"It is an honor to continue serving you."
-- Qui-Gon Jinn

Even as she shoved her entire weight against the cathedral door to open it, Tengri reflected that nothing on Naboo was small. [Far be it for Qui-Gon to die in a small space. Everything he did was big. I don't think he could have made it otherwise, even if he'd wanted to.]

The huge wooden door swung closed with a dull thud that echoed through the flying buttressed ceiling; the stern, impassive saints of Naboo glowered as though to remind her that, as in all things concerning Qui-Gon Jinn, she was an intruder, there only by the grace of his having claimed her as his mistress and inviting her into his life.

Candles flickered, an archaic source of light in an otherwise advanced society. The shadows they cast were comforting somehow, making the space less intimidating, more intimate. Her footsteps whispered across the marble floor as she walked up the broad aisle to meet the young man kneeling at the northern altar, keeping vigil before the body laid before him.

The man did not move, did not acknowledge her approach. Kneeling beside him, she glanced at his face and was shocked to see how much he had aged since she'd last seen him, less than a week before. His dark-shadowed eyes were fixed on the body of his Master, so untouchable in death. The lines of his brow, those running alongside his mouth, were deeper than Tengri remembered. Kneeling beside him and sliding an arm across his cloaked shoulders, Tengri held him tightly.

"Master Windu told me what happened," she whispered, her voice still carrying into the eaves. "How are you doing?"

Obi-Wan shook his head, his muscles rigid beneath her fingers. His tears splashed onto the marble tile.

"He died because of me, Tengri. If I'd just been a little faster, if I hadn't let the Sith separate us..." Swallowing hard, he struggled to get the words out. "We always fought together, side by side. 'Stay together,' that was his rule, drummed into me for years. Together, we were strong. Divided, we were vulnerable. So why, *why* did he--"

"If he broke his own rule, he must have had a reason. Was he protecting you?"

"I didn't want his protection -- not then!"

She summoned a shallow laugh. "That's the same as saying you didn't want his love, or you didn't want him to breathe. You belonged to him, Obi-Wan; he thought of you as his son. How could he not protect you?"

"I belonged at his side, and I failed him!" The words ended on a choking sob.

Tengri wrapped an arm around his head, her other around his shoulders, and hugged fiercely. "If Qui-Gon hadn't died in battle today, he would have tomorrow or the next day. That was always to be his fate; we both know he wanted no other. He was not someone meant to grow old and infirm, incapable of being the warrior that was so much a part of him." She tried to keep the tears from her voice, but failed miserably. "He chose his path long before either of us was born."

"But my path was beside him." Strong fingers clutched at her, bundling her tunic at the waist. He trembled like a child in her arms, even as he braced his forehead against hers.

Taking his face gently in her hands, Tengri wiped away his tears, only to see them followed by others. "What makes you think Qui-Gon is no longer beside you?"

Wordlessly, Obi-Wan shook his head.

Tengri sighed. "What exactly did the Jedi teach you? Qui-Gon told me, 'There is no death, there is only the Force.' Are those just pretty words?"

"I don't know," he said miserably. "I don't know what it means, my Master didn't teach me. It could be symbolic, for all I know. He's dead, I watched him die, and I just can't *feel* him any more."

"Can you feel the Force?"

Scrubbing away tears, he shook his head miserably. "No. But that's because I'm not grounded. I'm not listening. It's just over there, I know it is."

"You're a Jedi, just like your master. If you can't believe in yourself right now, then try to believe in him. Believe in the things he taught you. He loved you, Obi-Wan. He's not going to leave you."

"I know. But it's hard, Tengri. So hard. Just hours ago, he was here. Warm and big and strong as ever. We were together. And now... there's nothing."

She shook her head. "You don't know how lucky you are, Obi-Wan. If you ground, if you listen, you can hear him. You'll be able to feel him. You'll be deaf and blind to him only until you settle your emotions and reclaim the Jedi you are. For the rest of us, including me..." She closed her eyes on her own tears. "The silence will be forever."

