Balance

By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling

*This is not working.*

Four simple words, five syllables. One sentence. So little to threaten to bring Obi-Wan's entire life down around his ears.

Things had actually gone fairly smoothly, once they had returned to Coruscant. Qui-Gon had spoken with Master Trayela and placed Anakin in morning classes at the Temple. The afternoons he would still spend with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, at least until Qui-Gon decided once and for all what to do.

They had spoken to the Council about the dark assailant that had attacked them and killed Kardel; the Council was convinced enough to investigate.

Qui-Gon had been satisfied.

Or so he'd said.

But there was much more to it than that. Obi-Wan could sense that his lover was still having doubts, still looking for a way to fix things. It meant that Qui-Gon was regretting what they had, the solutions they had decided on when Obi-Wan had passed his trials.

The worst part was he couldn't necessarily say Qui-Gon was wrong to either.

Balancing their relationship -- as equals -- with Qui-Gon's relationship with Anakin, was proving... difficult. Never mind that Obi-Wan had created a place for himself as Anakin's Master as well. Never mind that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had been lovers long before Obi-Wan became his Master's equal.

Any one of those had been easy. All of them together....

But there *had* been signs. And now, Qui-Gon had decided something had to be done. Obi-Wan hadn't, yet, asked him what he planned to do.

And he wouldn't, not until he could do so without fearing the answer.

He felt Qui-Gon returning to their rooms, then. Pushing his doubts deep inside behind his shields, Obi-Wan composed himself before his former Master could enter.

As soon as Qui-Gon opened the door, that composure was tested. Qui-Gon was worried and trying to shield part of it from Obi-Wan.

"What is it?" Obi-Wan asked before he could stop himself.

"Anakin is having trouble with some of the other students. Trayela believes he should be left in the Temple. To adjust." It wasn't the part Qui-Gon was hiding.

Obi-Wan just looked at him steadily, trying to ignore his own growing unease.

Usually such a look could entice Qui-Gon to be honest with him. He wasn't sure what he would do or feel if it no longer worked.

[I don't know if he would be better served for us -- or me -- to remain here. I don't know if I should be more concerned with his best interests, rather than my own.]

[You are concerned with his best interests,] Obi-Wan countered.

[Of course. He is my Padawan.]

Qui-Gon remained standing across the room, merely watching him.

'My' Padawan. Not 'our' Padawan. Already it seemed some part of Qui-Gon had made a decision. Swallowing hard, Obi-Wan forced himself to offer, "I will step down if you think it will be best for Ani..."

"Do you think that would be best for either of *us*?" Qui-Gon asked.

Obi-Wan looked at him miserably. "If it would make it easier for you to train him..."

Qui-Gon frowned at him slightly. He looked much like he used to, when Obi-Wan was being obtuse about some lesson. Calm, patient, encouraging... and frowning, ever so slightly.

For some reason, that made Obi-Wan suddenly angry. Or maybe not so suddenly; the anger had been simmering just below the surface ever since they got back to Coruscant. "You're the one who said things weren't working! You're the one who talked about letting go!!"

Qui-Gon looked startled, briefly. Then he said, still calmly, "I did. They are *not* working. But there is more than Anakin to consider here. What is best for him must be balanced against what is best for you, and myself."

"What if we can't balance it?" It was the one question that Obi-Wan had no idea what the answer could or should be.

"That is when we must let go. But I do not know of which." Qui-Gon crossed the room, then, to stand beside Obi-Wan. "I cannot imagine letting go of you. I can easily see Anakin here, at the Temple."

Obi-Wan let out a breath he hadn't even been aware of holding and moved the extra step it took to put him into Qui-Gon's arms. "I can't imagine letting go of you either," he said softly, voice shaking now with the pent-up emotion. Had he really thought Qui-Gon would sever their relationship?

[Even if I thought it best, I could hardly bear to do it,] came the words, softly, through their bond. [And I cannot think it would be best.]

[I am glad that we have an understanding then,] Obi-Wan responded, some of his sense of humor coming back in his relief. [Saves me the effort of having to follow you around and "grr" at you until you changed your mind.]

Conversation was interrupted, then, until Qui-Gon was able to breathe.

'One less thing to worry about,' Obi-Wan thought with a contented sigh, as he watched his lover try to regain his composure. 'I only wish the other problems could be solved as easily.'

Qui-Gon grabbed him in a tight embrace, then only partially let go and looked at him. "There is much we have to talk about, Obi-Wan. But our parting ways is *not* one of them."

Obi-Wan nodded slowly. "I think I needed to hear you say that," he said softly. "Thank you."

Qui-Gon kissed him lightly. "I should have realized... but I thought you knew." He sighed, and said, "I don't know what to do about Anakin, however."

"You said when you came in that he was having problems with some of the other students?"

"Yes. But I don't think those are problems we have to be concerned about. Those aren't anything we shouldn't expect, given that Anakin wasn't raised in the Temple."

