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Blossoms In The Wind (Padawan Mine)

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Coruscant, 54 BBY.

 

If anything, Qui-Gon Jinn felt jaded.

It had never been in his nature to deny his feelings, unlike his former Master who tended to plough on, and whose shields were made of durasteel.  Qui-Gon had no doubt that Dooku would have snorted at his alleged fatigue, sending him to the Archives for another endless research.

He never sent him to meditate, oddly enough, probably because meditation had never been Qui-Gon’s problem. Sometimes his Master had directed him to the training grounds for a round of sparring, raising a dark eyebrow at his definite refuse of Makashi and its flourishes.

There was a very good reason Qui-Gon had turned to Ataru – because it was a way to be alive, in the moment, and because it definitely allowed him to let out some steam.

“How a Padawan mastering meditation as you do could turn to such an uncouth way of duelling is beneath me…”, his Master would often say.

“Perhaps I am uncouth, Master”, Qui-Gon would then reply, voice even but eyes burning, and Dooku had never bothered to comment that.

Qui-Gon was very grateful of the apprenticeship he had passed alongside Dooku. His master was powerful, smart, grizzled, and was the epitome of self-command. But Dooku had never been precisely gentle and had a hard way of showing he cared – with him, it mostly looked like rebuke, and Qui-Gon’s trials had been a delicate cliff to navigate.

He had not been a very needy Padawan. Qui-Gon had always adapted, finding enough interest and life in the world around him – in the Temple first, then in Coruscant. He had friends enough, even in the underworld, and enough command of the Living Force to be perfectly able to stir himself, with or without his Master.

But Force, Dooku had been hard. The night before his last Trial, he had made a point to list every field which, in his opinion, Qui-Gon was still far from mastering. He could still hear his Master’s low baritone: the Cosmic Force and its warnings, thorough researching, strategy, self-command, diplomatic skills, defensive sparring… Qui-Gon’s head had been reeling.

He was glad that anxiety was not one of his main traits, otherwise he probably would never have made it through the Trials. Instead, he had rebelled internally, determined to take his Trials, despite everything – which had, perhaps, been Dooku’s intent all along.

Qui-Gon was not resentful either – Dooku had never been one to project, but he had felt his pride when he had taken his Padawan braid from him, and when he had closed their training bond.

But it had been hard – and Qui-Gon had been glad to be on his own, for a while. Able to choose his steps, the way he would let the Force guide him, able to focus on his skills, not only what remained to be perfected. Able to interact more with the people he was helping, to let them shape him in return, to feel the Living Force in them nourish his own flame.

Those days, however, Qui-Gon felt weary, and thanks to the stunt he had pulled on his last mission, he had had plenty of time to figure out why.

The doors of the Halls of Healing slid open before him, and Qui-Gon resigned himself to go in, hopefully for the last time this week.

How turning yourself into a living torch might have been helpful to the situation is beyond my comprehension.

Such had been Dooku’s comment, as soon as they had met again.

The burns on his chest, back and arms had been severe, their location complicating treatment. As Master Che had explained, immersing him in a Bacta tank could cause the tissues to retract – which was why Qui-Gon was enduring daily sessions in the Halls, letting them change his dressings before massaging the healing tissues.

It was testing his patience, but the healers helped, and were not responsible for his recklessness.

He probably should have avoided the flame throwers, on that last mission alone. But it was that or watching people burn – the delegates he had been sent to protect, and the opposite fraction. Once more, an extremist group had tried to bring down the negotiations, attacking the assembly in a self-destructive, suicidal assault.

They had not hesitated to turn themselves into living torches, in the end, after trying to burn down everyone else. However, Qui-Gon had manage to deflate most of the flames, and the fraction had eventually been dissolved. He came away with burns that would heal – and memories and smells that made him shudder even now.

What ends could possibly justify such horrible means?

How could a living soul contemplate to harm another, and to harm itself?

Qui-Gon was no innocent in treading the Way, and he knew these questions had no real answer and would never truly disappear. Conflict and lust of power never truly faded – but there was also courage, compassion and love to be found, and those were worth fights and burns.

He was weary, though.

It had been his third mission in less than six months, and while Qui-Gon had preferred to be on his own ever since his Trials, reluctant to pair with a fellow Jedi, he could not deny that it had been hard to carry the burden of these assignments alone.

With his Master, he had often felt unable to decide, obliged to conform himself to plans he did not always agree with, but Dooku’s way of managing the assignments had allowed him space and time enough to think, meditate, and feel the Living Force around him.

Now, it seemed to Qui-Gon that he was indeed sensing and following the Living Force - yet never truly part of it. And it had worn down his brain, his soul, and even his body.

He longed for Nature, unharmed by conflict, unpolluted by war. And he could not really find it on Coruscant, the Temple gardens making only a tolerable substitute. He longed for more.

He yearned for peace.

And though his injuries forced him to stay put, for now, though he had plenty of time to meditate, Qui-Gon was not feeling rested – something had been stirred inside him, becoming hard to bear.

Qui-Gon had finally found out that it was solitude – and that apparent contradiction in him left him puzzled, without worrying him.

After all, he was nothing but a walking contradiction, to quote Dooku, and it had never prevented him from finding his way.

“Good afternoon, Master Che”, Qui-Gon greeted the Twi’lek healer, entering the Halls and bowing.

“Good afternoon, Qui-Gon…”

The healer smiled at him, but she seemed preoccupied, blue lekku rubbing her forearms thoughtfully – Qui-Gon instantly felt his interest rise.

“What is it, Master Che?

- Oh, well…”, the Twi’lek healer answered, shaking her head. “It is a tiny three-year old boy Master Yoda seems to have forgotten here. I would have wanted him happy and clothed in the crèche long ago, but he is a bit poorly, we ran out of clean children tunics just yesterday, he needs his vaccines done as soon as possible, and of course my Padawan is attending her studies today – and I am really behind everything, your treatment included.

- That sounds like a handful. For you and the little Initiate…

- That is my point, Qui-Gon, he is not an Initiate, not yet. And it seems everyone has forgotten him. He is certainly quiet enough for that…”

Qui-Gon sensed Vokara Che was more worried than she let out – it was indeed highly unusual for children to be brought at the Temple at such a late age, and he suspected there was an interesting story behind.

Especially if Grandmaster Yoda was involved.

“Where is the little one?”, he asked. “Perhaps I could help – distracting him for the vaccines, for example. I can also look after him, for a while – so that you can resume your other duties. I have nothing better to do, after all…

- Well… I will not lie to you, Qui-Gon, it would help me along a great deal.”

And so, ere soon, Qui-Gon found himself sitting down on a narrow bed, facing a tiny, very silent Force-sensitive child who was gazing at its surroundings with wide, grey eyes.

The boy was thin, soft copper hair falling in wavy strands across his forehead. Freckles brushed his nose like stardust, and there were still dimples on the back of his hands. He was sitting barefooted on the bed, his threadbare, unadorned clothes giving no clue about him.

He was not crying, he was not moving, he was simply gazing up, but Qui-Gon could feel a wariness in the Force that should never have been projected by one so young and tender.

“Well, you are a calm little fellow, are you? What is your name?”

The child just peered up at him, and Qui-Gon noticed his too-bright eyes and the tired look on his face.

“I am Qui-Gon”, he said gently. “I am a Jedi Knight, and I live here. I studied with Grandmaster Yoda, who brought you here.”

This time something in the little boy’s face shifted, lightening up in brief, fleeting hope and recognition – no doubt Yoda had found the way to that young heart. Qui-Gon still remembered the serenity he had felt as a small boy, as his Grandmaster had introduced his group of Initiates to the ways of the Force – back then, when everything had seemed so simple.

“Do you know where you are, little one?”, Qui-Gon asked, trying to bring the little boy to talk – but to no avail.

The child gazed up at Master Che, seeming to ask her for the answer, and she sat down next to him, brushing a hand through his hair, feeling for his nape.

“Do you remember, sweetie? I told you before, I am sure you remember the planet where the Temple is – Master Yoda said you are very, very smart…”

The little boy leaned into her palm and Master Che rubbed his back.

“You are not feeling so good, are you? That little head here is all hot… I think we need to change that dressing on your thigh, and then I will give you those little shots we talked about…”

She poked him gently on the other thigh and Qui-Gon watched the beginning of a smile lift the boy’s lips.

“Core and sand.”

He had chirped those words shyly and unexpectedly, like the robin he was, and for a while Master Che and Qui-Gon were at a loss to understand him – until Qui-Gon got it.

“Oh, Coruscant. Yes, little one. That is exactly where we are.”

The little boy had a small shiver and Master Che stroked his hair again.

“Now, why don’t you sit on Qui-Gon’s lap, sweetie? He is a tall fellow, he will warm you up and I can make your thigh all clean and pretty.”

The child did not stir, but Qui-Gon sensed no alarm through the Force as he gently moved towards him, placing his hands around his waist and lifting him on his knees.

“Force, you are a little furnace, are you?”

No wonder the boy was so calm and permissive, he was positively burning up – Qui-Gon could feel the heat of his skin even through the many layers of his Jedi clothing. As soon as he leant him against his chest, the little boy seemed to sag into his arms, eyelids drooping with exhaustion.

Green canopies of high trees. The smell of earth and fallen leaves. A hot, savage breath – teeth and grey fur.

Keep quiet, Obi. Hush.

Owen…

Images and sounds seeped from the child’s mind into the Force… and then Qui-Gon felt the little boy – a three-year old child, nothing more than a robin – reach out for them in the Force and hide them back inside him, small hand rubbing his eyes to stay awake.

“In the name of…”, he let out. “Master Che, did you –

- Yes. That one is a fierce little shielder, it would seem…”

She had pulled down the little boy’s trousers and Qui-Gon saw a dressing of Bacta patches stretched across his right thigh. The child did not even flinch as Master Che removed them, gently – and for whatever reason, this struck Qui-Gon more that the sight of the wound itself. It was obviously a bite that had begun to heal, but still showed signs of infection.

“Let’s clean that up, sweetie…”

The little boy just watched her, slumped against Qui-Gon. His glassy eyes shone with fever – yet the Jedi could feel him once more reaching out for the Force, trying to centre himself.

Master Che changed his dressing, and then she swiftly injected an antibiotic in his thigh, and the first vaccine in his left shoulder. Qui-Gon was beginning to feel unnerved by that silent, composed demeanour that was absolutely unfitting for a boy this age. But the child’s command of the Force was but that - a child’s.

As Master Che was injecting the third shot, Qui-Gon suddenly felt everything slip from the boy’s tiny grasp. He went tense against him, letting out a small sound of distress as she removed the syringe. And suddenly tears were streaming down his face as he began to cry, almost silently yet hard enough to tremble.

“Oh, none of that, little one, I finished, it is over…”, Master Che tried to soothe him, but the little boy seemed to have reached his breaking point, small body turning towards Qui-Gon, hands fisting themselves in his tunic in a silent plea.

He was so tiny. So overwhelmed. Qui-Gon stood up, cradling the boy against him, and then he started to walk, rocking him gently.

“Peace, little one”, he murmured, quietly. “It is all done now. No more poking. Instead you can take a walk with me and have a look around. Because it is important to master one’s surroundings, don’t you think…?”

The child’s sobs slowly began to space, and Qui-Gon felt him stretch, readjusting his position in his arms to be able to peer across his shoulder. His hair smelt of pine needles and baby-sweat, and for some unknown reason, it soothed him – because it was the exact opposite of combat and fire.

“See…? Those are the Halls of Healing, where we all come when we are injured, or when we need shots or rest, just like you…”

The little boy took a thorough look around, and then he lowered his face on Qui-Gon’s shoulder. Unwiped tears still lingered on his cheek, and Qui-Gon brushed them away with his thumb.

“You too…”

His little charge had whispered those words, small hand feeling for his wrist – and Qui-Gon realised his dressing was poking out of his long-sleeved tunic.

“Yes, little one. But it was no wolf, for me…”

He went for that educated guess, and the little boy just nestled against him.

“Owen screamed loud. Obi made him go away.

- Are you Owen or Obi, little one?”, Qui-Gon asked, gently. “Who went away…?”

The little boy sighed, hot face resting again against Qui-Gon’s shoulder.

“The big wolf. But Owen was okay. He carried me.

- Mhmm… I see, and how did you stop the big wolf, Obi?

- I talked to him”, the little boy chirped.

“But he bit you…”, Qui-Gon tried to guess again.

“That was before…”

The child - Obi, apparently - was whispering now, clearly exhausted, gaze unfocused, small hand almost hidden in Qui-Gon’s hair. Qui-Gon rubbed his back and watched him close his eyes. Before he had finished crossing the Halls to bring him back to his bed, Obi was fast asleep against him.

He laid the little boy down, covering him. Obi’s arms were circling his head in that unique way only small children achieved – he looked even younger asleep like that, and Qui-Gon brushed his hair from his sweaty forehead.

His fingers were still touching Obi’s skin when he saw them again, fleetingly: high pine trees, the sky, and an older, grey-eyed boy, scooping him up.

Not me. Obi.

That day Vokara Che treated his burns with Qui-Gon seated on Obi’s bed, almost without him noticing – so deep immersed in thought was he, trying to solve the riddle around the little boy.

“Almost cured from fire you are, young Qui-Gon?”

Qui-Gon smiled at his Grandmaster, recognizing the familiar way Yoda leant his folded hands above his walking stick.

“I guess it depends what you call fire, Grandmaster…

- Hmm…”

Yoda nodded, slowly, brown eyes casting an amused glance on him.

“Met young Obi-Wan, you have, I see…

- Oh, so that is his name? He has been quite cryptic about that…

- Cautious, that young one is. Good reasons for that, he has. Not easy, it has been for him. Very gentle, but also reckless with himself, little Obi-Wan is.

- I have seen that…”, Qui-Gon observed, turning towards the boy.

Obi was still asleep, cheeks flushed and heart racing in the Force – every bit the little furnace Qui-Gon remembered. He was frowning slightly in his sleep and, though Qui-Gon knew his fever was nothing but a defence mechanism, he could not help reaching out, trying to alleviate some of the discomfort Obi was feeling.

His fingers ran gently above the little boy’s head and chest, trying to quell the fire burning through the Force, and Qui-Gon watched the tiny frown disappear, Obi plunging even deeper into sleep.

“In need of evening things out, you are, young Qui-Gon…?

- Maybe, Grandmaster”, Qui-Gon answered, still looking at the sleeping child. “I have felt… lonely.

- Missing your Master, you have been?”, Yoda asked, and Qui-Gon had a soft snort, turning towards him.

“Not exactly, Master Yoda.

- Hmm. This time, heeding Dooku’s advice, perhaps you should…

- About not getting burned, Grandmaster?”, Qui-Gon quipped lightly, and Yoda hummed again, approaching the bed, perching himself on it next to Obi’s head.

“About the next step to becoming a Master…”

Qui-Gon frowned.

“You mean – taking a Padawan?”

Master Yoda did not answer, warm brown eyes watching him – and Qui-Gon took a minute to ponder these words. He had never really thought about it. Sure, Dooku had already begun to make some insinuations, but Qui-Gon had brushed them away, convinced that he was too young, and unwilling to relinquish his new-found autonomy.

Now, however… He could not deny that sharing the Force with Obi, watching him struggle with his tiny shields and his emotions and calming him down had felt good. Soothing. Full of purpose.

“Grandmaster, Obi is way too young”, Qui-Gon objected – and then he paused, quite shocked at the words that had left his mouth, because they made absolutely no sense at all.

“Forgive me, Master Yoda, I do not know what I was thinking – of course you did not mean him. Neither did I.

- Hmm… Very endearing, little Obi-Wan is. The Force around him is strong. Hide and seek, within him, it loves to play.”

Yoda smiled, placing a hand on Obi’s shoulder, and Qui-Gon could feel the little boy relax, small hands uncurling, head lolling towards the Grandmaster.

“From Stewjon, our young one is. Trouble to find him, I had. Sustaining a bite, Obi-Wan had to, to reveal himself to us.

- Stewjon? I cannot recall that name, Grandmaster.

- A very small, very hidden planet, it is. The Nature is still strong, there. Unknown to the people, the Force is. Old gods they worship, but in human strength, they believe. What they do not understand, hunt down, they do. Forced to hide in the woods, the little one was.

- He spoke about someone – Owen, I think…?

- Owen Kenobi. Brother to little Obi-Wan. Protect him, he did. Hid him from the village people, when they discovered Obi-Wan’s abilities, young Owen has. Obliged he was, to teach Obi-Wan to conceal them.

- Is he Force-sensitive too?

- No, Qui-Gon. Young Owen is not. But understand little Obi-Wan, he did, because his heart is full of love. Heart-breaking it has been, for him, to let his brother go, but also a relief. Scared for Obi-Wan for a long time, Owen has been. In the Jedi Temple, safe he will be.

- And his brother? What will become of him? There are wolves out there…

- Wolves indeed there are, but only in the woods. Leave them now, Owen can, and live his life on Stewjon. A capable, loving boy he is.

- But how did you find them?

- Bitten, little Obi was, because he jumped in front of his brother when a wolf attacked them. Defend his brother once more, he did, using the Force to talk to the beast and lure it away. Very strong in the Force, he appeared doing so, and was finally revealed to us.

- Master Yoda, he is three years old…”

And Qui-Gon was struck, once more, by the contradiction in his words. Because the little boy was way too young for mastering the Force like that. And already too old for the usual Jedi way of training Initiates.

Obi remembered his brother, that much was obvious. And he had already been forced to use the Force to survive, without any proper teaching, without anyone to show him how to channel his abilities.

“Difficult, Obi-Wan’s path may be. But willing enough to adapt, and smart, this child is. Very observant and gentle. Safety, Obi-Wan needs - finding out that he is not alone in the Force. And bloom, our young blossom will.”

Qui-Gon nodded, slowly, watching the little boy sleep. There was no true reason to linger here anymore – his dressings had been removed, and his wounds would heal on their own now. There was nothing more he could do for little Obi, either, yet Qui-Gon remained seated on the bed.

“He is still sick. And Master Che told me they have no clean Initiates’ tunics right now…

- Recover, little Obi-Wan must, before joining the crèche. Time enough to get better, and to find proper clothes, we will give him.”

Qui-Gon nodded again, and rose slowly, bowing to Master Yoda.

“Thank you, Grandmaster. I shall think about a Padawan and seek your council and Master Dooku’s.

- May the Force guide you, young one.

- And you, Grandmaster Yoda.”

Qui-Gon left the Halls feeling lighter than when he entered them, and immediately sat down in his quarters to meditate. A Padawan… Indeed, a Padawan was the perfect answer. He would still be able to enjoy new horizons, to hone his skills during missions – but he would not be alone and would be able to share his experience. To learn and teach, both facets of the Way perfectly interwoven…

Yes, he would try to find a Padawan willing enough to accompany him.

And if, during his meditation, the fleeting image of a little boy leaning against his shoulder or a tiny hand tangled in his hair rose, every once in a while – Qui-Gon supposed it was his way of wishing little Obi luck on his own journey.

 

*******

 

Obi had boots now. And he was looking at them as he walked, hand in hand with Master Che who had made the bite on his thigh disappear.

Obi liked Master Che because she was talking to him and explaining things. Master Che had soft, blue not-arms, not-tentacles called lekku that always made him feel safe when they touched him. It reminded him of Owen.

“Obi, you must not cry, you must not be sad, can you promise me that? You will be safe now, you will not need to hide anymore.

- You too…”

Obi had wanted Owen to come along so, so much. It had made him cry. Deep down in Owen’s tunic, where nobody could hear him. But Owen had explained to him that this was impossible because Owen could not feel the Force. Even though Owen was part of it.

Master Yoda, who had found them, and who was not tall, just a bit taller than Obi, had explained it all to them. It had been very difficult to understand for Obi, and Owen had to explain it to Obi all over again, several times until he remembered.

It had taken some time for Obi to feel comfortable around Master Yoda, because he had never seen anyone like him. The people he knew were Owen, and the men and women from the village who were not nice to him anymore and had thrown stones at him because Obi made things lift around him without noticing. It had frightened Obi. He had quickly learned to trust only Owen.

“Obi, you can trust Master Yoda. He will help you. He will keep you safe, better than I could. Better than I have.

- Not true.

- Yes, Obi. Be brave now.”

Obi had been very brave. He had almost not cried in the ship taking him to Core-and-sand, not even when his leg had begun to hurt really, really badly because of the wolf’s teeth. And Owen had been right, Master Yoda had been very nice to him because he had helped him with his leg and made the pain almost go away. Obi had felt very, very sleepy, and when he had woken up, he had met Master Che.

Obi was not really sure, but he thought there had been someone else, a very, very tall Man who had taken him in his arms and shown him around and been really gentle with him. Obi hoped he had not cried too much – what was happening to him was still difficult to remember, because he had slept a lot.

He was trying to remember it all, though. He wanted to be able to tell Owen – just in case Owen came along, because maybe Owen and Master Yoda had been wrong.

So Obi was trying to keep everything in mind. It made his head ache a little, because there was so much to remember. But Obi looked at his new boots as he walked and began the list for Owen all over again.

I have boots now, and they have no holes, and my feet don’t hurt, we threw the old shoes away along with my clothes saying goodbye to them.  

They gave me real Jedi clothes because I have to cover and protect my body to respect the Force and it feels very warm but they scratch a little bit.

Master Che healed my leg with something called Bacta that stings a lot, but it works really well and there’s just a little scar now.

Master Che is a Twi’lek and it means she has two lekku that are like arms with feelings.

She is nice and taking me to a place called crush or crèche I’m not really sure and that’s where I’m going to live and I’ll find out if there’s a bed for you as well.

“Obi-Wan? Sweetheart?”

Master Che was crouching in front of him now, drawing her arms around his waist, and her lekku around his shoulders. It felt good, and Obi leant into her, burying his head into her chest.

“Sweetie, you remember what we talked about? About Owen…? And about your new life here?”

Obi nodded. It had frightened him a bit, but Master Che had explained to him that all Jedi were connected in the Force and that they could read each other’s thoughts. Especially if they were very strong. And that he would learn how to keep them to himself very soon, but that for now it was okay.

“He is not going to come along, Obi, you know that, do you? He stayed on Stewjon. He let you go. It is time to do the same, sweetheart.”

Obi swallowed, very hard. He missed Owen so much. He did not want to go through that door and leave Master Che. She was the only one he knew here, except Master Yoda and the nice Man.

“Oh, little one…”

Master Che’s lekku gently touched his cheek and Obi realised he was crying. He hid even harder in Master Che’s chest, and then he felt something warm and soft flow through him, from her lekku to his heart, along with the Force.

Little one, I am here, in the Temple. You won’t really leave me. We will see each other again, but you will have friends, and be very busy, and you will soon not have any time left to miss me.

“Not true…”, Obi whispered, and Master Che smiled, brushing his tears away very, very gently.

“Are you ready, little one?”

Obi looked at her, and then he nodded, trying to be brave. Master Che opened the door, and Obi walked next to her as he entered, looking at his boots because he was afraid. He did not want people there to throw stones and to yell at him. But he trusted Master Che not to leave him with people like that, and so, when she stopped walking, Obi forced his eyes to leave his boots and look around him.

There were a lot, lot of people, but they had all gone very silent and they were all staring at him and Master Che. There was a tall person with a white and red face and long, long blue and white lekku, wearing the same brown robe as Master Yoda, who smiled at them.

“Good morning, Master Che. And good morning…?”

She was looking at Obi, now, and he felt something flow between her and him, once more.

Do not be shy, little one. Tell us your name…

“Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

He had whispered the words clutching Master Che’s hand.

“Good morning, Obi-Wan Kenobi. I am Master Shaak Ti.

- Hello, Master Shaak Ti.”

He heard stifled laughter around him, and someone whispered: “It’s Master Ti”, and giggled. Obi felt his face go very red and he looked at his boots, squaring his shoulders, just in case. People had laughed at Owen and him, before, and after that they had made them run.

“Master Shaak Ti is fine as well”, she said, and then she extended a hand towards Obi.

Do not be afraid. No one here is going to hurt you. You are safe. We are glad to have you joining us.

Obi placed his hand in hers but did not look up.

Goodbye, Master Che.

He tried to think these words through the Force. He did not want to talk anymore and make everybody laugh. It was much better to listen and be silent and find a place to hide.

Goodbye, my sweet little Obi. Take good care of yourself.

He blinked, hearing Master Che go away, feeling his throat go very tight, and he did not really notice Master Ti drawing an arm around his shoulders, telling everybody to go on playing.

“Do you want to take a look around?”, she asked, gently, but Obi shook his head, biting his lip.

He wanted to be alone. He wanted to find a place to hide and start talking to Owen again in his head. Owen would take a look around and scowl down at the people laughing at him – but Obi was not Owen and he missed him.

Master Ti knelt in front of him, her hand never leaving his shoulder.

“I know the perfect place to hide”, she whispered, and at these words Obi finally looked up.

She had very dark eyes, with long lashes that looked pretty against her red skin. There was a beautiful chain around her face, and a golden pearl on her forehead that looked even more wonderful – Obi really wanted to touch it but had the feeling it might be forbidden.

Master Ti reached out for his hand, and gently placed it on her forehead.

“This was given to me when I became a Master”, she told him. “Some years, but not very long ago.”

Obi touched the golden pearl, shyly, and Master Ti smiled at him.

She showed him a small nook where he could sit down, and play with some toys, and then she left him alone. Obi raised his knees and drew his arms around them, half hidden between a big ball and a table.

Maybe, if he did not move at all, nobody would find him, nobody would talk to him, and everything would be fine.

For a while everything stayed fine. Obi even managed to take a look around, peering behind the ball – and found out that there were a lot of children in the room. They all wore the same trousers and shirts as him, they all had boots and a belt, but some were really, really strange.

They had horns or looked like big fishes, some had really long necks and one of them had four arms – Obi took them in, brow furrowing, trying to make sense of it all.

Maybe they all came from different planets. Maybe every child was from a different home. And maybe that was the case with every Jedi, because Master Yoda looked very different from Master Che or Master Ti. Owen had told Obi that there were even more planets than stars in the sky, so of course there would be many sorts of Jedi.

“May I borrow the flimsi?”

The voice rising next to him startled Obi, who found himself staring into very, very beautiful blue eyes. A girl had found his hiding place – she was wearing a long hat hiding her hair, and her skin was light green, like the grass on Stewjon. She was looking at him with a kind expression, and Obi felt himself grow very calm.

It felt like… sitting down after running away. Like… looking at the stars.

“You found him, Nara!”

This time, Obi flinched, all calm forgotten, hitting the wall with his head, and got up, ready to run away. Because a boy had jumped on the ball, bouncing up and down, legs dangling and heels drumming against the rubber. He had dark, tousled hair, and yellow lines under his eyes – he looked tall and had a big, big smile that showed all his teeth.

“Quin, you’re scaring him.”

Another boy had showed up, peering behind the other’s shoulder. Obi at least supposed he was a boy – he had big, shiny eyes and hair that looked like tentacles, standing up on his head. His skin was green but a bit darker than the girl’s, and he was even taller than the one he called Quin.

“Hello. I’m Kit.”

Obi just stared at him, backed up against the wall.

“My name is Luminara”, the calm, beautiful girl said. “This is Quinlan. He always misbehaves, but he is nice. Kit and Quin are my friends.”

She pointed to a stash of transparent sheets on the ground next to Obi.

“I am borrowing some flimsis. Can I sit down and draw?”

Obi nodded, still too stunned to think about anything. And then he watched the girl place her hand above the… flimsis… and just lift them, placing them on the table.

She just lifted them. She did not hide. She did not hide.

