Padawan Sedik stared at the image on his vid-screen for a long moment before finally switching it off. He pocketed the recorded disk and got up, wandering into the main room of the suite that he and his master had been assigned on this mission to the Vedikat Republic. Master Arlina looked up from her own communication and smiled.
"So, how is Obi-Wan?"
"Fine," Sedik said, summoning up a smile and a pretense of serenity. He wandered over to a shelf where several Vedikatian artifacts were tastefully displayed. "He's back in Temple for the rest of this term and all of next – Master Jinn's put him up for Senior Padawan review."
"That's wonderful! Give Obi-Wan my congratulations when you send back your message. Unless you already have."
Sedik shrugged. "Not yet. I'll do it later. After dinner. Or maybe tomorrow morning."
Arlina's eyes narrowed as she studied her padawan. "Is something wrong, Padawan?"
Sedik ran an idle finger over one of the statues. "No, Master. Why would you think something's wrong?"
"Because usually when you get a letter from Obi-Wan, you lock yourself in your room for hours and you practically wear out the disk watching it over and over. And then you spend hours recording your own letter. Since you didn't do either, I assume that something is wrong." Sedik was still silent. "Padawan."
"I think Obi-Wan's seeing someone else," he said lowly.
Arlina sat back and raised an eyebrow. "Knowing how much he cares for you, I sincerely doubt that."
Sedik's shoulders slumped. "His letter was full of this guy named Mikhail, who's somehow related to Vice-Chancellor Vallorum. How he and Mikhail did this, and they did that. They seem to be spending a lot of time together."
Arlina's lips twitched but she managed not to smile. "Qui-Gon mentioned him also."
"See – it must be serious if Master Jinn knows about it," Sedik said miserably, sitting down on the couch.
"He's a bit of a trouble-maker."
"Of course. Aren't all Obi's friends?"
"And he's a prince – "
"Gods!" Sedik moaned.
"And he's six years old."
It took a moment for that to penetrate, and then Sedik sat bolt upright and stared at his master. "Six?"
She allowed the grin to cross her face. "Six. An orphan, too. Their last mission was to attend the prince's coronation, only he was deposed and now he's a ward under Vallorum's protection. Obi-Wan befriended the child and apparently the boy admires him a great deal."
Relief flooded Sedik, and he sank back into the cushions with a thankful sigh. "I'm an idiot," he said frankly. "Obi-Wan would never sneak around behind my back – if he didn't care for me anymore, he'd tell me face-to-face."
Arlina crossed to sit beside her padawan, hugging him. "Love makes idiots of us all, Padawan, and it hasn't helped that you two have been apart for so long."
"Three and a half months," Sedik said with a sigh. "If you don't count those few hours two months ago when we were arriving at the Temple just as they were getting ready to leave. And I don't."
"Well, I've got good news for you, Padawan," Arlina said briskly. "Our mission here will be wrapped up in two days and we'll be heading back to Coruscant. And I've informed the Council that we need to be in-Temple for at least three months so that you can prepare for the 'Saber Competitions. Since I happen to know that a few Council members are betting heavily on you, I had no problem getting that approved."
Sedik's face lit up and he hugged his master hard. "Thank you!"
"No thanks are necessary, Padawan," she said. "Hard as it may be to believe, I was once young and in love. Now go send your letter to Obi-Wan and don't forget to give him my congratulations."
A week later, Padawan Sedik hurried through the Temple corridors, serenity the farthest thing from his mind. Seeing Obi-Wan and making sure that he was all right was his top priority, and nothing was going to stop him. He had let Obi-Wan know in his letter what day he was arriving back in Temple, and when the younger padawan hadn't been waiting at the landing port to greet him, Sedik had known that something was seriously wrong. Visions of some kind of swift and devastating accident or illness filled his thoughts, and he had barely taken the time to dump his bags in his rooms before hurrying to check on his boyfriend's condition.
He buzzed impatiently at Master Jinn's door and was surprised when Obi-Wan – a healthy looking Obi-Wan – answered the door. "Obi?"
"Sedik!" The grin on Obi-Wan's face assured him of his place in the younger padawan's affections, even though Obi-Wan's next words threw him. "When did you get in?"
"An hour ago," Sedik said dryly. "Remember? I sent you a message last week to let you know."
"Right," Obi-Wan said, smacking his forehead with the palm of his hand. "I'm sorry – I was going to meet your ship, but Vice-Chancellor Vallorum had an emergency and asked me to look after Mikhail and I forgot."
Sedik stared at Obi-Wan, dumbfounded. Forgot? When they'd wanted to be together again so badly? But Obi-Wan was looking at him with that meltingly-sweet look in his eyes, and Sedik decided to forgive him. He wrapped his arms around Obi-Wan and leaned in for a kiss.
"Sedik!" Obi-Wan hissed, pushing him back, then turned towards the main room and said, "Mikhail, I'd like you to meet a very good friend of mine. This is Senior Padawan Sedik, and he's my very best friend here at the Temple. Sedik, this is His Royal Highness, Prince Mikhail."
