Originally posted: August 2, 2004
Warnings: Some violence and non-consensual sex. Spoilers for the Jedi Apprentice books.
Notes: I started writing this fic in December 2002, so it's been 20 months in the making! Special thanks to Jedi Rita, Emila-Wan, and Helens for multiple betas, and for pushing me to make this fic the best it could be. They all read multiple drafts over the course of a year and spent hours giving me feedback on this story. I can't thank them enough! Thanks also go out to Lauranna, Laura McEwan, Clara Swift, and Obi-Ki, all of whom read and commented on drafts of this fic. Finally, thanks to Terri Hamill for the inspiration, though it's been so long ago now that she's probably forgotten!
1. Chapter 1 by Emma Grant
2. Chapter 2 by Emma Grant
3. Chapter 3 by Emma Grant
4. Chapter 4 by Emma Grant
5. Chapter 5 by Emma Grant
6. Chapter 6 by Emma Grant
7. Chapter 7 by Emma Grant
8. Chapter 8 by Emma Grant
"Wankers, the lot."
C'Lon swirled her glass of Corellian brandy, letting the strong floral scent fill her nose. She gestured towards a group of roughnecks on the other side of the bar. Erat grinned, taking a slow sip from his own glass, saying nothing. She eyed him for a moment before casting her gaze back toward the entrance of the decidedly seedy establishment.
"Don't tell me, dearie, that you disagree with me. You hate these shithole dives as much as I do."
Eyes that were neither green nor blue -- always a shade between -- flashed at her. "Oh, but you do look the part, milady."
C'Lon raised a hand to her short gray hair, touching the spiky style Erat had convinced her to try. He'd said it would make her look tougher, and that her relatively petite frame could use a bit of height, anyway. She'd submitted, ultimately -- it was his job to look out for her, after all.
She was constructing a witty retort when she saw the grubby Haradian enter the bar and walk right towards their darkened booth. "Our company has arrived," she murmured.
Erat nodded and slipped out of the booth, fading into the background with astonishing ease. She shook her head and smiled. That boy had been a great find. She still couldn't believe her luck.
The Haradian would have stood out just about anywhere. He was well over two meters in height, and his massive arms nearly dragged the grimy floor. Powerful four-fingered hands, each digit sporting a vicious-looking claw, were raised in greeting as he slipped -- well, squeezed -- into the booth. A show of sharp teeth signaled either a cheerful smile or a warning of some sort. C'Lon wasn't sure which.
She took another sip of her brandy and raised an eyebrow. "What'll you have to drink, then?" It was the agreed-upon recognition phrase; ordinarily she'd never buy a drink for scum like that.
The Haradian grunted and pointed at the brandy. She signaled the serving droid and gestured toward her glass, then held up two fingers. The droid scuttled away through the sludge on the floor.
"You are C'Lon?" the Haradian rasped in heavily accented Basic.
She nodded absently, pulling a tabac stick from her pouch and lighting it in a smooth movement. She took a long drag and blew a stream of smoke in the Haradian's direction.
The large being eyed her suspiciously. "You are female."
"How observant of you. Last time I took a piss, I checked. Still no dick." Another long drag. "Are you going to waste my time further, or are you going to tell me what the fuck you want?"
The Haradian's eyes narrowed, but he seemed to have decided to accept the situation for the moment. He pursed his thick lips, as if collecting his thoughts. "I work for a very powerful and important man. He has a special request that requires… the kind of skill you are rumored to have."
She nodded, listening intently while doing her best to look bored and distracted. The droid arrived with the drinks and she tossed a credit chip its way.
The Haradian took a slurp of his brandy before continuing. "What do you know of the Jedi?"
That got her attention, though she struggled not to show it. "Jedi? Well, same as what everyone knows. Magic powers, drab robes, semi-ascetic existence, lightsabers. What exactly does this… employer of yours want?"
The Haradian lowered his voice so much that she had to strain to hear him over the background buzz of the cantina. "He requires two Jedi younglings. Twins. He wants them unharmed. He will pay well. Very well."
It took every ounce of control C'Lon had not to burst out laughing. "Are you fucking insane? Jedi younglings?" She snorted in a mixture of amusement and disgust, leaning back into the seat. "It would take a shitload of money, much of it in advance, mind you, for me even to consider that job."
"I have been authorized to offer you this amount." One stubby finger pushed a card with a number written on it across the table. An exceedingly large number.
C'Lon whistled. "Fuck me." A confused glance from the Haradian made her smirk, despite the uncomfortable mental image it produced. "So, he just wants me to find twin Jedi younglings, eh? I may be able to manage that."
"These younglings," the Haradian stated, pushing a small holocube towards her. She activated it under the table. A pair of human children, approximately twelve years of age by the look of them, were revealed: smiling, clasping hands. A boy and a girl, blond hair, sweet smiles. A pair of Jedi stood behind them, a man and a woman, also smiling. They almost looked like a family.
She deactivated the cube and passed it back across the table. "I'm sorry, but I don't deal in humans. Every species except humans, and I make no exceptions."
The Haradian blinked. She returned to her tabac stick, ignoring him as if he'd already left.
Another card was pushed towards her. "My employer anticipated your reluctance, and authorized me to increase the offer to this amount."
C'Lon waited a long moment before glancing at the figure, summoning her best disaffected expression. She lost it almost immediately -- the number had been tripled. She gasped, dropping the tabac stick into its tray before slugging down the rest of the brandy. She picked up the card and stared at it.
Now that was a shitload of money. More money than she'd ever imagined having. More than enough to get her out of this despicable business and onto a beach on some warm tropical planet, the kind that never had wars or political upheavals. She could live out the rest of her life in luxury.
"I suppose I don't want to know what your employer wants with a couple of human Jedi children," she said, trying to regain her composure and stall for time. She needed to think clearly, and the size of that number wasn't helping. "He must want them very badly."
The Haradian blinked again, a rather grotesque effort involving several layers of mucus-covered membranes.
She took a deep breath. If she did this, it could be her last job -- ever. She could pay off her crew's contracts and then retire in style on that beach. She shuddered at the thought of capturing two human children. She didn't mind selling children, of course -- the business was lucrative -- but she'd always restricted her wares to non-humans. It was easier to think of them as livestock. They cried and moaned as much as humans, of course, but it was easier to ignore it when they were green and scaly.
But she'd started questioning her choice of career in recent months, for some reason she couldn't quite put a finger on. Perhaps she was just getting soft in her old age. At any rate, here was an opportunity to get out of the business for good, and she thought she should probably take it.
She picked up the tabac stick again and took a contemplative drag. Bluish gray smoke curled up from her lips and toward the ceiling, swirling in the heavily scented air above their heads, adding to the atmosphere of the darkened den.
"Right then," she said at last. "I want half of the money up front, then the rest on delivery." It was standard procedure in the business, and she never waded into shit without a big paddle. She met the Haradian's yellow gaze steadily.
The Haradian nodded, flipping a datapad in her direction. "The details are all there. The younglings in question are currently in the Nimol system with their caretakers."
Caretakers, my ass. Probably Jedi fucking Masters. She blew out a breath.
"Half the amount in hard currency will be brought to your ship before sunset this day," he continued. "Do not attempt to contact my employer. He will contact you when the children have been acquired."
C'Lon frowned. "What the... how will he know when the children have been acquired?"
The Haradian said nothing in response. He slammed back the rest of his brandy, squeezed out of the booth, and left. She watched his hulking form exit the bar, then closed her eyes with a sigh. A slight noise to her left alerted her to Erat's return.
He raised one eyebrow in question as he slid into the booth again. She handed him the card with the large number written on it. He took one look at it and nearly laughed in surprise.
"Sith hells, C'Lon! What is this job, anyway?"
Not even his use of that archaic curse could make her smile. She lit another tabac stick and inhaled deeply, trying in vain to steel her fluttering stomach. "Just suicidal, Erat, that's all. If I survive it, I can get out of this business for good."
His eyes, now green in the dim light, regarded her for a moment. She shivered from the intensity of it. Sometimes it seemed like he was looking right through her.
"Your cut would be substantial, you know. I'd release you from your contract, of course. No need for a bodyguard where I'm plannin' to go."
He grinned. "You keep smoking those and you won't need a bodyguard. You'll need a full-time healer."
"Don't lecture me, boy. This habit's older than you. A woman needs some pleasure in life."
He settled back against the side of the booth, smiling, arms stretched over his head. He was a beautiful young man, one of the most beautiful she'd seen in a long time. He'd looked not unlike this the first time she'd seen him, four months ago on Mistal.
He'd been the personal bodyguard of an old pirate she'd known for years, a pirate whose ass C'Lon had handed to him on a plate that night in an unusually animated Sabacc game. The old fool had been bluffing for hours, and C'Lon had finally gotten an unbelievable hand. She was going to milk him for every datarie he'd ever won from her in their decades-long friendship.
"I'll see your thousand," she said, tabac stick firmly planted between clenched teeth, "and raise you another thousand."
Yulat laughed heartily, a deep rumble in his chest that spilled out into the air like water. "So sure of yourself, eh, C'Lon?" He signaled the barmaid for another glass of ale. "It seems I am nearly out of money. However, I do have something else you might be interested in." He raised his thick eyebrows and grinned.
C'Lon sat back and smirked, smoke curling up from her lips. "What could you possibly offer me that would be better than money, my old friend?"
"Erat, come here," Yulat shouted to a darkened corner.
A young male human appeared from the shadows and strolled over to stand by the pirate. He was young, perhaps twenty standard, and undoubtedly one of the most attractive men she'd seen in a long time. Tight ngala-hide trousers left little to the imagination, and a fur-lined white jacket hung open on a chiseled torso. Pierced nipples marred an otherwise smooth chest, and his short reddish-brown hair was styled into a shaggy mop and streaked with blue. One ear was pierced, sporting an expensive-looking green crystal. He regarded C'Lon for a moment and then smiled, wetting his lips with his tongue and leaning -- no, posing -- against the chair of his employer.
She laughed out loud. "What the fuck would I do with him?"
Yulat grinned, his eyes twinkling. He grabbed a handful of the beautiful boy's ass, prompting a mock glare from Erat. "Oh, I'm sure you could come up with something."
C'Lon laughed, shaking her head. "Yulat, I've got boots older than him. Besides, I don't need a contracted pleasure boy. I'm not that desperate." The room was filled with whistles and low laughs at her intended barb. Even Erat grinned.
Yulat only smiled. "Well, my dear friend, that's the best part. He ain't no pleasure boy. He's a bodyguard. A damned good one, in fact."
"A bodyguard?" she repeated in disbelief. "He doesn't look too threatening to me."
"That's part of what makes him so damn good. No one ever suspects that he can fight." Yulat's smile was oddly serious. "And he can, better than anyone I've ever employed."
Erat was still playing the role of pleasure boy behind him, slipping his finger into a creamy beverage and sucking the liquid off. He winked at C'Lon, and she began to imagine the possibilities of having this boy in her employ. She'd lost her previous bodyguard several weeks back in an unfortunate incident, and had indeed been looking for a replacement. One didn't let it get around that one didn't currently have a bodyguard, so the process had been slow.
The boy fixed her with his gaze. Yes, I think he would do nicely, she thought, earlier concerns about his abilities suddenly melting away. He smiled at her, parting his lips. Damn, but that could get me in trouble.
She shook her head to clear it. "Well, then, what's his contract worth?"
"It's got six standard months left on it, already paid for. Then, of course, you'd have the option to renew, if he was happy working for you. Four thousand."
"Four thousand? For a bodyguard?" She coughed to cover her surprise, and glanced around the table. The other players had folded long ago, and were watching the current proceedings with detached interest. There was nothing on any of their faces that indicated she was being taken. "I'm not convinced he's worth that."
Yulat nodded. "Perhaps a demonstration, then? He can take down any one of your hired thugs."
"Oh, I doubt it," she laughed, pushing back from the table.
"How about a side wager, then? You pick the man, and Erat here'll pin him in less than three minutes. If he wins, then his contract becomes my wager, and I take back my other contributions to the pot. If he loses, then I'll throw his contract in on top of everything else."
She chewed on the end of her tabac stick. This seemed like a no-lose proposition for her. What was the catch? If he was as good as Yulat claimed, he'd be worth the money he was pulling out of the pot. If he wasn't, she'd get the money and him to boot.
"Why are you being so generous, Yulat? If he's such a valuable employee, why are you trying so hard to give him away?"
Yulat raised an eyebrow. "Let's just say that I'm trying to do a favor for an old friend."
Ah, so he had heard about her bodyguard troubles. He'd always been a good friend. She smiled, knowing she'd owe him big for this. "B'Wal, come here and see what this twink is made of."
The room seemed to widen as beings moved back to clear a space on the floor. B'Wal, a hulk of a half-human man, stepped into the center of the space, leering at Erat. The young man peeled off his jacket, revealing an intricate system of leather straps across his back: holsters, C'Lon realized, for two lethal looking blasters. One was a kind that she recognized as banned in half the galaxy, and the other she didn't recognize at all. The holsters were removed, and Erat stepped into the circle to face his opponent. He looked exceedingly calm.
B'Wal laughed, a sound that frightened many would-be opponents into immediate retreat. Erat didn't move a muscle. B'Wal stalked toward the boy. "You ain't nothin' but a fuck boy," he growled in a way his victims usually regarded as menacing. "And I'm gonna enjoy you real good after I kick the shit out of you." He grinned -- not a pleasant sight.
Drunken bastard, C'Lon thought. She hated him, but he was still the best she had. He ought to be able to take this boy down in one punch.
B'Wal threw himself at Erat with a roar, but the boy side-stepped him with astonishing speed, bringing his right hand down in a blow across the hulking shoulders of his opponent. B'Wal hit the ground hard, and the crowd gasped in surprise.
Several more times, B'Wal charged and Erat slipped out of his grasp, delivering a painful blow each time he did. B'Wal was livid, swearing in four languages and losing his composure as rapidly as his dignity. Erat remained eerily calm, seeming to anticipate his opponent's every move.
B'Wal pulled himself to his feet and charged once more, nearly staggering in his anger and frustration. He tried to tackle Erat, but the boy simply moved out of his way again, this time kicking the thug's feet out from under him. The crowd laughed, and a few people exchanged credit chips.
The fight wasn't over, though. B'Wal rose to his feet and began circling Erat once more. The boy watched him, matching his movements with a powerful grace. B'Wal swung a massive arm towards him, but Erat ducked, delivering a strong kick to B'Wal's thigh just as the momentum of the swing knocked him out of balance. B'Wal howled as he hit the ground, clutching his leg. Erat stepped back and waited. He wasn't even sweating.
B'Wal hauled himself to his feet and limped towards Erat, still seething.
"Enough," C'Lon said, prompting both men to stop and look at her. "B'Wal, you can't win, and I don't want you injured." She glanced at Yulat. "I'll take him."
B'Wal grimaced, but a stern look from C'Lon prompted him to nod.
"Apologize for calling me... a fuck boy," Erat said, voice still unflappably serene. B'Wal looked dazed for a moment, and then, to everyone's surprise, he did just that. Erat turned to C'Lon and bowed. "At your service, milady."
"Well, fuck me," she said, nearly under her breath.
His smile was sly. "Not part of my contract, but perhaps we can come to an arrangement."
The main chamber of the Chermyn was affectionately called "the throne room" by the crew. C'Lon's large, comfortable chair dominated one side of the room. A bar lined one wall, complete with tall stools for the crew to sit on while one of them took turns pouring drinks. Several tables and couches were scattered about, leaving the center of the room empty. Customers, prisoners, and misbehaving slaves were often brought to stand in the center of the room, surrounded by the rough-looking crew and facing C'Lon on her large elevated throne. It was an effective arrangement; as a woman in a rough business, she needed all the posturing she could manage.
Settling into her chair, C'Lon stifled a yawn. The crew was in the midst of a party at the moment, and most of them were drunk. A few groups were engaged in various card games, while others clumped around the bar, taking turns playing bartender.
C'Lon could only hope there would be no fights tonight. They'd been traveling through a remote part of the Codovine sector for more than a standard week now without stopping for supplies or business. The men were getting restless and bored, and that almost always led to trouble.
Erat appeared at her shoulder, seemingly out of nowhere, as usual. He preferred to enter and leave the room by the back entrance, located behind the throne. C'Lon figured he was trying to avoid the attention of the rest of the crew.
Erat had gotten quite a bit of attention from the moment he set foot on the Chermyn ; even crew members who had previously sworn they didn't like males stopped to watch him walk by. He had a certain air about him of confidence and sex appeal that few could resist, and he'd spent the first few weeks on board fending off the amorous intentions of half the crew. A few of them still had the scars to show for their efforts. The men largely left him alone now, but Erat didn't take any unnecessary chances. He kept to himself when he wasn't on duty.
Or he stuck close to C'Lon's side. She smiled and nodded at him in greeting. She couldn't remember smiling much before he came on board. There just wasn't anything to smile about.
"Evening, milady," he said, voice pitched just for her ears. He settled into a chair next to hers, his now-customary spot. She'd never allowed anyone else so get so close to her before -- physically or emotionally.
"Hello, Erat. Have a good bath?" Fresh from the shower, he smelled a bit like soap, and his damp hair stuck out in several directions. It was darker when wet, she thought. The blue streaks blended in with the reddish brown so much they almost weren't noticeable. She couldn't resist an attempt at taming that mess with her fingers. "Is this a hairstyle or do you not own a comb?" she teased.
He grimaced and tried to wiggle away. "Who are you, my mother? What do you care what my hair looks like?" The grimace turned into another dazzling grin. "Maybe you'd like to wipe some dirt off my face with spit as well?"
"I've a mind to, occasionally," she shot back with a wink. She felt a strange compulsion to mother the boy, and it frequently caught her by surprise. Even though he was capable of taking care of himself, there were moments -- when he didn't know she was watching him -- that he seemed terribly young and alone. How a boy as talented as that had wound up in this sort of business was beyond her. She'd tried to ask him about it a few times, but he'd deftly evaded her probes. She didn't blame him. Everyone had a story, and sometimes that story was best kept private.
She had a story of her own, in fact, and she didn't share that with anyone.
"Want a drink?" he asked, nodding in the direction of the bar.
"Sure -- whatever you're having," she replied. He crossed the chamber to the bar, turning several heads as he did. He didn't have to wait on her like this, but when she protested, he always told her it was his job to take care of her. The men around the bar moved out of his way and mostly ignored his presence -- at least when he was looking. Behind his back, they ogled and exchanged lewd glances and whispers. He soon returned with drinks -- bottles of Temurian ale -- and they both sipped in silence, watching the scene around them.
"They're getting tense," Erat said at last, eyes drifting over the crew. "How long before the next planetside leave?"
"Too long," C'Lon muttered, shaking her head. "Five days. We'll be putting most of this group of slaves up for auction on Tyralius 4."
Erat nodded, eyes focused on his bottle. C'Lon knew he hated the business. He'd never said anything, but she could see it in his eyes, in his face. He'd only taken this job because she'd won his contract, and she had no doubt that he'd be gone the moment it was fulfilled. Once, she'd asked him why he stuck around -- he could have quit with a mildly uncomfortable cut in his pay and moved on to something else. He'd given her a tight smile and replied that he always honored his contracts. He needed his clients to trust him, he'd said, and quitting a job early would look bad; one got bodyguard positions by virtue of references from satisfied employers.
His head popped up suddenly, eyes scanning the room. C'Lon felt her body tense in response; she'd learned to interpret that particular expression as "trouble's brewing." She glanced in the direction he was looking and saw a heated discussion at one of the card tables. A small crowd was starting to gather around, anticipating a fight. Time to head this off.
"B'Wal! Chuga!" she shouted. The two men ambled over, grudgingly leaving the burgeoning argument. "Any discipline problems below?"
B'Wal grinned in response. "Yes, two. Want I should bring them up?"
"Pick one, for now," C'Lon replied, settling back into her chair. "We may need to keep the other one for tomorrow night." She turned her attention to the other man, an incredibly hairy humanoid whose exact species she had never figured out. "Chuga, don't let them get up from that table, or you'll be in charge of cleaning up the mess." Chuga nodded, clearly unhappy with his assignment. Both men walked away.
"Discipline, eh?" Erat sighed. C'Lon glanced at him. She knew how much he hated these displays. It was effective, though, and seemed to kill two mynocks with one shot.
Voices raised across the room, Chuga's among them, but no fight broke out. Chuga was almost sitting on the table now, arms outstretched between the would-be combatants, yelling more loudly than either of them. The room began to vibrate with the word "discipline."
A moment later, the doors at the far end of the chamber slid open, revealing B'Wal and a young male Twi'lek. B'Wal half-dragged the man forward to the center of the room and forced him to his knees before C'Lon. The Twi'lek kept his gaze firmly on the floor before him, but C'Lon could see that he was afraid. He knew what was about to happen to him. When one of these events occurred, the slaves tended to be very cooperative for weeks afterward. Word always traveled fast.
