Canon: Jedi Apprentice characters used, but the story line is not followed, and while a very minor point, I've made Bant the same age as Obi-Wan.
Summary: A Padawan Learner is something very different from an Apprentice Knight.
Author's Notes: Two things collided in my mind to inspire this story: I was reading Mary Renault's "The Persian Boy" at the same time I had the thought that it was extremely redundant to call a Jedi-in-training a Padawan Learner. After all, the secondary canon is in agreement that Padawan is an old word for Apprentice. Apprentice Learner? Nah. So what if there is a difference between a Padawan Learner and an Apprentice Knight?
Warning: This one is squicky as hell. Obi-Wan is not only underage throughout, but this contains a consensual castration as part of a Jedi ritual. It does not have the reasons for or the effects of such a procedure in our world. IOW, Obi-Wan will remain the ... frisky Padawan we all know and love. Qui-Gon would have it no other way.
Different. Obi-Wan sat in the corner away from his crechemates and contemplated them. All were nervous, even a little worried. They'd spent the last few days meditating as much as a group of seven-year-old Initiates could endure in an attempt to be ready for what waited for each of them behind the door Obi-Wan sat next to.
That was one of the differences between them and him. The others cast worried directions at the non-descript door and had chosen to sit as far away from it as possible. The last thing any of them wanted to do was go through it, yet Obi-Wan viewed his summons with anticipation. Because he was different.
He'd not understood until this very morning. Since the Force had spoken so clearly to him during his meditations, he'd assumed it had done so for everyone. A mistake. Nothing, not even a vague whisper had answered the contemplations of his friends. Now he was trying to figure out why.
Obi-Wan was neither falsely modest nor vain. He knew he was bright, enjoyed learning new things and cherished the company of others. Some of his crechemates were smarter in other things than he was, all shared his curiosity, but he'd noticed none craved affection the way he did. That must be why. Yes, it made sense.
A slight smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He knew some of his friends would eventually chose the path which called so clearly to him, but no one else had heard the call in time for First Declaration Day. As Obi-Wan had understood their Crechemaster's words of assurance, it was very rare for Initiates of their age to be called to a particular path. Instead this was a day to affirm the Force called each of them to be a Jedi no matter what the eventual duties. Master N'bara had said no one would fail, for those who would, had learned a few basic things about shielding and control, then left the Temple long before reaching seven.
This didn't keep the others from worrying they would be the first to fail. Obi-Wan was certain he would be very afraid if the Force had not told him what he was to become. He smiled his secret little smile again. He'd seen himself so clearly with the Padawan braid draped over his right shoulder, while he walked a pace behind and to the right of a tall man in the dark brown robe of a Master.
Yes, he was different. It was First Declaration Day and he knew what his choice would be.
The door opened, and Bant stepped out. She smiled slightly. "I think it's okay," she whispered.
He gave the Mon Calamari's hand a friendly squeeze. "I told you you'd do fine."
She nodded. "You will, too."
A slight tugging within his mind made him stand. "Guess it's time to find out."
"Good luck," she said, then scurried off.
Obi-Wan straightened his robe, then entered the meditation chamber. Master N'bara sat on the floor with Master Yoda. A slender, regal silver-skinned woman next to the small, green, pointed-eared figure -- they could have been a comical sight, but to Obi-Wan, they were all that was beautiful in the Force. He crossed over to them and waited.
"Sit, sit, young one," Yoda told him. "So tall you are, my neck it will ache if look up at you I must."
He obeyed immediately.
"Meditated you have?"
Yoda studied him for a long moment. "Path I think the Force has shown you. True is this not?"
N'bara looked startled, then even more surprised when Obi-Wan nodded. "What path calls to you, Obi-Wan?" she asked.
Violet eyes widened. "Padawan, not Knight?"
She looked uncomfortable. "Do you know what the difference is between the two?"
Obi-Wan nodded."A Knight goes his own way once the training time ends; I will always be with my Master."
"Is that all?"
A blush warmed his cheeks. The formal classes in such matters were another year away, but the Initiates talked. "No, Master. I will also learn how to please him."
Yoda's ears perked up at the final word and intense green eyes studied him closely. Then a voice spoke in his mind, /Seen have you the one you will serve?/
/Yes, Master, at least a little./ He let the tall, dark image fill his thoughts so Yoda could see it as well. No words answered him, but for some reason the ancient Master seemed very pleased.
"Much training until you are older must wait," Yoda said when he'd stopped doing what Obi-Wan guessed was his version of a smirk. "But lightsaber you may build now. Instruct you myself I will. Train you in its use also."
The blush faded into a burning flush of pure joy. A lightsaber! He was a year too young to have one, let alone learn how to use it.
"Also on patience you must meditate. Skill in this you must have."
Yes, he would be a diplomat and a warrior. Patience would be needed for both.
Yoda must have caught the thought for he chuckled. /True this is, young one. But in training your Master more you will need./
His eyes widened. What could he possibly teach a Jedi Master?
/Be surprised you will./
Two Years Later
Xanatos sat serenely through yet another explosion. Once it had faded, he glanced at Qui-Gon. "Master, they don't seem to be stopping."
Qui-Gon frowned. Unlike his Apprentice, he did not feel the peace they had negotiated had failed, suspecting instead that communications were disrupted enough to prevent the swift spread of the news a treaty had been signed. At the same time, he knew each blast could well mean more lives lost in this pointless conflict. Too many, more to come. He struggled not to drain his remaining energy by reaching out with the Force and commanding every soul he could touch to stop.
Another bomb hit. This one even closer. Either the targeting systems for one side or the other had failed or part of the communications failure had been getting the word out that the negotiations were going on here. "Stop," he whispered, gathering the Force around him. If he did not stop this, those empowered to end the conflict might number among the dead.
Xanatos gripped his arm, alarm screaming through their training-bond. "You must not. It will kill you."
Qui-Gon shook his head, deciding he must take the risk. "Death is not a concern, my Apprentice. But I may end up in a healing trance for a few days." He let the confidence he felt in Xanatos follow his words. "Nothing you can't handle."
The young man's face remained calm, but his turmoil danced in Qui-Gon's mind. "As you wish, Master."
So much self-doubt -- all a product of his certainty Qui-Gon wished to be rid of him. Hard as Qui-Gon tired he could never manage to dissuade his Apprentice of such a notion. He supposed his failure had a lot to do with the fact it was true. He smiled at Xanatos and let all the love he felt for him flood their bond.
Love, pride, the genuine pleasure of being with him, all of this and more he sent to Xanatos. A year, two at the most and Xanatos would be a great Jedi Knight. Qui-Gon had no doubts. He sent this along with the reminder that Qui-Gon's former Master was very much a part of their lives, and his sincere hope he would share an equally enduring relationship with Xanatos.
Xanatos managed a smile, then nodded. "Do as you must, my Master. I will watch over you."
Qui-Gon returned the smile, gave the young man's right shoulder a squeeze, then moved toward the entrance of the bunker. He needed to go outside for what he knew in his own heart was a pointless gesture to have any effect at all.
The explosion knocked him off his feet before he reached the heavy door. The screams of metal mixed with wails of terror, heat flooded the chamber, and the ceiling tumbled toward him. He sent the energy he'd gathered streaking upward, creating a Force barrier to keep the flaming wreckage at bay. /Xanatos, get the negotiators out!/
Pekarek VII ceased to exist. Only the blazing ceiling above remained. Heavy, hot, pressing down, tired, so tired. If he'd had the energy left to form any thought but, "Stay," he would have cursed the long string of sleepless nights which had left him weak enough to make this an ordeal. At the time a chance to end a civil war which had raged for almost twelve years had seemed worth it, but he should have known better than to leave himself without any energy reserves to call upon.
Heavy, slipping, must hold, stay. Sound was a roar in his ears, his eyes blind to anything but flames. His awareness of self began to fade. A sob he had no energy to expel wrenched at his soul. He was going to die unBonded. Alone in life. Alone in eternity, then even this greatest of horrors faded. Fire, weight, can't hold.
A crash, a rush of air as wreckage swooped downward. Blinding agony. Not enough to crush instantly. Alive enough to burn. He screamed and screamed, but one thought held through it all, 'Not alone, not because of me.'
Small hand on his shoulder, clean sheets, uncomfortable mattress, medicinal smell in the air. Healing Center. "Eyes open you must."
Qui-Gon almost smiled. Once again it seemed Master Yoda's hopeless Apprentice had gotten himself hurt and whisked off to the Healers. "Sorry, Master," he mumbled. He'd found when dealing with Yoda, it was best to begin with an apology. Usually took a good ten minutes off the lecture about being more mindful of what he was doing and not getting so caught up in the Living Force.
The hand shifted to caress his face, following the line of his cheek down, then along his beard. Beard? What?
His sense of time righted itself, and Qui-Gon's eyes snapped open. As expected, Yoda was sitting on the bed next to Qui-Gon's pillow, but the Healing Center did not match the one on Coruscant.
What had happened? Something akin to terror gibbered he did not want to know the answer, but he forced out the words. "Master? What-?"
Sad green eyes looked at him. "Coma you have been in for days. Feared for you I did."
