Obi-Wan leaned back in his chair, feeling the plush cushions gently give beneath his weight. As he took another sip of the emerald-green wine, he thought abstractly that it should probably be his last. No matter how luxurious his surroundings, he could not forget that he and Qui-Gon were on a diplomatic mission.
Princess Mulla -- in three days to be Queen Mulla of Davmiles -- leaned forward to touch Qui-Gon's arm. "I hope our banquet has pleased you, Jedi Jinn."
Obi-Wan did not feel jealousy at that intimate touch; he already knew quite well that Princess Mulla flirted with anyone and everyone, meaning little by it. And even through the faint buzz of the wine, he could tell that Qui-Gon responded to her not at all. But he did envy her the ability to touch his Master --
Yes, he told himself, I've definitely had enough to drink.
Qui-Gon smiled gently at the Princess. "Very much, your Highness."
"Good. I was so worried that you would find it -- decadent."
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "You have given us a wonderful meal, your Highness. And in a beautiful setting." This was understatement of the highest degree, considering their palatial surroundings. "This is -- sumptuous, of course. But I would scarcely call it decadent. Unless, of course, the evening is about to take an unexpected turn."
There was laughter around the table at Qui-Gon's mild innuendo -- laughter more of surprise than appreciation of the joke.
Princess Mulla clapped her hands in delight, clinking her jeweled bracelets together as she did so. "Now, you see?" she demanded, turning to one of her ministers briefly before smiling once again at Qui-Gon. "They told me that you Jedi were very stoic. Devoted only to duty and honor and -- what is it they said -- the life of the mind." She smiled brilliantly as she spoke the obviously unfamiliar phrase. "They thought you would be offended by our worldly pleasures."
"The pleasures of good food, comfort, and congenial company are universal, your Highness. As Jedi, my apprentice and I live lives of moderation. And we are always grateful for hospitality, in whatever form it may take."
"A very tactful answer," said Princess Gemma, Mulla's younger sister and -- according to their pre-mission briefing -- chief rival. She, too, had her golden hair elaborately dressed, and wore as many ornaments as her sister; however, there was something inherently serious about her. Her eyes sought out Qui-Gon's as she spoke. "But you will admit -- your principles are very different than our own, are they not?"
The bubbling of good feeling around the table quieted; Obi-Wan could feel it replaced by some foreboding. He eased himself forward, resting his forearms on the edge of the table, interested to hear what would come next.
They had come to Davmiles to be the Republic's representatives at Mulla's coronation, in and of itself a simple assignment. However, the coronation ceremony would culminate with Mulla presenting, on behalf of her planet, a petition to join the Republic as a member world.
Davmiles had been one of the more prosperous worlds of the Corporate Sector for centuries; its city-dwelling elite had thrived, grown sophisticated, and -- some said -- corrupt. Meanwhile, the majority of the population lived in rural communities, and looked with more and more disfavor on the changes in the cities.
Many times, the people had petitioned the late Queen to join the Republic; she had closed her ears to the majority, and listened only to the wishes of the wealthy and powerful around her. Upon her death, however, Mulla had promised to petition the Republic for membership upon her ascension to the throne.
Now that the ritual period of mourning was over, Mulla was prepared to take her position as Queen -- and, so far as Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had been able to tell, to follow through on her promise. Her sister Gemma had never spoken publicly against Mulla, but it was widely understood that she opposed the plan to leave the Corporate Sector. Some rumors even suggested that she might attempt to depose her sister, to take her place as Queen and thus prevent Davmiles from joining the Republic.
Which was why, instead of the usual bureaucrats, Chancellor Valorum had sent two Jedi Knights to observe the situation.
Qui-Gon was watching Princess Gemma carefully as he answered. "To which principles do you refer, your Highness? The Republic's member worlds represent a variety of beliefs. I do not know that I could claim to speak for them all."
"I do not ask you to speak for them all. I ask you to speak for the Jedi. The Republic's famous defenders of the right." She smiled, a curious, hard smile, as she spoke. "Jedi Knights would scorn to live as we do, would they not?"
"Scorn is not the word I would choose, your Highness."
She waved her hand at him, dismissive. "Then perhaps we should ask this one what word he would choose."
Obi-Wan was surprised when her attention fixed on him; after he had been introduced as Qui-Gon's apprentice, he had been all but ignored throughout the evening. "Nobody would scorn to live in such beauty and comfort, your Highness," he answered easily. "But Jedi Knights choose not to do so. We must deny ourselves many things, in order to perfect the discipline that allow us to carry out our work."
Gemma's smile seemed a little more natural, but she continued questioning him. "Don't you resent that, sometimes? Haven't you ever been asked to make a sacrifice that seemed too much?"
"Now, Gemma," Princess Mulla scolded. "You forget, offworlders consider such things to be personal questions."
Obi-Wan was glad for the interruption; it gave him a moment to gather his composure. Gemma's question had struck him hard.
Across the table, he felt Qui-Gon looking at him, felt also a small stab of pain that might have belonged to either of them. They had made -- were still making -- their greatest sacrifice to the ideals of the Jedi order. They had surrendered each other, given up the chance to continue and deepen their love affair. Each of them felt the pain of that sacrifice.
Qui-Gon, at least, had the reassurance of feeling that it was certainly the right decision. Obi-Wan had never been sure.
"I apologize," Gemma said, demurely lowering her chin, if not her eyes. "But may I ask more general questions? So many of us are curious about the Jedi -- we have heard so much."
"Of course, your Highness," Obi-Wan answered. "Your curiosity is natural."
"May Jedi Knights own property? Pursue their own interests, profit accordingly?"
It was a simple enough question, and one he'd anticipated -- the acquisition of wealth was a celebrated virtue on Davmiles. "We may own personal items. We are given rooms in the Jedi Temple, and may furnish them as our tastes and resources allow. If we inherit money, we may do with it as we see fit. But the pursuit of profit is --" He paused, groping for a word.
"Forbidden?" Princess Gemma offered. Someone at the table gasped.
Obi-Wan stifled a smile. "Not explicitly. It's something of an unwritten rule, but it rarely matters. We are taught, throughout our lives, that the material world is illusory, compared to the world of the spirit. Jedi Knights do not try to make money because we do not want money."
Princess Gemma considered that for a moment. "How odd. What about sex? Is that confined to bonded pairs? I have heard that some planets have that custom. Do the Jedi?"
Obi-Wan was not embarrassed by this; the Jedi culture took a matter-of-fact attitude towards all things related to the body, and on missions to primitive worlds, he had been obliged to explain all the workings of the humanoid body to the curious. And Davmil culture was at least as preoccupied with sensuality as it was with materiality. However, her words resonated all too much with his earlier thoughts about Qui-Gon. He was careful not to let his mood show in his face or voice as he replied. "Our code asks only that Jedi wait until maturity until beginning sexual relationships, and then that they have the full understanding of their partners."
"Full understanding? You mean consent?" Mulla frowned, briefly wrinkling her forehead.
"That is part of it, naturally. But in its fullest sense it refers to an understanding of what the sexual relationship means. If it is purely for pleasure, or the culmination of a bonding, or anything in between -- the lovers must understand and accept that."
They had broken that rule. He and Qui-Gon had become lovers, not after understanding and consideration, but in the heat of the moment -- in a rush of emotion and desire that, even as memory, had the power to make his breath catch in his chest. Obi-Wan breathed out slowly, trying to steady himself. He thought no one noticed him -- except, perhaps, Qui-Gon, but he did not dare to meet his Master's eyes.
"You see?" Princess Mulla said, turning to yet another minister and outing him, too, as one who had spoken against the Republic. "They claimed you would be prudish. Shocked by the way we live. But what you say is only sensible."
Princess Gemma nodded, a bit grudgingly. "Very sensible. But I cannot see how sensibility goes together with passion."
"Well enough," Qui-Gon said, smiling warmly, but with enough force to indicate that the subject should be closed.
It's bothering him too, Obi-Wan realized.
And once again his spirit rebelled, wanting to know why they had to battle against something so strong. But Obi-Wan fought against the feeling; he had sworn, to both Qui-Gon and himself, to abide by his Master's decision.
Princess Mulla touched Qui-Gon's arm again, squeezing as she laughed, "You see how impertinent we are. Are you sure the Republic will be able to endure us?"
Qui-Gon was all ease again as he answered. "As my Padawan said earlier, your curiosity is only natural. Our societies will grow to know one another over time; I hope that you look forward to that process as much as we do."
Princess Mulla stood, lifting her engraved goblet; the others at the table followed suit, realizing that their banquet was now drawing to its conclusion. "We drink to our Jedi Knights -- today our guests, in three days our allies."
Master and apprentice nodded in acknowledgement as the others drank; then Qui-Gon lifted his own glass. "We in turn drink to Princess Mulla's generosity."
"And Princess Gemma's curiosity," Obi-Wan added quickly. "Both serve to bring us together."
Applause and some laughter followed his words, although Obi-Wan was more gratified by the approving smile his Master gave him. He sipped at the jade wine again, feeling its warmth spread from his throat through his entire body.
The group disbanded quickly, amid polite laughter and various social niceties. Obi-Wan made his goodbyes to various ministers before approaching Qui-Gon, who was still flanked by the Princesses.
Mulla had folded both her slender arms around one of Qui-Gon's as she spoke. "I'm so awfully sorry about Gemma's inquisition," she said, throwing a teasing glance in her sister's direction. "She's always poking her nose into things that don't concern her. I must make her my Minister of Intelligence, don't you think?"
"You would be assured of a minister with intelligence and tenacity," Qui-Gon answered evenly.
