Obi-Wan fought the dizziness and fog that seemed to have latched onto his mind. He realized he had been unconscious for a while but however that had come about, he had no idea.
Was that a voice? Shaking his head mildly he felt the first wisps of fog lighten and dissolve. He seemed to be standing in the landing area of a ship. If he was to judge from the heat still seeping in through the not yet closed hatch, he was on a desert planet.
"Are you all right, mister Qui-Gon, sir?" the young voice repeated anxiously.
Qui-Gon? Obi-Wan staggered at the force of the emotions that the name invoked and looked around himself wildly. Qui-Gon was dead. Did this mean he, too, was dead? His eyes landed on the crumpled form of a man sitting on the floor, trying to regain his breath. He was tall and dressed in simple farmer clothes, but in his hand rested a very familiar lightsaber. The face was obscured by long hair that fell forward into his face, moving slightly as gentle puffs of breath escaped from the mouth concealed behind.
"Qui-Gon", Obi-Wan breathed, disbelieving.
Deep blue eyes snapped up to meet his. "Yes, padawan?" came the gentle inquiry.
Obi-Wan reeled. This couldn't be possible. His eyes then landed on a small boy with sun bleached, wind-tousled hair. Startlingly blue eyes locked onto his, worry evident in their childish glitter. Anakin.
Taking a shocked step backwards, Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a second, feeling the Force around him. It felt normal… well, as normal at it could possibly feel, but with an addition of smugness that he had never felt before. He felt his eyes snap open and widen in disbelief. The Force was smug about something? Letting his gaze sweep over his surroundings again, he decided it was best to bide his time until he knew what exactly was going on. This appeared to be the past: he could even feel the training bond he shared with Qui-Gon, but that could not be because it had snapped when Qui-Gon died. He had lived with the painfully ragged and raw ends tearing at his mind ever since. To be in the past was also utterly impossible. Unless. No, he would meditate on this later. Better to observe and wait for now.
"Padawan?" Qui-Gon repeated.
So much for that resolve. Obi-Wan desperately tried to mould his expression into a neutral and very much serene Jedi expression, but failed miserably as he felt tears well up in his eyes.
"Nothing, master…" Oh dear Force. Hoping that his master hadn't heard the desperate hope in his voice, he cleared his throat silently. "…What was that creature?" He had to say something, right?
Qui-Gon shook his head tiredly and in bewilderment. "I do not know. But he was well trained in the Jedi arts. My guess is that he was after the queen."
Or maybe he was trained only in the dark side, master. Obi-Wan thought without mirth. Realizing that Anakin had been staring at him for some time now, he turned his attention to the young boy.
"Who is this?" he asked nobody in general. It was Qui-Gon who answered, just like he remembered.
"This is the boy without whose help we still would be stuck here. Anakin Skywalker, meet Obi-Wan Kenobi." Even as Qui-Gon was halfway through his introduction, Anakin's eyes had grown to twice their usual size and he goggled at Obi-Wan's lightsaber.
"You're a Jedi too?!" Anakin exclaimed with a very familiar wide grin, and Obi-Wan felt like crying again.
"I'm not a fully trained Jedi yet, but yes." Obi-Wan answered with what he hoped weren't a desperate kind of voice. Anakin's head tilted slightly to the side and a small frown creased his small brow.
"How can you be a Jedi but at the same time kind of not?"
Obi-Wan stared at the boy for a second before breaking out in laughter. The question was so innocent and at the same time all too serious. It was just too much Anakin.
"Well you see", he said in between gasps as he tried to draw in air. "Being a Jedi is a lifestyle, so in that way you are always a Jedi once you are committed to the cause. But while you're still learning you go through the stages of youngling, initiate and padawan. I'm the latter, by the way… and I'm sorry for laughing at you."
Anakin waved away his apology even before Obi-Wan had finished the sentence.
"Oh", he said sounding relieved. "I thought 'padawan' sounded a little bit weird. Thought your mom had given you a really bad middle-name."
