In My End Is My Beginning

by Lilith Sedai (

Archive: M_A, SWAL, OKEB, QJEB

Category: AU, extreme angst, first-time

Rating: NC-17

Warnings: time-travel

Spoilers: Jedi Apprentice 1 and 2, TPM

Summary: Obi-Wan goes back in time and fixes a crucial omission in Qui-Gon's training.

Feedback: yes, please, any comments welcome.


This story contains a scene that is in response to a long-ago-issued picture challenge by the marvelously talented BlackRose.

Many thanks to the lovely Kate Evans for permission to use Master Shimoda.

Many thanks to Lorelei and Cori Lannam for betas and plot advice. With my typical deplorable impatience, I took this story back to post before the final beta was finished; any errors are solely my own responsibility.

Dedication: To T. S. Eliot, whose poetry reflects Qui-Gon's philosophy of living in the moment in many fascinating ways. I heartily recommend looking into The Four Quartets for further insight into Jedi philosophy. The poem is available in its four sections at the following URL's:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die.
Quick now, here, now, always--
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.
--T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets: Burnt Norton

Obi-Wan automatically brushed back the fall of his hair from where it tickled in his eyes. It was at the awkward stage -- six months' growth out of his Padawan buzz, far too short to tie back, just long enough to hang in his eyes and catch in his mouth. He was finding it exceptionally difficult to concentrate. He had been for some time, really. He scratched half-heartedly at his short beard. He knew he was only growing his hair because it reminded him of Qui-Gon, but the soul healers' suggestions to that effect had met with hostility and resentment. Obi-Wan would do as he pleased in this matter.

He listened to the soft sounds of Anakin mumbling to himself as he worked to construct his first lightsaber. The tickle of the training bond and the boy's unschooled sense and emotions were only part of his distraction. The boy needed practically no help with the task, and so Obi-Wan only spared half an ear to monitor his progress, moving to Master Shimoda's side instead as the Master struggled to hold together two recalcitrant components while attaching the screw plate that would hold them.

"Knight Kenobi." The Master spared him a sympathetic, friendly smile that only made Obi-Wan's stomach clench tighter. He was fed up with sympathy; every time someone looked at him that way it dragged him back, making him live that moment again. And again. And again.

"You need another arm," Obi-Wan commented, making his tone perfectly amiable. He would not displace his wrath onto one who offered only kindness.

Shimoda could have used the Force for assistance, but he liked working with his hands; the Master turned back to the contraption he was working on, gesturing for Obi-Wan to hold the casing as he tightened down the difficult screw-plate. The young Knight obliged, letting his mind wander.

Six months since his Master died on Naboo. Six months of training Anakin, building a teaching bond and trying to shield it from the ashes and ruin in his soul. Six months spent bearing the legacy and the load of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn on his shoulders, till he was sure he would stagger and fall to his knees. He had been ready to be Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight, but he had not been prepared to step into Qui-Gon Jinn's boots.

Survival had become a daily struggle against weariness, failure, and discovery. His very world seemed insubstantial compared to the pain of losing his Master. Compared to his heart-cry of loss, nothing seemed real or important, not even the Chosen One and the potential for danger in his training.

Obi-Wan straightened wearily as the bolt tightened. Master Shimoda clucked with satisfaction, and across the room Obi-Wan could see Anakin dropping the second crystal into its housing. Time to remind the boy to calibrate with utmost care. Obi-Wan stepped forward just as Shimoda activated the device he had assembled.

"No!" Shimoda threw out a warning hand, but it was too late; an energy discharge arced out and flared around the young Knight.

Anakin jerked his head up at the shout, mouth falling open in a cry of dismay. His Master was gone.

Obi-Wan Kenobi sagged against the rough cool stone of the temple wall. He struggled to lift his head. All his muscles and joints ached as though he'd been caught in a large-scale energy binder; his mind felt numb and his tongue thick. He felt a strong hand grip his shoulder suddenly, steadying him. "Master Shimoda?" he gazed up blurrily, trying to focus.

"Are you well, Knight?" Shimoda's face swam into focus over him, and Obi-Wan blinked hard, trying to clear his head.

"I..." Obi-Wan frowned, bracing himself against the wall. "I felt a surge and a flux in the Force," he mumbled, attempting to classify what he'd just experienced. "Almost... a displacement."

"That's unusual," Shimoda frowned a little absently. "I sense it too. A residual Force energy... mingled with some kind of electric discharge, I'd say. Most unusual!"

Obi-Wan's vision was clearing and he recognized the other Jedi's characteristic expression of inspiration and quick thought, as the Master reached forth a hand, testing the energy currents that wavered around him, obviously making rapid mental notes. He frowned, casting into his memory. Yes, he'd been with Master Shimoda, but not in the hall -- perhaps he'd been distracted, wandered out in a daze of thought, become disoriented when he returned to himself.

"You'd better see the healers, Knight," Shimoda suggested, a worried frown creeping onto his smooth brow. "I don't like the feel of your aura."

Obi-Wan bowed automatically. He might be a Knight, but Shimoda was still a Senior Master, and was to be obeyed -- his eyes jerked suddenly upward, to the smooth, uncreased face gazing down at him with worried benignity.

"No, I'm not feeling well," Obi-Wan admitted, struggling not to stare. "I shall go to the Healers." A Senior Master? But this man was only a few years older than Obi-Wan himself! He shook his head, frowning, trying to refocus.

"Shall I assist you?" The Master's concern was quickly growing, and he stepped forward -- without his characteristic limp -- and grasped Obi-Wan's arm gently.

"No, I can --" Obi-Wan halted in mid-word as a pair of Jedi strolled by, oblivious to them. Master Perth, and ... Master Cingilar. But Master Cingilar had died in an explosion when Obi-Wan was eight, the result of sabotage by an anti-Jedi faction on a diplomatic mission.

Obi-Wan boggled openly at the apparition of the long-dead Master. He could not be mistaken. The Malastairean had been missing his leftmost eye long before Obi-Wan's birth, a most distinctive characteristic indeed. Cingilar gave him a mild glance of reproach at the intense scrutiny, and continued on with dignity.

Shimoda was now truly concerned, moving a gently supportive arm around Obi-Wan's shoulders. "Come, Knight. You're not well."

Obi-Wan permitted himself to be led away, his feet dragging with shock. He glanced around the temple, searching wildly for landmarks. This was a dream, a hallucination. There was no way it could be ... real ... and with that thought, a group of initiates from the creche crossed before them, small ones led by Padawan supervisors, and Obi-Wan's gaze locked onto a tiny child dragging a battered stuffed wookiee. Four, at the most. Four, and still in the creche. The remnants of that wookiee still lay tenderly tucked into the bottom of a chest of Obi-Wan's most cherished possessions.

Obi-Wan almost dropped to his knees in front of the child, a low strangled cry in his throat, but Shimoda caught him quickly. "Padawan B'rai, help me please," Shimoda summoned her sharply. "This Knight isn't well. Jalani can take the children in to noonmeal."

Obi-Wan let himself be led away, conscious of the children's eyes following him. Of his own eyes following him. Obi-Wan Kenobi, age four at most.

Qui-Gon would be thirty-five.


Qui-Gon would be here.

Obi-Wan struggled suddenly against Shimoda's gentle grasp, trying to regain his own independent balance, and the Master watched narrowly, ready to catch him if he faltered again. It wasn't real. It wasn't real. Couldn't be. It was just another dream, another trick of the mind.

It was one of a thousand dreams he had dreamed of Qui-Gon Jinn since the day his Master died. He'd come to dread sleep. Each night in a hundred, in five hundred variations, Qui-Gon stepped toward him, reached out to him ... and died. Died anew, in dozens of ways, most often on the crimson blade of the Sith Obi-Wan had defeated, but at other times he merely vanished, whisked away, or crumbled and melted, withering before his helpless Padawan's eyes. Worst were the ones where he burned, flesh and hair and bone crisping to ashes. Obi-Wan was always paralyzed to stop it, as he had been the night his Master's corpse was publicly cremated.

And the dreams of death were not even the worst. In a hundred other visions brought to him by sleep, his Master lay in his arms as he never had in life. Touched him, held him, kissed him, made love to him ... only to vanish silently with the dawn, leaving Obi-Wan to awaken weeping in his lonely bed, the bed to which he had never dared invite Qui-Gon in life.

In yet other manifestations of torment, Obi-Wan argued with his Master and was shunned the moment he passed his Trials, or told Qui-Gon haltingly of his love and was rejected outright with cold contempt. In each of these, he invariably watched Qui-Gon walk away with Anakin Skywalker at his side and never look back.

The dreams were all cruel, in their way. Too cruel to believe, especially when they lied to him of love and beauty. Obi-Wan steeled himself. He would not endure the pain of looking upon a phantasm of his departed Master. It was best to leave the dead in peace. Indulging in such an obvious fantasy would only tie him to the past. It was a disservice to his own Padawan.

He reached deep into his mind, performing an awakening. Drawing himself to full consciousness, dissipating any web of sleep ... but there was nothing to dissipate. He was still here, locked into the prison of the unfolding moment. He opened his eyes to find himself being ushered into the Healers' chambers.

Perhaps he'd finally gone mad.

Obi-Wan laughed abruptly at the tantalizing nature of that thought, drawing a worried look from Shimoda. If this was madness ... then there were worse things to be endured, were there not?

Perhaps if this were madness, he never wished to awaken from it.

He let himself be pressed down to a cool metal exam table, enduring the hum and buzz and flickering lights of the diagnostic machinery, the laying on of hands and the warm tingle of healing Force energy that dissipated the last of his dizziness and headache. The Healer drew a blood sample and set it aside to be analyzed later.

"Your name?"

Obi-Wan panicked suddenly. He could not give a name that belonged to a four-year-old Initiate in the creche. "Ben Lars," he fumbled out his birth usename and his brother's surname, and it was received with a nod as the healer moved to access his records, typing the name into a console. "You're well, Knight Lars," the tall Bothan decreed. "But we don't have any record of you in Temple files. Where were you trained?"

Obi-Wan cast about for an acceptable story.

"In the Temple on Ako'ta," he stated, remembering his history. It had been destroyed when Ako'ta's primary star unexpectedly went supernova some short time before his birth, and many records had been lost.

The Healer nodded, reluctantly satisfied, and Obi-Wan relaxed, satisfied that his fiction would pass, at least for the moment. "May I go?" he inquired suddenly, raising himself from the chill surface of the table.

"Yes. If you hurry, you'll be just in time for noonmeal."

The Bothan speeded him out of the healing chambers cheerfully and Obi-Wan trotted down the hall, refusing to let himself think.

The buzz of cheerful noontime conversation filled his ears as he approached the main dining hall, and he slowed his steps deliberately, entering the room nonchalantly and joining the queue. He let himself be herded through a maze of bodies, focused intently on picking up his meal.

He requested servings of his favorites quietly, resisting the compulsion to turn his head and search the Masters' table. Chances were Qui-Gon would be away on a mission. Chances were he would not have come to the dining hall even if he were in the temple. Chances were ....

Obi-Wan kept his head down, woodenly heading for the Knights' section, refusing to let himself look. He sat alone, his back carefully rounded on the Masters' tables, and made himself dip his fork into the mashed j'tala root and take a bite.

And then he froze, the food forgotten in his mouth, as a laugh pealed forth behind him. A startled, pleased chuckle rising higher in a flight of pure, unselfconscious mirth unlike anything he had ever heard, and then drifting downward into a slow rumble of delight. He had never heard it utter such a laugh before... but he knew that voice. Knew it in a thousand moods and tones, from the cold whip-crack of anger to the warm caress of pride to the agonized husk of death.

Paralyzed, the fork between his lips, Obi-Wan felt that laugh rip through every defense he'd ever built as though it were the thinnest tissue. It made his tortured dreams seem like the vague, insubstantial wanderings they had truly been. The sheer, rich vitality of it! He realized abruptly that tears were streaming down his face, and he pulled the fork from his mouth with a trembling hand, dropping it onto his tray, feeling wild shudders of shock spread outward from the center of him, shaking him violently.

He drew his suddenly ice-cold hands into his lap, hunching his shoulders around the sunblaze of pain and longing that hearing the loved voice had kindled in him. This Qui-Gon didn't even know he existed.

It seemed that madness had found a way to torture him after all.

A hand fell on his shoulder, and he sensed Master Shimoda's aura. "You're still not well!" the older Jedi stated flatly. "Why did they release you?"

"I'm well," Obi-Wan mumbled. "I just ... I lost a loved one, very recently. I'm still not ...." His throat closed as Qui-Gon's distant voice poured over him, poured through him, the words indistinct.

Shimoda's attitude changed immediately, and the Jedi Master sat next to him, drawing Obi-Wan's hand out of his lap and clasping it. "It's very difficult," his voice was husky, but comforting. "But you will survive, and you will be reunited with your loved one again. There is no death. There is only the Force."

Reunited with his loved one again.

Obi-Wan's eyes rose from his cooling meal, drawn against his will, his chin lifting and turning, gaze sliding over the assembled Masters until it settled irrevocably on the source of his pain.

