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There was a legend at the temple. Qui-Gon Jinn had returned from his latest diplomatic mission. He left a signed treaty behind him, another world brought to peace. Though Qui-Gon had never shirked his duty, many suspected the Master would have come to Coruscant regardless of the status of his work on Chtaw. After all, in ten years he had never once failed to return to the temple for these particular two weeks.

Obi-Wan knew the story as well as anyone else, despite the fact that this was the first time he'd happened to be on Coruscant during Master Jinn's return. More than twenty years ago, quietly pleased with the ascension of his first Padawan to knighthood and flush with his new rank of Master, Qui-Gon had taken a second Padawan. Xanatos.

Some said Qui-Gon fell in love with his Padawan, but most were of the opinion that he simply took another apprentice too soon after the first. Such a quick turn around invited comparison, and Siria's graduation had left Qui-Gon with more pride and confidence than was ideal, they agreed.

Whatever the cause of Xanatos' fall, the effect was dramatic. Qui-Gon, the man who had loved teaching, who had found joy in simply having a Padawan, withdrew into himself completely. He stopped teaching classes at the temple and began requesting more and more fieldwork. Soon he was hardly ever on Coruscant...save for the two weeks when he invariable returned to mourn Xanatos.

Most telling of all, no one could persuade Qui-Gon to take another Padawan. Even now, ten years after Xanatos' fall, he refused. It was for this reason that Master Jinn was as legendary for the pain and shadows he carried in his heart as for his skill as both warrior and diplomat.

Obi-Wan set his tray down and nodded to the other knights. For a fierce moment, he wished that he had not achieved knighthood quite so quickly. He'd graduated ahead of all his yearmates...which mean he knew virtually no one at the knights' table. He sat and was attempting to insinuate himself into one of the conversations when a slight ripple went through the other knights.

Turning his attention to the Masters' table, he was just in time to see a man seat himself next to Master Windu. The man was of middle years, still in the prime of his life though gray was beginning to touch his hair. A whisper somewhere to Obi-Wan's left caught his attention.

"...true, Master Jinn is here."

Obi-Wan glanced back at the Masters' table, genuinely startled. This was the man the knights spoke of with equal parts pity and sadness in their voices? This man, who moved with quiet power? Who radiated calm? Obi-Wan watched him for a long moment, but saw nothing to pity. Just as he would have looked away, Master Jinn looked up and caught his eye.

In the instant their gazes locked, a ripple went through the Force and Obi-Wan was struck with the sense he and Jinn had met before. Then it was gone, and no one else seemed to have noticed.

***

"I'm sorry, my Master," Qui-Gon said, turning his attention back to Yoda. "I became distracted."

"Ask you, I did, if the past year has brought any change," Yoda repeated patiently.

Qui-Gon shook his head. "I will not take a Padawan, nor will I see the Healers, nor will I sit in meditation with you a week tonight. None of these things helped ten years ago, and none of these things will help now."

"Stubborn. Heal you must, Qui-Gon."

Tension filled Qui-Gon's frame, but the only manifestation of it was the unnecessary force with which he laid his fork on the table. "My emotional health has been the pet project of every Jedi in the temple for a decade, Master. Let it be."

Yoda made a noise of displeasure but let the subject drop. Still, when his curiosity overcame him, Qui-Gon turned to Master Windu to satisfy it.

"Mace," he asked, "who is the young man who sits alone among all those knights?"

Windu followed Qui-Gon's gaze. "That's Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was raised to knighthood less than a month ago. His former Master is Restam Suluclac, I believe. He is becoming a fine knight."

Qui-Gon nodded his thanks and cast another lingering glance at the young knight. Something about Obi-Wan seemed to draw his attention... With difficulty, the Master brought his focus back to noon meal. Spending so much time away from the temple made the occasions he was back all the more important. There was news that one simply could not get elsewhere, and though Qui- Gon's work was the best method of keeping his mind occupied, he often longed for the serenity of the temple and the company of other Jedi.

Returning to his quarters to meditate while the meal settled in his stomach, Qui-Gon fully expected his mediations to focus on the painful but persistent subject of Xanatos' fall. Instead, he found himself contemplating the knight he'd noticed at noon meal. He had little more than a face and a name, but Qui-Gon speculating about the vibration he'd felt in the Force.

The Force did not act independently. It guided those who could sense it and connected all life, it reflected the emotions of the Force sensitive and it responded to those trained to it's touch, but it did not reach out of it's own volition. And yet it had felt very much like the Force was trying to influence Obi-Wan and he. Qui-Gon withdrew from his meditations and put the moment firmly behind him. He would live in the now, and if a similar moment arose he would have more information and more reason to meditate on the matter.

His meditations had lasted longer than he'd thought - it was now late afternoon. Qui-Gon rose and left his quarters. He would go to the practice halls and find a partner with whom to spar. He worked continually, and he worked alone, which meant he had only solitary katas to practice his technique. While essentially adequate, actual sparring was much more effective. And more satisfying, in many ways.

Qui-Gon checked the roster outside the practice hall and found, to his disappointment, that everyone had already paired up. Turning to leave, a name caught his eye. There. Obi-Wan Kenobi was signed up to spar an hour hence...and the space for his partner was still blank. Qui-Gon filled his name in and entered the hall. He would run through the solitary katas while he waited for the Knight to arrive.

The kata slowly drew to a close, and Qui-Gon was still for a moment as he surfaced from near-meditative concentration. Opening his eyes, the older man found Obi-Wan watching him with a curiously contemplative expression on his face.

Remembering that they had not been formally introduced, Qui- Gon bowed. "Qui-Gon Jinn."

Obi-Wan returned the gesture. "Obi-Wan Kenobi."

"My apologies," Qui-Gon began, "if I am late."

Obi-Wan shook his head. "No, it is I who am early. I must admit, I was expecting to have to find a partner from among the Padawans again."

"Do the knights shun you?" Qui-Gon asked, startled.

"Oh, no!" Obi-Wan insisted. "It's just that they prefer the company of old friends, rather than going out of their way to make a new one. It is a lonely but by no means permanent situation."

Qui-Gon nodded his acceptance of the explanation. "Shall we begin?" he asked, motioning to the ring. Obi-Wan nodded, shedding his cloak and setting his lightsaber to its lowest power. Qui-Gon followed, adjusting his own weapon.

The two Jedi saluted each other and traded a few exploratory blows, getting a sense of each other's style. Then Qui-Gon went on the offensive. Obi-Wan met him, a wrinkle of concentration appearing between his eyes.

Qui-Gon relaxed, allowing the Force to flow through him. He was preparing to step up his offense when Obi-Wan disappeared from in front of him. A moment later, he felt the heat of a lightsaber at his back.

"I concede," he said, and turned to regard his partner.

"I had not expected to best you," Obi-Wan commented, suppressing a grin. "I'm not sure how I did."

"You found my weakness and used it," Qui-Gon pointed out. Obi-Wan looked a bit confused. "I do not often have the opportunity to spar with partners who favor the acrobatics," he clarified. "Thus I am unused to defending against them."

Obi-Wan nodded his understanding. "Shall we go again?"

"Of course."

Blue and green blades met, the contact resonating in the Force and thus joining the symphony of energy that Knight and Master wove as they fought. When Obi-Wan next went spinning through the air, Qui-Gon met him upon landing, though the quick turn around left him a little off balance. After another overhead flip and an entirely unexpected roll, Qui-Gon managed to tighten the fight up, not allowing the younger man the space he needed to incorporate the acrobatics.

The second round, much longer than the first, finally ground to a halt with Qui-Gon's 'saber hovering a few inches from Obi- Wan's throat. "I concede," the younger man said. "And I am relieved."

"Relieved?" Qui-Gon asked, lowering his 'saber.

"Me, defeat the legendary Qui-Gon Jinn? Padawans and Knights everywhere would be crushed to see their hero brought low by a new-made Knight." Obi-Wan was grinning openly now, though Qui-Gon could see a touch of nervousness in his posture.

Qui-Gon's lips twitched, trying to hold back a little smile and failing. "I am glad to have preserved the fragile illusions of so many," he said dryly, and Obi-Wan relaxed. "Again?"

The younger man nodded and they settled into the rhythm of the exchange. This time both Jedi sought to prolong the engagement, each pulling back when the opportunity came to deliver a 'killing' blow. Eventually they wound down to a neutral stop, both men sweating freely and controlling their breathing carefully.

Qui-Gon saw as he powered down his lightsaber, that there were a pair of Knights waiting for the ring. "My apologies," he said, retrieving his cloak, "I had not realized we had run over our time." Turning to Obi-Wan, "My thanks, Knight Kenobi."

"My pleasure, Master Jinn," Obi-Wan said formally. For a moment Qui-Gon missed the irreverent young man who had joked with the 'legendary Qui-Gon Jinn'. The he saw the twinkle in the other man's eye and knew that the formality was a cover, a technique applied at will. He smiled, just a little, bowed and left the knights to their sparring.

As the door opened and Qui-Gon stepped through, he couldn't resist glancing back at his sparring partner. Obi-Wan had been cornered by the two knights, doubtless they were grilling him on his encounter with the Master. His skin still shone with sweat, moisture darkening his hair from sandy blonde until it showed a distinct reddish tint. Qui-Gon caught his breath, then tore his gaze away and hurried back to his rooms.

The light on his communications panel was blinking when he got back. The message was, predictably enough, from Yoda. Qui- Gon sighed, but accepted the dinner invitation.

Yoda's quarters were normally arranged for his own comfort, but they could be adjusted to accommodate guests. So, when Qui- Gon arrived, the humidity had been lowered, the light level raised and the ground firmed.

The evening began with small talk. Qui-Gon told his old Master all the details of a mission that never got into official council reports. Amusing moments and frustrating ones, his impression of the world itself, the feeling when the last signature graced the document of peace... Yoda filled Qui-Gon in on the temple gossip, but it was all small talk, and Qui-Gon knew it. He was almost relieved when the old Master finally got around to the inevitable topic.

"Take a Padawan you should, Qui-Gon."

"My answer is the same as it was a year ago, my Master," Qui- Gon said calmly, taking a sip from his drink.

"Initiates there are that would benefit from your training," Yoda insisted. "Lost, your knowledge should not be."

"I know nothing that the rest of the order does not."

Yoda snorted. "Knowledge you gain through experience. Ten years it has been since your experiences have been shared."

Qui-Gon sighed, staring at the golden liquid in his glass. It reminded him of Obi-Wan. His hair, his skin... Qui-Gon returned his thought to the subject at hand. "I'm not ready to take a Padawan, Master."

"Ready you would be, if the darkness in your soul you would fight," Yoda scolded him.

"Don't you think I've tried?" Qui-Gon asked, irritation beginning to show. "Why do you think I return to Coruscant for these two weeks every year? Did I not put up with the Healers and the exercises and the innumerable men and women who believed they could win my heart and thus ease my pain?" Qui-Gon shook his head. "I will never understand what it is about pain that attracts suitors," he muttered, and finished his drink.

"Put up with them you did," Yoda allowed, "but work with them you did not. Value your pain, do you?"

"My pain is the only punishment I've had for my failure," Qui- Gon whispered, almost too softly for his Master to hear.

Almost. "Fail, you did not. The failure was Xanatos'," Yoda said firmly, thumping his gimmer stick for emphasis. Qui-Gon made no acknowledgement. Yoda sighed. "Not enough, is ten years?" he asked softly.

"It would have been enough years ago," Qui-Gon answered, "but I can't seem to let it go now..." There was a moment of silence, and Qui-Gon reached out to the Force for comfort, as he always did when thinking of Xanatos. Most times he found cold comfort there, the distant wash of life a better balm than none. This time, there was warmth hovering just on the edge of his awareness, but when Qui-Gon reached for it, it slipped away.

"Tell me about Knight Kenobi," Qui-Gon said, needed to break the silence.

"Kenobi?" Yoda asked.

"Yes, Obi-Wan Kenobi, recently raised to knighthood."

"Know who you mean, I do," Yoda said. "Why ask of him?"

"I sparred with him today. He is a...remarkable young man."

Yoda nodded, still puzzled but clearly willing to satisfy his former Padawan's curiosity. "Close to the Force, he is. Has a strong sense of the future, he does, though escape him, the living Force can."

"He seemed in touch with it this afternoon," Qui-Gon commented.

"Ah, exception battle is," Yoda said. "Told me, he did, that he feels the Force most strongly during combat."

Qui-Gon smiled a little, remembering. "He certainly seemed to take joy in it. He does not rush into battle, does he?"

"No," Yoda assured him. "Focus on diplomacy, Master Suluclac did. A skilled negotiator, Kenobi learned to be. Suffer his battles skills would have, if not for his joy in them, I suspect." Yoda looked shrewdly at his Padawan. "Why this interest, Qui-Gon?"

The younger Jedi hesitated, delayed by refilling his glass, but relented under his Master's gaze. "He is different, my Master. It has been a long time since anyone looked upon me without pity, or spoke to me without sadness. And it has been even longer since I have been given respect without awe touching it."

Yoda blinked, a little startled by the gratitude and pleasure that colored Qui-Gon's voice when he recalled his encounter with the young knight. "See him again, will you?"

"Perhaps," Qui-Gon said, staring at the golden liquid but not sipping it. He never touched the second glass. "If the opportunity arises." He replaced the glass on the table and rose, bowing. "My thanks for the meal, my Master. I believe I shall retire now."

"Good night, Qui-Gon," Yoda replied. "Such an opportunity shall arise, I am sure." The door slid closed behind the old master's Padawan. "Ensure it, I will," Yoda said, and cackled.

***

Qui-Gon woke with the sun, as he always did. Somehow, with all the different day/night cycles of the planets he visited, the master managed to wake with the dawn on each one. He wondered, watching the light touch the towers of glass and metal, what had possessed the Jedi to build their temple on such a naturally barren world. Not that the Force was weak on Coruscant. The billions of sentient beings that populated the surface created a web of energy that made the planet vibrate to the Force sensitive.

Still, when Qui-Gon needed to relax, to regain his serenity, he always went to the temple gardens. The slow, continuous growth of plants was more soothing than the volatile life force of sentient races.

Most Jedi rose early, but most Jedi also began work early, so it was no surprise to Qui-Gon that the gardens were virtually deserted. He made his way through the different environments to his favorite, the wide green plains and their diversity of tiny flowers. To Qui-Gon's surprise, this region was not empty. Stretched out on the dew touched grass slept the young knight with whom he had sparred the day before. As Qui-Gon approached Obi-Wan stirred and came awake.

"Do you not have quarters?" Qui-Gon asked, allowing amusement to touch his voice.

A hint of a blush, barely restrained, touched Obi-Wan's ears. "I was watching the stars last night," he said, "and fell asleep."

"This is the only place on Coruscant where you can still see them," Qui-Gon mused. "Tell me, why do you think the Jedi built their temple on a planet as choked with technology as this one?" Obi-Wan looked suddenly wary. Qui-Gon shook his head. "This isn't a test, Knight Kenobi. Just a curiosity."

"Then don't call me Knight Kenobi," Obi-Wan said, smiling, "call me Obi-Wan."

"Very well, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, and smiled in return.

The younger man shrugged as he answered the question. "Perhaps the city grew up around the temple." He bowed then, and took his leave.

Qui-Gon blinked, struck by the simplicity of the answer he had missed. After a moment he knelt, settling himself into a light trance rather than true meditation. Obi-Wan's Force signature had left an impression of itself in the area, and the older man found himself feeling strangely at home in the midst of the echoes of the Knight's spirit.

Qui-Gon withdrew from the light trance feeling more relaxed than he had in weeks. The strain of the Chtaw negotiations had left tension in him that he'd hardly noticed. Now, in its absence, he felt the difference strongly.

Rising, Qui-Gon set off for the library. The fact that he'd returned to Coruscant did not mean that there wasn't work to be done. The Jedi had only these two weeks and the three-day trip to master the etiquette he would need to know for the inauguration ceremony on Scitsitats. Normally such a mission would have gone to a knight, but Scitsitatsan rules of conduct were both intricate and rigid. A single mistake could result in Scitsitats submitting at plea to withdraw from the Republic. Not to mention that Scitsitats had been a part of the Republic longer than most systems.

The library, in contrast to the gardens, was busy, but still quiet. Qui-Gon checked the references he needed on a monitor and made his way to the old but well maintained print volumes. Though _The Etiquette of Scitsitats: In Detail and In Depth_ was available electronically, Qui-Gon found he preferred to study from a hardcopy.

As his eyes scanned the spines of the books, checking reference numbers, he couldn't help overhearing a conversation being held in the aisle behind him.

"...so curious, why don't you spar with him?" The voice was Obi-Wan's, but when Qui-Gon would have tuned the conversation out his own name caught his ear.

"Me? Fight Qui-Gon Jinn?" the unfamiliar voice sounded incredulous. Qui-Gon shook his head slightly and waited to hear Obi-Wan's response.

"Why not? The man's not a god, Daeb, and he won't be offended if you ask."

"How do you know?" Qui-Gon was almost certain that Obi-Wan would roll his eyes then. Daeb went on, "Let me live vicariously, Kenobi. What was it like?"

A sigh, and a short pause while Obi-Wan thought. "At first it was a little awkward, the way it is when you spar with anyone for the first time. Then...something changed and it was...incredible." His tone of voice recalled to Qui-Gon Yoda's comments on Obi- Wan's love of battle. "We fought more smoothly and more intricately than I ever have before."

"Wow. He's really as good as they say?"

"No one's that good, Daeb," Obi-Wan said, his voice dry, "but I have no trouble believing he's the best. And...there was something else. We connected in a way that even Master Suluclac and I never did."

"Kenobi, have you got a crush on him?" the other voice was teasing now.

"Force, Daeb, I express admiration for someone and you think I've got a crush on them!" Obi-Wan sounded truly irritated. "I respect Master Yoda, does that mean I have a crush on him?"

"Maybe..." Daeb began. Qui-Gon decided to rescue Obi-Wan and, remembering his book at the last moment, stepped around the end of the bookshelf.

"Master Jinn," Daeb said, startled.

"Knight Goloh," Qui-Gon said, recognizing the elder knight now that he could see him, and nodding. "Obi-Wan, I thought I heard your voice. Would you care to join me?" he asked, gesturing vaguely.

"Certainly," Obi-Wan replied, his eyes twinkling again. They left Knight Goloh among the books and walked briskly off, stopping only to scan out Qui-Gon's book. "Thank you," Obi-Wan said as they walked down the hall, "I don't suppose I can return the favor?"

"Not unless you speak Scitsitatsan," Qui-Gon answered, sighing a little. Scitsitatsan had a vocabulary twice that of Standard, with twice as many grammar rules, half of it dealing directly with status nuances. It was not a language anyone chose to learn, and the fact that Qui-Gon spoke it was probably the majority of the reason he had been selected to participate in the inauguration.

"Actually, I do," Obi-Wan said, a little ruefully. Answering Qui- Gon's startled expression, he went on. "Master Suluclac said more than once that one cannot be a true diplomat unless one can conduct diplomacy in Scitsitatsan, so I made a point of learning it. I'm glad I did - the knighting trial my Master devised for me was conducted entirely in Scitsitatsan."

"Perhaps, then, you would be willing to help me brush up on mine? It has been years since I've needed to use it."

"Of course."

They had arrived at Qui-Gon's quarters as they spoke, and now he entered his key code. As the door opened and he led the way inside, the older man paused. "I'm not taking you away from other duties?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "I had a class to teach, but Master Yoda cancelled it for today."

"He moved fast," Qui-Gon murmured, amused, and indicated that Obi-Wan should follow him within. As the younger man looked around, Qui-Gon realized for the first time how...sterile his rooms were. "Not much of a home, is it?"

"Perhaps you carry your home with you," Obi-Wan suggested.

Qui-Gon thought for a moment but eventually had to shake his head. "No, I rather think I haven't found home yet. Not here, not on any of the hundreds of worlds I've visited."

