Title: Forced Communication

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Star Wars

Rating: PG13

Pairing: Qui/Obi

Disclaimer: The plot, such that it is, is mine, but I've no claim to GL's universe or characters, or anything remotely resembling compensation for this story

Summary: Obi and Qui are forced to ascend to another level of communication.

Feedback:  Sure, thanks! :-)



Forced Communication


     My master talks more through his touches than through his words. In the library he hands me a datapad and pats me on the arm. When I am in the flight simulator, his fingertips brush against the back of my hand while guiding me to the proper console. At night when we sit together on the couch in the common area and read or work sometimes his arms come around my shoulders. Other times my shoeless feet are in his lap and he rubs them as he reads. And other times it's my head in his lap and he does my braid for me. Instead of praising my work with words, he squeezes my shoulder. He congratulates my victories with strong hugs. And when he moves to kiss me, he caresses my cheek or chin first to warm me and ready me.


     This is not to say he does not speak much to me. In truth it is quite the opposite. He is the instructor, and I the learner, and his lessons are more frequent than anything else. The conversations and debates we have are numerous and enthusiastic, and he teaches me how to be a good negotiator and address different sorts of people in different sorts of situations. He is also the one who expresses his love out loud. He who has waited his entire life and much of mine, short though it is in comparison, for his soulmate. He showers me with compliments and proclaims that I am his in more ways than I can count. He has special, secret names for me. He has special words and tones just for when he and I are alone. His affection truly has no bounds. And so to say he touches more than talks is saying quite a lot.


     So I become understandably concerned when suddenly the talking lessens and the touching stops altogether. Even if it was early in the morning and we were both that tired sort of quiet that keeps conversations short. I could not, however, let the matter pass without exchanging words.


     "Master, is there anything wrong?" I asked, handing over the sugar so he can take some for his tea.


     He looked up at me with soft eyes. "Wrong, Padawan?"


     I passed the plate of toast over, but he refuses the last piece and gestures for me to take it instead. I insisted, pushing it further towards him, out of my reach. "It is only a feeling I had. Something I sensed." I closed my eyes a moment. The feeling was there still. Strong, cold, and unmistakable. It hurt deep in my stomach, and I suddenly realized a little of what it was about. It was about him.


     He must have realized that I had discovered it at that moment, at least partially, because he did not attempt to dissuade me. "Yes, there is something, but I assure you it is not serious." He took his tea carefully and finally accepted the piece of toast. "We shall discuss it the moment you return from classes." He popped the toast into his mouth and, smiling, spoke around it. "Make sure you're not late for classes now."


     I smiled back and nodded. I am never late to classes, at least not without a very good reason. And, mind, I always have a very good reason for doing everything that I do. Which is why, as I sat after a spectacular saber class, toweling myself off in only my leggings, and I heard a yell, I left my things behind to investigate at once. As it turned out, two of the young padawans, having just been taken on by masters, had been through a bit of an accident while dueling in the practice room. I broke through the ranks of the onlookers and pressed my hands to each side of what looked like a pretty nasty scrape. The flesh was ripped open, but was not bleeding, as it was a saber injury and the heat had fused it. And though it was but a scrape, I knew it must have been exceedingly painful, both for the injured, and he who had done the injuring.


     I reached up and put my arms around the offender, who seemed to be in shock, mouth and eyes wide, hands shaking. "He'll be all right, Rai." I gave him a squeeze of a hug and then took the injured Malicai in my arms. He shook as well, and my stomach ached all the more at it, so much that I nearly doubled over from the pain. I nuzzled the injured padawan the way my master nuzzled me when I got hurt off-world on our missions. It had kept it warm and comforted and drew my mind from the pain. This seemed to have the same result on Malicai. One of the training masters arrived seconds later, not at all breathless despite breaking out of a sprint. He and I spoke for a few moments, and he put his arm around Rai as I led the way past their age mates, towards the healing dome.


