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Failures of Rhetoric

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Her heart raced, but his was faster; she could feel it beat against her, inside her. Sweat beaded on his forehead and caked his short hair into dark red stalactites, dripping down to her, clouding her eyes. His were clearer than she’d ever seen them, the pupils gaping, as if they too had to be wide enough to let him catch his breath.

It was the first time Satine beheld Obi-Wan Kenobi speechless. She felt the same.

His tongue darted out to moisten his lips, and that was enough to tear her eyes off his for just a moment. So she wasn’t looking at his eyes, just his mouth, when he metaphorically put his foot in it.

“I’m so sorry,” he finally said.

Sorry. It reverberated in her head like the echoes of that frankly devastating orgasm they’d shared not a minute prior. Sorry, like he’d been the bearer of bad news, like someone was ill or dead or held hostage. Not like two people had finally come together after months of fencing around the increasingly derided but undeniable attraction between them and shared the first sexual experiences of their lives, because if little else they had their lives, and up until a moment ago he’d been fucking his name out of her and she wringing hers out of him until they were speechless and then, sorry, and she was the only one speechless now.

She slapped him across the face.

Ironically, the recoil pulsed him into her, just once, with a sound obscene enough that his gasp didn’t drown it out. Shock looked frankly amazing on him, or would if Satine weren’t seeing red at the corners as she shoved him off and out of her, sitting up with her back to the cold metal wall. He knelt at the foot of the cot, cupping his cheek, eyes still wide and wild.

“Not for this, I mean,” he tried again, “though I do believe I deserved that.”

“Such refreshing honesty. I suppose you didn’t want me after all.”

“No--I mean, yes--I--”

Rangir, why did he have to be even more attractive with that flustered sunkenness to his cheeks? “Make up your mind, Ben,” she snapped, sliding off the cot and yanking her tunic back into place just to not look at him anymore. Her pants and underwear were--somewhere, certainly. “You’ll make a fine diplomat someday. I’m sure you’ll win more hearts than you’re prepared to deal with.”

“Satine--”

“I think the time for informality is long past, don’t you?”

“--I only mean I shouldn’t have--”

“Clearly, that makes two of us.” Grimacing, she found her shoes, but no, not her pants.

“Satine!”

She’d only heard him shout in battle before. Oh, sure, their arguments tended to get heated, but years of careful schooling on both their parts (him with the order and her with the intent to distance herself from her less desirable relatives) mutually kept the volume in check. If they had time to argue, they had time to moderate their tone and argue like civilized people. Even before--during--those bursts and grunts as she tongued his neck and pulled on his braid, the curt hiss when she dug her nails into his backside, the pleading, those were muffled in her mouth, on her skin.

She looked over her shoulder, and he was there. Naked (gods above, still flushed, still slick with her), standing close enough to touch. In one curled fist, he held her pants, a gentlemanly offering.

“I wanted this, Sa--your Grace,” he corrected, meeting her eyes for only a moment before darting them down to the corrugated floor. “I still do. I don’t regret it. I...” His chest heaved. “I just need you to forgive me.”

She decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. For now, anyway. “For what?”

“For saying I was sorry,” he said, a shadow of a smirk on his lips that might be genuinely self-deprecating. At least, by his standards. “I wasn’t. About this. It’s--”

“Complicated,” she finished, with him.

But she snatched her pants out of his outstretched hand, and went on. “It was always going to be complicated, Ben. It only wasn’t complicated when we got horizontal.”

He huffed out a laugh. “And now we’re vertical, and I’m a Jedi again.”

“You seem to care so much more about that than I do.”

“Well it’s not exactly an insignificant part of my life,” he quipped with a grimace.

She looked him in the eyes as she stepped into her pants, then straightened to her full height and met him with a well-deserved glower. “And I’m not,” she said. “And that’s what you’re sorry about.”

In all their months together, she’d managed to get in a few solid verbal strikes. None of them had made hurt flare up in his face like this. His chin jutted up like he’d been physically struck, and his breath quickened, and something flared up in the air around them both like the pop of a ship breaking out of sublight and into hyperspace.

