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I've always thought I was no good at subtlety. I've been only marginally better at subterfuge.
For Bail's sake and mine, I'd better prove otherwise today.
"Ready?" Qui asks.
I look up at him and drop the datapad I've been studying on the couch. If by now I don't know everything I need to know about Alderaan, Caamas, and the proposed colony on Thonn, I never will. I stand up. "Yes, Master, I'm ready," I answer.
I've been trying to be the model padawan for the last few days. After I went to Bail and told him how I felt about him, keeping my feelings hidden has been difficult. I'm not angry with Qui anymore, but I am frustrated. I know he's jealous at times. I honestly don't know if there's any way for him to separate his feelings for me as his lover from his feelings for me as his padawan.
If I honestly believed falling in love with Bail would jeopardize my career, I could have walked away from him. Apart from that one terrible day, after I believed I was never going to see Bail again, I've been fine. I haven't missed classes. I've been doing well against Xan in our sparring sessions. I've been doing my job well in the classes I'm teaching, despite the fact that some of my younger students are running me ragged. I wish I'd been that talented at eleven standard years.
I miss sleeping with Bail. It's too risky now. I'm not supposed to be seeing him at all, and Qui will notice if I don't come home at night. I dress up as if I'm going clubbing; I wear the tight shirts and the eyeliner and the black nerf-hide leather cuffs that ought to mark me as going out to fuck and be fucked. And instead, I go to Bail, and we make love.
I understand why this is thought to be dangerous. It's already making me a liar by omission. But Bail and I have agreed to be careful, careful enough to be certain that neither of us get into trouble over it.
Bail doesn't know that Qui wanted me to end things. I justify not telling Bail about that because I don't know for certain whether Qui was speaking as my master or as my lover, and Bail doesn't need to be caught between my desire to see him and a jealous lover's demands. It wouldn't be fair to him.
I remain lost in thoughts as Qui and I head out of the Temple and catch a transport, heading over to the Alderaani senate office. Qui clears his throat at one point, and I'm reminded of his presence enough to wonder whether I should say something to him. We're trained in various forms of small talk, for fitting in on various planets. Perhaps I can think of something.
"How do you suppose--?"
"I've been wondering--"
We both stop, and laugh a bit. I gesture with a hand. "Go on," I tell him.
He smiles at me. "I've been wondering," he repeats, "how your sparring with Xanatos is going."
I snort. "You could always come and watch. Master Chefor would probably love help finding our weaknesses."
"I think my presence there was a bit distracting last time," Qui says. There's a slight hint of a smile on his face, though. "Perhaps I could ask Master Chefor for his holovid recordings, though. He's quite pleased with the progress Xanatos is making."
I groan. Xan has been matching up better and better against me as he grows more and more comfortable with his lightsaber. When we first started, I could take him four times out of six -- five if it was a really good day. After a week, it's generally even, and he took four out of six the last time we sparred. I shouldn't be too upset about that. I remind myself that he's a knight and twelve years my senior. But that much progress in only a week? I'll have to try to keep from grousing too much when he's advanced far enough past my level that I'm no longer of any use to him.
"Xanatos has been improving rapidly," I tell Qui, agreeing with Master Chefor's assessment. "And sparring with him has been good for me, too. It's difficult. It's a challenge. I'm actually enjoying it."
His face lights up a bit. "Are you? I'm glad."
I think I understand that look. "Qui... despite any initial animosity between the two of us, Xanatos and I are getting along fine now." I smile at him, eyes warm. "We have quite a bit of incentive. We both care about you."
He smiles at that, but says nothing for a while. Finally, the transport stops at the senate office, and we disembark. A pair of aides are there to greet us and walk us to the conference room. We follow them, assuming our serene roles as Jedi negotiators. It's quite the transition after playing joking lovers in the transport. Qui makes it look effortless, which seems a little strange. Isn't he the one who has difficulty sorting out our relationship as lovers versus our professional relationship? For me, it's a quick transition. The difficult part is going to be seeing Bail -- after Senator Antilles's amusing efforts at matchmaking, I'm allowed to be friendly with Bail, but after Qui told me not to see him anymore, I'm not allowed to be too friendly. The balance will not be easy.
Bail and Senator Antilles are there already, and they stand, both of them smiling in greeting. Qui bows slightly, and says "Greetings, Senators" in the most formal tone possible. I follow his lead, greeting the senators with the same tone. I know he's friends with Senator Antilles; this is more detachment than is truly needed here. I suspect it's for my benefit -- keeping a professional tone with everyone would make it easier for me to treat Bail as a colleague, and not a lover. Or from Qui's perspective, not a former lover.
We take our seats and make small talk until the senators from Caamas and the two Jedi Qui requested to represent them arrive. When they do, all four of us stand up to greet the four others.
"Honored Senator Antilles," trills the first of the Caamasi. He's fairly tall, covered in golden, downy fur, with striking purple stripes on his face. He comes forward and bows, and it looks surprisingly friendly -- not stiff at all.
Senator Antilles matches the bow with a smile. "Honored Senator Bhakar. May I present the junior senator from Alderaan, Bail Organa, and Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi?"
"You may, you may," replies Bhakar, "and this is junior senator Lhu-Darang," indicating his associate, "and our very helpful Jedi, Knight Aubris Feln and Padawan Ta-Llyith." I don't know either of the Jedi, but I think they're in Qui's diplomacy seminar. Knight Feln is striking -- he's probably about Xanatos's age, and he's tall, blond, and very handsome. He has intense hazel eyes.
Hazel eyes which are focused on Bail. Interesting.
Everyone nods and bows, and we all take seats around the table. Qui has met with Senator Antilles twice since our initial meeting -- both times without me and Bail. Our presence really wasn't necessary; the negotiations have been as easy as negotiations ever get. The Caamasi and the Alderaani are very much on the same page; they want the same things and their needs are well-matched. I haven't seen Bail professionally since our first meeting, and now that the negotiations are all but over, I won't be seeing him this way again, in all likelihood. In some ways, that's a relief. On the other hand, I'll miss Senator Organa. He looks damn hot in his senate robes.
Maybe Feln thinks so, too. He can't seem to take his eyes off Bail. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he's checking Bail out.
And Bail seems to think so, too. He stiffens a bit with Feln's eyes on him, the way he did when I got too close on occasion, before he decided it might not be so bad getting involved with a padawan. I don't need to worry about this -- Feln isn't going to interrupt the negotations to make a move on Bail, and even if he tried to make a move on Bail later, Bail certainly wouldn't respond. Bail is accustomed to monogamy, even if I'm not. Feln doesn't have a chance.
Bail keeps looking at Feln and glancing away. Looking at him and then looking deliberately elsewhere. His eyes keep sliding back to Feln. He looks a bit tense, though. Frowning. I should be able to tell what that expression means, but I can't, quite. He's uncomfortable for some reason.
Force. Don't tell me he's actually interested in Feln.
The negotiations are short, which is good, because I'm a bit unsettled by Bail's reaction to Feln. I barely need to be here; I think the junior senators and the padawans are mainly here as a formality. All the details have been sorted out in advance; all we need to do is witness as the senators draw up the finalized treaty, which they'll send back to their home planets. I spend the negotiations watching Bail and trying to school my features into something resembling detachment. Relax, Kenobi. Nothing's going on here.
The Caamasi senators, Feln, and Llyith are ready to go first; they head out the door as soon as the treaty has been drawn up and witnessed. Qui and Senator Antilles make some small talk, and Bail remains silent. I wait, watching, until Qui turns to me and inclines his head, a sign that he's ready to go. Senator Antilles walks him to the door. I hesitate, and Qui frowns slightly.