A small child with pale green skin and frosty-silver hair stood up and politely inclined his head. "Padawan Sedik." His eyes assessed the older padawan, and Sedik felt his body automatically tense. He had been right in the first place – Mikhail was a rival, although not in the way that Sedik had originally thought. "I am pleased to meet you."
"Prince Mikhail," he replied coolly, and his eyes conveyed the message to the child that he understood the challenge and had no intention of surrendering Obi-Wan without a fight. "The pleasure is mine."
Obi-Wan beamed at the two, glad that his two friends were getting along so well. "Are you two hungry? Master Qui-Gon said that he ordered in a bunch of snacks, so I'll go get some. Sedik, would you help me?"
Not waiting for a reply, Obi-Wan tugged the older padawan into the kitchen. Sedik started to protest that he didn't want a snack, but Obi-Wan suddenly latched onto him and began kissing him as if he was starving and Sedik his only meal. Protests evaporated; Sedik wrapped his arms around Obi-Wan, and lifted the younger padawan so that he could wrap his legs around Sedik's waist.
"Missed you so much," Sedik muttered in between kisses, his mouth moving down to nibble on his boyfriend's neck.
Obi-Wan groaned as he tilted his head back. "Sorry," he gasped. "Had a nice 'welcome home' planned – was going to meet you – "
"Nothing wrong with this welcome," Sedik said, then his mouth returned to Obi-Wan's, kissing him thoroughly.
Obi-Wan was contemplating how best to get to the comfort of the couch without breaking the kiss when a throat clearing nearby reminded him that they were not alone. They broke the kiss, startled, and Obi-Wan dropped his head onto his boyfriend's shoulder, muttering an expletive.
"What are you doing?" Mikhail asked, disapproval in his voice.
Obi-Wan cleared his throat. "I – we were just saying hello," he said feebly.
"I thought you were making a snack. I'm hungry and I want to eat now."
Sedik blinked at the imperious tone in Mikhail's voice – no Jedi child would have dreamed of talking like that to a padawan. But Obi-Wan just sighed and, with an apologetic look at Sedik, said, "Right. I'll fix something."
"I'll help," Mikhail said, somehow managing to push between the two padawans on his way to the chiller. He gave Sedik a cool look in passing before smiling brightly at Obi-Wan. "Padawan Sedik can relax in the main room."
Obi-Wan smiled warmly at the child. "What a good idea, Mik! And very thoughtful, too." He looked over at his boyfriend. "You must be tired. Go on – we'll bring everything out in a few minutes."
Sedik was reluctant to leave the room, especially since Mikhail was smiling triumphantly, but the kitchen wasn't large enough for three people. He settled down on the couch, desolately scanning a data-novel on a pad that Obi-Wan had left on the table. The laughter coming from the kitchen didn't help his mood, either, and by the time the two emerged with the snacks, he was holding onto his temper by a thread.
"Here you go!" Obi-Wan announced cheerfully, setting a plate of food on the table and giving Sedik a cold drink with a smile. Sedik felt his ire dissolve under the younger padawan's warmth and smiled back, catching Mikhail's scowl out of the corner of his eye.
"Obi-Wan, aren't we going to finish playing our game?" the little boy said in a whining voice that grated on Sedik's nerves.
Obi-Wan frowned at the child. "Mik, that's a two person game. It wouldn't be polite for us to play when it means that Sedik's being excluded."
"Oh, I'm sure that Padawan Sedik won't mind," Mikhail said, turning a look on the older padawan that was pure sweetness.
Sedik drew in a deep breath. His master had taught him the foolishness of fighting any battle on a field where the enemy held the advantage, and that was clearly the case. "It's all right, Obi," he said with what he hoped was a gracious smile, praying that the other boy couldn't see that it was forced. "I need to get home and unpack, and help Master get the report ready for the Council. I just stopped by to make sure you were okay and say hello."
The soft look in Obi-Wan's eyes was all the reward he needed – that, and the sour look on Mikhail's face. Obi-Wan walked him to the door, accepting a date for the following evening, and gave Sedik a kiss that kept him warm all the way to the Padawan Lounge.
The rest of their group was sitting at a table looking a bit listless when he got there, although the sight of him was enough to perk them all up, even love-lorn Garen who had just seen his Corellian girlfriend off after a brief visit. Sedik could sympathize with the other padawan – just back from a lengthy separation, he had been hoping for more than a few hot, stolen kisses in the kitchen.
"Sedik!" Reeft called out. "When did you get back?"
"About an hour ago," he replied, sitting down next to Bant and smiling gratefully as she poured him a glass of juice.
"And you're not holed up with Obi-Wan somewhere?" Bant said teasingly.
Sedik looked down at his drink as he said, as blandly as possible, "Obi-Wan is otherwise engaged."
"Let me guess," Garen said. "The Brat Prince."
"Garen!" Bant protested. "He's not that bad." She paused. "Well, he is, but he can be sweet some times, too."
"Yeah – when he's getting his own way. Which is usually when he has Obi-Wan all to himself." Garen gave Sedik a sympathetic love-is-a-bitch look.
"So why does Obi-Wan put up with him?" Sedik asked.