Gemma, for her part, was preoccupied with Obi-Wan's arrival. She said nothing, but smiled politely as he gave her a quick, correct half-bow. Mulla promptly swayed from Master to apprentice, catching Obi-Wan's arm; although she moved gracefully, Obi-Wan realized not everyone had been as vigilant with the wine as he had. "Jedi Kenobi, you will indeed go on to be a great diplomat, if you handle every situation as well as you did my sister! Your Master has taught you well."
"Indeed he has, your Highness. I am fortunate to have him."
"As I am fortunate in having such a fine student." Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan did not look at each other during this exchange, nor speak in any but the most polite tones. So Obi-Wan was surprised when Mulla laughed and playfully smacked her sister's arm.
"How very lucky they are to have found each other." Giggling, she swayed onto her sister's supportive arm; Gemma raised one eyebrow at the two startled Jedi as she steered Mulla towards the door.
They watched them go in silence; after a moment, Obi-Wan ventured, "Well, she's either extremely perceptive or extremely drunk. My guess is the latter."
"My guess is both," Qui-Gon said, as he began the walk back to their suite. Obi-Wan fell into step beside him.
This was as close as they'd come to discussing their shared attraction in a month, since Obi-Wan had clumsily -- but almost successfully -- attempted to seduce his Master. After that painfully abbreviated tryst, Obi-Wan had sworn never to go against their agreement again.
Only in moments like these -- when he could feel how strongly his desire was returned -- was the resolution hard to keep.
Qui-Gon felt it too; his voice was lower than usual as he spoke. "We'll have to be careful not to underestimate her Highness."
"Or her sister.
"That was quite a grilling she put you through; Gemma brought up as many sensitive subjects as she could, hoping to rattle you, or at least make us seem foreign, untrustworthy. You handled yourself well, Padawan."
Obi-Wan shrugged off the compliment. "It wasn't a very subtle move on her part."
"What need does she have for subtlety? I think everyone around that table knew how she felt. And it was smart of her to take your measure. The others had quite forgotten about you. But Gemma wasn't going to leave any element unknown."
Obi-Wan risked a sideways glance at his Master, then wished he hadn't; just moments before, he'd been winning the battle with his longings. But after seeing Qui-Gon -- regal in the formal black clothing of the Jedi -- he could feel his self-control slipping. Particularly when he saw the heat in Qui-Gon's eyes --
The older man looked away quickly; he, too, was fighting against the pull. Control, Obi-Wan reminded himself. We must be strong for one another. "Master, I did not perceive any deception or malice on Gemma's part."
"Nor did I. But she's extraordinarily guarded. We'll have to take her own measure, in our turn."
That businesslike exchange might have been the end of their conversation; Obi-Wan knew that they needed to be separate from one another, and from their temptations, as quickly as possible. But at that moment, Minister Rajjo came hurrying up to them. "Gentlemen, I wondered if I might have a word with you both -- perhaps in the Master's chambers?"
Qui-Gon hesitated, but could not in politeness refuse the request. "Certainly, Minister. We would be honored if you would join us."
Obi-Wan threw one wistful glance at his door across the hall before entering Qui-Gon's suite. He and his Master took their places on the long couch near the window; Rajjo sat facing them, smiling the practiced smile of a professional diplomat. But his hands, twitching slightly in his lap, betrayed his nervousness. "I do hope you won't judge Princess Gemma too harshly for tonight's impropriety."
"I witnessed no impropriety, Minister. Only her curiosity, which I hope my Padawan and I were able to satisfy."
Obi-Wan could feel the heat of Qui-Gon's skin. He could swear it. They weren't sitting that closely together, and there was no way he should have been able to feel it, but he could. Maybe it was just his imagination -- maybe he should be glad that, so far, his imagination was willing to stop there.
Please, please leave, he silently pleaded with Rajjo. When you go, I can go, and I can quit tormenting myself.
Qui-Gon glanced quickly at the younger man, who realized that his thoughts were, if not sensed, at least shared. His Master leaned forward, trying to put some minimal distance between them. "You need not concern yourself on that score, Minister Rajjo. We shall not -- and so we can all rest easily tonight."
Rajjo did not take the hint. "Good, good. Then we can go over tomorrow's schedule."
Obi-Wan wanted to scream in frustration -- although he wasn't sure which one of the men in the room was his target: Rajjo for trapping him here, so close to the one he wanted, or Qui-Gon for being so damned responsible and virtuous in the first place.
"As you know, there's a luncheon with the members of Parliament; we'd like to be able to present you then, maybe introduce you to some of the elected officials." Rajjo waved his hand dismissively as he spoke. "Then, in the afternoon we have some games to honor the Princess."
They knew this by heart. There was nothing at all to distract them from each other. And now, as Rajjo went off into a description of the games, Obi-Wan stole another glance at his Master -- to see him looking back with an expression that was --
Well, it was not responsible. Nor virtuous.
Obi-Wan managed to turn back towards Rajjo before the Minister noticed anything amiss. He still desperately wanted the officious little man to leave -- but for very different reasons.
"And then there's the ball tomorrow night. The Jedi Code doesn't forbid dancing, I take it?" Rajjo was smiling at his own joke, then grew puzzled as the two Jedi apparently weighed his question in all seriousness.
Obi-Wan managed to speak first. "No. Dancing is fine." He was surprised to hear the words come out, to hear how untroubled he sounded.
"Ah. Well, then. Glad to hear it." The minister finally, blessedly, got up to leave. "I look forward to seeing you both again tomorrow."
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan rose as one, bowing formally. Rajjo returned the bow, then hurried through the doors.
As they hissed shut behind him, Obi-Wan finally turned to face his Master, finally opened his mind to feel what was in Qui-Gon's heart. What met him made his knees go weak, and he literally felt himself sway with the sheer heat of it.
Mirrored back at him were his own desire -- his own longing -- and his own desperate relief that they were finally alone.
They simply stood there for a moment, eyes locked on one another. Obi-Wan breathed out slowly. "We're in trouble, aren't we?"
"I think we are," Qui-Gon admitted.
"I promised I wouldn't throw myself at you again. And I won't. But if you want this -- if you think I'm ready -- oh, damn." Obi-Wan looked away, unable to bear the suspense. "Throw me out. Or take me. But do whatever you're going to do now, right now --"
Before Obi-Wan could finish speaking, Qui-Gon reached out and took the younger man's face in his powerful hands. Through his amazement, Obi-Wan managed to pull Qui-Gon close in turn, to tilt his face up towards his Master's.
Their mouths joined in a kiss -- a little awkwardly at first. Obi-Wan had to crane his neck upwards to reach Qui-Gon, even with his Master bending down toward him. Strange, to realize they'd never kissed standing up before. Yet, as the kiss intensified, such concerns vanished -- replaced by the warmth of Qui-Gon's mouth. The touch of his tongue against Obi-Wan's. The rush of sensation that quickened his heartbeat and sent shivers through his body. It was all unimaginably good and yet familiar -- Obi-Wan was beginning to learn the way his body responded to his Master. He only wanted to learn more of what Qui-Gon could do to him -- what they could do to each other.
But just before Obi-Wan moved to kiss his Master again, he realized that Qui-Gon was hesitating. Still, despite everything, uncertain.
This did not concern him too much; surely Qui-Gon would not have begun this without being ready to continue. The old doubt was just taking time to fade.
Obi-Wan folded his arms around Qui-Gon, resting his head against that broad expanse of chest. "I kept thinking it would become easier," Obi-Wan whispered. "That over time I could learn how -- not to stop wanting you; I couldn't ever do that. But how to accept it. I never did."
Qui-Gon ran his hands down Obi-Wan's back, sighing deeply. "And instead of guiding you, I do this."
"Maybe you are guiding me. Maybe this is where we're meant to be."
"Obi-Wan -- I want to believe that. Maybe too much."
"Why can't you believe it?" Obi-Wan leaned back to look into Qui-Gon's eyes. "I do."
"You want to believe that you're ready. And so do I. Our wishes cloud our judgment; because of our feelings, we cannot truly know our thoughts." Qui-Gon's voice grew more certain, and he took his arms from Obi-Wan, folding them in front of his chest. "I don't want to risk this much over one passionate moment."
Obi-Wan knew he should feel stricken. Or angry, or exasperated -- he should feel something. But instead he was numb, staring up at Qui-Gon stupidly. When the silence between them became uncomfortable, he managed to say, "If that's how you felt -- why even begin?"
"Because my emotions took the place of my reason." Qui-Gon could no longer meet his Padawan's eyes. "You took your cues from me. I realize that. And I'm sorry."
The first emotion to pierce Obi-Wan's shock was anger. He tried to turn from it as any Jedi would, but not before he found himself saying, "We seem to spend a lot of time apologizing, don't we?"
"I know." The younger man shook his head. "I -- Qui-Gon, I need to leave you now. If you think we need to discuss this again, we can do so tomorrow. After I've had a chance to --" To what? Obi-Wan wasn't sure. He only knew that he could not bear being near his Master for another moment.
Qui-Gon nodded, accepting his apprentice's need with his usual grace; normally Obi-Wan would have been thankful for it. Now, however, he found himself wishing that Qui-Gon would lose his temper. Or show reluctance. Or, damn it all, give up this idiotic fight and kiss him again --
Control, Obi-Wan reminded himself. I must control. "Until morning, Master."
"Good night, Padawan. Rest well."
Could he possibly believe that his apprentice would be able to sleep easily tonight? Obi-Wan went out the door without another word to his Master, accompanied only by his own unhappy thoughts.
Once the doors of his quarters slid shut behind him, Obi-Wan stood still for a moment. Anger built within him -- anger, no, call it what it was. Rage -- fury -- something a thousand times more powerful than anger --
And then he thought, yes, call it what it is. The dark side.
Obi-Wan fell upon his bed, covering his eyes with his hands. No matter how much his Master's actions had hurt him tonight, nothing changed the fact that, despite his faltering, Qui-Gon had tried to do what he thought best. That all Qui-Gon's actions had been dictated by his love for his Padawan.