“No,” he said, all breath, as he sank back down to the cot empty-handed. “I’m sorry that you are. That I’ve made things even more complicated.” He pitched forward, cradling his head in his hands, then let go so it was more like a prisoner’s bow. “I’m sorry for that. Not for us.”

Three times he’d left her speechless, in as many minutes. She could only stare at the ridges of his spine, his scars, the new little scratches just above where he sat.

Her heart still raced.

“Fine,” she whispered. “I accept. But never apologize for touching me again.”

He looked up, his eyes like clouds about to burst with lightning. “Then you don’t--”

“I apologize for nothing,” she said, and left him with a smirk.

It was almost as gratifying as the sex, to rob him of his words one more time.

***

Chapter Text

How like Obi-Wan, to get into a duel with cousin Shanil. For all that he wasn’t a knight yet, and had no armor to speak of let alone anything about him to shine, he certainly relished playing the part.

He didn’t even know the rules. Mandalorian dueling culture, barbaric as it was, had certain intricacies that Obi-Wan was clearly ignoring. Like the tenet that any fight against Jedi must end in death. Or that until such time as the offending Jedi died no self-respecting Mandalorian would let the victory stand. Entire clans had thrown themselves into dueling with Jedi in the war years, losing hundreds of their best warriors in a matter of hours.

Satine wasn’t sure which would be worse: her family killing Obi-Wan, or Obi-Wan massacring her family in self-defense.

On the ruined greenhouse floor five storeys beneath her, most of it reduced to rubble and smoldering plants, they’d been fighting for minutes. Precious minutes, too many of them. Between the distance and the smoke and steam and chemicals in the air it was impossible for her to track, and yet her eyes kept trying even as her heart and brain scrambled for a way out of this. Any way out of this.

He was doing this for her. They were doing this for her. Well, then she’d have to be the one to stop it.

Years of instinct and training came to the fore of her mind. Despicable as she found it, she knew this was the best way out, if not the only way. She took cover and toggled the settings on her blaster: maximum range, medium damage. With slick hands and a racing pulse, she turned back to the fight, aimed, and waited for the air to clear.

When the opportunity came, she was ready: Obi-Wan tore out of the steam cloud first, Shanil on his tail, jetpack ablaze. Shanil’s bare head was exposed for just a fraction of a second, but that was all Satine needed to shoot her down. She was out cold before she hit the floor with a sick, echoing thud.

The steam curled away in waves and dust clouds. Obi-Wan powered off his saber and looked up in awe, and Shanil’s honor guard was already gaping. Little pacifist Satine, she could practically hear them thinking, all grown up and one of us after all.

She swallowed bile all the way down the stairs, but no one fired another shot.

*

Later, when Master Jinn and Satine’s people were counting the dead and repairing as much of the hydroponics as they could, she found Obi-Wan staring out at Mandalore’s landscape, such as it was. Such as what remained, at any rate. War has far more than human casualties, after all. Against the expanse of barren, cold wasteland, Obi-Wan’s warm browns and golds were the most welcome sight Satine could hope for.

He turned before she reached him, and smiled over his shoulder.

There was, or could have been, a great deal to say. Satine had no idea where to start. I almost killed my cousin, she could have said, or I couldn’t let her do that to you, or tell me I’m not like them, Ben, please tell me I’m not like them.

“You’re an excellent shot,” Obi-Wan said before she could speak up.

Shock, first. Then, the glare she threw him could have salted the earth.

He followed her, pleading, into the greenhouse, but she wouldn’t listen. Not again.

Chapter Text

All through the senatorial hearing, Obi-Wan said nothing. He stood behind and to the right of his master (who was likewise monolithic and uncharacteristic in his silence) and listened, or watched, or did whatever it is Jedi do when they’re not guarding displaced planetary royalty, and it was all Satine could do not to call him out for the holes he was figuratively burning in the back of her neck. Then again, it was an inordinately crowded chamber, and the glower of one jilted Jedi was nothing compared to the machinating ire of a Republic that Satine very much wished would leave her the kark alone.