Reeft shrugged. "Obi-Wan likes Mikhail, and the Brat is nice to him. And I think Obi-Wan feels responsible for him – saved his life at least twice."
"Yeah – after he put Obi-Wan in danger," Garen snorted. "Not to mention getting Obi-Wan into trouble."
Sedik straightened. "What?" he asked, an upset look on his face.
"It wasn't that bad," Bant protested. "And they were rescued."
Reeft leaned over closer to Sedik while the other two argued. "Mikhail tried to run away in an escape pod and Obi-Wan followed him in to protect him. Only the Prince had chosen one being repaired, so it didn't have working nav-systems or food. Obi-Wan managed to rig the homing beacon and they were rescued, but Master Jinn was not happy."
"I can imagine," Sedik muttered, knowing full well what that meant for Obi-Wan. "And the little brat didn't get punished?"
"Of course not." Garen shrugged. "Well, he is royalty. Who's gonna punish him?"
Sedik scowled. "I'd love the chance to swat that brat's backside."
"And have him go screaming to Vallorum?" Garen asked, shaking his head. "Not if you ever want to make knight."
Sedik sighed in acknowledgement. "Well, hopefully I won't have to see him again. I mean, there's no reason why I should, right?"
The other three shared a look. "Only if you ever want to see Obi-Wan again," Bant said frankly. "The child is practically glued to Obi-Wan's side. I think Vallorum deliberately dumps him on Obi-Wan."
"Wouldn't you?" Reeft asked with a snort.
"Well, now that I'm back, I'm sure that'll change," Sedik said confidently.
"Just keep telling yourself that," Garen said. "And we'll be here when you find out the truth."
A week later, Sedik was about ready to risk his knighthood and strangle the little brat who had wormed his way between them. It had started the night after his arrival. Sedik had enjoyed a pleasant dinner with Obi-Wan and Master Jinn, filling them in on his past mission and hearing all about theirs. After dinner, Qui-Gon had gone off to an evening lecture with several of the other masters, leaving the two padawans to clean up and settle down on the couch with a holovid. Sedik couldn't help smiling as he wrapped his arm around Obi-Wan's shoulder and the younger man snuggled closer. He had missed Obi-Wan's affectionate warmth more than anything else in the Temple, and it felt wonderful to be able to hold him again.
Obi-Wan looked up and saw the older padawan smiling. "Happy?" he asked softly.
"Very," Sedik said, smiling down at Obi-Wan and squeezing his shoulders. "I missed you."
"I missed you, too," Obi-Wan said, one hand sliding up to pull Sedik's head closer so he could kiss him. "Missed this, too."
"So did I." Sedik kissed him again, with a little more intensity. Obi-Wan turned into Sedik's arms, wrapping his own arms around Sedik's neck as he opened up to the kiss.
"Are you watching the vid?" he asked a little hoarsely when Sedik released him.
Sedik blinked. "No."
"Good." Obi-Wan fell back onto the couch, pulling the older boy down with him.
A short time later, an insistent buzzing at the door penetrated Obi-Wan's daze. "Someone's at the door."
Sedik didn't even pause in the attention he was giving his boyfriend's neck. "Ignore it. They'll come back later."
"Might be important," Obi-Wan insisted, pushing at Sedik's head. "It'll just take a minute."
Sighing, Sedik shifted up onto his knees to allow Obi-Wan to squirm out from under him, and leaned his head against the back of the couch while he breathed deeply and tried to rein in his frustration. It'll only be a few minutes, he told himself. Probably someone dropping off something for Master Jinn, then they'd leave and Obi-Wan would come back and –
"Mikhail!" he heard Obi-Wan say in a surprised voice, and Sedik groaned. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi, Obi!" Mikhail said brightly. "Vallorum had to go to an important banquet, and all the staff were busy, so he said I could come visit you." He frowned as he took in Obi-Wan's disheveled appearance. "You're a mess – were you asleep?"
Obi-Wan flushed as he straightened his tunic. "No, but I've got company, Mik. You should have called before you came over."
"It can't be that important," Mikhail said, trying to push past Obi-Wan into the room but Obi-Wan barred the doorway.
"It's Sedik, and it is important," Obi-Wan said gently. "We haven't seen each other in months and we want to spend some time together. I'm sorry, Mikki."
"Oh." Mikhail let his shoulders droop. "Okay, Obi." He started to walk away, his head hung, dejection in every line of his body.
Obi-Wan watched the pathetic little figure and bit his lip, then looked over at the couch where Sedik was waiting for him. Looking back at the departing prince, he felt torn and guilty. He had Sedik and Master Qui-Gon and all his friends to love him, and Mikhail had no one. Surely it wouldn't hurt to give the child just a little bit more of his time.
"Mikhail, wait!" he called out. The boy looked back at him, hopefulness in his eyes. "Look, we could go get some ice cream before you head back home. How would that be?"
Mikhail beamed. "That would be great!"
"Good," Obi-Wan said. "Sedik and I will be ready in just a minute."
Mikhail scowled at the thought of having the other padawan tagging along but Obi-Wan had already disappeared back into the suite. He crossed his arms and tapped his foot impatiently, leaning against the wall and hoping that the two would hurry.