That Obi-Wan loved Qui-Gon in return and in full, accepting his flaws along with his virtues.
He breathed a little easier then, feeling the anger wash away. The sadness remained, but he could endure that. Obi-Wan had become all too accustomed to it, the past few months.
With his newfound calm, he was able to ready himself for bed, and to go to sleep with at least an approximation of calm. But even as Obi-Wan was drifting into unconsciousness, he could feel the shadow on his soul -- the taint of darkness that had come between him and the man he loved.
Obi-Wan stood in front of his Master's door, hesitating only imperceptibly before sounding the chime. Seconds passed, then minutes, and still Qui-Gon did not answer. Obi-Wan rang the chime again, then frowned as once again there was no response. He reached out with his mind, calling as he had not dared to do before:
Master? Are you all right?
He could sense his Master's presence -- he was alive and well, but his spirit was troubled. Confused. And even though he felt his Padawan calling, Qui-Gon did not answer.
Obi-Wan put his hand to the locking mechanism, using the Force to deactivate it; he then ran through the suite, calling aloud, "Master? What is the matter?"
"I hardly know," came the reply. Obi-Wan followed the voice into Qui-Gon's bedroom; his Master knelt on the floor, a meditation stone before him. He still wore the dark clothing from last night, and his skin was pale. His eyes opened briefly to acknowledge the younger man, then closed again.
"Have you been here all night?" Obi-Wan found that he needed to sit, and lowered himself into a chair. He had never imagined that what had happened -- that his sharp words and hard feelings -- could work this effect on Qui-Gon.
"I have, Padawan. And I expect to be here some time longer. You will have to attend the luncheon without me."
This was an egregious deviation from their diplomatic duty; while Qui-Gon was often unorthodox, Obi-Wan had never seen him so blatantly risk offense without due cause. But that very unusualness demanded respect. If Qui-Gon felt that he needed further solitude and meditation, his apprentice would not question him.
However, his guilt prevented him from simply getting up and walking away. "Is there anything I can do to help you?"
"Only fulfill our duties," Qui-Gon said. "I have confidence that you can do so without me."
"About last night -- Qui-Gon, I spoke unkindly. I turned from you in anger, and I shouldn't have given in to those feelings --"
His Master's eyes opened again. "If that's still worrying you, don't let it. Given my behavior, you responded well enough."
Obi-Wan frowned. "You mean -- that isn't what you're meditating upon?"
Apparently that was all the answer he was to expect; Qui-Gon shut his eyes once more and retreated back into his trance. After a moment, Obi-Wan gathered himself together and began heading towards the luncheon. He didn't know what troubled him more: the fact that Qui-Gon was so disquieted, the fact that he would have to apologize for Qui-Gon's absence -- or the fact that what had happened between them apparently hadn't touched Qui-Gon at all.
Princess Mulla took Obi-Wan's feeble excuse about his Master's health in stride. "I can imagine! If you aren't accustomed to rich food and drink, the combination can be very discomfiting. Or so I hear." She draped an arm across Obi-Wan's shoulder and leaned close, wrinkling her nose conspiratorially. "Why, under the circumstances, I'm surprised you've left him. You must be so worried with your Padawan ill."
Obi-Wan frowned. "Your Highness, I think you've misunderstood. I am his Padawan, and he is my Master."
She looked at him blankly for a moment, then clapped one hand to her cheek. "Oh -- you mean that's a Jedi term? For apprentice or something?"
"For apprentice, exactly. What did you think it meant?"
"My overactive imagination again -- I thought it was a term of endearment. Like beloved, or something like that. What I said to you both last night -- you must have thought I'd lost my mind!" Princess Mulla's last words trailed off in giggles.
Obi-Wan sighed. "We did think it was unusual."
"When Jedi Jinn is better, we'll have to explain the misunderstanding. Won't we all laugh?"
"Won't we," he muttered.
The luncheon went smoothly enough; the members of Parliament were mostly enthusiastic about the idea of joining the Republic. A few had some very strange ideas about the Jedi -- although nobody was impolitic enough to voice their worries. Obi-Wan half thought they'd expected a wizard with wild hair and metallic robes, gesturing crazily around the room.
Qui-Gon's absence was noted as well -- Princess Gemma, in particular, kept glancing curiously in his direction -- but nobody would speak aloud of that, either. All in all, Obi-Wan was relieved; when Qui-Gon did appear, for the games or perhaps the ball, Mulla would make her joke and they'd go on. And, with the coronation now less than a day away, there was still no sign of opposition and he was beginning to believe there would not be.
They made the transition to the games; he quickly learned that the sporting events going on in the ampitheatre were only for the enjoyment of the populace. Those in the royal box were amusing themselves with games of chance, conversation, and yet more food and drink. Obi-Wan, already feeling overstuffed, excused himself to watch a few moments of the races. He became interested enough to tune out the hubbub around him -- until he heard Princess Mulla's cry of delight.
"Jedi Jinn! You have recovered and returned to our celebrations; we're all so glad." She led the crowd in a smattering of applause. "Jedi Kenobi and I have the funniest thing to tell you --"
Obi-Wan turned quickly; Qui-Gon had changed into his regular attire, but he was still pale. He half-knelt near Princess Mulla, and whispered in words that only she -- and Obi-Wan, with his abilities -- could hear.
"Princess, you and I must speak at once."
She frowned. "Why, certainly." Quickly motioning Minister Rajjo with two fingers, she took Qui-Gon's arm and led him towards a hallway. Obi-Wan hurried behind them, catching up just as they left the box. "Whatever is this about?"
Qui-Gon sighed as he looked down at the Princess. "Your Highness, I have spent last night and this morning in meditation; the Force sent me a vision. A very troubling vision."
Obi-Wan could feel his Master's concern, his foreboding. Princess Mulla, not as well acquainted with Jedi abilities, pursed her lips skeptically. "A vision. Hmmm." Then she shrugged. "I suppose what they say of you is true -- what is this vision?"
"I cannot adequately describe it to you. But I understand what it means."
"And that is?"
"Your Highness -- forgive me for saying this. But I have seen glimpses of a possible future, a future in which Davmiles is devastated. In which grief and destruction control her destiny."
How was it he had sensed none of this? Obi-Wan would have thought that any vision strong enough to move his Master to this would have resonances throughout the world. But he had felt nothing. Even now, as he cast around, reconsidering all his impressions in the light of Qui-Gon's words, Obi-Wan felt nothing.
Princess Mulla clutched at Qui-Gon's arm. "How does this happen? How do we prevent it?"
"Davmiles must not join the Republic. And you must not become Queen."
Princess Mulla drew back, her mouth open in outraged shock. "You cannot be serious. The Republic's own representative -- the eve of my coronation -- this is outrageous!"
Obi-Wan realized he had actually slumped against the wall in astonishment. But at the moment he could not straighten himself, could not speak -- could only stand and watch his Master attempt to explain.
"Your Highness, I realize how this must sound. And I am sorry that I must tell you this at all. But you and I both have as our primary concern the welfare of your people. And they can only be served if you step aside for your sister."
Minister Rajjo straightened up; he still only came to Qui-Gon's shoulder, but managed somehow to give the impression of staring down at him. "This is the gravest possible insult. We may indeed have to reconsider our position with the Republic."
"Don't give him the satisfaction, Rajjo," Mulla hissed. She looked sidelong at Qui-Gon, weighing him with a sharpness Obi-Wan would not have thought she possessed. "That may be just what he wants. Is this all some sort of test? Are you trying to prove my sincerity?"
"No test, Your Highness. I can only tell you what I have seen. And tell you how important it is that you trust me."
"Trust? You talk of trust at a moment like this? You shun my company, then arrive to insult me and -- and ask me to stake my world's destiny, not to mention my own, on a vision." The princess almost spat out the last word. "I've had some visions after a night of wine myself, Jedi Jinn. But I never tried to decide the fate of a planet with them."
Qui-Gon registered no distress at her fury. But he straightened, and some of the concern left his eyes. "You must do as you see fit, Your Highness. But so must I."
"And what precisely does that mean?" Rajjo demanded.
"It means that I will not accept Davmiles' petition to join the Republic. I apologize for the offense. But I cannot act against my conscience."
And with that Qui-Gon turned and left.
Obi-Wan knew he ought to follow his Master. He wanted to -- but somehow he couldn't begin the process of walking away. Instead, he remained there, leaning against the wall, until Mulla's hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. "What in the five hells is this about?" she demanded.
"Your Highness, I -- I don't know. What just passed between you is all I have heard of the matter." Obi-Wan knew he was stammering like an idiot, and took a moment to collect himself.
Mulla was seething, but she, too, was working to maintain some measure of dignity. "I'm not sure why, but I believe you. Can he do that? Can he just refuse to take the petition?"
"I've never dealt with a situation like this before, Your Highness. I'm honestly not certain how much discretion he's allowed to exercise in such matters. But I know Qui-Gon," he said quietly. "If he believes that your people's welfare depends on this, then he'll follow through. Even a direct order from the Chancellor would not move him."
"Do you believe in these visions?"
Obi-Wan paused before answering. "The Force sometimes grants us visions of the future. But the future is always in motion -- what we see may or may not come to pass. It's difficult for even the most advanced Masters to know the truth of any single vision."
"A very convenient explanation," Rajjo sneered. Princess Mulla shot him a warning look before turning back to Obi-Wan.
"So what he has seen may or may not come to pass."
"As far as I can tell. As far as any Jedi could tell," Obi-Wan admitted.
"And you would not have done something so drastic as this based on a mere vision." The princess' chin lifted as she considered him.