A deep rumble of laughter spread through the corridor as Qui-Gon winked at Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan blinked. Qui-Gon was joking about what the different stages of jedi training was named? He even winked?! Immediately all traces of humor left Obi-Wan and he felt his shoulders sag a little. This, if nothing else, made him believe even more that this was… whatever it was… couldn't be real. Because the real Qui-Gon probably would have been disappointed with him for laughing at Anakin. Past, present, future or hallucination.
"Padawan?" Qui-Gon's voice again. No. Obi-Wan squashed the small hope that had begun flaring firmly with his boot. Yet the Force would not lie. But then again, he had never before thought that the Force could possibly be smug. However, all questions had to be addressed at a later time.
"Obi-Wan, is something wrong?"
The deep blue eyes scanned Obi-Wan's face, taking in every detail, looking for clues.
Oh, master. If you only knew… After a few moments, Obi-Wan couldn't take it anymore but turned to Anakin, ignoring his master completely. He couldn't keep a worried Qui-Gon Jinn out of his mind much longer if he let those eyes scrutinize him further.
"So, Anakin. I hear you have a big love of flying. Should we go to the cockpit and ask Ric if he can give us a crash course on Nubian starships?" Obi-Wan asked and was rewarded with a well-loved blinding smile.
"Yes sir!" was Anakin's immediate reply. Belatedly he turned to Qui-Gon who was still sitting on the deck and pleaded with his big blue eyes even as the words left his lips. "Please let us go, mister Qui-Gon." The smile stretched impossibly wide as the Jedi Master nodded his consent with an indulgent smile.
Obi-Wan took a step towards his master as Anakin, almost bursting with enthusiasm, bounced around the corridor, anxious to be on his way. He hesitated for a moment before extending his hand, trying to avoid direct eye contact with his master even as he helped him up.
"You might want to rest some, master", Obi-Wan suggested. "You're not as young as you used to be, and that thing out there seemed to go pretty hard on you."
"Yes, that sounds like a good idea", his master finally replied after a few moments of silence. "However", Obi-Wan felt an affectionate hand land on his shoulder. "You are not feeling well and we will talk more about it in the evening."
Obi-Wan knew that this just meant that his master was giving him more time to compose himself, for secret or no secret, reality or delusion: if Qui-Gon was set on getting to the bottom of what was troubling him, there was nothing Obi-Wan could do to stop him. Secretly, he was glad for this, for it meant that his master truly cared about him.
It would be nice for a change, Obi-Wan mused, to simply be the padawan again. No heavy responsibilities or a depressing war. All he had to do was simply to exist and follow and learn from his master… and spending precious time with both his master and Anakin. Obi-Wan grinned as he reined in an overly enthusiastic nine-year-old and started toward the cockpit.
"And then I thought the whole thing would go BAM, but it didn't, and Obi-Wan said that it was because the plasma in the conduits was still cool enough. I was thinking that maybe if we could modify the relays, then-"
Obi-Wan smiled tiredly at Qui-Gon through Anakin's enthusiastic chatter. It had been a long day and he had completely forgotten how energetic and 'over the top' Anakin could be once he set his eyes on something he deemed interesting. After exploring the cockpit, to Ric Olié's badly hidden amusement, Obi-Wan had decided that they could go tinkering a bit with spare parts and create their own (mostly) harmless machines and trinkets. This, naturally, had made Anakin so happy that he could barely contain himself. Obi-Wan looked at the small boy indulgently. Whatever he could do to help Anakin through the pain of separation from his mother, it was worth it. Big or small. As long as the boy felt needed and loved.
"I am happy to hear that you had such a good time together with Obi-Wan today", Qui-Gon said once he could get a word in edgewise.
"Yes! It was really cool." Anakin exclaimed.
"I suppose you must be hungry after all that activity. Could you go get Padmé while I talk a bit with Obi-Wan?"
The Jedi Master smiled broadly as Anakin replied with a suddenly serious 'yes sir' and tousled the boy's sandy blond hair affectionally. As Anakin bounded down the corridor, he turned to Obi-Wan, noticing with an almost imperceptible wince that instead of the open expression that the younger man always wore when they talked to each other, was a guarded and partially closed one.
