Bonds of Choice 9.99:
Satori, Vin-Dit, Tsunami: The Present

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

Qui-Gon was awakened by the chime of his comm link. He summoned it to his hand without even opening his eyes. "Jinn."

"Quigs?" It was Arjet Paje.

"Damnit, Arjet, can't you ever wait till I'm awake before you call me?" Qui-Gon grumbled.

"Not today, Quigs. Need a favor," Arjet informed him.

"Oh shit. What happened?" Qui-Gon began rubbing the sleep from his eyes and mentally reviewing what he would need to pack for an emergency mission.

"You know, I'm not always the harbinger of doom. Teril just called me and said the Council is giving Swed his Trials," the tone of pride was heavy in Arjet's voice.

"That's wonderful! Who's standing vigil with him?" Qui-Gon inquired.

"Well, Teril is going to do it, but she was going to be helping Jenji with her glass sculptures today. She asked if one of us could go assist with the creation of High Art while she does the vigil. I already agreed to second Jayden, and Elan's off-planet right now. So that leaves you," Arjet cleared his throat. "I mean, if you would. I don't like the idea of her floating around unattended while Teril does something like that. Emotional feedback can do strange things, especially with a pair as close as that. Do you know anything about glassblowing?"

"A little. Do you think she'd accept me?" Qui-Gon hadn't spent much time with Padawan Sharoum until recently. He liked her, genuinely respected her talent, but he found her penchant for periodically hurling truth at the unwary to be somewhat offputting. Teril was of the opinion that these revelations denoted great need, but Qui-Gon remained unconvinced.

"Of course. She suggested it herself."

"Well, I suppose it would be best to have someone with her, at least while Teril and Swed get started," Qui-Gon allowed.

"Well, since you're willing, get some breakfast and meet her in the sculpture workroom. She said an hour after sunrise, just to be sure she's all distracted when Teril and Swed get really started," Arjet replied.

"Absolutely. It sounds like fun," Qui-Gon assured Arjet.

Qui-Gon set the crono to wake him in time to meet Jenji and turned over to grab a couple more hours sleep.

When he finally made it to the workroom Jenji had reserved for the day, he felt a little more steady. It was good to spend this time with Obi-Wan's friends, just as it was good for Obi-Wan to spend time with Masters and Knights. His student was reaching the age when he would need to begin learning he was an equal member of the Order, and not just because of his own, personal problems. Obi-Wan Kenobi would be a great Jedi Knight, and to do that, he would have to understand his place amongst his friends and compatriots.

And if Qui-Gon was to be with him, in any way, he too would have to understand Obi-Wan's place.

Jenji was working with glass, as Arjet had said she would be. She sat at a small table, colored glass rods arranged beside her. A short flame rose up from a burner before her and she used it to give shape to her creations. He watched as nimble fingers crafted a perfect, glittering leaf of white and green glass, making it to be the very image of a single leaf fluttering in the wind. She lay it down beside several others and turned the fire off. "Good day, Master Jinn."

"Good day, Padawan Sharoum. I'm told I am to be your work partner today. Command me, and it is yours," he bowed, giving a little smile.

She noted at his heavy work tunic and pants then gave a satisfied nod. "Have you ever worked with hot glass?" she inquired.

He shook his head no.

"Okay, well ... we'll give it a shot, anyway. Um, let me show you the design we're doing and then we'll get down to the mechanics of it all," she led him into a small side-room where one wall was covered in a strange watercolor painting. "See, it's not an exact science. This is, more or less, what I want at the end of it all. It's too big to make all at once, so I have to make it a piece at a time and come as close to this idea as I can."

Qui-Gon was taken aback by the details she had incorporated in the massive design. It was, indeed, the Pantreti/Ulanta union he had learned from Swed the day before. But there were hundreds of icons, love-tokens, marriage gifts and so forth incorporated in the design. "Are you making all this yourself?"

"No, of course not. This is a collective project by several artists. Some of this stuff is being made offworld, at other Temples, but most of it is being put together here. It's to be displayed at the gallery in the Senate complex. They're very puffed up to have Jedi artwork over there," she snorted. "As if this has anything to do with being Jedi."

Qui-Gon chuckled. "It's wonderful. What do you call it?"

Jenji shrugged. "The Grand Illusion."

Qui-Gon gave her a sharp look, then turned back to the design. Yes, he could see that, now. A great monument to the frailty of love, all made of glass. He shook his head. "That's very deep."

She shrugged again. "Come on, we need to get this done, here. I want to get this branch finished so I can start working out the vine design that will go with it. Come here and I'll show you part of the companion piece."

She led him to the larger workroom again and opened a large storage case. "This one's called 'Ironblood', but it's actually titanium. Good colors and so forth," she said, lifting a large metal sculpture. "I like this one better."

He had to agree. The multicolored chains were not as graceful, but had more appeal to his sense of true love. "Poles of a common idea?"

"Yeah. They'll really look good when we get them finished. The Illusion is more about ephemeral concepts, cultural ideas. Ironblood is drawn from actual relationships. Every element has a true-life counterpart. I did a design for you and Obi-Wan, but I don't know if we'll be able to use it. He didn't seem real sure of what you two are up to, so ... "

Qui-Gon nodded ruefully.

"It's not his fault. He had a bad start. I can't say I helped very much, to change his mind about what possibilities existed for him in that quarter. He'll be okay, eventually, but ... right now?" she shrugged.

"What do you mean?" he pressed.

She didn't answer immediately. Instead, she put the metalwork away and headed back towards the glassworking setup. Finally she sighed. "I'm sure however you began was beautiful and honorable. I'm just not sure he's up to seeing the ramifications inherent in who you are and what this could be, for him."


She flapped her arms in eloquent futility. "Well, is it just sex? Because if it is, you're in trouble. Sexual relationships are his specialty. He separates those experiences from his heart. Totally."

"He's getting better," Qui-Gon defended his lover.

"Sure, better. But well? Not yet. Not for a while, I'd think. Knight Trydal sort of fucked it up for the rest of us. He romanced a very young, very open and giving person then dumped him on his ass. It's a lesson Obi-Wan took to heart and never let go of. Swore off love for good and stuck to it, as far as I can tell. Seduction he's very okay with. Emotional connection? No way."

"Meaning I'm at the wrong place at the wrong time and there's nothing to be done for it?" he pressed.

"Basically. Maybe if you haven't been intimate yet, it'll work out ... " she raised her eyebrow hopefully.

"No, we're ... intimate," Qui-Gon replied faintly.

"Hmm." She scrubbed her hand through the short green hair on her neck. "Well, maybe there's a way to make up for that. I don't know. He seems to think a sexual relationship precludes a loving pair. Sleeping with him to show love is probably a mistake, at this point in his life. I should know. I managed to make that mistake, myself."

"It sounds like something you've put a lot of thought into ... " Qui-Gon tilted his head to one side, inviting more information.

Jenji nodded. "I started having precognitive indications on the two of you some time ago. I kept an eye on it, but ... I suppose it never occurred to me that you would sleep with him before you were both very sure of what you wanted."

"It was rather sudden," Qui-Gon explained. "I can't say I put a lot of thought into it, beforehand."

"That was ... Master, I hope you'll forgive me for saying so, but that was rather foolish."

Qui-Gon frowned. "Explain."

"Do you have any Foresight?" she asked.

"Yes, a bit. I can see the Moment and the Tapestry ... "

"But you're not given to foretelling or anything like that?"

"No. I DID look into the Moment and the Future, afterwards. I didn't see anything alarming," he explained.

"But what were you looking for?" she inquired.

Qui-Gon furrowed his brow, trying to remember what it was he had sought. "Possibility. Viability. I looked to see if there was a chance of our having a deeper, committed relationship. The threads seemed to go in that direction ... "

"I see," she murmured, rubbing her forehead. "Would you be so kind as to show me?"

Qui-Gon nodded and settled onto his knees. She took up a similar posture opposite him and they joined hands. Qui-Gon steadied his breathing and turned his concentration inward, seeking the calm center within and stretching towards clarity and vision. He sensed Jenji going through a similar preparation, then felt the thread of her thoughts reaching out to him.

##Can you find ... ##

//Here,// he replied, laying his personal vision of his life-thread between them. His own destiny and Obi-Wan's, twined firmly together through virtue of their bond. //Here is his Knighting ... you see? If he comes to love me before this time, all will be well ...//

##That is a rather large 'if', Master Jinn ... look here ... ## and Jenji drew Obi-Wan's thread into sharp relief, bringing it into tighter focus. ##Do you see this?##

Qui-Gon scrutinized the tiny fragment of Obi-Wan's 'self' as instructed. To him, it looked almost ... frayed. Fuzzy. //That's not a ... //

## I'm afraid it is. A branching. A moment of choice. Every tiny filament here is a possibility, an option he will select from. Here's love, here's solitude, here's casual pairing, here's a purely sexual relationship, here's suicide, here's rejection, and they're all equally plausible. If he chooses this,## and here she drew the 'love' filament out from the others ##it will strengthen and become the future you desire.##

Qui-Gon followed the filament and saw how it fed directly into himself, binding them together, forever. //And the others?//

##Well, look for yourself. Should he choose solitude, which you might notice is a stronger filament than 'love', you will continue as friends for a time, then ... nothing. He has every option in the world, and nothing to encourage him to one over another. Any path is his to take ... ##

//And the branches of Destiny will answer to his selection,// Qui-Gon finally realized.

##See back here? This is where the fraying started from, ## Jenji showed him the place, the fusion that indicated Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's sexual union. ##This started his confusion that leads to this choice.##

//But, look ... if there was no sexual union ... these options wouldn't even exist. There would be no hope ... //

## We don't know that. I don't know what these threads looked like, before. This fusion is a place where you both selected from many options. I don't see any further choices to your part, Master.##

Qui-Gon drew his own thread up, looking closely. //No, you're mistaken. Look here, I have a choice, as well ...//

And it was true. The 'fray' wasn't as noticeable as Obi-Wan's, but it existed nonetheless. Tiny, near-microscopic filaments of possible options fanned out from himself to Obi-Wan.