Long brown hair without even trace of silver flowed down over casually slumped shoulders. This Qui-Gon wore his hair somewhat longer than Obi-Wan remembered. One powerful hand lifted a glass to the laughing lips, paused there, tilted it to drink, and settled the glass to the table. Long legs shifted in the shadows, and one boot scraped back casually to hook around the leg of the bench as Qui-Gon leaned forward, lowering his voice to a confidential whisper.

Obi-Wan shivered hard, overwhelmed by longing, probing instinctively at the torn remnants of their training bond, and of course finding it dead and silent. Of course he was not bonded to this man. He was a four-year-old child in the creche. Qui-Gon would not even know he existed for another nine years!

Shimoda followed his gaze, puzzled. Obi-Wan swallowed. He had to get hold of himself or he would wind up strapped to a bed somewhere while soul-healers probed his mind and rooted out the secret that he didn't belong in this ... in this time. He tried to speak, could not, then scrabbled for his glass and drank. He tried again.

"I ... never thought ... I would hear anyone laugh like that again." As though he had ever heard Qui-Gon laugh that way. He hadn't. His Master had rarely even smiled ....

"I should have taken you to the soul healers," Shimoda frowned.

"No," Obi-Wan answered him emphatically, unable to stir his eyes from Qui-Gon's unaware form. "No. I don't believe I'll be needing them."

Qui-Gon was rising now, lifting his tray, still joking and teasing with his cronies, and Obi-Wan wrenched his gaze away before it could be seen, staring down at his dinner, absolutely unable to consider eating another bite of it.

It took many minutes to reassure Shimoda sufficiently that the Master was willing to leave him, but as soon as he left the dining hall, Obi-Wan sprang up and took his tray to the recycler. Perhaps some habits of Qui-Gon's were older than their relationship. Whatever the case, he could not rest until he had spoken with Qui-Gon Jinn.

He wandered by the practice arenas just in case before reporting to the quartermaster and obtaining temporary rooms. He meandered by again on his way to his new quarters. Still early. Too early. More than twenty years too early. Could the Force have brought him here, summoned by the strength of his longing, or was he truly mad? He didn't know. Didn't care. All he knew was that in this moment, Qui-Gon Jinn wasn't dead. Wasn't fully lost to him. All he might be granted was a few stolen, painful glimpses, perhaps a word or two ... but Qui-Gon was here.

He had few possessions to bring to his quarters, just the spare clothing he had obtained from the quartermaster, but he took a moment to settle in. It was useless to try to meditate, so he showered instead, feeling vaguely absurd, as though he were a nervous adolescent preparing for a blind date. His skeleton itched as though it would like to leap out of his skin.

When he was finished dressing in leggings and workout tunic, it was time. At least, he devoutly hoped it was.

He forced himself to take his time as he wandered past the practice arenas again, peering within and trying not to look like he was hunting for someone specific. Masters without Padawans tended to work out together in the late afternoon, and he knew Qui-Gon had often joined them when his Padawan was otherwise occupied.

Perhaps the Jedi Master's habit came of old.

Obi-Wan was not disappointed. His fist clenched tight on his lightsaber as he came to a halt and gazed into the next-to-last arena. He was unsure of the rankings of the men assembled inside; he could not remember when they might have attained the rank of Master or even if all of them had. But as a Knight, he was hesitant to enter without being certain ... until a shockingly young Mace Windu spotted him and gestured to him cordially.

"Come and join in." Mace gave him a warm smile, and Obi-Wan nearly flinched, as surprised by it as he had been by Qui-Gon's earlier laughter.

He stepped inside the room nonetheless, timidly moving to the end of the line that was forming to run through a warm-up kata. He had to overcome his tension; he could not embarrass himself. If he failed to make a good impression ....

Obi-Wan forced himself to relax into the kata, somehow managed to let it take him, conscious that his initial awkwardness was fading as the beauty of the routine devoured him.

When they finished the warm-up katas, they separated into sparring teams, and Obi-Wan found himself paired with a vaguely familiar face he was sure he ought to remember, but didn't quite. He did not let himself wonder about it, instinctively hugging the groove of motion he had attained during the kata, weaving his blade gracefully, falling into the Force thoroughly.

Winning was almost like waking. His opponent saluted him, and he blinked -- Adi Gallia? Amazing -- and they stepped aside to give the adjacent pairing more room to spar.

Adi led him into the observation bleachers, and Obi-Wan followed automatically, his attention elsewhere. Qui-Gon was still warming up in the corner of the room, bare to the waist, chest covered with a sheen of gleaming sweat, and Obi-Wan let himself watch surreptitiously.

The young Jedi Master was unbelievably beautiful. Obi-Wan had always thought so, always admired his Master's hard, lean form. His eyes had traced it a thousand times, had memorized each scar, each loosening of skin that came with age -- and the sum total of any flaws had only made the whole seem more precious and beautiful.

But if the older Qui-Gon had been beautiful ... the young man was a god. Obi-Wan struggled not to stare, and failed miserably.

Most of the scars Obi-Wan knew so well were not on him. Only a single tracery of whitened ridges marred the sculpted perfection of one shoulderblade. The deep chest was smooth and lightly furred, each muscle hard and sleekly defined. His hair floated with his motions, whipcracking around his body as he flowed through the practice routine with the deadly sleek grace of a viper. Force gathered around him, and Obi-Wan shut his eyes, seeing with his inner senses and instincts, watching it surround the man in a soft emerald aura, watching it gather in his hands as they moved through the postures of defense.

He was unimaginably quick, too quick for the eye to follow as he speeded the routine, and Obi-Wan suddenly realized he was showing off a little for the scrutiny of the curious stranger. Obi-Wan blushed hard and opened his eyes, heart rising to his throat, but he could not stop watching. This man was at the sheerest peak of his physical ability, perfection embodied.

Adi nudged him amiably. "He's the best we have," she confided. "None of us can touch him." She observed Obi-Wan closely, noting the depth of his blush, a small smile flickering on her face. "Qui-Gon has this same effect on nearly everyone he meets," she confided to Obi-Wan. The young Knight nodded dazedly. He could well believe it.

"I don't doubt that he does," Obi-Wan breathed, and he didn't. Not at all.

The sparring continued until all the pairs in the room had finished their battles, and then the victors stepped forth for a second pairing. Qui-Gon still had not fought, and he did not join in the combat yet. Obi-Wan belatedly cast about for a partner, discovering that Mace Windu was the only one left. Of course. Few people would want to battle the second-best warrior in the room, only to ensure their elimination at this early stage of the contest.

He cautiously watched a sparkle of anticipation light the future councilor's eyes as they saluted one another ritually, each sizing up his opponent. It was going to be tough ... but Obi-Wan was going to win, if it killed him.

He was sweating and winded when he finally managed to fool Windu with a feint and scored what was adjudged a killing blow. Their battle had lasted much longer than the others, and as Obi-Wan switched off his saber, he realized Qui-Gon was watching him just as frankly and as intently as Obi-Wan had watched him earlier.

The sensation of those eyes on him made him shiver, and he watched Qui-Gon's eyebrow climb the slightest fraction of an inch at his unexpected reaction. Defiantly Obi-Wan lifted his chin and clipped his saber to his belt, not breaking the gaze. He couldn't have if he'd wanted to.

The indigo eyes judged him slowly and thoroughly as he strode off the mat, and Obi-Wan felt himself drawn to them, slanting away from Adi's seat in the observation bleachers.

Each step toward Qui-Gon increased the thunder of his heart. He steeled himself to stop a few feet away from the silent Master, acknowledging the slight nod with a small bow. If he had moved another inch forward, he would have surrendered to the compulsion to reach and place his palm on that unsullied chest, to verify for himself the undamaged skin, to know the unfaltering beat of the strong heart.

Obi-Wan drew a deep breath, trying not to let his extreme agitation and increasing arousal show, redirecting his focus outward to the ring. A third round of matches commenced, and he forced himself to watch them, keenly aware of Qui-Gon stepping closer to his shoulder. He held himself rigidly still, recovering control of his respiration -- at least insofar as the older man's presence permitted.

Three victors finally emerged, and Mace stepped out into the ring, drawing them together into a small conference. Of course. There were an odd number of combatants; the progression of fights was slightly disrupted by Obi-Wan's presence. One winner would have to fight an extra match, an unfair disadvantage. At last Windu stood forth.

"The victors concede their chance for battle," Mace announced. "It is decided that there will be one final combat." Mace turned slightly toward Qui-Gon. "Master Jinn will face ..." Mace paused, gazing at Obi-Wan expectantly.

"Knight Ben Lars," he responded, the name coming more easily from his tongue this time. Windu nodded.

"Master Jinn will face Knight Ben Lars to determine today's champion," he restated, and bowed from the ring.

Obi-Wan flinched as Qui-Gon's voice suddenly purred in his ear. "I have fought Master Windu at each final combat in this ring for six years." The Jedi Master stepped forward into the ring, and Obi-Wan followed him automatically. "Until you defeated him today."

"Indeed?" Obi-Wan was shocked to hear challenge in his voice, careless with bravado. "And how many times have you won?"

"More often than I care to count," Windu supplied dryly from the sidelines, and a chuckle swept through the stands.

"It only takes one mistake to lose." Obi-Wan's voice fell to a hiss. He heard his own words with distant shock, entirely unprepared for the crashing tide of angry despair that suddenly overwhelmed him. "And when you make it ... I will be there." The Jedi Master blinked with surprise as the young Knight advanced without saluting, bringing his lightsaber sweeping up in a swift slash.

Obi-Wan shoved the wild surge of rage and grief into his lunge, sparks spitting from the tangling blades, and saw Qui-Gon's eyes go ice-cold and narrow to slits. Obi-Wan feinted and directed a second savage blow to Qui-Gon's thigh, had to scramble and roll to parry the reversal, bouncing off the mat and onto his feet. He launched himself in a flip over the Master's head, striking swiftly downward, the blow barely countered. When he came up on his feet, Qui-Gon had drawn back slightly, eyes still narrowed. "You fight with anger," the Jedi Master commented coldly, and waded in again, blade flashing.

On the defensive, Obi-Wan parried and riposted, the force of the blows shuddering his joints. More speed. More power. His grasp of the Force was indeed muddied by his warring emotions, but he knew Qui-Gon's fighting style intimately, and the Master had no idea of that. It gave him enough advantage to hold his ground, even as the battle escalated.

Obi-Wan tried to settle himself, tried to regain his concentration, but every emotion he had ever felt toward Qui-Gon was welling in him, surging violently through him, threatening to destroy the composure he clung to by his fingernails. He rolled desperately on the mat, barely evading a thrust that would have skewered him, and found himself on the point of tears as he leaped to his feet and danced away from the renewed attack. Grief was more crippling than anger and the green blade scorched the shoulder of his tunic, so he dove back into rage, finding a sharpness there suddenly that energized him, driving him forward viciously, setting Qui-Gon on his heels.

He could sense the unease of the spectators, but he didn't care, driving Qui-Gon before him savagely, whipping his body about faster than thought, straining beyond the edge of his abilities until his body screamed in protest, his lightsaber whining and crackling through the air, anticipating and intercepting the Master's blows almost before they were launched.

And then there it was. The opening -- the tiniest flicker of vulnerability, but he had been looking for it, he knew it was there, and to him, it loomed as large as a canyon. Agonized, he watched as his fist shot forward and the hilt of his saber cracked viciously against Qui-Gon's chin, snapping the older Jedi's head back with stunning force. Instantly Obi-Wan's finger released the blade, and he drove the now-harmless hilt against the exact center of that broad, solid chest. "You're dead," he choked, then turned and fled.

Qui-Gon just stood behind him, stunned, startled, and beaten.

His temporary quarters felt safely empty and anonymous. He hoped they might be a sanctuary where he could not be found, rooted out, and forced to face either reality or unreality. He laid his lightsaber on the dresser with trembling fingers and curled up in the center of the narrow bed, struggling to empty himself.

He couldn't even begin. Couldn't catalogue or soothe the wild, ragged torrent of emotions and images that tormented him now. Numbly he wondered if he wished to be back in his own time, with his own Padawan -- this wasn't real, couldn't be true, and he couldn't bear it. He couldn't bear the absence of the training bond that should have linked him to the mind and soul of the Master he had just defeated so savagely in battle, couldn't endure the pain of Qui-Gon not recognizing him, of Qui-Gon not caring a whit for him, of Qui-Gon's happiness and completeness and easy laughter with anyone and everyone but Obi-Wan. His Master had been so much happier before Obi-Wan came into his life! Maybe he wouldn't have died if he hadn't taken Obi-Wan as his Padawan.

The door chimed.

He froze, feeling the inevitable aura that awaited in the hall, and curled back into himself again, refusing to answer.

It slid open anyway.

"Adi spoke to Master Shimoda earlier, and she came to me after the contest." The soft comment struck him like a whip, and he flinched from the gentle tones. "She said you'd recently lost someone you loved. From the looks of you, I'd say you lost them to that very strike." He hesitated, tone growing tender. "You're a very young Knight. Was it your Master?"

Obi-Wan felt an ugly laugh welling in him, and voiced it -- it was better than weeping. So he was to be the pet project of the day, was he? The valueless, pathetic life-form of the moment, hanging around this Qui-Gon's neck like a ridiculous Knighted version of Jar-Jar Binks?

