A Glimpse of Darkness

"You are going to try to avoid being shot this time, aren't you?" Obi-Wan asked plaintively.

Qui-Gon looked over at him with an inscrutable expression. Anakin, on the other hand, looked up with a mix of curiosity and concern.

"Shot?" the boy asked, looking from one to the other.

Obi-Wan turned his attention to Anakin. "Last time we were on Allatrii, Qui-Gon was shot in the back." He threw an accusatory look at his lover. "He almost died, thanks to the stunt he pulled then."

"And I thought you weren't going to scold me in front of someone I might have to intimidate," Qui-Gon countered with a smile and a wink to Anakin.

Obi-Wan shrugged. "I'm no longer your Padawan, so I don't necessarily need to do what you tell me to."

Qui-Gon frowned at him. "I don't recall *that* being part of the bargain. If I have to continue doing as Yoda instructs *me*--"

"You don't."

Qui-Gon stopped for a moment while he very obviously thought over his next response. Anakin giggled once, looking up at Obi-Wan.

Winking at the boy, Obi-Wan allowed himself to simply bask in contentment for a moment. Since his trials three months before, his life had settled into a pleasant routine. Qui-Gon and he spent most of their time training young Ani, with the occasional mission thrown in for variety. None of those had been very dangerous so far, in deference to the inexperience of their student. Until now, that is.

Qui-Gon was spending a lot more time at Anakin's side, giving the boy instructions. Most of them were nothing more than what he'd already learned -- or what he should have already learned. By the time most children trained at the temple reached Anakin's age there were many physical and mental skills they had already mastered. They were playing catch-up, trying to fill in these gaps in Ani's knowledge.

Obi-Wan could feel only the usual concern, however, and no inordinate amount of worry.

'Of course,' Obi-Wan thought wryly. '*He's* the one who almost died the last time we were there, so *I'm* the one who is anxious about going back.'

He had to admit, though, that the situation this time was totally different. His relationship with Qui-Gon was no longer new and potentially fragile, the struggle to balance duty and love no longer so difficult. They'd had years of practice to fine-tune it.

That practice allowed him to walk over to his lover, and casually remind him that *should* he find himself shot, he damn well better remain in his body where he belonged.

Anakin gave them both a puzzled look. "You mean a Jedi can leave his body?"

"Not without risk of leaving it permanently," Obi-Wan replied, shooting Qui-Gon a look.

Qui-Gon merely agreed. "It is a very dangerous thing, and not something to be attempted except under extreme circumstances." Qui-Gon glanced up at Obi-Wan with a brief expression which sought his approval. "And you shall not be finding yourself in such circumstances, Anakin."

Obi-Wan wanted to add, "Neither should you" to his lover, but decided to remain silent, recognizing that he was not exactly objective on this particular subject.

"But it can be done?" Anakin pressed, eyes shining with the discovery of another Jedi "trick."

"Hmm." Qui-Gon seemed to consider the question. Before Obi-Wan could protest, he continued, "Only if the body is too near death to hold onto the spirit." His eyes narrowed slightly in the manner which Obi-Wan had long ago dubbed as 'this is your Master talking'. "You should not concern yourself with it."

Obi-Wan received a brief glare for having spoken of it aloud, and thus sparking the boy's interest. He sent a look back and shrugged, not feeling the least bit repentant. Better Anakin learned about it this way than the way they had learned.

"We should concentrate on our mission." Qui-Gon changed the topic of conversation as smoothly as he could while being stared at by both Obi-Wan and Anakin. "Whoever killed the king and queen has some knowledge of the Force -- our arrival may be anticipated."

"I would be surprised if it was were not," Obi-Wan agreed. "You do not use Sith's Sting and not expect the Jedi to take an interest."

Anakin frowned. "What's Sith's Sting?"

Qui-Gon responded in his typical lecturer's tone. "Sith's Sting is a poison once used rather commonly, when the Sith were as many as the Jedi. An ability to manipulate the Force is required to create the poison -- a very fine manipulation, one only Sith Masters could accomplish."

"And that's what killed the king and queen?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "The autopsy results confirmed that. Which is why we were called in."

"That, and Prince Glarim requested us -- rather, Obi-Wan -- personally," Qui-Gon said with a hint of unmistakable pride.

"Because you've been there before?"

"Yes, Ani," Obi-Wan replied. "Qui-Gon and I are probably the only two Jedi he knows by name."

Again Anakin's eyes lit up. "What happened? Is Glarim a friend of yours?"

Qui-Gon glanced at Obi-Wan, telling him silently that he should tell this tale.

"About seven years ago, Prince Glarim was kidnapped in an attempt to force his father to declare war. Qui-Gon and I were sent to rescue him. I was the one who actually found Glarim, locked in a closet in a deserted storeroom. I suspect that is what made an impression on him."

"We must discover who has administered the poison, and protect Glarim. Anakin, I want you to stay with Obi-Wan while we are on Allatrii. You may need to serve as Glarim's protection, and I want you both to be prepared."

Anakin's eyes widened at this pronouncement and he straightened to his full four-foot height. It was the first time he'd been given an assignment of his own on a mission. "I will be, Master. I won't let you down."

Qui-Gon nodded, solemnly.

"I'm sure you'll do fine, Ani," Obi-Wan encouraged the boy. The rest of Qui-Gon's pronouncement was not going over as well with him. It sounded like his lover was planning on tracking the poisoner alone, and that Obi-Wan did not at all agree with.

[Only until you've questioned Glarim and determined if he is truly safe from attack,] he heard, rather clearly, in his mind.

He shot Qui-Gon a sharp look; either he was becoming entirely too easy to read, or...

Or his lover knew him well enough to guess his reactions. His former Master's mild expression told him it was probably the latter. That thought brought a rueful smile to Obi-Wan's lips; after all this time, his lover most certainly should!

Qui-Gon turned to Anakin and asked if he had finished reading the information he'd been given on Allatrii.

With a pout, the boy admitted he had not. It was one thing they had not yet been able to teach him -- the value of reading up on everything you could. Anakin preferred to charge in and trust the Force.

Qui-Gon sent Anakin hurrying off with a reader, with yet another firm command to *read*.

Obi-Wan watched the boy go off to his quarters with a smile. "He'd rather be doing," he commented wryly to his lover.

"Yes... fortunately I have some experience with stubborn Padawans."

"Perhaps the fact that you keep having stubborn Padawans says more about you than it does them," Obi-Wan teased. "After all, they are only seeking to emulate their Master."

Qui-Gon raised his eyebrow at him. He opened his mouth to speak, and Obi-Wan felt the coils of humor -- and felt as they shattered. Qui-Gon looked away, and said quietly, "All but Xanatos."

There wasn't much Obi-Wan could say to that, at least nothing that didn't sound trite and patronizing to his own ears. So he said nothing. Instead he went over and slipped his arms around his lover, offering comfort wordlessly.

Qui-Gon held him for a moment, then leaned away and smiled at him. "You agree with my plans for when we reach Allatrii?"

"All except the part where you go off alone." Obi-Wan saw Qui-Gon open his mouth, no doubt to protest, and continued before the older man had a chance to. "And don't tell me that wasn't part of your plan."

"One of us must stay with Anakin, and Glarim *has* requested you, by name." Qui-Gon sighed and placed a finger on Obi-Wan's lips before he could speak again. "I have no intention of getting into trouble, Obi-Wan. But other than keeping the three of us together, I do not see that we have an alternative. Either this time, or the next, we will eventually work apart."

"I know," Obi-Wan said with a sigh. "I would just rather it was not *this* time. Not with the possible involvement of a Sith. Not after Naboo."

For a moment Qui-Gon sat quietly, looking at him with a thoughtful expression. "What would you rather we did?"

"I'd rather we stayed together. Determine Glarim's safety, then track down the poison. Together." Obi-Wan held up a hand to forestall any objections. "I realize if we determine that Glarim is in danger the plan may have to change, but we both agree that he more than likely is not. If he is, we'll renegotiate."

Qui-Gon seemed to be holding back a smile as he considered Obi-Wan's words.

"What?" Obi-Wan challenged.

"I'm thinking that I never imagined I'd be wishing for the time when you were a young, impressionable Padawan whom I could simply order around. But you're right. We can accomplish the these tasks as easily together as apart."

"Thank you." Obi-Wan sighed in relief. The thought of Qui-Gon going off alone on this particular mission created a distinct unease in him. He strove to explain the feeling now that his lover had agreed. "I have a really bad feeling about this and I just want to be sure you have someone to watch your back."

Qui-Gon nodded. "All right, Obi-Wan. We'll stay together." The expression on his face said he wasn't disappointed by the notion.

Again Obi-Wan nodded his thanks. "No admonishments to not worry so much about the future?" he teased, feeling much more at ease now that he had gotten his way.

"No... you can have this one free." Qui-Gon smiled.

"Yes, Master."

Obi-Wan yelped, as he was goosed with the Force.

Rubbing the afflicted area ruefully, he gave his lover a Look. "You know, I should growl at you..."

Qui-Gon looked surprised, then his look melted almost instantly into a whimsical expression. "You haven't growled at me in years...."

