Obi-Wan sat in silent meditation. The day was warm but the sun did not disturb him. Rather, the warmth on his face and through the thick cloth of his robe helped calm his spirit and push him deeper into the trance. His thoughts had long stilled; there was nothing now but awareness.
There was awareness of warmed skin, a heartbeat slowed until it was barely there, long, slow breaths, and the distant hum of transport engines and a thousand voices raised in a thousand purposes. Obi-Wan sat, simply aware. The awareness turned, as if by its own will, inward and he contemplated whom he found there. Self-knowledge was the first and last lesson a Jedi ever learned, both as he or she began schooling and as each day was begun. Obi-Wan did not expect to learn anything new as he meditated. Nor did he expect not to.
That which watched brought forth nothing, at first. Humming like the heartbeat, it remained still and formless. Then, a distant spark and a single thought appeared, solidified, and vanished. The sun feels good. The windows in this room were large, as were most in the building. The Jedi appreciated wide open vistas and as much exposure to the world around them as possible. Shutting oneself off was no way to reach the Force, the Masters taught. How can you become one with that which is in everything, if you surround yourself with walls?
Granted, those walls would still be vibrating with the Force, as would the entirety of whatever cell one chose to close up in. It was impossible to escape it, but Obi-Wan appreciated the intent of the lesson. The purpose was life, living life. Running away was not the point.
None of these thoughts appeared as the young Padawan meditated. An unmeasured length of time passed after the first single thought, unmeasured and thus infinite. Obi-Wan was unaware of the spark that brought the second thought out but, when it appeared, his awareness focused ever so slightly. It was wordless, merely an image and a feeling.
The feeling was old and familiar. He smiled and let the feeling swell, and, for several moments, his meditation was a contemplation of his Master and the love, the desire he felt for him. The words arose -- I want him -- then Obi-Wan let his mind go again and drifted back into plain awareness. The meditation deepened and, for a long time after, there were no thoughts at all.
Obi-Wan stood before the first door, ready. His Master stood reassuringly close behind him, though Obi-Wan needed no bolstering for this task. A difficult one, trickier than many he faced these days in the last few years of his training. For all its difficulty, however, it was one he enjoyed for the speed of its execution. The instantaneous responses that it required honed his reflexes and brought his awareness alive until he fairly thought he could fly. Perhaps he could. He appreciated the reassurance of his Master's presence, though, even if he did not need it. He said nothing as Qui-Gon touched his head lightly and tied the blindfold in place.
The Force was flowing all around him, but he did not reach out with it yet. Not until the task began was he allowed to use it. He wouldn't need it until a split moment after the task began, so, for now, he simply stood ready. He felt a brief pat on his arm from his Master, and he let himself smile. With his eyesight cut off, he would have to depend on his sense of touch, and the Force, to guide him. He needed neither to tell him Qui-Gon had stepped back and was standing nearby, only a few feet away from the maze's entrance. Qui-Gon would remain there, watching him, as he always did. Always just there, never quite out of reach.
Then the door slid open and Obi-Wan felt the expanse of the maze appear. He moved forward smoothly, reaching out with the Force to feel the corridors and passageways that were now spread out before him. As he moved past the entrance's doorway, he instantly accelerated to a Jedi's Force-enhanced sprint.
The Force guided him through the passageways -- passageways which moved and changed each microsecond. Doors slid open and closed, walls appeared out of the floor. Obi- Wan had to run as fast as he could to avoid being trapped behind a wall or to catch the only door that would eventually lead to the exit on the far side of the room. He also had to run because he was being timed.
Ideally, he would be able to run through without touching a single wall, but as of today he had still occasionally had to put a foot out to bounce off an abruptly-appearing wall. It did not count against him as such, but a Master's reflexes would allow him to react in time to avoid it completely. Today he was doing as well as ever, avoiding walls and choosing the correct doorways as they appeared, the Force guiding him through the fluctuating proximity of the maze while also leading him towards the exit on the room's other side.
The maze no longer frustrated him the way it did when he was a child, slowly walking his way through the baffling arena. Now it gave him a rush as he zoomed ahead and made split- second decisions -- let them be made for him, as the Force pulled him this way and that. He realised he was almost to the exit and had yet to touch a wall. Obi-Wan kept a tight hold on his concentration, not wanting to waver this late in the race.
The Force tugged ever so slightly and he followed, changing directions with what would have been a dizzying speed had he been watching and not running. He felt the brush of a closed door as he sped by, narrowly missing coming into contact with it. He allowed himself a brief smile and propelled himself on -- the exit was only a few more steps away. Three doors closed then and he had to instantly side-step to avoid them. Still the Force pulled at him, and still he followed where it led.
When he stepped out of the maze, he nearly faltered before catching himself and standing still. He allowed himself a smile, which broke into a brief grin as the blindfold was lifted from his eyes and he found his Master looking down at him, radiating approval.
"Well done, Padawan," came Qui-Gon's quiet voice. Obi-Wan wanted to shout for joy, but restrained himself to a nod of acceptance and a quiet, "Thank you, Master." He let himself absorb the warm approval from his Master, soaking it up like the sun's rays. Qui-Gon clapped his shoulder lightly and moved away from the end of the maze; Obi-Wan trailed after. At the other end of the training room he saw Master Gundar give him a slight smile and a nod as well, before calling to the next student that she could prepare to make her run.
Obi-Wan followed his Master from the training room, calming himself as he walked sedately. He caught a glance from Qui-Gon and wondered if he weren't calming himself quickly enough -- he still felt able to break into a leap and a shout, but he would have sworn none of the feeling were radiating past the boundaries of his own skin.
"Yes, indeed," Qui-Gon said with a gentle smile.
Obi-Wan blushed. It wasn't that he forgot his Master could often feel his thoughts and emotions, not since he could feel his Master the same way -- inside his skull when necessary, inside his heart practically always. What he usually forgot was that the code of conduct applied even inside his own mind and that merely suppressing the sensations halfway was not enough.
Sometimes it made him paranoid about his own feelings, knowing they were likely to be picked up by whatever Jedi were nearby. Most of the time, as was the intent, it reassured him that words were not required. He was understood, and in turn understood those around him. There was no room for shame and, hence, no need for fear.
Fear led to hate, and hate led to suffering. Though, as far as Obi-Wan could figure, shame itself could be suffering enough. He did, however, try a bit harder to let go of his exultation and seek a state of peace as he followed his Master through the Temple hallways. A few moments later he had it, and let go a sigh of relief as the coiled tension disappeared completely.
Qui-Gon halted and looked at him. "You are ready for your next session?"
Obi-Wan let himself grin slightly. "You mean, now that I no longer need to pace the hallways to recover my composure? Yes, Master."
The glint in his Master's eye threatened to send Obi-Wan's tiny grin splitting wide into a laugh. "Very well. Come." Qui-Gon turned towards the wing which held some of the libraries. Obi-Wan followed, long used to his Master's zig-zag routes of training. Maintaining equilibrium in the face of extremes was, as his Master would have told him had Obi-Wan not figured it out for himself, all part of the training.
He settled himself in a chair beside the reader Qui-Gon pointed him to, and waited for his Master to select the files. Soon a document appeared and Qui-Gon left him to study it. Ergonomics on Tithia One -- how to prepare meeting chambers for all sentient species of the planet. Obi-Wan began reading.
"Where are we going, Master?" Obi-Wan asked as he slung his packed bag over his shoulder. He'd been told to meet Qui-Gon and catch a shuttle for the spaceport, but nothing more. No one ever tells Padawans anything, Obi-Wan mused. That phrase was scribbled on the locker room wall as a testament. The funny thing was, the graffiti had been there for at least 400 years. Qui-Gon had a small bag slung over his own shoulder, as well, carrying what bare necessities he would need.
"We are being sent as ambassadors to Naboo. You will have time to read up on it during the flight."
"Yes, Master." Sometimes Obi-Wan wondered why his master didn't just tell him everything up front instead of making him ask every question out loud. Perhaps Qui-Gon knew that if Obi-Wan didn't ask he would eventually learn what he needed to know, anyhow, through observation and reasoning. Qui-Gon was probably hoping he would do so. Obi-Wan would have done so, except that he liked having the excuse to speak with his Master. He had tried doing things the way he was supposed to -- watching quietly and learning, asking only when he truly didn't understand. He'd spent three days in total silence with his Master. Obi-Wan had gone back to asking occasional questions. Maybe he just liked the sound of Qui-Gon's voice, or maybe he just liked having his Master's attention, however brief or partial. Or maybe, he told himself in that private part of his mind which no one, not even Jedi Masters, would invade, it was because he liked the way his Master turned his head ever-so-slightly towards him when Qui-Gon heard Obi-Wan's voice.
They caught the shuttle for the spaceport and found the republic cruiser Radiant VII waiting for them. Obi-Wan settled himself onboard while Qui-Gon went forward to speak to the captain. Obi-Wan went to the main passengers' lounge, knowing they would not be aboard long enough to require the use of the cabins farther back. The lounge was small, with a low ceiling and unlit shadows along each bulkhead. But the couches and tables were large and comfortable, and it was to one of these Obi-Wan went. He found a small reader and disk sitting on a low table, and discovered it to be the information on Naboo his Master had promised. He began skimming the pages, but found no immediate clues as to why they might be going. Scrolling back to the beginning, he read quickly and in detail until Qui-Gon returned to the cabin.
"Why are we going to Naboo?"
"Finished reading already?" Qui-Gon sounded vaguely amused.
Obi-Wan flushed and shook his head. "No, Master. I just--"
"We are going to negotiate the end of a trade blockade."
"Oh." Obi-Wan blinked in surprise at having received the information so quickly. He caught the edge of a smile as Qui-Gon turned away, and Obi-Wan ducked his head back towards his reader. The first several pages were a somewhat brief history of the world, followed by a thorough account of the planet's current governmental structure. By the time they reached their destination, Obi-Wan had a decent understanding of what was going on. He felt sure he and his Master could handle it without much trouble.
Obi-Wan lay on his bed, staring numbly at the ceiling. His room at the Jedi Temple was little-used. In recent years, he had spent most of his time traveling with his Master to various parts of the galaxy on missions for the Jedi Council. The room said little about its occupant. There were no decorations hanging, no windows cut in the wall. Just flat, dusty blue ceiling and walls. And one Jedi Padawan, staring and seeing nothing. His Master wanted to train the boy, Anakin. He had told the Council that he, Obi- Wan, was ready for the trials to become a Knight. Obi-Wan couldn't believe it.
Qui-Gon wanted to train a new Padawan.
Obi-Wan had known before now that soon he would be facing the trials and, for better or worse, he would no longer be his Master's apprentice. He had hoped -- in that private part of his mind -- that they would continue together regardless when he became a Knight. There was no great need at the moment for training Masters; there were enough this year for the young students hoping to become Padawans. It was not unheard of that two Jedi would pair together, and there had been -- as far as Obi-Wan had seen -- no reason to think he could not have hoped for such a thing with Qui-Gon. There was no reason for him to think his Master did not love him. Qui-Gon had never spoken to him about his feelings, but Obi-Wan knew his Master was aware of them.
If Obi-Wan were wrong about his hopes, surely his Master would have corrected him, perhaps said something to discourage him. But he had not... and now he wanted to train Anakin. He had said as much to the Council, arguing that the boy should be trained -- Obi-Wan caught at the thought. Perhaps it had been a desperate bid to get the boy trained. Perhaps Qui-Gon simply wanted the boy trained as a Jedi more than he wanted....
