Category: Drama, Adventure, Angst, Mystery, h/c, Dealing w/ past pain.
Archiving: Jedi Apprentice
Spoilers: I don't think so.
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: 6 years before TMP. Obi-Wan is 19.
Summary: Years ago, something terrible happened in the life of young Obi-Wan Kenobi. Now, a strange and potentially deadly string of events is about to bring it all back.
Tormented with the memories of a past he had not known, Obi-Wan finds himself wishing that some things could have forever been left... Unremembered.
Things bracketed by *'s are *italic*.
*** means a flashback. ***
NOTE: This is a sequel to "Never Go Home". You can figure out what's going on even if you haven't read that story, but parts of this might make slightly better sense if you have read that story first.
Like "Never Go Home", this story contains references to child abduction, abuse, molestation and rape and someone trying to deal with the pain in their life that those events have caused. Nothing is handled in a graphic manner, but if these themes would bother you, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS STORY!
It is not my wish to offend anyone, I sincerely hope that no on is.
The hanger buzzed with activity. Almost nothing could be heard above the dull roar that was being created by the four hundred-something refugees from the asteroid colony of Muuramba.
The two Jedi struggled valiantly to keep order over their misbegotten flock, but it was a losing battle.
Obi-Wan felt like chucking his data pad over his shoulder, getting a tight hold on his hair and screaming very loudly; loud enough to be heard even over this din. Unfortunately, that was not an option.
"We're going to the Transport Center, we have family waiting..."
"Have you seen Brymee? So tall, dark brown hair..."
"Take us off your list, our ride's here..."
"Do you have a Jace My'rma on your list?"
"What about Durran Te'lika?"
"We don't know anyone here, what are we supposed to do? Where are we supposed to go?"
"Do you have Marina Blu listed?"
"Where's the refugee center?"
"Will the Republic take care of us?"
"Do we need some kind of papers?"
"Would you care to buy a hot mufnut?"
Dozens of people seemed to be trying to talk to the apprentice all at once and he was having difficulty processing it all fast enough. He worked furiously with the data pad, attempting to check off the people leaving, looking up the ones they were looking for and answer all the other questions as fast as he could.
*"They should send more help to deal with this crowd!"* he couldn't help thinking harriedly. *"Qui-Gon and I can't handle this all by ourselves!"*
"Okay. No. All right," Obi-Wan mono-syllabically attempted to reply to the barrage of questions aimed at him. He hoped that the right people were getting the right answers. "Yes, no, I don't know where he is. No. Yes, I mean, I'm sorry. The Coruscant embassy will help all displaced persons, go to the blue terminal. Wait! I need your name. Wait I- oh! No, I'm sorry, not on this list. Blue terminal. Yes. No. Yes, I mean *no*!" Obi-Wan brushed off the hot mufnut vendor with considerable annoyance. Didn't he have enough on his mind? Did all these vendors and hawkers have to mingle with the refugees, confusing an already bad situation and making the whole, disorganized mess worse?
At the other end of the terminal, Qui-Gon was similarly swamped. He felt sorry for all these people, driven out of their homes with nowhere to go. That did not mean however, that he was getting any less fed up with this situation than his Padawan was.
The officials should have sent help, they knew they were coming. Doubtless it got lost in channels somehow. Dang bureaucracy.
The Jedi duo had managed to rescue the shipload of refugees, all that was left of the now non-existent asteroid colony of Muuramba, and bring them all safely back to Coruscant, but they were hardly qualified to act as aid representatives to all these people. They had their hands full simply trying to keep order. Accounting for everyone listed to be abroad and keeping track of where they all went was almost too much.
He had already called the offices that were supposed to take care of this. Five times in fact. They said they were sending help. It had better be on its way.
Now he had this added mix up to deal with...
"Obi-Wan!" Qui-Gon tried to shout to his Padawan above the din, waving his data pad in the air to catch his attention, but the nineteen-year-old did not hear or see him.
//"Obi-Wan!"// Qui-Gon gave a call that no amount of outward noise could hamper and Obi-Wan's head came up, looking around for his Master.
Qui-Gon waved the data pad again, this time catching his apprentice's notice.
"Obi-Wan, the Refugee Center needs clearance to accept these people. There's been a communications breakdown somewhere and they keep sending them back!" he half shouted, half sent to the young man.
Obi-Wan looked chagrined. Just what they didn't need! He looked at the sea of people still hanging on him, peppering him with questions he mostly had no idea how to answer and caught his Master's eyes as if to say: *"And what exactly am I supposed to do about it?"*
Qui-Gon shrugged broadly. *"I've got no more idea than you,"* he thought. "Something," was all he said however. "We're never going to get any of these people out of here if we don't get this straightened out."
Obi-Wan scowled inwardly. Was that a threat? Even if Qui-Gon had not meant it that way, it sounded like one to him. Of course, the real problem was not getting the people to leave; it was getting them to stay, or at least report where they were going before they left.
If everyone just scattered, there was a good change that many families would be broken up, never to find each other again. Each thinking, because there was no record of them arriving on Coruscant, that the other members were lost in the devastating explosion that had claimed their asteroid home.
Obi-Wan tried to find a quiet enough place to use his comlink to call the Refugee Center.
"I'm looking for Jaim McKay," a sandy haired man, who did not look like one of the refugees, stopped the apprentice with a hand on his arm.
Obi-Wan scanned his list quickly. "Yes, he's on the list," the Jedi was happy to reply. There was enough heartbreak floating around in here, he hated it when he had to add to it by informing someone that they're loved one's name was not on his list of survivors.
"Where is he?" the man asked intently.
Something about the man bothered Obi-Wan a bit, but he hardly had time to consider that now. "I'm sorry, I don't know. Somewhere," he gestured rather expansively to the living sea of people around them. "If you'll leave me your name, address and number I'll see that when he's processed you will be notified," Obi-Wan offered. It was all he could offer any of these people who came to him looking for their family and friends. There was no way he could search out each and every one of the missing persons.
"Thank you, that won't be necessary. I'll find him," the man said, quickly turning away.
"Wait, it's almost impossible to find anyone in here. Give me your-" but the man was gone. Obi-Wan sighed in frustration. People just weren't willing to take the time to be sure things were covered and that could end up costing them. Well, there was nothing he could do about it.
Obi-Wan put his comlink as close to his face as he could, trying to cut out the background noise. "Hello, Terminal Blue? Yes, I'm here with the refugees from Muuramba, what is this about your not being cleared to accept them?..."
A small boy of about seven with dark brown curls and matching eyes looked up when he heard his name. A man with blond hair and a blue shirt stood before him. The child nodded silently.
"Your parents sent me to pick you up Jaim."
Jaim smiled and accepted the hand the man offered. More than anything else in the world he wanted to be back with his parents. He had not seen them in almost a year!
"Come along then."
"No, no, I'm sorry," Qui-Gon was attempting to explain. "I can't do anything about that for you here. You have to go to the Refugee Center in Terminal Blue."
"But they sent us back here!" the miner retorted. "Said they didn't know anything about it. What's going on?!"
*"I'd like to know the same thing myself,"* Qui-Gon thought dryly.
"Don't they realize our whole bloody world just got blown apart?!" the agitated man continued.
"There's been a bit of a mix-up, my colleague is straightening it out now. Go back to the Terminal, they are the only ones who can help you." The Jedi Master picked his terms carefully. He knew that Obi-Wan was an able and clever Jedi, but if he told this man, whom he suspected knew little or nothing about the Jedi, that his *apprentice* was handling it, the miner would probably not be too pleased, or inspired to confidence.
"Excuse me sir," Qui-Gon stopped an older man and boy from leaving. "You must report in before leaving the area."
"Of course," the man nodded. "I am Chald Duluth, this is Jaim McKay. I won't be on your list, but Jaim is. I'm picking him up for his parents," Chald explained.
"All right," Qui-Gon pulled Jaim's name up. "But first I'll need you to-"
A sudden fight broke out between five or six men right next to them. One of the brawlers nearly punched Qui-Gon instead of his target.
Qui-Gon ducked just in time however, and intervened to stop the fight. Tensions were high among the teeming mass of people and the last thing they needed was somebody sparking a mass brawl.
When Qui-Gon turned back to Chald and Jaim, he found them gone. The Jedi Master sighed through his teeth and put yet *another* call in to the local authorities. That help they kept promising had better get here soon or this whole thing was going to end up an unmitigated disaster.
Nearly an hour later, a fleet of workers from the Intergalactic Refugee Aid Association finally showed up. Setting up tables, checkpoints and lines they eventually managed to organize and process the entire hoard.
Obi-Wan leaned wearily back against the wall, watching the last three refugees gather up their things and leave. Some were lucky. They had family here on Coruscant, or on another planet that could be contacted. Some were not so fortunate, but the Republic would care for them until they could get on their feet again.
As peace settled over the hanger at last, the apprentice breathed a long sigh of relief. This was not an experience he would care to repeat any time in the near future. He was aware of Qui-Gon's approaching presence and did not bother to turn and look as his Master took a place leaning against the wall beside him.
"Makes one want to think twice before answering distress calls, doesn't it?" Qui-Gon joked wearily. Both men knew it was only a jest.
Obi-Wan smiled; too tired to come up with any kind of retort for that. "At least it's over."
"Indeed," Qui-Gon agreed, looking up as a man and a woman entered the area, seeking out one of the remaining IRAA workers. He regarded them with mild interest at best. They felt hopeful, excited. That was a nice change after all the pain and despair that had been going around today. However, the more they talked, the more distressed they became. A few moments later, Qui-Gon saw the Aid worker point over at he and Obi-Wan.
Qui-Gon quickly pulled himself away from the wall and nudged his apprentice to do the same.
The couple approached the two Jedi purposefully. The man looked angry, the woman seemed on the verge of tears.
"Can we help you?" Qui-Gon asked politely once they had approached within hearing distance.
"I certainly hope so," the man replied. "I am Victor McKay and this is my wife Telliani," he introduced briefly. Concern was written all over the human's fine-chiseled, dark features. "We are looking for our son Jaim McKay. His name is on the survivors list, but it has been crossed off as taken care of, without further explanation. The IRAA people said that the time shows it was done before they arrived here, while you people were in charge. We want to know where our son is."
Qui-Gon studied the data pad they showed him. There had been so many people... he attempted to recall Jaim McKay and what happened to him. Why wasn't it noted? He had been careful to note everyone he could who left...
"Obi-Wan?" he turned questioning eyes to his padawan, showing him the entry.
Obi-Wan scanned it. *Jaim McKay.* The name was familiar somehow, as if he had heard it before, but he could not place where.
"Please sirs, you've got to be able to help us!" Telliani pleaded, tears glistening in her eyes. "He's just a little boy and he's already been through so much!"
Qui-Gon was thoughtful. There was something tickling the back of his mind about a Jaim McKay. If only he could remember... "He was a child you say?" he asked, hoping for clues to help him grasp the elusive memory.
"Yes," Jaim's father confirmed.
"Here's a picture of him," Telliani offered helpfully, pulling a much-loved, dog-eared photo out of her handbag. "It's over a year old I'm afraid," she said softly. "He was six then, he'd be seven now. It was taken before... before he disappeared."
Victor shot his wife a hard look. There was no need to tell these strangers all that.
Qui-Gon took the picture, studying it intently. It was only about a year old, but the edges were soft from much handling. He studied the face of the child in the picture, and it came back to him...
"He disappeared?" Obi-Wan was asking Mr.& Mrs. McKay, a little surprised.
"That's a long story Mr..."
"Kenobi, Obi-Wan Kenobi," Obi-Wan supplied.
"Mr. Kenobi," Victor shook his head. "And one that is hardly of importance right now. Have either of you seen our son or not?" the edge on Victor's voice grew sharper.
"Yes," Qui-Gon said calmly, wondering what all this meant and knowing the McKays were not going to like his answer. "He left with a man who must have been in his thirties," Qui-Gon reported dutifully. "The fellow identified himself as Chald Duluth and said that Jaim's parents had sent him to pick the boy up. The man had blond hair and wore a royal blue shirt with black pants. You sent no such man to retrieve your son?" Qui-Gon asked mildly, already guessing that they had not. This was not good, not good at all.
"Of course not! Would we be standing here asking about him if we had?" Victor nearly exploded.
His wife laid a calming hand on his arm. "Please dear, it won't help..." she entreated, tears beginning to run down her cheeks.
"And how could you let a small child like that leave with just anybody without even checking their story? With out asking for any kind of identification or proof?" Victor stormed on angrily, unchecked by Telliani's efforts.
"You didn't even record it! Now our son is gone who knows where, with who knows what kind of perverted scum and it's your fault!" His thinking clouded by pain and anger, Victor acted blindly, slapping Qui-Gon across the face in a rage. To be so close to their son after so long, only to lose him like this! It was more than he could bear. A long year of blaming himself had left Victor bleedingly raw inside. He desperately needed someone else to blame.
Obi-Wan stared, his eyes going wide and Telliani burst into a fresh sobbing fit, but Qui-Gon did not flinch.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," the Jedi Master said calmly, as if he had not even registered the blow. But he had, and it hurt, not his face, but his heart. *Was* this his fault? He had had so much on his hands, he had intended to verify the story, but he never got a chance.
The McKays had no idea what today had been like earlier. Qui-Gon wished he could explain that to them, make them understand... but he would not make excuses to them, even if it was the truth, it did little to help the situation now. "Matters this morning were not as ordered as they might have been, and I regret that the situation did not allow me to be as thorough as I would have liked to be," he apologized quietly.
Obi-Wan could see past his Master's calm front and realized just how badly Qui-Gon really felt about this. //"It's not your fault Master,"// he thought at his teacher, but Qui-Gon did not respond.
"That's fine for you to say now," Victor growled. "But what about our son?"
"Victor, please," Telliani repeated, her clear blue eyes pleading with him. "It's not their fault, I'm sure they had a lot on their hands this morning. I'm sorry gentlemen, for my husbands behavior, it-it's just..." her voice broke down and she dissolved into tears once more.
"Don't make excuses for them Telliani, I'm sure they can do that quite well on their own," Victor whispered, but not soft enough for it to be hidden from the two Jedi. "The fact is that Jaim's gone. Well, I'm glad you're sorry, that really does a lot for us now. When my little boy's body turns up in some ditch somewhere I can say to myself, well, the Jedi are sorry, so I guess that makes it all better!" Victor was not being rational, but he didn't care.
Obi-Wan felt his ire rise. It *wasn't* their fault! Why hadn't the boy's parents gotten here sooner? What in the name of the Force was a boy that young doing all alone on the refugee ship anyway? If his parents were here on Coruscant, what had he been doing on Muuramba?
The padawan could feel that his Master too, was struggling with anger towards the irate man before them, but heavier, and more powerful was the feeling of pain and guilt that he felt emanating from Qui-Gon.
"Please, please forgive us," Telliani begged through her tears, mortified to no end at the scene her husband was making. "If you only knew what we've been through! We were so happy when we learned that our boy was finally coming home, and now, now this! Now to learn he may never come home..."
Something deep inside Obi-Wan reverberated painfully at the way she said that. Her sorrow, so deep, touched him even more than her husband's anger infuriated him.
It was the same for Qui-Gon. "We don't know that yet," he tried to comfort her. "There is still hope. I know what the man who took Jaim looked like. We even have a name to work with, even if it is only an alias. We must call the authorities, they will launch a search..." Somehow, his well-intentioned words all seemed meaningless as Qui-Gon looked into Telliani's desperate blue eyes. "We will find your son, I promise you. Obi-Wan and I will help. We will bring him home to you," the big Jedi's voice dropped low. He spoke before he thought, but he spoke from his heart.
Obi-Wan looked at Qui-Gon quickly. //"We will?"// It wasn't that he did not want to help. He would like nothing better than to place Mrs. McKay's little boy safely in her arms once more, but the ease and suddenness with which Qui-Gon promised it surprised him.
Telliani held the tall Jedi's deep blue eyes, feeling a strange sense of relief, of hope. After everything they had been through, it was hard to hope, hard to trust, but somehow, she trusted this man, even though she realized she did not even know his name. "Will you?" she asked softly, her tears slowing. "Bless you, bless you both."