Obi-Wan could feel the depth of Qui-Gon's concern for the situation, though.

"Just because something is expected does not necessarily mean it isn't doing harm," he pointed out.

"I wonder, though, if it would do more harm to remove him from the Temple. The Temple, the other Jedi, should be his home and family. As they were for you, for myself, for every Jedi taught here. He should not be a stranger to them, nor they to him."

"He should not, but the truth is he is. For now, if not for always. We became Ani's family when we took him on as an apprentice. Even before that, when you took him away from his mother. I do not know if he can go seeking a third family in such a short time period. Especially among those who may not be the most welcoming."

Qui-Gon sighed. "But if we protect him, remove him from the Temple, he will never truly be a part of it. He might--" Qui-Gon stopped, and Obi-Wan felt a faint memory of a dark vision. "He might need that support."

"Yes, but we can't leave him without a support network now." Obi-Wan looked at Qui-Gon ruefully. "Perhaps we all should stay at the temple for the time being."

"Yes. If the Council will let us."

Obi-Wan caught a thought about them staying, in turns, while the other went on missions. He was glad to see Qui-Gon squash the idea before it got more than half-formed.

"The Council will have to," he replied, with more confidence than he felt. Lately the Council's decisions had not always been... logical. He wondered idly if this was in fact a recent development or if they had always been this bad and he just hadn't been in a position to notice it.

"I believe they are preoccupied with the political status of the Senate," Qui-Gon replied to his unspoken question. "The new chancellor seems to have stirred things up but the Council doubts whether he will make much of an effective change."

"It is early days to tell either way yet," Obi-Wan pointed out.

"Yes. And it is, for now, irrelevant to our problem with Anakin."

Obi-Wan nodded. "Agreed. But it seems we have come up with a working solution...?"

"For now, at least. Although--" Qui-Gon gave him a curious look. "What do you think of sending him to afternoon classes as well? Perhaps not now, but in a few weeks?"

He thought it over. "Possibly," he allowed. "Perhaps we should talk to Ani and see what he thinks of the idea as well."

Qui-Gon sighed. "I believe he will opt to cancel his morning classes." He moved to hold Obi-Wan tightly, again. "He has to be taught," Qui-Gon said quietly, as if to himself.

"He will be," Obi-Wan assured him fiercely. "Even if we have to do it ourselves."

Qui-Gon smiled at him. "What would I do without you, Obi-Wan?" He placed his hand on Obi-Wan's face, smiling with less worry in his eyes.

"I don't intend to let you find out."

Qui-Gon leant forward, nuzzled his cheek, and kissed him.

They both felt the badly hidden flare of anger from Anakin.

'Wha-?' Obi-Wan reached out to the boy, feeling Qui-Gon doing the same thing, only to discover a roiling turmoil of emotions so strong that neither of them could break through.

"This is definitely not good," Obi-Wan muttered.

"We had better go find him," Qui-Gon said as he broke away from Obi-Wan. He didn't seem entirely surprised.

Neither was Obi-Wan, really. The tension between Anakin and the other students had been building since the moment he started classes. It was only a matter of time until it burst.

He nodded to Qui-Gon and followed him out of their quarters and down the hallway, each of them tracking the bright beacon of their Padawan's emotions.

It didn't take them long to find Anakin, in the hallway outside his last class of the morning. He was facing another student, hands on his hips and anger flaring brightly despite his attempts to shield it.

The other student was angry as well, though with a different flavor -- not so deep an anger, and tinged with jealousy.

"Anakin!" Obi-Wan called, when they were still a few feet away.

Both students froze, and turned towards the two Masters with expressions of guilt. Anakin was frowning, slightly.

Qui-Gon looked from one to the other, then asked Anakin, "Would you care to explain this?"

"He said I didn't belong here," Anakin replied, glaring at the other boy. He had hesitated before speaking however and Obi-Wan got the feeling that that had been the least of what was said.

Qui-Gon looked at the other boy, saying nothing. The look was enough, however.

"I'm sorry I didn't mean any of it I won't say it ever again can I go now?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "We will speak to Master Trayela about this," he told the boy, then watched in silence as he ran off.

Then they both looked at Anakin, waiting.

Anakin frowned up at them, resolutely. Qui-Gon said only, "Come," and he turned and walked away.

The boy heaved a sigh and followed, expression still sullen but with a lost look in his eyes that nearly broke Obi-Wan's heart.

Oh yes. More had gone on here than just another student challenging Anakin's right to be at the Temple.

Nothing was said until the three returned to their quarters. Anakin remained standing in the middle of the room, a defiant jut to his lip that only partially obscured the fear.

"Anakin," Qui-Gon began, "why did you get so angry with that boy?"

"I told you," Anakin replied. "Just punish me and get it over with." The defeat in his voice notched Obi-Wan's worry higher. He exchanged concerned glances with Qui-Gon.

