chelle

Phantom Menace

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Hope, Because It Is The One Thing No One Has Found A Way To Kill

chelle

Title: Hope, Because It Is The One Thing No One Has Found A Way To Kill

Fandom: Phantom Menace

Author's email: chelle@chelle.slashcity.org

Author's URL: http://chelle.slashcity.org/

Category: Slash

Pairing: Qui-Gon Jinn/Obi-Wan Kenobi

Archive: Ask first

Rating: R for violence

Summary: A mission that shakes them, maybe even destroys them.

AN: Dedicated to the authors at M & A whose work inspires, teaches, and entertains me all at the same time. And, oh yeah, quite frequently turns me on. The Crusade fans among you will recognize the title. I doubt JMS will mind the paraphrase.

Another wave of horror washed over him. Obi-Wan squelched it, just as he had for the past three days. Determinedly he resumed picking up the pieces of former Habarin citizens. The village's attackers had not put all of the bodies into the mass grave near the center of town. It was a tactic designed to dishearten the enemy. It was working. Obi-Wan continued cleaning up, grateful that the task was nearly complete.

Not for the first time that day he wondered how Qui-Gon was faring. His master was becoming increasingly withdrawn. Obi-Wan knew his master had to share his own rage at the senseless death which surrounded them, but Qui-Gon wouldn't show it. Although he did not scold Obi-Wan when his emotions escaped his control. There had been no lectures on anger and hate, despite the fact that Obi-Wan was seething most of the time. That, more than anything else, told him just how troubled Qui-Gon was.

Currently Qui-Gon was with the leaders of the J'Du, the faction responsible for this slaughter. The leaders, of course, denied all knowledge of what had happened and who the perpetrators were. Obi-Wan could not imagine being Qui-Gon, having to be civil to those responsible for this, having to negotiate with them in the hope of preventing it from happening again. They had been here for nearly a month. No progress had been made and the loss of life continued. Obi-Wan knew it was eating at Qui-Gon; it had to be. But he was at a complete loss how to help someone who would not acknowledge the problem.

He dropped the last Habarin corpse into the mass grave. Another building emptied, only three remaining. Only three.

He turned at the sound of the approaching child. She was about six and the sole remaining citizen of the village. The girl had been taken to a nearby refugee camp, but kept reappearing here. He had been the one to find her, in a closet in one of the buildings. The girl had yet to speak. She did, however, keep seeking out Obi-Wan. He squatted down, opened his arms. The child ran to him. Tears stung at the back of his eyes as he pressed his cheek against the top of the girl's head. It wasn't right. It just wasn't fucking right. He should not be the one cradling this child. Her parents should be here, at least a sibling, maybe an aunt. But there was no one. Just Obi-Wan.

Blinking back the tears, he said, "Hello, little one."

The girl looked up at him. Hello, Obi-Wan.

He stared at her. They had not tested the child for force sensitivity. It hadn't occurred to them, although it would explain how she had managed to survive. The force must have warned her, guided her to a safe place.

Why have you not spoken to me before, little one?

Didn't want to.

Fair enough, he thought.

Can you speak to others like this?

Don't know. Only tried to talk to you.

He tried to think. What should he ask her? He had never found a force sensitive child this old before, usually they were infants. Given the conditions on the planet, it wasn't a surprise that she had not been found. What is your name?

Darleth.

"Darleth," Obi-Wan repeated aloud. He ruffled her hair. "May I call you Dar?"

She nodded.

He smiled gently at her, standing. "Are you hungry?" Another nod. "Me too. Want to have lunch with me?" He held out his hand. Dar took it and they walked together to the tents outside of the town.

***

The sun was setting. Obi-Wan leaned on his shovel. The last building had been emptied and the burying begun. There were ten of them with shovels, covering the bodies. Machinery could have completed the task more efficiently, but the Habarin refused to use it. He understood, which is why he shoveled. He dug the shovel into the dirt and used it to cover a hand.

Qui-Gon had still not returned. He reached out along their bond. He could sense his master's presence, but nothing more. Qui-Gon had not allowed him to sense anything more for days. Another shovelful. A foot this time, too small to belong to an adult. He fought down the bile. The relief workers told him that eventually it would get easier. He prayed it would not. He did not want to be part of a galaxy in which things like this were easy. A face. More tears, more anger. Where the hell was Qui-Gon?

He ran through a series of advanced calming exercises. He knew the peace they brought was a false one, that it would last for only a very short time. But perhaps it would be enough to see him through the shoveling.

The sun set and the work continued. His muscles ached, almost as much as his soul. Still, he shoveled. They were nearly done. When they finished he could turn his attention to the living, like Dar. The thought motivated him and he increased his pace, using the force to augment the strength in his tired back and arms.

Fires now dotted the area, giving the workers something to see by. He had been grateful when the light faded enough so that he no longer saw each face as he covered it. But somehow he felt that in not seeing them he was cheating them. They deserved individual burials, deserved to have their lives honored by those who had known and loved them. No one deserved this. Anonymity in a mass grave. Just one more casualty, just one more corpse among thousands. He pushed at the despair, tried to drive it away. Qui-Gon always told him to keep his mind on the present, on where he was and what he was doing. When what you are doing is burying an entire village, that training becomes a curse. He tried to focus his mind elsewhere, couldn't.

With every shovelful he wondered about the face the dirt covered, the face the darkness kept him from seeing. Was it Dar's mother? Was it anyone's mother? What kind of person had the owner of that face been? Loyal and generous? Kind and loving? He didn't consider other possibilities. For Obi-Wan none of these faces had ever held malice, or taken pleasure in the pain of another. He knew it wasn't true, but thought it anyway

Worst of all were the faces with open eyes. None of them looked peaceful. Those who died of violence rarely did. But the open eyes. The open eyes spoke all too clearly. Pain, terror, dread, and, finally, the emptiness of death.