Pale blue headtails trembled, drawing C'Lon's attention from the man's barely-dressed body. This one didn't look like he would put up much of a fight. It was better when they were defiant.
She glanced around the chamber at the crew, trying to recall who had been especially well-behaved and productive of late. She took a long drag on her tabac stick, contemplating. The chamber was quiet, anticipation nearly a physical presence in the air as the men waited for her to speak.
She made her decision. "Chuga and Tantryyn." Cheers and groans erupted simultaneously, and were quickly replaced by discussions of odds and bets: how much would the slave struggle, would Chuga last more than two minutes, and so forth.
Tantryyn, a willowy long-limbed Balaask, stepped into the center of the room first, slowly circling the Twi'lek. The slave had crumpled into a heap, trembling and whimpering. Chuga swaggered forward, a wide grin on his grizzled face as he knelt in front of the prostrate slave. He pulled the man's head up with a large hand under his chin and chuckled as he unfastened his trousers with his free hand. He slid that hand to the back of the Twi-lek's head and pushed the slave's face firmly into his crotch. Tantryyn knelt behind the slave, spitting into his palm before stroking his sizeable length to hardness. He pulled the slave's ass up and pressed forward roughly. The slave howled and struggled at the intrusion, pushing Chuga away and crying out in a language C'Lon didn't recognize. Chuga cuffed the slave and barked out a threat before pulling his head back into position. The struggling ceased almost immediately, replaced by the grunting sounds of the two men fucking the Twi'lek on either end.
Tantryyn finished first, burying himself deeply in the slave with a grunt. The men who'd bet against Chuga groaned. Money was exchanged. Chuga began fucking the slave's mouth in earnest, ignoring the gagging sounds beneath him as he neared his own climax. C'Lon glanced around the room, trying to decide who to choose next. There were several possibilities. A low howl from Chuga signaled the end of round one, and the men broke into applause. The Twi-lek slumped to the floor, whimpering.
C'Lon heard the sound of the door behind the throne closing as Erat quietly slipped away.
C'Lon paced before the communications panel, trying to contain her impatience. She'd been waiting for hours to hear from the small band of hired thugs she'd sent to kidnap the Jedi younglings. She had used them many times before, and they were as reliable as anyone she'd ever worked with. But this situation was unusual, to say the least. After weeks of silence, they'd finally sent her a coded message yesterday -- Operation planned for tomorrow. Will contact at 1400 hours .
The console beeped, and she slammed her hand on the panel. "Yes."
"It's done," a weary voice stated. "We had casualties. I'll expect to be compensated."
"Yes, of course. I'll meet you at the rendezvous in two hours."
She cut the transmission and exhaled. She had the Jedi children. Now she just had to transport them to the client, collect the fee, and it was all over. She'd even sold off the last of the slaves they had aboard in anticipation of this final deal; all of the cells in the hold were empty.
She commed an assistant to prepare the room for two more slaves, and then headed for the shuttle bay. She was going to pick these children up herself; she wasn't taking any chances. No one on the crew knew the details of this little project, not even her bodyguard. She hoped to keep it as quiet as possible.
The shuttle bay doors opened and C'Lon eased the craft out into the vacuum, set the coordinates, and pushed the engines to full impulse. She slid down into her seat and exhaled slowly, trying to calm her racing heart. Only here, alone, would she admit to herself that she was terrified -- a feeling to which she was unaccustomed. So many things could go wrong.
Half an hour later, the shuttle docked with the Rolanthin. The owner of the gruff voice she'd heard on the comm appeared before her: a large, haggard Toralian. He appeared to be nursing a few serious-looking injuries.
"I'm sorry I ever took this job," he spat, glaring at her. "I lost half my crew. Half!" He turned on his heel and headed down a hallway. C'Lon swallowed hard and followed.
He stopped before a closed door and turned to face her. "Do you have the money?"
She fumbled at her belt and then handed him a pouch. "I added something to compensate you for your... loss."
He snorted defeatedly as he opened the pouch. "Frankly, I'd take anything, as long as you get them out of here." He whistled. "Aurodium ingots?"
She nodded. "My client was very concerned that the children be delivered unharmed. I trust that's the case?"
"Yes. They're mostly unharmed. Any injuries they sustained are due to their attempts to escape. They're heavily drugged now, and they've been fitted with Force-inhibiting arm bands. We only dug those up after they'd somehow convinced two of my crew to let them out and take them to an escape pod. They're only children, but... I hope you know what you're getting yourself into."
C'Lon nodded. "It's no longer your concern."
The Toralian palmed open the door and motioned for the man inside to bring the limp forms out. He slung one over each shoulder and headed towards the docking port, muttering, "Yer damn right it's not."
The door to the throne room slid open. C'Lon looked up from her chair and smiled with relief as Erat walked through.
"You're back. I trust everything went well?"
"Yes milady," he said, giving her a polite bow. "Lord Kolzaar wasn't as difficult to persuade as you'd led me to believe." He grinned and tossed a pouch of currency into her hands.
"You could have quite a future in this business, Erat," she replied, fingering the bag. She'd sent him in her place to collect payment from a difficult customer. C'Lon had come to trust her young bodyguard immensely in the months he'd worked for her. No one else would have been allowed to deal directly with money. Of course, no one else seemed to possess Erat's particular talents for persuasion, either. She really needed someone she could trust, now, and she'd thought of him first. "I have another assignment for you," she said, standing. "Come with me."
Erat followed her down two levels, down to the slave pens. She noticed he tensed when he realized where they were going.
C'Lon pursed her lips. Erat was a great kid, with a lot of potential. He could excel in the business, but deep down, she knew it wasn't what he wanted. He had mentioned once, after she'd pumped a good deal of brandy into him, that he often thought he'd like to be a teacher. He had a fondness for mathematics and astrophysics, and regretted that he hadn't had an opportunity to study those subjects more formally. He'd make a good teacher, she thought, though she had to admit she knew little about teaching herself. The bonus she planned to give him, in addition to his contract pay, ought to get him several years at a regional university. He was a painful reminder of the life she could have had, if she'd only done a few things differently.
No, she thought. I don't think about that anymore.
She palmed open the door of the security room. Tens of monitors lined one wall, each with a view of one of the cells. A large antiquated control panel allowed one to move cameras, zoom in and out on a particular area, and even pick up whispered conversations. The slaves had no privacy, and that was how she preferred it. She began adjusting the controls to find what she was looking for.
"Remember that big job we got offered a few weeks back?"
"I need your help with this. None of the crew knows the details."
She found what she was looking for and focused the camera on two small children huddling in a corner of the cell. She turned to Erat.
He was staring, wide-eyed, at the monitor. "Are you fucking insane?" He turned to face her, pointing at the screen. "Do you know what you have in there?"
"Jedi younglings," she said, watching his face carefully. "Twins."
He snorted, almost laughed, and stepped to the console to zoom the camera in on the faces of the children, who were now sleeping. "See those braids? Those are Jedi padawans. If you have two padawans, that means there are two very angry Jedi masters not far behind."
"One," she corrected. "There were two, but one was killed when the children were taken."
Erat closed his eyes and appeared to be steeling himself. "So, one dead master and two missing padawans." He leaned over the console, his head dropping. "Do you have any idea how bad this is? We won't survive to get those children to... to whoever paid you so fucking much." He turned away from the monitor, shaking.
C'Lon felt her stomach lurch. She'd never seen Erat nervous, let alone afraid. She had convinced herself over the last few weeks that this was possible, that it would work. His reaction only confirmed her worst fears. She crossed her arms over her chest and took a deep breath.
"Well, we can't go back now. Erat, you know how much money is at stake here. It's only for a few days, and then we can all disappear, rich."
"Not bloody likely." He shook his head sadly and looked up at her. "What was it you wanted me to do?"
"I need you to keep them safe, to keep them under control. Ordinarily I would have Rolaf do it, but he--" C'Lon grimaced. "You know how he fancies little girls. The client wants them unharmed, and I can only assume that means intact. Half the crew would love to get their hands on the boy. I know I can trust you not to..."
Erat pressed his hand to his temple, as if warding off a headache. "C'Lon, I'm not too picky about sex partners -- I don't have a particular preference for species or even gender, but I do draw the line at children." He wrinkled his nose in disgust. "If you want me to protect them, to take care of them while they're here, I'll be happy to do that." He shot her a hard look. "No harm will come to them, I can promise you that. I can't promise what might happen to any of the crew who come within ten meters of them."
She nodded. "I knew I could trust you. You're a good man, Erat." She sighed and her weathered features softened. "Too good for this business. When this is over, take your cut and go back to school. You're better than all of this."
He gave her a weak smile and turned to leave the room.
"I've coded the lock to your handprint," she called as he left. A few moments later, a light on the panel indicated that the door to cell A-23 had opened. She pulled back the camera view and turned the volume up.
Erat stood just inside the door, hands on his hips, watching the children from a distance. They had awakened and sprung to their feet the instant the door slid open. They stared at him, wide-eyed.
"My name is Erat," he said, his voice soft, but commanding. "I've been assigned to take care of you. Do as I say and no harm will come to you while you are here. Do you understand?"
The children nodded, still staring at him curiously. They didn't seem to be afraid of him, but neither did they appear to be plotting an attack -- at least not yet.
Erat had not moved a muscle. "Tell me your names."
The girl stepped forward. "I'm Manya, and this is my brother, Rill." They were beautiful children, 11 or 12 years old, with sandy hair and large blue eyes. The girl's hair was shoulder length, pulled back into a tail at the nape of her neck, with a slim braid hanging behind her right ear. The boy's face was identical to hers, though his hair was cropped very short, and he had the same braid. The boy took a step forward to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his sister, but said nothing. Their eyes were searching Erat now, as if looking for a weakness. C'Lon snorted. Even with the Force-inhibiting armbands, those deceptively angelic creatures were dangerous.
"You must obey me, do you understand?" Erat continued, not the least bit intimidated by them, despite the fact that he seemed well-aware of how dangerous they were. "I will bring you your meals and will be checking on you frequently. If you listen to me, you will be safe here. If you do not cooperate, I cannot help you. Do you understand?"
They nodded and stepped back into the corner of the room, clinging to each other. "Yes, sir," they whispered in unison, now looking for all the galaxy as if they were afraid Erat would eat them for dinner. They hadn't been the least bit afraid of C'Lon, nor of their captors on the Rolanthin. Erat looked up at the camera and smiled tightly at C'Lon.
"Well, fuck me," she whispered to no one in particular. That boy had a gift.
Just as the Haradian had said, C'Lon received a communiqué from the mysterious client within a day of bringing the Jedi children on board. The message included coordinates and a date and time for the rendezvous.
They had spent the last four days in hyperspace, heading towards the coordinates where they would meet the man who was willing to pay a small fortune for Jedi padawans. Erat spent much of that time with the children: talking with them, bringing them meals, sometimes just sitting quietly and watching them. C'Lon had quickly grown bored of watching the video monitors and had returned to spending her free time in the throne room with the crew.
She was mildly surprised to see him appear shortly after mid-day meal and settle into a chair near hers with a bottle of ale in hand.
"How are they?" she asked.
"As well as can be expected."
She eyed him carefully. Erat seemed a little too attached to the children, in C'Lon's opinion. She could hardly blame him, as he obviously wasn't a hardened slaver, but she was already worried this would cause a problem when they reached their destination.
"I've been thinking," he said, picking at the label on his bottle. "Perhaps when we deliver the children... do you think the customer would be interested in hiring me?"
C'Lon nearly choked on her own drink. "Why would you want to do that?" It was clear to her that he hated slavery and hated being associated with the business at all, so why would he want to hire himself out to a slave owner? She sighed, seeing the intense sadness on his face. He probably wasn't even aware how clearly she could read him. She also knew she was the only person on the ship he ever talked to, about anything. He had to be lonely. "You've grown fond of them, haven't you?"
He nodded, staring at his own hands. "You're planning to release me from my contract anyway. They're clearly very valuable to the client, and I have a good rapport with them. Perhaps he would want to hire me as their caretaker."
She kept her expression skeptical. "What if he wants to harm them, or use them in some manner to which you object?"
He frowned, shrugging. "Well, he probably wouldn't be interested in hiring me in that case."
A voice over the comm interrupted them: "Dropping out of hyperspace in two minutes." Time to rendezvous with the supply ship.
"I don't think it's a good idea, Erat," she said, and drained her glass. "In fact, I think it'd be fucking suicidal."
"Perhaps, but..." He pursed his lips and looked up at her. "You could think about it. Maybe there's something you could do."
C'Lon was surprised by the intensity in his eyes. She sighed, shaking her head. It was, after all, Erat's choice. If he wanted to commit suicide, who was she to stop him? "I'll think about it," she replied. "Maybe there's something I can do."
Once the supplies were loaded and paid for, the ship jumped to hyperspace again. C'Lon settled back into her chair, watching the crew lounging around her, enjoying drinks and playing cards. Erat was standing nearby, staring out of a port into space. C'Lon frowned. Erat seemed to have a sort of sixth sense about approaching trouble, and his body language was telling her something was wrong.
She stood and moved to stand beside him. "You seem tense."
Erat turned to stare at her, surprised. "No. Not really."
His eyes locked on hers. She was probably imagining things, she realized. She was wound up about the upcoming rendezvous with the client, and it was natural that he would be, as well.
C'Lon sighed. "Relax, Erat. I understand. I'm so fucking nervous that I've spent a good part of the day in the 'fresher. No one will be happier than me when this deal is over. Except maybe the cleaning staff."
He grinned and looked out the port again.
"I've been thinking about your proposal," she said.
He turned back to her. "Yes?"
An alarm sounded, jolting them both. C'Lon checked her commlink, and her eyes widened at the numeric code displayed on the small panel.
"Intruder alert, in the cargo hold!" she shouted.
The crew scrambled for their weapons and headed out. Erat, reflexes incredibly sharp, was the first out the door. C'Lon followed, drawing her own weapon.
"Erat!" she called down the corridor. He turned to face her as the crew streamed by him. "There's some particular cargo I want you to keep an eye on."
He hesitated, and she knew he was struggling, wanting to follow the crew. He finally nodded and headed the opposite direction, toward the slave pens. C'Lon ran down the corridor after the men, already fearing what she would find. Blaster fire echoed down the hall, along with a strange humming sound she couldn't quite place. She flattened herself against the wall and peeked around the corner.
A tall Jedi knight, lightsaber in hand, was there in the middle of the corridor, repelling blaster bolts harmlessly into the walls. He could easily deflect those bolts directly at her men and kill them if he so wanted. For some reason, he was taking great care not to injure anyone.
Taking a deep breath, she stepped around the corner. "Hold your fire!"
Everyone, including the tall Jedi, turned to look at her. For a moment, she found herself lost in the steely blue eyes of the man. She shook it off and stepped closer to him. He was younger than her, still in the prime of his life, and was clearly powerful. A trim beard just beginning to show grey highlighted his strong features, and long dark hair was pulled away from his face. He lowered the lightsaber and turned to face her, acknowledging her as the leader of this group. The other men backed down, weapons still at the ready.
"All right, Jedi," she snapped. "What in the hells are you doing sneaking onto my ship?"
He was eerily calm and composed, considering the circumstances. "I believe you have something that does not belong to you. I intend to retrieve it."
How the hell did he know about the children? He stared through her, and she suddenly regretted not having Erat by her side. She had a bad feeling about all of this, as if there was no way they would all get out of this situation alive.
"You're surrounded, Jedi. Do you really think you could retrieve your... belongings and escape in one piece?" She glanced at the co-pilot and the weapons came up again. She stepped forward and pressed the muzzle of the blaster against the Jedi's forehead.
He smiled, completely unfazed by her threat. "I can and I will." She cocked the blaster, and his smile tightened. "Though perhaps not at this particular moment. Rest assured, I will leave this ship with those children."
A thousand angry retorts ran through C'Lon's mind, as well as an impulsive desire to spit in the Jedi's face, but she did nothing. "Well, Jedi, as we are currently in hyperspace and you are trespassing, we have every legal right to confine you until such time as we can hand you over to authorities." Of course, the authorities would be more interested in C'Lon and her crew than in a trespassing Jedi. Jedi could break the laws whenever they wanted, and the authorities always looked the other way. C'Lon scowled, anger pooling in her gut. "If you play nice with the boys here, I might not kill you."
The Jedi simply stared at her. C'Lon flirted with the idea of pulling the trigger then and there, but killing a Jedi ensured one of a death sentence -- usually carried out by the next Jedi one encountered. Besides, this Jedi might prove to be useful.
"B'Wal," she said, not tearing her eyes from the Jedi's. "Help our guest dress for dinner." She took the lightsaber from the Jedi's hand, somehow surprised that he let her do it, even though her blaster was still pressed into his forehead.
"With pleasure, milady," B'Wal sneered before pressing a hypospray to the Jedi's neck. The man grimaced as the drug took effect, and then slumped to the ground. B'Wal and two other thugs dragged him away.
C'Lon watched the Jedi disappear, wondering what the hell she should do with him.
Erat returned to the throne room as soon as she commed him. His features were tight, and the expression on his face was similar to the one she had seen there days ago when he'd first learned they were holding the Jedi children.
"It was a Jedi," she said, pulling him into a quiet corner of the room, away from the buzz and excitement of the crew. "He must have come aboard when we docked with the supply ship."
Erat nodded, unsurprised. "What happened?"
"There was a struggle, but no one was hurt."
"So he let himself be captured?" He raised an eyebrow, thoughtful.
C'Lon frowned. It had been far too easy to take the Jedi into custody. "He'll be brought here shortly." Erat's jaw clenched, and she sighed. "The men will want to use him tonight, but I'm afraid that could be a disaster, even with the drugs we pumped into him." That was the way stowaways were commonly dealt with on the Chermyn. The men were already talking about it.
Erat's expression was unreadable. She knew he would not approve of any attack on the Jedi, even though there was a good chance this one would fight back.
Erat turned away, raising one hand to comb fingers through his messy hair. "C'Lon, the goals of those incidents are to break and humiliate the person. That won't happen with a Jedi. They're trained not to let such physical violations bother them. It won't accomplish anything." He turned to face her once again, sea blue eyes staring almost through her. "We'll have to do it another way, you know."
"Another way," C'Lon repeated, biting her lip in concentration. Erat held her gaze steadily, and she was surprised by how much it reminded her of the way the Jedi had looked at her. He was strong, and she knew she could trust him with this.
"Erat, I want to place him in your charge until we get to the rendezvous point. I'll release you from your other duties, except for guarding the children. Can you do that?"
He looked momentarily bewildered. "I... I don't think I understand what you're asking. The men will want... I can't--"
"Yes, they will, and you can give them what they want. A little show, perhaps -- starring you and the Jedi?"
To her amazement, Erat flushed crimson in front of her eyes. For a moment, she wondered if this beautiful young man who had caught the eye of every crew member on the ship was inexperienced sexually. If he'd had any liaisons while in her employ, he'd certainly been discreet.
He managed to regain his composure. "I... I appreciate the fact that you're giving me a chance to protect him from the usual treatment. I'll have to do it in an unconventional way, you understand. I couldn't just... The crew may not like it."
"Don't you worry about that. Half of them would give their left nut to see you naked anyway. Maybe both to see you in a compromising position."
He grinned at that. "Compromising, eh? I think that can be arranged."
"Besides, that Jedi is good looking, though not as pretty as you. I'm doing myself a favor, dearie."
He blushed again, but his eyes sparkled green. Reddish hair tinged with blue fell into his eyes and he brushed it back off his forehead, smiling. This is going to be good, she thought.
"I'm entrusting this to your keeping," she said, pressing the lightsaber into his hand. He tensed and stared down at it, eyes wide. "Hide it well."
He nodded and slipped away.
The crew were finishing their late meal when the Jedi was finally brought in. He had been stripped to his leggings and bruised up a little, but seemed generally unharmed. A Force-inhibiting band had been fitted around his arm, one she'd acquired a year ago when she'd had a Force-sensitive slave onboard. The Jedi's hands were bound behind his back with cuffs, and his feet were bare. The leggings seemed to hang low on his hips, and C'Lon found herself wishing that they would fall off entirely. The man was beautifully and powerfully built, quite a change from the types that were normally brought in for such games.
As she glanced around the room, she could see that many of the crew were eyeing the Jedi with unabashed hunger. She could only imagine what kind of hell would break loose if she let them have him. They might be angry when they found out that was not what would happen tonight.
B'Wal forced the Jedi to his knees in the center of the room and fondled the man's ass, slipping his hand inside his leggings and appearing to penetrate him roughly with a finger. The Jedi flinched slightly, but otherwise did not react. C'Lon motioned for B'Wal to move away, and he cuffed the man on the back of the head before heading to a table to sit, making a show of sniffing at his fingers. A low rumbling of anticipation filled the chamber.
C'Lon fixed her gaze on the Jedi, expecting that he would start to figure out what might be about to happen to him. Most prisoners started to shake or cry about now. He gazed at her serenely, blue eyes fixed steadily on hers. No emotion.
