Secrets

SECRETS

By

GM

The new apprentice, thirteen year old Obi-Wan Kenobi, dreams of a mythical connection between Master and Padawan, called the Jedi Warrior Bond. Qui-Gon Jinn, impressed with his new pupil, resists becoming close to anyone, especially an apprentice. Fate, or the Force, has something surprising ahead for both Jedi.

placed after JWB - every saga has beginning -- and before -- JWB Connecting

Not connected with JA series

Rated -- PG for violence, angst, intensity

The Canon according to Lucas -- based on the universe provided in the movie Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. All characters copyrights and legal details belong to George Lucas -- the highest Master Jedi of all.

email: mfuff@crosswinds.net

ORDER OF STORIES IN JEDI WARRIOR BOND SERIES:

. . . every saga has a beginning . . .

Secrets

The Path of Bonding

Connecting

Sanctuary

The Heart of Existence

Edges of Darkness

The Sorcerer and the Apprentice

Shadow on the Warrior Path

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Always

The Last Hope

The Last Warrior Path

______________________

thanks for the idea Pam

______________________


"I am sorry, exalted Jedi Master, but we can't possibly continue without the General of Operations. But I can not allow you to leave, either. Your sense of peace brings stability to these talks."

Not for the first time Qui-Gon Jinn was required in more than one place at the same time. Smiling to himself, he knew that was why the Jedi made apprentices. Glancing at the youngster beside him, Obi-Wan Kenobi's raising of an eyebrow confirmed they were thinking the same thing. How did the youth manage to instill irony in an eyebrow, an expression? He didn't have to say anything. The sarcasm was in the very air around the youth.

From the beginning of the mission on Banton, Kenobi had asserted his opinions that the aquatic planet suffered from too much protocol and not enough workers to make functioning decisions. In a territorial dispute, the regulations had been more of a hindrance than the actual squabble. More than one lecture had been delivered to the young man, reminding him the Jedi were there to help stabilize the factions, not rewrite governmental protocol.

"Pay attention to the Living Force," had been the oft-repeated lesson.

"Yes, Master," with a sigh, had been the ever-quick response.

In the last year together the Jedi Master and Padawan had achieved an acceptable, even efficient and solid relationship. The youth was quick to learn, quick to obey and eager to attain excellence. His training skills were first rate and his enthusiasm unparalleled. Occasionally that zealous nature translated into stubbornness, but rarely anything more than his obsession with mythical fantasies. Jinn had very few complaints about his apprentice and trusted him completely with responsibility.

"Easily handled, emissary. My apprentice Kenobi can fetch the general. Kenobi is an experienced pilot."

"Thank you, Master, for your confidence."

Obi-Wan had more than enough self-possession for both of them and Jinn refused to encourage the high level of esteem. He felt the boy was always walking the invisible, subtly-perceived dangerous line between confidence and pride. Obi-Wan never seemed to slip into the darker emotions or perceptions, perhaps because Jinn was always there with a harsh and cold dash of reality to jolt him away from the danger zone.

Darkness.

One of Jinn's greatest misgivings about taking on another apprentice was the ever-pressing shadow of dread that Kenobi, along with the dire second apprentice, would slip into the black void of the Dark Side. Even Master Yoda had warned Kenobi so strong in the Force that Qui-Gon should not worry about his turning to evil. But Jinn did worry. He had invested a lot in the young boy and would take any measures to insure a healthy safety margin between Light and the emotions of pride or anger that could be the first step on the path to Darkness. The Warrior Path was not an easy trail and nothing should be taken for granted.

His voice was as cool as his expression. "Just be mindful of what you are doing. This general is important."

"Aren't they all?" At the Master's glower over the smart remark, Obi-Wan smiled. "I shall be on my best behavior."

Momentarily Jinn's anxieties nearly surfaced. To say something with the Prefect within earshot would be against Qui-Gon's established rules of Jedi etiquette. They were never to discuss anything of a personal nature, or doubts, concerns or complaints, in front of others. Jinn worried about sending the boy off alone. In their year together they had never been separated. Not as confident as the apprentice, Qui-Gon could really think of no other objections to the request. Uneasiness did not qualify.

