Title: Never Go Home
Category: Story, Angst, Drama, little-Obi torture, Hurt/Comfort
Archive: Early Years & Jedi Apprentice
Rating: R (violence, implied rape and child molestation)
Spoilers: Very, very minor ones for the JA books
Disclaimer: All recognizable Star Wars characters are the
exclusive property of George Lucas. All others belong to me.
I have no official permission to use these characters, but
I'm not being paid for it either, so that's okay.
Feedback: Yes Please!
Time Frame: 19 years before TMP. Obi-Wan is 6.
Things bracketed by *'s are *italic*.
Summary: A skating trip turns disastrous when little Initiate
Obi-Wan Kenobi is kidnapped. After what happens, Obi-Wan thinks
he can never return until a certain Jedi Master shows him otherwise.
WARNING!!!!!! This is a very dark story, involving themes of kidnapping,
child molestation and rape. Nothing is handled at all graphically and
for the most part is more alluded to than described, but if the thought
bothers you, please, PLEASE, don't read this!!!!!
NOTE: (yes, I know this header is getting MUCH too long)
This story was written over a year ago but I have been too afraid to post it because of what it deals with. I originally wrote it in response to a story I read in an old Readers Digest. The story was it was very sad and moved me so
much that I had to write my own story, one that I could *make* have a
happy ending. So please forgive me for writing something like this.
I had gotten to the point where, although I toyed with the idea of posting it many times, I figured I would never actually get up the nerve to do so. Then, when I was at the airport last week, I went into the ladies restroom and staring off the wall at me was a large, color poster of the boy who's story I'd written this in response to. They're still looking for him. Eleven years after he disappeared. Maybe it's because I have a little brother, I don't know, but for some reason it hit me really hard. I had to go have a good cry, and then I decided I *was* going to post this.
After you've read this story, please take a moment to check out one or more of these sites. Maybe you can help another little one find their way home.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
The Polly Klass Organization
Official International Missing Children Clearing Houses
For all my German Friends:
Kinder Nach Hause
And for all of you in Canada:
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Missing Children's Registry
Sorry for this monstrous header, but this is an issue that weighs heavy on my heart.
This story is dedicated to Jacob Wettlinger if he is still alive somewhere
and to his memory if he is not. And to any and all other little children
who think, for one reason or another, that they can...
-NEVER GO HOME-
It started out a day just like any other, but it would not end up that way.
The sun was bright and there was just a faint nip in the air as Master Celon and his assistant, newly Knighted Rudi Sanvr herded their small group of young Jedi Initiates down the crowded sidewalks of Coruscant like a flock of little ducks.
Twelve six-year-olds are hardly easy to keep track of, but the young Initiates were on their best behavior today and their teachers had no problems with them.
The students were proud because they were finally old enough to leave the confines of the Temple and venture forth into the city for fieldtrips.
They had already visited museums, zoos and scores of other fun and educational places over the past several months.
Today however was a little different as they were going to wind up their trip with a visit to a skating rink. Master Celon tried to tell them something about balance and center, but everyone knew it was mostly for fun. They could, of course, skate in the activity rooms at the Temple, but going to an actual rink was viewed as quite an adventure to the slightly sheltered children.
Excitement ran high, but they controlled themselves as they had been taught to do. More especially since they had been sternly warned before that if they got out of hand they would be sent back immediately.
Obi-Wan Kenobi bent studiously over the fastenings for his skate. He was absolutely not going to ask Master Celon or Rudi to help him. He could do it himself; he just had to take his time...
"Hey, Obi, hurry up!" his friend Garen Muln urged. He already had his skates on, of course. Garen Muln always tried to be a step ahead of everyone else. He did not do it out of meanness, there was hardly a mean bone in the boy's body, he was simply restless and liked to be on the move.
"Just a min, I'm coming." Obi-Wan conquered the clasps and rose triumphantly to his feet. "Obi, Reeft, I'll race you to the far wall!" Garen Muln called out, but waited until his two friends were beside him before taking off.
The small Jedi children were all good skaters. Their better than average sense of balance and grace gave them a distinct edge. The Initiates fanned out across the entire rink. Master Celon's urgings that they must stay together went blissfully unheeded.
Celon shook his head with a smile. Let them have their fun.
Halfway to the wall Reeft tripped up and wiped out hard. Obi-Wan and Garen Muln stopped immediately to help their Dresselian friend.
"You okay Reeft?" Obi-Wan asked, helping him up.
"What's the matter?" Bruck, another Initiate, ground to a halt next to them. "Reeft still can't keep his skates straight?" the boy laughed. "Some Jedi he'll make, can't even-"
"That's enough Bruck," Obi-Wan interjected as the wrinkled lines of Reeft's grey face sagged sadly. "Accidents happen. Come on guys." Together the threesome skated away, leaving Bruck to whiz off with his friends.
Obi-Wan loved skating and wished that Bant were here with them, but she was a whole two years younger than he and was not allowed to leave the Temple yet. She would be sad to miss out on this, so Obi-Wan decided he would have to skate with her back at the Temple to make her feel better. He was sure the Masters would let them.
A man watched the children in the rink from the shadows, studying each one in a slow, exacting manner, like a beast searching for what he considered just the right kind of prey. Until his eyes lighted on one in particular and stayed there.