Many of the dead had been assaulted, brutally, even the children, especially the children. Rage surged within him. He wanted to take his saber and run from here, searching for those who had done this. Then he wanted to cut them in half. No mercy. No forgiveness. No possibility of escape.

Where the hell was Qui-Gon?

Still he shoveled, seeking desperately to focus his mind somewhere else, anywhere else.

***

At last Qui-Gon returned. They had just finished shoveling. Obi-Wan was glad that they had finished. His master did not need to see the corpses again. None of them did.

Obi-Wan turned as Qui-Gon entered their tent. His face was drawn and there were deep circles beneath his eyes, deeper than when he had left that morning. Normally Qui-Gon radiated what could only be called presence. He had the ability to inspire allies and intimidate foes simply by entering the room. There was virtually no trace of that now. In their ten years together as Master and Padawan, Obi-Wan had never seen his master look the way he did now, defeated.

"Master." Obi-Wan didn't bother to hide his concern, let it show in his face and his tone of voice. Qui-Gon gave him a look of acknowledgment, then sat on the edge of his bed and began removing his boots.

"I see that the burying is complete."

"Yes. We finished just before you returned." Obi-Wan studied him.

"Thank you for assisting with that Obi-Wan. I know it," he paused, searched for an appropriate phrase, failed to find one, "wasn't easy."

"I did it because it needed doing. That's what Jedi do. Isn't it?"

There was no reply.

Qui-Gon was struggling with the fastenings on his left boot. Obi-Wan knelt in front of him. "Master, let me."

Qui-Gon resisted, used his hands to try to push Obi-Wan's away. "I can remove my own boots, damn it," he snapped.

"Not when your hands are shaking," Obi-Wan replied coolly.

Startled, Qui-Gon met his apprentice's gaze. "Let me help, Qui-Gon." Instinctively, Obi-Wan reached up and touched his master's cheek. "Let me in." Qui-Gon's eyes filled with tears. "Let me." Obi-Wan encircled Qui-Gon's shoulders with his arms, pulled him close. Qui-Gon stiffened. "Neither of us can get through this alone Master. Don't try. Please don't try." Obi-Wan's voice broke.

Qui-Gon's arms closed around him. Relenting, he allowed the tears to come, his whole body shaking. Qui-Gon clung to his apprentice as though Obi-Wan were his only hope of solace, of salvation.

Obi-Wan's own tears dropped onto the top of his Master's head as he sought to comfort them both, rocking them gently back and forth.

At long last Qui-Gon's sobs subsided. Still holding him firmly, Obi-Wan reached out to him with the force, was blocked.

Qui-Gon. His mental voice was stern, as though he were the master.

Qui-Gon, trust me. I will catch you. You're not alone. Please. He relaxed his hold on Qui-Gon just enough that he could look down on his master's face. He had seen many things in that face over the years, but he had never before seen despair. It shocked him.

Then the emotions hit. Horror, powerlessness, self-loathing, and permeating it all, rage. Obi-Wan held perfectly still. Absorbing what Qui-Gon sent, he let it flow through him.

"I want to kill them." Qui-Gon's voice was raspy from crying. He looked his apprentice in the eye. "The J'Du. I want to kill them. I imagine it all the time. During negotiations, I'm not listening to what they say. I'm imagining running my saber though them over and over again." He stopped, looked away. "What kind of a Master am I? What kind of a Jedi dreams of killing?"

"I doubt the authors of the Code ever witnessed anything like this, were ever surrounded by so much senseless destruction with atrocities and corpses piling on top of each other until no one can see the top of the pile, let alone cover it with dirt." He took Qui-Gon's chin in his hand, forced Qui-Gon to again meet his gaze. "I do not know what kind of Jedi you are. Hell, I don't know what kind of Jedi I am. But I know what kind of man you are, Qui-Gon. And in the end that is more important."

Qui-Gon swallowed, nodded once. Obi-Wan knew he had not succeeded in reassuring his master. Reaching out with the force he tried again. He took everything he felt for his master and wove it into a kind of mental blanket, then covered Qui-Gon with it. Surrounded him with his trust, his admiration, his pride at being Qui-Gon's apprentice, and, most of all, his love.

Qui-Gon trembled visibly. Then he smiled gently. "Thank you, my Padawan. You are kinder to me than I deserve."

Obi-Wan returned his master's smile. "You are welcome, Master. And it is not more than you deserve." Releasing Qui-Gon he walked to the table between their beds and filled a wash basin. He rinsed his own face, then carried the basin and a towel to Qui-Gon.

"You prove my point again,"

Qui-Gon said as he accepted the offered items.

Obi-Wan smiled, but chose not to answer. "I'm going to get us something to eat. Please be here when I get back. I need to talk to you about the girl."

"I'll come with you," Qui-Gon stood.

"Very well. But you may wish to put your other boot back on first."

***

They walked among the tents. The camp held hundreds of people. It was nevertheless quiet. People here spoke in subdued voices. Laughter and shouting were both a rarity. Obi-Wan hoped that this was a natural characteristic of the Habarin people, but suspected it was not.

"She spoke to me. With the force." Obi-Wan glanced at him. "We have to take her to the temple."

"She is too old Obi-Wan."

"What kind of future does she have here? Her entire family dead. The force saved her. It must've done so for a reason."

Qui-Gon was silent, looking around him.

