Okay, before you read the last part of this fic, please give me a moment of your time. (Man, that sounds really formal, doesn't it? Oh well, "Sit down and listen up!" would probably be a bit rude, wouldn't it?) Recently, I've been planning out my last two SW fics, "Hope" and "Never Let Go"/"The Enemy Within" (same fic, can't decide what name to use) 'cause I've been wanting to get back to writing my original stories. I originally started writing JA fanfiction 'cause I didn't like the relationship between Qui and Obi was portrayed in the movie, or in the books. I also wanted to explore their relationship 'cause in my own original stories I have two characters who have a very similar relationship to the one I envisioned Qui and Obi having. Now that I've written quite a few fics, I think I've decided how I want my characters' relationship to start and develop. So, I came up with these last two stories that I'd write before "retiring", as it were, from the SW fandom, and from fanfiction altogether.
Things haven't gone exactly as I planned. See, ever since LOTR came out last year, I've been fighting the urge to write fanfiction. I didn't want to get drawn into another fandom and push off my original stories for another year, or more, depending on how into it I got. So, even though all these ideas about how I could intertwine this story about Aragorn and Frodo into the movie without making it AU were popping up in my head, I refused to write 'em down. For a year, that worked. Then, TTT came out. Suddenly, every four seconds I was thinking of new story ideas for Aragorn and Legolas and I caved. Just a couple weeks ago, I wrote my first LOTR fic. And then I wrote another. Right now I'm writing my third. Not only that, I've planned out a little series. Right now you're all probably wondering what my point is, right? Don't worry, I'm getting to it. The point is that I've kinda gotten sidetracked from the story "Hope". I was in the middle of writing it when I got hit hard with the LOTR bug. Instead of finishing it over Christmas break, I wrote LOTR fanfics. As it stands right now, I'm not sure I'll ever finish it. I really want to, but I don't know whether or not it'll happen. Likewise, I don't know if I'll ever write the one I planned to work on after that. So, I just wanted to tell everyone who reads my stuff that even though I REALLY REALLY want to finish my story "Hope", My Place is at Your Side might end up being my last fic (which really sucks 'cause I don't think it's one of my better stories).
Let's just hope that after I finish this little LOTR series, the plot bunnies take a break for just long enough for me to finish up "Hope"!
Anyway, sorry to take up your time, I hope you like the last part of this fic. It basically just ties up a whole bunch of little things from earlier in the story.
My Place is at Your Side
~ Part Twelve: Epilogue ~
I stood staring out my bedroom window, down at the endless rows of Coruscant's skyscrapers and transports. It was good to be home – I had missed the city, and most of all, the Temple. While I loved nature for its obvious beauty, this planet, the biggest city in the entire galaxy, held a different splendor – that of being the place I had grown up in. It was always wonderful to come back here after a trying mission, and this 'mission' had certainly been that.
We had returned yesterday morning, after spending a week on Ceerus tying up all the odds and ends. After having our escape pod picked up by the orbital patrol, we had been taken directly back to the hospital, where Doctor Marcof was waiting for Qui-Gon. The young man, having already had his injuries tended to, had insisted on beginning my Master's treatment for the third time as soon as we arrived. Fortunately, that third time had ended up being the last, as, miraculously, Qui-Gon had not been interrupted again. I also had gotten to do what had I had wanted to do since finding out about this treatment – I had gotten to stay with him while it had been administered. During that six hour period I had done everything from tell my Master stories, to silently sit and hold his hand. It felt good to know that I was as much a comfort to him as he was to me when I as scared or not feeling well.
As soon as Qui-Gon had recuperated from the treatment, we had spoken with the Directors regarding what was to be done with Revelc Cainam. After conferring for quite some time, we had all agreed that he should spend the rest of his life in a high security mental facility where he could be helped overcome his problem. Although I thought it was highly unlikely that he would ever rise above his hate, I was still hopeful that one day he would change and perhaps be able to live the rest of his days happily. It saddened me to think that he might resist treatment and hold this bitter loathing and rage inside him forever.