     The healing dome is a place I know far too well. I wouldn't go so far as to say I am accident prone, but my Master is right when he says I am not so well tuned into the living force to prevent certain things which could be preventable. Then there are the illnesses. Having been a fairly healthy child, my body seems to be making up for it now. The various strange, foreign viruses picked up on other worlds during missions are no asset. I know everything about the healing dome, from the missing tile on the far wall of the waiting area to the number of specs on the ceiling in examining room twelve. Though, to my credit, I only know that number because I was in a neck brace for three hours in that room with nothing else to look at.


     Healer Gibs was on duty, and on his instructions we took the young padawans down the hall. As we passed other examining rooms, I glanced inside, memories flooding back to me. Where I had slept after I had my tonsils removed and was given copious amounts of ice cream, where I stayed overnight with a broken arm and a concussion so my master and several healers took turns reading to me so I would not fall asleep, where I woke up after sustaining those stab wounds from the mission to Bracknair. This time, however, something in one of the rooms caught my eye. Something much more than my memories. "Master Qui-Gon?"


     Though his ponytail was unmistakable, he turned around to confirm his identity. There was a thermometer in his mouth, and he looked rather tired. The pain in my stomach stabbed harder, so much that I thought I might be sick, or even drop Malicai. So I fought back the feeling and help him closer. In my arms, Malicai whimpered and went to touch the wound on his leg. "There there, lie still," I told him. "We're nearly to a bed." I hurry ahead, though pausing just a moment longer to give my master a look, something between anger and sympathy, with a bit of confusion worked in as well.


     In the examining room at the end of the hallway, I sat in the chair beside the bed I had laid Malicai upon. I held his hand as the masters hover over him.  I pulled Rai onto my lap and wrapped an arm around him, along with a blanket. When the young boy had been calmed and warmed and properly centered, and when Malicai had been fixed and bandaged, I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I looked back, I saw Healer Tala there. I gave him the same expression I had given my master, which made Tala recoil with a laugh.


     "Qui-Gon's all right," Tala said first. "He'd rather discuss it at your quarters if you don't mind, but he'll stay around until you're done here if you need him to."


     I shook my head and reached back, taking Tala's hand. "No, it's all right. I'll be going in just a bit." The training master gave me a nod and Tala nodded as well.


     "Qui says he understands and wants you to take all the time you feel is needed." He pulled out a dark brown robe, instantly identifiable as my master's. Tala wrapped it around my shoulders warmly. "And he says he doesn't want you to go prancing around the temple without your shirt from now on."


     I laughed and thanked Tala. I suppose I could have gone home just then, but I stayed a while longer for moral support. As wonderfully comforting as the masters and healers could be, I knew what it was like to hurt a friend, a fellow Jedi padawan. And the boys did not seem to want me to go too soon. Rai turned and snuggled against my chest for a while, and instead of crying in pain Malicai squeezed my hand every time someone touched his leg to check his injury. After a while, I laid Rai down on the cot beside Malicai and watched as the two communicated their apologies, sympathies, and forgiveness. Rai took over for me in holding Malicai's hand. Would that all saber accidents were so easily taken care of.


     I stopped by the training rooms to grab my tunics and robes to find the classes either in meditation or doing katas. I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd all received a talk about being safe and not panicking when accidents happen as they so often do. My walk back was spent in contemplation, remembering those things that would stay with me, even when I wished they could be gone. I'd nearly forgotten that feeling I had over breakfast, or a few hours before in the healing dome, when I opened the door and was faced with it again, and this time it overpowered me.


     One hand grabs the doorjam, while the other clutches at my stomach, and I double over, suddenly looking at my knees. I remain in the position for a moment, trying to fight against it. Looking up, eyes squinting with pain, I see my master on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, clutching a handkerchief. "Come in and sit down before you fall down, Padawan," he tells me. I step in and the doors slide shut behind me. By the time I make it to the couch beside him, the pain in my stomach is lessened, but I can no longer feel him through our bond either.


