by Skye (

Title: Survival
Author: Skye (
Characters: QG/OW
Rating: PG-13
Category: AU, Angst, H/C, Drama
Summary: Obi-Wan takes care of his Master after the events of Naboo.
Archive: MA, Wolfie's Den, and The Raven's site ( ONLY. In the process of being removed from Corellia and anywhere else it's floated. CD: Yes
Feedback: Sure, why not.
Disclaimer: Lucas owns everything. No money was made from this story.

Chapter 1

Obi-Wan spun away from the pit, back toward the focus of his thoughts, of the source of the panic in his heart. Qui-Gon Jin lay still, in a crumpled heap where the last blow of the Sith had dropped him. The sight of the Lightsaber glowing through his Master's chest was as horrifying a sight as he'd seen.

It took only a few long strides to reach Qui-Gon. Dropping to his knees, Obi-Wan abandoned all pretense of Jedi dignity, of the Master and Padewan relationship. Sliding one hand gently under Qui-Gon's neck, he carefully gathered his mentor into his arms, cradling his head against his chest. One hand fell on the ruined chest, the laser burn still hot under his hand. The clothing was damp with sweat, chilled in the forced air of the palace, though the skin beneath still carried the heat of exertion. Qui-Gon still felt alive.

The chest moved slightly beneath his fingers. Qui-Gon was not yet dead, he realized with a start, with a faint surge of hope. "Master?" he breathed softly, hugging him close against his chest. Master?"

He was rewarded with a faint fluttering of eyelids, then the blue eyes opened. They were glazed and disoriented, but a touch from Obi-Wan oriented the older Jedi instantly. He struggled back from whatever limbo he was hovering in, fighting to regain clarity for at least a few more moment.

But the moments faded, and within moments, Qui-Gon lay lifeless across his knees. The lightsaber had struck him, had burned its way into his chest and completely through, its tip glowing brightly where it emerged from Qui-Gon's back. Obi-Wan had no illusions that such a wound could be survived. Through the vital organs of his Master's chest there was charring and weeping raw tissue. Plasma was already leaking from the wound, soaking into his sleeves and leggings. The stench of blood and burning bone was overwhelming, rising from the blackened hole in Qui-Gon's tunic. Obi-Wan shuddered anew, remembering that the hole traced straight through the broad, always so solid chest. How could he possibly live?

Holding his teacher's cooling body in his arms, Obi-Wan hugged him close for the last time, weeping.

The confrontation the throne room had been brief, and the conclusion just as the Queen had planned it. The Nemiodians were cowards when it came to direct physical confrontation. Without their droid army, their interest in fighting collapsed ingloriously and instantly. The Viceroy had been suitably cowed by Padme's blaster aimed directly at him. He and Nute Gunray were more than content to allow them control of the situation, now that the Sith was no longer present to guide them or force their hand.

The Queen had done her part in the routing the invasion, but there was more at stake than what was transpiring in the throne room.

"Activate the viewscreens," She snapped at Captain Panaka, very much the ruling persona now. Find out what's going on."

He hastened to do her bidding, and at his touch the viewscreens flickered to life. The scenes they revealed of the exterior world were totally confusing. The droids had frozen. The rebels were free to do as they pleased. The fight was over.

"I think we've won, Queen Amidala," The Captain ventured, voice tinged with amazement. "The droids are disabled."

Padme closed her eyes in a moment of relief, then opened them again and frowned. "Where are the Jedi and that-that thing they were confronting? They should be in the palace somewhere. Find them, Panaka."

He nodded, then began scanning the palace, flipping from screen to screen, but all he managed to find was stretches of empty corridor or corridors with frozen battle droids. He turned back to the young queen, waving one hand in frustration at the multiple screens, but she frowned and nodded at the empty viewscreens.

"Keep trying. They're here somewhere."

More moments passed as the view on the screen changed and changed again. Finally, a screen flicked into view, and away again before something registered in both the captain and the Queen's minds. "Wait, go back!" she demanded, but his hands were already adjusting the controls.

"That's the meltdown pit," he exclaimed. "They can't be in there." But the screen returned at that moment, revealing two small smudges where there should only be empty, laser-guarded corridor.

"Hang on," he muttered, then zoomed in on the smudges, enlarging the foreign specks, bringing them into view.

"Oh no," Amidala sighed. "Oh, no..Qui-Gon.."

Obi-Wan was easily visible on the screen now, his grief-stricken expression and shaking shoulders making clear that the Jedi Master sprawled across his knees was not going to rise. Qui-Gon lay limp, eyes closed, one motionless hand trailing across the cold floor in a gesture of lifelessness. Long legs stretched out beside Obi-Wan, one turned uncomfortably under the other in its laxness. Panaka touched the screen controls, and another angle flicked into view, this one revealing a scorched hole in the center of Qui-Gon's tunic.

"I think the Jedi is dead," whispered the Viceroy behind them. "The Sith has killed the Jedi Master."

"But the apprentice lives? Where is the Sith?" Gunray hissed back. "The Sith must be here. I do not want to take the responsibility for dis to the sennnnnate."

"Sith?" echoed Amidala? Is that what that was? Wherever he is, Viceroy, he will not help you now." The anger in Amidala's official 'Ruler of Naboo' voice warred with fear. "Captain." Queen Amidala turned to Panaka, mute appeal in her eyes. 'Make it not so. Make him be alive,' those eyes begged. "Help Qui-Gon," she asked softly, clearly shaken by what she had seen.

Will you be all right here, my Queen? I'll grab a med droid and a transport-"

"I'll be fine. These lizards are no further danger without their droids." She turned and slapped at a control panel, sending a door sliding open. "Go," she urged, pushing him toward the door. "Hurry."

A few terse words into a comlink, and Panaka made good use of the wide and empty corridors as he ran down them. Two others in the orange garb of the Naboo pilot appeared and joined him as he pelted down the corridor.

"Where are we going, Captain?" one man panted.

A quick glance as his new companion revealed one of the pilots from the space battle. "You're back? It's over?"

"It's over. The Neimorian ship exploded. Damndest thing I ever saw. It was blown up from inside, by a kid! By a ship piloted by a little kid!"

Panaka nearly tripped at that news. "Aniken?"

"I don't know his name. Short, blond, can fly a fighter like a-"

"Is he okay?"

"He's fine. He's with Rik Olie' Where are we going?"

"Meltdown pit," he gasped between strides. "The Jedi is down."

"The Jedi?" The pilot's stride faltered at that news. "The JEDI?"

"Qui-Gon Jin. The older one, not the apprentice."

There were no more words, no more questions; only running.

A med droid and transport was waiting at an intersection several levels below. "C'mon," Panaka snapped, and the droid hurried along behind them.

"Too slow," observed the pilot, who had dropped back to a panting walk, slowed by the droid's stiff-legged shuffle. Turning, he scooped up the droid as it passed him, setting it on the transport that hovered above the tile floor. "This is faster," he murmured as he shoved his weight into the transport, sending it skittering along in front of him as he picked up speed.

Panaka heard the lasers cycling before he reached the corridor. The Jedi were still within then, since the lasers were reacting to the presence of detected intruders. He hesitated a moment, then found the cutoff switch, slamming it home and reducing the deadly lasers to silence. The quiet vibrated in their ears, overwhelming in its contrast to the mechanized hum. The silence was broken only by a soft, shuddering intake of breath.

"Obi-Wan?" Panaka called softly. "Help is here."

There was no reply, only a repeat of the same quiet sound of weeping. They headed forward, around the melting pit toward the fallen Jedi. Qui-Gon lay in the same boneless posture he saw on the viewscreen, with head and shoulders cradled in Obi-Wan's arms. The apprentice did not acknowledge their approach, but continued to rock faintly, weeping as he held the body of his Master.

The Captain shook his head sadly, but the fighter pilot dropped to his knees beside them.

"Blaster?" he asked, reaching out to touch the charred cloth of the tunic.

".Lightsaber," came the soft reply.



"Through what?"

Through.his chest. Out his back," Obi-wan advised him, voice flat and filled with misery. He turned away from him then, resting his cheek on Qui-Gon's forehead.

"How long ago."

"He's dead, Biggs," Panaka hissed. "Leave it."

"There's dead and then there's dead," the pilot snapped. "How long ago?" he demanded again, closing one hand over the apprentice's shoulder in an effort to gain his attention.

Obi-Wan shook his head. Time had no meaning now. He could not have told him how long he'd sat there with his Master.

The pilot reached to lift Qui-Gon's hand, then to slip his hand between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon and touch his chest, his throat.

"Get down here, droid."

The droid slid from the transport, landing on the smooth floor with a clatter that echoed deafeningly in the quiet corridor.

"Look at him. Is he dead?"

"There is still life in the cells," he replied in a flat, metallic tone. If the brain has not starved for too long a time, there might be some action we can take. I cannot report if it will be successful."

"Do it." The droid shuffle forward obediently at his command as the pilot rose to his feet. "C'mon, kid," The spacer growled, pulling on Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Put him down and let the droid do his job."

Startled, a tiny spark of hope rising through the nightmarish misery, Obi-Wan slid out from under Qui-Gon's head and shoulders, rising to back away. Panaka reached out to rest a hand on the younger Jedi's shoulder, but the gesture went unnoticed; Obi-Wan's attention was riveted completely on the actions of the droid.

"Have I your permission to treat this man?" it asked formally.

"Yes! Whatever you think might help him," Obi-wan urged him, voice rough with desperation. him."

The droid bent over the still form, checking, testing, injecting. It turned to a small box of supplies it brought with it and pulled forth a small canister and mask, which it set over Qui-Gon's nose and mouth. The cloth was pulled way from the wound and all three men flinched at the sight of the blackened hole disappearing under Qui-Gon's sternum.

Under, Obi-Wan realized suddenly. Beneath his heart! Not through!

"His breathing and circulation have been severely compromised. The lungs are badly damaged by their proximity to the laser, and continue to be so as the heat of the burn is still present. He is further damaged because there is not enough oxygen in his tissues, but the heart is intact and can beat if stimulated. It is unknown how long it has been still, but I do not think it has been very long as there is still electrical activity present, though too disorganized to encourage circulation. There is severe damage within the thoracic cage that will warrant intensive repair," the metallic voice concluded, as though the amount of work involved might have an impact on their decision.

Is he dead now?" asked Biggs.


"Can you get him back?"

"Back from where, sir?"

Can you make him undead?" demanded the pilot. "Can you get that heart beating again?"

"It might be possible, although I can offer no guarantees."

"Work fast. Talk less, droid."

"Yes sir. Immediately sir."

The droid bent over his patient, with various attachments unique to the medical droid coming in to play, with medications and the crackle of electricity that made Qui-Gon's body jerk in response.

Captain Panaka closed his hands tightly over Obi-Wan's arms, then moved one arm to encircle the smaller man's chest. Obi-Wan still strained forward, trembling in anxiety and fear and hope. "Let him work," hissed Panaka. "Let him work. Wait.."

After an eternity of a few moments, The droid straightened finally, then turned to face them. "His heart beats, but I cannot assure you of how long it will continue to do so. The damage is quite severe and will require many repairs if this unit is to continue to function."

Wrenching out of Captain Panaka's grasp, the young Jedi dropped to his knees beside his master. One trembling hand reached out to touch the ruined chest, feeling the miracle of a slight, ragged lift of the rib cage. New tears started to flow, but he could not indulge in relief yet. There was still the very strong chance that this miracle was only a temporary one.

"Where can we find medical care, Captain? Is there anyone in the city who can help him?"

"In camp 4. That's where they took the important prisoners."

"I'll get him," offered the pilot. "Have him back here quick. You get him to the medical unit."

Obi-Wan was once again cradling his Master's head in his arms. "Go. Hurry. The Force is very weak in him."

The pilot took off on a run, boots clattering on the smooth floor.

Panaka and Obi-Won carefully gathered Qui-Gon's long, limp body and gently lifted it to the transport. Once settled, they set the droid on the end by the Jedi's feet and began to head back toward the upper levels.

Obi-Wan trusted the Captain to get them to the place they needed. His entire focus was on Qui-Gon, on the force within him, whispering to him, sending him energy, coaxing him to remain with them, with life.

"Please, Qui-Gon, Please stay here. Don't leave."

Obi-Wan stood shivering in the sterile confines of the medical unit. Qui-Gon was tucked into a monitored transport as the medical droids hovered over him. The younger Jedi stood back, knowing what his next responsibility was. The council needed the report on what had transpired here, for the impact across the Republic from today's events would be great. The defeat of the Neimoidian invasion would create political ripples that would disrupt the smooth surface of the Senate's pond for some time to come. The report of the Sith involvement would do far more to the Jedi council, as would the grim news of the cost of the Sith's defeat.

He hesitated only briefly before punching in the code that would connect him with the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. Using the power of his master's name, he quickly threaded his way through the various levels until he was speaking to Mace Windu himself.

The dark face clouded as he realized he was speaking to an apprentice rather than his old friend Qui-Gon Jinn.

"Obi-Wan," he nodded. It was both greeting and question at the same time.

Obi-Wan swallowed hard against the knot in his stomach and the tightness of his throat. "Master Windu. I wish to report that the situation on Naboo has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. The Federation occupation of Naboo has been ended, and a satisfactory trade agreement has been signed by both Queen Amidala and the Neimiodian Viceroy.

Windu's eyebrows rose at this, and he turned slightly to look down at his side. Obi-Wan had little doubt that Master Yoda was standing by his knee. The scanner backed up a bit, revealing Yoda's bug eyes and wide eartips in the bottom of the viewscreen.

By the Viceroy this was signed? Pleased he is?"

"I doubt it, Master, but Queen Amidala is most satisfied by the outcome."

"The dark attacker. What of him."

The memory of Qui-Gon battling the Sith with such speed and skill surged forward, as did the memory of the red blade punching through the back of his tunic, of his master's knees folding in shock, of him collapsing to the floor-- Obi-Wan struggled to draw a breath as his chest constricted at the pain.

"He has been defeated, Master Windu," Obi-Wan managed to get out. It sounded almost normal, he noted absently. Such a simple sentence. Such a horrible truth behind it.

"Hmmm. Much sorrow do I feel in you," Yoda commented softly. "Bad news you bring. The disturbance in the Force we have felt." Yoda's ears lowered as though he already knew the answer. "Why speaking to us are you, instead of Master Qui-Gon."

This time his voice did fail him. Somehow saying the words in this official report to the council made Qui-Gon's death a reality. A second deep breath failed, but on the third try he heard the words as though someone else was speaking. "Master Qui-Gon was gravely injured by the Sith." Windu's eyes widened, then his gaze unfocused as he searched through the Force for some trace of his old friend, unable to wait for this apprentice to choke out the painful words.'

