The Temple Harbor-master looked over at a group of Padawans hovering anxiously near the doorway and smiled. A friend returning to Temple, or perhaps one of the boys' masters, he thought to himself and shivered, knowing that the ship was coming from Hoth. Not his idea of a great assignment.
"Padawan Sedik," he called out to the oldest boy. "The ship you were asking about has been cleared to land at Dock 3."
"Thanks," Sedik called back and began herding his group of younger padawans towards the specified dock. They watched as one of the standard supply ships expertly maneuvered out of the circling traffic towards the Temple platform and then into the empty slip.
"Come on, come on," Bant muttered under her breath. "What's taking him so long? All he has is one dumb bag."
"Patience, Padawan Bant," Obi-Wan said with a grin, and Bant rolled her eyes at his imitation of his master's voice.
"Patience my – " A throat clearing by Sedik made her revise whatever she might have said. "I've got class in twenty minutes and if I miss it again, my master'll ground me for a week, and I'll miss all the fun."
”Here he comes!" Reeft called excitedly and began waving at one of the figures coming down the ramp. "Garen!"
The other padawan let out a very un-Jedi-like whoop and ran across the docking platform, unceremoniously dumping the two bags he was carrying on the ground before throwing his arms around his friend.
"Reeft!" Garen squeezed his slender friend tightly. "I swear you've gotten skinnier since I saw you last."
"Haven't got your extra food to eat," Reeft said mournfully, but his eyes laughed at his friend. "And you've gotten taller!"
"Tell me about it!" Garen said ruefully. "Master says I'm growing like a weed, and my pants have gotten too short. First stop after getting settled is the Quartermaster's."
He turned to Bant and the Calamarian threw herself into his arms, hugging him tightly. "We missed you so much!"
Garen's throat tightened. "And I missed you, too." He lifted his head and saw Obi-Wan standing quietly to the side, Sedik standing behind the younger padawan with his hands on Obi-Wan's shoulders. Garen released Bant and nodded his head politely. "Kenobi."
Obi-Wan's throat tightened at the cool tones in his friend's voice. The last words that Garen had spoken to him, of not wanting to see him or hear from him again, echoed between them. He felt Sedik's hands tighten reassuringly on his shoulders and swallowed hard. "Garen," he said softly.
Garen's master came up behind them, smiling at the group. "Hello, children," he said genially. "Padawan, didn't you have something to say to Padawan Kenobi and Padawan Sedik?"
Garen flushed a little at being reproved in front of his friends. "Um – Yes, Master." He drew in a deep breath and walked over to the pair. "Sedik, I'm sorry that I copied your report. Not only was that cheating, but I also betrayed the trust you had shown by letting us use your old notes. I hope that you will be able to forgive me."
"Of course," Sedik said warmly.
"Thank you." He drew a deep breath and turned his eyes back toward Obi-Wan. "Padawan Kenobi," he said formally. "I'm sorry that I forced you to make that choice - and that I didn't listen to you when you told me I was making a mistake. And for what I said – oh, Sith Hells!" He broke off and reached out to pull Obi-Wan into a hug. "I'm sorry, Obi-Wan. I didn't mean it."
Obi-Wan felt like his heart would overflow with happiness, and he hugged Garen back. "It's all right."
"Well done, Padawan," Garen's master said approvingly and then picked up the bags his apprentice had dropped. "I'll take these to our quarters while you and your friends get reacquainted."
Garen gave his master a grateful smile. "Thank you, Master." He turned back to his friends as they headed towards the Temple. "The lounge, then?"
Bant made a face. "I have to go to class, but I'll meet you there afterwards. Don't talk about any of the good stuff till I get there!"
She hurried off and Garen chuckled. "And she'll make us repeat everything we say – just to make sure she didn't miss 'the good stuff'."
They found the lounge was almost empty since it was still early afternoon, and they grabbed a table in one of the back corners for privacy while Sedik fetched drinks for them.
Garen collapsed into one of the padded chairs with a contented sigh. "By the Light, I missed this! The best we could do on Hoth was huddle around thermo-units in one corner of the hanger. Although the benefits were that the Corellian pilots gathered there, too, and one of them usually had a good story to tell – and a bottle of something to warm you inside."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened at that. "And your master let you drink with Corellians?"
Garen gave him a half-smile. "Not exactly. And they wouldn't tell any of the really good stories while I was there, or pass me the bottle. But one of them slipped me a sip every now and then, when Master wasn't looking."
Sedik snorted at that. "In my experience, masters are always looking – they just don't let on."
"Yeah, well," Garen looked down at his hands. "I was kinda depressed – being there and in trouble and everything – so I expect that my master was being a bit indulgent."
Reeft looked at him soberly. "Has your master told you what's going to happen next?"
"We've got to talk to the Council tomorrow morning," Garen said with a sigh. "That'll determine whether I'm off probation or not." Then he looked up at the others. "Speaking of which, what's the story with that character that took my place?"
"Telerin Mikos," Sedik said with a frown. "He's a complete waste of space."
"Yeah, he had complementary things to say about you, too," Garen said dryly. "Said that you stole his boyfriend and set the Council on him."
Obi-Wan said hotly, "Sedik did not steal me! And it's Telerin's own fault that the Council went after him!"
"What else did Mikos say about Obi-Wan?" Sedik asked in a voice like durasteel and Garen gave him a speculative look, then looked over at Obi-Wan.
"Don't worry – he won't be saying anything else," Garen said reassuringly. "Not until the swelling goes down. And then my Corellian friend said she'd keep an eye on him."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened. "You hit him? But – why?"
"You're my friend," Garen said simply. "And no one talks about my friends like that."
"What did he say?" Sedik said again, his voice even grimmer than before.
"Sedik, let it go," Obi-Wan said, covering his boyfriend's hand with his own. "Telerin can't hurt me anymore, and I don't want you to get into trouble over me."
Sedik and Garen exchanged a look that said that the full story would be exchanged when Obi-Wan wasn't around to hear, then Garen grinned.
"So it's like that between you two, then?" he asked, gesturing at their joined hands. Obi-Wan flushed but nodded. "What does Master Jinn think about this? He knows, doesn't he?"