     Perhaps it is this shock of suddenly being without him, as I have not been since my initiate days, or perhaps it is the fact that without him to help ground me, my connection to the force weakens. But for whatever reason, I am a flood of emotions that I cannot properly contain or release. "Master!" I exclaim, and I swallow hard to keep myself from being sick. "What is it?"


     "It's nothing serious," he says, and I can tell from his eyes he is telling the truth, even without being able to sense it. "It's just a touch of the flu. It's going around." He puts on a weak smile. "I'm surprised you haven't caught it yet, actually." But even the forced smile fades and he, already partially hunched over, bends forward even more so his nose meets his handkerchief. "Schuhhhh! hah'Chuhhh!" His face, or what I can see of it through this hair and over the handkerchief, twitches and wears a brief expression of pain. I reach over to push his hair from his face, but he flinches and pulls away.


     "I'll most likely catch it anyway," I assure him. He is my love, and if I want to touch him the prospect of a flu bug isn't going to dissuade me. But as I reach out, he pulls back, scooting to the end of the couch. I can tell he regrets the move at once, and groans a bit, leaning against the side of the couch to steady himself. "Master?"


     He pretends he is not in as much pain, and he changes the subject. "I didn't want to tell you this morning, as I knew you'd worry about me being sick all day."


     "I would have," I tell him with all honesty, knowing it will not calm him but scared to be otherwise with my master. "But as it was I worried all day, anyway. Worried that something was wrong and that something was worse than just the flu."


     He smiles again, this one a bit more genuine. "I shall remember that next time I have the misfortune to fall ill." He is ill very rarely, and even then it is usually just a small sniffle that a few healing trances takes care of. With his bloodshot eyes and pale face, I cannot think of a time when he has ever looked so bad. And I hope that this next time he speaks of never happens. Without sensing it, and without saying so, his expression tells me he knows what I am thinking and silently thanks me for it. "Now, as for this time, I shall be all right. I've seen Tala and he's given me some tea." As he speaks, I see him massage his belly through his tunic as though soothing it. "I am strong, and I hear this flu passes quickly. A few days of rest and it will be as though it never happened." He grimaces, his hand tightening against his belly, and swallows hard.


     "Master?" I say, inching closer in concern. "Are you going to get sick?" Ready to help him up and over to the refresher, I become.


     But Master Qui-Gon shook his head. "Nay. My stomach is too strong for that. It is only upset. I can calm it easily enough." He coughs and rubs the handkerchief beneath his nose to distract me from the pain in his stomach I can no longer sense.


     "All right," I say softly. "Can I get you something, then? A cup of tea, perhaps?"


     He shakes his head. "No, I just had one recently, and it didn't manage to make me fall asleep. Besides, I..." He stops suddenly, getting that look about him. He raises his handkerchief again halfway, and when he sneezes he pitches forward into it. "hah'Sugshhh! huhhh'EHChuhhhh! Gh'Chuhhhh! Uhhh..." He complains and blows his nose into the handkerchief. Then, before I can make the observation, or comment on the way his hand more tightly grips round a paining stomach, he says, "I need a new handkerchief." He pulls himself to his feet with a deep moan. "Ohhh, and I need my bed."


     Unsteadily, he takes a few steps back and to the side.  I stand immediately and reach out to help steady him. But he pulls his arm away. He nearly bumps into the bookshelves and his hand does fly back against a small jar on one shelf. In a noble attempt, I dive forward, catching it before it hits the floor and smashes to pieces, but not without receiving a rug-burn on my chin and forearms for doing so. When I stand and replace the object, I see my master walking slowly towards the bedroom. Again I go to hold him, support him. And again he pulls away from my touch.


     "No, Padawan," he whispers. "I am ill, and every bit of my body--" His eye catches mine. "Yes, and I do mean every bit. Every bit of my body is in terrible pain. My very skin tingles with it and I am sensitive to the touch. If it were not for this raging fever that sends chills through me, I would have off with my clothes, for even their presence is painful." He averts his eyes and continues on, slowly, towards his room. "I could not stand your touch right now, tender and caring as it might be."