Obi-Wan started to say something, but cut himself off. "Shall we begin, Master Jinn?" he asked instead, gesturing to the Scitsitatsan text.

"Certainly. But please, call me Qui-Gon."

The two men shared noon meal in Qui-Gon's quarters, but as afternoon deepened Obi-Wan excused himself to attend a lecture he'd been looking forward to. Qui-Gon kept at the Scitsitatsan for another an hour, but eventually surrendered to his desire for a more physical workout.

Arriving at the practice hall, he looked for Obi-Wan's name, but the other man must still have been at the lecture. Qui-Gon was surprised at just how disappointed he was. Shrugging, he paired himself with another knight and entered the hall.

***

Qui-Gon woke suddenly, reaching for his lightsaber by instinct before it registered that he was in his quarters. Forcing his breathing into a regular rhythm, Qui-Gon pushed his hair out of his face and checked the time. 5:38am. Early in Coruscant's 28 hour day, but too late to attempt sleep again.

Though he already couldn't remember the nightmare, Qui-Gon knew what it had been about. His failure. The Padawan who had slipped from his guiding hand. In the bathroom, Qui-Gon stepped into the shower and switched the setting from sonic to water. Hot spray pounded into him, his hands braced against the wall, face turned up into the shower.

The dream had fled, leaving only an ache in Qui-Gon's heart and the true memories behind it. Much had faded after ten years, but the anger and the hate in Xanatos' eyes as he pressed the blisteringly hot ring to his cheek... That remained, as clear as if he stood in front of Qui-Gon in the here and now.

It was all the older man could do to hold himself back from that hate, to stop the Dark side from swallowing him, as well. He fought this battle not every day, but often. Too often. Qui-Gon knew he was weaker in his resistance than he had been a year ago. Weaker, but not too weak. He'd held onto this pain for too long, dangerously long. Now...if only he could figure out how to let it go.

Qui-Gon reached out to the Force and drew on it to help him fight the Dark that sought him. Straightening, he shut off the shower and reaching for a towel. He dried his body off quickly and used the hot air jets to dry his hair, not questioning the vague demand he felt. Dressing, Qui-Gon found himself striding down the halls with very little idea where he was going, only the need to get there.

As the corridors grew less familiar, though not totally strange, Qui-Gon began to suspect where he was being led, and his steps slowed. He did not stop, though, and soon found himself standing outside one of the initiate classrooms. Qui-Gon had not been in this wing of the Temple, the teaching wing, since Xanatos.

Hesitantly, he peered in the half open door.

Clusters of initiates, around 9 years old, sat on the floor, working on some exercise. Among them, whispering a comment here, touching a head in approval there, strode Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon watched, and for a moment he ached with envy. To inspire such concentration in the little ones, to watch them learn to master the Force...it was a wondrous thing, a thing Qui-Gon was denied. At that thought, the older man pushed the envy aside. He'd chosen not to teach - this was not something forced upon him. Rather the opposite, in fact.

His thoughts were interrupted when Obi-Wan looked up from his charges and saw the master lurking about the door. Smiling, the younger man navigated his way among the children and met Qui-Gon at the door. "Do you need something?" he asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the initiates.

"No," Qui-Gon answered, "I just... What class is this?"

Obi-Wan accepted the change in subject without even blinking. "Shielding, level four. I swear the teaching position for the class is the test for level 14," he said lightly. Qui-Gon smiled, but hesitated in responding. "If you want to come in and wait, class will be out in ten minutes," Obi-Wan suggested.

Qui-Gon paused. "Thank you, I will."

Obi-Wan smiled and touched Qui-Gon briefly on the elbow as he returned to his class. With that fleeting, simple contact - the first they'd shared - all the urgency in Qui-Gon settled and the Dark was pushed back. Stepping into the classroom, he settled himself in a corner and watched Obi-Wan teach.

The younger man had a flair for it. He struck just the right balance, so that the initiates took him seriously but didn't resent his authority over them. The Padawan he would eventually take would be a lucky child.

That thought rubbed painfully over the raw spot in Qui-Gon's heart, uncovered and made tender by the recent dream. Obi-Wan looked up and caught his gaze then, and Qui-Gon swore the knight could sense the ache he felt, though he knew it did not show. It hadn't shown for years.

Shortly thereafter Obi-Wan dismissed the students, waiting for them to leave the room before approaching Qui-Gon. He seemed about to say something, but hesitated, then said: "Come, let's walk." Qui-Gon stood and followed him silently through the corridors and then out onto the balconies that circled the exterior of the temple.

"I come out here sometimes," Obi-Wan began, "usually when I am agonizing over a mistake in judgment. All this," he gestured to the shuttles that filled the sky and to the giant city, "reminds me that the universe is much, much larger than my sphere of influence, and that there are many forces at work that have much more impact than I. The only thing I truly have control over is myself. So I can learn from my mistake and move on, or I can lose control over myself as well."

Qui-Gon sighed, realizing that Obi-Wan had indeed seen through his calmness. Had seen as no one else had seen, and perhaps that was why he responded. "And what of the individuals you influence? Those initiates, for example."

"Their control over themselves far overwhelms my control over them," Obi-Wan pointed out. "If they chose not to take my influence to heart, I can't force them to do so."

Bowing his head, Qui-Gon waited a long moment, then whispered... "I have learned from my mistake."

"But you haven't moved on," Obi-Wan insisted gently.

"Do you know how many times I've had this conversation?" Qui- Gon asked suddenly, looking up.

"I don't doubt you've been lectured many times, but you've never had a conversation about this before."

Qui-Gon considered that for a long moment, but when he spoke he changed the subject. "Would you care to work off a little tension?" Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow, one side of his mouth quirking up into a smile. "Sparring," Qui-Gon elaborated dryly, amusement sparking in his eyes. Obi-Wan grinned and bowed a little as he motioned for the older man to precede him into the building.

***

Clashing lightsabers came to an abrupt halt in a flare of blue and green energy. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon disengaged their weapons and straightened from their fighting stance.

"You were wound up," Obi-Wan said, snagging a towel and patting sweat off of his face and neck. Qui-Gon nodded shortly, the action prompting a sigh from Obi-Wan. The older man almost sighed in return then, and found himself wondering how to convince the knight to remain in his company for a while.

"Have you had breakfast?" he asked, an idea striking him.

"No," Obi-Wan said, a little sheepishly. "Having to wake for the 5:30 shielding class is bad enough without getting up in time to eat beforehand."

"Ah, one of the few late risers in the order," Qui-Gon smiled. "Come, let me buy you breakfast. Outside the temple," he added, seeing Obi-Wan's hesitation. "The informal hierarchy of the dining hall makes it difficult for those of different status to eat together."

"You've been studying Scitsitats too long when a sentence like that comes naturally," Obi-Wan laughed.

Qui-Gon chuckled quietly, and placed a hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder as they left the practice hall. "I will have to study it considerably longer to satisfy the Scitsitatsans."

"After breakfast," Obi-Wan insisted, "and breakfast after a shower."

Acquiescing with a nod, internally pleased that Obi-Wan assumed he would be helping Qui-Gon to practice Scitsitatsan, Qui-Gon asked: "Meet me at the shuttle pad in 15 minutes?"

"It's a date!" Obi-Wan called as he headed towards his quarters, eyes sparkling mischievously. Qui-Gon returned to his own rooms smiling broadly, the nightmare forgotten.

***

"Where are we going?" Obi-Wan asked as he climbed into the public shuttle.

"A little place I discovered as a Padawan," Qui-Gon replied, settling himself. "The Sunrise Caf‚. It moves with Coruscant's rotation so that the sun is always rising as see from the Caf‚. Something of a gimmick, I admit, but I've always been fond of the place. Have you been there?"

"No. Now that I think about it, I rarely leave the temple when I'm on Coruscant."

"Coruscant is not a particularly beautiful world, but it does have its moments," Qui-Gon commented after giving the shuttle pilot their destination. "Dawn is one of them."

The shuttle finally moved into place beside the caf‚ a few minutes later and a short walkway was extended for them to cross over. The host was waiting for them at the door, but upon seeing the Jedi robes abandoned his usual spiel and merely asked if they were a party of two.

"Yes," Qui-Gon confirmed. "A window seat, if possible."

"Certainly. Follow me." The two Jedi took their seat by a floor to ceiling window and ordered almost immediately.

"How did you discover this place?" Obi-Wan asked, watching the eternal sunrise outside.

"My first lover brought me here," Qui-Gon said, losing himself in the memory. "We had slept in past breakfast. We came here so that I could have my morning after."

"Isn't that a happy memory?" Obi-Wan inquired.

Qui-Gon realized his face had grown a little sad and resolved it into a more neutral expression. "Yes," he answered, "but it has been tempered by later events."

There was a pause, not awkward but not comfortable, and Obi- Wan changed the subject. "Why are you going to Scitsitats? We jumped right into the practice without talking about background, as I recall."

"The Queen's eldest daughter, Princess Quera, is being recognized as heir," Qui-Gon replied. "As you know, a Republic representative is required to witness all events pertaining to the leadership of a member planet. Officially, sending a Jedi to witness is an acknowledgement of Scitsitats' long membership in the Republic."

"In reality," Obi-Wan completed, "the Chancellor was terrified his people would make a mess of the protocol, so he handed the duty over to the most capable group at his disposal."

"Indeed," Qui-Gon said, amusement touching his eyes, "although I'm a little surprised I was given this assignment, considering the mess I got myself into on my last trip to Scitsitats."

"What happened?" Obi-Wan asked, leaning forward a little.

"Some years ago I was chosen to go to Scitsitats to witness the princess' birth." Qui-Gon began, pausing for a moment when their food arrived. "At the time there was no one who spoke the language available. In the two months I had to prepare I managed to perfect the few phrases I would need for the ceremony. Unfortunately, I paid less attention to the formal greetings. I arrived on the planet and promptly made such an error in intonation that I was required to spend a year in service to the Queen's son to make amends. He turned out to be a very...social young man. Too much so for his mother's tastes..." A strange sound brought Qui-Gon's attention off his food. He looked up to see Obi-Wan choking back laughter. "It sounds funny now..."

"I'm sorry, Qui-Gon," the young man managed, not sounding at all repentant. "It's just the thought of a Jedi Master playing chaperone for an entire year..."

Qui-Gon smiled ruefully and went on. "By the time the year was up, I was fluent in Scitsitatsan."

"I should think so," Obi-Wan agreed, obviously thinking of all the pit falls of the Scitsitatsan status code.

"Come," Qui-Gon prompted, "I've thoroughly embarrassed myself. It's your turn."

"An embarrassing moment? Let me see... Oh." Obi-Wan hesitated, obviously hoping for a reprieve. Qui-Gon raised an inquiring eyebrow. "On Icos I misinterpreted an invitation to a yearly celebration as a...um...proposition," he admitted.

"You didn't..." Qui-Gon started, eyes widening.

"Oh, no! The difficulty came when I politely declined. It turned out I was supposed to attend, and when I showed up despite my earlier refusal the mistake was brought into a rather public focus."

Qui-Gon's lips twitched into a smile. "How old were you?"

"Eighteen," Obi-Wan sighed, "and far too confident of my own charms."

"Not without reason," the older man reassured.

"Oh?"

"Fishing for compliments?"

"Is that what I'm doing?" Obi-Wan grinned.

"I'm not sure. It's been so long for this old Master..." Qui-Gon lamented, somehow managing to keep a straight face.

Obi-Wan snorted. "Now who's fishing?"

"No respect," Qui-Gon shook his head.

"A refreshing change from all the awe, I imagine."

"Not so much refreshing," Qui-Gon said seriously, "as a relief."

"Is it that unpleasant?" Obi-Wan asked, a little concerned.

Qui-Gon shook his head. "Not unpleasant, really. The awe makes it very difficult for anyone under the rank of master, and even a couple my peers, to relax in my presence. Think of how you are treated by the people whom you help on your missions. That is how I am treated by nearly all the Jedi, as well as those not of the order. This, along with the expectations many have of me, can be very wearing." He shrugged. "But I would not change it, for to do so I would have to undo some of the good I have done."

"I never thought of it that way," Obi-Wan commented, setting down his utensils as he finished his breakfast.

"I imagine Master Yoda often gets the same reactions," Qui-Gon mused, "but he seems much more adept at...defusing the awe." Obi-Wan grinned, understanding completely.

"Our breakfast seems to have run a little late," Qui-Gon noted, surprised by how much time had passed. Regretfully, he signaled for the bill. The meal had gone just as he hoped, but it ended far too soon. Qui-Gon had to restrain a sigh. "We should be returning to the temple."

Obi-Wan nodded reluctantly. "I have a class to teach shortly. I'll come find you afterwards so that we can practice Scitsitatsan. I wouldn't want you to get trapped in another year's service," he teased.

"At least the Prince is married now," Qui-Gon replied, pleased that he would be seeing Obi-Wan later.

"But Princess Quera isn't," Obi-Wan pointed out, still grinning, "I imagine a Jedi husband would be quite a feather in her cap."

"With your help, I shall avoid such a fate," Qui-Gon said lightly, allowing Obi-Wan to precede him to the shuttle the host had called for them.

"I don't know," Obi-Wan said, turning and leaning against the side of the shuttle. He watched as the older man stepped inside. "I might seduce you myself."

Qui-Gon was about to make a light retort when he met the younger man's eyes. Desire flared between them, lighting up the fledgling bond that he had suspected, but not been sure of. He'd taken a step towards Obi-Wan before he realized what he was doing and stopped himself. Obi-Wan didn't stop, but just as he stepped forward the floor dropped out from underneath the two Jedi. Seizing the handrails on the inside of the shuttle to anchor themselves, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan hung on until the shuttle stabilized and came to a gut wrenching halt.

"Sorry about that!" the pilot said cheerfully over the intercom. "Just a little turbulence."

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon smiled at each other, a little embarrassed now that the moment was past, and seated themselves for the trip back to the temple.

***

Qui-Gon set down the Scitsitats protocol guide, realizing that he'd just read the same page three times. It wasn't often that he had this much trouble focusing. At least the source of his distraction was clear. Although that wasn't necessarily a good thing.

The near-kiss kept replaying itself in front of his eyes, blotting out the words. The memory bothered him, mostly because he couldn't seem to control how much he wished their lips had met. A caress, unbearably delicate...or a deep, hungry exploration, tongues tangling, tasting... Qui-Gon shook free of the fantasy, mildly appalled at himself. It had been years since he'd indulged in such a lack of control.

Of course, it had also been years since he'd shared a bond with anyone. Not since the training bond with Xanatos. The ache of pain that thought prompted was distressingly familiar. How long had it been since a complete day had passed in serenity? Too long. Qui-Gon sighed. Everything seemed to lead back to that one event. The defining moment in his life, when his student branded himself with a ring and branded Qui-Gon with the hate in his eyes. The Jedi Master wrenched his mind away from that train of thought. He'd pursued it enough times to know intimately where it led.

Qui-Gon wished, as he absorbed yet another nuance of the Scitsitatsan dress code, that Obi-Wan was there to help him study. The younger man had a way of making the complexity of the culture fascinating. Not answering the door when he had come by after his class had been an act motivated, Qui-Gon admitted, primarily by fear. Fortunately, that could be remedied.

He opened a comlink and paged Obi-Wan.

"Kenobi," the smooth, familiar voice answered.

Qui-Gon immediately felt better.

***

"They're sending you back to Scitsitats? After what happened the last time?"

Qui-Gon nodded ruefully at his dinner companion. "I suspect the skills I learned in my year's service were actually a point in favor of my assignment to this mission."

"Do you still remember all the nuances of the language?" the young woman asked, looking a little concerned.

"I'm a bit out of practice," he admitted, "but I'm getting help brushing up on it."

"From who?" she asked, taking a bite of the half-finished entr‚e in front of her.

"Knight Kenobi."

"Ah, yes. I hear you've been spending a lot of time with him."

"From who?" Qui-Gon asked curiously. When she delayed answering by taking another bite of her food, his tone grew firmer, though still curious. "Come, Siria, fill your old master in on the temple gossip."

She took pity on him and set her fork down. "From everyone, master."

"You shouldn't call me master," Qui-Gon murmured. "You've been a Knight for decades."

Siria ignored him and went on. "Word is that you've spent more time with Kenobi than not. Some have even gone so far as to say you're dating."

"Dating?" Qui-Gon asked, raising an eyebrow. "We haven't been on any dates."

"Then what do you call breakfast this morning?" she challenged.

Qui-Gon opened his mouth to reply, then shut it again. He sighed. "So it was a date. Force, at my age, dating."

"It's not a bad thing, Qui-Gon," Siria said, amused at his reaction. "In fact, I think he's good for you."

"Good for me?"

"Quit playing clueless, master. You're more relaxed and at peace than I've seen you in the past 10 years. And you're smiling more. What happened that you've finally allowed someone to reach you?"

Qui-Gon regarded his earnest former Padawan for a long moment, thinking. "It's Obi-Wan. He's different from the others. We seem to have a bond."

"A bond?"

"Of a sort. But it's more than that. He sees me differently, has seen beyond what others see from the very beginning. It's like," the older Jedi paused, searching for the right words. "It's as though he's found a part of myself I'd lost, and is leading me to it."

"Now I understand," Siria said absently.

"Understand what?"

She looked up from her near-finished meal and smiled a little. "Why Yoda has been bending over backwards to get your schedule to line up with Obi-Wan's."

"I thought it was just the once," Qui-Gon said, shaking his head.

"No, he's been rearranging classes and lectures and even a social event or two to increase the chances the two of you will run into each other. Everyone but Obi-Wan has an absolute nightmare of a schedule now."

"Oh dear. The other knights aren't going to thank Obi-Wan for that," Qui-Gon murmured, remembering that the young man had said he'd been having a hard time fitting in.

"Well, he is dating the legendary Qui-Gon Jinn, so it all works out in the end," Siria commented, and they shared a chuckle.

Qui-Gon frowned after a thoughtful moment. "I'm not sure I like it that people are taking such an...interest in my personal life. I've had quite enough of that in the past few years."

"Qui-Gon! Don't you dare stop seeing Kenobi just to be contrary," Siria said sharply. "It's past time for you to heal, and you know it. So does everyone else, and that's why Yoda is going to such lengths. He cares about you."

The older Jedi raised an eyebrow at the knight's commanding tone. "I hadn't planned on it."

"You were considering it. I spent 11 years as your Padawan, I can tell."

"You were my Padawan more than 20 years ago," Qui-Gon pointed out, "and we've seen each other all of a dozen times since then. The council keeps you busy."

"Yes," Siria acknowledged, "but the last time I saw you was four years ago, and you haven't changed since then."

"Perhaps not," he sighed, suddenly aware of the fatigue in his voice. He saw Siria move as if to reach out and realized that his tone had betrayed the grief he still carried. Quickly, he changed the subject. "Will I see you at the collective meditation tomorrow?"

"Of course," Siria answered, clearly reluctant to change the topic of conversation. Qui-Gon knew she was familiar with his tactics. He would not be pushed. "But will Kenobi be there?"

"I expect so," Qui-Gon said calmly, but the hope rang through his voice regardless.

***

Qui-Gon woke early, anticipation singing through his veins before he even opened his eyes. He padded towards the bathroom, fingers undoing the braid he'd constrained his hair to for sleep. He set the shower to sonic, closed his eyes and consciously worked on relaxing all of the muscles that had tightened during the night.

It was a good morning. A serene morning, with a tranquil night behind and the collective meditation ahead. Such meditations were not rare, but they were not held frequently either. Not every Jedi attended, though Qui-Gon couldn't quite understand the rationale of those who didn't. The gentle embrace of dozens of minds had been a balm to Qui-Gon's soul in past years, and he mourned each time he missed an opportunity to participate.

