Fandom: SW: The Phantom Menace
Rating: NC-17 for M/M sex
Summary: New relationships are always awkward and the plans of the Sith aren't helping matters at all.
Series: Bonds of Choice #2
Category: Slash, AU, Angst
Pairing: Obi-Wan/ Qui-Gon
Status: New; Complete
Date: July 27, 1999
Witnesslist Category: Inadmissible in Court
Disclaimer: Not mine, no money. please don't hurt me.
Archive: Yes to: CKoS, haven-of-fic, M_A, RedRoom, Smutfic, TheRestIsSilence, TranformationFic, Witnesslist, WWOMB
All Others: Just let me know where.
Warnings: M/M sex, AU
Notes: Thanks to Rauhnee for a most excellent Beta.
Thanks also to the Dysphasian Vandals for Alphas, food and a safe place to sleep. And for pointing out that there were 2 stories missing in the series. Here's the first one.
// is Qui-Gon telepathy //
The trip back to Coruscant had been a long, quiet uneventful two days. Obi-Wan was at a loss to explain away the lack of change between his master and himself. The promised 'conversation' that came on the morning after had not been anything like what he expected. Just a calm assurance that Qui-Gon loved him, and that all was well with the world. The sleeping arrangements went unchanged; the patterns of interaction were indistinguishable from the days before and most telling, no sex.
Of any sort.
No kissing, no electric, surreptitious touches, no meaningful gazes, nothing. Only the memory of that one night to remind him that anything had changed at all and those memories were becoming less and less reliable as the hours passed.
Of course, they had been very much in the public eye on the tiny vessel 'Arata'. Such behavior would have been unseemly in the extreme. Perhaps now that they were on Coruscant, with the walls of the Temple protecting the venerable image of the Jedi, they could get back to the matter at hand. *Not that this will necessarily help matters,* Obi-Wan thought.
The conclusion Obi-Wan had come to was that, although he was an acceptable partner in bed, and although there was love between himself and his master, the relationship would not be a romantic one. Obi-Wan was perfectly okay with that. He was unsure that he could fulfill the role of boyfriend with Qui-Gon. The being who finally held and kept his master's heart would have to be very strong, very sure of their place in the Jedi Master's life. Obi-Wan had enough on his plate with training and missions without trying to live up to whatever expectations Qui-Gon would have for a life partner.
He hitched his pack up higher on his back and got a better grip on his master's luggage. Qui-Gon's quarters were a goodly distance from the hanger, and his things should be delivered first. That done, he had a longer trudge down to his own room. Upon entering he heard his water tank bubbling cheerily on the long shelf beside his desk. Corubia had apparently kept her word, coming in to feed Dauhge every day or so. The life of a Jedi did not lend itself to pets, but Obi-Wan found it soothing to watch the small turtle paddle about.
He dropped his pack to the floor and sat on it, staring at the small green creature. He propped his elbow on his knee, dropped his chin into his palm and curled the two middle fingers up to his teeth. Tap and think. This was his classing 'brooding' pose, one that he indulged in privately, if at all, these days. Nothing about it could be construed as meditation, any more than his constant fidgeting could be made out as physical exercise. Nerves and habit long ingrained had often led him to blinding revelation, a fact he accepted. His master had even come to some sort of understanding with it, but Obi-Wan doubted any of the other Jedi would understand. *At least I can fake serenity with the best of them.*
Dauhge's swimming gave him something to focus on as his mind chased it's own tail. Something odd, something strange, something not right that needed to change. He shook off his brooding to drop a serving of food into the tank, but took it up once again as Dauhge began to eat. If only he could find what that something was. Internal or external? Corporal or spiritual? Black, white, what the hell was it? Where had he gone wrong? Had he gone wrong, or was the trouble elsewhere, unseen? What was that pointy thing poking him in the butt?
The door opened behind him, and Qui-Gon stood beside him before he could correct his stance. "The Council wants to speak with us. Is something on your mind, Padawan?"
Obi-Wan nodded, but did not answer.
"Will it keep? We really must see to this now."
"It has kept quite well so far, Master. I'm sure it will not spoil for some time yet," Obi-Wan replied. He fell into step, following his master to the Council Chamber.
When they arrived, the meeting was already underway. A tall, slender Knight stood before the council giving his report. "We were separated by force fields, and I could not reach him in time. The Sith Lord gained the upper hand, and killed him. When I was freed, I engaged and wounded the Sith, but he escaped the killing blow. With his dying words, Master Erac asked me to see to the boy."
"You've told us this before," Master Windu admonished.
"I'm sorry, Masters, but there is no more to tell," the Knight met the eyes of his questioners levelly. Waves of anger and frustration roiled off of him before he found his center again. He had truly been upset by these events.
"Perhaps what is needed is a fresh perspective. Have you had the pleasure of meeting Master Qui-Gon Jinn?" Windu gestured to where they stood near the doorway.
"No, I'm afraid I ... Oh. Oh my. The resemblance is ... uncanny," Cord lost the thread of his though for a moment, then bowed. "I am Cord Random."
"Qui-Gon Jinn and this is my Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. How may we serve?" They took their place beside Cord before the Council.
"There is a problem on the planet of Naboo. Rather, the last meeting with this problem occurred there," Windu began.
"Did I hear you say something about a Sith? They've been extinct for an age," Qui-Gon objected, which caused him to receive foreboding looks from all quarters.
Windu continued, "We have just returned from there and have found few leads as to where this Sith came from. Young Cord here has requested that he be provided with assistance, with the loss of Master Erac. I suggested that you be given the assignment, now that you are back."
Qui-Gon looked over his right shoulder to his Padawan. The boy had a calm, attentive air about him, something that had appeared between his quarters and the Council chamber. Here was a matter that must be seen to before embarking on such a mission. If what he heard was true, they would stare the Dark Side in the face. His Padawan must be ready to ignore its pull. "When would we be expected to begin?"
"Tomorrow evening, after Erac's funeral. You will be in attendance?" Windu said.
"Of course, Master. I knew him of old," Qui-Gon replied. "There is one or two small matters I must see to with my Padawan before then, however."
"Then you are dismissed. May the Force be with you."
The Master and his student bowed, and turned to go.