"I know," Obi-Wan acknowledged. "Somehow I got out of the habit. I've done practically everything else, though."

"You've been keeping track?"

"Haven't you?"

Qui-Gon looked thoughtful. "You scold me in front of Anakin... you tickle me during Council meetings... you covered me in blue mud...."

"That was an accident," Obi-Wan pointed out. "And I got as covered as you did."

"Anyone with the tiniest bit of the Force could have prevented that slide," Qui-Gon said in his best, stern Master's voice.

"Then why didn't *you*?"

Qui-Gon opened his mouth. And said nothing.

Obi-Wan smiled at his former Master and moved closer, slipping his arms around the older man. Looking up into his lover's eyes, he said seriously, "Grr?"

Qui-Gon just sniffed. "I don't think you really mean it."

Nuzzling at Qui-Gon's neck, Obi-Wan repeated the sound, a little deeper and a little louder. "GRRRRRR?"

Qui-Gon frowned slightly, then darted in quickly to bite Obi-Wan's neck.

Obi-Wan yelped again.

Suddenly, "You know, it's awfully hard to read when you two are making so much noise."

Obi-Wan buried his face in his lover's shoulder and laughed.


By the time their ship landed at the Allatrii palace's shuttle pad, they had regained their collective composure. They were met by a young man who looked vaguely familiar, and a man in chancellor's robes who had once been Chief of Security.

The young man's eyes lit up when he saw Obi-Wan, and he came forward to meet them. "Jedi Kenobi! I am happy the Council saw fit to grant my request and send you."

"Your majesty," Obi-Wan greeted with a small bow, recognizing Glarim now.

Glarim gave him a smile and nod of the head, then his eyes flickered to Qui-Gon and Anakin. He frowned slightly, then his expression cleared. "You must be Master Jinn?"

Qui-Gon bowed as well. "This is Anakin, our Padawan," he said, completing the introductions. Obi-Wan noticed Qui-Gon's interest in Yuion, felt but not shown.

The man in question also stepped forward now to greet the newcomers. "Jedi Kenobi, Master Jinn," he said with a brief nod. "You're looking a damned sight better than the last time I saw you."

Qui-Gon nodded politely but said nothing.

Anakin looked up at the man, and then at Qui-Gon, brow furrowing. Obi-Wan felt the light touch of the Master's thoughts to his apprentice and Anakin's face cleared into Jedi passivity.

He regarded Yuion with his own impassive gaze. He could sense the same thing his lover had -- nothing definite, just an unease, a coiling tension, like the air right before a storm.

"Please, come with us and we will show you--" Glarim's voice caught, "--what has happened," he finished in a whisper. His voice showed the strength of a monarch and the pain of a lost young boy.

Anakin stepped forward, looking at him frankly. Glarim returned the gaze, then finally smiled faintly.

Obi-Wan watched the two boys, hiding his own smile. Glarim desperately needed friends at the moment, and it looked like Anakin had taken it upon himself to be one.

Glarim and Yuion led them into the palace, and as he and Qui-Gon followed the other three inside, Qui-Gon shared a memory with him. It was faint, and incomplete due to the fact that Qui-Gon had been without a body -- and without much energy -- at the time. It wasn't much, just an expression that was a bit off for the moment, a feeling that what was being said did not match with what was being thought. But it was enough to share his concerns about Yuion's true intentions. Obi-Wan made a mental note to watch the former security head most closely.

Glarim took them into the palace to a stateroom. He indicated chairs around a large table, and sat at the head of it. However, Yuion was the one who spoke.

"I suspect you will want to review what we have already uncovered about the assassination," he said, handing a small computer pad to Qui-Gon. "It's distressingly little, I'm afraid."

Qui-Gon took the pad and glanced at it, asking, "We were told the poison was Sith's Sting... who made the identification? Can you verify that that was in fact what was used?"

"Our Chief Healer performed the autopsies. It was she who made the initial identification. I believe she saved some samples if you would like to confirm."

"Yes, we will need to do that." Qui-Gon looked up and handed the computer pad to Obi-Wan. "You have no theories, then, as to who is behind this?"

Obi-Wan glanced over the information. As Yuion had said, it wasn't much. Only that somehow the poison had been slipped into the King and Queen's tea and that they had died almost instantly. But not painlessly. Obi-Wan had to suppress a shudder as he read the account of exactly how they had died. Sith's Sting granted an extremely brutal death.

From the expression on Glarim's face, none of the facts of his parents' death had been withheld from him.

Yuion replied to Qui-Gon's question without glancing at the silent monarch. "We have all the usual suspects, persons who over the years have spoken out against their Majesties, who voiced threats of one kind or another. But nothing recent, and none were conveniently spotted in the palace at the time of the assassination."

"Could this be linked to Prince Glarim's kidnapping seven years ago?" Obi-Wan asked, opening and focusing his senses on Yuion while he waited for an answer.

Yuion blinked in what appeared to be surprise. "There is no reason to think so. Granted, we never *did* find out who Quidmor was working with…."

Sensing something from the man, but not exactly sure what, Obi-Wan pushed a little harder. "Not that you looked very hard."

"Of course we did," he said smoothly, as if the accusation did not disturb him. Obi-Wan felt an underlying agitation, however, and furthermore felt that *Qui-Gon* had noticed as well. "There simply wasn't anything to find, and with the threat removed, His Majesty deemed it reasonable not to waste time."

Obi-Wan saw that Anakin, sitting beside Glarim, was having some difficulty in hiding his own confusion at the undercurrents. As soon as he formed the thought, though, Qui-Gon was already easing his shields around Anakin, and Obi-Wan felt him urging the Padawan to be at ease.

Or at least fake it, Obi-Wan thought wryly.

Qui-Gon sent him an amused glance as he picked up on that thought.

"I'm afraid that is all we can tell you," Yuion said, spreading his hands meekly.

"Very well," Qui-Gon said. "Then we shall begin our investigation. We will let you know if there is anything we need." Qui-Gon effectively dismissed Yuion from any active participation.

Yuion looked surprised, and Glarim frowned slightly.

It took a few seconds for it to sink in for Yuion that he had just been dismissed from the conversation and the room as well. He flushed red and Obi-Wan could see the fury in his eyes, quickly suppressed. "As you wish," he said tightly, bowing stiffly and walking out in a fog of negative emotions.

No one said anything for a moment after he left, then Glarim turned to the Jedi. "He could have assisted you," he said in an almost scolding tone.

It was accompanied, however, by relief and confusion.

"Perhaps," Obi-Wan said. "But it would be best if we handled this ourselves. That way we can be sure the evidence is... untainted."

Glarim didn't hide his surprise. "Why would Yuion want to tamper with any evidence?"

"We don't know that he would," Qui-Gon answered reassuringly. "But this way, we don't have to suspect."

The young king remained silent even though it was plain that his emotions were still churning chaotically.

Qui-Gon considered the boy for a moment, then silently asked Obi-Wan, [Do you think we should leave Anakin with him?]

Obi-Wan considered, watching the two boys and the way in which Anakin looked at Glarim with compassion and understanding. He nodded his assent to Qui-Gon.

"Anakin." The boy looked up at Qui-Gon instantly, excitement clearly written on his face. Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon stifling his amusement. "I want you to remain with the King. He may yet be in danger, and Obi-Wan and I cannot protect him and uncover the identity of the assassin at the same time."

"Yes, Master," Anakin said, calmly enough, though Obi-Wan could almost hear the 'Yes!' the boy was suppressing. It was apparent that he was more than amenable to the assignment.

Glarim, as well, seemed encouraged. He gave Anakin a half-smile, which was returned.

"If anything suspicious or untoward occurs, contact us immediately," Qui-Gon told him. Anakin nodded solemnly.

Obi-Wan exchanged glances with his lover and they both got up and headed for the door. Behind them he could hear mutters and whispering as the two boys began talking to each other.

Qui-Gon stopped trying to hide his smile as they left the room.

"That was a good idea," Obi-Wan observed.

"Thank you," Qui-Gon inclined his head with a hint of a smug smile.

They continued down the hall, and Obi-Wan realized he didn't know where they were headed. Before he could ask, Qui-Gon said, "We have ten main suspects, according to Yuion's list. And we have Yuion. I believe we would be wasting our time investigating most of the names he has given us."

"I concur. So we start with Yuion himself?"

"Hmm. Not, I think, directly."

Obi-Wan nodded. Qui-Gon was probably right. Investigating Yuion too openly would only tip the man off. "We could start at the other end," he ventured. "Investigate what happened and how the poison could have possibly got into the tea. From what I saw, they haven't done much more than a cursory investigation even into that."

"Yes," Qui-Gon replied, and Obi-Wan felt the small stab of pride in his former Master for him. Along with it he felt something else: a rueful admittance that said former apprentice was better equipped for this sort of investigation.

"Qui-Gon?" he asked, rather surprised at the admission. It was rare that his former master did not show complete confidence in his own abilities.

But Qui-Gon merely shrugged. "It is more a weakness to deny another's strengths."

Obi-Wan smiled slightly. "I guess I am still used to following your lead all the time," he explained. "You were my ideal for so long that I never think that there are things I may be better at than you."

