The Fortuna touched down first, thrusters shaking the landing platform and making Xanatos pull the hood of his cloak protectively over his head in an effort to keep the dirt from his eyes. The heavy Corellian ship followed a moment later, with the unseen pilot deftly maneuvering the thrusters away from the waiting Jedi.
/Such a small consideration, so deeply appreciated,/ The tall Jedi pondered. /Probably Obi-Wan's doing, certainly not my Master's./
Pushing back the hood once the ship was settled, he smoothed his robes, ran a hand through his black hair, and tucked his arms into his sleeves. Striding forward as the Corellian's gangway was lowered, Xanatos wondered why the Fortuna sat still and silent and locked up tight beside the other ship. He remembered the pilot as a gregarious, fast-talking, easy-walking Twi'lek, much favored by Qui-Gon as a pilot. By rights, she should have been out on the pad by now, babbling incoherently about the adventure just passed.
Qui-Gon was first to emerge from the Corellian vessel, ducking on his way out of the ship to avoid hitting his head. Behind his left shoulder and two paces back Obi-Wan Kenobi paced, his Padawan braid trailing almost to his waist while he looked more than a little weary and worn.
Xanatos cocked an eyebrow to see that braid and locked gazes with his former Master. Widening his eyes, he asked through their preserved training bond, /Did something happen on sabbatical that I should know about?/
/All in good time, Xan./ Coming to stand before the tall Jedi, Qui-Gon gave a formal bow which was echoed by Obi-Wan and Xanatos. The Councillor dropped all formality then to slide a companionable arm across Qui-Gon's shoulders and begin pacing slowly toward the exit lift with Obi-Wan in tow.
"Only you could encounter pirates on sabattical, Qui-Gon. I'm glad the two of you are home safely."
"Thank you, Councillor. It's good to be home."
Xanatos smirked. "And just look at the bounty you brought with you." He cast a look over his shoulder. "All for the Council, Qui-Gon? You shouldn't have."
The smooth amusement oiling its way through Xanatos's words made Obi-Wan stare at the man. All of the Councillors he'd ever known were ponderous in their seriousness, but seriousness seldom seemed to reach this one. All but Yoda, that is, and that diminuative Master seemed determined to remain young by keeping a strong hand - or claw - in teaching the Initiates from the time they entered the creche. Xanatos appeared to find amusement in every situation, while his cultured, smooth-talking tones were close enough to the villain of Qui-Gon's life that Obi-Wan had to remind himself repeatedly to leave the hilt of his lightsaber alone, and to release his suspicions into the Force.
Qui-Gon smiled crookedly. "We shouldn't have, Xan, but we did. I know that you are anxious to take responsibility for the health and well-being of the prisoners in the hold, not to mention open the Fortuna's cargo bay and see what treasures she's smuggling. Before that happens, I have a request."
"You usually do." Xanatos winked across at Obi-Wan, who had moved up beside Qui-Gon. "The Master and I have a tradition: I meet him each time he comes home to satisfy myself of his continued safety, and he makes demands and expects me to fulfill them immediately. It's very much like being a Padawan again."
"Xanatos has always needed the reassuring security of a well-worn routine," Qui-Gon inserted. "I'm only too happy to provide it."
His expression was so serene, Obi-Wan couldn't tell if his new Master was joking or not.
"Xan, you will find a certain furious Twi'lek trapped on the bridge of the Fortuna. A lightsaber or blasting torch will be required to extract her, and I suggest that the one who does so may want to be well out of range when she comes through the door. Additionally, be careful not to step on the few severed hands you'll find scattered at the entrance corridor."
That dark eyebrow ascended once more. "Hands, Qui-Gon?"
"Hands," he confirmed.
Xanatos wrinkled his nose. "How revolting."
"Actually, it was very efficient. Stopped the battle cold."
"I imagine so. Qui-Gon, whose hands are they, and how did they--"
"I'll include those details in my report to the Council. A third matter will require your attention once S'pex is extricated from her bridge."
"You see what trials he brings home for me?" Xanatos droned, appealing to Obi-Wan for sympathy.
The younger man shook his head; he was too busy absorbing the exchange to be of much help beyond just listening and trying to understand the subtleties of this strange relationship.
Qui-Gon continued. "We must repair Spex's ship as she will blame me for its damage. I'm sure the Council will fight me on expenses, but you and I can discuss that matter over a good glass of wine some night this week."
