A/N: Well, this is it. The final chapter. Thanks for following me through this journey! It's been fun and interesting, lemme tell ya. I'm a bit sad to see it done. Not everything is perfectly resolved in this chapter, but life is like that. Hope you find it satisfying anyway.
Someday there will be a sequel, but it is very different in tone and style. (Yes, partly written already.) I'll probably try to finish it before I start posting, because it goes pretty dark, and I don't want to leave you hanging.
And hey, if you've been reading all along, drop me a note, will you? Doesn't matter how long after this last post that you read my little story--I'm always interested in what you have to say. I love to know what makes you happy, so I can keep writing that, naturally. :D And I want to know what confuses you or strikes you as wrong. My writing is in a constant state of change, and I looooove input.
Thanks again! It's been a pleasure.
Candles Against the Sea
Chapter 20: Embarkation
"No, I don't wanna stay here ever again," Nibbi murmured.
They stood in that dank alley a couple of blocks from the clinic, staring at the little box that had been Nibbi's home for far too long. The box was empty, the top broken in, and the Jedi robe was gone, no doubt stolen during the street vrelt's absence. Obi-Wan had his arm wrapped around the child's shoulders, and he gave them a squeeze, offering wordless encouragement.
"I felt safe here for a long time," Nibbi said, looking up into the Jedi's face with wide dark eyes. "No one bothered me here, 'specially after you fought Tronak for me. But then those men came and dragged me out . . ."
Obi-Wan felt an echo of that memory, the terror and confusion, the rough hands grabbing slim arms and legs with bruising force, heard an echo of the child's scream instantly cut off by a callused palm that almost suffocated him. He shuddered as the little boy shuddered. Nibbi's arms slipped around the Padawan's waist, tightening convulsively.
"Let's get outta here, I don't wanna stay here . . ."
They hurried out of the alley, Obi-Wan fighting the urge to simply pick up his little friend and carry him. This return had been by Nibbi's request, and Obi-Wan understood the need to look back, to understand what had happened. But he was just as glad that the boy didn't want to stay. He didn't have any good memories from that place, either.
"Where 'm I gonna go now?" Nibbi whispered. He didn't seem to be asking anyone in particular, his gaze far away.
Obi-Wan gently untangled their arms and knelt on one knee to face the little one, completely serious. "Nilla will find you a good home. Will you let her help you? You know she would never do anything to hurt you, or put you with anyone who would."
Nibbi took a couple of deep, shaky breaths, blinking rapidly, then nodded slightly, just once. He lunged forward to wrap his arms around the young Jedi's neck, trembling. "'M scared, Obi. Really scared."
"Of course you are," Obi-Wan said gently, rocking the child in his arms. "Big changes are always scary. But this is for the better, Nibbi. I know that truly—the Force tells me so. Do you believe me?"
Nibbi nodded against the older boy's neck, his grip loosening not at all. "I b'lieve you. You're a great Jedi, and you'd never lie t'me."
"That's right. That's right."
Nilla was waiting for their return to the clinic, her face opening in relief when the two boys came back in the double doors. While Nibbi chattered out the story of why they had needed to leave, she picked the little boy up and set him on her reception desk, offering him a lolly from the jar she kept by her datapad. He sucked it, legs swinging, and solemnly requested that she find him a good home.
The woman agreed, just as solemnly, then grinned widely, her entire face shining. "I have the flimsies right here." She picked up the small pile setting on the desk next to the child. "We'll go through it together, make sure you agree to all of it, all right? Now, first off, I need you to tell me your full name."
Nibbi made a sour face, despite the stickiness beginning to spread over his cheeks from the lolly. "Renibferth Delancrox."
"Ah." Nilla nodded gravely, writing the information with a stylus. "I can see why you prefer 'Nibbi.'"
Obi-Wan hid his mouth behind his hand, stifling a squeak of laughter. Now he understood why the little one liked nicknames.
"Now, here, the names of your new foster family," Nilla continued, tapping the flimsy thoughtfully with her stylus. She wrote something, then held it up for Nibbi to see. "How does that look to you?"
Nibbi took a few moments to work it out, his lips moving soundlessly as he processed the syllables. Then his eyes widened, bright with joy. He turned to the clinic worker with a huge grin and threw his arms around her, sending the flimsies flying. "It looks great!"
Nilla hugged him back gently, eyes sparkling, apparently unaware of the lolly that was now stuck in her hair. "I think it's wonderful, too."
Obi-Wan picked up the flimsies and looked for the name, curiosity all but eating him alive. Ah. Riger and Nilla Crolin. Yes, the young Jedi found it perfectly wonderful, as well.
"I'll be your Nibbi-kins for a long time, right?" Nibbi's question was muffled against the woman's shoulder.
"Oh, a very long time indeed," Nilla said. "Even after we find the perfect family to adopt you, you'll still be my Nibbi-kins. How does forever sound?"
The little one sighed happily. "Just fine."