Meanwhile, Sedik's face was reflecting an almost comical dismay as he heard Obi-Wan explain the change in plans. "We're going to go get ice cream? Now?"
Obi-Wan sat down on the couch to pull his boots back on. "It'll just take an hour, and then we can come back here and have some time to ourselves."
"By that time, Master Jinn will be back and it will be your curfew," Sedik complained.
"Then we'll see each other tomorrow night," Obi-Wan said patiently. "Sed, we have lots of people who love us and lots of time to spend together. Mikhail has no one else."
"He should be making friends his own age," Sedik pointed out.
"How? He lives at the Senate building with Vallorum, and you know there aren't any children over there. I'm the only one who pays any attention to him."
"And what happens when you go off on a mission?" Sedik returned. "Obi, he needs to learn to make other friends, not to monopolize all your time."
"He will, once he feels a little more settled." Obi-Wan gave Sedik a pleading look. "Please, Sed? It's just for one night."
Sedik couldn't refuse Obi-Wan anything when he looked at him like that. "Oh, all right," he grumbled.
The warm kiss Obi-Wan gave him almost made up for the ruin of his evening plans. Almost.
That was only the beginning. Somehow, Mikhail managed to worm his way into every bit of time Sedik had with Obi-Wan. Between that and their class schedule, Sedik was seeing less of Obi-Wan since his return than he had when they were light years apart. And the little bits of time that he had alone with Obi-Wan were making him more and more frustrated, emotionally and sexually.
It wasn't that he wasn't accustomed to frustration – he and Obi-Wan hadn't gone past kissing and petting during their yearlong courtship. But this was somehow worse because it wasn't a natural frustration. It was all because of the Brat Prince's interference.
Obi-Wan seemed oblivious to the child's machinations, and Sedik's attempts to point it out fell on deaf ears. His boyfriend's blind spot regarding the child was creating tension between the two until it seemed that the only thing they did was fight. Finally, reluctantly, Sedik took the only course left to him.
Obi-Wan stared at Sedik, dumbfounded, when Sedik turned down an invitation to attend the latest holovid opening after learning that Mikhail would be going as well. "I don't believe it!" Obi-Wan said, an incredulous look on his face. "You're jealous of a child?"
"I'm not jealous," Sedik said quietly. "But I am tired of having to share you with him."
"So what is this – an ultimatum that I choose you or him?"
"No," Sedik said wearily. "I'm not going to make you choose between us. You're free to spend your time with Prince Mikhail. I just won't be joining you when he's with you, and if he joins us, I'll leave."
"Oh, that's real mature," Obi-Wan said sarcastically.
Sedik sighed. "I've tried, Obi. I really have. But the fact of the matter is that he's not willing to share you with anyone, especially me. And I refuse to be made to feel like I'm the intruder."
Obi-Wan's eyes filled with tears. "But – I love you, Sed. I want to be with you."
"And I want to be with you," Sedik said, reaching up a hand to wipe away tears. "But not like this. I'm already too angry with you to be rational – if this goes on, I'll begin to hate you, and I'd rather part now then have that happen."
Obi-Wan's face paled and he took a step back. "You're breaking up with me?"
"Yes," Sedik said resolutely. "If you won't see the truth about Mikhail."
"What truth?" Obi-Wan demanded. "Yours?" He turned on his heel and raced through the Temple to his master's suite, into his own room, and threw himself on the bed. It was there that Qui-Gon found him an hour later, lying face down on the bed, his face buried in a pillow.
"Padawan? Mikhail is on the comm., wants to know when you'll be there."
"Tell him I'm sorry but I can't come, Master," Obi-Wan said in a muffled voice.
Qui-Gon relayed the message and then returned to his apprentice's room. He sat on the edge of the bed and gently stroked the boy's back. "Anything I can help with, Padawan?"
"Sedik's breaking up with me."
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Oh? Did he tell you why? Is there someone else?"
Obi-Wan rolled onto his side and sighed. "In a way. He refuses to compete with Mikki for my time."
"Ah," Qui-Gon said with a nod. "I wondered when that would happen."
Obi-Wan looked at his master in surprise. "Do you think he's right, Master? Do I spend too much time with Mikhail?"
"It doesn't matter what I think, Padawan. What do you think?"
"Well," Obi-Wan said reluctantly. "Mikki is over here every day but I don't think he means to take all my time."
"Obi-Wan, when was the last time you spent time with your friends, like Bant?"
Obi-Wan blinked. "I see Bant every day in class."
"That's not what I asked."
Obi-Wan sat up and drew his knees up to his chest, frowning in thought. "I suppose it's been a long time since I spent any real time with the others. But they're more than welcome to join me and Mikki – "
"Are they, Padawan?" Qui-Gon asked gently.
Obi-Wan twirled the end of the braid around his finger as his considered this. "I guess that Mikhail has made them feel pretty unwelcome when they do," he said slowly. "But he hasn't got anyone else – "
"And why is that? Has Vallorum tried to introduce him to other children? Have you?"