Qui-Gon was deeply grateful he was able to attend this morning's event, for it brought together the people he loved most. His master, Yoda, would be leading the meditation. His best friend, Mace Windu, would be anchoring it. And his former padawan, Siria, would be participating. But it was not these that prompted this eagerness. No, that stemmed from the hope that Obi-Wan would be there. Qui-Gon embraced the moment and, as he strode down the corridor toward the great hall, he could think of no time or place he'd rather be.

He met Siria at the door, and they stepped through together. Dozens of Jedi milled about, a sea of brown and tan from which Qui-Gon struggled to pick a particular face. He absently noted Yoda and Mace standing at the head of the hall before his gaze finally alighted on Obi-Wan. Catching his eye, he made his way through the crowd and came to a stop next to the young man.

"Good morning, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, smiling. "I'm glad to see you here." He barely had time to introduce Siria and to learn that the young man Obi-Wan had been chatting with before Qui- Gon arrived was a padawan and a close friend before Yoda called their attention.

"Link," the ancient master said simply.

Qui-Gon took Siria's hand in one of his and held the other out to Obi-Wan. He grasped it firmly. Soon everyone in the room was part of a long chain of friends and lovers, the only gap being between the lead and the anchor.

"Join," Windu said, taking Yoda's hand and completing the circuit. Yoda sent a pulse of power along the chain, and those that needed a little extra energy borrowed from it.

Qui-Gon didn't need that power, not this time. The moment the lead joined with the anchor, his bond to Obi-Wan sprang from dormancy to brilliant life. In his mind, the younger man's presence overshadowed every other Jedi in the collective.

It was beautiful.

Qui-Gon had to resist the urge to simply bask in the glow of the other man's life force, had to remind himself to reach through the chain and touch the minds of all the other Jedi in the room. For once it wasn't a struggle to establish the links. Together he and Obi-Wan were stronger than either had been separately, and they wove themselves more deeply into the collective with ease.

One by one the Jedi relaxed their grip on the Force, the secondary links in place. Qui-Gon let his mind go blank and enjoyed the feeling of the collective wrapping about him as it did each Jedi who was a part of it. It was a hard sensation to describe. You had to be a part of it to truly understand.

This time, it was a little different. Of course, each collective had a unique tone and texture to it, depending on who was a part of it. But this morning Qui-Gon sensed a mind distinct from the collective, something he'd never experienced before. Obi-Wan.

Yet the younger man wasn't intruding on his peace. Rather, he completed it. Qui-Gon reached out and drew him a little closer. Memories and emotions flickered between them, rather than words. It was perfect.

Then the lead and the anchor parted, and the bond began to fade to dormancy once again. Qui-Gon had to fight a sudden surge of panic. He just barely managed to stop himself from hanging onto the bond, not knowing what that would do to Obi-Wan. Slowly, he opened his eyes.

He was still holding Obi-Wan's hand, and it was the easiest thing in the world to tug him a little closer, to slide one hand around the back of his neck, to bring their lips together. The kiss was light, the first touch, uncertain. Obi-Wan's hand came to rest on Qui-Gon's hip, his fingers tightening in the cloth of the older man's tunic as he deepened the caress.

They finally parted, only slowly releasing each other. For one perfect moment, they were alone in the room. The bond, having come to life again, slowly faded.

Someone cleared their throat.

Obi-Wan's head snapped around and he flushed as he saw his friend, who looked rather impressed, and... All. The Jedi. Behind him. Qui-Gon smiled apologetically, though he couldn't regret what he'd done, and looked up to see Yoda looking intolerably pleased. The master fleetingly considered pulling Obi-Wan from the room and then realized how that would look and discarded the idea.

Those who hadn't been close enough to see the kiss were already chatting and leaving the hall, and those who had followed them after a moment. Qui-Gon wished desperately that Yoda wouldn't approach them and, for once, his wish was granted. Instead, the diminutive master headed for the exit, the crowd parting for him. Perhaps this meant his master would stop interfering in his private life...

As if sensing the thought, Siria said, "Well, that's going to make it difficult to stop people from taking an interest in your private life."

"It's not as though I haven't been the topic of rumor before," he said, sighing in surrender.

"Come," Siria said to Obi-Wan's friend, "I think we ought to leave them for awhile. Shall I see you again before I leave, master?"

"Tomorrow," Qui-Gon agreed, "and you shouldn't call me master." Siria just smiled. He returned his attention to Obi-Wan. "Perhaps we should talk."

"Perhaps," Obi-Wan said, having recovered from his embarrassment. "Or perhaps we should go and spar for an hour or two before lunch. This meditation was a long one." Qui-Gon hesitated. "Not every moment needs to be agonized over, Qui- Gon. There are too many more to look forward to."

"You're young to be so wise," only half seriously.

Obi-Wan shrugged and strode towards the exit, Qui-Gon shortening his own steps a little to remain at his side. "I just have a better perspective, at the moment."

They reached the practice hall and signed themselves into an open space. Stepping inside, Qui-Gon saw everyone in the room give them a second glance before continuing their exercises. "Word travels fast," he said dryly.

"I imagine Cirle," Obi-Wan nodded towards the friend who'd attended the mediation with him and was now sparring with another Padawan, "ran directly here with the news."

Qui-Gon shed his cloak and stepped into a ring. "I fail to see why my life is such an object of fascination." He began his warm up.

He hadn't really been expecting a response, but Obi-Wan gave one. "When you're a padawan, you dream of being a knight, and when you're a Knight, you dream of being a master. For most of us, you're the kind of master we want to be. So we want to know as much as possible about what it's like to be such a master."

"But why me? Why not Yoda, or Mace? Or any council member."

"Yoda is admired, but he's not very...dynamic," Obi-Wan pointed out, straightening from a stretch. "And padawans in particular tend to blame the council for all the things they have to do that they don't like."

"Not their masters?" Qui-Gon asked, surprised.

"Hero worship," Obi-Wan shrugged. "A padawan's master can do no wrong. Surely you remember?"

"It's been awhile since I was a padawan," Qui-Gon smiled, "and it looks entirely different from the other side."

"Perhaps I'll find out for myself someday," Obi-Wan mused aloud.

"Planning on taking a padawan?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Not yet. Not for some time. But eventually, I expect so."

"They do insist," Qui-Gon said to himself, a little sadly.

"What was that?" Obi-Wan asked, finishing his warm up.

"It wasn't important," Qui-Gon said, shaking off the sudden melancholy. "Shall we?"

Obi-Wan gave Qui-Gon a searching look, but only nodded and raised his lightsaber to a defensive position.

***

Silence had overtaken the two men by the end of their sparring session, but it was neither uncomfortable nor strained. It simply was, and they enjoyed the serenity that comes when words no longer obscure emotions.

They showered in the facilities attached to the practice hall and strolled down the hallways of the temple, eventually coming to a stop outside the dining hall. Qui-Gon paused, reluctant to enter, and glanced at Obi-Wan. The same uncertainty was on his face. Just then an older padawan pushed through the doors, allowing the buzz of conversation out of the room. He glanced at the two Jedi, then glanced again, a speculative look on his face.

The event decided Qui-Gon. Catching the eye of a younger padawan on her way into the hall, he smiled and made a gentle request. "Padawan, would you bringing two servings of this evening's meal to the plains garden?" Qui-Gon glanced at Obi- Wan, his expression questioning, and received a slight nod in reply. He looked back at the girl and nodded to her to confirm his request.

"Of course, Master Jinn," she said, wide-eyed.

"I see awe has its uses." Obi-Wan's tone was amused.

Qui-Gon glanced, surprised, at the padawan disappearing into the dining hall. "I suppose I've come to take that aspect of it for granted."

"Why the gardens, Qui-Gon?" the younger man asked as they turned back the way they had come.

"Neither of us were particularly eager to subject ourselves to the gossip of the dining hall," he said, "and I've spent far too much time in my quarters of late. I no longer find living alone a source of serenity. Instead, I find the solitude..."

"Lonely," Obi-Wan finished.

"Yes." The sadness in Obi-Wan's voice startled Qui-Gon and it showed in his tone of voice.

They had reached the gardens and now strode through the various environments in search of the one they desired. The living Force caressed them as they moved, responsive in some places, calm in others.

"I've always felt an...an echo in my perceptions," Obi-Wan explained. "There's a space there that ought to be filled. But, as an initiate, I lived in the creche, and in the presence of all the other initiates, I hardly even noticed it. As a padawan, I became aware of that space, but my master was always there to soothe it. Since I became a knight," Obi-Wan paused and shook his head. "It eats away at the serenity in the silence."

They stepped into the plains environment then. Qui-Gon placed a hand on Obi-Wan's back. He had bowed his head as he spoke but, at the older man's touch, muscles that had tightened defensively relaxed, and he looked up with a slight smile.

It was early spring on the plains, and the brisk wind that blew was cold, but not enough to cause discomfort. The two Jedi clutched their robes around themselves protectively and headed towards a cluster of rocks in whose lee they found shelter from the wind. They sat side by side and after a moment the young Padawan appeared with two covered trays. She set them down with a brief bow and was off almost before Qui-Gon could tender his thanks.

"I don't think this environment agrees with her," Obi-Wan said lightly, uncovering his food.

Qui-Gon spoke more seriously. "Many initiates and younger padawans find the scarcity of the Force on the plains threatening."

"Scarcity?" Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow and paused in his meal. "I suppose that depends on how you measure the Force."

"You don't find the Force thin in an environment as comparatively barren as this one?"

"Perhaps to some people what Force the plains have is in the grass or these rocks," Obi-Wan said, "but to me...it's in the wind." The younger man's eyes sparkled and Qui-Gon found himself leaning forward as he ate.

"Wind currents are rather simplistic, compared to life currents," the Master pointed out, settling into his role of devil's advocate.

"Sometimes the greatest complexity is found at the root of seeming simplicity," Obi-Wan countered. "Consider a kata. A series of forms, poses and transitions. Nothing more. Yet those all of those are the result of millions of tiny muscle movements, shifts in weight and balance, and changes in focus. Complexity summing to simplicity."

"Except that all those complexities have at their source the Force, the basic energy of all life."

"The Force gives life to all things, yet it also derives from all life. What is more complex than a paradox inherent in something we know to be the truth?" Obi-Wan asked.

"It is only a paradox if you regard life as linear," Qui-Gon pointed out. "Our perception of life as having a beginning and an ending is a result of our restriction to traveling forward in time. The Force has no such limitation, and without the paradox the complexity vanishes."

A thoughtful pause. "Yet how can the Force, which gives rise to such diversity of life, be a simple thing?" Qui-Gon could see Obi-Wan's reluctance in asking a question to which he did not know the answer, for it gave the older man the advantage.

"Diversity is not complexity," Qui-Gon answered. "A better question would be, how can life be complex when it arises from simplicity?"

Obi-Wan grinned and Qui-Gon knew he had made an error. "Life isn't complex. It only seems that way because we are so bound up in it. From the right perspective, every part of life reduces to simplicity."

"You've contradicted yourself," Qui-Gon pointed out.

"No, I've changed my position to challenge yours," Obi-Wan said. Qui-Gon chuckled as he realized that somewhere in the debate he'd begun arguing his own beliefs and Obi-Wan had become the challenger. "Truce?" the younger man offered.

"Stalemate," Qui-Gon agreed with a nod.

The two finished eating and set their trays aside. After a moment, Obi-Wan stood. "A demonstration, perhaps? Of the complexity in the wind," he answered Qui-Gon's inquiring glance. The older man nodded, curious.

Obi-Wan took off his robe and held it out to Qui-Gon. He took it and watched as the other man moved away from the shelter of the rocks and into the force of the wind. The gusts of air alternately plastered his tunic to his body and sent them fluttering in the grip of smaller currents. He closed his eyes and settled his breathing into that best suited to a kata, but the opening position was not one Qui-Gon recognized.

The movements began slowly, so slowly that if it had not been for the detail in them Qui-Gon doubted he would have been able to discern the changes at all. As the speed of the kata built more expansive gestures appeared, overwhelming but not eliminating the detail of the smaller changes. By the time the exercise had ended the poses were movements of Obi-Wan's entire body. If he had not begun with the detail alone, Qui-Gon knew he would not have seen it in the end result.

After a moment of silence, he spoke. "I don't recognize that kata."

"I know," Obi-Wan answered, quiet pride in his voice. "I composed it here, on the plains, with the wind guiding my movements. I've never shown it to anyone before."

"It's beautiful. What do you call it?"

"Heart of the Wind."

Qui-Gon hesitated. "Would you teach it to me?"

Obi-Wan looked surprised but nodded almost immediately. Qui- Gon took off his cloak as well and wedged the two garments under the edge of the rock he'd been leaning against. Standing behind his impromptu teacher, he copied the initial movements carefully, aware that Obi-Wan was speeding them up a little so that they were easier to follow.

They must have done the first five positions of the kata a dozen times before Obi-Wan moved on. Initially with Qui-Gon following Obi-Wan, and then on his own while the younger man corrected him. Though it was repetitive and the moments grew ever slower, Qui-Gon found himself becoming calmer, rather than frustrated. Perhaps it was the nature of the kata, in which case it was excellently composed, or perhaps it was the company.

Qui-Gon had a feeling it was both.

Hours later, muscles aching and feeling chilled to the bone, Qui- Gon came to the end of the kata. He finished it accurately, if not at the appropriate speed or with the connection to the Force that true mastery of it would have lent him. It took a long time to perfect a good kata. Still, he felt a deep sense of satisfaction and peace. Smiling at Obi-Wan, who smiled back, he retrieved their cloaks. They left the plains, where the sun was still setting, and were startled to find the halls of the temple deserted, the hour late.

Qui-Gon walked with Obi-Wan to his quarters where they stopped, awkwardness descending for the first time on the silence they shared. Obi-Wan raised his hand, paused in the action and then followed through, drawing Qui-Gon down for a kiss. It felt good, right, perfect. Their bond came alive again, its presence shining happily between them.

Realizing this, feeling the satisfaction of the bond itself, Qui- Gon broke away. There was a moment in which he caught a look of startlement that faded to resignation and then he tore his lips from Obi-Wan's, stepped out of the younger man's embrace, and fled.

***

The next day Qui-Gon did not leave his rooms for breakfast, or for lunch. He resolutely ignored the little voice in the back of his mind that kept telling him he was hiding. Hiding from the bond, because you can't run from something that's a part of you.

The little voice was hard to ignore, mostly because it sounded a lot like Yoda. Qui-Gon was convinced that the inner voice of every Jedi who'd come to the temple after Yoda sounded like the old master. And the only reason he was pursuing this completely frivolous line of thought was because he was trying very hard not to think of the bond or what he'd done the night before, and the Scitsitats that was all he had in his quarters to study was so blasted boring! At least that's what his inner Yoda was telling him.

The door chime startled him out of this thoughts and he hesitated to answer, certain that it would be Obi-Wan on the other side of the door. It rang again, and he found himself opening it almost entirely out of habit. "Siria," he greeted, surprised. "I had forgotten we were to meet today."

"So I gathered," she replied, not at all irritated. She glanced around his quarters, noting the single set of breakfast dishes waiting to be washed and the Scitsitatsan text open on his desk. "Ah, well." Qui-Gon raised a questioning eyebrow. "I had rather hoped young Kenobi was the reason you'd failed to call me," she explained, smiling a little.

"I'm not caught up with him to the exclusion of all else," he said mildly, masking his irritation.

"Come, Master, I remember what it's like to be absorbed by the blush of new love," Siria reminisced.

Qui-Gon could feel the tension begin to grip his shoulders, creeping down his back and up into his scalp. He'd have headache later. "I'm not in love with him."

Siria's sharp gaze raked over him. "Force, Qui-Gon, you've gone and screwed it up, haven't you?"

"I've screwed nothing up, as you so elegantly put it," he replied, biting each word off.

"You have," she contradicted. "You've done something stupid and you're so blasted proud that you're hiding in your quarters rather than fixing it."

"I'm not hiding, I'm-"

Siria cut him off. "What was it? What did you do?"

"What makes you think it was I who made the mistake?" Qui- Gon asked, forcing the question in between his padawan's heated comments.

It was an error. She pounced on it. "Mistake? I suppose it was Obi-Wan's, to think he could reach you, to think there was something in that heart of yours worth reaching."

"It wasn't him," Qui-Gon fired back. "It was never him, and it wasn't me either! It's this bond doing what it likes and dragging us along for the ride. I'm not screwing anything up, I'm controlling my own future!"

"You're not responsible for your future! Blast it, Qui-Gon, can't you just trust the Force?"

"DAMN THE FORCE!" Qui-Gon bellowed. "The Force did enough for me when it gave me Xanatos!"

Siria rocked back on her heels, stunned in the face of Qui-Gon's rage. The older Jedi had shocked himself with his anger. He glanced away from his former padawan, confusion touching his features. He looked back at her and was startled to find she'd gone quite pale, and when he opened his mouth to apologize, she bolted for the door as if the Dark Side was after her.

It was.

The Force around Qui-Gon practically seethed with the anger, the fear, and the unreasonable grief. He was horrified to discover that all the years he thought he'd been holding off that darkness, he'd actually been fostering it. By embracing any suffering, even his own, he'd opened a path for the Dark Side to follow to his heart, his soul, the very center of his being.

Qui-Gon realized that he'd been backing up, as if he could physically move out of the cloud of dark in the Force. Now the couch bumped the backs of his legs and he found his knees giving out, the physical loss of strength mirroring the spiritual as the darkness closed in around him. He knew he should call someone somehow for help but it was cold. Too cold to reach out, too dark to see his way free on his own.

Without being aware of it, Qui-Gon had curled up on the couch, his body folding in on itself even as his mind retreated from awareness.

***

There was a light in the darkness. It was very small but very bright, and he only found it because he'd drawn so far into himself that he'd found the place where he'd buried the light. It didn't seem important now why he'd put the light in this very small place surrounded on all sides by darkness. All that mattered was that the light was warm and the darkness was cold and it felt a good deal better to be warm than cold. So he reached out to it.

The light skittered out of his grasp and he lunged after this elusive, teasing thing that nonetheless seemed to want to be caught. The further it drew him the brighter it got and the more he wanted it. Suddenly the light was lost in a confusing place all twisted through with light and dark and he almost retreated back into the place he'd been before, but then something happened.

With a sudden, wrenching twist in perception Qui-Gon was aware of himself again. He was still on the couch, still curled up protectively, but his head was in someone's lap and they were stroking his face and carding their fingers through his hair. Obi- Wan. The light.

Qui-Gon sat up slowly, very slowly, and found that he was trembling uncontrollably. The dark hadn't gone, hadn't fled in the face of the Light. It hung on, and it was everywhere that Obi- Wan was not. "I did this," Qui-Gon heard himself say. He turned guilty, pleading eyes on the younger man. "I created this thing. Help me, Obi-Wan, help me to get rid of it."

"I can't help until you let it go," Obi-Wan said, his voiced pained. "I need for you to let it go."

"I can't," Qui-Gon whispered shrinking in on himself again only to find Obi-Wan's arms around him. "I'm tired, so very tired. I haven't got the strength to fight it..."

"You don't have to fight," Obi-Wan insisted, "you just have to let go."

"So tired," Qui-Gon murmured, and it was true. It felt like he hadn't slept in a decade.

The young knight sighed. "Sleep, then. I'll stay to hold the dark away."

It was only with these words that Qui-Gon realized Obi-Wan had forced their dormant bond to life. It stretched between them, seeming so fragile, and as Obi-Wan reached through it to wrap him in light he wondered that what was now his only source of comfort and strength could have inspired such anger and fear.

That was his last thought before the safety of the bond lulled him into sleep.

***

When Qui-Gon woke he found himself stripped down to his pants and tucked into his bed. For a minute he thought Obi-Wan had left, but after a moment he picked up the young man's voice in the next room.

"..can, Master Yoda, but the darkness has had many years to entrench itself. If he won't work with me, then there is little I can do."

"Work with you, he will. Finally, he is willing to heal."

