JAOA: Coming Home
Year of the Republic 24,982
by Black Rose

Archive: SWAL, m_a, WWOMB and JAOA
Category: AU, Angst, H/C
JAOA Webpage: http://digitalmidnight.simplenet.com/garden/jaoa.html
Disclaimer: George Lucas is God of a galaxy far far away... but this one is even farther away, so I doubt he'd want to commute.
Feedback: Yes yes yes... always appreciated, frequently begged for.
Notes: *Black Rose shakes the Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon plot bunnies that have locked their teeth around her ankles* They're not very subtle when they want attention, are they? This is what I call a "tweener" - a little filler piece that actually falls between TPM and the JAOA prelude. *points to the plot bunnies who are starting to gnaw* Blame them!
[this is telepathy] and these are thoughts
Pairing: Q/O
Rating: PG
Series: JAOA
Spoilers: TMP, ANH
Summary: Obi-Wan returns from an assignment to a frustrated Qui-Gon.
Warning: It's mild angst and even a few bits of humor for safety's sake.

Approached from the night side, Coruscant glittered with the lines of a thousand lights against the dark backdrop of space. Obi-Wan watched it from the small viewport, his fingers cold and numb where he pressed them to the metal bulkhead. Coruscant spun lazily above the transport, falling larger and larger into the view as the orbital descent began.

The door to the small lounge hissed open. Obi-Wan reluctantly stepped to one side of the port, half turning towards the familiar signature of the Force that rippled between them. "Would you like to see, Ani?"

The boy wordlessly joined him at the viewport, looking out at the approaching planet. Obi-Wan allowed himself a small smile - his Padawan wore his cloak, the hood pulled up over the brush of his cropped hair to keep head and ears warm. The boy was perpetually cold during space travel. It was partially truth, partially habit... and partially that he was too thin, Obi-Wan noted, the smile changing to a frown as he looked at the raw angles of the bones in his Padawan's wrists. Anakin had hit his first adolescent growth spurt in the last months, shooting up faster than any amount of feeding could keep flesh on his bones. His cloak hung inches above his ankles, the sleeves not reaching to the cuffs of his tunic.

"We'll need to get you another cloak this visit," Obi-Wan told the boy, reaching out to tug on the mended hem of one sleeve.

Anakin glanced down, startled, then grinned a little sheepishly. "I can't help it."

"Nor should you," Obi-Wan told him. Shrugging, he smiled softly. "There was a period of a few years where I think I had to get entirely new sets of clothes every other assignment. We all go through it at your age."

Anakin made a face. "I wish I could get it over with. I'm all elbows! I don't like being clumsy."

The statement, made so earnestly, brought a small chuckle from Obi-Wan. "Maybe someday I'll tell you how bad I was at your age. Everyone goes through it, and everyone grows out of it."

Around them, the subtle hum and shiver of the transport engines changed as the ship entered Coruscant's gravity well. Obi-Wan glanced out of the viewport, where the edges of the planet had been lost beyond the small port's view space and the lights of Coruscant grew larger second by second. Nodding, he dropped a hand to Anakin's shoulder. "We're almost there. Are your things packed?"

"Yes, sir," Anakin replied. Following Obi-Wan's gaze out of the viewport, he cocked his head. "Master Obi-Wan... could I ask you something?"

"'May' you," Obi-Wan corrected automatically. "Of course, Anakin."

"Do you like coming back to Coruscant?" Anakin asked curiously. "I mean... do you miss it when we're away?"

Surprised, Obi-Wan looked down at his Padawan, who was watching him with a small thoughtful frown between his fair brows. "I suppose I do," the Jedi Knight admitted. "It's the only home I've ever known."

Anakin nodded, the frown clearing away. He turned to look out the viewport, where the lights had enlarged to the dotted patterns of buildings and traffic streams and from there to nearly discernable landmarks. The boy's face clouded again as he looked out into the darkness above the city. "Do you think we've missed evening meal?" he asked, his dismay at the thought almost comical.

Obi-Wan laughed, shaking his head. "If we have I'll see if the kitchens can't be called upon to have mercy on a starving Padawan." Turning away from the viewport, he headed for the door. "Come along, Ani. We'll be landing in another minute."

He really did miss it, Obi-Wan decided. Not Coruscant itself, but the Jedi Temple. There was a feeling to the living Force that wrapped the venerable structure, soothing and warm, like an embrace that one stepped into as one walked from the landing platform to the Temple proper.

