Title: Searching in Vain
Fandom: Star Wars
Parings: Obi/various, pre-Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan
Warnings: het, slash
Disclaimer: None of this universe or its characters is mine. The Star Wars universe, concept, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon all belong to Lucas.
Summary: Obi-Wan explores the dating scene, trying to find someone who feels right. And trying to seek advice from his master about his subsequent disappointments.
Searching in Vain
What we have worn out our iron-soled shoes searching for in vain
may come to us without the slightest effort.
Obi-Wan squinted at the fine print in the datapad, though he knew the words of the code he lived by to the very letter. His master, Qui-Gon Jinn, passed by the sofa, looking down at his young padawan in approval. "I looked it up, as you said I should, Master," Obi-Wan said, looking up.
Qui-Gon nodded. His padawan had asked a question every young padawan asked at one point in time. The question itself and the search for an answer was integral to their development, and marked a great moment in their life. "Yes, Padawan? And what did you determine?"
"The code forbids formal attachments, Master," Obi-Wan said, holding up the datapad.
"Ah..." said Qui-Gon wisely. "Go on, Obi-Wan."
"But it seems to have nothing against dating or falling in love, for that matter." He pushed a button to have it cycle up to the first screen-page. "Our training bond, even, is one of emotion and support but not formal in that we have agreed on our relationship but are free to break the bond at any time should the need arise."
Qui-Gon smiled. "Have you need?"
Obi-wan looked taken aback. "No, Master! Of course not! I simply wanted to make the distinction to myself between an emotional, situational bond and a formal attachment. It seems that even bonds of love are permitted within the code."
"Of course you are permitted to love," Qui-Gon confirmed. "Permitted to date and have relations with others as you so choose. So long as the relations are consensual and respectful."
Obi-Wan was grinning widely at this news. He set down the code, practically bouncing with excitement.
"Do you have someone in mind?" asked Qui-Gon, amused by his padawan's eagerness.
"Not yet, Master. I did not want to get my hopes up until I knew for certain that it was permitted under the Jedi code. But now..." he looked around the room as though realizing that the whole of the temple, planet, and universe could be his to love in a more intimate way than he loved them now.
"Make wise decisions in picking your partners, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon advised, not so much as a master but simply as one who had experience. "You have such strong passions, and such strong ideas of what you want. And I know you have worries, but the adventure is worth it, I guarantee you."
Obi-Wan understood this. "I was simply worried about what would happen if I lost the one I fell in love with. Jedi do not mourn death the same way as others. I assumed they did not handle heartbreak the same as well."
"Do not worry about the heartache. The Force will guide you in your quest and I will be there to help you find peace in your adventure, should you need it. Release your feelings to the Force and search for the way you wish to love. You will find your place in it all." They all did, after all, have their own places in it all. And Obi-Wan with his passion and his great heart would surely find his way into the world of love and romance.
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan said, already feeling that the adventure would be an exciting one.
* * *
Obi-Wan set his drink down on the bar, but kept it in his hand, rolling the bottom around in a circle, leaving an almost perfect ring in the center of the coaster. The little bit of alcohol left in the glass sloshed around, but was clear enough that he could see through it to his fingers wrapped around the glass. He tried to concentrate on the drink and not flinch as he felt the hand snake across his back and latch onto his other side. It pulled him over, and would have toppled him off the barstool had his Jedi reflexes not kicked in and allowed him to put out a leg to steady himself in time. "Arnie," he breathed out in irritation.
But the man beside him did not seem to notice or care. He lifted his empty glass to the bartender, indicating his desire for a refill. Obi-Wan passed when offered another. "Awww, come on Obi, you know you want another. Makes everything here so much more fun."
This, Obi-Wan did not doubt in the least. This was not the sort of place he would have picked for a night out in the city. The place was rough, full of the stench of smoke, alcohol, and lust. There were dancers in cages and tubby men leading beautiful women around on leashes. There was a raging sale of death sticks in one corner and in the opposite corner there was a team of people who looked as though they'd had one too many sucks on the hookah pipe in front of them. Some sort of music was raging through the speakers, pounding so loudly that any melody or lyrics were completely drowned out by the thumping bass. "Another drink, then," Obi-Wan said, letting go of his glass as the bartender took and refilled it.
"Wanna dance?" Arnet shouted over the noise, abandoning his new drink on the counter and turning to Obi-Wan, his hand racing down Obi-Wan's side, resting on his hip.
Obi-Wan took a sip of his drink. "In a minute or two, I suppose. When they, ah, start a new song," said Obi-Wan, hoping it sounded genuine. The bar was filthy, the bartender toothless, but it was the least threatening place in there. Since entering, four separate people, excluding his date, had grabbed his rear. At least sitting down he was safe from that.
Arnet swayed a bit on his stool, then nodded. "Gooooood thinking!" he decided, lifting his drink, taking a good hard swallow, then slamming it down on the counter. "Start fresh." He poked Obi-Wan in the stomach. "I like the way you think, Honey."
Arnet was a Pilarmian, with gray skin and luscious silver hair that would probably look absolutely stunning once he lost his padawan haircut. His eyes, a brilliant dark blue, sparkled all the more, the more inebriated he became. Obi-Wan had been attracted to him for quite a while, but had only worked up the courage to ask him out recently. And he'd made the mistake of allowing Arnet to choose the venue for their date. Obi-Wan supposed he wouldn't have minded so much, if his date had been good at conversation, but they'd barely said a word to each other. Outside the temple, as it turned out, Arnie didn't like talking about anything remotely related to the Jedi. And Obi-Wan could think of nothing he wanted to talk about apart from that. They sat in silence, mostly, though Arnet seemed not to mind, hanging off his arm, proud to be seen in public with him.
As Obi-Wan nursed his drink, thinking of making his next excuse not to dance be the fact that he wanted to finish his drink. But as he drank, a strange, unfamiliar scent caught in his nose, making it tickle. He narrowed his eyes, rubbing a finger beneath his nose, but the tickle did not vanish. If anything, it got worse. His nose began running, and just rubbing a finger beneath seemed to be of no help any longer. Sniffling, he fished around in his pocket for a handkerchief, finding a wrinkled gray wad. He unfolded it quickly, straightening it out in his hand subconsciously, glad Arnie had not noticed it. He lifted it to his nose, wiping gently, looking over at his date.
