Consciousness came slowly, pulling him from the comforting embrace of darkness as a thousand different pains made themselves known. He shifted, stifling a cry as new aches flared brightly into existence. Automatically, he acknowledged the pain, accepted it and it dimmed away. He wasn't seriously hurt, he knew at least that much. Qui-Gon opened his eyes, blinking painfully as he struggled for awareness.
Darkness, not a glint of light. He shifted again, felt rubble and debris grind under him. Memory surged back. An explosion of some sort. He and Obi-Wan had been in a corridor on their way to meet with the King of Breel when the shockwaves went through the palace and the walls around them had collapsed. There hadn't been time for any action or protection and blackness overtook Qui-Gon's memories from there. Apparently, one of the warring factions wasn't interested in discussing peace.
Fighting down a brief rush of panic, he calmed himself and reached out with the Force. He was in some kind of pocket, he could feel a few tons of debris from the collapsed palace above him but it seemed stable enough for the moment.
He spread his awareness further. The pocket appeared to be perhaps ten meters at its longest and six at its widest, not tall enough for him to stand but he could sit without hitting his head.
There, a flicker of warmth, life. Qui-Gon crawled carefully through the small open area, trying not to dislodge anything and bring the rest of the palace down on their heads.
He almost fell over the boy, his hand coming down hard on something warm and pliable. Qui-Gon flinched back clumsily, banging his elbow hard and he hissed at the sharp burst of pain. He ignored it though. He moved forward again immediately, running his hands blindly over the limp form that was his Padawan.
Alive, Qui-Gon's over-taxed senses could tell him that much and he was almost overwhelmed by a wave of giddy relief. He tamped it back, nothing was certain yet. Obi-Wan groaned as Qui-Gon gently touched him, feeling for any severe injury. He could feel sticky wetness in some places, blood from a variety of cuts and scrapes but nothing flowing with any urgency, nothing broken.
"Master?" A groggy, disembodied voice floated up, then a sharp spike of panic went through the Force and one hand came up flailing, searching.
Qui-Gon captured it, held it. "Hush, hush, Padawan, I'm right here. Shhh," he soothed as best he could, given his own condition. The panic subsided a bit and Qui-Gon carefully pulled Obi-Wan half onto his lap. That seemed to calm him further, he went boneless against his master, allowed the older man to comfort him with wordless murmurs.
"What happened, Master?"
"I'm not sure. Some kind of explosion." He shifted, trying to get more comfortable and gravel crackled under him.
"Yes, I remember that part," wryly and that sounded a bit more like his apprentice, Qui-Gon thought with a brief smile of his own. He shifted again, lowering Obi-Wan back to the floor and the young man protested immediately. Qui-Gon hushed him gently.
"A moment, Padawan." He lightly stroked Obi-Wan's hair and the young man subsided. His other hand was searching for a compartment on his belt and he managed to flip it open one handed. He pulled out the tiny emergency beacon there and set it carefully on the smoothest surface he could find before igniting it.
It flared to life, flooding the tiny area with brilliant artificial light. Qui-Gon blinked rapidly, the flash burned into his eyes until they adjusted to the sudden illumination. He could see then, that the falling wall at actually saved their lives. It leaned against the opposite wall and formed a brace of sorts, holding Force-knew how much of the rest of the collapsed palace off of them.
Satisfied that they were as safe as they could possibly be for the moment he returned his attention to Obi-Wan, who appeared to be drowsing under his master's gently caressing fingers. Qui-Gon couldn't hold back his flinch as he saw the dark stains on Obi-Wan's light-colored tunic and pants. His ash-pale face was streaked with dirt and more maroon stains.
Frowning, he started to lift his Padawan back into his lap but a startled cry of pain stopped him. Obi-Wan doubled over and clenched his arms over his midsection, his face twisted into a harsh grimace.
"Obi-Wan, hold still. Let me see," Concern sharpened his voice but Obi-Wan obeyed, relaxing as much as he could. Qui-Gon reached out, all his own discomfort fading abruptly from his attention as he checked over his student again, this time using the Force. First, he damped the young man's pain receptors and dimly heard Obi-Wan sigh gratefully.
Qui-Gon settled his hands over Obi-Wan's, the contact feather-light as he probed further, using the Force to examine him with a touch as gentle as a breeze. A growing sense of panic began to fill him as the true extent of Obi-Wan's injuries became known to him. True to his first examination, his apprentice had no broken bones and all his cuts were superficial.
It was the internal bleeding that his hands couldn't have detected before, damage that was invisible to physical touch. And that was far beyond Qui-Gon's capacity to heal. In fact, nothing short of bacta treatment was going to heal the kind of injury he was sensing, that some blow or another had dealt to the young man's vulnerable belly. And treatment would have to be soon or else...