Letting her arms fall away from him, Tengri got to her feet and approached the altar. Staring down at the face of the only man she'd ever loved, she traced the length of his broken nose and murmured, "Most of all, I'll miss his voice."

* * *

The fire had finally burned itself out. Night enclosed Naboo. Its moon hung silvered and beautiful in the night sky, providing the only light in the crematory tower. Tengri and Obi-Wan regarded each other solemnly from where they sat on the floor in the corner of the room.

"He wanted you to have the Marauder," Tengri said softly, referring to the fast, beautiful little ship that had been Qui-Gon's pride and joy. He and Obi-Wan had left for Naboo from Lyra, Tengri's home planet, in a hired vessel, leaving the Marauder in her care. "She's waiting for you at the spaceport."

[First his lightsaber, and now his ship,] thought Obi-Wan. [What's next?] Reaching across, Obi-Wan took Tengri's hand. Despite the heat of the room, her fingers were cold. "One task remains to be completed tomorrow morning before the official celebration. Will you help me?"

"You have only to ask." Her voice sounded as worn and fatigued as Obi-Wan felt.

"The dead will keep; it's time for the living to sleep." Getting to his feet, Obi-Wan offered his hand to help her up.

"Are you...You're just going to leave him there?"

"Until tomorrow, yes. It will be all right, Tengri. No one will disturb him now."

"I suppose you're right."

"Do you have lodgings?" he thought to ask as they traipsed down the tower steps, worn smooth and shallow through centuries of use.

"I'll just go back to the Marauder," she murmured, pulling her cloak closer against the chill of the night.

"That's a long way to go this time of night. Would you consider staying with me? Heaven knows there's room in our... my chambers," he amended.

Silence fell between them as they remembered the reason for the vacancy. Exiting the tower, they stepped onto a moon-washed plaza. Obi-Wan waited for her reply as Tengri stared up at the moon.

"All right," she finally said, casting an almost embarrassed, sideways glance at him. "Why not? I slept in his bed for years. What's one more night?"

Caught off guard as always with this woman, Obi-Wan almost found himself smiling.

* * *

Dawn on Naboo. The sun sparkled through the trees, teased the surface of the lake Jar Jar called home. A slight breeze ruffled Obi-Wan's short hair, making the now-bare spot at his right temple feel very naked. Patting down the earth surrounding his newly planted roshika tree, the newly made Jedi Knight rocked back on his heels, took a deep breath of clean morning air, and surveyed the surrounding forest with a sense of calm satisfaction that he'd not thought to feel again for a very long time.

A few feet away, on his left, were Amidala and Anakin, settling their own tree into its new home. Amidala held the sapling steady while Anakin knelt, blissfully ignorant of the dirt staining his new padawan uniform while he palmed fresh earth around the young tree. Well, they'd just have to make time before the noon celebration and clean it.

Some distance away, close to the water's edge, Jar Jar was smilingly surveying his own completed efforts at tree planting. His sapling listed to one side, but it would still grow to be a fine specimen shading the water.

[A favorite picnic spot for a certain Gungan, no doubt,] reflected Obi-Wan.

Getting to his feet, he approached Tengri, who was standing very still while observing the same tableau. She hadn't moved in a long time, and Obi-Wan was beginning to worry.

"All done?" he murmured softly, not wanting to startle her as he came to stand beside her.

"Mmm," came the response, her gaze still locked on the others.

"Tengri, what are you doing?"

"Making a memory. Years from now, I'll be able to close my eyes and see this morning. I'll remember, how close Qui-Gon feels, and it will all be new again." Her gaze finally focused on Obi-Wan. "Did he ask you to do this for him?"

"Sort of." Obi-Wan shrugged. "He always said that he didn't want his body taking up useless space after he died. Usually, a Jedi Master's body dissolves into the Force, and I reminded him of that fact. He informed that he had other plans. He said that he wanted to stay and become part of the living Force -- what you would call the living things, the growing things -- on this level. I don't know how he thought he'd accomplish that, but--"

"You've done it for him," she finished.

