Title: Spirit of Duty
Author: James Walkswithwind (
gila@jbx.com) and Wolfling
(
wolfling.msn@attcanada.net)
Archive: Yes to Master & Apprentice
Rating: PG
Pairing: Q/O
Spoilers: none
Category: drama, h/c

Summary: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan go on their first mission since becoming lovers
Feedback: is gratefully accepted :)
Notes: This is a sequel to Training Session and Consequences, and a prequel to Firestorm and Trials of the Heart. Yes, it's all one series. :) We'll let you know the series name when we come up with it. Thanks to Lorelei for giving this her usual thorough beta.

Spirit of Duty

By James Walkswithwind and Wolfling

Qui-Gon left Master Che's office to find his Padawan. They had been given an assignment -- their first since they'd changed the nature of their relationship. Or rather, since they'd accepted the true nature of the relationship they'd always had.

It looked to be a difficult mission, as the Jedi had very little information to go on. The heir to a planet's throne was missing, and the two secondary governing factions were about to go to war because of it.

They would have to locate the boy and prevent a civil war.

Qui-Gon didn't have to focus in order to locate his apprentice. Obi-Wan was downstairs three flights, exactly twenty yards south of him. His ability to pinpoint his apprentice's location wasn't new, but the ease with which he could now do it was.

Now that their relationship had evolved, more than ever before, he found himself aware of Obi-Wan constantly. Obi-Wan's location, his emotional state, his physical well-being -- all of those were available to Qui-Gon with nothing more than a thought.

Sometimes it felt purely natural, as much as part of him as his own feelings. Other times he found himself captivated by their newness, and he would have to reach out for his Padawan, reassure himself that there was a second being there, not simply two souls encased in his own body.

A bit difficult when said apprentice was in another room....

But right now, everything felt calm. Obi-Wan was enjoying himself, whatever it was he was doing. Qui-Gon almost hated to interrupt him... but even as he thought that, he caught his Padawan's awareness of the mission.

He couldn't suppress a smile at the eagerness Obi-Wan felt and quickly tried to tamp down. His Padawan still had a youth's zest for adventure. Qui-Gon had to admit, though, if he were being totally honest with himself, it was a zest he still shared. He and Obi-Wan were a matched set.

With a rueful, self-effacing grin, he tamped down his own eagerness and went to collect his Padawan.

As he neared the schoolroom, he also tamped down the emotions flowing freely between them. They would have to concentrate on their mission, not each other. The Council would be watching them closely over the next few missions, to ensure their relationship was not distracting them from their duties. He felt Obi-Wan's acknowledgment, and his apprentice pulled himself back as well, to the usual level of Master/Apprentice bonds.

That was why, when Qui-Gon finally entered the room where Obi-Wan was waiting, he was unprepared for what he saw.

Obi-Wan was down on the floor on his hands and knees, surrounded by a group of much younger students. And he was growling.

"No, no, no!" one of them piped up, interrupting Obi-Wan's growls. "Dragons don't sound like that! They're much scarier!"

Qui-Gon stopped by the door. The teacher caught his eye and gave a smile, but said nothing. No one else noticed his arrival, and Qui-Gon watched as one boy taught his Padawan -- who had fought and slain dragons -- how to growl like one.

Following the boy's instructions, Obi-Wan let out a huge growl, causing the children to break out in giggles. He cocked his head at the boy and said in a mild voice, "It doesn't seem to be working."

Qui-Gon fought the urge to giggle himself. But he kept quiet, even preventing his Padawan from realizing he had already arrived.

"It's like this," the boy said, then growled. The other children oh'ed and ah'ed, indicating their approval of his ferocity.

Obi-Wan listened solemnly, though Qui-Gon could see the amusement in his eyes, then tried again. More giggles.

Then he made a noise that resembled a "grumph" -- like a dragon who was tired of growling and simply wanted to sit down for a bit. Qui-Gon fled the room.

In the hallway, he leaned against the wall and laughed. He laughed until he began to slide down the wall. He let himself sit and tried to hold his stomach in an effort to keep the muscles from hurting.

He failed miserably, and continued laughing.

He was still laughing when Obi-Wan came out of the room to join him. Looking down at his laughing Master, the young man said mildly, "I guess I don't make a very good dragon."

Qui-Gon lost what little shred of control he had left.

Obi-Wan stood and watched with a smile on his own lips as he waited for his Master to regain his normal calm. Through their bond, Qui-Gon could sense his apprentice's pleasure in being the one to make him lose control like this.

It was several moments before Qui-Gon could calm himself enough to try taking a deep breath. When he did, and when it worked, he looked up at Obi-Wan. 'Don't you dare growl again,' he warned, silently.

Perfectly straight-faced, Obi-Wan said, "Grr?"

This time Qui-Gon slipped to the floor. It wasn't like their transport was going to leave for another ten hours, so he had time... he lay on the floor and stared up at the ceiling through watering eyes.

And laughed until he ached.

When he had finally calmed down, he sat up, bracing his back against the wall. Obi-Wan was still watching him with a smile. "Are you through?" he asked, in perfect imitation of Qui-Gon's own speech when gently rebuking his apprentice.

Qui-Gon giggled and tried desperately to avoid another round of laughter. His stomach muscles wouldn't be able to handle it. He tried glaring up at Obi-Wan, but his apprentice showed no signs of repentance.

"You don't laugh enough," Obi-Wan told him as he reached down a hand to help his Master regain his feet. "I like the sound of it." This last was offered shyly, almost diffidently.

Qui-Gon took a deep breath and felt his entire body relaxing until it was as if he were a hundred pounds lighter. He kept a hold on Obi-Wan's hand.

"Perhaps you're right," he admitted. "But I rarely seem to get the chance." He took another deep breath, regained all his control.

"We will have to rectify that, Master." The glint of determination and mischief in Obi-Wan's eyes made Qui-Gon worry.

"Just don't growl at me during negotiations."

"Yes, Master. No growling during negotiations."

Qui-Gon grinned and felt the urge to laugh still inside him. He controlled it, but gave his apprentice a sidelong glance. He knew better than to fully trust that innocent expression.