"How bad is it?"
The quiet words jolted Qui-Gon from his light trance and he looked up to see Obi-Wan watching him calmly.
He took a deep breath, steadying himself and he forced an outward serenity that he didn't feel. "You're going to be fine, Padawan, you..."
"Master," Obi-Wan cut in, "You have never lied to me before, please, don't start now. How bad?" Qui-Gon said nothing. Words of reassurance trembled on his lips but refused to be spoken and Obi-Wan closed his eyes. "I'm dying, aren't I."
It was a statement, not a question and Qui-Gon shook his head desperately, not wanting to even consider the possibility. He ignored the wild, gibbering panic that rose in him at the very words. "No!" he said fiercely, "No, you are not dying, you are going to be fine! I've already set out the emergency beacon. Someone will come and you will..." He ground to a halt, his throat constricting.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and looked at him. "Yes, Master," he said softly, dutifully.
Neither of them said the obvious. Instead it hung in the air around them, almost audible in its truth. It would take time for them to be found and rescued, hours if not days. Time that Obi-Wan did not have.
The young man shifted gingerly but Qui-Gon had done his work well and the pain didn't return. He moved so that his head was resting on Qui-Gon's knee and sighed deeply.
"Obi-Wan?" He lightly stroked his Padawan's damp hair, paying no mind to the sweat and blood slicking his fingers. "Obi-Wan you need to stay awake."
*Please, you have to stay with me. *
"All right." Obi-Wan moved again, curling his body around his master's as if he were a kitten, seeking warmth. "Talk to me then, help me stay awake."
"What would you have me talk about, Padawan?" That hand never ceased its gentle stroking, lightly teased the short ponytail before drifting back over the damp hair that was now sticking up at odd angles from his touch.
"Anything. You wanted me to stay awake," he pointed out, "So help me."
Qui-Gon considered that a moment before nodding. "All right, shall I tell you a story then?"
A soft exhalation, laced with amusement. "A story? You haven't told me a story since I was a child with too much energy to sleep properly." Rueful laughter in that soft voice and before Qui-Gon could protest that Obi-Wan had simply been a normal, healthy child Obi-Wan spoke again. "I think I would like to hear you tell me a story again."
Before it's too late
He didn't say it. He didn't have to and Qui-Gon felt a sharp burning behind his eyes as his stifled emotions threatened to burst free.
He had to swallow several times to wet his painfully dry mouth before he said huskily, "If that's what you'd like, then I shall." Qui-Gon searched his memory and found an old fable he had heard years before on Galadial.
"Once upon a time there was a good-hearted young noblewoman. Her mother died when she was very young and her father, not wanting her to grow up without a mother, remarried. The woman was a widow, with two daughters of her own..."
A natural storyteller, he wove the simple folktale into an elegant tapestry of images. He gave it life, embellishing the fantastic and painted a picture of a grand ball that the good daughter was not allowed to attend and the cruelty of the stepsisters and of a lost shoe that would bring two lovers together.
Obi-Wan was listening with rapt attention, he saw, and so he strove harder, wanting desperately for this moment to last, even as he knew that the story would end, as they all must.
"...And so the birds that had been her friends pecked out the eyes of the two sisters for their selfishness and the prince and the good daughter were married and lived happily ever after." Almost ritual words of ending and Qui-Gon waited patiently for his audience of one to react.
A long silence, then, "Master that was revolting! Cutting of their heels and toes to make the shoe fit? Pecking out eyes, ugh!" He shook his head. "No wonder you didn't tell me that one when I was a child, I wouldn't have slept for weeks, I certainly don't feel like it now! That was horrible!"
"Yes it was," Qui-Gon agreed, "And there are earlier versions that are even worse." He realized then that Obi-Wan was shivering. He moved back just enough to pull off his cloak and wrapped it around his student, hushing him when the young man would have protested. If all he could offer his Padawan was a feeble bit of comfort then he would. And Qui-Gon had been cold before. It wasn't as if it would kill him. He shied away from that thought, returned his focus to Obi-Wan.
"Shall I tell you another?" A nod and so he did. He told Obi-Wan about the girl who had wanted to be a fish and about the golden key and the rabbit's bride and a dozen others until his voice grew hoarse from talking. Obi-Wan's eyes drooped occasionally but Qui-Gon always prompted him, asking him a question about the story, still teaching, even now.
When Obi-Wan didn't respond to his last question, Qui-Gon shook him slightly, then harder. "Obi-Wan? Obi-Wan!"
"Master?" Obi-Wan's voice was slurred, his eyes fluttered but didn't open.
