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A Litany of Hearts and Flowers

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"Master, why do people get married? Why so many commitment and bonding ceremonies?" Obi-Wan collapsed in a dramatic heap on his favourite cushion-chair in the common room. "Why do they put themselves -- and their friends -- through all that?" He tugged at his high polished boots, working until he could wiggle his toes in happy appreciation of the smooth, cool floor.

"It is a great mystery, Obi-Wan." There was a ripple of humour underlying the weariness in Qui-Gon's voice.

Obi-Wan looked up from contemplation of the elaborate ribbon and bead confection that had been woven into and around his braid. It was going to take work to undo. "And why do you suppose that the more people involved the more convolute the clothes get?"

"Ah, now that is the true question, isn't it."

Qui-Gon looked nearly as tired as he sounded. He certainly had reason -- Obi-Wan had merely had to organize Tirlan into his clothes and make sure he was in the right places at the right times as Principal Supporter. Qui-Gon had had to ride herd on the entire affair as Officiating Theign, and by comparison his prescribed headdress made Obi-Wan's look small and subtle. A hierarchy of headgear. Not only that, but as it had taken a professional dresser to assemble and apply both his official robes and the headdress, there was no way he was getting it all off without assistance. Obi-Wan's assistance. Some things were beyond even Jedi Masters. Obi-Wan was looking forward to that part, but he regretted the weariness even as he rejoiced in the humour.

Obi-Wan shifted against the pillow. There was something digging into his back. Oh. The lacquerwood and tessel fan that had been tucked in the folds of the long sash. It was buried under two layers of coat, as well as sash. He would fetch it out later. It couldn't be his lightsabre, that was tucked in his sleeve. "Well, Tirlan claimed it was all a conspiracy of garment purveyors. He was on his sixth fitting at the time."

"I'm sure Aariet would have agreed with him." The older man gave a puff of dry amusement and tilted his head very carefully, his amused apprentice noticed, as he went into explanation mode. "At heart, I think that it has to do with the feudal structure of Maarilan culture. Originally it all would have served as a form of proof that the resources were present to support a new ruling family: financial, emotional and liturgical; assurance that everything would continue in prosperity and right order."

Obi-Wan nodded. "That makes a kind of sense. 'See, we can afford to do this elaborate thing for ourselves, and so we can afford to look after the people in our care.'" He paused, looked at his master with the sly smile he knew Qui-Gon enjoyed. "Then again it could simply be a way to ensure the prosperity of the garment business."

Looking down at the glittering layers that covered him several times over, Qui-Gon sighed. "Textile production is a high art in their view. But yes, the thought had occurred."

"Remember," Obi-Wan said, letting his voice go husky for a moment, "how I had to 'help' you out of your ceremonial robes after the coronation of Empress Nistalt?" His fingers wove a complex pattern in the air. "A lace here, a series of buttons and hooks there ... and all those little ties on that codpiece...."

Their glances met, glowing like the candles which had so recently burned in the Sanctuary. "My resourceful Padawan," Qui-Gon said softly.

"My ... generous Master," came the reply, amusement spilling over into quiet laughter.

"Certain kinds of generosity, Obi-Wan, get us into situations like this."

Obi-Wan let his Master's warm voice wash over him. He always got interesting answers when he asked either rhetorical or blunt questions, especially when he didn't really expect them. It was a window into the breadth and depth of his Master's knowledge, and of his own place in the circle of Qui-Gon's trust, that he would answer such things so freely. Now he was curious. "But why the elaborate ceremonial in the first place?"

He stretched out in the chair, unkinking muscles stiff with stillness and began idly picking at the ribbons in his braid. "And why so many all at once?"

It didn't help that this was the fifth ceremony in the last tenth. Bant had laughed and said they had it easy for a change, overseeing weddings instead of war-zones, but Obi-Wan wasn't so sure now. At least this was the last one for a while, and while elaborate, and long, and politically charged, the couple were personal friends, sincerely fond of each other, and happy to be married. This one they had been invited to as themselves. And, it was true that keeping track of floral and ribbon effusions was far more pleasant than keeping an eye on knives and blasters. Of course, it was also true that they had rather more training and experience with the knives and blasters.

The Master sighed again, leaning back against the wall by the door. He had made no move yet to change even his wickedly beautiful leg-hugging formal boots for more comfortable slippers. "Ceremony marking the public joining of lives and families and fortunes has been a part of most human and and much non-human culture throughout Republic history."

A non-human wedding? Obi-Wan tried to picture what the ceremony joining the ruling Hutts of Tattooine must have been like; he ended up with a mental image of Gardulla draped in the white lace and pearls favored by Corellian nobility, and shuddered. Some things were best not considered.

