The Choosing

by Master Eliz-mar Von ( )

Spoilers: Not really, but see Note below.

References: Tales of the Jedi graphic novels by Dark Horse Comics (a bit here, a bit there)

Archive: my website only, when I get it there [she later gave permission for MA]

Disclaimer: Characters portrayed within belong to George Lucas and LucasFilm. No copyright infringement is intended. No money going anywhere! Any other characters belong to ME.

Categories: AU, H/C, Angst, Chan

Warning: Underage characters (see Note)

Time: About 13 years before the Naboo stuff would have happened, if indeed it did. <g>

Rating: R for nudity and frank talking about intimacy

Summary: Basically this is a new Alternate Reality of how Obi-Wan Kenobi becomes a Jedi Padawan in a culture where children have a little more say in their future...

Note: Obi-Wan is twelve, I've stolen characters from the JA books but entirely thrown out most plotlines - you're welcome - and Qui-Gon is about 42, not that that matters. So at this point, there really are no spoilers for the JA books. This is not exactly pre-slash, but nothing more intimate than kissing goes on. And what goes on is perfectly acceptable in its context within this Jedi subculture.

Second Note: This particular Jedi subculture is based on the notion that "out of love comes strength". Jedi are raised to feel that they are loved and personally important to the Order, and out of that comes their dedication to the Light. Physical touch, in that vein, is very important, and sex and nudity is viewed as natural. The Jedi Code does not read "there is no passion; there is serenity" but rather "there is no obsession; there is serenity". Passion is welcome. So is self-control. So is pleasure. So is balance.

For anyone who is still reading... <g>

I debated on whether to post this to MA, but recent posts about how cruel the apparent Jedi custom of choosing padawans seems has prompted me to post this story, which has already been posted elsewhere. I'm hoping that you like the method that I arrived at - I think it treats the Jedi Trainees with more respect and consideration. I like to think that the Trainees eligible for the Choosing, who as Padawans would be expected to be at their master's side even in danger, are mature enough to be far more involved in this critical decision-making process...

It was the day before the week of Choosing, and Obi-Wan Kenobi had just turned twelve years old a month before, old enough to Choose, to become a Jedi Padawan at last. Needless to say he was very excited, for he would - if that wonderful occurrence would indeed happen this time - be the first of his group of friends to reach that happy goal.

In preparation, Master Nivmal had scheduled a special speaker for the older Trainees in their regular discussion group on Human Interaction - a Jedi Padawan who had Chosen and been Accepted in the last Choosing Week six months ago. It would be the culmination of the class's studies, and for the first time truly make real for them some of what they've learned about their bodies and minds and how they worked. Especially, a few hoped, since they'd just finished the sexuality module.

Padawan Valed Moonminer, a tall, slim boy of nearly fourteen Standard years, arrived at the class, accompanied by his Master, Knight Bilo Hassik, a sturdy man in his late twenties. The Knight had his arm around his Padawan's waist as they entered, then leaned in to whisper something in his ear and give the boy's Padawan braid a playful tug. Before he released Valed to go to the front of the room, he bent and kissed the boy's cheek tenderly.

The Trainees watched the interaction with widened eyes. The Knight was proud and fond of his young apprentice, and Padawan Valed fairly shone with adoration and quiet joy. There was a glow about him that set the room buzzing, until he reached the front and the room hushed to hear him.

"Hi," Valed greeted the class of nine girls and fifteen boys, his quiet shyness charming. "You can call me Padawan Val, I guess. I think I'm supposed to talk about what it's been like being a Padawan these last six months since my Choosing."

Obi-Wan leaned in, listening carefully. He'd practiced in the arena with Valed Moonminer plenty in the past and knew the older boy to be good with a lightsaber and an quiet, loyal friend, though he and Obi-Wan had not been close. Six months ago Obi-Wan would have never thought Valed could get up in front of a group to speak. Something about him had changed...

"It's hard to talk about this," Val started out, sighing, though he still wore a smile. "I feel so different now. It's very different from being a Trainee, where you have a large group of friends your own age all the time, the run of the Temple, and you have many Knights and Masters looking after you and loving you."

Several of the children, including Obi-Wan, nodded knowingly at the words. Most classes ended with a "procession" where the class filed past the teacher to receive the day's hug and kind word. Sometimes when the class was less structured, like this one, a group of children would all sit in a pile together, happily snuggled against one another and sometimes the teacher would even be in the middle, if it was a small class. Obi-Wan was currently sandwiched between his friends Garen and Luwill, an arm draped around each.

"But when you're a Padawan," Val continued, his eyes shining, "your world focuses down to one person... your Master. You know the basics of how it starts - you move into his or her quarters, your hair gets cut, you get your first real Jedi uniform. But there is so much more... you're getting to know a very special person, a Master to love you and form you into a Jedi Knight. During the first week your Master will create the training bond between your two minds. I can't explain THAT except that it's... wonderful." He looked over at Knight Bilo and smiled shyly.

Obi-Wan felt a curious excitement within him in seeing that look that they exchanged. [In love is my strength,] he thought, the Jedi's mantra. [Oh, to have a Master to look at me like that...]

Val looked back at his audience, smiling. "I think it might be best if I could answer some of your questions?"

