Bonds of Choice 5:
Rites of Passage

by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for M/M
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file

The morning came with sunlight now. It was hard to get used to that. Each morning Obi-Wan woke with pink light teasing him back to reality. His life was not less complicated for the change in sleeping quarters, nor was he much happier with the arrangement than he had been three weeks ago when Qui-Gon had moved him into the spare room.

The Padawan's room.

It was still odd. Luckily, he hadn't needed to spend much time there. Two days after he moved in the Council had finally ordered them on a short mission to diffuse an uprising on Daego. Nothing too complicated and laser fire had been traded only twice. A good mission, really. Still, since returning four days ago, this whole morning thing had put him off kilter until he was well and truly awake.

He got up and dressed, set breakfast out and was waiting by the table when Qui-Gon came out of his bedroom. Qui-Gon's hair was sleep-mussed and unruly, odd bits standing out away from the rest. "Good morning, Obi-Wan," he greeted, heading for his desk. There were messages on the lightslate. "Looks like we have an late morning meeting with the Council."

Obi-Wan suppressed a groan. "Do I have to go? All I ever do is stand behind you and look subservient."

"Sorry, Koateleu. You're specifically requested this time." Qui-Gon smiled and sat down to eat.

Obi-Wan was privately irritated at his master's continued use of that particularly inappropriate nickname, but had been unable to think of a way to ask him to stop using it. It seemed Qui-Gon was going to insist that, having introduced a physical element to their relationship, they must now be lovers. Obi-Wan hadn't quite decided what he thought about it, so he released his misgivings to the Force and moved on.

Obi-Wan had discussed the problem with Corubia. She had summed the problem up nicely. "The difference is that although you love Qui-Gon, he's IN love with you." She had a lot to say on the subject of why Obi-Wan was not in love with Qui-Gon, but it wasn't something he wanted to think about over breakfast.

If Qui-Gon insisted on being in love with Obi-Wan it was none of Obi-Wan's affair. The Padawan well knew his limitations as a partner for his master, and was determined to live within those limits. He just hoped his master got over his infatuation quickly, so Obi-Wan could stop half-believing it every time Qui-Gon called him 'Koateleu'.

As things stood, it couldn't go on much longer before something gave. Obi-Wan was worried that the something in question might be his own heart.

When finished with breakfast, Obi-Wan went to dress for the day. His fingers caught on the brown ribbon twined about his ankle. For the hundredth time he reached to untie it. For the hundredth time he found he could not. It was a silly, sentimental affectation, of this Obi-Wan was aware. The symbol was an empty one, stolen, but he found himself strangely unable to give up this small sign that, for now, there was something more than just the Padawan-Master relationship between himself and his master. He felt the relationship was a fleeting one, but it was something he prized nonetheless. Whoever finally held and kept Qui-Gon's heart would be one who matched his strengths, balanced his weaknesses and stood as equal to him on all levels. It would not be one who stood below him, ever subjected to his commands and will, of that Obi-Wan was sure. Until he had more control over himself, his place, his life decisions, Obi-Wan would not hope to create a more lasting connection to his master's heart.

As a Padawan, Obi-Wan had not the luxury to make those decisions. His life was in the direct control of his Master, the Council and the Will of the Force, not necessarily in that order. Perhaps when he was a Knight, or in some other way made able to choose for himself the path he would follow ... but not now. For now, even the details and nature of his private, personal life were not under his control. He would need to gain some level of autonomy in his personal choices before he could even begin to consider such a decision as whom he might properly be in love with. As the situation stood, he was years from the Trials, thus years from offering what he felt might possibly one day exist between Qui-Gon and himself. He counseled his heart to patience, much to his own disappointment and chagrin.

The doorchime sounded and he went to answer. Corubia stood waiting, arms laden with bags and boxes. "Hi, Kenobi. Still got time to come to the Aviary with me?"

"Of course. I do have to be at a Council session later. Let me get my poncho." Obi-Wan replied.

The Aviary was yet another facet of Temple life that had sprung from the personal interests of the Jedi. It had probably been designed as some sort of greenhouse, but now the light and airy enclosure housed several different sorts of lower life forms, most in varying stages of recuperation. The dominant type was birds, and it was for a bird that he and Corubia had come today.

Obi-Wan had long been amused at Qui-Gon's natural affinity for non-sentient beings. And not just any sort of being would do ... they had to be injured. Qui-Gon had tried to explain it, calling it 'animal ken', a sort of signal he put off through the Force, letting the helpless know he would protect and heal them.

Obi-Wan had shrugged the idea off, the first time he heard it. But the same sort of things happened too often for it to be coincidence. Slogging through rainforest, hiking over mountains, sitting in a peaceful garden, if there was anything in need of help, it found it's way to Qui-Gon's side.

"Where in the galaxy did he find this one?" Corubia groused, approaching the netted-off section that was held in reserve for Qui-Gon's refugees. She frowned at the current ward and began checking it's healing.

Obi-Wan dug into the supplies and began mixing up the needed grains and seeds for this particular creature. "A prime example of my luck, this one," he said. "We were sitting on the balcony of our suite on Daego when this bird comes plummeting down on us. It flopped and flapped around, destroyed some potted flowers before Master got a hold on it. There's nothing really damaged, the thing had only lost a few primaries and taken a cut to the leg in some fight or another."

"Hmm," Corubia replied, focusing her attention on her patient. She had a good feel for healing and liked to hone her skills on Qui-Gon's strays. She'd never lost one yet. Finally she straightened. "This one's ready to go home. All it really needed was some rest and a safe place to do it in. Good thing you keep this one ready."

Obi-Wan grinned at her and put the prepared food in the enclosure. He and Qui-Gon had worked out a deal long ago: nothing would be kept in quarters that might endanger Obi-Wan's turtles. This had come in the aftermath of mistaken identity that had ended in the untimely demise of a Habrith snapper named Trut and the banishment of a Poletarian otter. Qui-Gon had housed said otter in Obi-Wan's bathtub while he waited for transport back to his native habitat, feeling it a safe place for the little mammal.

After that mistake, Obi-Wan had filed the paperwork for Qui-Gon to have a permanent housing space here at the Aviary. It had broken his heart to watch his master's eyes when he realized the turtle was forever lost to this world. Obi-Wan hadn't even liked Trut. He just sat there and bit whoever tried to feed him. It was Obi-Wan's private theory that the otter had been provoked, as Obi-Wan himself had so often been. The little mammal had probably been curious, went to inspect his new co-habitant and been attacked. It would have been the natural reaction to defend himself, as Obi-Wan well knew. He could see how an otter might have been moved to assault Trut. He himself had often been so inspired, but had his Jedi training to keep him from doing so. Whoever heard of a Jedi otter? The little guy had certainly SEEMED remorseful at his mistake, which was more than could be said for the unrepentant Trut during his prime.

In any event, Qui-Gon had spent many happy hours here in the Aviary, probably as many as Obi-Wan had spent in the Temple Gardens. There was only the side-effect of Qui-Gon's busy schedule that kept the arrangement from being perfect, but that was a constraint all Jedi struggled under. Obi-Wan closed the mesh door and gathered up Corubia's supplies.

"Do you know, I had a dream I lived down here?" he looked up at Corubia, hoping she would understand.

"What? That's nuts, Kenobi."

"No, really. I dreamed that instead of putting me in Padawan's quarters, Qui-Gon had Rilka move me into the Aviary."


Obi-Wan laughed, gestured towards the white being in the cage. "You know, to keep me with his other pathetic lifeforms."

Instead of laughing, as Obi-Wan had expected her to, she cocked her head to one side. Then in a move even more unexpected, she pulled him into a hug. "You're better than that. Why do you always have to talk about yourself like that?"

Obi-Wan wanted to pull away, to run away, but instead found himself wrapping his arms around her lean form. "I don't know. I don't know why I feel like this."

"Tell me what you feel, Obi-Wan. You've never told me what it feels like to be you." Corubia was serious, fumbling for words to express her concern for her friend.

"I don't know. What do you mean?"

She shook her head, just as confused as he was. "I'm not sure, either. But you'll tell me if you work it out, won't you?"

"I tell you everything anyway, don't I?" Obi-Wan laughed, stepping back. "I even told you about me and Qui-Gon."

"Ha, like I didn't see that from a mile away when you got back from that slave-ring mission. You're good for him, if you'd only let it happen."

"Not now, Cor. At least, not yet. Come on, I have to get up to the Council chamber." They left the aviary arm-in-arm, glad to have done some good for one that needed it.

The full Council was in attendance when they presented themselves. Master Paje was also present, if off to one side, on this day. Master Yoda looked particularly grim. It took Obi-Wan a moment to realize there was a new face in the group, standing near one of the large windows. A pale blue figure in flowing clothes. He held a long, flat box cradled in one arm.

Obi-Wan bowed to the Masters and settled into his accustomed stance, waiting to file away every bit of information that might come his way. He was startled when Master Windu addressed him. "Padawan Kenobi, knew you a person by the name of La'Karata Nurian?"

"Yes, Master," he replied, recalling the woman who had started him on the road to learning his own heart.

"I have some unhappy news for you, Obi-Wan. She has passed from this life."

"I am sorry to hear that," Obi-Wan replied, confused.

"This is Senator Re'Nath Nurian. He has asked our permission to speak with you." Master Windu indicated the gentle being by the window.

Re'Nath Nurian stepped forward and looked Obi-Wan over. "You are Obi-Wan Kenobi, apprentice to Qui-Gon Jinn?"

"Yes, Re'Nath Nurian."

"Know you that your name is in our Book of Heroes?"

"Yes, Re'Nath Nurian."

"I come to you on a ... strange mission. When, some days ago, La'Karata Nurian was wounded in the protection of our people she issued an order to be carried out should she die. This thing has come to pass and it is my part to see her will be done." Re'Nath opened the long box. "This is a Kho'la'bo, the traditional weapon of the Nurians. It was made and born by La'Karata Nurian these last eighty years. It is my part to see it safely in your hands." He took forth a long, slate gray staff, about half as thick as his wrist. "Kneel."

Obi-Wan looked to his master, then to the Council, seeking their guidance. When no one objected, he dropped to his knees.

"Bear and bind you this, until it's purpose is done. Then it is your part to see it safely back into the hands of the Nurians." Re'Nath laid the staff on Obi-Wan's upturned palms.

Obi-Wan watched with wonder as the slate gray staff took on a silver cast. For the span of a few heartbeats it seemed to be made of shining quicksilver. Then it returned to the former slate gray.

"It accepts you," Re'Nath Nurian pronounced. Then he turned to Qui-Gon. "Are you Qui-Gon Jinn, Master of Obi-Wan Kenobi?"

"I am," Qui-Gon replied.

"You are known also to our people. Will you take it for your part to teach your apprentice the use of a staff in combat?"

Qui-Gon considered for a moment. "Are you aware that a Jedi's weapon is his lightsaber?"

"We are aware that the Jedi are many things, know much and are capable of more than they tell," Nurian replied. "It is not meet that the weapon of the Jedi be put from his hand. Only ask I you this: Teach him, so that what has been foreseen does not pass into the pages of history."

Adi Gallia spoke up. "Tell us what has been foreseen."

"The face of a man, red and black, with eyes of yellow fire. A crown of horns stands upon his brow and darkness keeps him hidden. This is one that would bring destruction to us all. Obi-Wan Kenobi has it within him to unmake this creature and slow the Darkness he tries to bring." Re'Nath Nurian touched his fingers to his lips. "La'Karata Nurian foresaw a time when this Kho'la'bo could bring the beast's destruction, but only if it was wielded by the hand of a Hero taught its mysteries through love. Obi-Wan Kenobi is the only living Hero of our people. To him we bring it, that the Darkness be averted."

Yoda spoke next. "Teach him, will you?" he asked Qui-Gon.

"If it is the will of the Council, I will instruct him as asked," Qui-Gon replied.

Obi-Wan was shocked. That was as close as he'd ever heard Qui-Gon come to asking the advice of the Council.

A long round of looks passed between the Council members. "It is our will," Master Windu informed them.

"Then I will take it as my part to teach my Padawan the use of this staff in combat," Qui-Gon agreed.

"I thank you for your help." Re'Nath Nurian said, bowing his way out of the room.

Master Paje spoke as soon as he was gone. "He speaks of the Sith that was seen on Naboo."

"I believe he does," Qui-Gon agreed.

"Then be on your way. Begin the new lessons this very day."

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan bowed and removed themselves from the Council Chamber.

"Master, do you think I am really to destroy the Sith that killed Master Erac?" Obi-Wan asked as they walked back to their quarters.

"We shall wait and see," Qui-Gon replied.

The next few hours were spent in reviewing drills Obi-Wan had learned years before. Although the lightsaber was the weapon of the Jedi, those who were trained to join their ranks were taught the mastery of many weapons. It felt awkward at first, after so many years training to the saber almost exclusively, but his body soon remembered the technique. Qui-Gon recalled the odd weapon Knight Cord Random had described to them, so drilled his Padawan to face an opponent armed also with a staff. They drilled relentlessly, until they were both exhausted, making elementary mistakes that even their Jedi reflexes could not make up for. Finally Qui-Gon called a halt and they began pacing up and down the practice area.

"Master, I've been thinking about this ... Kho'la'bo. I saw La'Karata Nurian use it when we took that ship. It did not look like this, then. It looked silver, as it did in the Council Chamber. I saw her deflect blaster fire, and cut through steel with it, yet it did not harm her flesh. What do you think causes that silvering?" Obi-Wan was studying the featureless staff as they walked.

"You do not know? What caused the change in the Council chamber?" Qui-Gon asked.

"I had a sense of ... joining. As if I recognized and was recognized by it. I can not sense that any longer." Obi-Wan was troubled by this.

"Perhaps you should speak to Re'Nath Nurian about this," Qui-Gon suggested.

