I'm stepping a bit out of my comfort zone with this one: it's been a while since I've written teh Padawan, but I hope you enjoy it, none the less.

Lucas owns the pretties.

Obi-Wan Kenobi pulled his feet up onto the awkward chair and hugged his knees. Somewhere down the hallway, the healer's chimes sounded out the hour, like the mournful chirping of some lonely nightbird. The boy looked up. It was terribly late.

He was still here, even after everyone else had gone. The Healer's wing was deserted, its patients sleeping, drugged into peace. Through the cracked door of the room, he could just see the bluish desk lap of the Healer on the midnight shift. Now and then, a datasheet rustled.

Obi-Wan sighed, and squeezed his knees a little tighter to his chest. He didn't know where else to go. Home would be far too lonely, but he couldn't stand the thought of companionship either. It was as if he had fallen into an awkward crack and now become horribly stuck, claustrophobically immobile. As if his body were neither here nor there; spliced. He felt so...lost.

Because it was Master Qui-Gon sleeping drugged into unconsciousness on the bed in the room.

It had been his fault. It was always his fault, thinking back. He hadn't moved quickly enough, or been as careful as he should have been, and his Master suffered because of that. Clumsy, he sighed into his knees. Useless and clumsy.

Of course, his Master would have disagreed with him vehemently. But Qui-Gon was currently unconscious, so that mattered very little.

Oh, it was no good.

The mission had been going fine. They always went lovely and fine, up until the calamity. Then ambush had come without warning, as ambushes usually did. And everything had fallen apart, and the pieces had shattered. Now, even back in Coruscant's safety, he felt as if he were trying to fashion dust into answers.

Obi-Wan scrubbed at his eyes with the sleeve of his robe. He wished Qui-Gon would just wake up, already.

The light from the hallway abruptly flickered and Obi-Wan looked up. He almost toppled off his chair in an effort to wipe away any tear tracks that might glimmer too tellingly in the low light. Someone was standing in the doorway.

Strange. And a bit rude. Obi-Wan frowned. Visiting hours were long over, weren't they? And who would want to be visiting a comatose person in the middle of the night?

Besides him, of course.

The silhouette in the doorway was tall, broad-shouldered; around Qui-Gon's height, perhaps. For a moment, the figure simply stood there, watching. Then it swept inside, noiseless as a cloud.

Obi-Wan wondered for a moment if he wasn't dreaming this. But the chair was too uncomfortable, and the pain in his chest too raw for this all to be illusion. Without making a sound, he leaned back out of the window's light, moving into the room's deep shadow. Perhaps whoever it was wouldn't realize he was there.

The man was paused over Qui-Gon's bed, looking down at the unconscious Master, his back to Obi-Wan.

The boy reached out carefully with the force. He had always been good as masking his presence, ever since he was a little child hiding from the bully, Bruck. He had never exactly wanted to be invisible, but more a bit of the background, an unobtrusive member of the initiates, not stumbling or embarrassing himself into attention. Now he did it, flattening out his force energy, blending it into the night air. The mantra of his early childhood came back to aide him, as he held his breath for silence. Don't notice me, don't notice me...

The figure didn't turn. He was still leaned over the bed, whispering softly to Qui-Gon as if the Master were awake.

Obi-Wan drew closer in. The man's intentions were hard to feel in the force, his aura flitting around like a shadow, unable to be pinned. He reached out with everything he had, but he still could not get a sense of the person. Whoever it was, he was clearly better a master at hiding.

So Obi-Wan decided to wait, and watch, hopefully remaining invisible to the intruder. He always followed the policy to play to his few strengths. He watched the man a few moments longer before realizing that the figure had actually turned around, and was staring directly at him.

"What happened?" The voice was deep, and strangely familiar. Distantly, Obi-Wan remembered having heard it before somewhere, not spoken directly to him, but perhaps close by, out of a commlink or down a hall. Something about it struck a bell. The man's tone was almost casual; he had clearly known Obi-Wan was sitting there the entire time.

Words came bubbling out of the boy before he could check himself. "The mission...the mission went all wrong. The natives...he...he was held captive for almost a week...they just overpowered him...he's..." Obi-Wan trailed off, dithering. "...very sick."

The man nodded wordlessly. His dark ponytail swished softly with the motion.

"It was all my fault." Obi-Wan blurted out, not really knowing why he was telling this to a stranger. He felt as if he had to explain, he had to let someone know that it was really his fault, all of it. He almost thought confessing it might take away some of the weight, the burden of pretending he was a legitimate Padawan, instead of a clumsy, worthless child. "I hesitated...I didn't react fast enough, I'm always too slow, too late."

