Bonds of Choice 9.99:
Satori, Vin-Dit, Tsunami: Connection

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

Obi-Wan pulled his microgoggles off and wiped his forehead one last time. "Well, that's it," he announced to the other Padawans. "If there's any more information to be gotten from this corpse, I don't know how to get at it."

A round of sarcastic applause arose from the others. "At last!" Jenji groaned.

The four of them had been locked up with Darth Maul for the better part of three days. It was Corubia and Obi-Wan's introduction to the nitty-gritty work Arjet Paje led in researching the Dark Side. *More like the 'really foul-smelling, disgusting side,* Obi-Wan grimaced. He pulled his pseudoskin gloves off and picked up a lightslate, checking their report. Body fluid analysis, genetic makeup, short treatise on possible methods of genetic tampering and/or cloning, best guess at Maul's last meal ... it was all there. No stone unturned.

"Now what do we do with him?" Swed asked. "I mean, you put him back together so neatly, maybe we should put him on display somewhere."

Obi-Wan looked down at the faint line of suture, a frown of worry knitting his brow. "I suppose we ought to give him a funeral," he said.

The others groaned. "I'm not taking a Sith up umpteen-million stairs to the West Tower just so he can have a proper funeral," Corubia growled. "I say we throw him out with the medical waste."

Obi-Wan glanced at his friend, surprised at the spitefulness in her tone. "That's rather uncharitable, don't you think? I'd carry *you* up those stairs, skies forbid I ever need to. Besides, I don't like to just ... dump him like he's garbage. He's a person, or was. No need to be nasty just because ... " he stopped himself. Corubia had every reason to be nasty about Darth Maul. "I guess I just feel like I owe him, seeing as how I killed him and all ... "

Corubia sighed. "And I helped you. Okay, we'll give him a funeral. Um ... should we try to dress him, do you think?"

They all stood back and surveyed the corpse. The black clothing had been destroyed over the course of events. Obi-Wan didn't much like the idea of putting him in any of their Jedi uniforms. "I've got some black workout pants," he offered.

"There's that black poet shirt I got on Niversa," Swed put in. "It might work."

"Well, it doesn't have to be a perfect fit," Jenji pointed out.

"Sounds like a plan, then," Obi-Wan announced. "I'll go get the pants and talk to Qui-Gon about it."

Obi-Wan secured the workout pants before coming to Qui-Gon's side. His master was sitting at the desk doing something on the dataset. "Pantreti?" he murmured.

To his delight, Qui-Gon responded to the name. "Hmm?"

"What would I have to do to use the pyre up in the West Tower?" Obi-Wan asked.

Qui-Gon looked up from the dataset, studied his student for a long moment. "Done with the post-mortem on the Sith then?"

Obi-Wan nodded mutely.

"Only you have enough charity of heart to want to give him a funeral, Koateleu," Qui-Gon said. "It's not being used for anything today, so I doubt anyone will notice if you go up there. Just don't wait until after dark. EVERYONE will notice if West Tower is lit then."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I wasn't going to give him the Evening Watch, just ... well, I couldn't throw him out with the trash, now, could I?"

"No. No one should be treated like that. I'm glad to see you taking responsibility like this, Obi-Wan. It makes me proud."

Obi-Wan blushed and bowed, honoring his master's words. "Thank you, Master."

"Quite welcome. I assume you and your friends will be watching the points?"

"Yeah, I kinda bullied them into it ... " Obi-Wan admitted.

"Well, best to get started if you're to be done by sunset." Qui-Gon cocked his head to one side. "Are you feeling well today, Obi-Wan? Nothing ... odd happening to you?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, Master."

"Well, good. Off you go, then," Qui-Gon turned back to the dataset.

*Maybe Corubia was right about the stairs,* Obi-Wan mused as he attained the last landing. *Oh well, it's done now.* He thumbed the door open and angled the stretcher through the archway and into the darkened room. "Okay, somebody get the coals," he called.

Jenji went to fetch the supplies while Obi-Wan and Swed positioned the Sith on the black stone pyre. He was dressed in the only black clothes the Padawans had between them, plus his own boots. Jenji and Corubia made short work of stacking the coals and they went around the chamber opening the many curtains that shrouded the windows. Sunlight flooded in, something that might not have touched the inside of this room in many years. Traditionally, funerals were begun at sunset so that the pyre might glow more brightly in the night sky. It was by the glow in this Tower that the Evening Watch was measured, but no Watch would be given for a Sith. That he was burned here was honor enough.

Obi-Wan looked out of the eastern window, considering their position. The Jedi Temple at Coruscant had five towers. The central tower was the domain of the Jedi Council. Even now, Obi-Wan could see them there, endlessly debating the future of the Order. To the south was the Tower of Confirmation, where prospective were taken to be tested and made Trainees of the Order, where Padawans sat their Vigil before the Trials. To the North was the Knighting Tower, where a Padawan was made a formal member of the Jedi, should the Padawan be lucky enough to get a formal Knighting at this particular Temple. To the East was the Tower of the Rising Sun, a strange chamber with oddling properties, rarely used even in the purpose for which it was created. Obi-Wan had only the faintest of ideas as to what that purpose might be and almost no inclination to find out the particulars. And Obi-Wan stood here in the West, The Tower of the Setting Sun.

Obi-Wan shuddered and turned back to the task at hand. Swed stood at the foot of the pyre, Jenji and Corubia to either side. Obi-Wan took his place at the head and picked up the long match that waited for him. As one, they looked upwards to the flower-shaped skylight above them. Reaching through the Force they opened the panes, making an elegant smoke-hole for the funeral fires. Obi-Wan struck his match and laid it to the tinder. Around him, the others did the same.

"Let us consider what we are, who we are and what there is yet to do. Let us consider this one who has passed from us," Obi-Wan set the vigil as they settled onto the floor, waiting for the flame to reduce Darth Maul to less than ash. Long moments of silence passed between them all as the snap and crackle of the flames informed them the work had begun.

Obi-Wan opened himself to the moment, the Force and focused himself on the words he had set for the others. He knew it was common for words to be spoken over the pyre, words to remember the dead ... but what could he say about the one he now honored in this sacred place? Well, honesty seemed a good option. He drew a breath and began. "I killed Darth Maul. I didn't strike at him in anger, but to preserve the lives of other Jedi, and myself. I wish he hadn't died. I wish I hadn't been forced to kill him. I don't think I much care for killing. It seems like I've had to kill a lot of people lately, and it doesn't get any easier. I'd be pretty worried if it did get easy, so maybe it's a good thing it stays so hard. I'm not proud to have killed a Sith. I'm not proud to be a murderer." Obi-Wan stopped, breathed to calm himself. "Go into the Force, Darth Maul."

Jenji cleared her throat after a moment, then whispered "I don't believe he even knew what he was fighting for, just as we don't know what's going on half the time. I bet he didn't want to kill anyone, either."

Corubia picked up the thread. "I was there. I saw what he could do. He was strong in the Force, but dark. He was just as strong as some of the Padawans I've seen around here. It was just the fact that there were lots of us there to fight him ... " she stopped and cleared her throat. "It wasn't a fair fight."

Swed spoke last. "If he'd come to the Temple, instead of being a Sith, he'd probably be a Padawan now. He wasn't any older than we are, you know."

The others murmured their agreement and fell silent again. Obi-Wan sighed and stood, pressing his hands down on the warm stone. He didn't want to look, didn't want to remember the smell, but there was work to be done and only these hands to do it. He focused his thoughts on the fire so close to his own body and channeled energy into it, urging the fire to consume more swiftly, more efficiently, leaving nothing untouched. He felt the others join him in the effort, heat-prickles dancing up his arms, heating the air inside his sleeves until they began to puff slightly from the expansion. He took his hands away from the pyre, tucking them safely across his stomach. Obi-Wan looked across the flames, watching the expressions on his friends' faces. All were calm, serene, composed, unruffled and utterly relaxed about their duty. *We'll all be fine Knights, someday.* He suddenly realized how close they all were to that goal. Perhaps there was more going on here than just a funeral for a Sith.

Perhaps it was a funeral for childhood, as well.

Obi-Wan shook those thoughts from him and put his energy back into the pyre. Fire was dancing across mere ash and stone now, whispers fueled almost entirely by will. Obi-Wan gathered the ash up and directed it out through the windows above, scattering them in the high-altitude breezes. He felt Jenji close the windows behind him and Corubia pull the drapes closed once more. A collective sigh of relief and the task was done. "Thank you, my friends."

"Sure, Obi-Wan. No problem," Swed assured him.

They exited the stairwell onto the upper concourse, bickering over lunch. Obi-Wan wanted to head to the dining hall. The others wanted him to cook. He was unsuccessfully pleading for mercy when a voice brought all conversation to a close. "Padawans! Hold!" The sharp tone in Ki-Adi-Mundi's voice brooked no argument.

As a unit they froze, instinctively drawing closer to Obi-Wan. If anyone could talk them out of trouble with a Councilor, it was their fearless leader. As one, they turned on their heels and bowed. With perfect composure, Obi-Wan knelt upon his left knee and leaned forward, right arm crossing upraised right knee. From the corner of his eye he saw the others copy his formal stance. Keeping his head down, Obi-Wan murmured, "How my I help you, Councilor?" He counted no less than six pairs of feet. Not a good sign.

"Where are you coming from, Padawan?" Master Windu inquired.

Obi-Wan rested his left fist on the floor and answered "The Western Tower, Master."

"And were these others with you as well?" Windu pressed.

"As it please you, Master, yes they were." Obi-Wan bowed lower. "If you'll forgive me, Master, Master Jinn knew of our whereabouts and actions, as did my companion's masters. We asked permission and were given it." He stayed where he was, keeping perfectly still. There was nothing to be afraid of, they had done nothing wrong. But until the Council *said* they'd done nothing wrong, it was best to behave as if they'd been caught playing handball in the crystal vaults. There were times for defiance and times for deferral. Any Padawan caught under the scrutiny of the Council did best to defer for all they were worth. The Towers were no laughing matter, as Obi-Wan well knew.

"What were you doing in that tower, Padawan?" Ki-Adi-Mundi's voice was hard as honed steel. Obi-Wan couldn't blame him. There were no rules about going into the towers without permission. Their sanctity was so universally acknowledged that no one would dare to fool around in them. Ever.

"As it please you, we had need of a funeral pyre," Obi-Wan ducked his head down once more and resolutely ignored the ache growing between his shoulderblades. He'd lay face-down on the deck for a week if that's what it took to protect his friends. They'd come at his request. The responsibility was Obi-Wan's and no one else's. "There was nowhere else appropriate for such a thing."