"We can't leave her here," he repeated, impatient. He had not expected Qui-Gon to challenge him on this.

"You are right Padawan. We will not leave her here," Qui-Gon agreed at last, determination in his voice. Obi-Wan caught the edge of his master's thought. 'We should not leave any of them here.'

***

Dar found Obi early the next day, just as he finished dressing. Detecting her presence outside the tent, he glanced at his master. Qui-Gon too had finished dressing. Obi-Wan opened the tent, inviting her in.

"Good morning, little one."

Good morning, Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan glanced at his master, who nodded once. Qui-Gon had overheard the greeting.

"Do you know my master, Qui-Gon Jinn?"

Dar shook her head, took a half step closer to Obi-Wan. Placing a hand on her shoulder, he squatted down. "You are safe here. Qui-Gon would never hurt you. He is my teacher. Did you have a teacher?"

Brief nod.

"Was he or she nice to you?"

Sometimes. Well most of the time. But she made us take naps.

Both men laughed. Pleased at the sound, but puzzled as to what she had said to cause it, Dar continued. I don't like naps. She looked speculatively at Qui-Gon. Does he make you take naps?

Obi-Wan looked up at his master, eyes twinkling. Qui-Gon had indeed made him take naps, on more than one occasion. "Yes, when I was younger he made me take naps." He whispered conspiratorially, "I didn't like them either."

She giggled. Stopping abruptly she glanced quickly at Qui-Gon then looked back at Obi-Wan, My teacher died. Will your teacher die too?

Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a fraction of a second before answering. "Yes, Dar he will, someday. But not soon."

Will you be sad?

Obi-Wan felt his master's eyes upon him, but didn't look up. "Yes, I will be sad. I will be very sad."

Dar placed her little hand against his cheek. I'll hug you so you won't feel so sad.

He smiled. "I will remember that promise. Now lets get some food."

Taking Dar's hand, he led her from the tent. Qui-Gon watched them go, his eyes focused on Obi-Wan.

***

Qui-Gon had left without a word. Obi-Wan was with the relief workers, unloading donations of food and medical supplies. Dar was sitting nearby, building with a pile of rocks.

The woman in charge of the camp was named Licia. She appeared to be about Obi-Wan's age, but her eyes seemed to him to be those of someone much older. There was a hint of humor in her face that never seemed to leave. He had decided that it must be the humor which enabled her to keep functioning in the face of such unrelenting ugliness.

"How long have you been doing this?" he asked as they worked.

"About three years."

"Three years," he responded, his voice clearly saying that he could not imagine three years in this place. "How do you do it?"

"I honestly don't know." She looked around her. "When it gets overwhelming I just focus on one person, one person I can help. Or one thing I can do. A meal I can prepare, a shelter I can build, a wound I can heal." She paused. "I suppose in the end I do it because I can't not do it."

Obi-Wan nodded, pulling another container from the back of the transport. "That I can understand."

She chuckled. "I thought you might."

"You're from the southern continent."

"Yes. As are these supplies. There are several groups there trying to help."

"Why did this happen, Licia? How did it get to this point?"

"I don't think there is an explanation. I can give you a history of events. A list of atrocities and who committed them. But explain it? That is beyond me."

"Master Yoda is fond of saying that the dark side is hard to see. Never has that statement seemed more true to me. I see the results of evil, but the evil itself is still elusive."

"What do you mean?"

He paused for a moment in his unloading. "No one here seems entirely evil, although I know many of them have committed evil acts." His voice trailed off as he tried to focus his thoughts.

"So the commission of an evil act does not necessarily make one evil?"

"No, I don't think it does. Before coming here I would have answered the opposite. The Jedi tend to have rather rigid views on the subject. Good is good and evil is evil. There is no room in most Jedi teaching for a good person to commit an evil act or for evil ever to be done in service to the good."

He paused for a moment. "There is certainly no room for good people who give into anger or hate. For most Jedi simply hating is enough to send one to the dark side. To act in anger or hate is to condemn your soul."

"A very rigid view."

"Yes, a rigidity that comes from fear. A truly dark Jedi is incredibly dangerous. The force can give someone a great deal of power. Anyone willing to use that power for his own ends with no compunction is a threat to the entire galaxy."

"So they deny all hint of the dark because they fear someone consumed by it?" she summarized.

"Exactly."

"Seems a bit short-sighted."

Obi-Wan laughed. "I think Qui-Gon would agree with you."

"Master Jinn doesn't agree with Jedi teaching?"

"In some areas, no. And he is always at odds with the Council. He feels they do not pay enough attention to the present, to the living force."

"What of you Obi-Wan? What are your views on evil?"

He glanced at where Dar was playing, felt his heart clench. "I no longer know."

When the supplies were unloaded and moved to the appropriate locations, he went to Dar.

Hello, little one.

She smiled up at him.

"What did you build?"

A castle. My mother used to tell me stories about a princess who lived in a castle.

"Was the princess happy?"

Dar nodded. No one can hurt you when you live in a castle. And the princess had her very own knight.

"A knight of her very own. What did he do?"

He didn't let anyone hurt her. In one story she got lost in the woods and her knight saved her from a great big dragon.

"He did."

She nodded again, seriously. The dragon was gonna eat her, but the knight saved her. A speculative look on her face, she looked at Obi-Wan. Are you a knight?

"Not yet, but I will be."

Will you be my knight?

He opened his arms. "Yes, Dar I will." She moved into his arms and he hugged her tightly. "I will be your very own knight."

She looked up at him. Wanna see the lake where the dragon lived?

"The dragon lived in a lake?"

Not really, He just came there to take baths. He couldn't find a tub big enough. The princess went to the lake when he was taking a bath and that is where her knight killed him.