"You think you should be punished?" Obi-Wan asked gently.

"I got mad, didn't I? I'm not supposed to lose control."

"Did either of us say anything about losing control?" Qui-Gon asked in his calmest tones. Obi-Wan knew, from experience if not from his bond, that Qui-Gon was focusing on getting answers and barely thinking at all of punishments. He rarely did; punishments always took the form of new lessons, which would have occurred regardless.

"Master Resi did. In class. He said all Jedi must have control."

"And did he say Jedi have control naturally or that they learn control?"

Anakin hesitated. "He said that's why children are raised at the temple."

Left unsaid was the implication that Anakin was somehow at fault because he wasn't.

Qui-Gon crouched then, before him, going to one knee. "Anakin, why do you think we have come to the Temple?" The question wasn't asked as a trick; the answer was obvious and they all knew it.

"Because I'm not good enough," the boy answered, avoiding Qui-Gon's eyes. "But I will be! I promise! Don't-" Abruptly he broke off and closed his mouth with a snap.

"Don't what Ani?" Obi-Wan asked softly, as a wave of fear rolled off the child.

Anakin didn't say the words aloud; but in the next moment he didn't have to. Qui-Gon placed his hand on Anakin's shoulder.

"You are our Padawan. That will not change unless *you* wish it to. As long as you wish to be trained as a Jedi, we will train you. For now, it suits us all for your training to be conducted here."

"You're not trying to get rid of me?" Anakin asked in a small voice.

"No, Ani," Obi-Wan reassured him. "Far from it."

Anakin seemed reassured by the information, but still kept the sullen look to his eyes.

"Anakin?" Qui-Gon prompted, reminding the boy of his unanswered question.

"Yes?"

"Why were you angry?"

The boy heaved a heavy sigh and looked down at his feet. "Because he said you didn't want me. That you realized you had made a mistake and were trying to get rid of me."

Obi-Wan walked over and gently tilted Anakin's chin up to meet his eyes. "You know that's not true, don't you?"

Anakin just shrugged, his misery palpable.

Qui-Gon pulled Anakin to him. "Anakin, we brought you here because there are things you need to learn here. Things that are best taught in classes, with other students your own age. It does not mean we wish to leave you. I rather think you will be stuck with both of us for a great many more years," Qui-Gon finished in a lightly teasing tone.

"Promise?"

"We promise, Ani." Qui-Gon spoke for them both.

Anakin threw himself forward into Qui-Gon's arms.

The Jedi Master held him tightly, then Obi-Wan moved down to hold them both.

"Don't ever doubt your place with us, Ani," Obi-Wan told him, reaching out and ruffling the boy's hair.

But he could understand how Anakin had felt; he still had very vivid memories of the weeks following the Naboo battle, when he had thought that *he* was the unwanted one.

Qui-Gon reached out for him then, drawing him in mentally as they held each other close in body. Qui-Gon's regret, his pain that he had let Obi-Wan feel such things, flooded into him.

Obi-Wan sent back forgiveness, understanding, love. [It is over. And it has only made me appreciate all the more what I do have.]

"Grr."

Blinking in surprise both men looked down at their apprentice who was grinning up at them.

"What, didn't I say it right?" Anakin asked innocently.

Qui-Gon didn't answer, beyond laughing.

"You said it just right," Obi-Wan assured him before losing the battle to his own laughter.

After everyone seemed to have calmed down, Qui-Gon spoke. "Anakin, I want you to work on your shielding this afternoon."

The boy made a face but didn't argue. "Yes, Master Qui-Gon." What had happened on their last mission had demonstrated quite dramatically why shielding was important. Actually, it made Obi-Wan consider the need to brush up on his own.

Qui-Gon looked at him with a hint of a smile. "You're welcome to join us, Obi-Wan."

"Is that a not so subtle hint, Master?" Obi-Wan asked with a smile of his own.

"Not at all," Qui-Gon replied with a serious expression. "You can train with me later, if you like."

*That* was accompanied by something much less subtle, and very well shielded from Anakin.

"That sounds... agreeable," he responded casually, hoping that he wasn't blushing.

[You are. But I wouldn't worry about your image, at this point.]

Anakin sighed, loudly. "There is a *Padawan* present!"

"Don't talk to me, Ani," Obi-Wan replied, shooting Qui-Gon a meaningful look. The elder Jedi looked, as expected, totally unrepentant.

"Come on, Anakin. We have training." Qui-Gon untangled himself and Anakin from the amoeba-like embrace and stood. He looked at Obi-Wan. [Are you coming?]

Before he could answer the door chime sounded. A quick thought probe brought a smile to his face. "I think I'm going to be otherwise occupied," he said, going over and opening the door to let in the small group of his year-mates waiting there.

Qui-Gon smiled. "Very well. We will see you later. Come, Ani." He let the boy proceed him out, past the group of young Jedi.