Although it pained him to speak against his Master, Obi-Wan knew that his duty demanded he tell her the truth. "No, your Highness. I would not. And I do not understand why Qui-Gon has." He took one of Mulla's hands in his own. "What I said to you this morning is more true now than it was then. I am worried that my Master is not well -- is not himself. Let me go to him; perhaps I can find out more about what he has seen."
"Do that." Princess Mulla took a deep breath and smoothed her hands over her coiffure; when she was done she smiled again, as brilliantly as she had before. "And you can tell me all about it at the ball tonight."
"Well, you don't think I'm going to bring the festivities screeching to a halt over this, do you? And I can explain away your Master's misbehavior, as long as you're there to help me keep up appearances."
Obi-Wan bowed deeply, thanking her, then turned to run to Qui-Gon's chambers.
"Master!" he called, with voice and with mind, as he jogged up to the door. This time, Qui-Gon responded -- not with words, but by simply opening the doors.
Obi-Wan stared at him for a moment, then shrugged. "Master -- I don't know what to say to you."
"Try the first thing that comes to mind," Qui-Gon replied dryly.
"Very well. What in the worlds can you be thinking?"
"I am thinking of these people's future. As Princess Mulla should."
Obi-Wan felt his jaw clenching in exasperation. "We are told, over and over, that the future is always in motion -- visions may or may not come to pass. To act on them without any other rational basis --"
"Is a sign of recklessness. I've heard Master Yoda on the subject far more often than you, Padawan." Qui-Gon lowered himself onto the couch, the slowness of his body betraying his exhaustion.
"Were you listening?" The flash in Qui-Gon's eyes revealed that Obi-Wan had overstepped an apprentice's boundaries. "Forgive me. But, Master, you must concede that you have only offended the Princess. You have not convinced her. And so your breach of the Code has brought you no closer to protecting this world."
"I knew she would respond with either belief or anger. In either case, Princess Mulla will be moved to keep Davmiles within the Corporate Sector. Wait and see -- that quick temper of hers isn't going to tolerate a slight like this."
"She doesn't make all her decisions based on her temper. You know she's brighter than she lets on. I believe she still intends to present the petition, Master."
"Not if there's no one to accept it. I'm not going to -- and neither are you." Qui-Gon's voice brooked no refusals.
Obi-Wan shifted uncomfortably; for all Qui-Gon's deviations from tradition and the Code, his Master retained a solidity of belief in certain ancient teachings. Prophecies, predestination -- Qui-Gon was, in some ways, a fundamentalist. Sometimes Obi-Wan found himself agreeing; this was not going to be one of those times. Not unless --
"Master, will you share this revelation with me?" Obi-Wan held one hand out, inviting Qui-Gon to take him into shared mediation. "Let me see what you have seen. Then, perhaps, I could --"
"Then, perhaps, you could believe me. My word will no longer answer?"
Qui-Gon's voice was hard, and his apprentice actually stepped back in surprise at the rebuke. "I do take you at your word, Master. You know that."
"And there's an end to it." The older man closed his eyes, as if ready for rest.
Obi-Wan stood there awkwardly for a moment more; his Master had nothing more to say to him, apparently. Whatever this powerful vision had been, Qui-Gon felt no need to share the details with his apprentice.
Is it that he relies upon my trust in him? Obi-Wan wondered. Or does my belief or disbelief matter so little?
Finally, he gave his Master a quick, correct bow and left. Qui-Gon did not call after him; even if he had, Obi-Wan might not have heard it. The confusion in his own mind was fast overwhelming everything else.
In his own quarters, Obi-Wan knelt in the meditation posture, calming himself with slow, even breaths. He took himself out of the chaos of the moment, and reminded himself of the things he knew to be true.
Qui-Gon generally distrusts visions of the future. He has put a great deal of faith in this vision. Therefore, he feels it very strongly. If this world is in such danger, I should be able to glimpse part of the vision myself. The fact that I have not done so may speak more of my failure than Qui-Gon's.
He settled in quietly, gathering his thoughts. His breathing slowed even more as the meditation trance settled around his consciousness. Obi-Wan envisioned Mulla, then Gemma as Queen of Davmiles. Once, when considering Mulla's reign, he did feel a tremor -- an uncertainty where there should have been certainty. Sadness where there might have been celebration.
But as quickly as this was perceived, it was lost. Obi-Wan sighed in frustration, breaking the delicate trance. He still did not know exactly what his Master had seen -- but he did know that, whatever it was, it was too uncertain to have inspired actions as drastic as those Qui-Gon had undertaken today.
Obi-Wan had disagreed with his Master before. He had sometimes spoken his own mind, sometimes remained silent. But he had always adhered to the fundamental duty of a Padawan learner -- obedience. One's Master was presumed to know more than oneself. Although a Padawan was encouraged to be open with his opinions, and to argue for his point of view if necessary, in the end the final decisions about any mission were to be made by the Master, and obeyed by the apprentice.
But with the destiny of a planet at stake -- not to mention, perhaps, Qui-Gon's own future -- could Obi-Wan accept that rule?
He considered the question a dozen different ways, but in the end had to concede that both his Master's wisdom and his own were insufficient. Obi-Wan raised his head, took a deep breath, and went to the comm screen. "Offworld transmission request," he said quietly. "Coruscant, the Jedi Temple. Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi requesting communication with any member of the Council."
"Tell me you're kidding." Master Gallia was still wearing a shadow of her usual bemused smile, but her shock was apparent. Behind her, Masters Windu and Yaddle shared a sideways glance.
"If I were to begin playing practical jokes on the Jedi Council, I'd start with something simpler," Obi-Wan replied.
"Unwise, this is. Jinn acts too boldly." Yaddle pursed her lips disapprovingly. Obi-Wan had heard the criticism of his Master before, but could not protest this time.
Master Windu leaned forward in his chair, steepling his hands together. "We must learn the truth of what he has seen. Only when we have understood Qui-Gon's vision can we evaluate his actions."
"I have asked him to share the vision with me, Masters. But he will not."
Yaddle cocked her head to one side, ears tilting forward with interest. "A reticent man, your Master is not. What reasons would he have to keep this from you?"
Obi-Wan suddenly felt warm and slightly shaky; his throat threatened to close. But he could not tell the Council anything less than the truth. "Master Qui-Gon and I -- we have had -- a disagreement of late. We do not harbor ill will towards each other, but -- he may wish for distance from me."
Now, of course, they would ask why, and Obi-Wan would have to tell them. And when that happened -- what then? He couldn't begin to guess --
But he didn't have to. Although the three Masters all shared another look, the next question was not what he had expected. "The Princess shows no sign of reconsidering her coronation?" Master Gallia asked.
"No, she remains committed. And she wishes me to continue acting in my role as the Republic's representative."
"Then do so," Windu said. "We will take this question to the rest of the Council, and meditate upon the matter. If there is truth to Qui-Gon's vision, we will advise the Chancellor accordingly."
"And if not?"
"Then you'll stay on the same path. And fulfill your mission, including accepting the petition if Qui-Gon refuses," Gallia said.
"My Master directly ordered me not to do so --"
"The Council's orders come before your Master's." Windu replied.
Obi-Wan nodded, knowing this to be true. The holo of the three Council members blinked out without another word spoken. He breathed out slowly; Obi-Wan had thought he would feel better after speaking to the Council. Instead, he felt only the same confusion, accompanied now by a sinking dread.
Qui-Gon was wrong. That, in itself, was hard enough to accept. But now Obi-Wan would have the job of telling him so.
He considered going directly to his Master, revealing what he'd done, what the Council thought. Perhaps that would be enough to convince Qui-Gon -- if not of the error of his ways, at least that the vision he'd had needed to be shared and explored.
But when Obi-Wan thought of confronting Qui-Gon, he could no longer envision the kind, wise man he'd come to know so well, and love so dearly. He could only imagine the strangely distant figure of the last day -- a figure Obi-Wan could not bring himself to face again. At least not so soon.
Tomorrow morning is early enough, he told himself, with a rush of relief strong enough to justify the decision. I have enough to get through tonight.
Obi-Wan had thought he'd seen the opulence and sensuality of Davmiles displayed to the ultimate degree. But that was before he arrived at Princess Mulla's ball.
In the brilliantly lit Grand Hall, perhaps a thousand people whirled in time to the music provided by an orchestra of beings from twenty different worlds. Their clothing sparkled with beads and jewels, and shone in every color imaginable -- save vermilion red. That color was reserved, by law, for the monarch. Princess Mulla had taken full advantage of the rule; the brilliant red of her dress shimmered with each move she made, accentuating the fact that the fabric clung to the slender curves of her body. She was laughing gaily with a dozen admirers when Obi-Wan made his appearance, feeling for the first time in his life a little drab in his formal black.
Mulla, however, tried her own version of putting him at ease. "Jedi Kenobi! I am so pleased to see you -- I was worried that your Master's illness might keep you away," she purred.
"No need to worry, Your Highness. I wouldn't miss this."
Her smile brightened as she came next to him and squeezed his arm. "I'm so glad. And how distinctive you look! I hear many worlds consider simplicity compatible with elegance; I never could see it until now. You do cut a dashing figure. Don't you agree, Gemma?"
"Very much," Princess Gemma replied, her voice low; Obi-Wan half-turned to see her walking toward them. Her dress was of the same iridescent, skin-tight fabric as her sister's, but in a silver that caught the light even more brilliantly. He found himself thinking that she'd somehow managed to overshadow her sister; the future Queen was unquestionably a beautiful woman, but something about Gemma -- her quietness, perhaps, or the intelligence behind those dark eyes --
It suddenly occurred to Obi-Wan that this was a very strange line of thought for him to be having. He spoke quickly: "Your Highness, is the impending Queen allowed to dance at her own ball?"
