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Note: Many, many thanks to Helens and Rita for rescuing this one! The first version had a dramatically different ending. The live beta was fun, ladies!
Strike. Back. Lunge. Parry. Push. Strike. Forward. Swing. Block. Pivot. Strike.
Strike. Back. Lunge. Parry. Push. Strike. Forward. Block. Shit.
"Concentrate, Padawan Kenobi."
Strike. Back. Lunge. Parry. Push. Strike. Forward. Swing. Block. Pivot. Strike.
Strike. Back. Lunge. Parry. Push. Strike. For-- Whoa!
"Knight Xanatos, shift your weight forward lest you find yourself unexpectedly decapitated."
After two hours of drilling us relentlessly, Master Chefor has had us sparring for another hour. Xanatos and I are fairly well matched, I must admit. Grudgingly.
He's out of practice, though, and he's starting to struggle now. We're both breathing hard, soaked with sweat, all but leggings stripped away hours ago. I'm unbelievably tired, and I can feel Xanatos' exhaustion as well. We gave up shielding from each other at some point, realizing that we would be more likely to survive this ordeal if we worked together. Master Chefor noticed, but only smiled a little.
Xanatos strikes now. I see it coming and block it easily. A flick of my wrist disengages our 'sabers. It's a move that would loosen the grip of a lesser opponent, but Xan anticipated it, so it has little effect. I take advantage of my position to strike again, higher than before. He brings his 'saber up just in time, eyes widening a little in surprise. He's getting tired, and his concentration is slipping.
Determined to end this soon, I advance on him mercilessly.
He deflects blow after blow, but he's backing up quickly, nearly to the edge of the mat now. He tries to sneak in a blow of his own, but he's not quite fast enough. He hesitates, then smiles wryly as he steps off of the mat, bare feet slapping audibly on the duracrete surface. He has conceded.
I smile despite the fact that I know it's not proper to show pleasure at having beaten him again. He's lost or conceded four times to my two. My ego ought to be boosted by the knowledge that I've bettered a knight so senior to me, but I'm too exhausted to contemplate it.
"That's good for today," Master Chefor says, walking towards us. I hide my relief quickly, noting Xan does the same. We turn to face him as he clips off suggestions for each of us. We both struggle to concentrate, nodding politely and bowing when he's finished.
"Thank you, Master." In unison. We both smile.
"Next time," our tormentor continues, "extricate yourselves from each others' minds or I'll have you wear Force-blinds." We nod, both looking slightly abashed. "And I think we'll move up to fifteenth form." My eyes widen slightly. "Padawan Kenobi, have you any experience with that one?"
"No, Master," I stammer.
"Well, you'll have three days to learn, then. I'm sure that Knight Xanatos would be happy to help you." Chefor's dark eyes sparkle.
I swallow. "Yes, Master."
"Until then," Chefor says, nodding his head and turning crisply on his heel.
The moment the door slides closed behind him, Xanatos groans and slumps forward, hands braced on his knees. "I thought that would never end. I had no idea I was so fucking out of shape."
I grin and straighten my posture, though I don't feel much better. "You've been away from the Temple too long, Xanatos. I imagine it will come back quickly."
He raises his head enough to shoot a mock glare at me. I grin in response. We haven't gotten along well so far, but there's something about sharing a difficult experience that brings people closer.
"I thought I was going to throw up once," he mumbles.
"You did look a bit green. Better now?"
"Now that we've stopped? Yes." He stands up and throws his shoulders back, running a hand through his sweat-slicked dark hair. His chest glistens. I find my eyes drawn to his strong torso, thicker and more developed than mine, scattered with dark hair that's just beginning to be sprinkled with gray. I force my gaze away.
The best thing about strenuous activity is that it clears my mind. I haven't thought of Bail once for hours, which is a great relief. I check the chrono on the wall -- just enough time to shower and find a quiet spot to meditate for a few hours. I'm too exhausted to do much else.
Xan is toweling his hair quietly. I begin to pick up my scattered clothing. "Obi-Wan, do you... are you hungry?"
I bend down to retrieve a boot, and turn back to face him. "Well, I..." He's asking for a reason. "Yes, I suppose so. We missed noonmeal."