"A moment, please, Master," I say.
At first, I think he's going to object. But then Senator Antilles glances over his shoulder at Bail and me, and he smiles. He claps a hand on Qui's shoulder. "Give them a moment, Qui-Gon," he says. "I can keep you occupied."
Qui smiles a bit at that. "A round of drots?" he asks. "Do you still have the drots board in your office?"
"But of course. Only you must swear not to cheat."
Qui turns back to me for a moment. I can tell what he's thinking -- this is the last time I'll be seeing Bail. This is the last chance I'll have to say goodbye to him. He nods at me, giving his consent, and then turns back to Senator Antilles. Eyes twinkling, teasing each other, the two of them head off, leaving me alone with Bail. The door slides shut behind them.
"That was not a good idea," Bail says immediately. "Don't you think your master will be -- suspicious?"
"I suspect he thinks I'll be saying goodbye," I tell Bail. I close the distance between us and pull him into my arms. He's holding himself rigid, so I don't push; I just hold him. "What's the matter?"
"Nothing," Bail murmurs. He takes a deep breath, lets it out, and puts his arms around me in return. "Nothing at all."
"Did Knight Feln's attention bother you?"
He looks at me, a bit startled. "What do you mean?"
"I saw the way he was watching you. Not used to having to fend off Jedi? Other than me?" I tease.
He shakes his head. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Why not?" Something's wrong here, and I don't know what it is. But obviously this is more than Bail being upset about getting attention from another Jedi. "Bail, tell me. What is it?"
"It's only that I've worked with Feln before," he says. There's an odd tone in his voice. I can't identify it.
I crook a finger under his chin and turn him to look at me. "When was this?" I ask softly.
He meets my eyes for a long moment. "Five years ago," he tells me. "On Alderaan."
Five years ago. On Alderaan.
He can see it. The instant I figure it out, he can see it. I don't know what my expression looks like, but it makes him pull away from me and take two steps back. "Ben..."
"Feln. It was Feln. He's the padawan you were involved with on Alderaan. The one who used Force-suggestion to convince you into his bed." My throat burns with every syllable. It's all I can do to keep talking. "Aubris Feln," I repeat. "Force."
"Ben, please..." Bail starts. "Don't do this. Whatever it is you're thinking, whatever it is you're planning -- don't. It was a long time ago. It's not worth dragging up again."
"What do you want me to do?" I ask him. "Let him go, knowing what I do? I should take this up with the Committee of Ethics. He's used Force-suggestion against an innocent, for no purpose, and that's unacceptable."
"It was five years ago. He might not even remember me."
"Bail, for fuck's sake--!"
"No, listen!" Bail fires back. "I don't want to do this. I don't want to get wrapped up in this again. I want you to forget about it."
"Please, Ben. Our part of the negotiations is over. I won't have to see him again. It's all right."
"It's not all right!" I seethe, keeping my voice down, but only with a great deal of effort. "Bail, he raped you." And a horrible thought occurs to me: "And it might not have been just you. How many other missions has he gone on, do you think? How many other innocents has he seduced, using the Force? We don't know. But he's dangerous. He can't be trusted. Please, Bail -- let me file charges with the Temple's Ethics Committee. Let me stand with you while you file charges--"
"I am not filing charges with anyone!" Bail hisses. "I don't think you understand at all. The affair with Aubris was at least partially consensual, and it is a very embarrassing part of my past. If I actually make a public spectacle of it, it could be extremely uncomfortable for me back on Alderaan. I can't take that risk, and I don't want to take it. I don't want anything more to do with Feln, and the easiest way to get rid of him is to pretend he doesn't exist."
I reach out for Bail again, putting my hands on his arms. "Bail -- he hurt you." I struggle for calm, but it's eluding me. "I can't just let him get away with it," I tell him, my voice shaking.
He stares at me for a few seconds, then shakes his head. "I don't want any part of it."
"I don't want any part of it," he repeats, more firmly. He stops for a moment and grits his teeth, hissing out a breath. "Whatever you have to do for the sake of the Jedi, you go ahead and do it. But don't ask me to get involved. I can't. I'm sorry." He pulls away from me, again, and stalks out of the conference room.
I feel as if there's a knot in the pit of my stomach. How can he not want to get involved? How can he say it doesn't really matter? How can he have been so hurt, and yet want to do nothing about it? It doesn't make any sense.
My mind spins and whirls as I walk out of the conference room. Qui notices how distracted I am, but he doesn't say anything. He gets me into a transport, and at first, we say nothing to each other. I meet his eyes after a time, and begin, "Qui, I need to tell you something."
"I don't want to hear it," he snaps.
"No, you don't understand. It's about Bail, and--"
"Padawan." Firmly. "We have already discussed your affair with Senator Organa. I was willing to give you a moment this afternoon, but that is all I'm willing to give you. You are not to see him in the future." His eyes are like ice on me. "This conversation is over."
I stare at him. He won't listen. If it's about Bail, he doesn't want to hear it.
Damn. I really needed his advice...
I turn away and look out the side of the transport. I should have figured. Well, at least there's one other person I can go to, someone who knows about Bail and who's already proven willing to give me advice. Odd as this seems, I need to find Xanatos.
T'nell smiles. It starts slowly -- the corners of his lips turn up just a bit, curling upwards almost against his will, stretching his lips thin over his teeth until he must finally part them and show the barest glimmer of white. His blue eyes, so like Qui-Gon's, are fixed on mine. He raises one dark eyebrow as the smile gradually becomes a grin.
"Well, what?" I return, expression as blank as I can manage.
"You know what."
"T'nell, I have no idea what you're talking about." I take a sip of my drink.
He snorts and rolls his eyes slightly, then signals the bartender for a refill. He sighs dramatically when he turns back to face me. "You can't leave it there. What happened after that?"
I allow myself to smile. "Nothing happened after that. He went home, and I went to bed."
"You can't be serious," he says, almost laughing. "You expect me to believe that after a wonderfully romantic dinner, followed by an evening of stimulating conversation, after which you returned to your quarters, drank lots of wine, and then had this amazing intellectual discussion about the transcendence of ancient Brelitian moral philosophy -- this incredibly perfect night with the man you've been in love with your entire life, and you didn't even fuck him?"
I grin mischievously. "Debating the relevance of R'lothian's fourteenth postulate is not only intellectually exhilarating; it's also exhausting. Who could fuck after an evening like that?"
T'nell's drink arrives just as he throws his hands up in a gesture of frustration. The bartender barely moves out of the way in time, sloshing some of the ale on himself as he steps back quickly. Embarrassed, T'nell grins shyly at the large, very grumpy man and hands him a rather large number of credits.
"Sorry 'bout that," he says, taking the dripping glass from the glowering bartender. "Keep the change, eh?" He turns back to me and shrugs, as if apologizing for his own clumsiness, then continues the conversation. "I could! Hells, I've fucked the man several times, and let me tell you -- you're missing out. What's the big deal, anyway? It's just sex!" He shakes his head and chugs half his drink.
I watch the line of his throat move as he drinks, an image of him swallowing Qui's cock filling my mind. The thing I cannot explain to someone T'nell's age is that it isn't just sex. Not for me; not with Qui-Gon. It never was and it never will be. He doesn't yet know what it's like to be in love, and how different sex is when you are -- how intense, how powerful. He isn't supposed to know, and for good reason. I like T'nell, and he's been a good friend to me, but I can't explain this to him. As much as I would love to talk to someone about it, as much as I need to explain my feelings and my actions -- I can't with him. He simply can't understand.