"Of course he knows," Obi-Wan said, then grinned at his boyfriend. "Sedik had to pass a grueling exam before Master would even let him take me out."
Sedik gave a dramatic sigh. "Torture would have been easier, and when he wanted to know my intentions, I nearly turned and ran. Ow!" he complained as Obi-Wan thwapped him on the arm.
Garen nodded sagely. "Yeah, all that 'where are you going' and 'what time will you have him home' bit can be excrutiating."
"And how would you know?" Reeft snorted, then his eyes widened as Gavin flushed. "Gavin? You got someone you're seeing?"
Gavin shrugged a shoulder. "Sort of."
"Let me guess," Obi-Wan said with a grin. "That Corellian friend of yours."
Garen nodded, still flushed, and didn't look up at his friends as he traced the rim of a cup with his finger. "Her name's Zell Solo, and she comes from a family of spacers. She's navigator on her uncle's ship, but she's already saving the credits to buy her own someday." He looked up at them with a self-cautious smile. "You want to see her holo?"
At their nods, he fumbled in his belt pouch and pulled out a small holocube of a tall young woman with dark hair and laughing eyes, handing it to Reeft. "I had this made before I left." He sighed.
Reeft gave his best friend a sympathetic look as he passed the cube on to Obi-Wan. "You miss her?"
"More than I thought I ever could miss anyone but my master," Garen said simply, accepting the holo back and staring at it wistfully.
The others exchanged looks and Obi-Wan said, encouragingly, "Maybe you'll see her soon. Everyone comes to Coruscant, and if her uncle's contracted to the Temple for the Hoth project, they're bound to come here for supply runs."
"Maybe," Garen said with another sigh. "It just seems like it'll be forever till I see her again."
"It's not easy, carrying on a long-distance romance," Sedik said sympathetically. "But even if she were here on Coruscant, you might be separated for months at a time."
He and Obi-Wan shared a sad look; the older padawan was scheduled to head off on a new mission at the end of the week, and by the time he returned, Obi-Wan and his master would probably be off on assignment as well.
"I know," Garen said with a sigh. "But I keep thinking – maybe it would be better if the Council decided to kick me out after all."
Reeft sputtered his drink. "You are not serious, are you, Gar?" he asked anxiously.
"I could go back to Hoth – her uncle, Dak, could use another hand around the ship, and you know I'm good with mechanics. Better than I am with all these classes on diplomacy and negotiation and history and – "
Sedik gave him a sober look. "What about your master? You've been with him for almost four years. And your saber – they wouldn't let you take it with you."
"My saber," Garen murmured, lovingly touching the hilt hanging on his belt. He had been the first in his age-group to complete a working saber, had designed it himself. Parting with it would be like losing an arm.
"Give it time," Reeft said coaxingly. "You just got back – wait till you're settled in before making any decisions."
Garen looked over at Obi-Wan who had been sitting quietly during the discussion. "You haven't said anything, Obi-Wan. What do you think?"
Obi-Wan flushed slightly, looking down at the tabletop. "I guess I understand how you feel – I almost left the Order, too."
Sedik looked at him, startled. "You did? When was this?"
"A couple years back, shortly before I met you. My master and I were sent to Melida/Daan to rescue Master Tahl." He sighed. "The people were tearing the planet apart, and the only ones who seemed to care were these kids. They were up against so much, and I just wanted to help them. Master Qui-Gon pointed out that we were there to rescue Master Tahl, and that the two sides hadn't asked for our help."
"But you still wanted to stay?" Garen asked.
Obi-Wan nodded. "Yes. There was this girl – Cerasi. I suppose I had a crush on her – I just knew that I wanted to help."
"What happened?" Reeft asked.
"My master and I argued," Obi-Wan said with a sigh. "It was during our first year together and our bond wasn't very strong yet. He didn’t seem to care about me - we just couldn't seem to understand each other. I – " He swallowed hard. "I went to get our flyer, to use it to help defend my friends, but Master Qui-Gon figured out what I was going to do and stopped me."
"What happened?" Sedik asked, taking Obi-Wan's hand in his.
"I almost drew my saber on my master," Obi-Wan said soberly, and heard his friends gasp. "I know – it scares me to think how close I came to losing everything that meant the most to me. It was like I was standing outside myself, and I could see what I was doing but I couldn't stop." He squeezed Sedik's fingers. "So my master stopped me."
"Did he spank you?" Garen asked, intrigued. His own master never gave him physical punishment, preferring to assign additional classwork and meditations, and Garen often thought that he would prefer to be spanked. Which, he thought with a rueful grin, was probably why his master didn't use that form of discipline.
Obi-Wan flushed slightly as well, but he shook his head. "No; it was before he started doing that. He just – he looked me in the face and told me to think about what I was doing. Then he said I was very important to him, that he was sorry he hadn't said that before now, and his eyes were just – so hurt." Obi-Wan swallowed again.
"Sith Hells," Reeft breathed. "I'd rather be spanked than have my master look at me like that."
Obi-Wan gave a watery chuckle. "So would I!" He glanced over at Garen, now absorbed in studying his knuckles, and somehow knew that Garen had seen that look in his own master's face when the master had found out about the cheating.
He drew a deep breath. "Anyway, we got Master Tahl on the ship and headed here, and during the trip Master and I had a long discussion about our relationship, and meditated about strengthening our bond, so I suppose it worked out for the best."
"What happened to the girl?" Garen asked softly, still not looking up.
"I heard later that Cerasi was killed in one of the fights between the young people and their elders," Obi-Wan said softly. "It was the turning point in the fight, made both sides realize what they were doing, and they began to work together. So she didn't die in vain, although, " he added wistfully, "I sometimes wonder if she would have lived if I had stayed."
Sedik squeezed his hand. "Or it might have happened anyways – it might have been her Destiny to die so that her people would be united."
Obi-Wan nodded, giving his boyfriend a grateful smile. Then he looked over at Garen soberly. "What are you going to do, Gar?"
Garen sighed softly. "What can I do? I'll stay, unless the Council kicks me out. I'm only sixteen, after all, and even if Dak Solo gave me a job on his ship, it'd be years before he'd let us get married. So if we've got to wait, I'd rather be doing the thing I love the most," he said, patting his saber, and then made a face. "Even if I have to study all this stuff."