Master Celon's back stiffened. A strange feeling came over him, like a momentary flash of concern, or danger... he looked around, scanning the rink, making sure all the children were accounted for. They were, but he couldn't quite relax.
"Is anything wrong Master Celon?" Rudi Sanvr inquired, noticing the change in the older Jedi's behavior.
"No, not really," Celon shook his head. "I thought I felt danger for a moment, but it's gone now. Still, let's be on watch."
Obi-Wan jumped just in time, bending his legs up and clipping the air with his skates in a leap that was far beyond his years and experience on the skates. He managed to clear Bruck's outstretched leg and land mostly on his feet. Garen Muln and Reeft were not so lucky. They went sprawling.
Bruck and his friends laughed. Yes, there were bullies even among Jedi. They were only very young Jedi after all.
Obi-Wan balled his small fists at his side. Sometimes that boy could make him so mad! He was tempted to call Celon or Rudi, but he knew Bruck would act innocent and all Bruck's friends would swear it was an accident. Their teachers would make Bruck apologize to Garen Muln and Reeft, but he wouldn't mean it. "You guys okay?" Obi-Wan asked, his eyes not leaving Bruck.
"I think so," Garen Muln groaned, getting up slowly.
Reeft only nodded.
"Well I'm not," Obi-Wan continued to fix Bruck with a steady glare. "You did that on purpose," he said softly.
"You're so serious Obi, lighten up!" Bruck laughed, giving the other boy a slight push that sent him rolling back a little.
"Apologize to Reeft and Garen Muln," Obi-Wan demanded. Maybe Bruck wouldn't mean it, but he wanted him to do it because he should, not because a teacher told him to.
"For what? Like you said, accidents happen," Bruck was startled by the intensity in Obi-Wan's clear blue-green eyes. "Geez, let's go guys," Bruck started to head off.
"No," Obi-Wan stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Apologize."
"Obi, don't, it's okay," Reeft tried to smooth things over.
"No, they should apologize," Garen Muln joined Obi-Wan.
"Forget it!" Bruck spat, beginning to get angry. He tried to yank his arm away from Obi-Wan, knocking Obi-Wan off balance. Obi-Wan's skates skidded beneath him and he went down hard, accidentally kicking Bruck's skates out from under him as well.
Nobody could actually tell who started it after that, but the situation dissolved quickly as Bruck, Obi-Wan and Garen Muln turned into a swinging, tussling, angry tangle of arms, legs and skates.
Celon and Rudi quickly waded into the rink, dodging other skaters, and pulled the three boys off of one another. "Stop it this instant!" Master Celon demanded in a voice that left no room for refusal. "Back to the carpet you three, now." They had no choice but to follow.
The three little boys stood in a line, heads bowed, before the teacher. "I am very disappointed in your behavior out there," Celon made them aware.
Three voices spoke at once, all trying to explain their side of what happened.
"That's enough," Master Celon quieted them. "I don't care who started it or what happened. We'll sort all that out back at the Temple."
The three Initiates groaned as they realized what he meant. They were being sent back!
"I'm sorry," Celon said, and he truly was. He knew that children would be children, but there were rules to be observed here. Jedi children were perhaps held to higher scrutiny than ordinary children, but only because their development was so important. To those whom much is given, much is expected. "But you knew the rules before we came. Fighting is not tolerated. Rudi, will you please take these three back to the Temple and then return?"
Garen Muln, Obi-Wan and Bruck removed their skates and followed Rudi reluctantly out.
"This is all your fault," Bruck hissed at Obi-Wan under his breath.
"His fault! You're the one who tripped us," Garen Muln defended his friend.
Obi-Wan said nothing. Maybe it was his fault. He had gotten angry with Bruck, he knew he wasn't supposed to do that.
"Don't look so sad," Rudi tried to cheer them a little. "We'll come again. And you can always skate at the Temple."
The boys were not heartened.
"They'll probably make us meditate for the rest of the day!" Garen Muln groaned softly. He always found it particularly difficult to sit still for meditation.
No one in the little troop noticed the man following them.
They were about halfway back to the Temple when there was a horrendous screech and a crash. Two cloud cars had collided and dropped to the street below, bursting into flames. People erupted into panic, some trying to help, some to get away from the flaming wreckage. From somewhere inside the twisted vehicles, voices screamed frantically for help.
Rudi Sanvr glanced at the wreck and then back at his small charges. Rescue workers would never get here in time. Those flames could ignite the gas tanks at any moment. The boys would be okay, just for a few moments...
"Stay here," he ordered the threesome urgently. "Do you hear me? Whatever you do, just don't move!"
"Yes, sir," the boys nodded together quickly. All three of them were stunned by the calamity before them. The pain and fear of the people trapped in the cars buffeted their sensitive senses.
Satisfied that they would obey, Rudi ran towards the flaming vehicles.
From the shadows, a cruel smile rose. He had picked the boy because he thought him a challenge, but this was going to be no task at all. It couldn't have all worked out better if he had planned it.
The three little Jedi were so intent on the scene before them that they did not notice the man come up behind them until the cold muzzle of a blaster pressed against the base of Garen Muln's skull, just below his ear.
"Don't move or make a sound, or your little friend dies, do you boys understand?" a voice hissed in their ears.
