The Path Not Walked

by Nati_A

Archive: OKEB & Master_Apprentice, if desired.

Rating: PG for now.

Pairing: None. Q/O fic, with no relationship planned.

Spoilers: Plenty. TPM and Jedi Apprentice books most notably.

Feedback: Is appreciated. Flames are traumatic, keep them to yourself!

Prayer: Dear God, let Juno not eat the formatting on this!

Summary: TPM retold in an AU world where Obi-Wan never convinced Qui-Gon to take him as a Padawan. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon met again on Naboo and the story begins.

Notes: All mistakes are my own. No betas were used in this effort, mostly due to the fact that my trusted beta lives in the UK. She has not yet seen the movie or read the books, and sending this to her seemed to be in poor taste. (And I didn't want to die just yet :-)

My copies of the books are packed in a box in the basement; I have just moved home from college. Certain names, such as Bandomeer, Corusant, and the like, may be spelled incorrectly. Please bare with me until I can uncover the box and recheck the books for spelling.

This story is a response to the AU challenge issued by Lianne <> a few days ago. Since I am working two jobs over the summer, I don't know how regular the installments will be. Again, please bare with me. This is a Work-in-Progress fic.

I hope you all enjoy it!

Obi-Wan slowly walked down the wooded path. With datapad and portable scanner in hand, he studied the forest around him. Everything was lush and very healthy; he was a bit confused by that. The Naboo had contacted AgriCorps for help. It seemed that the planet's agricultural industry was failing fast. The planet was a veritable paradise, but the farming community could not keep the population feed.

How could a planet so rich in vegetation and growth have such a poor basis in agriculture? One would think that the government would have addressed the problem long ago. He had found that the Naboo were a proud people, especially those few that had been empowered to lead. Their former ruler was a tyrant, and the newly elected queen was very dramatic, as was the custom. Things on Naboo seemed very reliant on customs and protocol.

The young queen was trying to address the problem, but the Naboo had hid their shortcomings by importing a large portion of their foodstuffs for decades. Rather than ask for help and admit to weakness, the King had ignored the problem. Though peaceful, the people were very suspicious of others. Showing weakness was unacceptable; to show weakness was to make oneself vulnerable to others. The planet did not want to appear either weak or vulnerable to outsiders.

Obi-Wan had already discovered the true reasons behind the agricultural deficiencies. Pride and poor judgment had allowed a few bad growing seasons to create a disaster. The whole industry was now suffering for it. Antiquated technology, exhausted soil, and inexperienced workers were the only problems he could find.

Obi-Wan sighed and shut down his scanner. He could not find anything else, no other causes. //At least I can work with this// he thought. There were no toxic pollutants to remove, no harsh environmental conditions to overcome, and no deadly bacteria plaguing the area. All AgriCorps needed to do was set up some starter farming colonies and begin retraining the workers. Once that was underway, the Naboo would be well on their way to a self sufficient agricultural industry.

Unfortunately, it might already be too late. The Naboo had attracted the attention of the Trade Commission months ago, and it was not long before they had discovered the planet's plight. Soon after that, large tariffs had been instituted on the busy shipping lanes in and around the system. The Trade Commission was not above profiting off a small planet's resource problems.

Obi-Wan had been following the situation closely since his arrival. He had learned long ago that commercial politics could be dangerous. His very first assignment with AgriCorps had nearly proven fatal. He smiled at that. Farming was not a dangerous occupation, but the world around it often was. He had barely made it to Bandomeer. So technically, it was not his first assignment, but the transport to it, that was so perilous.

He thought back on those days with mixed feelings. It had been the end of his childhood and youthful fantasies; it had been the beginning of his life. Being released from the Jedi temple had been rough. It has hurt so very deep at the time. But over the years, he had come to accept his fate. The force did not choose him to be one of it's defenders. He was not to become a Jedi Knight as he had hoped, but he helped to protect it in his own small way. He had brought life to near barren worlds, and in doing so, he helped spread the force around the galaxy. It was a humble, yet fulfilling task.

There were days when he regretted the foolish choices he had made during his final days at the Temple. Four weeks before his thirteenth birthday, he had made his last mistake. He had been goaded into a fight with a bully and had walked into his deceitful little plan. He had been shipped off for beating the other student, though the bully had been no more injured than himself. But the bully had run to the healers with his exaggerated wounds and false words. In turn, the healers went to the Counsel, and his fate had been sealed within hours.

Master Yoda had convinced the Counsel to let him fight before one last Master, hoping to find him a teacher. However, the effort had been in vain. Master Jinn had lost a Padawan not long before and was not yet ready to take another. Regardless, he had not fought well, not shown his skill, but desperation and anger. Master Jinn had seen this and was not impressed. With his birthday so close and no other Masters scheduled to come looking for Padawans, he was sent off to AgriCorps to use his gift with the Force for farming.

He sighed, wondering whatever had happened to Master Jinn. They had parted ways shortly after arriving on the Bandomer mining planet. He had heard that there were more troubles with the mining company war; the war that had almost claimed his life in transit. He had no doubt that Jedi intervention quickly diffused the situation, though he was not completely certain. He was entrenched in AgriCorps affairs almost as soon as he arrived at the outpost.

His training prepared him so well for the task, that within five years, he had risen to his current position as Project Coordinator. At eighteen, he had been the youngest Coordinator to ever operate out in the field. That was one of the few accomplishments made outside of the Temple that he was proud of. So much so, that he turned down the promotion to Sector Chief two years ago and had maintained his current position for the past seven years. At twenty- five, he was content with his life, and did not want to give up the field work for a managerial assignment back at the Central Operations Center on Corusant.