Obi-Wan considered this. "If Re'Nath Nurian was meant to teach me, why would he have asked you to do it?"

Qui-Gon tugged on his beard for a moment. "A good question. Perhaps I should be the one to speak with him."

Qui-Gon was glad to discover Re'Nath Nurian was still in the Temple. He requested a meeting and was granted it. They met in the Abrath Gardens, where each plant and stone was of a singing or noise making variety. It was Obi-Wan's delight in this garden that had caused Qui-Gon to give him a singing crystal for his birthday. They stood listening to the chime and ring of the garden for a long moment before Qui-Gon introduced his question.

"My Padawan says he observed La'Karata Nurian using her Kho'la'bo in battle. He described to me the properties of the weapon, that it shone silver, deflected laser blasts and cut through steel, yet did not harm it's wielder. I do not know what causes those attributes, so I can not teach their use to my Padawan."

"You are wise to ask me. The secret of the Kho'la'bo lies within its bearer. He must have a clarity of purpose, an understanding of himself and his goal. Then the Kho'la'bo will live for him." Re'Nath Nurian paused, seeking the words to make Qui-Gon understand. "He must not think of the future, neither must he think of the past. He must not consider himself or any other, but become one with the place he inhabits within the flow of time and space and matter."

"Do you mean that he must enter into the Moment?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Yes. That is probably how the Jedi would say this. Become one with the Moment. Then the Kho will flow from him and into the Kho'la'bo."

"Is the Kho like the Force?" Qui-Gon asked.

Re'Nath Nurian stood in thought for a long moment. "Do you hear the chimes of the Sennblossoms? Do they not remind you of the hum of this bretelstone?"

Qui-Gon nodded.

"In this way, they may be alike. I use the Kho for healing, for battle, for many of the same things for which I am told the Jedi use the Force. I chime, like the Sennblossom, from within. I am not as strong, or as long-lasting, as versatile or unique as the bretelstone, but we are similar in what we do. I can only use the Kho to serve my people, nothing more. The Kho comes from my people. The Force is more ... universal, I believe." Re'Nath Nurian looked at Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon reached out through the Force, seeking Re'Nath within it, re-checking what he already knew must be true. "You can not sense the Force."

"No, I can not sense this energy you so readily access, but I can sense and use the power of those who share my blood, and thus share my life." Re'Nath Nurian said this as though it was the most basic thing in the world.

Qui-Gon thought about his relationship to the Force and decided it was. "If the Kho comes from your people and can only be touched by your people, how will Obi-Wan be able to use it?"

"Because he can sense it through the Force, for one. For the other, he is one of us through destiny, rather than blood. He prevented us from dying, and so lent us life. Our lives are joined to his." Re'Nath Nurian replied. "But please recall, the Kho will only answer him in those times when he is utterly sure of what he is about, and why. It will never be a part of him as the Force is. Only for the time that he stands as our Hero, our Champion against the Darkness can he use our light to defeat it."

"And does that time extend to the present moment, when he must endeavor to learn the use of it?" Qui-Gon asked.

"It must, or the Kho'la'bo would not have accepted him."

Qui-Gon considered this for a long moment, hearing the chirp of stone blend with the trilling of a nearby flower. He breathed deeply, listened with his heart, made sure he was very clear on the information he'd just received. Finally he nodded to his companion.

"I'm afraid I must be going now. We are well met, Qui-Gon Jinn. I hope to see you and speak with you again, someday." Re'Nath extended his hand.

"And I hope the same of you," Qui-Gon returned. They pressed their palms together, bowed and made their separate ways from the garden.

Obi-Wan sat, cross-legged beside his bed. The Kho'la'bo was leaning in the corner, a muted shadow in the sunlight. He thought not of it, but of himself and the Force around him. He was good at the physical portions of his training. They came to him easily, almost without effort, except for his struggles with the R'Antha. It was the spiritual, internal portions of his training that he took the most joy in, though he kept that joy to himself. He was not absolutely certain that he should feel such unbridled happiness in his abilities, although he could think of no reason why he should not. He made a mental note to ask Qui-Gon about it when he returned home.

Home. Now there's a thought to set the pond rippling. He smoothed the surface of his thoughts, brought his mind under control, stilled the worries and thrills and all other considerations from it. When he was ready to begin his meditation, he pictured a tall cylinder of cool, green liquid. The image came readily to mind, although he remembered his early troubles with focusing on that one image. When he was sure the image was perfect within him, he saw a cream colored pearl dropping into it. Down, down it drifted, slipping through the thick fluid. Slowly, for long moments he allowed it to fall until it rested on the bottom of the cylinder. He held that picture now, in his mind's eye, the stillness, the perfection of the pearl, the beauty of that particular shade of green. His breathing was deep and steady, body relaxed, held in perfect pose, as still as the image in his mind. Now the pearl began to rise within the liquid, retracing the meandering path it had taken through the fluid on the way down. It rose under perfect control, swaying, lifting, floating until it stopped at the top of the fluid.

Again, the stillness took the image. Now the next stage, more complex, but Obi-Wan so enjoyed the concentration he must exert to complete the exercise. He placed himself within the image, seated at the bottom of the cylinder. As the pearl began to drop, this time in a perfectly vertical line, Obi-Wan let his body rise upwards. He felt the soothing, cool fluid flow around him. He let his form become buoyant, passing the pearl halfway up. The pearl fell away from him and he let it go from his mind, unfolding his body slowly from the cross-legged pose. He spread his arms and legs, drifting up and up, turning, relaxed and serene until he felt his chest touch the ceiling. He hovered there, perfectly still, perfectly ready and open, the Force flowing through him as easily as his breath, his blood. Then the slow descent, down, gently down, slowly and under his total control. The sweet surrender to discipline engulfed his mind for the eternity of the Moment. No past, no future, just the current, the now, serene and sure within him. He settled down on the carpet, utterly at peace.

When he opened his eyes and turned over, he saw Qui-Gon standing in the doorway. "Was that the Pearl Drop meditation, Padawan?"

"Yes, Master. It is one of my favorites," Obi-Wan replied.

"I have never seen it done more beautifully, or with more surrender to the Moment."

"Thank you, Master. It brings me a great deal of joy." Obi-Wan clamped his mouth shut. It was one thing to consider asking his master's opinion on a subject, quite another to admit to feeling something he wasn't sure to be correct.

"Really? I shall have to look into teaching you similar exercises very soon, then." Qui-Gon's response was all Obi-Wan could have hoped for. "I spoke to Re'Nath Nurian, but I suddenly believe you will understand what he had to say much better than I did at first."

"Do you know what makes the Kho'la'bo work?" Obi-Wan was too at peace to be excited, but he certainly felt interested.

"Well, no. But I believe I can guide you to the path of discovery."

They spent the afternoon discussing the possibilities and theories of the Kho, spinning long passages of conversation between them. They were about to begin an experiment when Qui-Gon's vidphone chimed.

Cord Random appeared on the screen. "Master Jinn, can you and your Padawan get your things and come to the main training hall? I have need of you."

"Of course, Cord. We shall be there directly."

When they arrived Cord met them at the door and led them to a smaller practice room. "We must seal the door. There is something I must show you."

When they were safely behind closed doors Cord brought out the ruins of a lightsaber. The hilt looked to have been cut clean through, but he turned it on. A bright red blade sprang to life.

"Where did you get that?" Obi-Wan whispered, appalled. The lightsaber seemed to radiate anger and hatred.

"It is half of the weapon used by the Sith on Naboo. I have never seen it's like. I had a damnable time repairing it, but it confirms my fears. The Sith have found a crystal that is perfect for their purposes." Cord switched it off and handed it to Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan took the dark blade in one hand and rested the other on his own lightsaber. "What kind of crystal is it?"

"It is called a Chendry. There is only one planet that produces them. They brought them to us years ago, but they were deemed unsuitable."

The reasons for that ruling were obvious. The nature of the crystal used in a lightsaber determined its color. More than that, it determined the energy the saber would use. Obi-Wan's own lightsaber had Orilian sapphire, a beautiful yellow crystal that focused calm. The indigo-blue glow reflected that calm, helped Obi-Wan to attain the mental stillness needed in heated battle. Qui-Gon's own Tradian emeralds promoted logic. The spiritual powers of crystals had long been used in meditation, healing, and training in attuning sensitivity to emotional states. It was a natural progression to use those attributes into the construction of the Jedi weapons. This blade cried out for blood, for vengeance and pain. Obi-Wan was almost afraid to turn it on. Still, he needed to know. They all did. The blade sprang to ugly life in his hands. The conflict between himself, his calm and balance and the focus of this blade was painful.

He turned to face his master. "Well? Shall we?"

"I suppose we must," Qui-Gon said, turning his own saber on.

They turned the power down as far as they could and entered into the patterns of a training exercise. With each blow, each parry, every use Obi-Wan put it to, the blade tried to draw bitterness and hate out of him. He carried on using it, feeling sick to his stomach every time the two beams met. The raw and shadowed power screamed across his senses.

"Enough. I think we've seen enough," Qui-Gon finally said, gasping.

Obi-Wan put the Sith weapon aside, grateful for the respite. He drew his own then, grateful for the comfortable calm he felt from it.

"I think we shall have to go and see who might have purchased these components." Qui-Gon took the lightsaber, opened the casing and removed the crystal.

It was white, with veins of silver and violet shot through. Even removed from its power source, Obi-Wan could easily sense the disturbance it caused in the Force. Cord handed Qui-Gon a small cushioned box to house the Chendry. Once it was put away the angry energy faded. They all shared a sigh of relief.

"You will take this mission, then?" Cord asked. "I have much to do here, now that Anikin is doing better. He is far from healed. I fear some lasting damage may have been done and I hesitate to expose him to this kind of input."

"I think it would be better if Obi-Wan and I looked into this," Qui-Gon agreed. "You are wise to keep the boy separated from this."

"I will advise the Council of our plan, then. When can you be ready to leave?" Cord snapped the Sith saber casing closed and put it into a small pack.

"This evening, I should think. We will need to prepare a cover. It would not do, I think, to have a pair of Jedi inquiring after these. It would arouse suspicion," Qui-Gon said.

"Perhaps you could say you were procurers for a manufacturer?" Cord suggested.

"I think it would be well. Let the Council know that Drel Mran and Faydrus Dekk will be working on their behalf." Qui-Gon turned to go.

"Oh, Master! Not Faydrus Dekk!" Obi-Wan protested.

"You know it is for the best, Padawan. Call Corubia and ask her to help you with your hair."

"Yes, Master."

"There. All done. What do you think?" Corubia put the last bead on the last long braid and stepped back to look.

"I think the same thing I always think, Cor. I hate it." Obi-Wan shook the heavy hair back past his shoulders, resisting the urge to yank on it.

"It looks good on you," she said, trying to soothe him. She ran a hand over her own short-cropped hair and tugged on her braid for good measure.

"I'm a Padawan! I have no business looking like ... like ... who looks like this, anyway?" he cried, frustrated.

"The Mrendi." Qui-Gon looked up from his own braiding. "Traders to the last. That's why we'll be accepted, honored even. If they can get an in with the Mrendi, they'll never have to look for buyers again."

"I think I could learn to despise the Mrendi," Obi-Wan informed his master. "Why do I have to be the ... you know." He picked up the plastic case of cosmetics and turned back to the mirror. His face was framed by long auburn braids, each one secured with bright colored beads. Corubia had spent two hours working the extensions into his hair. It was a good thing he hadn't found time to get a haircut recently. He stuck his tongue out and screwed up his face, then set about selecting his further alteration.

"Because you're young enough and pretty enough to be taken for a bubbleheaded fool. And you're a better actor than I am." Qui-Gon was amused at his Padawan's ongoing dislike for this role.

Obi-Wan began applying color to his eyes and lips, making them look bigger, softer, foppish. Arrgh. " I'm sorry, my friends. I can not love this necessity."

"Nor I, Obi-Wan. But it is a necessity." Qui-Gon had already treated his hair to have more silver in it. The thick streaks looked distinguished.

Obi-Wan looked the proper idiot. He finished with the lip liner. The effect was not yet complete, but the groundwork was laid.

"Go on," Qui-Gon encouraged. "You'll be all right once you get into character."

The damnable thing was that this was true. Obi-Wan would fall into the role, hide behind the mask and only be Obi-Wan deep inside, where no one would see. It was a very peculiar sensation. He went to change clothes.

When he returned he wore pants of a tight, stretchy material in a vivid green. A puffy shirt of shimmery blue material was offset by a richer blue quilted vest. His lightsaber was tucked in back, far from where it belonged on his hip. Corubia and Qui-Gon surveyed his costume and pronounced it perfect. Qui-Gon was also dressed in rich color, but nothing as outlandish as the electrics and jewel tones Obi-Wan now wore.

"Go on, Obi-Wan. Do it," Qui-Gon urged.

Obi-Wan blew out an exasperated breath and obeyed. He abandoned his wide, battle-ready stance, bringing his feet close together. He bent one knee, letting his hip jut out, drawing attention to his pelvis. He slumped his shoulders, becoming the picture of lazy ease. One more heavy sigh and he let go the normal, attentive look in his eyes. Obi-Wan's eyelids drooped, opened again too wide in innocent surprise, then drooped again with bored disinterest. His lips parted slightly, moist and lush. The tip of his tongue rested on his top front teeth. "Well, Drel? Am I a properly stupid young fucktoy now?" His rich, cultured accent had degenerated to an affected, throaty, suggestive tone. Utterly unimpressed with anything the galaxy had to offer that didn't directly cause him pleasure or satisfaction. He looked at his master and friend from hooded eyes that spoke of disdain and snide condescension.

Qui-Gon stood, drawing up every inch of his elegant height, slid one arm around Faydrus's hips and murmured, "Yes, Koateleu. I believe you are."

