Walk the Labyrinth
Author's Note: It is very difficult to take seriously any series whose main characters are commonly printed on french fry cartons and boxes of fruit loops. Somehow making them gay seems much less ridiculous. Also, Star Wars book canon is a large, money-grubbing oxymoron that I don't buy in any sense of the word. That is all.
The problem was the pink rectangle. It was clear to both of them now as they frowned over the small silver game board in the level 23 meditation garden. It had in fact been clear to them for the better part of an hour. What was not clear was how, precisely, to be rid of it.
"Left," Obi-Wan said, narrowing his eyes at the multicolored shapes. "To free up the orange block and let the red cube slide forward."
"I say down," his master countered, leaning back on his bench and taking an unsuccessful pull off his pipe. It had smoldered out as he and his padawan considered the deceptively simple trajarr board, and he groped in his belt for his plasma-matches. "Your move would put the green tower in the path of the orange block, and fail."
"And yours would move the gold pyramid right in front of the red cube, and also fail, Master."
"H'm." Qui-Gon exhaled sweet nut-smoke from his relit pipe, and furrowed his brow at the game. It was a pastime they both enjoyed, the simple strategy of blocks and puzzles. The game had been found centuries ago in the ruins of an ancient planet-wide civilization, long lost and unknown. The Jedi knight assigned to the archaeological team had seen the brilliance of the design, bringing back one of the boards and various metal playing pieces to Master Yoda. It had since become a popular challenge for knights and their padawans, requiring not only a union of thought and a joined focus of problem-solving, but simple patience and cooperation, as well. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had been avid players since they were first partnered as master and student, and now only the most advanced setups had any challenge for them, sometimes taking days to solve. "Then we are at an impasse."
"It is solvable, Master." Obi-Wan scooted forward, as if being closer to the board would help. "All the scenarios programmed into the trajarr game have at least one solution. We are simply not seeing it."
"Very well, then," Qui-Gon smiled, settling forward. "How shall we solve it?"
Obi-Wan chewed his lower lip, his hand hovering over the pieces without moving them. He preferred to use his mind to solve the puzzles presented in the game, not relying on his intuition as a Jedi and student of the Force. Master Yoda played almost exclusively with his eyes closed and using the will of the Force to manipulate the pieces into place, but Obi-Wan had in him yet a desire to solve the conundrum with his own brain. Besides, Yoda had written most of the puzzles programmed into the game, only by playing using the Force alone could the game hold any interest for him. Obi-Wan stared at the board, seeing it in motion, sliding the blocks that he and his master had moved a hundred times already, and meeting again and again with failure as the crucial red block remained locked in the center grid.
Across from him, Qui-Gon's breathing evened as he too began to meditate on the game. In the stillness between them Obi-Wan could feel the motion of the Force, but he did not tune into it for the answer to the puzzle. He kept his focus on the blocks, like his master did, not knowing that the Force-ripples between them were weaving together, and the same pattern of blocks in his mind was also in the mind of Qui-Gon Jinn. He was so unaware of the union of their thoughts that he did not even notice the fusion until suddenly there was a clear path in the imagined game board, and as one Master and Padawan reached for the purple cylinder to move it away, their fingers tangling.
"Up," they said, in unison, and Qui-Gon laughed, the connection breaking.
"Very well, Padawan. Show me."
Obi-Wan hesitated. For a moment there, in the shadow of his master's thoughts when their fingers touched, he had sensed something. Almost unconsciously he pushed the game pieces on their planned paths, sliding the red cube off the board. The game hologram sparkled and the colored blocks vanished from the playing area, but Obi-Wan did not feel his usual sense of accomplishment.
"Good!" Qui-Gon said. "Very good. Master Yoda would be pleased. It's not easy to blend your thoughts with another's so seamlessly."
It wasn't seamless, Obi-Wan thought, now that he was sure his mind was only his own. In the end, you were not thinking of the game. "We happened on it together," he said out loud. "It was not only my doing."
"The connection was." Qui-Gon tapped the dead ashes of his pipe into the potted flowering tree beside his bench. "In truth I did not even know you were listening until we both reached at the same time."
Obi-Wan considered. Was that why his master had been surprised? Perhaps, but if Obi-Wan could put a name to the emotion that he had unknowingly sensed, surprise was not quite it. There was something else hidden there, almost shame.
"It's later than I thought," Qui-Gon said, standing and stretching slightly. "I promised Master Kilar I would give him a report on the status of the Ecology Project of Gaaran IV, since we were just there."
"Mmm." Obi-Wan said. The mission on Gaaran had been almost as boring as the weather there; he could not imagine anyone, even the sedentary Master Kilar, wanting to know about it. "I don't suppose you need me for that, Master?"
"Of course not, Obi-Wan. I'm sure you'll sleep well enough tonight without having to listen to that, wouldn't you say?" Qui-Gon arched an eyebrow and Obi-Wan shook his head, smiling. Whatever he had sensed, surely it was his master's business, not Obi-Wan's.
"I will see you this evening for dinner, then." Obi-Wan watched as the older Jedi flipped up his hood and strode from the meditation lounge, cloak billowing behind him. The lights in the lounge dimmed to evening illumination, and the central fountain turned pink with reflected radiance, flickering with occasional lights from the traffic in the flight lanes outside. Obi-Wan watched it without seeing it, his fingers pressed to his lips, warm with the memory of Qui-Gon's pipe smoke and an emotion that was not his, and he could not name.
The quarters they shared in the Temple's residential areas were modest, uncluttered and airy. Obi-Wan's sleep area adjoined the main living area, with Qui-Gon's rooms to his left and a small meditation and training room opposite. It was virtually identical to any other set of Master and student quarters on the north tower, with the Coruscant night a continuous, glittering ribbon on the south and west side walls.
Qui-Gon Jinn's dinner was long since cold. Obi-Wan had waited half an hour out of respect, then finished his own meal, cleared his utensils, and finally placed his master's plate in the warming unit and retired to the meditation room.
