TITLE: TREMBLING IN THE BALANCE
AUTHOR: Cascadia
TIME: 7 years pre-TPM, Obi-Wan is 18
RATING: PG-13 (substance abuse, violence)
CATEGORY: Angst/Drama, Non-Slash
SUMMARY: Obi-Wan has a serious problem he tries to keep from Qui-Gon. But how hard will that be while on a mission?
ARCHIVE: Please ask first.
DISCLAIMER: All recognizable characters are the property of Lucasfilm Limited. All the rest belong to me. I receive no profit from this.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is my first attempt at fan-fiction. Besides that, I haven't written any fiction for years, so please bear with me. Anything between * * are personal thoughts. Anything between // // are Qui-Gon and Obi-wan talking through their bond.



CHAPTER 1 - TREMBLINGS


The rising sunlight streamed uncompromisingly through the windowpane. It seemed to push away the lingering darkness with a force. Uncompromising - taking without asking - growing with a monster fierceness - relentless. But it did not take what was not originally offered. The window blinds were raised to let everything in, so there was not really any crime - not any infringement of rights.

Obi-Wan tried to go back to sleep, but it was useless. He never could when he awoke like this. The early morning insomnia had become a habit recently. He was pretty sure why, but that didn't matter. It wasn't important anyway, was it?

Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn palmed the door lock to their living quarters and stepped through, dropping a data reader on the console table beside the door. "Obi-Wan?" he called. "Obi-Wan? Are you up, padawan?"

After all, it was the early morning hours, and his apprentice Obi-Wan was not the type to be up early if he had a choice.

No answer.

Qui-Gon walked to Obi-Wan's bedroom door and peered in. The young Jedi had his back towards the door and was closing a desk drawer that his body nearly concealed from Qui-Gon's view.

"Obi-Wan?"

The padawan, still clad in his sleep pants, turned around slowly, leaning against the drawer he had just closed. "Yes, Master?" His hair was disheveled from sleep, and his face pallid.

'Are you sick, Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon asked, concerned at his padawan's appearance and the fact that he was up at this very uncharacteristic hour.

Obi-Wan hesitated, glancing to the floor at his feet, then back to Qui-Gon in the doorway. "No, Master. Why? Where have you been?"

"I was summoned by the Council."

"So early, Master?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Yes, padawan. We have an assignment. Start packing," Qui-Gon said as he turned away.

Obi-Wan followed him out, brows furrowed. "An assignment?"

Qui-Gon stopped abruptly and turned around. Obi-Wan, who was right on his heels, almost ran into him and had to stop abruptly - taking a couple steps back so he could see the tall Jedi master without craning his neck uncomfortably. Qui-Gon couldn't help but smile.

He put his hand lightly on the young Jedi's shoulder. "Yes, Obi-Wan. An assignment. Now are you going to pack or do I have to do it for you?" his eyes sparkled.

"But-"

"No 'buts', padawan," Qui-Gon interjected. "The healers have already cleared you. Your leg is well now, and Healer J'Reedon said there is no reason why you cannot return to full-time duty." Qui-Gon paused, gently squeezing the young man's shoulder. "I would think you would be more than ready to leave the temple after being stuck here for two months."

Obi-Wan's gaze dropped to the floor, his brow still furrowed. "When do we leave," he asked, knowing there was no way to get out of it.

"The shuttle's ready, so we will leave as soon as you are packed.... 'Now' would be more precise," Qui-Gon added with a glimmer in his eye.

"Now? We're leaving now?" Obi-Wan took an unconscious step backwards, pulling his shoulder free of his master's grip. His eyes were wide, almost pleading. "How long will we be gone?"

"Are you going to question everything I tell you? We will be gone as long as we need to be. Now," Qui-Gon walked into Obi-Wan's bedroom and retrieved the young Jedi's travel bag, "you need to pack." He started packing his padawan's things while Obi-Wan watched from the doorway.

"What are you doing, Master?... I can do it myself," he whined.

Qui-Gon turned to him, and stopped packing. "Very well. But we need to leave as soon as possible. Do you need to clean up first?" he questioned in his forever calm manner, already knowing the answer.

"Yes, Master," he whispered, sounding lost. He raised his eyes back to Qui-Gon, almost pleading. "We can't leave tomorrow?"

"No, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon turned and quickly walked out.

Obi-Wan went into the 'fresher, leaning heavily against the door after it closed behind him. What was he going to do now? Would he have enough until they returned? There was no way to get anymore before they left.