But for now, it seemed, Obi-Wan was turning his mind back to business. "We have a mission, Master?"

"We do, Padawan. The planet Allatrii is in need of our assistance. They have lost the heir to their throne. It is our job to find him."

Obi-Wan nodded, his manner now properly Jedi calm, though there was a glint of anticipation in his eyes. "When do we leave?"

"Our transport leaves tonight. We have, for a change, ample time to prepare for our departure." He gave Obi-Wan a very brief glance, knowing that 'ample time' did not include distracting themselves. He waited to see if Obi-Wan realized it as well.

"One could wish for a bit more," Obi-Wan replied, a rueful tilt to his mouth showing that indeed he did realize what they did and didn't have time for, "but at least we aren't having to sprint through the halls to meet our transport before it departs."

"True." Qui-Gon smiled. That was a more normal mode of departure for Jedi -- one reason the quarters were near the shuttle pad. He felt a bit of pride at Obi-Wan's acceptance, and was reassured that their choice had been the right one.

"We’d better go pack then, hadn’t we?"

"Yes." They were already headed towards their rooms. Qui-Gon waited a moment then asked, "Why were they teaching you how to growl, anyway?"

Obi-Wan smiled. "I was telling them of the dragons on Rasha IV, and they demanded sound effects. Apparently my attempts weren't scary enough."

"Ah." Qui-Gon had to fight back again the image of his Padawan on his hands and knees, growling. "Now I understand why Master Hisan likes having you assist with the younger students."

"I like doing it. I like trying to see the universe through their eyes. They often see more clearly than their elders, and that is something I don't want to forget."

For a moment Qui-Gon found himself looking at his young apprentice. Such an awareness of the universe was within him that he fairly shone... and said things that Qui-Gon himself thought, with regard to his own Padawan. It was no wonder being with Obi-Wan made *him* feel so alive. He slung an arm around Obi-Wan's shoulders and they continued towards their rooms.

"You need to growl from the diaphragm."

"Oh. Like this?" Obi-Wan asked innocently, then growled, the sound ending on an interrogative note.

"Hm, better. Bring the pitch down slightly."

His apprentice did so, then frowned. "I really don't think growling is working. Maybe I should try something else." Before Qui-Gon could react, Obi-Wan took a deep breath and *roared*.

Qui-Gon was startled briefly, then began to smile. He turned, however, when Master Jiag came running into the hallway.

"What--?!" the breathless man began, looking frantically around.

Qui-Gon began laughing, and soon he was on the floor again, unable to stand.

********

It was a good thing they had 'ample time' before their transport left; explanations, apologies, and regaining control had all taken time they should've been using for packing. Still, when their transport did leave, they were on it, and they hadn't even had to run to make it.

Qui-Gon reminded them both, sternly, that there would be no growling during the mission. *That*, of course, had started Obi-Wan giggling.

But they soon got engrossed in their preparations for Allatrii, and laughter was left behind.

Obi-Wan became particularly solemn when he read the information on the missing heir, Glarim, who was just six years old.

"He's so young," Obi-Wan explained, when Qui-Gon questioned his sudden silence. "To use a child this way, as a bargaining piece..."

"Yes. But I sense we have time, yet, to rescue him." He left 'alive' unsaid, knowing his Padawan knew what was at stake. A Jedi's duties were rarely easy, but sometimes they were particularly difficult. That thought reminded him of something, and he looked up at Obi-Wan.

His apprentice had gone back to studying the information they had been given, staring at the face of the small prince on the computer screen.

He let himself look for a moment, simply seeing the man he loved. But then he took his own counsel, and spoke. "Obi-Wan."

"Yes Master?" Obi-Wan replied, looking up from the computer.

"Obi-Wan... I need to make sure that you understand... that we both understand… how important it is that the mission come first. Before ourselves and our relationship."

Serious green eyes met his own. "I do understand that, Master."

"And do you understand what it means?" he asked calmly. He didn't like thinking of it himself, but it was necessary to make sure Obi-Wan knew.

"Yes, Master."

He waited, patiently, for Obi-Wan to elaborate.

With a sigh, Obi-Wan continued. "The rescue and safe return of Prince Glarim is the most important thing. Nothing takes precedence over that. I understand, Master, truly."

"Even if a choice must be made." Qui-Gon could feel that his apprentice understood, but he had to be sure-- there could be no mistakes. If they failed in this mission because of how either of them felt, they *would* be separated.

He could feel the tension radiating off his apprentice at those words, but Obi-Wan did not protest. He merely nodded his head and said softly, "Yes, Master."

Qui-Gon reached out with the Force, then, and wrapped his love around Obi-Wan. "It will not change us. We are Jedi first, and that is the only way we can remain together."

It occurred to him, suddenly, that they could if necessary both *leave* the Temple. The thought startled him, but he knew that neither would wish to do so. Still, if it *did* become necessary....

Obi-Wan caught the edges of the thought. "It will not become necessary," he said fiercely. "We will make this work."

Qui-Gon stood and went to his beloved's side. He reached out and took Obi-Wan's hand. Half a dozen affirmations sprang to mind, but he spoke none of them. He smiled, squeezed Obi-Wan's hand, and nodded at the screen. "Do you have any theories as to who might have an interest in kidnapping Glarim?"

"I doubt it is anybody on the other side, at least not with official sanction. So far, both sides have been going out of their way to avoid escalating their disagreements into open conflict." Obi-Wan paused, staring at the prince's picture thoughtfully. "But there are those on both sides who want war. The prince was undoubtedly taken by one of those factions. But considering the security arrangements, I would start the search for the kidnapper close to home."

Qui-Gon nodded. "That was my assessment, as well. We will arrive on Allatrii in four hours. I suggest we both get our rest -- there is no telling what the situation will be like when we arrive, or when--"

"--when we might get to sleep again." Obi-Wan grinned. "Or other things."

"I've said this before?" Qui-Gon asked dourly.

"You are remarkably consistent, my Master." The grin widened.

"And you, Padawan, are remarkably--" he stopped, caught up Obi-Wan into his arms, and held him close. He found he couldn't settle on a single adjective.