"Yes, but he doesn't seem to get along too well with others," Obi-Wan reluctantly admitted. "He likes to be with me."
Qui-Gon considered his apprentice. "Obi-Wan, do you remember when you were about fourteen and learning to do aerial katas?"
Obi-Wan gave him a puzzled look, wondering where this was going. "Yes, Master."
"You picked them up quickly and you were very good, but you were reluctant to give up the safety harness to try them on your own, even though I told you that you could do it. Do you remember?"
Obi-Wan grinned. "Do I! You cut the ropes on the harness but let me think that they were still in place. It was only when I was done that you showed me that I'd done it on my own."
"It was a crutch, Obi-Wan. A useful one for a time, but one you had to give up in order to continue growing."
"And you're saying that I'm Mikhail's crutch," Obi-Wan said shrewdly.
Qui-Gon nodded his head. "He needs to learn to make friends on his own, and to give you space to have your own friends as well."
Obi-Wan sighed. "You're right, Master, but it's easier said than done."
"I know, Padawan, but you are going to have to be firm. Until now, Mikhail's been able to get his way with you and he's been abusing that. You need to make him see that, while he's a friend, he is no more important than your other friends."
Obi-Wan sighed. "Yes, Master. I'll see what I can do."
Mikhail skipped through the Temple corridors at Obi-Wan's side, thrilled at having been invited to join the padawan for lunch. He liked being here at the Temple, liked the smiles and nods that people gave Obi-Wan and, by extension, him. And even more than that, he liked knowing that the Interloper Sedik had been driven away, that Obi-Wan was his entirely again.
His joy diminished as they reached the dining hall and he saw that Obi-Wan was heading towards a table with other padawans. "Obi-Wan," he said with the little whimper in his voice that had always worked before, "I wanted to have lunch with just the two of us. I've got so much to tell you."
To his surprise, Obi-Wan didn't change course. "You can tell me and the others together," Obi-Wan said. "I told my other friends that I'd meet them for lunch."
Mikhail scowled and trailed along. From the reluctant greetings the others gave him, it was clear that they didn't like this idea any more than he did. He started immediately trying to focus Obi-Wan's attention on him, telling him about his lessons that morning, but to his surprise Obi-Wan frowned at him and made a shushing gesture.
"In a minute, Mikki," Obi-Wan said. "Bant was talking, and it's rude to interrupt her. You'll get your turn next."
Mikhail scowled and sat back in his chair, crossing his arms across his chest. He didn't want his turn in a minute, he wanted it now. Besides, the fish-woman looked way too pleased by Obi-Wan's comment, and he was sure that she was sneering at him. He began kicking his heels against the legs of his chair, and was once again surprised when Obi-Wan turned and admonished him sharply to sit still. Hurt tears hastily summoned to his eyes failed to have any effect – Obi-Wan wasn't even looking at him.
Mikhail looked around the room, bored with the conversation and in need of amusement. As he saw Sedik entering the room, his eyes lit up. Here at least was something to amuse him.
"Hello, Padawan Sedik," he said in a deceptively sweet tone as Sedik approached. "I haven't seen you around lately. Oh, that's right – you and Obi aren't seeing each other anymore."
Sedik stopped. "Prince Mikhail," he said shortly. "Padawan Kenobi."
"Sedik," Obi-Wan said warmly, smiling up at the other padawan. "It's good to see you. I was wondering if you wanted to go to the concert tomorrow night with me. Master got some great passes."
Sedik blinked. "Obi-Wan, I thought we – "
"It would give me the chance to apologize to you properly," Obi-Wan added, his eyes conveying a message to his boyfriend.
Sedik swallowed; that smoldering look had always gotten to him. "Um – I'd love to – um – "
"But Obi," Mikhail said, pouting. "I thought that you said you'd take me to the next concert."
"Not this time, Mikki," Obi-Wan said. "Sedik and I haven't gotten to spend much time alone together since he got home."
"But what am I supposed to do," he whined.
"That's up to you," Obi-Wan said gently. "I can't spend all my time with you, Mikhail. It's not fair to my other friends, and it doesn't give you a chance to make friends your age." He ignored the stunned look he was getting from his friends, focused on getting the message across to Mikhail.
"I don't want friends my age," Mikhail snapped. "I want you."
"And I like being your friend, too. We'll go to the interactive museum the day after tomorrow, just you and me."
"But I want to go to the concert with you tomorrow night, too!" Mikhail whined.
Mikhail stared at the padawan in stunned surprise. No one had ever said that to him before, not in that dead-serious tone Obi-Wan had just used. There had always been hesitancy behind the words, an indication that the right amount of pressure would make the other person cave. But the way Obi-Wan said it left no doubt that he meant it.
Frustrated, Mikhail looked down at his tray, away from the faces of Obi-Wan's friends, and especially from Sedik, sure that they were laughing at him. "Fine!" he snapped. "He wants to take all my time – he can take this, too!" He scooped up a handful of the pudding on his plate and threw it at Sedik.
It caught the older padawan right on the face, stunning Sedik and the others to silence for a moment. Then something inside Sedik snapped.
