Author's Notes: Many many thanks to Lori for proofreading for me. *smile* Any and all feedback is appreciated.
DISCLAIMER: Star Wars and all publicly recognisable characters, names and references, etc are the sole property of George Lucas, Lucasfilm Ltd, Lucasarts Inc and 20th Century Fox. This fan fiction was created solely for entertainment and no money was made from it. Also, no copyright or trademark infringement was intended. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. Any other characters, the storyline and the actual story are the property of the author.
Obi-Wan watched the dancers from the mezzanine with admiration. He had a perfect view of the dance floor and his position allowed him to appreciate the beauty of the coordinated movement. He wished, and not for the first time, that all assignments could end on such a jubilant note. It seemed only just to reward hard labour with a little celebrating.
With a grin he turned to Qui-Gon to observe his master's reaction. But Qui-Gon appeared distracted, not watching the dancing at all. Obi-Wan's grin faded slowly. Qui-Gon never did enjoy parties very much and this was the fourth night of festivities.
They had come to the colony of Valinass to oversee the ratification of a treaty between the colonists and their homeworld, Galen. For nearly one hundred years the colonists and the homeworlders had been at odds, sometimes violently so. That they were now willing to work together in harmony was truly cause for celebration.
Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had accompanied delegates from the homeworld and their duties included escorting them back to Galen. For this Obi-Wan was grateful, as it meant sharing in the festivities. Otherwise he was sure Qui-Gon would have found some excuse for them to leave four days ago.
Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon was concerned about the way things had gone. Even though the treaty, with fair and just terms, had been agreed to, signed and witnessed, his master was troubled. Obi-Wan knew why. He also had sensed something not quite sincere about the demeanor of the homeworld delegation.
However, Qui-Gon's suspicions had not borne fruit. From everyone's point of view the treaty was the beginning of a more prosperous and peaceful chapter in the colony's history.
"Are you enjoying yourselves, my Jedi friends?" Sazi, a delegate of small size and sharp wit, came to stand between them. Qui-Gon acknowledged her with a nod but Obi-Wan was vocal.
"Very much," he told her with a smile.
"Them come dance with me," she invited him, pulling on his arm.
"Oh...no..." Obi-Wan tried to protest. "I don't know how."
She continued to pull him towards the stairs, unconcerned by his reluctance.
"I can easily teach it to you. It's a very simple step."
Obi-Wan cast a look over his shoulder at Qui-Gon but received no help from that corner. Resigned he followed Sazi to the dance floor. She told him how to stand and then pressed her palms against his.
"Just follow me," she murmured, showing him some steps. After a few moments Obi-Wan felt confident enough to stop watching his feet and look her in the eyes. She was staring at him so frankly he averted his gaze to the other dancers.
"You see? It's not so difficult. I can't believe that the Jedi don't teach you to dance. You have such graceful movements it's a pity to waste them."
In the time they'd spent together Sazi had proven to be extremely curious about Jedi customs and practices. Her curiosity had not been satisfied by any details given by either Qui-Gon, who had all but ignored her, or Obi-Wan, who had proven surprisingly evasive. Not that Sazi was going to give up. She was as persistent as she was curious.
Just prior to landing on Valinass she'd grilled Obi-Wan about the roles and responsibilities of a Jedi. When he'd told her that the Jedi defended those who could not defend themselves she'd become very thoughtful.
"I wonder who on Valinass is defenseless, the colonists or the homeworlders?" Sazi had murmured. Obi-Wan had stared at her with a perplexed look.
"No one. That is not our purpose here."
"Or so you believe, young Jedi," Sazi had said, proving that she could be equally as cryptic.
"I bet you don't get too many festivals like this on Coruscant," she commented now, drawing his attention back.
"No, not many," he agreed. Then he gave a slight shrug. "No time."
"Ah, but that's where you're wrong!" Sazi laughed. "There's nothing more important. Live for the moment." Her eyes glanced up towards the mezzanine level as Obi-Wan turned her around. "Now back to the left," she instructed. "I bet your master wouldn't agree with me," she added casually.
Obi-Wan laughed at her not very veiled attempt to pry into the Jedi's lives.
"Just because he doesn't like celebrations doesn't mean he can't appreciate their value."
Sazi shook her head sadly.
"Value? See, your attitude is all wrong. Have you been to the others?" When Obi-Wan nodded she asked, "And which one did you enjoy the most?"
"The dancing," Obi-Wan answered promptly. Sazi laughed delightedly. He'd practically winked at her.
"So tonight has the most value then?"
Obi-Wan thought about the past three nights. There had been a grand parade, a festival of lights, and a musical extravaganza.
"Each was equally important for different purposes," he answered seriously. "Your culture greatly admires the display of grand emotional exchanges and..."
"Don't," she interrupted, "give me a lecture on my culture. Now to the right and back again."