His very senses trembling, Qui-Gon reached out and very lightly felt along the thread of his Padawan's lifeforce. It was growing weaker, the line connecting him to the living force stretched taut and thinning by the second as his life's blood seeped away.
He very gently pulled the young man into his trembling arms. "No. No please, Obi-Wan. Stay with me, just a little longer?" No response. He began to rock almost unconsciously, pressing his face against Obi-Wan's hair. "I've never taken you to Tal-Heel, have I? Small wonder, I suppose. They haven't had a major conflict on their planet in several hundred years. I always meant to take you but we never seemed to have the time." He fell silent, his voice echoed for just a second before he spoke again.
"You would love to see it. I've never been anywhere so peaceful ever again. If I could have chosen a place for the Jedi temple, it would have been there. It's so full of the living Force that it seems to seep into your very pores. And when you watch the sun set behind the mountains, you know why there are no wars there. How could there be in a place that can see such beauty?"
His voice broke, and he could taste salt. Obi-Wan didn't stir, didn't move. "Shall I tell you another story, Obi-Wan," his voice was thin and shaking but he pushed on ruthlessly. "Once upon a time there was a young boy who wanted nothing more than to be a knight. He knew it was his destiny to fight draigons and he was very brave and strong and good-hearted. He had everything he needed to be a knight.
"But the master who was supposed to train him instead refused him and pushed him away. The master had been hurt, you see. He'd trusted another boy, one who had seemed just as worthy but who had actually been a draigon in disguise. And he burned the master very badly, leaving him with a wound that would not heal. And so now every time the master looked at a young boy what he really saw was a draigon."
"But this boy was different. He knew that he could heal the master's wound and then together they could slay the draigons and make the people safe again. All he had to do was convince the master." His voice cracked but he pushed on doggedly, "He tried very hard to show the master how brave he was but the master refused to see it. He pushed the boy away again and again and it was only when the boy would have sacrificed himself that the master believed. And...and..Obi-Wan please you can't leave me like this, not like this!" He finally broke down, gathering the limp body of his Padawan close to him as he wept.
"No, please. Please don't leave me, I can't do this without you any more." Tears ran unheeded down his cheeks. He pulled the unresisting body closer, burying his face in his shoulder. "You saved me, don't you know that? I was turning into a lonely, bitter old man and you changed that." He rocked back and forth, his tears running unheeded down his cheeks, dripping onto the young man's face. "You changed my life. So please, you can't leave me, not yet. Not until I can return the favor."
The tiny thread of life was thinning in his grasp and he clung to it desperately, trying to hold on. Qui-Gon pulled back and even in the dim light he could see the purplish cast to Obi-Wan's mouth. He kissed those cold, unresponsive lips gently, then harder as if he could pour his life into the young man through that slight contact. And would have, had it been possible.
"So much I wanted you to see, things I wanted to tell you. You're going to be a Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan. You are. An extraordinary Knight." He pressed his forehead against Obi-Wan's, still rocking as he held his Padawan close and wept.
* * *
The light bloomed bright orange behind his eyelids and he squinted, then blinked, eyes watering. The room was unfamiliar and he started to sit up only to feel gentle hands pushing him back down.
"Easy, Padawan. You're still not quite well."
He lay back, his head already swimming. "What happened?"
Qui-Gon studied him closely, "You don't remember anything."
He started to say no, but even as he thought it he realized he did remember a bit. "I remember an explosion and you telling me stories. And..."he shook his head, frustrated.
A large warm hand settled on his forehead. "It's all right. It's to be expected. You were hurt very badly."
He frowned. "How badly?"
"Two days in bacta treatment and another two in a healing trance."
Obi-Wan's eyes widen, "Force, I must have been half dead!"
Qui-Gon smiled weakly. When the rescuers had finally found them Obi-Wan had been clinically dead for almost a minute. Their quick actions and his own tight grip on Obi-Wan's lifeforce had been the only thing that saved the young man's life and even then it had been touch and go for a time. But no reason to talk about that now.
He smoothed the blankets carefully over Obi-Wan's legs, ignoring his Padawan's indulgent look as he fussed. "Well, there is another Jedi team here now taking care of the negotiations so we'll be leaving as soon as you're well enough."
"Heading back to Coruscant?" Obi-Wan grimaced mentally, that probably meant he would spend another week with the healers. Jedi healers seemed to be the worst fussbudgets, if they heard you sniffle they tried to get you into their clutches. His Master's response startled his dismay out of him.
"Actually, no. We're going to Tal-Heel."
Obi-Wan frowned. "Tal-Heel? What's going on there?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Qui-Gon smiled at his apprentice warmly.
bit pale, a bit weak. But he was alive. Warm and vibrant and alive.
just something I want to show you."
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