They managed a nod.
"Good." With his free hand the man slipped binders on their wrists, tying them together, with Garen Muln in the middle and Obi-Wan and Bruck on either side. "Now we're going to walk away very quietly, got it?"
"But-" Obi-Wan started to say that they weren't supposed to leave, but a strangled cry from Garen Muln cut him off. The Initiates complied with the man's demands, walking slowly and quietly away with him.
In the chaos surrounding the crash, no one even noticed them.
The man took them down a twisting series of alleyways until the boys no longer knew where they were. There were no other people around now, and the children were beginning to become frightened. What did this man want with them?
"Lie on the ground, face down," the voice behind them commanded. With the blaster on them, they had no choice but to comply.
For a moment the man studied them. Damn! They all looked the same from the back! The same close sheered hair and grey tunics over grey pants. He did not want the others to see his face... setting his blaster on stun he shot all three of them, knocking them out.
Lifting the now limp head of each of them in turn he started with Bruck and worked his way down the line to Obi-Wan. There he stopped. Un-cuffing Obi-Wan from Garen Muln he slung the unconscious boy over his shoulder and then simply walked away.
Rudi was nearly frantic with panic. The crash survivors had been saved, but where was Bruck, Obi-Wan and Garen Muln? He reached out, trying to sense their presence nearby. Surely they would not have gone far! But he could not feel them anywhere. He forced himself to be calm, to think rationally. He had to notify the Masters at the Temple, and the authorities.
When they found the two boys, face down in an alley, and unresponsive, Rudi thought his heart would stop. The law enforcement officers with him looked grim, but they all lightened a little when they realized the boys were only unconscious.
Bruck groaned and stirred as Rudi mentally prodded him back to consciousness. "What happened?" Rudi asked as gently as he could.
Bruck blinked and stared around as if looking for someone, his eyes wide with fright. "A-a man!" he stammered, nearly crying. "He had a blaster and made us go with him!"
"What did he look like son?" one of the officers asked.
"I don't know, he was always behind us, we couldn't see him," Bruck's eyes darted, as if he feared the man might still be lurking nearby.
"Bruck," Rudi tried to hide the urgency in his voice. "Where is Obi-Wan?"
Bruck looked around, for the first time realizing that Obi-Wan was not there. "I-I don't know!" he shook his head. "The man, he made us all lie down, and then, then I don't remember any more. Don't let him come back, don't!" the boy cried pitifully.
"He won't come back, it's okay, you're both safe now," Rudi comforted, stroking Bruck's short, white hair. They were safe, *"But what about Obi-Wan?"* the thought tormented the young Knight.
"Officer, I think we have an abduction on our hands," he said softly, hating to think of the possibility.
The next thing Obi-Wan remembered was waking up slowly somewhere quite different from the alley. His head throbbed from the after-effects of having been stunned. He tried to move his hand to rub his head and found he could not.
He was lying on his back on a bed in what looked like a small apartment and his hands were cuffed to the bedposts above his head. The boy shivered. He was cold. He realized that was because he wasn't wearing anything.
Obi-Wan jerked in surprise when the voice spoke. He looked up to see a man of medium build with short dark hair and a nasty smile standing above him. He was certain it was the same man who had kidnapped he and his friends earlier.
"Where's Garen Muln and Bruck?" he demanded bravely, but something in the man's eyes made his throat clutch and terror rise in his heart. Obi-Wan started to struggle with the bonds that held him. "You'd better let me go! The Masters will find you, and then you'll be in big trouble!"
The man laughed, but it was not a pleasant sound. They were clear on the other side of Coruscant and he was not too worried about being caught. He had done this dozens of times and never been caught. He was an expert.
Obi-Wan started shouting for help and the man slapped him, hard. "Go ahead and scream kid, nobody'll hear you." He let the boy yell for a while, just to prove his point.
When Obi-Wan realized that truly, no one who would help could hear him, he quieted down. The cold knot of fear in his stomach turned hard as ice, making him feel sick.
"That's better," the man said, moving closer. "Now, I'm not going to say I won't hurt you, but how much this has to hurt depends entirely on whether you're a good boy or not, got it?"
Obi-Wan buried his face in the pillow, curling up into a small lump of misery. His hands were still bound. His face burned with shame he barely understood and his body shook. At least the man had finally left him alone. He didn't want him to come back, ever, but he had said he would.
Obi-Wan desperately wanted to go home to the Temple. He wished he knew better how to connect with the Force they taught him about. Although he was well trained for his age, he was still just a little boy and though he could touch the Force, he could not connect with it at will, nor control the connection when it did happen.
He wished he knew how to send mental messages like the older students learned. He hoped someone would find him and take him home, soon!
"Acceptable this is not!" Few people had ever seen Yoda this upset before. "Vanish into thin air, little boys do not!"
"We are doing everything we can to find him," the Security Force Sargent informed the Jedi Master, knowing how little that assurance really helped.
"Do you even know who took him yet?" one of the other Council members asked.