##Okay, what are the options? Look, patience, surrender, rejection, self-preservation ... you have yet some small choices to make, but your major thread is woven. You've decided to love him, that much is obvious. The only question left is how you will go about that love. ##

//It isn't either/or, Padawan. I can combine these, make this a stronger connection ... //

##But you still have no influence over Obi-Wan's choice. Any number of HIS decisions cancel out most of YOUR options ... and the fact that there is a sexual relationship NOW narrows his choices considerably. Pure instinct, on his part, will guide him away from the threads that would most strengthen your desired future ... ##

//Something could change, something could move him ... // Qui-Gon knew he was grasping at straws, now.

##Unless something powerful alters his basic assumptions about love and living. I'm sorry, I just don't see what would make him take the risk of loving you. ## Jenji's tone was apologetic, but firm.

And Qui-Gon let the Moment go, head aching with the truth of her interpretation.

He stood walked in a small circle, trying to internalize all that he now so painfully knew. He had believed his time was long, that he would have many opportunities to win Obi-Wan. Now, it was obvious that such time was nonexistent. He had dawdled, focusing on Obi-Wan's need for a patient, understanding companion. He had ignored his own needs and desires. He had, in essence, jeopardized his opportunity with the only person he truly cared for ... and through mere inaction.

Qui-Gon sat down hard. "Padawan, I believe I screwed up most sincerely."

"Well, you might have done better with a little planning, yes. I wish you had asked about him, before you put yourself in this position. And him. I think you want someone who will trust in you, as well as love you. Master, everyone knows he doesn't have it to give. Not many do." Jenji knelt down beside Qui-Gon.

"Something tells me you're speaking from other than your experience," Qui-Gon murmured.

She touched her head. "Foretelling, you know. Among other things. He's not ready to love a lover. At least, he's not ready to give all of himself to love a lover. You're different from most, of course. You have the best chance with him ... but I think maybe if you'd started out differently ... Well, that assumes you wanted to pair with him, rather than dally."

Qui-Gon fixed her with a hard stare. "I don't 'DALLY' with my students, Padawan. My feelings for him have the purest intent."

She sat back on her heels. "Well, then, I'd say you have quite a problem. I mean, unless something basic and essential changes for him ... no way. You might have looked into this before you slept with him. I mean ... didn't you know?"

The words hit the master like a blaster shot. No, he hadn't checked, hadn't made himself clear, had failed to do so from almost the very beginning. Just as he had not been clear about his own sexual desires, he had not been certain of Obi-Wan's emotional ones. And now he was hearing words that all but sealed the doom of his love for his student. It couldn't be! He'd looked into it later ... knew the possibility for lasting love to exist ... but it was only possibility and that with a time limit. One he hadn't taken full advantage of, to say the least. Qui-Gon wrapped his arms around his head, fighting for balance. A low keening escaped him.

"I'm going to take that as a no. Okay, hang on." Jenji was quiet for a long moment. "Okay, Corubia's on her way. We'll figure something out, I promise. Just, be cool, okay? Calm down."

Granger's bar was even more disgusting after a long night's revel. Obi-Wan was more than willing to follow Scratch's insistence that he remain quiet and calm, keeping his own involvement to a minimum. There were a handful of rather rough-looking characters gathered at the bar when they entered. Scratch pointed to one of the filthy tables and went to join them. Obi-Wan went and took his seat, opened his bag and laid out his supplies.

He assembled his comm link and lightslate into a single unit and set the slate to record the proceedings, finishing up just as Scratch and Granger sat down at the table with him. He looked at his pilot expectantly.

"These are all the beings he could find who have been in Eab Nanoorn and Ero Phelian recently. They're willing to talk to you, which should be a sign as to how bad things are getting out this way," Scratch informed him.

Obi-Wan nodded and thumbed the 'transcribe' key on the lightslate. Granger waved a hand to someone at the bar and a third being joined them at the table.

"This is Capan Demal. He's a ... shipper," Scratch introduced.

"Demi tawtaw," Obi-Wan bowed to the slender, purple-haired caninoid. With one hand he keyed in the note 'smuggler' on the lightslate.

Capan Demal began speaking in a long monologue of Tene Tatu, heavily accented with barks and growls, punctuated with deeply affronted yips. Scratch translated, with some effort, the coordinates and last-known whereabouts of several spacers and pilots. Then came a new bit of information.

"Capan says Dubian was bringing in a shipment of weapons about two weeks ago. The order came in on a credit float, no names, no account numbers, just a set of orders and coordinates. They found the hull of his ship, the Sabomu, drifting near an unpopulated moon. The hull was breached, Dubian was frozen stiff at the helm ... no sign of who did it. Weapons are flat gone, but ... whoever did it had the security codes to pop the shipping containers. They were still there, too. No sign of scrambling the locks or forcing them open," Scratch explained.

"Where is the Sabomu now?" Obi-Wan asked, not looking up from his annotations.

"Scrap yard on Tentua. We might be able to get hold of it for you ... "

Obi-Wan nodded, making a note to see this was done eventually.

Capan shrugged, an interesting gesture considering his almost total lack of shoulders. "Ketun kep tara du Sith."

Obi-Wan's head came up. "What was that?"

"He says it's a trouble brought by the Sith. I think he means it literally, but ... you know ... " Scratch shrugged.

Obi-Wan nodded again. "What else?"

"That's all he knows."

The interviews continued in this vein. Free pilots, pirates, smugglers, traders of all sorts showing up dead or just not showing up at all. Shipments of people, mostly fighters, and weapons going into Eab Nanoorn and Ero Phelian and disappearing without a trace. The latest shipments were mostly of body armor and transport parts, coming in from all over the galaxy. It all pointed to one conclusion. Someone was building themselves a private army right here in Republic space. Every single informant had the same opinion. 'Ketun kep tara du Sith.'

Obi-Wan bowed his thanks to the last interview subject and rubbed his temples. "Privacy?" he requested of his tablemates. They stood and joined the others at the bar.

Obi-Wan opened his comm link, patched through to the transmitter aboard the Nathaniel Bereak and coded a call out to Coruscant. The relays took a few moments to connect, then there was a pause while security codes were traded. Finally a subject query prompt came up on his screen. He stared at it for a long moment, trying to decide. This wasn't something he could dump on the Council. Wasn't something that required emergency action. Didn't belong to the Senate associates. If he told Qui-Gon, his Master would just order him to grab the next available transport and meet him in Eab Nanoorn. He sighed and chimed for Arjet Paje. To his frustration, the master was not available to receive a call. He left a message and settled in to wait.

Jenji paced the length of the studio, trying not to look at Qui-Gon Jinn. A strong, dangerous Jedi Master rocking and weeping in the floor is not the most comforting sight a Padawan can be treated to. She sighed in relief when Corubia entered. Corubia took one look at Qui-Gon and demanded "What did you do to him?"

"Nothing!" Jenji protested. "We were talking about Obi-Wan and ... I guess he didn't know about Obi swearing off love ... "

"You IDIOT!!!" Corubia shouted. She knelt down next to Qui-Gon and started stroking his hair. "Master Jinn? Master Jinn? I need you to listen to me. It's not like she said it was. Obi's just confused about some stuff, you know? He cares about you, I promise."

Qui-Gon's head snapped up. "I know bullshit when I hear it, Padawan. I've been an idiot for these past months. A damned fool. I've been pouring my heart out to this half-trained BOY and he's been using me like the slut he thinks I am. I can do without your sympathy, thank you very much."

"Master Jinn, that's our brother you're talking about," Corubia managed to sound warning at that. "And your Padawan. Do you really think you could have raised someone who could be so cruel to someone who's done nothing but care about him?"

"No, Padawan. Then again, I never thought I could train someone who would turn to the Dark, either! Oh, for skies sake. I don't need a bunch of Padawans henning me!" He jerked away from her hand and headed out the door.

The two friends stared after him for a long moment. "Well?" Jenji finally asked.

"Keep tabs on him. Follow him when you can. When he goes to roost, we'll get to him again. Fuck. Kenobi's gonna kill us if we screw up their chances together," Corubia kicked Jenji. "What the hell were you thinking?"

"Damnit, Cor, it was the truth. He deserves to know what he's up against!" She defended herself.

"That was just cold and I don't even know what you said to him," Corubia growled. "This isn't helping. Give him some lead time, then we go to him," Corubia decided. "I'm going to get Master Paje. He might know what to do. Damnit, Jenji! Damn men in general, too," she added, for good measure.

A short jog down the hall to the lifts and Corubia stopped to hunt her Master. She hadn't really tried to touch Arjet's mind before and suddenly wished they'd had time for a more controlled experiment. She took a deep, calming breath and focused on the still-freshly-forged bond between herself and her teacher. ::Master?::

<<Yes, Padawan?>>

She sighed in relief, then steeled herself for whatever punishment might come of the day's events. ::Qui-Gon's in trouble. I need your help.::

<<Of course. Where are you?>>

::At the lifts near the art rooms.::

<<Don't move. Who's keeping tabs on Quigs?>>

::Jenji's following him.::

<<Good girl. I'll be right there.>>


::Yeah, Jen?::

## I lost him.##

::Okay, stay right where you are. We'll be right there. Don't run from me. You'll only die tired.::

##He went into the Armory. I don't have access codes to get in there.##

Corubia's heart froze at that. The Armory held enough weapons and instruments of mayhem to take out a good-sized army. *Skies above, please don't let him ...* The ding of an arriving lift broke her train of thought. Arjet stepped out and looked around. "He's gone in the Armory, Master ..."

"Come on, no time to lose," Arjet held the lift door and they were soon speeding their way upwards, hoping their efforts would not come too late.

Qui-Gon sat on the Temple walls, knees pulled up to his chest, trying to make himself do that which he did not wish to do.

*Forget it, Jinn,* his mind insisted.

*I absolutely will NOT,* his heart replied.

Qui-Gon, the man, was caught between the two impulses, unable to find his way.

*Go on,* his mind said. *It's better to stop now, before the roots are too deep.*

*I absolutely will not give up so easily.*

Qui-Gon couldn't decide whether that came from his heart or himself. It certainly sounded like something the most stubborn, hidebound, prideful Jedi to ever walk or crawl would say. "But wasn't it your pride that got you here in the first place, Jinn? Your confidence that he would love you just as deeply as you love him?"

"He will, Quigs. You have to give him time."

Qui-Gon turned to see a small crowd of figures hovering near the doorway. "Never can leave well enough alone, can you, Arjet?"