     I am helpless then. Helplessness is not something I do well. Nor is it something I take lightly, especially with a master who is always touching and snuggling. When I am ill, he takes me in his arms and holds me until the sniffles have passed. When I am feverish he sits by my side and wipes my brow and cheek with cool caresses until it is lessened. I would do no less for him. Except that now he will not let me, it seems. "But, Master..."


     He sits gingerly on his bed, sighing gladly at the stability it brings. "This flu makes me hypersensitive, Padawan. And for a Jedi with already heightened senses, it is like a form of torture. All the best intentions could not make up for how badly I would feel if you were to touch me." He knows very well I will not leave it at that, and quickly adds. "Let me be, Padawan. If your hands need to be busy, you can boil me some water or find me another blanket. For I am cold."


     I nod and set my mind to do both. I should not need his commands to know how to care for him. All sense tells me I should simply do all I can without being instructed. But, worried and confused, I have reverted to my days as a young padawan when I did not know what to do without his orders. All I worried about then was how best to be his padawan. And now, when I want to be his caregiver and lover, I find I do not even know how by instinct. "I will, Master," I reply with a nod. "I will get you many blankets, so it is very warm for you. As your clothes seem to bother you, perhaps shedding them before slipping beneath the covers would be a good idea?"


     He pauses a moment to consider this, then nods. "Yes, that does seem logical." He looks thoughtful but, our bond temporarily disconnected, I cannot sense what he is thinking. "That way they are not pulling and itching against my skin and the sheets alone touch me in one continuous piece of cloth. Yes." However it seems a difficult task to shed his clothes. I do my best to help without touching him. Instead of pulling them off for him as I so often do, I stand beside and take them once he has managed to lift his limbs properly and scoot around to pull them all off. I fold them and place them aside to be washed, then pull the covers of his bed down for him.


     He is shivering, and though I know he has only just come down with the illness, he looks thinner to my eyes. When I pull the covers back up, he winces and whimpers in pain. I stop and let him do the rest himself. He lies back against the pillows, the covers up to his bare shoulders, shaking with shivers. I am tempted to crawl beneath and warm him, but I cannot stand to think how he would howl with pain were I to hug him close now.


     I retrieve a fresh handkerchief from his dresser, and place it beside him on my way out of his room for water and more blankets. I can hear him breaking it in with coughing and snuffling. He doesn't sound very good. And if Tala's tea did not help him feel better or put him to sleep, I fear he is beyond help and must simply wait this one out. But of the two of us, my master is more skilled at being patient, and while he lies in bed, I busy myself making tea and cleaning the kitchen for he left the dishes in the sink during his last attempt.


     I return with tea as soon as it is ready, and hand it over carefully. He winces briefly at the intense heat and instinctively I take the mug back for a few minutes, until it cools. I dare not sit down on the bed, lest I rock it and disturb what calm he has cast his stomach into. So instead I lean back against the wall beside it, blowing into the tea. I know he is not one to complain, even when he has all rights to do so. But I do wish to know, and so I ask, "How are you feeling now? Any warmer, Master?"


     "A little," he admits, if only to make me feel useful. I cannot sense that he is lying, but that is because I cannot sense him at all when he puts his barriers up. "More comfortable, at least," he says, with a smile. I know he prefers to sleep naked, when we are here and alone, though I am many times too concerned with someone walking in when I'm on my way to the 'fresher, or concerned with getting a bit too close at night when we have not the time for play. He would have me naked all the time, though, to see me prancing through our quarters in but my skin, to worship me with his eyes. But I cannot do it. I am too set on the rules and too comfortable in the standard issue sleepwear. Even so, I can tell his eyes are never disappointed when they look upon me. My master knows me so well, I believe he can see right through my clothes anyway.


     I start to hand over the tea, when I see his upper lip and moustache twitch, as do his nostrils. He raises the handkerchief halfway, breathing heavily towards it. "ehhhh... hehh'Ehhshhh! IhhChuhhh!" He blows his nose briefly, then wipes his nose dry. He seems much happier with the cleaner handkerchief. I return to his dresser drawer and extract all the handkerchiefs I can find. There's a small stack of five, it seems, which will not do to see him through the entire illness. I make a mental note to send for more later tonight.