Three grinning faces stared at Obi-Wan, expectantly.

"You know," Obi-Wan said thoughtfully, "usually when you show up at my door with those expressions, I end up in trouble."

"Who, us?" Riffyd looked astonished, exchanging similar looks with the other two. His huge, green, amphibian eyes made the innocent look seem truly ridiculous.

"I don't see anyone else here, he must mean us," Niessa replied, challenge in her tone, though her gray eyes sparkled with humor.

Their third companion growled, then laughed. She laid a large furry hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. #We would never get you into trouble. Trouble you couldn't get back out of, anyhow.#

"Just because we didn't get caught by official sources doesn't mean my Master didn't know what I'd been up to." Obi-Wan laughed. "It's good to see you."

"It's good to have you back," Riffyd said. "You need to spend more time on Coruscant -- well, more time outside your quarters." Niessa stifled her laugh. Tolakan, however, did not.

Obi-Wan could feel his cheeks heat again. "It's not like that," he insisted. "Qui-Gon and I have been busy training Ani."

"Ah yes, the mythical Chosen One," Niessa teased. "If you're supposed to be training someone who is destined to bring balance to the Force, shouldn't you be giving him an example of balance in your life? All work and no play makes Obi a dull Jedi."

"I wouldn't say that it's been exactly no play," Obi-Wan muttered.

"We would," Riffyd countered. He folded his arms across his chest and gave Obi-Wan a piercing stare. "Now are you coming with us, or do we have to goof off here?"

#Recalling that last time we 'goofed off' in your room your Master, Riffyd's Master, and Neissa's Master all ganged up on us and made us clean the hallways?# Tolakan added.

Remembering the incident clearly, Obi-Wan winced. "All right, all right," he surrendered gracefully. "I am yours to do with as you will."

"Great!" Riffyd grabbed his arm and pulled him into the hallway. "We have all afternoon to waste. Er, to amuse ourselves. Not that my Master need know that. She thinks I ought to be preparing myself for my trials. I tell her no one else ever prepares for their trials; why should I be an exception?"

"Actually I did do some extra meditating before I-"

Niessa rolled her eyes. "You always were teacher's pet, Obi."

#And now he pets his teach--#

"Tolakan!" Obi-Wan interrupted, blushing furiously. Again.

#Don't you?# The Wookiee looked down at him with an expression of unwavering sincerity that could only be achieved by hiding one's face underneath fur.

"Well, yes, but-"

All three grinned at him, triumphantly.

Obi-Wan sighed, realizing it was going to be a very long afternoon.

Riffyd lead them all to Tolakan's quarters. Hers were the largest -- with the exception of Obi-Wan's, but his were shared quarters and they'd already established the wisdom in not trashing his rooms.

They made themselves comfortable with long familiarity; lounging on chairs, bed, and floor while Riffyd dug through a small chest for some bottles.

"I haven't had the chance to congratulate you on passing your trials, Niessa," Obi-Wan said as Riffyd passed out bottles of grakkyn, a potent Wookiee liquor.

"Thank you, Obi-Wan." She accepted a bottle and sighed. "I still can't believe I did it, though. I even called Drusa 'Master' yesterday in the main gym."

Obi-Wan grinned. "I still find myself calling Qui-Gon that occasionally. Though I don't know what is worse, that or looking behind me when Ani calls *me* Master."

His friends all laughed at that. Niessa looked only partly reassured.

"So what else has been happening? I confess I've been somewhat out of touch the last few months."

Riffyd snorted. "Considering the number of missions you get sent on that's not hard to believe!"

"We've all been busy," Niessa said. "I had to wait three months to take my trials because we simply couldn't get back."

#Things seem to be getting bad all over,# Tolakan said soberly. #There aren't enough of us to handle everything that needs to be handled.#

'So it's not just my impression,' Obi-Wan thought. 'Things *have* been getting worse.' The memory of the darkness that had touched him mind suddenly came to the fore and he shivered.

"The Council doesn't seem to be helping matters," Riffyd said softly. "I know I'm not supposed to say things like that. But every time my Master and I come back with a report of something that needs taking care of, it's like it gets shelved. But I suppose they know what they're doing; we can't save *everyone*."

Riffyd looked solemnly at the floor, and took a drink of his grakkyn.

"But lately it doesn't seem like we're saving *anyone*," Obi-Wan said, the specter of the dead child heavy on his soul. "It's like they pat us on the head and send us off again, not really listening to a word we say."

Niessa came over and sat down beside him, laying her hand on his arm. "A bad one, Obi-Wan?"

He smiled humorlessly. "You could say that. A child I was guarding was kidnapped and killed."

"Oh!" Her shock and sympathy were sudden and clear. She pulled him close and hugged him. "I'm so sorry." Then her voice dropped. "I know what it's like."

It was Obi-Wan's turn to be shocked. "You do?" he asked softly, searching her eyes intently.