A hand touches my shoulder, and I turn my head to see Obi-Wan standing beside me. He attempts to smile, but that doesn't hide the fact that he is unusually tense. It occurs to me that Obi-Wan might understand precisely how I feel.
I smile warmly at him before turning back to T'nell and continuing the conversation. "He isn't an anonymous trick in a bar," I say. "He's my friend, and I care about him. It's been hard enough getting to this point."
T'nell grins. "I'll bet it's been hard!"
I roll my eyes. "I'm not going to fuck this up again. I'll only get hurt if I do. You should know, as much as anyone, how seriously I take sex."
"Seriously? I can't even look at carney fruit without getting an erection, thanks to you." T'nell smiles slyly at me, then turns his attention towards a bemused Obi-Wan. "Hey, you -- don't I get a kiss?" Obi-Wan complies, stepping forward into T'nell's arms. He appears to loosen up a bit under T'nell's ministrations. That boy is a damn good kisser.
When T'nell releases him at last, Obi-Wan turns and nods at me in a belated greeting. He seems calmer, but not as affected by T'nell's efforts as I would have expected. "I seem to have interrupted a private conversation," he says, glancing back and forth between us.
"Well, it can't be terribly private if we're having it in a bar," T'nell quips, head tilting to the side.
"You, as usual, are ever so discreet," I retort.
"Xanatos was telling me all about his wonderful evening with your master a few nights ago," T'nell says.
"Oh, really?" Obi-Wan manages a genuine smile at last. "How did it go?"
Apparently Qui-Gon has said nothing about it to his padawan. Why do these boys feel this need to pry into my life? I sigh and pick up my drink again.
"That bad, eh?" Obi-Wan asks.
"No, it wasn't bad," I reply. "It was perfect."
T'nell swats me. "They haven't had sex yet," he scoffs. "And he doesn't think that's weird!"
Obi-Wan's forehead wrinkles slightly. He's quite adorable at the moment, which seems odd since I've regarded him mostly as an annoyance recently -- the perfect padawan who wiped away all vestiges of me in Qui-Gon's life. So perfect that Qui took him to his bed. Almost four years ago. Despite his ardent belief that such relations between masters and padawans were inappropriate. Despite their age difference. Despite what happened between him and me.
I take a few large sips of my drink, forcing my irritation back down. Friends. We're friends now.
"Well, Bail and I didn't have sex right away," Obi-Wan says, eyes a bit distant. "What's weird about that?"
T'nell throws his hands up in mock defeat. "Well, the two of you are currently in very fucked-up relationships. Who am I to try to talk sense into either of you?" He finishes his drink and returns the empty glass to the bar. "I need to get going. We're shipping out pretty early in the morning."
I nod, releasing all of my irritation at once. T'nell and his master are leaving tomorrow to help negotiate a cease-fire between two systems. Though it isn't any more dangerous a mission than most, one should never see a friend off on bad terms. You simply never know if the next time you see them won't be on a funeral pyre. I kiss him quickly, assuring him that we'll continue this conversation when he gets back. Obi-Wan hugs him tightly, and then watches his friend walk away.
No one ever says it aloud, but you always think it. You always remind yourself that you could lose anyone at any moment, and that you should take advantage of every opportunity to show them you care. They'll go on a routine mission, and they might not return alive. It happens. It's happened more times than I care to remember. It will happen again.
I turn to Obi-Wan to see he's watching me carefully. I shift a bit, uncertain how comfortable I am being the object of that gaze.
He smiles. "So you and Qui haven't--"
"Don't you start now," I whimper. "Why does everyone care who I'm fucking?"
"I don't," he replies. "I care who Qui-Gon is fucking."
Well, of course he does. He's fucking Qui-Gon as well. "Fair enough. Then you should be glad to know I'm not fucking him."
"Why should I be glad of that?" he asks. "It's clear the two of you care about each other. I've seen the way you look at him. He fantasizes about you when he's with me." He shrugs. "What are you waiting for?"
"He fantasizes about..." I try not to look as shocked as I feel. "Did he tell you that?"
"No," Obi-Wan says softly, smiling at me. "He's called your name out before, though."
"Oh." I don't really know what to say to that. "You don't seem to mind."
He shakes his head. "I'm relieved, actually. I was starting to worry that he was... he wasn't very interested in other people." He pauses, and signals the bartender.
I wait silently for him to order his drink. I wonder if he means that Qui has stronger feelings for him than Obi has in return. I swallow hard at that. I'd suspected as much, but the thought that Obi-Wan might be aware of it is disconcerting, to say the least. Maybe it's time to change the subject. "How is your senator? I trust things went well the night you went to see him?"
Obi-Wan smiles instantly and then struggles to rein it in. He nods and sighs, expression falling a little. "Sometimes I think I'm making a big mistake, Xan, but I don't know what else to do. When I'm near him, all I can think about is how much I want him, and even when I'm away from him, I think about him far too much." He falls silent as the bartender approaches with his drink -- a bottle of Faskii lager. He takes a sip and unconsciously picks at the label. "And I've had to work with him during these negotiations for a Camaasi colony on Alderaan." His eyes glaze over a bit and he stares at the floor.
"Was that a problem? Working with him?"
"Yes and no. I don't know. It wasn't difficult to be formal around him. But I'm..." He peels the label off in one steady movement, then rubs it slightly between his fingers as if studying its texture. "Qui-Gon told me to... he hasn't asked me about it, and I don't know what I would say if he did. I couldn't lie to him, but I don't want to give Bail up either."
He doesn't look at me. Is he asking for my advice, or does he just want to tell someone who might understand? I do understand, but I don't want to be in this position. I don't want to come between him and Qui. I decide not to push for more details, reaching for the stripped-off label instead. "On Talus Prime, picking at labels on bottles is considered a sign that you're sexually frustrated. In bars in many of the mid-rim systems, peeling off a label and presenting it to someone is a traditional way of propositioning them."
He grins. "I've heard of similar things. That's not your way of propositioning me, is it?"
"No," I smile. "It's not."
"Forgive me if I'm relieved," he replies. I laugh and tap my glass lightly against his bottle.
But Obi-Wan is suddenly completely silent, features stone-still, looking past me. Before I can wonder what he sees, I feel a familiar presence. I know who's standing just behind my shoulder without even looking. I sigh audibly and turn to face him.
"Aubris Feln. Fancy meeting you here. Again."
Aubris smiles broadly, oozing charm. "Xanatos," he says, leaning forward to kiss me on the cheek.
It's all I can do not to flinch. Why do I dislike him so much? It was a fairly unremarkable fuck we shared that night a week or so ago, but there's something about him that makes me distinctly uncomfortable.
"Obi-Wan, lovely to see you again," Aubris continues. I can feel a wave of anger roll off of the young padawan behind me, so strong it makes me turn and look at him.
Obi-Wan looks angry, more angry than I've ever seen him, certainly. He's struggling to remain calm, and it's not working well. His hands are shaking slightly from the effort. And I can feel how angry he is. I turn back to Aubris, wondering what I've missed here. Do they know each other? Why is Obi-Wan so--
"What are you doing here?" Obi-Wan asks, voice tight and harsh.
"I come here often," Aubris replies smoothly. If he's aware of Obi-Wan's emotions, he certainly isn't showing it. "I enjoyed the opportunity to work with you on these negotiations, Obi-Wan. I hope we'll have an opportunity to work together again, and perhaps get to know each other better." He smiles slyly, glancing at me and then back to Obi-Wan. "We seem to have quite a bit in common already."