The Sargent shook his head in chagrin. "Not yet. The other two boys never saw the man and remember nothing helpful. There were no fingerprints or traces of any kind on either the boys or the binders he left behind. We are still searching however, something may yet turn up, but," the officer swallowed. He did not like to tell them this, but he knew he had better be honest with them. "In all honesty, if kidnapping victims of this kind aren't found within three days... they're usually not found alive." It was hard, but it was the truth. He would never have told a worried parent this, but the Council members hardly warranted the same kind of protection from reality and he had a feeling they would want to know.
Yoda sat back in his chair, no longer looking at the Sargent. It had already been five days since young Obi-Wan Kenobi had disappeared. In addition to the Security Force's search, hosts of Jedi were combing the planet for the missing Initiate. Still, nothing had turned up. Would they find the boy in time? Or was it already too late?
When he decided that he had made the boy afraid of him enough, the man started untying Obi-Wan at times; it suited his twisted pleasures better that way. He promised more freedom for obedience and punished the child severely if he did not do what he wanted.
Obi-Wan complied with his wishes because he had no choice and true to his word, the man started granting the boy more and more freedom to move about.
Obi-Wan tried to run away once, but the man caught him. That night he alternately molested and tortured the child for hours with an Electro-jabber calibrated for an adult's body. Obi-Wan's voice went hoarse from screaming.
After that, the little Jedi found it impossible to sleep, until at last a black twilight of unconsciousness claimed him somewhere in the wee hours of the morning.
The man rose early the next day. He glanced at the boy, curled up on the far corner of his bed, once more bound to the frame. He had enjoyed this, but it was almost time. He would get rid of the boy today. Just like all the others. He pondered on whether to let them find the body or not. Ah well, he would think about it. First he had an errand to run. He left the child still sleeping.
When Obi-Wan woke up, he was still in pain from the torture last night. Sunlight streamed in the little window on the far wall, but his tormenter was nowhere to be seen. He tried to wriggle out of the bonds that held him until his small wrists bled, but it did no good.
He lay back, exhausted. He could do nothing but wait for the man to come back, wait for it to start all over again.
For hours Obi-Wan waited as day turned to dusk, and then, slowly to night, but the man never returned. Somewhere about 10:00 p.m. the door opened, but it was a different man. This man had copper hair and a mutton-chop beard. Obi-Wan had seen him once before when he knocked on the door to complain about the noise.
Veir O'Halleran owned the brothel downstairs from the apartment. He knew very well what kind of man his upstairs tenant was, but it paid to keep his mouth shut. Now however...
He approached the bed and Obi-Wan drew away from him out of reflex. "Hey there kid, I'm not gonna hurt ya," he assured, sitting down on the bed and untying the boy's hands.
Obi-Wan rubbed his raw wrists and scooted further away, bringing the covers up to wrap around himself. He regarded the newcomer with large blue-green eyes that were full of pain, but still managed to look so innocent.
O'Halleran had to hand it to Doonada. He sure could pick them. This was a good-looking kid. He had been wondering all the way up here what he was going to do, now he came to a decision.
"Got some news for ya," he informed the boy. "Your friend Doonada's dead, died in a speeder crash earlier today."
Obi-Wan just continued to stare at the man silently. He was not sure what this meant. He had never known his assailant's name, but he guessed he must be the Doonada that the man with the funny beard spoke of.
"Look kid, I don't know anything about what went on up here," O'Halleran covered himself, even though it was not true. "Whatever happened was between the two of you. I just own this building. I have an establishment downstairs see? I employ lots of little boys and girls like you." That much was true. There was hardly any kind of person that one could not find in O'Halleran's establishment.
"I just found out and came up her to tell ya. Doonada's dead, no one's keeping you here, so, what are you gonna do now?" he queried.
"I wanna go home," Obi-Wan whispered in a small voice.
"Home?" O'Halleran laughed. He knew what Obi-Wan was. "You don't have a home. Jedi kids don't have homes. If you mean that Temple, better forget it. They only take perfect little kids, train them to be perfect little people. But you're not perfect any more boy. They won't take you back, they can't."
Obi-Wan's head spun with the realization that O'Halleran had thrust upon him. Not take him back? He had never thought of that. It was too horrible to consider, and yet, yet it made sense. His comprehension was limited, but he felt dirty and worthless after what Doonada had done to him.
Tears coursed down his small cheeks. He could not imagine never going back to the Temple. Never going home.
"Hey, hey there, don't cry, it'll be all right," O'Halleran put on a compassionate face. "Tell you what, you can stay here and work for me. Kids are happy working for me. Clientele is nice, work is easy, and I'll take good care of you. I'll not force you to do anything," O'Halleran made it clear. "You're free to go wherever you wish, but take my word for it kid, there are a lot of bad people out there. You wouldn't last long on your own on the street. The Jedi don't want you anymore, but I can take care of you, what do you say? It's your choice."
Obi-Wan didn't know what to say, or what to think. His world had gone to pieces around him and nothing made sense. He did not want to be taken by anymore bad men like Doonada... His heart longed to go home, but O'Halleran was right, he had no home. He had nothing now. Nowhere to go, nothing to be, nothing to lose.
The six-year-old hung his small head, tears continuing to escape down his cheeks. "I'll stay with you," he said softly. What else could he do?
Obi-Wan soon learned what kind of 'business' O'Halleran ran. He hated it, but had nowhere else to go. What did it all really matter anyway?