"That's a very tricky question, Jedi Kenobi. You see, as I was just explaining to Lords Revva and Luttu and Vanno and so on, if I were to accept any of their invitations to dance, I might be accused of favoritism. I couldn't begin my reign by starting a contretemps in the court, could I?"
"An invitation to chaos, no less," Gemma agreed, smiling softly. The faces of the young men surrounding them fell as one.
"However, now that I think about, I couldn't be accused of favoritism if I were to dance with the diplomatic envoy." Mulla tapped one finger on her cheek, as if deep in thought. "In fact, I think that's no less than my duty requires. And I would hate to miss the calenada -- how wise of you to suggest this just now, Jedi Kenobi."
"Always glad to be of service, Your Highness." And with that, Obi-Wan took her arm and drew her out onto the floor.
His life as a Padawan learner did not, as a general rule, involve much opportunity for dancing. But, as a diplomat, he'd learned the basics; more than that, he enjoyed it. So Obi-Wan was able to acquit himself fairly well on the dance floor. Mulla seemed to think so, anyway. "This is absolutely divine. Usually, at these things, I don't get to enjoy the dancing at all," she giggled, as Obi-Wan spun her about and then back into his arms. "I spend all my time fending off flattery. Or marriage proposals."
"Am I expected to offer one or the other? I wouldn't want to offend against custom."
"Don't you dare." Mulla's wry smile matched Obi-Wan's own. "In fact, I demand that you offend against custom by asking me for the next dance as well. You'll save me ever so much trouble with the gentlemen."
And so they companion ably danced the next number, and the one after that, and might have continued on. But Obi-Wan felt a soft hand on his shoulder; Gemma stood behind him, smiling slightly.
"Mulla, while I do understand the impulse to monopolize Jedi Kenobi's company, you're causing quite a few hurt feelings in the potential-prince-consort's gallery. If you don't want them to suspect the Jedi Order even more than they do, you really must surrender him for a bit. To me, for instance."
"You have a point, I suppose." Princess Mulla's lips curved in a child's make-believe pout. "Maybe I could plead a sudden headache. In the meantime, you two enjoy yourselves."
And with that, she glided away; Obi-Wan could only turn to his new partner, as her arms slid around him in a dancer's half-embrace. "I hope I haven't deprived you too much," Gemma whispered.
"You've granted me the pleasure of your company," Obi-Wan replied, easily enough, considering the flush of warmth he couldn't quite control. "No one could call that deprivation."
The band had chosen this time to play a slower, more sultry number. Gemma brought her lips close to his ears as they moved in time with one another. "A pity that your Master cannot be with us tonight."
"Yes. Yes, it is." Obi-Wan had a sudden image of what Qui-Gon would've looked like on this night -- strong and handsome in the black garb, the strands of silver in his dark hair catching the light. He didn't know whether to regret that he hadn't seen the older man this way, or to be relieved that he'd been spared yet another night of agonized longing.
He realized that he'd removed his attention from his partner, and drew himself back to catch her eyes once more. Gemma had been studying him all the while, and now her expression was somehow different. "Jedi Kenobi -- there are those who think that something other than illness keeps your Master from us."
"Why should they doubt my words?"
"We live in strange times here on Davmiles. Much is about to change. Perhaps everything we've ever known. It makes people cautious. Aware of -- possibilities." Gemma's eyes glittered as she gripped him a little more tightly. "I wonder, Jedi Kenobi -- are you aware of all the possibilities?"
"I'm not sure what you mean," Obi-Wan hedged.
"I could make it more clear for you," Princess Gemma murmured. "You and I could, perhaps, slip away. And have a more realistic discussion of what the future holds for Davmiles."
Obi-Wan's extensive training in diplomacy was hardly necessary to tell him that he was being invited into a conspiracy. He tuned the Force towards Gemma for a moment, attempting to confirm his beliefs; although she was as tightly guarded as ever, he could sense her need for secrecy. Her suppressed excitement. But no more.
Apparently, if he wanted to truly learn what Princess Gemma had planned, he would need to hear it from her directly.
"That sounds like a good idea," Obi-Wan answered neutrally. "But how do you suggest we manage it? If the Republic's representative is seen walking away to confer in private with someone known to oppose the Republic -- it's going to create something of a stir."
Gemma laughed softly, drawing even closer to him. "Jedi Kenobi," she whispered, "You haven't learned the first thing about Davmiles." Her lips were only inches from his now, and he could feel the softness of her body pressing against his own. "If the people here see me going to my chambers with an exotically handsome man, they'll jump to a far more obvious conclusion."
Obi-Wan wrapped his arms around her, dropped his head so that he could nuzzle the side of her face. "So we'll encourage their assumptions," he said, hearing as if from afar how low and rough his voice had become. He would've liked to think it was playacting, just a part of the illusion he and Gemma were creating -- but he knew better.
"You catch on fast. That's encouraging," she answered softly, bringing her hands down the length of his back. "Steer us towards the door -- and be as unsubtle as you like." He did as she asked, getting them off the dance floor and out of the Great Hall in a matter of minutes. They went towards her chamber, arms around each other's waists, whispering and laughing for the benefit of the occasional guest or servant who passed by. Just as Gemma had predicted, they looked on the couple not with shock or suspicion, but with knowing, ribald humor.
Finally, they went into Princess Gemma's chambers -- the servant waiting for her mistress did not seem surprised that a guest had arrived as well. "Bring us some wine, would you, Summi?" Gemma cooed, pulling Obi-Wan down onto a low satin couch.
As the serving woman hurried about her business, Obi-Wan continued his part of the performance by kissing Gemma's neck, then her shoulder, brushing aside the thin strap of her dress. Her skin was amazingly soft, and so warm --
I am enjoying this much too much, Obi-Wan reminded himself, and pulled back slightly.
Gemma took the wineglasses from her serving woman and winked at her. "And that will be all for the night, Summi. Thanks ever so." She handed one glass to Obi-Wan, drinking deeply from her own as their eyes met. They held the gaze until Summi closed the door -- and for a moment after.
Finally, she put the glass on the floor and considered him carefully. "I know what they have told you about me. I represent those who would prefer for Davmiles not to join the Republic. It now appears that I represent your Master, as well."
"My Master, like all of us, seeks what is best for this world. But it is difficult to know precisely what that may be." Obi-Wan took a sip of his own wine.
"But your Master has told Mulla that she should not be Queen. That I should rule instead." She wasn't fishing for the information -- she was certain of her words. How had she found out?
"He has had a vision that suggested this much, yes."
"The famous visions of the Jedi -- we hear rumors about them. Superstitious things -- I never put much credence in them before now." Princess Gemma rose from the couch to pace before him. "Do you believe in these visions? Does your Jedi Council? The Chancellor? Your communication records reveal a call to Coruscant -- what did they think?"
Obi-Wan was unsurprised by her background information; perhaps Mulla's suggestion that Gemma go into intelligence was a good one. "The Chancellor's desire to receive Davmiles into the Republic remains strong. The Council wishes to discover the truth behind this vision -- but they suspect that the future it shows is only a possibility. Nothing strong enough to merit your sister's refusal of her throne."
Gemma looked sideways at him. "So, you are still on my sister's side."
"I am on your world's side. Princess Mulla represents your world's customs and the wishes of most of its inhabitants. My Master's vision does not change that."
"What could change that?"
"I beg your pardon?" Obi-Wan asked, cocking one eyebrow.
"Your Jedi Council and your Chancellor are far away. They respond as much to your doubt as anything else. What if, suddenly, you were convinced? If you came to believe in this vision? Don't you think you could persuade them?"
Obi-Wan put his glass down as he shook his head. "They will first keep their own counsel. If my Master's vision didn't convince them, a Padawan's belief will not. Even if it could -- my belief cannot be bought."
Gemma straightened. "And that's how it's going to be?" Her voice was arch, her posture suddenly whipcord tense.
"Yes, Princess." Obi-Wan answered quietly.
She looked at him a moment longer -- then smiled. "Did you get all that, Mulla?"
"Absolutely," came Mulla's voice from a small comm unit in the wall. "Well, that's a relief, isn't it?"
Obi-Wan rose to his feet, realization dawning. "The two of you work together?"
"Beautifully," Gemma laughed.
"Then why are you associated with the anti-Republic faction?"
Mulla answered him, her tone bubbly even through the speaker. "Well, when we decided to petition the Republic, we knew we would have a few sourpusses. Mostly for tradition's sake, but you never know when tradition is going to become all strange -- become a cause, if you know what I mean. Dangerous stuff. Anyway, we knew there would be some resistance. So why not organize our own resistance? Give them somebody to rally around?"
"Somebody who can talk it up in private, but who'll never ask any of the would-be rebels to do a damn thing," Gemma cut in. "For the vast majority of them, it's a relief; they're not exactly guerrilla warriors in the making. Opposing the Republic's really just a matter of fashion. There are one or two we have to keep our eyes on. But who better to do so than the woman they're sworn to serve?" Gemma raised one braceleted arm in a mock-revolutionary salute.
Obi-Wan realized he was smiling. "Your Highnesses -- it's ingenious."
"And we do apologize for the little charade tonight," Mulla called from the comm unit. "But your Master's behavior --"
"Is highly irregular," Obi-Wan finished. "And you had to be certain just who you were allying yourself with. I understand completely. No apology is necessary."
"I'm glad we're all straightened out. Now I'm headed back to the party," Mulla answered. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jedi Kenobi."
"Until then," he replied, just before Gemma switched off the unit. She looked over her shoulder at him, shaking with barely suppressed laughter.
"How noble you Jedi are after all. I admit, I did have a few doubts on that score."
"I had my own doubts about you," Obi-Wan answered. "And I'm very glad to have put them to rest."