"Yes," he answered, laboring for words, the pain of that laugh still ringing between them. He knew that ugliness and rage laced his speech, but he could not stop the angry words from escaping him. "He was an arrogant fool. He pressed ahead against a superior opponent while I was delayed." Obi-Wan felt a sudden irrational surge of resentment and hatred -- how dare this man live, when his Qui-Gon was dead? "But it didn't matter. He'd already abandoned me; I'm not surprised he thought my help was worthless. One moment he was patting my shoulder telling me that I had much yet to learn, and the next instant he'd taken another Padawan and told the Council I could learn nothing more from him, and insisted I take my Trials so they could be left in peace --!"

Obi-Wan felt all his rage gathering, a dark tide in him, but knew he couldn't stop it now, rising from the bed and stalking forward, one hand rising to Qui-Gon's chest as he had so longed to do earlier, slapping hard against the bruise from the hilt of his saber. "I watched while the Zabrak we fought shoved his blade through my Master's chest," he hissed, pushing Qui-Gon backward. "I fought the killer myself, and damn near died, and when I went to tend my Master, do you know what his only words were to me?" He heard his voice rising to a rage-choked bellow. "Do you!? I'll tell you what he said. He said 'Promise me you will train the boy!' And then he died in my lap!"

He halted suddenly, the torrent of words cut as though the hose that fed it had been pinched in mid-flow, and he realized that he had forced Qui-Gon all the way up against the far wall of the small room. The Jedi Master was gazing down at him with deep pity, and Obi-Wan snatched his hand away as though it had been seared.

"Perhaps your Master did not deserve the depth of your commitment to him," Qui-Gon stated quietly, a mild observation that struck savagely to the heart of Obi-Wan's pain. "Do not let yourself be turned because of his folly."

Turned. Setting aside Qui-Gon's pity and the irony of his observation, Obi-Wan examined the word dispassionately. Yes, he'd been feeling more than enough hatred for it, the dark emotions surging through him even now, enough that it would take a month or more of meditation to purge them fully. "What does it matter?" he spat. "Perhaps I'd prefer to turn and be killed, and be done with it."

"I would not be willing to see you turn." The words were soft and simple and tender, and they ached in Obi-Wan's heart. "You are a fine Knight, an incredible fighter." There was no envy in the last statement, merely fact, but Obi-Wan laughed bitterly again, turning away. "And a good man," Qui-Gon finished quietly, moving up to lay a strong palm on Obi-Wan's shoulder.

"What do you know of me?" Obi-Wan scoffed.

"Enough." Qui-Gon's voice was mild and soothing, and Obi-Wan suddenly wanted nothing more than to turn around, burrow into that broad chest, and weep, but he could not. "Enough to know that a Master would have to be a fool to neglect a beautiful Padawan who clearly cared for him very much."

Obi-Wan jerked away from the gentle touch, wrapping his arms around himself, trying to hold together the last shards of his control. "Is that so." Ironic bitterness without measure in his voice. "Perhaps the galaxy is full of fools then, Master Qui-Gon Jinn."

"Perhaps." The easy response came in the same soft tones, unaffected by Obi-Wan's bitter comments. "What have you done in the days since your Master's death?"

Obi-Wan didn't want to lie, so he merely shrugged. "Not a lot."

"Have you any companions?"

Obi-Wan grimaced and gave a half-shake of his head.

"Perhaps those are facets of your trouble." Qui-Gon paused briefly. "The Council has asked me to protect the new Minister of Havar until he can be inducted to his official position in the government. The elections begin in two days, and there have already been hostilities between political factions. Some on the Council suspect that there may be attempts to assassinate the victor. I was to have taken my former Padawan to Havar with me, but she was called away to attend the wedding of a particular friend, and cannot accompany me. I would be honored if you agreed to come in her stead, Knight Lars."

Obi-Wan, partly shocked out of his self-pity, stared at the Master with disbelief. Havar ... the name was familiar. Yes, there had been an assassination attempt on the newly elected Minister. This was a story that Obi-Wan had heard many times, and it corresponded with a set of scars his Qui-Gon had borne until the day of his death. It was a tale of going on a hazardous mission without backup, a decision that had nearly resulted in disaster.

"I will go," Obi-Wan heard himself accept automatically, in spite of the knowledge that to the Jedi Master he was just another stray, another pet project of dubious worth. Protecting his Master's back was his job, whether Qui-Gon knew it or not. And with those words of acceptance, his tenuous emotional balance jerked abruptly, and he was grounded once again in the familiar -- once again undertaking the duties of a Padawan to this Master who would be his.

Even as the familiar role steadied his mind, the smile that met his announcement caught his breath, leaving him helpless and almost gasping. Qui-Gon's expression was one of unselfconscious pleasure and warmth untempered by any vestige of sternness or reserve. "Good," Qui-Gon approved his decision, reaching forward and laying his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder again, warmly. "I think we can learn much from one another."

"Starting with the guard for that attack," Obi-Wan recognized the tone of demand in his voice, felt a flicker of hysterical humor rising behind it and shunted it aside, staring seriously into the taller man's eyes.

"Indeed," Qui-Gon nodded, his smile curving upward again easily. He did not move his hand, letting his eyes rest on Obi-Wan's for a long moment. Obi-Wan blinked suddenly, feeling his heart begin to race. It was polite and subdued, but there was unmistakable interest in that gaze; Qui-Gon was clearly examining his face and admiring what he saw. Furthermore, he wasn't moving his hand even as he saw Obi-Wan recognize his interest for what it was. The young Knight waited, almost breathless, to see what would happen next.

After a long moment, Qui-Gon dropped his hand lazily, gazing around Obi-Wan's room. "This place isn't very welcoming," he observed quietly. "I am between Padawans, and our transport will leave early in the morning cycle. There is a vacant set of rooms in my suite that you could use for the night, if you like."

Obi-Wan nearly laughed again, but he felt shy pleasure welling in him. Little though Qui-Gon realized, he'd just offered Obi-Wan rooms that were in a way rightfully his. How could he refuse? And there was that look Qui-Gon had given him ... combined with the offer of shared living quarters, it might almost amount to a very subtle pass. Almost. If Obi-Wan hadn't known Qui-Gon as well as he did, he would have thought it tantamount to one -- physical relationships between Knights and Masters were fairly common and ranged from casual liaisons to bonded pairs, but he knew his Master would not consider taking advantage of anyone in his emotional condition. No, though it might eventually lead to more, this offer was meant solely as a gesture of kindness and friendship.

More's the pity, his heart whispered, but he was already gathering his things.

Still, as he left his temporary room he had begun to accept that the absence of the formal training relationship between himself and this Qui-Gon might not be such a bad thing after all.

Within the half-hour he was settled in the breezy rooms he knew so well. Sparsely furnished with a scattering of Qui-Gon's possessions, they seemed at once familiar and alien, but his bed was neatly made and the thick woven rug on the floor was the same, warm and soft to his feet. He had not shut the door to the shared parlor even though he knew he ought to do that in order to respect the Master's privacy, but he could not bear to mute the soft noises of Qui-Gon going about his life in the next rooms. His life. Qui-Gon alive. Alive and young and beautiful and untainted by the resentment of unwanted duties owed Obi-Wan, of responsibility for a Padawan who had been forced on him and whose deep affection he had ultimately chosen casually to ignore ....

He felt himself on the edge of tears again and swallowed hard. Time to settle and meditate. If he were to be useful to Qui-Gon on this mission, he couldn't fall apart every time a stray thought crossed his mind.

Sinking to his knees on the soft rug, he composed his mind. He sank into deep meditation, aided by the soft, low aura of Qui-Gon's familiar, soothing presence in the adjoining rooms.

When he came back to himself at last, Coruscant's sun had set and a delicious scent of frying palu hung in the air. It was one of Qui-Gon's favorites. Obi-Wan smiled and stretched, rising to his feet. His Master had never liked to go to the evening meal in the dining hall, preferring the quiet comfort of his quarters. Obi-Wan had learned to prepare this particular dish for him quickly and had often fried the thick strips of white-veined fruit himself, flipping them agilely in the pan as Qui-Gon had shown him, with the slightest cheat of Force ensuring that they would re-settle and brown evenly.

Obi-Wan slipped out of his rooms quietly, following the familiar sizzle toward the small kitchen. He smiled, tears stinging his eyes -- the small table held partial place-settings for two. He slipped into the kitchen and unobtrusively began to gather the remainder of the utensils for a meal, pouring milk and hunting till he found the herbs Qui-Gon liked to add fresh at the table, setting them out quietly. It was all so familiar, so easy, and it very nearly wrung his heart when he let himself consider it -- so he didn't, moving automatically. He timed his work so that he was finished just as the palu was done. Qui-Gon served the portions and they sat to eat in quiet companionship.

Obi-Wan felt shy and found no words, instead forking up a slice of palu and chewing it, savoring its delicate salt-sweet flavor. The silence between them was not heavy. Qui-Gon crushed the tender herbs between his fingers, their light crisp scent filling the air, and seasoned his portion, offering them to Obi-Wan. He'd always preferred his palu plain, and he refused politely, the interchange uncomfortably reminding him of the illusory nature of this intimacy.

Qui-Gon tilted his head a little, puzzled, and set the herbs aside; Obi-Wan realized that he had slipped slightly. How had he known to fetch the herbs, if they were not his own preference? But the Jedi Master shrugged the small event aside and continued with his dinner.

"You're feeling better," he observed, and Obi-Wan shied slightly, but Qui-Gon reassured him with a warm look. "Don't feel guilty, Ben," the older Jedi advised. "It's called living. I'm sure your Master would not want you to spend the rest of your life suffering for the sake of his memory."

"No, Master Jinn. He wouldn't," Obi-Wan admitted softly, moving his second slice of palu about his plate with his fork.

"This isn't the Council chamber," Qui-Gon laughed softly. "Call me Qui-Gon." He gestured to Obi-Wan's plate. "And your palu is getting cold."

Obi-Wan smiled a little. "Yes, Qui-Gon." He lifted his fork to his lips. "It's very good."

They finished the meal in companionable quiet, and Qui-Gon rose, moving to the low couch, stretching out with a collection of treatises on metaphysical ethics. It was an old-fashioned book, one of the few non-electronic texts Qui-Gon owned. The cover was less worn than Obi-Wan remembered, but he recognized it as a favorite of his Master's. As a Padawan, he had spent many a dull evening struggling to comprehend its contents, seeking the answer to a koan or situational problem posed by the Jedi Master, or interpreting the arcane vagaries of a lengthy symbolic poem.

"Heavy fare after a light meal," Obi-Wan commented, smiling in spite of himself.

"Master Ts'e's seventh ethical paradox," Qui-Gon murmured. "It's fascinating."

Obi-Wan could have begged to differ, a smirk playing on his lips. He gave in to a devilish whim of mischief. "To refuse to act in anticipation of prophecy is to destroy the validity of the prophetic vision," he volunteered, intimately familiar with Qui-Gon's views on the subject. His Master held to them adamantly even though the official position of the Jedi was that no action should be taken on visions of an uncertain future.

"Is it?" Qui-Gon smiled, a light of wickedness in his own eyes. Obi-Wan blinked, caught off-guard, and then grinned suddenly, realizing that Qui-Gon had taken on the role of devil's advocate, a favorite tactic he often employed when arguing ... with equals.

"Interference in the time-line alters the future outcome," Obi-Wan stated the theorem that was the more popular logical application of the paradox.

"But does prophecy not by nature incorporate the eventuality of such interference?"

"That can't be proven," Obi-Wan returned smartly. "Thus the paradox."

Qui-Gon leaned back, a mellow light of good humor in his eyes. "Then you claim you can influence the future by changing the present?"

Obi-Wan hesitated, heart suddenly wrenching with pain and hope. "Yes," he whispered. "I can."

A spark leaped in the room, and Qui-Gon leaned forward, gaze gaining intensity. "But what of predestined futures? Master Yoda argues that for each decision made, each action taken, there is an alternate timeline, and an infinite number of potential continua, each one inevitably destined to pursue a certain course throughout eternity."

"That does not contradict the theorem. One should always endeavor to act in such a way that one inhabits the timeline most suited to one's own values and preferences," Obi-Wan responded.

"But if all potentials exist, then all futures are inevitable." Qui-Gon parried quickly, eyes sparkling with enjoyment of the discussion. "'If all time is eternally present / All time is unredeemable... / What might have been is an abstraction / Remaining a perpetual possibility / Only in a world of speculation,' he quoted, a poem Obi-Wan recognized as one of his Master's favorites. "Therefore, action changes nothing."

"Action changes the subjective experience of the universe," Obi-Wan contradicted him softly. "And since the nature of all beings' experience of the moment is subjective, action changes all. 'The roses / Had the look of flowers that are looked at,'" he responded, and Qui-Gon's eyes brightened with delight when his allusion was recognized and answered. Obi-Wan bowed, acknowledging his pleasure. "Even subatomic quantum particles' makeup responds to observation," he pointed out.

"Perhaps. From a certain point of view." The Jedi Master smiled.

"Don't all the truths we cling to depend upon our own chosen point of view?" Obi-Wan knew he had faltered when Qui-Gon's eyes lit up again.

"You presume the existence of choice!" The Jedi Master's broad finger stabbed toward him victoriously.