"I'm sorry," he repeated, then touched Yoda's arm. His large hand could cover the entire length of his former Master's upper arm. It had been a great joke to his agemates. The largest member of their creche with the smallest Master, but, in their day, Yoda and Qui-Gon had been considered the best Master-Apprentice team the Temple had seen in centuries. Time tried to slip away from him again, tried to move him into a past when a new Apprentice had thought his wonderful Master Yoda could cure all. What was he trying to hide from? "Master?" Yoda smoothed Qui-Gon's hair, sighed heavily then said, "Difficult to say this is. Xanatos -"
Sith! Memory tumbled into place. "Did he get everyone out?" If that boy had failed to get every last person to safety before he returned for his damned fool of a Master. ...
Yoda nodded. "His duty he did. All are well. The peace you made, holding it is."
Then why did Yoda look so sad? Why was he even here? Xanatos should be looking after him. Where was? ... The nightmare of death returned to him. And he knew. "He's dead." Not a nightmare, but an experience shared through their training bond. "Oh, Force, my Apprentice is dead."
Yoda settled against him, curling around his former Apprentice like a child around a parent, then calming energy flowed through their old training-bond. "Yes, to save you gave his life he did."
"No," he whispered. If the Force demanded such a price, it was for the Master to pay, never an Apprentice. "No."
Yoda held him tightly, comforting him with both touch and the surprising strength within the small body. "Saw it no one did, but flung you from the room he must have." Flung him with the Force, leaving Xanatos without the energy needed to keep the ceiling from falling.
Qui-Gon moaned in a pain which struck straight to his soul. His brave, wonderful, fool of an Apprentice. He could hear it in Yoda's thoughts as well as his own. If Xanatos had stayed calm and held the ceiling for a few minutes -- something well within his abilities -- Qui-Gon would have revived, and together they would have both escaped. "He was too concerned for me." His voice a soft whisper, he answered the charge. "He knew, Master. Force forgive me, I couldn't hide it from him."
"Difficult it is to hide one's greatest fear." But he should have.
"I ... should not have taken another Apprentice," he whispered, pain and failure forcing him to concede to an old argument. Only Qui-Gon's dislike of visions had ever prompted so many heated words between he and Yoda. Qui-Gon had guided one Apprentice to Knighthood. Enough to fulfill his duty to the future of the Order, but not enough to satisfy Qui-Gon. He had merely shepherded a former lover through her final year of Apprenticeship after her own Master had died. It had given him the rank of Master, but not a rank he had felt he'd earned. Qui-Gon believed a Master should have the experience of raising a child to adulthood as well as training a Knight. Despite the longing for a greater bond, he had insisted on taking a second Apprentice.
He had loved Xanatos as a father loved a son. As Yoda loved Qui-Gon. Yet a part of him had always been hungry for more and had ached to see Xanatos' become a Knight. Not because he was anxious to give the Jedi a new Knight. But because it would leave him free to honor the demands of his soul. Somehow, Xanatos had always sensed he was unable to give Qui-Gon what he needed -- a lover, not a son; a Padawan Learner, not an Apprentice Knight.
Qui-Gon remembered what he had thought were his last moments. His mind had roiled with terror knowing he would spend eternity alone. As Xanatos' death had flooded through their training-bond, so must have all of Qui-Gon's fear attacked Xanatos. 'Not alone, not because of me.'
Tears spilled from his eyes. How could anyone expect an Apprentice to act rationally given such an emotional onslaught? 'Forgive me,' he called into the part of the Force shimmering with Xanatos' presence. 'I loved you. I never wanted a time when you weren't in my life. Never.'
He expected no answer and got none. He did not deserve one. He lost track of time as he lay there, tears flowing from his eyes like water down a mountain.
Finally, Yoda reached out, touching the side of his face. A tiny pulse of the Force made the tears stop. "His choice it was. Grieve you must, but honor his decision you must as well."
Qui-Gon nodded, not believing it for an instant. His own fear had robbed his Apprentice of the ability to make a choice. He had killed the boy twice over.
"Return to Coruscant we will. Friends you have need of. Advise you they can."
Coruscant. Home. Friends, Healers, colleagues; those who did not scorn him would help him put this behind him, then they would tell him to do what he should have done in the first place -- bond with a Padawan. No, not now. He deserved this pain. This failure. He could not seek to ease it. Could not find happiness when death, not Knighthood, had freed him. "Not now, my Master," he whispered. Not, now. Perhaps never again.
"Padawan. Master. The two are one, the one is two. Forever -- Damn." Obi-Wan scowled at the world in general, then tried yet again to focus his thoughts on the litany.
Two more attempts and he admitted defeat with a sigh. He reached out and ran his hand over the top of the small ornate chest before him. The dark polished wood was cool beneath his palm, while the intricate carvings tickled, conjuring the image of energy tickling into his flesh. He opened the chest, but did not touch the dagger resting inside.
Beautiful. It was always his first thought. So beautiful. Each morning and evening for a year he had gripped the hilt while performing the Padawan Meditation, but today he dared not pick it up. The thin, clear crystal blade would shatter if he tried. J'dite. Extremely fragile in its natural state, the blade had no equal in strength or cutting edge when the Force was properly channeled through it. Long ago, before the development of lightsabers, swords of j'dite had been the weapon of the Jedi.
Now such blades had but one use. The Pad'rl. It was both the name of the weapon and the ceremony it was used in.
He ached to feel the hilt in his hand, to hold it up and lose himself in the dance of light across the braided metal design. A braid to symbolize the three elements of the Pad'rl -- the Force, the Master and the Padawan. One day he would offer the blade to his Master and begin the sacred bonding ceremony, would feel the sharpness cut into his flesh and join him to the other half of his soul.
A finger stroke across the hilt was all he allowed himself today. With his mind unfocused, the blade might shatter. Or it could cut him bone deep with the merest of mistakes. No, not today.
He closed the lid against temptation, then settled back into his meditation posture. Opting against yet another attempt at what he wanted, he focused instead on what troubled him so greatly it prevented his concentration.
Master Yoda. Since Obi-Wan's First Declaration Day, the small Master had become one of his best friends. Sparring lessons, teas in the Master's quarters, walks around the gardens -- Obi-Wan had seen him often, usually once a day if not more. Then six weeks ago Master Yoda had abruptly left Coruscant.
No reason had been given, but rumors had flown. Something to do with Yoda's former Apprentice had been the single common thread. Some had said Master Jinn was dead. Others that he had turned to the Dark Side. And there were those who had whispered it was not Master Jinn who had died, but his own Apprentice.
A chill swept through Obi-Wan. Both a Learner and an Apprentice looked to a Master for protection as well as training. It was never a comforting feeling to know such protection might not be enough. Beyond this, Obi-Wan had had little to say on the matter. He didn't know what had happened and found it incredible how quickly others voiced opinions of what should happen to the man before they knew the truth. Or at least he had found it so until three days ago when Master Yoda had returned. Alone.
Alone and with the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders. A fresh surge of anger swept through Obi-Wan as his mind filled with the image of his friend. Ears drooping, eyes full of sorrow, he'd walked bent over his cane with a slow shuffle which screamed of defeat. Xanatos *was* dead, but it seemed failing to protect his Apprentice had not been enough for Jinn. The Sith-spawned man had all but destroyed his former Master as well. For this alone, Obi-Wan hated him. Which was unacceptable.
Hate led to the Dark Side. Oh, he knew one single wallow in it wouldn't do any harm, but Obi-Wan was fierce in his loyalties and Master Jinn had hurt someone dear to him. He was finding it very difficult to let go of the anger and hate this inspired. He must release it into the Force. He must, but every time he tried, he saw Yoda in his mind's eye and rage flared anew.
He shivered, this time from the cold. Cold? But all of Coruscant was climate controlled, let alone the Temple. It was never cold here. He opened his eyes, then kept opening them until they were stretched wide with shock.
A blue ... haze shimmered in front of him. A haze with the vague shape of a man. A Jedi spirit. Obi-Wan's shock eased. He'd heard of them -- a Jedi who died with a mission uncompleted often resisted joining with the Force until all was well. Which did not, of course, explain why this one was manifesting in the Temple. Or not.
Obi-Wan frowned. From all he'd heard, the spirit should be almost solid, normally with nothing more than a glow to differentiate the dead from the living. Yet this spirit remained an indistinct haze. Well, sitting here staring wasn't doing any good. Maybe if he spoke to it? ... "Who are you?"
No sound. Not even a thought projection. Sith! Should he fetch a Master? Or. ... Xanatos. An impression, nothing more, but a strong one. Except it made no sense. Xanatos had accomplished his task before dying -- his Master and their charges had all been saved.
Frustration laced with sorrow. The emotion brought Obi-Wan to his feet, and he tired to think it through. A spirit went with an unfinished mission, but Xanatos had finished his. A spirit should be able to talk to him like a living being, while Xanatos seemed limited to emotional projections. What in Force was going on?
The haze -- Xanatos moved toward the door, then returned to Obi-Wan. Again the spirit went to the door. Oh, he wanted Obi-Wan to follow. "All right."
They left his quarters, Obi-Wan opening the door of his cubicle before he went through it, then started down the corridor. Why him? Why would Xanatos come to him? Why not to Master Yoda or Master Jinn? Between the size of the Temple and Master Jinn's frequent off-world missions, Obi-Wan had never even met Xanatos let alone spoken to him. This was all very strange, and a part of him wondered if he shouldn't run screaming for help, but the sadness of the spirit stopped him.