Arnet was taking a long drag on what appeared to be a cigarette. But the puffs of smoke he exhaled were blue, a lighter shade than his eyes. "What is that?" Obi-Wan asked suspiciously, through the handkerchief.
Arnet regarded the cigarette, holding it up in front of his face. "Oh this? It's new. It's a clove stick. I love the smell, but the taste is even better. Want to try?" He flicked his wrist, thrusting it in Obi-Wan's face.
There was no doubt in his mind that it was this that was making his nose tickle and run. He shook his head, the urge to sneeze rising in him. His lower lip quivered, and his nostrils twitched, and his eyes closed. "No..." he said, tightening his grip on the handkerchief.
"No?" He asked, looking a bit stunned.
"No- heh- no thanks," Obi-Wan said, voice still muffled behind the handkerchief. His nose was burning with tickles now, his breath coming in short gasps. "I think..." but he couldn't finish his statement. The desire to sneeze was too great, filling his nose and his whole head. "heh... hehKushhhhh! hek-ehshhhh! huhKtshhhhh!"
"Obi!" he exclaimed, gripping Obi-Wan's shoulder in concern. "You're not coming down with something, are you?"
Obi-Wan blinked, his eyes starting to tear and itch from the smell now, his nose running fully into the handkerchief. It was as good an excuse as any. He nodded miserably.
Arnet sighed. "Ohhh, Honey, I'm so sorry!" When he spoke, small puffs of blue smoke came from his mouth, making Obi-Wan's nose tickle all the more. "I'll walk you home."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, sniff, sniff, I can manage all right."
"Nonsense!" he said, sliding backwards off the barstool, stumbling to get his balance, then straightening up. "I've got a hover car. It'll just be a few minutes drive from here to the temple."
As eager he was for this date to end, Obi-Wan still did not want Arnet driving when he was this intoxicated. Nor did he really want to be confined within a car with someone smoking a clove stick. "No, let's... hehKUHshhhh! hehkchhhh! Sniff! Let's walk."
Arnet narrowed his eyes as they headed to the exit of the bar, Obi-Wan's rear getting patted twice on the way. "But it's raining out."
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. "We'll take the indoor routes and lifts then. Come on," he said, lowering his handkerchief for a moment to take a big gulp of fresh air now. His nose still ran and his eyes streamed with tears, but they couldn't be seen in the rain.
Arnet gave a frustrated sigh, stamping his cigarette out on the ground. "Ugh," he complained. "It's wet."
"Yes," Obi-Wan said calmly, hoping that the cool rain would help his sinuses and numb his headache. "It's raining," he joked, giving a laugh. Arnet gave him a confused, sideways look. "Things, ah, get wet when it rains..." Obi-Wan explained. Arnet managed a polite smile. Obi-Wan sighed inwardly, glad for the next sneezes which ended the awkwardness. "huh-huhKushhh! Hehktchhh! hehkeshuhh! ehkshuhh!"
The walk had been long and trying. He had to stop several times because fits of sneezes overtook him. He saw Arnie to his quarters with a quick peck on the lips in farewell, then picked up his pace to get to his own. He was in a terrible mood when he arrived, his handkerchief soaked through, his nose still tickling as the horrible smell seemed permanently lodged there.
Qui-Gon was seated on the sofa in the common area when he arrived home. His legs, in green satin sleep pants, were folded under him, except for one knee that stuck out, helping to support a datapad he was leafing through. He looked frozen in time for a moment, the hand scratching his beard stopped, his eyes shooting up from the datapad to survey his padawan. Finally, he spoke. "Back from your date so soon?"
Obi-Wan nodded, sniffing back his runny nose, not really wanting to admit how badly it had gone.
But his master was kind, and seemed to sense that he did not want to talk about such depressing things right now. "You're soaking wet."
"Yes," Obi-Wan said, trying the bit of humor again. "It's raining."
Qui-Gon's face, which had been so caught in concentration, burst with a smile and an accompanying chuckle escaped him. He set the datapad down on the cushions and rose. "I'll get you pajamas, you just take your wet things off there. I don't want you dripping across the whole place. We just washed the carpets." The carpets had been thoroughly cleaned a number of times after his master's last bad luck case in the form of a Shavarmian Wildebeest had been shipped off to a good animal reserve.
Obi-Wan stripped down, boots first, leggings last, switching them with his own sleep pants his master held out to him. Then Qui-Gon wrapped a huge comforter around Obi-Wan, so big that it could have gone around him twice and still have more room to spare. It was warm and smelled of Qui-Gon, comforting him at once. Apart from the tickle still residing in his nose, he felt perfectly relaxed. "heh-EHKShhhhh!" He rubbed a finger under his nose, wondering where he'd put his sopping handkerchief.
Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. "Not catching cold, are you?" He felt Obi-Wan's forehead at once.
"No," he said firmly.
"Good. But as you are recovering from the last one... I think you should take it easy and try to stay warm. I'll not have you coming down with another cold if I can help it." He took Obi-Wan by the shoulders and deposited him on the sofa. Then he headed straight over to the kitchen area to put some tea on.
Obi-Wan snuggled up in the blanket, with just his head poking out and a hand out to receive a steaming hot mug of tea. "Thanks," he said, blowing on it for a moment before risking a sip. "But you didn't have to go through the trouble."
"Nonesense, Padawan. You're cold and wet and obviously something's irritated your nose. You catch cold too easily as it is." Obi-Wan's cheeks flushed lightly. "I much prefer a healthy partner to spar with." Obi-Wan smiled sheepishly, though glad that his master had come up with such a logical reason to want his padawan healthy. Though as Qui-Gon pulled his legs up onto the couch and folded them, and as Qui-Gon put an arm out to Obi-Wan, the padawan crawled over, snuggling with the comforter and tea into his master's warm embrace. Qui-Gon was always touching him like this to comfort him or warm him, and he much appreciated it. At the beginning of his training as Qui-Gon's padawan he had been a bit startled by it, but it did not take long to understand that the reassuring squeezes to his shoulder and warm hugs after his mistakes were just his master's way of encouraging him and helping him find peace with the Living Force. And he had indeed found peace within it when his master had guided him to it.