"Would you like to get something to eat? With me?"
I try not to let the surprise register on my face. Is he asking me out? Or is this just a friendly... thing? "Ummm... sure. I'd like to have a shower first. Should I meet you somewhere?"
He thinks for a moment. "Do you know the O Street Cafe?"
I nod. "What time?"
An hour later, freshly showered, I'm standing outside the door of the O Street Cafe. I haven't been here for years. When I was an initiate, my agemates and I would often come here after exams to gossip and commiserate. It brings back memories -- of a time when I didn't know how cruel a place the universe could be, or what beings were capable of doing to each other for the most trivial of gains. My biggest concern then was whether or not I'd ever become a padawan. Little did I know.
When I step inside I am not transported back in time as I'd expected. The decor has changed dramatically since I was here last, as has the layout of the restaurant. I can only hope the menu has changed as well.
Xanatos is nowhere in sight, so I take a table and scan the menu while I wait. The serving droid brings me a cup of water. What sounds good today? Kilawa sandwich...
"Sorry," Xan announces as he sits across from me. "I ran into your master and he kept me for a moment."
I raise an eyebrow. "Did he?"
Xan smiles coolly. "He wanted to know how our session with Master Chefor went."
"What did you tell him?"
"The truth -- that you wiped the mat with my ass and that Chefor is a fucking lunatic." He grins madly.
I can't help but return it. "You're exaggerating. I thought we were quite evenly matched."
"You're being generous. I do appreciate it." He shrugs. "Your master seemed to like hearing about your prowess with a 'saber, though."
I take a sip of my water, ignoring the double meaning of his words. "You mean our master, don't you?"
Xan signals for the serving droid, leaning back in his chair casually. "Oh, he's not my master anymore. He's all yours." There is something in his eyes that I can't quite identify. He's not jealous. It's something else.
"Xanatos, why did you invite me here?" I pause, realizing that sounded much more hostile than I intended. "We haven't exactly gotten along since you've returned."
"Precisely," he begins, just before we are interrupted by the serving droid. We both order, and the droid wheels away. Xan steeples his hands, elbows resting on the table before him. "We got off to a bad start, Obi-Wan. I apologize for my part in that. I'd like to mend things between us, if possible."
I can't help but smile. This is quite unexpected, though I can't say I haven't been thinking along the same lines. Xan and Qui have certainly been spending a nontrivial amount of time together recently. If it's going where I think it is, I'll have to get used to Xanatos's presence in my life. After all that's happened between us, is it as easy as that? "All right," I say, a bit hesitantly. "Do you think we could begin again?"
He grins, extending a hand. I take it in mine, shaking it in the standard Coruscanti greeting. "Yes," he replies, eyes shining. "And I'd like that very much." We stare at each other for a long moment, neither of us sure what to say next.
"Well," I begin, "we certainly have one thing in common."
Xanatos nods as the serving droid appears with a drink for him. He takes a sip. "I must admit that I'm very curious as to precisely how much we have in common where he is concerned." He glances at me and then looks away again, almost nervously.
"I imagine it isn't so different," I smile, resting my chin in one hand. "I
lusted after the man from the age of fifteen, managed to seduce him when I
was seventeen, and we've shared a bed off and on ever since."
Xanatos swallows, his expression falling a little. "Perhaps we don't have as much in common as I thought," he whispers. He's clearly struggling to maintain his serenity.
I feel my jaw tense reflexively. I should have thought before saying that. I've always assumed they'd been lovers. "I'm sorry. Did I say something wrong?"
"No, no," he says, shaking his head, eyes fixed on the table before him. "It's my problem, not yours."
A long moment passes in uncomfortable silence. My mind spins. What does he want from me? I take a deep breath. "Do you mind if I ask what happened between the two of you?"
"No, I don't mind. When I was 18, I made my feelings clear, and he rebuffed me. He must have felt differently about you than he felt about me." His eyes meet mine tentatively. For a split second, I see the depth of his pain, before he masks it again. I'm not certain he intended for me to see that.
I don't know what to say now. I take a sip of my water. Mercifully, the serving droid brings our food and we have something else to focus on. We begin to eat in silence.