"I think he's wanted to heal for a long time, Master," Obi-Wan said, quietly enough that Qui-Gon almost didn't hear him. "But he's been unable to find an ally to stand with him against the darkness that invaded him."

"Attempted to help, many did," Yoda pointed out, his tone mild and touched with sadness. Qui-Gon was faintly irritated at the implication he'd been a willing victim of the dark.

"With all due respect, from what I have heard Qui-Gon was treated more like a problem to be solved than a knight in need of someone to guard his back. He's too proud to accept help on the grounds he is damaged."

Qui-Gon turned his attention away from the conversation then, flushing with shame and more than a little embarrassment as he recalled the night before. He'd been so pleased to find someone who looked at him and saw not his failure, but his strength. Someone who felt not awe or pity or sadness when the thought of him, but genuine affection. Now...now he'd ruined it. Obi- Wan must have walked in to find him hiding - hiding! - from the dark, and when he'd led the older man back through the darkness at the risk of his own mind Qui-Gon had all but surrendered himself anew.

Footsteps told Qui-Gon that Obi-Wan had completed the comm call and come to stand by the head of the bed. He feigned sleep, not ready to face the pity or, worse yet, scorn on his face.

"I'm perfectly aware you're awake, Qui-Gon." Damn. Reluctantly opening his eyes, he was surprised to find only relief in Obi- Wan's expression. "I thought for a moment there that you weren't going to wake up," he said, some of the tension leaving his face and shoulders.

"How long have I been asleep?" Qui-Gon sat up, confused.

The bed dipped as Obi-Wan perched on the edge "More than half a day. Almost 17 hours, I think." He fell silent then, studying him, and Qui-Gon found he could not meet the young knight's eyes. "Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon, look at me." He didn't. Obi-Wan sighed. "I'm going to sit here until you can bring yourself to look at me."

Something in his tone of voice made the older man drag gaze to meet Obi-Wan's. Blue green eyes seemed to strip away all his defenses, and the other man's expression softened with understanding. "There's no need to be ashamed, Qui-Gon. Some battles cannot be fought alone."

"And some battles are not worth fighting," the Master murmured, remembering Siria's words of the night before.

"That's for me to decide," Obi-Wan said firmly. He stood. "I'll be in the common room, if you should decide to join me." Qui-Gon knew he meant join him in battle, as well as in person. The knight turned and strode from the room, pausing for a moment in the doorway. "I hope you will. It's been a very long time since I haven't felt alone."

After a moment Qui-Gon rose and went to shower out of sheer force of habit. As the sonics buffeted him, he reflected with amazement on this young man that he'd met only five, no six days before. Obi-Wan was truly like no one else he'd known. Perhaps, if he was willing to fight, there was something worth fighting for. Remembering the moment when his lips met Obi- Wan's for the first time, Qui-Gon thought he could find the strength for one more attempt.

Stepping out of the shower, he pulled on a fresh pair of pants and wrapped himself in the heavy warmth of his robe. Obi-Wan was sitting on the floor of the common room, meditating, but Qui- Gon sensed that his attention was more on the older Jedi than on his connection with the Force.

"It started more than 20 years ago," Qui-Gon said, not knowing where to start but at the beginning, "when I took a young boy names Xanatos as my Padawan."

It was a long story, one more familiar to Qui-Gon than the tale of his own life, he'd relived it so often. It surprised him, as he spoke, to realize that he'd never told the story to anyone else. Never the whole thing, with all the moments of doubt he'd had and all the moments of pride. He'd never shared the certainty he'd felt that Xanatos would pass the trial Yoda had set for him. And, though he'd cried, though he'd spoken of it, he'd never felt he'd shared the agony of disappointment, grief and shame he'd felt when Xanatos turned.

Qui-Gon held none of this back from Obi-Wan, eventually coming from where he stood in the doorway of his bedroom to sit on the couch. Obi-Wan remained on the floor, looking up at him, just listening. The longer he talked, the faster the words came, until they were pouring from him so quickly he doubted he could stem the tide if he wanted to. There was something about the warm gaze of the young man in front of him that made the words easier to speak, the pain easier to bear. An ally...yes, he could see himself fighting with this man at his back.

Finally, he came to the moment that haunted his waking hours as chronically as Xanatos' turn haunted his dreams. The moment when he'd been forced to strike his former Padawan down. His throat closed over the words and he struggled to bring them forth, succeeding only when a strong hand gripped his and strength poured through their bond.

"I had hoped," he whispered, "to be forgiven before he died. But..." he shook his head.

"It was he that should have asked forgiveness," Obi-Wan murmured, but Qui-Gon couldn't bring himself to believe it.

Pressing on, he was startled to find that the next ten years could be summarized in only a few sentences. Strange, to find that so many missions and so much pain could be condensed into a mouthful of words.

Eventually he ran out of things to say and so fell silent, waiting for Obi-Wan's reaction.

"It's long past time for dinner," the young man said. "Come, let's eat."

Strangely, Qui-Gon found that was exactly the right thing for Obi-Wan to say. After all, what could he have said that Qui-Gon would have wanted to hear or been willing to accept? That it wasn't his fault? That Xanatos made his own choice? That he, Obi-Wan, was sorry? It had all been said before, and none of it made any difference. So Qui-Gon nodded and stood and went to eat.

The fare was simple but tasty, the kind of thing a knight knew best how to make. They ate in silence, Qui-Gon slowly accepting the release he'd found in telling Xanatos' tale. Obi-Wan, he suspected, was giving him the space to do so. Afterwards, they washed the dishes and stood for a moment, purposeless.

"Do you mind," Qui-Gon asked, "if we go through The Heart of the Wind?"

"Are you sure you should?" Obi-Wan asked, his voiced concerned.

"What do you mean?"

"Qui-Gon, if you won't trust the Force, there is little point in performing a kata like The Heart of the Wind," Obi-Wan said gently. "It's not meant for battle. It's meant to make you look at the Force from an unusual perspective."

"Isn't that what I need to do?" Qui-Gon asked. "Examine my connection to the Force?"

"Very well then," Obi-Wan said after a moment.

The two of them moved the furniture to the edges of the room to give themselves space to work in and then settled into the first position of the form. Qui-Gon found himself able to complete the movements, but there was no improvement in the grace in his gestures. In realizing this, he saw for the first time how closed off to the living Force he'd become, and he wondered that he'd been able to successfully complete ten years of missions without the guidance he'd been trained all his life to accept.

They came to the end of the kata and Qui-Gon found himself breathing hard and sweating, though Obi-Wan needed little more than to take a deep breath to calm himself. "I've been so blind," he said, wiping his face and neck with the cloak he'd shed for the exercise.

"You told me once," Obi-Wan said slowly, "that you wouldn't give up the awe people regard you with because to do so you'd have to reverse the good you have done. Is this any different? If Xanatos had not turned, if you had not mourned for him as you did, how would your life have been different?"

"All I know for certain," Qui-Gon said, regret in his voice, "is that a young man who wanted nothing more than to be a Jedi was instead lost to the Dark Side." Qui-Gon could tell Obi-Wan would have liked to say something in response to that, but he bit back the words, perhaps feeling this wasn't the right moment for them.

"I," the younger man said, "am going to bed. You may have slept until late afternoon, but I have been up all night." He smiled to gentle the words and, when Qui-Gon expected him to leave, simply stretched out on the older man's couch. "I'm not going to leave you alone," Obi-Wan said, perhaps sensing his surprise.

"In that case," Qui-Gon replied, finding himself pleased, "there's no need for you to sleep on the couch. My bed is more than large enough for two."

"I didn't want to presume," Obi-Wan said, smiling and sitting up.

"Please," Qui-Gon gestured to the bedroom. "I expect I'll be up for a while yet." Obi-Wan nodded his understanding and went to the bedroom, closing the door softly behind him.

Qui-Gon could tell the moment Obi-Wan slipped into sleep for, without his conscious effort, the bond he'd been holding open slipped once again into dormancy. The Master sighed, already missing it. He wondered for a moment how this night would have been different if he'd kissed Obi-Wan back instead of surrendering to the fear in his heart. Perhaps the bond would have been completed... He wondered if it ever would be, now.

Though Obi-Wan had looked at him no differently this morning, Qui-Gon found his own confidence shaken. That he could have gone so long without seeing the darkness growing in him disturbed him, and his discovery that he'd not truly been in tune for the Force since Xanatos' turn cast doubt on every mission he'd completed since, regardless of success.

Recognizing that he was in danger of slipping into memory and self-doubt, Qui-Gon shook himself free of this thoughts. He made his way to the bedroom, opened the door quietly, and paused to simply look for a moment. Obi-Wan had curled up on one half of the bed, the covers wrapped securely around him. Glancing around, Qui-Gon saw a neatly folded piled of clothes on the floor next to the bed.

He showered and changed into a fresh pair of sleep pants. Though he wasn't yet tired, he did not want to give up this chance to be close to Obi-Wan. Slipping into the bed, he settled himself on his side, facing Obi-Wan's back. After a moment, he hesitantly reached out and ran a gentle finger down the line of the young knight's spine. Obi-Wan murmured in his sleep and Qui-Gon somewhat guiltily withdrew the touch. Closing his eyes, sleep quickly overtook the older man.

He never noticed the Force flowing through him strongly for the first time in years.

***

Qui-Gon woke to find that sometime during the night he'd draped one arm over Obi-Wan's waist, tucking the younger man in against his body. Obi-Wan, already awake, didn't seem to mind. Qui-Gon opened his mouth to wish his companion a good morning and found himself apologizing instead.

"What for?" Obi-Wan asked, rolling over to face him.

"For the other night. For running away, when I should have stayed. I was so stubborn, hurting you in my refusal to trust how the Force was guiding me." Qui-Gon glanced down at the end of the bed, but soon found his gaze drawn back to Obi-Wan's face. He was smiling.

"Ah, Qui-Gon, did you think I didn't understand?" he said softly.

"I... Do you know what today is?" Qui-Gon said, unable to find a response. Obi-Wan shook his head. "Today is the tenth anniversary of Xanatos' fall." Suddenly he was trembling, and then shaking, and then sobbing. "I'm sorry...I'm so sorry..." he gasped out, apologizing for everything and for nothing, because there was no one to forgive him.

No one but himself, and when warm arms went around him and held him close, he let go for the first time.

When Qui-Gon eventually calmed down he dried his eyes and took a deep breath. Obi-Wan drew his arms back, but Qui-Gon caught one wrist and drew the hand to his lips. Gently, he kissed Obi-Wan's palm in thanks.

The younger man caught his breath, and with a start Qui-Gon realized that his chance had not passed. He was suddenly certain that Obi-Wan wanted to feel the full power of the bond as strongly as he did, that the young man desired him as deeply as he desired Obi-Wan, that his touch was not only welcome but eagerly sought.

Qui-Gon abandoned the hand he'd been holding and wrapped his arm about Obi-Wan's waist, pulling him close and capturing his lips in a hungry kiss. Obi-Wan responded in kind, pressing himself tightly against the other man, the hardness of him making clear the strength of his desire.

The warm, flushed skin of Obi-Wan's neck and chest tempted Qui-Gon away from his lips. Urgency filling his veins, he kissed his lover deeply and then moved to taste the rest of him, the soft skin of this throat, the firm muscles of his chest, the abdomen that quivered under his lips. With every touch the bond between them flared and deepened, growing more stable and more complete.

Abruptly, Qui-Gon kicked the sheets away, needing to see his lover, to touch him with his eyes as much as with his hands. Still the leggings Obi-Wan had slept in obstructed the view, but even as the thought came to him the younger man was wriggling out of them, his gaze demanding that Qui-Gon do the same.

Naked, they paused a moment in their urgency to look their fill.

Obi-Wan's gaze was almost tangible, a caress as arousing as the touch of his hands. Qui-Gon reached out to touch the vision before him, certain in that moment that he'd never seen anything more beautiful.

Greedy hands reached out and found flesh willing, aching, to be touched. Yet every caress only fanned the flames higher. Qui- Gon felt he was burning from within, pleasure consuming him as surely as fire would. He captured Obi-Wan's lips again, their hips grinding together, and found himself swallowing the younger man's moans.

They broke the kiss, gasping for air. Obi-Wan hooked a leg over Qui-Gon's and thrust sharply against him, biting his lover's shoulder as the force of his orgasm ripped through him. The sharp touch of Obi-Wan's teeth set Qui-Gon off and he clutched the younger man closer, the warmth of their releasing spilling between them.

Moments later the two Jedi were caught up in a second, entirely mental climax. Their bond had deepened far beyond what either of them had expected until finally it touched a part of their souls they'd never been aware of before. With an almost physical snap it settled into place and the joy of its completion overwhelmed their physical release completely.

Slowly Qui-Gon came back to himself. He lay on his back, Obi- Wan held tenderly in his arms, and silently basked in the glow of the bond that fairly vibrated between them. Smiling down at the man in his arms, Qui-Gon recognized that somewhere in the past 7 days he'd fallen completely and hopelessly in love with Obi- Wan Kenobi.

Abruptly, Qui-Gon realized that, despite the bond, he had no idea if Obi-Wan felt the same. Oh, he knew he was desired. But love? The bond was too new, he had not adapted to it, could not yet read his lover's emotions.

Oh dear.

He needed time to think, to meditate. Instinctively, he raised his shields. Obi-Wan stiffened slightly and then sighed. He propped himself up on one elbow and reached out to touch Qui-Gon's cheek. "I know all of this has happened rather quickly," he said gently, "and I'm willing to give you the time you need to sort it out. Just don't shut yourself away from me." With that he softly kissed Qui-Gon on the lips and rose from the bed.

Qui-Gon blinked and half sat up, a little surprised to see Obi- Wan pulling on his clothing. "Where are you going?"

"You need to be alone," Obi-Wan answered, donning his boots, "and an old friend of mine is arriving on Coruscant this afternoon. I'd hoped to meet her shuttle." He paused. "If you want me to stay, I will. I was prepared to last night."

"No," Qui-Gon shook his head, though his inner Yoda was telling him he was being stubborn again. "Go ahead. I shall survive without you."

"I don't doubt it," Obi-Wan smiled and strode from the room.

Qui-Gon sighed and lay back on the bed. "You are a fool," he muttered to himself. Shutting his lover out of his mind would only put distance between them, and that would make real problems that truly only existed in his own mind. Concentrating, Qui-Gon allowed the bond through his shields. For a moment he simply lay and basked in the warmth of it, and something that might have been approval flowed along the connection and washed over him.

The bond was both unexpected and unusually deeply rooted, but as Qui-Gon relaxed and allowed the bond to grow more familiar, he found that it was also welcome. Rising, he made his way to the bathroom and, adjusting the setting to water, stepped into the shower. He felt like he'd been reborn. He could be satisfied with the gift he had been given, and not wish for more. He could.

***

Qui-Gon surfaced from his meditation and sat for a moment, thinking. Though he had focused as well as he was able, his bond to Obi-Wan remained ambiguous. He couldn't seem to resolve it in his mind, to see its structure and limits as he had his master- apprentice bonds. The only thing he was certain of was that he was quickly adapting to its presence.

In his examination of himself and the places where the bond touched him, he found that the darkness he had sensed had been driven out completely. He found that to look at his soul and find the darkness absent was a great burden lifted from his heart, one he hadn't known he'd been carrying.

Qui-Gon had to resist a wince as he remembered the outburst that had led to his escape from the dark. He had been filled with anger, touched by the Dark Side, and even as it consumed him he had struck out with it. Now...now he had to ensure his attack had not succeeded. Rising from his position on his knees, the Jedi donned his robe and left his quarters to find a friend.

Siria was not in her quarters, nor was she in the practice hall or the dining hall. Qui-Gon eventually found her in his old master's quarters. "Siria?" he asked, concerned. She glanced up at him long enough for him to see she'd been crying, then hurriedly looked away. "I'm so sorry," he whispered.

Yoda leaned forward from where he was seated and thwapped Qui-Gon firmly with his gimmer stick. "Need to apologize you do not," he said. Qui-Gon couldn't help the incredulous look he gave his master. "Came here she did because she ran when needed her, you did."

Qui-Gon laid a gentle hand on his padawan's shoulder. "Siria," he said softly, "you did no more or less than I did myself." She turned to look at him, confused. "After you left," he explained, "the darkness I saw in myself frightened me so badly that I retreated into myself. I ran. And I doubt I would have returned."

"Yet you're here," she said, "and I sense no darkness in you now."

"That is almost entirely due to the strength of another," Qui-Gon replied, unable to suppress a smile.

"Obi-Wan."

"Yes."

"I'm glad he found you," Siria said, seeming calmer.

"As am I," Qui-Gon replied, smiling. "Come, my padawan, it had been days since I have sparred with anyone. Shall we go and lose ourselves in the rhythms of the Force?"

"Certainly," she said, collecting herself. Rising, she bowed to Yoda. "My thanks, Master Yoda."

"Happy I am to help," the old Master said, and waved them on their way.

They walked in silence for awhile, before Siria eventually asked, "Now will you admit to being in love with him?"

Qui-Gon wondered at the hesitancy until he remembered that it was words very similar to those that had led to his darkness driven outburst. This time, his response was very different. "Yes," he admitted, "I love him. Force! I've known him a week and I've already fallen in love with him."

Siria shrugged, obviously reassured by his reaction. "How long does it take two souls so well matched to come together?"

"When one of them is mine? Just under seven days, apparently," Qui-Gon said dryly. "Although I'm not certain we are as well matched as you seem to think."

"What makes you think that?"

"Just that there is no reason to think that Obi-Wan returns my feelings," he replied, fighting to keep a touch of melancholy out of his voice. A strange, choked sound drew his attention back to his former padawan. She was obviously fighting back laughter. "What?"

Siria managed to swallow her giggles before answering him. "The man pulls you back from the brink of turning, gives you the strength to drive out the darkness and builds a bond with you that is so strong that anyone can see it just by looking at you, and you think there isn't any reason to believe he's in love with you." She shook her head. "Sometimes I wonder, my Master."

"Well," Qui-Gon said, "You're feeling better now, aren't you?" Siria chuckled again.

The practice hall was busy when they arrived, so they signed themselves up to spar an hour hence and settled in to observe the other Jedi. Qui-Gon caught his former padawan watching Mace Windu with more than casual interest and found himself suppressing a smile. "As far as I know," he said casually, "he's unattached."

"Who?" Siria asked with a rather weak attempt at surprise.

"Master Windu," Qui-Gon said, the corner of his mouth threatening to twitch into a smile.

"Qui-Gon, he's -"

"Interested," Qui-Gon said firmly.

"You're worse than Yoda," she muttered.

The older Jedi had opened his mouth to reply when a flare of something that was almost certainly surprised pleasure rushed along the bond and enveloped him for a moment. Looking towards the doors, Qui-Gon saw that Obi-Wan had arrived and was now dragging a young female Calamarian in his direction.

"Qui-Gon," he said, smiling, "this is Padawan Bant. I've known her practically forever."

"Good afternoon, padawan," Qui-Gon said, bowing a little and ignoring the unreasonable spike of worry he felt. "Your master is Egavas Tirel, if I remember correctly."

"Yes, sir," she said, and bowed in return.

"Have you been able to find a spot?" Siria asked, nodding to the sparring rings.

"No," Obi-Wan said regretfully. "Force knows why it's so busy today. I swear every Jedi in the temple is either sparring now or waiting their turn."

"Well, that's because of this morning," Siria said. As soon of the words were out of her mouth she looked like she wanted to take them back.

Qui-Gon frowned a little. "What, exactly, do you mean?"

The words spilled out of her in a rush. "You were shielding very well, you really were but...well...there was a little...leakage. Everyone just got a little extra energy, that's all."

Qui-Gon had to fight the urge to cover his face with his hands as he realized what she was referring to. He glanced at Obi-Wan and saw the young man's ears go faintly pink as he fought the immediate flush. Bant, not having been on the planet at the time, just looked confused. She did shoot Obi-Wan a glance which clearly said 'you are going to tell me about this later', and that pushed the younger man into a full-blown blush.