Earlier, at dawn, they'd all gathered in the forest to mix Qui-Gon's ashes with the rich earth of Naboo. Six roshika saplings awaited them, to be planted with the mixture and make Qui-Gon a part of the living things he had loved so well. The branches of his trees would provide shelter and homes for the flying things, his shade would offer relief from the heat and form part of the green ceiling for the furry things. Other uses would be found as nature saw fit, and Qui-Gon would live on as part of the living Force.

"I hope it's close to what he wanted," Obi-Wan said, hugging Tengri on impulse before remembering his dirty hands. "Oops... I'm sorry."

"No need. It'll wash." Gently, she nudged him. "Come on. We've still got two trees left to plant."

* * *

Left by himself on the Marauder once he'd dropped Tengri off on Lyra, Obi-Wan finally allowed himself to relax. Anakin was on his way to Coruscant with Yoda, who'd seized the journey as an opportunity to get to know the boy in whom Qui-Gon had had so much faith. As for Anakin, he seemed willing enough to go with the Jedi Master, who'd promised stories of Qui-Gon when he'd been Anakin's age.

[I would have liked to have heard those myself,] Obi-Wan reflected, casting a final glance at the instruments to satisfy himself that the little ship was functioning perfectly. [As if she would dare do anything else, having belonged to my Master,] came the smug, satisfied thought.

Leaving the controls, he wandered into the common area and looked around. How many missions had he and Qui-Gon served, using this ship? How many times had they been up to their elbows in her engines, tearing them down to replace some part or other and refitting them? [Together, as always.]

[It's bad enough, taking his ship and still feeling where he's been,] Obi-Wan reflected, glancing around the room. [To see him so clearly as he walked her corridors, to remember his hands on her controls, to half-expect to see him walk in here and realize anew that he just... won't....] Obi-Wan shuddered anew at the pain, wondering if he shouldn't have obeyed his first impulse and insisted that Tengri keep the Marauder.

[She was the first ship I learned, from nose to tail,] he remembered. [Even now, I think that I could take care of her every need, replace every part on her, with my eyes closed.]

Indeed, Qui-Gon had taught him to do just that, warning, "There's always the possibility we'll be caught in the dark and have to repair something with no light at hand. Hard knowledge will be our only guide. Not even Forcelight will help, then."

And so Obi-Wan had learned, with the ever-elegant Qui-Gon getting dirty and greasy right beside him. It had taken them a complete year to work over the entire ship. His master had trained him with endless patience until both men had memorized every panel, every wire, every circuit. In return for such lavish attention, the Marauder had served them well and kept them safe.

[Just like my Master,] thought Obi-Wan.

Leaving the common area, he approached Qui-Gon's cabin. Tengri had used it the night before; Obi-Wan hadn't had reason to enter it. Indeed, in his thirteen years of being with Qui-Gon, he could remember being inside the small space only a handful of times, as his own cabin was just across the hall. Laying a hand on the cold, closed panel, he took a deep breath. Almost, he could pretend that his Master was meditating on the other side of the door. Almost, but not quite.

[He's so... gone. How can I bear this emptiness?] He couldn't fight the sudden tightness in his chest, the tears that began flowing yet again. [Tengri's right: the silence is the worst.]

Knowing that, sooner or later, he had to face his Master's empty cabin, Obi-Wan chose to remember Qui-Gon's lessons and make it sooner, lest his fear and sorrow grow so overwhelming that they were that much more painful to confront. Palming the control, he impulsively closed his eyes as the door slid back. Stepping blindly into the room, he heard the door close behind him. Soft lights came up immediately, welcoming him.

In his mind, he heard Tengri's words: "You'll be deaf and blind to him only until you settle your emotions and reclaim the Jedi you are."

Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan did just that. The moment he reconnected with the Force, Qui-Gon's presence settled around him like a loving embrace. So strong was that presence, it made him gasp and brought him crashing to his knees.