The Directors had tried to convince us to stay on their planet for another couple of weeks, to enjoy their hospitality and perhaps take a vacation, but both Qui-Gon and I politely declined. We had had quite enough of Ceerus for a long time to come. All we had wanted was to return to the Temple, and now that we were here, it was wonderful to simply relax and bask in the knowledge that we were still alive.
Turning to glance at the timepiece on my nightstand, I saw that it was already a few minutes past eight. Shaking myself out of my reverie, I hastened to make my way into Qui-Gon's room. Doctor Marcof had instructed him to take some follow-up medication three times a day: once at eight in the morning, once before lunch, and once before dinner. This was to prevent the disease from springing back again. Unfortunately, it also caused extreme disorientation and intense pain, and I had fallen into the habit of always being there when my Master took it, to help him as I had done on Ceerus.
Qui-Gon was already lying down on his bed, calmly releasing the pain into the Force, when I entered and sat down next to him. Using our bond, I did my best to alleviate as much of his pain as I could. Even though I had seen him endure much worse on Ceerus, it still bothered me to see him like this. It wasn't that he looked terrible, because he didn't. He was very pale, covered in a thin layer of sweat, and shaking. However, that was nothing compared to when he had been in convulsions, coughing up blood. It still hurt to watch him go through this though, because despite his serenity, I could see how weak he was after taking these pills, and it made my heart ache for him.
Reaching out to where his hands were resting on his chest, I took one of them and clasped it tightly. "I'm sorry that I'm late," I whispered, "How are you doing?"
He smiled but didn't open his eyes, "I'll be all right," he whispered in a steady but quiet voice, "Thank you for coming." It was all he said, it was all he ever said, but I knew how much my presence meant to him. I could feel it in the way he squeezed my hand, see it in the tenderness of his gaze, and hear it in the gentleness of his voice. It was heartwarming.
"My pleasure, Master." He always thanked me for my presence – even though I told him he didn't have to – and I always assured him that I was happy to give back what he had always given me.
It usually took about ten minutes for the pain to wear off, and generally we spent the time sitting quietly together. Sometimes, when the effects of the drug were worse than normal, I would babble on about random things to help distract him. My Master rarely, if ever, spoke during these times.
"Elaisa," Qui-Gon startled me, almost speaking so softly that I couldn't hear him.
"Hmm?" I murmured, confused because I had no idea who or what 'Elaisa' was.
He smiled and squeezed my hand, "Elaisa is a world near the outer rim. Tahl and I visited it many years ago, when we were young knights," his manner was almost wistful, and I knew he was remembering his beloved friend with fond regret, "and we both found it very beautiful. We spent the entire time hiking through the forest and talking."
My Master wasn't given to subtle hinting as a way of approaching a topic, but I knew that this was his way of asking me to go there with him. His gentle request brought back thoughts and regrets that had recently beset my conscience. Once again, I found myself thinking back to the first time he had asked me to go on a vacation with him. At the time I had coldly dismissed the idea because of some forgettable disagreement that we had recently had. He had tried to persuade me, saying that we never spent time together as only friends instead of teacher and student, and I had responded by snapping that that was fine with me.
There were many things I had said to Qui-Gon over the last five years that I regretted, but none so deeply as this. The reason it bothered me so much, the reason it had come to mind so frequently, especially when I thought I might lose Qui-Gon, was because it simply wasn't true. It wasn't anywhere near being the truth. The truth was that the closer friends we became, the more pleased I was with our relationship. Before, I had known that I could always count on Qui-Gon because it was his duty to protect me, but now I knew I could always count on him because he was my friend and he cared for and even loved me. Of course I wanted to spend time with him that didn't involve missions or Temple lessons; of course I wanted to get close to him. At the time, I had just wanted to hurt him, and I had.
I had wanted to take the words back almost as soon as I had said them, but something had stopped me. Possibly pride. I just couldn't bring myself to say I was sorry – didn't know how to apologize for that – and so I had tried to forget about it. The next few days had seen us being rather cautious around each other, but after that we had eased back into our normal relationship. Even still, I couldn't forget what I had said, and after nearly having Qui-Gon die without setting everything straight, I felt I needed to apologize.
Nervousness made my heart flutter. What could I say to him?
