Qui-Gon pressed against the jailer's mind, bringing his will to bear subtly but forcefully. Fortunately, the man had no strong feelings about this simple choice, so it was not hard to plant the suggestion. Qui-Gon felt the jailer's mind accept the thought as his own.
Cell 35B. That'll do. Put the big Jedi in 35B.
The jailer—Qui-Gon had not troubled to learn his name—led him down the third corridor, to the fifth cell on the left. The Jedi Master smiled grimly. Obi-Wan's cell. How much trouble and time it had cost him to learn those two digits and the single letter, to plan a rescue that would never happen, now.
All would be left to the turgid machinations of politics, despite the master's pleas that he be allowed to get his Padawan out by any means necessary, including a jailbreak, including even violence. His heart had cried so loudly, knowing that his student was suffering, certain that it had already been far too long. But the Jedi Council said no. The Senate said no. They all said no. They could not risk the delicate negotiations still in progress with this world, not for the sake of one adolescent boy.
Qui-Gon's smile grew bitter at the recollection. Yes, it was so important to bring this world, Cor Manai, into the union of the Republic, this world whose laws were unjustly rigid, this world that had allowed the arrest and imprisonment of a young boy because he spoke too loud in protest at mistreatment he had witnessed. Mistreatment that had been dealt out by an officer of these same unjust laws. Laws that censured the rebuke of its officers, and levied terrible penalties for the crime of speaking against them.
So Obi-Wan had been taken away in front of Qui-Gon's mute and astonished eyes, a mere hour after they landed on this fog-drenched planet. As all reports had indicated, Cor Manai was peaceful, prosperous, and nearly devoid of crime. But at what cost? Qui-Gon no longer believed that this place was worth bringing into the Republic, but again, the Senate had disregarded his advice, believing it to be the hysterical ranting of a man made distraught by loss.
Well, and so he was. Distraught, but not hysterical. Carefully and quietly, he had researched the many laws of Cor Manai. Carefully and quietly, he had planned the perfect crime, one serious enough to cause his incarceration in the same prison Obi-Wan had been taken to, but not severe enough to incur worse penalties. And then he had committed the crime, in full view of an officer of the law. His plan had succeeded admirably, and here he was, arrested and sentenced within the same day, and in moments he would finally see his Padawan again.
How long had it been? Weeks. Too many of them.
The jailer's large leather boots tramped against the stone-block floor as he stepped in front of the cell door, a very high-tech metal affair that appeared strangely out of keeping with the primitive stone walls around it. The man took a card from his belt, pressing his thumb against a certain place, and swiped it through the lock beside the door. The metal slab swung ajar, and the jailer took Qui-Gon's arm to lead him through it.
Qui-Gon stepped willingly toward the cell, but then turned and held out his manacled wrists. He captured the man's gaze and pressed down again, even more forcefully, not taking as much care to be subtle. He wouldn't be much good to Obi-Wan if he couldn't even use his hands, and that was the only reason he had come.
The jailer's will resisted this one a little more strongly, but again, Qui-Gon's offense hadn't been all that severe. Not enough to merit the kind of treatment that Qui-Gon knew his Padawan had received. After a moment the jailer retrieved the small, shiny key from his belt and released Qui-Gon's hands, pushing him backward into the cell as he did so. Qui-Gon let himself be pushed, and watched the huge, heavy door swing shut with a final and resounding crash. Only then did he turn around, his heart heavy, knowing what he would see.
Obi-Wan leaned in a crumpled heap in a corner of the cold stone cell, huddled awkwardly on the floor, his arms chained above his head to the wall. Despite his fore-knowledge, Qui-Gon's breath caught his throat. Through the bond he had felt the discomfort and unwellness, and finally pain and despair approaching agony. He had felt every moment of his poor boy's unjust imprisonment and abuse, his subsequent fever and misery, and had tried to send back every vestige of comfort, peace, and affection that he could. When Obi-Wan no longer responded through the bond, and all Qui-Gon felt was a raging and discordant buzz of sickness, he had known that he must act. He had to help his Padawan any way he could. Finally, he had realized that that meant coming here himself.
