NOTE: This story takes place sometime before JA9, while Qui & Obi are traveling together, working on re-establishing their bond.
Obi-Wan struggled to match his master blow for blow, but Force he was exhausted. His muscles screamed. His skin was fire. Oh, it was so hot here.... Despite his exertion, no cooling sweat dampened him. He gasped for breath and gained nothing but a chest full of flame. Gods, he was burning from the inside out!
He gasped again, and his throat closed on the dry air, choking him. If only he could have some water... if only he could breathe without scorching his lungs.... A fit of coughing seized him, but still he pushed his saber forward to meet his master's.
Couldn't Qui-Gon feel it? Couldn't he feel the heat, the unbearable heat? How in Sith hell could his master be so calm, look so cool?
Qui-Gon struck, swift and strong, and their lightsabers locked. Obi-Wan's arms shook as he fought to push his master from him. Their weapons pulsed, and shimmering waves of heat and light burned Obi-Wan's eyes. He was weakening, faltering....
He crashed to his knees, and tried futilely to twist away. The tangled sabers became a white-hot blur as they lowered toward his face. He heard the sizzle, then felt the searing, as both weapons burned into his flesh.
With a strangled cry, Obi-Wan fell to his back. His own lightsaber dropped across him, and his tunics began to smolder and smoke. Qui-Gon was merely a dark shadow through the haze. But Obi-Wan watched, horrified, as the green blade was drawn slowly down his body, leaving behind a trail of flame.
He could hear himself weeping. He could feel the hiss of tears as they steamed on his cheeks and disappeared.
Someone was cooling his blazing forehead, soothing his burned chest. Obi-Wan gave a muffled sob. Had he been found? Someone was helping him?
Slowly he opened his dry and stinging eyes. A dark figure leaned over him, and Obi-Wan shrank back.
The figure straightened, and in the dim lamplight, Obi-Wan saw his master's face. He sighed with relief. His master! Qui-Gon would help him. Qui-Gon would heal him. Qui-Gon would... would....
Obi-Wan's hand fluttered to his chest, searching for the saber burns carved there by a brilliant green blade. His fingers felt the heat radiating from his skin, and he quickly pulled his hand away.
"Are they bad?" whispered Obi-Wan.
"Hello. You're awake," said Qui-Gon softly.
"Are they bad? Will they heal?"
"You have a high fever, Padawan. You will heal."
"The burns. The saber burns... you...." Obi-Wan's voice trailed away. Oh, the feel of the cold cloth on his forehead was so nice.
"You have no burns, Padawan. Did you dream you were burned?"
"I think... I dreamt...." He began to cough weakly, his throat parched. Qui-Gon supported his shoulders and gave him a drink of cool water. "Slowly," Qui-Gon said. "Sip slowly." Obi-Wan did so, then slumped against his master as the effort of sitting and swallowing drained him utterly.
Qui-Gon carefully put the glass aside. "You had a dream?" he murmured into his padawan's hair.
"I... don't remember it," Obi-Wan said quietly.
Qui-Gon felt the feverish heat of his apprentice's body and decided to overlook the lie. "Very well," he said easily. He pressed his cool cheek to the boy's hot forehead, then lowered him back onto his pillow. "Rest, Padawan."
Obi-Wan looked up with glazed eyes, studying Qui-Gon sleepily. "I have a fever," he told his master. "I was dreaming." His hand moved limply across his chest, then dropped away. Reassured, Obi-Wan closed his eyes and fell back to sleep.
He woke gradually and lay still, his eyes closed, listening to the sound of his own ragged breathing. He concentrated, breathed in and out, slowly and evenly. After a time, he opened his eyes carefully and saw... nothing.
It was perfectly black in the room. Perfectly still and silent. Another deliberate breath, and then a hoarse whisper into the darkness. "Master?" Silence. He swallowed away the dryness in his throat and tried again. "Master?" he said. "Qui-Gon?" Nothing.
His eyes strained against the blackness, his ears against the silence. Unable to penetrate either, he struggled to sit up. His joints ached with fever. He was dizzy, and the darkness swirled before him strangely.
Obi-Wan pressed a hand to his eyes, making the blackness blacker. It seemed to steady him somewhat.
"Master," he called out. "Are you here?" Gingerly, he slid his legs to the floor and pushed himself to stand. In the pitch darkness, there seemed neither up nor down, and he lurched sickeningly, hitting the near wall with a thud.
He splayed his hands against the wall, pressed his cheek there, and took a careful breath. "Master, can you hear me?" he murmured as a wave of nausea swept through him. "Answer me, please. Are you here?"