They lapsed into silence while moving to the music. Obi-Wan was sorry, thinking he'd somehow offended her. She seemed quite sad.
"How long have you been an apprentice?" she asked abruptly.
'Back to that again,' thought Obi-Wan with amusement.
"About eleven years now," he answered.
Encouraged by the straightforward response she continued.
"How long does it take to become a knight?"
"As long as it takes," Obi-Wan replied seriously but with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Oh come on! Do they teach you evasive maneuvers or does it just come naturally?" she burst out. "Turn twice," she added more calmly.
After completing the move Obi-Wan faced her once again, palms pressed to hers.
"It takes as many years as Qui-Gon feels are necessary to prepare me," he told her.
Sazi glanced up at the Jedi master again.
"And you agree with that?" she asked, not hiding the amazement she felt. "Walk around me."
"I could spend a lifetime learning from Qui-Gon, so yes, I agree with it."
Sazi frowned, considering this.
"He's so cold, detached...remote. It's hard for me to see him able to teach anything when he's so devoid of passion," she observed.
Obi-Wan was so astonished at her inaccurate assessment of his master that he nearly stopped dancing. Fumbling a few steps he got back on track but remained silent. Sazi regarded him slyly.
"Am I wrong, Obi-Wan? As far as I can see he's shown few emotions in the last few weeks. He's not even enjoying himself now that the work is done."
Obi-Wan's eyes followed Sazi's up to his master who was engaged in conversation with another one of the homeworld delegates. Unfortunately Qui-Gon's expression was of polite interest. Obi-Wan looked back at Sazi to find her watching him intently again. Her probing was beginning to make him feel uncomfortable.
"Does he have any feelings, Obi-Wan?" she asked. "Because he looks like a very cold person."
"Looks can be deceiving," Obi-Wan told her softly, with a warning tone she chose to ignore.
"Do you know how he feels about you? Are you nearly a knight do you think? Stand there while I walk around you."
Obi-Wan waited until she'd completed her circuit and they were in the familiar palm to palm position once again before responding a bit coldly,
"I think you asked the wrong Jedi to dance. If you want to know how Master Qui-Gon feels, you should ask him."
Fearing she'd overstepped, Sazi steered them back to a more general topic.
"So, what happens when he decides you're ready? A celebration perhaps?" she teased. It worked; Obi-Wan smiled.
"No," he admitted. "The council sets a trial or series of trials for the padawan to face as a test of his worthiness."
"A final exam?" Sazi was surprised. "How anticlimactic. What happens if you fail?"
"I won't" was his short reply to that.
"No, I don't suppose you will," she agreed softly. "Left...no, left!"
Sazi was quiet for a few moments seeming lost in the dance. Obi-Wan wondered if there was some purpose behind her questions besides idle curiosity about the Jedi.
"After you become a Jedi knight, do you ever have to face trials again?" she asked somberly.
Obi-Wan took her hands to turn her in his arms.
"Life provides us many trials. You don't have to be a Jedi to face those kinds of challenges."
Was it his imagination or did she stiffen slightly at his words? Then Sazi stepped apart from Obi-Wan and bowed. He returned the bow as a measure of respect and to signal the end of the dance.
"I wonder what sorts of trials Master Qui-Gon faces," she murmured, taking his arm as he escorted her from the dance floor. Then she laughed, as though shedding her former serious mood. "You must forgive me Obi-Wan. It is a rare thing indeed for any of my people to meet a Jedi and you are the first in my experience."
He nodded acknowledgement of this and thanked her for the dance. She watched him leave with a smile that didn't reach her eyes.
Later, Obi-Wan walked with Qui-Gon back to their rooms at the government house. He stifled a yawn, surprised at how tired he was.
"What did you think of the dancing?" Qui-Gon asked him.
"I think that the dance is very much like the Galen people," Obi-Wan answered after some thought.
"Really?" Qui-Gon was curious at this response. "How so?"
"Watching it from above, I thought it was very complicated. Then when Sazi showed me the steps I was surprised by their simplicity. Yet at the end, seeing how all the simple steps fit together I had a new appreciation for its complexity."
Qui-Gon smiled proudly at Obi-Wan and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"A very astute observation, padawan."
"Something else I thought was odd," Obi-Wan added after another yawn. "I sensed a kind of sorrow from Sazi that seemed out of place for the circumstances."
Qui-Gon's expression sobered.
"She, of all the delegates, resonates a feeling that all is not what it seems on Valinass."
The following afternoon, Obi-Wan was trying hard to shield his exhaustion from his master. He hadn't had a particularly taxing day so he could only attribute his fatigue to the weeklong celebrations. Somehow he sensed Qui-Gon would disapprove. His master had avoided the second night altogether and managed to leave early on the third night. Obi-Wan had enjoyed them all to the very end.
Now, he had a slight headache and was in no mood for lectures.