"Did he tell you that?" the man smiled a little, inclining his head toward's Qui-Gon sleeping form.

"No..." Obi-Wan whispered. "he wouldn't." He drew his knees up to his chin, gazing on the Master's peaceful, sleeping features. "He would probably say that I ought to trust myself more," Obi-Wan smiled, distantly. "to trust the living force."

The strange Master nodded slowly, his eyes lingering fondly on Qui-Gon. "That does sound like him. Some things never change, do they?" He turned back toward Obi-Wan. "In this instance, I must agree with your Master, young one. And, after all, he clearly believes in you, why not trust yourself a little?"

Obi-Wan sighed. "You don't understand. Master Jinn loves everything. The more disreputable or impaired the better." He narrowed his eyes slightly in concentration, trying to decide how much to divulge. He continued on somewhat hesitantly, though his words were earnest. "He...he's always...befriending these...these...pathetic lifeforms...it's like a challenge to him, to find some sort of value to them. His compassion, I suppose. I don't know. But in his eyes, that's it. I'm just a pathetic life form with a braid." He gave the man a pained shrug.

To his great surprise, the Master began to laugh. "Pathetic lifeforms?" He repeated, seeming both incredulous and amused. "What a perfect term for them! And while that makes am understandable theory, don't be ridiculous, child. I know Qui-Gon's peculiarity for disgusting pets doesn't extend into the realm of choosing a Padawan. I'm absolutely certain he thinks highly of your abilities."

Obi-Wan frowned again."What do you mean, you're certain?"

"He talks about you." the other shrugged.

"Really?" Obi-Wan titled his head to the side, cautiously. So this man knew Qui-Gon well enough for his Master to confide in him about his Padawan? That was odd, coming from someone he had never met or even seen before. Qui-Gon was always a little bit secretive, but this was pushing it. "He never talks about you..."

"Well," Obi-Wan was sure the man caught the hidden query, but he dodged it with the practiced ease of someone who rather enjoyed anonymity. "Then I suppose Qui-Gon doesn't think very highly of me." He shrugged, as if this wasn't something he was overly concerned about. "Are you hungry?"

Obi-Wan nodded slowly. That hadn't been the answer he had expected, but coming from this strange individual, he wasn't completely surprised He was actually starving, but he was still too unsure to be very cavalier. If this person was really a friend of Qui-Gon's, why didn't he come out and say it, and maybe show up during visiting hours instead of creeping around after dark?

"Here." The Master removed something from his robe pocket, and tossed it to Obi-Wan. The boy caught it deftly, and the man flashed him a small smile. "You see, you're hardly too slow."

Obi-Wan studied the wrapped candy curiously. "What is it?"

"Sugarbar." He titled his head toward Qui-Gon. "He used to like them, when he was a little bit younger than you. Go ahead, eat it. It's just candy."

Obi-Wan unwrapped it carefully, mostly because he couldn't think of any reason why not to. He couldn't remember the last time he had eaten something, with all the worry and conflict getting Qui-Gon to the Healers. "Thank you."

The man watched with distant satisfaction. "When Qui-Gon was your age, he was hungry all the time. But he didn't ever say anything, he never was the sort to complain. I was used to working by myself, at my pace, and only really eating now and then." He shrugged, somewhat guiltily. "It took him passing out once for me to realize that growing boys need food. Since then I always carried those around," he nodded toward the bar of candy. "always throw sugar at him first if he looked peaky."

Obi-Wan paused, mid-bite. "But who are you?"

"Forgive me. It is so easy to forget formalities on a nocturnal haunt." He bowed a little, with a half smirk. "I'm Master Dooku. And how do you do?"

"Wait..." Dooku. Of course. Obi-Wan knew that name, if only just by reputation. He had always heard it associated with Qui-Gon's infamous maverick teacher, but he hadn't ever seen him in person to put name to face. It now was starting to fall together. "You were Qui-Gon's Master, weren't you?"

"It would be rather disturbing if I were anything else, considering my intimate knowledge of Qui-Gon's adolescent antics." Dooku raised an eyebrow. "And you, I presume, are Obi-Wan."

"I...I think you might have taught a class I took when I was younger..." Obi-Wan murmured. It was odd. The stories he had heard of this man: the confrontations with the Council, the darker path he walked, all of it didn't seem to add up to this polite, thoroughly likeable Master standing before him now. Of course, many of the individuals from Qui-Gon's past had seemed charming enough at first. He had even liked Xanatos when he first met him.

"Indeed." He raised an inquiring eyebrow. "You were very small then; I trust your lightsaber skills have improved since?"