But the hearing was just that, a hearing, and there would be several more before the boundaries and routes were drawn again, and the Jedi as a whole were a much greater problem than one Obi-Wan Kenobi. The senator from Naboo, in particular, seemed to think that the involvement of the Jedi in Satine’s restoration all but required Mandalore to formally join the Republic, not to mention pay for its continued support. Which, simply, was not to be. Not if Satine had anything to say, and oh, she did.

Not that anyone hearing had actually listened.

By the time Satine finally retired to her suite at Republica, her throat was raw from arguing and her headache rivaled the craters on Concordia. Once her headdress was finally unpinned, she dismissed her attendants but didn’t move from the vanity. A year and a half since being on the run, and she still hadn’t regained all the weight she’d lost. Still hadn’t filled in the hollows under her eyes. As Mandalore suffered, evidently, so did she. The body politic, indeed. It wasn’t a terribly comforting thought, but then, what would be?

Before she could so much as try, the distinct ring of a fist on claricrystalline sliced through the room. Hatefully, Satine’s hand went immediately for her holdout blaster--and then she saw her guest on the balcony cloaked and hooded but distinctly Ben.

How romantic, she thought, and then how melodramatic, and then she didn’t think at all. Her headache dissipated on the way to the balcony doors. Her breath shortened, her heart pounded, her hand eventually found its way to the control bar and the barrier was gone. Every barrier was gone.

He kissed like a storm. Like he had the first time, back on Draboon. Satine wasn’t sure what it was called when two storms collided in the atmosphere but if it felt like this, for them, it was a wonder they didn’t seek each other out. She grabbed him by the cowl of his robes; he gathered her up in his arms and backed her into some wall, somewhere, but that only benefited her more in the end because her hands were free to make quick work of his clothes. She was still mostly dressed when he knelt and went down on her. His hair was freshly shorn, all but that padawan braid, looped around her left hand so she could hold him where her body demanded. Over and over, relentlessly, his tongue and chin brought her to spasms, over the edge but never to true completion.

By the time he pulled away, gasping, her clothes were sticking to her skin and her eyes refused to focus on anything but him. He stood, and wiped her from his jaw, and got that exquisite but insufferable cant to his face that meant he was about to speak and ruin everything. She didn’t let him. She told him, “Now. Yes, Ben. Do it now.”

He smirked, then blushed, and said, “As her Grace commands.”

Again, she found her back to the wall; he’d lifted her, wedged his hips between her legs and buried his face in her shoulder. A flicker of adjustment and he was in her all at once, hot and hard and deep, so deep like this, and she couldn’t hear or feel her gasp for his. It rumbled out of him and into her, reverberating with every thrust she couldn’t control and didn’t want to. Obi-Wan. Her Ben. With her, in her, holding her fucking her shielding her fighting her keeping her drawing her into his gravity, over and over--

When he came, Coruscant itself went silent.

They only lay collapsed against the wall for a moment. She had plans for him, and the high of having him wouldn’t abate for hours. They made it to the bed, eventually, with only the most necessary words: Yes. Please. There. Harder. Mine, once, traitorously. But no recriminations, and no apologies, and were it not for their names on each other’s lips they could have been anyone. Not a Duchess, not a Jedi.

*

“Have you checked it for poison, then?” he laughed, already pouring.

She raised an eyebrow, sprawled naked on the mess of coverlets, sweat cooling on her skin. “Are you volunteering?”

His laugh really was unbearably beautiful; from much deeper than his chest, but a pealing tenor sound, like a shock of light. It felt rare, or at least this one did, genuine for him. In the year and a half since they’d seen each other, the last of his youthful crackling was gone, and both of their desperate edges were filed down. He set the bottle of liquor aside with the sort of grace she’d expect to see at some arcane Jedi ritual, not a post-coital drink in a for-lease bedroom, and made a sardonic show of swirling the liquid before tasting it. “Well, if it’s poison, it doesn’t act instantaneously.”

“Good enough,” she said, and held out her hand for him to place the glass in it. They clinked, then sipped. The liquor should probably have been chilled, but the warmth and spiced taste were welcome, pooling in Satine’s chest. Obi-Wan’s eyes never left hers, though the sip he took, his second, was longer.