"I see. Yes, Dar, I would like to see the dragon's lake."

She wiggled out of his arms and stood, holding out her hand. Smiling, he rose and took it.

She led him into the nearby woods. As they walked she would stop and point out trees or animals and tell him about them. Her level of knowledge was a delightful surprise, reinforcing his belief that they must take her to the Temple.

He was further surprised to find that there really was a lake. It was surrounded by trees, with clear blue water. The sight was quite lovely. Seeing it he immediately thought of Qui-Gon. His master would love this place. And Obi-Wan was determined to show it to him.

***

Sensing his master's approach, Obi-Wan went outside to greet him.

Two children ran past Qui-Gon, shooting at each other with sticks.

"Stop," he commanded. They obeyed.

Radiating anger, Qui-Gon pulled the sticks from their hands crushing them with his. "Killing is not fun. Do the bodies over there amuse you?" He asked harshly, pointing at the mass grave. They simply stared at him.

He threw the sticks aside. "Go." They ran.

Realizing Obi-Wan was watching him he looked toward their tent. Obi-Wan stood with his arms crossed, his face still showing the concern he fought to hide.

A few long strides and he stood next to Obi-Wan. Greetings were awkward here. "How was your day?" was not a question either of them wanted to ask or answer. Instead of speaking Qui-Gon put a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder and squeezed briefly, then continued into the tent.

Obi-Wan followed. "There is something I wish to show you Master."

"Now?"

"Yes."

"What is it?"

"I can't tell you. I must show you."

"Really, Obi-Wan. I…"

"Master, this matters," he said quietly.

Qui-Gon looked at him, registered how important this was to Obi-Wan. "Very well. I've never been able to deny you anything."

That wasn't true, Obi-Wan thought, remembering when he was sixteen and in the throes of his first serious infatuation. He had attempted to kiss his master and been gently, but firmly rebuffed. Pushing the memory aside, he grabbed the pack he had prepared.

Qui-Gon noticed the pack. "How far are we going?"

"To another place entirely," answered Obi-Wan.

***

Obi-Wan retraced the steps he had walked with Dar earlier that day. Qui-Gon followed. Neither of them spoke, but then what was there to speak about.

The pace he set was fast enough to exert them, to allow them to take pleasure in the movement without tiring them.

He wondered how the negotiations were going. He was reluctant to ask Qui-Gon. He had felt Qui-Gon's sense of failure and feared to add to it.

Qui-Gon was the Jedi's best mediator. Despite the pride he took in being Qui-Gon's apprentice, Obi-Wan sometimes wished that Qui-Gon were not so good at settling disputes. Just once he would like it if they were sent on a straightforward mission, guarding a senator, perhaps. Their missions were usually complex and delicate, with lives hanging in the balance. Difficult as many of those missions had been, nothing had prepared them for this.

He wished he knew what Qui-Gon was thinking, but his Master was once again tightly shielded. Obi-Wan was not going to push him again, at least not today. Perhaps, if he waited, Qui-Gon would come to him.

At last they reached the lake and Obi-Wan sensed his Master's astonishment as he caught sight of it through the trees.

"It's beautiful."

"Yes Master. And the water is perfect for swimming."

Qui-Gon looked down at him. Grinned. He increased his pace and reached the water's edge ahead of Obi-Wan. Without pausing, he began to remove his cloak.

A short time later Obi-Wan stood in chest high water, watching as his master moved through the water with sure, even strokes. Qui-Gon loved to swim and his opportunities to do so were infrequent. Obi-Wan was grateful to be able to give him this.

"Care to race, Padawan?"

Obi-Wan never won, but that didn't stop him from trying. Grinning he swam toward his master.

***

The sun was nearly down when they forced themselves from the water. Obi-Wan opened the pack and handed Qui-Gon a towel.

His master smiled as he took it. "Thank you for this, Padawan. You really are too good to me."

'I thought we settled that last night." Obi-Wan dried himself quickly, began pulling on his clothing.

Obi-Wan watched with amusement as Qui-Gon struggled to get his hair back into some semblance of order. That hair was Qui-Gon's only concession to vanity. It was hardly practical for someone who lived a virtually nomadic existence. Reaching into the pack he handed Qui-Gon a comb.

Qui-Gon chuckled. "Is there anything you didn't think of?"

"Nope." Reaching again into the magic pack he withdrew a piece of fruit.

Finishing with his hair, Qui-Gon returned the comb to the pack and removed a second piece of fruit. Then he lifted the pack to his back and the two set out for the camp.

The peace which had settled over them at the lake remained as they walked back. They even spoke. Qui-Gon asking how he had found the lake and Obi-Wan telling him about his walk with Dar and even some of his talk with Licia.

Between the swim and the talk Obi-Wan felt his rage dissipate a little. He hoped the same were true for Qui-Gon.

Obi-Wan stopped. The camp was now visible. He was reluctant to move.

Qui-Gon stopped behind him. Placing a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder he turned him around. "Thank you again, Obi-Wan. You're more than my Padawan. You're the best friend I have ever had." There was no mistaking the affection in the words, or his master's face. Obi-Wan flushed slightly.

Then Qui-Gon stepped past him, moving slowly toward the camp. Obi-Wan stared after him for a moment, before following.

***

They settled into a routine. During the day Qui-Gon met with the negotiators. Obi-Wan spent time with Dar and helped the relief workers. Every evening they went to the lake.

Qui-Gon opened up further, even speaking of the negotiations, which were progressing slowly.

It was still not a happy, or even peaceful time, for either of them, but at least there were no more mass graves.