They were not often in their rooms in the Temple. Jedi were few and the problems of the galaxy were many, and there was little time for rest between missions. When they were in the closest thing to home they had, they usually spent the morning in physical training, the afternoon in mental training, and the evenings after eating in simple meditation. It was the time Obi-Wan looked forward to the most, to consider his actions of the day, to plan his path for the next, and to simply enjoy being in the calming presence of his master. Sometimes they would talk, and it was in that time that Obi-Wan had felt he had learned the most about his teacher, in the years they had been together. When duties called Qui-Gon away for the evening, Obi-Wan followed the same schedule and was usually content enough to meditate on his own.
Tonight, he was restless. It was unlike Qui-Gon to be late without notifying his apprentice, but not unlike the other masters to delay him. So Obi-Wan was not worried. He was not annoyed, either-- or so he told himself. He had hoped to ask a few more specifics about what had happened over the game earlier. The two of them could often sense each other's feelings, know if the other was in danger, or at the very most send simple, nonverbal messages in great need. But true telepathy was beyond them, as it was to most Jedi who did not come by it naturally as a species.
Obi-Wan shifted his crossed legs on the mat and tried to focus on his mediation exercises. Instead his thoughts returned again and again to the touch of his master's fingers. There was nothing unusual about Qui-Gon touching him. He was a man who used his hands often to communicate: a reassuring squeeze on Obi-Wan's shoulder, or a cautioning grip on Obi-Wan's arm to hold his apprentice back in times of danger. They had bumped knuckles over a game board more times than Obi-Wan could count, and surely his master had not felt that strange unease every time.
Obi-Wan frowned. He did not understand, and so he would ask. It was as simple as that, and there was nothing wrong with his conclusion. But the longer he had to wait for his answer, the more frustrated he became, and the routine meditation lost focus.
Was Qui-Gon somehow displeased with him? Obi-Wan was young yet as an apprentice, only seventeen. But he was permitted to speak on missions without first asking his Master's permission, a sign that while he was still a Padawan, he was also an adult responsible for his own words and choices. Had he said something he should not have, during the negotiations of farming rights on Gaaran IV? Obi-Wan considered everything he had said during the meetings, and there was little enough of it. Nothing had disagreed with Qui-Gon's own words on the subject. Besides, had he stepped out of line, Qui-Gon would have put him back again without malice and without hesitation. It had happened before, but not lately.
I'm making too much of this, Obi-Wan thought. I will not indulge myself in negative possibilities. I will focus on the now and ask Qui-Gon when he returns.
The sound of their door opening made Obi-Wan open his eyes, rolling to his feet and peering into the main room. Qui-Gon was there, shedding his robe and looking tired and hungry. "I forget," he said, by way of greeting, "that Master Kilar is a Vreet, and only eats once every four days."
Obi-Wan smiled. There was nothing unusual about his master's mood now, and his presence was a better comfort than Obi-Wan's uncertain wondering. "I kept your plate warm."
"I see that." Qui-Gon peered under his plate cover, and Obi-Wan moved to boil water for his Master's tea. Qui-Gon sighed. "I suppose soggy vegetables are of little issue compared to the atmospheric moisture of the Gaaran system."
Obi-Wan added herbs to his master's clay cup, watching them tint the water pale green. "You told me not a week ago that sarcasm is a path to the dark side."
"And if it were true, I would be long since turned, Obi-Wan. Pass me the bread, will you?"
Obi-Wan laughed and did as he was told, pouring a second cup of tea for himself to keep his master company while he ate. "Is it true that Vreets only eat every four days?"
"It is," Qui-Gon said, running the crust of his bread around the edge of his plate. "They sustain themselves primarily on pollen from certain native tree species, breathing it in though their throat-filters. Master Kilar has a pollen distributor in his quarters, which probably explains why I sneezed no less than twenty-three times this evening." He finished off his tea, and sat back in his chair. "Forgive me for being late, Padawan. Did you finish your meditation exercises?"
"I did." Obi-Wan began to clear his master's dishes, placing them in the cleaning unit and activating it. "I began to wonder if you were going to come back."
"So did I." Qui-Gon stood. "I'd like to take a shower, I think. I reek like a Vreenan fruit-grove. Tidy up, would you, Obi-Wan?"
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan bowed as Qui-Gon retired to his chambers, pulling his hair free of its tie as he went. Obi-Wan heard the water running in the shared bathroom between their rooms as he wiped the crumbs off the clear tabletop. Beyond that there was not much left to clean, but Qui-Gon's robe was still draped over the small couch in the main room, and Obi-Wan folded it over his arm, gathering its considerable length in one hand. He had never been to the Vree system, and he wondered if the faint fermented smell on the brown fabric was pollen from Master Kilar's chambers.
Obi-Wan, curious, pressed his face to a fold in the cloth and inhaled cautiously. But he did not smell fruit flowers from another world. The scent was his master's alone, sweet-nut pipe smoke and lightsaber ozone, and the warm, indistinct spice smell of Qui-Gon's own skin. Obi-Wan's stomach contracted, heat flushing across his face. He hurriedly placed his master's robe on the hook on the wall, and retreated into his own sleeping room. The feeling was not foreign to him, but he had thought it banished long ago with other things he considered childish and inappropriate for a Jedi. Guilt and shame mingled with want and the smell of Qui-Gon Jinn in his lungs and Obi-Wan stopped short, half in and out of his tunic.
Perhaps it was no less rare for a master to desire his apprentice, and to feel the same guilt over that fact. Obi-Wan had forgotten to ask Qui-Gon about the strange flicker of emotion over the game, but it didn't matter now anyway. He knew what it was, for he had just felt it in himself.
"You're very quiet this morning, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon stepped down from the fencing platform in the training arena, the blade of his lightsaber subsiding into the handle. "Did you not sleep well?"
"Forgive my distraction, Master." Obi-Wan knew he had been more distracted than silent, but perhaps his few words had prompted Qui-Gon's response to his poor lightsaber performance to be one of concern and not rebuke. "I-- no. I slept rather poorly, in fact."