The others laughed, and at that moment Bant arrived. She set her pad down on the table and gave the other three a cross look.
"Oh, that's not fair! You said you wouldn't talk about the good stuff till I got here!"
Qui-Gon paused outside the door to his suite, scanning for the presence of his apprentice and anyone else before pushing the entry pad. It was a precaution he had recently started, ever since the evening when he walked in on Obi-Wan and Sedik necking on the couch.
It had been hard to say which of the three had been most embarrassed, and had led to an uncomfortable but necessary discussion between him and his apprentice about courteous behavior such as knocking and scanning before entering their suite or bedrooms. Not that Obi-Wan had progressed to the point of having an overnight visitor – Qui-Gon hazarded that the boys were just at the kissing and touching stage, although it appeared that his apprentice had gotten past his disgust of open mouthed kissing. Still, it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that Qui-Gon would have a lover spend the night, now that Obi-Wan was old enough to understand. Qui-Gon couldn't help smiling at the picture of Obi-Wan facing Mace across the breakfast table.
There was only his apprentice's presence in their suite, and Qui-Gon entered, expecting to find Obi-Wan in his room attending to his homework. Instead, he found his apprentice curled up on the couch, his knees drawn up to his chin and his arms wrapped around them. He was frowning slightly, deep in thought, and chewing absently on the end of his braid.
Qui-Gon sighed as he wondered what new adolescent tragedy was plaguing the boy now and crossed the room to extract the braid from his apprentice's mouth. "It's a braid, Padawan, not a food substitute or a chew-toy."
Obi-Wan flushed slightly. "Sorry, Master."
Qui-Gon popped Obi-Wan on the nose with the end of the braid. "If you keep doing this, I'm going to have to coat the end of your braid with something nasty to break the habit. A Jedi cannot project serenity if he is sporting a braid looking like this." He held up the damp and bedraggled end for Obi-Wan to see.
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan's sigh sounded slightly put-upon but Qui-Gon ignored that.
"Go wash your hair, then bring me the comb and scissors and I'll see what I can do to repair this."
Obi-Wan left, dragging his feet slightly, which might have worried Qui-Gon if he had sensed anything more than vague disquiet through their bond. Nothing serious then, he thought as he pulled out the makings for dinner, just one of the usual teen worries.
He had just finished chopping vegetables into the stew when he heard Obi-Wan come back into the main room, and he set the stew to simmer. Obi-Wan had already taken his usual place on the floor, and Qui-Gon sat down on the couch behind him. He slowly combed out his apprentice's hair, noting that the top would have to be trimmed as well, then cut off the ragged end of the braid before rebraiding it. Obi-Wan was silent during the process, although the master could sense that he wasn't sulking, just deep in thought. He deftly finished the braid and secured the end with a tie, then began trimming the over-long hair on top.
"You're quiet tonight, Padawan," he said. "Is something wrong?"
Obi-Wan started to shake his head but a tug on his hair reminded him to remain still. "No, Master."
"Had an argument with Sedik?"
"Garen was due to arrive back today. Is he still not talking to you?"
Qui-Gon gave an exasperated sigh. "Padawan, I know that something is on your mind, and I don't feel like playing twenty questions to figure it out."
Obi-Wan flushed. "Sorry, Master. It's not important – "
Qui-Gon tugged Obi-Wan up onto the couch, saying seriously, "Anything that affects you is important to me, Padawan. Remember that."
Obi-Wan flushed even more and nodded, and Qui-Gon could see his apprentice relax slightly. "It's about Garen. We're friends again," he said hastily, seeing his master frown a little. "It's just that – he's thinking about leaving the Order."
Qui-Gon blinked at that. "Seriously?"
"I don't think so – not any more," Obi-Wan said honestly. "Although he sounded really serious about it at first. He met this girl on Hoth, and he misses her terribly."
"Ah," Qui-Gon said, nodding. "It can be very hard to separate from someone you care about." He paused. "Sedik is leaving next week – is that a problem?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "No. I'll miss him, but I know he'll be coming back to the Temple, and so will I." He hesitated, looking down at this hands which were pleating the hem of his tunic. "I was thinking about – about when I almost left the Order. Back on Melida/Daan."
"I see," Qui-Gon said, tilting his head to study his apprentice's face. "Regrets, Padawan?"
Obi-Wan's head snapped up. "Oh, no, Master! I'm very glad that I stayed with the Order – with you." Smiling shyly, he said, "That day, when we really forged our training bond, was one of the best of my life! Right after the day that you took me as your Padawan."
Qui-Gon smiled and reached out to tug his apprentice's braid. "I'm glad, Obi-Wan," he said simply. "It is equally important to me."
Obi-Wan's smile widened, and he poured feelings of affection and gratitude into their bond, delighted to feel the same return from his master. For a few long moments they sat there, just relishing the bond between them, before his padawan's rumbling stomach reminded Qui-Gon about dinner.
The next day, Obi-Wan was pleased to see Garen back in his astrophysics class and, as the classroom emptied, Garen fell into step alongside him. "So what did the Council say?"
Garen shrugged. "I'm off full disciplinary probation, on reduced probationary status for another six months. Which means we can't go on missions, and I can't fight in any of the competitions, but other than that, I'm okay. If I don't incur any other infractions during those six months, I'll be reinstated in full."
"That's good," Obi-Wan said, then frowned in concern as he saw Garen just shrug. "You're not thinking of leaving still, are you?"
Garen sighed. "I don't know what I'm thinking, Obi-Wan. All I seem to be able to think of is her, even when I'm supposed to be meditating."
"Maybe you should talk to your master about it," Obi-Wan suggested.
Garen blanched. "Tell my master that I'm torn between staying with him and going back to her? Are you crazy?"
"No," Obi-Wan said. "I've been there myself, remember?"
"It's not the same," Garen said crossly. "And how would you feel if you and Sedik were separated?"
"We're going to be," Obi-Wan said sadly. "He leaves for the Trilerian Peace Conference at the end of the week, and he'll be gone at least a month. By the time he gets back, Master Qui-Gon and I will be on our own mission. It could be months before we're together again."
