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The minute Obi-Wan walked in the door, Anakin threw aside the datapad he'd been studying and sprang up to sit on the back of the couch, the better to look his new Master in the eye--sort of.

"What did the Council say?" he demanded. "Were you right, did they want to talk to you about us?"

"Unfortunately, yes." Shrugging out of his robe, Obi-Wan folded it across the arm of the couch, flopped down and tugged at his boots. /I should tell him that couches are for sitting, and not like that,/ he thought. /My Master wouldn't approve, but he's not here, and I really don't care if Anakin..../

"So, spill it!" Hopping off of the couch, Anakin yanked on the left boot. Succeeding in pulling it off, he tossed it aside and went after its companion before kneeling on the couch and facing Obi-Wan. "Tell, tell, tell--"

"Give me a minute to gather my thoughts. First off, you're still my Padawan. That's probably the most important thing."

"Did they say any bad stuff about me?"

Obi-Wan frowned. "Bad stuff?"

"Am I still dangerous?"

Obi-Wan sighed, regretting Anakin's overhearing one of his last conversations with Qui-Gon. "You're just a boy, Anakin. You're not dangerous. The Sith--he was dangerous."

"Whoa, yeah! But you sliced him up, and he's gone. So I'm not dangerous? So, what did they want?"

"If you stop asking questions, I'll tell you."

Closing his mouth, Anakin rocked back on his heels and nodded.

"Listen carefully," said Obi-Wan. "Master Yoda is concerned that if we--meaning the Jedi--don't train you properly, you *could* become a danger to yourself and to others. The Force is a powerful thing, and it's neutral. It can be used for good or ill, in anger or in peace. If you use it in anger, to control or hurt others, that leads to the Dark side. Do you understand?"


"The babies that are brought to the Temple and raised as Initiates have years of training that you don't have yet. In a lot of ways, they're innocents while you're experienced in the ways of the world. You saw a lot of stuff on Tatooine that an an Initiate doesn't see until he or she become a Padawan. Because of my Master, you sort of skipped the Initiate stage and have gone right to Padawan.

"Now, that doesn't mean you're better than the others, or that they're better than you. You're just different, and you've got different skills at this point. You've have language and survival skills the Initiates won't have until they learn them in the field. But they have a basic foundation in the philosophy and use of the Force that you need to learn. Council pointed out that by the time you leave the Temple on your first mission with me, you'll need to know the same things the Initiates know."

Anakin frowned. "So we have to stay here at the Temple while I learn all that?"

"Sort of. Council feels that before you and I go out together, you need a few preliminary lessons as an Initiate, and I need a few prelminary lessons as a Knight."

Anakin's blue eyes widened. "You mean I have to stay here while you go off on missions? They're separating us?"

Obi-Wan could feel the panic building in the small frame. Reaching out, he slid his hands across the narrow shoulders, gathered the boy in a fierce hug. "They can't separate us. You're my Padawan, remember? That's official, it's not changing. And they're right--I need some mileage. No, I need a lot of mileage. I don't know what it's like to be a Knight out on my own--all of my missions were with my Master. They want us to be safe together, that's all."

"I'm not happy about this."

Obi-Wan brushed a hand over the short Padawan haircut, tugged gently on the short, braided tail. "I'm not happy about it, either. Both of our lives have changed drastically since my Master's death. Just as I think we've seen the last changes, here come some more."

"Yeah. Me, too. What else do they want?" The boy sounded concerned, not sullen.

Softly, Obi-Wan said, "You'll be living in the Initiate's wing while I'm sent to all ends of the galaxy."

Anakin digested this for a moment. "For how long?"

"About three years, if you're a fast learner. Padawans are claimed by their Masters before their thirteenth birthday, so that's your limit. If you don't know stuff by then, we'll have to wing it in the field."

"I'll study so hard, you'll see! I'll be the best Padawan ever!"

Obi-Wan tried to summon a smile. "I'll work on being the best Knight."

Curious blue eyes stared up at him. "What about being the best Master?"

"I'm afraid I don't feel very much like a Master right now. I probably won't for a very long time."

"Oh. Where will you stay when you come home?"

"I've been assigned Knight's quarters, so..." He swallowed hard. /Gods, but this part is difficult. I knew it would be; I don't want to leave the only real home I've ever known, the one I made here with my Master./ "They've asked us to move Master's Qui-Gon's things into storage."


Blinking back tears, Obi-Wan stared around the room. When he looked down at Anakin, it was to see that the boy was studying him quietly, intently. /What are you thinking?/ He didn't dare voice the question aloud. /Those eyes of yours see far too much, I'll bet./

"Did they give you a mission?" Anakin asked.

Obi-Wan nodded.

"When do you have to leave?"

"Early tomorrow morning."

"Then... I guess we should start packing, huh?" The words came softly, but behind them was as much pain as Obi-Wan himself felt. The boy's breathing hitched a bit; for all Obi-Wan knew, he was as close to crying as was Obi-Wan.

"I guess we should," Obi-Wan admitted. "Ani, this is going to be hard for me."

"I know. It was hard for me to leave Mom behind. I figure this must hurt you like that. I still miss my mom."

"I think you'll always miss her, as I'll miss my Master."

Anakin scowled. "Is that bad?"

"I don't think so. It's sad, but sometimes the people we love can't come with us when we follow our dreams. You and I both have the same dream, you know?"

"We do?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "Being Jedi. I have to leave my Master behind, go on missions by myself, and be a Knight by myself now. You have to leave your mother, go into the Initiates wing by yourself, and learn what you need to become a Jedi."

Anakin plucked at Obi-Wan's tunic. "I have another dream. I want to go back and free her."

"I wish I could free my Master," Obi-Wan said wistfully.

Anakin stared at Obi-Wan's tears spreading across his hand. His Master's larger hand covered it, swept it away. "Sorry."

"I cry too, sometimes," Anakin admitted softly. "It hurts worse when you're alone. In the dark."

Hugging the boy to him, Obi-Wan managed to whisper, "People tell me that, in time, it stops hurting so much."

A small arm came around his waist. "I don't believe them."

"Neither do I."

* * *

They packed the meager belongings attached to Qui-Gon's existence. He had never been a man who attached great value to possessions, transient and silent as they were. No, his possessions were all practical: two robes, a few tunics, an extra set of dress boots.

Obi-Wan kept the robe his Master had been wearing on their last mission, decision made as he found his fingers refusing to release their grip on the fabric after placing it in the container with the rest of his Master's practical wardrobe. The last thing Qui-Gon had worn. The last time--

Wrenching his thoughts away from those memories, he turned back to face his helper.

"Do you want the other robe?" he asked Anakin, who reached eager hands to embrace the heavy material. The boy hugged it to him, much as Obi-Wan had the day Qui-Gon had died. Master Windu had suggested the Master be wrapped in it for the immolation. Shaking his head, Obi-Wan had silently refused, arms locking the folds of fabric against his chest.

It smelled of Qui-Gon. That day, it had still felt like Qui-Gon. It was almost possible for Obi-Wan to convince himself that his Master would return to reclaim it shortly, as he had on so many occasions. But with Anakin watching with huge blue eyes filled with shock and sorrow, that fantasy couldn't last. The boy had been shivering so badly that afternoon on Naboo, his teeth were chattering. Only the esteemed Jedi control learned at his Master's side had saved Obi-Wan from a similar fate. As it was, he hadn't trusted his voice enough to be able to speak to anyone until he'd spoken to Master Yoda. He'd had to speak then. He had no choice. One did not refuse Master Yoda, no matter the trauma endured.

"Survive, you did, against all odds," the Master had pointed out. "Worthy you are to become a knight."

/I didn't care about that,/ Obi-Wan remembered, giving his Master's robe a last caress before turning back to pack the few books and memory wafers he'd left behind. /I'd be a Padawan forever if it would bring you back, Master. It was my duty and a privilege to care for you./

/We huddled under that robe so often for warmth. I'll miss it so much, your warmth at my back, your arms folded around me, your chin on my shoulder as we watched the rain or the snow... or worse./

"It still smells like him," he said aloud. /I'll miss that, too... Just the smell of you in my life. Things I never thought of as being part of you./

Anakin promptly buried his nose in the robe Obi-Wan had offered him, and breathed deeply as he rubbed his cheek against the coarse fabric. Coming up for air a long moment later, the boy asked softly, "Could you tell me about him?"

"I can try," Obi-Wan said slowly, eyes travelling over the collection of possessions so rudely pulled from their rightful place, now shoved into containers. "There are memories behind all of his things, but I know only some of them. He was nearly sixty years old, when he died, Ani. I was with him for only thirteen of those years."

"That's what--half your life?"

/The half that really mattered./ He nodded. "I'll share with you as much as I can, all right?"

He packed dry texts on planetary histories and an assortment of martial strategies before opening a wooden box containing a well-worn book of sketches and field notes.

"He started this when he was a Padawan," Obi-Wan murmured, his fingers tracing the faded knotwork pattern etched on the cover. "He'd take it with him occasionally, on missions he knew would be peaceful. He liked to draw--nothing complicated, just small things. Lleki's playing around the rocks of a lake shore, a little girl drawing water from a well we'd helped build. Just small memories captured on paper. It shows what he saw, and what he thought important or worth remembering."

He handed the book over to Anakin, who lay down on his stomach on Qui-Gon's bed without his usual graceless small-boy flop, cradling the book in his hands as though it was fragile. The boy turned the pages carefully, seemed intent on studying every drawing, and Obi-Wan let him, grateful for his intense interest in the silent pages. The longer Anakin stayed in those pages, the less Obi-Wan would have to share about his Master. It wasn't the sharing; it was trying to keep his voice steady and not let the tears creep in as he remembered how his Master held a pen, how contented he had looked sitting on the ground or perched on a rock while he drew. How he pushed back his hair in annoyance when the wind teased it about his eyes. How he'd ask Obi-Wan to "find a bit of seaweed or something to pull this back with, won't you?" How often it was the lowest tie from Obi-Wan's own Padawan braid that had secured the hair of his Master.

Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan turned his attention to other bits and pieces of his Master's life. There was Qui-Gon's lightsaber; Obi-Wan had continued using it after Naboo, saying nothing to the Council about his still having it and suspecting that Yoda himself had asked them to overlook it rather than request that the new Knight make a new lightsaber and relinquish the Master's weapon to them.

Out of respect, Obi-Wan had removed Qui-Gon's focusing crystal and had replaced it with a new one of his own. The blade now glowed a familiar blue; Obi-Wan had found in practicing with other knights that the green was just too much of a distraction. The feel was wrong, somehow, too; he had always worked best with a blue stone, and the green brilliance made it difficult to focus beyond the fact that Qui-Gon no longer held this saber. He kept the crystal, though, tucking it away in his supply belt and carrying it with him everywhere. It had served him well on Naboo, and deserved respect for that. It had served his Master well for far longer, and would be kept with honor. And held to the light, it still shone with the familiar green that reminded him of Qui-Gon.

The Master's supply belt had been reduced to ashes along with the everything else he'd been wearing. Obi-Wan himself had removed the belt's contents while preparing his Master's body for the ceremony; those contents resided in a small pouch, which Obi-Wan had also tucked into his own belt. There were a few Republic credits, which meant nothing to him. "Take them," Master Yoda had told him. "Need them you will on your own missions someday." Other items had included extra hair ties, a few energy bars, personal supplies, and extra saber crystals. Sentimentality had made Obi-Wan hang onto the hair ties and the crystals. He'd long ago eaten the energy bars in the numb days that followed Qui-Gon's death, though he had no real memory of having done so.

"Would you mind taking that sketch book to Master Yoda?" he asked, once Anakin had surfaced from its pages.

"Um... now?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "You remember the way?"

Anakin nodded, then gave him a thoughtful look before sliding off of the bed and heading for the door. "I'll walk slow, so you can be alone with Master Qui-Gon's stuff for awhile, okay?"

"Thank you, Ani." No further words would come. /He's very perceptive. I know that he's really kind, Master, but.../ Qui-Gon forgive him, but right now Obi-Wan couldn't even summon a smile of thanks.

Anakin didn't seem to mind. He sighed, then padded out the door with the book enfolded protectively in his arms. The chamber door slid closed behind him, and Obi-Wan drew a deep breath, closed his eyes. Too much change, far too fast. After losing his Master, it seemed that he was also destined to lose the only home he'd ever had. But no, that wasn't quite right. /I was happy here, with Qui-Gon. Happy wherever I was, as long as I was with him. It wouldn't matter where I was going or what I was doing with my life, if I could still be doing it with him. Though less mud and ice was always nice, if we could arrange it./

Leaving his Master's chamber and its few boxes behind, Obi-Wan realized that, except for gathering up his own few possessions, he was done. The books and furniture would be placed in storage or rotated on to another Master/Padawan pair.

/Will they know,/ he wondered, /that this belonged to Master Qui-Gon Jinn? Would they care?/

His Master's old, comfortable reading chair would probably be donated to charity. /Will his gentle, grounded aura remain with it? Will another reader be able to feel him in that chair?/

The kitchen items were generic and would stay to greet the next tenants. All but two items: /My Master's mug, and our tea./ That, Obi-Wan would take with him.

Retrieving the cherished, chipped mug and ancient tea cannister from the kitchen, Obi-Wan wandered into his own room to pack. It wouldn't take long, not nearly long enough. His own belongings were almost as few as his Master's. They would be tossed without any concern into a container, the only significance in their being packed was that their owner was one step closer to closing the door on his life with his Master for the last time.

