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They eventually left the prism chamber and wandered back toward Qui-Gon's quarters. "To meditate," the older man announced, "or to read, or rest, or whatever you'd like to do. I don't want to overwhelm you, your first day with us."

/Overwhelm?/ thought Obi-Wan. /How could exploring this new world with you overwhelm me? Just being with you, listening to you, being able to walk beside you again is the greatest blessing the Force could bestow on me./

Before palming the lock to open his quarters, Qui-Gon looked around the empty Temple corridor and frowned. "Something is missing, Obi-Wan."

Obi-Wan's brief inventory revealed the usual number of walls, one ceiling, one floor underfoot, doors present in all of the visible doorways.... "Master?"

"Santros hasn't yet delivered your things from Stores." Striding into his quarters, Qui-Gon went directly to his desk, leaned over the computer console and keyed in the Master's code.

"Santros!" a familiar voice barked its answer almost immediately. "What do ya want? I'm busy, tell me quick."

"Where are Obi-Wan's things?" Qui-Gon began without preamble or polite greeting. Evidently such things as pleasantries were simply skipped when dealing with Santros; either they took up too much time or were simply hard to dredge up after being irritated by his brusque manner.

Santros harrumphed. "Where they ought to be, of course."

"They're not here."

"'At's very observant for someone so tall." The sour expression deepened. "No, I didn't sent 'em there or ya'd be trippin' of the great pile in the middle of yer quarters, wouldn't ya.

No, they're where they ought to be," Santros repeated, "at that fine young knight's new quarters."

"Then you sent them to the wrong place." Qui-Gon's voice lowered dangerously. "I clearly recall asking that they be sent here."

"HIS things go to HIS quarters where he's S'POSED to be staying, Master Jinn. It's a no never-mind to me that you keep bringin' him back to your own rooms. They're not HIS rooms an' it's not there that he's livin'. He's a knight, not a padawn, never mind you told me he was. And knights don't share quarters with masters. Rules is rules and while you might not give so much as a nevermind to the way it's done, the rest of this Temple will, and I'll not be helpin' ya tip yer nose up at 'em."


"He's a knight," the Stores Master snapped. "He's been assigned quarters and there he should go. He's not yer padawan n'more, ye understand it?"

/Oh well,/ Obi-Wan thought mournfully, coming up behind Qui-Gon. /Being with the Master was nice while it lasted./

He caught sight of Santros's belligerant face a moment before the connection was severed. From the few colourful invectives hissed by Qui-Gon in a language Obi-Wan did not know, it was clear that the Master was not at peace with the situation. Obi-Wan felt him release his anger easily into the Force, but the determination to right the wrong he apparently felt had been done did not dissolve. If anything, it grew stronger.

"This will not do," Qui-Gon growled at the now-dark comp screen. His fingers flew over the keys, and Obi-Wan saw that he was calling up the Temple residency record on Obi-Wan.

"Master, I don't want to cause you any problems," Obi-Wan said softly in counterpoint to the high-speed tapping of the keys.

"What problems?" came the growled, distracted question.

"I don't want your kindness to lead you into conflict."

"Kindness? No, that's not the screen I want. What are they doing with the files these days? Can't ever find anything in a hurry when you need it-- Aha! There." One long finger stabbed at a spot on the vidscreen, then poked another key, causing the display to vanish before Obi-Wan could see clearly what it was.

"Come along, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon unfolded himself from the seat before the comunit, rising gracefully to sweep past his uncomfortable guest as the older man headed for the door.

"Where are we going, Master?

"We are going to retrieve your things," he announced, palming open the door. "Come with me, if you will."

Obi-Wan stared at the now empty doorway, uncertain as to what to do next. One thing was obvious, however; if he wished to discuss this any further, he'd first have to catch up with his very annoyed master. Obi-Wan moved swiftly into the hallway only to find it empty.

"Padawan, are you coming?" Qui-Gon's voice drifted around the bend in the corridor.

Abandoning all attempts at reclaiming dignity this first day here, Obi-Wan broke into a trot.

Qui-Gon was glaring impatiently at the closed lift doors as Obi-Wan jogged up beside him, only to have the older Jedi grumble under his breath and take off down the corridor again. /New path to get there? Different bank of lifts?/ If there was a purpose to this dashing about, Obi-Wan was certain it would be revealed in due time. It wasn't important enough to ask; there were other matters that needed to be addressed immediately.

"Master, Santros does have a point," Obi-Wan ventured as they traversed the Temple hallways at a fast clip. "You've been exceedingly generous with your time, and I'm very grateful, but if I'm supposed to quarter in the Knights' section--"

"You're not *supposed* to quarter anywhere," Qui-Gon all but growled, his gaze set firmly on the path and the task ahead. "The Code doesn't dictate where a knight sleeps."

"But the rules..."

"What rules? Do you know of any such rules?" he snapped. "I don't. Might be customary in the Temple, but it's not law. I refuse to live according to Law of Santros. Neither will you."

They reached Knights Tower in record time, with the lift delivering them speedily to a corridor that gave Obi-Wan a strange sense of deja vu. Only a few days ago, he had traversed these tiles with Anakin in tow. It felt like months rather than a matter of hours, and the lead weight in the pit of his stomach was just as heavy, just as dreadful then as it was now, regardless his present companion was much more welcome.

The Master halted before a familiar door and raised his hand to punch in a code that he suddenly realized he did not know. Turning to Obi-Wan, he looked just a bit sheepish and shrugged. Even without the bond between them, Obi-Wan knew what was required.

With a sigh, he keyed in the generic code he'd been given at the Temple back on Coruscant, just before moving into these quarters. It was no great surprise to Obi-Wan that the door obediently slid back, allowing them access to a set of knight's quarters that were just as cold and barren as those Obi-Wan had thought he'd left behind.

/Perhaps this is a message from the Force?/ he thought. /If I'm assigned these dreary rooms in two different worlds, it must mean I'm supposed to stay in them, no matter how dismal they are... or how hard it is to let go./ He sighed, understanding arriving with an almost physical blow. /Being with my Master again isn't permanent. It's just for a little while, and then I'm to be alone again. I should have known, shouldn't have accepted the possibility so easily. I'm of no use with Qui-Gon. The Force won't allow it./

An anti-grav cart hovered just inside the door, loaded with three containers holding Santros's selections for him. Qui-Gon waited for Obi-Wan to precede him into the room, but the young man didn't seem willing to venture across the threshold. His shoulders rounded slightly, and the Master noted that his breathing had become shallow and stressed.

/He doesn't want to stay here any more than I want him to stay here,/ Qui-Gon realized. /Let's see if we can't make this easier on both of us./

Laying a hand across the back of Obi-Wan's neck, the Master caressed lightly in an attempt to reassure his companion. As always, Obi-Wan leaned into the touch. Stepping closer, Qui-Gon lowered his shields to send a clearer message of warmth and affection.

"It doesn't matter what Master Santros thinks," he said softly. "What *you* want is what matters in this case. There's no reason for you to leave my rooms if you don't wish to. For my own part, I'd be happy to have you stay as long as you'd like to. I've discovered that I enjoy having you about."

Worried green eyes met his. "But I can't do anything there, Master."

"Do? You're welcome to do whatever you wish to do. Those quarters are yours as well as mine now."

"But I can't...."

"Can't what, Padawan? Throw spice parties with Hutts? You're right. You can't. But you wouldn't," he added, softening his words with a grin. "I've no worries about anything you want to do."

Obi-Wan shrugged. He refused to meet Qui-Gon's gaze again, but did not move away from that comforting presence.

"There's nothing I can do for *you*," he said softly. "You don't need or want a Padawan around," he said softly, regret tinging his tone. "There's nothing I can do for you."

Qui-Gon thought for a moment. /So... in order for him to feel 'worthy' of staying with me, he needs a job to do? And he still thinks of himself as a Padawan?/ "There is definitely something you can do for me. You could provide this old knight with some company."

Obi-Wan stole a quick sidelong glance at the Master him before returning his gaze to an unseeing inventory of the grav sled.

"You could just try living with me, you know?" the older man said slowly. "See how you like it. The rooms will be here later if you find I'm too impossible to live with. Xan always said that I was."

Obi-Wan shook his head in silent denial of the self-deprecating comments, but still stared elsewhere.

"We could come to know each other," Qui-Gon continued. "And if, along the way, you would care to share some duties--cooking or cleaning or what have you--I'd not be adverse. But--" He raise a finger. "You are a knight now, Obi-Wan, and I shall treat you as my equal, not as my Padawan."

That got Obi-Wan's attention. His head snapped up and the Qui-Gon nearly winced at the fierce denial in the younger man's eyes; no sense inciting an argument over this issue; better to just make the point and leave it there.

"If things between us aren't to your liking," the Master concluded, "or if I manage to irritate you, you must tell me. And I will tell you if the opposite occurs. Agreed?"

"Y-yes, Master."

"Good. Does that mean we can go back to our quarters and stop arguing in the corridors? You'll stay with me?"

The younger man offered a startled, hesitant smile. "I'd... like to stay, if I wouldn't be in the way."

Qui-Gon beamed and squeezed Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Then it's settled. You'll stay with me, and unless we need some storage space in the future, we'll just ignore these new, desolate quarters. I didn't care for them when I was a knight, either. And they've done nothing to improve the decor," he added with a glare at the stark, featureless walls. "Let's be off."

Stepping just inside the door, Qui-Gon grabbed the remote control to the anti-grav cart and turned it about. Obi-Wan made way for the conveyance, stepping aside while Qui-Gon maneuvered it out the door. Once in the corridor, Qui-Gon handed the remote to Obi-Wan, who took over willingly to guide it on the journey back to Qui-Gon's quarters.

The cart was not so willing. It's response to the remote control was sluggish and erratic; it bucked and swung wide and menaced the shins of no few people who passed them in the corridors, sending more than one knight leaping against the walls to evade it's rushes in their directions. Obi-Wan could feel the irritation from other members of the community directed his way. He could also feel the flush of embarrassment heating his face. The remote was buried within his sleeve, and Obi-Wan fell back on the use of the force to direct the annoying thing, ordering it to follow quietly and obediently at their heels. He was so intent on making sure the cart behaved, and staring at the carpeting so as not to meet anyone's eyes, he totally missed the amused smile Qui-Gon directed his way.

Once there, he gave another mental yank to Santros's evil machinery, bringing it smoothly through the common room and up to the Padawan quarters. Behind him, Qui-Gon shrugged out of his robe and then padded across the room to relieve Obi-Wan of his own cloak.

"Feel free to move right in," the Master instructed, moving back to the closet and hanging Obi-Wan's robe up next to his own.

The younger man watched and gave a contented smile as the robes flowed together. /That's right,/ he thought. /That's how things should be./

"I'll be in the kitchen preparing our dinner if you need me or have any questions," said Qui-Gon, already on his way into the smaller room.

"Thank you, Master."

Leaving the cart hovering outside as it was too big to fit through the narrow door, Obi-Wan carried the first container into the room, dumping it unceremoniously on the floor beside the storage area. Taking solace from the familiar sounds of Qui-Gon moving around their quarters, Obi-Wan pulled out the first armload of supplies and began opening drawers, settling his new wardrobe into the familiar spaces. All was empty and waiting for him, allowing him to stow things quickly and neatly. The last of the pile was the generous supply of socks. Obi-Wan gathered them up in one arm, and yanked open the top drawer to dump them in.

This drawer, however, was not empty. There was a small white box at the back. Hugging the unruly socks against his chest in the bend of one arm, he reached into the drawer, fingers closing around the box. It was pulled out into the light, and after a moment's hesitation, he lifted the lid. Obi-Wan saw the beginnings of a rock collection, with four small specimens resting on black shimmercloth. He recognized the rocks easily; his own Master had given him the same rocks as gifts on his own natal days. His, along with a few other mineral gifts, had been left in the knights quarters...over there.

/Four.../ He brushed a finger across the specimens. /That Obi-Wan must have died at sixteen. I wonder how he came to join the Force, and does Qui-Gon still miss him? Was it on a mission? And did we share the same missions as we shared the rocks. I wonder if it was on Gellos, when the rebels crashed the escort party? That was a very bad moment. If Qui-Gon hadn't knocked me aside, I would have joined the Force that day. Or was it one of the other missions that turned violent?/

/Does it matter?/ He sighed finally. /That was then. His then. And this is now./ Replacing the lid, Obi-Wan left the box where it lay. He poured his new socks and unders over it, making an organized mess of things and smiling as the arrangement echoed the one he'd had for years at the other Temple. His smile faded somewhat as his gaze fell on something decidedly nonsock-like in the jumble. Santros' conception preventors reappeared in the confusion where Qui-Gon had hidden them while they were in Stores.

Obi-Wan looked at them skeptically, uncertain exactly where he should put them. With a quick burrow through the socks, Obi-Wan retrieved his predecessor's treasured rock box and quickly stuffed the packets in there.