More than he wanted Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan rolled over onto his stomach and fought back the emotions that threatened to spill over. He should be pleased his Master thought him ready for the trials. He should be pleased the Council agreed. When their business with the Trade Federation and Naboo was finished, he would return to the Academy and undergo his trials for Knighthood. Qui-Gon would even be there to oversee them, as his final act as Obi-Wan's Master.
Obi-Wan squeezed his eyes shut and fought harder for control. He would be standing there with Anakin, his new Padawan. The Chosen One, his Master called him. Something more important than anything else, Obi-Wan realised. He should be grateful for what his Master had given him, for the long years spent at his side. He would have to give Qui-Gon his thanks before he began his trials, let Qui-Gon and the others see only his sincerity.
He would have to hide how he felt betrayed.
He considered flinging a pillow at the far wall, but knew that he was already dangerously close to letting his emotions free, creating whorls of disturbance in the Force that anyone nearby could feel. He didn't need some helpful soul poking his head in and asking what was wrong. Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan tried to calm his mind. When that didn't work, he tried simply to blank it out.
That wasn't working, either. He could still hear his Master's voice before the Council, offering to train Anakin. Apologising to Obi-Wan afterwards in the hallway, that he had not spoken of it to him beforehand. Qui-Gon had left him there to speak again to Yoda and Obi-Wan had made his way to his rooms, trying to grab a hold of the shock that had hit him.
For all the words Qui-Gon had said, all the arguing and quiet apologies, even for the quiet assurance that he had meant what he'd said about Obi-Wan being ready, there was one thing his Master had not said. Perhaps, Obi-Wan thought, he'd been fooling himself all along. Perhaps what he felt from his Master, in those quiet moments of meditation, or in the heat of a battle when the lines between their minds were lowest, simply was not what he had felt in himself.
Or perhaps it was, and Qui-Gon had chosen to sacrifice it for the sake of Anakin. If that were the case, Obi-Wan finally asked the question he had been trying not to face, then why didn't Qui-Gon say so? Why hadn't he said he'd wished -- he'd hoped, he'd planned -- that they would remain together? Apologised at least, for that lost chance?
Perhaps, said the voice he didn't want to hear, because he hadn't so wished.
Obi-Wan pushed his pain deep where no one would feel it, and stared, silently, at the walls.
He sat there for a long time before he realised what he needed to do. It wasn't a talent of his, but he had learned the skill and could reasonably attempt it now. If he knew... if he could at least see, then perhaps he could find it within himself to accept this. He sat up and crossed his legs, closed his eyes and began to meditate.
There was, he knew, little chance he would see the future clearly. Even if he did, he knew the future would still be uncertain. Possibilities were all one could truly see, according to the Masters. Even Yoda rarely took what was seen as more than the weight of advice. But if he could at least see his future, see whether Qui-Gon was with him or not, then at least Obi-Wan could find some bearing now. He could decide whether to fight with his Master's decision, or accept it without a word.
He easily gained the meditative state and found his concentration flowing steadily away. This next would be the tricky part, guiding his intentions without losing the tenuous state of meditation. He let himself float for a moment in a sea of calm, then ever so gently turned his awareness ahead.
It took a few tries before he was able to avoid pushing himself completely out of his meditation. When he did finally see, he found himself looking at a large room. He could not make out details, only long columns of metal and flashes of power. He heard the sound of lightsabers clashing on one another.
Three figures came into view and Obi-Wan stared. He and his Master were fighting someone who held a double-bladed lightsaber. That 'someone' was obscured by shadows, but the feel was that of evil. He watched as they fought, he and his Master in perfect harmony against the unknown assailant. He could not tell from the appearance of his or Qui-Gon's face how far in the future this was -- though it could not be too distant, for neither of their faces seemed to have changed. Still they fought, and their enemy fought back. First on defense, then on offense.
Obi-Wan saw himself stumble and get knocked from the fighting. He felt his heart beat once, then saw his future self grab onto the edge of a walkway some distance below. Qui-Gon and the other kept fighting. Obi-Wan watched as the fight progressed, moving away from his other self, following as his Master and the other were trapped by energy fields. He waited, then, able to pass through the fields easily himself -- for they were not truly there, his presence was only one of sight, not body. He followed as his Master was freed; glancing back he saw himself trapped and watching as well.
He turned back to see his Master engaged in furious battle. The shadowy figure was fast and skilled, and Obi-Wan wondered who it was. He still could not see through the dark shadows cloaking the figure, only the length of his double-edged lightsaber flashed with pulsing red clarity. He wielded it like a staff, Obi-Wan realised as he watched the fighting. He would have to remember to ask his Master--
He found himself sitting in his room, blank walls forming around him. His heart was beating rapidly, and he felt dizzy from having left the meditation so abruptly. It was hardly anything, though, compared to how he felt at what he had just seen. His Master, lying at his feet - - dying.
"Master," Obi-Wan called softly as he hurried towards the cruiser. Qui-Gon turned, herding Anakin ahead of him towards the ramp. They were headed back to Naboo, to assist the Queen in her fight to free her people. Obi-Wan tried again to control his fear. He considered for a moment repeating only the Council's warnings, but found his fear for his Master's life much stronger.
"Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon looked at him and frowned. "What is wrong?"
"I--" He found he didn't know how to say it. Before he could try, though, they were interrupted by the ship's captain. Obi-Wan waited as his Master turned to confer with the man; they walked onwards and boarded the ship, discussing the matters at hand. As he stared after his Master he told himself again, It is only a possibility.
Qui-Gon went onboard the ship, then, still speaking to the ship's captain. Obi-Wan followed and found himself with Anakin, put in charge of keeping the young boy's curiousity and fears under control. Both were easily enough handled when Padme sat down beside them.
Obi-Wan did not have a chance to discuss what he had seen with his Master during their journey to Naboo. He knew he might not need to -- Qui-Gon would likely accept it as something which might or might not happen, and not something to be worried about in the meantime. It didn't keep Obi-Wan from worrying, though he put every effort into keeping it out of the way of dealing with the here and now. They had much to do, and Obi-Wan knew he would have to be in top form if he intended on preventing his vision from occurring.
He followed his Master, remaining close by his side.
It wasn't until he saw the Sith standing before them that Obi-Wan recognised their enemy from his vision. His hands were steady as they faced off, and Obi-Wan had time for only one reminder to himself, before the fighting began. It is only a possibility. It will not happen.
The vision flashed in the back of his mind as they fought, and soon he began to see the steps before each occurred. His parries became that much faster, and once his Master was able to land a blow Obi-Wan had not foreseen. Obi-Wan felt himself heartened and fought on, focusing even more tightly on the dual images in his eyes. What might be super-imposed itself over what was until they flowed together, one a split-second ahead of the other.Obi-Wan saw the moment he would have fallen. He ducked the kick aimed for his head and the moment was gone, and he remained at his Master's side. He did not allow himself a victory; the Sith was still fighting as furiously as he had in Obi-Wan's vision. It took all Obi- Wan's focus, now, to counter the blows and support his Master's attacks. Defense, then offense, they exchanged contact in quick, smooth motion. As they fought they merged -- as always, the Master and Padawan echoing off each other in perfected rhythm. There was no room for doubts, or fears for the future, or even thoughts at all beyond the battle.
The energy fields were behind the Sith, now, and Obi-Wan knew they could drive him towards it. They, not simply Qui-Gon alone. Perhaps, when they emerged on the other side, it would be enough. He felt reassured, felt a wave of assurance from Qui-Gon though he knew, somehow, his Master did not know what Obi-Wan had seen. The Jedi Master was simply reacting to the emotion foremost in his apprentice's mind and responding accordingly. We can win this battle.
The Sith sent a blow sizzling past Obi-Wan's head and he ducked, swinging his own lightsaber towards his enemy's knees. There was a low parry, then a howl. Obi-Wan blinked -- Qui-Gon had landed a second blow on the Sith's arm. The injured limb was hanging at his side, the double-edged saber held now in only one hand. Obi-wan attacked. Again he was parried, again his Master's attack landed.
The Sith began backing away. He was heading towards the energy fields but Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan leapt after him. The Sith parried Qui-Gon, and this time it was Obi-Wan's blow which landed. The force of it knocked the Sith to his knees, sliding forward on the walkway. Obi-Wan held his attack and waited for his Master's cue.
The Sith looked up at them, ugly face snarling in angry defiance. He reached for his saber and made as if to thrust. Qui-Gon knocked it clear, swung once, and the Sith fell after it, off the walkway and out of sight.
Obi-Wan found his heart pounding and tried to catch his breath. Qui-Gon walked to the edge of the walkway and looked down. "He's gone. We had better go find the Queen."
Obi-Wan looked at his Master standing before him. The vision began spiraling away. The vision of his Master, dying in his arms, now separated from reality by the man who was still standing before him -- the man who was looking at him quizzically.
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan could not keep his voice from trembling.
"Let us go," Qui-Gon said, not pressing the obvious lie. He began walking back the way they had come and, after a moment, Obi-Wan followed. The heightened meld between them began to fade, and with two more steps he was walking at his Master's side in silence.
Eight days later the trials were over.
They had emerged from their fight with the Sith to find the Queen's people had retaken their palace and their world. Qui-Gon had been dismayed to find just how Anakin had obeyed him, remaining in the cockpit, but not the ships' bay. He had scolded the boy, but told Obi-Wan that it was further proof at how easily the Force was able to flow through him. There had been much cleaning up, then much celebrating. By the time they had returned to the cruiser to head for Coruscant, Obi-Wan had wanted only to sleep.
He never had had a chance to explain to his Master what he had seen. He had barely had a chance to speak to Qui-Gon at all. On the journey home, Qui-Gon had spent his time with Anakin, explaining to the boy what would happen when they returned, explaining what it meant to be trained as a Jedi. Obi-Wan had left them alone, not wanting to see his Master already becoming his former Master.
Upon their return, the Council had informed Qui-Gon that his appeal had been considered and approved. The boy would be trained, if only because it would be dangerous not to do so. The appearance of the Sith Lord had the Jedi on their toes, and someone as powerful with the Force as Anakin would be too tempting a target for the remaining Sith Lord.
Qui-Gon had been pleased. Anakin had given a yelp of joy and hugged his new Master. Obi-Wan had simply waited quietly in the back of the room, watching and trying desperately to keep his thoughts under control. The Council had then told him that his trials would be two days following. He had been given time to rest from their mission and prepare himself.
He had not seen his Master for those two days. That, he knew, was traditional. If a Padawan were truly ready, there could be nothing his Master need say or do that would make a difference. But Obi-Wan had wished for just a few minutes, wanted at least to say his goodbye in private and wish his former Master well. But every time he sought his Master, he was told that Qui-Gon was somewhere else, with Anakin.
Qui-Gon had only appeared when the trials were about to begin. He had presented his Padawan to the Council and announced that Obi-Wan was ready. Obi-wan had his chance to speak only his thanks for the time and training he had been given. Then he had faced the trials alone.
The first trial was for his body. He had performed the katas, first open-handed then with his lightsaber. The Council had watched, ringing the practise room as Obi-Wan performed each motion smoothly, without misstep or hesitation. Then he had been blindfolded, and he had fought Master Silla.