The room grew quiet when she raised her hand for their attention. "Welcome to the Chermyn, Jedi. I'm afraid you're a bit late for dinner, but you've arrived just in time for dessert."
The crew laughed and rumbled. The Jedi was expressionless.
The room grew quiet again, waiting for C'Lon to grant someone permission to approach the Jedi. She waited, letting the anticipation rise as much as she dared, taking a long drag off her tabac stick. She exhaled slowly, and the smoke coiled above her head.
"Erat," she announced. "Come here." The room tittered at that, the men startled by her choice.
Erat stepped forward from the shadows behind the throne. He had changed his clothes when he slipped away earlier and was wearing the same impossibly tight ngala-hide pants he'd had on the first time she'd seen him. And nothing else. He'd done something with his hair, which seemed to be stylishly messy, and he'd rimmed his eyes with something dark. He looked every bit the pleasure boy. The men's gazes moved from the Jedi to the beautiful young man who was slinking his way toward the kneeling figure in the center of the room. Dim light reflected off of glittering oil Erat must have smoothed into his skin, and the effect was stunning; he simply glowed. Some mouths were open, others pointed and whispered -- and almost all were probably consumed by lust for Erat at that moment.
Oh, yes, she thought, noting with relief that the crew were thoroughly mesmerized. I think this is going to work just fine.
Erat stopped just before the kneeling Jedi, his eyes raking over the man. Those blue eyes stared up at him, unblinking and serene.
"On your feet," Erat said in a surprisingly commanding voice. The big man complied, and Erat circled him slowly, eyes devouring every detail of the muscled torso, the proud stance, the flowing hair. C'Lon was captivated, not sure where to focus her gaze, clenching the arms of her chair in anticipation.
Erat stopped in front of the Jedi again and slid his hand across the man's chest. The Jedi seemed to react to that touch for a second before correcting himself. Erat's hand slid behind the man's head and pulled him down into a kiss. It was erotic, slow, and sensual, like the ones C'Lon had seen in the higher quality adult vids. Their mouths were crushed together, open, and she could see an occasional hint of tongue. When Erat released the man from the kiss, she could see the Jedi had been shaken by it. Despite his focus and serenity, Erat's raw sexuality was overwhelming.
Erat's gaze slid down the man's body, his hands following down the chest, across the taut abdomen, and down to the front of those loose leggings. He cradled the bulge he found there with one hand, holding the Jedi's gaze as he began to fondle him. The Jedi struggled to maintain his composure, visibly willing his body not to comply, but the leggings were soon tented by an impressive erection. His serenity gone, he glared at Erat -- aroused, shaken, and unhappy about it.
The Jedi trembled as Erat continued to caress his hard length through the thin fabric. The young man then slid to his knees in front of the standing Jedi, much to the surprise of everyone in the room. He pressed his open mouth to the fabric covering the Jedi's cock, and the man closed his eyes and sucked in a sharp breath. Erat nuzzled the man through the fabric a few moments longer before slipping his hands into the waistband and freeing the thick shaft. It bobbed in front of his face, and Erat's entire body seemed to tense with anticipation.
The room was quiet as everyone watched the erotic scene unfold. The Jedi was breathing heavily, his seemingly impermeable serenity long gone. He stared down at the young man before him, bewildered and very aroused. Erat held his gaze as he extended the tip of his tongue to lick off a bit a fluid that was about to drip from the Jedi's cock. The Jedi moaned, and C'Lon felt it in her core. The entire room seemed to shrink down to the two men at the center. She was amazed at how quickly Erat had shattered the Jedi's composure. He'd insisted that physical violation would have had no effect on the man. Apparently direct stimulation worked, though.
Erat's tongue snaked out again to tickle the underside of the Jedi's cock. He licked his way down to the base slowly, sliding his hands up to grasp the man's hips. The Jedi was struggling not to make another sound -- something that was clearly difficult. Erat nuzzled the man's balls, sucking on each gently in turn before licking a broad stroke up to the tip again. He paused with the head of the Jedi's cock just between his parted lips, gazing up at the man intently, waiting.
Seconds passed, and the Jedi's heavy breathing was the only sound in the room. C'Lon slowly realized what was happening: Erat was going to make the man ask for it. Brilliant, she thought, biting her lip in anticipation. She wondered once more if he'd had any experience as a pleasure worker. Her earlier doubts about his sexual expertise had certainly been shattered.
Erat and the Jedi stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. The only movement visible was the boy's tongue occasionally darting out to lap at the sensitive spot on the underside of the head, or to press into the slit. He was teasing the man mercilessly. The Jedi started to shake, and then, ever so slowly, he pressed his hips forward, pushing his thick shaft into the willing mouth.
C'Lon sucked in her breath at the sight. Erat had given the man a choice, and he'd consented.
Erat worked his mouth up and down the Jedi's cock, taking him in deeply, then pulling back and sucking hard. She could only imagine what that tongue was doing. The Jedi was rapidly losing his composure; if his hands had been free, C'Lon was sure he'd have them buried in the boy's hair. He was barely standing, knees clearly weak, and Erat's hands on his hips seemed to be supporting him. Erat's strokes became faster, and one hand grasped the base of the Jedi's shaft in an effort to stabilize the motion. The Jedi moaned and fell forward, leaning over Erat as he came. Erat pushed him back to a standing position, almost seeming reluctant to release him. He met the Jedi's gaze solidly, still licking his lips.
The Jedi closed his eyes and visibly struggled to collect himself. The mood was shattered by the sounds of other completions in the shadows of the room. C'Lon could hardly blame them; she'd started thinking of excuses she could use to get to her own quarters as quickly as possible.
Erat stood, pulling the man's leggings back up over his genitals. The Jedi looked confused and shaken for a moment, but managed to regain his earlier serenity. When he seemed composed again, Erat backed away, returning to C'Lon's side.
She flashed him an appreciative grin before motioning two crewmen over. "Take the Jedi to cell A-12. No one is to touch him, understood? You'll answer to Erat if you do." The men shot nervous glances at Erat before leading the Jedi away.
C'Lon pulled Erat close. "Are you sure you've never been a pleasure worker?" He blushed, which she found amusing considering what had just taken place.
"That cell has been coded to your handprint, so once the door is closed, no one but you will be able to get in or out. I assume you'd like to be responsible for his meals and... other things?"
Erat snorted. "Yes, I'll keep him occupied. You want me to fuck him into submission, don't you, to keep him distracted?"
"Well, yes, if you don't mind," she smirked. "It will provide some needed entertainment for the crew, and I suspect you'll enjoy yourself too."
He looked uncomfortable for a moment, but recovered quickly. "He probably hasn't eaten. I should bring him some food soon."
"You'll need to give him an injection of cytlicine every 8 hours, to keep him subdued. The med supply case should have enough to last us for a few days."
"What are we going to do with him?"
C'Lon sighed. "I don't know. But I'm hoping that the client who arranged to have the twins delivered to him might be interested in a full-grown Jedi as well. For free."
"He'd probably go, if his mission is to get them back." Erat's eyes searched C'Lon's weathered face. "It might be the easiest way out of this."
"It might be our only way out, my dear."
C'Lon sat at the controls of the surveillance panel, waiting for Erat to enter the Jedi's cell. The video feed was being sent to monitors at various points around the ship, but this was the only room where sound was available. Several fights had broken out as the men had jockeyed for position in the hallway, each wanting to be in this particular room. The winners were now smugly ensconced in folding chairs behind her. She wished she'd thought to charge admission.
It was a bizarre turn of events, she had to admit. When she'd given the Jedi to Erat in the throne room, she'd half-expected the men to riot, or to attack both the Jedi and Erat out of sheer sexual frustration. Strangely enough, the men quickly became obsessed with the pair. There were even bets placed about what would occur tonight, who would top whom, and so on. C'Lon was relieved the men had found some non-violent entertainment for a change.
A light on the panel indicated the door to the Jedi's cell had been opened, and the small room began to buzz in expectation. The screen showed Erat walking in, dressed the same as earlier, carrying a tray of food and a small bag of supplies. The Jedi looked up, a flurry of emotions scattering over his strong features before the mask of serenity returned.
Erat set the tray down beside the Jedi and extended his hand. "We haven't been properly introduced, I'm afraid."
"Somewhat difficult with your mouth full," the Jedi retorted.
Erat grinned, almost laughed. "I suppose so. My name is Erat Chol."
The Jedi watched the young man for a moment before extending his own hand in a mirror of Erat's greeting. "Qui-Gon Jinn."
"I should probably tell you that our every move is being observed by the entire crew. They've taken quite an interest in you."
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow and glanced at the security cameras.
"They can hear us as well. If I call for help, someone would be in here instantly."
Qui-Gon nodded. "I suppose I'll cooperate then."
"You should eat before it gets cold," Erat said, settling cross-legged on an empty sleep couch. The cell was set up to hold ten slaves, and seemed strangely empty at the moment. Qui-Gon eyed the food suspiciously, prompting a smirk from Erat. "It's safe, I promise. I am going to have to drug you, but I'll make no secret of it. You should trust me."
The Jedi snorted. "Why should I trust you? Aren't you my captor?" He took a bite of the stew on the tray, grimacing at the taste.
"I prefer to think of myself as your host," Erat replied, stretching. Qui-Gon paused in his eating to watch, eyes raking over Erat's bare chest. "I brought some med supplies, in case you have any injuries. My employer has no interest in harming you. I think she just wants me to keep you occupied until she can figure out what to do with you."
There was no further conversation as Qui-Gon finished his meal. Erat watched the man eat, seeming to bask in his presence; every gesture, every twitch of muscle was caught and studied. When Qui-Gon pushed the tray aside, Erat stood and rummaged through the bag he'd brought. He produced a wet wipe and some salve and began cleaning a wound on Qui-Gon's cheek.
Qui-Gon tensed at his touch, but let himself be doctored. Erat stepped back to examine the Jedi's face, and Qui-Gon said, "There's a cut on my shoulder, if you're so inclined." Erat nodded and moved to sit behind him. "Why are you doing this?"
"Are you complaining?"
There was silence as Erat finished applying the salve to the wound. He stood and Qui-Gon leaned away, but Erat settled into Qui-Gon's lap, straddling him.
Qui-Gon tensed. "Is this physical display really necessary?" he whispered.
"You can either be gang-raped by half the crew, or you can fuck me." Erat did not whisper in reply, and his jaw was clenched. He didn't like the idea of forcing this man, C'Lon knew.
Qui-Gon's eyes widened, and he searched Erat's face for several seconds before responding. "Do you do this willingly?"
Erat smiled. "Kind of you to ask, considering the circumstances." He took Qui-Gon's hand in his and pressed it against the growing bulge at his groin. "What do you think?"
The Jedi exhaled and closed his eyes. "I suppose they're expecting a show?"
"Yes." Erat leaned in to kiss Qui-Gon, cradling his head in his hands and pulling him close. It was a sweet, soft kiss, with mouths closed, lips almost lingering. After a moment, Erat pulled away and stood, taking a step backwards. Qui-Gon's eyes remained closed for a long moment, as if he were savoring the feeling of Erat's lips on his.
When he opened his eyes, Erat unfastened the front of his trousers and slipped his hand inside, touching himself. Qui-Gon seemed unable to tear his eyes away. Erat pushed the pants down over his knees and stepped out of them -- gracefully, considering how tight they were. He stood exposed before Qui-Gon, his back to the cameras.
C'Lon whistled through her teeth. She'd often wondered what was beneath those tight trousers of his, and she wasn't disappointed. The lines of Erat's body were aesthetically beautiful. His body was lean and strong, still showing the lankiness of youth, but with the promise of filling out nicely in the next few years. His ass was perfect, she noted, grinning. He turned his body and she caught her first glimpse of his cock, jutting out from his groin almost comically. He was as well-endowed as she'd anticipated.
"You owe me ten, B'Wal."
B'Wal grumbled in reply.
Qui-Gon's features were clouded as he watched Erat approach. Erat stopped before the Jedi, shifting his weight onto one leg so that his hips cocked to the right just a bit. Qui-Gon took a deep breath and reached out to stroke Erat's flank. Erat shivered at the touch, and Qui-Gon looked up.
"Get on with it," someone grumbled behind C'Lon.
With the look of a man resigned to his fate, Qui-Gon unfastened the closure of his own trousers. He lifted his hips and slid them down past his knees, but Erat was in his lap before he could remove them completely.
C'Lon switched the camera so that they weren't looking at Erat's back anymore, but at the two men from the side. She zoomed in so that the screen was filled. Erat seemed to be waiting for the Jedi to begin, gazing at him with a look that could best be described as sultry. Qui-Gon's expression was guarded as he leaned forward to press his lips against Erat's chest. He kissed his way slowly towards one nipple, pausing at the piercing and glancing up at Erat with one eyebrow quirked upwards. Erat smiled enigmatically.
"I've been captured and imprisoned quite often," Qui-Gon stated, staring at the piercing again, "but I must admit that this experience is the most unusual yet."
Erat stroked the Jedi's growing erection with one hand. "A fantasy, perhaps?"
Qui-Gon smiled, at last. "Perhaps."
"Being held captive by a charming younger man who wants nothing more than your cock... inside him?" With that, Erat raised his hips and positioned the head of Qui-Gon's shaft against his opening.
Qui-Gon's hands flew to Erat's hips. "No, wait…" His protestations melted into a guttural moan as Erat sank down on his cock.
"Force, you... you were ready for this..."
Erat's features were tight as he adjusted to the pressure of Qui-Gon inside him. C'Lon surmised that Erat had prepared himself to be penetrated just before he arrived. Perhaps he was afraid the Jedi would be more resistant to his charms?
Qui-Gon moaned as Erat pushed up, and C'Lon could see the Jedi's thick shaft emerge from its sheath in his body, stretching the tight hole wide. Erat sank down again slowly, and the cock disappeared into him inch by inch. It was better than any vid she'd ever seen.
Qui-Gon grasped Erat's hips and stilled him for a moment, looking up into his face. His expression was guarded once again. Erat's hands twined in the Jedi's hair and drew him close for a kiss. The kiss started slowly, building, fueling the desires of the men in the observation room as well.
Qui-Gon's mouth found its way to Erat's throat and he appeared to bite down. Erat yelped and began moving again, faster now. The Jedi guided his movements with his hands, urging him to move faster, bucking his own hips back up as Erat sank down. In a movement so fast it was nearly a blur, Qui-Gon flipped Erat onto his back on the couch. He pressed Erat's knees into his chest and began fucking him... hard.
C'Lon was astounded by the intensity of their rutting. The sound of skin slapping against skin, their muffled cries, the creaking of the springs on the couch... all of it riveted her attention to the screen.
Erat grunted out words that sounded like "harder" and "faster". Though it hardly seemed possible for Qui-Gon to comply, the words seemed to excite him, and he pressed his torso against the body beneath him to gain leverage from the couch. Erat's knees were pinned to his shoulders, and that cock was plunging deep into him to the hilt, every time.
The sounds they made grew to a crescendo until they collapsed on each other at last, sweating and exhausted. C'Lon mentally shut out the other noises in the room that indicated more solitary orgasms, and gripped the sides of her chair hard. She closed her eyes for a moment, collecting herself. When she opened them again, the men on the monitor had not moved.
The room grew quiet, waiting. Nothing happened. Most of the crew left eventually, and the sound of the door opening and closing was all C'Lon heard.
Finally, Qui-Gon stirred, pushing himself off of Erat and rolling to the side. Both men stared at the ceiling for nearly a minute, silent and uncomfortable. Erat sat up, looked as if he were going to speak, and closed his mouth again. Qui-Gon reached out with a hand to touch him, but Erat was already on his feet, pulling on his trousers. He kept his back to the Jedi as he fumbled through the bag he'd brought in, finally emerging with a hypospray.
He seemed to steel himself before turning to face the Jedi. "I have to give you an injection now," he said and walked forward to press the cylinder to Qui-Gon's neck. Qui-Gon was expressionless as the drug began to take effect once more. He looked up at Erat, who seemed to be uncertain what to do next.
"I'll be back in the morning to bring you some food, and I'll see if I can't arrange a shower for you. Try to sleep." His eyes finally met Qui-Gon's. They stared at each other for several seconds.
Qui-Gon was composed and serene once more, but Erat seemed shaken. It was subtle, and C'Lon knew that the others would not notice, but she'd learned to read his body language.
Erat turned and left the cell, a taut set to his face. Qui-Gon watched him leave with a mix of curiosity and concern. When the door slid shut, he settled back into the mattress. He was still staring at the ceiling when C'Lon switched off the monitor.
C'Lon wasn't surprised to find Erat in the surveillance room a few hours later. She'd decided to come down and make sure everything was secure before settling down for the night; it had seemed like a good idea with a Jedi being held captive on board.
"You okay, honey?"
He turned and smiled at her. "Yes, I'm fine. It was a bit odd, you know." He shrugged, embarrassed. "To have sex like that, knowing the whole crew was watching. I know they're used to that sort of thing, but..."
She noticed that the camera had been trained on the sleeping Jedi's form. "I think he enjoyed himself. And so did you."
Erat glanced pointedly at the floor. "Looks like we weren't the only ones. I hope you're going to make one of them clean this mess up." He wrinkled his nose in mild disgust.
"Can we expect a repeat performance tomorrow?"
Erat gave her melodramatic sigh. "I suppose I could work it into my busy schedule somehow." He grinned. "I think I'll take him to the shower room in the morning. I trust there are cameras there also?"
"Yes." C'Lon pursed her lips. "I'm sure the men would like to see the Jedi... made uncomfortable. I know how you feel about such things, but it might be best if you could find a way."
Erat nodded, but remained silent. They watched the monitors for a few minutes. She squeezed his shoulder and left him to watch.
Word spread quickly, and there was a queue outside the surveillance room when C'Lon arrived to unlock the door the next morning. Many of the men were juggling cups of caf', looking a bit groggy. She wondered how long they'd been there. B'Wal was first. She doubted he'd risen that early; they probably just let him get in the front of the queue.
"Mornin' milady," he grinned, scraggly teeth clearly unbrushed. That Jedi was lucky indeed, C'Lon reflected. It could have been much, much worse for him. It still could be, if he didn't continue to cooperate.
She palmed open the door and ignored the riot that erupted behind her as the men pushed their way in. In the harsh artificial light, the floor was truly revolting.
"First one to spunk cleans the floor," she announced. The men laughed: now it would be a contest, a weird sort of circle jerk.
C'Lon turned one monitor away from the men's view and keyed it to the twins' cell, then put the sound bud in her ear. Erat was still there, watching the children eat breakfast. He sat a small distance away from them, chewing on one finger, lost in thought.
"What's wrong with you?" the girl -- Manya, C'Lon recalled -- asked.
Erat looked up. "What?"
The girl stared back at him in that infuriatingly serene Jedi manner. "You seem... distracted. I thought maybe something was wrong with you."
Erat met her gaze with a serene stare of his own. "Nothing's wrong," he said in a very calm tone. "Nothing at all. Eat your breakfast." They stared at each other for another long moment, and Manya broke the gaze, looking down at her half-eaten piece of toast. Rill glanced back and forth between them, chewing his food.
C'Lon sat back in her chair, regarding the trio curiously. Erat's hold over the twins was impressive, as was his ability to deal with the Jedi. It was almost as if he knew what he was doing with them. He had gained a modicum of trust from Qui-Gon, and the children seemed drawn to him. Perhaps he'd worked closely with Jedi before? It wasn't unheard of, and her knowledge of his experiences before coming to work for her was scanty at best.
Or perhaps there was another reason why he knew so much about Jedi? C'Lon frowned, and then shook the thought away.
Erat gathered the trays when the children had finished, and checked each of them over. "Would you like a shower later today?" he asked. They nodded eagerly in response. C'Lon fully intended to keep the children's presence onboard a secret, and made a mental note to disconnect the cameras in the shower area after the morning's show with the Jedi.
Erat disappeared from view and reappeared in Qui-Gon's cell several minutes later. C'Lon turned on the monitors in the room, and released the signal to the other viewing areas on the ship.
The Jedi looked up as Erat entered, but didn't move otherwise. The men stared at each other for a moment. Erat set a tray of toast and juice on the man's sleep couch and settled wordlessly on the other one. Qui-Gon was quiet as he ate, keeping his eyes focused on the tray of food. Erat watched his every movement.
"I can take you down to the shower room after you've finished. If you like."
Qui-Gon looked up, swallowing. "I get a choice in the matter?"
"Of course," Erat smirked. "If you'd rather stay here, I'm sure I could arrange for a bucket of water and a rag to be brought in. Or perhaps you'd prefer not to wash at all."
The Jedi's eyes narrowed. "I'm sure it's in my best interest to remain as unappealing as possible."
Erat shrugged. "Suit yourself. I can hold my breath, I assure you."