/My apologies, Obi-Wan,/ he sighed as he scraped the socks back over the box. But there were no objections noted from his other self, and he slammed the drawer with some measure of satisfaction over his solution.

The other drawers became home to his new leggings and other necessary items of wardrobe. The huge box of energy bars proved a problem. It didn't fit in the small closet, and it wouldn't go under the desk. The drawers were now occupied, and if he emptied the drawers and stowed the things in there, he'd have to sacrifice at least two for the bars. He planned to share with Qui-Gon, but for the moment they were his. And they were annoying. He settled for kicking the box into a corner and grabbing more off of the sled. Into the closet went his new cloaks and boots, and the spare belt as well as the other extras Santros had donated.

Obi-Wan left the previous Obi-Wan's lightsaber where it rested on its stand; it seemed somehow fitting to do so, to acknowledge and honor the spirit of the Padawan Kenobi who had once lived and slept here. He placed his own lightsaber next to it and ran a finger down the familiar casing of the scarred old weapon.

Venturing out of the bedchamber and into the 'fresher he would share once more with his Master, Obi-Wan grinned at his finely-made storage box. Settling it on the counter, he realized that Qui-Gon had already made room for him in the small space. Daring to prowl the storage crannies above and below the sink, Obi-Wan wasn't surprised to see that this Qui-Gon's personal items replicated the ones his own Master had used. There were, after all, only so many ways to clean one's teeth and tend one's beard. One exception to the rule caught his eye: next to the sink sat a small ceramic jar. Exploration revealed a collection of leather hair-ties crammed into it.

/Don't leave home without them,/ he thought with a grin, /and neither of us ever did, Master./ Obi-Wan had found those hair-ties to be as essential as his lightsaber. He poked them companionably before replacing the lid and made a mental note to find out if this Qui-Gon handcrafted his ties as the other Qui-Gon had. If so, Obi-Wan could take over the task. Again.

/This is all so familiar,/ he mused as he stored his own personal items, /and it feels so right./

He stepped out of the 'fresher to see Qui-Gon at the comp-console. From the absorbed look on the Master's face, Obi-Wan suspected that he was completing yet another Council report.

/Probably on me,/ he thought. He was startled to realize that the thought inspired no great stress. /It's expected and required of him, after all. What is shared between is what's important. The council gets to hear it all later. And he ... He really seems to want me to stay./

Shaking his head with the wonder of simply being with the man again, Obi-Wan padded back into his new-old quarters to survey his new domain. He nodded to himself in satisfaction; it looked...familiar. Yes, that was a good word. Familiar. Normal. Comfortable. It looked like home, with the exception of a few personal items he'd picked up in travels -- and that huge, awkward box of energy bars dominating the floor. Something had to be done with that. /Perhaps there's somewhere else to store this lot? I'll be ages eating these things, even ifI ate them for each and every meal./

Obi-Wan continued to glare at the box until he realized that the sounds of meal preparation from the small kitchen had resumed a few minutes before, only to fall silent now. Giving the box a good shove with a booted foot, the knight sent it sliding out of the bedroom door and into the hallway. Following it out, he kicked the heavy, awkward package with alternate feet, slowly herding it toward the common area without bothering to pick it up or use the Force for such a minor task. Once there, he halted in his efforts to deal with his gift and take note of Qui-Gon's activities.

His Master, he discovered, had indeed abandoned his efforts at creating something edible and was back working diligently at the comp unit. Leaning against the doorframe, Obi-Wan just watched him for a moment. The comp keyboard was too small for those huge hands, and the computer desk looked dwarfed with the Master hunched over it, but Qui-Gon didn't appear too uncomfortable. He did appear totally absorbed in his task.

Unwilling to interrupt his concentration, Obi-Wan paused to glare at the unwanted energy bars, then opted to abandon them altogether. He left them sitting sullenly in the middle of the hallway as he headed quietly into the kitchen to take stock of the current culinary situation.

Qui-Gon had begun the meal, going so far as to take tubers and a package of stetkra from the cooler. That was as far as he'd gotten before the other, onerous, duty had distracted him. Laughing softly, Obi-Wan realized that this scenario was familiar as well. Even onerous duties outranked cooking for his Master. No, make that attempting to cook, for Obi-Wan's former Master had seldom been able to concentrate on food preparation. Too many other things called to command his time and besides, his Padawans had always fed him.

Washing his hands, Obi-Wan stepped back into the Padawan role easily and gratefully. Here, at last, was something he could do to begin repaying this Qui-Gon for his welcome. Something he could do to take care of the man who was taking such good care of him. Now, his own Master would have preferred a dinner of simply tubers and qualla, forget the stetkra. The tubers were already nominated, evidently. A brief investigation revealed the qualla and a few other items that could be useful. Grinning, Obi-Wan returned the stetkra to the cooler and grinned, well-pleased to be back on comfortable, familiar ground as he settled in to prepare a proper meal for this Qui-Gon.


Obi-Wan had the evening meal prepared and on the table before Qui-Gon surfaced from his task. As able as ever to block out externals, it wasn't until the Master had completed the sequence of keys logging his report into the Council archive that he noticed the enticing smells wafting from his kitchen. That alone was unique enough to warrant his attention, as the smells that wafted from *his* kitchen were seldom either intentional or enticing.

"Master, please come eat," Obi-Wan said with uncanny timing, stepping out of the kitchen only to turn and toss a dish-rag back inside.

Coming to the table, Qui-Gon surveyed the spread and arched an eyebrow. "You did all of this in only these few minutes?"

"I had a good teacher."

"It certainly wasn't me. This looks quite good."

Obi-Wan merely smiled. Pouring the tea, he stirred in the required sweetener and milk, placed it carefully before his mentor, and then stepped back to watch.

Qui-Gon eyed the mug with much doubt. Hesitantly, he raised it to his lips, and Obi-Wan had no trouble reading the expression in those deep blue eyes: 'No one makes a decent cup. This is going to be terrible, but I've no choice but to drink it.'

At the first sip, those blue eyes widened. And blinked. The second sip became a gulp, and then another, and then Qui-Gon was setting the mug back onto the table with a thump and staring across at Obi-Wan.

"You don't like it, Master?" Obi-Wan said with false humility.

"Like it?" He laughed outright. "It's perfect. Did your Master teach you how to do this?"

"I'm glad you're pleased. And yes, he did. When we arrived home after our first mission, the first thing he taught me was how to brew a decent pot of tea."

"No matter where you found yourselves? At home or in the field?"

"Yes, Master." He offered a slight bow. "In any conditions, on any planet, anywhere."

"Wise man. Valuable Padawan." Qui-Gon had already finished his mug. Obi-Wan refilled it and allowed the man to add his own sweetener and milk this time while Obi-Wan took his place at the table.

The Master issued several more compliments about the food over the course of the meal, but the greatest compliment Obi-Wan knew was when the big man asked for seconds.

"Did your Master teach you to cook as well?"

Obi-Wan nearly laughed outright at the thought of such a thing. "No. He... His talents lay elsewhere. To ensure our continued survival, I took extra culinary classes whenever we were at the Temple."

"Whenever you were at the Temple? Where else were you?"

"My Master was in such demand as a warrior-diplomat that most of my training was in the field."

The comment was delivered casually, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for a Padawan to train while living in constant chaos and upheaval--while, in fact, serving as the grown-up Jedi the Padawan was attempting to become. Yes, it happened, but only occasionally in this Qui-Gon's world. It was the exception rather than the rule, and it was supposed to affect a Padawan's training for a matter of days rather than years. With that casual comment, Qui-Gon was afforded yet another glimpse into the endless obstacles and challenges Obi-Wan had encountered as a Padawan.

The older man mulled over the revelation for some time, making casual conversation and pondering what else might be done to further help the young man adjust to his new world. Once dinner was over and before Obi-Wan could leap up to begin clearing the table, Qui-Gon leaned back in his chair and gave his guest a mischievous look.

"I have a proposal for you, Padawan, if you're up to it. I've a week left of my sabbatical--which your arrival interrupted, and a delightful interruption it's turned out to be. I'd be grateful if you'd consider spend that week with me, off-planet, at a wilderness resort that I think you might enjoy."

"Sabbatical?" Obi-Wan considered the word for a moment, as though tasting the unfamiliar syllables before asking hesitantly, "What does one do on sabbatical?"

"You didn't have holidays in your world?"

Obi-Wan shrugged. "On occasion. We had down time, recreational time. Sometimes my Master would get so exhausted from the missions that the Council would insist upon him taking a few days rest."

/A few days rest?/ Qui-Gon fought to keep his eyebrows from surging toward his eyebrows. /A Jedi with my body and my strength, so worn by missions...and Obi-Wan at his Master's side through all of it? Small wonder that he's so spirit-weary. Small wonder that his Master died. What manner of world does this one come from?

/Ask him,/ the logical part of his thoughts prompted.

"What did you and your Master do while you rested?" he asked. Casually, he hoped.

Obi-Wan's reply came easily enough. "We were away from Coruscant so much, my Master preferred to stay at the Temple and relax. There were always field reports to complete from past missions, or planetary histories applicable on future missions that he needed to catch up on. There were also required classes that I needed to attend and try to pass as I could. As time allowed, we also practiced our katas and took part in strategic drills with other knights."

Qui-Gon frowned. "Except for the reading, that doesn't sound very relaxing or terribly different from life in the field."

Obi-Wan shrugged and offered a small smile that held no cheer whatsoever. "It was relaxing and definitely to be desired after some missions. The Temple was clean, and dry. We had the luxury of our own beds, clean clothes, and no worries about offending someone or creating a diplomatic incident. And sleeping is an activity I find to be highly underrated," he added.

"Wasn't there ever a time when you weren't being Jedi, Obi-Wan? Didn't the two of you do anything for fun?"

"Fun, Master?" The question itself seemed to puzzle Obi-Wan. "We played Sabacc on starliners whenever we got the chance, and my Master taught me to cheat. That was fun."

"I'm happy to hear that the man didn't neglect one of the most important parts of your training. I'm also happy that the other players never caught you and pulled off your arms."

Obi-Wan couldn't tell if Qui-Gon was serious or not.

"There's more to relaxing and having fun than teasing fellow passengers and reading the odd novel," Qui-Gon pointed out. "I'd like to show you, if you're amenable?"

Obi-Wan gave a cautious nod and wondered what in the seven moons of Skerloff was he getting himself into. In the short time he'd known this man, he'd begun to trust him. He didn't think the older man would lead him into dubious paths, but then Obi-Wan hadn't thought it possible to travel through solid rock and find himself in another universe, either. He sensed that there were layers to this Master that Qui-Gon had scarcely begun to reveal. Yes, there were layers yet to discover, but even the dubious possibilities of this man's version of 'fun' were preferable to losing a moment of the time Obi-Wan had been given to share with him.

"When do we leave?" Obi-Wan ventured to ask.

"Tomorrow morning, I think. I'll arrange transport, and then we'll look at what you should pack. The planet will supply most of what we need beyond personal items, so you'll be packing light."

* * *

They meditated after dinner, with Qui-Gon digging out an old meditation mat for Obi-Wan and kneeling next to him before the transparisteel window overlooking yet another one of the Temple's gardens. With his Master's presence enveloping him, Obi-Wan sank easily into a deep meditation. When he emerged an hour later, it was to discover that Qui-Gon was still kneeling beside him and giving him a most curious, unreadable look.

The older man began carefully. "I've been thinking about what you shared with us during your ordeal yesterday, Obi-Wan."

Drawing a deep breath against the sudden trepidation he felt, Obi-Wan murmured, "Yes, Master?"

"I find myself wishing that I understood your Master better. Thanks to your courage during the mindsweep, I have a good overview of your life together, but it's all from your point of view. I confess that I find your Qui-Gon Jinn to be a mystery. We are supposed to be variations on the same person, but I simply do not understand the man's motivations."

Reaching out with the Force, Obi-Wan probed Qui-Gon's shields. They weren't any higher than they usually were, and Obi-Wan could sense no dissatisfaction regarding his own performance as a Padawan or a new knight in this world. Complete bewilderment was the main emotion he could sense from Qui-Gon, so this conversation wasn't a test.

"What was wrong with your Master, that he threw you aside?" Qui-Gon continued, seeming to share his thoughts rather than to demand an answer from Obi-Wan.

The question rocked Obi-Wan. /What was wrong with my MASTER? Shouldn't you be asking what was wrong with ME? What made me so unworthy?/

The urgency in Qui-Gon's voice ran over Obi-Wan's anxiety. "His Xanatos fell to the Darkness. That's hard for me to accept, but I do know Xan and he could be--can be-- difficult at times. I suppose that we all have the potential to fall," he acknowledged with a no obvious distress. "For some, the unthinkable happens and we accept this. But then, your master had a sincere, honorable Padawan in you, with no hint of Darkness whatsoever... And this one he throws aside himself? What was wrong with him? For that matter, what was wrong with your world, that it managed to hurt you so deeply for so many years?"