"I'll leave you alone when you're well enough to be left alone," his friend replied. "You scared the snot out of two senior Padawans and a Master just now. That's got to be some kind of record, even for you."

Qui-Gon wanted to say 'They started it,' but even he knew how childish that sounded. He settled for an annoyed snort.

"Master Jinn?"

Qui-Gon recognized the voice as Padawan Sharoum. "Yes, Padawan?"

"I brought something ... I thought it might help ... " Jenji came to settle next to Qui-Gon on the edge of the wall. Qui-Gon wanted to make her scoot back, remove herself from the danger of a fall. Pointless. Qui-Gon would no more allow Jenji to fall than he would reject her attempts to soothe Qui-Gon's hurt feelings. He sensed the others settling around him, carefully bracketing him and cutting off all routs of escape.

Jenji began to hum some low, soothing tune, and threw Corubia a look. Corubia smiled back and began to sing with the other Padawan.

"Long and slow and ever-lasting
Drawn from one to bind another
Though feast surrounds me I am fasting
Waiting for my one true lover

Patient will my lover be
Willing evermore to wait
Until the time that I can see
That my lover is my mate

I am fire, ever burning
For myself, I'm ever-chill
Until love for which I'm yearning
Lets my spirit drink its fill

Patient will my lover be
Willing evermore to wait
Until the time that I can see
That my lover is my mate"

The song continued, Jenji's soprano twining with Corubia's sure, calm alto. No one had to tell Qui-Gon who had penned these hopeful words. They wouldn't have brought them to him unless Obi-Wan had expressed himself this way. When the song was done, He turned to them. "Okay, you've made your point. If I bide my time, I still have something like a chance. Patience is still part of my best course of action. But how do I turn that chance into a reality?"

The Padawans exchanged a round of looks, clearly sharing a conversation the Masters were not invited to join in on. "Well, us. We know Kenobi like no one else. Swed, too. If he won't come willingly to your love ... we submarine him."

Qui-Gon smiled at that.

"First things first. You've got to be honest with him, let him know who you are, or this is never going to work," Jenji put a hand on his arm. "That was 90% of our problem. Too many assumptions, not enough truth."

Qui-Gon groaned at that. "But I can't just shatter his idea of me as his master!"

"Then you can give up on the idea of him being your mate anytime soon. Stop whining and come on." Arjet came to help Qui-Gon up.

"Second things second, we're telling you every scrap of dirt we have on him. That's, what, seventeen years worth? We'd better get started," Corubia grinned from the other side of her master.

"Not now, my Padawan. Master Jinn and I have work to do before he can get the gossip on his student," Arjet insisted. "You all go on, we'll catch up to you later."

The Padawans went ahead as Qui-Gon collected himself. Arjet lagged behind. "You came up here to give up on him, didn't you?"

Qui-Gon nodded.

"Foolish mortal. Trying to quit the game before it has even started. Come on, I can't wait to hear more about this Padawan of yours. And we need to start with Torlamin before that can happen. The time grows near," Arjet slung his arm around Qui-Gon's shoulders and pulled him towards the Armory door. "Why don't you go get a snack and I'll meet you at the lower level concourse."

Qui-Gon nodded his acceptance, firmly refusing to listen to the argument still going on within him. *If anyone can help me, it's these children. *

Obi-Wan gave a sigh of relief when his lightslate finally signaled an incoming transmission. To his surprise, the signal was voice only. "Paje."

"Master Paje? Did I disturb you?" Obi-Wan inquired.

"Not possible, friend. What's going on?" The master inquired.

"You said to call you if I needed help."

"And you find that you do?"

"Very much so. Do you know anything about this garbage going on in Ero Phelian and Eab Nanoorn?" Obi-Wan asked.

Suddenly his screen was filled with the anxious face of Master Paje. "What have you got?"

Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow at that, but replied "I have some information about a possible situation out that way."

Arjet gave a steady look at the Padawan, seeming to study the scene behind him. "Where are you?"

Obi-Wan looked around Granger's bar and tried to think of a proper way to explain the establishment. His eyes fell on the group at the bar. "I believe it could accurately be described as a wretched hive of scum and villainy."

"And you're calling me about rumors from this place?" Arjet suddenly sounded less receptive.

"I ... didn't know what to do, Master. I have a round dozen criminals and cutthroats spilling their guts to me, asking for help from the Jedi. I'd say they're pretty serious about it. I thought ... well ... it doesn't look good." Obi-Wan shrugged. "Master Jinn says truth comes of desperation, in places like this. And money. I gave them some money, too ... "

Arjet smiled. "Good! Okay, that does sound a lot more reliable. What have you got?"

"There's a pile of transcripts here, do you want me to just send those?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Yes, perfect. Fabulous. Remind me to tell your master he's trained you well," Arjet said, clearing him for data relay.

Obi-Wan nodded, intending to do no such thing. "Here it comes."

There was a blackout on the screen as the data transferred, then Arjet came back online. "I'll send this out to the Group operative immediately. Tell them we're out there and working on it. Make no promises, but get their agreement to help if we need it. Can you handle that?"

Obi-Wan inclined his head. "Yes, Master Paje."

"Good. See you when you get home." The transmission ended.

Obi-Wan shut his slate down and stretched, well aware of the many watchful gazes upon him. He waved Scratch over. "We're sending the information to the Jedi in that sector. We've got one of our specialists on it right now, but ... " He shrugged. "It's not good. We can't get ... our person ... into any of the places we need to go. Locked up pretty tight, you know." He pointed with his chin towards the group at the bar. "The ones we need to speak with aren't exactly Jedi-friendly." The conglomeration of lie and truth spilled out easily, from years of long practice.

Scratch nodded and returned to the bar. There was a long conversation, parts of it at high volume, before Scratch returned. "We're willing to help," he said. "What can we do?"

Obi-Wan put on his enigmatic look. "Nothing for now, except listen and watch and be ready. When we move, we move quickly. When we are still and silent, we are as the mountains."

Scratch nodded slowly. "You all have a plan ready, but you can't move yet."

Obi-Wan kept his expression bland.

"Okay. Fine. Sit there and be a Jedi. You don't believe the Sith exist, you don't believe a word we've said!" Scratch growled.

Obi-Wan studied his fingernails intently. "If I did not believe you, I would have told you. And I know there are still Sith about, or at least Dark Jedi, which pretty much amounts to the same thing. I killed one myself not a month ago. It's in the Temple records, if you're interested."

Scratch sucked in his breath. "No," he whispered.

"It would seem the problems of belief and faith were not within the Jedi, my friend."

Scratch nodded slowly and returned to the bar. Obi-Wan focused on the emotions and reactions there as Scratch relayed his directives. There was some anger, lots of frustration, but an overpowering sense of resolve and militancy. Protectiveness. Need for action. Good.

Scratch signaled to him that it was time to go and Obi-Wan followed him outside. The streets were dark, and the speeder was parked some few blocks away in a slightly safer area. As they walked, a tingle started at the base of Obi-Wan's neck. He glanced around, seeking the source of that tiny signal. He slipped his hand into his shoulder bag, preparing his less-obvious sidearm. No need to flash his lightsaber if it could be avoided.

The shot came from ahead and to the left. Scratch threw himself into a doorway just as Obi-Wan dropped to his knee and fired his silent projectile with deadly accuracy. A moan and a thump told him he had been successful.

He held his pose as he reloaded, scanning the area with every sense available to him. The tingling had stopped, so he rose to inspect his fallen foe.

The would-be assassin had no identification on him, of course, but Scratch sucked in a breath as Obi-Wan turned him over. A rich, golden ichor flowed from the abdominal wound and no signs of life were evident. "Know him?" Obi-Wan asked.

"Recognize him. He was outside the farmer's collective when we left ... I think," the Pilot hazarded.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and thought back to that afternoon. Scratch was right. He'd been slouching around, seeming to wait for someone or something, the whole time Obi-Wan had sat and waited for Scratch to finish up his personal resupply arrangements. "Okay, so was that a shot for you, or for me?"

Scratch shrugged. "Let's go look."

They left the body where it had fallen and went to inspect the blaster score upon the stone wall of the building. Obi-Wan eyed the angle and the street. "Well, he wasn't gunning for me, anyway. You got any enemies, man?"

"You just spent all night hearing about them, Jedi," Scratch growled. "What was that you did to him? More Jedi tricks?"

Obi-Wan laughed and shook his head no. He held his weapon out for the pilot's inspection. "Slingshot. No one EVER expects this."

Scratch laughed with him. "And why would they?"

Obi-Wan shrugged. "Master says 'Expect the unexpected and you'll never be disappointed.' I don't like to disappoint folk."

Scratch threw his arm around Obi-Wan's shoulder. "I really need to meet this master of yours."

The rest of the walk back to the speeder was uneventful, but Obi-Wan's mind was troubled. The killing had been necessary, but too fast. He might have just done in a major source of information, had he been able to get the being back to the tender mercies of Master Paje. He sighed. *No use dwelling on the past, Kenobi. You did the best you could with a bad situation.* It seemed less than prudent to mention the incident to his shepherd, or to make note of it in his mission log. He'd lay it on Arjet when he got home, then the Council if Master Paje thought it best.

He glanced over at the pilot for a long moment, considering. If they'd come for him once, they might come for him again. Perhaps his companion might be of use ... Obi-Wan shivered. No matter how long or hard he trained, he could never get used to the idea of turning someone into live bait.

Not that this would stop him, should it turn out to be necessary.

*Skies send there will be another way.*

Obi-Wan dumped his pack onto his bunk with a sigh. The meeting with the pilots had taken a lot out of him, but now it was over. He had spent the entire ride home purging himself of pain and guilt for the violent exchange that had followed and made note of his progress in his the mission log. Even now, here in his room it was an effort to still his thoughts. He let the stress go, centered himself on the moment and gave himself over to the guidance of the Force, feeling himself still in much need of quiet meditation. He had an impulse to seek a more solitary place, somewhere away from the Bereak. The Temple door stood open now, but his three companions were all aboard the ship, so he'd have the place to himself. He headed out with that goal in mind.