Obi’s heart was pounding really, really hard in his chest, waiting for the boys to react, to shout, to start getting mean. If they did, he would yell and strike them just like Owen would. But the boy called Kit just came along, sitting himself next to Nara, and Quin stayed on the ball, heels hitting it rhythmically.

“You don’t talk a lot”, Quin observed.

“Leave him be”, Kit muttered, starting to draw circles on the flimsi that looked like snails. “He’s shy.”

He lifted his head then, black eyes shining, smiling at Obi. And Obi felt himself begin to relax, because he looked nice. Even though his snails were really, really crooked.

“Is it true you fought a wolf?”, Quin asked, whipping up and down the ball. “I heard Master Che tell Master Ti. What’s a wolf, anyway?

- Qui-in…”

Kit sounded annoyed, but Obi did not even have to answer. Because, suddenly, the ball slipped between Quin’s legs and he fell, hitting the ground on his belly, chin slamming against it.

“Quinlan Vos!”, Master Ti snapped.

“Ow.”

Quin had whispered the word, eyes slowly filling with tears as he sat up, holding his chin. He had bitten his lip as he fell, and a drop of blood was beading slowly on his lower lip.

Obi did not really think. He just reached out, placing his sleeve against it, wiping the drop away. Just like Owen would have.

Quin’s eyes widened, and Obi watched a tear fall down his cheek, soon followed by another – before Quin wiped them away, fiercely.

“Quinlan Vos, what have I told you, again, and again, and again…?

- To watch my moves, Master Ti”, Quin whispered, eyes growing very dark.

“Did you hit your chin?

- I am fine, Master Ti”, the boy answered, but Master Ti still came, and looked at his face, shaking her head.

“Well, at least, it is not broken. Please try to be more careful, Quinlan.”

She left, smiling at Obi, and Quin sat down next to him, hand still pressed to his chin, dark eyes glaring at Master Ti. As soon as her robe vanished from their side though, Quin buried his face against his knees. Kit had risen, sitting on Quin’s other side, and Nara was facing him, concern evident in her blue eyes.

“It’s okay, Quin, nothing bad happened”, Kit whispered, but Obi still heard Quin’s soft sobs and watched Nara place a hand on his hair.

“He hurt his lip”, Obi heard himself say, and it was enough to still Quin’s crying, who looked up at him, eyes still shining a bit.

“You’re talking…”, Quin whispered – and Obi felt the Force around him lighten up, like the sun rising, warming them all.

Obi nodded, shyly, and they all smiled at him. Nara in that calm way of hers, Kit with his eyes, and Quin through his split lip, wrapping an arm around Obi’s shoulders and squeezing him tight.

That day, Obi drew a real snail for Kit. With two feelers and a proper house. He drew the pine trees as well – astonished to find out that his new friends had no idea what pine trees were.

And when Luminara asked for a new stack of flimsis, Obi lifted them for her. Just like she had. And his heart was only pounding a little bit because Quin was still right next to him. Quin was just like Owen. Fearless and strong, always bouncing back.

Quin liked hugs, too, Obi found that out soon enough. That night, when Master Ti showed him his bed in the boys’ dorm and Obi had lied down for a while, thinking about Owen again, Quin crawled in next to him.

He wrapped his arms around Obi’s waist and squeezed. And Obi let him, because it almost felt like Owen was there with him, especially than Quin knew, somehow.

“You miss him. I felt it when you wiped my lip. I’m sorry.”

Obi just leant his head against Quin’s shoulder and embraced him back. Quin soon fell asleep and Obi listened to the sound of his breathing, feeling strangely safe. Like he had always been there.

He was about to close his eyes when he suddenly remembered. Obi slowly entangled himself from Quin’s arms and rose as noiselessly as possible, heading for the door.

“And where do you think you are going, Obi-Wan Kenobi?”

Master Ti’s calm voice made him turn and Obi padded towards her.

“I want to see Master Che”, he whispered.

Master Ti tilted her head, concerned.

“Are you feeling unwell? Are you hurting?

- No, Master Ti. But I wanted to tell her something. I promised her.

- I see… Do you need to see her, or could we just call her?”

Obi pondered her words, rubbing his eyes.

“Calling works too…”, he decided, and Master Ti pulled him on her lap and switched on a bracelet around her wrist.

“Vokara? No, nothing wrong with the Initiates… There’s someone here who wants to talk to you…”

Obi felt Master Ti’s arm around his waist, and she placed her wrist before his lips, allowing him to talk to the bracelet.

“Master Che, can you hear me?

- Yes, little one… It is so good to hear your voice…

- It’s Obi. Do you remember me?

- Of course I do, sweetheart. How could I forget you?

- Master Che, you were right. I found some friends. They are called Quin, Nara and Kit. And they are very, very nice.”

He heard Master Che laugh, through the bracelet. She told him a few very nice things, and Obi answered back, until Master Ti switched the bracelet off, carrying him back to bed.

She shook her head, finding Quin in it, but she did not scold him. Instead, she tucked Obi in Quin’s bed, drawing the covers up to his chin. They smelt of Quin, and were warm and soft, just like Owen’s shirt had been.

Obi fell asleep in the middle of listing all the nice persons he had met during that first day, thinking that Owen had been right.

He was safe here. And he would be brave and learn a lot of things to make Owen proud, and never, ever forget him.

Chapter Text

Coruscant, 51 BBY.

 

Obi loved the Jedi Temple.

At the beginning of his stay there, when he was still little, he would wake up and lie very still in his bed, listening to Quin and Kit and the other boys’ breathing, wondering if it was all real, if Master Ti would come and tell him that this was all just a very strange dream. If he would then wake up for real next to Owen in the forest under the pine trees and watch the sun make funny spots between the leaves.

Sometimes Obi had almost wanted to - but everything in the Temple was so interesting, it was really, really great to get to know the Force a little better, and he had promised Owen not to be sad and to learn everything he could.

And little by little, the feeling had passed. It had made Obi sad, because he was forgetting Owen’s face. Sometimes when Master Ti made them wash their faces, brush their teeth and comb their hair, he looked at himself in the mirror, trying to remember. Owen had the same grey eyes, the same hair… but his face was different. Owen had been tall, and strong. His face was all bony and he had not as many freckles as Owen, because he was not so often in the sun.

Owen had been twelve, when he let Obi go with Master Yoda. That was half of Obi’s age now – he knew that because Master Ti had shown them on the abacus with the beautiful black and white beads Obi loved to touch.

Obi knew a lot of numbers now. He could tell anybody that there were ten beds in the boys’ dormitory where he slept. And that there were exactly twenty-five stripes on Master Ti’s lekku. Thirteen tresses on Kit’s head. Eleven dark squares on Nara’s chin. One big yellow stripe below Quin’s eyes.

And Obi had three very, very good friends.

They were always together and almost never argued. Kit and Quin did, sometimes, but usually Nara or Master Ti would calm them down and make sure they talked again to each other.

Obi and Kit never quarrelled. Kit was the best swimmer ever, and he had shown Obi how to get under the water without holding his nose. At the beginning Obi had hated it because he kept swallowing water, but in the end it was a lot of fun and now Obi was not scared of the water anymore.

Kit could breathe under the water, and see just fine even without goggles, and sometimes to make them laugh he drew figures in the pool. One day Kit had taught them how to make flips, backwards and forwards – and Nara was the absolute best at it, even though it made her hair flop down her face, making her look like a Wookie.

Nara could do flips, bridges, wheels and somersaults – and it always looked like she was just standing up. She could walk on the training beam with her eyes closed, and one day during gym Master Gallia had allowed her to try and walk on a rope, and Nara never fell down.

Nara was so, so beautiful. Almost like Master Gallia and Master Ti. When Nara smiled at him Obi always wanted to smile back. Nara always held Obi’s hand when they walked from the crèche to the canteen. And during kata class, Master Windu paired Nara with Obi too, because Kit and Quin were bigger and taller.

With Nara, Obi could sometimes think without saying the words aloud. The other day Master Windu had told them that to master a kata they had to be one with the Force. But Obi had thought that maybe they could be more than one, because with Nara sometimes it felt like being alone and together at the same time – he had not asked Master Windu, though, because with Master Windu Obi was always afraid to look stupid, even though he was very calm.

Quin was not afraid.

Quin asked Master Windu whatever question he wanted, and sometimes Master Windu just sighed and told Quin to go on with his katas and stop being antsy.

Quin was always moving. But he was also very, very good with guessing thoughts, and memories, because he could read them touching objects. Master Ti had explained that to them, especially to Kit and Obi since they were always with Quin, and that meant they had to look out for each other.

She had told them that sometimes, reading too many objects could make Quin’s head whirl, and they had to make sure Quin wore his gloves during lessons. Sometimes Quin forgot, though, and then he’d get upset or all silent and pale. That’s when Obi knew he had to fetch Master Ti.

Master Ti would sit down and hold Quin’s hands, very quietly, closing her eyes, and after a while he would look better, sometimes falling asleep in her arms. Obi had asked Master Ti how she was helping Quin, and she had explained to him she was just emptying her head of feelings and thoughts and sending calm and quiet towards Quin.

So Obi had tried to empty his head as well. Like when he was hiding with Owen, in the forest. It was not very difficult, he just had to gather his thoughts and feelings and make them very small so that they could fit into the walls inside him that Master Ti called shields.

Master Ti had told them that shields could be used to hide feelings and even the way a person felt in the Force.

“Shields help you masking your Force-signature, but they are difficult to master. It is going to take time”, she had explained to them.

They practised building shields playing hide-and-seek. And Obi was always, always winning, because it was a lot easier than on Stewjon. One day, even Master Ti had struggled to find him – but that day Obi had not been so proud, because Master Ti had looked all worried, her lekku checking his face, his chest and his tummy.

“I’m okay Master Ti”, Obi had whispered, hugging her around the waist. “I’m sorry I hid so long… Nothing hurts, Master Ti.”

She had asked him if the Force felt weird, and Obi had shaken his head. He was used to building shields, it was not difficult at all, sometimes he did not even have to think about it. That day Master Ti had scooped him up and had held him tight. And Obi had wondered why she felt somewhat sad in the Force and had just hugged her.

Obi loved Master Ti a lot, lot, lot. But he also knew he could not always tell her, because Jedi were supposed to love quietly and not cling to each other.

Obi hoped hugs did not count, though, because he still needed Master Ti to hug him before going to bed, and because Quin loved to cuddle and that Obi liked falling asleep against him, whenever Quin crawled into Obi’s bed because of bad dreams.

Quin never said so, but he was scared of the night sometimes, and then Obi would hold him tight and promise him he was safe, because there was no wolf and no monster here, not even under their bed.

Obi knew, because he had checked, and Quin’s eyes had been very, very wide when Obi-Wan had come up from under the bed, smiling at Quin.

“No monster”, Obi had whispered, and that night Quin had squeezed Obi very, very tightly, with arms and legs both, like an octopus.

Sometimes Quin’s hugs felt very, very tight though, and Master Ti had called them both to sit down for a talk one day.

“Quin, you need to let Obi breathe a little bit. And you Obi, you need to tell him when it feels too much. It is okay to need touch, every once in a while, but it is also fine to need some air.

- But Obi does not mind”, Quin had said, voice stubborn but eyes filling with tears, and he had turned towards Obi, grasping his hand.

And Obi had squeezed back and shaken his head because Quin was sad and afraid and that was more important than Obi feeling a little bit crushed.

“Quin, dearest. Just because you do not mind does not mean Obi feels the same. You have to try to find out how Obi feels, too. Because his feelings are just as important as yours.”

Quin had frowned at this.

“But Obi is my friend…”, he had whispered, and Obi had just felt Quin was about to cry.

It had felt horrible and made him very, very sad, and so he had told Quin and Master Ti that he did not mind. Never ever. It had made Quin very happy. But Master Ti had once more felt a bit sad in the Force. And that’s when Obi had known that the only way to make them both happy was to make sure to hide it behind his shields, whenever he was feeling stifled.  

Hiding thoughts was getting difficult, these days, though.

Not because of Quin, but because of what was going on at night, making it difficult for Obi to concentrate during lessons, even though he used to love them, because almost every class was interesting and fun.

He preferred thinking about classes than about nights, listing them in his head.

First, he loved gym with Master Gallia because she was always smiling and finding funny ways to make them improve their moves. She was the one discovering that the best way for Quin to meditate was to do so holding a handstand, because Quin’s body was always asking too much of him, making it difficult to concentrate.

Then of course, Obi loved reading and writing with Master Ti. They were also allowed to draw and Obi liked that, because it made him feel all calm and dreamy. He especially loved it when she read them stories at the end of each lesson, and when she asked them to make drawings about them.

Master Plo Koon taught them astronomy, and planet history – that’s when Obi had learned the planets where his fellow Initiates came from, even though none of them remembered their home because they had come to the Temple when they were just babies. For example, Nara’s planet was called Mirial. Kit’s was called Glee Anselm and Quin’s Kiffu.

Master Koon knew that Obi remembered Stewjon, a little bit. But Master Koon never told anybody, and Obi was thankful, because he did not think he could speak about wolves and pines and Owen.

Not anymore.

Not even with Master Yoda who had fetched him, very long ago, and who was teaching them Initiation to the Force, one of Obi’s favourite classes.

Obi loved learning to listen to the Force, to try and parry blaster bolts with a helmet on, trying to see through the Force – somehow it felt like being with Owen, protecting him from people throwing stones. The other day Master Yoda had smiled at him and told him that he was doing very well.

True, Grandmaster Yoda was nice to every Initiate and always told everyone they were doing well, but Obi had felt really, really proud. And it had also felt like Master Yoda knew, somehow. That sometimes Obi was still missing Owen and was afraid of completely forgetting him.

The only class that bothered Obi was hand-to-hand combat. Actually, it was not even the class itself.

It was Master Krell.

No matter how hard Obi tried at the end of each day, when Master Ti made them all sit down and think and try to release what was bothering them into the Force – Master Krell just scared him.

And Obi knew it was all his fault.

Because Master Krell was strong and experienced and had come back from very, very difficult missions. Master Krell could see who was frightened and who was not, who was strong and who was weak, who was worthy of staying in the Temple and becoming a Jedi Knight and who was not.

And Master Krell had seen right away that Obi was scared of fighting so close to other people, because it made him feel stifled way, way worse than Quin’ too-strong hugs. It made him think of Stewjon, of the people chasing Owen and him because they had grabbed Obi and hurt his arms squeezing.

Hand to hand combat just felt too close, not like katas or parrying blaster bolts.

It made Obi feel trapped and scared, especially when he was forced to be uke to Master Krell. Because Master Krell always chose Obi as an uke to show them new moves, since Obi was weak and Obi had to learn.

Obi’s shields did not really work in front of Master Krell, because Master Krell made everything tremble deep inside him, especially when he was speaking inside Obi’s head, showing them how to disarm an opponent, how to make a proper arm- or headlock.

I cannot stand weaklings, Kenobi. Because they are a disgrace to the Jedi Order.

That is the only reason I accept to put up with you: no one leaves my class as a weakling, no matter how hard it gets.

Now get back on your feet and let me show it again.

The harder Obi tried, the worst it seems to get. Until he was so scared that he could barely understand what Master Krell wanted from him. Sometimes he mistook his right for his left and Master Krell made jokes about him that made several Initiates giggle.

“Clumsy. Worse than a Gungan.”

And all along Obi was terrified because whenever Master Krell showed them a headlock, or an armlock, he never seemed to feel Obi’s signal of defeat. He always kept holding him a little bit longer, or bending his arm a little bit more, until Obi was afraid that he would either choke or end up with broken bones.

The worst was that nobody seemed to notice. Not even Kit, for example, because Master Krell liked him and was often praising him for his strength. He also seemed to like Nara, because she was so supple and smart, always managing to get out of complicated armlocks. And he said Quin was clever and streetwise, because Quin never bothered about proper moves, just fought with all that he had, even against Master Krell who had four arms.

And when the lesson was over, Master Krell would pat Obi on the head and say aloud that “all would come in due time”.

Even clearing the Temple of late arrivals like you.

He was still patting his head while sending those words through the Force, and that was when Obi wondered if it was all just happening in his mind.

It made his tummy feel all queasy. Especially that he was beginning to do weird things during the nights. They had started hand-to-hand combat for two months now, with three weekly lessons. And Obi had begun to wake up in places that were not his bed.

The playroom where the crèchelings played, for example – that was usually where he would wake, feeling cold and lost, wondering how he got there. But also the room where they practised with Master Yoda. One time, he had even woken up on a bench next to the Halls where Master Che worked.

“Obi-Wan, dearest, is everything alright?”

Master Ti had called him to talk, that day, and it had made Obi feel even worse. Because he could see that Master Ti worried, all because of him, and yet there was no way to tell her why.

If he told her, then she would see that he was weak just like Master Krell said and then the Order would tell him to leave and Obi couldn’t leave because he had nowhere else to go.

“You are not eating much. And you are not talking during lessons anymore.

- I’m sorry, Master Ti…”

Obi’s eyes had begun to burn because he really was. He wanted to be able to listen, just like before, and remember things and count and read just fine, but most of the time he did not feel really there. Because all the time he could hear Master Krell’s voice in his head and feel his hands on his arms. Even when he was with Master Ti, the only thing he could think of was that he would have to go back on the training mat.

It did not feel safe anymore. It felt just like… waiting, all the time.

“Obi, I am not telling you this as a reproach, I promise… It is just, several Masters are getting a bit worried about you.”

This had made Obi cry, and Master Ti had pulled him on her lap, trying to hush him, rocking him gently.

“I’m sorry…

- It is all a bit much, right now, is it not?”, Master Ti had whispered, and Obi had clung to her, crying even harder.

“I want you to know you can always, always tell me what is going on, Obi. I am there for you. You can always ask me for help, you know that, Obi?”

He had just nodded, burying his face against her robe. The problem was that Master Ti and Master Krell were both Masters. If Master Ti knew what was good for Obi, then Master Krell had to know as well – so if he told Obi that he was weak, and had to get stronger and stop whining, then that was what Obi had to do, no matter how scared and sad it made him feel.

Master Ti had sighed and brushed his hair. She had even fetched Obi a cookie from the kitchen – somehow it had just made him feel sadder, because Master Ti was so nice and lovely and Obi just disappointing everyone.

He had given the cookie to Quin. And now he was trying to fall asleep, but his eyes were burning and his throat was feeling very, very tight. In the end Obi had just hid his face under his pillow and made himself very small.

Obi did not remember falling asleep, but in his dream he was walking through a very dark place, with high walls, all alone, knowing that was no way out, but still searching for Master Ti, or Nara, or Quin, or Kit.

He woke up because he was cold, and because there was a warm hand on his shoulder that was not gripping or squeezing him, just making sure he opened his eyes.

Obi shivered and sat up, expecting to be in his bed facing Master Ti. Instead, he realised he was lying on the ground in one of the meditation rooms that was still very, very dark, facing a tall, bearded Jedi who was kneeling next to him. Who was actually wrapping him in a big, brown cloak that smelled of tea, and smoke, and the soap they all used in the Temple.

“And what are you doing out of bed at this hour, little one?”, the tall Jedi asked, very gently.

He had long hair and kind blue eyes that made Obi feel safe, even though he still felt scared at the same time because he was not supposed to be here, but in his bed and sleeping and calm and quiet.

“Shh, shh, shh… It is alright, we are going to sort this out.”

Obi realised he had begun to tremble for real, eyes burning and nose running, because he remembered his dream, the lost feeling and the dark and cold that was so much worse than monsters.

“How right you are, little one… Darkness is much worse than any creature, but I promise you there is no darkness here. You are safe.”

The tall Jedi did not try to hug or to touch Obi. He just knelt in front of him, looking at him with those calm, blue eyes, and Obi suddenly felt something in him loosen, even though it made him cry even harder.

“I… don’t know… where I am…”, Obi let out. “I want… to go back…

- We all do, every once in a while”, the tall Jedi said, very gently. “We all feel lost and want to go where we feel safe. And I suspect that for you, that would be the crèche, am I right…?”

Obi sniffed, running his sleeve against his nose. And then he stiffened, because he had just done so with the tall Jedi’s cloak.

“Never mind, little one”, he just laughed. “It has seen worse.”

His eyes searched for Obi’s face and then his hand moved, touching Obi’s shoulder once more.

“You are only half awake, are you not, little one? How about I carry you back to your bed? I still remember the way, you know…”

Obi just nodded, because he felt very, very tired all of a sudden. It felt like every single thought he had was sipping from his head, and Obi was not strong and awake enough to keep them in.

He felt warm arms around him, a large hand cradling his head against the tall Jedi’s shoulder, and then he was scooped up, nestling against a strong, broad chest, feeling very sleepy.

“Sleep, little robin…”, the tall Jedi whispered.

Obi did not remember walking back to the crèche, and he only woke up in the morning because Master Ti was gently shaking him awake. He could feel her lekku probing his body, but she did not ask anything this time and Obi was grateful. Instead, she helped him with the many layers and with fastening his belt.

“An obi for our Obi”, she whispered, just like every morning. But that day, she stroked his cheek with her thumb, once, before turning towards Quin, helping him to get dressed as well.

She did not talk to Obi while leading them to breakfast, and back to their reading class. But just before they left for Master Krell’s class, she looked at him, locking eyes with him.

Do not worry, Obi dearest. Be brave. I am here.

Obi swallowed and tried to keep those words very close to his heart as they entered the training mat. But his throat was almost closing once they had all finished the salute, and of course Master Krell noticed.

He crossed his two upper arms and placed the lower ones on his hips. And then he smiled, moustache thinning as his grin widened above that big chin of his.

“Today we are going to practise headlocks once more. And I am going to show you how it is getting done. All of you.”

He did not pick Obi as uke.

He picked Kit.

And for the first time Obi was able to watch the move without having to feel it on himself. For the very first time, he felt the tight knot in his stomach loosen a tiny bit – actually thought everything could be okay. He paired up with Nara, and for a while, they just practised.

And then – just as Obi-Wan thought it was okay – then, Master Krell picked Obi to show another, more complicated headlock.

And Obi thought his heart would stop.

“Kenobi, here. At once.”

Master Krell was glaring and everyone was looking at him. Nara actually had to push Obi gently so that he would move, and Obi stood up, heart hammering in his chest and hands clammy.

“I am going to report you as the most clumsy, lazy and disrespectful Initiate that has ever set foot on this mat. Now get here.”

Obi-Wan could hear whispers. But the only thing he could see was Master Krell’s face. And then somehow he managed to obey, grip Master Krell’s tunic where he had to, feel his hands on his wrists as he showed them all how to loosen his grip, and then Master Krell’s strong, branch-like arm right around his throat.

And Master Krell squeezed.

“There, you see, arm around the throat…”

With his free hand, Obi-Wan tapped Master Krell’s sleeve to tell him that he yielded.

“The important thing is to place the crook of your elbow right here…”

I yield, Master Krell, I yield, I yield…

Obi was using the Force now, trying frantically to pull in some air, but Master Krell just went on talking and squeezing and suddenly Obi-Wan was sure he was going to choke.

Please…

He was wheezing now, surely someone would hear him and tell Master Krell to stop, but there were dark little spots dancing before his eyes and a strange ringing in his ears and his lungs were on fire – and suddenly Obi-Wan was squirming, buckling, writhing with all he had just so that grip around his throat would stop.

“Quiet, Kenobi!”

Obi-Wan was choking.

And no one was noticing, no matter how hard he fought and writhed.

Please help me… Anybody… Please… Plea… Pl…

The last thing Obi-Wan noticed before everything went dark was Quinlan’s dark mop of hair, barrelling into Master Krell. Because Quin did not even care that Master Krell had four arms, and one choking Obi to death.

And the last thing Obi heard was something impossible, because it sounded like Master Ti’s voice – but different, all angry and loud.

“Enough!”

Then darkness took him.

 

********

 

It had been a strange night, Qui-Gon reflected – and that day was even stranger, the Force tossing them all around like dices.

It all started with Feemor being an insufferable brat - just like every other day since the boy had turned fifteen, Qui-Gon thought with a smile.

They were bound to stay at the Temple for a few months, so that Feemor could take some advanced classes, but his teenage Padawan had made it very clear that he was rather in the mood of watching a holovid with his friends, and that no, Master, watching it with us was not really fun

Qui-Gon got the message and had left the Temple for a stroll across Coruscant, reacquainting himself with the planet once more. It was near eleventh hour when his steps took him back, and Qui-Gon decided to enter one of the meditation rooms, to give Feemor a bit more space.

The boy needed it, he was in dire need of letting out some steam and to enjoy a good laugh with his friends. After three years, Qui-Gon was used to the feeling of their training bond in his head, but lately Feemor had been shielding more, trying to keep a sliver of privacy – tell-tale enough that his Padawan was growing, and that it was time to withdraw a little bit.

Not that Qui-Gon minded. Feemor was a good-natured, cheerful boy who had made every single mission easier, simply by being there. It often felt like dragging a younger brother along, but Feemor, though not a great scholar, was willing enough to learn. He was a quite acceptable fighter and had definitely a talent in the wilderness – recognizing plants and flowers, gifted with a unique, innate sense of direction and a lot of practical sense.

Qui-Gon smiled, imagining his down-to-earth Padawan enjoying the latest antics of whatever hero in the latest holovids, and then he picked one of the meditation chambers to lose himself in the Force a little while more.

Someone was in the room, though, and Qui-Gon gazed in wonder at the small, tiny form huddled against a meditation cushion.

It was an Initiate, that much was clear, judging from the beige sleeping tunic Qui-Gon recognized from his crèche days. And he was fast asleep, albeit fitfully, small fists curled against his side.

Qui-Gon had crouched next to him, placing a hand on the little boy’s shoulder, watching him frown in his sleep. That, and the light auburn hair began to add up, but only when the boy opened his eyes, earnest gaze meeting his, did he realise that it was him.

The little robin. Obi.

He was visibly only half awake and quite shaken, crying softly in the wide robe Qui-Gon draped around his shivering frame. He studied the boy critically, trying to soothe him through the Force, because his signature felt confused and afraid.

I’m too weak I’m scared I want Master Ti not the dark place not the training mat he’s always yelling at me don’t send me away…

“Shh…”

The boy was unravelling, shields weakened by sleep and exhaustion, and Qui—Gon was struck by the intensity of the feelings pouring out of him.

I’m scared I’m scared I don’t want him to touch me please make him stop I want Master Ti please don’t let him…

“I want to go back…”, the little boy sobbed, and in the end Qui-Gon managed to speak gentle words to him, dragging him against him, calming him down as he scooped him up.

He still felt so small. So young and fragile, so trusting, just like when he was a baby boy. Qui-Gon rubbed his back through the robe covering him, and walked quietly towards the crèche, feeling Obi fall asleep against him.

“That’s a huge fear you have, little one…”, he whispered.

And he was very determined to get to the bottom of all this.

He entered the crèche still carrying Obi, and found Master Ti still awake. She took the boy from him with a worried expression, putting him back to bed.

“Thank you, Qui-Gon… What happened?

- I found him in one of the meditation rooms. Fast asleep. He woke up quite confused and really scared. There is something unsettling him.

- I know…”

The young Master sounded troubled and had gazed up at him.

“I just do not manage to find out what. Obi… Obi has very strong shields. And somehow, he… he always feels like he has to hide whatever troubles him. I tried to make him open up, earlier, but he just cried. I… Something is not right.

- He spoke of… well, he rather projected it but… He spoke of a training mat, of someone yelling at him. He was afraid to – be touched, I think. Afraid to be judged as well.”

Master Ti’s face darkened then, lekku curling against her side.

“I see”, she gritted out, with uncommon fierceness, and Qui-Gon waited, patiently, watching her think.

“Let me just call Master Gallia.”