Windu directed his attention to Cord. "Be ready to join them as soon as possible. I am sorry to impinge on your time of mourning, but time is of the essence."
"I am ready to do what I must to see this resolved," Cord replied.
"May the Force be with you, as well. You have a question, Master Qui-Gon?" Master Windu asked, seeing that they had not left the room.
"No, sir. I simply did not realize Cord would work with us. Excuse me," and he continued his way out the door, Obi-Wan trailing behind him.
He followed Qui-Gon back to his master's quarters, pausing a moment before he went in behind him. No sooner was the door closed than he was pinned back against the wall, his master's mouth covering his, sucking, open, wet and demanding. After the first shock wore off, he returned it with more than interest. Strong hands were pulling at his clothes, and he struggled to drop his cloak before beginning to wrestle with Qui-Gon's. Their outer shirts hit the floor simultaneously, and he jerked the inner off his master with uncharacteristic haste. The taste of skin, salt, heat, and oh the unmatchable flavor of his master filled his senses as he worked a loving path of kisses now the neck, across the shoulder and chest, to seize upon one erect nipple. His teeth sank in, tongue lavishing unparalleled affection there until he was pulled away. His shirts were next to go, and he stood naked to the waist. He reached down to unfasten his pants when he was stopped.
"We are Jedi first," Qui-Gon said, gripping his wrists tightly.
"Say it. We are Jedi first, and servants to the Light."
Obi-Wan looked deep into his master's eyes. "First we are Jedi, servants of the Light."
Qui-Gon pressed his wrists back to the wall. "We are secondly Master and Padawan."
"Secondly, Master and Padawan. Oh, don't stop ..."
"Only beyond that are we free to be lovers." Long fingers made short work of his pants fastenings, and stroked freely along the exposed flesh.
"Thirdly we are lovers, oh, that feels good," he whispered as his pants fell in a bunch around his boots.
"That third is just as true and unfaltering as the first two, Obi-Wan. No doubt, no fear on that. Do you promise?" Qui-Gon sank to his knees before his young partner.
"Yes Master, I swear, mmmm." Obi-Wan found himself incapable of further speech as his cock was swallowed into the welcoming warmth of Qui-Gon's mouth. The hot, soft cavern stroked fully down his stone-hard flesh, then sucked him deep, tongue active and teasing all the while. He raised his hands to fill them with the long, thick locks of hair he had so often dreamed of, reveling in the sensations assaulting his body. He arched his hips out away from the wall, trying to get closer, feel more, be deeper inside.
Cool air hit him with a shock as he was released and he almost stumbled in his attempt to pursue. Steady hands helped him free of his boots before Qui-Gon said "don't move." His master walked away to the bathroom, but returned quickly, sans clothing of any sort, and bearing a small jar. "Now then."
The second kiss was animal, both men's mouths marking territory, sucking lips to full and puffy heat before the mutual exploration of bodies commenced. Obi-Wan closed his eyes as Qui-Gon bit deep along his collarbone. He was lifted up in one arm while Qui-Gon made a fluid gesture with the other hand. All manner of odds and ends swept off the nearby desktop and it was soon replaced with the wiggling form of a terminally aroused Padawan. Their cocks pressed together, rubbing, seeking friction as Qui-Gon bent over to suck one nipple, then the other, to aching red sensitivity. The soft hairs of his beard tickled as he nuzzled and teased the aureoles before a second hard assault.
A soft grunt escaped Obi-Wan as he was flipped over onto his stomach. A soft intake of breath caused him to look over his shoulder.
"What. Is. This?" Qui-Gon asked, pointing to his left shoulder blade.
"Well, you know, the other night ... Sir, I believe the technical term for it is 'monster hickey,'" Obi-Wan replied, grinning. The bruise from a particularly passionate bite was fading to pink and yellow, but still quite visible.
A sharp smack to his left buttock took the grin right off his face. "Would you fancy a matching set, then?"
"Well ..." but the though was never finished as he felt his body parted for a long, sensual kiss to his most private opening.
Qui-Gon opened the jar he had brought from the bath, and a rich, earthy scent added itself to the air. The chill cream was shocking and delightful as it was worked slowly into his waiting flesh. He relaxed easily under the patient touch, allowing, accepting, desiring until his hips began to lift in slow undulations against the probing fingers.
"More?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Oh, yes," and Obi-Wan was turned over onto his back once again. "What?"
"Like this view better," Qui-Gon explained, drawing the strong legs around his hips. "Want to see you. What are you first, Obi-Wan?"
"Oh good," he pressed his slick cock against the ready orifice. "And second?"
"Padawan, Padawan. Please, I want you. Second I am a Padawan."
The head breached the tight outer ring of muscle, and stopped just inside the second. "Thirdly?"
"Lover! I am your lover, totally, completely, with no doubt or remorse so would you please stop the pop quiz and fuck me?!?!" Obi-Wan screamed, thrusting himself down over the hard shaft.
Qui-Gon leaned forward and planted his hands on either side of Obi-Wan's head. For himself, Obi-Wan gripped the edge of the desk and hooked his feet together behind his master's back. They arched and moaned in sweet unison, plunderer and plundered, the rocking of his pelvis gave him some slick contact with his partner's belly, but not enough, oh, no. He relinquished his grip with one hand, seizing his aching erection. With that added stimulus, he entered into a sure and steady focus on the moment, his breath, his utter pleasure at being touched, fucked, loved, and oh skies above us, "Ahhhhh!"
His semen spilled out over his hand as he bucked and twisted in the throes of an orgasm well gotten. The spasms of his inner muscles quickly dragged his partner up with him into the heavens of sexual climax, and a shout of his own.
They lay still for a moment, gasping in much needed oxygen. "How did you keep from jumping me for two days?" Qui-Gon choked.
"I could ask you the same thing, old man," Obi-Wan said, spitting out a long lock of hair.
"Time is on my side, here," Qui-Gon rolled over, long legs hanging off the desk.
"Yes it is," Obi-Wan chuckled, pushing himself up and heading for the shower. But inwardly he worried about words said in passion. And then there was this:
There is no passion. There is the Force.