Victor was much less convinced, but his initial anger had burned itself out and he realized that hating these men would do nothing to bring his boy back to him. Any kind of help was welcome, if only he could see Jaim again, if only he could make up to him what he had let happen...
"What do you suggest we do then?" Mr. McKay asked, he was quiet now, but his voice was still taught, and his eyes smoldered.
"First," Qui-Gon slid easily into control of the situation. He was used to leading. "A call to the Security Force is in order. While we wait for their officers to arrive, I suggest you start by telling us everything you can about Jaim, whether it seems important or not. Especially why he has been missing from you for over a year and how he ended up alone on a little research and mining colony like Muuramba."
Victor bristled slightly, but made the necessary call.
"He wasn't alone you know, not when he was on Muuramba," Mrs. McKay was saying as her husband got off the comlink. "He was with his Grandfather."
"And you knew this?" Qui-Gon asked, trying to get a clear picture of the situation.
"No, we did not," Victor cut his wife off before she could reply. "We did not know where either of them were, or that they were even alive." The man sighed. "We were on a luxury liner sometime last year, the Star of Destiny, or something like that."
"We?" Qui-Gon interrupted to inquire.
"Myself, my wife, our son and my father," Victor clarified. "The ship was attacked by pirates out in the middle of nowhere. The crew resisted and the ship was destroyed. Those of us who could escaped in pods. My father and Jaim had been together on the observation deck when all this occurred. We couldn't find them, but thought we saw them escape into one of the pods, however, when everyone finally regrouped later, there was no trace of my father, or my son.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, we believed our son was still alive, and never gave up searching for him. Then, we got a cryptic message from some little place called Muuramba that we had never heard of. It was from my father. We figured out that he and Jaim were alive and on Muuramba. I don't know any details, but it seemed that the pirates had captured their pod and turned its passengers into slaves. We were all set to go to Muuramba; we are not wealthy people Mr. Jedi, but there was nothing we would not do to get our son back, and we thought that perhaps we could work out some kind of deal... oh, I don't know what we thought. All we could really think of was seeing our son again, and my father," Victor shook his head and Qui-Gon felt genuine heartache in him. "Then the news comes. Some mining malfunction blew up not only Muuramba, but the whole blasted asteroid! Once again, we think we have lost our son. Then there turns out to be survivors and our son's name is on the list. We live on Dalin," Victor referred to a planet in a nearby solar system. "As soon as we heard that the survivors were being taken to Coruscant we caught the first ship over and get here only to find, that he's gone again," Victor's voice dropped in despair. Victor was sincere, but Qui-Gon had the odd feeling he was not telling them the truth, or at least, not all of it.
Obi-Wan's brows creased. What a story! No wonder these people were so on edge.
Qui-Gon mulled all this over thoughtfully, searching for answers, but finding none. "You know of no reason anyone would intentionally kidnap your son?" he asked slowly.
"Good heavens no!" Victor shook his head. "Why would anybody want Jaim, except," the man's voice fell dangerously. "Because he was a cute little boy, all by himself in the middle of a lot of confusion. An easy target."
Mrs. McKay started crying again at her husband's rather tactless statement.
Mr. McKay realized too late how callous that sounded. "I'm sorry, honey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it that way. We'll find him, why, we've even got the Jedi on our side," he attempted to comfort. His love for her was genuine, but his attempts at consolation came off a little wooden, perhaps because he himself did not really believe what he was saying.
Qui-Gon considered what Victor had told them. Unfortunately, as awful as it sounded, what he had just said was the most likely scenario. A little boy, all alone in the mass confusion that animated the morning... all the kidnapper had to do was ask him his name, and then take the chance that he had parents somewhere waiting for him. It was an easy lie to tell the child that he had been sent by his parents. That was the same story he told Qui-Gon. If the Jedi had been able to check it... but Qui-Gon did not allow himself to live in the past. What had happened, terrible as it was, had happened. Now all they could do was try to make it right.
The Security Force arrived and questioned the McKays once again, but little or nothing new turned up.
"That's it then? Just go home and wait?" Victor asked unhappily when the Security Force Detective told him that they would no longer require their presence.
"I'm afraid so, though you might want to stay on-planet. We'll call you tomorrow morning. Sooner if anything turns up," the officer said.
The McKays turned away. Shoulders slumped and hearts were heavy. They both seemed drained and stunned.
"We will also keep in touch with you," Qui-Gon said quietly, by way of parting. "In the meantime, try to think of anything, anything at all that you haven't told us that might play into this."
Telliani glanced at her husband. "We will," she promised, her eyes misting over for the millionth time. "Bless you. Bless you Obi-Wan Kenobi, and you - " she stopped realizing that she still didn't know the tall Jedi's name.
"Qui-Gon Jinn," Qui-Gon supplied. As the couple walked away, he realized that they had jumped into this so fast he had never even introduced himself. Had they jumped in too fast?
Qui-Gon ran a hand through his long brown hair with a sigh. He supposed they had. Or at least, *he* had. He had let his heart do the thinking and promised things he had no business promising.
He would have liked to think that the Force led him to do this, and maybe it had, but sometimes he wondered if it was just his own big heart that got him into so much trouble all the time. At least the Council would not be *too* upset over this one. True, he had no business volunteering off the cuff like that, but it was nothing outside the line of duty and they would have agreed had he asked them. They would understand.
Not like that *last* time... Qui-Gon grimaced and decided not to think about that. They had much more pressing matters to deal with now.
Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan's eyes on him. He did not meet his Padawan's gaze immediately. He suddenly wondered if Obi-Wan resented him for the way he was forever getting them into situations that were none of their business.
Master and Padawan were often treated as one body, as one entity in the sight of the Council. Obi-Wan had no choice but to follow his Masters decisions, yet more than once he had had to share Qui-Gon's discipline from the Council for actions that the apprentice had no individual control over. Yet whatever his feelings were on the subject, Obi-Wan had never truly complained or said a word to his Master about it.
Qui-Gon wondered what the boy was thinking now, but did not intrude on his thoughts to find out. Instead, he asked him.
"Do you think I did wrong, to offer the McKays our help Obi-Wan?"
Obi-Wan could tell that Qui-Gon was asking him a genuine question. He was not priming the way for a lesson, as he sometimes did with questions that really weren't questions at all, neither was the older Jedi simply trying to root out his Padawan's feelings on the subject. He was honestly asking for Obi-Wan's opinion.
Obi-Wan considered his answer carefully. "I do not think it is wrong to help the McKays," he said at last.
"But, you think it was wrong to offer it so suddenly," Qui-Gon finished for him.
Obi-Wan was thoughtful. "Master, do you want my answer to that as a Jedi, as your Padawan, or as your friend?" he asked slowly.
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. He had never heard Obi-Wan speak that way before. Surely the three were inseparable, where they not? Or had he unwittingly fostered a duality in his apprentice? "How about all three," Qui-Gon said at last.
"Very well then," Obi-Wan nodded. "As a Jedi, I would say that helping that family, trying to save that child is what being a Jedi is all about and that sometimes quick decisions are necessary. As your Padawan I would say that I trust and respect your judgement Master, and as your friend," Obi-Wan allowed himself to smile gently. "As your friend I would say that you must not blame yourself for the boy's abduction, no matter what his father said."
Qui-Gon actually smiled back, touched by Obi-Wan's words. "Then we'll find Jaim together," he gave his apprentice's arm a little squeeze and turned his attention back to the Security Force officers who were wrapping up their rather fruitless search of the area.
"Excuse me," Qui-Gon approached Detective Lu'yek Tahaiil, the officer in charge.
"Yes, can I help you Master Jinn?" Lu'yek responded briskly, but politely. They had already met earlier, during the questioning when Qui-Gon had had to repeat his whole story all over again for the Security Force officers.
"I hope we may help each other Detective," Qui-Gon replied. "My apprentice and I will be joining in the search for the missing child. I wanted to be sure you knew so that we do not accidentally cross our wires at any point."
Lu'yek nodded. He appreciated the forewarning. "Thanks for letting me know, I'll keep that in mind," he nodded to them. The Detective's face was weathered and rough, but his eyes spoke of dedication. Obi-Wan guessed he had probably been on the force for years, most of his life maybe. Lu'yek had the kind of face that made one think that experience had made him gruff, but he was polite to the Jedi in a blunt sort of way.
"If we find anything, I'll let you know, if I can," he added matter-of-factly. "I'd appreciate it if you'd do the same. Working together would make both our jobs easier."
Qui-Gon nodded, glad that the Detective had offered exactly what he'd been thinking. "Of course Detective," Qui-Gon shook the hand that detective offered him.
"Well then," Lu'yek shook his graying head. "I've worked on a lot of cases in my years. But I've never worked with Jedi before."
Obi-Wan paced back and forth. If they were going to investigate the kidnapping, what were they doing here at the data center?
Qui-Gon was busy poring over files at a terminal, but he had not told Obi-Wan to do anything, nor explained to him why they were here. They had been there for nearly two hours!
Qui-Gon sensed his apprentice's impatience but let it ride for the present. He would tell Obi-Wan what he was up to when and if it panned out. He might have told him up front if the boy had not acted so impatient about it in the first place, now he figured Obi-Wan could learn a little by waiting.
As his search led him deeper and deeper he found Obi-Wan's restlessness increasingly distracting.
"Obi-Wan," he said, without looking up. "If you will insist on driving me crazy with your impatience, then I will find something for you to do," he half-threatened.
"I'm sorry Master," Obi-Wan sat down, trying to calm himself. He wasn't really as impatient as he was acting, he trusted that whatever Qui-Gon was doing was worthwhile.
No, he wasn't really impatient; he was agitated. Why he was agitated he couldn't begin to guess.
He tried to center, but started fidgeting again, bouncing his leg gently without even thinking about it. His body was jumpy, as if it were trying to tell him something he did not understand.
Qui-Gon pressed his fingertips to his temples. Obi-Wan was giving him a headache. He had not felt this much agitation in his Padawan for a long time. "Obi-Wan," the Jedi Master said calmly. "Go down and wait for me in the speeder."
Obi-Wan bit his lip. He must be really getting on Qui-Gon's nerves for his Master to send him away like that. Not that the Padawan blamed him; Obi-Wan was getting on his own nerves. Not knowing why only made it worse.
"Yes, Master. I'm sorry Master," Obi-Wan apologized, rising to obey.
"It's all right, we'll talk about it later," Qui-Gon was not upset with his apprentice, he just couldn't think with Obi-Wan mentally jumping all over the place behind him. One of the few downsides to a close connection like theirs.
Obi-Wan made his way towards the plexi-glass doors of the data center. He was so distracted by his own thoughts that he nearly ran into a man getting up from another terminal.
"Oh, I'm sorry young fellow," the red-bearded man apologized.
"No, no," Obi-Wan shook his head. "It was my fault, I wasn't looking where I was... going," Obi-Wan's voice trailed off momentarily as his eyes caught the stranger's eyes. Something deep inside of the apprentice felt... funny. Once again, he did not know why. He could not recall ever having seen this man before, no reason why he should have a reaction to him.
"Say," the bearded man's eyes sharpened slightly. "Haven't we met? You look awfully familiar."
"I don't think so," Obi-Wan shook his head doubtfully.
Just then Qui-Gon laid a hand on his Padawan's shoulder from behind. Obi-Wan actually jumped.
Qui-Gon looked a little puzzled, but shrugged it off. "Detective Tahaiil called me," he half-explained, half informed the young Jedi, gesturing at his comlink. "Come Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan nodded and followed his Master out of the electronic sliding doors. His mind turned to why the Detective would have contacted them and he did not give the bearded man another thought.
*"Obi-Wan..."* the red-haired man mused silently. Was it possible..? Perhaps.
The man made his way over to the now vacant terminal that Qui-Gon had been working at. The screen was blank now, but he carefully keyed in the code to make the machine re-run the last search preformed on it. As the results scrolled across the screen, a frown spread across the man's face.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan descended down the stairs toward street-level. "Obi-Wan, is something bothering you?" Qui-Gon asked as they passed out of the lower doors.
"Well, yes and no Master. I-I don't know what it is, I just felt so... strange. The feeling is leaving now. I suppose I was just losing my focus a little. I'm sorry Master."
"Just so you're all right," Qui-Gon said, studying the boy intently as they got into their speeder. The agitation was indeed leaving Obi-Wan's body, but that it had been there at all bothered the older Jedi. Something didn't feel quite right, but he could not put his finger on exactly what it was.
"Yes, Master. I'm perfectly fine now. What did the detective want?" Obi-Wan changed the subject.
"He said that they managed to find a man that they think might match Chald Duluth's description in their data banks and they want me to come down and see if it is the same man," Qui-Gon said as he pulled out into traffic.
"That's good news. Did you find what you were looking for in the data center?" Obi-Wan asked as he fastened his safety belt.
"No. Well, at least, not exactly. I did not have a chance to complete my investigation. The Detective's call interrupted me. I don't know," Qui-Gon was thoughtful for a moment. "I could be entirely wrong of course, but it doesn't hurt to check..."
"Check what?" Obi-Wan barely reigned in his eagerness.
Qui-Gon laughed and the apprentice pretended to pout when he realized that his Master was doing this to him on purpose.
"If you had been able to control yourself a little better, you might have been able to help me..." Qui-Gon pricked gently.
Obi-Wan resisted the urge to roll his eyes as they pulled up in front of the large white edifice of the Security Force headquarters for this district.
"Fine, don't tell me," Obi-Wan got out of the speeder, slamming the door a little harder than was necessary. "But every time you start keeping secrets from me, we end up in trouble, don't forget that." The statement ended up sounding much saucier than Obi-Wan had intended it to and he grimaced inwardly. Qui-Gon would definitely not tell him now.
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "Things are revealed in their own time Padawan, and only to the patient," he said pointedly. "I think when this is over some extra patience work is in order."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan mumbled, looking down. He still hated patience exercises.
"Good, then come along." Much to the Padawan's embarrassment, Qui-Gon wrapped Obi-Wan's apprentice braid around his index finger and half led, half pulled Obi-Wan up the stairs behind him, holding his hair like one might hold the ear of a wayward child.
Obi-Wan's face was very red by the time they reached Detective Tahaiil's office and Qui-Gon finally let him go. Honestly, sometimes Qui-Gon treated him as if he were still thirteen instead of almost twenty. Of course, Obi-Wan grimaced, sometimes he acted that way.
Qui-Gon rapped his knuckles on the doorframe and Lu'yek called for them to come in. The two Jedi were quickly all business again, everything petty or personal put aside, almost entirely forgotten.
"No," Qui-Gon shook his head. "I'm sorry, it was none of these men."
Lu'yek swore softly under his breath. "You're sure?" He seemed to think about his question for a moment. "Nah, forget it," he excused Qui-Gon from answering. "I guess if you tell me you're sure, you're sure. This puts us right back to square one," he sighed.
"Detective Tahaiil?" a head poked in the doorway. "Call for you."
"Okay," Lu'yek nodded, picking up the com-unit on his desk. "Tahaiil here," he answered, cradling the unit on his shoulder to hold it by his ear as he continued to ruffle through flimsies on his desk with his free hands. A moment later his body stiffened and he sat up straight, the flimsies forgotten. He immediately started punching buttons on the side of the com-unit's resting base. "Wait, what do you mean?! Who-"
The audible click of the other communicator signing off terminated the conversation.
"Trouble?" Qui-Gon inquired.
"Yeah, maybe, or maybe a clue." Lu'yek cleared his line and called the lab. "I want the call that just came in to my line traced immediately. What do you *mean* you can't? It was? Oh, I see. Nah, thanks Jul." Lu'yek sucked his lips thoughtfully. *Doonada. Doonada. Who in the... ohh, him.*
"Can you Jedi excuse me a moment? I'll be right back," Lu'yek excused himself quickly.
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan exchanged glances. What did all this mean? They would have to wait and find out.
Fortunately, they did not have to wait long. After only about ten minutes Lu'yek reappeared, a large file folder tucked under one arm.
"Sorry to run out on you like that," he said distractedly, as if it were a formality. "Had to check something out."
"Who was on the phone?" Qui-Gon asked patiently.
