Whom Can You Trust?
By Padawan Ben & Qwi
The creature howled once again, sounding far too close to their campsite for Obi-Wan's comfort. His head snapped up and he peered with fire-dimmed vision into the darkness. Narrowing his eyes, he wished for the hundredth time that the Force provided some sort of physical night vision. He didn't need to see it to know it was there, though. If he closed his eyes and reached out, he could feel the creature's living Force signature, but little more. It wasn't nearly enough: he already knew the thing was alive and well and somewhere out there. The question he now pondered was the status of its appetite and the size of its teeth, and whether it intended to try making a meal of him and his Master as they slept. On that point, the Force remained annoyingly silent.
"Obi-Wan, you may want to centre your attention a little more in the here and now." Qui-Gon spoke quietly from the opposite side of the fire.
Startled, the young man realised that, in his inattention, he had stopped stirring and had burned the cre'sha they were to have for dinner. Stirring the mixture rapidly, he hoped that the singed bits mixed with the rest of the meal wouldn't be too noticeable. Qui-Gon watched his efforts for a moment, then came around the fire.
"What is worrying you, my Padawan?"
"What's making that... howling noise, Master?"
Qui-Gon paused, then surveyed the darkness in a leisurely, unconcerned manner. "What noise?"
Spooning the cre'sha onto collapsible plates, he handed Qui-Gon's up to him. "You had to have heard it. It's sounded off about three times since sunset."
"It's some sort of native animal, I'd imagine." Squatting, the Master took the pan of boiling water from the fire to prepare their tea.
[Now that was news,] Obi-Wan noted irritably. [I knew that much already. Of COURSE it's native. It lives here. But it's not one of the klillen from the port, certainly.] "Well, I don't like it."
Scooting away from the fire, Obi-Wan slumped back against a nearby rock and picked at his dinner, trying to avoid the crunchy, burned bits that stood out charcoal black against the pale cre'sha. He shot a quick, guilty glance at his Master, who seemed to be eating peacefully and remaining politely oblivious to the bits of carbon adding unexpected texture to the meal.
"In our short time together, you and I have fought draigons and pirates - far more fearsome adversaries than any lifeform this planet has to offer," Qui-Gon's quiet voice interrupted his sulking. "You showed no fear then, Obi-Wan. Am I to understand now that the night calls of a single, unknown creature in search of its supper is frightening you?"
"Uh... yeah. I guess you could say that."
Coming to sit beside his Padawan and sharing his rock, the Master handed the boy his tea and ate in silence for a moment. "You participated in no camp-outs as an initiate?"
"Well, sure. We practised basic survival stuff, but there weren't any sound effects on Makeesh from things that might have considered us prey. And they don't let the initiates get eaten too often, so I missed that experience."
"I see." More silence followed until the Master had finished his dinner.
Gathering the plates and utensils along with his courage, Obi-Wan snatched up the small glowlight he'd had the foresight to include in their supplies and headed for the small stream that he knew was out there in the darkness. [I'm not going to ask my Master to come with me. I'm just not. I'm not a creche-baby who needs someone to hold his hand in the dark. I can do this on my own, no problem.]
Turning on the light as soon as he left the small circle of illumination provided by the fire, he trotted quickly down the hill to the stream. Setting aside his light and kneeling beside the water, he washed away the remains of the meal and stiffened as another howl sounded from somewhere off to his left.
The plate slipped from his fingers into the water, and the lightweight material began to float downstream as Obi-Wan stared, wide-eyed into the darkness. It had progressed some small distance before he forced himself to turn back to the task at hand. Only a quick and desperate grab saved him from having to explain how one of their dishes managed to escape his custody. The bowl was rinsed and returned to solid ground. But as he reached for the next dish, the howl sounded again. Closer this time.
Obi-Wan ignored his impulse to drop everything and swing the glowlight in the direction of the howling. It wouldn't have done any good; the light was far too weak to reach anywhere near the source of the sound. Instead, he drew a deep breath, ignored the prickly feeling of eyes watching him as he worked, and concentrated concentrated on finishing the task at hand. He washed all of their eating equipment with careful thoroughness, though never had he washed a dish at such high speed before. It was only after he was done that he allowed himself to pick up the light and pan its beam across the stream.