The next evening returned them to the reality of their life, their calling. Facts and reports fed into their minds, all the details of the fiasco on Naboo. The Dark Side was showing it's uncertain face once again, in the form of the Sith. Cord fed them information in a long, steady recitation as they sat, sipping tea in Qui-Gon's chamber. Master Erac and he had not worked together overlong, but the beginnings of a pairbond had been cut short with the unforgiving wound from the Sith Lord.
Finally the recitation came to an end, and the three of them had to face the most perplexing and distressing matter in the long chain of events that had begun so long ago in the Senate. Anikin Skywalker had been kidnapped from the Temple during the night. Obi-Wan fought the urge to pace, to kick walls and pick at his cuticles as the sickening reality of the missing boy sank into his gut. Too old to be accepted for training amongst the Jedi, and too full of potential to be ignored or overlooked by the powerful, Anikin was in the gravest danger. What was worse, his potential, his theoretical place in the scheme of things may have earned him a place amongst the Jedi despite his age.
Cord and Qui-Gon had some long, drawn out theories that required they search the scene of the crime. Obi-Wan had been spared that particularly meticulous and fiddly bit of work. Now he sat and took long sets of notes onto his lightslate, fingers working over the keyboard without pause, annotating, footnoting, and copying relentlessly. All the while his mind rattled the problem like a cupful of chance cubes, hoping to roll a favorable outcome for the boy by sheer force of fretting. Cord and Qui-Gon talked and talked, theorizing, laying out plans, one after another, until Obi-Wan thumbed the 'transcribe' key on the slate and laid it down between them.
"Think of something, Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon inquired. His Padawan was here, more or less, because of his leaps of logic that sometimes outdistanced calm reasoning. It wasn't a talent, or a skill, per se, but it had yielded some ... interesting outcomes over the years.
Something in the question tilted Obi-Wan's answer to the flavor of perversity. "I think ... I need to speak to Dauhge about this."
Qui-Gon blinked. He had often seen his student work problems of astounding complexity by doing nothing more than staring down a tiny green turtle. Dauhge was not the first reptile to be put to such use and however the ability had come into being, it was a habit that the Jedi intended to preserve for some time to come. What surprised him was that Obi-Wan would speak of it before another Jedi. It seemed the young Padawan felt a bit foolish about finding answers in the swimming patterns of his little pet. "Let me know if he says anything important," was the only reply he made.
"Wait. Who are you going to see? Are you sure they can keep this quiet?" Cord asked.
"Oh, I assure you Dauhge would never breath a word to anyone," Obi-Wan smiled. "In fact, he may not listen." He bowed and sprinted --serenely--to his room.
His pack lay just where he had left it, so he made a seat on top of it again. *No nailbiting* he ordered firmly to himself. The teeth-tapping and cuticle champing was a sign of futility, which he certainly didn't need hampering him. The problem was complex ... yet too simple and that was the crux of it. This whole mess had started in the Senate, with trade disputes and sneaky moves from the Trade Federation. Then the Federation made that stupid, stupid move to attack Naboo. Now the only reason they retained their trade franchise was the single, solitary fact that Chancellor Palpatine had not yet returned from Naboo to revoke it.
Naboo the tiny.
Naboo the distant.
Naboo the almost entirely inconsequential except that it seemed to be the center of a major struggle that threatened to pull everything apart. If there was anything thing the Trade Federation never lost sight of it was power and profit. They stood no chance of true profit in this endeavor, so there had to be power in there somewhere. What the hell was there on Naboo that would pull so many factors to it? So many disparate factors ...
"Well, Dauhge, I'm fresh out of ideas. What do you think?" Obi-Wan inquired. "We've got the Federation trying to take Queen Amidala's little kingdom, a Sith Lord chasing Jedi to that little blip on the starmaps, and a small, dangerous, very missing little boy. What's the connection ... there has to be a connection. Something I'm missing, here. Who in all this mess would want Skywalker?"
He fixed his eyes on the paddling of his pet, letting them relax. The bubbles and eddies relaxed his upper thought registers and put his sub-conscious into gear. Nothing to do but let it cook, really. If his logic leaps were going to help at all, they would kick in any minute now.
Just any minute now.
Any second and the answer would explode right there in his brain.
The cool smooth greens and blues washed around behind his eyes, the lone turtle described a figure eight and hovered, dipped and swam, all unknowing that the path he chose would eventually lead the sharp, quick mind of one Padawan into just the right rhythm to see through the tangle of relationship and causality to the truth of the question. He'd have to leave the how's and why's to others. All he was good for was 'what'. He could tell them what, and sometimes who and where. Obi-Wan was reluctant to call this little trick foresight, but it was almost a reliable thing, when he had the luxury to observe his turtle. Trade routes, senate conflicts, Sith, Jedi, Skywalker. Dead Jedi on Naboo. Wounded Jedi on Naboo. Wounded Sith on Naboo. Trade Federation out in force on Naboo. What the hell was on Naboo that was of worth to the Sith, the Jedi and the Trade Federation?
There wasn't a scrap of serenity in the headlong dash he made back to Qui-Gon's quarters. He noticed the time as he passed a water-clock. Three hours had passed as he um, meditated on the problem.
"My Master, may I have one or two small words with you?" Obi-Wan burst through the door, and hit his knees in a skid. He knew very well what a picture he made, robes flying and dangerous, his braid whipping around like a lash, lips thin and compressed with urgency. His words were correct, if breathless. His posture unorthodox, to say the least, but at this point he was sort of going for 'beseeching' and maybe a touch of 'desperation'.
"Of course, Padawan. Shall we step aside?" Qui-Gon's voice was the very spirit of grave serenity. Obi-Wan dared not look up, least the manic giggles he was trying to sit on should burst free. "Or perhaps this is something these other Masters should hear as well?"
Obi-Wan *really* didn't want to see who was in attendance for his performance. "No, Master. I think this should be heard. I think I've found a pattern, and I can say with a small amount of certainty that Anikin is still here on Coruscant."
"Tell us more," Qui-Gon encouraged.
"I thought, in the manner you requested of me and what I see is that the Trade Federation is the entity that enacted this abduction. This was done on orders of the Sith Master, who seeks Anikin's death to prevent him from achieving any part of the destiny the Masters have seen for him. The Sith is in some position of power here, perhaps in the government, where he can keep abreast of the goings on here in the Temple. In any event, I believe we will find the boy in the custody of the Federation, probably unharmed," Obi-Wan tugged his robes forward and waited to have his little theory pulled to bits.
