Obi-Wan stifled a yawn and surreptitiously flexed the muscles in his feet, trying to maintain a look of serene interest on his face. It was difficult to do since they were now going on the third hour of an extremely boring and officiously pompous coronation ceremony. Which had followed a weekly of boring and pompous dinners. All in honor of Prince Mikhail, age six and the only remaining member of the Trandillian Royal family following a tragic boating accident that had claimed the lives of his parents. The prince had been spared because – as was Trandillian custom – he had been living separate from his parents since birth, attended by nurses and nannies and tutors. Mikhail had arrived at the palace for the first time at the same time that he and his master had, but any claim that the boy might have had on his sympathy were destroyed by the child's imperious – not to say obnoxious – attitude.
Obi-Wan sneaked a sideways glance at his master, wondering how his master managed to maintain his serenity. / / With practice, Padawan,/ / came his master's mental admonishment. / / Something that you will have a chance to do this evening/ /
Obi-Wan stifled his mental groan, knowing that Qui-Gon would make it several evening's practice given a chance, and shifted his feet again. He looked around the room and noticed several other bored faces. In fact, the only person who seemed to be enjoying the whole boring thing was the prince – probably because he was at the center of attention.
A sudden noise in the hallway outside startled Obi-Wan out of his semi-daze, and he instinctively swung around with his hand on his saber. His master was on the defensive as well, and when the doors burst open, both blades extended to swirling to catch the deadly laser bolts aimed towards the throne. The first group of attackers was swiftly dispatched with the assistance of the Royal Guards, but Obi-Wan could hear more blasters firing outside and he doubted that they could hold off all of them. Not unless they got assistance from outside.
Qui-Gon appeared to have gotten the same opinion, and as the next group of attackers forced their way in, he made a quick decision. “Obi-Wan! Get the prince!” Qui-Gon ordered, whirling to face the next group of attackers.
“Yes, Master.” Obi-Wan somersaulted over his attackers, joining the few defenders remaining around the throne. The prince had been knocked to the ground by the more enthusiastic of his defenders and was unconscious but alive. Quickly, he scooped the boy up and over his left shoulder. “Got him, Master!”
“Out the side passage – now! Get the prince to safety.”
Obi-Wan used a burst of Jedi-enhanced speed to move through the attackers and out the side passage, aware of his master behind him securing their escape. He raced through the passages used by servants, and made it to the kitchen gardens without encountering any challenges. A sound behind him made him swing around, saber at the ready, but it was only a few of the cabinet ministers who had followed his lead. He desperately wanted to wait for his master but knew that Qui-Gon would want him to get the prince safely under cover first. He checked the prince briefly, ascertaining that he was all right, then turned to one of the senior ministers.
"Who are those people?" he demanded.
The man looked flustered and embarrassed. "A rebel faction. They've existed for years, protesting the monarchy, but they've never actually been violent before now."
"Well, they're certainly violent now!" Obi-Wan pointed out. "Does the Senate know about them?" The Minister looked away and Obi-Wan sighed. “We’ll need to move to a safer location. The rebels will be after us.”
The man nodded. “There’s an old training center about a mile or two outside the palace, used for troop training. It’s deserted, barely stocked, but it’s defensible.”
“Then we’ll go there.” A few of the ministers started to grumble about walking that far but Obi-Wan said firmly, “You have few other choices – unless you’d rather put yourselves into the rebels’ hands.” He turned to the senior minister. “Please lead the way, Minister.”
By the time they reached the safety of the training center, Obi-Wan was exhausted and frustrated with his charges. They were frightened and querulous, not wanting to trust their safety to someone as young as he was. They were also little help with the prince, who had roused about halfway to the center. Prince Mikhail had indignantly demanded to be set down and, when Obi-Wan had complied, had prompted collapsed so Obi-Wan had been forced to carry him.
Obi-Wan was relieved to see that the training center was in better shape than he had expected – in fact, it was an old fortress and looked like it would be easy to defend if necessary. First order of business was to tend to the young prince, and he found a bed to place the child's unconscious body on. The ministers were hovering about uselessly, so he hunted located the bathing rooms and ran some water over a clean towel, then placed the cloth over the child's forehead.
The sound of booted feet outside made him jump up and race for the courtyard, saber in hand. He was relieved to see that it was his master with some of the Royal Guard, and Qui-Gon crossed the courtyard to give him a brief hug.
"Well done, Padawan. Any problems getting here?"
"None to speak of," Obi-Wan said dryly, jerking his head in the direction of the ministers and rolling his eyes. Qui-Gon's mouth twitched slightly.
"And the prince?"
"He regained consciousness briefly, then passed out again. I had just found a place to lay him down and was about to ascertain his injuries when – "
A shriek rent the air, and both Jedi ran in the direction it had come from. They entered the room where Obi-Wan had left the prince, expecting to find something dreadfully wrong with the child. Instead, they found the boy screaming at the top of his lungs as he threw everything he could get his hands on at the cowering ministers.