*Please, Force, what am I going to do? I can't tell Master Qui-Gon I'm not going. And I can't tell him about... about... what I don't want him to know about! I don't want him to think I can't take care of myself. I'm eighteen years old. I should be able to handle my own problems. It's not really a problem anyway. It's NOT a problem. It's just... something I have to deal with. I can stop any time I want to. Really I can. Am I just trying to convince myself or do I even know what I'm talking about?*

Sighing, he resigned himself to a hot shower and was cleaned up in a short time. He went to his bedroom and finished packing. Then he went to the desk. Opening a drawer, he retrieved a small bottle from the back of the drawer and placed it carefully in his pocket while he watched the doorway for any sign of Qui-Gon. He left his room with his travel bag in hand and found Qui-Gon sitting on a sofa, reading a data reader.

"Ready?" Qui-Gon inquired without looking up.

"Yes, Master."

The walk to the shuttle was without incident - Qui-Gon leading, with Obi-Wan just a couple steps behind and to the side. Everything seemed normal. But was it?

Obi-Wan wondered if Qui-Gon knew anything was wrong. Neither of them said anything. They just walked. Obi-Wan risked a side-glance at his master. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Why should it? Everything was fine. Wasn't it? Even so, he tightened his mental shields.

Upon reaching the shuttle bay, Qui-Gon checked in and received clearance to their shuttle. They quickly boarded the shuttle, and settled their belongings in the sleeping cabins.

The Jedi master walked to Obi-Wan's cabin. "Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon called to his apprentice, who stood next to a sleep couch.

*Here it is.* Obi-Wan thought. *He must suspect something.* He turned to face him, "Yes, Master?"

"Here is the data reader about the mission." Qui-Gon held it out towards him. "You need to read this before we arrive, Obi-Wan. I'm going to check on our ETA with the pilot." He paused at the door, looking back at him, "There is much to read, and it may take you most of the trip to read it all. I have been aware of the problem with Cardans, so there is not much I don't know that the data reader could tell me."

Obi-Wan accepted the data reader and sat on his assigned sleep couch as Qui-Gon left the room.

*Oh, great. I get to read the entire history and politics of a planet I could care less about... I mean... I DO care about it but... still... I need some help to stay awake if I have to read the whole thing.*

Sure he just got up, but he felt tired anyway. He stood up from the sleep couch and entered the 'fresher. After closing and locking the door behind him, he reached into his tunic pocket, and found the little bottle he had so preciously kept hidden from his master's all-seeing eyes.

*He MUST know. Why else would he act like that?*

He unscrewed the top and shook the small bottle gently against his hand until a small capsule fell into his palm. His eyes settled on that tiny capsule, shining at their discovery, as if it were the most precious treasure reserved for him alone. Glancing towards the door self-consciously as if someone were watching him and would steal his treasure if it were discovered, he placed it in his mouth and swallowed it. Then he returned to the data reader to continue his assigned task.

How long had he been taking those capsules? Since their last mission when he suffered a serious leg injury. The capsules were prescribed by Healer J'Reedon, but were supposed to only be used two weeks for the pain. But he couldn't give them up. When he waited too long after taking one, then he usually felt pains, nausea, or dizziness. After he used the prescription up, then he resorted to acquiring a spare bottle from the healer's supply room. No one knew. It was nothing to worry about.

Some time later, Qui-Gon returned to Obi-Wan's cabin. "Obi-Wan?"

"Yes, Master?" Obi-Wan looked up from the datareader.

"We need to talk, padawan." His eyes met Obi-Wan's, boring through.

Obi-Wan was sure his master saw everything, knew everything he wanted to conceal. He tried to tighten his mental shields more, but they were already so tight that it was impossible.

*How can he know?*

Obi-Wan tried to still his trembling nerves. He tried to remain calm, but the more he tried, the more he trembled. His leg began shaking uncontrollably, so he started moving it quickly back and forth on purpose to cover up his nervousness.

"What..." he cleared his hoarse voice, "what about, Master?"

"About separate living quarters, Obi-Wan. Do you still want your own quarters at the Temple, padawan?"

Obi-Wan just stared at Qui-Gon. *He doesn't know, does he? Or is he just pretending.*

"Yes, Master. I would very much like my own quarters."

"Very well. I talked to Master Nima, and she has agreed to switch quarters with me. And you can have the unoccupied one that is next door. We can both move in when we return." Qui-Gon paused, seeing if it registered to his padawan that his recent crusade was won.

"Thank you, Master," Obi-wan said with a tight smile.

It was not the reaction Qui-Gon expected. He had expected Obi-Wan to be much more excited. "Aren't you happy, padawan? I thought this was what you wanted." Qui-Gon tried.

"Of course, Master. I'm just trying to remember all this information about Cardans. It's too much to take in all at one time."

*There. That should convince him that there isn't anything wrong. Because there isn't anyway. I'm just paranoid. And I AM glad I'll get my own quarters.*

Qui-Gon moved to the doorway, "I am going to take a short nap, now. Perhaps you should take a break. You can continue your reading later."