The Jedi snorted. "I'm sure you can," he replied, then returned his attention to his meal. "A shower, then, since I have a choice." Erat grinned, and Qui-Gon pursed his lips. "How are the children?"
C'Lon winced at the mention, hoping the men around her weren't listening too closely.
Erat's smile faded into a replica of the Jedi's earlier blank expression. "They're fine. They're under my care as well." At Qui-Gon's raised eyebrow, Erat snorted. "Mind out of the gutter, now. I'm protecting them." He shrugged. "I'm good with kids."
Qui-Gon said nothing, staring at Erat in a way that made C'Lon's stomach lurch. Erat stood his ground, not reacting to the obvious attempt to intimidate him. Qui-Gon's expression soon eased into one of quiet respect, and he stood.
"I'm ready for my shower," he said.
Erat stepped forward, hypospray in hand, and gave the Jedi an injection. Qui-Gon flinched, but said nothing. He closed his eyes for several seconds, seeming to concentrate. Perhaps on remaining standing, C'Lon mused, given the dose of cytlicine he'd just received. When Qui-Gon opened his eyes again, Erat produced a set of cuffs from his bag.
Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. "The Force-inhibitor and sedatives aren't enough?"
"No," Erat retorted. "I'm not leaving this room without having as much control over you as I possibly can. Strip down to your trousers first." The Jedi complied, a bit more slowly than seemed to be necessary. Erat held the cuffs out, and Qui-Gon raised his arms before him, wrists together. Erat shook his head. Qui-Gon sighed and turned around, crossing his wrists at the small of his back. Erat sidled up behind him, fastening the cuffs with an audible click. He took the opportunity to press a kiss between the Jedi's shoulder blades. Qui-Gon jumped at the touch and Erat laughed. "Don't be shy, now. We'll have an audience in the shower room as well."
As soon as the two men came into view once again on the monitors, a silence fell over the occupants of the security room. C'Lon settled into her chair, determined to enjoy the show. Asking Erat to "take care of the Jedi" was one of the best ideas she'd had in months, and she'd be damned if she wasn't going to benefit from it as much as possible.
Erat led Qui-Gon to a shower head in the center of the room and glanced at the cameras, as if making certain he'd chosen the best location for the viewers. He turned back to Qui-Gon and began to undress himself.
The Jedi's eyes narrowed. "What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" Erat snorted in response. "I have to wash you, and I'm not getting my clothes wet." He stepped out of his trousers at that, and Qui-Gon looked away. Erat smirked. "Does it bother you?"
"Does it matter?"
"No. Let me help you out of your trousers." Qui-Gon grimaced as Erat tugged the garment off, blatantly leering at the man's genitals in the process. "Impressive even like this," he mumbled. Qui-Gon did not respond.
Erat turned the water on, and when the temperature was right he pushed the Jedi under the spray. Several minutes of perfunctory washing passed, Erat's soapy hands sliding quickly over the man's skin, periodically turning his body to rinse off the foam. Qui-Gon kept his eyes closed, letting himself be turned and touched without complaint -- until Erat's soapy fingers found their way into the crack of the man's ass.
"Wha-- Wait!" Qui-Gon cried, taking a step forward, out of the spray.
"Hold still," Erat replied with a smirk. Qui-Gon was pinned against the wall now, and Erat used the position to his advantage, replacing his fingers and slowly stroking between the Jedi's cheeks. "Spread your legs a bit and this will be a lot easier."
Qui-Gon glowered at him, but quickly gave in. He closed his eyes once more as Erat's hand slid down between his legs to cup his balls, and back up to swirl a finger lightly around his entrance. The Jedi was growing hard, apparently against his will. Erat slipped a wet finger into the man's body and began fucking him with it, slowly. Qui-Gon gasped, but didn't try to move away this time.
"Surely," he panted, "you're being rather too thorough."
"I think I can be a bit more so," Erat said, his voice pitched low. He slid his other hand around Qui-Gon's waist to begin stroking the Jedi's rapidly firming erection. "Shall I wash this for you as well?"
The Jedi groaned and leaned his forehead against the tile wall, water streaming down his shoulders. Erat's erection was now visible, much to C'Lon's delight. She zoomed the camera in for a tighter shot of the Jedi's ass.
Erat positioned the man under the spray enough to rinse off the soap, and paused to contemplate the sight before him: the Jedi's legs were spread and ass exposed, up against a wall. With his hands cuffed behind him, the position couldn't have been very comfortable.
C'Lon caught her breath as Erat fell to his knees and spread the Jedi's cheeks wide with his hands. The Jedi groaned as Erat's tongue swept across the sensitive skin of his opening, licking at the wet flesh. Erat teased him with flicking movements for several minutes before plunging his tongue into the man's body, his head bobbing as he fucked Qui-Gon with his mouth. The view was partially obstructed by Erat's head, but it was quite clear what was happening. C'Lon had to bite her tongue to keep from sliding a hand between her own legs. Not in front of the crew, she thought. It would become a mantra before this morning was over, she was sure.
The Jedi began shifting his ass back against Erat's mouth, moving with him, and Erat sat back on his heels, smiling. The man before him was on the verge of shaking with need, and Erat seemed quite pleased with himself. He stood and tugged the Jedi back under the spray, wetting the man's long hair. Qui-Gon sputtered a bit, but said nothing. His cock jutted out before him, as big as C'Lon had seen it yet.
Erat soaped his hands and began washing the Jedi's hair. After a moment he grunted in frustration and pushed down on the man's shoulders. "You're too tall," he grumbled. Qui-Gon knelt, and Erat stood behind him, lathering his hair. He tilted Qui-Gon's head back to rinse the soap out, and then moved to stand in front of him, running his fingers through the long strands as he tried to work the rest of the soap out. When he pushed the Jedi's head forward again, Qui-Gon's nose bumped against Erat's erection.
Erat grinned and pressed his hips forward. "I think you can wash something for me now," he whispered. "After everything I've done for you this morning, is a little tongue bath too much to ask for?"
Qui-Gon stared up at Erat, a hard look in his eyes. He hesitated for a moment, and Erat positioned the head of his cock at the Jedi's lips. After a long moment, Qui-Gon gave in, opening his mouth. Erat tangled one hand in the man's wet hair as he pushed his hips forward, fucking Qui-Gon's mouth slowly. The Jedi closed his eyes and seemed to be struggling not to gag.
The noise level around C'Lon rose, an indication that the men were enjoying this scene quite a bit. She focused her attention on the monitor, trying not to hear the sounds of self-pleasure all around her. For the tenth time today, she regretted not having installed a security monitor in her private office. At least there she could have let her hands roam as much as she liked.
The Jedi made a choked noise, and Erat released his hold. He turned and leaned back against the wall, pulling Qui-Gon toward him. "By all means," he said, still smirking, "have it your way."
After a brief pause, the Jedi leaned forward to take Erat's erection in his mouth once again, this time moving slowly. C'Lon adjusted the camera angle for a better view and was rewarded for her efforts. She could see the Jedi's face as his mouth moved back and forth along Erat's cock.
Erat began making mewling noises, his hands clenching into fists by his side, as if he was struggling not to twist his fingers in the man's hair once more. C'Lon widened the angle, and now they could see Erat's face as he panted and cried out.
He pushed the Jedi back and braced his hands on the man's shoulders, breathing hard. He straightened up, motioning for Qui-Gon to stand as well. When the Jedi didn't jump to his feet, Erat tugged impatiently at his arm.
"C'mon, get up," he grumbled. As soon as Qui-Gon was on his feet, Erat kissed him hard, nearly knocking the man off his feet in the process. Qui-Gon stumbled a bit, but appeared to be giving as good as he was getting.
One of Erat's hands was clenched in the Jedi's hair, and the other snaked around his back. Erat's fingers brushed against the cuffs. They fell to the floor with a clatter, and Erat released Qui-Gon from the kiss. He stared at him for a moment, panting. The Jedi looked down at his freed hands, and looked back up at Erat. His eyes narrowed.
Erat turned to face the wall. "Fuck me."
"I--" Qui-Gon paused, rubbing at his wrists. He seemed uncertain what to do.
"Hurry!" Erat cried, looking over his shoulder at the Jedi.
Qui-Gon stepped forward, and then back again. "We don't have any lubrication," he mumbled, almost seeming confused.
"I don't care," Erat grunted. "We're both wet anyway. Just do it, please!" The last phrase ended in a bit of a whine, and the Jedi stepped forward again. He positioned his cock with one hand and grasped Erat's hips with the other, and took a deep breath as he pushed forward.
"Shit," Erat groaned, hands forming fists against the tile. His body stiffened and the Jedi stopped his movement, free hand stroking Erat's back.
"Sshhh," he soothed, leaning forward to kiss the younger man's shoulder. "Tell me when."
A long moment passed before Erat grunted something unintelligible, and Qui-Gon pressed forward again. He paused when he was finally buried in Erat, pressing his forehead against the younger man's back. His hands moved up to grasp Erat's hips.
C'Lon felt the heat rising in the air around her. The scene was intense and erotic, but there was something about it that was not quite right. Later, she thought as Qui-Gon shifted his hips back, pulling out of Erat. I'm not going to worry about it now.
The Jedi fucked Erat slowly and steadily until Erat began begging for more, faster, harder. Qui-Gon stroked Erat's cock in time to his thrusts, and it was over in a matter of minutes, with first one man and then the other shuddering his climax. They leaned against the wall and each other, panting. Finally, Qui-Gon stood and moved to rinse himself off under the spray of warm water once more, hands coming up to cover his face and press hard against his temples.
Erat continued to lean against the wall for another minute. He didn't watch Qui-Gon.
Ten quiet minutes later, both men were dry and dressed. Erat retrieved the handcuffs from the floor and held them up, his expression blank. Qui-Gon nodded and turned, his hands clasped behind his back. Erat fastened the cuffs once more, and the men disappeared from view.
C'Lon had paced the floor of her private office a hundred times in the last hour, emotions roiling in her gut. She'd trusted Erat, more than she'd trusted anyone for as long as she could remember. What if she'd been wrong about him all along?
The soft knock at the door startled her into immobility for several seconds before she finally collected herself. "Come."
The door slid open to reveal Erat smiling lazily at her, hair still damp form the shower. The shower, when it had hit her so suddenly, when she'd finally began to put it all together. Her anger rose within her again, and she scowled at him.
His smile faded. "You... wanted to see me, milady?"
"Sit," she snarled before turning her back to him, walking to position herself behind her desk. She adopted a stern and suspicious expression before she turned back to face him. He paled at the sight of her, but kept his eyes firmly on hers. The expression on his face reminded her of the Jedi, and she bristled even further.
"You're hiding something from me," she stated, as flatly as she could manage. "And I need to know exactly what it is. I need to know if trusting you has been a mistake." There. She'd said it.
Erat looked bewildered. "Sorry?" he spit out, at last. Well, she hadn't thought he'd come right out and tell her exactly what she wanted to know.
She leaned forward in a way she hoped was menacing and began reciting the words she'd been rehearsing in her head for the last hour. "You know quite a lot about the Jedi for a bodyguard I picked up five months ago. I wouldn't have even noticed it until these last few days, but now... it's obvious." She stood then, and circled her desk to stand right in front of him, towering over him. "Why you've always been such a good fighter for your size. Why in a pinch you can get people to do precisely what you want them to do. Why you always seem to know exactly when something bad is about to happen, just before it does." She paused and Erat stared at her, mouth open. It looked as if his brain was working feverishly to think of something to say. "And then there were the handcuffs this morning."
"C'Lon, I don't--"
"Yes, go on, now. Tell me how you did that nice little trick with the handcuffs in the shower."
"Trick? What are you talking about?" He was flustered now, more ruffled than she'd ever seen him before.
She leaned back against her desk. "I saw you put the cuffs on the Jedi before you left the cell, and you were careful to make certain they were secure. But then, in the shower, they simply fell off at a mere touch, just when you wanted them to." He was silent, staring blankly at her now. "Those cuffs require a key, Erat, and all you had to do was touch them." She glared at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "So tell me, my boy: why is it that you know so much about the Jedi?"
Erat was silent for a moment before sputtering, "C'Lon, please. I don't--"
"I mean it, boy," she growled, leaning down to glare into his face. "You need to start talking to me right now, or I'll have B'Wal throw you into a cell for the rest of this trip. I need to be able to trust you. There's far too much at stake." Indeed, everything was at stake: her life, her future, the money. "Answer me. How is it that you, Erat Chol -- a mere bodyguard who's been passed from thug to thug for most of his adult life -- know so fucking much about the Jedi?"
He withered under her gaze, and his reply, when he finally spoke, was a rough whisper: "Because... I used to be one."
She blinked, wondering if she'd heard correctly. "You… what?"
"Because," he ground out through clenched teeth, pushing her away from him and standing. "I used to fucking be one! Does that answer your question, C'Lon?"
She wasn't sure what she'd expected him to say, but somehow it hadn't been that. She knew she was the one gaping now while he seethed before her, clearly upset that she'd drawn this confession out of him. He seemed to know he was cornered now, that this was information she could easily use against him.
She didn't blame him for wanting to keep it a secret. There were plenty of people in the galaxy with no love for the Jedi Order, people who would love to get their hands on someone like him and drain every last bit of useful information from him. And then there were the rumors she'd heard about the Order itself, and the way they punished defectors and traitors by wiping their minds of all memory. No, she didn't blame him for not telling her this before, especially considering that she was a slaver. He could bring a fair amount of credits if she'd decided to take advantage of him. Not that it would have been easy.
He was staring at her now, breathing calmed, but that damned unreadable Jedi expression was plastered on his face once more.
"Keep talking," she said, settling back against her desk again. He sighed and slumped into his chair. There was a long pause, and then he started to speak.
"I was raised at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, taken from my real parents as a baby. It was all I ever knew, and I grew up believing that I'd be a Jedi knight one day, just as all the other children did." He was trembling, just a little. "But by the time I turned thirteen, I hadn't been chosen as an apprentice by any of the masters, and so it was over. The Order sent me to work for the Republic in the Outer Rim, terraforming some barren waste of a planet." He paused here, as if expecting her to respond. She didn't, and he kept talking.
"It was horrible. I was the only child in the installation, and the only locals were miners -- Boradium, I think. Anyway, they were a rough lot. I lived in fear of one of them cornering me in a dark alley. The work was futile, and the living conditions pretty bad. So one day, I ran away.
"I stowed away on a supply ship and slipped off at the next spaceport. I was fourteen then, and... pretty boys and girls have a certain value in places like that. I survived well enough for the next few years."
C'Lon felt a pang of sympathy for him, but covered it up with a smirk. "I always wondered if you'd had experience as a pleasure worker."
"Pleasure worker," Erat repeated, snorting. "That's quite a euphemism." He still hadn't met her eyes, and was staring intently at a spot on the floor.
"Go on," she said, resolving to keep any more snide comments to herself until he had finished his story.
"There isn't much more to it than that. The Jedi training came in handy in that I was able to take care of myself and my friends. Somebody noticed at some point, and gave me my first job as a personal bodyguard. That was five years ago, and... here we are."
She waited, but he didn't continue. "Do you know this Jedi?"
Erat nodded. "Oh, yes. The great Qui-Gon Jinn." His bitterness was obvious.
"Do you think he recognized you?"
Erat half-laughed at that, studying his hands. "I doubt it. He recognized nothing remarkable about me nine years ago when he didn't choose me as his apprentice. The only thing he sees me as now, I'll wager, is a nice piece of ass. That's all I've ever been, to anyone."
The pain in his voice stirred something in C'Lon, and she resisted the urge to touch the boy, to comfort him. He'd always been so serene, so implacably confident. Nothing ruffled him. This sort of self-deprecation was something she hadn't seen before, but it was so raw she didn't doubt his sincerity for a moment.
She had to be sure, though. "If you helped him now -- freed him, helped him get those children to safety -- maybe they would forgive you. Maybe the Jedi would take you back."
He looked up at her then with a rueful smile. "No, C'Lon. It doesn't work that way. It was decided nine years ago that I would never be a Jedi knight, and nothing will change that. I let that dream go a long time ago." He paused, and shrugged. "Besides, I'm a fugitive from the Order. Have you any idea what would happen if he found out what I am?"
C'Lon clenched her jaw. "Yes," she said. "I've heard rumors, at least."
He looked down at the floor again. "I've been terrified of him from the moment I first saw him. I knew who he was straight away, and what it would mean if he discovered me here. I have no interest in revealing myself." He tightened his fingers in his shaggy hair. "I can only hope he didn't notice the handcuffs this morning."
"I think he did," C'Lon replied, and Erat flinched. "It's probably best if you keep your distance from him from here on out," she continued gently. "We're scheduled to rendezvous with the client in two days, and we'll hand Jinn over to him as well. Then it will all be over." She paused and let herself touch his arm. He looked up. "You'll be rich this time tomorrow. What will you do with all that money?"
He smiled, though it seemed to take effort. "I have no idea. I honestly haven't thought that far ahead."
Most of the crew were relaxing in the throne room after latemeal that evening, and C'Lon was no exception. She'd finally revealed all of the pertinent details of the Big Deal in a crew meeting in the late afternoon. Ever since, the men had talked of nothing but the upcoming event and their plans for their cut in the profits.
She heard Erat slip into the room behind her. He settled at her side, looking preoccupied.
"How did it go?" she asked.
"No problems," he replied, smiling at her. She'd sent him off to take care of the children and the Jedi during the meeting, knowing the men would be distracted enough that an evening "show" would not be necessary. Now that she knew Erat's history with the Jedi, it seemed too large a risk to take.
They watched the men mill about, playing cards and talking amongst themselves. C'Lon felt immensely relieved that this part of her life was almost over. She'd lived on a space ship for the last 30 years, and she was sick of it: sick of the stale air, sick of being surrounded by nothing but uneducated half-breeds, and sick of constantly having to watch her back. That sparkling beach stretched out in her mind, and she pictured a thinner and fitter, perhaps even surgically enhanced version of herself sipping a fruity drink, while a faceless naked man slowly rubbed oil onto her shoulders.
The floor shifted violently; the room was cast into darkness and alarms began sounding. Chaos broke out around them as the emergency lights came on, casting an eerie red glow about the room. The shadowed figures of the crew scrambled for purchase on the lurching deck. Erat was standing beside her, pulling her to her feet. When did she hit the floor?
"We've been forced out of hyperspace," he hissed.
"Code red! Code red!" shouted the panicked voice of the pilot over the comm.
C'Lon and Erat exchanged a brief glance before sprinting towards the bridge.
"Status!" C'Lon shouted as the door to the bridge slid open.
"It was a trap, milady," squawked the pilot, sweating profusely as C'Lon stalked towards his station. "They used mines -- there was nothing I could do."
"Judicials, at least three cruisers," Erat muttered, glancing at the console.
"Onscreen." C'Lon sucked in her breath as the display showed an enlarged view of three ships barreling towards them. "Fuck me," she groaned, pressing a hand to her forehead.
"That's quite a bit of firepower," Erat stated. C'Lon couldn't help but notice the touch of awe in his voice. "They must want you very badly, milady."
"What they want are those fucking Jedi," she growled. "And they can't have me. I'll die first." She froze, realizing she meant it. The blood drained from her face.
No Big Deal. No tropical beach. No leisurely life of retirement.
The best she could hope for at this point was a cellmate who didn't snore and wouldn't hit her too hard when she didn't lick fast enough.
She steeled herself and pressed the intercom button. "Code blue," she said in a voice that sounded surprisingly strong to her own ears. "I repeat, code blue. This is not a drill." She released the button and stared defiantly out at the approaching ships. Every eye on the bridge was riveted on her form. They trusted her to lead them. She couldn't let them down now.
She turned to face the men on the bridge. "You heard me. Abandon ship, boys."
There was a pause that seemed to stretch out far too long, and then the men sprang into action all around her, scrambling towards the door. Only Erat seemed to be waiting for C'Lon to leave the bridge before him. She stared out at her approaching doom for a few more seconds, and then turned and ran.
Erat's footsteps just behind her were oddly reassuring. She cursed herself for ever doubting his loyalty. His fate would be far worse than hers if the Judicials learned who he was and handed him over to the Jedi. If she could do nothing else, she wouldn't let that happen.
"I won't tell them anything," she panted, turning her head towards him as she ran.
"What?" He was jogging easily beside her, barely winded.
"I promise, Erat, I won't tell them about your past, no matter what they do to me."
She saw a strange expression pass over his face, and then he nodded. She faced forward and ran harder.
Shouts and approaching footsteps could be heard down the corridor, and soon they were face to face with a third of the crew, who were running towards them from the opposite direction.
"The Jedi!" shouted someone, clearly panicked. "He's escaped! He took our blasters! He's gonna kill us all!"
C'Lon quelled her rapidly rising panic. Lead, she told herself. Fucking lead. "We'll have to get to the escape pods another way," she shouted above the din. "Take the secondary corridor to the cargo bay. You can access the pods from there."
Just then, the entire ship shook.