"What need had you for a pyre, Padawan?" Master Yoda tapped the floor with his stick, demanding attention.

"A thousand pardons, Master, but we had the corpse of the Sith to dispose of. It didn't seem appropriate to simply throw him out with the medical waste," Obi-Wan explained, well aware of the gimmer stick not two inches away from his head.

"You gave the Sith a funeral? Here in the Jedi Temple?" Master Windu's tone was dangerously even.

"Yes, Master. He was strong in the Force and fought honorably, for all that he was my enemy. I struck him down. He was my responsibility," Obi-Wan evened his breath and took the plunge. "He was an apprentice, same as us."

An infinite moment passed while Obi-Wan and company bowed and knelt in the hallway. Obi-Wan realized that traffic had stopped on this part of the concourse. It would seem that no one wanted to be caught up in the small troupe's plight. Obi-Wan couldn't blame them, even if he was certain the Council would simply send them about their business.

"Up, Padawans," Master Windu intoned.

They got up slowly, putting their hands in sleeves and keeping heads down. Master Yoda tapped his stick again. "Compassionate, you are. Hmmm. Strong-hearted, and a credit to your training. Rewarded you should be. Speak to your masters about this I will."

"Thank you, Master," the four murmured, trying to hide their shock.

The Council returned the way they had come, probably retiring to the Central Tower once more. Obi-Wan breathed a sigh of relief.

"Laying it on a little thick there, weren't you?" Swed elbowed him in the ribs.

"I didn't see you coming up with any bright plans," Obi-Wan replied. "Come on back to my place. I guess I can make something up for you bunch of beggars."

"Ugh. I don't think I could eat a bite after that," Jenji groaned. "I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest!"

"I thought I was going to faint right there, when I heard Knight Mundi," Corubia commiserated. "What I want to know is how you could be so calm, Obi."

Obi-Wan shrugged, "Master says it's not so important to feel calm as to seem calm. I guess I get a lot of practice, trying to outcalm him."

The other three considered the idea of someone being more cool and collected than Master Jinn. Swed summed it up for them all. "You'd have to be Dead Jedi Walking to be more calm than that."

Obi-Wan nodded miserably. "I think I lost my appetite too. Why don't I see if one of the training rooms is free. We could work on The Cascade."

"Yeah!" Jenji enthused. "It's been months!"

"Just don't wear me out too bad and I'll cook for us tonight," Obi-Wan promised. "Let's go get changed and I'll get us a space."

Obi-Wan pulled his workout clothes on and stepped into a pair of soft shoes. The Cascade was a routine he and his friends had begun working on when they were still Trainees living in the Crèche. They had continued their efforts over the years, adding new elements as their training progressed and expanded their capabilities. Although it had been months since their last session, Obi-Wan doubted he or his friends would have trouble with it. It was neither advanced nor particularly challenging, simply an exercise in maintaining harmony and balance with one another. If all else fell away, Obi-Wan was certain of his harmony and balance within their little circle.

He settled down at his desk to check his lightsaber, a practice that had been beaten into him by long years of Qui-Gon's purposeful vandalism of Obi-Wan's weapon. It wasn't enough for a Jedi to be able to build a lightsaber. In the field one had to be an expert in maintenance and repair, must be able to fix a saber with any items that came to hand, and keep it in perfect working order under the most trying conditions. He ranged his tools before him, grateful for their presence. The files, spanners and spare parts he now had were a huge step up from some of the 'exercises' Qui-Gon had set him in the past, exercises that had saved their lives more than once. He'd been nearly reduced to tears on one occasion when his master had drained the power source, burred the crystal brackets, miscalibrated the connector points, snapped the insulation bands and locked him in a transport shuttle with no tools, no supplies and a time limit representing a radiation leak. He'd eventually dismantled the pilot's chair, part of the catering unit and stripped the power generator for the items he needed, but his saber had worked perfectly when he freed himself and took out the remotes that waited for him in the shuttle bay.

Obi-Wan had earned a hearty respect for paper clips and rubber bands in much the same way.

Satisfied that his lightsaber was in good repair, he gathered up his workout gear and headed for the practice chamber. Qui-Gon looked up from his video game and smiled, then returned to his protection of a computer-generated universe.

The others were waiting for him when he arrived, stretching out and warming up for their session. Swed, of course, had brought music. There was very little the senior of their group would do without music, if he could get away with having it near him. Jenji tossed Obi-Wan a practice saber and he caught it, giving her a quizzical look.

"Swed's still waiting for approval on his Trials. No chances, no accidents, no mistakes." Her tone was final.

Obi-Wan was more than happy to agree. He flicked the practice saber on and was pleased to note she had chosen one that projected a blue holo. He flicked it back off and put his gear aside, clipped the glorified flashlight to his belt and ran through his warm-ups with the others. He looked up in surprise when a comm link chirped from the pile of gear at the side of the room.

Cor grinned. "That's me. I'll get it."

She went to do so, a tinge of pleased surprise coloring her voice when the caller gave their name. Obi-Wan arched an eyebrow at Jenji, who shrugged and continued her exercises. Corubia called to them. "Guys, do you mind if someone comes to watch?"

A round of glances to the others and Swed replied, "No, of course not. Who?"

"He's ... someone I've been meaning to introduce to you," she hedged.

"Okay ... " Jenji smiled. "Sure, the more the merrier."

Corubia delivered the invitation and returned to their circle, squaring off with Obi-Wan for the partnered stretches. "Remember, I said I wanted you to meet someone?" she asked him.

"Yes, on the way to Reptha," he replied.

"This is him. He's one of the new people working in Resources. His name's Rigger," she blushed, surprising Obi-Wan anew.

"I met him before," he supplied. "He seemed a nice fellow."

"He is," she assured him. "Very nice."

They sat on the floor and Obi-Wan stretched his legs apart, gripping Corubia's wrists as she braced her feet against his calves. He leaned into the pressure as she pushed, letting his body take the stretch slowly. After a long moment, he returned the favor. When everyone was ready, they stood, shook themselves out and kicked their shoes off. Obi-Wan took his place on the edge of the springy tumbling floor while they waited for Swed to cue up their music.

Obi-Wan wrinkled his nose at the selection but said nothing. Everyone had their area of expertise, and Swed's was music. If he said this was the right music for this routine on this day, it was. There could be no alternative. When Obi-Wan stepped out for his first tumbling pass, he understood what his friend had done. The wailing pipes and rumbling drums combined in a dirge full of grief and sorrow at the unstoppable motions of life itself. The vocals spoke of everything they had not been able to find words for in the West Tower. It was benediction and catharsis, turning their initial lines into a last goodbye for the dead. Then the music seemed to ... twist ... and became something full of life and energy, the suffering giving way to acceptance of the inevitable and hope for the future. The drumbeat picked up, the pipes became joyful and the singer called all peoples to the dance. Obi-Wan hit his last mark in the middle of the floor and turned to the left, cupping his hands. A heartbeat later and Jenji stepped into them and he launched her upwards into a long series of twists and flips, caught her easily matched her in a pair of handsprings that carried them in opposite directions and cleared the space for Swed and Corubia's paired section. When Corubia was safe in Swed's arms, Obi-Wan and Jenji came in from the sides to form the last section of the tumbling movement. It was the first of several 'sculptures' in their routine.

Jenji knelt down and bent forward, putting her hands firmly on the floor. Corubia arched backwards and planted her hands on Jenji's shoulders, feet solidly gripping the floor, knees bent and ready to receive weight. Swed stepped quickly onto her thighs, bent forwards to place his hands on Obi-Wan's hips and held himself in place with the Force. Without that solid support, Obi-Wan could not have shifted into the handstand that ended with his feet under Swed's chest and his arms supporting the graduated weight of their construction. They held this pose, muscles screaming, bodies quivering, for five heartbeats, then fell away in perfectly synchronized, Force-enhanced tumbles that ended them in a long row of cast-away poses, the first 'Cascade' complete. The music drew to an end and Obi-Wan rose to walk the edges of the tumbling floor. His body was warmed up and it wouldn't do to stiffen for want of a little care.

"I can't believe we could do that in the crèche," Corubia groaned, popping her neck.

"It was easier then, remember?" Jenji piped up. "We were much more flexible."

Obi-Wan just groaned. "We must have been insane."

"Well, I for one was impressed," a new voice offered.

They all turned to regard the Kat in the doorway. He wore nothing but a lightly embroidered, emerald green loincloth and sash, but his charcoal gray fur made him seem somewhat less nude. *Well, sort of. If you're rather open minded,* Obi-Wan smiled. Corubia made introductions between their little group and her friend. Obi-Wan shook his hand, mindful of the claws that Rigger kept politely sheathed. Corubia shot him a look, which he considered ignoring, but chose not to. He knew what she was asking for, and he was honor bound to provide. She wanted him to check Rigger's intentions, make sure he was not seeking her company for any nefarious purposes that she had not sensed. They had all long ago promised such protection to one another, and he was glad to provide it to her. He drew a deep breath and said "So, I hear you're seeing my sister, there."

The Kat's eyes narrowed in confusion. "Yes," he hazarded.

"You realize I'm going to have to check you out, right?" Obi-Wan hated doing this, but promises were for keeping. He intended to keep it, not only for Corubia's sake, but because he intended others to keep them to him.

Rigger seemed to consider this for a long moment. "I expected a Lady's ... sibling to do so," was the eventual reply.

"Okay, just so you understand. You may, of course, assume I will hold to Jedi honor," Obi-Wan assured him.

"I do so hold you," Rigger replied evenly. "And I will request a similar inspection of you."

It was Obi-Wan's turn to shoot a look at Corubia. "Of course," he agreed, wondering what that actually meant. He took a deep breath, centered himself and brushed the thin layer of a probe through Rigger's mind. Nothing complicated, nothing deep or intrusive, just a little deeper than the surface-scan that he got off everyone anyway. Looking for a hidden agenda, danger, threat to Corubia in this person's intentions. Rigger came up clean. Obi-Wan nodded once and held his thumb out to the Kat. Bemused, Rigger extended his own thumb, which Obi-Wan clenched. "You may call on us, if you've the need," he said, tacitly bringing Rigger under the umbrella of their friendship. A stir in his head made him pause, breathing slowly. Something ... like a ... pulse in his Force-sense had pushed him off-center for a split second. He took a deep breath and let it go, slowly. A heartbeat later, and a second pulse came to him. For a moment, it felt as if his whole body and soul were expanding. Another breath and it faded away. He looked at Rigger once more, but was dead certain the Kat had not been the source of the eddy.

Rigger took that moment to stepped forward. "If you will but hold still for a moment."