A girl of nearly fourteen raised a hand. Because of her age, this would be her last chance to Choose and be Accepted. If a match with a Knight could not be found for her, she would have her choice of Jedi careers with the Healers, the Agri-Corps, and others. Many did not mind the necessity of options, as the life of a Knight was known to be very hard. Obi-Wan, however, could not imagine anything but becoming a Knight.

"Padawan Val, do you have sex with your Master?" the girl asked. Twenty-four pairs of eyes stared at Val, anxious for the answer.

Val just laughed, for it was the one question he'd been expecting. "Not like you think. Of course we have to be physically close, and Master is very affectionate with me. He wants to wait until I'm a little older still before we have intercourse... I guess that's fairly standard?" He glanced at the teacher.

"It depends entirely on when one is ready," Master Nivmal answered calmly. "Intercourse is a very intense experience. There is a great deal - as I've told you young paddie-wannas - a great deal of other physical enjoyment that one might have with their Master when old enough."

They giggled at the silly term - "paddie-wannas" - but looked earnestly to Val for verification. "Yes," the Padawan spoke quietly, his young face alight with joy. "We touch a lot, of course. There is some pleasuring, too."

A murmur of awe rose up from the group. Most were too young yet to feel for themselves the first stirrings of sexual desire, but they knew all about it from their studies and open discussions in this group. It was something eagerly awaited, a special new thing they could do with their growing bodies to make another happy.

Another hand. "Do you do mouth-kissing?"

Val rolled his eyes. His Master had told him the children would be blunt; they'd already had a good laugh about it. "Oh, yes, a lot. Actually, I still like snuggling the best."

That was a good answer for this group, for Trainees usually enjoyed a proud reputation as the Order's champion snugglers. They giggled and laughed happily as they burrowed in against each other all the tighter. The room, in fact, seemed to be getting bigger for they were scooting closer together. Nivmal, ridiculously pleased with the joyous group, knew there would be one single Trainee pile by the end of the session.

Garen Muln, Obi-Wan's closest Human friend, had gotten in front of him, and Obi-Wan, well used to this, hugged his friend from behind, grinning. Then he thought of a question, and raised his hand.

Val grinned at him. "Obi-Wan?"

"Val, could you tell us... what has been the most difficult part of being a Padawan?"

The Padawan's face fell. That was unexpected. He glanced at his Master, but then looked back at the Trainee and smiled again. "Getting the right Master!" The group laughed, but Val sobered again. "I mean that. The Choosing is this coming week. It will be the most important decision of your life - who to Choose. It may be that the only Knight or Master who Accepts you is someone not to your liking. Do not Choose just so that you can be a Padawan, my friends. It must be a good match... in order to make a good Knight."

It was a statement they'd heard repeatedly all through their Trainee years. Many Trainees never became Padawans because the Force did not bring them together with the right Master. Those, knowing for years that this might be, graciously accepted the will of the Force and found other ways to be Jedi. Obi-Wan knew this as well as anyone, and had meditated on this one point more than any other.

Master Nivmal spoke up to break the heavy silence. "Perhaps Knight Hassik could share with us some of his thoughts?"

The Knight bowed, and came forward. As expected, his Padawan came into his arms. Bilo Hassik smiled down at Val, then looked out at the watchful audience. "I think I was one of about seven Knights who submitted their Indication to Valed for consideration. I felt sure that the Force wanted us to be together, and was very relieved when Val Chose me to be his Master and I gave him my Acceptance."

Obi-Wan knew that the Choice wasn't entirely the Padawan's, no matter how they spoke of it. During the week, Knights and Masters would have a chance to observe and talk to the potentials, those Trainees between the ages of twelve and fourteen. Then they would submit an Indication to the Trainees they were interested in. A Trainee would ponder and meditate on the Indications they received, and usually interview those Knights. Then the Trainee made the Choice, but the potential Master had to submit their Acceptance to agree to it. [And even at that,] he mused, [their new training bond had to be evaluated after a week, and their relationship tested after three months. Just as well; this is something you gotta get right!]

Val snuggled in close against his Master, his head on the man's chest as he hugged him around the ribs. Bilo kissed the top of the boy's brushy hair, then spoke again. "I know you have more questions... like what physical pleasuring do we do together. This is a private matter usually between Master and Padawan, but for the sake of your education, we choose to share this with you."

The entire room was silent, every eye on the Knight. Obi-Wan felt his mouth going dry. Garen, in his arms, was very still.

"The Master-Padawan bond that we share," the Knight began, "is a very intimate one. It brings us close together in work, in training, and in play. I as Valed's Master have responsibilities toward my Padawan. I must see to his health, his happiness, his education, and his physical training. I must also work with him on social skills, on managing his mental shielding... and on learning about physical pleasure as well.

"Val experiences sexual feelings, but only since his Choosing, really. So up to now, our physical contact has been light and not a great deal different from what you Trainees already have with your Masters and each other. Lots of holding and snuggling..." He smiled, tightening his arms around his Padawan. "As you can see, we're very affectionate with each other. We do kiss sometimes, and of course we share a bed. Val and I do sometimes fondle each other in a sexual way. He handles me rather more than I him, however, as he is just learning how to pleasure another and wants to make me feel good."

Val lifted his head to add something. "That's part of what I want to give back to my Master as his Padawan," he said, looking up at Bilo, eyes shining. "I will ask for more from him as I grow older, I'm sure, but right now, I'm happy to mostly please him." He grinned at the Knight, who leaned down and brushed the boy's lips with his.

