The Quiet One
A Vignette by LuvEwan
(Disclaimer) Nothing belongs to me.
Qui-Gon Jinn defies the Council and Obi-Wan is forced to see, yet again, the things that separate him from his mentor.
Dusk bled in feverish mandarin, tinting the sky and lengthening shadows.
Obi-Wan was braced by the sultry palette as he burst from the door of the Council Chamber. The glare of the disappearing sun caught in his eyes and he squinted against it, legs pumping and young face intent. His focus was trained on the retreating form of his Master, ever graceful, even under the current circumstances. He needed to catch up with the man, but he couldn't compete with the long, determined strides.
Breaking into a brisk jog, Obi-Wan shortened the distance between them, until he was only a step behind the other Jedi.
"Master!" The apprentice was nearly breathless, though not from any overexertion of his body, "Master, where are you going?"
"I don't know." Qui-Gon replied gruffly. He cut a quick line across the bridge, to the lift.
Obi-Wan's forehead creased with his budding frown. He followed him inside. The cylinder sealed, and they began to descend, down several floors.
Qui-Gon stood in absolute, steely silence, his face a hardened composition of stoicism.
But Obi-Wan knew him too well to be fooled by the mask. He detected the slightest clench of the powerful jaw that told of the maelstrom brimming beneath the well-schooled façade. To say his teacher was upset would be a gross understatement. The cramped space was dense with Qui-Gon's simmering indignation.
And all at once, Obi-Wan was confronted by a sense of isolation, as though he were trespassing. A swallow struggled down his throat. He glanced at the tall, venerable silhouette of Qui-Gon Jinn—and his eyes dropped, of their own accord.
The lift opened on the ground level, and Qui-Gon thundered out. It would have been plainly evident he was taking leave of his apprentice, if not for the simple words, spoken in a low tone, "I'm going for a walk."
There was really no question whether or not his apprentice would join him.
The fading light softened the path. Their robes were mere whispers through the cooling grass.
Obi-Wan inhaled the purity of the air. He hoped the natural scents surrounding them would aid his mentor in gleaning some clarity. But, as they continued the quiet sojourn, the stalwart shoulders did not ease. Tension remained knotted around the pair, for the deepest fibers of their psyches were entwined, and the two were connected in a way that surpassed the thickest of shields. There was little emotion that Qui-Gon experienced that Obi-Wan, in turn, did not also feel. It was the wondrous, aggravating, precious, invasive constant, in lives comprised of upheaval.
Currently, those mental ties were infused with the elder's outrage. It was dizzying in strength, but not unfamiliar. This was far from the first instance in which die-hard maverick Qui-Gon Jinn had gone against the rule of the Council. And it certainly wasn't the first time the Council had shot his defiance down.
But it never settled into routine for the Master, or his pupil.
Obi-Wan gazed out at the fire-bright horizon. Frustrated words sparked on his lips, but he couldn't chance speech. He couldn't be the one to break the silence. It just… He shook his head. It just wasn't his place.
After a few agonizing minutes had passed, Qui-Gon sighed. "I'm sorry, Obi-Wan."
The young man's head shot up. Of all the things he had expected to hear—"Sorry, Master?"
Qui-Gon compressed his lips. "I'm sorry that I drag you down with me. It isn't fair to you."
"Drag me down?" Obi-Wan's smile was one of surprised incredulity. "Master, you've never…." He studied the distinct, leonine features, searching eyes that were suddenly bereft of their usual serenity. "Why would you say that?"
Qui-Gon loosed a weary breath and ran fingers through his hair. The first tinges of nightfall settled in the lines of his face. "Because it's the truth. When I go against them, you go against them as well."
"Of course. I'm your apprentice." He said it, as always, with a warm stirring of pride.
"Other apprentices don't have to rebel against half the dictations of the High Council."
"But other apprentices don't have my Master." Obi-Wan pointed out. "Besides, I wouldn't say half the dictations. Realistically, I'd estimate three-fourths."
The Master failed to locate the humor in his response. "Obi-Wan, you don't have to joke your way out of this. You can tell me what you really think." He rested a hand on his apprentice's shoulder. "I'd like to know."
Obi-Wan looked at the chiseled visage, trying to avoid the scrutiny he imagined in the blue eyes. What did he think of his Master's disregard for the Council's decisions? The bones in his chest seemed to flex and squeeze his heart within the splintered cage. His mental periphery was assembled of countless moments, standing beside Qui-Gon in the Chamber, watching the unwavering expressions of the twelve councilors. It was like undergoing a trial, so often did his teacher have to defend himself against the criticism and disapproval. Obi-Wan felt privately torn, part of him dedicated to the Code, to the mandates of their station, while another part, more personally driven, was gripped with intense loyalty toward the man who oversaw every aspect of his Jedi tutelage.