"They're going to board us," Erat whispered into her ear. "It won't be long now."
She nodded at him. "Hurry!" she shouted, and the men, now fully panicking, streamed past them. She had to buy them some time, somehow. Between the Jedi and the Judicials, not many of them would make it off the ship.
"Come on, C'Lon," Erat urged, taking her elbow. Something brushed her hip and she looked down -- he had attached the Jedi's weapon to his belt.
"Erat," she said, scarcely believing what she was about to do. "You know how to use that weapon, don't you?"
He stared at her, expressionless. "Yes."
She took him by the shoulders and looked into his green, green eyes. "You're the only one who can stop him, Erat. You have to hold the Jedi off, or no one will make it off this ship."
To his credit, he didn't flinch. He didn't look scared. He unfastened the lightsaber hilt from his belt and grasped it firmly, staring at it for a moment. He met her eyes once more before he nodded and walked past her, heading down the corridor.
"Erat!" she called after him. "Five minutes, boy, and then get your ass to the shuttle bay!" His figure disappeared around the corner.
She turned and ran in the opposite direction, knowing what she'd done, and already wondering how she'd ever forgive herself. She'd probably just sent that boy to his death, but it was the only way to save the crew -- not to mention her only chance of getting off the ship a free woman. She wasn't terribly fond of her crew, but it was a question of numbers. She couldn't play favorites, not when so many lives depended on it.
She gritted her teeth and ran faster. Her boots slipped as she rounded tight corners, and her eyes were forced to adjust to changing light levels as the ship's power fluctuated wildly. That was probably how the Jedi escaped, she reflected. When the power went down, he would've been able to force the cell door open, if he understood the locking mechanism.
C'Lon could hear the sounds of escape pods jettisoning in the cargo bay, not far away now. She rounded the corner and saw B'Wal guarding an open pod.
"C'Lon!" he hissed when he saw her, clearly relieved. "Hurry!"
She sprinted across the hold, but hesitated at the door of the pod. "The crew?" she asked. "Have they all gotten away?"
B'Wal only nodded, and roughly shoved her inside. She strapped herself into a seat and cleared her mind. There would be plenty of time to feel guilty later. With any luck, the Judicials would be satisfied with having the Jedi children returned safely.
Or perhaps they would shoot down the pods on sight, ending it quickly.
B'Wal started to climb in behind her, just as a huge explosion sounded in the cargo hold. It knocked him out cold, leaving his body half in and half out of the pod. She could hear the sound of troops coming closer, boots pounding on durasteel, and she began to panic at last. Should she shove B'Wal's hulk out of the pod and leave him there, or should she try to tug him in? Each task sounded equally difficult.
"Freeze!" a voice shouted through the haze that floated in the hold. "Don't move!" B'Wal's body was dragged away, and a blaster appeared through the doorway. "Hands where I can see 'em. All your hands."
C'Lon thought of hitting the emergency release and sucking both herself and the damned trooper into space. Self-preservation quickly won out, though, and she stuck her bare hands through the door. She hoped the trooper would realize she was human and that these were the only hands she had.
"All right, now walk forward, slowly."
Walk? she thought to herself. You don't walk out of a fucking escape pod. She did her best, though, and was soon greeted by the sight of six Judicial troopers, each pointing an extremely large blaster at her head. For once, she kept her mouth shut.
"Is that all, Captain?" she heard a trooper ask. C'Lon shifted her feet, trying to find a position that was a bit more comfortable, considering her arms were bound behind her back and there were half a dozen armed troopers eyeing her with loathing.
"Yes, all of the escape pods are accounted for, and the prisoners are being counted as we speak."
C'Lon leaned her head against the wall and groaned. She'd hoped the Judicial ships wouldn't be able to get tractor locks on all of the escape pods, but with three ships out there, none had gotten away. Her entire crew had been captured in less than ten minutes.
The trooper's commlink warbled, and the young woman listened carefully before turning to her superior once more. "Sir, we have 22 from the pods, plus these two. The manifest said there were 25 crew members on board."
"Do a sweep," the captain replied.
"That's not necessary," said a familiar voice. C'Lon closed her eyes, fervently hoping against hope. "There are only 24 now."
She took a deep breath and turned to look at Qui-Gon Jinn as he stepped over rubble, making his way across the hold towards the Judicials. Attached to his belt was his weapon, the one she'd seen in Erat's hand only a short while ago, just before she sent him away.
Something burst inside of C'Lon, and against all reason and better judgment, she flung herself at the Jedi.
"You bastard!" she screamed, her bound hands twisting uselessly behind her back. "You fucking bastard, you killed him!"
The Jedi stared coolly at her in response, perhaps appraising her. Several troopers rushed to her side and began to drag her towards the portal that lead to the Judical ship.
"You fucking killed him, and he was one of you!" she screamed, knowing it didn't matter anymore. It didn't matter that it was as much her fault Erat was dead as it was the Jedi's. It only mattered that he was dead, and that it had all been for nothing. His life had been wasted, and there was nothing she could do about it now. She wanted to scream, to lash out at someone in grief and anger, and the Jedi was an easy target.
"He was one of your own, and you fucking murdered him!" Qui-Gon stared at her as she was being dragged away. He almost looked... surprised. "Fuck you!" she screamed, feeling her voice breaking with the effort. Tears streamed down her cheeks, but she didn't care. Erat was dead, and Qui-Gon had killed him. "Fuck the Jedi!"
A hypospray was pressed against her neck, and the world went dark around her.
Qui-Gon took a deep breath and turned back to the captain. "The children?" he asked, voice calm despite the scene that had just occurred.
"They're safely onboard," the captain replied. "A medical officer and a counselor are examining them now."
Qui-Gon nodded, face void of expression. "Is my transport ready? I've been asked to return to Coruscant as quickly as possible."
"Yes, sir. You may leave whenever you wish." Qui-Gon nodded and turned to walk out of the cargo hold, back into the ship. "Sir?" the captain asked.
Qui-Gon didn't turn back. "There is something I must attend to," he said, leaving the baffled trooper behind.
His feet led him back down the path he'd just taken, navigating twists and turns without thought. After several minutes, he found what he was looking for. He stared down at the crumpled form of the young man on the floor of the corridor for a long moment before poking a thigh with the tip of his boot. He sighed, heavily.
"It's over. You can get up now, Padawan."
A groan erupted from the young man as he pushed himself up off of the floor. Once standing, he whirled to face Qui-Gon, eyes sparkling with anger.
"What the fuck is going on, Qui-Gon? This wasn't the plan!"
"Nice to see you too, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon remarked dryly, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Six months of planning, of working my ass off to infiltrate this slave ring, and it all falls apart a day early?!?" Obi-Wan's cheeks were flushed with anger. "Couldn't those imbeciles have waited thirty fucking hours? Now we've lost the client, and the chance to find out what he--"
"Padawan!" Qui-Gon barked, glowering at his apprentice. "You will remember your place! I realize you've been undercover these last few months, but you will not speak that way to me."
His apprentice opened his mouth to continue, and Qui-Gon cut him off before the hole the boy was digging got any deeper.
"Do not presume to know the nature of your role in this mission, my young apprentice. This operation was carefully planned, and the intelligence you provided was fully considered."
Obi-Wan clamped his jaw closed in frustration and breathed deeply through his nostrils. He was shaking with anger.
Qui-Gon reached out to the Force for serenity, thankful to have access to it again. The first thing he'd done with his lightsaber was to cut that blasted Force-inhibitor off his arm. The rush of sensation back into his mind had been dizzying at first. Even now, the world felt strangely fuzzy, though that was probably the after-effects of the cytlicine injections he'd been given. Obi-Wan had managed to diminish the dosage considerably, but without access to the Force, it had been difficult to purge from his system.
"This is only one part of the mission," he continued, "part of a larger whole you seem to have completely disregarded. Do you honestly believe that the Order would have let you, a padawan learner, handle such a dire situation alone?" Obi-Wan looked away at that, and Qui-Gon shook his head. "Many plans were considered carefully before this decision was made, Padawan. He will not escape."
Obi-Wan said nothing, glaring at the wall.
Qui-Gon took a calming breath. "Is there anything you need to remove from this ship? Any personal belongings you don't wish to leave behind?" Obi-Wan appeared to think for a moment, and then nodded, still not meeting his master's gaze. "Go then, and meet me on the transport in ten minutes. I'll inform the captain of your presence, and he'll be glad to show you the way."
With that, Qui-Gon turned his back on his padawan and strode back down the corridor, silently praying to the Force for the serenity he'd need not to strangle the boy before they got back to Coruscant.
Qui-Gon sighed and stared at the ceiling of his small cabin on the transport. He'd tried to sleep, but the tension between himself and his apprentice was ripping him apart. So much had gone wrong in the last week, and he didn't know how to begin repairing their relationship.
He cursed the day that Mace Windu had recommended Obi-Wan for this assignment. Qui-Gon had known the boy was ready, of course, but he had been unprepared for the pain he'd felt at his padawan's absence from his life. These last six months had been surprisingly difficult. The Council had kept him busy, but he'd quickly realized how much he enjoyed having a partner, and how much he relied on Obi-Wan's intelligence and insight in the field.
And his company, of course. He'd missed the way Obi-Wan's eyes sparkled when he laughed, and the smile that almost split his face on occasion. The way Obi-Wan would knock on his bedroom door in the middle of the night when he needed someone to talk to, and his own joy at knowing he was the person Obi-Wan turned to on those nights.
He'd missed his padawan more than he'd thought possible. After months of receiving coded messages with unpredictable frequency, seeing Obi-Wan on that ship had been wonderful. At least for the first 30 seconds, until he'd realized what the boy was going to do.
He groaned at the sheer humiliation of it all, at the fact that his apprentice had sucked him off in front of a room full of people. And that he'd allowed himself to enjoy it. And then there was the encounter in the cell, and the morning in the shower. He felt himself start to grow hard just thinking about it. How were they going to get past this? He was surprised he could even face his apprentice after all that had happened between them.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts, and he groaned again, already knowing who was on the other side.
He could feel it.
"Come," he said, just as it occurred to him that he could have pretended to be asleep.
The door slid open to reveal his padawan silhouetted against the harsh light of the corridor, shirtless, leggings slung low on his narrow hips. Qui-Gon grimaced.
"Did I wake you, Master?" Obi-Wan stepped forward, and Qui-Gon couldn't help but notice the husky sound of his voice.
"No, no. I was awake," he sighed, closing his eyes and hoping his apprentice would remain on the other side of the room. To his great distress, he felt the thin mattress dip as Obi-Wan sat next to him, fingers brushing against his own.
They were both silent for a moment, and then Obi-Wan took his master's hand. "I'm sorry for my behavior," he whispered.
It was all Qui-Gon could do not to ask which behavior?, as all of it had been disturbing, truth be told. He decided to say nothing, and squeezed his padawan's hand instead. Obi-Wan's fingers interlaced with his own, and his thumb stroked Qui-Gon's palm. Qui-Gon knew he ought to say something, but he didn't trust his voice at the moment. Maybe this was all Obi-Wan had wanted to do: apologize. Maybe he'd jumped to a conclusion too quickly.
He felt a tentative hand on his bare chest. Surprised, he inhaled more sharply than he'd intended, and Obi-Wan seemed to take this as a positive sign. The hand stroked across his chest, brushing an instantly taut nipple, and then moved down towards his waist.
Qui-Gon caught Obi-Wan's wrist. "Padawan," he groaned.
Obi-Wan pulled his hand away and sighed in the darkness. "Why not?"
"You know why not."
"But… after the last few days, I thought--"
Qui-Gon sat up, scooting away from his apprentice and leaning against the wall. "You thought what, Obi-Wan? That we could be lovers, now that my celibacy has been completely shattered?" Obi-Wan's face remained carefully blank. "This situation was forced on me. I did not enter into a physical relationship with you willingly, and I imagine that, given another option, you would have avoided it as well." Even in the dark, he could see Obi-Wan look away, and he silently cursed his tactlessness. The boy was confused and disoriented, and it was Qui-Gon's job to guide him back to his place in the Order. "I'm not saying it was a wholly unpleasant experience, Padawan. I don't have to explain to you why it would be inappropriate to continue."
"I apologize for forcing myself on you, Master." Obi-Wan was clearly struggling to keep the bitterness from his voice.
"Padawan," Qui-Gon sighed, leaning forward to catch the boy's hand. "I know it wasn't your fault, and that you were trying to protect me from something worse. I imagine I would have done the same were I in your position."
He could feel Obi-Wan relax at that. He moved to sit on the edge of the bed next to his apprentice, and stroked the boy's cheek with his free hand. Obi-Wan's eyes were large and dark. He looked almost childlike sitting there, and it gave Qui-Gon confidence to continue speaking.
"You've had a very intense experience these last few months, and it's only natural that your feelings for me are a bit confused after what has happened. Given some time and meditation, everything will work itself out."
"Master…" Obi-Wan looked blankly at him, but said nothing more.
Qui-Gon kissed him on the forehead. "Get some rest, Padawan. We'll talk about this later."
After his padawan left and the transport grew quiet once more, Qui-Gon settled back into his bunk and stared at the ceiling.
The rhythmic buzzing of the comm unit woke him. Qui-Gon squinted at the chrono and sat up, shaking off his grogginess with practiced ease.
"Captain Talik wishes to speak with you, Master." Obi-Wan's voice sounded relaxed, calm. Normal. Maybe a good nap had helped him clear his head, Qui-Gon thought.
"On my way," he replied, swinging his feet over the side of the bed.
Captain Talik's figure was waiting on the holographic panel, glowing an eerie reddish-gray. He looked as if he hadn't had any sleep at all.
"Captain," Qui-Gon said by way of greeting.
"Master Jinn, my apologies for disturbing you." The figure fiddled nervously with its hat. "I won't waste your time. I was hoping you might be willing to participate in the next phase of the plan."
Qui-Gon could feel Obi-Wan's pulse of excitement. He pressed his lips into a thin line. "I'll need to check with the Council first, as we're expected back on Coruscant. What assistance do you require?"
"The team that was going to intercept the slave buyer suffered casualties during the raid. We've also discovered that one of our ships was badly damaged in the operation. We are... terribly short-handed, and there isn't time for reinforcements to come." The man was very nearly pleading. "I respectfully ask you to lead the mission, Master Jinn. I can provide you with a team of eight Judicial troops. Master Benica wishes to join you as well."
Qui-Gon gritted his teeth. "Yes, I imagine she does." He turned to look at Obi-Wan and saw his apprentice was nearly bouncing with anticipation. He sighed. This wasn't a good idea. Obi-Wan needed to return to the Temple. He needed to be debriefed, and he needed some time to reflect on his experience undercover. Hells, I need some time, he thought. He turned back to the holographic display, noting the hopeful expression on Talik's face. "We would be happy to be of service, Captain," he said, feeling his shoulders tense at his own words. "However, we have been summoned to return to Coruscant. I will contact the Council, and the decision will be theirs."
"The meeting is scheduled to occur in twenty-four hours, Master Jedi, so please... Thank you," Talik finished, bowing, and the image winked out.
"Master, with all due respect--"
Qui-Gon cut his padawan off with a gesture. "There is nothing to discuss. The decision belongs with the Council."
"That is utter shit and you know it!" Obi-Wan spat. Qui-Gon's mouth fell open in response. "You've never needed to ask the Council for permission before. You do what you choose, what you feel is right. Why this sudden allegiance to the rules?"
Qui-Gon took a measured breath, fighting the urge to grab the boy by the front of his tunics and slam him into the wall. Obi-Wan flushed, apparently sensing his master's reproach, and said nothing more.
Qui-Gon studied him for a long moment. "You're right," he said at last, "that I follow the will of the Force. In this case, I feel it would be a mistake for us to continue participating in this mission." He paused, watching Obi-Wan's face carefully. "I sense a disturbance in the Force, something neither of us is prepared to face. We need time. You need time." Qui-Gon suddenly felt drained. A mild headache was beginning behind his eyes, and he exhaled.
Obi-Wan folded his arms into his sleeves and was silent for a moment more. "Master, we don't have the luxury of time. If we don't lead this mission now, the client will likely escape, and we may not have another chance." He paused, and Qui-Gon looked up to see those blue-green eyes burning into his own. Obi-Wan was so young, and so determined. So idealistic. Qui-Gon barely remembered feeling that way himself, but he remembered being admonished by his own master for his youthful enthusiasm. He'd always hated it, too.
"I'll contact the Council," he said with a soft sigh. "We'll go wherever they need us."
Obi-Wan nodded and left the room. Qui-Gon's headache throbbed.
Qui-Gon stood in the cargo bay of the transport, waiting for the dim clank of metal on metal that would indicate they had re-docked with the Judicial cruiser. He took a long breath and released it slowly, concentrating on the sound it made as it passed through his nose: a calming, focusing sound. He centered his balance and stood in a standing meditation pose, hoping to gain a few moments' serenity before -- in all likelihood -- hell broke loose.
He'd been unhappy when Mace had instructed them to remain in the sector and assist the Judicials. He'd made the call in private, just so he could explain to his colleague exactly why it was a bad idea for them to continue.
Mace had listened, and nodded, and then promptly dismissed Qui-Gon's concerns. "You should have more faith in your apprentice, Qui-Gon. After all, you have trained him well."
"It's not about faith," he'd replied testily. "I know my padawan, and I know his emotions are running high now. He needs time to sort out his experiences. He was away from the Order for six months."
"Qui-Gon, something more is troubling you," Mace said, steepling his fingers in that way Qui-Gon had always found infuriating. "Did something happen to Obi-Wan on this mission? Something I should know about?"
He'd paused then. Something had happened, of course, but he wasn't sure it was something he wanted to share with the Council. Not yet, at any rate. Not until they'd had a chance to discuss it between themselves.
"No," he'd sighed. "Nothing."
Mace had watched his face for a moment, and then nodded in response. "Very well. I see no reason why you shouldn't remain where you are. May the Force be with you, my friend."
A thick clunk resonated throughout the bay, bringing Qui-Gon out of his thoughts. He waited until the light above the airlock turned green, and then keyed in the code to open it.
A tall, thin woman stepped through, flanked by two children. She bowed at Qui-Gon in greeting.
"Master Benica," he said, returning her bow. "Welcome aboard."
The children at her side bowed more deeply to Qui-Gon, and he acknowledged their show of respect with a smile and a nod of his head. "Padawans Manya and Rill Vees, I believe?"
"Yes, Master," they replied in unison, looking up at him. They seemed quite young, Qui-Gon thought. But then, they were twins, and that made them special.
"I'll show you to your quarters, and then we'll make arrangements to meet shortly," he said, starting towards the corridor. They walked in silence, footsteps echoing around them. Qui-Gon stopped outside the door that was previously his own small room. "I'm sorry there isn't much space," he said. "We're doubling and tripling up, it seems. There's going to be a squad of Judicials joining us as well, but we kept the largest room for the three of you."
"It will be adequate." Master Benica replied, gesturing the children in with a nod of her head. She bowed to Qui-Gon and turned to follow them.
"Alissi," he said, catching her elbow. She turned back. "I just wanted to say how sorry I was to hear about Rollan. He was a great Jedi." He paused, words seeming horribly inadequate.
Alissi smile's was strained. "Thank you, Qui-Gon. My brother will be sorely missed." With that, she slipped through the door and closed it.
Qui-Gon stared at it for a moment before returning to the small bridge of the transport.
He found Obi-Wan in their room, meditating.
"They're here," he said.
Obi-Wan nodded, but did not open his eyes. Qui-Gon noticed that Obi-Wan had pulled down the upper bunk for him from its storage spot in the wall, and had placed a folded blanket and a pillow on it. He somehow doubted he'd have a chance to use it any time soon.
"We'll meet in the galley in ten minutes," he said.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes. "How are the children?"
"They appear to be fine," he replied. "I'm sure they'll need some time to deal with their grief. Losing one's master is a most traumatic event in the life of a padawan."
"I can only imagine," Obi-Wan muttered, stretching. "The Benicas were twins, weren't they?"
"Yes," Qui-Gon sighed. "They aren't many pairs of twin Jedi these days. I'm not certain who will complete the training of their padawans."
"They won't remain with Master Benica?"
Qui-Gon shook his head. "Twin Jedi are far too valuable. Their training is handled with the utmost care, and they are only apprenticed to twin masters."
"Is it true that twin Jedi are naturally telepathic?"
"That's what I've always heard. Perhaps you should ask the Vees twins yourself, since you know them so well."
Obi-Wan smiled -- it was the most genuine expression he'd displayed in hours. Qui-Gon returned it, feeling a flutter in his stomach. There was never going to be a good time to say this.
"Obi-Wan, I'm sorry for my shortness with you earlier. I don't want what happened on the slaver's ship to drive a wedge between us."
The smile faded, but Obi-Wan did not drop his gaze. "It doesn't have to be a wedge, you know."
Qui-Gon's jaw tightened. "There's nothing else it could be. I'm sorry."