Qui-Gon merely raised an eyebrow at him and went smoothly on. "As for the personal aspect...." He paused, and now Obi-Wan could see the smile as well as hear it. "I have long believed that the friends get roped in to help so that the principals don't have to suffer alone, or be utterly overwhelmed by the tyranny of the planners of such spectacle." There was a pause. "To remind them that they will survive it."

"And," Obi-Wan added, "in this case, having another couple around to remind them of the more loving aspects...."

"I was not the one who let Tirlan 'discover' us in the vestry, Obi-Wan."

"If you weren't so thoroughly reserved, I'd buy that for a datarie. As it is I think you knew as well as I did that he'd be along any minute." He dared a grin.

Qui-Gon lowered his eyes. "He was getting overwhelmed. Aariet was worried that he was forgetting the real reason for the wedding."

There was no laughter in Obi-Wan's voice now. "Master, thank you. I know it's not easy for you, but that was a case of reminding a friend of something important."

"It was just a kiss," Qui-Gon replied lightly, knowing that Obi-Wan would not be fooled by his tone.

Smiling only to himself, Obi-Wan lay back on the cushion and gave up trying to untangle his hair from the ribbons. Presently Qui-Gon would help him, adding a new variation to their own after-the-elaborate-ceremony ritual. For now though, he would admire the view. No matter what the style, his Master wore clothes well. >From the simple linen and wool of the traditional Jedi tunics to the most outrageous example of archaic formality such as this.

He supposed a shorter man could carry the outfit off well enough, as both fathers had proven, in their own way, but the gaily embroidered layers, all carefully arranged or split so that everything (and especially the amazing boots) showed to best advantage, suited his Master's tall lean form perfectly. And the plethora of colors rose, tawny, emerald, black, and silver somehow worked on Qui-Gon, particularly the high fan collar of the sleeveless over-robe that half supported the elaborated floral headdress. Even the garden of embroidery, all foliate, seemed a fitting tribute to Qui-Gon's depth of grounding in the Living Force.

His shoulders were broad enough to set off the shimmering expanse of rose and silver that made up the outermost layer of the Theign's garb, and not be bowed down by an outer open robe that fell in deeply pleated folds of leaf-green to brush the floor and an inner robe of figured tawny velvet garded in lilac and ruby. On the other hand, The Second Theign, without cope, had looked as if his robes were wearing him.

And those boots -- knee-high, calf-hugging, a deep wine red so dark as to be almost black, and polished to a glossy, rich sheen. One would think they would look overdone, but somehow, like the ribbons and flowers twined through his hair, it all balanced out.

It seemed an ironic side-note that the clothes, which had been provided by the groom's family, and the accessories (including the hats, corsages, gift-pouches and fans), all provided by the bride's family, had been ceremoniously presented to them 'in grateful thanks and generosity.' There had been a small army to help them all get dressed, but they were on their own for getting out of it again. And what were two Jedi going to do with one Maarilan Principal Supporter (Groom) outfit, flattering and glorious as it was, much less the silks and embroideries of the Officiant's robes, all of it custom-made and worn but once? Admire it for a day or two, then take it down to wardrobe, he supposed, with all the other wedding outfits. Where the whole affair would be efficiently cleaned, labled and boxed up in a stasis crate in case they should ever be needed again, and in all likelihood, never be seen again. It seemed a shame to so thoroughly hide away such beauty.

He rather thought he would keep the boots, though. Good boots were never to be wasted, as he had learned at a very young age. That irrefutable argument should serve to persuade his Master to keep his as well. With that thought he returned to the main thread of their conversation.

"I believe you are right about the defensive aspects if nothing else! But what about those cultures that dress down rather than up for significant events? Remember Karliith?"

His Master did not quite laugh, but his smile grew, and he let the heavy brocaded cope fall from his shoulders, catching it neatly before it could crumple to the floor. "Ah, but the embarrassment factor is still present. Or perhaps then the friends are there to share in the gifts bestowed, the hopes for prosperity and joy. After all, the Karliithi believe that any child conceived at a wedding, no matter to whom, is many times blessed. It is in their naming practices: the prefix 'S!' means 'wedding-made'."

Obi-Wan had been fifteen when they went to Karliith on a Search rotation. The wedding had been a side note, in which their witness and participation had made a happy balance with the loss of the Searched children to the clan. One of the three Force-sensitive infants had been named S!var. That wedding had been the first time he had seen his Master entirely naked in public, wholly un-selfconscious and glowing with light and life and beauty. In the wonder of that, Obi-Wan had forgotten to be embarrassed at his own awkward and still-growing body. He had been sent to bed along with the other 'half-growns' when night fell but had found it no hardship, as it gave him a chance to pleasure himself to sleep with sweet images. He supposed, now, that that was part of the point. And he still thought the sight of Qui-Gon in nothing but the glow of the Force and the fire of his spirit was one of the most beautiful things in the Republic or out of it. The thought made his own lips curve in a grin of anticipation and glee.