"Why, you little brat!" he said, reaching out and pushing Mikhail's face down into his own plate. Mikhail came up sputtering and slinging food everywhere.
"Mikhail! Sedik! Stop it!" Obi-Wan ordered, moving between the two combatants. Mikhail ignored him, grabbing a double handful of food from his plate and ducked around Obi-wan so that he could hurl it at Sedik.
Sedik ducked and the food hit a junior padawan passing by. She stared down at the globs hanging from her fur, snarled, and looked around. Seeing Obi-Wan standing there, open-mouthed with shock, she grabbed a handful of food off her plate and threw it right at Obi-Wan. The flying food caught Obi-Wan squarely, with collateral damage to Garen and Bant on either side of him. That was all it took. Within the space of a moment, food was flying all over the dining hall, padawans and initiates joining in the fray as each was caught by the fall-out. Globs of food soon decorated every surface and each occupant, and a raid on the serving trays for more ammunition was imminent when suddenly a voice cut through the bedlam.
"What in Sith Hells is going on here?"
Everyone froze and glanced at the doorway out of the corners of their eyes. Master Mace stood in the doorway, glaring at everyone. There was a collective gulp and every padawan and initiate considered crawling under the table to hide.
"Who started this?" he demanded. As one, the entire group turned and pointed. Right at Obi-Wan.
Mace closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. "Why am I not surprised?" he said in a long-suffering voice. "All right. Each and every one of you will clean up this mess right now, give your names to my aide, then return to your rooms to clean up and wait for your masters to deal with you – you are all on report." He looked over the group at the center of the mess, noting that Obi-Wan actually appeared to be less messy while Sedik and Mikhail were covered in food, and formed his own opinion of the situation. "Padawan Kenobi, Padawan Sedik, Prince Mikhail – come with me."
Silently, the three followed the irate Councilman out of the dining hall and down the hallway. He stopped in front of the communal changing room and pointed at the door. "Clean up and be quick about it," Mace ordered and the three hurried to obey. A few minutes later they emerged, clean and damp and dressed in spare workout clothes, and followed Mace as he headed for Qui-Gon's rooms. He used his Council override to open the door.
"Pick a corner each of you, and don't even think about moving till I come back with Master Jinn. Am I understood?"
"Yes, Master Windu," three voices chorused and then Sedik and Obi-Wan hurried to find a corner to park their noses in. Mikhail watched them with a frown, not quite sure what they were doing, until a sharp voice said, "Well? Do you need help getting into your corner?"
Mikhail had never been punished in his life but there was something about that voice that said he'd better not risk making the councilman angrier. He hurried over to an empty corner and emulated Obi-Wan by putting his nose against the wall.
Mace let the door slide shut, let out an exasperated sigh, and decided he'd better find Qui-Gon. He turned away from the door and found his quarry coming down the hall towards him.
"Mace? You were looking for me?"
Mace sighed. "We've got trouble, Qui-Gon. It seems that the Initiates and Padawans decided to get into a food fight in the dining hall, and when I asked them who started it – "
Qui-Gon closed his eyes. "Obi-Wan."
"That's what they said. For what it's worth, Qui, I don't think he started it. That prince friend of his and Sedik were covered with food – if I had to bet on it, I'd say they started it over Obi-Wan."
"I wouldn't be surprised," Qui-Gon said dryly.
"They're all cooling their heels in your suite, so I'll let you take care of the matter. Master Arlina's going to be tied up with Senate briefings all day, and the Sith only know where the prince's keepers are, but I expect you'll sort that all out."
"Thanks, Mace," Qui-Gon said sarcastically.
"Hell, Qui, I've got a hundred others to discipline," Mace pointed out. "I think you can handle these three just fine."
Qui-Gon nodded and clasped his friend's arm. "Thank you, Mace," he said sincerely. "And good luck."
Qui-Gon entered his suite and looked at the three boys occupying the corners. They were all silent, not looking at each other, and he sighed. "All right, Padawan. You know how I feel about fighting, and this is the third time I've had to punish you for it. Go to your room and wait for me."
Obi-Wan nodded silently and headed into his room without looking at his two friends. Qui-Gon sighed again and unbuckled his belt.
The protest came from two different throats at the same time and just as vehemently. Sedik and Mikhail paused and looked at each other in surprise, then Sedik said, "Master Jinn, you can't punish Obi-Wan!"
Mikhail nodded vigorously, coming out of his corner to confront the master Jedi. "He didn't do anything – he was trying to stop us!"
"Mikhail's right." Sedik drew himself up. "I'm the eldest – I knew better. I should be punished, not Obi-Wan."
"It was my fault," Mikhail insisted. "I threw my pudding at Sedik first."
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow in surprise. "You, Mikhail? You think you should get the spanking that Obi-Wan was going to get?" Mikhail nodded.
"It's not just Mikhail's fault," Sedik said. "The fight wouldn't have started if I hadn't retaliated. I'm old enough to know better."
"Yes, you are," Qui-Gon said sternly, and Sedik flushed and dropped his head. "Since your master is away for the afternoon, I guess that makes you my responsibility till she gets home and can deal with you herself." He pointed in the direction of his own room. "I think an hour's meditation on the responsibilities of setting a good example for younger padawans would be an excellent start."