"Unharmed in the hands of the Sith?" This from one of the other Masters.
"No, Master. Anikin has not yet been turned over to him. The Sith Master is not on Coruscant at the moment, but seeing to matters elsewhere. Soon he will return, claim the boy and either kill him or begin turning him to the Dark Side of the Force. Just now, with things in flux, he can not begin such a problematic process. Getting the boy off this planet, which is crawling with Jedi on the lookout and onto another planet, also under our scrutiny, is probably beyond his current capabilities." Obi-Wan spun his yarn as best he could.
"And what other planet would the boy be taken to, if such a thing were possible?"
"Naboo. Everything points to Naboo," Obi-Wan breathed.
"So, the Sith are someone who is usually on Coruscant, but currently on Naboo in the wake of this war. He is someone in the government, but we have not sensed his movements here, beneath our very noses. How is that possible?" That was Mace Windu.
"I know not, Master. I'm not sure I could sense a Sith Lord if he stood before me. Especially since he would know what I was, and guard against me, and I would have no idea to even look at him twice," Obi-Wan answered truthfully. "Only this else can I offer. Anikin is close. Near to the Temple, where his presence in the Force is disguised by all the other children here who are just beginning training. They are hiding the leaf in the forest, as best as they can under the circumstances."
Qui-Gon said, "Thank you, Obi-Wan. Now, about the excess energy you displayed on that entrance. Go out to the garden and follow the Stone Spiral in backrise step. I will see you there later."
He watched as his Padawan rose and bowed his way out of the room. A moment of silence followed before Windu spoke. "You say the boy has no foretelling?"
"No, Master. It's just a capability he picked up from a meditation exercise I set for him about four years ago," Qui-Gon answered.
"It will serve him well. The only point he missed, I suspect he will bring up to you privately."
"It is a dangerous thing, to accuse the Chancellor of being a Dark Lord. Perhaps he is wise to keep such speculation to himself," Qui-Gon suggested. "Then are we going to accept his words as a reliable second opinion?"
"As much as such things matter, I think his words prompt us to take the course we have selected," Windu rose to call the full council. "Action must be swift, and I must see to them. Can you be ready after the evening meal?"
Qui-Gon bowed in acceptance and the others filed out of his tiny living space to prepare for the retrieval of one wayward boy.
The stone garden was awash in the early evening moonlight. Flagstones lay in a swirling pattern, curving through a round pavilion. In the center rose a spire, upon which the curving pattern continued some fifteen feet in the air. Obi Wan was nearing the base of this spire, and his ankles screamed in rage at being put through this exercise. One day, maybe today, his body would inform him that it simply would not put up with this shit any longer. Of that he was sure, despite the fact that it had never once failed him. He held his body in perfect balance, arms held out from his torso in twin arches, palms towards the busy night sky. His knees were bent slightly, pelvis tucked to maintain a straight spine, chest up, shoulders back, chin high. Step. He pushed his weight up on his back foot, extending upwards, rising up onto the balls of his feet. Shift, and he came down, bearing his weight on the front foot. Step, breathe in, shift breath out, step. A simple, maddeningly meticulous exercise in balance and body control. He kept his eyes fixed on the flagstones before him, to help maintain his balance.
"Snake arms," said the voice of his master as he entered the exercise area.
Obi-Wan rolled his right shoulder up, followed by the elbow and wrist, creating a wave of his arm, moving upwards. As he brought his right arm down, shoulder, elbow, wrist, he brought his left arm up. His steps never slowed or faltered. One last step on the flagstones, and he began his twisting ascent up the spire. The path was just wide enough for both feet, side by side, and no more. It would be cheating to use the Force to give him a margin of error, so he was relieved when his master called out "Chest Isolation."
His arms framed his body again, more closely, as he isolated his chest from the rest of him. Pushing his ribcage forward, then to the left, back, then to the right, he described a wide circle. Front and to the left, up on back foot, shift, back and to the right, down and step. Each movement made with precision and balance; he worked his slow way up the twisting spire.
"Hip Isolation, horizontal reverse figure eight."
Obi-Wan steadied his breathing even further, focusing on his task, isolating his hips from the movements of his legs, dividing his body down the middle, keeping everything else perfectly still, he continued the walk. As he rose higher, the concentration became more essential, every detail amounting to keeping himself on the narrow ledge with grace and precision. *For who would catch me, if I fell?* The thought came unbidden into his mind.
//I will watch and keep you, Padawan.//
His breath faltered only for a beat before resuming the slow, stately in and out he commanded. Rarely, he had sensed his Master's thoughts through the Force. Rarely, he had been able to reply. Something in him said he could have a full-blown debate with his master at this moment, but that same thing, that connection, made it wholly unnecessary. Just a few more steps, one last turn to the spiral, and he stood on the small, flat top of the spire.
//You did well tonight, Padawan.//
**Thank you, Master.**
//The other Masters thought well of your ideas.//
**It is your opinion I value Master. I am only happy to honor you by being an adequate student.**
//I believe that is so. Is it true that you used to walk the Stone Spiral just to slide down from the top?//
//That I would like to see.//
Obi-Wan smiled and turned back to the long, twisting path. His legs were shaking from the long period of controlled movement, but he bent his knees and lifted his heels, pushing himself for a long slide down and around the spire. He let out a whoop of joy as the speed whipped wind through his short hair. When he banked to a stop, his master stood before him.
//I should have let you rest before dinner. We will be retrieving Anikin tonight.//
*I will be ready.*
//As always, my Padawan.// Qui-Gon brushed his fingers along Obi-Wan's cheek before leading the way to the dining hall.
Obi-Wan crouched on the ledge, shrouded in the cool shadows of the Coruscant night. The business offices three stories below were the target, and he and Cord were holding the escape route. The connection to his teacher had faded somewhat during the evening meal, so Qui-Gon was now just a familiar presence riding along in the back of his mind. If he tried, he could sense his master's surface feelings, but not much more. *Maybe with practice.*
A little shadow of alarm snapped along that connection, and Obi-Wan brought his attention back to his task. "They've begun," he whispered to Cord. The Knight nodded once. Obi-Wan checked the equipment one more time, ignoring the faint impression of battle coming from his master. His own personal chance of meeting up with combat this time was actually very slim, which was just as well, to his own mind. The first time he had seen action he had been about sixteen. They had been caught up in the crumbling disarray of a peace negotiation. They had eventually fought their way free of the negotiating table, beating a hasty retreat to a neutral system. Obi-Wan's memory of the experience was swathed by the overall impression of Qui-Gon's calm presence in the back of his mind, but there were still several ways he'd rather spend an evening.