She switched on her commlink, sitting down on a chair, motioning Qui-Gon to do the same.

“Adi? It’s me, Shaak. Would you… Yes. Waiting, thank you.”

Qui-Gon felt warm joy at the prospect at meeting Adi Gallia again – she had been a fellow-Initiate and become a brilliant, vibrant Jedi. He had not seen her for a while and smiled at her as she entered, carrying a jug of caf.

“Sounded like we would need it – oh, hello, Qui.

- Adi.

- So? What is it…?”

She sat down gracefully as ever, bending a knee to rest a foot on the chair, placing her chin against it.

“Adi, how do you find Obi-Wan lately?”

The young Master raised an eyebrow and thought quietly for a while.

“Very, very calm… But he always is. He’s a sweet boy, Shaak, so very obedient. He tires more, though, I should think. Once or twice he almost fell asleep as I made them relax.

- He never cried? Never looked troubled?

- Well… Not that I saw. As I said, he… it rather felt like he was unwinding, somehow. I think he – well, I think he always looked rather happy to have gym. I share that hour with Master Krell, you know.”

Adi Gallia had turned towards Qui-Gon, rolling her eyes.

“We alternate. One day me with gym, one day him with hand-to-hand combat.

- Master Krell?”, Qui-Gon asked. “Pong Krell?

- The very same”, Adi answered, with another eye roll. “I’ve been having the pleasure of dealing with him and his conception of rising Initiates for a few months, now…

- But that Jedi is a – a steamroller”, Qui-Gon let out, shaking his head. “He belongs in the Outer Rim. Not on the training mat with crèchelings…

- My thoughts exactly”, Adi muttered. “Still. There he is, and oddly enough, it seems to work.

- No. It doesn’t.”

Master Ti’s voice was clipped, lekku still curled angrily against her sides.

“Weeks and weeks and I saw nothing”, she muttered. “But this is going to end, I promise you.”

And so they had designed a plan, in which Qui-Gon suddenly found himself involved. A cam was placed discreetly in the training room by Master Gallia, who would be watching the whole lesson, alerting Master Ti by commlink.

Master Ti, and Qui-Gon, who would play impartial witness – and was actually quite fine with it. He had never liked Pong Krell, and the feeling was quite mutual.

Nothing had prepared them for what they had seen, though. The fact that Krell was teaching headlocks to crèchelings was unsettling enough, but to watch him take unfathomable pleasure in belittling Obi made Qui-Gon positively bristle.

He watched him draw an arm around Obi’s head and saw the little boy’s eyes widen with fear, making his stomach churn.

“Just a little bit more, sweetie, we need the footage, but we are here, we are right here…”

Master Ti was muttering the words, gaze focused on the camera – and as soon as Krell began to squeeze, she started to run, followed by Qui-Gon.

They barged into the training room just in time to see little Obi working himself to a near-frenzy, struggling against Krell’s grip.

“Enough!”

A little, dark haired Initiate had jumped on Master Krell’s back, raining blows on him – but Qui-Gon was focused on Obi, whose eyes had rolled up and who had fallen limply against the mat.

He knelt next to the little boy, shuddering at the red marks that were already showing around his neck where he was relieved to find a pulse, and instantly channelled the Living Force towards him.

“What do you think you are doing?”, Master Krell growled, plucking the fighting little Initiate from his back, tossing him towards Master Ti, whose dark eyes were burning.

She wrapped her arms around the dark-haired boy who was sobbing with rage and fear, and then she drew herself to all her height, staring down at the Besalisk with unhidden contempt.

“I am asking you the very same question. And I will ask you again, before the Jedi Council, as soon as Obi-Wan and the rest of the class will be taken care of”, she answered icily.

Qui-Gon had gathered Obi-Wan in his arms, cradling him against him. He watched Adi Gallia come in, and withdraw the cam with quiet, deliberate moves. She took the upset boy from Master Ti’s arms, and then she led the Initiates out of the training mat, leaving them with Master Krell.

“You will pay for this”, Krell snarled at Qui-Gon, but Master Ti cut him at once.

“None of that. It is over.”

Qui-Gon carried Obi-Wan to the Halls, Master Ti hurrying ahead – ere soon though, Vokara Che was able to reassure them. The little boy’s throat was bruised from his struggles, but Krell had not positively choked him, thank the Force.

“I think he had some kind of panic attack and made it worse by struggling”, the Healer said, shaking her head. “Still – there are bruises. No internal lesions, though, he’ll wake up soon.”

Obi did indeed wake, but unlike Qui-Gon’s expectations, he did not panic, sob, or cough. He just opened his eyes, gazing around him, small hand feeling for his throat and staying there.

He looked so weary. So sad.

“It is over now, Obi. You are safe. Master Krell will never bother you again, I promise you.”

Obi’s eyes just fluttered shut. They almost thought he had fallen asleep, exhausted by that ordeal, until they saw the fat, single tear rolling down his cheek.

You came.

The small whisper flooded the Force, and this time Master Ti abandoned all composure, sitting down on the bed, cradling Obi-Wan against her, pressing quiet kisses against his hair and holding him close.

“He actually choked a little boy nearly to death, Master?”

Feemor sounded appalled, listening to Qui-Gon’s story as they both dined – even though his Padawan seemed to be forgetting his meal, engrossed in Qui-Gon’s tale.

“Yes, Padawan”, Qui-Gon answered, sombrely. “Though he claimed it was not on purpose, that he was only teaching them, and that Obi-Wan was the one getting hysterical enough to choke himself and faint.

- And the council actually swallowed that… that…

- That excretion of a Bantha?”, Qui-Gon asked, playfully, ending the thought Feemor started through their bond. “No. Adi Gallia had it all recorded on a cam. It was quite adamant – inappropriate teaching to too-young crèchelings, blatant dismissal of yielding signals. The only thing that saves Krell is the fact that indeed, deliberate choking could not be proven. That’s why he is still a Jedi. But he is going to be sent on a mission very soon, and to leave the Initiates alone, Obi especially.

- Mhm…”

Feemor sounded pleased, and resumed his quiet chewing, for a while. And then, his often oddly perceptive Padawan frowned.

“But… who is going to teach them hand-to-hand combat, Master?”

Qui-Gon simply stirred his bowl, because he was still struggling to come to terms with it himself. His Padawan, however, simply burst out laughing.

You. It is going to be you, Master… I cannot believe it!

- Why, just because you think I am an old, boring fool…

- I don’t, Master. You know I don’t. They are all going to adoooore you…

- Stop it!

- Master Qui, Master Qui, can you help me?

- I said stop it. You brat.”

He was laughing himself, though. Because the prospect of teaching twenty crèchelings how to handle their bodies and to fight each other during weeks would have made his skin crawl, only years before. Now, however, he felt happy. Eager to start, and to overcome that new dare.

Qui-Gon was not disappointed.

He had felt it before, accepting his Padawan, teaching Feemor and sharing skills with him. However, dealing with crèchelings was an entirely new experience, and the way they felt in the Force, incredibly powerful and refreshing.

They were so full of energy, so eager to learn, and so intent and pure, throwing themselves entirely into what they were doing, almost one with the Living Force.

He quickly became familiar with their characters, their little habits and ways of reacting. The dark-haired one, Quinlan, was quite a challenge but was eager enough to learn once Qui-Gon had drawn the limits clear enough once or twice. He enjoyed the quiet ones like Luminara, the good-natured ones like Kit – in short, he liked them all.

But of course, the one he secretly favoured was his little robin, who had come back all quiet and reflective, as usual, grey eyes gazing around him with both shyness and defiance.

It had taken a while for Obi to resume talking – in every class, it would seem. He was back, he was doing as he was told, and he was writing or communicating through the Force, but it took Obi a few days to voice actual words – and it had nothing to do with his throat.

“No.”

His little robin had turned fierce, and Quin was the first to earn that unexpected answer, on the training mat, as he was trying to get Obi’s attention by poking him in the ribs.

“No.”

Qui-Gon had felt unbelievably grateful and watched Quin’s eyes grow wide.

“You heard him, little one”, he said softly, winking at Obi. “No means no. Now try poking me instead.”

It took Obi a while to allow Qui-Gon to touch him and guide him through the training moves. Even longer to agree to fight against him, practising rolls and pins. And the first time Qui-Gon let Obi roll him flat on his back, to attempt a side control hold, he had to watch those gentle grey eyes flare in stifled anger.

The little boy was breathing fast, eyes bright and cheeks flushed, and then he let go of Qui-Gon, just kneeling there in silent rage.

The lesson was almost finished anyway, and Qui-Gon did not comment, gathering them all for the final salute. But before Obi-Wan could pull on his boots, he gently tapped the mat next to him.

“A little word, Obi… It won’t take long.”

The boy’s anger was almost gone, the feeling burning but ephemeral like a snuffed candle. Instead, Qui-Gon just felt sadness and shame, and he almost sighed, because that one was a handful too - in his own, very quiet way.

“What is it, little one? Did I upset you?”

Obi just shook his head. And then, uncharacteristically, he blurted out:

“You were holding back.”

Qui-Gon gazed at him, taken aback, and watched Obi draw a small circle on the mat, repeating sadly:

“You were holding back.”

Qui-Gon exhaled, and then he placed his hand next to Obi’s.

“Why, yes, of course I was, Obi. Of course I am holding back, with each and every one of you.”

The little boy frowned, and gazed up at him with those light, grey eyes Qui-Gon would have recognised anywhere.

“I am holding back because I am stronger. And I am stronger because I am older, because I have years and years of training under my belt, and because I have to teach you. Not fight against you. Never fight against you.

- But… How will you make me strong, then?”

Obi’s voice was just a whisper, and his stance had softened – he just looked like the tiny child he still was.

“I will not make you, Obi-Wan. Because you already are, little one.”

He slowly extended his arm, and Obi-Wan instantly nestled against him, cheek leaning against his side.

“Not because you did not tell anyone about him, Obi. That is not something we want. We want to know what bothers you, what scares you, and what makes you sad. You are strong, because you were scared, but still came here and faced him, instead of running away. And that takes a lot of courage.

- But Master Krell said I was weak…

- Master Krell thinks he needs to make soldiers of you, not Jedi. But Jedi do not care about notions such as weakness and strength, because they are one and the same thing, Obi. One day you will understand.”

Obi just breathed against him, and Qui-Gon whispered:

“And do you want me to tell you a secret, even though that is not the Jedi way either?”

The little boy nodded, face peering up at him, and Qui-Gon smiled.

“I could never, ever stand Master Krell. Not even as a crècheling.”

That made Obi-Wan laugh, finally, hiding his face in Qui-Gon’s tunic.

“That’s not the Jedi way”, he whispered, shaking his head, giggling softly in delight at his own words.

Qui-Gon brushed a hand through Obi’s soft hair.

“Off you go, now… We’ll see each other very soon – and then we’ll see who is holding back.”

Obi giggled again and then he pried himself loose, grabbing his boots and putting them on, before turning once more towards him.

“Goodbye Master Qui-Gon”, he chirped, and then he was gone.

At the end of the next lesson, though, Qui-Gon was surprised to find a drawing, hidden in his robe – and he smiled, eyes somewhat wet.

Because, drawn very carefully with each layer of clothes, a beard and long hair, a tall, childishly version of himself was holding the hand of a small, auburn-haired Obi-Wan. Behind them, Qui-Gon recognised green trees, a sun and clouds. It was the words, though, written carefully above and below, that truly got him and made the world look misty for a while.

In childish flourishes, right above their heads: Master Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

And below, firmly and unequivocally, like a well-learned lesson:

NO MEANS NO.

“Indeed, little one”, Qui-Gon whispered, tucking the flimsi close to his chest.

It kept him smiling all day long, and warmed his heart long afterwards, filling him with quiet joy and pride.

Temple life was definitely something.  

Chapter Text

Ilum, 48 BBY.

 

The snow was projecting flakes into Obi-Wan’s face, biting his cheeks, and making his eyes water. He pulled his furred hood down on his brow and felt Nara do the same next to him.

Quin, of course, did not care that his dreaded locks were freezing on his head, and that his eyelashes looked almost white – because Kit did not. Only, Kit had tentacles, and ice was nothing but frozen water to him. But Quin was Quin, and Obi-Wan would just have to make sure he did not turn into a stalagmite before finding his crystal.

Obi-Wan had read everything he could about Ilum, and he knew the difference between a stalagmite and a stalactite. A stalagmite grew upwards and a stalactite trickled down. And there would be a lot of them on Ilum, because Ilum was an ice-planet with a kyber crystalline core – and on Ilum, there was the Crystal Cave, where they were all going now because that was were the kyber crystals grew.

“Come on Obi, tell us again, how are we going to enter the Cave?”

They had been sitting on the Temple’s roof, in their private hidden nook close to a chimney where Quinlan and Kit had managed to smuggle a metallic crate where they kept a supply of cookies and the dried raisins Nara loved.

“Quin, I already told you. I don’t know, nothing’s written about the entrance in the Archives, and Madame Nu didn’t want to tell anything

- Come on, Obi, she loves you…

- No she doesn’t!”

Obi-Wan had felt his cheeks turn slightly pink because yes, he did enjoy his talks with Madame Nu. She always knew where to find the data he needed, and with her he always felt like he could solve anything, if he just put enough time and patience into it. Madame Nu never asked too many questions either, just smiled at him, and sometimes she brought him a cup of tea – she always drank jasmine-flowered tea, and that taste was forever linked with her in Obi’s mind.

“’Course she does, Obi”, Kit had teased, playfully. “You’re the only one with Nara who can spend hours in there without feeling antsy.

- Madame Nu is very nice”, Nara had said, kindly, blue eyes gazing up, finding Obi’s. “It is true, though, she did not say anything about Ilum. I think it is forbidden. We have to find out on our own.

- Yeah, but what about the crystals?”, Quin had asked eagerly.

“Apparently we have to look out for them in the Cave”, Obi had answered, frowning as he pulled out the small data pad where he had taken notes. “It is said that… where is it… Here – it is said that ‘the crystal will be revealed to each Initiate, who will face himself and retrieve it, if the Force wills it.’

- How very specific”, Kit had quipped, stretching his arms and leaning against the chimney, watching the sun set on Coruscant. “It doesn’t mean anything. Facing ourselves… If that means having to look into a mirror without running away, you’re doomed, Quin.

- Ha-ha, funny…”, Quin had replied with an eyeroll. “If the Force wills it – how stupid. We are Initiates. We have lived here for nine years, why would the Force not want us to get our crystal?”

Obi had kept silent, but deep inside he had felt the old, familiar worry rising once more. They were Initiates indeed, they had studied hard and got good marks and Master Windu had told them they were ready for Ilum, but what if it still was not good enough to find a crystal…? Sometimes, Obi still slipped during the most difficult katas, he also found it hard to remember the Twi’lek conjugations and cases because he was confusing them with the Rodian ones. He was good with the Force – he could make a lot of objects levitate and also project them away, but leaping was still difficult and made him feel all stretched and sleepy after their lessons with Grandmaster Yoda.

“Trust in the Force, you must, and leap you will, little brooklet”, Grandmaster Yoda had told him, gently, and Obi-Wan had bowed.

Still… what if the Force thought Obi was not strong enough? He had not dared to ask what happened to Initiates unable to gather their crystals, and in the end he had tried to release those thoughts into the Force, because those were just fears and fears led to darkness. And Obi did not want to live in the darkness.

“Anyway”, Quinlan had continued. “Green is the best. Master Yoda’s lightsaber is green. And Master Piell’s and Master Tinn’s also. Almost everyone in the Council uses green crystals.

- So does Master Jinn”, Kit had added, and Obi’s heart had leaped, because Master Jinn was the best fighter ever except Master Yoda.

“Master Ti and Master Gallia have blue crystals. And so does Master Koon”, Nara had objected, and Quin had thought about it.

“Yes, but Master Ti and Master Gallia are not fighters. And you heard Master Koon, he doesn’t particularly enjoy combat, he rather likes to fly to distant planets and getting to know the people. If we want to be Jedi Knights who protect the Republic, I think we should pick green.

- I agree. Green suits me, and Nara as well, with the skin we have”, Kit had thrown in, and Nara had smiled.

“I don’t really care”, she had said. “But yes… I do love green. It is peaceful, and full of hope.

- Like plants”, Obi had whispered, thinking of the Temple gardens, and of the grass on Stewjon that had always felt infinite, like a stretching sea – it was the only thing save the pine trees he still remembered.

“Like plants? Obi, a plant cannot fight!”

Quin had giggled, and they had all laughed, but as the sun had set behind the Coruscanti skyscrapers, he had made them all extend their hand and swear an oath to each other.

“We will all pick green, and that way we’ll never be truly separated”, Quin had voiced earnestly, and the had all nodded. “We will remain united, no matter what. Still green?

- Still green”, they had all whispered, hands clasped and hearts beating hard, thinking of Ilum and its dares.

Ilum was all white, though – no blue, no green, just ice and snow stretching across the ground, rising into high cliffs, making them tremble with cold and awe.

Obi-Wan gazed up at Feemor, who was the Padawan leading them here and who had been very, very nice to them, telling them funny stories on the journey to Ilum and showing them some kata moves to distract them.

Feemor was tall, he had green eyes and very light hair – and he was strong. Most of all, though, Feemor was Master Qui-Gon’s Padawan, and that filled Obi with so much awe he barely managed to talk to him.

He had not seen Master Qui-Gon for years now. Not really, just fleetingly, because they had finished hand-to-hand combat classes after a few months and moved on to other lessons, while Master Qui-Gon had resumed his missions.

Sometimes Obi wondered if Master Qui-Gon remembered him, because he would never forget the day where Master Qui-Gon and Master Ti had saved him from Master Krell. But then, there were a lot of Initiates in the Temple, and it had been many, many months since they had seen each other. Master Qui-Gon was very busy and he was so, so strong and capable – Obi knew that his mind was full of many things.

So, having his Padawan with them on Ilum was already very lucky. Feemor’s lightsaber was green, just like his eyes, just like Master Qui-Gon’s, and Obi gazed up at him and told the Force to please, please, make him grow and become just like him.

Feemor made them all stop in front of a huge, icy cliff that disappeared into the leaden sky, and then he turned towards them.

“To open the door to the cave, we have to use the Force. But we need to do it together, otherwise it does not work.”

He smiled at them, extending his hands, and then he turned towards the cliff, closing his eyes. They all copied his posture, and Obi soon felt the Force around him, in the icy bites of the flakes first, in the wind, in the ice below his feet… In the air… The sky… Everywhere

He also felt Feemor projecting his will through the Force towards the cliff, joined by Nara, Kit, Quin and the four other Initiates – and Obi entwined his own projection with their thread, feeling the Force become strong and sure around the cliff.

The door opened like a big, solemn mouth and for a few seconds Obi-Wan just blinked, quite unable to grasp what they had achieved.

Feemor smiled once more, and then he said softly: “Come.”

The awed silence was only broken by their careful footsteps, as they entered what seemed to be a circular stone room with impossibly tall, adorned walls ending into windows. It all looked so old and sacred, way older than the relics in the Archives: huge statues of Jedi framed the entrance, and tall obelisks were circling what seemed to be a frozen waterfall.

Right before the frozen water, they found Master Windu waiting for them – a solid, unshakable presence glowing warmly against the ice and snow.

His stern gaze bore into each one of them, taking them in, and then his deep voice rose.

“Younglings, the time of the Gathering has come. You will each have to enter the Cave, and find yourself, to collect a kyber crystal and build your own lightsaber. The Way is difficult and sometimes dark, and you will have to listen to the Force and follow your instincts in order to succeed.”

He raised his arm, and they followed his gesture to discover what Obi-Wan first mistook for an astrolabe. However, as Master Windu made it turn gently using the Force, he realised it was a huge crystal encased in a sort of pendulum. The crystal turned until it was facing daylight and they watched the refraction of the light become almost blinding, until the rays were directed against a huge frozen waterfall. It instantly melted and the water cascaded into a basin and down the stairs, pooling around Master Windu’s boots.

And they realised that the frozen waterfall had hidden a Door, marking the entrance to the Cave.

“The Door is opened, but you will only have the daylight to harvest your crystal. Past sunset, the Door will freeze again, and it will be impossible to come to your aid until the next rotation.”

They all knew this meant seventeen days. They also knew that technically, it would be possible to survive, because the cave held water – but the problem was the cold, and the fact that no Jedi Master should have to be spared so long. They just bowed, and then, they entered the Door, leaving Master Windu and Feemor behind them.

They were eight of them, but the four others were one year older, and soon made it clear they wanted to go their own way – they did not really wait for them, and soon turned into one of the maze-like tunnels.

“What now?”, Quin whispered, and Obi saw him shiver unconsciously as the snow melted in his wet hair, dropping on his hood.

He raised his hand and channelled the Force towards Quin, watching the ice vanish into the furs, shaking his head softly.

“Obi, leave it be”, Quin grumbled, but once they decided to enter one of the tunnels, he entwined his arm with him, squeezing his forearm through their furs for a few seconds.

Obi…

“What is it?”, Obi-Wan muttered, eyes fixed on the uneven stone walls, searching for a sign, anything in the Force that would show them they were on the right path.

“What?”, Kit asked, turning towards them, raising an eyebrow.

Obi… Obi-Wan…

“I’m right here, Quin, no need to use the Force”, Obi sighed.

“Obi, I’m not doing anything…”, Quin protested – and suddenly Obi-Wan stopped, abruptly, because he had not heard those words for a very, very long time.

Night birds are singing, are singing tonight… Night birds are singing, under the moonlight…

That voice – that voice could not be. Not here. Not now.

Listen to their song with them sing along… Night birds are singing, sweet beautiful songs…

“Do you…”, Obi-Wan barely recognized his voice in that strangled whisper. “Do you hear it…? The song…?

- What song?”, Quin asked.

“What song, Obi?”, Nara repeated, softly, when he failed to answer.

The voice had gone mute, though, and Obi-Wan just swallowed.

“Nothing”, he whispered. “Let’s go.

- It might be important, Obi”, Nara objected, but he just shook his head.

“No. It’s – it’s nothing.”

It could not be. They were on Ilum. And that song was long gone. They treaded on for a few minutes and had reached a huge cave circled by even higher, jagged stone walls looking like claws, when Kit suddenly cried out.

“There! Can you see it? On top of that cliff? It’s gleaming!

- What is?”, Quin asked, furrowing his brow as he tried to spot out the darkness above the rocks.

“The crystal!”, Kit answered, almost leaping with joy. “I found one!

- I don’t see it…”, Quin persisted, still peering up.

“Maybe…”, Nara said, quietly. “Maybe we are not meant to see it. Maybe it’s only Kit. Remember… we have to face ourselves. I think that this is your crystal, Kit. But we still have to find ours.”

Kit was tall, strong and always cheerful. He never looked afraid, unsure or worried. Since they were in the Cave, he had not even seemed to be bothered by the cold and darkness.

Now, however, they saw something in Kit’s dark, shiny eyes that looked a lot like fear, and suddenly made Obi want to hug him.

“But… I cannot climb that high. Not without you. I’m better – I’m better in the water or under the ice.

- Of course you can, Kit”, Nara answered, and Quin nodded.

“Yeah, Kit. You won’t fall, not you…

- But Quin… I’m no climber. You are. Not me.

- Your feet are bare, and you don’t feel the cold in here”, Quin answered, with unusual seriousness. “You’ll be able to secure your grips with all your limbs. Not forgetting that you can Force-push yourself.”

Kit nodded, still looking strangely small and young.

“What do you think, Obi? Any feeling…?”

They always teased him about that. About him and his weird intuitions, because he somehow always seemed to guess when Master Koon or Master Mundi planned a surprise-test. It had not always helped, of course, but that day, instead of laughing, Kit was looking at Obi with what looked a lot like hope and made his chest feel all tight.

He pulled down his hood, because he wanted to face Kit, and he felt the cold air of the cave brush through his hair, reminding him that they had little time.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes, and tried to probe the Force, to imagine the crystal high up there, even without seeing it, and to see Kit climbing. Cold… Fear… Wind… High… And the Force, always the Force…

“You will get it, Kit”, he whispered, watching his breath mist before him – and Kit smiled at them through his fear.

“See you outside, then. And hurry.”

They watched their friend begin to climb, and then Quin shook himself.

“Let’s go. I can feel something on the left. Cold wind. Maybe there are more crystals there – with the cold and all…

- I also think this is the way to go”, Luminara whispered, blue eyes seemingly looking inwards, like she always did whenever she gazed into the Force.

Obi-Wan… Obi… Don’t hide, not now, not here…

The voice was so achingly familiar – but it still could not be. It came from the opposite direction, but Obi-Wan knew this was nothing but an illusion, because he was not there, had not been there for a very long time, and so he just followed Nara and Quin, trying to banish that voice from his head.

They had barely entered the passage when Nara seemed to tread on uneven ground, and suddenly she was just falling, as the ground crumbled under her.

“Nara!”, they both shouted through the sounds of rock and ice giving way – and then Nara’s voice raised towards them, and they breathed out.

“I am alright. Nothing is broken. There is… There is a way, down there. But it’s very, very narrow…”

Her voice was echoing towards them, and sounded as calm as ever, but they both knew her and could read Nara’s nerves.

“What do you see?”, Obi asked, kneeling next to the hole, fingers curling around the edge.

“There’s some sort of light… Very, very far away. But there is also – also Darkness. It’s very, very cold, and the walls are tight. I – I don’t know if I can squeeze through, Obi…

- You can”, Obi whispered. “You can bend your limbs through anything.

- Yeah, Nara, you’re an eel…”, Quin added, body pressing itself unconsciously against Obi.

“What if… What if there’s nothing at the end of the tunnel, and I stay lost down there?”

Quin looked at Obi, and Obi read worry into Quin’s eyes. He bent towards the hole once more, trying to reach her with his voice.

“Nara… I think you are meant to go through that tunnel. You must place your trust in the Force, like Master Windu said. And if you are not there outside with the others, we will find a way.”

I’ll stay here on Ilum and find you, Nara.

He projected those words through the Force, imagining he was holding her hands, just like they used to do when they practised acrobatics and when they learned to make each other leap.

“I trust the Force”, Nara whispered, fervently. “Now go. Quin. Obi. Go and find your crystals.”

They turned from the hole, hearts heavy, and Obi realised that Quin’s gloved hand was clasped around his, without Quin noticing. It felt comforting, somehow, and Obi blinked through the cold, cold wind raging through the passage and said nothing.

Obi-Wan…

“That… That’s scary”, Quin whispered, as the passage ended, leaving them standing on the edge of a high, snowed precipice.

The wind seemed to scream around them, and Obi-Wan shuddered, feeling the air slap his face, making his eyes water. And suddenly he felt Quin tense against him, letting go of his hand.

“There, Obi, can you see it? There’s a bridge. And something’s shining on the other side.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes were leaking, and he rubbed at them, trying to blink through the wind and white. Quin was right. An icy bridge was piercing the grey darkness, stretched like a finger across the abyss – but it looked terribly fragile, ready to break if the wind only blew stronger.

“I can’t see any light”, Obi-Wan whispered, feeling his teeth begin to chatter.

“I think I have to cross, Obi.”

Obi-Wan just shivered. It felt so, so dangerous. Quin could fall. And there was no way to see how far from the ground they were because everything was dark. The bridge was so slim, and it was just ice.

“If you… If you c-cross… Then I’ll s-stay and try to h-hold the bridge through the F-Force”, Obi let out, pushing through the cold.

“No, Obi. There’ll be no time left for your crystal. I have to be very, very careful. Very gentle. It will take a lot of time…”

Quin turned towards him, dark eyes searching for his.

“I wish I was as lithe and light as you are…”, he said, voice trembling slightly. “I’ll see you outside, Obi. Don’t watch me, it makes me nervous. Now go.”