* * *

"Are you taking me to the Initiate's wing first?" Anakin wanted to know, having no trouble keeping up with Obi-Wan's weary steps through the Temple proper. They'd left Qui-Gon's quarters behind, and Anakin had watched while the automated quartermaster had given Obi-Wan his new room assignment; he was now to stay in the Knight's wing two levels down, on the opposite end of the Temple from where he'd spent the last thirteen years of his life.

"My new quarters are on the way to the Initiate's wing," he revealed. "We'll drop off my things first. I also want you to add your own code to the door."

Anaking scowled up at him. "What for, if you won't be there?"

"When I was an Initiate, there were many times when I wished for a bolt hole." Anakin shot him a sidelong glance, curious but unreadable.

"You know very well what I mean," said Obi-Wan. "I suspect you'll want one, too. As long as you tell your masters where you're going, I doubt they'd mind your using my quarters--as long as you don't abuse the privilege." /My quarters. Not *our* quarters. It sounds so wrong./

"You mean, like, I get my own space while you're gone? Whoa! Awesome."

"From time to time, yes. But try to spend most of your time in your own wing, or they'll complain. If you want to send your mother or me a message, you can use my comp. It's more secure and a lot more private."

"Sure is." Anakin beamed up at him. That's wizard. I didn't think I'd get anything private or special for years. I've never had a room of my own before, just that bump out by the kitchen where I kept my workbench."

Pausing in front of the door to his new rooms, Obi-Wan shifted the container in his arms and laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Ani, I'm still your Master even if there is a three-year delay before we can be together. I'll see you between missions, and I promise that I'll come back to claim you permanently before your thirteenth birthday."

The boy nodded shortly, staring up at Obi-Wan with earnest eyes. "It's okay. I'm kind of getting used to the changes. I figure sooner or later the Force will run out of them, and we'll both get to settle down."

Giving a tight smile, Obi-Wan keyed in his code and opened the door. To his new home. To his new life.

The rooms looked as lifeless and empty as he felt.

"This is where we settle, Padawan."

* * *

Obi-Wan stared into the Coruscant night, not really seeing the view he'd seen a thousand times in the past thirteen years, not really thinking about the fact that he was seeing it for the last time. He'd seen his things settled in his new quarters, which had turned out to be just as small and cramped as he feared they'd be. A bed, bookcase, desk, closet, small kitchen and 'fresher unit was now his to call home. Unpacking had been a formality which had taken only a few moments; clothing so, small remembrance objects tucked away in a drawer, as remembering *hurt*. Only Qui-Gon's robe was hung with reverence beside his own, as always. And the tea cannister and mug were installed in the kitchen, just as Qui-Gon had always kept them.

Obi-Wan had then seen Anakin settled in the Initiate's wing, welcomed by masters and a couple of curious Initiates as well. He'd made it clear that the boy had already been chosen, and that his Master would be checking on him frequently. He'd made it a point to call Anakin "Padawan" several times in the course of the afternoon, making it more than a little obvious that this was *his* apprentice.

/I can at least smooth your way where that's concerned,/ he thought, remember his anxieties about not being chosen by a Master. "We're already the stuff of which legends are made--you, because you blew up that droid control ship and saved Naboo; me, because I was Qui-Gon Jinn's Padawan and killed a Sith just last week. I'm wet behind the ears and naive as a Knight; you're here because Qui-Gon brought you back and believed in you. We belong to each other because Qui-Gon said we did. It's his legacy to both of us, and a stranger Master/Padawan team there's never been. But because Qui-Gon wished it, and Yoda approved it, they'll respect it and leave you alone to learn the things you need to learn. I hope./

Obi-Wan done everything Qui-Gon would have wanted him to, welcoming the boy into his life as his apprentice, making the promises he would have needed to hear, had he been Anakin Skywalker. He'd left the boy at dinnertime, hugging him tightly and bowing a formal good-bye before leaving the dining hall. Obi-Wan had meant to be his new quarters now, to prepare for his first official mission as a Knight. He'd see Anakin later... weeks later. In the meantime, Obi-Wan knew that the boy would be kept busy by his classmates, some of whom had surrounded him the moment Obi-Wan had left his side to demand, "What really happened on Naboo?" and "Hey, did you actually see a Sith?" He could hear Anakin's voice chattering in that animated way he had when he found an audience as he left the dining hall. Anakin, Obi-Wan felt, would be fine.

Obi-Wan hadn't gone to his new quarters. No, he'd ended up back here, in his Master's rooms. He hadn't meant to, but habit and misery distracted him and led him back to this door without his even thinking about it. And so, out of habit and reluctance to let go of what had been, here he sat, downloading his mission information into the familiar deskcomp that still contained his Master's files.

On impulse, Obi-Wan went looking for and backed up all of Qui-Gon's files on the missions they'd served together. Obi-Wan had never paid much attention to his Master's files, except when he'd needed to field a request from the older man to help with a report, or save a particular briefing or file for future reference. Now, seated in the darkened quarters, with silence and the glow of the comp-screen his only companions, Obi-Wan accessed his Master's written and oral files.

He'd expected records of the last few missions. Perhaps files going further back to the start of his time as Qui-Gon's Padawan. He was stunned to find detailed journal entries and reports from the past forty years. Qui-Gon's life as a Jedi glowed before Obi-Wan, awaiting his touch on the keypad with the command to open the memories to his eyes. Everything was still intact; it appeared that nothing had been transferred by Council order to the main archive, where it would most likely be stored to languish on memory wafers. Who would possibly be interested in the plethora of records Qui-Gon Jinn had left behind? All of the important stuff on his missions was already on record.

No, the missions and their dry diplomatic reports had already been incorporated into the massive records that made up the Jedi intelligence resources. What Obi-Wan had found was his Master's private observations, his personal records for his own use. This was Qui-Gon's life. His Master's thoughts. Memories. Opinions. Buried within this was Obi-Wan's life with Qui-Gon.

With an almost frantic sense of urgency that he really didn't understand, Obi-Wan copied everything that his Master had kept. Sending it directly to his personal account, he keyed it with a double password, and then set up another, private, out-of-Temple backup account, just in case. In case of what, he wasn't certain. But the Force was whispering that Qui-Gon's reports and memoirs were important. They couldn't be--wouldn't be--snatched away from Obi-Wan as easily as had these quarters or Qui-Gon himself.

Obi-Wan knew that, if he ever read his Master's personal records, part of him would feel very, very guilty for the invasion of privacy. Not that he was concerned about Qui-Gon expressing his displeasure over his Padawan taking such liberties--Obi-Wan was all but certain that the Force had claimed his Master so completely that Obi-Wan would never sense Qui-Gon near him again. No matter how much he'd wanted to, Obi-Wan hadn't felt anything of the older Jedi since he had died. Without doubt, if the possibility had existed that his Master would return to berate him for opening his private files, then Obi-Wan would have launched the first fifty scrolling down the screen without hesitation, just to bait his Master into returning. But opened or not opened, Obi-Wan was not going to lose his Master again. Qui-Gon's written 'self' in these logs was too precious to risk.

To be doubly safe, Obi-Wan also saved the files onto a portable disk as well, tucking the slender thing away in his supply belt. Once this was done, he was able to relax a little, was able to resume the downloads pertaining to the situation on Pescha. He did so with a sense of duty that did not melt the numbness of his heart. He was going through the motions, doing as he'd done with Qui-Gon a thousand times before, being what he had to be. What Qui-Gon had trained him to be. Sitting at the same console (for the last time). In his Master's darkened quarters (for the last time).

Qui-Gon should be sitting just over there, studying his own datapad, drinking tea from that disreputable chipped and stained tea mug, long legs stretched out into the common area further than anyone's legs should reach. But he wasn't. Would never be there again.

Reaching out a slender finger, Obi-Wan keyed a file and then just sat back. His Master's calm, rich baritone filled the room, outlining the problems on Reega clearly and succinctly. His voice rang with authority, arguing for instant Senate intervention.

Bracing his chin in his hands, Obi-Wan let his eyes drift closed, let his mind drift back to the endless meetings he'd sat through, listening to his Master's voice. He let that voice surround him, carry him away to happier times. It worked, until the end of the file. Until it segued into the next file, and Obi-Wan heard: "Hello, my Padawan. What follows is...."

His eyes flew open. He sat bolt upright at the sound of that voice. So warm. So proud. Loving and possessive.

Obi-Wan didn't hear the rest of whatever Qui-Gon had dictated. His heart was beating so loudly, the blood in his ears was blocking his hearing. Slamming a fist against the console, he stopped the voice and tried to breathe. It was impossible to do so against the tears suddenly locking his throat, pouring from his eyes. Clutching the edge of the desk, he gulped air desperately, tried to regain his control and failed miserably.

For a moment, just that instant, Qui-Gon had been there. It had all been a nightmare, and his Master had just come back from some over-long meeting and entered the room and called to him--

"Hello, my Padawan...."

But it wasn't true. And reality returned to crush what little strength Obi-Wan had left.

"Master..." He sobbed into the night, the sorrow overwhelming him and carrying him far from the safe shore of his hard-won control. He was shattering, and well he knew it.

But dammit, for that moment, his Master had been *there.*

"I dreamed of being a Jedi--" He spoke jaggedly, fingers digging into the desk. "I dreamed, but not like this. Not without you. How can I go on, Master? It hurts... so much. Hurts."

Shoving out of the chair, he stumbled into his Master's chamber, fell across the bed and let the tears flow. He cried more than he could remember crying in his life, until sheer exhaustion claimed him and pulled him into a deep, turbulent sleep. His Master's voice filled his dreams, the low voice rumbling gently, its tone reassuring and loving but tinged with regret somehow. But a fog blocked Obi-Wan's dream-sight. Qui-Gon was just over there... just out of reach. Search as he might, Obi-Wan could never catch up to him, could never see him, much less touch him.

Whimpering in his sleep, Obi-Wan woke himself up. His mouth felt like cotton. His eyes stung from crying, his head throbbed dully, and it was still a long time before the dawn. Shivering, he climbed beneath the covers of his Master's bed, laid his head on his Master's pillow, and drank in the scent that still lingered. It offered some small comfort, and was enough for his weary heart this night. Tomorrow the pillow would be laundered, erasing one more bit of his Master's existence, but tonight it, and its owner's presence, was Obi-Wan's. Burying his face in the pillow, he let his tears soak into the fabric.

"Master? Are you there? I just...I miss you, Master. I never knew...I never knew how much I loved you until you were gone. I know you're with the Force now, and that's supposed to be wonderful, but it's... It's hard being left behind, Master. I'm leaving for my first mission tomorrow. I wish...I wish you were here."

A feeling of warmth stole over Obi-Wan slowly, calming him, though whether it was control returning or exhaustion winning out he didn't know. But his Master's presence in the bedchamber seemed to reassure him, easing his tears and the ache in his chest.

Pulling the covers up beneath his chin, Obi-Wan drew on the calming exercises the older man had taught him, which segued into memories of Qui-Gon teaching him. Teaching him meditation. Teaching him the saber. Teaching him Sabbac, and how to cheat. Teaching him how to ruin a perfectly good meal in their small kitchen.

Wrapping the memory of his Master's love close about him, Obi-Wan managed to go back to sleep. This time, he did not dream.


Throwing another log onto the fire, Obi-Wan tilted his head back and watched the sparks fly up into the night. /I wish I had your freedom,/ he thought, /not to mention your enthusiasm. My Master must be up there, out there, somewhere. If I could, I'd go find him and never look back. Never./

Unfortunately, such an escape wasn't an option, this night or any other. Drawing his robe closer around him, Obi-Wan shivered slightly in the cold night air, narrowed his eyes, and stared into the fire. How many nights had he sat like this with Qui-Gon? How many times had he fallen asleep in the firelight, listening to his Master's voice, or settled back-to-back with him, or wrapped close in his arms? There had beens safety, security, and much love in that embrace. Obi-Wan knew that he'd never find anything to equal it in this life, and he was ill-contented to wait for the next.

He hadn't known that anything could hurt as much as losing Qui-Gon had hurt--still hurt. He'd known injury on missions and in battle, everything from sprained knees to dislocated shoulders to blasterfire and saber-slashes. He'd hurt so badly, he'd been nauseous with pain and thrown up, only to throw up again when the pain surged higher at his body's treacherous reaction. He'd had to walk on a broken ankle, feeling the bones grate and knowing that the healers would cuss him out when next he saw Coruscant. He'd used the Force to deaden the pain, ignored his physical needs, and completed the assignment.

Yes, his Master had tongue-lashed him more than once for such self-abuse. Only Obi-Wan hadn't seen it as abuse. It was just getting through a bad situation, getting the job done, fulfilling his purpose as a Jedi. Besides, as he'd patiently pointed out to Qui-Gon, "Nurse droids don't follow us about on missions, and I saw no sign of a portable healer's tent. In short, there was no other option. And I've seen you do the same thing far more often than I have, Master."