Qui-Gon exerted a bit of the Force to halt the barrage in mid-air, and the infuriated prince turned on him. "I don't like this place! What are we doing here? Where are my servants?"
Qui-Gon drew a deep breath. "The palace was attacked by a rebel faction that appears to object to your coronation." He gave the senior minister a severe look. "We were not informed that there was a rebellion, or we would have been better able to handle the situation."
"I don't care! I don't want to stay here – I want to go home." The boy stomped his foot. "Immediately!"
Qui-Gon said, patiently, "The rebels are holding the palace, and they appear to have secured most of the city. Our best plan is to get a ship and get you off this planet to safety while the Senate works out the situation."
"I'm not leaving!" Prince Mikhail shrieked. "I demand that you attack the rebels and take back my throne!"
"Your Highness," Qui-Gon said firmly, "We were sent here to witness your coronation, not to lead an attack against unknown rebels. And there are only two of us, plus a handful of your guard. It will be difficult enough to gain the spaceport, let alone attack the city."
Prince Mikhail gave him a disdainful look. "You are a coward."
Hotly, Obi-Wan said, "My master is not a coward! If he says that it can't be done, then it can't."
Mikhail gave him a superior look. "You are just a child-Jedi. You know nothing of such matters."
"A child – I'm older than you – " Obi-Wan snapped.
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said firmly, catching his padawan's eye. Obi-Wan bit his lip to keep back the rest of his hot words. "Your Highness," Qui-Gon said, "our primary mission is to get you to safety. Once that is accomplished, the Senate will do everything in its power to regain your throne, and we will be more than happy to assist."
The prince opened his mouth to protest but something about Qui-Gon's face must have told him that further argument would be unwise. "Oh, all right," he grumbled. "Let us go, then."
Qui-Gon shook his head. "It would be best for us to wait till just before dawn." He turned to one of the guardsmen. "Are any of your men familiar with the layout of the spaceport?"
"Yes, Master Jinn."
"Good. We'll need to work up a plan." He smiled at the prince. "I suggest that you get some rest, Highness."
"Rest?" The prince stamped his foot again. "I'm hungry. I want something to eat now."
Obi-Wan was itching to smack the brat and admired his master's patience as he bowed his head. "Certainly, Highness." He gestured to one of the younger members of the Ministry, feeling that the man would be more willing to help than some of the older ones. "If you will see what provisions there are available and distribute them, it would be a kindness." The minister nodded and headed off. "Captain, if you will assemble your men in the main hall, we can make plans." Qui-Gon headed for the door, gesturing for Obi-Wan to follow him.
"Stop!" Qui-Gon turned in surprise to see Prince Mikhail pointing at Obi-Wan. "He stays with me," the prince ordered. "Since I don't have any servants left – thanks to you – he will serve me."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened and he opened his mouth indignantly, but his master silenced him with a look as he murmured, "Perhaps it would be wise if one of us kept an eye on him. His safety is paramount to our mission."
"Great," Obi-Wan muttered. "I have to play nursemaid to His Royal Brattiness."
"Padawan," Qui-Gon cautioned, and Obi-Wan sighed. He stepped forward, bowing with Jedi dignity to the prince.
"It is an honor to serve," he said politely.
"I need a bath," the prince announced. "And my clothes are dirty. I'll need some new ones."
Obi-Wan gritted his teeth as he endeavored to smile. "I doubt that there are any available, Highness."
"Then you'll have to wash these."
Obi-Wan glanced behind him to see that the others had cleared the room, including his master.
/ / Coward / / he sent to his master, and received an amused response.
A diligent search of the building revealed an antiquated water heater which Obi-Wan started, relieved to see that the metal was still intact, as were the pipes. It took a while to heat the water during which food arrived – rations which the prince indignantly rejected. Obi-Wan gratefully ate his share and set some aside for the prince, in case hunger ever overcame dignity.
While the prince bathed, he made up one of the beds in an officer's private room, rightly guessing that the prince would refuse to share the common barracks. He had located a plain white shirt that was clean and would serve as a nightshirt for the boy. It was plain from the look on the boy's face that he was accustomed to finer things but when Obi-Wan pointed out that it was this or sleep naked, he allowed Obi-Wan to put it on him.
Obi-Wan steered the boy towards the bed, thankful to have the ordeal over, little realizing that it had just begun. As he tucked the covers over the boy, he received another baleful glare.
"That's not how my Nana does it."
Obi-Wan drew in a deep breath and gritted his teeth. "I'm sorry, Highness. How does your Nana do it?"
