Title: Promises We Couldn't Make
Author: Laura of Maychoria
Timeframe: Jedi Apprentice (Obi-Wan is 18)
Rating: PG (language)
Summary: While Obi-Wan is laid up, his Master makes a surprising but not unwelcome discovery.
Author's note: Something very different. I wrote this for the Feb. Qui-Gon romance challenge at the JC forums. My first attempt at writing a Star Wars vignette, my first attempt at writing with Qui-Gon as the main character, and my first attempt at straight romance ever. Consider yourselves honored. Or cursed, maybe. Anyway, let me know how it turned out, because I'm really not sure. I feel a little bad about using the "D" word in the second paragraph, but it just felt right.
Promises We Couldn't Make
They met in a medical center, of course. Where else did Qui-Gon spend his down-time, between intensive training and even more intensive missions?
Once again Obi-Wan had taken a deathblow meant for his Master, being so blasted noble, so damned selfless, laying his bright life and brilliant future on the altar of unconditional love without a second thought—without any thought at all, really. Once again the boy had wavered on the edge of life and death for days, only recently pulling through. Once again the Jedi Master was bone-weary, his heart raw and eyes sore with preemptive grief, keeping himself from swaying on his feet only by the strength of his great will.
Qui-Gon glanced abstractedly out the window of the corridor, catching a glimpse of golden grain waving in a field beside the med center. Bradzia must be a beautiful world, he guessed. He had seen very little of it—only what was visible on the hurried trip from the landing platform to the center. Coming here had not been much of a choice—Bradzia had simply been the nearest civilized planet with viable medical technology after the battle that had been waged in the impersonal glory of hyperspace.
A startled feminine gasp, the tinkling of falling plasti-glass, and Qui-Gon realized that he had run into someone. Instinctively he reached out to grab the woman's shoulders, as much to hold himself upright as to keep her from falling. Startled dark eyes met his, the now-empty tray in her hands hanging loosely in long fingers. She was human, rich dark hair pulled back from her face, white tech clothes proclaiming her a medical researcher—the natives of Bradzia were a canoid-avian race, fur of many colors covering vaguely humanoid faces, vestigial wings perched on broad, muscular shoulders.
"You're the Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn." Her voice was as rich and dark as her hair, lovely and womanly despite—or because of—its depth and power.
Qui-Gon glanced vaguely down at the tubes and beakers littering the floor. "I'm very sorry. My focus has been a bit off of late. Did I ruin your experiment?"
"No, no." She ducked lightly out of his hands and stooped to begin cleaning up the mess. "I was taking these to be sterilized. No harm done."
Qui-Gon knelt gracefully to assist her. "You are a researcher, Miss . . .?"
The woman blushed, realizing her breach of etiquette. "Julune Graffon, of Thyferra. I'm studying the effects of unique climates on azhali cultures. Bradzia has certain elements in the atmosphere found nowhere else in the galaxy, and the results have been quite . . . ." She trailed off, realizing that she was beginning to babble, and coughed lightly into her fist. "So you've finally emerged from the ICU, have you? They said that you wouldn't leave your apprentice's side, even when four doctors told you that you were useless." Her mouth dropped open in dismay, and she met his calm gaze with desperate apology in her eyes, then looked away. "I'm sorry, that was a very poor choice of words."
Qui-Gon smiled. "Don't be. Your assessment of the situation is quite accurate." He placed the last tube on the tray and lifted it as he stood. She rose hastily, pausing with one leg awkwardly in the air as she adjusted her shoe. "They forced me to leave half an hour ago, saying they wouldn't let me back in until I'd eaten something. Said they'd be able to smell if I had, so I shouldn't try to deceive them. I've been wandering around looking for the cafeteria since then. They should sell maps at the door."
Gentle lines crinkled around her eyes as she returned his smile. "Yes, they should. I've been here a month and I still don't understand Bradzian architecture. I believe they follow a completely different form of organization than most planets. But I've figured out where the cafeteria is. I'll take you there, if you don't mind stopping at the lab first to drop off those beakers."
