A/N: Took me long enough, didn't it? I guess I got a little discouraged with the lack of reviews. But you guys kicked me back into gear, so thanks. Here's a nice slow-paced, boring chapter to contrast with all the fast-paced, interesting ones that came before.
Part 6: The Yellow Brick Road
Jack felt a little like a cheesy game show host, standing with his arms outstretched and a goofy smile on his face, yelling to be heard over the powering-down sounds of a really big, really cool spaceship-fighter-thing. He didn't really mind that he was an enormous goon, though. He was freaking glad to see them, and he didn't care who knew.
Carter stood up as soon as the cockpit would let her—it seemed to be taking a couple of years to open—and gave him a little half-salute, half-wave as she hopped down onto the wing, then to the ground. More slowly behind her came a big robe-wearing dude Jack took to be Qui-Gon Jinn. He crouched on the wing, waiting, his shoulders oddly rigid, face intense. Jack didn't get what he was waiting for.
Jack looked to Carter, who had come down to stand next to him and Daniel. "Geez, Carter, weren't you guys cramped inside that thing? It looks like a two-seater."
"Three-seater, actually, sir. Apparently they're used for rescue operations on a fairly regular basis." She gave a little head-bob, still watching Qui-Gon Jinn. "We managed."
Then he saw Teal'c still inside the ship, moving with caution similar to Jinn's. The limp form of Obi-Wan Kenobi was cradled in his arms, head lolling on a broad shoulder. Jinn held out his arms, and Jack was pretty sure that he wasn't imagining Teal'c's slight hesitation before he carefully transferred the kid over and let the Jedi carry him down.
Jack tilted his head toward Obi-Wan. "Is he . . . ?"
"Sleeping," she said with a brilliant smile, tired and relieved. "Really sleeping, I mean, for the first time since we met up with him."
"Awesome." Jack looked back up at the starfighter as Teal'c leaped down, light as a panther, all coiled muscles rippling under smooth brown skin. He satisfied himself that the big guy didn't look injured in any way, having already determined the same of his 2IC, and went back to watching the kid. "Wait . . . you said 'sleeping.' Not doing his healing thing? He still looks all . . . rainbow-y." He twisted his fingers vaguely in the air, indicating the ugly bruises that violated their young friend's face.
"No, sir. Not in a healing trance. A lot . . . a lot has happened since we parted ways, sir."
"No kidding? All Hayde was able to tell us was that this Jinn guy had found you and was bringing you all back."
Jack blinked. "Huh. Looks like we all have a few stories to tell."
Daniel had simply been watching his teammates and the Jedi with the intense focus he usually reserved for wall-squiggles and dusty rocks, taking them all in with silent relief. Now he gave Carter a small, pleased smile, welcoming her back, dismissing the anxiety and stress of the last few hours with nothing but the bright glint in his clear blue eyes. She smiled back, equally glad to see him well. Funny—even with all the words those two could produce in the space of time it took Jack to put together a coherent thought, sometimes they said the most to each other without any words at all.
Jinn had made his way over to them, with Teal'c most definitely not hovering at his elbow, because no way did big scary Jaffa ever hover. Jack indulged himself with a good long stare at Obi-Wan's sleeping face, then raised an eyebrow at the Jedi Master. Jinn understood.
"Obi-Wan needs medical attention, but he's stable for now." The big man glanced down at the face resting against his shoulder, then looked back at Jack, his mouth set grimly. "I do not wish to stay on this planet any longer than necessary."
Jack nodded briskly. I feel ya, big guy. He wouldn't want to seek help from a world that had abused one of his kids, either.
"Master Hayde is prepping your shuttle for immediate departure," Daniel piped up. "He knew you would want to return to the Temple right away."
Carter abruptly seemed to wilt, weariness pouring into her body, slumping her shoulders and stealing some of the luster from her eyes. Even her shiny, shiny hair suddenly appeared to lose its bounce, laying limp and mussed against her head. "Then . . . then this is good-bye? Already?"
Teal'c stood straighter, his arms clasped behind his back, his face stoic. Daniel opened his mouth, but Jack beat him to it. "Actually, Hayde invited us all along for the ride. Seems there's a Jedi Council that would be interested in meeting folks from another galaxy. And a Senate or something like that. You know, the galactic government."
"Oh. Well. That's . . . that's good." Carter still looked a little dazed, but much more pleased. Geez, they all needed a nap. It had been a full day's worth of trouble already, and the sun wasn't even directly overhead yet.
"We're all okay with getting off this rock right away, then?"