For a moment Qui-Gon said nothing, mouth gaping slightly at Obi-Wan's words. Obi-Wan knew that his lover was struck by the word "ideal" and wondered how Qui-Gon would weasel out of it. Wise saying, or wry joke?

Qui-Gon smiled. "Let us go examine the dining room where the tea was served, and see what can be found."

Or ignore it altogether.

"Yes, Master," he replied in his most serious tones.

But as they walked down the hall, he felt the warmth his words had stirred, and he reached out briefly to touch his former Master's hand.

"What do you mean, *were*?" Qui-Gon asked a moment later.

"One may admire an ideal, strive to become like it, love it even. However, one does not fall *in* love with an ideal."

Qui-Gon looked over at him with a sincere expression of mild surprise. His tone matched his expression as he repeated, "You're in love with me?"

"Why did you think I was sleeping with you?" Obi-Wan returned, keeping the smile off his face.

Qui-Gon frowned slightly, and then rubbed his nose as he thought about it. "I thought it had something to do with the irresistible urges created by years of physical proximity compacted by the growing awareness of each other through the normal teacher-student bond," Qui-Gon quoted, word for word, the explanation often given confused Padawans finding themselves attracted to their Masters.

Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, that wasn't it."

"Hmm. Your understandable desire for my amazingly sexy body?" Qui-Gon asked in that same dry, concerned tone.

Obi-Wan just looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

"Acting out your repressed lust for Master Gorgin?"

That caused Obi-Wan's lips to twitch upwards. Master Gorgin was 8 feet tall, a particularly disgusting color of green, with 6 tentacles and eyes on long stalks. His skin also secreted a viscous ooze that, to put it mildy, stank.

"No," Obi-Wan said, allowing the smile to come through. "I told you the reason why. Perhaps the question should be why you are sleeping with me."

"Oh. Because I'm in love with you." There was a slight pause. "I knew *that*." He said it casually, almost off-hand, as if discussing whether the bright green tapestries really highlighted the color of the stonework in this hallway.

Obi-Wan made a show of considering that. "Good," he finally said.

There was silence for a moment. Then another moment. Qui-Gon said nothing.

Unable to resist the impulse, Obi-Wan asked softly, "Grrr?"

Qui-Gon stumbled, and though there was no noise, Obi-Wan could feel the hysterical laughter erupting in his lover's mind. Qui-Gon stopped walking and leaned against the wall briefly.

Obi-Wan did not bother trying to hide his smug satisfaction at his lover's reaction.

His lover glared at him as he struggled briefly for control. As he opened his mouth, Obi-Wan said, "You only said during negotiations."

Qui-Gon looked at him, then closed his mouth.

"Besides, as I keep telling you," Obi-Wan continued as they started down the hallway once again, "that was when I was your Padawan. Those rules do not necessarily apply any more."

Qui-Gon stopped walking and turned to face him, a look of growing horror on his face. "You wouldn't."

Obi-Wan smiled and continued walking.

He heard the sigh of a long-suffering Master, then Qui-Gon was once again at his side.

A moment later, someone proficient with the use of the Force goosed Obi-Wan in a very sensitive spot.

Twice.

"Don't start anything you aren't in a position to finish," Obi-Wan warned, looking sideways at Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at him. "What makes you think I can't--" He stopped as they stepped up to the door that led to the dining room.

The teasing died away as they walked in.

The room looked ordinary enough; large picture windows let in the late afternoon sun and a long table dominated the center, with chairs placed around it at equal intervals. The way it felt, however....

There was a taint in the room's presence, rather like a bitter aftertaste in the Force. It was more than just a sense of unease or an echo of what had happened there. It was worse. Much worse.

The last time Obi-Wan had felt anything remotely like this was on Naboo, when he and his then-Master had been fighting... "A Sith..." he murmured under his breath.

"Yes." The sound of Qui-Gon's voice served to distance Obi-Wan from the darkness he had touched. He glanced over at Qui-Gon, who was surveying the place at the table where the queen had sat -- and died.

Obi-Wan moved until he was standing opposite him, behind the place where the king had sat. With a frown, he closed his eyes and reached out, trying to sense beyond the Dark taint. After several moments' effort, he conceded defeat and opened his eyes again. "It's no good. The taint is overwhelming anything else that might be here."

Qui-Gon nodded. "Let us try it together," he suggested, moving to stand beside Obi-Wan. He placed his hand on Obi-Wan's and focused again on the tableau before them. Obi-Wan wrapped his own focus in and around Qui-Gon's, and they bolstered each other's strength and concentration.

The darkness slid across their minds, but the contact made it easier to brush past it. Still, Obi-Wan thought, it was like trying to find your way through a thick fog during a moonless night. But having Qui-Gon's mind joined with his provided a small lamp to light the path. It didn't illuminate very far ahead, but it was enough to allow them to slowly pick their way through the cloying Darkness.

They made their way ahead, slow step by slow step, stopping every so often to reassure each other that the contact was still there, that the darkness had only surrounded them and not insinuated itself between them.

Or inside.

The scene shimmered and changed, layers falling away like dried jellileaves, thin and murky -- and sticky as hell if they touched you. Then suddenly they were through, and the shadowy fog cleared away, revealing what had happened in this room.

Surprisingly, it wasn't either of their Majesties' eyes they were seeing from, but rather a third party. A third, well-shielded party.

They saw themselves -- him -- move forward towards the table. The king and queen were sitting there, stewards and servants moving freely in and out of the room. No one seemed surprised to see … whomever they were … present. The unknown person was bringing a bottle to the table.

That was merely the visual aspect. The rest....

Obi-Wan recoiled from what he felt of the person's mind. *This* was the source of the Dark Side taint, and touching it even casually felt like taking a bath in a waste disposal. Only Qui-Gon's presence kept Obi-Wan from pulling out of the trance totally.

e felt the same conviction from Qui-Gon. It was Qui-Gon, however, that urged them onward, reminding them both to ignore the fetid stench of Darkness. Even as Obi-Wan struggled to do so, catching up the litany of the brief calming chant he heard from Qui-Gon, he felt the pull at his soul. Give in, it said.

See how powerful it can be.

There was a pause as both Jedi reinforced their shields about themselves, then the voice continued silently as the wine was poured into each majestic glass.

'You know how good it feels to be so free.'

Unbidden, an image rose up in Obi-Wan's mind, of himself standing over the dead body of the Sith they had encountered on Naboo, and the feeling of wanting nothing more than for him to be alive so he could kill him again. 'Master!' he called out mentally, even as he pushed the image and the seductive feeling of power away.

He felt Qui-Gon's mental touch, encouraging him to let it fade. The encouragement itself faded as Obi-Wan sensed another memory surface, this one not his.

Facing Xanatos in a field -- Obi-Wan did not recognize it and he knew he must not have been there with his Master.

The man laughed at Qui-Gon, lifted a hand, and as Qui-Gon grabbed it, trying to stop it from doing something, Obi-Wan couldn't tell what, the contact blazed, threatening to pull him in, his former apprentice calling to him in words that at the time had begun to make sense, words that whispered in echoes of those they had just heard.

Obi-Wan reached out, lending his strength and encouragement to Qui-Gon, letting his love for his former Master drown out the phantom temptations from the past.

Somehow they managed to hang onto each other and drown out the voices, both distant and more recent past. The scene moved ahead, their Majesties drank the wine. The unseen assassin took great glee in it, nearly laughing aloud at the messy and painful deaths--

Obi-Wan blinked, stunned at the abruptness with which Qui-Gon had thrown them out of the trance.

"Wha--"

Qui-Gon reached out and took his arm and stood there for a moment, apparently regaining his balance. "Sorry," he said calmly, a moment later.

"That was--" Obi-Wan's voice cracked; he cleared his throat and tried again, "That was..." only to find that he did not have a word to describe it.

"Yes."

"I feel like I should take a shower and scrub my skin off." Obi-Wan shuddered. "Even then, I don't think I'd feel clean."

"Hm. Perhaps if we showered each *other*," Qui-Gon suggested, sounding mildly distracted. Then he looked at Obi-Wan. "We have seen all we can here. There is something here, someone well-versed in the Darker Powers. We must be alert."

Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. "We did learn one thing important," he said as they left the room. "Our quarry was there when they died. Which means he or she was someone whom the king and queen [no caps]trusted and expected to be present. Which narrows the parameters of our search somewhat," he finished.

"The problem will be determining who had motive, without alerting him or her to how much we know. And how much we don't."

The comment reminded Obi-Wan of the chances of the assassin deciding to remove the investigating Jedi from the situation.

Precautions would have to be taken. Even so, he had the feeling that the itch he suddenly felt between his shoulder blades was going to continue until this mission was completed.

"I don't think we should risk any more deep trances like the one we just did," he said, remembering what had happened to Qui-Gon on the last mission to this planet. "At least not unless we can be sure we are totally secure."

"Good point," Qui-Gon said with the hint of a smile. "But now that we know this much, we should not need to. Simple investigative processes should reveal the assassin's identity."