Qui-Gon sighed and sank to the floor to sit next to his apprentice. "Obi-Wan, please don't do this. You, of all people, should understand."
"That you're afraid?" Obi-Wan said, a touch of bitterness in his voice. "Yes, that much is clear."
"I'm not afraid," Qui-Gon replied. "I took that vow of celibacy for good reason. You know that."
"She's been dead for six years, Master," Obi-Wan whispered. "When are you going to let her go?"
"I'm not clinging to a ghost," Qui-Gon replied, a little more strongly than he'd intended. Thinking about Tahl always made him a bit defensive, for some reason. "And you're hardly in any position to judge my feelings on the matter."
"I thought we were honest with each other," Obi-Wan muttered, hugging his knees to his chest. "Or would you prefer I hide behind the Code and pretend it was nothing more than duty when I made love to you?"
"That wasn't making love," Qui-Gon heard himself hiss.
Obi-Wan smirked. "Well, if we're going to be honest, you're right. You fucked me, plain and simple. You'd rather think of it that way?"
"I'd rather not think of it at all."
Obi-Wan raised a carefully controlled eyebrow. "Then don't mention it again. As you've already made quite clear, it wasn't your choice. You've nothing to be sorry for."
Qui-Gon opened his mouth, but could think of nothing to say to that. The boy was correct, to an extent. I'm the one who keeps bringing it up, he thought. I never wanted it. It wasn't my choice. He nodded, standing, and left the room, struggling to shield his dark thoughts.
"We need to be at the rendezvous point in eighteen hours," Obi-Wan began. "Master Benica will pose as the slaver C'Lon and will contact the suspect. The boarding teams will be waiting in the cargo bay." He paused, remarkably poised, Qui-Gon thought. "Manya, Rill, and Qui-Gon will be taken aboard first. I'll accompany the boarding team. On my signal, we'll begin the operation."
"How do you know the real customer is coming?" asked one of the Judicials, a sharp-faced woman called "Bangs" by her comrades.
"We don't," Obi-Wan replied. "C'Lon never had direct contact with him, only with his personnel. We really have no idea what we're going to find." Qui-Gon thought Obi-Wan sounded almost excited by the thought.
"We're holding the slaver on the flagship," another Judicial said. "Perhaps she would be willing to help us, in exchange for a reduced sentence."
Obi-Wan glanced at Qui-Gon, uncertain. "She could be useful," Qui-Gon told him. "It would be best if you were the one to contact her."
"She thinks I'm dead," Obi-Wan mused. "This could be a bit of a shock."
"She also thinks she's spending the rest of her life in prison," Bangs added. "This could ease the blow."
Obi-Wan nodded. "When can I see her?"
"The sooner, the better," Qui-Gon said. "This ship is fast enough to get us to the coordinates in twelve hours, but we shouldn't chance being late."
Bangs stood. "I'll call the officer in charge of the prisoners and make the arrangements."
They watched her leave, and then everyone looked back at Obi-Wan.
"Padawan Kenobi," Manya began, and then pursed her lips, as if hesitant to speak. Obi-Wan tilted his head, and waited. Rill met her eyes and nodded. "If anything goes wrong, should we allow ourselves to be taken captive?"
"We're what he wanted, after all," Rill continued.
Qui-Gon opened his mouth, ready to protest, but Obi-Wan spoke first.
"What would that accomplish?"
"We could learn what he wants, who he is. We could pretend to accept our fate, but collect information on him."
"Or we could kill him," Rill said, voice flat.
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow and glanced at Alissi. She returned the expression. Obi-Wan returned his gaze to the children.
"You must follow the will of the Force," he said softly. "Those who love you would tell you not to follow such a course of action."
"But there are more important things than love," Rill replied.
"Indeed," sighed Alissi, looking down at her clasped hands.
Obi-Wan glanced at Qui-Gon, and then looked away again. The meeting broke up, but Qui-Gon remained sitting at the table, lost in thought.
Obi-Wan took a deep breath.
"Ready?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Yes... no." He shook his head. "I didn't think I'd see her again."
"Does it bother you that you deceived her?" Qui-Gon asked, folding his arms across his chest.
"Yes," Obi-Wan admitted, glancing up at Qui-Gon with wide eyes. "She cared about me. She trusted me."
"She was a slaver, Padawan. She sold sentient beings, after torturing and abusing them."
Obi-Wan snorted. "I see you've read my report."
Qui-Gon shook his head. "This is exactly why debriefing is so critical after undercover missions." For the hundredth time, he wished they could have simply returned to the Temple.
"It's complicated," Obi-Wan sighed. "She did terrible things, but... I liked her."
"And that is what makes us human, Padawan." Qui-Gon squeezed his shoulder. "Your affection for her may save her, you know."
The door slid open and a Judicial trooper waved them through. They followed him down a corridor, past rows of doors. The trooper paused before one and tapped a code into the panel. The door slid open.
Obi-Wan stepped through first, and Qui-Gon followed. C'Lon was sitting on a hard bench, facing away from them. Her extravagant clothes had been exchanged for the orange coveralls of a Judicial prisoner, and her once-spiky gray hair lay flat against her head. She looked like the old woman she was, and not the tough slaver who'd threatened him with a blaster and taken him captive only a few days ago. Qui-Gon suppressed an un-Jedi-like smirk.
"C'Lon," Obi-Wan said.
Her head snapped up at the sound of his voice. For a moment, she didn't seem to recognize him, and then her face paled. Her mouth opened and closed several times, but she said nothing. She glanced at Qui-Gon, then back to Obi-Wan, taking in the Jedi tunics with narrowed eyes. She finally made a sound like a strangled laugh.
"Fuck me," she muttered, shaking her head. "I should have known."
Obi-Wan only stared back at her, hands tucked into the sleeves of his cloak. He didn't seem to know what to say in response.
"Here to gloat?" C'Lon asked.
"Actually, we could use your help," Obi-Wan replied.
"My help?" C'Lon repeated. "Oh, fuck you." She stood and walked towards him. The trooper stepped forward, but Obi-Wan waved him back with a gesture. "Here I've been so worried, and sick, and guilty, thinking I'd sent you to your death, and you..." She flailed her hands in front of him.
"I'm sorry," he said. His tone was sincere, but C'Lon didn't seem to notice. She glared at him, and then slapped him hard across the face. The Judicial leapt forward and pushed her against the wall, growling a threat. Obi-Wan put a hand on the man's arm, stilling his movements. The Judicial rolled his eyes and then released C'Lon with an exasperated sigh.
C'Lon stared at Obi-Wan for a long moment. Finally, she folded her arms across her chest and waited for him to speak.
"My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi," he told her. "I'm a Jedi padawan. I've been working undercover to infiltrate your operation."
She shook her head and snorted. "Well, you certainly did your job well. Thanks for nothing. Now get the fuck out of my ruined life, why don't you?" There was pain in her voice, Qui-Gon noted.
Obi-Wan caught her wrist as she tuned away. "C'Lon, please," he said.
She jerked her arm away and glared at him. "Get OUT!"
Obi-Wan clenched his jaw, frustrated. "We can help you, if you cooperate. They've agreed to reduce your sentence considerably in exchange for information. Remember that beach?"
"I dream about it." She paused, eyes narrowing. "Reduce my sentence? By how much?"
Obi-Wan smiled, ducking his head and looking up at her through his eyelashes. "That depends on how much you help us." It was a coy gesture, one Qui-Gon could only assume he'd used with C'Lon before.
C'Lon pursed her lips. "Aren't I supposed to get a lawyer, or something?"
"The Jedi operate outside the legal system," Qui-Gon interjected when Obi-Wan hesitated. "We can take care of this quietly, perhaps get you the minimum sentence."
"For slaving inside the boundaries of the Republic?" she retorted. "The minimum sentence is twenty years."
Qui-Gon smiled. "We have a great deal of influence. At the time of your arrest, you were merely an accessory to kidnapping. The minimum sentence for that charge is only two years."
C'Lon raised an eyebrow. "Funny. I thought the Jedi only bent the law when it benefited one of their own."
Obi-Wan ignored the jibe. "This is bigger than a slaving operation, C'Lon. We're interested in the client."
"Of course you are," she smirked. "Since when did the Jedi give a shit about anyone but themselves?" Obi-Wan clenched his jaw, and C'Lon turned to Qui-Gon. "I suppose I'm cooperating, then. Do I need to sign anything?"
"We'll take care of it," Qui-Gon replied.
"I refuse to sit at the table with this criminal," Alissi hissed.
C'Lon said nothing, staring resolutely at her plate.
"Alissi, please," Qui-Gon whispered, taking her hand and tugging her towards the table.
"It's because of her that my brother is dead," Alissi retorted, standing her ground. The cold anger in her tone sent a chill down Qui-Gon's spine. It was far too familiar.
"Well, I won't argue with you," C'Lon muttered, looking up. "But keep in mind that I know the name and coordinates of the man who actually pulled the trigger." Her eyes met Alissi's, and the women glared at each other for several long seconds.
Obi-Wan glanced at Qui-Gon, face taut with tension. Qui-Gon sighed. "And that's why you're here, C'Lon." He released Alissi's hand and sat across from the slaver.
A small gasp at the door signaled the arrival of the twins. They looked up at Alissi, uncertain. Alissi made a disgusted sound and left, the padawans following at her heel.
"I can't say I blame her," C'Lon said between bites. "I wouldn't want to eat with me either."
They continued to eat in silence, and Qui-Gon once again questioned his decision to bring C'Lon with them. They didn't have much time before they had to be at the meeting point with the client, and it had become clear that negotiating with C'Lon wasn't going to be easy. Inviting her to eat latemeal with the team -- rather than locked in her cabin -- had been Obi-Wan's idea. He seemed to think C'Lon would be more cooperative if she didn't feel so much like a prisoner.
"If you lot are trying to butter me up, it's working," C'Lon quipped, smirking at Qui-Gon.
Obi-Wan pushed his half-empty plate away and glanced back and forth between C'Lon and Qui-Gon.
"Go check on Alissi," Qui-Gon told him. "See if you can reason with her. We need to solidify our plans for tomorrow."
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said, nodding his head in a bow as he stood.
C'Lon watched him leave, then turned an incredulous face to Qui-Gon. "Did he call you master?"
"He's my apprentice," Qui-Gon replied.
"I'll bet," she snorted. Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow in query. C'Lon smirked. "So all of that was just for show on my ship, with you resisting him?"
"What?" Qui-Gon knew what she meant, of course.
"Oh, come now," C'Lon grinned, picking up her cup. "I've heard about what goes on between Jedi and their apprentices."
Qui-Gon snorted. "Obi-Wan is my student, nothing more."
"You seemed to enjoy fucking him."
"My relationship with my padawan is none of your concern," Qui-Gon replied, a bit too curtly. "You clearly know very little about the Jedi."
"I know more than you might imagine," she muttered, holding his gaze. He didn't reply.
"Master, we're in the cargo hold." Obi-Wan's voice on the commlink broke the silence between them.
"On our way," Qui-Gon replied, then clipped the device to his belt. "We'll need your help now," he told C'Lon. "If you don't plan to cooperate, I can escort you back to your cabin."
C'Lon pushed away from the table and stood. She looked more herself in civilian clothes, hair resolutely spiked up once more. She raised herself to her full height and stared up at Qui-Gon. "I plan to cooperate. I may be a stubborn old bitch, but I'm not stupid, you know." Her lips quirked into a smile. She had her moments, he had to admit. If one overlooked her chosen profession and criminal past, she could even be endearing.
Qui-Gon smiled and gestured towards the door. "After you, milady."
Qui-Gon allowed his hands to be bound once he'd tucked his lightsaber into a hidden pocket in his robe. Rill and Manya stood by him, looking straight ahead. They hadn't spoken two words since firstmeal. He wondered if they were afraid. They certainly didn't seem it.
Obi-Wan's voice spoke softly in his ear. "Ready?"
He turned his head and found his apprentice's face centimeters away. "I... yes." He grimaced. All of his serenity shattered, and by a moment of closeness. Obi-Wan smiled, and kissed his cheek lightly.
"For luck," he said, before stepping away.
"There's no such thing as luck," Qui-Gon muttered.
Why had he let this disturb him so much? He'd spent the last two hours struggling to meditate in preparation for this mission, but his thoughts kept returning to Obi-Wan, and to the way his apprentice had looked at him that morning as he'd come out of the sonics. Qui-Gon had thought he was alone, and didn't bother dressing before exiting the room's tiny 'fresher unit. Obi-Wan's eyes had raked over his naked form, lingering on his groin. Then he'd smiled sadly and left.
And just in time, too -- Qui-Gon had developed an erection before he knew what had happened.
Even now, he could feel arousal lapping at the edges of his mind, threatening to shatter the calm he'd finally managed to restore. Why was Obi-Wan affecting him this way? Why now, when the life-threatening situation he was about to walk into should be at the fore of his thoughts?
Obi-Wan had returned to the tight ngala-hide trousers and white vest of his bodyguard disguise. He'd even styled his hair again. Qui-Gon wanted to hold him down and cut those damned blue streaks out. With his lightsaber. Just before pressing his cock between those lips--
Obi-Wan turned and looked at him, kohl-lined eyes wide. He hadn't shielded that thought at all, Qui-Gon realized. He could only shrug helplessly and focus on not blushing. Obi-Wan smiled at him, before turning to face the airlock once more.
Qui-Gon suppressed a groan. He began to hope he wouldn't survive this mission. It would be easier, that way.
"Contact made. Docking will proceed momentarily." Alissi's voice over the intercom was calm, almost soothing. Qui-Gon exhaled slowly, finally able to focus.
Time stretched out, and then Alissi joined them. "I'm going with you. He wanted to meet C'Lon personally," she said, glancing at Qui-Gon.
"There is a chance he knows what she looks like," Obi-Wan said. "We still have time to go get her."
Qui-Gon shook his head. "I don't trust her that much, Padawan." Obi-Wan opened his mouth as if to reply, but seemed to think better of it.
The sound of ships mating filled the room then, and everyone looked forward, focused on the light above the door. It flashed green. Obi-Wan stepped forward and keyed in the code, shifting his blaster up to point it towards the entrance. The airlock door slid open, revealing a sharp-featured human man, flanked by blaster-toting thugs.
The man eyed Alissi, who had immediately stepped forward. "C'Lon, I presume? You're much lovelier than I was led to expect."
Alissi smirked. "Such flattery." She was, Qui-Gon reflected, very different from C'Lon -- at least twenty years younger, not to mention tall and willowy, while C'Lon was short and thick. "Let's make this quick. I have somewhere else I'd rather be."
The man's smile was cold. "Of course." He studied the children for a moment. "Impressive, that you were able to hold them without Force inhibitors."
Qui-Gon swallowed, and tried to turn his pulse of dismay into a glare. They'd considered constructing some sort of mock-up inhibitor, but had decided against it, for fear that a fake would be more obvious than a lack. He'd hoped it wouldn't be noticed so quickly.
"You'd be surprised what the right sort of persuasion can accomplish," Alissi replied, putting a hint of dark suggestion into her tone. As if on cue, Obi-Wan stepped behind the twins and cupped Manya's face in his hand, smirking. The twins looked uncomfortable; Qui-Gon doubted they were acting.
"And this one as well," the man remarked, eyeing Qui-Gon now. "How you managed to keep a Jedi as formidable as this one in bondage is quite a mystery."
It's too obvious, Qui-Gon thought, even as he leveled a glare at the man. He studied the man's angular face, wondering why it seemed so familiar.
"My men will take the children on board," the man said, stepping back and picking a speck of dust off of his elegant robe. "You and your..." he glanced up and wrinkled his nose, "staff will remain here."
"Oh, no," Assisi retorted, stepping in front of the padawans. "Not without the money. They go nowhere until I get paid."
"And you will be paid when my master is satisfied," the man replied, and Qui-Gon felt a pulse of energy emanate from him. Alissi was forced back against the wall of the cargo hold, clutching at her throat as if an invisible hand were holding her there.
Qui-Gon felt a jolt of emotion from Obi-Wan, and it was a moment before he realized his apprentice was struggling not to act. Obi-wan tensed, but otherwise did not move.
The Judicials all looked as if they'd shat their pants.
"I'll take the children," the man hissed. "Someone will be sent with your money." The sound of six large blasters being cocked behind him punctuated the order.
Alissi struggled, still gasping for air. Qui-Gon's mind reeled. He couldn't bear to watch the children be taken away, alone, but he knew the time was not right to act. There was a darker force at work here. He knew it would disappear if they acted now, and perhaps slip beyond their grasp forever -- or until it was too late.
But was it worth these two lives? He and the children had swallowed tracking chips, just in case. The rest of the crew would have a few days to find them.
"I think we'll leave this one," the mad nodded at Qui-Gon, eyes narrowed, "with you."
And at that moment, Qui-Gon recognized him -- recognized the glint of his eyes and the sharpness of his nose, the sound of his voice. It washed over him with such sudden clarity that he struggled not to gasp in surprise.
"Coward," Qui-Gon hissed. All eyes turned to him, and he felt a blow across his cheek. Stunned, he glanced at his apprentice.
"Not another word from you, Jedi," growled Obi-Wan.
"Oh, no, on the contrary," the man said, "I think I would very much like to hear what the Jedi has to say."
"I know what you are," Qui-Gon began, feeling the skin on his cheek stinging. "You wield your power with all the finesse of a playground bully. Moreover, I know who you are. You were once like me. You were a Jedi."
Qui-Gon could feel Obi-Wan's gaze burning into him, could hear Alissi's desperate breaths as she was released. He fixed the man with his eyes.
The man smirked. "I was never like you, Qui-Gon."
He gestured then, and two of the thugs stepped forward, grasping the twins by the shoulders. Qui-Gon felt a strange burst of panic ring through the Force. He braced himself, already knowing what was going to happen next.
Alissi leapt towards the twins with a strangled cry, lightsaber ignited. Her blade sank into the shoulder of one of the men holding Rill, and the man cried out and collapsed to the floor. Her blade severed the head of the other man before he had time to turn around. Manya and Rill were already stepping back, shrugging out of their bindings and reaching for their sabers.
Qui-Gon took in all of this even as he released the cuffs on his hands and pulled his saber hilt from his cloak. He was dimly aware of Obi-Wan pushing forward, saber before him, and undoubtedly heading towards the dark Jedi.
There were five lightsabers ignited before a single blaster bolt was fired.
Guns on both sides began firing almost at once, and the Jedi were forced to turn to the defensive, deflecting bolts back into the airlock. Unfortunately, the Judicials were not accustomed to fighting alongside Jedi and continued firing with such fervor that it was impossible for anyone to move forward.
The dark Jedi had retreated through the airlock into the cargo bay of his own ship, where he had little trouble defending himself. Even as his men fell around him, he laughed, deflecting bolts with his bare hands. The Judicials finally stopped firing when it became clear it wasn't doing any good.
Qui-Gon hesitated, maintaining a defensive stance. The impulsive side of him wanted to rush forward and slice the grinning bastard in half. This one was powerful with the Dark side, but he was outnumbered at the moment.
He could sense Obi-Wan's thoughts along the same lines, and swallowed down the pride he suddenly felt. They had always made a good team. At least that hadn't changed.
"You Jedi," the man hissed, "so predictable." Qui-Gon felt the presence of the humming crimson blade before he saw it, held casually by a man whose angular features appeared almost demonic in its glow.
Qui-Gon felt a strange pulse in the Force. Alissi propelled herself forward past Obi-Wan, through the airlock and into the other ship. Her yellow blade was locked with the crimson one even before Obi-Wan grunted out a fierce-sounding curse. Qui-Gon pushed forward, but found an invisible barrier blocked his way into the other ship. He touched the blade of his saber to it, but it only crackled.
"Find a way to disable this barrier," he hissed.
Obi-Wan studied it, then glanced back at him, shaking his head.
"Oh, for--!" Qui-Gon growled. The Judicials sank away from him, exchanging glances with each other. In sheer frustration, Qui-Gon sank his blade into the barrier. It had no effect. There was nothing they could do but watch helplessly.
The battle was fierce. Qui-Gon remembered Alissi as an excellent fighter, and she more than held her own against her opponent. Their blades moved so fast they were difficult to follow with the eyes alone. Alissi pushed the man back across the chamber they were in, her blade hissing fiercely as it connected with its partner. But even if she won this battle, it was doubtful she would escape the other ship's crew unscathed.
The ship shook then, and the sound of distant explosions could be heard. "They're firing at us!" Bangs shouted. "We're sitting mynocks here!"
Qui-Gon opened his mouth to respond, but froze, feeling a wave of concern. He glanced at Obi-Wan and saw his apprentice was looking not at the battle, but at the twins.
Manya was staring into space as if in a trance, a look of horror covering her features. Her brother was watching her, equally pale. A single tear spilled down her cheek, and she mouthed the word no.