"He lives." he breathed, "but only just."

Obi-Wan nodded. "The wound is quite severe. They are tending him here as best they can."

"Is the situation on Naboo stable?"

"Yes, Master."

"Is your presence of any assistance to Queen Amidala?"

"I do not believe so, Master. I prefer to stay with Master Qui-Gon in any case, and she understands this."

"Is the care on Naboo satisfactory?"

"They are still in a state of disorder here, Master. They are doing what they can for him, but the medical droids feel that he will need great care and treatment.."

"Which they cannot provide for him at this critical time."

"No, Master. They are doing all they can, but there are so many others injured. They have kept him from dying.."

"So far," Windu finished for him. "Then if he has a chance of surviving the journey, bring him home," Windu ordered. "With all possible speed. I will make the arrangements."

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan bowed, expecting the communication to end, but Windu unexpectedly leaned forward and caught his gaze. "What happened?

"The Sith had a quarterstaff -- a double-bladed lightsaber." Obi-Wan choked at the memory, words failing him. "The blade went completely through his chest-"

"Bring him home, young Jedi," Mace Windu ordered firmly. "With all haste. We will be ready."

The comlink chimed off, and Obi-Wan turned away from the comscreen on the wall and redirected his attention back to his Master, and the medical personnel.

"We're going to take him back to Coruscant," Obi-Wan said softly, looking down at the colorless face of his friend. "He'll have better care there."

Slowly Obi-Wan leaned over the transport on which Qui-Gon lay.

"Master? Did you hear? All is well on Naboo. The mission has been fulfilled, and Master Windu has called us home to Coruscant. There will be healers waiting for us, and they'll take care of everything. We'll be there very soon."

The companel chimed and glowed to life again. "Jedi Kenobi? We have orders to take you back to Coruscant on the Queen's personal ship. We will be ready for takeoff within a few minutes. Would you and the others travelling with you like to board now?"

"We'll be there," he answered, then turned back to Qui-Gon. "See, Master? The fastest ship here is waiting to take us home right now."

He reached out impulsively to stroke the hair away from the colorless face, to feel some life in him, some connection through the Force, no matter how faint. It was there, tiny but glowing within him like the final spark in a fire slowly burning away. The skin was cool and damp beneath his fingers as well.

"You know how fast that little Nubian ship is. You're the one that got the hyperdrive for it, and it was a good one. We're going to run her wide open and we'll see just how fast she really is. She'll do the job, Master. I installed that hyperdrive and it's tuned and balanced and ready to streak"

There was no response. No that he'd expected one, but his heart was hoping, Obi-Wan realized. He straightened, then waived the medical droids back.

"Come on, let's get him up there." The transport was thumbed on, and it rose with a whine of servos to hover over the floor, ready to move when asked.

"We'll have you home in a few hours, Qui-Gon. Less if I can get them to really push it."

"We'll push it," a voice from the Comscreen answered. Obi-wan whirled to face it, startled by the new voice.

"I thought I broke that link."

"I got it back," replied Rik Olie', the Queen's pilot. "You get up here with Master Qui-Gon, and I'll show you just how fast this baby can fly. If anyone can make this silver bird take wing, it's me."

Hope surged in Obi-Wan, who swung the transport toward the door, toward the ship and toward home.

Chapter 2

The transport was swiftly stowed inside the transport ship and locked securely into restraining clamps against the wall, lest it shift during their steep ascent. Rik Olie', true to his word, poured the power to this sleek craft and sent it rocketing skyward with unusual violence, sending a startled Obi-Wan reeling toward the nearest seat as the ship stabbed its way through the atmosphere. Once out into space, the pilot sent it leaping into hyperdrive within seconds of clearing the planet.

"Sorry about the rough ride," he called back to Obi-Wan, "But I figured the faster the better."

"Your haste is greatly appreciated."

The trip settled into a blur of anxiety as the craft efficiently did exactly what it was designed to do. There was nothing Obi-Wan could to but stand next to his master, watching the colorless face and the slight, erratic rise and fall of the chest. They had stripped away the Jedi tunic and shirt while under the planet's care, pasting quick covering over the wounds themselves, front and back. The odor of burning still clung to Qui-Gon, simultaneously nauseating and frightening. Obi-Wan had been through training with the lightsaber, was well trained in its use and the disciplines of fighting with one and was more than proficient with it. He had even been in a few battles that demanded expert use of the lightsaber, but it was seldom against a person. Droids, yes. They spark when struck by the glowing blade of a lightsaber. Some explode. They smell of ruined electronics and hot metal. But this was the first experience he had had with the lightsaber against yielding, vulnerable flesh. The results made him gag. He'd never thought of the wounds these weapons inflicted in terms of burns, but that is exactly what they were. Horrible burns with tissue vaporized and scorched in blackened, puckered destruction where there was previously whole and smooth skin. Oh, he'd been witness to the accident when Dors and Quigga were sparring, but that was a quick, superficial slice. A graze, mostly, and easily tended. It wasn't the deep, penetrating superheating of tissues as Qui-Gon's wounds were. This was something his mind had never considered and it was horrible.

Horrible. Just like the hole in Qui-Gon's chest. Black, ugly, weeping and big enough to admit two fingers without touching the sides. Surely those at the Jedi temple have seen injuries like this before? Surely they knew how to heal these. They had to. Elsewise, how would Qui-Gon live?

Hurry, he silently urged Rik Olie' and this clever ship. Hurry. Bending over his master, he indulged in another touch, smoothing Qui-Gon's hair. It was mussed now, first by the fight, then by being mauled by those seeking to help him. Qui-Gon never looked less than groomed; it looked so wrong, those loose, disorganized hairs. Obi-Won combed his fingers through the tangled strands, restoring them as he could.

The skin, where fingers touched his teacher's cheek, was now cold.

As they neared Coruscant, Obi-Won began to feel uneasy. The Force around him took on an uncomfortable sense to it, like an electrical hum felt, but beneath hearing. Something was not right. Closing his eyes, he centered himself within the Force, then reached to find the source of the growing problem.

The answer was swift in coming. Qui-Gon was the source. Or more specifically, Qui-Gon's pain.

Qui-Gon was not responsive. He wasn't moving, wasn't speaking. He seemed completely unconscious to the casual observer, but the Force around him vibrated with pain, sucking it up and letting the distress circle him like bits of broken glass in a stormwind. Obi-wan reached out to rub his master's shoulder gently, hoping somehow that contact could reassure, could offer some slight comfort. His touch was rewarded with a backlash of overwhelming pain and despair.

"Master?" Qui-Gon?"

The form under his hand shifted slightly, and the shoulder trembled at his touch. The moan he heard was only in his mind, but the agony behind it was building rapidly. There was no question of it; Qui-Gon was regaining consciousness, and it was not pleasant. There was a slight shift in the Force around Obi-Wan, and the sparkling explosions of agony quivered, then dimmed slightly as Qui-Gon fought for control with the habit of his years as a Jedi. It wasn't much, however.

"Qui-Gon, don't. Don't even try," Obi-Wan soothed softly. "Don't spend your energy on shielding. Let me help." This time the whimper was almost audible, and the trembling increased.

Obi-wan stepped away to look up the passageway toward where the pilot urged his sleek craft to her finest flight. "How far out are we?"

"Gimme ten more clicks and we're there. You said they would meet us at the Jedi Temple?"

"Yes, they said they'd set everything up."

"We're almost on top of them," he replied. "We're nearly entering the atmosphere now. I'll let them know we're coming in so they can be ready for us."

Obi-Wan sent a sigh of relief and gratitude to his pilot through the Force, completely forgetting that Rik couldn't feel it. "We're home, Master. Almost home. They'll help when we get there. Please.." The plea trailed off in the frantic hopelessness of the moment. He couldn't help, couldn't block the pain. Not even through the Force. He was too tired to be successful, and in truth, he wasn't strong enough for this massive effort on his best day. This was almost worse than what Qui-Gon had suffered on the floor of the melting pit. He was dying, yes, but at least he wasn't suffering like this.

Obi-wan felt new tears on his cheek and angrily swiped them away. "Sleep, Master," he crooned softly, trying to focus enough to influence that strong mind. "Sleep." It was less a command than a plea, begging Qui-Gon to return to the painless oblivion that had frightened him so badly only minutes before. The ship jerked beneath them, slowing as they entered Coruscant's atmosphere, barging into the line of ships travelling the magnetic lines.

"We're here and they're there," Rik Olie' yelled from the pilot's seat. "Coming down now. How's he doing?"

"He's approaching consciousness and he's in serious pain."

"They look - whoa, they've got half a medical unit waiting on the platform. They're ready for him, and we're.." He trailed off as the hiss of pneumonics heralded the extension of the landing gear, to be drowned out by the low growl of repulsors firing. The soft rock and thump of landing made their arrival on Coruscant official.

"We're here. Landing gantry down. Get unlocked and get him down there, kid."

"Thank you," Obi-wan gasped, hands flying to release the locks securing the transport. It was vibrating with the increasing violence of the Jedi Master's trembling, making the task more difficult. As he got it released and thumbed the transport into activity, the sound of boots running up the gantry reached him.

"Obi-Wan?" called a deep voice.

"In here. We're coming."

Obi-Wan was startled to see Mace Windu striding toward him. His face was not its usual serene, expressionless mask; now it was concerned, eyes dark, brow furrowed in anxiety as he reached them. He gasped, reeling back a step as the vibrations through the Force hit him. Eyes narrowed as he stepped into the cabin. "They've done nothing for his pain," he growled angrily, all but pushing Obi-Wan aside to bend over the trembling form on the transport.

"Qui-Gon, be still. Be still," his deep voice soothed. "Let me help." He reached out to rest one hand gently on the crown of Qui-Gon's head, the other large hand was centered on his chest, long fingers splayed across the horrible wound. "Sleep," he crooned softly but firmly. "Sleep, Qui-Gon." There was a moment where the rattling of the vibrating transport continued, then Qui-Gon sighed. The nervous, thin rattle stopped.

Obi-Wan's heart contracted in fear, in a painful throb that he'd experienced already this day. "Is he."

"Dead? No. Not quite. He's sleeping." Their eyes met for a moment, and Obi-Wan was startled by the anger he saw in those dark depths. "I had to do something. The pain was unbearable." They both stood still for a moment, panting in the almost painful relief that followed in the wake of the agony stilled. "How long has he been like that?" Windu demanded.

The last few minutes. "

They sent no medical personnel with him? No medications?"

"They had no one to spare, Master. And I don't believe.. I don't believe they saw any need for further assistance." The words unspoken hung in the air between them. Why waste medical resources on one already dead, even if it is a Jedi. There were living on that planet whose people needed care. Their freedom fighters deserved Naboo's best.

Other's boarded the ship, and Qui-Gon was hustled away, with the Master and the Padewan following closely.

"What care did they give him?"

"They gave me a readout," he offered, handing the information to the Master. "The only think I really know about is cooling the wound. The droid said his lungs were damaged, and that the damage was continuing from the residual heat of the burn."

"Hmmm," was Windu's reply as he quickly scanned the printout. Looking up, he realized that they were alone on the ship as the others clattered down the landing ramp. "They're taking him to the medical unit."

"I want to stay with him," Obi-Wan heard himself demand. His voice was high and thin, and it quivered with emotion that threatened tears, like an overtired child being left in a nursery.

"I do too," Windu replied gently, sending a touch of compassion to accompany the words. "Best you stretch those legs, apprentice. We'll need to hurry."

They charged down the corridor, barely slowing to send earnest thanks to pilot Rik Olie' who waved and called encouragement behind them. Obi-wan and Olie' had become friends that night the spent together on the Nubian transport while the sandstorm howled outside. How good a friend had just been proven.

They thundered down the gantry stride for stride, then scrambled wildly to stop their downward charge, jumping off either side of the ramp in their frantic efforts not to trample Yoda, who waited at the foot. The small Jedi master watched their efforts with benign grace, assured that they would never tread on him -- or never live down the disgrace of trampling an 800-year-old and most revered master.

"Will help you not," he advised them in his strange, gravelly voice. "Will help HIM not."

"Master Yoda, I apologize," gasped Obi-Wan, having recovered both balance and composure, returning to stand before the master.

The blue ears drooped slightly, and the saddened gaze rose to meet Obi-Wan's. "Difficult, this is for you. Saddened we all are, to lose Qui-Gon Jinn."

"But he's not dead," Obi-Wan protested instantly. "He's-" Aware suddenly of the Force that surrounded Yoda, Obi-wan choked." "He isn't, is he? Did he die?"

"Die, yes. Saw this, you did. Were with him. Held him."

Windu turned to stare first at the apprentice, then his fellow council member. He wasted no time asking questions, but closed his eyes and slid into the force, seeking the vibration of his friend. It wasn't there. It wasn't.. Ah, there. There! It was faint, and thin, barely there at all, but it was there!"

'Yes," Obi-Wan answered. The pain that surged upward with that memory escaped his control. New tears filled his eyes and threatened embarrassing escape down his cheeks. "He died. But he came back. The droid got him back . He's trying to stay."

"Strong his spirit. But weak the Force within him now," Yoda sighed sadly.

"Is he going to die, Master Yoda?" Obi-Wan nearly choked trying to force the words out, but if Master Yoda knew, he wanted to know now as well. The fearful waiting was unbearable.

"Difficult to see is his future. Fluid, the future is. Can change with each moment. Too delicate is the balance to be sure."

"Then he might live," answered Obi-Wan eagerly.

"Might. Might not."

"We're going to the medical unit," Windu informed Yoda, cutting the grim and convoluted conversation short. Reaching back, he grabbed Obi-Wan's robe at the shoulder, and towed him off the ramp as he strode into the temple.

Windu's legs were nearly as long as Master Qui-Gon's, and he strode through the hallways with an urgency that lent speed to his stride. Obi-Wan nearly trotted to keep up with him, but there were no complaints; his urgency was no less.

"Tell me what happened."

Obi-Wan was slow to hear the growled demand, focused as he was on that thin thread of his master's energy.


"Yes. What happened. Qui-Gon is the finest swordsman of the Jedi. How did this happen?"

Startled, Obi-Wan's pace faltered for a stride, and Windu checked a stride, waiting for his answer.

"That startles you? Surely you knew of your master's standing among the Jedi."

"I knew he was a respected master, and that he was - IS -- a very fine teacher. But I had no idea he was the best."