"Indescribable?" Obi-Wan offered after a moment's silence.

"Remarkable." Qui-Gon bent his head and gave him a kiss.

"As are you, Master," Obi-Wan replied, his feelings clear in his eyes.

"Come, Obi-Wan. We must rest." Qui-Gon let him go, but kept hold of his hand.

"Yes, Master." There was a pause. "*Just* rest?"

Frowning, Qui-Gon silently but gently rebuked his apprentice. "Rest, Padawan."

Obi-Wan sighed heavily. "Yes, Master."

Qui-Gon propelled him towards the nearest cabin. It wasn't as if he would not have preferred something other than resting, himself. But they were on a mission, and it would not do to expend energy they might later wish they had conserved.

Obi-Wan stopped. "Not even a--"

Qui-Gon frowned, more sternly. Obi-Wan *knew*. He stopped. Yes, Obi-Wan knew. In a gentler tone he asked, "Not even what?"

"Never mind. You're right. We should get some rest." There was a yearning in Obi-Wan's eyes and spirit, though, that belied his words, as he turned and headed for his assigned quarters.

Qui-Gon, however, did not let go of his hand. When Obi-Wan looked back at him, he said, "There is no reason we cannot rest together, beloved."

Obi-Wan's eyes widened and he smiled. "I would like that."

Qui-Gon pulled him into the first cabin, left the lights off, and aimed them for the bed. Obi-Wan went willingly, pulling away only when they reached the side of the bed to undress.

It took only moments to shed their outer robes, then they crawled onto the bed, wrapped themselves around each other, and went to sleep.

*********

They awoke in time to refresh themselves before the transport landed on Allatrii. Qui-Gon tried his best to avoid looking longingly at Obi-Wan as they dressed. It didn't help that Obi-Wan was trying to do the same, or that they failed at nearly the same moments. But Qui-Gon pushed his desire aside, and by the time they walked down the ramp to meet Glarim's parents, they had regained all the solid control expected of the Jedi.

Both the king and the queen were visibly distraught, but treated their visitors with all the respect and courtesy their position deserved. Qui-Gon did what he could to reassure them that everything possible would be done. Soon, then, they were being shown inside the palace and introduced to Chief of Security Yuion, with whom they would conduct their investigation.

The man seemed relieved to see them. He brought them into his office, assuring their Majesties that they would be apprised as soon as anything was learned, and asked Qui-Gon where he wanted to begin.

"We wish to inspect the place from which Prince Glarim was abducted."

"Of course. This way." He led them back out.

The room he took them to was obviously the boy's bedchamber. Toys were strewn across the floor, and a stuffed Wookiee that had seen better days sat forlornly on the still-mussed bed.

"All has been left just as it was when his Highness was discovered missing," their guide told them.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan moved into the room, opening themselves to the Force. There was fear here, a single stab of terror as the Prince had been taken. Otherwise, it was the room of a boy who was well-loved and kindly treated. Qui-Gon could sense that the boy’s parents had spent much time here, playing with their son.

"Who has access to this room?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Nearly everyone in the palace," Yuion replied. "All the servants, the guards... Glarim was well-liked and often had visitors. The other children in the palace spent their free time playing with the Prince, as well."

"At the time the Prince went missing?" Obi-Wan persisted. "Surely there aren't too many people who can wander the halls at that hour and not be noticed."

"The guards on duty, any servants whose services were required. It is not always possible to know who might have been where. My guards have all been questioned, of course. I have their names should you wish to question them yourselves."

"Yes," Qui-Gon replied. "That, I shall do. Obi-Wan, go back to the Security office and review what has been done and found thus far. The information we were sent is by now several hours old."

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan gave the room once last glance, his eyes lingering on the stuffed toy on the bed for just a moment before turning and leaving.

Qui-Gon saw the glance, and felt what his apprentice had as well. But he turned to Yuion and told him, "I wish to question the guards, and any who were awake that night. Even if they think they saw nothing, they might know something important."

Yuion nodded. "I'll arrange it right away." He turned to go.

"I will question them here," Qui-Gon added before he could leave. It would be easier to get to the truth here, in the face of what had been done. If there were guilt or regret, it would perhaps be more easily uncovered with this child's room as a reminder.

The rest of the day did not prove to be very productive. The interviews turned up nothing new or suspicious, nor did Obi-Wan's review of the investigation to date. Yuion left to find them some dinner, expecting the investigation to last well into the night. Qui-Gon waited until he was well down the hall, then turned to Obi-Wan.

"I was thinking, Master," Obi-Wan began before Qui-Gon had a chance to speak. "Might it be possible that there is some impression left in the prince's room? On the stuffed Wookiee, perhaps; it had the feeling of being imprinted very powerfully."

"I agree." Qui-Gon moved to stand before the toy. "If he was holding it when he was taken...." Carefully, he picked the Wookiee up and held it loosely in his hands. He felt Obi-Wan's focus join his own as he concentrated.

Images floated in Qui-Gon's mind, images from the life of a child who was happy and loved. Focusing harder, he centered in on the spike of terror both he and his apprentice had picked up on earlier.

It was there with the other impressions on the toy. If anything, it was even stronger. The image of a small boy being startled out of a sound sleep to find someone looming over him. An attempt to scream as something was placed over his mouth. Terror increasing as the world began to get fuzzy around the edges.

They could see the boy's assailant. Unclearly at first, but as they focused in, small details began to appear.

There was a sudden trembling, then a vast disturbance around them.

Qui-Gon pulled himself out of his focus on the toy... in time to feel his body explode with pain.

Distantly, he heard his Padawan's voice screaming, "Master!" and then everything went black.

********

Qui-Gon opened his eyes... and realized he had not, in fact, opened his eyes. He was still unconscious, his body lying on a bed somewhere. He just wasn't in it. Nearby, he could sense a healer working diligently.

He could feel worry and concern from two people he knew only vaguely.

He felt fear, distress, and pain from Obi-Wan. He reached out.

Obi-Wan was talking to one of the healers when his head suddenly shot up, his eyes going unerringly to Qui-Gon's body. When he did not see any change he frowned. Qui-Gon could feel his puzzlement.