Jack looked at each in turn. Teal'c made a satisfied little "Mmm" noise, giving his hearty consent, and the expressions on the other three told him all he needed to know.
They were off to see the wizard.
They were off to see the wizards.
Of course, the yellow brick road was never free of obstacles. They were still several steps away from the shuttle when that government guy, the mayor or chieftain or whatever, had to get all up in their face. At least the functionaries flitting around him like nervous pigeons didn't look bored anymore.
"Leaving Tholia so soon, Master Jinn?"
Gah. If Jack and his team could just bottle the oil in that voice and bring it back home, there would be no more need for talk about drilling in Alaska.
"Governor Arayne," Jinn said with incredible equanimity. "My objective has been accomplished. But I assure you, the Jedi have not abandoned this world. Someone will be sent to deal with the troubles here."
"I certainly hope that the actions of a few madmen haven't given you a bad impression of our people, Master Jinn."
"Certainly not," the Jedi said smoothly.
The politician cast an assessing eye over the battered boy sleeping in Jinn's arms. "Those who kidnapped your apprentice—and mistreated him badly, by all appearances—have nothing to do with me and my administration, I assure you. Won't you stay and let my personal healer treat him? He will receive only the best care."
"Thank you for your generosity, Governor, but I will care for Obi-Wan. Your assistance is appreciated, but unnecessary."
Though the two voices had been nothing but civil, cast low in casual-sounding conversation, Obi-Wan stirred in his Master's grip, grunting softly in discomfort. The adults fell silent, watching him with varying degrees of anxiety, and Qui-Gon Jinn's fingers tightened. Then Teal'c laid a gentle hand on the crown of the youngster's head, and his fluttering eyelids ceased their movement, his head falling back again in restless sleep.
Jinn looked back to the governor, his mouth hard. "We'll be going now, if you don't mind. An emissary from the Temple will be in contact with you, and someone will come to fetch the starfighter."
"Ah, yes, of course. I understand. I wish you all good fortune on your journey home."
"May the Force be with you," the Jedi Master said gruffly, brushing by. SG-1 followed in his wake.
Jack didn't miss the glares they were getting from a few of the functionaries, less experienced than the others at keeping their cool. They eyed the four visitors from another galaxy with barely-veiled animosity. O'Neill would bet everything in his bank account that Governor Arayne and those bastards at the prison complex were in on this thing together, whatever it was.
If Beller and Arayne hadn't compared notes already, they would soon. And then they would know that Jack and Daniel had fooled them, that they had aided and abetted this runaway boy, whom for some reason these people had chosen as an enemy. Now SG-1 were their enemies, too.
Bring it on.
They were in space. They were in space in another galaxy. They were in hyperspace in space in another galaxy. And they were playing a card game with a little boy who had a tail. Sam kept repeating these things to herself, just to make sure she wouldn't forget that she wasn't asleep and dreaming about the most incredible tech-toys ever.
Even as she stared, the card-chips in her hand flickered and changed, randomized by the small device in the middle of the playing area. Beside her, the colonel made a disgusted sound. Apparently his winning hand had now become a losing one. Or something. Teal'c, of course, had the perfect poker face. Or sabbacc face. And Lindle always looked gleeful, so how was she to know?
Holy Hannah, she just wanted to lay down and sleep in that side room Qui-Gon had placed Obi-Wan in, or maybe just sit next to the Jedi Master on the couch-like thing in this little ship's lounge and watch the proceedings as he was. But Lindle had insisted that they play with him. Maybe she could join Daniel and Nik'lai's chess-like game going on in the corner. Her thoughts skipping back and forth, Sam absently dropped her cards into the interference field, where they were protected from the randomizer and "frozen," but visible to all.
Lindle immediately started bouncing up and down. "Sam, Sam! You have pure sabbacc, Sam! You win!"
Oh. She looked at the cards. Negative twenty-three. Nice. She could do this. Sam kind of wanted to go back to the cockpit and stare out at hyperspace for a while longer, though. Why was it difference than hyperspace in their own galaxy? Did they access a slightly different aspect of the fourth space dimension here, or just approach it differently? How did they calculate distance and speed in this slightly altered hyperspace? Was it affected by gravity and star position? Was the entire galaxy mapped?
Come to think of it, why were there humans in this galaxy, or people who appeared to be entirely human? Had the gate-builders, whoever they were, seeded this galaxy with the human race, millennia ago, as the Goa'uld had back in the Milky Way? How far back did their historical records trace? Did they have a better grasp of the evolutionary process here than on Earth?