So, to see about making that vision a reality again. He levered himself up out of the chair and took the cloak from his Master's hand. "I'll hang that up. Let me help you with those boots."

"That would be a kindness. Thank you."

Obi-Wan had carefully removed the last, red-grey shot silk shortcoat, leaving only the full-sleeved shirt and silver-black breeches embroidered in gold bees, and was carefully folding it over a divan with the rest of the outfit (which, he was now determined, would disappear into his closet until he could convince Qui-Gon to put on at least part of it again; taking it off had been a lovely exercise in delayed gratifiation), when his Master spoke.

"A far cry from when I stood with Mace last year."

"I enjoyed taking you out of your Whites as much as I'm enjoying this," Obi-Wan replied, remembering.

"I was thinking of the ceremony."

"'Jedi ceremony,'" Obi-Wan quoted Master Sli'Sbe primly, "'should be the soul of brevity. For do not our inward thoughts matter more than those more outer worldly?'"

A faint snorting sound answered him. "This from the Padawan who fasted for three days before he became a Senior."

"So, I happen to enjoy the outward forms of ritual."

"The bonding ritual?"

"No, actually, that's one place I would want simplicity." Obi-Wan leaned back and looked up at his Master's long form. "Master Billaba and Master Windu ... well it was so obvious that it was right. I don't think they needed anything more."

"You contradict yourself."

"'I am vast,'" Obi-Wan quoted again.

"When your vastness no longer includes being a Padawan...."

Obi-Wan just smiled serenely. "Now, about this hair ... thing."

Obediantly, Qui-Gon sat, giving his apprentice a lovely view of the way the thin garnet silk of the shirt set off the planes of his back, and the snug breeches the trim line of his waist and hips.

Obi-Wan centered himself, and began gently teasing the tight-bound coils and braids from the wire superstructure, plucking each flower and ribbon loose with care. As each lock of bronze-brown was freed he twined it through his fingers, smoothing and stroking, each movement a small caress.

"Well, then, my Master," [My Love,] "let's get you out of this hair-torture device the Maarilans call a Cap of Happy Office, and both of us out of the rest of these extremely beautiful, extremely impractical clothes, and we can have a little, private, joining ceremony of our own."

He was rewarded with a gleam of deep blue, and the tiny shiver that said the calm of their rooms, the light banter and harmony between them had worked their usual magic, easing away his Master's weariness, allowing space for self, for arousal, for expression of things that only Obi-Wan was ever allowed to see. So outwardly compassionate, and so personally private.

One hand reached up to trace the lines of Obi-Wan's face. [Let us join in love, my Obi-Wan. Let us love while we may.] The other hand joined it briefly, and then both began to unbind the braid that marked Obi-Wan's apprenticeship. The flowers, ribbons and strands of beads were put aside to mingle with the ones Obi-Wan was removing.

That simple signal sent jolts of shivering fire through every part of him, as it always did. His heart filled again with love and anticipation. His fingers still busy untangling hair and wire and ribbons, Obi-Wan took a kiss, long and sweet. [Let us live in the Moment, and forever know love in the Force.]

Qui-Gon's deep, quiet voice answered the thought, continuing the litany of the rite that they had begun long ago. "Let us know love in the Moment." Obi-Wan's braid was a thin ripple of golden brown against the ruby of his coat. Gentle fingers made patterns in the velvet nap. Another shiver tingled through him.

"Let us know joy in the light." The response came without thought. Finally the headdress came loose, and Obi-Wan put it aside to finish unwinding the last of the braids and twists. The sigh of relief and perceptible release of tension that flowed from the bigger man warmed him in a different, equally pleasing way.

"Tirlan and Aariet made sure we were obliged only to them for the full term of the ceremony - a whole two tens, correct? Just in case they need us for some reason? That means we have almost half a ten left. Don't you think we really ought to keep the clothes, too, just in case?" [I rather want to see you in nothing but that silk over-robe....]

The corners of Qui-Gon's eyes crinkled in laughter and love-desire. "Then so you shall, my love, so you shall."

 

Let us join in love, my love
Let us be joined in love
Let us know love in the Moment
Let us know joy in the Light
Let there be love in our joining
Let there be light in our loving
Let us join in love, my love
Let us be joined in love
Let us love while we may in the Body
Let us live in the Light of the Moment
And forever know love in the Force

 

***(Fin)***

Notes: Yes, that is Walt Whitman that Obi-Wan is quoting, but the poem at the end is Gail's.

Costume trivia: `garding' is a band of contrasting, often embroidered trim applied to the hems or edges of a garment.