Long A/N at the end.
The Other Side of Infinity
Part 8: Bonds of the Spirit
Obi-Wan's sense of the Force changed, and he could tell by Wari's gasp that his Second Sight had changed, too. The Padawan was not sure quite how it had happened, but their gifts had combined with an alacrity that startled them both, leaping forward to entwine joyfully, as if this was meant to be. He saw Wari's world, saw through his eyes how he and Matio had met, the way they had been bound together, and saved each other. Wari, he knew, was seeing the parallel road he and Qui-Gon had traveled, completely different yet oddly similar. Was there a pair like them in every universe?
There was no time to examine it, no time to speculate, not with Matio's cry echoing in their ears. Together the Seeker and the Padawan faced the dark forest, searching for a sign of the boy they longed to rescue. The Living Force surged in the trees and plants, leaped from small animals and birds, shimmered in the very air. It was a bright, shining white, overwhelmingly beautiful. And there in the air hung a thread of pure gold, shining yet more brightly than the Living Force, and that was the thread that bound them to Matio.
Wari and Obi-Wan ran, distantly aware that they were stumbling over roots and underbrush, that Obi-Wan was using Qui-Gon's lightsaber to cut down branches that blocked their path. The Jedi Master followed at their heels, but they barely felt him. Only one thing mattered.
Obi-Wan was never sure, afterward, how long they ran like that. It could have been forever. It could have been a single heartbeat. Both felt Matio's pain and despair beating with their heartbeat, rushing in their ears. The Shadowhand was hurting that innocent lad. This had to be stopped now.
At some point Wari had drawn his big metal sword, and it too shone faintly gold. The forest night was bright in their eyes, brighter than cloudless day. The heart-call spurred them on, and all other sounds were muted.
Then suddenly they were halted, stymied, as the thread disappeared. They released each other's hands, gasping, and reality rushed in. The three warriors stood at the entrance of a cave, blocked off by a huge boulder. The first hints of dawn were beginning to tinge the sky above. Matio and the Shadowhand were inside that cave.
"Padawan," Qui-Gon said urgently, stepping forward and placing his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder. The Force flowed between them, and they combined their strength to levitate the boulder and send it tumbling away, crashing through the trees as it rolled down a slight rise.
"By the Golden Eagle!" Wari bellowed, rushing into the cave. "Face me, Namágol!"
The Jedi began to follow, but before they could react a man roughly pushed his way out of the cave, almost knocking Obi-Wan to the ground in his eagerness to escape. "Don't let him get away!" Wari yelled.
The Jedi ran after the Shadowhand, a dark figure barely visible before them. Obi-Wan became aware of his legs trembling beneath him again, and he deactivated the lightsaber and tossed it to his master He knew that Qui-Gon would handle it better, even holding the torch in his other hand. Farig Solma sprinted as if all the terrors of the galaxy were at his heels, and, incredibly, his lead increased. Fury surged in Obi-Wan's heart, and he fought to release it into the Force. They couldn't let him escape!
At the top of a slight rise Namágol abruptly turned to face them, drawing a large red amulet from his tunic, laughing in triumph. Qui-Gon halted, heels digging into the dirt, and put his arm across Obi-Wan's chest to arrest his headlong rush. He remembered what Wari had said about that glowing jewel.
Obi-Wan's chest heaved against Qui-Gon's arm. "Master, we can catch him, we can—"
"No, Padawan. Patience."
"You'll never stop me!" Solma yelled. "I can go anywhere, be anything! You saved that pitiful child this time, but you're only postponing the inevitable. I'll catch him and take him away and do as I please. I'll never stop chasing him!"
Obi-Wan winced as the Shadowhand intoned a guttural incantation. The words were full of evil power, and he felt the Dark Side of the Force dancing in glee. Qui-Gon urged him back, out of the radius of the amulet's influence, and they watched the Living Force of the plants and animals all about being drawn to the red jewel, bound about it, and then obliterated.
The Padawan flinched from the flash of light and fell to his knees as he felt the life being wiped out, a scream of terror and pain echoing in his mind from the Living Force, followed by deathly silence. A huge blank spot stood before them, nothing but dirt and rock, every trace of green erased as if it had never been. He wanted to weep and pound the ground in frustration.