"Because in my subjective experience, choice is all that matters!" Obi-Wan was laughing, knowing that he was beaten semantically though his premise was far from disproven. Qui-Gon joined in his laughter a moment later, closing the book.

"Well-argued after a hard day of battle and painful healing," he complimented Obi-Wan, setting the thick tome aside. "Thank you for indulging my favorite obsession."

"And thank you for your kindness and hospitality," Obi-Wan replied immediately.

Qui-Gon laughed suddenly, the same bright mellow sound Obi-Wan had heard at lunch, and Obi-Wan stared, fascinated by the pleased humor on the young, familiar face, by the stretch of the long throat and the crinkle of the eyes, the white even teeth and the brief glimpse of the tongue behind them. "You'll soon discover my selfish motives there, as well," Qui-Gon confided. "How could I not want to study the thinking of the first Knight to defeat me in battle since Mace Windu was raised to Master? Of course I have to have you under my eye and figure out everything about you, discover how you managed it, learn how to keep you from coming out on top."

The words were harsh, but the tone was light. And there was that flicker of eyes again, that subtle suggestion of more. There was that quiet and unobtrusive confession of attraction in the warm gaze, and a suggestion of flirting in his teasing tone, a hint of potential innuendo behind his words.

"I'll have to be very careful then, so that you don't discover my secrets." Obi-Wan matched the tone in every nuance and deliberately dropped his eyes and then raised them, casually moving them along the line of the lazy, lounging body. He couldn't believe he was doing this, couldn't believe it was so easy, but when his eyes wandered back to Qui-Gon's, that spark leaped again, harder, mustering tangible heat.

Qui-Gon rose with leonine grace and set the book on the shelf, moving toward his guest slowly and in stages. Obi-Wan felt himself flush with desire, watching those graceful movements, understanding he was their oblique target. He stood his ground, lifting his head to gaze up into that tranquil face as it moved in front of him. This time both heavy palms fell on his shoulders as the Jedi Master stepped delicately into his personal space, their robes rustling together.

"Sleep well, Ben. I'll wake you in the morning." Qui-Gon smiled down into his eyes, lingering close for a long moment, and then he very simply leaned forward and brushed his lips against Obi-Wan's forehead, a chaste, friendly kiss. Those broad hands squeezed the young man's shoulders lightly and the Jedi Master moved away as gracefully as he had approached, leaving the younger man trembling with need behind him.

The transport to Havar was well-equipped, comfortable, and efficiently designed. It gave Obi-Wan an opportunity to enjoy Qui-Gon's company, and as the days passed, he felt his anger and grief slowly draining away, eased by the older man's patient serenity and the new warmth and easy manner. They worked out a counter to the Sith's attack together, and Obi-Wan drilled the Master with it obsessively, always alert for other openings in Qui-Gon's defenses, learning to bolster holes in his own as he was forced to compensate for the speed and agility of youth in the other man.

Obi-Wan's advantage faded quickly as Qui-Gon learned his techniques, and after the second round of sparring he had to concede that there was little chance he would defeat the Master again. He simply relaxed and let himself enjoy the wild, pulse-pounding activity, luxuriating in sweat and sore muscles, knowing that they meant one thing: that he was back with the man who meant more to him than any other thing in the universe, himself included.

For his part, Qui-Gon maintained the driving pace of practice and the slower progression of mild flirtation between them, content to teach and to learn and to let the dynamics of their relationship build naturally. Obi-Wan knew that this naturalness was important, and he contented himself to wait as well. Qui-Gon hardly knew him, he reminded himself. For anything to work between them, he had to earn the older man's trust and respect. Physical attraction was good, but it was not enough basis for the kind of relationship he craved with the older man.

He had begun to believe that the universe had somehow smiled on him, and that this opportunity would be his forever.

As their ship descended to its landing site next to the Havar grand glacier, he felt the Master's presence behind him, and joyously anticipated the familiar hand that always settled on him in quiet greeting. Today it fell at the small of his back, and he shivered just a little with pleasure as Qui-Gon moved to his side. There was inviting warmth in the slow smile, acknowledging his physical reaction. The spark was building between them steadily, and Obi-Wan sensed that soon it might break forth into wildfire. He unobtrusively moved a half-step closer, his shoulder brushing Qui-Gon's chest, and the hand slid around his waist to settle at the side of his hip, its heat penetrating his thick cloak and the layered tunics and leggings he wore.

"We'll have to take care, Qui-Gon." Obi-Wan murmured. "I sense discord and trouble."

"Mmmmm, you're right, Ben." The Jedi Master's eyes slid shut and he reached out with his senses, brushing the edges of Obi-Wan's mind, seeking Obi-Wan's impression and extending it. "An assassination attempt seems likely."

"My thoughts precisely." Obi-Wan dared to rest a little weight against that broad chest, and he slid his hand across his robe till it found Qui-Gon's and covered it.

A pleased rumble purred in the chest against him, and warm lips ghosted against his hair. Obi-Wan shivered with longing, his clasp on Qui-Gon's hand firming, pressing it tight against him.

"One of us will have to stay with the victorious candidate at all times," Qui-Gon murmured regretfully, and nuzzled his beard against Obi-Wan's ear. Obi-Wan shivered again at the sensation, and at the implicit promise in the otherwise discouraging statement.

"I think we both should," Obi-Wan suggested. "We can sleep in shifts. I'll rest better knowing I'm there to guard your back if you need me."

"I was right about one thing," Qui-Gon mused, apropos of nothing.

"What's that?" Obi-Wan turned to meet the blue gaze, so close to him.

"Your Master was indeed a fool." Qui-Gon bent forward suddenly, and his mouth closed over Obi-Wan's.

The young Knight sank into the embrace like a stone into a pond, opening mouth and heart simultaneously. He slid his arms under the heavy mane of silky hair, clasping them around Qui-Gon's neck, pulling himself up to meet Qui-Gon levelly, straining against the larger man's body with all the force of his pure passion. His tongue darted desperately against Qui-Gon's as he thoughtlessly drove the kiss deep, the impact of years of yearning and the magnitude of the loss he had endured pushing him past any pretense at restraint.

Qui-Gon responded instinctively after a moment's startled hesitation, clasping Obi-Wan gently to him. Obi-Wan felt the Master firming against him, an impressive erection hardening rapidly, and he shifted his own to press against it, groaning throatily into the kiss, feeling Qui-Gon's response spiraling out of control to meet his demands, the older man's desire mounting urgently.

A quiet cough drove them apart and Qui-Gon recovered first, turning to face the diffident pilot. Her face was red to the tips of her ears and her gaze was carefully averted.

"Urgent message from the Council on Coruscant, Master Jedi. Confidential eyes-only information regarding the mission," she managed to mumble before she fled toward the cockpit.

Obi-Wan stepped back, flushing crimson as he realized how far his control had slipped, hoping that he hadn't damaged things between them, but Qui-Gon favored him with a sly smile from kiss-crushed lips. "The diplomats will be waiting," he tilted his head toward the hatch. "Entertain them for a moment while I take this transmission. It could be crucial information."

"Yes, Qui-Gon." Obi-Wan drew himself together quickly, unable to entirely defeat the smile on his face as he watched the Jedi Master step into the access corridor and vanish in the direction of the cockpit.

As the outer hatch began to lower, servomotors whining, he made himself turn away and lift his hood, assuming the quiet, mystic demeanor expected of a Jedi Knight.

The initial round of greetings went well in spite of Qui-Gon's delayed arrival, Obi-Wan extending every ounce of his diplomatic skill and charm, immediately soothing the worries of the young Havar who had been confidently declared the Minister-elect, based on an overwhelming majority with eighty percent of the planetary vote tallied. Obi-Wan invited the young Havar and his party onboard to be carried to the governmental compound where they would stay pending the induction ceremonies, courteously settling them in a prepared waiting area. He straightened, sensing Qui-Gon's approach.

The older man's eyes were veiled and opaque beneath his hood, and a chill settled over the victory party as he extended formal greetings, as distant and aloof as Obi-Wan had ever seen Qui-Gon become. Obi-Wan sighed as the politicians shot one another nervous glances, feeling that all his good work had been undone. In more ways than one-- he stepped to Qui-Gon's side to offer tacit support and comfort, but the elder Jedi glided away pointedly, leaving him hurt and rebuffed.

It was some time before they reached the compound, but Qui-Gon avoided all of Obi-Wan's subtle attempts to communicate, and eventually the young Jedi gave up, settling into the slough of despair he had so recently thought far behind him. Obi-Wan silently hovered next to the young Minister, wordlessly appointing himself the personal bodyguard, and let Qui-Gon run point as they entered the compound swiftly.

Obi-Wan's sharp eyes scanned every corner, ever ready for attack, but his danger sense told him that it would not be today, and it proved correct -- their settling in the compound, the evening meal, and preparations for rest went without a hitch. Obi-Wan took it on himself to direct that a pallet be laid in the Minister's rooms, ensuring first that the Minister's assigned quarters were in an interior room and posting guards at every possible ingress, including ventilation ductwork. Qui-Gon stood silent the while, seeming to listen to something deep inside himself, and the guards and aides avoided him nervously, seeming more fearful of the Jedi Master than of the possibility of assassins.

At last the complex was settled for the night, and Obi-Wan discarded his robes, sitting crosslegged on the pallet. Qui-Gon leaned inside the single doorway, staring hawklike into the empty anteroom as though he expected assassins to burst in from every direction at any moment. Sighing, Obi-Wan raised himself and moved next to the Jedi Master, a silent refusal to be set aside any longer. He wove a shield of silencing closely around the Minister's bed so that they might speak unheard.

"The communication from the Council seems to have troubled you, Master Jinn," he murmured, head perfectly still, gaze directed forward.

Qui-Gon's head never moved, but his hand dipped deep in a pocket of his robes, withdrawing a data reader and tilting its small screen so that Obi-Wan might read it.

***Urgent communication re: Knight Ben Lars. Identity confirmation check failed. No record of Knight Ben Lars originating from any Jedi training facility. Background story falsified. Genetic scans confirm identity mismatch. Council demands return of Knight Lars for immediate questioning and disposition. Possible espionage/cloning/covert interference from unspecified agency. Proceed with utmost caution. Knights being dispatched for Havar mission. Remain if possible until replacements arrive but exercise best discretion. Master Adi Gallia.***

Obi-Wan suddenly found it impossible to breathe. Of course they suspected cloning; his DNA would show an immediate and perfect match for one of their own Initiates. His story had been laughably thin from the beginning. He hadn't expected it to have to withstand any sort of scrutiny; at the time he'd composed it, he'd more than half-believed he was hallucinating.

Qui-Gon's thumb struck the delete key with a savage stab and he stowed the data reader quickly in its capacious pocket.

Obi-Wan's chest hurt as though he'd run for miles in a low-oxygen atmosphere; he wanted to curl around the pain until he vanished. The accusing azure-agate eyes scorned him. He could feel Qui-Gon's pain as sharply as his own.

"Who are you?"

Obi-Wan opened his mouth, but the words were choked deep inside him by the memory of a tiny Initiate, dragging his absurd stuffed toy by one arm, innocently marching into the dining hall for noonmeal. If he told Qui-Gon, what would happen to that child? With luck he had taught the Master what he needed to survive the Sith's attack. How could he condemn that child to a future without the Master who waited for him on Bandomeer? Could he in good conscience condemn that little boy to the Agricorps? His own selfish chances with Qui-Gon were clearly ruined. When the Council got hold of him ... Obi-Wan winced. They would send him back, if they could -- send him back to a time where Qui-Gon Jinn was dead and gone and Obi-Wan was abandoned, left alone to struggle and perhaps fail in training the Chosen One.

Perhaps young Obi-Wan Kenobi would succeed where the older one had failed -- he would be given the extra chance that Qui-Gon's unexpected death would otherwise have denied him. If only Obi-Wan could have arranged somehow for Qui-Gon Jinn to avoid Naboo and Tatooine so that Anakin would not come between them ....

Qui-Gon was waiting, tense, for his explanation. Obi-Wan let his mouth quirk upward in a hard, humorless grin. "I am Master Ts'e's seventh ethical paradox," he remarked lightly and turned back into the room, aware that the Jedi Master's eyes followed him narrowly, judging him for any aggressive motion toward the sleeping Minister. Obi-Wan unraveled the shield of silence, letting it dissipate, and settled back onto the pallet with his legs folded, staring impassively up into the stern regard. Qui-Gon never spoke, and eventually Obi-Wan lay back, curling his arm under his head as a makeshift pillow, and pretended to sleep. He lay very still, watching over the man who, nine years down the road, would become a young boy's Master -- and who, in a matter of some twenty-two years, would hopefully survive the battle that lurked there in his future, waiting for him like a black hole or star-core at the end of a poorly calculated hyperspace jump. And then he might be there for the young man who would be standing at his side, waiting to become a Knight and a peer, silently loving him.

After a long time, Qui-Gon unfolded himself from where he leaned against the doorframe and stepped over to the pallet. Obi-Wan rose gracefully and took up his position of watch, conscious of the unwavering eyes watching him from under the shield of partly-lowered lids.

He sensed the coming of dawn without the input of tangible senses, feeling the energy of the red dwarf sun begin to radiate into the structure of the building. Qui-Gon lay on the pallet behind him, curled on one arm in a light doze, body poised like a hunting cat ready to pounce. The Jedi Master had fallen asleep perhaps two hours ago, but the slightest flicker of sound or motion would waken him instantly, and so Obi-Wan made no motion or sound as the others began to stir in the rooms around them.

