again, and Force knows what kind of trouble he'll get into." He stood up. "I'll stick with him and make sure he doesn't get into too much trouble."
Bant snorted at that. "Right. That's like asking Reeft to guard the refrigerator."
"Trust me, Bant."
Bant sighed and watched Sedik leave. "I've got a bad feeling about this," she murmured.
"Qui-Gon, if you don't do something about that brat of yours, I swear that I will!"
Qui-Gon looked up as Mace stormed into his suite and sighed. "What's Obi-Wan done now?"
"Reprogrammed the processors in the Council kitchen - we just endured the most appalling meal!"
Despite himself, a smile touched Qui-Gon's lips. "Really? On his own? As I recall, it took both of us to do the same thing."
"Qui, don't you plan to do anything about this?" Mace growled. "Aren't you going to spank the boy?"
Qui-Gon sighed. "Mace, you don't spank a boy for pulling silly pranks."
"Yoda seemed to do it to you often enough for our 'silly pranks'," Mace said dryly.
Qui-Gon smiled ruefully. "Not so much for the pranks as for my stubbornness and insistence on arguing with him about punishment."
"Something that hasn't changed much," Mace murmured.
"Obi-Wan can be stubborn sometimes but he's too sweet-tempered to hold out for long. He always admits his faults."
"Well, your 'sweet-tempered' boy is becoming an unholy terror."
"Mace, show me something that he's done that is dangerous, to him or anyone else. Annoying, yes, but no more than youthful high spirits."
"Yes – except that he doesn't seem to be enjoying himself. Not like we did when we got up to these same pranks. There's a kind of desperation in his actions that makes me think that he's doing this for a reason – to get your attention."
"I know," Qui-Gon said quietly, "but I won't punish him."
Mace sighed, his ire fading as he saw the bleak look on his friend's face. "My friend, I know that you blame yourself for what happened on Benabeen but - "
"But nothing!" Qui-Gon snapped. "I punished Obi-Wan for something that he didn't do, wouldn't listen to him when he protested over and over that he was innocent. I didn't believe him - my own padawan! If I had listened, maybe I could have stopped what happened. Maybe Obi-Wan would never have been hurt and that boy, Bruck, could have been stopped and counseled before it was too late."
"Maybe. But maybe not. And Obi-Wan was not exactly innocent, either. He had gotten into a fight with Bruck and then tried to hide that from you. If he had come to you from the start, the whole thing could have been avoided."
"And why didn't he come to me, Mace? Because he knew that he would be punished, and he was so afraid of me that he preferred to hide his misdeeds."
"Oh, come on, Qui! Show me any child who willingly runs to tell on himself when he knows he's going to be punished! It's part of the growing-up process - learning that responsible Jedi confess their misdeeds regardless of the penalty. Remember that broken collarbone? Did you hide that from Master Yoda because you were afraid of him?"
Qui-Gon snorted. "Hell, yes! He still scares me at times." Then he smiled ruefully. "I knew that he would treat me gently, make sure that I was fully healed and cared for. And then, when I was fully healed, thrash me within an inch of my life. And he did."
"And that time when he punished you for putting the fish in the drinking pool when it was actually me that did it?"
Qui-Gon chuckled. "I don't think I've ever seen Master Yoda so angry - I think he swallowed some of the fish whole. I thought I'd eat standing for a month."
"And of course you hated him," Mace said blandly. "Since he punished you unjustly."
"I could no more hate my master than - " Qui-Gon paused and frowned. "It's not the same."
"Isn't it? I doubt that Obi-Wan would blame you for having made a mistake, not if you admitted it and asked his pardon. Is that so hard for you to do? I thought you were big enough to own up to your mistakes."
"Mace - "
"He needs you, Qui. He needs to know that everything is the same now, and you're treating him as if he'll break. It's scaring him and he's reacting in the only way that he can - acting up to get your attention, to force your hand. If you turn away from him and ignore his cry for help, he'll keep going until either your relationship is destroyed or he hurts himself. And did you ever stop to wonder just exactly why he's repeating the same pranks you did as a padawan?"
Qui-Gon's head jerked up suddenly. "Sith Hells!" he swore and ran over to the datalink console. In a moment, Yoda's face appeared on the screen. "Master, when you were telling Obi-Wan stories about my misspent youth, what did you tell him? What stories in particular?"
Yoda blinked. "A reason you have for asking this, my padawan?"
"Obi-Wan's been recreating the things that I did, trying to get my attention. I need to know what he might be up to next."
Yoda's eyes went unfocused for a moment and then he stared back at his former apprentice. "The spires."
