Hey, everyone! (hugs all of her reviewers) I am just shocked by how many reviews I have so far, so thank you to everyone! (grins) I'm glad to see everyone enjoying this, and another huge thank you for everyone who took the time to look at the trailer and tell me what they thought. (grins again)
Now, off with you! Enjoy the latest chapter!
Qui-Gon awoke from what had been the best sleep he'd had in weeks, part of him astounded that he'd accomplished it. He never slept well when away from the Temple and part of him had been worried that the situation with Obi-Wan would keep him awake. However, a session of meditation had calmed his fears, and after wishing Obi-Wan a mental 'good night', he'd fallen into a deep, peaceful sleep.
After rolling over and pulling back the privacy curtain, he rubbed away any lingering grogginess from his eyes and yawned around the horrible morning taste in his mouth. Shucking his blankets, he sat up. He then ran his fingers through his hair before glancing across the room to see if Obi-Wan had awoken yet.
He blinked. Obi-Wan wasn't there, and nor were the cushion or any of the blankets from the sleep couch.
Stars and galaxies, what happened?
Qui-Gon stood, frowning at the spectacle. What could have made his padawan want to move his bed?
His frown deepened when another thought occurred to him. Surely the act must have made quite a bit of noise, so why hadn't he awoken? Unless Obi-Wan had laid down some of that soundproof shielding he'd been taught… but why would the padawan desire such secrecy? Wouldn't he have realized that Qui-Gon would've had no objections?
Who knows; perhaps Obi-Wan didn't do it at all. Perhaps something happened and I simply slept too deeply to notice.
Qui-Gon's swallowed; the situation felt horribly odd. Perhaps his food had been drugged… but to what ends? No one in their party would actually go to lengths to kidnap Obi-Wan, and they certainly wouldn't have taken the entire sleep couch if they had.
-Obi-Wan?- he called into their bond and his brows furrowed in confusion. The link was utterly silent; he couldn't even get the sense of Obi-Wan's presence that normally flowed between them.
Follow the bond, then, Qui-Gon thought. Find Obi-Wan that way.
He knelt in a meditative pose, his feet tucked beneath him and his hands resting on his thighs. He cast his mind into the link, following the weakened threads to wherever they might lead. He didn't get very far when the bond abruptly stopped, leaving him staring at the mental equivalent of a blank spot.
His gut plummeted as the implications poured through his mind.
He's dead, something whispered, but he pushed the thought aside roughly. He couldn't afford to be irrational. He would've felt Obi-Wan's death…
Drawing a deep breath to force his heart out of his throat, Qui-Gon began studying the blank spot. Upon closer examination, he found that the ends of the bond hadn't been severed; they merely disappeared off into nothing. He continued examining, reaching out and brushing against the spot, and he jerked mentally when it skillfully diverted him. If he hadn't known better, he would've sworn that there was nothing there, but the nature of the redirection was what gave him his clues.
Without his knowledge, someone had erected a Kinas-shield around Obi-Wan.
The skill that had gone behind it was superb; if Qui-Gon hadn't known what to look for, he would've missed it. He knew this kind of mental shielding well, having been forced to use it on occasion. It was a combination of shields that not only hid the Force-user's presence from other Force-users, but masked their mental signatures as well. It was, in effect, a cloaking device taught to a select few, usually the most skilled Masters at the time. A few undercover Jedi in charge of the most perilous of missions knew of it as well, but all were sworn to utter secrecy.
To find it around Obi-Wan was startling and extremely worrying. Who could have done such a thing?
Unfortunately, Qui-Gon couldn't answer that, as part of the training included a mind wipe that made the learner forget who had taught it to him. Granted, he could safely assume that Masters Yoda and Mace Windu knew, perhaps even most of the Council for that matter, but they would have no reason to place that kind of shield around Obi-Wan, and none of them were even present for that matter.
Qui-Gon's lips thinned. The more he thought about it, the only person who could have reasonably placed such a shield around Obi-Wan would have been either Qui-Gon or Obi-Wan himself. Since Qui-Gon knew for a fact that he hadn't taught Obi-Wan that kind of shielding…
But why would I place such a thing around him? Wouldn't I remember doing it? And now how am I supposed to find him?