For second trial he was sent to the schoolrooms. There he had found a class of six year- olds. The kids had not known he was undergoing his trials -- they simply knew what they had been told, that they would have this substitute teacher for two hours while Master Coline tended to Temple business elsewhere. They were learning about governments, and Obi-Wan had to take up Master Coline's lecture for that day and answer the students' questions.
This tested his spirit. Master Coline had told him, as Obi-Wan handed the class back over, that it had tested his stamina, as well.
The third trial tested his mind. He had been shown to a place in the garden, where he had sat before a small statue put there for the occasion. He had been told to meditate upon it. He had done so, his heart both heavy and empty. Afterwards, they had asked him what he had seen. He had told the truth -- nothing. Everything.
And he had passed. Some of the Masters even told him he had done well. He tried not to notice that Qui-Gon had only stopped by briefly to say "well done" before he was off again. Someone told him it was normal, that space must be allowed to form between what had once been a tight connection. In order for a Knight to find his own path, the former Master had to step aside. Obi-Wan didn't try to tell anyone that was exactly what he didn't need.
The Master Jedi had congratulated him, invited him to move to new quarters among the other Knights. Shiidun had helped him move his few things and spoken of missions which might await him, her eyes alight with excitement. She had passed her trials only three months before and was not quite used to her new status or the solemnity that normally accompanied it. She had returned from her first mission a month before and spoke eagerly of it to Obi-Wan, encouraging him to look forward to his own.
A new Knight's first mission was his or her own choice. The new Jedi Knight could select from any of the missions the Council had before it, or select from any of the hundreds of potential missions, as well. After the first, missions were assigned. But tradition gave a Knight the freedom to make his or her first step alone.
Obi-Wan was expected to go before the Council tomorrow and inform them of his decision. He had a datadisk full of his choices and was headed now to find Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan had a thousand things he wanted to say and ask. He still wanted to tell Qui-Gon of his vision, of what had been averted. He still wanted to ask if his Master wished they could have remained together. Above it all, however, Obi-Wan simply needed to see him again. Until he had done so, he felt as if he could not complete the transition to Knighthood. There was still in the back of his mind the feeling of his Master, that should he call out he would be answered. He knew that he would not be, no longer the Padawan in need of his Master's counsel, but still the feeling was there. He had to face it in order to move on.
Severing old ties, he thought miserably as he walked down the hallway to Qui-Gon's quarters. He ought to be happy. He ought to be grateful, for any number of things. Like Qui- Gon's life, he told himself. He wondered if Qui-Gon would want to know.
He came to the door and knocked once. There was silence within and, for a moment, he simply waited. When there was no answer, he knocked a second time.
"They're in the courtyard," came a voice.
Obi-Wan turned and saw Jrfa, Master Ani's Padawan.
"I'm sorry?" Obi-Wan asked.
The small avianoid bobbed his head at Obi-Wan, pink and orange feathers wafting as he moved. "Master Qui-Gon and the boy have gone out to the courtyard. I saw them; Qui-Gon is teaching Anakin the first level exercises."
"Thank you," Obi-Wan gave Jrfa a short nod, then turned and walked away.
The next day he stood before the Council and informed them of his choice.
They looked at him in surprise. Master Che was the first to speak. "Obi-Wan... the position on Machi IV is a permanent post. The outer edge of the Duetari galactic arm is remote and in need of little more than a Jedi's presence. We planned to send one of the Masters ten years from retirement, not a young Knight. Certainly not you."
Obi-Wan bowed his head slightly. "I am aware of the status of Machi IV and the nature of the position. It is my decision; it is what I choose."
There was silence for a few minutes; Obi-Wan knew they were feeling him out, trying to discover if there were a reason for his choice that should concern them. But he was calm. He had spent the entire evening searching the disk for something suitable, focusing on the information and ignoring why he was searching. He had known what he wanted, and, when he found the post on the remote planet on the edge of a remote, low-technology system, he knew he had found it.
Perhaps he was running away. So be it. He would still serve, and it could not be denied these people needed a Jedi. Travel to the Duetari arm took several days as it was; reaching the far edge took longer still. Having a local presence made it easier to respond to emergencies, and the Council had found that the ongoing presence of a Jedi tended to prevent emergencies in the first place.
He waited while the Council spoke quietly among themselves. They all seemed concerned; from the sound of it none wanted to support his decision whole-heartedly. But they could not refuse his request, and it would be rude for them to attempt to talk him out of it. The suggestion that he could not make a proper choice in this was to suggest he was not ready, and he had proven that he was by passing his trials.
Finally, they turned to him again. Master Yoda spoke. "Accept it, we will. Condition we must ask."
Obi-Wan nodded again.
"Go, you will. Permanent, the post will not be. A year you may have. Reconsider your decision. Return, you may, if so you desire." The Jedi Master spoke calmly and evenly.
Obi-Wan bowed. "Thank you." He felt some relief, but otherwise nothing, at the acceptance.
"May the Force be with you, young Obi-Wan," Yoda said. Obi-Wan returned the phrase, then turned and left the Council room. His heart was as still as it had been all night. The notion of a year's deadline did not worry him. All they had asked was that he reconsider his choice. They had not said he needed to return. True, in a year Qui-Gon and Anakin might be gone from Coruscant, traveling as Master and Padawan on Council duties, and it might be safe for him to return and accept other missions. With a little foresight and planning, he could even time his stays on Coruscant to coincide with the absence of his former Master.
But Obi-Wan had no intention of returning. He would stay on the rural planet, tend to its peace, and live quietly and simply. He would do some good out there, and he would be the only Jedi in the system. There would be no one to observe his emotions, and thus no one would know how his heart had been broken.
He went to his room and began to pack what little he had to take. The Temple would supply him with most of what he needed to settle himself on Machi IV: food, credits to secure modest lodging, and the bare essentials for housekeeping. He found he had only to pack his extra clothing, a small reader, and few select disks on the Duetari systems, its peoples and cultures, and his lightsaber. He had acquired nothing else which he needed to take with him.
He had collected a few souvenirs over the years that were scattered about the room. Gifts, which could not have been refused without giving insult, from those grateful for the Jedi's assistance, sat here and there to remind him of the years past. There was no need to take them now; whatever reminders he needed of his life he carried in his heart and mind. He could leave the artifacts here to decorate the room for another, or to be added to the Temple's ever-growing collection.
One caught his eye: a bright blue ball which sparkled and seemed to move, even though nothing touched it to strike its dance. The blue flickered from shade to shade from the top of the sphere to the bottom, drawing the eye up and down its curves. He had been given it as a boy, barely a year into his training as a Padawan. The Muftassa people had presented it, and one like it in red to Qui-Gon, as their thanks. The striking objects had not been ostentatious, for all their remarkable beauty. The Muftassa had understood the nature of the Jedi and had given them two gifts normally given as toys to their own toddlers.
Qui-Gon had his on a shelf in his own quarters. Obi-Wan had seen it only a few days before, though he knew his former Master thought of it as often as he did of his own -- that was to say, rarely. Obi-Wan reached out and touched it lightly, watching as the blue swirled at the heat from his finger. He decided to take it, on a whim he did not question. He wrapped it in a spare cloak and added it to his pack.
He gave the room another glance. He would contact his own family once he set up residence on Machi IV, to let them know he would be more or less settled someplace in case they chose to contact him. He heard little enough from them, as much due to his constant travel as the distance between them as he had grown up. He thought of them fondly, but often no more than vaguely. The Temple had little time to spare to allow its students much more than brief contact with their families. The Jedi became each others' family.
And now Obi-Wan was leaving them behind.
Though not entirely behind. The Council would be able to contact him at will -- and Obi- Wan had no doubt they would do so, often. Other Jedi could come to Machi IV if their schedules permitted, drop in to visit or assist if needed. But the distance would prevent all but the most determined, or happenstance, of visits... and that was why Obi-Wan was going.
He found he still felt remarkably calm about his decision. Standing there in his room, contemplating leaving so much of it, and his childhood, behind, he felt a calm that bordered on peace. Perhaps he would regret his decision later, regret leaving behind one small thing or another. He knew well enough that what he felt now he didn't need, might be missed later. But there was nothing here he could not do without.
He slung his lightsaber at his waist, closed his pack, and turned to leave, pausing only to turn off the light. There was a ship in port which he would take to Corellia; from there he would take one of two more ships along his journey. The Corellian ship was not leaving until morning, but, as it was a passenger liner, Obi-Wan knew he would be best served by arriving early and preventing its Captain an excuse for selling his cabin to another.
He stopped in to see Master Dolee, the kind, and, if you believed the rumours, very ancient, Mulian woman who was in charge of the Temple's household affairs.
"Obi-Wan," she greeted him warmly.
He ducked his head in a short bow. "Master Dolee. I have left my room. It, and its contents, may be used as the Temple sees best fit. I shall not be needing it any longer."
"So I understand. The Machi IV post is a great responsibility and I am gratified to see you accepting it. I know you will show the Temple, and yourself, great honour in your work there."
Obi-Wan did not hide his smile. "Your encouragement is unexpected, but welcome. I anticipated being counseled on the inappropriateness of my selection."
She smiled and tilted her head to one side, causing the long white braids to shift on her shoulders. "I think you will do well, young Knight."
"Thank you," he replied. A thought occurred, and he added, "There is a small blanket which I have left folded at the foot of the bed. It was given to me when I first arrived at the Temple, by Master True. Would you please pass on his gift to one of the new students?"
"I shall. May the Force be with you, Obi-Wan."
"May the Force be with you, Master Dolee." He gave her a deeper bow this time, bending at the waist and letting his eyes fall from her face. He would miss her; he would miss many of those at the Temple. But he had to go.
He settled his pack on his shoulder and left to catch a shuttle for the spaceport.
The ship was the Corellian liner Tribute. Obi-Wan did not know to whom the tribute was and doubted he would have the chance, or interest, to ask. He reported in with the ship's steward and was given his room assignment. The journey would take a day and a half, primarily for the dozen stops it would make along the way. Passengers would be boarding and disembarking at every stop on the way to Corellia.
Obi-Wan went to his cabin and stowed his pack securely. The cabin was small, but private. The Temple did not pay for luxuries, and he would not have been terribly surprised if he had been given a spot in the community lounge. But he would be aboard nearly forty hours, and it was more typical for Jedi to travel in privacy, rather than in the company of others.
Other than the company of other Jedi. Obi-Wan sat on the bunk and realised that for the first time since he had been sent from the Temple to Bandomeer, he was traveling alone.
"I hope I fare better now than I did then," he said to himself. As long as no Hutts tried to shatter his skeletal structure, he supposed he would be grateful. He tried to smile at the thought, but it was difficult. For the last day he had been moving nearly constantly, his thoughts on what he was going to do, where he was going. Now that he had begun his journey, he had time to pause and reflect. Not that he wanted to, but he had little else to do until he reached his destination.
He already missed Qui-Gon. That much he'd expected. You couldn't spend your life with someone for nearly twelve years and not miss them after only a few days. For a moment, absurdly, he wished he could leave the ship and return to the Temple, find Qui-Gon, and refuse to leave his side.
Obi-Wan laughed at himself, the sound echoing dimly in the tiny compartment. Even if he could, there would be no room....
Obi-Wan turned onto his stomach and buried his head in arms.