When he learned he could never go back to the Temple something inside of him seemed to die, leaving him numb and cold. It didn't matter what happened to him now. Nothing mattered. At least these people didn't make him hurt like Doonada had delighted in doing. Not most of the time anyway.
Numbly he learned what was expected of him, numbly the weeks passed. He existed in a void. His heart beat and he continued to breathe, but he walked around in a living death.
O'Halleran did take care of his employees, but Obi-Wan became ill all the same. Fever took him and he developed a grating cough. When he became so ill he couldn't take customers anymore, O'Halleran got a doctor out to take a look at him. The doctor prescribed medicine, but it did not help. Obi-Wan did not want to get well. He had no hope and nothing left to live for. He felt as if he had died a long time ago, now his body was merely following him.
He lapsed in and out of delirium. The past, present and future became confused.
Dark shadows clung to the corners of the rooms and the moon was high in the sky. Obi-Wan awoke from his troubled dreams and rose slowly off his bed. He didn't know if he was still delirious or not. Maybe he was still dreaming. It didn't matter. He could not stay here. He just couldn't.
He was dying; it didn't matter where he went or what happened now. Moving quietly, he left the building without attracting any attention and walked out into the darkened streets.
He walked all night, occasionally hitching rides or hopping on the back of a passing cargo carrier. He spoke to no one and no one questioned him. In such a large city-planet, one little boy was easily lost in the crowd.
When morning came and Obi-Wan was discovered missing one of O'Halleran's helpers asked if they should go searching for him.
O'Halleran shook his head. "No need. Give him a little time to get it out of his system. He'll be back," The man shook his head. "He has nowhere else to go."
The sun rose and beat down on him, but Obi-Wan kept moving. The world continued to spin around his head every now and again and his coughing grew worse and worse, but he didn't care. He had shut his body completely off. It would go until he dropped, because he told it to.
Forcing his exhausted body a little farther, Obi-Wan quietly stowed away on an express shuttle headed for the other side of the planet. Wedged in between the suitcases of the legitimate travelers, the little boy drifted in and out of consciousness.
He had no idea how much later it was when the shuttle stopped and the cargo doors opened. The man who opened them was surprised to see Obi-Wan there and looked very angry. He shouted at the boy and tried to grab him, but Obi-Wan dodged, ran, and got away, melting into the teeming city.
That last effort was almost too much for the weak little boy. His pulse pounded in his ears and he felt like he couldn't get enough air to breathe. Hanging onto walls and street meters for support he pushed doggedly onward.
Obi-Wan never really thought about where he was going, but whether consciously, or unconsciously, he wound his way through the streets towards the Jedi Temple.
On the street in front of him Obi-Wan suddenly saw what seemed a specter of the past to him. A small horde of little Jedi Initiates trooped down the walk, watched over by several protective teachers.
Obi-Wan quickly slipped into an alley and pressed himself back against the wall so they would not see him as they trooped past. He doubted they would recognize him, but did not want to take the chance.
A large, painful lump in his throat threatened to choke Obi-Wan as the group disappeared from his view. It was as if his life had just walked past him, everything he'd hoped, everything he'd dreamed. But he was outside in the dark now, looking in at the light he had once lived in. His life had passed him by, leaving him cold, empty and desolate.
The last of his strength left him and he sank back against the wall. The narrow alley was devoid of life other than him. He was as alone as he felt. Looking up, beyond the buildings around him, Obi-Wan could see the tall spire of the Jedi Temple, with the room up at the top where the Council always met...
He moved away from the wall for a better view. To be so close and yet so far away was more than his little heart could bear. He dissolved into silent sobs.
A tall Jedi with long brown hair strode down the street at a swift clip, his long legs eating up the distance easily.
Qui-Gon Jinn had a lot on his mind. What he had just found out meant that the situation he had left his Padawan with was very possibly a volatile one and he was anxious to get back into space...
He stopped dead in his tracks, looking around to see who had made the despairing sob he had just heard. Then he realized that he had not heard it with his ears, but through the Force.
He could see no one on the busy street that seemed in enough distress to have originated the cry, but still he felt it quite close by, the desperate sobbing of a heart that had given up on everything. Just the sound of it was heartbreaking and the intensity with which it came across to him was stunning. He was in a hurry, but there was no way that he was going to ignore someone in that kind of misery.
Tracing the emotions to their source, he found himself in a deserted side-street. At first, he saw no one there, then he noticed the small boy that stood with his back to him, staring longingly up at the spire of the Jedi Temple. The boy's thin shoulders shook with quiet sobs.
His heart went out to the child immediately. Qui-Gon could tell by the way his presence in the Force felt that the boy was Force sensitive. He may have been wrong, but it felt as if he had had training too, or at least, the beginnings of it.
Yet although the boy's fine, ginger hair was cut short, he was not dressed like a Temple Initiate. Instead, he wore silky royal blue pants tied with a red sash. A matching, open-fronted vest hung down to his knees. The child wore no shoes, but small golden earrings dangled from his ears. It could have been a sleeping outfit, but it struck Qui-Gon rather like the get-up that was commonly worn by... but no, that didn't make sense. Surely, even in these twisted times, the boy was much too young...
Whoever or whatever the boy was, he was deeply unhappy.