Obi-Wan did as requested, felt hot breath on his neck and cheek, a sharp prick and rough scrape of tongue, then Rigger stepped back. "You may call upon me and mine as well, Jedi."

"Obi-Wan. Please, we hold no rank among us worth mentioning. So, what did you REALLY think of our little show?" he asked, changing the tone of their meeting.

"Delightful, though I hoped you would be using your lightsabers. I've never seen them used, really," Rigger replied, rocking back on his toes and smiling.

Obi-Wan shrugged. "Not today. At least, not the live ones. Extenuating circumstances prevail. But we could do one with the practice sabers ... "

Rigger simply stepped back out of there way, excitement and curiosity radiating from him like a beacon.

The Padawans exchanged smiles. There were few opportunities to exercise their skills for an appreciative audience. Usually, they were working under the ever-correcting trainers or under attack. Would-be assassins were known for being underappreciative of their target's gymnastic abilities. Swed started a new track and they stepped into place for the first lightsaber section.

Obi-Wan was careful to invite Rigger to join them for dinner, but he and Corubia declined simultaneously. The other Padawans needed no further hints. Jenji and Swed accompanied Obi-Wan back to his quarters and took turns in his shower while he began putting together a hearty meal for them all. When Qui-Gon showed up to join them, Obi-Wan was glad he'd thought to make enough for an army. His master looked ready to eat a whole bantha. Raw. Without salt.

Obi-Wan was glad to set his friends and master down to something more tasty than unseasoned bantha. Grilled steaks, three different veggies and an ice cream dessert were the fruits of his labors, an offering he was much gratified to watch disappear with all due haste. For himself, he discovered he was not as hungry as he thought he should have been. On the way to the kitchen for the dessert plates, he checked himself for fever, but found nothing amiss. He shrugged his lack of appetite off and returned to the table, smiling acceptance towards the compliments of his guests. Qui-Gon gave him a couple of sharp looks and eventually asked him why he was merely playing in his dessert, rather than eating it.

"I don't know, Master. I just ... don't feel like ice cream, I guess," Obi-Wan sighed. His tongue felt thick in his mouth and he put his hand to his forehead again.

"Well, how about I dial up some benburi for you? I think that was on the caterer today ... " Qui-Gon stood to go to the kitchen.

"No thank you, Master," Obi-Wan faintly replied.

Qui-Gon turned back, concerned. "Obi-Wan? Do you not feel well?"

"No, I don't suppose I do ... " just then, the light seemed to increase a thousandfold, and Obi-Wan squeezed his eyes shut with a moan.

"Obi! Bro!" Swed's hands closed around his wrist, seeking the pulse there. "Obi, what's wrong?"

"Light ... hurts ... " Obi-Wan flinched away from the sound of his own voice, pained by the excess volume.

Strong, large hands closed around the back of his head and the pain eased off. A very soft voice whispered in his ear. "Padawan, you must remain calm. This is the final phase of a Potential manifestation. It is perfectly natural, if not altogether pleasant. We're doing what we can to ease it for you. I need you to center, let go of any touch you have on the Force, even the most instinctive ones, if you can. It will gentle the phase, Koatel."

Obi-Wan obeyed, pulling his awareness down into the very core of his being. He let go the flows of Force energy that he naturally integrated into his everyday existence, released the touch on the minds of his companions, the power that fueled his reflexes and suddenly felt blind, deaf and dumb. "Master?"

"Shh, it passes. Just a few moments more. Shh. Just be still. It's worth it, I promise."

Obi-Wan obeyed, letting himself hover in that state of sensory deprivation that was living without contact to the Force. Reduced to the input from his own body, Obi-Wan was staggered by the two-dimensionality of his perceptions. It was as if someone had switched off the universe's color, and given him ear plugs and a numbing agent to boot. He whimpered, feeling as if reality had twisted and left him on the outside. Calm hands touched him, his skin, voices he could barely recognize murmured words of assurance. They might have been ghosts. He couldn't feel them within himself, through the Force. *Oh please, please, no ... * he squeezed his eyes shut, denying this thing that was happening to him. Everything receded and he drifted far, far away.

After an indeterminate period, Qui-Gon said, "Open your eyes, Padawan."

Obi-Wan obeyed, slowly letting his vision come back on line. He was laying down on the floor beside the table, his friends and master kneeling around him. They had pulled his tunics off and his boots had gone as well. He could see the traces of energy flux in the room, where they seemed to have drained or channeled a vast amount of the Force through themselves. With a start, he realized they had channeled it off of him. "What happened?" he rasped.

"Growth spurt," Swed grinned at him.

Obi-Wan shook his head, confused. He rubbed his eyes and sat up, surprised at the utter lack of ill effects. He felt calm, alert, energized, ready to face the world. "What?" he asked again.

"Well, you tell me, Padawan. If you'd reached out through the Force to touch, say, Corubia's mind yesterday, how far could you have reached to her?" Qui-Gon asked, helping Obi-Wan to his feet.

"Um, couple of levels, maybe half a wing across. Not too far. I was pushing my limits on Reptha, subvocalizing to you down that canyon," Obi-Wan replied.

"And where is Corubia now?" Jenji pressed.

"Umm ... " Obi-Wan stretched a tendril of thought out towards her, found her a few levels up and on the other side of the Temple. "Good skies above!"

"How far, Padawan?" Qui-Gon asked again.

"Maybe a few city blocks, half a mile ... something like that ... " Obi-Wan murmured, awed.

"You just gained ... well, power in the Force. Just raw strength, not the finesse or technique you need to use it. You're going to feel like you did when you were a teenager and growing like a sprout," Qui-Gon smiled. "You've been building up to this for a little while. It's part of the reason why I wanted you living with me, just now. Congratulations, your Potential isn't just potential anymore."

Swed shrugged. "Growth spurt."

Obi-Wan rubbed his eyes again. "So, what does that mean, in the practical sense?"

"We work on your control, refine your use and gauge again, make sure you're comfortable with it, then ... nothing. It just happens." Qui-Gon shrugged. "You'll feel a little awkward for a couple of days, might find some strange things happening around you, like heightened precognition or unintentional levitation ... but it'll settle into you. Or you to it, either way."

"So, you're telling me I'm thirteen again," Obi-Wan summarized.

"Just for a couple of days," Jenji assured him. "Stay out of my sculpture shop."

Obi-Wan looked them over, searching for any signs of worry or anxiety. They were all totally relaxed, unconcerned that he might be ill or damaged in any way. That calm within them all was what sealed it for him. "Okay, well ... I guess I'd better do the dishes, then."

Qui-Gon patted his hand. "Remember what I said about control? Don't touch the dishes, Padawan. Don't touch anything."

Obi-Wan groaned then turned his attention to the crockery. Jenji and Swed snickered their good-byes and scooted out of there, before they could be requisitioned to assist. Obi-Wan sat on the kitchen counter and began the long process of Force-manipulated cleaning. Qui-Gon sat on the counter opposite him, catching dishes when Obi-Wan's control wavered and giving gentle reminders as his student found himself and became more centered within his new abilities.

By the time everything was put away, Obi-Wan was flat tired. He excused himself to meditate and bed, glad to relax his control once more. He was surprised to discover that it was a little easier to ground and center himself for meditation, that clarity came with less exertion, and the release of emotion was much more smooth and far-reaching.

He thought on these things as he curled up for sleep. *What else will I be better at, now? How much of me has changed?* But it had been a trying day, and sleep was as ready for him as he was for it.

Qui-Gon observed the training room ceiling with something like amazement. *Well. Guess I'd better step up my personal training again.*

Obi-Wan came to help his master up. "Sorry. Didn't mean to throw you that hard."

"You'll have to practice your control again, refine your abilities to match the strength you now command, Padawan. Begin the Urabra exercises in one-eighth time." Qui-Gon walked slowly out of the ring and knelt, keeping his breathing steady. Obi-Wan had indeed gained strength, and rapidly. It was one of the odder traits in the Jedi, these sudden gains in the Force. Like growth spurts in adolescent humans, it often put the subject at odds with their own training and the strength to which they had become accustomed.

Obi-Wan centered himself and began the open-hand exercises, a set number of each punch and block thrown in slow motion. The strength and line were at the same levels as if he were actually fighting, but each movement was slowed to a fraction of the lightning quickness that he was capable of, even without enhancing his reflex and speed through Force-control. When he came to the end of the set, he bowed to Qui-Gon.

"Good. Sertara, one-eighth." Qui-Gon observed each kick and block with a critical eye. Oddest thing about training a Jedi, one must slow them down to the point of ineffectiveness to be absolutely certain they had a grip on their lessons. Otherwise, they might accidentally 'cheat', using instinctive skills and short-cuts. It was all well and good to change the routine once it had been learned, innovate, even improvise in an area of expertise, but only after the forms and functions were completely mastered could such a thing be allowed.

"Mornin', Quigs."

"Mornin', Arjet." Qui-Gon did not take his eyes from his student as his friend settled in beside him.

"Spoke to the Council this morning," Arjet informed him.

"I'm not at all surprised. They'll run you into the ground if you stick around much longer."

"I'm working on setting us up with an assignment that should take us well and truly out of their reach for some time," Arjet replied.

"Don't start dragging me and mine into your schemes, Arjet. I have a lot on my mind already," Qui-Gon warned.

Arjet snorted at that. "You're in up to your chin already with this whole Torlamin issue. That's what I came to tell you about. They asked about the Left Hand."

Qui-Gon nodded. "And here they promised not to meddle. Obi-Wan, do that last set again, mind your knees."

"Qui-Gon! Did you hear me?"

"Yes, Arjet. Left Hand. You, me, Torlamin. When?"

"I'm not certain it's time to take such drastic measures," Arjet hedged.

"Mmm. Of course you aren't, now that you've spent some time working with Corubia. You're starting to see things in her student, worry about the effects it would have on her. Mmm. I sense much fear in you," Qui-Gon snorted and ducked just in time to avoid the smack Arjet aimed at the back of his head. "Damnit, Arjet, can't you see I'm working, here?"

"Sorry. But you're right."

"Of course I am. Obi-Wan, good. Do Sebereah. Start at speed, then do it again at speed and a half. Arjet, watch this with me. I'm not sure he's going to make it through," Qui-Gon had his doubts that Arjet was quite up to training another Padawan just now. It was a mystery as to how Arjet had gotten his rank in the first place, with his bent for philosophy and dirty dealings, both at once. Qui-Gon couldn't imagine the Council giving him a child to train. He was still a little surprised at the fact that Arjet was given Corubia. Not that the Council's first choice had been a great one for the girl.