"We can also then discuss all of the details you'll leave out of your report," Xanatos said dryly. "And wait a moment, Master. You did say the pilot was S'pex. I thought as much, from the Fortuna's colors. Why are you still contracting transport with her when you know how difficult she can be over every little scratch and knick - even those aeons old. The Jedi Order is not replacing the hull of her ship."
"No, we're not," Qui-Gon agreed mildly. "Only a blast door and some paneling."
"Only...." Xan let his voice trail off, then sighed. "Let me guess. The blast door to which you refer is the one you and I personally installed just before I was knighted. The one that Triskarian acid couldn't eat through."
Qui-Gon nodded. "But a lightsaber will. A lightsaber like yours, Xan. And she likes you, if I recall correctly."
"Master, you're a bother."
"Am I? Obi-Wan and I also left our cloaks and equipment packs aboard the Fortuna. We'd appreciate your seeing them safely back to us. Thank you, Xanatos." Bowing again, Qui-Gon gathered Obi-Wan with a look and strode into the lift. "Come, Padawan. We've a report to prepare."
The last sight Obi-Wan had of Xanatos before the lift doors closed was the Councillor staring mournfully back at the Fortuna while he fingered the hilt of his lightsaber.
"I'm sure he's weighing the expense of Spex's rescue against the bounty of the Corellian ship," Qui-Gon murmured, amusement tingeing his voice. "He may be in rare form when we address the Council later today."
Poking gently at the bond, Obi-Wan was relieved to find that the proposition posed no great concern for his new Master. The lift doors opened and Obi-Wan automatically found his place, pacing serenly behind Qui-Gon as they traversed the Temple corridors. The bond thrummed with contentment, with Qui-Gon's shields at a minimum. This Master seemed much more at ease with Obi-Wan's constant presence in his mind and oh, how the gods knew Obi-Wan needed that presence. For such a big man, this Qui-Gon moved with an incredible lightness of being, grounded mentally as well as physically. Obi-Wan practically purred under the caress of pure Light constantly pulsing in his mind, filling his completely.
Reaching their shared quarters, Qui-Gon strode inside only to begin shedding his belt and outer tunic without missing a beat. "A quick meal, a shower and a bit of sleep will be ours before Council summons us."
Obi-Wan nodded understanding. "If you take the first shower, I'll have tea and something on the table by the time you're done."
"Very well, Padawan." He disappeared into the 'fresher as Obi-Wan headed off to prepare dinner.
* * *
Xanatos watched his Master and Obi-Wan depart with only a mild twinge of envy for the closeness the two had built in so short a time.
/Ah well, I was Qui-Gon's Padawan first,/ Xanatos reminded himself. /I'm all grown up now, and I can share./
Turning his attention to the battered freighter, the councillor considered his next move. He'd been warned that an irate Twi'lek was imprisoned within. Undoubetedly, it would be S'pex, whose temper was uncertain at the best of times, and whose mood surely wouldn't improve with keeping.
/Perhaps it's best to let her out first,/ Xanatos contemplated, /then see to the other myriad small, unpleasant details that always arrive in my Master's wake./
Taking a deep breath, he smoothed his robes and pulled his best and most dignified Council Member aura to the fore before folding his arms and striding slowly, regally toward the Fortuna.
/What a grandiose name for a wreck,/ he thought, staring up at the battered ship. /Was she named for what she once was, or in hopes of improvement? Either way, her years with S'Pex have not benefitted her in any way./
The gangway was down, perhaps in hopes of luring in potential rescue from the obliging Jedi. If so, Xanatos slowly, reluctantly took the bait and climbed aboard. There were dings and scrapes on the hull, left in the wake of what had obviously been a forced docking, and the ship's interior was filled with the acrid tang of blaster scorching, ruined wiring, and melted plasteel. More than a few blaster scores streaked the walls as well.
/Undoubtedly the Jedi are to pay for this,/ Xanatos grumbled. /Master Qui-Gon Jinn, infamous rebel and easily the most expensive Jedi Knight working the field. I must bring this up during Council, if for no other reason than to harass him./ Xanatos smiled at the thought, nearly rubbed his hands together in glee. /Yes...it's all about his pet pilot and his sabbatical and his pirates, let's charge all expenses to him and let him continue with his responsi-- Whaaat?/
Xanatos looked down as he stepped on something that gave unpleasantly underfoot. It was soft, but not. Yielding, but firm.