Qui-Gon had closed his mouth. His lecture had ceased. /You had nothing to say to that,/ Obi-Wan reflected, /because nothing could be said. Always, you pushed the limits, thinking you were superhuman. You didn't want me pushing, but I did, anyway./

/I wish you hadn't pushed on Naboo. If you'd just let me stay with you, maybe you'd still be here. Maybe I'd be staring across this fire at you, asking you to tell me another story from when you were a Padawan. Maybe I wouldn't be hurting so much inside that it's hard to breathe./

/This pain is insidious, and it never goes away. I thought that it would, everyone tells me that it should. It should fade... should, but it doesn't. If you were here, Master, you'd quote the Code to me, but I don't know what it means. If you've gone into the Force, why can't I feel you any more? Why is our bond so entirely broken, when it was a thing of spirit as well as mind and heart and... Where are you?/

/You never prepared me for this aloneness. You never said how much it would hurt to not have you in my life. Sometimes, I dream of you. I'm still your Padawan, and we're having dinner in the commissary. You're laughing at some story I've told. Your eyes are all crinkly and happy at the corners. Your shoulders shake with mirth, your hand covers mine, and you lean into me. I'm right behind you when we leave, ready to take up whatever mission we're being sent on next./

/You're very tall in front of me--a tower of cloaked strength that's dignified and graceful. At least in public. No one else hears the bawdy songs you sing in the shower. You sing softly, yes, but I still hear them and smile. No one else hears you acerbic summaries of the various diplomats and officious officials we encounter. Only I am privy to that, and I cherish it, just as I cherish my place two paces behind you, at your left shoulder./

/My place. Mine. I am yours, only yours, and then I wake up. I remember then that I no longer belong to you. I belong only to myself and answer only to the Council. There are no more bawdy songs or pithy comments. There is no one to help me be the best Jedi I can be, to tell me when my kata isn't quite right, to reassure me when I feel like I've made an ass of myself at some embassy dinner. You're not there to give me advice on how to turn down latest lascivious wife, or to step in and claim me when some hormonally panting viceroy's daughter is drooling on my toes during a dance. You're not here to wrap your cloak around me on nights like this, to share the warmth of the fire and the path of the embers. I sleep alone and cold on the bare earth, fulfilling my missions with a heavy, empty heart./

/I go through the motions of being a proper Jedi, and even the Council seems satisfied with that. I have to to that well; I will not have my actions reflect badly on your training of me, Master. I think I'm doing that much well enough. Sometimes Yoda's eyes are sad when he looks at me, but he's not calling me onto the Councilroom tiles except to report on each mission, so I must not be doing anything really wrong. But I find no joy in being a Jedi. Absolutely none./

"Your thoughts travel far tonight, young Jedi." Settling crosslegged beside Obi-Wan, Laird Dachur focused on the fire and brought his hands together. Obi-Wan watched as the flames were forced by the power of the man's mind into a smaller circle.

"I thought you said that you'd shielded our campsite from detection?" Obi-Wan asked.

"I did, and I have. But all fires die and even this most powerful mage must sleep, Knight Kenobi. My magic will dim after I close my eyes. This light, while still offering heat, will present a smaller target for our enemies."

"They're a full day behind us."

"They march through the night," the laird reminded him. "I can almost smell their foul odor on the wind. They will be upon us tomorrow morning."

Obi-Wan had met other magicians and countless so-called wisemen on his travels with Qui-Gon. Most had been arrogant or preoccupied; none had ever had time to entertain or even to acknowledge the young man at his Master's side. Dachur was different. From the moment he'd met Obi-Wan, he'd treated him as a friend. What confused Obi-Wan about this mission was that Dachur had seemed unconcerned when Obi-Wan told him that Council had assigned him to bring the laird safely back to Coruscant, where Chancellor Palpatine would arrange for him to address the Senate regarding the Slankine outrages. Dachur seemed far less concerned than was the Jedi Council about his beautiful little planet being exploited, his people being exterminated by the invading Slank.

At their first meeting, Dachur had inquired after Obi-Wan's training to become a Jedi, to be a warrior, rather than concerning himself with how quickly they could leave for Coruscant.

"I'm well-trained, I assure you," Obi-Wan had soothed, in his best 'you can trust me to watch your back' voice. "I'd like to think that's why Council sent me in the first place. I'm only sorry that I didn't get here earlier, and that they didn't sent more of me to help save your people from death."

"My people are not dead," Dachur had insisted, offering a sly smile.

"Then where are they, my lord?" Obi-Wan had asked, in confusion.

The older man's eyes twinkled. "They have used my magic and have gone... elsewhere."

Obi-Wan sighed. /Gods, not delusional sorcery again. You think you're a magician, but your people are dying. If you'd just come with me to Coruscant, you could compete with Master Yoda at this sort of thing while we save your people from genocide./ Schooling his features into a calm he did not feel, Obi-Wan knelt before the laird.

"My Lord, I offer my services to see you and any loved ones on Pescha who may have survived the Slankine invasion safely brought to Coruscant."

The older man's hand settled on Obi-Wan's head. He shivered under that touch. No one touched him, at all, since Naboo.

"There's no need for your services, young Jedi. Everything has its time to die; it is time for my world now."

"But it doesn't have to be this way!" Obi-Wan had protested. "This is your world, not theirs. If you tell the Senate your troubles, then--"

"The result would be the same, Knight Kenobi. The Slankine have moved far too quickly for any Republic army to stop them. The land has already surrendered. We knew that one day we would have to surrender as well. As a people, we long ago decided to go elsewhere."

"You've just let them destroy you?" Obi-Wan was incredulous. "All of you? You're willing to lose your families, your homes, and your loved ones? Please, don't let this happen. There has to be another way."

"There is no other way. There is no need for another way. My people are all gone. I am the last, and I stayed only to meet you. To tell you that we are grateful, but your services are not needed, Sh'ra Jedi."

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and bowed his head. Wrapping his shaking hands in the arms of his robes, he tried to release his feelings of needless loss into the Force, tried to distance himself.

/It's their choice to make, and they've obviously already made it,/ he reminded himself. /Don't get involved, remember?/ Rising to his feet, Obi-Wan bowed slightly and backed three paces away form the laird--acknowledging and respecting the older man's decision.

Dachur regarded him thoughtfully for a long moment. "Our loss upsets you?"

He hesitated before answering. Something told him not to lie to this man, any more than he would have lied to his own Master.

"I recently lost someone I loved very much," he murmured. "I would have given anything to save him. I still would, if it were possible. It's... difficult for me to stand by and do nothing while--"

"While you watch us lose our world."

"He was my world." Obi-Wan choked, swallowing hard as he tried to continue meeting Dachur's gaze. "I just didn't know it until he was gone. I hope you will not regret your loss as I do mine."

"I see." The older man's brown eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Staring at a point about three inches over Obi-Wan's head, he murmured quietly, "There may be something you can do for me, after all."

"Yes, my lord?"

"The Slankine have been most insistent that I share my magic with them. This, I will not do. Can never do. I must join my loved ones at Cnoc Scáthan--the mirror hill. If I may impose on you, Knight Kenobi, I would appreciate your company and your protection on the journey."

"Of course." /He wants me to accompany him on a path that will end with his self-destruction. This is not good, but again, it's his choice to make. If this is how they wish to use the assistance of the Jedi, so be it. I will fulfill my mission./ Bowing, Obi-Wan centered and resigned himself to seeing this man to his death.

And so their two-day journey had begun. It was a sacred journey, made on foot. The land behind them was scorched and ruined by the Slankine. Before them stretched a verdant landscape of forests and hills that hurt Obi-Wan's heart as he looked on it and walked it.

/In only a few days, all of this will be gone,/ he realized. /How can they just have given up instead of fighting, or asking for help? What possible lesson is here for me to learn?/

"Tell me about the man you lost," Dachur had asked a few hours into the journey.

"He was my Master. He trained me as a Jedi." Obi-Wan was content to let the story end there, but the laird's curiosity was not to be satisfied by those vague labels.

"So, what manner of man was he? Bold and dashing? Quiet and introspective? Prone to shouting and throwing things and long, boring speeches?"

The thought of his dignified Master shouting and pontificating was enough to coax a small smile from Obi-Wan. "Ah, so I'm wrong? Then tell me. Who was he?"

And so the story began--slowly at first, with Obi-Wan reluctant to reveal their beginnings on the journey to Bandomeer, not to mention Qui-Gon Jinn's thrice rejection of him. But the sun was warm, the day was peaceful, and Obi-Wan gradually relaxed into the tale.

"I've told no one these things before," he admitted to Dachur after relaying the first official mission they'd served after Qui-Gon had claimed him as Padawan. "The bare events are in the Temple archives of course, but nobody knows how I felt or how I saw my Master, how I loved being with him. I have a Calamarian friend who knows some of it, but no one knows all of it."

The laird had stopped on the road to bow his respect. "I am honored that you honor me with your story, and his. He was a remarkable man."

With the sun's setting like a fiery ball against the mountains, memories of the battle on Naboo flooded Obi-Wan's mind, and he found it difficult to continue talking. Sensing his companion's reticence, Dachur stopped for the night and lit a small fire. Obi-Wan laid claim to the task of making dinner, taking a portion of the laird's supplies and augmenting them with his own rations to prepare a dinner he wouldn't have been ashamed to have served to his own Master.

"You cooked for your Master, as well?" asked Dachur.

"Every day."

The laird nodded. "There was much love between you. You took care of him, and he took care of you. I'm sure he was very proud of you, Sh'ra Jedi. I'm sure that he is proud of you. That he watches over you from within your Force."

Obi-Wan nodded. "He taught me his magic--everything he knew. I don't think he would have done that if he hadn't been at least pleased with me."

Digging into his own meal, Obi-Wan realized that he was right; under Qui-Gon's strict and consistent tutelage, he *had* become a Jedi Knight, he had acquired the skills to destroy the Sith, and was a full Knight now. For a long time, he'd felt unworthy of the honor, not to mention unprepared. Tonight, for the first time, he felt as if he just might be a credit to Qui-Gon Jinn's legacy.

With dinner long past and sleep drawing closer, Obi-Wan look at the older man with whom he was sharing this journey. There were similarities between the laird and the Master. Girded in leather and iron, the man was a strong, lean warrior still in his prime. His proud profile revealed a broken nose and his long, elegant fingers reminded Obi-Wan of his Master's. He lived and would die by his own personal code, and neither Jedi Council nor Senate could change or compromise that.

Dachur's long white hair was pulled back severely and braided down his back, but it still gleamed in the flames. Seeming oblivious to Obi-Wan's staring, the older man unbuckled his blaster, spread his sleeping pelts, and settled in for the night.

"Tomorrow is soon enough to resume your brooding tales of Qui-Gon Jinn," Dachur announced, grunting in his efforts to find a comfortable spot among the stones determined to invade his makeshift bed. "I look forward to hearing them, but we must sleep now, young Jedi. Your Master walks in your heart with you still. Know that you are not alone."

Wrapping up in his robe, Obi-Wan lay down and took a moment to stare up into a night sky filled with bright stars. Giving a soft smile, he remembered the contentment he'd often felt while lying beside Qui-Gon on some farflung planet or another.

/Goodnight, Master,/ he sent to the stars. /Be well, wherever you are./

* * *

Morning came all too soon, and with it came the war-cries of the Slankine and the explosive fire missiles that accompanied them.

"How far is Cnoc Scáthan?" Obi-Wan demanded, deflecting blasterfire and shielding the laird as much as he could.

"You're standing on it, Sh'ra Jedi!" the mage roared at him, diving for cover behind a particularly well-placed boulder and hauling Obi-Wan behind him. The Jedi sprang back, nearly on the older man's toes, as the boulder before them shattered, spraying rock almost in their faces. Dachur was pulling on his arm before the smoke had a chance to clear. "This way!"

Crouching low, the older man ran the length of a natural stone wall leading at a sharp angle downward. Obi-Wan followed, guarding the man's back and reaching out with his Force-sense to discern that, for the moment, they were alone.

Taking a zigzag course, Dachur made good use of the thick forest and doubled back on the army to lead the way around the side of the mountain and down to its base.

"It won't take long for them to follow our trail," Obi-Wan pointed out as the man nearly collapsed against a tree, panted for breath.

" 's not... much further...."

The older man stumbled toward a stone cairn all but hidden in the deep brush. Glancing at the ground, Obi-Wan saw that the earth was hard-packed, revealing the outline of many feet that had passed this way before. Muttering something beneath his breath, Dachur increased his pace. Toward what, Obi-Wan didn't know, as the cairn's entrance was blocked by a solid wall of rock. A roaring filled his ears in the next moment, and Obi-Wan looked up over the cairn's slanted entrance to see a solid wall of fire roiling toward them, devouring all in its path.

"Firetide!" he yelled, setting his hand to his saber and realizing the next moment how impossible it was to fight such an enemy with a slender energy blade. "They've set the mountain to flame."

Dachur blissfully ignored the Jedi. Laying his cheek and hands against the cairn rock he accelerated his chanting. Obi-Wan felt surprisingly calm as he looked death in its screaming, heated maw. So this was how his life would end? Very shortly, he'd be with Qui-Gon again, after his body had been incinerated faster than his Master's had ever dreamed of.

/There's a certain irony in that,/ Obi-Wan thought, bracing himself for the immolation that was only seconds away. /I'll have my own funeral pyre, just as my Master did, but I'll have mine alone, just as I've been a Jedi alone--/

"Sh'ra Kenobi!" the laird bellowed over the roar of the flames.

He hadn't time to respond before feeling the skin on his face tighten with the oncoming heat. His eyes showed him what surely couldn't be so--Dachur melting into the solid rock. Surely it had to be his own eyes that were melting? The next instant, Obi-Wan felt unseen fingers grasp his tunics. Hauling him off of his feet, they yanked him through the cairn wall and into the side of the mountain. So close were the flames that their roar of outrage made his ears hurt. Their hunger licked his back; he smelled acrid smoke as they leaped for his robes.