"First, she pulls up the sheet and tucks it in tightly." He watched critically as Obi-Wan did this. "No, not like that! Tighter! Next, she pulls up the blanket and tucks it loosely." He grudgingly allowed that Obi-Wan had done it all right. "And I always have another blanket laid across my feet, so they won't get cold." Obi-Wan fetched another blanket and finally got it in just the right place. "All right. That'll do."
Thankfully, Obi-Wan started for the door. "Good night, Highness."
"Stop!" Mikhail said imperiously. "You didn't bring me a glass of water."
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes but fetched the water. He had to wait while the boy drank it in small sips, then took the glass away. "Anything else, Your Highness?" he asked politely, standing in the doorway.
"No." Obi-Wan switched off the light and an imperious voice stopped him. "Wait! It is too dark. I need a light."
Obi-Wan flipped the main light back on, crossed the room to a small office attached to the bedroom and flipped on that light, then turned off the bedroom light. The prince ungraciously allowed that it would do, and Obi-Wan thankfully went looking for his master.
He found Qui-Gon in the barracks, sitting on a cot and slowly eating his rations as he studied a datapad. On impulse, Obi-Wan sat down on the cot beside his master and hugged him. Qui-Gon chuckled and wrapped an arm around his padawan, hugging him back.
"That bad, Padawan?"
"Worse," Obi-Wan said, his voice muffled in his master's cloak. "I hope I was never that difficult when I was his age."
"I doubt that you were," Qui-Gon said reassuringly. "Temple children learn to take care of themselves. I doubt that Prince Mikhail's had to do anything for himself since he was born."
"Too bad – he might have learned something valuable – like manners." Obi-Wan released his master and sat up. "What are you studying, Master?"
"Plans for the spaceport. You'd better have a look at them, too." He handed the pad over to Obi-Wan and picked up the last of his ration bars. "Did you eat yet, Obi-Wan?"
"Yes, thank you, Master." Obi-Wan studied the plans with a frown. "It looks too easy."
Qui-Gon nodded. "Yes. I'm pleased that you noticed that, Padawan. It could be just that easy but we should be prepared for the unexpected." He ruffled the teen's hair. "Bed, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan pulled off his boots and wrapped himself in his cloak, as his master did, and lay down on the cot. He dropped into an immediate sleep from years of practice.
When he awakened in the middle of the night, at first he wasn't sure what had disturbed him. The barracks were quiet, there were no sounds outside, no disturbances in the Force around them indicating trouble. His master was sound asleep. Then he heard it again – a slightly squeaky noise from the end of the hall. Where the prince's room was located.
He was down the hallway in an instant, his unlit saber in hand, his sock-clad feet moving noiselessly on the floor. The intruder was unprepared and didn't even have a chance to squeak before Obi-Wan had clamped a hand over his mouth and bodily dragged the small figure back into the bedroom.
"Ow!" He released the prince's mouth, shaken the hand that bad been bitten. "What in Sith Hells are you doing?" he demanded.
Prince Mikhail glared at him. "I'm going home."
"No, you're not," Obi-Wan snapped. "You are getting back in that bed and going to sleep for what remains of this night, before I turn you over my knee and spank some sense into you."
Mikhail snorted. "You wouldn't dare! I'm the prince, and I'm too old for spankings."
"Tell that to Master Qui-Gon and see how far it gets you," Obi-Wan returned.
Mikhail's eyes widened. "He spanks you?" he asked, disbelievingly. "You're making that up! You're Jedi – why would you need to be punished?"
Obi-Wan shrugged. "Because I don't always make the right choices, and because my master cares enough to teach me."
There was a momentary flash of something like envy in the Prince's eyes, and then he tilted his chin up defiantly. "No one spanks me – not even your Jedi Master."
"Oh, yeah? Unless you get in that bed right now, you're going to find out differently. That's a promise, and a Jedi always keeps his promises." He took one step closer to the boy and Mikhail squeaked and jumped into the bed.
Obi-Wan went about the task of tucking the boy back into the bed, then asked, "Anything else, Highness?"
"I'm hungry," Mikhail muttered, clearly not pleased at having been bested. Obi-Wan fetched the two ration bars he had set aside and although the boy made a face, he accepted them without comment. Obi-Wan turned off the light and, after a moment's thought, dragged one of the mattresses in front of the door and settled down for more sleep.
"Obi-Wan," a soft voice said beside him what seemed like only minutes later. "Wake – it's time to go."
Obi-Wan instantly awakened and sat up. His master was kneeling on the floor beside the mattress. "Yes, Master."
"Interesting place to sleep, Padawan."
"The prince decided to take a walk in the middle of the night – back to the palace." His master handed him his boots and he pulled them on.
Qui-Gon frowned. "Then we'll have to keep a close eye on him. I'm placing him in your charge, Padawan."
Obi-Wan had been expecting that, but he was still disappointed to hear the words. "Yes, Master," he said, resigned.