He began to inch along the wall, moving cautiously, feeling his way. He half-stepped on something thick and solid, and felt a sharp pain as his ankle turned. What? He reached into the nothingness beneath him and his fingers brushed something. A book. The novel Qui-Gon had begun earlier in the day.
Fresh determination pulsed in him, and he moved more swiftly now, toward the door he knew must be near. "I'm coming, Master," he said to himself, and it became a quiet chant as he made his way along.
Then he felt it, felt the odd, old-fashioned knob and hinges, felt the seam between door and jamb. He leaned weakly for a moment, fighting his dizziness, gathering his strength.
Wait... he gave his head a shake and then disciplined his mind. He closed his eyes, and called for Qui-Gon. Master. Please. Are you here?
There was nothing. Only more silence, blackness, and the sudden understanding that he was completely alone. He sensed nothing of his master's presence. Sensed nothing, in fact, at all.
Nothing at all.
An icy surge of fear tore through him, and he grabbed for the door, pulling it open, swinging it wide.
Cruel light blinded him then, pierced him with a physical pain. With a cry, he raised his hands before his eyes in useless defense, and his balance deserted him. Horror burned through him like lightning as he felt himself sway forward into the agonizing brilliance. He managed to scream, once, for his master, before he fell into the endless glowing void before him.
With a deep gasp, his body jerked with shock, and he opened wide and terrified eyes to see his master bending over him. Qui-Gon's face was calm and relaxed, the hand he laid on Obi-Wan's racing heart was steady and cool.
Obi-Wan took a few more panting breaths, then shut tight his stinging eyes. Tears threatened, but even through his feverish confusion he told himself lucidly that he would not cry. His forehead creased with the effort of denying what seemed to be an unbearable urge to weep.
Qui-Gon squeezed the cool water from the cloth into the basin at his side, then lifted it to his padawan's face. Blindly, Obi-Wan thrust out a hand and caught Qui-Gon's wrist in a fierce grip. Qui-Gon remained very still, patiently allowing his apprentice to focus, to feel the comforting weight of the hand on his chest and the reassuring pulse of the wrist he grasped so tightly.
The moment passed, and Obi-Wan took a shuddering breath. With eyes still closed, he released his grip on Qui-Gon's arm. A second later, the cold cloth was on his forehead, and he thought he really would cry.
"Don't leave, okay?" Obi-Wan whispered, and he was too tired to care if he sounded like a child.
"I won't leave," came Qui-Gon's quiet voice.
Outside the throne room, Obi-Wan stood proud and tall beside his master. Well, he thought, glancing up, he stood as tall as someone could stand, next to his master. Their mission was an important one -- to officially greet the new monarch of Veraan... manage a rebel uprising... negotiate a peace treaty... settle a trade dispute... mediate a labor agreement.... Thank the Force they had a full day to accomplish their tasks. Perhaps he and his master could fit in some sightseeing. Obi-Wan smiled at the possibilities.
The guards stood aside. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan strode into the throne room and bowed low before the King. "Welcome, Jedi!" cried the monarch. "Please rise! We are pleased that you attend us!"
"We are honored to be of service, Your Majesty," said Qui-Gon.
"Present yourselves, that I may know you!" invited the King cordially.
"Your Majesty, I am Master Qui-Gon Jinn, and this is my apprentice, Xanatos of Telos."
Obi-Wan looked up in shock. "Master!" he breathed.
"Hush, Padawan," murmured his master. "Remember your manners. You are before the King."
"Hush," said Qui-Gon again. "Your Majesty, my apprentice and I bring the good wishes of the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order to you and your new regime." He bowed again, and Obi-Wan somehow managed the grace to do the same.
"A fine young man, your apprentice!" cried the King.
"Thank you, Your Majesty. He is intelligent and skilled. But he will betray me soon enough."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened, and his breath left him in a rush. "Master," he tried, but the sound wouldn't come.
"Oh, yes, yes, I expect so," the King agreed jovially. "Now! Meet my ministers!" He gestured, and a shimmering curtain was drawn back, unveiling the King's large cabinet of ministers. The men and women sat with blank, stony faces, an eerie contrast to the effusive King.
"Solus! Minister of Defense!" announced the King, and again Qui-Gon bowed. "I am Qui-Gon Jinn, and this is my apprentice, Xanatos." Down the rows it went, and to each minister Qui-Gon bowed and repeated his introduction, "I am Qui-Gon Jinn, and this is my apprentice, Xanatos... this is Xanatos... this is Xanatos... this is Xanatos...."
Obi-Wan was reeling. His hushed and feeble protests had died away, and he listened, confused and sick, as his Master repeated the damning phrase to each of the many ministers, who sat as expressionless and unmoving during this ritual as a collection of statues.