"Not sure exactly," Lu'yek hedged slightly. "Can't trace it. All the voice on the other end said was: *"Jaim McKay won't be going home. He can never go home. Doonada is back."* Then they hung up."
Both Jedi were suddenly very attentive. A funny shiver ran up Obi-Wan's spine for the hundredth time. Why did it strike him that way when people said things like that? It was not the first time that had happened in the past few days.
"I assume it was this Doonada you went to check on," Qui-Gon urged calmly. "Since the caller said he was back, it can be assumed that he is someone they thought you should recognize, someone who must have been gone for a time."
"You nailed it," Lu'yek agreed, settling back once more in his chair.
"Who is he and what is he returning from?" Obi-Wan asked, but he felt as if his own questions held some deeper meaning that he could not quite comprehend.
"From the dead Mr. Kenobi," Lu'yek shook his head. "That's what he'd have to be returning from. The dead. You see," the detective took a deep breath. "Basically, to make a long, disgusting story short, the guy was a pedophile," Lu'yek said, dragging out the large folder he had brought in with him. "Disappeared about thirteen years ago, story was that he died in a speeder crash."
"But you're telling us that he did not die," Qui-Gon tried to piece together what the officer was telling them.
"All I'm telling you is that the guy on the other end of that call claims he's not. *"Doonada's back,"* that's what he said. Hell, after thirteen years it took me a few moments to even remember who in the blazes Doonada was." The officer was brusque, but it was his nature, and Qui-Gon sensed that he had a good heart underneath the calluses. Eighteen years on the Coruscant level-three Security Force was enough to put calluses on anybody, and from the service awards on the wall behind the detective's desk, that was exactly what the Detective had served.
Lu'yek opened the folder and a stack of pictures spilled out onto his desk. The front of the folder was neatly labeled "Alwyn Doonada" and a stamp across the upper right corner read: "Closed."
Ruffling around in the folder Lu'yek pulled out a yellowing stack of flimsy hard copy and handed it to Qui-Gon. "Here's the Security Force report of the accident," he pulled out a second stack, "And here's the report of what they found when they searched his place afterwards. We'd had our eye on him for a while you see, but never had enough evidence to do anything until his death opened the way for us to go through his things. That's when we found out just what kind of monster our friend Doonada was. We've got all this in the data files too of course, but dang it would take a long time to find it. We've just had our system overhauled and everything's a mess," he commented as Qui-Gon paged quickly through the reports.
Obi-Wan picked up a few of the pictures that had fallen out of the folder. "What are these?" he asked, flipping through several pictures that showed the slightly cluttered interior of a small apartment. For some reason they seemed vaguely familiar to him. No, *they* didn't, the apartment did, though he could not figure out why.
Lu'yek leaned over to see what pictures the apprentice was referring to. "Those are some of the pictures the squad took of his place before they searched it, protocol you know."
"It says here that this accident report was filed the day *after* the accident occurred," Qui-Gon noted, pointing to the line in question. "Why is that? Why wasn't it filed the same day?"
"Well, that's just our problem you see," Lu'yek pushed his big hands into his pockets. "The crash took place in a deserted part of Level Three. The Security Officers weren't even alerted of it until twenty minutes after it is estimated that it happened. By the time they got to the scene scavengers had picked the area pretty clean. It's not at all nice on the Third Level Master Jinn," Lu'yek informed soberly. "Some parts are down right unlivable, and there are vultures who'll take anything for a credit, machine parts, shoelaces, body parts, you name it. We've seen it before, so it was not really a big deal that a good part of the vehicle and the body was missing. It's disgusting, but it's just the way it is." Lu'yek shrugged. "There was a search of course, you'll find the details on page four, but we never did recover the body. However, the amount of damage, and blood, left no doubt that the driver could never have survived the crash."
"Or at least, that's what was thought," Qui-Gon pointed out neutrally, continuing his scan of the flimsies in his hands.
"Hey, there's been no trace of the guy for over ten years, thirteen to be exact, and there's no real proof to suggest otherwise. All we have is a child abduction and a crank call. Do you know how many child abductions and crank callers we deal with, per day?" Lu'yek's tone became a little defensive.
"Of course," Qui-Gon nodded briefly, his attention still on the flimsy. He had no wish to alienate the officer; they may yet need his cooperation and his help.
Obi-Wan laid down the pictures he had first picked up and scooped up a handful of others off the desk, still trying to puzzle out the vague familiarity that he felt. He had expected the pictures to be more of the apartment, but he was only half right. They were taken in the apartment, but it was a safe guess to say that they were not taken by Security. Obi-Wan's stomach tightened unexplainably.
"Sickening isn't it?"
Obi-Wan almost jumped a little, he had not realized that Lu'yek had moved around to stand behind him, looking over his shoulder.
"Those poor little kids," the officer shook his head. "I almost wished that scum bag Doonada had lived, just so we could bring him to justice, make him pay for all those little boys. Those are pictures he took of his victims, we found them in his apartment," Lu'yek explained when Qui-Gon glanced over to see what Obi-Wan was looking at. It was sickening indeed, but it seemed to be having a far more profound effect on Obi-Wan than it was on the other two men. Obi-Wan's hands began to tremble and the color drained slowly out of his face.
Lu'yek cursed softly and shook his head. "Those poor kids. Dozens of pictures here," he gestured, "And we only know who about three or four of them were. The rest are just nameless faces whose families must have given up on them long ago."
Obi-Wan was barely listening. A cold dread had filled his heart and he shuffled quickly through the pile of pictures with shaky hands, as if he were searching for something.
"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon had not failed to notice the change in his Padawan.
"They all had families too, or at least, we think so." Lu'yek rambled on, lost in his memories and oblivious to Obi-Wan's unusual agitation. "Doonada wasn't one of those perverts who would just snag any kid off a street corner. The type who'll take a street-kid no one would miss. No, he always went for the hard cases. Makes 'em that much harder to track down. We think they may have come from all over the planet, maybe even from off planet some of 'em."
Obi-Wan sifted through the heartbreaking stack of photos, all of them of naked little boys, most of them tied to the bed, and some of them obviously abused. Near the bottom he found what he was looking for, and what he had been praying he would not find. Grabbing the edge of the desk for support Obi-Wan let the other pictures slip from his fingers, scattering across the desk and spilling onto the floor. *"Oh Force,"* he moaned, his face deathly pale.
"Obi-Wan!" Qui-Gon said in alarm, reaching out to steady his Padawan lest he fall. "What's wrong?"
Obi-Wan did not hear him. For a moment he could hear nothing but one voice ringing in his ears, feel nothing but those hands reaching for him... forgotten for so long, the painful memories rushed in on him like flood waters, unwanted, but unstoppable. His stomach churned and his skin felt cold.
"This one," Obi-Wan thrust the photo abruptly towards Lu'yek. "Do you know who this one is?"
Lu'yek shrugged, wishing he could help. "Sorry, like I said, we've got no clue who most all these kids are. Why? What is it?"
Obi-Wan did not answer at once, but let the photo fall, burying his face in his hands.
Qui-Gon picked the picture up off the desk where it had fallen. One glance suddenly made clear to him the reason for Obi-Wan's reaction.
The small boy in the picture could not have been more than six years old, although one might have guessed older at first glance because his body was strong and highly toned for one so young and his haunted eyes held a maturity and clearness beyond their years. His light cinnamon hair was very short, crew cut style, and the clearness of his face gave him a painfully innocent appearance.
Qui-Gon remembered that little boy very well. Remembered finding him alone in a world of inner pain, thinking he could never return to the Temple after the things that had been done to him and he had been forced to do. He had never known the child's name. Urgent business with his then Padawan Xanatos had pulled him away abruptly. All the healers would tell him later was that the boy was all right, but remembered nothing and it was best for him to let it stay that way. Now, looking at Obi-Wan, he realized he could see the same little boy in his Padawan's features.
"It's me," Obi-Wan whispered hoarsely in answer to Lu'yek's earlier question. "I - I had forgotten. It was just a blank spot, blank and tinged with darkness. I thought I was ill, I remember being ill, thought I had terrible dreams I could not remember... but they were true. Oh God, they were all true!" Obi-Wan moaned softly. The sudden pain of it all was almost too much to bear.
"Obi-Wan..." Qui-Gon took the teenager gently by the shoulders.
Obi-Wan did not meet his Master's eyes, he could not. Turmoil heaved and raged inside him as things long forgotten rushed to the surface of his mind, demanding his attention, demanding that he remember...
Ashamed by the memories and by his reaction to them now, Obi-Wan tore himself out of Qui-Gon's grip and dashed out of the room, heading for the exit.
Qui-Gon ran after his apprentice, calling his name and leaving a bewildered Lu'yek staring after them.
Obi-Wan heard, but did not stop. He was not thinking, but reacting blindly, his flight fueled by his desire to escape the things he was remembering. He ran and ran until his legs gave out and he sank to the ground, sobbing.
Qui-Gon arrived a moment later, breathing heavily. He realized he was no longer as young as he used to be. Sitting down he gathered Obi-Wan up into his arms just as he had when the apprentice was that little boy. Only this time, Obi-Wan did not resist him, even unconsciously. For a moment Qui-Gon just stroked Obi-Wan's short hair, saying nothing. What were the chances that of all people that boy from so long ago should turn out to be his Padawan? Perhaps it helped explain, at least in part, the strange way they were already so connected years later when they found themselves thrown together by fate and the Force. Although not remembered by either of them until now, the incident had formed a tentative bond between them, one that had merely waited for the chance to spring back to life.
Obi-Wan was still crying. He felt stupid and childish, but could not seem to help himself. "I remember now," he said softly, as if that was not something he wanted. "I remember. N-not everything, but too much. I don't know how I forgot, I know I was sick afterwards, I guess my mind just blocked it all out as if it never happened."
"You weren't ready to deal with it yet," Qui-Gon put in gently. "Now, you are. You feel guilty Obi-Wan, but you shouldn't. Look back now, with adult eyes. Is there anything that six-year-old little boy could have done to change what happened? Was it his fault what was done to him? Was it the fault of any of those little boys you saw in the pictures? Let go, Obi-Wan. Listen to the advice you gave me only yesterday, it wasn't your fault."
Obi-Wan seemed to calm a bit as he processed Qui-Gon's words. "Did you know, all along...?"
"No," Qui-Gon shook his head. "I never knew who you were. I was called away suddenly and when I returned, the healers told me it was best for everyone if the whole thing was forgotten, since you no longer remembered it. They said I must not search that child out.
It was right after that that I went on that last, fateful mission with Xanatos to his home planet. After his betrayal I retreated from everyone. I was seldom on Coruscant because it held too many memories. When I did see you again you were so changed I no longer recognized you as the same child," Qui-Gon explained. "I didn't know until you did just now."
Obi-Wan sniffed and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "All I remembered was being sick, and what I thought were terrible nightmares," he confessed slowly. "In the midst of all that darkness, the only thing I could truly recall was... a pair of hands. Strong, gentle hands filled with warmth that held me close and said everything would be all right. After I recovered I went around to all the Healers, looking at their hands. They must have thought I was crazy," he half-chuckled despite himself. "But I was looking for the hands that I remembered, I thought it must be one of the Healers who saw me through, but I never found a match, so then I thought that must have been part of the dream too..." Obi-Wan took one of Qui-Gon's large, strong hands in his. "But it was all real, and those hands, were your hands."
Qui-Gon enclosed his apprentice's hands in his, holding the young man's eyes. Obi-Wan's eyes were red-rimmed and filled with pain. Deep, soul-wrenching pain. It made Qui-Gon's heart ache fearfully. He remembered those eyes so well, how could he have never seen it before? Perhaps because they had never held this pain before.
Obi-Wan had not remembered, so he had never dealt with the experiences that Doonada and others had put him though. In a way, a small part of him had never grown up, or gotten past the hurt because it had been buried. Now, as he remembered, it was as if part of him was once again a little boy who had been very hurt and very scared. The Padawan's mind and body were those of a nineteen-year-old, but a part of his heart that he did not know existed was still a child.
Qui-Gon could see that conflict in his apprentice's eyes. The face was different, older, but it was a six-year-olds eyes that stared out at the Jedi Master. He reached out through their bond, to comfort the young man, but Obi-Wan withdrew sharply, unexpectedly blocking Qui-Gon out of his mind.
Qui-Gon was startled, but did not press Obi-Wan's barrier. It did not last long anyway. The shield had been thrown up by the part of the Padawan that did not want his Master to see what he remembered, to know the shameful secrets, but it took only an instant before Obi-Wan's rational mind took over and he pulled the barrier down. He could hide nothing from his Master, besides, Qui-Gon already knew. He had seen it all years ago...
Obi-Wan's face burned with shame. How could he have been such a stupid little boy? To let people use him that way? Not just Doonada, if only it did stop with him... but no, Obi-Wan's shame went beyond what that creep had done to him and made him do. After Doonada disappeared... how could he have done what he did? How could he have possibly been so dumb as to listen to what the brothel owner told him? Looking back, and understanding everything fully now should have helped, but instead it only made Obi-Wan even more ashamed as he realized the implications of what he had been maneuvered and trapped into doing.
"I'm sorry Master," Obi-Wan apologized for shutting Qui-Gon out as well as for his behavior towards this whole situation all at once.
Qui-Gon looked at the young man who sat staring at the ground, tortured by a shame so deep he could not even meet the eyes of the man who had come to be as a father to him. *"Oh, Obi-Wan,"* Qui-Gon though painfully. *"What do I say to you? What can I say that will mean anything?"*
Obi-Wan looked up when he felt Qui-Gon's cool hand on his hot cheek.
"I won't say everything is all right, because I know it's not," Qui-Gon said softly. "But it will be with time. You did not face this after it happened because your mind shut it all out. You must face it now Padawan, and overcome it. You are strong Obi-Wan, you are a Jedi; I know you will overcome this. I wish, for your sake, that you never had to remember these terrible things, that this could have remained forever forgotten..." Qui-Gon kept his hand on the side of Obi-Wan's face, he had a feeling it was the only way to keep his Padawan from looking away again. "But it has not, so perhaps it is for the best. It was a terrible, cruel thing that happened to you and it caused you much pain. But dealing with pain can make us stronger. You have passed through fire Obi-Wan, let it strengthen, but not bend you." Qui-Gon did not try to make everything instantly better, did not urge Obi-Wan to just leave it all in the past, the Jedi Master was wiser than that. He knew that neither was possible. Healing from something like this was a process, one that took time.
Time was something they didn't have much of at this point, and Qui-Gon felt inwardly torn. He had made a promise, but his commitment to Obi-Wan came first...
Obi-Wan straightened up a little, wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his brown robe. He knew his Master was right. The new memories still hurt like an open wound, but he must not *live* in them. "You are right Master," he agreed. "I *am* a Jedi, and I will behave like one. I must go back and apologize to Detective Tahaiil for my sudden exit. We have a job to do."
Qui-Gon admired Obi-Wan's spirit, but he could tell the boy was still inwardly fragile and was not sure it was a good idea. "Considering the way this investigation looks like it could go," Qui-Gon tried to say this considerately. "It might be best if you distance yourself a little from it. Spend some time at the Temple, I can-"
"No," Obi-Wan refused quietly. "I appreciate your concern, but didn't you just say I needed to face this past? I won't do that by running away from it. If Doonada is alive, he must be stopped, and regardless of if he is or isn't, Jaim must be found. If I can help it, he is one little boy who will *not* suffer through what I did." Determination welled up behind the apprentice's blue-green eyes, nearly, but not quite, replacing the pain that had been in them. "Besides, maybe something I remember could help," the Padawan shrugged, struggling hard to find something good out of all this.
Qui-Gon nodded slowly. Perhaps there was wisdom in this. Obi-Wan seemed to be able to manage much better now, with a purpose, a goal, but Qui-Gon knew his Padawan would bear careful watching. He trusted and believed in Obi-Wan implicitly, but a shock like Obi-Wan had been through proposed a future full of unknowns until the young Jedi was completely healed.
"Very well then, let's go back," Qui-Gon agreed.
Obi-Wan Kenobi tossed fitfully in a restless sleep.