The night was a calm one, the air thin and cool at that height. Anakin, his bag slung over one shoulder, shivered. Obi-Wan gave his shoulder a gentle shove. "Go on, Ani. I don't think evening meal is over yet - if you hurry you should have time to fill a plate."

Anakin darted off, but slowed and turned after a few steps. "What about you, Master?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "I'm going to go unpack and find a shower."

The boy's eyes narrowed slightly, then he grinned a little, nodding knowingly. "I've got some studying to do... maybe I can go to the library after the meal."

Caught between embarassment and relief, Obi-Wan shook his head again, trying to look stern. "Impudent Padawan. Go on, or they won't feed you at all."

"Yes, sir!" Grinning brightly, Anakin whirled, dashing off up the steps of the main entrace.

Obi-Wan followed at a more sedate pace, wishing all the while that he was still of an age where dashing headlong through the corridors would be overlooked. Knowing it wouldn't, he contented himself with lengthening his strides, taking the steps two at a time. Anticipation and a flurry of other emotions made him tap his fingers impatiently when the lift did not arrive quickly enough, and put a small - very small - bounce in his step when he reached the level of their living quarters.

Their very dark, quiet and empty living quarters. Powering up the lights, Obi-Wan walked through the deserted central room to peer through the open door of the sleeping chamber he shared with his former Master. That room was empty as well, the suite still and silent.

Frowning, Obi-Wan let his bag and cloak fall to the nearest chair. The sleeping couch was neatly made, the room tidied, but a cup of long cold tea on the worktable told its own tale. Raking a hand through the loose waves of his hair, the Jedi Knight closed his eyes and cast his mind out, seeking for the one particular resonance of the Force that he wanted.

It came to him immediately, surging through their bond with comforting familiarity. With it came a rush of emotions - tiredness and frustration and tightly controlled anger. Obi-Wan's eyes snapped open, worry deepening the crease of his frown.

Dignity was abandoned in a jarring, ground eating stride down the nearly deserted corridor. Back to the lifts and down six levels, following the cord of the bond like a physical thing, a string held between his fingers. Outside of the practice halls he slowed, walking past the entrance to each until the ripple flared through one in particular. Sighing, he palmed the door open and entered the room.

The tiny practice chamber was large enough to accomodate two users but only one currently occupied the circular floor. The hum of the pale green lightsaber was muted, damped down to low power, barely audible above the higher pitched hum of the training droid that circled the floor.

Qui-Gon stood in the center of the chamber, his mouth below the blindfold set into a stubborn line. He had stripped off his tunics and the bright lights shone on his chest and back, the freshest scars a livid angry red against his pale skin. More marks splotched his torso and arms, the fading red points where the training droid had marked him.

Obi-Wan pressed his lips into a thin line, leaning back against the doorframe to watch. The spherical droid circled, bobbing erratically. He felt the soft surge in the Force as it unleashed a bolt, saw his former Master feel it as well. The big man moved, fluid, saber leaping unerringly for where the bolt would impact. Obi-Wan had watched Qui-Gon in that dance too many times to count, both in training and in deadly serious reality, the block coming effortlessly and rarely missed. But now... now, in the midst of the movement that came as natural as breath he watched as muscle and scar tissue pulled across the wide shoulders, pulled and caught, jerking the motion short. Reflex saved the big man, whirling him around on the ball of one foot so that the bolt just passed him. Swearing softly with a vocabulary that would do a smuggler proud, Qui-Gon caught his balance and dropped back into the ready position.

The younger man had seen enough. Reaching over to the small control console set beside the door, he powered down the training droid. Hearing the change, Qui-Gon straightened, reaching up to pull the blindfold off. "Obi-Wan," he growled, the irritated warning evident in his tone.

Obi-Wan didn't respond. Leaving the door, he stepped down into the floor proper, reaching to unclip his own lightsaber and unfasten his belt. Transfering the saber from hand to hand, he stripped out of outer and inner tunics, leaving them piled beside Qui-Gon's own. The pale blue violet of his lightsaber sprang out with a sharp hum that decreased as he thumbed the power to low. Taking a place two armslengths from Qui-Gon, he turned to face the older man and dropped easily into the first, most basic posture. "First form," he instructed softly. "The flow of defense."

Qui-Gon's face was flushed, stubborn anger set in his eyes and mouth. "Obi-Wan," he warned again, but the younger man cut him off.