Xanatos led him away from the living areas, down into the lower levels. Storage. Xanatos stopped before one of several trunks. Jedi did not put high value on material possessions, but things accumulated. Especially after 900 years. For the truck was clearly marked as Yoda's.
Obi-Wan felt like some sort of thief skulking about, but the blasted phantasm obviously wanted him to open it. He almost refused. If Master Yoda had ever wanted him to see what was inside, he would have showed Obi-Wan. But it struck him how pointless it would be to argue with a ghost. And foolish. If the Force had brought Xanatos to him, at the very least he needed to know why.
He broke the seal, then lifted the lid. Clothing. From the size and look of them, the things must have belonged to one of Yoda's humanoid Apprentices. A cloak rustled as if stirred by wind. Totally mystified, Obi-Wan took the hint and reached for the brown cloth.
Heat swept through him as his fingertips brushed the cloak. Pain eating away at the soul. Guilt. Grief. So much. Alone. Tears streamed from Obi-Wan's eyes. Alone. Forever. Oh, it hurt. Alone. With a gasp, he jerked his hand back, and it stopped. He stared at the ghost, his mind struggling to understand what had happened.
Somehow he had touched the mind of the cloak's owner. It was the only thing which made any sense. Xanatos had brought him here. To Yoda's trunk. One common link. "Jinn," he said, wiping away his tears. "I felt Qui-Gon Jinn."
The haze shifted in something resembling a nod.
Silence, but Obi-Wan knew the ghost must have done something to make such a contact possible.
For one moment, Xanatos solidified enough for Obi-Wan to make out the features of his face. The lips moved. 'Not alone. Don't let him be alone.'
What-? How could he-? The cloak stirred again, making it seem a living thing, begging for a touch. A loving touch. Oh. Obi-Wan's eyes widened. "No, you can't possibly. ..." His voice faded. He could no longer see the ghost's eyes. In fact, the haze seemed even thinner, as if solidifying for a brief time had all but drained the energy from it. Yet somehow, Obi-Wan could feel eyes staring at him.
He began to tremble. He wanted to lash out, to scream. This sprit wanted him to destroy his life, his dreams. All for the sake of one man. "I am meant to be a Padawan." Tears stung his eyes again, then spilled down his cheeks. "If I. ..."
He bit his lip to hold in a sob. More than his dreams, his very destiny hung in the balance. "If I. ... Please. ..." The Force had sent him a vision of a future full of love. Now a ghost stood before him asking him to risk everything. "I'm nine."
Nine. He sat there shaking, crying. Only nine. How could he know what to do? He opened his mouth to say he would talk to Master Yoda, but knew he could not go to him. Or anyone else. What the ghost wanted of him was forbidden. To ask it of a future Padawan was among the highest crimes a Jedi could commit. And to agree, was the most horrendous mistake a future Padawan could make.
One man. One possibility. One broken, devestated man. Shame flushed his wet cheeks. Less than an hour ago, he had dared to judge Master Jinn. But the Apprentice who had died for him had clung to this side of the Force long enough to plead for him. He must be a very special man. A man whose soul might be injured beyond all recovery.
He hugged himself tightly, and began to rock, too full of energy to sit motionless, too rattled to stand and pace. One hopeless possibility. Full of pain. One who needed him beyond all others.
Obi-Wan reached for the cloak, his fingers entwining in the cloth. This time he did not touch Qui-Gon's mind. Xanatos was fading quickly and such a Force boost must be beyond him now. Yet, the Force signature was strong. It whispered of goodness, of greatness, of loneliness.
He looked, blinking the tears away long enough to focus on mere mist. "All right," he whispered. "I'll do it."
A flash of joy, then even the mist vanished. He was alone.
His entire body shaking, Obi-Wan got to his feet, then gathered the cloak up. Taking care to stay out of sight, he made his way back to his room. Each step grated on his nerves. His mind screamed 'do not do this!' And his tears continued to flow in a steady stream.
When he reached he small cubicle on the fringes of the dormitory, he stripped out of his clothes, then pulled on the cloak. It hung on him, but he pulled the cloth close.
He knelt in front of the box containing the Pad'rl dagger, let one last sob escape his lips, then began to whisper his damnation, "Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon. We two are one, our one is two. Forever in body, in soul, in life, in death. Eternity is ours."
Qui-Gon knew no peace. Not even here. He knelt on the damp ground, surrounded by a planet covered with swamps. Master Yoda maintained no planet resonated stronger in the Living Force than Dagobah and had insisted Qui-Gon come here.
'If exile yourself you must, do it where you can heal you will,' he had said.
But Qui-Gon did not want to heal. Every day for months he had spent his time meditating on his crime and longed, not to heal, but to die. It was fitting. He had failed Xanatos because of his fear of dying alone. Now the Force screamed to him his only hope of atonement was to embrace such a fate.
His entire body screamed with the memory of Xanatos' death agony. His mind shrieked of his failure. And his hand often moved the hilt of his lightsaber to rest against his chest. One press of a button and the screaming would stop.
'Leave you I shall, but swear to me you must. Nothing will you do to harm yourself.'
Longing for solitude, he had given his word. His Master had trusted in it. To violate his word and Yoda's faith in him, would be to plunge his own beloved Master into the agony he now endured.
One press of a button beckoned, but a remembered promise stilled his hand, then prompted him to return his weapon to his belt. Once month, a week, a day, then. ...
It had been an hour since the last time he had thought of taking his life. And as the hilt pressed to his flesh he considered the promise. No harm to himself, but he knew nothing but pain and despair. Which was the greater harm? Death or continued life?
His hand tightened on the hilt, his finger shifting toward the small button. A touch and the blade would flare into life, slicing into his heart. His Master had always been a great believer in the 'certain point of view' argument. Would he not come to see death was the mercy?
His finger brushed against the button. A touch and it would be over. One touch.
No! Qui-Gon blinked is surprise, his moment of death shoved back. What? Something inside him denied him his release when he had thought no doubts existed within him.
Release. Release is escape. An escape from pain you deserve. Stay alive. He frowned. What was this nonsense? Death had always been his fear. Not life. How could what he did not fear be a punishment?
Pain might not be felt by the dead. Do you not deserve pain? Yes, he did. Perhaps his sub-conscious was the wiser in this. He must consider. Must wait. The lightsaber would always be there.
Obi-Wan wanted nothing more than to collapse, but ceremony kept him in place. His arms extended, he held the dagger in his hands, blade up. Sweat stung eyes fixed upon the deadly crystal, but he did not move.
He had been ten for two days. Now he hovered between awareness of self and trance while he wondered if he would live to see a third day. So tired, drained of all the energy within and almost all he could draw upon. A battle of wills with a Jedi Master was not an easy thing for an Initiate to win, yet it seemed he had.
He felt the song of death fade within Qui-Gon and dared risk channeling enough energy back to himself to start breathing again.
For almost a year he had spent every minute he could meditating, reaching for Qui-Gon, trying to achieve the mind-touch Xanatos' sprit had shown him was possible. He had not quite managed the fullness of it, and suspected he never would without a mutual effort by Qui-Gon. But he had established a connection of sorts. He could receive or send impressions and ideas. The Master’s own mind made them into conscious thoughts.
Difficult though. Almost impossible. For he not only needed to bind Qui-Gon to him, he must do so without revealing he existed. Should the Jedi Master discover another mind touching his own, Obi-Wan knew he would end his life immediately. For happiness, not death, was now Qui-Gon's greatest fear.
Shivering, he eased out of his meditation, allowing his awareness to return to his cubicle. His body shook, but not his hands. They held the dagger steady while he returned it to the box, then closed the lid. "Until next we touch, my Qui-Gon," he whispered, then, lacking the strength to stand, he curled up on the floor, burrowing into the folds of Qui-Gon's old cloak.
Too exhausted to sleep, he opened himself to the Force and allowed the energy of the Temple to sink into clammy skin. All but dead himself. Too young for this. Too inexperienced. But he had no choice. Wise or foolish, he had condemned himself to this life the moment he had focused the ritual on a single man. He might never know a moment's love, but he did love. Completely. The glimpses he'd had of Qui-Gon's soul were so beautiful they made his own heart ache. Loved him, loved.
"Awake you must, young one."
Obi-Wan blinked and found himself on his bed. Yoda sat next to his hip, gazing at him with large, sad eyes. "Master."
A small hand touched his arm. An arm still covered by Qui-Gon's cloak. "Apprentice mine this belonged to. Have it you should not." For an instant Obi-Wan dared hope Yoda thought the extent of his crimes was the theft of an old robe, but those eyes seemed to bore through him. "Terrible thing you have done."
Obi-Wan's gaze dropped. "He needed me. Another might have wanted me, but he needs me." It sounded ludicrous. He'd sacrificed everything, broken Temple law because he'd been unable to resist the siren call of need.
Yoda sighed and stroked his arm. "Good man he is. Much happiness you would have known with him."
To hear another put his fears into words almost shattered Obi-Wan. "Not 'would have,' Master. Will have." He shifted so he gripped Yoda's arm instead of the other way around. "Oh, please, Master, you must believe I can help him, or all is lost."