Hours later, he awoke. The ship was vibrating slightly; the engines were switching from standby-power to gearing up for take-off. Obi-Wan had slept the evening and night through. He'd given his grief free reign, exhausting himself. He'd considered, once, gathering himself and leaving his room for the ship's mess, but he hadn't felt hungry and decided there was no reason to join the ship's onboard crew and other early passengers for the evening meal. He'd remained on the bunk and fallen asleep, thinking of Qui-Gon and wondering if his training of Anakin would give him time to miss his other Padawan.
Now Obi-Wan sat up and rubbed at his face. He felt as if he'd slept in his clothes and missed dinner. He smiled in gentle mockery and pushed himself out of bed. Stretching, he listened to the hum of the engines and judged they were only up to half-power. Pre-flight checks, then, and not yet time for take-off. He moved quickly and briefly through a few katas, loosening his body and deciding that he needed to begin his journey on a better note than with crumpled clothing and a rumbling stomach.
There was a sink in his cabin of which he availed himself. Stripping out of his clothes, he shook them out and draped them across the bed. The fabric would recover its usual state soon enough without even need of cleaning, but he would feel fresher and more awake if he let them air out before dressing again. He splashed water on his face, saw to his other 'just out of bed' needs -- pausing only once as he ran his hand through his hair, when his fingers missed the long braid shorn only a day ago.
His hands shook as he stared at himself in the mirror, not even able to see the spot where it had been, but suddenly feeling its absence keenly. Strange, he mused, that he hadn't even thought of it until now. But suddenly he couldn't tear his eyes away from where it ought to be, draped over his shoulder.
He should do like Master Dolee and grow as many long braids as his head could hold. She said that it was obvious to any that looked that she was no longer a Padawan, and thus she could have the braids she loved without risking someone asking her where her Master was and would she go fetch him. The younger students loved to tease her, of course, stopping by her office and asking just that question.
But he, of course, still looked young enough to be an apprentice. He would grow his hair long, let himself forget how the braid felt tucked there behind his ear. He left the mirror, then, and re-dressed. There would be breakfast available in the mess now, with no more meals offered until after the ship took off. He secured his lightsaber to his belt and took a deep breath.
I am ready for this. I am a Knight. He left his quarters -- then froze.
Qui-Gon was approaching the ship.
For a very brief, and very suppressed, moment Obi-Wan panicked. Why was his former Master coming here? Was it a last ditch effort on someone's part to talk Obi-Wan out of this? Then reason took back control and he calmed himself. He had, after all, been wanting to speak to Qui-Gon before he left. Now he had his chance -- it would be silly to hide in the closet and pretend he was not there.
He left the cabin and headed for the main ramp. He felt a wave of relief from Qui-Gon and was puzzled by it, but he did not seek answers from the connection they still shared. He would wait until they were face to face, then speak to him as he would any other Jedi.
Obi-Wan descended the ramp with a nervous flutter in his stomach, but he looked over at Qui-Gon with a steady gaze. His former Master was waiting for him, seemingly composed. Obi- Wan felt the uneasiness in him as Qui-Gon caught sight of him, but did not pursue it. He did not say anything as he stepped down and stood before Qui-Gon. Somehow in that moment, all of his emotions stilled and he felt strangely balanced as he regarded Qui-Gon. Almost balanced.
Qui-Gon looked at him and Obi-Wan felt him wanting to reach out for him, as he would have done had they still been Master and Padawan and justified in the mental contact it provided. Qui-Gon restrained himself, and Obi-Wan was both relieved and disappointed.
"Obi-Wan... I had hoped to speak with you before now."
Obi-Wan could read only resigned acceptance in Qui-Gon's voice. "I am sorry." He stopped himself before the "Master" slipped past his lips. "I did stop by your room yesterday."
"I know. I regret I was not available. I... I regret a lot of things, Obi-Wan. I only wish we had time to discuss them now."
Obi-Wan was surprised at his words. To anyone nearby, their conversation would sound placid to the point of unconcern. Both spoke in measured tones that said nothing beyond their words. It was in each man's face, and in the underlying currents of thought and emotion that the real conversation was being held.
Obi-Wan felt within Qui-Gon many of the same things he himself felt at his leaving. He will miss me, he suddenly realised, and the thought cheered him. Not that he'd thought his former Master would forget all about him... but it was nice to have the reassurance that his former Master's thoughts were not totally taken up by his new Padawan. For a moment he wondered if he dared push further than the surface thoughts of Qui-Gon's wishing him well, and look to see if there were more. The urge passed and he did not; he didn't want to know for certain that he was the only one who wished things need not change so drastically.
He wondered what, if any, offer he ought to make. Did he really want to invite Qui-Gon and his new apprentice to "feel free to visit"? But he did not want to simply disappear from Qui- Gon's life... though that was exactly what he had arranged to do.
In Obi-Wan's silence, Qui-Gon spoke again. "There are a great many things I wish I could tell you, things I imagine you already know. But I had to at least say goodbye."
Obi-Wan moved forward in a rush, not thinking, merely reacting to the pain he felt in his own and Qui-Gon's hearts. He embraced his Master tightly and felt Qui-Gon's arms around him, as well. There were a dozen things he wanted to whisper, from "I'm sorry" to "Don't let me go." Instead, just before he broke away, he said, "I love you."
He felt Qui-Gon's hand on his head and the answering whisper. "I love you, too, Obi- Wan."
Then Obi-Wan let go and whirled, running back onto the ship.
The trip was long and quiet. Obi-Wan was grateful; the time had given him a chance to meditate and recover the composure he had lost so completely just before the Tribute had left. It had taken him nearly the entire four-day journey to do so, his efforts hampered by the need to appear composed when he encountered other passengers onboard the liner. Fortunately, they mostly left him alone. The ship's crew left him completely alone, used to the presence of Jedi and knowing they need only disturb him should they need his services.
The transfer to the second ship was easily done; it was docked nearby and was slated for take-off only a few hours after the Tribute's arrival. Obi-Wan took his pack and went directly to the Nebuian cruiser and boarded, heading again directly for his cabin and staying there for the day it took to reach Mepipha.
The third ship was a huge transport, carrying mostly supplies and what few passengers had business in the Duetari system. On that ship the crew and passengers congregated in the central lounge, spending the two day journey entertaining one another with conversation and board games. Several of the passengers knew the ship's three-member crew from previous journeys and thus the atmosphere was a friendly, if not entirely polite, one. Obi-Wan could not remain tucked away in his cabin this time. He could not let his future neighbors think him distant or unapproachable, for one thing.
For another, he was sharing his quarters with another man, a government counsel traveling back to his homeworld on business. His home planet was Machi VII, some distance away from Machi IV. It was not unreasonable to imagine Obi-Wan would ever go to the seventh planet in the Machi system -- called a system only because the four solar systems were the only ones in proximity to one another. Machi VII orbited a different sun than Machi IV, but the planets had good trade and travel between them and, should any trouble befall Machi VII, they might call upon the only local Jedi to help.
The Machi system was home to three primary species, two of which were native to the area, and a third, humanity, which had moved in so long ago that they felt as native as the rest. The first species were the original Machi, who discovered space travel and their neighbors long ago, and proceeded to create a system-wide home for themselves. They were a reptilian lifeform, living long lives and bearing few offspring so that they sparsely populated their home world and the surrounding planets. For the most part, Machi were easy-going and slow to offend, but were rigidly concerned with their own people, families, and system. They had little interest in attending to the rest of the galaxy and defended themselves with extraordinary passion from external intrusion.
Fortunately for the other locals, the Machi were loose in their definition of "our people." The lines were drawn outside the entire system, and anyone who moved in had only to wait a short time before the Machi treated them as neighbors.
The second people were the Ootnisse. They were descended from a tree-dwelling sloth- like creature, and still preferred to ambulate on all fours upside-down, rather than on their hind legs right-side up. Their buildings were designed with long round rafters and very few stairways, and the upkeep of the floors was done only as an afterthought, or by whomever wanted to use them to travel. They also were a nocturnal people, and slow in thought and action. They had quick tempers, however, and freely gave in to quarrels and disagreements. Their slow natures made those quarrels mild in immediate effect, but long-lasting. Generations would go by with clans refusing to deal with each other for insults done by otherwise long-forgotten ancestors.
They delighted in their Machi neighbors, however, for they found in them a people with whom no offense was usually taken, and thus freed the Ootnisse from the burden of being slighted for years so they could get on with the business at hand. More often than not, business matters were done between Machi and Ootnisse, and not Ootnisse and Ootnisse.
Among them all were the humans. Easily adaptable, the humans lolled about with both species, adopting the slow pace of both, and easing past the frustrations of the contrasting tempers. Humans in the Machi system tended to be quiet people, matching more in learned temperament the Machi than the Ootnisse, but willing and able to behave as either when the situation required.
It was a mixture that worked remarkably well, for in each species there was an equal conviction that the most important thing of all, was one's own people -- and that "one's own people" was defined by the borders of the Machi system. Galactic visitors were treated politely, and travelers went out only when necessary. They were all generally content with their rural, out- of-the-way lives, and anyone who felt otherwise was free to enjoy the rest of the galaxy. Obi-Wan imagined himself living the rest of his life there, and felt a stillness about him that comforted him.
He forced himself to spend time talking with the other passengers, learning what he could about the system from natives, rather than from datadisks. The Machians seemed sincerely pleased to have Obi-Wan coming to their arm of the universe and offered to introduce him to any contacts he might require when they landed. His roommate treated the Jedi as a new member of the family, expecting, as did Obi-Wan, that the Jedi would be there for the remainder of his life. The other Machi onboard the ship treated him much the same way, making Obi-Wan feel at one point that he was returning to a family long-forgotten.
The other passengers were likewise government officials, or trade-representatives, or Machian natives returning home from personal business elsewhere in the galaxy. They discussed their various experiences in the "out there" freely, the Machi chortling at the absurdities they found, the Ootnisse couple wanting nothing more than to get home where the world was built with them in mind. The humans bounced back and forth, concurring with each observation made. It was all very relaxing, a picture totally free of overt turmoil.
Obi-Wan decided he might, after all, enjoy his place here among them. It did not come close to filling the empty space in his heart, but it promised to rend no new holes of loneliness.
His arrival was met with subdued enthusiasm. The ship landed at Cooert, the largest city on Machi IV with a population of nearly half a million. There Obi-Wan was told that as long as he was in the system, he could settle anywhere he desired. He was offered temporary housing in Cooert while he made his choice, but Obi-Wan found it remarkably simple to make. He called up a holomap of the planet and put his finger down. The closest settlement was his new home.
The credits given him by the Temple served him in traveling to the distant town, first by mechanical means, then in the back of a cuerws-drawn wagon on a hard-packed dirt road. The Machi farmers were more than delighted to take him, and one young boy sat with Obi-Wan in the back of the wagon and told him everything he could think of to share.
Obi-Wan was fully apprised of the local gossip by the time they reached Annas. With a population of 14,000, the town was mostly human and Ootnisse, with a small community of Machi living scattered about. It was a rural farming community which saw little in the way of visitors even from the rest of the Machi system. When they arrived in town, the council members were standing ready to greet the Jedi. There was no overt display, only a group of five persons standing before the main road's entrance into town. The two Ootnisse members blinked blearily up at him, extended warm greetings, then left their human counterparts to complete the welcome and trundled off to return to their beds.
The remaining council members extended the hospitality of their town, their planet, and their system, and took him on a short tour of the town, pointing out the crop fields which entirely surrounded the town. Then they presented him with the lodgings available, and again Obi-Wan chose by apparent random selection, simply putting his finger down on the list. He ended up with a two-room hut in the north part of town, far away from both the main residential areas and the so-called techno-district where most of the businesses were located.