[I want that,] Obi-Wan thought, his heart aching. [A Master to love me... and in that love will be my strength as a Jedi...]

As soon as he left the class, he heard the word go around. "Jinn is back."

For the last three years, Master Qui-Gon Jinn had come to Coruscant to attend the Choosing Week that was held every six months. Five times now, he had left at the end of the week without taking a new Padawan. Everyone knew why; the tall, rangy Master had lost his last Padawan to the Dark right before he would have taken his Trials to become a Jedi Knight. Given how close Masters and Padawans usually were, this would be a devastating event for any Jedi Knight. But for this Master, known widely to be deeply attuned to the Living Force, it had been crushing. Only Master Yoda's insistence had brought the man here five times already. But everyone knew: Qui-Gon Jinn would never again take on another Padawan.

Still, it was something to talk about. Jinn was a legend in the Order, a decorated warrior who had won honor in the Hyperspace Wars, now currently the Order's top negotiator, a consistent winner in lightsaber competitions, and on top of all that... the man was a maverick, often challenging some of the stodgier notions of the High Council. Yoda, for that very reason, had been trying to get Jinn on the Council for years. But the man preferred the solitude of space... especially now.

Obi-Wan, waiting with his friends to enter the dining hall, overheard some Masters talking about the legendary Jinn. "Too bad the man's so gorgeous. Nice of him to grace us with his presence once in a while, eh?"

"Oh, don't sell him short... I remember what he used to be like."

"Yeah? Do tell..."

"He was warm, generous, a very loving man." The speaker was a short woman of a furred species unknown to Obi-Wan.

"You're kidding!"

"Not kidding," the Master replied ruefully. "He used to spend a lot of time with the children, even. A large and open heart, that one had. But now he prefers the silence of his own pain. Too bad."

"No Padawan would want him like this, I'm sure," the other answered sadly. "Who would want a broken Master? He *is* completely luscious, though..."

The pair moved on then, and Obi-Wan went into lunch with his friends. But the conversation had given him much to think about.

At lunch his friends chatted excitedly about the Knights and Masters that they knew would be watching them closely this coming week. Obi-Wan enthusiastically joined in, but at the back of his mind he was still wondering about the "broken Master". No one else mentioned Master Jinn, so he did not bring it up.

After lunch, Obi-Wan spotted the best source of information in the Temple - Master Yoda, shuffling down the hallway, leaning on his stick, heading toward the gardens. "Master Yoda!" he cried, running over. "Can I ask you something about Master Jinn, please?"

The little green Jedi Master swiveled his head back and up to see the speaker. "Started, Choosing Week has not," he muttered.

"Can I carry you somewhere, please, Master Yoda?" Obi-Wan asked hastily, knowing from long experience that this was often a foot in the door with the little ancient one.

Yoda stopped and tapped on the floor. "Down here, young one. Thank you." He seemed pleased, his long ear tips perking upwards. Obi-Wan dutifully knelt down on one knee, bending down so the Master could climb onto his back. He held the gimer stick for him, and started off once the Master was settled, the three-fingered fat claws clinging to his shoulders. Obi-Wan started off in a careful jog; he'd done this many times before and never dropped him anymore.

Once they arrived at their destination and Yoda had climbed down from the Trainee's back, Obi-Wan remained kneeling beside him, sitting back on his heels. "Master Yoda?"

Yoda cackled, patting the boy's knee. "Ask, ask, young one. Kind, generous you are. Good heart."

"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan murmured, pleased. "I wanted to know if there is any way I can convince Master Qui-Gon to take a Padawan this time."

The ancient Jedi peered at the boy, intrigued with his choice of words. "Seek to become his Padawan, you do?" he asked carefully, studying him.

"Me?" Obi-Wan hadn't thought that far ahead. All he knew was that Master Jinn was broken and needed love. "I do not know, Master. As you said, Choosing Week has not even started. I know how important the decision is. I have a lot of thinking ahead of me to do."

"Wise boy... but why the interest in Master Jinn?" Yoda leaned on his stick, looking the boy over. Obi-Wan Kenobi was a happy, loving boy, and a top student, as well as ahead of his age group in the arena. The boy would likely receive many Indications from the Knights and Masters who were looking for an apprentice.

Obi-Wan shrugged. "I heard some Masters talking about him. It's been three years since Padawan Xanatos left him and he's still hurting, isn't he? He needs a new Padawan to love him and make him forget. And help his heart heal."

Yoda looked intently at the Trainee. "Yes," he murmured softly, "needs a Padawan he does. Vulnerable, he feels. Hard to trust again, hard to accept being loved. Much convincing, he will take."

"Then I should get started, shouldn't I?" Obi-Wan grinned. "So, do you have any ideas for me?"

[The Force is strong in this one,] Yoda noted, nodding. [Much love does he have to give. Perhaps...] "Be his friend, Obi-Wan," he said thoughtfully. "Bring up the Choosing, perhaps you should not. Talk to him about taking a Padawan, you should not. Be kind and generous to him, you shall instead. Perhaps he will not be ready this time. Perhaps next time he will."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied happily. This was going to be exciting, wearing down the defenses of the great Jedi Master Jinn. He'd have to take a look around at his classmates, too, seeing if there might be a good match for Jinn. "I can be his friend, no problem. Do you know where I might find him now?"