"Succeed you cannot. Too inexperienced you are," Yoda told him, his voice heavy with sorrow. "Killing yourself, you are."
The tears returned. He'd not cried once since he had accepted the cloak, but now they flowed again. "Then help me. Please, Master. He won't survive if you don't help me."
"In such matters interference is forbidden." The Force -- not the meddling of individuals -- was supposed to guide the Pad'rl.
No, Sith, no. He needed help. Desperation gave him inspiration. He stopped the flow of tears, then answered, "But another has already interfered." Trying not to leave anything out, he described his encounter with 'Xanatos' to Yoda.
When Obi-Wan finished a sigh shuddered through the small Master. "Great tragedy for all his death was. To Qui-Gon he should have appeared. Spared us all it would have."
"I think he tried, Master Yoda," Obi-Wan answered feeling strangely protective of the spirit who had led him down this soul-destroying path. "Only an impression, but there was so much frustration radiating from him. And Qu- ... Master Jinn is very ... determined about clinging to his guilt. Is it possible, without realizing it, he was preventing Xanatos from appearing to him?"
Yoda's ears lowered, his face settling into a scowl. "Stubborn Apprentice mine is. Possible it is and explains much it does."
The disapproval on the wizened face and in the voice made Obi-Wan flinch. Again his protective nature compelled him to speak. "He was desperate to save his Master. And as I have come to love Master Jinn, I find I would have done no less in Xanatos' place."
"Fight you Qui-Gon will. Great is his hurt, so great, love you he may never do."
To his annoyance, tears threatened again. "I do not expect him to return my love." His heart hoped otherwise, but he knew it for the ridiculous hope of a boy in love. He had equal hope he would grow out of such foolishness. "I need to save him."
Yoda studied him for a long time, but needing to project the image of a Jedi, not a squirming child, Obi-Wan did not flinch or look away. Finally Yoda said, "Help you I will."
Relief made Obi-Wan light-headed. "What must I do?"
Yoda shook his head. "Path you have chosen, you must walk. Energy to survive I will give you. Advice I have none. To you the Force has spoken, for you all is to say."
His burden remained, but hope grew stronger within him. His efforts would not kill him. He would have the time and strength he needed to complete the mission with which Xanatos had entrusted him. "Thank you, Master."
Another year slipped by and thoughts of death no longer sang sweetly within Qui-Gon. This did not particularly please him, and he'd fought an even longer inner battle trying to cling to the idea of living isolated and alone as punishment. However, his inner voice was insistent. Whatever his failures with Xanatos, they were no excuse for shirking his duties as a Jedi.
No, he deserved to never see another sentient being again. No, he should serve others as was his duty. Round and round it went. Until, finally, he relented. Purpose need not be atonement. And if it were within him to help others, he should not compound his crimes by turning his back on their plight.
Thus a year and five months after he had fled to Dagobah, Qui-Gon informed the Council he would accept any mission they sough fit to assign him. Provided it did not require him to return to Coruscant.
Water flowing ... breeze against the skin ... birds taking wing. ... Sunlight warm and loving. ...
Obi-Wan woke with a start. "No!" he hissed, clutching for threads of the Force to cool his heated flesh enough to pull himself back from the brink. His body shuddered from both the effort and the disappointment, but he regained the ability to think, to move in something other than release.
He called the Pad'rl to his hand. After years of pouring his Force energies into it, the j'dite blade had lost all fragileness, and the weapon had become as much a part of him as a limb.
No longer needing the formal meditation to prepare himself -- thank the Force or he would never have made it this time -- he clasped the hilt in both hands and raised the Pad'rl up, positioning the blade so the point hovered above his heart.
He focused on the glittering crystal, losing himself in the sparks of the Force dancing within. Light in darkness. The light of his soul. His Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon.
His mind and blade became one; the dance of light, the dance of his flesh. Nothing touched him, yet his body hummed with the caress of calloused hands. Qui-Gon's hands. He knew them so well. Knew how they would touch him, how they would feel.
A soft moan escaped his lips. Hands everywhere. Petting him, stroking him, teasing him. Weight pressing down upon him. Hard flesh pushing into him. Thrusting, joining. One. Oh, Force. One.
Energy pulsed within him, filling him, possessing him. So much life. So much love. All the love in his heart given power. All the want of his soul given form. So much. Too much to contain. Too much to hold. He gasped, a small sound to mark an explosion of the Force propelled from his body.
For a moment it swirled about his cubicle in a storm of light and color, then spiraled down into the blade of the Pad'rl.
A serenity swept thorough his sated body, and for one moment Obi-Wan forgot everything and knew happiness. But it couldn't last. Reality swiftly reclaimed him, and he bit his lip to keep from crying out in despair.
He had known it would be like this. Why didn't it make it easier?
Trembling, he chose to physically place the Pad'rl back in its box rather than use the Force. He stared at it lying there against the silken lining and wondered why he continued to use it.
A miracle. Yoda had been firm on this point. Obi-Wan had worked nothing less than a miracle with Qui-Gon. One as strong with the Living Force as Master Jinn should have wasted away long ago. Yet Obi-Wan had helped him not only survive, but had guided him back to being the best negotiator the Jedi had. In many ways, Qui-Gon could even be described as content.
"Saved him you did," Yoda told him often. More than once with tears in those large green eyes. Whether out of gratitude or fondness for Obi-Wan, Yoda had even offered to take Obi-Wan as his Apprentice. "When ready you are, declaration I will make. Great Jedi you were meant to be. Great Jedi you will be."
A great Jedi Knight. Not a great Jedi Padawan. The best he could hope for was that someday he would become a Master and take a Padawan Learner of his own. But Obi-Wan doubted he could ever overcome a soul so full of Qui-Gon to form even a training-bond with Yoda, let alone a deeper bond with someone else. He almost smiled at himself. One part of his vision had remained true -- he would never be a Jedi Master.
He sighed. Now he merely had to decide if he wanted to be a Knight. Sometimes he thought he'd not so much as pushed away Qui-Gon's suicidal despair as he had absorbed it into himself. Perhaps that was why he had kept the Pad'rl. What better way to end his life? Some day he would simply lose control of his muscles, allow his arms to fold and the blade to plunge into his heart. Or he would be a Knight.
"Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi," he whispered and his stomach churned at the words. An honor for another, a pronouncement of defeat to him. Yet he had made his choice and only a coward would refuse to face the consequences. He'd never thought of himself as a coward.
No, somehow he must find the strength to embrace his duty and go on. If only he didn't have hope. Against all reason it existed within him. It made him furious with himself, but he could not banish the small elusive flicker of emotion. Nor could he take action to end it. Each time his body stirred with longing, he reached for the dagger bearing the same name as the ceremony he would never experience.
Foolishness. If he destroyed the ceremonial weapon or merely left it where it lay, it would all be over. A physical release instead of one channeled into the Force and grounded in the Pad'rl would end all hope. Then perhaps he could move on. Could allow himself to become an Apprentice and consign Qui-Gon to his dreams.
Instead he'd opted to let time rob him of his destiny. A few more weeks and he would be fifteen. No human Initiate had lasted so long before failing the Padawan Meditation. The older one grew, the more nebulous the control, and no Initiate was ever allowed to attempt the Pad'rl Bonding once the Meditation had failed. For while losing control during the Meditation merely meant physical release, failure in the Bonding meant death.
A few more months at the most and the demands of balancing intense sexual activity with the lack of bodily release and Obi-Wan would falter. He knew it. So why not end it now? Why not take himself in hand and get it over with? But he couldn't. "Qui-Gon, my love. I need you." He shivered, loneliness and despair chilling him.
A familiar warmth swept through him. /Sad you are again./
Obi-Wan managed a smile. /Early morning gloom, Master,/ he answered Yoda. /I'll be fine after a shower./
He could sense Yoda's doubt, his concern. They knew each other too well for such dismissals to be believed. Yet Yoda allowed the deception. /Good. Have a new sparring partner for you I do. Challenge he will give you./
/Yes, Master./ His enthusiasm wasn't quite feigned. Feeling stale after so many years in the Temple, Obi-Wan always looked forward to a new partner. It meant another style and, if he were lucky, some new stories about the life of a Jedi Knight. Maybe if he heard enough of them, he would finally find the courage to embrace such a life. Or surrender it.
Qui-Gon collected his cup of tea, then settled into the pilot seat of the small transport he called home between missions. There was a certain irony in this he couldn't help but appreciate. He'd never been a good pilot. He wasn't a bad one either. One step over adequate was how an old spacer had described him years ago. He'd not improved much since then. Yet he called a ship home. Or as much a home as any place had claim to the word.
He shook his head, then stared out at the stars. The ship had no particular destination. He was merely cruising around at sublight. His usual method of passing the time until the Council contacted him with a new assignment. He thought after the next one, he might beg a few weeks' leave to return to Dagobah. He was feeling disconnect from the Living Force. Restless. As if something were teasing the back of his brain, but he could not coax it into his conscious thoughts.
He finished his tea, then settled into a favored meditation posture and focused on his mental discomfort.
Obi-Wan walked along the corridors, the vague thought of returning to his cubicle giving him some sense of direction. His cubicle. Fifteen for three weeks and he still slept in the dormitory. Most humans moved on at eleven, all were gone by thirteen. But not Kenobi.