If they were more connected on a mental and emotional level his misgivings would be eased considerably. Some Jedi Masters had incredibly deep links with their apprentices, occasionally, including telepathy, but that was usually not between Humans. Except in a Warrior Bond, came the unbidden aside. His Padawan's favorite subject. Over their year together Obi-Wan had brought it up so often Jinn now forbid the youth to speak of it again. The Master, still uncomfortable in his role as a teacher, could not accept any closeness beyond what they shared now: A respectful, formal, even devoted regard. Jinn would allow nothing deeper to penetrate his armor. Guiding an apprentice was still too new and in the back of his heart he still protected himself against getting too close in case . . . .

Betrayal. The cold, hard blade of twisted deceit still churned his soul. The Dark apprentice's turning, before Obi-Wan, still marred Jinn and he would let no one heal those deep wounds. Certainly not another pupil.

No matter how charming, skilled and bright Kenobi was, those traits worked against him in this matter. The Dark student had shared those traits in extremely different degrees. Too energetic, too ambitious, too skilled, those had been the Dark One's personality marks. Jinn would not even think the name anymore -- the image, the label -- for a blight that scarred his heart and irreparably damaged his memory of youthful enthusiasm.

Scowling at the sarcasm, Jinn walked with him to the door of the conference room. "Pay attention to the Now, apprentice."

"I will," the boy promised too eagerly.

"The political situation is precarious."

"I know."

Banton was on the brink of war with the nearby planet Seedeth. Peace talks were being held on a space station in orbit above Banton's aquatic planet. Ruled by a political wing and a military wing, the factions within Banton's government were as touchy as their enemies. The Banton general, a being named Kolosh, had finally agreed to come to the talks. But the Seedeth faction distrusted the Bantons and insisted a Jedi remain on the space station. General Kolosh insisted a Jedi travel with him for safety against the Seedeth. Two directions, two missions, two Jedi. The goal was more complicated than the basic math made it seem. Banton Central, the main city on the aquatic planet was an easy trip and sounded like a fun excursion to the boy.

Excitement exuded from ever pore. The chance at a lone adventure, an opportunity to prove his excellent piloting skills was thrilling to the thirteen-year-old. The chance to prove himself to his Master was probably the highest ecstasy he'd ever seen in the young teen. A year of hard work and stern lessons from a strict Master had done little to dampen the extreme spirits of the boy.

As solemnly as possible under the circumstances, Kenobi gave a quick bow. "I promise I will not disappoint you, Master."

The apprentice was remarkable, Jinn didn't know yet if that was good or bad. This was a composed, confident, steady thirteen-year-old with the peace of two planets in his hands. His biggest fear was failure in his Master's eyes. As close to fearless as it was possible to be, Jinn had rarely seen Obi-Wan flinch from any challenge, and never from fear. While Jedi were taught to control and subdue fear, it was a basic instinct in all beings and not so easily erased. In the few fights, lightsabre battles and dangerous moments they had shared in the last, fast months, Kenobi had distinguished himself with certainty and skill. Normally the elder Jedi would count unswerving devotion as a positive trait. Why did he find it suspicious in Kenobi? Because he tried to find fault with everything Kenobi did, and despite his efforts, Obi-Wan managed to turn things around -- erasing every doubt and replacing it in this year of trials with affection and trust from the Master.

Qui-Gon still held reservations. His sharp concern translated his final warning with harshness. "The General is suspicious and guarded against Jedi, or anyone else not of Banton, apprentice. Be -- be tactful -- and alert." Almost slipping into something more personal, he looked away from the sparking green eyes. Obi-Wan wouldn't have noticed the hesitation since his whole focus was on the adventure.

"Always, Master."

With a quick bow he was gone, dashing out of the room toward the hangar. Disturbed, Jinn wondered if he had procrastinated too long in making a connection. He should have foreseen the possibility of separation. It was his duty to protect the youth, who was not experienced enough to protect himself in some cases. Sighing, he was irritated at himself for limitations, still not entirely convinced he had any business being a Master. The memory of the sparkling eyes, the bright face, the bubbling personality made him glad of his position, just not secure in it. He wondered what Kenobi would think about an apprentice being more confident than his Master.

***

As with most of the Banton beings, General Kolosh was large, bipedal, and roughly humanoid, with scales and gills. A fish out of water, was Obi-Wan's sly thought. The General's rude, demeaning remarks so far had not won him any personality prizes in Obi-Wan's mind. Disrespecting Jedi in general and youth particularly, Kolosh was insulted they had sent a boy on a man's errand. Deciding diplomacy was more important than petty vindictiveness, Kenobi practiced some familiar mental exercises in patience and control.