"I was just reading a preliminary mission report about the Aldalphis sector," Qui-Gon said, picking up the datapad and scanning it for the place where he had stopped. "The T'lac tribe seems to have broken their land treaty, but only in answer to the Phelarians breaking the goods and bartering treaty. Looks like they are going to need the help of Jedi negotiators and we're being assigned to leave a standard week from now." Pausing, he looked up. Obi-Wan was staring off towards the door, his eyes unfocused, his thoughts most assuredly not on his master's informal debriefing. Slowly, Qui-Gon reached down and gave his padawan's braid a slight tug, his fingers brushing against Obi-Wan's cheek in the process.
Obi-Wan gasped in surprise, his attention shooting back. "I'm sorry Master. What were you saying?"
"Nothing that cannot wait," said Qui-Gon, setting the datapad down again. He tightened his arm around Obi-Wan in a quick hug. "Now, tell me what is bothering you. I thought you'd had a crush on Arnie. Did something go wrong tonight?"
Obi-Wan shrugged, looking down, not wanting to meet his master's gaze. "It wasn't a crush, Master. Only little boys get... crushes... heh-IHKshhhh! huhChishh!" he sneezed, covering his nose in time.
"I see," said calmly Qui-Gon to his young padawan. "My mistake."
The apology seemed to help Obi-Wan continue on. "The date was a disaster," he stated flatly.
At once, Qui-Gon became concerned. His grip tightened, the sparkle in his eyes faded. Quickly, "He did not hurt you, did he? He did not force you to do something you did not want to do?"
"No, Master!" Obi-Wan replied quickly, another flush in his cheeks.
Qui-Gon deflated with relief, stroking the back of Obi-Wan's still-damp head. "I know you are nearly of age, and I know well the spirit and skill with which you fight. But do not doubt that I am a silly master for still I worry for my padawan."
Obi-Wan looked up with a weak smile, and pressed his head against his master's chest affectionately. "I am fine, Master. Apart from a few sneezes and a bit of disappointment. The date with Arnet... it just didn't feel right. Like the last five didn't." In fact, he had only started dating recently but had never had one that felt quite the way he wanted it to. He sipped the tea which was, by now, cool enough to drink without blowing first. And snuggled closer, feeling both of Qui-Gon's arms wrap around him protectively. There was a gentle, reassuring feeling through their bond, and Obi-Wan closed his eyes. This was the way he liked to spend his nights, not in some wretched bar full of drunks and depravity.
"You will find someone, my Obi-Wan. And you will know when it feels right," he reassured his padawan. Then broke the hug with one arm to pick the datapad back up. "Now, would you like to hear about our next off world mission?"
"Oh, yes please." Obi-Wan nodded eagerly.
* * *
The fluorescent lights were murderous to his eyes as he tried, squinting, to read the dessert menu. "Whatever you'd like," Obi-Wan said, giving up entirely and closing his eyes for a few moments of rest.
"Mmmm," she said, her tongue poking out just a little to wet her lips in thought. "How about the cherry pie a la mode?" Her fingers hovered over the ordering buttons on the table-top interface.
Obi-Wan nodded, dragging a hand over his eyes and forehead and waiting a moment to center himself. They weren't even through with dessert yet, and they'd already run out of things to say to each other. "So... did you see the tournament yesterday?" he asked, centering his fork on the napkin.
"Oh, yes!" she exclaimed, looking somewhat relieved to have a new discussion topic she hadn't needed to come up with herself. "It was... very exciting, wasn't it? Wish they wouldn't have restricted it by age." She put on a sappy grin. "I'm sure you would have qualified in an instant."
Her flattery was shallow, but at least it filled the void. Marial was good at filling the void. More than one in fact. Luckily, their dessert order came at that moment, and he didn't have to reply to her comment. They dug in, though Obi-Wan was feeling rather full and didn't eat much. Instead, he sat back and watched how she ate it. She seemed to plunge right into pie, while avoiding the ice cream instead of taking equal amounts of each with every spoonful, or at least alternating. The ice cream, influenced by the hot pie, was melting terribly from neglect. It was almost too tragic to watch. There was absolutely no point in ordering pie and ice cream while avoiding the ice cream. There was no logic to it at all.
"Would you like to dance?"
Obi-Wan looked up from the only half-eaten pie. "Sorry?"
"Where *has* your mind been lately, Obi-Wan?" she giggled. She reached across the table and brushed her fingers over the back of his hand. He got a shiver and smiled. "I asked if you wanted to dance."
"Oh!" Obi-Wan said, pushing back from the table. "Of course." He swung around to the other side of the table and offered her a hand. He led her past the other dark tables with candle centerpieces and upstanding citizens softly dining. There was a string quartet playing a slow, romantic song that was undistinguishable from all of the other slow, romantic songs.
They were at arms length for a little while, until they found their rhythm together. Then she came closer, and closer to him, their arms bending, hands on waist or shoulder, or back of the head, until she wound up pressed against his front, her head tilted and resting on his shoulder. He held her close, feeling her warmth, her soft skin in the places her dress with thin straps revealed it.
She was so close... so close. He rested his head against hers, taking in her scent for the first time that evening, a strong, flowery smell. Suddenly, his nose twitched. He had barely enough time to turn his head before a sneeze struck, hard and fast. "heh-KUHShhhh!"
"Obi!" She jumped back, startled and with a look of disgust on her face. "What is wrong?"
Obi-Wan cupped a hand to his face, shaking his head. He couldn't speak, he could only sneeze. "hihChhh! hehCHUSHH! hihShhehh! hehShuhhh!" He pulled back, trying to pretend as though the whole dance floor and half of the patrons at their tables weren't staring at him. "hehEhkshhh! huhUhshehhhh!"
"Obi-Wan!" Marial hissed, blushing terribly, tugging at his sleeve. "Cut it out. You're embarrassing me."
Obi-Wan glared at her. Embarrassing *her*? When he was the one sneezing like this? "hehKeshhhhhh!" But he could barely breathe, let alone answer her. He sniffled in between sneezes, switching hands when it was safe. "hehKushhh! hehShuhh! hahSheshhhhh!"
He stumbled backwards, trying to escape being the center of attention. He managed to find his way off the dance floor, and followed the blurry form he hoped was his date back to what he was relieved to find was his table. "hehKetchhhhhh! Huh-KUHShhhhhh!" He sat down without pulling the chair out for her, which earned him a annoyed sigh. But at this point, he did not care. His nose was burning fiercely and he had to struggle to merely breathe. "hehKeshhhh! hehChishhhh! hehChushhh! ehhhChishh-uhhh!"