He remembered how excited he'd been on his First Declaration Day; how amazed, his peers hadn't seen there own destinies. Yet he was the one who would never achieve the path he had foreseen. One by one the Force had called to his friends, and they had entered the training programs to become Healers, Farmers, Pilots, Knights, even two Padawans. But not him. Not Kenobi. It made them all a little uncomfortable; he no less so than they; and a mutual, if not deliberate effort had been made to avoid one another.
Even Bant. Perhaps her most of all, for he could see how very much she hurt for him every time she looked at him. Mercifully her duties as Apprentice Knight kept her off-world often, and when they did meet, her many missions gave them something to talk about besides his obvious unhappiness. But the strain was there. Soon he would lose her to the category of acquaintance. A person to nod to in the hallways, while remembering it had been different once.
Despair clawed at him constantly, and he had begun to mark his time left in days. A part of him insisted failing the Padawan Meditation would free him. It was the part he tried to keep up front. A face and aura to show those who worried for him.
Yet he knew otherwise. He would die. And welcome it. The dagger, not Qui-Gon Jinn, would be his lover, and he and his lover would couple but once.
In the meantime, the days slipped by while he became more and more of an oddity. The Initiate who wielded a lightsaber with more skill than many a Knight or Padawan. He'd even defeated Master Windu several times in sparring matches.
The Temple was full of the whispers. There was little more he could learn here. He needed field experience. Needed a Master. To others he seemed unwilling to embrace his destiny. More than one Master had approached him with interest, but the Force had told them all it was useless. He would not form a training-bond. Only Yoda knew he could not.
He looked up, discovered he'd all but collided with Master Windu, then bowed. "My apologies, Master. I was lost in thought."
Windu studied him. Obi-Wan could shield well, but the man was a powerful Jedi. "Yes. Perhaps a few turns with a lightsaber might clear your head." It was the usual way of dealing with him. Even Obi-Wan was aware he only came alive when sparring.
Obi-Wan opted not to tell Windu he had already spent more than two hours sparring today. The notion of physical exhaustion held far more appeal than the lethargic haze pulling at him now.
He nodded his acceptance of the challenge and fell into step behind the tall man. Long ago it had occurred to Obi-Wan that Windu fit the vague image of his future Master, and he wondered if the Force might not have willed it so had Xanatos not interfered. But he suspected otherwise. He remembered Yoda's good humor at seeing the vision. His knowledge of Qui-Gon would have allowed him to see the dark figure more clearly than a child inexperienced with both Jinn and visions. Obi-Wan had been meant for Qui-Gon from the beginning. He knew it now. The Force as well as his soul screamed it.
A sob tore at him, but he'd lost his ability to cry. Instead, he focused what remained of himself on the lightsaber bout to come. There was nothing else he could do.
Another mission, another success. Qui-Gon's legend grew in almost equal proportions to his loneliness. A sad thing, but he'd come to terms with it. He was certain of this much, so he kept meditating, seeking other answers to his growing disquiet.
Not loneliness, not disconnection either. His link to the Living Force was strong and vital. What could be wrong if not that?
He cleared his mind of any preconceived ideas and let his consciousness float. What was wrong? What? For months he sought the answer, but something always came up. He doubted his actual meditation time added up to more than a few hours. Ah, well, time to try again.
Nothing, nothing, nothing. ... Then his thoughts touched the training-bond. Worry. What? The shielding Yoda had done had been so subtle Qui-Gon had not noticed it until his Master's emotions had eaten away at it. /Master?/ he reached out instantly.
A moment's silence. Yoda would not have been expecting to hear from him. /Yes, Apprentice mine?/
/What troubles you?/
There was a long pause, and he could almost hear Yoda's mind planning an intricate evasion of the question.
/Master, I am not a child any longer. There is no need to shield me from your concerns./
/Hmpf, when 900 years old you are see what you consider a child we will./
Qui-Gon did not allow the distraction. /Master./
He heard the mental sigh, and knew Yoda had opted to surrender. /Worried I am about an Initiate. Strong he is with the Force, but Padawan he was meant to be./
/'Meant to be?'./
/Master he was called to ... dead he is. Bond with another he cannot./
/A tragic waste./
/Worse it is than you think. Death he courts. Sense it I can./
Qui-Gon frowned. He'd seen Jedi worn down by life make fatal errors which in retrospect might not have been mistakes, and well understood his Master's concern. Then again if this Initiate could not bond, a mission would be out of the question. /Suicide missions aren't common in the Temple. He should be safe enough./
/Die by his own hand he will./
A coldness swept through Qui-Gon. No matter how long he lived, he would never forget how much he had craved death in the first year after Xanatos had died. Now, he saw a reflection of the pain he would have caused his beloved Master and blessed the Force for guiding him away from taking such a path. /Is there something I can do?/
Sorrow swept across their bond, caressed him for an instant, then vanished so quickly he almost failed to identify it. /Unknown. Meditate on this I must. Contact you I shall if need you I do./
/Very well, Master. I love you./
/Love you as well. When Dagobah you return to, perhaps join you I can./
Qui-Gon smiled at the evasive way the little troll asked him if he was ready for such a visit. /Yes, I would like to see you again./
Yoda used the Force to embrace him, then dissolved the contact. A further tightening of the shielding around the training-bond dashed any comfort Qui-Gon had taken from their conversation. His Master was about to do something he didn't want Qui-Gon to know about. This had happened more times than he could count -- Yoda was a devious gnome -- but alarm whispered in his thoughts. It grew with each passing second until Qui-Gon began to contemplate the unthinkable.
Exhaustion clinging like the lover fate had denied him, Obi-Wan slumped against the back wall of the turbolift. He ached for his bed. Three major sparring sessions in one day, and each opponent's sole intent had been to tire him enough to allow a genuine tiredness, not depression, to guide his dreams.
He'd assisted the Sabermaster in teaching the young Initiates during the morning and had been asked to remain for a session of his own. Master Windu had occupied his afternoon, then Bant had returned to Coruscant shortly after the evening meal. She'd taken one look at him and suggested a match. He sighed, knowing he should have declined, but even now agitation tried to stir him. He'd needed what they'd offered. He simply hadn't counted on a summons from Master Yoda so close to the time Obi-Wan normally retired for the evening.
He should have been able to draw on the Force and banish the weariness weighing down his limbs and numbing his mind. But Obi-Wan's depression interfered with the flow of the Force enough to make such a solution impractical. He needed a long, untroubled sleep to restore himself. Such a sleep unlikely, despite the efforts of his sparring partners, he'd seen no reason to refuse Yoda's request.
The door to Yoda's quarters opened as he approached it. When he entered, he found the Master sitting on the floor meditating. He hesitated a moment, not wanting to interrupt, but Yoda's eyes opened. "Evening, young one."
He bowed. "Good evening, Master Yoda. How may I serve you?"
"Your help I need."
The improbability of such a thing almost made Obi-Wan smile and wonder if he should tell Yoda he was a healthy sort of tired and would sleep, if not well, comfortably tonight. Then something reached him through his exhaustion. A flicker of agitation sensed through the Force? Or did Master Yoda look even more tired than he felt? Obi-Wan couldn't be certain, but thoughts of this being any sort of distraction vanished. "I would be honored to render any assistance I can."
"Good, good." Yoda patted the floor in front of his meditation bench. "Sit here, young one. Meditate together we shall."
Although it fell in the realm of the few things Obi-Wan could do for him, the familiarity of the request surprised him. They often meditated together. In these troubled times, the few moments of peace Obi-Wan had known had come from such sessions. But a sense of urgency seemed to vibrate around Yoda. "Of course, Master," he said, getting into position.
"On Xanatos I need you to focus."
A pained expression twisted the small green face. "Long have I meditated on this. Now, close the answer is. My fault I fear all is."
Yoda's fault? "I don't understand."
Yoda's ears drooped in a gesture Obi-Wan had come to associate with deep sorrow. "Will you shall. On your meeting with his spirit, focus on that you must."
Mystified, but eager to help his friend, Obi-Wan obeyed. The sense of urgency helped him to focus and he sank deep into the memory. Once again he sat in his quarters unable to handle the Pad'rl while frustration and anger at Master Jinn blocked his concentration. How was he to have known those were the last happy moments of his life?
The haze he'd quickly come to think of as Xanatos appeared before him. Oh, if only he had run at the sight. ... If he had Qui-Gon would be long dead. It was not a price he could ever have permitted. Not for the sake of his own happiness. Not even to save his own life.
His last grounding in the present released, he was nine again and had no further thought of the future as he had come to know it. The spirit's frustration filled him. With a message to deliver but no voice to deliver it, Xanatos turned to another plan.
/Master Yoda, I need your help./ The scene shifted. He entered Yoda's quarters, but he was a younger Xanatos, not Obi-Wan.
/Door of mine is always open to you. What troubles you, young one?/
Relief flooded through Xanatos-Obi-Wan. It would be all right. Yoda would help him. It would be all right.
Qui-Gon froze for a moment. A bone-deep chill consumed him, then vanished in a heartbeat. "Master," he whispered, then reached out through the training-bond. /Master!/
For the first time in his life, Yoda did not answer. Even when Yoda had been unconscious and all but dead, the sense of his Master's presence had always strengthened when Qui-Gon called to him. Now, it seemed almost as if his Master had ceased to exist.
