Three hours later found Obi-Wan staring blankly at the child. Bant had called earlier, laughed at his unfortunate luck, and then agreed to come over...now he was waiting for her. Simply put: Obi-Wan Kenobi had no experience with children. The only child he remembered ever protecting and caring for was a young Padmé...
But Padmé had never managed to twist his finger with brutality, fling food, spoons, anything in the immediate vicinity, or use unconscious ability of the Force to fling even heavier items – such as the child's new crib – at him. The work was tiring the young Knight out. "I feel for those initiate masters," he murmured under his breath, feeling his eyelids begin to close.
A shrill cry pierced his thoughts. "Can't you ever sleep?" Obi-Wan groaned, awkwardly lifting Qui-Gon in his arms. The child wrapped both arms around his neck, wailing desperately. The feelings of mute terror flowed across to Obi-Wan. "What are you scared of?" he whispered into the child's shoulder.
The only response he received was a tighter hold around his neck.
"Hey, it's okay," Obi-Wan said, trying every attempt he knew at quieting the child. "You're safe. I won't let anything happen to you." The words startled him, at the sudden fierce protective streak he felt towards this child.
The Force surged and Obi-Wan felt, rather than saw, the child levitating his couch behind him. He whirled, steadying the couch with his mind as he worked furiously to land it, fighting the child's frightened hold.
"He's scared," Bant remarked from behind him.
Obi-Wan turned. "Don't you ever knock?"
She approached him, holding out her arms. Obi-Wan attempted to remove the child, but Qui-Gon kept his arms tightly wound around Obi-Wan. He sighed. Bant smiled. "Looks like he likes only you," she said. "But you have to calm him down. He's afraid."
"Of me?" Obi-Wan asked blankly.
"Of course not," Bant muttered, mulling over the denseness of the male species, "Why would he be clinging to you, then?" She sank down on his couch, now firmly on the ground. "I heard about this unique situation from Master Windu. He theorizes that Qui-Gon's body was regressed...and the way he thinks, too. But certain things, like memories, couldn't be regressed."
"Speak Basic, Bant," Obi-Wan said.
Bant sighed and murmured some choice words before saying, "Obi-Wan, this Qui-Gon is just a year old, but he has a memories of his previous 60 years. Think about it. What if you were one and you had a memory of a Sith sinking a lightsaber into you? What if you had the memory of Xanatos betraying you?"
"So," Obi-Wan said, beginning to bob the child up and down. "He has Qui-Gon's memories? Does he remember me?"
"Possibly," Bant said. "I think it works that the memories will come back slowly, corresponding to his age. But occasionally, a memory might break free and cause the fear I feel."
"Interesting," Obi-Wan mused. He adjusted his hold on the child. Qui-Gon's tears had settled into sniffles and hiccups, but his arms were still wound tightly around Obi-Wan. "What can I do? I thought my job was already complex, having to raise my own master up again."
"Stop looking at him as your master!" Bant commanded. "Think of him as a lonely and scared child, who coincidentally happens to be named Qui-Gon Jinn."
Obi-Wan sighed, patting the boy awkwardly on the back. "By the way, we forgot to say hello. I haven't seen you in years."
She smiled briefly. "Hi."
"Hi, yourself." Obi-Wan eyed Qui-Gon. "C'mon, kid. Sop crying for me...please?"
"I'd call him Qui-Gon if I were you," Bant warned. "If you keep calling him 'kid', he might come to think that's his name, especially considering how he's going to grow up faster than most."
"Growth acceleration," Obi-Wan mused. He managed to loosen the child's grip, holding him an arm's length away to analyze. "He looks...older? I'm guessing he grows a few months for every week or something!"
Bant tenderly touched the pale brown hairs beginning to clump near the top of Qui-Gon's head. "He's very cute."
"Bant, please don't say that. I get the wrong image in my head."
"Oh you – " Bant smacked his shoulder.
Obi-Wan turned from the blow, shielding Qui-Gon from it. "Remember," he said seriously, "Temple children are not to be shown anger, fear, or hatred. Don't you agree, kid?"
"Qui-Gon," Bant reminded.
"Right." Obi-Wan smiled as Qui-Gon grinned widely. "That's more like it." Coaxing a smile out of this child felt like he had taken on the galaxy's baddest Sith and conquered him. "I think I like him a lot better at whatever age he is now. You should have seen him an hour ago, flinging stuff everywhere."