"Obi-Wan?" she said, crossing her legs, then crossing her arms in front of her chest. "What is the matter with you?"
"I- hih- I'm allergic... allergic to... hehIHHHChhh! Allergic to your perfume," he managed. He found it a bit easier to breathe on the other side of the table from her, but his nose still tickled and burned terribly. He found a rumpled white handkerchief in his pocket and used it to try and scratch his nose without looking as though that were what he was doing. "hehKushhh! ehhhKtshhh! ehhhKeshhhh!" He blew his nose furiously, aware that there were perhaps even more people looking at him now.
"Your bill, Sir?" Obi-Wan looked at the waiter in disbelief. No sympathy for him sneezing his head off. He gave the datapad a glance, realizing that it was much too expensive for what they'd had, but pressed his thumb to the pad anyway.
"You're allergic to my perfume?" Marial asked, leaning in and keeping her voice at a whisper.
"hehKeshhhhh!" Obi-Wan nodded, sniffling into the handkerchief.
"Unbelievable," she muttered. "Do you think we should call it a night, then?"
Obi-Wan hesitated, sensing her disappointment before he even looked up at her face. "hehChhhhh! ehhhChihhhh! hehChehhhh!" He nodded, blew his nose, and then nodded again.
"Walk me home?"
She was unbelievable. And she was as good with a lightsaber as he was, so she wasn't worried about having protection. But she was stuck with tradition. Why else had she asked to be taken to one of the most expensive formal restaurants on Coruscant? "Uh... yes, sure," he answered. He only hoped she'd let him walk on the other side of the hallway, rather than hand-in-hand as they had on the way to dinner. Luckily, she did.
Qui-Gon poked his head out of the 'fresher as Obi-Wan came in, practically slamming the door behind. "Padawan? Are you all right?"
Looking up, mouth hanging half open, Obi-Wan nodded weakly. Then his head snapped back down again, nose buried into his handkerchief. "hehhhh-KUHShhhhhhh!"
Qui-Gon, with a towel around his shoulders and shaving cream around his half-shaven face. "You weren't sneezing earlier tonight. Is it allergies?"
Obi-Wan nodded again, open-mouthed as he felt another sneeze coming on. "heh-yeah," he said, settling down on the sofa to rest. His head was pounding with sinus pressure. "huhKESHhhhhhh! Chushhhh!"
"Here," Qui-Gon settled on the couch beside him, pulling his towel off and handing it over. "Mind the shaving cream, but bury your face in this. It's warm and damp. It will help"
Obi-Wan accepted it, holding it in both hands up to his face. He took a deep breath into it, the damp heat soothing the back of his throat and his nasal passages. He felt a soft hand petting the back of his head comfortingly. As he breathed in through his runny nose, he got a whiff of Qui-Gon's scent. A scent which did not make him sneeze more. If anything, it was soothing. To the extent that he could be soothed with his nose still on fire. He lifted his head from the towel, panting. "heh-huhKushhh! hehChishhh! huh-KEHshhuhhhh!"
"I guess it didn't help too much." Qui-Gon said.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, no, it helps a lot. Really." He put on a brave face. "Just still feeling really... sneezey." He fit in a quick roll of his eyes before snapping forward with another sneeze. "hehKEHChahhhh!"
"Date didn't go precisely as you'd hoped, I take it?"
Obi-Wan felt for a moment that this question might be prying a bit too much into his personal life. Then he decided that he really didn't care if his master knew the details of his personal life, right down to his miserable dates. "I'll give her another chance," he said. "But no, it didn't. And I was almost glad when my allergies acted up and we had to come home early."
"I did notice the time," Qui-Gon said, nodding. "But it's good of you to have some sense about it. I'm sure if it turns out to be right for you with someone, a few little sneezes won't stand in your way."
Remembering the way Marial hadn't supported or helped him off the dance floor, Obi-Wan felt a wave of uncertainly flow through him. It was short-lived, giving way to more sneezes. "hehChishhh! hehChushhhh! hehtchhhh!" Miserably, he sniffled, into his frightfully used handkerchief.
"I'll get you a new one," said Qui-Gon, noticing the handkerchief's state. He gave Obi-Wan a pat on his knee and rose from the couch. "And some tea. The steam will help." Soon Obi-Wan was snuggled against his master's warm chest with a fresh handkerchief and a large mug of hot tea.
"So how was your meeting with the council, Master?" he asked, rubbing his nose as the tea cooled a bit. "Did Master Windu shoot down your idea?"
"No," his master said cheerfully, putting on a smile. Then he paused and said just as cheerfully, "This time is was Master Tiin."
Obi-Wan laughed. "I told you it was too soon to approach them about it. The code of conduct states--"
Qui-Gon sighed, but it was accompanied by a laugh. He hugged Obi-Wan closer, nuzzling his face into his padawan's fuzzy hair. "Yes, I should have listened to you. But for some reason I thought that the plight of a starving people on an underdeveloped continent would be more important than a code made up centuries ago."
After a swallow of tea, he lowered his voice when he spoke, as though afraid someone else might hear. "I am ahead in my work, and you said yourself my saber skills are progressing faster than you expected. How about we take an unsanctioned trip to that sector next week for vacation?"
"Obi-Wan!" he exclaimed, pulling back a little. "How very unlike you to say such a thing! We only get one week of vacation outside of the holiday months, besides."
"Unlike me?" he asked, passing the tea over for Qui-Gon to take a few gulps as well. "Unlike me to want to please my master and help a whole race of people who have already appealed through the proper channels for our help?"
Qui-Gon paused, put down the mug, then took Obi-Wan up, wrapping his arms around him, nuzzling and snuggling with all his might. "Ohhh, you always know just what to say! You're my padawan all right."
He had to sneeze again. "heh...hehKEHSHH!" But even that did not seem to dislodge him from his master's affectionate hold.
"Even sneezey like this, you're still my padawan." He kissed Obi-Wan on the top of his head and jumped right up. "I'll go clear our schedules and make the travel arrangements right away."
Obi-Wan grinned, watching his master head straight over to the communications station. He reached up and wiped some of the shaving cream from his hair. Then he buried his face in the towel again, letting the warmth fill his head.
* * *
"And then my master and I went to the botanical gardens by the palace and cataloged each and every plant and insect there. Maybe you and I could take a walk in the gardens here at the temple? I can show you what I learned."