"I don't mind at all."
He did not let her carry the tray.
Bradzian cuisine tended toward barely-cooked meat dishes and salads made of the parts of plants that were usually thrown away. Julune guided him to choices that were (mostly) pleasing to the human palate, and they sat beside a window in the full morning glow of the system's large yellow sun. He gently encouraged her to talk about her research, and was not very surprised to discover a deep passion that was barely masked by her endearing awkwardness and shyness.
Qui-Gon had known that Thyferra produced ninety percent of the Republic's bacta supply, and he had known that azhali was the plant from which the life-saving liquid was fermented, but he had never learned about the many steps needed in the process between, nor the many variables that could affect the quality of the finished product. For the past two years, Julune had been studying only one of these variables, and had found the project infinitely fascinating.
"I'll spend two months on a planet, then move on. There are so many yet to be studied! Bothawuii was amazing. Azhali growth speed increased by almost forty percent. Forty percent! Unfortunately, the quality of the fermented samples was not up to par, not even for the lowest grade of bacta. We can't sell people bacta with twice the cure time! Not in good conscience, anyway. I know my cartel would never approve. Crenellia, you know Crenellia? The most beautiful trees grow there, cerelle—the wood is very expensive—I thought it would be worth looking into. However, though the atmosphere did have unusual levels of certain gases, it didn't affect the azhali at all. But Bespin, ah! Bespin was the most interesting of all . . . ."
He listened to her talk, oddly soothed by that rich, powerful female voice. Soothed, but not sedated. He did believe that he could listen to that voice for years, without ever feeling a need for sleep.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes, large and languid in his pale face, an aching azure blue, and blinked slowly at his Master. "How long this time?" he croaked.
Qui-Gon gently took the cool hand in both of his, warming it between his broad, callused palms. "You were unconscious for four days."
"No, I mean, how long 'til we can leave?"
Qui-Gon fetched the water from the bedside table, adjusted the straw, held it to his apprentice's lips. "Four or five days, I imagine. I'll ask Healer Hernaassh the next time he stops by."
The eighteen-year-old finally turned his head away from the straw, closing his eyes, resting but not sleeping. Qui-Gon put the water back on the table, and again put his large hands to good use, massaging the limp fingers, moving up the wrist, the forearm. The boy's extremities were too cold—his body had fought hard, pulling all the blood and warmth to his vital organs, where they had been desperately needed.
"Oh, my Padawan, you must stop jumping in front of blows meant for me."
"Mmm." Obi-Wan's hand moved sluggishly, grabbed Qui-Gon's, entwined their fingers. He briefly opened one eye to peer at the older Jedi. "Can't promise that, Master. Sorry."
Qui-Gon sighed and moved his free hand to caress the side of his boy's face, brushing back the short reddish hair. Obi-Wan leaned into the touch, beginning to succumb to the need for sleep. He would be doing a lot of that in the next few days.
His young voice seemed to drift up from the depths of slumber. "'M glad you ate, Master, but y'ought t' sleep, too . . . don't hafta stay here alla time . . . ."
And he was gone, captured again by healing rest.
Her dark eyebrows nearly jumped off her face. "Qui-Gon! You look . . . better. Did you get some sleep?"
"Yes. And then Obi-Wan told me to go out for fresh air. My own Padawan, ordering me about!"
"Um, no offense, but he must be a perceptive kid. You look like you could use some air."
He bowed his acquiescence, half in mocking amusement, half in resigned agreement. "Well, it doesn't do any good if I can't even tell how to get out of this labyrinth. Will you walk with me once more, Julune?"
They walked beside the golden field, discussing Bradzian culture, comparing it to other strange customs they had encountered in their travels. Gradually they turned to more personal topics, gently feeling each other out.
"Well, actually, I wanted to be a healer. But that turned out to be impossible. I found certain aspects of the job . . . problematic."