He smiled a little at that. There were many advantages to being a resident of the Temple at Coruscant, but there were any number of drawbacks as well. The main one, to Obi-Wan's way of thinking, was a total lack of privacy. Overpopulation didn't even begin to cover it. Although the Temple had been designed to create the illusion of aloneness for its residents, the fact remained that it was flatly impossible to get more than ten or twenty feet away from another being. Even if one had one's own room, like as not the rooms above and below, as well to either side would be occupied as well. For a Force-sensitive, it was like living in one huge, crowded room. There was always the pervasive sense that SOMEONE was nearby and watching.

The other major problem was time. If one did find one's self on-planet for enough time to do what one chose, there were always pressing matters that ate that time up rather easily. If not preparations for a new mission, then a friend would be on-planet as well, someone who had been missed and would be missed again before time could be spent with them once more. There were choices to be made, and usually no truly acceptable solutions. Obi-Wan was ever deciding between having lunch with a friend or holing up to meditate on personal problems because there wasn't time to do both.

Off-planet things got a little better. Even when mixed up in a complicated mission, the location was usually one where a person could get away, still the mind, be truly, calmly, quietly alone. It was a luxury to do so, and one Obi-Wan wanted to indulge in this very moment.

The Temple at San Saloor was as silent as a tomb. There was dust everywhere, the windows were shuttered to protect against looters and it had been vacant long enough to have lost the sense of those who had once made it their home. Obi-Wan felt like he was stepping onto untrod ground, an emissary from the outside world with no one there to greet him. It was fascinating and calming at the same time.

He let his inner senses guide him to the inevitable garden and he gasped when finally he entered them. Clearly this place had once been carefully tended, strictly laid out and maintained, but in absence of caretakers the plants had run riot. There were a large number of fruit trees, flowering plants, grasses and a sprinkling of weeds growing all together in a strange melange of vibrant freedom. Obi-Wan sank to his knees and breathed in the fragrant scent of some vine that had begun to dominate every surface in this end of the place. Perfect, silent paradise. The Perrys moon shone down upon him, and he tilted his face up to it, basking in its pale blue glow.

After a long moment, he stood and began to strip. This was a pleasure he had often dreamed of, but never found the opportunity to indulge. Once he was bare of clothing he knelt, turning his face up to the moonlight. The cool night air caressed his body, drawing his attention back into himself, his place under the stars. Focusing himself on his inner questions and delayed turmoil, he sent his question out into the Force. "What am I to do?"

He breathed slowly, fixing his eyes on the grasses before him. The Force pulsed and writhed as it filled him, a sort of wildness to it that he had never felt before. He closed his eyes to get a better focus on it. A heartbeat later it seemed as if his thoughts incandesced with sudden, blinding brightness and his awareness was shoved towards the reply.


"To withhold love out of nothing but fear will destroy you ... "


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

"I know, Obi-Wan. You think you have done so for your whole life. Know this, as sure as you know yourself. I love you, will love you, for as long as love can be."

The touch brought Obi-Wan completely within the moment, his awareness coming sharply to the now. Qui-Gon leaned forward, pressing a warm, soft kiss to the younger man's brow. With his lips he traced a slow tour of his soft cheek, along the jawline and over the dimpled chin before planting a smooch on the tip of his nose. Then Qui-Gon's mouth was on his, arms tight around him, lips strong and warm, beard tickling him gently as the kiss traveled again, taking the scenic route across cheeks and eyes, forehead, then back to the open wet mouth again. Tongues explored and memorized, laid claim and paid reverence in the infinite expanse of the moment. Obi-Wan filled his hands with the soft, long hair, the reality of that long-cherished dream overwhelming him as he struggled for breath, for life, for the touch and smell and feel of Qui-Gon Jinn.


"We are Jedi first, and servants to the Light."

Obi-Wan looked deep into his master's eyes. "First we are Jedi, servants of the Light."

Qui-Gon pressed his wrists back to the wall. "We are secondly Master and Padawan."

"Secondly, Master and Padawan."

"Only beyond that are we free to be lovers."

"Thirdly we are lovers, oh, that feels good," he whispered ...

"That third is just as true and unfaltering as the first two, Obi-Wan. No doubt, no fear on that. Do you promise?"

"Yes Master, I swear."


"I want you, Koateleu, but I won't do anything to hurt you." Qui-Gon took Obi-Wan's hand and tugged him towards the bed they had so chastely shared the night before.


"Shouldn't you be enjoying what time you have, knowing somebody is looking out for you?" Corubia took his face in her hands. "They're the only family we get."


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


"Obi-Wan, you can keep it. I want you to keep it, if you like having it. I just need to know you understand that things are ... different between us." Qui-Gon reached to stop Obi-Wan, but he found himself with nothing more than a tangle of silk ribbon in his fingers.

"There is nothing between us, my Master. There can not be, until we are both able to choose for there to be. I am not yet able to make that choice and you can not make it for me." Obi-Wan lost no time pulling his sock and boot back on.

"Then tell me why you took this? Why did you keep it if there is nothing between us?" Qui-Gon's voice was choked.


He stretched out on the bed and relaxed under the careful ministrations of his master's hands. When no explanation was forthcoming, he gathered his courage and whispered "why are you doing this?"

"Because you just saved my life and the lives of countless trillions all over the galaxy, from what I can tell. I think having a real live human being see to your hurts is the least that should be offered to you." Qui-Gon found a particularly achy place under Obi-Wan's right shoulder and began using light touches of the Force to relax the knots.


"To withhold that love out of nothing but fear will destroy you sooner. I must see to my duties. I think perhaps it is time you see to yours."


Obi-Wan stared up at the stars, mind in a daze of sudden understanding. He slowly became aware that he was lying on his back. His hands were crossed on his chest, surprisingly warm in the cool night air. "Okay, I see 'what'. I need to know 'how'," he spoke out loud to himself.

Apparently, the Force felt it was being addressed and rose up within him once more. "How?" but Obi-Wan never got to finish that question. The stars seemed to spark with red and yellow lightnings, and his mind made another abrupt trip into the moment.


"Obi-Wan, I know you're hurting, but you must try to calm yourself." Qui-Gon murmured, stroking his student's hair. He sighed. That bastard Obream was going to pay for this, just as soon as Obi-Wan was on steady ground.

"You don't understand," Obi-Wan moaned from the bottom of his pit of misery.

"I do, Padawan. I do. You're broken inside and hurting in ways you didn't think you knew how to. You feel betrayed and bereft and utterly, utterly alone. As if your whole existence is suddenly meaningless and worthless and a thousand other ugly things. And you probably feel any amount of hatred, anger, fear ... all the things you never want to feel. It's okay. You'll be okay, I promise," Qui-Gon pulled his young student down for another long hug.

"How do you know?" Obi-Wan demanded, all stubbornness and pride.

"Because I've been there, Obi-Wan. I've been down in that place, more times than I'd like to admit. You can't see it now, but there will be an end to this pain. It can't go on forever, especially if you don't allow it to," Qui-Gon tried to put into words the knowledge his student most needed right now.

"You've been here before? More than once? How could you stand it? How could you let this happen over and over?" Obi-Wan was sobbing and choking and shivering, trying so hard to understand and failing utterly.

"Look at me, Obi-Wan. Listen. You're talking about love. Love will not be denied, in any of its forms. If you feel it, you feel it, there's nothing you can do about that, just as you can't deny any other feeling you have. The only thing you can do anything about is how you act on it. You can choose to do nothing, or ... " he took Obi-Wan's hands in his and squeezed gently.

"Or you can put your head on the chopping block and let someone take a few swings at you," Obi-Wan sniveled.

"No. Never that," Qui-Gon rubbed his thumbs over the backs of Obi-Wan's hands. "Love is a very precious, volatile thing. Love done well, trustworthy love, faithful and well-shared love ... it is a gift. If you feel love for someone, you get a choice, every time. Offering yourself to another being in love is a choice about freedom. And it's a freedom you can allow yourself, or not. I have always preferred to be as free as I can, in whatever ways I can, with whomever is worthy of it."

"How do you know if someone's worthy?" Obi-Wan asked, voice still trembling.

"Well, neither you nor I are seers, so we don't really know," Qui-Gon allowed.

"And how do you know if you are worthy of another person's love," Obi-Wan demanded.

"Do you mean how do I know if YOU are worthy of love? Because I love you, Padawan, and you have never harmed me for it. You are caring and giving and faithful and true to me, your friends, your partners ... to total strangers who seek help from the Jedi through you. This was an act of injustice, Obi-Wan. Never doubt that." Qui-Gon looked into Obi-Wan's eyes and detected a spark of hope. He sighed with relief. "I think I heard that Swed was on planet. Why don't you spend some time with him? It would do you good ... "

Obi-Wan nodded slowly. "Thank you, Master. I think I will."


Obi-Wan rolled over, groaning. Ow. He moaned again, feeling like a dull-witted student who had suddenly realized that one plus one was two and always would be. *Now I understand why Qui-Gon says silence from the Force is more instructive than messages.*

Desire and courage. He cracked one eye open and regarded the stars with some suspicion. What was happening? The Force had never been so ... forceful before. He could still feel the thrumming pull of its energy tugging at him. "Not done yet?" he asked. He already knew his answer. "Mind if I just lay here?" No objections were raised. Okay, he had the 'what' and the 'how', knew the 'who'. It didn't seem like the 'where' was going to be a big problem ... ah. "When?"


The Council Chamber shone brightly about him as the sun rose upon this section of Coruscant. Obi-Wan went down on one knee before his master, holding his braid out carefully for the shears. His eyes fell upon Qui-Gon's chest, blinking rapidly. Something was missing ...

The shears came together over his hair and the world around him shattered.


The Council Chamber shone brightly about him as the sun rose upon this section of Coruscant. Obi-Wan went down on one knee before his master, holding his braid out carefully for the shears. His eyes fell upon Qui-Gon's chest, sunlight glittering beautifully upon the stone-and-crystal charm there. He blinked rapidly, clearing the glare from his eyes. So perfect ...

The shears came together and a universe of possibility opened around him.



The Padawan rolled over onto his back and rubbed the sand from his eyes. "How may I help you?"

Obream held out a hand to help him up. "Scratch said you'd be about done by now. Hungry?"

Obi-Wan stood, feeling surprisingly spry for someone who had just seen his past and his future laid out like a roadmap. "Yeah. You know that thing they say about being careful what you wish for?"

Obream nodded, a smile playing across his lips.