Drills Jinn demanded from him on a nearly daily basis. Qui-Gon was a little too stern and cool, Obi-Wan a little too enthusiastic and boisterous, and in this last year they had managed to make progress toward meeting in the middle. The movement was almost entirely on Obi-Wan's part since he was the Padawan. But he could tell Jinn was softening, loosening up and feeling more comfortable as a Master, more accepting of having a teen around, more fun. Occasionally there was even the stray word of affection, or a quick hug of comfort or accolade when Jinn's usually controlled emotions bubbled into something warmer than a Master's example. Those were some of the best moments of his life, Obi-Wan decided. And he did everything he could think of to repeat his achievements so his Master would shower him with more of the emotional rewards. Never having a family, Obi-Wan convinced himself in this year that Qui-Gon was the closest thing he would ever have to a father. He didn't really know what that should mean, but in those private moments of joy, the unguarded, secret flashes of affection, he knew he was closer to his Master than he had ever been -- than he would ever be -- to anyone else.

Kenobi sailed the small two-man spacecraft above the swampy waters of Banton. Through the thick jungle trees they would skim the surface until they were in matching orbit with the space station. Too many Banton ships in the orbit made Seedeth nervous. Kenobi jiggled up the speed a little. He loved the feel of the engines, the controls under his fingertips, the freedom of flying.

Not anxious for the flight to end, he was looking forward to the end of the peace talks. After this mission was over he had a special present to give to Qui-Gon. Kenobi had just learned, through research, that Jinn's birthday was only a month ago. Almost the same week as their one-year mark as a team. And just a few weeks after Obi-Wan's thirteenth birthday. Anniversaries and birthdays were not met with much celebration in Jedi society, but as children, the initiates did have some kind of marking of birthdays along with either a special treat at dinner, or even, occasionally, a present.

The most notable present was, of course, when an initiate turned twelve and was allowed to take the apprentice trials and, hopefully, graduate on to being an apprentice. That remarkable and wonderful event had happened just over a year ago and if Obi-Wan never got another present or received another celebration in his life that would be enough for him. Being a Padawan -- to the greatest Jedi Master alive -- was more than he'd expected. Almost everything he imagined.

Sharply he shut down that line of thought. Jinn had ordered him to stop researching the legend of the Jedi Warrior Bond. Kenobi wondered why Jinn disliked the thought so much when there was obviously something supernatural connected to their pairing as Master and Padawan. Why did Jinn refute the thought of a Warrior Bond? Temple gossip, still prevalent about the controversial Jinn, rumored that Jinn might have taken a new apprentice sooner, but his heart would never accept the youth -- never accept anyone close to him again after the dreaded teen who turned to the Dark Side and betrayed Jinn and the Jedi Order.

Countermanding that hearsay was the real evidence of Jinn's growing warmth and affection over the last year. They had grown to care for each other very much. Well, Obi-Wan was not going to let it worry him. Qui-Gon wouldn't talk of the Bond, but he couldn't stop Kenobi from dreaming about the possibilities. He had the Force on his side, and deep in his heart he still felt they were meant to be together within the tremendous connection of a Warrior Bond. Nothing would shake Obi-Wan's faith on that hope.

Kenobi had spent hours compiling interesting scatterings of history -- Jedi history -- on a custom data chip for his Master, to be given as a belated birthday and anniversary present. Not to be pushed off by Jinn's warnings, the boy had even included some writings on the Warrior Bond. Jinn would be reminded about the important myth even if he had forbidden Obi-Wan to speak of it.

"You're flying too fast."

Obi-Wan notched down the mach and muttered something conciliatory. The General complained again about his bad luck at a Jedi pilot, but Obi-Wan ignored him. He allowed his mind to drift to the Warrior Bond concept. The more he studied the legend the more convinced he was that he and Jinn could share something like it. Qui-Gon was blessed with profound and famous depths of Force ability. The noble Master certainly had the deserved reputation and all the qualities of a great Knight. There was something else -- an elusive, mystical spark of something that was needed for a Warrior Bond, and Obi-Wan hoped he was that spark, that he was the implement to nudge Qui-Gon to this next fantastic level of Jedi ability.