The prince was a little more cooperative that morning, probably because he was still half-asleep. Obi-Wan dressed him in the clothes he had cleaned somewhat the night before and handed him another ration bar as he led the way to where the others were gathered.
They gained the spaceport with little trouble. It lay on the outskirts of the city and, although the city was heavily defended, it had apparently never occurred to the rebels that the Prince's party might try to get off-planet. At this early hour of the morning, the port was deserted and a quick assessment assured them that the courier vessel they had come in was safe. Qui-Gon commed the pilot who had locked the ship up tightly at the first sign of trouble, and within a short time, they were on-board and blasting off.
Once they were heading away from the planet, Qui-Gon went to the comm station to inform the Senate of what had transpired while the ministers got settled in their quarters. Obi-Wan had installed the prince in the best quarters and, having been relieved of his serving duties by the presence of droids, headed for his own quarters to shower and change.
After dressing again, he headed towards the main lounge where he had a feeling his master would be but then stopped and looked around with a frown. He wasn't sure what exactly made him head away from the comm area, just that he had an uneasy feeling that something wasn't quite right. He wandered through the ship, past the other quarters, towards the cargo hold, but stopped before he got there. Something was moving near the life-pods, something small. His mouth tightened.
Prince Mikhail. Making another attempt to get home.
Briefly, he thought about alerting his master to the situation but then decided he could handle the boy without disturbing his master. He headed towards the pods, then suddenly realized that the boy was already inside one and was activating the hatch.
With an oath, Obi-Wan hurled himself through the closing hatch, smacking his head on the console as he landed in a sprawl in the small space. "What in Sith Hells do you think you're doing?" he demanded. "No, don't push that!"
Too late – Mikhail had already punched the button to launch the life-pod, and the force of the sudden launch threw both of them on the floor. By the time Obi-Wan was able to pick himself up, he was so angry that he wanted to shake the boy till his teeth rattled.
"You idiot!" he snapped. "What do you think you're doing?"
Mikhail raised his chin defiantly. "Going home."
"Getting yourself killed is more like it," Obi-Wan said sarcastically. He crawled over to the console to set the homing beacon so that the courier ship would realize they were gone and return for them, then stared at the console in horror. It was partially disassembled, including the section that contained the homing beacon. He turned to glare at the boy. "Great! You had to pick a pod that was undergoing maintenance, didn't you? The homing beacon is disabled."
"We don't need the homing beacon," the prince said disdainfully. "We just need the thrusters to maneuver into orbit."
Obi-Wan gestured towards the console. "Which are also non-functional."
For the first time, the boy paled. "Then – we're not going to get home?"
"Oh, we're going home all right," Obi-Wan said grimly. "When we drift into the planet's gravitational pull, we'll go home. As a fireball. Without the thrusters, we can't position the pod for re-entry."
"Oh." The prince's voice was small. "But – they'll realize we're gone and come for us, won't they?"
Obi-Wan gestured towards the port window where the distant glow of a ship entering hyperspace could be seen. "Eventually. When they realize that we're gone. When they figure out that one of the pods is missing. And if they figure out just where they lost us. Let's just hope that they do it in time."
"Master Jinn, one of the pods is missing."
Qui-Gon looked up from the report he was working on with a frown. "Missing? Are you sure?"
The pilot nodded. "We were repairing a problem with it while waiting on the planet – I just went to finish working on it and found it was gone."
Qui-Gon closed his eyes with a groan. "The prince. He was determined to go home." He looked at the pilot. "Can you remotely activate the homing device?"
"Ordinarily, yes, but that's part of the system we were working on. That and the thrusters."
"Turn the ship around, Captain," Qui-Gon said, rubbing his hand over his tired eyes. "If the prince took it, he probably did so before we made the jump." The pilot nodded and left, and Qui-Gon slapped the comm button, wishing he had asked Obi-Wan to keep an eye on the child after they had gotten on the ship. "Padawan, wake up. We have an emergency." There was no answer, and he reached out with his mind to touch his padawan's sleeping mind – only to find that Obi-Wan wasn't within sensing distance. He expanded his awareness, searching through the Force for his padawan's unique signature, finally sensing the faint presence a far distance away.
Which meant that Obi-Wan was with the prince.
Swearing fluently and in every language he could think of, Qui-Gon hurried to the cockpit to advise the pilot of the additional problem.
"Obi-Wan – "
Obi-Wan glared at the prince from underneath the console that he was attempting to rebuild. "Not one word."
"But – "
"Not. One. Word."
Mikhail subsided grumpily and Obi-Wan turned his attention back to his work. It was an almost hopeless task since many of the parts he needed were still back on the ship, but he was fairly certain that – given time – he could get the homing device activated. Which in his book would be a good thing since, instead of descending towards the planet in a decaying orbit, they appeared to have caught a space eddy and were drifting away from the planet. Which in itself was both good and bad. Good in terms of not burning up in a fiery blaze. Bad in terms that finding one tiny pod in the vastness of space would be nearly impossible.