***Doonada kneeled over him. Obi-Wan's little wrists bled from struggling with the ropes that bound him to the bed frame. The little Jedi Initiate screamed even though he knew no one could hear him... he couldn't help it, he hurt so much...
Doonada was angry with him, he had tried to run away and Doonada caught him. The dark haired man above him grinned, showing his teeth in a mix of sadistic pleasure and anger as he ran the electro-jabber slowly over the boy's small body. Obi-Wan writhed helplessly underneath him...***
//"Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan!"// a voice broke into his dream and the Padawan woke with a start to find Qui-Gon shaking him by the shoulders in concern.
Obi-Wan breathed deeply, but only part of the terror of the dream left him.
Qui-Gon looked down into Obi-Wan's face in concern.
"I'm all right, it was just a dream," Obi-Wan dismissed it a little too quickly. "I'm sorry Master, go back to sleep."
"Are you sure you're-"
"I'm fine, please Master, go back to sleep," Obi-Wan cut him off.
Qui-Gon did not argue, but went back to his sleep-couch. He knew Obi-Wan was *not* fine, but got the distinct feeling that prying into it further would not be a good idea right now. Through the connection they shared, Qui-Gon had seen bits and pieces of Obi-Wan's dream before his apprentice's cries had awoken him. What he had seen was enough to give *him* nightmares if he was not careful. He wanted to help Obi-Wan, but there was only so much he could do for him.
As they both settled back down, Qui-Gon reached out and wrapped a quiet, restful net around Obi-Wan through the Force. *"Rest Padawan, rest, and dream no more tonight..."*
When Qui-Gon next awoke, he found that it was dark yet. Morning was still over an hour away. Glancing around to see what had awakened him, he found that Obi-Wan's sleep-couch, on the other side of the room, was empty. Before he could become alarmed, the Force drew his gaze over to the window.
The cover panel was slid up and Obi-Wan was standing by the transparent plexi-glass, dressed in his light grey nightclothes and staring out at the twinkling lights of the sleepless city-planet.
Obi-Wan was so absorbed in his own pain and memories he did not even notice that his Master had awoken.
Coruscant's lights shimmered like small points of humanity in a dark sea of emptiness, reflecting on the greeny-blue windowpane before the young Jedi, but Obi-Wan hardly saw any of it. He stared into space with eyes that were only seeing backward in time. Leaning against the window frame, Obi-Wan ran his hand over his face, trying to push away the dark memories, but they refused to go.
In the darkened glass before him Obi-Wan saw the reflection of a child's face, staring out at him with haunting eyes. A soft haze of out-growing ginger hair framed the little boy's face and a painful innocence was reflected in his pleading eyes.
***"Good thing we rescued you from those Jedi Obi-Wan, you almost missed your true calling in life; you're the best little whore in the place..."*** an amused voice that the young Jedi had no face to match with mocked him from his memory, running through his head again and again.
Folding his arms, Obi-Wan looked away from the window, his face tight. But the haunting specter of the child did not leave him.
*"How could I be so stupid?"* Obi-Wan berated himself bitterly. *"I could have gone back to the Temple after Doonada died. Why did I believe what that man told me? I grew up with the Jedi, how could I believe that they wouldn't take me back, I should have known better! Why didn't I even try?!"* It had been so easy once he chose to leave, why hadn't he done it sooner? Why hadn't he done it in the first place?
Obi-Wan tried to remember the conversation with O'Halleran when he chose to stay, but the details were fuzzy, the whole thing was hazy to him and he couldn't even put a finger on what the man looked like anymore. All he remembered was being told he could never go home, and, foolishly, believing it.
Obi-Wan almost hated himself for what he saw as his childish stupidity. The rape and molestation he had suffered at Doonada's hands, although horrifically painful to remember, he could almost get over, but what happened afterward, he could not. He could not because he had chosen it and Obi-Wan could not forgive himself for that. He had given himself away and that left him feeling worthless, like used goods.
Qui-Gon's heart ached. Even through the heavy shielding that Obi-Wan had up around himself, Qui-Gon could feel the confusion, pain and self-recrimination that swirled around his Padawan like a dark fog. He ached to help Obi-Wan, ached to alleviate some of that pain and guilt, but there was nothing he could do, nothing he could say to Obi-Wan that he had not already said.
He could help, he could guide, but in the end, Obi-Wan had to struggle through the bulk of this trauma on his own. Qui-Gon could not force the Padawan's heart to heal, and no amount of talking and logic could convince Obi-Wan that he had nothing to feel guilty about until he was ready to hear it, until he could see it for himself.
This was the most frustrating thing Qui-Gon had ever had to face. He hated seeing Obi-Wan hurting so badly and knowing there was no way he could fix that pain, or make it go away.
Qui-Gon did not stir, or directly touch his apprentice, but he filled the room with as much quiet and calm comfort as he could.
Obi-Wan continued to stare into space. He remembered, but not all of what he remembered was perfectly clear. Events were disjointed and details unclear, but certain scenes and situations seemed to be burned into his mind in exact, excruciating detail. He could not remember how he got from the skating rink to Doonada's apartment. That is, he remembered the fight with Bruck and being sent back to the Temple, but after that the next clear memory he had was waking up tied down to Doonada's bed.
Obi-Wan shuddered. All of his memories of those next six hellish days that he had spent as Doonada's prisoner were only too clear. Every feeling and emotion were waiting there to be felt again if he let himself. Then there was the night, that last night when Doonada had abused him so badly for trying to run away... Other than his dream earlier, he remembered nothing of that night except pain.
The next day was also disturbingly hazy. Only vaguely could he recall that the brothel owner had come up to talk to him... then everything blended together into a terrible parade of events, the sequence of which he was unsure of.
Although he had virtually no time-based recollections of the next three weeks, there was plenty else he could remember about then. So many people...
Obi-Wan shuddered, pressing his eyes shut against the sights, sounds and feelings that came to him from the silence of a past he wished could have been left unremembered.
He had left the brothel eventually, but remembered nothing about the journey until Qui-Gon found him in the streets by the Temple, his little heart breaking.
Obi-Wan shook himself from his reverie. He did not want to remember any of it, but since he could not help that, he found himself morosely consumed with knowing the things he did not remember. How had he gotten from the rink to Doonada's clutches? What had passed between himself and the brothel owner? He knew the man had had him, but which of the many men who clouded his hazy memories was he?
Obi-Wan bit his lip. What did it matter? Good-grief, why should he want to know?
Leaning his forehead against the cool plexi-glass windowpane Obi-Wan tried to center himself, but his thoughts and emotions were swirling too fast. Each time he had himself almost calm some picture would rise in his mind or he would feel again the touch of someone's hand on his body and it would send his emotions reeling once more.
He stayed there at the window for hours until grey dawn broke over Coruscant. He did not know when Qui-Gon awoke, but was not surprised when he felt his Master's hand rest gently upon his shoulder.
"Master," he murmured, turning to look up at the big Jedi.
"Good morning Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said with a smile that was not returned. The little boy was still in his apprentice's eyes and Qui-Gon realized with a pang that it would stay that way until Obi-Wan could put the past behind him.
Qui-Gon wondered if Obi-Wan had gone through what Qui-Gon was going through now over the hurt that Qui-Gon had carried because of Xanatos. It was so hard to see someone hurting and be unable to make them stop. It made you wish you could nullify the past, zap it out of existence. Sadly, that was not possible.
"I'm going to the data center again today Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said as they dressed.
Obi-Wan did not even inquire about the object of his Master's search, but nodded silently.
Qui-Gon frowned. "I am researching the incident that Mr. McKay described to us involving the hijacking of the cruise ship from which their son was taken," he elucidated. "I don't know if I will find anything useful by doing that or not, but I have a feeling that there is simply more going on here than meets the eye."
Again, a silent nod was his only response.
*"By the Force, Obi-Wan! Say something to me!"* Qui-Gon thought in sad exasperation. "You don't need to come along," the big Master offered gently, pulling on his large brown robe. "Perhaps you should spend a little time here in the Temple..."
"To regain my center," Obi-Wan finished what Qui-Gon seemed hesitant to say. "Yes, Master," he nodded.
Qui-Gon was surprised. He had not expected Obi-Wan to want to stay behind. Perhaps it was wisdom however. He gave the Padawan's shoulders a squeeze.
"I'll be back in a few hours and tell you what I find. If you need to contact me, just call," he patted his comlink. "I think it might be good if you spoke to Master Yoda," Qui-Gon added gently. He knew that Yoda and Obi-Wan were close, and hoped that the ancient Jedi Master might have the wisdom to somehow reach the Padawan since it seemed that he could not.
Obi-Wan drew back, his eyes clouding. "I-I'm not ready for that yet," he stammered, almost pleadingly.
"Then don't," Qui-Gon quickly shook his head, catching Obi-Wan's gaze. "It was a suggestion Padawan, not an order."
Obi-Wan blushed and looked away. He couldn't talk to Yoda about this yet, what would he say? Did the tiny old Master know? He probably did. He probably knew more about it than Obi-Wan did, and Obi-Wan was not comfortable with that. He suddenly found himself wondering just how many people knew what he had been and if he was the last one to know.
The apprentice choked back a silent sob.
After Qui-Gon left, Obi-Wan meditated for almost an hour, or tried to anyway. It did not do a very good job of calming his swirling emotions however, so eventually he gave it up. Rising to his feet, Obi-Wan pulled on his large brown over-robe and headed for the door.
He did not want to speak to Master Yoda yet, but there was someone else in the Temple he wanted to speak with. Obi-Wan had kept in touch with his childhood friends over the years. Especially Reeft, Bant and Garen Muln. The last was now the Padawan to Master Jharil Mwep, a renowned pilot.
Obi-Wan had seen Garen just a few days ago and knew that they staying at the Temple for a bit while Master Jharil recovered from a broken collarbone that he had gotten on their last mission. He made his way to their rooms now.
Upon knocking, he was admitted by a tall, greenish-skinned Iiotian with a medical-looking device over one shoulder.
"Master Mwep," Obi-Wan bowed respectfully. "I hope you are recovering well."
"Thank you Padawan Kenobi, I am indeed," the Master replied with a pleasant smile. "Indeed, I anticipate being out of this contraption quite soon," Jharil continued, gesturing to the device on his shoulder. "I assume you've come to see Garen," he surmised.
"I'm afraid Padawan Muln is... unavailable at the moment," Master Jharil said with a slight grin that made Obi-Wan suspect that his friend had gotten himself in some kind of trouble with his Master. "Perhaps later..."
Obi-Wan's face fell. He needed to talk to Garen *now*. "I won't be here later," Obi-Wan said softly. "Please Master Mwep," he hesitated uncertainly. "Please, I *need* to talk to Garen, it-it's important."
Jharil Mwep considered the Padawan before him. There was a shadow over the usually bright boy and something in his eyes told the Master that it was no passing fancy that made Kenobi so intent on seeing his Padawan. "This is no social call, is it?" the Iiotian said quietly.
"No, sir," Obi-Wan shook his head. "I-I have to talk to him about something that happened when we were children together. Something I can't remember." Obi-Wan did not wish to say more.
Slowly, Jharil nodded. "All right Obi-Wan," the Master dropped the young Jedi's title. "He's in the next room," the Iiotian Jedi motioned to a closed door which separated the two different chambers of the room.
Padawan Garen Muln looked up as the door opened. "Obi!" he said in pleased surprise, getting up from his knees. The young Jedi looked VERY glad to be interrupted.
"Hi, Garen," Obi-Wan greeted, but his smile was thin and his eyes shadowed.
Garen cocked his head, his dark padawan braid sliding off his shoulder. "You don't look so good Obi-Wan, are you feeling well?"
"I'm fine," Obi-Wan brushed his friend's concern off. "What are you up to?"
Garen Muln grimaced. "Patience exercises," he said in a tone that told Obi-Wan his friend's opinion of those particular exercises had changed little since they were children together.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Still?"
Garen Muln scowled lightly at his friend. "Oh? And I suppose Master Jinn never makes *you* do them?"
Obi-Wan shrugged. "Only... a lot," he replied, a real smile tugging at his lips for a moment. But the haunted expression still lingered in his eyes. Garen Muln was beginning to worry about his friend.
"But you didn't come here to talk about that, did you?" Garen asked, his dark eyes searching Obi-Wan's light turquoise ones. To his surprise, Obi-Wan dropped his eyes, avoiding Garen's piercing gaze. That wasn't like the Obi-Wan he used to know. They hadn't really had a chance to spend any appreciable amount of time together in a while, but his friend couldn't have changed *that* much. "It's got to be something important, otherwise Master Jharil would never let me be interrupted while I'm doing patience work. Especially when I'm doing it as a, uh... discipline."
"It is," Obi-Wan hesitated. "Garen, I need to talk to you."
"Uh oh," Garen grinned, trying to add a little levity into what was quickly becoming a very heavy feeling situation. "You say that just like our Masters do when we're about to get in trouble. Sith, Obi, I'm already in trouble. What've I done now?"
"You haven't done anything," Obi-Wan shook his head.
"Okay, what've you done?" Garen Muln was trying to get his friend to smile, but his attempts were falling disappointingly flat.
"It's nothing like that." Obi-Wan shook his head again. "Garen, I wanted to ask if you, well, what I mean is I need you to..." Obi-Wan ran a hand through his short hair. This was harder than he had thought it was going to be. How did he even begin to ask what he needed to? "I need you to remember something. Something that's a little foggy for me."
"Okay, shoot," Garen settled down on the edge of his sleep couch, patting the spot next to him, meaning that Obi-Wan should do the same.
Obi-Wan did. "Garen, do you remember a skating trip we took when we were young?"
Garen Muln scratched his ear thoughtfully. "A specific one, or just all of them? Goodness knows how much we loved to skate..."
Obi-Wan sensed that there was more behind Garen's casual front than met the eye. He suddenly had the odd feeling that his friend knew exactly which skating trip he was referring to. "This one took place when we were about six. It was one of the times we went to an outside rink, the first time actually. Bruck tripped us, remember? And the three of us got sent back to the Temple for fighting."
"Oh, yeah," the other Padawan tried to smile, but this time it was he who came off a little thin. "We really hated that. It was such a-"
"Garen," Obi-Wan's voice demanded honesty.
"Okay Obi-Wan, what do you want to know?" Garen Muln became serious at last. Inwardly the Padawan decided he'd rather be doing patience exercises again.
"I remember leaving the rink. But I can't quite get straight what happened afterward, between the rink and, and waking up in that nightmare." Obi-Wan did not preface what he meant, but Garen did not need him to. He had long ago put the pieces of that broken time together for himself, once he was old enough to figure it out.
Garen Muln sighed. He still hated to relive it, though he bet that it was a hundred times more painful for his friend. "There was a man, at least, I assume it was a man, I never saw him. He came up behind us after the Knight that was taking us home left to help the people from that crash, do you remember the crash Obi-Wan?"
Obi-Wan nodded slowly. Yes, as Garen spoke it came back to him, cloudy and vague, like a dream, but the images were still stored in his brain. He realized now that he had seen them in dreams, but never known them for what they were.
"He put a blaster to my head and made us follow him," Garen continued softly. He had spent a long time trying to forget this, but it came back to him now as clear as if it had happened yesterday. "He took us away and made us all lay down on the ground. The next thing I remember was waking up in the Temple. I had a headache and everyone seemed worried about something.
Bruck was already awake, I guess he woke up before we got back to the Temple. He was terrified Obi, he wouldn't leave his bed and he cried if they left us alone. He said that a bad man took you away and he would come back and take us away too.
At first I though he was just trying to scare me, but now I realize he really believed it. You were gone for a long time Obi. You know how a kid's memory is, I don't know how long, but it was a while. I remember especially because the Masters had to turn up the hydration in Bant's room because she wouldn't let anyone else give her her mist treatment but you." Garen smiled wistfully, but his voice remained soft.
"When they found you, Master Yoda took Bruck and I aside himself. He said that you had been lost and very sick. He said that we shouldn't try to talk to you about what happened because it might upset you and make you ill again. Those weren't hard instructions to follow; neither of us wanted to think about what happened.