Finally the shimmering curtain dropped, the cabinet members disappeared, and Obi-Wan found himself doubled over with heartache and desperation.
"Good! Good! Yes, excellent!" the King was shouting, but his voice faded away to nothingness and the throne disappeared as though it had never existed.
The room was unnaturally silent, and Obi-Wan was on his knees now. He looked up at Qui-Gon with tortured eyes and raised shaking hands to grasp his Master's arms. "Master." He could barely speak through the pain in his chest and the tightness in his throat. "Master, don't you know me?"
Qui-Gon's impassive face looked down at him from very, very far away.
"Master, don't you know who I am!" repeated Obi-Wan desperately as he clung to Qui-Gon's cloak.
Qui-Gon frowned slightly, but his voice was almost gentle as he said, "Xanatos, I would know you anywhere."
Obi-Wan's hands tightened into fists on Qui-Gon's sleeves. It kept him from falling, but his head bent low in shame and defeat, and he pressed his face to Qui-Gon's robe to hide the sounds of his despair.
Qui-Gon placed a cool hand on his padawan's brow, both to gauge his fever and to soothe his obviously troubled sleep.
Convulsively, Obi-Wan's hands gripped the blanket, and he rolled toward Qui-Gon with a moan, his body curling in on itself in anguish.
Qui-Gon brushed his fingers across his padawan's temple lightly, the gesture carrying a suggestion to awake. Obi-Wan's fever-bright eyes opened, then narrowed in pain as his dream came back to him in a rush. He rolled to his stomach and turned his head away.
Obi-Wan felt his master's large hand move across his back slowly, comforting him. The gentle pressure felt very good, and he gave a shallow sigh. "Master," he murmured. "I'm having very bad dreams."
"I know you are. It's only the fever, my Padawan," soothed Qui-Gon. "It will be gone soon. What did you dream?"
Obi-Wan shook his head slightly. "It doesn't matter," he said into his pillow. He took a deep breath and released it unevenly. "Master? Please say my name."
Qui-Gon's brow furrowed at the unusual request, but his hand continued the easy rhythm of the back rub. "Please, Master," said Obi-Wan quietly. "Tell me who I am."
Qui-Gon's hand stilled. "Obi-Wan," he said softly. "Obi-Wan Kenobi. My padawan learner." Gentle fingers stroked the short hair, the shoulder-length braid. "No more bad dreams, Obi-Wan," instructed the master. The apprentice managed a small sound of weary acquiescence before sinking back to sleep.
Qui-Gon regarded his apprentice for a long moment, and adjusted the blankets around him. "A peaceful sleep, Padawan," he said, and he laid his hand on Obi-Wan's warm forehead.
He was on a ship. Obi-Wan had never before been on a sailing ship, and he loved it. He stood at the railing, the wind ruffling his hair and whipping his braid. He tipped his face to the sun, letting it dazzle his eyes and warm his skin. The fluttering of the huge sails thundered in his ears. The ocean stretched to the horizon, melting into the darker, blue-gray sky in the distance.
Suddenly, his master was beside him, smiling out at the sea as the wind tossed his hair wildly. Obi-Wan grinned up at him in delight. Ocean spray misted their faces, and Obi-Wan could taste salt on his lips.
The ship topped a swell, then dipped low into the water. Obi-Wan closed his eyes as his stomach dropped, loving the thrill and the speed of the vessel.
He felt Qui-Gon's hand on his shoulder, and opened his eyes to see a long arm pointing into the distance. "Do you see it, Obi-Wan? There on the horizon. That's where we're headed."
"It's so far away!" exclaimed Obi-Wan.
"No, no, it's closer than it appears. I promise."
Obi-Wan gazed toward their destination, and took note of the darkening clouds blowing in ahead of them, the ominous flicker of lightning deep within them. They were menacing, yet strangely beautiful, and he found himself both excited and uneasy about where their course would take them. "Storms ahead," he noted. His voice was calm, but a quick squeeze of his shoulder indicated that Qui-Gon sensed the anxiety he was hiding.
"There are storms," agreed Qui-Gon mildly. "We'll see them through. The ship is strong. She can handle it."
"I don't know how to sail, Master," confessed Obi-Wan, and the ship suddenly bucked, sending a shower of cold spray at the Jedi.
Qui-Gon chuckled. "Not yet, you don't," he said, using his sleeve to wipe the water from his padawan's upturned face. "But I don't intend to pilot alone, my apprentice, so I suggest you start learning. Listen carefully to me, watch what I do, and - " The ship crested, then abruptly lurched into a trough, and Obi-Wan gripped the railing, white-knuckled but laughing with exhilaration.
