A/N: A few things you need to keep in mind on this chapter. First of all, we ARE dealing with an AU here. If people seem slightly OOC that's because it's a slightly different universe. Secondly, I am crap at writing action scenes. There's a sparring bit in here and I took a wimpy way out. I apologize beforehand for the horribleness of it all. Thirdly, we're coming to an end of this section of the story. And future chapters will probably be a bit happier.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. I'm so confused at this point, I don't even know who owns Star Wars anymore.
A/N 2: There's a mention of one of my Original Characters in here. He'll pop up more often in a later story in this series.
As Obi-Wan looked around at the training room he and Panaka had prepared, he had to admit to himself that this didn't really seem like the best idea he'd ever had. Certainly not the worst…but definitely not the best. Then again, this wasn't really his idea. Padme had tricked him into this.
It was large as far as basic training rooms went. Of course, he had yet to see a small room in Theed Palace. The main set up was clearly for blaster training, though, which limited their space to the section of the room Panaka had designated for hand-to-hand. With the few minor adjustments he had asked for in place, Obi-Wan decided it would more than do for what Padme had in mind.
Bending the rules was something he was becoming rather good at and he wasn't sure how he felt about that development. It wasn't against the Jedi Code to teach lightsaber combat to non-Jedi. Not really. Several cultures preferred simple sabers to blasters in combat. The basic movements, both defensive and offensive, were similar. The weapons were just as deadly, although not quite as refined in Obi-Wan's opinion. Still, he doubted the Council would be thrilled with the thought of all this training he was doing. First meditation, now lightsaber combat. Would using the Force in combat be next?
Ridiculous as the thought was, his eyes cut to Padme as it crossed his mind. Surprisingly, he found himself perfectly willing to teach her such a thing if she wanted to learn. He considered himself fortunate that she did not know how extensive her gift was in the Force or she would probably be able to talk him into doing so.
Obi-Wan felt his former master's eyes on him and, turning to face Qui-Gon, he knew the older Jedi had ascertained what he was thinking. Qui-Gon, who had come with Anakin to watch this first training session, seemed oddly smug to see Obi-Wan in this position. Perhaps because he was remembering how often Obi-Wan had brought up the wisdom in bending the rules.
"Don't say it," Obi-Wan warned.
Qui-Gon regarded him with a laughably exaggerated look of shock.
"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about, Obi-Wan," he replied.
Obi-Wan briefly thought about responding before realizing such an action would just inevitably lead to a circular argument. A friendly argument to be sure, but he had too much on his mind at present to try to keep up with Qui-Gon in such a conversation. Shaking his head, he let the matter drop. Perhaps sensing that he really was slightly distressed over what he was about to do, Qui-Gon spoke again in a more reassuring manner.
"You are not doing anything wrong. Even Mace would agree with me on that point. Does that help you at all?"
It did of course. Obi-Wan regarded Mace nearly as highly as he regarded Qui-Gon. As a young boy, he'd always found it interesting that someone whose lightsaber form danced so closely to the Dark Side was second only to Yoda when it came to strict opinions on enforcing the Code. Now, he could see that the two seemingly contradictory facts actually balanced each other. Clinging so strictly to the Jedi Code was the reason Mace could walk the fine line he did.
"What would Master Yoda say?" Obi-Wan asked, stubbornly refusing to give voice to his thoughts.
Qui-Gon scanned the room quickly, scowling a little when he saw Anakin within earshot. He looked back at Obi-Wan and arched an eyebrow.
'You're laboring under the misconception that I care,' Obi-Wan nearly jumped when Qui-Gon's voice, laced with an undercurrent that was both teasing and frustrated, echoed through the Force. It stunned him into speechlessness for a moment. Qui-Gon had not communicated with him in such a way since the day he was knighted. He blinked and stared at Qui-Gon, who looked almost as shocked by Obi-Wan's emotional response as Obi-Wan had been by Qui-Gon's action.
For weeks after his knighthood Obi-Wan had felt almost empty at the loss of hearing his master's voice, whether chastising or soothing, through the Force. It was not mandatory for such contact to be severed, but Qui-Gon was one of several masters who felt it was easier for the new knight to forge their own path if their former master wasn't communicating with them in such an intimate way.