Not that he was afraid of combat. It just meant that he would have to be mindful of his training, rely on his teacher in that way, rather than in the more traditional sense. He sensed the boy they were after, so close his energy set Obi-Wan's teeth on edge before he became accustomed to the sensation. He peeked over the ledge, seeing the green glow of Qui-Gon's lightsaber cutting through the window. With a grunt and a heave, Obi-Wan chucked the web ladder over the side. Cord swarmed down and reached in, pulling the boy out and clipping him into a climbing harness. A few seconds later and he was headed back up to Obi-Wan's position. When he saw Qui-Gon leap up and begin his ascent, he knew their mission was successful.
Cord reached the top of the net ladder and Obi-Wan took the boy from him. The child was much too old to begin training as a Jedi, but such decisions were hardly for a Padawan to make. He was a bit pale and unconscious, probably due to a command to sleep from the sure mind of Master Jinn. The boy went up and over Obi-Wan's shoulder even as he turned to make his way to the waiting transport. The sleek craft hung some eight feet above the rooftop that Obi-Wan currently dashed across. A Force-assisted jump and they stood upon the lowered entrance ramp. At the top of the ramp Obi-Wan turned to see that Cord was with Qui-Gon, protecting the Master. As Padawan protected the child, so the Knight protected the Master, each responsible for the preservation of the precious commodities at either end of the Jedi ranks. Qui-Gon had turned to cut the ladder loose, and they made a swift dash to meet the transport. When all three stood side by side, the ramp closed and they relaxed, danger past.
Which was more than could be said for young Skywalker.
The boy's breathing was shallow, and his heartbeat too rapid. Obi-Wan dashed up the short passage to the passenger area. Two healers sat calmly, ready to see to the child. Obi-Wan turned his burden over, glad to be relieved of the responsibility. Qui-Gon and Cord had taken the other seats available, so Obi-Wan sank to his knees beside his master's chair.
Obi-Wan made his way back to his master's rooms, feeling like his brains were about to fall out. He had spent all morning with the healers, learning the fine art of keeping himself and his master from ending up dead in a ditch on some disgusting outer world. So complex, the human body. So many chemicals and energies to keep balanced if it was to go on functioning. He was beginning to envy some of the less-complex life forms with which he had acquaintance.
In any event, the sessions had been grueling. Long hours of shielding, unshielding, connecting, correcting, and shielding some more. He had found out the reason why the infirmary was so damn silent. With that much intense communication, most messages were passed subvocally. When he was linked into the process, it was like being at a lively gathering of like-minded people. He enjoyed it, but it was so tiring. Also, by the end of his three-hour shift, it was all he could do to bundle the threads of thought into some kind of order and drag himself off to his bed.
Except that he knew he wouldn't be able to feel comfortable alone after such close contact with that many minds. Instinctively he sought out his master's comforting presence. Besides, Qui-Gon's rooms were closer, and had a fresh change of clothes for just such occasions. Maybe he'd dial up a nice meal for them both, spend some time talking ...
The door opened to Obi-Wan's voice signature, but the rooms were empty. Belatedly, he recalled that Qui-Gon was helping Cord on the matter of Anikin Skywalker. The boy wasn't right. He'd fallen into a state of catatonia, or responslessness, or something like, just hours after returning to the Temple. The healers had revived him, he'd sat there eating and talking like a normal kid, then his eyes fixed on a point in the middle distance, he tilted his head as if he was listening to some muted sound, and hadn't uttered a word since.
Odd, to say the least.
*Probably just a trauma reaction,* Obi-Wan thought. Poor kid, though. Maybe Qui-Gon would think of something to try, but he should be back at any moment. Quick check of the chronometer and Obi-Wan decided 'clean' came before 'fed', alphabetically, so he headed for the shower. He was lathering up under a very warm spray, letting his body relax, when he felt his mind start to relax as well. Shields still stood in place, under control, but his mind was wandering to places of extreme oddness.
For example, although he hadn't been bathed since he was a small child, he could have sworn he felt Qui-Gon's hands scrubbing his back. Now, obviously, this was the washcloth he was using on himself, but the image was such a nice one, he just went with it. Strong hands lathering, cleaning, smoothing away the muscle aches and weariness of the day. Fingers rubbing shampoo into the scalp, turning the wash into a massage. That was just sooooo relaxing and sweet. The tension just drained right on out of the body when the mind relaxed. He felt just peachy, like he floated on a gentle breeze, seeing the entire world below him, while some considerate soul tended his body.
//Perhaps you'd better come back down, Obi-Wan.//
//Time to dry off. Hungry?//
Obi-Wan opened one eye, surprised to be at knee level with his master. **Feels good.**
//I know, Koateleu. You've just chosen a spectacularly poor location to reach enlightenment.//
*Good word choice,* Obi-Wan smiled. 'Koateleu' was from the native language of Obi-Wan's planet of origin. It was often translated as 'love', but that was a broad near-mistranslation at best. The meaning ran something like 'The being with whom my soul is forever intertwined through the machinations of the universe and from whose side I will not be removed even after I have passed from life.' From there the translator would have to resort to some fairly extreme and complicated poetry in order to fully convey the depth of love and commitment the endearment included. Obi-Wan couldn't quite get up the energy to correct his master's Feldarian. He thought Qui-Gon was probably trying to say something like 'Piuenda', which simply meant 'The one with which I share a pleasure-bed.'
Obi-Wan closed his eyes again, and realized he could still see forever. Nothing looked all that bad from here. Just look at that long, strong thread of energy that bound him to his master. Wow. And there's Anikin's fate, all cloudy, but more light than dark. Hmm. Might be something interesting there. Maybe just a little look-see.