Obi-Wan forced down another bite of his expensive dinner though that didn't much matter as Marial rarely let him get a word in edgewise. Apparently in an attempt to keep the awkward silences to a minimum, she had come to the date with a whole barrage of things to talk about. She seemed, however, less interested in hearing Obi-Wan's ideas on these things than getting them all out and showing how much she'd been preparing.
"I'm thinking of trying to explore a healer's path. Just to see what it's like. Do you think I'd be any good?" Then, without waiting for a response, "I'm really good with herbs. Master Cysco says I'm also doing very well with my healing meditations."
Making a rather neutral noise, Obi-Wan decided he'd had enough. There was still dinner to be eaten and the rest of the date to be had, but they weren't going to get anywhere like this. "Let's skip dessert," he said, interrupting Marial's list of healing herbs she'd just recently committed to memory. "And take a walk right now."
She grinned, passing her hand across the table to him. "Why Obi-Wan, I am charmed and intrigued by the strength and conviction of your offer." She gave a gentle smile. "And I would love to."
And they did walk, straight to her quarters, without having to consult each other about it. The moonlight danced through the glass hallways, reflecting off her jet black hair, cut short. She'd told him once that as an initiate she used to wear it down to her waist. He liked to imagine the glints of purple and blue that the moonlight would reflect of such long hair with. She was pale in comparison, tall and with defined features that made her the target for many of the other padawans in the temple. A bit of a flutter rose and fell in Obi-Wan's chest at the thought that of all the handsome young padawans, it was he she chose to be on a date with tonight.
Not thinking about it, only acting on instinct and a gentle push from the Force, he squeezed her hand, then pulled her close into a deep kiss. It had been meant to show his passion, his respect, his attraction. Instead, he broke it off early to leave her with confusion. He pulled back, looking startled, and cupped his hand to his nose yet again. His breathing raced with a dozen short, shallow gasps. And the tickle in his nose raged with familiarity at the scent it detected. "hehSHHEHhhh! Heh-CHEHhhh! hahCHUHSHH!"
Marial gasped, holding a hand up to her mouth. "Oh! My perfume! I'm so sorry! I completely forgot. Must have slipped my mind while I was getting ready this afternoon."
Slipped her mind? Obi-Wan did not attempt to hide an eye roll, though it did not look as though she noticed it. "heh-IHHChhhh! hehChuhhh! hehChushhh! hihChushhhh!" He backed away from her, plastering himself against the side of the hallway, shadows cast where the moonlight caught his back.
She sighed, apparently as frustrated with him as he was with her. "We're close to my quarters and my master is off world until the weekend. How about I go in and shower to get all this perfume off me? Then we can see where things go after that."
Between standing in the hallway sneezing nonstop or taking refuge in her quarters which pointed towards the fact that she wanted to sleep with him, he would take her quarters. "heh-hehCHIHH! Sniff! Lead the way."
Her quarters were the mirror image of his own, but packed full of items rather than sparse. Nonetheless, it had a very presentable look, as though the bookcases full of items were for show rather than use. There was art on each and every wall, expensive-looking rugs covering the grey carpets on the floors. There were curtains on the windows and rich sheets on the beds. She led him over to her bedroom, closing the door behind and giving him a seductive smile. "I'll go wash off this perfume. In the meantime, please make yourself comfortable." She slipped out to the 'fresher, leaving Obi-Wan alone.
Her room was equally as cluttered and showy, with trinkets all around and shelves full of books and things. He sat down on her sleep couch, the soft sheets caressing his skin as he stripped down to nothing. He took advantage of the box of tissues on the nightstand. "hehIHHChhhh! hehChushhh!" Without Marial there, his nose was calming down a bit. There was still an itchy sort of burning in his nostrils, though, which didn't seem to want to go away no matter how many times he blew his nose.
Obi-Wan looked up to see her hanging in the doorway. She was not in her dress any more, but in a thin, red, lingerie number. "Sneezes died down yet?"
He nodded, sniffling. "Come on under with me." He lifted up the blankets, beckoning.
She held up a finger, smiling alluringly. "One moment." She buzzed around the room, lighting candles, then turning off the lights. Obi-Wan found the mood the candles set quite invigorating, and was even more anxious to hold her when she slipped beneath the blankets with him. He had to remind himself that she was more experienced in these matters than he, but the knew he'd have to remember candles if he was ever in this situation again. The way the flickering light shown on her face was beautiful. "No more sneezing?" she asked as he buried his face between her breasts, licking, panting. There was no more sneezing.
"You smell clean," he commented. She didn't smell like that terrible perfume. But she didn't smell like herself, either. There was a fruity, soapy smell and taste to her. At least it didn't make him sneeze. She was soft, supple, smooth. His hands ran up and down her body, sliding beneath the lingerie. There wasn't much to hold on to, his hands slipping on her still-wet skin. He pulled down a side, along with strap, and began by taking a nipple in his mouth. He felt her hands on his cheeks, running over his head, stroking his buzzed hair. He almost wished she wouldn't. It was very offputting when he was trying to concentrate on pleasing her.
Suddenly, he pulled back.
"Obi-Wan? Something wrong?"
There *was* something wrong. Not least of which was the fact that his nose was starting to tickle again. "I can't do this," he said, sliding out of the bed. He found his clothes and pulled out a pressed, white handkerchief. He unfolded it and clamped it to his face. "heh-KEHSHhh! hehChhhhh!" His nose was burning twice as badly now, and every sneeze felt wonderful when he finally sneezed it out. But as soon as one sneeze finished, the terrible urge for another to come out started. "hehKetchhhh!"
She looked herself up and down. "But I washed!"
He waved a hand gesturing towards the candles. "It's the candles... they're scented... hehKEHShhhh! hehCHEHShhhhhhhh! Chishhhh!"
"Ohhh!" she exclaimed with frustration. She grabbed the blanket, covering herself with it. "We'll go to the common area, then." She went to grab his hand and lead him there, but he pulled away.
"It's not just... hehtchhhh! Hihtchhhuhh! Sniff! It's not just that. It's... everything. I can't... hehCHISHhhhh! I can't do this." He began tugging his clothes back on between sneezes, much to Marial's displeasure. "I'm eehhChishhh! Sniff! I'm sorry," he said through the handkerchief as he left.