Obi… Obi… Obi…

The voice was beckoning behind them, back in the passage.

“Go, Obi”, Quin said, firmly, and then his friend placed a foot at the edge of the bridge, treading very, very lightly.

He was soon lost in the dazzling cold, and Obi turned.

Towards the cave once more, and the impossible voice making him feel all small and weak inside.

Night birds are singing, are singing tonight… Night birds are singing, under the moonlight…

“Where are you?”, Obi-Wan whispered, walking towards the sound that seemed to come from the end of the passage.

When he reached it, though, there was nothing but an empty cave Obi did not remember, and it went on and on for what seemed forever, until Obi-Wan realised that he was running in circles, because the passage he was just emerging ended with an arch he remembered.

The Door was just a few steps ahead, frozen at the two upper thirds, and Obi had not seen anything resembling a crystal. He paused, out of breath and chest heaving, feeling his throat get very tight and his eyes begin to burn.

And then he heard it again, more distinct and clearer as ever, on the left, and realized there was a small tunnel branching from the main path.

Obi-Wan…

He entered the tunnel, and felt a bit warmer, because the walls were tighter. The tunnel led to a small stone platform overhanging a small, frozen lake Obi could only reach climbing down.

And that was when he saw him, sitting cross-legged on the ice, like he used to next to their campfire. Keeping Obi warm. Protecting him.

“Owen”, Obi whispered, and he did not think, did not even question it, because he was freezing and exhausted and lost and not even sure anymore to become a Jedi, because it was Owen, it was Owen and he had missed him so much

Careful, Obi, slow down…

It was Owen’s voice. Owen’s very way of caring. And suddenly Obi was crying, crying through the darkness and the rock and the stone he was gripping, and he did not even care for the last steps, for the stone rolling under his feet, making him slip and fall hard on his left wrist – it was so cold once more, he could not even feel his limbs anymore and it was Owen, it was Owen…

Obi, don’t rush, I’m here…

“Don’t go, please don’t go, don’t be gone…”, Obi whispered, gathering his feet under him and stumbling towards his brother, uninjured hand wiping at his cheeks because crying hurt.

I won’t go. Not as long as you are here.

Obi fell to his knees and drew his arms around Owen’s waist, burying his head into his chest like so, so long ago.

Look at you, little brother…

Owen’s body felt just like before, on Stewjon, except that it was glowing in a soft, blue hue, making his grey eyes shine.

“Did they fetch you?”, Obi-Wan whispered. “Are you going to become a Jedi?”

No, little one. Not me. Just you… if you choose so.

“But it is not fair”, Obi sobbed, face still hiding into Owen’s tunic. “I… we are brothers. Why do I feel the Force and not you?”

I don’t know, Obi.

Owen’s voice sounded sad, and Obi-Wan felt his hand brush through his hair.

I don’t really understand it. What happened to you. And what is happening here. But I know that there are things I have to tell you, and that there is little time.

“We have to climb up”, Obi said. “The door is closing. I don’t care for the crystal, not anymore. I’ll climb up with you and tell Master Windu that I found you.”

No, Obi. I cannot climb up with you.

“Why not?”

Because this is your choice, little brother. Don’t you see? I am not really here. I am only here because you remember. Because you love me so much you pour your own Living Force into giving me a frame, and a voice…

“No. It’s not true. I’m not… I can’t do that. I’m not strong enough.”

Obi… I am just a reflection. I am the casket around your crystal. But to harvest it, you have to let me go. That is the choice the Force I cannot feel wants you to make. You can either stay with me and talk to me until you fade away, and I with you. Or you need to hear what I have to say and let me go.

“I… I can’t.”

It was so clear, suddenly. The ache in Obi-Wan’s chest. That nagging feeling of doubt, whenever he thought of becoming a Jedi.

“I can’t become a Jedi knowing you don’t. I should not have gone and left you.”

Obi-Wan…

Owen’s voice was soft, and his brother cradled his hand through Obi’s hair, brushing it away from his face, tilting his chin up.

Obi, you must not feel guilty. I am not resenting you for your gifts, I am not jealous. I always wanted you… not only safe, but at peace with yourself. Those gifts you have, that Force you feel – Stewjon muted them in you. I watched you try and hide them, and it made me so, so sad.

“I always thought that… I was… getting all the luck”, Obi sobbed, feeling Owen’s thumb stroke his cheeks.

Obi, you don’t get all the luck. You are the lucky charm. You are my lucky charm, and always will be…

“Sometimes I… want to… go back. And then I feel… guilty because I… know you would have… wanted to know all this and… I don’t know what I want anymore and what… I feel…”

That is why I needed to talk to you, Obi. None of that. Not anymore. You cannot expect to be one in the Force if you don’t let me go, if you do not trust me to be simply proud of you, and happy for you. You cannot always try to mould yourself into what you think you should be, out of memory for me. You have to become yourself and learn not to look behind. And you also have to learn not to always protect others, but to protect yourself as well. Remember the wolf, Obi?

Obi-Wan nodded.

“I miss you”, he whispered, and Owen had a sad, very loving smile.

I will always be there. In your mind, your heart and the crystal you will wield. I love you, Obi. Now let me go.

Obi-Wan looked at Owen’s face one last time. It was exactly as he remembered, deep grey eyes, freckles dusting his nose, slightly crooked teeth and the same hair, falling down his forehead.

“I love you too”, he whispered, closing his eyes, feeling tears fall against his cheeks once more.

He channelled the Force around himself with a small sob, and then he projected it around Owen’s frame, carefully and lovingly.

“You can go now”, he whispered, gathering the Force around his brother with all he had – and when he opened his eyes Owen was gone.

Instead, hovering above the frozen lake, a tiny crystal was gleaming softly, its soft light almost smiling at Obi-Wan. He closed his fingers around it, and it sighed in glee through the Force, meeting his skin, finally filling him with something close to peace.

That is when Obi realised his left wrist was hurting badly, and that there was no way he would be able to climb back up in time.

Trust in the Force, you must.

Obi’s hand closed around his crystal as he gazed up towards the stone platform. And then, without thinking, Obi-Wan leaped, jumping straight into the Force, letting it cradle his body and push him up.

He opened his eyes as his feet met the ground, crouching on the platform, and then Obi-Wan ran. Through the small, thin tunnel, into the main stone way, straight towards the icy Door, who was freezing shut, leaving only a space that was barely wider than Obi’s palm.

He skidded towards the Door, using the Force once more, and then Obi arched his body and wedged it through the icy door, like Nara would have.

Leaving the Cave.

Obi did not really remember what happened next. He saw that they had all come out, the four elder Initiates, Nara, Quin and Kit. He understood that they had all harvested their crystal, that they were all fine – and that they could leave Ilum, go back to the ship and get to know their crystals to build their lightsabers around them.

But all felt fuzzy and cold, and he was tired. They removed their fur-coated jackets, revelling in the warmth of the ship, and Feemor made them eat warm soup before anything.

“That arm needs tending”, the elder Padawan said, noticing Obi’s blue, swollen left wrist, and ere soon Obi was sitting on a chair in one of the side-rooms, facing Feemor, trying not to fall asleep.

“Ilum always does that. To everybody. Feel like the Force has been sucked from your body?”

Obi just nodded, watching Feemor wrap his wrist tightly, applying some ice against it.

“Quite a stunt you pulled, skidding under the door like that”, Feemor smiled, and Obi just nodded again, feeling his head droop, trying to keep his eyes open.

“I can put you into a healing trance, if you want”, Feemor suggested. “It will make your wrist heal faster. And then you’ll go to sleep. Then you’ll all go to sleep – enough of Ilum.”

The last thing Obi remembered after agreeing was feeling Feemor’s Force signature, gently merging with his, telling him it was fine to let go of the pain in his hand, that the Force would heal his bones and reduce the swelling, that it was alright to let go…

“I already let go”, Obi-Wan muttered, and he heard Feemor’s soft laugh, felt his hand against his shoulder, and nothing more.

He woke up feeling hazy, because Quin was shaking him.

“Quick, Obi, we have one more day before reaching Coruscant and we are going to build our ‘sabers! Get up now, enough of sleep!”

It was a wonderful day. Because there were a lot of unhidden treasures on the ship flying them back toward Coruscant that was called the Crucible, and they were all guarded by Professor Huyang. Professor Huyang was an architect droid, and he had been there on every Youngling journey towards Ilum, even Master Yoda’s.

Professor Huyang knew how to build any lightsaber, because he had all the materials in huge metallic drawers. He showed them designs, and patrons, and gave them advices until they chose every component.

He told Obi that, since his hand was still small and growing, he would need to choose a hilt where he could adjust his grip along with his training. He also advised him to pick very light material, because Obi was light and thin himself, and that it would allow his moves to be even faster.

Professor Huyang helped each and everyone of them, and all along he was joking with Feemor and exchanging anecdotes and news with Master Windu, who looked very happy himself.

They were going out of hyperspace and almost reaching Coruscant – and they had all managed to assemble their lightsabers, following the patron and trusting the Force. Professor Huyang had inspected them all, and had nodded, tapping them on the shoulder.

“Well done, young Jedi. Well done. May you shine in the Force, until we meet again.”

The ship was touching ground when Master Windu pulled his lightsaber, switching it on, lightening them with that unique, powerful, purple light his crystal projected.

“May you shine in the Force, young Jedi”, he said, and the all switched on their sabers.

And that was when Obi-Wan realised, even though it should have been obvious to him all along. That was when Obi-Wan saw that Nara’s lightsaber was thin like his, that Quin’s was darker and Kit’s a bit heavier, but that they all projected the same bright, vibrant green as Feemor’s.

Obi-Wan’s, though, was blue, and he watched Quin’s dark eyes widen.

That was when Obi-Wan knew, for a fact, that he had let go of everything in the cave, not just Owen.

And that was why, when they left the ship, bowing to Feemor and Master Windu, Obi-Wan was not surprised to feel Quin’s shoulder bumping into his, almost making him stumble.

“You promised”, Quin hissed, breath hitching. “You promised. You said we would always be together, and now you turn your back. I’ll never talk to you again, Obi-Wan Kenobi. And neither will Nara and Kit, I promise you.”

Obi-Wan just let Quin push him into the wall, and he did not follow him. He did not even turn to see how Nara and Kit reacted, because it was true, he had promised – but the Force had led him to a blue crystal, and there was no way around it.

Obi-Wan’s fingers tightened around his lightsaber, trying to gather force and courage from its grip, and then he left. Towards the Archives, because Madame Nu never asked any questions, and because it was the last place Quin would seek.

He would be alone there. And that was just fine, because Obi was going to have to learn how to be alone now. He was going to learn to let it go, no matter how hard it felt, because that was what the Force expected of him, and because Quin and Nara and Kit did not want him anymore.

He would go to the Archives and draw the cave where he had found Owen again, so as to never, ever forget it. And he would learn to be alone, and let go.

 

*******

 

Coruscant.

 

Qui-Gon sighed, sitting cross-legged on the rooftop, watching the sun set on Coruscant, and released his sigh into the Force, forcing the doubt and worry to leave his mind.

He had been so proud. So proud of seeing Feemor return with the Younglings, hearing his tale about their ordeals, the journey home – how beautiful it had been to watch them find their way through the Force and build their lightsabers.

Feemor had grown to become a strong, gentle, and able Jedi, and he was very gifted in Force-healing, which had served them both several times. He also had a knack for making people warm towards him, and trust him, which had come incredibly handy in some undercover missions where Feemor excelled.

The problem was, his Padawan was way too soft, cheerful and simple for Dooku’s scheming and strategic mind. Just like Qui-Gon had been, except Qui-Gon had never been soft, more of the savvy type. Hard enough to steel himself against Dooku’s jibes, so as to take only what was good and knowledgeable and leave the hurt behind.

Dooku had never shown any particular interest in Feemor. Now, however, that they had begun to discuss Feemor’s Trials – not yet, but soon, the boy was only eighteen, but had already proven himself trustworthy and able – Dooku had decided to meddle, and to take his Padawan with him. On a diplomatic mission. Without Qui-Gon.

And try as he might, he was unable to reconcile himself with that idea.

Feemor, however, had felt Qui-Gon’s reserve as a lack of trust, and had been even more determined to go with Dooku, who was after all his Grandmaster, as the boy rightly pointed out.

The last evening and that day had been chilly in their quarters, and Qui-Gon had withdrawn to the Temple’s roof, trying to find peace and inspiration enough in the sunset to quieten his doubts, and find a way to bless his Padawan for the journey he was supposed to take at the end of the week.

If it is the will of the Force, so be it. May one of them soften, so that the other hardens, so that our chain in the Force can be one again.

The sun drew beautiful, red lights across the Temple’s roof and warmed Qui-Gon’s arms through his robe. And gradually, Qui-Gon felt the fear and unease in his heart quieten, leaving only the Force.

He breathed in, and breathed out, eyes closed, loosing himself in the peace he found into the Force, and when he finally came back to the Temple’s roof, the stars were starting to show, and the sky had turned to purple.

And, though Qui-Gon had never felt any Force-signature wedging itself into the Cosmic Force, he heard a small, tinkering noise, followed by a soft twinkle of light flashing against the chimney next to him.

“Why, hello, little one…”, Qui-Gon said, turning towards the boy who was backed up against the chimney, cross-legged and fiddling with what seemed to be a broken data pad.

“Hello, Master Qui-Gon”, Obi-Wan answered, and Qui-Gon smiled, recognizing the thin, earnest features, and the clear, grey eyes.

“And what are you doing up here, Obi-Wan? From what my Padawan told me, I was expecting you to wreak havoc on the training ground, with that wild friend of yours – Quinlan Vos, isn’t it?”

Obi-Wan’s eyes seemed to darken, but the boy just nodded, face lowering towards his data pad.

“I have an essay to hand back”, he simply said, and Qui-Gon was struck once more with the strength of Obi-Wan’s shields – he could barely feel a tiny trace of sadness, almost imperceptible, like a whiff of smoke. “I am sorry, Master, I did not mean to interrupt your meditation.

- I finished it, Obi-Wan…”

He watched the boy’s fingers run across the broken data-pad – and realised Obi-Wan had not even begun to fix it, was not even channelling the Force towards it. He was just sitting there, on the roof, all alone with the stars and a tired Jedi Master.

“You are not late for your work, Obi-Wan. Knowing you, it has already been proof-read twice.”

The fat tear splashing down on the broken data-pad’s screen surprised them both, and Obi-Wan was quick to wipe his cheek, curling slightly around himself.

“I am sorry, Master Qui-Gon. I did not mean to.

- Obi-Wan…”

The soft sigh escaping Qui-Gon was not released into the Force, but very much aloud, and the boy lowered his head even more.

“Obi-Wan, please, look at me. And tell me how a bright, caring, smart, insightful and gentle little Initiate can be sitting on the roof, with a sentimental, gruff old Jedi, when he should be trying to beat his friends with the best tale about Ilum…

- You’re not gruff”, Obi-Wan whispered, and Qui-Gon had to laugh, softly, because apparently he was still old to a nine-year old boy.

Obi-Wan wiped at his cheek again, and Qui-Gon tilted his head, feeling that he was close to let it all out. Because, after all, he was just a nine-year old boy coming back from a huge ordeal.

“Quin is upset”, Obi whispered, grey eyes meeting Qui-Gon’s. “He doesn’t… I promised them. And in the end I… they all got green crystals, and I didn’t. So Quin thinks… Quin thinks I do not care anymore. And I…”

Another tear streaked the data-pad, and Qui-Gon wiped it away, careful not to touch Obi – he had learned how fierce that little robin could turn when faced with perceived pity.

“He gets upset. But he does not… he does not mean harm. He’s just… He’s just Quin. He just meant to give me a shove. He did not see I was holding the data-pad. It’s not his fault.”

Qui-Gon frowned, and tilted his head again, trying to make sense of those jumbled, childishly vital facts.

“That essay is in that broken data-pad, Obi-Wan?”, he asked softly, and the boy nodded, letting out a shuddering breath.

“I see…”, Qui-Gon answered, drawing out the words pensively. “Well, that is easy to solve, Obi-Wan. If we manage to take the chip out and place it in another data-pad, you should be able to access your essay just fine.

- Thank you, Master Qui-Gon…”, Obi whispered, but the little boy did not move, and Qui-Gon suspected he had known it all along and was just allowing himself that pretext to be alone.

“What are we going to do, though, about friends pushing friends, and blaming them for finding their crystals, instead of rejoicing with them?”, Qui-Gon asked, softly, and he watched Obi’s face get all scrunched up as the boy tried to voice out an obviously heart-wrenching answer.

“We… let go, Master Qui-Gon.”

There was not even a question mark at the end of that statement. Just infinite sadness – and a wisdom beyond his age. Unfitting his age.

“We do not fight it, Obi-Wan…?”

Obi wiped at his cheek again and shook his head.

“We do not try to explain? To tell them how we feel – what happened on Ilum, how we found our crystal, what we learned, and how we plan to keep growing as a Jedi?”

Once more, Obi shook his head – and suddenly Qui-Gon heard soft, heart-breaking sobs leaving his chest. The little boy raised his knees and buried his face against it, circling his legs, and cried his heart out.

“It’s okay, little one… Let it out… Let it go… Sadness only makes us feel heavy, and blind… Let it go…”

I’m sorry…

“Don’t be. I don’t mind a good cry, it clears the eyes and cleans the soul.”

This time, since he had quipped, he allowed himself to rub Obi’s back, and soon felt the little boy melt into his side.

“Ilum is very hard, Obi-Wan. No matter how old and wise we are, we never leave the Cave unscathed. The Force means no harm though – it just wants us to see us as we are, come to terms with the doubts and harms we harbour. It wants us to see them, embrace them, and try to overcome them.

- I saw… Owen. My brother. He told me… I had to let go.”

Qui-Gon circled Obi-Wan’s tiny shoulders and drew him against him.

“I am very glad he told you so. He must love you very much. Do you know how I know that, Obi-Wan?”

The little boy shook his head, and Qui-Gon tilted his chin up so as to meet his gaze.

“Because he let you go, even though he loved you. And that’s the most difficult act of love I have ever seen. To be able to let someone I care about face unknown trials is something I struggle with even at my old age…

- Like your Padawan”, Obi-Wan stated, breathing out the words very quietly.

“Like my Padawan”, Qui-Gon nodded. “Like your brother did for you. What letting go does not mean, though, is to allow everything. No one is allowed to shove you, Obi-Wan. No one is allowed to presume that a kyber crystal is above another, because they are all part of the Force. As you all are as well.”

Obi-Wan just leant against him, and Qui-Gon went on.

“Would you blame the sun for throwing red rays at us when it sets? My eyes because they are blue, and yours because they are grey? They are all just appearances, shells, precious caskets, but nothing but what our brain tells us they are. There is no colour in the Force – no difference between the Living things. They are all one and the same. They are a whole. They are all wonderful and deserve our awe and praise.”

The little boy was breathing very quietly, and Qui-Gon could feel him unwind, could feel his childish Force-signature reach out shily, expanding into the Force, flooding it with his soft, loving light.

“I like the words you use”, Obi-Wan whispered, small arms wrapping themselves around Qui-Gon’s waist. “They make me feel like I can understand everything. Like it’s simple.

- Because it is, deep inside, Obi-Wan. We are very simple beings. We just enjoy making life complicated, for whatever reason…”

The little boy had a shy smile, and then he spoke softly.

“I don’t think you should worry about Padawan Feemor, Master Qui-Gon. He’s very good in the Force, just like you are.”

Qui-Gon’s hand found Obi’s hair, stroking the soft, unruly strands that still marked him as an Initiate.

“Thank you, little one. Now let’s uncurl, because I have the tiny feeling that there are three little Force-sentient beings who very much wish to have a chat with you.”

Obi-Wan promptly loosened his grip and straightened up – and Qui-Gon watched him draw his shields up, face becoming quiet and earnest once more.

“Good evening Master Qui-Gon”, Kit Fisto voiced, respectfully, and Luminara Unduli bowed, repeating his greeting.

“Good evening, young ones. I will leave you to your chat”, Qui-Gon said, beginning to rise – but Luminara held her hand up.

“I do not think you should, Master Qui-Gon. I think we need a witness. We did not leave Ilum to make the same mistakes over and over again, did we, Quin?”

Her tone was pointed, and Qui-Gon almost smiled at the rueful way Quinlan Vos looked, flanked between Kit and Luminara, barely daring to look up.

“No”, Quin whispered, and then the young one lifted his face, meeting Obi-Wan’s gaze, who seemed frozen on the spot, still leaning against the chimney.

“Obi, I’m sorry. What I did… the way I talked to you, and when I shoved you, twice – that was very very unworthy of me and of any Jedi and I hope you will forgive me and talk to us again.

- It’s not the same without you”, Kit said, “And I told Quin he was stupid and mean from the very beginning. As did Nara. We just never seemed to find you to tell you so. And it took us a while to hammer some sense into Quin.

- I’m sorry I’ve broken your data-pad. I went to Madame Nu to get you another one and she called me a headless goat and told me to get the chip out and place it in the new one so that none of the data would get lost…”, Quin blurted out, and this time, Obi-Wan’s lips tilted up in what was slowly beginning to bloom into a smile.

“A… headless goat?”, Obi repeated, voice soft, yet still a bit cold, and Qui-Gon secretly commended him for his self-control.

“Yeah. That’s what I am, Obi. Because I yelled at you instead of thanking you. You would have stayed and secured that bridge for me, and not even got your crystal, if I had not made you go.

- And you made me feel strong enough to climb”, Kit added.

“I knew I would never be lost and forgotten in that tunnel”, Luminara voiced softly.

“We all got help from you. And you were the only one getting your crystal all on your own, without any of us watching you. That’s why we… that’s why I think that maybe you got a special one. One that’s different.

- They are one and the same, Quin”, Obi-Wan sighed, but he was smiling now, and Qui-Gon soon watched the friend group tumble one into the other, exchanging hugs and excited stories.

“I climbed and climbed and all along I was so afraid to fall down but Quin was right, my feet didn’t slip and in the end I just got up there and caught it!

- There were Dark voices in the tunnel, belittling the Force, telling me I was stupid and credulous for worshipping it without questioning it, that my beliefs would end up crushing me just like the tunnel walls, but I squeezed my body through, I did not even open my eyes anymore, I just asked the Force to guide me and there it was…

- I had to be very, very careful and set one foot right after the other, sometimes I was even poised with just a foot on the ice like a dumb crane – it took me so long, you wouldn’t believe it, but I crossed the bridge and found it…”

Qui-Gon smiled and rose silently. They still had so many thoughts and feelings to share. So many moments to live together, learning to treasure them, and gather strength from them, before trusting themselves to walk the Way alone.

It was not time to let go of such deep friendships – perhaps it would never be.

For him, though, it was time to go, and make himself scarce. He had a Padawan to reassure and to praise – and Qui-Gon knew exactly how he would manage to do that and to show him he cared.

He would simply and lovingly let him go.

Chapter Text

Coruscant, 45 BBY.

 

He was still there, no matter what Qui-Gon did, no matter how hard he tried to release his feelings into the Force, no matter the number of assignments he took. No matter the planet, no matter the place and despite the Force, he could still see Feemor’s face whenever he closed his eyes. Whenever he was sitting quietly, whenever he was thinking – whenever he was switching on his lightsaber.

Feemor had made a Master of him – the evening he had been knighted had been one of Qui-Gon’s most joyful days in… perhaps ever. Especially that the last two years of his apprenticeship had been somewhat rough – what with Feemor suddenly struggling with self-confidence, becoming brash and reckless or, on the contrary, turning silent when Qui-Gon expected it the last.

And Qui-Gon knew what had changed – who had sown those doubts, that anguish, who had taught Feemor that sometimes, joy and kindness simply were not enough. He had tried to wedge himself between his former Padawan and Dooku, but that cliff had proven very difficult to navigate because Feemor idolized Dooku in an almost unhealthy way. Almost like a puppy – a puppy that would turn all feral on him, because Feemor thought him overprotective, stifling and controlling.

At least most of the times – and Qui-Gon had felt a fierce ache in parts of him he did not even know he had, because he was so powerless. If he said nothing, he was uncaring, if he said something, he was taking the wrong side – yet whenever he had felt ready to throw in the towel, to tell Feemor and Dooku to just go on and leave him out of their newfound bond, Feemor had come back to him. And, because Feemor was Feemor and because Qui-Gon knew him, he had always found enough strength and love to open his arms and welcome him back.

Thank the Force… Thank the Force he had always welcomed him back, thank the Force at least he could not be blamed for that.

The day was grey, and Qui-Gon stared at the skyscrapers from the window of the small living room in his Temple’s quarters. It was raining outside, raindrops blurring the landscape, but there was no noise to be heard and for a while Qui-Gon silently wondered why.

He liked the rain. It washed so many things away.

But not his face.

And Qui-Gon realised, then, that it was not the rain. That the day was grey, yes – but that the clouds had yet to break, unlike himself, because he – Master Dooku’s former Padawan, he – the newly made Master Qui-Gon Jinn, was shedding quiet tears.

Because he was nobody’s Master anymore.

Because Feemor was no more, had not been for almost nine months now.

Because the Force, in that weird and wicked way it had whenever it was teaching them the bitterest lessons, had snatched away the youngest of them, on that horrible mission on Kessel, far away in the Outer Rim.

Trying to stop the Pykes’ influence in the Coruscanti crime families by trying to infiltrate and dismantle them had taken Dooku, Feemor and him almost an entire year. And when the time had come to take them out, the boy had insisted on playing bait – prompted by Dooku, who had orchestrated a spectacular dismantle on Kessel.

Only, the boy was so young, and stalling was not Feemor’s forte. By the time they had come blazing in with Dooku, Feemor’s mask had fallen, and Qui-Gon had fought tooth and nails to reach his former Padawan. And he had reached him, but they were deep in Kessel’s mines, and Feemor had been injured.

He had brought the boy out – he had been with him. All the time. And Feemor had smiled. Joked even. But once outside, he had collapsed into Qui-Gon’s side, so very quietly. And he had never woken up, no matter how hard Qui-Gon, and even Dooku tried.

The Healers told them it had been a misplaced blow, in the spleen. That it had ruptured very quickly, that the blood loss had been rapid and painless, that Feemor had not suffered.

That he was one with the Force.

But Qui-Gon could only see Feemor’s pale, playful face, the blaze in his green eyes as he joked, until the very end – and weep, quietly.

He had listened, patiently, to the platitudes the mind-Healers served him for days on, Force bless them – telling him it was not his fault, that he could never have foreseen it, that Feemor himself had probably been unaware he was bleeding, that there was nothing he could have done differently.

Except Qui-Gon knew that he could – should - have opposed the idea of Feemor playing bait. That he should have insisted on it being him. And he also knew, with a chilling certainty, that Dooku did not regret a single move, that he had exposed Feemor the most, because to him, the boy was the lesser casualty.

Of course, Dooku denied it – and Qui-Gon had seen sincere pain in his eyes as his former Master had tried to revive the boy. But he had not expressed any regret at the plan – had honoured Feemor’s memory speaking highly of him during their report, telling the Jedi Council that without Feemor the mission would not have succeeded.

Qui-Gon had recoiled at that. Because to him, the mission was no success, but a tragedy – a disaster, something that never should have been.

He had listened quietly to Yoda’s words of support. Had nodded at the appropriate moments when Mace and Plo had tried to comfort him and had left them with a bow. He had even gone to the Mind-healers because Qui-Gon knew it was the best way to keep the Council off his back.

To his former Master, Qui-Gon had said nothing. Whenever Dooku had tried to speak to him, he had just stared back, very quietly – it had not taken long for Dooku to raise an eyebrow, chide him coldly for his behaviour, and leave him alone.