Just then, Alissi's strangled cry rang through the barrier. Qui-Gon looked back to see the tip of the dark Jedi's saber emerging from her shoulder. It was a serious wound, though not necessarily a mortal one. The saber tip disappeared, and Alissi threw herself bodily at her opponent. The man yelped and fell to the floor beneath her, saber still swinging.
"Now," Rill hissed. Manya stepped quickly to the airlock controls, face hard despite her tears. Qui-Gon realized what she was going to do.
"No!" he shouted, lunging forward.
But Manya was quicker. Her fingers keyed in the disengage code. The door snapped shut, and the sharp hiss of metal and rapidly expanding air reverberated from the other side. The room Alissi and the dark Jedi were in had been opened to the vacuum of space. It was a violent, if effective, way to end the battle.
Qui-Gon tackled Manya, pulling her to his chest.
"She told me to," the child sobbed. "I didn't want to do it, but she told me... oh, Master, no..."
Qui-Gon held the trembling child in his lap, stroking her back as she shook against him. He struggled to find his center, to cling to it and anchor the padawan in her grief. She continued to sob, wetting his tunic, her small hands twisting in the fabric.
"No, no... Master," she sobbed.
Obi-Wan touched Qui-Gon's shoulder. "We're not out of danger. I'm going to the bridge."
Qui-Gon could only nod in response. He knew he ought to tell the girl to focus, to push her grief aside until a more appropriate moment, but he couldn't form the words. He only wanted to comfort.
"Let me, Master Jinn." Rill had knelt beside them and was holding his arms open. Qui-Gon nodded, prying Manya's fingers off of his tunic. She went willingly into her brother's arms.
Qui-Gon left them on the floor of the cargo bay and sprinted to the bridge, swallowing down his sudden emotion. He'd barely known Alissi, and had no idea why she would have sacrificed herself this way. What had they gained from it?
He found Obi-Wan swearing loudly at the display. "They've just jumped into fucking hyperspace! We've lost them, again. Fuck!" The pilot, a Judicial officer, was gaping at him.
Qui-Gon resisted the urge to chastise his padwan for his language, instead extending a tendril of calm in his direction. "Can you trace them?"
"It happened too fast, sir," replied the navigator. "One minute they were firing at us, and the next... We could have done, if there'd been any warning."
"Fuck!" Obi-Wan hissed.
Qui-Gon sighed. "Scan the area for remains of two humans. If there are any parts... intact, tractor them in." Obi-Wan turned to face him, squinting. "They were both Jedi," Qui-Gon told him. "They deserve a proper pyre." Obi-Wan looked away.
"Where shall I set course, sir?" asked the navigator.
"Coruscant," Qui-Gon replied. "There's nothing more to be done here."
Qui-Gon found Obi-Wan in their cabin, stretched out on his bunk and staring up at nothing. He leaned back against the door, silent, letting his eyes drift over the lean lines of his apprentice's body, stripped down to leggings. Perhaps he had intended to sleep.
"It was a mistake," Obi-Wan said after a moment. "She sacrificed herself for nothing. Worse, we lost our chance to find out who this person is, what he wants." He closed his eyes.
"His name was Tran Hed-Kli," Qui-Gon said softly. "He was a friend of my Master's. I remember meeting him several times when I was a padawan." Obi-Wan had turned his head and was now staring at him in surprise. Qui-Gon crossed his arms over his chest. "He had a twin brother -- an identical twin -- who was killed not long after they were knighted. My master said he never really got past his brother's death."
Obi-Wan shifted into a sitting position, cross-legged and leaning against the wall. Qui-Gon waited for him to speak, but he didn't.
"He left the Order before I was knighted. I never knew what happened to him, though I do know that he kept in touch with Master Dooku." Obi-Wan's expression clouded. Qui-Gon had spoken of his own master only rarely, and had refused to answer the questions Obi-Wan had asked about the man when he was younger. Qui-Gon simply hadn't wanted to think about it.
"Do you think he's...?" Obi-Wan paused and looked away, leaving the question unasked. "Why did Master Benica want to die?"
Qui-Gon crossed the room and sat on the bunk next to Obi-Wan. "I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose someone as close as a brother. Alissi and Rollan Benica had a tremendous bond, and she must have felt like part of her soul was missing."
"She loved him too much to live without him?"
Qui-Gon smiled at the dramatic choice of words. "Perhaps. I imagine she was protecting her padawans, though, from losing each other."
Obi-Wan sighed. "I can't help questioning the Jedi policy of training twins as a team, if they can't function once separated."
Qui-Gon paused, considering. "But they're quite powerful together, Padawan."
"Is it truly worth it?" Obi-Wan asked. "Alissi commanded her own padawan to kill her. That was not an act of a well-balanced person. It was an act of cruelty, in my opinion."
Emotion rose in Qui-Gon's throat, along with memory of Manya sobbing into his chest. It began to overwhelm him, despite his efforts to swallow it down. He closed his eyes, trying to concentrate on breathing. Obi-Wan's arm slid around him, pulling him into an embrace. He leaned against his padawan, inhaling the scent of him, trembling against his warm body.
It was wrong to feel this way about his own apprentice. He knew it was wrong, and it would only get worse if he allowed himself to continue down this path. He couldn't allow himself to feel so deeply for anyone -- not again. He'd end up like Alissi -- sacrificing himself to save the one he loved, even when it wasn't the most judicious course of action, leaving Obi-Wan to pick up the pieces.
Obi-Wan stroked his hair and sighed. "Oh, Qui-Gon," he said, and kissed his forehead so tenderly it made Qui-Gon's heart lurch in his chest.
He pressed his face into the warm skin beneath him, surprised at the comfort this closeness was providing. His hand rested on Obi-Wan's hip and he moved it to the small of his back in an effort to hold on more tightly. Obi-Wan's hand stroked down his back in response. It felt good to be held, he reflected.
He took a deep breath and found the scent of Obi-Wan's skin nearly overwhelming. Desperate for more contact, he turned his head and kissed the closest stretch of skin. There was a small intake of breath above him, and Obi-Wan's arms tightened. Qui-Gon kissed the skin beneath his lips again, and again.
A dark nipple was within easy reach and he stroked it with the tip of his nose before licking across it experimentally. Obi-Wan whimpered, and the nipple was instantly hard. So easy to take it between his lips and suck lightly, bite just a little, roll the piercing around his tongue.
"Oh, Force... that feels good," he heard, just before a tongue traced the edge of his ear. It sent a chill down his spine.
Qui-Gon continued his ministration to the bud of flesh beneath his teeth, feeling the body beneath him tremble. He became aware of an erection pressed against his belly, and suddenly wanted nothing more than to touch it.
No, there was something he wanted more.
He slid down, taking the leggings with him, and took the hard shaft into his mouth. Obi-Wan keened above him, thrusting his hips up and gripping the bed cover hard in his hands. Qui-Gon tasted, sucked, licked, swallowed. It didn't take long for Obi-Wan to flood his mouth in release, panting. He felt oddly free, despite his earlier reservations. And he couldn't get enough of the taste of Obi-Wan's skin beneath his lips.
"Turn over," he rasped once the boy had stopped trembling. Obi-Wan complied, clearly enthusiastic.
Qui-Gon's tongue was working its way between the cheeks of the gorgeous ass spread before him.
"Something for... in the... bag... fuck..."
Qui-Gon blew a light breath across his entrance, desperately trying to go slowly. His own erection was pulsing, and he knew he could likely come just from doing this, without any penetration at all. He flicked his tongue over the pucker and nearly moaned when Obi-Wan buried his face in a pillow to muffle his cries.
The bag beside the bed did indeed contain lube; likely what Obi-Wan had used on himself days before. Qui-Gon's fingers fumbled with the bottle while his tongue breached his padawan's body, over and over.
He had to pull away to slick his cock, but his hands returned to pull the cheeks apart. He pressed forward steadily, feeling Obi-Wan press back, grunting, until he was fully sheathed.
He paused then, gazing down at the expanse of skin below him. He leaned forward, propping himself on his elbows and forcing Obi-Wan down flat. He rocked his hips, the movement slight.
"You are so beautiful like this," he whispered, mouth hovering over his apprentice's ear. Obi-Wan could only whimper in response. Qui-Gon kept his movements slow and steady, relishing the tightness produced by the position. He sank his teeth into the shoulder beneath him as he felt his orgasm coming, muffling his cry against the skin in his mouth.
Obi-Wan hissed, and Qui-Gon realized he'd bitten hard enough to bruise. He licked the spot he'd injured, channeling healing energy with his tongue until the skin returned to its normal color. Sated and head buzzing in the afterglow, he collapsed, covering the body beneath him.
"Master," Obi-Wan mumbled, voice muffled, "...incredible."
Qui-Gon awakened several hours later, still curled around his sticky padawan. The sense of horror and guilt he felt forced him out of bed and into the sonic shower, where he leaned against the wall and wondered where things had gone so very wrong. When he finally emerged, Obi-Wan was gone.
He spent the next few hours meditating in a quiet corner of the ship, trying to understand how he'd lost control. He knew better than to put himself -- or his apprentice -- in that position. After the disastrous mission, Obi-Wan was confused and needy, and Qui-Gon had taken advantage of that for a moment's pleasure. It was exactly the situation he'd feared, and the realization made him feel sick to his stomach.
The journey back to Coruscant seemed unbearably long. It was only because of the efforts of the five Jedi that none of the Judicials had been shot, and they all seemed stunned by the experience. Qui-Gon occasionally came across one of them, sitting alone and staring out of a port window into the blackness of space. He was offered a small smile when he passed, but no one tried to talk to him.
He couldn't bear to be in the same room with Obi-Wan, and found excuses to leave each time he caught sight of his apprentice. Obi-Wan got the hint fairly quickly and stopped trying to catch him alone. Qui-Gon knew his avoidance of the situation was bordering on juvenile, but the thought of facing Obi-Wan, after what had happened... He was simultaneously embarrassed, ashamed, and regretful. He needed to meditate, to sort this out for himself. Only then would he be able to discuss it rationally with his padawan.
After hours in hyperspace, the lights were turned down to simulate night. Qui-Gon sat at the table in the main hold, staring at his hands for a long time before finally deciding to return to the cabin to try to get some rest. He hesitated outside the door, reaching out to sense whether or not Obi-Wan was asleep.
He wasn't, and the door slid open before Qui-Gon could touch the panel.
"Get some sleep," his apprentice said in the darkness, a hint of irritation in his voice.
Yes, Master, Qui-Gon thought.
"I heard that."
The voice came from the top bunk. Qui-Gon couldn't help but smile at his padawan's thoughtfulness in leaving the bottom bunk free. He'd wondered how he was going how to climb into the top bunk in the dark. He settled down in his clothes, pulling the blanket over him, listening to the rhythmic breathing of his padawan above him.
Of course, he thought, Obi-Wan was sleeping in the clean bed. He snorted at that thought, and then grimaced. He hadn't given any thought to Obi-Wan's feelings about what had happened. He shook his head in the dark, wondering how they would be able to continue to work together after this. Obi-Wan's breathing became shallow above him, and he forced his mind to clear, hoping he could get at least a bit of sleep.
He had no idea what the hour was when he was awakened by the touch of a hand on his cheek. Obi-Wan was sitting beside him, looking down at him thoughtfully. Qui-Gon panicked for a moment, and then forced himself to relax.
"We should talk," Obi-Wan said, pulling his hand away.
He nodded. "I'm sorry about yesterday. I didn't mean to--"
"To make me feel like the biggest mistake you've ever made?" Obi-Wan interrupted.
Qui-Gon winced. "No, not..." He sighed, searching for the right words. "I took advantage of you yesterday. I had no right."
"Why do you keep saying that?" Obi-Wan sighed, near exasperated. "You think me a child, don't you? You think I don't know what I want."
"I know you have just had a very intense experience, and your feelings for me are confused as a result. It was wrong of me to--"
"How can you be so fucking blind?" Obi-Wan said, voice strained. "You've barely seen me for six months. You have no idea what I've experienced, how I've grown and changed. You don't know how I feel, Qui-Gon."
"Part of my responsibility as your master is to help you make the adjustment back to the Order. I've been in your place, Padawan, and I know how confusing it can be." He pushed himself into a sitting position, so he could look into the boy's eyes. "You've had a freedom you've never experienced, and you've done things you may never have an opportunity to do again. It's hard to regain the balance you need as a Jedi after you've lived like that."
Obi-Wan's eyes were hard. "I think you underestimate me, Master. I've never felt confined by the Order. In fact, I look forward to returning to the structure of my life there."
"I'm not underestimating you," Qui-Gon sighed. "I know you, Padawan."
Obi-Wan stood. "Are you so certain?" he asked. When Qui-Gon offered no response, he disappeared through the doorway.
They were met at the landing pad by Mace Windu himself. He didn't smile at them, only nodded in greeting; they were to report before the Council immediately. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan exchanged a glance of irritation. Qui-Gon wanted nothing more than to take a real water shower, preferably steaming hot, before collapsing into his favorite chair with a cup of tea.
He glared at the back of Mace's shiny head as they walked through the corridors of the Temple. Obi-Wan seemed calm, quietly walking a step behind him. He'd expected his padawan to be disoriented, or at least excited about being back at the Temple after all this time. All he felt from him, however, was serenity. It was all Qui-Gon could do not to turn and look at him.
The Council chamber was nearly empty, with only a few members present. Even Yoda was missing, which struck Qui-Gon as odd.
Mace took his seat, and the debriefing began. Qui-Gon explained the events of the last few days, including the deaths of Alissi Benica and Tran Hed-Kli. Obi-Wan remained silent until he was asked to fill in a few details about his undercover mission. They would both be expected to file complete reports in time. The Council seemed to want to hear the details surrounding the loss of a Jedi.
"Aligned with the Dark side, Hed-Kli was," Master Yoda's voice said. Qui-Gon turned to see the old Jedi crossing the chamber, having appeared seemingly from nowhere. Everyone watched as he climbed onto his cushioned seat at the center of the dais. "Turning to the dark, more and more former Jedi are," Yoda continued, large eyes contemplating the floor in front of him.
"Hed-Kli claimed to be working for someone else," Qui-Gon said. "Someone he referred to as his master."
Yoda's eyes met Qui-Gon's. He did not seem surprised by this information. "Disturbing, this is," he said.
"Who would want Jedi padawans?" Mace asked. "What purpose would that serve?"
"If these were Dark Jedi," Adi Gallia interjected, "they may have been interested in using the twins' power, perhaps in converting them to the Dark."
"Wasn't Hed-Kli a twin, himself?" Plo Kloon interjected. "He would understand the nature of that power, and its potential."
"The Sith recruited twins thousands of years ago," Qui-Gon stated. "We are extremely careful in the training of twins even now, precisely because of that potential for power." Obi-Wan turned to stare at him, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Yoda's eyes narrowed. "Extinct, the Sith are."
"But there has been much interest in Sith artifacts these last years," Qui-Gon replied. "If there are former Jedi trying to learn the ways of the Sith, they could be dangerous."
Obi-Wan looked at the floor, expressionless.
"Meditate on this, we will," Yoda replied.
Mace cleared his throat. "The slaver who cooperated with the operation will be held here at the Temple for a few weeks. I imagine a visit from Padawan Kenobi might encourage her cooperation." Obi-Wan nodded in response.
"One more question," Master Kloon said, folding his hands in his lap. "Captain Talik of the Judicial forces reported that a large amount of data was downloaded from the Chermyn's computer after the ship was secured. The data were taken from an encrypted file in a secure subsystem, and the original files deleted." He paused, focusing his gaze on Obi-Wan. "Only a member of the crew would have been able to remove the files."
Qui-Gon's stomach twisted, and he turned to look at his apprentice. Obi-Wan had had time to remove those files. Qui-Gon had sent him off to collect his personal effects before they'd boarded the transport. But why would Obi-Wan have deleted sensitive files from the ship's computer?
Obi-Wan's jaw clenched, and he did not look at Qui-Gon. "I removed some files, Master Kloon," he said.
It was all Qui-Gon could do to remain silent. He stared at his apprentice instead, incredulous.
Kloon did not seem surprised. "Why did you do this, Padawan Kenobi?"
Obi-Wan's voice remained steady. "I'm sorry, Master, but I cannot answer that question. You have my assurance, however, that no vital information about the slaving operation was contained in those files."
"What was contained in those files?"
"I apologize, Master. I cannot divulge that information."
Qui-Gon had never seen his apprentice defy a member of the Council. Padawan, he thought, unable to prevent the spike of intense emotion that passed through him. Obi-Wan flinched when he felt it, but otherwise did not respond. He only stood calmly and kept his eyes focused forward. There was a long silence.
"Very well," Kloon said at last. "You may go."
They bowed to the assembled Councilors and left. The doors had barely closed before Qui-Gon clenched Obi-Wan's arm and dragged him down the corridor, finally pushing the boy up against a wall.
"What are you doing?" he growled, surprised at the intensity of his anger. "Why didn't you tell them what you took?"
"I can't!" Obi-Wan replied, face showing emotion for the first time. "Master, please--"
"Don't give me an excuse, Padawan. I want the truth." He pressed Obi-Wan tightly against the wall -- and almost immediately realized this was a mistake. Obi-Wan was staring at him now, eyes wide with shock. Qui-Gon was losing control of his emotions, and of the situation. He released his apprentice and backed away, frustrated.
Obi-Wan's voice was infuriatingly calm. "I will explain, Master. But in private, please."
Qui-Gon glared at him before turning and stalking to their quarters. Obi-Wan followed silently, several paces behind.
He palmed open the door and stepped into a recently cleaned chamber. Their rucksacks had been placed on the floor in the center of the room. Qui-Gon took a calming breath while Obi-Wan began rummaging through his bag, pulling out a datapad. He keyed up some files and glanced nervously at Qui-Gon before crossing to the computer terminal and uploading them to the machine.
He cued up the first file and turned the monitor towards Qui-Gon.
Qui-Gon's first thought was to pick his jaw up off the floor. His second thought was that he should sit, as soon as possible.
On the screen a 2-D video was playing, showing Obi-Wan straddling his lap -- riding his cock, close-up and in great detail. Obi-Wan touched a button on the panel.
He watched, mortified, as the image of himself picked his apprentice up bodily and threw him onto the mattress before fucking him -- hard. And his onscreen partner was urging him on, describing what he was feeling in graphic detail.
"I found out this recording was made not long before the ship was boarded," Obi-Wan said quietly. He was blushing, which surprised Qui-Gon, for some reason. "I assumed it would be best if it wasn't seen by the Judicals, or the Council." He sighed and pursed his lips. "I imagine it would have found its way onto the holonet within a day if any of the troops had seen it."
"Why..." Qui-Gon's voice cracked, and he forced himself to begin again. "Why didn't you just delete the file?"
"This isn't the only one. There's one of the shower as well." Obi-Wan blushed even further. "I kept it because I thought..." he paused, looking down. "I suppose I thought I'd like to watch it again sometime."
Qui-Gon could only cough in response.
Obi-Wan's expression was pleading, yet determined. "Master, please. I will not turn these files over to anyone. I absolutely refuse. They can punish me if they wish."
"Is it so humiliating?" Qui-Gon retorted, a touch of bitterness seeping into his voice.
"No, of course not," Obi-Wan replied, blinking at him. "It's private. I was forced to share those moments -- which I do not regret -- with a shipful of pirates. I refuse to share you... to share this with anyone else."
Qui-Gon on the video was coming, and he howled, grinding into the body beneath him.
Qui-Gon standing in the room had a painful, guilty erection.
"Padawan, I'm sorry," he sighed. "I should have trusted you. I do wish you'd told me about this before."
"When?" Obi-Wan scoffed. "When you were telling me we'd talk about the sex later? Or when you made love to me on the transport? I certainly wasn't going to bring it up then; you would have run at the first sign of trouble as it was. How about afterwards, when you avoided me for nearly ten hours? Or later, when you reminded me of what a child I am, and of how much I have yet to learn?"
Qui-Gon closed his eyes and sighed. "Obi-Wan--"
"No, you're going to hear this, Qui-Gon. Sit."
Obi-Wan crossed the room and sat on the sofa. He gestured to Qui-Gon's favorite chair, and Qui-Gon complied, steeling himself.
"We've spent six months apart, Master. I have learned a great deal during that time, and I've changed. But not in the way you think." He paused, but Qui-Gon said nothing. "I'm not you, Master. I don't long for the freedom of the galaxy. All I have ever wanted is here, at the Temple." He looked up at Qui-Gon. "All I ask is that you open your eyes. Get to know me again. You owe me that much."
Obi-Wan stood and crossed to the window, gazing out at the traffic flying by. Qui-Gon sighed, not sure what to say.
Had he really underestimated his apprentice? The boy was barely 22, certainly years from knighthood. Before this mission, he never would have expected such open defiance of the Council, or of Qui-Gon himself. Since their botched mission to Melida/Daan and their subsequent repartnering, Obi-Wan had been a model padawan. He'd bent over backwards to meet Qui-Gon's expectations. Qui-Gon hadn't seen such defiance in him for more than five years.