What do I say? Sorry you never got to have him -- let me tell you what you're missing! Sorry that I've had everything you ever wanted, and that I... That I don't want it. I don't love Qui-Gon, but he loves me. Fuck. Does Xan know how Qui feels about me? What does he want from Qui?
"Qui-Gon came to see me a few days ago," Xan says, setting his sandwich aside and folding his hands over his plate. "He was quite concerned about your relationship with your boyfriend."
I swallow hard and glance sharply at him. "What did he tell you?"
"Not much, really. But he was worried that you were getting in over your head -- that it would affect your training." He pauses, watching my expression. I'm shocked, even a little angry to know that my master talks to his former padawan about my personal life. On the other hand, if he's confessing his fears to Xan, maybe he does care about him after all. "Obi-Wan, I've been in your position, and I understand -- more than you know. If you want to talk about it..." He drops off at that.
I take a deep breath. Do I want to talk about it with anyone? Do I want to confess that I've wanted to comm Bail every hour of every day since that night, and haven't out of fear that he'll refuse to accept my calls? Do I want anyone to know how painful it is even to think of Bail? How much I miss him? How many hours I've spent meditating just to maintain the appearance of serenity, to pretend that this breakup hasn't affected me? I press my forehead into my hands and breathe shallowly. Do I trust anyone with my secret desire to disobey my master's direction in this matter? To do what I want, what I know is right for me?
"I'm sorry," Xan whispers. "I didn't mean to--"
"Have you ever been in love, Xanatos? Really, truly in love?" I'm acutely aware that my breathing sounds ragged.
"Yes," he says. "And I wasn't loved in return. It took years for me to overcome that rejection. It still hurts, sometimes."
"And did it interfere with your duty?"
Xan snorts and I look up at him. He shakes his head. "How the fuck do you think I got here? I didn't choose this path. It was my only option. I couldn't bear to be near him again. To see him, to work with him. I..."
"Qui-Gon?" Understanding begins to flicker in my mind.
"He did make love to me, once," Xan continues, "after a horrible mission that proved to be my trial. It meant everything to me, but afterwards, he made it clear that he didn't feel the same." He picks at his sandwich absently. "We parted badly after my knighting, and I left. I wasn't sure I could remain in the Order. I felt betrayed at the time. Now I realize that much of what I felt was because of the trauma I'd experienced. I was vulnerable, and he didn't mean to take advantage of me."
Many, many things suddenly make sense to me: the way Qui has been so careful with me for years, his reluctance to have sex with me at first for fear that I would get hurt, his intense fear that I would fall in love with him. He has wanted to protect me from himself, from what he thinks he did to Xanatos.
And then, it occurs to me that Qui-Gon may not be right about my relationship with Bail. He's comparing me to Xanatos -- perhaps he thinks I'll flee the Order the way Xan did years ago. He doesn't even know what my relationship with Bail is like! He may be my master, but he is in no position to judge my feelings for Bail. He doesn't trust that I can handle it. And all because Xan couldn't handle it when he was in my position.
No, that isn't fair. Qui-Gon rejected Xanatos. He didn't love him in return. Bail does love me -- I am certain of that. And even if we cannot overcome our current problems, Bail is not a Jedi. I won't have to see him again if I don't wish to. Xanatos, on the other hand, would have had to see Qui-Gon regularly, perhaps even work closely with him. His situation was entirely different from mine.
Hope washes through me and I'm seized by an urge to run to Bail's apartment right now, to find him and tell him how I feel. Of course -- it's the middle of the day. He's probably in committee meetings right now. Tonight...
I shake myself back to the present, struggling not to smile. "Thank you," I say. Xan looks quite confused. "You've just clarified many aspects of my relationship with Qui-Gon." I let myself smile a little, trying to rein in my sudden excitement.
He narrows his eyes slightly. "I'm glad to hear that."
This surge of positive feelings emboldens me, and I smile a little wider as I pick up my sandwich again. "So, what about you and Qui-Gon now? It's been ten years, after all. You two seem quite friendly lately."