The relative absence of violence was temporary. The night of their fourth trip to the lake, Obi-Wan was awakened by a bolt of pain. He knew immediately that Qui-Gon had felt it too. Looking over he saw that Qui-Gon was already half dressed.

Within moments, lightsabers in hand, they set out into the darkness.

Quickly they located one of the guards posted about the perimeter of the camp during the night.

Qui-Gon grabbed the man's arm. "What is happening?"

The guard looked confused. "Is something wrong, Master Jedi?"

"There's been an attack, something."

Obi-Wan added, "We both felt it, Noelan, a bolt of pain through the force."

The guard shook his head. "Nothing has happened tonight."

"Are you certain?" Qui-Gon demanded. Noelan nodded. "Very well. I am sorry to have disturbed you."

"What could it have been?" Obi-Wan asked as they walked away. "I was certain it was an attack of some kind."

Qui-Gon's eyes were dark, "This is not the only camp, or the only village."

Obi-Wan went cold at the thought.

***

It did not take long for them to discover what had happened. A group of Habarin had sought revenge, and gotten it. A J'Du village now looked very similar to the Habarin one Obi-Wan had entered less than a week earlier.

He and Qui-Gon walked among the remains. They stretched out with the force, searching for survivors. They had separated in order to complete the task more quickly. Obi-Wan shunned the company of the relief workers, preferring to do this alone. Alone he could almost completely close his eyes and let the force guide him. He tried to close his eyes as much as possible, knowing that the things he did see would be burned indelibly into his mind, never to be forgotten.

He knew Qui-Gon was not avoiding the corpses as he was. Instead, Qui-Gon looked around him with his eyes open, his rage increasing with each new body. His master's anger had become so strong that Obi-Wan could not block it out. When Qui-Gon found the boy, it burst through his shields and he doubled over at the onslaught.

He forced himself upright. Then he forced himself to run. He tried reaching Qui-Gon across their link, but everything he sent was overwhelmed by Qui-Gon's own emotions.

Qui-Gon was in a small house on the outskirts of the village. Obi-Wan found him smashing a chair against a wall. The room was littered with debris, most of it clearly caused by his Master. Near the center of the room lie the corpse of a boy. Obi-Wan guessed he was about ten. His throat had been slit. From the condition of his body it was painfully clear that that was not all that had been done to him.

Obi-Wan was at a loss. He had never seen Qui-Gon like this, never would have believed his master capable of such uncontrolled emotion. Qui-Gon had always been, to him, the ultimate Jedi. Close to the living force, perhaps a bit more given to emotion than the other masters, but always, always calm, always under control. Hell, his control was as legendary as his swordsmanship. To see that control lost terrified Obi-Wan.

He stood perfectly still, waiting.

After what seemed an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, Qui-Gon noticed him. Instead of moving toward him, Qui-Gon stepped back, leaned against the wall and sank slowly to the floor, burying his head in his arms.

Obi-Wan waited. He could think of nothing else to do.

Eventually, Qui-Gon looked up. "Padawan." It wasn't a greeting, it was a plea.

Obi-Wan was across the room in a handful of strides, kneeling in front of him. "Master."

"Master," Obi-Wan repeated, wanting to touch him, not sure he should. "I am here."

Still no answer. He reached out and slid a hand gently over Qui-Gon's hair and down his back. "Qui-Gon." He felt a small shudder pass through his master. He repeated the caress. "Qui-Gon."

Finally his master spoke, "I don't know who I am anymore, Obi-Wan. I have no control. I don't…I don't know what to do." Qui-Gon looked up, searched Obi-Wan's face, seeking understanding. Seeking absolution. "It frightens me. There are dark places in me I never knew existed. All of those years of meditation and training and still I know myself so little."

"I know you Master." Obi-Wan reached out and pushed back a strand of lose hair from his master's face. "It is your compassion Qui-Gon. You cannot bear to see another injured, especially an innocent. This place," he paused, looked around him, "this place…" His voice trailed off, he looked back at Qui-Gon. "I will help you, Master, just as you have always helped me. We'll get through this. Together."

Qui-Gon nodded almost imperceptibly in acknowledgment, then his head again fell forward onto his knees. Qui-Gon inhaled deeply, exhaled shakily. Obi-Wan placed a hand on either side of his master's head, kissed the top of it. He rested his forehead against Qui-Gon and sought his master across their bond, sending nothing more than his presence, gently linking their minds.

***

Obi-Wan repeated the work he had done in the Habarin village. He carried and shoveled. The boy had not gone into the mass grave, instead Obi-Wan had buried him separately. He suspected Qui-Gon knew, but had chosen not to say a word.

Licia had told him that atrocities were being committed by both sides, and Obi-Wan had believed her. Nevertheless, he hadn't witnessed Habarin crimes and so had still tended to consider them innocent. Now he searched every adult face in the camp, wondering who among them had participated in the attack on the village, wondering who had killed the boy.

It was chilling, knowing that amongst them were those capable of inhuman acts. No, not inhuman. Far too human. He shied away from the thought. Obi-Wan wanted desperately to believe in the inherent goodness of the universe. As a Jedi he had witnessed greed, cruelty, and hate many times. But there had always, at some level, been a reason. Not a justification, just a reason. He could find no reason behind this. But he heard a great many justifications.

"They started it."

"Revenge. We deserve our revenge."

"They killed my cousin, friend, neighbor."

"They're just J'Du. Killing J'Du doesn't count. It's like killing an animal."

"What were we supposed to do? Sit back and wait for them to kill more Habarin?"

He was nearly blind with fury. He controlled it as much as he could and fortunately it led to little more than verbal confrontations with the more vocal Habarin.