What he saw confirmed every suspicion and fear he'd felt since the sun had set on this peaceful little planet. At least four sets of glowing eyes looked back at him from the darkness. A pair of small, red ones winked at him, only to disappear when the beam was trained directly at them. When Obi-Wan removed the beam and then returned it, the red eyes were there again, only to wink out as though their owner could not bear the light.
To the right of that set was another, yellowish pair. They bounced jaggedly close to the ground, as though their owner were trotting parallel with the stream. Next in line were more glowy red eyes, but these did not blink. Instead, they held steady and stared back at Obi-Wan. And were they moving closer? Obi-Wan's fingers closed tightly around the glowlight, unable to tear his gaze away from the red eyes whose gaze was so firmly fixed on him. On its prey?
Something heavy landed on his shoulder as he stared.
"Aaauuugh!" Obi-Wan twisted violently away from the contact, scattering their eating equipment at his feet with a clatter as he nearly staggered into the stream to escape the -- the --
The Master. [Damn and double damn!] Obi-Wan sighed. [Can you make yourself look any sillier, Kenobi?]
"You'll have to rinse those again," his Master advised mildly, stepping forward to stand beside his trembling padawan.
"Yes, Master," he muttered, kneeling to scrape the equipment into a rough pile for another dunk in the water.
"There is no fear," he muttered, shivering slightly as he splashed in the stream. "There's only the Force." [And hunger, and sharp teeth, and creatures that might think the Force brought me here as a buffet--]
"You are still worried by these creatures?" Qui-Gon asked quietly.
"Can't you see them?" Obi-Wan hissed, pointing with their little light source.
"I see them. They are probably volken."
"Do they have teeth?"
"I'm certain that they do."
"And are they hungry?"
"Most wild things usually are."
"Can we go back to camp now?" Obi-Wan clutched the damp eating equipment to his chest and began edging back toward the firelight.
Sliding a hand across his Padawan's narrow shoulders, the Master accompanied him back to the campfire. Obi-Wan was grateful for the company. No predators would dare approach when his formidable Master was beside him. Their return to the camp and the firelight took surprisingly little time.
Qui-Gon watched the fire and his Padawan alternately, as his Padawan anxiously watched the darkness. After a time, he signed and nodded, some decision made.
"My Master told me of a very old method to keep intrusive predators away from any campsite," Qui-Gon observed quietly.
Obi-Wan spun to stare at him, wide eyes filled with possibilities. "What is it?"
"It's a unique method. I don't know that you'll care for it."
"I can do it."
"I don't know. It's a bit outside of your normal training."
"I can do it. I'm sure of it. Master? Would you tell me, please, before the yellow eyes get any closer?"
"Very well, Obi-Wan. You must pee around the perimeter of our site."
Standing up, Obi-Wan turned very slowly and stared up at Qui-Gon, dumbfounded as his mind raced to supply words that might have been what he had obviously misheard his Master say. "I'm sorry, Master? I must...what?"
"Pee. Urinate. Excrete bodily fluids."
"You can't be serious."
Qui-Gon looked down at him calmly, but said nothing.
"Yes. Your scent would claim our small circle as your territory."
He thought about that. It sounded reasonable. And ridiculous. And embarrassing. But safer than sleeping with yowling hungry things nibbling on your toes.
Obi-Wan's gaze swept over the campsite, noting their little fire, their sleeping rolls, the circumference of their camp circle... Simultaneous internal inventory supplied that what the Master suggested was indeed a daunting task to undertake.
"Will you help me?"
Qui-Gon hesitated and rubbed a finger across his mustache before shaking his head. "There can be only one scent. More would confuse any intruder. They might see the two of us as a threat, rather than as one claiming territory."
"I guess that wouldn't be good, huh?"
"If there was more than one scent, a predator might simply decide to add his own markings and then explore the territory. One is company. Two is competition, you know."
"Why don't you do it, then? You're the Master, the dominant male here. You should mark the camp."
There was a moment's hesitation, then Qui-Gon slowly shook his head. "No, I'm sorry. It must be your scent. You are the younger male. I'm too old."