I'm not sure Bruck ever got over it. He blamed himself you know. Despite what he said, he knew he was the one who got us kicked out and none of that would have happened if we hadn't been. I sometimes think he was as hostile to you as he was afterward because he felt guilty, I don't know..." Garen's voice dropped, hesitant to speak ill of the dead. "Obi-Wan? Obi-Wan are you all right?"
Obi-Wan had closed his eyes and his head now rested on his hands. Obi-Wan shook his head. So Garen Muln had known, Bruck had known, Yoda had known, everyone had known, everyone but him. Was that why no one had wanted him? Why he had never been chosen as a padawan? Because they all knew what he had been?
"I didn't remember," he whispered softly. "I guess I was the only one," the Padawan couldn't keep the twinge of bitterness out of his voice.
"It's not like that Obi-Wan," Garen protested gently, shaking his head. "Most of the other kids really thought you had just been sick. Only the Council, Bruck and I really knew. And as kids, we didn't understand..." Garen's voice trailed off as he realized that as well intentioned as his words were, they probably were not very helpful to Obi-Wan at this point.
"I didn't keep quiet to hurt you Obi," Garen said softly. "I thought it was best, they told us it was best..."
"Don't," Obi-Wan shook his head, "Don't feel bad Garen. I'm not upset with you for not telling me. I wish I never had to remember it," Obi-Wan's voice cracked slightly and he realized he had better leave *now*.
"I-I have to go Garen. I'm sorry. I-I just..." Obi-Wan didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry," he said again and hurried out the door.
"Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan!" Garen called after his friend, hurrying out of the room after him, but Obi-Wan was gone, leaving only a puzzled Jharil Mwep staring after him as the door slid shut.
"Garen, what happened?" the Master stopped his Padawan with a hand on his arm. "Did you and Padawan Kenobi quarrel?"
"No, Master," Garen shook his head sadly. "I wish it were that," he said softly. "I wish it were."
"Obi-Wan?" Yoda's voice.
For a moment Obi-Wan did not open his eyes or respond, but remained frozen in place, kneeling on the ground in a forgotten corner of the Temple gardens. For a few instants, the foolish thought crossed his mind that if he ignored Yoda, the diminutive Jedi Master would go away. He still did not feel ready to talk to the ancient Master.
Obi-Wan respected Yoda more than anyone else alive, with the possible exception of Qui-Gon. He knew he was not dealing with this well, but his hurting heart did not want the venerable Jedi Master to point this out to him. Did not want to be told how he a Jedi should not be captive to the past. Did not want to hear that what happened to him didn't matter, because it did. It mattered a lot.
"Hmm, hm," Yoda coughed patiently. "Meditating you are not, so acknowledge me you may as well."
Obi-Wan sighed, knowing it did no good to put off the inevitable and opened his eyes.
"Concerned for you, Padawan Garen Muln is. Told me of the questions you asked him, he did," Yoda informed, seating himself on a rock across from Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan felt momentarily upset with his friend for going to Yoda with what had passed between them privately.
"For your own good he was concerned," Yoda warded the consternation off. "Right he was, to be worried. Hard this time is for you now Obi-Wan, and dangerous."
Obi-Wan looked at the ground.
"Down there I am not," Yoda said softly and Obi-Wan's head jerked back up, his cheeks flushing.
"I'm sorry Master Yoda," Obi-Wan apologized.
"Sorry, you need not be," Yoda assured. There was a long silence between them before Yoda spoke again. "Spoke to Garen you did, to better remember? Make you feel better it does, to know more?"
Obi-Wan flinched, uncertain whether that was a rebuke or not.
"A question it was," Yoda said, as if reading his thoughts. "An answer it wants."
"I-I don't know Master. It doesn't really make me feel better, but, I-I just..." Obi-Wan didn't even know what he was trying to say, so how could he hope to explain it to Yoda? He gave up and decided to weather Yoda's disappointment rather than try to explain something there was no explanation for.
Yoda sighed softly. "Come here to lecture you I did not," the diminutive Master said at last. "Your forgiveness, come here to seek, I did."
Obi-Wan started in shock. "M-my forgiveness Master Yoda? Whatever for?"
"Perhaps wrong it was, for us to hide from you what happened. Not easy such decisions are, so easy to ere, when one seeks only good to do," Yoda said quietly.
Obi-Wan shook his head. This is not what he expected. Never in a million years had he ever thought Master Yoda would be apologizing to *him*. "No, Master Yoda, you weren't wrong. This is hard enough for me to deal with *now*, I can't imagine what it would have done to me as a child." Obi-Wan shuddered at the thought.
"Perhaps," Yoda nodded. "Past it is, changed it cannot be. Changed only, can be the future."
Obi-Wan took a deep breath. Here it came. Yoda was going to tell him it didn't matter, he should forget and move on.
"Painful it is," Yoda said quietly. "This I know. Not easy to put to rest, some hurts can be. Time it takes, and love. Both of these you have Obi-Wan. Pretend that unchanged you are by this, I will not. But see that changed for the good, it is, and not the ill, I would." Yoda's voice was gentle and his eyes compassionate.
Obi-Wan almost smiled. He should have known that Yoda would be wiser than his fears said. It was slightly amusing though, that Yoda and his Master had both said essentially the same thing to him. It mystified the Padawan sometimes how they could think so alike on some subjects, while on OTHERS...
"Thank you Master Yoda. I - I *will* be all right Master. You're right, it just takes time."
Qui-Gon had meant to be gone for only a few hours, of course, he had only meant to go to the data center too. That wasn't quite what happened.
Actually, he did go to the data center, and what he found out was *very* interesting. He left the center in a hurry, intent on contacting the McKay's again immediately.
For a moment he paused to ponder if he should swing by the Temple first and pick up his Padawan, but when he reached out, he felt a calm surrounding his apprentice, fragile to be sure, but it was a good sign. He could feel Yoda's influence near the boy. If Obi-Wan were with Yoda after all, then that was good, and Qui-Gon did not wish to disturb him. He'd handle this on his own.
Taking a shuttle to the hotel in which the McKay's were staying while on Coruscant, he made his way up to the room number they had left him.
The instant he reached the door, Qui-Gon felt as if something were inexplicably... wrong, here. Probing, he could tell that there were more than two people in this room, there were six at least.
His every instinct on edge and ready, Qui-Gon knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" Victor's voice snapped roughly from the other side. Was that a tremor of fear underneath the brusqueness?
"Qui-Gon Jinn," Qui-Gon identified. "I need to speak with you." He had a feeling he might be doing more than just speaking.
There was a lengthy pause and Qui-Gon wondered if he were going to be admitted. Then the door opened and he found himself facing a very drawn looking Victor McKay.
"What do you want Jedi?" the man asked bluntly, making no move to invite Qui-Gon in.
Qui-Gon had not expected him to and was neither surprised nor disappointed. "I went over the reports of the incident you described aboard the Star of Destiny," the Jedi Master said simply, waiting to see what kind of reaction that got out of Victor.
Mr. McKay's face grew dark. "Come in," he said shortly, stepping back to allow Qui-Gon entrance.
Qui-Gon did so, warily. Still aware that there were five other presences here that had not yet made themselves known, and Mrs. McKay could count for only one of them.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Qui-Gon found two blasters pointed squarely at his chest. It was as much as he expected and he was not alarmed, not yet. He could get out of this when he wanted to, but first he wanted some answers.
With maddeningly calm eyes the Jedi Master took in the weapons pointed at him, the two men who held them, and the third that stood beside the chair that Mrs. McKay was bound to, with a blaster pressed against her temple.
"I seem to have picked a bad time to drop by," Qui-Gon said dryly, without a trace of fear.
"Oh, I'd say your timing was just about perfect Jedi," a fourth man said, sauntering over and plucking Qui-Gon's lightsaber off his belt.
Qui-Gon was mildly surprised to recognize the man as the one that Obi-Wan had been speaking with in the data center before they received Det. Lu'yek's call.
"You're getting too nosy Jedi, butting in where you're not wanted," the red-haired man said, leveling his own blaster with Qui-Gon's head.
"For god's sake," Victor was saying in fearful irritation. "You're not going to kill a Jedi are you?"
The bearded man seemed to consider this for a moment. "No, not yet I think. Too valuable a commodity to waste off-hand," he said, appraising Qui-Gon with a business-like eye. "If we have an understanding now Victor, I think my friends and I can take our leave. We'll just take this pesky Jedi with us so he won't bother you anymore," the man said.
Victor's face creased into a scowl, but he nodded, glancing over at his wife in anguished concern.
"If I may be so rude as to inquire just where you intend to take me?" Qui-Gon asked calmly.
"Well, you seem so intent on finding little Jaim, I think I'll just take you to join him," the bearded fellow sneered. "But be warned Jedi, I know about your kind. I have a secret signal to the men who are watching Jaim, and if you give me any trouble, if you even bat an eyelash, I'm gonna set it off and the kid'll be dead in less than five seconds. Understand?"
Qui-Gon said nothing. He did not yet understand everything that was going on here, but he was getting a pretty good picture. He didn't know whether his captor was bluffing or serious about his threat to kill Jaim. The child was obviously being used as some sort of leverage against his parents, would the man risk losing that? Qui-Gon wasn't sure, but he had a feeling this was no mere case of blackmail or ransom, there was something else at stake here...
In any case, by cooperating, Qui-Gon stood a good chance of locating Jaim. It was a risk he was willing to take, so he acquiesced to his captors and went with them quietly when they left.
Obi-Wan was becoming uneasy. It had been more than a few hours now that Qui-Gon had been gone. The Padawan tried once more to raise the Master on his comlink, but got no response. Something was not right.
Finally, as evening was beginning to fall, Obi-Wan called the data center, only to find that no one matching Qui-Gon's description or answering to his name was there.
Obi-Wan waited exactly one more hour before deciding that enough was enough. Leaving a message in their rooms, incase Qui-Gon should come back while he was out looking for him, the Padawan hopped a shuttle heading towards the data center.
*Qui-Gon, Jaim McKay, Doonada...* the names and people whirled about his head as the apprentice sought to keep a hold of his fragile calm. He had to center if he were going to help Qui-Gon. Still the thoughts swirled.
*Doonada, Jaim McKay... Jaim McKay... "Have you seen Jaim McKay?"* Obi-Wan's head jerked up. Where did that voice come from. Then, slowly he remembered.
Someone had asked him about a Jaim McKay when he was working at the terminal. If he thought about it, the fellow matched the description that Qui-Gon had given for Chald Duluth pretty well. But he had been *looking* for Jaim, he didn't just happen upon some lonely little boy and seen a target. He knew the child's name! Obi-Wan was more convinced than ever that they had gotten themselves into something much bigger than they had ever suspected. Trying to sit still, Obi-Wan silently urged the shuttle to hurry.
Once at the data center, one of the desk attendants who had assisted Qui-Gon offered the information that he had indeed been there for about two hours that morning and she had helped him gain access to some old report records. Then he had left quite abruptly.
A cold knot formed in Obi-Wan's stomach. If what she said was true, then Qui-Gon had left here over six hours ago. Certainly, Qui-Gon was not bound to report his whereabouts and actions to his Padawan, but he usually did if there was going to be a change from what he had told Obi-Wan previously. They both knew how important it could be for each to know exactly where they other was going to be and what they were doing should an emergency arise.
Qui-Gon may have acted on whatever he found out in haste, but he would never leave Obi-Wan for six whole hours without any word, not if he could help it. The only conclusion that could be reached then, was that wherever Qui-Gon was, he was very possibly in danger.
The apprentice wanted to dash off immediately and try to find him, but Obi-Wan had no clue where to look, or even start. He considered reporting this to the Temple, but what would he report? That Qui-Gon was gone longer than expected and he had a bad feeling about it?
No, he would not report this. Even if he did and they saw the same need for concern in it as he did, if they knew about, or could feel his disturbed state of mind, the Padawan would, in all likeliness, be ordered to return to the Temple and wait while others searched for Qui-Gon. But no one else knew as much about what was happening with this case as he did. No. He would find out what happened to Qui-Gon himself, then, if necessary, he would call the Temple.
Obi-Wan refused to sit around and wait, yet he did realize that he was going to have to move slowly. "Could I see the files you helped Master Qui-Gon retrieve please?" the young Jedi inquired.
Qui-Gon awoke slowly. He vaguely remembered following his unnamed captives out of the hotel and getting in a waiting speeder. Once in... he tried to remember. Once in... somebody pressed a hypo to his neck and the world went black.
Apparently they did not trust him to cooperate, nor did they want him to know where he was being taken. Smart thinking on their part.
For a moment he wondered what he had gotten himself into, but, Qui-Gon reminded himself, he wasn't dead yet. Opening his eyes and looking around he found that he was in a large room. To his surprise, he saw that the bearded man and many of his associates were not too far away. He appeared to be in the middle of their living area.
Then Qui-Gon saw the dim flicker and realized that, although he was visibly unrestrained, he was surrounded by a slightly pink tinged containment-field. Not knowing where it was being originated from, he could not try to override it.
Nearby, similarly imprisoned, Qui-Gon saw the small, huddled shape of a child who was doubtlessly Jaim McKay. Jaim sat on the floor, clutching his small knees to his chest. He looked frightened and lonely, certainly, but his small face was set, as if had already seen too much in his short life.
Qui-Gon stood up and the bearded man noticed, walking over to where his prisoner stood.
"Had a nice nap?" he asked. "You really shouldn't have gotten involved," he shook his head, not waiting for Qui-Gon to answer. "Imagine the consternation it's been to me, having two Jedi hanging around and bollixing up the works," he shook his head in mock-exasperation.
"Then why don't you kill me?" Qui-Gon asked calmly, really wondering. He was truly helpless now, behind this containment field. Perhaps the decision he had made was a wrong one, but right or wrong, he had to go with it from here.
"Too valuable," the man shook his head.
"Why? What could you possibly hope to do with a Jedi Master? We're not exactly a booming trade item," Qui-Gon said dryly. There was something more to this... but what?
The man smiled. "You'd be surprised. There's labs that would pay a small fortune to get their hands on one of you for a guinea pig."
Qui-Gon hid his disgust. "Your tastes are quite eclectic," he observed. "Little boys, grown men, Jedi... is there anything you won't trade in?" he wanted to keep the dialogue going to find out as much as he could.
An amused smile curled around the man's mouth. "No," he shook his head. "But don't be so surprised, it won't be the first time I've dealt in either little boys, or Jedi," he said with a cruel grin that Qui-Gon did not quite understand.
"You don't get it, do you?" the man shook his head. "Neither did your apprentice, guess it was too long ago."
"What are you talking about?" Qui-Gon demanded, beginning to have a creeping suspicion.
"Doonada's dead," the fellow said without feeling. "But from the tight little circles that message sent you two into, his memory lives on."
"You're the one who called the station," Qui-Gon concluded, forcing his voice to convey a calm he did not entirely feel. "You saw us in the data center, you heard me tell Obi-Wan that the Detective had summoned us and you called with a phony message to distract us from getting close to you."
"Unfortunately, it didn't work very long," the man shook his head.
"You recognized Obi-Wan in the data center," Qui-Gon was trying to put the pieces together, but not everything fit yet. "How? How did you know...?"
The man grinned, a large, toothy grin that made Qui-Gon feel inexplicably ill. "He's changed a lot, but only gotten tastier I'll warrant. You don't know what you had in that boy Master Jedi," he shook his head. "He's a sweet little thing, or at least he was. Best little whore that ever worked for me," O'Halleran sneered.
Qui-Gon's lips pressed into a tight line and his jaw muscles twitched as he realized that this was the man who had deceived Obi-Wan when he was just a little six-year-old boy and forced him into a unspeakable life that no child should have had to endure. Doonada had taken Obi-Wan's body, but O'Halleran had stolen his innocence. Qui-Gon's disgust showed in his eyes.
The Jedi Master's gaze strayed unintentionally to where Jaim sat a little ways off. Knowing now what kind of man he was dealing with made Qui-Gon doubly concerned for the boy and what may have happened to him since his capture. Yet when he looked at Jaim, he saw deep sorrow, and even a certain amount of guilt, but not the vulnerable, broken aura that clung to people, especially children, who had been victimized in that manner.