Garen studied his friend's face sympathetically. "You really love him, don't you?" Obi-Wan nodded. "Have you slept together yet?"
Obi-Wan flushed. "Sith, no!"
"We did," Garen said simply. "The night before I left. We were going to wait, but then we thought that we might never see each other again."
"What was it like?" Obi-Wan asked curiously.
Garen's face lit up. "It was like when you're meditating and you touch the Force, and it fills you up so completely that you think you might die from the joy of it."
Obi-Wan asked doubtfully, "But what if you don't ever see her again? Isn't it horrible to have that once and never again?"
"I'd rather have the memory of our night together instead of living with regrets," Garen said soberly.
Obi-Wan digested that thought, barely nodding in acknowledgment as Garen said good-bye before hurrying off to another class. Obi-Wan had the next hour free before meeting with his master in the training rooms, so he wandered into the gardens and found a secluded bench to sit down and think.
Garen's words had touched a sore spot in his heart. Although he really didn't think that he was ready to become that intimate with Sedik, the idea that something might happen to one of them before they had the chance to do so was frightening. He felt his breath catch in his throat at that thought and had to fight down tears that wanted to fall. Desperately, he sought for his calm center and struggled to release his fears to the Force, to find peace in acceptance, but his mind didn't seem to want to cooperate.
A soft chime startled him out of his attempt to meditate and he looked down at his schedule pad to realize that he was late for training. Resisting the urge to move at enhanced speed, he hurried to the training rooms where he found his master warming up.
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at his hastily stammered excuses. "Very well, Padawn. Get changed as quickly as you can, and while you are doing so, work on your shielding."
Obi-Wan flushed and fled into the changing room, hastily stripping out of his regular clothes and pulling on a training tunic and pants. He drew a deep breath and once more attempted to find his center, and this time he was marginally more successful.
Qui-Gon had completed his warm-up and stood over to the side, watching Obi-Wan as he went through his own warm-up exercises. Something was clearly worrying the boy, and it didn't appear to be his previous worries and guilt over the Melida/Daan issue. Although his shields appeared to be firmly in place now, there was still some residual noise flowing into their bond, energies that were clearly sexual in nature. And there was a sense of conflicting desires and needs, something that was clearly affecting Obi-Wan's ability to focus.
Qui-Gon sighed. He had heard other masters talk about this type of situation in the past and had felt thankful that he hadn't had to deal with it; his first padawan had – like most of her species – calmly committed herself to celibacy until after her trials, and Xanatos had cheerfully gone in search of partnership as soon as his adolescent urges began. He should have known that his past complacency would be paid for.
Briefly, he debated about canceling the training session for today and advising Obi-Wan to take a private shower to deal with his needs, but he reluctantly had to dismiss that thought. A Jedi's life was never easy, and all of them had to learn discipline and control. Coddling Obi-Wan now might save the boy some burns and strains, but in the long run it would be better for him to learn to focus, no matter what.
Seeing that Obi-Wan was ready, he gathered his lightsaber and his determination, and moved out onto the floor to take his place. He had originally intended to teach his apprentice a higher level fighting maneuver, having deemed that the boy's skills were about at Senior Padawan levels, but he rapidly modified his plan. With his current lack of focus, there was no way that Obi-Wan would be able to attempt this today – in fact, he decided to drop back a level. There was teaching the boy an important lesson, and then there was causing him unnecessary humiliation which would be equally as harmful as coddling him.
"Review, Padawan," he said crisply, falling into the defense position for the lower level. Obi-Wan nodded once to indicate that he understood and moved into the attack immediately. He did well at first, falling into the familiar patterns of attack and defend, patterns that had been deeply ingrained into him over the past few years. But then, as Qui-Gon pressed him, his lack of focus began to show and the master was able to penetrate his defenses to score Obi-Wan's back through the thin training tunic. Obi-Wan hissed at the pain, even at the lower training settings, and desperately tried to recover. The Force eluded his control, though, and within a few minutes he found himself flat on his back with his master's saber at his throat.
"Yield," he gasped, and the deadly blade was instantly switched off so that his master could offer him a hand up.
"You learned how to defeat that move six months ago, Padawan," Qui-Gon said mildly.
Obi-Wan bowed his head. "Sorry, Master. I – my mind appears to be elsewhere this afternoon."
"I noticed." Qui-Gon hesitated, and then sighed. "Padawan, sit here with me for a moment." He settled on the training mat and Obi-Wan obediently sat down facing him. "I noticed that you were having trouble focusing today, Obi-Wan – and I also noticed the reason why."
Obi-Wan flushed in embarrassment, then a sudden surge of anger filled him. "You're spying on me! You have no right to look into my mind like that!"
Qui-Gon's eyebrow lifted at the tone of voice and he said coolly, "I don't care for that tone of voice, Padawan. And it didn't require spying – you were clearly broadcasting down our bond."
Obi-Wan knew that he was behaving badly but he couldn't seem to stop himself. It was like when he was on Melida/Daan, watching himself do things and say things without being able to stop. He was appalled when he heard his own voice say, with deliberate rudeness, "Then maybe you should have shut it off at your end!"
Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. "That will be enough, Padawan!" he said sharply. "I think that a cold shower and a few hours of meditation this evening are in order. You may consider yourself grounded until further notice."
That snapped Obi-Wan out of his state and he gasped, his eyes widening. "You can't mean that, Master! Sedik and I were going to the vidfest tonight!"
"You should have thought of that before you opened your mouth."
"This isn't fair!" Obi-Wan said hotly, jumping up from the mat. "You know that he's leaving at the end of the week! We only have a few days – it may be months before I see him again!"
"Maybe that would be best," Qui-Gon said quietly. "If you can't learn to focus your attention where it should be – where it needs to be to save your life – then perhaps you should – postpone outside activities until you are mature enough to handle them."
Obi-Wan stared at his master, appalled. "You mean I have to give up Sedik completely!"
"That might be best."
"But I love him!" Obi-Wan felt tears threatening to fall.
"I know, Padawan, and I'm sorry, but – "
"No, you're not!" Obi-Wan said hotly. "You're glad! You want me to do nothing but study and practice – you hate all my friends!"