A wordless pulse of caring and reassurance touched our bond, telling me that he had sensed my emotions. Something welled up deep within my throat, making my breath catch. Again, he was in pain, and again he was so concerned with my well being. I had to tell him I was sorry, I couldn't have him thinking that what I had said was true when he always treated me with such tenderness.
"Qui-Gon?" I tentatively said his name.
"Yes, Obi-Wan?" his voice was encouraging.
I fidgeted a little before answering, still unsure what to say, "You know how on our next vacation you wanted us to go somewhere where we could just spend time together?"
"Yes," he nodded, waiting for me to continue.
"Well…" I hesitated, but then forced myself to go on, "I know I said I would rather spend time with people my own age, but I was…annoyed with you at the time, and I didn't really mean it. I'm sorry for what I said, I'm sorry that I hurt you. I-I would love to go with you, if you still want to."
The flood of gratitude and forgiveness that swept through our bond washed away my uneasiness. It was amazing how saying those few words made such a big difference. I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and although I still regretted my words, I at least felt better because my Master now knew they hadn't been true.
I smiled at how Qui-Gon's features lit up. It was wonderful to be able to give him some joy, and I truly loved how our relationship had grown, and how he had opened up to me. He had seemed so cold in the beginning, but now everything had changed, and I felt as if he was my best friend, as well as my Master, and the only father I had ever known.
"I would very much like to take you to a rain-forest near the capital city, it's full of many exotic plants and animals that I think you would find very interesting."
Smiling, I sent Qui-Gon my pleasure at this proposal through our bond. "Ah yes, a rainforest – the perfect opportunity to torment your Padawan with more ways to 'connect to the living Force,'" I jibed playfully.
"You read my mind, Padawan, you read my mind," Qui-Gon teased back, but I knew that when we did go on this vacation – and that would be whenever the Council decided we weren't machines and actually needed some rest – we would spend the time relaxing, and deepening our bond.
A peaceable silence fell between us then, and I found myself watching him closely. As always, I marveled at how calm he could be despite the pain I knew he was feeling. I had learned to deal with physical pain much better than when I first became his apprentice, but I still deeply respected the level of my Master's control, and his connection with the Force. Someday I would be as collected as he was, and I knew it would be because of what he had taught me.
"Do you really believe that, my Padawan?" Qui-Gon whispered, opening his eyes as he sat up and turned to face me.
The pain had obviously eased.
Blushing, I lowered my head. No matter how good I got at my shields, he always seemed to know what I was thinking. It was as if my emotions were written on my head in huge neon letters, and all he had to do was read what they said to figure me out.
Qui-Gon slowly sat up and gently played with the end of my braid, twining it around his fingers and smiling at me reassuringly, "It's only because of the bond we share. Other Masters can't do more than vaguely sense your emotions, I assure you."
"Well that's a relief," I answered rather dryly, "I'm glad I'm not just an open book for everyone to read at their whim."
My Master ignored my comment, "Do you truly realize that you are much more skilled than you were giving yourself credit for back on Ceerus?" His gaze was serious, and I could sense how important this was to him, so I prepared to think things through and give him a completely honest answer.
I thought back to after the bomb had gone off in the hotel, and how I had been criticizing all my actions up until that point. Although I had definitely overreacted then, I couldn't deny that there had been other times when I had felt the same way. I also knew that part of the reason I sometimes felt like that was because of my own nature, and my own desire to be a great Jedi.
"For as long as I can remember," I began softly, seriously, "I've always wanted to do my very best, and be good at everything. Being a Jedi is so important to me, so I've always pushed myself hard so that I'll do well. Even when I excel at something, I keep practicing to get better, because I know that I can always improve. When I became your Padawan, I started working even harder because on top of everything else, I…I wanted to make you proud of me."
"I am proud of you, never doubt that," his voice spoke of his utter sincerity, and his eyes were gentle and reassuring.
Biting my lip, I smiled shyly, "I know, and that means so much to me, but no matter how well I do, and no matter how much I learn, deep inside me I always have this fear that I'm not skilled enough for my age, that I'm not learning your lessons fast enough, and that I make too many mistakes. I also fear that I'll never be as wise and proficient as you are."