A thumb stuck out from under his booted foot, and dirty fingers protruded out the other side. The Jedi managed not to yelp and found himself very proud of this fact. Settling for backing a step away, Xanatos then picked his way delicately toward the cabin and now paid much more attention to the floor than to the walls.
The cabin wasn't hard to locate: even if it hadn't been the furthest compartment forward, the muffled thumps from within would have beckoned Xanatos easily through the narrow passageways. The thick walls prevented him from actually communicating with the pilot within, but the ever-accelerated banging was sufficient to inform him that S'pex was growing impatient.
Pulling out his comlink, Xanatos thought for a moment and dredged up from memory the correct frequency for the ship's communication. Closing his eyes and already cringing, he opened a channel.
"Captain S'Pex, I am Counsellor Telos. We've met in the past, and perhaps you remember me as Master Jinn's earlier Padawan?"
The high-pitched screeching he received in reply really didn't indicate whether or not she remembered him. Xanatos did feel, however, that her response indicated some small desire to do him bodily harm, regardless whether they'd been introduced. /Probably due to my irritating association with Qui-Gon./
"Captain S'Pex, if I may interrupt--" Xanatos sighed, held the comlink further away, and waited for the screaming to slow. He took several deep breaths while waiting. And several more. "Captain, please. If you'll just allow me, I am trying to--"
The stream of invectives issuing from the comlink were in at least three different languages. One of them, Xanatos had thought extinct. Rubbing at his temples, he tried to ease the headache that was springing to life behind his eyes.
"QUIET!" he finally roared into the comlink in a passable imitation of his Master when Qui-Gon was thoroughly irritated. That Xanatos had raised his voice was, however, nothing he'd ever admit to his old Master.
The com was silent. Xanatos smiled.
"I am here to release you," he said, resuming his normal dulcet tones which he'd been told, on more than one occasion, were deliciously soothing. "Back away from the door and be silent for a moment. Please," he added as a not too gracious afterthought.
The ensuing silence was blissful, but Xanatos knew it was all too temporary. He bent closer to study the blast doors, as eager as the prisoner behind them to have this task completed and be fast away.
"Qui-Gon you never do anything by halves, do you," he muttered, partially annoyed and partially impressed by the Master's thoroughness.
The shields were thick and the wounds made by the lightsaber had struck deeply at the heart of the mechanism. It would never move again; the only way to open the chamber would be to carve it out.
Brushing at the dust on his robes, Xanatos ruefully accepted the unavoidable task of melting his way through the door. Reaching for the lightsaber at his belt, he ignited the weapon and plunged it into the scorched breech made by Qui-Gon's own weapon. Slowly the red blade moved through the metal which melted and dripped and fell, hissing, onto the floor. The heat was becoming intense on his fingers, but Xanatos dared not stop, else S'pex would surely begin shrieking again, and perhaps injure herself banging on the impossibly hot metal.
It took several minutes for the Jedi to burn a circle that was large enough to admit him. /Surely any hole as tall as I am is adequate enough for any technician who might come to work on this ship. It's certainly was enough for a Twi'lek to escape./
The glowing curve of the metal incision was nearly completed, and Xan relaxed his grip on the lightsaber, flexed his strained fingers before reaching for the comlink once more. "Stand away, please. I'm about to kick in the door. It's very hot, and I don't want it burning you."
He cut off her snarling reply without listening to any of it, eased his lightsaber over the last intact inch, and swiftly planted one heavy boot in the middle of the metallic circle to shove and send it clanging into the tiny chamber.
An irate Twi'lek rocketed out and Xanatos swiftly realized that the comlink connection had been a kindness, as the pilot unfortunately had no off-switch or volume control. She bore down on him in the small space, her expression murderous.
"I had nothing to do with it, madame," he protested, backing away with a slight bow. "All I did was let you out."
S'pex found his excuses unimportant. Following him into the open corridor, she spun in a quick revolution, head leku spinning with her and barely missing Xanatos's nose. That one spin gave her visual inventory enough to increase her grievances tenfold. Xanatos couldn't understand her, as she was shrieking in her own language, but her pointing fingers and accusatory glares were sufficient to get her point across. Blaster scores were pointed out. So were scuffs to the floor and holes in the corridor.
Then she bent to scoop up a hand. Grasping it by its index finger, she shook it angrily in the Jedi's face while continuing to voice her objections to the Jedi version of littering her hallways.