Qui-Gon drew himself up to his full height, grabbed Obi-Wan by the arm and administered a solid smack to his backside that abruptly halted the diatribe. "Your room, Padawan! Now!"
Obi-Wan stifled a sob as he snatched up his saber. "I hate you!" He ran out the door into the changing room, snatched up his clothing, and fled.
Qui-Gon watched his fleeing apprentice and then closed his eyes, taking in several deep breaths to calm himself and find his own center. He had a feeling that he hadn't handled that in the best possible way – Obi-Wan was still too young to have formed a lasting attachment, but he did have strong feelings for the older padawan, and Qui-Gon should have realized that the boy would be driven to defend a threat to those feelings. Not that he believed for a moment that Obi-Wan truly hated it – it was one of those things that teens said and then repented of five minutes later. Still, he needed some perspective before he confronted Obi-Wan again. He changed into his regular robes and went to find his old master.
Obi-Wan didn't pay any attention to the startled faces around him as he fled along the corridors towards his room, his clothes clutched in his arms. He didn't even know where he was going – his master's suite was in the other direction – until a familiar hand reached out to grab him and a familiar presence washed over him.
"Obi-Wan, what's wrong? You're running like the Sith are after you!"
Obi-Wan almost choked on a hysterical laugh. "They're not – my master is!"
Sedik frowned at that and pulled the younger boy's cloak out of his hands, settling it around Obi-Wan's shoulders, before taking his boyfriend's hand and leading him to his own suite. Once the door closed behind him, he was stunned to find his arms suddenly full of a clinging boy.
"What's wrong with you, Obi?" he asked, concerned, and tried to ease the death grip Obi-Wan had on him.
"My master's going to separate us!" Obi-Wan managed to say, his voice cracking on a ragged sob. "He's never going to let us see each other again!"
Sedik sighed. "Obi-love, are you in trouble again?"
"No!" Obi-Wan drew back a little, then he flushed. "Well, I am now, but I wasn't earlier. I was having trouble focusing, and I didn't do so well in practice, but then my master started ranting about control and focus and outside distractions – he grounded me indefinitely, Sedik! When we only have a few days before you leave!"
Sedik drew his boyfriend back in his arms, offering comfort even as he dismissed the rather wild statements Obi-Wan was making. "I am sorry to hear that, but we'll have plenty of time together when we get back from our missions."
"But what if we don't come back."
Obi-Wan's voice sounded small and was muffled against Sedik's tunic so he wasn't sure that he had heard that correctly. "Why wouldn't we?"
Obi-Wan shrugged. "Something could happen. A war. Pirates. Ship malfunction."
Sedik bit back a laugh. "Yes, and Coruscant's sun could go nova tomorrow. Be serious, Obi-Wan. Nothing's going to happen to either of us."
"You don't know that for certain," Obi-Wan muttered.
"No, I don't," Sedik said calmly, "but I trust in the Force, and it tells me that it isn't time for either of us to pass on, not for many years."
"But what if you're wrong," Obi-Wan persisted, lifting his head. "What if something happens before – before we have a chance to – " He flushed and dropped his head again.
"Oh, Obi-Love," Sedik said, hugging the younger boy. "Is that what had you so distracted during training?" He felt the younger boy's head nod and sighed, then caressed the soft, spiky hair with his hand. "We'll have plenty of time for that."
"But if we don't," Obi-Wan persisted. "Garen said he was glad that they didn't wait, that if they never saw each other again, he'd at least have that memory."
Sedik sighed, and privately consigned Garen to the Sith. "Obi-Wan, you know that you're not ready for us to have sex yet. If we rush that, sleep with each other now, before you're ready, you may not regret it now but you will in time. When we return from our missions, safe and sound, you'll feel foolish for acting on your fears and you'll begin to resent me for giving in. And then you'll begin to hate me, and – "
"You sound like Yoda," Obi-Wan said crossly. He pulled himself out of Sedik's arms saying, "You're probably glad that you're going."
Sedik sighed. "It's what we do, Obi-Wan. You know that. And yes, I'm glad that my master and I got this mission. It's a very important and interesting one. But that doesn't mean that I won't miss you."
"Well, maybe I won't miss you!" Obi-Wan snapped, heading towards the door. "Have a wonderful time, Padawan Sedik!"
"Obi- " Sedik called after him, but the closing door cut off whatever else he said and Obi-Wan didn't stick around to hear anymore.
He stalked back to his room, stripped off his sweaty workout clothes and slammed into the shower. The shower water did nothing to cool his ire or soothe his feelings of ill treatment from both Qui-Gon and Sedik. In fact, at the moment he wished that he never had to see either of them again.
That thought froze him in place under the shower. Maybe Garen had the right idea. Maybe he could leave the Order. He shivered at the thought and turned off the water, drying himself quickly with a towel while trying not to let that thought in again.
He went back into his room and crossed to the wardrobe to pull out fresh clothes and, as he passed the desk, his eyes caught on a small holo there. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands. It was a holo of Cerasi, sent to him at her request after her death, and he remembered how he had cried when he had received it, when he realized that she had died. The knowledge that her death had not been in vain had been of little comfort placed against the brightness of her spirit, a spirit that had been utterly quenched.
The thought returned to him again. Maybe he should leave the Order, go back to Melida/Daan, and help make Cerasi's dream come true. Maybe that was his true purpose in life.
The more he thought about it, the more his sense of rightness and purpose grew. Resolutely, he pulled civilian clothes out of the closet and put them on, then started packing his travel bag. There was little to put in it – a change of clothes, some holos of his friends, of Cerasi, and a few gifts that his master had given him over the years. He had a number of credits saved up over the years, probably enough to take him off Coruscant somewhere. Everything else he left behind, even – with great reluctance – his lightsaber. He folded his robe and set it on the bed, with his saber and a pad with a message for Qui-Gon on top, then picked up his bag and walked out without looking back.
Qui-Gon buzzed at Yoda's door and heard the elderly Jedi call for him to enter as the door slid open. He paused in the doorway, somehow not surprised to see his old friend Mace sitting at the table drinking tea with Yoda. He sighed, certain that the Force had a warped sense of humor since it always seemed to allow Mace to be on the spot whenever he had done something stupid.