/Nobody alive passes through rock,/ he reflected. /Am I dead now?/

The unseen hands let him go. He took two steps forward and turned sligihtly to see cold granite at his back. Igniting his lightsaber, he kept turning to find himself in a narrow rock chamber, with Laird Dachur grinning at him like a fool.

"Glad to see that you followed me, young Jedi. For a moment, I thought you enchanted by the fire. I didn't think you'd make it."

"Of course I followed you." Obi-Wan peered into the solid darkness surrounding the man. "I didn't have much choice after you grabbed and hauled me in here... Wherever here is," he added, peering into the gloom.

A puzzled frown creased the mage's brow. "Hauled?" He shook his head. "I called for you to follow, and left the following to you. As for where we are, we're with the ancestors. Look about... you'll see."

Obi-Wan could scarcely absorb that information, as he was stil mulling over how he'd come to be there. /If Dachur didn't pull me in, then who... Master?/ He sent the hopeful query into the ether, but was rewarded with only silence for his efforts. Trembling slightly with the realization of how close he'd come to dying, and not knowing whether to be grateful or irritated that he'd been rescued at the last moment, Obi-Wan shrugged mentally and took Dachur's advice. Holding his lightsaber before him like a beacon, he looked beyond the laird and found that they were standing in a crypt. The dead surrounded them, bones stretched out on shelves and skulls grinning.

"Is this where your people went?" asked, trying to keep the horror from being heard in his voice. Was this the 'elsewhere' the laird had spoken of? Was this the place they'd fought to reach?

"My people? Some of them are here, yes. But not all of them. Come. We have somewhat of a journey still ahead of us. Your lightsaber will serve us well. Hold it high, Sh'ra Jedi, that I might see what I'm doing."

And so it was that Obi-Wan found himself following the mage through solid rock. The laird led the way, chanting and stroking the stone. Obi-Wan watched it retreat under the man's touch, give way so that the two of them could pass, only to close once more behind Obi-Wan. It groaned and rumbled and protested, but the stone still gave way to the laird's coaxing. They journeyed in the enclosed darkness for what seemed hours, but might have been only minutes. Obi-Wan chose his steps carefully, not wanting to trod on his guide, or break his concentration. For all that he knew, to do so would bring the mountain flowing down around their heads. While Obi-Wan had no real objection to perishing and becoming one with the Force, he felt that Dachur might not be happy about it. And as protecting the Laird Dachur was his assignment as a Jedi, he would do all in his power to see the laird safely...wherever it was that he was going. Unfortunately, all Obi-Wan could do now was hold a candle against the darkness.

He was glad for his saber; it gave him something to hold onto, something to do in lighting Dachur's way. It's steady presence had a soothing effect, perhaps because Obi-Wan fastened his gaze on the hilt in his hands and was reminded that the weapon he clutched had been Qui-Gon's. It was much better to think of Qui-Gon and their possible reunion, than the mechanism that might make this possible. /Usually it's polite to wait until someone is dead before entombing them. This is not an experience I'd ever contemplated./ More rock moaned, flowing aside from the Laird's touch as the stepped further into the mountain. An echoing grinding complaint followed behind them, and Obi-Wan dared a quick glance over his shoulder at the rock flowing back together at his heels.

/Does it hurt when the rock flows through your bones/ he wondered absently. Not that it mattered much. Wouldn't take long to stop that particular pain, as breathing rock was a bit beyond even the most advanced Jedi. The Force beckoned to him, he shook off his morbid anticipation of his last moments, returning his attention to the more comfortable and comforting glow of his Master's lightsaber and the powerful shoulders of the Laird just ahead of him. He did have a mission to complete. Focus on the here and now, Padawan.

They walked a level path, which eventually led slightly downward, until Dachur spared a glance over his shoulder and winked at the Jedi behind him. Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow, but thought it prudent not to speak. Within minutes, the rock folded outward to let them walk into an open catacomb, much like the one they'd left only Force knew how long ago. Adrenaline had long stopped flowing through Obi-Wan's veins; he'd felt weary and uneasy on his feet for some time.

Striding across the crypt, Dachur laid his cheek and hands against the rock once more. Dousing his saber, Obi-Wan felt that this was probably the end of the journey. They'd walked through the mountain and would exit into a dead land destroyed by the Slankines, just as they'd left, though perhaps without the flames. What, then? What had they accomplished but to delay the inevitable? Granted the report of this past day's travel would make interesting reading for the council, but would there still be transport to be had off-planet? Could he return to Coruscant, much less file a report for the Council? Closing his eyes, Obi-Wan drew a deep breath and grounded. Hard. The Force would guide him, as it always had. The rest was not up to him.

First in a trickle and then a flood, light attacked his eyelids. Opening his eyes, Obi-Wan squinted into the sunlight, seeing blue sky beyond the cairn aperture and not a hint of smoke or desolation anywhere. Coming up beside Dachur, he saw a beautiful green forest, much like the one they'd left.

And so it was: the Slankine army hadn't circled around to this side of the mountain yet. It would be a matter of hours, surely, until they--

The sound of children's laughter came on the breeze. Dachur stepped out into the light in time to catch the first laughing child up in his arms. The others crowded around him, begging to be picked up in their turn.

"You came! Father said you would, before the moon rose again."

"We've missed your stories."

"Everything's ready. I'm so glad you're hear, m'lair."

"Come now, children... I've someone with me. Someone who's been very patient while we've walked through the darkness. Someone who is seeking the light. Shall we move, hmmm?"

They fell back obediently, sparing short curious glances for Obi-Wan and falling silent when he stepped up into the light and looked about.

"Welcome to elsewhere, Sh'ra Kenobi."

Of one thing, he was certain: they weren't on Pescha any longer. He'd long ago learned that every planet had a feeling, a Force-vibration associated with it. He felt it the moment he disembarked, and that feeling did not go away until he left that planet.

"This is not the same planet," he said softly to Dachur.

"No," the man said cheerfully. "It is not." Looking at the little girl in his arms, the laird continued. "I've a lesson to teach. Could you run along and tell your mother that I'm home and will see her shortly?"

The child stared at Obi-Wan, but nodded obediently. Settling her on her feet, Dachur watched as she bolted through the crowd of children, leading the way through the woods. Turning to Obi-Wan, Dachur drew a deep breath.

"Be it blessing or curse, young Jedi, I've brought you into another universe. A mirror of our own, yet very different, as I've no doubt you'll soon discover for yourself. This is indeed Pescha, but you'll find no Slankines here. They simply... do not exist. Were not allowed to evolve."

"Were not allowed... Are there Jedi here?"

The laird chuckled. "Indeed, yes. Everything this galaxy is, it owes to the Jedi in ways I'd say you can't possibly imagine. But that's something else for you to discover."

Sliding a companionable arm across Obi-Wan's shoulders, the laird smiled down at him. "You weren't happy in your world. No, I didn't ask if you'd like to come on this journey with me, but you weren't likely to stay on your world any longer than necessary anyway. This world may offer you more happiness. There's a Coruscant out there, and a Jedi Temple. Beyond that...." He shrugged and offered a crooked grin. "If I told you everything that's out there... Well, then, Sh'ra Jedi? It wouldn't be an adventure any more, now, would it?"

"You're saying that this is a parallel universe? Like and unlike our own?"

"That's right."

"This is the... elsewhere... your people came to, in order to escape the Slank invasion?"

"Right, again." The laird's eyes were laughing as he watched Obi-Wan struggle to accept that what he was being offered was possible.

"They're safe here. And you're telling me that this is a... mirror... universe to ours? So that my... my...." His mind furnished the words, but his lips would not speak them, lest Dachur tell him no, it wasn't possible. Not in his own universe, and not in this one.

A hand squeezed his shoulder. "I'll say it for you, Obi-Wan. 'Master' is the word your tongue trips over." Dachur grinned at him, broad and amused and laughing. "Your Master may yet be alive in this universe. That's something else for you to find out, yes?"

"Yes," he whispered. His knees felt very wobbly. He wasn't certain he could stay on his feet, but he would try because those legs had to carry him to Coruscant, and to the Jedi Temple. He had to know. As soon as possible, he had to know whether....

"You are weary, Sh'ra Jedi. The other worlds have been there always and will be there yet in the morning. You're welcome to stay with us, to rest, to gather your strength--"

"I'm fine. I need to... to go. Just tell me... Can I use Republic credits here? Credits from our world?" His hand went to his supply belt where the pouch containing Qui-Gon's credits rested.

"You can," Dachur affirmed. "You'll find that this universe is much like ours in many ways; the Republic is intact, and so is its monetary system. You should do fine, young Jedi."

He didn't know about that, but he was certainly going to try. "Where's the nearest spaceport?"

"Three spans in that direction." The mage cocked a thumb over his shoulder. "Do you need transport? You look a bit wobbly." Again the laughing grin that evidenced understanding, and the amusement of an elder toward the impatience of youth.

"No, I have transport," Obi-Wan said. Three spans? He could run that in half an hour. And would. No matter how stunned he felt, no matter how hard his heart was already beating or how lightheaded he felt. He would reach that spaceport, and he would reach Coruscant. "Thank you, Laird Dachur. I think."

The older man's rich laughter rang in the warm air. "Thank you for seeing me through my journey, Obi-Wan Kenobi. I've the feeling that yours is only just beginning."

The laird pointed out the path. With a hasty bob serving as a bow of parting, Obi-Wan ran.


The young woman behind the counter brought her hands together and gave a brief bow in a fair replica of the Jedi's own greeting. Her eyes were warm, her smile respectful as she smiled up at him. "Where can I send you, Sh'ra Jedi?"

Somewhat bemused, he bowed formally in return because it seemed the thing to do. If anything, her smile grew broader. He swallowed hard and hoped that when he opened his mouth the sound that came out would be more than a squeak. "Erm...Coruscant?"

She keyed in the ticket. "You're heading home to the Temple, then?"


Bowing again, she handed him the ticket. "The Silver Star leaves in ten clicks. Safe journey, and may the Force be with you."

He stared at the ticket--holographic silver with black lettering, glowing with promise. His hand trembled as he read his destination: Coruscant, Galactic City. "How much do I owe you?"

"Owe me?" She sounded confused. "Nothing. Has your mission been taxing, Sh'ra? If you need to rest or require the services of a healer, I can delay your passage while you--"

"Um... no. That won't be necessary." If she didn't want payment, then Jedi apparently traveled free in this galaxy. Clutching his passport to what he hoped was home, Obi-Wan gave another brief bow and wrapped his robe closer about himself. "Thank you for your help. The Force be with you."

She beamed as though he'd blessed her. Stepping away from the counter, he was bowed to by at least three people in line behind him. When he returned the greeting, they all smiled warmly. He had the feeling that he could have asked any of them for assistance and they'd have considered it an honor to give it. /Just because I'm Jedi?/

That was definitely different. In his own galaxy, he could come up against number of reactions--wary respect or avoidance, outright fear, fascination or curiosity. But he couldn't remember any stranger--much less an entire spaceport full of them--ever being willing to embrace his presence simply because he was Jedi. Somehow their smiling enthusiasm for his breathing made him very uncomfortable. It was almost eerie, this ... affection? /Perhaps it's simply a cultural characteristic of this Pescha./

Satisfied with that logical conclusion, Obi-Wan wandered toward the gate he needed. The reactions of those traveling the same corridors made him revise his conclusions regarding how the Jedi were treated on Pescha. Weary, travel-worn eyes lit up when he walked into the waiting area. Mothers nudged daughters, fathers whispered to sons and pointed at him. The roomful of bored people seemed to awake, with every head turned in his direction. He'd been the center of attention before, but not like this. Not for simply... being.

The murmurs he'd inspired dissolved into silence; they seemed to be waiting for him to address them. Totally at a loss for the appropriate response in this weird world, his stuttering thoughts came up with greeting drilled deepest into his soul. Wrapping his arms in his sleeves, Obi-Wan bowed formally, as though he were standing before the Council. "May the Force be with you."

As one, they nodded or bowed and repeated it back to him. Warm welcome and affection rolled through the Force itself, nearly bowling him over with its enthusiastic intensity. /They *like* me!/ he realised. /Why?/

A little girl hugging a well-worn stuffed wookie tugged at his sleeve and squiched her finger at him. /Come down here,/ that finger clearly said. He knelt obediently, laughing outright when she wrapped her arms around his neck and strangle-hugged him. He hugged her back.

"What's your name?" she demanded.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"Mine's Jalar."

"That's a very pretty name."

"Do you have a saber?"


"Can I see it?"

Thankfully, her mother came to retrieve the child before Obi-Wan had to think of a diplomatic way to tell her no, she couldn't. Giving a shy shrug, the young woman took the girl's hand.

"Sorry, Sh'ra Kenobi."

"That's all right." He brushed a hand over the child's fine, flyaway hair. "Thank you for the hug."

There was no deceit in this woman, and the interest of the child had been genuine. There seemed to be no ulterior motives anywhere.

/Is this world really as gentle as it seems?/ he wondered as the child twisted around to wave back at him. His hand rose to wave absently in automatic response in spite of his bewilderment.

"Silver Star now boarding, gate twelve," said a pleasant, mechanical voice, saving him from further encounters with his fans. The ship he'd been assigned was a luxury liner; it would make the trip to Coruscant in only twelve standard hours. The crowd parted to allow him to board first, but he waved them on. "Thank you, but please, go ahead."