Qui-Gon withdrew back into his own mind, silently sighing and trying to dispel the disquiet that had risen up within him. Not only had his padawan mysteriously vanished, presumably taking the sleep couch with him, but Qui-Gon had, in all probability, placed a high-level shield on Obi-Wan and didn't remember doing it.
What was going on?
Find Obi-Wan and everything will be explained, Qui-Gon reassured himself, soothing his unrest and reaching out with his mind once again. This time, however, he began searching for any residue of Obi-Wan's presence, hoping that the shield hadn't been placed before his padawan had decided to start wandering around.
He smiled when he found traces of his missing apprentice, a flash of humor here, a brush of sorrow there.
It led towards the maintenance bay.
Withdrawing for the second time, Qui-Gon picked himself up and went to change. As much as he wanted to start off immediately, he knew that it would do little good if the queen or one of her handmaidens caught him in such a state. For them to see the calm Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn tearing through the corridors of the ship in search of his apprentice would only undermine his assertion that they had nothing to worry about, and he wanted to make it to Coruscant without any further problems.
Or rather, without any they were aware of.
Qui-Gon changed into a work tunic, brushed his hair and teeth, and slammed his feet into his boots in record time. He made the bed with a wave of his hand, justifying the frivolous use of the Force through his lack of time to spare. The traces he'd sensed had been just that, and if Obi-Wan turned out to not be in the maintenance bay, Qui-Gon would have to start all over again. The less time those traces had to fade, the better.
As Qui-Gon walked briskly through the corridors, he took the time to run a brief scan of the ship with the Force. In his haste, he hadn't spared a glance at his chronometer, so for all he knew, it could have been noon.
He was relieved to find that few passengers were out of bed. He could sense a few cooks arguing in the galley and a sleepy pilot in need of a shift change, but everyone else appeared to be still asleep.
All the better. The less anyone knows of this little event, the happier I'll be, he thought as he turned a few corners and found himself in the wide doorway that opened into the expansive maintenance bay.
Qui-Gon paused there, his eyes and Force-sense roaming the room, hunting for anything out of the ordinary. Jar Jar was curled up beside Artoo, but nothing appeared amiss. It was just a normal, relatively empty maintenance bay, with odd droid bits thrown everywhere and a normal pile of blankets in one corner. No Jedi in sight.
Qui-Gon sighed impatiently. All of the traces led here and yet there was nothing. He would have to search the entire ship before anyone caught on.
A waste of time, he grumped. The shielding must've been put in place here, because I can't sense Obi-Wan's presence going anywhere else.
Just as he turned to go, the rustle of cloth reached his ears, and he frowned. Had that normal pile of blankets just moved?
He blinked, rubbed his eyes for good measure, and stared. Sure enough, there it was again. It looked like someone was pulling the blankets around them and snuggling down beneath their depths.
That was impossible, part of him whispered. He'd seen it himself; it was just a normal pile of blankets. Not a Jedi, just a plain, brown blanket.
Qui-Gon almost found himself agreeing with the suggestion and shook himself roughly. He forced his gaze to focus on the blankets, willing himself to see beyond what his mind was telling him.
When he reached out with the Force, he felt the illusion shatter.
I don't believe it.
There, off to one side of the bay and buried beneath the blankets, was his wayward apprentice, sleeping much more peacefully than he had any right to, considering he'd given his Master another scare. Qui-Gon recognized the thick comforter from the sleep couch, but the cushion Obi-Wan slept on was much wider than the one from the room, and part of him wondered what had happened to it. If his padawan was sleeping on something he'd found, what had he done with the rest of the sleep couch?
Then Qui-Gon realized something rather startling: Obi-Wan was sleeping like a normal person. His body wasn't flung in the strangest position, his blankets weren't strewn across the room, his pillow wasn't lodged behind an astromech droid, and he certainly wasn't snoring. The covers rose and fell gently with each deep breath he took, and Qui-Gon stared. His apprentice once again appeared to be in a healing trance.
Well, it's time to snap him out of it. I want some answers, Qui-Gon thought, his lips pressing together, and he took several steps into the room.