"Too...old?" The tone gave evidence of his lack of faith in Qui-Gon's verdict, and no little disappointment.
"Too old," came the firm reply. "It must be you, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan nodded, squaring his shoulders as he mentally confronted this new responsibility. "I have to do this all the way around?"
"Yes, my Padawan."
"How far out?"
"How far out do you wish them to stay?"
Far away was suddenly tempered by the cost of each potential foot of safe perimeter. It was a big responsibility. Very big, with a perimeter that suddenly looked huge.
"I don't think I...."
"You don't think you what?" Qui-Gon prompted when Obi-Wan didn't finish the thought.
"Have enough to go around," he mumbled.
"We have a very small site," soothed the Master. "Why don't you do what you can now, then wait for a bit. I'm sure your nervousness will provide what's needed before it's time for us to sleep."
[Oh, yes. A little water, a little wait, add a howl or two and zap! Instant ammunition. If my Master only knew how right he is....]
"All right." He nodded. "I can do that."
Settling the utensils safely in their pack, Obi-Wan gathered himself for the task at hand. He was heading out into the darkness when Qui-Gon spoke from where he was standing, tall and serene, beside the fire.
"If you're not back in ten clicks, I'll come looking for you."
Now there was a comforting thought. [Hope they leave something to find, Master.] Obi-Wan slipped hesitantly outside the edge of the circle of firelight, watching for small, glowing eyes and preparing for his first effort at setting the perimeter guard. At least the darkness prevented his Master from witnessing his embarrassment.
As he moved to his second bush, Obi-Wan was struck with a new and frightening thought. [How high can these things jump?]
Obi-Wan entered the meditation gardens at the Temple with a light heart. In the short time he'd been Qui-Gon Jinn's padawan, he'd learned that nothing felt better than to return to Coruscant with a mission successfully completed. Not only was the rare word of praise from his Master welcome once they'd successfully reported to the Council, but the beds were soft, the food was better, and there were no predators in sight.
Ducking around a fasnak tree that was enthusiastically determined to spread its branches over the main path no matter how often meticulous Jedi gardeners trimmed it back, Obi-Wan grinned to himself. He was pleased with the lessons he'd learned on this trip, not the least of which had been his successful application of his Master's method of keeping away campsite predators. He'd slept well the night before, after completing the required circuit. He'd lost two cycles of sleep time waiting for his body to supply the necessary liquid, but that was all right. He'd kept himself and his Master safe, hadn't he? And Qui-Gon had seemed most impressed by his Padawan's willingness to accept total responsibility for the task. Yes, Obi-Wan had done a good job with that assignment.
Trotting down the path, he skidded to a halt to see Master Yoda in deep meditation on his favourite rock. Sitting placidly with his face turned to the sun, the diminutive Master was well grounded in the Force. It thrummed around him, feeling as warm and ancient and wise as Yoda himself.
Slipping off of the path, Obi-Wan smiled to himself and sought his own place at the base of the Master's rock. Sunlight was creeping into shade here, and the Padawan thought the setting appropriate, as he was destined to walk in the Masters' shadows for the next ten to fifteen years. Finally and officially a Padawan, he was welcomed into the light, to bask and learn in it, as had countless padawans before him.
He wasn't so absorbed by his own meditation that he didn't hear Master Yoda slip down from the rock when his session was complete. Sensing the Master waiting patiently for him, Obi-Wan sifted up through the layers of consciousness and opened his eyes. Getting to his feet, he folded his arms in the sleeves of his cloak and bowed deeply.
"Padawan Kenobi." Yoda nodded in return and smiled, gestured for Obi-Wan to settle himself once more.
Sinking cross-legged to the ground, Obi-Wan was surprised when Yoda sat beside him, seeking the sunny side of the rock again. Setting his gimmer stick before him, he rested his clawed hands atop it, turned his face to the sun, and growl-purred his contentment.
"Good this feels. Peaceful the day is."
"Very peaceful, Master."
"Enjoying your time with Qui-Gon, are you?"
"Very much so."
"Good match you are. Strong team you will be. What learn you lately?"
