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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.

Ah.  Sound.  

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?"

"Of course."

"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.  


Real love stories never have an ending.

~ Anonymous ~

Chapter End Notes:

Author notes:

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.