Something under the pilot's console popped and the ship instantly tilted. Obi-Wan's hands flew over the controls that did not respond. He switched to manual and narrowly veered the ship from smashing into a row of trees.

"What have you done!"

"An explosion --"

Kolosh slapped the side of his head with a webbed hand, the blow knocking him back against the seat, Kenobi's skin burning with the acidic residue from the oily Banton scales. Ignoring the general's anger and fear, which he could feel, Obi-Wan centered his focus, as Jinn had taught him, and concentrated on his mission. To save their lives.

The General was bellowing, the craft dropping, tops of trees crashing against the hull. Defensive shields, power, maneuverability, communications were all out. The General cuffed him again. Only the crisis saved their lives at that point, otherwise Obi-Wan's impulsive temper would have exacted retribution on the meaningless attack. Some cockpit shielding was still functioning and Kenobi warned the General to put those controls on maximum. They were going down. Fighting to steer clear of the thickest sections of the swampy forest, Obi-Wan made for an inlet with low brush. Before reaching level ground the ship dropped, skimming the water, snagging on a thicket of bushes and flipped over.

***

As the Banton representative droned on about the importance of the treaty, Jinn scanned the Seedeth councils for reactions. Nothing was coming clearly to him about their feelings. Both races were from the same origins -- amphibious creatures of a bipedal nature, both sharing roots in a common birthplace. This was more of a civil war than a territorial dispute, but Jinn didn't care about the politics. A pervasive feeling of ill content was smothering him and he was surprised to note his fingers were tapping a rapid tattoo on the top of the conference table. An aide entered and talked to the Prefect, who gave Jinn a glare. Straightening, Jinn could almost guess what had happened and he held his breath. Something had gone wrong with Obi-Wan's assignment.

"General Kolosh's shuttle has disappeared." He turned an accusatory glare, with glassy eyes, on the Seedeth representative. "Have you shot it down?"

The being came to his feet and pounded a webbed hand on the table. "We have done no such thing!"

Jinn came to his feet to block representatives moving toward each other. Mentally he pushed away the anxiety that was quickly turning to dread. What had he sent his Padawan into? An attack or a crash? Either way his apprentice could be dead. Was the empty, hollow ache inside his chest a proof that Obi-Wan was dead? No, that sorrow hadn't appeared until he'd heard that something had happened to the shuttle. Of course he wouldn't know if anything had happened to his apprentice. How could he? Never bothering to establish a link with the boy, how could he know when the promising youth was gone?

Feeling ill, Qui-Gon went through the motions of calming the others, establishing a chain of logical investigative steps, of starting a search for the missing craft. All the while his mind rebuked his stubborn pride, decried his foolishness, and hoped he would have a chance to make up for the stupid fear of getting too close to his student.

***

The crash dazed him and he thought he blacked out, but Obi-Wan felt the Force nudge him to consciousness. Thankful he had trained well to keep the Force close to him, he was aware of the danger before he could clearly function on any level. Instinctively letting the Force guide him, he floated through neck-deep water, surfacing near the cracked front hull of the small craft. Taking a deep breath, more Jedi training, he held it as he submerged. Kicking out with his feet, he cleared a hole big enough to swim through, then escaped the wrecked hull and surfaced. Taking in air, he was prepared to go back down for the General, then noted the recalcitrant oaf already on the shore.

"Thanks for nothing, General," he muttered and swam to the muddy edge of the swamp.

Except for a ringing in his head and some disorienting vision and balance, he seemed uninjured. The General looked unscathed.

"You fool! We have been attacked and I can't get to my battle fleet!"

"We were not attacked." The certainty was strong. "It was a malfunction."

"Your fault!" Kolosh swiped at him again, Obi-Wan too dazed and slow to entirely avoid another hit on the head by the powerful being. "Fix the ship. I must order an attack."

"This is not my fault!" Unable to stop himself, the scorn, the acid spilled out. "I am not going back down to the ship. No thanks to you I barely made it out of there! It's at the bottom now. The communications are out. We'll have to wait to be rescued."

The General advanced again, Obi-Wan stepped back, with a wave of his hand commanding the Force to protect him. The General slipped in the mud and fell, cursing the young Jedi. It was a feeble attempt at Force defense and Kenobi thought that was from his inability to think very clearly. Also, he felt himself holding back. To unleash unguarded power against the General could have untold consequences for a thirteen-year-old apprentice. Best to contain his temper and avoid the General.