"Not stupid, Padawan," Yoda said, easily picking up his thoughts along their old training bond. "Rash, yes. Not clearly thought out, yes. But stupid, no."
Qui-Gon gave his master an exasperated look. "Thank you for making me feel so much better, Master."
"Not needed are thanks," Yoda said tranquilly, ignoring the sarcasm in his former padawan's voice with the skill of years of practice. "Sit you will and talk." He poured a cup of tea and set it on the table.
Qui-Gon sighed and settled into his usual chair, giving his long-time friend a sharp look. "Don't you have someplace to be, Mace?"
Mace considered this with apparent seriousness although his eyes danced. "No, not that I can think of. Not more important that listening to an old friend and offering advice."
Qui-Gon muttered a few things under his breath about Mace's probable parentage, then picked up his cup and took a sip. The familiar taste and aroma settled his nerves as always, and he allowed himself to relax. "Obi-Wan and I had a – disagreement."
"Know that already," Yoda said, his ears flattening. "Seen racing through Temple Obi-Wan was."
Qui-Gon winced at that, knowing he would hear from several of the older masters about the impropriety of letting his padawan run around the Temple corridors. "He's having some difficulty dealing with conflicting sexual desires, and he did rather poorly during his workout today. I thought that I was handling the matter carefully, acknowledging that I understood what was affecting his concentration, and he flatly accused me of spying on him, of prying through our bond. He became outright rude, and I told him that he was grounded indefinitely."
"I bet that went over well," Mace murmured. "Seeing as how the love of his life is leaving the Temple in four days."
Qui-Gon flushed and cleared his throat. "I had forgotten about that, actually, but if Obi-Wan had accepted his punishment obediently, I would have lifted it after tonight. Instead, he flew into a temper." He closed his eyes. "Then I said something that I admit was stupid."
"Oh, I can't wait to hear this," Mace said.
Qui-Gon glared at him, only partially mollified when Mace winced and rubbed his shin. Yoda turned his attention to Qui-Gon who warily eyed the gimer stick in his master's hand.
"Waiting we are, Padawan."
"Yes, Master. I said that perhaps it would be better if he and Sedik didn't see each other until Obi-Wan was more mature, better able to handle his feelings."
Mace opened his mouth to say something but shut it when Yoda glared at him and raised his stick warningly. Yoda once more turned back to Qui-Gon.
"Angry Obi-Wan was?"
Qui-Gon nodded. "Not surprisingly. A cornered creature will always strike back." He sighed. "My problem is what do I do now? I know that the boy is being influenced by raging hormones, but he must learn how to control them. On the other hand, I understand his feelings of loss and four days from now will work as well as now for him to learn this control. In fact, it would probably be better to let him be with Sedik now and work on his concentration when the person distracting him is gone. On the other hand, if he were to end up in a fight right now, I doubt his enemies would give him leeway because of his feelings. On the other hand – "
"Stop, Qui!" Mace begged, holding his head in his hands. "You're giving me a headache!"
"Oh, you're a lot of help!" Qui-Gon said in exasperation. "Where are your words of wisdom and commiseration, old friend?"
"At the moment, I am thanking my great wisdom that I chose a girl for my padawan," Mace said drily.
Qui-Gon considered borrowing Yoda's gimer stick so he could whack Mace's shins himself, but he exercised what he thought was considerable restraint and turned his attention on Yoda. "Master?"
Yoda's eyes half-closed in thought. "Dilemma you have, Padawan. Firm you must be, and yet fair."
Qui-Gon sighed. "Yes, you told me that the last time we talked. You told me that Obi-Wan needed me to be firm while he is going through all this turmoil. But at what point am I being firm and when does that become inflexible? Obi-Wan was disrespectful and grounding him is a fair punishment. However is grounding him at this particular time fair, or is it cruel? And I've already told him his punishment – if I change my mind now, will he think that I'm weak and try to take advantage of that?"
"Neither Yoda or I can tell you that, Qui-Gon," Mace said. "We can give you advise, but in the end it is you and Obi-Wan who must determine the best course."
Yoda nodded. "Correct he is, my Padawan. Right path you know. Follow it."
Qui-Gon drew in a deep breath. "All right," he said, standing up. "And I suppose I shouldn't put this off any longer."
"No," Yoda agreed. "Go you must before too late."
Qui-Gon paused on his way to the door. "Too late?" he asked, looking back at his master. Then he reached out through the bond with his padawan, searching for him, only to realize that he was not within the Temple.
The Temple was treated to its second spectacle of the day as Master Qui-Gon raced through the Temple, following much the same path as his padawan had earlier. He burst into their suite, aware of the emptiness within, and hurried into his padawan's room. There, sitting in a neat pile on the bed, were his padawan's cloak, lightsaber and a pad.
Numbly, he picked up the pad and read without comprehending the farewell message from his padawan. He sat down on the bed, stunned.
"Like master, like padawan," came a voice from the doorway, and Qui-Gon looked up to see Mace standing in the doorway to his padawan's room. He hadn't realized that the other Jedi had followed him – no doubt he had thought that Qui-Gon had gone mad.
"What?" Qui-Gon asked, bewildered.
Mace sat down on the bed and took the pad away from Qui-Gon, reading it in a glance, then smiled. "I remember when we were Initiates and you thought the training master was picking on you."
"He was," Qui-Gon pointed out.
"Only because he knew you were the best of us and could do better than you were," Mace retorted. "You packed your bag and ran away from the Temple, remember? Spent the night in the city and came back the next day, tired and hungry and rather embarrassed about the whole thing."
Qui-Gon smiled. "I remember. I spent the next month cleaning the meditation garden on my hands and knees."
"And you became the best fighter in our class." Mace pointed out. "Then there was that time after you became Yoda's padawan when you ran away – you never did tell me what that was about."
Qui-Gon flushed. "I was so angry with the little troll, I thought anyplace was better than here."
"He found you and brought you home, didn't he?"
Qui-Gon nodded. "I was at the Central Port, trying to decide which wonderful planet I wanted to go to, and all the time wanting to turn around and run home."
Mace tilted his head. "Like master – "
"Like padawan," Qui-Gon breathed. He reached over and grabbed Mace's face, giving him a sound kiss. "Thank you, my friend."