"Why don't you join us?" Qui-Gon asked, hoping to redirect Obi- Wan's attention. He was rapidly adapting to the bond and the memories that were now flickering across it were not helping his calm. Pleasant, but certainly not helping his calm. "We have a session in just a few minutes."

Obi-Wan agreed and glanced at Bant to confirm. She looked a little intimidated, but gamely indicated her willingness to participate.

The four claimed the next ring to come free and faced each other two on two - Qui-Gon and Siria against Obi-Wan and Bant. The match might have seemed unequal to others, but Qui-Gon knew that Obi-Wan was as skilled with the 'saber as he and he sensed the younger man's confidence in his friend.

They lit their 'sabers in unison. Qui-Gon and Siria fell into defensive tactics, Obi-Wan and Bant's more aggressive style taking the offense. The two older Jedi slowly stepped up the pressure on their counterparts. Lightsabers hummed and crackled as the four moved about the ring, the Force flowing through and around them, guiding their movements. Qui-Gon allowed himself to relax fully, finding joy in trusting himself completely to the Force. He didn't realize what had happened until he found himself looking at Siria over their crossed 'sabers. He disengaged hurriedly to defend himself against a strike from Bant.

"What," Siria managed as the matched continued, "was that?" He just shook his head to indicate he didn't know.

A moment later he overextended himself and Bant leaped at the opening. Abruptly, Obi-Wan was there, defending the gap in his guard and leaving Siria without an opponent. "Stop," she said before the instant of stillness could pass. They all relaxed from their fighting stance. "What is going on here?"

"I think," Qui-Gon said slowly, "that the Force doesn't want Obi- Wan and I fighting against each other."

"You didn't have this problem before," Siria said, the statement almost a question.

"No, but the bond was dormant before this morning."

"Hmmm. An experiment, then," she suggested. "Bant and I shall fight together, and we'll see what happens. Acceptable?" They all nodded their assent.

This time, as Qui-Gon lit his 'saber, the Force seemed to sing around him instead of merely flowing. They moved into sparring again and he found himself almost as at peace as he felt while meditating. Within a few brief exchanges he no longer had to think about where Obi-Wan was or what he was doing, he simply knew.

As the sparring session progressed he found himself deflecting strikes with techniques that were unfamiliar to use but which he recognized from his matches against Obi-Wan. The round came to a definite end when Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon managed to actually knock Bant and Siria's 'sabers from their hands...at the same time.

"Wow," Bant said, panting for breath. Qui-Gon looked around and saw that several of the other pairs who had been sparring had stopped to watch their match. "How did you do that?" the Padawan asked.

Obi-Wan shrugged and glanced at Qui-Gon. "I don't know," he said. "It just felt..."

"...natural," Qui-Gon finished, nodding. "I think we are adapting to the bond."

"I think that's an understatement," Siria said dryly. "You fought almost completely in sync. I don't know if you realize it, being on the inside of the experience, but you never got in each other's way, never left the other undefended. I've never seen anything like it before."

Qui-Gon didn't know what to say to that. Instead he glanced at the chrono and, finding their time was nearly up, suggested they go for an early lunch. The dining hall was not nearly so crowded as the practice hall, to Qui-Gon's relief. Meals were a breeding ground for gossip, and he had no wish to be stared at and whispered about.

The four spoke little as they ate, each instead focused on their own thoughts, though Qui-Gon could tell Bant was itching to grill Obi-Wan on what had happened in her absence. She kept shooting glances his way, but clearly couldn't bring herself to ask in front of a senior knight and a master. Sure enough, as soon as they were done Bant dragged Obi-Wan off, clearly intent on getting the temple gossip - most of which featured the young man himself.

"Now, master," Siria said after Obi-Wan left, "about this morning..."

"Oh, look," he interjected, his eyes, having followed Obi-Wan to the door, now alighted on another individual. "I was rather under the impression Master Windu disliked eating in the dining hall." Siria's eyes immediately went to the entrance to the dining hall. Nervousness chasing pleasure across her features as she realized Mace was headed in their direction.

His former padawan effectively distracted, Qui-Gon made his escape and headed to his quarters. He did, after all, have Scitsitats to study. The past couple of days had put him behind, and he strongly suspected that he'd need his current good mood to carry him through the material.

***

Qui-Gon crawled wearily into bed. It had been an emotionally exhausting few days. The hours he had spent studying certainly had not helped, for Scitsitats was nothing if not a challenging language. He was also, he had to admit, a little lonely. Yet he found himself unwilling to reach out for Obi-Wan. The younger man had been Qui-Gon's salvation, but he was beginning to feel rather embarrassed by his neediness. So, instead of seeking the comfort of the other man's presence, he settled himself on his pillow and attempted to relax enough for sleep.

Nearly an hour later he was still caught in that place where frustration over your inability to sleep makes you unable to rest. Sighing, he rolled over and attempted to settle himself more comfortably, to no avail.

The sound of footsteps alerted him, and he propped himself up on one elbow to see Obi-Wan leaning against the inside of his closed bedroom door, tugging off his boots. "I would have rung," the knight whispered, "but I didn't want to wake you."

"I haven't been sleeping," Qui-Gon responded, his frustration forgotten.

"So I see," Obi-Wan's words were muffled as he pulled all his tunics over his head at once. He paused for a moment, considering, then shed his leggings as well and crawled under the covers with his lover. Qui-Gon sighed happily, the tension bleeding out of his frame when Obi-Wan spooned up against him and slid his arm around the older man, his palm resting lightly over Qui-Gon's heart. They lay like that for a long moment, just soaking up each other's presence.

"I felt that little stab of worry," Obi-Wan murmured after awhile. "In the practice hall. You know there's no need for it."

"Yes," Qui-Gon answered, and let his certainty of that flow through the bond to his love. "I love you."

"And I you," Obi-Wan replied warmly. Qui-Gon could feel his smile against his shoulder just before his lover kissed him there.

They drifted off to sleep, their bond slowly expanding, encompassing more of them as their conscious minds relaxed. Qui-Gon was intrigued by the sensation, but he was too contented with his lover wrapped around him and sleep beckoning to bother studying it. There would be time later.

***

Qui-Gon left sleep behind easily and woke completely, feeling better rested than he had in weeks. Months perhaps. His brow wrinkled as he thought. Maybe even better rested than he had ever felt. No aches remained from the day before, nor had he gained any new ones in the night. Sitting up, he stretched slowly, closing his eyes and enjoying the pull of relaxed muscles.

When he opened his eyes he saw Obi-Wan emerge from the shower, a towel wrapped around his waist. "I thought you were a late riser," he commented, smiling appreciatively at the sight.

"I usually am," Obi-Wan said, smiling back. "I guess I was finished sleeping."

Qui-Gon stood and put his arms around the younger man, drawing him close for a lingering kiss. As they touched he found he could sense, on a level just below the conscious, an exchange of emotions and memories reminiscent of their experience during the collective meditation. "I think," he said after their lips had parted, "that the bond grew further as we slept."

Obi-Wan nodded. "A new kind of communication, I think," he said. As he spoke a memory played out in Qui-Gon's mind. It seemed to occupy a very new part of his mind, a place available to his consciousness but separate from it.

It was the memory of the moment in the collective meditation when their minds had come together for the first time. It was shaded with emotion: wonder and joy at the experience, reluctance to end it and the deep desire to feel it again. Qui-Gon absorbed the memory, and understood. Communication without words. Understanding of emotions and concepts and plans neither confused by the endless variations of language nor limited in expression by words. This was what the bond was growing towards.

"This," Qui-Gon said firmly, "we must talk about. With each other, and with others. Beginning with Master Yoda."

For once, Obi-Wan agreed with him.

Qui-Gon went to shower himself, settling for a quick sonic scrub rather than indulging in the warm spray of water he usually preferred. Thinking of water immediately brought Obi-Wan to mind, walking freshly scrubbed and still glittering with a sheen of moisture. Of course, Obi-Wan wet brought to mind all sorts of fantasies. Closing his eyes, Qui-Gon could almost feel the warm spray on his back as he pressed his lover up against the cool tiles...

He wrenched his thoughts away from the fantasy. They had much to do today, and several people to talk to. A wash of regret passed through him and was echoed by Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon chuckled, realizing he'd unwittingly shared the vivid imagery with the knight.

"Tonight," he promised, emerging from the bathroom to find Obi-Wan already dressed and waiting.

"I'll hold you to that," the other man warned, anticipation lighting his eyes.

"I should certainly hope so," Qui-Gon said, smiling a little.

They walked close together down the halls of the Temple, shoulders brushing though they were not quite holding hands. Qui-Gon found himself smiling openly, neither able nor willing to hide his good mood behind a mask of serenity. The knights they encountered in the halls kept looking twice at him, and he was a little saddened to realize that his smiling was unusual enough to merit extra notice.

They arrived at Yoda's quarters and Qui-Gon rang the door chime, though he sensed his Master was already on his way to the door. Sure enough, the door slid open to reveal Yoda almost before Qui-Gon's finger had left the chime. "Good morning, Master," he greeted with a slight smile.

"It is," Yoda said, his eyes twinkling a little. He turned and hobbled into the common room, gesturing for them to follow. "Glad I am to see all is well."

"Can you see it, master?" Obi-Wan asked as they settled themselves. "Knight Siria made a similar comment."

Yoda snorted. "See it I could if Force-blind I was. With the Force, more apparent the bond becomes."

"That is actually the subject about which we came to speak with you," Qui-Gon said, leaning forward a little.

"Problem, it is?" Yoda frowned.

"No!" Qui-Gon exclaimed startled. Almost before he realized what he was doing, he'd sent a flurry of memories and emotions along the bond to Obi-Wan. The comfort he'd gained from Obi- Wan's spark of life in the Force, even before he'd recognized the bond. His pleasure at their first kiss. The relief he felt at banishing the darkness. Flashes of their night together, colored with ecstasy. Love. In an instant, the root of his surprise was entirely clear to the younger man. He glanced apologetically at Obi-Wan, who looked a little flushed. "I'm going to have to learn to control that."

Qui-Gon turned back to Yoda and found him waiting patiently for his Padawan's explanation. Briefly, Qui-Gon told him about their experience sparring and the new level of communication that was developing. "It grows stronger still," he finished, "and though both of us welcome it, we don't know what to expect or where it will stop."

"Talk to the healers, you should," Yoda pronounced. "Meeting with the Council I have, or speak longer I would."

It was Qui-Gon's turn to frown. "I didn't think the Council routinely met today."

"We do not," Yoda said, a little wearily. "Reported, Knight K'tael has not."

Qui-Gon's frown deepened. K'tael was almost obsessively punctual. "As I recall, he is supposed to be on Vymir settling a succession dispute."

Yoda nodded confirmation. "Settled, the dispute has been. Final report K'tael was to make the day before yesterday, after observing the people's reaction to the coronation."

"Has the new government made excuses for him?" Obi-Wan asked. A surge of brief images passed across the bond, leaving Qui-Gon with the understanding that Vymirians would give explanations only if they sought to conceal something. He had had dealings with the race himself and was further aware that the Vymirian distaste for alien ways of thinking was at the root of this. The race itself considered excuses worthless and explanations irritating at best, feeling that there was little point in analyzing an event already past. Qui-Gon spared a moment of amusement for the thought that the bond provided understanding even when it was unnecessary.

"No," Yoda answered Obi-Wan. "Meet, we will, to choose a course of action."

"If you don't mind, Master," Qui-Gon said, "I'd like to hear the conclusions of the session."

"Visit again tomorrow," Yoda replied, "and tell you I will. Now, I must go."

"Of course," Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan rose and bowed to the diminutive master before turning to leave his quarters.

In the hall, Obi-Wan looked up at the older man, his expression curious. "Is Knight K'tael a friend of yours?"

"No," Qui-Gon said, a little lost in his thoughts. "But I have a feeling I will be volunteering myself to investigate his disappearance."

"Us."

"Hmmm?"

"You have a feeling you will be volunteering us," Obi-Wan clarified, smiling.

Qui-Gon smiled back, pleasure washing through him. He lifted Obi-Wan's hand to his lips and kissed it, uncaring of the people passing them in the hall. "Us." He looked down at their joined hands. "This is going to take some getting used to." His smiled broadened. "For that, I am glad. I find the things that have become familiar over the last years have not been pleasant."

Obi-Wan grinned, a little mischievously. "I shall do my best to make future...experiences more enjoyable."

"In the future they must remain, for the moment," Qui-Gon said, his smile fading a little. "Now, we must speak to the healers."

"Before breakfast?" Obi-Wan sighed

"Perhaps they can wait until after the morning meal," Qui-Gon allowed, more relieved by the suggestion than he cared to show. The expression on Obi-Wan's face suggested the young man understood more than Qui-Gon was expressing, but he said nothing. The master turned, not releasing Obi-Wan's hand, and they walked slowly towards the dining hall. "I'm not particularly fond of the healers," he said after a quiet moment. "I have found them...less than helpful."

"They're not so bad. It's the usual reason for seeing them that I object to." Though that was all Obi-Wan said, Qui-Gon got the distinct impression his lover was happy he'd volunteered the comment. It was a reminder to Qui-Gon that even as the bond was still growing, so was their relationship. He gripped the hand he held a little tighter and pushed thoughts of the healers to the back of his mind. With Obi-Wan, he thought he could learn to live in the moment.

***

The last test completed its run with a soft beep and Qui-Gon waited a moment before sitting up. Obi-Wan sat on the med- table next to them and they waited in comfortable silence for the healers to confer and return to speak with them.

The trip to the infirmary had not been nearly so unpleasant as Qui-Gon expected. A combination of temple rumor and the sight of him with Obi-Wan had apparently convinced them he was no longer in need of their services. Thus they no longer covertly cast concerned glances in his direction, nor did they pester him to return at a later date. Qui-Gon suspected he was also less sensitive to the attention.

The two healers who had run the tests conferred for a moment just of earshot and then came to stand at the foot of the beds. "To be blunt," the senior healer said, "we have no idea what kind of bond this is or how it will develop. We can, however, tell you what it is not. This is not a life bond. As far as we can tell, your life forces are linked intimately but not merged. Thus you shouldn't have any of the usual problems with being separated, though we cannot predict how one of your deaths with affect the other bondmate." Qui-Gon couldn't help but feel relieved. Not for himself, but for Obi-Wan. Life bonds had their own strengths, but the nature of the bond made the pair very vulnerable on the more dangerous missions. Qui-Gon did not want to be responsible for Obi-Wan's death, nor did he want Obi- Wan to feel responsible for his life.

The healer continued. "Nor is it a soul bond. You have not developed telepathy and there is no indication that you will ever be able to merge consciousness as soul bonded couple can.

"However, the symptoms of your bond appear to be entirely unique. We will be going through the archives to see if we can find a similar case. In addition, we would appreciate if you would keep us up to date on your condition."

Qui-Gon stood and bowed briefly. "Certainly, Master healer. I would, however, appreciate it if you would refrain from speaking of the bond Obi-Wan and I share as if it is a disease." His voice was a touch cool, though exceedingly polite. Turning, he left the infirmary, stopping out in the hall for Obi-Wan to make his own exit.

After a moment, the younger man joined him. Qui-Gon held up his hand to stop Obi-Wan from speaking. "You don't have to say it," he said. "I understand that it is in the nature of healer to treat the unknown as a threat. It is a precautionary measure I well understand." He shrugged. "I suppose, after my recent experiences, I am reluctant to internalize my negative reactions."

Obi-Wan nodded his understanding. They walked in silence for a few moments. "I am rather concerned," he said after a while, "about our inability to spar against each other. I had enjoyed sparring with you," he sighed, "and, if we take missions together, we will be unable to practice."

"It is no different with a single knight assigned to a mission," Qui-Gon pointed out. "The katas are not ideal, but they are sufficient if one is able to return to Coruscant every now and then to spar properly."

"I was hoping to avoid having to go so long between sparring sessions," Obi-Wan replied, grinning a little. "I got restless enough on my first mission alone that I requested permission to learn the use of the local dueling weapons."

"I'm sure we can find another outlet for that energy," Qui-Gon said, a slight smile tugging at his lips. He sensed a series of images rushing through the bond, just in case his words hadn't been suggestive enough. Obi-Wan gasped and Qui-Gon had to laugh.

"That ability will be a great advantage," Obi-Wan said after a moment, looking a little flushed but not wanting to go so far as to fan himself right there in the corridor, "if only we can get it under control!"

"I don't know," Qui-Gon said, his voice just the slightest bit teasing, "I rather like seeing you flushed."

"And I'd like to see you under control," Obi-Wan said, and though his voice was entirely dead pan a single image involving Qui-Gon, leather and a set of restraints found the older man catching his own breath. "So," he went on, eyes twinkling mischievously, "we have a lot to do today, right? Where do we head next?"

Qui-Gon schooled his expression into serenity and raised an eyebrow. "To see Knight Mundi, of course. If I am to go on a mission in the next few days we really do need to learn to deal with this bond." He then stepped up his pace to a more brisk walk, leaving Obi-Wan stopped in the hall, watching him a little incredulously. Qui-Gon chuckled quietly.

Despite the teasing, they truly did need to see Mundi, and so they soon found themselves outside the Knight's quarters. Qui-Gon rang the chime. Mundi opened the door, took one look at them and said, "Ah, I see. Please, come in."

"Knight Mundi," Obi-Wan greeted him and bowed. Qui-Gon followed suit.

"Master Jinn, Knight Kenobi," he acknowledged. "I see you need some help controlling your bond."

"Clearly," Qui-Gon said.

"The healers have been unable to tell us much about the bond," Obi-Wan said. "Do you think you will be able to help?"

Mundi gently waved off Obi-Wan's concern. "The healers have a tendency to be very rigid in their dealings. An admirable trait when dealing with the physical self, granted, but not a very useful one when dealing with the mental. The body is, to a certain degree, predictable. The mind, on the other hand, comes in infinite variations. No two minds react exactly alike to identical stimuli. The healers are not used to this. I am. There will be no problem. Please, have a seat." He gestured to a low couch. The bondmates sat.

"Please," he went on, "explain to me how this bond came to be."

Qui-Gon began. "I did not become aware of the bond consciously until I returned to Coruscant just over a week ago. I first noticed something...different when I reached out to the Force and sensed something, a warmth, there that I had never felt before. I did not realize it at the time, but I now see that I was much more relaxed in Obi-Wan's presence than when he was absent. I recognized the dormant bond after breakfast one morning." Although Qui-Gon did not elaborate, the memory of their first near-kiss flashed to Obi-Wan. From the expression on Mundi's face, Qui-Gon suspected he had observed it as well. The Master pushed on. "During the collective meditation, the bond seemed to become active. We experienced the kind of communication that is now developing between us, though on a higher level." He lapsed into silence.

"And when did the bond rise from dormancy to true completeness?" Mundi prodded.

"Yesterday morning," Qui-Gon answered, struggling to catch the memory before it escaped. He did not want to share a moment that intimate with a third party. To his surprise, he succeeded.

"Have you anything to add?" Mundi asked, turning to Obi-Wan.

The younger knight nodded. "I have been aware of something missing from my life from a very early age," he said. "I never understood it, but had a continual feeling of loneliness. Not even the master-apprentice bond I shared with Master Suluclac banished it. When I first saw Qui-Gon the loneliness did not immediately depart, but I felt very strongly as though I should recognize him. The more time we spent together, the less intense my loneliness became. During the collective mediation, I felt as though I'd known Qui-Gon all my life. The activity along what I now recognize as our bond flared incredibly high. As the meditation dissolved, I felt an...extreme reluctance to let the bond go. Afterward, the loneliness became even more acute. When the bond finally woke," he cast a warm glance at Qui-Gon, "I felt complete, and completely happy, for the first time."

"The feeling you experienced during the collective meditation," Mundi began, "have you experienced that level of activity over the bond at any other time?"