"Master, I--"

"You tell me that I remind you of that Qui-Gon, but I don't understand many of his actions. The mindsweep opened your memories to me, Obi-Wan, but I am still blind when it comes to him. It's most frustrating."

How could Obi-Wan tell this gentle man from a gentler world about the endless worlds, the wars, the conflicts, the bitter struggle of a few Jedi to serve the needful galaxy under the guidance of a corrupt government? The thankless tasks assigned unceasingly, one atop another, in a losing struggle to bring Light to those who needed it? How could Obi-Wan find the words to reveal such a world to a Jedi who had never known the desperation of death and war and greed in such an endless parade as the Jedi -- his Jedi -- faced every day? How could he tell of his Qui-Gon, worn in body and spirit and bruised by Xanatos' betrayal in ways that seemed never to heal? It would take weeks for this Master to understand, even if Obi-Wan could find the words.

/The words. Qui-Gon's words..../ Let Qui-Gon tell himself? It wasn't a betrayal of privacy, was it, to give him his own records?

Reaching into the supply belt he still wore, Obi-Wan retrieved the memory wafer he'd recorded before leaving Coruscant. Offering it to this Qui-Gon, he murmured, "Perhaps this will help."

The Master took it. "What is this?"

"My Master's records. All of them. I copied them from his comp system before the Council made me leave his quarters. I don't know what's there, I haven't read the files. Haven't even opened them." He swallowed past the tears blocking his throat. "There are voice files as well and probably my entire Padawan record. If you want to look at might help you to understand...."

"Obi-Wan... Do you want me to look at it? Do you mind if I do?" Qui-Gon's voice was gentle.

"It might offer some answers that you can't get any other way," Obi-Wan said slowly. "So yes, you should look at it. Do you mind if I don't look?" He blinked back tears, struggled valiantly to prevent embarrassment by their escape onto his cheeks. "I'm not ready, but if you want to..." He offered a small shrug, as if to say, 'Your seeing what's on there won't hurt me any more than his dying already has.'

"Master, do you mind if I explore a bit on my own? I'd like to go back to the meditation garden you showed me earlier." /I need to be far away while you sort through my Master's life,/ said the green-eyed gaze still bravely holding Qui-Gon's.

Almost resentfully, Obi-Wan swiped away a few treacherous tears that had managed to escape his control. /Why is it that some of the pain is still as fresh as if it happened only a moment ago?/

"I understand, Padawan," Qui-Gon said softly. "Key a personal code into the door before you leave, so that you can return whenever you wish."

"Thank you, Master." Getting to his feet, Obi-Wan quickly gathered his cloak from the closet and headed for the door. While setting his code as instructed, he glanced over to see that Qui-Gon hadn't moved from his position on the meditation mat. The door slid open, and Obi-Wan stepped through. The door slid closed again, but not before Obi-Wan saw that Qui-Gon was still sitting there, was turning the memory wafer over and over in his hands.

* * *

Returning to the meditation garden he'd visited earlier with Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan was thankful to find it deserted. The protective dome had slid across when the sun set, shrouding the garden in darkness. Tiny green lights winked in the trees.

/How thoughtful of them to provide such lighting/ he thought, staring up at the small lights blinking slowly amid the leaves. They were soothing to watch as they bumbled along between...the...trees.

/They're real,/ he realized with a start. /Those are living beings./

A touch through the Force confirmed it; They weren't artificial, as he'd thought at first glance. Creatures signaled one another, 'I'm here, where are you?' They offered silent companionship, requiring nothing from Obi-Wan except that he allow them to exist.

Leaving the grassy path, he settled beneath one of the winking trees. Laying his hands flat on his thighs, he drew a deep breath and closed his eyes. He was too turbulent to meditate in earnest this time. Instead, he settled for sitting quietly and trying to dissolve his tension and release his anxieties into the Force.

A t'leket began chirping somewhere close, while the living Force of in the garden made every effort to surround and envelope him. Gradually, Obi-Wan relaxed enough to breathe through his apprehension and ground enough to look at what, exactly, had upset him so badly in Qui-Gon's quarters.

It wasn't the contents of the memory wafer, precisely. It wasn't even Qui-Gon's looking at the other Qui-Gon's life and passing judgment on it.

/What if he reads it and agrees with my former Master?/ Obi-Wan asked himself. /What if he comes to believe that Anakin Skywalker is the Chosen One? That the boy deserves to be trained in the Force, and this Qui-Gon wants to finish the job my Master began?/

/And what about Anakin on this level? Is he there? Will Qui-Gon want to train him now? Or go back for the Chosen One that I've... abandoned?/ He winced at the thought, at his own failing where Anakin was concerned as well as the draw to this Qui-Gon.

/He could go back,/ Obi-Wan realised. /Dachur would probably guide him through the mountain and back to the other universe if this Master asked./

/My anxiety is centered around the possibility that history might repeat itself; I might lose my Master again. To death or to Anakin, to some failing of mine... It doesn't matter. What matters is the outcome: Qui-Gon would be gone again./

/It's not going to happen that way!/ Obi-Wan growled to himself. /Not again, not this time. These are just my fears talking, and even if this Qui-Gon did decide to take Anakin as his apprentice, I'm out of the loop. I'm a Knight now. I'm not a Padawan, and I can't be dragged into anything this Qui-Gon does if I don't want to be a part of it. He can't make me promise to do anything I don't want to do, because he's not my Master in this world. I'm not responsible or accountable for anything he does, so the Council can't give me those accusatory looks anymore that say, 'Why didn't you stop him from this foolhardiness?' As if a mere Padawan could ever have influenced the great Qui-Gon Jinn when the Council itself--right down to Yoda--couldn't./

/So stop it. I'm not this Qui-Gon's Padawan. I'm not going to be abandoned by him because I don't belong to him to begin with. I can't be forced to deal with Anakin because Anakin is not an issue in this world. The Force has given me a new beginning here. This Council likes me. Hell, Xanatos and Yoda like me, too. I think. In any event, I am *not* going to mess this up by centering on my fears, or get dragged into the past, or worry about what might happen. What matters is Right Now, just as my Master always said. This Qui-Gon and I might just become friends. I don't want to mess that up, either./

That resolution was enough to dissolve the anxiety and let Obi-Wan release it into the Force. Meditation came easily then, and he sank into his center. He had a week alone with this Master to look forward to--yet another blessing from the Force. After that, Obi-Wan was contented to see what developed.

/I have a new home, a new life, a new knighthood. Everything is new again. This is a time for hopefulness, even if I can't manage happiness yet. These doubts shouldn't be a part of this. If I still feel insecure and ill-prepared to be a knight after spending a week with Qui-Gon, then perhaps I can ask Xanatos for help after we get back. I can't ask Qui-Gon--he's already given so much of his time./

* * *

Obi-Wan thought he'd be out in the garden far longer than he actually was. When he returned to Qui-Gon's quarters--finding them easily even though the Temple lights had been dimmed for the night--Obi-Wan palmed the lock and was startled to step into full darkness.

/Coruscant was never so dark,/ he thought. /It's so strange without all the aircars outside the windows. But surely they have some sort of lighting here. Has the Master gone to bed, then, if it's so dark?/

He paused in the common area, waiting for his eyes to adjust before he crashed into some piece of furniture lurking in the dark. Reaching out with the Force, he sensed that Qui-Gon was nearby. If he squinted, Obi-Wan could just barely make out his silhouette, just over there, on the meditation mat.

/Is he all right? Has he been there the entire time I was gone?/ Obi-Wan wondered. /Did he look at the wafer at all? If he did, is he upset with me? What did he learn? Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea -- what's on those disks?/

"Master?" he whispered into the darkness.

The silhouette got to its feet slowly. Obi-Wan felt rather than saw Qui-Gon move toward him. He started slightly when a fingers touched his cheek, caressed down his jaw.

"How could he?..." There were tears in Qui-Gon's voice, some deep sorrow in his touch. "How could he set you aside?"

"He had no choice, Master." Stunned by the grief in the man's aura, Obi-Wan made his tone deliberately soothing: not for the world would he hurt this man, certainly not because of his own hurts. "The Force led my Master to the Chosen One on Tatooine, and that was more important than anything else. I was nearly finished training, anyway. He didn't really set me aside. He just... sped things up a bit." Obi-Wan paused for a moment. "I do wish he'd told me what he'd planned to do, though."

"I wish so as well, Padawan. And there is always a choice." Qui-Gon's voice was a broken whisper. It felt almost as though his former Master himself was speaking, was touching him there in the darkness, and Obi-Wan shivered.

"In my studied opinion," Qui-Gon continued, "your Master made the wrong choice."

Qui-Gon left it at that for the moment, knowing that no words he spoke could convince Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon would just have to prove his words through action, by keeping the young man in his life and by his side, day by day and week by week, until Obi-Wan decided that it was all right to be in his new Master's life.

/No words,/ thought Qui-Gon. /This Obi-Wan believes in touch, because touching doesn't lie. Words can change./

Before he could reach out to his new charge, Obi-Wan slipped his arm through Qui-Gon's and led him to where the Force told him the couch should be. "It's all right, Master. It was awhile ago, and he followed the will of the Force."

Qui-Gon gave a bitter-sounding laugh. "Your Master may have thought that it was the will of the Force, but I don't think it was. The Force would never tell a Master to set aside his Padawan and take another. And I've never known Master Yoda to be wrong in his assessment of anyone. If he pronounced Anakin Skywalker to be dangerous, then he was."

Settling on the couch, he all but pulled Obi-Wan down beside him. "I looked at your wafer. I began at the beginning and skimmed most of it. You were right: your Padawan records are there, and your Master was always very proud of you, very satisfied with your progress. As well he should have been," he added with a small smile, felt more than seen in the darkness.

Obi-Wan nodded: this much, he'd been fairly certain of.

"Xanatos's records are there, as well. The fallen one." He paused for a moment and let that sink in before continuing. "Obi-Wan, a clear pattern in your Master's behaviour emerged as I read. That pattern may be classified as before Xanatos, and after Xanatos. In short, you can split your Master's life and motivations into two sections: before his apprentice's betrayal, and after.

"Xanatos's betrayal made your Qui-Gon a different man. I found myself feeling compassion for him, sadness and sorrow, but I don't blame him for Xanatos's fall."

Obi-Wan nodded quietly.

"Your Master was a man constantly under some stress." He looked to Obi-Wan for confirmation. "Your Order was undermanned; even before your birth, there were never enough Jedi to go around. You said yourself that Qui-Gon was in constant demand as he was one of their best diplomats and warriors."

"Yes, Master."

"And so, they used him, abused him, pushed him always because he was capable of tolerating it Before Xanatos, he seems to have gloried in the missions. After Xanatos and before he claimed you as his Padawan, he hadn't anything else better to do than drive himself into the ground through duty. He hadn't anyone else to be with, and he wanted it that way. His duty was all that remained for him, after Xanatos. Do you understand?"

Obi-Wan nodded. This much, he'd suspected.

"And then came you. Your Master tried to keep his distance, tried to hold you at arm's length. It was difficult. Again and again, in his private journal, Qui-Gon mentioned how difficult it was. Even in as little time as we've spent with each other, I know what he must have felt, even as he felt such distance was necessary. You're very easy to be near, Obi-Wan. You have an inner light that shines, and Qui-Gon knew it. He called you a 'golden one' and praised your natural talents, your ease with and mastery of the Force. He was astonished with your mastery of the saber even before he claimed you as Padawan. Did you know that?"

"No," whispered Obi-Wan.

"He said that it was sheer joy training you. He wanted nothing more than to hug and praise you, to laugh with you and tell you how proud he was of you. How happy you made him. But he dared not, for he'd done so with Xanatos, and he was afraid of loving you as he loved that boy. He felt that if he did everything differently with you, if he gave you his knowledge but not his affection, then there would be no danger of your falling to the Dark and his not noticing in time to stop it.

"What he never realized was that there is no Darkness in you, Obi-Wan. None. But your Master was so afraid of being deceived again, he couldn't see that. Or, if he saw it, he couldn't believe it. He was determined to make you the best Jedi you could become, and he felt that was the greatest gift he could give you."

"He did," Obi-Wan whispered. "Everything I am, it's because of him. Over and over again, he told me to live in the moment, but he was stuck in the past."

"Yes. He was."

"What good does knowing this do me now? He's gone, and I can't talk to him about this. We can't resolve it."

"You can perhaps do what I did, and try to understand him," Qui-Gon said softly. "How can you walk freely into your future in this world if you cannot lay aside the pain of the past? Your hurt isn't healed, Obi-Wan. It's merely buried. It will come back to haunt you, and at the most inauspicious time."

Obi-Wan sat back and contemplated those words. Qui-Gon watched the jaw tighten, the rebellious expression begin.