"I wouldn't breathe that sigh of relief yet, Kenobi," Bant said. "There's still the Terrible Two's."
Obi-Wan stared at the child in his arms and gulped.
The stench of feces hit Obi-Wan hard. Wincing and drawing on his Jedi discipline to keep himself going at the task, he tossed the used diaper away and wrapped a fresh one on. Breathing a relieved sigh as the stench slowly began to fade, he wiped his forehead as he contemplated Qui-Gon.
The baby...possibly one and a few months...smiled at him.
"That's right!" Obi-Wan crowed, "I did it." He lifted Qui-Gon and swung him around. "All by myself. Bant will be – " he paused to rethink, "Bant will rue the day she said I couldn't take care of you by myself."
Qui-Gon laughed easily as the young Knight bounced the child through the air. But the feelings of joy felt in the room quickly turned to darker ones. Alerted to the Force, Obi-Wan gently placed the child back onto the table, his eyes narrowing as he stared at the door. The thump came again.
It had to be nothing, Obi-Wan reassured himself. He was in the Temple for Force sakes! Nothing could bypass the Jedi security!
His doorbell rang. Moving slowly, Obi-Wan edged his way to the door, one hand hovering near his lightsaber. Despite the two years he had spent on Naboo honing his sensitivity to the Force, Obi-Wan knew he still wasn't as sensitive and open as other Knights were. It was because of those fourteen years his Jedi training had lain dormant. But he had been working on his empathy...still as he slowly moved to the doorknob, the Force told him nothing more than a vague and muddied image.
"Obi-Wan, it's me." Bant's clear voice came through.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Obi-Wan eased his tension sliding the door open –
Only to be viciously backhanded. The Knight fell backwards by the force of the blow, collapsing against the ground. The intruder stepped around him, picking up Qui-Gon in his arms, promptly shoving a sock into the boy's mouth to shut him up. Then he swept around, heading back towards the door.
"No!" Obi-Wan weakly scrambled to his feet, clenching the intruder's cloak with both hands. He pulled backwards. The cloak slid off. Angry brown eyes glared at him before the foot swept up, catching Obi-Wan across the chest.
Obi-Wan reeled, stuttering backwards with the sheer force of the blow. His chest felt on fire. A moment later, his mind cleared and he reached for his lightsaber beam. With a sweep of the blade, he landed a sizzling blow on the intruder's back. Letting out a cry of outrage, the man whirled, a small knife coming into his hands. He pressed the blade against Qui-Gon's throat. "Take a step forward, Jedi, and I kill him," he said.
"No," Obi-Wan said hoarsely. He could feel the child's terror floating through their bond and cutting deeply into his own flesh. "Let him go."
The man smiled crookedly and began backing away.
Obi-Wan pushed through the Force, swinging the door closed and locking it. "We're not done here," he said forcibly, "Let him go." He clenched his lightsaber hilt with his right hand, slowly moving the left one forward. Negotiating with this man didn't feel much different than negotiating with a Hutt, Obi-Wan reminded himself. Just keep him calm. Distract him.
The man angrily kicked at the door. "Open this," he commanded angrily. He jabbed the blunt end of the knife against Qui-Gon's throat. The child gagged against the sock, his young face scrunching in pain that wrenched Obi-Wan's heart. He had to end this.
Obi-Wan took a slow step forward, until he was well within lightsaber distance of the man. "He's just a child. Give him back and I'll open that door." His voice adopted a soothing tone as he slowly inched forward, making sure to keep himself open to the man's emotions.
"No!" Raging, the kidnapper hit the open controls with his hand. The door refused to budge. Backing away from the advancing Jedi Knight, he twisted the knife so the sharp blade was merely centimeters from the naked throat. "Not one more step," he warned.
Obi-Wan stopped. "All right," he said evenly, "What do you want?"
"The child," the man growled.
"No." Obi-Wan stiffened again.
"Then we have no deal." Turning, the man hit the door again. In the split-second that he had turned, Obi-Wan leapt forward. His lightsaber blade neatly separated head from body. Instantly deactivating the blade, Obi-Wan caught Qui-Gon in his arm and held the child close to him as the headless corpse fell to the ground, slumped against the door.