Panic clawed at his heart. The possibility he might one day have to deal with his Master's death had not occurred to him since Yoda had restricted himself to Temple duties. With the threat of violent death gone, his Master's lifespan should have seen Qui-Gon long gone to his pyre before old age could claim Yoda.
Foolish. Selfish. But the illusion had given him the comfort a child seldom had where a parent was concerned – he would never know a time when he could not reach out to his 'father.' /Master!/
Nothing. He concentrated, his entire being focused on Yoda. /Master!/ Sweat beaded on his forehead, his body trembled, then. ... There! Not an answer, but a detached presence. He'd never sensed anything like it, but the panic receded a little for the sensation did not speak of death. Yoda was alive.
A beeping from the control panel drew his attention. He shook himself and knew three hours had passed while he had searched, would still be searching if not for the relentless sounding of the navigation sensor. It was time to take the ship out of hyperspace.
He cut in the sublight engines, and the bright blue glow of hyperspace dissolved into the star-studded darkness of normal space. Rare were the times when Qui-Gon did not take a moment to reflect on the beauty of it, but this was one of them, and he saw nothing but the bright planet growing in his viewscreen.
A second beep sounded, not quite an echo of the first. The com panel. None but the Council knew this channel. The answers beckoning, his hand shook as he reached over and activated the panel. He swallowed, his throat suddenly dry as a hologram of Mace Windu took form. "Mace," he said, keeping his voice as neutral as possible. They'd been great friends at one time, but beyond formal exchanges during holographic sessions with the full Council, Qui-Gon had not spoken to Mace, or any Jedi other than Yoda, since Xanatos had died.
As ever, the senior member of the Jedi Council wasted no time. "Qui-Gon, you must return to Coruscant immediately."
He opened his mouth to answer, but Mace didn't give him the chance. "I don't want to hear it. Yoda needs you."
"I know, Mace," he snapped, blocking the rest of the lecture. "Now, shut up, get off this channel and get me clearance."
"I'm ten minutes out from Coruscant. Get. Me. Clearance. To. Land." Damned fool, his Master needed him. Why would anyone with any sense think he wouldn't be racing for home?
The hologram stared at him for a moment, then winked out.
A request from a senior member of the Jedi Council not being something any flight controller would ignore, Qui-Gon had his clearance in less than two minutes. Within 20, his ship came to rest on the landing pad of the Jedi Temple.
Mace was waiting for him in the entrance. Qui-Gon would have run to his Master's quarters, but almost before he could form the thought, his oldest friend's hand closed on his arm. "Save your strength, Qui-Gon. You may well need it."
Though it rankled, he nodded, and they began to walk at a rapid pace, but nothing approaching the Force-enhanced speed he wanted. "Tell me what has happened."
Mace gave him another look. "I assumed you knew since you're already here."
"No, I merely knew my Master would need me." What did all the vows in the galaxy mean compared to that?
A nod, then, "He's caught in a Meditation Loop with an Initiate."
An Initiate. It must be the boy Yoda had spoken of. What had his soft-hearted Master gotten himself into? "How bad is it?"
"The Healers do not believe Yoda is any true danger, but the boy will die if we cannot free him soon."
Sith! "Then we have to break the loop."
"Easier said than done, my friend," Mace said as they entered a turbolift. "Yoda resists all our efforts to help him. Our only hope is for you to reach him."
Yoda resists? He'd assumed the Initiate had plunged into a suicidal despair great enough for Yoda to invade his meditations, only to be caught by a storm of emotions too powerful to escape. Such a situation created a loop as the Force energy from each grounded the other and kept the participants from breaking from their trances. The energy drain on the body was terrible, and could easily kill. "My Master would not risk a boy's life."
"Not normally, but Yoda has been troubled of late, and all I can sense from the loop is that he feels Kenobi has the answers he seeks."
Qui-Gon shook his head. None of it made sense. "He told me he was worried about the boy. Why would he endanger him?"
"Kenobi was exhausted before they went into trance." He heard a touch of guilt in Mace's voice and guessed his friend had had something to do with this Kenobi's state. "Yoda must not have noticed and pushed too hard, too quickly."
They emerged from the turbolift and hurried down the corridor leading to Yoda's quarters. But when they reached it, Mace caught hold of his arm again and stopped him before he could rush inside. "There's something else you need to know." He sighed, obviously stalling, then shook himself before Qui-Gon could snap that they had no time for this. "They don't know I've guessed, but it wasn't too difficult." Dark eyes filled with sympathy settled on Qui-Gon. "Kenobi is ... your Padawan."
For a moment he thought Mace had gone mad, but the clear gaze fixed upon him dashed such a notion. "My Padawan?"
"I don't pretend to know how it happened. I suspect it's better I not know, but his soul screams for yours. If you go to Yoda, ..." Another sigh. "They both need you."
Qui-Gon looked away, his gaze falling on the door. His Padawan. The one vow he'd thought he would never break, yet somehow he had. For one scant second, he considered running. Without his help the boy would die and free Yoda, freeing him of the need to face this.
Shame swiftly followed the thought, giving him strength courage could not. He took a deep breath, opened the door, then stepped inside. Mace did not follow.
The door slid closed behind him, and he leaned back against it as his eyes fell on Kenobi. A beautiful boy with tears streaming down his pale face, despite the serene expression. Qui-Gon reached out with the Force and touched him.
Pain soul deep. A longing to end everything. An emptiness beyond endurance. How well he knew such emotions. As he knew the touch of this Force signature. It had lived within him for years, hidden, blending into him so subtly he'd not registered the presence, but here, in this room, it was strong enough for him to recognize. "So that's it" The inner voice he'd so often been at odds with. Not an 'inner' voice at all, but Kenobi's. "Somehow you saved me, and in doing so damned yourself." He shook his head.
He had destroyed one young life, and his mind shrieked in terror at the idea of accepting the responsibility for another. But his soul whispered it was far too late to run – for rejection, not acceptance would destroy this one. He sighed, then looked at Yoda. "You always find some way to get what you want, my Master," he whispered to the small figure with tears of its own trickling down green cheeks.
His head told him to go to Yoda, to assist his Master, but instinct dictated otherwise, and it was Kenobi he approached. Sinking down onto the floor, he gathered the boy in his arms, then settled him in his lap. His lips pressed against a smooth forehead and something in his mind whispered, "Obi-Wan."
"Come, my Obi-Wan," he answered. "Come to me and wake up."
Nothing happened. He should have known nothing about this would be simple. "All right, my soul, stay where you are. I will come to you." He concentrated, years of experience allowing him to achieve a state of serenity far from the turmoil raging within him.
As ready as he would ever be, he focused on the Force energy spinning between the two he hoped to save, then let himself go. Darkness, light ... then ... he was no longer Qui-Gon, but Xanatos. ...
He would have sobbed if enough of Qui-Gon remained to do so. Instead he marveled at the confidence radiating within him. No, not confidence. What he felt went far beyond mere confidence. He was the Apprentice of Qui-Gon Jinn. An honor, or so everyone told him, but one he well deserved. After all, the best Apprentice deserved the best Master. Or so he had thought.
Last night he'd had a troubling vision. Knowing his Master did not put much faith in such things, for the first time he was glad he had not been allowed to accompany Jinn on his mercy mission to Lantous. Initially it had infuriated him. A plague deadly to the young of one world was not necessarily dangerous to the young of another. He had not appreciated Jinn's decision to error on the side of caution. He was fourteen, not some babe in arms to be coddled.
Yet now he was grateful for Jinn's absence. He needed to speak to Master Yoda, not his own Master. He contemplated all of this as he stood outside Yoda's quarters. A small part of him knew he was afraid, but such an emotion did not fit into his view of himself, so he rejected it. He was merely waiting until the Force told him Yoda was in the mood to receive visitors.
The door sliding open seemed a good indication. He stepped inside, found Yoda sitting on the short, low bench he used as a sofa, then bowed with what he hoped was the proper degree of humbleness. Xanatos and his Master's Master had never been ... comfortable with one another. "Master Yoda, I need your help."
"Door of mine is always open to you." Of course. Whatever his personal feelings, Yoda would never turn away Jinn's Apprentice. " What troubles you, young one?"
Relief flooded through him, and for the first time he knew how worried he'd been. But it would be all right. Yoda would help him. "I've had a vision I don't understand."
"Sit. Show it to me."
He sat on the floor in front of Yoda, then opened his mind enough for him to see what had filled his meditations since Jinn had left Coruscant. It was of himself. Older, on the verge of Knighthood, but full of anger and locked in battle. With Jinn.
"The Dark Side strong it is within this vision," Yoda murmured.
Yes, he could feel it, too. Again fear tickled his mind. "What should I do?"
Yoda considered this, and because they were linked, Xanatos saw the images of his possible futures race through the Master's mind. All of them led to Darkness. In one of them he even became the Sith Apprentice to a Palpatine of Naboo. A Sith, not a Jedi at worst. A minion of darkness at best. Never a Knight.
Horror threatened to swallow him whole, then he saw it. Light. A single path among the hordes of Darkness, but there. /Master, what is that?/
/A possibility, but small it is, and life you would have, brief it will be,/ Yoda answered in a voice somewhere between consciousness and trance.