Because it was intimate. Obi-Wan could not only hear the words in Qui-Gon's voice, but he could feel the emotions behind them as well. Talking to one another through the Force forged an even deeper bond than regular conversation could. Speaking out loud, one could hear the other person's feelings in their inflection and tone. Through the Force, however, since one person actually felt what the other was feeling it brought greater understanding.
Obi-Wan had eventually adjusted, as both Qui-Gon and Mace had assured him he would. He had almost forgotten what it felt like to talk to Qui-Gon through the Force. The older Jedi's decision to start again had taken Obi-Wan completely by surprise and there was a cacophony of emotions that returned along with that form of contact. Disbelief, joy, delight, even hints of residual sorrow and anger. They all battled for dominance for a brief moment and Obi-Wan knew that Qui-Gon could tell what he was feeling.
Padme's voice broke through the inner maelstrom Obi-Wan was trying to get under control. Turning in her direction, he found that she and three of her handmaidens were regarding him expectantly.
"I'm sorry. What did you say, Padme?" he asked.
"I asked if it would be alright with you if Sabe went first," Padme responded, her tone more amused than anything else.
Obi-Wan looked over at Sabe, surprised by the look of sheer excitement on her face. Alright then.
"That's fine with me," he said, motioning Sabe towards the combat ring he had set up.
As he started to go meet her, he felt a hand on his arm. Casting a glance over his shoulder, he was surprised to be the recipient of an apologetic gaze from Qui-Gon. His former master opened his mouth to say something, but Obi-Wan only shook his head and covered Qui-Gon's hand with his own, giving it a slight squeeze. There had been enough apologies between the two of them to last a lifetime. There was no sense in continuing the cycle. Qui-Gon nodded almost imperceptibly and dropped his own hand as Obi-Wan went to show Sabe the stance she needed to be in.
He was a little disconcerted by the amount of eagerness Sabe was displaying, hopping from foot to foot as she waited for him. This was clearly something his friend had wanted to do for quite a long time. Shaking his head slightly in bewilderment, Obi-Wan began to give instructions.
"Stand right here," he positioned her by guiding her shoulders, making sure she was a good distance away from their audience. Picking up Anakin's training saber, he placed it in her hand and showed her how to grip the hilt. He had clipped Qui-Gon's training saber to his belt and he pulled it as he paced away and then turned back to face Sabe. She regarded him thoughtfully for a second.
"Your saber is bigger than mine," she said, one of her eyebrows arched in what was clearly a playful expression.
Obi-Wan faltered a bit at the flagrant flirtation. Sabe eyed him innocently but he knew she was all too aware of what she was doing. For a moment, he was unsure. Remembering that Sabe was actually four years older than Padme helped, however.
"Don't concern yourself with size, milady. It's the skill with which one wields a saber that counts," he informed her.
"I am at a disadvantage, then," she sighed. "Unless the rumors of your skills with a saber have been greatly exaggerated."
Obi-Wan shook his head, enjoying the banter but knowing that it was time to get down to business. Besides, the only way to go from here was outrageous blunt flirting and, for now, he was fairly certain Anakin had no idea what they were talking about.
"A gentleman never brags about his own skills with a saber," he said, effectively ending the line of flirtation. "Now, loosen your hold just a bit on the hilt…"
"Relax," Obi-Wan told her for what seemed to be the hundredth time. "Every time you tense up, I can see what you're going to do next."
Padme scowled as she attempted to do what Obi-Wan said.
"I suppose the fact that you're much more experienced than I am doesn't have anything to do with the fact that you can see such a thing."
"I'm not even trying to figure out what you're up to," he responded. "Your body is communicating it so loudly one of Master Yoda's younglings could tell what your next move is. Just….alright, stop."
Sighing, Padme lowered the training saber in her hands and let it drop to the floor. Staring at it wistfully for a moment, she thought about joining it there. She was the last of Obi-Wan's pupils and the audience had dwindled away to only Sabe and Qui-Gon. Anakin had lost his own battle with sleep while Yane was still being taught and Qui-Gon had carried the boy to their quarters before returning to watch Padme. All the other handmaidens had gone to bed as well, both tired from their activity and excited that Obi-Wan had promised at least one more training session before he went back to Coruscant.