/The Jedi still serve the people here, don't they?/ he thought in confusion as he waited his turn. /We can't be pampered and adored for nothing./ Running a hand through his hair, Obi-Wan sighed. /There's far too much I don't know about this universe. If this small group's reactions are any indication, public relations alone are much different. What will be different about the Jedi themselves? Am I even still really a Jedi here?/

The crowd seemed pleased with his gesture, boarding quietly before him. When at last he handed his ticket to the attendant, he was directed to a standard cabin in the forward portion of the ship, a cabin no larger than his new rooms at the Temple. He was relieved at its humble size; he'd half expected to have been assigned a luxury suite.

So unsettled did he feel, so ungrounded, that the first thing Obi-Wan did was to shrug out of his robes and seek the 'fresher. As he'd anticipated on a luxury liner, real water was available. He turned it up as hot as he could stand, stepping beneath the spray to let it pound the tension from his muscles and wash away the dirt of his journey.

Toweling off, he wrapped himself in just his robe and settled against the wall to meditate. The ship lurched into hyperspace; Obi-Wan automatically checked the chronometer. In less than a day, he'd be home--or what he hoped still passed for home. Drawing a deep breath, Obi-Wan set his hands on his thighs, closed his eyes, and sank into the still, small core of himself. There was peace there amid the total upheaval and uncertainty of his life.

* * *

/It smells like rain,/ was his first thought, stepping off of the Silver Star and onto a landing platform. /But it doesn't rain on Coruscant at street level. And where are all of the buildings?/ Turning in place, he stared at the lush landscape, with its thick forests, cloud-filled skies, and... silence.

One thing Coruscant was not supposed to be was silent. Ever. The sheer number of its citizens, not to mention its constant traffic, ensured that. But here he saw no air traffic, no cloudscrapers, and no crowds. There were buildings, yes, but they seemed to have been designed to compliment rather than to cover the land. He heard birds singing -- almost unnaturally sweet and serene -- something he'd never heard on Coruscant outside of the nature domes. /Is this really home? Am I on the wrong planet?/

Leaving the spaceport, he sought an information kiosk and called up a map of the area. The Jedi Temple was still in the same place--about fifteen minutes away. An underground transport system was available to take him there. Touching other keys, Obi-Wan explored the surrounding city.

/Everything's different,/ he realized. /There's no sprawling city across the entire planet, and there are no nature domes. Are the animals still in their woods? The population seems to have shrunk by at least eighty percent, and the planet can support that easily. What's going on here? Where's the Senate, the greed and commercialism? Where the hell am I?/

Leaving the kiosk, he strode quickly to the underground, ascertained which transport he needed, and shoved a couple of credits into the automated turnstile. Granted admittance, Obi-Wan all but bolted down the stairs, intent upon reaching the platform.

The transport moved quickly, silently into the station. Obi-Wan found himself being expected to greet his fellow, far-too-friendly passengers as he had on the Silver Star. He did so and then raised the hood of his robe to move with false serenity to the front of the transport. If he didn't meet their eyes, he didn't have to respond. Right now, to cope with their warmth and interest was more than he could manage. Agitation, unbecoming a Jedi though it might be, dominated him at this moment. His breathing was shallow and his heart was beating far too fast. He felt rather than saw the curious looks he was given; these people wanted to talk to him. Their interest was sincere, and in other circumstances he'd have welcomed their company and conversation. Right now, however, it was all too strange. Not that he was complaining. Not yet. From what he'd learned so far, this Coruscant was a definite improvement on the old one. What he didn't understand was how it had come about.

The transport halted at the next station and he felt the presence of other Jedi immediately. Daring to peer out from beneath his hood, he wasn't surprised to see that the Master/Padawan pair were up as well. They headed for him, of course, nodding acknowledgement of his presence and sitting opposite him. He summoned a sincere smile in answer to the young Padawan's shy glance and bowed his head in acknowledgement of the Master, who nodded briefly back at him. The Padawan looked to be about thirteen--just chosen, perhaps--while the Master looked old and hoary enough to be her grandfather.

The next stop was the Temple itself, and Obi-Wan followed the pair from the transport. Pneumatic doors ushered them toward a bank of gleaming gold vertical lifts. He boarded behind the two Jedi, was relieved to see that the choices of the levels hadn't changed. He poked the one leading to the main library and its archives. Before trying to approach anyone in this new world, he knew that he had a lot of research to do.

* * *

Obi-Wan requested a private research room, and got it. No ID required by the droid attendance; just sign in here. That was a mercy; there was no telling what manner of chaos might result from presenting Jedi ID for a Jedi who might not exist at all here. The door slid closed behind him; he locked it. He called up the central computer and was relieved to find that it hadn't changed, either. The menus were all the same; he had just as much access to the information he wanted as he would have had at home.

Dimming the lights, Obi-Wan took a deep breath and settled before the screen. He needed one question answered right now, above all others. Calling up the Temple directory, he entered "Qui-Gon Jinn" and closed his eyes. Taking another deep breath and failing miserably at grounding, Obi-Wan finally dared to squint open his eyes and look at the results of his search.

"Jinn, Qui-Gon (M). Tower 5, Level 10, Suite 3. Padawan: None. Current Status: Sabbatical."

/He's ALIVE./ Obi-Wan nearly sobbed aloud. 'Sabbatical' could mean anything--on-planet, off-planet, half of the galaxy away or meditating in his chambers, but that didn't matter. The man was alive and well *somewhere* in this universe. It was enough. For now, it was more than enough.

Adrenaline flooded his body. Obi-Wan found that he was shaking so badly and made so many typing errors that he had to re-enter his request to switch over to the historical database. Once there, he called up a brief history of the Jedi. The information scrolled onto the screen, and Obi-Wan tried to concentrate on learning about the new universe he'd entered.

Two hours later, he pushed away from the reader and stared in stunned amazement at it. Things were definitely not as they had been, and the Jedi was starting to believe that this was a very good thing. The Order was just as ancient here as it had been in his world, and the Sith had evolved as well, only to be struck down at a much earlier time. The evolution and destruction of the Sith had apparently been enough to make the Jedi re-evaluate their cloistered status as cerebrals and scholars. Rather than retreat into their Force studies and their Temples, training only the most sensitive in the ways of the Force, they had made the pivotal decision to teach anyone who wished to learn.

Philosophy or application of the Force, it made no difference: everyone was welcome to pursue his or her studies as far as their midichlorians, their talents, and their self-discipline allowed. The regional Temples were still reserved for the Order's exclusive use and for the training of Initiates and Padawans, but throughout the galaxy other, smaller temples had been established to teach and to serve the general populace. Ten thousand years of this policy had resulted in the evolution of a very different universe from the one Obi-Wan had left.

For one thing, its central government bore little resemblance to Obi-Wan's world. Force philosophy and application--respect and use of the Living and Unifying Force according to individual and collective need--was the cultural standard for every planet that had joined the Republic. "All life matters. We respect, answer, and preserve the needs of all life," seemed the core philosophy in this universe. Hence, those building on Coruscant had never been allowed to push aside or destroy the indigenous life. If Obi-Wan read the history correctly, the architects would have been horrified at the idea.

The Jedi Council of Twelve stood at the head of this civilization, tending to the spiritual and philosophical needs of the people. They directed the programs at the public temples and responded quickly to any problems that might arise locally which could not be worked out by local authorities.

The Council's technique was very much hands on, with each Council member being assigned as a guardian to watch over a specific region of the galaxy. As extensions of that sacred guardianship, Jedi teams were sent out by a particular councillor. They appeared to be assigned, not by rotation on a duty roster, but by expertise, experience, and knowledge. The specific needs of the mission were served by matching the Jedi team to that need; whoever was sent had prior experience in solving whatever problem was at hand. From what Obi-Wan could ascertain, Jedi guardianship was extremely focused and amazingly effective.

The Senate served beneath the Council, tending secular and temporal matters. The head of the Council acted as liaison between the two, but while the Senate could make requests or offer recommendations, the Council's decision was final. As in Obi-Wan's own universe, Master Yoda was the current head of Council.

/Where do I fit in all of this?/ he wondered. /And what does their Master Qui-Gon Jinn do? Maybe it's time for me to find out. I can't continue skulking about indefinitely; I want to be part of this Order, if they'll let me./

That brought up another consideration: were there two of him in this universe? Was he already part of the Order? Keying in his own name, Obi-Wan was stunned to read: "Kenobi, Obi-Wan (P - Deceased).

/I'm... dead? How and when?/ Search as he might, he could access no further information. Rocking back from the monitor, he glared at it. /'P - Deceased'... Does that mean that I died as a Padawan? Whose Padawan?/

/I'm dead, but Qui-Gon's alive--a reversal of what I left./ Shutting down the station, he felt that he'd learned everything he could from this source. It was time for the next step.

* * *

Obi-Wan waited what seemed like hours in the cell-like examination room. Going to the medical center, he had been all but ignored by the Padawan-healers on duty at the reception area. /Probably because I'm not bleeding all over their nice marble floor./

"What's your name, and why are you here?" asked the bored Padawan healer who finally approached him, dataslate in hand.

"Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi. I need counseling." /Boy, do I./

She ran the name through her portable database, and then looked up in puzzlement. "This says you're dead."

Obi-Wan nodded and offered his most sincere smile. "Yes, that's part of the problem. Perhaps you should have your Master see me?"

"Uh... yeah. Like, right now."

Within minutes, a dour-looking Calamarian stood before Obi-Wan, his gills vibrating quickly in irritation. "I am Healer Blask. My Padawan tells me that the name you gave her belongs to a Padawan who died some years ago. Is this some sort of stupid joke?"

He shook his head and offered an apologetic smile. "I *am* Obi-Wan Kenobi, Master Blask. I know this is difficult to believe, but I came from a parallel universe. I arrived through some sort of portal yesterday, compliments of a laird on Pescha whom I was serving on what was meant to be a routine mission. I managed to find my way here, but I'm a bit out of my depth, so I've come asking for help."

The Master's fish-lens eyes regarded him coldly. Sucking air through his gills in annoyance, he finally gave a brief nod. "This way."

Blask glided away, and Obi-Wan followed meekly in his wake. /At least he didn't immediately pronounce me insane and take away my lightsaber./

Installing the young knight in an examination room, the healer extracted a blood sample and then left. Long minutes later, the healer returned to ask that Obi-Wan strip off his tunics. In total silence, Blask then proceeded to examine the scars that Obi-Wan had collected over the course of his apprenticeship. Next, the healer thoroughly questioned him as to any serious injuries he'd received while serving as a Padawan. Obi-Wan dutifully listed them, everything from a dislocated shoulder and a broken ankle, to eye surgery to restore his vision and the installation of new eardrums to replace those that had been blasted out on Ord Mantell. /My Master joined me in that one./

The healer disappeared once again, leaving Obi-Wan in silence and ignorance for a very long time. The young knight was seriously considering a badly needed nap when the door finally slid back once more to admit a tall, thin Jedi dressed in Master's robes. His jet-black hair was brushed back severely from his forehead, his matching goatee was trimmed to perfection. The man exuded absolute calm and serenity in the Force; just being near him was enough to immediately sooth Obi-Wan's anxieties. No one else had ever had such an effect on him except his own Master.

/I don't know who you are, but I'm glad you're here,/ he thought, releasing some of his anxiety to the Force. Somehow, with this man's arrival, Obi-Wan thought that everything might turn out all right, after all.

Pale blue eyes regarded him kindly above an aquiline nose. A warm hand rested briefly on his shoulder. "Welcome to our world, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You've caused quite a stir within the Temple."

"I'm sorry, Master."

"No need to be sorry. These things happen. Occasionally a little excitement around these dusty halls can be a good thing. Let's see if we can't make all of us a bit more comfortable with your situation."

Whisking aside his robes, the man sat beside Obi-Wan on the examination table and opened the medical chart he carried with him. One long finger moved down the list of data, with Obi-Wan looking on and wishing he understood what he was seeing.

"Healer Blask ran a full genetic and midichlorian panel on you. He then compared it to our own Padawan Kenobi's records, fully expecting to find that you were either lying to him, or you were a clone. Imagine his astonishment when the two panels matched exactly, especially as our Padawan Kenobi died five years ago on Shaleika. He was immolated here at the Temple, and no samples of his genetic matter were preserved. Clone creation, therefore, was found to be an impossibility. Armed with this report, Healer Blask then gave you a physical examination, comparing your medical history to our Obi-Wan's. Your histories are, of course, completely different. At this point, Healer Blask contacted me. He tells me that you mentioned some experience in a parallel universe?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "I was sent by my own Council to help a Peschan laird whose planet was invaded. To escape the Slankine invaders, Laird Dachur and I entered what he called a mirror hill, and he led the way through what appeared to be solid rock. When we exited the mountain, I found myself in your universe. The laird made me understand that he had made this journey originally to save his own people."

The Master nodded. "Peschan magic is powerful. If this laird brought you through to our side, then the Force has a reason for letting him do so." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I had thought to question you further in isolation, Knight Kenobi, but I think perhaps Council needs to be brought in at this point. Would you object to appearing before them?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "I was rather expecting it, Master...."

"Forgive me for not introducing myself earlier, I am Councillor Telos. Shall we go?" Rising, he gestured Obi-Wan before him.