Obi-Wan leaned into the embrace with his body, but his eyes still glittered with boredom and disillusionment. "As long as you are satisfied."

Corubia burst out laughing. "You two are just perfect! I don't know how you do it!"

Obi-Wan regarded her as if she were some pretty but unimportant species of bug. "My dear lady, what ever are you tittering about?"

That only sent her off on further gales of laughter. Obi-Wan didn't mind. She didn't matter one single bit. Inwardly, he shuddered. "What time does our transport leave?" he asked, not really caring.

"Not long now. Our luggage is already aboard," Qui-Gon said. He had the tone of a doting father trying to placate a spoiled and petulant child.

"Very well. I suppose I shall have to wait until they're done mucking about." Obi-Wan draped himself across the sofa, adopting a relaxed sprawl.

Qui-Gon glanced quickly at Corubia and the hum of a lightsaber filled the room.

Obi-Wan was on his feet in a flash, his back to his master's, lightsaber in a defensive position.

Corubia switched off her yellow saber. "Wow. I've never seen anything quite like that. It's like having a butterfly shoot a blaster at you!" She doubled over with laughter again. After a moment she regained her composure. "I'm going to go finish up my alterations on the Fortnight Gannet so you two can get out of here."

Obi-Wan stalked into his bedroom to stare at Dauhge. He'd do his part, but he didn't have to like it.

Obi-Wan settled in before Dauhge's tank. The little turtle was, as usual, blissfully unaware of his owner's inner turmoil. *Ah, to be so lucky.* Obi-Wan smiled. He lived most of his life in a fishbowl, except that he got all the annoyance and none of the benefits. He would be expected to play a role he loathed, play it well and keep his calm no matter where that role led him.

Even into some stranger's bed.

Things had never gotten that far. Yet. Qui-Gon could puff up into a fit of jealous indignation in no time flat, should someone get too close to 'his' boy. That was the only thing that saved Obi-Wan, half the time. The other saving grace was that Faydrus happened to be an insulting little snot. Rude, self-centered, whiny, all the things Obi-Wan never wanted to be.

*It's just a game. It's not real.* Obi-Wan reminded himself. He focused on Dauhge, watched the dim light cast shadows through the water where the little reptile drifted. The current from the water pump drove Dauhge back from the branch Obi-Wan kept for the turtle to rest on. His pet struggled to gain his perch. Obi-Wan recalled how Qui-Gon looked at him when he played Faydrus, the heat behind his eyes, the desire he feigned so well. Obi-Wan couldn't help but wonder now how much of that had been acting. How much of it was what Qui-Gon truly felt about his Padawan? Did Qui-Gon wish Obi-Wan was some brainless twit? Someone who could simply await the Master Jedi's pleasure, cause no more trouble than that ...

Obi-Wan shuttered at the idea. Pretending to be nearly useless was bad enough. Actually living that way would be unthinkable. Obi-Wan knew he was being silly. Qui-Gon made no mention of their future. They both knew that things could only go on this way for a limited time.

Dauhge finally clambered on top of his stick and stretched his neck out happily. Obi-Wan intended to cherish his time with Qui-Gon while it lasted, but to accept the end when it came.

Master Arjet Paje approached the Fortnight Gannet with some trepidation. The H-class Nubian had been given over to Padawans Nall and Kenobi some years before. It had served a long string of duties in it's lifetime, passed from Council to recon to transport pool and finally to the junk heap. At the time it had been considered a hopeless case, an exercise in futility to keep two students out of trouble. Imagine the surprise of all involved when the two students had managed to get the thing in working order.

Imagine the surprise at discovering it could outdistance and outlast any other ship in its class.

Paje had never gotten up the guts to actually take a ride in the thing, although it could easily have been arranged. It was widely rumored that the two had the ship souped up to the point of no return, that one needed Jedi reflexes just to pilot the thing, much less get her through combat. And combat-ready she was. Two forward arrays and a ball turret had been added to the basic design of the craft. Paje shuddered to think what they'd done to the interior. Well, if the exterior was any indicator, it should be interesting, anyway.

As it stood, the Fortnight Gannet looked like a giant chrome duck. Feathers and all in startling detail. He squinted his eyes and turned his head to the side. No, not a duck, a panorama of chrome mountains. No, wait ...

He finally caught on that the exterior was playing tricks on his eyes and gave up. The gangplank was down, and he clumped his way up as noisily as possible. The interior, while more colorful than usual, kept to standard lines. Well, the front hallway did, anyhow. About halfway down the hall, he saw a pair of legs sticking out of an access space. "Hello?"

The exceedingly dirty form of Corubia Nall extracted itself from the ship's interior. She held a microwelder in one hand and a piece of wire in the other. Her dark goggles kept him from seeing the expression in her eyes, but from the way her eyebrows tried to join her hairline, he'd guess that she was surprised. "Master Paje! How may I help you?"

"I just came to check on the progress of Master Jinn and Padawan Kenobi. I understand you helped him with their preparations?" Paje asked.

"Yes, Master. I only need finish these modifications before they go." Corubia pushed her goggles back, put her tools down, and settled into a kneeling stance, palms resting on her upper thighs. She did not raise her eyes to meet the Master's gaze.

"And how are you doing?"

"Very well, Master. Master Torlamin says I am progressing more acceptably now that I have a better grasp on the Sevens meditation."

"The meditation on the Dark Side? She says this has improved your performance?" Paje was shocked. The Sevens meditation could be truly disturbing to one so young, especially if concentrated upon for extended periods of time.

"Yes, Master Paje. We do it three times a day now, rather than just two. I feel I truly begin to understand the nature of the Light side, by understanding the nature of the Dark." Corubia picked up her microwelder. "If it pleases you, Master, I must finish these modifications before Master Jinn and Padawan Kenobi can leave on their mission."

Paje sat down on the deck. "Corubia, I've known you almost all your life. And yet, in the past couple of years you've become more and more formal with me. I know from the other Masters and their students that this is not the case with the better part of the Order. Will you tell me why?"

Corubia raised her eyes and dropped them again, quickly. "Master Torlamin says you have things that you might teach me, things that I must earn the knowledge of. She says one must always defer most properly to one's teachers, even if they are not your teacher yet."

"And do you so defer to your master at all times?" Paje asked.

"Yes. Of course."

"I see. Well, I leave you to your work. Master Jinn and Obi-Wan have a most important mission before them. They are going to retrieve some rather ugly components from what may prove to be a Sith. Good day." Information planted, Paje retreated from the Fortnight Gannet. If Torlamin didn't already know what Quigs' mission was about, she'd know before sunset.

And then the situation would bear much watching.

Master Arjet Paje had no doubt that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were about to embark on a most interesting mission, even by his own standards.

The planet of Oreen was a lush and beautiful place. Drel Mran and Faydrus Dekk stepped forth from their transport under a starry sky. The air was heavy and warm, thick with humidity. Gathered at the base of the ramp was a small cluster of people. Standard humanoid, with dark tan skin, Obi-Wan noted. The agenda set forth scheduled them to proceed directly to dinner. They had freshened up while still shipboard and were ready to be wined, dined and cajoled into purchasing a vast quantity of crystal that they would, in fact, never consider. The crystals they would accept would match the dark and angry one now nestled in Qui-Gon's belt pouch. Obi-Wan slouched, bored and sullen, a few paces behind his master. He didn't look at the surroundings, or the people. He didn't pay attention to the dinner, but consumed what was placed before him after an angry glare from Drel.

They were seated at low tables, on very comfortable cushions. An army of servants passed in and out, serving Qui-Gon and the three men who came to sell to him. There were others in the room, hangers on, Obi-Wan supposed. They didn't matter. At last they had finished the final course. Obi-Wan was vaguely aware that through the dinner Qui-Gon had inspected and rejected dozens of cases of crystals. The salesmen were getting desperate.

"Is there anything we can offer you? Anything at all?" one of them asked.

"Some entertainment would be nice," Faydrus piped up. He received another glare from Drel, which he ignored. "I'm bored."

"Yes, of course." A few moments later two women entered, stood in a clear space between the tables and started a long, beautiful song on the subject of peace and inner beauty. Obi-Wan felt a nudge against his mental shields and opened to it minutely.

//Now will be your chance, Padawan.//

**I think you enjoy this way too much.**

//Duty, Padawan.//

Something cold seized in Obi-Wan's chest. It hurt, badly, almost making him lose his breath.

//What's wrong, Obi-Wan?//

**Nothing, Master. I am ready. I only hope that I am up to the task you have set me.**

The women bowed the finish, smiling into the applause. Faydrus yawned.

"Drel, dear, why are we still here? It is clear this is not the place you sought." Obi-Wan stretched, popping the joints in his back.

"Hush, now. I'm doing business."

"But really, Drel, darling. I'm sure that song was nice enough for the ordinary sort, but hardly the art of a planet that has what you are seeking." Obi-Wan let a long, insolent, lazy grin creep across his lips.

"Just what does that mean?" one of the salesmen demanded.

Obi-Wan stood up. "Do you want to see special? I'll show you special. Then you'll show Drel whatever you think you have to match special and I can go home. Deal?"

The men nodded dumbly. Qui-Gon had a look of exasperated indulgence on his face.

"Now, I know you haven't the proper music, but do try to pay attention."

//Obi-Wan, wait. Are you sure you're up to this?// Qui-Gon sounded genuinely worried.

That cold thing caught Obi-Wan under the breastbone again. **Yes, Master. I am ready to serve you. Try to act like I'm doing something amazing. It'll help our position.**

Qui-Gon settled back, let admiration shine in his eyes. Obi-Wan stepped out of his slippers and went to the clearing between the tables. Qui-Gon picked up a chopstick and began tapping a rhythm on his water glass. The soft chime rang through the perfectly quiet room. Ting-tocka ting tok-tok toka-ting.

Obi-Wan let his knees relax then fell into the rhythm with the isolations from his balance training. His arms were held away from his sides, shoulders moving in the quick, popping rhythm. He brought his arms down to frame his body and moved just his hips, up and down.

His left foot crossed over his right, and he slowly curved his chest around, dipping down, then back up to the left, down, then up to the right. Nothing moved but his chest and ribs. Ting-tocka ting tok-tok toka-ting. Slowly he turned, pivoting on the balls of his feet, dipping his left hip, then right hip. He felt the stretch of his tight trousers as the muscles bunched and gave.

He stepped up, rising high on the right foot, left arm high above his head, slowly circling as his body undulated from shoulder to knee, a perfect downward S-shaped wave. Ting-tocka ting tok-tok toka-ting.

His hand circled above his head in the opposite direction his body turned. Long, slow ripple of perfect muscle control, all of it drawing attention to pelvis and hip. He stopped, planting both feet.

Now the utterly self-glorifying but spectacular performance was about to end. Obi-Wan had not really thought how to end this little charade. He listened to the chime; leaned slowly, slowly back, bending knee, arms out to the side, making the snake arms undulations he enjoyed so much in the stone gardens. Back and back and bending at the knee. Ting-tocka ting tok-tok tocka-ting.

Now his knees touched the floor, his back continued curving, curving, back a perfect arch, his hips still high up from the floor. The crown of his head touched the carpet. Still arching, he pressed his legs out, clearing the way, letting his shoulders slowly lower, his arms still curving, undulating, keeping his balance. Shoulderblades now on the floor, hips still high up, bringing down the back, now finally allowing buttocks to come slowly towards the floor, not quite touching, hips high and proud. Ting-tocka toc.

There the rhythm stopped, so Obi-Wan froze.

Qui-Gon began the applause this time. Obi-Wan rose, bored again. "Show them and let's get out of here."

Qui-Gon turned back to the salesmen. "You see that I have rather a special commodity to provide for, here. So let's cut to the chase. What I want is six dozen crystals of this type and quality." He took the box out and showed them the focus stone from the Sith lightsaber.

They passed it around, exchanged nervous glances. "Ah, no. No, we don't have quite that quantity here for sale. A gentleman took all that we had just last week."

"Did he? Well, you can provide me with his name and I will deal with him directly," Qui-Gon made a fluid gesture and looked at them like this was the most sensible thing to do. Moments later a secretary had brought them the needed information.

A few minutes more and the Jedi were walking back to their transport.

Obi-Wan had just finished sending the information they had gathered back to Coruscant when he heard a clattering noise from the direction of the ramp. He poked his head into the corridor, saw Qui-Gon headed towards the entryway and returned to his work. Moments later he heard voices trading words in heated tones. He went back into the hallway just in time to see one of the crystal merchant's guards slug Qui-Gon in the jaw. The Jedi spun halfway around and fell in a heap on the lowered ramp. The guard looked at Obi-Wan, shouted something unintelligible in the native tongue and gestured towards him. The Padawan did the only thing he could, given the circumstances. He let his eyes roll back into his head and fell to the floor.

The guards spoke in worried tones for a long moment. Obi-Wan lay perfectly still. Finally two of them came and gathered him up. He heard them collecting Qui-Gon as well. **Master?**

//Just ride along, Padawan. Good thinking, by the way.//

**Thank you, Master.**

//This won't take too long to deal with.//

**Yes, Master.**

Their captors bore the limp and waiting Jedi back into the house in which they had dined. Obi-Wan instinctively cataloged the turns they took and the number of steps between each turn. He scanned them for their emotional state and it seemed to him they were overly agitated. This was not going according to plan for them. Finally they entered a room and Obi-Wan was put down someplace soft. He heard the rustle and bump as Qui-Gon was also set down. A more familiar voice spoke just then.

"You idiots! I said convince them, not kidnap them! They'll never come to terms with us now! You there, slavegirl. Stay with them until they awake. Let the guard know when they revive. The rest of you, come with me," and the sound of feet receded into the distance. A hiss and click told Obi-Wan that the door was closed.