And yes, in the end, when his Master blazed his own trail, Obi-Wan was only a step behind.
He knew it had earned him a mixed reputation within the Council and the Order itself. There were those that believed him to have little of his own identity to claim, for so much of the partnership was Qui-Gon, the flashes of brilliance and fearless insurgence, the adventurous stories ripening to legends. What was Obi-Wan, but the shadow at the man's feet, or worse, a tag-along? He didn't possess that same lightning spirit. And naturally, others thought that to be a blessing. Some viewed Qui-Gon Jinn as the worst example of Knighthood, with his blatant dismissal of ancient tenets in favor of flat-out instinct. Some worried that this habit would be passed to Obi-Wan, and ruin an ideal future for him.
But Obi-Wan wasn't concerned by either opinion. People would talk, would form their individual opinions. Very little could be accomplished in life, if one spent their time worrying what was said after they passed through a room. No, his worry was reserved for his Master. He could admit, his breaths always came quicker and were pulled shallowly from him, as they stood in the nexus of the silvery Chamber. The debates between the Council and Qui-Gon kicked up a tumult within the Padawan. After a decade, he was beginning to sense the effects of it. He dreaded mission reports, and what would come if an aspect of them were denounced. He hated the verbal blows, the twelve gazes that would, in unison, lose a bit of their respectful sheen for his Master.
And he hated the futility of his attempts at consolation, that his words were never enough to sate the High Twelve or his mentor. In moments of extreme exhaustion, he almost wished some of the fire would cool in Qui-Gon Jinn, so that his peers would have no reason to refer to his infamy, so the man had the opportunity to sit among the most talented members of the Order, as a ruling partner.
It killed Obi-Wan to think that his Master would be rejected in favor of a more streamlined substitute.
Like me? The notion ground in his gut. He was an inferior contrast to Qui-Gon. Straight-laced, with linear leanings and a quieter reserve. He was what his Master was fighting against in the ranks: monotony, blind agreement with the Council's decree.
Ten years had not extracted that nature from him, even with his Master's unrelieved influence.
He would always be the silent one, holding it in, running after someone.
Never knowing where someone else's wild spirit would take him, and if something would be found there that would, for a short while, replace him.
So Obi-Wan considered it all as his Master awaited reply. He thought of what existed in his soul, there at the roots—and he thought of what the right thing was to say. "I go where you go, Master." Was his answer.
But it seemed that wouldn't stand. "After all this time, have I caused you to shy away from saying what you feel?" Qui-Gon's eyes were bright with a tired pain. "You go where I go, but is that where you want to go, Obi-Wan?"
"I want to go where you are, Master. How else can I learn from you?"
They walked along a line of lush, fruit-bearing trees. The leaves scraped in the burgeoning twilight breeze. "There are other ways." The man said.
"But this is your way." Obi-Wan persisted. "How can I expect you to be anything other than yourself?"
Qui-Gon stopped beneath the jade canopy of one of the taller trees. The shade slashed a dark mosaic of the layered leaves over his face, but could not shroud the unrest there. "I think every apprentice expects to be protected by their instructor. And I…I don't think I protect you enough, Obi-Wan. Too often, you're in the middle. In the crossfire of whatever I've gotten us into."
"I can take care of myself."
Qui-Gon shook his head. "You're not supposed to take care of yourself. Not yet." To illustrate this, he straightened the plaited strands streaming from behind Obi-Wan's ear. "That is my purpose." He added, softer.
"You do what the Force tells you to do." Obi-Wan said, with a conviction he chose to cling to, no matter how it hurt him. "I understand that. I admire that."
"But you have to justify that, to everyone else. Already, you've been more of an adult that I've ever been. That isn't right. You don't deserve that."
"You didn't take my childhood, Master." Obi-Wan shook his head. "Life took that, not you."
"I would have liked to keep that child a little while longer," Qui-Gon admitted, rubbing his thumb once under Obi-Wan's lip with a rueful half-smile, "It was easier then. You didn't have to chase after me, and drag me into focus so much. You always…" He was forced to swallow, and then begin again, "You've always been able to see more than the rest of us. You're steady on the road, my Padawan, while we all stray."
Obi-Wan smiled, mouth closed. The phantoms had fled his teacher's eyes.
"Come on. There's still some sun."
And they walked again, Master and apprentice.
Obi-Wan sighed with something akin to contentment. The reassuring weight of Qui-Gon's hand was on his shoulder. But it was the weight of his words that pinned the Padawan.
When everyone strayed, he was on the road alone.