"Master," he gasped, rubbing a hand over his mouth, feeling a trickle of blood from the corner. "What was that?"
"An evil from another universe," Qui-Gon said in a low voice, helping Obi-Wan to his feet. "One I hope we never encounter again. It is not meant to be here."
"But, but he'll go after Matio again . . ."
"He will not succeed," the Jedi Master said with great confidence, his steady gaze offering strength. He smiled suddenly. "You are the one more often gifted with premonitions of the future, Padawan. Do you not see it?"
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and steadied himself, Qui-Gon's hand on his shoulder pouring waves of light into his shaken spirit. He found his calm center again, and was finally able to relax as he saw Matio as a man, a mighty Seeker in the world called Madra, fighting with great skill and strength, great tenderness and compassion, to better the lives of everyone around him. At last he nodded. "Yes, I see it. The Shadowhand will never have his way." He managed a shaky laugh. "I almost wish I could see the look on his face when he realizes that all of those proud boasts were empty and foolish . . ."
Qui-Gon squeezed his shoulder. "Perhaps you will. Come on, let's get back to our friends."
They walked back to the cave as swiftly as they could, but Obi-Wan spared the breath to give his master a brief summary of all that had happened since their ship crashed. As he did, he found his strength and joy returning. He and Matio had had a good time together, he was a bit surprised to realize. It had been painful and dangerous, true, but also incredibly enjoyable. They had given each other a lot—more, Obi-Wan knew, than he was able to recognize even now. Years from now he would still remember these two days, finding unexpected insight, and unexpected laughter, in the memories.
The world was light grey in the dawn when they arrived back at the cave. Wari sat just outside the entrance, cradling Matio in his arms. The boy's eyes were closed, his face shone with sweat, and he held his arms folded close against his body as if to shield his hands hidden in his tunic. The Seeker looked up at them, agony in his dark grey eyes.
Obi-Wan's heart sank toward his stomach, and he knelt beside the pair in sympathy. Matio was conscious, he could tell, but unwilling to open his eyes and face the world. Even in that short time, Namágol had done something horrible to him, and the pain still echoed through their faint, barely-there bond, sharp and unrelenting.
The Seeker was whispering to his boy, had been since before the Jedi arrived. "You're safe now, Matio. I came. I'm here. I'm never going to let you go. You're safe. He won't touch you again. I've got you. You're safe, Matio. I'm here . . ."
"Matio," Obi-Wan murmured, laying a hand on his friend's shoulder. "What happened? What did he do?"
Matio squeezed his eyes shut even tighter, one tear escaping as he shuddered. The Seeker's arms clenched about him, pressing him even closer than before, and the boy opened his eyes, clouded and dazed. "He . . . he broke my hands . . . ."
He turned slightly to face the Jedi, golden-brown head tucked beneath the Seeker's dark beard. Slowly, he drew his trembling hands away from his chest and held them out. A horrified gasp escaped Wari, and he reached up and gently folded his large, callused hands around his apprentice's small, shattered ones. He carefully lowered them into the boy's lap, keeping a loose, cradling grip, trying to support without applying pressure. Matio let his hands rest on his guardian's and sighed softly, closing his eyes so he wouldn't have to look.
Obi-Wan stared in disbelief. There were a lot of little bones in the human hand, and all of Matio's had been broken, some twice. Bone had punctured the skin in places, and blood ran in sticky smears, some of it starting to dry.
"I, I'll never draw a bow again," Matio murmured. "Never hold a sword. Never . . . be a Seeker. He took it all away from me."
The Jedi saw by Wari's tears that this was the truth. In their world, they did not have the medical knowledge and tools to repair this cruel injury. Obi-Wan's little med kit had nothing for this. It was going to cause Matio weeks of terrible pain, and it would never fully heal. He was crippled for life.
"No." Obi-Wan refused to believe it. He had seen Matio as a Seeker. "No, Matio. We're going to give it back to you."
With infinite tenderness, he laid his hands over the young archer's broken ones. Then he felt Qui-Gon's large palms cover the backs of his hands, and Wari's fingers curl upward to meet both of them, and he smiled at the two masters and closed his eyes.