He held his breath steady, double-checked their watcher's position between them, and asked **Now, Master?**

//You take her. I'd scare the life out of her from my size alone.//

Obi-Wan stifled a snort, counted three and tossed himself onto the slave. He covered her mouth with one hand and hoped she didn't have another to cry out with. "Keep still. Keep quiet. I will not hurt you if you will do those things. Do you agree? Nod if you do." He felt her signal an affirmative and hauled them both to their feet.

And gasped.

She was almost as tall as he, slender, with alert eyes. Her body was covered in a coat of thin blue fur. "Kurasian," he whispered.

Her eyes widened, surprised. She nodded.

The pieces of the puzzle clicked into place. She clearly had been sold off from the group taken as slaves more than a month ago. The ones he and Qui-Gon had freed. "Your people live, and are free. Your family is safe." Something within him said that this was the most important piece of information he could give her.

Something new sparked in her eyes. Determination. Good, they could use that.

"We have to go, Obi-Wan. Put her to sleep so we can take the ..."

"No, Master. She's coming with us." Obi-Wan couldn't believe he'd just said that.

"Is she?"

"Yes, Master. With or without your permission." Obi-Wan realized he delivered these words in just the same tone Qui-Gon used on the Council.

"Hmm. I see. You'll be punished for this later, you understand. Defiance on this level will not be taken lightly." Qui-Gon took a position by the door.

"Of course, Master. Thank you." Obi-Wan took a look at the girl. There was a cheap and unreliable tracker on her wrist. He snapped it easily and tossed it on the sofa he had been laying on. "I am Obi-Wan Kenobi. My name is in your Book of Heroes. I will take you home."

She nodded, held out her hand. "Jenka Nes'Nurian."

Then Qui-Gon Forced the door, snatched the guard and dragged him inside. Obi-Wan seized his chin and ordered "Sleep." The guard went under with a whimper.

"Very good, Padawan."

"Thank you, Master."

The three made it almost to the Fortnight Gannet without being spotted. Those who had been set to watch over it opened fire on them as they keyed entry to the gangplank. Obi-Wan drew his lightsaber from its hiding place, but was loath to turn it on. No need for them to know whom they fought against. They dashed up the ramp without counterattacking. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan made for the controls and had the ship in orbit before they could turn to their passenger.

"Jenka Nes'Nurian, may I introduce Master Qui-Gon Jinn?"

"Master?" She asked.

"We are Jedi," Obi-Wan explained.

She took in their clothes, hair and makeup, sat down on the deck and howled with laughter.

Obi-Wan turned to his master. "Please excuse me while I go to regain my dignity, Master."

He staunchly ignored the fact that Qui-Gon's laughter joined Jenka Nes'Nurian's as soon as Obi-Wan was out of the room.

Obi-Wan was tugging his boots on when his doorchime was sounded. He answered to find Jenka Nes'Nurian standing there. "Can I help you?" he asked.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have laughed like that. I heard your master say you'd be punished if you rescued me. I heard you accept that punishment for me. I ... should not have laughed." She was staring at the floor before his feet.

"I'm sure I must seem pretty laughable. Especially if you saw that dance at dinner. Look, would you like a change of clothes? I can see right through that shift and I know your people don't usually dress that way. Take whatever you like." He gestured towards his bedroom, where he had stowed his travel packs.

She nodded and he left the room to give her some probably much-needed privacy. He made his way down to the galley, in search of tea. Not long after he heard her follow. She came into the galley dressed in some of his silks. They were much too large, but better than trying to get Qui-Gon's clothes to suit. "Hungry?" he asked.

She nodded and he gestured towards the table. Soon he had a meal set before her and she started in with relish. He leaned against the countertop, sipping his tea.

"You won't join me?" She asked.

Obi-Wan shook his head no, tugging his Padawan braid loose from the extensions.


He shrugged, uncertain. Finally he asked. "Is there a difference between 'Nurian' and 'Nes'Nurian'?"

She nodded, "I am not yet a Nurian. I was ... am training to be one. What is a Padawan?"

"The same thing probably. How old are you?"

"I have twenty one summers. I have taken the Semsha Rites of Passage."

"Mmm-hmm. Well, Jenka Nes'Nurian, there's a price to be paid for your freedom. I must go see to paying it. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you," He set his cup down.

The Gannet was not particularly small, had sufficient weapons and supplies to keep them in the field for a good month or so. He found his master in the meeting room. Qui-Gon was standing, watching the stars go by. "We are on a course for Renal Sejon. I have contacted Master Windu and explained our plan, or utter lack thereof. You're lucky this time, Padawan. Sejon is nearby, a good place to lay low while our hosts stop looking for us. We'll have to wait a few days at least before continuing our search. Cord is working on finding our next target." Qui-Gon turned to face his student. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"Yes, Master. I have come to take my punishment," Obi-Wan informed him.

"Now? While I admire your compassion and sense of duty, I must tell you I would prefer to wait."

"Why is that, Master?" Obi-Wan was honestly confused.

"You defied and disobeyed me, Obi-Wan. I might have been swayed, had you asked, but you did not. That is wholly unacceptable. You know this is serious and here I do not have the time or the luxury to devise an elegant lesson. I would prefer to not use the only sorts of punishments available to me now. You know I have no wish to be that brutal with you, Koateleu." Qui-Gon turned his back on the stars. "Besides, if you didn't know the meaning and reasons for obedience by now, I would have sent you to some other calling."

"It will be faster and easier on us both this way," Obi-Wan opined.

"If we do this I would have to do something I find deeply distasteful and crude. I am, of course, prepared to do so if you really think you would prefer it this way. I hope it shames you enough that we will not need to repeat this particular form of punishment for another good long time. I know I will be ashamed that it was so between us."

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan felt his pulse quicken. What was about to happen would be less than pleasant and more than a little humiliating.

"Very well. Let it be agreed between us that when I am done, I am going to ask your pardon. Due to the nature of your training, it would be possible for you to ignore what I am about to do. I forbid you to do so. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Master."

"You are to remain within your normal sensory input levels. You are to give me honest responses to what you experience."

"Yes, Master."

"Wait here." Qui-Gon left the room and returned with a long, thin, flexible rod in one hand. He regarded it with a look of utter disgust. His eyes fell upon Obi-Wan, then flicked away, focusing on the stars once more. He found it impossible to say these words while watching his student's accepting eyes. "Your punishment is this: I am going to cane you. Now, off with those tunics and boots. Come here."

Obi-Wan obeyed. "Master? I just ... I already pardon you."

"Face down on the deck. Push up on your arms."

Obi-Wan extended into the classic pushup pose and held his weight there on his hands and toes. The first blow was a line of fire from ribs to shoulder. The second was nothing less than agony. The third split the skin, and he felt himself beginning to sweat. He pressed his lips together, then opened them, trying to steady his breathing.

He let his head fall down between his shoulders, watching his muscles recoil from another blow that deepened the cut. A thin trickle of blood made its way down his ribcage. The pain was incredible, but more difficult was fighting the instinct to retreat into the mental discipline he had been taught to withstand torture. He kept his eyes opened and focused on the floor as two more lashes of silvery fire were laid across the same wound

There was a pause, then a new welt was begun. Two strokes in quick succession made the mark and forced a gasp out of Obi-Wan. At a dozen he was screaming.

Now both sweat and blood were dripping from him, salty fluid running over his shoulders, down his arms and pooling around his fingers. Two more cuts were opened, twin lines of molten torment from shoulder to hip. At two dozen blows, his arms collapsed. He gasped and struggled to get up, hold himself up, not simply lay there and whine like a mindless beast. Qui-Gon waited for him to reassume the pose and carried on. Tears leaked down Obi-Wan's face. He did not feel the shame or the humiliation he had expected. He suffered, but more, he felt responsibility. He had done what must be done and now accepted the consequences. His openmouthed howls were nothing compared to the sure voice within him that said this was nothing more than another facet of his duty.

Salt from his perspiration was now gathering in the open wounds. The saline fire added new pain where he thought no more could exist. He wanted to beg for mercy, for just a moment's rest, but refused to shame himself further by showing such weakness. He also knew that he would never, ever EVER defy his master if there was any other avenue available to him. He had thought this a lesson well learned at this point in his life. There were now six parallel lines down his back, evenly spaced, each a universe of burning punishment that was about to grow much worse.

The cane now fell between the bleeding cuts, not tearing flesh but making finger-wide marks between them, leaving no skin untouched. At four dozen strokes, Obi-Wan knew he had paid a fair price for Jenka's freedom. The pain was incredible, blinding and impossible to ignore. He had given up on breathing and was satisfied that any air was entering his body between sets of wracking sobs and earsplitting screams. At five dozen lashes the blows stopped. "You may lay down now, Padawan."

Obi-Wan slowly relaxed his arms, lowering himself to the cool deck. Even when he had been lying in the hospital drowning in his own blood, he hadn't felt torment like this. Every breath was a misery. His heartbeat made him whimper with the level of hurt it caused. He trembled with wracking sobs, stunned and dulled by the sensations. His back felt like raw meat, though he knew there were clean, precise stripes that would heal without scarring.

"Now will you pardon me, Obi-Wan?"

"Yes, Master," the strangled yelp was painful to voice.

"Now, Padawan, let me ask you this. If we were in the same situation, would you still disobey me to save that girl? The one that laughed in your face not five minutes after you won her freedom? Would you do it even knowing this is the price you would have to pay?" Qui-Gon's voice was cold and level.

Obi-Wan cringed inwardly as his openmouthed sobs and choking gasps filled the room. He slowed his breathing, slowed the muscle reactions that caused them, drew a deep breath and replied, "yes, Master." The tears overtook him again and he poured his pain into the Force.

Qui-Gon's hand was on his chin, turning him to face. "Well done, my Padawan. Sleep."

Qui-Gon gathered Obi-Wan's sleeping form up in his arms, mindful of the wounds, and carried him back to his rooms. He placed his Padawan facedown on the bed, gathered a washcloth and water and began the second part of his duty. Damnable duty! This was one of the most filthy, low, disgusting parts of training. No. It was THE most inhumane and unforgivable part. Obi-Wan would never understand Qui-Gon's dislike of the technique. To Obi-Wan it was expedience. To Qui-Gon it was hell. Had always been so, even before his heart had become so inexorably entangled with the man he had just abused.

*It IS abuse, Koatel, I don't care what they taught you in Training. This isn't just a physical exercise for me. This shouldn't HAPPEN to wonderful beings like you. I shouldn't be expected to do it.*

There was some sincerely outdated traditions in the Jedi Order, not the least of which was the idea that a student might have a hand in choosing their own punishments. The idea was that a Padawan would learn a lesson better if they took part in devising it. Usually an infraction like the one Obi-Wan had committed would have lead to a long, boring essay with lots of footnotes, or hours clipping a lawn with a pair of scissors, something like that. Something boring and monotonous, a task over which he could consider his actions and his many alternatives to those actions. That wasn't the outdated part.

The outdated part was that if his Padawan so chose, he could forgo all those options and choose to simply have the crap beaten out of himself. A Master was expected to be able to carry out such a punishment with the same precision and care that they taught protocol, combat, anything else in a Jedi's training.

*Barbaric. Purely barbaric. There is no other word for it.*

Qui-Gon had finished washing the cuts he had put down, then began the long process of healing them closed. This was one thing he would not do, leave wounds unhealed. 'Conventional Wisdom' said the wounds of punishment should be left to heal naturally, so as to drive the point home. Obi-Wan and he had engaged in a blazing row over protocol the first time Qui-Gon had instead healed the wounds while Obi-Wan slept. The second time, Qui-Gon had left a single cut unhealed. That had shut Obi-Wan up from there on out. The number of times Qui-Gon had been put into this position were thankfully few, but he numbered them amongst the greatest sins he had ever committed.

*Why? Why did you make me do this? Are you testing me, Obi-Wan? Do you need to know that I am still your Master, though I love you with all my heart? I am. I would never betray that trust. I would never betray YOU.*

And Qui-Gon did feel betrayed. Betrayed by the traditions of the Jedi, the Order that was his life. Betrayed by his own sense of duty that insisted he uphold those traditions. Betrayed by the fact that his Padawan, this most precious of persons, believed these things to be normal and acceptable. Most of all, he felt betrayed by his own apparent inability to teach Obi-Wan otherwise.

He had known the possibility of this happening, known there were many things between a Padawan and a Master that he found distasteful to say the least. The utter control a Master had over a Padawan's life, thoughts, existence, were among them. He had known he might again be called upon to hurt, sincerely injure Obi-Wan, despite what his heart told him to do. He had sworn to himself that he would not falter in his duty, would not let Obi-Wan's training alter one whit because of his own feelings for his student.

He settled in beside the bed, letting his breathing fall into the rhythm of meditation. He must be calm, must not let Obi-Wan see the inner conflict he suffered. If he wavered or weakened, that would only damage the trust they had between them. Obi-Wan must have a strong Master to respect, even if that strength was not all it might seem to be.

Obi-Wan woke in his room. He was lying face down on the pillow, but the pain in his back had receded.

"How do you feel?" Qui-Gon asked from kneeling on the floor beside the bed.

"I'm fine, Master."

"Good. I've had a message from Coruscant. They're still tracing the information we received, so they want us to hold on Sejon until we hear something more concrete. Re'Nath Nurian has sent word that we should be welcome and the people have accepted on a condition." Qui-Gon rose from his knees and ran a hand down Obi-Wan's ribcage. "Are you sure you feel quite well?"

"Yes, Master."

"They are very excited to hear you are coming. They want you to take the Semsha Rites. I have no idea what that will entail. I don't want you to do anything that might endanger this mission." Qui-Gon rubbed his eyes.

"We could ask Jenka Nes'Nurian. She told me she had taken them. I gathered this had something to do with her age." Obi-Wan turned over onto his back. It felt like he had a sunburn, but nothing worse.