Xanatos backed away more swiftly down the corridor, but S'Pex had more to say. Shaking the hand harder at him, she pursued the Jedi down the hallway as he retreated step after faster step. The fingers waggled at him as though they had complaints of their own, which they well might have, severed from their owner as they had been. To his horror, Xanatos then saw S'pex lean back and launch the grisly thing at him. It hit the middle of his chest with a dull splat.
/That's it. That's absolutely enough. Qui-Gon, this is the last favor I will do for you in this lifetime./ Abandoning all hopes of communicating with the irate Twi'lek, Xanatos turned to stride briskly, but with an elegant dignity he hoped, toward the exit.
Another hand splatted against the wall as Xanatos rounded a turn; he increased his speed another notch. He had managed to reach the top of the gangway when another thud landed behind him. This one was louder, metallic-sounding, and a quick glance behind him revealed that S'pex had found another hand -- this one still clutching a blaster -- and had sent it rolling down the gangway behind him. Dignity was abandoned altogether as Xanatos ran the last few steps ahead of the gruesome thing, then leaped aside to let it roll past him.
He was staring after blaster and hand when something hit him firmly in the back. No, it hit just below the small of the back. A final hand had been heaved at him, and the launcher of same stood in the entry to the Fortuna. Glowering, Xanatos leaped off of the gangway and whirled about to glare at his attacker before stalking off, fuming.
S'pex's mocking laughter followed Xanatos all the way into the temple.
* * *
Qui-Gon emerged shortly, wrapped in nothing but a towel and with his hair dripping water plaintively on the carpeting, only to have Obi-Wan thrust a mug of tea into his hands.
"Thank you, Padawan." He sounded as if he meant it with all of his heart, and Obi-Wan remembered neither one of them had had their morning tea, much less a decent meal since. Slurping noisily at the liquid, Qui-Gon headed for the table as Obi-Wan slipped past him and into the 'fresher.
Obi-Wan relished the though of a shower, wanting to wash away the sweat and grime gathered over the past few days. Rummaging through the cabinets, he came up with two large, thick towels. Master-sized, they were was sheer luxury to Obi-Wan, whose remembered Temple bedding and towels had been frayed and worn more often than not. It was plain to him that this Master had no problem taking advantage of his advanced station and requesting small luxuries in honor of his achievements and service within the Order.
It's the small things that count, or perhaps it's simply a leftover from having lived with creature-comfort Xanatos,/ Obi-Wan reflected, settling his lightsaber carefully on the counter and well away from the water before shedding the rest of his clothes and climbing into the shower. He found wood-scented soap and a washing sponge waiting there. They smelled of Qui-Gon so strongly, as did the damp walls, that Obi-Wan felt surrounded by his Master anew. Smiling to himself, he didn't bother retrieving the soap Santros had given him. /We share a bond now, what's a bar of soap?/
Obi-Wan's stomach rumbled as he left the 'fresher on the way to his own chamber. Clutching the towel draped across his hips with one hand, he rubbed his hair dry and blotted at his braid with his other hand.
"Come and eat, Padawan."
"I will, Master. Soon as I'm dressed."
"Eat and nap, *then* dress for Council," Qui-Gon insisted softly. "I can feel your hunger growling at me through our bond."
Obi-Wan altered his course abruptly, tossing the towel over the back of a chair and settling at the table.
"Yes, Master." He grinned at the older man, who had finished his meal only to lean back, cross his arms, and contemplate the eternal traffic flowing outside the plasteel windows.
"Are you going to need write a report before we meet with Council?" Obi-Wan asked, ready to offer his help.
"Hmm? No, they'll wait for most of the details. All they want right now is a brief sketch of how we managed to come home with that ship. I also need to tell them that I've claimed you as my Padawan, and no scripted report is required to do that. The meeting shouldn't take long." Offering a warm smile, he reached over and ruffled Obi-Wan's damp hair. "I'll set the alarm to wake us."
Qui-Gon's affectionate gesture was interrupted when the front door swooshed back and Xanatos swept in, cloak billowing behind him, a look of outrage on his austere face. Stalking up to Qui-Gon, he loomed over the older man where he sat, swept back his cloak, and stood with hands on hips, glowering down at his former Master.
"That woman -- or whatever she is -- is unspeakable. Do you have any idea what I have just been through? The ordeal I just survived?"
By way of reply, Qui-Gon arched an eyebrow and did Xanatos the courtesy of planting all four legs of his chair on the floor. "What did you just survive?"