"Thank you, Master. I think I will take a little break." Obi-Wan rose from the sleep couch, leaving the data reader, and walked out into the hallway.

*Relax. He doesn't know anything. Everything will be fine. Just don't blow it now.*

********* ********* *********

"We are ready to land, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon said as he entered the padawan's cabin. "Have you finished the data reader yet?"

Obi-Wan glanced up at his master before answering, still in silent contemplation of the Cardans situation. He was determined to put his worry over his 'problem' to the back of his mind and concentrate on the mission at hand. He would get through this. Besides, they would probably be back to the Temple before he exhausted his supplies. There was no reason to worry. Everything would be fine. It always was. "Yes, I've finished reading it, Master. How long do you think this will last? It seems like a really stupid disagreement to me."

"Obi-Wan. Although it may appear 'stupid' to you," Qui-Gon said calmly, "it is a very serious situation, nonetheless... and one that we should not think of too lightly, padawan."

"Yes, Master. I understand." Obi-Wan's eyes fell to the floor. "I am sorry, Master. I did not mean to imply it was not serious."

Qui-Gon smiled warmly, placing his hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder, "I am not disappointed in you, padawan. Come." Qui-Gon gently pulled the young man towards the door.

Roxillum Palace, the chosen meeting place, was within the capital of Tairdok. It was a large building of decorative columns and exquisite beauty matched by nothing else Obi-Wan had seen in his entire travels throughout the galaxy. Within its huge inner chambers the ambassadors met the Jedi, and then they all proceeded to a private meeting chamber that was actually a well-stocked library. The library's sculptured walls rose five stories high to a patterned ceiling of elongated skylights. 'Breathtaking' was how Obi-Wan described it.

Although everything seemed to go smoothly with the opposing ambassadors, Obi-Wan couldn't help but feel that something was wrong. Both sides arrived on time, and showed courtesy and respect toward the other throughout the initial meeting. Corrunem, the ambassador from the mountainous Tairdok, was very polite and seemed genuinely concerned to find a peaceful solution. Reltis, the Porteme ambassador, had problems with the simple solution the Tairdokis offered. However, the problems were not serious ones, and Corrunem was willing to make concessions. On the surface, it seemed only a matter of hours before everything would be settled.

Throughout the exchange of differences, Obi-Wan sensed a growing contempt from Reltis. After a cursory inspection of that contempt, Obi-Wan was confused to discover he himself was the object of that contempt.

He turned a questioning face to Qui-Gon, who looked back at him. // I do not understand it either, Obi-Wan. You have done nothing that should offend anyone here.//

"I don't see why HE has to be here," Reltis suddenly blurted out, referring to Obi-Wan.

All eyes fell to the padawan, who froze with eyes wide and face turning red.

"Ambassador," Qui-Gon calmly said, "would you kindly explain yourself."

Reltis looked offended. "Am I on trial here? I thought we were here to discuss a settlement. But this...."

"My apprentice," Qui-Gon supplied, before Reltis could come up with a more colorful description himself.

"Yes, your 'apprentice', for lack of a better term," Reltis' voice now rising, "has done nothing here. He is useless." He stood and walked behind a seated Obi-Wan. Reltis disgustingly eyed the padawan. "Really, Master Jinn, does he have to be here?"

Obi-Wan met Qui-Gon's eyes for a heartbeat.

"He is here to assist me and to observe," Qui-Gon defended serenely.

"But is it really necessary that he be here?" Reltis argued. "He's in the way," he added as an afterthought.

The library fell silent for an uncomfortable moment. All eyes rested on Qui-Gon, who struggled to stay calm.

Qui-Gon turned to Obi-Wan. // Padawan, would you mind leaving? I think it would be for the best.//

// Yes, Master. I'll leave. I'm sorry.//

// There's no reason to be sorry, padawan.//

Obi-Wan stood up and left the library.

When the young Jedi was gone, Qui-Gon coldly stared at Reltis, who quickly looked away. The ambassador seated himself back at the table, seemingly nervous. After he calmed himself he turned to Qui-Gon, a friendly look on his face, and said, "now, let's get this over with...."

Obi-Wan walked around the Palace gardens, noting how beautiful they were. He recognized some of the plants, but most were indigenous and impossible for him to have ever seen before. There was a particularly exotic pale blue flower that caught his eye. He made his way towards a bed of them, entering the gardens through a vine-covered arbor.

Once inside the gardens he felt amazed at how much more beautiful they were while in their midst. He stopped in front of the bed of the pale blue flowers. How easy it would be to take one. No one would know. The flower would not protest. But even if it could protest, how would he know? It was a completely different lifeform. Communication between them was impossible. It was almost like... trying to tell his 'problem' to leave him alone. It would not - could not - listen. It was an impossible argument. Where one spoke words, the other made demands. Demands not in words, but in mental suggestions, in physiological controls. How could he fight something that could control him - something that sweet-talked its way behind his defenses, and proceeded to shackle his own will. This was unlike any enemy he had ever battled. This battle was against himself - against his own body and mind.