Looking up through the trees, he wondered how he could contact the space station and get help from Jinn. His thoughts spilled into a silent plea, calling for his Master to help him. Alone in a hostile environment, he needed the aid and comfort

***

After Jinn helped to calm the representatives he turned to the practical matter of discovering what had happened. Banton military insisted it was an attack and Seedeth refuted that. The impression of a malfunction wouldn't leave Qui-Gon's thoughts, and he steered the delegates into more productive avenues. Finding the ship. The resources of both planets went into the operation. After a while the animosity settled, gradually replaced with cooperation.

The lull gave Jinn a chance to reflect. It seemed so ridiculous now to believe he had succeeded in keeping his inner heart cold and shallow for a year. How could that be possible when so often he laughed and played and enjoyed pleasantries with his apprentice? How could there be no affection if he worried about Obi-Wan's health and safety and greeted each day with enthusiasm because his youth's energy and optimism demanded such a reaction? Certainly the pain he was feeling told him he was already close and cared very deeply what happened to his young Padawan. If he never saw Obi-Wan again, Jinn would have lost someone precious to him.

Well he was not going to sit around and do nothing. This is his fault. IF he had established a connection he would have known exactly where Obi-wan was, what had happened -- even if the youth was alive. If there was no connection, then perhaps it was not too late.

Returning to the room they shared, Jinn tried to settle himself, calm the frayed nerves, ease the ache in his heart. Touring the room, he thought back to this morning, their routine meditation together, their brief but satisfying sabre sparring match, their discussion of the mission over breakfast. All impersonal, but as intimate as they had been for an entire year. So little had changed on the outside, but inside, Jinn felt the difference. A secret he kept shielded even from himself. He cared very much for Obi-Wan and wanted desperately for the boy to be alive and well. Not just to rectify a terrible oversight on his part, but to have the bright and invaluable boy with him every day for many, many years to come. It was wrong to keep such feelings secret from himself, let alone his Padawan. After this crisis he vowed to make up for his oversight.

Sitting on Obi-Wan's bed he held the youth's datapad in his hand, trying to focus on Kenobi's energy, his presence here amid the very few material things he owned. Closing his eyes he could feel a remnant of that spark that was Kenobi. Nothing beyond that. With a sigh he opened his eyes and glanced at something odd on the screen. Reading, he was amazed to find the open file was about the Jedi prophecies, history, and specifically the Jedi Warrior Bond. Unable to resist, he read through the complied literature, surprised at the detailed information. At the bottom of one page there was a marginal note -- a reminder from Obi-Wan to himself. The assembled files needed to be finished by the end of the Banton mission. It was already a few weeks late. He had already, unknowingly, missed Qui-Gon's birthday. Which he hoped they could celebrate at the same time as their one-year anniversary of becoming Master and Padawan.

Not many months ago Obi-Wan had informed him of the day the youth turned thirteen. There had been no celebration. Kenobi had seemed to take it well and Jinn moved on. Celebrations were vain and petty markings of time. They were amusements his second apprentice had reveled in, which Qui-Gon never told Kenobi. He never told Obi-Wan anything about that Dark One. Jinn wanted no part of them for Obi-Wan. So the child had stoically accepted nothing for himself, while planning something for Qui-Gon's birthday and their anniversary. Was there ever a Master so blind and foolish?

Dropping the pad, Jinn slammed a fist on the bed and launched away. The myths underscored Jinn's sensitivity to not being connected and he wanted to hear no more about them. The frivolous boy. How could he put his hopes and dreams into a myth? If there was such a thing as a Warrior Bond, wouldn't it have helped him find Obi-Wan? Why would it allow him separation from a young boy who needed him?

***

Wary of the General, Obi-Wan leaned against a tree, sitting on a branch, and focused inward. Centering outward only made him feel sick. If only he had a Warrior Bond with Qui-Gon. The magic existed, he had felt it the first day they met. Something beyond the Force. That moment in the library when they both knew the Bond could be real and they could be part of it. {JWB 1}

What had happened this year to keep them from establishing what should be theirs? It must be his fault, he concluded. It could not be Jinn's. Who was the inexperienced pupil? Who was the one afraid to fail, afraid to be anything but perfect in Jinn's eyes, but still managed to flub and mess up so many lessons and practices and even assignments on missions? No wonder Jinn remained aloof and removed from him. It must be a crushing thing for a great Master like Qui-Gon to know he was stuck with a weak apprentice. It was too great a failure, because Qui-Gon deserved nothing but the best -- the most devotion, the most trust, the most committed apprentice in the galaxy. He had thought he could fill those lofty ideals, but apparently not.