It was then that he noticed something else: the reason the cushion looked wider was not because Obi-Wan had found a larger one, but because he'd taken the cushions from the bench beside him to extend the width.
And to what purpose was quickly revealed. Tucked up beside Obi-Wan was Anakin. The boy's back was pressed against the padawan's side, his head pillowed on the arm that curved protectively around him, and he was buried beneath a slew of blankets. Together the two cut an image of utter peace, and the sense of rightness that filled Qui-Gon upon seeing them was enough to stop him in his tracks.
When had his apprentice formed such a deep bond with the child?
The sight warmed his heart, despite the irritation he'd been feeling towards his errant padawan. Here was the answer to most of his questions. Obi-Wan, being the insomniac that he was, must've gone out some time during the night, and unexpectedly stumbled upon the boy and talked to him. Instead of leaving Anakin to sleep in such an unfamiliar place on his own, Obi-Wan had returned, snatched up the sleep couch, and hurried back to the bay.
And he teases me about taking pity on pathetic life forms, Qui-Gon thought, his gaze landing on two large, empty drinking mugs. Upon inspection, he learned they'd held some kind of milk, presumably with forest honey.
That made him smile all over again. The drink was a typical, soothing beverage that Obi-Wan consumed when plagued with insomnia, and he'd clearly shared it with Anakin.
As much as I am loath to destroy this peace, Qui-Gon thought, his smile fading as he stood over Obi-Wan and Anakin. The more disturbing questions have yet to be answered.
Qui-Gon still couldn't sense Obi-Wan even though he was standing a few paces from the young man, which should've been impossible. The Kinas-shields did well until the hunter had some form of visual confirmation; they began to falter once the hunter could resist the redirections. There was something else to the shielding around Obi-Wan, and upon closer examination, Qui-Gon determined that he had not placed the shields around the padawan.
Somehow, Obi-Wan had erected them.
Qui-Gon knew his padawan's Force-signature like the back of his own hand, and it was all over the shields.
How is this possible? Not only has he managed to learn how to create them, but he's managed to modify them as well! Qui-Gon thought in shock. The Kinas-shields he sensed weren't deteriorating, indicating a stronger structure that Qui-Gon hadn't been taught, and they somehow included that strong Force-suggestion that kept someone from seeing the user. Normally the two types couldn't be mixed, yet here was living proof that it could be done.
Qui-Gon felt his gaze narrow; he wanted to know why his twenty-five year old apprentice was able to accomplish something a Jedi Master twice his age could not.
"Wake up, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, emphasizing the command with the Force, and he extended his foot to give his padawan a slight physical nudge as well. He could feel the shields around his apprentice shift in response to the command, the young Jedi stiffening slightly as the words worked their way past the blocks.
Qui-Gon jumped when Obi-Wan's eyes snapped open.
The next thing Qui-Gon knew he was face down on the floor, his cheek mashed against the cushion, his arms twisted behind his back, and a deactivated lightsaber held to his throat. Something heavy pressed down on his back and a powerful hand gripped the back of his neck, pinching the pressure points that rendered the lower half of his body useless. He winced when he felt the Force tighten around his wrists, tugging them up towards his head painfully, and he actually cried out when a knee dug into his lower back.
"Who are you?" a voice hissed vehemently, and Qui-Gon could see a thumb twitching as it hovered over the on-switch to the lightsaber.
His lightsaber, for that matter…
"This isn't an espionage mission and no self-respecting Jedi would dare take on the image of someone who's been dead for thirteen years," the voice continued. "So again; who are you?"
Qui-Gon froze when his mind finally placed the voice. This couldn't be; it just couldn't!
"Padawan, what are you doing?" he exclaimed as best he could, with half of his face smashed against the floor. When the grip on his neck tightened dangerously, he reached out along their bond, trying to prove who he was.
-Obi-Wan, what is going on?- he queried, and along with a flash of shock that rolled back to him along the link, he was bombarded with images, impressions…
Qui-Gon found himself in an oppressive, muggy heat, the smell of rich earth filling his nostrils, and moisture wicking off his body. The call of an unknown creature reached his ears, along with the steady thud of boots that marched along behind him, and he glanced up at the thick jungle canopy above, searching for a hint of the sun's position so he could lead his troops to the rendezvous point before dark…
He glanced back at his second in command, who had his helmet off and was wiping a mixture of sweat and condensation from his brow. "What is it, Cody? Have you managed to fix our compass?"