"I am here to tell you they are right," Obi-Wan announced. His knees buckled and Obream caught him about the waist.

"I'll make a note of that," he assured his sheep. "You want to get dressed, or what?"

Obi-Wan fumbled for his pants, managed to don them with Obream's help, and pulled his robe about him. "The rest can wait ... "

Obream smirked. "Okay, I guess so. Now, how about you come back with me, get a little rest and so forth? There's a long day of work for us tomorrow."

Obi-Wan nodded. "Did you know my Master is a very wise man?"

"MMm-hmmm," Obream assured him.

"Funny how you can miss something that's right in front of your face, isn't it?" Obi-Wan pressed.

"Sure. Listen, Kenobi ... could you stop talking until you're ready to make some sense?" Obream calmly requested.

"Oh sure. Sure," Obi-Wan agreed. "Sounds like a good idea."

Qui-Gon leaned against the cold stone wall, waiting for Arjet to arrive. When the other master finally turned up, he had an air of distraction about him that quite surprised Qui-Gon. He breifly considered asking what was wrong, but put the impulse aside. Arjet would fill him in if such sharing was appropriate. If it wasn't, there was nothing that could pry the facts from him. "To the Oubliette," Qui-Gon suggested, gesturing towards the subbasement door. "And let's be quick about this."

"Quick, but thorough," Arjet amended.

The trip down into the bowels of the Temple was easier this time. Qui-Gon had taken care to have a lightchip of his own. He held the little glow steady as the elder master coded the locks on the oubliette. Arjet paused in his sequence and gave Qui-Gon a considering look. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"

Qui-Gon frowned. "You want me to do it NOW? When did you have time for the prep work?"

Arjet glanced down. "No, no, that's what we're doing now. I just ... you really scared me up there, Quigs."

"That was your own misconceptions, Arjet. I had no intention of ... doing myself a harm. I just needed to get away and think about things," Qui-Gon sniffed. "Really."

"I hear you. Really," Arjet sniffed back.

"Look, we're just going to drug her and do the post-hyp, right? It wouldn't matter if my pet had died. I can do that in my sleep," Qui-Gon reminded him. "Remember that time I did it in the middle of a fire fight?"

Arjet smiled nostalgically. "Yeah ... "

"Damnit, Arjet, get your mind out of the gutter! And you say you're worried about me? I meant on Setar, with the Senator and his aid ... " Qui-Gon frowned sharply at Arjet's snickers. "Oh, open the door, you dirty old man!"

Arjet sobered himself and complied. The door swung open to reveal the crumpled form of the ex-Jedi master. "Well shit," he muttered.

Torlamin was a mess. Her clothes were bloody and ragged, covered in filth, her eyes were wild and feral. They fixed on Arjet with deadly intent and her fingers clenched hard. Arjet's eyes widened as his breathing was cut off abruptly. He raised his hand and spread his fingers, giving himself room to breath. "Rue, we really must work on your manners one of these days," he muttered. "Sleep."

She narrowed her eyes at him, blinked heavily and snarled.

"Gimme a hand, here, Quigs," Arjet murmured.

Qui-Gon slipped forward, attracting Torlamin's attention. "I spoke to Corubia today. She's doing well," he informed their captive. She bared her teeth, then spat. "Really. I'm glad to say she's dealing with all this rather well. I'd be glad to bring her down here, if you think you can behave yourself."

Something flickered in the madwoman's eyes, then she lashed out with a bare foot. Qui-Gon took half a step back, avoiding the blow. The next strike came from low and to the side, a fist of Force, seasoned with anger and malice. He held his palm out, deflecting it away from the room's occupants. He'd long been practicing to forego such physical gestures when it came to Force manipulation, but like Arjet he felt there were times when it was better to be sure than to be elegant.

*Obi-Wan seems to have quite the knack for non-gestural manipulation,* he mused inwardly. He kept a wary eye on Torlamin, ready to hold or still her by whatever means necessary. She had stilled, seeming to calculate her next move. *Wonder where he picked that up?*

The quality of that thought brought a smile to his lips. Arjet noticed and raised an eyebrow.

"What?" Qui-Gon asked.

"If I were a betting man, which I am, I'd lay good odds that you're thinking about that Padawan of yours," Arjet replied and turned back to his work at the side table.

"What makes you say that?" Qui-Gon asked, ducking another blow from Torlamin.

"You get this little smile ... it makes your eyes kind of ... crinkly," Arjet replied.

"My eyes do not crinkle," Qui-Gon protested.

"No, not usually. Only when you think about Obi-Wan and smile. The one generally follows the other, you understand," Arjet turned from the table, hypo in hand. "Hold her."

Qui-Gon did so for the few moments it took for Arjet to make the injection. They stood back to wait for the chemicals to take effect. "So what were you thinking?"

"What?" Qui-Gon turned to his friend once more.

"Obi-Wan. What were you thinking about? If that isn't too personal ... "

Qui-Gon laughed at that. "As if anything could be too personal between us, at this point! Nothing lurid, my horny friend. I was thinking about how he's good at doing physical manipulation without the gestures, and I thought 'I wonder where he got that from?' Isn't that the silliest thing?"

Arjet laughed with him. "He's really becoming his own man, isn't he? You've started to forget you taught him most of everything he knows."

"How can that be possible? I learn from him every day," Qui-Gon smiled. "I miss him, Arjet."

"Good. You'll cherish him more when he returns. Now, let's get this done so I don't have to divert him when they get done with that survey. I saw the reports Knight Trydal sent. The facilities were so stripped down when they evacuated, they don't have much more than a couple of days work, with four people out there. Not much left to account for, you see."

Qui-Gon snorted. "Just our luck. The one time we need a bit of a delay, the mission goes off without a hitch. Well, best to be started."

Arjet nodded once and knelt to take Torlamin's pulse. "You want to monitor or suggest?"

"I'll monitor. I have to do the hard part later. You do it now," Qui-Gon knelt on the other side of her limp form. He put one hand on her chest, the other on her forehead.

"Okay, keep her slow and regular. And we're starting at ten, nine, eight ... " Arjet continued the countdown out loud while mentally sinking into Torlamin's mind yet again. This time his work was not one of restoration. Now he sought only to bring her into a very basic, childlike state of knowledge and understanding. He would remove most of her memories, filtering them out or erasing them entirely until she held only the very limited range of recall about herself and her life. With that done, there would be very little to motivate her towards any of the negative emotions that now controlled her.

And in that state, Arjet would simply take her 'base self' off-line. That would destroy her animal instincts, like territoriality, lust, aggression, hunger and, most importantly, the survival instinct. This was the first step in destroying Master Rue Torlamin's very will to live.

Qui-Gon monitored her body for signs of distress. It would do no good for her to die as she was now. In this state of agitation, there was no guarantee that she would join with the Force. And the last thing the Jedi needed right now was the spirit of a mad, dark Master running around loose.

They'd had plenty of that in the Sith Wars, thank you very much. It was the duty of the Shadow to deal with that, all those centuries ago. Duty remained unchanged, and Qui-Gon was satisfied that he could see to it with a willing heart.

He kept track of Torlamin's responses, made mental notes as to how Arjet was progressing and tried not to think about what this would do to his ex-colleague. She would be little more than a child when she died and the sad thing was, it was for the best. No one can survive having their mind ripped to shreds and there was no way they could let her rot in this hole. There comes a point when a person simply can not be allowed to suffer any longer, and Torlamin had certainly reached that point. Add to that the danger she presented to all and sundry, and the outcome was very simple. She had to die.

Qui-Gon was sickened at his easy acceptance of this solution. He focused on her actions and reactions over the course of her imprisonment and firmed his resolve to do his duty. Calm her, take her to a place where she could simply pass over into the Force, then nudge her out into it. It would be the path of highest justice for all.

Obi-Wan put his lightslate down and rubbed his eyes. He'd made a 'to-do' list for himself, as he would have done on a regular mission. It made the whole thing a little easier to deal with, having each task laid out in a neat line, one following another. In a moment he would pull up the files on the San Saloor Temple again and make up a 'to-don't' list, though Qui-Gon wouldn't be around to read it. Old habits die hard. That done, he'd be ready to help with re-cataloging the Temple's contents for comparison against the records left by the evacuation team. It was from these two lists that the Establishment crew would draw their supply requisitions, so the job could not be shoddily done.

He idly wondered what his friends were doing, briefly hoped they wouldn't be talking to Qui-Gon much. *Wishful thinking. Jenji's probably telling him all about that time I slept with Mera'hen-no-meda just to keep her off Qui-Gon while he was trying to prevent interplanetary warfare. Again.* He shivered briefly, remembering the strange sensation of tentacles and fur. *Not that it was ALL bad ... *

Still, it was probably best that Qui-Gon learn this stuff as amusing anecdotes rather than potential relationship-bombs and rumormongering.

*Did I just say 'relationship' without gagging?*

Obi-Wan sighed. *Well, you did get a pretty good jolt tonight, you know.* He yawned and stretched again, mindful of the subtle shift the transport's computer was doing on his circadian rhythms, striking a balance between Temple at Coruscant time and Temple at San Saloor time. He would appreciate the lack of space-lag when he got home, but for now his eyes itched and his back ached from letting himself work too long under artificial light.

*I'll just finish up that other report and think about it afterwards,* he promised himself.

"Sure you will."

Obi-Wan sat up quickly and looked around the room. Nothing. No one.

"Over here."

Obi-Wan's eyes fell on the desk chair and widened in a deep and abiding surprise. *Be calm, Kenobi. Force-ghosts can't hurt you any more than a regular person. Okay, be cool. Let go your anxieties.*

"Good. You frighten easily, but you recover well. I don't believe we've been introduced. My name is Darth Maul." The blue spirit came more sharply into focus and Obi-Wan recognized the visage of the Sith Lord he had ...

"I killed you," Obi-Wan managed to stammer.

"Indeed you did, and a good job of it, too. Don't worry, I'm not here to return the favor," Maul grinned.

Obi-Wan did battle with his stomach and came out the victor once more. "Why are you here?"

"Why are any of us here?" Maul replied, toning the grin down a bit. "I'm here to do the will of the Force."

Obi-Wan sighed. "How may I help you?"

"Um, well ... It turns out you Jedi were right. There is no death, there is only the Force. And right now, the Force doesn't much want me. I've been offered an opportunity to rectify that situation, but ... " Maul shrugged. "I can't do it on my own. I need your help."