Windu nodded, more at memories than Obi-Wan's comment. "He is the most skilled among us with a lightsaber. The best in 400 years. You are fortunate to study under him." The older man glanced back at the stunned apprentice. "He praises your skill highly, Padewan."

That was also a surprise to Obi-wan.

"So tell me, who could get inside his guard so completely as to pierce his heart?"

"The Sith.that creature with the horns and the red and black face."

"It was a Sith?" he asked sharply.

"It had to be. He was better than most Jedi. As good as Qui-Gon, I think. He knew the layout of the ship. He separated us. He used a lightstaff. It was hard to fight, hard to defend against, because everything was either very high or very low and as he swung at one of us, the other end swung out to block from the other side. We just couldn't close with him. Qui-Gon was beating him, though. He was winning against him, but.... It went right through his chest. I could see it glowing where it came out of his back and I couldn't get past the laser gate to reach him-" Obi-Wan's voice choked off as he relived the events of his Master's death. The telling of the event was little more than disjointed sentences, but the horrific memories were so vivid Obi-Wan knew that Mace Windu was seeing them as well. Words were unnecessary.

"Here," Windu skidded to a halt near an open door, and grabbed Obi-Wan's robes again, towing him into the room.

Those assembled turned, then gave them their attention, acknowledging the council chair's rank among them. The medical personnel were easily identified. They were healers employed by the Jedi, but not Jedi themselves. Therefore, they stood out as starkly within the Jedi tower as the Jedi did in the worlds outside.

"What can you tell us?" Windu demanded.

The healers nodded deferentially, acknowledging Windu's high rank, but their expressions remained closed.

"He lives, but that is a courtesy only. The damage is extensive and severe. Circulation is severely compromised. Tissue must be regenerated, organs will not be easy. Nor can we guarantee a successful outcome."

"How long before you know?"

"Two days, perhaps three. Perhaps more. We cannot give you absolutes at this point. We still need to find out the extent of the wounds. It may be a fairly lengthy process. Or our work here may be very short indeed," he concluded grimly, casting another glance back as his patient.

"We offer our support." Windu spoke for the Jedi as a whole.

The entire resources of the Jedi Knights had just been offered in exchange for this life. Obi-Wan was stunned, and grateful.

The medical personnel inclined their heads graciously. "He has no strength of his own. The demands will be great."

"That doesn't matter," Obi-wan burst out. "Whatever he needs is his."

Mace moved to rest one large hand on the overwrought apprentice's shoulder. "Whatever he needs," he echoed softly.

Chapter 3

Qui-Gon had been tended by the healers for several hours. Obi-Wan and Windu waited in a nearby chamber, having been banished as the medical staff worked their desperate magic. Windu was eventually summoned to join them at Qui-Gon's bedside, after they approached to discuss Qui-Gon's failing energy reserves. Mace Windu nodded, then joined in their efforts, supporting by channeling energy from the Force through Qui-Gon, so that limited reserves were not tapped to extinction. It was a skill unique to Jedi, presenting a rare opportunity to snatch one of their fellows back from beyond the border that claimed most unfortunate victims hovering between life and death. The dedication of the Jedi was equaled only by their reach into other realms.

Eventually, Obi-Wan was reunited with his master who lay still and pale as before, but now was cleaned and bandaged and supported by the medical skills of their healers. The healers retired for a bit, warning that they would return on a regular basis to check on their patient.

Obi-Wan was finally left alone with his master. He looked less traumatic, with the damage out of sight and burned clothing removed, having been tucked into white sheets with care evident. It did not, however, make him look any less lifeless. The whiteness of the sheets only made him look more vulnerable and colorless. To see his master so still was frightening all by itself, for even at rest Mast Qui-Gon had always felt vitally, vibrantly alive with the energy of the Force surrounding him. Now, there was nothing. Obi-Wan found this to be very frightening indeed.

After whispering a greeting to his master, the apprentice curled up in a chair, determined to remain with him for as long as they would allow it, concentrating on sending love and support to this man, focusing on nothing more than the faint rise and fall of the bandaged chest.

Time blurred as Obi-Wan sat in the medical unit, marked only by the appearances of the healers as they came and went. He had no idea how long he sat there, and no interest in knowing. As long as his master continued to breathe, he was satisfied to let time march past undocumented.

The catch in the rhythm of his breathing alerted Obi-Wan, causing him to sit up abruptly, attention totally focused on whatever shift was occurring in Qui-Gon's condition. The catch occurred again, almost a whimper this time.


Qui-Gon was regaining consciousness.

"Shh, Qui-Gon. Don't fight the darkness now. Rest." He gently rubbed the broad shoulder, trying not to touch the bandages that hid the damaged chest beneath them. "Don't wake now. Rest."

The shoulder shivered under his hand. The arm moved, then the eyelids fluttered. Blue eyes opened, staring vacantly into the dimly lit room. The gaze was unfocused and filled with pain. "Master," Obi-wan coaxed. "Not now. Sleep."

"Obi...wan?" The voice was scarcely more than a whisper, but it was enough. Obi-wan felt a smile growing in answer to the surge of happiness.

"Everything is well, Master. Don't talk, just rest."

"" he managed to force out. Sweat was beginning to appear on his pale forehead.

"I'm fine," Obi-Wan assured him hastily. "Anakin is fine. Queen Amidala is fine. The Naboo are fine. They are free of the Neimoidians and a new treaty was signed in the Naboo's favor. Even the Gungans are fine. The only one not fine is you."

Qui-Gon's gaze lingered on his apprentice's face for a moment longer before the eyes sagged shut in weariness. ".sith?." he whispered.

"Dead,' replied Obi-Wan with equal sparity of words. "You wounded him, Master. I merely completed the task."

".great Jedi..proud.ofyu.."

The words sounded like a benediction, like a farewell. It frightened Obi-Wan, sending a chill tiptoeing up his spine.

"Rest now, Master. Heal. Grow stronger. I'll be here beside you."

There was no response, but the shoulder under his hands trembled. "You're in pain."

The muscles on either side of the jaw bunched as Qui-Gon clenched his teeth against the building pain. Obi-Wan moved a step to thumb a button, alerting the medical personnel that the Master needed their assistance.

Returning to his master, Obi-wan settled beside him, one hand resting lightly at the curve of his shoulder where it joined his neck, the other closed around limp fingers, feeding energy into him as the force would allow, as he had been doing all night. He gently rubbed the shoulder in rhythm with his breathing, hoping to slow the shallow pant with encouragement, sending love and strength and support to his Master.

The panting was increasing.

"Sleep, Master," Obi-Wan intoned softly, bringing all his Jedi skills to bear to influence the mind of his master. The result was not what he'd hoped for. His suggestion bounced off the shielding of a mind trained for half a century in the mastery of the Jedi arts. The blue eyes opened, and to Obi-Wan's startlement, there was amusement alongside the pain in that gaze.

"Obi-wan?" It was only his name, and faint at that, but it carried so many comments with it. The tendril-touch of the Force carried laughter along with incredulity and a definite question.

What do you think you're doing, Obi-wan? You know that won't work, the voice in his head informed him, light bubbles of amusement bursting amid the angry sparks of pain.

"I had to try," the apprentice replied sheepishly, embarrassed at being so easily caught out. "It's a good idea, Master. Leave the pain and rest for a bit. I will be here when you wake." He let his love and support flow through the Force, offering the comfort he knew Qui-Gon would refuse were it offered any other way.

Maybe it was the sincerity in Obi-Wan's eyes. Maybe the Master was so weary he had no choice. But for whatever reason, Qui-Gon's eyes closed and he nodded his acquiescence.

"Sleep, Master," Obi-Wan urged once more, and watched as his master sighed and surrendered to the mental command, sliding into sleep and away from the pain. "Sleep," he repeated, though it was unnecessary, then settled back into his chair with a smile.

His master had awakened. His master had smiled at him. His master had accepted his help. He'd done something right, something to ease the pain. His master was getting stronger. It might be in tiny, infinitesimally frustrating increments, but he was stronger.

Obi-Wan dropped his head back against the chair and closed his own weary eyes.

Obi-Wan awoke, stiff, sore and heartsick. It took a moment for memory to catch up, to replace bewilderment as he realized that he slept in a chair, in a place unfamiliar to him and what in his life was so very wrong.

The memories returned, causing his heart to contract painfully. Qui-Gon - hurt, sick, in pain, dying -- and he'd fallen asleep in a chair. Qui-Gon needed support through the Force, needed energy, needed comfort and his faithful apprentice had fallen asleep. Guilt and panic warring within him, Obi-Wan lunged to his feet, seeking his maser.

Qui-Gon lay on the bed just as he'd left him, but now a slender woman sat beside him, her long and elegant fingers resting against his cheek while the other hand rested below the wound on his stomach. She turned at his abrupt movement, and offered a small smile.

"He lives," she assured him quietly. Obi-Wan stared at her blankly, heart pounding as he struggled through the adrenaline surge. Finally he managed enough composure to nod to her and step forward toward his Master.

Qui-Gon looked just as he had a few hours earlier; pale, waxen, lifeless, but the chest rose and fell with regularity.

"You look better," she offered. "You needed rest very badly. I'm glad you slept a bit."

"I shouldn't have," he muttered irritably.

"Oh, yes, you should. And you should sleep still more. I can feel your weariness from here." Startled, he looked up to meet her gaze. "He is your Master, yes?" Obi-Wan nodded mutely. "And you care for him." Again he nodded. "I know that he cares for you. Therefore, I should think that as his apprentice, you would wish to be available to assist your Master when he needs you. For that you need to be strong. And the path to that is rest when you need it." She smiled kindly, then turned her attention back to Qui-Gon.

He stood silently for a moment, absorbing both the comfort and the sting of her words. Finally he tucked the information away as truth to be considered later, and stepped forward to the side of the bed. Reaching out, he rested questing fingertips against Qui-Gon's shoulder, against the base of his neck where the skin was bare and the touch most informative - and most clearly felt by Qui-Gon. The tiny spark was still there, still glowing bravely in the darkness that threatened to overwhelm and swallow it, extinguishing it completely. Another presence was linked to it now, something strange and feminine. The feminine presence was strong, and vibrated with the Force energy she so carefully controlled and trickled into the weary essence of Qui-Gon.

Obi-Wan sent a tendril of thought through the Force as well, sending love and encouragement to that tiny spark. He thought he felt a small quiver of response, but the energy even of last night was dimmed.

"He is weaker, yes," She replied quietly. "We must stay with him constantly now."

The alarm must have showed in his eyes. "Someone will be with him every moment," she assured him. "We will share with him all the energy he needs."

"And if we don't? What then?" He had to know. Had to define the fears, give them borders, even if he didn't want to hear the words."

The words were painfully simple and stark in their coldness. "If I withdraw, his heart will cease beating and he will die." As she spoke, another figure slipped into the room and took his place beside her. They both closed their eyes for a moment, then he placed his hands beside hers, and she withdrew.

"See? It's very simple. We will not stay for more than an hour at a time, but someone will be here always."

"No one wishes to lose Master Qui-Gon," the newcomer added, bending to study the pale face of the master. Closing his eyes, the man turned inward, aligning himself with the Force to allow it to flow through him and into Qui-Gon.

They're keeping his heart beating through the Force. They are literally pouring energy into him to make this battered body work. Anybody else would have been dead in Theebs. Anybody else wouldn't have friends to do this, let alone the ability. I wonder if he knew he had such friends. I don't think he knows how much the others really care about him. I didn't know. Still, friends or not, I don't care what it takes, so long as it works. We needed a miracle, Qui-Gon. It looks like sometimes Jedi make their own miracles.

Since the energy needs were met by this latest arrival, Obi-Wan concentrated on sending encouragement, and love.

Chapter 4

In their haste to return Master Qui-Gon to Coruscant, young Anakin been left in the keeping of Queen Amidala on Naboo. The Senate representatives and guards had swarmed to the small planet with all haste, assuring that the situation was stable, and that Anakin was at least safe. Please was another matter altogether. The child's horror at finding out that Qui-Gon was wounded was nothing compared to finding out that the Jedi had run for home and left him behind. The child had been betrayed and abandoned from his point of view, and worse, Qui-Gon was dying far away from where he was. In short, he was inconsolable.

Political matters had dominated the government's day during the immediate post-invasion period, but once Padme' had seen the desolate 9-year-old, she immediately took matters into her own royal hands. Queen Amidala herself had managed to reach the Jedi on Coruscant, and had swiftly had her communication connected with Master Windu.

"Yes, we know of the boy. We are grateful to you, your Highness, for caring for him."

"He's no bother, Master, I assure you, but his distress over this situation is of such magnitude that I felt compelled to let you know. He is welcome here, of course, but he wishes to be there with Master Qui-Gon."

"As the ward of one of our Jedi, of course he is our responsibility and will be cared for."

"That was NOT my point," Amidala snapped. "He is concerned about Qui-Gon." Her face softened beneath its makeup, eyes filled with sadness, making her look suddenly very young and very vulnerable. "I am concerned for Master Qui-Gon, too. How is he?"

"He lives," Windu replied carefully. "We have hopes for his survival, but our healers can offer us no guarantees at this point."

Bowing her head, Amidala absorbed this news. "That is better news than it could have been," she replied finally. "At least there is hope." Abruptly, the face on the viewscreen made eye contact, gaze firm and unyielding. The Queen was back, and the Queen had a command to give. "Anakin needs to be with him. As you have stated that the Jedi will accept responsibility for him, I am sending my ship with him to Coruscant today."

"Thank you, Queen Amidala."

She nodded regally, then hesitated. "May I call again? To inquire after the condition of my protector?"

Windu smiled, surprised by her genuine, personal concern. This was not politics. She cared. "At any time, Queen Amidala. Contact me directly, please."

"Thank you." The screen went blank and Windu sat back, staring out of the windows of the tower. Qui-Gon had always had the ability to collect loyal followers wherever he went. This time he had surpassed himself. From this trip, he had a Gungan, a slave boy with staggering Jedi potential and a Queen. A collection as eclectic as the Master himself.

Anakin burst off the shuttle as though jet-propelled as soon as it touched the Jedi Temple's landing pad. He charged down the landing ramp and barreled directly into yet another pair of long legs, clad in Jedi Master black. The impact was a solid one, and Anakin bounced off, landing on his seat on the hot black surface of the pad.

"Anakin?" a deep voice asked as the tall figure leaned down to extend a hand. "Are you alright?"

"Master Windu?" It was a greeting, but it sounded like a question since he wasn't exactly sure he'd gotten the name right. The nod and slight smile confirmed that he had, giving the boy the confidence to accept the big hand politely, letting it pull him to his feet.