/Not quite convinced are we?/ Sitting in silence, Qui-Gon took a moment to compare this young knight with the Padawan he'd had years ago. /My own Obi-Wan was cocky and arrogant, headstrong to a fault. If he was lightning, this one is fire. Yet he's totally unaware of his power. I doubt he'd believe in it, even if I showed it to him. We never truly appreciate that which comes easily to us, and his natural gifts make most of his training fall into that category. That power enabled him to survive the battle with the Sith, yet Obi-Wan believes he simply 'got lucky.' Time to discuss something else, I think, and leave him to ponder his Master's problems on his own./

"This Chosen One..." Qui-Gon ventured, and waited until Obi-Wan focused on him again. "I still do not understand. The legends Qui-Gon referred to are ancient. They're meant as metaphors rather than as actual events of the future."

"I don't understand either, Master. Perhaps you would had to have met Anakin Skywalker to understand completely." Obi-Wan couldn't completely mask the bitterness in his voice.

"I've met Anakin Skywalker," said Qui-Gon, giving a dismissive shrug.. "I've not been inspired to choose him for anything."

Obi-Wan's eyes widened. Qui-Gon had his full attention now. "But--but he's--"

"Yes, the boy has an impressive midichlorian count," the Master admitted, "but that only makes him more sensitive to the Force. Once he is completely trained, he will be able to more easily hear its promptings. With all of those little midichlorian voices shouting at him, how could he not? He has... better reception that the rest of us, if you will. That is all."

"My Master felt him special enough to fight the Council over him."

"Then your Master was a foolish man." Qui-Gon shook his head. "I would have fought anyone if it would have meant saving Obi-Wan's life. I only wish that I could have. He was my Padawan, and I loved him. I cannot imagine setting him aside for anyone else, no matter their midichlorian count. Did your Master love Anakin Skywalker?"

"I don't think so," said Obi-Wan slowly, trying to be fair. "He only knew him for three days. I think my Master simply believed that the boy was the Chosen One, and was desperate to have him trained." He fell silent for a moment before offering softly, "I would have given anything, fought anything, if it would have meant saving my Master's life."

With that, they both fell silent. Eventually, Obi-Wan slid off of the couch to sit on the floor and dared to lean against Qui-Gon's leg. It was a place familiar for him due to transports with scant seating. Theirs had been a weary companionship then. A moment later, long fingers reached and began carding through his hair. Closing his eyes, he sank into the touch, the solid affection inherent in it. /Yes, please... just touch me. Just be real, and let me stay for awhile?/

Perhaps the other Obi-Wan had once sat at his Master's feet like this? Did his presence offer comfort, or was he now a reminder of the grief Qui-Gon felt over losing his Padawan?

Through Qui-Gon's touch, Obi-Wan could sense the older man's pain, as well as the reasons behind it. The Master clearly felt a deep sadness at the loss of his Padawan, but at the same time he was grateful for Obi-Wan's company as he pondered the events of the other Qui-Gon Jinn's life. Far deeper than Qui-Gon's hurt, however, was the anguish he felt that the other Jedi Master should have hurt his Padawan so deeply. Qui-Gon's caring managed to reach out to Obi-Wan, even wrapped in pain as it might be.

/No one has ever mourned with me before,/ Obi-Wan thought, laying his head against the Master's thigh. Qui-Gon's understanding and willingness to be with him in that lonely place brought Obi-Wan a bit of comfort, but it also confused him. /How can he want to be with me? How can he feel the way he does?/

The caressing of his hair grew slower, until it finally ceased altogether. Qui-Gon's hand slid off onto Obi-Wan's shoulder to rest there heavily, and after a few minutes Obi-Wan realized that the older man had fallen asleep. No further clarifications would be forthcoming this night, Obi-Wan realized sadly.

Sliding out from beneath the hand, Obi-Wan went looking for blankets. Finding them in a storage compartment over the closet, he brought them back to the couch and tucked them around Qui-Gon. Gently, he removed the hair-tie, disentangled the graying mane. Lowering the lights, he smoothed the Master's hair one last time, then went to his own bed, being careful to avoid the box of energy bars where they lurked in the darkened hallway. Tomorrow was soon enough to try and sort out the tangle of emotions he felt for his new Master, never mind the one he'd lost. His stay in this world was proving to be very eventful, even after only one day.

The next morning dawned clear and bright, and Obi-Wan awoke with a jolt at the first clear notes of birdsong wafting up from the gardens outside his window. Leaping out of bed, he shrugged hastily into his robes and raced into the kitchen, hurdling the forgotten energy bars neatly on his way down the hall. They'd have breakfast before leaving on their holiday, and Obi-Wan wanted to be the one to prepare it. He wanted to see Qui-Gon's smile over his offering of tea. He wanted to do something for his new Master/friend. He wanted something edible to quiet his growling stomach.

Skidding around the corner, he nearly ran into Qui-Gon, who was setting the teapot over the burner. Flattening against the storage units as Obi-Wan slid to a startled halt, Qui-Gon laughed when the flustered young Jedi tensed, preparing to Force-leap over the Master's head again, if was what it took to avoid crashing into him.

"I know that my tea is good, Obi-Wan. I didn't know it was that good."

"I wanted to make the tea for you," Obi-Wan confessed, sketching a bow of apology before peering into the cooler. "I suppose now I'll have to settle for making you breakfast."

"The tea I have under control, but if you insist..." Qui-Gon swept an arm at the preparation area, gracefully allowing Obi-Wan to take control of his culinary domain and retreating with a pleased smile.

This, Obi-Wan did. While Qui-Gon leaned against the doorframe and watched companionably Obi-Wan made a lighting-fast inventory of available foodstuffs. Menu decisions were made with the same speed, and a pleasant cold breakfast was assembled with the swift efficiency. By the time the tea was properly steeped, Obi-Wan had melons and a grain cereal on the table. Qui-Gon nodded his approval before setting his tea mug in front of one place setting, and very formally placing Obi-Wan's mug in front of what was now his permanent place at the table.

The Master settled comfortably across the small table from Obi-Wan's new mug in silent symmetry of their relationship, and gave his companion a crooked smile before picking up his spoon and beginning to rearrange the sliced melon to his liking. "I could very easily become accustomed to living with this sort of luxury."

"Luxury, Master?" Obi-Wan studied the melon, then glanced back to Qui-Gon for clarification. Was a melon a luxury on this world? It was easily obtainable on his Coruscant. Perhaps this was a rarity that he was treating so casually?

"No, not the melon, Obi-Wan." A chuckle distracted him from his mental anxieties as the older man made fast work of his breakfast, at the same time managing to make it look positively leisurely. "I meant the company, the good food, being spoiled by not having to face that kitchen myself. And two tea mugs on the table. I find I've missed that."

"It's only simple fare, Master. If you'd let me know what you like, I could prepare something a bit better."

The tea mug returned to the table with a thump. "Are you not listening to me, Padawan?"

"No, Master. I mean, yes, I am listening, Master." Obi-Wan straightened under the stern glare coming his way.

"I *said* that I enjoyed the food, the company and having you here. It means that I am very pleased by this, just as it is. Will you quit worrying so?" Qui-Gon softened his scolding words with a smile. "Now, have you given any thought as to packing?"

"No, Master. Will there be special needs on this mission that I should consider? Should we--"

"Obi-Wan, stop." Qui-Gon shook his head, laughing softly. "This is not a mission. This is for fun. First order: stop fretting. Second order: Relax. Next, pack light. Take anything you'd enjoy having with you, though now that I think of it, I believe the only non-utilitarian items you have just now are...erm, Santros' 'socks.' Do you like to read? Perhaps you would find something satisfactory in my small library. We have a few data disks available as well." He trailed off, suddenly uncertain exactly what this Obi-Wan would find enjoyable.

"Thank you, Master. I'll see to packing right away. Do you want me to pack for you, as well?"

Qui-Gon cast him a strange look. "Erm... no, Padawan. I think that I can manage on my own." He paused and frowned slightly. "Do you know what we need? A tent. Yes... A tent might prove useful where we're going. Do you think you can snick one from Santros?"

"It would be my pleasure, Master."

The bags were packed in only a few minutes, and Obi-Wan slipped out of the door to his room to find Qui-Gon staring at the huge box of energy bars lurking in the shadows of the hallway.

"Padawan, that cannot live here. Sooner or later one of us will forget about it and come to grief some dark night."

"I know, Master. I didn't mean to leave it there, but there's just no room in my quarters for all of those. Santros gave me enough to see us through a five-turn famine."

"Don't complain about it. He likes you. This is a rare happenstance, and one we must exploit to its fullest." He thoughtfully considered the pile of wrapped edibles. "The kitchen? No, no room there. I haven't room for them, either."

"The 'fresher is out," Obi-Wan muttered.

"And that leaves the common area." Qui-Gon's foot gave the box a shove, sending it sliding toward the living area.

Contemplativly surveying the room, Obi-Wan inventoried possible out of the way spots. "You've filled all the corners here. Under the chairs perhaps? Or should I haul them back to the room in the Knights Tower?"

"Too far away to go when we want one. Why don't we shove the box under the comp unit? We don't walk under there, and my knees don't fit under there anyway. It's also quite convenient."

"Convenient, Master?"

"The last thing we do before going out on missions is to check for last minute updates from the council, yes? So when we check, we can grab a handful on the way out."

Obi-Wan nodded in agreement, and the two of them herded the box into the cubby under the comp unit and shoved it in. Obi-Wan gathered two generous piles of the bars, presenting a handful to Qui-Gon. "And now we're ready?"

He nodded. "Grab your cloak, and let's introduce you to the concept of a holiday. Meet me on platform X47K once you get the tent," instructed Qui-Gon, installing the energy bars into his supply belt and giving Obi-Wan a look that said they were both in trouble if Santros discovered that Obi-Wan was sharing with him.

Obi-Wan shrugged in answer to that silent observation, knowing that he could squeege more out of the taciturn Jedi whenever they needed them. Answering the verbal order, he said, "I think I can manage to find the platform, Master."

Obi-Wan left then, already deep into his quest for a tent. Only after he had entered the vertical lift that would deposit him on Santros level did Obi-Wan realize that Qui-Gon had mentioned their going on missions in the future so offhandedly, it seemed the Master assumed it would happen. It then occurred to him that he and Qui-Gon had been carrying on two different conversations at the same time. On two different levels. Almost as he and his former Master had done through their link. True, the flow of communication had been far clearer through the training bond, but it wasn't that much more clear, and Obi-Wan had had no problem discerning Qui-Gon's thoughts.

/What's going on here?/ he wondered briefly. /Should we be able to do that?/ He quickly shrugged it off as coincidence, remembering that, even as an Initiate, he'd had a superficial bond with Qui-Gon Jinn. /This is probably a carry-over from that: certainly, it can't be anything more. And how complicated can it be to discuss energy bars non-verbally?/

Twenty minutes later, Obi-Wan joined Qui-Gon on platform X47K, tent properly procured. It hadn't been difficult; he'd only had to endure Santros' lecture on how he knew all too well what a Knight would need, and that Obi-Wan should have taken the tent yesterday when it'd been offered to save Santros, busy as he was, being interrupted over something that could have been avoided. A few humble 'Yes, Masters' and 'No, Masters' later, and Obi-Wan had made good his escape to platform X47K with tent in hand.

He also discovered that the ship they were taking was a freighter. All the better: there were no tourists to weave through or to avoid. No one for whom he had to be the inscrutible Jedi. Though, given how good Obi-Wan felt this morning, he wouldn't have minded striking up a conversation or two with a Coruscant stranger. These Coruscant strangers were far different from those on his world, and the approval and affection he'd encountered yesterday was something he wanted to take the time to enjoy.

Weaving his way through the containers waiting to be loaded, Obi-Wan amused himself by tossing the tent-cube he'd gotten from Santros up into the air and catching it. He found Qui-Gon easily where he leaned, arms crossed, against a stack of droid parts.

"I see that you got our tent."

"Yes. No trouble at all."

Taking up residence beside Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan watched as the freighter was loaded. The captain was a female Twi'lek dressed in very little but her tentacles. She supervised the loading with great efficiency, ordering the droids and other workers in a fast, shrill voice, expecting instant obedience and no wasted time. She also cast a warm smile Qui-Gon's way, welcoming him before he'd ever set foot on her deck.

"Do you two know each other?" asked Obi-Wan, tucking the tent-cube into his pack.

"We do. I rescued her from slavery when she was a child, brought her to Coruscant, and found a foster family to care for her."

"Slavery? I thought your Republic was above that."

"It is. But it's a large galaxy, Obi-Wan, and not everyone belongs to the Republic."

His smile was wry. "I'm familiar with that problem. So, the dregs are out there?"

"Oh, yes. They're out there, but they're not here. Not on Coruscant. There's too much Light on Coruscant, and the -- what did you call them? The dregs? Dregs cannot bear it. Like attracts like, and if one has darkness within, one seeks the darkness without. The pirates and the slavers gravitate toward their own organizations, their own planets."

"Not so different from my world."