She stood in the doorway, looking frustrated. "It's all right," she said. "Better to know now than later." And she closed the door in his face. She'd cope. She was a Jedi. She wasn't really angry at him, just at the situation, and his allergies. She'd get over it in no time. He, on the other hand...
Obi-Wan, still sniffling and sneezing, took a deep breath and started back home, taking the longest route he could think of.
Qui-Gon, blurry-eyed, emerged from his quarters. "Oh, Obi-Wan!" He said around a yawn. "I did not realize you were home. I did not sense you."
Obi-Wan lifted his head and turned around halfway. "I'm sorry to startle you, Master. I was deep in meditation with the Force." He sat cross-legged on the mat in the very center of the common room. Scent-less candles surrounded him, warming him, and a handkerchief rested on his thigh, though it looked as though he were over his sneezes by now. Though it seemed they served a purpose for it was after his dates when he'd had allergy attacks that he took the time to truly reflect on his pitiful search.
"Have you been here long?" Qui-Gon asked, rubbing the back of his neck.
"A long while, Master. I sensed you were trying to fall asleep and made as little noise as possible. But you're awake still?"
"Could not fall asleep. I keep thinking of more to add to that briefing for the trip next week. I thought perhaps a cup of tea would calm me down."
Understanding, "I just made a fresh pot. It's still warm on the stove."
Qui-Gon smiled in appreciation and settled across from Obi-Wan on the meditation mat, handing him a cup of tea and keeping one for himself. "I have never known you to meditate so late unless there was real reason."
Obi-Wan, glad for the tea, nodded and paused to swallow before launching into explanation. "I had a lot of questions to meditate on, Master. And I was hoping that the Force could point me in the proper direction of the answers."
"And did it?" asked Qui-Gon calmly.
With a shrug and a sniffle, Obi-Wan took another sip of tea. "It helped clear my mind of some. But I'm afraid I was left with even more questions than before."
Qui-Gon nodded. "Would you like me to help lead you in meditation, or is this a private matter you do not wish to share with me?"
"There is nothing too private to keep from you, Master. However, I feel as though it would be most beneficial to discover the answers on my own."
"I am flattered, My Padawan, that you feel close enough to me to share your most private thoughts. And I very proud to hear that you know when it is time to ask my help and when it is time to seek answers on your own. But know that I am always here to listen if you need to simply talk."
Obi-Wan took another gulp of tea and set it aside. With a stretch, he leaned over and lay down, resting his head on Qui-Gon's thigh. His master's strong hand stroked his head soothingly in a sign that he would listen. "I had another date tonight," Obi-Wan said, closing his eyes and letting the montage of images of the date fill his mind. "This makes number twenty-three since I became of age."
"I take it this one did not go as well as you had hoped?"
That was putting it tactfully. "I do not believe I will be seeing Marial again." Silly to think that once he had been worried about getting his heart broken when now he could find no one to love in such a way that that was even a possibility. "I began to think perhaps my standards are too high. Or that I was doing something very wrong." His eyes still closed, replaying glimpses of previous dates, his hand reached up and his fingers stroked Qui-Gon's thigh, tracing along the seem, straightening tiny wrinkles in the leggings that occurred in the way he sat, legs bent. "And then I remembered something you told me years ago after one of my dates. That I would find someone and know when it felt right. Well, tonight did not feel right at all. And after plenty of thought I do not believe the problem is my high standards."
Qui-Gon's pettings became tenderer, and a fresh wave of sympathy and understanding flowed from master to padawan along their bond.
"I have picked potential partners for various traits and the way those traits worked well with me. Arnie and I always seemed to get along so well in class study groups. Pil'Mae was an excellent sparring partner intone with all my movements and anticipating my actions. Marial is top of out class academically and very passionate about her work. Darnell was so sweet and caring and so great with animals. Fella was so great at interspecies relations in every respect of the word. The list goes on. I have been attracted to each of them on many levels, including physical. And yet it hasn't felt right. I was beginning to doubt that it would ever feel right."
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon whispered, the sound so soft that it barely made its way from Qui-Gon's lips to Obi-Wan's ear.
"No, I realize that is a gross overstatement. And you are right. I will indeed find someone. The Force has shown me that much. Only I now think it needs to be less someone who peaks my interests as a good match and more someone who is my type."
Qui-Gon's touch moved from his head to his back and shoulders, petting softly. "And what is your type, My Padawan?"
Obi-Wan's shoulders jerked up against his master's hand in a shrug. "That, My Master, is where all the new unanswered questions came from."
Qui-Gon chuckled and patted Obi-Wan's back. "Perhaps those questions are better left until you get a good sleep. Even the Force cannot help you solve every riddle in one night."
Obi-Wan nodded. He was indeed tired. The tea was working on him. And the soft glow of the candles. "Would you mind if we stayed here a while longer? Not to meditate, of course. It's just that I'm so comfortable with you here. I feel at peace for the first time tonight."
"Of course, Padawan Mine. What is a master for if not for being able to center his padawan and bring peace to a mind full of questions?" He reached down and picked the handkerchief up, folding it, tucking it away in his pocket. "Do not worry, Obi-Wan. We all must ask these questions. We all must find out who our perfect partner is... what our type is... and we all go through many attempts before finding what feels right. The process does not always go as we had hoped."
"Even you, Master?" Qui-Gon made a soft, affirmative murmuring noise and gave Obi-Wan's shoulder a tight squeeze. While it was not comforting to know that this struggle was a long one, it was nice to know Qui-Gon had been through it as well. "So what is your type then, Master?"
With a light laugh, he administered a kiss to the top of Obi-Wan's head. "It is late, Obi-Wan--"
"Please, Master? Any insight would be appreciated. It would give me something to think about tonight as I drift off to sleep."
Qui-Gon's pause told Obi-Wan that perhaps it was too intimate an inquiry. There was nothing that said that just because the padawan was comfortable with admitting his most personal thoughts to his master that the master had to feel likewise. "I will tell you, my Obi-Wan," he said at last. His voice was a low, thoughtful whisper. "But not this night. I will tell you when the time is right. We all find our own paths, My Padawan. You need time to find yours." He rubbed a tough thumb over Obi-Wan's soft cheek. "But for tonight, think about all the things you have accomplished and all the questions you have answered. Like how you qualified for the saber competition at the top level for your age. Or how you've been improving on your penmanship. Or..."