"Hi. I'm sorry I ran into you. I'm just really in a hurry--"

"I see that. Are you always in such a hurry?"

"No. I just want to see Master Qui-Gon. Is he okay?"

"Ah." The tall man put a hand on his shoulder, turning him toward the interior of the Temple. "That's not an easy question to answer, young Anakin."

Anakin reared back, staring up at the Jedi with wide, frightened eyes. "He's not dead, is he? Did he die?"

"No, no he's not dead, but he is far from well. You know he was hurt very badly, don't you?" Nod. "That is why Obi-Wan left Naboo in such haste, to bring him back to the healers here."

Another nod, eyes still wide and fearful. "They said the black 'n red guy got him. Stabbed him with a lightsaber."

"That is pretty much the truth. The damage is such that we cannot fix it all right away. We'll have to wait and see if Qui-Gon is strong enough to survive this.

"He's strong. He can do it," Anakin replied confidently, though the fear lingered in his eyes.

"Can I see him? Please?"

"He isn't awake, Anakin. He's badly hurt and cannot talk to you right now."

Please? Pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease! The plea surrounded Windu, battering him with the child's frantic, Force-augmented projections.

"Yes. Yes, you can see him. Be quiet, Anakin. You're shouting with your mind. Take a deep breath. Think about the deep breath. Feel it filling your lungs, then let it out slowly."

The child struggled to comply and the chaos surrounding him diminished markedly. "Good. Very good. Now if you can stay calm just as you are right now, we'll go visit Master Qui-Gon."

The child nodded again, disorganized blond hair flying. To his credit, he did remain calm, with careful attention to this detail. They headed for the Temple, making their way through the long, quiet corridors with the child marching resolutely at his side. Windu noted several more deep, slow breaths along the way. The child was a very quick learner, he noted, and very attentive. Several more long corridors were traveled as the child struggled to keep control. But in spite of his brave efforts, Windu felt the child falter as they moved into the area of the medical unit. Something was upsetting him.

"What is it, Anakin?"

"I don't like this place. This place has lots of sadness in it."

"How do you know that?"

The small face tipped up so that eye contact could be made. "Because I can FEEL it," he replied, tone indicating that this had been an abnormally stupid question. "Sad things happened here."

An empath. The child had tremendous empathic skills. Talented, Windu noted as they reached their destination.

"You remember what I said about Master Qui-Gon, don't you?"

"Yes. He hurts and he can't talk."

"That's right. He looks very sick, so don't be surprised. No noise, no running."

The child was already staring into the unit. "Go," he urged, and the child headed toward the doorway at a run - for two strides. Then he dropped to a careful, obedient walk and headed within.

It was a sterile room, all white, with nothing in it that didn't look really important and unpleasant. The child took in his new surroundings with one quick glance that included a bed, and a man standing over it.

"Obi-Wan?" he called softly. The Jedi turned abruptly, startled by the high, youthful voice.

"Anakin." It wasn't a greeting, exactly, but Obi-Wan held out his hand, inviting the child over. The boy paced carefully across the room, mindful of instructions. Obi-Wan guided him close to the bed, tucking him under one arm.

"He's not well, Anakin, but I guess you know that."

"Master Windu told me."

"I'm sorry I left you behind. I didn't mean to. We were rushing to get here and I didn't know where you were. There was no time to find you , and I knew you'd be safe with Queen Amidala."

"It's okay.." The child had eyes and attention for nothing but the man lying still before them, lifeless save for the struggling, shallow breaths. "Qui-Gon?" he asked softly. "Can you here me? It's Anakin. From Tatooine."

"He cannot answer you, Ani."

"I know. But he can hear me," the child replied confidently, a smile creeping across his face.

"How do you know?"

"He said so. In my mind. I can hear him."

"What did he say?"

There was a pause, then a puzzled look crossed his face. "He says he's glad I'm here. And he says he's sorry, but I think he means that for you."

"For me? Sorry for what?"

"For failing. For leaving it up to you."

"Master, you haven't failed in anything!" Turning sharply back to the child, Obi-Wan bent to face him. "Can he hear me?"

"Yes. He just can't answer. It's too hard. Can't anyone else hear him?"

"No, he hasn't the strength now to use the Force that way.

"But I can hear him, though."

"What else does he say?" Obi-Wan asked softly.

"He says you should go."

Obi-Wan stiffened, then turned to his Master. "I am not leaving you," he hissed fiercely.

"He says you're a full Jedi Knight and you should go be a Jedi like the council told you to."

Obi-Wan glanced over his shoulder toward the doorway where Master Windu stood, all but glaring at him. "He heard that."

"So it would seem"

"And I told the council then that I would not leave my Master, my teacher and my friend like this. Not now. A Jedi is also loyal to his Master and protects other of this order."

"Your loyalty does you credit, Obi-Wan. The council understands your desires and concurs."

"Then tell HIM that. I will not leave here."

Master Windu came over to join them. Both men wore such intense expressions that it was almost frightening.

"How do you know what he's saying, Anakin?" Master Windu asked softly.

"I don't know. I just know what I hear when I think about him. He's here in my head, kind of. I dunno," he shrugged. "But I can hear him when he talks in his head. And I can feel what he's feeling, too. I think."

"And what is that, Windu asked softly."

Anakin turned back to his guardian, lying still and lifeless next to him save for the ragged, pain-filled breaths. Then he reached out to place a small hand over Qui-Gon's. Instantly his small face screwed up in pain. "He hurts. Really, really bad. And he can't tell you, cause he can't make the words come out."

"No, speech is beyond him now. His lungs are failing."

"So is he going to die?" Anakin asked bravely, confronting the nightmare head on. "People can't live if they can't breath."

"No, they can't live without breathing. But we have an alternative," Windu soothed. "We are cloning his damaged organs. We're growing him new ones. Young, strong, undamaged ones. When we're finished, he'll be better than new."

"Really? Oh, that's wizard! Did you hear that, Master Qui-Gon?"

"Where does he hurt, young Skywalker?"

Anakin considered for a moment, then touched his chest just above where the burned channel would have been. "Here. It hurts really bad right here. And over to here," he added, tracing a finger across his ribs almost to his shoulder. It hurts when he breathes or when anybody touches it. And inside, When the air goes down."

One of the healers turned to Qui-Gon, and reached toward the indicated points of pain, touching the deepest injury with gently probing fingers.

Anakin screamed at the flair of pain through the link. "Ow! Ow, quit it! Don't touch it! It hurts!" Tears filled his eyes, spilling rapidly down his cheeks. "Owwww," he moaned. Obi-Wan bent, gathering the child close in his arms.

"But I must touch to examine," protested the healer. There should not be this level of pain. I must find if there is infection or if there are other problems there." Turning back to his patient, the healer probed with gentle fingers. Qui-Gon trembled under the touch, and one hand clenched on the blanket. He then went limp.

Anakin screamed and simultaneously slid bonelessly to the floor as his knees collapsed.

Obi-Wan lifted the child by his shoulders and shook him firmly. "Let go, Anakin. Let go of his mind. The pain will stop."

Blinking at him dazedly, Anakin dragged a sleeve across his eyes, blotting some of the tears away. "No, I gotta tell you this. That guy just makes everything hurt worse," Anakin replied heatedly, pointing at the healer bending over Qui-Gon. "Every time that one comes in here, he pokes and pokes at things and makes everything hurt lots worse. And Qui-Gon doesn't like being on his side like that. His hip hurts when he's on." Anakin twisted free of Obi-Wan's grasp, and turned experimentally this way and that. "-On his right side. His hip hurts when he has to lay on it. He hurt it really bad when he was fighting. That red guy kicked him. Didn't you see that bruise?"

"But he must remain on his side. We want no pressure on the wounds," protested a healer. "And he must be turned every hour."

"And that hurts, too," Anakin shouted back. "People keep grabbing him and flipping him over and jiggling everything inside like that and he feels like he could throw up it hurts so bad. And I'm telling you he doesn't like lying on his side all the time because it hurts. And his shoulder hurts where he hit it on the support beam and his head hurts ALL the time and you guys act like it just doesn't matter at all!" Fists clenched in fury, Anakin glared up at the doctors. "And he's cold all the time, too, and he hates it!"

"Anything else you can tell us, Anni?" Mace Windu bent down to Anakin's eye level, his expression encouraging and kind. Obi-Wan stepped aside, reaching into a cabinet for blankets.

He's really tired." Anakin shrugged, helpless to find the words to express the feeling. "He's tired inside. And he's really, really thirsty."

"Thirsty? I doubt it. He is not dehydrated," the healer replied, satisfied with this error and dismissing Anakin's observations completely.

"Did he tell you this?" Windu asked carefully.

"Not that part. Not in words, anyway. It's just, when I think about him, I feel thirsty. When I don't, I don't."

"Is there anything else he wants us to know?"

Anakin hesitated, then walked the few steps back to the bed, where Obi-Wan had tucked a second blanket around his teacher's shoulders and was settling a third blanket across his legs.

"He's so tall that no blanket has ever been long enough," Obi-Wan smiled sadly at Anakin. "He uses them diagonally, because the corners reach further that way. I think tonight he should have enough blankets to keep both ends warm." The blanket was tucked in around Qui-Gon's hips and thighs with gentle hands. "Thank you for telling me. I didn't know."

"Has he anything to say to us, Anakin? Anything he wants us to know?" Master Windu pursued.

Glancing up at Obi-wan for permission, Anakin reached out to rest one hand on the Jedi's knee. Shaking his head, the boy turned back to the Jedi Master. "No. He's not really thinking anymore. He just hurts."

"Can you tell him things for us? In his mind so he will hear them?"

"I guess so." The chin lifted bravely and the dark eyes met Windu's squarely. "I'll try."

"Tell him to be brave just a little longer. Things are improving. He will be well soon."

Anakin closed his eyes, lower lip poked out in concentration. The eyes flew open and filled with tears. Two fat teardrops escaped to slide down his cheeks.

"What did he say?"

"He said.'stop.'"

"Stop?" echoed both Master Windu and Obi-Wan.

"He wants it to stop. He wants everyone to just leave him alone and let go. He hurts and he's sick and he's tired and he's cold and everybody keeps poking at him and making it hurt worse and there's lots of strangers in his head and he hurts and he's cold and he's really, really sad. He's afraid he'll never be able to move anymore or breathe anymore or anything. And he's really thirsty!"

Mace Windu squatted down in front of the boy and smiled. Cradling Anakin's face between his large palms, he used his thumbs to wipe away the tears. "Thank you for telling us, Ani. I know this is very hard for you and we are grateful to you for what you're doing."

"S'okay," he muttered. "I just wish Qui-Gon would be okay."

"Could you tell him one more thing for me?"

"You guys can talk to him through the Force," he challenged defiantly. "He told me so. Why don't YOU tell him?"

"Because he won't listen to me. For some reason he can hear you and will listen to you."


"Tell him I expect him to teach me the reverse blind sweep technique he taught Obi-Wan. Soon."

"The what?"

Mace demonstrated a sweeping move around behind his back, swinging an imaginary lightsaber downward toward the floor at his heels. "It looks like that."

Anakin nodded, then closed his eyes again. They could see his hands twitch as he mentally illustrated the sweep. The eyes popped open wide with astonishment. "He says no. He says you tried to cut his foot off last time, and he can't spare any more body parts right now."

Mace actually burst out laughing. That sounded like the Qui-Gon he knew. Straightening, he moved to the bed. "Soon, Qui-Gon. Soon you can teach me, and I'll leave your ankles alone this time. That was twenty years ago, after all. One little mistake and no one ever forgets," he added ruefully to the assembled group.

"Let's all step out in the hallway so that we don't disturb him further"

The Jedi and healers slipped out the door to stand gathered in the corridor. Master Windu nodded to the collective group.

"Now, what can we do about addressing his grievances. The "strangers" can be removed if we gather only those he has associated with to aid with the Force. I would suggest that we limit the assistance to friends. It will be more difficult, as we will each have to do more, but if this will ease any distress for him, I am more than willing."

"Anyone would be willing, Master. I will speak to as least those he has worked with and see if they will assist us."

"Good. Now," he commented, turning to the healers, "what can we do to ameliorate his pain?"

"Unfortunately, nothing," replied the healer. "I do not want to use more chemicals. He may well become dependent upon them. And nothing I can give him will dull the pain of nerves and bone that have been burned and are regenerating unless I drug him into a coma, which is, of course, counterproductive to his breathing. Nerves and bones will scream when burned. There is nothing to stop that. It is a good sign, in a way. It shows healing."

"And yet it is killing him."

"I'm sorry, but we are doing all we can."

"What about his breathing?"

"The lungs are being clones. We are waiting for completion."

"But he grows weaker every day."

"There is damage to the lungs. The small blood vessels and air sacs are no longer able to absorb gasses." The doctor shrugged helplessly. "Were he an Avian species as are the residents of Bascum 4, we would simply feed oxygen into to the abdominal air sacs. Were he reptilian, he could absorb what he needs through his skin. But unfortunately, those such as yourself must rely on gas exchange through the thin membranes of the lungs and no other process. His have been seared. They are scarred. Some areas are dying. They can no longer allow the process to continue. And this scarring and dying is continuing. More tissue is converted from seared to scarred or breakdown every day. The blood vessels in this area were scorched and superheated as well. They have lost their elasticity and are hard and narrowed. Many are gone. Many more are dying. Therefore, there is less circulation of what little oxygen he does have. The situation is a grim one. The only hope to correct this is the transplant of the lungs and blood vessels. The blood vessels should be completed this afternoon, but lungs are much more complicated."

Anakin listened, trying to understand exactly what the healer was saying. It didn't matter. What the healer felt was that Qui-Gon was already dead and this was wasting his time. It certainly sounded bad.

Dispirited, Anakin moved away from the doorway and the group of adults, and scuffed back over to where his benefactor lay on the small bed. Obi-Wan stood next to him, staring silently down at him.

"Obi-Wan?" Anakin reached out to pat the younger Jedi on the arm. He whirled to glare at the child.


"I didn't tell those people everything."

"Why not?"

Anakin looked away, then back at Qui-Gon. "I didn't think he'd like it. Some of it was kinda private. But I don't think he'd mind if I told you. Not too much, anyway. Maybe he won't get mad at me," Anakin shrugged.

Obi-Wan felt his eyebrows heading toward his hairline in shock. "What didn't you say," he asked as casually as he could.

"He's scared. He's really scared and he's lonely. He feels like he's crying inside."