And Qui-Gon had wanted to be alone. Had accepted mission after mission, slipping into the skin of the unattached Jedi Master who was as cold as he was effective. No doubt the Council was pleased with his file – no doubt Qui-Gon’s success rates on missions were rising.

But inside, he was empty. And on Coruscant, but only on Coruscant, Qui-Gon allowed himself to weep. Because the Temple was where he had accepted to take Feemor as a Padawan, where he had thought he had found a hopeful, warm answer to loneliness, some purpose in the Way as a Jedi. Because the Temple was full of innocent Initiates who did not know they could be blown up or torn to pieces in plans designed by their own Masters. With the Council still labelling it a success, with their deaths being glossed over as moving on with the Force.

He knew how to release anger. He knew how to fight back pain. He knew how to reach a certain state of detachment that made him functional again.

What Qui-Gon did not know, though, was how to remember Feemor differently than a life snatched away too soon. How to stop failing him because he could not prevent himself from weeping, whenever he thought too long about him, and their last moments together.

A stubborn, fierce part of him was not even sure he wanted it.

And so, Qui-Gon stared at the grey sky, and let himself weep in an odd, detached way, without attempting to stop himself. And when it stopped, as abruptly as it started, Qui-Gon quietly grabbed his cloak and left the Temple, loosing himself into Coruscant.

He walked for hours on, under clouds that simply would not break, losing himself in the noises and preoccupations of the crowd, becoming only one soul in the stream of humans and droids washing over the city.

And when he could barely think anymore, when his mind had reached the same empty state as his heart, Qui-Gon allowed his steps to carry him towards one of the city’s havens.

He entered Dex’s Diner right before the storm finally broke loose, and nodded towards the waitress, sliding behind a table, keeping his cloak on – nobody ever asked any questions in there, the food was interestingly good, and the drinks absolutely decent. Music was playing in the background, coming from hidden loudspeakers – the mood was obviously quieter than in the evenings, where the diner would be full of patrons, most of them either workers, or slightly more shadowy people.

Dex was currently working hard behind his ovens, probably preparing dinner for the evening rush, the human waitress was busy redressing some of the tables, so it fell to the droid waitress to roll towards him to take his order.

“Something strong, please, but nothing deadly.

- Deadly does not compute”, the droid waitress beeped. “Here’s the menu.”

Qui-Gon just raised an eyebrow, and then pointed to the line that interested him, marvelling once more at the choice in the seemingly insignificant diner.

“Corellian Cardhu, once”, the droid peeped, and Qui-Gon nodded at her.

“Twice. At least…

- Suit yourself.”

She was gone, and ere soon Qui-Gon was sipping his drink, revelling in the warmth it spread through his throat and chest. He was not expecting any call, he had nowhere to be that day, and nowhere to go. He could just sit there, mind and heart empty, quietening the Force to allow the whisky into his bloodstream – finally stopping altogether.

The diner had slowly begun to fill again, but the music in the background remained soft, somewhat introspective. Qui-Gon was nursing his second glass, drinking very slowly, becoming blessedly numb, and listening distractedly to the words leaving the loudspeakers.

‘Nobody here - that keeps you in the shade - and ever owned you…

Some sentimental tears - or someone else's girl - that drips… away…’

It was oddly accurate, Qui-Gon thought – oddly ironic as well…

‘But I somehow slowly love you – and wanna keep you the same… Well I somehow slowly know you – and wanna keep you… away…’

Jedi could not love. Not really. It was labelled as attachment, a liability, something that had to be released. But what was a bond between a Master and his Padawan – save with Dooku - then…? What were all the small gestures, the little moments and achievements, were they just supposed to be milestones in the Way?

He was just contemplating ordering a third glass, when the door opened, making room for a tiny and very wet little silhouette. Qui-Gon instantly recognised the brown cloak as a Jedi’s, and snorted quietly in amusement at the ludicrous thought that the Temple could have sent an Initiate after him.

The cloak had obviously been of little help, because the boy’s hair was completely wet, dripping in dark strands against his skull and forehead. His Force signature seemed perplexed, and also achingly familiar – and Qui-Gon realised that of course, it had to be him.

Obi-Wan.

The little robin, who had begun to leave childhood’s threshold, but who still looked tender and tiny to him.

The boy was scrubbing the rain from his hair, coming to terms with his surroundings, and Qui-Gon was still willingly muting the Force in him – Obi-Wan had not seen him, and addressed the human waitress politely.

“Excuse me, Miss, I was told I could find Reeksa root in here, but I must be mistaken…

- Maybe not, sweetie, let me ask the boss. De-ex? Someone needing you here!”

The tall, good-natured Besalisk wiped his hands and rounded the counter, and suddenly the Force seemed to panic. Qui-Gon distinctly felt a stab of pure, raw fear erupt from the boy, and the music score jammed.

‘I’ve got that feeling – that bad feeling – that bad feeling – that bad feeling – that bad feeling…’

“De-ex, it’s jammed!”, one of the patrons yelled, and the Besalisk laughed, quietly, bending over the computer, trying to figure out what was wrong.

‘That bad feeling – that bad feeling – that bad feeling…’

Obi-Wan’s face was so white he looked like a little ghost in his damp cloak, and he had yet to move, but then he swallowed, hands uncurling slowly, letting out a slow, centric breath, and the song went on, as if nothing happened.

“Well, whaddya know…?”, Dex mumbled, laughing softly. “Never had such a disturbance before.”

He peered across his counter, smiling down at Obi-Wan below his moustache, scratching his massive belly.

“And how can I help you, little one? Oh, you look like you could sit down…”

Obi-Wan had yet to utter a word, and concern quickly replaced the smile on Dexter’s face. He rounded the corner, and Obi-Wan took a small step back, almost bumping into the human waitress, who promptly sled an arm around his shoulders, guiding him towards a bench.

“He’s all wet, poor dear… He’s just a kid, Dex, what is he doing out there?

- Hmm, he’s a little Jedi, is he not?”, Dex smiled, careful not to tower above Obi-Wan who was gazing up at him, taking in every inch of him, still very pale and completely mute, though his shields let nothing pass into the Force anymore.

“Why, yes, just like the one behind, there… Maybe they know each other? Are you seeking that other guy, sweetie?”

This time Obi-Wan shook his head, and then his gaze found Qui-Gon, his eyes widened – and Qui-Gon was shocked at the amount of pure relief and safety that suddenly flooded the Force, bursting through Obi-Wan’s shields.

“I…”, the boy breathed out – and then he astonished Qui-Gon, because instead of acknowledging him and saying his name aloud, he simply whispered:

“I was told I could find Reeksa root in here. But there seems to be a mistake. I… was given those coordinates by Grandmaster Yoda.”

He slid a data pad towards either Dexter or the waitress, the move was unclear, and Dex peered down, still scratching his belly.

“Hmm… That’s exactly Dex’s Diner, little one. And you might be lucky, because perhaps old Dex has indeed some Reeksa root for the Temple’s Halls… Because old Dex has his contacts…

- Do you want to drink something, sweetie? You looked a little pale, just then…

- No, thank you”, Obi-Wan whispered.

You should try the Jawa juice, little robin.

Qui-Gon blamed it on the whisky. Before, he would have jumped to the boy’s rescue, asking every question for him – now, however, it kind of amused him to watch Obi-Wan’s eyes widen slightly.

Master Qui-Gon ? Are you on a mission here?

His voice was so soft, so full of awe and respect, it made Qui-Gon feel even more like a fraud, and it irked him.

No mission for me. Privacy was the general idea.

Something in Obi-Wan’s face changed, very subtly, and the boy’s presence shifted in the Force, becoming tiny and muted once more, leaving Qui-Gon feeling strangely cold.

A horde of patrons entered the diner, sweeping in and masking Obi-Wan from his view. Once they had all sat down, he saw that the boy had withdrawn to the end of the bench, and that the human waitress was placing a glass before him.

“Here, sweetie. Gift of the house…

- Thank you, Miss”, Obi-Wan answered, lifting grey eyes towards her, and she laughed, brushing his forearm.

“Oh, none of that, sweetie, I’m just Hermione.

- Thank you then, Miss Hermione”, Obi-Wan said. “It smells so good, and the colour’s beautiful too, what is it?

- Jawa Juice, sweetie. Specialty of Dex’s Diner. Dex says he’s cutting the root for you, but that you’ll have to wait out the rain in here.”

Obi-Wan looked at his chrono, somewhat worriedly, but then he smiled at Hermione.

“Thank you, that’s very kind. I’m sorry for the way I barged in…

- Oh no, it’s fine… You’re such a sweet kid…?

- Obi-Wan”, the boy said. “My name is Obi-Wan.

- Obi-Wan, then”, Hermione smiled back, and as she straightened, she ruffled his hair – and the boy let her, almost melting into her touch.

That’s when Qui-Gon decided to cut it right there. He was not watching the boy, not listening to him anymore, or he would simply start to shout and rage like a madman – because no one should look so thin, affection-starved and fragile, no one in the Jedi world and in the Galaxy.

Instead, he ordered that third glass and drank it, stoically.

But, as the rain had no intention to stop, trapping them all there, he could not help witnessing just how quickly Obi-Wan wrapped them all around his little finger without even noticing it.

“Aren’t you a true Jedi yet?”, Hermione asked him, taking his cloak from him, arguing that she would lay it to dry in the kitchen.

“No…”, Obi-Wan shook his head, and apprehension and worry quietly permeated the Force for a few seconds. “I need to be chosen as a Padawan first. Two of my friends already were.

- You need to be chosen, or you get to pick who you want to be with?

- I… Someone needs to pick me”, Obi-Wan whispered, shield slammed so fiercely shut it was obvious his words were not for Qui-Gon.

Good. Obi-Wan still had some pride in him, then.

“I can’t believe no one picked you”, Hermione told him, but Obi shook his head again, still trying to block Qui-Gon out of the discussion through the Force.

The boy was just an Initiate, though, and Qui-Gon was… He did not know what he was, but he was listening, and that was it.

“It’s.. it’s my fault. I… don’t manage to get my shields down and show them who I am, because I don’t know them. And… sometimes I don’t know what to answer them when they ask me questions.

- Always answer the same”, the droid waitress beeped, interrupting them, and Hermione snorted.

“Don’t listen to FLO. She’s a droid. She only knows life through algorithms and programs, she has no idea how people work.

- I know how you work. Not fast enough. Too much talking.

- And you? Always bickering, always complaining about late shifts – what are them to you, anyway?

- They’re late. So are you. In the morning.

- Yes! Because sometimes, FLO, imagine that, I cannot push Ivy like she’s a droid, sometimes she’s sick, or sleepy, or simply crying! But you don’t understand such things, because they do not compute, do they?”

Obi-Wan had listened to the exchange, frowning slightly, and when the droid waitress made a move to leave, he gently placed a hand on her steely forearm.

“Excuse-me…? Miss FLO?”

The droid beeped, unhappily and turned towards him.

“Miss FLO, I think that you and Miss Hermione are both very precious to Mister Dexter, are you not? You, FLO, because you remember everything and because you can work throughout the night, having such strong circuits, and you Hermione, because you understand sentients, and because you can step in whenever someone behaves strangely just like I did…”

He smiled at them and FLO beeped, while Hermione huffed.

“Yeah, I suppose so… She’s just always grumbling.

- But maybe FLO needs to know just how much being there helps you with… with Ivy, was it?

- Ivy”, Hermione confirmed, smiling slightly. “Actually, though, her real name is Iphigenia. But that’s for later, for now she’s just my little Ivy.

- That’s beautiful… You know, Hermione, in the crèche Master Ti always uses droids to remind her of important things with the younglings, because there are so much of them. Perhaps you could do the same with FLO. Tell her important facts about Ivy so that you don’t forget anything and can empty your head a little bit.”

FLO beeped, once more, and the smile on Hermione’s face grew even brighter.

“You know, sweetie – I could kiss you, if that wouldn’t give several patrons quite annoying thoughts. But thank you. Thank you for that wonderful idea - and remind me to tell Dexter that Jawa Juice is staying free for you.”

Obi-Wan just blushed and shook his head. The waitresses both went back to their service, but Hermione came back to the boy once, resuming their discussion.

“And what do they ask you, when they try to find out if they want to pick you?”

Obi-Wan stayed silent for a while.

“They ask me who I want to become. What it means to me to become a Jedi. What my favourite lightsaber techniques are, why I prefer one move to another. How I think about the Republic.

- Jee, that’s a whole bunch of difficult questions… And what does it mean, to you? To become a Jedi?

- I… I don’t know.”

Obi-Wan’s voice was very low. So very soft, and humble.

“I… I like to feel people through the Force. You, for example. You’re very warm. And fierce. And… a little bit like Master Ti. I like to… find out how people feel. What’s the matter with them, and how we can try to help them. Sometimes it’s because they can’t talk to each other and then I think I’d like to try and make them listen. And sometimes it’s because no one can protect them, and then I’d like to be able to do that. But often… often I just feel… small and… I don’t like that if they pick me, then someone else doesn’t get picked.

- Hey, baby… Baby, look at me. You cannot waist all your energy and skills in compassion, and be afraid to shine. Who’s gonna be nice to you if you don’t get picked, hm? But you will be. ‘Cause you’re not small. You’re amazing just as you are. And somewhere, there’s someone who’ll see you, who will want to take you in and train you because you are exactly you.”

Obi-Wan looked at her, and then he smiled at her. And for a few seconds, it seemed to Qui-Gon that everything in the diner had gone silent. Shrouded. Almost peaceful.

“That’s nice, little one…”

Even Dexter was drawn to the boy – but then, Dex was hiding his soft heart carefully behind his massive frame and his four, muscular arms. The Besalisk was oddly perceptive for a non-Force sensitive and was taking care not to crowd Obi-Wan, who had been drawing distractedly on his coaster.

“Hermione and FLO, eh?”

Obi-Wan nodded, still holding himself a bit stiffly around Dex, but clearly not scared anymore.

“You know, as it happens, I was looking for a new logo for the Diner… Mind if I keep it – as a source of inspiration?”

Obi-Wan nodded and slid the coaster towards Dex. He did not withdraw his hand as the Besalisk covered his fingers with his, squeezing them gently.

“There’s your root, little one. I wrapped it up carefully, what with the rain and you having to get back to the Temple and all… Tell your Grandmaster that I willingly exchange a root for a drawing, and greet him from me.”

He winked at Obi-Wan, and the boy smiled again, albeit shyly.

“Off you go, now… You might actually catch your airbus between two showers.

- Thank you, Mister Dexter.

- It’s Dex, little one. Come back to see my new logo, one of these days.

- I’ll try”, Obi-Wan promised, earnestly.

Hermione brought him back his cloak, and Obi-Wan let her hug him, embracing her back.

“Goodbye, Miss FLO…

- Goodbye, Initiate Obi-Wan…”

Qui-Gon placed enough credits on the table, allowed Obi-Wan two minutes to get outside and start walking, and then he followed him.

The pavement smelt of rain, damp concrete and metal, like everything on Coruscant right now. Qui-Gon could see Obi-Wan’s tiny frame, hurrying towards the airbus station, and was quick to catch up with him.

“Did Master Yoda really send you here?”, he asked, still feeling the Cardhu’s pleasant warmth in his bloodstream, loosening his tongue.

“Yes, Master Qui-Gon. Master Che was in need of some Reeksa root. And since I had no classes this afternoon, Grandmaster Yoda asked me if I did not mind fetching it and gave me those coordinates. I was expecting another place, though – an apothecary, perhaps, or an herbal shop…”

Obi-Wan was soft, respectful as ever – and there was no lie in his words. So, either it was pure coincidence and Qui-Gon did not believe in them, never ever, or his Grandmaster had meddled. Once more.

“Can’t imagine Yoda in the Diner, that’s for sure…”, he snorted, deeply amused, and Obi-Wan just looked up at him.

And Qui-Gon was surprised to find nothing but concern in the boy’s grey eyes, but Obi-Wan stayed silent, waiting for the airbus, huddling under his cloak as the drizzle resumed.

“You made a mistake, back then, you know…”, Qui-Gon told the boy, somewhat sharply, and he watched Obi-Wan’s grey eyes find his again with a small pang in his chest, because the boy looked apprehensive.  

“I apologize, Master Qui-Gon, I did not mean to give you away…

- Not that. You drank the Jawa Juice. You did not even question it. It could have been poisoned, or spiked.”

Obi-Wan’s brow furrowed.

“But… you told me to try it. And…

- And so you just believed me?  You didn’t even scan it through the Force, you didn’t even doubt it? How did you know it was safe, Obi-Wan?”

The airbus arrived, screeching to a halt, making Qui-Gon wince. He was feeling kind of numb and woozy now, and he liked it. It was exactly what he had wanted to achieve. Another mission completed.

Obi-Wan was the one scanning the tickets for them, and suddenly Qui-Gon felt a soft, warm hand clasping his, guiding him towards a seat. The airbus set off, shaking them softly, making Qui-Gon sink against the seat, watching Obi-Wan hold his balance, facing him calmly. Making sure they were both getting back to the Temple.

They did not say a word, the whole ride long. Not even when they walked back, Obi-Wan’s hand clasping his once more because Qui-Gon was weary, and still oddly, blessedly detached from the Force.

Not detached enough though to miss the gentle voice rising in his head, just before Obi-Wan left him.

I knew it was safe because you were there, Master Qui-Gon.

“May the Force be with you, Master Jinn”, Obi-Wan told him, quietly.

And before Qui-Gon could muster a befuddled answer, Obi-Wan was gone.

 

*******

 

The Initiate wing was not the same without Kit and Nara.

True, they had not really left the Temple, but Nara had been picked by her Master three months ago, and it had been a month already since Kit had left their dorm as well.

As they had grown, they had been assigned to smaller dorms, and Kit, Quin and Obi had shared theirs with two younger Initiates. Now, however, Kit was gone, and for now his bed remained empty.

Meeting them in classes was not the same – they still saw Nara every day, but her Master was teaching her special lessons sometimes, and Kit had left a week ago for his first mission with his Master.

That left Quin, and him.

And it was getting hard for Obi to keep up his hopes, because Quin and him were twelve already, and because it had become pretty clear, after weeks and weeks of auditions and interviews, that no Master wanted either of them.

“They are just pricks”, Quin whispered, fiercely, whenever they found themselves alone, usually on Kit’s empty bed.

“They really asked you if it was true you came to the Temple at three years old, and made weird noises?

- Mhmm…”

It had hurt. Every single time. But probably not as much as it hurt Quin, who was always asked to read an item held by a Jedi Master, and who always had to end his report by that bitter truth.

“… and you are wondering how to handle me and how to reign me in, because you think I’m a handful, and always will be.”

That always led to a quick end of the audience. Quin would usually come back looking pale and drained, sometimes burning with strangled fury, but once he had cried, face buried in Obi’s neck.

“What do they want from us? Why do they ask such impossible questions? Why can’t we be enough, Obi…?

- I don’t know, Quin…”

He had whispered those words, hand carding through Quin’s hair, holding him against him, trying to soothe him through the Force.

“I don’t know…

- Do you think someone will pick us?”

Quin’s voice had sounded so small. And Obi had just reaffirmed his grip around him.

“I hope so, Quin. We must trust the Force, you know… Just like on Ilum.

- It’s very hard, Obi. I don’t know if I can…

- I know, Quin. I know.”

His friend had calmed down, slowly. In the end, they had just tried to meditate, sitting together on Kit’s bed, thinking of him and Nara.

Obi entered their room and removed his damp cloak, shedding most of his wet clothes to enter the fresher. He showered quickly, slipping into clean tunics and trousers, and was just fastening his obi when Quin entered.

“There you are!”, his friend cried out. “I was beginning to wonder where you had gone... Did you eat?

- Not really.

- Let’s grab a bite, then. I’m starving.”

Obi told Quin of Grandmaster Yoda’s request, then, and about Dex’s Diner in downtown Coruscant. And of course, Quin wanted to go there almost right away. As they ate in the Temple’s cafeteria, talking quietly, Grandmaster Yoda actually came along, his cane clicking softly against the tiled ground.

“Thank you, I must, young Obi-Wan. Quite a shower you took, to bring back the root, I was informed.

- I did not mind, Grandmaster Yoda.

- Hmm… Bring back more than the root, you might have, young Obi-Wan. Thank you for this, I must, as well.”

Obi felt himself blush, and Quin frowned – but he was very perceptive most of the time and did not ask anything.

“Difficult times we face, sometimes, even in the Temple”, Grandmaster Yoda said, quietly. “Loved by the Force, we still are. Proud of you, we are always. May the Force be with you, young Obi-Wan and young Quinlan.

- May the Force be with you, Grandmaster Yoda”, they both echoed, and they watched their Grandmaster walk away, the Force around them feeling strangely soothed, just like always when he was around.

“What was that about, Obi?”, Quin asked.

“I met Master Qui-Gon, in that diner”, Obi answered. “We went back to the Temple. I did not know he would be there. But I… I get the feeling that Grandmaster Yoda wanted… someone to check on him.

- Why in the Force? He’s a Master, is he not? I would hate it to have the Council on my tail forever, wouldn’t you?”

Obi nodded, finishing his soup. But inside, he was worried. Because Master Qui-Gon had not looked the same, that evening. He had looked – all silent in the Force. Cold. And very, very lonely.

It was probably a very good thing that Grandmaster Yoda had tried to look out for him, and Obi hoped he could help Master Qui-Gon, because he had no doubt that Master Qui-Gon was hurting very, very badly.

They had heard about Feemor and had all been there when they had burned his body in the Temple. It had been very, very sad – but Grandmaster Yoda had told them that sometimes the Force was as well. That sometimes it felt sad, and hurt, because it was seemingly not understandable.

Grandmaster Yoda had asked those of them who knew Feemor to try and summon good memories of him – and Obi had picked Ilum, when Feemor had told them jokes, had guided them to the cave and had wrapped his wrist.

And then he had let him go, through the Force, just like he had done with Owen. But he had not been able to talk to Master Qui-Gon and had barely seen him. So, in a way, it had been good to find him today, even though Obi was not sure Qui-Gon would really remember, because he had seemed off.

That night, when they entered their room, the other Initiates were already asleep. And just like always, when they wanted to continue their chat, Quin and Obi sat on Kit’s former bed, buried under Obi’s Force bubble that muted their words.

“Do you know what happens to Initiates who don’t get picked, Obi?

- They get send to Bandomeer into the AgriCorps, to help growing crops. Or to the MedCorps, helping Master Che.

- Or to the EduCorps with Madame Nu…”

The look of horror on Quin’s face made Obi smile.

“There’s still the ExploCorps. To help map out the Galaxy.

- Hmm…”

Quin wrinkled his nose, pulling at his hair thoughtfully.

“What would you prefer, Obi?

- I don’t know…”, Obi said softly. “Not the MedCorps.

- No. Remember when you threw up, after that pigeon flew straight into Grandmaster Yoda’s window?

- I didn’t throw up right away. I threw up because elder Initiates told us they had cooked it in the evening soup. And I thought only Nara saw me.”

Quin shook his head.

“I picked up your bowl, Obi. I could feel just how queasy you were…

- Why, thank you, Quin.”

His friend grinned at him.

“AgriCorps, though… maybe… at least we would always be outside”, Obi mused. “Or ExploCorps. But only if you come along.

- I just don’t want to end up in the Archives”, Quin said, decidedly, and Obi had to laugh softly at that, because the idea was just too funny.

“Still, Obi, you know what I’d still like the most, if nobody picks me, after twelve years here? To tell the Council of Reassignment’s members to kriff themselves, and just try my luck elsewhere.

- You can’t, Quin. We’re too young. And the Republic already spent a lot of money on us. We can’t just quit without paying them back…

- Obi, we’re not slaves. Or… or orbaks, though I sure feel like a horse, sometimes, getting poked and looked at.”

Obi-Wan could not help to agree, silently. It was humiliating, and it made him feel very small and very sad, deep inside. Especially because he had never thought it would come to this, for neither of them – for some reason, Obi had always thought they would all say safe.

“It’s as Grandmaster Yoda said. We must believe that these are just difficult times, and that they will pass.

- Yes, yes. And the Force will be with us, and all that. Just promise me one thing, Obi: don’t pick the EduCorps. Never ever. And I won’t pick the MedCorps. That way, we can still stay together, alright?

- Alright, Quin. I promise.”

They stayed silent, after that. And then Obi-Wan pulled out the small radio device they hid under Kit’s pillow, and plugged the earphones in.

“In the diner, Dex was playing really good music. When I asked him, he told me he sometimes picked an Old World channel. Do you want to try and find it? It’s really cool, Quin…

- Sure.”

They stayed on Kit’s bed for quite a number of songs, listening quietly for long-gone tunes – not talking. Just being together, still. Hoping that lighter times would come soon, for both of them.

Trusting quietly in the Force.

Chapter Text

Coruscant, 45 BBY.

 

Obi-Wan parried Quinlan’s blow, feeling the whizz of Quin’s lightsaber close to his right ear, almost nicking his cheek. Their blades’ power was low, but his friend was not holding back, and Obi was usually grateful for this.

It allowed him to fight, fully, throwing all his energy and concentration into the moment, feeling for the warnings in the Force, adjusting his moves to Quin’s, who was positively whirling.

Usually Obi was grateful for this – Quin’s Force-presence had always been very vivid and somewhat loud in the Force, shining and warm, sometimes overwhelming. Now, however, it burned and made his head ache, because Quin was worried and anxious, hurt and on edge. And fighting against Quin while blocking those feelings, and shielding his own, while trying to soothe his friend was making him almost nauseous with the effort.

No one is going to take us – this Temple is full of kriffing hypocrites – I’m not some prize I’m an Initiate – why does no one want us – I’m strong I’m fast I can read anything – I’m angry I’m angry I’m angry…

Obi parried another blow, and the movement resonated into his very head – Quin was fuming in the Force, and it didn’t feel like he even remembered who he was fighting against, it felt like Quin taking it out on the entire Temple…

There is no sorrow, there is acceptance…

There is no emotion, there is peace…

Obi clung to those words, whispering them through his shields, trying to project them towards Quin, on and on, like a mantra – and all along he kept fighting, loosing himself in the Soresu moves he loved, and that fitted his frame, letting Quin spin above and around him like the whirlwind he was.

I can be even faster, I’ll prove it…

No emotion, just peace…

I’m so sad, Obi… Sad, angry, sad, sad, sad…

It’s okay, Quin… Peace…

Quin was panting when they finally stopped, hair damp with sweat and cheeks flushed – but something in his eyes had quietened, and he just looked exhausted.

Obi switched his lightsaber off and lowered it. He felt drained, knees unsteady, and as he clipped his lightsaber back on his belt, he realised his hand was shaking. Sweat was drenching his forehead and his neck, and his head still hurt, making him feel slightly sick.

He drew a deep, centric breath and tried to release the feeling into the Force, feeling himself shudder.

“You’re okay, Obi?”, Quin’s voice was soft, there was no anger left in him now, just tiredness. Obi just hummed, because his head really, really hurt suddenly, and he just wanted to sit down and lean his forehead somewhere cool.

“Quite impressive, little one…”, a deep voice said, and Quin and Obi whirled around, finding a dark-haired Jedi gazing at them.

He was quite old – not as old as Grandmaster Yoda, of course, perhaps as old as Master Mundi, because there was some grey in his hair already, but he had kind, dark eyes and crowfeet that stood out as he smiled at them. He was thin, and he looked a bit like the Jedi Knights of old, in the holobooks series Obi loved to read, because his hair was shoulder-long and curling slightly. He was tall, as well – but not as tall as Master Qui-Gon, who was standing next to him and who was not saying anything at all.