"Damn!" Qui-Gon cut the connection and swung back towards his friend. "If Obi-Wan is trying to get my attention, he just succeeded. Come - I may need your help."
"Are you sure about this?" Sedik asked doubtfully.
He and Obi-Wan stood on the top of the Council tower, looking down over the Temple grounds. There was a narrow walkway, about the width of a human foot, encircling the roof with a circumference of about forty feet. As far back as anyone could remember, padawans had challenged each other to Walk the Spire. One catch was that it had to be walked by a pair of padawans who had to move in careful symmetry so as not to disturb each other's balance and connection to the force, and that if either one lost their balance, the other one couldn't continue. The ledge was high above the ground but a healthy Jedi had little reason to fear falling as their ability to use the Force would allow them to cushion a fall. Sedik thought that their biggest fear would be just exactly what their masters would do to them when they got hold of them, but the notoriety of challenging the current record was more than enough to make it worthwhile in Sedik's opinion.
The current record was four times. Many pairs had made it around once, some even twice. Two pairs had made it three times. Only one pair of padawans had done better than that - Qui-Gon Jinn and Mace Windu. Four times.
"This could be dangerous if you're not in top form."
Obi-Wan tried to ignore the sudden wave of dizziness that swept over him. "Positive. You game?"
Sedik shrugged. "Okay - if you're sure."
"Good. I'll lead."
Obi-Wan carefully stepped up onto the narrow ledge, cautiously placing one foot in front of the other as he slowly made his way along the narrow ledge. He was aware of Sedik behind him, far enough away that a misstep by either of them wouldn't jar the other boy. He was also aware of the crowd of spectators that were starting to gather on the ground below them: initiates, padawans, knights, masters. There was no way that Master Qui-Gon would be able to pretend that this hadn't happened.
First time around completed, and he was starting to perspire from the effort required to keep balanced within the Force. Second time, and he was aware that his legs were starting to tremble and that his hold on the Force was becoming less certain. Third time finished, and he hesitated for a moment. He could stop now with no shame, having done better than all but one pair, certain that his master would be aware of what he had done. Or he could attempt to beat his master's record. His decision made, he began the fourth circuit and found himself breathing heavily as he neared the end. He lost his concentration for a second and swayed dangerously, hearing the gasps of the crowd before he recovered his balance. He was aware of his friend's concerned eyes on him and heard him call out.
"Obi-Wan, that's enough! We made it four times, equaled the record – we need to go down now and take what's coming to us. If we make our masters come up here after us, they'll skin us alive."
Obi-Wan hesitated, aware of the Force signature of his master in the crowd below, then his anger flared up and he ground his teeth together, taking another step forward on the narrow ledge. If his master didn't like this, he was more than welcome to come up here and get him.
/Thank you, Padawan. I shall do just that. /
There was a grimness to that mental voice but Obi-Wan had little time to do more than register that fact before he felt himself plucked off the ledge. Desperately, he flailed for a hand or foothold to counteract his master's hold on him but his own grip on the Force seemed muffled by another presence he recognized as Master Windu. He found himself standing on the solid flooring of the tower.
/And now, Padawan, I suggest you get yourself down here. Immediately. /
Sedik jumped down beside him, raising an eyebrow humorously at the look on Obi-Wan's face. "Master Jinn?" Obi-Wan nodded silently. "Then I expect that we better get downstairs before he gets really angry."
By the time the reached the base of the tower, the crowd had disappeared, leaving three masters to confront them. Master Irina gave Sedik a stern look and pointed towards the inner Temple.
"Our rooms, Padawan. Immediately." She emphasized her order with a swat on his backside.
"Yes, Master." Sedik gave Obi-Wan a reassuring smile before marching off, his master following behind him.
Master Windu turned to Qui-Gon. "If you don't need me anymore, Qui-Gon - "
"A moment, please, Mace," Qui-Gon said, interrupting him. He turned toward Obi-Wan, and the young man was relieved that for the first time in a month, his master was looking at him with more than polite respect. In fact, his master looked absolutely furious. "You will go to our rooms and stand with your nose in the corner until I arrive. When I get there, you and I are going to have a long, long talk. While you are waiting, I want you to meditate on just what I am going to punish you for and why. A complete list, young man. Am I understood?"
"Yes, Master." Equal parts joy and anxiety flooded him, and he turned towards the Temple buildings. A sudden Force swat on his backside made him gasp and quicken his pace.
Mace regarded Qui-Gon with a grin. "Welcome back, Qui-Gon. It's about damn time."