"Is something troubling you?" Qui-Gon accepted a cold wet towel from the training droid, and mopped his face with it. Obi-Wan took one as well, more reluctantly.
"I'm not sure," he said at last, which was a true enough thing. Nevertheless he was glad the heat excused the vibrant color of his face. "I felt restless. Uncomfortable."
"A disturbance in the Force?" Qui-Gon draped his towel over his shoulders. "I haven't felt anything, but that does not mean you haven't."
"It may be that," Obi-Wan allowed, if the dreams he had been having of his master qualified as a tremor in the Force. It had been well over three years since his sleep had been so interrupted and he had woken breathless, his body burning with need. He had written it off then as part of his natural change into an adult human male and banished them from his waking mind until the dreams eventually faded. But now, there were fewer excuses, and his dreaming was more vivid than before.
It was damnably hard to fight a lightsaber duel with a master you couldn't look in the eye, Obi-Wan thought.
"Don't hold it inside if something bothers you, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon gripped Obi-Wan's shoulder. Obi-Wan felt his belly tighten, and forced himself to exhale normally. "I should hope that after these years I am not just your master, but your friend. You can always confide in me."
"Thank you, Master." Obi-Wan meant it, knowing it for the honor it was. "I will not fail your confidence in me."
"See that you don't," Qui-Gon answered sternly, but he was still smiling. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I have no time for board games this afternoon. Though I expect you can entertain yourself constructively for a few hours."
"Have we been assigned a mission?" Obi-Wan asked, but Qui-Gon shook his head, handing his towel to the waiting droid.
"No, but Master Windu is instructing the younglings in the history of the Alikar system. I went there with my master when I was a padawan myself, and Master Yoda suggested I sit in to offer some insight." Qui-Gon removed his robe from the hangar in the antechamber, and swirled it around his shoulders. "I promise to be earlier than I was last night."
"I'll hold you to that," Obi-Wan said. He hesitated a moment, ignoring the training droid beeping at him to take his used towel. Obi-Wan made his decision, one he should probably have made years ago when the dreams first began. He dumped the towel in the droid's spindly arms, snatched his robe from the hook, and took the steps two at a time to Master Yoda's meditation room.
"Come in, young Kenobi," Yoda said, without opening his eyes or moving from his comfortable cushion. "Expecting you, I have been."
"Forgive me for disturbing you, Master." Obi-Wan bowed deeply. He knew that fully-fledged Jedi knights came to Master Yoda for counsel, but he had never heard of a padawan doing so. They were to ask questions first of their own masters. He had not been sure how his request to see Yoda would be received.
"Disturbed I am not," Yoda said, opening his eyes at last. "Come and sit, young Padawan. Tell me what it is that troubles one so known for his clarity of purpose."
Obi-Wan bowed again, greatly honored, and settled in the meditation seat-- thankfully humanoid-sized-- opposite the diminutive Jedi master. "I am uneasy," he said at last, not knowing how else to begin.
"So you need not say." Yoda tapped his claw on the end of his walking stick, and eyed the young Jedi keenly. "For your master, your unease is. Yet a productive, well-matched team you are." Yoda shifted slightly in his chair, his gaze penetrating. "Changed, something has?"
"I am honored and fortunate to have Qui-Gon Jinn as a master, Master Yoda." Obi-Wan spread his hands. These words came easily, from his heart. "We have found balance in each other, and I would not change that."
"And yet change is a part of the Force, young Padawan. Nothing that is of the Force is constant. Only the Force itself is." Yoda sat back on his cushion, and blinked slowly. "Unwise it is, to resist change. Breeds fear, it does."
"But what if the change is not for the better?" Obi-Wan was grateful that they could discuss this in abstracts. He had no desire to elaborate on his dreams to Master Yoda. "If I am hesitant of change, Master, it is because I am uncertain of the result."
"Hmm." Yoda put his small clawed hand to his chin, and then pointed at the young man across from him. "Tell me, Obi-Wan. What is the first thing you are taught, when learning the Force as a youngling you are?"
"...Trust your feelings." Obi-Wan spoke with reluctance for the first time.
"True always, it is." Yoda drew himself up. "In your feelings, there is truth. In truth, there is peace. In peace there is balance. In balance there is the Force. Do not fear change, Obi-Wan. Do not fear growth. It is the way of all living things."
Obi-Wan nodded, his lips pressed together grimly. "Yes, Master Yoda."
Yoda's ears went up, his eyes gleaming. "Unsatisfied with this answer, are you?"
"I'm grateful for your wisdom, Master," Obi-Wan said.
"Questions, still have you?" Yoda prodded Obi-Wan's boot with his staff. "Then ask them, you should. All day, I do not have."
Obi-Wan smiled in spite of himself, and it made a difficult question come a little easier. "Master... is it forbidden for a master and a padawan... I mean, if the relationship were... improper..."
"Improper?" Yoda chuckled. "What is 'improper'? In the Sarrjk system, improper it is to speak at all after sundown. 'Improper', he asks. Imagine, can you, the mess it would make, were the Council such an inflexible rule to pass?" Seeing that he had produced a smile from Obi-Wan, Yoda continued. "All Jedi are different, young Obi-Wan. All masters and padawans different. Hear the Force differently, they do. Teach differently, they do. Different bonds, each of them form. Only one rule applies to such things."
"One rule?" Obi-Wan tried to hold the mixture of embarrassment and relief from his tone. He would not be kicked out of the Order for having smoldering dreams about his master.
"Jedi we all are. Oaths we have made, bonds to the Order and to the mission we have. Interfere with that, distract from that, nothing must." All the laughter was gone from Yoda's wrinkled face now. "Friends in the Order there are. Even sometimes siblings, close lifelong companions. Listen to our bodies, Jedi do. Listen to our minds, Jedi do. But listen the Force above all. Change that, damage that, nothing must. If so, punishment will not be from the Council. From within, it will be. Weigh the power of your feelings. Enduring they must be, but distraction, they must not be." The dismissal was evident in Yoda's tone.
Obi-Wan swallowed hard, and stood, bowing. "Thank you, Master Yoda."