Quin and Obi both bowed, deeply, and the dark-haired Jedi smiled again.

“I’m Master Tholme”, he said, kindly. “And you are…?

- Quinlan Vos”, Quin answered. “And this is Obi-Wan Kenobi.

- I see… Well, young Quinlan, could I ask for a word with you? I am sure your little friend could use a moment for himself…”

He was smiling at Obi-Wan, but Obi still felt the dismissal and had to fight hard to keep the hurt behind his shields. He said nothing, though, pressing Quin’s forearm quietly, and bowed again, heading for the changing room.

He did not want to think. Did not want to feel. He just wanted to scrub the sweat from his face, he just wanted some quiet and peace and be alone – he did not want to wonder how Quin was, if he would be alright, if the Jedi Masters would chide him for his anger or if finally, finally

Obi was blinking through his headache once he reached the changing room, and the water felt achingly cool against his skin. He rubbed his forehead, looking at himself in the mirror, at the too-long hair that was beginning to shadow his eyes, at those freckles that looked really like dots on his nose, no wonder this Master Tholme thought he was just a scrawny kid…

The wave of dizziness hitting him was completely unexpected, and Obi-Wan gripped the sink, closing his eyes, trying to take a deep breath once more. It worked, for a few seconds. And then the headache returned with a vengeance, and suddenly he was throwing up, knees weak and body trembling.

He had not been sick for years. He hated being sick, which was why he never ate when he didn’t feel like it and was always careful to wash his hands before eating, even in the Temple.

It felt awful, and it made his eyes burn with unshed tears, but it also felt like getting rid of the fear and worry that kept churning behind his shields, of the anger Quin had unconsciously projected straight at him – it had truly felt like blows, this time, and just remembering it made Obi retch even harder.

He clung to the sink for several minutes, until the fit seemed to ebb, cold sweat drenching his tunic – and suddenly he heard the doorknob turn.

Quin, please, just… just give me a moment…

Obi turned the faucet on, splashing water against the sink and on his face, begging the Force to detain Quin, a tiny bit longer, because he couldn’t talk to him, not just now, please, not just now

The person entering the changing room was not Quin, though. It was so much worse – and Obi actually felt tears rise once more, because the Force just wasn’t with him anymore and had not been for so, so long.

The person entering the room was Master Qui-Gon, whom Obi had not seen ever since that encounter at Dex’s, save just now with Quin, and who had not even said hello to him. And Obi-Wan was not stupid. He knew it meant Master Qui-Gon did not want to spend time with him or talk, because Master Qui-Gon was very busy and Obi just an unskilled Initiate who would soon end up in the ExploCorps.

Obi leant against the sink and gripped it with both hands, because he did not trust his legs, and he watched Qui-Gon stride towards him, squaring his shoulders the best he could.

“You look pale, little one”, Qui-Gon said, voice strangely gentle. “You don’t feel very well, do you?”

Obi-Wan didn’t trust his stomach, either. Or his mouth, for what it was worth. He knew, however, that Qui-Gon was smart and could tell exactly what was going on. And he also knew that fighting his body would be useless right now, because it was doing whatever it wanted, and there was no way Obi could stop it. So, when the nausea returned fiercely, Obi-Wan just bent towards the sink and resumed throwing up, as quietly as he could.

And he tried not to care, as he felt a large hand splay itself against his back, bestowing warmth, making him shiver. Qui-Gon rubbed soothing circles between his shoulders, all along, trailing up towards his nape and staying there when all Obi could do was hiccup silently, once the retching stopped.

It felt so good. Much better than cold water.

Obi-Wan was trembling and really, really tired once his body was done humiliating him, and Master Qui-Gon just held him, wiping his mouth with a wet corner of his very cloak, before guiding him down on the ground, leaning him gently against the wall, wrapping his cloak around him like so long ago.

“I think you are running a fever, little one. I should get you to Master Che…

- No, please, Master Qui-Gon…”, Obi managed to croak. “I feel fine now.”

This made Qui-Gon snort, blue eyes blazing for a second.

“You most certainly do…”, he quipped, shaking his head softly. “Did this happen to you before?”

Obi-Wan just shook his head, and Qui-Gon felt for his brow, resting his palm against it. It was so large his fingers were able to card through his hair at the same time, and in the end, Obi just closed his eyes, exhausted. 

“That’s it, little robin. I’m taking you to the Halls.”

His body was hurting. Even his joints were sore, making him wince as Qui-Gon wrapped his arms around his neck, lifting him up like Obi was weightless. He cradled him against his chest, keeping the cloak tightly wrapped around his body, and Obi just burrowed into the thick folds, unable to do anything but curl up and let himself be carried.

“How long have you felt run down?”

I don’t know… Since the fight with Quin… I guess…

“Mhm. I see. That leaves us to guess…”, Qui-Gon mumbled, voice deep just against Obi-Wan’s cheek. “I think that either you caught a nasty bout of summer flu, or… that you have a serious case of Force exhaustion.”

Obi didn’t know what that meant. He felt so sleepy…

Don’t sleep just now, little robin. Try to keep your eyes open. I want Master Che to check on you, and she needs you awake for that.

So Obi blinked, tiredly, and tried to obey, as Qui-Gon walked them both towards the Halls, strides long and quick, passing pillar after pillar like some sort of cityspeeder.

He heard Qui-Gon snort, once more, and felt his hand in his hair once more.

“Believe me, I’m no speeder, Obi-Wan.”

He was, though, because one moment Obi was blinking, and the other he was lowered on a bed, leaning against Master Qui-Gon’s chest, who was helping Master Che undress him.

“Hello, Obi”, the Healer greeted him, smiling at him, and Obi did his best to smile back, feeling her lekku stroke his cheek.

“Oh, you really don’t feel so hot, do you, sweetheart?

- Actually he does. Feel hot, I mean”, Qui-Gon commented, drily. “He’s feverish, dizzy, and throwing up. Oh, and I forgot to mention, he just fought for about an hour against his little friend Vos. Parrying thoughts and blows both, if we sensed it right.

- Hmm… Thoughts and blows… How do you feel, Obi? Could you try and lower your shields for me…?”

Obi blinked, sluggishly. And then he shook his head. Because there was no way he was letting Master Qui-Gon and Master Che look at what was going on inside. And no way he was telling them anything about Quin. Quin was his best friend. And they would only chide him for being upset, not knowing that the best way to calm Quin down was to make him feel somebody understood.

“’m okay”, he slurred, squirming slightly against Qui-Gon. “’m just tired.

- Obi-Wan, it would help Master Che a great deal…”, Qui-Gon began, but Obi’s  head hurt, his body hurt, he was feeling really cold and suddenly everything was just too much to bear.

“No. You said it was okay to say no. You said that no means no. You said… You said it was okay…

- Alright, little one, alright… Don’t fret. Don’t get upset.”

Obi had begun to tremble, tears leaking from his eyes, and he bit his lip, scrubbing fiercely at his cheek.

“He doesn’t get that way, usually”, Master Che said, quietly. “He’s one of the sweetest little souls roaming the Temple…

- I know”, Qui-Gon answered, and something in Obi-Wan snapped at that.

“I’m not sweet…”, he coughed up. “I don’t want… to be sweet… anymore. I’m not… small, I’m not… a baby… I know what… you think and I know… what’s going to happen to me… You don’t have to… be all nice and gentle…”

He was sobbing so hard now it was a good thing Qui-Gon was holding him.

“People are always… talking above my head… But I… I’m here, I can… hear you just… fine.

- That’s absolutely right, sweetheart”, Master Che said, taking his hand between hers, clasping it gently. “Do you remember when we talked, using Master Ti’s commlink? We used to do it almost every week, after you came here. I never really managed to forget that. Because no Initiate has ever, ever bothered to call me back.

- That’s… sad…”, Obi hiccupped, “I’m… sorry… Master Che.

- Don’t be, Obi… It’s fine, I’m not lonely here…But I enjoyed our little talks – I guess I just wanted you to know this.”

Obi let out a shuddering breath, scrubbing at his cheek again. Everything felt blurry, he was dizzy and so cold it made his teeth begin to chatter. Qui-Gon wrapped an arm around his waist and rubbed his chest, gently.

“What is going to happen to you, Obi-Wan?”, Master Che asked, softly. “Do you know? Did someone tell you?

- No…”, Obi whispered. “I j-just know. I… s-s-searched the data.

- What data, Obi?

- A-about the… Corps. T-that’s where the I-Initiates go. When t-t-they don’t get to be… Padawans.

- And you think you won’t become a Padawan?

- N-nobody picked me. And I j-j-just have nine m-months left. And Quin j-just one. He d-doesn’t want to get into the… into the…”

But the words were not really coming anymore, and Obi kept forgetting what they were talking about. He didn’t really remember Master Che’s question, either, and his eyes kept blurring.

“Confused… running some tests… sleep suggestion…”

Random words were reaching him, and he could feel the deep hum of Qui-Gon’s voice, right behind him. And inside his head, as Master Qui-Gon’s hand gently rested on his brow once more.

Sleep, little robin. We have got you. Let go. You can go to sleep…

And Obi-Wan let himself sink through the Force into slumber like a drowning pebble.

 

*******

 

Qui-Gon did not know how or when, but the hurt had lessened, somehow. Perhaps because the day of Feemor’s death had returned, for the first time, marking it as a year one month ago.

And Qui-Gon had not been alone, he had been with Tholme, who was about Dooku’s age but very, very different from his former Master. Tholme was just as smart, but he loved to quip and laugh, always looking faintly amused by himself, the world, and perhaps even the Force.

“Smiling about it is already gaining some distance”, Tholme frequently said, and when Qui-Gon had finally asked him who he was quoting, his fellow-Jedi and now friend had laughed, quietly.

“Myself. And everybody. You don’t need to be very smart to know that, Qui-Gon…”

Shortly after what Qui-Gon would remember as quite the Hangover of the past few years, the Council had assigned them both for a long-term mission. But thankfully this time it had nothing to do with the Pykes, the smugglers or anything remotely close to Kessel.

This time, there was no fight, just negotiations – and Tholme was kriffing good at them. His black eyes were always sparkling, but he was shrewd and was always quick to point out who was trying to stall, who looked distrustful and who was likely to get cold feet at the last moment.

And Qui-Gon had discovered that he was still good at getting people confide in him. He had no idea why. He was tall and Feemor’s death had made him sullen, but people kept talking to him, especially the kids or the humble, shy ones. And gradually, almost against his own will, Qui-Gon had begun to thaw.

Had felt the painful knot inside his chest loosen, because every time someone was talking to him, or smiling at him, entrusting their hopes and dreams to him, it had felt like a gentle brush in the Force, like a soft nudge from Feemor – a sparkle from those bright green eyes.

They had sat under the stars, with Tholme, one night, almost a month ago. And suddenly Qui-Gon had begun to talk.

They would usually meditate together, share quiet thoughts about their day – but that night, under the beautiful starlight, something in Qui-Gon had unwound, and word after word had poured from his lips, like a river contained too long behind a broken dam.

He had told Tholme things he hardly knew he remembered. How Feemor had looked, when he had just woken up, hair sticking up like straw, just as sullen as he was now. How it felt through their bond when his Padawan had been happy, bubbling with infectious joy. How Feemor hated to read, and always learned his lessons using the data-pad’s function to read aloud – the synthetic voice driving Qui-Gon nuts.

And he had told Tholme how Feemor had died, going out like the shooting star he was – and for the first time, Qui-Gon had let someone holding him as he cried, letting go of his pain into the Force.

Tholme had raised three Padawans, and none was gone – but he had lost a fellow-Jedi on a mission, once, and he knew where Qui-Gon was, right then.

“It’s the loss of hope… That’s what breaks us, Qui-Gon. You need to find out what brings you hope. And then you’ll let go, just like he would have wanted you to.”

Hope, for Qui-Gon, was apparently listening to other people’s dreams and aspirations, because somehow it always reminded him of a pair of serious, grey eyes under a mop of auburn hair. Hope was hearing children laugh, watching the crowfeet around Tholme’s eyes crinkle as he joined in.

Hope was not really in his interactions with Master Dooku, who had made it clear Qui-Gon should get a grip, and who was not really talking to him anymore, their former bond cold and deserted.

Hope was a starlit sky, and peace all around him – not the stifled, busy streets of Coruscant. Hope was the Living Force, that Qui-Gon always understood so much better than the circumvolutions and whims of the Cosmic Force.

And hope, hope was that small, unvoiced aspiration to not be alone anymore. Because Qui-Gon loved the quiet, the peace, and could stay on his own for months on – but was not really made for complete loneliness. He just was not sure if he could bring himself to take a Padawan once more. He did not know if he could get involved like that again, take that responsibility – because he was not sure to have mastered the concept of attachment.

But that only made Tholme snort.

“Attachment… Bonds… They keep throwing words on very simple things, Qui-Gon, deciding which ones are good and which ones are bad. Attachment is reprehensible, but you are allowed to grow a training bond. You are supposed to be attuned to your Padawan’s needs, but you can’t get attached to them – what utter nonsense. They make us think we are not allowed to love, when love and attachment are two very different things.

- What is different?”, Qui-Gon had asked, softly, marvelling at the rebellion in Tholme’s words, so different from Dooku’s.

“It’s to be able to let go. Just like you did. You let Feemor spread his wings. You let him do his duty – you did not prevent him from unfolding himself. And that is what a Master truly must learn to do, for me. Allowing our little hatchlings to become strong, confident birds. Our blossoms to unfold in the wind – rejoicing in the flowers they have become.”

Tholme had found another hatchling, it would seem. A fierce one, rebellious and fiery just like he had been, dark hair whipping the Force and black eyes sparkling as he fought, his anger and hurt blazing like beacons.

“That little one… that little one is an eagle with bound feet”, Tholme had said, quietly, as they had watched Quinlan and Obi-Wan fight, storming through the training ground like thunder and lightning.

“Can you feel it, Qui-Gon? How the energy and fire he has are slowly turning to something darker, just because nobody cares? This… this is where I think we are wrong, my friend. We should never let it come to this in young Initiates so full of hope. And I think that reckless little one is running out of hope – when he should have been shining long ago.”

Qui-Gon had nodded, but his eyes had been trained on Obi-Wan – on that small frame that was still on the cusp of leaving childhood, unlike Quin who had grown like a wiry tree. He watched Obi’s small hands as they gripped his lightsaber with a confidence that could only be admired, because it came from pure instinct, and he looked at his little robin as he was defending himself, steadily parrying the elder boy’s blows.

The boy was fighting in true Soresu, saving his moves, letting Quin whirl around him, Ataru moves getting bolder and bolder, and yet somehow it felt like Obi was the axis around which Quin revolved.

It was the perfect way to exhaust his opponent, but Qui-Gon could see Obi was barely holding up – eyes straining against the light and face pale despite the exertion.

“Can’t the boy shield, just a tiny bit?”, Qui-Gon growled, wincing at the amount of rage and anguish pouring out of Quin, straight at Obi who was actually holding up rather impressively.

“The question is, why does his friend allow him not to?”

Tholme’s question was valid, and Qui-Gon paused to think, still watching Obi-Wan, searching for his presence in the Force, trying to read him. There he was, his little robin, brave and steady like a quiet brook – but also tired and worn, sighing quietly in the Force. And Qui-Gon knew, then, that it was compassion.

Compassion and loyalty, allowing his little robin to face his friend – fighting him until he calmed down, and was soothed once more.

Oh little one… And who is soothing you…?

Obi-Wan looked pale and sickly, once the fight was over, facing them both with Quinlan, eyes bright and somewhat glassy. And no wonder, considering the amount of negative energy he had just buffered.

Qui-Gon almost thought he would collapse here and there, but once more Obi-Wan astonished him, bowing politely and leaving for the changing room. Qui-Gon stayed long enough to see Tholme engage a friendly conversation with Quinlan, leading him out of the training grounds to a quieter room. And then he followed Obi-Wan, determined to see to him.

He found the little robin still pale and shaky, quite determined to get rid of his very stomach, judging from the gut-wrenching heaves going through him – it did not astonish Qui-Gon, because Obi-Wan was still a child, unused to the darker shades in the Force.

He placed a hand on Obi’s back and tried to soothe him as he got rid of the aftermath of his fight. But once he had lowered the boy to the ground and wrapped him into his cloak, Qui-Gon began to wonder if it was simply Force-exhaustion that was ailing him – because Obi-Wan was burning up, shivering and getting quite confused.

His shields were still as tight as ever, but Qui-Gon sensed illness in the Force, wrapped around Obi’s frame and pulsing through him. So he gathered the little one in his arms, marvelling at how light and fragile he still felt, and brought him straight to Master Che.

The boy got even more confused in the Healing Halls, crying quietly first, then turning fierce, sobbing in his arms – and Qui-Gon realised that his little robin was just as hurt and sad at Quinlan, but was simply quieter, and had been hiding it like the skilled shielder he was.

And he realised that apparently, no Jedi had been smart enough to see the gem Obi-Wan was, allowing the capable, faithful, smart little robin to think he was not good enough, and would have to leave the Temple along with everything he knew.

It made Qui-Gon even more determined to shield the little boy, wrapping an arm around his waist, rubbing his chest gently. But Obi’s fever was rising, and it soon became clear he was unable to stay awake. Qui-Gon just had to push a gentle sleep suggestion towards him, and soon felt the little boy go limp against him as he succumbed to slumber.

According to the tests that Vokara Che was able to run once Obi-Wan was asleep, it turned out that the little one was not doing anything by halves, as he was indeed suffering both from summer flu and Force-exhaustion.

“He’s going to have to sweat it out”, Master Che sighed, quietly. “You, however, will get a shot. And bring me his little friend, and Master Tholme as well. I’ll check with Master Ti who Obi-Wan has been with, these past days.”

The Temple was efficient and organized. Ere long, Master Che and her fellow Healers had administered the necessary vaccines to avoid a Temple outburst – but Qui-Gon did not witness this, as he was sitting at Obi-Wan’s bedside, wiping the sweat from the boy’s brow and holding his hand.

He held him as he got sick once more, wondering what could still be expelled from such a tiny body, and argued with the meddroid until Obi got a proper infusion into his arm, along with something fighting off fever and nausea.

And all along Obi slept, almost unconscious, drifting on and off in the Force. Sometimes vivid images slammed past his shields, like flashes, showing small scenes that were either memories or thoughts – and Qui-Gon was surprised to see himself, more than once, Obi’s hand still tightly wrapped in his.

He looked at his bony face, freckles even more apparent with Obi’s pallor, and wiped the sweat-soaked strands from the boy’s forehead.

“It’s just like so long ago, is it not, little one?”, Qui-Gon said, softly. “Back then you were not even an Initiate… And look at you now, fighting with your lightsaber, like a true Jedi… You’re not going to the Corps. Not you…”

Obi just slept, exhausted and burning – but Master Che was not worried, placing a cool compress on his head, under his armpits and against his thighs, before working on the Force flooding through him.

“Head, chest, stomach…”, she mumbled. “He let everything in – someone needs to teach him to shield himself, not just his thoughts and feelings. No wonder he was getting upset…”

It had been unnerving to see Obi-Wan snap like that – so unlike him. And yet, when Qui-Gon thought back, was this not how the boy worked? Staying silent and stoic, seemingly quiet, until it became too much, even for his resilient and compassionate heart? Even Obi’s anger sounded just a lot like truth… and Qui-Gon realized, with awe, that he had yet to see Obi-Wan rage at someone else than himself.

“Is he going to get better soon, Master Che?”, he asked, running his thumb against Obi’s knuckles, and the Healer nodded.

“Give him two or three days. He’s still groggy, and that summer flu is nasty.”

Qui-Gon could not stay eternally with Obi-Wan – but he tried to check on him, two or three times a day. Obi was not allowed other visitors, despite the vaccines, and anyway, the little boy was mostly sleeping, or too tired to process much. His Force-signature was still dim and floating, and his woozy shields only projected confused impressions.

Tired – sleep – alone – quiet.

“You’re quite fed up with us, are you not, little one?”, Qui-Gon murmured, adjusting the covers around Obi-Wan’s chest, stroking his shoulder, before leaving the room quietly.

That evening, though, as Qui-Gon was talking quietly to Master Che, sitting behind her computers on the front desk, nursing a cup of cold tea, he had the surprise to see Obi-Wan up and about.

And the greater surprise to feel the Healer place a hand on his forearm and a finger on her lips, nodding towards Obi.

Quiet. Watch this.

The boy’s eyes were open, but something was different in his gait, and the way he held himself. And Qui-Gon realised it was because Obi was still asleep, relying on the Force to guide his steps, following whatever dream was dictating his moves and actions.

He was barefoot, hair mussed and face still pale, but he looked better, cheeks a little fuller, without the pain and strain that had shadowed his moves.

Obi’s hand was trailing along the wall, and he was talking quietly, but they were unable to make out any words. The little boy paused, swaying a little, and then his hand felt for the counter and he rounded it, facing Qui-Gon and Vokara without really seeing them.

“It’s all the same…”, he told them gravely, blinking under the dim neon lights, Force-signature flickering like the little flame he was.

“In the Force. It’s all the same.

- Yes…”, Vokara said, gently, opening her arms and smiling at Obi-Wan, who was still blinking, and reached up to rub at his eyes.

And then, slowly but determinedly, the boy sleepwalked towards her, perching himself next to her on her chair, nestling against her side. And Vokara Che circled his waist with her arm, and his shoulders with her lekku, the smile never leaving her face as Obi-Wan fell asleep once more.

The healer gently stroked his back, rocking him slightly, and looked up at Qui-Gon.

“Well, what do you think of our little oracle? I must admit that we are all besotted with him. Master Ti, Master Yoda and Master Plo, of course. Not to speak of Madame Nu. I think even Windu must have melted, the first times.

- He… he actually does this often?”, Qui-Gon asked, watching Master Che’s hand trail through Obi-Wan’s hair.

“Mhm. The whole Temple staff knows. And I suspect some even write Obi’s words down, because this little one here… I don’t know. He has something.”

Qui-Gon nodded, thoughtfully.

“But… isn’t it, I don’t know, a sign of something else?”

Master Che rocked Obi-Wan, quietly.

“Unfortunately, yes. We think it happens more often when he is stressed or processing a lot. He is quite the shielder, as you have noticed, and Obi’s not one to talk willingly. So… we think it is a way for him to let go and keep functioning. We also think that, with a training bond teaching him to share and release his emotions, it might become less frequent. Perhaps even stop completely.”

The little boy burrowed deeper into Vokara’s side, lips slightly parted in sleep, hands curled against her chest.

“He needs closeness and safety – but he doesn’t like being crowded. It’s quite complex. As we all are, truly… Shaak and me, we think it’s because of Obi’s history. He was hunted down, you know, along with his brother. But he was also used to being held and protected.

- He’s quite protective himself…”, Qui-Gon whispered. “Why has nobody ever shown some interest in him?

- Who says no one has?”, Vokara replied, bright eyes meeting Qui-Gon’s.

- So…?”, Qui-Gon prompted, but this time the Healer just smiled.

“Like Obi said. It’s all the same. In the Force.”

Qui-Gon narrowed his eyes.

“Are you making fun of me, Master Che?”, he asked, smoothly, and the Healer laughed, quietly, holding Obi-Wan against her.

“Oh yes. I am. Now, if you would excuse me, I have a little boy to bring back to his pillows…”

She soon left, leading a sleeping Obi back to his room, chuckling quietly to herself, leaving Qui-Gon to his thoughts.

The next time he came back, Obi-Wan was truly awake, and he had company, sitting cross-legged on Obi’s bed, all gangly limbs and dark locks. Qui-Gon quietly remained where he was, watching the two children interact from behind the half-opened door.

“How are you feeling, Obi? They didn’t let me in, I had to beg for almost an hour with Master Che to come today…

- I’m okay, Quin…”

Obi’s voice was soft, and he was smiling at his friend. Quin frowned, and then he removed one of his gloves, and took Obi’s hand in his. A strange look passed on his face, before his features relaxed.

“Alright. You feel better, too… You need to tell Master Che that your head still hurts a bit, though, Obi… She can’t guess, you know…”

Obi nodded, and Qui-Gon felt a little pang in his chest at the way the boy looked at Quin – nothing but trust and love in his grey eyes, like a little brother gazing up to his eldest.

“And you won’t always be here to tell her”, Obi whispered, watching Quin’s eyes cloud, hand still clasping his.

“Obi, I…

- It’s okay, Quin. It’s fine. I’m… I’m so happy for you.”

There was sincere joy clouding Obi-Wan’s words – joy mixing with relief and pride, and a deep, deep sadness that was carefully pushed down.

“How did you guess, Obi…?”

Quin was looking at the covers, shoulders slightly slumped. And Obi-Wan dragged himself up to sit cross-legged in front of his best friend.

“It’s the way you feel in the Force, Quin. You feel so… calm. At peace.”

Quin nodded, quietly. And suddenly, the dark-haired boy was crying, and Qui-Gon watched Obi reach out to hug him, leaning his cheek against his shoulder.

“I… I’m sorry, Obi. I… I really thought no one would pick me. But Master Tholme, he… He’s like you. He understands. He calms me down. And he says I… I really need to learn to shield properly.”

He pulled back, smiling at Obi-Wan through his tears. And Obi smiled back.

“You… you’re not angry if I… if I go? I… wanted to see you first.

- No, Quin. I’ll never ever be angry at you for finding a Master.

- I promised, though… I promised not to leave you alone.

- But that’s not how the Force works, Quin…”, Obi said, gently, still hugging his friend, and in the end, Quinlan just hugged him back.

“You’re a better Jedi than I am, Obi. You’re not afraid to be alone. You’re the bravest, kindest, smartest person I know.”

Obi shook his head, but Quin just squeezed, and in the end, Obi just closed his eyes, resting his head against Quin’s shoulder, letting his friend hug him.

“Obi, you still have nine months left. Don’t you dare giving up. Don’t let anybody push you towards the Corps, alright? Not till the very last day…

- What if I’m meant to go there, Quin?”, Obi whispered, and Quin shook his head.

“No way, Obi. Not you. I promise.”

He squeezed Obi one last time.

“Tell Master Che about your head, alright? And… it’s okay to get angry, sometimes, Obi. Don’t let anybody push you like I did, okay? No one but me.”

Obi just nodded. He smiled at Quin all along, even as Quin left the room, too busy scrubbing at his eyes to notice Qui-Gon, walking towards his Master and his new life.

In the room, however, Obi remained sitting where he was, as still as a statue, cross-legged and spine upright. He was so silent he barely felt there, gazing inwards, features lax and inexpressive, for seemingly endless heartbeats.

And then, quietly, he started to weep, wrapping an arm around his chest, other hand firmly fisted in the sheets.

It was so very private. So very silent. And Qui-Gon did not intrude on Obi-Wan’s grief. Instead, he turned, and told Master Che Obi-Wan needed a moment, but that his head was hurting, assuring himself Obi would keep his word towards his friend.

He did not stop outside the Halls, and left the Temple, striding through the city without any purpose, much like that other evening where he had grieved. Now, however, Qui-Gon was not grieving.

He was thinking so hard it made his heart flutter, and his chest tighten.

No, he was not thinking, actually, he was trying to find reasons to fight the obvious, because he was still afraid, even though the Force was screaming the truth at him, deep behind his very heart.

I’m afraid to hurt him. To lose him. To see those grey eyes cloud.

No - I’m afraid he doesn’t get picked, because he needs to become a Padawan.

No - I’m afraid he gets picked.

No - I’m afraid he gets picked by someone else.

Because I don’t want someone else to pick him.

Because I want to choose him.

No – I want him to choose me.