Padme couldn't understand why she seemed to be having more trouble than the others. It frustrated her to no end that she was having difficulty following Obi-Wan's instructions. It wasn't his fault, although her first defensive instinct was to blame him. She knew, however, that she was really angry at herself for her perceived failings. What was worse, she knew that Obi-Wan could tell as he came closer to her.
"Breathe, Padme," he said, his voice so low it was almost a whisper.
She looked at him in confusion.
"Close your eyes and just breathe."
"Is this where we try meditation again?" she inquired petulantly. She winced inwardly upon hearing herself.
"Is this where things devolve into a screaming match again?" he returned, one cocked eyebrow the only sign that his patience was wearing thin.
Unwilling to push her luck, Padme gave in. Closing her eyes, she took a deep and slow breath.
"Again," Obi-Wan instructed. She complied and then gave out a yelp of surprise when a cool fabric slid across her face. Before she could even move Obi-Wan had tied the fabric behind her head, effectively blocking out all light. Panic rose up in her but she quickly squelched it. There was no reason to be afraid of Obi-Wan.
A low electrical hum suddenly filled the air and Padme felt that same panic try to claw its way out yet again. Then she heard the distinctive snap-hiss of a lightsaber. A real lightsaber.
"Obi-Wan…" Qui-Gon's voice drifted through the darkness and Padme tilted her head in the direction of the sound. He sounded uncertain. Concerned? Possibly annoyed?
"I know what I'm doing," Obi-Wan's voice came from just over her right shoulder. She couldn't stop herself from jumping at his proximity. He murmured an apology for startling her as he took her hand in his and wrapped her fingers around the hilt of what she realized was his lightsaber.
Padme shook slightly at the realization that she had the weapon of a Jedi in her hand. She could smell the ionized air around the 'saber and the recognition that she held a very dangerous item warred with the utterly secure feeling of Obi-Wan's hand gently placed over her own.
"Breathe," he instructed her again.
As she took a breath, several things happened. First, Obi-Wan's hand left hers and she felt him move away from her. Before she had the chance to panic at the loss of contact, Padme sensed a charge of electricity from her left side. Instinctively, she turned and moved the 'saber with her. A small vibration moved through her arm and Padme realized she had just blocked some form of attack.
There was no time to crow about it, though. There was another charge off to her left again, then her right. She moved in the direction of each one, not allowing thought to enter into her actions. Padme blocked four more of the attacks before having to fend off a sudden volley. The last of these little electric bolts made it through her defense, zapping her on the forearm. She dropped the lightsaber in surprise, thankful that it apparently turned itself off when such a thing happened.
The low electric hum stopped and her makeshift blindfold, which she now saw had been Sabe's belt, was quickly removed. Obi-Wan stood in front of her, concern etching his features.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
"I'm…fine," she was quick to assure him. "It just caught me by surprise."
He didn't look convinced, so she rolled back the sleeve of her tunic to prove she wasn't hurt. The little spot where the electric bolt had made contact was red but she wasn't concerned about that at all. Sabe was suddenly there beside them and Padme resisted the urge to roll her eyes when her friend started fussing.
"Honestly, I'm fine," she informed both of them. "I've had worse injuries wrestling with Sola when I was younger. It was just a little shock."
Obi-Wan finally seemed convinced, although Sabe still eyed Padme with unease and suspicion. As though she didn't think Padme would be the best judge of whether or not she was actually okay.
"What was that thing?" Padme asked, hoping to get their attention off her. "What was I blocking? More importantly, why did you blindfold me?"
Qui-Gon came up to join them and he also cast a worried glance at Padme. She bit back the urge to sigh dramatically. Honestly, did they think she was made of glass?
"I blindfolded you because I wanted you to act on instinct and I didn't think you'd be able to keep your eyes closed simply because I told you to," Obi-Wan told her. "As for what that was, it's a training device I use to practice blocking blaster fire. It's a fairly common combat remote. I'm surprised you haven't seen one before."