The council members showed him to his new address, accepted a single credit for a year's rent, then left the Jedi to make himself at home.
Obi-Wan stood in the middle of the front room. It was designed to be both public area and bedroom; the second room was for the kitchen and bath. The back door led to a large yard with a water pump and lines hung for laundry, smoked meats, and whatever else he might use them for. There was a small shed in the far corner which opened to all four yards which bordered it -- apparently tools were common property. It was all very rustic. Obi-Wan found it settling.
He unpacked in mere moments, arranging his clothing in the single recessed area which served as a closet, left his reader and disks on the table, and put the Muftassan sphere on the small shelf above the fireplace. He knew he would not be needing the fireplace, though the winters here were supposed to be cold. Such things as cold did not often bother him anymore, thanks to his Jedi training.
That done, Obi-Wan turned his attention to the rest of his new home. The yard had an area which had once been used for a garden. That was good -- he could grow much of his own food. The people here would gladly support him in return for his services, but, as he would hardly be giving them much service, he hated to not avail himself of every chance to provide for himself. Perhaps he could offer other services to the town. As a trained Jedi he had many skills to offer, from mechanics repair to teaching school. He decided he would speak to the council about it later.
His immediate neighbors were few: five homes as small as his along the same street, and behind was another row of small huts which appeared only slightly larger. All were made from adobe and a sort of thick, hollow grass. Sturdy, light, and easy to repair by simply going out into the yard and digging up materials. He could see some of his neighbors moving about, some tending to their homes and yards, others walking along the street with a variety of bags, totes, and back-burdens. One man smiled hesitantly and gave a half-wave which Obi-Wan returned warmly.
He suspected that by nightfall everyone in town would be talking about their newest arrival. In a town such as this, anything unusual was news and would provide conversation and speculation for everyone for days. Eventually that would die down and he would become just another fixture, just another neighbor, but for now he was news.
He spent the rest of his day wandering the town, learning where everything was and meeting people. Everyone was friendly and, though he detected only the slightest reserve, he felt as if he were being welcomed with open arms.
He slept that night on his cot, dreaming of many worlds, and a companion at his side.
Life in Annas was quiet. Nothing of much note ever happened, so the townspeople made much of what did. Every birth, every death, every high mark on a child's school report was greeted with enthusiasm and shared with neighbors. Conversely, it took very little time for the townsfolk to become used to Obi-Wan's presence in their town, and within two weeks he was no longer the main topic of conversation.
Curon's plow-oryx had twins and that good news distracted everyone from the Jedi. Obi- Wan was grateful, and eased himself into the background. He remained accessible, of course, and soon the people learned they could call upon him for assistance with nearly anything and they would find him happy to oblige. He raised a wagon while the driver repaired a wheel, broken- down on the main thoroughfare. He assisted the doctor with easing the pain of a mother's difficult childbirth. He instructed the council of a town on the other side of the planet, via communicator, on the best way to negotiate water rights with the next town over. And after being on Machi IV nearly five weeks, he had performed almost no other official actions. In between his few duties as a Jedi, he tended to his garden, kept his home cleaned of the dust which blew in constantly, and meditated. He was sitting in meditation one afternoon, his thoughts quiet and completely stilled, when he felt someone approaching. He opened his eyes and waited, affixing a pleasant smile on his face. He felt tired, but this was nothing new. Since a week after his arrival, when he had set his routine for his days, he had discovered that he was growing more tired. Each day he awoke with slightly less energy and by now only the deepest meditations alleviated it, and then only for a time.
It did not matter. He had the energy to do what he needed to do.
"Hello?" A young Machi boy stuck his head inside the open door. Obi-Wan rarely shut the door, and never locked it, as was the custom of the entire town. There was no theft in a place where people shared everything they had if one only asked.
"Hello, Cardil." Obi-Wan pushed his smile slightly wider for the child. He could detect worry and fear in the boy, and sent undercurrents of reassurance back.
"Um.. Jedi, sir? Could you please come help me? Dogan's sick, I think."
"Of course." Obi-Wan rose to his feet and followed the boy. Cardil grabbed onto his hand and tugged slightly, hurrying them along. Obi-Wan quickened his pace, letting the boy take him towards his family's home. Obi-Wan did not know who Dogan was, and wondered why the boy had sought him and not the doctor. Perhaps the woman was busy elsewhere.
They arrived at a four-family home, and Cardil took him around the side to the backyard. There, lying at the feet of a young Machi girl, was a small sant. The family pet. Obi-Wan went directly to the animal's side and knelt.
He laid his hands upon its head and felt quickly with the Force. Dogan looked at him with its green, shuttered eyes, panting heavily. It was in obvious pain, but it took Obi-Wan a moment to determine why. When he did, he smiled faintly.
"Here is the problem," he said to the boy, and pushed back the long tan fur that covered the sant's side. There they all saw the short piece of metal, stuck partway into its skin. "It seems to have struck something inside him." Obi-Wan knew it had hit an organ but did not want to worry the children by giving details. "I can remove it, and give the healing process a head start. One of you come hold Dogan's head so he does not move."
Cardil nodded and moved quickly to his pet, getting down on the ground to hold him still. Obi-Wan waited until he was ready, then extended a tiny bit of the Force along the metal, encasing it, then pulling gently. Dogan whimpered once, but Cardil spoke calmly to it and kept it from moving away. Obi-Wan sent a soothing blanket of calm over the sant's mind, easing its pain and encouraging it to heal.
All in all, it was over in mere minutes. The children thanked him, promised to keep the sant lying in its bed in the house until fully healed, and further promised to inform their parents to have the animal checked by the vet. As Obi-Wan was about to take his leave, Cardil whispered to the girl, who then ran into the house.
"She'll be right back," Cardil told him, and Obi-Wan waited, curious. He watched as the boy ran his hands over every inch of his pet's body, checking and double-checking for any other missed injuries and reassuring himself that Dogan was, in fact, going to be fine.
The back door slammed open with a bang, and the girl was running back towards them, hands cupped together. She ran right up to Obi-Wan and stopped, holding her cupped hands up. Obi-Wan held out his own hands, and she dropped something cold into them. She smiled at him, and he looked to see what he had been given.
He smiled, reflexively, with genuine delight for the first time in six weeks. He held a tiny carved ice crystal, the colour and form of a winged insect native to Machi II. The craftsmanship was delicate and detailed... and highly prized by the children of the town for its juicy sweetness and spicy aftertaste. He held it carefully and gave them a bow. "Thank you."
She grinned up at him. "It's boiun flavour. My favourite."
"Mine as well," he told her, returning her grin. She giggled, then dropped to the ground beside Dogan and Cardil. Both children quickly became focused on their pet once again, and Obi-Wan was able to take his leave. He carried the crystalline candy in one hand until he reached the street, at which point he popped it in his mouth and enjoyed it for the entire walk home.
That night he dreamt. When he woke he remembered nothing but a darkness, and his voice calling out for his former Master. As he rolled out of bed he pushed the dream out of his mind. There was no use in calling for Qui-Gon now -- he wouldn't hear. Obi-Wan took a deep breath and moved to sit on the floor to meditate and gather his strength for the coming day.
The sun touched his face through the window and its warmth spread through him.
For twelve nights the dream remained the same. Darkness, and his voice crying for his former Master. Each morning the feeling of exhaustion deepened a little more as he pushed himself out of bed. He resolutely ignored it, spending as much of his free time in meditation as he could to preserve his energy. The townspeople continued to call on him for assistance, and once he had even been summoned to Cooert. Nothing terribly urgent, nothing terribly dangerous. When he had returned he scarcely knew why the Governor had called him to sit in on the meeting. But he served quietly and with competence, and the Machians began telling him how glad they were he was among them.
He spoke to no one of his life before Machi IV, spoke to no one of his dreaming or growing tiredness. It did not impinge upon his ability to perform his duties -- the Force was as strong as it always was and it took concentration, not strength, to use it. As for his past... he was here to leave it behind, so he was best served by allowing it to remain unspoken.
But the dreams were troubling him slightly. At first he dismissed them as stress and loneliness. Then he wondered if Qui-Gon might be in some trouble. He surreptitiously checked the bond they had once shared, and felt no echoes of distress from his former Master. The bond itself was broken and he could not bring himself to examine its torn edges closely enough to discover if there was any emotion leaking through it. He had sat in meditation for half a day after that, forcing himself to close his mind off to everything.
But the dreams changed after the twelfth night. This one he remembered more clearly as he awoke. He had been walking in a long dark room with no doors nor windows. As before, he shouted for Qui-Gon and received no answer. Then somewhere in the darkness he heard a whisper.
"He will not answer you, Obi-Wan. Please stop shouting."
He had woken in the early hours before dawn, nightfall still wrapped heavily around him, and cried.
The dream remained that way for another four days. Obi-Wan had taken to remaining in his tiny home, letting the dust take over where it willed. He moved only to take what little care of his garden was required. No one disturbed him in that time, though that fact barely registered. Obi-Wan could not force himself to leave his home and seek out his neighbors, his level of energy barely enough to get him through the length of his tiny hut and yard.
Obi-Wan knew he had to do something, but he did not know what. He had no idea what was wrong, other than the pain he felt everywhere inside him. He knew what that pain was, though, and did not think it should be causing such exhaustion. But thinking that was not helping him. Finally, he conceded that his heartache might actually be draining his physical energy somehow.
He sat in meditation and focused on the broken bond. He could feel gaps, tiny places where he might push through and reach his former Master. There were places where it might be healed and the bond reformed.
With a gasp, he slapped down upon it. Using the Force, and sheer determination, he washed over the broken bits with energy until they were fully covered... fully cut off. For a moment there was utter silence, and Obi-Wan stared at the place inside him which had once been alive and vibrant with his Master's presence. It was quiet, hollow, and echoed with only his own feelings now.
He felt alone. Desolate, rejected, and full of harrowing pain. But he could also feel that his energy no longer drained away from him through those tiny leaks. The bandage held fast, just like the one he had placed on Dogan's side.
When he ended his meditation, he felt strangely light, as if there were nothing left inside.
His energy began slowly to return after that. The dreams, however, only got worse. He slept little at night, and his neighbors began asking him gentle questions: how was he settling in, was there anything they could do? He found himself being provided with covered dishes in the mornings, warm meals more substantial than he needed but offered with smiling, worried well- wishes. He took the food and gave his thanks, and soon their expressions told him he looked less tired, if not less troubled.
Yurgia, the young mother who lived two homes down from his, brought him a cup of soup stock one evening, left over from her own cooking. She remained a moment, obviously hesitant to speak but just as obviously wanting to.
Obi-Wan took pity on her conflict and asked in a gentle tone, "Was there something I could do for you?"
"No, sir. I was wondering if there was something I could do for you? Forgive me if I am intruding upon private matters, but you do not look well. Are you ill? Should we call Cooert and have them send a doctor if Masti will not do?"
Her warm brown eyes conveyed only warmth and concern. Obi-Wan felt touched by it, and a little ashamed that he should be bringing such worries to the people he was here to serve. "I am not sick," he hastened to assure her. "I was... suffering from emotional distress, which occurred before I ever arrived here. I believe I have dealt with it. I shall recover... I am already recovering."
It was not a complete lie -- he was regaining his strength. But it was not the complete truth, either. The dreams still came.
