TITLE: BREATH OF NIGHT

AUTHOR: Cascadia

TIME: 6 years pre-TPM, Obi-Wan is 19

RATING: PG

CATEGORY: Drama/Angst, Non-Slash

SUMMARY: A terrible disaster leaves Obi-Wan to care for his master and alone to battle the guilt in his heart, all the while lost on a strange world where choices can leave them with more than they thought they had bargained for.

ARCHIVE: Please ask first. Sites who have previously archived any of my stories may archive any of them that they want to without asking.

DISCLAIMER: All recognizable characters are the property of Lucasfilm Limited. All the rest belong to me. I receive no profit from this.

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BREATH OF NIGHT

PROLOGUE

It was all my fault.

It was deep within the gloomy mountains of the Dibarien hinterlands, where the smoky mists rose from endless waterfalls, and collected in the dreary clouds that always hung about the peaks. All fell under a sheen of dew, enlivened, and yet drowning in the sorrows of never-ending humidity. Gangly trees, creeping vines, and wildflowers blooming in the shadowy recesses of crags, stretched for sunlight - for life - that seemed unattainable to even the tallest. It was said that even on the clearest day, only a faint glow of sunlight penetrated the atmosphere above the mountains, to settle mysteriously on the landscape below.

Within the deep murk of a cave, high along one mountain, he sat huddled under the folds of his robe. He was alone, because he wanted to be. Because he had to be. Because the one who would have been with him could not.

The light of a glow rod harshly broke the darkness where he sat and clambered up the walls, gradually dimming into nonexistence. He shivered lightly as unwanted images came to mind. Images of . . . .

No. He would not think of it now. Not if he could.

But the angry cries of the twisting wind and the ghastly screams of the Dibari nomads would not fall to a whisper. Their sounds echoed menacingly through his head, replaying the terror - the disaster - that had left him alone. As if conspiring, the images rose up and grasped for him, tearing the living soul out of him.

For the fallen and wounded lay below, in a makeshift camp built with the remains of their possessions that had not been carried away or ripped apart by the tornado.

Threddash, the Dibari had called it. The shriek of terror.

It had been a horrible wonder, to him, how the nomads had so quickly accepted the twister's havoc wrought upon them. To do it so easily, without anger for nature's cruelty.

What once had been a thriving community of grass huts and abundance, had become a littered landscape of destruction . . . and death.

One small child had died in the disaster. Because he had failed to see the child in a moment of temporary panic. Because he had left the child alone.

No one blamed him. No one needed to, for he drove enough blame into himself for the entire people.

In that black memory, when the nomads had settled in the deep ditches to escape the coming winds, that small child had come running. Running all alone across the field as the dark twister whirled menacingly toward it. Then, his master had ordered him to stay with the people, and had dashed out to recover the child himself. He had watched in horror as the howling winds had picked up and flung the two through the air - his master and the child.

When they had found them in the wake the tornado, the child was dead and Qui-Gon, unconscious. Since waking, the Jedi master had remained in a paralyzed state - unable to move or communicate. He was essentially a vegetable.

The Dibari could do nothing for him. Nor could Obi-Wan. For he had tried to heal his master, to reach him and find the man's consciousness through their bond, but had come upon nothing. The bond was dead.

And Obi-Wan wished he himself was.

^^^*^^^

Darkness crept from shadowed lair,

And claimed its right to gardens fair.

The molten sun soon took to flight,

And I there alone felt the breath of night.

CHAPTER 1

Obi-Wan wrapped his cloak tightly around him and left the haven of the cave with the illumination of a glow rod to direct him. The night was cool and still, and as he traveled over the rocky mist-soaked ground of the mountains, falls of water quietly roared nearby, sending their soft mizzle in his path.

He emerged from the suffocating dampness of the mountains and paused at the edge of the rocky range. Soft wind caressed his face as he stood at the foot of the mountains. From the midnight veil of the sky, shimmering with tiny winks of light, to the sweeping shadowy black plains, the whole world was drawn with shining threads of silvered twilight. Three moons, heavy and pearly lucent, sat upon stark lines of treetops. One luminary gleamed pink, another blue, and the last gentle gold.

Thankful silence had swallowed the Dibari camp far below. He had made a routine of stealing away to that particular cave every night, while the nomads sang their morbid chants.

At the same time every night, they gathered in the center of their camp. He could not understand the words, for they were spoken in their native tongue, but their sorrowful sound was more than his aching heart could handle.

He knew it was for the death of the child. . . . The child that he had killed.

His eyes dropped to a splattering of pale flowers trembling in the calm breeze. They were beautiful, he thought, the way they caught the light of the moons and held it, seemingly emitting a very faint glow. Every time he had passed them by on the way to or from the cave, he could not help but stare.

Crouching next to them, he searched for the most perfect ones. Finally, he found two with the roundest petals all opened invitingly. He carefully plucked them and tramped through the tall blades of wet grass toward the warmly glowing fires of the Dibari camp.

Just outside the huddle of huts, he stooped beside a small mound of stones. It was Lyril's resting-place - the child who had died. With a hand unsteady, he placed one of the blooms on top of the mound, and then proceeded into the camp.

Most of the huts had already been rebuilt, and the camp was quickly becoming what it once was before the devastation of the tornado. Everything was returning to normal.

Everything . . . except for Qui-Gon.

A few of the nomads lingered outside their dwellings, talking and preparing to retire for the night. They paid him little attention, and he understood none of what they said. Most of them knew Basic, but it was not their native tongue, so they never bothered to speak it unless they were talking directly to him.