Normally, Kenobi's confidence was much higher than this, but his pounding headache, the stinging skin where the General had touched him, the over-all sense of illness and the threatening General didn't help. Most condemning of all was the Warrior Bond. Something he had believed in all his life. If he could not connect with someone great like Jinn then maybe he could not connect at all. His old teachers told him the Force was strong in him, but did that mean he was meant for a mythic and epic connection with Jinn? He had thought so last year at the Temple. What had gone wrong? Leaning his head back against the tree he moaned in misery. Why couldn't he connect with the Warrior Bond -- not just to prove his fanciful imagination -- just to preserve his life!

***

The image of a swamp and tall trees at the edge of an inlet snapped into Jinn's mind. With it came a sense of depression, a sense of longing, and a strong forlorn stab of regret. Secret emotions Jinn never would have guessed were harbored within his apprentice. Every particle of those emotions screamed of Obi-Wan! Racing to the control room Jinn had the Bantons go through maps until they found one that matched his impressions. Telling them that it had to be the spot, he raced to the hangar to join a rescue shuttle.

As they approached the surface more feelings filtered through to him. Inadequacy and failing confidence. Trust and total devotion -- he thought those were directed AT him instead of about Obi-Wan. He ached at the turmoil of the young man. Automatically he sent back a message of hope and strength, encouraging his apprentice to hold on.

***

The nearby rumble alerted Obi-Wan just before the General reached his position. The aquatic being slapped at him, toppling the shorter, slight boy from the perch and landing him in the swamp. The blow had glancingly connected with his head again, and Kenobi stumbled to climb out of the mud, his vision blurred.

When the General charged at him instinctively he held onto the pommel of his sabre. Kolosh grabbed for him and he fell, the General pushing him down into the muddy water. Using all his Force energy Obi-Wan flipped back, gasping for breath, drawing his lightsabre in defense, drawing the sabre. This was very bad. A dignitary he was supposed to protect was now his enemy. The Force guided him, although second-guessing what Jinn would say almost made him drop the sabre. Even to save his own life, could he dishonor his Master by injuring this General?

Kolosh drew a small hand blaster and fired. Kenobi leaped out of the way, bringing the blade to life. He used it to repel bolts, but would not advance, would not use the weapon to bounce the deadly bolts back to the General. The purely defensive motions were clear signs of weakness to the General, who finally came over and shot rapid fire, close range bolts at the youth. The lightsabre dropped and sputtered in the swamp. Obi-Wan quickly retrieved it and tried to ignite his blade but the power core was fizzled from the water. Then a bolt sliced through his arm. Kenobi scrambled back, trying to use the Force to throw the weapon out of the General's hand, but he was too unfocused, too consumed with pain and failure. How could he fight? He could not if he was to preseve the peace of two societies. He changed his ragged strategy and concentrated on running.

Then the blaster was suddenly thrown into the water. A green lightsabre swung close to the General, forcing him back. Then Jinn expunged the sabre's blade and punched the General, sending the creature to the ground.

Smiling, laughing, sensing the weariness turn into a sob, Obi-Wan grabbed onto the nearest object and fell against it. The blaster shot hurt even worse than he thought it would. His first such injury, he never wanted to feel another one. Already sick and disoriented, he hardly kept a balance against the tree stump he had found to lean on.

***

Momentarily torn between the sweet retaliation of slicing the General's head off, and seeing to his suffering apprentice, Jinn barely restrained his burning anger and chose the Jedi way. Crossing to the mud where his Padawan shivered, Jinn took the boy in his arms.

"You're hurt. Badly?"

Kenobi shivered a negative shake, then a confused nod. "Your timing," he chattered, sinking his face into Jinn's tunic. "is perfect, my Master. Almost as good as your punch!" An errant giggle escaped.

"Thank you, Obi-Wan." His voice was tight and harsh from livid emotions. "Can you walk?"

"I think so." It was on the edge of a sob.

