Disclaimer: Although I love Star Wars, that doesn't mean I don't own Star Wars. Although I'm a fan of money, that doesn't mean I'm making money off this story.

A/N: Originally finished in January, 2010. Yes, I suppose this plot is way overused; please bear with it. And please read, review, comment, critique, and more!

Never Again

The Temple didn't feel like home anymore. For more than thirty years, it had been a place of sanctuary and peace to Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn. Here he had found a home, a family, a place to belong. A place where he was wanted, loved, cared for. A place where much was expected of him, where much was given to him, where he had trained hard to become a Jedi Knight. Where he had trained a Padawan.

But no longer. For his Padawan was gone. In bygone days, he had greeted fellow Jedi in the hallways with quiet good humor. Now he acknowledged their greetings with no more than a curt nod. More than once he turned on his heel and left while a Knight was still talking to him. He wasn't interested in hearing, time and again, an empty expression of condolences. Xanatos wasn't about to return. Their sympathy couldn't change that.

"Master Jinn!"

Qui-Gon sighed impatiently. Another Jedi to face, another Jedi to brush off. He should just keep walking without turning around. But there was something about the urgency of the way his name had been called that caused him to pause and look over his shoulder.

"Yes?" he answered. Ali-Alann was hastening toward him. The Jedi caretaker, normally imperturbable, looked worried.

"Master Jinn, I am sorry to intrude," Ali began quickly, "but I have lost track of one of the younglings in my care." He looked hopefully at Qui-Gon. "A small male Human. You didn't happen to see him, did you?" Qui-Gon shook his head, and the caretaker's face fell. "Well, if you do see him . . ."

"I'll be sure to tell you," Qui-Gon finished. Ali-Alann nodded and hurried away to keep looking. Qui-Gon strode the rest of the way down the hall and took the first left he came to. It led to the less crowded areas of the Temple, the places where one could be alone to think. No, not meditate—he could hardly think straight at the moment—just think. About where to go from here. What he should do next.

Oh, he knew what the Council would want him to do. They would give him time to mourn— and then they would encourage him to take another Padawan. Take another Padawan? The words sounded ludicrous, even when unspoken. No. He would not put himself through it again. The loyalty. The bond. The . . . love. Yes. He had loved. He had loved. But he had grieved, as well. And the grief was too keen, too painful, for him to ever dream of repeating it.

His soul wept. . .

And the echo returned to his ears. Tiny sobs, muffled for fear that someone would hear.

Qui-Gon drew himself back to his senses. What he was hearing was not the whisper of a broken spirit. It had been a good while since Qui-Gon had been a boy, but not so long that he couldn't remember what a Human child's crying felt like. What it sounded like.

He followed his ears to a window, underneath which sat a bench of gray stone. Beside the bench was a feathery fern. Qui-Gon got down on his hands and knees. Under the bench, beyond the plant, in a hidden niche beneath the window, a little youngling sobbed. Qui-Gon had found the missing boy.

"Hello, there," he called softly. The boy gasped and took his hands away from his eyes.

"M-Master?" he whispered back timidly.

"My name is Qui-Gon Jinn," Qui-Gon introduced himself. He smiled at the boy. "What is yours?" The boy stared back at him.

"Obwun K'nobi," he mumbled, scrubbing his face dry on the sleeve of his tunic. Qui-Gon reached out a coaxing hand.

"Why don't you come out of there? Your caretaker is looking for you." The boy shrank back. "Come on," Qui-Gon encouraged him. "Come on. It's all right. Everyone wants to know where you've been." He smiled and patiently waited. Hesitantly, Obwun crawled forward until Qui-Gon could scoop him out from his hiding place.

He was a small boy, and very light, Qui-Gon discovered, as he stood up with the youngling in the crook of his arm. "And how old are you?" he asked while turning to go back the way he'd come. The boy gazed up at him reticently and held up three fingers. Qui-Gon couldn't help smiling. "Three years already?" Obwun nodded, shy. That old? He really was quite small for his age. And he seemed so timid, so afraid, that Qui-Gon could only come to one conclusion. "Is this your first day at the Temple?" he surmised. Another silent nod. At the intersection of two corridors, Qui-Gon turned the way he'd seen Ali-Alann go. "I know the Temple can scare you at first," he told the boy sympathetically. Obwun squirmed and spoke up for the first time.

"We're not supposed to cry. But I cried. I was afraid someone would see, so I hid."

"There's nothing to be afraid of," Qui-Gon said kindly. "Many younglings cry, Obwun—you wouldn't be the first. No one will be angry with you."

"Oh-bee-wun," the boy said in little more than a whisper. He looked up nervously at Qui-Gon, as though afraid he might upset the Jedi Knight by correcting him. "My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"Oh-bee-wun Ken-oh-bee," Qui-Gon rolled the words slowly off his tongue to be sure he got them right. Obi-Wan nodded happily, causing Qui-Gon to smile again. "Well. That's a much nicer name," he declared, and was rewarded with a grin of childish delight from the boy.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi!" squealed a new voice. A Calamarian youngling came pelting toward them. Her pink skin was flushed with excitement. "Master Ali, Master Ali, it's Obi-Wan Kenobi!" she shrieked. Around the corner behind her came Ali-Alann, followed by a dozen more younglings.

"Master Jinn," Ali-Alann sighed out, relieved. He jogged the rest of the way to Qui-Gon and took Obi-Wan from his arms. "Thank you so much." He caressed the boy with gentle strokes of his large hands. His eyes met Qui-Gon's and went soft with compassion. Yet Ali-Alann had the tact that the other Jedi didn't. He said merely, "You seem to have a way with younglings."

Though he was grateful for Ali-Alann's sparse choice of words, Qui-Gon's smile was tight, his nod brusque. He turned. Time to leave. Ali-Alann had his niche; Qui-Gon had his.

He supposed that, to keep the Council happy, he would have to return to the Temple annually. And he would, yes. He could respect the Council's motives and wishes. He would come back to the Temple, every year. Take in his options. Glance at the prospective Padawans. But none would catch his eye, and none would win his heart. They would become apprentices—but not by becoming apprenticed to him. Because he would not accept another Padawan learner.

Never again.

***The End***