At last Qui-Gon's eyes opened of their own accord, and Obi-Wan was wounded to see the tightness of weariness drawing the fine skin into crinkles at the corners of his eyes, presaging the lines of aging that the young Jedi knew so well. Casting about for other presences, he found none, and he permitted himself the luxury of unbending and moving to kneel at the side of the pallet, head bending toward the posture of the penitent Padawan as he leaned forward to brush aside a stray lock of hair and kiss the weary temple very softly, a silent apology.

He withdrew to find Qui-Gon staring at him, unmoved, and he sat back on his heels, wrapping his arms around himself to fend against the half-imagined chill.

It took three days for their replacements to arrive, and they exchanged hardly a dozen words during that time. Obi-Wan felt guilty about leaving the new team to wait for the assassination attempt he knew was coming. He would have taken a moment to warn them if he could, but the cool challenge in their eyes told him that they had been warned to be wary of him, so he kept his peace, trusting that Qui-Gon would do what was necessary.

He and Qui-Gon took the tiny courier ship the replacements had brought, leaving the larger ambassadorial transport for the new team. Obi-Wan was relieved; the small ship had no crew complement and he could be alone with Qui-Gon. He would take every moment he could, silence and misunderstanding regardless. Qui-Gon in a foul, distrustful temper was far better than no Qui-Gon at all.

As they left Havar's gravity well, Qui-Gon checked the computations on the navicomp, made the jump to lightspeed, set the autopilot, and then turned to Obi-Wan at last.

"We are alone now, with no more duties to attend, and with three days of hyperspace travel before us," he stated flatly. "I will tolerate no more evasions or deceptions from you, Ben. Who are you and what did you come to change?" His voice was quiet.

"If I told you that, I might change far too much." Obi-Wan shrugged miserably. "I've already done what needed doing."

"And who are you to judge what is too much to change and what is just enough?" Qui-Gon snapped.

Obi-Wan smiled faintly, bitterly. "If the Council foresees that knowing will cause no harm, I'm sure they will tell you after they dispose of me."

Qui-Gon seethed at that remark, his irritation spilling out in words. "Why did you lie to me?"

"I didn't," Obi-Wan lifted his chin stubbornly. "From a certain point of view." He sat back and gave Qui-Gon a defiant stare. "Subjectively, everything I've told you is entirely true."

"An answer well in line with Ts'e's seventh ethical paradox," Qui-Gon mused, a little ruefully. He paused for a long moment. "Who was your Master?"

Obi-Wan flinched and drew deeply inside himself. The correct conclusion was perfectly obvious, and any hope that Qui-Gon would not arrive at it independently had been faint, at best. "My Master was a fine Jedi who always did what he thought he must to lead a life that served his values and beliefs -- one who always tried to choose the course of action that would bring about the greatest good," he managed before his throat closed, and he stared out at the starfield, anguished, refusing to meet Qui-Gon's eyes.

"And an arrogant fool," Qui-Gon reminded him, faint wry humor underlying the words. Oh, yes. He knew.

"And an arrogant fool," Obi-Wan admitted softly. "One that I loved and wanted with everything that I am." His fist clenched so hard his nails cut his palm, warm blood seeping out to stain his fingertips.

Qui-Gon rose and moved behind the copilot's chair. Obi-Wan steeled himself not to shiver as one of the Master's strong fingers slowly touched his skull directly behind his right ear, trailing a speculative line downward along his throat and chest, tracing the absent Padawan braid. "And what action would bring about the greatest good now, do you think?" The hand settled on his shoulder gently.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes, miserably remembering the tiny child with the stuffed wookiee. He could warn Qui-Gon not to choose Xanatos, could advise him to wait and save the warmth of an unwounded heart for that little boy who needed it so badly. He could persuade him never to set foot on Tatooine. He could warn of the rising Sith. Ts'e's seventh ethical paradox. How many of his wishes were selfish? How many were truly for the good of others? How could he know what consequences would arise from his actions?

Perhaps he was on the opposite side of Ts'e's paradox from his Master after all.

"I think you should let me go and live your life as though I had never interfered in it." Obi-Wan's voice was hoarse with pain. "Just don't miss that parry."

"Or I'll be dead," Qui-Gon mused. "And you'll be alone."

Obi-Wan knew he would be alone anyway. If the Council could manage to send him back to his own timeline, Qui-Gon was already dead in it. And if by some rearrangement of the natural order of time Obi-Wan had succeeded in saving him there... there was still Anakin to be reckoned with. He suspected that Qui-Gon knew those things also.

But Obi-Wan had something now to survive on, had two things in fact -- two things that had been denied him before. A kiss of passion with his beautiful Master ... and a chance to say goodbye.

"Qui-Gon, I never got to say the things I wanted--" Obi-Wan's voice caught in his chest and he lifted his hand, covering his mouth, trying to hold back the sobs that threatened to well from his chest.

The Master's sternness faltered as he saw the shine of tears in the young man's eyes, and he hesitated, forgiveness filling him visibly in response to Obi-Wan's sincere pain, his characteristic trust of emotion over intellect asserting itself. Obi-Wan started to speak, but a finger over his lips silenced him with sudden decision. "We have three days, Ben." the Jedi Master whispered huskily. "I ... would be a fool if I did not make the most of them." A crooked half-smirk teased at Obi-Wan, and his hand curled around the young Knight's and tugged gently.

In a daze the young man let himself be led from the cockpit to the sleeping quarters. The lights shimmered in Qui-Gon's hair as the Master turned to him and released it, letting it cascade around his face, and quite calmly eased his robe from his shoulders and began to unfasten his tunics. Obi-Wan hardly dared to let himself believe his hopes were coming true, but he matched the older man's motions.

When Qui-Gon stripped off the last layer of tunic, it was too much for Obi-Wan, and he stepped forward to slide his palms over the deep, powerful chest and back, sighing as Qui-Gon made short work of the young man's own undertunic and drew him into a tight embrace.

That heartbeat, pumping strongly against him .... Obi-Wan pressed both palms to Qui-Gon's back, devouring the sensation of that gentle, surging rhythm, savoring the life in his arms, his own heart beating a steady counterpoint. He turned his head and met the incoming kiss with the same instinctive ease that he would have brought to a lightsaber parry, tasting the gentleness of Qui-Gon's caring and the slow flowering of the older man's desire.

He managed to control himself this time, letting Qui-Gon's feelings build naturally instead of demanding that his own be met and matched. The kiss flowed slowly between them, tongues dancing with leisurely, liquid grace until Qui-Gon drew away, a little breathless, and pressed Obi-Wan back until the younger man's thighs touched the edge of one of the small beds.

Obi-Wan let himself be eased down and lay quietly as Qui-Gon sat next to him, running eyes and fingertips over him with the hesitant curiosity of a sculptor examining a piece of his own work that he could not remember crafting. The questing hands traced lines of muscle, soothed a few small burn scars, tested the soft tensile skin, worked the flex of an arm and wrist. Obi-Wan relaxed, letting his eyes close, melting into sensation with perfect trust. Qui-Gon's palm moved slowly downward, brushing lightly over his thigh, its heat radiating through Obi-Wan's thin leggings. He tugged at Obi-Wan's boot and the young man obliged him, pointing his toes and letting the fitted leather slide away. Then the other leg, and then Qui-Gon was bending to dispose of his own footwear and drawing his legs up onto the mattress, settling his long lean body next to Obi-Wan.

There was barely room for the two of them, but Obi-Wan did not mind the enforced closeness. He turned to his side and they slid to the sagging center of the small bed together as the frame groaned in protest at their combined weight.

When he opened his eyes Qui-Gon was smiling at him a little shyly, perhaps a bit discomforted by Obi-Wan's greater knowledge of him and of them together. Obi-Wan kissed the shyness away slowly, feeling his love for this man grow almost beyond bearing.

Qui-Gon shifted, encouraging Obi-Wan's ankle to slide between his, drawing the younger man's leg to him until Obi-Wan's thigh lay against the strong swell of his penis. Obi-Wan sighed as Qui-Gon's hips rocked gently against him, and he squirmed for a moment, moving until his own aching hardness was pressed against the other man. With a murmur of contentment, he reached and caught Qui-Gon's head, fingers sliding into the soft mass of hair, and pulled the Master's mouth to meet his, kissing him lightly at first, swift, clinging brushes of lips that gradually began to linger and then moved inward.

He drew the fullness of Qui-Gon's lower lip into his mouth at last and suckled gently, feeling warm hands slide over his back and dip to curl around his hips, urging him closer. He responded in kind, tickling the softness of that lip with his tongue, feeling Qui-Gon's warm sigh caress his face. The moment stretched infinitely as they lay entwined in one another, moving just enough to preserve the gently rising pitch of arousal, discovering the pleasure of touching and enjoying the closeness of bodies and minds.

The kiss deepened slowly, tongues sliding liquid and warm, and Obi-Wan nipped gently at Qui-Gon's tongue-tip, drawing it deep into his mouth and suckling it. Qui-Gon groaned, the sound of it piercing Obi-Wan with flame. The young Knight pressed against the other man, turning him to his back, sliding over his body possessively. Qui-Gon was pliant and willing under him, letting him take the lead, and the knowledge of that willingness inflamed Obi-wan, made his hands grow a little rough, stroking possessively over the big, firm body. He took Qui-Gon's lip between his own, feeling it give between his teeth, feeling its swollen heat. He released it, nuzzling Qui-Gon's ear. "Let me have you," his words were a hoarse groan.

In response, the hard-muscled thighs beneath him slid further apart, accommodating his body. He rocked slowly between the powerful legs, feeling the constriction of the cloth that separated them, needing it gone. Hating to leave the touch of the man beneath him even for a moment, Obi-Wan slowly brought one knee under himself, rising to a crouch, sliding his free leg over and to the floor. He stood, still not able to tear his eyes from Qui-Gon, watching the quick rise and fall of the solid, thick-muscled chest while he fumbled with the leggings, forcing them down over his hips.

Qui-Gon shifted, bringing his elbows under himself, sliding his legs over the side of the cot and standing up, imitating Obi-Wan's actions.

The young Knight felt his breath catch in his chest; could not have drawn another if his life depended on it. Qui-Gon bent, the curve of his hips half-turned toward Obi-Wan, and pushed his leggings to his ankles, lifting first one large foot out of the puddled cloth, then the other.

Obi-Wan stepped forward, his hands coming to rest on the bent back, preventing the Master from rising. Slowly, gently, he rocked his hips forward against Qui-Gon, letting his erection nudge between the slightly-spread legs.

A soft groan greeted his boldness, and Obi-Wan let his fingers tighten around the narrow waist, thumbs stroking in toward the spine. He pressed downward, gentle, questioning. Qui-Gon swayed slightly, then his knees slowly bent, and Obi-Wan followed him to the floor.

Obi-Wan moved his penis into the cleft of lean buttocks and bent forward over the arch of back, biting lightly at the shoulderblade, pressing forward and pulling back, nestling the muscular hips against him. Qui-Gon's hair fell forward, spilling to the deck. Obi-Wan slid one hand under his chest, stroking muscles taut from supporting their combined heaviness. He rocked himself against the older man gently, eyes searching the small room fruitlessly. After a moment Qui-Gon shifted his weight, reaching out his hand, and a bottle of lotion worked its way out of his pack. Obi-Wan intercepted it gratefully, using his teeth to unscrew the cap. Ridiculous haste, but the inevitability of their return to Coruscant gnawed at him and he spilled it out quickly with shaking hands, smoothing it over his quivering shaft.

"Hurry," Qui-Gon gasped, leaning forward, pillowing his head on his arms. Obi-Wan reached with a trembling hand and stroked the soft liquid between the warm, tight cheeks, sliding a gentle, seeking finger slowly into the older man. He was rewarded with a bone-deep shiver, and Qui-Gon rocked back against him, bringing more of that finger inside himself. Obi-Wan added a second, feeling Qui-Gon deliberately relax around him. Inside his Master, inside Qui-Gon. At last, and at first. Stroking deep inside the other man, hearing him groan as he touched just there, feeling his hips shift and rotate as Obi-Wan set up a slow circular motion over the sensitive spot, caressing, pleasuring, and stretching simultaneously.

He drew back and added a third finger, beginning to thrust carefully, seeing sweat begin to gather and glisten on the bowed shoulders in front of him. The long deep bronze hair slid further down onto the decking as Qui-Gon began to rock harder to meet each thrust, his breath making low growls in his throat, and Obi-Wan couldn't wait any longer, withdrawing his hand and pressing himself against the man he loved more than time, duty, and life.

He slid smoothly into the well-prepared passage, trembling with the effort of restraint, hands circling once on the wide-spread hips before curling over the hipbones and pulling Qui-Gon backwards and onto him. The Jedi Master gasped and arched, tightening convulsively around him, and Obi-Wan bit his lip, struggling for control, drawing back with agonizing care and then thrusting forward, a little harder than at first.