It was late when Qui-Gon paused, out of breath and exhausted, not even knowing where he was. Somewhere in the city, and probably quite far away from the nearest airbus, but it did not matter, he had his answer, and he was not going to run away from it, not anymore.

It took him an hour to find a station, and an hour more to get back to the Temple. And once there, Qui-Gon went to his quarters to wash and pull on clean clothes, because the little one deserved it.

His little robin deserved the world and had waited too long already.

He entered Obi-Wan’s room with a pounding heart, but was careful to release his feelings in the Force, because the little one was still fatigued, and had spent enough time buffering emotions, paying no attention to his own.

Obi was still awake, leaning against the cushions, eyes somewhat red but otherwise composed. Sadness radiated from him in waves, but he had already begun to try and process it, and was not crying anymore.

“Hello, little one…”, Qui-Gon said, softly, and he had the joy to see Obi-Wan’s face lighten, briefly.

“Master Qui-Gon…

- How are you feeling?”, Qui-Gon asked, sitting down next to Obi-Wan, elbows on his knees and chin on his crossed hands.

“Much better, thank you, Master Qui-Gon. I am sorry to have caused you trouble, I did not mean to be sick in front of you…

- Obi, you had the summer flu. You could not help it, could you?”

Obi shook his head, shrugging slightly, and Qui-Gon watched him, for a while.

“I have not thanked you, you know…”, he voiced, carefully, and Obi-Wan looked at him, puzzled. “For helping me back, that day, when we met at Dexter’s.

- Oh… You are welcome, Master Qui-Gon.”

The boy still sounded so sad, shoulders slumping, fingers drawing invisible circles on the sheets.

“When is Master Che releasing you, Obi-Wan?

- Tomorrow. Just one more night.

- And then…?”

Obi-Wan frowned, slightly, and turned his face towards Qui-Gon.

“What will you do then, Obi-Wan?”, Qui-Gon asked, gently. “What are your plans, for the future?

- I…”

The boy paused.

“I want… I just want to keep learning”, he whispered. “I want to be able to keep studying things, without… without being afraid that one day, it’s going to be impossible.”

Qui-Gon nodded, quietly, and Obi-Wan went on, after a while.

“I want… I want to keep learning katas and how to lean on the Force. I don’t want… I don’t want to forget what I’ve learned, and to switch off my crystal. I want to…”

And there the little boy paused, tears gathering slowly behind his lashes.

Yes, little one…?

Qui-Gon’s prompt almost fell flat. But then Obi spoke once more, quietly.

“I want to become just like you.”

Oh.

It almost stole the air from Qui-Gon’s lungs. Because he was not expecting that. Because he certainly was no example, and very far from the ideal image Obi had of him.

“You explain things. You make the Force seem very clear. You saved me from Master Krell, and you’re never, ever afraid.

- Oh, believe me, I am, Obi-Wan. Right now, for example, even though it is not the Jedi way, I am very much afraid.

- Why, Master Qui-Gon? There’s no one here, just me…

- And what if I am afraid to ask you a question? What if I am afraid to hear the answer I want, because I do not want to hear it only to please me…? What then…?”

Obi’s eyes widened, slightly, and Qui-Gon watched the colour drain slowly from his cheeks. But the little robin was strong, resilient and very, very smart. And so, Obi’s grey eyes found his, and though the boy was not smiling, there was a fire in them Qui-Gon had not seen there for a very long time.

“Maybe… Maybe, Master Qui-Gon, you could ask through the Force… Because I don’t think Jedi can lie, if they lower their shields…”

Qui-Gon’s heart beat even faster at these words, and he could feel a suspicious burn at the corner of his eyes – but he would not cry. Not now. There was no reason to cry right now.

“I think you are right, little robin… Shall we try, then? I can lower my shields first if you want…”

The little boy nodded, kneeling on the bed, hands unconsciously clasped together like in prayer. And Qui-Gon smiled, carefully releasing every doubt, every small trace of fear into the Force, before opening his shields.

What I want to know, Obi-Wan Kenobi… What I want to ask is… Would you accept me as your Master, and become my Padawan?

He heard Obi-Wan’s breath hitch, and a deep shudder went through his frame, the Force around him actually doing somersaults.

And then, slowly and very deliberately, Obi lowered his shields, allowing Qui-Gon willingly to catch a glimpse of his very essence.

The love and adoration flowing towards him met him like a wave, washing down on him, leaving him almost weak. But underneath, there was so much more. There was respect, and some awe as well. There was deep compassion, concern, and caring – a huge desire to please, and be loved. There was a smart little mind already running so fast it was almost dazzling him, and above all, there was peace, and bone-deep trust.

It was so much clearer than a yes, but Qui-Gon got to hear it nonetheless. Through the Force first, and then, because Obi-Wan was whispering it, on and on, deep into Qui-Gon’s chest – they had somehow met somewhere above Obi-Wan’s bed, clinging to each other in a fierce embrace.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes…”, Obi was repeating, fervently, eyes closed, face buried into Qui-Gon’s chest.

And Qui-Gon laughed, quietly, through the tears finally reaching his eyes, because yes it was, and yes it would remain.

“Fine then, Padawan mine”, he whispered. “I think we both agree.”

He kept his arms around Obi-Wan, until he fell asleep, and even afterwards. Because, now that he had finally found his way back to Obi-Wan, there was no way Qui-Gon would let his little robin feel lonely again.

Chapter Text

Hosnian Prime, Republic City, 45 BBY.

One month later.

 

Qui-Gon watched the night fall on Hosnian Prime, shadowing the high buildings of Republic City that looked so much like Coruscant.

He was standing on the balcony, outside Chancellor Valorum’s luxurious suite, and listened to the city as it slowed down, without really quietening.

He could sense no threat nor disturbance in the Force, but he was still alert, watching the city as it thrummed, asphalt, iron and heavy perfume mixing in that unique scent only megalopolises exhaled.

They were due back to Coruscant in the morning, and Qui-Gon could not wait. That mission had been nerve-grating – he truly could feel nothing but contempt for the politicians’ silver tongues. Rumours of slavery on Hosnian Prime had reached the Senate – rather the most attentive senators’ ears. Those rumours had escalated quickly, making the Core systems appear once more like colonists exploiting the Outer Rims – which they probably were.

The venom and suspicion rising on Coruscant and inside the Senate had prompted Chancellor Valorum to investigate the matter himself and fly to Hosnian Prime to visit the mines and factories. Several senators had preceded him, and unsurprisingly, no real proof had emerged, Republic City wisely taking the warning. Yet, Valorum still had to meet the Prime Minister officially and to make an appearance where it was needed.

And that weekly trip in itself was where the real threat lay – a unique occasion, truly, for the Pykes and smugglers to destabilize the Republic and infiltrate Coruscant again. They only needed to kill or injure Valorum.

Yet for now the threat seemed to have been dodged: the visit to the mines and factories had run smoothly. And Qui-Gon was not the only Jedi on guard, although there were no Padawans with them.

It had felt right, almost an urge, to leave Obi-Wan at the Temple – the risk was real, and Obi-Wan was so very young, so very untrained in the danger of a protective mission like that. And he had no real knowledge of politics yet.

But he will have to learn.

Qui-Gon sighed, feeling the uncomfortable twitch in his chest return as the Force seemed to chide him gently.

His Padawan had been upset, and to be able to sense it through Obi-Wan’s shields that were truly made of durasteel meant that his robin was probably way more than upset.

Yet he had not said a word – had just gazed at him with those light, grey eyes that somehow always made Qui-Gon believe again, no matter the turpitudes of the Core worlds and their chess-players.  

May the Force be with you, Master.

That was all the boy had said to him, after helping him packing his bag, making sure everything was ready, like the efficient little over-achiever he was. Qui-Gon had probed their bond, tentatively, but Obi-Wan was something else when it came to shielding, and he had only sensed worry and concern, as well as a whiff of disappointment for being left behind.

Nothing strong, nothing that was not understandable, nothing that would justify a lecture or a thorough heart-to-heart.

And yet Qui-Gon was uneasy.

He missed his robin and could not shake the feeling that he should not have left him. And that annoyed him – because Qui-Gon did not really believe in hunches. Or visions and prophecies, for that matter.

He probed his surroundings through the Force one more time, and then he allowed himself to pull out his commlink and to call Obi-Wan.

The boy answered almost instantly – as always, and Qui-Gon’s heart warmed when he saw the slim frame spring to life, be it just as a hologram.

“Hello, little one”, he said, warmly.

The boy’s face looked even younger with the Padawan’s haircut, braid circling his cheek, freckles like a thousand stars on his skin.

“Good evening, Master Qui-Gon.”

A soft fountain. That’s what the boy’s voice felt like, somehow – making everything in him quieten, making the steel-and-concrete world around them feel somewhat shrouded. Appeased. Shielded.

But I do not want him to shield.

“You’re not in bed yet, Obi-Wan?

- No, Master.”

The boy was in his sleep tunics, though, and his hair was still damp from the shower he had obviously just taken – because his Padawan was a clean, little over-achiever.

“I had some research to finish”, Obi-Wan supplied, and there it was, once more, the tiny feeling that something was up with him, because there was a trace of sadness in his voice as he went on:

“How are you, Master? How is your stay?”

He never had to ask Obi-Wan to use code words. The little one always seemed aware of their need for secrecy, even using Temple frequencies.

“All is well, Obi-Wan. We should head back tomorrow. I’ll be back in the evening, if we keep on schedule.”

His Padawan smiled at that, and Qui-Gon sighed, because his face still was an open book. Before he could say a word, though, Obi-Wan’s smile had vanished – and Qui-Gon realised he must have projected his thoughts through their still young training bond.

“Sorry, Master…”, the little one whispered, and Qui-Gon felt his chest tighten once more – because they did not seem to be in sync, tonight and lately.

“How are you, Padawan?”, he asked, earnestly, trying to probe their bond once more – but it was almost impossible through that distance, especially through holograms.

“I am fine, Master”, Obi-Wan answered, softly. “It’s all… all just like yesterday.”

And the day before yesterday.

Now that sounded a bit more like a pout, and Qui-Gon shook his head, gently.

“Bored then, are we? You had quite a number of assignments this week, if my memory is correct, I’m sure there was no time for idleness…

- No…”, Obi-Wan whispered.

“So, little robin… Tell me about your day so that I can forget mine”, Qui-Gon quipped gently, and Obi-Wan’s hologram seemed to inch closer, small face pinched with concern.

“Nothing bad, Padawan mine”, Qui-Gon reassured him.

A lot of idle talks, and empty promises on both sides.

Obi-Wan nodded, thoughtfully, soulful grey eyes resting on him, and then his soft voice rose in Qui-Gon’s head.

The Chancellor needed to come, though. Otherwise they would have thought the Republic does not care about possible slaves in the Core Worlds. And also, that the Pyke smugglers were daunting the Senate.

That made Qui-Gon’s eyebrows arch.

And what would you know about slavers and smugglers, Obi-Wan?

Qui-Gon bristled at the very thought of it. The Pykes had taken Feemor’s life, just like that. A lot of their smugglers had been rotten out though, for a while. Or so he hoped.

“I… I made some research.”, Obi-Wan answered.

About the factories on Republic City and Darropolis. When you asked me to load down the Prime Minister’s file. I was wondering why the Chancellor would bother to go there himself.

“Obi-Wan, you have your studies. You have so many things to learn. I don’t want you to waste time on idle research and -”

Qui-Gon stopped himself as soon as he heard the words tumble out of his mouth – because what he was feeling was anger, and he did not get angry, or frustrated, and certainly not at his little Padawan. The only one who was still able to stir those feelings, and make his eyes burn was Dooku, whenever he insisted upon discussing Kessel and the Pykes all over again.

He had made sure to avoid Dooku’s path, and to keep Obi-Wan away from him.

Yet Dooku was currently inside, keeping a careful watch on the Chancellor, and Obi-Wan was looking at him, eyes wide with hurt and incomprehension and sadness.

It swelled from his side of the bond like a small wave, crashing down on Qui-Gon because his Padawan was still a twelve-year-old boy. A way too smart, way too clever and insightful boy, whose mind was running as fast as his former Master – and it scared him.

“Obi-Wan…This is not on you. I did not mean to snap at you, Padawan mine. Don’t look at me like that, little robin.”

The small hologram seemed to tremble, and Qui-Gon was reminded of that afternoon at Dexter’s, the jammed song, the rain and the way Obi-Wan had seemed so close and yet miles away.

“Master Qui-Gon, are there any flowers here?”

His Padawan’s voice was quivering slightly, but there were no tears in Obi-Wan’s eyes, just a thin, intense little face. Peering up at him as Qui-Gon’s eyebrows shot up.

“Obi-Wan, what kind of an odd question is that?”

The boy just looked at him, and Qui-Gon sighed.

“Out with it, Padawan.”

It’s the roses, Master. Red, dark red roses. On a… balcony, I think. A window, perhaps. Dark red roses. And danger.

“Obi-Wan, I don’t think…

- Master, I… I sent you a file, this morning.”

Oh.

He had not had the time to read any message the whole day, and indeed, as soon as he opened his data-pad, he found Obi-Wan’s message, blinking among others.

[Roses]: Master Qui-Gon, I hope you are well. I keep seeing those images in my dreams, and I think you need to see them too. The Force is acting a bit strange, but I am fine. I hope we can talk about it tonight – if not it is fine though, you do not need to say anything about it if is not important. I am sorry if this message disturbs you, I did not mean to intrude. Please take care Master, Obi-Wan.

In the attached file, Qui-Gon found two drawings. One was the very building behind him, with a focus on the Chancellor’s rooms and balcony. The other was the balcony itself, and the drawing was darker, menacing roses seemingly invading the place, thorns entwined with the metallic bars.

“How is the Force acting strange, Obi-Wan?”, Qui-Gon asked, softly, bending towards the hologram that was not flickering anymore – and yet he could sense his Padawan shudder slightly.

“I dreamt of this. Twice. And… today I woke up and the drawings were there.”

Scared. His little one was scared.

And suddenly Qui-Gon wished he could jump into a cruiser and head straight back to him, because Vokara Che had pointed it out very clearly: sleepwalking meant his Padawan was stressed and processing too much. He did not even want to dive into what sleepdrawing meant – if the concept even existed.

“Did you try to meditate on this, Padawan mine?”

Obi-Wan just shook his head, looking incredibly small and young, and Qui-Gon tutted gently.

“Then how do you expect getting the real clue out of this, Obi-Wan?

- I don’t… I don’t know.”

I miss you.

The thought had slammed past Obi-Wan’s shields, past the distance, past the night – and Qui-Gon breathed out, because, though it was not the Jedi way, his Padawan was right.

“I miss you too, Padawan mine. I don’t like our bond that way, all stretched and weird through hyperspace.

- I don’t like it either, Master Qui-Gon.”

Obi-Wan’s quiet admission made him smile, and laugh softly in the too-warm night, bending towards his small hologram.

“Well, little one… I don’t think we are close enough to meditate together, especially so far away. But I want you to sit down on your bed – that’s my boy – and I want you to close your eyes and try to relax. And then, Padawan mine…”

He slowed his voice on purpose, making sure to keep a soothing lilt into his words.

“And then, Padawan mine, I want you to try and remember if you have, perchance, seen that building before – maybe in the Archive’s pictures, or when we talked, yesterday, behind my hologram…

- Maybe… maybe I did, Master Qui-Gon…”

Obi-Wan’s voice was low, Qui-Gon could see him, seated on his bed in a perfect lotus pose, short braid tickling his cheek.

“Maybe indeed, maybe it was even somewhere else… And then, little robin, I want you to try and reach out in the Force, very quietly, very calmly, without any fear, just quiet confidence… And then you can try to tell me what the Force wants to tell you about roses… or thorns… or flowers…”

His Padawan was breathing very slowly, features smooth and relaxed.

“A… warning. To be careful”, Obi-Wan whispered. “I think… I think the roses are not really as I drew them. Not really… flowers. Because there are no flowers on Republic City. I think it’s not about the roses… I think I was scared. I’m sorry, Master.

- Don’t be. You see clearer now, don’t you, little one?

- Yes, Master. Thanks to you, Master.

- Hush now…”, Qui-Gon said, quietly. “It’s all right, little one. I want you to breathe through this, very quietly, very calmly. And then, when you are ready, I want you to lie down and get some sleep. I’ll switch off the hologram for you.

- It’s okay, Master. I’ll switch it off, I don’t want to keep you anymore…  I feel much better now, I promise…”

Obi-Wan’s eyes were still closed, and indeed, the little one seemed soothed, leaning against the wall, limbs loosened and relaxed.

“Alright then, little robin. Sweet dreams, and may the Force be with you.”

May the Force be with you too, Master…

And just like that, Obi-Wan’s hologram vanished, leaving Qui-Gon gazing across the balcony, thinking of a small boy sitting on a cot in the Temple.

“If you finished pampering…”

Dooku’s deep voice was sarcastic, as ever. His former Master had appeared silently behind him, and Qui-Gon wondered how much of the conversation Dooku had caught.

He did not mind. He did not care.

His little robin was soothed and would soon be asleep. Qui-Gon did not care for Dooku’s quips, as long as Obi-Wan was safe.

“You, my former Apprentice, are struggling alarmingly with attachment.

- Thank you for this insight, Master”, Qui-Gon replied coldly. “We do not share that flaw, indeed, and I stand humbly chided.”

Dooku just narrowed his eyes, gaze dark and unyielding.

“It was kindly meant”, his former Master just said, shrugging carelessly. “You should head your Padawan’s warnings, though. That boy seems to be attuned to the Cosmic Force…

- Obi-Wan is just a Padawan. And you are keeping away from him, Master Dooku. You are not talking to him, you are not meddling with his training, you leaveObi-Wanbe.”

There were tears in Qui-Gon’s eyes, suddenly. Because he simply could not stand asphalt and concrete and lies and politics and smugglers and intrigues. Because even covered in perfume and jewels and conventions, there was still death and blood and injustice everywhere.

“I think you should get a grip”, Dooku snarled. “I’m not taking your Padawan from you – and I beg you to recall that I did not do so with you former one, either. No matter how eager you are to find a scapegoat. That is beneath you, Qui-Gon. I’ll leave you to your seething and bitter thoughts, now, and wish you a delightful evening.”

Dooku glided back inside, and Qui-Gon was once more left standing there, with old wounds flaring back to life and a stuttering heart he somehow still managed to keep behind his shields.

He took a deep breath, trying to release some of the distress and hurt he felt back into the Force. And that was when Qui-Gon sensed it.

A faint whiff of perfume – a flowery scent that should have felt pleasant but had nothing to do on a balcony.

He barely had time to switch on his lightsaber, green blade springing to life, when a lithe form jumped on the balcony – and then blaster bolts were raining on him, along with blows dealt by booted feet and gloved hands.

The intruder was a she, Qui-Gon was sure of it, and was entirely clad in black leather and chains, face hidden by a dark hood. She was laughing as she parried his blows, and Qui-Gon wasted no time in alerting Dooku, using his old training bond for the first time in months.

Intruder on the balcony.

He could sense Dooku arrive, saw the flash of his blue blade through the large, transparent windows – and all along the intruder was laughing, kicking at him, almost dancing as she dodged his blows, pearl white teeth snarling at him through her hood.

It is not about the roses. Not really.

Obi-Wan’s words suddenly resonated through Qui-Gon’s head, emerging from the Force itself, filling him with an urging sense of evidence – and then Qui-Gon got it, hackles rising, body tensing in alert.

“Dooku, no! She’s only a diversion! The real threat is inside – get back inside!”

This time she growled, letting out an almost animal sound of rage and frustration, and Qui-Gon heard windows shatter, cries of alarm rise inside, and the sound of Dooku’s blade whizzing through the air.

The fight was over quickly and dirtily, Qui-Gon dispatching one of her blasters slicing cleanly through it, and breaking her wrist to dispose of the other. She had scratched his forearms and his cheek, but ere long she was spread on the balcony’s floor, arms pinned behind her, his knee weighing her down.

“It’s over. They are both neutralized.”

Dooku’s deep voice rose behind him and Qui-Gon felt his former Master glide out on the balcony, dark eyes trained on the writhing woman’s form, full of disgust and contempt.

He watched Dooku crouch, close to the woman’s face, and then he lowered her hood, freeing a mane of dark, red-dyed hair framing features that could have been lovely, but were distorted by hate and rage.

“Rose Cimber. I expected as much”, Dooku let out, slowly. “Well, my dear, the chase is over now. I am afraid you are going to wither for a while in prison, along with your accomplices. One of them, at last. The other is dead.”

She spat at him, then – she shrieked and writhed, and screamed as soon as she was inside and saw the dead body spread on the floor. But she was soon gone, hands and feet chained, dispatched to a cell in the Chancellor’s cruiser along with her accomplice.

“You are still going to pay. You are going to pay.”

Her acid voice, full of venom, seemed to fill the luxurious room where Chancellor Valorum still stood, backed up in a corner, protected by his guard, face impassive – yet Qui-Gon could feel the man’s shock and disgust, because somehow, they mirrored his own.

“Sit down”, Dooku ordered him, when silence and order had seemingly returned to the suite. “Show me where she scratched you.”

Qui-Gon perched himself on the edge of the cream-colored leather sofa, feeling slightly dizzy and so very slow. He let his former Master peel up his sleeves and clean his scratches with wipes that stung, the substance imbibing them hissing as it met his skin.

“She is a fickle thing. Her very fingernails are poison. You should be clear, though. Let me just…”

And with a quick move, Dooku injected something into Qui-Gon’s shoulder, pulling his tunic back into place, before straightening, turning from Qui-Gon without a word before he had the time to thank him.

“Rhodes Labeo and Rose Cimber. Both notorious bounty hunters. The man who died is Bud Casca, a mere henchman. I think we can safely deduce that the Pykes are behind that attempt, Chancellor. However, I think that they will stand daunted for quite a while, now.

- Thank you, Master Dooku. Master Qui-Gon. I owe you my life”, Chancellor Valorum said, gravely, and Qui-Gon bowed.

But deep inside, he could still see Obi-Wan’s grey eyes, his flickering frame and his pinched, anxious face.

The roses are not really as I drew them.

Roses. Rhodes. Rose Cimber.

He needed to go back. He needed to go back to his little robin, needed to feel the warmth of his body, the quiet sound of his breathing. He needed to feel Obi-Wan in the Force, because his little boy might just have been the one saving the Chancellor’s life with that strange warning of his…

Qui-Gon kept quiet, though, and bided his time.

He spent the night between sleep and half-formed thoughts, alternating vigils with Dooku, making sure the Chancellor kept safe.

And during the journey back to Coruscant, he excused himself to meditate, plunging in the Force, trying to make sense of everything that had happened. Trying to understand what the Force wanted from his Padawan.

The Force only sent back soft memories, though.

Of Feemor dancing wildly to a lively song, as a teenager, hips and shoulders shaking, making Qui-Gon wipe tears away as he vainly tried to reign in his laughter.

Of Obi-Wan discovering his room, hair freshly cut and braid tickling his cheek, almost mute with awe, clutching Qui-Gon’s hand and placing the small bag with his belongings next to the bed. And his voice rising, a while later, as he was placing his clothes into the wardrobe, singing softly to himself, not knowing Qui-Gon was listening, holding his breath.

Summertime… and the living is easy… Fish are jumping… and the cotton is high…  Oh, your daddy's rich… And your ‘ma is good looking… So hush, little baby… Don't you cry…

Qui-Gon could not tell what the Force wanted, from all of them.

He could only perceive just how fragile and beautiful the Living Force was, how incredible it was to have such moments to remember, to see young lives unfold as they learned to trust and be themselves.

The evening was late when they arrived at the Temple – Dooku and him separating without further words, each one heading for their quarters.

He found his little robin still dressed, waiting for him with a pot of hot tea. And as soon as the door slid shut, Qui-Gon had his arms full of a little Padawan, who was leaning his cheek against his chest and hugging him fiercely.

Qui-Gon placed his chin on Obi-Wan’s head and spread his hands on his back, pulling him close, feeling the little one sigh in bliss and relief.

You are back. You are back.

“Of course I am, little one…”

There’s a scratch on your face, Master. What happened?

“That’s quite a story, Padawan… And I’d like to taste that tea – and get rid of that dusty cloak, before I tell you…

- Of course, Master.”

But neither of them did move, for a while. They just held each other close, without a word, almost still in the Force.

“What happened here, Obi-Wan…? It looks… It feels like the room is bigger, somehow…

- I… I just tidied up a bit, Master.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes looked a little bit playful, peering up at him, and Qui-Gon felt the beginning of a smile tug at his lips.

“Don’t tell me you threw everything into the garbage compactor.

- No, Master, of course not. I just put some of the things that looked unused into a box. In my wardrobe.

- Mhm. And how would you know these things are unused, Padawan mine?

- The dust, Master?”

Obi-Wan’s voice was soft, but laughter was not far away and Qui-Gon ruffled the short auburn strands.

“Impertinent, are we?

- No, Master, I just want you to be able to use the couch and the little table properly… That way you can sit down or meditate or take your tea while you are looking at data or answering calls…

- I see, Padawan mine. And now, you’ll probably tell me you also re-organised the kitchen’s cupboards, and probable the fresher’s…”

A soft blush crept up Obi-Wan’s cheeks, and Qui-Gon had a small huff, amused and quite baffled.

“I’m sorry, Master. I did not mean… I did not mean to be invasive or rude.”

The playfulness was suddenly gone, and Qui-Gon could feel the boy withdraw into himself once more – like before. He tightened his arms around his Padawan, reassuring him through the Force as well.

“On the contrary, little one… I think I begin to understand why Master Ti had such a hard time letting you leave the crèche. You’re welcome to tidy up as much as you want – it will do us both good.”

Thank you, Padawan mine.

“I can unpack for you, Master, if you want.

- No, little one. I think I have some clean clothes in that wardrobe of mine. I’ll just dump that bag on the floor and get into the fresher. And then we’ll take that tea, Obi-Wan. On the couch. Because you need to remember that it’s your couch as well. Not just mine.”

He felt a soft shudder of wonder go through their bond, seeping through Obi-Wan’s shields. The boy had willingly lowered them, and Qui-Gon could sense the same quiet awe and incredulity as their first days together, where Obi-Wan had been struggling to realise that indeed, they had both become Master and Padawan.

The little one had anxieties, and insecurities that he hid carefully behind his shields – clearly, being the last among his friends to be chosen had hit him hard. Qui-Gon also suspected that Obi-Wan always had a tendency to push down his pain and worries, for fear of being a burden – because the boy was eager to please and soothe.

“Obi-Wan… This is your home as well. It is not going to change, little one. These are your rooms, and you are stuck with me.”

The boy nodded, arms still firmly wrapped around him. And Qui-Gon brushed a hand through his hair, letting the moment wash over him – because Obi-Wan was still a little boy asking for hugs, and that these would pass very soon.

“Now, Padawan mine… Let’s get comfortable, shall we?”

Obi-Wan smiled at him, and Qui-Gon smiled back. He untangled himself, slowly, and shouldered his bag once more, heading for his room, thinking that it felt good to be home, and even more wonderful to be loved.

And he did not care for the Jedi Code, or anything remotely close. They could join the unused things in the box of Obi-Wan’s wardrobe, for now, and stay there until they were needed.

 

*******

Obi watched his Master enter his room, and went to the kitchen, setting up the store to warm the tea once more.

Qui-Gon had looked tired and dusty, and he could feel that his Master was shaken through their bond. The feeling of it was still new in Obi’s head, sometimes a bit overwhelming – he realised only now how difficult it was for him to ask for help, or simply voice his thoughts.

Shielding was just more natural for Obi, and Qui-Gon had rightly pointed out that most people were functioning in an opposite way – projecting all over the place and learning to shield.