"Now", he began. "I know you don't want to talk with me just yet, otherwise you wouldn't have evaded my questions earlier." He watched the younger man squirm for a few moments to let the message sink in before he continued. "But I really need to know if you are feeling ill or unsettled, padawan."
When Obi-Wan still wasn't saying anything, Qui-Gon grew more worried and gestured towards their quarters. It was highly unusual for Obi-Wan to behave in this manner and he could only hope that the unsettling shift he had felt in the Force earlier that day didn't have anything to do with his padawan.
"Do you wish to meditate?" he asked.
After a long moment of silence did blue-gray expressive eyes hesitantly met his eyes. Qui-Gon blinked at the warring emotions he could see reflected in them, he was so caught up in trying to decipher them that he almost missed the question that was half-whispered, as though the speaker was afraid something would break if he were to put more force behind the words.
"Is this real?"
Real? Why would Obi-Wan ask if anything was real? Qui-Gon frowned mentally as he pondered the question. He knew his padawan wasn't as attuned to the living Force as he was, but that would not mean Obi-Wan suddenly had lost the ability to tell if something was real. What did he mean by 'real"? Registering desperation and hopelessness in Obi-Wan's eyes, the confused Jedi Master could think of only one thing to reply.
"Of course this is real, padawan."
As he saw hope glimmer for an instant before being crushed, Qui-Gon understood that something bad had happened to Obi-Wan. He could not understand what the young man could possibly have run into as he had spent most of their time on Tatooine inside the ship.
Obi-Wan sighed. "I'm sorry, master. I feel as though my center has been thrown off and won't align again properly."
"Maybe…" Qui-Gon nodded slowly, not believing that hypothesis for one instant. "but I do not think that it is the only reason you're feeling so-", he broke off and scrutinized the man in front of him. Obi-Wan looked as though he would rather be anywhere but there at that particular moment. "-depressed and uneasy."
Indignation registered on the young man's face. "Dep- I… Master!" was all he managed to splutter.
The older man suppressed a sigh. He had gone too far and talked too soon. If Obi-Wan went as far as trying to deny his obvious discomfort, then he was feeling very poorly indeed. He lifted a hand to the other man's shoulder, waiting until blue-grey eyes met his.
"All right, Obi-Wan", he began. "I will not pressure you into talking yet, it was wrong of me and I apologize. But-", he hastened to add, "you will have to talk soon. It is not good to carry around such negative feelings for any extended period of time."
"Yes Master." the reply was only too relieved.
Anakin chose that moment to return with Padmé in tow, dragging the girl along by holding her hand. They were both smiling and talking animatedly. Padmé looked worriedly at Obi-Wan as he and Qui-Gon joined them on the way to the cafeteria. But she seemed relieved and reassured when Obi-Wan smiled at her and talked to her about normal things.
Qui-Gon smiled sadly. His padawan had clearly undergone some kind of crisis during their separation. When Obi-Wan had bumped into the masquerading Queen by accident earlier that day, he had stared at her disbelievingly for a few seconds before snapping out of whatever daze he had been in and apologized. Qui-Gon hadn't witnessed this himself, but Ric Olié swore on his honor as the Queen's personal pilot that all was true and that he was worried about the young Jedi.
Whenever Qui-Gon tried to send a probe or a reassuring thought through their training bond, he was only met with silence.
Oh, my padawan. He thought sadly. Why won't you talk to me?
Once again, I'm terribly sorry for not uploading! Hopefully, the chapters will come more regularly from now on. This is entirely my fault. Sure, I've had a lot projects and deadlines in school, but seriously, it shouldn't take me this long between chapters!
Like I wrote in the prologue: most of the story is already written, but as it is more than one year since I wrote it, I keep on finding faults and plot holes... therefore I feel like I have to revise all chapters before I upload them here.
This chapter's Qui-Gon-centered part is very rare. Just so you know. I've had a few notes from some of you begging me not to let other character's voices take over too much. They will not. I just felt I needed Qui-Gon's thoughts here (even if they are very angsty) in order to explain his somewhat ooc behavior.
I'm sorry if my grammar is off. English is far from my first language... .;
Thank you for your patience!