"One thing more, Padawan," Yoda's voice stopped Obi-Wan at the door. "Distraction it may be, if involved with a master, a padawan is. But distraction it may be as well, if involved with him he is not. Take care, Obi-Wan Kenobi; the path you walk a narrow one is." The Jedi master waved his hand and the door irised shut, leaving Obi-Wan on the other side. He realized, as one often did after speaking to Yoda, that in fact he had been told almost nothing at all.
Obi-Wan did not have a chance to test his feelings or even to resolve them. Arriving back at his quarters he found Qui-Gon arranging equipment to be packed in their utility belts, and a datapad of mission information waiting for him.
"It's urgent," Qui-Gon said, testing the supply of oxygen in an aqua-breather before folding it and tucking it into a leather pouch. "Yanus 7 is on the brink of a civil war between no less than five warring factions. The only thing they have in common is that they all think they're right and none of them can stand the others." He glanced up at his padawan's grim expression. "I'm afraid we'll have to cut our holiday short."
Jedi first and foremost, Obi-Wan thought, skimming the information on the pad. It looked worse than urgent; it was downright sticky. Personal matters would definitely have to wait. Somewhere inside of him, Obi-Wan was deeply relieved. It was always easier to feel and to act than to think.
"This won't be an easy one," Obi-Wan said, and shook his head over the list of opposing factions. "These people have deep moral and political issues, and a history of conflict. What does the Council expect us to do?"
Qui-Gon finished packing his own belt and moved on to Obi-Wan's. Technically, Obi-Wan should have been doing them both, but at the moment he was reading up on the ancient Phlati ceremony and why, exactly, forty-three percent of Yanites thought it was worth going to war over. It was the third item in a list of sixty-seven. "The Council asks no more of us than to do our best. They know it is an almost impossible case, but the small pacifist religious sect of Yanus 7 has requested we try and bring things to a settlement, and we are obligated to do all we can." Qui-Gon scowled at Obi-Wan's belt. It was shorter by four inches, and had to be packed a little tighter.
"I just hope they aren't looking for a common enemy besides each other." Obi-Wan flopped the datapad on top of his traveling robe and moved to help his master, his fingers finding the tube of ration pellets Qui-Gon was looking for, and passing them to him. "We'll be lucky if they don't turn on us to take out their frustrations."
"Have you ever heard," Qui-Gon said, less than thirty-six hours later and with red firelight and smoke rising up from the central city of Yanus 7, "of not inviting trouble, Obi-Wan?"
"Forgive me, Master." Obi-Wan stopped long enough to beat at the still smoldering hem of his robe. Half of the city, including the building where they had been staying, had been reduced to rubble and ash, and the two Jedi had been obliged to flee into the thick jungle that covered most of the planet. The planetary residents had found one other thing to agree on: they disliked nosey outsiders. "I didn't think they'd try to kill each other and us."
"If they're determined to fight a long, messy war, there's little you or I or the entire Council can do to stop them." Qui-Gon put his back to a thick, mossy tree, and his hands on his knees. "Are they still following?"
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, reaching out to the Force. It was easy, in the thriving jungle. "I think they've all turned back. The closest sentient life forms are some distance away in the city outskirts, fighting each other, probably, and--" Obi-Wan opened his eyes suddenly, turning to his Master. "And you didn't tell me you were hurt."
"You'll have to stop that, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, in a tone that did not match the lightness of his words. "Or I'll be hard put to surprise you with your next birthday present."
"You said that guard had only clipped you." Obi-Wan could see now what he had not noticed before tapping into the living Force. The older Jedi's tunic was stained dark at his side in the shadow of his robe, and the gray pallor of his face was not from ashes. "Master, this needs attention."
"It would be irrelevant if we had simply been blasted into bits, so I neglected to mention it." Qui-Gon did not push away his padawan's hands as Obi-Wan frowned at the deep gash in his side. "But now that we're not in immediate danger of being lit on fire and paraded through the streets: Obi-Wan, I should let you know that I'm bleeding."
"Master, this is no time for--" Obi-Wan stopped his tirade short; Qui-Gon had sagged forward, his knees folding under him. Obi-Wan groped in the Force only long enough to confirm that they had in fact passed a stream and a cave only a few yards back, and that the only thing presently living in it was a small, brightly-colored and harmless species of cricket. He shifted Qui-Gon's weight on his shoulder, and set off towards the sound of moving water.
"Sorry to trouble you." Qui-Gon did not bother opening his eyes, breathing shallowly.
Obi-Wan grunted, not fully capable of conversation with his master's considerable height leaning on him for support. He lowered Qui-Gon down to a smooth section of mossy cave floor, and unhooked his lightsaber from his belt. The cave turned blue as he activated the blade, sending a few insects scampering from the light.
"I hesitate to ask what you're doing."
Obi-Wan didn't answer, thumbing a water purification tablet from his belt dispenser and dissolving it in one of the many clear shallow puddles dotted around the cave. Steam billowed up from the water's surface as he boiled it with the tip of his saber. "You've gotten ashes and dirt in the cut, and I doubt the vibro-pike he was using was anything close to sanitary; I'll have to clean it out first." There was the sound of tearing cloth and Obi-Wan's tunic was suddenly short a sleeve. "Here. Let me see, Master."
"I never taught you that trick," Qui-Gon said, managing a note of admiration even as Obi-Wan pulled away sticky layers of his shredded tunic.
"I never thought of it until now." Obi-Wan gently blotted the warm wet cloth over Qui-Gon's ribs. "You'll have a nice mark from this one, Master." He pulled a bacta pad from his medi-pack and pressed it against the wound, taking the remainder of his shirt sleeve in his teeth and tearing it into strips.
Qui-Gon did not flinch, but his next inhaled breath was a little louder than usual. "I forget how much those things sting."
Obi-Wan's eyebrows drew together in concern. "You're still losing a lot of blood."
Qui-Gon leaned back against the cave wall, his eyes closing. "I'm doing all I can, I'm afraid."