Obi-Wan was moving swiftly through a tumbling routine, full of acrobatics and very few combat skills. He came to the end of the routine, paced the perimeter of the ring once and began again. His first series of tumbling passes went by in clean, strong lines. He entered into the second, more dancelike passage and Qui-Gon returned to his companion. "You would test her further?"

"Of course I would."

"Tell me when and how. I still think the outcome will be the same."

"I'll let you know," Arjet assured him.

Just then both of them cupped their hands before them, catching Obi-Wan before he hit the mats. The Padawan had put too much Force into a backflip and missed his rotation. Arjet grinned sheepishly at Qui-Gon, lowered his hands and dissipated the energy with which he had protected the other master's apprentice. "Old habits die hard," he explained.

"They're good habits to have," Qui-Gon forgave, lowering his student to the ground. He gave Arjet a reconsidering look. *Hm. I could be wrong about that teaching thing ...* "Obi-Wan, come and sit. Watch."

Qui-Gon took the starting position for Sebereah, the Form of the Fading Blossom. Most of the advanced physical routines had such irritatingly poetic names that Qui-Gon simply used the Old Basic translations and tried not to think about it. There was no good reason, to his mind, for dressing the exercises up with nice titles. Falling Crane, The Dagger Parts the Wind, Waterfall Kisses the Lilly, they did nothing to fool the beings who used them. Any Jedi worth his salt knew and knew well that the spirit must be in balance, for all things. If war was one part of the Jedi life, so then must be beauty, art, music, poetry. That blending must occur within the Jedi himself, where titles and pretensions meant nothing. Might as well call them Concerto For Mayhem and Bloodbath, for all words did. Qui-Gon entered into the passage that had felled Obi-Wan, executed it acceptably and continued.

He knew he was being watched, not only by Obi-Wan and Arjet, but by the other Jedi in the room. The younger knights looked on him with something like awe, that a man his age should still move with such devastating quickness and refined technique. Ah well, nothing to be done for it and it would only get worse before it got better. It was more a surprise to Qui-Gon that at sixty-five, he felt no aches, no pains, no signs of age anywhere in his body. It worried him, some nights, probably more deeply than such pains would. Aging was natural, for what he was. This perpetual youth, however ...

He ended the routine facing his Padawan and friend. *Well, there's an argument for eternal youth, anyway.* Obi-Wan was flushed from exertion, color high, breathing just a little elevated. *Looks like he's just been well-fucked.* Not a bad idea, that. Qui-Gon had made plans to leave all future physical interaction to Obi-Wan's discretion, but perhaps that was a miscalculation. The younger man seemed not to have a wanton bone in his body, for all that he set Qui-Gon's pulse racing at odd moments of the day. *Of course, he has to crack the Masterly façade every time he wants some ... *

"So was the problem the flip or the Force technique?" Qui-Gon inquired.

"I'm sorry, Master. I'm off balance in about three different ways right now ... " Obi-Wan began, then stopped. "I'm sorry, Master."

Qui-Gon quirked and eyebrow. "Are you sure you're feeling well?"

"Yes, Master. I just feel like I've grown four inches in all directions," Obi-Wan sighed

"Yes, I remember it well. Does it make you feel any better to know that I believe you're handling it with more grace than I did?" Qui-Gon smiled.

"Same here," Arjet supplied.

"Yes, Master. Though I'm not sure it actually helps," Obi-Wan shrugged sheepishly. "Also, I've been working on a variation of Sebereah that has a different tumbling pass there. I guess I lost my focus."

"Hmm. So you were doing perfectly well, as far as the variation is concerned ... " Qui-Gon mused.

"Then thought I should have been doing better, or something different ... or something," Obi-Wan sighed.

"Do you see how this could be a problem in a combat situation?" Qui-Gon pressed.

"Of course, Master."

"Don't roll your eyes at me, Padawan."

"Yes, Master."

*Note to self, grab his tongue the next time he sticks it out.* "Okay, let's hit the showers. Arjet, send me a note about your plans for Torlamin, okay?" Qui-Gon reached for his water bottle and headed to get cleaned up.

"Will do. Sometime tonight good for you?" Arjet called.

"Sure. I'll let my secretary know," Qui-Gon replied.

"I already heard," Obi-Wan observed, eliciting a laugh from the two Masters.

Qui-Gon stepped under a shower decidedly cooler than what he normally chose to bathe with. He kept his eyes fixed on the tiles before him when he heard Obi-Wan come into the otherwise empty facilities. *Let him choose. No pressure. Don't even look.* "So, did you have any plans for today?"

"Well, Master Paje asked me to do some research for him. I've been thinking about a visit to the archives, but I haven't had time to get down there," Obi-Wan replied.

"Did he now? Well, feel free. I think I'll be tied up with Arjet most of the night," Qui-Gon said. "It's not a situation I want you involved in."


Qui-Gon took a deep breath, let it out slowly and turned to face his student. Obi-Wan gave him an openly appraising look from toes to top, before fixing him with steady eye contact. Qui-Gon fought the urge to pose. "The Council has ... given us permission to use the Left Hand technique."

Obi-Wan's gaze never wavered. "What?"

"It's a code for ... never mind. We'll talk about it if the time comes," Qui-Gon was suddenly unable to explain, what with those clear, guileless eyes upon him. Oh, Obi-Wan was by no means innocent, as such things are normally measured. He was no blushing virgin or unblooded trainee. He'd done his share of lying, cheating, sneaking, stealing and killing during his service to the Order. And yet ... Qui-Gon wanted to protect him from this reality a while longer. "Let it stand that we're working with Torlamin and I think your time would be best spent elsewhere."

"Yes, Master."

Qui-Gon turned back to his shower, grateful that the cool water lent itself to his own body control. He soaped and scrubbed, lathered up his hair, rinsed all over and was just about to turn off the water when warm breath hit his ear. "You missed a spot."

"I did?" Qui-Gon started to turn around but was stopped by a strong hand on his hip.

"I'll get it," Obi-Wan murmured, scrubbing along Qui-Gon's shoulderblades, down spine and across the small of his back with firm, even strokes. Innocent strokes, the attention of a dutiful Padawan to his teacher. When those same strong hands turned him to rinse, Qui-Gon went willingly where they led.

The next set of firm strokes were not what generally was thought to be innocent.

Qui-Gon leaned his head back against the tile, moaning. Obi-Wan's expression never changed, even as his thumb teased the most sensitive spot on the underside of Qui-Gon's cock, bringing his hips forward in a rapid succession of hard thrusts. Qui-Gon reached for Obi-Wan, intent on reciprocation but was denied access to his body. "I just want to watch, Qui-Gon. Let me watch you," Obi-Wan whispered, leaning in to suckle a nipple.

Qui-Gon nodded, willing to give anything asked of him. And since the only thing required at this point was, apparently, that he come with all due haste, the acquiescence was just that much easier. He ran his hands over Obi-Wan's hair, brushed droplets from the longer bits in back, let his fingertips enjoy the silken expanse of throat and shoulders before simply leaning back against the tiles again and letting his student lead him were he might.

One hand stroked his balls, gently heightening the pleasures given his shaft. No fancy Force-tricks, no interesting techniques with teeth and tongue. Just the steady, persistent, encouragement of Obi-Wan's hands on Qui-Gon's flesh. "Harder," Qui-Gon groaned through clenched teeth. "Just a little ... "

"Mmm, yeah," Obi-Wan leaned into his strokes, rocking his body in rhythm with the touch, with Qui-Gon's thrusts.

Qui-Gon drank in the vision of his love, his best friend, his student and constant companion now doing this beautiful and singularly enjoyable thing for him. His teeth clamped down on his bottom lip as the orgasm rolled out, closed his eyes as the pleasure, strong, rich, full of light and desires met burned all thoughts from him.

The hands went away.

Soft lips brushed his, a whisper, perhaps a figment of the imagination.

When Qui-Gon gained the strength to raise his eyelids, he felt somewhat wounded to find he was quite alone in the showers.

"Not a wanton bone in my body. I'll wanton him ... " Obi-Wan grumbled. He hadn't meant to overhear Qui-Gon's thoughts, but he wasn't shielded as tightly today as he usually was. Well, he hadn't been! He'd caught the tone of Qui-Gon's looks, had listened just briefly and ...

*Never mind. I have work to do.* He fired up the retrieval program on the library stacks and started his search. He needed information on motivational analysis, ethical philosophy, known cases of late-onset moral degeneration ... a lot of work to do. The first cache of files dumped into his data bin and he started scrolling through titles.

He dumped the first few batches, they being mostly made up of the trainee/Padawan-written papers for various classes in the Temple. He hid a grin as a few of his own efforts hit the reject pile. The more pithy stuff was by authors who were writing when Obi-Wan was still terrorizing the crèche and before. He began saving off title after title for later examination, treatises on moral life and so on. He began reading through the keepers, a pile of essays and research reports that put a great deal of thought into the connection between motivation and spiritual expression.

An hour later and he was almost ready for a breather. Some of the information was beginning to run together and his eyes had started to complain. Still, he just wanted to get to the end of this one paper. It was quite interesting, actually, as far as ethical philosophy goes. He popped his neck and began scanning over the last few screens of data.

"Therefore it can be seen that all action is determined by choice on the part of the effector. Whether poorly thought out or guided by the sure hand of the Force, no action can be made without an essential preselection on the part of the actor ... "

And so on and so forth etceteras. Obi-Wan let his eyes drift half-closed as the data wound across the screen. This was, far and away, the most useful text he had found. It laid out methods of discovering a personal motivation behind any action, through a trick of emotion-sensing. Empathic input used to determine an ethical position, or lack thereof. Obi-Wan reached out to slow the page when a phrase caught his eye.

"Although some arguments can be resolved through debate alone, many require a more concrete resolution before a position can be proven or disproved. A well-maintained argument ... "

Stop. Back up.

"The conclusion of an argument should be an action."

There. He'd heard that line as often as he'd heard his own name in the earlier parts of his diplomatic training, even as far back as his lessons in the crèche. It was second-nature to him now, the knowledge that he would need to take action on whatever his convictions were. And the idea that he would know whether he was right or wrong only after action had been taken. *Hmm. Wonder who started this.* He scrolled back to the beginning of the file and felt his jaw hit his chest.

Knight Jinn.

Okay, so maybe he shouldn't be surprised. Obi-Wan knew his master to be a wise man. It certainly followed that he might have written some of his personal philosophy and entered it into the archives. Many Jedi did this, though Obi-Wan could not remember a time during his apprenticeship that Qui-Gon had done so. Still ... it might be interesting to know ...