"I let S'pex out as you recommended I do."
The eyebrow climbed higher. Qui-Gon spared a glance at Obi-Wan and all but growled down the new bond, /I didn't tell him to let her out, did I? I distinctly remember telling him something quite different. What do you remember me saying?/
/'I suggest that whoever lets her out might wish to be well out of range when she comes through the door,'/ Obi-Wan faithfully repeated.
/Is that what I really said?/
/Close enough, I believe, Master./
/Hmm... thought so./
The only hint Obi-Wan had that Qui-Gon had refocused his attention on the ongoing protest was a slight shift of the blue eyes from inward to outward. Xanatos never missed a beat. Striding away from the Jedi, Xanatos stared out, unseeing, at the skyscape of Coruscant.
"She threw hands at me, Qui-Gon. Filthy, stinking--"
"They were cauterized and fairly fresh, Xan. They didn't stink."
"You didn't meet them up close and personal as I did, Master Jinn. She hit my back."
"No, she hit your butt," Obi-Wan contributed with a snort, only to almost reach for his saber when Xan rounded on him.
"How would you know, *Padawan*?"
"Um... there's a couple of handprints on the back of your cloak. Right.... there." He pointed and stifled a grin as his Master's laughter filled the bond.
Xanatos spun in place, trying to see the offended area.
"She seems to have gotten your chest as well," Qui-Gon contributed.
"There's a smudge on his cheek, too, Master."
Xanatos's expression grew even more stormy, if possible. "I can see that there will be no sympathy tonight from this quarter."
"You're right," Qui-Gon remarked softly. "Obi-Wan and I are enjoying a quiet meal together after a stressful time away from the Temple. If you'd care to cool your temper, you're welcome to join us."
"No, thank you!" Xanatos snarled. "I have things -- and handprints -- to attend to." Giving a short bow, the Councillor glowered at his old Master. "I swear, that is the last time I will ever meet your ship."
He stomped from the common area, with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan watching him go. Qui-Gon's eyes were mild when he met Obi-Wan's. He smiled.
"Don't let Xan's harshness bother you, Padawan. He's said such things before and was actually very restrained this time. He'll say them again, but he has alway met my ship."
* * *
Rising from the table a few minutes later, Qui-Gon left Obi-Wan to his meal and disappeared into his own chamber. The bond between them began aching as soon as the door slid closed behind the older man. Obi-Wan winced at the sudden shooting pain in his head and reached for another piece of fruit before padding toward his own door.
He was all but gasping by the time he'd cast aside his second towel and settled on the bed. The bond throbbed and complained -- there were no other words to describe it -- with Obi-Wan feeling his new-found peace feeling shattered and raw. /Something's wrong, and I can't sleep like this. Gods, but it hurts. Master--/
Lungeing for his new set of sleep pants, Obi-Wan fumbled his way into them and was out the door in a matter of seconds. Crossing the common area, he reached the Master's chamber and was about to knock when the door slid back to reveal Qui-Gon, similarly attired and looking as if he was suffering the same misery as his Padawan. Gathering him across the threshold and into a tight hug, Qui-Gon soothed the bond as well as his apprentice. Obi-Wan shivered as the pounding pain behind his eyes lessened abruptly with the contact.
"Forgive me for not anticipating this, Obi-Wan. The bond between us is very deep. It is also still forming and will take a bit of time to settle. Time we would be better not to try spending apart."
Obi-Wan winced. "I think I caught that part."
He allowed himself to be steered toward what seemed a very big bed and urged beneath the covers. Qui-Gon climbed in after him, settling on his side and encouraging Obi-Wan to to the same. Long arms wrapped around him, he was pulled against a barrel chest, spooned up against the older man in full body contact, and made to stay there.
"I must be crowding you," Obi-Wan protested.
The Master chuckled, smoothed his Padawan's hair. "The Force has joined us mentally, intimately so. How can you possibly crowd me when the joining is so comfortable for us both?"
"Sleep, Obi-Wan." He lowered his voice, let a hint of warning creep in. "There will be time for you to ponder and voice any true objections later."
Closing his mouth, Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon send himself into a Force-enduced sleep. /He's probably every bit as exhausted as I am./ Still, Obi-Wan couldn't help but give in to his curiosity for a few minutes, to look around the chamber he'd been so abruptly welcomed into--almost as abruptly as he'd been welcomed into this Master's life.