With a judicious bit of jerry rigging, he managed to reconnect the homing beacon's power source, then set the frequency to the one that he was most familiar with – the Temple's distress signal. A few minutes later, he sighed with relief as the display light indicated that the beacon was activated. He crawled out from under the console and wiped off his filthy hands.
"Well, that's about all we can do," he said.
"They'll find us, won't they?" the prince asked, and Obi-Wan noted a little quaver in the boy's voice. He felt a brief sympathy for the child but the fact of the matter was that the brat had got them into this mess. Obi-Wan squashed the internal voice that murmured that he should have contacted his master immediately – the pilot could have disabled the pods from the cockpit. He hadn't had time, right? He'd had to take care of the prince, right?
Somehow he didn't think that any of those arguments would convince his master that he wasn't at fault.
"Oh, they'll find us. If they're looking for us in this general area. And if space pirates don't find us first." Obi-Wan repented when he saw the boy's face pale even more, and he said gruffly, "Of course they'll find us. In the meantime, let's see what this thing has for rations, shall we?"
Mikhail made a face but helped him look, and they found the emergency rations kit. Obi-Wan issued them each a flask of water and a ration bar, eating his slowly. There was no telling how long rescue would take.
An hour later, he had nearly dozed off when Mikhail's excited voice caught his attention. "Obi-Wan! Look!" He looked over in the direction the boy indicated through the viewing holes and saw a ship emerging from hyperspace. "It's them, isn't it?"
"I think so," Obi-Wan said, peering out as he tried to reach out with his mind to touch his master. "Yes. It must be." There was no answer, no sense of him being near, and Obi-Wan swallowed. "Or it could be – "
He and Mikhail exchanged a hopeless look.
As they emerged from hyperspace near the planet, Qui-Gon was immediately aware of the agitation in his padawan's mind, although he was still too far a distance away to speak with mentally. The pilot checked his scanners and said, "There's the homing beacon. Your apprentice must have gotten it working. And there's another ship closing in on it."
"Pirates?" Qui-Gon asked, concerned.
The pilot shook his head. "Only one ship with light defensive weaponry. A private freighter, Corellian at a guess." He tapped in a few codes and listened to the reply on his headset. "Yes. They picked up the distress signal, recognized the Temple frequency – " He grinned at Qui-Gon. "Sharp boy you've got there, Master Jinn, modifying the signal like that. Pirates would think twice about attacking a Temple vessel." He tapped another set of codes. "I've advised them to stand by. We'll be within range in 15 minutes."
Obi-Wan eyed the ship sitting a distance away from them uncertainly. "If they were pirates, they would have attacked us by now."
"Then why don't they come any closer?" Mikhail demanded. "Don't they know that we're tired and hungry over here? If I was king, they wouldn't dare to ignore us like this."
"Oh, shut up!" Obi-Wan said wearily. "If you were king, you'd behave like one instead of a brat."
"I am not a brat!" Mikhail stomped his foot.
"Oh, yes, you are. And furthermore – "
/ / Padawan, if you are quite finished, perhaps you'd like to be rescued/ /
Obi-Wan's head jerked up. "Master!"
Mikhail jumped up from the floor and ran to the porthole. "There they are! They're putting out some kind of hook-thing."
"Cargo hook," Obi-Wan said absently. / / Master, it's good to hear you again/ /
/ / Sorry we took so long, Padawan. No one realized that you and Prince Mikhail had decided to do a little sightseeing/ /
Obi-Wan winced at the tone in his master's mental voice. / / I'm in trouble, aren't I? / /
/ / You could say that, Padawan. / /
The mental voice disappeared and Obi-Wan closed his eyes, wondering if burning up in a planet's atmosphere was such a bad way to die.
Qui-Gon and the ministers were waiting in the cargo hold when the pod was secured and opened, and the prince was immediately surrounded as they anxiously – and loudly - ascertained his health and well being. Obi-Wan's home-coming was quieter – he crossed the hold to be engulfed in a warm hug and a quiet inquiry of "Are you all right, Padawan?"
Obi-Wan nodded, clinging to his master for a long moment. "I was scared," he admitted softly. "I was afraid you wouldn't find us."
Qui-Gon pulled back so that he could take Obi-Wan's face between his hands. "I will always find you, Padawan. Never doubt that."
Obi-Wan's eyes filled with tears and he nodded. "I won't."
"And what you did to assist in your rescue – activating the homing beacon and setting it to the Temple frequency – that was well done. The Corellian freighter recognized it and would have assisted you if we hadn't come along."
Obi-Wan gave a slightly sheepish shrug. "It's the only frequency I could remember," he admitted.