He called for all entries in the stacks and the library proper composed by Qui-Gon Jinn and set the unit to copy onto datachips. He left the desk and headed for the catering unit and cav. When he returned, he was lucky he didn't spray the vid down in shock. Title after title scrolled past as it was copied. The chipreader beeped, announcing that the datachip was full. Obi-Wan replaced it, fingers numb, mind reeling. *When did Qui-Gon have time to be a scholar?*

When the files finished the transfer, there were still three titles at the bottom. A note informed him that, while the texts were ready for transfer, there were hardcopies in the stacks which had additional information not available in the digital version. Obi-Wan noted the titles and set out to find them.

The first was more philosophy, which Obi-Wan put aside to check out. The second a pamphlet on issues mathematical. The third, however ... *paydirt.*

While Obi-Wan had a handle on most subjects, including rational thought and mathematics, his true love was language. This was a well-documented fact. He spent more free time just reading stories, poetry, learning new ways of saying something, than anything else. And here, in hardcopy with illustrative notes, was Qui-Gon Jinn's "Poetic Analysis" in all its glory. How this text had been missed, Obi-Wan had no idea. He had no intention of moving from the spot he sat in until he'd read every word.

Two chapters in and Obi-Wan knew why he'd never been recommended the tome by any of his instructors. They tended to avoid assigning him texts that would provoke arguments.

Four chapters in and he was making notes on his lightslate almost faster than he was thinking them.

At the end of the fifth chapter, he went back to his dataset and called for a download to his own lightslate. When it was delivered, he began at the beginning, even going so far as to adjust the layout so that he could make notes within the text itself.

He was busily making refutations down a margin when he felt a familiar signature in the Force. Qui-Gon was nearby, probably on the first floor of the library. The stacks were kept on the second level. A balcony overlooked the lower area and Obi-Wan lost no time getting to the railing. Qui-Gon looked up at him, probably surprised by the type and amount of emotion echoing through their bond. Obi-Wan was beyond caring. "HOW could you argue that 'Seraphas Breath' was not illustrative of a caring relationship?" he demanded.

Qui-Gon tucked his hands in his sleeves, rocked back on his heels and settled once more before replying. "The speaker evidences no intention of embracing the object of their affection. Without that connection, there can be no love, therefore no caring relationship."

"Oh, so you assume love can not be felt without reciprocation?" Obi-Wan demanded.

"No, I say a caring relationship can not be had without emotional reciprocation," Qui-Gon clarified.

"And the reciprocation must be through romantic love? What about protection, companionship, caregiving? Wouldn't those create a caring relationship even without shared romantic love?" Obi-Wan shook the text at Qui-Gon. "And just what do you mean 'The Definition of Love must begin with the acknowledgment that 'love' is an action verb?"

"Romantic love is only one aspect of a pair bond. Caring relationships are created in many ways. Love is an action verb, it's something you do, not something you have," Qui-Gon promptly replied.

Just then one of the librarians came up and kicked Qui-Gon in the shins. The short, furry being extended something to the Jedi and waddled off amongst squeaks and grunts of apparent displeasure. Obi-Wan snatched up his lightslate, datachips and hardcopies, vaulted over the railing and landed next to his master. "What?"

"I've been informed that we must take this discussion to a more suitable forum," Qui-Gon held out the room passkey for Obi-Wan's inspection.

"Oh great. Let's just go back to our rooms and talk there," Obi-Wan's voice was heavy with vexation and sarcasm.

"I think this is a wonderful suggestion our dear Seloya has made," Qui-Gon informed his student. "Come along."

Obi-Wan followed his master, but not meekly, as was his wont to do. No, his chin was high, eyes flashing, knuckles white from the grip he maintained on Qui-Gon's little text on poetic meaning. He detected a sort of squeaky-gritty noise and was unsettled to realize he was literally grinding his teeth together. Well, maybe this would be for the best.

Qui-Gon slipped the cardkey into the lock and bowed Obi-Wan in. The door snicked shut behind him and he made his way to the table. Qui-Gon had, apparently, gone to gather his own ammunition. Fine. Just fine. Obi-Wan thumbed his lightslate on and began to dig in for the argument of a lifetime.

Arjet Paje stood at the observation window grinning like an idiot. Corubia was similarly smirking beside him. "They're going to do one another damage if they don't stop," she observed.

"It had to happen sooner or later. You said so yourself, Padawan," Arjet reminded her.

"When did I say that?" she asked.

"Not too long ago you said if those two ever started talking, this Order was going to get rocked. Well, they're talking," Arjet pointed towards the window with his chin.

Indeed, the pair was talking. At a high rate. At full volume. Simultaneously. Obi-Wan had apparently taken umbrage with Qui-Gon's interpretation of certain key poems. Qui-Gon had, in return, picked a fight in regards to Obi-Wan's methods in a flower breeding experiment. Obi-Wan countered with the basic problems of Qui-Gon's multidimensional geometry theorems. Qui-Gon rejoined, citing the semantic flaws of Obi-Wan's prophecy/ paradox essays.

What neither seemed to realize was they were correcting one another's work on the fly.

They had been going at it for an hour before anyone thought to let Arjet know what was going on. By the time he and Corubia arrived the rest of the Group was gathered outside the Debate Chamber window, listening through the hard-line, munching popcorn and watching the conversation as if it were a sporting event. Arjet had to admit this was much more interesting than your average inning of mullya-baseball.

They had to be winding down. Both of them were hoarse and slumped over the table. Obi-Wan drew a ragged breath and launched into his next round of attack, only to be countered immediately by Qui-Gon's own irrefutable arguments. Apparently they had returned to some previous point, the nature of emotional bonding.

Frankly, Arjet agreed with Qui-Gon.

"While it is a possibility for one being to have a caring, trusting, beneficial relationship with another in absence of what we have agreed should be called love, it is more often the case that love will exist between members of a pair bond," Qui-Gon restated.

"But is there any categorical evidence that these relationships are actually more healthy and beneficial to the participants?" Obi-Wan doggedly pursued.

"Before we can answer that, we would have to agree on a scale of comparison, Padawan," Qui-Gon was serene in his assertion.

Obi-Wan groaned. "No, we don't. You show me one instant where the expression of love makes an interaction intrinsically more beneficial and altogether pleasant than without it and I'll concede the point."

Qui-Gon fixed his student with a steady look. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm too tired to do this one right, Master."

"Mmmhm. Prepare to concede. Here was our experience this morning," Qui-Gon's eyes went out of focus. Clearly they were sharing some line of thought or memory on the sub-vocal level.

Obi-Wan's eyes went wide with shock. "I didn't mean it like that."

"Mmmhm. Now here's what love does for you," Qui-Gon stood, rounded the table and laid a kiss on his student that soon drew whistles and catcalls from the gathered audience.

Arjet observed the proceedings with a practiced eye. Qui-Gon wasn't holding anything back. Fingers on throat, one arm around ribcage, fall of hair brushing cheek ... probably a wash of love and desire crashing through their bond. Kid didn't stand a chance. The elder Master could fair see the Padawan's spine melting. His toes were probably curling up into his feet by now. When Qui-Gon broke the kiss and returned to his seat Obi-Wan sat in a momentary daze. Then he fixed Qui-Gon with a glare.

"What the hell was that for?" he demanded.

"The end of an argument should be an action," Qui-Gon replied, shrugging.

"Mmhm. You have and appointment with Master Paje this evening. You're probably late already," Obi-Wan began gathering up his materials.

"You concede the point, as agreed?" Qui-Gon inquired.

Obi-Wan slowly raised his head. "No, Master, I do not. However, I fear we must postpone differentiating between love and lust until some other date."

Well. Arjet and the others scattered as Obi-Wan headed for the door. Not that they had any hope of going undiscovered. It would take more than a one-way mirror to keep a couple of riled Jedi unaware of observation. Still, it wouldn't do to be hanging around with Obi-Wan in such a snit. Arjet sincerely hoped the younger man made for a meditation garden as soon as he was out of the library. Qui-Gon exited the chamber a few moments later, slumped against the doorframe and looked straight at the place where Arjet hid behind a rack of periodicals.

"You're a nerve-wracking sonofabitch, Arjet," Qui-Gon grumbled.

"Having trouble keeping up with your own student there, Quigs?" Arjet grinned.

"Just you wait, Master Paje. You'll get yours, one day," Qui-Gon flashed a teensy smile. "So, I guess I'm more than warmed up for Torlamin, now."

"Yeah, I guess you are. Felt good, didn't it?" Arjet linked his arm through Qui-Gon's and led his friend towards the lifts.

"It was astounding, I tell you. He was all over me, breaking through all my defenses, giving no quarter, asking none, stripping down his own position until he had something defensible and clean. Skies, Arjet ... " Qui-Gon tugged his robes more neatly into place.

"So ... better than sex? Purely academic inquiry, you understand," Arjet pushed the button for the sub-levels and leaned against the lift wall.

"You don't even want to know. Skies, I don't want to think about how much that ... blatant display of intellectual prowess turned me on," Qui-Gon actually, physically blushed.

"Good thing there's no laws against lewd and licentious displays of intelligence, huh?" Arjet led the way out of the lift and towards the Group's lab. "Well, hate to break it to you, but I need your brain for something else, Master Jinn. Matter of life and death, you know."

"Yes, I know. I want to start by looking at the changes we made to her memory," Qui-Gon was off and running once more. His tête-à-tête with Obi-Wan had really been just a warm-up. He'd be lucky if he got home before sunrise.

There are certain disadvantages to being apprenticed to one of the finest Jedi on record. One of them is that a student can develop one hell of an inferiority complex. The upside is that, eventually, a worthy student discovers that they are becoming their master's equal.

Obi-Wan thumbed the remote, backing the holovid up to the point where he had truly lost his fight. Not the end of the debate but just moments before it had begun. This was the reason Qui-Gon had taken him into a formal debate chamber: it was wired for recording the exchange. He turned the sound off and watched the events unfold once more. Qui-Gon opened the door. He closed the door. He sat down across from Obi-Wan and placed a cup of tea before him on the table. He had no other materials, no other supplies. Just himself, his knowledge and a cup of tea.

Obi-Wan understood a challenge when he saw one.

The holo-Obi-Wan shoved his materials aside and fixed Qui-Gon with a steady look. His lips moved, but no sound came forth. No sound was needed. Obi-Wan would remember speaking those words for the rest of his life.

"I don't know how a man who could write such drivel could fool so many into thinking him wise," Obi-Wan whispered.

The most damning thing about it was that he saw, actually SAW the hurt those words caused his master. Then he saw his master forgive him for speaking thus. Then his master had showed him, in every way possible, just who was the Master and who was the Padawan and why.

Obi-Wan sighed and turned the sound back on.