"I'll help." Obi-Wan knew he was no healer, but he didn't have the luxury of indulging in that fact as the makeshift bandages quickly darkened under his splayed fingers. To convince his own body to begin to heal was hard enough, he was not even sure how to go about bringing his will to bear on another man's bones and blood.
"Do it together..." Qui-Gon said, folding his hand over Obi-Wan's. "Like the game, Obi-Wan. ...And the purple cylinder."
Obi-Wan understood, even if he wasn't sure how he had tapped into his Master's mind then. He had only been thinking of the game, so instead he thought of blood vessels, and platelets building tiny walls over torn flesh, knitting under his hands. But unlike the brush of Qui-Gon's mind over the game board, he knew instantly when their thoughts suddenly wound together in a single strand. Pain lashed like fire along Qui-Gon's side and Obi-Wan felt it as if it were his own, gasping in shock at the sudden contact. But once he adjusted to the strange symmetry, it was easier to reinforce his master's healing process.
Good work, Padawan.
Obi-Wan was not sure if Qui-Gon had said it or thought it or both, and he was not concerned with figuring out which. Sweat beaded on his upper lip as he concentrated, and soon the bandages were not reddening so quickly. The pain Obi-Wan felt was easing; his efforts were working. Obi-Wan's moment of confidence was rattled when he felt his master slipping away, and then he realized Qui-Gon was only nodding off into sleep.
Rest, Master, Obi-Wan thought, not sure if it would get through. I'll keep working on it.
Obi-Wan heard only his name in response, but the gratitude and pride he felt were not his own, and almost overwhelmed the connection. He focused again on his master's injury, and Qui-Gon's breathing evened into slumber, his mind contentedly blank.
How long Obi-Wan kept at it he was not sure, but it only became easier as the minutes slowly passed. The bleeding had stopped, and now he was thinking of binding edges together and flushing away toxins. He had forgotten entirely that he was not in his own body, when a ripple of unease passed through Qui-Gon's mind.
He's dreaming, Obi-Wan thought, and did not want to intrude. But their thoughts were meshed, and Obi-Wan did not know how to remove himself from the dream without breaking the connection entirely. With Qui-Gon asleep, he didn't know if he could re-establish the bond. He wasn't yet willing to stop his healing work.
I don't understand. You're going against the will of the Council!
Obi-Wan wanted to pull away, but he could not.
"Master--" The boy reflected in the window of the Temple's living quarters was a little taller than Obi-Wan, but perhaps a few years younger, not quite finished with his height. His hair was cropped short; a padawan braid bound with gold and green hung over his shoulder. "Master, could you not be expelled from the Order?"
The padawan was Qui-Gon Jinn.
"Those fools could not form a cohesive thought if the fate of all the worlds hung in the balance." Qui-Gon's master was a handsome man, with deep-set eyes and a close-cut beard only starting to go gray. His eyes were dark, and something about them made Obi-Wan and the padawan Qui-Gon shiver with apprehension.
"They will have my answer," Master Dooku said, and his deep brown robe swirled around him as he turned to leave. "And much good will it do them!"
"Master!" Qui-Gon reached out and caught the edge of his master's robe. "Surely, you could consider--" Something went 'snap', and after a moment of confusion Obi-Wan knew that it was the back of Dooku's hand against his Padawan's face. Qui-Gon had broken a long-standing rule: Dooku was not to be touched.
"And you are only a little better than they are," Dooku continued. "I had better hopes for you, Qui-Gon. I should have known you would be weak."
Hot anger flared in Obi-Wan's belly, but the dream was not finished.
Qui-Gon's fists were clenched, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. He said nothing, but he remained standing. It was Obi-Wan who was proud. Don't give in to him. He is wrong, Master.
"I could have done something with you, were you not so soft-hearted." Dooku lifted Qui-Gon's face in his hand. "Look at me when you're spoken to, boy."
Qui-Gon did as he was told, and his eyes were hard with defiance. "I cannot go with you on this, Master. I refuse."
"And are you such a shining example of the Order, to condemn your master's actions?" Dooku smiled smugly. "Yes, apprentice. I know your thoughts. Your secrets."
Something in Qui-Gon's face faltered, and Obi-Wan was suddenly cold. "No..." Obi-Wan didn't know if it was the phantom of his master's past or he himself that said it.
"Perhaps I should give you what you want." Dooku was still taller than his apprentice, though he would not be for much longer. "As a parting gift from your old master." He moved forward, blocking the light from the window.
Obi-Wan didn't want to see anymore, but he could not close his eyes. Qui-Gon had only wanted a sign of affection from his cool aloof master, as a father, as a friend. He had not wanted this. Pain and humiliation that was not his own burned in Obi-Wan's face as the dream stuttered mercifully out.
I'm sorry, Master, Obi-Wan thought, taking a second to realize that Qui-Gon's wound was fully closed, and the dull roaring sound in the trees was not the night wind but the emergency Republic dropship come to fetch them. For two minutes Obi-Wan thought he might do well as a healer, before the connection with his master's mind broke off, exhaustion from hours of Force-work took over, and the world went abruptly dark.
"I'm glad to hear he's all right." Mace Windu folded his arms in the sleeves of his robe, and nodded at a pair of knights passing the medical hallway. "We were concerned that there was little to be done on your mission. Perhaps after some time they will be ready to listen to reason again."
Obi-Wan tried not to shift his weight. Master Windu was an intense man, and Obi-Wan wasn't certain he wanted to be stuck reporting their mission to him without his master for support. "Master Qui-Gon can probably better inform you of the events than I can," Obi-Wan said, glancing through the small glass window to the medbay where droids were bustling around Qui-Gon Jinn.
"On the contrary, Obi-Wan, I think you did well." Something like a smile flickered on Mace Windu's face. "But the Council can wait for your report until Qui-Gon is on his feet again."
Obi-Wan exhaled. "He will be all right?"
Mace Windu's smile was more in evidence now. "A week before his knighthood trials he was nearly torn in half by a Rigelian bounty hunter, and he was able to pass without postponing the date even a day. I think you have very little to be concerned about."