Again the white and the gold blended together, and the power of one universe met the power of another. None of the three were gifted in healing, but this was a task meant to be done, and it was not difficult to find the way. A friendly will guided them, whether that of the Force, or of Wari and Matio's High King, or whether both were the same Will, none could say. Gently they poured Light into the wounds, guiding the splintered bones to join and mend, the tortured blood vessels and nerves to twine together, repair, grow strong. They gave their all to the restoration of their young friend, and their all was received, and was enough.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and felt the morning sunlight shining full upon his face. The three withdrew, leaving Matio staring in awe at his hands. They were completely whole and trembling delicately —young, slender hands with the thick calluses of an archer on fingers and thumb, too broad for the narrow wrists in indication of further growth ahead, a soft, warm peach color that almost glowed in the new light. He flexed them in astonishment, turned them over, curled his fingers inward again.
Then he turned sideways against the Seeker's chest with a weary, contented sigh. The first thing he chose to do with his newly-healed hands was to grip the fabric of Wari's tunic in a child-like gesture of security and trust, the way a little one wakened from a nightmare would grip his father's nightshirt. And he promptly fell asleep.
They spent the rest of the day recuperating. Obi-Wan finally used the fire-starting rod from the emergency kit. Qui-Gon, to Obi-Wan's astonishment, turned out to be pretty good with a bow and arrow, and he bagged a couple of the "rabbit" things and roasted them with a few herbs he refused to name, calling it a "secret recipe." That phrase always scared Obi-Wan, and he shivered and said that he wanted no part of it. Qui-Gon laughed infuriatingly loud and long, and explained himself by simply saying, "I missed you, Obi-Wan."
Wari sat by the fire, still holding his sleeping apprentice. He shook his head at all suggestions to lay the boy down, even when both Jedi offered to spread their robes to make the ground a bit more comfortable.
"Please understand," the Seeker explained softly when they finally began to eat, saving the most tender parts for Matio. "He's never let me hold him before." He smiled at Obi-Wan. "I sense that I have you to thank for the change. You have my gratitude."
Obi-Wan grinned and ducked his head, blushing. He certainly hoped that he'd been able to help Matio in some way. The boy had done a lot for him.
Wari sighed and laid his cheek on the boy's golden-brown curls, his storm-grey eyes far away. "He always pushed me away before, even when he was in terrible pain of body and heart. He was afraid: afraid of his father, of me, of himself—afraid to need me."
He lowered his eyes, speaking directly to the sleeping boy. "There is no need to be afraid, young one. Do you understand? There is no shame in needing to be comforted, no shame in being young and small and hurt by forces beyond your control. You have suffered more and come out stronger than anyone I've ever met, and it is my deepest joy and privilege to be here for you now. Please don't take that honor from me, my dear apprentice. It is the greatest pleasure I have ever experienced in my life as a Seeker. Do you understand, my brave Matio, son of my heart? Is everything entirely clear to you now?"
Matio's eyelids fluttered, and his hand tightened in the fabric over Wari's chest as if to pull him closer. "Yes, Seeker," he murmured. "I understand."
Wari smiled. "That's my boy," he whispered. "That's my boy."
Two hours later Matio woke fully, opening forest-hazel eyes, again clear and cool and calm, to blink at the midday sun. Still he did not pull away from Wari, did not leave the circle of the Seeker's arms. The Jedi let them be, gave them time and space for the words they needed to speak to each other. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had spent the morning going through the basic katas and meditating together, allowing all they had experienced on the planet called G481 to become part of them, integrated with the whole of their lives. Now they drew away a little into the trees.
"And how are you, Padawan?" Qui-Gon asked, even as the Seeker was no doubt asking a very similar question. "You seem troubled."
Obi-Wan sighed. He knew he wasn't going to be able to get out of this. Qui-Gon would wait until he was ready to talk, but he would never stop pushing until the Padawan shared his burden. He might as well surrender now. "I . . . I failed, Master."
Qui-Gon's forehead wrinkled deeply. "I don't see how."