He meditated obsessively, knowing that he could not help Qui-Gon if he could not help himself. Qui-Gon was the only hope these people had. He thought of Dar, of the thousands of children on both sides, and he meditated.

The latest massacre had effectively ended the negotiations and Qui-Gon was struggling to get both sides back to the table. The strain was showing. To anyone else Qui-Gon would have looked fatigued but Obi-Wan knew better. He had been with Qui-Gon when they had been forced to go for days with little or no sleep. This wasn't fatigue. It was a loss of faith, in himself, in his ability to make things better. On a deeper level, Obi-Wan feared it might be a loss of faith in the universe, in the Code, in the very idea of goodness.

He shook his head. Qui-Gon could not be despairing that deeply. Could he?

On the second day after the destruction of the J'Du village, Qui-Gon suggested that they return to the lake. Obi-Wan was relieved. He had been trying to decide how to raise the subject himself, but he was reluctant to push too hard.

They walked in silence. As soon as they reached the lake, Qui-Gon stripped quickly and strode out into the water, diving gracefully once the water reached his waist.

Obi-Wan undressed more slowly, watching him. Qui-Gon visibly relaxed as he moved through the water, his pleasure in the movement, in the water on his skin, coming across their bond.

Qui-Gon stood in chest high water, pushing back his wet hair. Obi-Wan wondered, not for the first time, why he didn't tie it back for swimming.

"What is taking you so long?"

"I'm coming." Obi-Wan strode into the water, dove and swam quickly to Qui-Gon. He moved leisurely around his master, half swimming, half treading water. "I was wondering why you don't tie back your hair when you swim. Doesn't it get in the way?"

Qui-Gon looked at him, oddly. "I never really thought about it. I just don't. Does it bother you?"

"Yes, it does."

"Why?"

Obi-Wan considered it. He had been teasing, or more accurately trying and failing to tease, when he said that the lack of a hair tie bothered him. But Qui-Gon had taken him seriously, or was pretending that he did. He could never be sure with Qui-Gon. His master's sense of humor was peculiar.

Standing he moved in front of Qui-Gon. He gathered his master's hair in his hands, lifting it off of his shoulders. "It just looks uncomfortable. Wet and heavy."

They stood like that for a long moment, Obi-Wan holding Qui-Gon's hair, suddenly very aware of how close the position was to an embrace, intensely conscious of Qui-Gon's nudity, and his own. The sudden rush of heat between them confused him.

He let Qui-Gon's hair fall and thought to step back, but Qui-Gon's arms were around him, pulling him close. Obi-Wan lifted his face, willingly meeting his master's lips with his own. The lightest touch of Qui-Gon's mouth against his and he was instantly aroused. He parted his lips, inviting in Qui-Gon's tongue. The kiss was hesitant, exploratory. The strength of his own reaction shocked Obi-Wan. He wanted this. Badly.

Qui-Gon's sudden withdrawal surprised him. "I have no right to ask this of you." He tried to move away.

Obi-Wan refused to let him go. He strengthened his grip on Qui-Gon's neck, pressed himself tightly against his Master. "Then don't ask." His kissed the edge of Qui-Gon's mouth lightly. "I'm not." Another light brush of his lips, then he pressed his mouth fully against Qui-Gon's. I need this. Need you. Want you. Qui-Gon's lips parted. I don't want to be alone anymore.

Not alone. You're not alone. Qui-Gon answered, groaning as his arms tightened around Obi-Wan.

***

Anguish shot through him and Obi-Wan bolted awake. It was Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan reached out for his master, and realized it was a dream. He was seeing the J'Du boy. A faceless man in Habarin clothing slit the boy's throat and Qui-Gon screamed. Obi-Wan was next to his master before the scream ended.

The sound of his own scream awoke Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan pulled him, trembling, into his arms. Qui-Gon buried his face in his Padawan's neck. Obi-Wan said nothing, simply held him and stroked his hair. He was relieved when he felt Qui-Gon's trembling ease, felt him become more settled.

He continued to caress his master, his hand sliding from Qui-Gon's hair to move across his back. Qui-Gon held perfectly still allowing himself to be touched, but Obi-Wan sensed him tense.

Obi-Wan continued touching him, his hand now moving freely over Qui-Gon's shoulders and back. Such strength. It was a small amount of contact, yet Obi-Wan was intensely aroused.

Qui-Gon raised his head and Obi-Wan kissed him. Was thrilled when the kiss was returned, deepened. Qui-Gon pushed him back onto the bed, tugging on the loose pants Obi-Wan wore for sleeping. Pants removed, he held himself over the younger man, gazing into his face. There was raw need in his master's eyes. A need for contact, for affection, but mostly a need to forget. Obi-Wan wrapped his arms around Qui-Gon's neck, and pulled him down, kissing him hungrily.

Qui-Gon's response was desperate. The tentative gentleness of the afternoon was gone. Qui-Gon's hands and mouth were everywhere, requiring that Obi-Wan surrender to him. He did.

***

In the following days they made love whenever they had the chance.

Once he had recovered from his infatuation with has master Obi-Wan had gone on to have relationships with several people, both men and women. He had cared for them all and loved at least one of them. But none of those experiences approached what he was feeling now.

Qui-Gon was a wanton and skillful lover, alternately tender and demanding. The pleasure Obi-Wan experienced in his hands was blindingly intense. He craved it. He spent the entire day anticipating Qui-Gon's return. He was not sure what caused the difference. He was convinced that it stemmed at least partly from the circumstances, from the desperate need they shared to block out the things they witnessed during the daylight hours. Partly, too, it was the Master/Padawan bond, the ability it gave them to link their minds. Any other possible explanations he put firmly from his mind.