Yoda lifted his head and briefly closed his eyes. "Hmmm... Balcony on seventh floor, Masters' Tower. Alone, he is."

[Oh, right,] Obi-Wan remembered, [Yoda was Qui-Gon Jinn's Master. There must be a little of the training bond left.] "Does he have any hobbies, Master Yoda?"

"Hobbies... hmmm..." [Interesting times ahead for my Qui-Gon, I can see,] the little Master thought with glee. [Needs this boy's energy badly, he does.] "Fond of things growing, he is, Obi-Wan. "Animals, especially. When Padawan he was, too many pets he had. Like a zoo, our quarters seemed. And stars - the star map room a favorite spot of his. Also, poems he likes to write."

"Wow, really?" Obi-Wan's hobbies ran to engines and flying. Though he remembered the pet Ghisho he had when he was four years old. Maybe it was time... Trainees were not allowed to have pets, but there was a bird sanctuary on the roof of the Temple between the high spires, and he had been allowed to keep the Ghisho bird there. "Does he still have pets?"

"No... no pets has he any longer."


Yoda sighed. "Home he is infrequently. Asks for many missions, he does."

Obi-Wan felt an ache within him, hearing about the lonely Jedi Master. [I must help him,] he thought.

"Write poetry, you do, Trainee Obi-Wan?" Yoda inquired, knowing the answer. He kept back a smirk that wanted to get out.

"Er, not exactly..." His attempts at creative writing had been wordy descriptions of starcraft engines. "I'm not very creative, Master Yoda."

"Incorrect, that is," Yoda snorted. "Look up Master Jinn on network when search on 'poetry'. Surprised, you will be. And a good eye for color, you have. Seen your paintings, I have, young Kenobi."

"Oh, that..." Obi-Wan blushed. He'd had a fair reputation as an artist when he was about nine but it had been a couple years since he'd picked up a brush. Obi-Wan had since gotten more interested in his technical studies. "I don't do that anymore, I guess." The truth was, he didn't think there was much to paint around the Temple.

"Shame, that is," Yoda murmured. "A Jedi must foster his creative side. Keeps his mind flowing, it does. Save your life one day it may."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan sighed, his fingers playing with the edge of his gray tunic. "Does Master Jinn like painting?"

"Hmmm, fond of most art he is. Or used to be." Yoda noted the boy's growing restlessness. "Go now, make a friend," he encouraged him.

Bounding to his feet, Obi-Wan bowed low to the ancient Jedi, smiling. "Thank you, Master Yoda!" Then he trotted off, heading for the Master's Tower.

Yoda chuckled to himself as he turned to walk deeper into the gardens. [Up to tricks, the Force is. And about time...]

About halfway there, Obi-Wan got a brilliant idea. He veered off to the Trainees' dormitory and once there, pulled a box out from under his bed. He lifted out a small box that held a sculpture of a bird - a Ghisho. One of his teachers had given it to him a year ago, but he did not want to display it in the dormitory, fearing that someone would break it. It reminded him of the pet he once had, the Ghisho which had gotten out of the sanctuary one night and flown away. [When I become a Padawan,] he thought, gazing at the carving fondly, [I'll have mementos from my own Master that I can display. I don't need this anymore.] He put the small sculpture back in the box and left with it tucked under his arm as he went to find Master Jinn.

Arriving at the seventh floor balcony in the Masters' Tower, Obi-Wan breathed a sigh of relief, for Master Jinn was still there. The boy's heart started hammering as he beheld the tall, still figure looking out over the Coruscant skyline. [What if he won't talk to me at all?] he began to worry. [What if he tells me to go away?] Then he shook his head, mentally berating himself. [Silly, he's a Jedi Master. He's not going to be *rude*...]

The Jedi Master of course was already aware of the boy standing very awkwardly by the door, clutching a box. [Well, I guess it is starting already. I am not going to be able to walk into the 'fresher without tripping over a Trainee for the next week. Oh, joy... If I didn't owe Yoda so much...] He sighed and straightened, but did not move from his vantage point on the balcony. "You wanted to see me, Trainee?" Qui-Gon Jinn said just loud enough to be heard over the wind and the buzz of the aircraft lanes.

Obi-Wan started with a shiver at the voice, then pulled himself together and approached the railing of the balcony where the Master stood. "Yes, Master Jinn!" He felt like he had to shout. "Why are you standing here?"

The very tall man turned slowly to glance down at the boy. Obi-Wan looked earnestly up into a tired face with piercing dark blue eyes, a once-broken nose, a mouth thinned with controlled consternation, the face framed by flying dark brown hair and a closely trimmed mustache and beard. "I believe my intent was to find some solitude," the Master said slowly. [At which I was apparently unsuccessful,] he thought, but did not say that to the boy.

"But it's so noisy up here!" Obi-Wan frowned at him, then nodded at the overhead lanes of constant traffic. "It's more peaceful in the garden!"

Qui-Gon sighed deeply. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but you might as well know right now. I am not interested in taking a Padawan. So..."

Obi-Wan scowled at him, bewildered. "What does that have to do with finding solitude? And peace! It's not very peaceful here, Master Jinn."

The man frowned momentarily. He knew this boy... then he placed him in his memory. [Kenobi, I think. Obi-Wan. The painter...] "You're right, Painter," he sighed, turning away from the railing. "It's not peaceful here." [But then I wasn't seeking peace. There is none of that, for me...]