Obi-Wan heard the door to the suite open behind him but he didn't dare turn his head. He heard his master moving around the suite and his heart began to pound painfully. Surely his master wasn't going to let this pass? Surely he was going to do more than make Obi-Wan stand in the corner?
"Obi-Wan, come here."
Obi-Wan turned and saw that Qui-Gon had set out the meditation mats. He took his usual place and, unable to meet his master's eyes, fixed his own on his hands.
"All right, Padawan. Suppose you begin by telling me what all this is about."
"Master Yoda told me about your record for walking the spires and I decided - "
"That's not what I'm talking about. The spires was just one incident. There was also the matter of the Council's kitchen, the orange dye in the initiates' pool, the florescent ink on the lift buttons, not to mention the fact that you have been cutting classes for the past two weeks. I want an explanation, Obi-Wan, and I want it now."
Obi-Wan drew in a deep breath and let it out. "I didn't think you knew, Master."
"Not know? How could I help but know when nearly every master in the Temple has come to me to complain about your pranks? Master Windu is of the opinion that I should whip you within an inch of your life - but then again, he's always cranky when he doesn't get his lunch."
Obi-Wan's eyes jerked up to Qui-Gon's. "Does - does that mean that you're not going to spank me?"
Qui-Gon frowned at the tone in his apprentice's voice. "You want me to spank you, Obi-Wan?"
Obi-Wan flushed and dropped his eyes to his lap again. "Not exactly, Master. It's just that - " He hesitated, unable to continue.
"Obi-Wan," his master said quietly. "I want the truth from you, and don't make me ask a third time."
"I didn't think you wanted me anymore," he mumbled.
"I beg your pardon?"
If possible, Obi-Wan's blush deepened. "Ever since - Benabeen, you've been - different. You treat me like a stranger. You don't correct me when I make mistakes, you didn't say anything when I missed class, and you didn't seem to care about the - the pranks. I thought - I thought you were - that you didn't care what I did anymore."
Qui-Gon's heart nearly broke at the desolate tone in his padawan's voice. He reached out and took one of Obi-Wan's hands in his, saying gently, "Obi-Wan, you are more than just my student and my apprentice. You are as dear to my heart as a child of my body would be. Nothing you could do would ever make me stop caring for you."
"Even after - what happened on Benabeen?" Obi-Wan asked wistfully.
Qui-Gon drew a deep breath. "Obi-Wan, I made a mistake and I ask your pardon. You told me over and over again that you were innocent and I refused to listen to you. If I had - "
Obi-Wan blinked, stunned to hear his master admitting to a mistake. "It wasn't your fault! It was all my fault! If I had told you about the fight instead of trying to cover it up - "
Qui-Gon was puzzled. "Then all this wasn't because you were angry with me?"
"Oh, no, Master!"
"Then explain it to me, Obi-Wan. You have said that you thought I didn't want you anymore. Were these pranks a childish attempt to get my attention, to force me to punish you?"
Obi-Wan hung his head, embarrassed to have acted like a child. "Yes, Master," he murmured.
"Well, it worked, Padawan. You got my attention and now I'm going to punish you. Have you anything further to say?"
"No, Master," Obi-Wan said, then added hesitantly. "When - when it's over, will you tell me - I'm forgiven?"
Qui-Gon was startled. "Of course, Obi-Wan. Why do you ask?"
"You didn't last time," Obi-Wan said simply.
Qui-Gon thought back and was chagrined to realize that he had skipped that step in their ritual. He stood, pulling Obi-Wan to his feet as he did so, and folded the boy into his arms. Obi-Wan wound his arms around that older man's waist, burying his face in his master's tunic, as tears came to his eyes. "Forgive me, Padawan. I appear to have let you down in more ways than one, but I promise that I will do my best never to repeat this mistake."
Obi-Wan tilted his head back, a tremulous smile on his face. "Do I get to tell Master Yoda if you do?"
"Brat," Qui-Gon said affectionately, releasing the boy and ruffling his hair. "And now, I believe that there is a matter of punishment to be meted out."
Now that the moment was on him, Obi-Wan felt his heart began to pound with trepidation. "You don't need to do that, Master. I know that you care about me - I don't need proof."
"No, but you do need a firm hand applied several times to your backside, Padawan." Qui-Gon sat down in his chair and gestured for Obi-Wan to come over to him. Reluctantly, Obi-Wan obeyed. "I don't believe that I need to tell you what to do."
"No, Master." Obi-Wan unfastened his pants and pushed them down to his knees along with his underclothes, then knelt and placed himself across his master's lap.
Qui-Gon settled him more securely on his lap, lifting his tunic and pushing his pants down to the boy's ankles. "All right, Obi-Wan. What is this spanking for?"