"Do it," he snapped out, his iron tone the same which sent Anakin scurrying to do what he was told. Rebellion screamed in every line of the older man's body but he obediently assumed the position, waiting.

Obi-Wan waited a heartbeat, then let himself flow into the simple, clean lines of the attacking positions for the first form. Saber met saber with a buzzing hum and a clash of sparks as Qui-Gon moved easily into the defense position to meet him. It was a form children mastered, initiates too young to be taken as Padawans, the basic positions off which other, more advanced, forms were built. The two men went through it at a speed no training initiate ever attempted, lightsabers forming a bright pattern through the air, the screaming humm and sparks almost constant.

The end of the pattern brought them back to their original positions, armslengths apart, sabers raised between them. Obi-Wan waited another heartbeat before calling out "Second form" and moving immediately into the first movement. Qui-Gon met him without hesitation, the excercise circling about a second time. The flaw came mid-way through it, the block for an overhead strike jerking slightly, a fraction of a second slower than it should have been. Obi-Wan noted it but continued on, already calling out "Third form" as they went into the final position of the second.

Third form, then, each one advancing a level from the one before, the speed faster, the circle longer and containing more moves. Qui-Gon stumbled on a second overhand strike, recovering it with blunt accuracy but little grace. It was a back cut that undid him, drawing a wordless sound of protest from him as the muscles of chest and shoulder stretched around scar tissue to meet the demands of the move and failed. Obi-Wan slipped easily past the failed defense, saber blade halting so close to Qui-Gon's ribs that the other man, frozen, could feel its heat and the tickle of the crackling energy.

Obi-Wan waited one final heartbeat, then switched his lightsaber off and straightened. "Third form, position seven," he said softly. "I could do that when I was eleven."

Qui-Gon slowly lowered his lightsaber, switching it off. In the silence that fell his breath gasped heavily, wide chest heaving as he struggled to pull in enough air. The flush of his face had become mottled blotches, stark white and red. Sweat trickled down his cheeks and chest, dampening his hair and darkening it to a deep steel grey that bristled out sharply from the curve of his skull.

Unwilling to meet the younger man's gaze, Qui-Gon dropped his own eyes. The hand that held his lightsaber trembled, muscles tensing. Obi-Wan could feel echoes of an inner turmoil, locked tight behind shields that dropped down between them like blast doors. He stood quiet, waiting patiently. At length Qui-Gon half turned, stiffly holding out his lightsaber to the younger man. Obi-Wan took it but the Jedi Master did not immediately release it, holding on for another long moment before letting his hand drop.

A quick, Force assisted motion tossed both lightsabers to the edge of the room, where they landed neatly atop the crumpled tunics. Stepping close, Obi-Wan reached out and drew Qui-Gon's stiff shoulders into an embrace.

In another heartbeat the stiffness crumbled. Wirey arms reached around him, closed and held tight. Obi-Wan shifted his weight to his toes to close the difference between their heights, sliding his fingers into the bristle of short cropped hair and firmly pulling the older man's head down to his shoulder, Qui-Gon's beard scratching against his neck. The arms tightened around his waist, giving him a moment's forewarning before Qui-Gon folded his knees and drew them both down to the floor.

The position made it easier, equalling out their disparate heights better. Obi-Wan drew Qui-Gon against him, cradeling the larger man as silent tremors shuddered through him. One hand crept down out of habit, pressing to the smooth knot of scars to measure the heat pouring off of them and feel the spasmodic twitch of the overextended surrounding muscles. The other reached up, stroking gently through hair cropped as short as his own had been only years before. "Oh, love," he whispered softly, his voice breaking. [Qui-Gon... love...]

The shields cracked, emotions boiling forth in a maelstrom. Frustrated anger, helpless fear, grief and pain. Obi-Wan opened himself, taking the emotions in and channeling them back as silent support and love. The breath of a sob caught in the older man's exhale, swallowed back. Trembling, he leaned into Obi-Wan's arms, his hands fisted tight against the younger man's back.

They sat like that, held and holding, until some of the emotions eased; caught and dispersed, released slowly into the Force as the Jedi Master calmed himself. Breathing deeply, Qui-Gon slowly shook his head, pressing his cheek to Obi-Wan's shoulder.

"Years," Qui-Gon whispered hoarsely. "It's been years..."

"One of which you spent mostly on your back, convalescing," Obi-Wan interjected reasonably. "The second was in physical therapy."