     When he finishes with his nose, he sits up, and I hand him the mug of hot tea, that isn't quite so hot as before. He shivers, and his hands shake as he reaches up for it. With no shirt on, and sitting up in bed away from the warmth of the covers. This will not do, either. I pull a blanket off the bed and he leans forward as I drape it over his front and tuck it gently around him. But this way he cannot hold the mug. So I sit down on the edge of the bed gently and hold it up to his lips for him to take small sips. I know he wants to tell me that he doesn't need to be spoon-fed like an infant, but at the same time, I can tell he much appreciates it for the warmth. I have a bad feeling that his fever is rising, but I will not touch his forehead to be sure. He seems to be in enough pain as it is.


     Halfway through the tea, he stops and pulls away, arms moving beneath the blanket. "No more," he whispers, closing his eyes tightly and making a face at the taste. Somewhere between his stomach and throat, he has decided any more tea and he will be sick to his stomach.


     Nervously, I prod him, "Master, if you do not keep drinking, you'll sn--"


     "ehhSchhhhh! Heh'Kushhhh! Ketchuhhhh! Hep'tchuhhh! keh'Tchhhh! ehhhTchuhhh! ehhhh... ehhhChuhhhh!" I offer him a fresh handkerchief, but he cannot lift his head to notice it or take it. And my proddings with the force do no good as he has closed himself off. "ehhhh'Phshhhh! Hehh'Gushhh! Ehhh..." I swoop in and hold the handkerchief against his nose. His nostrils flare against it, but the pressure is enough to delay his sneeze an extra few moments. It is enough to lift the cup to his lips and force down the last of the tea. My master sighs with relief, then looks cross. "Badawad, I told you I did't..." He stops to yawn a wide, strong yawn that shakes his body, not a difficult feat now as he is so weakened, but one it is difficult for me to overlook. "I did't wadt ady bore of that tea. Add yet you..." He pauses again, yawning. With a cough, he turns on his side, still half sitting up in bed. I lift the covers and he slides beneath, head on the pillows, blankets up to his chin. "Add yet you forced it odd be adyway."


     I tuck the blankets around him gently, though he looks pained as I do. "You can punish me when you wake up," I reason with him. And this time when I reach out to pull his hair back from his face, he does not wince for his eyes are closed. I pull it back, a few strands at a time, careful not to touch my fingers to his face or head. The work is slow, painstaking, and I fear touching him by mistake. So I take a step back and hold my hand out. With a gentle, sweeping motion of the force, his hair is tossed back, over his shoulder, behind his ear, out of his face where it could itch and tickle as he sleeps. Though I know he is still awake, he does not wince. He does not feel the motion. I smile. There is one way I can touch him, then. And for this I am grateful. I do not think I could make it through a day beside him without touching him. Especially when he is making no moves to touch me.


     I use the force to caress his cheek, petting softly. I know he cannot feel it, as he drifts off to sleep, but it makes me feel better to do it. I sit by his side and pet him for a long while, as he sleeps. His breathing is heavy and strained from congestion. His mouth is open as his nose is stuffed. I direct a gentle wave of the force to it, knowing it will make little difference, but it cannot hurt, either.


     After a while, I leave his room to prepare dinner for myself and for him. I am certain he will not eat much, but I feel it's important to have it just in case he will eat some. My own dinner is not much, either, and I simply pick at it. My worry overpowers my hunger, it seems, and I keep looking back to be sure he is sleeping peacefully in bed.


     The rest of the night I spend lying on the floor beside the bed. There's not much to do but read and write. I fear that catching up on my correspondence or watching a video might wake my master with the noise, and he needs all the sleep he can get. His especially long sleep, I suspect, is due to the fact that he had more than one cup of herbal tea. Once knocked out by it, he seems to want to stay that way. Besides, I have enough work to do that can be done quietly. There are books to read and languages to learn. There are reports to write and research that must be completed for out next assignment which, thankfully, is onworld. I do not want my master tired out with trips soon after his recovery.