"Padawan?" Concern. Worry. Some small amusement.

The familiar voice stirred his hair. Beside him, he felt the familiar heat of Qui-Gon's body. [If I turn my head and open my eyes, I'll see him kneeling beside me.] He didn't dare act on the thought for fear of being disappointed.

"Obi-Wan, what are you doing?" Definite amusement. And a big hand cradling his elbow. "Is this some strange new meditation posture you've come to tell me about?"

His eyes flew open to discover himself nose to nose with his master. Qui-Gon's blue eyes twinkled into Obi-Wan's and he was very much a solid presence in the room, regardless he seemed to glow with a sort of blue haze.

"You... You're...."

"Here, Obi-Wan. I'm right here. Now, shall we get up off of the floor?"

There was no mistaking the insistence of his master's touch. Gaining his feet, Obi-Wan stared up at Qui-Gon for a moment, and then surrendered to the urgent need to throw his arms around the man and hug him severely.

Rocking back on one booted foot, Qui-Gon compensated for Obi-Wan's weight slamming against him. Sliding his own arms around his erstwhile apprentice, he rested his bearded cheek against Obi-Wan's temple and hugged him back within an inch of his life. A sob caught in the younger man's throat; he shuddered against Qui-Gon.

"I know," the Jedi Master whispered, tightening his grip. "I'm sorry it hurt so much."

"You left me behind," Obi-Wan choked, balling the back of Qui-Gon's tunic between his fingers and holding on for dear life.

"Please know that, if I could have, I would have stayed."

"That's not what I mean. Bodies are fragile, they fail; I understand that. But you left me behind for the first time when you went after the Sith alone. You ordered me to *never* run ahead of you in battle -- even Master Yoda said you'd have lived longer if you hadn't run so fast. I couldn't catch up and we were separated after you said that was something that must *never* happen, so why did you do it?"

Silence was his answer for a long moment. Rubbing Obi-Wan's back, Qui-Gon attempted to soothe him as he had as a child. "If we had stayed together, we both would have been killed."

Simple words, said in as calm a voice as Obi-Wan had ever heard from his master. Their truth filled him, the Force showing him the vision Qui-Gon had seen in meditation on the queen's starship the night before they had returned to Naboo.

"What would have been so wrong if we had died?" Obi-Wan demanded. "We did everything else together."

"What do you think?" That calm, infuriating voice. Again.

Stumbling out of Qui-Gon's comforting embrace, Obi-Wan fell back against the door and stared up at his old teacher.

"We are Jedi," the young knight said, with obvious and sad reluctance. "We serve and protect. Even each other. Unto death."

A nod. "The vision was sent to me alone, Obi-Wan. Not to you. The will of the Force was clear."

"You died. I lived."

Another nod.

Obi-Wan was far from happy about it. For the first time in his life, he understood why his master had always said that the life of a Jedi was not an easy one.

* * *

Ten years later, Master Kenobi stifled a yawn as yet another pair of competitors prepared to take the mat at the Jedi Temple. This was the graduating class whose final, chosen task was to compete for one last time with each other before their masters approached the Council with requests that their Padawan be tested. Always an eager observer, Anakin begged his master to make sure that they were on Coruscant each year at this time, specifically so that they could watch this competition. Each year, his padawan learned something new, something to pepper his master with questions regarding. Something to take into their own practice sessions, to hone Anakin's ever-increasing technique.

"In a couple more years, I'll be down there with them," he said with confidence.

His master had no doubt that the boy was right. But this year, he was not, and Obi-Wan was bored. Even after ten years, it was all still so new to Anakin. Where had Obi-Wan's own enthusiasm gone? [Lost on Naboo, no doubt.]

The competitors strode out onto the mat, and Obi-Wan's attention was immediately captured by an apprentice who was built like a Levanian bear. Like Anakin, in fact, but with a few more years and few more pounds of rippling muscle.

[That one's got possibilities.] Interest kindling, Obi-Wan sat up a little straighter.