"I know he hates feeling so helpless."

"He thinks its really dumb that everyone is spending so much time and energy hanging on to one old knight."

That hit home. Obi-Wan's eyes narrowed and he turned to glare down as his master. "You are not an old knight," hissed Obi-wan. You are not, master! You are wounded and you are tired and you are in pain, but you are not old, and we will not lose you!" Spinning back toward the child, Obi-wan crouched and took Anakin's shoulders in his hands, pulling him close. "What else did you hear?"

Blue eyes lifted to meet his in total honesty and innocence. "He loves you a lot. He wants to know if you're okay. Where you are."

"Doesn't he know I'm here?"

Anakin nodded. "Sure. When you talk to him or touch him or something. But sometimes you go away and he can't tell if you've come back, and he can't find you in a group of people like that. He doesn't know if you're there or if you left or or what."

"Anything else?"

"He wants a drink of water. And I.well, he didn't actually say it, but I think he really needs a hug."

Obi-wan sighed, pondering this. "I'm sure you're right. And he'll get his hugs. Why don't you start while I try to figure out how to give water to someone who can't swallow." Obi-Wan scooped Anakin up in his arms, and held him up at the edge of the bed so that he could at least clearly see the figure lying so still within. "Go ahead, Ani."

"Whoa, not me! Everything hurts so bad I don't wanna touch anything!"

"I think it's worth it."

Anakin nodded, then bent forward to put his head down on Qui-Gon's shoulder, arms sliding around in a gentle hug. "I love you, Qui-Gon," he whispered. "I'm sorry you hurt so bad, but I'm really glad you didn't die."

Obi-Wan straightened, setting the child on the floor. He then turned to busy himself in a supply cabinet. He returned with a cup and a clean square of material. Dipping the cloth into the water, he squeezed out most of the moisture and then gently wiped the pad across Qui-Gon's dry lips. Qui-Gon was serious in his complaint; the skin was dry and beginning to crack. Another dip of the cloth, another pass of the cloth across his lips, but this time a gentle squeeze let a precious drop of moisture slip free to roll across Qui-Gon's tongue. Obi-Wan carefully repeated this three times before he noticed the single tear that tracked its way along the bridge of Qui-Gon's nose.

"What, Qui-Gon? What is it," he whispered, fearful of having only made things worse. Obi-Wan reached inward hastily to try to track the emotions behind this, but the force only showed him weakness and helplessness.

"He says thank you." Anakin had his hand on Qui-Gon's ankle again and was listening, eyes squinched shut with the effort of hearing the faint thoughts clearly.


Anakin nodded eagerly. "Oh, yes! Uh, please, he says."

"Forget the manners, Qui-Gon," Obi-Wan smiled. "Anything I have, anything I can bring is yours, with my pleasure," he informed him as another precious droplet of moisture was delivered. "Now just don't inhale this or they'll throw me out."

"No! No, don't go!" Anakin cried suddenly. "Don't let them do that. Don't leave him alone with those guys-"

"Hush. Hush-hush," he soothed, dividing the warning between master and child. "We don't need the medics back in here wanting to know what's wrong." The conversation was definitely odd, answering his master whose uncharacteristic cries were delivered in the voice a little boy. But the distress was definitely sincere. Oddly, it was gratifying to be so wanted, to have him depend on him for a change, even as it was sad and strange.

"I won't leave," he whispered to Qui-Gon. "If you want me here, I won't move a step." Obi-Wan set down the cup and, with a surreptitious glance over his shoulder for critical medical personnel, he slipped one arm under Qui-Gon's head. Bending close, he wrapping his guardian and mentor in a careful, modified hug, letting the warmth, the love, the sheer gratitude that he stayed, remaining in this awful fight flow through the bond. Gently he returned his master to the pillow, then wiped away first Qui-Gon's tears, then his own.

Turning back to his mini-oracle, he raised his eyebrows questioningly. "I know how he feels now, but what are you hearing?"

"I think he feels a little braver, now. There were too many strangers in his head, and he felt kinda.naked. You know," he shrugged. "Too many people staring and touching and all. I don't think he's used to being so.."

"Helpless?" Obi-Wan finished. "He's always been the strong one and so private. It's hard to lose privacy that way, I know. But it's not forever, Master. Just a few days more. Only a little longer."

Encouraged, Obi-wan offered more of the cool liquid, delivering several droplets at once this time and was actually rewarded with a swallow.

"There, you see? That's terrific."

"Tired now. Really, really tired," Anakin warned him abruptly. The child's eyes were wide with alarm. "He's getting hard to hear."

Obi-wan let the cup fall forgotten to the floor, instantly setting his hands on his Master's cheek and chest, snatching energy from the Force and pouring it into his Master. "It will be alright, Master. It will be alright," he whispered, repeating it like a mantra, serving as a conduit for reassurance as well as strength.

Two of the medical team and Yoda watched silently from the doorway. Yoda nodded in satisfaction, then turned to leave, managing to set his cane on the toe of one of the doctors as he passed. Anakin smiled at the satisfaction flowing from Yoda that accompanied the doctor's grimace as he pushed himself forward against the cane, carefully mashing that toe.

Yoda didn't like them either.

Chapter 5

And so those who stayed with Qui-Gon settled into a small circle of intimates: Obi-Wan, Mace Windu, Yoda, Piccu, and another friend who came in from the field, Zeres. Another female Jedi returned to the Temple, joining their efforts with silent, intent concern and broadcasting interesting thoughts and memories about Qui-Gon, according to receptive little Anakin. Ani blushed when asked about the particulars; he hesitated badly, then finally settled on calling them "really friendly." Obi-Wan had never met this particular Jedi before, and had serious difficulty in trying to imagine her and his master in amorous pursuits - tall, quiet, reserved Qui-Gon and this small, slender woman who was emotionally-focused and very, very female did not seem to be a compatible pairing. It mattered little, however; she cared about Qui-Gon and was there to help him -- that was all that was important. Anakin slipped in from time to time, hovering under elbows in high anxiety until Obi-Wan cleared a path to allow him to touch and communicate with his dying teacher.

And Qui-Gon was dying. The lungs continued to fail in spite of their best efforts. His circulation was also failing; the blood did not flow smoothly through the body as it did before so many major blood vessels were "compromised" as the healers called it, before they were fried into sizzling nonexistence by the glowing intrusion. Others, superheated by the torturous second the lightsaber has remained within Qui-Gon's body, had become superheated themselves. Had, Obi-Won shuddered to remember, cooked within his master's chest. Clotted. Were now disintegrating. Poor Qui-Gon had burns, no lungs and little blood moving about. Small wonder he could not move or speak. He was doing all that he could to keep the body functioning even minimally on the minute oxygen he was managing to draw into his cells.

And now infection joined the roster of difficulties. Qui-Gon ceased to complain of cold. His body temperature risen toward normal, and then , ominously, surpassed it. The healers had cleared away what ruined tissue they could, but they could only manage so much, and the dying bits were sloughing away inside him constantly. There was little that could be done until he healed inside. And there would be no healing until he had lungs to breath with and strength to fight.

Stalemate. And time was tipping events not in their favor.

"When are his lungs going to be ready?" Anakin asked softly, for what had to be the thousandth time. "And what about the heart?"

"They think his heart is healing, now that they've replaced some of the arteries. The lungs will be ready soon, they say," was Obi-Wan's reply, as always. "Perhaps tomorrow."

Anakin stared up at him, expression neutral, but Obi-Wan could feel the reply hovering just beneath the surface. It was the same one that he had. "I know, that is what they said yesterday. But perhaps today, then."

"If they don't hurry, they might as well not bother," Anakin sulked.

Obi-Wan watched the small apprentice scuff his way out of the chamber which was feeling more and more a chamber of death. Though he tried to banish the thoughts Anakin expressed, Obi-Wan secretly harbored the same fears.

Three days of round the clock support had passed, but the internal damage continued to become more evident. It was now a race between failing organs and the growing of cloned ones. Mechanical assistance now supplemented the borrowed energy of the force for breathing, forcing air into lungs as responsive as rocks. Qui-Gon's great achievement now was limited the ability to occasionally open his eyes. The body had grown so weak that very few systems were functioning. Sometimes, when the Force was strong around him, he could actually listen to people talking to him. His ruined lungs wouldn't allow him to answer, but when Anakin was there, it was easier. Somehow the child could hear his faint thoughts when he was too weak to do more than remember that the Force had a name. Actually gathering enough strength to project thoughts through the Force was now hopeless, as fanciful a notion as flying away from this misery. The child could at least hear him, and speak on his behalf. It was a small mercy, at least, to have some means of communication occasionally. A very small mercy to try to balance so much misery.

Someone was with him constantly, with gentle hands gathering the Force energy to supply what his body needed to continue in its pathetic efforts at life. The hands changed every hour or two, but Obi-wan was always present regardless of who else might have come to assist him. Obi-wan was simply there, trying to remain in physical contact as much as possible. A hand, a touch, the constant thoughts and supportive emotions were there.

It was night. The world was silent. Even Obi-Wan was quiet as he slept, his compact frame curled awkwardly in a chair across the room. Only Piccu remained with him, still trickling energy into him.

As though it will make any difference, Qui-Gon sighed inwardly. Obi-Wan, why don't you go sleep in your own bed tonight? There is no need to hover over the dying like this. It won't make the parting any easier.

Dear's time you moved on with your life. You're a Jedi Knight now. You should be working as such, not acting as nursemaid to your old teacher. And I fear that tomorrow will end this farce. I hope it does. It is time to let go. You'll be on your way, then. It's for the best, Obi-Wan. I wish I could tell you how proud I am of you. How much I've enjoyed having you with me. How much I love you. But I can't. I can't do anything anymore except lie here and rot. Oh, I know what is happening. I can feel it. Let the travesty end tomorrow. Let me die, and go back to the Force..

"Today, Qui-Gon! It's to be today!" Obi-Wan was fairly dancing with excitement. Qui-Gon could feel it at the edges of consciousness, but Obi-Wan was so far away, so hard to hear. The pain was great and the body heavy and the darkness close. It was too much effort to worry about what had excited his apprentice so. He had always been excited about something as a boy. Something trivial, something new only to him.

Hands. Obi-Wan's hands touching him. The touch was stronger, less sympathetic today. This was not a touch for the dying. The thought perplexed Qui-Gon, and he tried to crawl from the oxygen-depleted haze in which he now dwelt.

A bright presence burst in on his mind, young, golden, sparkling with newness. Anakin's delight was exuberant enough to attract his attention and his "voice" through the Force loud enough to be easily heard, even with the world so dim and remote. The boy certainly would not be ignored.

They've got your lungs ready, Qui-Gon! They're gonna fix you up today! Right now! Master Windu said that you're gonna be even BETTER than new in just a little while! Won't that be great!

Really? Qui-Gon considered this as darkness descended, offering welcome release from the pain.

Hands tightened around his wrist, on his shoulder. Obi-Wan, anxious and excited, he noted absently. There was something more pressing for his mind to demand, for his body was demanding that he breathe.

Breathe! The steady flow of oxygen had been removed and the demand for more became overwhelming. In spite of the pain, the lungs expanded, and for the first time in a week, drew precious air down into his body. Again, demanded the body. And again!

He was panting. The oxygen returned, making each breath richer, deeper. Slowly the haze cleared. Bits of awareness returned. The first was the aura of Obi-Wan at his shoulder. Sounds returned as the blackness receded. feelings, sensations. The Force was with him again, ready to be bidden to his use. The air hunger diminished and slowly the headache that had thundered through his days eased just a bit.

Slowly, he opened his eyes, directly into Obi-Wan's anxious gaze.


Qui-Gon smiled weakly, watching Obi-Wan's hesitant smile burst into a radiant grin.

"Obi-" The voice was harsh from lack of energy and lack of use. It sounded like a damaged droid voice synthesizer. "Obi-Wan," he managed to rasp.

His apprentice pulled back, bending to look into his master's eyes. "How is it? How do you feel? Is it better now?"

He nodded numbly, then gathered strength for another effort. "Much better," he croaked. Sagging back onto the bed, Qui-Gon lay still, savoring the feeling of being able to pull air into his lungs, to have oxygen of his own acquisition filling his bloodstream. The oxygen starvation headache was fading. His vision was better, brighter.not down a dark tunnel. The roaring in his ears was fading. And the sensation of suffocation was departing. He actually felt like he might live.

"That is fantastic," Obi-Wan smiled, watching with delight as his master's face slowly changed from waxy blue-white to a more healthy color.

After thirty minutes of meditation on breathing, Qui-Gon finally opened his eyes. The world looked almost right, including the ear-to-ear grin on Obi-Wan's face. Mace Windu shared a lesser version of that grin, but it was there nonetheless.

Windu nodded to Qui-Gon. "Welcome back."

Tired, he realized suddenly. Tired and in pain, but it was bearable now.

"There is still more work to be done, but I think it will be minor compared to what has been accomplished so far," the healer at his elbow informed him.

It took a moment to gather both energy and courage to try speech again, but after a few preparatory deep, wonderful breaths, he managed his first sentence. "How much longer.." [Breathe] "Will it take."

"Windu stared at him in amused astonishment. "He's awake for three minutes and already he's impatient to leave."

"He will not be leaving our care soon," interrupted the healer. "There is still more work to do. More blood vessels need to be replaced yet. The infection needs to be cleared. There is much healing to be done yet."

Qui-Gon blinked, then slowly turned his attention to the healer at the foot of his bed. "When I can," [breathe] "complete a sentence" [breathe] "in one breath," [breathe] "You and I are going to talk." The words offered no threat. The tone was mild, and it was hard to feel threatened by a man who spoke in broken, gasping sentences, but the undercurrent carried great displeasure and something bordering on.hostility? Obi-Wan added silent agreement to the vibrations, and the healer glanced anxiously from Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan and back.

"We have been providing the best care we are capable of giving, Master Qui-Gon. I will be glad to dis-discuss any matters relating to," he managed before turning abruptly and heading through the doorway. Master Windu and Obi-Wan smiled in satisfaction at his changed demeanor and hasty departure.

"We've been trying to do that all week," Windu observed mildly. Obi-Wan wasn't certain whether he meant the discussion or the departure, but it wasn't important. Having the healer depart was enough.

"Can I see him? Oh, please? Please, I just gotta talk to him," begged a young voice from the corridor. Obi-Wan and Master Windu said I could come see him."

"Go," growled the already intimidated healer. The sound of his footsteps retreated down the corridor as Anakin burst through the doorway. He skidded to a halt, surprised at finding so many standing in the room.