"Don't cry," Jinn softly admonished. Their precarious situation would not improve if Obi-Wan showed weakness right now. If Jinn had his way, he would have not even held onto the youth -- saving his comforting support until they were away from Banton eyes. But Obi-Wan was too weak -- Jinn's resolve was too weak -- to allow the brave young man to suffer any more. "You can be strong, Padawan, can't you?" Staring into the boy's eyes Jinn felt tears burning in his own. How could he ask more of a frightened, injured thirteen-year-old?

The boy sniffed back a choke. "Yes, Master."

The bravery humbled the great Master and Jinn resisting the urge to carry the boy in his arms. Jinn settled for supporting the youth to the shuttle. It would do their image no good to show too much relief and affection to his apprentice. Unsure of the situation and the General's attack on his Padawan, Jinn chose to remain neutral, though his heart told him to ignore the Force and brutalize the General as the creature had done to his boy.

Once aboard the transport Qui-Gon quickly lifted the boy easily in his arms and held him taut as he strode swiftly to a small, isolated passenger section. The silent boy was held tightly in his arms, neither saying anything, but transmitting their mutual relief and affection through their impenetrable embrace. The protective circle was maintained until they reached the space station.

***

In the safety of their cabin Jinn assessed Obi-Wan's condition. Using the Force on the nearly unconscious boy, he diagnosed a concussion. Added to that was a bad reaction to the secretion of the Banton scale oil, plus a nasty blaster burn.

Applying a healing salve, Jinn's hands shook. Obi-Wan could have been killed. This incredible youth of promise could have ceased to exist. The loss would have been a grief to the Force, to the Order -- personally it would have been unbearable to Jinn. There was no way to change the past, alter his mistakes, but Jinn could change the future. As soon as they were done with this mission he was going to work on establishing a bond. It may not be a Warrior Bond, but he would not fail his apprentice again.

A bitter, self-castigating laugh escaped. His brave and impulsive Padawan was not afraid of much except displeasing Qui-Gon. And the Master he so adored was the one to fail first in their relationship. Again it cried the question of his qualifications of being a Master and teacher. The Force had thrown them together and he had to trust that it was the right thing to do. In his heart he would not change it for anything, because in this year he had learned to laugh and feel and hope again. What priceless knowledge. If he never taught a thing to Obi-Wan, then the apprentice had already taught much more to the Master than Jinn ever thought possible. Even the pain of his Dark Padawan -- his greatest failure -- was diminished in the shadow of Obi-Wan's brightness.

***

Lightly, in a non-intrusive brush of mental energy, Jinn nudged Kenobi into a healing trance. The boy knew the basics, but had never needed something concentrated enough to heal wounds and serious illness. In the emotions Jinn felt the pain, the confusion. Beyond that he felt an extraordinary desire to be a perfect Jedi -- more -- Jinn's perfect Warrior Bond Padawan.

Startled, Qui-Gon removed his touch a little too abruptly. It jarred Kenobi awake and the green eyes flashed open, revealing the inner thoughts of a startled boy: the insecurity deep inside -- the fear of failing his Master -- the willingness to do anything to prove his worth in Qui-Gon's eyes. As awareness filtered into his mind, the youth flinched at the pain, at the unguarded imaginings of unworthiness. Layered within and atop the negative emotions were awed senses of respect, regard and feelings of incredible love. Everything, negative and positive, was targeted at Jinn.

"I have failed you, Master. I am sorry." His lip trembled and moisture pooled in the fathomless green eyes. "I wanted this to be right." He sniffed. "To disappoint you after all you have done for me is --"

"Obi-Wan." The stern, but soft voice brought an abrupt end to the self-castigation. "You have not failed." Tone deep from tender, profound emotions, Jinn cleared his throat. "I know the problems on the planet were not your fault. Now, I command you rest." He brushed the back of his hand against Obi-Wan's cheek and then held both the smaller hands within his large fists. "I will help you achieve a healing trance which will promote recovery. You must wipe away the unhappiness now to clear your mind."

"Yes, Master."

Brave words to commonplace orders. Jinn didn't know how to communicate the contrition and tenderness in his heart, so he allowed the sensitivity of the Force-affection to speak for him. With a gentle hand he wiped away the tears that streaked from the boy's closed eyes. The tremblings ceased, a sense of calm endearment settled between them, filling in the gaps his words could never reach in their relationship. Both leveled off in a serene plane of mutual understanding. The first step in a Master and Padawan bond.

"You are a very brave young man, Obi-Wan."