I paused to gather my thoughts before going on. "Then there's this other side of me, the more rational side, the side that usually shines through my emotions. The side that knows that I should be happy with the way that I am, because I'm doing well, and I'm young and still learning. Sometimes…" Hesitating, I struggled to put my feelings into words, struggled to explain what my meditation had shown me.
He nodded encouragingly, and I continued. "Sometimes, my over-critical, insecure side is stronger though, and I feel like nothing I do is ever right. It's usually when everything is going wrong and I'm very worried and stressed out because of it. Then it's like all my concerns and anxieties just catch up with me, even if they have nothing to do with the mission."
Qui-Gon sent me a pulse of understanding. "You never had the hero-worship some Padawans have for their Masters, but on some level I think that you see me as much wiser and more in control than I truly am. I, too, have doubts and uncertainties. When confronted with a particularly difficult mission, or when I know I've made mistakes, I wonder whether I have the skills necessary to do the right thing," he squeezed my hand and looked very deeply into my eyes, "You're not alone in feeling that way, but you can't take it to extremes."
I knew what he was referring to when he said 'extremes'. "I understand, Master. The reason I was so worked up after the explosion in the hotel was because I realized how close I had come to losing you, and all that anxiety and fear just came crashing down on me once we got to the hospital and I had time to think about things. I looked back at everything that had happened and all I could see were the times when I ignored the Force and made mistakes because of it. Partly, I blamed myself for what almost happened to you, and thinking that you would have been safer had I only been more skilled made me more critical than usual.
"Since then, I've had time to meditate on my feelings," I blushed, noting the approval that shone in my Master's eyes when I said that, "and how I did on this mission, and I've realized how badly I was overreacting. True, there are times when I ignored my instincts, and there are things I would do different now, but I know that mistakes are part of growing and learning, and that for the most part, I did well."
Actually, I felt kind of proud of the way I had acted. I had, after all, crash landed the shuttle and established that astounding link to the Force. And I had also managed to strengthen the force fields to save us. Not to mention the fact that I had trusted my instincts and found Qui-Gon on the Tarcalian ship. There were a lot of things I could have done better, but overall, I was happy with the way I had handled things and I felt that I had grown a lot during this 'mission.'
My Master smiled, and even though he didn't say so, I knew he was pleased with the way I had thought through my emotions and tried to understand and interpret them. "I'm glad," he whispered earnestly, "because there is a difference between seeing your mistakes, and being overly critical of them. It's important for you to realize that."
"I know," I assured him, even though I also knew that those emotions of insecurity and self-deprecation were hard to control and that I would have to deal with them again, "And I'm sorry for how emotional I got when I was overreacting."
He shook his head, "There is no need to apologize, everyone has their moods…even me."
I grinned, seeing the perfect opportunity to get in some good quality Qui-Gon-teasing. "Really?" I feigned my surprise, "You mean that the Might Master Qui-Gon Jinn isn't always perfectly calm, in control, and in tune with the Force?" I purposefully paused, and then pretended to abruptly remember something, "Oh, that's right, you were completely shell shocked when I cut through the mecosa, weren't you?
"I will neither confirm nor deny what you just said," he with complete seriousness, even though there was a twinkle in his eyes.
"That's as good as a confession!" I shot back, and we both laughed. "Don't think that I'm going to forget how I managed to render you speechless any time soon."
Qui-Gon's eyebrows shot up, and he seemed to remember something. "Oh, Padawan," my Master smiled, tugging on my braid, "Mace Windu spoke with me earlier this morning. The Council would like to hear our report on the 'mission' tomorrow morning, and I think that you should give it."
For half a second I actually thought that I had misheard. Had Qui-Gon just said that I was supposed to give the mission report? Usually, a Padawan wasn't allowed to do that until after they returned from their first solo mission. For my Master to be entrusting me with this before that happened was a great honor, and I quickly went from disbelief to embarrassed, but exuberant joy.
I suppose I should have felt nervous, but I was too busy being excited and giddy. "Really?" I asked with what must have been a four-year-old's enthusiasm.
Qui-Gon lips twitched up tolerantly, "Yes, Padawan, really. I was, after all, incapacitated most of the time. What do I have to report? You're the one that handled everything, rather well, I might add." He did not attempt to hide his pride in me.