He's quite smooth; I'll give him that. Too bad Obi-Wan seems to dislike him so much already.
"Indeed, we do," Obi-Wan continues tightly. "Bail Organa, for instance?"
Aubris raises his eyebrows. "Ah, so are you and he currently an item, then? You have nothing to worry about from me. It's been years since he and I knew each other. He's probably forgotten all about me."
"He hasn't forgotten," Obi-Wan continues flatly. "In fact, he told me all about it."
Aubris's smile is cool. "Don't tell me you're intimidated by his past. It ought to be the other way around, from what I hear."
"He told me what you did to him," Obi-Wan seethes. "How you used Force-suggestion to rape him."
My jaw drops and Aubris's smile fades. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me," Obi-Wan replies. "You used the Force to get him into your bed, even after he'd made it clear he didn't want you."
Aubris straightens, drawing himself up to a rather intimidating height. His eyes narrow. "That is quite an accusation, padawan. I can assure you it is entirely unfounded."
Quite an accusation indeed. I glance back and forth between them, speechless. I grew up with Aubris; I've known him all my life. He can be an asshole, but I can't imagine him capable of something like that.
"He trusted you, and you raped his mind and then you raped his body. And you did it intentionally."
"Don't be ridiculous, boy." Aubris snorts, stepping closer to Obi-Wan, towering over him threateningly. "Look at the planet he comes from. It's a backwards, repressed culture. He played coy, but he wanted me. I did not force him to do anything he didn't want to do."
"Oh, no, of course not," Obi-Wan retorts. "I'm sure he seemed perfectly willing after what you did to his mind."
"This is ridiculous," Aubris hisses. He's quite angry now, and is struggling to contain it. "I did nothing to Bail that he didn't want. He's just making excuses for the way things ended between us. He wanted more from me than just sex, and he was angry when I told him I was leaving." Aubris smiles smugly, calmer now. "He begged me to stay -- to make love to him one more time."
"That is not what happened, and you know it." Obi-Wan leans closer to Aubris, eyes dark with anger. "You held him against his will and used the Force to convince him to let you fuck him."
"Is that what he told you?" Aubris sneers. "Come now, Obi-Wan. You know how he is. Did he make you wait months before you could touch him? Did he tell you how inexperienced he was? Did he keep saying 'no,' even when his eyes were saying, 'yes'?" He leans in close to Obi-Wan, almost growling now. "He wanted it, but he wasn't allowed to want it. He was supposed to say no." Aubris raises a hand to trail one finger down Obi-Wan's padawan braid. "Don't tell me you weren't tempted to give him a little push every now and then."
Aubris crumples forward with an audible groan, and it's a full second before I realize that he was punched in the stomach. "Fuck you," Obi-Wan whispers, eyes blazing with anger.
Aubris strikes him in return, hard enough to knock him back several meters. Two chairs, one table, and three bar patrons are blindsided by a flying padawan before he hits the floor. I instantly move to hold Aubris back as he lunges for Obi-Wan again. I try to stay between them, pushing Aubris back and frantically looking around for Obi-Wan. Aubris growls something incoherent, while Obi-Wan shouts something back that vaguely resembles an incredibly foul Huttese term for "asshole".
Then two large hulking humanoids are hovering over us, dragging us all towards the door. We are unceremoniously dumped onto the sidewalk, with a stern warning not to come back anytime soon.
I scramble to my feet to position myself between them, hoping that being kicked out of a bar is enough to get them to stop this fight. They glare at each other for a long moment, neither backing down.
"Why don't we call it a night?" I say softly, trying to infuse my voice with calm. "You can discuss this more civilly tomorrow, when we're all sober."
"I plan to file charges with the Committee of Ethics tomorrow," Obi-Wan says with a slight smirk. "They can determine what the truth is for themselves."
Aubris gapes, inhaling sharply. "Are you threatening me?"
"If you're innocent, why do you regard it as a threat?" Obi-Wan retorts, arms folded over his chest. "If you did nothing wrong, then you've nothing to hide."
Aubris exhales slowly, a strangely gravelly sound. "And why, might I ask, are you so concerned with a private matter between the senator and me? Surely it isn't a sense of justice that drives you to make such a dire accusation. This is personal, isn't it?"
Obi-Wan's face reveals nothing, but he clenches his fists.
Aubris takes a step forward, much to my dismay, focusing on Obi-Wan intensely "Yes, that's it, isn't it? You and Bail Organa are far more than casual lovers, I think. Correct me if I'm wrong, Padawan, but isn't that sort of thing forbidden?"
"My relationship with Bail has nothing to do with this," Obi-Wan says through gritted teeth.
Aubris steps around me to stand before Obi-Wan. "Oh, I think it has everything to do with it. If you file those charges, understand that you will reveal yourself as well. I imagine the Committee of Ethics would find your attachment to Senator Organa quite interesting."
Obi-Wan launches himself at Aubris, knocking him to the ground and pummeling him with his fists. Aubris struggles a moment before he manages to throw Obi-Wan off, then kicks him hard enough to do damage. Obi-Wan coughs and climbs to his feet slowly, wavering a bit before charging again.
I glance back and forth between them, uncertain if I should stop them or let them take out their frustrations on each other. I don't particularly care for Aubris, but I simply can't believe him capable of what Obi-Wan accuses. True, he is fairly aggressive in bed, but... Well, what really happened between him and me that night?
A movement near the doorway of the bar catches my eye -- the bouncer is watching the fight and speaking into his commlink. Fantastic. The last thing we need is for capital security forces to arrest Jedi.
"Enough!" I shout. "This ends now, before either of you do anything you regret."
They ignore me completely. I reach out and feel the Force swirling around them, colored with anger, fear, and determination. I let those emotions fill me, feeding on their intensity. I gather as much energy as I can and push it towards them. "Stop!" I let the Force flow through me, through my voice, and into the space between Aubris and Obi-Wan, pressing their bodies apart. "Stand down. Now."
Aubris's expression falls, and he staggers backwards, staring blankly at me. Obi-Wan looks a bit dazed. He climbs unsteadily to his feet, panting. I help Obi-Wan up, grasping his arm firmly. Aubris remains silent, though he watches me carefully. There is something in his eyes that I can't identify. It may be loathing. It may be fear. It may even be respect.
Without a word, I lead Obi-Wan away.
The bar is only a few blocks from the edge of the Temple complex, but we walk in silence. Once inside the cavernous lobby, I steal a glance at Obi-Wan. His face is dirty and bruised, and a smear of dried blood streaks across his face from a cut on his cheek. I suppose I can't return him to his master like this.
I steer him into a restroom and lean him against the wall, cleaning him up with water and tissue. He stares at me blankly.
"All you all right?" I ask.
He sighs and closes his eyes.
"Obi-Wan, look at me."
He does, reluctantly, and I'm struck by his vulnerability. He just took on a powerful Jedi Knight without a thought, but standing before me now, he looks like a frightened child.
Not sure what to say, I smile and kiss his forehead. He squints at me quizzically.
I sigh. "Perhaps we should go talk to Qui-Gon about this." Obi-Wan nods, expression becoming serious once more. I want to tell him that everything will be fine, but I'm not so certain. If he brings a charge against Aubris, his relationship with Bail will almost certainly be revealed. I don't know what Bail would have him do, but is it worth their relationship to bring Aubris to justice? One thing is certain -- Obi-Wan certainly believes Bail's story. But is he willing to risk losing him for this?
