Chapter 11

"Obi-Wan is alive."

Qui-Gon gave them no warning, no coddling words to pad the blow. There was no time for any of that as he faced the entire Council with a flat stare.

The resulting wave of surprise and confusion ran like wildfire around the room. Qui-Gon tucked his hands into the opposing sleeves and weathered it out, forcing patience. He was standing, here, now, before the entire Council, simply out of courtesy. If it wasn't for that he would have been long gone already, flying across the galaxy, tearing it apart in the search for his Padawan. Each second lost was excruciating. But he forced himself to remain, a veneer of calm locked in place. It wouldn't last long, however. It had taken him the best part of an hour to gather even this small amount of control, ever since that sudden and unexpected incident in his quarters that had brought him back to life.

Obi-Wan was out there. Obi-Wan needed him. He had felt it, and his world had been reborn from ashes. His eyes closed briefly at the enormity of it all and it might have over taken him once more had Mace not spoken.

"Qui-Gon…" There was an unusual hesitancy in the typically stern Councillor's voice and Qui-Gon bristled at the undercurrent of sympathy beneath it. "Obi-Wan is gone. We felt it. You felt it. You need…"

"I need nothing more than information, Master, and a fast ship. My Padawan is not dead. He is out there, I've sensed him, and I intend to go to him." The veneer was already cracking. It was now the sole need for information that kept him in place. For even in his fraught state of mind, some part of his brain still registered the fact that it would be foolish to go flying across the galaxy with no leads. He could look for Obi-Wan forever and not find him. Unacceptable. Which meant he would have to bang his head against the proverbial wall that was the Council.

The next exchange, however, almost had him walking out of the door regardless, the bitter tang of fury upon his tongue.

"And why should we provide all of this for you, Master Jinn?" Yarael Poof asked. "You believe we should pull on our resources just because of a 'feeling' you had from a Padawan who's been certified as dead for three months?"

"Yes." Qui-Gon's eyes were like flints of ice.

"Do you have any evidence? Can you sense him now?"

Qui-Gon almost growled. "No. The connection is gone again. I can't explain it," he finished grudgingly.

Poof sat back in his chair as if Qui-Gon's words had just settled his point. "Hmmm. You have had a traumatic time these last few months, Master Jinn," he began, tone condescending. Qui-Gon felt a flicker of pride for his control in that moment when the other Master remained safely unaware of how close he was coming to strangulation. Poof was making it clear he thought Qui-Gon was insane. "Maybe we misjudged your recovery from your loss. You were very close to your Padawan. You're finding it hard to let go and its interfering with your sense of things. It might be a good idea to visit one of the soul healers. They could…"

Qui-Gon narrowed his eyes and Mace, hitherto content to sit out the exchange, cut in. "Tell us what happened, Master Jinn," he said quickly, sensing the danger.

Qui-Gon's eyes continued to bore holes in Poof for a few moments longer, before he turned away and drew together some of his shattered composure, breathing deeply. As quickly as he could he filled the Council in on what had happened to him in his quarters. How he had been planning to sort through Obi-Wan's belongings and how he'd then been hit by the Force equivalent of a lightning bolt. He did his best to convey what he had felt from his brief contact with his Padawan. He had to convince them of what he was so certain of in his own heart. He was not losing his mind. Obi-Wan was alive. The call had been real. So real. And distressed. Obi-Wan, wherever he was, was in danger. Qui-Gon's heart thudded. He did not know what threatened, the connection had been cut off abruptly as abruptly as it had come. Like it had never been.

But it had been and Qui-Gon hoped with all his heart that the new silence didn't mean that he was too late. He couldn't have lost Obi-Wan a second time. Poof's belief would be confirmed. His sanity would be indeed shattered if that was the case.

His need to be gone increased tenfold as he finished conveying his experience to the Council, praying that they would make this easy for him. He focused on Mace but only found continued scepticism in the dark depths of the other Master's eyes. He should have known better.

"Qui-Gon," Mace said, and seemed to be choosing his words carefully. "You must understand that this is very hard for us to believe. Obi-Wan has been gone for a long time now, you yourself said your bond with him was cut the minute the senator's ship blew. No other sense of him has been found in the Force since then. Your grief has been terrible. Now you enter out of the blue, claiming Obi-Wan is alive based on nothing more than a brief flash of presence after leaving his room. A place you avoided until now. A place soaked in his old Force signature." He let the words hang for a minute. "I'm sorry, Master Jinn, but if what you felt was real and not just an echo in the Force, how is it no other felt such a massive disturbance. No Master on this Council sensed any such thing."

Qui-Gon balled his hands into tight fists to prevent himself from trembling. "Because, with respect, this Council has become nothing more than a gathering of blind fools." He ignored the collective shock around him. He didn't care right now. "You don't know how to listen any longer, hobbled as you are by your narrow mindedness."