She just nodded.

Tolakan came over and rested her hand on Niessa's back. #Many do, Obi-Wan. Jedi do not always win. Sometimes the Dark forces are stronger. Sometimes, it simply occurs anyhow.#

"Have any of you encountered a... a... presence?" Obi-Wan asked.

Niessa shook her head. "What do you mean?"

"Believe me if you'd encountered it you'd know what I mean."

"I haven't," Riffyd shook his head. "Not anything more than... well, what you usually find when someone untrained has slipped into the dark side. Evil intent, evil souls."

#I have.# Tolakan said, into the silence that followed Riffyd's words.

Three pairs of eyes fastened onto the Wookiee.

#It was on Camina Prime. I... it wasn't anything I could be sure of. Not more than a feeling that something was there. Something horrible. I told the Council about it, and they thanked me, gave me my new assignment.# Tolakan waved an arm, vaguely in the direction of the Council chambers. #They never said anything about it to me again. I still don't know what it was.# She shivered. #But it was dark. Evil.#

"Qui-Gon and I have encountered it twice," Obi-Wan said. "Three times if you count the Sith we faced on Naboo. This last time, it was more than a feeling. Whoever... whatever it was mind-blasted me and my Padawan and then took the boy we were guarding." He couldn't suppress another shiver at the memory.

There was shocked silence for several moments. Then Tolakan asked, #What did the Council say? What are we going to do?#

"So far they haven't said anything. They're 'reviewing the situation'."

#Hmph. That'll be *all* they do, I think. Until something happens and it'll be too late.#

Riffyd shook his head. "I don't understand. If this is real, if it's a threat -- why are they ignoring it?"

"I don't know. I wish I did. They didn't even want to believe Qui-Gon and me about the Sith at first. Though they had to change their minds after Naboo."

"I think the problem is, they have other things to deal with." Niessa looked unsure of her words, but spoke regardless. "Have you noticed? They're always dealing with politics, and the bureaucrats from the Senate. I heard one Senator even filed a complaint about Jedi being sent to his district without committee approval."

"That's ridiculous!" Riffyd scoffed. "The Jedi are an independent body."

"Or at least they're supposed to be," Obi-Wan agreed. "But what is supposed to be and what actually is, often can be two different things."

"Yeah. From what I understand, the complaint was just filed. But the fact that he even made it... the new Chancellor struck it down, though. Said the Jedi would always be separate, not under rule by the Senate."

"I hate politics," Riffyd complained, massaging his forehead as if he had a headache.

"There, there, Riffyd," Niessa said consolingly. "Just think about your upcoming trials. That should keep your mind occupied."

Riffyd stared at her, then a empty bottle flew across the room, towards her head.

She ducked and the bottle shattered against the wall behind her.

In the next minute there were all kinds of stuff flying every which way in the room, though hardly anything ever connected with anybody.

Hardly, being the operative word. Tolakan growled when a pillow hit her head and flung it physically back towards Niessa.

She ducked and it hit Obi-Wan square in the face as he was deflecting a book flung by Riffyd.

It burst, covering him with feathers, which started him sneezing.

Riffyd started laughing, and was similarly struck with an upturned cup of grakkyn.

By the time it was all over, all four of them were drenched, and covered in a combination of feathers and some gooey Wookiee delicacy. And they were all laughing.

"Whew!" Obi-Wan said with a grin, trying to wipe his face off. "I really needed this."

"What? To be turned into a walking disaster area?" Niessa asked. "Yeah, sure. Whatever."

"Glad we could help," Riffyd added. "Anytime you need more, let us know." As he said it, he dumped another mug over Obi-Wan's head.

And the fight was on again.

This time the room was totally destroyed, and all four were lying on the floor in a pile. Tolakan looked around sorrowfully, then grinned. #I am so glad I put everything away.#

"Yeah," Riffyd said. "We could've made a mess otherwise."

That set them all to giggling.

A minute later they all heard a young boy's serious voice saying, "I see what you mean."

Looking up, Obi-Wan saw his lover and his apprentice standing in the doorway. 'So much for any illusion of dignity I had left with Ani,' he thought ruefully.

Placidly, Qui-Gon asked, "If you are through here, Obi-Wan? I require your assistance." Qui-Gon glanced at him. "After your shower."

Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon was only pulling the serene Jedi Master bit to tease him for his own appearance and conduct.

"I'm through," he said, as he climbed to his feet. "There's nothing left to destroy anyway." That earned him a giggle from Niessa.

Anakin giggled, as well. Qui-Gon gave Obi-Wan his best 'stern Master' frown... for all of two more seconds. Then he smiled and told Tolakan, "I'm sorry he cannot stay to help clean up. Perhaps you can borrow him tomorrow for your Cada'Lis?"

Obi-Wan winced at the thought. Cada'Lis had always been one of his least favorite training exercises. Anything that involved balancing your entire body on the edge of one thumbnail while performing a series of levitation and control exercises was not how he wanted to spend an afternoon.