"Oh!" She was surprised, but it melted quickly into sympathy. "Is there anything we can do? I asked Curgin if we should invite you to dinner with us, we didn't know if the company would be welcome or not. I imagine you are used to a life much different from this--" she began with a slight frown.
"In fact, I chose this assignment because it offered exactly what I wanted. But I thank you for your concern. The people of Annas have been nothing but wonderful ever since I arrived."
She smiled briefly. "You're a people of Annas, too, sir, now. But I'm glad you feel welcomed. Would you care to dine with us? Or do you prefer to be alone?"
"I... perhaps another night I shall accept your offer. I have little appetite just now and would hate to waste good cooking." He'd been trying to meditate all evening, and the strain of failing had stolen what appetite he'd had.
"Oh...." She looked worried again, and this time she reached for his hand. "Are you sure you're all right? Can you tell me what hurt you so badly?"
Obi-Wan looked away, but answered. "I left someone behind--"
"But why?" she interrupted. "Our request for a Jedi was not so urgent it should have meant you left someone behind!" Her distress was sharper now and Obi-Wan spoken quickly to soothe it.
"No, it happened before I even knew of the assignment here. We parted ways for other reasons.... I came here to be someplace I could... learn to forget. Learn to be without."
"Oh... I am so sorry." She held his hand tightly for a moment, then dropped it. "I understand. My husband and I had such a horrible fight a year before we were married. I thought it was over, that we would never be together. It broke my heart." Her voice grew quiet. "I thank the gods every day that we made up."
Obi-Wan nodded, ignoring the pang her words caused. "I shall be fine, Yurgia. I am touched by your concern and appreciate your understanding." The calm words hid the silent wail that was growing in his heart. Never see him again? Never be together?
"Then I will leave you to your privacy, now, and invite you to join us another time." She gave him a pretty smile, then took her leave.
Obi-Wan watched her go before taking the cup to the kitchen to prepare the soup. A happy woman, content with her life and her family... married for three years now to a man she loved more than anything. Obi-Wan began slicing vegetables, using the Force to guide his knife when he could no longer see.
That night the dream came to him early. He was walking down a path, hooded over with tall trees. He could not tell if there was a sun shining overhead or if it was night. There were soft sounds of birds in the distance, but nothing moved in the shadows. There was no sensation of foreboding or danger, but Obi-Wan found himself on edge. He continued walking, looking over his shoulder and trying to peer into the shadows. There was nothing to be seen.
He heard a wind beginning, far in the distance. As it howled, it grew closer, until Obi- Wan found himself tensing in anticipation of its arrival. When it hit, his robes were practically ripped from him, the vicious wind tearing and pulling at the edges of the cloth as he threw his arms around his head. The wind screamed all about him, and in the noise he heard a sound which caught his ear. Straining, he listened for it again.
When the sound came again it was dim under the howling and he could barely make it out. But he knew it. He knew it well.
"Master?" he called out. Turning this way and that, he searched for the owner of that voice, the voice he knew better than his own. He saw nothing. "Master?!"
"Padawan," it came again, sounding farther away but also somehow clearer. Frowning, he tried to discover the direction it was coming from. The wind made it impossible to tell.
Obi-Wan thought frantically. Was Qui-Gon trying to reach him through that bond which he had closed over? Was he in trouble? He reached down inside himself for that spot, covered with such a thick wall he did not wonder that such a storm would have been required to break through even this much. He scrabbled at it, calling back, "Master!" hoping Qui-Gon would hear him and know he was coming.
The barricade he'd erected there felt stiff and resistant; he frantically shoved his will at it and tried to pull it free. Finally, as the wind picked up even more, filling his ears and his mind, he tore a corner loose.
"Padawan..." he heard again, and through that freed corner he saw his former Master standing with Anakin. The boy was performing a routine first-level kata, Qui-Gon was standing to one side, observing. Obi-Wan let his hands drop. The wind sailed in between himself and the hole he'd partially uncovered. It swirled, and Obi-Wan watched as, in response to some urge he barely voiced, it pulled the cover back in place.
He was sitting again in meditation, trying vainly to find some measure of peace. Seven days and he had had no sleep; even his meditations were no longer giving him the energy he needed to overcome the lack of rest. The people of Annas had left him alone the last three days. Yurgia had apparently spread the word of his problem; the few times he ventured out and caught the eye of one of his neighbors he found only sympathy and understanding, along with offers of help from each person he saw. He'd finally asked only to have some time to himself, though he'd made it clear that he was to be summoned, should an emergency arise. But he hoped that with a few days of silence and solitude he could find some way to begin healing this vast pain inside him.
He tried to reason his way through it. That failed. He tried to give in to it, let it wash over him in hopes he would emerge on the other side, whole again. That had almost worked, except it left him longing even more for his distant love. He'd been able to face the world, though, for a single day afterward. He'd gone out and walked the length of the town and beyond, spending the day in the fields with only birds for company.
He had stopped and spoken briefly with one of the farmers, passing easy comments on the day and the recent business of the town. He hadn't stayed long, but he had felt a surge of reassurance from the man as he'd walked away. It had warmed him, and he had felt yet again that his choice -- given that he had to make such a choice at all -- had been the right one. This was a place he could live the rest of his life.
That had been two days ago and even with that brief respite, he still wasn't sleeping. The dreams crept into the edges of his awareness while he was still awake, threatening to cloak him in their darkness and loneliness. In the face of them he could not rest, and now, as he sat to meditate, he could not even find his bearings. He tried, focusing with all his might at first. Then his concentration became more desperate and once he found himself crying out for help.
He collapsed forward, head falling into his hands and he sat curled up. There was no response.
"Why are you doing this?" came a voice. It was soft, coming at him from the back of his mind. It was not his Master's voice.
Obi-Wan stilled and waited. He felt himself slipping easily into meditation and the voice grew slightly louder.
"He does not hear you. He has a new apprentice. Why do you persist in calling for him?"
The voice sounded calm, almost gentle. He had no idea who it was, but he answered anyhow. "He's my... was my Master. He always came when I called, before."
"Before he ceased being your Master," the voice returned, kindly.
"Yes...." Obi-Wan felt himself slumping, though here there was only stuff of the spirit and not the flesh. "He won't answer me, will he?"
"No, young Kenobi. He will not."
"I wish he would." The words escaped before he could stop them. Was there wisdom in telling this to a voice he did not know? That question was followed by another. Did it matter?
"Why?" The question surprised him. "Because... because I love him. I call for him because I still wish to be at his side." He wondered if he would be chastised. If the voice were a voice of wisdom, as he was beginning to feel it was, it should tell him to give up his foolish desire.
"Ah. No wonder."
The voice fell silent and Obi-Wan waited. When it did not respond he grew confused. Was that all? Why was he being visited by this voice, if all it was going to do was ask questions?
"Why do you suppose he does not answer you, then?"
Obi-Wan frowned as he considered. "Because he does not love me. Because he does not need me at his side," was his eventual reply.
The voice fell silent and after another moment Obi-Wan felt it go away. He remained there in meditation, sitting in the darkness, alone.
He sat there again after his evening meal. The second meditation found him balanced between his desires and love, and those his former Master obviously felt for him. If Qui-Gon did not love him, if he did not need Obi-Wan at his side, it would only cause them both discomfort if Obi-Wan were to force himself upon him. Not that he would force his affections, physically, on Qui-Gon. But Qui-Gon had not protested his leaving... so perhaps that demonstrated that his former Master knew it was for the best. Obi-Wan tried to place that acceptance of his former Master's feelings alongside his own, searching for a balance. When he found none forthcoming, he tipped the scale, letting his desires slip from the weights.
When Obi-Wan finished, he decided not to meditate again for a while. As he stood, looking out the window at the end of the evening sun, he realised he was on the path to spending all his time inside himself, and that would do no one any good. He walked to his front door and stood there, looking out. The town was quiet, as the day-dwelling folk were home for dinner and family, and the night-dwelling folk were not yet stirring. Obi-Wan suddenly realised he was completely out of touch. He had no idea what was happening in town, in the entire system. He had no idea whether or not he had been needed. Though he felt confident he would have felt it, if there had been some serious need, he felt a stab of guilt that he was denying all his abilities to them.
The Temple had sent the Machians a Jedi, and so, aching heart or not, he would have to see that they had one. He strode out into the street and headed for the main thoroughfare, reaching out with the Force to lead him... wherever he needed to go.
He ended up at the other end of town, at a small garage owned by an Ootnisse family. Two of them were outside, climbing over a tractor. From the sound of it they were trying -- and failing -- to repair it. Obi-Wan walked over and very calmly asked if he could be of assistance.
As he worked with them, he determined to spend the greater part of each day in town lending his help to whomever or whatever should require it. The affairs of his heart could wait until he had the free time to attend to them. When the tractor was repaired he found it strangely easy to give the two mechanics a smile in return for their thanks, and, that night, he slept.
The third time he meditated, an entire day of helpful deeds later, he found himself walking the stormy path he'd walked before. The trees were slightly less shadowed, and he could almost see movement in the distance. He felt no sensation of wind about to arise, so he simply walked down the path. He remembered what he had heard and seen the first time, and hoped he would not be confronted with such visions, again. He did not need to be reminded that Qui-Gon did not--
"Yes, he rejected you." The voice came at him.
"He did not," Obi-Wan replied. He tried to maintain his center of calm, but he hadn't quite found it yet.
"Didn't he?" the voice returned, and there was the slightest hint of mockery in the tone. "When he knew how you felt, the pain and betrayal... you do not think you hid your feelings from him?"
"He never spoke of them." Obi-Wan tried to remember what had been said, but the voice swirled again, like the wind.
"How could he have not known? Your Master, the one who touched your very soul as he molded it in the image of a Jedi... how could he have not known your love? Or your pain?"
Obi-Wan did not answer. If Qui-Gon had known, then he must have not spoken of it for a reason. But what reason? Why had he not even said he was sorry Obi-Wan would have to face this separation?
"He had other things to do, young Kenobi. The boy... he is important."
"Yes," Obi-Wan agreed, but he couldn't shake the doubt. Too important to spare a few moments, that Qui-Gon could have at least addressed Obi-Wan's concerns? Why hadn't his Master given him that much? He felt a hint of anger and tried to let it go.
"Perhaps he forgot," the voice suggested. But the tone made Obi-Wan think there was something else to it, some other reason. He couldn't think of what... but it made no sense that Qui-Gon would have said nothing. The voice went silent then, and Obi-Wan stood for a long time upon that path.
He did not sleep that night, but not because sleep eluded him as it had for the week before. Obi-Wan fought it off and lay in his bed, staring up at the ceiling and asking himself why. Why had Qui-Gon said nothing? Why had he not even mentioned it, when he caught up with Obi-Wan before he left? That brief conversation on the landing pad... Qui-Gon had said he wanted to say something, but not what. He said he regretted not having the chance to tell me things he thought I already knew. But what do I know? What did I know, standing there with him for the last time?
Obi-Wan thought back and remembered the feelings that had been there. His own, Qui- Gon's. Sorrow. Regret. Hope. Qui-Gon will miss me, he recalled. And there at the end, the words. He'd said them, words neither had bothered saying in all the years they had been together. Unnecessary words when they were so constantly in touch of each other's hearts and minds. But that day, as Obi-Wan prepared to leave, he had felt... so many things. Things he could not, even now, fully twist apart. Love. Sorrow. Regret. Determination.