     I look up to see him stirring. "I'm right here." I pull back from lying on my stomach and leaning on my elbows, and I sit back on my legs so I can see him. "How are you?" I make a face. I hadn't really meant to ask that straight off. Reminding him he was sick the moment he woke was not the wisest of ideas. "I'm sorry, I mean--"


     "Horrible," he replies, his voice uncharacteristically rough and deep. He pulls an arm out and rubs a hand at his nose. Then he reaches down to me. "Can you get me something to drink?"


     I start to take his hand, but he pulls back. It seems as though he wants to avoid contact, but he covers his mouth with his hand and coughs. He sounds horrible. So I stand and nod. "Tea? Juice? Rulandrian Whiskey?"


     He cracks a smile. "Water."


     "Of course." I lean in and come close to kissing him, but pull back before touching him. He understands the sentiment anyway and his smile stays. I am quick with the water, and he seems relieved that I am. He smiles gratefully as I hand it over. He gulps down some water, sniffles, and sighs. "More?" I ask as he gulps down the rest and catches his breath. "Ice this time, perhaps?" He shakes his head and hands me the empty glass. Then, with a few more harsh coughs, he nods. "I'll be right back."


     When I return, he is sneezing, not coughing. He has his handkerchief clutched in hand, and he is sitting up in bed. He looks thinner, yes. Thinner and paler. But his chest looks so strong, and his arms, oh, the muscles. He doesn't seem cold, though so I put the worry aside for the moment and take in his rugged handsomeness. Even breathing, open-mouthed and sneezey, into his handkerchief he looks irresistibly handsome. I have a hard time not embracing him. "hehhhh... ehhh... uhhhhh..." He opens his eyes briefly, making contact with mine, then his head snaps forward, nose meeting the handkerchief. "huhhh'Kuhshhh! ehhhChuhhh! Hih'Ktchuhhhh!" He snuffles wetly and tosses the handkerchief to the foot of the bed when finished. He takes the glass from me and downs it at one time. I sit down on the bed. He winces, and hands me the empty glass. "I. Hurt. Everywhere." He sighs and closes his eyes, throwing his head back against the pillows.


     "Poor Master," I whisper. I pet his cheek again with the force, and he shivers. I pull back, startled. "Oh, I'm sorry!"


     He shakes his head. "No, it's good. I just didn't expect... it... oh no... must sneeze again..." I summon one of the handkerchiefs on top of the dresser over and hand it to him. His thumb and forefinger pinch his nose at the nostrils but his breathing through his mouth is deep and heavy. He raises the handkerchief all the way to his face this time, quick and urgent. He snaps forward again. "heh-YUHShhhh! eh'Kuhtchhhh!" He clears his throat, sniffling. "I did not know you could use the force like that," he says softly.


     "I had lots of practice to pet you while you were asleep." He smiles briefly. I suppose he might have smiled longer had he been feeling better. "How about taking a shower?" I suggest. "That will help clear up your sinuses a little."


     "That's not the part of me that hurts the most," he says, though he sniffles lightly between most of the words as he says it. "It's just an annoying part."


     I try again. "Well, then the hot water will soothe your muscles and warm you up. You're still feverish."


     He shakes his head. "I'm not really that cold. And I don't think I could handle standing up so long in the shower. I'm feeling rather weak right now."


     This hurts me terribly. My master is never weak. Even sick and sniffley, even aching and feverish and miserable, he is not weak. Not where it counts. "We could... take a chair in for you?"


     He laughs, and I see the twinkle in his fever-bright eyes. No, he is not weak, not deep down. He may be suffering and silent when he is sick, but Master Qui-Gon's spirit is as strong as ever. He lifts a hand to his shoulder, massaging it and showing how much it hurt to do so. "Master?" I whisper. "Please may I give you a back rub?"