"We shall speak to her of it, then. I do not like this necessity, but the Council has approved that you take part in the Rites as long as they do not conflict with your training. Come now, get dressed and meet me in the galley." Qui-Gon stepped towards the door. "You do understand what happened last night, don't you, Padawan?"

Obi-Wan smiled. "Yes, Master. You are teaching me the fine art of choosing my battles again. And you are teaching me to have confidence in my own decisions."

Qui-Gon smiled back at him. "There may be hope for you yet, young man."

Obi-Wan entered the galley some minutes later. Jenka was already there, still dressed in Obi-Wan's clothes. She had chosen a crimson and silver costume from his packs. Although the clothes were at least three sizes too big, she managed to carry herself with grace.

"Good morning, Padawan Kenobi," she greeted.

"Good morning, Jenka Nes'Nurian. How do you feel today?" he returned.

"Free. Master Jinn said you had some questions about the Rites of Passage?"

"We both do, yes," Obi-Wan said, heading for the caterer. "Do you have a preference for breakfast?"

"Only to share it with you both," she helped him set the table for Qui-Gon and themselves. "You serve your master well, Obi-Wan. I sense no anger or resentment in you."

"Oh, he let me off easy."

"I heard it all the way down here. You call that getting off light?" Jenka sounded incredulous.

"Well, he put me out and healed me as soon as it was over."

"Ah! I see! Yes, you did get off easy, then. If I had done something like that to Murana Nurian, I think she'd have had me running laps around the camp for the rest of the night."

"By rights, I should have been doing the Shadow Blade form until the middle of next week," Obi-Wan grinned and they both laughed.

"Nice to see you both in such fine spirits, " Qui-Gon greeted.

"Thank you, Master Jinn," Jenka turned to face the Jedi, hands resting palm down on her thighs, head bowed.

"Good morning, Master," Obi-Wan pulled Qui-Gon's chair out for him and stepped back to let him sit. He had no illusions about his status just now. Forgiven he may be, but he was also still on thin ice.

They settled down to the meal, both apprentices eating quietly, waiting Qui-Gon's will. Obi-Wan was impressed with Jenka's composure and the respect she gave his master. He resolved to give that same type of respect to the Nurians, now that he had some idea as to their relative status. Finally, Qui-Gon said "Jenka Nes'Nurian, I was wondering if you could tell me something about the Rites of Passage your people use."

Jenka put her chopsticks down and swallowed carefully before answering. "There are many levels to the rites. Did you have any one level in mind, Master Jinn?"

"No, just a sort of general overview."

"Yes, Master Jinn. Well, the first rite is the Name Rite. It is given to every child on the fifth day after its birth. We name the child and read the Web of Family to it, so that all may know its place in the community. Then at age five, or thereabouts, the child is given the Knowledge Rite. At that point they have the honor of beginning their education. From there it branches out, depending on what the child is raised to be, or is chosen for." Her eyes darted back and forth between the two Jedi, and Qui-Gon smiled encouragingly. "Since I was offered training as a Nurian, I was given the Koh Rite about two years after that. Then when I was eleven, Murana Nurian took the Learning Rite with me. I served with her for a year before she took me as her student. I had just passed my thirteenth summer when I took the Nes'Nurian Rite. As a Nes'Nurian, I am only allowed one other rite until I complete my training. That is the Semsha Rite, the Rite of Accountability. When my training is done, I will have the Nurian Rite and then be considered for any others I might try to attempt."

"And what do these rites entail?" Qui-Gon pressed.

"Some are tests of knowledge, some are tests of physical ability, some are ritual lessons. Actually, the Nes'Nurian Rite is considered to be ongoing during all training. The Semsha is part of the Nes'Nurian for us. But everyone takes the Semsha when they are able. That is the time when one is made accountable for their personal decisions." Jenka blushed, which had a peculiar effect under the blue fur.

"Is it something to do with adulthood?" Obi-Wan guessed.

"Well, in a manner of speaking. It's different for me. If I wanted to, I could make all my personal decisions on my own, ignoring the council of Murana Nurian. I would never do that. It would be both foolish and dangerous for us both. I don't think they let Nes'Nurians take the Semsha until they are sure we understand that," she smiled.

"But you are considered an adult, able to choose?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Yes, Master. One is considered old enough to go into battle, to provide for themselves and their family, to take a partner. Not passed enough yet to marry, but enough to consider the possibilities. We are also given responsibilities with teaching the younger ones, looking after the ill or incapable, assigned duty on the hunt, on waterbearing, on guard duty, a place amongst the trainers, on and on. It is a time of taking responsibility for one's family and tribe." Jenka Nes'Nurian had taken on a teaching tone, as if she were instructing a roomful of littles. Obi-Wan was reminded of his own time in the Temple library when the kiddies were swarming around him chirping 'why? why? why?' "Beyond the Semsha, the only rites available are those it takes years of training to prepare for. Oh, and Marriage."

"I see. I think, perhaps, our fears were unwarranted, Obi-Wan. I believe I can trust you to hold to my council and your place with me and within the Order of the Jedi, even if you take this rite. I will not allow you to take anything beyond the Semsha, you understand. I will not have you binding yourself to this culture in an office you can not fulfill. Your first duty is now and shall always be to the Jedi." Qui-Gon looked stern and serious.

"Yes, Master. I would never jeopardize my place as your Padawan. Instruct me in how I should go and I will obey." Obi-Wan kept his eyes downcast.

"Then clean up in here and begin your morning meditations. We will be on Renal Sejon in time for exercises."

"Yes, Master. Thank you, Master." Both Jenka and Obi-Wan replied.

Qui-Gon harrumphed and went from the room. Obi-Wan grinned at Jenka. "You're very good at that," he said.

"I'd be damned stupid to come home in the care of an angry Jedi Master. It would not speak well of my training. Murana would peel me slowly with a round stone." Jenka laughed a little.

"Is your training so important to you, then? You've been away from your people for over a month."

"Well, Padawan Kenobi. If you were imprisoned for a month on some lousy little planet, what would you be doing on your way back to your Temple?" She asked, deadly serious.

"Bowing to every Master I could find out of sheer gratitude," he replied honestly. He could clearly recall the last time that had happened.

"Well then, you understand my position. I'd like a good report when I get home."

They passed the rest of the morning talking, training and meditating, sometimes at the same time. Obi-Wan found her mind ridiculously simple to open up to. She taught him a few of her people's meditations and he managed to dig up a couple of exercises not directly related to sensing and using the Force. She was quite impressed with his Pearl Drop meditation, which he allowed her to ride along on. Her presence in his mind was not the distraction he would have thought it would be. She was silent and attentive, observing passively without stray thoughts or interruptions to stir his mind. When they were done, he spoke to her about this. "How is it that we are joined, but I am not disturbed?"

"I take no more than given and you return the favor, of course." She spoke as if surprised.

"I'm sorry. I suppose I should begin by saying I came into my telepathy a little late," he grinned. "I think my Master almost despaired of ever coaxing it to the surface where it could be of use to me. Then one day I was in the shower after spending a long day practicing with the healers and, well, poof," he shrugged his shoulders. "I'm still trying to get a handle on it."

"You should ask your master to work with you more extensively," she suggested.

"Yes, perhaps I should. There are things about me that I don't yet want him to know, though," Obi-Wan admitted.

"If your training is anything like mine, he will be very careful to teach you how to keep those things secret. For us, it is a very important part of the discipline. Showing what you wish to be seen without giving up what should remain unspoken." They rose and stretched their limbs.

"I see. I shall definitely speak to him of this."

They went back to Obi-Wan's rooms after a visit to the freshers to get clean clothes. Jenka selected again from his Faydrus wardrobe and retreated to the sitting room as Obi-Wan dressed in his field uniform. "Its not that I find your form unpleasant," she explained. "It's just that you're ... bald."

Obi-Wan laughed as he joined her. "Trust me, no offense is taken."

She was strangely silent when he turned around. He realized she was staring at the Kho'la'bo. "It belonged to La'Karata Nurian," he explained. "She ... I'm sorry, Jenka Nes'Nurian. She died a few days ago. It was sent to me because of a premonition she had just before her death."

She nodded but said nothing.

"We'll be landing soon. Are you excited?" He asked, changing the subject.

"Oh yes! I can't wait to see my people again. I ... I don't know who will be left of my family, but I know I have a home to return to. It is enough."

When they arrived on Renal Sejon, there was a welcoming party waiting. Three Nurians came to the foot of the gangplank and bowed as Qui-Gon led the two apprentices out of the ship. They returned the bow.

"We greet you, Master Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn. I am Sen'Danji Nurian, this is Eleje Nurian and Murana Nurian," the leader introduced.

"I thank you for your welcome. This is Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi. We return to you Jenka Nes'Nurian, who we found being held prisoner. Who comes to collect her?" Qui-Gon gestured Jenka forward.

"She is my responsibility," Murana said, also stepping forward. Jenka went to her and took her place behind and to the right of her teacher. Her eyes shone with happiness.

Obi-Wan was overjoyed to find Jenka's teacher had survived the ordeal the Kurasians had gone through. Even if no other of her family survived, she would have the care of her master.

"We have prepared a place for you in the camps, among the tents of the Nurians. Would you like to stay there, or here on your vessel?" Sen'Danji Nurian asked.

"I would be honored to accept your hospitality," Qui-Gon replied. Obi-Wan hefted their packs and followed the little procession. He had used a spare sash to sling his Kho'la'bo across his back. He saw that the Nurians carried theirs, using them as walking sticks. Something told him it would be better if he did not do this thing.

They walked through the expansive camps to the central area where the Nurians were pitched. To one side was a cone-shaped tent where the Jedi were directed to make themselves comfortable. Jenka went with Murana, having nothing but the clothes Obi-Wan had given her. She walked like she had all the wealth of the galaxy in her pocket.

The Nurians had set part of the training field apart for the Jedi to use. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan went over the area familiarizing themselves with the uneven ground. They warmed up with a middle-class form and began sparring, sabers tuned down to static-power. When they called a hold, Obi-Wan noticed the small crowd of observers who had gathered. Qui-Gon's mouth quirked up. "Ready for a lesson in humility, Padawan?"

"Yes, Master."

"Let's walk through the second section of the R'Antha, then."

They entered into the dance and for the first portion, Obi-Wan held his form. In the beginning of the second, a series of tumbling passes, he lost his focus and stumbled, but recovered. Towards the end of the third, there was as short section of toss-kicks. He reached out and grabbed Qui-Gon's forearms, swung up, landed, planed firmly and brought Qui-Gon around. On his second arc, his grip slipped and sent them both tumbling to the ground. A smattering of chuckles reached him as Qui-Gon helped him up. "You must remember to keep the thumb more firmly in place, Padawan. Do fifty of those on your own without falling and we'll try this again."

Obi-Wan nodded and began the required exercise. He found it a simple move to do on his own. It was the reliance on another that put him off in this dance, an obstacle he needed much work to improve. It was a comfort though, that Qui-Gon seemed at peace teaching him the dance now. When they had begun, thoughts of the unmentioned, long-lost Padawan had haunted his eyes, his voice. All traces of that were gone now. As Obi-Wan completed his fiftieth jump, he held that thought close to him.

"Good, Padawan. Again." This time they made it through the second section without incident. Obi-Wan fairly glowed with pride. Qui-Gon pulled him close, arm around his shoulders. "There may be hope for you yet, young man."

"That is much coming from you, old man," Obi-Wan replied, laughing.

Qui-Gon opened his mouth to reply but was cut off with a shout.

"Padawan Kenobi! Come here and select a staff for sparring!" Obi-Wan turned to find Jenka Nes'Nurian standing just inside the practice area they were using. <<Come here now and say nothing!>> her words rang in his head.

He approached her, puzzled. They stood side by side, surveying the rack of staves. She pitched her voice low. "That was poorly done, Padawan Kenobi."

"What have I done?"

"Speaking so to your Master before the people brings much shame to him. I have seen the ease between you and know it is not meant that way, but you must correct this before you both lose face. There are too many here for it to go unobserved." She handed him a staff. "Tell him."

Obi-Wan nodded, keeping his eyes on the staff he held. **Master, I have committed a breach of protocol. Jenka Nes'Nurian advises me so.**

//I saw no offense. How do we correct it Obi-Wan?//

**I spoke with words too familiar. A moment,** and he turned to Jenka. "What must we do?"

"I will bring you to him, in the manner of one Nes'Nurian correcting another. He must command you not to speak until the evening meal," she replied.

He nodded. **Master, I must be forbidden to speak until dinner. Jenka will guide us in the correct way.**

//I am ready.//

Obi-Wan nodded to Jenka, who reached up and seized him by the collar. Her grip was surprisingly strong as she marched him back to Qui-Gon and pitched him onto his knees.

"Padawan, I want not another word to pass your lips until we have dined this eve." Qui-Gon's eyes danced with humor. They had been through the elaborate tangles of protocol such as these before, but never so amused had Qui-Gon appeared.

Obi-Wan nodded, lips compressed to retain the reflexive 'Yes, Master' which must go unspoken.

<<Good. Now, we shall spar. Try to lose.>>

Obi-Wan stood and turned to face his opponent. She was a good hand shorter than he was and thin from her imprisonment, but her staff flashed and whirled in her hands. The attack came quickly.

He found himself hard-pressed to defend himself. The tip of her staff came in high and he moved to block. Suddenly he found himself surveying the sky. She had clipped his feet out from under him. Jenka stood over him. "To bath, then," she said.

Obi-Wan followed her as she went to her master, who was speaking to Qui-Gon. They turned to the approaching apprentices.

"Well done, Jenka." Murana said.

"Thank you, Nurian."

"Padawan, that will never do," was Qui-Gon's opinion.