His old Master's room had been spartan, utilitarian to say the least. Not so this one's. More than anything else Obi-Wan had seen or heard before, this room bore witness to the differences between the Qui-Gons.
Yes, there were books, just as there had been in the other Qui-Gon's quarters. But not like this. /Gods, we're sleeping in a library,/ was Obi-Wan's bemused thought.
Three walls had been claimed by floor-to-ceiling, transpare-enclosed, antique wooden bookcases. /Hermetically sealed and temperature controlled, no doubt. And the only reason the fourth wall is clear is probably because Master is bound so closely to the living Force that he wants to see the gardens out there./
Obi-Wan had already learned that this particular Jedi Master did nothing by halves. Behind the transpares were ancient leather-and-board-bound creations with brittle, yellowed pages; books and manuscripts long consigned by other, so-called sophisticated beings as quite useless and archaic. Out of their time, cumbersome, awkward to store, and definitely unnecessary with today's technology.
A comfortable chair for reading and a small writing desk sat on a thick Carpasian carpet before the shelving. More books were stacked haphazardly there. A few were propped open and a datapad sat close by, as if the scholar had been called away mid-entry. The carpet beneath the desk was woven with mystical designs, and something stirred in the depths of Obi-Wan's memories to remind him that much of Carpasian civilization - at least in his world - was dedicated to metaphysics. Obi-Wan suspected it was the same in this world, perhaps moreso as the Carpasians would have Force-access here, which would open up an entirely different universe of study. He made a mental note to ask his Master about that when there was time.
The Master's lightsaber sat on a small table near the bed, well within reach should it be needed. His boots were just so, beside the door, with his belt draped over a nearby chair and the dirty clothes he'd shed earlier no doubt having been sent down the laundry chute. There was a strange sort of comfort for Obi-Wan as he was allowed to peer in on all of this. He had little understanding as yet of this Qui-Gon's eccentricities and habits -- of which there were no doubt many -- but Obi-Wan had seen enough to know that he'd been well and truly welcomed into the man's world. The welcome had been there from the start, he realized, from the moment this Qui-Gon had stepped into the small conference room after witnessing Obi-Wan's mindsweep. There had been no awkwardness, no hesitation or doubt on Qui-Gon's part about taking in this lonely, stray knight and seeing what could be done to make a place for him in this world.
/Obi-Wan, I can hear you thinking,/ came the sleepy thought into his mind, as clearly as though he'd thought it himself. /We can meet, if you like, on a Force-level beyond the physical and talk of the things you're turning about in your mind, but for now our bodies need to rest. Don't make me use the Force to put you to sleep like a first-night Padawan, hmm?/
Obi-Wan send a hug through the bond. /No, Master. Thank you, Master./
Once, Obi-Wan would have cringed at such an admonishment, would have ladled on the guilt-feelings and made the words carry much more censor than they did. But a certain kind of honesty had developed between them since the bond distilled Qui-Gon's feelings and hid nothing, which gave Obi-Wan a solid sense of security and well-being. He knew that his Master was feeling nothing but deep affection and a wistful longing for an undisturbed and well-earned rest.
Qui-Gon's aura settled around him, as close as two souls could be. Obi-Wan welcomed the intimacy and sleep stole up on him despite himself, yet he refused to let it take him before he'd asked just one question.
/Have you really read all of those books?/
Obi-Wan didn't know it was possible for a Master to give his Padawan The Look through their bond, but Qui-Gon managed it.
The Master traversed the Temple hallways at a fast clip, with Obi-Wan all but trotting beside him. Sparing a glance up at the tall man as they rounded the last corner leading to the Council chambers reception area, Obi-Wan realized his new Master looked just as stern and determined as Obi-Wan could remembered the old one having been.
"Are you worried that Council will give us trouble on some point of the mission, or whatever we should call it?" he asked worriedly.
"No." Breezing into reception, he turned to regard Obi-Wan calmly. "It's simply best to give them what they want, which is always the grand performance."
Blue eyes crinkled with reassuring humor, and Qui-Gon fingered Obi-Wan's braid in open affection. His hair had been Padawan cut within an inch of its life before they'd left their quarters; the senior Padawan tail was back, its band every bit as tight and itchy as Obi-Wan remembered it.
"Xanatos would be very disappointed if I didn't performm," Qui-Gon continued, his gaze racking over Obi-Wan's pristine gray Knight's robes, which would now have to be exchanged for Padawan white. "He rather expects it of his old Master."