Qui-Gon had done his best to prepare himself for this, but even his darkest imaginings could not match the sight of his apprentice so ill and uncared for, abandoned and badly treated. Raw and reddened wrists dangled in iron cuffs, the slender fingers limp in unconsciousness and swollen from lack of circulation. The face was too thin, frightfully pale where it wasn't dark with bruises, two spots of fever flush high on the cheeks. The plain Jedi garments were ragged and torn, one leg lay at an angle that was obviously wrong, and they had even taken the boy's stockings, leaving his bare toes to curl lonely against the stone floor in a hopeless search for warmth.
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon murmured, his body lurching forward before his mind could finish processing all of this. They had left Qui-Gon his robe—he had made sure of that, among the many mind-suggestions he had made during this long day—and he was already removing it before he knelt in the corner beside his boy. "Obi-Wan."
His mind yammered at him, insisting he do a dozen things at once: get rid of those cuffs, wrap the boy in blankets, give him water, get him out of here and take him to a med center, wake him up to make sure he was all right, just hold him close and don't let go. He started with the robe, wrapped it carefully around the slight, chilled form, the action made awkward by the short chains that held the boy to the wall. Qui-Gon cupped a hand around a hot, shivering cheek, pressing in physically and mentally. For one aching moment, all he wanted was to see Obi-Wan's eyes, even if it was only for a second.
"Obi-Wan," he said again, and louder. "Obi-Wan. I'm here. Please wake up. Tell me you're going to be all right. Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan. You always say you're all right, even when you aren't. Please wake up and tell me so. Obi-Wan."
It took several minutes of pleading, each passing in an eternity, but finally the boy's blue eyes slid open, unfocused and confused, wincing against the harsh light of the cell. "Wha . . ." His voice was rough and soft, cracking, barely above a whisper. "Who . . .?"
He could not seem to see Qui-Gon at all.
"Obi-Wan." The master was almost desperate now for some sign of the boy he knew. This was fever, yes, surely that was all it was. "It's me. I'm here. Please tell me you're all right."
Obi-Wan licked his dry, split lips with a tongue that was almost as devoid of moisture. "I'm . . . all right," he said softly, automatically. Still, he did not focus on Qui-Gon's face.
Qui-Gon had to be satisfied with that. The boy was capable of some form of lucidity, at least. It was the best he could hope for. "Thank you. I'm here now. It's going to be all right."
Obi-Wan nodded vaguely, and was gone again, faded into a restless slumber. Qui-Gon nodded to himself, as if in response, relieved to get even that much out of the ailing apprentice. Then he looked around the cell, taking in what was there. There was so much he needed to do for this boy, and so little that he could.
Qui-Gon looked, and for a moment he was helpless with rage. A pallet. There was a low, hard pallet against the opposite wall, with a blanket and mattress, thin as it was. Yet they had left Obi-Wan chained to the wall, sitting on the cold floor. Even though all he had done was talk. Even though he was obviously ill. Even though he was only fourteen years old.
They had denied him even the smallest comfort, the smallest sentient right, the smallest shred of dignity and respect. Never mind not belonging in the Republic—these people did not belong in a decent galaxy.
There was also a tray in the corner by the door with a plate of food and a small pitcher of water, but of course Obi-Wan had not been able to reach it. What was the point of even putting that in the room, with the prisoner chained and unable to partake? Perhaps it had only been another form of punishment.
Qui-Gon took in a deep breath and released it, breathing out his anger. It would not help him. What he needed now was calm, and speed. And gentleness, of course, to avoid hurting the boy further, but that would not be difficult. Every innocent creature in the galaxy automatically had a piece of Qui-Gon's heart from the moment he met them, but the piece Obi-Wan held was larger than all of the others combined.
He grabbed the chain above Obi-Wan's wrist and gave it an experimental tug, feeling the weight and heft of the thick links. With effort, it slid out from the wall a few centimeters. With more effort, it continued sliding, link by slow link, metallic clanks echoing around the tiny chamber. By using most of his strength, Qui-Gon was able to pull the chain out to its full length of a meter or so, but if he let up the pressure even slightly, it began to pull back into the wall, ratcheting with frightening speed.
