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.