Which were his, and which Qui-Gon's? He didn't know. He realised he was only getting himself more confused, tangling his memories and dreams together. He considered meditating, but decided not to as soon as the suggestion presented itself. His meditations were beginning to be as tortured as his dreams had been, before he'd ceased sleeping. In fact, between those dreams and his meditations, he was beginning to find his only respite when he left his home and wandered the town. He considered doing so now, but when he checked the subtle overlay of the Force, he discovered no need for a Jedi tonight. Not in Annas, not anywhere on Machi IV.
He could have simply gone to visit his Ootnisse neighbors, but he was reluctant to impose his troubled company on them. He remained where he was and soon, despite himself, he fell asleep.
This time it wasn't the path. He was in a corridor, one he did not recognise. The walls were tall and when he looked up he could not see the ceiling. The hall stretched far into the distance, and he could not quite make out what was at the far ends. Shadows, but moving shadows, as if there were something down there. He wondered for a moment if he really cared to see what it was.
He had a feeling the dream would come to him, regardless of what he did. With a sigh and a shrug of acceptance he began walking. He had only gone two steps when his feet were caught. He looked down and saw his feet had become encased in the same white-gray metal of which the floor and walls were made. He gave his legs a tug, but could not pull his feet free.
Gathering the Force, he surrounded the metal trapping him and searched for a way to free himself. There didn't seem to be one.
"Now what is the matter?"
Obi-Wan whipped his head up, gaping. Qui-Gon stood there, looking at him. Looking at his feet, rather, with a frown of disapproval. "Mas-- Qui-Gon, I'm--"
"Trapped, I can see that."
"I--" Obi-Wan was stunned. Not only to see his former Master, but to see that look on his face and to hear that nearly impatient tone. Qui-Gon had not been so severely displeased with him since he'd deliberately concluded his Fourth Kata by throwing down his lightsaber and refusing to go on, insisting the robot targets had been mis-programmed. "I was about to...." Try and get myself free, he concluded silently.
Qui-Gon sighed and walked forward. "Obi-Wan, if you cannot keep yourself out of trouble, how am I supposed to train Anakin? I can't keep running to you every time you trip over a shadow." With that, the Jedi Master waved his hand and the metal around Obi-Wan's feet disappeared.
Obi-Wan turned and ran.
When he awoke, he lay there in utter stillness until the sun rose. When it did, he did, and left the hut to break his fast with the family next door.
"I suppose he doesn't."
The voice spoke to him deep in his meditations. Obi-Wan tried to frown, but he could not focus. It was as if he were the wind, blowing faintly through the trees. The same trees, he realised. The same path. He looked around him and saw that the shadows that had always been in the distance, impenetrable, were now within his reach. He remembered the voice had spoken and turned his attention back to it.
"Doesn't what?" he asked. He felt odd. As if he were hollow -- he could no longer feel his pain, he realised. There was nothing where it had been, but a stirring.
"Care, young Kenobi. I saw how he treated you." The voice sounded sympathetic, and Obi-Wan found himself trembling, tree branches waving at his touch.
"How could he treat me that way? I didn't even ask for his help that time, and he... he treated me like an incompetent child!" The burst of anger dissipated and he found himself moving among the trees, blowing gently as the wind.
"Yes... it was thoughtless, I'm sure."
"Thoughtless," Obi-Wan repeated. He caught sight of one of the shadows and moved towards it. He found he could reach inside it, and he did so. There was a face there. Anakin's. Obi-Wan slapped it away. "He wasn't thoughtless, he was just... disappointed." He couldn't blame his Master, really. His former Master. Qui-Gon had other duties now.
"He should have been more gentle with your feelings, though," the voice mused. Obi-Wan felt as if he, wind that he was, could wrap himself around that voice even as it came at him from all directions. As if it, too, were wind. "He probably had a lot on his mind." The excuse sounded feeble even as he said it. It was unlike Qui-Gon to be so abrupt with him. He usually used that tone on those with whom he had lost his patience. Those whom he felt would not understand a simple request.
"Understandable, I'm sure." The voice didn't seem to believe it.
Obi-Wan didn't, either. "He's never done that to me before." He knew he was exaggerating slightly. He had on occasion been too stubborn for his Master's patience. But he didn't retrieve his words. "I can't believe he would treat me that way."
"The boy takes all his focus, I imagine."
"The boy!" Obi-Wan yelled, anger ripping through him without warning. That Qui-Gon would treat him this way, all because of a child whom everyone else knew was too dangerous to train. That Qui-Gon would... would abandon him, so completely, in favour of Anakin. Did Qui- Gon think so little of him, or so greatly of the boy? The anger left again, leaving only the sorrow that had been a part of him since he had left Coruscant.
"It is no excuse to... belittle you so," the voice whispered in his ear.
"He doesn't," came his protest, but the words felt dull and meaningless. The reflex to defend his Master was still so strong--
"That you would do so, even from yourself? You let yourself feel this pain because he has convinced you he is always right? How can it be right to treat you this way, without the barest decency and consideration?" The words wrapped themselves around him, echoing in the trees and shadows.
Obi-Wan took a breath to reply, and found himself screaming. All his frustration, all his pain, all his confusion wrapped around him, the trees, the voice. He shook with the strength of it as it grew, how his Master had betrayed him, turned on him, and now fairly forgotten him. The trees bent nearly double from the force of the wind as he howled among them, ripping and tearing at the branches. Anakin's face was in that shadow there, and he dove for it and shred it to pieces.
"Yes, yes!" The voice spoke softly.
The encouragement startled Obi-Wan, and he froze. Somehow he felt the voice's silent consternation but he slowly looked around. The forest was nearly destroyed, and there on the path was a shattered image of Anakin, strewn among the leaves and branches. He stared, ignoring the voice that was trying to convince him he was doing the right thing.
"What have I done?" Obi-Wan whispered and he felt himself falling still.
"You have done what is needed, young Kenobi. Here, where you cannot hurt those around you, you can let go your pain. You can let go your anger and do no... true... harm."
Obi-Wan considered the image of Anakin. The voice could be right, he realised. This was merely an image....
"You could even," the voice began, and an image of Qui-Gon appeared. The image held the same disdainful expression it had earlier.
Obi-Wan looked at it for a moment, then he was propelled forward. He rushed up to the image, another scream building inside him, and he found himself wanting to knock his Master down and demand to know why he was treating him this way. He wanted to hold out all of his pain and throw it in his Master's face. The rage built and he drew his strength up. Qui-Gon's hard blue eyes stared back at him as he rushed forward... and he stopped, an inch away. He returned the gaze solemnly. The voice behind him said something, but he didn't hear. All he saw was Qui-Gon.
"Why, Master?" he asked plaintively.
"He won't answer you," the voice told him harshly. "He never did. He never will." The voice seemed to speak in the anger Obi-Wan had felt, the anger he had used to destroy the trees and the picture of Anakin.
Obi-Wan considered striking out, ridding himself of his pain as the voice instructed. Behind him the voice began to push him, whispering for him to let it go, let it all go. He felt rage and horrible hurt building around him again and he knew he could reach out, feed upon it, and use it to drive a blow which would destroy this image before him.
This image of Qui-Gon. The one he loved.
The anger died away and Obi-Wan raised his hand -- for he was himself, again, and no longer the wind. He touched Qui-Gon's face. In that instant the image vanished and the wind howled around him, tearing at him and beating against him in all the anger he realised he had been meant to borrow. He had been meant to draw it inside him and join it with his own.
He turned and frowned at the dream that surrounded him. "I will not hate him."
The wind screamed in frustration and suddenly it sounded human. Obi-Wan reached out, wondering just who it was that had been leading him, and it slipped away immediately. Harnessing the Force he tried to pursue it, but the source of hatred vanished, leaving only a still, empty forest behind.
Obi-Wan made himself awaken, and found he was trembling. It all began to make sense. Now that the presence was gone, he could see himself more clearly and feel how it had crept in behind his normal barriers, taken and twisted his longing into something darker. He pushed himself upright, breathing deeply, and the dreams fell open to him.
They had not been his. He could see, now, the mark of some other, forcing them upon his subconscious. In his true pain and loneliness he had missed it, had allowed it to grow inside him. Anger, pain, slowly drawing him closer and closer... to the dark side.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and sought his center. It was remarkably easy to find after so many weeks of struggling for it. He stayed there until his heart slowed and he could trace all the paths the Dark Lord had followed within Obi-Wan's mind. Touching them, he found them beginning to heal already. He let the Force wash through him, let its peace and resiliency bolster him until he could trust his own thoughts once again.
Then he opened his eyes and drew a shuddering breath, staring at the dusty floor upon which he sat. A slight breeze stirred the dust and the edge of his robes, but it held no rancor. Just breeze, this, and not a thing of evil whipping through him. He had been so close. He had struck out twice, letting the anger guide his actions, and even now he could see how easy it would have been to let it engulf him.
Had it not meant striking down his Master. That, he could not do. Loved in return or not, he could not deny that what he felt, what he truly felt, was love. He hurt, yes, but that was as much his own doing, with running away from Qui-Gon without giving either of them a chance to attend to his feelings. For all Qui-Gon had never said what Obi-Wan had wanted to hear, he had never asked.
Obi-Wan had never asked if he might remain.
He stood quickly and left the hut without a look back. It took him only a few minutes to reach the city council center, and only another moment more to find the secretary on duty. His calm request to call home was granted without a question.
The trip back was only as long as the trip out, but it felt longer. Obi-Wan tried again and again to calm himself, find his center, or simply rest. The mark of the long weeks were still on him, he knew from his fellow passengers' reaction, even if he did not feel it or see it in the mirror. He had been without a decent night's sleep for weeks, had eaten little even at the behest of his neighbors, and the effects of his battle with the Sith -- for he knew his enemy now -- had left a hollowness in his eyes he could not quite get rid of.
He had to know just how much had been lies, and what was truth. He had rooted out how his own emotions had been contorted, but his memories of Qui-Gon's were still unclear. He had to know what Qui-Gon felt. Whether he had truly cast his apprentice aside in favor of the new, or if it had all been his own pain, twisting memory. His pain and the Dark Lord. Obi-Wan frowned at the thought of it, wondering why the Sith had sought him out, unless it was simply that he was an easy target. Battered by depression, alone, and one of those responsible for destroying the Sith on Naboo -- perhaps that was answer enough. An easy target just when the Sith Lord was seeking revenge.
He would have to speak to the Council when he arrived on Coruscant, as well. What little he had been able to tell them in the brief transmitted message was enough that they granted him the return. He'd merely had to say 'Sith,' and they had demanded he come and tell them everything.
Everything. He hoped to speak to Qui-Gon first, to alleviate his fears before laying them all before the Council. But if not -- or if his fears for Qui-Gon's feelings on the situation proved true -- he was not afraid to admit what had happened. How, and why, he had not recognised the attack for what it was until the last. There would be no blame, he knew. The Council did not blame, it only fixed. Maybe they would help fix his still bleeding wounds, as well.
And if Qui-Gon did not love him....
Obi-Wan knew it would be all right. He would not -- in fact could not -- deny his love. If he returned to Machi IV with as little as he had taken the first time, at least he would know. He could grieve in peace, and without the Sith's dark influence perhaps he might even find it bearable. Annas would become his home, and he knew that in time he would come to enjoy it.
But he would miss Qui-Gon.