Qui-Gon's arm tightened around the boy's shoulders, and he smiled down openly at Obi-Wan. "Good, Padawan!" he shouted through the roar of the surf. "Lesson number one -- ride the waves. And hang on!"
"Yes, Master!" cried Obi-Wan, and he laughed again as sparkling water fell like rain around them.
Qui-Gon pressed the cloth to Obi-Wan's damp cheek, and smiled at the low sound of amusement from his sleeping padawan. Obi-Wan was nearly laughing -- a beautiful sight considering his tortured night's sleep, and a sight made all the sweeter by the fact that his fever had broken moments ago.
The first light of dawn was tinting the bedroom window, and Qui-Gon leaned back a bit, stretching his shoulders. He had been wakeful all night. It probably wasn't necessary, he knew. Obi-Wan's Chalactan Fever would run its typical course -- unpleasant, yes, but mercifully brief and not terribly dangerous. The boy certainly didn't need a bedside vigil.
And his relationship with Obi-Wan was still a bit... tentative, yet. He and his padawan were re-establishing their bond during their travels, but they both had a tendency to step lightly with each other in view of their recent history. He certainly didn't want Obi-Wan to see him as overly-solicitous or coddling.
But Qui-Gon had reasoned that he wasn't really tired, anyway. Besides, there was that novel he'd been wanting to finish. And if the chair beside Obi-Wan's bed was the most comfortable place to read, then so be it.
The novel was finished now, a new one well begun, and in the meantime Qui-Gon had cooled his padawan's fever as best he could. And considering the night Obi-Wan had spent, he came to be very glad that he was present during the boy's brief periods of cloudy, troubled consciousness.
Qui-Gon swept the cloth across Obi-Wan's sweat-dampened skin, and the padawan stirred, a small smile on his lips. His eyes opened slowly.
"Good morning," said Qui-Gon.
"Good morning," murmured Obi-Wan.
"How are you feeling? Your fever broke a little while ago."
"Better. Thank you."
"Thirsty?" Obi-Wan nodded, and his master gave him a drink. Obi-Wan fell back onto his pillow with a sigh.
Qui-Gon adjusted the blanket, and casually asked, "Any more bad dreams?"
"No," answered Obi-Wan. Then he smiled. "Kind of a nice one, though."
"Me, too." Obi-Wan looked at his master for a moment. "You've been here all night," he observed.
Qui-Gon lifted his book from the nightstand. "Reading," he said. "I couldn't put it down."
Obi-Wan found that amusing for some reason. His soft laugh shortly became a ragged, weary cough, and Qui-Gon helped him sit up for air. "I hate being sick," he mumbled when his lungs cleared.
"I know. Your sickness will leave you soon, though. I've had Chalactan Fever before. It leaves you as quickly as it takes you." Qui-Gon pushed some pillows against the headboard and Obi-Wan leaned against them gratefully.
"You've had this fever before?" he asked drowsily. "When?"
"When I was a Knight. I was here on Chalacta, on a mission."
"Were you alone?"
"I thought I was alone," yawned Obi-Wan. He closed his eyes peacefully. "I... felt alone when I was dreaming. Every time I woke up, I was surprised you were here."
Qui-Gon was stung. His padawan's words, so casually spoken, had actually hurt him. He swallowed. Look at me. Obi-Wan's eyes opened, and Qui-Gon spoke seriously to him. "You are not alone, Padawan, you do know that, don't you?"
Obi-Wan looked uncomfortable. "Yes, Master, I know that, but...."
"But sometimes you forget," Qui-Gon finished for him, and his voice was harder than he had intended. He paused, then covered Obi-Wan's warm hand with his large one. "Obi-Wan. I am always here for you, no matter what your dreams may tell you. And Padawan, if your dreams were disturbing, consider meditating on them. They may reveal things to you."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened with alarm. "About the future?"
"No, not necessarily. Rarely so, in my experience. But dreams are often about the past. And they can speak to you about your fears. Your... insecurities, perhaps?"
Obi-Wan nodded, slowly, and said, "Oh."
"Would you like to talk with me about your dreams?" asked Qui-Gon. "I would be glad to listen."
Obi-Wan bit his lip, considering. Then he shook his head no. "I'd rather not, Master, if that's all right. But I do promise to meditate on them. I think I need to."
"As you wish," said Qui-Gon gently.
Obi-Wan smiled shyly, then, and said, "I will tell you about my nice dream, though."
"Well... we were on a big sailing ship in a huge ocean," began Obi-Wan, "It was just us on the ship, and I didn't know anything about sailing. You were going to teach me. We were starting a long journey together, and...."
Qui-Gon smiled and sat back in his chair to listen.