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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.

"There's...  ohhhh..."

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.