Obi-Wan could still feel the faint air of distraction in Qui-Gon. "What is it?" he asked, reaching out and touching his lover's arm.

Qui-Gon glanced over briefly, but his mind reached out and touched Obi-Wan's in what felt like a snuggle. There were no words, but the emotions were clear enough. Darkness. Guilt.

[I did that to him,] Qui-Gon thought to him.

"No, you didn't," Obi-Wan replied out loud, not needing to ask who. "Xanatos made his own choice. You didn't make it for him."

[He would not have needed to make it had I seen the path he was choosing. He did not take a single step, Obi-Wan. He walked, for many months, towards the Dark Side. And I never saw. I was his Master and it was my *place* to see.] The words began rushing towards him, and Obi-Wan had no chance to reply. [How could I not have seen... and what if I--]

[You won't.] Reaching out, Obi-Wan let Qui-Gon feel his certainty, his belief.

[Not with you to help me,] Qui-Gon returned, with a surge of trust and love.

And something more.

Obi-Wan's eyes widened as he felt his lover's lack of faith in himself pour through him. For a few seconds he just stared; the idea of an insecure Qui-Gon was taking a lot of mental adjustment. Finally he replied softly, but with every syllable dripping with conviction, "You were the best Master I could ever have had."

"Any Master could have taught you, Obi-Wan. You still would have become the Knight you are." Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon's pride in him, but he ignored it for the rest.

Holding back his almost instinctive denial of that, Obi-Wan instead employed a much more deadly weapon: logic.

"I am a bit confused; you say that the way Xanatos turned out is entirely your fault, but that you had nothing to do with the way I turned out. Yet you were Master to us both."

"You never--" Qui-Gon stopped, but Obi-Wan heard the rest of the sentence, and Qui-Gon's realization that yes, Obi-Wan *had* taken a few steps towards the Dark Side. And he'd come back.

He felt Qui-Gon searching for another rationalization for his belief.

"Can't you just accept that it wasn't your fault?" Obi-Wan asked softly, feeling unaccountably sad that his lover would work so hard to hold onto his guilt.

"I believed in him so much. I thought... I thought he would make a great Jedi." But then Qui-Gon sighed. "It is hard to forget." The grief was there, but the guilt had faded slightly.

By this time, they had almost reached the Chancellor's office, and Obi-Wan hoped Yuion would be gone. There was something about the man that just....

He stopped in his tracks.

Qui-Gon stopped and turned back, raising an eyebrow, and encouraged him to continue the line of thought.

"Yuion's presence would not have been questioned by anybody."

[You think it was Yuion?] Qui-Gon asked silently, to better guard their words. There was no disagreement there, but neither was there agreement. Qui-Gon was simply waiting for more.

[I think he would be a good place to start our investigation,] Obi-Wan replied.

Qui-Gon smiled slightly, and nodded.

"Moving carefully of course."

"Of course." Qui-Gon motioned that Obi-Wan should precede him.

They entered the office to find only a secretary droid present.

"May I help you?" it asked.

"We need to access your records for on-duty personnel," Qui-Gon said smoothly.

The droid paused. "I don't know if..."

Qui-Gon started to raise his hand, then stopped. Obi-Wan caught his amusement.

"The king has authorized us to have access to any information we need," Obi-Wan said smoothly. Technically perhaps Glarim hadn't, but he was certain he would have if asked.

The droid seemed to be running that through its list of directives. After a moment, it nodded. "Very well. I can give you access to all databanks." It showed them to a terminal.

Knowing he had more of a way with machines than his lover, Obi-Wan took the seat in front of the terminal and quickly keyed up the information they were looking for.

Qui-Gon stood behind him, watching the screen over Obi-Wan's shoulder as well as the droid and the door. And, from the feel of it, the hallway outside.

'Good,' Obi-Wan thought. In a situation like this, a little paranoia was healthy.

He felt Qui-Gon's amusement.

As Obi-Wan began to search for the files, he also noticed that Qui-Gon reached out for Anakin, checking on their Padawan's welfare, and by extension, the king's.

Obi-Wan felt, through Qui-Gon, Anakin's answering wave of [We're *fine*!]

Qui-Gon withdrew the extension, then smiled.

[He sounded quite emphatic,] Obi-Wan observed mildly.

[Which often means trouble. However, at the moment he is truly not in danger.]

[Any more than we are, at least.]

[True,] Qui-Gon replied, and went back to keeping watch.

It took a while for Obi-Wan to go through the records, only to find that the information in particular that they sought, namely Yuion's whereabouts at the time of the assassination, was conspicuous by its absence. In fact, the records on the Chancellor's movements were incredibly sketchy overall.

At Qui-Gon's prompting, Obi-Wan skipped back, more or less randomly checking the records for the past several years. Including, rather notably, the time of their first visit. The pattern held; as far back as they searched, there were gaps in Yuion's records.

"Interesting," Obi-Wan muttered.

[It would indeed be interesting to know what events matched those gaps.] At Qui-Gon's prompting, Obi-Wan checked other records in order to cross-match.

He couldn't find a match for all of the blank spots, but the ones he did find were damning enough. They included Glarim's kidnapping all those years ago and the attempt on Qui-Gon's life as well as the king and queen's assassinations.

[It would appear that Yuion is guilty of many things, even if he is not the assassin we seek,] Qui-Gon said, though Obi-Wan could feel his Master's growing conviction that Yuion was, in fact, the man they were seeking.

And had been, when they were here the first time. [I should've realized it back then,] Obi-Wan said.

[Why?] Qui-Gon asked, reasonably.

[Because--] Obi-Wan started to answer, then stopped.

[Yes?] Qui-Gon prompted, faintly amused, but mostly serious. Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon could feel his attempt at guilt, just as he recognized Qui-Gon's attempt to derail it.

[*You* sensed something about him, and you were...] He waved his hand, meaning to indicate Qui-Gon's out-of-body experience.

With those words he sensed Qui-Gon's guilt -- briefly enough, as Qui-Gon had dealt with his mistake years ago. [Yes. And you were using your energy keeping me alive, which you then could not use to discover the subtleties of the presence of a Dark foe.]

There wasn't much Obi-Wan could say to that. But he still felt like he had somehow failed to see the obvious.

[Let us concentrate on the present, Obi-Wan. The past is no longer an issue.]

Obi-Wan's head jerked up in startlement. The words were his, used to get through to Qui-Gon while the older man had been dwelling on his failure with Xanatos. [Wise advice,] he said, unable to stop his lips from curling upwards.

His former Master gave him a frighteningly stern look, which had once upon a time actually quelled him. Until he'd gotten to be about fourteen. He reacted as he always had since then, by putting on his most innocent look. [Well, isn't it?]

Qui-Gon rested his hand on Obi-Wan's head, as if he were still a child needing physical restraint to prevent him from driving his Master stark, raving bugnuts. Qui-Gon sighed. [Probably. Is there anything else of use in the records?]

Obi-Wan shook his head. [Not that I can see.]

[Then we should go find Yuion, and see what we can learn from him.] The words were cautious, but calm.

[It's the logical next step,] he agreed, turning off the terminal and getting to his feet. Still, he couldn't totally suppress the vague feeling of unease the decision gave him.

[Yes. We should be alert for anything.]

It was on that note that they felt a slight stirring in the Force. Since the stirring held no Darkside taint, there was only one place it could've come from.

Obi-Wan met Qui-Gon's eyes and sighed. "Anakin."

"We had better go see what he is up to, as he is trying his best to shield us from knowing."

Obi-Wan began to ask why they didn't just return their awareness to Anakin through the Force, when he caught his former Master's thoughts.

[You *knew*?]

Qui-Gon kept walking, but Obi-Wan felt the fond acknowledgment.

He also felt his cheeks heat as he thought of all the things he thought he had successfully managed to shield from Qui-Gon over the years of his apprenticeship. [You could've said something.]

[It was part of your training, Obi-Wan,] came the reply, one that was all serious without a hint of the teasing. [I had to be able to read you at first, to be able to guide you properly. When you learned how to better shield, you were also learning better control and better judgment. Had you known you were being watched, you would not have tested your own limits -- and *that* is the only way for a Jedi to truly learn.]

Obi-Wan thought about that for a moment before admitting to himself that it made sense. It didn't keep him from being embarrassed, however. Some of the things he had been shielding, especially as he had grown older but before he and Qui-Gon had gotten together, were *extremely* embarrassing.

[You need not be embarrassed,] Qui-Gon told him gently, as they headed down the corridor towards Anakin's location -- not, Obi-Wan realized, anywhere near where they'd left the two boys. [There is no shame in what you feel, when those feelings are honest ones.]

[It is not the feelings that embarrass me, but what I did to deal with them.]

[There is still no need to be embarrassed, beloved. *Those* particular thoughts you kept better shielded.] The tone was affectionate, like a grin and a hug. But underneath... again, underneath. Obi-Wan sighed and wondered if he was going to have to pull every unspoken thought out of Qui-Gon by force.

Not that they had the time now. Mentally he added it to the list of things to corner Qui-Gon on if they ever got more than a few hours of free time. It was a long list, becoming longer by the day, it seemed.