Cleaned up, we walk down the corridor quietly, through the main hall, towards the tower of living quarters where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan reside. We wait for the lift, and then find ourselves alone as we step inside. The doors close.
"How did you stop us?"
Oh. I shake my head, not wanting to answer that question. "I'm not sure. I was operating on instinct. The bouncer was calling security, and I panicked."
"It felt like..." Obi-Wan stops and looks away.
"It was," I reply. Any Force-sensitive being within twenty meters would have felt the amount of dark energy I had to channel to pull two angry Jedi apart. I probably could have stopped them without it, but I didn't think. I did what came naturally. It worked, but I outed myself in the process.
Obi-Wan nods and exhales. I wish I could explain it to him: how silly it is to remain so steadfastly and blindly in the light, when there is so much power to be had in the dark. Despite what they teach here at the Temple, it is entirely possible to lean towards the dark without losing oneself to it. It has made me a much stronger Jedi than I would ever have been had I stayed on the traditional Jedi path. I have capabilities that no one here knows about. I have accomplished things that even Yoda probably thinks are not possible. And I'm still here. I haven't been lost to the dark side. I haven't "turned."
The lift doors open and we walk quietly down the corridor side by side. After several minutes, we stand before the door to their quarters. I can feel Qui-Gon's presence inside, and my heads spins slightly. Is Obi-Wan going to tell him about me? I glance at him and he smiles, then palms the door open.
An hour later, Qui-Gon stares silently at the floor in front of him. To my surprise, Obi-Wan has told him everything -- his feelings for Bail, Aubris's transgression, the fight that Obi-Wan started tonight -- with complete candor. I thought to leave them to speak in private, but they almost seemed relieved to have me there. Perhaps my presence helped them speak honestly to each other. Or perhaps it simply ensured that they would listen.
After a very long, tense silence, Qui-Gon sighs heavily. "What are you going to do, Obi-Wan?"
"You're a member of the Committee of Ethics, Master. What do you suggest?"
Qui-Gon shakes his head. "If you wish me to bring this to the committee, then submit a formal request. But this is your decision."
"Master, please," Obi-Wan sighs, head falling into his hands. "I don't know what I should do. What Aubris did was wrong, and he should answer for that. Furthermore, he may be capable of harming someone else. I feel obligated to bring the matter before the appropriate officials."
My stomach twists slightly. I don't want to think that what happened between Aubris and me was tainted by inappropriate actions on his part. I've felt uneasy about that encounter, but I never would have thought he would do something like that.
"Yet," Obi-Wan continues, "I'm not completely innocent of wrong-doing myself. Aubris would be completely within his rights to report my relationship with Bail to the Committee."
"Not to mention the fact that you assaulted another Jedi in public," Qui-Gon sighs.
"No, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon cuts him off with a sharp glance. "You've disappointed me enough for one evening. Why don't you go and meditate on these events? We can continue this discussion in the morning."
Obi-Wan looks as if he's been slapped. For a moment emotion almost overtakes him, but he pulls it back down in classic Jedi form. He stands and bows deeply, silently. Then he glides away, closing the door to his room behind him.
I watch Qui-Gon for a moment, not certain if I should stay or go. I feel badly for both of them, and I'm torn between affection for each. I love Qui-Gon -- more than I want to admit -- and I feel his pain and disappointment keenly. On the other hand, I am very sympathetic to Obi-Wan's situation, and I wish Qui-Gon would not push his padawan away when the boy needs him most.
"You think me overly harsh," he whispers, eyes flicking up to mine.
I sigh and smile. "I don't presume to judge you, Qui-Gon. I don't have a padawan, and I'm sure I can't possibly understand what it's like."
"It's my fault," he sighs, reaching for my hand. "I pressured him for more than he was able to give me, and he met Bail and then..." He pauses, shaking his head. "I wasn't going to make the same mistake again. I wanted you, but I thought it would interfere with your training. In the end, that rejection destroyed our relationship. With Obi-Wan, I thought..." He sighs heavily. "I just made a different mistake, didn't I? Perhaps I'm just not any good at training padawans."
"Perhaps you should choose the next one from an incompatible species," I quip, squeezing his hand.
He laughs and gazes at me affectionately. "I'm glad you two are getting along now. I don't think I could bear it if the two people I love most couldn't stand each other."
Something in my abdomen twists slightly, and I find myself blushing. "I should leave. You probably need some time to meditate tonight as well."
He nods reluctantly.
At the door, he takes my hand once again. "Xan..."
I turn to face him and see that he's chewing his lower lip. I cup his cheek in my hand and kiss him. It's a lingering kiss, though not particularly passionate. Neither of us is quite in the mood. It's a kiss of comfort, of affection, and of friendship. He presses his forehead against mine when our lips part, and seems reluctant to let go my hand when I back through the open door.
"Thank you," he whispers as the door slides closed.
I stroll slowly back to my quarters, lost in thought, the taste of Qui-Gon still in my mouth. It's become wonderfully familiar lately.
"Aubris Feln, you have been brought before the Committee of Ethics due to charges of using Force-suggestion to alter the mind of an innocent, outside the bounds of duty or emergency. We wish to make it clear that this is not a trial, not even a hearing -- we are simply here to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant further investigation."
I nod curtly at the six committee members and attempt not to grit my teeth. I'm sitting here, in front of the Committee of Ethics, because a padawan in a forbidden relationship can't stand the idea that I had his lover before he did. This is absolutely ridiculous. There are a number of things I could be doing right now that are far more important than catering to a padawan's insecurities. I have classes to teach; I have mission dossiers to look over; there are negotiations going on now that I've had to send substitutes on, and that sort of thing never works out well. Negotiation is tricky, and it's a matter of personality as well as simply knowing the details about planets or factions or groups. It takes time to earn people's trust and get parties talking to each other.
I'm going to be very unhappy if my career is permanently blackened by Kenobi's accusations.
"You were sent to Alderaan on a mission five years ago, as a padawan," committee member Eeerath Tarrin says, his unblinking crescent eyes staring straight at me. "Did you meet Prince Bail Organa on that mission?"
"Yes," I answer. I don't allow my eyes to narrow in irritation. "Prince Bail was very courteous and welcoming, and he and I became close friends very quickly."
"Have you had any contact with Prince Bail since that mission?"
"No," I say. "Attachments are forbidden for padawans, which I explained to Prince Bail when I left Alderaan. He understood, since he had a number of familial and professional obligations himself. We agreed that our parting was for the best."
There's a slight pause while the committee takes this in and then plans its next method of attack. My own master was a member of the Committee of Ethics, so I've been at several of these sessions, and I've always wondered why they don't simply cut to the chase and ask to have a soul-healer get in and determine the veracity of the accused's comments, providing the accused is amenable to the suggestion. It would be quicker, more efficient. I did ask my master about this once, but she said that it's usually possible to tell what is going on in the mind of the accused without resorting to such methods. Over the years, I've come to believe her; I can certainly read people well, and would hardly need to use the Force to invade someone's mind in order to find out whether he's lying or not.
Still... "Masters, if I might make a suggestion?" I ask.
"Go ahead, Knight Feln," Master Tarrin nods.
"I would be willing to submit to a mental scan in order to clear this matter up. I believe the person who brought charges against me may have personal issues behind his concern, and I would prefer to have this settled as quickly as possible."
Another few minutes of conference. Master Jinn does not react to my mild statement of rebuke regarding his padawan. After the committee has finished their quick discussion, Master Tarrin nods at me. "A fair request, Knight Feln. We are agreed. You are, for the time being, dismissed, and we will contact you for a time and place for the scan." The committee stands, nodding at me, and I come to my feet, bowing from the waist and lowering my eyes respectfully.