"Or the briefing for trip next week that you technically finished two days ago?" Obi-Wan suggested, opening an eye and peeking up at Qui-Gon.
His master had a pained look on his face. "Ohhh, Obi, you had to remind me?"
"You have great talent. You will find the perfect words, Master," he said encouragingly.
A smile spread across Qui-Gon's face. He bent and gave Obi-Wan as much of a hug as he could manage in his position. "Every time I try to reassure you I find myself reassured *by you* instead."
Obi-Wan smiled back and closed his eyes, resting his head in the warmth of his master's lap, feeling the peace that only his master's closeness brought.
* * *
"hehhh..." Obi-Wan pulled another handkerchief out of his pocket and buried his nose in it, turning away from the table. "hehhh-KEHTChuhhhhhh! hehhTChuhhh!" He rubbed his nose clean and turned back to the table. "Excuse me, Master." He sniffled, wiggling his nose. "I think my cold's getting worse."
"I'm sorry, Obi-Wan. I shouldn't have asked you out to lunch after tiring you out sparring. Maybe we should go straight back to our quarters?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "I'll be all right, but thank you."
Their dessert arrived just then, guaranteeing that they could leave any time now. Qui-Gon was never one to refuse sweets, though he very rarely ordered them after meals, preferring to save them for rewards or celebrations. When one could celebrate a grand victory with a piece of chocolate cake and be ecstatic about it, that was the mark of one who did not ask much of the world. Simple pleasures were sometimes the most thrilling. "Go on, dig in!" Qui-Gon encourage, waving towards the other fork. "You deserve this as much as I do."
Their mission had gone much better than either they or the high council had hoped. "No, I really shouldn't," replied Obi-Wan, watching as his master scooped up a forkful of cake and ice cream in exactly equal proportions. He nearly forgot his reason as he registered such a perfectly logical action. "My cold," he said, wiggling fingers in front of his face in gesture.
"Oh, I don't care about a few little sneezes. Come on, it's delicious. You'd better dig in before the ice cream melts." He picked the fork up and stuck it in Obi-Wan's hand, smiling, then taking another bite, himself.
With both eating, they were done in no time, and returned to their quarters. The afternoon was filled with research and studying for a new assignment only a day old. Qui-Gon wrapped Obi-Wan up in his own comforter again and managed to find time in between looking up the dates of the major treaty ratifications and trying to find the proper pronunciation of the word 'Shplixindorflugh' to make Obi-Wan cups of herbal tea and to retrieve fresh handkerchiefs whenever his was looking overly used. At particularly bad sneezing fits, Qui-Gon would leave his work to sit by Obi-Wan's side, laying a comforting hand on his padawan's arm until it had worked itself through.
Despite what was turning out to be a fairly trying cold, Obi-Wan found it easy to absorb himself in his work. What they were doing was too fascinating to let a simple cold get in the way. They were basically piecing together the histories of eight different civilizations on one planet, and trying to use that to resolve current disputes. But it meant learning eight different cultures and traditions, eight different governmental policies, and more than fifteen different languages. The hard part was meshing the histories of wars and treaties among them all to make out the truth.
"Master!" Obi-Wan exclaimed, looking back at the desk where Qui-Gon sat, pouring over old books and documents.
Qui-Gon dropped a book and a datapad in his haste to rush over to the sofa. "Are you all right? Is it your throat again? Your head?"
Obi-Wan shook his head, smiling, as Qui-Gon's fingers grazed his cheek concernedly. He tried to fight the urge to turn his head towards the touch to motion for more, but lost the battle. His throat *was* sore and his head *did* hurt. But he hardly noticed them when Qui-Gon tried to comfort him. "No, Master. I found another reference to corroborate that date. See, look here," he pointed at the old, wrinkled document nested in his lap amongst the folds of the blanket.
Clearing a spot on the couch first, Qui-Gon sat down. He put an arm around Obi-Wan, drawing him closer so that he could see. Qui-Gon's gaze was intense as he read through the lines Obi-Wan had pointed out. His eyes slowly widened. "You're right, this definitely confirms that the Calmarians hadn't developed the skills of writing a formal language until at least the seventh age. Which means--"
"--there's absolutely no way they could have drawn up the treaty of submission that the Menalians claim they did."
Qui-Gon agreed. "It had to have been forced at the least or doctored centuries after the fact. It is even possible they were coerced into signing it after the fact without understanding the terms." He tightened his grip around Obi-Wan's shoulders. "This is an excellent find, Padawan. It should certainly help level the nations at the negotiating table."
Obi-Wan could feel his master's pleasure and excitement through their bond as much as through the hug. Almost unconsciously, his hand reached over to grab at his master's robes. He wanted Qui-Gon to be closer. He and his master had always touched. It was tender, it was reassuring. And it was the way Obi-Wan knew when his master was proud of him, for Qui-Gon very rarely said such things out loud. But this time Obi-Wan wanted more. But he retracted his hand and cupped it over his nose instead while pushing the documents over to Qui-Gon so he didn't accidentally ruin them with his sneezes. "hek-Tushhhh! hehTChuhhhhh! hehKEHShuhhhhhh! Kihshhhuhhh!" He pulled out his handkerchief but Qui-Gon beat him to it, dangling it in front of his face. "heh... thags..." he snuffled and coughed into it.
"Maybe you should go lie down for a little bit?" Qui-Gon suggested. His hand went from Obi-Wan's shoulder to brushing against his forehead.
Obi-Wan sniffled and nodded in agreement. The moment of opportunity had passed. "Yes. I think I will."
"Ah..." Qui-Gon dropped his hand to Obi-Wan's chest. "Why don't you use my bed. There's still some room on it. Rather than disturb the organizing." Again, his master was very reasonable. They had set up eight stations around the room, one for each nation they were exploring. So books and papers and such were spread out over the sofa, the desk, the table, the kitchen counters, the coffee table, Qui-Gon's bedroom dresser, Obi-Wan's sleep couch, and Qui-Gon's bed. But, as Qui-Gon stated, there was room on the bed for Obi-Wan also.
He agreed and retreated into the dark room, squeezing onto the side of the bed and pulling a pillow over for himself. It smelled heavily of Qui-Gon, and the overpowering familiar smell relaxed him so much that he fell asleep right away.