"So let's go somewhere else... what did you call me?" Obi-Wan slanted his glance up the length of the man, peering at him funny.

"I wish to be alone, little Painter," Qui-Gon said patiently, leaning back on the railing. "If you'll excuse me..."

"OH!" Obi-Wan cried out suddenly. A gust of wind had ripped the box right out of the boy's arms. Immediately the Jedi Master gestured sharply, and the box floated back to the boy, who wrapped his arms around it gratefully. Qui-Gon put his hand to the boy's back, noticing for the first time that the gray tunic was a bit thin and that the child was shivering from the brisk air.

"Come, Painter, let's go inside," the Master murmured gently.

Inside, Obi-Wan pressed against the tall Jedi until the Master opened his robe to engulf him. "Oh, this is MUCH better!" the boy sighed heavily, wrapping his arms around the man's narrow waist.

"So what did I rescue from the winds of Coruscant?" Qui-Gon inquired, wincing as the box was pressing rather forcefully into his ribs.

"Oh, this is for you," Obi-Wan said, handing the box up. He did not relinquish his place, however. [I think this is working,] he thought hopefully. The Jedi Master, he noted happily, smelled clean and just a little musky with the man's natural scent, but it was a very pleasing scent, reminding him of fresh earth and plants. Almost like a garden.

Qui-Gon retrieved the box that was thrust into his chin. Opening it, he beheld the wooden carving of a gray bird with a blue crest. "Ghisho, isn't it?" he asked of his rib attachment.

"Yes, I used to have a real one," Obi-Wan replied, snuggling closer. He could hear the strong, slow heartbeat of the big Jedi. It made him feel safe. "Since you can't take care of pets very well since you're on mission so much, you can pretend that is your pet. He won't need any care, you see."

"Ah, very thoughtful of you," Qui-Gon murmured, smiling in spite of his determination to remain grumpy over having to endure another Choosing Week. "I'm sorry, Painter, but I cannot accept this."

Obi-Wan let go so he could look up at him. "What?"

Qui-Gon sighed. The boy was so earnest, it was hard even for him to turn him away. "A Knight or Master cannot accept gifts from Trainees, especially now. It would be looked upon as a bribe."

"What?" Obi-Wan was furious. "But... but... I don't want you to be my Master and you're not looking for a Padawan anyway!"

Surprised, Qui-Gon frowned and looked intently at the boy. "Obi-Wan, I don't understand..."

It thrilled Obi-Wan that Master Jinn already knew his name, but he couldn't spare a moment to be glad about that, for all his plans were falling apart. "I mean," he hurried on, "I don't know if I want you to be my Master. I know it is a very important decision and I have to think about it carefully. I'm not here because of that, is what I mean. You..." His eyes teared up and he did not know why. "You..."

"Yes, Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon felt a stirring in his heart, seeing the boy struggle to explain himself, but hastily stilled it. [NO more Padawans...]

"You need a friend," Obi-Wan rushed to say. "Master Yoda says you are alone too much. You don't want a Padawan, but you could use a pet... it's just a pretend one..."

Qui-Gon saw his error. [Been in the field too long... again... too long away from my own kind.] he thought morosely. "Obi-Wan, it is all right. I will accept your gift and I thank you very much for it." He smiled and patted the boy on the head. "Since it's not officially Choosing Week yet, and since I am indeed not looking for a Padawan, I can accept this."

Obi-Wan relaxed finally. "You're welcome, sir. But... you are going to come to the Choosing Week activities, aren't you? I mean, I'm sure Master Yoda will be looking for you..." He dared to grin at that.

"I will put in all the requisite appearances, little one." Qui-Gon smiled down at him, relaxing a little himself. "We wouldn't want Master Yoda to have to come looking for me."

Obi-Wan laughed. "No, can't have that. What are you going to call your Ghisho, Master?"

Qui-Gon sobered. Just the thought of a child calling him "Master" hurt. "I will have to think of a name, Painter. I will let you know when I think of one." When the boy opened his mouth to speak again, he added quickly, "And now, I must ask you to leave me. I just got in a few hours ago and I really am tired and would like to be alone."

Crestfallen, Obi-Wan looked up at the tall Jedi Master. He opened his mouth to give the obedient reply, but suddenly heard himself saying, "You should not be alone, Master Jinn. You are too much alone already." Then, shocked at his boldness, he clapped a hand over his mouth.

The expression on the Master's face closed up. "I can keep my own counsel on that, Trainee," he said quietly. He put the Ghisho back in the box and turned to go.

"Wait, Master Jinn! There's something else..." Obi-Wan blurted out, desperate to keep him from leaving just yet.

"Yes?" Qui-Gon asked patiently. [This boy... will he never leave? I just want...]

"I have something else to give you," Obi-Wan said quickly, though he did not know yet what that was. [What AM I saying? I have nothing for a great Jedi Master!]

"Very well," the Master murmured, his weariness and pain heavy in his voice now.

Then, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, Obi-Wan knew. He felt the Force move through him, a blessing touch. "Could you kneel down first, Master Jinn? And close your eyes?"

"All right," the man sighed, and complied. [Anything to send him on his way...]

Obi-Wan could feel the sweet guidance of the Force leading him. [Do not think, do,] he thought, Master Yoda's often-quoted phrase coming to mind. He watched, heart pounding, as the tall Jedi Master knelt to one knee and closed his eyes, folding his hands atop the other knee. [Here goes...]