But that was a question he could not answer until he spoke to Qui-Gon.
When the ship landed he stepped out onto the landing pad and found Master Dolee waiting for him. He broke into a wide smile and went to her, accepting her hands as she reached out for his. "And where is your Master, Padawan?" he teased her in a shuddering voice, feeling his heart cry out in a relief he had not known he needed to feel.
She laughed, hugged him, then turned them towards a shuttle. She put one arm around his shoulder as they walked and he felt warmth flowing all around and through him. He wanted to weep at it, the sensation of being cared for surrounding him as it had not done in months, though surrounded he had been in Annas. The people there cared for him, but, not being Force- sensitive, could not reach out and embrace him thus. He gave himself a moment to absorb it, then he turned to her.
"He will be at the Temple by the time we arrive, Obi-Wan. He and Anakin were on Doral."
He smiled. "Am I so easily read?"
She gave his hand a squeeze. "You fairly shout his name, Obi-Wan. And it is no wonder. I can feel your love for him... now that you no longer hide it tucked away inside yourself. One would have to be Force-blind not to feel it."
He ducked his head, blushing slightly. "I fear I cannot bring myself to control my feelings. I... I was so close to eradicating them all into hatred. There was so much anger around me that... that part of me feels that if I tried to deny my love I would slip back again into the Sith Lord's clutches."
"I understand. Just try not to go bouncing down the hallways when we arrive, hm?"
"Oh... all right." He held his face straight for a moment, then he laughed aloud at her teasing. She smiled in return and they boarded the shuttle. In moments they were on their way, and Obi-Wan was telling her what he had seen.
He knew he would be telling the story again to the Council, and again to Qui-Gon. But he did not want to hold this back -- he did not want any hint of shame to creep in and prevent him from sharing any of what had been done. Shame led to fear, fear led to shame. Both led to the Dark Side.
He shivered, and told her quietly of the first dreams.
When they landed at the Temple she led him off as he was still telling her how his meditations had progressed. She listened intently, offering no disapproval at all. He was engrossed in his description of the dark path through the forest when she led him into the Council chamber. The Council was there, and he began to start his story over.
"Simply continue, Obi-Wan," Dolee instructed, and he did so.
"The dreams stopped when I could no longer sleep. Then they intruded upon my meditations. I found myself... becoming more and more depressed, until I felt nearly filled with my pain. I had to stop meditating, in fact, in order to escape it."
"Wise, that was. Reach you there, the Dark Lord could not," Yoda observed quietly.
Obi-wan nodded, grateful for the kind words. He recalled that the Sith's words had, at first, seemed kind as well. How could he have mistaken them for true kindness? Because he could not see clearly, he told himself. His pain had blinded him. He felt the burden lightening even more at the realisation, and he resumed his story. Smoothly he told them of the dream in which Qui-Gon had scolded him for allowing himself to be trapped. He felt Master Dolee's hand on his arm and he forced himself to continue, describing in as few words as necessary the final battle.
"I could not do it," he concluded in a whisper. He felt utterly drained. "I could not strike out at my Master... and that is when I found I had been led down the wrong path."
"Not far, I think," came gentle words behind him.
Obi-Wan whirled, shocked. He had not felt his Master enter the room... yes, he realised an instant later, he had. He had felt his Master ever since he had entered the Temple, but the presence had been so familiar and subtle that he had not needed to interrupt his story to Dolee to acknowledge it.
Now, however, he moved quickly to stand before Qui-Gon. He looked exactly as he had in that final dream, staring down at him.... Obi-Wan felt his eyes begin to fill as he remembered the hate that had been pressed upon him, driving him to hate the man he loved more than anything.
Then Qui-Gon was holding him, tightly, pulling him as close as he could and whispering in his ear. "I do love you, Obi-Wan. I do."
Obi-Wan began to sob, the pain finally uncoiling from within. The relief and joy built until he thought he could stand it no more. Through it, Qui-Gon held him, repeating the words in his ear until Obi-Wan remembered, and reached inside himself and tore the wall between them away. Shaking, bleeding again at the force of it, he nonetheless rejoiced as the words sounded inside his mind.
"I love you."
He buried himself inside that love and replied.
"I love you, too."
He did not know how long they stood there. When he raised his head and looked back over his shoulder, he saw the Jedi were waiting patiently for him. He swallowed and tried to regain his composure long enough to answer their questions. He did not let go of Qui-Gon, nor did Qui-Gon ease his hold on him.
"Do you know anything more of the Sith Lord?" Master Windu asked.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Nothing more than I have told you. I never saw his face, and once I recognised him he left; I was unable to follow him." He swallowed; the Sith had hoped he would follow. He felt Qui-Gon's silent reassurance through their bond, and he smiled.
"We have enough information," Master Windu said. "Now we only need to know what you require, other than a visit to the healers. You look as though you could use a day or two in their care." The Master Jedi gave him a slight smile.
"I... I don't know. I came only to tell you about the Sith. And to see Qui-Gon." Obi- Wan turned back to his Master, felt the love and welcome in his arms. He felt as if he would happily spend the rest of his life in that embrace.
He felt a delighted laugh of acceptance from Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan grinned, then looked up in amazement. Wordlessly, he asked again.
Qui-Gon answered by kissing him. Deeply, drawing him in and holding him with mind, soul and body. Obi-Wan felt himself shaking, too weak and surprised to do more than let him in.
Dimly he heard an amused Windu ask, "Should we leave them alone, then?"
"Need us, they do not," replied an equally amused Yoda. "Need each other, they do."
Obi-Wan felt himself beginning to blush again, but then Qui-Gon ran a finger down the side of his face and he shivered. He wanted to pull Qui-Gon to him, kiss him again soundly. Qui-Gon leant down and let him. Obi-Wan tried to lose himself in that kiss, let the past two months vanish completely. He pulled Qui-Gon's head closer, wrapping his hands in his lover's hair so he could hang on. He was barely aware of the Jedi Masters leaving the room. All he could see, hear, feel, was Qui-Gon. In his arms. Kissing him.... After a moment he broke away and stared at him.
"This is real, isn't it? I'm not dreaming again?"
"You are not dreaming, Obi-Wan. This is real." Qui-Gon reassured him, rubbing his hands down Obi-Wan's back and pressing his feelings all about Obi-Wan, opening his mind to allow him in fully. Obi-Wan felt it all, and it felt so real....
"Why?" he whispered, voice catching in his throat.
Qui-Gon answered him aloud, and Obi-Wan could feel his love, his regret at what had been done, and his joy at having Obi-Wan in his arms. It made Obi-Wan grin, despite his remaining confusion. "Because I thought it was what you wanted. I am sorry, Obi-Wan. I did not know you would be in danger, or that you would be tricked so cruelly into doubting my feelings. I had intended to come to Machi IV and see you, when some time had passed. But I thought you knew how I felt."
"If I had known, I would not have left," Obi-Wan said, trying to keep the accusation out of his voice, though he knew Qui-Gon would feel it, anyhow.
"I know that now." Qui-Gon kissed him again, then said, "I thought you merely needed time, and space, for yourself. To become your own person, without me there to influence you before we... before we came together again."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "I never want that much time or space away from you. I love you... I thought I would never be with you again." He heard Yurgia's voice, a whisper in his mind and he recalled her joy -- she had regained her love. So, now, had he. Obi-Wan smiled and hugged Qui-Gon tightly.
There were still questions he wanted to ask, answers he needed to hear. But not now. Not with Qui-Gon standing there telling him he was loved. Telling him he was desired... for Obi- Wan could feel it, burning through him as they both wanted each other. It had been there since the moment he had re-open their bond, but they had ignored it for more pressing emotions. But now Qui-Gon pulled him close again and Obi-Wan felt himself shaking. He wanted to rip their clothes away and feel Qui-Gon, touch every inch of him, warm and trembling against his own body. Needed to reassure himself this was real, bury himself in the love he knew would never betray him.
"Come, then," Qui-Gon invited, and Obi-Wan was being pulled close again. They kissed, and the hunger flared, building between them until neither could hope to contain it. Hands reached through his robes and touched him, drawing a gasp. Obi-Wan reciprocated, finding his way unerringly to touch the hot skin. He ran his hand up and down the flat of Qui-Gon's stomach, wondering briefly if they should not restrain themselves until they could go someplace more appropriate.
Then Qui-Gon touched him and his world began to explode. He thought nothing more than of pressing himself closer and drawing Qui-Gon closer still. His hand mirrored Qui-Gon's, moving as his did both across the concentration of his pleasure there in his cock, and everywhere along his lover's body that he could reach beneath his clothes. The echoes of need began to resound in his mind and he began to shake under their power. Desire peeked, crested between them, and the bond seemed to vibrate until everything else shattered around them.
Their bodies vanished from awareness, as did the room, the planet, the very universe. Obi-Wan found only Qui-Gon as his reality. The moment began to fade nearly as soon as he recognised it, but he let it go easily. It would not fade completely, he knew. Moments like this could -- and would -- be recreated a thousand times over throughout their lives together. Obi- Wan smiled, relaxing in his Master's -- his lover's arms.
"A thousand times?" came an equally relaxed and amused voice. "That's barely three years...."
Startled, Obi-Wan looked up -- finding himself back in his own body and no longer at one with his universe. He began to laugh.
"I was hoping for more than a thousand," Qui-Gon continued.
Obi-Wan snuggled himself close, realised they really needed to find a room and change... or strip and cuddle, then change. He basked in the ebbing sensations, and moreso in those which were not fading. Then he glanced around the room and said ruefully, "This isn't where I had planned to do this, you know."
"Hmm?" Qui-Gon nuzzled his cheek, distracting him for a moment by asking for a kiss. Obi-Wan obliged, then nudged him away.
"The Council room. You realise we've made love for the first time in the Council room?"
Qui-Gon looked around. "Ah... yes. Good thing someone dimmed the windows, hm?"
Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon's laugh, against his stomach and inside his head. It made Obi- Wan laugh, as well. When Qui-Gon looked at him, Obi-Wan could only stare. Caught in that gaze, all the pain and confusion he had felt seemed impossible.
"Thank you," he whispered.
"I could have done nothing else. I am only sorry it was two months too late."
"You can make it up to me later," Obi-Wan told him, grinning.
"I shall," Qui-Gon replied seriously, making Obi-Wan's grin die away until he was caught once more in Qui-Gon's eyes. He could not have broken himself away for anything short of death.
"Or a towel?" Qui-Gon suggested.
"Or possibly a towel," Obi-Wan agreed, and he let Qui-Gon take his hand and lead him from the room in search of Qui-Gon's quarters.
"Our quarters," came a whisper in his mind.
Obi-Wan smiled. A moment later he realised something. "I have to go back for my sphere."
Two mornings later he awoke. Stretching, yawning, he felt his strength and energy had returned. He could feel everything around him, vibrating with life and the Force, shimmering and echoing around him. He had spent the last day and a half under the healers' care, as they ensured no lasting injury to his psyche by the Sith Lord. Qui-Gon had remained at his side the entire time, leaving Anakin in the care of the Academy instructors. While Obi-Wan had rested, they had said nothing of the future.
Today that would change; released from the healers' care he intended to find a future that kept him at Qui-Gon's side. He had no idea what problems that decision would hold, but right now he didn't care. With a smile and another yawn, he rolled over, onto his side, and snuggled.
"Good morning, love," he heard whispered in his ear.
"Good morning." He smiled. It was.