The Hunt

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)


Author's Notes: Yes, I always have long, involved author's notes. If you read them, you find out interesting things about the backgrounds of my stories! *smile* This one was inspired and encouraged by all the people on DalNet and Squidge. Please send feedback, as I'm terminally insecure about my fiction! And please be gentle, as this is my first Q/O fic...


"Are you sure this is entirely necessary, Master?" Obi- Wan asked as he trudged through knee-deep muck. He suppressed a grimace as a slimy finger of mud found it's way down into his boot, and hefted his spear. The wood and metal weapon was much heavier than the lightsaber he was used to wielding, but it was a required element of the hunt.

"Yes, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon answered patiently. "It is necessary. The Kaanduri consider the dikra hunt a test of bravery and character. They will not speak with any mediator who has not survived it."

" I don't like the sound of that," Obi-Wan sighed in resignation.

"And the Saanduri refuse to take part. Which is why we're here," Qui-Gon finished, his apprentice nodding along with him.

Just then the two Jedi heard a rustling of leaves in the distance. They both went perfectly still, and Obi-Wan calmed his mind and allowed the Force to flow through him. He could sense the dikra, now, ahead of them and to their left. The padawan could also sense the Kaanduri who had joined them on the hunt, and knew that they were all much further away than himself and his master.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan moved toward the dikra in silent communion, their paths forming a pincer approach. They were separated from the animal by no more than a curtain of vines when it happened. The dikra, perhaps scenting them on the slight wind, perhaps hearing some fault in their approach, burst into sudden movement.

It charged directly at Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan, fighting back his fear for his master's life, let his spear fly with all the strength he had. He was a split second too late, for, even as his weapon lodged in the beast's neck and delivered the killing blow, the dikra's momentum carried it forward. Qui-Gon just barely had the time to raise his own spear, but the animal was large. The force of it's charge caused it to slide down the shaft with enough speed that it's tusks broke the skin on the elder Jedi's chest before finally coming to rest.

"Master! Are you all right?" Obi-Wan asked, rushing over to Qui-Gon as best he could.

"I don't think so...," Qui-Gon said, his voice sounding unusually weak. Obi-Wan reached him just in time to catch his master as Qui-Gon collapsed. Calling out to the Kaanduri, who'd started to approach when they heard the commotion, Obi-Wan pulled one of his master's arms over his shoulder and wrapped his own arm about the other man's waist. Glancing down at the dead dikra, the padawan paled at the sight of the viscous blue fluid dripping from two holes in the animal's tusks.

Poison.

The Kaanduri's focus when they arrived was so fixed on the dikra that they didn't even seem to notice the two Jedi until Obi-Wan snapped at them, his anger escaping his control for an instant. Once he brought their attention to his master's condition, their chattering took on a concerned tone. Qui-Gon was lifted from Obi-Wan's arms and he followed them as quickly as he could manage as they carried the elder Jedi through the swamp to their settlement.

The Kaanduri were swamp dwellers, but in deference to offworld visitors they had a system of caves prepared as dryer, more pleasant guest quarters. Obi-Wan stepped gratefully onto the firmer land and followed the hunters to Qui-Gon's quarters. There they practically dropped him to the floor and rushed out. Confused, Obi-Wan moved to question them and found himself confronting their healer.

"Why has my Master been treated with such disrespect?" he asked the healer, forcing himself to calmness.

"It is not disrespect, Jedi," the healer said deferentially. "It is fear. The poison of the dikra affects individuals very differently. Some are calm. Some become very violent. The hunters fear the effect it will have on Master Qui-Gon."

"Will you treat him?" Obi-Wan demanded.

"I, too, fear," the healer admitted.

"Then you shall show me how I may save my Master," Obi-Wan said firmly. The healer regarded him in surprise and seemed ready to warn him, but the determination in the Jedi's eyes stopped him. Obi-Wan was given a vial of deep red liquid and instructed to give Qui-Gon half of it that night and the rest the next day. The healer had no more advice for him.

Nodding, Obi-Wan accepted the vial and went to his own quarters to collect a change of clothes before taking his place at his master's side. He regarded Qui-Gon's tense form for a moment with worry, but then closed his eyes and forced himself to accept his fear and let it go. Obi-Wan wanted to be in touch with the Force while he tended his master, and his fear would interfere with that connection.