The bear-apprentice's opponent walked calmly to the far end of the mat, which happened to be the side closest to Obi-Wan. Glancing at the young man, Obi-Wan suddenly couldn't breathe. His fingers dug into Anakin's arm.

"Do you know who that is?"

Anakin glanced down at the man. "Q'Chaka. He'll lose."

Tall and lean, the apprentice in question had an easy way of going and a serene way of standing that screamed familiarity at Obi-Wan. In short, he was the spitting image of Qui-Gon.

[That's impossible.]

Bored no longer, Obi-Wan sat on the edge of his seat as Q'Chaka palmed his lightsaber and the two opponents began circling. Ever closer they moved on the mat, gazes locked, each seeking to find a mental vulnerability in the other. In the end, the big man initiated the assault, with Q'Chaka defending himself, but little else.

[He's biding his time and seeking knowledge of his opponent, not victory,] Obi-Wan acknowledged, recognizing it as a trait Qui-Gon had pounded into his own padawan. Of course, so did many other masters.

Back and forth they sparred over the mat, with the smaller man letting the larger one drive him. 'Sabers clashed again and again, until the pungent, acrid smell filled the room, making Obi-Wan's nose burn. The fight went on far longer than the others they'd witnessed, with the audience being treated to some of the best swordplay they'd witnessed in months.

[They're both very good,] Obi-Wan observed, [but the big guy's beginning to tire.]

Q'Chaka realized it as well. Stepping almost casually into a breach created by the bear's fatigue, he touched his opponent's thigh and got a surprised yowl for his trouble. When the bigger man's lightsaber tried to block the injury already won, Q'Chaka's weapon sliced at his shoulder.

Two touches, two faults. If it had been a real battle, the bear would have lost his left arm and taken a blow to his thigh that would have permanently crippled him. In any case, the fight would be over.

With a bow to his opponent, and to the Master who confirmed his victory, Q'Chaka powered down his 'saber and left the mat. Grabbing a towel, he headed for the locker room on the far side of the gymnasium.

"I'll be back," Obi-Wan told Anakin before climbing over his apprentice and down the bleacher steps. Making his way quickly across the gym, the Jedi pursued his quarry into the locker room.

"Q'Chaka!" he called, just as the apprentice was about to enter the shower.

The apprentice looked over his shoulder with one leg braced on the ledge that separated the shower platform from the rest of the room. His padawan braid trailed down his back, almost to his waist, and his eyes were an alert, familiar blue.

"Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan stopped dead at the timbre of that voice; nothing more was needed for the young man's paternity to be confirmed. [Wasn't it you, Qui-Gon, who said that some stallions stamp their image on every colt of their get?]

For a moment, he couldn't think of a thing to say. "Could I... speak with you for a moment?"

"Of course." Retrieving his towel, the padawan wrapped it about his hips and came to join Obi-Wan. His height was frighteningly... right.

"You fought well. I came to ask...."

Q'Chaka waited patiently for the Jedi Master to finish. After a few seconds of awkward silence, Obi-Wan saw amusement begin to glitter in those intelligent eyes.

[Oh, hell.] "Please forgive me, but I have to do this."

Reaching out, he grasped the apprentice's hand. He knew the width of those hands, the length of the fingers, the unique shape of the fingernails. The memory of them wrapped around a lightsaber was burned into his mind, guaranteed to be there long after he had died. "By the Force, you have his hands, too."

"Of course I do." Definitely amused. "And a few other things as well. You haven't visited the Temple very much over the years, Master, so you had no way of knowing I was around. No one thought to mention it, either, did they?"

Q' offered a smile so crooked, so wonky and endearing, its familiarity almost broke Obi-Wan's heart. Leaning down, the apprentice whispered into Obi-Wan's ear. "My mother's name is Tengri."

"But how... When?"

"Master Qui-Gon brought me back to the Temple when I was six months old."

Obi-Wan struggled to put the pieces together. [We identified potential apprentices all of the time -- it was just another duty; when you found one, you brought him or her back here if the parents were willing. Was I with my master on that trip?]