Having been taught by Yoda, first in the creche classrooms and next in the Academy, Obi-Wan was well accustomed to the Master's habit of suddenly switching topics.
"I learned how to keep predators away from our campsite."
Turning his head, Yoda lowered his ears and widened his eyes. "Ermph? Worried you were by these predators?"
"Yes, Master Yoda. We could hear them yowling just outside our camp site. They were quite close," he told him earnestly.
Obi-Wan was startled as Yoda's ears suddenly rose toward the vertical, a sure sign of interest in the topic at hand.
" Learn to pee you did?"
"Uh... Yes, Master."
To Obi-Wan's confusion, this set Yoda off into a fit of laughter. The boy stared in astonishment as the bulging eyes squeezed shut, and the ears flapped up and down on the sides of his head as Yoda laughed. Obi-Wan assumed the venerable Master was laughing; the wheezing, choking, gasping sounds were almost frightening. Either Master Yoda was terribly amused, or he was suffering from some sudden illness. A renewed crescendo in the wheezing giggles was provided a rhythmic counterpoint as Yoda thumped his stick repeatedly against the ground and shook his head.
The fit seemed to be passing, Obi-Wan noted with relief, until Yoda opened his eyes and looked at him again. Then the wheezing and braying began anew, and one clawed hand came up to swipe at tearing eyes. The few knights and masters passing by cast startled looks their way - staring first at Yoda, who was lost in his chortles, and then at Obi-Wan, who settled for shrugging and frowning in puzzlement. No one dared to stop and inquire if the Master was all right: they'd all been in conference with him as Padawan and knew how confusing he could be to everyone but himself.
"Wicked, Qui-Gon can be," Yoda finally rasped, his eyes crinkling in amusement. "Wicked was I as well, when his Master I was."
Rocking back, Yoda regarded Obi-Wan a moment and smiled. "Tell you, I should not. But begin this, I did. Many years ago."
"Lesson to tame Padawan fear. Annoying Qui-Gon was becoming. If sleep he could not, occupied he could be." Getting to his feet, Yoda nodded to him. "All I will say. Research predators you should. Do this, you will."
Still chuckling, the little green Master made his way to the garden path. Obi-Wan listened as the wheezing and snorting slowly faded as Master Yoda stumped his way back into the Temple. Less than enlightened and more than a little frustrated, Obi-Wan stayed by his rock consider what he'd been told.
Silly lesson? Annoying Padawans? Predators? Masters having respiratory attacks?
None of it made any sense, except for Yoda's suggestion that Obi-Wan do some research. He still had two cycles before needing to meet Qui-Gon for lightsaber practise. Rising to his feet, Obi-Wan brushed down his robes and headed for the library.
The jungle was alive. Too alive, perhaps, reflected Qui-Gon Jinn as he cut through yet another wall of foliage with his lightsaber, blazing the trail for him and his Padawan, who followed at his flank, lightsaber held at the ready.
A ripple in the Force alerted the Master, and he reached up and back with his weapon to almost casually cut down the tendril worming itself toward Obi-Wan's head. He doubted his Padawan was even aware of the danger as anything but yet another vine falling on his head.
The boy never ceased to amaze him. On only their last mission, Obi-Wan had been terrified by nothing more than the distant sound of a volken calling to its mate in the dark. A few hours ago, they had been forced to debark in the middle of the night from their ship three miles from their destination. They were now fighting their way to the city they'd been assigned to visit, and found themselves surrounded by plants and fauna that seemed intent upon killing them. They'd already learned that the vines attached to the massive trees served as arms to entrap and then lift the victim to huge maws buried in the centre of the trunks.
Obi-Wan had just repelled the attack of a shanrak that had leaped from nowhere and over his head, intent upon taking out the more threatening adult before the juvenile. Guarding his Master's back in the shadowed moonlight, Obi-Wan had not hesitated to sever the creature's head from its shoulders. The poisoned claws had come nowhere near Qui-Gon.
"Well done, Padawan," he had panted, able to spare the still-twitching body but a glance before turning his attention back to the narrow trail he had to continue blazing if they were to reach the city.