//No, Obi-Wan. I don't want you to do that.//
**Yes, Master. But what is this place?**
//You are seeing the Moment, and the paths it creates.//
**Oh. Is this permanent?**
//I'm actually very surprised you've held on to it as long as you have. Come on, get up. Try to keep your eyes open. It helps to ground you in the physical.//
Obi-Wan obeyed instantly, fixing his eyes on the water tap. He was still slumped in the shower stall, but the water was off. **I seem to spend a lot of time being incapacitated in the bath,** he mentioned.
//It is a most unusual habit.// Qui-Gon agreed, helping his student to dry off.
**I shall try to stop it, Master.**
//You do that.//
Once he was in his bathrobe, Obi-Wan realized his sense of euphoria had passed. Yes, calm and still in there, and quite alone, except ... except that he had the certainty that it would not take much of an effort to communicate with his master. Not the Master-Padawan bond, as such, but a familiar routine that came as easily as, say, swimming. Not quite breathing, still an exertion, but a simple one. Reaching out to Qui-Gon was coming to feel like muscle-memory rather than a foreign skill.
He showed these things to his master.
//Good,// Qui-Gon said. //How about dialing up dinner?//
Obi-Wan padded over to the catering unit. **What would you like?**
//Find out for yourself!// came the challenge.
**Grr. Do the lessons never end?**
//Yes. When the student knows everything.//
**Oh, there's a conversation I don't want to have with you,** and Obi-Wan set about learning how to use his new ability in the Force to take Qui-Gon's dinner order.
After the meal was eaten, Obi-Wan asked "how did you know what was going on?"
"You were thinking of me, very loudly, with interesting illustrations, when I arrived. It was more of a case of 'how could I not.'" Qui-Gon smiled.
"Um, how loudly, would you say, I was thinking of you?"
"Just enough for me to hear you from the bath to the desk. Still, that's a pretty good projection for you, considering how long you've been locked up in that pretty little head," Qui-Gon reminded him.
"It was because I was thinking dirty about you, wasn't it?" Obi-Wan accused. "You heard me loud and clear the first time I think about you ... well, that's not it, is it?" his theory fell apart before he even finished it.
"I wasn't thinking of you sexually. Just in a comforting, companionable sort of way. Like a friend."
Qui-Gon nodded, but made no comment. He'd let his Padawan work on that one for himself. There were other things that needed attention, not the least of which was a small boy in the infirmary. "Would you like to try to help the Skywalker boy?" he asked, changing the subject rather quickly.
Obi-Wan shuddered, thinking of the one glimpse he'd had of the boy earlier in the day. No, he didn't want anything to do with that frightening specter. Yes, he would do what he could to bring the child back. Conflict, then calm. "Yes, Master. If you think I can help."
"All that you need do is anchor me to this world while we try to find out where his mind has gotten off to. Do you think you can do that?'' Qui-Gon was all seriousness.
**Of course. And if you get to wandering off, I'll just distract you with the image of giving me a pedicure.**
//Be mindful of what you chose to share, even with me,// Qui-Gon cautioned. //We are not one person with two skins. We are individuals who have chosen to be together in this time and place. Do not give up your sense of Self just to enhance your sense of Us.//
"Get some rest, Padawan. I'll see you in the infirmary first thing tomorrow." Qui-Gon stood and drew Obi-Wan up for a long, sweet kiss.
As much as Obi-Wan wished he had the energy to take things further, he simply wasn't up to it. One kind of enlightenment per evening seemed to be his limit. **Good night, Master. I shall be thinking of you.**
//And I you, Padawan.//
Something about the formality made the endearments a sacred moment between them.
The next morning brought Obi-Wan back to the infirmary, this time to help his master in a rather odd quest. *If I were the mind of a small boy, where would I go?* He quirked his mouth at the thought. Sometimes Obi-Wan caught himself thinking of the strangest things, subjects he was certain he would never have become involved with in any other calling.
Qui-Gon was already there, as was Cord Random. The healer that joined them was of a species that Obi-Wan couldn't name right off hand. Ordalti? Rodlyc? A pale pink person, with long, thin ears and green stripes, in any event. "Obi-Wan, this is J'kata. He will be helping us with the procedure."
"Helping, ha! I'll be putting the three of you back together, if you aren't careful." J'kata's words were sour, but the tone was a friendly one. "How do you want to do this?"
"I will take the lead. I know the boy best, spent some time working with him on Tatooine and Naboo. Qui-Gon will assist me, and his Padawan will anchor him." Cord was relaxed, seated in a comfortable chair by the bed. Obi-Wan kept his eyes on Cord for as long as he could, trying to avoid looking at the still form beneath the sheets.
Qui-Gon sank to the floor, crossing his legs and relaxing into the pose. Obi-Wan followed his lead, seating himself similarly, facing his master. Qui-Gon reached out, resting his hands lightly on Obi-Wan's wrists, pressing his fingers in to feel the pulse there.
"Have you your anchor?" J'kata asked.
"It is the pulse of my Padawan," Qui-Gon replied.
"Have you your target?" J'kata asked Cord.
"It is the breath of my Guide," Cord replied.
Obi-Wan felt a thin tendril of connection from his master, and reached out with his own thoughts to complete the circuit. Cord was a thin thought-shadow on the other side of his master's awareness. J'kata had come to stand behind Obi-Wan, resting his hands on the younger man's shoulders. "You must tell me what happens, young one. The others will be too deeply in their trance to speak."
Obi-Wan nodded. "I can just barely sense Cord. He seems to be chasing something. It's thin, elusive, like a breeze. No, it's more like a ghost or a spirit. I guess that would be Anikin. Qui-Gon is saying something to him. I can't quite make it out."
"That's all right, just give me your impressions."
For the better part of an hour, Obi-Wan struggled, putting words to a labor that almost defied description. It seemed to him that Cord fought demons, solved mazes, ran races, trying to reach Anikin's consciousness. All the while, Qui-Gon advised him. The nonsensically of it reminded Obi-Wan of the stories he used to hear as a child. It then occurred to him what they were seeing. He glanced over the edge of the bed, looking at the still face of Anikin Skywalker. The breathing was regular, deep, and slow. He didn't toss or turn; there was nothing to indicate that the boy was anything more than comatose.
There. Swift, almost imperceptible, Obi-Wan saw a flick of motion behind the boy's eyelids. He watched intently for another long minute. Flickflickflick.