That bond was deepening. He could sense Qui-Gon effortlessly now. To speak to him, Obi-Wan had merely to think in a certain way, deliberate use of the force was no longer necessary. Obi-Wan's reaction to the change was mixed. He rejoiced in the intimacy, yet feared what it revealed. Qui-Gon's control was thin. His rage powerful. Obi-Wan worried that his master was teetering at the edge, that one more tragedy would send him over the side into the dark.

He did what he could. He encouraged Qui-Gon to meditate, joining him whenever possible. Daily meditation was a necessary part of Jedi life, but Qui-Gon seemed to want to avoid it. If he were honest with himself Obi-Wan would have to admit that his encouragement could more aptly be termed nagging.

Their resumed trips to the lake helped. The lake itself was soothing and it provided them with a little more privacy than their tent.

Still, Qui-Gon had withdrawn further into himself and rarely spoke. Sometimes at the lake or on the trip back Qui-Gon would engage Obi-Wan in conversation. Obi-Wan cherished those times. At some point almost every day for the last ten years they had found time to talk. Now, he knew his master's emotions intimately, but found that he missed the sound of his voice.

Obi-Wan chose not to think of what would happen when they left here. If he were honest with himself he would have to admit that he was losing the ability to imagine himself anywhere else. The reality of this place was making every other place he had been seem like a dream.

***

That evening as they finished dressing from their swim, Obi-Wan decided it was time to have a conversation with his master. A relationship which consisted of silence punctuated by bouts of lovemaking, however passionate, was not exactly satisfying. It was ironic, becoming Qui-Gon's lover seemed to have deepened his loneliness not lessened it.

Qui-Gon was reaching for their pack, when Obi-Wan stopped him.

"Sit with me, Master."

Qui-Gon looked up at him, surprised.

Obi-Wan took his hand. "Sit with me." He led Qui-Gon to a clear area in front of a large tree. He sat against the tree. Qui-Gon was still standing, his reluctance obvious. "Please."

Qui-Gon moved to sit next to him. "No." Obi-Wan indicated the ground directly in front of him. Qui-Gon sat.

Obi-Wan leaned forward, wrapping his arms around Qui-Gon's broad shoulders and resting his chin on one of them. "I miss you."

"You're with me every evening, Padawan."

"Yes, but you're not there."

Qui-Gon sighed. He did not want to have this conversation, that much was clear.

"I want to hear your voice, Qui-Gon. You hardly ever speak anymore."

"There is nothing I wish to talk about."

"I know that. But just because you do not wish to speak of something, that doesn't mean you shouldn't." He moved back, and ran his hands lightly over Qui-Gon's back. Tension, despite the swim. Obi-Wan began to gently knead his master's shoulders. "Talk to me Qui-Gon Jinn or I shall…" He paused, unable to come up with a good threat.

"Shall what Obi-Wan?"

"I don't know. Give me a minute. I'll think of something." He continued to knead. "Shave off your beard?"

"You're not quick enough to catch me or strong enough to hold me."

"That's debatable, but I wouldn't have to be. I'd do it while you were sleeping."

Qui-Gon turned around, shot him a deadly look. "Of course if you were sleeping then I could cut your hair as well." Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. "Just think how much lighter it would be. You'd be able to swim much faster. Far easier to take care of while on missions." Obi-Wan burst into laughter at his master's expression.

Qui-Gon watched him for a moment, before chuckling himself. "All right, Obi-Wan, I will talk. If only to protect my hair."

"Good." Obi-Wan resumed his massage. "How are the negotiations proceeding?"

"You would have to ask that."

The tension in Qui-Gon's shoulders was lessening. "Slowly, my Padawan. They are proceeding slowly." He sighed. "Both sides are suspicious, filled with hatred, and just plain annoying."

Obi-Wan couldn't help it. He chuckled. Qui-Gon turned, looking at him as though he had grown two heads. "I'm sorry, Master," he sputtered between laughs. "It was just your tone of voice, that perfect note of disgust when you said annoying." He swallowed, laughter gone. "I know that it is not funny. It's just…"

"You feel the need for some small amount of laughter, however achieved."

"Yes, I suppose I do."

Qui-Gon pulled him into an awkward embrace. "As do I, Padawan." He kissed Obi-Wan briefly. "Thank you for forcing me to talk with you."

"Anytime, Master. Just ask. I'll threaten you whenever you wish. What else should I threaten you with?" He paused for a moment. "I suppose I could threaten to kiss you until you were breathless."

"I don't think that constitutes a threat, Padawan."

"No?"

"No." Qui-Gon maneuvered them so that Obi-Wan was lying on his back, Qui-Gon above him. "I think that would more accurately be called a promise. One I intend to make certain you keep." Qui-Gon lowered his mouth, capturing the lips of the man beneath him.

But I didn't actually make it.

Qui-Gon pulled away. "I should stop then."

Obi-Wan pulled him back. "Don't you dare."

***

The journey back to the camp was almost pleasant. Obi-Wan was feeling the first small measure of peace he had known since their arrival here. He was relieved to sense something similar in Qui-Gon. The rage was still there, in Qui-Gon, in them both, but it had been muted by their time together. Maybe, just maybe, they would both get through this intact. Obi-Wan hoped it would be so.

Obi-Wan! Dar's scream pierced his mind. Without a word passing between them he and Qui-Gon began to run.

When they reached the camp nothing seemed amiss. No one had heard or seen anything unusual. But a group which had gone for water had not returned. Because the trip to the nearby river was a short one, no one seemed the least concerned. Until a few quick inquiries revealed that Dar had been with the group.