Obi-Wan flushed and Qui-Gon took pity on him. "Only when we made love," he answered. "I also suspect the bond evolves more quickly when we are asleep."

"In the long term," Mundi said professionally, "I suggest you attempt to attain that state frequently. It ought to aid the natural evolution of the bond. In the meantime, I will do what I can to give you both more control over your abilities. Do you think you can bring the bond to a more active state without the physical aid?"

"We can try," Qui-Gon answered.

Qui-Gon turned to Obi-Wan and held out his hand. The younger man took them and they closed their eyes. Reaching out along the bond, Qui-Gon tried to make his memory of their mental union a reality. Memories flashed back and forth along the bond as it struggled to reach the level of communication they sought.

His eyes still closed, Qui-Gon pulled Obi-Wan closer and kissed him deeply. The moment their lips touched it became clear that their own shields were standing in the bond's way. Together they released their shields and the bond immediately joined every part of them in perfect communion, its nature serving to protect their minds from outside influences in the absence of the guards they had developed over the years. After only a few moments, the bond withdrew the communion, as though understanding that their minds could not sustain it for long.

When Qui-Gon opened his eyes he found Obi-Wan sprawled across his lap and himself out of breath. He fought down a blush, but Mundi merely nodded thoughtfully. "I believe," he said, "I now know enough to help you." Obi-Wan cast a regretful look at Qui-Gon and slid off his lap. The older Jedi sighed and settled into for an afternoon of mental exercises. It was like being an Initiate all over again.

Much later, on their way back to Qui-Gon's quarters, they stopped to pick up some things from Obi-Wan's rooms. It was clear, though unspoken, that neither of them wanted to be alone.

The day working with Knight Mundi had gone well. Qui-Gon was grateful for the control the day had lent them, though the exercises had dragged on through both lunch and dinner. Now, returning to his quarters, Qui-Gon found that he was not nearly as weary as he had expected to be. Though the healers had said that there was no sharing of life force between them, Qui-Gon suspected that the bond was responsible both for his feeling of well being this morning and for the greater stamina he had enjoyed this afternoon.

Stamina. Qui-Gon smiled.

"Obi-Wan," he said, and the young man turned from where he was hanging up his cloak, "I believe I made you a promise this morning..." Obi-Wan looked confused for a moment, but quickly remembered the fantasy Qui-Gon had begun to slip into while showering. Grinning, he advanced on Qui-Gon, backing the other man up against the wall. "The shower...?" Qui-Gon gasped as his lover made quick work of his belt and sash, pushing aside his tunics to expose skin to his hungry lips.

"Later," Obi-Wan growled, hot breath washing over one pebbled nipple, "you've been teasing me all day."

"And you haven't...," the question broke off into a groan as Obi- Wan took the nipple between his teeth. Qui-Gon gave up on forming coherent sentences, his hands going to his lover's head to encourage the hot, wet mouth in its caresses.

Obi-Wan was intent on his task, seemingly oblivious to his own arousal as he teased the tender flesh. Qui-Gon ached with need, for the touch of Obi-Wan's mouth was only enough to tantalize, not to satisfy. Finally, he grew impatient and tugged Obi-Wan up to claim a possessive kiss. "Bed," he insisted, his voice rough.

Obi-Wan nodded and turned to go to the bedroom, shedding his clothes as he went. Qui-Gon eyed the skin being exposed hungrily even as he undressed himself. He met Obi-Wan at the end of the bed and they took a moment to kiss, to explore each other in a way the urgency of their first joining had not allowed.

After some moments, Qui-Gon felt his lover press a small bottle into his hand. The older man did not have to ask if Obi-Wan was sure. The bond blazed to life in response to the force of their desire, and he knew, could almost feel what they both wanted.

Obi-Wan climbed up onto the bed and knelt on the smooth stretch of linen, waiting. Qui-Gon followed and reached out with one hand to touch his lover's hip, silently ordering Obi-Wan onto his hands and knees. The younger man obeyed quickly, trembling with eagerness.

Qui-Gon marveled silently that this beautiful creature could be his, but he didn't question the gift. Instead he set out to please his beloved, licking and nipping the smooth skin of Obi-Wan's back as he slicked his fingers with the contents of the bottle and prepared the knight thoroughly and slowly...too slowly, apparently, for Obi-Wan was pushing his hips back again Qui- Gon's touch, pleading moans on his lips.

There was no single moment when Qui-Gon knew Obi-Wan was ready, there was only the need and the desire to join their bodies as they had their minds. The encounter that had begun with urgency slid into a slow, savoring pace. Qui-Gon claimed the younger man with every stroke and Obi-Wan claimed him with every cry of pleasure.

They came together, a blaze of pleasure racing through them, and spiraled down from the peak slowly, coming back to themselves with a languid satisfaction.

As they drifted into sleep, Qui-Gon reluctantly murmured, "We are going to have to talk. About this, about us."

"Yes," Obi-Wan acknowledged. "In the morning."

Qui-Gon stroked the skin under his hand gently and smiled. "In the morning," he acquiesced.

***

Qui-Gon was putting the last touches on breakfast when Obi- Wan appeared, still rumpled from sleep, in the bedroom doorway. "Good morning," he greeted the younger man. "Breakfast?" Obi-Wan stretched lazily and nodded, sliding into the chair across from Qui-Gon. They ate in companionable silence, and Qui-Gon found himself taking mental notes on the foods Obi-Wan selected out of the array. The older man smiled to himself, anticipating many more mornings like this. He waited until Obi-Wan had finished eating before speaking again.

"We need to talk."

"If you hadn't suggested as much last night," Obi-Wan said, smiling a little, "I might take that the wrong way. The phrase has all the wrong connotations."

"I doubt the bond would allow such misunderstanding to continue for long," Qui-Gon observed thoughtfully.

"The bond," Obi-Wan mused quietly. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but initially you seemed...threatened by it."

Qui-Gon opened his mouth to voice an immediate denial, but caught himself and responded more thoughtfully. "I suppose I was rather unwilling, in the beginning. I suspect, however, that that was rooted more in the darkness that had grown within me than in my own reactions."

"I had hoped as much," Obi-Wan said quietly.

"Hoped?"

"I didn't want to believe that you'd been forced into this," the younger man explained. "I saw you fighting the bond and thought you resented its influence. Eventually you seemed to just...surrender." Obi-Wan had dropped his gaze after only a few words, and Qui-Gon's heart ached for him as he watched the knight study his hands.

Qui-Gon reached out and took one of those hands in his. Rubbing his thumb over Obi-Wan's knuckles, he spoke, his tone thoughtful. "I felt the effects of the bond from the moment I first laid eyes on you," he began, "and I won't deny that it was the bond that brought us together many times. It and Master Yoda." They both smiled at that, and Qui-Gon went on. "But I also can't deny that I am happier when I am with you than I have been in the past ten years. I resisted because I was afraid. Afraid to trust the Force." He met Obi-Wan's gaze. "I will tell you now that there is nowhere I would rather be than here, and no one I would rather be with," Qui-Gon said firmly.

Obi-Wan smiled broadly and allowed himself to enjoy the moment. The older man basked in the quiet contentment for a while before forcing himself to go on.

"For all that, the bond was still something the Force gave us, not something we chose. You are still a new knight, Obi-Wan..." Qui-Gon trailed off and wondered for a moment why the bond was not projecting his thoughts, his fears. It would be so much easier to allow the bond to express what he felt than it was to voice the words. After a moment, he managed to finish the thought. "You've not had much of a chance to make your own place within the order, to go on your own missions. The bond places no physical constraints on us... There is nothing compelling you to work with me. To live with me."

"Nothing but my own heart," Obi-Wan said, and Qui-Gon could hear the smile in his voice before he even looked up at his lover. "I want to be with you, Qui-Gon. We can serve the order together as well as we can apart."

"Perhaps better," Qui-Gon said thoughtfully, studying his fingers entwined with Obi-Wan's. "There is much we don't understand about our bond. Our strengths, our limitations..." he frowned a little. "I'll admit to being a little uncomfortable with the uncertainty."

"We must trust the Force to guide us," Obi-Wan responded. Qui- Gon couldn't help feeling a little bit wary. Obi-Wan smiled, probably sensing his hesitance. "And you must find that trust again."

"I can't help but think we sometimes trust the Force a little too much."

Obi-Wan looked a little confused, and Qui-Gon remembered that he'd had a somewhat conservative Master. There would be debates on this in the future, Qui-Gon knew, but he was reluctant to engage in one now. Instead, he asked a question that had been on his mind all night and all day.

"You said earlier that there was nothing but your own heart compelling you to live with me. May I take that to mean you want to be with me? Here?" Qui-Gon gestured to his quarters.

"Yes, love," Obi-Wan answered. "I want to be with you. Here."

Qui-Gon smiled broadly, but his comm unit's frantic beeping cut off any response he might have made. Rising, he activated the unit and was confronted with Yoda's worried face.

"Felt a disturbance in the Force, we have," the old Master said briskly. "Expressed interest, you did, in K'tael's fate. Go, will you, to investigate?"

A little taken aback by Yoda's urgency, Qui-Gon took a moment to answer. "Yes, of course. When-"

"Now. Take Kenobi with you. Leave in twenty minutes, your transport does." With that, he cut the connection.

Qui-Gon turned to his mate, already drawing the cloak of serenity that he wore on missions about himself. "It seems we are going to Vymir."

***

Qui-Gon greeted the captain of their transport and took a seat in the body of the ship. Obi-Wan arrived a moment later and the scene repeated itself, the knight pausing to speak a little longer with the man. For the first time, Qui-Gon was aware of the vast difference between the image he presented to those outside of the temple and those within it. He could see that the captain was a little intimidated by his passengers, their calm indifference so different from the fondness and uncertainty of that morning.

The small ship lifted off the deck of the landing bay and curved in a smooth arc towards open space. Little more than a shuttle, it was all the two Jedi needed for the trip to Vymir. The planet was part of one of Coruscant's neighboring solar systems and the trip would be short. Otherwise, Qui-Gon would not have been able to go, as he was required to leave for Scitsitats in less than 6 days.

Drawing K'tael's folder of mission progress reports from his travel pack, Qui-Gon flipped it open and began reading. Vymir had a history of succession disputes due to the extensive intermarrying of the eight principle clans and their adamant refusal to give up clan boundaries in favor of becoming a single people. Every King or Queen who took the throne had relatives in at least three clans, and every time he or she died without a designated heir the planet erupted into a fury of passionate and sometimes violent bickering.

This time, the contenders for the throne had been relatives of the previous Queen from the Tyel, Riith, and Myrrn clans. Though the Myrrn had the strongest claim, a Riith had not sat upon the throne in nearly a millennium and the clan was determined to crown their candidate King

Their determination had paid off. After K'tael arrived, the Tyel reluctantly put their support behind the Riith and the Myrrn allowed themselves to be placated with a position of considerable political status. The report concluded with a personal note from Knight K'tael.

#Not that the negotiations went simply. The Tyel, having placed their support behind the Riith, proceeded to put the negotiations in danger by contesting every concession the Riith were willing to make to the Myrrn. Their behavior is puzzling, but now that the succession has been determined I expect the Vymirians will forget their own motivations and disregard others' as they always do so diligently,# K'tael wrote.

Qui-Gon concealed the frown that threatened at the note of disapproval in K'tael's report. It was not for them to judge other cultures. Flipping over the page, he discovered that it was the last report in the folder. K'tael had not been heard from or seen since it had been sent.

The Jedi was distracted from his thoughts when Obi-Wan took a seat beside him. "The captain regularly ferries visitors to and from Vymir," the younger man began. "It's his impression that everyone is satisfied with the new monarch, though the Myrrn aren't exactly happy about failing in their bid for the throne. I hesitated to ask directly, but he didn't seem to know anything about a missing Jedi."

"I doubt those responsible would allow such information to reach the level of common gossip," Qui-Gon commented.

"The captain should have noticed that he had not ferried back the passenger he was expecting," Obi-Wan pointed out.

"Perhaps. Best to wait for more information."

Obi-wan nodded and settled in for the trip.

Almost 15 hours later, the ship set down on the landing platform smoothly and the door slid open with a soft whoosh. Hoods raised, hands tucked into the sleeves of their robes, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stepped out of the shuttle. They moved to stand before the small party obviously meant to greet them and bowed in greeting.

There was a moment of awkward silence before the two men and single woman in the Vymirian party realized they were expected to speak first. "Greetings, honored Jedi," the woman said finally, stepping forward and touching her forehead in a gesture of welcome. "I am High Chamberlain Srien, may I present Clan Leader Pateel," she motioned to the older man on her left, "and Secretary Ellna."

Qui-Gon raised his hands and pushed back his hood, Obi-Wan mirroring him a moment later. "I am Master Jinn," he introduced himself. "This is Knight Kenobi. Our apologies for the abruptness of our visit." He made no mentions of their motivations, knowing the Vymirians would not care to hear them.

"King Oriison is, unfortunately, unable to greet you. I trust I will be able to meet your needs," the Chamberlain went on, turning to lead them into the palace. "Quarters have been prepared for you within the palace."

"Our thanks," Qui-Gon said graciously, following.

When they reached their assigned quarters Obi-Wan turned to the Chamberlain after entering. "Would it be possible for us to have access to your computer systems?" he inquired politely.

"For what purpose?" the Chamberlain asked, frowning slightly.

"It would be useful for us to be able to track Knight K'tael's work," the Knight answered.

Chamberlain Srien nodded sharply once, and the Secretary stepped forward. "You will be issued level four security clearance for the computer network. This is one level higher than Knight K'tael was granted," he said, "and will allow you to access the files that recorded his actions." Obi-Wan made a shallow bow in thanks, and the two Jedi were left alone in their rooms.

"The Chamberlain is Myrrn," Obi-Wan mused, having noticed the clan symbol stitched on the woman's robes. Qui-Gon waited for him to complete the thought. "It's unusual for a position of such importance not to go to a member of the ruling clan."

"I imagine the position was one of the concessions the Riith were forced to make to the Myrrn."

"I must admit," Obi-Wan went on, shedding his robe and moving to explore the suite of rooms they'd been given, "I am surprised the Myrrn backed down at all. Their claim was the stronger one, after all. It's unusual for a nephew to succeed when there is a sister available."

Qui-Gon nodded thoughtfully. "There are complications here beyond the facts in K'tael's report. I only hope it is not too late by the time we discover them."

"I'm going to wait for the security clearance to come through," Obi-Wan informed him, emerging from one of the two bedrooms provided in the suite. "I expect we shall be invited to dinner."

"Perhaps," Qui-Gon equivocated again. He had not removed his robe. "I shall return before nightfall," he added, and strode from the room, leaving a somewhat surprised Obi-Wan behind him.

A few doors down the hall he stopped a young man dressed as a page and inquired politely as to where he might find Secretary Ellna. A short series of instructions consisting mostly of lefts and rights led him to a pair of simple but beautifully stained wooden doors. A quick search revealed no bell, so he rapped lightly with his knuckles. "Come in," a voice called, muffled by the doors.

Qui-Gon turned the knob and stepped through the doorway to find himself in a small but comfortable room, facing a desk behind which Secretary Ellna himself sat. "I must admit," the Jedi said mildly, "I had not expected to find you without an assistant."

"I am the assistant," Ellna replied, smiling a little. "What can I do for you, Master Jinn? I trust the security clearance provided for your associate is sufficient?" He folded his hands on top of his desk and leaned forward attentively.

"I'm certain it is. I am here merely to talk," Qui-Gon answered, looking around the office.

"I must confess, I have had quite enough of talking in the past few days," Ellna came around to lean back against the desk. He didn't offer Qui-Gon a seat.

"I take it you were involved in the negotiations."

"I represented the Tyel. My position as secretary is a...consolation prize of sorts."

"The Riith have allowed many opposing clans into positions of power," Qui-Gon observed.

"The Riith depend on those with experience in ruling. And they are politic." Qui-Gon quirked an eyebrow at him. "Just because we choose to disregard explanations," Ellna answered the unspoken query, "doesn't mean there aren't any."

"Indeed. I am here looking for such explanations. Perhaps you can help?"

Ellna signed, obviously less than pleased. "I dislike venturing into others' motivations even more than my own, Master Jinn, but for the sake of my respect for you, I shall. Knight K'tael did a very good job here, and in the political arena anyone who does a good job makes enemies. The Myrrn were irritated because he snatched the succession from them. The Tyel were not pleased because he forced them into backing down, taking a loss of face. Even the Riith were less than pleased with the concessions he convinced them were necessary. This is no easy task you have."

"You speak in the past tense. Are the clans no longer upset?"

Ellna smiled broadly. "We are Vymirian. The coronation is past, the motivations are irrelevant. All is forgotten."

Qui-Gon nodded, allowing the thread of conversation to be closed, and began anew. "May I ask when was the last time you spoke to Knight K'tael?"

"Of course. It was shortly after the coronation. I congratulated him on a job well done and wished him well in the future. I believe he left for his rooms then. To meditate."

"And this occurred where?"

"In the gardens, where the reception was being held after the coronation."

After a moment Qui-Gon nodded thoughtfully and wrapped his robe about himself, bowing a goodbye. "I shall take my leave of you now, Secretary. I hope it shall not be a problem if I need to contact you again in the future."

"Of course not. I'm happy to help. You will, of course, join His Majesty and I for dinner?" Ellna asked.

"I am honored by the invitation," Qui-Gon bowed shallowly. "Knight Kenobi and I will be there."

p>
"Until this evening, then," Ellna nodded his goodbye and Qui- Gon opened the door and closed it behind himself.

Qui-Gon strolled through the halls, opening himself to the Force as he had not done in a long time. It was a source of strength he had not realized he'd missed, but it's presence was welcome now. Of course, along with that surrender to the power that guides all Jedi, he also came into contact with Obi-Wan. Frustration, carefully controlled, dominated the young man's mood. Qui-Gon smoothed a smile from his lips before it appeared. Some lessons must be learned first hand.

Eventually, the older Jedi came to the quiet peace of the Vymirian gardens. They reflected the Vymirian dislike for expressing motivations, and sprawled near wildly. It was a place that radiated life. Qui-Gon realized with disappointment that it would be unlikely he would sense K'tael here. The plant life would overwhelm any trace of the other Jedi within days.

He stayed in the garden for a moment anyway, experimenting with his recently reacquired connection to the Force. Vymir, like all worlds, had an energy pattern all its own, and it reflected the nature of its people. At first it seemed smooth, unbroken and simple. But a closer look revealed countless threads woven together like fine cloth.

Qui-Gon allowed the Force to flow through him freely...and quickly encountered a knot of very familiar and very irritated energy. Concerned, he rose and returned to the rooms he and Obi-Wan had been assigned to check on his lover.

When Qui-Gon strode into their suite he found Obi-Wan seated at the computer terminal. Before the older man could even open his mouth to ask what was wrong Obi-Wan turned his gaze, eyes hard with tightly reined anger, upon him. The knight slowly turned off the monitor he had been studying and rose. Qui-Gon could see how the younger man held himself and suddenly became aware that, though Obi-Wan might not be aware of it, he was fully prepared for battle.

"I realize," Obi-Wan began, his tone deceptively mild, "that it has been many years since you worked with a partner. I realize that you are used to acting on your instincts. Finally, I know that you have more experience than I do. But," here his voice lost a little of its tranquility, "I am not a Padawan anymore. I do not need to be protected, nor do I need you to teach me. I can learn my own lessons. So I would appreciate it if you would refrain from disappearing without even the promise of explanation."

Qui-Gon didn't know quite what to say. All explanations or excuses he could have given had already been spoken and set aside. All he could think to do was open the bond between them and use it to show that the point had been taken. After a moment, he spoke, aware that the tension between them had only eased, not disappeared. "I went to speak with Secretary Ellna to see what he had to say regarding K'tael's disappearance."

"And?"