"The most organized are the Hutt," said Qui-Gon. "They rule the gambling planets on the outer rim and have no use for the Republic, its civilized ways, or the Jedi. They work with the slavers, whose victims are most often beings addicted to gambling. Someone loses one too many games and cannot pay his or her or its debts. The Hutt extract payment in other ways."

Obi-Wan nodded at the familiar scenario and tried not to think on it too deeply. It was, after all, a Hutt and his slave that had reordered his life so painfully, and not that long ago. "I've seen Hutts and their slaves before. I wish it were not so here."

Qui-Gon turned to glance at him oddly. "Perhaps we will succeed in eliminating it one day." He broke off as a pit droid darted up to snatch the pile of parts he was leaning against, bashing Qui-Gon in the shin as it turned with its load and running over his foot as well. Growling, Qui-Gon backed away from the industrious -- and irritated -- droid as it toddled off chattering electronic curses at the tall man.

Obi-Wan couldn't help laughing at the Master's affronted expression. "Perhaps we should move, Master?"

A few clicks later, and the Twi'lek was motioning them up the gangway. Obi-Wan followed Qui-Gon onto the ship as he'd followed his Master hundreds of times before. The interior was dingy and dirty, but its aura was not. Putting her hands together, the Twi'lek offered the Jedi a respectful bow and murmured, "The Force be with you on our journey."

Qui-Gon returned the gesture, only to lay his hand on her shoulder. "And with you, S'pex. We are honored to ride aboard your vessel."

Her tentacles rippled with pleasure, her skin glowed a deeper blue.

"I am honored to have you aboard, Master Qui-Gon." After giving another slight bow, she slapped a hand over the control to raise the gangway and hurried down the corridor. "This way to your cabin, Sh'ra Jedi."

* * *

Qui-Gon pushed back the door of the cabin only to stare in horrified disbelief. "Padawan, I--"

"What is it? What's wrong?"

Stepping up beside Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan saw the problem immediately. The sleeper cabin was only six meters by four meters wide. The bunk they'd been assigned was folded up into the wall, and Obi-Wan was certain that when it was unfolded it would have room for only one of them.

Qui-Gon sighed as he turned to Obi-Wan. They were standing chest to chest in the small space, with Obi-Wan's nose on the level with Qui-Gon's chin.

"I apologize for the rough accommodations, Padawan. This was the only ship I could find to take us to Parthas on such short notice. The planet is remote and not part of the usual shipping lanes, and they like it that way."

"I don't mind," Obi-Wan said truthfully. "I've slept in far worse places, Master. Let's see what shape the bed is in."

They pulled it down together, only to discover that in order for it to open fully they had to close the door. Which meant that when the bed was down, the door could not be opened.

"That's one way to assure privacy," said Obi-Wan dryly.

It was a narrow room, meant for one person. The Master stood with hands on hips and eyed the bed as though it was a particularly recalcitrant Initiate refusing to do his biding. Obi-Wan shifted slightly, only to get one of those elbows in the ribs. Qui-Gon immediately dropped his stance and opened his mouth to apologize again. Laying a hand on the Master's arm, Obi-Wan sought to forestall him.

"It's all right. I'm not upset, and you shouldn't be, either. It's dry in here, warm, and we have a bed. At certain times in my life, that's been sheer luxury all by itself. I'm not complaining."

"Yes, but there's nothing to do but sleep, and we've just gotten up!" the Master snapped petulantly.

For some reason, Obi-Wan found this funnier than anything that had gone before. He let his laughter carry him away until he had to sit on the bed, and then went off into additional gales when he saw the perplexed look on Qui-Gon's face.

"Master... I'm sorry, but where I come from--in the life I led before--sleeping is sheer luxury. I think I could sleep for a week and still not catch up."

"So... this is a good thing?" Qui-Gon ventured. "You'd not object to our putting ourselves to bed for the duration of the journey? It's not an overlong trip, but it will take a day, and will cover a few meals. But I promise you, our energy bars would be far tastier than any meal S'Pex might offer us."

Obi-Wan grinned. "Then we'll eat an energy bar or two, curl up in our warm little bunk, and sleep away the journey."

And that is what they did. Brushing the crumbs from the bars off of the blankets, they stripped off their outer tunics and their boots. Obi-Wan waited while Qui-Gon moved to the far side of the bunk and settled on his side with his back against the wall. Politely squeezing himself into as small a space as possible with his large frame, he waited for Obi-Wan to join him and offered a grin of his own.

Slipping beneath the blankets, Obi-Wan settled with his back to the Master. Qui-Gon squirmed backward, trying to give Obi-Wan another fraction of an inch, and then sighed. "It's just going to have to be a very friendly nap, Padawan."

"I don't mind. I'll be sleeping in about three breaths, I think."

"Xan would have had fits at the insult to his dignity. And his wardrobe. He'd have been wrinkled, and that would have been even worse. Xanatos always insisted on looking the part of the elegant Jedi, even as a Padawan. I'd never have heard the end of it."

There was no answer from Obi-Wan, save quiet, steady breathing.

"And it seems I'm not going to hear the beginning of it from this one." He sighed. "Poor lad, you really are exhausted, aren't you." Qui-Gon settled a hand companionably on his new Padawan's shoulder, closed his eyes, and saw his own way into sleep.

* * *

Obi-Wan awoke suddenly with a sharp pain in his ribs. /Elbow,/ his mind provided muzzily. He tried to shift away from it, but found his retreat blocked by the space-cold plasteel of the cabin wall. Further investigation revealed that he was also curled up on his side with his knees uncomfortably close to his chest. Fetal position. The reason for this was simple -- his part of the bunk was occupied by a pair of impossibly long legs.

Qui-Gon was sleeping in a space too small for his large body, and in his sleep he'd tried to make adjustments for the sake of comfort. The only possible solution was for the big man to sleep diagonally. He was blissfully unaware of his intrusive position, but Obi-Wan was painfully crunched into an upper corner of the bunk in a space far too small for anything remotely resembling comfort.

There were only two options. One, kick Qui-Gon and chase him back on his side of the tiny bunk; or two, abandon the bunk altogether.

Mindful of his Master's comfort and dignity, Obi-Wan settled swiftly on option two. His cloak was snagged from the wall and, with the ease of a diver, Obi-Wan curled head-first off of the bunk and into the tiny standing space left for opening and closing it. He then slid easily into the space beneath the bunk itself. Spreading the cloak on the floor, Obi-Wan wrapped up in it, enjoyed stretching cramped muscles in the relative luxury of a few more inches of room.

Adventures. Everything with his master on his Coruscant had been an adventure. Some good, some bad, but never boring. /It seems the tradition is going to continue,/ he smiled to himself as he settled on to the cold ship floor. His Master -- no, not his Master, but Master Qui-Gon Jinn all the same -- could make almost anything unique. Listening to the comforting sound of the man's familiar, heavy breathing from above him, Obi-Wan sank back into sleep.

* * *

He awoke later to a bellow just above his right ear. "OBI-WAN!"

The voice held anxiety and was a definite command to report. One that Obi-Wan had been trained to answer immediately.

"Ma-- OW!" Sitting bolt upright in response to the startling summons, he smacked his head forcefully against the forgotten plasteel bed shelf above him.

"Obi-Wan, are you in here?" Qui-Gon demanded anxiously.

"If you're horizontal, there is no way I could have escaped, Master," Obi-Wan snapped back, too busy trying to get his watering eyes to refocus to bother with tact. "I couldn't have opened the door with you in that bunk."

A surprised sound reached him, and then Qui-Gon's head appeared upside down in his small space, hair trailing toward the floor. "What are you doing down there?"

"Was sleeping," he muttered, rubbing at the forming knot on his forehead.

"I see that, but why *there*, for Force sake? The floor is hard as rock, and you've got to be freezing. Would you get back up here, please?"

"I'm down here because the bed is too small for one of you, let alone a companion. I thought we'd both be more comfortable this way. Did you know you sleep diagonally?"

He blinked up at the incongruous sight of Qui-Gon peering under the bunk at him, his long hair flowing toward the floor with the insistance of artifical gravity. Obi-Wan tried not to smirk. Instead, he rubbed at his head again and asked the first question that popped into his mind. "Are we there yet?"

Qui-Gon gave an answering snort of laughter before withdrawing. "In fact we are, Padawan. Crawl out of there and lets see if we can escape this knothole, shall we?"


"Sh'ra Jedi! Sh'ra Jedi!"

Qui-Gon turned and crouched in time to intercept the child who streaked past Obi-Wan and Force-leaped to wrap her arms around his neck. She hugged the Master so tightly that Obi-Wan wondered if the older man could breathe.

"You came back!" she shrieked.

Qui-Gon winced as her enthusiasm traveled straight down his spine "I said that I'd return, Vakati."

He hugged the girl close, then settled her on the ground. She grabbed his hand, balancing on her heels and rocking back and forth to become a human pendulum.

"Have you had adventures since you left?" she demanded. "Did you fight nasty draigons or ugly rancors or--"

He smiled down at her and managed to pull her solidly back onto her feet before disengaging his hand from her clutching fingers. "Coruscant was peaceful, and no rancors invaded the Council chambers while I was there."

She eyed Obi-Wan. "Did you get a new Padawan?"

"No, Vakati. No new Padawan for me."

"That's too bad. Da said he really liked the last one a lot. I'd like to meet a Padawan. Hey, I could *be* your Padawan. While you're here, anyway. Can I be your Padawan today?"

Smiling at the child, he ruffled her bangs and attempted to redirect the awkward conversation. "I believe that your da needs you to be his Padawan today. What did you learn while I was gone?"

"He taught me how to spear a fish. It's really easy if you know how. Are you going upriver again? Do you know how to catch fish? I could show you if you want?"

The child prattled on, reminding Obi-Wan of Anakin. He sighed, not really missing his charge nor welcoming the inrush of memories surrounding that name. Wandering away from Qui-Gon's side, Obi-Wan cleared the ship and glanced around the village where they'd landed.

The stone cottages were half-buried in the earth, with grass roofs drooping over the streets. Drums sounded from somewhere close by, a ceremonial counterpoint to the villagers unloading the ship that had brought the Jedi to them. S'pex, their erstwhile pilot, sat atop a nearby rock and nibbled on something that looked like a gursha root. Obi-Wan wondered if the wrinkled grey thing had aphrodisiacal qualities in this universe as well. He thought of asking, but what if the answer was yes? Where would the conversation go then?

Everywhere Obi-Wan looked, he saw green: green trees, green fern, green grass, and variations thereon. He had seldom been to a place that felt so alive and unsullied. The trees encrouching on the village formed a canopy for the living Force, interrupted only by the meadow in which the freighter had landed. Feeling the soothing touch of the Force, Obi-Wan relaxed just a bit. It was easy to understand why Qui-Gon wanted to return to this place, and it was kind of him to drag his newest pathetic lifeform along with him.

Obi-Wan watched as a second little girl inched her way up to Qui-Gon. The Master wasn't doing anything intimidating, but Obi-Wan supposed that someone that tall could be intimidating all by himself when you didn't even come up to his waist. /I remember being intimidated by him myself, when I was a lot taller./

Tugging on the Jedi's sleeve, she summoned a shy smile and got his attention, and Vakati's as well. Ignoring the scowl the older girl gave her, the child held one of the suspicious roots up to Qui-Gon. Bowing, he murmured his thanks and took the root, but didn't bite into it.

Leaving the Master, the little girl headed solemnly over to Obi-Wan. He, apparently, wasn't nearly as intimidating as the tall Jedi with him, for the child marched right up to him, bowed with a solemnity that would have been worthy of any Temple initiate, and offered him a root. Bowing formally in return, Obi-Wan took the gift, only to have the child break out in giggles, hide her face, and run back the way she'd come. /Perhaps I am intimidating, after all./

Qui-Gon cleared his throat and frowned slightly at the root Obi-Wan was holding. Heeding the warning, Obi-Wan watched Vakati streak after the second girl. Evidently the formal welcoming party had concluded their ceremonies, and Obi-Wan shrugged as he watched them disappear into the cluster of small buildings.

Retrieving their packs, Qui-Gon joined Obi-Wan and handed his to him. "You've been given an aprhodisiacal offering, Obi-Wan. I suggest we leave them for S'pex to enjoy. She seems to be immune to their effect, as are the villagers."

Following Qui-Gon's lead, Obi-Wan tossed the root to S'pex, who caught both easily and gave them an understanding grin.

"Master, do you think she's blessed or cursed in her immunity?" Obi-Wan cast a casual glance up at Qui-Gon.

"Considering there's not a T'wilek for at least sixteen parsecs in all directions, I'd say she's blessed. This way, Padawan," he added with an anxious glance back toward the tiny village. "Quickly, before they invite us to dinner and ask us to stay the entire week."