"Yes, Master Jinn," Sedik murmured and slipped out of the main room, not quickly enough to avoid a swat aimed at his backside.
Qui-Gon sat down on the couch. "Come here, Mikhail." He waited till Mikhail had slowly moved over to his side, and until he heard the door close behind Sedik. He gave Mikhail a solemn look. "Do you know what you did wrong, Mikhail?"
Mikhail nodded. "I made a mess and got Obi-Wan into trouble."
"It's not the mess, Mikhail. It's the intent behind the actions that was wrong," Qui-Gon said seriously. "Why did you start the fight?"
Mikhail flushed slightly. "Obi-Wan told me I couldn't go to a concert with him tomorrow, that he and Sedik were going alone, and I got angry. I wanted to get back at Sedik for stealing Obi-Wan."
"So you wanted to hurt Sedik, is that it?"
"I guess so," Mikhail said slowly. "I didn't think about it like that. I just – did it."
Qui-Gon's eyes met Mikhail's. "Mikhail, you are a prince and one day may be king. That carries a lot of responsibility, and it means that you can't just strike out at others because your feelings are hurt. Today it's food – tomorrow it could mean someone's death. Do you understand me?"
"Also, you say that you love Obi-Wan, but were you thinking about his feelings for Sedik? Did you know that he cried half the night when he and Sedik broke up over you?"
Mikhail's eyes shadowed with pain. "I don't want Obi-Wan to be sad. That was wrong of me, too, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was. It was selfish. When you love someone, you want them to be happy, too."
Mikhail nodded, then asked, anxiously, "Are you going to spank me?"
"Yes, I am." Qui-Gon pulled the child across his knees, leaving the boy's pants on since it was undoubtedly the first spanking he had ever received. He laid a firm swat across the presented backside and heard Mikhail's gasp, then laid down five more quick swats.
Mikhail was blinking his eyes, trying to keep from crying, when Qui-Gon let him back up. "That – that hurt," he managed to say.
"It's supposed to," Qui-Gon said. "And now for the final ritual." He folded Mikhail into a hug. "All is forgiven, child."
Mikhail clung to the large Jedi master and let the tears fall. "I'm sorry," he whispered into Qui-Gon's shoulder. "I won't do it again, I promise."
"Good." Qui-Gon pulled back a little, smiling into the child's face. "It takes more than bloodlines to be a good ruler." He stood up and took Mikhail's hand. "And now I think that you owe Obi-Wan an apology."
Obi-Wan looked up at the tap on his door, his heart pounding suddenly. His master had been a long time in coming, and he could only assume that he was getting rid of Sedik and Mikhail before attending to Obi-Wan's punishment. So he was surprised to see Mikhail standing there in the doorway, tears in his eyes and his little hand in Qui-Gon's large one.
Mikhail launched himself across the room, hugging Obi-Wan tightly. "I'm sorry!" he sobbed. "I didn't mean to get you in trouble."
"That's okay," Obi-Wan said, hugging the child. "I manage to get into enough of that on my own."
"Not today," Qui-Gon said with a little smile. "Mikhail and Sedik explained what happened."
"Got a spanking, too," Mikhail confided to Obi-Wan. "Six awful hard ones."
Obi-Wan gave his master a quizzical look, then looked back down at Mikhail. "You were very brave to admit the truth and take your punishment," he said gravely.
Mikhail perked up at that. "I was, wasn't I?" he said proudly.
Qui-Gon hid his amusement. "Don't you have something else to tell Obi-Wan?"
"Oh, yeah," Mikhail said. "I'm sorry about busting up you and Sedik. It's okay with me if you want to see him again."
"Thank you, Mikki," Obi-Wan said warmly. "I still want to spend time with you, too, just separate from my time with Sedik."
Mikhail shrugged. "He's okay, I guess. And I'm sorry if I got him into trouble." He drew in a deep breath. "If you want me to take his swats, too, I will."
"His swats?" Obi-Wan asked, perplexed, then his eyes widened and he looked up at Qui-Gon in alarm. "Master, you're not going to spank Sedik, are you?"
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "As a matter of fact, he is doing meditations in my room but if I wished to punish him for his part in getting you into trouble, I'm sure that Master Arlina wouldn't mind."
"You can't!" Obi-Wan said, horrified. "Master, you can't do that to my boyfriend! It's – it's embarrassing!"
"Embarrassing, Padawan?" Qui-Gon asked. Obi-Wan nodded his head vigorously. "If I were you, I wouldn't be worrying about Sedik's butt, I'd be worrying about your own."
Obi-Wan's eyes widened. "But, Master!"
"But nothing. You didn't start the food fight, but I have a feeling that you got caught up in the – um – spirit of the moment. Is that right?"
Obi-Wan flushed and looked down at his feet. "Yes, Master. I – I guess I did."
"Is it fair that the other Initiates and Padawans should be punished and not you?"
"No, Master, but – a spanking?"