"Master Jinn, they are ready for you," the attendance droid spoke from behind its desk as the Council doors opened automatically. Qui-Gon led the way, eating up the distance to the center of the tiled circle to take up residence there with Obi-Wan just behind his right shoulder.
/Formal occasion, formal presentation,/ he reminded himself, bowing in unison with the taller Jedi and folding his hands behind his back in conscious imitation of him as well.
/Very good, Padawan. The full performance, as I said./
"News you have for us?"
"News I bring of a small band of Corellian pirates operating in the Malakti system. Obi-Wan and I were successful in bringing them to heel. This morning, we delivered them and their vessel on the north landing bay, with Councillor Xanatos accepting their delivery. There was also some small matter of repairing our original transport ship and reimbursing her pilot, who requested our assistance after being threatened by the pirates."
"Assistance?" Mace Windu steepled his hands. "You make it sound so simple, Qui-Gon. However, Xanatos tells us that certain appendages were found laying about the corridors of the Fortuna. Additionally, the walls were scored with blasterfire, evidencing a formidable confrontation."
"The pirates boarded the Fortuna and attempted to take her. Obi-Wan and I dissuaded them from doing so."
"By cutting off their hands?" Xanatos asked mildly. "I don't remember your teaching me to do that in Padawan school."
"That particular technique was brought to bear by Obi-Wan."
"Masters." Obi-Wan stepped forward, sketched another bow. "It seemed the most expedient way at the time to neutralize the threat they offered."
"How did you get close enough to do such a thing?" Depa Billaba asked with a slight frown.
"I... jumped," Obi-Wan said, puzzled at the question.
"In between them, Master."
"You jumped in the middle of a group of armed combatants? How many were there?"
"I'm not sure." He looked to Qui-Gon for help. /I'm sorry, Master, but do you know? I didn't stop to count them./
"How many hands did you find?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Numerous sets. Neatly cauterized. Two were still attached to blasters," reported Xanatos.
Qui-Gon pondered for a moment. "Some of the pirates surrendered, two died, I believe. The body count should be obvious if you cleaned up the ship as I requested, Xan."
"Have you any idea where they were from?" inserted Master Piell.
"No, Master," replied Qui-Gon. "It was my hope that the banks and logs of the ship will provide that information. They came upon the Fortuna unexpectedly, and we were employed at a moment's notice. Obi-Wan and I secured the ship and delivered her here, leaving the rest to you."
Xanatos nodded. /They can't claim you overstepped your authority this time, Qui./
Obi-Wan caught the thought as neatly as if Xanatos had spoken aloud. /You two share a bond?/ he sent Qui-Gon's way.
Xanatos's eyebrow shot up as he intercepted the thought; his gaze met Obi-Wan's. /A bond, indeed, Knight Kenobi, as do you. How curious./ The blue eyes slanted toward the Master. When they refocused on Obi-Wan, they were filled with a private sort of amusement. /I look forward to hearing, at a more opportune time, the tale of how this happened./
"Well, you did," Yoda complimented them. "Short your sabbatical was cut yet again, Qui-Gon. Take advantage of what remains will you?"
"No, Master. If I may take this opportunity..." Glancing across at Obi-Wan, the Master gestured him to stand before him. Obi-Wan went willingly, pausing before Qui-Gon as he rested his hands on his shoulders. "I take Obi-Wan Kenobi as my Padawan learner."
Yoda's ears shot straight up. Xanatos's grin would have lit all of Coruscant, while Mace Windu frowned. The rest of the Council members murmured amongst themselves.
/What else is new?/ Obi-Wan thought quietly to himself.
"Knighted he already is, Qui-Gon."
"Ready for it, he is not," Qui-Gon all but growled at Yoda, in a voice that plainly brooked no argument.
The ancient Master blinked in surprise, either at the message or the imitative delivery. Silence settled over the room, and Obi-Wan all but held his breath.
/Is this where they send me back?/ he wondered. /'To old to be a Padawan is he'?/
Yoda finally broke the silence by chuckling and banging his gimer stick hard against the floor. Once, twice, and and thrice to make official whatever he was about to say.
"Where you should be, now you are." He chortled. "Another Padawan you did not want, Qui-Gon. Approve this joining, the Force does. Approve, it did before Obi-Wan Kenobi arrived. Council acknowledges your taking Obi-Wan Kenobi as your Padawan Learner."
"Thank you, my Master."