Brief? Yes, very brief, but it was bright with the Light. /Let me see it./
Yoda was too open to him to ignore the request. Even as the small Master considered the wisdom of such a course, his mind turned toward the Light. But it was dim. Very dim. /I have to see it, Master. It's my only hope./
To lose a student to the Dark was every Master's fear. Xanatos preyed on this, and urged Yoda to show him what could prevent his fall. It was not a request any Jedi could resist, and Yoda poured more and more energy into his focus.
Xanatos saw nothing, but his mind slipped sideways and saw a memory dancing in Yoda's mind.
*"An Apprentice you should not take! A Padawan it is your soul screams for."
"A Padawan deserves a Master, not a Knight, who stumbled into the title."
"Nonsense you speak. To the Force you should listen. Your path lies before you. Take it you should."
Qui-Gon shook his head. "I was meant to teach Xanatos; the connection between us is too strong to think otherwise. There will be time enough to seek a Padawan later."*
A Padawan? Xanatos had never known Jinn hoped for a Pad'rl Bond. He'd assumed his Master was like most Jedi – he would live, breed, die and be reborn into a new life. How could he have missed the signs the Force had told Jinn his journey would end with this life, and he should seek a companion for eternity?
*Yoda sighed. "Stubborn you always are. Difficult for you both it will be. Much you will need to shield. Great risk there is in not Bonding once the way is shown. If die you should before. ..."
Yoda made a soft sound between another sigh and soothing comfort. He put his arms around Qui-Gon's neck, and cradled him as close as the differences in their sizes would allow.*
Fear. Relentless. Devouring. Destroying. The memory was filled with a depth of terror Xanatos had never witnessed before. Not even among the tortured or the dying. And all of it coming from Qui-Gon Jinn. Fear of dying unBonded. And suddenly Xanatos understood. Every moment his Master stayed at his side was a battle between terror and duty.
A foreign emotion swept through Xanatos. It made him feel warm and cold at the same time. He knew Qui-Gon adored him, but he'd never known what it had cost the man. It made him feel ... humble. His entire perspective shifted, and his own needs ceased to be the center of the universe. He had found the path which lead only to the Light. And all because of Qui-Gon's sacrifice. He vowed his Master would never come to regret it, then he attacked.
Something inside him warned he could not allow Yoda to remember all they had seen together. The Force was strong within Xanatos, and Yoda did not expect treachery. In truth, as he guided Xanatos through his meditations, the Master's mind was completely unguarded. /Forget, Master Yoda. Forget all we have seen./ He almost completed the Force command with 'forget I even came to you,' but thought better of it in light of one particular future. /We saw nothing but a vision which suggested we should be wary of one called Palpatine. Remember nothing else./
/Forget I will./ And it was done.
He sighed in relief, then found himself older and quite dead. A child sat before him, his eyes large with wonder, but his manner calm. So much was clear now, but every attempt he had made to tell his Master had bounced off a shield wall of guilt and pain.
So he had come here to seek his Master's mate. As strongly as he could feel the pulse of his beloved Master in the Force, he could feel the answering heartbeat of Qui-Gon's mate. He almost laughed. The living knew so little. They thought chance and circumstance dictated the Pad'rl, but Xanatos knew better.
This boy's soul had loved Qui-Gon's for a thousand lifetimes. Qui-Gon would not have found his mate had he turned Xanatos aside for Obi-Wan Kenobi had not yet been born. There was only one.
"He will be stubborn, but you must make him see it. Darkness or an early death were my only choices, and I chose this path gladly. Love him as I could not, as only you can. Heal him." He said all this and more to Obi-Wan. His death was on his own hands. His own belief in foresight had doomed him. The Light meant a short life, so he had acted rashly, allowing belief to become reality. "His fear did not blind me to other possibilities. Belief in the lack of them caused my death. You must make him see this. You must."
Obi-Wan stared. To his horror, Xanatos found he could not make himself heard. His time in this awareness rapidly fading, he resorted to pantomime, cryptic clues and even managed to mouth a few words which drained the last of his reserves.
"All right, I'll do it." The boy granted him a last moment of joy, then Xanatos released his hold on what had been Xanatos, setting his soul free to be born again. The cycle was complete, the one who must see had seen all. ...
A blink and Qui-Gon was himself again. His face wet with tears, he looked into grey-green eyes full of exhaustion and pain. "Sleep, my Obi-Wan," he whispered with a small, but kind smile. "Sleep."
Weariness making resistance to the Force-enhanced suggestion impossible, the boy obeyed, curling up against Qui-Gon and sinking into a deep sleep.
The familiar, but long absent weight of his Master's hand on his shoulder drew Qui-Gon's attention from Obi-Wan, and he looked into Yoda's eyes. Both Obi-Wan and Yoda had understood Qui-Gon must see the vision, and had all but killed themselves to ensure he did. He saw no joy at this victory, no glimmer of triumph in his Master's eyes. "It was not your fault, my Master."
Yoda frowned. "Jedi Master I am and was. Much experience I have, yet tricked by a boy I was. Worse, so much time it took for me to find the truth, suffer both you and Obi-Wan did."
"We are all vulnerable to trust, Master. No matter how great our experience or our skill."
"Forgive me you do?"
"There is nothing to forgive."
A soft snort conveyed lingering doubt, but the next words were as obvious as they were expected, "Grant yourself such a mercy will you?"
Guilt wallowed in for six years was not easily abandoned, but he had reason now not to take all of it upon his shoulders. "I can but try, my Master."
Yoda's frown deepened. 'Try' was not a concept he approved of. 'Do or do not do. There is no try.' He'd heard it a thousand times and would undoubtedly hear it a million more. "You hold in your arms the reason you must do. Saved you he did."
Qui-Gon pressed a kiss to his Master's forehead, then to Obi-Wan's. "I know."
Obi-Wan woke slowly. His internal sense of time told him he'd slept for over a day and half. The outrageousness of this urged him to open his eyes as much as the demands of his body. With a sigh, he gave up the first sweet dreams and deep slumber he'd had in years.
To his surprise he found he was not in his cubicle. Nor was the large bed he lay upon likely to be part of Master Yoda's rooms. But he could not remember anything beyond fighting exhaustion to give him enough strength to make it from the turbolift to Yoda's door.
He got out of the bed, found the refresher, then cleaned up. He felt far more alert when he emerged, the sonics having washed away some of the fog along with the sweat of a long sleep. He had made it to Yoda's room, and they had begun a meditation. On Xanatos.
His clothes nowhere in sight, he pulled on the familiar over-sized robe he all but lived in, and walked into the front room. Definitely not Master Yoda's quarters. The furnishings were simple, but meant for a humanoid. Perhaps Master Windu had taken him in?
He almost fainted when a moment later the answer to his question emerged from the kitchen with a tea cup in his hand. "Qui-Gon," he gasped, then remembered himself. "Master Jinn."
A smile decorated a face Obi-Wan had come to see as the very definition of the word 'handsome.' "You were right the first time. A Padawan uses a bondmate's title only when they are in public."
Padawan? Master? His legs gave out, and he sat down on the floor with a jarring thump. Qui-Gon. How could he have not noticed the robe he wore was newer, larger and darker? The robe of a fully grown Master, not an Apprentice nearer his own age.
Qui-Gon walked to his side, scooped him up, then settled them both on the sofa. "Drink," he said, offering the cup.
Obi-Wan obeyed, blushing at the delicious heat of Qui-Gon's body against him.
"First, I wish to thank you for saving my life. It was a brave thing to do, and something you knew I would not appreciate at the time."
Obi-Wan couldn't think of an answer, but Qui-Gon went on, filling any awkward silence. "We have much to do, Obi-Wan. You have been at the Temple too long, but Master Yoda assures me you are a quick enough study to take on my missions."
Missions. Qui-Gon's missions. His head spun, then stopped. Though he could not see it, he could sense the energy of his dagger nearby. Incredible as it seemed Qui-Gon must be speaking as if they were already joined, while working up the courage to ask Obi-Wan to initiate the Pad'rl. "I don't understand," he whispered. "I thought –"
"That I would reject you?" Qui-Gon pressed his lips against Obi-Wan's forehead. "I rejected the idea of you as a rightful punishment," he admitted. "But I cannot reject the reality of you."
Kind, heartfelt words, but not the sentiment he longed for. "Then you have not forgiven yourself?" He remembered enough of the meditation to be unable to keep the disbelief completely out of his voice.
Strong arms hugged him. "To Xanatos' mind I was blameless, but it was his point of view. I am not responsible for the depth of guilt I once believed was mine, but had I managed to shield my fear from him that day, he might have chosen more wisely."
"No, it wasn't your fault."
"Yes, it was. Myself, Yoda and Xanatos himself – all of us are to blame. But it is of equal certainty that you are the one innocent in all of this."
Oh. His heart began to ache, and his gaze dropped to the floor. "I wanted your love, not your pity."
A gentle but firm grip cupped his chin, then forced his head up. "You are the other half of my soul, Obi-Wan. How could I not love you with all that I am?"
Was it possible? The man didn't know him. Then he remembered what Xanatos' spirit had wanted to tell him. For a thousand lifetimes they had loved each other, and now the Force called them to Bond for eternity. Time enough for Qui-Gon to find out Obi-Wan's favorite color in this lifetime. He tilted his head back in invitation, and lips pressed to his.