Reverently, Obi-Wan reached out with both hands to cup the face of the Master, and in the same movement, leaned over to brush a kiss over the bearded cheek. A slight gasp escaped the man's lips.

Then Obi-Wan, stunned that he'd actually been so bold, was running away down the hall as fast as his legs could take him. [Kenobi, you DUNCE!] Obi-Wan chided himself. [What did you have to go and do THAT for? He'll NEVER talk to me again!] He did not relax until he was inside the lift and on the way down to the main Temple levels.

Qui-Gon Jinn remained kneeling a moment longer, feeling the backwash of the Force that had emitted like a fresh spring rain from the boy, the touch of his lips still warm on his cheek. [This boy... how...?] But he knew the answer. The Force would choose whatever emissary it wanted to get its message across. And this boy, the Force breathing full in him, had sent the message very clearly.

The message... oh, the message. "Simple, it is," Yoda would say. "Three years are long enough for a Jedi Master to bear a pain he did not earn." Qui-Gon could hear his old Master chide him gently as if he was beside him, leaning on his gimer stick.

Qui-Gon, his eyes full of tears, looked down the hall where Obi-Wan had fled. "I can't," he whispered to the Force that hammered mercilessly at his broken heart. "Oh, please, I cannot do this, not again... I do not have enough of my heart left to give anyone. Please..."

But the response had already been given.

Choosing Week included the suspension of all Trainee classes, so the halls of the Temple were filled with the shrill voices of children. Obi-Wan was immersed in a swarm of friends and classmates, not coming up for air until the beginning of ceremonies midmorning.

Nearly everyone currently in the Temple came for the opening ceremony in the central arena, which featured the introduction of the eligible Trainees and those Knights and Masters who were interested - or available - to Accept a Padawan Learner. Master Yaddle of the High Council officiated, introducing the adults while Master Nivmal introduced the twenty-four Trainees of age to become Padawans.

Obi-Wan looked for Master Jinn, but did not see him until close to the end. He was the last Master introduced and did not speak any words of encouragement to the Trainees as some of the others had, but bowed politely and returned to his seat. [Does he know I'm here?] Obi-Wan wondered, jostled by his friends as the assembly broke up for noonmeal. [Is he mad at me?]

The afternoon session would include demonstrations by the Trainees here in the arena. Obi-Wan, like most of the eligibles, ate a light meal, more interested in discussing the Knights and Masters with his friends, though the nagging worry still tickled in the back of his mind.

It had been a bad night for Qui-Gon Jinn, for the touch of those gentle fingers and the soft press of lips to his cheek had haunted him. And worse, his old Master had tracked him down at noonmeal. Qui-Gon had intended to return to his quarters to eat, but Yoda had gotten his attention and indicated that he should join him in the Masters' dining room.

"My Master," he sighed in greeting. A droid had brought trays for them. Yoda started into his meal with his usual gusto, ignoring his former student for a while. Qui-Gon picked at his food and nibbled a little.

Then Yoda broke him out of his reverie. "Many good Trainees, have we, hmmm? Happy group, this class is. Brightens one's spirit to take on a Padawan with as much energy and joy as have they, mmm? Know from experience, I do!"

Qui-Gon had to smile at him. "Yes, Master, of course... and yes, it seems a happy group of children."

"Growing up fast, they are. Time to be Padawans, for some of them."

"Oh, certainly," Qui-Gon murmured.

Yoda munched on a while longer, then pointed a breadstick at the other Master. "Tired of this discussion, I am, Qui-Gon. Too long, has it gone on. Take a Padawan this week, you should."

The tall Human folded his hands in his lap and looked down at nothing. "I cannot... I do not believe I can give of myself to another child... like that."

The ancient Master looked upon the man with compassion. "Possessed of a great heart, you are, Qui-Gon. Much love you have..."

"But lost... there is nothing left anymore." Qui-Gon felt the ache in his heart as a physical pain. Not the sort of pain he was used to dispersing into the Force.

"Not true!" Yoda banged his fist on the table. The other glanced over with widened eyes. Yoda hadn't gotten that exasperated with him for years. "Not changed is your heart, only your head, Qui-Gon Jinn. A Jedi, are you? Is love not your true strength in the Force? Weak, are you? No greater warrior have we. No better negotiator for peace have we. If so much peace can you bring to so many, how can you not also have much love to give to one child? Not possible, this is, Qui-Gon."

The words cut... and were meant to. Qui-Gon flinched, then nodded slowly. "I will meditate on this point, my Master."

"Good... hmmm, meet any Trainees yesterday, did you?"

Qui-Gon narrowed his eyes. "You did send a boy to me!"

"No, asked me where you were, he did. Told him, I did. That is all."

"Why do I find that hard to believe?" Qui-Gon sighed.

"Then he did find you... good. Strong in the Force, that one. Big heart like someone else I know. Wants to be your friend, he says." Yoda cackled.

[He's so transparent,] Qui-Gon thought of the little green being. "Want him to be my Padawan, you do!" he threw back, purposely using Yoda's peculiar syntax.

Yoda cackled all the more, hitting the table with glee, making their trays jump. "Search your heart, Qui-Gon Jinn!" Then he sobered. "Risked your life many times, you have, Padawan. Risk your heart... you must also. Listen to the Force, breathe in the Force. Speaking to you, it is."