"We're still working on it," the commander responded. "But the scouts report a large body of water ahead of us, and I thought it prudent to discuss with you the possibility of stopping for a rest. The men need it and it would give us a chance to refill our water stores."
Qui-Gon found himself smiling tightly. "I agree. Lead the way, Commander."
Qui-Gon jerked, his mind reeling from the images he'd received, and he found himself blinking up at Obi-Wan's frightened face.
"Master, are you all right? I didn't mean for that to happen! You just surprised me; I was dreaming, and you woke me right when I was about to be attacked, so I couldn't stop myself," his padawan babbled as he helped Qui-Gon sit up. The older Jedi felt Obi-Wan run a gentle scan, searching for any injuries. When he found some, he healed them instantly.
"Were you dreaming of a jungle?" Qui-Gon asked, part of him noting another skill leap. Obi-Wan had never been the best of healers, struggling with the most minor of bruises, and yet here he was, pouring healing energies into the wounds he'd unintentionally inflicted like a seasoned Master.
"I suppose you saw some of it over the bond?" Obi-Wan asked in return, and Qui-Gon nodded slowly. His neck still stung from the pressure Obi-Wan had subjected it to, but at least he could move his lower body again. "I'm sorry you had to see that; I was trying to keep it from bothering you."
"Hence the shields?" Qui-Gon asked with raised eyebrows and Obi-Wan blinked. "Yes, padawan, I know about your shields. And I want to know when you learned Kinas-shielding without my knowledge, guidance, or approval."
"K-Kinas-shielding?" Obi-Wan said, radiating confusion, and if it hadn't been for the marginal widening of his eyes, Qui-Gon would've believed that he had no idea what they were.
"Yes, padawan," he repeated, though he found his teeth were clenched. "Kindly explain when you managed the skill required for them, and do tell me how you were able to lace a potent Force-suggestion into the mix, because I ran into both when I came looking for you."
"I… I don't know how to…"
His padawan trailed off, and he knew Obi-Wan was stalling for time, as behind his extensive shields, Qui-Gon could sense that his apprentice was working frantically to come up with an answer. Sitting back, the Jedi Master folded his aching arms over his chest, and waited.
"Time's up, padawan," he said at last, making Obi-Wan jump a little. "What have you got to say for yourself?"
He watched as Obi-Wan shut his eyes, his shoulders drooping ever so slightly, and the young man drew a deep breath before beginning. "M-Master," Obi-Wan started, stumbling a bit over the title, "you might not believe what I'm about to tell you."
"Try me, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said with a touch of frost. "At this point, I'm ready to believe just about anything."
Obi-Wan shivered, but continued. "It's because of those visions I had yesterday," he said quietly and Qui-Gon stiffened.
"You mean they showed you how to erect those kinds of shields?" he asked, his voice hushed in surprise. "But that's-"
"Impossible? Unheard of? Crazy?" Obi-Wan said, a small smirk twisting his lips, but not touching his eyes. "I know. But you saw them yourself, and I swear to you, Master, that up until those visions I didn't know how to do any of this."
Qui-Gon sat back, drumming his fingers against his elbow and frowning. Obi-Wan's words rang true through the Force, no matter how much he didn't like it. "Then who taught you how to meld those two shields together? I'd always been told it was impossible."
Another small smirk brushed Obi-Wan's features. "The visions didn't show me. How could they? The people who taught me did a specific mind-wipe once the training was finished."
Qui-Gon grimaced in embarrassment; how had he forgotten that part? "So what was that bit about the jungle? And leading the troops?"
Obi-Wan shrugged marginally. "Just stray bits of the visions. There's nothing more too it."
Qui-Gon frowned; not only was the Force whispering that there was much more to it, but Obi-Wan wasn't meeting his gaze, a tell-tale sign that he was lying. No matter how old he got, he couldn't seem to out-grow that bad habit.