"He said little we do not already know from K'tael's report, but he...put me on edge. My instincts tell me not to trust him." Qui- Gon frowned thoughtfully.

"What clan is he?" Obi-Wan asked, reaching over to activate the computer terminal.

"Tyel. He represented them during the negotiations," Qui-Gon answered, and moved to stand behind Obi-Wan's shoulder so that he could see the monitor.

"Hmm. I would have thought, from the way you spoke, that he would be Myrrn."

"You suspect the Myrrn?"

Obi-Wan shrugged one shoulder. "They had the strongest claim on the succession, but K'tael forced them to back down from claiming it. It seems to me that they lost the most."

"True, but I can't help thinking that the Tyel gave up too easily."

"Easily, perhaps, but not without profit," Obi-Wan nodded to the screen. "The Chamberlain might be Myrrn, but more than half of the ministers and secretaries are Tyel. With only an aged and already wedded cousin in a position to take the throne, their claim seems to have been more of a bargaining chip than a true claim."

Qui-Gon studied the screen closely, his eyes picking out a trend. He moved his hand to scroll down the screen and Obi-Wan moved out of the way. "There's a pattern here," the older Jedi murmured, almost absently. Obi-Wan narrowed his eyes at the flowcharts of clan leaders, ministers, secretaries, envoys and their connections that K'tael had constructed to aid his work. "Do you see?" Qui-Gon asked, moving a finger to point out a few connections.

After a moment, Obi-Wan nodded slowly. "Most of those dealing with offworlders or inter-clan contacts are connected to the Tyel. And most of those in high positions of power are Myrrn. The Riith have a relatively small presence in their own government."

Qui-Gon nodded, straightening from his position bent over to regard the screen. "Secretary Ellna has invited us to dinner this evening. I suggest we watch out hosts carefully," he paused and Obi-Wan nodded. "In the meantime, I am going to have a shower."

As he moved toward the bathroom, the younger man placed a hand on his arm, halting him for a moment. "Company?"

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said softly, his tone regretful, "you know the Code. Though I'm not well known for heeding it, I do believe that personal issues must be kept separate from missions."

Obi-Wan shrugged as if to say 'I had to try', and released his lover go to his shower.

That night the two Jedi arrived at the dining hall at precisely the time indicated in a message Obi-Wan had received while Qui- Gon showered. Their promptness ensured that they were there well before the majority of the court. In fact, they waited nearly half an hour before they were even seated, at which point the King entered, gave the people his blessing, and sat to dine.

Qui-Gon found himself seated about halfway down the main table, among the undersecretaries, though as a Jedi he knew he was entitled to a seat just below Secretary Ellna. Another diplomat might have been insulted at the implied slight, but Qui- Gon merely took advantage of the greater perspective it gave him on the head of the table. From where he was seated he could see the King and all of his primary advisors, rather than only those around him. Obi-Wan sat just a couple of seats further down the table, below the undersecretaries but above the military commanders. Qui-Gon ate sparingly, exchanging dinner table chitchat with those on either side of him and keeping one eye on the head of the table.

Though Qui-Gon wasn't close enough to the head of the table to hear what the King and his advisors were discussing over the murmur of conversation, he did observe an interesting dynamic. Oriison, young though very intelligent according to K'tael, would be discussing a point with one of the advisors sitting on his left or right. After a little while, he would pause and a young man sitting just behind his left shoulder would lean forward and whisper in his ear. Oriison would then return to the conversation with significantly more confidence.

After the third such exchange Qui-Gon managed to catch sight of the clan symbol on the young man's tunic. He was less than surprised to see that the young man was Tyel. Returning his attention to his dinner companions, Qui-Gon felt another piece fall into the puzzle.

***

Qui-Gon returned from the banquet late that night. The King and his advisors had drawn him aside to speak as the meal drew to a close, though they all but ignored Obi-Wan. The older man picked up a disturbing sense of resignation from his beloved, accompanied by a flurry of images from his Padawan days that only left the Master confused.

The suite they had been given was dark, illuminated only by the starlight from a panoramic window. Qui-Gon hung his robe by the door and strode silently through the room to stand in the doorway of the bedroom where Obi-Wan slept. The knight lay curled up on the bed, as if seeking to embrace himself. Qui-Gon hesitated, then turned away, uncertain if he would be welcome after his thoughtless rebuff of that afternoon. A soft voice stopped him.

"Qui-Gon." He paused, turned back to the bed where Obi-Wan now sat, the covers pooled about his waist. The knight tilted his head a little. "Is this how it's going to be, then?" he asked, as softly as before. "Lovers only on Coruscant, partners everywhere else? Not even that, I think. I might as well be your Padawan for all the respect I am afforded. Shall I stay here, then, and cook your meals and wait up for you at night?" His tone was mild but serious. "I'd do it, you know. I'd do it, and you could work alone as you always have, and it would be like nothing had changed."

"Everything has changed," Qui-Gon whispered.

"Then come to bed."

The older man quickly stripped to his underclothes, unwilling to question the invitation. He crawled into the bed and took Obi- Wan in his arms and for a long moment they lay spooned together, neither even close to sleep.

"I need you," Obi-Wan murmured, so quietly Qui-Gon had to strain to hear him. "Not just when we're at home. Not just when you need me. Not just when we're alone. I need you always."

"You have me always."

"Do I?"

Qui-Gon gently but firmly rolled Obi-Wan onto his back, propping himself up on one elbow so that he could look down at his lover. "Yes, you do," he affirmed. He hesitated for a moment, then slowly lowered his head to capture Obi-Wan's lips with his own. After a long, sweet moment Qui-Gon pulled back, his eyes caressing his lover's face. Then, a decision made, he threw aside the sheets, baring Obi-Wan's whole body to his gaze.

Gently, he drew his fingers down the line's of the younger man's throat, smiling at the pulse that ran just a little too fast beneath his fingers. From there, Qui-Gon traced the line of his sternum, deviating to draw feather light circles around dusky nipples. Obi- Wan's breath caught audibly and was released in a little moan of frustration and Qui-Gon merely stroked his way lower, causing his lover's tight belly to twitch ticklishly.

Smiling, Qui-Gon allowed himself to linger there as he leaned down to follow the touch of his hand with him mouth. Obi-Wan squirmed beneath him, partly due to the tickling and partly to encourage a firmer touch. Qui-Gon merely chuckled, letting his hand drift down to the other man's hip and thigh as his lips and tongue circled one tight nipple.

"Please..." Obi-Wan moaned softly. Qui-Gon made as if to abandon the tight bit of flesh, prompting a cry of frustration. Grinning wickedly he quickly captured the nipple between his teeth and tugged sharply. Obi-Wan's hips bucked upwards and he cried out again, this time in pleasure.

Qui-Gon moved to straddle his lover's hips, sliding his hands up Obi-Wan's arms and moving them above the younger man's head. Leaning down, he stole another kiss, rocking his hips gently as he did so. Obi-Wan moaned into Qui-Gon's mouth, straining to meet the shallow thrusts but unable to gain leverage with Qui-Gon sitting atop his thighs.

For a moment the older man was unsure of what to do next. He didn't want to leave Obi-Wan long enough to dig up something suitable for lube, but he ached to be one with his bondmate in all ways... Then inspiration struck, and he smiled down as his flushed and panting lover before closing his eyes.

Slowly, he brought their bond closer to conscious control, waiting for Obi-Wan to turn his attention from their outer selves to their inner selves. It took him a long moment, and Qui-Gon trembled in delight at the ripples of pleasure his lover brought to the bond. When he had Obi-Wan's full attention, he reached through the bond and brushed lightly against his mate's mind. A few more teasing touches, each bringing the minds closer to joining, and the comparison finally struck the knight.

A flood of erotic images, all featuring Qui-Gon's lightest caresses flooded the bond even as the older man moved deeper into his bondmate's heart and soul. Joy mounted as they grew closer, the pleasure that still burned their bodies a mere shadow of it.

Finally Qui-Gon could resist no more. He plunged into his bondmate, simultaneously opening his own mind and allowing Obi-Wan within. Two voices became one, crying out in ecstasy, and two bodies arched together as pleasure and release tore through them.

It took a long time for them to let go of that togetherness. But eventually they surrendered to the call of their bodies and lay panting in each other's embrace for awhile. After some time Obi- Wan moistened his lips to speak. "What ever happened to the Code and acting professionally on a mission?" he asked, not sounding at all upset.

"My bondmate needed me," Qui-Gon replied, and he could feel Obi-Wan's smile.

Twined tightly together, the lovers drifted off to sleep.

***

Qui-Gon woke slowly. He was immediately aware that Obi-Wan was not in bed with him, but he found the mere thought of his bondmate brought with it an instant awareness of Obi-Wan's location. A little surprised, Qui-Gon rose from the bed and padded into the find the younger man sitting in the middle of the room, immersed in meditation.

"Knight Mundi said the bond was still growing," Obi-Wan said, sensing his mate's surprise. "This new awareness of each other must be a part of it."

Qui-Gon nodded his agreement and went to retrieve fresh clothing from the pack he had never unpacked the day before. When he was fully dressed he waited a moment for Obi-Wan to surface from his mediation. After a few moments the knight opened his eyes and looked inquiringly up at Qui-Gon.

"Come to the gardens with me?" he asked. "Last night reminded me of something that I think may make a difference in reading the Force there."

The gardens, when they arrived, were quiet. One or two people cast brief glances at them before continuing to stroll along, apparently admiring the greenery. In a small clearing some distance from the entrance Qui-Gon stopped, motioning for Obi- Wan to stand facing him.

The bond, sensing Qui-Gon's intentions, flared to life. Instantly Obi-Wan knew what they were to attempt and, closing his eyes, reached out simultaneously for the bond and for Qui-Gon's hands. As they touched the bond reached deeper. The two Jedi furrowed their brows, struggling to allow the bond to pass shields they'd been taught since childhood never to release.

The barriers within each of them gave way suddenly. Qui-Gon bit his lip to stop himself from crying out as a flood of power burned across his senses. He tasted blood, still aware of his physical self as a union not of souls or of minds but of power overtook him.

The Force surged through Qui-Gon with a strength far greater than he had ever channeled before. The sheer vitality of all that energy, drawn from all the life around them, was more than his will could hope to grasp, more than he could harness even with Obi-Wan's help. For an instant he thought it would explode out of there grasp and ravage the landscape, an error even most initiates avoided easily, courtesy of rigorous training in shielding before they gained their full potential.

Then the bond itself, born of the Force, nurtured with love, guided by force of will, rose up and harnessed the flood of power. Qui-Gon's awareness sprang outwards and the sheer volume of information overwhelmed him for a moment. Every blade of grass, every person practically screamed their existence, their fears, their hopes at him. Drawing on Obi-Wan's strength and the experience of a decade, Qui-Gon slowly regained control.

One by one, he suppressed his awareness the living things currently present in the clearing. As the cacophony of life faded, the faint, wispy traces of living things that had existed there in the past. Dominating these were the pools and currents of emotion people leave in the Force everywhere they go.

After examining a few of these, Qui-Gon put them aside as well. A Jedi, he knew, leaves a different imprint in the Force than other beings. Their awareness of it and their ability to control it and themselves changed how the energy of life remembered them.

At last, Qui-Gon picked up the trace of a Jedi. He didn't know K'tael personally, and so couldn't be certain it was his trace, but he had been the only Jedi on the planet in recent weeks. Qui-Gon narrowed his focus, examining K'tael's imprint carefully. Near it, there was a suggestion of another being's presence. The signature was familiar...Ellna, Qui-Gon realized.

The two trails moved together through the garden on a long, winding path. At the point where the two trails parted ways, a confused eddy of emotion lingered. The Force signature of it was strangely mixed, as though Ellna and K'tael had bonded for a moment in time. After their paths parted, Ellna's signature radiated peace while K'tael's reflected a slight slip in his control.

Qui-Gon had begun to follow K'tael's trace back to his rooms when the perfect communication of the bond brought him awareness of the fact that, though he had been guiding the wealth of power, Obi-Wan had been sustaining it. The younger man was trembling with exhaustion, his hands slick in Qui-Gon's grip.

Hurriedly, the Master Jedi released his hold on the Force. The bond took over, channeling the dangerously concentrated power safely back into the web of life it had been drawn from. Qui-Gon opened his eyes just in time to catch Obi-Wan as the younger man's knees gave way.

Lifting his bondmate into his arms, Qui-Gon had started for their quarters when one of those present in the garden stopped him with a touch on his elbow. "Yes?" he asked, his attention more on his bondmate than on the young man, a page by his uniform, who'd stopped him.

"Is there anything I can do?" the page asked.

Qui-Gon nodded. "Have food brought to our suite and make sure we are not disturbed. Thank you." The page nodded back and hurried away, leaving Qui-Gon to carry his lover to their rooms.

Laying Obi-Wan on the bed, freshly made in their absence, Qui- Gon stripped them both down to the skin and took Obi-Wan gently in his arms. The knight instinctively pressed closer to his mate. Letting his eyes close, Qui-Gon gave himself up to the bond, trusting it to bring the strength back to Obi-Wan.

***

Even before he opened his eyes, Qui-Gon was aware that it was morning, that the room was bright, that he and Obi-Wan were alone, that there was food waiting and that he had slept most of the day.

He opened his eyes slowly. In the doorway, Obi-Wan turned back to the room and smiled. "You're awake."

"I had expected to wake first," Qui-Gon commented, and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "It was, after all, your energy that was exhausted."

"Ah, but yours was used to sustain me until I my body could do so itself."

"Another surprise?"

"Not so much," Obi-Wan shrugged. "It seems a natural progression of the strength we seem to gain from each other."

Qui-Gon nodded thoughtfully and followed his partner into the sitting room. A variety of foods lay spread over the table there. A series of images flickered past his mind's eye. "The page took you seriously," Obi-Wan smiled. They sat.

After a few minutes, Qui-Gon shook his head, smiled and set down the roll he'd been buttering. "You're just going to keep waiting, aren't you?"

"Whatever for?" Obi-Wan asked, eyes twinkling.

"For me to explain yesterday, of course."

Obi-Wan shrugged. "I got the gist of it from the bond," he admitted, "but I wouldn't mind if you walked me through your thought processes."

Qui-Gon nodded and sat back a little into his chair. "When I spoke to Secretary Ellna he told me that he last saw Knight K'tael in the gardens. I went there to investigate, but found I could not separate the traces of K'tael's presence from the wealth of life there. I returned to our quarters and that," he hesitated, "that is when we argued." Obi-Wan reached across the table and touched his lover's hand briefly. Qui-Gon continued. "The disagreement did serve to remind me of something. This bond that we share...it makes us stronger together than we are apart. With your strength to draw upon, and the magnification of that strength by our bond, I found I was able to understand the currents in the gardens."

"Something happened between Ellna and K'tael," Obi-Wan mused.

"Almost as if they had been bonded for a moment."

"Maybe not bonded," Obi-Wan challenged. "If Knight K'tael used the Force to calm Secretary Ellna it would leave much the same effect."

"He was certainly calm when he left the meeting," Qui-Gon frowned thoughtfully.

"While Knight K'tael was tangibly upset."

Qui-Gon rose from his place at the table. "We need to speak with Secretary Ellna."

"Are you sure you're up to it?" Obi-Wan frowned.

Qui-Gon smiled gently. "It was not I who collapsed yesterday," he pointed out. "Come. I fear Knight K'tael has little time left to him." If he is still alive.

Neither Jedi spoke the thought.

They found Secretary Ellna in his office. As before, he opened the office door himself and gestured them within. His desk was cluttered with paper, some pages stacked carefully and some in danger of slipping over the edge of the desk. "Please have a seat," he invited. "I hope this will not take too long."

"With your cooperation," Qui-Gon smiled, "it will be only moments."

"Very well", the secretary seated himself behind his desk and smoothed down his robes before folding his hand on the top of the desk.

"Secretary Ellna," Obi-Wan began, leaning back casually. "What did you and Knight K'tael discuss in the gardens?"

"I offered my congratulations on his successful negotiation."

"You weren't disappointed? You must have worked very hard to have your own clan's claim recognized."

"I did," Ellna allowed, "but the Tyel are willing to accept the Riith as governors."

Qui-Gon's eyebrows rose. "You would not have accepted the Myrrn?"

"I didn't say that, Master Jedi."

"At what point did the conversation in the garden grow heated?" Obi-Wan interjected.

"It didn't."

"Really?" Obi-Wan frowned. "Hmm."

"Secretary," Qui-Gon regained the man's attention. "Despite the rise of the Riith to power, the Myrrn still hold the majority of governmental positions. How did that happen?"

Obi-Wan did not allow the man to answer, though he spoke as if to himself. "If you did not argue, then why was Knight K'tael so upset?"

"He was not upset!" Ellna insisted, before his attention snapped back to Qui-Gon. "And we had to make concessions." A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his face.

"He certainly was upset," Obi-Wan said, meeting Ellna's gaze coolly.

"'We had to make concessions, Secretary?" Qui-Gon queried.

"The government," Ellna snapped, his attention still on Obi-Wan.

"Your clan does not form the government," Obi-Wan pointed out. "They were not your concessions to make."

"Knight K'tael was upset because..." Qui-Gon trailed off.

"Because I congratulated him." Ellna froze for a moment.

"He must have done very well," Obi-Wan leaned forward, his eyes narrowing, "to negotiate the Myrrn out of their claim."

"You could not keep them out of government..."

"...but you could keep them internalized. If all offworld contact went through the Tyel..."

Ellna's eyes bounced between the two Jedi as they spoke. On the table top his knuckles went white.

"...then you'd dominate Vymir's place on the intergalactic stage."

"The Riith had a relatively strong claim, but their clan on the whole is weak. You knew they'd have to make concessions, take advisors."

"You are speculating a great deal without any evidence," Ellna said smoothly, and lifted his hands to wipe his palms across his thighs.

Obi-Wan tilted his head a little. "Knight K'tael assembled all the necessary evidence."

"Knight K'tael is missing," Ellna protested.

"Are you sure?"

Ellna's eyes flickered. Qui-Gon sat up straighter and smiled. "Thank you, Secretary, for your help."

"Help?" the Secretary asked weakly.

"You have been broadcasting your thoughts most clearly for the past few minutes," Qui-Gon stood and folded his hands within his robes.

Obi-Wan rose as well, and bowed though he did not take his eyes off Ellna. "It has been a pleasure dueling with you, Secretary. Your mental defenses were quite well constructed."

The two Jedi turned in unison and left the office of the Secretary. The moment the doors had closed behind them they were off with Force-accelerated speed towards the Tyel clan house. Their decent of the tower stairs was little more than a controlled fall, walls flashing by them. The occasional servant stared astonished at the blur of brown and cream that passed them in the halls.

Battle plans flickered along the bond between Master and Knight, as spoken words would simply have been ripped away by the wind their passage generated. The Tyel clan house was a twisting black spire that pierced the sky. The Jedi were unsurprised to find the bronze portal at its base secured against them. Two lightsabers, blue and green flared to life and were simultaneously driven hilt deep into the door.

A circular slab of bronze fell inward even as a squad of guards in Royal colors came marching, double time, down the street. Obi- Wan, then Qui-Gon vanished into the depths of the building, leaving the guard to file through the opening one at a time, all the cohesion of their formation lost.

Obi-Wan led the way across the tiled floor of the clan house's lower plaza. Even as he ran he flung one hand out in front of himself, closed his fist on the air and yanked it backed. Meters again, a bronze door wrenched itself off its hinges and went skidding across the tiles. Obi-Wan plunged down the dark staircase it concealed, the blue glow of his lightsaber the only illumination.

They struck bottom and paused for a moment to assess the hallway that stretched out before them. Qui-Gon leaned over so that his lips brushed Obi-Wan's ear, "There are guards concealed along that hall in addition to those pursuing."

Obi-Wan nodded. Closing his eyes to help himself concentrate, he sent as clear a mental picture as he could form of his strategy along his bond to Qui-Gon. The elder Jedi sent a wave of affirmation back.