The chirp of his comlink interrupted the rest of his thoughts. Looking at his chronometer, he realized he was overdue to check in and answered it quickly.

"Obi-Wan here."

"If you checked in on time, my life would be so much simpler," a rough male voice answered him.

"But I live to keep you on your toes, DeaMak."

"Yeah. With the Trade Commission looming overhead and the rising unease over the embargo, I wish you'd lay off it for once and check in as scheduled!"

"I'm sorry. I lost track of time. I'm on my way back now. There's nothing new to report. We can go ahead as planed and file our petition to the Queen's advisors for approval."

"The forms are compiled and waiting for you back here. Remember, the next check in is in two hours," DeaMak teased.

"I'll be back by then and you know it!"

"But with you, one never knows!"

"Point taken. Obi-Wan out."

He was smiling again after his conversation with BaseOps. The thoughts about the past had made him pensive until DeaMak stepped in. There were days when he was certain that his friend was also Force sensitive. Or maybe he was just highly empathic. Whatever the cause, he could search out and end an introspection attack without fail. Obi-Wan was grateful for this; he had more important things to do at the moment.

If AgriCorps could get things set up soon enough, Naboo's agricultural industry would recover. A quick recovery would severely limit the blockade's effectiveness by eliminating the critical need for galactic imports. The Trade Federation would not be pleased with this, but AgriCorps's philanthropic nature shielded it from the Federation. Any and all supplies that AgriCorps needed were authorized and permitted past the blockade per Senate order.

About an hour after talking with DeaMak, Obi-Wan felt it. Someone was here and in trouble; the Force was telling him that much. An alarming shift in the Force occurred and he felt an intense need to help prevent it. There was also a coldness to the sensation; he had learned over the years that this was a sign of serious trouble. He had had a bad feeling about this mission from day one; now it had just grown exponentially.

When he tried to contact the main AgriCorps base, all he got was static. If his comlink had malfunctioned, he would not even have had that, and if the BaseOps system had failed, the AgriCorps satellite would have bounced his signal back to the main communication switchboard. //It was almost as if the system was being blocked,// he thought. //But that could only happen if a damping field had been placed around... the planet.// Obi-Wan's head snapped up at that. //The Trade Federation, but they lack the power to invade without Senate approval.//

Looking at the canopy of trees above did him little good. He stopped his hike back to base and sat on the forest path. Centering himself as he had been taught so long ago, he gathered the Force to him, then reached out with it. What he 'saw' was alarming. Death hung over part of the forest not far from him, death and fear. The primitive life was on the move en masse, and the Living Force shuddered and shifted with its exodus. There were days when his temple training was invaluable. Today was one of them; he stood and headed off towards the disturbance.

His scan had shown him something else as well. There was a Jedi Knight in the forest, and he needed help. Obi-Wan was determined to provide whatever assistance he could. He still had his lightsaber from his days at the Temple, as was his right for treading the path of the Light and working to help promote the Force throughout the universe. He still practiced with it daily out of necessity; wielding it without injuring himself or those around him required that. The lightsaber was a weapon of skill and concentration; it could be just as deadly to the user as to those it was used against.

The distressed Jedi was in the heart of the disturbance, so that was were Obi-Wan was going. The AgriCorps base would be a safe haven for his people, and DeaMak would have already put the emergency procedures into affect. He was not worried about the AgriCorps group, but the Jedi was concerning him. From his brief scan using the Force, he could tell that the other was injured and fighting alone. He slowed his pace a fraction as he neared the edge of the disturbance. He could barely feel anything from the area, it was so void of animal life and Living Force.

He could faintly hear the hum of mechanized droid ships, but he knew they were close. The dense tree growth acted like a natural insulator; it provided an excellent sound barrier. He reached out with the Force more aggressively, hoping to make contact with the other Jedi, but failed. He sighed, knowing that he had never been fully trained and lacked the skill to communicate through the Force. He could only project his proximity and willingness to help the Jedi Knight, hoping that he heard his offer. For two people to connect like this was rare; it was usually only seen when one was in critical need, so Obi-Wan was resolved to find him quickly.

Breaking through the trees, he was suddenly facing a small lake. He could see the Jedi crouched behind some brush in an attempt to conceal himself. Several droid scouts were patrolling overhead on gun platforms, undoubtedly looking for the Jedi. When Obi-Wan saw the Jedi, he understood the call he had felt. It was Master Jinn that was in need; he and Qui-Gon Jinn had formed a tenuous bond during the transport to Bandomeer.

Obi-Wan had never thought much about the bond, but apparently he and the Jedi Master were connected more forcefully than he could have ever imagined. It was amazing that he had felt Qui-Gon's need at all, for Obi-Wan was severely out of practice with using the Force in this way. He did not need to sense and track distressed plants; plants were usually stationary and the toxins that sometimes assailed them had their own distinct signatures. However, this bond had been forged under desperate circumstances twelve years previous and never again used, until now, when the situation was desperate once more.

The sound of the approaching STAPs bought him out of his daze. He nodded to the injured Jedi, hoping to convey support, before facing the two scouts heading toward him. He shifted his cloak to reveal his AgriCorps insignia as the droids brought their platforms to hover in front of him.

"Halt. State your name and purpose." A mechanized voice demanded of him.

"I am Ben Kenobi of AgriCorps," he answered, using the informal name he had begun using years earlier. "I'm simply checking some abnormal scanner reading." He emphasized this by holding up both his scanner and datapad, but was careful to keep the lightsaber from view. "I didn't know the Trade Federation had been authorized to land troops on Naboo."