He handed the spherical object to her and Padme examined it with interest. It did look slightly familiar.
"Captain Panaka has used something similar when he trains the palace guards," Sabe volunteered, staring at the combat remote in Padme's hands. "Improving their reaction times, I think."
"It's also used for that purpose by marksmen. Qui-Gon introduced it to our training to help me improve when I was a padawan. I've never stopped practicing with it."
Padme gave the remote back to Obi-Wan, who placed it in the small bag he had brought to the training room. When he turned back to her, she smiled.
"So how did I do?" she inquired.
"Well, I was rather impressed with how you handled the remote," Qui-Gon responded. "I question the wisdom of using it in this case. But what's done is done and, clearly, Obi-Wan did know exactly what you needed."
"What I needed?" Padme repeated, looking back and forth between the two Jedi in the hopes that one of them would provide an explanation.
She wasn't disappointed. Obi-Wan seemed more than willing to explain his actions.
"I think that after you watched everyone else train and, if I may say so, do very well considering the limited amount of time and the lack of experience…you put even more pressure on yourself. By the time I was training you, you were impatient. And you were trying too hard."
"How does one try too hard?" Padme asked, remembering their earlier conversation about her meditation. Perhaps the training with the lightsaber might be of more help to her than she initially thought.
"You can't force it," Obi-Wan informed her as he picked up his lightsaber. Standing back from the other three, he ignited the blade and closed his eyes. "When you've used a blaster in a combat situation, did you question your every movement, your every aim?"
"Only long enough to make sure I was hitting the target," she responded, watching as Obi-Wan moved the blade of the lightsaber slowly in some sort of pattern. Both she and Sabe completely missed the fact that Qui-Gon no longer stood beside them.
"Exactly," Obi-Wan nodded. "While you have to do some type of mental processing, you also need to rely on your instincts. They are invaluable and I am of the opinion that far too many people tend to ignore them. When you're in combat, you can't usually afford the time to think out your next move and prepare for every possible scenario. You should always use your head in a combat situation, of course, but it must be balanced with instinct. Otherwise you'll end up injured or worse because you took too much time to think."
"I feel like I should've known that," Padme opined, disappointed in herself once again.
Obi-Wan smiled, although he never opened his eyes or stopped his movements.
"You do know that. You just didn't think about applying it here because you were too wrapped up in trying to do everything well."
Padme pursed her lips as she pondered that particular insight. She had been very focused on just trying to correctly do all the things Obi-Wan showed her. Too narrowly focused it would seem. It was an interesting thought and she decided right then to try meditation once more when she returned to her room.
She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she almost missed the sight of Qui-Gon slowly circling Obi-Wan. Almost. The older Jedi had a slight smile on his face and the hilt of his own lightsaber gripped securely in his hand. Obi-Wan showed no signs that he was aware of his former master's movements. Suddenly, Qui-Gon's lightsaber ignited and Obi-Wan's eyes snapped open as he quickly blocked the strike coming from behind him.
"Eyes closed," came the clipped command from Qui-Gon. But Obi-Wan merely stared at his mentor.
The two Jedi remained frozen, their lightsabers crackling as they touched. Ever so slowly, Obi-Wan began to smile. For some reason, the sight warmed Padme's heart.
"You first," responded the former padawan.
Qui-Gon cocked his head to the side slightly as he regarded Obi-Wan. With one corner of his mouth crooked up, he finally nodded and stepped back.
"As you wish," he acquiesced.
Qui-Gon's eyes slide closed just a split second before Obi-Wan's. For a moment, there was no movement at all. Both Padme and Sabe watched, transfixed even though nothing was actually happening. Padme thought she saw Qui-Gon's hand tighten on the hilt but she would never know for sure. Because at that exact second, Obi-Wan attacked.
He refrained from letting out a shout of victory as he realized that his sudden offensive move had come as a surprise to Qui-Gon. Surprise or not, Qui-Gon blocked the attack easily which didn't come as a shock to Obi-Wan. He retreated only slightly before striking again, determined to keep the older Jedi off-balance. It was rare for Obi-Wan to be the aggressor in sparring sessions and he was counting on Qui-Gon being unaccustomed to it. So far, it was working to his advantage. Although Qui-Gon was blocking every strike, Obi-Wan could feel that his former master had been knocked a bit off-center by Obi-Wan's actions.