The questions were infinite. And another round had started while she wasn't paying attention. Sam blinked, shook her head, and tried to concentrate on her cards again. Across the room, she caught a glimpse of Qui-Gon Jinn watching her with a small smile. God, could he hear the thoughts endlessly spinning inside her head?
No, Obi-Wan had said that the Jedi never used their power unless it was necessary, and not all of them were skilled at reading minds, anyway. But sensing emotion seemed to be something they did all the time, without trying, the way regular people heard every sound around them whether they paid attention or not. Qui-Gon probably felt her curiosity and excitement, and his smile was gentle, even indulgent.
And while she was thinking about Qui-Gon and the possibility of mind-reading and emotion-sensing, Sam went ahead and hoped that he hadn't been aware of what she was thinking about him right before he showed up. She had been getting rather snarky in her thoughts, and they had turned out to be completely unjustified. Qui-Gon was everything that Obi-Wan's unquestioning faith had anticipated. Good gravy, the man had fended off entire squads of sadistic prison guards just by powering up his light-sword and saying a few words.
That was some kind of respect that the Jedi commanded. Or maybe it was fear. Sam remembered the speech Commander Beller had made outside the cave. Fear turned into hate, sometimes. Then they had chosen to take their hatred out on Obi-Wan. Even now the thought made her hands tighten on her card-chips, her mouth tightening in rage.
And she supposed that that explained why her thoughts toward Qui-Gon had become so hostile. Obi-Wan provoked instincts in her that she had only ever felt for one other person—Cassandra. Sometimes she felt a dim sort of echo of these emotions for her teammates, when they were hurt or missing or grieving—as all had been at various points in their journey together—but Cassie . . . that had been something else.
Qui-Gon Jinn felt the same for his Padawan, obviously. Sam remembered how he had turned and caught the falling Obi-Wan, once the threat had been eliminated. And then he had knelt there and clasped the boy to him, while Sam and Teal'c stood silent guard. There might have been tears, but the visitors from the Milky Way didn't see them. All that mattered was that Master and Padawan were reunited, the team was together again, and the time of fear and separation had passed. They knelt there for what might have been a very long time.
It had been entirely necessary, of course, and only ended when Qui-Gon looked up and said softly, "He's asleep. Let's get back to the city."
So, yeah, maybe Qui-Gon understood, and forgave her.
As if summoned by her thoughts, Obi-Wan appeared at the lounge entrance, leaning shyly against the jamb. His hair was rumpled with sleep, his cheek creased where it had been pressed against the pillow. His eyes were uncertain, almost . . . frightened. They roved across the entire cheerful gathering of games and conversations before finding Qui-Gon and softening in what looked very much like relief to Sam's searching gaze.
Lindle greeted his friend with a joyful wave and loud "Hello!" Most of the adults gave him warm, concerned glances, looks meant to reassure. Qui-Gon simply held out his arm, and Obi-Wan slowly made his way over to the couch and sat next to his Master, his body still tense, his face caught in some old emotion that was entirely out of place in this friendly atmosphere.
"I'm sorry, Master, I know I should be sleeping, but I . . ."
"It's all right, Padawan. You can rest here."
Sam recognized the old emotion trapped frozen in Obi-Wan's bruised features. She had seen it in soldier after soldier, in the faces of her teammates, her brothers. She had seen it in the mirror. The time of trial and suffering was over at last, but Obi-Wan couldn't quite believe it. He didn't want to be alone. But he felt unable to ask for what he needed.
That was okay. They would provide it. No need for words.
With great difficulty, Sam dragged her attention back to the game. It looked like Teal'c was winning. The pile of markers next to his elbow was much, much bigger than hers, or Lindle's, or Colonel O'Neill's. Couldn't have that. Him with his smug little Jaffa eyebrow-lift—he'd never let them live it down.
She kept half an eye on Obi-Wan, though, and she knew everyone else was as well. Even Lindle, for all his apparent obliviousness, was much wiser than his years. And Qui-Gon, of course, kept both eyes on his apprentice.
Gradually Obi-Wan's body relaxed, sinking back into the cushions, and against Qui-Gon's side. Without Sam or Obi-Wan quite noticing when it happened, Qui-Gon's arm had circled around the boy and pulled him close and warm, sheltered and safe. Obi-Wan's face, too, slowly eased into peace, and his head sank down to rest on his Master's chest, eyelids drooping sleepily.
All was well.
Except that Teal'c was still winning.