     He winces again. "No, Padawan. Much as I want you to, do not touch me. My skin is crawling with pain."


     "I won't touch your skin with my hands," I reply. "I'll just use the force."


     He smiles and shakes his head. Using the force to show off or for personal gain were just about the most frowned upon things in the temple. "Petting me lightly is one thing, but massages... you should not use the force for such..."


     I will have none of this, even if he is my master. He can give me a list of things to do, and he can order me to do anything. But that does not mean I cannot do what I feel is best, as well. I am experienced enough to be able to decide for myself. "What better way to use the force than to comfort the man I love who needs comforting? To soothe the aches and pains of a man I long to touch but cannot?"


     Silently, he nods and crawls out completely from beneath the covers. He lies on his stomach, with a pillow hugged beneath his head by both arms. His long brown hair streams down past his neck and across the back of his shoulders. He closes his eyes and puts his trust in me. I make sure he has a handkerchief, and I have him drink a bit of water first. I do not want him worrying about coughing or sneezing now, though I am certain he will do both before I am finished, or even far into it.


     I sit by his waist, wanting to settle right down on the strong backs of his thighs as always I do, but quite unable to do so. I felt compelled to warn him somehow, but I could not reach out to him through our bond. I did not, however, feel it was the moment to speak. We communicate through touches so much that now should be no different. So I simply let the force do it for me, encasing him in warmth before I began the massage. He gives a soft sigh and I know he's ready.


     Gently I reach out to him, starting on his upper back. My hands are inches from his skin, but still he moves as though I am rubbing him myself. At the first rub using the force, he gives a soft moan, and I hesitate. "Master?"


     "Go on," he begs, eyes closed. "Please."


     And so I do. I use the force to rub his back and especially his shoulders. I push against his muscles, and I stroke in circles. I knead my hands into his back though my fingers do not get near to him. He feels it nonetheless, and gives soft moans. The sounds he makes remind me half the time of how he sounds during lovemaking, and the other half of the time how he sounds when he is about to sneeze. In truth I cannot tell what each sound makes unless he does sneeze. Each time he does need to sneeze, he reaches for the handkerchief, his fingers tightening around its folds for a moment before brining it to his nose. His whole body tenses and I stop massaging so as not to disturb the sneezes. He shudders at the force of each sneeze, without anything but a mattress to brace him. And after each, he blows a little at his nose, then turns his head and opens his eyes towards me in apology. Each time I shake my head and resume rubbing, trying to communicate that he need not apologize. He gives a soft, weak noise of frustration afterwards.


     I do not let it the sneezes dishearten me, however. I know that he is feeling sneezey and that cannot be helped. But he is also sore and that can be. I run my hands up his spine, watching his body move upwards accordingly. He tenses when he needs to sneeze, and only seems to relax once I've started rubbing him again.


     His face is soft, his breathing deep and steady and through his mouth instead of his nose thanks to congestion. His eyes squint and the corners of his mouth turn up as I touch him with the force. I wave my hand, and his cheek flattens minutely as the fore presses against it. His hair sweeps back from the touch, and I can see his smile more clearly. Then he draws his arms to his sides, and beneath his chest. He is starting to get cold again, I see. I work my hand in circles around his shoulder blades, rubbing to warm him.


     "Mmm, you're so very good to me," he says, sounding terribly congested. "I don't... oh... sneeze-coming-ehh-Yehshhh! Yihhh-HUHGgshhh! ehhhshuhh!" He sneezes into the pillow and his bare shoulder. I pull over another handkerchief, wanting to dry his nose for him. But instead I hand it over, careful to keep my fingers from touching his. It is so unnatural, so unlike us not to touch, that it seems to depress him. He closes his eyes tightly and shivers, clutching his arms tighter to his chest. "Sorry, Padawan. I'm just..."


     "Sneezey and shivery. I understand," I reply. "Let us stop for a while and get you back under the covers before your fever gets any worse."