Qui-Gon organized the search parties while Obi-Wan concentrated on Dar, trying to get a sense of her, of where she was. He was able to pick up traces of fear, but nothing more.

The search lasted through the night. Despite Obi-Wan's protests that they could cover more ground separately, Qui-Gon insisted on staying with him.

Two hours before dawn Obi-Wan was grateful that he had. They were crossing yet another field destroyed by weapons fire. Obi-Wan wondered if these people would ever again be able to feed themselves or if their folly was going to result in mass starvation when the rest of the galaxy stopped noticing their tragedy and moved on to something else.

The thought was barely complete when pain shot through him, sharp as a knife. He fell to his knees, screaming. Qui-Gon was there, at his side, holding him.

"She's dead, " he said the words in a voice gone cold.

"I know."

Obi-Wan was shuddering. It was the most intense pain he had ever experienced. like part of his mind had been shredded. Qui-Gon reached out to him, enclosing his mind in a blanket of the force, healing. After several minutes, Obi-Wan found he could again focus enough to form a coherent thought. What in the world had happened?

"It was a training bond, Obi-Wan."

"What?"

"A training bond. Those jagged areas in your mind are where the bond was forming."

But I'm not even a knight. And she wasn't an initiate.

"You are very nearly done with your training. In fact I had intended to speak with you about the trials when we returned from this mission." He stroked Obi-Wan's hair, still cradling him. "And she was a force sensitive child in need of training and love in equal measure. Something you were very much qualified to give her."

Obi-Wan knew this required greater thought, but at the moment he was not all that able to focus. He simply accepted Qui-Gon's explanation and leaned further into his master, closing his eyes.

When at last Obi-Wan lifted his head, Qui-Gon moved so that he could look into Obi-Wan's eyes. When he spoke his voice was low and deadly. "I swear to you Obi-Wan, we will find who did it. She will be the last child they kill. She will be the last child any of them kill."

Obi-Wan sensed Qui-Gon's rage turn into icy resolution. Fear pierced his grief. Fear for his master. Fear for those who faced him.

***

A few hours later Obi-Wan joined his master at the negotiations.

The tent which served as the negotiating chamber was empty except for two distinct groups of chairs and a small table which held a pitcher of water and a stack of cups.

The J'du and Habarin negotiators had already arrived and were talking amongst themselves.

Qui-Gon strode into the tent, his Padawan a few paces behind him. The negotiators fell silent at the sight of him. Qui-Gon was as commanding as Obi-Wan had ever seen him, all traces of defeat and despair gone.

"Take your seats. The negotiations end today." Turning he said simply, "Padawan."

Obi-Wan distributed copies of the treaty to both parties.

"I think you will find that this agreement meets the demands of both sides relatively well. Neither of you gets all you want, but you both get something. To enforce the peace, both sides will be disarmed. The Republic will patrol your borders. I suggest you get out your pens."

The lead negotiator for the J'Du was making strangling sounds. He stood, sputtering. "This is entirely unacceptable. The lands between the J'har valley and the western lake have been ours for fifty years. We will not give…"

The lightsaber at his throat silenced him. "Would you like to know what I find unacceptable?" Qui-Gon asked, his voice quiet. "I find the murder of six year old girls unacceptable. I find a village full of nothing but corpses unacceptable. I find you, the whole stinking lot of you, unacceptable."

"You have two choices. Sign or die." Qui-Gon looked around the room. "That applies to all of you." To emphasize his master's point Obi-Wan drew his lightsaber, igniting it just in time to parry a blaster bolt fired at Qui-Gon by one of the J'Du. Moving quickly, Obi-Wan disarmed him, by removing his hand.

The man screamed in pain, then fainted.

"Like I said. Sign or die." Qui-Gon indicated Obi-Wan. "You've succeeded in converting us. After seeing so much death, my Padawan and I find that we are ready to take a few lives ourselves. If you do not sign, it means death, not just for you but for every adult on both sides who carries a weapon or has committed a murder."

"To be perfectly honest, I am almost hoping that you do not sign. I've wanted to skewer the lot of you since my first day on this planet."

Qui-Gon pulled the lightsaber a little closer to the man's neck. "What will it be? Do the J'Du sign or die?"

"We'll sign." The lightsaber was removed, but not turned off.

Qui-Gon looked pointedly at the Habarin. "We will sign, Master Jinn."

The Habarin representatives signed quickly and Qui-Gon gestured with his lightsaber for them to leave. The J'Du finished signing and tried to follow their counterparts.

The Jedi blocked the way. "Not so fast. There is something else we require of you." Qui-Gon said. "A six year old Habarin girl was killed last night. I want the identity of her killers and then I want them delivered here."

"We do not know." It was the lead negotiator.

But Obi-Wan had already determined that one of the J'Du knew. He stepped in front of the man. "Tell me."

The man stepped back slightly. "I do not know anything, Master Jedi."

Obi-Wan ignored the incorrect title. "Tell me."

The man sputtered, attempting another denial.

"Tell me or I will rip it from your mind. You will be unfit even to live as a beggar when I am done with you."

"I don't know…"

The force flowed through Obi-Wan and he reached into the man's mind. "Tell me."

The man gasped out two names. Four of the J'du negotiators were dispatched to retrieve the men. The others held hostage against the fulfillment of their task.

The men were brought to the tent surprisingly quickly. Qui-Gon dismissed the negotiators and the Jedi faced Dar's killers. It was over within a heartbeat.

Two Jedi left the tent, leaving behind two bodies sliced neatly in half.