I leave the room in a flash of brown robes, and don't slow my pace until I'm back in my apartment.
Meditation eludes me, of course, but I manage to tamp down my irritation a great deal. I need to be calm and collected. Serene. My emotions will only cloud my thoughts, and I need those thoughts to be clear when they call on me for the scan later.
I'm still stunned by Padawan Kenobi's accusations, truth be told. I realized that Prince Bail was less than pleased with the fact that I had to go so abruptly, but I was very much under the impression that he'd gotten over it. He certainly didn't throw me out of the negotiations meeting; I didn't think anything of it. What passed between us happened years ago. I assumed we'd both moved on.
I close my eyes and concentrate on slow, rhythmic breathing. If I can't meditate, this at least comes close.
Persuade me, he said, and so I did. He knew what he was getting into; he knew who he was dealing with. He also knew that he was shy, and had years of repression to sort through, and that we didn't have much time. He wasn't willing to wait for his emotions to settle down, and I was willing to do what he asked of me. It was good, at the time, for both of us.
The commlink buzzes at me, and I blink my eyes open, reaching out with the Force and calling it over to me. "Feln," I answer.
"Knight Feln, this is Master Tarrin. Are you still prepared to submit to a mental scan in order to expedite the inquiry?"
"Of course," I answer. "Is it arranged?"
"It is. Please meet us at the healers' ward at your earliest convenience."
"It should take me about half an hour. Is that acceptable?"
"Certainly, Knight Feln. Thank you for your cooperation."
I switch the commlink off and toss it aside. Half an hour -- I still won't be able to meditate, but I have to get my thoughts in order. I have to.
I step into the healers' ward, thoughts as settled as they're likely to get. The padawan-nurse shows me into a room with Master Tarrin as well as a soul-healer -- Master Ecco De-Daris, I believe -- and then leaves the three of us alone.
I clear my throat. "Masters," I say, bowing. "I am prepared for this investigation."
Master De-Daris nods, her expression gentle. "We appreciate this, Knight Feln. This sort of accusation is always difficult to deal with, particularly when the injured party has not come forward himself to press charges."
I raise my eyebrows at that. "I beg your pardon?"
Master Tarrin tilts his head a bit, looking at me. "Prince Bail has informed us he wants nothing to do with this investigation. Does that alter your determination to submit to this scan?"
"Not at all," I tell them both. "Malicious use of Force-suggestion is a serious crime, and it's my hope that this scan will clear my name."
Both masters nod approvingly at me, and I take a seat across from Master De-Daris. She brings her hands forward and rests them at either side of my head, her fingertips brushing my temples lightly. My eyes close, as do hers, and she reaches out for me.
...the first time I saw Bail he was staring at me from across a crowded room, looking my way with interest... I went over and introduced myself... he gave me a shy smile and we began talking...
..."Tell me about Coruscant. I've never been there. What do the stars look like?"...
..."You've had many lovers, haven't you? It's all right. I don't mind. I just wondered if my attitude was putting you off. I don't mean to seem uninterested."...
..."Persuade me. I don't have time to play coy and pursue you the way I would if you were Alderaani. I want this."...
..."You're leaving?" "Bail, you knew I had to leave. You knew it before we even talked. I'm sorry." "...don't go yet..."...
The sifting mental presence pulls back, leaving me the slightest bit shaken, as is normal after these scans. I fold my hands in my lap and look down at them, concentrating on getting myself sorted out. The masters give me all the time I need for this. As prepared as I was, as certain as I was that the mental scan was the right thing to do, as much as I don't think mental scans are nearly as invasive as most people make them seem -- that wasn't easy.
I look back up at Master De-Daris. "Thank you, Master," I whisper.
"You did well, Knight Feln," she tells me. "Very well indeed. It will take some time for me to assemble the committee and explain what I found, but I think you can relax a bit." She gives me a comforting smile. "Go back to your quarters and get some rest. You'll probably need it."
I nod and rise to my feet. I'm a bit dizzy, which I didn't expect to feel. I shake my head quickly. "I'm all right," I tell them, before they can even notice, really. "Thank you both."
I make my way out of the healers' ward and back to my apartment. I gave them what they were looking for; I was open and my memories were there for them to examine. Things happened that way. That's exactly how they happened. If I pushed Bail, it was only because he wanted me to push him. If things ended badly, it was only because he changed his mind about what he wanted and never told me. Kenobi's only jealous. I've done nothing wrong. The scan, the inquiry -- it will all add up. It has to.
"The evidence from the scan is clear," Master De-Daris concludes. "Knight Feln had no malicious intent in his dealings with Prince Bail. In fact, he believed he was doing precisely what the prince requested of him. Given that the prince himself refuses to testify in this matter, I see no reason not to dismiss the charges immediately."
I cannot help massaging my temples with my fingertips at this point. I've kept my mouth firmly closed in this matter and I intend to keep it that way. I am a member of this committee, but since my own padawan brought the charges forward, I recused myself from this case and am only here as an observer. I'm beginning to wish I hadn't come at all.
"It would seem there is no evidence to support these charges," Master Tarrin says, unblinking eyes swiveling thoughtfully. "I must concur." The other committee members nod in agreement. After a moment of silence, they turn to me. Master Tarrin has been watching me closely throughout this meeting, and his large eyes bore into mine now. "Master Jinn, have you anything to add?"
I straighten in my seat, inhaling deeply. "No, masters, I have not."
"I needn't remind you of the seriousness of these charges," Tarrin continues. "Surely you can help us to understand why your padawan filed them at all."
A few days ago, I was convinced of the truth of the charges myself -- Obi-Wan and Xanatos both believed Bail Organa's claim and were convinced of Knight Feln's guilt. I don't understand how they could both be convinced of something for which there was so little evidence. And why wouldn't the prince come forward, if the allegations were true? I need to meditate upon this, but there isn't time. I shake my head. "I'm sorry, but I cannot do so at the moment. I can only say that Obi-Wan sincerely believes Knight Feln is dangerous. I have not spoken to the prince, and I have seen no evidence other than Obi-Wan's conviction."
"Didn't your padawan and Knight Feln have a physical altercation outside of a bar several nights ago?" Master De-Daris' eyes narrow slightly. "An altercation that your padawan admits to provoking? Might that have some bearing on these charges?"
"As I have already said, I have no explanation, Master," I reply weakly. "I need to meditate upon this issue and discuss it further with Obi-Wan. Perhaps I--"
"Are you aware, Master Jinn, that your padawan and Prince Bail are having a rather serious affair?" De-Daris' interruption stuns the committee into silence.
I feel a slight stirring of anger deep down, and realize I have been blindsided. De-Daris has been looking for a way to get me -- maverick that she thinks I am -- suspended from this committee for years. I meet her eyes as defiantly as I dare.
"Yes, Master De-Daris, I am aware of my padawan's friendship with the prince. They have known each other for several months."
"And I trust you have discouraged him from forming inappropriate emotional attachments during his apprenticeship?"
I struggle not to sound defensive. "Of course. He is aware of that particular regulation, as are all padawan learners."
"Is it possible, Master Jinn," she continues, "that Obi-Wan's charges resulted from jealousy over his lover's former relationship with Knight Feln?"
My face remains serene, though my mind spins momentarily. I suppose it is possible.
"Master De-Daris, are you are accusing Obi-Wan of wrong-doing?" Tarrin interjects. "If so, then file charges and we will conduct an investigation. This meeting is not the proper venue in which to speculate about the behavior of beings against whom no charges have been filed."