He suppressed a grin. "Certain sights, perhaps?"
"Oh, I never had a problem with blood. It was other . . . juices . . . involved with the profession that repelled me. To this day I swear that a catheter will eventually lead to my doom. Anyway, when I realized that I could not handle more conventional means of healing, I looked for another job that would let me help with the saving of lives. I grew up on Thyferra, so it didn't take me long to figure one out."
"You seem very happy with it now."
"Oh, yes!" She sighed delightedly. "I've always loved plants, you see. Had my own garden when I was little, never gave it up. My family always said I had green fingers. Biology in high school, advanced botany in college, xenobiology and xenobotany in med school—I had been preparing my whole life without realizing it. I suppose I was led, in a way. Chemistry I picked up pretty quickly, once I realized what I wanted to do. Yes, I am very happy now."
They were silent for a time, just walking. They did not touch, but they might as well have.
"And you?" she asked suddenly. "I don't suppose Jedi ever struggle with the purpose of their lives?"
His lips tightened slightly. "You might be surprised."
She was silent, sensing pain. Her dark eyes begged forgiveness.
He sighed. "Yes, we do. Some more than others. Not always at the same times in life as you might expect. I never questioned as a child, a Padawan, a young Knight. But as a Master . . . yes, I wondered. I struggled with my purpose. I failed, you see, failed in a most terrible way. And it nearly destroyed me."
"But it did not. You endured. Are you stronger now because of it?"
"I hope so."
Silence. Their feet crushed the long grass, the scent of grain sweet in the air. The air smelled different on this planet, strangely clear and bright, as if they inhaled translucent starlight.
Then: "I think you are."
He did not answer.
"Can I sit up now? Please, Master, tell me I can sit up now!"
"You can sit up now, Padawan."
Qui-Gon wrapped an arm around the boy's shoulders, helping him up, his other hand on the button that raised the bed to a reclining position. Obi-Wan sighed happily once he was up, glad to be on the mend. "Three days now, Master?"
"Three days. The healers are very pleased with your progress."
"I'm staying awake for longer periods."
"Yes. It's a good sign."
"I'll start complaining about the food soon."
Qui-Gon chuckled. "Yes, Obi-Wan, another good sign." And I don't blame you one bit for complaining in this particular med center.
"And then I'll start pestering the nurses. I'll get whiny and fractious and rebellious, and walk on my own even though you all order me to stay in bed. And then we'll go, right?"
"As soon as you're healed enough for travel, we will go."
"Is that a promise?"
Qui-Gon sighed. "You know I don't dare make any promises. Things can always go wrong." And frequently do.
Obi-Wan studied his Master quietly, blue-gray eyes piercing and penetrating in a gentle, loving way. "But maybe you don't really want to go?" he asked softly.
Qui-Gon looked at him sharply. "Where would you get that idea?"
The boy smiled and waved a hand vaguely. "Oh, you know how med centers are. The nurses gossip, the doctors gossip, the patients listen with interest because nothing else is going on."
The Master frowned.
Obi-Wan sobered. "It's all right, Master. I don't mind. I'm sure it's good for you." He smiled suddenly, impish as ever. "And you don't really need my permission, do you?"
No, just my own . . . which I don't think I've given. "You're sure you don't mind?"
"Of course not. You don't have to hover, you know. Not that I don't enjoy it. But you do it all the time. You should get out more, expand your horizons, experience more of life. Force, I sound like Mace Windu. Kill me now."
"No, my Obi-Wan, I think I will pass on that invitation. You find plenty of ways to do that all on your own."
Obi-Wan mock-pouted, pooching out his lower lip. "I really must be getting better. You aren't listening to my every whim anymore."
Qui-Gon smiled deeply. "Yes, Padawan, you're getting better."