"Don't mention it!" Mace called cheerfully after his departing friend. "Just remember that you have to supply the Alderaan brandy next time."
Obi-Wan wandered through the bustling spaceport, his eyes wide at the crowds who seemed to be moving very quickly in every direction. When they went off on missions, they always used the smaller Jedi port instead of the commercial one, and he felt overwhelmed by the blinking panels proclaiming departures for thousands of destinations. And the credit amounts listed besides the destinations looked enormous, something that he had never had to think about when traveling with his master. The Temple – or Master Qui-Gon – had provided everything he needed.
He retreated from the noisy crowd, finding a viewing port that looked out over one of the landing pads, and curled up on the ledge looking out. Night had fallen and the blinking lights from the ships looked like stars in the sky above him. He wondered where all these ships were going, where all these people were going and, for the first time, how he was going to get to Melida/Daan from here. He wasn't even sure how many credits he had.
He opened his bag and reached in for his credit-stick. Instead, his fingers touched something smooth that pulsed under his fingers. He pulled it out and sat staring at the smooth stone in the palm in his hand.
It was Qui-Gon's first present to him, something he had found in the River of Light on his home world. Obi-Wan touched it with a faint smile, remembering how disappointed he had been when his master had given him this for his birthday. A rock. But then he had discovered that the rock was Force sensitive, and it had saved him from having his mind erased. Ever since then, it had become one of his most treasured possessions. He would sometimes sit with it in his hand while he studied, and it seemed that, when he was stuck on a problem, if he rubbed his finger over it he was able to figure out the answer.
Obi-Wan rubbed his fingers over it now, wishing that it could help him solve his current problem. He was no longer angry with Qui-Gon, could admit that he had been rude to his master and no doubt deserved to be grounded for his bad behavior. He had acted without thinking once again, only now it had gotten him into something more serious than a lecture or a spanking. He was on his own with no idea of how he was going to take care of the basics such as food and a place to stay, much less get to anyplace off planet.
He felt tears start in his eyes and squeezed his eyes shut to prevent them from falling in so public a place. His hand automatically tightened around his stone, and he couldn't help a desperate wish that this was all a dream, that he would wake up in his own bed back in the Temple. The stone felt warm in his hand, and for a moment he felt like he was a young Initiate again, back when he still had believed that wishes came true.
It was almost anticlimactic to hear a familiar voice say, "There you are, Padawan."
Qui-Gon knew that he had been right the moment he entered the spaceport, felt the familiar warmth along their bond that told him Obi-Wan was somewhere nearby. He anxiously scanned the lines of people waiting to board their flights, relieved that Obi-Wan was not among them. On his way to the spaceport, he had checked to see if Obi-Wan's credit-stick had been used yet and had been relieved to find that it hadn't – unless Obi-Wan had smuggled onboard a ship, he was still somewhere within the spaceport.
There was a sudden pulse in their bond, as if an additional burst of energy had been sent along it, and Qui-Gon swung around, sensing the direction his padawan was as if a beacon had been lit. He hurried through the port, ignoring the curious crowds that parted for him. There, ahead of him, the Force seemed to pulse again and he could see a slight figure curled up on the narrow ledge of one of the viewing ports.
Relief rushed over him first, followed by an anxious examination to see if his padawan was safe and unharmed. The boy's eyes were closed and tears hung on his lashes, but Qui-Gon didn't sense that the boy was physically hurt. Sorrow and regret flowed across their bond, and he had to clear his throat before he could speak.
"There you are, Padawan."
Obi-Wan's head jerked up and his eyes popped open. Joy flooded Obi-Wan's face, swiftly followed by embarrassment and doubt.
"Master?" he asked tentatively.
Qui-Gon stepped closer, resting his hand on Obi-Wan's head. "Come, Padawan. Let's go home."
Obi-Wan blinked away the tears that started to fill his eyes. "You – you'd take me back?"
Qui-Gon smiled down at the teen. "Padawan, I believe that I told you once before – I won't let you go that easily. Now, come – we've missed evening meal and I, for one, am hungry." He held out his hand. "Come."
Obi-Wan took his hand and let his master lead him out of the spaceport toward home.
In the hovercar, on the way back to the Temple, Obi-Wan asked, "How did you know where to find me?"
"As Mace said to me, 'Like Master, like Padawan,'" Qui-Gon turned his head and smiled at his apprentice, ruffling his hair. "It's where I went when I ran away from the Temple."
Obi-Wan turned wide eyes on his master. "You ran away?"
"Twice. Once when I was an Initiate, then again when I was about your age. The first time I came home on my own, but the second time, I was just about to get on a freighter when Master Yoda caught up with me." He gave his apprentice a side-glance. "I'm glad you had more sense."
"No, just less credits," Obi-Wan admitted ruefully. "I had no idea how much things like that cost out here."
Qui-Gon sighed. "Which is partly my fault. I've been sheltering you from much, Padawan, thinking you were too young. I believe that it's time to let you start handling some of the details on our missions."
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan said gratefully. "I don't deserve your trust, not after the way I've behaved."
"Oh, you're still in a lot of trouble, Padawan," Qui-Gon said firmly, giving his padawan a stern look that made him want to sink through the cushions of the air car. "But we'll discuss that – and your punishment – when we get back to the Temple. You can count on it being a long, long talk, Padawan."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said faintly, squirming uncomfortably on the seat. "Um – Master? Did – was Master Yoda upset when he found you at the spaceport?"
"Upset?" Qui-Gon snorted. "I don't think I've ever seen the little troll that particular shade of green before – or since. But he was even more relieved that he found me." He wrapped his arm around his padawan's shoulder and squeezed him gently. "As am I, Padawan. As am I."
Once back in their suite, Qui-Gon sent Obi-Wan to his room to change into his night clothes while he fixed a simple but filling meal for the two of them. Obi-Wan's appetite seemed none-the-worse for his little adventure or the punishment looming ahead of him, a fact which amused Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan cleaned up afterwards without prompting, although he looked distinctly nervous when he joined Qui-Gon in the main room.
"Master? Should I go on to bed?"
"Not yet, Padawan," Qui-Gon said, gesturing towards the meditation mats he had set out. "I know that you're tired after your little adventure, but I think we should address this situation now, rather than waiting till tomorrow."