"Thank you, Master." Tightening his grip on the saber and grounding once more in a classic defense posture, Obi-Wan leaned back against his Master.
Qui-Gon could feel the boy entwining his Force signature with his. It still amazed the older Jedi that Obi-Wan had come from the Academy knowing how to move as one with him. Whether it was of the Force or instinct, Obi-Wan's talent in this area was raw and pure, as yet almost totally untrained.
As a master diplomat and warrior, Qui-Gon's service in the field was in high demand, his time at the Temple limited. Obi-Wan's apprenticeship would be spent at his Master's side and less in the classroom. Qui-Gon had already explained to his Padawan that many of his lessons would come through application first, and then lecture. This approach required a high degree of trust, as explanations often would have to wait some time before a safe place for discussion could be reached. Obi-Wan's obedience and action had to be instantaneous, even if understanding lagged behind. It would not be an easy road to travel, for he'd have to learn on strange worlds, more often than not in politically precarious or physically dangerous circumstances. So far, Obi-Wan didn't seem to be suffering from this unorthodox approach. If he ever did, Qui-Gon would demand that the Council keep them on Coruscant long enough to let him train the boy in the traditional way. But, outside of the volken, the boy seemed to be thriving on his new means of education and the danger that accompanied it.
"We'll rest here for a bit," Qui-Gon announced, pausing in the middle of their fresh-cleared path. It wasn't safe to linger for long: the night-birds could pick up their scent far too easily, could swoop down silently from the trees and slash them to ribbons. But still, even a Jedi Master's strength was not endless; he had to pace himself this night.
Obi-Wan nodded his understanding, but did not spare his Master a glance or relax his vigilance. With Qui-Gon willing his heartbeat to slow, his breath to follow, the Padawan continued to watch the night.
[There's no fear in him,] Qui-Gon realised, feeling affection and no little amazement that one so young could have the heart of a Jedi already. [What did I do, to win such loyalty in less than a year?] he wondered. Teaching this one was a joy.
"How much further, Master?"
"Another hour, I believe." He squeezed the boy's shoulder before turning back to the task at hand. "You're doing well, Obi-Wan. We'll be there soon."
Qui-Gon hissed in pain as he left the bathing pool, saw Obi-Wan's sympathetic wince as he gathered his towel and headed into the quarters they'd been assigned.
"We're both going to be sore tomorrow," the Padawan pointed out, towel drying his hair and eyeing with weary anticipation the small camp bed that had been provided by their hosts and set up beside his Master's.
"I hurt now," Qui-Gon muttered. "The curse of old age, I'm afraid."
"You're not old. You just fought a jungle for half of the night." With a wry grin, the boy climbed beneath the covers. "Besides, you'll just Force-heal yourself before morning."
Extinguishing the lights, Qui-Gon got into bed, laid back and commanded his body to relax. Finally. Stretching out, he savored a startling luxury of a bed long enough to allow all of him to fit.
Obi-Wan sighed. "It's so nice to have clean sheets and a soft pillow, Master. When they dumped us out of the ship like that, I thought we'd have to sleep in the jungle."
"To sleep in that jungle would be to die, Obi-Wan."
"Yeah, I kind of figured that out." Raising up on one elbow, Obi-Wan grinned at his Master in the darkness. "I think I'm really lucky to have a Master as good as you are."
"What do you mean?"
"You blaze a great trail. If it's clear enough for you, ANYONE can move safely through that space."
He chuckled. "You're easily impressed, my Padawan."
"No, I don't think so. We're here, and we're safe. Bant's Master would still be out there, hacking away for hours."
"We do what we must, Obi-Wan, according to our abilities. I doubt that Bant and her Master would be assigned to a planet such as this. The Council takes into consideration such things as potentially fatal foliage when assigning us. Which reminds me of a question I wanted to ask you."
"Yes, Master?" He lay down on his side.
"How is it that less than a month ago, you were terrified of nothing more than the night cry of a strange animal, while tonight you fought at my back in much harsher circumstances, without a ripple of fear?"
The answer was so long in coming that Qui-Gon thought that perhaps his apprentice had fallen asleep. When Obi-Wan spoke, he sounded amused.
