Qui-Gon returns an hour later, empty-handed.
"Well, that was good," his former protégé grouses, noting that the promise of fetching dinner was a mere pretext for convenient absence.
The Jedi master, for his part, notes that Zhoa Pleromata is peacefully slumbering, her small body draped over Obi-Wan's chest, her head rising and falling with the gentle rhythm of his breath. It is a tender vignette, a fact he will not mention aloud. "You've restored harmony to the universe. Good."
He takes up position at the other end of the worn couch, propping his feet upon the scuffed table.
"It was a touch and go operation, but we've pulled through."
The tall man smiles. "You are a natural."
"I don't think so, Master."
Qui-Gon lets his head fall back, and folds his hands atop his own chest. "Really? Why not?"
Their quarters are lit only by the small lamp in the kitchen nook, and the automatic footlights along the molding by the door and balcony threshold. In the twilight calm, every difficulty appears soft-edged, its contours muted by time and experience. Obi-Wan tilts his head to one side. "Younglings are not my specialty," he declares. "Yes, I know they like me – and I like them. I enjoy the initiate classes and such. But that's not the same as a padawan."
"NO, its' not – or rather, a padawan is not like other younglings. A master is responsible for his apprentice, in every way, Think about it: another Force-user, in need of guidance on the path at every step, every turn. The way is narrow and treacherous. One misstep and the fall into darkness is steep, irrevocable. Youth is brash and given to poor judgment. Danger abounds. Mistakes appear as wisdom, folly as a tempting siren. You can never relax your vigilance, but in the final reckoning you cannot force obedience, either. Your heart is held hostage to another's will, another's choice. "
"The thought may have crossed my mind," Qui-Gon dryly interposes, but Obi-Wan needs to talk.
"What if you fail? What is, for all your devotion and effort, this youngling falls from the way? Then it is your fault; you have failed him, in one way or another, or in many. You had to be perfect to pull this off without a disaster, and no being is perfect. You've trained someone in the ways of the Force – granted them power and insight, but not enough. Now he's a monster, wreaking havoc. You have to live with that. You can't revoke the past or correct your errors." He swallows, eyes glinting in apology, but Qui-Gon merely nods. Jedi do not indulge in sentiment, nor spare their own aching bruises and scars the pressure of scrutiny. And Xanatos is long in the past.
"How do you live with that? I don't know. I can't even live with the possibility."
Qui-Gon merely grunts. "Hm."
"I know what you would say, Master. The future is always in motion; focus in the present moment. One battle at a time, one step at a time. To leave potential untrained is worse than to try and fail. Fear of failure is itself a path to the Dark side; doubt is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I just… I have dreams. Sometimes. I suppose I should meditate on their meaning and release them. It's foolish to dwell on the possible, and more foolish to allow it to erode one's present. Fear is a weaver of illusion; it can even transform a harmless youngling into something dangerous. " Unconsciously, he tightens his hold on Zhoa, who stirs comfortably and makes a small snuffling noise in his tabards.
Qui-Gon smiles ruefully. "Indeed."
"Without risk there would be no loss. But there would be nothing else, either," Obi-Wan concludes,
"You grow in wisdom, my friend." It is true; he does, with every passing day.
"I still don't want a padawan. Not yet, anyway," the younger man qualifies, scowling at the shadow-textured ceiling.
They contemplate the problem in silence for a long stretch of minutes. Outside, the glittering lights of Coruscant's night traffic weave an endless web of arrivals and departures, a pageant's string of actors crossing the vast stage of fate. When Qui-Gon looks at his comrade again, the young man is sound asleep, anxiety bleeding away in the Force's soothing currents.
It is helpful sometimes merely to tell someone. He covers the pair of sleepers with a blanket and folds himself onto a cushion to meditate.
Feld Spruu returns not long thereafter; the door opens before he can activate the chime.
Qui-Gon Jinn summons him inside the hushed apartment with a quiet gesture. And there, upon the sagging couch, Zhoa reposes in perfect contentment upon her living and equally somnolent pillow. The Twi"Lek Knight flashes his brilliant white smile. "You were right, Master – Obi-Wan is perfect."
The tall Jedi's eyes crinkle at the corners. "He'll want to exact his pound of flesh in the dojo, I imagine. I shouldn't be too smug if I were you."
Feld shrugs mischievously. "We'll see about that."
The sleepers stir; each master brushes fingers across his learner's brow, gently pushing him or her back into tranquil slumber; Feld scoops up Zhoa's inert form and hefts her in both strong arms.
"I should get this bundle of trouble back to her own bed," he says, bowing his extravagantly decorated head in respect.
Qui-Gon sees him out. "May the Force be with you."
It has been an eventful day; with one final wistful smile at the fleeting exchange of places, the assumption of duties and roles not yet their own, he retires to his own room and surrenders himself to the restorative oblivion of sleep. The future will bring what it will – but he, for one, is confident that his former padawan will be perfect.