"Two years, then" Qui-Gon growled. Sitting up abruptly, he broke away. Obi-Wan let him go, watching as the older man dropped his head against his raised knees, hands clasped against the back of his neck. "Sith! Two years of trying to regain what was lost, and for what?" Raising his head, he held out his hands. Reaction was setting in, his arms visibly trembling as muscles in the broad shoulders spasmed. Qui-Gon groaned softly, closing his eyes. "It's not getting any better," he admitted at last, softly.

"Then maybe you should stop trying to force it," Obi-Wan replied gently. "The healers did say it might not."

"But they also said it might," Qui-Gon protested, then sighed, the sound drawn from the depths of his body on a wave of despair.

"They can only do so much," Obi-Wan said. Reaching out, he placed a light hand against Qui-Gon's chest. "They can replace limbs, bone - even the lung, if you would let them. But they can't replace every ligament and muscle. Not without rebuilding all of it." He let his hand drop from shoulder to waist, tracing the scars and muscles.

Qui-Gon caught his hand, threading their fingers together. The trembling was gradually easing but small tremors still ran down his arm and through his hand, making it flutter against Obi-Wan's own. "No," he said firmly. "No. If it was something small - a finger, a hand - maybe. But not this. It's too much."

Obi-Wan nodded. It was an old discussion, begun from the moment Qui-Gon had woken in his sickbed and continued until the Jedi Master had thoroughly convinced everyone that he truly meant what he said. The mechanical disruption of so much, so near to his heart, would change the way he sensed the living Force. Qui-Gon had insisted that he would find the physical adjustments easier to make than relearning how to touch the Force. In clearer retrospect, Obi-Wan wasn't so certain.

"A wise man knows his limitations and works around them," he quoted quietly. Qui-Gon laughed mirthlessly.

"There's limitations, and then there's crippling," he said bitterly. He turned his head away, still refusing to meet Obi-Wan's eyes. "A wise man admits defeat."

Squeezing the hand in his own, Obi-Wan tried to offer what comfort he could to that deadened voice. "Why is it defeat? A Jedi does so much more than fight. You are one of the finest teachers the Temple has. Why define yourself by combat? You won't be the first or the last who has been injured and can no longer fight as they once did. Master Yoda can not walk without his staff. Master Koon sits on the Council, and he has no eyes."

"A blind Jedi can still defend themselves as a Jedi," Qui-Gon replied. He gestured to the cast off blindfold on the floor. "Isn't that the purpose of the lesson? To learn to trust the Force, without the distraction of sight? Plo Koon is a more dangerous opponent now then he ever was before. Whereas I am..."

"A Jedi Master," Obi-Wan finished firmly. "Probably one of the strongest with the living Force. An excellent teacher - I shall challenge anyone who contradicts me on that - and a skilled diplomat and wise man. The Senate would take you as the Temple liason in a heartbeat."

Qui-Gon snorted. "No. The Chancellor and I have had words. I doubt they would welcome me back quite so openly."

Obi-Wan smiled slightly. "Chancellor Palpatine does have a sharper side to him, doesn't he? No, I can't see the two of you being best of friends. Just as well. You hate sitting through Senate meetings anyways. What of teaching, then? You could take your pick of any class in the Temple. And when Master Rancisis steps down they're going to try to talk you into a Council seat again."

"I don't want a Council seat," the Jedi Master snapped, rubbing irritably at his temples with his free hand. "Mace knows that. I'll teach. It's the only thing I can do. I certainly can't leave the Temple like this."

"Ah," Obi-Wan breathed softly. Leaning forward, he rested his cheek against the older man's shoulder. "That's the real problem, isn't it?"

There was no reply but Qui-Gon's hand tightened on his, the grip crushing in its silent desperation. Obi-Wan shifted until he could slip his free arm around the other man's waist, drawing them closer once more. "Is it so hard, watching us leave for assignment?" he asked quietly. "I promise you, love, I will always bring us back to you, Ani and I. Always."

Qui-Gon shivered slightly. "What if you can't?" he asked gruffly.

The younger man smiled. "If I can't then I can't," he said firmly. "But I shall fall content in the knowledge that you are here, and safe. I will pass into the Force only when I know, on my last breath, that Anakin, at least, will return to you." He gripped the other man's chin, forcing Qui-Gon to look up and meet his eyes. "It is the same thing you would do, were our positions reversed."

Qui-Gon slowly closed his eyes, then nodded. "It doesn't make it easier, Obi-Wan."