I felt myself blushing again, realizing that Qui-Gon was letting me do this because he had seen that I had grown and changed, and was allowing for that by giving me more obligations and freedoms. It was flattering that my Master thought so highly of me, and that he thought I was ready for this. The transition from just helping with missions to taking a big enough part in them to actually give the reports was a big one for all Padawans, and it made me even more ecstatic to feel how pleased he was with me.
"Thank you, Master," I smiled shyly, but then couldn't stop myself from adding, "Yeah, I did do pretty good, didn't I?" I was still at the beginning of my journey, but for right now I just wanted enjoy the fact that I was doing so well. Besides, annoying my Master was always fun.
My Master groaned in exasperation. "Wonderful. You started off being cocky, then eventually you turned to being self-deprecating, and now you're back to being cocky again. I was hoping you'd settle somewhere in-between."
I laughed, then quite spontaneously, threw my arms around him and hugged him tight. I did indeed have a long journey ahead of me, but at Qui-Gon's side, learning and following his teachings, I knew that I would be all right, and that I would bring honor to my training.
My Master's arms began to close around me, but the moment was cut short when I felt him suddenly grow serious, as if this shared moment between us had reminded him of something troubling and saddening. "You don't know how worried I was," he released me and instead drew my hands together and covered them with his own, "You scared me half to death when you refused to leave that Speeder," his voice was uncharacteristically thick with emotion, and I saw him swallow. "You're so young, and it tore my heart out to think you'd die for me."
Leaning back, I was startled into silence at the conflicting emotions I felt in Qui-Gon. Turmoil and remembered fear were clearly evident, reaching past the mask of unreadable features that normally kept them hidden. I could also feel gratitude though, as well as respect and relief.
My throat tightened, and for a moment I forgot to breathe. All of these emotions centered on me. On the Speeder, he had been so scared and devastated that I was going to die. Even though we had both nearly been killed, he was as grateful for my loyalty as I was for his. Then, of course, immense relief that we had survived and…and respect? Perhaps out of all everything, that was the one thing that touched and thrilled me the most. He respected me. For my bravery and for things I couldn't even begin to interpret. I knew that he cared for me. I knew that he considered me to be a very close friend, but respect? I had never even imagined that I had earned such a thing from him, from the man who I admired so much. It made me so…happy to know that, that for a moment my joy washed away my knowledge of Qui-Gon's own tumultuous emotions.
I was completely choked with emotion, but I buried it. Qui-Gon was a very calm person. He wasn't one to be overtly emotional. For me to be able to so clearly read him, it meant his control had seriously slipped. Right now, I needed to be strong for him. Even as I felt myself blushing, I forced myself to snap out of my shocked daze. I could feel his turbulent emotions, and I wanted nothing more than to comfort him, but I didn't know how. I didn't know what to say or do. Whereas my Master always seemed to have the finesse to know how to soothe me, I was not nearly so skilled in the reverse role.
"You have no idea how helpless I felt, or what a terrible feeling it was to know you were doomed," he added, rubbing my palms with his large thumbs.
I smiled a bit sadly, "Yes, I do. I felt the same way when you told me what you did on the shuttle to save me, and again when you surrendered to the Tarcalians." Not knowing what else to do, I simply began pouring all my comfort and reassurance into our bond, trying to drown away his heavy emotions with waves of light.
Qui-Gon accepted my help gratefully, and I felt him gradually releasing his emotions until he was one more the epitome of composure, completely in control. When he finally did speak again, his voice was once more steady. However, the fact that it did not ring with overwhelmed emotion did not make it any less heartfelt.
"I know I joked about this before, because I was so relieved that we had made it, but I'm not joking now, Obi-Wan," his tone was dead serious, "Everything worked out this time, but don't you ever try to pull a stunt as reckless as that one again. If it had taken just a handful of seconds longer for you to cut through that mecosa, you would have died. That is not an acceptable risk to save one person. You're life isn't worth giving up for mine."
Frowning, I cocked my head at him, "You've risked your life for me countless times, Qui-Gon," I pointed out, "Some of which involved enough danger that you might have died along with me in your attempt. On this very last mission, you were willing to die by using your Force energy to initiate a healing trance for me. Are you saying I can't do the same for you?"
My Master hesitated, "That's different."