Even as the argument advanced, both conceding points, both taking small victories, Obi-Wan was awed at the mind he had studied under. Awed and enamored of it, totally. He was losing ground rapidly as the razor-fine logic and delicately honed intelligence pulled his arguments apart and handed them back on a plate. Obi-Wan watched himself falter, redirect and return in kind, hoping to gain some sort of ground. He had only a few moments to construct his argument, no time for secondary analysis, but he knew he was right in what he was saying. He brought his point home.

There. Stop.

He froze the holo at that moment, looking at the subtle change in his Master's face. A stranger wouldn't have seen it. Even a casual friend might have overlooked it. But Obi-Wan was no casual observer. He knew that flicker for what it was, that elegant darkening of eyes, furrow of brow, hint of a smile then return to serenity. Qui-Gon had found himself beaten, quickly reviewed the engagement and quirked his smile of approval at his student.

To Obi-Wan's experience, that was as good as being called a genius.

Obi-Wan switched the vid off. Re-watching wasn't going to help, wouldn't change the facts and wouldn't give him the answers to the questions whirling through his mind. In the great Jedi tradition, Obi-Wan pulled his boots off, tucked himself into the Lotus pose and stilled his mind in meditation.

In truth, Qui-Gon had taken it easy on him, keeping the subjects of discussion to areas in which Obi-Wan had expressed interest. That first topic, the poetry, had been Obi-Wan's strongest round. But he had kept up, in all areas. Kept pace with his Master, though he knew Qui-Gon wasn't holding back. Yes, the subjects were familiar ones, but they were by no means simple. Qui-Gon had the advantage of years, one he simply put aside to level the playing field, as it were. Common subjects, no resources but their own knowledge, a duel of wits that ended in a draw.

No, Obi-Wan had to admit it. He was no inferior specimen, intellectually. Anyone who could go 'round with Qui-Gon Jinn and get that little smile of approval had no business bowing and scraping and pleading to be kept, to be allowed to stay, to be protected from rejection. Anyone who had trained and studied under Master Jinn and gotten that smile could be certain that, whatever place they held, it was theirs by RIGHT.

Obi-Wan held that discovery out at arm's length, studied it. *A right to place,* he pondered that for a long moment. He began sifting through his memories, recalling all the times he had denied the assertion that he belonged here, in the Temple, next to Qui-Gon. He couldn't recall ever being told 'You belong here, you are one of us.' In fact, he knew himself to be a temporary resident. Well, technically, he wasn't a Jedi yet. But no suggestion had ever been made that he would not pass his trials, that he would not be a Knight, that he would not serve the Order in whatever manner would be best for him. Well, there was Torlamin, but he was fairly well prepared to chuck her opinion out with yesterday's leavings, especially considering recent events.

And he had a pile of memories just begging to refute her claims. All of a certain, tight little smile.

*Well, okay. So I'm a fair candidate for being a full Jedi. So what?*

Obi-Wan stretched out on the sofa. No point in posing when he wasn't really meditating in the first place. *So if you're planning on being a Jedi, don't you think you should put a little thought into a certain ribbon? And maybe a certain charm, too?*

His thoughts reflexively shied away from that line of thinking. It was not so much that he didn't want to think about it. It was more a sense that he wasn't ready to make those decisions yet. He had the feeling that he should wait. That he was waiting for someone or something or ...

He let his eyes drift closed, pushing thought into silence, centering himself, seeking a path, finding a place in spirit that could guide him to the answers, to revelation. It reminded him of the period of free-association he had experienced on Renal Sejon, under the influence of the Kurasian coming-of-age drug. This was no drug, that he knew well. It was the Moment, in all the infinite variety and possibility, the current time, built up out of past events. It was those events he needed to explore. He stilled himself further and something quite incredible happened.

The Force spoke up, loud and clear, in a mosaic of memory and emotion so indescribably beautiful Obi-Wan lost himself for a long moment, content in the blissful wash of understanding. At first it was bare images, sounds, the occasional smell or taste, then longer flashes of memory drew up, caught his attention, instructed him in carefully chosen terms.


Qui-Gon's hands were infinitely gentle as he wrapped the bandages around Obi-Wan's forearm. "Sometimes I think you were born just to vex me, Padawan," his smile was as easy as his touch. "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."

Obi-Wan chuckled in reply. "I'm sorry, Master. It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Yes, Obi-Wan. A good IDEA, it was. However, your planning and execution leave something to be desired. Are you sure you don't want me to heal this for you?" Qui-Gon sealed the bandage on the opposite side of the cut.

"Yes, Master. I need to practice my self-healing. This shouldn't get in the way too much, before I have the time to trance down," Obi-Wan flexed his fingers, making sure this was true.

"Come to me if you find it is more than you can handle," Qui-Gon ordered.

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan smiled.


Obi-Wan came into the lower library, casting about for his master's presence. There. Under a pile of Trainees and Padawans, as usual. Holding forth, yet again, no doubt offering instruction on a subject so dry he'd need a glass of water just from thinking about it.

The other kids seemed enthralled, and Obi-Wan slipped in at the back of the group to listen. Polydimensional geometry. Qui-Gon's patient tutoring had been the only thing to get Obi-Wan out of that class alive. He could hardly begrudge others the benefit of Qui-Gon's teaching as well. Saber practice could wait until another day.


"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."

"Please, Master, I can't. I'm so tired ... please," Obi-Wan was appalled to hear himself whimper. He'd kept quiet, kept still, kept trying for hours now. The security sim before him was so complicated ... but he'd done it before! If he could just concentrate ... he fought another wave of nausea, but this time Qui-Gon saw it.


"I'm sorry, Master. I don't ... could I just rest a minute? I'll get it ... "

"Obi-Wan! Are you all right?" Qui-Gon's strong arms were lifting him up and headed for the sofa.

"Bathroom," Obi-Wan warned.

Qui-Gon redirected his steps and had his student before the toilet moments before Obi-Wan's lunch put in its second appearance of the day. Gentle fingers rubbed his back and shoulders as he helplessly retched until there was nothing more to lose. Gentle words crooned down to him "Oh, Padawan. You mustn't do this to yourself. I want you healthy far more than I need you working, shh."


Obi-Wan looked at the shattered glass, the horror of its breakage still fresh in his mind. He'd been so focused on levitating his slate from the desk to the couch that he had simply forgotten about the figure on the table between them.

The door slid open and Qui-Gon walked in.

"Master, I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to ... " Obi-Wan began, one hand tugging hard on his short braid. *Oh please, I want to keep this, please.*

"Are you all right? Did you cut yourself?" Qui-Gon was at his side in an instant, looking for blood, damage, anything that might be amiss. Completely ignoring the ruin of the bird before them.

"No, I was lifting my slate and ... "

"Okay. Okay, good. Would you clean this up for me while I change clothes? I'm expecting company ... "

Obi-Wan nodded slowly. "Yes, Master. Of course, Master ... Master?"

Qui-Gon turned in the door of his room. "Yes?"

Obi-Wan swallowed once. "May I have my own room? I ... please?" *Please, I don't want to cause you trouble, please.*

Qui-Gon sighed and nodded. "I'll speak to Allocations tomorrow. Now ... the mess?"

Obi-Wan nodded mutely. Less than a week, and he'd already ruined something that couldn't be replaced. If Qui-Gon wouldn't punish him ...


Qui-Gon rubbed his eyes and pushed the datachips for their next assignment aside. "Padawan, I could have helped you with this hours ago. You need your rest. Now, what is it we're studying?"


Qui-Gon bowed to the Council and set his stance in for the long haul. Obi-Wan suppressed a sigh. WHY did Qui-Gon insist on arguing everything the Council suggested?

"With all due respect, Masters, I can not leave the care of my Padawan to another. I couldn't care less HOW important you think these negotiations might possibly one day be. There are others who are just as capable who do NOT have oaths regarding the protection and education of a student to consider. I will not, can not ignore them for any reason. In your hearts, you know I am right."


Qui-Gon's fingers closed around Obi-Wan's biceps, fingers digging in, demanding attention. "Your affection is not unwanted. It is very much desired, in fact. Do you think even for a second that I would have accepted a physical relationship with you if I did not wish something more? Something real? I do not enter into these things lightly."

Obi-Wan lay stunned. After a moment he regained the ability to speak. "Do you mean that?"

"Yes, I mean that." Strong hands smoothed away the pale marks they had left on his arms.

"And do I need to answer for myself right now? Because I don't know what to say. You will give me time to consider?"

"All that you need and more." Qui-Gon swore.


Qui-Gon looked at the ruined school building with something like horror. Obi-Wan put a hand on his arm, trying to comfort him. Qui-Gon turned to his student, face passive but eyes stormy, as in the throes of a bitter loss. "They have not just destroyed a building, Padawan. They have destroyed opportunity."

Obi-Wan tilted his head in unspoken question.

"Education, Padawan. It is the highest pursuit. I have often wished I had the opportunity to take more than one student at a time, or to teach as some do, at the Temple. I've always wanted the time to learn ... " Qui-Gon cleared his throat suddenly. "I am very glad you are here, that I may give you all I know. It brings me peace, at times like this."

Obi-Wan bowed his head, "Thank you, Master, for wanting to share with me."

"Come now, we must find who has done this. All depends upon this, to prevent future destruction."


Obi-Wan opened his eyes with a gasp. The light had shifted enough to tell him much time had passed. Qui-Gon was still not home, a fact for which he was mightily grateful. It would seem there was much he had yet to know, to learn about the choice he had before him. Again, there was the tugging within, whispering 'Wait. Think on it. Not time yet.' Obi-Wan shook himself, pulled up into the Lotus pose again. If the waiting was for learning, then much thought would be needed. What was he missing? *Okay, Force. What am I sitting here waiting for?*

Even as he began to still his mind once more, he knew the answers would still yet be a long time coming.

"Where are we going, Arjet? I thought you wanted me to see Torlamin," Qui-Gon ducked under another vent-pipe and dodged a puddle. The sub-basements of the Jedi Temple were not normally part of the daily tour.

"I had to move her. Watch out for this patch here, it's a shade slippery," Arjet called over his shoulder.

"Would you slow down a little? There are situations were height is not an advantage and you've got the only chiplight," Qui-Gon groused.

"Sorry, Quigs." Arjet stopped and waited for the younger Master to catch up.

"Why did you have to move her way the hell down here?" Qui-Gon asked.

"I needed to put the generators, the hydroponics garden and the whiterooms between her and Cord Random," he explained. "Now, do we go right, or left. Hmmm. I thought I had this memorized." He tugged his hair for a long moment then took the left-hand path.

"And you needed to do this because ... " Qui-Gon led him.

Arjet sighed. "I have a few puzzles that need working out before we go any further with her ... arrangements."