Heading away from the freighter, the two Jedi made their way down a path through fern and cat-tails to the edge of a river. Stepping onto a rickety-looking dock, Qui-Gon dropped his pack into a waiting skiff, stepped inside, and steadied the boat. Obi-Wan paused long enough to give the watercraft a dubious visual inspection, then glanced back at Qui-Gon. The Master's calm demeanor assured that it was safe, regardless Obi-Wan didn't feel entirely convinced that was so. While Qui-Gon waited, Obi-Wan reluctantly stepped into the small boat.

"We'll head down river and make camp at dusk."

Shrugging out of his cloak, Qui-Gon settled on a hard wooden plank at the back of the skiff, took up an oar, and nodded for Obi-Wan to do the same. Obi-Wan slipped out of his cloak as silently instructed, wondering if it was a precautionary measure should this worn craft decide to dump them both in the water. Another glance at Qui-Gon showed no new signs of anxiety, but instead a pleased anticipation. Shrugging in silent acceptance, Obi-Wan his place at the bow and took up residence on a plank only slightly softer than his bed on the freighter floor. Casting off the moorings, he coiled the rope at his feet and took up his own oar. Qui-Gon was well underway by then, moving into the river and quickly leaving the dock behind.

"I didn't think to ask if you like boats," the Master offered between strokes of the oar. "Or water, for that matter."

"I've only nearly drowned once, Master, so I'm fine with both -- so long as the boat remains on top of the water."

That earned a deep chuckle. "You'll have to tell me the tale around our campfire tonight."

Obi-Wan grinned, well pleased with his efforts to make the Master laugh. He began stroking in rhythm with Qui-Gon, letting the motion of the boat and the Master's powerful presence behind him guide him. After only a few minutes, Obi-Wan found that he could sense what Qui-Gon wanted him to do with the oar, which left his conscious mind free to absorb the details of the river and surrounding rain forest.

The silence was deep here, filling the younger man with a peace he'd not felt in months. The lapping of the water against the skiff, the sunlight through the trees, the gentle splashing of their oars... This became Obi-Wan's world for the next few hours, and the young knight was happy to surrender to it. Closing his eyes, he felt the sun's warmth on his face and enjoyed its caress as they passed beneath trees laden with ivy and heavy vines. Qui-Gon's incredible presence at Obi-Wan's back soothed him. Reaching out with his Force sense, he basked in the older man's aura as much in the warmth of the sun.

"I've decided something," he murmured.

"What's that, Padawan?"

"I like this excursion much better than many missions I've been on. It's a definite improvement over someone trying to kill us."


A companionable silence fell between them again, amazing in itself since the two men hadn't known each other very long. /But then, what isn't amazing about this universe so far?/ thought Obi-Wan.

"Did others often try to kill you, Obi-Wan?" came the quiet rumble from behind him.

"Often, Master. Jedi in my world are not so well-respected nor so welcomed as they are in yours."

"They won't hurt you here, Obi-Wan." There was a promise in those words, the offer of security beneath them.

Strange creatures watched from shore--chewing placidly on the foliage as they watched the skiff pass, or slithering into the water to follow in their wake. /Taste good lunch?/ Obi-Wan could almost hear the various sharp-fanged waterdraigons ask. One even dared scrape the bottom of the boat, making it rocking gently. Obi-Wan felt a ripple in the Force as Qui-Gon sent the creature on. It departed as requested, but not before rolling an eye back to glare at them as it submerged.

/We brought a tent,/ Obi-Wan remembered, /which means that we'll be sleeping outside with the carnivores. I don't care to be eaten. Does this Qui-Gon prefer first watch or second?/ "Are you certain they won't hurt us here, Master? Do the creatures know that?"

"These creatures are curious more than hungry. The river is teaming with fish, and those that hunt here are well fed."

Obi-Wan couldn't remember when he'd passed a more effortless day. They glided along for long periods of time, with Qui-Gon pointing out that bit of flora or fauna, showing Obi-Wan what plants and berries were safe to eat, and what was best avoided. The list of local creatures with sharp teeth and ill temper was also gone over carefully.

"They're all far less dangerous than rancors," the Master imparted. "Most of the creatures that might try to eat you out here are slow and smelly. This means that you'll know they're about before they're upon you, and all you need to do is to run upwind to avoid them."

"That's comforting," Obi-Wan murmured. "But what if they're already upwind, as they'd have to be for me to smell them?"

"Take the long way around," the Master pointed out sensibly.

Obi-Wan twisted to look back over his shoulder. "You're telling me to run in circles?"

Silence met that question. And then, "Obi-Wan, are you baiting me?"

Obi-Wan shook his head, trying for sincerity and innocence. "If there's a risk that I might be prey to some creature, I want all of the information I can get."

Qui-Gon's narrow-eyed stare told him it wasn't working. "Run in a half-circle, then."

"Thank you, Master."

The sun was sinking low in the trees when Qui-Gon guided the small craft into a tributary. Moments later, they rounded a corner and Obi-Wan's jaw dropped to see the waterfall, the mist, and the rainbow cast by the setting sun.


"Breathtaking, isn't it? This is where I was when Xanatos sent word that you'd arrived."

"I'm sure you didn't take kindly to being interrupted," Obi-Wan commented almost absently. Stretching out a hand, he let the water droplets play on his hand, stared at the prisms of light in their beads. "It's beautiful."

"Yes. It is." A long-fingered hand stole across his shoulder, rested there heavily. "And no, I was not pleased at being dragged away. But the interruption proved to be well worth my time," he added, squeezing the shoulder lightly. "I'm happy to be able to share it with you, Obi-Wan. Shall we make camp?"

They grounded the skiff, with Obi-Wan leaping out onto the grassy shore and pulling it up out of the shallows so that Qui-Gon wouldn't get so much as a boot wet when he stepped out. The Master gave him a quizzical look as if to say, 'What do you think I did when you weren't here?' but accepted the service with a tolerant smile.

As one and in silence, they set about making camp. Retrieving the tent cube, Obi-Wan headed for high ground. Ripping off the wrapper and unwinding the plastring surrounding the cube, he set it carefully in the middle of the space he'd chosen. Stepping safely back, the young man waited and was not disappointed.

"PHWOOMP!" went the cube, exploding with a percussive force that Obi-Wan knew from experience to stay well clear of. Flinging itself hither and yon, it finally settled into a most functional tent. Obi-Wan had learned from his first triggering of such a cube that, if given the opportunity, it would fling other things as well in its effort to establish itself, namely young and unwary Padawan. Having been launched several feet to land embarrassingly on his backside, Obi-Wan had learned an important lesson in less than a heartbeat; stay well clear of opening tents. Qui-Gon's grin at his obvious caution informed him that he wasn't the only Padawan to be so assaulted by sleeping structures.

Joining him, Qui-Gon handed the Jedi a small camp shovel and set to with his own to dig a shallow trench about the tent. If it rained, the runoff would run off rather than under or inside their tent. As Obi-Wan joined him in the effort, he realized that all of their work was being done in silence, as if each man knew what was required and no words were necessary. He remembered working the same way with his former Master, but it hadn't happened until late in his apprenticeship.

/Often, I asked questions just to hear him talk,/ remembered Obi-Wan. /I so loved the sound of his voice. What he said wasn't bad, either, but it was such work to get him to speak./

Obi-Wan knew from past experience that the tent they'd brought was practically indestructable, provided the user anchored it, which Obi-Wan set about doing. Behind him, Qui-Gon discarded his shovel and gathered rocks to form a site for their fire. Larger, naturally placed boulders might serve as seats, but stone was hard, and Obi-Wan had always preferred the ground. Rummaging through his pack, the Master pulled forth a collapsible stick, nodded once to Obi-Wan, and proceeded to walk the shoreline as if he were looking for something. Opening the tent, Obi-Wan unfolded the compact bedrolls, folded their cloaks into something resembling pillows, and set them at the head. Storing their packs inside the tent, he exited to see that Qui-Gon was still searching the shoreline--for what, Obi-Wan wasn't quite certain. Every so often, the Master would pause, tilt back his head and hold out his hand, and concentrate on the water.

Climbing a large, flat rock that was imbedded between water and shore, the Master did his reachy-feely thing once more and then nodded, as if satisfied with what he'd sensed. Snapping open the odd stick, he pulled out some thin line, stuck something on the end of it, and cast over his head. A few clicks later, and he was reeling in the line and his first fish, was grinning down at Obi-Wan.

"How did you do that?"

Qui-Gon winked. "Be mindful of the living Force, young Padawan."

Obi-Wan watched the silvery water creature protesting its sudden captivity. "And now that you have it, what are you going to do with it?"

"We're going to eat it," Qui-Gon informed him solemnly.

Obi-Wan stared up at him, waiting for the truth to be told. Qui-Gon offered no further explanation but began removing the water creature from the line. In dawning horror he realized Qui-Gon was sincere about this.

"Master, no," he protested, but Qui-Gon held up the fish, nodding. The fish stared at him balefully, remaining silent on the subject.

Obi-Wan scowled fiercely at the older man before turning away and heading off to look for those berries and things he'd been told were edible. They'd have more to eat for dinner than fish, and this mindful Padawan would provide it. Qui-Gon's laughter rang behind him, warm and beloved in the setting sun.

* * *

Qui-Gon caught six fish for dinner, a number which Obi-Wan thought was excessive because he wasn't certain he wanted to eat even one. It would have been rude to have said so, however, and so Obi-Wan kept his silence. Having gathered his berries and large fronds and leaves of something Qui-Gon had again assured him was edible ingredients for a salad, Obi-Wan set a fire, boiled water for tea, and prepared his contributions to the meal while the darkness gathered.

Qui-Gon cleaned his fish at the edge of the water. Obi-Wan was grateful that the big Jedi's back blocked the operation, as the younger man had never enjoyed watching living things being beheaded and gutted. Yes, they were necessary for food. Yes, he knew how to prepare whatever was around for that food. But that didn't mean he enjoyed it.

Coming to the fire, Qui-Gon wrapped his prizes in thick leaves and set them over the flames before claiming the mug of tea Obi-Wan offered. Sitting on his haunches, he waited for his fish to cook.

"You've been watching me all day," Qui-Gon murmured, giving his companion a quizzical look.

"I can't help it. In some ways, feel as though I might wake up at any time and discover none of this--including you--is real."

Qui-Gon offered a crooked smile. "I assure you that I'm quite real. So is dinner."

Obi-Wan eyed the long, rolled up lumps dubiously. "You have a point. I can't remember ever dreaming of fish before."

Retrieving his wilderness salad, Obi-Wan prepared two plates and handed them across to Qui-Gon. A few minutes later, and the Master was removing his fish from the fire. It took a few tenative snatches at the hot leaves, but he finally got a fair grip on one edge and yanked sharply. The leaf unfurled, rolling the fish inside to land in the middle of Obi-Wan's vegetative collection and stare up at him irritably. Its twin was subsequently tossed alongside of it, bearing a similar accusatory expression in its flat eye.

Obi-Wan stood silently and stared back at his meal, so skillfully procured and generously shared by Qui-Gon. This surely surpassed any other unpleasant culinary surprise his Master had ever presented to him.

Before Obi-Wan could decide what to do with his steamed watercreature, a rustling and scrabbling in the bushes informed them of uninvited guests. Obi-Wan sprang to his feet, his hand going to the hilt of his lightsaber as two lizard-scaled, wicked-clawed somethings bounded into the campsite. Cautiously eyeing the fire, they sniffed the air and barked at each other, clearly disturbed by Obi-Wan's defensive stand.

"You're late," Qui-Gon commented, getting to his feet. Reassured, the creatures headed straight for him. Waving their talons, they butted up against his knee and barked again.


"Think of them as landlords, Obi-Wan. Nothing more, nothing less. They've come to collect their rent."

Stretching tall on their hind legs, they snatched the two raw fish Qui-Gon offered between their sharp-toothed jaws and bounded out of the campsite. Trembling bushes and receding snuffly noises marked their passage,

"Will they return for dessert, Master?"

"Hmmm? No, that should hold them until morning."

"Six fish?..." Obi-Wan ventured, sitting close to the fire and bracing his back against a convenient rock.

"And now there are four. Two for you, and two for me."

Obi-Wan grinned. "You knew they'd come."

"Of course I knew. They've come every night that I've been here." Settling beside Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon again handed him the plate bearing his two fish, which lay limply alongside the cooked berries and leaves.

Obi-Wan stared at the food, then poked at a fishtail with his knife. Flat, shriveled fish eyes stared up at him, unfairly reminding him of Bant, who had been left far away in that other universe. The fish itself looked...displeased and highly critical of him. "Something wrong, Padawan?"

"Master, forgive me, but I've always had a bit of a problem eating something that's looking at me."

"Well then, give it back."

Obi-Wan willingly handed the plate back to his master, contented for the fish to be in the possession of someone who appreciated them. But before he could rise to seek his store of energy bars, Qui-Gon turned toward the fire. With the plate in one hand and the gutting knife in the other, he whacked off the two offending fish heads. They soared into the fire to land with a splat, sizzling and shriveling on their way to becoming ashes.

