A/N: To answer questions: No, I'm not Australian! LOL! I just like the word "cuppa," is all. It's funny. I'm American, born and raised. And yes, that was the end of the chapter, sorry. Somehow I missed a period, there. It happens sometimes. (Though not every month.) And as for wanting to join Julune on her manhunt, I think we all do. :) Oh, and sorry this took an entire month. I was bad. :( DRL sneaked up on me and took me down like a linebacker at the Superbowl. But hey, here I am! The end is in sight now, though I'm not sure quite how to get there. We'll keep working on it, eh?

And here's a nice new chapter for you, so disgustingly fluffy that you'll probably gag from the very title.

Chapter 45: "The Nicest Feeling in the World"

It had rained last night. Qui-Gon knew this before he even opened his eyes, and not only because the fresh scent of rain had permeated the house from some window left carelessly open. A slight nip in the air kissed his cheeks and the tip of his nose, and a warm, sleeping body was pressed up against his side. Julune always snuggled up to him in her sleep whenever the air had the slightest chill in it, which was why he sometimes deliberately left a window open in the cool season. A bit sneaky, but very effective. Birds sang outside, announcing the arrival of the sun, which was no doubt glinting off new puddles and the erratic streaks of raindrops on the windows.

Qui-Gon opened one eye and peeked at the face laying on his shoulder. Obi-Wan. The boy seemed completely peaceful, for once, though his face still bore the traces of dried tears, as fresh and as cleansing as the traces of rain. His body was relaxed against Qui-Gon's, finally, not curled up in that tense little ball that had become so familiar.

And there on the other side of the smaller, slighter body of their son was Julune, curled up against them for warmth and still soundly asleep, her mouth slightly agape. Qui-Gon smiled fondly. This was more normality than they had achieved for days—Julune sleeping like the dead, Obi-Wan relaxed and at peace, Qui-Gon watching them both. This was the way it was supposed to be.

Obi-Wan sighed in his sleep and nestled his head a little nearer to Qui-Gon's chest. Julune cuddled even closer as he shifted away, muttering a displeased little grunt at the removal of warmth. Qui-Gon tried not to laugh, he truly did, but he lost that battle quickly. He managed to keep his mouth shut, but his chest rumbled, bouncing Obi-Wan's head just the tiniest bit. Unfortunately, the boy still slept very lightly, though obviously with more peace, now, and he woke immediately, blinking dazedly around as he tried to orient himself.

"Good morning, little one," Qui-Gon murmured, trying to erase the confusion before it appeared. "I love you."

"Papa Qui-Gon?" the boy's voice was small and rough, but not fearful. He looked up at his father and yawned, not wasting the energy to cover his mouth. He managed a faint little smile. "You keep saying that."

Qui-Gon returned his smile sadly. "Perhaps one of these times you'll believe me."

Obi-Wan let his head fall back on the man's broad shoulder. "I do believe you," he said softly. "You prove it with everything you do."

"But you don't believe yet that this is forever."

A sad little sigh shuddered through the thin body. "I'm trying to believe."

"I know. We'll help you."

Obi-Wan nodded, and seemed to become aware of the unexpected warmth at his back. He peeked over his shoulder, his eyes widening at the sight of his mama curled up so close. He looked up at his papa a bit wildly.

"She gets chilly at night," Qui-Gon explained, grinning. "And you're a nice, warm little cuddle cub."

"I am?" The boy's eyes seemed to widen even further at this strange thought. He glanced back at Julune again, then carefully, gently rolled onto his back, sandwiched snugly between his parents. He looked from one to the other in something very like wonder.

"Are you uncomfortable?" Qui-Gon asked softly.

Obi-Wan considered the question seriously, then shook his head. "I think I'm exactly the opposite of uncomfortable."

"This . . ." It was Julune's voice, rough and sluggish. Her body was still, her eyes shut. ". . . is the nicest feeling in the world."

Obi-Wan turned his head to study his mother's face, only a hand span from his own. "Are you awake?" he whispered after a moment.

"Yes," she muttered, her voice still clogged with sleep. "But I don't like it and I'm trying not to be."

Qui-Gon couldn't help but laugh again, the effort of keeping it all-but-silent jiggling the entire bed. "That's your mama," he said with great affection. "She does everything with her whole self, all the passion she has in her. Sleeping. Working, gardening, cooking. Loving you. Loving me."

"And don't you forget it," Julune said firmly, then went still, apparently still trying to recapture slumber.

Obi-Wan nodded thoughtfully. For a small time they lay in silence, letting Julune rediscover sleep. Eventually the boy turned back to his papa, though. "But are you uncomfortable?"