“Like that little friend of yours”, he had added, playfully, but Obi had not wanted to talk about Quinlan.

Because Quin was Quin, and his best friend. And in the end Qui-Gon had just ruffled his hair, keeping a warm hand on his nape, the way Obi loved best, because it soothed him.

One of the things Obi loved most about Master Qui-Gon was the fact that he never, ever, forced Obi to lower his shields, even when they were both struggling to get adjusted to the other. His Master just faced him, patiently, and lowered his own, reassuring him through the Force, creating a space where Obi felt safe, and protected enough to talk, ask and even argue.

It had hurt to see Master Qui-Gon fly to Hosnian Prime without him, though. Especially that most Padawans tended to accompany their Masters on their missions, even at twelve years old.

It had made some Padawans in Obi’s class snicker, and one of them had implied that perhaps, Master Qui-Gon was better off without Obi-Wan. That had made Obi feel sad and ashamed, especially that it was true.

Master Qui-Gon’s mission was dangerous, and Obi had not the lightsaber skills to help him protect Chancellor Valorum. And what was more, Obi could still sense Master Qui-Gon’s sadness about loosing Feemor, and the way he still felt it was his fault somehow.

So yes, Master Qui-Gon was better off without him, because that way, he was not worrying about Obi while protecting the Chancellor.

What worried Obi, though, was that a Padawan was supposed to be with his Master, not stay protected at the Temple – and that the week without Qui-Gon had made the Force act very, very strangely around him.

The vivid, scary dreams came first, causing Obi-Wan to wake up with a pounding heart, alone in his room, without the comforting sound of another Initiate’s breathing next to him.

Night after night, he had dreamt of a city resembling Coruscant, and of stifling flowers invading a dark, empty balcony. And then, Obi had begun to leave his bed during the night once more.

He could tell, because in the morning he had woken above his covers with his boots on, feeling chilled and stiff. It scared Obi, because he did not know what he had done and where he had gone – he only hoped he had stayed inside their quarters and not bothered anyone.

Of course, he had made sure to lock their door before going to bed, but that had never really helped, even in the crèche, because somehow Obi-Wan’s brain always remembered how to get out of the room he slept in.

And the night before Master Qui-Gon came back, Obi-Wan had woken seated on the kitchen table, with two drawings next to him he did not remember sketching.

That had scared him so badly he had barely taken the time to think about it and had written to Master Qui-Gon straight away. He had felt ashamed a minute after the message was sent – because it cast a poor light on him, not even able to spend a few days without running to his Master for aid.

But Obi had been scared of the drawings, of the bad feeling he had whenever he looked at them – because somehow, he could not shake the feeling that something was about to happen to Master Qui-Gon.

And when, finally, they were both seated on the couch, sipping their tea, and when Master Qui-Gon told Obi everything that had happened on Hosnian Prime - the visit to the mines, to the factories and the attempt on the Chancellor’s life, on the balcony, by a bounty hunter called Rose – then Obi-Wan felt himself go very cold, and very pale.

He had to place his cup back on the lower table, because his hands were shaking too much, and Master Qui-Gon gently caught his fingers between his.

“Shh, Padawan mine. Do not fret. Do not get upset.

- But I…”

Obi-Wan swallowed, feeling his heart pound madly in his chest. And then he tried to push back his anguish deep down behind his shields, only to see his Master shake his head gently.

Not that way, Padawan mine. Not deep inside. Into the Force.

“I don’t… I don’t know how to do this, Master.”

I don’t want you to feel this in the Force. I don’t want to cloud the Force with my fear, and make it dark.

“But little one… this is not how the Force works, at all”, Qui-Gon said, softly. “The Force is everything, Obi-Wan. Nothing you can project or release is making it any different than it is. You cannot break it. You cannot alter it. What you can do, however, is to choose how to let it flow through you, and how to ride its currents.

- But I… I used to feel… bad. Even now, I feel bad, whenever someone is projecting fear or… or anger next to me.

- Yes, Obi-Wan. I know. But that, little robin, is because you do not always listen closely to the Living Force in you. You read the Cosmic Force very, very well – almost unusually well for a Padawan your age. But you do not always pay attention to the Force flowing through you.”

Qui-Gon brushed Obi-Wan’s knuckles, squeezing them comfortingly, before he went on.

“I think that, whenever you feel someone hurt, or be angry, instead of letting those currents get past you, and offer comfort once they are released, you feel obliged to take them on, and buffer them. Now this, Padawan mine, is what Healers are forced to do, sometimes. Healers, and also… people fighting darker forces. But as you already experienced, this may deplete the Living Force in you, and cause what we call Force-exhaustion.”

Obi-Wan thought about it, and in the end, he nodded – he was quite sure he understood, and waited for Qui-Gon to go on.

“So, what I want to tell you, little one, is that you can safely release anything in the Force. Even when I am around, and especially when I am around, because this is what I am here for. I won’t be hurt or feel bad about it. However, it will help me understand how you feel, and how to guide you better.”

Obi stayed very still, for a while. And in the end, he nodded. Because Qui-Gon was his Master, and that he was one of the strongest and wisest Jedi Obi knew.

“How do I… How do I do this, Master?”

Qui-Gon smiled at him.

“Well… I think that, to feel comfortable, you might find it easier to keep grounded. If you want, you can keep your hands in mine, just like now. And then, just like when you meditate, you try to feel as calm and centred as possible. But this time, instead of finding the Force, I want you to look deep inside yourself, and look for the feelings you just pushed down. I want you to search for them deep inside and force yourself to really look at them. And then, little one, when you are ready, you ask the Force to take those feelings back into its flow.”

Obi swallowed again, feeling his heartbeat pick up. Qui-Gon squeezed his hands, once more, and after a while, Obi closed his eyes, trying to follow his Master’s instructions.

He took a few deep breaths, looking inwards once more – past his shields. And anguish instantly jumped at him, making his heart race even more, and his hands begin to sweat.

Oh no… I need to… I need to get my hands off Master Qui-Gon’s…

“No need, little one. Focus on yourself, Padawan mine.”

I… I’m scared.

I’m scared.

“And what is it you fear, little one? What is scaring you so badly?”

I… I’m scared because I guessed what happened.

I’m scared because of those dreams, because of those drawings – I’m scared because I don’t know what’s going on with me and I’m afraid to be… not normal or… dark…

He was breathing very fast, now, and could feel Qui-Gon’s hands clasp his, gently.

“You are anything but dark, little robin…”

But no Jedi ever gets up at night and does things he doesn’t remember. And that drawing… that drawing was dark, Master. It scared me. It felt like it wasn’t me drawing it. It felt evil.

“That, Obi-Wan, is because Rose Cimber and Rhodes Labeo had evil intentions – and you sensed them, somehow.”

But I don’t remember sensing it… I woke up and the drawing was there. And I keep… I keep getting up at night doing strange things. What if… what if one day, I do something bad? What if, one day, I do something evil because I’m asleep and don’t remember anything…? Master Windu says we have to remain in control, because as Jedi we can do much good, but also much harm…

“Little one… I do not have Master Windu’s experience, and I am not the best at reading the Cosmic Force. However, I do know one thing. Without the warning you sent me through your drawing, Chancellor Valorum would be dead or badly injured right now. So… I do not see anything dark or bad in what you did.”

But I don’t control what I do… I get up at night and I cannot even tell where I went or what I did… And I’m scared… I’m scared because it gets worse, it happens every night, and if it doesn’t go away you won’t take me with you because I’ll be even less able to help you than I’m now…

Obi-Wan was trembling now, unable to stop the thoughts that were spiralling out of his shields. He felt Master Qui-Gon let go of his hands, and suddenly he knew. That it had all been a big, big mistake, because there was no way Obi could become a Jedi with such things happening to him. That Master Qui-Gon would probably take him to Master Yoda straight away and tell the Jedi Council that Obi had to be sent far, far away, where he could cause no harm.

“No, little one, I certainly won’t do that. Nor allow it.”

And then his Master’s arms were around him, once more, cradling him in the Force and with his body.

“Obi-Wan… Many Jedi have experienced what is called foreshadowing. Ask Madame Nu, if you do not believe me. And yes, it is frightening – because these are very mysterious aspects of the Force, that the Council is still investigating as we speak, and will probably be even centuries afterwards. But it makes you no less a Jedi than anyone in the Temple. And your dreams and your sleepwalking are not the reason I did not take you with me.”

Obi-Wan breathed out, shakingly, and with that breath, he felt some of the anguish lessen its grip around his chest.

“I left you here because I was scared. I knew this was a tricky mission, I knew we would face people who had no qualms in killing – and do not misunderstand me, Obi-Wan, I know we will have to face such people together, many, many times. This time, however, I confess I was not feeling balanced – because of things that happened before and have nothing to do with you. And I had to deal with them without you, Padawan mine.”

You don’t think I’m weak, Master? Or that you’re better off without me…?

“No, dear one. I’m not better without you, of that I am sure. I am a better Jedi and man for having you with me. And I promise you, little one, that it is the last time I am taking an assignment without you. Because on Hosnian Prime, what I found out – besides that there’s poison on Rose Cimber’s fingernails – is that we are a team, Padawan mine. And a team works together.”

It felt like heavy stones being lifted around his heart. In his mind. In his very chest. It made Obi feel like he was floating, almost weightless in the Force, and very, very tired.

“That’s it, Padawan mine. Let those heavy, useless stones go, far away into the Force. We do not need them.”

I think I… I think I’m… falling asleep, Master…

“You might, little one. It’s very late.”

What if… I walk around once more, Master…?

Qui-Gon laughed, softly, and it felt like a deep rumble next to Obi-Wan’s cheek.

“Well, if you get up tonight, I will be around, Padawan mine.”

Obi-Wan let go, then. Allowed his eyelids and body to get heavy, and to lean into Qui-Gon’s embrace, because he had missed him and been so scared to lose him. He was not scared of tonight, though.

Because, no matter what would happen, Master Qui-Gon was there to guide and protect him.

And because Obi and Master Qui-Gon were a team, now.

And a team always worked together.

Chapter Text

Raxus, Outer Rim, 44 BBY.

One year later.

 

It was all so green. So peaceful.

Just grass and hills, tracing soft curves under the sky. And the river and the sky, calm and blue like Master Qui-Gon’s eyes.

Obi could hear the chirping of birds, the soft buzzing of the bees, the sweet song of the brooklet next to him. The rest of the world was hushed, and he closed his eyes, feeling the sun brush his nose softly.

Obi-Wan breathed out quietly, and gradually, shyly, he let his shields fall, allowing the Force to flow freely through him, and from him into the world.

He was seated on the top of a hill, alone, because that last afternoon on Raxus was idle, leaving him and his Master some time and space to meditate or simply enjoy their surroundings.

Obi had loved that mission, because it had been so peaceful. They had never needed to switch on their lightsabers, they were just there to witness the official admittance of Raxus in the Senate. The celebrations had been unbroken, and Obi-Wan thought back of the music he had heard, of the sound of the fiddle that had made tears rise to his eyes, because it was so pure.

He loved music.

It had made the people of Raxus smile at him, and a girl had taken him by the hand and they had danced, Obi-Wan trying to remember the complicated steps of the dancing sets, watching Qui-Gon join in with awe.

They had gone to bed tired and merry, and Obi had spent the afternoon here on the hill, drawing the nature before him, trying to hold down the music and the dance in the words of the journal he had begun, after his Master had come back from Hosnian Prime.

Master Qui-Gon had kept his promise, and Obi had been able to go with him on every mission ever since. Of course, it was not as dangerous as protecting Chancellor Valorum from assassins such as Rose Cimber, whose file Obi knew by heart, because she had somehow escaped her prison, and as such was a threat both to the Republic and the Jedi, especially Master Qui-Gon and Master Dooku.

Obi sighed quietly, because Master Dooku was a very, very difficult subject. Somehow, Master Qui-Gon and him did not meet anymore – because Master Dooku was often away on longer missions, and because Qui-Gon and Obi never seemed to be at the Temple at the same time.

But Obi had tried to find out more about him – he was his Grandmaster, and he was the one who had saved Master Qui-Gon from Rose Cimber’s poison. He had downloaded Master Dooku’s file from the Archives, and when Madame Nu had discovered that, she had told him that her and Master Dooku were old friends and that they had been Initiates together.

Just like Quin, Nara, Kit and Obi.

Master Qui-Gon never wanted to talk about Grandmaster Dooku – his eyes had gone all stormy and their bond all silent the one time Obi had dared to ask about him, and so Obi was left to seek some facts in Dooku’s file, and in Madame Nu’s memory.

Master Dooku had a blue lightsaber, just like Obi. Master Dooku liked music, just like Obi, but what he liked most, according to Madame Nu, was music that was played with an orchestra, involving many instruments. Master Qui-Gon, on the other hand, loved voices that sang in a very lyric way – that was the musical word for the way such voices seemed to vibrate and be very, very emotional in what Qui-Gon called opera.

Obi just liked songs. Soft songs that could be sung quietly, just like Owen had always done for him. It made Obi feel connected to the Cosmic Force and sometimes, it even helped him calm down, especially when he needed to concentrate on a difficult essay or when he could not fall asleep.

Sometimes listening to them also helped Obi release emotions into the Force. Ever since he was a Padawan, Master Qui-Gon had helped him realise that sometimes, he only pushed them down without acknowledging that he felt them. And then they stayed inside and made Obi anxious, and sometimes when it became too much, he would start walking during the night again.

But thanks to Master Qui-Gon, Obi had realised that he had to stop being lazy and relying only on his shields – and so, whenever he was not sure about what he was feeling exactly, Obi switched on the radio and listened to the channel Dex had shown him.

Sometimes Obi just sat there and fell into a light meditation, where no real thoughts were emerging, but where he could calm down. Sometimes the songs caused tears to rise in Obi’s eyes – and that was when he realised that he had felt sad, either because of people or things happening to people they tried to help. It helped to let the tears go. It also helped acknowledge that sometimes he had been afraid.

And sometimes the tears just happened because the song was beautiful. Because it reminded Obi of safety and love – of Owen’s voice singing to him, of Master Ti’s arms around him, the way her hand carded through his hair, of Quin hugging him, of Nara looking at him and of Kit laughing. And of Master Qui-Gon – but Master Qui-Gon was more complicated to link to songs, because he was just everything.

He was the soothing voice in Obi’s head, the one guiding him through the Force, the one helping him to understand the world and the Way of the Jedi. He was the one guiding his moves, as they practised katas and lightsaber techniques together – and Obi had decided he wanted to be just like him, and help Master Qui-Gon defend himself against people like Rose Cimber, and had abandoned Soresu for Ataru.

Ataru in sync with Master Qui-Gon.

Because they were a team. Because if they were shielding the other and fighting together, they were keeping each other’s back and would stay strong.

Master Qui-Gon had told Obi that the Force was very mysterious, and that sometimes dreams never came true. That they could also just pass, and never become real, and that Obi should tell him about the dreams and feelings he got, but not rely only on them – because they could lead to fear and paralyze him. They all needed to live in the moment and listen to the Living Force and their instincts, not only their intuitions, and Obi thought it very wise.

He was still dreaming – sometimes he was still walking around, but he had not drawn in his sleep ever since the terrible Rose-dream. He still got feelings, though – like that day he had decided he would discard Soresu. It did not feel right, not at Master Qui-Gon’s side.

At Master Qui-Gon’s side. Together.

The Force had been very loud inside Obi, and he had known then that it wanted him to stay alongside Master Qui-Gon, even while fighting. Soresu had been wonderful as an Initiate, and sometimes Obi missed the calm, quick moves that always reminded him of running with Owen, somehow.

But Ataru was a way to let out steam, to be bolder and to become stronger, more defined in the Force. It forced Obi to show himself,  to develop attacking moves and not just defend himself – and though it still felt foreign somehow, it made him closer to Master Qui-Gon.

It linked them together, and that was what the Force wanted – so Obi followed, gladly, thanking the Force for its guidance, and for leading him to his Master.

It had made Quinlan frown, the first time he had faced Obi and noticed the difference in his sparring moves. Quin was even taller now, while Obi still had to grow and stop looking like a little boy, and Quin had made a show of displaying a lot of Ataru moves while fighting against him – forcing Obi to fall back to defensive moves, Quin almost grinning when he saw him switch to Soresu once more.

Master Tholme was training Quin well, though, and this time Obi had not felt Quin’s emotions in his very being. What had been clear, though, was that Quinlan felt very grown up, and thought that Obi was still a baby who could not decide for himself.

Quin was so tall and strong he was talking to elder Padawans and spending much time with them, just like Kit, who was still nice to Obi and asked him about his missions, but who was always busy too.

The only one Obi still talked to like before was Nara. Nara still liked to sit with him in the Room of Thousand Fountains, or simply on a bench in the Temple. Sometimes they did not talk, they just sat quietly together – sometimes Nara told him about her missions, sometimes they just learned their lessons.

Nara managed to stay a bridge between Obi and Kit and Quin – and one day Obi had asked her if she was not bored to stay with him. That had made Nara raise her eyebrows and shake her head.

“Why would I, Obi? You’re my twin moon.”

It had made him blush, a little, and Nara had taken his hand.

“You are my friend, Obi. I’m never bored when I am with you. I like how you feel in the Force, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

She had smiled at him, and he had blushed even more.

“You are my friend too, Nara.”

I miss Quin and Kit, though.

“They will come back, Obi. Just let them grow.”

Quin and Kit were grown, though. The only one among them who still looked like a little kid was him and sometimes it made Obi sad and angry at himself.

Master Qui-Gon was very clever and very good at sensing that, though, and on those days, he always made sure to spend some time with Obi, making him tea or sitting with him on the couch. He talked to Obi like a grown up, and helped Obi feel less like a little child. Somehow on these evenings Obi still ended up in his Master’s arms – and one time, Qui-Gon had managed to make him spill about Quin or Kit.

“They don’t want me, Master. Because I’m too small.

- You’re not too small, little one”, Qui-Gon had replied, softly. “You are a bit younger. And most of the time, it does not matter, at all. But in those years right after childhood it can become difficult. Yet it passes. You will see.”

He had pulled Obi on his lap, resting Obi’s head on his shoulder, and he had rocked him, gently, carding his hand through his hair, thumb wiping the single tear that had rolled on Obi’s cheek.

“I’m sorry, Master…

- Don’t be, little one. Some hurts reach deep. They pass, though. I promise you. One day your friends will come back. They just need to grow.

- I need to grow.

- You will, Padawan mine. But it has nothing to do with height. Growing means realising what matters, and what does not. And what matters in friendships is relying on the other, trusting them, and knowing they do the same.

- Like… like us, Master.”

Qui-Gon had smiled at that.

“Yes, Obi-Wan. Like we do. And I do not want you any different as you are, Padawan mine. You are all blossoms in the wind. You will all bloom and make us proud.”

Master Qui-Gon was not just one thing or one memory. Master Qui-Gon was safety and love and everything Obi needed, somehow. So that day he had just nestled in his Master’s arms, and allowed him to take his pain and sadness away. 

One of these mornings… You’re going to rise up singing… Yes, you’ll spread your wings… And you’ll take to the skies…

Qui-Gon had begun to sing softly, and it had made Obi recover, gazing at his Master in wonder. Qui-Gon had smiled at Obi and had finished that song Obi loved to sing as well, deep voice ringing in their small living room.

But till that morning… Nothing can harm you… Yes, with your old Master standing by…

- That’s not what the song says, Master”, Obi had giggled through his remaining tears, wiping at his cheek once more and facing Qui-Gon.

“Oh yes, little one? And what does the song say?”, Qui-Gon had asked, playfully.

And Obi had sung it to Qui-Gon, with the real lyrics, watching his Master’s smile spread, slowly, feeling his warm palms on his back.

“You’re good at the man’s voice, though, Master”, Obi had said. “It’s so deep. And very warm. Not funny, but… happy.

- He was a great, great trumpet player, a very long time ago”, his Master had told him, softly. “And she had one of the most beautiful voices of her time. That is why we still love to listen to them and sing along with them. I think it was a song from a musical – telling a story and drawing a picture for us.

- It’s comforting, is it not, Master?

- And why do you think so, little robin?”

Qui-Gon’s hands rubbed small circles into Obi-Wan’s back, and he had nestled back into his arms.

“Because… if it was so long ago, and we still love the song… then it means that some thoughts and emotions and stories never change. That we will always feel some things deeply and endure, and that if we create beautiful things like this song, it will make people happy even after we are gone.

- That, my sweet robin, is very true. And very wise.

- I think that’s what the Force loves most. To link us together like that.

- Perhaps, little one… Most certainly.”

That evening, Master Qui-Gon had wrapped his arms around him, and had stroked his hair, very lightly.

“Do not change, Padawan mine. Do not lose that faith you have.”

Obi had nodded. And now he was thinking back of those words, gazing at the nature before him, thinking he had rarely felt so at peace.

It filled him with quiet joy, like the song they both knew, like Master Qui-Gon’s words – it made Obi believe. So, when he heard footsteps approaching and realized it was his Master, he simply smiled.

Waiting for Qui-Gon to join him.

 

*******

 

A year had passed.

A year since Hosnian Prime – a year with Obi-Wan at his side, learning to get used to his quiet, unobtrusive and yet essential presence.

Qui-Gon had never told him, but he had feared comparison. Had dreaded to be reminded of Feemor, whenever he would try to build his bond with Obi-Wan. To crush his little robin with the ghost of his former Padawan – but it had not happened.

It had not happened, because Obi-Wan and Feemor were very different, and because Qui-Gon had begun to discover how infinite the Force was. It could harbour sadness, loss, regret – and also love, wonder and joy, often at the very same time.

And though he remembered the cheerful, boisterous green-eyed boy who had become such a fine, caring Jedi and still thought of him every day – there was another one now, grey-eyed, thoughtful and sensitive, calling for his heart and mind, filling their bond with light.

Obi was still small, and had yet to leave childhood completely. Feemor had been a bit elder when Qui-Gon had chosen him, and had already left that age where dreams and fantasy still ruled, making room for doubts and wills of independency.

Of course, his little Padawan’s mind was running fast enough to make a lot of rooms for doubts – and Force knew that Obi had always been fiercely independent, struggling with the very notion of asking for help and opening up. But he was still a boy – notwithstanding his fighting skills and the seriousness with which he took his studies.

And sometimes, Qui-Gon was reminded of it very suddenly – on missions, when Obi would behave absolutely perfectly, making researches, helping him along with notes, getting their things ready and co-piloting the ship, until they reached hyperspace and headed home.

Then, his little robin would curl up in his seat and gaze at the silver-ribbons the hyperdrive would draw against the window, and Qui-Gon would sense small words through their bond - a comet, a flower, a flame… - and realize Obi-Wan was guessing out shapes.

Sometimes it was in the simple gestures as well, those that were still not quite Jedi-like. The one time Obi-Wan had clasped his hand, when Qui-Gon had been yelled at on a crowded market, and where he had sensed the old-forgotten, long-buried terror of a three-year-old boy forced to run.

The small moments where Obi still giggled, whenever Qui-Gon cracked a daring joke or tried to make him laugh. The trusting way his Padawan cuddled against him, whenever they had to sleep outside, and was asleep within minutes, as long as Qui-Gon held him against him.

The way small things still played such an important part in Obi’s life: what a teacher had told him, the way a friend would react… Qui-Gon was not prying, and Obi was still a terrific shielder, but he had opened up and Qui-Gon was able to sense more often what Obi-Wan was thinking.

And it filled him with wonder to be able to be reminded, perhaps for the last time, what it was like to be a child. To trust, blindingly, to believe in love and safety. To dream. To be absolutely happy with the smallest things.

His Padawan had his struggles, of course. Obi-Wan was quiet, but Qui-Gon had realised that he was not always calm, processing many things at once, his mind seemingly never tired – and yet… Sometimes he still woke up to the sound of his Padawan’s bare feet on the floor, in the middle of the night, and found the little one standing in their living room, shivering slightly.

He would go to Obi-Wan, and take him gently in his arms, mindful not to wake him, looking at those grey eyes that did not really see him. And Obi’s Force-signature felt like a little bird, struggling wildly with too-strong emotions that made him tremble but stayed unvoiced.

“Shh… little one… It is okay… you can release them…”

Qui-Gon wrapped the Force around his Padawan on those nights, until Obi-Wan’s eyes closed, until his small body went warm and loose once more in Qui-Gon’s arms. He never seemed to remember it in the morning, and Qui-Gon did not push him – but he made always sure to probe gently at their bond, watchful for signs of distress or anguish.

Those nights had become fewer, though, and Qui-Gon had realised that Obi-Wan was talking a bit more, and even seemed eager to share his thoughts with him. His Padawan was also growing in the Force, making huge progresses in levitation and sparring – and Qui-Gon could not really remember how it had been without him.

Without Obi’s humming, whenever he thought himself unwatched and was bent on his work – the little one had a very good ear for music and melodies and was truly chirping like a robin.

Without the almost obsessive way his little Padawan cleaned and tidied their quarters – keeping a wide berth around Qui-Gon’s room, but always making sure they both had space enough to live along.

Without the clear, organized notes Obi was storing on his data-pad, whenever they left for another mission – Madame Nu had truly trained him well, and Qui-Gon was baffled at the way his Padawan willingly spent a huge amount of time behind holobooks and screens, just to get a clear idea of things, Master.

Without the sense of peace and light Obi projected into the Force, without being entirely aware of it yet, and that Qui-Gon could sense whenever they meditated together or whenever his Padawan opened up fully into the Force.

Like now.

Obi-Wan was sitting cross-legged on a flat stone, at the top of the green hills of Raxus, and was watching him arrive, auburn hair gently kissed by the breeze and freckles even more apparent in the warm sun.

“Enjoying the view, little one?”, Qui-Gon asked, quietly, and Obi smiled at him.

“Yes, Master. Very much.”

Qui-Gon sat down cross-legged next to him, and for a while, none of them spoke. The birds were chirping around them, and one of them left the trees to draw a few flips into the azure sky, perching itself on a nearby bush once it finished.

And Qui-Gon smiled, silently, when he realized that of course, it was a robin.

Almost Ataru. Well done.

The thought came from Obi-Wan, and made his smile widen even more, heart filling with affection – because of course his Padawan was talking to his little namesake, acknowledging it fully in the Force like the Jedi he was.

“Pine trees”, Obi-Wan said softly, and Qui-Gon turned towards him, raising an eyebrow, watching the boy extend his arm towards the bush.

The little robin soon perched itself on Obi-Wan’s wrist, and his Padawan added:

“That is what I remember, from Stewjon. High pine trees. And grass. The sky. And Owen.”

Every word felt shrouded. Sacred. And so Qui-Gon stayed silent.

“It feels the same here. But the people are friendlier. It feels… right. Grass, and trees, and the sky.”

Qui-Gon nodded, watching the little robin pick at Obi-Wan’s sleeve, small head tilted, letting out a chirp.

“It feels right, Obi-Wan. It is what I love most as well.”

Green… like your blade. And blue… like mine.

The soft words were not uttered, this time, because his Padawan was still shy about the most important things. And Qui-Gon had learned that, though Obi-Wan cared a lot about words, about naming ideas and labelling thoughts correctly, it was the gestures that truly found the way to his heart.

So he extended his arm and placed a hand on the little one’s nape, fingertips carding through his hair, playing with his braid.

“Like us, Padawan mine.”

On Obi’s wrist, the little robin chirped. And then, in an eyeblink, it was gone, pirouetting in the sky with a last chirping trill. Expanding his wings just as his Padawan would, very soon.

But not yet. Not quite yet.

Qui-Gon closed his eyes, allowing himself to meet Obi-Wan’s presence in the Force, and let the sun warm them.

 

FINIS.