He felt a wordless apology then, and he looked over to meet Qui-Gon's eyes. Smiling at his lover, Obi-Wan teased, "One thing is for certain. We will never run out of conversation topics."

Qui-Gon answered him by pulling him in for a kiss.

Another tremor in the Force, this one a bit stronger, distracted them both. They broke off and hurried towards the source. No real malice -- not Yuion, then -- but definitely something which was no doubt best halted.

They came upon the two boys in a hallway, eavesdropping at a door.

Qui-Gon frowned, displeased. Anakin whirled, his face going from determined to 'we didn't do it' in a flash.

[Didn't do what?] Obi-Wan sent to the boy.

"Err..." Anakin started to reply, then he stopped. His face flushed. "We were--"

"This is not the proper place for explanations," Qui-Gon interrupted. Both Jedi could sense that Yuion was too close, and neither cared to try to protect Anakin and Glarim should the man decide to attack. Not that they wouldn't be able to, but it was not something the boys should be exposed to -- the Dark Side had no qualms about attacking the weakest with the most vile weapons available.

Obi-Wan nodded his agreement to that. "Come," he told the boys, gesturing back down the corridor.

The four of them went back down the hallway, Obi-Wan preceding, the two boys looking worried and guilty in the middle, and Qui-Gon in the back.

Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon's amusement and concern at Anakin's not notifying them that he and Glarim had found something they considered worth investigating. It was tempered by his awareness that any young Padawan would be more likely to run in first and talk to his Master second.

His own reaction was a bit more straightforward; if they were right and Yuion was the source of the Dark Side taint they'd been sensing, Obi-Wan wanted Anakin as far away from the man as possible. Anakin's power, his youth, his relative inexperience, all made him an almost irresistible target for the Dark Side.

[All the more reason we should not leave these two alone,] Qui-Gon suggested.

[I seem to recall suggesting something similar on the trip here,] Obi-Wan said blandly.

[As did I,] Qui-Gon replied. Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon's consternation at trying to balance the two relationships. He was used to having only his Padawan at his side, if anyone. Not a Padawan and a Knight.

Though Obi-Wan had been acting more and more independently in the last several months, it was only recently that Qui-Gon had formally been relieved of his role as Obi-Wan's teacher. Obi-Wan could feel Qui-Gon fighting his instinct to behave as though he had *two* Padawans -- and two recalcitrant ones at that -- rather than being one of two Masters for a single Padawan.

The thought brought a brief flicker of insecurity; if they had followed the Jedi traditions, as many privately -- and not so privately -- thought they should have, Qui-Gon would not have this conflict. Obi-Wan would be off serving on his own as a Knight, and Qui-Gon would have only Anakin to deal with.

Qui-Gon responded to that thought with a wave of love and determination. [I do not wish to be separated from you, Obi-Wan. I will simply have to find a way to do this.] Behind the words Obi-Wan heard what was left unspoken. Qui-Gon would let another train Anakin before he let Obi-Wan be reassigned.

[*We* will find a way,] Obi-Wan asserted, knowing that transferring Anakin was not an option. The more he got to know the boy, the more firmly convinced he became that only Qui-Gon could train him. Well, Qui-Gon and himself, Obi-Wan amended in his thoughts, and felt Qui-Gon's agreement.

Obi-Wan led them into a small conference room, well away from any areas of the palace to which Yuion's duties were likely to take him. He stood aside as the boys and Qui-Gon entered the room after him, then shut and locked the door. Leaning against it, arms folded over his chest, Obi-Wan gave Anakin and Glarim his most forbidding stare. He didn't say anything, just continued to look at them.

Glarim looked back more or less unrepentantly, though he was obviously feeling a little guilty. Anakin, on the other hand, was meeting his gaze squarely, glancing from him to Qui-Gon without a flinch.

"What were you doing?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Conducting an investigation," Anakin replied. "That's what we're supposed to be doing, right?"

Qui-Gon looked at him with an expression Obi-Wan knew well. Obi-Wan controlled his laugh. "What exactly were your instructions, Anakin?"

"To stay with King Glarim," the boy recited dutifully. "And I did!"

"You also were asked to protect him, were you not?" Obi-Wan asked.

Anakin nodded, a little confused.

Qui-Gon waited a moment, then when Anakin clearly was not going to realize it on his own, said in his best patient instructor's tone, "And do you protect someone by leading them into what you believe is a dangerous situation?"

Before Anakin could answer, Glarim spoke up. "It was my idea."

Qui-Gon looked at the boy. He didn't appear to be highly impressed with the excuse, but he didn't call Glarim on it. Instead he regarded Anakin again.

Anakin glanced at the other boy. "No." He looked back at his two teachers. "It was my responsibility."

Obi-Wan felt a wave of approval for this admission, but carefully kept it off his face. "You understand what you did wrong, then?" he asked levelly.

Anakin frowned slightly, but said, "I guess so." When neither Qui-Gon nor Obi-Wan said anything, he sighed and continued. "If I'm supposed to protect Glarim, I should keep him someplace safe."

Qui-Gon nodded. "Why were you spying on that room in particular?"

"That's where Chancellor Yuion was working," Glarim answered.

"Why did you wish to spy on the Chancellor?" Qui-Gon kept his tone level, simply going after information now, and not lessons.

Anakin answered this time. "He's the one who's gained the most. He's ruling now until King Glarim is older." He hesitated then added, "Besides, he just didn't feel right."

Qui-Gon nodded. "You are correct, Anakin. However, the Chancellor is a dangerous man. Had he found you spying on him, you both would have been in extreme peril." He gave them each a look, not reminding them that murder was the least of Yuion's apparent crimes.

"We wouldn't have gotten caught," Anakin protested.

"We caught you," Obi-Wan pointed out reasonably.

Anakin opened his mouth, stopped, then closed it. Defeated, he finally nodded.

Glarim was still giving them both looks of mild defiance. It didn't seem to be bothering Qui-Gon, however. Qui-Gon kept his attention on Anakin. "Now, will you do as you have been instructed?" There was very little censure in his voice, but if Anakin was anything like Obi-Wan had been, merely having been caught disobeying was scolding enough from one's Master.

And if one had two Masters, it would be doubly effective, he thought.

Certainly it seemed to be for Anakin; the boy sighed and nodded. "Yes, Master," he said quietly.

Qui-Gon reached out and placed his hand on Anakin's head, ruffling his hair slightly. Anakin looked up, and after a moment, grinned. "Did you learn anything during your investigation?" Qui-Gon asked.

Anakin shrugged. "Not really. You showed up before we could hear anything interesting."

Qui-Gon mostly hid his smile at that. "Very well, Anakin." Finally he turned to Glarim. "Your Majesty, I believe you would be better served to remain out of the Chancellor's reach while Obi-Wan and I complete our investigation."

"So you believe Yuion is the one who murdered my parents?" Glarim asked, eyes narrowing. Suddenly he didn't seem all that much like a child anymore.

"We believe there is more to his actions here, than there appears. If he is the one responsible, then he is a very dangerous man, indeed. I do not wish," Qui-Gon turned his gaze to Anakin, "that you confront him."

"But if he is the one," Glarim protested, "I *have* to confront him! It is my parents he killed, my power he now uses. I must--"

"You must rely on us to handle him, Your Majesty," Obi-Wan interrupted, overriding the young king's protests. "That is what you asked us here for. Let us do what must be done."

Glarim obviously didn't want to be kept out of the confrontation. He frowned at them, no doubt contemplating ordering them to allow him to come along -- or to stay out of his way. Then he glanced at Anakin, and nodded reluctantly. "If we have to stay out of the way... we will. But if--" He stopped himself.

"We will find whoever did this, Your Majesty," Qui-Gon said, and Obi-Wan felt the slightest tendril of soothing aimed at the boy. "We will deal with him."

"You have our word," Obi-Wan added, holding Glarim's eyes as he added a little soothing of his own.

Glarim stared at them for a long moment before nodding. "I believe you."

Qui-Gon accepted that with a slight nod of the head.

"Come on, Glarim, you can show me the gardens or something," Anakin said with a sigh.

"All right," Glarim said. Obi-Wan stepped aside and the two boys exited the room.

Obi-Wan stared after them for a long moment, then sighed. "He's been through so much," he said softly.

"Yes," Qui-Gon agreed. "I hope it does not get worse."

"It's up to us to make sure it doesn't," Obi-Wan said, glancing back over his shoulder at his lover.

"Then we should get back," Qui-Gon said. Confront Yuion... confront the source of the blackness that had tried to swallow them whole in a simple vision.

Obi-Wan couldn't entirely suppress a shiver of apprehension at the thought.

But they headed back towards the room they'd found Anakin and Glarim near. The plan was simple -- confront him, and if he were guilty, they would do whatever necessary. "Whatever necessary" could mean a lot of different things, Obi-Wan thought. From taking the man peacefully into custody to... His hand drifted down to his lightsaber.

Qui-Gon didn't knock on the door; he placed his hand on it, checking for any signs of disturbance that would indicate a trap or attack was lying on the other side. After a second's concentration, he shook his head and silently opened the door. Obi-Wan followed him into the room, every sense alert.