Obi-Wan hung his head and did a most difficult thing. He let go the shield he normally held over the bond between his master and himself. **I am sorry, Master.**

//You should be. Shaming me like that in front of all these people.// Qui-Gon smiled. //You're doing very well, Obi-Wan.//

Obi-Wan's cheeks burned. Somehow, he could not get used to this mode of communication. He had trained for years to control his mind, to reach out through the Force and touch his master's thoughts, the thoughts of those around him. It was one thing to read another person's mental state, but to speak without words was far too intimate.

//You need not do this thing if it disrupts your calm, Obi-Wan.//

**Master, perhaps I must do this thing because it disturbs my calm.**

//I will help you in any way I can, Koateleu.//

**Do not take more than I am giving you, please, Master.**

//That is a thing I would never do to you, Padawan.//

There was nothing to say to that. They had reached one of the larger tents and went inside. For a moment Obi-Wan was at a loss, but decided to follow Jenka's lead. She went to a side table and collected oil and a long flat wooden tool. Her teacher had begun to undress and Qui-Gon did the same. They took places in a shallow basin, Murana Nurian carefully averting her eyes from Qui-Gon.

//Should I not be doing this, Obi-Wan?//

**It isn't that they find us unpleasant to look upon, Master. It's just that we're bald.** A smile tugged at Obi-Wan's lips. He began to see the advantages to this kind of communication.

Qui-Gon's features were so totally serious that Obi-Wan knew he was biting his tongue to keep from laughing. Following along with Jenka's actions, he poured oil over his master's body, coating it thickly. Then the wooden tool was dragged along every inch of him to scrape the dirt and grime from the day's work away. Obi-Wan was fascinated by the change in Qui-Gon's skin from the sheen of oil to the smooth, soft clean muscles and lines. A truly wicked thought occurred to him, one that he determined to carry out. When they were done the two teachers dressed again.

//Now I remember how difficult it is to think boring thoughts with you around.//

**Funny, I can never forget how difficult it is with you. We must see to your hair, Master. It must be itching by now.**

Qui-Gon nodded. "Come, Padawan."

Jenka came up behind them, "Padawan Kenobi, would you like to come down to the river with us? I'm told the others want to meet you. We're just going for a bath and a swim."

Obi-Wan turned to his master, head down. **May I, Master? I could fetch some water to wash your hair.**

"Don't be gone too long."

**Yes, Master.**

Qui-Gon watched the two young people walk away, wondering that Jenka had slipped back into her community so easily. He turned to Murana Nurian and asked, "how is it that she has recovered so well?"

Murana crossed her arms and studied the ground for a long moment. "She has not. I believe she holds her fear and pain inside. She will open up to me soon, though. She needs time to accept that this is real, that this world is her home now, that she is safe once more."

"And leaving her to do normal things? This will help? I see." Qui-Gon nodded. "It must be difficult to not know what is happening within her."

"You should know. Your son must hide his pain from you at times."

Qui-Gon's brow wrinkled in consternation, then chuckled. "Obi-Wan is not my son. He is my Padawan, as I have told you. Surely you must know what that means among the Jedi, your people have known us since joining the Republic."

Murana touched her temple briefly, her eyes unfocusing. Then she fixed her gaze on him once more. "I see the lines of family between you in the Koh. What say you to that, Master Jedi?"

Qui-Gon was taken aback. She was challenging him, the truth of his assertion! He cleared his throat and replied, "more than likely, that would be the bond between Master and Padawan. It binds us as closely as a blood-tie would, on a spiritual level. But it is not a permanent thing."

"I see. Then what sort of thing is it?"

Qui-Gon tucked his hands in his sleeves and began walking. He spoke as he walked, forcing Murana to follow after, hurrying her steps to catch his words. His long legs made it easy to maintain just the pace to keep her at a trot. *You're a sly thing, Master Jinn.* He put on his lecturing tone, just for good measure. "Long have the Jedi served the Republic, longer still have our works been necessary to the greater good of all sentients. We are the watchers, the protectors of all life, all justice, all order. Now, it sometimes happens that a Jedi will have a child. More often than not, the child will be strong in the Force and be raised to the Order, but such occurrences of propagation through procreation are rare for the Jedi. Do you understand?"

Murana nodded. "Yes. Your numbers are not replenished through childbirth."

"Correct." He gave her an approving smile. "There are some among us who have a natural bent towards childrearing. These individuals are valued for their abilities because in the main, our Order is continued through the raising of children not born to the Jedi themselves. Less than one of a hundred Trainees have a meaningful relationship with their birth parents. Although they may visit their families, those relationships are hopelessly stunted. And although our Training Masters are some of the finest beings to be found, they simply can not create a parental bond with each and every child under their care."

Murana spoke up. "All the children then are orphans? With no family to protect and care for them?"

Qui-Gon nodded sadly. "Although they do not know it. They do not miss what they have never known, and we are careful to teach them that the Order is all the family they will ever need. And we teach them that, should they be taken as a Padawan, their master will be all the parents they ever need."

"And if they are not taken as a Padawan?" Murana pressed.

"Once taken by the Order, one never leaves except by free will. Those who have the potential, but not the ability are generally steered towards other pursuits, other interests. For many, the life of a Jedi warrior is far too difficult. A great number of our charges choose to enter some other field, rather than take up the burden of our way of life. Those who wish to be taken but are not, well, they do feel disappointed, but you must understand, they know this by the time they are elder children, at the most. No promises are made to them, and there is certainly no shame in being passed over. There are many more who are offered, but choose not to accept the role of Padawan than there are those who wish the Braid and do not receive it. But that is not the subject we were on."

"Please continue."

"When a child is selected for Padawan training, they are carefully observed by the Training Masters, the Jedi Council and the prospective Master in question. Often the Council will see a connection between a particular Knight or Master and a particular Trainee and try to match them for pairing. Other times, the pair will be chosen on instinct alone. Still other pairs are made out of need, or because of special interest or circumstances. In any event, from the moment a Master or Knight has a Padawan, our training requires complete and utter trust. The Senior must be able to count on the Junior utterly, and vice versa. This kind of trust would normally take years to build between individuals, but through the Force, there is a faster, better, invulnerable way. The Master/Padawan bond. That is the connection you see between Obi-Wan and I." He shrugged. "It has ever been so."

"So you create the parental bond with the Force, rather than genetically and with time?" She asked.

"It is not a parental bond, you must understand this. I am not Obi-Wan's father in any sense of the word. I have never had a father, nor did my Master, nor her master before her. We do not have that relationship, we Jedi." Qui-Gon was getting a headache from trying to explain something to someone who would never really understand. Those who could understand would simply KNOW.

"And this is a temporary bond, you say?"

Qui-Gon nodded. "When Obi-Wan passes the Trials of Knighthood, the bond will break and dissolve. We will remember this closeness, but only our self-made relationship will remain. It is possible that we will not even be close friends once he is a Knight. I have not seen my first Padawan, in many years. She and I were as close as Obi-Wan and I are, when she was with me. She has moved on, as have I. It is our way."

"And you will not ask him to wed you when he is of age?"

It took every scrap and sliver of control for Qui-Gon to keep from choking outright. "No. Our traditions are very clear on that point. You'll forgive me, Murana Nurian, but I must undo these braids so that Obi-Wan may see to his duties for me." He bowed and made off for his tent. *These Nurians are too perceptive by half.* Murana had touched on a particularly sore point, however inadvertently. If Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were to ever have a formalized, romantic relationship, the offer would have to be made so far in the future that present circumstances would not enter into it.

Or it would come from Obi-Wan himself.

Qui-Gon had long ago accepted the wisdom of this guideline. Somehow, wisdom had never hurt quite so much. But as he had learned in a vision some time before, there was time yet. Time still to win the heart of his Koateleu. Qui-Gon fervently hoped the Force would will it so.

When Jenka and Obi-Wan arrived at the river, the others were already in, splashing and laughing. Obi-Wan filled the pitcher from his tent with water and set it on a rock to warm. He saw that the others were in the altogether, scrubbing with sand. He started to pull his shirt off, then realized the inherent problem. There were about eight Kurasians there, not counting Jenka. They were all trying to not look at him, but he could feel their curiosity coming off of them in waves. And he knew better than to speak with Jenka right there watching.

He clapped his hands once to get their attention, then ran his fingers through his braids. One nodded his understanding. Obi-Wan then removed his tunics and raised his arms, a little grin playing on his lips. He then quickly removed his boots and pants, then gestured towards his groin.

"Jenka, you said he was totally bald!" one of the others accused.

"Well, I didn't look THAT hard!" she protested.

Obi-Wan laughed and splashed down into the water with them. Jenka helped him scrub his back with sand and made introductions. One of them, Ru'path, wanted to know if it was true Obi-Wan would be taking the Semsha Rite. Obi-Wan nodded that it was.

The others seemed very pleased by this information.

"So, Obi-Wan, you're training to be a Jedi?" Ru'path was clearly trying to satisfy their understandable curiosity without insulting their guest.

Obi-Wan nodded that he was.

"Is it true that Jedi can, you know, DO stuff with their minds? Like some of the Nurians?" Ru'path pressed.

Obi-wan nodded again.

"Are you allowed to show us?" Jenka asked.

Obi-Wan thought about this. This wouldn't be showing off. Not really. If he just did something small ...

He scooped up a double handful of water and gathered the Force to him. Concentrating, he formed the water into a perfect sphere. He lifted it high above them where it could catch the sunlight and floated it back down so they could have a better look. When they had satisfied their interest, he got a wicked idea. He drifted his sphere over Jenka's head. She looked up, fascinated by the glittering of the water hovering above her. Obi-Wan let go of the Force and Jenka sputtered in shock.

"Water fight!" Ru'path yelled. Mayhem erupted in the swimming hole.

While they were getting dressed to head back to camp, Obi-Wan noticed the others had some sort of black marks on the inner sides of their upper arms. Obi-Wan pointed to Jenka's and raised an inquiring eyebrow.

"Oh," she said. "Well, this one is for my tribe line. It tells where I came from, who I was born to, see?" She held up her right arm and traced the pattern. "My mother and father."

He pointed to the left side.

"It's the name of my Enemy, my greatest weakness. You'll find out about that soon enough." She pulled her shirt on, covering both tattoos from sight.

Upon returning Obi-Wan was surprised to find Qui-Gon not in their tent. Obi-Wan gathered up a pillow, comb, towel, basin and the shampoo he would need for his master and set them outside. These preparations made, he settled down into second upward Lion pose, to wait. He balanced, butt on heels, toes gripping the ground, hands on knees and just let the moment hold him. As his mind stilled, he perceived a shadow. Something ... not quite real. He reached for it, then pulled back just as quickly. It flitted closer. He let himself be filled with the Force, becoming a part of the current, but controlling it. The shadow wafted closer, a premonition of the patterns being woven. Obi-Wan relaxed his being and touched it. It ached with foreboding, a warning not to avoid pain in his near future, but to embrace it. A clear and gentle vision of the future. Obi-Wan sighed. He would have to tell Qui-Gon. The Force had spoken its will directly to his mind.

"Ah, you're back. Did you have a nice time with the Nes'Nurians?" Qui-Gon approached from beyond the Nurian's tents. He had unbraided his hair during Obi-Wan's absence.

**Yes, Master.**

"Good. What's all this?" Qui-Gon pointed to Obi-Wan's supplies.

**Your hair, Master,** Obi-Wan reminded him.

Obi-Wan arranged Qui-Gon on the ground, neck supported by the cylindrical pillow, head hanging over the basin. "This really isn't necessary, Padawan."

**Yes, Master,** Obi-Wan replied, pouring sun-warmed water over his master's loose hair. He added some shampoo and began working his fingers across Qui-Gon's scalp, gently caressing and massaging, building the lather up to a white froth. **You might want to keep your eyes closed. Hmm. We're gathering an audience, here.**

Obi-Wan was aware of how this little scene looked. He was kneeling behind his master, fingers caressing little circles all over Qui-Gon's scalp, combing slowly through hair, working the tension and stress and any other spiritual nasties out of his master, via the scalp route. There was absolutely no way he could look more subservient and humble without being used as a footrest. And the look of utter pleasure and relaxation that was creeping across Qui-Gon's face made the exercise doubly worthwhile. **Good?**


Obi-Wan rinsed the shampoo out, dumped the basin and rinsed again. He bundled the wet locks up into a towel, set the basin to one side and took up the comb. Long moments were spent removing each and every tangle from Qui-Gon's thick hair. Obi-Wan was pleased that he hadn't tugged too hard even once. Obi-Wan looked up from binding the toplock back and chuckled. Many Kurasians had simply settled in to watch. Now for the evil part of his plan **I hope you'll forgive me for this liberty, Master.**

He leaned over and placed a hard, hot kiss on Qui-Gon's mouth. To his surprise, Qui-Gon reached up, grabbed his neck and opened his mouth for a deeper embrace. //Forgiven, Koateleu. However, you'd better get your butt into the tent, or I won't be held responsible for the results.//

Obi-Wan chuckled low in his throat and obeyed.

Qui-Gon pushed Obi-Wan down onto the larger pile of cushions meant to serve as Qui-Gon's bed and dropped down on top of him, straddling his hips. "Skies above, but you're good at that."

**What, kissing? I thought you knew that.**

"You know what I meant," Qui-Gon leaned over and took possession of Obi-Wan's lips once more. //The hair thing.//

**I've been wanting to do it for so long, I thought I might as well learn to do it right,** was the flip remark Obi-Wan returned.

//You definitely got it right, Koateleu.//

Obi-Wan just couldn't take that nickname any more. **I believe the word you're looking for is 'piuenda'.**

Qui-Gon leaned back. "I am using the word I want to use, Obi-Wan. If you had a problem with it, you should have said so before now."