Obi-Wan remembered the face of his master as a padawan, and the question must have shown in his expression.
"Something on your mind, Padawan?" Mace Windu asked.
Obi-Wan slogged forward. "Master Qui-Gon's master, Dooku... he left the order, did he not?"
The Jedi Master's face grew grim. "He did. Which narrowly prevented him from being expelled. Why do you ask?"
"Qui-Gon was still a padawan at the time, wasn't he? I was only wondering," Obi-Wan had been rehearsing this question to ask Qui-Gon himself, but maybe it was better this way, "what happens to an apprentice in that case?"
Mace Windu relaxed, as if he had been expecting a much more difficult question. "The Council decides who will finish the training. It is a rare occurrence, so it is not often a concern. Master Yoda and I took up the last years of Qui-Gon's apprenticeship. Although," he continued, "to hold true to the Jedi cause and to withstand the trauma of a master who left the order... that would have been trial enough for Qui-Gon Jinn. The rest was mere formality."
Obi-Wan was still mulling over a response to that when a medical droid triggered the door and bowed its angular head at the two Jedi. "We have bound the wound and he should be fully recovered in a few days. He is free to leave for now."
Mace Windu nodded. "Very well. The Council will be expecting your report, Obi-Wan."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan bowed deeply to the Jedi, and went to collect his master from the droids.
The dance of four sabers was a training kata expressly for use between master and apprentice. Usually not attempted by padawans under the age of twenty, it required master and student to move through a complicated, synchronized pattern of movements with a lit saber in each hand.
Obi-Wan had been pleased when Qui-Gon, now quite healed but under orders not to take missions for another week, had told him they would be training with the dance. But now, when he faltered a simple move for the umpteenth time, Obi-Wan was beginning to get frustrated.
"Perhaps it is too soon," Qui-Gon mused, deactivating the two training sabers in his hand. "You have had a good deal of combat training, Obi-Wan, but this is advanced technique."
"I can do this, Master," Obi-Wan said, his lightsabers still burning. "If you think me ready, then I am."
Qui-Gon sighed. "Obi-Wan, this is an art of not only the body, but the mind. You do know that."
Obi-Wan nodded. "I know. Master and apprentice must be in perfect tune."
"And I regret to say we are not." Qui-Gon waved his hand, and Obi-Wan's lightsabers deactivated. "Obi-Wan, listen. You have been putting up walls since Yanus 7. Synchronization of thought is an intimate, draining experience, and I do not expect or wish you to attempt it except in the most extreme circumstances. It requires willingness and concentration from both parties. You need not block me out to this extent."
Obi-Wan hung his head. "I'm sorry, Master."
"No, Obi-Wan. I am sorry. I fear my injury might have forced you on a path for which you were unprepared." He smiled, and put both his hands on Obi-Wan's shoulders. "I promise I will not intrude on your private thoughts without your permission, so you can relax a bit, Padawan."
"It is not my thoughts--" Obi-Wan began, and stopped abruptly. Qui-Gon raised his eyebrows.
"You are concerned with mine, then?" He smiled, but Obi-Wan could sense a faint unease. "I assure you, you would be most likely to find them very boring." He paused, and when Obi-Wan did not answer, he asked in a low voice, "What did you see, Obi-Wan?"
"Forgive me, Master." Obi-Wan stared at the toes of his master's boots, ashamed. "You had a nightmare, and I did not want to break the contact without finishing your healing."
"Everyone has nightmares, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon's voice could not be read, but he was not angry. "If I have burdens, you should not shoulder them for me. Tell me."
"It was about you and your master," Obi-Wan said, without looking up. "The day he left the order. And what... what happened between you."
Qui-Gon did not say anything. Obi-Wan felt sick.
"...It's all right, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, finally. His thumbs moved in circles over Obi-Wan's collarbone. "It was a long time ago, and I have put it behind me. The memory of it cannot harm me or you."
But it does, Obi-Wan thought. For some reason, it still does.
"I'm still sorry, Master." Obi-Wan looked up, and felt a little better, facing Qui-Gon's serene expression. Sorry for what he did, sorry for your pain, sorry I cannot help. "It was an intrusion, accidental or not."
"The fact of the incident is not a secret, Padawan. That Master Dooku had rejected the Jedi teachings and gone so far as to assault his own apprentice is clearly documented in his files. Any student could go into the library and look it up." Qui-Gon let Obi-Wan go, leaving a cold place where his hands had been. "I was very lonely at your age, Obi-Wan. Even before he changed, my master was a very reserved man. Very fair, granted, but not accessible. If anything it has made me more aware as a master myself, of giving what I myself wanted."
And afraid of giving what you yourself did not want, Obi-Wan thought, with sudden clarity. "I could not ask for a better master," Obi-Wan said, and he was the one who reached out this time, and caught Qui-Gon's broad capable hand in his own. "One I trusted more, or cared about more. You said before our last mission that I should think of you as a friend, that I could always confide in you. I hope you know the same holds true for you, Master."
Something in Qui-Gon's face relaxed; Obi-Wan could feel the tension leave the hand he held in his own. "Thank you, Obi-Wan." He placed the palm of his hand against Obi-Wan's face, a gesture he had not used since his padawan was a young boy. "You have a very generous soul."
Obi-Wan went prickly all over, in a way that was not exactly uncomfortable, letting the words of praise sink into him. I would give you anything you asked, Master. A memory of Obi-Wan's most recent dream flitted across his mind, and for the shortest of moments Obi-Wan let himself hang on to it, his face warm under Qui-Gon's hand. Anything at all.
Qui-Gon started. The surprise he felt was obvious in his face and Obi-Wan, with a sense of dread, realized that he had been heard in thought and intent, and quite clearly. Qui-Gon did not move his hand; he seemed to have forgotten it was there.
"I think," Qui-Gon said, after a long tense moment which lasted several hours, "This discussion would be better finished in our quarters."
Obi-Wan remembered the two deactivated training sabers held loosely in his left hand, and the droid watching them curiously around the corner. Though they were alone in the room except for the droid, the door was not locked and anyone could walk in at any moment. Obi-Wan went from hot to cold. "Yes, Master."