He had always loved sparring with his master, but he'd never done so with anything except training sabers. And there were more than a few things he'd improved upon since becoming a knight. Determined to expand his knowledge, he had sparred with several different knights and even a few masters. Siri, of course, was a fairly regular sparring partner. But Obi-Wan also trained frequently with Bant and Garen. Less frequent, but very much prized, were training sessions with Mace, Shaak Ti and Master Torwyn Dahn. It was Obi-Wan's opinion that those particular match-ups were the most helpful.
His opinion proved to have some merit when he felt a shock of surprise from Qui-Gon as he launched himself into the air, flipping over the other man's head and bringing down the blade of the lightsaber as he landed behind Qui-Gon. Again, the attack was blocked but he could feel the hesitancy on Qui-Gon's part.
While they continued to test each other's limits in the training circle, Obi-Wan remained aware of the peripheral presence of their audience. He was careful not to move too close to them and knew Qui-Gon was seeking out their Force signatures in order to do the same. It was rather thrilling, actually, to fight like this. Although it wasn't the first time he had sparred without sight, he couldn't recall ever doing so when the other person was without sight as well.
He dodged an attack from Qui-Gon, spinning to the side as he wondered if Master Dahn would allow him to go without sight during one of their sessions. The thought had never entered his mind before since Master Dahn was blind. But now that he was doing such a thing with Qui-Gon, he was intrigued by the possibility.
Dropping into a crouch, Obi-Wan felt a breeze above his head as Qui-Gon's lightsaber passed over. He briefly questioned the wisdom of doing this without training sabers and without sight, but he felt a small surge of contentment when he realized that he trusted Qui-Gon implicitly and that his former master obviously trusted him as well. It was a realization that served to mend their complicated relationship even further.
Obi-Wan turned to the right as he stood back up, bringing the blade of his 'saber around with him and meeting with a very weak block from Qui-Gon. Unable to pass up the opening, he pressed his advantage with a fast flurry of lightsaber strikes. Qui-Gon's blade stopped each one until Obi-Wan suddenly paused. Allowing just enough time for Qui-Gon to question the reason, Obi-Wan kicked out high and to his left.
His boot made solid contact with Qui-Gon's arm and he heard the lightsaber drop to the ground as Qui-Gon gave a shout of disbelief. Smiling, Obi-Wan spun and kicked again. This time, he connected with his former master's chest and put just enough force behind it to ensure that the older Jedi would lose his balance. As soon as he heard Qui-Gon fall, he brought his lightsaber down for an overhead strike, stopping the blade at the exact moment his instincts told him to.
Opening his eyes, Obi-Wan looked down to see the tip of the blue blade just a finger width away from Qui-Gon's nose. Qui-Gon stared back up at him, his expression a mixture of irritation that he had been defeated and confusion for the same reason. Then he smiled and Obi-Wan felt a powerful release of emotions wash over him. For a moment, he was bathed in the pure affection and pride of his mentor. The feeling was indescribable. It was something he had longed for during the majority of his apprenticeship and he was tempted to just bask in it. It wasn't in his nature to do so, however, and he merely grinned as he stepped back from Qui-Gon, retracting the blade and clipping his lightsaber to his belt once more.
Qui-Gon was still smiling as he stood up.
"You've learned much, young one," the older man spoke quietly while retrieving his own lightsaber.
Obi-Wan shrugged, sparing a glance towards the young women who showed no signs of moving towards the two of them.
"I had an excellent foundation," he responded just as softly.
Qui-Gon regarded him for a moment before inclining his head slightly in acknowledgment of and thanks for the compliment. Obi-Wan merely returned the gesture and the two men made their way over to their apparently enraptured audience. His reasons for being glad that he came to Naboo were rapidly beginning to outnumber the negative things he had experienced since arriving.