Any afternoon.

Tolakan, on the other hand, looked entirely too pleased at the thought. #Thank you, Master Jinn. I would appreciate his assistance tomorrow. If you can truly spare him?#

Qui-Gon barely glanced at Obi-Wan. "Oh yes, I can spare him."

[I will get you for this,] he promised his lover, sending pictures of growling at him during council sessions and worse.

Qui-Gon just smiled at him, serenely. [Grr.]

Sighing Obi-Wan turned back to his friends. "Guess I'll see you tomorrow afternoon, then," he said resignedly.

#Early, Obi-Wan. Right after lunch!#

Niessa and Riffyd giggled, then frowned in mild dismay as they turned towards the mess.

'Oh well,' Obi-Wan thought as he left with Qui-Gon and Anakin. The afternoon had been worth it.

[Glad to hear it.] Qui-Gon gave him a cute look. [I *would* have left you here to help them clean up, but I need to speak with someone, and need you to work with Anakin.]

[Of course,] he immediately agreed. [Who do you need to speak to?]

[Masters Dorgen and Serain.] Obi-Wan could feel Qui-Gon's concern.

Both were on the Council and both, in the past, had been among Qui-Gon's most vocal opponents. No matter what the topic. They were even among those who had wanted to make Obi-Wan take a new Master when he and Qui-Gon had become involved.

[Just Dorgen and Serain? Not the whole council?]

Qui-Gon mentally shrugged. [Mace said I should speak with them.]

Obi-Wan frowned. [I am not sure I like this...]

[There is no reason to be alarmed until we know what this is about.]

Qui-Gon stopped at a junction of two hallways; one led back to the wing with practice rooms and gyms, the other towards the Council chambers and smaller conference rooms.

[Keep me informed on what is happening?] Obi-Wan asked with a hopeful look.

[Of course.] Qui-Gon gave him a brief smile, then nodded towards Anakin before he turned down the other corridor.

The boy looked up attentively at Obi-Wan.

"Master Qui-Gon said I needed to work on my shielding, more," he said. Then he asked, "Unless he told you that already? I can't hear you when you talk in your heads like that."

Obi-Wan looked down at him thoughtfully. "Does that bother you? That we talk and you can't hear it?"

Anakin looked thoughtful, but shook his head. "No... you always end up telling me what I'm supposed to hear. And it's nicer than whispering which I can *sorta* hear. That makes me feel stupid. You and Master Qui-Gon just make it feel like it's private." His face screwed up in confusion. "Does that make sense?"

"Very much so, Ani," Obi-Wan said with a smile. He laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Come. I want to get cleaned up and then we'll do some more shield drills."

Anakin looked relieved.

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. "Something you wish to share, Padawan?"

Anakin looked unsure, but asked cautiously, "Then you know you smell?"

He hadn't, not really, but now that Ani mentioned it... "Perhaps we should have a quick lesson on Jedi speed on the way to our quarters," he suggested, wanting nothing more than to shower and change before he ran into something he couldn't afford to offend.

Anakin giggled, and started running, with him.

****************

One shower and a clean change of clothes later, Obi-Wan was sitting in their quarters, guiding Anakin through the process of building mental shields.

Anakin was doing noticeably better at holding his shields against Obi-Wan's attacks, when Obi-Wan felt a wave of repressed anger from Qui-Gon.

Signaling a break to his apprentice, Obi-Wan reached out to his lover. [Qui-Gon?]

He felt Qui-Gon's exasperation.

[What's happening?]

[These two....]

There was a slight pause, then Obi-Wan felt himself being invited in.

With little more than a thought, he slid further into Qui-Gon's mind, sharing his perceptions as if they were his own.

"Really, Qui-Gon," Serain's sibilant tones echoed oddly through Qui-Gon's ears. "You have to admit it is suspect."

"I admit nothing of the sort," Qui-Gon responded, outwardly calm.

Inwardly though, Obi-Wan can sense his frustration and growing anger.

"You're a fool, Qui-Gon," Dorgen said fiercely. "Blinded -- you've always been blind to your apprentices' faults."

Obi-Wan's attention picked up. [This is about Ani?]

The anger sharpened Qui-Gon's words. [This is about you.]

What? Obi-Wan's surprise lasted not even a second. [It's about my letting Kardel be taken, isn't it?]

"This is not about any faults you may perceive in Obi-Wan, Dorgen," Qui-Gon spoke before answering Obi-Wan's question. "This is about accepting the facts of a situation which has been too long ignored."

[It is about the presence we encountered. They do not believe it constitutes a real threat. They believe... you and Anakin were merely....]

"What situation?" Serain scoffed, leaning forward. "There is no situation. All we have are a handful of reports that boil down to nothing more than vague feelings and supposition. When they're not out and out fabrications!"