Obi-Wan nodded, a little bit uneasily. He wasn't sure if Dooku was being condescending, or just usually spoke bluntly like this. He suspected that was an uncertainty a lot of people got talking to him. "Yes, my Master has taught me a great deal."

"You are trained by the best of teachers." Dooku smiled, oddly. "I love swordplay, but I confess, I'm not a patient instructor. It's a wonder he learned any of it." He inclined his head toward the bed. "What else has Qui-Gon taught you?"

Obi-Wan swallowed down the last of the sugarbar, giving himself a moment to think. He didn't want to reflect badly on his mentor. "Master Qui-Gon has told me a lot about the living force, and patience, and learning to trust my instincts." He finally answered, dutifully.

Dooku gave the boy an amused glance. "It's odd to hear you call him Master. Not that he's undeserving, or that it's surprising, mind you, just...odd." He shrugged. "You'll probably see it too, with a Padawan one day. If you try to ignore it, that only makes it worse. To me, he'll always be that child. Perhaps that's why things are hard sometimes."

"Do you know if Qui-Gon likes me?" Obi-Wan spoke up suddenly, the words coming out before he had even realized what he had said. It was such a desperate desire to know, he had to ask, despite the consequences. He had wondered it ever since Melida/Daan, even before that, when Qui-Gon finally took him on as a Padawan. They had been through a lot together, but it seemed like Obi-Wan had made so many mistakes.Yet here was one person who probably knew, and would undoubtably tell him without hesitating around placating lies.

Dooku didn't laugh, or ask why he had asked, or any of the things Obi-Wan had feared he might do. In fact, for a long moment, he didn't say anything. Finally, he murmured. "That is more of a complex question than you know."

Complex? Obi-Wan didn't understand. A simple yes or no would do. It was boiled down, to his mind, an equation of all the factors of Obi-Wan's inexperience and possible annoying qualities crossed against any positive or redeeming factors he might have. The end, the sum of it was whether all of these factors were overwhelmingly positive, or overwhelmingly negative. "I just mean...am I a bother to him? Does he like me...as...as a person?"

"Let me explain. I'm afraid in our years together, I may have given Qui-Gon pieces of myself that I now regret handing off. I was hard on him after what happened to Xanatos. And even before, I told him that he trusted too much." His eyes grew distanced, as he stared down at the unconscious Master. "Now I see that he's become a man extremely cautious with himself. Maybe I made him that way. For better or for worse, I'm not sure." He moved a shoulder, as if shrugging off a gloom. "But he is fond of you. That much I know."

Obi-Wan chanced a small smile as his Master stirred slightly. Perhaps, somewhere deep in Qui-Gon's subconscious, he recognized Dooku's voice. His eyelashes flickered, and Obi-Wan could feel a subtle shudder of awareness in the force. "It looks like he's starting to come to. Healer Willow did say he might be awake and alert by morning." He glanced at the clock. "I can't believe it, but it is almost daybreak, isn't it?"

At the words, Dooku abruptly stood. He glanced out almost accusingly through the window at the lightening sky, and gave a brisk nod. "I suppose I ought to be going, then." Without any further comment, he whirled, heading for the door.

Obi-Wan jumped quickly to his feet, surprised. "Wait, aren't you going to stay and say hello? That's why you came, isn't it, to talk to Master Qui-Gon?"

Dooku hesitated.

"And, he'll want to see you..." Obi-Wan took a faltering step. "Do you have to go?"

"Actually, yes. I'm supposed to be on a mission on one of the Coruscanti satellite moons. I came back when I heard he was ill." He turned back.

Obi-Wan stopped, blinking in surprise. He couldn't believe this, the man was so distanced from Qui-Gon's life that Obi-Wan had never even see him before, yet he had casually broken a galactic contract to check in on him. "Oh..."

"If the Council knew I was here..." Dooku trailed off with a slight shrug, his tone light with what Obi-Wan was beginning to recognize as characteristic nonchalance. "But it all matters very little. Sometimes Qui-Gon and I do better when one of us is unconscious."

Obi-Wan blinked.

Dooku gave him a tight smile. "It was good to meet you, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"And you, Master Dooku." Obi-Wan said, somewhat awkwardly.

Dooku crossed the distance to the doorway, turning his head to give one last glance behind at the boy and his sleeping Master. "And Obi-Wan?"

"Yes, Master?"

His face had softened slightly, or perhaps it was merely the faint glow of the sunrise starting to creep in through the window. "Look after him, won't you?"

And with that, the man was gone. Obi-Wan stared at the doorway for a long moment, the crumpled candy wrapper in his hand. Then he scooted his chair closer to the bed, and took hold of his Master's hand.

He would.