The eyes snapped open again. So much for a healing trance. Now the mind's alert curiosity was evident in the look of surprise and confusion.

"The General was threatening your life and you restrained attack, even defense, choosing the Jedi path instead of the easier road to anger." His easy smile washed over his features. "That was very mature. More appropriate than my actions." His voice cracked. "I am very proud of the way you conducted yourself, Padawan."

Kenobi cleared his throat, but his voice was still rough. The tears were trickling out with more speed. "I have never had anyone care for me like you do, Master."

Qui-Gon gathered the shaking boy in his arms. "You are my apprentice." He hoped that explained more than he could phrase. But it didn't. He hoped that label would convey everything he held in his heart. "Nor have I ever felt so cared for, Obi-Wan."

The comment surprised the youth, who looked up at the Master with adoring, amazed eyes glittering with awe and devotion.

"Do you want to know a secret?" At the nod of consent, Jinn drew a deep breath for courage. "I am not perfect." The lilt at the end of the sentence showed it was a serious, but also self-effacing admission.

Obi-Wan grinned. "Really?" The irony was typical and droll.

Okay, the apprentice was still a master at sarcasm and would hold that title for some time. "I have been a Master to two other, very different apprentices. You are so --" he searched for a label that could possibly fit. " -- so much more. You bring out new levels of my personality that I had forgotten. They were buried very deep, Obi-Wan, or maybe didn't ever exist at all, and you have uncovered those secret places. Thank you."

Was this what it was supposed to be between Master and Padawan -- within families? Such tender emotions and protective devotion from both on a nearly equal and deep level? It had never been such with his other two apprentices. The intensity and depth of dedication was so intense. Or was this just natural protective instincts enhanced and amplified by the Warrior Bond? Which Jinn still did not believe in?

A spark flowed between them. One he hadn't felt in over a year. Obi-Wan's eyes widened, acknowledging the sense.

"The Warrior Bond." Kenobi was certain, confident, adamant. The faith was absolute. "It is the Warrior Bond, Master."

Briefly irritation lanced through Qui-Gon's mind. Why did the boy torment himself with the foolish prophecies, legends and myths? The stories were warping his young, impressionable and idealistic mind! Jinn would have no more of it! Then he thought of the secret present waiting a special moment. It would break this boy's heart if he dashed those romantic ideals now. Better wait for later. Now was the time to fulfil his vow to himself and enhance their bond, start the link that was obviously so important to Jedi companions.

Obi-Wan, like all initiates to the Jedi Temple entered training at an early age, usually only a few months old. All were reared in classes according to age. They were treated well, even nurtured, but in a communal, group setting. There was little opportunity for personal or individual attention. Few Jedi children ever had any family, bonding, or close personal contact. The Master and Padawan relationship was the beginning step in training as a Knight, not as a family. Many partnerships were as close as families, but none in Jinn's experience. His own Master was a wise and kind Jedi who taught him well, if austerely. Qui-Gon's other apprentices never indicated any need for closeness beyond the natural Master and pupil training link.

Everything with Obi-Wan was different; more intense, more personal. The highs were joyous and frequent. The lows, the deep emotional pain, he was just beginning to realize was profound.

Jinn couldn't acknowledge that leap of mythical energy to be a confirmation that the Warrior Bond really existed. Instead, he hugged Kenobi tighter, using his feelings through the Force to guide his actions. This was untried ground for an old Master and a new Padawan. The responding clasp eagerly acknowledged the closeness was appreciated.

"It seems the Master and the Padawan learn from each other, don't we?"

"Really?" Some of the old confidence returned around a yawn. "And I thought Masters knew everything."

"Well, then, I hope you can keep my secret."

"Promise," he vowed, ready to fall asleep in his Master's arms. "I have a few secrets of my own."

"I bet you do." Laughing, Jinn went so far as to plant a kindly kiss on the top of the boy's soft head of bristly hair. Leaning back against the hull of the ship, Qui-Gon fell asleep holding his slumbering Padawan securely in his arms.

_____________________

Come stop your crying,

It'll be all right.

Just take my hand,

Hold it tight.

I will protect you

From all around you.

I will be here,

Don't you cry.

For one so small,

You seem so strong.

My arms will hold you,

Keep you safe and warm.

This bond between us

Can't be broken.

I will be here,

Don't you cry.

From

You'll Be In My Heart

By

Phil Collins


The End