There was something there, something waiting. He couldn't be sure, but he thought it might be aware of them.

As soon as he completed the thought, Qui-Gon moved aside; Obi-Wan moved the other way as a small black object flew past.

It collided with the corridor wall and detonated; Obi-Wan shielded his face from the blast, a hastily thrown up Force shield saving him from damage.

His mind automatically reached out to check on Qui-Gon, only to find that he was fine and moving towards a figure that was heading out another door.

Obi-Wan followed, both Jedi dodging two thrown knives, which clattered harmlessly behind them.

"Guess we have our answer," Obi-Wan commented as they continued chasing their quarry.

They followed Yuion quickly, and had nearly caught up with him when they rounded a corner and stopped.

Yuion was holding Glarim around the neck and trying to grab, or strike, Anakin. Anakin was doing his best to fight the man, but even as they ran up they felt Yuion throwing a Force-blow towards the boy.

"No!!" Obi-Wan yelled, hastily throwing a Force-shield up in front of Anakin to deflect the blow.

Praying that it wasn't too late.

He felt Qui-Gon's shield as well, wrapping around both Anakin and Glarim. It held tightly, and they felt Yuion's attack slam into it. Yuion turned and glared at them.

"Fighting children?" Obi-Wan taunted, raising an eyebrow at the man. "If you need an opponent, here we are..."

Unfortunately, Yuion didn't respond to the challenge. He kept his hold on Glarim, kept trying to get a hold on Anakin, and kept sneering at them -- well aware that attacking him would be difficult with the two boys in the way.

Well, they could hopefully remove one of those from danger with just a command. "Anakin! Back off!" Obi-Wan ordered.

The boy hesitated, his eyes never leaving his opponent. "But--"

[Now!] Qui-Gon fairly shouted. Anakin jerked at the force of it, eyes going wide, but he stumbled backwards one step, then two.

Qui-Gon moved between Yuion and Anakin, lightsaber humming as he faced the man.

Reaching out, Obi-Wan squeezed Anakin's shoulder in reassurance before also moving past the boy to take his place beside his lover, his own lightsaber up and at the ready.

Yuion brought out a knife and held it to Glarim's throat. The young King continued to struggle, but mindful of the blade, he kept his upper body still. He tried to kick Yuion, though, and received a cut on his neck for his trouble.

"Let him go," Qui-Gon said.

Their opponent just barked harsh laughter, pressing the knife even closer to the young king's throat.

Obi-Wan shifted his stance, edging nearer.

Catching the movement, Yuion turned to pin him with an angry glare. "One step closer," he warned, "and I'll slit the brat's throat!"

"And you will be dead five seconds later," Obi-Wan replied as calmly as he could manage, even while his insides churned at the threat.

Yuion sneered. "Maybe, but Glarim will still be dead."

"I won't," Glarim retorted, sounding brave but for a slight tremor in his voice. Yuion laughed at him, and suddenly the knife was flying out of Yuion's hand, yanked away by the Force at Qui-Gon's command

Glarim ducked, and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan rushed forward.

It was over in a remarkably short time; once the threat of harm to the boys was gone, it did not take long for the two Jedi to apprehend and subdue the erstwhile Chancellor.

The palace guards came running in, moments too late to help. Glarim had them accompany the Jedi in escorting Yuion to the most secure cell they had, and placed a full-time watch on the cell.

This brought the mystery to an end. With Yuion's capture, it was apparent who was behind the assassinations, as well as many other, more minor incidents that had happened over the years. But there was still something about the situation that didn't sit right with Obi-Wan.

He said as much to Qui-Gon.

"I felt it, as well. The Darkness we discovered in the assassination was much too great. He was well-trained. But by whom?"

"That," Obi-Wan replied, "is the question."

"And one which, I think, only Yuion can answer."

They were in the outermost room of the king's private chambers. Glarim and Anakin were inside the middle chambers. Glarim was finally reacting to everything that had happened, and Qui-Gon had sent Anakin to stay with him. The two boys had become friends quickly, and Qui-Gon felt that Glarim would appreciate having a friend he could trust nearby, and he wanted Anakin to see first-hand the results of what happened when things went wrong.

An object lesson in the individual effects of a Jedi's mission.

Looking at the door which led to the room the boys were in, Obi-Wan sent out a small probe to check on them, quickly withdrawing when he felt the young king's grief and anger, as well as Anakin's instinctive, if a bit clumsy, attempts to comfort and soothe his friend.

"I don't think Yuion will be forthcoming with the information," Qui-Gon sighed.

Turning his attention back to the conversation with his lover, Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. "I would be very surprised if he is."

"We shall have to be content to keep an eye on him, then. I have no desire to compel him to answer any questions."

The compulsion would consist of a mild telepathic link, and Obi-Wan agreed with Qui-Gon that touching that man's mind once was once too much. Just touching the echo of his mind had been... Obi-Wan shivered at the memory.

"I agree. No compulsion."

Qui-Gon said nothing, then. After a moment he began to idly pace the room.

Obi-Wan frowned; if either of them was prone to pacing, it was him, not his former Master. Qui-Gon always seemed to carry a cloak of serenity around himself, a stillness, and when things disturbed him, he would usually become even more still. This idle pacing was definitely out of the ordinary.

"Qui-Gon?" Obi-Wan asked softly, putting all his questioning and concern into the name.

Qui-Gon glanced over, seemed to realize what he was doing, and stopped. He stood still, and appeared the epitome of calm.

To any who could not feel his emotions as clearly as his own.

Getting up, Obi-Wan walked over, then reached up and caressed his lover's cheek. "Tell me," was all he said.

Qui-Gon closed his eyes, leaning into the caress. "I have seen so much darkness. Always just past the tip of my fingers. Sometimes I wonder if I am blind, not to see it sooner."

Obi-Wan chose his words carefully. "When one's own light is so bright, it makes it hard to believe there are places where it cannot banish the darkness."

"Your light has always shone brightest, beloved," Qui-Gon said, smiling faintly as he opened his eyes to stare into Obi-Wan's.

Returning the smile, Obi-Wan shook his head. "I only reflect back the light you have shown me, taught me, Master," he said, deliberately using the old title.

Qui-Gon smiled more fully, and Obi-Wan could feel an easing of his turmoil. Then he sighed and returned Obi-Wan's caress briefly. "I *am* sorry, Obi-Wan."

"For what?" Obi-Wan asked, surprised.

There was a slight quirk of Qui-Gon's smile. "I believe you are making a list of things you must 'drag out of me'?" He slipped his other hand around Obi-Wan's waist and held them together, easily.

"Ah. Well, it gives me something to occupy my idle moments."

Qui-Gon just continued to smile at him, though after a moment it faded slightly. "Are *you* all right?" he asked, and Obi-Wan could feel he meant Obi-Wan's own brush with Darkness during the trance.

Obi-Wan paused, searching his own feelings before answering. "Yes," he finally said. "The lesson from my trials holds. And I think my subconscious has finally incorporated the fact that you did not die on Naboo completely enough that it rejects any scenario that says otherwise as merely shadow."

"I am glad to hear that, Obi-Wan. Perhaps this means you will stop hanging on to me so tightly when you sleep?"

"But isn't that what Jedi security blankets are for?" he asked innocently.

Qui-Gon leant down to kiss him. Just before their lips touched, Qui-Gon halted. "Grr."

Then he kissed Obi-Wan.


Some time later, Obi-Wan yawned and stirred, stretching languidly as much as he could without dislodging himself from Qui-Gon's embrace.

They had needed that, he thought contentedly, settling once again against his lover's side. Needed to reconnect, to banish with laughter and love whatever Dark taint remained.

He only hoped the room was soundproof; he had no desire to try and explain the shouting to the two boys.

Not to mention the dragon roar.

It had been worth it, even if they *had* heard. Qui-Gon had laughed uncontrollably for minutes, finally stopping only when he fell off the couch. Obi-Wan had pushed himself off the couch to land on his love, laughing as well at the sight.

Now, Qui-Gon was holding onto him tightly, as if to prevent any attempts to move. Not that he had any intention of going anywhere. He was right where he wanted to be. With a contented sigh, he pressed even closer.

Qui-Gon squeaked.

"Sorry," Obi-Wan apologized, quickly shifting his knee.

"Thank you," Qui-Gon replied with complete dignity. They lay for a moment, trying not to start laughing again. Obi-Wan sensed Qui-Gon reaching out to check on Anakin and Glarim.

They were gone.

Obi-Wan did not waste time wondering how, considering that he and Qui-Gon were blocking the only exit to the room. Only *known* exit. This was Glarim's home, after all; if there were another way out, he would know of it.

What he did do was cast out with the Force in an effort to locate the boys now, sensing Qui-Gon doing the same thing.

They found Anakin, and near him, Glarim, down several levels. There was something near them, something Dark....

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were on their feet and out the door in seconds.

They didn't speak as they ran through the corridors, but Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon was thinking the same thing he was. If that Darkness was allowed to touch the boys, touch Anakin, now before he had learnt enough to defend himself...

They both stretched their focus as much as they could, trying to reach Anakin. They felt him at the same time, afraid, determined, and relieved to know his Masters were on their way.