"I think I've learned my lesson, Master."
"What lesson is that?"
"That a good Padawan researches the planet he's being sent to. I know you'll tell me what I need to know, but I need to do better than that. You're busy, and it's not enough to read the briefs the Council provides us. If we're mingling with the natives - flora or fauna - I need to know about it for my own good, and probably yours, too, if I have to watch your back like I did tonight. This time, I knew what to watch for."
"So why didn't you tell me about the volken?"
"I did tell you, Obi-Wan."
"No, you didn't," he challenged. "You teased me, and I fell for it."
"From a certain point of view, I suppose you're right. You don't seem to be too upset with me."
"Well, no. Master Yoda told me that he'd done the same thing to you. I figured there had to be a reason why. I mean, Masters don't go around fibbing to their apprentices that way. Not often, anyway. I figured the fib had to be some sort of lesson."
"First, I thought you were chiding me about my fears. But if that was the case, it would have been easier to just lecture me about releasing my fear to the Force. Since you didn't, there had to be more to it." Obi-Wan rolled over onto his back and stared at the ceiling. "If it wasn't just a lesson in releasing my fear, then what was it? Yoda said that I should research predators."
"He told you nothing else?"
"He said you were an annoying padawan."
Qui-Gon laughed softly. "He was easy on you. He told me nothing, except what I told you."
"He sure thought it was funny."
"Still?" His Master sounded regretful over that snippet of information. "He did then, too."
"Anyway, I started researching the predators on that planet and realised I'd been really stupid; nothing there would have eaten us. They're all too shy and really rather small. So we were never in danger, I just thought that we were. Instead of telling me that there was no threat, you gave me an answer that reassured me. False information. Harmless, that time.
"It wasn't false information, Obi-Wan. Did the volken not remain out of our camp after your efforts."
"Probably because they were laughing to hard to get to their feet."
A snort of suppressed laughter from the darkness informed him that Qui-Gon shared their amusement.
"Whether the volken were impressed or not, it was a total waste of time," Obi-Wan added.
"It gave you something positive to focus on rather than your fear," Qui-Gon advised him quietly.
"It still didn't protect us from anything. But it made me think about other times. What if we went to another planet and the same thing happened? I can't spend all my time peeing on things. And what if there's some local taboo about that sort of thing? We could land in a really nasty diplomatic situation, then. So, I thought up a new fear. I needed to know how I could conquer that kind of fear. Mold it to serve, rather than control me. I figured the best way was to look at what scared me and see if that fear was justified."
"So you replaced your fear with knowledge?"
"Yeah. Real knowledge, Master, about the planets we're going to. Not a false, whizzing-in-the-dark kind of knowledge that doesn't mean a thing."
"Whiz --" Qui-Gon laughed, long and hard.
"Feel free to laugh, Master," Obi-Waan said generously. "At least you don't sound like you're dying, the way Master Yoda does. He scared me for a minute. I thought something awful was wrong."
That inspired even greater laughter. When Qui-Gon had wiped away his tears and could breathe again, he said, "I think you just coined a phrase we're going to use again and again over the next decade."
"Hey, I'm already using it. Before every mission now I'll ask myself, 'What do I need to know about this mission to keep from-'"
"Please don't say it again." Qui-Gon held up a hand. "If you do, I'll be laughing all night instead of sleeping."
"It's not that funny, Master."
"You have an elegant delivery, my Padawan. It's not so much what you say as how you say it."
"Huh. All right. Anyway, that's my lesson. Find out if it's going to bite you before you have to worry about it. Saves drinking an awful lot of water."
"You've learned well. Good-night, my Padawan."
Obi-Wan settled down into the comfortable darkness and cool sheets, listening to the faint staccato breathing that told him his Master was still laughing. Obi-Wan grinned. His Master could laugh if he wanted to.
Turning his back to his amused Master, Obi-Wan burrowed into the pillow and tried very hard not to let a certain mental image intrude once again. Imagination won, but he still managed to smother the giggle that threatened to escape, as the image of his once-scrawny, teen-aged Master crept in once again, worriedly galloping from bush to bush on some long-ago planet....
You learn something every day.
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