That explained the food, anyway. With time and effort, a healthy prisoner would be able to drag himself across the cell to the door in order to eat and drink, though the struggle would take most of his resources. A simple and effective way to ensure that most prisoners would be too weary from fighting the chains to even consider attempting escape. But a sick child like Obi-Wan would have no hope of performing the same feat. Qui-Gon wondered how long it had been since he had been able to cross the cell and take the meager nourishment offered. Too long, no doubt.
Enough. Qui-Gon carefully let the chain pull back into the wall, preventing it from jerking Obi-Wan's hand when it finished receding. He wrapped one hand around the cuff, probing with the Force, and was not surprised to the find that the locking mechanism was much more complex and technological than the rough iron cuff and hand-forged links advertised. The key for this kind of lock had a coded head that would send a transmission into the mechanism telling it to release, the code based on a non-repeating algorithm—only one key would work.
Qui-Gon did not have that key. But he had something almost as good. Moving gently, he folded back the bottom corner of the robe wrapped around Obi-Wan, exposing the hem. It was the work of a few moments to rip it open so he could start removing the supplies he had stashed inside the thick lining. Anything metal would have been caught by the scanners, but he had been able to find plenty of useful items that weren't made of metal.
At last he found the items he was looking for and placed them on his palm, three slender sticks as long as his smallest finger. Qui-Gon smiled at the plastic lockpicks. He chose the smallest one and went to work.
In the end he had to try all three of the picks, and augmented them greatly with judicious touches of the Force, as well as exhausting every tip and trick he had learned from his friends on the lower levels of Coruscant. But he got the cuffs off, and let each one snap against the wall with an incredibly satisfying bang. At the second one, Obi-Wan flinched and moaned in his sleep, and Qui-Gon grimaced sympathetically.
But at least his hands were free now. Qui-Gon rubbed warmth back into the chilled fingers, palms, and wrists, so small against his own, and tucked them into the robe. Then he started considering how best to make the boy comfortable.
Obi-Wan's breathing was harsh and ragged, his lungs congested, and his fever was very high. Qui-Gon wasn't sure that it was wise to move him, even across the room. Besides that, it looked like the wall by the pallet was seeping water, and the water was freezing. Not good.
Though he didn't want to leave Obi-Wan's side, he finally moved over to the pallet, discovered that the thin mattress wasn't attached, and dragged it and the meager blanket back over to the boy. The crude bed was quickly made, and Qui-Gon laid the boy down with the utmost care, being particularly gentle with the badly-bent leg. Still, Obi-Wan whimpered several times, and his breathing seemed to grow even more labored. Every moan and breath of pain pricked Qui-Gon's heart.
And then there was only the leg. That took the longest. For hours, Qui-Gon sat by the sleeping boy, laying his hands on the injury, one above the break and one below. He fell deep into trance, pressing inward to see, to understand, aligning the splintered bone and pushing back the infection. Healing had never been Qui-Gon's strength, and this was by far the most delicate Force work he had ever attempted. Long before it was done, the Jedi Master was exhausted and drained, certain that he could give no more. Yet he pushed back that certainty and continued to give, because Obi-Wan needed him to.
At last he sat back and wiped away the sweat pouring down his face. Obi-Wan's leg was straight, but his breathing had worsened.
It wasn't a bad beginning, but the end was still far away.
What followed then was a long, weary time filled by a strange sort of routine. Once a day, water and food was thrust through the window at the bottom of the door. Three times a day, Qui-Gon ate some of the bland, gray porridge and drank a little water. Four times a day, he tore open one of the packets of antibiotics he had smuggled in, mixed it with water, and ever-so-slowly urged Obi-Wan to drink it. As often as he could, he encouraged the boy to drink and eat a few bites. Sometimes he slept, slumped upright against the cold wall.
Obi-Wan slept, sometimes deeply, moving so little that it almost frightened the master. Other times he stirred and mumbled, or woke for a few moments and spoke a few nonsensical words, mostly directed at teachers and friends back at the Jedi Temple. Still, he did not recognize Qui-Gon. Despite the antibiotics, the fever continued to rise, and his breathing continued to sound horribly labored, every breath taking a little bit more of his failing strength. His lungs were clogged with congestion, and he could never seem to get enough air.