Much as she hated to admit it, even to herself, she’d fantasized about this since the beginning; his bedroom eyes, framed lips, casual touch. That terrible year there’d been so much pain, and this past year all the tribulations of recovery, and no matter how Obi-Wan’s very existence and the manner of their parting frustrated her at night her thoughts still turned to this. His passion, poorly repressed at worst and channeled at best; his wit, much as his opinions were hypocritical in that way that only the living oxymoron of a Jedi Warrior could be; his hands, surface rough but gesture delicate; the color of his hair when it was clean, or even when it wasn’t, and how it felt between her fingers or against her cheek. Really, it was unfair. Clearly his beloved Force had brought him into the galaxy for the express purpose of complicating it.

“Credit for your thoughts,” he teased, eyes twinkling like the crystal glasses.

She sighed. “I’m musing on your tendency to ruin moments.”

He laughed, again, but not that genuine startlement from minutes ago. A diplomat’s laugh. A laugh that wasn’t.

She hadn’t asked him about his year; he’d heard all she’d willingly divulge about hers at the hearing. No matter how trying his life had been, tonight couldn’t be about that, and shouldn’t have to. She drank, and he smiled over the tilted rim of his glass, the liquor barely touching his lips. “I could always guess at it. At what’s on your mind, I mean.”

“Wouldn’t that be cheating?”

“Only if I cheat.”

“Which you have been known to do.”

“A Jedi never cheats. He assesses the odds and trusts in the Force to keep them in his favor.”

She rolled her eyes. “An example in and of itself.”

A shift in his smirk was all the warning she got before he pounced and bowled her over onto the bed. Her drink spilled, but the liquid hovered in the air where her hand and glass had been--and his hovered as well, still in its glass even though his hands were pinning her wrists.

Romantic, again, and melodramatic, and a display of raw power that appealed to the baser parts of Satine’s psyche that she’d worked so hard to stamp out. Her heart beat against her sternum as she looked up into his playful smile, the shadow of his too-short hair. An Old Mandalorian would take him straight to bed for this, she thought, or kill him. She wasn’t supposed to find this blatancy arousing.

She wasn’t supposed to be doing any of this, really.

Above her, he shut his eyes; his grip on her arms tensed, once, and the glasses and remaining liquor drifted harmlessly and neatly to the floor. “I couldn’t help but hear that,” he said, apologetically, but at least he kept his promise and didn’t apologize. At least, not yet. “If it’s any consolation, neither am I.”

“I know,” she said. Anything else out of either of them would ruin everything.

His forehead bent to hers, and, true to form, he ruined everything.

“So let’s pretend we’re allowed,” he whispered. As if she didn’t know. Instead of kissing her. Instead of letting it go unsaid.

She turned away, looking over the edge of the bed, at wasted liquor and parlor tricks.

Blessedly, he didn’t go any further. He’d never overstepped any bounds she put before him, and a Jedi could be counted on to sense a rejection as obvious as hers. He let go of her wrists, and moved aside so she could roll off the bed and find something else to drink. And once she was off the bed, he took the hint, but it was too little, too late.

For the remainder of the night, she dealt with him as a Duchess of an outlying system would a Republic Jedi. They talked politics. He drew some connections between the obstinacy of the Senate and the chokehold of the Trade Federation, the subject of his next deployment. She asked after Master Jinn’s health. It was small talk, for positions, not people.

They parted as positions, not people.

Chapter Text

He said he would have left the Order for her.

True, they’d both been under duress at the time. She’d been simultaneously play-acting and held hostage--a disastrous combination if ever there was--and he’d been caught up in the ideals he held so dear, ready to say or do anything if it would help him to his objective. And Satine had learned, years ago, not to trust in Obi-Wan’s words.

But his eyes, damn him. The clear sincerity in his eyes.