Gemma shrugged as she wandered back to her wine glass to take another sip. "I would have hated to disappoint you. I mean that. Last night, at the banquet, I thought you were no more than a handsome boy. Someone it would be easy to rattle -- a bit of fun for my performance that evening. Instead, I found someone I thought it would be worthwhile to know. I'm glad I can know you, without the necessity of pretense."
Obi-Wan smiled as she came to his side. "I realized right away that it would be a mistake to underestimate you. And yet I still managed it. Hopefully I won't do that again." He crooked one arm in her direction; as she took it, he asked, "Shall we return to the dance?"
"Jedi Kenobi! Do you want to ruin my reputation?" Gemma shook her head in mock dismay as she placed one hand on his chest. "Why, what would people say if I brought a lover up to my room and was done with him in only ten minutes? It wouldn't be flattering to either of us, I assure you."
"I see your point." Obi-Wan met her eyes as he brushed one loose golden curl from her ear. "So what do we do now?"
Gemma lowered her chin, brought their faces closer together. "There's one very obvious possibility --" And with that she kissed him, softly but thoroughly, tasting his lips with her own, even as he found himself returning the kiss.
He knew that he should stop this now. That the chemistry between them, intoxicating though it might be, was a fleeting thing -- nothing compared to his love for Qui-Gon. That he would find himself regretting a night of sex when he loved elsewhere. He would've thought himself capable of doing just that -- gently pushing her away, explaining as much as was necessary, soothing her injured vanity with a kind word or kiss.
But everything Obi-Wan knew so well was thin and insubstantial now, compared to the white-hot blaze of reality. The reality that, after months of unending sexual frustration, he was finally in the arms of someone who wanted him, someone willing to be with him with no reservations, no doubts, only the joy of the moment. The reality that Gemma was deepening the kiss, that her mouth was sweet with wine, that his hands were on her breasts, his knee between her legs, and his mind fast losing sight of anything beyond the desire consuming them both.
"Can you see my other boot?"
"Mmm -- there. Over by the brenjen tree." Gemma said sleepily.
Obi-Wan found the missing article and slid it on; his new lover watched him through heavy-lidded eyes. At this moment -- with her hair mussed, free from all her heavy jewelry, and wearing nothing gaudier than a pale blue sheet -- he found her even more beautiful than he had before. He considered telling her so, but suspected that doing so would only lead to another couple of hours in her bed. "It feels strange, leaving you like this."
"You'd stay in your lover's bed, usually?"
"I'd like to. But it doesn't always work that way," Obi-Wan admitted, thinking of the one time he and Qui-Gon had made love.
Best not to think about it now. But some of the liquid warmth that had been coursing through him had already gone, leaving exhaustion in its wake. Gemma was sliding out of bed, trailing the sheet behind her as she stepped to his side. "I really should go," he reminded her.
"I know," Gemma murmured, snuggling against him. "But I could never forgive myself if I let you go without saying a proper goodbye."
A proper goodbye seemed to involve kissing him once more, so deeply and passionately that Obi-Wan found himself becoming aroused yet again, unlikely though that was after the night he'd just had. When their lips finally parted, he hugged her close. She giggled; when he looked down at her questioningly, she smiled. "To think I spent the night before accusing you of prudery."
"To think I would go to such lengths to enlighten you." He hadn't intended the pun, but realized it when Gemma half-doubled with laughter. Obi-Wan was grateful for the half-darkness that hid his blushing. "Oh, stop it. I do have to leave -- it's practically dawn, and I think both of us could use a little sleep before the ceremony."
"Quite right. Thank you for a marvelous night, Jedi Kenobi." She frowned suddenly. "Do you have a name besides Kenobi?"
"Obi-Wan." He kissed Gemma once more, then wrapped the sheet a little more tightly around her. "I'll see you tomorrow." She waved airily at him as he pulled his jacket on and headed out the door.
A little more of his post-coital euphoria faded as he made his way through the palace's winding hallways towards his quarters. Not that he hadn't enjoyed himself -- oh, gods, had he enjoyed himself -- but now his thigh muscles were aching, and he could feel the faint tracings of pain from the scratches on his back. The other, more serious repercussions were also making their presence known.
Somehow, he would have to tell Qui-Gon about this --
Obi-Wan again pushed that unwelcome thought from his mind. Time to deal with that later, he told himself. Right now, I'm not going to think about anything besides getting some sleep.
A woman was creeping down his corridor, her evening dress somewhat akimbo and her shoes in her hand. They shared a rueful smile as she moved towards the stairs and he opened the door; already he was eager for silence, stillness, and sleep --
"Back at last," Qui-Gon said.
His Master was sitting on the small couch in his quarters, obviously only just awakened from where he'd fallen asleep, sitting up -- waiting for Obi-Wan. Who had just come in with an unfastened jacket, mussed hair, and lips swollen from kissing.
Obi-Wan ducked his head, struck full force with guilt and sorrow; he'd known he would have to confess to Qui-Gon eventually, but to have his Master faced with such blatant evidence that he'd just left another's bed -- it hurt Obi-Wan, and the worst of it was that he knew he felt only a shadow of Qui-Gon's pain. "Master, I'm sorry."
"What are you sorry for, Padawan?" Obi-Wan had heard the older man's voice in virtually every mood, shaded in every way from anger to ecstasy and back again. But he'd never heard anything quite so cold as this. "I did come here to demand an apology, that's true. But now it seems as though there are so many to receive."
Something began to intrude upon Obi-Wan's guilt -- defensiveness, perhaps. But it wasn't quite that simple -- "What did you come here to demand an apology for?"
"I received a transmission from the Council tonight." Qui-Gon was facing Obi-Wan, but not looking at him -- it was as if he were looking through him. As though his apprentice had changed from flesh-and-blood to something intangible. "They share your doubts. And without so much as a word of consultation with me -- not even from you, Padawan, not even from you -- they have ordered me to stand aside."
"From now on, you are the Chancellor's representative. I will attend the future ceremonies, but will play no official role. The Council seems to believe that the apprentice should take precedence over the Master. And it seems that you agree."
"That's not --" Obi-Wan choked off the words. It wasn't fair -- it wasn't true -- but Qui-Gon knew that. He had to know it. His coldness sprang from something else. "I was confused, Master. I didn't know what to do, and so much was at stake and -- Qui-Gon, you wouldn't talk to me about it --"
"I didn't think I had to explain myself to you. Not now, not after all these years. I felt I had earned your trust, Padawan. Was I wrong?" Real vulnerability was shadowed in his Master's voice, and Obi-Wan felt his throat tighten.
"No, Master. You know that I trust you. With my life, with my future, with -- with everything that I am." He could not speak of the love he'd entrusted to Qui-Gon, not at this moment when he knew he had betrayed Qui-Gon's own trust. "But this was more than my life. Too much was at stake for me to obey without question."
"And the only alternative you could envision was to go over my head? To report me to the Council as though I were some disobedient student?" Qui-Gon rose from the couch to pace along the floor. "I wanted to talk about this reasonably with you; I didn't like the way you handled this, but I didn't think you meant any true disrespect. Until you took Gemma to bed." The last was growled out with a barely suppressed fury.
Whatever it was that had been warring with the fear and shame in Obi-Wan's heart began to take precedence. He lifted his head, looking squarely at his Master. "There's something I don't understand."
Qui-Gon paused in his pacing, glancing sideways at the younger man.
"These last few months, you've spoken to me often of independence. Of how vitally important it was that I learn this, no matter what it might cost us. And now you are telling me that I should follow your orders, even if they are ill-founded. That I should listen to no other teaching and thought but your own. And that I may not be your lover, but I must take no others while I wait for you to grant me leave to join you in your bed, should that time ever come." Obi-Wan spoke with deceptive smoothness. "How, precisely, do you define independence, that this is how I should learn it?"
Qui-Gon had frozen in his tracks, and fixed such a look upon Obi-Wan that, for the first time in his life, he thought that his Master would like to strike him. "Independence? Is that what you call your performance with Gemma tonight?"
Obi-Wan began to reply, then frowned. "Wait. How did you know it was Gemma I'd been with?"
Something went out of Qui-Gon at that question; the anger inside him seemed suddenly to dissipate, to be replaced by silence. Sadness. "Ah," his Master said, after a pause. "You didn't do it on purpose, then."
For a moment, Obi-Wan was confused. Then realization swept through him, like the worst agony he'd ever known. "You could feel it --"
The wine, his frustration, the fact that his sexual energies had been channeled so strongly towards Qui-Gon for so long -- for whatever combination of these reasons, Obi-Wan realized his mental shields had slipped. Qui-Gon had been confronted with more than a sleepy, sex-rumpled Padawan; through their bond, he had been forced to know the reality of the younger man's pleasure as it was happening.
Obi-Wan bent forward, clutching his ribs. "Oh, gods, Qui-Gon, I'm so sorry. I would never have done that to you on purpose, never -- please, believe that much at least --"
Qui-Gon shook his head slowly. "I'm no voyeur. I shielded myself once I realized --" His Master swallowed, choking any words that might have followed.
"I'd never have done anything so cruel. Not intentionally. Please, know that much at least." Obi-Wan was begging, and he knew it. But he was too sick with horror to do anything else.
"I don't know anything any more," Qui-Gon admitted.
For a moment they regarded each other silently; each was pale, bent, shaken to the core. Their eyes met, and Obi-Wan saw their chance -- their chance to reach out to each other, to try and understand why they'd done each other such harm. Just one instant in which he might have spoken, or held out his hand --
But his shame held him back. And Qui-Gon's pain consumed that instant, burning it to cinders as rage blazed anew.
"Forget about me. Forget about us," Qui-Gon said, with a finality that seared the younger man's heart. "Think of what you've done to this world, the one you claim to protect. You've condemned them to disaster."
"You don't know that," Obi-Wan answered quietly.