He reached out again, confused by the lack of energy to do more than touch his Padawan.

But apparently that was enough.

'Master?' The word was as clear as if Obi-Wan had spoken it aloud.

Maybe he had. Qui-Gon couldn't really differentiate between whatever here was, and whatever here wasn't . The body, perhaps, and the mind?

"Obi-Wan," he said, however it was he said it.

The tangle of emotions he got in response would have been enough to stagger him if he had been standing. If he had had a body in which to stand, which he didn't at the moment. It staggered him anyway, as they washed over him. Fear, pain, things he couldn't name without more focus than he had right then. He reached through them for Obi-Wan, and felt his apprentice responding.

He felt Obi-Wan latch onto him as tightly as he could. 'Where are you?' This time he was more sure the words were not spoken aloud.

"Where... where am I?" he repeated, as he realized he didn't know the answer. He could see Obi-Wan, and the room he was in. He could see the healer, the King, and the Chief of Security behind her.

He could not *feel* anything, however, of himself. He tried looking around.

"What happened?" he asked, trying to reconstruct the memories.

'You were shot.' The three words carried with them images of Qui-Gon holding the stuffed Wookiee in his hands and jerking suddenly before collapsing to the floor, blood pouring out of a wound.

A lot of blood. Once again, Obi-Wan's emotions rose up and threatened to overwhelm them both. Qui-Gon caught him, trying to hold close what felt like only an apparition.

Calmly he asked, "What does the healer say?"

The outcome is still uncertain. The longer you remain unconscious, the less your chances become. Master, you have to wake up!'

He tried. But he found he could not quite locate his body, could not quite find where he was to awaken. He had a dim sensation of himself, off somewhere. There was still a connection. He tried to reach for it, but he couldn't.

'Master?'

"Help me," he said, feeling his energy failing him. He knew where he needed to go but he could not get there.

At once he felt an influx of power as Obi-Wan lent him his own strength. As it poured into him, he began to feel better, more solid, more *real*. He suddenly found himself back where he belonged -- in his own body. In his own body that *hurt*.

He opened his eyes and found himself looking at Obi-Wan. Still.

He smiled.

Obi-Wan smiled back. "Master," was all he said, but the word carried a multitude of emotions with it.

He tried to raise his hand, but there wasn't enough strength. He saw the healer's face, then, looking down at him. "Good, you're awake. That means you're not dead." She grinned.

"Not quite," Obi-Wan agreed, slightly giddy with relief.

Qui-Gon started to ask about the investigation -- whether they knew who had shot him, if it was, as seemed likely, connected with the Prince's kidnapping. But he was suddenly unable to keep his eyes open any longer.

He heard the healer say in a satisfied tone, "He'll rest, now."

A hand gently brushed his hair away from his face. "And he'll recover?" he heard his Padawan ask softly.

"He will recover."

Qui-Gon fell asleep at those words. He felt Obi-Wan's relief rushing over him as he slipped away.

As he went, though, he realized that Obi-Wan would be left with the task of finding Glarim. While he had faith in his apprentice's abilities, he worried. Would Obi-Wan be able to concentrate, with his Master and lover lying injured?

The thought plagued him even as he fell into deeper slumber, keeping his dreams from being restful. Keeping him, in fact, from totally succumbing to a healing trance as he was meant to. He simply could not give up and relax until he knew what was going on.

He focused again on his apprentice. More subtly, this time, not wanting Obi-Wan to detect his presence. Slowly, an image grew before him.

Obi-Wan was speaking with the healer, his face awash with concern and determination.

"You will inform me if his condition changes?" Obi-Wan was saying. "The Prince is still missing. I have to.." He gestured at the door.

"Yes, of course," the woman replied. She moved to one side, and to Qui-Gon it appeared as if she would be remaining there for some time to come. He wondered if it belied her assertion that he would recover -- but as soon as he thought it, he realized he could *feel* that he would. He had the strength to recover, thanks to Obi-Wan.

He watched as Obi-Wan hesitated, then moved back to his Master's side. Leaning over, he whispered in Qui-Gon's ear, "You know I cannot stay, Master. Duty must come first. But I promise to return as soon as possible." A slight brush of his lips against his Master's cheek, and he turned and left swiftly.

Qui-Gon smiled at his words and the touch he'd felt even in this disembodied form. Following his apprentice, he did not give himself a single glance backwards.

They went out into the hall where Yuion was waiting for them. Or for Obi-Wan, at least.

"How is he?" the Head of Security asked solicitously.

"He will survive," Obi-Wan replied, the calm of a Jedi wrapped around him like a cloak. "I will continue the investigation alone, though."

Qui-Gon saw the look Yuion gave Obi-Wan. Measuring him, perhaps? Wondering if the apprentice could handle the task alone? "Very well," the man said, not otherwise hinting at his possible doubts. "How do you wish to continue?"

"I wish to reinterview some of your men." Again Obi-Wan was careful not to let anything slip through his calm demeanor. Qui-Gon could feel his worry, though. He longed to reach out and reassure his beloved, but that would only alert him to the fact that Qui-Gon was here, watching. Obi-Wan would no doubt insist that Qui-Gon remain where he belonged, to heal properly.

It was what he would have done if their positions had been reversed, after all.

"Is there something in particular you expect to find, Jedi Kenobi?" Yuion asked.

"I expect to find those behind the Prince's kidnapping. And behind the attempt on my Master's life. And I will."

Qui-Gon nodded, watching Yuion closely. He might not have much influence as this formless wraith, but he could keep an eye on things Obi-Wan might not see.

Like the way Yuion smiled and relaxed as Obi-Wan made his declaration.

"I will conduct the interviews [ in the Prince's room," Obi-Wan informed the Chief of Security. "And I will start immediately."

Without waiting for an answer, the young Padawan turned and started down the hallway. A bit high-handed, Qui-Gon thought, but such behavior had its place. Considering what they had seen in the vision, it might very well be here.

Qui-Gon spared a moment to watch as Yuion went to inform the guards that they were to be interviewed *again*, then followed Obi-Wan.