Perhaps that was part of the problem. He associated defiance in his padawan with youthful rebellion. Yet his recent defiance was measured, logical. It made sense. It was not unlike his own occasional acts of rebellion against the Council and the Code.
He'd been deeply impressed by Obi-Wan's leadership and control during the mission. Had his padawan grown up before his very eyes?
"I apologize if I've underestimated you," Qui-Gon managed at last, looking at his hands. "And I'm sorry for my behavior. I should never have led you to believe there could be something more between us than..." He trailed off, and Obi-Wan turned to face him. Qui-Gon sighed. "It isn't that I don't care for you, or that I don't want--"
"I know," Obi-Wan replied, expression intensely sad. "I knew you'd return to celibacy, afterwards. I knew you'd resent me for it, and that I'd ruined any chance of..." His eyes seemed bright, and he looked away. "I don't regret it, though. I knew what I was risking. Even if you hated me afterwards, I couldn't just stand by and watch them abuse you."
Qui-Gon closed his eyes, swallowing a flash of anger. "Did it not occur to you that that would have been easier for me? I could have withstood rape and torture, but you... You violated something they could not have touched."
Obi-Wan made a choking sound, and shook his head. He opened his mouth, but closed it again, and left the room.
Qui-Gon sank to the floor, hoping meditation would ease the pain that suddenly overwhelmed him. It was true, wasn't it? He hadn't wanted it. Obi-Wan had forced it on him, had forced him to give his consent to something he would never had done under other circumstances. He could hardly look at his apprentice now without seeing Obi-Wan kneeling at his feet, shirtless and glittering, and smiling seductively at him and...
And he'd asked Qui-Gon's permission, in a way. But he'd made it impossible to refuse, hadn't he?
Qui-Gon sighed. It was his problem, not Obi-Wan's. His apprentice had done nothing wrong. It was Qui-Gon who couldn't let the memory go, couldn't get his apprentice's mouth and hands and eyes out of his mind. It was Qui-Gon who still wanted it, despite everything.
He would meditate on this at length. He would expose his deepest emotions regarding his apprentice. He would take responsibility for his own behavior, and then he would ask Obi-Wan to forgive him.
The Senate guard motioned for Qui-Gon to enter the cell holding C'Lon. She glanced up as the door opened.
"What do you want?" she scowled.
Qui-Gon looked around the small room. It was much more pleasantly-appointed than the cell on the Judicial ship had been, with a comfortable-looking sleep couch, a small 'fresher unit, and an entertainment console. He noticed it was tuned to a holo-serial.
"I wanted to talk to you about Obi-Wan," he replied.
C'Lon's eyes narrowed, but she nodded, and gestured toward a chair near the sleep couch. Qui-Gon nodded at the guard, who closed the door behind him as he left.
"What about him?" she asked, settling onto the couch.
"You seem to care for him," Qui-Gon replied, sitting. "I'd like to know why."
"It's none of your concern," C'Lon snorted. "I'm under no obligation to provide personal information, you know."
"Of course not," Qui-Gon said, smiling. "This is off the record." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "My padawan has changed a great deal as a result of working for you. I'm trying to understand what happened to him."
She smirked. "What, did he learn a lot of tricks while he was gone, and you're jealous of who might have taught him?" Qui-Gon gave her a long look, and C'Lon laughed. "I see. You're trying to get back into his good graces. Can't say I blame you for that."
Qui-Gon ignored the jibe. "You gave him a great deal of responsibility in your operation. Why did you trust him, when you barely knew him?"
C'Lon's smile faded. "No idea. He probably used one of those Jedi mind tricks on me. Even when I got suspicious, he fed me this story about you rejecting him when he was a kid, and being sent off to work on some planet, then running away and becoming a prostitute." Qui-Gon swallowed, uncertain why Obi-Wan would have chosen that scenario as his cover story. C'Lon was silent for a moment. "He was a good kid," she continued, voice softening. "He cared about the welfare of the slaves, and he did his job well. He saved my life on two occasions." She looked up at Qui-Gon. "And he ain't too rough on the eyes, either."
"I suppose that's true," Qui-Gon smiled.
"He reminded me of... of someone." She frowned. It seemed she'd said something she hadn't meant to.
"Who?" Qui-Gon asked, when she didn't seem about to volunteer the information.
C'Lon sighed and looked up at him, as if trying to make a decision. Her eyes tightened, and she leaned back against the wall. "I was born a slave," she said at last. "I was raised as a house-servant to a wealthy Twi'lek merchant. But he lost his fortune gambling, so I was sold, sent away from my parents, away from my brothers and sisters." She paused, and Qui-Gon watched her face. He extended a tendril of the Force in her direction. She seemed to be telling the truth.
"I was sold from place to place for several years," she continued. "On Malask, I met another slave named Esvan. I'd never expected to fall in love, but I did. We had a child." She paused and looked away. "When my son was old enough to work, he was sold. Esvan was sold not long after that, and I never saw either of them again."
Qui-Gon nodded; he'd heard such stories before. However, most slaves didn't go on to control operations like C'Lon's. "How did you become a slaver yourself?"
"I was sold to a slaver to work as his personal assistant." She hesitated, and Qui-Gon assumed the word personal implied more than C'Lon cared to remember. "As owners go, he was fair, and I was able to work my way up through his organization. He freed me, about twenty years ago. Said I'd earned it. A year later, he was dead, and I inherited his business, so to speak." She held her chin up in a defiant gesture. "I knew how everything worked, and I killed the ones who got in my way. I freed all the human slaves, and thought I'd just sell off the rest, you know? Make enough money to start a new life. Look for my son."
"But the business was more lucrative than you'd imagined," Qui-Gon said.
C'Lon nodded. "It's amazing what you'll do for more money, once you've got a taste for the power it can bring. I'd been raised to believe that humans were better than non-humans, so I thought if I only dealt in non-human slaves, it wasn't really so wrong. All the human slaves I'd known did more important work anyway, and..." She paused, shaking her head. "I'll be the first to admit to my prejudices. It's easier to think of non-humans as less sentient than yourself."
"I suppose." Qui-Gon waited for her to continue. She stared at her hands for a long time.
"Erat is ten years younger than my son would be now. I couldn't help but..." She shook her head, trailing off.
"Do you know what happened to your son?" Qui-Gon prodded, voice soft.
"He was killed by a Jedi," C'Lon replied, voice flat. "At least, that's what his owner told me, just before I put a blaster bolt through his head." She looked up at Qui-Gon, eyes displaying a strange blend of defiance and sadness. "He got in the way. He wasn't doing anything wrong. And nothing happened to that Jedi. My boy was a slave, so his life didn't matter, not even to those who are supposed to be the protectors of the Republic." She looked away, and Qui-Gon sighed. He'd heard stories like this countless times before, and he never knew what to say. "And here I am," she continued, "helping you. If I'd recognized Erat for what he was sooner, I'd've killed him myself. But I got to know him. He's a good man, and I still trust him, despite everything." She looked up at Qui-Gon, her eyes clear. "We do such stupid things in the name of love, don't we? I loved my husband and my son. I spent years telling myself they would have wanted me to have the wealth and power I'd accumulated, that they would've wanted me to do what I was doing. But I saw my son reflected in Erat's eyes, and I saw that he would have been ashamed of what I'd become. I thought I was doing it for them, but I sacrificed their memory, in the end, for my own selfish gain."
I sacrificed her memory, for myself...
Qui-Gon stared at her, unable to speak and completely humbled. Wisdom could be found in such unexpected places, if one only looked for it. Had he learned nothing from Tahl? She had been so willing to love him, and he repaid her that lesson by denying himself the opportunity to love anyone else. He exhaled, overwhelmed with the realization that he'd been wrong -- about everything.
"I want your apprentice to be the one to question me," C'Lon said, straightening up. "I won't cooperate with anyone else. I don't care if they throw me in prison for the rest of my life."
"I'll tell the Judicial inquisitor," Qui-Gon replied, standing. He walked to the door, then paused. "Obi-Wan cares about you, as well," he said, without looking back. The cell behind him was silent as the door closed.
It was a week before Qui-Gon was able to speak to Obi-Wan again. Obi-Wan had seemed willing to give Qui-Gon the space he needed, nodding to him in passing and retreating silently to his room at night. Qui-Gon could sense pain beneath the mask he wore, but he wasn't certain if the pain had to do with him or with the situation with C'Lon.
He spent his time in meditation while his apprentice worked with C'Lon and the Judicial investigators for long stretches of time each day. After a few days of silence, Qui-Gon began to watch his padawan more closely. He spoke with the investigators about Obi-Wan's handling of C'Lon's case. He watched him spar with the twins; Obi-Wan had taken a special interest in the children since their return.
Obi-Wan had indeed changed a great deal in six months. He was more sure and confident, his connection with the Force was deeper, and he seemed to be able to read other beings' emotions and desires with an uncanny accuracy. He'd stayed in shape while undercover, and though his saber technique was rusty, he still moved with the fluid grace Qui-Gon had always admired.
His padawan had become a man, and he hadn't been there to see it happen. Perhaps that had been a blessing, in a way. Perhaps they needed this time apart so that they could renew their relationship. Perhaps it was time for their partnership to change.
On Sixthday evening, he finally found his apprentice meditating in their quarters -- calm, quiet, even serene. Qui-Gon shifted his weight from one foot to the other for a several minutes, waiting. He hated having his own meditation interrupted, but he was feeling uncharacteristically impatient.
"Master," Obi-Wan breathed at last, opening his eyes. Qui-Gon sat on the floor in front of him, relieved. Obi-Wan smiled, though the expression was sad.
Qui-Gon found he could think of nothing to say, despite the fact that he'd been rehearsing words in his mind all day. "How are you?" he managed, finally.
"Fine," Obi-Wan replied, ducking his head. If he could sense his master's unease, he had the grace not to mention it. "I'm worried about the twins."
"They've been returned to the initiate ranks, haven't they?"
Obi-Wan nodded. "They understand, though they can't help but feel affronted. They've had so many experiences the others haven't, and it's difficult to fit in again."
"The Council have not decided how best to continue their training," Qui-Gon noted.
"It's just so terribly tragic," Obi-Wan sighed. "They're angry, and I don't blame them." He hesitated, biting his lip, and then looked up. "I can't stop thinking about what happened. What did Master Benica hope to accomplish with her death?"
"I believe she sensed the darkness in Hed-Kli," Qui-Gon replied. "She guessed what his intentions were, and she panicked. She would have done anything to prevent a dark Jedi from taking her padawans." Qui-Gon paused. "I would have done the same for you."
Obi-Wan was quiet for several seconds, staring at the floor in front of him. "Do you believe he was working with the Sith?"
Qui-Gon nodded. "I know it seems far-fetched, but I am more convinced of it every day. The trail may have gone cold, but we haven't seen the last of the one who wanted those children."
"C'Lon told us everything she knew. Whoever he was, he was quite careful, and covered his tracks well."
"What will happen to her now?"
"My original mission was to infiltrate her operation, since she was so well-connected in the trade. She's been more cooperative than anyone expected. I believe the Judicials have already made some important arrests based on her information." Obi-Wan smiled tightly. "Her sentence will be decided next week, and I've advocated for the minimum: a low-security facility, with counseling and vocational training. I'm certain her past will garner some sympathy." He stood then, and walked to the window, staring out into the brightly-lit traffic lanes. "You said my affection for her might save her. I hope you were right."
Silence stretched out between them, and Qui-Gon wondered what Obi-Wan was thinking. He'd kept his thoughts carefully shielded since their argument a week ago.
"I hope you can forgive me, Master," he said at last. "I realize now how much I hurt you, and that I've seriously damaged our relationship. I know you care for me, despite what I did, and that is enough." He pressed one palm against the glass. "I'll admit I hoped for more, but I'll get over it. It won't get in the way of my training."
Qui-Gon rose and moved to stand at the window beside Obi-Wan, looking at his apprentice's face in profile. He was solid and confident, and strong in the Force. He was intelligent and thoughtful. He still had difficulty containing his anger, but then, Qui-Gon did as well.
And he was stunningly beautiful, framed in the soft light of the city.
Obi-Wan turned to him, surprised. He blinked for a moment and then smiled. "Really, Master. You ought to shield."
Qui-Gon grinned, caught off-guard. "When did you become so adept at picking up thoughts and emotions?"
Obi-Wan shrugged. "I learned a great deal working undercover for six months."
"Yes," Qui-Gon agreed. "You did. I'll remember to be more careful." His apprentice lifted an eyebrow in response. "I owe you an apology, Obi-Wan. I have underestimated you. You constantly surpass my expectations, though, so I should have expected more from you than I did."
Obi-Wan looked out the window again. "May I ask a personal question?"
"Why did you take that vow?"
Qui-Gon sighed and looked out the window as well. "I was frightened. I'd never come so close to losing myself as I did when Tahl died. I saw what it did to you, and I... you needed a master, and you deserved all of my attention. I couldn't spare any for a lover."
Obi-Wan nodded. "I was jealous of her. Part of me was glad when she died."
"I know." They were both silent for several seconds.
"After seeing what Master Benica did for love, I can't help but wonder--"
Qui-Gon cut him off with a gesture. "Don't wonder about the appropriateness of love, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan snorted. "How can I not? Look what my love for you made me do. Look what Master Benica did."
Qui-Gon pursed his lips. "On the transport last week, someone said there are more important things than love. I've since been haunted by that remark, and I've finally decided I disagree." Obi-Wan turned to face him, curious. "Everything we do that truly matters, we do for love, Padawan. There is no other reason to do good, or to do evil, for that matter. It is only when you love someone or something above yourself that you find the strength to do great things."
Obi-Wan pressed his forehead against the transparisteel window. "But are such sacrifices for love worth the pain they cause? Master, I knew you had taken a vow of celibacy, and I also knew that if I were the one to force you to break it, you might never forgive me. I couldn't just let them..." He paused, clenching his jaw. "I'd seen it happen a hundred times, to others, and I couldn't bear the thought. I didn't care if you hated me afterwards. I thought it was better than the alternative."
"It was," Qui-Gon replied, but Obi-Wan didn't seem to hear.
"When you suggested it would have been easier if I hadn't..." He shook his head. "I realized what a fool I've been, and that I should not have put my concern for you above the mission. I nearly blew my cover, and C'Lon would have killed me herself had she discovered the truth."
"Obi-Wan..." Qui-Gon reached for his apprentice's hand and took a calming breath. "I've meditated on my feelings about this at great length. I want you to know I'm not angry about what happened between us. In fact..." He traced his thumb over Obi-Wan's palm, and his apprentice looked up at him. "I'm glad it was you. I know I said otherwise, but... thank you."
Obi-Wan stared at him, as if uncertain how to respond. "I'm... that means a lot."
Qui-Gon took a deep breath. Why was this so difficult? "And I'm glad we had that night on the transport, as well. Despite how I reacted afterwards, I don't regret it."
Obi-Wan swallowed. "Neither do I."
There was nothing for it but to charge ahead and say what he'd been planning to say. Qui-Gon's mouth went dry, and he opened and closed it a few times before finally managing to speak. "I was misguided when I took that vow. I thought I could avoid developing intense feelings for another without a sexual relationship, but I see now that I was being remarkably naïve."
"You're not naïve," Obi-Wan protested.
"I am many things that would surprise you," Qui-Gon replied. Obi-Wan's ears turned an adorable shade of pink. He squeezed Qui-Gon's hand, and Qui-Gon reached out to touch his face. "You're my apprentice, but you're also a man I care for very much. I'm not certain we should be lovers, but... I'm willing to consider the possibility."
Obi-Wan continued to stare at him for a long moment, and then his lips twisted into a smile. "What sort of consideration did you have in mind?"
Qui-Gon fought the urge to grin, and tugged Obi-Wan closer. Light from passing traffic played over his face, making his eyes seem to flash. Qui-Gon could feel him trembling.
"Oh, I don't know," he replied, just before he pressed his lips against Obi-Wan's. Obi-Wan kissed him back, tentatively at first, and then slid his arms around Qui-Gon's body. They remained like that for a long time, their kisses growing more and more intense. Obi-Wan pulled away at last, and buried his face in Qui-Gon's neck.
"Are you sure?" he whispered. "I don't think I could bear it if you woke up in the morning and regretted making love to me."
Qui-Gon kissed his forehead. "There will be things to regret, Obi-Wan, but waking up with you won't be one of them. That much I am prepared to give you."
Obi-Wan looked up, his eyes twinkling. "I hope you're prepared to give me quite a lot more than that." He raised an eyebrow, and the seductive grin on his face was that of Erat Chol.
Qui-Gon laughed, and kissed him again. He felt a smile against his lips, and then he stopped thinking altogether.
FINReal love stories never have an ending.
~ Anonymous ~
This fic was inspired by Terri Hamill's The Jinn Identity. I read it and was amazed by the layers in it, and by the fact that I couldn't figure out what was really going on between the two characters who were so obviously Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. The ending of that fic blew me away, and I remember writing Terri afterwards and telling her she'd inspired me to try to write more complicated stories.
I began writing "The Bodyguard" within a week. The bunny for it was a little scene that had popped into my head, partly inspired by the famous scene in Return of the Jedi in Jabba's throne room. The scene I had in mind was that Qui had been captured by a crime baron of some sort, but Obi had already infiltrated the group. Ironically, Obi was chosen to be the one to torture/rape/seduce Qui-Gon. That scene needed a backstory, and then it needed a resolution. It eventually grew into this fic.
I picked it up and put it down many times over the next twenty months. Were it not for the hard work and encouragement of my betas, Rita, Emila, and Helens, I'm not certain this story would ever have been finished. Each of them encouraged me to keep developing it, and praised and critiqued every new draft. I owe them a tremendous debt!
One of my goals in writing "The Bodyguard" was to create a fic that fits into Star Wars canon as much as possible. For example, Qui-Gon's reaction to Alissi's sacrifice foreshadows his own death years later, as does Obi-Wan's fretting over how padawans come to terms with the death of their masters. The dark Jedi is a friend of Dooku's and is working for Palpatine. Palpatine's interest in Force-sensitive twins is a warning of the danger Luke and Leia might have faced had they been found by the emperor. In fact, one of the side plots of this story is the development of Obi-Wan's belief that twins should *not* be trained together because of the risks involved. This is intended to serve as an explanation for why he later separates Luke and Leia.
I chose to tell the first half of the story from the point of view of a non-Jedi character for several reasons. Part of this was an homage to Terri's fic mentioned above; her innovative use of Qui-Gon's POV was what made the story work for me. Another reason, however, was that I had challenged myself to create a complex, three-dimensional female character who couldn't be accused of being a Mary Sue. I wanted the readers to respect and sympathize with her, despite the fact that she's a slaver! I decided to tell the first half of the story from her point of view because I wasn't certain I could pull it off otherwise. It was also handy to conceal Obi's identity, of course. I liked the potential for erotic tension between Qui and Obi in a situation in which they can't acknowledge each other, and I didn't think that would work so well from one of their points of view. Another side benefit was that I was able to play with the perception of the Jedi a bit, and present an outsider's perspective on the Order in the Old Republic. Erat/Obi subtly manipulated C'Lon throughout the first half of the fic, and it was fun to write those little mind tricks from the perspective of the person being influenced.
By the way, I'm genuinely curious to know what people thought of Erat for the first half of the fic. Was it obvious he was Obi undercover, or did you buy his tale to C'Lon? When did you know he was Obi in some incarnation?
I wanted to write C'Lon as a complex character, and not a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out of a villian. (There are enough of those in GL's universe as it is!) Despite what our government leaders would like us to believe, human beings are not easily classified into "good" and "evil". People make choices that affect their lives, but they almost always believe they are making the best choice at the time. People who become drug mules, or who rob banks, or shoplift, or cheat on their taxes -- they all make choices that make sense to them at the time they made them. It seemed the best way to go, for whatever reason. One of the themes of "The Bodyguard" was that it's never too late to redeem yourself for making an unfortunate choice. C'Lon, Qui, and Obi all learn this lesson by the end of the story. The theme of sacrifice for love was also important, as people may have noticed, and the characters don't agree on whether sacrifice for love is worth the cost or not. This is because I, as the writer, don't think there is an absolute answer to that question. It depends on the person and the situation. Since I wanted this fic to fit into canon, I wanted to show the Jedi as people who understand the complexities of the universe, and don't just view it in terms of black-and-white, or good-vs-evil. C'Lon wasn't so clearly a good person or a bad person. She was simply a human being, who had made choices in her life, many of which she later regretted. And she redeemed herself at the end of the story by trying to make amends for what she realized were bad choices. She also taught Qui-Gon a valuable lesson, one that enabled him to open himself to Obi-Wan at last.
In general, I wanted to write a complex adventure story, one with enough layers that people would see new things in it on a second read -- once they know how it ends. I sincerely hope I've managed to accomplish that to some degree! Thank you for reading it, and please feel free to let me know what you think.