"After you, please." /Telos?/ Obi-Wan pondered, following this Master as was his habit, behind his left shoulder and a couple of steps behind. He took a deep, visceral comfort in the man's robe teasing his own booted feet even while Obi-Wan racked his brain, trying to figure out who this councillor was in the world he'd left.

"Councillor... XANATOS Telos?" he all but yelped a few seconds later.

Looking over his shoulder, the man fell back into step with Obi-Wan. "You knew me then, in your own universe?"

"Um... not exactly." Obi-Wan stared at the floor, the corridor paneling, anywhere but up at the austere Jedi who was how old now?

"Not *exactly*?" Xanatos prodded.

"By reputation only, councillor. You were my Master's second apprentice," Obi-Wan mumbled.

Xanatos thought for a moment. "Your Master was Qui-Gon Jinn, as was mine?"

Obi-Wan nodded.

"And?..." The councillor prodded, wanting the rest of the story. "If we shared the same master, why did we not meet?"

"You fell to the Dark."

Xanatos stopped dead in the hallway, uncaring of the traffic that had to flow around them. "How did that happen?"

Obi-Wan shifted nervously. "The short version is that you chose your father and his... um... business schemes over the Order."

Shrewd blue eyes regarded him. "The long version is, I suspect, much messier."

"I'm afraid so." /It's a longo tello, Xanatos. Please don't make me offer details./

"I came to a bad ending then, hmm?" A companionable arm slid around his shoulders. "I never knew my father in this world, Obi-Wan. He died just before I was apprenticed, and the throne of Talos was offered to a distant cousin. It remains with that house to this day, and I've never been sorry with my lot in life. While I exhibited--and as I'm requently reminded can still exhibit on occasion--much pride and arrogance, I cannot recall ever being tempted by the Dark. If I had been, my Master..." He gave a low laugh. "Having been apprenticed to Qui-Gon Jinn yourself, I'm sure you can imagine what would have happened?"

Obi-Wan could only nod as they continued their journey toward the Council chambers. /You speak so easily of him,/ he thought. /If you only knew... and when you do know, what will happen to me?/

* * *

"Much sorrow I sense in you," said Yoda, closing his eyes and reaching a clawed hand toward the young Knight standing in the center of the floor. His ears were canted sideways--never a good sign. "Sorrow for what you have lost, the universe you left? Return you, we can."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "With all due respect, Master, I don't think I want to go back. /There's nothing really to go back to, except Anakin,/ he thought, quashing the guilt he felt. /He'd do much better with another Master, a better Master than me, anyway./ "It seems the Force wishes me to be here."

/Lame, Kenobi. A sorry excuse to explain why you don't want to go home. They won't believe that./

"Then why are you sad?" asked Mace Windu.

"Things were different in my universe," he answered, trying not to glance at Xanatos, who sat silently and very still at Yoda's right hand. The raven-haired knight had his legs stretched out before him, his fingers steepled in careful thought, the pose familiar in its own way. His blue eyes studied Obi-Wan. He hadn't said a word since entering the chamber and leaving the young Jedi to stand alone in its center. Obi-Wan knew he was being judged by those eyes, and the quick mind behind them.

"I was recently knighted after losing my Master to a Sith on Naboo," Obi-Wan replied. "I... miss Qui-Gon."

Xanatos's eyes widened at that information. Obi-Wan had the pleasure of seeing his jaw drop... briefly.

Windu pounced. "Sith? What Sith?"

"A very angry one." Drawing a weary breath, Obi-Wan realized that this interview was not going to be easy, nor short. "It's a long and tangled tale, Masters, and I don't know that I can tell it all just now. /I can't tell it again. Not again. How many times do I have to say the words? There must be another way./

He sighed, then straightened his shoulders, decision made. "In order to familiarize yourselves with the events of my life, perhaps it's best if I offer myself for a direct mindsweep? That would provide all of the information you need."

"And then some," murmured Xanatos, narrowing his eyes. "Are you sure you know what you're offering, Knight Kenobi?"

Obi-Wan nodded. /I'm offering to bare all of my memories to you, to stand mentally naked and offer them up like some sacrifice and hope that you don't find them lacking./ "If it's possible, I'd like to claim a place in your universe. I'd like to be part of your Order, rather than be returned to my own world. I can't see your allowing me to do that unless you feel you can trust me to be exactly what I say that I am, and no threat to this order. You need to be as familiar with my training as my own Mast... my own Council was. I could answer your questions for hours--days, even--and still not have your confidence. Or you could perform the mindsweep and we could get it over within a matter of minutes, with all possible questions answered and doubts settled.

"A mindsweep is not an easy thing to get through," Xanatos reminded him. "You'll have no secrets from any of us once its done."

"I know. But I think it's the only way to make you understand where I've come from."

"So that we can decide where you're going," said Windu. "I'm satisfied with your proposal, Knight Kenobi."

The other Council members nodded their approval. Only Xanatos and Yoda looked uncertain.

"Strong knight you must be, to offer this," said Yoda.

/Desperate is more likely,/ he thought, offering a tight smile and his silence. He'd already made the offer and they'd chosen to accept it. /I've been through too much, too fast to be upset about twelve Council members walking through my mind. There's nothing private in there, anyway; I'm sad, not secretive. And I've already faced the worst thing that could happen to me./

Yoda's ears went up the moment Obi-Wan finished the thought. The young knight hadn't bothered to shield, but he wasn't sorry. He met the diminiutive Master's gaze calmly, ready to accept whatever verdict Council handed down after the mind sweep had been completed.


Qui-Gon Jinn swept through the small door leading into the observation booth, strode past his former Padawan, and glowered through the shielded plas-steel at the empty testing room beyond.

"I don't like this."

Xanatos stepped forward to stand at Qui-Gon's side and arched an eyebrow. "It's good to see you, too, Master. You got my message, then? And how was your sabbatical?"

"My sabbatical was fine, up to a point," Qui-Gon growled, standing with hands on hips. "Imagine my shock when someone sent word that my second Padawan has all but returned from the dead in the form of a traveler from another universe? Imagine my dismay when I was informed that this young man has offered to subject himself to mind-rape in order to satisfy the Council's curiosity."

Xanatos drew a deep calming breath. "It's a mind *sweep,* Qui-Gon. It's not rape."

"You've never had twelve people in your mind at once, prying open all the private places and poking all the bruises. Trust me. It's not just a sweep."

"Only three of us will be in attendance, if that helps smooth your ruffled plumage."

Qui-Gon turned to his former Padawan. "Lessened violation is still violation. Three or twelve, it doesn't matter. And what magic did you work on Yoda this time, to get him to agree to only three witnesses?"

"No magic. If this newcomer were anyone other than your own apprentice's double, I'm sure that the entire Council would be here. But Yoda was deeply upset at Obi-Wan's loss, and he's come to us with some great sadness that needs to be set right. Yoda sensed it and told me to get you up here for this."

Qui-Gon considered for a moment. Casting a slanted glance at Xanatoes, he narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "Loss? Loss of what? And what has this sadness to do with me?"

"Qui-Gon Jinn was Master to this Obi-Wan Kenobi as well." The councillor held Qui-Gon's gaze until the older man looked away.

"Was he?" the Master murmured. "I, however, was not. This isn't my Padawan, Xan. Mine is dead. This one is someone else's problem."

"Actually, this Obi-Wan isn't anyone's Padawan. He's just been knighted."

"Knighted?" The interest that piqued was obvious. "How old is he?"


Qui-Gon considered a moment more. "Young to be knighted, but a knight all the same. He is not my responsibility, no matter what name he carries. You and Yoda are *not* sucking me into this emotional morass. The Council's problem he is, and the Council's problem he shall stay. You know damn well why I'm not on the Council. I like a life with much peace and no entanglements. Whatever problems this Obi-Wan Kenobi has brought, they are yours to resolve. My Obi-Wan joined the Force five years ago, on Shaleika. I've accepted his death and moved on."

"Have you?" Xanatos murmured, unperturbed by his former Master's eloquent display of temper. "That's not what I hear from you late at night, when the Temple is asleep and we're burning the oil with one of our quiet, philosophical talks. I know how deep your pain runs, Qui-Gon, and how much you miss Obi-Wan. How deeply you feel that you failed and blame yourself for--"

"Enough!" he hissed. "I am attending this ceremonial torture as you and Master Yoda requested. I will witness this abomination and offer my opinion as required, and then I will return to my sabbatical. Immediately, and alone."

"As easy as that?"

"Yes," he growled. "I repeat, this is *not* my Obi-Wan. This is not someone with whom I can just pick up where I left off and lay to rest any painful old ghosts still flitting about. This Obi-Wan's genetics may match those of my Padawan, but he could never match his mind, his heart or his bright soul. My Padawan was not something that could be called up out of Stores, even if you have managed to come up with a spare."

"You still miss him."

"Of course I miss him. He was my Padawan."

"Ah... the victim cometh." Xanatos turned his attention to the small room on the other side of the plas-steel barrier.

Shaking his head at Xanatos's lightning-fast change of subject--something the younger man had done from the moment Qui-Gon had claimed him as apprentice, and something that was every bit as irritating today as it had been all those years ago--Qui-Gon turned for his first glimpse of the new arrival.

Obi-Wan walked to the narrow cot, shed his robe and settled beneath the sheet that had been turned back in preparation for him. In Qui-Gon's mind, Obi-Wan was frozen in time, a boy of sixteen years old. The knight before him, however, was not a boy. Most definitely not a boy. He moved with an easy grace, a warrior's balance. The muscles of his body were hard and lean, and the old wounds and scarring on his back and other places spoke of hard missions with numerous injuries.

None of their own young knights were so marked - a few scars here and there, yes, but not like this. Qui-Gon doubted that he could map his own missions via his own body as this young man could, and found himself wondering after the details of those missions. Clenching his jaw, he clamped down on the trecherous thoughts trying to catalog the differences between this Obi-Wan and the Padawan Qui-Gon had lost. The new arrival was a stranger; nothing more, nothing less, having nothing whatsoever to do with this particular Jedi Master. Drawing on endless years of discipline, Qui-Gon Jinn folded his arms and distanced himself from whatever he would witness through the mindsweep.

Naked before his Masters in body as well as mind, this Obi-Wan Kenobi stretched out on his back and allowed the attendant to fasten tiny recording devices to either temple, over the bridge of his nose, and just above his heart. Yoda joined the observers in the invisible observation antechamber as the last monitor was being placed, and glanced across at Qui-Gon, who bowed.

"Pleased I am that you are here." Climbing atop his dias and setting on a cushion, Yoda reached for the headset that would feed the mindsweep directly into his own mind.

"Pleased I am to be here, Master."

"Pleased you are *not*, but here you are." Yoda's slanted gaze said, /Don't lie any more./

Qui-Gon offered a tight smile before claiming his own seat. Reaching for his headset as Xanatos took up his own, the two Jedi locked the sets into position as the attendant in the next room calibrated on the equipment.

"Begin with your earliest memory in the creche, and go forward from there, please? This device will prompt you if you skip a memory." The attendant then backed from the room.

Lying with his eyes closed, Obi-Wan clenched his fingers into fists and nodded once before releasing every muscle. Qui-Gon could see that the young knight had begun doing deep relaxation exercises. The Master hoped that they would help, but feared -- no, he knew they would not.

The next moment, and without warning, Qui-Gon was yanked deep into the young man's mind. Obi-Wan Kenobi's shields had not simply dropped away; he had slammed them out of existence and reached across the mental barrier to establish direct contact with whoever was out there, hooked up and listening.

/What is this?/ Qui-Gon wondered, feeling the young man's desperation, his total immersion in the experience and his reckless willingness to lay bare his life.

/My first memory..../

Tiny hands and shins worked furiously to propel Obi-Wan over the floor. Shiny boots came into his field of vision. He climbed those boots as far as he was able, only to be lifted and have the room slant by like starstreaks. He squealed, finding it exciting to be lifted so high and craving any new experience. Held against a huge chest, he saw crinkly cornered blue eyes and a crooked nose. He felt secure against that chest and reached to touch the furr on someone's face. Laughing at the softness of the furr, he tangled his fingers in it, and pulled. Pulled and pulled some more.

A deep, rumbly laugh answered him, vibrated through Obi-Wan's entire body. His midichlorians reacted to the warm emotion, making the Force vibrate between him and this someone. Widening his eyes, he let go the beard and fixated on the warm eyes looking so intently at him.

"This one to the creche, I think. He's a bright boy, the Force is strong in him."

He was handed off to someone else, to another adventure. Before he and the furred one were parted, Obi-Wan had been able to put a name to the rumbles and the furr and the crooked nose.


In the chamber, beneath the monitors, Obi-Wan whimpered. /miss you Qwi. so much, miss you/

In the antechamber, Qui-Gon dropped his head back and closed his eyes against a sudden wave of emotion. He hadn't expected this, but the Force signature of this Obi-Wan was unmistakable. So was the memory--one he shared, but had forgotten until this moment.

/How is this possible?/ he demanded of a silent, but still-vibrating Force. /I miss you too, my Obi-Wan. Can we stop this now?/

Stopping was not an option. The memories flowed faster and faster, sped throught the equipment by the young man who wanted this over as soon as possible. Most subjects fought the sweep, if only a little. Most wanted to cling to some bit of privacy, their deepest dreams, their most shameful fantasies, or their most precious memories, which drew out the session until they gave in. Obi-Wan seemed determined to do the exact opposite. He flung the memories, events and impressions wide, to whoever was there to catch them. Every moment, every emotion was wrapped up in the one he'd first known only as Qwi. Obi-Wan made it clear that every moment before he'd been been allowed to take his place at his Master's left shoulder, exactly two steps behind him, had only been a preliminary life of preparation for that exact moment. Except for the skills he'd learned as an Initiate--skills that made Qui-Gon Jinn finally accept him as his apprentice--his life then was simply unimportant.