*Oh, Force, help me. I don't think I really have a problem, but I don't know what to do about it. I can stop anytime I want to, can't I?*

He pulled the small bottle from his pocket, staring long at it. * What if I....*

He dropped the bottle in the flowerbed and turned away - his back to the pale flowers. Could he just walk away and leave it there? Would that put this problem behind him - never to bother him, control him again?

"Yes, I can," he whispered. "I will. I know I can." With his mind made up, Obi-Wan walked back to the Palace, never looking back at the pale blue flowers.

He strolled along the portico admiring the cityscape. This whole place was beautiful. Although the city was rather large, it still held an inarticulate beauty - trees and other vegetation spilled between every building. And the buildings... how exquisite they were. Coruscant paled in comparison to this beauty. It was a city, nothing else. Natural beauty was not to be found there. Only in artificially created environments could there be found any beauty such as this.

"Obi-Wan?"

The young man turned towards the voice of his master. "Yes, Master?" Qui-Gon smiled as he stopped before Obi-Wan.

"Obi-Wan. The negotiations are completed," Qui-Gon paused, "Corrunem conceded to Reltis' demands."

"Is that good, Master?" Obi-Wan queried. "I mean, Reltis... he's not very nice, Master."

Qui-Gon chuckled, "I know, Obi-Wan. And I am sorry that you had to leave, but this was a delicate matter, and your presence there was not totally necessary. I would have preferred that you remain - but it was either you stay or the Republic could have a potentially dangerous situation on their hands. Apparently the Porteme don't conduct business with anyone who is not totally needed present. They feel it is disrespectful - something that the data reader did not inform us."

"Yes, I know, Master." Obi-Wan looked back at the city. "It's beautiful, Master. Have you ever seen such a wonderful place?"

Qui-Gon followed his padawan's gaze. "No, I don't think I have, Obi-Wan," his voice a whisper. He looked back to the young Jedi, "Corrunem has invited us to dinner tonight. I think he feels bad about your treatment by Reltis. You will come, padawan?"

Obi-Wan met the elder man's gleeful eyes, and smiled. "Of course, Master. Is the food here as magnificent as everything else... other than Reltis? He's pathetic, Master," Obi-Wan laughed.

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon admonished. "We will talk about your impertinent behavior later. Right now, let's find our guest rooms the Tairdoki ambassador assigned us for the night."

After wondering around aimlessly through Roxillum Palace, the two Jedi found the guest wing and subsequently found their assigned rooms. They had separate rooms that were connected by side doors leading to a shared bathroom.

Later that night, Qui-Gon retrieved Obi-Wan, and they made their way to meet Ambassador Corrunem. After they met in a private dining room in the palace, the food was brought in by servants. The food was exotic - too exotic for Obi-Wan's taste - but he forced himself to consume some of it anyway. The dinner was accentuated with small talk about Tairdok and their plans for the future. Qui-Gon appeared genuinely interested, but Obi-Wan had to fake interest. This was not what was on his mind. Instead, he thought of the little bottle he had abandoned in the gardens.

His body ached terribly - especially his abdomen - and he felt nauseous. Trying to ignore it, he pushed a chalice of some bubbly sweet drink to his mouth to hide gritting his teeth. He continued keeping his mental shields as tight as possible to hide the pain from Qui-Gon.

*I can handle this. It's just withdrawal, probably. It can't get any worse.*

Suddenly a sharp pain hit his abdomen, and he set the chalice down abruptly with a clang, bringing all eyes to him. His face flushed. "I'm sorry, Ambassador. If it's not too much to ask, could I please be excused?" He faced Corrunem, and then Qui-Gon - waiting patiently for a reply.

The ambassador was the first to speak, "Yes, of course, you may go. And may I say again how sorry I am for what happened earlier today."

"Thank you, Ambassador." Obi-Wan looked at Qui-Gon, waiting for permission to leave.

Qui-Gon tried to sense what the young Jedi was feeling, but couldn't detect anything. After considering Obi-Wan's request, he replied, "You may go, Obi-Wan. But we leave tomorrow morning. So don't stay up too late."

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan - feeling suddenly dizzy - almost fell over himself getting up to leave. He couldn't get out fast enough. He rushed out of the dining room, hearing the two elder men chuckling - undoubtedly at his expense.

He ran out of the palace, heading towards the gardens.

*Stay where you are, little bottle. I'm coming to rescue you.*


TBC

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Don't forget to review. I'd like to know what you think.