Glancing from face to face, Anakin struggled to judge the situation. "He's okay, isn't he?"

"I'm fine," Qui-Gon whispered from the bed. He held out one hand in invitation to Anakin, who all but flew across the floor to launch himself into Qui-Gon's arm and chest.

The impact of the eager little body was solid, and the thud and subsequent wince brought a gasp from everyone there, but Qui-Gon bit down on the pain, trying to shield it away from everyone, especially his young apprentice.

"I wa so scwrred. I ws fwaid oo gn die," came the confession from the boy who's face was buried against Qui-Gon's chest.

"But I didn't," Qui-Gon soothed. "Ani?" He waited until the snub nose was no longer pressed between aching ribs and the gaze lifted to meet his eyes. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"What you did to. help me . was very special. I am.grateful."

The boy's pleased smile was all the answer he needed. Obi-Wan moved into view, placing a hand gently on Qui-Gon's shoulder. The same loving, supportive emotions flowed from Obi-Wan as they had for the past week, but now Qui-Gon was able to answer, to offer without words his gratitude, his feelings, his love. The Force allowed communication to be so much purer. And very private.

Time to sleep, my Master, Obi-Wan's voice whispered in his mind. The healer in the corridor is having tremendous anxieties over the state of your health, but he's too afraid now to come back in. The words were overlaid with high amusement and the bright sparkle of laughter. I promised I would insist that you rest, though I don't think that will be a problem.

No, Qui-Gon sighed inwardly. Will I ever cease being so tired?

Give it half a morning, Master. You still have much healing to do, and to heal, you must rest. Now sleep, please. The mind voice ended in a note of gentle concern and affection.

Nodding, Qui-Gon dropped his head back into the pillow, suddenly realizing just how tired he really was. He felt Anakin being pried away from his very sore chest, with soft words of assurance murmured to guarantee his cooperation.

Qui-Gon lay still, savoring the wonder of being able to pull air into his lungs, of the blessing of security from suffocation. I will never take another breath for granted, he noted in weary contentment. And as his weary body surrendered to sleep, he felt the familiar touch of Obi-Wan, soothing the pain and offering energy to bolster the nonexistent resources. The last he remembered, in addition to the glorious luxury of breathing, was a blanket being gently tucked around his shoulders.

Obi-Wan had been chased out of the medical unit for the first time since their arrival on Coruscant a week ago. Tonight, it was insisted, Master Qui-Gon was stable enough to allow his former apprentice to sleep in his own bed. With the banishment backed up by his master, along with assurances that he would be called should his master want him for any whim, Obi-Wan reluctantly departed, only partially reassured that Qui-Gon would be there when he came back.

In spite of his overwhelming weariness, Obi-Wan awakened with a start shortly after falling asleep. The bed seemed wrong, the distance from Qui-Gon far worse. Hastily shrugging into his robes, he headed back down to the medical units.

The lights were dimmed there, indicating no emergency was taking place. They were encouraging their patient to rest and regain strength, returning to a more natural rhythm of day and night, Obi-Wan noted with a sigh of relief.

Creeping carefully so as not to disturb, Obi-Wan moved to the side of the bed. His master was sleeping quietly, and in his usual way, he noted with relief. Gone was the limp, easily-positioned critically ill appearance. Now Qui-gon lay curled comfortably curled on his side, the blanket cattycorner across his long frame as usual with the corner by his ear grasped in one large hand. The scene was calm and reassuring; by far the most normal life had seemed since they left for Naboo an eternity ago. The only surprise in the scene was a bulge beneath the blanket that indicated that Qui-Gon wasn't alone in the bed. Lifting the corner of the blanket carefully so as not to disturb his master's new-found peace, Obi-Wan bent to peek underneath it. Gon. Curled into a tight ball, back pressed against his master's chest was a small, very tired little boy, sleeping curled in the security of Qui-Gon's arm, which lay draped across narrow shoulders.

Obi-Wan wasn't the only one who couldn't sleep away from Master Qui-Gon tonight. Evidently someone else had snuck down here in between the medical checks throughout the night, concealing himself beneath that blanket. He smiled at that, then returned to the familiar security of his uncomfortable chair in the corner, swiftly falling deeply asleep in the reassuring presence of his master and in the peace of the nightmare ended.

Chapter 6

It took time to rebuild a Jedi from the inside out. Time that Qui-Gon Jinn was just not willing to concede. He wanted to be well now. He wanted that trained body to respond as it always had. He wanted out of the medical facility and back into his own life, preferably to try to forget what had taken place to land him in this situation.

The fight with the Sith had shaken him badly. The loss to the Sith was far more damaging. He was getting old. He was slow. The Sith had been at his peak of power and performance -- what he, Qui-Gon Jinn, had been twenty years ago. The realization hurt. It was depressing. Further, there was the knowledge that he had not known with the easy instinctive responses of knowledge long-held exactly how to deal with the lightstaff. That sort of failing in his training was upsetting. In fact, he found himself dwelling on that fight to the point of obsession, replaying what he could remember of it, trying to redesign his responses to improve the speed and accuracy of his blows, to design a different school of attack, a better defense. He spent most of his waking hours in the medical unit focused on this.

The fact that his body was healing so slowly did little to improve his mental focus. The effort required merely to rise and walk demanded a tremendous drain on his resources. He wasn't going to go anywhere very fast or very soon. Qui-Gon became even more quiet as he reflected on the sudden changes in focus and realities that this small diplomatic trade negotiation had wrought in his life.

He was finally released from the medical unit and allowed to return to the quarters that were his within the Jedi Temple. It wasn't far from the medical unit, and he was far from alone living within the Temple. They were satisfied is granting him this one small step toward independence, certain that they would be there to assist him should he need them.

Anakin was delighted to be back in his company, and spent long hours of the day at his side, helping, catering to any need Qui-Gon might reveal and peppering him with endless questions. The fact that Qui-Gon rarely said anything that wasn't a response to a direct question didn't seem to concern him. Qui-Gon, in turn, found himself intensely grateful for nightfall, for the quiet that would return to his life as the child slept. R2D2 had also moved in with him. At least tinkering with the droid kept the child occupied for some time during each day, but not long enough before the incessant chatter began again.

Obi-Wan had finally bowed to the demands of being a Jedi and had been sent out on his first mission. Qui-Gon missed his steady presence far more than he ever dreamed that he would. Obi-Wan had been at his side for nearly thirteen years and had grown from adolescent apprentice to fellow Jedi and friend during those years. Qui-Gon realized swiftly that Obi-Wan's absence left a palpable hole in the fabric of his life. Reminding himself that this new Jedi's acceptance of position represented the proper culmination of the relationship of Master and apprentice, and was precisely why he had had that child at his side in training brought mental agreement, but did little to heal the emptiness in his heart.

Old, weak, in pain and alone. What a wonderful end of a splendid career, he chided himself. And now he was facing the next twelve to fifteen years as inadequate master to that wild child over there who never shut up.

Patience seemed to be another virtue flown away with his youth, though he seemed to be refraining from biting the child's head off. Anakin's questions were sincere and surprisingly insightful for someone so young. But even had he the maturity of someone five years his senior, he would still have been merely at the level of a 13-year-old adolescent, and he would still have been a child. Oh how he missed the company of his friend..

Qui-Gon sighed deeply, then turned back to consider the specter that hung before him; a Sith, twirling a brilliantly glowing lightstaff, taunting him, reminding him of his dual failures of age and lack of preparedness.

"Master Qui-Gon?" Anakin called from where he stood by the window. As a Master Jedi, Qui-Gon was one of those granted the luxury of an outside apartment with a spectacular view of Coruscant's cityscape. Anakin had been staring out of the window all morning, watching the traffic below.

"Master Qui-Gon," he called, more insistently this time. "Can we go somewhere?"

"Go?" he echoed vaguely. "Go where?"

"I don't know. I just want to go somewhere. Anywhere," he replied, waving his arms expansively. "There's so much going on out there and I haven't seen ANYTHING. All we do is sit here."

The boy was right, Qui-Gon reflected guiltily. He might be still be old and stiff and sore, both in body and in spirit, but Anakin was an active 9-year-old with a very active mind. Living cooped in the small apartment was doing little for him. As his guardian, he was failing in this too. He had no right to keep this child locked away, even if he personally never felt like moving again.

"All right," he acquiesced reluctantly. "Where would you like to go?"

"You mean it? We're going to go somewhere? Yippee!" The celebration dance performed by his padawan brought him across the room in less than a heartbeat to stand before him in readiness. The delight in the child's eyes made Qui-Gon smile in spite of his gloom. "Anywhere, Qui-Gon. I want to see it all!"

"I know just the place. We'll go to the nature dome."

The older Jedi rose slowly, moving toward his sleeping chamber to prepare to go out. Anakin tagged along behind him, energy and excitement fairly crackling off of him.

"What's that? What will we see there? Rik Olie' said this planet was one huge city. He said he'd never want to live here. I guess I can understand that. It's really different from Naboo. No grass or waterfalls or birds or anything."

"They're here," Qui-Gon assured him. They've just been moved to an area where they'll be safe and preserved always. "

"You mean it's been locked away?" Anakin stared at him in astonishment. "That doesn't sound right."

"I agree with you," Qui-Gon replied, coming back into the room with boots in hand. "I would rather allow nature the freedom to do what it will. But civilization took control of this planet long before you or I were born, and they felt there wasn't room for both the city's needs and the space that nature required. So they set aside areas where the green things and the creatures could continue undisturbed. It is not the best way, but at least they still exist."

"I'd like to seem something outside," Anakin promised. "Green, sandy, hot, wet.even plascrete. I don't care," he grinned. "Are there people out there too? From different places?"

"From all over the galaxy."

"Oh, like Mos Espa."

Qui-Gon smiled at that one. "A little bigger than Mos Espa, Anakin."

"Wow," he replied turning back to the vista below that beckoned to him.

"Are you ready then?" Qui-Gon asked, standing slowly, unfolding carefully against the pain of not-fully-healed wounds and stiffened joints. He'd been idle for far too long, his body told him. He'd never gone so long without moving. The training drills were part of every day of his life.

His previous life.

Sighing, he slipped into his cloak, then lifted his lightsaber to clip it onto his belt. He considered that for a long moment, turning it in his hand before returning it to the table by the door. He shouldn't need to use it here in Couruscant. And even if he did, he wouldn't be able to anyway. Another part of his former life. Turning carefully away from the lightsaber, he ushering Anakin out of the door.

They moved through the quiet corridors, nodding greetings to those whose pleasure at seeing the respected Master Qui-Gon Jinn among them was more than evident.

"They like you a lot," Anakin observed cheerfully. "They were all just really worried when you were hurt. Everybody here was so sad."

Qui-Gon shot him a sharp look. For some reason, having the attention of the entire Temple turned in his direction made him distinctly uncomfortable.

"Hi, Lellin!" Anakin called as they approached the Jedi who greeted visitors to the Jedi Temple.

The Jedi nodded to him. "Going out, Anakin?"

"Yeah! We're gonna go where they keep the nature stuff." The child's grin was broad and his enthusiasm infectious."

"You'll like it there. It's a beautiful place. Very green," the older Jedi assured him before turning an appraising eye toward the master.

"And how are you, Master Qui-Gon," he asked politely.

"Well, thank you," was the terse reply. "Let's go, Anakin."

"Yup," Anakin continued as they swung out of the main doors and out onto the street. "They all like you a lot. They all wanted to help, but I knew you didn't like having all those people around, so I told Master Windu about it. Then Master Yoda said only your best friends could help. Lots of people were really disappointed, but they wanted you to be well, so that was okay with them. They just came by a lot to ask about you."

"They did?" Qui-Gon frowned at this new and startling bit of information, but Anakin remained oblivious to his discomfort.

"Uh huh. All the time. What's down there?" Anakin asked, pointing to a building that glistened in the sun.

"The Amidorian ambassador's residence."

"Oh. He really likes mirrors, doesn't he." v Qui-Gon smiled. "They do like bright colors and shiny things."

"Are they the bird people?"


"Oh, well, that explains it then. Yeah, you have lots of friends. I think some of them like me, too. But some of them don't." His small face clouded at the thought of those stiff, glaring Jedi.

"Not everyone will like you, Ani. As long as you have a friend or two somewhere, it really doesn't matter. Not as long as you know what you do is right."

"I don't think I've done anything wrong," he replied, small face clouded with worry. "Not exactly, anyway."

Qui-Gon offered a breath of a laugh to that one and reached out to smooth Anakin's hair. "I'm sure you haven't, young one. You are always very mindful."

"How much further?" Momentary worry forgotten, Anakin's energy manifested itself in small, darting side trips to look down this street or at that shuttle, while Qui-Gon's seemed to be fading fast.

"Not far," he answered, grateful for that knowledge. "Just around that corner. He pointed toward a large transparent dome covering an expanse of green.

"Oh, wizard!" exclaimed his young charge, running forward to press his ace against the shield. "It's all green inside, just like Naboo! I wonder if the air will be wet like Naboo's."


"Yeah, all soft and warm and wet. Tatooine's air is hot 'n dry."

"Interesting observation," was Qui-Gon's comment as he ushered his charge toward the entrance.

The nature dome was in essence a huge chunk of Coruscant that had been shielded over and left to its own devices in so far as it could be. The grass was clipped short, the leaves raked at appropriate intervals, but for the most part, it was beautifully wild. It was also a very popular place, with many children involved in running and squealing games that were unsafe on the city streets.

"Go explore," Qui-Gon bid him. "Go meet the other children."

Anakin's small face lifted toward his, expression closed, eyes worried. "What are you going to do," he demanded anxiously.

"I am going to sit on that bench right there," the master reassured him, pointing to a lovely seat under a tall tree. "I won't move, I promise." I won't leave you he reassured without saying the words. It would be a long time before Anakin overcame the fears instilled by his master's injuries and the subsequent abandonment by the Jedi when they left him on Naboo.

Anakin nodded hesitantly, then glanced back where a group of young boys were playing a game. "Okay. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Go enjoy yourself. We have all the time in the day."

Anakin eyed him critically. "I don't think you do. You're going all white again. You just sit there. I'll be back soon to check on you." With that, Anakin gave in to the lure of freedom of play and pounded off at top speed.

Going white again, he sighed inwardly. Check on me? A 9-year-old now feels responsible for being my keeper. Will I never be past this? Am I always to be an invalid?

Probably, his fears whispered back to him. You're old. You're slow. And now you're damaged, a Jedi useful for nothing but creeping about the temple and minding small children.