Qui-Gon said and Obi-Wan could sense nothing, all down the long corridor to their quarters, and in the privacy of the lift capsule. Once in their rooms, Qui-Gon hung his robe on the hook and was briefly busy in the kitchen area. Obi-Wan waited in the main room, too nervous to take off his robe, and tried not to bounce. When Qui-Gon returned, a cup of tea in each hand, he almost laughed at the expression on his apprentice's face.
"I'm not going to have you expelled from the Order, Obi-Wan." He pressed the warm clay cup into Obi-Wan's clammy hands. "I just want to talk to you. It seems," he said, settling onto the padded bench in front of the window, "that we need it."
Obi-Wan remained standing, staring at the steaming surface of his tea. "I don't know what to say."
Qui-Gon placed his tea on a side table, and spread his hands. "Obi-Wan. It seems you and I have a knack, shall we say, of picking up on each other's signals-- moreso than other human Jedi. It's made us a good team. But after what happened recently, it will only be easier to tune into each other, unconsciously more often than not, and with more accuracy. If we are hiding things from each other, they should be laid out clearly."
"What if those things are better left unsaid?" Obi-Wan huddled into his robe, as if it was some protection. "Something that was better not found out... probably better not thought in the first place," he added, as though to himself.
Qui-Gon's smile was wry, self-mocking. "Secrets hidden and found out accidentally, even with the best intentions, can only cause friction later on." He waved a hand at the obvious consternation on Obi-Wan's face. "And before you explode into confession, I don't mean you have to tell me what girls you had a crush on when you were a youngling, I mean things between the two of us, alone. It will not go beyond this room."
"I've... been having dreams," Obi-Wan said, before he could stop himself, before his master would have to speak again with that awful hollow responsibility in his voice. "Dreams about you, in point of fact. They are..." Obi-Wan shifted in his boots, and looked at the window at a passing starbus. "Intense."
Qui-Gon arched one eyebrow. "I don't doubt it. It's all right, you're not likely to embarrass me."
"I'm doing a good enough job on it myself," Obi-Wan said, more curtly than he would usually address his master, but Qui-Gon was smiling as though they were discussing nothing more stressful than the climate, and it kept him going. "I had them before, actually. When I was younger. I thought they were only-- well. I was thirteen."
"As was I, once," Qui-Gon said, dryly. "Go on."
Obi-Wan sank down onto the bench next to his master, and put down the tea he could not yet think about drinking. "I tried not to think about them. Off and on, sometimes I would catch myself..." He looked up at Qui-Gon and very quickly away again, "and I got good at pushing it away, as I would fear or anger or any other emotion I didn't think I should have."
Obi-Wan knew from experience that Qui-Gon would say Jedi have the same emotions as any other sentient beings, it was what they did with those emotions that was different, but Qui-Gon only nodded to show he was listening.
"But recently," Obi-Wan said, "it's not just my subconscious and the dreams. It's what I feel when I'm around you."
"A negative reaction?" Qui-Gon prompted, and Obi-Wan shook his head.
"No. If anything I am more drawn to you." He turned away, fists clenched in the sleeves of his robe. "I would be lying if I said the dreams were unwelcome."
Qui-Gon shifted in his seat, and Obi-Wan could feel the weight of his words, no matter how easily he seemed to say them. "Obi-Wan. I once found myself... attracted-- for lack of a better word-- to an apprentice. I was aware of his feelings for me, but I refused to see it. I pushed him away, time and again, and felt I was doing the right thing."
Obi-Wan knew, and had somehow known since the first time he had encountered that lost apprentice, years ago. "Xanatos."
"I made many mistakes with him," Qui-Gon said. "And my refusal to get close to him was by far not the least of them. That trust might have altered his fate, and mine." Qui-Gon was speaking to his hands, now. "Eventually he sensed it, or enough of it to know it for what it was. In his bitterness, he misinterpreted my motives. By then it was too late. I had failed him as much as he had me."
"I am not Xanatos," Obi-Wan said, and for the first time in the conversation there was no hesitation in his words, or in the intent behind them. "And you are not Dooku."
"No." Qui-Gon looked up at his apprentice, and Obi-Wan could see how those two men had constantly pulled his master in opposite directions, tainting either choice with failure, trapping him. "You are most assuredly not Xanatos, which means what I sensed from you could only have been an apprentice's affection, no more." Qui-Gon picked up his mug, noticed that it was empty, and put it back down again. "Obi-Wan. I cannot risk misjudging your feelings."
"You didn't misjudge me. I've misjudged you. I should have said something, even years ago." Obi-Wan swallowed past a dry throat. His teacup was still full, but he had forgotten it. "Master-- I need you." Obi-Wan felt a pull in his chest, not some Force prompting but the simple gravity of one person for another. The path he had debated was suddenly clear, and like the red cube in the center of the trajarr board, there was only one solution. "Like you need me." Anything else was a mistake, and they both knew it. Master and apprentice reached at the same time, not for a holographic game piece, but for each other.
How long they stayed there neither one of them was certain, but the shadows tilted sideways across the floor as morning became afternoon, and neither of them marked the time. Every breath Obi-Wan took was full of Qui-Gon's scent, warm and enfolding and more potent than any of his dreams. His master's hands-- so steady on a lightsaber, or levitating objects-- were shaking as they pushed into the dark gold softness of Obi-Wan's hair, as their mouths met and parted and then met again. For a long time neither one of them dared speak; words were clumsy, reckless, random things, like blaster fire compared to the saber kata. When Qui-Gon did talk, it was hushed, cautious.
"Are you certain, Padawan?" Qui-Gon asked, and Obi-Wan found himself laughing, tangled up in his master's embrace, the front of his tunic undone and hanging open, in the main room of their apartments, in broad daylight.
"Are you uncertain, Master?" Obi-Wan's fingers sought out the tie in Qui-Gon's hair, and unraveled the knot. "Or are you thinking when you should be feeling instead?"