A moment later Obi-Wan raced down the hall, his lightsaber twirling in an intentionally eye-catching light display. The guards came out of their niches, two at a time, as he sped past them. Knight K'tael's cell was glaringly obvious as he passed it, though only on the level of the Force sensitive. The Force within vibrated oddly, making Obi-Wan's hair stand on end even as he passed by, drawing out the guards further down the hall.

Qui-Gon had only half a mind for his mate's actions. The troop of palace guards had come thundering down the narrow staircase before Obi-Wan was halfway down the hall. Qui-Gon powered up his lightsaber and they came to an abrupt half just before rounding the bend. The glow of the lightsaber, Qui-Gon reflected, was sometimes a distinct tactical disadvantage.

A pair of guards leaned around the bend and fired a series of blaster bolts. Qui-Gon opened himself to the Force and let it guide the movements of his lightsaber. Blaster bolt after blaster bolt when flying back the way it had come. The energy discharges struck the wall in a splash of sparks and stone chips.

The guards seemed to have established a firing pattern, because their attacks quickly grew predictable. Or perhaps, Qui-Gon thought, I had forgotten how simple the Force renders most apparently random events.

Sparing a fraction of his attention from his defense, Qui-Gon extended himself along the bond he shared with Obi-Wan. He met the knight halfway and faltered in his defense for a moment as the bond flared into a new level of life. A volley of blaster bolts sailed by Qui-Gon and down the hall, but by the time they reached Obi-Wan the knight had already maneuvered two of his opponents into their path, leaving him to face four.

Qui-Gon didn't have time to regret the lapse. No sooner had it happened than the bond, almost overwhelming in it's new strength, filled his consciousnesses. Moments later Qui-Gon found himself standing, bemused, over the unconscious forms of nearly a dozen palace guards. Turning, he found Obi-Wan similarly victorious.

Even as their eyes met the bond receded to it's ordinary level and awareness returned. "We won't have much time before another detachment is sent," Qui-Gon said with an attempt at briskness. Obi-Wan nodded shortly and moved forward. They met outside Knight K'tael's cell. The door gave easily to a Force enhanced push.

"Wait!" A weak voice called out from within even as the door flew off it's hinges. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon moved cautiously to look through the doorframe.

Huddled in one corner of the room was a man in Jedi robes. Obi- Wan knew it must be Knight K'tael, but he bore little resemblance to the holograms in the Vymir case file. He was thin, so thin Obi-Wan wondered if he'd been fed at all in time he'd been held here. He was humanoid, though not human. His naturally bright red skin had darkened to a muddy almost-black and seemed to stick to his bones.

When he spoke, his words whistled oddly. Obi-Wan wondered if that was natural or a result of his obvious mistreatment. "There are Force dampeners set into the walls," K'tael explained his previous warning. "My early attempts at escape drained my strength dangerously."

Abruptly the reason for K'tael's ill health became obvious. The Force was an integral part of every Jedi. Whether or not they were aware of it, whether or not they chose to manipulate it, it was a part of them. Being entirely cut off from the Force, while not fatal in itself, was a severe drain on the system. The shock of deprivation had been known to knock Knights, even Masters, unconscious.

"I believe," Qui-Gon said after a moment, "that Knight Kenobi and I have an advantage."

Knight and Master turned to face each other and clasped hands. The bond came to life at the touch of a single thought, vibrant and alive between them. The thought came to both of them - or perhaps it was shared, it was impossible to tell - that the bond was permanent. Unbreakable. Rooted in the Force was it was in them.

A conduit.

Qui-Gon stepped into the room, leaving Obi-Wan behind in the hall. Rather than collapsing in shock at the abrupt absence of the Force, he carried it with him. Obi-Wan drew strongly on the Force and it flowed like water through the bond to Qui-Gon.

Knight K'tael watched the Master approach with widened eyes. After weeks living in the absence of the Force, the concentration of it around Qui-Gon must have been nearly blinding.

Qui-Gon held out his hand to help K'tael to his feet. The moment their skin touched the Force rushed into the depleted knight. His grip firmed, his step steadied and his eyes brightened. Though still ill, he no longer appeared quite so defeated.

"We need to hurry," Obi-Wan reminded them. "We were not exactly subtle in our rescue efforts."

K'tael stepped into the hall and took in the dozen or so fallen guards. "Indeed," he murmured. He then calmly folded his hands into the sleeves of his robe and led the way out of the prison, occasionally stepping over the unconscious guards. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon traded a glance before moving to take up flanking positions on the weakened knight.

"A squad of the standing army is approaching." K'tael informed them as they climbed through the hole in the compound's doors. Qui-Gon glanced around the deserted plaza, the cast an inquiring glance at the Knight. "I am particularly sensitive to the living Force," he explained, leaning back against the building subtly, "which is why I was so well suited to this mission."

"We have what we came for," Obi-Wan commented, eyes scanning the plaza watchfully. "I suggest we retreat rather than engage them."

Qui-Gon nodded his agreement. "Do you have the strength for an enhanced run?" he asked K'tael. Obi-Wan stiffened as he sensed the nearness of the squad.

"Perhaps you will lend me strength?"

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon answered by each taking one of the Knight's hands. A moment later all three broke into a Force- aided run. Buildings and side streets flashed by, then startled bystanders and alarmed guards who hardly had time to reach for their weapons. The wind generated by their passage would have torn words away from their mouths, but no speech was necessary. The bond flickered between them, an almost subconscious hum of communication.

The ring of guards around their ship was a surprise to none of them. Perhaps the smooth, concerted motion that the mates immediately moved into surprised Knight K'tael. It certainly surprised the guards. One moment they were moving at a dead run, supporting K'tael between them, the next the he was swaying uncertainly on his own.

Qui-Gon became a shield for his lover, his lightsaber weaving a tight defense, yet somehow never interfering with Obi-Wan's aggressive attack. The moved around and among the guards, dodging and weaving, yet somehow never falling out of sync with each other.

At last they returned to their colleague, out of breath but physically unharmed. Qui-Gon placed a hand under K'tael's arm. "We must go." K'tael nodded and went with them, looking a little dazed.

The ship did not take long to bring to readiness. It had sat waiting for four days, but the Jedi knew that diplomats needed a fast retreat near as often as intervention forces. The engines blasted to life with a few touches, scattering the guards who had just arrived on the landing pad. The ship rose swiftly, but the Jedi did not relax until they'd broken through the atmosphere and into the blackness of space.

Qui-Gon set the controls and turned to speak to Knight K'tael, but he'd already fallen asleep in his chair. Smiling gently, Obi- Wan moved to monitor the flight while Qui-Gon carefully lifted K'tael out of his seat and settled him in one of the bunks. Returning to the cockpit, he smiled wryly at his lover. "In out haste," he remarked, "we seem to have forgotten our pilot."

"Oh dear," Obi-Wan's eyes widened and his mouth tightened with chagrin.

Qui-Gon shook head, chuckling. "It's all right, love. He's sleeping in the back."

Obi-Wan breathed a sigh of relief, and joined in tension relieving laughter after a moment.

***

Qui-Gon stared fixedly at the tiny point of light in the forward windows of the ship. Coruscant. He knew it from the other thousands of stars not through star charts or familiarity, but through the Force. That tiny world pulsed with the lives of thousands of people. It had a Force signature that no world more balanced between landscape and population could mimic.

"Coruscant," Knight K'tael murmured. He sat in the co-pilot's seat, the pilot at the controls, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon standing behind them.

"Glad to be home?" their pilot asked with a friendly grin. Qui- Gon smiled to himself. He supposed the daunting atmosphere of Jedi reserve had been punctured when the man woke to find Qui- Gon and Obi-Wan curled together in a single bunk.

Knight K'tael did not quite look surprised by the question, but Qui-Gon could swear there was an instant of confusion. "Oh, Coruscant is not my home."

Obi-Wan's eyebrow quirked up. "Where then, if I may ask?"

"Vymir, of course."

"They don't seem to return the sentiment," Qui-Gon commented dryly.

K'tael smiled tolerantly. "The Force led me to Vymir, Master Jinn. My life's work is there. I agreed to leave only because my original assignment there was temporary. I will negotiate a permanent assignment with the council and return as soon as possible. My departure may be seen as weakness. I do not want to reinforce that impression with a long absence."

"There is certainly a great deal of unfinished business on Vymir," Obi-Wan mused, "but you know that the council will never allow a knight on permanent assignment to take a Padawan."

"I've known for some time that I would never attain the rank of Master," K'tael remained serene. A strange collage of images flowed across the bond to Qui-Gon, he glanced at Obi-Wan, not understanding, but his mate merely smiled. K'tael was speaking again. "I do hope, however, that the council will assign me a partner, if only on a temporary basis."

"Very few Jedi work with a partner, aside from Masters and Padawans," Qui-Gon warned, and carefully concealed a spike of worry. The incoherent reassurances that flowed to him from Obi- Wan were immediate and instinctive. The Master could not help but glance at his mate in the moment that their eyes met, he knew they'd never be apart for long...no matter what it took to remain together.

"I am prepared to do my work alone."

The three Jedi lapsed into silence.

On the view screen, Coruscant grew first into a disc, and then into a globe, a vast looming presence. The hum of life would have been overwhelming if they'd been plunged into it unprepared, but the long approach had given them sufficient time to adapt.

The ship was queried, the captain gave the countersign, and then they were descending through layer upon layer of hovering traffic.

Two healers were waiting on the landing pad, despite the report they had made en route, assuring those at the temple that Knight K'tael was unharmed, if weak. He allowed them to usher him away with admirable stoicism.

Although Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had insisted their debriefing wait until the next morning, they were met by Yoda and Ki Adi Mundi. "Welcome home," Yoda greeted them cheerfully. Images and memories, impressions beyond the physical, flickered across the bond and were absorbed with ease. Qui-Gon glanced at Obi- Wan and smiled, just a little. "Unofficial, our visit is," Yoda informed them as he turned to walk with them into the temple. "Curious, we were. And concerned. The bond is well?"

"Quite." Qui-Gon relented after a quiet moment. "It has grown stronger and deeper in us. There have been a few...surprises, but nothing alarming."

"Most of the uses we put it to," and Qui-Gon was given notion that Obi-Wan disliked this phrase, but could not find another, "seem to be extensions of its nature, rather than new abilities."

"Nevertheless," Mundi interjected, "we will want to discuss the changes. In detail."

The bondmates shared a thwarted anticipation of rest, but acquiesced. Qui-Gon was scheduled to leave for Scitsitats the next evening, and Obi-Wan had every intention of going with him. There would be no discussions of their bond after that.

***

After an exhaustingly thorough examination of the bond by Yoda, Knight Mundi and - at Mundi's insistence - the healers, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon emerged with two overwhelming impressions. First, their unique bond had somehow turned into a matter of temple politics. Having left Coruscant suddenly shortly after its completion, the bondmates had been completely excluded from the flood of gossip, scientific and religious speculation, envy, experimentation, planning and politicking that their intensely personal connection had engendered.

The second impression was rooted firmly in the first. Few of the options advanced for the use of their bond involved them remaining together. A statement would have to be made. Fast.

Operating on the principle that actions speak louder than words, Qui-Gon sent his suggestion along the bond to Obi-Wan as they left the infirmary at last. It was, he reflected, a sad day in the order when a Master and a Knight do not feel free to speak in the temple.

Obi-Wan quickly added his own modifications to their plan. Two comm calls later, everything was arranged.

Forgoing the quiet dinner they'd planned in Qui-Gon's rooms, the instead made their way to the dining hall. The timing of the healers had been unintentionally perfect. It was currently the peak of the dinner hour. The hall would most likely be full.

It was. The hum of conversation was audible even outside the doors. Qui-Gon glanced at Obi-Wan, each of them drawing strength as much from that moment as from the bond. Obi-Wan reached out and took Qui-Gon's hand, and they stepped through the door as one. Just inside of it, they paused for a beat, giving everyone in the hall, from the masters at the head table to the initiates under the watchful eye of their supervisor, ample time to notice both their entrance and their clasped hands.

They did not release that grip as they collected their meals from the dispensary and made their way between the tables toward a particular cluster of people.

In their absence, Siria, Bant and eventually Mace Windu had been the champions of their interests. Now they clustered around a table with room left over for their two friends. Conversation in the hall had dwindled to a murmur as heads turned to follow their progress through the dining hall. Even as they sat, it rose to a not-quite-muted roar.

"What happened," Siria asked, "between the time you landed and the time you arrived in here that you felt you had to call us," she gestured to the group, "to meet you here?"

Qui-Gon shook his head and started on his dinner, but Obi-Wan answered. "The healers were insistent, rude and invasive. Knight Mundi and Master Yoda were more discreet, but it was perfectly clear that they had not considered our preferences when debating where we would be most useful and why. I have never felt so objectified."

"Further," Qui-Gon added, swallowing, "our insistence on remaining together was not only ruled, it was clearly considered unreasonable. Even foolish."

"Apparently," Obi-Wan picked up the thread, "the fact that the bond does not place and spatial limits on us, but remains strong even when we are separated, is reason enough to toss us to either end of the galaxy."

"Just think of the convenience for the Council," Qui-Gon muttered, not without bitterness.

"Not all of us are so detestable," Windu commented calmly. "I sympathize with your situation, and I've done my best to moderate the more unreasonable voices in the council. You have to understand, nothing like your bond has been seen before. The Council is falling all over itself to figure out what the Force needs you for, and where."

"They are about to discover," Obi-Wan said with a small smile, "that the Force speaks as clearly to us as it does to them."

More could have been said, but the five at the table were all too aware that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan would be on Coruscant for barely more than a day. When Bant turned the subject to more mundane matters they were more than happy to follow her lead.

The unspoken statement at dinner might have been necessary, but it had been a drain on the system. Qui-Gon made excuses for both of them as soon as the meal was done and they retreated to his quarters, as they were both more spacious and more private than Obi-Wan's rooms.

Qui-Gon barely had the energy to disrobe and crawl into bed. Obi-Wan followed even more slowly. Yet sleep would not come. They lay curled around each other, silent and wakeful. "Qui- Gon?" Obi-Wan murmured at last.

"Yes?" Equally quiet.

"Neither of us is going to take a Padawan."

Qui-Gon blinked and tightened his arm around his lover. "Why not?"

"Because it doesn't make sense to cluster three Jedi in one place."

Sighing, Qui-Gon rested his forehead against the back of Obi- Wan's head. "Why mention it now?"

"Because I don't want them to be able to use it against you tomorrow," Obi-Wan rolled over to face him and placed a warm hand against his cheek. "The Order is just a support system. Remember that."

"A sometimes necessary support system," Qui-Gon murmured, thinking of Knight K'tael curled up in one corner of that room. Then the memory drew out, and he saw in his mind's eye that same Knight stepping serenely over the bodies of the guards they had felled.

Obi-Wan was smiling. Qui-Gon tilted his head and kissed him. Long and slow, familiar. Obi-Wan tasted warm, a rushing heat full of life. Qui-Gon tightened his arms, drawing the Knight closer, and that heat sparked to life between every surface of their bodies. Maybe it was the bond. Maybe it was fear of the coming morning. Maybe it was just attraction.

Whatever it was, Qui-Gon didn't feel tired anymore. He touched Obi-Wan with his hands only briefly. Moments of contact that, though short, somehow fired more sensation than the full-length press of skin against skin, dwarfed only by their kisses.

Obi-Wan pulled away and Qui-Gon let him go, though reluctantly. The Knight was gone only long enough to fetch a jar of oil from the bathroom. Qui-Gon sat up and smiled as Obi- Wan crawled back onto the bed and knelt between his thighs. Their lips met in a slow kiss, Qui-Gon's hand resting on the back of Obi-Wan's neck, Obi-Wan balancing himself as he leaned forward with a hand on Qui-Gon's thigh.

The bond retreated into the background, as though aware this was a moment for an affirmation more instinctive than reasoned, more emotional than mental. There was only the warmth of Obi- Wan's hand as he pressed Qui-Gon down to lay supine on the sheets, the liquid heat of arousal, and the communication of lips and hands.

Qui-Gon lay, eyes half lidded, and moaned at the insistent pressure of Obi-Wan's fingers. "So handsome, my mate," Obi- Wan's murmured words drifted to Qui-Gon's ears, almost but not quite drowned out by the pleasure driven by Obi-Wan's slick fingers.

"My love," Qui-Gon replied, and held up a hand, fingers spread. Obi-Wan pressed one palm against it, their fingers interlocking, the grip tight. "My beautiful love." Qui-Gon caught his breath in anticipation as Obi-Wan moved his oil-slick fingers to grip his hip. Qui-Gon's grip tightened painfully for an instant, his head pressed back into the sheets and then his breath was released in a few gasped syllables.

Drawing Obi-Wan forward with their clasped hands, Qui-Gon lifted his other hand from the sheets and slid it down Obi-Wan's flank to rest it on his hip. Obi-Wan kissed him once slowly, deeply. They moved together smoothly, tension building with relentless intensity.

Completion rushed through Qui-Gon, a tangible wave that seemed to rush through his body and into Obi-Wan's so that they relaxed into each other's embrace at almost the same instant.

No words were spoken for the remainder of the night, but even as they succumbed to sleep the bond roared to life.

***

They were required to meet the Council early the next morning. The atmosphere was not serene. One or two of the Council members actually looked irritated. Qui-Gon refrained from shooting Obi-Wan a glance.

The first order of business was their report on Knight K'tael's rescue. They had encountered the Knight leaving the Council chamber before them. He had looked satisfied, but not quite happy. Qui-Gon supposed he had been assigned to Vymir, but minus a partner. There was not a chance to inquire. The report was routine, though some of the Council members seemed distinctly interested in the part their bond played, despite efforts by the bondmates to make it seem unremarkable.

"The next matter at hand," Master Windu said when they had finished, "is your next assignment."

"I was under the impression," Qui-Gon replied mildly, "that we would be traveling to Scitsitats to attend the princess' confirmation."

The 'we' went unremarked, if not unnoticed.

"And so you shall," Depa Bilaba stepped in smoothly. "However, Knight Kenobi's disposition has yet to be determined, and the matter on Scitsitats will require only a few days commitment."

"With all due respect, Master Bilaba," Obi-Wan's tone was cool, "I will be accompanying Master Jinn to Scitsitats."

There was silence for a long moment. "For the Council to decide that is, Knight Kenobi," Yoda said at last.

"I do not need the Order to know the will of the Force, Master Yoda. I am well aware of where I belong."

"And where is that?" Ki Adi Mundi asked.

"With Qui-Gon Jinn, Master Mundi," Obi-Wan answered, resolute.

"Outside the Order?"

"If necessary."

"It should be noted," Qui-Gon stated quietly, "that I am in complete agreement with Obi-Wan."

Mundi leaned forward. "Neither of you will be permitted a Padawan." He spoke it as a threat, or a punishment.

"We're quite aware of that," Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan spoke in unison, to the surprise of everyone in the room - including each other. They couldn't help but smile at each other then.

"Very well then," Mace Windu spoke firmly and quickly, as though to lend his words momentum. "You will be designated partners, to be assigned together unless you request otherwise."

"Seconded," Yoda said immediately.

"Confirmed," Yarel Poof added unexpectedly.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan bowed before they left, but did not thank the masters. They had not exactly given them a choice.

"That was not quite as difficult as I had feared," Obi-Wan said, massaging some of the tension out of the back of his neck with one hand.

"I think Mace may have smoothed the way for us a little."

Obi-Wan nodded absently.

"We should review our mission on Scitsitats," Qui-Gon suggested as they started down the hallway.

Obi-Wan smiled. "I take it you don't fancy tripping into become the princess' consort?"

"Not possible," Qui-Gon chuckled. "Polygamy is taboo on Scitsitats, and I am quite taken."

"Quite," Obi-Wan brought Qui-Gon's hand up to his lips and kissed it, grinning.