"I lost my focus in the middle of battle. Twice! The first time Matio saved me, and was hurt. The second time I was hurt, and then Matio saved me. I felt that it was the will of the Force that I help Matio, protect him from that monster who was chasing him. Instead, I distracted him and slowed him down so that Farig Solma caught us. Matio is an amazing woodsman—if we hadn't met, he would been able to escape."
"Is that what Solma told you?"
Obi-Wan nodded guiltily, his eyes on the toe of his boot, absently pushing away the fallen leaves to reveal the damp earth beneath.
"Obi-Wan, you know that we all make mistakes, even Jedi. You are fifteen years old. You still have much to learn. If I had been with you, I would have been the one to cover for your slips in concentration. As I could not be there, I am grateful that another young warrior was at your side and was able to help you. But you failed no one. You performed remarkably well, and your courage and skill—not to mention initiative and compassion in acting completely without instructions—provided a great service to one who was in need. Next time you will do even better."
Obi-Wan nodded slowly, some of his guilt and shame rising from his shoulders to float away into the Force. Still he kept his eye on his toe, now beginning to dig a shallow hole into the dirt.
"Padawan." Qui-Gon's arm circled his shoulders, and Obi-Wan looked up, a bit startled. The Jedi Master grinned and squeezed him close. "You must never regret meeting a friend. I worried about you, you know. I was afraid when I felt that you were wounded, then captured and tormented by that assassin. When I saw you, even though I felt your weariness and pain and terror for your friend, even though that cut on your forehead made we worried all over again—with all that, Padawan, a great surge of joy filled me, just to see you again. You understand that, don't you? Even with all that's happened to us, I have never regretted meeting you and getting to know you. You must never feel that way about Matio. He would not want you to. He would agree that it was worth it all."
The apprentice smiled a trifle wanly. "Are you sure?"
"Positive. There is no benefit in pondering what would have happened if, if, if. But think about it. Matio was running scared. Eventually he would have tired, made mistakes. He was lonely and unprotected, and you can't live on those 'rabbit-things' forever. Eventually Namágol would have caught him. And without you forming that odd little bond with him, without we Jedi crashing here and bringing it all together—if any of a dozen tiny things had gone the slightest bit wrong—the Shadowhand would have had his way. Evil would have triumphed. Do not doubt the will of the Force, my brave Obi-Wan, son of my heart."
Obi-Wan grinned genuinely this time, a brilliant thing that was pure sunlight to his weary teacher, and returned the embrace whole-heartedly. "Thank you, Master," he murmured.
Qui-Gon did not release him until Obi-Wan pulled away first. Then they stood smiling at each other for a moment, standing in the middle of an un-peopled forest under the midday sun of a strange world, completely at home.
Qui-Gon had one more thing to say. "You gave even more than that for Matio. I felt what you did, pouring out your heart for him, to help him. I was very proud of you. I have always been proud of the way you continually bounce back from the worst experiences, ready to face the galaxy and conquer it again. But speaking about it to someone you've known for only a few hours—that's something else entirely. It couldn't have been easy for you."
Obi-Wan considered carefully. "No, it was not easy," he said finally, slowly. "But it was good, Master. This is what being a Jedi means." He spread his hands, a little helplessly, unable to find words to express what he felt.
Qui-Gon nodded warmly. "It means giving of yourself even when it hurts. It means drawing on everything you have experienced, the good with the bad, if it will comfort a hurting person. It means finding meaning in events that seem senseless and evil, finding friendship, sacrifice, even joy, in odd and out-of-the-way places."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan gave him a grateful grin. "How many years do you think it will take me to develop this skill, to throw words together in such a comforting and wise-sounding manner?"
Qui-Gon laughed and aimed a playful swat at his head. "You might not live long enough, scamp!"
Obi-Wan ducked the cuff, still grinning. "I missed you too, Master."
They returned to find the Seekers standing, Wari stretching out muscles cramped by long sitting, Matio calmly eating the meat they had saved for him. The four friends grinned at each other, needing no words to express their gratitude, deep caring, and pleasure with this oasis of peace they had found.