Obi-Wan started in surprise when he felt the large hand settle gently on his shoulder. He turned and looked up, and up, and up, until he at last found the face of the man who had come up behind him. It was a strong face, weathered and sharply angled, but kind and compassionate. The man's long brown hair was pulled back to keep it out of his vision, some of it was in braids, and some spilled freely about his shoulders. A small beard framed his mouth.
Obi-Wan knew at once that the man was a Jedi, even without the distinctive robes, he could feel it. The child quickly looked down. He could not meet the Jedi's eyes. He did not want him to know...
Obi-Wan tried to get himself to pull away, but there was so much warmth coming through the big hand on his shoulder that he could not bring himself to do it.
For a moment, Qui-Gon thought the boy looked familiar somehow, but he could not place why. Now, as he touched the child, Qui-Gon was sure he was an Initiate, but the boy was withdrawn. It was as if he were hiding far within himself. What in the world was so young an Initiate doing out here all by himself? Where had he gotten these clothes? Flashy earrings like the boy had were hardly standard Temple wear.
"Hello, little one," he said gently, attempting to get the boy to look at him again, but without success. "What are you doing out here all alone?"
Obi-Wan did not answer; instead he pulled away from Qui-Gon's grip, moving away, closer to the wall.
*"A runaway maybe,"* the Jedi Master thought. "You don't want to be out here all alone. Why don't you let me take you back to the Temple, I'm sure they're all worried about you."
"NO!" The ferocity of the child's answer surprised Qui-Gon.
Obi-Wan shook his head vigorously, pressing himself back against the wall as if to resist any attempt made to take him. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, but he was adamant.
"I-I can't go back!" he sobbed, his voice raw with emotion. "I can't ever go back!" Fierce sobs choked Obi-Wan and dissolved into a coughing fit that left him wheezing for air. He sank down the wall, the world starting to spin again.
Qui-Gon was alarmed. He realized the boy was not well. "Of course you can," he soothed, kneeling down beside the child. "Whatever happened can be worked out," Qui-Gon still thought the boy must have run away. "You're ill, they will make you well," he reasoned. "Let me take you back."
"No," the boy moaned, too ill and run-out to shout any more. "Can't, can't..." he cried softly, shaking his head. The Jedi man did not understand, he couldn't understand...
For a brief moment, Qui-Gon caught the boy's eyes. Something deep inside his heart froze. The boy's eyes were glazed with illness, and the despair in them would have broken a heart of stone. But it was the pain that gave Qui-Gon pause. Pain, pain so deep it seemed etched on the boy's very soul. Pain so much deeper than any child should have had to carry.
Qui-Gon realized that this was not simply some runaway who had had a disagreement with a teacher or done something that they thought so bad they could never go back. There was something much more seriously wrong here.
Then he remembered where he had seen the child's face before. He had seen his picture briefly, while his attention had been on other things, on a news update. He struggled to remember why and recalled that they were reporting that the search operation for a missing 6-year-old Jedi Initiate had been downgraded to a body-recovery operation as the authorities continued to search for the man that had abducted him at blaster point nearly a month ago. Either they hadn't mentioned his name, or Qui-Gon could not recall it, but it hardly mattered at the moment.
Sitting down beside the boy, Qui-Gon pulled the child gently into his lap.
Obi-Wan's small body stiffened reflexively, as if he were afraid of being touched. It pained Qui-Gon. The boy had obviously been very hurt.
"It's okay," he soothed gently, rocking lightly back and forth, cradling the child close. "It's okay. You're safe now, no one can hurt you anymore."
Obi-Wan wanted to believe the Jedi's words, but he could not trust anymore. He desperately craved the warmth and love he felt flowing from the Jedi, but the Jedi didn't know... if he knew he would not love him, he could not.
"You're safe," Qui-Gon repeated, wanting the boy to understand that. "You're home."
"I don't... have a home," the boy choked out between sobs and coughing. His small body trembled and shook in Qui-Gon's arms. The heat of his fever burned through the Jedi's robes; the child was severely ill.
"Of course you do," Qui-Gon countered tenderly. "Your home is with the Jedi, they, we, are your family. And we love you."
"D-don't! C-can't!" the boy protested weakly, he was barely coherent. "You don't know..."
"Then tell me. Let me know what is hurting you so, I want to help," Qui-Gon entreated. So far, he was getting nowhere with the child. "What happened to you?"
"NO! NO!" Obi-Wan dredged up enough energy to protest, almost franticly. He couldn't let the Jedi know! He couldn't! It hurt him too much. But Qui-Gon was persistent, gently coaxing the boy with his mind. The boy had to share his pain in order to start getting over it.
"Hurts," Obi-Wan gasped out, beginning to weaken under the Jedi's gentle persuasion. He buried his face in Qui-Gon's tunic. "You- you'll h-hate me!" he cried in a whisper.
"Hate you? I could never hate you. Whatever happened, none of it was your fault, you must believe me." Qui-Gon realized with a pang the extent of the misplaced guilt that hung on the boy's soul.
"Yes, it was," Obi-Wan whispered hoarsely. Even he himself had no real idea of why he felt that way, but he believed it, with his whole tortured little heart he believed it. "I-I'm not, n-not perfect any more," he cried. "I c-can never be a J-Jedi! They won't take me back, they can't..."