Obi-Wan stared at the hissing fishy bits, and then stared up at this man whose resemblance to his deceased Master obviously ended after darkness set in, the man who had clearly been seduced by the barbaric setting into odd behaviors....

"Do you wish me to remove the tails and fins as well?" Qui-Gon asked politely.

"No, Master," Obi-Wan replied thinly, staring dismally at the fire as a smoked, charred fish head turned his way. Mercifully, it had ceased its accusatory stare, but only because its eyes were gone. Suppressing a shudder, Obi-Wan turned back to Qui-Gon. "Is there... anything else to eat on this planet?"

"Very little, Padawan."

"I was afraid of that."

The plate containing now headless fish was waved under his chin, and Obi-Wan politely reclaimed possession of it. Qui-Gon watched the younger man poke at his dinner, peel back the skin and explore for bones. Every so often, Obi-Wan would hesitantly taste the fish itself. Taking pity, Qui-Gon rummaged through his supply belt and handed Obi-Wan one of his energy bars.

"Thank you, Master." Finishing the greens and the berries, Obi-Wan tipped the plate of disassembled fish toward his Master. "Should we save this for our landlords?"

"They prefer their fish uncooked. And more intact than that, I think."

Obi-Wan tried to ignore the humor in that deep voice and tossed into the fire what was left of the fish before unwrapping his energy bar. Savoring what was left of his dinner, Qui-Gon finished eating before furthering the conversation.

"I've been doing some more thinking about your Master," he ventured. "He seems to have greatly disliked having the Council tell him what to do."

Obi-Wan gave a snort and tossed the empty wrapper into the fire.

"I'm right, then?"

"Oh, Force, yes. He listened to the Force, made his own decisions and hated having 'stuffy Tower-dwellers' tell him he was wrong. Especially when they hadn't been on the mission and hadn't known what was actually happening. He was so in tune with the living Force that he responded to the currents as they happened. He hated someone trying to second-guess things later."

Qui-Gon nodded. "I think your Qui-Gon expected them to fall in with his plans regarding Anakin. In his journal, he indicated that he made promises to Anakin's mother based on certain assumptions--a grave mistake all by itself. When the Council thwarted him in fulfilling those promises, he stopped thinking clearly. He stopped considering the ongoing consequences of his actions."

Obi-Wan nodded. "He felt strongly that Anakin was the Chosen One, and that the Force had led us to him. I doubt it occurred to my Master that the Force would allow any other outcome with the Council."

Staring into the fire, Qui-Gon continued. "I think Qui-Gon blamed himself for Xanatos's turning."

"He did, Master. He spoke of Xanatos very little, but he did hold himself responsible."

"From what I read in his files, your Master adored the boy and was totally blind to his faults. And believe me, Xanatos has many," he added with a wry half-smile. "When Xan fell, it brought a new and very unwelcome experience to Qui-Gon's door: public failing. The entire Temple was aware of his humiliation. Peer reactions probably ran the gambit from sympathy to glee that someone of his stature could be so blind. Others may have wondered if the Darkness wasn't within Qui-Gon himself, if he hadn't helped his apprentice fall. Qui-Gon himself may have wondered. And then there was the very personal betrayal by a Padawan whom he truly loved as a son." The Master shook his head. "No one can face that sort of tragedy and not be changed by it."

"I think he was terribly hurt by it," said Obi-Wan. "He swore he'd never take another Padawan after him. And he refused me five different times."

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at that.

"I think he took me on only because he was too embarrassed to turn me away again after we'd worked together so well. There were draigons, you see?" he added with a shrug. "He needed help, and I was there."

That earned him a startled look. "Your Master was a very proud man. He was deeply damaged long before he met you. It's not just that he denied you, Padawan; he seems to have denied the entire world. He locked himself in and everyone else out.

"When you came along, he was still refusing to let anyone close, and refusing to be close to anyone. He had made discipline his god." Qui-Gon shifted his attention from the fire, locked gazes with Obi-Wan. "This is the frozen heart you walked into. This is the heart that taught you and molded you, gave you skill and competence, but your Master was incapable of loving you. Not because you were unworthy of his love, or were never good enough to win it, but because he had left being human behind. He didn't dare love you, for fear of letting you fall to the Dark as well."

Spellbound, Obi-Wan listened, watched the play of the firelight over the harsh features of the older man. He'd heard a variation on these words the night before, but now the Force pulsed with the truth of them.

"Your Master was determined not to make the same mistakes again. He was determined never again to be so humiliated, so wrong, so blind, so vulnerable. So hurt. I believe that there was something deeply wrong with him, wounds inside of him that no one could have touched, much less healed. After taking you as a Padawan, I believe he decided, in his pain, that if he did everything differently, the risk of having you fall could be minimized. Ergo, he did not dare show you that he cared. And he did care, Obi-Wan. Very much."

Obi-Wan nodded in a way that answered neither yes nor no, and then tossed a stick into the fire, sending sparks rising in the heat of the flames.

"I knew he cared about me," he answered slowly. "He showed me... in his own way. And I was fortunate to have him as my Master. He only wanted me to be as good as I could be, and he was the best of our Order. I wanted...I wanted to make him proud of me, even if Jedi aren't supposed to feel that way."

"He was proud of you, Obi-Wan. How could he not be?"

"And then he found the Chosen One. He had to train him. It was...was...."

"It was wrong," Qui-Gon reiterated. "Even if Anakin was the Chosen One--which he definitely is not here--it was wrong of your Master to abandon you that way."

"He said I was ready."

"He did, did he?"

"He said I was impetuous and headstrong and had much to learn of the living Force, but that there was little more I could learn from him."

Qui-Gon gave a breath that might have been a laugh. Obi-Wan looked up from the flames to judge, but the older man did not look amused. "I also believe that there was something wrong with your Council. Becoming a Knight in my world is a joyous occasion, not one filled with misery and sorrow and uncertainty."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "There are far too few of us on my world, Master. We haven't the time to cosset Padawans and wait until they feel ready. If one is trained and capable of aiding the Order, then one must do so."

"If you did not feel ready, then you were not ready, and they should not have forced you into it."

"I haven't felt ready for anything that's happened to me since Naboo," he confessed.

"That's understandable," Qui-Gon offered gently.


Obi-Wan considered all the Master had said. He didn't say anything for a very long time, just stared into the fire and sat alone with his thougts. When he did speak, the boldness of his question startled even him.

"Master, would you tell me about your Obi-Wan? How your Obi-Wan died?"

Drawing a deep breath, Qui-Gon busied himself by tossing another log onto the fire and fiddling with its placement for a long time.

Obi-Wan realised that the normally forthright Jedi was evading the question. "I'm sorry, Master. I shouldn't have asked. Please don't--"

Qui-Gon interrupted the apology with the wave of his hand. "If we discuss your Master, it's only fair that we discuss my Padawan. How could you not have questions." His voice was quiet and sad, but controlled. "My Obi-Wan. He was much like you in many ways, but there are differences also. There was an astonishing self-confidence to my Padawan. A certain arrogance about his abilities, and a belief that he was indestructible."

"Curse of the young," contributed Obi-Wan.

"In part," Qui-Gon agreed. "But it was to such a degree in Obi-Wan that I think it was a flaw in his character. There was a fine line between his brilliance and skill--which were very real--and his attitudes about them, which were not exactly what one would wish to see in a Jedi. I knew of the problem, you see, but didn't correct it in time. I never thought it would lead to his death. I frequently pointed out to him that he needed to have a little humility, but while his words agreed with my admonitions, his attitudes did not."

Qui-Gon gave a regretful smile. "You know that our world is very different from yours. The missions we served and the lessons I imparted did not test my Padawan as you were tested, Obi-Wan. I foolishly thought that humility would come to him as he grew older. He would learn in the field if not with me, after he was knighted. As soon as he had to rely upon his own judgment, once he saw how his attitudes and decisions affected others, he would learn." Qui-Gon shrugged. "No matter how brilliant you are, there's always a bigger fish. I thought my Padawan would find that out as we all do, with a few bumps and bruises to his head or his ego. But I was wrong. He wasn't granted the time."

The Master fell silent then, staring moodily into the flames and obviously reliving scenes that only he could see.

"It was on a mission then?" Obi-Wan asked quietly. "Was it to Gellos?"

"Gellos...." Qui-Gon was silent for so long, Obi-Wan believed that he was not going to answer at all. But finally he sighed deeply. Letting his head fall back, he braced it against the rock and closed his eyes. Went back into the memories and began letting the words flow.

"No," he answered softly. "It was Anoz. We were sent to Anoz and set down in the middle of a tribal war. Both sides wanted nothing more than to annihilate the other. We weren't there to negotiate for peace, which was fortunate because as matters stood it was totally impossible. Our mission was to escort the women and children to a safe place; nothing more and nothing less. Council had warned us to not even try reasoning with these people; a thousand years of hatred could not be dissolved by any words we might speak.

"The women had requested our help as they'd decided to abandon the men to their war. They wanted their children out of conflict, and safe. It was meant to be a simple transport run: pick up the women and children of one warring side, transport them to a safe site, and then collect the other half. It shouldn't have taken a day."

"What went wrong?" Obi-Wan asked quietly.

Qui-Gon offered a breath of sound that might have been a laugh, had it been less bitter. "Everything. Everything went wrong. First, the women decided that they wanted to leave in one group. To show unity to their idiot warring males, they said. The transport waiting for them on the outskirts of the village was big enough, so that was not a problem. No, the problem started when they wanted to gather with their children in the village's public square."

"Buildings all around, difficult to defend?" asked Obi-Wan.

"Gods, yes," Qui-Gon confirmed, frowning. "And as the women gathered with their children, so did the men."

"Oh, no...."

"Oh, yes. It was revealed that the men did not approve. They came forth to prevent their families from departing. How can you fight a war when there is no one to cook for you? To bandage wounds and tend the injured? To tend other warrior needs?" Qui-Gon's voice rose in anger as he relived the conflict. "And so the men came, creeping toward the edges of the square where the women were gathering. Of course, since the women of both warring sides were there, so were the men of the opposing factions. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a simple, peaceful transport turned into a major armed conflict, with the innocents of both cultures caught in the crossfire."

Obi-Wan closed his eyes against the images Qui-Gon's words summoned. "Did you get them out, Master?"

"All but three. One woman and her two children were seized from the edge of the group and dragged away. The men of her clan began firing blasters into the opposing group, which began a full-scale battle. I ordered Obi-Wan to lead the women behind the lines and back to the transport, to stay with them and wait for me to join him.

"We exchanged some... harsh words. He wanted to stay with me, to fight with me. I ordered him to see to the mission and to the safety of those we had come to transport. He accepted the responsibility, though he made it clear he thought his skills could be better utilized elsewhere. But he went, leading the women and children behind the lines. I went after the woman who had been abducted.

"By then, the men were so involved in fighting each other that they barely noticed the group fleeing with Obi-Wan. He successfully led them safely to the transport. There was a narrow area before the landing field, and one Jedi could easily hold it. I had no concerns with that -- Obi-Wan was brilliant with a lightsaber. He would protect them, and the task would keep him out of the fighting.

"It took me awhile to reach the captives. The fighting was intense at that point, the men so involved in their war that they noticed nothing but their enemies. I managed to get the woman and her children free of their abductors and the conflict, but skirting the battle lines and reaching the transport was impossible for the moment. The entire village was falling; we had to hide and wait out the battle.

"About an hour after we parted, Obi-Wan comm'd to let me know that they'd arrived safely. I reiterated that he was to stay with the ship and protect them. I'd meet him when I could bring my charges safely through the lines. We'd then complete the mission and return to Coruscant. The connection was open, but Obi-Wan did not acknowledge my orders. I'll never know if he even heard them."

Qui-Gon fell silent at that point, staring into the flames with such pain reflected in his eyes that Obi-Wan ached for him. The younger man knew that the story had ended for the night. Probably forever. He'd not ask again, and Qui-Gon would definitely not bring it up again. Obi-Wan regretted having asked now, seeing how deep his Master's grief was. He was trying to think of some way to apologize about asking when Qui-Gon's low voice startled him.

"Minutes later, I felt the bond between us shatter. There was no question in my mind that he was dead. I felt him die. The battle ended soon after that, and I saw the family safely to their transport. Sent it on its way. I then went looking for Obi-Wan. Tracked back back along the route I thought he'd taken.

"By the time I reached the city, there were so many many I couldn't identify... Blasters, you see? And falling rubble from the buildings. I began looking for my Padawan's Force signature, then. Doing so was faster. I didn't have to stare into every dead face, or look at all the boots."

Hesitating, Qui-Gon drew a deep breath and then another before trying to continue. There was a distant, almost glassy look in his eyes, and Obi-Wan knew the Master was reliving every bloody, hellish moment, just as Obi-Wan had relived the scene in the meltdown pit on Naboo during the mindsweep. Sighing shakily, Qui-Gon closed his eyes and bowed his head, looked away from the flames and whatever inner vision tormented him.

