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LXXIII

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Qui-Gon Jinn wrapped his robe around him tighter and watched his younger companion glide smoothly along the frozen lake located in the heart of Dhalbreth Square. Coruscant's massive climate regulators in this region of he great city-planet were cycling through their maintenance period, beginning the temporal phase known as the Freeze. Even though it was only a few hours after midmeal, the pale Coruscanti star was a sickly yellow, casting an air of melancholia through the bare, ruined trees surrounding the lake. That the people of this galaxy could invent a hyperdrive system but not a perpetual climate controller was one of Qui-Gon's pet peeves, but, inexplicably, his lover enjoyed this time of year immensely.

Obi-Wan skated over the thick ice in an almost childish delight, his nose becoming more and more pink with each revolution around the lake.

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon called out, laughing. "You are the last person on the ice! Come in, before important body parts freeze and break off!"

Obi-Wan, on the far side of the lake, suddenly turned and headed toward his lover at full speed. Just when it seemed he would go crashing into the bank, he slid to a halt, kicking up a spray of fine ice in Qui-Gon's face.

"Oh! I'm sorry, did I hit you?" Obi-Wan said somewhat contritely, although the cheeky grin was a dead giveaway. "I was told I needed to get off the ice before important parts of my body froze and broke off."

"You know your transport leaves in two hours," Qui-Gon said, attempting to glare at his lover and failing miserably. "We barely have time to eat, and Master Yaddle doesn't like to be kept waiting. You have to do the pre-flight check, and-"

"I'm not hungry," Obi-Wan cut in, with a little smile of his own. "And I have a better idea of what we can do before I leave for B'knos." He looked around the bank, the frown deepening on his handsome, albeit ruddy, face. "My boots?"

Qui-Gon opened his robe, revealing a pair of boots in its voluminous folds. "I kept them warm for you."

Obi-Wan broke into a hearty laugh. "Ever my Master," he said. "Always looking out for my well-being."

"No longer a Master, but a soon-to-be bondmate." Qui-Gon replied, as Obi-Wan leaned against him, exchanging a skate for a boot.

"Ah yes, that reminds me... " Obi-Wan finished putting on one boot and tackled the other foot. "I talked with Reeft yesterday, and he said he never received his invitation-"

"But you spoke with him," Qui-Gon said. "That wasn't good enough?"

Obi-Wan shrugged, his second boot only half on. "He said he wanted an official invitation."

Qui-Gon rolled his eyes. "Your friends," he complained, although he was still smiling.


Qui-Gon had no idea what was coming -- how could he? It was so laughably absurd. True, he'd felt a strange pain in the middle of his chest for close to a week now, and the Force just gave a slight tremor before he picked up his beeping comm, but he chose to ignore the sign; he would deal with whatever was coming in his inimitable fashion: calm, cool, and collected.

"Jinn here."

"Qui-Gon... I'm with Obi-Wan. Meet me in the Healers' Wing." Mace's tone sounded urgent, and the only way for Obi-Wan to be back so soon was because something terrible had happened, but Qui-Gon felt only a tinge of concern. Mace would've come personally, had his former padawan been killed. Obi-Wan was strong physically, and stronger still in the Force. They could deal with it. Whatever it was.

"I'll be right there."


Qui-Gon quickly but calmly went down to the Healers' Wing, fully expecting to find Obi-Wan in a tankful of goo. What surprised him, however, was to find his future bondmate lying on a bed, next to a bacta tank with Master Yaddle floating inside. Healers scurried about, muttering among themselves and consulting with Mace, who was hovering over the prone knight. The healers looked up as Qui-Gon entered, but nervously ducked their heads and went about the business of tending to the diminutive Jedi master.

Now Qui-Gon started to worry. "Obi-Wan?"

"Qui-Gon... " Obi-Wan opened his eyes and struggled to sit up, looking pale, his face pinched. He faltered and fell back onto the bed.

Qui-Gon reached the bed and sat on the edge, peering at his lover anxiously. "What happened?"

"I- we- bonded," Obi-Wan stammered, then passed out.

Mace saw the growing look of shock on Qui-Gon's face, as more healers hurried over to take care of the unconscious knight. "Come with me," he told his friend, taking him gently, but firmly, by the arm. "I'll explain everything."


Qui-Gon and Mace were in the main hallway off the Healers' Wing -- Qui-Gon had adamantly refused to be any further away from Obi-Wan. If he had heard his lover correctly, then this growing ache indicated the absence of their once growing lifebond.

Obi-Wan was now bonded to someone else.

Impossible.

And who?

"Yaddle," Mace explained. "Obi-Wan has bonded with Master Yaddle."

"What!?" Qui-Gon laughed -- a hearty chuckle that soon bordered on maniacal. "No. Absolutely not."

"The N'grians broke their treaty agreement," Mace said calmly. "Master Yaddle and Knight Kenobi barely made it through the blockade of the B'knos asteroid, and when they landed, there wasn't anything they could do."

"Except bond?!" Qui-Gon quashed the feeling of hysteria rising to his throat. He felt like laughing again, or crying, or screaming.