Qui-Gon chuckled and tugged his padawan's braid. "Then that is an area that we need to concentrate on in your studies. But first," he said, his voice getting stern, "I believe we need to have a long, long talk."
Obi-Wan's heart dropped into his boots. "But – it was Mikhail's fault!" he said, knowing that he was whining but unable to stop himself. "If I hadn't gone after him, he would have been lost!"
"If you had contacted me or the pilot immediately, the pods could have been shut down, or we would have known before making the hyperjump and we would have had him back on-board within a few minutes instead of four hours," Qui-Gon said sternly. "Isn't that right, Padawan?"
Obi-Wan's head dropped and he stared at the floor as he scuffed at it with his toe. "Yes, Master."
"Very well, then, Padawan. Let's go to our quarters and discuss this in more detail."
They were delayed briefly as the senior minister wanted to personally thank Obi-Wan for rescuing His Highness and, at Qui-Gon's subtle prompting, Prince Mikhail also grudgingly thanked Obi-Wan. He then began to loudly demand a bath and a meal and Obi-Wan's assistance.
"I'm afraid that Obi-Wan has other urgent business," Qui-Gon said smoothly, bowing to the prince. "Come, Padawan."
Obi-Wan didn't know which was worse – the spanking he could expect from his master or serving His Royal-Pain-in-the-Ass – but decided that at least he could expect the spanking to end in a reasonable amount of time, so he reluctantly turned to follow his master.
Mikhail's mouth tightened as he realized that his own people had rapidly disappeared and now Obi-Wan was deserting him. The only thing that made him feel even a little bit better was Obi-Wan's obvious reluctance to leave and a look on Master Jinn's face that said that the older boy was in trouble. A smug grin lit his face, and in a sing-song voice that only Obi-Wan was close enough to hear, he taunted, "Obi's gon-na get a spaaank-ing. Obi's gon-na get a spaaank-ing."
Obi-Wan ignored the child with what he thought was Jedi-like serenity until they reached their quarters. "Master, it isn't fair!" he burst out, the moment that they were inside. "He does something stupid but I'm the one getting in trouble for it."
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "How old is Prince Mikhail?"
"And you are?"
Obi-Wan sighed, knowing where Qui-Gon was going with this. "Seventeen."
"So who is the one who should have known better?"
Obi-Wan knew a rhetorical question when he heard it, but he still had to try to get himself out of trouble. "But Master – "
Qui-Gon pointed a finger at the corner and Obi-Wan sighed as he slowly moved towards it. "It still isn't fair," he muttered. "He's such a spoiled brat, and he gets away with everything! I try to do the right thing and I end up in trouble."
Qui-Gon smiled and crossed the room to tousle the young man's hair. "And did you ever stop to figure that perhaps you're the more fortunate one?"
Obi-Wan turned his head and gave his master a look of pure disbelief. "You have got to be kidding, Master."
"I advise you to meditate on the idea until I get back, Padawan."
Obi-Wan turned his face back to the corner, frowning. How could it be possible that Obi-Wan – who was about to have his bottom blistered and whose stomach was growling because he'd missed dinner – was more fortunate than Mikhail, who was probably gorging himself right now in his quarters.
Alone. Attended only by droids.
Mikhail was alone, and those around him only took care of him because it was their duty. Not because they loved the child, like Qui-Gon loved Obi-Wan. And if they hadn't come back safely? Qui-Gon would have been devastated – Obi-Wan had seen the combined fear and relief underneath his master's serenity. But would anyone have really cared if Mikhail had been killed? His government ministers would have been annoyed at having to find another candidate for the throne, his enemies would have actively rejoiced, but would anyone have grieved for him?
He heard the door to the bedroom open and, forgetting that he was supposed to remain in the corner, he rocketed across the room and buried his face against his master's chest, hugging him tightly.
"Thank you, Master. For caring about me, even if it means punishing me."
Qui-Gon smiled as he hugged the boy tightly. "You're welcome, Padawan. I am thankful to have someone to care about – and when I think what might have happened – "
"I know," Obi-Wan said, shuddering. "I promise that I'll think through my options next time instead of just acting."
"I know you will, Padawan – and I'll help you remember."
Obi-Wan made a face, knowing that meant that his master intended to do that by spanking him. "I'll remember, Master. I promise. You don't need to help me remember."
"Oh, I think I do," Qui-Gon said, leading the boy over to a chair. He sat down and patted his lap. "Come on, Obi-Wan. Stalling won't help."
Obi-Wan sighed and unfastened his pants, then lay down across Qui-Gon's knees. He hated this, hated being bare-assed and vulnerable as he lay here waiting for Qui-Gon to start, hated the litany of wrongs he would be ordered to list. But he knew he would rather get a spanking every day than to live with indifference, as Mikhail had to. He winced as Qui-Gon's large hand smacked his backside. Well, maybe not every day, he amended.