He'd always envisioned Qui-Gon taking him first, envisioned his Master lying between his spread legs, buried in him, long hair swinging free and tickling his chest, Qui-Gon's rich blue eyes closed as he savored his bliss. But this was equally wonderful, having the big man spread out and willing beneath him. The powerful muscles clenched him again and Obi-Wan uttered a choked cry, obliging him with yet another retreat and thrust, more powerful yet, bringing his hips up tight against Qui-Gon's.

Qui-Gon met him hard, lifting his head to gaze pure fire over his shoulder at Obi-Wan, and that hot, needy stare destroyed the last of the young man's composure. He let his hips begin to pump furiously, eyes sinking shut, savoring the tight, slick friction of their joining, knowing that he was coming fast, but he didn't care, driving his claim into the living body beneath him, circling the sweating waist with his arms, thrusting with all his strength, salty tears sliding down his cheeks. Qui-Gon. Alive.

Orgasm exploded with his joy in that knowledge, and he threw his head back, sobbing, hands sliding over the sweat-slick body beneath him. When the wild tremors stilled, he separated their bodies, keeping his hands on his beloved, refusing to relinquish contact for fear that Qui-Gon might vanish, be ripped away from him again. He crawled on his knees to Qui-Gon's side, helping him raise himself, dragging him into a desperate kiss, knowing that the other man could taste the salt of his weeping.

"Love you, Master," Obi-Wan managed to gasp between devouring Qui-Gon's mouth and sliding to his neck, moving close, entwining the legs of their kneeling bodies. Qui-Gon stroked him, soothing him and reassuring him without words, a little awed by the outpouring of emotion, but absorbing it, accepting it, offering his own caring and desire back to Obi-Wan.

The young Knight basked in that gentle sharing, not pausing as he moved his way down the other man's body. He had taken his pleasure without satisfying his lover, but he would soon remedy that. Moving back far enough to bend forward, he nuzzled his cheek against the thick, hot erection that bobbed between the sturdy thighs, laying his palm against it to press it against his face. He nuzzled desperate kisses along its length, lavishing it with small gentle licks and nips, feeling Qui-Gon's soft gasps and moans resonate through him.

Obi-Wan raised his head for a moment and held Qui-Gon's erection between both hands as though it might shatter, then slowly lowered his lips to the crown, reverently letting it slide between his lips, letting the solid firmness open his mouth, continuing the slow progress till the wiry curls tickled at his nose and Qui-Gon lay back, trembling and gasping. The huge hardness filled his throat; he swallowed to massage it and drew back till only his tongue lay against the slit, the salty-sweet savor of Qui-Gon seeping slowly into his mouth.

He lifted his eyes, found Qui-Gon's hot gaze waiting for him, and slid down again, eyes locked with his lover's. He let his love resonate through him, felt it melting into Qui-Gon, almost a tangible bond between them, and he moaned, humming around the taut shaft, then lowered his eyes again, focusing his entire being on pleasuring Qui-Gon.

When the erection finally throbbed in his mouth, he drew back to catch the rich bitter fluid, savoring it on his tongue, once again raising his eyes to the Jedi Master's. Qui-Gon reached out with a shaking hand, lacing his thick fingers into Obi-Wan's hair, and dragged him up to share the taste of passion. Obi-Wan lay over him, kissing and being kissed, sinking into the moment, purely and blissfully content, his hand carefully milking the last drops from Qui-Gon's slow-fading length. He lifted his hand and licked them away, aware of Qui-Gon's eyes following his tongue. He let his lashes sink to his cheeks and sucked softly at the taste on his skin, sighing with contentment, feeling his heartbeat pacing the slowing pulse under his chest.

"So beautiful," Qui-Gon whispered huskily, his arms tightening around Obi-Wan. "What a fool I must be as an old man, to be so cruel to you."

Obi-Wan sighed and settled his head into the crook of Qui-Gon's neck and shoulder. "It doesn't matter now," he murmured. "Let's live in the moment, Qui-Gon."

"Yes." Qui-Gon turned them, settling his arms under Obi-Wan, who protested softly as the big body drew away from him, and then laughed his delighted surprise as Qui-Gon lifted him, kissing him as he moved to ease them back down onto the cot. "Let's sleep awhile, Ben," he murmured, settling his body along the Knight's like a firm, warm blanket.

Obi-Wan nodded, nuzzling close, the nights of worry and watching having taken their toll on him as well. After all, he reminded himself, no moment was wasted as long as it was spent in Qui-Gon's arms.

He was dreaming again, dreaming the same dream of Qui-Gon he'd had a hundred times -- of Qui-Gon making love to him, but he knew that when he woke he would be dead, gone, all a terrible illus--

"Ben." The warm voice in his ear wakened him, and he started, reaching frantically, fingers finding warm soft lips, the gentle scratch of beard, tender eyelids.

The warm hand stroking his erection stopped, rising to gather him into a reassuring, gentle embrace. "You were dreaming, love. I'm here."

The endearment brought stinging tears to his eyes. "I love you, Qui-Gon Jinn," he mumbled, tongue thick with sleep. "Don't ever leave me again."

Qui-Gon rumbled reassuringly against his neck, rough velvet tongue trailing up to tickle his ear. "I won't," he murmured, the smile evident in his voice. "You've seen to that."

Obi-Wan nudged his newly neglected hardness against Qui-Gon's hip sleepily, drawing a low chuckle from the deep chest. The warm hand slipped back down and found him, wrapping him in its loose, loving channel and beginning to stroke, a gentle, steady rhythm. Obi-Wan thrust his hips into it, practically purring. He'd always dreamed of Qui-Gon waking him so, with hands or body or mouth. He buried his hands in Qui-Gon's hair and snuggled back down into the older man's warmth, letting himself be loved. "What time is it?" he mumbled sleepily, squirming a little, loving the feel of hot, moist flesh against him.

"Third shift." Qui-Gon nuzzled him. "How about a shower?"

"With you?" Obi-Wan felt the smile against his skin, and smiled back.

"Of course." Qui-Gon nipped softly at his ear. "Then more."

Their intention to wait until they were clean lasted perhaps a minute; then Qui-Gon turned off the sonics and turned Obi-Wan's belly to the wall. Obi-Wan purred his pleasure and spread his legs, waiting while Qui-Gon soaped himself and loosened him. Then he was entered carefully, and sunburst flares of pleasure exploded behind his eyelids. He was filled to bursting, a tight shell that existed only to cradle the flesh of his lover, of his beloved. His knees gave way and Qui-Gon lifted him, pressing him against the cool wall of the small cubicle. Obi-Wan twined his ankles behind the other man's knees, gasping as he was lifted with brute strength and Force, and dropped onto the hard shaft, driving it into him to the root.

He arched his head back and screamed his passion, clawing at the unyielding wall, feeling Qui-Gon's teeth fasten firmly on the joint of neck and shoulder, the hot velvet tongue slicking the small patch of flesh, the mouth sucking, marking him, possessing him.

So good, unbearable ecstasy being with this man, and his hands twined hard into the long brown hair, holding Qui-Gon's mouth on him. The Jedi Master braced him against the wall, its smoothness cold against Obi-Wan's cheek and collarbone, and stepped back, inclining his body forward over Obi-Wan when the Knight didn't release his hair. He moved with short, quick thrusts, raking Obi-Wan with interior flame, and Qui-Gon's harsh breathing in his ear mingled with Obi-Wan's sharp cries in a duet of urgent pleasure.

Qui-Gon moved his hand to wrap it around Obi-Wan's erection, propping them up with Force, gaining enough leverage to deepen the thrusts, and they came together, bodies slick with sweat.

"I think we'll have to shower again," Obi-Wan quavered when he was capable of speech, as Qui-Gon eased him to his feet. The Jedi Master simply turned him and touched his lips with a gentle kiss, then reactivated the sonic unit.

Before they slept they loved again, a tender and mutual touch of mouths on sensitive flesh that ended with repositioning for shared kisses, and Obi-Wan had never felt so cherished or weary or happy as when he collapsed into Qui-Gon's arms and slept.

And so it went between them, falling deeper and deeper in love, sharing bodies and minds and hearts for three blissful days.

On the last morning, Obi-Wan hesitated on his way out of the door of the small 'fresher, gazing at the small cot where his lover, the man who would be his Master, lay sleeping quietly, long limbs stretched across the mattress and trailing over its edges casually. He didn't want to lie alone in the second small bed, but he didn't want to disturb Qui-Gon, either.

Four hours out of Coruscant, and closing swiftly. When they returned, Obi-Wan would be summoned before the Council and interrogated.

Qui-Gon shifted to his side with a soft murmur, arm reaching as though to clasp his absent bedmate, and Obi-Wan smiled in spite of his pain, stepping forward, feeling the cool air slide over his bare body. He nestled next to Qui-Gon gently and the hard strong arms wrapped around him, drawing him tightly to his lover's chest. His Master's chest.

Obi-Wan tried to forget that in four hours, this man would be ripped from him again, their lives cruelly sundered for a second time, this time forever. At least he had been given this brief respite, this marvelous gift of Qui-Gon's love and body, to sustain him through the lean years to come.

"You'll have to go back, won't you." Qui-Gon's voice was thick with sleep, but nonetheless sad for that.

Obi-Wan hesitated. "Yes."

Qui-Gon tugged at his body, and Obi-Wan turned obediently, kissing the full lips that sought his. "I'm glad you came," he stroked Obi-Wan from waist to knee and back again, broad palm cherishing his lover's skin. "I'll be sorry to lose you."

Obi-Wan felt his throat close, and buried his stinging eyes in Qui-Gon's shoulder. The Master still did not realize what Obi-Wan must do. "You won't," he whispered. "You won't lose me. I'll be waiting for you."

He let his palm slide into Qui-Gon's hair, pulled the older man forward for a kiss, and then reached through the severed training bond, catching tendrils of Force, weaving them softly into Qui-Gon's emotions and thoughts, his intimate knowledge of Qui-Gon's soul allowing him to link himself with the older man.

Qui-Gon's lashes fluttered open as he felt the bond slide home inside his mind, felt its rightness, and he gazed at Obi-Wan with sudden amazement, wide awake, examining the sensation, trying to adjust to the novelty of a bond where instants ago there had been none. "What..."

"Hush," Obi-Wan shushed him with a word and a kiss. He began to reach into Qui-Gon's mind, sifting through the Master's thoughts, deeply insinuated behind the older Jedi's shields.

"What are you doing?" A trace of panic, of resentment and anger, and Qui-Gon tried to close himself, tried to reject the bond, but he couldn't.

Obi-Wan stopped immediately, apologetic and regretful. "I'm sorry. I must do this."

"No." Qui-Gon shook his head, trying to dislodge Obi-Wan's hands. "I don't want you to."

Obi-Wan felt his eyes fill with tears. "If I do not, it will destroy your future." He paused. "My future. His future. You and I can't be together. The Council will send me back, or send me away. But perhaps you and he ...." Obi-Wan choked on a sob. "But only if you let me take the memories, so it can happen naturally ...."

Qui-Gon stilled, gazing deeply into Obi-Wan's tortured eyes. Obi-Wan could hear his thoughts as easily as he could feel his own breathing -- the Jedi Master could not deny Obi-Wan's sincere belief. They both knew this was no longer a matter of abstract ethics. Lives hung in the balance -- or rather, one life, the life of a man Qui-Gon had grown to love; the life of a child who would one day be that man.

Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon reach out tentatively to the bond, testing its strength, sending feelers of thought into his mind, discovering him, discovering the extent of the love Obi-Wan bore him, and the hopelessness, and the conviction.

"Trust me, Master," Obi-Wan begged, leaning in to feather a kiss against the trembling lips.

And after a long pause, Qui-Gon surrendered. "I trust you ... Padawan." Qui-Gon's defenses melted. Obi-Wan heard him swallow hard as he laid mind and soul bare, gathering air for the softest of whispers. "Please. Leave me the memory of Ben Lars. My lover."

Obi-Wan felt the moisture spill over the lower rims of his eyes and stream down his cheeks. "I will," he sobbed, and before he could reconsider, he plunged into Qui-Gon's trusting, vulnerable mind.

He delved into the memories of the past two weeks, gathering the connections to himself, sorting them. The mysterious stranger, the duel, the defeat, and the teaching. The growing attraction. One clear memory of his own face, looking very little like the clean-shaven young man he had been on Naboo, those things he could leave, and the name he had given. The ethics, the doubt, the confession, the Council's warning, the story of the lost Master ... he gathered them softly, detaching synaptic patterns, making the memories lie deeply buried in Qui-Gon's mind, barely existing, almost entirely independent of his consciousness. He could not bear to destroy them, but he covered them so deeply that they would never surface independently. Qui-Gon's face went slack, slow tears leaking from under his lashes even as his grief thinned, growing vague and formless.

At last Obi-Wan was almost finished, and he rose from their bed slowly, his entire soul numb with the shock of loss. He withdrew, leaving only the bond. Cutting it would sever the final thread that tied Qui-Gon to his memories of the Padawan who was to be his, leaving only the memories of a casual but caring and all-too-brief love affair with a mysterious young Knight.

Obi-Wan reached, unable to help himself, and brushed the edge of his finger over Qui-Gon's cheek, through a trail of salty moisture. "Master," he gasped, his voice choked with pain, and cut the bond.