"Why me?" Obi-Wan demanded.

"Well, there are only a few ways to become a Force-Spirit. I'm lucky, I have points for all of them. You, however ... not so lucky I guess. You're the only person alive that I can talk to just now. Well, the only one alive I'm not gunning for, anyway," Maul shrugged again. "Being dead gives one a very strange perspective on the living."

"I can imagine," Obi-Wan murmured.

"No you can't," Maul contradicted.

The door slid open and Scratch put his head in. "Your comm link is malfunctioning. Dinner's ready."

Obi-Wan's head whipped around in surprise. "I-okay. Be right there."

Scratch gave him an odd look and retreated. When Obi-Wan glanced back at the desk, the ghost was gone.

Obi-Wan sighed. *Well shit. How do I enter this in the mission log? 'After severe emotional upheaval and mild sleep deprivation, visited by expired Sith?'* And the comm link was NOT malfunctioning. He'd turned it off. *I think I'd better keep a lid on this for now. Maybe dinner would help ... eating can only make things better.* He recalled that bit of wisdom from somewhere, hopefully his master. *First, a mission with my ex-boyfriend. Then a very personal conversation with Destiny. Now a visit from a dead Sith Lord. Things have GOT to get better. It never rains but it pours.*

Obi-Wan had the odd sensation of understanding how a beach felt when faced with a tidal wave.

Qui-Gon entered the Group's lab, vyol in hand and good spirits within. Swed's trials had been passed with flying colors and Jayden was now ranked amongst the Jedi Masters. If that wasn't cause for celebration in their little clan, nothing was. He was dressed for the party, a sapphire blue vest over loose shirt with his best jeans and freshly-polished boots. A silver clasp held his hair back from his face. He poked around the lab for a long moment, following the noise through its chambers. From the sound of things, he'd arrived to the party somewhat late.

Jayden came reeling up to Qui-Gon's side, pushed a drink into his empty hand and dragged him through the warren of rooms to the balcony they had appropriated for their own private use. The others were already there, and Qui-Gon suddenly felt very alone without his own Padawan. Still, it was good to be free of the strictures his student's presence would put upon him. He plunked down on the end of a sofa and took a sip of his beer. Before he could swallow he was bracketed by Corubia and Jenji. "Swed says you can play that thing," Corubia pointed to his case.

"Well, yes, a little," he demurred.

"Bullshit. If Swed says you can play, you can play. He's gone to get his keyboards. You gonna play with him?" Jenji demanded.

Qui-Gon cast about for a source of rescue. It came from Jenji's own master.

"Padawan, you should be aware that he's only brought that beat-up thing because of tradition. There's a song that must be played," Teril raised her eyebrow at Arjet. "Right, Master Paje?"

Arjet's eyes went wide with feigned innocence. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Liar!" Jayden accused. "I made it finally. You owe me a song!"

Arjet waved his hand in negation. "Later. It'll only slow the party down if I do it now."

"Nope. Later Quigs'll be too far in his cups to play it. Swed can fire up any party, once he gets going. Do it!" Jayden perched on the balcony railing and crossed his arms with finality.

Qui-Gon popped his case open and brought his instrument out. "We'd better, or they won't give us a moment's peace."

"Quigs, I'm not drunk enough yet," Arjet was near to whining.

"Then you'd better summon up some Jedi courage, because you're gonna need it. So will the rest of you, if you're going to listen," Qui-Gon winked.

"Look, would one of you like to fill me in on what's going on here?" Corubia demanded.

Arjet raised an eyebrow at Qui-Gon, who chuckled and turned to the Padawans. "Once upon a time ... "

"Don't you DARE," Arjet growled, but was shushed by the others.

"Don't he dare what?" Swed demanded, finally making his entrance.

"Don't he DARE tell that story!" Arjet replied.

"I think they're old enough to hear it," Qui-Gon grinned. "They're old enough to do autopsies, so I think they can handle a sordid story from your past."

"Oh, do what you want. You always have, anyway," Arjet settled lower into his chair.

Qui-Gon resumed his tale. "Once upon a time, when I was still a Knight and working partner to our venerated leader ... "

The rest of the group chanted "Hail Arjet! King of the Shadows!"

The three youngest of the group glanced around at their elders as if they'd just sprouted daisies from their ears, then returned their attention to Qui-Gon.

"We were sent on a very dangerous mission to the peaceful planet of Gabreon."

The impromptu chorus joined in "Gabreon! Land of Iniquity!"

"Now, it should be known that Arjet and I were more-or-less an item at the time, but given to ... experimentation, being the randy men that we continue to be."

"Love! True love!"

"It should also be known that, in the far distant past, I was something of a practical joker, and given to vexing our fearless leader."

"Foolish Arjet! Trusting Arjet!"

"And it came to pass that Gabreon had a lady at court who was rather given to seducing handsome men who happened to catch her eye."

"Elise the Fair! Elise the horny old tart!"

"Her specialty was to work her wiles on men who were ... attached, as they say. Apparently she'd made her fortune through blackmail and liked to keep in practice. Well, dear Arjet caught her eye, in that we were undercover and playing at the wealthy merchant types. I, apparently, wasn't to her liking, so she merely pumped me for information. She particularly wanted to know what our rings were for. Well, obviously I couldn't tell her the truth, so I said they were wedding rings. I thought she would think we were married to each other, but ... well ... it simply never occurred to her."

"Elise the Thickheaded! Elise the Oblivious!"

"And so she set out to capture our fair leader. Now, it is important to realize that Lady Elise was somewhat in the favor of the King, and His Majesty was not much in the habit of sharing those he favored. So when she finally sprang her trap, Arjet was in a seriously compromising position. Pants about the ankles and backed out onto a balcony, as I recall ... "

Arjet moaned at that.

"And no one to save him but me."

"Quigs the Valiant! Tell us More!"

"So there he was, all but being ravished on a balcony overlooking the water gardens and me without a way to get him down. But I did have my trusty vyol, and a knack for breaking the mood. So I began to play the one song I knew our fearless leader just couldn't resist singing along with."

"All Hail Quigs the Sneaky! Savior of our Leader!"

"See, up until this time, he'd listen to this song and really feel like it was, you know, about him. Well, needless to say, his sudden and unexpected serenade did much to distract and distress his would-be paramour and he was able to make his escape. Though it should be noted he came to his quarters in just his cloak, undershorts and half a pair of slippers."

"All Hail King Arjet, The Woefully Undershod!"

The younger set of Jedi burst out laughing, and did their level best not to point.

"You ruined a marvelous song that night, Quigs," Arjet insisted.

"Well, I suppose that's true. But you know the His Maj came in ten minutes later. Better the loss of your song than the failure of the mission," Qui-Gon reminded him. "Or the loss of your head, which even you can't spare."

"Might have been worth it," the elder Jedi grumbled.

"Anyway," Qui-Gon continued, "this song has been used in the Group for years as one of our 'identifiers', like a codephrase. If you don't know it already you need to learn it, Corubia. If you meet someone who claims to be one of us, or to have information from or about the group, or something like that, they'll probably come bearing some bit of this song. So, it's not something our dear Master can really escape."

Swed snapped his fingers. "I know which one you're talking about, now." He turned to set up his keyboards near the inner wall of the balcony. "Just give me a minute."

"I can't escape it, but I do reserve its use for official ones," Arjet continued to defend himself.

"Well, this is one of them," Jayden reminded him. "Make me official."

Again the younger Jedi were thrown off by this comment.

Arjet explained. "It's sort of a tradition that when one of us becomes a master in the Order, this song gets sung to remind them of their other oaths, as well."

"Okay, so let's hear it," Corubia nudged Qui-Gon. "And I'm dying to hear you play."

Qui-Gon looked to see that Swed was set up, played the opening music then stopped. "Ready?"

Swed nodded and they began together. Arjet's surprisingly rich voice joined their song, though his eyes remained glued to the tiles of the balcony floor.

We passed upon the stair
We spoke of was and when
Although I wasn't there
He said I was his friend
Which came as a surprise
I spoke into his eyes - I thought you died alone
A long long time ago

*No wonder this appealed to our forefathers,* Qui-Gon mused, not for the first time. *By all rights, we should have been hunted to extinction ages ago.*

Oh no, not me,
We never lost control
You're face to face
With the man who sold the world

*And we would, if it came to that. What a ruthless bunch of buggers we are!* Qui-Gon grinned and joined his voice to Arjet's for the next verse.

I laughed and shook his hand
I made my way back home
I searched for form and land
For years and years I roamed
I gazed a gazely stare
We walked a million hills - I must have died alone,
A long long time ago.

*Never again. We'll find the Elders soon, and be whole once more,* Qui-Gon remade his old oath. *We're going to need their strength soon. I can feel it.*

Who knows? Not me,
I never lost control
You're face to face
With the man who sold the world

*Half the Order would pass out cold if they knew what we did. The other half would kill us outright. I hope it turns out to be worth it, this thing we do. I hope ... * He smiled at the others as they sang in chorus. Some well, some poorly, all with feeling and with unity of spirit. *I hope we all are happy one day. This is the only family I know.*

Who knows? Not me,
We never lost control
You're face to face
With the man who sold the world

The song ended, leaving the group in a moment of silence. Then Swed's keyboards sizzled to life in a dangerously familiar tune. Qui-Gon swung around in surprise. "You know Shaybonee?" he asked, incredulous.

"Learning it!" Swed replied. "Your form program inspired me!"

Qui-Gon lifted his instrument once more and threw his music out to please his friends. His family. The Jedi most dear to his heart. *If only Obi-Wan could see me now. He might even like this side of me ...*

Obi-Wan rolled out of bed in a much-rested, highly energetic mood. He fired up his dataset and began flipping through his messages. One caught his attention immediately and he opened it first. It was from the Temple, but from an unknown designation.

Padawan Kenobi,

Though you are far from being a full member of the Group, I must at this time put you to work. The information you sent to me regarding the possible situation we discussed has confirmed suspicions long held by myself and others who were researching said situation. I have been unable to contact our operative and must assume the worst.