As he followed, he tried to re-create the vision they had been witnessing, before he'd been shot. The vision began to re-form, then shattered with a sudden, sharp pain in his back.

He stopped a moment, allowing himself the disconcerting effort of trying to draw breath when he had no lungs, then letting go the attempt to remember.

Ahead of him, he saw Obi-Wan pause, head lifting and cocked slightly to the side as he reached out with the Force and searched his immediate surroundings. Qui-Gon held very still, letting his mind go blank, hiding as best he could from his apprentice's very thorough and very adept probes.

Finally, though, Obi-Wan relaxed, though his face bore a slight frown as he continued on his way.

Qui-Gon decided not to try that again any time soon.

He waited until he was in control of himself again, then followed Obi-Wan once more.

His apprentice went directly to the Prince's room, and stopped. Qui-Gon felt a burst of remembered terror, then it was quickly wrestled down. Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan opened the door and stepped inside. Qui-Gon followed.

The room was pretty much as he remembered it, except for the large stain on the floor near the bed. Bloodstains. His blood.

Obi-Wan stopped just inside the doorway, his eyes riveted to that spot. Slowly he crossed the room and knelt by it, his hand reaching out tentatively to touch the stains. With a shudder, Obi-Wan closed his eyes and sighed.

A second later, Qui-Gon felt his apprentice reach out with the Force again, this time focusing where his hand rested. Trying the same trick that Qui-Gon had tried on the toy earlier.

Qui-Gon turned his own attention to guarding his apprentice's back while he did so. Whoever had shot *him* might easily try again.

He felt the stirring in the Force as Obi-Wan concentrated, and took care that his own presence would not be picked up.

Obi-Wan's brow furrowed as he went deeper into trance, searching for whatever answers he could get. He stiffened suddenly and then relaxed all at once, opening his eyes. Qui-Gon could see a cold satisfaction in them, which matched perfectly with the rather nasty smile his apprentice was wearing.

"Got him, Master," Obi-Wan whispered.

Qui-Gon started, then realized Obi-Wan was not speaking to be heard. He relaxed, though he did not like the expression or the sensations coming from his apprentice.

‘The boy is what matters,’ he thought, wishing he could send the thought to Obi-Wan. 'Not me. Find the boy... do not allow vengeance to guide you.'

Almost as if he had heard him, Obi-Wan sighed and shook himself. "Duty first," he reminded himself softly, and reached out to pick up the stuffed Wookiee. Closing his eyes, he once again reached out with the Force in his search for answers.

Qui-Gon allowed himself a smile. He noticed someone approaching the room and tensed, ready to get Obi-Wan's attention in an instant if it were necessary.

It wasn't. Obi-Wan had not gone so deep that his own awareness of his surroundings had been compromised. Well before the door opened, he had straightened and composed himself.

Again, Qui-Gon felt pride in his apprentice. He watched as Yuion brought the first guard in. Qui-Gon knew from his earlier questioning that this man knew nothing of importance.

Obi-Wan conducted a brief interview with the man and then told him he could go. He did the same with the next one, and the next...

But when the fourth came in, Qui-Gon could sense his apprentice's emotions changing.

He nodded in unfelt encouragement. This was the one he had his own suspicions about as well. Though his worries had been formless, he suspected from the sharpening of Obi-Wan's focus that his apprentice knew something more.

"Please sit down," Obi-Wan said, inclining his head towards a chair. "I just want to ask a few more questions, see if there's anything that's been missed."

"I heard your Master got shot. He's all right, then?" Quidmor asked in what sounded like sincere interest.

"He was severely injured, but he will recover." Obi-Wan projected an air of unconcern, though Qui-Gon could almost hear the 'No thanks to you!' in his apprentice's thoughts.

Startled, Qui-Gon looked again at Quidmor. This was the man who had shot him? He couldn't tell, and didn't want to risk trying to see, again. But if he *had* been involved in the kidnapping, that might be reason enough for Obi-Wan to accuse him.

"Let's start at the beginning. You've been employed here how long?"

"All my life, Jedi Kenobi. That is, since I was old enough to work. My parents were servants here, and I was an errand boy from the time I was four." That was just what he had told Qui-Gon. *Exactly* as he'd told it. Qui-Gon watched the man more closely.

"We have something in common, then," Obi-Wan told the man with a slight smile. "My path was laid out before me from a very young age as well."

Quidmor seemed slightly uneasy at the claim, though he did not show it on his face. Qui-Gon saw that Obi-Wan felt it as well as he had, and his apprentice's eyes narrowed ever so slightly.

"Living here your whole life you must know the Prince quite well," Obi-Wan ventured, still in a conversational tone.

"I do," he replied easily.

"You probably even played in the same places he plays, or some of them at least. Glarim, of course, would move in different circles."

"I imagine so." Quidmor sounded a bit confused, but Qui-Gon nodded in understanding. He had not asked this particular question, and it would be interesting to see the response.

"I suspect that you got to play in places he would never be allowed to, as well. You probably know all the nooks and crannies of this place." He waved his hand in the air to indicate the whole palace complex.

"Perhaps not all of them," Quidmor protested uncertainly. Qui-Gon picked up the direction of his apprentice's thoughts and waited.

Obi-Wan laughed. "Of course you do. I know all the secret places at the Temple I was raised in, places not even the Masters know about. Unless, of course, they were raised there, too."

Qui-Gon stifled a laugh. He, too, had been raised in the Temple and knew exactly what Obi-Wan was referring to. Quidmor, however, was still completely confused. Or at least seemed to be.

"So?" he managed, when Obi-Wan sat, merely waiting for him.

"I've been thinking." Obi-Wan got up and began pacing, seemingly idly circling the sitting man. "Security in this complex is very good. Very tight. It would be extremely hard to spirit the Prince out without anyone seeing. Unless he wasn't taken out."

Quidmor was suddenly very still, staring wide-eyed at Obi-Wan. "What do you mean?" he asked, though it was clear to Qui-Gon that he knew exactly what was meant.

Obi-Wan continued to pace. "A place this size would have lots of secret places, places that aren't used. Places that could be used to hide something. Or someone."

"Hide someone?" The tremor in his voice was plain. Qui-Gon nodded, encouraging Obi-Wan to continue.