When he staggered from the ramp of the ship, Adi Gallia was waiting for him with a small escort that included Master Shimoda. Apparently she had been busy, and had drawn the correct conclusion. Unspeaking, he let himself be escorted back to the hallway where he had materialized. He did not offer information, and the other Jedi chose not to request it, all very much in line with the orthodox attitude toward T'se's Seventh Ethical Paradox. At length Shimoda positioned him gently, reaching out to the Force, drawing its energy around the young Knight, building a matrix that matched the fading one he had sensed when Obi-Wan first appeared.

Obi-Wan reeled, and was caught by a strong hand. Blinking, he gazed up into the face of old Master Shimoda.

"You stumbled into the matter transference beam!" Shimoda reached out hastily, palm on Obi-Wan's forehead. "You were gone for over a minute!" He delved into Obi-Wan's aura with Force, sensing his health hastily, seeking his mind, his Jedi abilities. After a few moments he relaxed, reassured.

The Knight swayed, reaching to brace himself on the nearby wall. His Master. His lover. He had lost his Master for the second time in his life.

Blindly Obi-Wan turned to the one person who might share his grief, help him heal.

"Anakin ...." he murmured.

The bench was empty.

There were no lightsaber components, no tools, and there was no young golden-haired Padawan awaiting him. Obi-Wan reached out instinctively with his mind -- but it was empty. There was no bond.

"Where is my Padawan?" he demanded, rounding dizzily on Shimoda.

The Master blinked at him doubtfully, and raised his commlink. "I need the healers," he spoke quickly. "Knight Kenobi is ill." He caught Obi-Wan as he collapsed.

Obi-Wan came to lying on a cot in the healers' chambers, Master Shimoda sitting next to him, the older man's emotional aura a mix of concern and relief.

"You're going to be fine, Obi-Wan." He reached and caught the young Jedi's hand. "Apparently the matter transference beam had a negative influence on your psychic aura. You fainted. Healer Jatar said it was as though you'd experienced recoil, as though a wire stretched tight in your mind had snapped without warning ...." Shimoda pressed Obi-Wan's palm comfortingly. "He thinks it's a residual stress reaction related to you finally accepting the loss of your training bond with Qui-Gon. You should recover soon."

He was almost babbling, and Obi-Wan sensed the guilt again, and worry. He let his eyes close. He couldn't spare the time to reassure Shimoda now. He wasn't sure why the older man didn't seem to know what was going on. Perhaps the Council had ordered his memory of Obi-Wan's temporal excursion suppressed, in order to minimize the influence on the timeline. It seemed likely, but Obi-Wan was too preoccupied to care.

He had to know what had changed between himself and Qui-Gon, and what had happened on Naboo.

There was no trace of Anakin in his mind, and the realization terrified him. In spite of his resentment of the boy, he truly believed it would be dangerous to leave him unsupervised. The Sith would scoop him up, turn him, use him against the Jedi. Anakin's potential power was so great that if that happened, nothing could stop him.

"Where is Anakin?" he breathed, tension tightening his voice.

Shimoda paused. "He's on Kanide, with Master Qui-Gon." the Jedi's gaze searched Obi-Wan's worriedly. "Do you remember coming to the lab today to help me, Obi-Wan?"

Obi-Wan didn't, as a matter of fact. He remembered coming to help Anakin build his lightsaber.

And then the words replayed in his mind. On Kanide. With Master Qui-Gon.

He had successfully changed his own timeline, arranging for Qui-Gon to survive in it. He felt his lips stretch, the smile crackling the dried skin. He ignored the sudden pain.

"Master Shimoda, I have to get back to my quarters," Obi-Wan struggled up onto his elbow. "I'll be fine once I'm there. Please ask the healers to release me."

Obi-Wan had to get to his terminal, had to access the Jedi Record, had to know what had happened since the mission to Naboo.

He had to call Qui-Gon and greet his Master, see that beloved face again.

Shimoda hesitated. Obi-Wan swung his legs over the edge of the bed, forcing himself upright, hectic energy animating him. He gazed desperately at the older man, who acquiesced with a dismayed half-shrug.

Twenty minutes later, he was in a set of rooms he'd never seen, but was surrounded by what were mostly recognizable as his own possessions. The first thing he did was step toward his shelves, trembling, and took a familiar and much-loved item into his palm -- his first gift from Qui-Gon, the Force-focusing stone he'd been given for his thirteenth birthday. Qui-Gon HAD taken him as Padawan, then. Perhaps little would have changed. Perhaps ... perhaps only that which mattered.

Exhausted, running on adrenaline, he slumped in front of his terminal and called up the official record of his Master's life, and his own.

Six hours later, he was still reading. Records, reports, secondary information sources -- anything and everything he could get his hands on. Some things had changed, yes. A mission here, an interlude there. And most surprising of all, Obi-Wan had been taken Padawan without ever setting foot on Bandomeer. He could not dig up enough information to confirm what might have happened to Xanatos. The Padawan Xanatos simply disappeared from the databanks without explanation.

Though there were odd discrepancies in his personal records, and he'd apparently been allowed to adopt a Knight's lifestyle prematurely, in this timeline Obi-Wan had only officially passed his Knighthood trials a month ago, not six months. But Qui-Gon ... Qui-Gon had taken Anakin Skywalker as his Padawan learner immediately after returning from the second voyage to Naboo, defying the Council's strictest command.

There could be no explanation for that other than that Obi-Wan had ceased to be Qui-Gon's Padawan during that five-month period of time. His records showed his stay at the Temple, showed his successful Trials. Qui-Gon's showed a refused mission and a retreat to the training center on Kanide, with his new Padawan. Clearly a hostile move, an escape from the disapproving Council.

Obi-Wan shook himself, running his fingers through his tangled hair, and keyed a command sequence.

"Communication from Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi to Master Qui-Gon Jinn," he requested quietly, and sat back just out of view of the image receptors, waiting for his Master's hologram to flicker to life on the tiny pad.

Minutes passed, Obi-Wan's nerves winding tighter and tighter, his eagerness spinning inside him, his heartbeat pounding, a metallic taste of giddy anticipation in his throat. Adrenaline pulsing in him. Starting to go sour. Muscles twitching. The silent flip of a digit once, again, again. And then a figure stepped into range of the holoprojector and the pickup flickered into life. It was a girl, a Padawan, very nervous.

"I'm sorry, Knight Kenobi," she bowed. "Master Jinn is not accepting communications."

"Did you tell him who was calling?" Obi-Wan snapped, in no mood to be set aside by petty bureaucratic maneuvering.

"I spoke to him personally," she raised distressed eyes to him, and suddenly he realized her facade of Jedi calm was seriously wavering.

"What did he say?" Obi-Wan's voice was deadly quiet.

"He said ...." she hesitated. "Forgive me, Knight Kenobi. He said that he would accept no communications from you, and not to bother contacting him the next time you called."

Her image faded. After a long minute, Obi-Wan reached out and snapped off the terminal.

He rose distractedly and wandered into the small kitchen alcove, ran water, set it to heat for tea. Strained it through herbs into a cup. Took a swallow, burning lips and tongue. Could not taste it, set it aside very neatly on the counter.

Qui-Gon was alive. That was important.

He picked up the cup, blew on it, lifted it to his mouth. It was stone cold. How much time had passed? He couldn't tell.

Obi-Wan poured the cold tea into the sink, moved to brew more, and his fingers clenched on the pot, his shoulders sagging.

Qui-Gon was alive. That was all that mattered.

Force. What had he done?

No official record existed of what had been said and done, there was no way to learn even so much as whether his Padawan relationship with Qui-Gon had been pleasant or hostile.

Or was there ....?

Obi-Wan walked back over to the terminal, flipped the switch, and called Adi Gallia.

"Obi-Wan?" Adi paused, doubtful, hearing the distress in his response. "This isn't a regular call, is it. I've been expecting this for a while now." Her soft voice was sad. "It's about Ben Lars, isn't it?"

"Yes." Obi-Wan's throat threatened to close. "Please. Tell me everything. I need to know what I changed."

"We suppressed all possible evidence of your visit, including Master Shimoda's memories of sending you back. Only Master Windu and myself are aware of the temporal anomaly..." Adi began, and Obi-Wan settled in to listen.

In the aftermath, he was numbly grateful that at least some of his fears went unrealized. Apparently he and Qui-Gon had been close throughout most of their association, a respectful, mutually friendly and efficient team relationship built on trust. But as Obi-Wan's Trials had approached, he had grown too confident, too ready to question and challenge his Master. Perhaps the extra confidence had come from having been chosen in the Academy after his final fight with Bruck rather than shipped away to the Agricorps. Obi-Wan didn't know.

All he knew was what Adi Gallia had observed, and as much as that was, it wasn't enough. After Naboo, disagreements had arisen between himself and Qui-Gon, straining their friendship beyond repair. The advent of Anakin had proven too much -- Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had quarreled fiercely enough over it to earn an unofficial reprimand from Master Yoda. According to Adi's more detailed, classified version of the official report, Qui-Gon had rushed ahead and left Obi-Wan behind the red force shields again, choosing to fight the Sith alone, making the parry he'd missed in the previous timeline, and as Obi-Wan rushed to join him, he had slashed the momentarily distracted Sith wickedly, sending him tumbling into the melting pit without recourse to Obi-Wan's assistance.

When they returned to Coruscant, Obi-Wan had taken him to task savagely for his incautious behavior, and yet another fight had ensued, this one worse because neither admitted to its true causes -- jealousy and offended pride. Obi-Wan had ignored Adi's cautious attempts to interfere and placate him. And then when the time had come and the Council refused Qui-Gon permission to train Anakin, Obi-Wan had sided with them. As Qui-Gon moved to stand behind Anakin's shoulders, restating his claim of the child as his Padawan learner, Obi-Wan had cut off his own Padawan braid, severed the strands of his own hair mingled with those of his Master's, and tossed it to the floor, leaving Qui-Gon's side, walking to stand behind Councilors Yoda and Windu, formally renouncing his Master just as coldly as he had been rejected himself.

That was all Adi could tell him of Qui-Gon, and the official records supplemented the information by saying that Qui-Gon had left for Kanide with Anakin before the ninth hour of that same evening.

The information had been repressed, apparently. Yoda had completed Obi-Wan's training quietly and unofficially so that his record would not be stained, and then he had been raised a Knight and assigned to assist Master Shimoda for a time before a more pressing exterior assignment suited to his abilities arose.

Over the next few weeks, Obi-Wan moved in a daze, incorporating that information and attempting to pick up the tangled, broken threads of the life he had left and the one he had found waiting when he had returned.

They had apparently lain concealed from Healer Jatar within the emotional chaos surrounding his severed bond with Qui-Gon, but he knew that his mind contained the shreds of three vanished training bonds, two lost in one day. It was a wonder he didn't have psychic shock. Or perhaps he did.

Obi-Wan laughed humorlessly, lying across his narrow bed in his quarters. He was scheduled to help Shimoda this afternoon, and he would go soon, much as he wished to stay here and simply let himself drift inside his memories of the all-too-short three days he had spent making love with Qui-Gon Jinn.

A man who never wanted to see or speak to him again.

Obi-Wan rose, his inner voice reciting a grim litany. Qui-Gon was alive. That was all that mattered.

Except that it wasn't, anymore. It still mattered more than anything else, true, but it wasn't the only thing that mattered now. Chalk it up to his own selfishness or loneliness or the shock of the broken bonds and lost connections, but Obi-Wan could not help but think that he might possibly matter too. Definitely to himself, if no one else. His loneliness, his pain, his regret for what the self he had not been had done to sabotage the future that Obi-Wan must now live. The future that Obi-Wan had struggled so hard to create and preserve. That the phantom self he'd labored so hard to protect had in a way perished as a result of Obi-Wan's meddling ... well. Justice might have been served there, might it not? He laughed bitterly.

Perhaps Master Ts'e had been right after all. It would have been better not to interfere.

No. It wouldn't.

Obi-Wan pulled on his robe and entered the hallway, his cowl drawn well forward, covering his face. He tucked his hands into his sleeves and turned, taking the long way to Master Shimoda's laboratory so that he would not have to pass by the quarters he had shared with Qui-Gon.

Another lengthy day, more dropped tools than usual. Obi-Wan was exhausted, and it showed. At last Shimoda took the pair of pliers from his fist and set it on the workbench.

"Obi-Wan, I want you to go back to your rooms and rest. Rest, do you hear? No more fretting about your Master. He has his path, and you have yours. You're a Knight now," Shimoda said gently. "If you don't rest, I'll have you sent to the healers, and they will make you rest."

Obi-Wan bowed his head resentfully, avoiding Master Shimoda's eyes, but he welcomed the chance to leave. He could retreat back into pain and fantasy, so much better than pain without the fantasy. He was so weary. So very weary and sick with hurt.

He was nearly to his quarters before he realized he had forgotten his cloak. Sighing, he took stock of the situation. Yes, he would need it in the evening. Best to get it now. Appearances to be maintained, so that he could steal the leisure to sink back into his memories when duty was done. He forced himself to reverse his steps to return for it, striding down the Grand Stair, which he usually avoided, but it was faster, and what did it matter? Qui-Gon was on Kanide. With his new Padawan, the precious Chosen One. With --

"Anakin Skywalker!" The voice was young and just the slightest bit shrill, and a touch sullen. "Master Qui-Gon Jinn's Padawan. Check the records."