He did not sleep for long, however. He woke not an hour later, feeling twice as congested but only half as achy. "How are you feeling, Padawan Mine?" Qui-Gon asked, coming through the door with a mug in one hand and another clean handkerchief in the other. He sat on the edge of the bed and waited for Obi-Wan to clear his nose a bit with blows. "Do you need anything?"
"I could sniff! use something to eat, maybe," he said, rubbing the back of his neck as he lifted his head off the pillow. Qui-Gon eased him up into a sitting position, then handed over the mug. Obi-Wan grinned. "Soup. You read my mind." The first spoonful was burning hot, but felt so good going down that he didn't wait for it to cool before eating more.
"Cold, Padawan?" Qui-Gon asked after a while, seeing the young man shiver beneath the comforter. Obi-Wan nodded meekly. "Well, my eyes are killing me, and I need to take a break for a few minutes. Would you mind if I take it with you?"
Obi-Wan's face fell with the urge to sneeze. And instead of recoiling, Qui-Gon moved closer in concern. The practically empty cup of soup was pried out of his hand so he wouldn't spill it. "hehhhh...hehKufchuhh! hehKEHShhuhh! Sniff, sniff! If you don't mind me sneezing and coughing." He hoped very much that Qui-Gon wouldn't, that he shouldn't have just said a simple 'of course I don't mind.'
But Obi-Wan was rewarded for his honesty and carefulness with a smile from his master. "You've got a cold. I expect a little sneezing and coughing. It's part of the deal and as long as you don't mind sharing some of that blanket I'll get under there with you. It really is cold in here." They had to keep the temperature in their quarters cool to help preserve some of the older, fragile documents. Obi-Wan smiled and scooted over in bed. He let Qui-Gon sit beside him, snuggle into the blankets, and wrap his arms around Obi-Wan. "Warmer?"
"Thank you, Master." His voice was soft, hesitant.
"Padawan," whereas Qui-Gon's was harsh and demanding. "If you have something to say, say it. Is it your congestion? Can I get you something more?"
"It's not that," he whispered. "I was just trying to decide if this was the right time to talk to you again about my search for love." He felt the arms around his middle loosen a bit, even before he bent forward away from his master to sneeze. "hehhKtchhhh! hehChuhhh! hahTchuhhh!"
"Bless you, Obi-Wan. Anytime you feel the need to tell me something, it's the right time. I know you have spent considerable time meditating on what we talked about months ago. Have you reached conclusions, then?"
Obi-Wan nodded, turning his head to look back at his master. He paused, his hand reaching back so slowly it wasn't noticeable. But then his hand shot over, clutching Qui-Gon's robes and pulling him close. Putting his cold out of his mind, thinking only of Qui-Gon and acting on his instincts, he pressed his lips against his master's. Hard, strong, pulsating with urge. He felt Qui-Gon tilt his head so that he could kiss better without their noses bumping. Their lips moved, pushing, opening and closing a little. It was Obi-Wan who pulled back, gasping for air that his stuffy nose hadn't allowed him to take during the kiss.
Qui-Gon seemed breathless as well, but not the least bit upset or startled. Obi-Wan ran the back of his hand over his mouth by way of a nose rub. "I've been waiting for the right time to do that for seven days now," he said. Feeling slightly embarrassed, he turned his head back away.
Qui-Gon's hug tightened from behind, and he leaned forward into Obi-Wan, his cheek brushing against Obi's. "I've been waiting for that for practically seven years." He gave a deep sigh and kissed Obi-Wan's hot cheek. "I knew there was to be something more between us when we started developing our training bond. But it wasn't until your emotions started maturing and you began dating that I realized exactly what that something was."
He rubbed his nose again to buy himself time. "You knew I was having relationship problems... and you knew I was going to discover this eventually... why didn't you just tell me when I came to you for help?"
Qui-Gon laughed, snuggling Obi-Wan closer. "Oh, Obi-Wan, think how it would have sounded if I'd sat you down at your sexual awakening and told you that one day we would be lovers. It would sound like a master trying to instruct his padawan to do something he wasn't ready to face."
"No..." protested Obi-Wan.
"Yes," he laughed. "It would have sounded as though I were abusing my position. Which is precisely what it would have been. I had to wait for you to discover it on your own. You had to find your path without my guidance."
"And my path stillled me right into your path," Obi-Wan whispered in near disbelief.
With a nod to confirm this, Qui-Gon continued, "I had to wait until you felt it... until you knew what you wanted."
Smiling, Obi-Wan raised his handkerchief. He tried to pull away but Qui-Gon held him close. "hehKetchhh! huhKtchhhh! hehChushhhhh! CHIHShhhhh!"
"Blesses." Another soft kiss met his cheek, sending thrills and comfort through him. Obi-Wan turned, nuzzling his head and side into Qui-Gon's chest. Qui-Gon wrapped the blanket around him with his arms. "Oh, my Obi-Wan... we shouldn't be having this conversation now. You're sick." He caressed Obi-Wan's cheek with the back of his hand.
"That is exactly why I should be having this conversation with you. I always seem more retrospective when I'm sneezing," he laughed. "And it's always so easy to talk when you're holding me in your arms like this."
"I had noticed," Qui-Gon said. "I feel more at peace as well during those times."
"I knew what I wanted to say," Obi-Wan went on to explain, "I just needed the opportunity to say it. You told me that I would find someone and know when it felt right. I've kissed a lot of people, Master. Men, women, padawans, even a few masters and visiting dignitaries..." he grinned with embarrassment. "But it didn't feel right with them."
"But this time it felt right?"
"More than," he said with a contented sigh, closing his eyes. "It felt as though it were meant to be. As though I belonged in your arms. Not simply as your padawan but your lover."
"It was meant to be... and you do belong in my arms. And not just because we're both a little cold and you're sick." He took a deep breath and bent down, kissing Obi-Wan again, wedging his tongue gently between his lips, sucking and tugging but being soft and gentle and releasing the younger man when he sensed he was in need of a breath. "Now... how about I get us both some tea, scrounge up another blanket, and we can snuggle up on the couch together--"
"And we can dig through that big volume of early Tyrinese parliament rulings."
Qui-Gon sighed, his eyes closing. "Now you're reading *my* mind." He felt around, locating one of Obi-Wan's hands, squeezing tightly. "Let us go." Obi-Wan grinned, holding the blanket tightly as Qui-Gon pulled him, grinning madly, into the common area.