Then there was pain.

"NO!" Not sure if the cry had come from Qui-Gon or himself, or perhaps even both, Obi-Wan somehow managed to move even faster, only dimly aware that Qui-Gon matched his pace stride for stride. All his focus, all his energy was on his Padawan, *their* Padawan. He was the Chosen One. More than that, he was a young boy under their charge. They could not, would not, lose him now, either to death or to a fate worse than death, darker than death.

They came sailing around a corner to face the cell in which Yuion had been placed. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stopped only when they reached Anakin, curled up on his side. Glarim was lying nearby, and Obi-Wan moved to check on him, leaving Anakin to Qui-Gon.

The young king was sprawled half on his side, stunned, but already starting to come around. He groaned and blinked dazedly up at Obi-Wan, though the grip he latched onto the Jedi's wrist with was strong enough. "Yuion," the boy gasped. "Escaped." Then something else seemed to come back to him and he shot straight up into a sitting position, expression of panic on his young face. "Ani! He shot--"

"He'll be all right," Qui-Gon said, reassuring all of them. "It will be a day or two before he can move his arm." Qui-Gon had rolled Anakin onto his back and was tending to the blaster-wound on his arm.

Anakin opened his eyes and looked up at Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan saw and felt the boy's fear and pain fading under the healing and protection of his Master. Knowing exactly how that felt, he caught the boy's eye and sent his own reassurance, rewarded by a weak attempt at a smile aimed in his direction.

"Ani?" Glarim asked, in a trembling voice, no longer looking like a king, but only a scared and worried child.

"'M okay, Glarim," Anakin mumbled, turning his head towards his friend. Qui-Gon patted Anakin's shoulder lightly, and told him, "You'll be fine. You--" He turned as guards came running in. "Take them to your doctor at once."

They left the boys in the guards' care and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were on their feet again, heading after Yuion.

It wasn't difficult to track the man; Yuion was making no attempt to hide or shield his presence, and both Jedi sensed the Dark taint easily.

The problem wasn't tracking Yuion, the problem was catching up with him. The former Chancellor had had quite a head start even before Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had had to stop and take care of the children.

But they chased him, moving as fast as they could. Even with the Force propelling them forward, giving them what appeared to be inhuman speed, they both knew they would most likely be too late.

They continued anyway.

They came out at the shuttlepad, just in time to see Yuion clambering aboard.

There wasn't much they could do at that point. Obi-Wan resisted the urge to mutter curses under his breath as they watched the shuttle take off.

Then they both hit the ground as it exploded.

The sound of it was deafening, and the shockwaves slammed across their backs. The rush of air, heat, and flying debris scattered over them, then around them, deflected by the Force each had thrown up as a shield.

As the force of the blast dissipated, Obi-Wan lowered his shield, automatically reaching out to check on Qui-Gon's condition before turning his attention to the larger mess around them.

He felt Qui-Gon doing the same. They were both unharmed, if equally confused.

"Obi-Wan, did you feel -- just before the ship blew...?"

"Yes." A wave of Darkness, far greater than any else they had sensed, a second of sheer terror and excruciating pain... then the ship had exploded.

"There was more here than we imagined, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon was staring at the burning wreckage, ignoring the palace personnel who were running out, shouting and directing the fire-suppression droids in their work.

Obi-Wan stared as well, feeling a wave of apprehension roll over him. "Yes," he agreed quietly. "Much more."

When Qui-Gon turned to him, Obi-Wan could see the worry, deep in his eyes. "If the Sith Lord is training ones such as Yuion... not apprentices, but accomplices... there will be no telling how many there are."

"First Naboo and now here," Obi-Wan murmured. He met his lover's eyes. "And this may be only the beginning."

"We will inform the Council," was all Qui-Gon had to say. "Come, let us return and see to Anakin." He turned to go back into the palace, but not before Obi-Wan saw the hooded shadows in his eyes.

Obi-Wan reached out a hand, but let it fall before making contact. He doubted anything he could say at the moment would make much of a difference.

Besides, Qui-Gon was right. Their first duty was to their Padawan. And to Glarim. He followed his former Master back into the palace complex.

Anakin first.

Then he would have a long talk with Qui-Gon.

They found the two boys in the infirmary, surrounded by personnel. Each was lying on a bed; Glarim was propped up so he could see over to Anakin. When they arrived, Glarim was telling Anakin how the doctor working on his arm had once set Glarim's broken ankle.

Anakin was listening and nodding, but his face brightened when he saw his Masters.

Qui-Gon went to his side. "How is your arm, Ani?"

"It hurts, Master," the boy replied, a slight waver in his voice.

"Yes, I'm not surprised," Qui-Gon said gently. He placed his hand on Anakin's shoulder, and a moment later Anakin's expression softened.

"Thanks. Am I in trouble?" Anakin asked, looking very woeful and put-upon.

"Do you think you should be?" Obi-Wan asked, also moving to the boy's side.

Anakin sighed, and nodded.

Behind them, Glarim said calmly, "He was only doing as you instructed. He stayed with me; I was the one who went to confront Yuion. And I almost got us both killed," he added, in a tone of new self-awareness.

Qui-Gon looked at the young king and nodded, then told Anakin, "You should have called us instead of sneaking out."

"You'd have stopped us!" Anakin protested, then realized what he'd said and let his head fall back onto the pillow.

"Yes," Obi-Wan agreed. "And you know why."

Anakin sighed, but nodded reluctantly.

"I'm sorry," Glarim offered quietly.

"Your Majesty, there is a reason you called the Jedi to discover who killed your parents. Do you recall what that reason was?" Qui-Gon asked. Obi-Wan noticed that he sounded just as calm and unruffled as he did when he was instructing his Padawan.

Qui-Gon was a *good* Master. No matter what doubts Qui-Gon had about himself.

He would just have to keep telling his lover that until Qui-Gon believed him.

Glarim nodded. "The poison that killed them," he replied.

"And due to the nature of the poison, did you feel you were able to conduct the investigation?"

Glarim frowned at him in puzzlement, as he began to shake his head. Then his face cleared. "Oh. I called you, because I couldn't do it myself. Like I shouldn't have confronted Yuion after, because I couldn't defend myself against him." He glanced at Anakin and added apologetically, "Neither could Ani."

Anakin sighed. "I thought I could. What with him locked up and all."

Qui-Gon nodded. "Now, I hope, you will call us next time?"

There was a little hesitation, but finally Anakin nodded. "Yes, Master," he said, his eyes downcast. Obi-Wan had to suppress a smile at the boy's tone, having heard it come out of his own mouth quite often when he was younger.

Qui-Gon gave him a sharp but amused glance and said nothing.

"His Majesty and Padawan Skywalker should both rest now," the healer who had been hovering during the entire conversation put in.

Obi-Wan nodded. "Yes, of course," he said as he moved towards the door. "We will see you two again later, all right?"

"All right, Master." Anakin leaned his head back on the pillow, and as the two Jedi headed for the door, Glarim took up his story once more, relaying how he'd climbed onto the portico from the playroom window.

They left the two boys in good hands and headed back out to check on the exploded shuttle to see if a cause had been found. Neither expected it, but they had to be sure.

Obi-Wan noticed on the walk back and during the brief inspection they made that Qui-Gon was being unusually silent. Not only that, but he had put up strong shields around his emotions, keeping everyone -- even Obi-Wan -- out. He said nothing as they walked back to the shuttlepad, and found damage control had the fire out and the wreckage already being sorted and cleaned away.

Qui-Gon went to the Captain of the Guard and asked if they knew what had happened.

The man half-grinned. "I was hoping *you* could tell *us*." Then he shook his head. "Far as we can tell, it blew up. Got tired of living, I suppose."

Someone had been tired of it living, Obi-Wan thought. Or more specifically, they had been tired of its occupant living. He couldn't totally suppress a shiver as he remembered what he had sensed just before the ship had exploded.

"I wish we *could* tell you what happened," Qui-Gon answered. "I wish we knew."

Obi-Wan glanced sharply at his lover. The tone of voice had held a very uncustomary edge of frustration in it. Obi-Wan was becoming more worried by the minute.

"Do you need any assistance?" Qui-Gon asked. The Captain shook his head.

"We'll let you know if we find anything. I don't think we will." The Captain moved off to consult one of his men.

Taking advantage of the moment of relative privacy, Obi-Wan reached out to his lover's mind. [Qui-Gon?] he asked, making a question of the name.

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow, but didn't reply -- didn't let him in. Which was unusual enough in itself to make Obi-Wan worry even more.

As soon as they got back inside the palace, Qui-Gon turned down a hallway towards the rooms they'd been assigned. At least Obi-Wan guessed that was where they were headed. He couldn't even read *that* much. From the expression on his lover's face, though, he knew Qui-Gon was aware of Obi-Wan's frustration at being shut out.

He wondered if Qui-Gon also knew how much being this completely shut out hurt. It brought back too many bad memories of how he had felt right after Naboo, when he had thought he had lost his place in Qui-Gon's life for good.

Then Qui-Gon reached down and took his hand. He still said nothing, still kept his shields in place. But he squeezed Obi-Wan's hand and did not let go.