He tries to look shocked and fails, breaking into a rather silly smile. "Is it so transparent?" I nod, taking a bite of my sandwich. He sighs. "I still care for him, Obi-Wan. And I know he still cares for me. As a man now, not as his padawan."
"And you? Have you forgiven him for the past?" I'm pushing here, and I know it.
He doesn't seem to mind, though. "Yes, I think I have," he says, eyes going cloudy for a moment. "Do you have any objections? I don't want to create a problem between the two of you."
I wince slightly, wondering if Xanatos knows about my immature behavior with Qui's lovers in the past. "I want him to be happy," I manage, feeling strangely emotional. "You can give him what I can't." I wish I could love him the way he loves me. Despite the "rules" about attachments, it would simplify our lives a great deal. But I can't will myself to love someone, or not to love someone. I realize that now. Some things are beyond my control. Perhaps that is a lesson Qui fears I'm not ready to learn. Perhaps that is why padawans are forbidden to love this way.
Xanatos nods, and I wonder if he has sensed what I was thinking. He pushes away from the table slightly. "What are you going to do about your senator?"
My turn. "I don't know. At the moment, we're not speaking, and it's tearing me apart. I can't... I need to talk to him. I need to know where I stand with him." My voice drops to a whisper.
Xan nods, and watches me for a long moment before smiling slyly. "I'd be happy to keep your master occupied tonight, if that would help."
"It would, actually," I reply dryly. "How selfless of you."
He laughs. Xanatos and I -- friends. Who would have thought it possible?
The transport ride to Bail's building is incredibly long, made worse by the fact that a large group of teenagers find it funny to keep signaling the driver to stop. At every possible fucking stop. I seriously consider using a Force suggestion on them. I'd bet even Bail would think it was justified in this situation.
At long last, the transport stops at Bail's building. I glare at a few of the kids on my way out the door, but even Jedi robes don't seem to command respect from Coruscanti youth. One of them yells out an epithet as the bus pulls away. I roll my eyes in mild disgust.
The security guard in the lobby smiles at me and nods me through to the lifts. A good sign -- at least Bail hasn't told them not to let me in. As the lift climbs higher, the fluttering of my stomach increases exponentially. What was I thinking, just coming here, unannounced? I should have commed him. I should have tried to talk to him. This was a terrible idea.
The lift doors open and my feet carry me down the hall to Bail's door. I stand there for a long time, hesitating. What will I do if he won't see me? What will I say then? I've rehearsed my speech a thousand times in my head, but what if I forget everything when I see his face?
I raise my palm to the door chime, stilling my features and staring straight into the camera. In the past, I typically plastered on a wicked grin for that camera. Once I even pulled my cock out of my pants and stood there pulling myself off, as a joke. Bail was horrified, of course. The hallway was empty at the time. I still think he over-reacted.
What if he isn't even home?
I take a deep breath and palm the chime again.
"What are you doing here?" I hear through the speaker.
"Bail, I..." Fuck. What was I going to say again? "Please, I need to talk to you. I need to see you."
"This isn't a good time, Obi-Wan."
"I'm sorry. I should have commed first, but I... Please, Bail, just for a minute?"
I hear a sigh and a long pause. Finally, "All right. Give me a moment."
To say I feel relieved is an understatement. I wait, feeling even more nervous than before. What was I going to say to him again? That I'm sorry. That I miss him. That I love him. No, not that. I couldn't bear it if he didn't say it back.
The door slides open and Bail gestures me in. He looks tired, disheveled -- as if he hasn't been sleeping much. He doesn't look at me, but turns and walks to the sofa. He sits, elbows braced on his knees, staring at the floor. I walk slowly to the sofa and sit on the opposite end, a bit gingerly. I don't quite feel welcome here.
He says nothing. I suppose he's waiting for me to start. I look around the room, feeling overwhelmed. I've spent a lot of time here, and most of it quite pleasantly. This sofa... if I stare long enough I'm sure I'll see stains. Oh, don't think about that now...
I turn my gaze to Bail. His hair is at an unruly stage, not quite grown out enough to be elegant, but long enough to tangle fingers in. Tight curls stick out in several directions, probably because he's been mussing it, twisting it with his fingers. He always does that when he's nervous. He's dressed casually, in a simple shirt and slacks. His feet are bare. He turns his head to look at me.