"I do not wish to file charges," De-Daris continues, eyes sweeping across the faces of the committee members. "Not yet. But I would request that Master Jinn investigate the reasons behind his padawan's behavior and report his findings at our next meeting."
Tarrin smiles at me. "That seems fair enough. Are we agreed?"
Everyone assents, and I do as well -- reluctantly.
"Master De-Daris will inform Knight Feln that the charges have been dismissed. Meeting adjourned until two weeks from now, at which time we will decide whether or not to bring charges against Padawan Kenobi." He raises an eyebrow in my direction, and I nod in return, keeping my expression serene.
Obi-Wan is sprawled on the sofa when I return, reading from his datapad. He starts slightly when I enter, as if he's been anxiously awaiting my return from the committee meeting. One look at my face -- not to mention his sense of my emotional state -- causes him to pale slightly.
He exhales slowly. "I see."
I sit on the sofa next to him. "It's worse," I say. "The mental scan showed absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing on Aubris' part. He did nothing wrong. In fact, the scan revealed that the prince... that Bail asked to be persuaded during their last encounter, and that Aubris thought he was doing what Bail wanted."
Obi-Wan's eyes close at that. "I don't understand," he whispers. "Bail believes differently, Master. I believe differently."
"Yes, I know," I sigh. "But the matter has been dropped. Without Bail's testimony, there simply isn't enough evidence to continue the investigation."
Obi-Wan's head pops up at that. "Master, I should talk to him. If I explain the situation, perhaps he would agree to--"
"No, Padawan," I retort, as sharply as possible. "He made his decision, and it is none of your concern."
"Master, with all due respect, it is my concern. Bail is my friend."
"Is that all he is to you?" I ask, unable to keep bitterness from seeping into my voice. I take a deep breath, forcing it back down. I do not doubt that Obi-Wan and Bail are still seeing each other, if only socially. I cannot forbid that, no matter how much I wish to. "You should know that the committee is suspicious of your motives in bringing these charges forward against the will of the alleged victim. They suspect your relationship with the prince was... is inappropriate."
Obi-Wan's jaw tenses slightly, but that is his only visible reaction. He stares at me for a moment. "And what do you think?"
"To be honest, I don't know what to think," I reply, holding his gaze firmly. "Your behavior has been erratic these last few weeks. If nothing else, the prince's presence in your life has affected your judgment."
"My judgment?" he replies, a bit defensively. "How?"
I almost laugh. "Shall I provide you with a recent example? You started a fight in a bar with a knight you barely know, then continued that fight in the street after being kicked out of the bar. Have you any idea how long it's been since a Jedi has been kicked out of a bar on Coruscant?"
Obi-Wan scrunches his face and groans slightly. "I had just found out that Aubris was the one who'd... I was angry on Bail's behalf, and I confronted him. I never intended--"
"Yes, you were angry, and you let your emotions control your behavior. Padawan, that is precisely why emotional attachments are forbidden for Jedi of your rank."
"I used poor judgment, yes," he retorts. "And I've done it before, in situations where there was no emotional attachment involved, and I'll likely do it again. I make mistakes. So do you."
"This isn't about me, Obi-Wan. Nor is it about individual incidents. It is about a policy that you have apparently decided does not apply to you." I pause, collecting my thoughts. I massage my temples against the headache I know is coming.
"I'm sorry, Master," Obi-Wan whispers, taking my hand. "Surely you know what it's like to learn that someone you care about has been hurt, and to want to right the wrong committed against him."
I squeeze his hand in response. I do indeed understand, but that's beside the point. I'm tempted to tell him how I've been asked to evaluate his relationship with the prince and to decide if it was indeed inappropriate. But I fear that would accomplish nothing. He would simply shut me out.
"Obi-Wan, I know you want to maintain your friendship with the prince. Surely you understand the danger you are putting yourself in by continuing to see him, even socially."
Obi-Wan does not look at me. "I can't stop caring about him, Master. We broke up because I... I used the Force to influence a journalist to delete a holo of the two of us kissing." He pauses, and then continues, voice very small. "He reacted very strongly when he realized what I'd done, and then he told me what had happened to him. I didn't realize it was Knight Feln until a few days ago, after the Alderaan-Camaas negotiations concluded."
"And you wanted to convince him that not all Jedi are like that," I say softly. "You didn't want him to think you were capable of the same thing." He nods, still not meeting my eyes. I stroke the back of his hand with my thumb. He is so young, and it is easy for me to forget that fact. His feelings for the prince took him by surprise, I imagine. It won't be so easy for him to let those feelings go.
He's certainly been trying to fuck them out of his system lately, though. I smile, hoping to lighten the mood. "Going out tonight?"
He nods, looking at our joined hands. "You should come along. It's been a while since you've been clubbing with me. It might do you some good."
I shake my head. "Not tonight. I have plans."
He finally meets my gaze, smiling a little. "And might those plans involve a former padawan of yours?"
I smile a bit wider. "Perhaps."
I return home, weary after a long day of sifting through endless committee reports, and dismiss my housekeeper so I can eat my dinner alone. I don't want to admit it, but I'm waiting.
Ben hasn't come over since the meeting. Of course, he can't come every night without arousing his master's suspicions. When he does come, he shows up dressed for the clubs -- he wants his master to think he's going out dancing, rather than coming to me. I used to find those clothes exotic, with an air of the forbidden. Certainly no one on Alderaan dresses that way. Ben in leather symbolized a sexual freedom I've never had. Ironically, now that our relationship has grown serious, he has returned to a more licentious wardrobe. It doesn't really appeal to me anymore.
Then again, Ben's risque outfits do seem to be appropriate attire for an illicit affair. I'm really out of my element, here. I don't know what I want anymore. I'm not accustomed to being so out of control of my desires. I haven't been so out of control in years. Five years to be exact. Stars, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Except Ben is not Aubris. I know that now. If I'm in over my head, this time it's of my own doing. And this time I know my lover is as much out of his element as I am. There's something strangely comforting about mutual insanity.
After dinner, I pour myself a glass of brandy and curl up on the couch, lights at minimum so I can watch the traffic go by. I ought to do something productive, research an upcoming bill, review the reports from one of my committees, at least read a book or call a friend. But I don't. Instead, I wait.
Time flows by as endlessly as the traffic outside my window, and when the door chimes, it startles me out of my hypnotism. My pulse speeds up. He's here. Who else comes unannounced to my apartment?
I open the door, struggling not to smile like the love-struck fool that I am. He's standing there stiffly, his grave expression at odds with his clubbing outfit. I hardly care. I grab his shirtfront and pull him into the apartment, wrapping my arms around him before the door has closed completely. Reckless, I know, but I don't care. I just want to feel him against me. "I've missed you," I hear myself say. How pathetic! But I can't help myself.
His arms twine around my neck and he kisses me hard, his body molding to mine, before pulling briefly away. "I'm sorry, I've been busy."
I walk backwards toward the living room, drawing him with me, as I cock an eyebrow at him. "Busy?" I echo. "More marathon sparring workouts, or whatever you call them?" I tease. He's been training a lot lately with a former padawan of his master's. He often comes to me worn out -- though not too tired for own marathon workouts.
His grave expression returns. "No," he says. "I lodged a complaint against Knight Feln with the Committee of Ethics."
I grow very still. My arms fall to my sides and I turn away, needing to put some distance between us. I clear my throat and somehow manage to say, I know. They contacted me about it, but I told them I had nothing to say.’