My mouth dropped open and I stared at him in disbelief. "How?" I demanded.
He tightened his grip on my hands, "Because I'm a Jedi Master and I've already gotten to live my dream. You're only eighteen. You have so much more to lose than I do. I've led a good life, Obi-Wan, but you haven't gotten your chance to shine yet. You can't give up your dream of being a Knight just to save me."
Reeling back as if his words had physically hit me, I was too shocked to speak for a moment. Was he actually saying it was all right for him to risk his life to save mine, but not vice versa? Was he actually ordering me not to put myself in excessive danger trying to save him? How could he possibly think that my loyalty was so shallow that I would actually obey such a ridiculous command?
I felt hurt and annoyed. Hurt that he thought I would accept his words, and annoyed that he was suggesting that I should have left him behind on that Speeder, and that in the future, I should just let him die.
When I spoke, I couldn't keep my voice from catching, nor could I hide that I was upset. "I have the same loyalty for you that you have for me," I took a deep breath and forced the words out past the lump that had grown in my throat. "I care for you too much to just watch you die when there's even the slightest possibility, no matter how slim, that I might be able to save you."
Pulling away, I twisted one of my hands away from him and tried leave, but he had a firm grip on my other hand, and refused to let go. Instead he used it tug me back to his side, where I closed my eyes and purposefully did not meet his gaze.
"Obi-Wan, look at me," he ordered softly, while at the same time using our bond to send me his affection, "Please, look at me," he almost pleaded when I did not move to do as he asked.
Sighing, I opened my eyes and met his unreadable gaze. "What?" I flinched at how petulant I sounded.
"Padawan," now he sounded soothing, "I don't doubt your loyalty. How could I? After everything you've risked for me? I'm extremely grateful for your devotion, and your friendship, and I even if I reprimand you for your actions, I could never reprimand your selflessness."
I scoffed. Wasn't that what he had just done? "Didn't you just say that it was way too reckless of me to stay behind on that Speeder to try and save you?"
Now he sighed, looking a bit pained, and I could sense that he truly didn't want to argue with me, or want me to be annoyed with him. "It was reckless, and if we were both dead right now, I'm sure that you would agree."
I couldn't help but smile very slightly at his words, and as he intended, I felt some of my frustration melt away.
"Even still, I deeply respect your loyalty, Obi-Wan. Please believe that." He reached out to very gently touch my cheek. "It means everything to me."
I could not deny that the words were sincere and completely heartfelt. Nor could I deny that I had felt the same way on the shuttle when I learned of the healing trance. Of course I had been grateful – more than words could ever tell, more than I could ever hope to express – but I had also been horrified that he had almost died because of me. Right now, Qui-Gon was feeling that same way, and I could not stay angry at him when I understood those conflicting emotions all too well.
"I know," was all I murmured.
"As much as I respect and admire your courage, and greatly value your friendship, Obi-Wan…you're too young to throw your life away if ever you should fail to save me when my life is in danger." He was trying to be persuasive, but inside, I sensed that he already knew my answer.
"Master…Qui-Gon," I covered his hand on my cheek with my own, "I care for you too much to not try and save you, even if it puts me in deadly danger, "and nothing you say will change that. Just like," I persisted, "nothing I could ever say would stop you from doing the same for me."
"You teach me things every day, Obi-Wan. You're right, I never should have tried to order you to do something I myself never would," his smile was at the same time regretful and grateful. "You mean everything to me," he said, "but Force, you're as stubborn as I am."
Grinning, I squeezed his hand and said, "Everything I learned about being stubborn, I learned from you. So, if my stubbornness exasperates you as much as your stubbornness exasperates me, you only have yourself to blame."
Instead of returning another joke, he said, "On the contrary, I am quite grateful for your stubbornness in this one particular matter."
My grin turned to a shy smile, "And I am quite grateful for your stubbornness when it comes to this one thing."
We both smiled, accepting that there would indeed be many times when our lives were in danger and one of us was called upon to safe the other, even if doing so would mean great peril. It might have caused us both immense sadness knowing that the other could die in a foolish rescue attempt, but we also felt even greater joy knowing that in the face of whatever opposed us, we would always stand together as true and loyal friends.