The droids stood silently for a few moments, obviously conferring with the remote ship and awaiting further instructions. Obi-Wan hastened a quick glance to where he had seen Master Jinn. He was pleased to see that the Jedi had taken advantage of the distraction and hidden more effectively.

The droids suddenly turned back to him and spoke again. "You must come to the main deployment ship. Do not resist and you will not be harmed. Surrender now."

"I don't think so." He replied with a sly smile. "I am an AgriCorps employee and free from Federation control. The Viceroy know this fact; the Galactic Senate has granted amnesty to all our AgriCorps outposts and personnel." His tone was confident; he knew his rights. He had been trained for this sort of confrontation long ago.

"Surrender now. You must return..."

"No," he stated firmly. "Detaining me without cause is in direct violation of GS Mandate 4419AZÞ7. I refuse to cooperate."

The droids paused again for instructions. Obi-Wan simply stood waiting, with his identification badge ready. He hoped that the trade Federation had not disabled the droid programming that exempted AgriCorps. //The Federation has only recently been informed of our presence here, so they should not be expecting to run into any of us so soon.// he thought to himself.

Logically, he knew that the droids were simply verifying the mandate number, but he was anxious nonetheless. After a few moments, the droids nodded and flew off to continue the search elsewhere. Unfortunately, Obi-Wan did not know that they had logged this encounter into the system and recorded his identity.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Obi-Wan sat on a nearby log to wait for Master Jinn to reappear. Strangely, he could still feel a vague Force concentration and knew that the Jedi was near. Though he did not know how all of this had happened, he was very curious to see why the master was so distressed.

A deep and remarkably soft spoken voice drifted to Obi- Wan. "That curiosity and your reckless risk-taking will cost you dearly one day, young man."

Obi-Wan smiled despite himself. He did not realize that he was projecting his thoughts and feeling so strongly. Over the past twelve years, he had encountered few Force sensitive people, so he was negligent with his shielding skills as well.

"A true student of the Force would not be remiss in such a basic skill." Qui-Gon admonished freely.

"A true student of the Force would be a Jedi Knight, not an AgriCorps farmer. And a true Jedi Master can face any challenge with skill and resource," Obi-Wan admonished back easily. "So why were you so distressed by two droid scouts?"

Qui-Gon emerged from the dense forest looking thoroughly unhappy. He was wet and muddy, very unbecoming of a sage Master of the Force. Judging from the darkened scorch marks on both his cloak and tunic, he had recently been injured by blaster fire.

"Only a fool would face a droid army without anxiety. I was merely concerned for the Naboo and a certain young man who recklessly threw himself in front of a droid gun platform." Qui-Gon replied with clipped speech and a tense tone.

"I was is no danger. AgriCorps provides safety..." Obi- Wan began.

"There is no safety. This invasion is highly circumspect. It is being controlled by a force far greater than of the Trade Federation."

Qui-Gon was assuming what Obi-Wan could only describe as a 'Jedi Master lecture posture.' He raised his hands in defeat, hoping to stop what he feared would be a long tirade about galactic politics and the forthcoming danger to all.

"Master Jinn, you are injured. Please sit and let me examine your wounds." Obi-Wan said gently while walking towards the Jedi.

With gentle insistence, he managed to guide and seat Qui- Gon on a flat rock; he could better examine the injured shoulder and upper back in this position. Silently, Obi- Wan pulled out a portable trauma kit from his shoulder pack and set to work cleaning the injured area.

Qui-Gon looked closely at his rescuer. Truth be told, this boy had provided him with a quiet escape from the pursuing droids. He did look familiar, but Qui-Gon could not immediately place him. As a Jedi Master and regular ambassador for both the Supreme Chancellor and the Galactic Senate, he had traveled to countless planets on hundreds of mission over the years. He had obviously met the youth before and left a lasting impression on him.

"You have me at a disadvantage." Qui-Gon offered neutrally. He had been in the dense forest during the exchange between the droids and the young man. He could very little from his position, and had trusted the Force to alert him to danger.

"Kenobi. Obi-Wan Kenobi, though my friends call me Ben now. I'm not surprised that you have forgotten. After all, I was only one of hundreds vying for your attentions at the Temple."

Those words were not spoken harshly or with sarcasm. The Master could feel the sincerity behind them and was shocked by it. //How could I not remember you?// he thought.

Obi-Wan had fought by his side many years ago. He had shown much skill and great potential, though the Jedi had been loath to admit it at the time. He had not taken the boy as his apprentice, and had since felt as if he had defied the will of the Force in that. He had been unwilling to take any student after loosing his last to the Dark Side. Even Obi-Wan's steadfast courage and determination could not overcome that reluctance.

"Of course I remember. But you have grown from the boy I knew, to a man. I simply did not recognize you," Qui-Gon replied with affection.

"We should get you back to BaseOps. This shoulder needs more tending than I can provide," was Obi-Wan's only comment.

Before they moved on, Obi-Wan took off his coat and motioned for Master Jinn to do the same.

"Here. Take my coat and hat. If we run into more of those scouts, hopefully they'll assume you're also from AgriCorps and let us pass."

Obi-Wan took the long Jedi robe from its owner and gently folded it. He placed it carefully into his pack, as if were of great value. Qui-Gon watched this with mild amusement for a moment before the feeling turned to guilt. //Had I trained you, you would have one of your own, my friend.// He thought sadly.

Qui-Gon could feel a strange connection to this spirited young man. Obi-Wan was not especially charismatic, but the Jedi Master felt drawn to him regardless. He knew that this was the ever-present Force, guiding his actions and instincts once again. The feelings he had ignored so long ago resurfaced. He felt an intense need to protect Obi-Wan, even now when he was injured and the boy was whole.