They sat on a bench in a park near the center, looking over a small pond with a fountain that sparkled in the midday sun. Waterfowl paddled in the water, gobbling chunks of bread that a group of school-children threw to them on the other side of the pond. The children giggled, chased each other, and harassed their teachers, their tiny shoulder-wings flapping in excitement.
Qui-Gon stretched his arm out as if in a yawn, and rested it on Julune's shoulders.
She said nothing, only glanced up at his face for a moment, then snuggled in, her head resting on his shoulder.
It was very beautiful.
Obi-Wan started complaining about the food that very evening. The next day he got whiny and fractious, as promised, and the nurses who had been so charmed by the "adorable" young human changed their minds with great alacrity. Qui-Gon was glad to see it.
She held his hand, massaging the thick brown fingers, curling them inward, tickling his palm. "My parents died in a speeder crash when I was three. I was raised by my uncle, Javis Graffon. When I was ten, he was diagnosed with a wasting disease. It ate him from the inside. I watched for two years as the healers struggled to find a cure. Nothing helped—drugs, radiation, the best bacta on Thyferra. I held his hand, wiped up his vomit, argued with the healers and the lawyers and the social workers. He grew so thin, I thought he would snap in a breeze. The skin on his face and hands thinned so badly that any pressure would break it, and I carried spare bacta strips in my pockets as a matter of course.
"Then, when I was twelve, new research was published on Coruscant. A miracle herb, from Kashyyyk, of all places. It worked. No one could believe it. But I knew. I had always known that the galaxy could not treat my loving, gentle uncle so cruelly, to let him die in that horrid way. That faith carried me through. Now, I wonder what would have happened if he had died. Would I have given up, gone insane? Sat in a corner and cried for the rest of my life? Killed myself? I don't know. I don't suppose it matters."
He turned her fingers over in his own and returned the favor, massaging gently and thoroughly. "I have had three Padawans. The first one was completely normal, I suppose, as normal as a Jedi can be, anyway. I trained her well, and she responded to my teaching. We were close, but never close enough to touch. It was sufficient. My second Padawan, Xanatos, I loved like a son. I had never known such an overwhelming feeling. I would do anything for him, believe all good of him. When I looked at him, I saw only Light. But my vision was faulty. And soon I knew darkness . . ."
She listened. With such great tenderness, she listened. Had he ever told anyone outside the Jedi? He'd never had a reason. Had he ever said so much? He wasn't sure.
Silence for a time. She could say so much in these silences. It astonished him. He'd never known such deep communication outside his bond with Obi-Wan.
"And your third Padawan?" she asked at length, when both had finished pondering.
"When I look at him, I see only Light. And this time, my vision is not faulty."
"Good." She entwined her fingers with his and drew his hand to her mouth. "Good."
"One day now, Master?"
"One day, Obi-Wan. You don't have to try to walk on your own against orders. We all get the hologram."
"My rebelliousness is obvious enough?"
"Yes. Quite. Don't hurt yourself, my Padawan. Tomorrow you'll be able to walk out of here on your own."
"All right. I'll wait."
"We never made any promises."
"No. No promises."
Still, he heard her labored breathing, felt the tears that surged against her eyelids, wanting to break.
"It would never work. We both knew that from the beginning."
"Yes. We knew."
"I'm always planet-hopping. And so are you. Even a casual . . . it's not possible."
And he felt the tears that wanted to escape his own eyes.
"I'm sorry, Qui-Gon."
She looked up then, surprised, the question in her eyes.
He smiled sadly.
"Bradzia is very beautiful. I didn't notice at first, I was so worried about Obi-Wan. But when I stopped and looked around, the beauty took my breath away. I will leave a piece of myself here."
"So will I."
They watched the sunset, their arms linked. She nestled her nose against his strong upper arm, and he raised his other hand to stroke the rich, dark hair that hung over her shoulder.
"My work is very important to me. Learning how to save people better. It's a wonderful life. I don't want another. You don't want another either, do you?"
"No. I am a Jedi."