Closing his mind against that nightmare, Qui-Gon began a series of breathing and meditation exercises, unaware of the scrutiny of other parents in the dome. He could feel them there, creeping up to eye this new visitor to their realm curiously. He'd learned long ago to ignore those who stared at the Jedi. Now the outsiders who stared were only a continuation of those who stared at home. He was obtaining a great deal of practice at shutting out other minds.

Take a deep breath. Feel it filling your lungs (wonderful lungs that breathe!) Let it out slowly, releasing the tension as you do. It was an old practice, to begin focus, but he seemed to be starting over in many aspects of his life. Why not in the meditations as well. His subconscious tuned for the sound of Ani's voice, Qui-Gon lost himself in the meditations.

"Hello," a voice said softly into his ear, startling him from his peaceful meditation into heart-pounding awareness. He spun on his bench to face this sudden intrusion in alarm.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you so." Qui-Gon looked up and into the grinning face of Obi-Wan. "Lellin told me you'd be here. I'm glad to see you out again. You could use some sun," he observed, raking a critical gaze over his master. "And some weight. By the gods you've gotten thin! Are you eating at all?"

"Thank you for those observations, Obi-Wan," he snapped testily. "I'm fine. What brings you here?"

Obi-Wan recoiled mentally under the bite. This was not the meeting he'd envisioned at all. "I'm sorry," he offered gently. "I meant no offense, Master. I've just gotten into the habit of worrying over you. I care about you, you know." Obi-Wan's smile informed Qui-Gon that he was not in the least repentant over his overprotectiveness.

"I've finished my first mission, Master. I think it went well," Obi-Wan informed his friend, changing the subject to safer matters. His enthusiasm echoed in the Force around him, bouncing off Qui-Gon's mind.

"I'm certain that it did. Tell me about it." Obi-Wan settled on the bench beside him and elaborated while Qui-Gon enjoyed the presence of his friend of so many years, and the communication with another adult. Within moments the stiffness and defensiveness melted away from Qui-Gon and the old, easy relationship was resumed.

It felt wonderful. The conversation and easy company continued into the afternoon before Obi-Wan sat up and reached behind his back, collecting something off of his belt.

"I've brought you something," he smiled, secretive with the delight of his surprise. Pulling his hand from under his cloak, Obi-Wan held out to his master a lightsaber. An unusually long lightsaber.

Qui-Gon flinched, and felt the blood drain from his face. It was a lightstaff, just like the one Darth Maul had used against them. He sat, stunned into immobility at the shock of seeing it.

"I made it for you," Obi-Wan offered, then stopped, startled by his master's reaction. "You said you wanted to work with one." Qui-Gon simply stared. "I'm sorry, Master. I never intended to upset you," he apologized, horrified by what he'd caused. He moved to return it to his belt, to hide the deadly thing back under his cloak, but Qui-Gon's hand reached out to catch his wrist.

"No," he protested. "No, don't do that. I'm sorry, it was just.a surprise, that's all. Yes, I did say I wanted to work with one, and it was incredibly thoughtful of you to build this. It couldn't have been easy for you either," he concluded with a wan smile.

Obi-Wan carefully handed him the lightstaff, watching anxiously for any change in Qui-Gon's expression or feel through the Force.

"Activate it," he encouraged. "See how it feels."

Qui-Gon shifted it in his hand, then experimentally turned it this way and that. "It's beautifully balanced," he commented, looking up toward Obi-Wan. "You've done a brilliant job with it."

"Then turn it on. Let's see how it handles."

"No," he replied, voice flat and expressionless. "This is not the place nor the time."

"There's no one around for ages," he replied, sweeping one arm at the expanse of unoccupied grass. "There's no danger. There's not even anyone left to watch."

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow at that. Obi-Wan was stretching that a bit. They weren't that isolated. There were still people visible in the park, and the laughter of the children indicated they were within easy reach, though not visible through the trees.

"At least turn it on," Obi-Wan coaxed.

Seeing how much it mattered to his friend, Qui-Gon reluctantly touched the small space that sent the blade rising from one end of it. It glowed a brilliant green, he noted with an unexpected surge of relief, and not the red of his nightmares. Noting Obi-Wan's eagerness, he touched the control that extended the second blade, bringing the new weapon to its full eight feet of deadly capabilities. Qui-Gon shuddered inside, remembering the range and sweep of the weapon, of it flashing and spinning in front of him-

But Obi-Wan was waiting. Rising, he gave an experimental twist of his wrist, finding that the weapon remained easily balanced in his hand, dragging neither one way, nor the other.

"This is very fine work, Obi-Wan," he admitted. "Very well-balanced."

"Only the finest for my Master," he replied easily.

"You have to stop calling me that," he chided gently, hoping to keep the sadness from his voice. "I am no longer your master."

"You are a master Jedi. I am entitle to call you master if I so chose," he replied with another unrepentant grin. "Only I will know which I mean, Master."

It wasn't worth the argument. Qui-Gon turned his attention back to the lethal force in his hand. He made a couple of passes with it, spun it experimentally. Something in his heart was satisfied with the hum and vibration of a lightsaber in his hand. Something shouted at him of completeness, of missing this. He ignored it, and powered down the weapon, only to find Obi-Wan facing him with his lightsaber glowing a cheerful blue.

"Let's try a few passes."


"Master, I-"

"No. Not here. Not now," he cut him off firmly, tone brooking no argument. I will work with a practice staff before I use your.finely crafted and very thoughtful gift."


"I will not take the chance on someone being injured by my inexperience."

Obi-Wan knew his master well after so many years at his side. He'd heard this tone only a few times over those years, and it was usually when the unruly apprentice was about to die beneath his master's succinct and caustic criticism. But he was no longer an apprentice, and this was vitally important.

"Qui-Gon, please. Humor me. Let's get the feel of it. Try just the one end. The balance is such that I believe it can be used as a standard lightsaber. I need to know if this is built correctly."

Qui-Gon frowned at this. Obi-Wan felt very worried, deeply concerned about.something. Could he really be so concerned about this lightstaff? If so, it was strange of him to put such importance into a simple tool he'd built. But the emotions from his friend were building, and he was very much concerned. It was something.well, whatever it was, it mattered deeply to him.

Qui-Gon sighed wearily, then reluctantly triggered one blade of the lightstaff. "All right. A few passes, then. But I don't think I can do much."

Obi-Wan straightened and saluted him, as one always salutes a master before practice. Then the blue blade swung at him, and Qui-Gon found his blade moving in answer without any conscious thought, blocking it in a fiery haze of flair at the contact. Another pass, and again his blade was in the correct position. Obi-Wan continued slowly, a stroke here, another careful series from beginner level practice drills, on through the intermediate and hopefully, eventually if not today, the advanced. And beyond.

Parry. Counterstrike. Move, block, swing. Qui-Gon's hands and body did for him what his heart refused to do, reveling in the motion so long denied.

Obi-Wan watched carefully, and noted with satisfaction the moment that Qui-Gon's eyes took on the slightly vacant stare he had when letting the Force guide his drills. He wasn't consciously thinking about the fight, then. Obi-Wan repressed a smile and increased the tempo just a bit. Qui-Gon answered with little effort. Obi-Wan stepped it up just a bit more. Within just moments, the two were sparring as they had been only a few weeks earlier, at blinding speed, lightsabers humming and whistling, crackling as they glanced off each other only to redirect and strike again.

And Qui-Gon was keeping up. Elation soared through Obi-Wan, and he threw his all into it, as though it were Maul he faced again instead of his dearest friend, pushing Qui-Gon into a match approaching the best he had to offer. Obi-Wan was careful in releasing his skills to his utmost; Qui-Gon's muscles were no longer toned, and within a few moments of full-speed sparring it was clear he was tiring swiftly. The strikes were not as strong, the reactions were slowing, the moves not quite as accurate as they should be.

Time to stop.

Obi-Wan stepped back instantly, disengaging from the match, bowing as he conceded to Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon stared at him for a moment, weaving where he stood as he touched the saber off. As Obi-Wan watched, Qui-Gon's knees buckled and he collapsed limply the ground, lying motionless except for his frantic panting. After a few gasping breaths, he looked up at Obi-Wan, who moved to drop to the grass beside him.

"Master? Are you alright? I'm sorry, I shouldn't have pushed you so fast," he apologized, appalled that he had pushed the still-weakened man so far. His face was lined with concern as he bent over his master.

Qui-Gon managed to waggle his fingers at him in what he hoped was a reassuring gesture, indicating that he would survive. It took a few more moments of panting, but Qui-Gon finally pushed himself up on arms trembling with fatigue into a sitting position.

"Don't look so worried, Obi-Wan. I'll live." He even managed a shaky smile to try to ease the concern that seemed to be so permanent a part of his former apprentice's gaze now. As he watched, however, the expression in those eyes changed from concern to something far more positive.

"That was wonderful, Master. You are still the finest I have ever seen." He looked at Qui-Gon, eyes dancing with delight at the exchange.


"-Can still fight with the best of them." He reached out to put a hand on Qui-Gon's shoulder in both commiseration and reassurance. "I know you've been somewhat.disheartened lately. But this should prove even to you, oh stubborn one, that you are still just as capable of wielding a lightsaber as you ever were. You were wounded, and it takes a while to heal from some things. It's not permanent," Obi-Wan pointed out emphatically.

Not permanent. His heart was still pounding and his new lungs burned as he panted for air. His body ached and unfit muscles were trembling, burning and twitching from the overuse he'd just rammed them through, warning of much misery over the next few days in retaliation. And he doubted he had the strength to stand right now. But beyond these minor complaints, he felt wonderful.

He seemed to remember feeling the same way in his 20s, when his own master had pushed him well past his physical limits. Then, over time, his body had developed new strength and had adjusted to the new demands. Maybe Obi-Wan was right. Maybe, just maybe, he could do it again?

"-And he's a Master Jedi. That's why he wears the black cloak. Only masters wear those. And he's the best Master with a lightsaber in FOUR HUNDRED YEARS!"

Anakin's gleeful voice reached them, and Qui-Gon sighed before looking up to find that they were nearly ringed by wide-eyed, open-mouthed observers, with his young apprentice holding court in the center of a very attentive group of listeners.

"I heard Master Yoda say so, and he's the head of the Council. And Master Qui-Gon is MY Master," Anakin continued "And he's gonna teach me to fight just like that!"

The look of utter weariness, combined with contained and cumulative frustration on the face of his usually imperturbable master had Obi-Wan laughing out loud. At a glare from the older Jedi, he buried his face in his hands, trying to stop laughing as Qui-Gon sighed, and climbed slowly to his feet.

"Anakin," he growled warningly.

"I've seen him fight. 'Droids, mostly and he's sooo great!"

"Anakin," he repeated, the tone growing colder as he strode across the grass to his new apprentice.

"And then-" Anakin choked off his narration as Qui-Gon reached him, face expressionless but eyes warning of impending mayhem for apprentices. Eyes wide, the boy froze as the tall form reached him.

Qui-Gon leaned down to hiss something into Anakin's ear, then straightened to face those assembled. "I apologize for my apprentice's boastfulness on my behalf," he addressed those gathered there with tremendous dignity for one who had moments before been lying on the grass. "He is young and easily impressed."

The amazed expressions in the adults around him never flickered, indicating that they, too, were impressed, even if the Jedi Master ended up flat on his back gasping like a netted fish afterwards.

"I don't think they've ever seen a Jedi performing at full speed, Master," Obi-Wan commented cheerfully, brushing off bits of grass from his pants. "We're just these strange people who move around the city to them. They've heard about lightsaber duels, but I doubt any of them have seen one. Have you?" he asked of those assembled who silently shook their heads. "Well, that's what a trained Jedi can do. But I'm sure you know that we are here to support the Republic, in the name of peace." Obi-Wan's smile managed to coax a few smiles in return.

Qui-Gon's heart sank, the joy of the previous moments vanishing in the discord he was sure to come. The council would hear of this shortly, probably even before they got back to the Temple. There would be some terse, harsh words for worn-out old masters who had no better sense than to create such a public spectacle in a community location. The image of the Jedi was very important to the Order as a whole, reflecting upon their ability to do their work throughout the galaxy. Respect would not be garnered by two Jedi putting on street corner shows like that. The worst part was that he knew better, and let it happen anyway. He wasn't much of a master anymore, with flawed judgement now to match the damaged body.

Chapter 7

"Hey," demanded a young voice at Qui-Gon's side as a small hand banged against his elbow. He glanced down to find a small girl holding his cloak. She offered it to him, eyes wide and shining with admiration. "Could you gonna do that again tomorrow? My father would love to see that. He saw a Jedi fight before I was born and he's STILL talking about it. That was just soooo wizard!"

"I think you have admirer," Obi-Wan observed to Qui-Gon. When it became apparent that he wasn't going to answer the child, Obi-Wan stepped in. "I don't know if we'll be back tomorrow, but perhaps, if you want us too.." He let the statement trail off, waiting for a response from those around. The delight from their audience left little doubt that an encore would be appreciated.

"You don't mind us drilling in your park?" Obi-Wan pressed.

"You're welcome anytime, Jedi," an older man answered. "We're honored to have you here. Especially Master Qui-Gon Jinn."

The master turned, startled. "You know me?"

The man nodded and shrugged. "It was a small thing for you, I'm sure. You rescued my daughter." Qui-Gon's blank stare prompted the speaker to continue with more details. "She caught the wrong shuttle the first time we let her go to the Center by herself. She wasn't much older than your little fellow there," he added, pointing at Anakin, who was now trying to practice invisibility behind Qui-Gon's tall form. "She was lost and too terrified to even ask for help. The gods only know how long it would have taken to find her, or what would have happened to her. You brought her home to us. And you never said anything about it. Just brought her to the path to our door and walked away. If you hadn't given her your name, we'd ever have known who the stranger who saved her was. I tried to thank you, but you were never at the Temple. She pointed you out once as you walked by, but I couldn't reach in time to speak. I've not forgotten you, Master. And I won't. I'm still very grateful. So far as I'm concerned, the Jedi are always welcome." He studied Qui-Gon for a moment then added, "She said you had kind eyes. She was right, you do. I can she why she trusted you, even scared as she was."

Qui-Gon, the quintessential Jedi diplomat could only stare speechlessly, but the unexpected warmth he felt from this man and the support of the crowd around them buoyed his spirits.

The others responded with murmurs of agreement. Obi-Wan nodded, inwardly delighted with how this day had turned out. It had been a gamble, but he had to do something. He couldn't bear watching his friend sink further into depression and isolation day after day. Something had to draw him out, to remind him that he was still a skilled Jedi Master and still in his prime. Today seemed to have accomplished exactly what he was hoping for.