Eventually, Qui-Gon came to the realization that it was pneumonia. He didn't want to realize it—he kept himself from the understanding for some time. But at last, it was inevitable. He didn't want to realize it, because this was an illness that could kill his Padawan, despite all of his care, despite all of his preparation and struggle, despite all of his father-love.
Obi-Wan needed to be in a med center. Qui-Gon had brought broad-range antibiotics—pneumonia responded best to specific, targeted therapies. There was no bacta here; there were no Jedi healers. Obi-Wan needed warmth and sunlight and the best medical equipment in the galaxy—all he had was a Jedi robe, a harsh yellow luma that never turned off, and a broken-down old master.
Qui-Gon took to leaning against the wall above Obi-Wan's head and pulling the boy up to recline against his chest, elevating his lungs and easing drainage. Obi-Wan slept more easily like that, and his breathing finally seemed to improve. The only downside was that Qui-Gon could feel every grating breath, every twitch of discomfort, every vagary of fever. He gathered very little rest, himself, but counted the price as nothing against Obi-Wan's betterment. All the Force that he could gather, he poured into the Padawan. He tried again and again to help the boy into a healing trance, only to fail—with Obi-Wan never conscious or lucid enough to accept the assistance and let himself trance, it could not be done.
He had picked up the habit of constantly wrapping his hand around the boy's forehead, checking his fever, the hot, dry skin almost seeming to burn him. At first the heat only rose and rose. Then it leveled off, far too high to be safe. And it stayed that high for far too long.
But finally, one day, Qui-Gon laid his hand against Obi-Wan's head and jerked it back in surprise. The boy felt cooler. It didn't seem possible. He checked again.
It was. It was lower. Only a little. The fever had finally turned. Or perhaps this was only a dip, and soon it would rise again.
But no, the temperature continued to fall. Only half a day after Qui-Gon had first noticed a change, it seemed almost normal again. Though Obi-Wan's breathing still had a ragged edge, and seem to come mostly in shallow gasps, it, too, had improved. Obi-Wan was sleeping, restfully and well, not deep in the throes of near-unconsciousness or writhing about in fever dreams.
When three or four hours went by and Obi-Wan did not seem to worsen, Qui-Gon finally allowed himself to sleep.
Obi-Wan slept without waking for almost two days, the dark rings of exhaustion around his eyes finally lightening, skin finally regaining some of its normal color. Qui-Gon felt safe enough to lay him down, and spent some time stretching and exercising as much the confines of the cell would allow. At long last, kinks and sore muscles that seemed to have existed for eons were loosed and eased.
Qui-Gon was sitting on the hard, mattress-less pallet, meditating, when Obi-Wan finally woke. He had left a corner of his awareness alert for any change in the boy, and when his Padawan sighed deeply, then lifted a hand, Qui-Gon abandoned his meditation immediately. Across the cell, Obi-Wan was staring at his shaking hand in bemusement, as if astonished that he could be so weak.
The master smiled and moved over to sit by him, taking the shaking hand in his, glad to see his apprentice's blue eyes finally aware and unclouded by fever. "Good morning, Obi-Wan. I'm glad to see you feeling better."
Obi-Wan blinked, staring at him with the same bemused gaze. "Why are you here? Don't you have somewhere more important to be?"
Qui-Gon's smile broadened. That was his Obi-Wan, always thinking about others, always strangely astonished that anyone would inconvenience themselves for his sake. "I came to help you, of course. Nothing is more important than that."
The boy frowned, gazing intently up at him, as if Qui-Gon was a puzzle to be solved. Qui-Gon felt the gentle tendrils of Obi-Wan's influence in the Force reaching out to touch him, carefully brushing against his shields. Oddly, he did not feel through the bond, which would have bypassed most of Qui-Gon's shields without effort. "But you're a Jedi Master," the boy said at last. "You must have something important to do—why are you here with me?"