Obi-Wan squeezed back, warmed and reassured by the gesture, even as his frustration level rose. 'Let me in!' he pleaded. What could be so horrible that Qui-Gon felt the need to hide even from him?

But Qui-Gon held his shields until they reached their rooms. Qui-Gon took them inside, closed the door carefully, then turned to Obi-Wan. He let his shields down far enough to let Obi-Wan inside, and moved forward to hold onto Obi-Wan at the same time.

The torment of emotions coming from Qui-Gon momentarily overwhelmed Obi-Wan; he felt like he was being swept up in a wild river's current. But he managed to avoid being swept away; the thought that Qui-Gon needed him was anchor enough.

Foremost was fear. Something he had rarely felt from Qui-Gon, now washing over him as if there were nothing else inside his lover. But there was more; once Obi-Wan let the fear past, he felt the rest. Guilt, doubt, and memories of a vision seen. Darkness engulfing the galaxy, darkness spread by a Padawan who turned.

[Ani is fine,] Obi-Wan sent back, with waves of reassurance and faith. [He hasn't turned. He won't.]

[How can you know that? How can you know, when every member of the Council said he should not be trained?]

[Because I know you. I know what kind of Master you are first-hand. Ani's fate could not be in better hands.]

There was no immediate response. Qui-Gon was caught in his fears and doubts, hearing Obi-Wan but, Obi-Wan could tell, not quite believing him. He could see the doubts -- Xanatos' fate, Qui-Gon's own determined certainty that Xanatos would be a great Knight someday. Though there was not the guilt Obi-Wan had felt in him before over Xanatos' fall, there was still the doubt in himself. And it had been sharpened by the Darkness they had touched.

Obi-Wan could feel Qui-Gon struggling against it.

[You are the only Master who *could* train Anakin. You treat him as he should be treated, as a boy, a child who needs discipline yes, but who also needs caring and praise. The Council saw only the Chosen One, a possible threat. They did not look beyond that to see the person. You did. That is why you are the only choice for his Master, and that is why you will succeed.] Obi-Wan spoke with all the passion and conviction he had in him.

[What if I cannot?] came the question, as Qui-Gon shook ever so slightly in his arms. [If I am the only one who can do it, what if I--]

[You *won't,*] Obi-Wan countered vehemently.

[What if I do?] Qui-Gon sounded nothing like the calm and confident Master Obi-Wan had always known. Here was a man facing the possible ramifications of his choices, choices he believed in, but which could, despite his best intentions, turn everything into evil. He could feel how dwarfed Qui-Gon felt by the possibilities facing him. [This is why I try so hard to stay only in the moment. So the future does not overwhelm me.]

The thought was clear, but shaking no less than the rest.

Obi-Wan wasn't sure what he could say to that, other than to reassure his lover that whatever the future did bring, he would be there with him. [If the unthinkable does happen, and we do lose Ani to the Dark, then we will deal with it. We will fix it. Together.]

Qui-Gon had no response other than to hold Obi-Wan tighter.

[But it's not going to happen,] Obi-Wan added after another moment of silence.

Slowly, finally, Qui-Gon let Obi-Wan's reassurances touch him. He held on no less tightly, but Obi-Wan could feel him relaxing inside. Accepting Obi-Wan's words and support, Qui-Gon tried to find his balance again and let go of his fears.

[Did you feel this way with me?] Obi-Wan asked, when he felt that Qui-Gon had banished his doubts as much as he could.

There was silence. Then, very softly, [At first.]

[What changed?]

[You proved yourself.]

Obi-Wan smiled slightly. [When did I do that?]

"I'm not sure," Qui-Gon said out loud, in a much calmer tone. He took a deep breath and pressed his face against Obi-Wan's shoulder. "I just know that one day, I realized... I knew." There was a pause, and he added, "I believe it was after you brought those Altarian frogs into our room...."

"That was an accident," Obi-Wan countered. "I hadn't intended for them to escape from their container."

Qui-Gon only smiled. Obi-Wan could feel the fears retreating further, the shadows of Darkness willfully overcome by the memories of Obi-Wan trying to explain to Master Silla why he could not open the door to their quarters.

"I'm not sure why that would be the incident that you felt I proved myself with. It wasn't exactly one of my finest moments."

"Exactly. It is in such moments that we show our true character."

Qui-Gon hugged him once again, then relaxed his tight grip on Obi-Wan slightly. "We should make frog-herding a Knighthood trial," he mused.

That caused Obi-Wan to chuckle. "Perhaps if we allowed Ani to get a pet, then..."

"I think he has learned his lesson," Qui-Gon said seriously. He sighed. "One of them. One of many."

"It's a beginning," Obi-Wan agreed.

Qui-Gon took another deep breath, and Obi-Wan felt him finally re-centered. "At least you did not incinerate any wall decorations," he teased his former Master.

Qui-Gon smiled.

"Though I suppose, if it would help in the future, I could make sure we always have some on hand..."

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said in a stern Master's tone.

"Yes?" Obi-Wan replied innocently.

Qui-Gon opened his mouth, and a dragon's roar filled the room.

For one moment, Obi-Wan *stared*. Then he collapsed, laughing, against his lover.

Qui-Gon held him and grinned.


They left Alltarii a few days later.

Glarim saw them off, making sure, for the twentieth time, that they knew they were welcome to visit any time. He and Anakin had been nearly inseparable, to the point that Qui-Gon had given Anakin permission to skip a few lessons to spend time with Glarim -- and allowing Glarim to accompany Anakin on those lessons he couldn't skip.

The friendship between the two seemed to help both boys deal with what they'd been through, and Obi-Wan made a mental note to make sure Ani had as many chances as possible to stay in touch.

He felt Qui-Gon's agreement as he encouraged the thought with, [We can always ask for time for ourselves, and leave him here.] The loving tone was in sharp contrast to the torrential emotions the Jedi Master had wrestled with that had, by now, faded almost completely from memory.

[I'm sure he'd love that,] Obi-Wan replied, watching Anakin and the young king talking enthusiastically with their heads together.

The boys laughed, then, and the sound made Obi-Wan think that most of the trauma had truly begun to heal.

"Ani!" he called as their shuttle came in for a landing. "It's time to go."

Anakin looked up at them, and continued talking to Glarim. He did, however, take a step towards the shuttle.

Qui-Gon grinned briefly, then composed himself again. After a moment, he called, "Anakin."

"I'm *coming*!" Anakin replied exasperatedly, but still seemed reluctant to end his conversation with his friend.

[Shall we demonstrate the effectiveness of the Force?] Qui-Gon asked, silently.

[Demonstrations are always a good teaching tool,] Obi-Wan agreed.

Qui-Gon reached out, then, and scooped up Anakin.

Anakin yelped, and Glarim looked startled.

"Say good-bye, Ani," Obi-Wan instructed, unable to hide his grin.

Anakin looked over his shoulder and waved. "Bye, Glarim!"

Qui-Gon deposited the boy at his feet. Anakin looked up. "I was coming!" he insisted.

"Eventually," Obi-Wan agreed, still smiling.

Anakin sighed. "I *was*."

Qui-Gon let him go, and he headed towards the ship's ramp. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan followed, and Qui-Gon sighed as Anakin called out, "Where are we going *next*?"

"Back to Coruscant to report to the Council," Obi-Wan told him. "After that, wherever we are sent."

"Who-hoo!" Anakin cried out, and ran down the corridor towards the cockpit.

Qui-Gon looked at Obi-Wan, as Obi-Wan stood just inside the door. Behind him, the ramp began to close. "Thank you, Obi-Wan." He reached out and brushed the back of his hand along Obi-Wan's cheek.

Smiling, Obi-Wan leaned into the caress. "It was no more than you have done for me many, many times."

"And, I suspect, we shall continue to do." He leaned forward and kissed him gently. "Hopefully, for many years to come."

"Yes." Obi-Wan kissed him back, then smiled mischievously. "At least you managed not to get shot this time," he teased.

"I told you I wouldn't."

"Forgive me for ever doubting you."

Qui-Gon opened his mouth, then stopped, and considered. "Give me a backrub?"

Obi-Wan grinned. "Yes, Master," he responded dutifully.

"Grr." Qui-Gon grinned. Then he stopped, and frowned. "Did you--?"

"Yes." Obi-Wan shivered. It had only been for a split second, but it had felt as if there were something watching them. Something Dark. Something evil.

Qui-Gon rested his hand on Obi-Wan's arm, frowning. [Let's go up to the cockpit,] he suggested. To keep an eye on Anakin.

Obi-Wan nodded agreement and followed his lover up the corridor absently, while he reached out and scanned with the Force. But there was no trace of whatever it had been.

They said nothing of it as they reached the cockpit, accepting Anakin's joyful announcement that he was almost ready to fly the cruiser if someone would just give him a chance.

But still Obi-Wan couldn't shake the feeling that there was something out there.

Watching.

Waiting.

Plotting.

As the ship carried them away, Obi-Wan shivered. Qui-Gon touched his hand. [We will be ready, should we meet it again.]

[I hope so,] Obi-Wan replied.