[I know, I know,] Qui-Gon thought, trying to ignore the twinges of pain. "Yes, Master."

"Just a good, loving boy, nothing more," Yoda ended, climbing down from the chair. "Nothing for an oversized Jedi Master to be afraid of." He cackled some more, then shuffled off.

As a Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn could withstand many climates, extremes of temperature, physical pain, hunger, thirst, and any number of other difficulties including recalcitrant Hutts and sluggish warpdrives. He had talked troubled officials on planets through problems unforeseen, come up with solutions for what were believed to be hopeless situations, and endured any number of embarrassing rituals and customs. How then was it so hard to allow a twelve-year-old boy to befriend him?

He felt silly, and half-smiled to himself as he left the dining room. [Friends, I can be. It's a start. Though to take a Padawan...] He grimaced. [That's another matter.] To open himself again that intimately to anyone was more than he was willing to contemplate. It was generally the most intensive relationship of a Jedi's life. A Padawan would become far more than his student. They would depend on each other for survival in many instances. They would be all in all to one another, friends, backup, companions, emotional support... and often lovers. About a fourth of the time a new Knight remained with his or her Master as partner and lifemate.

Once Qui-Gon Jinn had had a thought that Xanatos might become that with him...

[The past is dead,] he reminded himself ruthlessly. [I should never open my heart to another like that again. Never.] But even as he thought it, he knew how useless his resolve was. How could he ever NOT love a Padawan in his care? It was not in his nature, he knew to his dismay, to attempt to train a Padawan but reserve his heart, hold back in loving him or her. And any Jedi would hold him in contempt if he should try.

So, if he was to Accept a Padawan, he would be placing himself in the potential path of all that pain yet again... a pain from which, he knew, there was no recovering from twice...

"Soooo..." Bant cheerfully started in on her best friend, "who's on your list so far?" She'd caught up with Obi-Wan after noonmeal in, of all places, the library. "And what ARE you doing here of all places? The first competitions start in a half hour!"

"I know, I know," Obi-Wan murmured, eyes still glued to the data terminal screen before him. "Um...list?"

"Silly!" Bant slid onto the bench beside him and draped her long, salmon-colored arms around him. "Your list of Knights and Masters!"

"Oh, that, um..." Obi-Wan gave off trying to read. "I dunno, I haven't started one yet, I guess. I have three days before Indications come in, you know."

She clamped a hand onto his jaw, forcing him to look her right in her big, silver eyes. "Obi-Wan Kenobi, I think you must be sick... this is CHOOSING WEEK! You've been preparing for this your whole life! WHAT has gotten you so distracted?"

Obi-Wan grinned a silly grin, shrugging, letting his Mon Calamarian friend paw him. "Oh, Bant, I'm not sick..."

Bant looked at the screen for the first time. "Poetry? You're distracted by poetry? You ARE sick!"

He hastily shut down the screen. "It's nothing! All right, I've got to get to the arena... and I'll share my list with you soon, okay?"

"That's my Obi," she chortled, letting him up. "Come on, race you!"

At the main arena, Obi-Wan disappeared into the dressing room to prepare, coming back out a minute later wearing his practice leggings and short tunic, both of a lighter fabric than his Trainee's uniform of gray. He checked out a training lightsaber and tested it, then went to see when he was up. As he was looking at the wall display, a very tall figure cast a shadow on him from behind.

"Painter," murmured an unmistakable voice, "a word with you if I may..."

Obi-Wan whirled around to look up at the author of the poetry he'd just been reading. "Master Jinn!" [He's speaking to me!] His heart began to pound in anticipation. [He's really not mad? He called me *that* again...]

The man nodded a greeting, his mouth almost curved into a smile. He gestured toward an area away from the throng of Trainees around the wall display, then led the boy there. "Obi-Wan, I wanted to thank you for both of the gifts you gave me yesterday," the Master murmured, then laid fingertips on the boy's shoulder. "It was very thoughtful and generous of you. Thank you."

Obi-Wan felt a rush of joy burst through him. "So you'll be my friend? Really?"

Qui-Gon nodded, still only almost-smiling. "I would be honored." He touched a finger to the boy's cheek, then folded both his hands back in the sleeves of his robe. "Good luck in the competitions today, Painter," he added in a murmur.

"Why do you call me that? And thanks!" Obi-Wan was almost bouncing. [He TOUCHED me!]

"I suppose I call you that because it names one of the special talents you have," Qui-Gon said gently. The boy had edged closer so that he was almost brushing against the dark brown robe of the Master.

"Painting? Really?" Obi-Wan flushed, pleased and confused all at once. "I don't even do it anymore..."

"You should... you were very good at it. It is a remarkable gift to translate with the hand what the eyes, both inner and outer, may see." Qui-Gon spoke honestly, having looked up the boy's public folder in the Temple network. Obi-Wan's folder included scans of some of the paintings he'd done years ago, showing remarkable promise for one so young.

Each Jedi - Trainees through Masters - had a public and a private folder on the network. The public one contained anything other Jedi might be interested in - scans of art works, writings, mission reports, essays, articles. The private one was to be used as a personal journal and no one else had access to it. Later in the week, Trainees who had received Indications would explore the public folders of those Knights and Masters on their list as part of their discernment process.