"Yes. I knew you'd say that."
The sun sank, warm yellow orb sinking beyond the golden field, now bathed scarlet in the day's death. Above, the orange washed into indigo and deepest, darkest purple, and the small green moon winked in the corner of the sky.
"It was still worth it. Five days. It was worth it."
"Yes. It was."
At last, the day of release. Obi-Wan's brilliant grin was infectious. He was escaping imprisonment once more. The galaxy wouldn't know what hit it.
He was still a bit wobbly on his legs, and the Jedi garments, newly returned to him and replacing the hated med robe, seemed to hang on him a bit too loosely. Qui-Gon kept an eye on him, but the boy was determined to exit the center on his own power, and the Master would not take that privilege from him. If he started to falter on the walk to the transport, though, Qui-Gon had no qualms about simply picking the Padawan up in his great arms and carrying him the rest of the way.
Healer Hernaassh led them through the strangely flowing corridors to the lobby. Many Bradzians had gathered there to see the Jedi off, honored that heroes of the Republic had come to stay at their center. Nurses, doctors, technicians, the receptionist: everyone who had had any contact with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon—and some that hadn't—insisted on giving them the Bradzian farewell of vigorous cheek-to-cheek rubbing. Obi-Wan thought his skin would be scraped off before it ended. Qui-Gon patted his beard to make sure it was still there.
Last to see them off was the only other human on Bradzia, Julune Gaffron. She pressed her cheek to Obi-Wan's in imitation of the local farewell, then kissed the same cheek, very gently.
"Keep shining, young Jedi," she whispered, for him alone.
Then she turned to Qui-Gon. For a moment they only looked at each other, remembering. Julune swayed a little, and he took her shoulders gently in his large hands.
"The days here are brief, but beautiful while they last," he said softly.
"Yes. Bradzia has a lovely yellow sun, so warm and comforting. And the sunset is as gorgeous as the midday."
This time the woman didn't bother with that cheek-to-cheek rubbish. She went straight for the lips.
Qui-Gon was shocked by the sweetness of that taste. It was a chaste kiss, brief and tremulous, and then Julune drew back, looking up at him doubtfully. He took a deep breath, and bent to meet her mouth again.
This time neither drew back, until both were satisfied.
They leaned back, smiling. He reached up to wipe away the tear trailing down her cheek. She touched his hand.
Then she slipped away, perhaps going back to her azhali cultures. Or, perhaps, she was walking out to the golden field to watch the sunlight, savoring the brief day.
Qui-Gon passed his arm around his Padawan's shoulders with a brief, regretful sigh. "Come on, Obi-Wan. Let's go home."
Obi-Wan did all right on the walk to the landing platform, though after a time he was grateful for the arm about his shoulders, and leaned against his Master's solid strength for support. Qui-Gon held him close, glad to have his apprentice returned from death once more. It was getting to be a bad habit.
"Are you all right, Master?" Obi-Wan asked a bit diffidently, once they were aboard the transport, strapping in.
Qui-Gon sighed again, and turned to face the boy. "Yes, Obi-Wan, I'm all right. A bit sad, but it will pass."
"I'm sorry. I wouldn't have encouraged you, if I had realized . . . . I guess I wasn't really thinking."
Qui-Gon shook his head. "We both knew it would be nothing more than those few days. We knew that from the beginning. But you were right to encourage me, Padawan. You were right—I did need to get out more, broaden my horizons, experience more of life. It was worth it."
The brilliant, infectious grin returned. "And did you 'experience more of life,' Master?" the boy asked slyly. "I noticed that you didn't come to tuck me in last night. How late were you out, exactly?"
Qui-Gon laughed and turned back to the console, entering information into the navicomputer. "Now that, my young Padawan, is absolutely none of your business."
Obi-Wan's grin did not fade. "I thought so."
Qui-Gon smiled, looking out the canopy at Bradzia's warm yellow sun. The day was bright and wonderful, and it had just begun.