O'Halleran saw Qui-Gon glance towards Jaim. "He's not been touched Jedi, I have other plans and purposes for him. But that's none of your worry." O'Halleran started to walk away before turning back once more for a final comment. "And don't waste your time thinking I won't get away with this. I already have. I'm well aware of the fact that your apprentice will be looking for you. But he'll never find us unless *I* want him to." A twisted smile spread across the man's face. "Maybe I'll let him come, it might be enjoyable to renew old acquaintances with the lad. Find out if he's forgotten everything I taught him; maybe I'll teach him again." O'Halleran intentionally tried to get a rise out of his prisoner and it mostly worked.
The careless way the man spoke of it made Qui-Gon's blood boil. //"Stay away Obi-Wan!"// he thought desperately. //"Stay away!"// Yet even as he wished it, the Jedi knew it was a foolish hope. He knew his Padawan would come looking for him. He knew too that O'Halleran was underestimating the apprentice's strength and abilities. Yet Obi-Wan's current state was fragile, and Qui-Gon wondered if the young man were ready to face these demon's from his past. He hoped so. He sincerely hoped so.
Obi-Wan knocked urgently on the McKay's hotel room door. There was no answer, but he could tell that they were in there. The apprentice was not going to be ignored.
After pouring over the data that Qui-Gon had looked at, Obi-Wan decided that this is probably the first place his mentor would have headed. It was a stab in the dark really, but the couple's reluctance to answer their door was hardening his certainty that something was up.
"Mr. McKay? Mrs. McKay? I know you're in there, please, open up. I must speak to you!" he called. Still, there was no answer from within.
The apprentice had been pounding on the door for the better part of three minutes. This was ridiculous and it got him nowhere.
Obi-Wan tried the door control. Locked. With a small twinge of guilt, Obi-Wan overrode the lock and the door swung open before him.
There was no one in the receiving area of the suite, but Obi-Wan felt presences in the bedroom off to the right.
An instant later Victor appeared from the bedroom doorway. There were circles under his eyes but his face was a storm cloud ready to burst.
"What do you mean by breaking in here?!" the man demanded angrily of the young Jedi. "Get out before I call Hotel security on you!"
Obi-Wan remained calm. "I'm sorry for the intrusion sir, but it is imperative that I speak to you. My Master, Qui-Gon Jinn is missing and may be in grave danger. I have reason to believe that he came here. Have you seen him?" Obi-Wan gave Victor a chance to tell him without the use of any influence.
"No, we haven't," the man snapped. "Now get out or-"
"You have seen him," Obi-Wan contradicted calmly. "I can feel that he has been here." That was not quite true, but Obi-Wan was nearly positive that Victor was lying to him and hoped to bluff the truth out into the open.
"You're mistaken," Mr. McKay said stubbornly, folding his arms.
"No, I'm not," Obi-Wan waved his hand slightly. "This is important, Master Qui-Gon could be in deadly danger. You want to tell me the truth."
"The truth... of course," Victor said numbly.
"He was here, wasn't he?" Obi-Wan prompted. Victor's mind was strong and with Obi-Wan's diminished focus it was a struggle to keep this going.
"Yes," Mr. McKay nodded tonelessly. "He was here. They took him away."
"They?" Obi-Wan's stomach tightened. "Who?"
"I don't know." It was the truth.
"But whoever it was also has Jaim."
"Yes," Victor was struggling with Obi-Wan and the confusion was evident on his face. Normally Obi-Wan would have had no such trouble, but he was yet in turmoil within and that affected his control negatively.
Obi-Wan struggled with himself too. Influencing minds to want to tell you the truth was one thing, forcing someone to do or say something against their will, while they were fighting you, was another.
"Where did they take him?" Obi-Wan asked.
"I-I don't know," Victor's face was twitching.
"Why was Jaim kidnapped, truly?" Obi-Wan felt his hold slipping, at the same time unsure if it was right to try to keep it.
Mr. McKay opened his mouth, but no sound came out, he shook his head, slowly at first, then faster. "N-no, NO!" he stuttered, trying to break free of Obi-Wan's grasp on him.
Alarmed that he was hurting the man, Obi-Wan let go immediately. Had he done the wrong thing?
Victor's face turned dark as a Tatooine sandstorm. "How dare you!" he shouted, enraged by Obi-Wan's manipulation of his mind. Four quick strides carried him across the room and he shoved the young Jedi up against the wall.
Obi-Wan did not fight back against him, even when Victor, incensed, socked the young man in the stomach.
Obi-Wan doubled over and Victor regained enough control of himself to back away, still shaking with rage. "Get out!" he growled.
"I'm sorry," Obi-Wan said quietly, straightening up to look Victor in the eyes. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
The pained, haunted look in the Padawan's eyes dampened Victor's rage.
"I only want to find my Master and your son," Obi-Wan said, his voice still soft with quiet sadness. "But I can't if you won't help me. Mr. McKay, I read the same files that brought Master Qui-Gon here. Pirates did not attack the Star of Destiny, but there is a note in the logs that a Jaim McKay was reported lost by his parents during the ship's stop over at Imudean. There is also no record of your father, Brin McKay's, passage beyond that point."
"Have you got anything else to say?" Victor asked coldly, folding his arms.
"Only that Jaim and your father weren't slaves on Muuramba. There were no slaves there, because there was no on Muuramba who could have afforded to own slaves. Muuramba was a mining asteroid Mr. McKay, no one lived there but the miners, their families, and the odd person or two who set up shop there to supply the miners' needs. None of them were wealthy enough to own slaves. Just what was Jaim doing there Mr. McKay? What really happened?" Obi-Wan asked.
Victor did not answer but remained icy cold. "I will thank you to leave us alone Jedi. I will see to it that your behavior here is reported to your superiors."
Obi-Wan grappled with frustration. He did not understand this man at all. The Padawan shook his head. "What are you hiding, what secret is so important that you would risk your son's life over it?" he asked sadly, genuinely puzzled.
"Get out," Victor repeated, but there was pain in his eyes now.
Obi-Wan turned to go, but was halted at the door by Mrs. McKay's voice.
"Wait," Telliani called to him, having watched the whole exchange from the bedroom. Now she emerged, her eyes red and puffy, but her face resolute. "There is no secret for which I would sacrifice my son's life," she said, her deep sorrow tinged with a maternal ferocity.
"Telliani..." Victor laid a hand on her arm, but she shrugged him off.
"No, Victor," she said resolutely. "This has gone on long enough. Do you honestly believe that they will honor their bargains? I do not. There is something more going on than we have been told. Jaim has suffered enough," tears sprung to her eyes. "So much more than enough."
Victor's face was the picture of helpless misery and frustration, but there were tears in his eyes too. "Very well," he sighed, turning away.
"We lied to you and your Master I am afraid Mr. Kenobi," Telliani said softly. "Please do not think ill of us for it, we never wanted anyone else to get mixed up in this, to get harmed," her clear, tear filled eyes pleaded with him for forgiveness.
Obi-Wan felt no anger for them, a little bit of annoyance perhaps, but he would have forgiven her anything at this point. "What really happened?" he asked quietly.
"To know that, you must know that Victor's father..."
"My father," Victor broke in, snarling the word contemptuously as if it were a curse, "Was Brin De'farra. Although most of my life I knew him as Brin McKay. What I did not know, was what he did for a living. He worked for a Republic military laboratory, but he was really a traitor who stole the secrets he worked on and used them to create chemical, biological and technological weapons for the highest bidder. I found this out by accident rather suddenly while we were all aboard the Star of Destiny, on a vacation," Victor said bitterly.
"Your father kidnapped your son to keep you quiet about his illegal activities," Obi-Wan put the pieces together, disgusted by a man who could hold his own grandson hostage.
"Yes," Victor nodded.
"There were no pirates," Telliani said softly. "It was a desperate story on our parts. Victor did not know what else to say when your Master started questioning us about it in the spaceport. We thought it was all behind us you see..."
"But what was Jaim doing on Muuramba then?" Obi-Wan asked, this puzzle was still missing pieces.
"We don't know exactly," Victor said heavily, and Obi-Wan could see the truth in his eyes. "I suppose that's where Brin was holding him, or, or something. We've had no physical contact with our boy for over a year. Sometimes we'd receive holos and pictures just to let us know he was okay. We spoke to him once or twice..." Victor's voice trailed off.
"The last communication we had came from Muuramba," Mrs. McKay finished for her husband.
Obi-Wan's heart ached for the pain this couple had been through.
"It's all my fault," Victor said hoarsely. "My father took my son and I couldn't do a thing about it!"
Obi-Wan realized that it was this helplessness that had been driving Victor to the sudden flashes of intense rage that he was given to.
"Jaim's kidnapping at the spaceport was planned," Obi-Wan tried to redirect the conversation. "I'm assuming you've had contact with these latest kidnappers. Is it still your father, or someone else?"
"Someone else. My father I believe, was killed by the Muuramba explosion. I don't know who these new people are exactly. They knew my father I think, but what they want I do not know," Victor said.
"They came to us and said we had better back off the investigation if we wanted to see Jaim alive again," Telliani put in. "They were here when Mr. Jinn came and took him away with them."
"They didn't make any demands of you, no ransom?" Obi-Wan tried to push away the tight feeling that tugged at his insides when they spoke of Qui-Gon's capture.
"Well, sort of. They wanted us to tell the Security that we received a ransom call, give them a phony location. Distract them with a wild goose chase basically," Victor explained.
"They want time," Mrs. McKay said sadly. "I don't know what for, but I do not expect them to honor their bargains. I feel in my heart that they will kill Jaim, please Jedi, I know we've given you no reason to, but can you save my son?" she pleaded.
"I will try," Obi-Wan said solemnly. He only wished he knew where to start. Without a lead, he could search forever and turn up nothing.
The comm-transmitter the table bleeped with an incoming call and Victor picked it up. "Hello?"
For several moments he was silent, but the dark look on his face made Obi-Wan suspect that the call was not a pleasant one. "Yes. No. What? I see. All right." Victor scribbled something on a flimsy and hung up. He turned to Obi-Wan with a puzzled look on his fine-chiseled face.
"That was one of the men who took Jaim and your friend," Mr. McKay said slowly. "He asked if you were here and I told him yes, I don't know if he's having us watched or not. He asked if we'd told you anything and I said no. Then, then he *told* me to tell you, and even to give you this address," Victor proffered the flimsy with the address scribbled on it.
Telliani's eyes went wide as Obi-Wan studied the address in his hand. "It's a trap! Don't go!" she said in alarm.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "It's a trap certainly, but it may also be my only hope of finding Jaim or Master Qui-Gon. I'll be careful," he promised. "Call Det. Lu'yek and let him know everything that's happened, *everything*," Obi-Wan stressed the word. "Tell him where I've gone, but tell him to be careful not to let his men be seen. Will you do that?"
"Of course," Victor nodded. "And, Mr. Kenobi? I'm sorry. We should have brought this all out before now. I hope that nothing happens to Mr. Jinn because of this," Victor apologized sincerely.
Obi-Wan nodded, his eyes shadowed with worry. "So do I, so do I."
Obi-Wan avoided the front of the production plant building that the address on the flimsy led him to and quietly sneaked in a rear door. To all appearances, the building was nothing but a busy food processing and production plant, but as Obi-Wan padded softly down the hallway he felt jittery and ill at ease.
Outside, he knew Det. Lu'yek and his men waited in hidden locations, surrounding the plant.
There it was again, that agitated, jumpy feeling that had come over him in the data center yesterday. Was there a connection...?
"You're late little Padawan," the voice made Obi-Wan jump as he realized he had let the unease he was feeling take his focus off his surroundings for a few crucial instants.
*"Sith!"* Obi-Wan cursed himself. If this turmoil he was in caused him to mess up when Qui-Gon's life may depend on him, the apprentice would never forgive himself.
Pivoting quickly around to face the voice Obi-Wan found himself confronted by three men, dressed in the clothes of plant workers, with their protective visors down over their faces so he could not see them. They had no weapon's visible, but their presence was threatening.
The young Jedi's hand rested on his lightsaber, ready to draw it off at a moment's notice. "Who are you, what do you want?" he inquired cautiously.
"We're the ones your looking for, though it took you long enough to get here," one of the men answered, his voice slightly muffled from behind his darkened visor. "I suppose that's because you had to wait for the security teams to get into place," the voice said with dry amusement.
*"Dang!"* Obi-Wan thought, although his expression remained unchanged. They knew.
"Do you honestly think I'd be stupid enough to think that you'd come alone?" the man laughed. "But this is not something the security forces need to be involved in, now is it? You'll come with us, quietly, no tricks."
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow, resisting the urge to laugh. "And why would I do that?" he asked. The men weren't even pointing blasters at him, although doubtless, they had them.
"Because, it's the only chance you're gonna get to ever see your Master alive again little one," the man laughed cruelly, and something about the way he said "little one" made Obi-Wan's flesh crawl. He didn't know why, and he didn't have time to think about it.
"Very well, it seems I have little choice," Obi-Wan acquiesced quietly, allowing them to disarm him. What they did not know was that by removing his lightsaber from its clip on his belt, they had set off a silent alarm signal.
Det. Lu'yek tensed as the high-pitched whine of the signal went off. "Okay everybody, move in the signal now!" he ordered his men.
The three men pushed Obi-Wan, face first, against the wall. "I'm afraid I lied little one," O'Halleran hissed softly in Obi-Wan's ear as the apprentice felt the unmistakable feel of a blaster muzzle being pushed against the base of his skull. The big man's two cronies held Obi-Wan's arms and O'Halleran leaned against the teenage Jedi, pressing him to the wall with the weight of the older man's body. "Much as I'd like to take you back with me, I can't risk leaving you alive. I'm sure your friends outside will be here any moment. Besides, one Jedi I can deal with, two is too many."
Obi-Wan felt O'Halleran's warm breath on his shoulder and throat as it came from under the kidnapper's visor. The Padawan had to resist the urge to squirm as the agitation in his body went crazy. It seemed to be something about this man that was setting it off.
O'Halleran ran his hand down Obi-Wan's cheek and the side of his neck, smiling beneath his visor as the young man tried to pull away from his touch. *"Do you remember boy?"* he wondered idly for a moment, before getting back to business, he knew that time may be short. "But I had to know. What did the McKay's tell you? Spilled the whole thing, didn't they? The sniveling little weaklings! I guess they really don't want to see their boy again."
Obi-Wan was silent, still trying to shrug away from O'Halleran's touch on his face, throat and shoulder, but the older man continued to stroke him casually. He wanted to take advantage of the unsettling effect his fondling had on the young man.
"Okay, don't tell me. I'll take your silence as a yes, and so I'll assume that you've told the security all about it too. A pity, but it doesn't really matter. They'll never find us, and it won't save Jaim, or your Master, or you," O'Halleran's voice turned hard and cold and Obi-Wan felt the blaster press harder against the base of his skull.
The young Jedi could feel the deadly intent of the man behind him. Where were those security officers?! He had definitely waited long enough and was going to have to take matters into his own hands.
Using a surge of the Force to send all three men stumbling back a pace, Obi-Wan ducked just in time to avoid O'Halleran's shot and the blaster bolt slammed harmlessly into the wall above his head. An instant later, Lu'yek and the officers were on the scene.
"Nobody move!" the Detective barked as the security officers brought their weapons to bear on the three men.
Two of them raised their hands in defeat, but O'Halleran was not about to give up so easily. Jumping back he threw a small, glass cube on the floor.
The cube shattered upon contact and a huge cloud of noxious, billowing gas rolled out making the security officer's choke and gasp, their eyes watering helplessly.
O'Halleran and his two thugs, protected by the filter-visors they wore, made a break for the lift tube behind them.
Holding his breath to keep down the worst of the gas' effects, Obi-Wan blinked hard against the tears the strong chemicals brought to his eyes. Seeing the three criminals escaping into the lift tube, he gave chase. The lift doors closed before he got there, but the indicator above the lifts showed that it stopped at the third floor down.
Hopping in the next lift tube, Obi-Wan punched the button for the lower third floor. He could still hear the security officer's choking and spluttering in the hall, but he couldn't afford to wait for them. The lift doors closed and he plunged downward.