"Master Jinn!" Now there was a bite of anger in Mace's measured tone. "If you think-"

"Enough. Silent you both will be!" The command stopped them all in their tracks, edged with quiet steel. Qui-Gon turned to Yoda, who had sat quiet and pensive up till now. He had no idea what the ancient Master was thinking. But he would fight him too if he had to.

Yoda seemed to sense his thoughts and gave him a piercing stare. "Respect for this Council you [i]will[/i] have, Qui-Gon," he said, before turning to Mace. "Achieve nothing, this bickering does. Going Master Jinn is, whether we grant permission or not." Here he cast Qui-Gon another level stare. "Give him what he needs, we might as well. Keep him out of more trouble, it might."

"What do you see in all of this, Master?" Adi Gallia asked.

"Matter that does not," Yoda stated, still staring at Qui-Gon and Qui-Gon shook his head in confirmation. Even Master Yoda's opinion mattered little to him now. As the old Master had wisely pointed out: he was going. He just hoped Yoda would convince the rest to give him what he needed.

Yoda turned back to Mace and locked eyes with him. Qui-Gon watched with tense fascination as their wills moved back and forth until Mace sighed and laced his fingers together in resignation. "It is decided. Master Jinn," he looked at Qui-Gon coolly. "If you insist upon this course of action, the Council will use our contacts in the Senate to secure you a ship."

Qui-Gon bowed his thanks.

"As for information, Master Rilgora and his Padawan are heading the investigation for the destruction of Senator Belar's ship. They are currently in the mid Rim following some promising leads. Their last report placed them on Tylon, a small planet in the Yarin sector of the mid Rim. The coordinates will be entered in your transport's navi com. Be waiting in the hanger bay in two hours. May the Force be with you."

The dismissal was curt, clear and swift. Mace wanted him gone from the Council's collective sight and to quit wasting their time and resources on what he considered to be a complete folly.

Qui-Gon did not care. He was going after his Padawan and now he had the means to do so. The opinion of the Council was as inconsequential as a leaf against a storm. He bowed swiftly and turned on his heel. Leaving the Council Chamber he set a swift clip that no one would dare interrupt.

As he headed back to his quarters, he used the time to create a list of everything he would need. Unlike a sanctioned mission, he had no idea what he would be walking into or where his path may lead. In such cases it was always best to expect the worst and he had no intention of being caught short when his Padawan's life was at stake.

His Padawan's life... the words threatened to whip Qui-Gon's already flayed emotions into a storm again. He had never thought to have such concerns again.

Focus.

He would have to visit the Temples quartermasters. Survival equipment went without saying. For hot and cold environments. Medical supplies, for as much as he wanted to shy away from the thought, the fact that Obi-Wan may be gravely injured was a very real possibility. Extra rations. Water packs.

The list was still growing when he reached his quarters at last. Without a second thought he snatched up his survival pack and his usual basics, changes of clothes. Last of all he checked the power cell on his lightsaber. That done he turned to leave, but found himself paused by Obi-Wan's door. For a long moment he just stared at the flat grey entrance before making up his mind.

Opening the door he disappeared silently inside.

Where is that blasted ship?!

Qui-Gon stood waiting impatiently in the Temple's hanger bay. He had already been here for fifteen minutes and there was still no sign of the ship he had been promised. Time weighed heavily on him. His eyes flitted across the vast hanger bay at each of the other vessels docked in the various ports or resting upon the polished floor as repairs were carried out. For a brief, insane moment he considered if it would be worth hijacking one of them, anything so he could be on his way. And just as swiftly he dismissed the foolish thought.

Patience. The ship would be here. Delays were inevitable, this was Coruscant after all. Breathing deeply, he let the air, laced with the sharp scent of fuel and grease, filter slowly down into his body. Then he released it, and with it went some of his tension. But not all. Never all. Ever since the explosion on that accursed landing pad peace had been a distant memory to Qui-Gon, and now that he knew Obi-Wan still lived it was like there was a fire burning inside of him. The ache to have his Padawan back would not let him rest and underlying it all was the terrible sense that he was running out of time.

Hissing silently between his teeth, Qui-Gon shifted the heavy survival packs on his shoulder for the hundredth time. Where was that ship?

A flash of silver caught his eye and suddenly there it was. He knew not what kind of ship it was but he knew it was the one, and for Qui-Gon it seemed like the most beautiful thing he had ever beheld. All sleek, clean lines accentuated in black and silver, here at last was the vessel that would carry him to his Padawan. He watched as the ship made a graceful arc and came to rest in its assigned bay. The landing cycle completed with a sigh of engines and the ramp immediately began to lower. The opening doorway beckoned Qui-Gon forward.

"Master Qui-Gon. Wait a moment."

No!

Qui-Gon did not conceal the strangled cry that came to his throat. Master Yoda could not be stopping him now. The Senate pilot who had delivered the ship was already descending the ramp, waiting for the one who would take it off his hands.