"Childish behavior, Obi-Wan, warrants a similar punishment." He looked down at Mikhail who was now wide-eyed. "Mikhail, please go into the other room and wait for us."
Mikhail swallowed hard and gave Obi-Wan a panicked look, then ran from Obi-Wan's room into the main one. But he didn't stop there; he ran right into Master Jinn's room and over to Sedik, tugging urgently at his tunic.
"Padawan Sedik! Wake up – hurry!"
Sedik's eyes snapped open and he frowned at the child tugging at his tunic. "What's wrong?"
"It's Obi-Wan! Master Jinn's still going to spank him – you've got to stop him!" Even as he spoke, they heard the sound of a hand smacking skin and heard Obi-Wan cry out. Mikhail threw himself into Sedik's arms, burying his face against the older padawan's shirt.
"It's my fault!" he sobbed. "I was horrid and it's not fair that Obi's getting punished for it!"
Sedik was touched, despite his personal dislike for the child, and hugged Mikhail. "I don't like it either," he admitted. "I wish I could take his punishment, too."
"You do?" Mikhail looked up at Sedik in surprise.
Sedik nodded. "I love him and I don't want him to be hurt." He sighed. "Although I seem to have done a pretty good job of hurting him myself this week."
"That was my fault, too," Mikhail said miserably. "I was mean to you, and I tried to make Obi mad at you 'cause I didn't want you together."
"I know," Sedik said, "but why would you do that, Mikhail?"
Mikhail looked down. "I wanted Obi to love me the most."
"Mikhail, Obi-Wan has a very big heart. He can love more than one person at a time. He loves me, and his friends, and his master, and his grand-master Yoda, and he has plenty of love still to give you."
Mikhail shook his head. "When grown ups fall in love that way, they don't have time for little guys like me. They say 'Go play with your toys, Mikhail. I'm too busy, Mikhail.' Momma said it and sent me away. Nurse said it when the Guard Captain visited." He looked wistful. "Obi will say it, too."
Sedik swallowed the lump that suddenly formed in his throat. "No, he won't. And – and if he does, I'll kick his butt." He lifted Mikhail's face. "I promise that I'll share, okay?"
Mikhail frowned. "I don't like to share."
Sedik grinned. "I noticed. And I haven't liked sharing him with you, either. But you know, the one we're hurting the most is Obi-Wan, and we don't want to do that, do we?"
"No," Mikhail admitted, then drew in a deep breath. "All right. I'll try." Then, forlornly, he said, "But what will I do while Obi-Wan is busy with you?"
Sedik thought for a moment. "Well, maybe you'd like to get to know Obi-Wan's other friends. Did you know that Bant is one of the best swimmers here in the Temple? She could teach you how to swim. Reeft does beautiful artwork in his free time – I'm sure he'd be glad to show you his work. And Garen has his own racer, so maybe he'd take you for rides. Plus there's a lot of Initiates your age that would love to hear about your world and your adventures. Doesn't that sound interesting?"
"I suppose," Mikhail said half-heartedly. He looked up at Sedik anxiously. "Are you still mad at me?"
Sedik's mouth quirked up. "A little, but I'll forgive you if you'll promise not to get between me and Obi-Wan."
"Deal," Mikhail said, holding out his hand for a shake to seal the agreement. He listened intently for a moment. "I don't hear anything. You think it's over?"
"Sounds like it," Sedik said. "You know, Obi-Wan's going to be feeling pretty bad."
Mikhail nodded. "He'll need a hug, like Master Jinn gave me after my spanking." He drew a deep breath and said, in the tones of one making a big sacrifice, "You can hug him first, if you like."
Sedik grinned down at the child. "How about we both hug him together? After we wash your face."
Mikhail smiled back. " 'Kay." He stood up and, as Sedik unfolded his legs and stood up, said shyly, "Padawan Sedik?"
"Yes, Mikhail?" Sedik said, looking down in surprise as a small hand slipped into his.
"Do you suppose that, when Obi-Wan's busy doing stuff, we could – you know – talk? And maybe you'd help me meet some of the kids my age?"
Sedik smiled and squeezed Mikhail's hand. "I'd be honored, Your Highness."
As the two went into the 'fresher, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan peered out of the open doorway from the Padawan's room. "It worked, Master," Obi-Wan said with a grin.
"I told you that it would, Padawan," Qui-Gon said, smiling back at his apprentice. "Two united in a common cause."
"But you didn't have to swat me so hard, Master," Obi-Wan said reproachfully, rubbing his backside through the cloth.
"It was only one swat, Padawan," Qui-Gon pointed out, "and it was for a good cause. Of course, if you'd like me to seriously address the matter of the food fight – "
"That won't be necessary, Master," Obi-Wan said hastily, moving out of range of his master's long arms. "I'll just go see how Sedik and Mikhail are doing."
"Good," his master said, amused. "Because the three of you are going to have a very busy afternoon. I believe that the kitchen staff could use some assistance washing dishes."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said with a resigned sigh and went to collect Sedik and Mikhail. At least now he didn't have to worry about the two of them fighting over him, and they could concentrate their energy on something more productive. He wondered why that suddenly worried him.