The padawan stripped his master of the filthy, torn robes with an efficient but gentle touch and arranged Qui-Gon more comfortably on the simple sleeping pallet. Obi- Wan poured water from a pitcher into a bowl, soaked a cloth in it and wrung it out before turning to bathe his master.

Here, Obi-Wan's detachment deserted him, and the cloth moved over Qui-Gon's fevered skin with more tenderness than efficiency. Now, the younger man welcomed the emotion instead of hiding it away. He gave it over to the bond between himself and his master, knowing that Qui-Gon would remember when he returned to himself. Obi-Wan gave up his secrets to make their bond stronger, to speed Qui-Gon's healing.

The bath finally finished, Obi-Wan wrapped the other man in warm blankets. He then lifted Qui-Gon's head and shoulders into his arms and gently coaxed him to swallow half of the red liquid the healer had given him. Obi-Wan sat back, sighing. His vigil began.

Quiet but fearful exclamations woke Obi-Wan from the slumber he had lapsed into, and he found his master writhing in the grips of a fever dream. Obi-Wan smoothed the hair back from the beloved face, drawing on the Force and wrapping Qui-Gon in a blanket of reassurance, and was amazed at how quickly the older man calmed under his touch.

Obi-Wan remained awake for the remainder of the night to keep an eye on Qui-Gon. His barriers lowered in unconsciousness, his emotions unrestrained, fear radiated from the Jedi Master in waves. Obi-Wan was startled by the fear he felt in his Master and reached along their bond without thought to find the source. Visions of Qui-Gon's fears came to him...

...himself, being gored by the dikra's tusks...

...himself, face twisted in pain, then smoothing as death came...

...himself, gaining the level of Jedi Knight and turning his back on his master, forever...

The connection between the visions was both obvious and surprising. Qui-Gon feared losing him! It was a realization that gave Obi-Wan both hope and fear. He feared losing his Master just when it seemed his most deeply held wish might come true... But that fear would hinder Qui-Gon's recovery, so he turned it to determination that the other man would survive.

Knowing that Qui-Gon's fears would impede his recovery, Obi-Wan soothed them the best way he knew how. He sent all his love, long hidden, along their bond to reassure the older man. The padawan leaned down and pressed his lips to Qui-Gon's forehead. "I will be with you always, my Master," his whispered.

It was afternoon when Obi-Wan woke, for he had been up late the night before, helping Qui-Gon to sleep. Opening his eyes, Obi-Wan found that his Master had wrapped an arm around him during the night. Smiling slightly, Obi-Wan gently disengaged the arm and reached for the vial to give Qui-Gon the last dose of the red liquid. It went down easily, and the rest of the day passed with the injured Jedi sleeping peacefully.

That evening, Obi-Wan sat above his Master's head, using a comb to gently untangle the long hair. As he finished, he ran his fingers tenderly through it, not noticing the smile that now graced Qui-Gon's lips. "You take much pleasure in such a simple task," he murmured.

Obi-Wan started nonetheless. "Master! You're awake... How do you feel?"

"Weak," Qui-Gon answered, slowly sitting up. "And loved." He regarded Obi-Wan with a soft smile. "I did not think such fears had a place in my heart anymore."

"There is no need for you to fear, Master," Obi-Wan replied quietly, his hope clear in both his eyes and their bond.

"Nor you, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, reaching out to cup his apprentice's cheek in his palm.

Obi-Wan sighed his relief and leaned into his Master's touch, his eyes bright with joy. The bond between them flared in strength, and Obi-Wan found himself unable to distinguish his emotions from his Master's, but it didn't matter, for all he felt was love and happiness and acceptance.

Qui-Gon slid his hand from Obi-Wan's cheek around to the back on his neck and drew the other man in for a kiss. It was deep and passionate as they sought to express their feelings with their mouths, and Obi-Wan found that here he was not the apprentice, nor Qui-Gon the master. Here they were only two men in love, two souls drawn together by the Force they served.

Later that night, Obi-Wan lay in his Master's arms and did his best to memorize this moment of perfect happiness. It was a gift, no less valuable for the knowledge that it would be given again.

--End--