//He is a grown man now. I must quit thinking of him as the boy he once was.// He thought wryly. //He has long been resigned to this fate. Dwelling on the past will do us no good. Focus on the present,// the Master chided himself gently. Lost in his thoughts of the past and of the Force, Qui-Gon was unaware that Obi-Wan was talking to him.

It was only after Obi-Wan had injected him with a stimulant that Qui-Gon realized he was sitting once again. He re-focused his thoughts and could feel the strong waves of concern coming from his companion. After shaking his head gently to clear it further, he noticed the injector gun in Obi-Wan's hand.

"What? What did you do?" He asked.

"Master Jinn. Are you all right? Look at me, focus."

"What happened? I..."

"It was weird. One moment we were exchanging coats and preparing to leave, and the next you were... not here."

"What do you mean?" Qui-Gon asked, still confused.

"It was almost like you were meditating. The Force swelled around you and you stopped responding to the real world."

"Need I remind you that the Force is very real?" The Master replied a bit more harshly than he intended.

"You know what I mean." Obi-Wan countered just as harshly. "Physical, the physical world."

"I just need to rest, then I shall be fine."

"Not here you don't. This place is crawling with droids. Come on, follow me."

"Where?" Qui-Gon resisted. He felt vague misgivings now. The Force was telling him that something was wrong, but he could not determine exactly what it was.

"Back to the AgriCorps outpost. You'll be safe there. The Federation wouldn't dare..." Obi-Wan began quickly.

"The Trade Federation tried to kill me Obi-Wan. How else do you think I got these wounds?" Qui-Gon interrupted him.

"You'll be safe. They'll never know you're there," the young man insisted again.

"They will. And they will come for me. I cannot do as you ask; I must continue on to Theed, must see the Queen."

"You are injured and weary. You must rest in order to heal. Please, let me help you." Obi-Wan pleaded.

"I will not endanger you further," was the Jedi's only response.

"And I will not let you walk off in this condition, Jedi Master or not!"

"What condition? I am fine."

"Fine? By the Force, I had to inject you with a half vial of stimulant to bring you out of that trance. It is too dangerous here to meditate, Master Jinn. Too dangerous to try to heal yourself. Now move."

With that, Obi-Wan grabbed the Jedi's wrist and pulled him to his feet. A gentle push to an uninjured portion of his back propelled him a few steps in the direction of BaseOps.

Qui-Gon hesitated. "But the risk of..."

"The risk is mine to take." Obi-Wan interrupted again.

"I should not..."

"Accept help? I can get you medical treatment and have you on your way to Theed by midday. Trust me."

Qui-Gon realized that he did. He had no idea why, but he knew that Obi-Wan could provide the services he promised. Despite the risks, he accepted the offer. Obi-Wan guided him quickly toward the AgriCorps base and relative safety.

Obi-Wan was right to disguise the Jedi Master. They saw several more scout droids searching for him on the way back to BaseOps. Fortunately, the only droid that stopped them also believed the ruse and accepted Master Jinn as another AgriCorps worker. The injured Jedi let his companion handle the verbal exchange, trusting him to be as sure and strong as before.

As the Scout flew off, Obi-Wan smiled faintly, "I wasn't sure that was going to work twice."

"Let us hope that we can avoid the others."

"Well, we're near the edge of the disturbance. Hopefully, it's also the edge of the Federation's presence."

"Disturbance?" Qui-Gon asked curiously.

"The disturbance in the Force, from the primitives fleeing the area so quickly."

"You can feel this?" Qui-Gon asked in surprise.

"Yes. Can't you?" It was Obi-Wan's turn to be confused.

"Of course. I did not believe that one untrained would also feel it so strongly."

Obi-Wan just looked away. He did not like being reminded of what he considered to be his greatest failure, but took great pains to shield his discomfiture from the Master beside him. //It'd serve no purpose to be melancholy and self-absorbed,// he reminded himself. There were more pressing concerns at hand.

Qui-Gon was once again saddened to see a youth with such potential using his talent for nothing more than growing plants. The counsel should have found this charge a Master, regardless of his headstrong nature and short temper. //Maybe that was what Master Yoda had been trying to do so many years ago. He repeatedly pushed me to consider Obi-Wan,// he though quietly.

While the two walked on in silence, Qui-Gon thought back to Bandomeer once more. He still firmly believed that sending Obi-Wan away was for the best. Had he stayed with Qui-Gon any longer, he would have surely been exposed to Xanatos. His former apprentice would have undoubtedly used the boy against him, whether Obi-Wan was his Padawan or not.

Xanatos had been ruthless in his plan to destroy Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon had not understood the true extent of Xanatos's scheme until several days after his death. A death delivered by Qui-Gon's own hand. He had confronted his former student after negotiating between the mining companies had gone a little too smoothly. His danger sense had been peeked by the ease of cooperation after so many years of fierce competition and destructive tendencies.

The forced meeting had quickly turned into a deadly fight once Xanatos realized his plans were failing. Though the ex-Jedi retained his lightsaber, he did not have the skill to beat the veteran he opposed. Qui-Gon had little choice in dealing with his vengeful student; he could not let one so cunning and devious be free to plot further violence. Qui-Gon refused to allow Xanatos's vengeance to harm any more innocents; there were enough victims on Bandomeer to haunt the Master as it was. He quietly ended man's life as he should have done when the youth first turned to the Dark Side.

//Yes, sending Obi-Wan away to AgriCorps was the right choice,// he thought. //Had Xanatos seen us together, he would have harmed him.// Qui-Gon unconsciously shuddered at that thought. He could only imagine what Xanatos's demented mind would have plotted for the boy that he would have mistakenly thought replaced him. If Xanatos was willing to destroy nearly an entire planet to get revenge, he would have definitely arranged a wicked fate for Obi-Wan as well.