**There's no problem, Master. I just think you're possibly not aware of the full meaning of 'Koateleu'. I was thinking 'piuenda' might better suit the idea you were trying to convey.**

//Obi-Wan, cast your mind back and tell me who taught you the language of your home planet.//

**You did, Master, but ...**

//Then isn't it possible that I might know exactly what Koateleu means?//

**Of course, Master, but ...**

//Then what is the problem here?//

**I suppose, when put on those terms, the problem is that you're saying it about me.**

//Translate 'Koateleu', Padawan.// Qui-Gon began the long process of undressing them both.

Obi-Wan sighed, closed his eyes and began composing a proper translation for the word. Qui-Gon's exploration of their bodies wasn't making it easier, but it certainly provided ample inspiration

**Thou art that soul with which my soul is indelibly enmeshed for all eternity.
Within my heart there burns a flame of desire and passion for thee.
Through all the days I shall love thee and all the nights also shall I crave thy presence with me.
Without remorse I offer thee all the love that can be made within my soul.
The knowledge of thy existence makes my world a better place.
I find a joy in thy company that can be found with no other.
When first I embraced thee, I also embraced life worth living
And when I knew my feelings for thee, I also knew peace.
I offer thee a place by my side for as long as that place has reality
No other could fill it so well as thou dost.
Long will I cherish thee, regardless of thy feelings for my poor self
Hope and love exists for me, only where thou art also.**

//Very good, Padawan. Now, translate 'piuenda'.//

**One with whom I share a pleasure bed.**

//And you really think the second is better than the first?//

**In reference to myself, when spoken by you? Yes.**

//Enough. No more linguistics.//

**You started it, Master.**


Qui-Gon pressed something to Obi-Wan's lips. He opened his mouth instinctively and was shocked to find a knot of cloth slipped into his mouth. Qui-Gon smiled and knotted the sash behind Obi-Wan's head. "You're such a screamer, Obi-Wan. These tents weren't meant to disguise passion such as yours," Qui-Gon explained.

Obi-Wan relaxed and nodded.

Qui-Gon seized one of Obi-Wan's nipples in his teeth and sucked hard. Obi-Wan gasped, arching up off the cushions. He twisted his fingers in to Qui-Gon's damp hair as his mouth worked its way over Obi-Wan's body. Strong hands traced filigree patterns along Obi-Wan's ribs as Qui-Gon laid a long string of kisses down Obi-Wan' belly. He paused to dip his tongue into navel, suck at hipbone, bite deep into the inside of thigh before one lick to the tip of cock brought a low growl to Obi-Wan's throat. Qui-Gon slipped between the muscular legs and lifted Obi-Wan's knees towards his shoulders. He breathed warmth onto the exposed flesh, sensitizing it ever so slightly before dipping down to take one testicle, then the other into his mouth. He slowly, gently worked his tongue over the salty flesh before releasing them to nibble on the delectable skin. He dipped lower, lying flat on his stomach and lifting Obi-Wan's hips higher to kiss and lave the tight opening he craved. The sour, hot flavor burst forth onto his senses, spurring him to deeper, more demanding exploration.

Obi-Wan threw his head back, neck curved, muscles flexed with the strain of holding still. Qui-Gon's tongue worked deeper, teasing pleasure and desire from Obi-Wan's innermost core. Obi-Wan let go his grip on Qui-Gon's hair and twisted his fingers into the pillows, tossing back and forth as the hot, sucking mouth tormented him with most wanton sensual input. **Please, Qui-Gon, want you there. I want you there inside me.**

"And I want to be there. Oil?"

Obi-Wan reached out, found a bowl of oil waiting nearby and handed it to Qui-Gon. The elder Jedi slicked a goodly amount onto his erect cock and slid two fingers inside Obi-Wan to prepare him. As was expected, the younger man was ready and more than open, little whimpers escaping from him as he struggled to be silent without losing his grip on reality. "I do expect you to return the favor, though."

**Anything, anything you want, Master. Please, I want you in me oh skies above, that feels exquisite.**

Obi-Wan reached up and pulled his lover down closer to him, driving his cock deep, to the base. He wrapped his legs tight around Qui-Gon's waist, urging his master to drive deep, hard. Qui-Gon was all too happy to comply, setting a taxing rhythm to their efforts. Obi-Wan thrust his hips upward seeking friction against the sweating body above him. **Need you want you please, deep, fuck yes!** he pumped, thoughts running incoherently across the mental link to his master. Qui-Gon was fired by the abandon with which his partner shared his pleading desire.

"Oh yes, Koateleu. Anything you want."

**Come in me please oh Master, want you to come just like this.** Obi-Wan pulled his master closer, slowing their mutual rhythm.

Qui-Gon changed his hold, slipping his arms under Obi-Wan's shoulders and digging his chin into the crook of Obi-Wan's neck. Obi-Wan groaned and surrendered utterly as Qui-Gon pounded into him, pushing the sensation into the realms of ludicrous. He was twisting and lifting, struggling to meet the taxing pace. Unfortunately he was at a physical disadvantage. His muscled tightened, relaxed, then tightened again, painfully under the assault. He managed to relax himself once more before finally putting his hands under Qui-Gon's hips, stopping him. **Wait, wait, I can't take much more of that.**

"Shh, it's okay. I know. My turn."

**No, no. Don't want to lose this.**

"Okay, I can handle that."

Obi-Wan's eyes widened as Qui-Gon slipped from him. Although he was emptied of his lover's flesh, the sensation of being filled lessened only slightly. **Now THERE's a use of the Force we've never discussed.**

"Nor are we going to at this particular moment, Padawan." Qui-Gon lowered his lover's legs, ran his hands along them to make sure there were no muscle cramps or sore spots before moving to straddle them.

**What ...?**

"Does it surprise you so much that I want what you want?" Qui-Gon smiled, spreading Obi-Wan's cock with oil. Obi-Wan watched, fascinated as oily fingers disappeared behind Qui-Gon's back. Qui-Gon's eyes silted with pleasure as he began to prepare himself. Obi-Wan reached up to touch Qui-Gon's cock and balls, running sharp fingernails over shaft, through the pubic hair and down inner thighs.

**Well, when you put it that way ... ** Obi-Wan undulated his hips under his master. The feeling of being filled sent little shivers through him as he moved.

Qui-Gon moved up Obi-Wan's body, positioning himself over the waiting erection. He took great care to select just the right angle before lowering himself slowly to the tip. Obi-Wan held his breath, struggled to be still and let Qui-Gon be in control of their joining. He breathed slowly, feeling the incredible rush of Qui-Gon's body yielding to the intrusion. There was a long, exhilarating moment as Qui-Gon slowly slipped down over Obi-Wan's aching steel, then his ass fitted perfectly into the curve of Obi-Wan's pelvis. Qui-Gon began rocking gently, slowly, but soon was driving himself over Obi-Wan's cock just as relentlessly as he had taken the younger man. Obi-Wan bent his knees, planted his feet, lifted his hips and offered his body for Qui-Gon's pleasure, just as he had offered him the use of his body moments before. The tight, slick channel teased and tormented him, dragging him closer and closer to the brink. He reached up, nails dragging long red welts down Qui-Gon's ribcage before they dug in deep at the hips.

Obi-Wan gasped, took in a breath and held it until the light began to dim behind his eyes. **Please, Master, I can't ... I can't ...**

"You don't have to. Let go ..." Qui-Gon panted.

Obi-Wan did just that, feeling his energy center in his cock and explode, shards of pleasure burying deep into his brain, waves of orgasmic energy blasting through every fiber of his being, leaving him in an afterburn wash of lassitude. He moaned, tongue working at the cloth between his jaws, struggled to drag enough air in through his nose. A sob caught in his throat as he felt Qui-Gon rise up off of him.

Obi-Wan opened his eyes, surprised to see his master pick up the damp towel they had used to dry his hair. He carefully cleaned his still-erect cock, then turned back to Obi-Wan. "Come here, Koateleu."

Obi-Wan turned over and managed to get to his knees. He crawled the few paces to Qui-Gon's feet and looked up wearily. Qui-Gon reached down and untied the sash, waited until Obi-Wan had worked his jaw a bit, then leaned down and kissed the sensual lips. "Suck me?"

**Oh yes,** and Obi-Wan took his master's shaft deep into his mouth. He drew his lips along the length before plunging down, burying his nose in the soft, musky curls.

"Oooohhhhh," Qui-Gon moaned.

**Now who's the screamer?** Obi-Wan teased.

"What do I have to do to shut you up?" Qui-Gon complained. He put one hand to the back of Obi-Wan's head and began thrusting deep into the willing throat. Obi-Wan managed to take in a lungful of air somehow and held it. The pounding of his mouth shook him to the core as he added to the sensation by flexing muscles in his ass where Qui-Gon still held him open. When that sense of being filled began to falter, Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon was close. He slipped his hand under the curve of Qui-Gon's ass, sought the opening and plunged one digit in. Qui-Gon threw his head back, mouth open in a silent scream as Obi-Wan swallowed and swallowed the seed he released.

Qui-Gon waited to catch his breath before leaning down to plant another kiss on Obi-Wan's mouth. "We need to rest before dinner. They're going to do the Semsha for you tonight, so I don't know what time we'll get to bed."

**Yes, Master.**

Obi-Wan turned away and crawled to his own palette, pulled the covers up over him and relished the tingle of sexual release in his body. I>**Master?**

"Yes, Koateleu?"

Obi-Wan snorted at the name, but decided to just accept it for now. I>**I was meditating just before you came up. I ... the Will of the Force was spoken to me.**

"And what did it say, Padawan?"

I>**I should embrace pain, some great deal of pain in the near future,** Obi-Wan admitted.

"I am sorry that this is your first experience with this sort of thing, but I'm afraid I can confirm your belief. I, too, heard this in the Force during my meditations today. My strength is yours, Obi-Wan. I will stand to support and protect you in all things," Qui-Gon spoke these words like an oath.

I>**Thank you, Master. And I you.** Obi-Wan yawned hugely, then made himself more comfortable to sleep.

Dinner was a strange affair from Obi-Wan's point of view. Although he would have been allowed to speak, as far as his punishment was concerned, he found no opportunity or reason to do so. The gathering was in one of the Nurian's tents, with the nine surviving Nurians and their apprentices in attendance. Dishes were passed from apprentice to apprentice, each expected to see that they and their master were served. Except for whispered "Yes, Master's," Obi-Wan found no occasion to speak.

There was plenty to listen to, however. The Nurians discussed the day's doings, including their Nes'Nurian's lessons for the day. To hear them speak it, the Kurasians might despair of ever having another competent Nurian to watch over them. As he watched the demeanor of the Nes'Nurians, though, he discovered that there were hidden compliments and honest instruction in the words spoken. Privately he was glad the Jedi Council had never thought to instate dinners like this. He wasn't sure he could long stand such open and brutal assessment on a nightly basis. Obi-Wan doubted the Kurasians had the luxury of the Jedi's more gentle methods.

Then a twinge from his upper back reminded him of the realities of the Jedi's 'gentle' methods. Just one more bit of evidence that there was no 'one true way.' When dinner was over he and Qui-Gon went back to their tent to change clothes for the Semsha Rite. The others headed for the larger ceremonial tent where the rite would take place.

The great tent was lit by chiplights, glittering and surreal. Obi-Wan entered and was led to the middle of the central carpet. There were cushions all around him, coils of rope secured to stakes driven deep into the ground and a long table set with the many articles needed to perform the Semsha Rite. Qui-Gon was taken to a place in the circle of Nurians. The Nes'Nurians moved about the periphery, taking their places as the last preparations were complete. Obi-Wan knelt, centered himself and waited.

Sen'Danji Nurian came to stand before him. "Do you come here of your free will?"

"Yes, Sen'Danji Nurian."

"Will you bear the burden of your responsibility without breaking under its weight?"

"Yes, Sen'Danji Nurian."

"Who will offer their strength to balance the Weakness within this petitioner?"

Qui-Gon spoke, "I will make the Balance."

"Then let it begin."

Ru'path took up a small dish from the table and brought it to Sen'Danji. "This is the Past, from whence all things progress."

Sen'Danji Nurian took a pale green wafer from the dish. "Here is your memory. Take, eat." Obi-Wan opened his mouth and she placed the wafer on his tongue. "Fear is not the enemy. The enemy is within."

Obi-Wan closed his lips and swallowed convulsively. The drug coursed down his throat and settled into his belly, hot and aggressive. He closed his eyes, focusing within himself. The reality of the tent, the gathering, his place in time faded and he reached to remember


Obream Trydal pulled back from their kiss. "Your surrender is the sweetest I have ever tasted, Obi-Wan."

"Are you sure it is the surrender that makes it so sweet?" Obi-Wan smiled, touching the smooth cheek.

"It is what calls me home to you, no matter what sky I stand beneath."


The garden was filled with sunlight, blossoms nodded in the breeze. "Don't leave me again, please, Obream! They'll make you a Master soon! I'm sure Master Qui-Gon would hand my training over to you. He has no wish to bring up another Padawan. I'm only a burden to him. I could be a strength to you. You know I am up to the task."

Obream smiled, pulling Obi-Wan closer. "But then what would I dream of returning to?"


The bed was a mess, pillows and blankets everywhere, datachips mixed in with empty dishes. Obream leaned over his lightslate memorizing the text that scrolled past his rapidly moving eyes.

"Come on, Obream! I've already served one mission to Preda. I know the people, the situation. You don't need to learn all that. Come here and let me teach you something fun," Obi-Wan leaned closer, caught his chin and laid a kiss on his closed lips.

"Not now, Padawan. I have work to do."

"Don't keep turning from me, love. It breaks my heart every time you do it."

"You should have never let your heart get involved here, Kenobi. It's a weakness we Jedi can not afford." Obream pushed him away again.

"Don't tell me you have no feelings for me. You can't be that cold, you make me too hot for that to be true." Obi-Wan took the lightslate from Obream's hands. "I love you, I need to be with you."