Then was the time for stories. Each took a turn, re-telling their adventures. Obi-Wan told about the battle of the rancor with great animation, making Matio blush at his praise, and the young woodsman retaliated by relating the battle of the wolf-malia creatures, imitating the hum of the lightsaber with credible accuracy, and forcing Obi-Wan to blush in turn. The masters told of their own relatively uneventful journey, and almost got mired in another friendly debate, which they halted abruptly when they realized that the apprentices were staring at them in blank-eyed incomprehension.
They had time for all of the stories, and even more, from earlier adventures—they had time for laughter and private jokes and new ones, even time for heartfelt, slowly-spoken words. Obi-Wan felt that he had to apologize to Matio, and he did, faltering, embarrassed, but determined that his friend should know he felt. Matio was horrified at the very suggestion, and immediately confirmed all that Qui-Gon had said in his own archaic words and strange, pleasant accent. The Seekers thanked the Jedi for their assistance, which had saved them both. The Jedi thanked the Seekers for their friendship and the pleasure of meeting them and learning about their world. They had time for everything that needed to be said, that wanted to be shared.
Late in the afternoon, just when they were beginning to think about finding some supper, Qui-Gon's communicator beeped insistently. He sighed and raised it reluctantly, already knowing who was on the other end. Sure enough, the ship from the Temple was in orbit, ready to pick up the wayward Jedi and take them home.
"Acknowledged," Qui-Gon said, and gave them their coordinates so they could send down a shuttle. "There's just one more thing that needs to be done."
Obi-Wan looked at him curiously when he lowered the communicator, but Wari's eyes were clear and understanding, though sad.
"It is time to go home."
Matio looked at his guardian in confusion, but followed silently as the four made their way to the place Namágol had chosen to exit this universe, the blank spot of dirt and rock, life torn away. They stood in the middle and said their good-byes.
"I'll never forget you."
"Thank you for everything you've given me."
"May the Force be with you."
"May the High King smile upon you and guide your steps."
The boys embraced warmly and unselfconsciously, conveying through touch what they could not say in words. The men clasped each other's forearms in the strong grip of warriors, friends, and equals, thanking and welcoming with a single glance.
One last time the white and the gold joined, doubly strong with Matio's talent joining them. They spread their awareness wide and drew in the Living Force from all points of the compass, gathering just enough to accomplish the needed task without destroying anything. They pulled the threads of power and bound them gently together, four sets of hands working in perfect unity.
A flash of light, gold and white mixed, and the Jedi opened their eyes to find that their friends had gone. They walked away, unable to restrain a small sigh of grief and loss. It was a wide gulf that separated them; they stood on the other side of infinity.
Yet Obi-Wan could feel the tendrils of that new bond, faint and strange, unlike his bond with Qui-Gon, unlike anything either universe had ever seen. He knew that the connection would never fade completely. Perhaps the gulf was not so very wide, after all.
As the Temple shuttle began to descend into the trees, Obi-Wan could not help but glance back at the place they had said farewell to the Seekers. And he could not help but grin. Who knew what the future had in store? Anything was possible.
Author's Note: Well, there you have it. It'd done now. I know that this last part is almost twice as long as any of the others, but I didn't want to cut it in half. Hope you enjoyed taking this little journey with me. It was my first attempt at fanfiction since I was seventeen or so, and my first JA fic ever. As silly a story as it is, it was fun to write, and a good experience. So of course I've kept going. I'll start posting another next week, a Qui-Obi drama called "Candles Against the Sea." It will be much longer and much angstier, I assure you, though no more inspired plot-wise.
Many thanks to all who reviewed! And if you haven't reviewed, yet still followed me all the way here, please let me know what you think! I always welcome comments, whatever you have to say. I write seriously as well—this is my more frivolous stuff—and I'm always looking to improve.
master kaym: Thanks! You appear to be a connoisseur of Obi-Qui stories, so I appreciate the thought.
Shanobi: Yes, eventually I will write a story where Obi rescues himself. :-) That comment started as a joke when I first started working on this story, but it took on more significance as I realized how very much those two apprentices have in common . . . . Poor dears.
Kat: I really appreciate your continuing comments. It's lovely to know that I have a faithful reader, and you have insightful things to say. I hope you like my future stuff too!
Farewell, friends! You haven't heard the last from me, not by a long shot.