"Yes. And someone who grew up here, someone like you, would know all the places Glarim could possibly be." Obi-Wan's friendly, conversational demeanor dropped suddenly. "Where is he?"

Quidmor stammered his reply. "I.. I... I swear I don't know what you're talking about, Jedi Kenobi."

It didn't take a Jedi Master to tell he was lying. Qui-Gon tried to focus on the man's thoughts, looking for a hint of the boy's location, but found he could not penetrate the natural barriers of the man's mind.

He would have to wait for Obi-Wan to discover it.

"You're lying," Obi-Wan told the man calmly. "You didn't really think you could hide the truth from a Jedi, did you? No, of course you didn't. That's why you shot my Master." The look that accompanied that last statement would be enough to make almost anyone break.

Qui-Gon gave his Padawan a warning look -- not that Obi-Wan could see it. But his apprentice was still maintaining firm control of his emotions. Only Qui-Gon knew how close Quidmor was to being in severe danger.

"I... I...." Quidmor shifted in his seat, and for a moment he looked as if he might bolt.

A wave of his hand, and Obi-Wan had pinned Quidmor into his seat with the Force. "No, I don't think you'll be leaving just yet. We're not done talking."

The look of terror passed quickly into resignation and the man began to plead. "I swear he's not hurt. Wasn't going to be...."

"Where is he?" The question was sharp, intractable, demanding an answer.

Quidmor didn't answer aloud, but apparently he was thinking clearly enough. Qui-Gon sensed nothing from him until he felt the triumph in Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan smiled. "Thank you," he said courteously, then went to the door and called for the guards.

Yuion stepped inside, an expectant look of curiosity on his face.

"Here is your kidnapper," Obi-Wan told him, gesturing at the still Force-restrained Quidmor. "I am going to go retrieve the Prince, but I would like to speak with this man again later, about... other things, like why shooting a Jedi is a bad life decision." Again Qui-Gon sensed barely restrained anger from his apprentice.

Yuion looked at his guard in surprise, but grabbed his arm and gave Obi-Wan a sharp nod. "I'll send some guards along…" he began.

"That won't be necessary." Before Yuion could protest, Obi-Wan elaborated. "I find it doubtful that Quidmor was in this alone. Until I know for certain who is and who isn't involved, I would much rather work alone."

"Of course," Yuion replied.

Qui-Gon felt a wave of dizziness pass through him, and he struggled for a moment to remain where he was.

Obi-Wan stiffened and paused briefly, again searching the room with more than his eyes. For several seconds he seemed to be staring directly at Qui-Gon, before turning and leaving the room.

Qui-Gon gathered his strength directly from the living Force, then followed Obi-Wan out.

Once the guards he had passed outside the prince's room were out of earshot, Obi-Wan raised his head and spoke, seemingly to the empty air. "I thought you were supposed to be resting."

Qui-Gon stopped, and glanced briefly away -- not sure if Obi-Wan could see him or not. He briefly considered going back now and denying this later.

"I know you're there, Master."

"You handled the interrogation well, Obi-Wan," he finally said, in as even a tone as he could manage.

"It was...difficult. I wanted to--" He broke off without finishing the thought.

"Yes," Qui-Gon responded. "I know." He wanted to reach out for his Padawan and offer him reassurance. It was difficult, however, to do more than hold himself there. He reached out again for the Force, pulling it towards himself.

Obi-Wan frowned, and suddenly Qui-Gon felt an added influx of energy from his Padawan. "You shouldn't be doing this," Obi-Wan told him softly.

Qui-Gon looked in Obi-Wan's eyes, feeling as if he could follow that energy back to its source and become immersed in its owner. Dissolve in his beloved.

"I was worried for you," he said, just as softly.

That brought a slight blush and a shy smile to his apprentice's face. "You need not have been. I can handle myself. After all, I have a very good teacher."

"I can see that. You have handled yourself very well. But now -- you must attend to the Prince." He ensured there was no hint of censure in his voice as he encouraged his apprentice to return to matters at hand.

Obi-Wan nodded and started down the hall again. "I suppose you are going to continue to tag along."

Qui-Gon opened his mouth to reply, stopped, then continued, "Unless you wish me not to."

There was a long moment of silence as his apprentice considered. "You are not endangering yourself by doing this?" He waved his hand to indicate the no-body thing.

"Of course not, Padawan." He was almost sure he would know, if he were.

"I like having you with me." The answer was given in a diffident, almost shy tone.

Qui-Gon smiled, and followed Obi-Wan down the hall. "I prefer being here, as well. Though I would prefer being here in body."

"I, as well, Master."

They continued down the hallway, Obi-Wan unhesitatingly leading the way.

"Master?"

"Yes, Obi-Wan?"

"Is this what they mean by the phrase ‘out of your mind’?"

Qui-Gon glared at his apprentice.

Obi-Wan chuckled to himself and continued walking. Qui-Gon sighed, sorry he had ever allowed his apprentice to discover that his Master had a sense of humor, and followed.

Their journey took them to a part of the palace complex that did not appear to be in much use. Obi-Wan finally stopped at the door to a storeroom. "He's in here."

Qui-Gon felt a mild stirring in the Force; there was *something* here, though he couldn't determine what. He trusted Obi-Wan to be right that it was the Prince. He waited as his apprentice studied the lock on the door.

After a moment, Obi-Wan shrugged, pulled out his lightsaber, and cut the lock off. "I'm sure if we find their son, the king and queen will excuse the damage."

"I'm sure," Qui-Gon agreed with a slight smile. The room around him shimmered slightly, then he saw clearly again.

Whatever had just happened, Obi-Wan had felt it too. "Master?" Qui-Gon could feel his worry.

"Yes?" he asked calmly, moving into the room to search, visually at least, for the boy. There was something disturbing here, but he hoped it was only the young Prince's fears.

"There was... I felt... Are you all right?"

"Yes, Obi-Wan. I don't see Glarim."

"He's here." Obi-Wan closed his eyes and reached out with the Force briefly, turning slowly in a circle. Abruptly he stopped, and pointed at a large chest of drawers. "He's behind there. There's a hidden room of some kind."