A beautiful touch, he wanted to lose himself in it, but his body had been denied for too long. He groaned in near pain at the powerful arousal igniting his blood.
Qui-Gon drew back, then smiled at him. "We almost left it too late, my Obi-Wan, but we found each other in time."
The Force shimmered and the small wooden chest he knew so well, floated from behind a nearby chair, then hovered next to him. "Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Force calls me to you," Qui-Gon whispered the formal words. "Will you accept me as your Master?"
He didn't know what he would have felt if life had been kinder to both of them. Younger, happier, he might have been full of misconceptions and half-fantasies as he stood, then took the box in his hands. But he was older, wiser and had known more pain in his few years than many would know in a lifetime. A miracle stood before him waiting for his answer, and he saw him for the wonderful, flawed man he was. "With all my heart, I give my life to you," he said, opening the box.
Qui-Gon picked up the dagger, then sank to his knees to meditate on the energies within it.
Obi-Wan withdrew to the bedroom. He let the cloak fall from his body, then lowered himself onto the bed, resting on his back. His hand drifted down his body and cupped the heavy, hated weight of his scrotum. No longer, oh, Force, no longer would his own body be a symbol of his failed destiny.
He sighed softly, caressing the sacs, focusing on the seeds of life within them. In life. In death. One. One life. One. His ability to bring life. The ability to father hundreds, the energy to save one. One.
Heat rose within him, but he kept it trapped within his body, channeling it into the flesh in his hand. Life. Death. One. The air around him began to crackle. He was ready.
A presence. Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan's eyes opened and a soft gasp escaped his lips. Qui-Gon stood in the doorway, glorious in his naked arousal. The Pad'rl glowed in his hand, the blade alight with the energy of love and lust Obi-Wan had poured into it for years. He drank in the sight then groaned loudly, the energy swirling within his body trapped, yet desperate for release. "Life. I give you life. Oh, please, my love, my life."
Qui-Gon stepped forward, knelt between Obi-Wan's legs, then the dagger cut into him. He would have screamed, but the pleasure bombarding him as the gift he offered was severed from his body robbed him of his voice. No pain, none at all. Nothing beyond a blissful joy.
Straightening, Qui-Gon lifted his hands. The dagger remained in his right. Obi-Wan's flesh rested in his left, but it had the glow of power crystals, not tissue. It grew brighter and brighter until nothing but light remained; light which flowed from his hand into the blade. "Life," Qui-Gon whispered, then dark blue eyes looked into Obi-Wan's.
For a moment the ceremony stopped. All the doubts and trials to come shone in Qui-Gon's gaze. Obi-Wan took them into himself, accepted them and whispered, "Where you go, I will follow. In life. In death."
"We are one." Both of Qui-Gon's hands gripped the hilt, then he plunged it into his own heart and died.
Obi-Wan's heart beat once, twice, then the bladeless hilt fell from Qui-Gon's unmarked chest. Before he could even fall, Qui-Gon lived again, his heart's rhythm the same as Obi-Wan's. His eyes bright with love, his body nearly glowing with passion, Qui-Gon leaned forward and kissed him.
He wanted to scream. Desire had always been an emotion transmuted into energy and passed into his dagger. Now his body writhed in physical need as lips and hands devoured him whole. "Please," he sobbed, not even knowing what to ask for, but needing ... needing. ...
"Shh," Qui-Gon soothed him, lifting Obi-Wan's legs up over his shoulders.
Thick, hard flesh pressed into Obi-Wan, but his body offered no resistance. Qui-Gon was part of him. He alone would receive the welcoming surrender of Obi-Wan's flesh.
He felt full, stretched, whole for the first time in his life. "Oh." His soul sang, split open wide and called for its mate as his body had called. A soul full of love, strength, wisdom and stubbornness enfolded his own; spirits coupling with the same zeal of bodies thrusting together. One. Forever. In Life. In Death. Together.
Qui-Gon stiffed, then his seed laced with the remnants of Obi-Wan's life energy flooded into Obi-Wan's body.
Obi-Wan screamed his own pleasure, then tumbled into oblivion.
Qui-Gon was loathed to leave the bed, or, more precisely, the boy sleeping curled up against him. But it was get up or make an embarrassing mess. So much for a calming cup of tea prior to life altering ceremonies.
Unable to put it off any longer, he carefully slipped out of Obi-Wan's embrace, then out from underneath the blanket Qui-Gon had managed to pull up over them before passing out. Swiftly, he went to the refresher, then dealt with the problem.
When he returned to the bedroom, he found himself staring from the doorway, transfixed by the sight of his sleeping bondmate. Obi-Wan had kicked off the blanket and lay sprawled on his back, his long slim legs parted enticingly. A vision to tempt the most ardent celibate, but it was not the allure of his Obi-Wan giving him pause.
Instead his gaze fell on the smooth unmarked flesh beneath Obi-Wan's cock. He would never look there and not be awed by the magnitude of what they had done. Qui-Gon was dead. He had killed himself. Yet he lived again because a boy loved him enough to sacrifice a more certain future for a turbulent life with him. He wondered how many decades it would take for a part of him to stop fearing Obi-Wan had made a dreadful mistake.
They would have those decades and more. As hair and nails grew once a human reached adulthood, so Obi-Wan would continue to grow until he reached his full height. But they would not age. It was the reason the Pad'rl was allowed. Should they escape violent death, the sacrifice of the unborn bound the pair to this side of the Force for centuries. No one knew for how long, for none had died peacefully, unless it was by their own hands when both had decided it was time to leave flesh behind and merge completely with the Force.
He turned, and retreated across his rooms, out onto the balcony. He stared out at the stars and the glittering lights of a host of ships streaming through the skies of Coruscant. He felt so strange. Neither absolved nor damned for what had befallen Xanatos, he did not know how to fit this joining into the scheme of his life. He'd been so certain he would never Bond. Now, he would never be alone again. His heart's dream and Xanatos' final wish for him.
A slight smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as he found himself thinking any one of the ships he was watching could be carrying a child who was his Apprentice reborn. Foolish. The odds against it must be nearly incalculable, but it gave him comfort.
Speaking of comfort, the soft pad of bare feet crossing the room behind him made his smile deepen, and he turned as a sleepy-eyed Obi-Wan stepped out onto the balcony. He held up Qui-Gon's robe, and he chuckled at himself as it dawned on him he'd been standing out here for quite some time stark naked. Thank the Force it was too dark for anyone without night vision to see him. "Thank you, my love," he said, taking, then putting on the robe. Which left Obi-Wan empty-handed and naked.
A moment later the boy solved the problem, by burrowing inside the robe, and snuggling against Qui-Gon's body. "I think we can make this a little more comfortable," he murmured, lifting Obi-Wan up, so the boy's head could rest on Qui-Gon's shoulder.
"Mmm, 's nice," Obi-Wan sighed, his legs wrapping around Qui-Gon's waist, while slender arms encircled his neck.
"Yes, it is," he agreed, settling the robe so it covered both of them. "Oh, and the answer is dark blue."
"Your favorite color. It's dark blue." Both the boy's unease at Qui-Gon not knowing such a thing and the answer, along with everything else, had merged with his own consciousness.
"Um hmm, like your eyes."
Warmth filled him, but he understood the sentiment. No color could ever again hope to shine brighter to him than the grey-green of his Obi-Wan's eyes.
Another happy sigh, and Obi-Wan snuggled closer. "Worrying again, aren't you?"
"A little," he admitted. "I believe it is part of my nature."
"Silly. Be all right. I'll make it right. Promised I would."
"So you did." Qui-Gon didn't know if he would ever overcome his awe at Obi-Wan's decision. Nine years old, and he'd saved them both.
Obi-Wan shifted again, the drowsiness slowly leaving him. Soft lips brushed against Qui-Gon's beard. Soon the boy would want to make love again. It was a good thing Qui-Gon had received some of the boy's sexual energy along with his life force. "Was easy in some ways -- I got good advice in how to deal with you."
"My First Dedication Day." Obi-Wan thought a moment, then, his voice a decent imitation of Yoda's, he said, "'Also on patience you must meditate. Skill in this you must have.'"
Qui-Gon laughed. "True enough where I am concerned, but you should always remember this about my Master. He's always right, except –"
"... when he's wrong." Obi-Wan snickered. "I like this bond. I know all sorts of things I didn't."
"Ah, in that case, you know there is one thing left for us to do."
Obi-Wan considered this, then nodded.
Qui-Gon carried him inside, sat down in his favorite chair, then kissed him. Obi-Wan answered him with passion. It made drawing back difficult, but knew they both wanted this done.
He smiled at the boy and touched a spot behind Obi-Wan's right ear. A Force suggestion and several strands of hair grew until they brushed Obi-Wan's shoulder. He kissed him again. "I love you."
"I love you, too, my Master." Shy, aroused and happy. An incredible gift. He would do his best to be worthy of it.
He began to braid the hair. Three strands which stood for all they now were. Padawan. Master. The Force. Softly he spoke the words, "I, Qui-Gon Jinn, take you, Obi-Wan Kenobi, as my Padawan Learner. Now and forever."