"Obi-Wan, nothing is more important to me than you are." Qui-Gon was beginning to feel a bit impatient. How many times must he prove this? How long it would it be before Obi-Wan truly believed it, deep down in his gut, without having to ask or wonder or torture himself with the question? He reached out to touch the side of Obi-Wan's face with his right hand, still holding the boy's hand with the other, as if physical contact could prove the truth of his words. "Nothing," he repeated fervently. "I would move mountains for you, my dear, dear child, if I truly thought it was necessary."
"But . . . but why?" Obi-Wan's frown deepened, truly confused. His gaze began to roam about the cell, as if searching for clues in the pitted stone walls and water stains. At last his stare returned to Qui-Gon's face, blue eyes deep and wide and guileless. "Who are you?"
The words were like a kick to the stomach. Qui-Gon sat back, his fingers sliding away from the boy's face, though he still held the thin hand in his with desperate intensity. Obi-Wan stared at him, and finally he saw that the blue eyes watched him without recognition, without understanding, without all of the history they had shared. By all that was good, how much had his boy lost here in this dark, cold place?
"My name is Qui-Gon Jinn," he said at last, the words a breathy gasp of pain. "I . . . I am your master, Obi-Wan. You are my Padawan."
"Really?" Oh, the child was so joyful at this news. His fever-thinned face beamed, a large, beautiful smile seeming to banish all the shadows from the corners of the room. "You mean I was chosen, really and truly? I thought I might not be, you know. I was really afraid. But you . . . Wow. I've heard of you. You're amazing. I never thought you would pick me. That's great."
A lump rose in Qui-Gon's throat. He had never seen Obi-Wan so enthusiastic, so child-like. He was innocent, wide-eyed with joy. So very young.
"Yes. It's great," he said softly. "Obi-Wan, what is the last thing you remember?"
A spasm of confusion crossed Obi-Wan's face. He lifted his free hand to his forehead, his gaze flitting restlessly around the cell again. "I . . . I remember this place, I think. Hurting, alone. But then someone came. You? It was you all along." He smiled again, grateful and amazed.
Qui-Gon smiled back. It was good, though sadly unusual, to have his Padawan so confident with him, so peaceful and at ease. There was none of the usual hesitance and caution, none of the constant pressure on himself to be the perfect Padawan, polite and in control. Qui-Gon had grown used to that aspect of Obi-Wan's personality, though he was never happy about it. But this Obi-Wan was . . . different. Content with himself. It was marvelous, and Qui-Gon hoped that Obi-Wan could hold on to this peace.
"And before that? What do you remember?"
For the first time since waking, Obi-Wan looked worried, not just confused or uncertain. "I don't . . . I don't know . . ."
Abruptly, he began to struggle, pushing away Qui-Gon's hand and fighting his way onto his elbows. His breath began to wheeze in and out. "I can't remember. Why can't I remember? What's going . . . what's going on?" He coughed, harsh and loud. "Why don't I remember you?" Wild blue eyes beseeched Qui-Gon for an answer.
Before Qui-Gon could stop it, a full coughing fit possessed Obi-Wan, stealing his strength, his breath, his peace. Qui-Gon seized the thin shoulders in his broad hands, held them firmly, tried to stop the shaking and gasping with the force of his own strength, tried to bury the frantic sounds in soothing words. "Hush, Obi-Wan, shhh, it's all right, Padawan, it's all right, calm down, it's all right . . ."
In moments he found himself back in that familiar position, leaning against the wall, hugging Obi-Wan to his chest, one hand wrapped around his forehead as if to check for fever. The fever was almost gone, but the illness and weakness remained. Such a sin, for this to stay with the boy, while his memories had deserted him. "Shh, Obi-Wan, it's all right. It's going to be all right."
Gradually the coughing died down, though Obi-Wan's breath remained a painful, high-pitched wheeze, swooping in and out of his crowded lungs. The tension drained out of the boy as he relaxed against his master, too weary to fight. Qui-Gon rubbed a hand continually up and down his arm, brushing lightly over the healing scrapes and bruises, the raw patches on his wrist. Obi-Wan pressed both hands against his chest, as if to hold it all in.
"Now," Qui-Gon said with great calm. "Think back. Tell me what you remember. Do you remember last month, or last year? What do you see when you go back in your mind?"