"Are you so certain?" Qui-Gon asked. "You won't believe in this vision without having seen it yourself -- but you will discount it. Do you want to see what I have seen? To know what I know?"
Obi-Wan blanched. To link minds here, now, with all this pain and anger between them --
If he can bear it, I can bear it, Obi-Wan told himself. And he's right. I need to know.
Instead of answering with words, the younger man took a deep breath and slowly relaxed the shields around his mind.
Desperation crashed around him, through him -- all Qui-Gon's misery flooded into Obi-Wan's heart. He braced himself as well as he could, forcing himself not to bring his defenses back, but to accept the pain. This pain he had created --
Qui-Gon's thoughts sounded in his mind for the first time in months. I didn't think you'd dare, he admitted.
Obi-Wan answered him as calmly as he could manage. I only want the truth, he thought.
Then you shall have it, Padawan --
And the world cracked in two.
Terror so great and so sudden that it echoed throughout the soul, wrenching the Force from beauty to agony. One scream, silvered with tears. Flames like a curtain, rising to cover Davmiles forever behind the blackness of destruction. The petition to the Republic, somehow itself a sword black with death. In the middle of it all was Mulla, the cause, the center -- her face pale with recognition of her own powerlessness.
Then, suddenly, joy. And Gemma, her hands holding aloft the crown. But that image was murkier -- uncertain. Only a flash of what might have been, perhaps, hidden behind ruination.
This was a strange vision -- metaphorical in the extreme. But the power of the images was like nothing Obi-Wan had ever known. He knew now, with all the surety that Qui-Gon had shown before, that what he had seen would come to pass.
Perhaps only because he had kept Qui-Gon from stopping it. Obi-Wan's doubt and regret welled up within him, felt as strongly by his Master as himself.
And now you see, Obi-Wan. Now you know.
Qui-Gon was not proud, not holding up his Padawan's mistake to gloat. His sorrow matched Obi-Wan's own, redoubling it within the tightness of their bond. Obi-Wan had no defense -- only one question.
Master -- why didn't you show me this before?
My weakness, Qui-Gon admitted, as though only just realizing the truth himself. I couldn't let you in. Not after what had happened -- I couldn't bear having you so close. Not when we could not --
The thought trailed away wordlessly, leaving only the same terrible longing -- now honed to a cutting sharpness by the knowledge of Obi-Wan's new lover. Obi-Wan knew that the older man could not help but feel his apprentice's shame and regret, but still felt as though he should say something, anything, that might make things better --
"There's nothing to say," Qui-Gon said dully. "Between the two of us, we've ruined the destiny of an entire world. And that's enough for one day, don't you think?"
Without waiting for any answer, his Master turned and left. Obi-Wan watched the doors slide shut behind him, clutching his arms around his chest.
His shame was boundless. Not least because, at that moment, when he knew he ought to have been sorrowing for the millions of lives he had changed, Obi-Wan could only think of the man he loved. The man he was now sure he had lost forever.
Two hours until the coronation, and still Obi-Wan lay in bed, numbly wondering how he could get through this day.
Exhaustion had muted his anguish, but the combination was a powerful soporific; normally, his sense of duty would have driven him on. But his duty today was to serve as one of the architects of Davmiles' downfall. And, of course, to stand beside -- and overshadow -- the man he had loved and betrayed.
He groaned, and turned his face down into the pillow again.
His comm panel chose that moment to begin chirping loudly, signaling an incoming transmission. Obi-Wan forced himself to his feet and padded over to receive the call, glancing at its tracking signal as he did so. "Coruscant," he murmured, before the screen rippled into life.
Yoda peered out at him. "Obi-Wan, is this how you will go to the ceremony? A very strange picture you will make."
Obi-Wan was completely taken aback; he hadn't anticipated that the most senior member of the Jedi Council would ever call him, nor that he would end up answering the call while wearing sleep leggings and no more. "Master Yoda -- To what do I owe the honor?"
"Well you know why we must speak."
The young man nodded. "Of course, Master. You've glimpsed part of Qui-Gon's vision. You know that it's true." Something not unlike hope flickered within him.
Yoda frowned. "Seen part of it, I have. But know it to be true? That is something else, Padawan learner. An insight I have not been given. But that you have?"
"Qui-Gon finally shared his vision with me last night. It is -- extraordinary, Master Yoda. More vivid and powerful than any I have experienced. I do not doubt him any longer. But your orders --"
"Think you we will release you from them? No, Obi-Wan. We sent you to do the Chancellor's work. And this you will do."
"Master -- may I speak freely?"
"Always best," Yoda said, settling into his chair.
"How can you command that we do this?" Obi-Wan could not believe his brazenness, challenging Master Yoda, of all beings -- but this represented the only hope of undoing the disaster he had created. "Even if you've only seen a part of the vision, you must understand what it means."
"Understanding visions is not so simple as you think. Understanding duty -- simple that is." Yoda insisted. "What you have seen, yes, it may come to pass. But if truly destined it is, no action you take may prevent it."
Obi-Wan nodded slowly. Although not exactly comforting, it did make some sense. "How can you bear it, Master? Knowing something horrible may happen, and not being able to prevent it --"
"Faith in the future you have always had, Obi-Wan." Yoda's voice was unusually grave. "Hold you must to the surety that the universe unfolds as it should."
The apprentice knew that Yoda's words made sense, knew also that he should draw courage from them. But other concerns were more pressing. "Why did you put me in place above him?"
"No such thing did we do. You know Qui-Gon as well as any other; know you well how prideful he can be. Takes to having his word questioned, he does not." Yoda sighed, somehow looking even older as he did so. "He would not do what the Chancellor requires. His idea, to give you precedence, and then also to take offense when we agreed. Even for Qui-Gon, strange this is. Defiant he is, stubborn also, but not like this."
"That's partly my fault, Master Yoda. The others would have told you -- matters have been unsettled between us of late." Yesterday's panic at the thought of disclosure seemed a thousand years past. Obi-Wan almost wanted to speak, to tell someone, anyone, of the pain he carried with him.
Yoda offered him no opportunity, but looked at him appraisingly. "Find you must your Master's strength. He in turn must find your faith." The old Master shook his head. "Go now. Do your duty."
And with that, the image shimmered again into static gray.
Obi-Wan squared his shoulders, still weary and heartsore, but somehow ready to face the day ahead.
In the Grand Cathedral, hundreds of dignitaries stood at attention, their finery even more gaudy than it had been the night before. Mulla slowly made her way to the center dais, her bearing for once regal and serene; however, Obi-Wan was close enough to see her wince at the weight of the elaborate crown and dress she wore.
Gemma had entered the coronation ceremony moments before, to gasps of shock. She had deliberately chosen a gown in the deep blue chosen as a symbol by the faction against Mulla. Obi-Wan, one of the very few who realized the true meaning of her choice, was also perhaps the only one who could see how pale and tired she was beneath her brilliant makeup. Once she looked his way and gave him a teasing wink; he was hard-pressed to smile in return, but managed it anyway. What had happened was not her fault, he reminded himself. Gemma knew only that they had shared pleasure, and he recognized that in any other circumstance he would still be delighted by the gift.
But Qui-Gon --
They had said nothing to each other that morning, nothing at all, only shared one tortured glance. Now, they moved lifelessly through their roles; the only emotion Obi-Wan caught from his Master was a single stab of jealousy when Gemma glanced over. Qui-Gon damped the jealousy down quickly, leaving only that terrible stillness in its wake.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes and prayed for it all to be over.
Minister Rajjo held his chubby arms high, calling out in a surprisingly commanding voice, "Our most exalted queen now summons the representative of the Galactic Republic, the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi."
Resigned, Obi-Wan stepped forward, climbing to the highest level of the dais. He was embarrassed to leave Qui-Gon, a man so clearly his superior, standing there, but there was nothing for it now. Mulla was seated upon her throne, Gemma on one side of her, Rajjo on the other. The new Queen smiled at him encouragingly as he stood before her, then spoke in her most serious tone. "In the accordance with the will of our people, and for the greatest good of us all, I present to you, Jedi Kenobi, this petition for Davmiles to join the Galactic Republic, in the hopes -"
As she spoke, Rajjo held out a onyxiate cylinder, of the sort that might contain a scroll; Obi-Wan reached out and took it in his hand --
Pain lanced through him, hard, blinding, engulfing. Sensor stun, Obi-Wan thought, identifying the sensations automatically, even as he felt his balance sliding out from under him. Even as he heard a high, silvered note in the midst of the static that had become his mind -- Gemma's scream.
She was falling from the dais, falling back from Rajjo's outstretched arm. As he slumped bonelessly to the floor, Obi-Wan could see Qui-Gon catch her, push her aside as he ran forward, then suddenly all but vanish behind a brilliant flame-orange glaze.
Repulsor field, Obi-Wan thought, again able to do little more except catalogue the chaos around him. This won't do, he told himself. Something horrible is happening here -- I have to act. But his body refused to obey.
"Rajjo -- what are you doing?" Mulla's voice was strangely quiet in the middle of bedlam. Around them, Obi-Wan could hear the shrieks of panic.
He could see only Qui-Gon, standing behind the repulsor field, looking as though he could cleave through it by force of will alone.
"People of Davmiles!" Rajjo cried, flush with excitement. "Your Queen would betray you all. But there are those of us who are willing to pay the price to protect you. To put the one who would protect us on the throne!"
"No, Rajjo!" Gemma's voice sounded far away. "I don't want this! You mustn't do this!"
Something like doubt flickered over Rajjo's face. But his script was already set in his mind; he'd done too much, gone too far. "I do this for the good of all our people. The death of Queen Mulla and her Jedi conspirator will serve as a warning to those who would sell us to outlanders, and give away our world!"