Obi-Wan's eyes snapped up, and indeed, there stood the boy, cool-weather gear bulky on his small body. Eerily familiar, and yet seeming unreal to Obi-Wan, no touch of training bond or empathic resonance in him, as though he were a hologram.

The doorkeeper did check, and nodded apologetically, opening the security stile to admit the boy.

Obi-Wan flung a desperate glance about himself, trapped in the open, unable to retreat gracefully, unable to withdraw into the concealing shadows of a hood.

With Anakin here, Qui-Gon could not be far behind. But what had brought them back to the Temple?

It didn't matter. He couldn't face Qui-Gon, not yet. Not just yet. Could not bear to look on that loved face and see hostility and rejection. No. He wanted to remember the face of his young lover, the happiness of the Jedi Master he had left in the past, the warmth and sweetness of caring eyes and the softness of lips opened for his kisses.

Obi-Wan could not continue. He turned on his heel to pelt back up the stairs much more rapidly than he had descended them, and crashed immediately into a solid chest, the force of the impact nearly sending him tumbling down the steep steps. Hands caught his shoulders, barely steadying him in time, and he reflexively glanced up into the face of the obstacle, of his rescuer ... and froze.

A moment of shock on the patrician features, shock and recognition and Obi-Wan drew inside himself desperately, cringing away from the hostility that would inevitably rise next, unable to tear his eyes from those lips, remembering the feel of their exquisite softness and the taste of their passion. And then the lips moved hesitantly, seeming almost unsure. "Ben?"

Obi-Wan jerked his gaze upward, shocked, and Qui-Gon recoiled suddenly as their gazes met, eyes going wide with confusion. "Obi-Wan!?"

The young Knight wrenched away and fled.

He very nearly made it to the top of the staircase before he collapsed. After a moment, strong arms scooped him up gently and carried him to the Healers.

"I examined him personally this time. The healer who saw him before was careless; he didn't look for what he didn't expect to find. Obi-Wan has endured three broken bonds in the space of six months, and two on a single day." Shienda did not look up at Qui-Gon, tucking a soft blanket under her patient's chin. "It's a wonder he held out against psychic shock for so long."

"But how can that be?" Qui-Gon frowned at her impatiently. "There should only be a single broken bond. He never had --"

"Two were training bonds," Shienda insisted, running a cool hand over Obi-Wan's ashen face. "The final one ...." she hesitated. "I'm not sure. It's possible he removed it himself. The others ... at least one was snapped against his will, I think."

"That's impossible," Qui-Gon blustered. He'd hardly been prepared to confront his estranged Padawan, much less find himself standing vigil over the young Knight's sickbed. Obi-Wan looked terribly frail, and Qui-Gon was deeply disconcerted, staring at the almost unfamiliar features. It was as though he were looking at an optical illusion that tried to rearrange itself into something else, something else entirely -- and there was the lingering taste of the long-forgotten, yet familiar, name on his lips. Ben.

"No, it isn't impossible." Adi Gallia stepped through the door slowly. Qui-Gon started, not entirely sure when she had arrived. She leveled a judging gaze on Qui-Gon, then turned a milder one to Shienda. "Obi-Wan has recently experienced a temporal anomaly. I have been monitoring him for some time. The anomalous experiences account for his psychological injuries. I regret I was not aware that they were so extensive."

"He should have been sent to the soul-healers at once --"

"What sort of temporal an --"

Qui-Gon and Shienda glared at one another, then Qui-Gon gestured with exaggerated courtesy, plainly irritated, inviting Shienda to continue. She pursed her lips and abandoned her own line of thought in favor of Qui-Gon's.

"Master Qui-Gon is correct. I must know what sort of anomaly he endured, and as many circumstances of it as I may. How did he come to make and break so many bonds?"

Adi hesitated, glancing at Qui-Gon. "I do not have all the answers," she murmured. "One bond may definitely be accounted for."

Qui-Gon drew into himself slightly. The severing of his training bond with Obi-Wan had been precipitate and unpleasant, but it would have occurred anyway when he passed his Knighthood trials. He could not be blamed for this.

"I am aware of the circumstances surrounding a second bond, as well," Adi stepped further forward, gazing soberly down on Obi-Wan. "Remembering that I supervised his return to this time, he came to me to discover what changes he had made, and he revealed details of his subjective past. Before he altered the timestream, Knight Kenobi took a Padawan Learner. When he returned, his Padawan was his no more." She stroked her fingertips up the length of an unresisting arm. Obi-Wan never stirred. "I did not know of the other bond, but I have my guesses as to the identity of the bonded." Adi fixed Qui-Gon with a calm stare.

He opened his mouth to protest against the accusation in that cool gaze, then closed it, gazing at Obi-Wan's face. A temporal anomaly?

"I ... there was a moment, on the stairs. His face reminded me of someone I haven't thought of in years. An old lover ...." Qui-Gon trailed off uncertainly, stepping forward for the first time, trailing a fingertip against the unconscious man's cheek, tilting his head slightly.

"Ben Lars." Adi spoke quietly.

Qui-Gon blinked. "It was only a brief affair ... I really don't ...." he flushed uncomfortably under the dual regard of councilor and soul-healer. "I don't remember much about it. A name, a face. I can't even recall when we met ...." Shame filled him. "What has that to do with Obi-Wan?" Even as the words left his mouth, he realized that he was afraid of the answer.

"We shall see," Adi murmured. "Master Jinn, I ask that you permit Healer Shienda to probe your memories of Ben Lars." Adi hesitated slightly. "It is past time that you recovered them."

Recovered? Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. "You speak as though there has been interference with my mind, Councilor." His eyes were drawn back to the waxy, too-thin features lying on the pillow.

"Yes." Adi nodded gravely, her eyes flickering to Obi-Wan. "He thought it best."

"Then he is ..." Qui-Gon reached abortively for Obi-Wan's cheek, hesitated. "He was Ben Lars."

"He was." Adi's hand fell gently on Qui-Gon's shoulder. "Come. There is much to be learned, and we must discover how best to help him."

It only took minutes. Qui-Gon settled his mind with the discipline of age and experience, and Shienda sank quickly to the buried memories, following the slender link provided by face and name.

"This may come as something of a shock, Master Jinn," she murmured after a moment. "I'm going to connect several synapses to an isolated group of memories. You may experience dizziness, surprise, a sense of unreality. Worse ..." she hesitated, "there is indeed a hidden, severed bond here. Be ready. I don't want another patient. You seem to have endured the severance easily before." She tilted her head, questing, sensing through his mind gently. "At that time you were unused to the new bonding. That, combined with the suppression of the memories associated with it, made you experience minimal trauma at its removal. It was very skillfully done." A trace of effort showed on her face as she reached deeper, seeking to reverse the results of Obi-Wan's interference. "I'm afraid the influx of buried memories and the recognition of the buried bond may prove more difficult for you to reconcile this time."

Adi frowned. "Is it another training bond?"

"No," Shienda murmured. "It's very faint, though. I don't believe it ever fully reached its ...."

Qui-Gon steeled himself against the gentle manipulation of her mind as she began to reconnect synaptic patterns.

"Healer Shienda!" A sudden voice penetrated the calm of the room. "It's Knight Kenobi -- he's worsening rapidly!"

"We have to reattach at least one of the bonds," Shienda rose, the mental contact between herself and Qui-Gon drawing him along with her. "I'm sorry, Master Jinn, we'll have to postpone this. You're the only one who can save him now."

Qui-Gon was sprinting into Obi-Wan's room before the words left her mouth.

His former Padawan was fading, his aura growing gray as the blue faded from it, receding toward the edges. There was no time for recrimination or caution; Qui-Gon threw himself forward, hands clasping the pale, cool face, and he thrust his mind into Obi-Wan's, crying out for him.

Obi-Wan. Padawan. ... Ben.

The mind shivered from the force of the hasty invasion -- a good sign; Obi-Wan's spirit had not left it yet. Qui-Gon plunged deep, seeking the torn edges of their trainning bond, and sensed it, reaching for it, tying himself to the severed tatters, drawing his former Padawan back to himself --

And was caught, twirled and enmeshed in the unexpected strength of a thousand wild tendrils of the unexpected need he had touched. Qui-Gon heard himself cry out hoarsely, heard Obi-Wan echo it, heard Healer Shienda's frantic but futile instructions, felt her try to intervene and mediate, felt Adi Gallia nearly get caught in the backwash of what was happening as she jerked Shienda away from him physically.

And then there was only the choking pressure of an unbelievably consuming bond bursting into completion, of the buried memories rising, of impossible memories.

Making love to a beautiful young man, tasting sorrow, feeling the other's pleasure and pain as though it were his own -- falling to his knees, clutching the cauterized hole through his body, unable to scream his despair, hearing his denial in his Padawan's voice -- lying sleeping while his love took memories from his mind -- standing behind a glowing shield and watching himself run through -- inhabiting what had been wrought only to find hatred -- feeling the despair of losing love, thrice over --

Contradictory memories overwhelmed him like the choking roots of gnarled trees delving deep into the earth. And throughout it, he felt himself anchored by the clear blue-gray eyes of the Padawan who adored him, the Obi-Wan he had always and never known ... the young man who lay in his arms and twined in his soul.

He awakened in a tangle of body, unable for a moment to ascertain which parts of it were his. Blinking, wincing against the light, he opened his eyes to use them to sort it out, found two eyes looking into his just as cautiously, just as dazedly. Well, that didn't help. Blue on gray. Ah, yes, he was Qui-Gon and this was Ben. No, wait -- this was Obi-Wan. Abruptly he re-centered in self.

"What happened?" His lips felt dry, and he disengaged slightly, licking at them as he moved, and a cup was brought to him. Healer Shienda, looking at him with concern.

"A psychic backlash," she admitted wearily. "It was touch and go for both of you. We weren't at all sure you would ... separate." Her eyes were deeply shadowed. "There were more bonds than we suspected, and of different kinds. There were possibly as many as six, drawn from the vestiges of two or more timestreams. Two of them ..." she hesitated. "We believe two of them were incomplete soul bonds. When you offered your mind .. they completed themselves."

That explained a great many things. Qui-Gon glanced sideways at Obi-Wan, who was still partly twined with him, listening and watching with cautious gray eyes. He didn't need to reach to feel the uncertainty and guilt emanating from the young man; he couldn't shield against it.

"You're the Padawan whose Master died," he heard himself say hollowly. "I don't really know you." Qui-Gon needed distance for a moment, and began to struggle against the confines of the coverlet which lay over them. Soul-bonded. To a man who ought to be the Padawan he had to admit he hadn't liked very much in the past few months ... but who somehow wasn't. He managed to get his feet off the edge of the bed, totter onto them, smoothing his rumpled tunics.

The gray eyes closed, and he could feel it as though they were his own. Feel the despair as though it were his own. He tottered, dizziness eating at the edges of his vision.

"Oh, no you don't," Shienda protested. "Get back in that bed before we lose the both of you." Her hands pushed at his shoulders, and Qui-Gon hadn't the strength to resist. He let himself be pressed down at Obi-Wan's side, feeling the dizziness recede. "The soul-bond hasn't stabilized," she informed him tartly. "You were too weak to consummate it."

Qui-Gon shifted nervously as she lifted Obi-Wan's arm and draped it over him, reluctantly admitting that the increase in contact felt good, felt right. Obi-Wan's clear gray eyes remained closed, his face tight with misery; Qui-Gon could feel his guilt and fear that the Master did not want this, did not want him.

The pain felt like his own. Uncertainly, he snuggled close to the Padawan -- to his Padawan, to his lover Ben, and forced himself to begin to let his fears go, soothing the younger man, feeling the familiarity of his aura and of his heart. He could feel his own dismay begin to abate as he calmed the fears that traveled between them across their newly-reformed bond.

"I need to meditate," he whispered, letting the breath of his words brush the younger man's cheek. "So much to integrate. So much to grow accustomed to. So much to learn." His memories were chaos, he would have to sort out Obi-Wan's from his own, make the two timelines distinct, become fully aware of which he had inhabited and which he had not.

Obi-Wan -- Ben -- nodded uncertainly and relaxed slightly with relief that he was not rejected, eyes still closed, the tip of his nose brushing Qui-Gon's.

The soft contact nearly undid him, wakening his new-found memories of Ben; they reassured him, and he felt his hand slide to the small of his Padawan's back and pull the young man closer. He did know this man in heart and soul, he had held him before, he reminded himself. A thousand times, and a thousand ways, in a thousand moments and timelines, the same soul. And even if it had not been precisely this way before ... what did that matter? The moment was all that mattered -- and this moment belonged to them, as it might never have done if not for the young man whose soul was now bonded to his own.

"You're alive," Obi-Wan whispered faintly, weakly, his arms sliding around his Master, trembling.

"And I am home at last." Qui-Gon nestled him close. Somehow, they both knew the words for true, and the poetry Qui-Gon remembered sharing with Ben rose in him, quiet and unbidden.

"Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only ...
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
... In my end is my beginning."

The words grew soft and slurred, and at last he let them go, curling himself around his bonded mate. Obi-Wan was very nearly asleep, the young man sighing softly and letting go of consciousness as his Master's words filled him with hope. Slowly Qui-Gon followed him into dreams, both men finally freed from the past by the beginning of their future.

--the end--