"Am I supposed to know why I'm being dragged through the muck of the ages again, or are you going to stop being cryptic and lay it on the line? Are we here to run a test, hold an execution or should I put my game face on and prepare to debate YOU down as well?" Qui-Gon slipped his hand into Arjet's. "What's going on?"

"Okay, give me the first guideline of Reformation, Qui-Gon Jinn."

Qui-Gon responded to that tone as he had the first time he had heard it. He folded his hands into the small of his back, lowered his chin and murmured "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

"Correct. Now then, what is the proper way to conduct an investigation into events past?"

"Begin at the beginning. When you get to the end, stop."

"And when did this little project begin?"

Qui-Gon didn't answer right away. It wasn't a set question with a rote response, so it required some consideration. Arjet was known to be hell on a student who gave an incorrect answer for lack of forethought. "The mission to Naboo that I didn't go on."

"You're improving, Qui-Gon. I'm glad to see raising three Padawans managed to teach you something. Good. Yes. The Sith first showed up there, bringing the Jedi in contact with them for the first time in ages upon ages. I have to tell you, I had more than a little to do with you NOT being there, my friend. Come along."

Qui-Gon followed in Arjet's wake, more than a little amused at his reflexive responses. Arjet Paje had been a shepherd to the newly-Knighted Qui-Gon Jinn, many years ago. He'd done a lot to deflate the mammoth Jinn pride, much more to prevent Qui-Gon from becoming a puffed up jerk and instead helping him to be a useful member of the Order. That they remained friends was something of a curiosity to Qui-Gon. Arjet wasn't one to maintain long-standing friendships, even under the best of circumstances. Still, when the Force sends you a blessing, you never ask why.

Well, almost never.

"Why?" Qui-Gon asked, in reference to Arjet's last bit of information.

Arjet turned to face his companion, a long-suffering expression in his eyes. After a moment he sighed and replied "Foretelling. Some good guesses. I split the Universe."

Qui-Gon shook his head, confused. "What?"

"Quantum Mechanics, my friend. Select one course out of many and the universe branches? Well, I was presented with a choice, of sorts. On the one hand, the Council's choice went to Naboo and darkness moved upon the face of the Galaxy. On the other, I could select a replacement and send them to their certain death ... and a hope of light would be preserved." Arjet twisted his fingers into his hair and pulled hard. "I knew whoever the Powers sent out there wasn't coming back, so I pulled a few strings when I heard the Council sent you. Not just to save you, friend, but ... for all of us. I mean, Erac was a good friend, a strong and faithful Jedi, but ... " Arjet stopped in front of a heavy iron door and began fiddling with the lock.

"But expendable?" Qui-Gon asked.

"No." Arjet didn't turn around, didn't open the door, didn't move for a long moment. "There were things going on with that assignment, opportunities that had to be disrupted ... things that needed doing, which you were not available to do. Now, as to why I chose who I chose, the answer is simple: Erac was too tempting."

A long, gusty sigh escaped Qui-Gon. "That has to be the most unfair thing you've ever done to me, Arjet."

"I couldn't HELP it, Qui-Gon! I tried, honestly. But someone was looking for you, trying to kill you AND Obi-Wan. I still don't know the reasons for sure, but I know their success would have triggered a chain of events that would have been both terrifying and unstoppable. I knew that whoever it was was a Sith, they knew you well enough to describe you, to have known your name, and I had to protect you. Had to. Erac will be missed and shall be far from easily replaced. You and Obi-Wan ... can not be replaced under any circumstances." Arjet leaned his forehead against the doorjamb. "I figured if Erac looked enough like you to let me fool myself for a while, he'd be close enough to fool a stranger."

"You didn't. Please, Arjet, tell me you didn't ... " Qui-Gon took a step away from his friend.

"I tried, Quigs. I tried so hard ... "

"Get away from me," Qui-Gon growled. "Go in. I'll be there in a minute."

"Oh fuck you, Qui-Gon! Someone knew your face. It was just a matter of time before they knew your name, Obi-Wan's name, matched all that up with your reputation! They know that now, but it's got them confused because they think their target is dead. I was protecting you, him, the Group, EVERYONE. When you consider the candidates for Darksiders who would be gunning for you, the list is fairly short. Something's going on, something that has the Sith hunting Shadows again. You want to hear blasphemy? If I could have gotten Obi-Wan to Naboo with Erac I would have done it. At least then I would have had a known element in the mix. Random is giving me nine headaches from all different directions and there's almost nothing I can do about it," Arjet snarled.

"Obi-Wan! You'd have sent him into that, knowing what you apparently knew???" Qui-Gon thought he was going to be sick.

"He's rock-solid, Qui-Gon! He'll never turn, never fail or falter when it comes to the Dark! He's not like you and me. At the center of him, he's pure, balanced, focused, calm, cool, collected, centered and serene! He'd have gone in there, killed Maul, maybe brought Erac home alive and whole, never had the kind of problems Cord Random's having! He wouldn't have flaked out like Torlamin's doing! To be honest, I needed him there, could have sent him, you know. But I didn't. I couldn't do that to you. So don't stand there all green at the gills, trying to tell me what I did was wrong, or that I betrayed you in some way, because I didn't, even if you don't want to hear it. Now if you're not ready to work, go back up topside and tell the Council you need some time off. They call me the shadow Jedi and that's exactly what I am. Or had you forgotten?"

Qui-Gon clamped down on his rising anger, took a deep breath and steadied his nerves. "No, Master Paje. I hadn't forgotten."

"And you haven't forgiven. Don't bother. I don't need anyone's forgiveness but my own." Arjet pushed the door open and bowed, a sarcastic smile playing across his lips. "To the Oubliette, my friend."

Qui-Gon gritted his teeth, refusing to rise to the bait.

The Oubliette was yet another bit of the Temple that Arjet had made his own in some way or another. For all Qui-Gon knew, these little nooks and crannies had belonged to the Group since its inception. The Order certainly had no use for such a place, for all that it dealt with beings who sorely needed time inside of one. The Jedi did not torture. The Jedi did not harm. If a Jedi used violence, he had already lost. All life is sacred to the Jedi, no matter how dark or twisted it might be. A Jedi would seek to heal where there was sickness. An Oubliette had no place in such a society, because an Oubliette was a place to put someone so that you could forget about them.

Torlamin struggled against her binders as Arjet entered the room. "Good day," he greeted.

"Hello, Master Paje. I trust you are well," she snarled, teeth bared.

"You're about to go to sleep, Rue. Master Jinn's going to try to help you," Arjet reached out to put her to sleep.

"Keep your filthy hands off me and your sick mind out of me, you scum-sucking bastard," Torlamin glared at Qui-Gon as if she wanted to pull him apart with her bare hands.

"Tsk. Now, Rue, I thought we'd come to an agreement about that sort of talk. I see we'll have to begin again. Now go to sleep." Arjet touched her forehead and she slumped back down on the floor, unconscious.

Qui-Gon pressed his lips together, holding in several dozen questions that sprang to mind. Instead of asking, he knelt on the floor and took Torlamin's head in his hands. "She needs a bath, Arjet."

"You're welcome to try. Skies know I'm done with civility," Arjet shrugged.

Qui-Gon snorted and focused his thoughts on the subject before him. A swift but thorough examination painted a rather disturbing picture. The blocks and repairs the Group had made to Torlamin's mind were deteriorating rapidly. The only changes that had gone untouched were where memories had been totally removed. She was systematically beating down the walls within her, destroying the very things that might have saved her. "She's been a busy girl."

"It shouldn't be happening so fast, though. That's what has me so worried. She might be getting help from somewhere, and I'm afraid I might know where," Arjet sighed.


"Cord had a lot of time alone with her, and that's a solid fact. The truth is, he kept coming to visit her, even when I told him to stay away. Now here's the thing ... she broke down just after seeing the Sith. We know he didn't attack you and Obi-Wan mentally until he absolutely had to, though he was fighting you physically. And he could have attacked you. Obi-Wan's reports make that clear. So who did he attack?" Arjet threw Qui-Gon a towel and a bottle of water.

Qui-Gon accepted with a nod and began cleaning Torlamin's face. "Okay, I see your point."

"Well, consider this: Cord's report of the fight on Naboo has no mention of a mental battle. He gave us a step-by-step walkthrough of the saberfight, clearly written, detailed enough for Obi-Wan to have learned and used his tactics ... but what of the other?" Arjet shrugged. "A good question, no?"

"Yes. Very good. I think you're right about keeping her alive for a while. At least until we know more ... " Qui-Gon considered trying to wash her hair but abandoned the idea as impractical. "And I'll have to look in on Cord. And his Padawan."

"Mmm. Do. And when you've done with that, how about looking over the reports from Naboo one more time?" Arjet grinned.

"No need. Got 'em memorized by now. Okay, we withhold the Left Hand for ... let's give it a couple of days anyway. I'll see to Cord, you try to put her mind back together again and see if it falls apart in the same way this time." Qui-Gon closed the water bottle and handed it back to Arjet.

"You're thinking something, Quigs. Spill."

"Yeah. How about a virus? Not like you'd get a cold from, but a ... mental virus?" Qui-Gon searched for a more proper term.

"Like a data virus?"

"Yeah. I'm thinking of the Redman virus that went around a few years ago. Two files, almost identical, but with different names. You delete one, the other regenerates it. You'd have to delete them both, simultaneously, to clear it out. And if there was more than one ... "

"It would spawn again, except this time you might not know about it," Arjet wrapped a lock of hair around his forefinger and started tugging. "You have an interesting idea, there."

"It's just an idea," Qui-Gon reminded him.

"One that bears looking into. It might mean removing Cord as well, if you're right," Arjet tugged harder.

"No. If I'm right, it would mean removing Cord, Torlamin AND Anakin Skywalker."

Qui-Gon knew he was knocking on the wrong doors, both literally and figuratively, the moment he laid eyes on Cord Random. The Knight let his surprise show, let a flicker of annoyance cross his face before serenity asserted itself once more. "Good evening, Master Jinn. How are you?"

"I am well. Master Paje asked me to come see about ... one or two matters with you," Qui-Gon stepped forward, forcing the younger man to either give way or make a stand. Cord stood aside, allowing Qui-Gon to enter his quarters. "Where is your Padawan?"

"He's in his room, I believe. I was expecting company tonight, so ... " Cord offered a meaningful look.

"Well, I don't expect this to take long. Just one or two questions, a mind-scan and I'll be out of your way," Qui-Gon gestured fluidly as he crossed to a chair.

"Mind-scan. Of course, no problem at all," Cord replied, completely oblivious to the incongruity of his capitulation. He came to kneel before Qui-Gon's chair, eyes utterly passive.