Qui-Gon followed, and as he drew near he could feel the waves of distress. The boy was either semi-conscious, or *he* was weaker than he believed.

Stepping through the door, he saw nothing in the darkness. He could feel, however, the boy. He felt a small tremor in the Force as Obi-Wan used it to move the chest and open the door.

Light came streaming in suddenly and the boy whimpered in terror and pain.

"Easy," Obi-Wan soothed, getting down on his knees and reaching out to the boy. "It's all right, Glarim. My name is Obi-Wan. I've come to take you back to your parents."

Glarim tried to push himself away, and Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan send waves of safety and reassurance to the boy. Glarim reached blindly out towards that comfort and Obi-Wan took him in his arms.

"It's all right," Obi-Wan repeated, hugging the child close. "You're safe now. It's all over." He continued on in a similar vein as he got to his feet and started back the way he came, Glarim still cradled in his arms.

Qui-Gon felt the child’s distress fading, and looked upon his apprentice fondly. It really was no wonder the children at the Temple loved him.

Now that the Prince had been found, Qui-Gon allowed himself to relax. They still had to locate the persons beside Quidmor who were responsible, but that was less urgent now that the Prince was safe.

The room vanished again, flickered back in, then out.

When he pulled himself back, he found his Padawan shielding himself from the boy as he glared at Qui-Gon. The look he was being sent did not need any words to convey its meaning.

Qui-Gon sighed. Perhaps, now that the boy was rescued, it *was* time to--

Blackness captured him, and he thought no more for a very long time.

*********

Opening his eyes was an effort. It took him what felt like hours to finally pry them open and focus.

He was back in his body. That was good, he thought.

His Padawan was back sitting beside his bedside, and looking more than a little sleep-deprived. That was bad.

He raised his eyebrow, unable at the moment to make any inquisitive noises.

"Are you back?" Obi-Wan asked, in a voice hoarse with exhaustion.

Qui-Gon nodded weakly. He looked at Obi-Wan with concern. He hadn't looked that bad a moment ago. Well, however long ago he had last seen his apprentice.

He wanted to ask about Glarim, but his throat was dry and he felt too tired to move his jaw.

"Thirsty?"

He nodded again, and then there was something against his lip. He opened his mouth and found a straw. He sucked at it gratefully, the warm water soothing him before it could reach his throat.

"Better?"

Qui-Gon nodded. He tried to find his voice again. "Gla...?"

"Glarim is fine. Back with his parents, alive and unharmed." The words were short and clipped, and Qui-Gon couldn't help but sense the roiling emotions that his apprentice was holding back. He sighed in regret. He had not meant anything but to watch and allay his own fears by accompanying his apprentice.

"I am sorry, Obi-Wan," he began.

"Do you know you technically died?" Obi-Wan overrode him. "Your heart stopped. They almost didn't get it going again."

There was nothing to say to that. Nor to the pain he could feel, pounding against that very same heart, beating against his thoughts like his lover's words. He wanted to gather Obi-Wan to him, hold him tightly, but he could not make his arms obey his commands.

"You told me you weren't endangering yourself!" Obi-Wan accused, his voice cracking on the last word. "You lied to me!"

"Padawan... Obi-Wan..." He tried again when Obi-Wan didn't seem to hear. "Love, I didn't know--"

"Didn't you? *I* could feel your distress, so you must've felt it, too. Those were warning signs. And you just ignored them. Was checking up on me worth your life? Do you trust my abilities so little?"

"Obi-Wan... I trust you. I... I simply needed to be with you. I promise you I thought myself in no great danger." His voice dropped and he forced the words out, "I thought if I could be there at all, it meant I was safe. I was wrong. I promise you I meant no distrust. I certainly didn't mean to endanger myself."

He had to admit silently, as his limited voice began to give out on him, that it wasn't among the wisest things he'd ever done. Hopefully, the pain he'd caused his beloved would fade quickly enough that he would not have to be reminded of it over and over again.

Obi-Wan looked at him a long moment, and when he spoke again his voice was calmer. "You told me before this mission started that our responsibilities came before our relationship, that they had to. I agreed. But you didn't heed your own advice. Once you were injured, your responsibility became to get better. That should've come before you wanting to be with me."

Qui-Gon sighed. This is what he got for training his Padawan so well. But he nodded. "You are correct. It shall not happen again."

"It better not. I- I can't lose you." All of the anger seemed to have drained out of Obi-Wan, which only made his other emotions all the more clear to Qui-Gon.

Fear was the most prominent. But there was guilt, as well -- guilt that Obi-Wan hadn't noticed the shooter in time to prevent the attack. Qui-Gon raised his hand shakily and rested it against Obi-Wan's cheek.

Obi-Wan's own hand came up to cover Qui-Gon's, his eyes meeting his Master's.

"I *am* sorry, beloved. I never meant...."

"I know," Obi-Wan said with a sigh. "I know you didn't. But you didn't see... I've never been so scared in my entire life."

Qui-Gon let his hand fall, to be caught by Obi-Wan's and held. He wondered what he could do or say at this point to erase that fear. Or begin to apologize for it.

The silence stretched, and he could feel the fear fading slightly, but it was still there, still coated over with worry. Qui-Gon shifted slightly, and looked up at Obi-Wan hopefully.

"Grr?"

Startled, Obi-Wan stared down at his Master, then started chuckling. And once he started, he couldn't stop, laughing until Qui-Gon's sides ached just watching him. And then suddenly he wasn't laughing, he was crying, leaning over to bury his face in the side of Qui-Gon's neck, one arm gingerly sliding over his Master's chest.

Qui-Gon wrapped his arm around Obi-Wan and held him. He waited until the crying slowed, and moved his head enough to whisper in Obi-Wan's ear, "I love you."

Obi-Wan raised his head and managed a watery smile. "I love you, too."

"Am I forgiven?" he asked with total sincerity.

"Suppose I have to. As long as you don't do it again."

"I won't." Qui-Gon hugged him as tightly as he could given his weakened condition, then released him as his strength waned again. He smiled at Obi-Wan's scolding look. "And I promise not to wander about this time. Unless it is perfectly safe."