Obi-Wan reached the small hut where his master lay and entered through the heavy shell ropes that hung as a cover, hearing them clicking softly as they closed behind him.

Immediately, he saw the Dibari shaman kneeling beside Qui-Gon. The man was chanting, as he had done every day. Obi-Wan had guessed that it was some sort of a healing ritual. The shaman's pale violet skin was covered with sweat, darkening the ochre simple gown he wore. A plate of strung prismatic beads covered his chest, while a crimson leather band was fastened around his head. As he turned toward the padawan, the man's proud features seemed impassive. He said not a word as their eyes met.

Obi-Wan broke eye contact first, casting his gaze to his master lying on a pallet of coarse woven blankets. Qui-Gon's eyes were open, staring at the ceiling. The light that had once danced in their deep sapphire depths was muted and dull. Where there was once joy and sparkle, a dark vacant gaze was now all that remained.

Obi-Wan swallowed the lump in his throat and slowly crossed the room to his master. After the shaman rose and passed him, leaving the hut, the padawan slipped to his knees beside Qui-Gon. For a moment he stared at the face, with its strong-edged lines and pallid color.

"Master?" the boy said softly. "I brought this for you."

He held the perfect flower out to him, making sure to place it directly in his line of sight. Now, in the light of the hut, he could see that the flower was actually turquoise in color, the petals softly satin.

"I don't know if you know this, but . . ." he stopped, his voice catching on the last word. Then, he took a deep breath and swallowed before picking up where he left off. "But, the flora here is beautiful. I, uh . . . I thought I'd bring you an example. It's," he glanced down at the bloom in his hand, "it's from near the mountains. There are a lot of them there. Maybe I could show you when . . ." he swallowed again, "when you feel better."

Gently, the padawan laid the delicate bloom on Qui-Gon's chest and turned to pull a clay bowl full of water closer. He wiped his hands on his already soiled tunic and then rung out the cloth that had been soaking in the bowl.

"Master, I'm going to clean you now," Obi-Wan said, turning to Qui-Gon. He leaned over the elder man, placing himself in the master's line of vision. "Ok, Master?" Obi-Wan whispered, feeling more as if he were talking to himself.

When the eyes did nothing but stared right through him, Obi-Wan sighed and gently wiped Qui-Gon's face.

"Master, I think I might be able to fix the comm unit," the padawan went on as he washed accumulated dirt from Qui-Gon's body. "If I take the compression coil from my lightsabre, I think I can use it in the comm. If that works, then we should be able to contact someone . . . I hope."

No one knew where they were. On their way back to Coruscant, a failed turbo thruster had exploded, nearly igniting the fuel reserves. It had been a token of mercy from the Force that they had found a planet to land upon. They were found by the Dibari, trapped in the wreckage of the shuttle, and taken to their nomad camp at the foot of the shadowed mountains.

There had been no way he could contact the Temple. The crash to the planet had dislodged the communications unit on the shuttle, beating the device into a pile of twisted metal and wires. That was six days before the tornado . . . and six days before Qui-Gon's injury. They had been diligently working to repair the comm every day.

Obi-Wan stopped and sighed, his weariness weighing on him.

Qui-Gon's hair was probably tangled, he mused. He retrieved a comb from their supplies that had been saved from their downed shuttle. Being as careful as he could, he removed the bandage from Qui-Gon's head, where he had received a blow after being thrown by the tornado, then gently washed and combed the long silvering strands until they glistened like silk and squeaked as he ran his fingers down them.

Then he cleaned the wound at the back of Qui-Gon's head, tucked a heavy blanket around him and, trickled some broth down his throat.

Satisfied that his master had been tended to, the padawan shifted to the other side of the hut and picked up the comm unit. A tiny piece jiggled and fell out onto the dusty floor. He quickly grabbed the little piece, drawing his arm back to throw it in frustration, but stopped. Abruptly, the boy's posture slumped, and he crumbled, holding his face with his hands.

"I'm sorry, Master," he whispered in the silence. "If I hadn't missed that child, if I had. . . . It's all my fault, I know it is," his breath came in ragged pants. "And you probably don't even know what's going on, do you, Master? Do you?" he said, louder, shooting a glare at Qui-Gon. "And this is all a waste of time, cause you're never going to get any better are you?"

He stood up, crossed to Qui-Gon in two quick steps, and threw himself to his knees beside the older man, burying his face in Qui-Gon's chest. He wrapped his arms around the master's neck and desperately clung to the limp form. Fighting the mix of rage and despondency that tried to claim him, he knelt there a long time.

After awhile, when he had calmed somewhat, he pushed himself up to look at Qui-Gon's face. "I'm sorry, Master," he said in a voice thick with emotion. "I . . . I love you, and I never wanted to hurt you. Can you please forgive me?"

He sought any reaction on the expressionless face, but there was none. Perhaps would never be one again. Gently, he reached out to wipe away a drop of moisture that had fallen on Qui-Gon's cheek. Then he returned his attention to the comm unit. By now, the nomads had been long asleep, but the padawan worked on into the early rays of dawn. Alone.

Not long after, the boy's eyes slipped closed as he hunched over the scattered small metal parts of the comm. The gilding of sunlight crept through the door, past the curtain of shells, and fell across the sleeping figures.

But shouting voices quickly shattered the serenity of nature.

Obi-Wan jumped awake, instantly alert to the sounds of commotion outside.

tbc