I leave it to your intelligence and unquestionable training to select the beings who will be given the task which must be done. The lives of Jedi depend upon it. Attached here is a coded credit float and a set of instructions that MUST be delivered to the starship 'Millennium Falcon' and its owner, Merane Solo. Failing that, her son, Han Solo must be found and given these instructions. If you are not familiar with the song 'The Man who Sold the World', seek it out through whatever channels available to you and give it to your operatives as their security code. The Solos will recognize it.


Do what you can to speed your return to Coruscant. I will need you here within the week, if at all possible. The reasons behind your hasty departure shall be resolved within the next 24 hours. You will be most welcome at any point after that, and much needed unless I am quite mistaken.

Swederantari Bvroukala has passed his Trials with flying colors. A gift would not be inappropriate. Related news: Jayden Hunter has been made a Master of the Order. Let it also be known to you that your master still can't carry a tune in a bucket after he is drunk, and remains unaware of this fact. Do not tease him on this regard, as it is a closely guarded secret of the Group.

You are officially named a full operative for the duration of your mission and are recorded as being in a hostile environment in the Order records.

The Judicial Darkbird

Obi-Wan sat back and let out a gusty sigh. Skies above! This could be no less than marching orders from Master Paje, and urgent ones at that. Obi-Wan transferred the attached files to his lightslate and went to rouse Scratch.

To his surprise, the door to the pilots' quarters was standing open. They were laying in a companionable tangle made of sheets, ferrets and their own lean, naked bodies. Obi-Wan hated to disturb them, then pushed that compunction roughly aside. Duty. Justice. Life and death. "Pilot Scratch?"

The darker head moved a little.


Both bodies sat bolt upright in their bed. "Wassat? Whowhich?" They urgently inquired.

"Pilot Scratch, the Jedi call you into service," Obi-Wan intoned. This traditional phrase for conscripting a civilian might not be known to these men, but Obi-Wan found comfort in its utterance.

"Can it wait till breakfast?" Scratch mumbled, fumbling for his glasses.

"Depends on if you're willing to sacrifice the lives of those who will die in Eab Nanoorn between here and there," Obi-Wan drawled.

That, apparently, was enough for Nate. He shoved Scratch out of their warm nest and towards his clothes. Muttering curses, Scratch got into them and followed Obi-Wan off the Bereak.

Obi-Wan began talking before they have reached the speeder. He knew he would have to repeat himself, but that was the point. He wanted his companion to know that the Jedi held the key and only through him would it be gotten. *Make yourself the only stone in sinking sand, Padawan. Then the drowning will come to YOU.* Qui-Gon's voice rang out clearly in his mind, even as he pointed Scratch into the passenger's seat. Hard on its heels was another Jinn tidbit. *Never chase the bid. Needful buyers do not make the price.*

"Okay, so ... what?" Scratch finally asked, admitting to needing a repeat.

Obi-Wan began again, in the most even and patient of tones, as if he were accustomed to repeating complicated instructions to thickheaded civilians. As if he could continue to do so on into infinity, should the situation require it. "We are going to Grangers. I will need two of our friends from last night. They well go out, today, no later than noon, one to Eab Nanoorn, one to Ero Phelian. There, they will seek out a certain ship and a certain member of the crew and deliver a message and a payment. Then they will turn tail and run back to the safest port they can find and forget they ever heard of us for a couple of weeks. They will not return to the safe port until they have succeeded, heard word that their counterpart has, or have died. They will be given a code to use, a particular song that will be recognized by their targets. If their counterpart has succeeded, we will contact them through one channel or another and use this song to signal the end of their mission. Got that?"

Scratch nodded uncertainly.

"Tell me if you don't, because you need to understand. You have to translate all this for me, accurately. Lives depend upon it."

Scratch nodded again, more firmly this time.

"Okay, so now we pick our messengers. Of all those we spoke to last night, who would you choose to take Nate, Duran and Myrkit into Eab Nanoorn and back out again?" Obi-Wan pulled into a spot in front of the bar and powered the speeder down.

"Lokelu and Serejon," Scratch replied without hesitation.

"Then that's who we want. Arrange for it while I make a couple of inquiries," Obi-Wan nodded towards the door.

Scratch got out and strode towards the bar without looking back. Obi-Wan got out and went in search of a banking source.

He found what he was looking for sandwiched between two busy shops. He fumbled in his bag and came up with his allocations card. *Lrakin Rilka, I'm putting you up for honors as soon as I get back,* he swore, inserting the plastic into the reader. He pressed his thumb to the plate and waited for clearance.

A transaction inquiry blinked patiently on the screen and he dredged up ideas from his master's past dealings with this sort of situation. After a moment's hesitation, he entered a request for hard chips. Easy, untraceable, not reliant on a moneychanger as long as they stayed in Republic space, which they were scheduled to do. The amount was something more of a problem.

*Okay, lemme think here,* he stuck the side of his thumb in his mouth and chewed carefully. The last time he'd been smuggled, Qui-Gon had paid quite the hefty sum to a pilot for his services. Obi-Wan took that amount and halved it. That was a reasonable price for extraction, but ... okay, half again. The sum was still on the biggish side, so Obi-Wan set his mind to calculating expenses for a ship and pilot, say two weeks in hostile territory, plus a bit for hazard pay and struck a balance. It looked like a sizable number, so he halved one last time and called it a fair deal. This now, plus the same again on completion. He nodded and entered the sum for both messengers. The credit chips popped out in a thick stack, still warm from the coding. Obi-Wan stuffed them in his bag, retrieved his card and headed for Granger's.

Scratch was nursing a drink at a table when he entered. Obi-Wan sat down and Granger brought him one to match. The barkeep looked at him for a long moment, then planted his hands on his meaty hips. "Vu ketu kep hende du Pilots. Obi-Wan Jedi kinter du Granger."

Scratch cleared his throat and said "He says ... "

"I got it," Obi-Wan said. "How do I tell him I wish I could do more?"

Scratch tossed his hair back and muttered "Vu secunde usenten. Usenten perful toka sufis."

"What does that mean, exactly?" Obi-Wan pressed.

"You same as me. Me wish was sufficient," Scratch shrugged. "It's not an exact language."

Obi-Wan nodded and repeated the words to Granger. The barkeep snorted and returned to his work. Obi-Wan sighed heavily and sipped from his drink. Whatever Granger's bar lacked in sanitation, it made up for in its wares. "How long do you think they'll be?" he asked.

"They said they were on their way, but ... " Scratch shrugged once more.

Obi-Wan returned to his rich beverage and kept one eye on the door. Before too long a pair of familiar faces came in. Granger pointed them towards Obi-Wan's table and they took their seats.

Scratch laid the plan out for them, checking and rechecking details with Obi-Wan as he went. The messengers looked more and more doubtful as he continued, and had plenty of questions when Scratch had finished. "They want to know what you know."

"Not gonna happen," Obi-Wan replied, to hide his own ignorance.

Scratch relayed that, which seemed to alarm the smugglers. "Okay, what can you do to help them?"

"Not a damn thing. If I could do anything myself, I'd go get my own ship and head out. They're better equipped for this than me," Obi-Wan leaned back in the chair. "This isn't official work. The Senate would bust a seam if they heard about this. Our hands are tied."

Scratch relaxed at that and relayed the information. The smugglers similarly relaxed. "Okay, so ... where's the message?"

Obi-Wan handed them their datachips and asked if they could sing. They snorted, nearing laughter, then saw he was serious. Obi-Wan taught them their code as best he could, hoped it would be good enough for their purposes. When they were passable, for their purposes, Obi-Wan said as much. They glanced at Scratch, then glanced at Obi-Wan, then stood to go.

Obi-Wan held up his hand, saying "Wait."

They turned back to him. "I can do this much for you ... " he offered, putting the credit chips on the table in equal stacks. "Half as much again, when you're done. That's the only thing you can contact me for."

They quickly disappeared into pouches and pockets, and the pair made a hasty retreat to the door.

Scratch's eyes were wide with shock. "Where the hell ... how the fuck ... "

Obi-Wan gave him 'inscrutable' again and headed back to the speeder. "If Trydal asks where we went this morning, feel free to act like you're hiding something. If you dare tell him what's up, I'll know. And I'll know I can't trust you," Obi-Wan informed him.

"He doesn't KNOW?" Scratch demanded.

"Good question," Obi-Wan smiled.

"Kentu kep tara du Jedi," Scratch grumbled.

"What under the skies does that mean?" Obi-Wan demanded.

"Bringing big troubles of Jedi," Scratch admitted.

Obi-Wan laughed.

"Why do you Jedi say 'skies' all the time?" Scratch asked in return.

That brought Obi-Wan up short. "Well ... I don't know. It's just ... like an all-purpose swear, I guess."

"Skies??" Scratch demanded.

Obi-Wan laughed. "Well, we don't have anything else to swear by, do we?"

"What about the Force? I mean ... that's important to you Jedi, isn't it?"

Obi-Wan snorted. "You won't hear me doing it. When a Jedi starts making oaths by the Force, it tends to pay attention. We don't use it unless we mean it."

Scratch shook his head. "And my mamma told me Jedi didn't do superstitions."

Obi-Wan let that go. It wasn't anything the spacer would really understand, anyway.

The party had lasted long enough to let Arjet sober up while everyone else just wanted to sleep. Good. He'd done without sleep often enough that he could do his work at this late hour of the night/early hour of the morning and know he would be undisturbed. He walked the corridors to the Oubliette in total darkness, following his guts towards the Dark Jedi held prisoner there.

Dark Jedi. *Now there's a term to set your hair on end.*

Rue Torlamin had come out of her rooms on the Fortnight Gannet as nothing more than your garden variety Dark Jedi. Arjet had quickly taken her into solitary on that day, thrown everyone out of the holding area and begun a process that he knew hadn't been used in near a thousand years. Master Sarafel had taught it to him almost a hundred years ago and he'd put it into the category of 'interesting but useless information'. That, apparently, had been wishful thinking. He remembered the conversation he'd had with her that day, the bleak horror he'd felt at realizing what it was he was learning. Moreover, he remembered Sarafel's words when he voiced his objections.

"Do you think there are any, anyone at all, who could simply kill another Jedi? Just, outright, cold blood, kill them? It has been a mercy to the Order that those who HAVE turned lately ended up dying in battle. That we can handle, killing in defense of others. But execution? It's simply not an option," she had assured him.