In that moment, she wanted to believe him. It dredged up the truth in her own admissions, that she loved him (once? still? both?), that she trusted him. That if her life were to end by Tal Merrik’s hand at that moment she’d want Obi-Wan to be the last thing she ever saw. Which was an insult to her people. To Mandalore. For which she would have to hold elections for a new Senator now that Merrik and his entire senior staff were compromised or, in Merrik’s case, dead.

Skywalker dealt with the body; his troopers with the remaining Council members; Obi-Wan, by unspoken agreement, took Satine by the hand and then the shoulders and escorted her bodily to her stateroom.

Whereupon, once the door was shut, he didn’t leave.

“Did you mean it?” she asked, over her shoulders, which were shaking far too much for any semblance of dignity.

He came up behind her, his beard--why on earth had he grown a beard?--bricking the back of her neck as he, presumably, nodded. “I wouldn’t lie about such things.”

She couldn’t help her grimace. “Even now, an answer that would hold up in any galactic court.”

“Save yours,” he said, nearly a murmur, indistinct. “You know me too well.”

“Do I,” she didn’t ask.

“Enough to insult me every chance you get.”

“Not every chance, surely.” She knew what he was doing: he’d done as much during the year on the run. He’d distract her from the pain with this banter, occupy her mind to turn away the pernicious thoughts of hunger and strife and catastrophe. She could fall into this pattern so easily, and had already these last few days of their reacquaintance. And it would work, at least for the night. “I haven’t insulted you since you tried to test your theories on assassin probe droids on my honored guests.”

“Well, it worked.”

“It did, at that.” Bolstered in spite of herself, and thankful in spite of him, she took the two steps that would put her on the couch, and turned to face him. She’d looked his face over so much these last few days, cataloguing the changes ten years could wreak. It looked like so much more on him, with that beard and the threads of silver through the increasingly dark red of his hair. He had wrinkles. Younger than she by two years, and he had wrinkles. But they were distinguished on him, and tragic in a way that made her wonder if he was trying to age in order to be taken seriously.

And he was staring back at her, with that clarity and candor in his eyes.

Had you said the word, I would have left the Order, he’d told her. Romantic a sentiment as it was, it still put the onus on her. And he knew, he must have known, that she would never ask him to do that for her. The Order was his life. That accursed weapon on his hip was his life, and she a mere complication to it.

“Satine?” he asked, taking a knee before her, not a seat beside her.

It was too much. This dance, this chaos, was too much.

“Stay with me,” she--ordered? asked? neither?--then added, before he could prompt her for more, “tonight. Just tonight.”

Something flashed across his expression, like a cloud crossing the sun. His eyes didn’t leave hers, but the pupils blew wide, exhausting all but a thin aurora of silvery-blue. It looked, for a moment, like the Jedi really had bottled up all his emotions and the transparisteel was just about to crack.

Please, she thought, loud so he couldn’t help but hear. Please don’t say anything.

Blessedly, he didn’t. He drew forward, still on his knees, and straightened up to touch his forehead to hers. His skin was terribly warm, sliding to a stop against hers. He didn’t kiss her, not yet, but she didn’t kiss him either.

For a minute or more, they sat and knelt there, eyes closed, bodies barely touching. Satine tried desperately not to think, to clear her head the way Obi-Wan and Master Jinn had taught her once, ten years ago. But the memories rushed in on the last wave of adrenaline and no, she couldn’t stop.

Whatever Obi-Wan read in her after that, he kept to himself. Silent and calm, he leaned in just enough to brush his lips over hers. The bristles of his beard scratched and tickled and Satine couldn’t help jumping like a startled tooka. Obi-Wan pulled back, but Satine, laughing, waved him off. “Just the beard,” she said. “It’s new.”

He smirked, insufferable as ever, but didn’t lean in to kiss her again. “That’s a remarkably polite way to say you don’t think suits me.”

“Honestly, I’m not sure it does.” That little spark of levity, the resumption of their banter, that was enough to put them back where Satine thought they belonged. Renewed tension and a tryst between old friends, she could handle.

The love of a Jedi, she couldn’t.

“Stay tonight,” she repeated, less desperate this time. More coy, more tempting.

He nodded, and leaned in again, more mindful with his kiss.