     He shakes his head but sits up, agreeing, and crawling back up to the head of the bed. "I really needed that," he insists. "Felt so good."


     "I know." I pull the covers down and plump his pillows. Then I use the force to give his shoulders one more squeeze before covering him up. He makes a face at the pain as the covers touch him, but by now he is shaking with cold, without stop, and welcomes them as they start to warm him. "I'll do it again for you any time you wish." I tuck the covers around him loosely. "But for now, I think a bit more rest and warmth. Would you like me to get you some pudding and tea?"


     He shakes his head, breathing deeply from his mouth. His face twitches, and nose wrinkles, and up comes the handkerchief again, right on time. "huhh'Yuhshhhh! ehhhChushhhh! Yuhh..." He dabs the handkerchief at his nose, wincing at the touch. Hypersensitive and sore can barely describe how he must feel, not even able to breathe without feeling pain. "Ugh... sneeze... sneezing..." he tried to explain his delay in answering, as though I were hanging off him desperately for a reply. "ehhhChhhhh! hehGuhshhh!" I start to move, ready to get up off the bed to retrieve tea, whether he wants it or not. But he drops one hand from the handkerchief to reach out to me. His hand comes close, but he seems scared to touch me. His long hair swings back and forth over his shoulder as he freezes in place. "Please just stay here with me for a little while? At least until I stop shivering?"


     My master is never weak, not in my mind, not where it counts. And yet, if I were ever to pick one moment when he were closest to it, it would be now. I sit on one of the pillows, on top of the covers, my back to the headboard. "I will stay here all night."


     He continues to shake his head. "No, that's not necessary. It's just a touch of the flu. I'll be fine once my fever drops and congestion goes away. You don't need to--"


     "I will stay all night," I repeat firmly, as though having not heard a word he said. "But not just because you're ill and need me, but because I need to be here with you." I reach out to him, through our bond, desperate to relay some semblance of how badly I feel for him and how much I want to help. I would have him lower his defenses. I would have him give up his emotions to me. I would have him let me in to feel his pain.


     "Padawan..." he says softly, refusing to drop his shields, and flushing at the effort of resisting me. I back away quickly. I do not mean to make it more painful, but I miss his touch and he mine. And despite the illness and his plea to keep from hurting him, I feel as though just one single touch would be enough to make us both feel better in this matter.


     And so I turn and lean forward, bearing down upon him. I sweep his hair away from his face with the force, stray strands following the rest of his hair until his pale face and pink cheeks are exposed completely. With a deep breath, I dip my head down and touch my lips to his. I can hear a snuffley gasp that he takes in through his nose. I can sense the immediate pain. But as I feel his lips against mine without our bond to fill each other with our emotions for the first time ever, I can tell he means it to continue a moment longer. His lips linger against mine a moment, moving slightly, as he still shivers, the sensation too good to resist even for the sake of pain. Even though the kiss is the lightest I have ever given, I can feel him on some level. Not through our bond but through the kiss. I can only hope he feels me, as it is the only way for me to explain that I must stay at his side.


     When I pull away, the warmth of his lips gone from mine, and whatever I felt for those several seconds dies away. My master spends a few more seconds catching his breath, then sneezes again, careful to direct it away from me, but unable to cover his nose in time. "hehhh'Gchhhhh! yihChihhhh! eghhChhhh!" He wearily lifts the handkerchief and rubs at his sore nose. He takes a deep breath and looks up at me. His lips look warm and inviting, and I ignore the temptation. He opens his mouth to speak, to say something about how he is glad I've stayed, or how he wanted the kiss as much as I wanted to give it to him. But he remains silent, apart from thick snuffles into his hanky. I nod anyway, and I can see him smile behind the handkerchief.


     He closes his eyes and settles in to sleep, and for the first time I don't feel the need to pull him close and snuggle him. He knows I would, and more importantly feels that I would. And in my own way, I already am. That is enough. We don't need words. We don't need touches. After so many years of being master and student and of being bondmates and lovers, we don't need anything to communicate and to understand except for each other.