His large brown eyes are sad and tired as he locks my gaze. He smiles a little. "Well?"
"Oh, Bail..." And I can't speak. I can't say anything. I just stare at him, suddenly very afraid that I'm going to cry.
"Ben, I... I know," he whispers. "I have missed you horribly. It's been hell these last few days." He looks away again. "But if you feel half of what I do, you should turn around and leave right now."
"Of course I..." I blink, mind still blank. "What?"
He turns to sit sideways on the sofa, facing me. His hands are trembling just a tiny bit. "You know what I'm talking about. This has gone beyond what you're allowed to... You can't fall in love with me."
"It's too late for that," I whisper. I'm sinking now. I feel like I'm sinking. This can't be happening.
"No, it isn't too late. You'll get over me. We just have to stop now, before..." His voice breaks slightly and he pauses. "Please, Ben. It's for the best, and you know that."
"Bail, please. I can't just stop feeling this way. I need you."
"Don't make this any harder than it has to be."
"I'm sorry." I reach for his hand out of habit, and he allows it briefly before pulling away. "I'm sorry for everything. For the reporter, and for not understanding how you felt. You were right about Force suggestion. I've been thinking about it quite a lot, and--"
"Just... stop, please. We don't have a choice, and you know it. I've been selfish to allow it to get this far, and I regret that immensely." His expression is one of sad determination, and I feel my stomach twist. He stands and takes a step back. Silence draws out between us. I can't look at him. I can't process the meaning of his words, not yet.
I take a deep, calming breath and release it slowly. "I realized something today, and I wanted to tell you."
He doesn't look up from poking at a spot on the rug with his toe. "What's that?"
"I've been taught my entire life that emotional attachments are dangerous. We are encouraged to pursue physical pleasure for its own sake, even take lovers -- the more, the better. But we're supposed to be wary of falling in love. It's supposed to make us feel unbalanced and out of control."
"And you don't feel that way?" Bail asks.
"Sometimes I do," I continue, "but it isn't the way I thought it would be at all. I know that what I feel for you is a good thing, a wonderful thing. It isn't destructive or dark. It isn't making me obsessive -- well, perhaps it is, just a bit. But it doesn't interfere with my duties, or with my training."
"What's the point?" Bail asks, sounding very tired.
"The point is... They're wrong, Bail. They're wrong about love."
He looks up now, a skeptical expression on his face. "Oh, that's rich! Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi padawan, has decided that particular bit of Jedi wisdom, probably centuries old, is wrong?"
Well, I have to admit it sounds fairly idiotic, put that way. "I believe our situation is highly unusual, Bail. We are an exception."
Bail crosses his arms over his chest and sighs. "Why is that? Because we love each other more than any two people possibly could? No one could begin to understand the way we feel? What we have is special?"
I hesitate at his tone, not certain if I should feel joy because he's telling me he loves me, or irritation because he's making fun of my inexperience. He comes from a culture that understands the nature of love in a way I may never be able to. I decide to take the bait.
"Yes, it is. I love you, Bail." His expression softens immensely, though his eyes are firmly fixed on the floor. It felt good to say it, I must admit. "But that's beside the point. Most Jedi don't have relationships outside the Order. It isn't a problem for most, but... All Jedi are responsible for the training of a padawan -- not merely his or her master. A serious relationship between a padawan learner and anyone of higher rank could be problematic. To complicate matters further, it's actually quite rare for us to be in one place for any length of time. I have very little control over my life at this point. The only person I have regular contact with is my master. And..."
And he has fallen in love with me. The rules don't say he can't do that, now do they? Just that I am not allowed to fall in love with him. Have his feelings disrupted my training, or his duties? How are his feelings for me different from my feelings for Bail? Why aren't there rules against that?
"I don't understand," Bail says.
I snort. "Neither do I, now that I think about it. I've never questioned that particular rule until recently. I can no longer justify it to myself."
"Have you talked to your master about this?"
"He knows about you, and he knows how I feel about you."
"And he approves?"
I sigh. "Well, not exactly."