Obi-Wan knew that he very well could have been; he'd seen Qui-gon deliver a number of babies into the arms of the Temple caretakers. [Q'Chaka is graduating now, so he's around twenty-five. And I'm ten years older.]

"If your mother entrusted you to my master's care, why by all of the gods didn't he--"

"Because he had another son, an older son, whom he was already training," Q'Chaka said reasonably. The blue eyes holding his held no resentment. "A beloved son whom he knew would become a great Jedi Knight. One he told me would help bring balance to the Force."

"But *why*? He could have bent the Council to his will, could have trained both of us."

Q'Chaka shrugged. "It was his way, as a Jedi."

"To serve and protect," Obi-Wan murmured.

"Yes." Squaring his broad shoulders, Q'Chaka managed to project the same dignity, the same clarity as his father, regardless he was standing draped in nothing but a towel. Patiently, respectfully, he waited for the Jedi Master to speak again.

"Well," pondered Obi-Wan, "your father was nothing, if not consistent." Holding those amazing blue eyes a moment longer, he gave a slight bow. "My apologies, Q'Chaka. I must be keeping you from joining your master. I congratulate you on your victory this afternoon, and am certain you will pass your trials tomorrow."

"Master Kenobi, once my trials are completed...."


"I would consider it an honor if we could meet again." [To speak of my father?] came the unspoken request.

"Of course."

Once again, the eager, crooked grin caught Obi-Wan off guard, so that he found himself responding automatically with one of his own. Even as he closed the distance between them, he boldly proclaimed, "I know you don't know me, but I need to hug you, anyway."

The blue eyes were startled. "Excuse me?"

"Just stand still, that's all you have to do."

Before he lost his nerve, Obi-Wan flung his arms around the tall young man. Q'Chaka stiffened for a moment, then relaxed into calm acceptance. Sliding a huge hand around Obi-Wan's shoulders, his other hand retained its grasp on the towel shielding his thighs. He hugged the Jedi Master back gingerly and had to stoop slightly to do it, even as his father had.

Sighing, Obi-Wan sank gratefully into the hug, feeling the shifting muscle on Q'Chaka's long back and remembering another back so like this one. Amusement and acceptance flowed along the Force connection, offering its own kind of comfort. More than tolerating Obi-Wan's need for this small contact, Q'Chaka seemed willing take his father's place - at least in this moment - and answer that need.

[Force above,] thought Obi-Wan, [he feels like Qui-Gon. He even *smells* like him!]

"Am I doing this right?" the familiar, rumbling voice came from above, close to Obi-Wan's ear and all but stopping his heart.

"Yes." [Definitely.] Stepping back, he let his arms fall away. "Thanks for putting up with that."

"No problem." Q'Chaka bowed. "Thank you, Master."

Leaving the padawan to his shower, Obi-Wan made his way back across the gym. [Trust you, Qui-Gon, to ensure that some part of you continued so obviously in the living Force.]

[Yes,] came the amused voice of his master in his mind, even as Obi-Wan climbed toward Anakin. [But even you must admit that my son is no pathetic life form needing my protection.]

Their bond rippled with amusement, and Obi-Wan took his place beside Anakin. [Do you know how much comfort I'm taking from the fact that you're continuing in this universe - no matter the form?]

[I believe so.] A contented sigh. [I will come to you tonight in meditation if I may, Obi-Wan? We can further discuss this, if you like.]

[Yes, my Master.]

He sensed no little exasperation at that title. [After so many years, Obi-Wan?]

[I know: you are no longer my Master. But part of me will always be learning things from you -- witness today -- and so, I shall always think of you as my Master. After all these years, I am not likely to change.] He gave a mental shrug. [You may as well get used to it.]

A beat. Considering it. From all angles, as usual. A moment later, love washed over him through the bond. With it came acceptance of what was, what always had been and what always would be, between the two of them. [As you wish, my Padawan.]

Master Kenobi was contented as the competition continued.


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