"What is this punishment for, Padawan?"
"For not thinking through my options, acting on impulse," Obi-Wan said dutifully, then winced again as his Master's hand smacked him several times.
"You are Jedi with years of training. You have an excellent brain - which is more than capable of coming up with solutions to nearly every situation. There is no excuse for not using those tools to solve a problem."
"What else, Padawan?"
"For – for risking Mikhail's life," Obi-Wan said, his voice hitching as Qui-Gon's hand continued to spank him.
"He risked his own life, Obi-Wan, and young as he is, he should know better. You were at fault for not alerting us to the danger. Although he was no longer entrusted to your care, you knew how important he was to this mission."
"Y-yes, Master," Obi-Wan sobbed.
"However, you also risked your own life, and we have discussed this in the past. There are times when such a risk is necessary. This wasn't one of them." He picked up the hairbrush that he had brought into the room with him and briskly applied it to Obi-Wan's backside until he was sobbing limply over his master's lap.
"All done, Padawan," Qui-Gon said soothingly, rubbing the boy's back gently until the sobs eased. He helped Obi-Wan get up and, as soon as Obi-Wan had carefully pulled his pants back up, he took the boy into his arms for a tight hug. "I was so worried about you, Obi-Wan," he murmured into the soft, spiky hair.
Obi-Wan nodded, his face still pressed against his master's tunic as he sought reassurance. "I know," he muttered. "Won't do it again – I promise."
"Good." Qui-Gon squeezed Obi-Wan and released him. "Now I think you’d best get to bed."
"Master?" Obi-Wan said hesitantly. "Would it – would it be okay if I checked on the prince first? Just to make sure he's settled in for the night? I'll come right back."
Qui-Gon smiled and ruffled the boy's hair. "That would be a kindness, Padawan. I'm pleased that you thought of it. Go ahead."
Obi-Wan slipped into the prince’s room, relieved to see that the boy was in his bed. He was about to leave again when he heard a tentative voice say, “Obi-Wan?”
Obi-Wan turned around, surprised. “Your Highness, you should be asleep.”
“I couldn’t.” There was a tremor in the boy’s voice and all of Obi-Wan’s remaining anger faded away.
“Well, of course you couldn’t,” he said briskly. “It’s too dark in here – and you don’t like that, do you?” He crossed to the lavatory, flicking on the light over the sink so that a faint glow penetrated into the sleeping room. He filled a glass with water and brought it over to the bed. “And I’ll bet that you didn’t get your water and that they didn’t know how you like your covers tucked in.” He set the glass on the night table but before he could straighten the covers, Mikhail sat up abruptly and threw his arms around Obi-Wan.
“You’re not angry with me?” he asked, his voice little-boy scared and his face pressed against Obi-Wan’s chest. “I didn’t mean to get you into trouble. I just wanted to go h-home. I keep – I keep thinking that if I just look harder, I'll find them.”
"Who?" Obi-Wan asked, puzzled.
"My parents. But – but I never do…" At that the boy burst into sobs, and Obi-Wan realized that it was the first time he had seen the prince cry. He sat down gingerly and gathered the boy into his arms, letting him sob out all his grief and fears. It felt strange but nice to comfort the younger boy like this, made him suddenly feel older and almost grown-up. He found himself rubbing the boy’s back soothingly, like his master did for him when he cried, and murmured comforting words to him until the boy settled down.
It was a good while before the boy’s sobs settled down to hitching breaths, and then he drew back slightly, rubbing his eyes with his sleeve. “You shouldn’t be so nice to me,” he muttered.
“Why not?” Obi-Wan said practically.
The boy’s eyes widened. “Because – because I’ve been horrid to you! And I got you into trouble and – and everything!”
“But you’re sorry, aren’t you?” Obi-Wan asked.
“Well – yes,” Mikhail admitted.
“And maybe next time you’ll think twice before misbehaving, especially if you know someone else is going to pay for your actions?”
“I suppose so,” the prince allowed, then looked at Obi-Wan curiously. “Did Master Jinn really spank you?”
Obi-Wan smiled ruefully. “Yes, he certainly did. With a hairbrush.”
“Did he give you an awfully hard spanking?” Mikhail asked, his eyes wide with half-terror, half-fascination.
“Hey!” Obi-Wan said in mock offense. “That’s my butt you’re talking about!” He began tickling the prince, delighting in the shrieks of pure boyish laughter. Then he set about tucking the prince into bed, tousling the boy’s hair. “Good night, Mikki.”
Mikhail smiled at him shyly. “Good night, Obi-Wan.” And then, as Obi-Wan opened the door, “Obi?” Obi-Wan looked back at him inquiringly, and Mikhail flushed. “You won’t – you won’t tell any one that I was such a baby. Crying and stuff. Will you?”