Padme managed to keep her curiosity to herself as Obi-Wan and Sabe walked back to her temporary quarters with her. Aside from the incredible sparring session she had witnessed, she had also watched the quick byplay between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon with interest. She knew that it wasn't really any of her business. But she was glad to note that there didn't seem to be any tension between the two of them at present. Still, she discerned Obi-Wan had been hurt by Qui-Gon's seemingly thoughtless dismissal of him. He had never specifically told her that, but there were hints over the past year in their correspondence. Seeing them together this evening had made her happy.
Although Sabe had apparently intended to accompany Padme and help her prepare for bed, she insisted that her best friend go on to her own room. She wasn't wearing anything ornate that might require assistance and she did want a word with Obi-Wan before she attempted meditation once more. Sabe seemed reluctant to leave, but she was too tired to put up much of an argument. The young handmaiden left their group as they passed her own room, leaving Obi-Wan and Padme to their own devices.
"Thank you for this evening," Padme said. They were the first words she had spoken since before Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan sparred.
Obi-Wan turned his head towards her and smiled.
"It was fun," he admitted. "I didn't actually think it would be that much fun, but it was a…pleasant surprise. I'm glad you enjoyed it."
She wanted to ask him about Qui-Gon, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Clearly, things were solving themselves just fine without any interference on her part. Although her first thought was to try and get to the root of the problem so she could help her friend, her instincts told her she would only be running the risk of re-opening old wounds. It would be better if she left things alone.
Padme smiled as she realized her instincts had won out over her thoughts. Very fitting considering the events of the evening.
"Is something funny?" Obi-Wan inquired as they neared their neighboring rooms.
"No. Not exactly," she responded. "Just a little…amusing."
He regarded her with no small amount of curiosity, but when she stuck her tongue out at him in return he just shook his head and chuckled. They reached Obi-Wan's room first and Padme stopped instead of continuing on to her own. Obi-Wan waited patiently, obviously coming to the conclusion that she had more to say than just a simple good night.
She wasn't sure exactly what she wanted to say. Another thank you seemed both inadequate and redundant. Everything else that came to mind, everything that would assure him that she would always be there for him if he needed to talk, sounded horribly trite. In the end, she gave him a brilliant smile before launching herself into his arms.
Although he was clearly surprised at first, it didn't take long for Obi-Wan to return the hug. Padme tightened her arms around his neck and turned her head slightly to whisper in his ear.
Only two words, but he seemed to instantly understand the meaning behind them. Obi-Wan's arms briefly tightened around her before she finally pulled away, still smiling.
"Good night, Master Kenobi."
"Sleep well, my padawan," he returned teasingly, giving her a warm smile of his own.
Feeling lighter than she had in ages, Padme practically bounced through the door of her own room. As she dressed for bed, she hummed a lullaby that her mother had always sung to her long ago. After unbraiding her hair, she opened the window that looked out towards the market square.
Grabbing a cushion off one of the chairs, she tossed it on the floor near the window and sat down. The cool night air of Naboo surrounded her as she closed her eyes. Stilling herself, Padme tried to clear her mind as Obi-Wan had shown her to in the gardens. She was only partially successful and, to her chagrin, felt her irritation rising.
He might as well have been in the same room with her. Obi-Wan's voice echoed through her mind and she wasn't sure if it was her memory or if he was communicating with her somehow from the next room.
'Just breathe,' said the voice again.
So she did. Once, twice, three times….until she lost count of how many times she had done so. Slowly, oh so very slowly, everything around her seemed to melt away. She was surrounded by darkness, but it was not a darkness that was frightening in any way. Eventually, things began to come into focus.
The first thing she noticed was the warmth of the ground beneath her and the softness of grass replacing the softness of the cushion. Next, she caught the scent of wildflowers drifting towards her on a gentle breeze. Hesitantly, she opened her eyes and made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob when she found herself in the meadows of the Lake Country.
Next door, Obi-Wan smiled.
A/N: So...I think we're pretty much past the angsty, sad stuff. A couple more chapters will take place on Naboo. The story will shift then. I haven't decided whether I will add the rest to this story or put up a separate story to move things along. We'll see.
Please review. Any suggestions are helpful. Love my readers!