The sobbing whisper trailed off and Qui-Gon found himself suddenly inundated with a flow of pictures, scenes, sounds and feelings.
Obi-Wan could not put what had happened into words, the pain was too deep, but he opened his mind and let Qui-Gon see for himself. It hurt terribly, but he let the Jedi Master see everything. It hurt, and yet it also felt strangely good to share with someone else the pain that had been bottling up inside his little heart for so long.
Qui-Gon had to really struggle to fight the intense anger that rose inside him as he relieved the past month through the child's eyes. How could anybody be so cruel?! How could anyone wish to harm and inflict this kind of pain on such a precious little one? There were some things not even Jedi Masters could understand. Sheer cruelty was one of them.
When he was done, Obi-Wan remained still, curled up in a tight little ball on Qui-Gon's lap, waiting for, expecting rejection.
Qui-Gon pulled the boy even closer, holding him tightly as if he wished he could physically push away all the suffering the child had endured.
Obi-Wan felt something warm fall on his hand and looked up. Tears glistened in the big Jedi's eyes. Obi-Wan saw no rejection in them, just love and deep, deep sorrow. The warmth that reached out to envelop him was unchanged.
"It wasn't your fault," Qui-Gon said huskily, still holding the boy tightly, but at last able to look him straight in the eyes. "None of that was your fault or your doing!" his voice became fiercely protective. "The Masters at the Temple would never turn you away because you have been hurt! Never!"
Obi-Wan looked at him wide-eyed, as if Qui-Gon were revealing some unthinkably wonderful idea. "R-really?" he sniffed.
"Of course really! They've been looking for you this whole time; they're all worried and sad because they thought you must be dead. Let's not make them wait and worry any more, let's go and show them that you're all right. They'll all be so happy!"
Obi-Wan almost smiled. He would like to make the Masters happy. Could it really be true? Would they really take him back after all? His body relaxed, melting into Qui-Gon's arms as if he were part of him.
"O-okay," he consented softly. He rose to his feet slowly, both because he was reluctant to leave the warmth of Qui-Gon's lap and because he felt unsteady.
Obi-Wan had barely made it up when another coughing fit seized him. The little boy leaned against the wall, coughing violently. His throat, lungs and sides ached terribly, but he had become used to that. The world spun dizzily around him and a black and yellow haze distorted his vision. His lungs spasmed from all the coughing and he suddenly couldn't breathe. Obi-Wan sunk back to his knees, once more gasping desperately for air he couldn't seem to get. He started turning blue.
Alarmed, Qui-Gon quickly grabbed the boy's shoulders, willing his lungs to relax, willing him to breathe again. It worked and slowly, color returned to Obi-Wan's face. But it was not a natural color. The boy was flushed and feverish. Qui-Gon knew he had found him not a moment too soon. This child needed help, and fast.
The big Jedi picked the boy up gently in his arms, feeling Obi-Wan's small body nestle comfortably against his chest.
Heading for the Temple at a quick clip, Qui-Gon tried to keep the boy talking, but the child's words started slurring and his answers stopped making sense. Delirium was overtaking Obi-Wan once more.
The small body in Qui-Gon's arms burned, but Obi-Wan shivered as if he were freezing. "I-I'm so c-cold," he whispered faintly. Qui-Gon wrapped him tighter in his big, brown robe and quickened his pace.
They were in sight of the Temple now. Qui-Gon hurried urgently up the steps. "We're there now, it's okay. You're home," he continued the soft monologue he had kept up on the way. "You're home."
"Home," Obi-Wan whispered faintly. A smile flittered across his lips and his fever-bright eyes shone for an instant with a light that had nothing to do with his illness. Then the little body went limp and his head rolled back, lolling against Qui-Gon's shoulder.
"Little one, little one!" Qui-Gon tried desperately to call him back, but Obi-Wan had slipped into a deep, delirious, unconsciousness and did not respond.
The big Jedi banged urgently through the doors of the clinic. "This boy needs immediate attention!" he informed the Healer which greeted him, in a collected, but urgent voice.
The Healer took one look at Obi-Wan, flushed and unconscious, and agreed. "Bring him in here, quickly."
"Will he be all right?" Qui-Gon questioned the Healer in concern.
"We have stabilized him, he will pull through," Wu Radii picked her answer carefully. "However, the severe trauma he has endured will take much longer to heal than this illness I fear. Have you reported to the Council everything that has happened?"
"Yes," Qui-Gon nodded. "As well as everything I saw in the boy's mind. They have already contacted the Security Force and are working to use the information they now have to locate the place where he was held. It seems that the man who originally took him is already dead, or at least, that's what it seemed like," Qui-Gon paused thoughtfully. Not all of what he had seen in the boy's mind was terribly clear and he had gotten no names, just pictures. He hoped it would be enough to help until the boy recovered enough to tell them more. "They will attempt to verify this as well as apprehend the other parties involved."
"Good," Wu Radii nodded her approval. She had not been privy to Obi-Wan's emotional distress as Qui-Gon had, but from her examination she had witnessed the extent to which the boy had been abused and she was glad that justice was on it's way towards the perpetrators of such abuse.
"Can I see him?" Qui-Gon inquired a moment later.
"He's still unconscious," Wu Radii explained. "But you may see him if you wish."