Obi-Wan wanted to laugh but he could see that the prince was serious, and his heart ached for the child, forced to grow up so fast, without anyone to love him. “Wild rancors couldn’t drag it out of me, Your Highness,” he said gravely, then smiled. “Sleep well.”
"So, I think we got everything," Obi-Wan said, looking around his room in the Temple. "What do you think, Mikki?"
For the past three days – at Obi-Wan's insistence – Mikhail had been occupying his room while Obi-Wan slept on a cot nearby, waiting for the Senate to decide the boy's future. Finally, Vice-Chancellor Vallorum had petitioned to take the prince into his household and would be arriving to pick up Mikhail shortly.
Mikhail shrugged. He was sitting on Obi-Wan's bed, looking down at his feet, an unhappy look on his face. Obi-Wan sat down next to him and put an arm around his shoulder. "You'll like Vallorum. He and my master are good friends, and he's been here for dinner a couple times. He's got two grown children so I know he'll take good care of you." He grinned and ruffled the prince's hair. "Although maybe I should pack my hairbrush for him to use when you need it."
"Obi!" Mikhail exclaimed, flushing with embarrassment. Obi-Wan had teasingly been threatening him with that for the past few days whenever he started showing an attitude, although Mikhail was fairly certain that the teen wouldn't carry out the threat. Vallorum was another matter. "You wouldn't."
"No, I wouldn't." Obi-Wan paused. "I'll suggest that Master Qui-Gon give him his hairbrush."
Mikhail tackled him with a shriek and began tickling, and of course Obi-Wan had to retaliate, so neither heard Qui-Gon enter the room until he cleared his throat loudly.
"Your Highness, Vice-Chancellor Vallorum is here."
Mikhail exchanged a look with Obi-Wan, then straightened and gave Qui-Gon a dignified nod. "Thank you, Master Jinn. If you would be kind enough to ask the Vice-Chancellor to wait a moment, I will be right out."
"Nicely done," Obi-Wan said, smiling as the door closed behind his master. "See – didn't cost you anything to be polite, and it'll make you friends in the long run."
Mikhail nodded but sighed. "It's just so hard to remember." He gave Obi-Wan a wistful look. "It's easier to remember when you're there."
"In that case, you need something to help you remember." He opened a drawer and pulled out an old stuffed animal. It was an Ewok toy, a little battered with shiny spots from where the fur had been rubbed off. "This is an old friend of mine, and he used to help me remember my lessons when I was an Initiate. His name is Jobi, but I think he’s getting lonely, seeing how I’m always on missions and he has to stay here. I thought he might like a new home, where someone could be with him every day."
"I could take care of him," Mikhail offered, trying to hide the eagerness in his voice behind careful nonchalance. "Until you’re more – you know – settled."
Obi-Wan considered this. "That’s a very good idea. What do you think?" he asked, pretending to listen to the toy. "Jobi says he likes that idea." He handed the stuffed animal to Mikhail, smiling as the prince cradled the toy and crooned to it, something about not being sad about leaving Obi-Wan, about being a brave Ewok and how Mikhail would take care of him.
Obi-Wan grabbed the prince's bag and opened the door, entering the main room with Mikhail right behind him, carefully cradling the toy. Qui-Gon gave Obi-Wan an inquiring look but the young man just smiled and handed the travel bag to Vallorum.
"He's all set, sir," he said politely, and Vallorum smiled at him.
"Thank you, Obi-Wan. It was very generous of you to take care of His Highness these past few days."
Obi-Wan smiled at Mikhail. "It was a pleasure."
Vallorum turned to the prince. "Ready, Your Highness? I've had my housekeeper prepare a special room for you – it was my children's nursery when they were growing up, and I think you'll like it."
Mikhail nodded and started to follow Vallorum, then stopped suddenly and turned, flinging his arms around Obi-Wan's legs.
"Why, Mikki!" Obi-Wan asked, surprised, and knelt so that he could hug the child. "What’s wrong?"
"I’m going to miss you," Mikhail said through his tears. "Will you come visit me – and Jobi?"
Obi-Wan squeezed the young boy. "Of course."
"Often? As often as you can?"
"Good." Mikhail pulled back and looked at him solemnly. "A Jedi’s promise is nearly unbreakable."
Obi-Wan smiled at him. "Yes, it is."
Mikhail dragged his sleeve over his eyes and resolutely turned back to the Vice-Chancellor. Vallorum smiled at him kindly and held out his hand, and after a look back at Obi-Wan, Mikhail slid his little hand into Vallorum's. And as the door slid closed behind them, Obi-Wan could hear the child's voice asking questions about his new home and Vallorum's deeper voice in reply.
Obi-Wan smiled; he had a feeling that Mikhail was in good hands now. "Master? How does Vice-Chancellor Vallorum feel about hairbrushes…?"
End of Young Obi-Wan #9