Qui-Gon's self-preservation and suspicion leapt to the ready as he prepared to rifle through the Knight's mind, if not his heart and soul. Memories and thoughts could tell you a lot, but in all honesty, it couldn't tell you intent unless the subject in question had made very conscious decisions. He very much doubted Cord had. If they were all very lucky, he'd find a little nugget of knowledge, possible a long-term compulsion that could be pulled out by the roots and put an end to this particular problem. If he was lucky, the answers were all right there in front of him. He had long given up on hoping for luck.

He rested his hands upon Cord's hair, drew a deep breath and dove in.

Fifteen minutes later, he left Cord asleep on his sofa, muddled recollections of a never-had conversation laid over their meeting. *Why do I let Arjet use me like this?* he thought, shivering with the ichor of regret and dirty dealings he'd thought long behind him. *I just don't have the stomach for this shit.*

But the truth was, he did. The regret was for compunctions he didn't have, the lack of places he wouldn't go, given proper motivation. And Arjet knew him well enough to hand him the motivations he needed on a sliver platter. With salt.

*I see a threat to my loved ones and my morals disappear like so much fog on a sunny morning.*

But he had his answers, didn't like them, knew what he'd done was the right thing. Cord was clean, not a thought or compulsion in him that he hadn't come by honestly. *So we have to wait and see,* he mused, before pushing the thought aside. It would take a couple of days for Arjet, working alone, to repair Torlamin again and see if she held or crumbled. He honestly hoped she'd hold together, because as heartless as he might be, killing children wasn't something he could look forward to. *And that's what she'll be, once the we're done with her.* If not ... more options would have to be sought. He sighed, scrubbing his hands over his eyes. He'd had enough of the Group's work for now. He knew he'd done the right thing, even if the method was shady. He hadn't known that when he'd ransacked Cord's mind. Yet he'd gone right ahead and done it.

*Like Adi says: Shadow Jedi doing shady work.* He shuddered to think what the Council would say about his casual disregard of a fellow Jedi's privacy. Not to mention his equally casual bypassing of rules and even common courtesy. *Mind tricks, thought-scans, memory theft ... and not so much as a by-your-leave out of me. How did I get to be like this?*

The door to his quarters opened silently. Obi-Wan was already in bed, which was a good thing, considering the lateness of the hour. *I should let him sleep ... *

But his feet took him to his Padawan's room, across the threshold of a door left so trustingly open to him. "Obi-Wan?"

Sleepy murmur.

"Obi-Wan? Are you awake?"

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan sat up, sheets pooling in his lap. "Is something wrong?"

How do you answer that?

Qui-Gon decided for near-honesty. "I'm lonely, my Padawan. I just needed to know you were here."

Obi-Wan rubbed his eyes, got up and walked into the common room. After a pause, he returned, took Qui-Gon by the hand and led him into his bedroom. Bemused, Qui-Gon followed the gentle tugging. He could scent no arousal on his student's body, saw no evidence of desire. Besides, after Cord, he really wasn't in the mood.

Apparently Obi-Wan wasn't, either. After divesting Qui-Gon of his clothes, he urged him into a pair of sleeping pants and under the cool blankets of the larger bed. "Better?"

"Yes, Obi-Wan. Thank you."

"Well? Move over, or I'll never fit," Obi-Wan nudged him with his toes before sitting down on the edge of the bed.

"I thought you said we shouldn't make a habit of this," Qui-Gon murmured, giving Obi-Wan an out if he needed one.

"Go to sleep, Master."

Obi-Wan curled up, letting Qui-Gon arrange himself around the warm, lithe body as he pleased. Yes, worth it. Worth it worth it worth it. Not because Qui-Gon loved Obi-Wan, which he most certainly did. But because there were dozens of Obi-Wans in the Order, more than anyone gave the Jedi credit for. Pure hearts, pure souls that deserved protection, love, a world free of threats from the Dark. Individuals so clean and clear that they could barely comprehend the actions of 'less pure' Jedi, among whom Qui-Gon numbered himself. It was just that clarity that had brought Cord to the unfortunate situation he was in. He hadn't understood the true danger of battling a Sith and that lack of understanding had nearly ended him. Tonight his very purity had put him under the suspicions of shadows like Arjet. Like Qui-Gon.

What Qui-Gon had done would probably save Cord a world of heartache. With diligence, Anakin Skywalker be well, would have a strong, sure master to raise him. By the grace of the Force, no one would have to pay any price for this incident beyond Qui-Gon himself. Only one man would bear the shame of these suspicions, and it was a price Qui-Gon was willing to pay.

He wrapped his arms around Obi-Wan, smelling the clean scent of his young lover. *I will make myself worthy of this moment. I will make myself good and strong. I will be vigilant against the Dark and its Minions. I will make myself a person deserving of his love. Then I will leave it to him, let him decide whether or not he chooses to give that love. I will.*

Obi-Wan turned, resting his cheek against Qui-Gon's chest, kissing just above his nipple. "Go to sleep, Master."

And with a smile, Qui-Gon stilled his mind to obey.

Sleep hadn't lasted long. Qui-Gon had almost wished he had a bad habit to indulge in while Obi-Wan slept in his bed. Being that close to warm skin had been distracting, even in slumber. Qui-Gon was sitting in the low window seat, watching the rise and fall of Obi-Wan's breath. The sky was still dark, stars glittering in the far distance but his reason for being awake had nothing to do with his long habit of being an early riser. No, the fact was, Qui-Gon Jinn was pretty much wrung out, in much need of rest, long deep sleep to rejuvenate his resources in a way touching the Force could never provide. And he wasn't going to get it. He'd been awake for almost an hour, thinking about Torlamin, about Cord, trying to find some kind of resolution to her ... madness, turning, six of one, half a dozen the other ...

Qui-Gon was wiped, useless and about to start a long day of work with his Padawan, a ritual he fair ached for against the backdrop of this mess Arjet had dragged him into.

*He gives over to dreams with much abandon, my Padawan.* Qui-Gon watched his student with care. *Poor Obi-Wan. With me as his Master, he's never even really embraced the Code. The only 'law' I held him to was the Padawan Litany, which, you've got to admit, Old Man, isn't the most far-reaching text in the Galaxy.* Qui-Gon quirked a smile. He'd always felt it strange that so few Masters paid attention to their Litany, what it meant, what it implied. And the fact that there were but few Padawans who could not quote it from memory said something for the kind of thought that was becoming prevalent in the younger set. He'd even heard Obi-Wan follow his own recitation with a review of the Master's Litany on occasion, as if to remind himself of what would be expected of him.

The oddest thing was he never seemed to expect Qui-Gon to live up to it. Perhaps he thought Qui-Gon saw it in much the same light as he saw the Code. Well, there was still time to prove a student wrong on one or two points. A huge yawn took Qui-Gon completely by surprise. *Best to do this and be done with it.*

He lifted his comm link and chimed for Arjet. A moment passed, long enough for two or three chimes, then "Paje."

"Arjet, it's Qui-Gon."

"Hey Quigs! Didn't know you'd turned nocturnal, too," Arjet's voice was smiling and alert.

"Didn't. Couldn't sleep. I need to ask a favor."

"Anything within my power. You know that." Arjet was all seriousness in an instant.

"I want Obi-Wan off Coruscant as soon as possible. I don't want him here until this whole thing with Torlamin is resolved." Qui-Gon looked at the sleeping body in his bed and clamped down hard on the longing that sprang up in his heart ... and other places. "I don't want him involved in this."

A long pause from Arjet's end, then he asked "Why?"

Qui-Gon turned the answer over in his head for a long moment before replying. "Can I call it a family tradition and get off the hook?"

"No," Arjet replied. "I know for a fact your master didn't ship you off when this sort of thing came up."

"It's just a ... it's silly, but I can't shake the thought that Obi-Wan shouldn't BE here, not now. There's something he has to do or learn, or maybe somewhere he has to be. It's not just because of this ... Torlamin thing, but it's not solid enough to call it foretelling ... " Qui-Gon sighed.

"You have a feeling about this one?" Arjet pressed.

"Yeah, and it pretty much says get him far away from us and soon."

There was silence from Arjet's end, then he came back saying "there's a survey mission going out to the Perrys sector in a couple of days. I could get him assigned to it, as a shepherded Padawan, but ... "

"But what? Dangerous, deadly, bad scene with the locals?" Qui-Gon pressed.

"No, no more than usual. If it were only that I wouldn't worry about someone you trained. It's the safest thing the Temple has going right now, I'll promise you that. It's the survey leader. I think he is one you have no liking for, where Obi-Wan is concerned," Arjet hedged.


"Knight Obream Trydal."

Qui-Gon forced himself to continue breathing. "I ... can't make that choice for him. Especially if this is to be a shepherd mission. He'll have to face this sooner or later. I'll talk to him about it."

"You'd have to lift the stricture you have in place. That will take some time, anyway. I can hurry it along, but bureaucracy is not a speedy thing."

"It will give me time to speak with Obi-Wan. I'll let you know for sure in a day or so. Jinn out."

Qui-Gon put his comm link away and stretched, trying to decide what to do until Obi-Wan woke. When he'd finished, he realized Obi-Wan's eyes were open.

"Come here," Obi-Wan held his hand out.

Qui-Gon shook his head. "Can't. Work to do." Another yawn, a rub at his eyes and Qui-Gon started to order his student up for the day.

Obi-Wan pushed the sheets back, revealing undeniable proof that sleep had its predictable effects on his youthful body. Qui-Gon moaned quietly.

"Come here, please, my Master," Obi-Wan purred.

Qui-Gon obeyed, sitting on the edge of the bed and pulling his shirt off before he stretched out next to his sweet, warm, absolutely stunning lover. Obi-Wan leaned over and claimed his mouth in a kiss, strong, hot and needy. Qui-Gon answered just as powerfully, focusing all of his attention on the taste of his Padawan.

Which is why it was such a surprise when Obi-Wan's mental Suggestion to sleep pushed him over into dreams. He struggled against that sure command for a brief instant, then relented with a dim sense of amusement. //Thank you, Koatel.//

Obi-Wan chuckled as he pulled the sheets over his deeply sleeping master. "Maybe I should have gotten you more undressed for bed, my Master, but if I had, you'd've never gotten the rest you so need."

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 9.99: Satori, Vin-Dit, Tsunami: Connection

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

104 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written February 20, 2000 by HiperBunny

Setting: Star Wars Episode 1

Primary Races: Human

Contents: Slash (M/M). Alternate Universe, Angst, Fraternization, Sex (First Time)

Pairings: Obi-Wan/ Qui-Gon

Blurb: A funeral for a foe, a sudden gain, arguments won and lost.

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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