Obi-Wan reached the desired level just in time to see another set of lift-tube doors slid shut down the hall from him. This level of the plant was basically deserted, so there was no doubt about who was taking the lift.
Waiting again to see where it stopped, Obi-Wan noticed that this lift was not an internal one for the plant, but one that serviced the upper and lower levels of Coruscant.
The occupants of the lift were going down, way down, to the fifth level of the multi-tiered city planet. Doggedly, Obi-Wan followed.
Careful to remain unobserved by his quarry, the young Jedi followed the three men as they hurried through an underground maze of tunnels, which they apparently knew quite well. The twisting, dark labyrinth of passages would have had most people lost in a matter of minutes, but Obi-Wan's Jedi abilities rendered him better able to keep the general idea of where they were and what direction they were heading. It was clear that they were heading quickly away from the plant and to the north.
Silent as a wraith, and just as invisible in the darkened tunnels, Obi-Wan trailed the little group through a dizzying array of passages, lifts, more passages and more lifts for the better part of a half an hour.
It was a good thing he had been able to follow them, the apprentice decided grimly. He would never have been able to find them again otherwise.
Obi-Wan realized with a queasy feeling that they must be well down into the sixth or seventh levels of Coruscant by now. Those levels were barely inhabitable and shadowed in continual darkness.
The three men slowed down now, seeming much more relaxed and unconcerned, certain that they had lost all chance of pursuit.
"What are we gonna do now?" Obi-Wan heard one of them ask.
"Continue on as we planned," the young Jedi recognized the voice of the one who had held the blaster on him back in the processing plant. Obi-Wan gave a small shiver as he shook off the memory of the man's hand caressing him. He didn't know why, but it made his flesh crawl, more so than he thought it should have. Obi-Wan put it down to his current state of mind and the memories of other hands, other touches that still burned against his skin if he let his mind go there...
Pressing his lips into a tight line, Obi-Wan forced himself back to the moment. That vein of thought did him no good right now.
An eerie, dank darkness clung to the passages and tunnels like the mildew that made the walls slick in places. The atmosphere was oppressive and Obi-Wan felt chilled to the bone. There was that agitation too, still working on him, but he refused to let it cloud his senses again.
*"Focus on the moment, focus on the moment..."* he repeated to himself over and over again to keep calm. Obi-Wan was so engaged with that, that he almost missed the rest of the conversation, but got his mind back on track in time.
"I found out what I needed, the brat's parents went and squealed everything. It doesn't matter though; they'll never find us. They've still got no clue what we're really after," O'Halleran said testily, upset that they had had such a close call.
"But what about the Jedi? We didn't-" one of his companions felt compelled to point out.
"I know that!" O'Halleran snapped. "But he's got no more information than the rest of them, he's more dangerous, Jedi always are, but that just means we're down to the wire. Either the kid tells us *now* or we take more drastic measures."
"What about the other Jedi? You really gonna sell him to Marbuluk?"
"I don't know. I thought I would, but it might be simpler to just waste him. Depends on how things work out with the kid," O'Halleran said dispassionately, as if discussing inventory, or goods.
Obi-Wan's already grim face darkened a shade. It seemed he was not a moment too early.
The apprentice knew they must be nearing the end of their journey, for he could feel Qui-Gon's presence somewhere in the vicinity. Not too nearby, but not too far away either.
Presently, the kidnappers stopped before a door. Obi-Wan heard them give three distinct knocks and the door was opened from the inside. The Padawan just had time to see a glimmer of bright light from the other side of the door before the three men slid inside and the door shut again, once more plunging the passage into darkness.
Pulling his comlink from his belt, Obi-Wan tried to contact Lu'yek; tried to contact *anybody*, but only silent static met him. He was too deep into Coruscant's lower levels and transmission was impossible.
Obi-Wan hesitated, trying to decide what to do. Should he try something on his own, or make his way back to the surface and alert the security forces? This location was certainly well hidden, he doubted the security force could find it on their own if they searched for a year. He was not even entirely certain of his own ability to retrace the journey here accurately.
The young man's hand strayed to his still-empty lightsaber clip. The men that had accosted him were still in possession of his Jedi weapon, leaving him at a distinct disadvantage.
The situation Obi-Wan found himself confronted with had so many unknowns. He had no clue what to expect beyond the door, or how many others were in on this. Was it wise to tackle such a venture alone and unarmed? Yet, he had heard the kidnappers' conversation in the tunnel on the way here, and these men were getting desperate. Could he afford the time to try to find a way back up to a level where his comlink would work?
What "more drastic measures" were they going to take with little Jaim? And then there was his Master, whose life might hang in the balance... Delaying now could cost a price that Obi-Wan was unwilling to pay.
The young Jedi hesitated in momentary indecision, until he heard a child's panicked scream, muffled by its journey through the tunnel's walls, and then his decision was made for him.
Using the Force to silently unlock the door and nudge it open a little, Obi-Wan pressed his eye to the crack. The light in the room was blinding after the darkness of the tunnel, but the apprentice forced his eyes to adjust quickly.
The room he found himself considering looked like it was some kind of workstation, with computer terminals and electrical bits scattered all over. At the moment however, it was empty.
Sliding in silently, he crept over to the open doorway, which led to the next room.
There were five or six men in the room and two of them were holding a small, dark haired boy of about seven who could only be Jaim McKay. They were forcibly binding the struggling child to a chair while a sinister black droid floated nearby. Its injection arm was primed with a hypo of potent mind drugs, waiting to be used on the little boy.
Jaim struggled and screamed frantically, terrified of the droid.
"Don't make us hurt you Jaim," O'Halleran threatened. "Tell us the code and we'll take you back to your mom and dad," he lied.
"I tol' you I don't know any code!" Jaim pleaded frantically. The ropes they held him in the chair with cut short his struggling, but his captors made no attempt to muffle the child's terrified screaming. They didn't need to, Obi-Wan reflected grimly, there was no one down here to hear him.
***"Go ahead and scream kid, nobody'll hear you..."***
Obi-Wan closed his eyes for a moment, forcing Doonada's voice out of his head. His jaw tightened. There had been no one to hear him, but there was somebody for Jaim. He was there and Jaim was not alone.
Obi-Wan was sickened by the thought that they would use mind drugs on a child. It could potentially retard Jaim for life.
The circular black droid hovered into position. "No! Make it go away! Make it go away! He never tol' me anything!" Jaim screamed, sobbing. "Please! Please I don' know any code! I don'!"
In the next room, Qui-Gon worked hard to keep from throwing himself against the force field that kept him prisoner. Jaim's pleas were heart breaking and he wished there were some way he could stop this.
Suddenly he heard several startled cries, adult voices this time, and a loud crash. Then he felt something else. Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan was here. He had not felt him before because Obi-Wan had been cloaking himself.
The injection automaton lay in a million pieces on the floor by the wall Obi-Wan had smashed it back against. The young Jedi stood protectively in front of Jaim, trying to work the knots of the ropes that held the child through the Force, keep his attention on the men before them, and discover which one had his lightsaber all at the same time. It didn't work very successfully.
The young Jedi's attention was almost immediately taken by one of the men he found himself facing. Large and strongly built with auburn hair and beard... it was the same man he'd seen in the data center, and, he'd bet anything, the leader of the group he'd chased down here. But that wasn't what made him freeze. No. It was a memory from long ago that made his stomach freeze up.
***"Look, what you do is none of my business, but keep the noise down, it's bothering my customers," the man at the door complained. Obi-Wan could just see the face of the bearded man from where he lay, bound to the bed and sobbing in pain and terror.
Doonada slammed the door in O'Halleran's face and proceeded to place a large adhesive strip over Obi-Wan's small mouth. After that, Obi-Wan couldn't even scream at the torment he was in, all he could do was sob, squirm, and take it...***
Obi-Wan's breathing was unintentionally accelerating and the color drained slowly out of his face.
"Well, well, well, if it isn't the little Jedi," O'Halleran said softly, his eyes not mirroring the amusement in his voice. "I don't know how you found us, but if you brought your cop friends with, than you both are gonna die right here."
"Scanners don't show anyone else in the area," one of O'Halleran's men said a moment later, looking up from his instruments.
O'Halleran seemed to relax a little. "Well Obi-Wan, long time no see, eh?" the smooth, taunting cockiness was back in his voice. The look on the young Jedi's face told O'Halleran that while the boy may not have recognized him in the data center, he did now.
Obi-Wan quickly snatched his control back, kicking himself for letting his feelings start to peek through like that. "Not long enough," he said quietly, steely resolve hardening his shifting eyes which at the moment were an icy blue-grey.
Unarmed, against all of them, with Jaim to protect, the apprentice's chances did not look too good. He was going to have to do something about that, fast. Obi-Wan scanned the group carefully. Which one of them had his lightsaber?
O'Halleran took a step towards him and Obi-Wan had to keep himself from backing up...
***O'Halleran 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 tried to stop the memory, push it away, but it was as if it had a life of its own.
***The Jedi child 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.
"Got some news for ya," O'Halleran 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."***
At last Obi-Wan had a face to go with the memory; at last the conversation came back to him. The apprentice shuddered involuntarily. It was all still too fresh, too new, and too painful.
This was no good at all; he mustn't keep letting these memories bother him this way at such a critical time!
Obi-Wan tried to draw on the Force for strength, but his emotions were starting to swirl again and his focus eluded him.
The Padawan held his ground until O'Halleran's hand brushed his cheek again, then he took a quick step back to take himself out of reach.
"What's the matter?" O'Halleran advanced again. He was enjoying this now. He could see the pain behind the steel in the teenage Jedi's eyes, the pain, and the fear.
"Out of practice boy?" he taunted softly with a cruel smile. "Why, you used to be one of the best."
"Stay away from me," Obi-Wan ground out between clenched teeth, but he was still retreating, almost unconsciously.
O'Halleran backed him into the corner.
Obi-Wan felt the wall behind him and realized with a jolt that he had been retreating without meaning to. *Damn! What's wrong with me?!*
The men surrounded him now in a tight semi-circle that caged the apprentice against the wall. Obi-Wan's heart was pounding with a fear that was 13 years old.
O'Halleran was touching him again, laughing at the way the teenager shrank from his hands, but seemed too wrapped up in his own pain and terror to fight the older man's advances off.
It was the six-year-old Obi-Wan that was in control right now, and that abused, frightened little boy didn't know how to fight back against the cruelty inflicted upon him. Didn't know how to escape the ocean of shame he was drowning in.
"Do you remember Obi?" he asked softly. "Do you remember what we used to do? Do you remember all the nice men who used to visit you?"
Obi-Wan's chest heaved, despite his best efforts to stay calm, to fight the memories that were gripping him. He had to be stronger than this! He had to! He had to fight back. He was a Jedi for heaven's sake! But right now, he was not a Jedi; right now, he was a little child who had been greatly abused, and thought that that abuse was his fault.
"You were quite the favorite," O'Halleran continued mercilessly, letting his hands play over Obi-Wan's strong young body. "Remember Yarl? Remember how he liked to use that little tub in the corner? Or Zanni, with the xuril paste?" O'Halleran threw detail after nauseating detail at Obi-Wan, until the young Jedi thought he was going to be sick. Oh yes, he remembered. Remembered much, much too well.
Obi-Wan pressed himself back against the wall, his mind reeling with the flood of memories and emotions that O'Halleran's words and hands were bringing back.
*"No! No!"* he was screaming inside, but he felt utterly helpless in the grip of the shame and self-loathing that had overcome him.
In the next room over, Qui-Gon's stomach twisted into a cold knot inside him as he felt the strong waves of sheer terror and shame rolling off of Obi-Wan.
//"Don't let them psyche you out this way Obi-Wan!"// he thought desperately, sending reassuring waves and feelings towards the Padawan. Force he wanted out of this cage! Qui-Gon could feel Obi-Wan out there, but not help him and the sneer on O'Halleran's face when he talked about Obi-Wan kept coming back to haunt him.
//Don't let them win Obi-Wan!// the Jedi Master pleaded desperately, feeling Obi-Wan's wavering state, fearing the boy's fragile state was about to shatter. But Obi-Wan was too wrapped up in his pain, too caught in his past and Qui-Gon was not ever sure his words made it through.
O'Halleran pressed close to Obi-Wan, until their faces were nearly touching, his hands in places they should not be, his breath brushing across the apprentice's cheek. Something hard dug into Obi-Wan's waist as O'Halleran pressed against him.
Obi-Wan's body was going crazy. He understood now, the agitation he had felt before. It was O'Halleran. Being near him made the young Jedi's senses scream, and because he had had no conscious memory to put with the turmoil, it had simply come off as a vague, irritating uneasiness.
"Remember the night in the back room..." O'Halleran was still pressing, forcing Obi-Wan to remember things, some of which he had not recalled until this point.
Obi-Wan thought he was going to go mad. Force but the memories hurt!
"Stop it!" the apprentice moaned, his hands clamping on the sides of his head to try and block out O'Halleran's filthy talk. "Stop it!"
Suddenly, something clicked inside of Obi-Wan. What in the galaxy was he doing, letting O'Halleran intimidate him this way?!
"STOP IT!" Obi-Wan shouted, this time with authority, grabbing hold of his scattered control and focus. Shoving O'Halleran's hands away from him, Obi-Wan grabbed his lightsaber off of O'Halleran's belt. That was the hard object he had felt a few moments before.
Obi-Wan ignited the saber's blue blade and his assailants backed up pretty quickly, loosening the box in which they trapped him against the wall.
"I am NOT the little child you took advantage of anymore!" Obi-Wan said with forced control, clutching his lightsaber tightly. "I am a Jedi, and you are going to get out of my way. I am taking Jaim and Master Qui-Gon out of here, and you had better not try to stop me." Every word he spoke cemented Obi-Wan's resolve more firmly.
"Oh, listen to the little whore make demands," O'Halleran sneered, from a safe distance away. "You know what I would have done with you for talking to me that way? Oh yes, you do know, you did smart off that one time, didn't you? In the kitchen, with the-"
Obi-Wan's jaw tightened, but his face remained resolved and calm. "That won't work O'Halleran," he shook his head. "Maybe that's what I *was*, but it's not who I *am*. Now step out of my way."
The utter calm in Obi-Wan's voice took O'Halleran by surprise. The men muttered, but none of them wanted to be the first to get within reach of that humming blue blade.
Obi-Wan edged his way out, never taking his attention off them, and backed towards Jaim's chair. Slicing Jaim free in one quick move, Obi-Wan swooped the child up into his arms and darted for the door into the next room as O'Halleran and his men scrambled after him.
Slamming the door shut and melting the controls with his a swift thrust of his lightsaber, Obi-Wan looked around quickly. He knew he had felt Qui-Gon's presence coming from in here, now where... there he was.
"Master," he said, seeing Qui-Gon, and the force field around him. "Do you know where the controls for the field are?" Obi-Wan was still holding Jaim in one arm, almost having forgotten he had him.
Jaim clung tightly to Obi-Wan, with his small arms locked securely around the apprentice's neck, his small eyes wide as saucers, but looking at Obi-Wan as if he were some kind of miraculous savior.
If Qui-Gon had had the time, he would have smiled. "No, I don't know," Qui-Gon shook his head. He was relieved to no end to see the strength that had kindled behind his apprentice's eyes. There was still a lot of pain there, but the weakness was leaving as Obi-Wan grabbed onto his purpose in the here and now.
Obi-Wan hurried over to what looked like a huge control unit on the far side of the room, covered with a mind-boggling array of buttons, switches and control panels.
Without warning, thick permi-steel walls slammed down before, behind and on either side of the Padawan and the child, boxing them in against the control panel.
*"What the-"* Obi-Wan barely had time to think before O'Halleran's voice came over the room's speakers.
"You've chosen an excellent place to die my friends!" he said. "We're out of time, and I'm out of patience. I've keyed the activate code. Jaim, I think you know what that means. I hope you all enjoy your trip to oblivion!"
Obi-Wan was sadly bewildered. What in the galaxy was O'Halleran talking about?
A red light flashed on the control panel and a warning claxon sounded. *"Warm up initiated. Please key access code,"* a politely computerized voice requested.