Qui-Gon had been both fascinated and appalled by the lengths to which Xanatos would have gone to destroy him. Discovering the dormant bombs had been purely accidental. While touring the Home Planet Mine, Qui-Gon had noticed a crate with Xanatos's crest stamped on it. Seeing the broken circle, Qui-Gon immediately ordered for the mine to be evacuated as a precaution. He then carefully opened the box and discovered the bomb inside; he realized the full scope of Xanatos's plan within moments.

The angry young man was going to destroy the planet through a series of explosions. Obi-Wan's AgriCorps base had been one of those locations, so he had not kept the boy as safe as he imagined. Regardless, he decided against risking the child's life further and had left Bandomeer alone.

By now the pair of Jedi were back at the main AgriCorps base. Obi-Wan quickly led the Master to the infirmary, then left him to the care of a skilled MediDroid and a talkative MediTech named Talis. While Obi-Wan was checking on the AgriCorps staff and conferring with DeaMak on the emergency plans, Talis happily told Qui-Gon all about "Ben's" career.

The ReaLenians, a humanoid race with tall slender bodies, pale white skin, dark hair, and catlike eyes, were naturally boisterous. Talis was no exception; she had the diminutive facial features of her people, a thin, waif like body, and height to match Qui-Gon himself. When she had asked the Jedi about his meeting Obi-Wan, he answered truthfully and spoke of the meeting years past at the Jedi

Temple. She had automatically assumed that the pair were old friends that had fallen out of touch, and proceeded to "catch him up" on the past decade of Ben's life.

She told of his recent accomplishments on Dantooine and Peramua, two very arid planets that now boosted small islands of dense forest growth thanks to Obi-Wan determination and planning. She also told of his love for nature and devotion to all life, a trait that Qui-Gon recognized as reverence for the Living Force. As Qui-Gon politely listened, he noticed that Talis avoided a period of several years. She talked only of the present, recent past, and distant past. When he asked her about this, she smiled sadly.

"Those years were not the most pleasant of times for Ben."

"Why?" Qui-Gon asked, now genuinely curious about the life Obi-Wan had created for himself.

"He found a great woman capable of loving him despite his flaws. She shared his passion, and they dreamed of growing old together." She paused for a moment. "But he lost her too soon, much too soon."

"She has passed then?" Qui-Gon asked with a touch of sadness.

"Yes, the Swamp Fever of Korat claimed her. Four years ago it was, he lost them both. Jareth and the baby. We thought he'd follow them soon after. He was so sad and depressed, for so very long. But then he found Anakin, and felt needed again."

"Anakin is his new love?"

Talis laughed wholeheartedly at this. "Oh, no. Ani is just a boy. A young slave boy that Ben rescued from Tatooine. He's a hand full, keeps us all on our toes, that he does. But Ben loves him, he fills the place in his soul that was empty for so long."

"If I may ask, you said that..." he paused, thinking back to the names Talis had mentioned. "Jareth loved him despite... some flaws. He seems to have become a strong young man, what are these terrible flaws?"

"Ah, that I blame you for! The Jedi caused it."

"What?" Qui-Gon could not see what fault Obi-Wan could have that would have been caused by the Jedi.

"His feelings of failure. He may not talk about it anymore, and those that haven't known his as long as I may not see it. But he was deeply hurt by not being selected to be a Jedi Knight. Deeply hurt."

"Surely he has moved past this. Not everyone taken to the Temple can serve the Force in that capacity. I thought he understood this."

"Understanding and accepting are two entirely different things."

"That is very true. I did not realize it affected him so..." he began.

"How would you feel if the people you thought of as your only family cast you aside for nothing more than growing up?" She interrupted, before turning away to gather more bandages.

Qui-Gon let the conversation stall. He had been thinking of the past too much as it was, and he refused to dwell on Obi-Wan's fate longer than was necessary. He had business to attend to. His focus needed to be directed on helping the Naboo and reaching the Queen.

He was about to leave, whether Talis was finished or not, when he felt a faint stir in the Force. As a small blond head peeked around the door and into the treatment room, Qui-Gon watched curiosity transform into pure joy. Before he could even offer a greeting, the boy had leapt onto the table next to him. Talis was at his side in an instant, checking his injuries and chastising the boy.

"Ani! What do you think you're doing?!" she demanded.

"I wanted to see..."

"You never ever jump onto an exam table with a patient. You know better! And you know that you're not even supposed to be down here!"

"But he isn't hurt that badly."

"It doesn't matter! He very well could have been."

"Ben said..."

"He told you that you could attack him?" she asked incredulously.

"No, but..."

"No buts. You know better. Now apologize to Master Jinn."

Qui-Gon watched the exchange with an amused grin. The ReaLenian woman appeared anything but stern at first glance, but looks were definitely deceiving. She knew how to control the energetic boy that was sitting with him.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean any harm. I just wanted to see you. Ben said that there was a real live Jedi here, and I just had to come see for myself. He wouldn't have told me, I think. But I was listening to him and DeaMak over the comm system. Dea is really nice, have you met him yet? He lets me sit with him sometimes, but I think it's more to keep an eye on me when Ben's away." The boy paused for a deep breath before continuing in that excited, nonstop way that only children can manage. "Oh, my name is Anakin, but people usually just call me Ani. So are you really a Jedi Knight? Do you have a laser sword? I thought only real Jedi Knights had them, but Ben has one too. He said the Jedi allowed him to keep it after he had to leave the Temple. He was too old to become a Jedi, so they sent him to AgriCorps." Ani's wide eyes met his own, and he could see the barely restrained excitement therein.