Obream snatched the lightslate back and shoved Obi-Wan off the bed. "If your heart is that easily stolen, I suggest you get it under tighter reign, young Padawan. This is an attachment I can no longer afford to maintain."

Obi-Wan stared at the ceiling, shocked and hurt. The light caught and glistened as tears began to fall.


"OBREAM!" Obi-Wan snapped his eyes open, gasping for breath. His throat was raw, breath heaving. He focused his eyes on the brightly colored silk of the tent walls, the figures around him. Qui-Gon leaned over him, putting a cup to his lips. Obi-Wan reached for the cup, found he could not. The ropes held his arms and legs out away from his body. "Master, please. I didn't know. I never knew I shouldn't love ..."

"Shh, my Padawan. Shh. Rest yourself." Qui-Gon lifted Obi-Wan's head and helped him to drink. "You've done nothing wrong here."

"Please Master. I'm not like that anymore, " Obi-Wan whispered.

"Yes you are, Koateleu. You'll see."

Sen'Danji stood over Obi-Wan now. "This is Belief. Take, eat." She held out an amber wafer.

Obi-Wan closed his lips *No. No more.*

Qui-Gon seized Obi-Wan's cheeks, forced his jaws open. "Come now, Obi-Wan. You can do better than that."

Obi-Wan nodded, relaxed his jaws, took the wafer and swallowed.


Mace Windu stood over the fallen form of Obi-Wan Kenobi, handed him his lightsaber. "If you keep on like that, you'll fall to the first rioter with any kind of throwing arm. AGAIN!"


"Skies above, Obi-Wan!" Corubia was laughing. "You know we can't have anything like that. Not for years yet. Not until we take the Trials, at least. Why do you think I keep myself to myself? Do what must be done. There'll be plenty of time for partners later."


"Padawan, sometimes I think you were born just to vex me." Qui-Gon wrapped the bandages carefully. "How can I do any good for the Council if I can not rely on your abilities? I know you're young, but you must try to do better."


Master Torlamin sighed, shook her head. "No, Padawan Kenobi. There is no place in your current path for that kind of involvement. Learn to be patient before you ruin yourself beyond any value whatsoever. See to your Master and your learning. There lies the greatest work you can undertake."


Jen Rendal stood behind his desk, gesturing with a printout of Obi-Wan's essay. "No. Wrong. I have no other way of saying it. Do it again. This is absolutely devoid of philosophical value."


"For the last time, if you can't remember a simple set of instructions, what good are you? Tell me how to help you remember." Qui-Gon cleared the dataset. "Come on, now."


Qui-Gon smiled at Padawan Treiva. "See, Obi-Wan? That is the way it should be done. Simplicity itself. Enough for today. Go shower and change, I'll meet you in my quarters and we'll discuss this. Again."


"Damn you! That is my Padawan there! At least have the decency to acknowledge him in my presence!" Qui-Gon's face contorted with his anger.


Obi-Wan turned from the performance. The play was some long, drawn out drama of true love. *Why should I bother? Love will always be within me, but ever out of reach.*


The garden bench was cold under his cheek. *I hate this. Why doesn't anyone come to find me? Surely someone must know I have nowhere to sleep. Then again, if they did know, who would care?* He was glad when the rain began to fall. Grateful for something to hide the tears.


"You do not need to return my feelings, Master. Love is something I can feel without reciprocation."


"Skies, Cor. It's not like I don't know I'll always be alone. I'm not the kind of person to engender loyalty or kindness. That doesn't mean I have to like it," Obi-Wan jerked his robe on roughly. "See ya later."


"You'll have to do better than that, Padawan," Qui-Gon laughed.


"That's the best you got, Kenobi? Come on, you can do better." Corubia tossed her lightsaber to the other hand. "I'll do it left-handed this time."


"I don't care how long it takes. Just get it done. I'll be back in a few hours." The librarian turned to go.


"You told me you could do this Obi-Wan. Get it right," Qui-Gon tossed another stack of printouts down. "Maybe this will help. I know you're capable of better."



The cool cup rim touched his lips again. "Swallow, Obi-Wan. I know, shh. You must stop screaming."

"Yes, Master. I'll do better next time." Obi-Wan's voice cracked under the strain of speaking.

"You've done perfectly well as it is."

"I'll do better. I'll always do better for you. Please, Master, let me do better for you," Obi-Wan choked.

"You can do anything you want to, Koateleu. You always could."

"I want to be good enough. I'm not trying to be the best, I just want to be good enough."

"Shh, come on. Drink a little more."

"How much more? What do I do next?"

"Almost done, Obi-Wan. We're almost there."

"I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm so sorry, I've always tried to please you, Master."

"Did you ever try to please yourself?"

"What are you talking about?"

Sen'Danji touched Qui-Gon's arm and he sat back. "This is the Name. Bring it back to us."

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and swallowed. He jerked forward, pulling hard against the ropes. Hands, many hands held him down. His howls rang in his ears, but he felt powerless to silence them. Memory and thought and moment blended together, swirling around inside his head. He opened his eyes, Qui-Gon looked down at him, eyes filled with a dark look. Obi-Wan's heart recoiled at that look, the thing he lived in terror of. It seemed to take his master's whole being, transforming him into some unknowable cipher. It wasn't anger or hurt, nor disappointment. It wasn't anything Obi-Wan could name and that's what bothered him so about it.

**Master, please, what have I done?**

//What do you mean, Obi-Wan?//

**Why are you looking at me like that? Whatever it is, I'll fix it!**

//I'm only concerned, Koateleu. Is there something wrong?//

The flavor, the truth of these words flowed through Obi-Wan like a flood of light and strength. **Concerned? You're worried? About me?**

//Yes, Obi-Wan. What did you think?//

Obi-Wan felt what he thought was a laugh bubbling inside him. When it reached his lips, it sounded like a wounded animal being released from a cruel trap. A yelp of mixed pain and freedom tore out of him as recollections filtered through his mind, all the times he had seen that look and trembled. **You care about what's happening to me? Why?**

Qui-Gon shook his head, confused. //Why under the skies wouldn't I? You are precious to me.//

Obi-Wan felt something scraping against the inside of his left arm. He saw Jenka kneeling beside him with a razor blade, scraping the hair off his arm, what little there was of it. He screamed, surprised. Murana Nurian knelt there also, inspecting a tray full of needles. A pot of black ink sat ready. Obi-Wan pulled harder against the ropes.

"You'll have to help us hold him, Qui-Gon," she said.

"Let him go. I will hold him myself," Qui-Gon replied.

The hands receded and Qui-Gon enfolded his Padawan in bonds of the Force. "Relax, Obi-Wan. It will soon be over."

Sen'Danji loomed in again. "You know the name, Obi-Wan. The Enemy within. Tell us the name, Obi-Wan. What is it you believe about yourself, the thing you hide from and try so hard to defeat? In all of us there is a weakness that, being alone, we can not overcome. Tell us it's name that we might help you stand against it. Tell us!"

Qui-Gon leaned forward and kissed Obi-Wan gently on the lips. "Tell me, Obi-Wan. Tell me its name."

Obi-Wan felt himself shivering, became aware of rivulets of perspiration over his whole body. *What is it, then, Kenobi? What's the demon you're killing yourself to run from? Name the Enemy and you can begin to fight it. Know yourself. Give it reality so it can be fought.* A word fell from his lips before the darkness took him in.

When he opened his eyes, Obi-Wan discovered himself to be upon his bed in the tent. He heard the breathing of his master, but could not tell if he was awake or asleep. The darkness clawed at Obi-Wan, sending shivers through his frame. His fingers wandered up towards a burning sensation on his upper left arm and encountered a bandage. *Hmm. Guess I passed the Semsha.* He wasn't sure it was worth it.

Tears welled up in his eyes, leaked down and soaked into his pillow. He didn't allow himself to sob, just fell gracelessly into that hollow pit beneath his breastbone. Lonely. So lonely. There was no one in the world that knew of his hurt, or cared. That was normal, something he had grown accustomed to after months and years of isolating himself from the care of others. It was better, he had thought, to not be cared for than to believe yourself loved and find you had been deceived. Better to be alone. That thought was no comfort whatsoever this night. He ached to be close to someone, anyone who might have compassion for him, but could think of no one he felt safe in approaching, especially not at this late hour.

Qui-Gon tossed on his bed. *No. I'm definitely not going to wake him up for something as stupid as this,* Obi-Wan reflexively decided.

But why not?

That is what this night's ceremony had given him a name for, that reflex of snatching his hand in every time he wanted to reach out for comfort, help, anything. Not fear of rejection, he knew he would receive any help he asked for. Just the sure and certain knowledge that he wasn't good enough to receive it. The utter truth of the fact that, although he might get what he asked for, there were others, better than him, who deserved it more and always would.

Apparently this was his greatest weakness, for the Name now on his inner arm told him what to call this demon. Forever he would know and recall that this weakness, no matter how powerful to him, could in fact be defeated. That was the reason for naming it. He wondered what the Kurasian script for 'unworthy' looked like. He hoped it wasn't too ugly.

Well, maybe he didn't have to ask. Maybe this was something he could do for himself. He felt lonely, knew there was a way to feel less so, if only he dared to do it. He gathered his resolve and a pillow, then set out to cross the thick carpet silently. When he could smell Qui-Gon, hear his breathing more clearly, make out the shadow of his form in the darkness, he settled back down. Better. Not perfect, Obi-Wan couldn't really think of anything that might make him feel safe right now anyway, but this was better.


"Yes, Master?"

"What are you doing?"

"I'm sorry, Master. I didn't mean to wake you."

"I wasn't asleep."

"Oh." Obi-Wan turned over on his side, curled an arm under his pillow.

"What are you doing, Padawan?" Qui-Gon's voice had that dark, hard edge to it. *Concern,* Obi-Wan reminded himself.

"I just ... wanted to be a little closer to you, Master. I'll go back. I'm sorry." Obi-Wan's hurt welled up in his chest, tears brimmed and fell as he got to his knees.


Obi-Wan froze, didn't even breath. His mind raced over his actions, tried to recall if there was a prescribed punishment for what he had done, could think of none. His chest felt like a cold, aching vacuum.

"Look at me," Qui-Gon commanded.

Obi-Wan turned on his knees, head down. He lifted his eyes a little, knowing Qui-Gon need only bring his sense of the Force to bear in order to see Obi-Wan. Just as Obi-Wan now looked at his master.

Qui-Gon pulled the blankets back and moved over on the cushions that made up his bed. "Come to me, Padawan. Sleep safe beside me and know you are precious to me."

"Both, Master? I'm not sure I can," Obi-Wan hedged, wanting nothing more than to retreat to his own bed.

"Let me help you, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon reached out through the Force and let his apprentice feel how he was valued and wanted. Obi-Wan reeled from the input, tried to close down, shield off, block out the craved yet overwhelming sensation.

Qui-Gon pulled back, but held his hand out to Obi-Wan. "I want you to feel that without my doing it, Padawan. For now, come here, be safe and looked-after."

Obi-Wan crawled closer, settled in on the edge of the bed. Qui-Gon's strong arms curled around his body and dragged him in. A shroud of comfort and calm surrounded them both as they edged over into sleep.

//You are worth this, Obi-Wan. You must understand that.//

**Then, my Master, I'm afraid you're going to have to teach me how.**

//It would be my honor, Koateleu.//

And as that name settled into Obi-Wan's mind, with all it's meaning and expression, he found something within himself that he had despaired ever of feeling. Just a spark, a bare hint, to be protected and fed. A tiny glint of faith that he one day might deserve the chance to be loved.

Go to Part 1         Part 2         Part 3         Part 4         Part 5         Part 6         Part 7         Part 8         Part 9         Part 10         Part 11         Part 12         Part 13         Part 14         Part 15         Part 16         Part 17         Part 18         Part 19         Part 20         Part 21         Part 22         Part 23         Part 24        

Bonds of Choice 5: Rites of Passage

NC-17 for M/M
Het Level is None
Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Low
Femslash Level is None
Herm Level is None

133 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written October 10, 1999 by HiperBunny

Setting: Star Wars Episode 1

Primary Races: Human

Contents: Furry. Slash (M/M). Alternate Universe, Angst, Violence

Pairings: Obi-Wan/ Qui-Gon

Notes: Disclaimers: The Boys belong to George "Our Heavenly Father" Lucas. Please don't smack me with a big ol' lawsuit. The poetry quoted herein is copyrighted by Jody Marie, and is used WITH permission. I just wanted to be able to say that about SOMETHING in these stories. I made no money off of this.

Notes: ACHTUNG!!! SQUICK WARNING!!!!! If you are liable to be upset by corporal punishment between a Master and his Padawan Learner, beware. When you see the line "Face down on the deck. Push up on your arms." That would be the time to bail. Skip to the next set of asterisks to continue with the story. This is a scene of graphic violence described in loving detail from my own SM experiences, which were extreme in nature. I survived, so do our heroes, but I recognize that this could be seriously upsetting to certain individuals. This is also the scene that moved my Padawhine to call Qui-Gon a scum-sucking bastard, so 'nuff said.

Rauhnee, once again you led me through the wilderness that is re-writing. Without you, my boys would be sitting in a tent going "Well, now what?" Thank you so much for all the work you do on these stories.

Big thanks go to my Padawhine Mre, who is also known as my 'voice of sanity.' She lets me know when I go too far, when I've forgotten to do Qui-Gon's internal motivations thus making him come across like a thug in beige and basically defends our heroes from misuse at my evil hands. She's a Qui-Gon girl, so a lot of the more in-depth stuff here is brought to you by her guiding influence.

// Qui-Gon''s telepathy //
** Obi-Wan''s telepathy **
<<Jenka Nes'Nurian's telepathy>>
* thoughts *

Blurb: The Boys are sent on a mission, Qui-Gon teaches a lesson, Obi-Wan receives a gift with a future and some linguistic confusion gets resolved.

Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.

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