"Jaim, what's all this mean?" Obi-Wan asked, turning his head to find Jaim wide-eyed with terror, his small, tear streaked face pale as a ghost.
"He-he's started the Micro-Ray," Jaim stuttered in disbelief.
Obi-Wan tried to keep his patience. His Master was so much better with children than he was, but Qui-Gon was still held in a containment field on the other side of the impenetrable walls that trapped he and Jaim, so he was going to have to manage on his own. "What's a Micro-Ray?" he asked with attempted patience. The child was obviously already terrified to death.
"This," Jaim pointed one trembling finger at the console before them. "My Grandpa built it, before we went to Muuramba," the child explained. "It's bad. If you give it the coordinate's, it can single out and fry a person, or an entire building, an' you don' even have ta be on the same planet!"
Obi-Wan repressed a shudder at the thought of such an insidious weapon. There would be no warning, just one command and hundreds of people would die. And no one would be able to even find out who did it.
*"Warm up initiated. Please key access code,"* the voice repeated again.
"What's this access code Jaim?" Obi-Wan asked, already beginning to guess.
"The code tha' starts the thing, but I don't know what it is! They keep askin' and askin'! They think that since I was with Grandpa he told me what it was, but he didn't! He never told me anything!" Jaim was starting to sob again. "They say he told someone I had it, but I don't! I don't!"
So that's what Jaim's kidnapping had really been all about. "Shh, Shh, it's okay, I know," Obi-Wan soothed, looking around quickly, searching for some way out, maybe he could cut through the walls with his lightsaber...
*"If access code is not entered within the next 60 seconds, self-destruct will initiate immediately,"* the Micro-Ray's synthesized voice informed them pleasantly, as if it were telling them what time of day it was, rather than that they were all going to be blown to smithereens in a matter of seconds. *"60, 59, 58..."*
Obi-Wan belted his lightsaber. No time to cut a way out, no time for anything. When this thing went, it would take this whole place with it. Doubtless, O'Halleran and his men had already beat a hasty retreat, knowing that the blast would take with it all their problems, as well as any evidence of their presence.
There was only one chance left, and it was a slim one. "Jaim," Obi-Wan said calmly, refusing the panic that would only get in his way now. "Did you ever see your Grandfather work on this machine?"
"I saw him build it," Jaim nodded.
*"43, 42, 41..."*
"Listen carefully," Obi-Wan said, still retaining his calm. "I need you to do something for me, it's important."
Jaim nodded seriously, wiping his eyes with small, clenched fists.
"I want you to just relax. I'm going to look in to your memory. Is it all right with you if I look into your mind Jaim?" Obi-Wan asked, forcing himself to be patient as the relentless voice of the computer ticked off the seconds they had left to live.
*"34, 32, 32..."*
Jaim nodded. He wasn't really sure what the man with the braid meant, but he'd do anything if it would get them out of here.
"Okay, then just relax," Obi-Wan soothed, trying to center on Jaim and ignore everything else. Gently, the Padawan stepped into Jaim's mind, tenderly sifting through the boy's memories. It was relatively easy because Jaim did not fight him, and because the child was still so young.
Obi-Wan sifted through until he could see, through Jaim's eyes, a man with grey hair and a white coat standing in front of this same control panel, only in different surroundings. The apprentice tried in vain to see clearly what the man was doing.
*"16, 15, 14..."*
Suddenly, he stumbled across something that caught him entirely by surprise. Inside Jaim's mind was a message that the child had not originated. It had been implanted there subliminally by hypnotic imprinting.
The number flashed across Obi-Wan's thoughts. Obi-Wan latched onto it quickly. It was worth a try.
*"5, 4, 3..."*
Obi-Wan scrambled to the operating board, trying to make sense of the controls.
Obi-Wan found a keypad and hurriedly punched the number he had read from Jaim's mind into the console.
*"Activation code, correct. System warm up complete. System operational,"* the voice informed them.
Obi-Wan breathed a sigh of relief and sank back against the wall. The wall however, was rising back up into the ceiling now that the proper code had been keyed in. O'Halleran's information had been right after a fashion, Jaim *did* have the code, he just didn't *know* he did. His grandfather had obviously had it subliminally implanted in the child's brain.
Obi-Wan felt like he had just run a marathon, but somehow, he managed to find the controls to Qui-Gon's force field and deactivate it.
Qui-Gon, looking maddeningly calm, simply raised his eyebrow at the perspiring, rumpled apprentice. "Was it entirely necessary Obi-Wan, to wait until the *very* last moment?" he inquired neutrally.
Obi-Wan actually managed to keep his composure. "As you have told me many times Master," Obi-Wan inclined his head slightly. "Patience is always appropriate for any situation."
"Yes, well," Qui-Gon cleared his throat. "If you decide to exercise that sort of patience too frequently I am going to go grey before my time." Qui-Gon stroked his beard, which Obi-Wan knew already held the dignified, greying streaks that gave the only hint of the athletic, energetic Jedi Master's true age.
Obi-Wan grinned faintly. "Let's get out of here."
Getting out was no problem since O'Halleran and his men had already vacated the area. Finding a lift tube that would take them back up to the upper levels of Coruscant, the little trio made their way back to civilization.
Much to Qui-Gon's amusement and Obi-Wan's consternation, Jaim refused to let the Padawan put him down, clinging to Obi-Wan imploringly the entire way up.
"I think you've been adopted Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon remarked as the lift swished open and they stepped out.
Obi-Wan grimaced, but he didn't really mean it. He was glad he could be there for Jaim. Glad that Jaim's story had a happy ending. Of course, he realized, his did too. After all, look at him now, look at what he was, what he had... Obi-Wan glanced over at Qui-Gon who was scanning for a public comm unit to call Security on. Obi-Wan had somehow lost his throughout their adventure.
Everything had turned out fine for him, yet... Obi-Wan sighed. He couldn't let go of the pain, of the guilt.
"Mr. Jedi sir," Jaim, whom Obi-Wan had finally coaxed into standing on his own two feet, tugged on the apprentice's sleeve. "I have'ta go."
Obi-Wan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Okay, let's go find a 'fresher." Obi-Wan took Jaim's hand, briefly informed Qui-Gon of where they were going, and left to find a restroom while Qui-Gon tried to explain to the automated operator on the comm that no, he did not have the exact credit units needed for the call, but this was an emergency and he had to reach Security.
Obi-Wan let Jaim go into the public 'fresher by himself, but after a seemingly inordinate amount of time had passed, the apprentice ventured in to make sure everything was all right. "Jaim? Jaim are you okay?" he asked, wrapping his knuckles against the closed door.
No answer. A tight feeling formed in Obi-Wan's stomach. "Jaim? Jaim!" he repeated, pounding on the door. Giving up on that, he just undid the lock and pushed his way in. The single unit 'fresher was empty.
Obi-Wan suppressed a thrill of panic. There were two doors, on opposite sides of the restroom, maybe Jaim had gotten turned around and took the wrong one out. The Padawan did not let himself consider that Jaim may have been taken again, after everything they just went through to get him back.
Hurrying out the other door, Obi-Wan found that it led into some kind of small convenience store, attached to a fueling station. Jaim was still nowhere in sight.
"Did you see a little boy come through here?" Obi-Wan asked the droid at the counter.
"Affirmative sir," the droid confirmed pointing one long silver finger towards the store's outer doors. "He went out there."
"Was he alone?" the apprentice asked, holding his breath.
"He appeared to be," the droid nodded.
"Thanks!" Obi-Wan called, hurrying out just in time to see Jaim turn the corner behind the store. "Jaim!" he called, thinking the child was lost.
However, instead of turning back, Jaim sped up, actually seeming as if he *wanted* to get away from Obi-Wan. This made no sense at all. "Jaim! Jaim, *wait!*" he called, running after the child.
The Jedi easily caught up with the small escapee, grabbing Jaim by the back of his collar
"Whoa, wait a minute, where do you think you're going?" Obi-Wan stopped the child.
"I-I don't know," Jaim whispered, his voice trembling, his face downcast.
Obi-Wan's brows creased. Concern replaced irritation as he tipped the child's face up gently.
Jaim's eyes were puffy red from crying, and his cheeks were still wet with recent tears. Obi-Wan's heart went out to the little boy.
"Hey, it's okay now, you're safe," Obi-Wan soothed, going down onto one knee in front of the child. "You don't have to run any more. Master Qui-Gon's calling the Security Officers to catch the bad men who tried to hurt you, and we're going to take you back to your parents."
Jaim shook his head, the tears starting to come again. "I-I can't face them!" he sobbed. "I thought I could, but I can't!"
"Jaim, you're not making sense," Obi-Wan shook his head. Was the child merely overwrought and confused?
"S-Security'll take *me* away," Jaim said softly. "I-I killed people! So many people!" the child sobbed. "I didn't mean to! I shoulda known better!" the little boy was getting nearly hysterical.
"Shh, shh," Obi-Wan tried to calm Jaim down a little. "I'm not understanding you Jaim, slow down, and tell me what happened," he said gently.
Jaim looked like he wished the earth would swallow him up, but he complied. "B-back on Muuramba. There was a man, he was nice to me, I thought he was my friend," there was betrayal in Jaim's young, pain-filled eyes. "He asked me lots of questions sometimes, and once, once he got me to let him into Grandpa's lab when nobody was there. He-he did something to one of Grandpa's machines, told me not to tell, it was a surprise..." Jaim's sobs grew harder again.
"It blew up!" Jaim cried. "It blew up the whole asteroid! It's my fault! I shoulda known better!" Jaim sobbed brokenly.
"It's not your fault Jaim," Obi-Wan said gently, catching the child's eyes. "You're not responsible for the actions of people who used you for their own bad ends," the apprentice shook his head, drawing Jaim closer.
"But I was so stupid!" Jaim refused to be comforted.
"You weren't stupid," Obi-Wan contradicted. "You were trusting. You trusted that other people would be as honest with you as you were with them, and they weren't."
"Then I was dumb to trust," Jaim shook his head stubbornly. "I won't trust anymore."
Obi-Wan sighed; this was not going well. "Listen to me Jaim," he said gently, laying both hands on the boy's shoulders. "The man who lied to you betrayed the trust you put in him, and that was wrong. It was wrong of him to use you like that, but it wasn't wrong of you to trust. It's bad to be deceitful, but it's not bad, or stupid to trust. With time, you'll learn to discern who is trustworthy, and who isn't. There are lots of good people who are worth trusting, your mother, your father... It wasn't your fault Jaim," Obi-Wan's eyes pleaded earnestly for the boy to believe him. "What you did was out of ignorance, not out of choice. The Security officers will understand that, so will your parents. Nobody blames you but you Jaim, and you shouldn't."
Obi-Wan realized that there were tears in his own eyes. His own words struck a chord so deep within him that it made his whole being resonate.
Obi-Wan knew what he was saying about Jaim was true, but he realized that it was true for him too. Had he been any different than Jaim? No. He had trusted O'Halleran, and O'Halleran had used him cruelly, but it wasn't his fault, anymore than the deaths of Muuramba were Jaim's.
Obi-Wan had no more real choice in the situation then this boy had, and the sometimes blind trust of youth was not something that children could be blamed for, they simply knew no better.
Hot, silent tears slid down Obi-Wan's face and Jaim looked at him, surprised. Reaching up to wipe the tears away with little fingers, Jaim cocked his head questioningly. "Why you crying?" he asked, his voice still shaky and sad, but a little calmer now than before.
"They aren't bad tears," Obi-Wan shook his head, giving a small smile for Jaim's sake. "I-I'm..." he couldn't explain it to the child. "I'm relieved," was as close as Obi-Wan could come to an explanation. It seemed to satisfy Jaim. "Come on, Master Qui-Gon will be wondering if we fell down the 'fresher!"
Qui-Gon was indeed waiting for them. "Is everything all right?"
"Oh yes," Obi-Wan nodded and the brightness in his eyes actually made Qui-Gon pause. He didn't know what had happened, or how, but somehow, Obi-Wan was looking as if everything was indeed, *very* all right.
Jaim's reunion with his parents couldn't have been happier. Victor and Telliani were beside themselves with joy. First the ecstatic mother smothered her little boy with kisses and hugs, then she did the same to the two Jedi, sobbing with joy all the while.
Victor was much more controlled, but no less joyful. "I know I haven't been the easiest man to work with gentlemen, and you have my apologies," he said to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, his eyes shining. "I owe a debt to you that I can never pay. You two have my undying thanks, forever."
Det. Lu'yek was pleased to report that the Micro-Ray was safely in the hands of Security technicians who intended to have it dismantled and destroyed. O'Halleran and his compatriots had been apprehended trying to get off planet and one of the helpers had turned evidence and spilled everything.
Apparently, sometime after legal attention had pushed O'Halleran out of the brothel business, he had become a silent partner with Victor McKay's father, Brin De'farra. They had gotten the commissioned for the Micro-Ray together, but after it was completed, Brin double-crossed his partner and took off, having received a better offer.
He tried to hide his intentions by cloaking his meeting as a "family vacation" with his son, daughter-in-law and little grandson. When Victor found out more than he should have known, Brin took Jaim and disappeared. Brin hid the Micro-Ray in what he thought was a safe location and then took Jaim to his new secret lab on Muuramba.
Somewhere along the line, Brin De'farra imprinted the access code for the Micro-Ray in his grandson's brain as a back-up plan and told one of his contacts with the new syndicate he was working for.
O'Halleran caught up with Brin on Muuramba and paid someone to take out he and his laboratory. Whether destroying the tiny mining asteroid completely had been intended, or an accidental side effect had yet to be determined.
O'Halleran found out that Jaim survived. He had the Micro-Ray brought here, and sent one of his men to snag Jaim from the refuge ship when it landed.
"And that about wraps it up," Lu'yek summarized. "All and all, I feel a little... useless," the detective smiled. "I think you two did all the real work."
"Anything to be of assistance," Qui-Gon accepted the compliment with a gracious bow, as did Obi-Wan.
What with thanks, reports and statements, it was well into the wee hours of the morning by the time Master and Apprentice were finally free to make their way back to the Temple.
Qui-Gon stole a long, side-ways glance at his Padawan. He knew that what Obi-Wan had faced back there with O'Halleran had to have been extremely difficult, and they hadn't had a chance to talk about it yet. For all his diplomacy training, Qui-Gon found himself at a loss for how to open the conversation.
Obi-Wan knew what his teacher was thinking and saved Qui-Gon the trouble. "I learned something very important today Master," he broke the silence.
"Oh?" Qui-Gon inquired, glad that Obi-Wan had initiated the conversation.
"Well, several things actually," Obi-Wan amended thoughtfully. "But, most importantly, I-I," Obi-Wan felt a little embarrassed now that he was actually trying to say what he felt.
"Go on," Qui-Gon prodded reassuringly.
"I *didn't* chose it Master," the young man said softly, the freedom that that realization brought evident on his face. There was no need to preface what he was talking about, Qui-Gon knew.
"I acted out of ignorance and trust, not stupidity," Obi-Wan continued, the peace on his face telling Qui-Gon that all the words that he, and other had been telling Obi-Wan had finally gotten past the apprentice's head, and penetrated his heart, which was the only place it would make any difference.
"I'm glad you can see that now Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said softly, with a gentle smile.
Obi-Wan nodded. "I found something else out Master, sometimes, the most valuable lessons can be learned when you're trying to teach someone else," Obi-Wan shook his head somewhat distantly, as if the concept was still slightly strange to him.
Qui-Gon smiled. Oh yes, he knew all about that. "In teaching you will learn, and in learning you will teach," Qui-Gon smiled fondly, his eyes saying how very well he understood what Obi-Wan meant. "I find the same thing, almost everyday Padawan. Sometimes I wonder who is really learning more, you, or me."
Obi-Wan smiled. He liked the relationship he and Qui-Gon had developed. Most of the time, they were more like best friends than teacher and student.
Obi-Wan knew he never would have made it through this traumatic time without Qui-Gon's care and support. Without someone he trusted and believed in so much who kept telling him that he was good, and valuable, not worthless like the kind of violation he had endured made one think.
"We'll learn together then Master. We'll learn together."