"No, I don't imagine that it does," the younger man said softly. Qui-Gon opened his eyes, momentarily startled, then slowly smiled, a bittersweet expression. Freeing their hands, he reached up to draw them closer together.

Obi-Wan sighed, resting his head on his lover's broad shoulder. All of the love that he could draw from his soul flowed between them but he knew, in the face of that cold kernel of fear, that it would never be enough. Was, in fact, the cause. Eased now, the kernel would bloom again, each time the older man was forced to watch them leave on assignment and to wait the silent vigil, unsure if they would return. It was a personal battle, one which Qui-Gon fought and would continue to fight within himself. The only thing Obi-Wan could do to ease the demon was continue to keep his promise.

"Try not to worry too much," he suggested, trying for a lighter tone to break the heavy sobriety. "If Anakin is right then we'll both be at his wedding, and that gives us a few years at least."

Despite himself, Qui-Gon laughed softly. "If Anakin is right, he's going to marry that headstrong young queen. Can you imagine their children?"

Mock groaning, Obi-Wan sat back, shaking his head. "Ah no, Qui-Gon. No indeed, Master. I can imagine it, and training Anakin is enough for this Knight. No more Skywalkers."

A hint of the bitterness crept back into Qui-Gon's eyes, but he shook his head gamely as he rose to his feet. "Well, I certainly can't train them. A combination of those two... the child would make a fine Jedi, wouldn't it?"

"Oh, certainly," Obi-Wan said with a trace of sarcasm, accepting a hand up. "Arrogant, demanding, headstrong, imperious, exuberant, boisterous, rebellious..."

"Intelligent, quick witted, good hearted, generous, and brave," Qui-Gon finished. Then he smiled, the expression reaching the deep blue of his eyes for the first time. "Assuming, of course, that our young Ani is right about the wedding. He's quite taken with her, isn't he?"

"Apparently it's mutual. They keep in touch." Walking to the edge of the floor, Obi-Wan stooped to retreive his tunics.

Qui-Gon, following after him, crouched and picked up his lightsaber, turning the slim hilt over in his hands as he looked at it. Finally, he turned and offered it to the younger man on his palm, a deep sadness carving lines about his expressive mouth. "It seems a shame to neglect it just because I can't use it as it should be used."

Touched, Obi-Wan reached out. He hesitated for a moment, then placed his own hand over Qui-Gon's and forced the larger fingers shut around the hilt. "Then use it however you can. If the first two forms are all you can do, then do them." He met Qui-Gon's gaze firmly. "Not as part of some agenda, but because you need it."

The Jedi Master hesitated, then nodded. Watching as Obi-Wan withdrew his hand, he shook his head. "When did you become the Master?" he asked softly.

Obi-Wan laughed. "I don't think I have," he admitted. "I wake every morning and look in the mirror and wonder who that young fool is who's trying to masquerade about in a Master's robes." He pulled a mournfully worried face. "And what's going to happen to him when the Council catches on."

Qui-Gon smiled. Standing, he slipped an arm around Obi-Wan's waist, turning the younger man to face him. "If that happens I might actually have to take that Council seat and convince them of their error." Leaning down, he pressed a light kiss to the Knight's upturned brow. "Have I said 'welcome home', yet?"

"Not yet," Obi-Wan breathed, eyes closed and a smile playing about his lips.

"Hm. Terribly remiss of me," Qui-Gon mused. "Welcome home, Obi-Wan." The kiss began slowly and continued until both had to break for breath. "Where did you leave the boy?"

"At evening meal. And after that, the library." Obi-Wan considered, head tilted back, eyes half closed. "If we go back now, we should have some time before he returns."

Qui-Gon tilted his head, gaze sliding consideringly to the doors of the practice chamber. "Those doors do lock," he suggested, only half in jest.

Obi-Wan shook his head vigorously. "And this floor is hard," he countered. "Never again. I've been on a transport for three days, Qui-Gon. I want a shower and my own sleeping couch, in that order."

"What was that about demanding?" Stealing another not-so-quick kiss, the Jedi Master reluctantly released the other man and stooped to pick up his own tunics. "A shower first, then. We could both use it. After that..."

Obi-Wan grinned, a touch impishly. "After that," he interrupted, "I expect to be welcomed home with more enthusiasm. This was a long assignment."

"Enthusiastic but quiet," Qui-Gon mused. "That might be arranged." Gesturing Obi-Wan to proceed him from the chamber, he powered down the lights and let the door slide shut behind them.

[...to the next stage]

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