"Yes, I am a Jedi Master, but you must..."

"Wow! It's nice to meet you. I never met a real Jedi before." He would have continued, but Qui-Gon's put a restraining hand on his shoulder.

"Ani, you must keep my presence here a secret," he said gravely.

"Are you in trouble? Ben always helps people when they're in trouble. Talis says he has a really big heart, but I don't understand why that would matter. He helped me and mom off Tatooine. He's really nice that was. We were slaves, but he set us free. I'm glad he didn't become a Jedi. If he did, then I'd still be on Tatooine."

"That was very nice of him, to free you and your mother. And Yes, I am in trouble. The Trade Federation is looking for me, so you cannot tell anyone of my presence here. Understand?"

"Not even..." he began in a hopeful voice.

"No, Ani. You can't tell anyone," answered a voice from the doorway.

Qui-Gon quickly turned toward the sound. He had been so focused on Ani's animated conversation that he did not feel Obi-Wan approach. He realized that his fatigue from fighting his way through the Federation blockade ship and invasion force also contributed to his lapse in awareness. If he did not rest soon, he would need to draw on the Force to augment his strength.

"I'm sorry Master Jinn. Anakin, shouldn't you be packing for the evacuation?" Obi-Wan asked is a stern voice. "Go."

Anakin left, shuffling his feet and grumbling about never getting to meet the important people. He politely waved from the door, before disappearing into the corridor.

"Again, I'm sorry about that. He's a handful and so very full of energy. He loves to meet new people and see strange places a little too much."

"He was no problem. You are leaving Naboo then?"

"Yes, the invasion force is very large. We have decided to withdraw from the planet while we can," Obi-Wan stated simply.

"Will the Federation allow you to leave? Your people know of this hostile action."

"The Federation is maintaining that a communication back out was necessary to curtail any electronic commerce and to limit the possibility of smuggling. Officially, we have requested permission to leave the planet since there is little we can do to improve Naboo's ecology." Obi-Wan replied with a sly smile. "Only yourself, DeaMak, and I really know what is going on down here."

Qui-Gon looked around and noticed that the infirmary was empty now. Even Talis had gone to allow privacy for this conversation.

"Is this the truth? You cannot help the Naboo?"

"Yes, however there are many things we can do to combat the deficiencies in their agricultural base. That is what has caused this situation," Obi-Wan responded soberly.

"They have given you leave to evacuate?"

"A five-hour window has been granted. I'm going to take the offer while it stands. I don't want anyone from AgriCorps stranded here while the Federation controls this planet."

Carrying a datapad filled with more information than Qui-Gon could have ever expected, he boarded the AgriCorps ground skimmer. Obi-Wan had outdone himself this time. He had provided the Jedi with a detailed topographical map of the area, the NaviComp course to Theed, emergency rations and water packs, basic medical supplies, a portable AgriCorps microcomputer, and the details of the evacuation.

Though Obi-Wan had said it was standard equipment for any AgriCorps vehicle, Qui-Gon believed otherwise. Obi-Wan was determined to provide him with more support than he could have ever expected. The Jedi Order still occupied a great portion of the boy's heart, even though they had tossed him out of their life so long ago.

He was beginning to worry about the youth's actions and the possible repercussions, but Obi-Wan had said that he would be off planet before the Trade Federation could connect him with the Jedi ambassador. Qui-Gon only hoped that he was right in his prediction. He did not like he idea of endangering Obi-Wan further, but his assistance had been invaluable on this mission.

The Jedi Master was certain that the Trade Federation was acting under someone else's control. Their power and authority had never before extended to invasion, and he was positive that the Supreme Chancellor would never sanction this move. It was the work of the Force that the droid programming had not yet been changed. Otherwise, both he and Obi-Wan would already be in a detention center.

Qui-Gon steered the borrowed speeder out of the docking station and cast a last look at his long denied apprentice.

"Force protect him and his people." Qui-Gon said aloud before returning his attention to his own mission.

Qui-Gon knew that Obi-Wan would have everyone off Naboo by the Trade Federation deadline. He was more than a capable leader, and logically, the Jedi knew that Obi-Wan would be amongst them. Still, something did not feel quite right about the situation, so he looked to the Force for guidance once more.

When no enlightenment was forthcoming, he decided that it was his duty to warn the Naboo. He would worry about Obi-Wan later; his mission of mediation and peacekeeping had to come first. If he had already failed in that, then he would take word of this illegal invasion to Corusant.

Obi-Wan calmly used Force enhanced orders to get the evacuation going according to schedule. With a comment here and a suggestion there, occasionally a barked order or terse acknowledgment, the urgency of the operation was readily apparent. He would do whatever it took to get his team moving and moving quickly.

He hoped Master Jinn was fairing well with his mission, but he was no longer concerned about the Jedi. They each had a duty to perform, otherwise those looking to them for guidance might suffer.

He had the first transport loaded with people and their basic travel necessities when the Jedi Master returned. Though Obi-Wan had not anticipated seeing him again, he had downloaded the AgriCorps launch coordinates and estimated departure times to the Master's datapad as a precaution. He had hoped that the Jedi could find an alternate escape method, but he had provided a backup option should the Master's resources fail. It appeared that his instincts had lead him true once again.

What he had not considered was the entourage of people that accompanied the Jedi. He had evidently been successful in rescuing the young Queen and was now leading her majesty along with her handmaidens, councilors, and royal guard straight to the transport. How Master Jinn had gotten twelve courtly people in a transport built for no more than eight passengers was beyond Obi-Wan's grasp.