/Take this moment, when he called me Padawan for the first time. When he claimed me against all odds, and I was chosen. Odds he himself set before me. When he stood before the Council and said, "I take Obi-Wan Kenobi as my Padawan Learner" and it was entered into the official record. His hands were so big and heavy on my shoulders. He was invincible and intimidating and wonderful./

/Take this memory over here, when he taught me how to fly with a lightsaber and flew with me in battle. Here's the first kata he taught me, guiding me through it with his own body, making me learn it in the dark, to learn it by feel rather than by sight./

"Reach out with your instincts," Qui-Gon heard an echo of his own voice through Obi-Wan's mind. "See through our bond, strenthen it. Let the Force draw you closer to me, to move with me."

/Piece of cake, once I learned. He made me everything I am, and this is how he did it. Endless lessons, one passed only when I'd mastered it to perfection, laying a strong foundation that served us both well. He saw so much, he made me feel so much./

/And don't forget this memory, when he placed a newborn kat'la in the palm of my hands. It was wet and slimy, and its eyes were closed. Its claws were soft, it was wrinkled and ugly, and rather repulsive, but then he showed me how to touch its mind. I felt its fear and uncertainty, it's hunger to learn and live and its determination to *be*. He said it reminded him of me, but I don't know why. He helped me raise it, to coax it to flex its wings and learn to fly. He told me when it was right to let it go, to join those of its own kind, to be its own kat'la and no longer mine.

/I cried as I watched it fly into the sunset, and he told me then that, one day, I would be my own knight and no longer his Padawan. I rebelled against those words, but eventually made peace with them in meditation when I came to understand that death comes to all things, But I never thought I would be in a universe without him. I always thought that the Force would at least let me sense him out there, somewhere. But it doesn't. It's a big place, the Force. I guess it's too big to care about the loneliness of one small Padawan Learner. The hardest part is that he's just... not there./

Qui-Gon was jolted from the joining, his eyes flying open at that. /Not there? What do you mean... not there? Your Master loved you, Obi-Wan. He'd never leave you./

Obi-Wan didn't hear this Master, and his memories moved on.

/I can't forget to tell you about his touch. His hugs were so tight, I couldn't breathe, and his laughter rumbled me all of my days. I loved to hear him laugh, loved to make him laugh. I didn't care if I couldn't breathe because when he hugged me, he touched me. When he touched me, I could feel how he felt about me. When he adjusted my stance or my grip, I felt his belief that I could be one of the best Jedi ever; I felt his determimation to mold me to that end. Yes, he could be a hard taskmaster, but he was never a hard man. He was always as warm and gentle and big as his own hands. Even at the end, when he touched my cheek, when his body was growing cold already, his hands were still warm.

/He touched my cheek, and then his hand dropped to cover mine on his chest... but there are other memories before that one. You need to know about those, before you know about how everything ended.

/Take all of the times when his voice held love and caring and pride and lessons, and bundle them up into the exact moment when I realized that I truly belonged to him and was happiest when I was with him. Take the moment that exquisite voice stilled forever in my ears and in my mind--the exact moment on Naboo when his end of our training bond dissolved, and I was left alone. It hurts to be that alone. I wasn't prepared for how much it hurts.

/Don't forget all of the moments when we laughed together--the times we were so exhausted by a mission that we came home with the giggles and were accused of being drunk. When we got sucked down into the mud of Khyron together, and arrived at the palace of the prince drenched in dirt. When we saved the life of a terra-raptor baby together and restored it to its nest, only to be chased away and nearly knocked off of a sheer cliff to fall to our deaths.

/He shielded me with his own body from the raptor's claws, helped me climb down and walked with me into town to begin negotiations that very afternoon. I discovered the deep gouges and the dried blood that night, when he reluctantly asked me to help peel off his tunics. The blood had sealed the material to his back, and he had to soak in the bath before I could peel the tunics off of him and tend his wounds. He said the pain was worth it because I was alive and safe, and had no wounds of my own. He knew that if the raptor had slashed me, the injuries would have been much worse and I probably would have died. I was thirteen, at the time, small prey for a raptor that size. For the first time, I realized that my Master was willing to die for me.

/Take all of the times when we breathed the same air, crouched in hiding and smelling each other's fear, working to release it to the Force, and knowing that we *had to* before the battle started, else we couldn't join as effectively through our bond and move as one. Take all of the times we nearly choked on the smell of blood and shit in the battlefield, climbing over death-slick bodies, giving ourselves over to the Force as the battle continued because there was no more strength in our own bodies, and knowing that if one of us fell, the other would fall as well.

/Always, we were one, in purpose and movement and mind, and I learned so much at his side. That the taking of life is never easy, that you can fight through sobbing and vomiting and raging tears when you have to. That you do what you have to do to get through some things, and fall apart on the other end. That men are cruel and heartless, and sometimes you have to be what seems even more cruel if you're to tip the balance over into justice and save the innocents. But my Master was never heartless and part of him was always innocent, so as I learned how to kill, I also learned to mourn those whose lives I took. He taught me to remember their faces and as many names as could. To remember them as outcast, and to mourn.

/I didn't know until much later that he, too, knew what it was to be outcast. I didn't know that this was the reason why he had such compassion burning deep inside of him.

/Take all of the times we stood together before the Council, when he defied and infuriated them, and I soothed them. Take us as a team, take us separately, takes us for thirteen glorious years, always together, never apart. Take the best years of my life when I needed him so much, and he was there. Always, he was there. I hope that, somewhere along the way, he needed me, too, just a little, and that I was there for him sometimes.

/Take all of the love and respect I felt for him, and then take Naboo after he had rejected me as his Padawan, after he found and claimed his Chosen One on Tatooine. Take the pain and the anger I felt when he replaced me before the Council with a better Padawan, and take my pride and my refusal to forgive him. Take him running ahead of me when we fought the Sith, when he refused for the first time in all of our time together to let me fight at his back or at his side. He went in alone, because I wasn't good enough to help him. I got kicked off of a platform and I wasn't there for him after that, and he died because of me. Because I wasn't good enough./

/Obi-Wan, no..../ Qui-Gon breathed through the bond that wasn't.

/Take my terror and my dread on that afternoon, and gather it all up into the moment when I saw the Sith impale him. The moment when I knew that he would not survive, but I still had hope. A worthless hope, but hope nonetheless, of saving him. Take the moment when I fought the Sith in anger and walked on the edge of Darkness, with a red haze of fury claiming my spirit and threatening my soul. Take my letting go the anger the moment my hand claimed my Master's lightsaber because it felt like him, it still carried the warmth of his hand and his Force signature. Take the bond singing between us, so that it seemed to be his hand upon mine, his own arm arcing to slash the Sith in two. He gave his strength to me again then, for the last time in this life.

/And now, take my life, please, because it's over. Take what remains after Naboo--the shell of a Jedi, for that's all I have left to give. I know that I can serve you well; I just can't laugh or live as I used to, without him. It hurts too much inside to try, but I know that I can still be a good Jedi. He did train me well. I know that he's not dead in your world, but you don't even have to let me see him. I'll understand if you don't, because I'm not his Padawan, and it's really enough just to know that he's alive somewhere.

/So please take me and use me. Let me be what he taught me to be. I'll serve you in my Master's name, and you won't be sorry. And don't worry about me. I won't turn to the Dark because I can't forget that, for a few brief years, I belonged to him. He let me love him, he let me care for him. He let me just be with him./

Obi-Wan focused on the jagged ruins in his mind where the training bond used to reside. Bowing mentally, with deep respect, he whispered, /I miss you, Master. I'll always miss you./

With that, Obi-Wan's mind-voice faded into silence.

Xanatos wiped away his tears and removed his headset. Glancing over at his former Master, he saw that Qui-Gon had left his chair and was now kneeling before the plas-steel shield. His broad palm was spread against the barrier, his fingers pushing against it, trying to deny the separation. The Master's tears flowed unchecked, and Xanatos had to strain to hear the whispered words. "I miss you, too, my Obi-Wan."

Yoda's clawed hand settled gently on Xanatos's sleeve. "Leave them alone, we should."

Xanatos nodded. "Each to his own thoughts, Master Yoda. Let my Master think about what he's discovered while I tend to our young guest. Once they're both calmer, they can meet."

Nodding his agreement, Yoda preceded Xanatos from the room.

* * *

Obi-Wan felt as weak and helpless as a newborn, was colder and shaking harder than any baby would ever have been allowed to. Grasping the hand of the attendant, he was barely conscious of where he was or what he was being asked to do. The monitors had been removed, and he was being encouraged to sit up. Then Xanatos was there, a robe of some kind was being wrapped around Obi-Wan, and he was being led from the chamber slowly, down a short corridor, and into a warm room.

He was guided into a 'fresher, where the water was warm. Kind hands moved over his face, washed away the tears. They sluiced water over his shoulders and across his chest. Gentle, nonsensical words were murmured, and he was wrapped up in a towel as big as a blanket. He was left alone afterward, and he collapsed onto his knees in the middle of the floor. He wondered if he should try to find the strength to get up, but the carpeting was thick and warm, the light was dim and comforting, and he didn't feel inclined to move for a very long time.

He felt very raw at having relived all of his memories, aching over the grief renewed at having to watch his Master fall yet again. He hoped that the remembering would be enough for this Council, that they would now have enough details of his life to know who he was, what his training had been, if he was actually qualified to be a knight, and what had happened to his Master.

Obi-Wan's heart hurt now, just as much as it had while he'd sat and rocked Qui-Gon's lifeless body on Naboo. He was right back where he'd started, and he knew it. He didn't care that he'd just revealed everything he was to a group of total strangers. He did care a little that they held his fate in their hands and would probably judge him wanting in some way--Councils were like that, it was part of their job. He didn't care that his shields were totally blown, either. The thing he cared about most was that his Master was gone.

Eventually, he noticed that a set of clean tunics and leggings had been set out for him. His boots stood beside the robes, and a borrowed cloak had been freshly laundered. The lingering scent was the same one as at home, and that offered some small comfort as well.

/Best to meet those deciding my fate appropriately dressed,/ he decided finally. Stumbling to his feet, he climbed into the tunics and managed to pull on the boots, enshrouded himself in the cloak. He sat panting for a time then, not having the strength to exit the small 'fresher and see where they'd left him.

He finally staggered out to find himself in a small waiting room. The chairs looked comfortable, but he was drawn instead to the window, which overlooked one of the Temple gardens. Standing at the window, he watched dragonflies streak through the air over the fern growing close against the wall. It was dusk now--his first day at this new Temple was drawing to a close--and the dragonflies were feeding on the plethora of gnats breeding in the fern. He took comfort from the fact that no matter what happened to him or to anyone else in any universe, life would go on normally for some creatures. He wished that once in one of his lives, somewhere, the Force would let his life be normal--whatever normal was. It sounded peaceful. He'd like to try it, if only for a little while.

The windowsill was broad enough to accommodate him, and so he wrapped up in his cloak and settled there. Leaning his cheek against the plas-steel, he watched the garden for awhile and just let his mind drift. It wasn't meditation, not precisely, but it was what he needed. If Xanatos or Yoda had been there, Obi-Wan would have asked to be allowed to go into the garden proper. Since he wasn't yet certain whether the Council would decide if he was to be their guest, prisoner or knight, Obi-Wan thought it prudent to stay where they'd parked him. And really, he simply hadn't the strength right now to go exploring.

He didn't know how long he'd sat there before the door slid open behind him. He was conscious of someone padding across the carpeting and halting a few feet from his right shoulder. He knew that he should turn his head and greet Xanatos--it was rude not to--but he simply couldn't gather the energy. Surely the councillor would know and understand that it had been a long, exhausting day, with the mindsweep stealing whatever reserves Obi-Wan had managed to build up since Naboo? They'd seen into his heart, surely they understood his pain? Perhaps that would excuse any breech in etiquette for one night?

"Obi-Wan?" spoke a familiar voice. A warm, heavy hand landed on his shoulder. "Are you all right?"

"WHAAAA!" he yelled, abandoning the windowsill with one of the finest Force-leaps of his entire career. Without his knowing quite how he got there, Obi-Wan found himself fifteen feet across the room, his back against the wall while he panted and stared at the tall Jedi who'd touched him. He'd been wrong, apparently; his body still had plenty of adrenaline left for occasions like this, if his pounding heart and heightened awareness had anything to say about it.

"Wha..." He tried again. "You... you... you're..." Swallowing hard, he gave up on trying to talk and settled for just shivering and staring.

Master Qui-Gon Jinn gave a gentle smile and spread his hands. "I didn't mean to startle you. I thought you were aware that I had joined you."

His smile went unanswered, as Obi-Wan continued to stare, white and trembling, at the living version of the man he'd once again committed to the flames only a few hours before.

"I was present at your... ordeal... this afternoon," Qui-Gon offered softly. "All things considered, you've been through a lot these past few months. Please tell me how I can help?"