They had to depart for the refresher to get the lolly out of Nilla's hair. Obi-Wan leaned against the desk, whistling an old tune, utterly content. Nibbi was going to be all right. He carried wounds that would scar as they healed, but at least the healing would come. Obi-Wan had managed to accomplish some good, even if it wasn't enough.
He looked up, surprised and pleased. It was the first time she had used his name. It sounded nice. "Hello, Miss Hindegar."
She smiled, cautiously moving closer. It was a genuine smile, a true expression of greeting, gratitude, even . . . fondness? He'd never seen such from her. That was nice, too.
"I . . . I wanted to thank you, Obi-Wan. You were right. Everything you said was exactly right. You saved my life twice, yesterday. Maybe three times."
Obi-Wan flushed, his gaze dropping to the floor. "You're very welcome. I . . . I hope things go well for you."
"They're starting to." Amora's voice was very near, now. He could see the edge of her colorful skirt in the corner of his vision, still fixed on the floor. "I'm starting to understand. Korbin . . . what he did . . ."
"You don't have to tell me." Obi-Wan looked up quickly, earnestly, to meet her gaze. "I know it's hard. You don't owe me a thing."
"You deserve to know, though." She drew in a deep breath. "My father was elected president of Sylelius when I was twelve, and Korbin was the IS commander in charge of my safety. He used that position of authority against me, using me for his own gratification, for about a year . . . it gets a little fuzzy in my memory. But it hasn't gone away, not at all."
She paused. Obi-Wan wondered if she was done now. He meant what he'd said—she owed him no explanations. But he was willing to listen to whatever she had to say.
Amora looked him in the eye. "I'm sorry for the way I've treated you these past couple of weeks—you were just trying to be a friend, but I wanted nothing to do with you. I'm sure I hurt your feelings. It wasn't you, truly. I was reacting to the idea of any boy showing interest in me. It's been my pattern for years, and only now have I come to understand why." Her mouth quirked in a smile. "You learn a lot in that first counseling session—rather exhausting, it was."
He smiled back, rather sadly. "You'll be all right. Your father loves you a lot. He'll help you."
"I know." Amora hesitated for a moment, biting her lip. Then she grabbed the astonished Padawan in a fierce embrace, much as her father had done with her. It seemed to be a Hindegar trait. "You're amazing, Obi-Wan Kenobi," she whispered against his ear. "I just wanted you to know."
Obi-Wan felt his cheeks flaming as he nervously returned the hug. "Not so much," he squeaked out, not entirely in control of his mouth.
She rocked him slightly, then pulled back, holding his shoulders. "Yes, you are," she insisted, her blue eyes earnest. "I think everyone knows it but you."
As seemed to be the general state of affairs around this brilliant young woman, Obi-Wan had no idea of what else he could say.
"Master, may I go for a walk?"
Qui-Gon looked up, a small grin tugging at his mouth. "Outside?"
Obi-Wan's laughter sparkled in the small cabin, bright and childlike. "Yes, Master," he said, grinning. "Outside, please."
"Will you stay within six blocks?"
"The clinic is only three blocks away, so that would be a yes."
Qui-Gon looked through the hatchway to the cockpit, catching the attention of the small transport's pilot. "How long do we have?"
"Twenty-five minutes, Master Jinn."
"Can you be back in twenty-five minutes, Padawan?"
"Yes, Master. I just want to say good-bye to Nibbi."
"I suspected as much. Go on, then." He aimed a playful swat at the boy as he swung down the ramp, purposefully missing. Again Obi-Wan's laughter trailed behind as he jogged out of the docking bay.
Qui-Gon watched him go, his broad grin fading to a soft smile. After a moment he moved into the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot's chair, gazing out the windscreen, seeing beyond. The bond was brilliant almost past the bearing now, strong and open and pure. Neither of them had bothered to shield at all in the past three days.
Perhaps eventually they would tire of this ceaseless sharing. It was exhausting, and could be a bit disconcerting, to feel another so completely. Eventually one of them would feel the need to draw back a little, and the other would accept that need. It was part of maintaining long-term relationships, the desire for privacy and introspection. Nothing lasted forever.
But for now, the moment they lived in required only giving and acceptance. It was entirely pleasant. Qui-Gon would enjoy this for as long as possible.
They had said most of their good-byes to their Sylelian friends. There had been several luncheons and banquets, a few more meetings, and a number of ferocious Hindegar hugs. Now Obi-Wan made his last farewell, the hardest of the lot. Qui-Gon almost felt that he was there.
You won't forget me, will you, Obi?
I could never forget you, little brother.
Yeah, I figured you'd say that. I'll miss you, though.
I'll miss you, too. Let me know how it's going. You have my holo-comm frequency, right?
Yeah, I think you wrote it down 'bout five or six times . . .
Qui-Gon smiled and closed his eyes, just watching the bright beacon in his mind as the boy left the clinic and began to head back to the ship. Deceptively small, but so very bright, indomitable and beautiful. Like a candle against the sea . . .