"I think you've already proven that it is not."

"Yes, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon capitulated.

"Good answer."

Qui-Gon smiled, and was given a smile in return.

"So, what of Quidmor?" he asked after he was reasonably certain his Padawan was not going to further scold him.

Obi-Wan sighed. "Dead."

This surprised him. "Dead?" He detected no signs that *Obi-Wan* had done it.... So who had?

"Yes. Apparently he hung himself in his cell." The tone of his apprentice's voice left little doubt just how much credence he gave that theory.

"Any idea who assisted him?"

"Not so far. There is an investigation underway, but it has turned up very little. And now that he has his son back and the kidnapper is dead, the king is putting pressure on his people to wrap it up. I don't think he wants to admit that people on his staff, people he trusts, could do something like this."

"What do *you* think?"

"That Quidmor was just the tip of the iceberg, and that he was killed to keep him from talking." Obi-Wan shook his head. "The king does not want to hear that, though."

"What will the king do, then? Will we be remaining to capture this second assailant?" Qui-Gon found himself easily, and happily, trusting in his Padawan's assessment of the political as well as criminal situation.

"We would have been asked to leave already if it weren’t for your injuries, Master. He thanks us most profusely for returning his son to him, but would we please now go away."

Qui-Gon smiled slightly. "And do you agree with the request? Is the Prince out of danger?" As Jedi, they had the authority to ignore the king's request should they deem it necessary.

Obi-Wan hesitated, clearly giving his answer some thought. "We did not catch all that were involved, but I do not believe they will go after the Prince again. That ploy has lost its power. The king would no longer assume it was his enemies and declare war."

"Then you believe it will be safe for us to leave?" Qui-Gon was beginning to feel tired. He wondered if he fell asleep now, if he would wake up on the transport halfway home to Coruscant.

In Obi-Wan's arms.

He thought about closing his eyes.

Obi-Wan shrugged. "I don't see how we have any choice. Our stated mission was to rescue the Prince and prevent a war. We've done both. The rest, no matter how much we may disagree, falls under internal politics."

Qui-Gon nodded. "Then as long as the child is safe, we may as well go." He closed his eyes briefly.

When he opened them a moment later, he was in the tiny sickbay of the Republic transport.

Obi-Wan was still by his side, curled up in a chair, asleep.

He reached out, finding the Force much easier to manipulate now, and touched his Padawan's mind lightly.

Obi-Wan muttered, stirred, and finally opened his eyes. "You're awake," he said around a yawn, rubbing his eyes with a fist, like an overtired child.

"Yes." Qui-Gon waited, hoping Obi-Wan would come over where he could touch him. Obi-Wan looked like he needed a cuddle very badly -- as well as several more hours' sleep. At his side, if Qui-Gon had anything to say about it.

"You look better."

"You, on the other hand...." Qui-Gon swallowed and reached up for Obi-Wan's hand. "I am proud of you."

A blink, a blush, and a shy smile. "Thank you, Master," he said softly, "but I only did my duty."

"Hmm. Unlike myself." Qui-Gon accepted the unspoken pronouncement. He wondered how badly he had damaged his apprentice's trust with his actions.

"Perhaps," Obi-Wan said, reaching out with the hand Qui-Gon wasn't holding and brushing the hair back from his Master's face. "But I think I understand why."

"Do you forgive me, then?" he asked.

His apprentice smiled at him. "I thought we already had this conversation."

Qui-Gon frowned. "We did?" He remembered talking with his apprentice... hadn't he dreamt that?

Obi-Wan's smile slipped just a bit as worry crept into his eyes. "Don't you remember?"

"I thought I was dreaming." Qui-Gon smiled.

"Ah." Obi-Wan relaxed again. "No, that was real." He hesitated, then added, "I should apologize as well, Master. It is not my place to yell at you for your behavior."

"When the situation warrants it, Obi-Wan, it is." He gave the hand in his a squeeze and smiled at Obi-Wan. "As long as it is not in front of anyone I shall have to be intimidating later, of course," he added.

"Duly noted, Master. No growling during negotiations and no yelling at you while you are trying to be intimidating."

Qui-Gon began laughing. It didn't take long for his stomach to begin hurting from the strain, but he couldn't manage to stop himself.

Sensing the growing ache, Obi-Wan sent waves of calm along their link, allowing Qui-Gon to get himself back under control. "Sorry," he said contritely. "I shouldn't make you laugh while you're recovering."

Qui-Gon smiled, contentedly. "Yes, you should. I haven't laughed this much... in a very long time." He looked up into warm green eyes and wished he could see them forever. "I love you."

Obi-Wan smiled back, eyes full of happiness, contentment, and love. "I love you too, Master." The effect was slightly marred by the huge yawn that immediately followed the words.

"Come here, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon pulled him towards the bed, scooting over as much as he could.

A startled look and then another grin. "Yes, Master." Obi-Wan obeyed, sliding onto the bed, being extra careful not to accidentally jolt Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon couldn't help grinning at the feeling of his Padawan cuddled there beside him. "Excellent. Now... I believe we both need sleep."

"I won't disturb you here...? I don't want to accidentally cause you pain..."

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said patiently, "do you feel any discomfort?" He sent a wave of the contentment he was feeling towards his apprentice.

"No," Obi-Wan admitted. "But what if I--"

"Then I will tell you, and at that point we can reconsider. For now... I would rather you slept here." He very carefully finished with a tone of request, rather than of command.

"I... would like that, Master."

"Good. Will you be able to sleep?" There was no point in keeping him here if it would only add to his exhaustion.

Obi-Wan yawned largely again. "I don't think that is going to be a problem," he said a bit ruefully.

"Then, hush," Qui-Gon said gently. He gave Obi-Wan a hug and closed his own eyes.

He heard a soft, "Yes, Master," a contented sigh, and then felt the slight weight of Obi-Wan's head on his shoulder.

Another moment passed, and he could tell that Obi-Wan was sound asleep.

As he fell asleep himself, he recalled that he'd meant to ask Obi-Wan what sort of dragon *growled* like that, anyhow.

END