That was his boy, always thinking of others. Qui-Gon shook his head. "Exactly the opposite." He paused, thinking. "I can remember being small, a little younger than you. When I had a bad dream I would go to my parents' chamber and crawl in bed between them, just the way you are now. It was the best feeling in the world, as Julune said. I like being here again."

"Lucky," Julune murmured, obviously not asleep again. "I missed that after my parents died. Snuggling with Uncle Javis wasn't quite the same, though of course he did his best."

"I never did anything like that," Obi-Wan said, staring thoughtfully up at the ceiling.

"Well, you're welcome to do it now anytime you like."

"Even after I can sleep by myself again?"

"Especially then. Anytime you like, you come to our chamber and jump in. Just try not to land on my stomach, please."

"Nor mine," Julune said, opening one eye to peer down at her burgeoning tummy.

"Oh, never," Obi-Wan said earnestly, horrified by the thought.

Julune smiled softly, laying a hand tenderly on her growing womb. "I know you wouldn't. I was teasing, dear."

Qui-Gon reached across the boy to rest his fingers over hers, sensing the quickening within. "Hmm. I think the baby is up early today. Is that why you couldn't go back to sleep?"

She nodded ruefully. "He's usually most active in late afternoon."

"You mean she."

"No, I don't."

They grinned at each other. Obi-Wan looked at them as if they were crazy. Julune laughed softly in his face, then slipped her hand from under Qui-Gon's and took the boy's, and laid it gently against her stomach. "Can you feel it?"

Obi-Wan flashed her a wide-eyed glance, then looked back at her stomach, their hands next to Qui-Gon's. Qui-Gon lifted his palm and laid it over the back of the two smaller hands, maneuvering them around slightly, molding slender fingers over the contour of Julune's abdomen. "There. Concentrate."

The young brow furrowed as Obi-Wan obeyed, drawing all his senses in close, though he was missing the one that had been the most important to him. His parents watched in delight as wonder and awe began to glow in his face, starting in his eyes and melting outward to encompass everything. Qui-Gon felt the tiny flutter, like the wings of a tiny bird, and smiled in broad contentment.

"That's incredible," Obi-Wan breathed, his voice a mere whisper of sound.

"And it only going to grow stronger," Julune said warmly. "So I've heard, anyway. In a month or so that strong little boy is going to be kicking so hard I won't be able to nap anymore."

"Strong little girl," Qui-Gon corrected. "Your baby sister, Obi-Wan."

"Baby brother."

And they laughed at each other.


To Obi-Wan's relief, Master Yoda had not prepared breakfast for them. Julune had to eat a quick bowl of porridge right before she left for work, which left the three males to linger over their food, chatting pleasantly of inconsequential things. Qui-Gon kept it deliberately light, giving Obi-Wan a chance to recover from yesterday's heaviness.

And for the first time since Martin, the boy was willing to respond, to speak up, though each word was tentative and testing. This pleased Qui-Gon almost as much as his son's earlier, casually voiced question about when he would be able to sleep by himself again, which had shown him that Obi-Wan both knew that he had a problem and was confident that it would heal with time. He wasn't entirely sure that he wouldn't just burst with pride one of these times the youngster proved again how very brave and capable he was.

"What would you like to do today, Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon asked at a convenient lull. He was still somewhat at a loss as to what he ought to do now. On Bandomeer they had taken long walks as Obi-Wan's strength returned, worked in the garden, looked at the clouds. While indoors they were often meditating together. None of these were options now. They could still take care of household tasks, cook, and read in the evenings, but it didn't seem enough to fill the time.

True enough, over the past few days Obi-Wan had spent more time sleeping than anything else, as his body recovered physically from his ordeal. But he seemed decidedly more alert this morning, perhaps because a heavy weight had been lifted, invisible until it had gone, they had all grown so used to it. Now their lives would have to find a new rhythm, one that would hopefully grow stronger and more joyful with the passing of each day.

Obi-Wan shrugged minutely, his shoulders just barely moving up and down. His eyes were trained on his food, as usual, and he held his spoon with great care, as if it might fly away if he didn't keep an eye on it. He had already eaten two bowls of porridge, with a large proportion of the contents of the syrup pitcher to make it palatable. Qui-Gon didn't grudge a single drop.

"Please look at me," he ordered, with great tenderness. It was time to help the boy unlearn what he had learned.

He waited until the blue-green gaze met his, hesitant, uncertain, but clearer today than it had been since Bandomeer. Then he asked again. "Do you have any ideas about how you'd like to spend the time? We can do whatever you wish. I am at your disposal."