Just then, Qui-Gon's comlink beeped. He picked it up, thumbing it on. "Yes?" he answered. He had expected it to be the Council, or something like, but instead the voice of his Padawan, Xanatos came to him through the static.
"Master Qui-Gon," his apprentice sounded alarmed. "The situation here has taken a sudden turn for the worse. Advise you return immediately! I can't hold the... trying to... working!" The transmission broke up into a squeal of static.
"Xanatos! Xanatos!" he called urgently into the comlink, but received no answer. Quickly returning the communicator to his belt, he turned to leave. "I'm sorry Wu Radii, but I must leave immediately. When the boy wakes up, tell him..." but Qui-Gon didn't know what to tell him. "Tell him I'm sorry I had to leave so suddenly, but I'll see him again when I return."
Wu Radii nodded.
It was much longer than he had thought it would be before Qui-Gon was able to return to Coruscant, but he did not forget his promise.
"Where are you going Master?" Xanatos asked as Qui-Gon prepared to seek out Wu Radii.
"To keep a promise," he told the apprentice.
"When will you speak to the Council?" Xanatos wanted to know. "About..."
"After I see the boy," Qui-Gon promised. He smiled. "So impatient are you?"
Xanatos flushed and bit back a little resentment. Of course he was impatient! "I'm sorry, Master," he made himself say.
Qui-Gon shook his head. "Never mind. I'll be back shortly."
Somehow, through everything that had happened, Qui-Gon never had managed to learn the child's name, so he sought out Wu Radii for help.
"I've come," Qui-Gon explained simply when he found the Healer working in her office. He knew she would understand what he had come for.
Wu Radii looked up from her work and smiled. "Qui-Gon Jinn, it is good to see you again. It has been some time since I saw you last; I was concerned about you. I hope that everything was resolved well?"
Qui-Gon nodded. "Yes, it has. In fact, everything has gone so well that later today when I meet with the Council I intend to recommend my apprentice Xanatos for the Trials." Qui-Gon knew that getting the Council to agree might be tricky, or at least, getting Yoda to agree would be, but he felt sure his Padawan was ready.
"Excellent!" Wu Radii congratulated. "I am glad for you."
"Thank you." Qui-Gon was waiting.
"I know," Wu Radii said slowly. "That's not what you came here to talk about."
"No, it's not," Qui-Gon agreed, beginning to feel apprehension at her hesitation. Had something gone wrong? Was the boy permanently emotionally scarred? Surely he couldn't be dead...
"No, no, it's nothing like that," the Healer assured him quickly, reading his thoughts in his face. "It's good news really, after a fashion. Why don't you take a seat?" she gestured towards the chairs on the other side of her desk.
"What do you mean?" Qui-Gon was confused, but he sat down as she requested.
"The boy was very ill for a long time," Wu Radii explained, settling back in her chair. "He was delirious for nearly five days and no one could reach him, not even Master Yoda. For a little while there, we honestly weren't sure if he was going to make it, but he pulled through in the end. When he woke up, the fever was gone, and so were his memories of what happened."
Qui-Gon looked at her questioningly.
"He has no recollection of anything that transpired between the fight in the skating rink and waking up here," she elucidated.
"Is that possible?" Qui-Gon asked in surprise.
"Yes," the Healer nodded. "The mind is a funny thing. Sometimes when someone has been through something extremely horrifying or traumatic, it blocks it out, so that the person will actually not remember what happened. The severity of his illness may have had something to do with it as well.
Whatever the cause, all the boy knows is that he was very ill, and to that he accounts the fuzziness of the details in his mind about before he fell ill. The situation was discussed at great length and it was our conclusion that his memory of this time will probably never return and it is in his best interest that it remains that way," the Healer's deep brown eyes softened compassionately. "There are some things it is better to not remember," she said softly.
Qui-Gon nodded, he understood. "Can I see him?" he asked again the question that had gone unfulfilled because of his hasty departure last time. He would like to see the boy happy again.
Wu Radii hesitated and Qui-Gon read her answer in her eyes even before she spoke. "Qui-Gon, you helped him a great deal when you found him. You gave him a reason to cling on to life long enough for us to save him. But I don't think your seeing him would be a good idea at this point."
"You think that because I was there during that time he does not remember that seeing me might bring it back to him." Qui-Gon concluded for her.
"Honestly, I don't know if it would or not," she agreed. "But it's a chance we just can't take at this point. His healing is still too fragile. I know you want the boy helped so I must ask you, please, do not search him out. If you see him around the Temple, there is no need to avoid him, but do not act as if you were anything more than passing acquaintances."
"Of course, I understand," Qui-Gon nodded. He knew the very fine line the Healers were trying to walk between protecting the boy from things he was not able to handle, and lying to him. "I am not often at the Temple anyway," he added. He reflected that with all the change that would occur in a growing boy of that child's age over the next few years he probably would not be able to recognize him anyway unless he saw him again very soon, which did not look likely to happen.
Qui-Gon rose. "Thank you Wu Radii for all you have done. I am glad the boy is better."
The Healer bid him farewell and he left her office. He smiled in inward irony as he passed out of the clinic doors. He still did not know the boy's name. Perhaps he never would. Perhaps it was better that way.
Now, he had other things to think about. Xanatos was waiting...
THE END... for now.