"He's dreaming. Cord's caught up in the boy's dreams." He said this out loud, before he had a chance to edit the thought.
"That can be very dangerous. Perhaps you should tell Master Qui-Gon, so he can warn Cord." The tone was calm and even but from the emotion-spike that accompanied them, the healer was doing well not to sound deeply worried.
Obi-Wan nodded, then closed his eyes. **Master?**
**Anikin is dreaming. We can see the eye movements. I think Cord is caught in the dreams, trying to reach the boy that way.**
//Hmm. That would explain some of the questions he's been asking. What do you see?//
**You can't see him?**
//Not the way you are. I'm ... too involved. What is he doing?//
**Flying some sort of skimmer, I think. He's going very fast, seems to be in a race of some sort.**
//I'm going to try to pull him out. He could get trapped in there for much longer than is healthy. I shall try to be very careful, but if I fall out of contact, you may have to help me back. Do you think you can talk to me, bring me back to this place if I need you to?//
Obi-Wan watched anxiously, but kept himself firmly in the physical world. Qui-Gon seemed to retreat to a distance, then came back more firmly.
Again, the sense of fading, this time it seemed he went further away.
//Still here. I'm going to have to try something ... unorthodox. Please have J'kata monitor us more closely.// Then that fading again.
"Master Qui-Gon wants you to monitor them more closely. He says he wants to try something unorthodox." Obi-Wan relayed.
"Open yourself to me," J'kata instructed in a resigned tone.
When the contact was made, Obi-Wan gained a new appreciation for the Master-Padawan bond. Even as stressed and stretched as the link to Qui-Gon was, it was still infinitely stronger than the weak tendril that came from J'kata. He felt the healer follow that line, trying to make contact. Obi-Wan held himself open, allowing his mind to be a conduit for the work that must be done. The moment stretched painfully and he began to feel the strain, as when he held himself perfectly still, in balance, every muscle straining to accomplish total nothingness.
"Close yourself. I cannot reach him."
Obi-Wan looked back at J'kata, confused. "What? Can't reach him? He's right there! You just need to ..." Obi-Wan stopped. "You have no bond to him."
"Correct, Obi-Wan. He is too far gone into that place. I can not go to him."
*I can.* Obi-Wan knew he could. It would be easy, simple to just reach out. **Master?**
**J'kata can't reach you. Can you come back to me?**
//Cord and Anikin are in terrible danger. I can not come to you. I need your help, Padawan.//
That was plenty for Obi-Wan. His master needed help; so help he would get. "I'm going to him," he told J'kata.
The healer blew out a sigh of relief. "I can not tell you to do this thing. I can not advise you to do this thing. But I can help you to do this thing. You are not fully trained for this. The danger is great. You must remember that the place you go to is not real. It is only memory and imagination in its place of greatest strength. You will need something to focus you on this world, something you can bring yourself back to. You MUST bring yourself back and bring the others with you."
Focus. Focus. Oh, no. Obi-Wan tried to stifle the giggles. "Can you contact Padawan Corubia Nall? Ask her to bring Dauhge here."
It would seem, from the swift response, that J'kata had managed to impress Corubia with the gravity of the situation without alarming her. She arrived behind her Master, Torlamin, carrying a round glass bowl. Dauhge paddled serenely, unaffected by his new container. Master Torlamin spoke. "What has happened here?"
"Cord got himself caught in this boy's dreamstate while trying to bring him back to consciousness. Qui-Gon is hanging on to them, but can't bring them back. He has ordered Obi-Wan to come and help him. I would not allow the boy to make the attempt without a strong focal point."
"And he wanted his turtle?" Torlamin failed to hide her smile.
"Don't knock it, Master. I've seen him do some really amazing things with this focal point. Where do you want Dauhge?"
Obi-Wan looked around, dismayed. He was sitting on the floor in front of his master. Qui-Gon still held his wrists. The bed was too far to the side and too high. "Um, I usually just sit low enough to look in his tank. I hadn't thought about this. Um ..."
"Leave it to me," Corubia smiled. She let go of the bowl, supporting it with the Force. It drifted closer to Obi-Wan until it hung before his eyes. "Good?"
"Back a bit. You're making me cross-eyed. Good. Perfect. J'kata, what do I need to do?"
"Go to your master. Remember that what you see isn't real. Remember that you must bring them back to the place you began, where you are strongest in the physical world." J'kata looked apologetic that this was all the help he could offer. "I'm sorry. Training you properly to do this would take much more time than we have."
"Like a couple of years too long," Torlamin noted.
Obi-Wan felt faint for a moment. It took years to learn how to do this? He centered himself. They didn't have years, or training. They just had him. It would have to do. He focused on Dauhge, his green shell, the pattern of his swimming. Focus. Feel- don't think. **Master, I'm coming.**
One moment he was sitting in the infirmary, the next he stood before Qui-Gon. "There they are," his master said, pointing. Obi-Wan looked, saw Cord and Anikin struggling in a black pool. They were bogged in some sort of black, tarry substance. Anikin clung to Cord, who was up to his shoulders and beginning to sink lower under the weight. "I can't reach them, can't pull them free ..." Qui-Gon said. "It's too strong."
Obi-Wan turned his focus on the pool. "It's not real. It's just an image. Don't believe in it, it's not real," he murmured. With all that he had, he denied the existence of the morass. **Go away. This is dry land.**
Qui-Gon smile. "It's not that simple, Padawan."
"I think it is, Master. We just have to make it that simple," Obi-Wan was certain of this. Certain. He reached out to Qui-Gon, made their connection stronger. Certain.
**//Dry land. Nothing to struggle against.//**
And it was so. Their combined belief, sure and calm, battered at the panicked fear-image that Anikin had dreamed into being. The pool simply was no more. Cord looked at them with gratitude. "Take him back, Cord."
The Knight nodded, looked down at Anikin and smiled. Reality twisted around them and they faded from view.