Qui-Gon didn't remove his hands, but Obi-Wan could feel him relax, just a bit. Pulling gently, the Master made him take a short step back and lean against him. Obi-Wan wasn't certain who was offering comfort and support to whom in that moment.
"Rather than pursue sabbatical, I request that Padawan Kenobi and I be evaluated for active duty," that deep voice rumbled against him.
"I'll drop by tonight to assess your preferences and strengths as a team," Xanatos promised -- or threatened, as the case may have been, Obi-Wan wasn't certain which it was. The elegant Jedi looked as though he relished the opportunity. "In the meantime, Master Qui-Gon, why don't you continue acclimating your new Padawan to our world."
Yoda beamed at them. Xanatos sat back and hid a smirk behind his hand, while Windu waved their dismissal. Turning with his Master, Obi-Wan approached the exiting lifts on the opposite side of the room.
Passing by Xanatos, he was startled to hear the man murmur, "Welcome home, you two."
The warmth, gladness and relief in Xanatos' voice confused Obi-Wan for a moment, until he met the older man's gaze.
/He's been alone too long and I've worried about him,/ the Councillor confessed through the open bond. /It appears that the Force did its own worrying and worked a miracle on your behalf. Take good care of him, Obi-Wan. He's very special to me./
/I didn't come all this way to do anything but,/ Obi-Wan shot back, grinning as the lift came and Qui-Gon all but pulled him in after him.
/It's rude to discuss a man as though he's not here,/ Qui-Gon inserted. /Come along, Obi-Wan, lest they call us back to assign us some odious task right this minute./ The lift doors closed, and Qui-Gon regarded him mildly.
Obi-Wan drew a deep, settling breath. "It's official, and it was as simple as that, Master?"
"We're officially master and apprentice, if that's what you mean. You're completely doomed now." Qui-Gon's thoughts hurtled on. "I doubt that Xan will return our things from Spex's ship any time soon, and so we need to squeege another cloak for me. You have an extra, but I do not. And you're wearing the wrong uniform now. Will you help me explain this to Santros?"
"Gladly, Master." Obi-Wan laughed at the sudden change in directions -- off with the past and on with the present moment. Some things, at least, were still predictable about his Master.
"After that, we're overdue for a bit of sparring in the training arena," Qui-Gon thought aloud, leaving the lift and taking off down the corridor at a record rate. Obi-Wan all but ran to catch up. "We both need a decent workout, and I'd like to poke a bit at your techniques, not to mention begin testing you against my own. Xan will come tonight to begin assessing our bond and our abilities as a team. There's little we can do to prepare for that except meditate and balance within the bond, if it's stabilized yet. We'll see about that a bit later."
Dropping back the familiar two steps behind Qui-Gon's left shoulder, Obi-Wan grinned and listened to that beloved voice. Temple life continued around them, with a few of the Padawans skirting out of the Master's way and casting curious looks Obi-Wan's direction. He'd meet his peers and offer explanations later; for now, he was contented to be in his Master's company.
Reaching for the bond as Qui-Gon continued thinking aloud, Obi-Wan sank into it happily. Qui-Gon yielded automatically to the slight pressure of Obi-Wan's mind against his, embraced his Padawan mentally before reaching back and pulling him up beside him.
"Here now, none of that while we're home, Obi-Wan," growled, and even the growling was nice. "Walk up here with me."
/Always,/ thought Obi-Wan, unable to suppress a shiver of pure joy when Qui-Gon slid a hand across the back of his neck and tucked him securely beneath his arm.
/There's no way out of this,/ Obi-Wan realized as the Master tightened his grip possessively. /No way out, and he said that I'm doomed. Chosen and claimed and stuck with him. There's no going back now./
Obi-Wan grinned, and Qui-Gon's long hair brushed his cheek. Boldly, if hesitantly, Obi-Wan dared to slide his arm around Qui-Gon's waist as they traveled, the better to be rumbled by his voice as they continued on their way toward Santros' domain. Sighing, he matched his stride to his Master's and was happy that it should be so.
END OF PART I.
Please note that as Qwi and I have no time nor any ideas we considered worthy to continue this story, we gifted this alternate universe months ago to a couple of very capable writers who wanted it. At this point, however, we don't think any further stories have been done in the Prism universe. So if anyone else out there wants to play, please feel free. We would like to think this Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon found their happy beginning and are still out there somewhere and very much together..
Padawan Ben and Qwi.
7 October 2009
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