"Slave boy!" Sebulba laughed. "Come back to play again?"
Seventeen-year-old Anakin Skywalker straightened. His brown eyes narrowed as they regarded the Dug, his long time tormenter. "One day," he said in Basic, "I'll kill you." Switching back to Huttese, the language that Sebulba understood he said, "I am ready for your cheats this time."
"It isn't me you'll race against," Sebulba laughed. "My son, Hekula, will have the joy of defeating you this race."
"Your son?" Anakin asked mildly, "Getting too old to handle the races?"
Sebulba's expression darkened in fury. Before Anakin quite knew what had hit him, Sebulba smashed into the boy's chest with a powerful kick. Anakin fell backwards against the sand and immediately braced himself for another blow. None were forthcoming.
Cautiously, Anakin rose. Sebulba stood, glaring at him. Standing at his full height, Anakin towered over the Dug. "You'll pay for that," Anakin said fiercely, "When Watto hears."
"That greedy fool will never get a cent from me," Sebulba snarled angrily, alternating in and out from Huttese and his native language, a language Anakin had long since learned. "Watch yourself, slave child. Your mouth will be your downfall."
"Yeah," Anakin turned away, "And your cheating will be yours." The Tatooine sun glinted off his cropped blonde hair as angrily walked back to his Podracer. The sting from the kick Sebulba had given had still not worn off, but Anakin Skywalker was used to physical pain. He thrived with it. Those who were the best slaves had long learned to live with the inefficiency of pain. Pain was the only tool the masters held over them; if it was taken away, the slave felt free, even if he couldn't be. Yet Anakin knew he would be free one day. His dreams told him so.
Nobody believed him, though, Anakin thought. Well nobody except his mother. She was the only person to whom Anakin shared his dream, the dream where an angel would carry him to freedom. But he had been having that dream for two years now! He had met the angel, sure. Two years ago, crossing the desert. He had met two Jedi Knights and his angel.
But nothing had happened. Anakin Skywalker was still a slave.
But one day, he thought.
One day he would be free.
And then he and his angel would live together and fly with the stars.
In the Jedi Temple medical facilities, Obi-Wan Kenobi sat, while An-Paj bustled around him, tittering under his breath. "Is Qui-Gon all right?" Obi-Wan asked anxiously, "I need to see him."
"Patience, young Kenobi," the master Healer said. "The child is fine."
"No, I'm fine," Obi-Wan said, sighing, "I didn't even get a scratch. He got a knife held to his throat."
Frowning, An-Paj held a bruised left arm for Obi-Wan to see. "You call that no injuries to your person?" he asked mildly, "And you should see what your face looks like. Why, you'd scare the child now instead of reassuring him!"
"Thanks a lot," Obi-Wan muttered under his breath.
"Obi-Wan," he sighed. "Just sit for a moment. I'll have the bacta clear it up and then you can go visit your young friend." Smearing the thick gelatin on the bruise and then lathering it generously across the right side of his face, An-Paj sighed. "How did this happen?"
"I got kicked – " Obi-Wan began.
"Not that," An-Paj interrupted, "How did this man manage to get in the Temple?"
"He was Bant," Obi-Wan tried to explain.
An-Paj withdrew from him, looking completely surprised. "Knight Bant?"
"No!" Obi-Wan said hastily. He was out of practice delivering complete reports. Taking a deep breath, he started over. "He – whoever he was – sounded like Bant so I opened the door – " he got a disapproving tsk from the healer's direction – "and then the man came through, knocked me down, grabbed Qui-Gon and tried to leave. If he could make me think he was Bant, he must have tricked the other Jedi too."
"We shall see what the Council has to say regarding the security breach," An-Paj finished up. "All right, Knight Kenobi, you can see Qui-Gon now." Barely had the words gotten out of her mouth before Obi-Wan was out the room and headed for Qui-Gon.
"I do not know the identity of the attacker," Obi-Wan said through tightly clenched teeth, failing with his attempt to hide his impatience. "Everything I know, I have already expressed to the Council."
"The security cameras outside your quarters malfunctioned right before the attacker entered," Ki-Adi-Mundi said, ignoring his outburst with Jedi serenity. "The only record we have is you, Knight Kenobi. The Council would appreciate if you'd understand."