He was immediately aware of the fact that there was no way he could smuggle all of these refugees offworld; the Jedi had to realize this. There was not enough room physically on the shuttle, and beyond that, he could not pad their records to such an extent. Adjusting the AgriCorps rooster to that extent would jeopardize everyone on the transport should the Trade Federation find the fraud.

Obi-Wan walked up to the Master and spoke. "You have got to be kidding. There is no way I can get all of you away from here," he said in an exasperated tone.

The Queen looked down upon him, though not in reality since she was just a child, but her aloft gaze projected the gesture. "You will deny us passage, after fighting to reach you? Jedi, you said this one was sympathetic to our cause, that we should trust in your faith," she accused unabashedly.

"He will help you leave the planet, your majesty. You and your core advisors can travel to Corusant," Qui-Gon answered without pause.

Obi-Wan held up his hand. "No, I can transport five people, but no more. Smuggling all of you will risk too much. I have to get my team away safely, that's my primary concern." He paused to study the group that was already trying to determine who should accompany the Queen. "And Master Jinn must be one of the five. That's the only way I can consent to this."

The Master seemed momentarily surprised by this statement, but he recovered quickly and shook his head. "I cannot ask the Queen's Cabinet to step aside for me..."

Obi-Wan had been expecting this and cut him off before he could finish his oath. "You'll be on the shuttle. I need you there; you can hide the presence of the Naboo from my crew. They don't need to know of my deception; their ignorance of this..." he looked at the Queen directly, "sympathetic gesture will be their only protection if you are discovered. It's my only requirement for taking the risk and deceiving the Trade Federation. They may have invaded your homeworld and ruined negotiations for the ambassador, but they're willing to let us leave without any violence."

Qui-Gon looked at the young man who had so expertly taken charge. He was in control, of his own people and the royal Naboo refugees standing before him. Any other person may have deferred to the Queen or to the Jedi, but not Obi-Wan. He knew what was in the best interests of his crew and would not be intimidated into anything that posed too great a risk.

Qui-Gon looked to the Queen. He would accept these terms because he knew the truth behind Obi-Wan's words; deceiving the Trade Federation was indeed dangerous for AgriCorps. If the transport were boarded, he could protect the crew by hiding their knowledge of the Naboo refugees and hopefully keep the Naboo from being discovered by the droids. However, the final decision to accept Obi-Wan's offer lay in the Queen's hands.

"You can take word to the Senate and plead your case," he encouraged the young dignitary.

The Queen seemed to carefully consider the offer again. She had believed the Jedi before and fled the capitol, but Qui-Gon was not certain of her resolve to flee her world.

She seemed to be waiting for some external sign, some clue as to what her true path should be. It came in the form of a few encouraging words from her handmaiden, though how the council of a servant swayed the choice he did not know. Surely the ruler did not take cues from her court, but then again, maybe the faith of her followers convinced her to make her supporters' situation be known.

The Queen paused then nodded assent. "We will go to Corusant. I will bring a resolution to this within the senate."

The Captain of the Guard looked to his Queen. "Who shall accompany you? What do you require of us, you Majesty?"

The young Queen looked thoughtful, then pointed to her Governor, Sio Bibble. "You must stay and affect a government presence. I am sorry Governor, but I need only one advisor. Panka shall join me as both advisor and Royal Guardsman."

She gestured to her two closest servants. "My handmaidens shall go as well. Their knowledge of their home providences shall provide the only other insight that I will need." With these decisions made, she turned to Obi-Wan. "Does this satisfy you? Two peasants and one guard should easily to blend in with you crew. As for me, I'm sure a suitable plebeian guise can be found should I need it."

Obi-Wan nodded and motioned for them to board the shuttle. He held Qui-Gon back though and added, "There is more that I require of you."

Qui-Gon tensed at Obi-Wan's words. Though the young man had given unselfishly up until now, he expected a high price to be placed upon their transport. He was not a natural cynic, but after serving as a public defender for so many years, he was well aquatinted with human nature. People did not often give freely of themselves.

"I need you to promise me something. I need you to look after the boy. If anything should happen to me, I need to know that someone will take him in. Someone with a knowledge of the force."

Despite Obi-Wan's mildly pleading tone, Qui-Gon automatically shook his head to deny the request. "I cannot care for a child, Obi-Wan. Jedi life does not permit me the leisure to take such a responsibility."

Obi-Wan sighed in defeat. He had expected as much, and had doubted that the Master would yield to this request. "He's too strong to lose, Master. He is so young and he needs to be protected form the Darkness around him. He tries so hard to stay in the Light, but it's not easy for him. As a slave, he saw too much evil and was used poorly."

The master simply stood, holding his ground on the issue. He looked calm and serene, never doubting his own judgment.

"Please, at least until I arrive at Coruscant to reclaim him. Just for the transport..." Obi-Wan trailed off in defeat. "Please, this is all I've asked from you or the Jedi," he finished without much faith in his ability to sway the Master.

Qui-Gon eyed him suspiciously. "Why can you not tend to the child? When are you planning to evacuate?"

"I'll be on the second transport. It won't be leaving until later. DaeMak and Talis won't be on the first shuttle either. There's no one else that can really control the boy."

"Control him?"

"He's very excitable, as you've seen... and there is much fear in him. He needs to be grounded. Your presence as a Jedi will provide that," Obi-Wan stated calmly.

Qui-Gon simply sighed before moving onto his true concern. "Why delay? Surely leaving together is safer given that you are smuggling out the Nubian Queen and her aides."