Obi-Wan sighed as he settled on one of the mats. "I suppose that it's too much to hope for that we could just forget this whole day ever happened."
"Much too much," Qui-Gon agreed sitting down on the other mat. "Let's discuss each of the mistakes you made today for which you deserve punishment."
Obi-Wan sighed and stared down at his knees. "In the training room, I was unfocused, unable to find my center. I performed poorly."
Qui-Gon shook his head. "That is not something that you should be punished for. We all have our off days, and I could tell that you were going to have trouble today because of some inner conflict you were having. Perhaps if you had come to me to discuss the problem, the rest of this afternoon's adventures wouldn't have occurred."
Obi-Wan flushed. "Yes, Master." He took a deep breath. "Garen – I told you that he was missing the girl he left behind on Hoth?" Qui-Gon nodded. "He told me that they – um – did it before he left."
Obi-Wan flushed deeper. "Had sex."
"Oh. And this upset you in some way?"
"Not upset exactly. It's just – it made me think about me and Sedik. About – about whether we should, before he leaves. Since we won't see each other for months."
"You think he'll forget about you if you don't have sex before he leaves?" Qui-Gon asked in disbelief.
"Oh, no, Master! It's just – what if he – doesn't come back?"
The eyes that Obi-Wan raised to him were agonized, and Qui-Gon sighed, then held out his arms. "Come here, Padawan," he said gently. Obi-Wan went into his arms gratefully, snuggling into the larger man like he had as a younger boy, and Qui-Gon rubbed his hand soothingly over the teen's back.
"I could tell you that that's not going to happen, but you are not a child, and you know that it's always possible. Even the most peaceful missions can turn deadly, or unexpected catastrophes can occur. It is part of our life as Jedi, a life that all of us – you, me, Sedik – have freely chosen. The most we can do is to live in the moment, enjoy what we have while we have it."
"Then do you think Garen's right? That it's better to taste that love for a moment, even if you never have it again?"
"What's right for Garen may not be right for you, Obi-Wan, or it might not be right for you at a particular moment in your life. What does your heart tell you?"
Obi-Wan sighed. "That I'm not ready yet."
"And Sedik? Have you talked to him about this?"
Obi-Wan nodded. "I ran into him on my way back from the training rooms. He doesn't think we're ready either." He flushed and bit his lip. "I'm afraid I wasn't very nice to him either." He remembered what he had said to his master earlier that day and flushed again, then buried his face in his master's tunic, unable to look up at him. "Master? I didn't mean it when I said that I hated you."
Qui-Gon chuckled and ruffled the boy's hair. "I knew that the moment you said it, Obi-Wan. Still, it was unkind to say it, wasn't it?"
Obi-Wan nodded vigorously. "And I was very rude to you earlier. I know that you don't spy on me." He peeked up at his master's face. "Are you going to spank me, Master?"
"For your rudeness?" Qui-Gon shook his head. "No. I thought that a night spent in meditation exercises would be more appropriate. However," he said as he heard Obi-Wan's sigh of relief, "that was before you ran away." He turned Obi-Wan's face up towards his. "Running away doesn't solve problems, Padawan, it only makes them worse."
Obi-Wan nodded. "I understand, Master."
"Good. In that case, let's get your punishment over with."
With a sigh, Obi-Wan crawled off Qui-Gon's lap and chewed his lip as he waited while his master sat down in his chair. Qui-Gon pointed to the floor in front of him and, with reluctant footsteps, Obi-Wan crossed to stand in front of his master. He pulled his sleep pants down to his knees and awkwardly settled across his master's knees. His heart jumped when he felt his master's large hand settle on his bare backside and he wrapped both of his arms around his master's leg.
"All right, Padawan. What's this spanking for?"
"For running away," Obi-Wan said breathlessly. He gasped as his master's large hand smacked his tender bottom.
"Yes. As I said, running away doesn't solve problems, it only makes them worse." Qui-Gon covered the pale bottom with firm smacks, watching the skin turn to pink under his swats. "And, as you've discovered, it has turned your grounding into a thorough spanking."
"Yes, Master!" Obi-Wan gulped back his tears as his backside began to burn.
"You are too young to be out there on your own, Padawan. How did you expect to find food or shelter? How did you expect to live? Or did you even think about that?"
"N-no, Master," Obi-Wan sobbed. "Not – not till I was – at the port."
"It's a dangerous world, Obi-Wan, and when I think about what could have happened to you – " He finished with one final, hard swat on his padawan's flaming backside. "Do you understand me, Padawan?"
"Y-yes, Master!" Obi-Wan sobbed.
Qui-Gon rubbed his hand soothingly over his padawan's back, waiting for him to calm down before he helped the boy back onto his feet. Obi-Wan winced as he pulled his sleep pants over his burning skin, thinking that he'd be lucky if he could sit down the next day.
Qui-Gon stood and wrapped his arms around the teen, feeling Obi-Wan burrow his face into the larger man's chest. "All over, Padawan," he said softly. "And next time, don't be embarrassed to talk to me about your problems." Obi-Wan nodded silently and Qui-Gon kissed the top of his head. "All right. Go wash your face and then into bed. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day for you – I'll expect you'll want to get up early so you can smooth things over with Sedik. Maybe you two can catch the end of that vidfest tomorrow night."
Obi-Wan, on his way to the bathroom, stopped and turned around, staring at his master in stunned surprise. "But – I thought I was grounded!"
"You are," Qui-Gon said, then smiled at his apprentice. "But I think that – under the circumstances – a reprieve of three days before you start serving your sentence is appropriate."
Obi-Wan hurtled across the room to ruthlessly hug his master. "Thank you, Master! You won't regret it, I promise! I'm going to be the most focused, most centered padawan you ever saw!"
Dryly, Qui-Gon said, "Right now I'd settle for you being a padawan in his bed getting a good night's sleep."
Obi-Wan grinned and hurried back towards his room, his thoughts on the next three days and how he planned to apologize to Sedik. Qui-Gon watched him go off with a smile, thankful that his padawan was home and safe. Which reminded him that he owed Mace his thanks – and a bottle of Alderaan brandy.