Qui-Gon grinned cheekily at that, and was surprised to see something very like fright flash through those clear young eyes. Still, he was determined to prove that he was serious about this—he wanted Obi-Wan to begin to make decisions again, even if it was over something as simple as whether they should read a holo-book or play a game. Patiently, expectantly, he held the boy's eyes and waited.

"W-whatever you want is f-fine," Obi-Wan stuttered, instinctively ducking his head, then slowly looking back up again. Still trying to please . . .

"No longer are you in the house of your master, youngling," Master Yoda said, his neutral gaze and calm voice somehow making it easier for them to hear his words. "You have no master, neither slave-owner nor Jedi. Parents, you have now. Changed, everything has."

"I—I know."

But it was obvious that Obi-Wan did not. He didn't understand what this meant. Over the past few days he had begun to catch an inkling, but there was no way he could possess the experience to fully comprehend the new life that had fallen into his lap. Nothing that had ever happened to him could have prepared him for this.

"All right, let's try this different way," Qui-Gon said.

Gently he reached out and moved Obi-Wan's porridge bowl away, toward the center of the table—it was obvious that the youngster wasn't going to eat any more now. The simple gesture worked to fix the boy's full attention on him, though he still held his spoon frozen in the air, and only his eyes moved. Qui-Gon sat back in his chair, pushing his own bowl away as well, and focused completely on his son, though he folded his hands over his chest with deceptive casualness.

I'm listening to you, he tried to tell the boy with body language and tone, everything he had, because they could no longer feel each other through the Force. Only now did he realize how much their instinctive bond had helped to lubricate their communication, drawing them close and tight in the scant space of a few days. Now they would have to find other ways to continue on the same path, though hopefully this was a temporary condition. I'm completely open to you. Nothing matters to me right now except you and what you have to say to me.

He hoped Obi-Wan heard. Not with his ears, but with his heart.

"You seemed curious earlier, when Julune and I were talking," Qui-Gon began. "I thought you might have something to say, but you didn't. Did you have a question for us? I'd like to answer it."

Silence. Obi-Wan sat frozen, though Qui-Gon saw his throat convulse as he swallowed. The boy did have something to say. But he couldn't figure out how to do it.

And it was no wonder, after three months of being crushed under another's boot, never allowed to be himself, slowly making himself smaller and smaller until he all but disappeared. No doubt he had been chastened for asking questions, even to clarify his own tasks. He had made himself quiet and invisible to avoid punishment, and he had learned the lesson very well. The bright, energetic, eager young student Master Yoda and the other Jedi had known at the Temple had been forced to vanish inside this pale, silent shell. All this to attain mere survival. It wasn't living.

Qui-Gon wanted his son to live again. So he waited.

"I did . . ." Obi-Wan choked, and tried again. "I did, I did . . . wonder." His voice broke, his face screwing up with the effort this was taking, but he pressed determinedly on. "You spoke about . . . about your parents. I wondered . . . does this mean I have a grandma and grandpa now?"

Qui-Gon felt a broad, warm grin spread across his face, and did not fight it. "You do indeed," he said, with perhaps more enthusiasm than the question warranted. "And a great-uncle as well, you know. Uncle Javis. And several aunts and uncles on my side. And cousins! You have cousins, too. As soon we can, we'll have to visit my family, or have them come here. Would you like that?"

Obi-Wan nodded, a bit jerkily, absently tracing circles on the tablecloth with his well-polished spoon. "Very much. I . . . I don't remember having family before. I visited mine when, when I was an initiate, just once. But there was an accident . . . they died . . . I had a brother named Owen . . . I hardly knew them, but . . . but I still felt as if I had died inside, too. Isn't that funny?" He laughed, a strangled little sound.

"No," Qui-Gon said, very soberly and quietly, He reached across the table and laid a hand on the thin arm, halting its restless movement. "I'm sorry, Obi-Wan. I didn't know that. It's not funny at all."

The boy nodded again, swallowing, looking away from a moment. Then his eyes met Qui-Gon's, stronger now. "I'd like to meet your family."

"Our family."

"Our family." And there was a smile, bright through the sheen of old tears, a brilliant thing, a gift from a shadowed sky. "Do I have younger cousins, or older?"

"Both." Qui-Gon sat back with a small chuckle. "I've been teased mercilessly about how long it's taking for me to add to the number. Everyone is desperately anxious for Julune to give birth so they can meet the new little one. Won't they be surprised when they find out that I have two children now!"

"Surprised?" Obi-Wan tilted his head, almost with that old teasing look, but not quite.

"Surprised, and overjoyed." Qui-Gon gave his arm a little squeeze. "It will be wonderful, Obi-Wan, I promise you."

"I . . . I look forward to it."

After that, talking wasn't nearly so difficult anymore.