"AgriCorps has considerable resources invested in this base. I can't leave without trying to salvage some of it. Supplies from the infirmary and the research equipment are being loaded as we speak. I'll be giving the final evac order shortly. We'll be leaving within the hour and taking a less direct route to Coruscant. The outpost on Perma needs the extra supplies since so few people are passing through this sector due to the embargo."

Qui-Gon paused in thought; he was clearly unhappy with Obi- Wan's responsibilities given the situation. He would rather have had everyone on one transport. He had voiced his concern, but Obi-Wan was determined to recoup some of their losses and to assist the OuterRim colony. Finally, the Jedi Master gave a quick nod. "I will keep the boy with me until we reach the Temple. You can retrieve him from there when you arrive," he relented grudgingly.

Obi-Wan smiled slightly. "Thank you. Your presence as another Force user would do him good." He quietly added, "He really does like you, you know."

The elder refused to comment. He merely shrugged and climbed the ramp to join the waiting Nubian delegation. He quickly herded them to the more secluded crew compartment behind the cargo hold and settled in to wait. Slipping into a light meditation, he let the Force flow through him, trusting it to warn him of danger.

Obi-Wan quickly sought out Anakin and ushered him into the waiting transport.

"Ani, I want you to go the rear crew compartment and wait there. You'll be safe."

Anakin looked confused. "Why can't I ride with DaeMak in the cockpit? I always hang out with the pilots and flight crew. Am I being punished?" he asked quietly.

"No, Ani. DaeMak, Talis, and I are all going on the second transport. We'll be taking supplies to Perma despite the Trade Federation's presence in the sector."

Anakin suddenly seemed agitated. He turned and wrapped small arms around Obi-Wan's hips in a firm hug. "No!" he said emphatically. "You've got to stay with me." He looked up at Obi-Wan with pain filled eyes, "I won't lose you, not like mom. We've got to stay together..."

Obi-Wan kneeled down to the boy's level. "I have to Ani. The Perma colony desperately needs the supplies. You've seen the Republic News vids. This will help sustain them until the trade routes in this sector stabilize."

Anakin still did not seem assured. He had lost his mother not long after being freed from slavery, and Obi-Wan was now his only family. Dantooine, though not as dangerous as Ani's homeworld, was still a planet rife with unscrupulous people preying on the weak and unsuspecting. Whatever agricultural success Obi-Wan had achieved was forever overshadowed by Shmi's death.

On a routine supply run, the skimmer was attacked by raiders on return trip to BaseOps. Shmi had been thrown from the craft when it was rocked with heavy blaster fire despite DaeMak's piloting efforts. Her injuries proved fatal. Obi-Wan still felt responsible for her death, because he had assigned Shmi to assist the supply detail.

She could negotiate with the native traders in the market where others failed. Vendors, who would normally have been suspicious of any Republic representative, readily bargained with Shmi. After so many years of providing for herself and her young son in Tatooine's hostile environment, she could easily handle the bustling trade center with a full creditchip.

She always managed to haggle traders down to lower prices than any of the Requisitions personnel. On most trips, she even managed to obtain a stash of sweet confection without ever surpassing Obi-Wan's budget. This is what made her one of the most loved members of his team; she provided comforts the group would have otherwise been forced to do without. She was a shrewd woman, and one that was sorely missed.

No one would miss her more than her son though. Anakin had been consumed with grief and worry for quite some time after her passing. He became withdrawn and despondent. He had never felt secure among the AgriCorps team and had never gotten very close to any of them. Shmi had accepted Obi-Wan's offer of employment for purely financial reasons. She had intended to leave AgriCorps once her two-year contract expired.

Anakin had felt even more isolated than he had on Tatooine. With no other known relatives and being far too young to be on his own, Obi-Wan became his family. With such a strong Force presence, Obi-Wan could not ignore child as his pain radiated throughout the base. Obi-Wan had taken it upon himself to provide Anakin with some stability and sense of family. They were two lost Force sensitives drawn together by fate.

Now, several years later, near forgotten fears seized Anakin. He's eyes were somewhat clouded as he looked to Obi-Wan's face. "We should stay together... there's something bad happening... here on Naboo."

"I know Ani, that's why I'm sending you with the Jedi. He's in the ship waiting. Just stay with him and everything will be all right. He's going to Coruscant and to the Jedi Temple. You'll get to see it first hand." Obi-Wan tried to keep his tone light and comforting as he spoke. He hoped to soothe away the boy's fears with excitement over seeing Jedi in person.

"But I want to go with you..."

"Ani, it's a boring side trip. We've got to be quick and quiet about it, otherwise the Trade Federation could try to intervene. I can't worry about you and do my duty. If I know you're safe with the Jedi, then I'll be able to concentrate on the job at hand. Okay? Master Jinn will take good care of you."

Anakin hung his head in disappointment, but he finally nodded in understanding. After a few scuffs to the ground with the toe of his boot, he threw himself into Obi-Wan's outstretched arms. Reluctantly, Anakin let go and walked up the ramp. He waved good bye, wiped away a few tears, then turned away to search out the Jedi Master.

Obi-Wan smiled, waved, and sighed quietly once the boy was out of sight. The encounter had gone remarkably well in his opinion. Given Anakin's abrupt loss of his mother, Obi-Wan had anticipated a worse reaction. Hopefully, the boy's fears were unfounded, but Obi-Wan could not shake a looming feeling of dread over the separation.

He picked up his comlink and gave his final orders to the pilots. A few moments later the transport was lifting off and headed out of the atmosphere. Obi-Wan watched it for a few moments before turning back to the second transport. There was much to do if he was to get it ready for departure by the Trade Federation deadline.

(To Be Continued...)