Obi-Wan rested secure, his gaze unfocused, blurrily taking in the sabbacc game. Most of him was concentrated on listening to the steady, reassuring heartbeat that vibrated against his ear. The Force-bond between their two spirits was full and warm again, after the endless, trying days of darkness and loss. Qui-Gon was here, and he was home.
He had dreamed, of course, alone in the quiet room where his Master had placed him to sleep and heal. He had known he would dream, but hoped it wouldn't be quite so soon. His body still ached and throbbed, and he still felt the nearness of death. Most of him was not healed yet, though he was mending.
If it weren't for the kindness of these four strangers, if it weren't for their warmth and strength and caring far beyond what he ever could have expected, Obi-Wan would be one with the Force now. Though that was the ultimate goal of his life and he did not fear it, he had hoped for many more years to guard the galaxy as a Knight of the Jedi Order. They had given him those years, these people from a galaxy far, far away.
It was better to contemplate these strangers than to remember his dreams. He would have to deal with the dreams eventually, he knew. That was wisdom. He would have to meditate and understand and integrate all that he had experienced with the whole of his self. But for now, he finally had a chance to contemplate these four strangers who had saved him, and he was glad for the opportunity.
Teal'c, the tall, strong one, firm and loyal, yet open and giving to a weary, wounded boy he didn't know. It had been Teal'c's voice that had first reached him, when he was nearly frantic in his escape. The deep, booming voice had reminded him of Qui-Gon, of course—that was what had pierced through his fog of terror and flight. But there was more to Teal'c than that. He was not a Jedi, but he was a warrior of honor and power, and there was much of the Jedi in him.
It shouldn't have worked, what they had attempted back in the cave. Obi-Wan should not have been able to connect with Teal'c's spirit. Never mind how many times they had tried and failed—in the end, they had slipped hand in hand—mind in mind—with incredible ease. Teal'c's discipline and openness had saved Obi-Wan's life. As Obi-Wan watched, his large, dark friend from another galaxy won another hand of sabbacc, and the corner of his mouth flickered in the most minute of smiles, probably invisible to all but Jedi eyes.
But there was Sam, rolling her eyes and grimacing. So she had seen Teal'c's satisfaction, too. Obi-Wan felt a small, gentle smile rise to his lips. Sam, fierce and bright—she reminded him of Tahl, bold and beautiful Tahl. But she was her own person, too. Curious and passionate and eager, yet a warrior, also. She would have been an amazing Jedi, quickly elevated to the Council, for her compassion or her intelligence or her strength alone. With all three, she was a wonder.
And stars above, how her eyes had darkened when he had asked them to leave him. And how soft and warm they had been when she put her arm around him and helped him to hold on to hope. He had been closer to losing his control at that moment than at any other in the long weeks since he was taken from Tholia. He had been at the end, and she had held him together by her will alone. For that, he also owed her his life, or at least his sanity.
And then there were Daniel and Jack. Again Obi-Wan smiled softly, watching the two men who sat on opposite sides of the room. They were always aware of each other, those two. They had a bond as powerful as the one he had with Qui-Gon, not of the Force, but of time and experience and burdens shared.
Daniel, honest and guarded, listening and talking, learning and sharing. Jack, brave and cautious, protecting and scheming, holding and giving. Both had a grief that was always sharp in their spirits—Obi-Wan felt it easily, past the surface tension of their busy minds. Both hid that away in order to give everything they had to their team. The same, but very different.
Jack and Daniel, Daniel and Jack. Obi-Wan knew that he would always think of them as a unit, as he thought of the many Master-Padawan teams he knew. Even after the Padawan was knighted, there was always something of the Master in the apprentice and something of the apprentice in the Master. Daniel and Jack taught each other, even when neither wanted to learn.
Obi-Wan wanted to get to know them all better. Sam and Teal'c he felt that he understood at least as well as anyone could understand someone they had only known for a day a half—or a decade a half, which is what that day and half had felt like. Daniel and Jack, though, he would need to spend quite a bit more time with in order to obtain even a passing understanding. He hoped he would have the time.
Soon they would arrive at the Jedi Temple. Obi-Wan knew that he would be whisked off to the Healers' Wing for awhile, but soon he would be back. He wondered if Teal'c would like the weapons salle, if Sam would enjoy a tour of the starfighter bays. He knew that Daniel would find much to occupy himself with, and he and Master Nik'lai would continue to trade stories for as long as they could.
And as Obi-Wan's consciousness finally began to fade into the peaceful gray of healing sleep, he wondered how Jack would get along with Master Yoda.