"You still aren't willing to share, are you?"
Obi-Wan shut his eyes and bowed his head in a silent plea for forgiveness, a pose he often adopted. "I thought we promised to discuss this later," he said quietly.
"Yes, but you also promised that you would come to me if you had any problems before then," Qui-Gon shot back and he barely caught the faint grimace that flashed across Obi-Wan's face.
"I said I'd come to you when I was ready, Master," Obi-Wan said, his tone colder.
"And when is ready, Obi-Wan?" He couldn't help the heat in his voice and he could almost see his padawan shrink away before he strove to siphon it into the Force. "When you've accidentally killed someone because they startled you from sleep? When more of these visions surface while we're in trouble, leaving me to fend for myself?"
"Master, it won't happen again! The shielding was habit, all right?" Obi-Wan shouted, startling Qui-Gon. "In the dream, it was something I'd always done, to protect myself, because I was in the middle of a war. And since I doubt I'll be having that same dream again, you won't have to worry about me accidentally killing anyone!"
In the middle of a war?
"And what if something even worse surfaces? What will happen if no one can snap you out of it?" Qui-Gon shot back. "What will you do then? No, Obi-Wan, I'm not going to take that chance. You are lowering your shields now, before we have a repeat of your attack."
Obi-Wan sat there, staring at him with eyes wide from shock, and Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow in a silent question.
"What happened to trusting me, Master?" Obi-Wan finally asked, and Qui-Gon could sense indignation flare in his padawan before being carefully diffused into the Force. "What happened to remaining calm and objective? And patient? Why can't you believe that I'll be all right if you'd just leave me alone?"
"Because I did leave you alone, and I wound up with a knee in my kidneys and a lightsaber at my throat," Qui-Gon said, trying to repeat Obi-Wan and release his mounting frustration before it fanned completely out of control. "You've proven to me that these visions are interfering with your focus. Now lower your shields."
"What's going on?"
The sleepy voice startled Qui-Gon and he glanced to his right to see Anakin emerging from the blankets. There was a crease on the side of his cheek and his hair was completely rumpled, his clothes in utter disarray. Anakin yawned widely and stretched before rubbing the sleep from his eyes and blinking at the two Jedi.
"I heard people shouting. Is something wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong, Ani," Obi-Wan said with a warm smile, before Qui-Gon would respond similarly. "Qui-Gon and I were merely discussing something, but don't worry about it. I'm sorry if we woke you."
"'Sall right," Anakin said, yawning again. "I've had ruder wake-up calls; it takes a lot to get me up. Mom says I'm the heaviest sleeper she's ever met."
Obi-Wan chuckled, his smile widening ever so slightly. "I believe it, if you managed to stay asleep until now."
"So do you want me to let you guys finish?" Anakin asked, surprising Qui-Gon with his astuteness, and Obi-Wan nodded.
"Do you mind taking the cushions and blankets back to my quarters? We'll be finished by the time you come back," Obi-Wan said and Anakin nodded before gathering up half of the sleeping material. With a nod and a smile to both Jedi, he hurried from the maintenance bay.
Anakin left silence in his wake, and both master and apprentice shifted uneasily for a moment, unsure of where to begin.
"He was in those visions wasn't he?" Qui-Gon asked at last, once he knew Anakin was out of hearing range. Obi-Wan's gaze merely flicked to him, his eyes a cold, neutral grey. "That's why you knew his name when you woke; why you formed a bond with him so quickly."
"Yes," Obi-Wan said at last, a small sigh escaping him, and he fell silent.
After it became clear that nothing more was going to be added, Qui-Gon leaned forward to touch a hand to his apprentice's shoulder.
"Obi-Wan, would you mind telling me why you're so reluctant to share these visions?" he asked quietly and nearly shivered from the flash of pain that rolled through the bond. His padawan's face had taken on a look he couldn't quite describe, and for an instant, Obi-Wan appeared so old, his blue-green eyes haunted by terrors Qui-Gon could only imagine.
"They're disturbing," Obi-Wan whispered, chills racing down Qui-Gon's spine.