Obi-Wan frowned, his own ire beginning to rise. [Did he just call me a liar?]

[Yes.]

"I would think, Serain, that if you would investigate any one of those reports you would find more truth in them, than you care to believe."

"We don't have the manpower or the time to investigate every report made by hysterical new knights!"

"And what of those made by Jedi Masters?"

The look Serain gave him made it clear what he thought of at least this particular Jedi Master's credibility.

"You would say anything to back your apprentices. Your lover!" Again Serain's expression and tone more than eloquently conveyed his disgust at that. "Perhaps if you had maintained a *proper* relationship with your Padawan-"

Qui-Gon's tone interrupted her. "If you had looked more carefully at the reports, you would have seen that Master Kr'ig'al and Master Dounia are among those having encountered this presence."

"Mere feelings, that is all! Your apprentices, both current and former, are the only ones who have claimed to encounter such an enemy."

"And having had such an encounter, I would have thought the Council would lend credence to the reports it has been receiving. I do not see what my relationship to Obi-Wan and Anakin has to do with the veracity of their report." Obi-Wan could feel Qui-Gon's displeasure, though he was controlling his anger.

"If such an encounter had come from *credible* sources..." Serain sneered.

"I would like to know why you find them incredible?" he asked calmly.

"I have never made any secret of my opinion," the Jedi Master said airily. "And, unlike some Masters, I have never been blinded to an apprentice's faults."

Obi-Wan felt his own anger surge at this oblique mention of one of Qui-Gon's most vulnerable spots: Xanatos.

Qui-Gon, for his part, held his temper down before he turned it onto Serain. After a moment he said, [This is futile. They will never hear me.]

Obi-Wan had to reluctantly agree. [I'm sorry, Qui-Gon.]

[As am I. I fear what will happen should the Council fail to heed the warnings they are receiving.]

Aloud, Qui-Gon said, "I believe we have nothing further to discuss."

Serain looked like she wanted to continue regardless, but Dorgen just nodded. "Dismissed Qui-Gon."

Qui-Gon held his last words, and gave them a short nod. As he left, Obi-Wan felt his lover's relief to be away from them. Unfortunately, as he left so did his need to keep his anger under control.

Obi-Wan winced and hoped Qui-Gon would not run into anyone as he stalked down the corridor muttering a string of obscenities under his breath. He could just imagine, say, Master Yoda's reaction.

He had to admit, though, that he definitely could agree with the sentiment. And marvel at his former Master's creativity. [I don't think I've ever heard that one before,] he commented on one muttered in Lotrell. [And I don't think the Lotrelliks even have the proper anatomy to accomplish such a maneuver.]

[They should!] Qui-Gon returned, sharply. Then, [Sorry.]

[It's all right. Besides, much better for you to lose it with me than to let those two provoke you into something they could use against you.]

Qui-Gon was headed back towards their quarters, then abruptly Obi-Wan felt him change direction. [I think I need to make use of the Stepping Gardens.]

[Do you want some company?] Obi-Wan asked quickly.

[I think not,] came the reply, though it was colored with fond desire. [Tend to Anakin, and I will meet you two at supper.]

[All right. I love you.]

[I love you, as well.]

There was a brush of love, and then Qui-Gon pulled a slight shield around him to allow himself to work through his emotions without distraction.

Obi-Wan once again turned his attention outward and became aware of his apprentice sitting quietly staring at him. "Sorry, Ani," he apologized to the boy. "I should not have ignored you for so long."

"Is everything all right?" he asked, obviously worried.

He started to say "yes" but the word stuck in his throat. "Qui-Gon is upset. His meeting with the members of the Council did not go well."

"Oh." Anakin shifted a little, still seated on the floor facing Obi-Wan.

"You have something you wish to ask?"

"Am I allowed to?" he asked, surprised. "I mean, about why he's upset?"

Obi-Wan smiled slightly. "You are always allowed to ask, Ani. Sometimes the answer may be 'I can't tell you' but that doesn't mean you don't have the right to ask in the first place."

Anakin nodded seriously. "Was the meeting about us? What happened to us on <planet name>?"

"Yes. And about other reports from other Jedi."

"Are we in trouble?"

Obi-Wan sighed. "No, not really. They just-" he broke off wondering suddenly if telling the boy about the Council's lack of faith in him was such a good idea.

Anakin was waiting, patiently. He had obviously picked up on the undercurrents, well enough to attribute them to himself and their encounter with the unknown assailant.

Deciding that the unknown was infinitely worse than the known, Obi-Wan finished his sentence. "They didn't believe us."

"Didn't believe us?" Anakin looked surprised. "Why not?"

Why not? That was the question. For all the reasons that Serain and Dorgen had given, they still had not provided a believable justification for their rejection of the facts. "I don't know, Ani," he finally sighed.

Anakin nodded, apparently satisfied he'd been told the truth and only upset that he and Obi-Wan had been believed to have lied.