"The N'grians shelled the main B'knossi mining compound while Obi-Wan and Yaddle were trying to evacuate the colonists there. One of the force field generators blew, and the other one was in danger of blowing as well. Yaddle was caught in the initial blast, but she remained conscious. She tried to hold up the force field by herself but she was weakening, and the best way to increase the Force's power is-"

"To create a bond, to meld two into one," Qui-Gon finished, the idea finally starting to sink in. Mace wasn't joking.

The Councilor reached out and placed his hand on Qui-Gon's shoulder. "I'm sorry, my friend. It was the only way Obi-Wan could supplement Yaddle's power. They kept the forcefield up until they could escape."

"And what happened to the B'knossi?"

Mace shook his head. "Some transports escaped the asteroid, along with Yaddle and Obi-Wan's ship, but we're not sure if they were B'knossi, or the conscripted miners from Abran, or what," he said. "We won't know for certain until someone from the system contacts us. It could take weeks, or months." He wearily ran a hand over his smooth head. "But from what Obi-Wan was saying earlier-"

"Why is he still weak?" Qui-Gon asked suddenly.

Mace's strong, handsome face was filled with pain and regret. "Master Yaddle got back to Coruscant this morning, but she is beyond the help of the Healers," he said gently. "She's in bacta but she's dying, and taking Obi-Wan with her. She's too strong, and relied too much on his Force energy. We can't separate them. I'm so sorry, Qui-Gon."


Obi-Wan looked peaceful in his bed, in close proximity to Yaddle, his new bondmate. His new bondmate! Qui-Gon felt the inappropriate urge to giggle again. If he believed in dreams, he would have thought himself caught in some wild nightmare. But as he smoothed Obi-Wan's brow, he felt the damp warmth underneath his fingertips, and realized that this was no nightmare.

This was real.

And Obi-Wan was no longer his.

"Qui-Gon..." Obi-Wan stirred, and trained his hazy eyes upward. He squinted, as if the dim lighting hurt. "... I'm sorry."

"Shhh, don't talk. Try to rest." Qui-Gon looked up at Mace pleadingly, but the other man only shook his head, angry at his own helplessness.

Obi-Wan tried to sit up again, but he had only enough strength to clasp his lover's large hands in his own. "We failed."

Qui-Gon was puzzled. "What are you talking about?" he soothed. "Everything's fine."

"No... the B'knossi... we couldn't help them." Obi-Wan's voice raised to a half sob. "They were starving, Qui-Gon. Their fighter pilots were too weak to fly. The children were dying. They were all dying. They had given up on the Republic's assistance weeks before our arrival -- they had given up all hope that we were coming. How could we have botched this mission so badly? We were only supposed to mediate a dispute, not stumble into a war. And now they're all dead."

Qui-Gon managed a tiny smile. "No, Obi-Wan, no. They're all fine," he said, as convincingly as possible. "All of the miners are accounted for. You saved them, Obi-Wan." He looked across the room at Mace Windu, mutely pleading with him to remain silent.

The younger man looked bewildered, then a shadow of his famous smile surged to his thin face, making him look almost like his old self again. But the reprise was short lived, as Yaddle suddenly writhed in the bacta tank. As healers shouted orders to each other, the powerful Jedi master's death throes coursed through Obi-Wan's already compromised body.

"Then this was worth it... " His bright, beautifully expressively eyes, tight with pain, remained focused on the man he loved, the only one. "I'm sorry," he whispered again. "It... had to be done... "

"I know," Qui-Gon soothed, taking hold of his lover's hand. "I'm proud of you. I love you."

"Love... " Obi-Wan breathed softly. Then, closing his eyes, he joined Master Yaddle into the Force.


The day after Obi-Wan and Yaddle's joint cremation ceremony, Mace found Qui-Gon standing on the banks of Dhalbreth Lake, staring out over the frozen water. The weak Coruscanti star shone dully through the branches, and silently the Councilor joined his friend, not wishing to break the fragile peace of the moment. The two men stood for what seemed an hour, before Qui-Gon finally spoke.

"You're angry with me," he said. "You think I lied to Obi-Wan."

"No," Mace sighed, pulling his cowl around his face. If he were a lesser man, or not a Jedi, he would have wanted to wish that this whole tragic episode hadn't happened. But it had, and two members of the Order -- two of his friends -- were gone. He was so very tired of living up to the galaxy's expectations of how a Jedi should behave; he desperately wanted to give in and mourn the loss of Knight Kenobi and Master Yaddle.

To add insult to injury, his lack of hair made his head more susceptible to the cold, and he was very sensitive about it. The Sith-damned Freeze. He sighed again. "No. I like to think I would have done the same."

Qui-Gon turned to his friend, his haggard face strangely impassive. "Why?"

"We received a transmission from the Abranos," Mace replied. "It seems that a cargo transport containing several dozen B'knossi children made it to Abran this morning." He looked up at the taller man. "Their parents put them on that transport. The B'knossi discovered that someone cared whether they lived or died, and it gave them hope for a better future for their children." He added gently, "Yaddle and Obi-Wan gave them that hope."

Qui-Gon nodded, and looked out across the lake.

He gave a small, secret smile, as if amused by something.

Maybe he would go skating tomorrow.

THE END