And at that point, he'd believed she was wrong, flatly wrong. He'd said "I kill all the time. I'm an assassin, for skies' sake! It's what I do best!"

She'd shook her head sadly, and taken his hand. "Your targets are always strangers, always enemies, always those who are totally unredeemable. A Dark Jedi is all of those things, but they will wear the face of a friend."

With that, she let the subject drop and never discussed it again. Arjet had continued to think on it, over the years. Then he'd actually met it.

Almost six months ago, the Council had called him into their chambers. Called him off a mission to come and speak with them. His instincts told him to run, hide, find the Elders and never show his face in the Temple again. Only one thing had prevented such a defection, and that was the mention of Qui-Gon Jinn.

"We've had prophecies about Master Jinn. We've already made our move and now you must make yours," Windu had explained to him. So Arjet had come and listened, sickened by what he heard. He had wanted to ease their minds, tell them they were mistaken or that the future knowledge had been negated by their actions, but it was not true. From everything he knew of the current situation, the future had NOT been altered. Qui-Gon Jinn had a date with a Sith, and one he was not likely to walk away from.

So he'd moved to make the changes himself, despite the fact that this disrupted plans that had been years in the making. The plan had been to drop a little 'package' for pickup by Qui-Gon, to be brought into the Temple and cared for there. With Master Jinn outside the Group, he had been left unaware of the plan. Arjet trusted him to understand the situation when he met up with it. Erac, unfortunately, had been somewhat privy to the plans, though many details had been withheld from him. Perhaps that was what moved him to do what he had done with the Skywalker boy, despite the fact that Anakin was a red herring. Arjet couldn't be sure anymore. His own choices split the Universe, removed them from the one that was known and understood, explained and quantified, and pushed them out into one of the unknown branches of possibility.

There were questions yet to be answered, clues that still needed assembling. Hopefully, Torlamin had a few more bits of knowledge within her. If not, Arjet didn't know how he was going to confirm his own beliefs and suspicions. Ever since his move to save Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and their now-undelivered parcel, the Force had not dropped any more hints his way.

Very well. Silence implied consent, so his current actions must be in harmony with the Force. The Group had discovered the possible presence of a Dark Jedi out there in Ero Phelian and Eab Nanoorn. Surely he wasn't alone, the funding was coming from SOMEWHERE, but it smacked of grandiose plans, what was happening out there. The swift kidnapping of Anakin Skywalker from within the Temple itself ... that was a definite sign that there was involvement with a person intimately familiar with the Temple on Coruscant. Add to that the detailed descriptions and holos of one Master Qui-Gon Jinn that had been intercepted on the person of a bounty hunter headed into position on Naboo, and it suggested the complicity from one person.


But who else ... what else could be working with him? Clearly he was not alone. Clearly he had plans for expanding his sphere of influence. Clearly he was on the hunt for a student of his own. Arjet shook his head. It was doubtful that any trust or real co-operation existed between Xanatos and whatever filth he was working with. It was obvious that whoever this silent partner might be was supplying manpower and credit to the operation. It was also obvious that this second party had it in for the Jedi in general and the Group in particular. Arjet had supposed that it might just possibly be the Sith. Recent events had confirmed this supposition and this confirmation chilled him to the bone. Unfortunately, the only source of information, reliable data on the Sith had fallen in battle without being picked clean. Skies only knew how much or how little Darth Maul might have known about his quarry. It wasn't even a certainty that he had known what Jedi were on Reptha. That meeting might have been pure chance. Arjet simply wasn't sure how much the Sith knew about his friend, and now he might never know.

He was hoping Torlamin had picked something up, something of the plans of the Sith and the Dark Jedi at the moment of her turning. Instructions, Suggestions, ANYTHING that might tell Arjet where he should start hunting. Sarafel had warned him, years ago, that facing a captive Dark Jedi was unlike anything he'd seen before.

It was only when he spoke to Torlamin that he'd understood. She'd been lucid, if angry, every inch the person he'd known and occasionally worked with. Every bit the teacher and Jedi she'd always been ... but her desires were completely altered. She'd asked for Corubia, over and over, wanting to show her student the new power she had discovered in the motivations of desire, greed, powerlust, hate. She'd offered to show Arjet, pled with him at one point, said "You can't possibly understand the power of the Dark. All your research, all your studies and you'll never know what I know right now."

And for one instant, he'd been tempted.

He'd very nearly given in. 'Knowledge before Power' was the oath of the Group, the sworn promise to gather knowledge on the Dark Side from whatever quarter it might spring. He'd nearly given in to her offer, came so close to reaching out in the manner she described. Then, as if echoing through time, a spike of icy pain had lanced him, right behind his eyes. A voice spoke, one so long removed from his life that for a moment he did not recognize it. "On this life, you will not turn from us."

Hard on the heels of that came every lesson he'd ever heard guarding against the Dark. The domination of destiny, the corruption of the soul, the undermining of love, peace, serenity. The total and absolute separation from the Light. He'd looked at Torlamin and seen, at last, how she was manipulating him, tempting him with the very thing he was sworn to stand against, for all time. This time, his own Oath to the Group and its effects had kept him from yielding to the temptation. Only that and nothing more.

In that moment, he knew that Sarafel had been right. He couldn't simply kill this woman, not like this. She might survive, might come back in spiritual form and torment, break those without the will and safeguards that Arjet himself possessed. She'd have to be broken down, rendered harmless, have this knowledge removed from her before she would be safe to release from the safety of her flesh and bone.

"Vile betrayer," he'd hissed at her. "Very nearly, but not good enough."

And she'd laughed at him. "Time, it will take. Only that, O bearer of the Light. You've shadow in you, and it calls to me ... and to the Force within me. I'll bring you to my side, have no doubt of that!"

That was the moment in which Arjet Paje bowed to the traditions of the Group, particularly those related to dealing with captive Dark Jedi. He'd begun the long-term introduction of hallucinogens, various psychotropics, lead and his own brand of suggestion to start the downward spiral of her lucidity. Long ago, Sarafel had told him "You'll have to give the Council a Dark Side they can see. Something ugly that they can combat, something violent and clearly of the Dark so that they will not heed the words of the traitor. For yourself, you must not, can not be the hand that ends the life. You will know too much and be well aware of your actions. It will weigh on you far too heavily for you to achieve the serenity required."

He hadn't believed that either, but tonight he surely did. Tonight, as his fingers danced out the security code to the Oubliette, he finally grasped what it was she had warned him of. Responsibility. His and no one else's. Shadowy secrets of the Dark. There were records of his actions, but he very much doubted if anyone would ever look into them. He'd unmade the mind of Rue Torlamin, to make it easier on her executioner when she died.

He shook himself, firmed up his resolve and let the door swing open. His work, earlier in the day, had rendered her the next thing to harmless. She was clean, dressed in her uniform, sleeping easily for the first time since Reptha. Her mind was broken, her body merely the shell of a remnant being. What memories she still had were basic, pure and almost wholly disassociated from her concept of self. There was only one bit of memory left, sealed away from her recall, an ugly jewel lying in the bed of gray matter that had once held the mind of a Jedi Master. It was the information she had offered him, if only he would pay the price of its getting.

*I've paid the price. I'll be damned if I don't get what I've earned.*

"Rue?" he murmured.


"Torlamin, wake up."

"Mmmkay," she turned over on her side and looked at him, eyelids drooping at half mast. She was drugged to the gills, probably incapable of rubbing two thoughts together, exactly how he wanted her.

"I want you to do something for me ... " he sat down beside her and drew her head onto his knee. "We're going to think back, okay?"


"There was a person ... a man. His name was Darth Maul. Do you remember him?"

"The Power-Giver, the Setter of the Sun."

Arjet shivered.

"Yes. Show me what happened between you two."


This was mere formality. Arjet could have just gone in and grabbed the information he wanted, no problem. Something in him, though, made him treat her with something like respect, even at this pass. He wove himself into her thoughts and waited for her to relax and accept him. With no further adieu, he let himself into those long-ignored, highly dangerous memories.

His first impression was that he had not preserved this part of her mind as well as he'd intended to. He watched from Torlamin's point of view, but at a remove, not as if it were himself. He saw Darth Maul step out of his spacecraft and walk forward. Then, like a shoddy vid record, time seemed to jump, then draw out. An icy hand touched Torlamin's mind, whispered something obscene and inviting ... ((You'll never be alone again. Come with me, I'll show you what they would not.)) and even as this was recognized as a lie, a rush of white-hot pleasure bolted through her body. She tensed her muscles, felt the tickle of Corubia calling along the training bond. *No, oh no, run, Padawan. Run as far and as fast as you can!* Torlamin screamed inside her mind ... but for some reason she couldn't speak. Then she couldn't breathe, couldn't move, couldn't tear her eyes from Darth Maul. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were fighting the Sith now, and his attention was wavering.

((This is what you've searched for, all your life. This is what will make you better than them all ... )) and a heady rush of sheer power boiled up around and within Rue Torlamin. *Oh ... yesss ... * she sighed, as passion, emotion, mindlessness and orgasmic seduction rushed over and through her. *NO! Oh, NO!* she shrieked a moment later, mere heartbeats too late. Maul had a grip on her, had found her weakness and bore down on her for the last few moments it would take to break her down.

Arjet sensed the withdrawal of Maul's mind, then felt something uncanny and disturbing. The Sith focused a powerful Suggestion on Torlamin, then left her to her own devices. ((Jedi ... Desire ... this))

The memory jumped again, Torlamin running towards Obi-Wan, fighting the younger man, fighting Corubia, attacking Qui-Gon, the final moment of anger and rage as Corubia pushed her into unconsciousness again ... then nothing.

Arjet withdrew, unsatisfied. He understood the how of it, the method of her turning ... it was about what legend and rumor implied it would be. However, the difference, the actual, substantial quality that made 'light' and 'dark' remained a mystery. Certainly, the root of the difference was in the motivation ... but it went deeper than that and Arjet still couldn't work out how.

He sighed and settled himself in to pull the plug on these final memories. He would be done then, and Torlamin would be ready to come under the Power of the Left Hand. Then Qui-Gon would need looking after, to be sure he was ready. Only then could Arjet finally lay down to sleep.

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: The Present

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

105 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: Obi-Wan gets a clue, Qui-Gon freaks out, Kourt Crowe sings a song and makes preparations.

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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