"I finally found him," he murmured. The search had led me straight back to the village square, and Obi-Wan had been standing where he'd last seen me. He was just outside a doorway, under the building stones. The old structure had come down, destabilized from the blaster fire.

"The stones had crushed him. Crushed his skull." Qui-Gon choked, struggled to continue. "When I got him free of the rubble, he didn't even look like my Obi-Wan any more. But he still felt like him. I knew that he was dead before I found him, but...I think I lost control there. Didn't behave like much of a Master. I just wanted my Padawan to be whole. I tried...tried to push the bones back under the scalp where the broken edges had torn through, but I couldn't. They just grated against one another and shifted around, and blood and brain matter kept leaking out through the breaks."

Raising his head, stared at the fire and into the past. His hands moved in the firelight, and in their gestures Obi-Wan could see the Master's efforts to heal the young boy who'd wanted only to be at his side.

"I kept wiping the blood away, but it kept coming back. And I kept leaving more bloody fingerprints and smears." Tears coursed down Qui-Gon's cheeks, wetting his beard. "The bones were sharp where they'd been broken -- but I guess you know that, don't you." Dark eyes caught and held Obi-Wan's in the firelight.

"Yes, Master," he dared breathe softly. He'd seen far too many battlefields, had experienced too many broken bones himself not to know.

"I cut my fingers trying to push back the bones. I didn't realize it then, but I was leaving my own blood every time I touched him." Qui-Gon stared at his fingertips, glowing red-tinged in the firelight and clearly evoking the memory of other stains. He fisted those fingers, curling them in so tightly that his knuckles shone white against the light of the fire. "Using my hands didn't work. I used the Force to try again, because I wanted the bones back where they belonged. First the bones of his skull, then the smaller bones of his face. Put his eye back where it belonged, instead of dangling down on his cheek."

Qui-Gon gestured again, his fingers remembering along with his soul. Tears welled in Obi-Wan's own eyes, and he shuddered. The images Qui-Gon was evoking were all so real.

"Next, I tried to move the blood out of the tissues where it had pooled. Obi-Wan still felt alive. Pieces of him were still alive. Cells, you know. It takes the cells awhile to die, so while they lived, I tried to heal him." Qui-Gon's eyes were bleak and desperate, holding his companion's. "I got the bones stabilized and fixed the worst of the gashes on his face so that he looked like Obi-Wan again. But then the cells died, and he wouldn't heal anymore and he was just...just...."

"Master...." Obi-Wan whispered, unable to hear any more.

Qui-Gon sagged. His shoulders rounded and he leaned forward, his hands dangling between his knees. "He was just dead. Matter kept leaking out of his ears, and the blood was still everywhere. I can still see it, you know? Smell it. Blaster scores and copper and burned flesh. I just held him, then. I wanted him to be whole. I wanted...."

Qui-Gon choked and broke off again. He breathed deeply, repeatedly, struggling with the sudden surge of grief reawakened with the remembering of this trauma. Sliding down off of his rock, Obi-Wan crept up to Qui-Gon and laid an arm across his back. The big man seemed oblivious to the touch, his muscles rock-hard, but Obi-Wan didn't let go.

"I realized, after a time, that the battle had stopped. It was silent, totally silent. And these men were standing around, had crept up to us, with some hiding in the rubble. Everyone had stopped fighting, had come to stare at my poor Obi-Wan. They hadn't meant to kill him. And really, they hadn't. He didn't die in battle -- not even that glory that he'd have appreciated. He just had a rock fall on his head.

"But still, those men were responsible, and they knew it. And were horrified. They'd never meant to kill a Jedi, and certainly not a boy. He was just a *boy*, dead in their stupid war that had been going on for so long that no one even knew any longer what they were fighting for."

Qui-Gon fell silent, until Obi-Wan prompted, "What happened next?"

The Master shrugged. "Someone had the courage to send a message to Coruscant to tell them that their Jedi had been killed. 'So sorry, many regrets.' The Council replied that they were sending a special transport, asked if they could get us onto it. It arrived, and the men kept asking me to get up. One tried to take Obi-Wan away from me, but... He changed his mind.

"I don't know how long I stayed there, sitting on the ground and cradling him against me. Some sort of sensibility eventually returned. When he stopped feeling like Obi-Wan, I suppose. I picked him up and carried him through the village, to the ship waiting to take us home. The blasters and weapons were in piles along the way. And the bodies. So many bodies, lined up one next to the other, like some bizarre honor guard of the dead.

The pilot never emerged from his cockpit, never said a word to us. Just flew us back to Coruscant, to the Temple. Xanatos met us there, and when I stepped out of the ship and carried Obi-Wan down the gangway, the first thing I saw on Xan's face was relief. Joy. I'm standing before him with my dead Padawan in my arms, covered in blood and brain matter and spinal fluid and dirt, and Xanatos is *relieved.*

"I was furious. It turned out that he'd received word that one of the Jedi had died, but he didn't know which one. He had no idea if it was Obi-Wan, or if it was me. I shouldn't have held it against him for being glad that I hadn't died. It's nice to be wanted, occasionally. But I couldn't share his appreciation for that turn of events.

"Obi-Wan was bathed and dressed and placed upon a pyre in one of the meditation gardens. He was released into the Force with proper Temple ceremony, and mourned by his friends, and no one has ever said a word to me about it. Not a word."

Qui-Gon fell silent again. Obi-Wan settled to the ground beside him, sitting in the accustomed position at his knee -- close enough to touch, but not so intrusive as to crowd him in his grief. Reaching out, he touched one of the large memory-stained hands, trying to pull Qui-Gon back into speaking.

"Words about what, Master? Regrets or sorrow for his death?"

"No, there were many who offered condolences. I mean about my getting him killed." Qui-Gon dragged the sleeve of his tunic across his eyes, wiped away tears that just kept coming.

"Master..." For a moment, Obi-Wan was speechless, uncertain how to help heal this raw grief. "Master, you didn't let him get killed. This was not your fault."

"At least his death wasn't meaningless." Qui-Gon's voice was raw. "He ended the war, you know? Generations, that thing had gone on, their senseless fighting back and forth. Both sides just put down their weapons and never picked them up again after my Padwan died. Perhaps they saw their own sons' future in his broken body. Perhaps they were deeply upset to have killed a Jedi. I don't know. Really, I don't care. I'm glad that someone benefitted, but it certainly wasn't Obi-Wan. Or me."

Tears coursed from beneath the Master's closed lids. "I tried to keep him safe. If I'd let him stay with me as he asked, he would have survived."

"You sent him off to be safe, didn't you?" Obi-Wan asked softly.

A smothered sob. A nod.

"It's not your fault he died," Obi-Wan murmured. "You didn't fail him, Master. He failed you. He failed to obey you."

"I can't know that. I don't know that he heard me. He only wanted to help me. He was concerned for me, out in the fighting alone. It was my responsibility to keep him safe, and I let him be killed."

"Master, he *disobeyed* you," Obi-Wan repeated, twisting to look up into his face, trying to meet his gaze. "He deliberately disobeyed you."

"You can't know that. I can't be sure of that." Qui-Gon's voice held an edge of anger, as the new Obi-Wan insulted the memory of the old.

"I can." Obi-Wan's voice was so calm, so matter-of-fact, that Qui-Gon opened his eyes, swiped away the tears threatening to blind him, and stared at the younger man.

"I know, because I was like that," he said quietly, deliberately. "I was very much like him, and I can tell you exactly why he didn't listen to you. He wanted to be part of the action, and he wanted to protect his Master. He felt that he belonged nowhere else but at your side, and he didn't want to be sent off with the women and children. "

"Obi-Wan, you can't say that--"

"I *can* say it, because it's true. We are aspects of each other, remember? I did the same damn thing on Gellos! I nearly died there, through my own stupidity and willfulness. 'He is reckless and headstrong,' my own Master told the Council. Doesn't that describe your Obi-Wan? My Master chose those words for me because he felt they suited me, and he was right. Especially that day on Gellos, when I did almost the same thing your Obi-Wan did. Luckily, my Master was there, and he managed to knock me aside. If he hadn't, I would have died then.

"I was lucky. I learned many things that day. I learned that I wasn't immortal, and I learned to obey orders without question. I also learned just how angry my Master could become with me," he added with a rueful half-smile. "But I had to learn that lesson, just as your Obi-Wan did. If there are multiple Obi-Wans in multiple dimensions, then every Obi-Wan must learn it. Yours just... didn't get the chance to utilize the lesson afterward. But his death had nothing to do with your efforts as his Master."

He had Qui-Gon's attention now; the pain the big man felt was still overwhelming, but he was definitely focused on Obi-Wan's words. Resting a hand on Qui-Gon's knee, he continued.

"Your Padawan saw the women and children to safety, and then he headed back into the battle. He heard your order; he just didn't want to obey. He'd survived skirmishes before; why should this one be any different than the others? He thought that he was good enough, strong enough, *Jedi enough* to come back and help you. He was impatient and impetuous, and he wasn't going to miss anything. He felt that he belonged at your side, not baby-sitting the innocents, and he ignored your explicit orders to stay where it was safe. He chose to do this.

"You loved your Padawan, while my Master refused to love me. Or at least to show it," Obi-Wan added, acknowledging their earlier discussion. "So no matter what relationship you have with an Obi-Wan, he still has to learn this particular lesson for himself." The younger man shook his head and softly concluded, "I'm sorry, Master, but it was his lesson to learn, not yours."

Qui-Gon was silent for a long moment, staring alternately at the fire and then down at Obi-Wan, who stayed patiently at his side. "What you say makes sense," he finally admitted, "but, as I'm sure you can imagine, it still hurts."

Giving a small smile, Obi-Wan tightened his fingers on Qui-Gon's knee. "Losses hurt," he said. "Their dying hurts. We loved them, and we loved being with them. How can their being gone not hurt?"

Qui-Gon studied him intently in the flickering firelight. "You truly are what he could have been, had he been more disciplined, not as arrogant nor self-confident, and definitely not so cocky. But no matter how hard I tried, no matter what lessons I offered, my Padawan never had enough self-discipline. Had he lived, I'd like to think that he would have changed, but perhaps not."

Obi-Wan nodded. "While, in another univerrse, I tried endlessly to please a master who could not tell me he was pleased with me." Tiredness had replaced tears in Qui-Gon's eyes, at least for now. Obi-Wan could feel his emotional and mental exhaustion. "It's time for sleep, Master."

Rising to his feet, Obi-Wan dared to give the older man a quick hug before turning to douse the fire. While he tended that chore, Qui-Gon rose stiffly and made his way alone through the shadows and into their tent. By the time Obi-Wan joined him inside, the older man was curled stiffly, silently in his bedroll.

Undressing in the darkness, Obi-Wan felt shaken by Qui-Gon's grief. He'd never seen his own Master so stricken. Used to coping only with his own sorrows, the younger man was suddenly on the startling, helpless end of trying to comfort for a grief that could not be eased.

/He misses his Padawan as I do my Master,/ came the quiet realization. /I had no idea that he carried such pain./ Climbing into his own bedroll, Obi-Wan lay on his side, his own back to that of his companion. /I've certainly destroyed the joy of this sabbatical tonight. Will his unhappiness last through tomorrow? What can I do to help him?/

The darkness was filled with grief; the ache of the loss of Qui-Gon on Naboo, the death of the Padawan in a senseless war. Obi-Wan listened in the darkness and heard the ragged breathing of the man next to him.

/He did love his Padawan, that much is very clear. I hope Obi-Wan knew how lucky he was. I'd have given anything for just a moment of that from my Master. I wish I could help, but there's nothing for grief but to live through it. Or live around it./ Sighing, he rolled over to see Qui-Gon's broad back outlined in the partial light from the rising moon. /I'm so sorry, Master./

"Master," he whispered into the darkness, dared to reach out and rest his hand on Qui-Gon's shoulder. "You asked how you could help me, and I asked you not to die. Would it help if I promised you that I will try not to die, either? And I won't disobey you."

The silence continued for a long moment, and Obi-Wan almost didn't hear the whispered reply in the darkness.

"It helps, having you here. Coming to know you. Seeing that you are what he could have been. The Force seems to be giving both of us a second chance."

"For which I am deeply grateful, my Master. It is such a gift to be allowed to spend time with you."

"I think that you are everything I dreamed he'd become," Qui-Gon said softly, half-turning, "but I am realistic enough to know that he probably wouldn't have. Couldn't have."

Obi-Wan squeezed the shoulder beneath his fingers. "We grew up in very different worlds. I can't help but feel that your world is the wiser, kinder one. Perhaps your Padawan didn't need to be what I am."

One hand reached up to cover his. "In truth, Obi-Wan, you are to be preferred."

With that, both were contented to let the silence stand between them while they shared the grief of loss and the comfort of each other's their presence that night. Obi-Wan's hand still rested on Qui-Gon's shoulder as both men drifted off to sleep.

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