"All the more reason to share them," Qui-Gon responded, and Obi-Wan lifted his gaze. Their eyes met briefly, and Qui-Gon caught a glimpse of churning lava, a blue lightsaber clashing with his own, felt a sickening heat searing his skin, choked in the noxious sulfurous gases…
Obi-Wan looked away, silencing the screams that echoed along the bond.
"What happened?" Qui-Gon whispered, feeling his hands shake, but Obi-Wan stared at the wall, his eyes seeing something far beyond.
When Obi-Wan finally spoke, his voice was barely a whisper.
Qui-Gon froze, really froze, his brain running that sentence over and over as he tried to process it.
"I watched everything spiral into chaos and I died," Obi-Wan continued, and Qui-Gon did shiver this time. The Force sang and the words rang true; it was what Obi-Wan had seen. "I tried to stop it, but I failed. In the end, I could do nothing but sit by helplessly and watch as the worlds came crashing down."
Qui-Gon was at a loss for words; it was no wonder Obi-Wan had been hysterical upon finally coming around. He wasn't sure how he would've responded, if placed in the same position, and part of him selfishly hoped that he would never be.
Oh, padawan, I'm sorry.
Obi-Wan shook his head; somehow he'd heard the shielded thought. "Don't be. You're my Master, and you take care of me, whether I like it or not."
Obi-Wan smiled then, a hollow replica that made part of Qui-Gon twist painfully. "I just need a few days to sort everything out. If you'll give me that, then I'll tell you everything I saw. I swear."
"Obi-Wan…" Qui-Gon started, but trailed off. How could he explain the feeling that was growing in the back of his mind, the one demanding that he be told everything now, lest something terrible happen?
"Master, if you don't trust me when I tell you that this will never happen again, keep me under constant surveillance. I'll lower all the shields I can, if it'll make you feel better," Obi-Wan said, his tone deadly serious, and Qui-Gon found himself wondering what had happened to the sparkle that normally resided in Obi-Wan's eyes. Had these strange visions killed it?
"You don't have to," Qui-Gon said at last, heaving a sigh. "You do deserve your privacy, and I don't think I want your thoughts running through my head at all times." He felt something flicker faintly along their bond, but it was gone before he could identify it. "I'll give you the time you ask for, Obi-Wan, but if I find you in one of your twisted realities again, all previous promises are null and void."
"I know, Master," Obi-Wan replied, relaxing slightly. "Please just be patient with me until I can get my equilibrium established properly. I have the feeling that if I tried to relive those visions now, my reaction would be even worse."
An unexpected chill settled across Qui-Gon's shoulders as Obi-Wan spoke, and he found himself reluctantly agreeing.
A flash of relief followed it; what damage might he have done if he'd ignored one of his most central rules? He always urged patience above all else, believing that it helped in all situations, and here he was, acting like a reckless Initiate.
He never could be rational where his padawans were concerned, however, and he worried more about Obi-Wan than any other apprentice he'd had.
"It seems Anakin has returned. What do you say to a meal, Master?"
Qui-Gon glanced up at Obi-Wan's voice, to find that the padawan had stood and was in the process of straightening his tunics. Qui-Gon watched as Obi-Wan combed his fingers through his hair, retying the nerf-tail, and Qui-Gon's gaze fell on the padawan braid. It was looking a little tousled, and before Obi-Wan could react, Qui-Gon had stood and begun to re-plait it, adjusting the beads with utter care.
For a split second, a sharp flash of sorrow and nostalgia raced through the bond. It was silenced quickly, deep gratitude replacing it. Qui-Gon gave no sign that he'd sensed the emotions, and when he met the gaze of his padawan, he was surprised to find a faint sheen of tears brimming along the edges of Obi-Wan's eyes.
"Thank you," Obi-Wan whispered once Qui-Gon had finished, and wiped at his eyes, though it seemed to do little good, as the tears kept coming.
Why does it always seem to be you, padawan? Qui-Gon thought, his heart breaking at the sight. Why can I never protect you as I would like?
Qui-Gon murmured something that was a mix of a regretful sigh and an expression of his grief, and then wrapped his arms around his apprentice. He held Obi-Wan, trying to calm the young man's shaking form, and whispered pure nonsense as the padawan cried silently over a wound that none could see.