**Let us return,** Obi-Wan said, taking his master's hands in his own. **Feel my pulse. Come with me.**
Qui-Gon looked into Obi-Wan's eyes and sent his love and gratitude along their mental connection. It was a strong, overwhelming feeling that rocked Obi-Wan. The emotions were too strong, too much, pushing him off his center. **No, Master! Do not thank me. It is duty, nothing more.**
Qui-Gon looked hurt, felt hurt. Obi-Wan felt it clearly. **I'm sorry!**
Unbidden, he thought of all the times he had done just this thing. Said or done something in just the worst way possible. He tried to grab hold of the flurry, force it under control, but the instant he fought it, leant it reality, it became real.
Qui-Gon's hands clamped down on Obi-Wan's wrists, bruisingly hard. They were buffeted on all sides by the memories, the feelings, the PROOFS that Obi-Wan recognized, accepted, believed in. The undeniable and positive ideas of his worthlessness. Ideas he had only begun to combat and was not in any way prepared to defeat. The link became stronger as the emotion fed it.
Qui-Gon did the only thing that could break the pattern. He focused on the pulse beneath his fingers, centered on the physical and disappeared.
Obi-Wan found himself suddenly quite alone with his demons.
*All right, Kenobi. You can do this. Remember that time on Alderass? Not a healer in sight and you got him out safe. Just do as much for yourself and we'll get you a nice big dish of benburi.* He held that thought close to him, the memory of his one true victory. Qui-Gon had been unconscious for sixteen hours while Obi-Wan dragged, pushed and pulled them both back to the safety of their transport. One broken finger and a badly cut ear were the worst of it. It could have gone much worse. They had both nearly died.
It had been the silence that served him then. No little smiles, no wry jokes, just the still, ashen face of his Master demanding that something be done. And something was done. Done right and well and to the letter of protocol all the way down the line. Good. Alone was good.
Like a joint popping back into place, Obi-Wan found his center. The thumping link to his master thrummed in his mind, like a hammer at the base of his neck. *Oh, shut UP!* He thought, slamming an extra shield over the weakness in his defenses. The thumping stopped, and Obi-Wan finally had the peace he needed to think. Have to remember. What was I trying to remember ... something to do with Corubia ...
Suddenly the empty plane around him disappeared and was replaced by the Stone Spiral garden. He was flat on his stomach, gripping both of Corubia's hands. She dangled over the side, clinging to him. "Obi-Wan! I can't reach the ledge! You've got to help me!"
"Use the Force, Cor! Come on, it's not that far. Don't look down, keep your eyes right on me." Obi-Wan strengthened his hold on her with his still-fledgling use of the Force.
"Please, I can't! Do something!" She was near to fear, which was a short step from panic. Obi-Wan considered the situation, took a deep breath and acted. The twist of the ledge should be just below her. He silently prayed that he was strong enough to do what he was about to do, then did it anyway, regardless. He swung her weight to the left. "Come on, kick! The ledge is right there. You just need to reach it!" Corubia understood and added her strength to the effort. Back, she swung, to where the ledge fell away from her. To the left again and Obi-Wan slid a few inches with her weight.
"I almost had it that time!" She cried, swinging again. This time the swing to the right dragged Obi-Wan closer to the edge, but gave them more length to work with. Back to the left. Her foot scraped the path, but she faltered. In the confusion of the bobble, Obi-Wan slid further forward. Right, slip. Oof, not much left to give here. His shoulders were screaming from the stress they were under. His chest and neck burned angrily at the abuse.
"Just keep your eyes on me, Cor! Last time!" *It had better be, I don't have much left! * To the left. This time she got her feet underneath her, safe. She let go of her grip on Obi-Wan's arms and turned, just in time to see him fall past her. "KENOBI!"
He stretched into the fall, then tucked into a ball to roll. Damn, that hurt! He tumbled, almost under control until he fetched up against something tall. Something in robes. Double damn.
Qui-Gon reached down to help him up. "Off to the healers, then," was all he said, but his eyes held something more, something darker. Obi-Wan looked away. He wasn't hurt. He'd slowed himself with the Force and let his physical training do the rest. As he gained his feet, he reassessed that. Not hurt TOO much. He turned from Qui-Gon to go have his ribs taped up. Qui-Gon was already going to see about Corubia.
*Not real! I already did this! It's not real!* Obi-Wan grabbed on to that thought. Corubia ... good thing he'd saved her then. Who else would look after Dauhge when he was away?
Dauhge! That was it! He had to remember to focus!
The reality of the Stone Spire garden fell away, back into the blessed silence. He stood alone, ready to do what needed to be done. He focused on the reality of his pet, the reality of the REAL and let go of this quiet, solitary place. He felt a pang of loss as it faded from his mind.
Opening his eyes, he saw Qui-Gon first. His master had that dark look in his eyes, so Obi-Wan turned to Corubia. "Sorry. I got caught."
"What did you see?" J'kata asked.
"Oh, I just remembered that time Cor fell off the Spire. No big deal. It took me a minute to remember it wasn't real, though." He stood up, but his knees buckled under him. He wrapped his arms around his ribcage, protecting them.
"Sometimes, what the mind sees, the body makes real," J'kata explained. "One of the drawbacks to mind over matter. I'll take care of it."
"No, I will, " Qui-Gon said, helping Obi-Wan up. That dark look was still there.
"Please, Master. You must help Cord with Anikin. You too, J'kata. I'm sure I can do for myself." Obi-Wan limped painfully to the medical supplies. "Last time, it was just bruised ribs. It can't be worse this time," he joked.
Qui-Gon lost that dark look, and turned to help Skywalker. Good. Any amount of pain was worth suffering, as long as Qui-Gon stopped looking at him like that. Obi-Wan pushed it all from his mind as he gathered up the supplies he needed.
"C'mon. You know you can't tape your own ribs, no matter how good you are with the Force. Especially not now. Sit still." Corubia came up behind him and claimed his supplies.
"But," he started to protest.
"Shut up, Kenobi. You just saved three lives. The least I can do is see to your wounds." She helped him get out of his robes.
"I did it to myself, Cor. I'll take care of it myself." Obi-Wan tried to push her away.
"Well, as far as that goes, I did this to you then, loosing my balance like that. So let me take care of it this time. Duty to one another and all that." Corubia grinned.
Obi-Wan sighed and relented. When Corubia started quoting tradition, there was nothing that could dissuade her. *I COULD do it for myself though.*
That was when he noticed that, for the first time in two days, he was alone in his own mind. *Good. It's quiet in here. Alone in my own head. Alone is good.*