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, breathing slowly and shakily. Qui-Gon enveloped him in the Force, gently encouraging and guiding, but made no effort to enter his mind. If Obi-Wan did not remember having Qui-Gon in his mind before, any sort of invasion would only panic him.
"I . . . I remember the temple," Obi-Wan said slowly. "I remember classes, saber practice, the fountains and the gardens. Bant, Garen, Reeft. Master Yoda. Bruck."
"Good, Obi-Wan. This is all good. What's the last birthday you remember? How old were you?"
Beneath Qui-Gon's hand, the boy's forehead wrinkled as he screwed up his face in thought. "I was . . . eleven. No. Twelve, maybe? I knew I needed to be chosen soon, but I wasn't worried yet. Not too much. Just a little. Not as much as Bruck was, I don't think."
Twelve. The boy had lost at least two years of memories. And what a full two years they were, too. Qui-Gon released a breath in pain. They had shared so much in those two years, so much pain and turmoil, but also a great deal of understanding and love and growth together, as they learned to be Master and Padawan, father and son. It hurt to know that Obi-Wan remembered none of that.
"All right, that's good. And what happens when you look between then and now? What do you see? Is your mind blank there?"
"I . . . No . . ." Obi-Wan blinked, and seemed to lean a little harder against his master's side, as if pushing against a wall. "Not blank. Not darkness. There's a . . . a roaring sound. Like the ocean, or a waterfall. I can't see anything, but it isn't dark. Blurry. Jumbled. It's . . . I can almost make something out, but not quite, and . . ."
The boy's breathing was starting to quicken again. "All right, that's enough," Qui-Gon said hastily. "I understand. You don't have to keep looking."
Obi-Wan relaxed again, whimpering quietly as the move shifted his aching body. "But I do want to remember. I want to remember what happened when you chose me. Why did you pick me? Did you see me use my lightsaber? How did you know I would be a good apprentice? There were so many, and we all wanted to be chosen. How did you know I was the right one for you?"
"The Force told me," Qui-Gon said gently. "And yes, I did see you use your lightsaber. You're very good with your saber. Why don't you try to sleep now, Padawan? I know you're tired."
The boy nodded, already drifting. "Yes, I am tired." He turned his head to rest his cheek under Qui-Gon's chin. "You called me Padawan," he murmured. "I used to dream about what it would sound like when someone called me Padawan. It sounds right, coming from you."
"Yes. It's right."
Qui-Gon smoothed his fingers through the boy's hair, gently and slowly, and felt him drift into slumber. It was right, yes, to have this boy as his Padawan. It was right to be the master of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
But all of the questions made him ache. How could he tell this sweet, hopeful child, so delighted to be chosen as Padawan, chosen by him, the true story of how they had come together? How could he tell him that he had not been chosen from among his fellows by a worthy master, the way he so manifestly deserved to be? That Qui-Gon had rejected him and pushed him away, not once but three times? That it had taken Obi-Wan offering his life before Qui-Gon realized what a fool he was being, that the Force had put them together for a reason, that this was true and right?
This confident boy, so peaceful and content and at ease with himself and his master . . . this precious, beautiful boy did not exist in the world Qui-Gon knew, because he possessed those memories of rejection. That was the origin of Obi-Wan's hesitance and caution, his constant push for perfection. It all came from the ill Qui-Gon had done him.
The ache in Qui-Gon's heart sharpened, intensified. He had done that. It had been almost two years, and still the boy had not recovered. Perhaps he never would have, without this loss of memory.
So, yes, Qui-Gon had been sorry that Obi-Wan had lost those two years they had shared together. But not any longer, not with these new realizations. Better to forget all of the good they had shared, if the erasure of it also meant the forgetting of those first few weeks.
Suddenly, the master's heart was light. He had been given a second chance, a chance to start over, and do it right. It was too bad that Obi-Wan had forgotten two years of training, two years of lessons in diplomacy and lightsaber and all of that, but Qui-Gon could teach him again. And this time, they would have the foundation they should have had from the beginning. They wouldn't have to fight for trust, for confidence with each other.
Obi-Wan wouldn't have to be afraid. Qui-Gon would never give him reason.