Qui-Gon froze. Had it been anyone else he would have just carried on walking, taken the codes from the pilot and blasted off into space without a backwards glance. But Master Yoda had held his utmost respect since before he could walk. The instinct to obey the soft request was so deeply ingrained that it could not be ignored, no matter how the rest of his heart screamed at him to just go. Cursing under his breath, Qui-Gon turned round.

Surely enough his eyes came to rest on the diminutive Master standing a few paces away.

Yoda regarded him silently. Large green eyes filled with infinite patience. Qui-Gon could not guess what was going on behind that heavy gaze but he wished the old Master would hurry up and state his purpose. His patience was sadly crushed.

"Hmph." Yoda uttered softly, lifting his unfathomable eyes to Qui-Gon. He tapped his gimer stick gently. Qui-Gon took the hint, settling himself on his knees before the other Master. Again he was the subject of an intense study.

Then Yoda spoke, his voice holding a strange note. "Sure you are, that what you heard was real?"

Qui-Gon blinked and stared hard at him for a second then gave one decisive nod. He believed it with every fibre of his being. He locked eyes with Yoda and held the other Master's gaze firm as the quiet study continued. Grey-green eyes searching blue.

Finally Yoda sighed. "Believe you, I do, my old crechling," he said, voice so soft it was barely audible.

Qui-Gon's heart contracted as he listened and then lifted. He hadn't realised until now what it meant for him to have someone else believe that Obi-Wan was alive. The faint shadows of doubt lurking in his mind vanished into thin air.

He smiled gratefully at the other Master, but Yoda remained unmoving and Qui-Gon did not know what else he was waiting for.

"Bring him home to us, you will."

Qui-Gon cocked his head slightly. That hadn't quite been a statement and he suddenly realised with a jolt what it was Yoda was seeking. It was his reassurance! The knowledge was like a whip crack, completely out of character as it was. Yoda feared for his Padawan. Genuinely. Qui-Gon had never known the other Master display anything but complete trust in the Force. But he had never really understood the strange connection that lay between Obi-Wan and the old troll. It didn't bother him, he was actually glad it was there. If it hadn't been for Yoda's fight to save Obi-Wan from the agri-corps, Qui-Gon would never have taken him as his Padawan and life as he knew it would have been very different indeed. And he was grateful.

Gently he reached out and laid a warm hand on Yoda's shoulder. Something he had never done before either. Never dared to, he admitted, but the former barriers between them had been shattered by this moment, united as they were in their concern for Obi-Wan. "I will bring him home, my Master," was all he could say, but his eyes conveyed all his fierce determination.

And Yoda nodded, seemingly satisfied. "Force be with you, my old Padawan," he blessed. Warmth brushed at Qui-Gon as the old Master turned and shuffled away, disappearing into the growing crowd. Qui-Gon watched until he was out of sight then pulled himself up. He realised he felt better, stronger now, as if Yoda had imparted to him some of his great strength. He smiled softly. Thank you he thought. Then he was away. Wasting no more time he turned and went to his waiting ship.

The Solar Wind, he noted the name etched upon the side.

On greeting the pilot he was duly supplied with all the necessary codes for the small vessel. Thanking the man, Qui-Gon quickly made his way up the ramp, the clean smell of the ship filling his lungs as he walked through the short, crisp passage to the cockpit. Only one room lay aft of the pit, making living space cramped, but Qui-Gon paid no mind to it as he settled himself into the pilot's seat. It would suit his needs. Being uncomfortable would ensure he stayed sharp. He glanced down at the controls. The layout was strange but not complex and in minutes he had it committed to memory. He pushed a button and the engines fired. Qui-Gon felt the ship come to life beneath his hands, vibrating through his body with restrained power. It was like an animal straining at its leash, eager to be gone. He wasn't about to argue. Shoving the throttle forward he shot from the Temple's hanger bay and in seconds he was clearing Coruscant's upper atmosphere.

As soon as open space stretched on all sides, Qui-Gon quickly calculated the jump to the Yarin system and punched it in. Holding his breath he waited agonising moments until the navicom approved the route then hit the hyperdrive activation. The stars lurched and disappeared, giving way as the Solar Wind was quickly enveloped in a dazzling blue blanket.

Releasing his captured breath, Qui-Gon relaxed back into his padded seat. He was finally on his way. For a few mindless moments he let the swirling phenomenon that was hyperspace mesmerise his weary gaze, taking the time to regain his lost centre before reaching down and drawing an item from his travel pack.

The soft brown folds of Obi-Wan's robe ran smoothly though his fingers as he pulled it to him, caressing the material and letting the familiar feel and scent fill his senses as the loneliness of space began to press in around him. Gazing at the precious bundle in his lap, Qui-Gon threw one thought out into the Force. He could no longer sense his Padawan, that was true, but he prayed to any gods that might be listening that Obi-Wan would somehow hear him and know.

Hold on, my Padawan. I'm coming

tbc…