"For all the pranks that I pulled."
Qui-Gon smacked him once. "Too broad a topic, Padawan. I want you to tell me each prank and you will be punished for each individually."
Aghast, Obi-Wan looked up at his master. "Each one! But - but master!"
"Perhaps this will teach you to think of better ways to bring your problems to my attention."
Obi-Wan sighed. "Yes, Master."
"You may begin, Padawan. And don't leave out any. If I find out about more misdeeds later, I shall give you twice as many swats."
"Yes, Master." One by one, Obi-Wan confessed to each of the pranks that he had committed during the past two weeks, wincing as Qui-Gon punctuated each confession with several swats to his backside. By the time he finished his litany, his bottom was starting to feel hot and his breath was coming in hitches.
"All right, Padawan. What else are you being punished for?"
"For - for skipping my classes?"
Qui-Gon swatted him hard several times, hearing the boy choke back a sob. "Your education is very important, Obi-Wan. I don't want to hear that you have missed class ever again. Am I understood?"
"Yes - Master."
"I've also been displeased with your performance, both on school work and in practice sessions. I've been letting you slide by with minimal effort in both areas because of your health, but, since you are well enough to Walk the Spires, I will be tightening up. Expect to get a lot more drills, Padawan, as well as extra meditation sessions. And, since you will be grounded for the next two weeks, you should have plenty of time for both them and extra tutoring sessions in your class work."
"Y – yes, Master."
"What else are you being punished for?"
"I don't - "
"On the spires, Padawan. A dangerous stunt to have pulled, and you will grant that I know what I am talking about." His words were punctuated by swats on the reddening bottom and he heard the sobbing begin in earnest. "Not everything I do is worthy of being emulated by you, Padawan. In addition, you are not yet in full control of the Force. If you had missed a step, you would not have been able to prevent yourself from falling to your death. I don't want you to ever risk your life for such a foolish reason."
"Y-Yes, M-m-master." Obi-Wan was sobbing openly now.
"What else are you being punished for, Padawan?"
"For - for not - trusting you - thinking you - you didn't care."
Qui-Gon halted his hand in mid-swing and settled it instead on his sobbing Padawan's back, rubbing soothing circles on it. "No, Obi-Wan. I cannot blame you for that. I am as much at fault as you in that matter - more, in fact, for not making you more sure of your place with me."
He continued to rub his apprentice's back until the boy had settled down enough to push himself up off Qui-Gon's lap and readjust his clothing.
"The corner now, Master?" Obi-Wan asked in a subdued voice.
"No. I think you've done enough thinking." Qui-Gon enfolded his padawan in his arms, pulling the boy down onto his lap and hugging him tightly. "It's over now, Obi-Wan, and you are forgiven. And I promise to never again give you any reason to doubt your place with me, my boy. Even when you become a knight yourself someday, you will always have a place in my heart and my life. Never doubt that."
Obi-Wan nestled in close with a sigh of contentment. His backside was on fire and he was exhausted from crying, but for the first time since Benabeen he felt safe and protected in his master's arms.
"Yes, Master," he murmured sleepily. "Does this mean that when I have a padawan of my own someday, you're going to tell him stories about me?"
"Of course. That's what all masters live for - the chance to revenge ourselves on our padawans by corrupting our grand-padawans."
Obi-Wan chuckled and let his eyes drift closed. "Did you really adopt a merikat and let it loose in the Senate chambers, Master?"
"That was an accident," Qui-Gon protested. "If Yoda had let me return to our chambers after the mission, it never would have happened." A horrible though went through his mind. "Obi-Wan - you didn't?"
"No," Obi-Wan said, sleepily grinning up at his master. "I couldn't figure out how to get hold of a merikat."
"Brat," Qui-Gon said, and Obi-Wan snickered as he buried his face back against his master's tunic. "And I am going to have a long, long talk with my master."
Obi-Wan snickered again. "When you say that to me, I know I'm going to get spanked. Are you going to spank Master Yoda? Can I watch?"
Qui-Gon said with mock severity, "What you can do, my impertinent young Padawan, is to go off to bed." A sleepy murmur greeted his words and he realized that the exhausted young man had fallen asleep on his lap.
He stood with the boy in his arms and carried Obi-Wan to his room, tucking him into bed with a sigh. "Now I know what Yoda meant when he threatened that someday I'd have a padawan just like me." Then he smiled and brushed a kiss over the forehead of the sleeping young man. "And I wouldn't have it any other way. Sleep well, my Obi-Wan."
End of Chapter 5