"Inner... eyes?" Obi-Wan blinked at him, not understanding, though he felt a glow inside at the Master's praise of his talent.

Qui-Gon actually smiled this time. "We will discuss this at another time, little Painter. Now, I believe the competitions are starting. You'd better go."

Obi-Wan bounced up and down, happy. "See you later, Master Jinn!"

"Yes, later, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon replied as the boy took off.

All through the afternoon, Obi-Wan felt the Force at his side, in him, and around him. He won all his competitions handily... and when he wasn't on the floor, he automatically checked to see if the tall quiet Master was watching. Qui-Gon Jinn was sitting with a handful of Masters who weren't seeking Padawans, mostly Masters who did not take a Padawan because they were actively teaching at the Temple at present. Would Master Jinn speak to Master Nivmal about him?

And yes... occasionally... Qui-Gon Jinn did glance over his way. Obi-Wan felt a little warm flutter in the Force every time he caught the great Master looking in his direction.

Then, late in the afternoon, there would be a joint demonstration given by the Knights and Masters who were looking for Padawans. Eleven, there were, and Obi-Wan blew out the breath he'd been holding when Qui-Gon Jinn joined them at the last second. Twelve. They would be performing a high level exercise form, the Rygellian Wing, one that was not even taught to Padawans. It was a beautifully symmetrical piece, the lightsabers creating a spectacle of multicolored light as their bodies writhed and danced.

Obi-Wan had eyes only for his new friend, forgetting that he was supposed to be looking all the potential Masters over. Qui-Gon Jinn was amazingly graceful and fluid, despite the fact that he had such a big body, and several inches of height over the tallest Knight. The Trainee found himself staring, transfixed. Would he ever be a tenth as graceful as that? Could he ever fly half as good as that?

The applause was stupendous, the assembly, nearly the entire populace of the Temple, stamping and cheering their delight. The twelve bowed together, most grinning and laughing. Qui-Gon looked... exalted, with almost a look of wonder on his face. Obi-Wan memorized that look. [I will try to draw that... I think I can...]

Then a horde of Obi-Wan's friends, led by Bant and Garen, cornered him and pulled him down the hall to a more remote hallway where they could deal with him. "What, what?" Obi-Wan kept asking, bewildered, but no one would speak to him until the group was alone.

Bant, the ringleader, started in first. "Obi-Wan Kenobi, you are on the edge of throwing your entire life away and we're NOT going to let you do it!" The others heartily agreed, some frowning, some just looking worried.

"What ARE you talking about?!" Obi-Wan shouted back, shoving them away from him.

Garen said with a heavy sigh, "Oh, Obi, look at what you're doing! You are MOONING over Master Jinn..."

"Of ALL people!" Bant screeched in horror. "What is WRONG with you? You KNOW his past."

"He's NOT going to love you, Obi," another girl spoke up, just as vociferous. "That man has no love for anyone, especially himself."

"You're wrong..." Obi-Wan tried to say, but they weren't finished yet.

"He'll be cold and unfeeling toward you, Obi," Bant was saying, shaking him by the shoulders. "We can't let you attach yourself to... that."

"A Master is supposed to LOVE you, Obi," another boy spoke up earnestly. They were crowding around him closer now, clearly serious and clearly worried about him. "Jinn cannot love like that, not since his last Padawan dumped him. "Can you imagine trying to get close to THAT?"

Obi-Wan hadn't thought that far, and certainly had not honestly considered making Jinn his Choice. "You guys are crazy," he gasped, trying to pull away. "Besides, I'm NOT going to Choose him."

"Right," Bant sighed. "Denial, denial, denial. Obi-Wan, you're not thinking clearly. You watched only him all afternoon and I KNOW those were Jinn's poems you were reading on the network. Maybe you don't see what's happening, but we do." The group raised their voices in agreement then, echoing her concern.

"No, no... it's not like that," Obi-Wan tried to say. But his friends were hugging and touching him, their concern and caring washing over him whether he wanted it to or not.

Garen spoke again. "You want us to be blunt? Okay, Obi, we can do blunt. If you become Jinn's Padawan... you know what that means. He might touch you, kiss you, even make love to you as he should when you're a little older..."

"Oh, Gar, really..."

"No, I'm serious. Do you want a man having sex with you who can't love you? To show you love and how to love because he's supposed to, not because he wants to?"

The group felt silent. It was a Trainee's fear, to be Accepted and then to receive a Master's love out of duty. They all wanted to fall madly in love with their Masters and hopefully partner with them someday... or at least feel the comfort and safety of a closeness and love that would make them strong Jedi Knights. They did NOT want a Master who would go through the motions, pretend to love them.

Obi-Wan was crying now, as were a few of the others, including Garen and Bant. "," he stammered at last. "I don't want that. You... you're overreacting. I don't want Jinn for my Master, I swear!"

"Oh, Obi..." Garen sighed, pulling his friend into his arms, kissing his cheek. "We love you and we just want you to be happy, okay, buddy?"

Obi-Wan hugged his friend back hard. "Yeah. I know. Trust me, I haven't gone crazy, okay? But... thanks." How could he be upset that they were so concerned for him? He was lucky to have such loving friends.

The Trainees, arm in arm, went back to get cleaned up and dressed for nightmeal. Obi-Wan, in the middle of them, thought he caught a glimpse of a tall, dark figure leaving the arena, but he didn't dare look.

(continued in part 2)