For a moment, Obi-Wan merely stared. His brain registered the familiar baritone and tall, cloaked form before him while his heart cried, "Master!" And indeed, it was his Master. He had the same graying hair pulled back with the same sort of hair tie. The same broken nose and peppered beard. The same barrel chest, long legs and huge hands. The same lightsaber hung at his belt, and his blue eyes were filled with a kindness, warmth and compassion that was unmistakeable. He looked and felt and even smelled just like Obi-Wan's Master. He lived, he breathed. His blue eyes were filled with concern, blinked in reflexive evidence of life.

Qui-Gon Jinn was alive.

"How can you help?" Obi-Wan finally managed to croak. "Just don't die!"

With that, he slid down the wall and landed with a thump on his butt. Great sobs came from deep within claimed him; he could no more have stopped them than he could have melted into the wall in that moment--which was something that he desperately wanted to do.

Sweeping back his cloak, Qui-Gon knelt at the knight's side, but didn't dare touch him. Obi-Wan's teeth chattered; he began shaking harder.


He leaned closer to the trembling form, all but whispering the name, trying to draw the attention of this familiar stranger back to him and away from his pain and shock. It worked, to a degree. Wide green eyes stared into Qui-Gon's. They blinked tears away furiously, but did not close. Obi-Wan scraped the tears away with the heel of one hand, only to lift his chin and look almost defiantly back at Qui-Gon.

Dark shadows had begun to form beneath those eyes. Beard stubble covered Obi-Wan's chin, reminding Qui-Gon that the man before him was full-grown, not eighteen years old. But he still held the look of a youth about him still. This Obi-Wan was lonely and alone and hurting, feeling very much abandoned by his own world and the Force. Yet a certain strength still rolled off of this knight and through the Force to touch Qui-Gon.

Yes, Knight Kenobi was sitting, shattered, against the wall. Who wouldn't, after being transported to another universe and having every sorrow dredged up for the benefit of a prying group of total strangers--and all in a matter of twenty-four hours? In many ways, it was a wonder the young knight was still sane. Would Qui-Gon's own Padawan have done as well under the same circumstances? Whatever else this Obi-Wan was, he was a fighter and a surviver. But where the younger Obi-Wan had possessed the same strength and determination, there had also been great self-confidence. There lay the great difference in the feel of the two. This one was wounded and vulnerable, strength, humility and pain, whereas the Padawans in this world tended toward confident pride and arrogance.

/This is what my own Obi-Wan could have been... What I was training him to be. And I think he needs me, far more than my own Padawan ever may have. Gods, this one has been so alone in his fight for so long, will he allow another to help him? It's time to coax, I think... time to let this tired, wounded soul rest in safety. I can offer that much, at least, and I believe he'd take it. The way he looks at me, though -- which will win? The loneliness and longing, or the defiance and the pain?/

"You need sleep," Qui-Gon murmured, laying a hand against the young man's cheek.

Closing his eyes, Obi-Wan shuddered and leaned into the touch as though he craved it. "Oh, gods... You feel just like him."

Pain shimmered behind the young man's ragged shields. Soul-deep pain, and an almost pathetic gratitude at Qui-Gon's actually touching him. Encouraged by the reaction, Qui-Gon shifted closer and lowered his own shields a little to let a bit of warmth and concern through. This young man's aura was familiar to him, like an old and comfortable pair of boots. He didn't know why it should be so, but he used that familiarity to push a bit further past Obi-Wan's shattered shields. The young knight's tears splashed on Qui-Gon's robe; he didn't care.

/oh gods qui-gon's here and he's still alive but not my master but qui-gon anyway and... and... master./

The older man heard and felt it all. "I'm here. Everything will be all right."

Obi-Wan lifted his chin at that, and Qui-Gon saw denial blaze in those green eyes. /You can't make promises like that,/ said those eyes. The Master felt the young knight gather his shields, pack them into some proud semblance of order once more. The tears stopped flowing. The shivering stopped, too--mostly--and the Master knew Obi-Wan was simply burying his pain deeply, probably until he was alone and could take it out and let it have its way with him.

/Yeah, it's Qui-Gon, but it's not my Master, so don't lose control and look like an ass right off, Kenobi, or he'll go away and never let you near him again./

The Master could still hear Obi-Wan's thoughts as clearly as if he'd spoken aloud. A first-year Padawan could have picked up on them as they danced around Obi-Wan like a private thunderstorm.

/Nothing is left of him,/ Qui-Gon realized. /The hurts are all brand new again./

"It's time we left here, Obi-Wan." Rising to his feet, he held out his hand and hoped against hope that this young knight would hear and obey the ring of authority in his voice. His own Padawan would have.

He wasn't disappointed. Habit and the training of more than a decade were called to the fore, completely overriding the exhaustion, reluctance, and uncertainty generated by the day's trials. Taking the Master's hand, Obi-Wan let Qui-Gon pull him to his feet. Once upright, he shrugged his robe back into place and tucked his hands in the sleeves in some semblance of calm before staring up at Qui-Gon as if to say, 'Now, what?'

Nodding his satisfaction, Qui-Gon laid a hand on the young knight's shoulder and guided him across the room. "You need rest, Obi-Wan, and right now. I've a spare room you can use for as long as you like."

Steering him out into the Temple proper, the Master continued. "Council sent me to tell you that you're one of us now, without restriction. Your record has been entered into the archives, your name has been restored in the database. You've probably already been assigned your own quarters, but I think it best if you stay with me for awhile."

He got a sniffle and a nod of agreement for that suggestion. Tucking Obi-Wan beneath his arm, Qui-Gon effectively prevented him from assuming his previous place as a Padawan.

"Stay up here with me," he ordered, seeing the knight's eyes droop closed with fatigue.

"Master...." he breathed softly, more a sound of acceptance than argument.

Obi-Wan was all but sleepwalking by the time they reached Qui-Gon's quarters. Palming the lock, the Master guided him inside, straight across the common area and into the small guest chamber that had once housed his own Obi-Wan. Peeling off the robe, Qui-Gon pushed Obi-Wan back onto the bed and knelt to remove his boots.

"'S a'right, Master. I can do it," Obi-Wan protested, struggling to sit up and get his Master up off his knees.

The boots were off before Obi-Wan had completed the sentence. "In bed now, Obi-Wan."

"Yes, Master." Turning, Obi-Wan curled onto his side, was already asleep before Qui-Gon finished pulling the covers up around his shoulders. He looked so vulnerable, so exhausted in the half-light. The Master smiled, couldn't resist running a hand through the spiky hair.

/This hasn't grown out yet,/ he realized. /When Xanatos said you were recently knighted, I didn't know how very recently. Weeks, only./ Gesturing lightly, Qui-Gon manipulated the Force around his guest. "Sleep, and do not dream. Sleep, and awake refreshed. Tomorrow is a new beginning, Obi-Wan. Whatever else may happen, you've come home and you're safe, now."

Qui-Gon growled softly to himself as his exhausted charge's breathing evened and deepened in sleep. This was no knight. He may have had the physical training and rank necessary at his Temple, and the Force knew he had proven his fighting skills in that nightmare battle with the Sith, but this Obi-Wan was not ready for the title.

/Knighting means being promoted into a role you are ready to receive,/ Qui-Gon snarled quietly. /It does not mean simply being thrown unprepared into the category and the missions. If that were not enough, he was assigned a Padawan and tossed out into a war-zone before he'd even begun to heal from his loss? This young man is still suffering from the deep trauma he experienced. Where in the name of Sith hells were their healers over there? And what was his Council thinking? Does his suffering mean nothing to them? This child would perform his duties well--as clearly he has--but there is no soul left to him. He will perish, and quickly, with no real regard for the value of his own life./

The anger Qui-Gon had been suppressing since witnessing the mindsweep surged upward once again. /Did no one value this brilliant soul? Did no one appreciate the potential of this young man? DIDN'T ANYONE CARE ABOUT HIM?/

He paused, gazing down at the eerily familiar form curled just so in that bed. How many times had he looked in at this very scene? But never had the expression of his own Padawan been one of such pain. Tear-damp lashes rested against a pale cheek, and one hand curled tightly in the edge of the blanket. The Master's own heart ached at the sight before him. Hadn't he wished for just this, to have Obi-Wan home with him again, even for a night? What was the Force doing, reuniting them in this bizarre way?

Did it matter?

Qui-Gon's hands moved, seemingly of their own volition, to straighten the blankets and settle them smoothly over the knight's shoulder. The half-dried tears on his cheek were captured and wiped away before Qui-Gon's hand returned to comb through the familiar short-clipped, sandy-red hair. With that touch, the love Qui-Gon had felt for his Padawan broke free of the icy storage where it had been consigned, politely out of the way. It didn't matter which Obi-Wan this was: it was Obi-Wan. HIS Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon's concern took a swift leap into proprietary feelings, and he was surprised to find himself in support of that.

Padawan, Knight, guest, intruder -- it didn't matter what label anyone wanted to apply to Obi-Wan Kenobi now. The important thing was that he was now under the protection of Master Qui-Gon Jinn, and there he would remain. This shattered Jedi would be kept safe and comfortable until he was stronger. He would be comforted and his aloneness banished insofar as Obi-Wan would allow it. Qui-Gon would see to it that no one made make any demands of this Obi-Wan until the younger man had rebuilt his physical, emotional and mental reserves.

Qui-Gon would help, and it would be Qui-Gon who decided when this knight was ready to take up his duties. His skills would be evaluated, he would be guided properly into knighthood, not abandoned into it by default, as Qui-Gon sensed he had been in his own world, before. There would be no reckless warrior, no martyred Jedi perishing because he was still in mourning for his Master. Here, with his new Master, Obi-Wan would find the respect and support he needed to heal from past hurts. Whatever he needed, if it was within Qui-Gon's power to grant it, he would do so. Master Yoda had asked this Master's opinion: this was it, and Qui-Gon would give it to the Council. He would not surrender Obi-Wan Kenobi until Obi-Wan wished to be surrendered and out on his own.

Well-pleased with his decision, Qui-Gon smoothed Obi-Wan's spiky hair one last time and departed. As he'd done in the early days when he'd just taken Obi-Wan as his Padawan, he left the door ajar as he headed for his own quarters, and his own rest. If Obi-Wan needed him in the night, Qui-Gon would know it. He paused in the small hallway, just outside the door, and smiled as his heart registered the rightness of the Force signature filling that room once again, and the soft sounds of quiet breathing.

A quick chime at the door indicated a visitor. Qui-Gon glanced into the room, then pulled the door shut lest his visitor be disturbed from the rest he needed so desperately. Palming the door open, he glared down at the uncertain initiate who stood before him.

"Sh'ra Jinn, Master Telos asked that these be brought to you. They are belongings of your g-guest." A sketchy bow, and a small bundle was shoved into his hands before the initiate bolted.

Qui-Gon examined the bundle. /A tattered and dirty robe. Worn clothing. This was important enough to see to me tonight?/

He closed his hands about the ratty garments, ready to toss them into the recycler, already making plans to kit his new charge out properly from stores in the morning, when he felt something hard wrapped within. The object was swiftly retrieved from the folds of filthy fabric, to lay familiar in his hands.

It was his own lightsaber.

Qui-Gon closed his hand around the familiar hilt, horrified as he realized that he must have left it behind, probably in the small chamber where he'd collected Obi-Wan earlier.

/How thoughtful of Xan to have handled the matter so discretely./ He turned and headed into his bedchamber to set his lightsaber in its accustomed place, only to find that it was already there.

Startled, the Master looked again at the saber in his hands, then back to his own. They were the same. Identical. But when he focused on it, he realized that the one in his hands carried the mingled familiarity of his own signature and the touch of Obi-Wan.

/This lightsaber is Obi-Wan's? The boy is carrying his dead master's lightsaber? How...sad. How morbid. This boy hasn't been able to release any of the trauma of his master's death./

Qui-Gon turned the saber in his hands, feeling the familiar weight and balance, seeing the various controls just as he'd placed them. But there was wear to this casing that wasn't on his, scratches and dings that spoke of hard use. His... and yet not. The eerie collision of their separate worlds was disturbing.

Touching the control to active the blade, he was startled to have it flare into shimmering blue instead of his own familiar green.

/But Obi-Wan's memories showed a green blade when he killed the Sith. Ah.../ the Master realized. /It's yet another touch of Obi-Wan in this nightmarish situation. His focus crystal must be the blue sythrene. But rather than build a new lightsaber, he clings to the last touch of his Master, to a lightsaber that must reawaken memories of that fatal encounter every time he touches it. How could his Council have allowed this? Just how blind were they in that other world?/

The lightsaber deactivated at Qui-Gon's request, leaving the room duller without its brilliance. He rubbed absently at a scratch along the edge of the casing. /Damaged. Like that poor grieving child in there. Did no one reach out to comfort him through this?/

Pacing back to the Padawan quarters, Qui-Gon pushed the door open slowly to watch his new charge sleeping, framed in the wedge of light spilling in from the open doorway. No, who or why or where did not matter. This was Obi-Wan, and he needed his Master. And while Qui-Gon couldn't take to task the foolish Jedi who had first cast aside this brilliant soul and then got himself killed, this Master Qui-Gon Jinn was more than willing to step into the gaping hole his counterpart's botched efforts had left.

The lightsaber was placed on the desk by the door, settled carefully and quietly next to the other weapon there--his own Obi-Wan's lightsaber, long unused. The door was partially closed once more, and Qui-Gon headed for the food prep area. There was much thinking and planning to be done on that boy's behalf, and tea made thinking so much easier this late at night.

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