"Guess we're in this together," Obi-Wan offered, his own feelings about the meeting less than tranquil.

"Does..." Anakin frowned, and moved closer to Obi-Wan. "Does Master Qui-Gon think we did something wrong?" His voice was low.

"No!" Obi-Wan countered, voice rift with shock at the idea. He took a second to center himself before continuing. "No, he doesn't. That was why he's upset -- because he couldn't get the other Masters to listen to us -- or him."

Anakin nodded, and Obi-Wan felt his relief. "It'll be all right, then," he said in an assured tone.

'I wish I could be so certain,' Obi-Wan thought but didn't voice.

Anakin moved forward, into Obi-Wan's lap, circling an arm around Obi-Wan's neck in an embrace.

Obi-Wan hugged the boy close, smiling a little at the gesture. It *would* be all right, he told himself determinedly. Then he made the effort to let the problem go for now.

"We have an hour or so before supper. Is there anything you'd like to do?" he asked Anakin.

"Will you tell me another story about when you were Master Qui-Gon's Padawan?"

Anakin settled himself, distracting them both with the thoughts of something better and sillier than the Council's disbelief in them.

******

Several hours passed in story telling, the time so spent enabling Obi-Wan to finally get a hand on his own emotions about the meeting. He had entirely regained his balance and his center by the time Qui-Gon appeared.

Qui-Gon smiled as he entered, finding them still sitting together. Obi-Wan was pleased to find his lover calm, again, and thin shields back down between them.

Anakin looked over and grinned.

"Did you really eat a Torujian lime?"

Qui-Gon stopped, and looked at Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan put on his most innocent expression.

"That expression hasn't worked since you were eight years old."

Qui-Gon, for his part, had on his best 'stern Jedi Master' look.

"And that expression hasn't worked since I was 14," Obi-Wan replied.

"Oh really?" Qui-Gon came over and stood, towering above them both. "I seem to recall one time when you were twenty, you quelled rather quickly when--"

"Qui-Gon!" he yelped, glancing meaningfully in Anakin's direction.

Qui-Gon stopped -- and looked innocent.

Anakin, however, asked in an almost *convincing* innocent tone, "Was that one of the times you were in bed?"

Obi-Wan felt himself blush.

"I think we've corrupted him," Qui-Gon said mildly.

"It was only a matter of time," Obi-Wan replied, making a show of sighing wearily. "I just thought it would be a bit more time."

"I'm a fast study," Anakin told them.

"I trust you'll continue to be equally fast in your other studies?"

"Oh." Anakin looked thoughtful.

Qui-Gon finally laughed.

The rest of the evening passed quickly enough, with all three making an effort to keep things light. There would be plenty of time for serious discussions later. For now they all needed a short break.

They finally returned to their quarters and sent Anakin to his room for meditation, then bed.

For a long moment Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan just stood looking at each other, then Obi-Wan sighed and closed the distance between them, wrapping his arms around Qui-Gon's waist.

Qui-Gon drew him in, and kissed him lightly on the cheek. Then on his nose, then his chin, then his neck.

"You missed a spot," Obi-Wan pointed out with a chuckle, even as he tilted his head back to allow his lover greater access.

"So I did." Qui-Gon placed kisses all over Obi-Wan's neck, ear, and forehead.

With a sigh, Obi-Wan closed his eyes and gave himself up to the feeling of being cherished. [More.]

[Always.] Qui-Gon held him close.

He slowly placed kisses everywhere, tugging Obi-Wan out of his clothes as necessary to reveal more bare skin.

Obi-Wan stood quiescent under the attentions, only moving to facilitate Qui-Gon's actions.

Qui-Gon didn't seem to mind; he had Obi-Wan down to just his pants and boots and was covering Obi-Wan's chest with light, slow kisses.

He hadn't bothered trying to do anything else.

For his part, Obi-Wan felt no desire to hasten the proceedings, though he did begin to feel the need to reciprocate. Reaching out, he undid Qui-Gon's hair clasp and began running his fingers through the long strands.

He felt Qui-Gon's rumble of pleasure as Obi-Wan's fingers touched him.

Oh yes, Obi-Wan thought with a grin as he continued the scalp massage. Jedi Masters did, indeed, purr.

Qui-Gon pushed himself closer, and looked at Obi-Wan. [Purrrrrrrrrrrrr.]

Obi-Wan laughed then leaned even closer, capturing his lover's lips in a kiss.

They were standing there, entwined in each other, when they felt the shout of fear.

The both pulled back and looked at each other for a split second the same word running through both their minds.

Ani.

Then they were heading for the boy's room at full speed.

He was just sitting up, calling out as they entered the room. Qui-Gon was at Ani's side, catching him, as he opened his eyes.

"My mother!" Anakin said, locking onto Qui-Gon's arms with a white-knuckled grip. "They're going to kill her!"

The End

(to be continued, of course!)