Bail walks to the glass door leading to the balcony and gazes out at the skyline below. The sun has set, and the red glow of the atmosphere bathes the room in warmth. I cross the room to stand beside him, gazing out across the city. I can see the spires of the Temple, glistening pink against the glittering backdrop of spacescrapers. I vividly recall the first night he brought me here, and the way he kissed me standing out on the terrace while the wind blew fiercely around us. I close my eyes and exhale, wanting so badly to wrap my arms around Bail, to press my body against his, to hold him...
He turns to me, eyes glistening. "What would you have me do, Ben? It hurts to be this close to you and not to be able to touch you. But I won't ruin your future. You won't be a knight for years, and by then..." He looks away. "By then, who knows where we'll be?"
"All the more reason to stay together now," I whisper. "We don't know what might happen, but I know that my feelings for you are not disrupting my training, or my work. If nothing else, I've felt more alive since I've known you than ever before. My connection with the Force has grown because I'm learning how to feel for the first time. I wish I could explain."
Bail turns to face me, clasping my shoulders with his hands. I know his expressions well, and I can tell he's struggling to keep control of his emotions. "Yes, Ben, I wish you could explain it to me. Explain how it is that we can continue seeing each other, even though it's not allowed. What would happen if your master found out?"
"I don't know. But he didn't know until I told him, so I know we could keep it quiet." I can hear the tone of desperation in my voice.
Bail raises one hand to stroke my cheek. I lean into his touch, closing my eyes, reeling from his proximity. "You would lie to your own master? Listen to yourself, Ben. We can't do this."
I embrace him and hug him tightly, clinging desperately to him. He hugs me back, and I feel him trembling. I don't know what to say. He's right. I know he's right. I can't lie to Qui-Gon. How did I imagine I could defy him? What was I thinking? I clench him tighter, knowing that this is it. I need to turn around and walk through that door. I need to find the courage to let go of him and walk away. I have to, for both our sakes.
Bail kisses my neck. His face has been buried against my shoulder, and now his lips press softly against my skin. What would he do if I...? I turn my head just a bit, enough so that our lips meet. I kiss him, and he tenses for just a moment, hesitating before pulling me hard against him. It's quite suddenly a crushingly intense and emotional kiss, almost bruising in its power. Our tongues wrestle roughly, battling for dominance in this even as we've both been trying to win this debate. The taste of him is amazing -- so comforting and familiar after the last few days, when I never thought I'd get to do this again. We grope blindly at each other, lost in a hormonal daze.
I have never wanted anything more than I want him now. I unfasten his trousers and grasp his erection in my hand, stroking almost violently. He leans back against the glass, face contorted in a mix of pleasure and shock. It doesn't take long before he grunts and comes in my hand, breathing hard, eyes glazed over.
I'm aching now, and I'm certain my face shows it. He drops to his knees so quickly I think he's fallen, and I feel his mouth engulf my erection before I even realize he's tugged my leggings down to my knees. I'm overwhelmed by the moment, by the sheer carnality of this -- this is not what I expected tonight. My fingers lace into his curls and I hold his head still, fucking his mouth roughly. He squeezes my ass, encouraging me.
I come so quickly that I almost don't make any noise. I shudder and release my grip on his head. Bail rocks back on his heels, licking his lips and staring up at me. His hair frames his face wildly, and his eyes are open wide.
That took all of two minutes.
I laugh then, the surprise and the implications of that moment finally catching up with my addled brain. That had to have been the quickest fuck of my entire life!
He grins and stands up before me, taking my face in his hands. "You have the most wonderful laugh," he whispers, just before he kisses me. It's a slow, sweet kiss, much more in line with what I was expecting from him tonight. I can taste myself on his tongue. My knees buckle.
"Are you all right?" he asks, pulling away and staring at me.
It's then that I realize I'm crying. "Yes," I reply. "I'm perfect."
He smiles and takes a step backwards, extending his hand. I take it and he leads me to his bedroom. I follow without thought, holding my unfastened leggings up, frightened and relieved and happy all at once.
Why did he do that? Why are we doing this? He was right, and I was ready to walk out the door and not look back. I was ready to say goodbye.
After tonight, it really will be too late, won't it?
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