This would be a good time to move, Obi-Wan told his unwilling body.
Mulla got to her feet, struggling with the heavy folds of her gown as she faced Rajjo. "You can't do this. I won't believe it," she gasped, looking about wildly for something, anything to defend herself.
"I can do what I must," Rajjo hissed, unsheathing the supposedly ceremonial sword at his waist.
Qui-Gon ignited his lightsaber, its thrumming sounding even over the waves of panic throughout the cathedral. Rajjo didn't even spare him a glance as he grabbed Mulla's arm.
And then Qui-Gon swung the blade with all his might, straight into the repulsor field. Obi-Wan would've cried out in protest -- the resulting shock could well have killed his Master -- but instead saw the field blink. Off and on again, so quickly a non-Jedi might not even have seen it.
But leaving enough time for a Jedi to leap through.
Qui-Gon lunged toward Rajjo, who clutched the Queen against him, holding his blade to her throat. Mulla was struggling against him, but the immense weight of her garments, and her exhaustion after hours of ceremonies, crippled her effectiveness.
Obi-Wan concentrated as hard as he could; his right arm twitched for a moment, then was still again.
"Come now, Rajjo," Qui-Gon said, his voice unearthly calm. "This will change nothing. You'll only have hurt two young people, and ruined your own life."
"Don't presume to tell me what will happen, outworlder," Rajjo sneered. "When our people have a reason to hope again, they will rise. In time, Princess Gemma will understand what I have done for her. For us all."
"You don't see any reason to go on with this," Qui-Gon intoned --
-- to no avail. "I'm ready for you, Jedi sorcerer. You won't bend my will to your making." Rajjo pressed the sword into Mulla's neck.
Now or never. Obi-Wan could lift only one hand -- and punched the back of Rajjo's knee as hard as he could. Rajjo stumbled back, off-balance, for the one instant Qui-Gon needed. He spun his lightsaber up and over Rajjo, bringing the blade into his back.
Obi-Wan saw the sword clatter to the ground beside him, followed a moment later by Rajjo's body. Mulla, suddenly free from the grip she'd been fighting, fell forward; her crown tumbled off her head, tilting against the repulsor field.
"Are you all right?" Qui-Gon said, kneeling beside his apprentice.
The younger man saw Mulla find the controls for the repulsor field and deactivate it; the crown fell down the steps of the dias -- only to reappear a moment later in Gemma's hands as she ran to her sister. Before the thousands in the cathedral, and the billions still watching via holovid, Gemma placed the crown back on her sister's head, acknowledging her as queen.
Were some of the screams turning to cheers?
"Padawan? Can you speak?" His Master was shaking his shoulder now.
To his surprise, Obi-Wan realized that he could. "I think it would be acceptable for me to pass out now," he said, before doing just that.
He came to on a hospital's antigrav gurney. Qui-Gon stood next to him, his expression unreadable. "How long was I out?" Obi-Wan asked, lifting one hand to a still-aching temple.
"Just an hour or so. You sustained a concussion when you fell; that plus the stunner should've been more than enough to put you under. Good thing you managed to stay with us."
Qui-Gon's voice was brisk where it would usually have been compassionate, or warm, or funny. But he was at least meeting Obi-Wan's eyes. "It's bedlam around here, as you can imagine," the older man continued. "You're as well off where you are for the time being. Don't push yourself."
"The crown," Obi-Wan whispered. "The flame, what we thought was flame -- all of it --"
"I know," Qui-Gon replied. "I know."
"There you are!"
The two Jedi glanced at the door; Mulla was running in, dressed only in a hospital shift, tailed by Gemma in her full court attire. "How could I ever have doubted either of you?" Mulla cried, clutching her hands in front of her. "You've earned any reward you wish. I could make you members of the court, if you'd like. Oh, no, you can't have money or titles or anything. Damned silly rule. What can I do for you?"
"Your continued life and reign is, as always, our only object, Your Highness," Qui-Gon replied.
"I don't understand -- how did you get through the repulsor field?" Gemma asked, coming to stand by Obi-Wan's gurney. Although she spoke evenly, he could see how shaken Gemma had been and still was. Obi-Wan squeezed her hand briefly as he sat up on his elbows.
"I was wondering about that myself, Master," he said. "It was part of the vision, but I still don't understand how it worked."
"Here we go with the visions again," Mulla sighed.
"I'll try to explain," Qui-Gon said. "Although I only now understand it myself. Your Highness, I had thought my vision was symbolic. All the scenes of chaos that I foresaw -- I interpreted them as your world's downfall. I didn't realize they would all be played out in fact."
Qui-Gon shook his head as he continued. "In the vision, I saw a sword lancing through light. As everything began unfolding today, I realized it was my lightsaber going through the repulsor field. So, I tried it. As the Force would have it, the energy signature of my lightsaber was close to that of the field. That interrupted its operation. I would never have guessed it on my own; only the vision allowed me the chance."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened as he took in the full meaning of it. "You mean --" His Master nodded, and the sisters looked at them in confusion. Obi-Wan hastened to explain. "What Qui-Gon is saying -- not only was he destined to foresee the assassination attempt, he was also destined to misinterpret it. Had he not done so, it would have been Qui-Gon on the dais instead of me. My lightsaber couldn't have broken down the field; I could only have watched as Rajjo killed them both."
"Oh, how could I have said such terrible things about you?" Mulla cried, devoid of pretense or tact as she flung her arms around Qui-Gon. "I take them all back. I certainly do."
"I would apologize for the misunderstanding, Your Highness. But it appears it has saved your life and that of my Padawan. It is not ours to question why these things happen," the older man answered, his voice weary.
"Only to be very thankful that they do," Gemma added.
Thankful, Obi-Wan thought. We spent the last days tearing each other in two for nothing, and for this we are to be thankful.
But somehow he forced himself to smile.
They made their departure two days later, undecorated despite Mulla's best efforts. Obi-Wan had kept to his quarters -- recuperating, he said -- and Qui-Gon had kept to his -- meditating, he said. For the most part they had remained undisturbed, even by Gemma, a fact which left Obi-Wan more relieved than chagrined.
But once upon their transport ship, he and Qui-Gon had nowhere else to hide. And Obi-Wan was ready to stop postponing the pain.
Obi-Wan rapped on the thin metal wall separating their bunks; a moment later he was rewarded with a mental beckoning.
If you're ready, then I will have to be, Padawan.
When Obi-Wan entered his Master's room, he saw that Qui-Gon had left his bags in a pile in the corner, hadn't even removed his robe. He sat, cross-legged, upon the bunk, head bowed. Only his eyes moved to acknowledge the younger man's entrance. "An odd lesson I taught you this time, Obi-Wan. A lesson in your Master's fallibility. Something every Padawan must learn eventually, though I suspect few are treated to such an example."
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Qui-Gon, remember: what you saw, what happened between us -- it acted towards the greater good. I still do not understand why the Force chose to work through means of conflict and confusion -- but we cannot deny that it did."
"Is it truly so easy for you to accept?"
"No, Master," Obi-Wan admitted. "I am ashamed of my own weakness, of my egotism. My thoughtlessness. But I know that these faults are a part of me -- they must be accepted before they can be remedied."
"You believe that all faults lend themselves so easily to reconstruction," Qui-Gon said. "You are young, Obi-Wan."
Before his Padawan could think of a suitable retort, Qui-Gon rose from the bunk, gathering his robe about him as he paced the room. "Let us stop the pretense now. What troubles us both is what happened between us as men. At least, that is what troubles me."
Obi-Wan nodded slowly. Now, his Master's recriminations would begin. But once again, Qui-Gon surprised him.
"All these months, I thought I was testing you. And yet, in the end, I was the one who failed. The one whose emotions nearly destroyed us." Qui-Gon stopped his pacing, stood with his back to Obi-Wan. "I told you before that making our relationship less clear had done you a disservice. It's done me one as well."
"That's not fair," Obi-Wan burst in; his Master half-glanced over his shoulder, one eyebrow raised skeptically. "You talk as though our -- as though our love had clouded our judgment."
"You could argue that. But I think you could argue as ably that our refusal to be true to our feelings is the real problem." Obi-Wan pressed on, unable to believe the words until he spoke them. "We didn't lose our ability to handle things when we wanted each other, only when we turned from each other. It is the lie that's killing us. Not the truth."
"Was what happened with Gemma the lie or the truth?" Qui-Gon didn't say it cruelly; he was asking honestly, which made it burn all the worse.
Obi-Wan's hard-won composure slipped completely as he tried to answer. "Master, I -- that was my weakness. I'm sorry, more sorry than you will ever know --"
"It's not a matter of blame, Padawan."
"I'm not talking about my losing control, my not shielding, I know you realize that was a mistake -- though I'm sorry about that too --"
"I wasn't speaking of that either." Qui-Gon had turned away from him again now. Not coldly -- just drawing away, within himself. "You're a healthy young man. One blessed with more than his measure of beauty and charm. When I turned you away -- I knew that eventually you would have other offers. I should have made myself ready for the fact that eventually you'd accept them."
"Qui-Gon --" Obi-Wan wanted to protest. Wanted to say he was willing to wait forever, if need be. But how could he?
His Master was silent now, struggling for his own control. Obi-Wan stepped closer, longing to touch Qui-Gon, to hold him. But he knew he could not. Hugging himself in misery, Obi-Wan leaned forward, resting only his forehead against the older man's back. Tears were in his eyes, but he held them back; he knew nothing could move Qui-Gon now, not even this.
And then thought -- no, not now. Each thing in its turn.
Obi-Wan straightened up and stepped away from his Master. "You told me a few days ago that you wouldn't let our entire future be determined by one moment of passion," he said quietly. "I very much hope that's still true."
But as he walked out of Qui-Gon's quarters, hope was still far from his