"Master, shall we take your little chatterbox back to the Temple? It's been a long week for me, and I would really like to sit down and talk with you for a while. Perhaps we could work with the staff tomorrow?"

Qui-Gon smiled, feeling more himself that he had since he first left for Naboo. "That sounds like a fine plan, Obi-Wan. And thank you."

"For what?" he replied, feigning innocence.

"Just.thank you."

"My pleasure, my Master. Let's go home."

The crowd had gathered on the park green, bigger this day than it had been the day before. Exchanging glances, the two Jedi dropped their hoods and walked toward the expectant group of people. A murmur arose, traveling like wildfire around the circle, while those closest to them turned and watched, almost hungrily, as Master Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Anakin approached.

"See, Dad?" A little girl beamed up at her father. "I told you they'd come. They come every day."

"I didn't believe her," said the man to the stranger beside him. "I mean, just think of it -- Jedi, practicing in the park? I figured it was just two kids, playing with their toys. Sure wish I'd listened. To think what I've been missing all this time...."

Then we'll have to give you a show you won't soon forget, thought Obi-Wan, suppressing a grin. He knew it was wrong to feel so proud about doing this. But if he looked closely at his feelings, he knew it wasn't so much a personal pride he felt, but gratitude regarding the man with whom he was practicing. I'm very lucky to have been his apprentice, he thought, and very lucky to be able to call him my friend. I couldn't ever ask for a better teacher or mentor, friend or father.

"Anakin." Qui-Gon handed him his cloak.

Anakin took Obi-Wan's cloak as well, then skittered over to sit at the inside edge of the circle. Several children looked at him curiously, as though wanting to engage him in conversation. But the boy looked neither right nor left. Folding the cloaks carefully in his lap, he knelt down and watched Master Qui-Gon intently.

Did I ever look that hungry and hopeful watching my master? Obi-Wan wondered. Probably.

Walking in a wide circle, Obi-Wan motioned the inner ring of people back a little. "Could you give us some room to work, please, then we'll all be safe? At least four feet more? That's it. Thank you."

"You're becoming quite the showman," Qui-Gon said when his erstwhile apprentice joined him.

"We do need the room, master."

"Agreed. Every day, it seems that they creep a little closer."

"Not as close as they used to. Not since you nearly shaved the nose off of that woman."

"Well," Qui-Gon said mildly, "she should have known better than to come in here before we were finished. I still don't know what she was thinking." Only lightning-fast reflexes had saved the stranger from being scarred for life. "Are you ready?"

"Yes. Do you want the staff or the saber first?"

"The lightstaff." He held out his hand. "I want to try out something new."

Clapping the staff into his former teacher's hand, Obi-Wan walked a few paces away, turned and bowed. Qui-Gon echoed the move, then balanced his weight back on one foot to activate one end of the lightstaff, and then the other.

The crowd murmured appreciatively. Obi-Wan smiled.

He's enjoying these sessions far too much, thought Qui-Gon. As am I. The master was even coming to enjoy the sound of the lightstaff in his hand -- something he'd found was necessary before he could truly become one with any weapon. It didn't feel or sound like any lightsaber he'd ever handled -- the buzz was more aggressive, stronger and more...eager for destruction. Ah, well... it was probably just his imagination, his past experiences with Darth Maul coloring what he was feeling. A weapon was just a tool; it had no soul.

Twirling the lightstaff experimentally, he thoughtfully circled Obi-Wan, watching the Jedi's eyes and looking for any weakness, any mental opening. The young Jedi tried to take his master by surprise, springing forward and initiating a blaze of assaults that had Qui-Gon racing backward to keep up. The crowd behind him scattered -- more in the desire not to get their toes mashed than because they sensed any danger.

Leaping abruptly to one side to avoid running into at least ten people who were far more close than they should have been, Qui-Gon blocked his friend's saber but did not disengage or retreat. Looking away from Obi-Wan, whom he knew would hold the position until hell froze over unless Qui-Gon told him to release, the master Jedi addressed the crowd.

"If you people do not get out of the way this instant and stay out of the way, Obi-Wan and I will break off this engagement and not resume our practice. Do you understand?"

The singeing crackle of battling lightsaber and staff echoed the ferocity of Qui-Gon's delivery. As always, the unpleasant sound and vibration of it beneath his palms made Obi-Wan grit his teeth. He knew that Qui-Gon didn't enjoy it, either.

No one moved. Qui-Gon shook his head, then stepped back from Obi-Wan. "This is getting out of hand," he said softly. "We must discontinue this."

"Are you sure, Master? " He glanced around the crowd, who were now shifting uneasily, murmuring among themselves at this change in the daily routine of the Jedi. "They enjoy it so. We enjoy it." he trailed off, a soft plea for their time together to continue. " Surely there's another way."

Qui-Gon considered the request for a long moment, expression serious and lending no hint as to the thoughts behind it. Finally, he nodded. With a slight push off and a brief glance, Qui-Gon walked away from Obi-Wan, who turned off his saber and stood quietly. Oh-oh, he thought, watching his master cross the green. They're in for it now. Glancing over at Anakin, Obi-Wan saw that the boy was on his feet and moving well out of range as well, just in case.

Walking around the ever-narrowing edge of the circle, Qui-Gon twirled the lightstaff overhead. "While we appreciate your interest in our drills, I must ask again that you stand clear of our circle. This is not a training blade. It is not a harmless prop. It is a lightstaff. It is a weapon designed to kill. This I know first-hand, and I can assure you it is not a pleasant way to die. It will also remove your hand, your leg, or anything else that gets in its way in less than the blink of an eye. Obi-Wan and I have trained for many years to master these skills. You must stay well clear of this."

Expression grave, Qui-Gon continued to walk the circle, making eye contact with individuals as he went. "When we ask you to provide us a circle at least twenty meters in diameter, it is because we need one. Your tightening that circle places you in grave danger. This is the perimeter of the circle we require--" Lowering the staff, he trailed the end of against the ground and slowly paced the perimeter of his circle, with the blade humming and sputtering over the continued contact with the grounding dirt. The smell of burnt grass filled the air. An uneasy murmur rippled through those assembled as they witnessed the results of even a casual touch of the blade on a living thing. The charred, smoking circle continued to close as Qui-Gon continued to travel the circle. "This is a line over which you will step only in peril of your life. Do I make myself clear?"

He was met with staring eyes and uncertain expressions. Evidently nstant death was not an element that they had mentally included in watching Jedi sparring. The graphic demonstration of the lethal force they wielded so easily seemed to have shocked them all.

Perhaps it would have been better simply to cease working here, Qui-Gon sighed inwardly. We are gaining no friends for the Jedi this way. He glanced toward his fellow Jedi to indicate his decision, but hesitated once he made eye contact with him. Obi-Wan's hopefulness leaked through the calm expression worn for the outside world. Obi-Wan wanted this....

Turning back to those assembled, Qui-Gon tried once more to make his message clear. "Do you understand me? Can you give us this space? If you cannot promise me this, Obi-Wan and I will have no choice but to stop our visits here. I cannot endanger you, and that is what I am doing when you press so close."

Hard blue eyes demanded an answer.

"Yes, Master Qui-Gon," someone spoke up.


The echo was taken up around the circle. Obi-Wan had the feeling that some of these people were thrilled that the Master was talking to them, period, regardless it was in the form of a scolding.

Turning his head, Obi-Wan saw Anakin scramble to get outside the line. Watching the child, the Jedi didn't realize that Qui-Gon had returned and was standing directly before him. The only warning he got that the fight had resumed was the loud buzz of the lightstaff winging through the air, straight toward his head. Responding automatically, he blocked it, only to discover that Qui-Gon was going next for his legs, and then his back as the master executed a perfect forward flip and landed behind Obi-Wan. The next thing he knew, the staff was buzzing right next to his ear, and his lightsaber was still at his side.

"You are beheaded, my friend."

Sighing, Obi-Wan deactivated his weapon. "Well, Master, that was a short fight."

"I had the advantage. You were distracted."

Obi-Wan bowed. "I will ensure that it does not happen again."

And he will, Qui-Gon pondered, handing over the lightstaff and backing away to unclip his lightsaber. I've never had to point out a fault twice to him. His corrections are immediate and permanent.

Waiting for Obi-Wan to ground himself and begin again, Qui-Gon thought, These practices are useful, in more ways than one. We practice in private so much, for so many years, it's good to get out among the people, good to test our concentration and abilities in peaceful settings, before needing to test them in... more dangerous settings. It's good, as long as no one gets hurt.

Checking the perimeter, Qui-Gon was pleased so see that no one was daring to step over his line of blackened, crisped grass. Good.

Raising his head, Obi-Wan met Qui-Gon's gaze and nodded briefly to signal his readiness. The lightstaff whirled in a blur of green fire as Obi-Wan twirled it expertly, then leaped forward, using alternate ends to attack his opponent.

Qui-Gon was ready for it, and parried each blow with lightning speed, then ducked under the blade to swing at Obi-Wan's knees. That sent the young man dancing out of range, with the older Jedi pursing with a high attack, now that the blade had lowered on one end. Obi-Wan saw the strike coming and spun away, sweeping the deadly staff at nearly full length, trying to drive Qui-Gon back as he regrouped. It didn't work. As the blade cleared the master, continuing in the arc to which it was committed, Qui-Gon spun away and swung into the open side of his attacker. Obi-Wan's defense was now half a step out of time, with Qui-Gon driving relentlessly forward with all of the advantages and clearly in deadly command of the situation.

The two competitors staggered apart, panting desperately. A few moments to regain their breath, and Qui-Gon nodded in satisfaction.

"Did you see what happened there?" he asked quietly.

"Mhhmm. Lost a beat there. Gave you an opening. That was a brilliant move, Master. I couldn't really recover from it," he confessed.

"Good. That's what I'd hoped for. Now," he nodded, straightening from where he'd stood, hands braced on thighs as his heart slowed. "Let's switch out again."

Obi-Wan tossed the deactivated lightstaff toward Qui-Gon, who caught it with a Jedi's casual ease. The lightsaber was returned to his belt and Obi-Wan brought his out.

Cocking his head, he looked enquiringly at Obi-Wan who nodded readiness. Both weapons glowed to fiery life, humming a warning of power and deadly ability. Qui-Gon lunged abruptly toward Obi-Wan, forcing him into defensive maneuvers before he had a chance to move. The fight looked horrific with blurring blades flying at impossible speeds as the Jedi engaged, spun and closed again in a deadly dance of combat.

Suddenly Qui-Gon stepped back, holding the lightstaff vertically, stopping the engagement. "Obi-Wan, you left a tremendous opening with that last turn. You've set your foot so far to the side that it takes too long to get your balance through the turn. Try that again, only take only half a step this time. Turn your foot instead."

Obi-Wan nodded, then brought his lightsaber to center before his body, ready for his master's attack. The long blade whirled at him as it had moments before, but this time Obi-Wan moved in a quick graceful turn that left nothing but empty air where the blade descended, instead of the awkward lunge to the side.

"That's it. That was perfect."

"It felt much better, Master. Much easier."

They stood breathing heavily, staring at each other, neither one moving to begin the drill again.

"Had enough?" Qui-Gon asked finally.

Obi-Wan nodded, then ran a hand through his longer, sweat-dampened hair where it fell across his forehead. The padawan haircut was growing out slowly, obstinately remaining in that awkward too-long-but-too-short stage, and annoying the younger man intensely. Qui-Gon smiled at the gesture as he deactivated the staff. Turning from Obi-Wan, he bowed and addressed the crowd.

"We have finished for the day. Thank you all for your cooperation."

There were grumbles, but nothing very serious. With great reluctance, many of the people began moving away.

"Are you satisfied now, Master?" Obi-Wan asked as he walked over to retrieve his cloak from Anakin. "Are we prepared to your satisfaction yet?"

"No," he answered softly. "I don't think I'll ever be satisfied. The consequences of failure are too devastating. But I do feel more confident about our ability to counter this hellish thing," he added, hefting the deactivated lightstaff in his hands.

"Master Windu said you were going to teach the others?"

"Anyone who wishes to learn. We cannot have such a vulnerability in our training. And if this is a weapon the Sith use, we must know it, too. All of us," he concluded darkly.

He bent to retrieve his cloak, only to find it was being offered by his eager apprentice. Anakin had watched the entire long workout without a sound, totally entranced with the skill and speed of Jedi reflexes honed to their peak. His eyes shone with admiration as he looked up at his guardian.

"That is sooo wizard," he grinned, then froze. "Oops? Is it okay if I talk now? I didn't mean to - it was an accident-"

Qui-Gon smiled warmly, then ruffled the short-cut blond hair. "It's alright, Anakin. The training is over. And you were speaking to me."

"What did you threaten him with?" asked an amazed Obi-Wan. "I've never seen him so quiet!"

"I told him that if he uttered a word, the training would stop and he would be returned to the Temple. And he wouldn't be allowed to come with us any longer."

"Oh, that's cruel," Obi-Wan grinned. "And I thought it was something far more ordinary, like threatening to beat him or something."

Qui-Gon turned, startled. "I'm not in the habit of beating my apprentices. Something which you, of all people, should be aware of."

"A fact I am most grateful for, Master, having deserved it on more than one occasion," replied Obi-Wan smoothly.

"Never," the older man replied with a smile as they turned to head back to the Temple. "You were an outstanding apprentice then, as you are good friend now."

He shrugged into his black cloak, then raised the hood as Obi-Wan did the same. Together they turned and, once again the silent, enigmatic Jedi, they moved through the hangers-on in the audience who were so reluctant to leave before "their Jedi" left, for so they referred to Jedi Kenobi and Master Qui-Gon Jinn. They parted respectfully, clearing a path for the Jedi and the small boy who trailed in their wake.

It was an interesting change in a year seemed destined to be full of changes, Qui-Gon noted as they headed for home. So much had changed in so short a time, for all of them. Obi-Wan was a Jedi Knight working on his own for the Republic. Anakin was no longer a slave and was to be a Jedi -- should he survive his training with me, Qui-Gon thought ruefully. Should I survive his training.

And I survived the fight with the Sith. That is the most amazing fact of all. I am still who I was, I think. A little older, a little more wary, but perhaps even stronger. I've gained so much from all of this.

With Obi-Wan at his side and Anakin running ahead, Qui-Gon nodded to yet another woman whose warm smile spoke of acceptance and welcome as he stepped out of the park and onto the busy thoroughfare of Coruscant.