They had spent the day outside of the city and Obi-Wan had to admit the terrain on Valinass was quite extraordinary. Also, it had been nice to get away from the crush of people in the colony's main settlement. Certainly, Qui-Gon seemed much more relaxed than he had been since their arrival.
"There's Ker," Qui-Gon observed as they entered the government house. "We should check with him about our transport back to Galen."
Obi-Wan lingered behind while Qui-Gon approached the city official. He didn't hear Qui-Gon's greeting but he did hear his reaction to Ker's response.
"Quarantine? What for?"
Obi-Wan moved swiftly to his master's side.
"There's been an outbreak of sickness in the city," Ker informed them sadly. "The medical advisors fear an epidemic."
"What kind of sickness?" Obi-Wan asked.
"That's the really frightening part. No one has been able to figure out what it is or how it is spreading. They are just treating symptoms for the moment. I was just instructed to go through the buildings to see if there are any people too sick to make it to the medical centre."
"I can help with that," Obi-Wan told him, forgetting his own fatigue with concern for this new situation.
"No," Qui-Gon said, surprising him. "You contact the medical centre to find out all the information they have on this disease and then contact the Jedi temple on Coruscant. They may be able to help with a cure. I'll go with Ker to find the others."
"Yes Master," Obi-Wan agreed, turning swiftly to find a communications console.
Qui-Gon walked swiftly from the government house towards the medical centre. Dusk was falling and the gloom of the impending darkness matched his mood. In just two days the colony had changed from celebrating a bright future to wondering if there would be a future. The disease had ripped through the settlements like a wildfire and neither the medical droids nor the human healers had been able to come up with anything to stop the progression.
There could be only one conclusion to this tragedy. The potential death toll would be enormous.
Qui-Gon had just spent the afternoon going over all the data with several healers from Coruscant via an ever weakening communications link. The only theory that kept coming back to the forefront was that, due to the many generations apart, the homeworlders had inadvertently infected the colonists with a bug that was harmless on Galen. None of the delegation members had contracted the disease so far.
Qui-Gon didn't like that theory very much. Though he couldn't help but lend it credence by admitting he'd been suspicious of the delegation for no good reason. Just a vague sensation of insincerity.
Entering the medical centre Qui-Gon was struck at once by the overwhelming suffering of the ill. There were far too many patients for the facility and not enough care givers. He moved quickly, negotiating between makeshift beds that lined the hallways, searching for his apprentice. He tried not to feel the pain that radiated off those in need of assistance.
Not finding Obi-Wan readily Qui-Gon got the attention of one of the droids.
"Have you seen my apprentice?"
The droid, who by its very nature could not feel the fatigue that had overtaken many of its human counterparts, computed quickly that it hadn't seen Obi-Wan for quite some time. Then it suggested Qui-Gon try the banquet hall, where the overflow was. Qui-Gon nodded curtly, already turning away.
In the banquet hall, the same place where the dancing had been just a few nights before, Qui-Gon couldn't see Obi-Wan. All he saw were rows of people laid out with a few blankets. They were being tended by one droid. Although the building was fairly quiet compared to the medical centre, the sound of the suffering made Qui-Gon's head throb.
He walked part way up the steps to the mezzanine to get a better view of the room. Obi-Wan wasn't here either. Backing off the steps he suppressed his frustration towards his wayward apprentice. Then out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Obi-Wan's cloak.
Qui-Gon's heart leapt into his throat. He jumped down from the stairs and swiftly crossed the room. A part of him hoped that Obi-Wan had merely lent his cloak to a patient when no more blankets could be found. It was an unworthy thought for a Jedi.
Obi-Wan lay curled up on his side on the dance floor, shivering. His face was red and shone with fever. His open eyes were unseeing but he blinked rapidly as Qui-Gon knelt beside him.
"Padawan?" Qui-Gon called softly placing a hand on Obi-Wan's head. The boy was burning up.
Through clenched teeth Obi-Wan tried to talk.
Qui-Gon removed his own cloak and draped it over his apprentice. He looked around desperately but even the one droid had disappeared. Not that there was anything the droid could have done...no! He would not think that way.
Fighting back a sense of panic, Qui-Gon tried to formulate some kind of plan. His first impulse was to take Obi-Wan away from this place. Put him in their ship and fly him back to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant where the healers could focus their energies on ridding him of this disease. But that was impossible. Firstly because he'd never get off the planet with the quarantine in place. And secondly, because the Jedi Temple would not allow him to bring the infection of an unknown disease to Coruscant.
Even if he couldn't take Obi-Wan off this dying planet he could take him out of this place of misery.
"Obi-Wan," he said gently, pulling the boy into a sitting position. "Come on, padawan."
He helped Obi-Wan to his feet and towards the door. In the end, it was easier for Qui-Gon to carry his apprentice. He did so effortlessly, holding the boy close, as though he could banish the illness just by contact.
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