Biting a reply, Obi-Wan gave a short nod. "Yes, Master. Apologies."
Windu continued, "An autopsy is being conducted of the attacker as we speak. However we are fairly certain he was after the child."
"Keep him safe, we must," Yoda said gravely.
"Yes," Obi-Wan nodded.
"Now Obi-Wan, until we are certain about this attacker, we need you and Qui-Gon to be somewhere safe," Windu said, "And you cannot share that location with anybody." He continued the next part through the Force. For somebody may be tampering with the Temple systems and could intercept any communications between us.
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said.
"Go tend to the child," Mace said dismissively.
Obi-Wan nodded and bowed again. "May the Force be with you."
Force be with you, young Kenobi, a different voice projected through the Force, and keep Qui-Gon safe. For all of us.
Obi-Wan turned towards Adi Gallia, relief and gratitude on his face. The female Jedi Master had always been an ally of his. I will do everything you request to the best of my ability.
"Obi-Wan! What happened to your face?" The sixteen-year-old Queen of Naboo exclaimed as she opened the door, revealing a rather haggard looking Obi-Wan and a cooing child. "What? I thought you went back to the Temple to stay!"
"Circumstances decided differently," Obi-Wan explained. He handed Amidala the child. "Hold him. Please."
"How cute!" Amidala grinned, maternal instincts surging within her as she accepted Qui-Gon. The child beamed, gray eyes twinkling. Then he spit all over her nightgown. "Oh!" Amidala blurted, completely taken off guard.
"His looks deceive," Obi-Wan agreed. He handed Amidala a tissue. "He kept spitting up all over me during our voyage. So please do not ask how the journey was." He made a face as he wiped the spittle from Qui-Gon's lips.
"Is he...um...yours?" Amidala asked, handing the child back and then quickly tidying up her tussled hair with a free hand.
"No!" Obi-Wan blurted, "This is a child the Temple dumped onto me."
"Your padawan then?"
"Try my 'master'," Obi-Wan said wryly.
"Qui-Gon? Qui-Gon Jinn?" Amidala's lips parted open as she regarded the giggling baby held loosely in Obi-Wan's arm. The child laughed at the sound of his name. "You are kidding, right?" Brown eyes searched Obi-Wan's, waiting to see the twinkle in them, but there was nothing. "You're not kidding." Amidala stepped backwards. "By the stars," she said reverently.
"Keep doing that for another five hours and you'll be where I am," Obi-Wan said. He shifted. "Uh . . . may I come in?"
Amidala nodded absentmindedly, stepping aside from the door of the Naboo country house. Her eyes remained fixated on Qui-Gon. "Why are you here?"
"Somebody tried to get to Qui-Gon," Obi-Wan said. He made his way down the hallways to his former room. "We need a safe place to stay. So I thought of you."
"Wait! Don't go in there!" Amidala shouted just as Obi-Wan palmed open the door to his room. The Knight didn't heed the warning, swinging the door wide open. His blue eyes widened. One calloused palm came up to cover Qui-Gon's eyes.
Bail Organa hastily covered himself up with the blankets of the room. His fair cheeks reddened considerably even as he straightened his unruly mass of dark brown hair.
"Prince Organa," Obi-Wan swallowed. "Sorry for the interruption. I'll...ah...leave now." He swooshed the door closed and rounded on Amidala. "What are you doing?" he blurted. "Did you know he was here?"
"Please, Master Jedi," Bail appeared in the doorway once more, covered in a loose tunic. "It is not the fault of the Queen."
"Obi-Wan," Amidala grabbed his arm. "This is my friend."
"I would hope he's a friend!" Obi-Wan said, "To find him in there, clad in nothing!"
Bail flushed. "My father is visiting this planet on a diplomatic mission," he said softly.
Obi-Wan's cool gaze snapped to the young man's. Bail could not have been older than nineteen. "So the prince decided to have a little fun with the Queen of the planet," he said sarcastically, his tone quick and biting.
"It's not like that!" Amidala blurted, coming to the side of Bail. She lay one hand on his upper forearm, carefully placing herself between the livid Jedi Knight, the strangely silent baby, and Bail.
"Then explain it!" Obi-Wan said.
"We're engaged, Obi-Wan," Amidala said softly. "Bound to marry in five years."