"Impertinent apprentice," Qui-Gon said, smiling through hair that was now trailing in his eyes, cupping Obi-Wan's face in his hands. "I am too old for you. I'll slow you down."
Obi-Wan was not content with hair ties and had moved on to belts and tunic fastenings, pushing the simple garment open and exposing the jagged pink line of new scar along Qui-Gon's ribs. "Then you must teach me patience." He followed the line of the wound with his fingertips and brushed his lips over one dark eyebrow. He moved his hands over Qui-Gon's shoulders, feeling on his palms the rise of scars he knew by heart. He could name each system, each desperate mission, each time his own lightsaber had kept the blow from being a killing one. All times when they had only thought of what needed to be done, each placing complete faith in the other. Like now.
"I know nothing of patience right now," Qui-Gon growled, his hands sliding over Obi-Wan's sides and up his back, underneath the tunic and robe dripping from his shoulders. Obi-Wan made a soft noise, encouraging and needy, as his master pressed his face against Obi-Wan's neck. He could not count the times his master had touched him, but it might well have been the only time as Qui-Gon's hands found Obi-Wan's center, burning against the loose pale fabric of his pants.
Obi-Wan cried out, a quiet, involuntary noise, and arched up into his master's touch. No amount of dreaming had readied him for this, it was nothing but pale shadows and phantoms of the reality. Obi-Wan, for the first time in a great while, was utterly unafraid. "You always say..." he managed, his breath coming too fast, "to act on the moment when it comes."
Qui-Gon might have laughed, his cheek pressed to Obi-Wan's hair. Obi-Wan knew that he had never expected this, had never dreamed it possible; his voice was full of pleasant disbelief. "Then I should take my own advice."
Obi-Wan only said, "Yes, Master," as he had a thousand times before, in obedience or agreement or doubt or simply in passing, and never before had he realized how much love could be carried on two small words.
Qui-Gon gathered Obi-Wan against him and Obi-Wan folded gently into his master's arms, his robe flowing around both of them. There was no hesitation, only shared heat and Obi-Wan's sharp intake of breath, pressing his face to Qui-Gon's neck, his thighs trembling. Obi-Wan did not even have to try to find his master's thoughts, they were already inside of him, winding around his own. He arched back, mind and body filled with Qui-Gon's presence, hands tangled in silver-streaked hair as the universe shifted, shuddered, and swung into perfect balance.
The air of the training room was humming. Four lightsabers and two men moved in harmony, point and counterpoint. The sound of their bootheels on the mat was flawless cadence to the buzz of lightsabers spinning in unison, now in front, now behind, now in twin infinity symbols. They had each begun with matching colors, Qui-Gon's green and Obi-Wan's blue. Now in the middle of the dance, they had one of each color. By the end they would have completely traded.
No one knows where it began, Qui-Gon had said, before they started, half an hour ago. But all Jedi know what it means. It is the last of the seventeen training dances taught to a padawan, the last of the physical arts passed on between master and apprentice. In the end, the learner is the master.
Green and blue formed an intricate double X and then they were back to back, hand over hand as the sabers lost their lines and became double fiery wheels. The two Jedi stepped forward and the sabers Obi-Wan held were both green. The steps were now a mock combat, circling each other as equals, guard and attack in slow, elegant motion. Their expressions were serene, eyes steady on the other, like the flowing combat murals in the west temple gardens. Obi-Wan could feel Qui-Gon's heartbeat as though it was his own, beating unhurried and in tandem.
The dance was almost finished now, and while Obi-Wan knew they would do it again many times over before he surrendered his padawan braid, the end always filled him with a sweet kind of sadness. Qui-Gon's face flickered between the whirl of lightsaber beams as Obi-Wan moved into the final steps, matching blow for blow with his master. The four sabers crashed together in a diamond and then a star, the blades spiraled across between them and then away to the sides, and were simultaneously deactivated as master and apprentice bowed, and the dance was finished.
So complete was Obi-Wan's focus on the kata and his master that the applause took him utterly by surprise. When they had begun the training room was empty except for a few droids, now Master Yoda and a handful of other Jedi were standing in the small space below the platform. Several bright-eyed younglings were crowded in the doorway, eager to watch but not quite willing to stand so close to their elders.
Qui-Gon had the presence of mind to bow and Obi-Wan echoed him, nervously. He had not expected to perform for an audience, much less one containing so many venerated Jedi.
"Doing well, you are." Yoda hobbled up to the edge of the platform as the observers began to disperse, one of the masters shooing the padawans back to their classes. "Harmony of thought is evident in your combat. The problem you spoke to me about earlier, resolved it is?"
As one, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan said, "Yes Master," and then there was rather an awkward moment as they looked at each other, and Yoda coughed.
"Schedule appointments better, I should," the Jedi master said. "Would have saved time, just to see you both at once." He turned to leave, his walking stick thumping on the mats on the floor. "Your second form, keep practicing. Getting sloppy on the handover you were, Master Qui-Gon. Show you up, your padawan will."
"Yes, my master," Qui-Gon said, bowing again, but Obi-Wan forgot to do so until long after Yoda had gone.
"You spoke to Master Yoda as well?" Obi-Wan asked, as Qui-Gon replaced the training sabers in their charging units. "Then you must have been--"
"Sometimes I think," Qui-Gon said, with the air of one changing the subject, "That Master Yoda enjoys being pestered all the time. If he wasn't, what else would he be doing, anyway?"
Obi-Wan was not to be swayed. "You were asking him about me? Was it before we left for Yanus 7?"
"It was," Qui-Gon said, "and by several years, at that. I'm surprised he hadn't given up and hit me on the head with his stick before now."
Obi-Wan's response was to let all his air out at once, legs collapsing under him as he sat down hard on the edge of the dais. "This would have been resolved a lot sooner, Master," he said, after some consideration, "if we had simply bothered to talk to one another."
"It might have, at that." Qui-Gon pulled his padawan to his feet. "So you'll have to forgive me, Obi-Wan, for making up for lost time."
And as Obi-Wan's mouth was occupied, he had no choice but to express his agreement in other ways.