He follows me as I wander toward the window. When I stop, I can feel him behind me, but he doesn't touch me. I'm not sure whether I want him to or not.
"He offered to submit to a mental scan," Ben explains, his voice soft. "They didn't -- they didn't find enough evidence to warrant further investigation."
My rapidly beating heart now thuds to a leaden stop. A mental scan? Not enough evidence? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Do they think he didn't do anything wrong? That I wanted him to --?
I start to tremble, and I wrap my arms around myself in a vain effort to hold still. I did want it, didn't I? That's the problem. I did want him, I loved him. I was just a naive, stupid little fool who should known better. He didn't do anything to me that I didn't want, Force suggestion or no. I wanted him, and I got him. It's my own fault if I didn't know what I was getting into. And that's exactly what this committee found. Aubris did nothing unethical to me. If he had, they'd have caught him in it, wouldn't they?
I feel like I'm going to throw up.
I lean my forehead against the window, my rapid breath steaming against the glass, cold sweat trickling down my temples.
Ben's hands rest on my shoulders, lightly stroking. "You have to come forward and register a complaint."
I jerk around to face him, gasping, "What?"
"If you make a complaint, they'll have to investigate. Tell them what happened --"
"Why would I want to do that?" I snap. "You said it yourself. They found that Aubris did nothing wrong."
His jaw tightens. "That's not what they found. All they have right now is my word against his. That's not enough, but if you come forward --"
"Absolutely not!" I protest. "It was five years ago, Ben. I'm ready for this to be over."
"But Aubris has to be stopped."
"Not by me. Think about it, Ben. No one else has ever made a complaint against him. Maybe I'm the only one. Maybe he didn't do anything wrong."
Ben shakes his head fiercely. His devotion ought to be touching, but it only angers me. "He hurt you, Bail," he whispers. "And I will not let him get away with it. Bring charges against him. I'll stand with you."
I turn away from him again, unable to bear the loyalty in his eyes. "There's no point," I dismiss. "It took me years to regain any credibility in my father's eyes after that. I still haven't entirely succeeded, and if I were to drag this into the public eye again, my father would be furious." I shake my head, steeling my resolve. "It's time for me to just put this behind me. I saw him again, and I didn't fall apart. He didn't even say anything to me. It was five years ago. It's over, and it's time for me move on."
Ben is silent. I'm sure he's disappointed. Sometimes I forget how much younger he is than me, idealistic, wanting to right all wrongs. It's sweet, but he needs to face reality. That's what Aubris taught me after all, when I wasn't much younger than Ben is now.
I hear a long sigh behind me, and then Ben's arms wrap around my waist, his head resting on my shoulder. "I'm so sorry," he whispers, his breath tickling my neck.
I lean back against him. He is so strong. I can feel his strength. "I know," I tell him. "You don't know how much that means to me. More than anything your Ethics Committee could do."
We stand like that for a long time, Ben nestled against my back, my arms crossed over his around my waist. This feels nice, just being together, warm comfort.
Aubris used to hold me like this. Aubris was the ideal of romance. A tender and passionate lover, he said and did all the right things. He told me he loved me. In many ways he was a better lover than Ben, more skilled, more attentive. He fulfilled all my fantasies. But in the end they were just fantasies, and that´s the difference between Ben and Aubris: Ben isn't lying.
I turn in his arms, cradling his face in my hands. His eyes are strangely dark in the dim light. He looks up at me with such sincerity. I can trust him, the way I never should have trusted Aubris. "Kiss me," I whisper.
I don't have to tell him twice - as if I ever do. He leans up and kisses me, deliberately, passionately, and I surrender to him. I want to be seduced by him. I want to be courted by him, but in a different way than how Aubris courted me. Ben has pursued me every step of the way, ever since he first saw me at Rising, and I gave in, but only when I wanted to. I say when and where. I say how and how often. Ben risks his master's wrath for me, risks his career. True, I risk my career and my father's wrath, too, but it's different. This time I'm the older, more experienced one. Ben has said he loves me, forbidden words for a padawan to utter. Has he even noticed that I've never said them back?
This is a foolish affair. I should have remained firm and ended it when I had the chance. I don't want Ben to get in trouble. I want everything to work out, even though I don't know how it can. He's said he loves me. I have yet to say it back. I've left myself a way out. I can give in to him while pretending to be in control. I've never said I love him.
But I know the truth. And so does he.
6. Epilogue (Qui)
I pour two glasses of wine, carefully watching to be sure the sediment remains in the bottle. I really ought to have decanted it, but I don't have the proper equipment. I hand Xanatos one glass and watch as he tilts it slightly, searching for a light-colored surface against which to examine the color.
"Nice," he says at last, swirling the glass slightly. He inhales the scent deeply. "This was such a great vintage. I'm quite impressed."
I smile, remembering the padawan who couldn't stand the taste of wine, who choked it down at diplomatic functions. "And here I thought you'd never be anything other than a beer drinker."
He shrugs. "Tastes change, just like everything else." He stares at me for a moment, almost invitingly, then looks away.
I'm still not sure what to make of this... friendship we've developed. He challenges me intellectually in a way no one else does, and I crave his company when I'm not with him. I care for him, and I can see that he cares for me as well. And how I want him... He has rejected all of my advances, yet continues to flirt with me. He encourages me to persist while keeping me at arm's length. I'm not sure what to make of it.
"I heard that the charges against Aubris Feln were dropped for lack of evidence," he says.
"Yes," I sigh. This is the last thing I want to talk about now, but I'm relieved for a change of subject nonetheless. "A mental scan was conducted and it showed his intentions were innocent. He thought he was doing what the prince wanted. The prince refuses to testify, and so the matter has been dropped."
Xan purses his lips slightly. "How did Obi-Wan react?"
"He was shocked, of course. He was truly convinced that Aubris violated Bail."
"So was I," Xan whispers.
"Why?" I ask, not certain if I really want to know. It's too late now, and it's unlikely that any new information could make a difference.
Xan shrugs. "I've had an... uncomfortable experience with Aubris myself. In retrospect, I think he pushed me into it."
"Really?" I ask. "When was this?"
"A few weeks ago. I had just brushed it off as a mistake after having had too much to drink, but now I'm not so sure." He looks up at me.
My own recent experience with Aubris flashes through my mind -- it was just a quick fuck, a release. I don't recall feeling anything unusual. But then, he didn't really need to convince me to fuck him. I almost felt guilty about it later. "It doesn't matter. There is nothing more to be done. The mental scan was fairly conclusive."
Xan snorts and takes a sip of his wine. "Of course it was."
I start slightly, surprised by his reaction. "What do you mean?"
He turns his body towards me and sets his glass down on the sofa table. "Qui-Gon, it's quite possible to hide or alter certain information during a mental scan. Surely you know that."
"On some level, yes, but the scan was conducted by Ecco De-Daris. She would have been able to detect any attempts at deception."
Xan shakes his head. "You can't possibly be so naive, Qui. He could have done it easily. I could do it."
I narrow my eyes at him. "I doubt that sincerely, Xanatos. That sort of deception requires a level of skill that neither you nor Aubris possess. Only a highly trained master soul healer would be capable of it."
"You are indeed naive," he replies, picking up his wine glass and settling down into the sofa.
My annoyance shifts into mild anger. "How dare you... You are in no position to judge me."
"Defensive," he murmurs between sips. "I must've hit close to the mark."
"I am not being defensive," I hiss. When did this become an argument about me?
He smiles coyly in return, which only irritates me further. I stand and cross the room to stare out the window at the lines of traffic lights crisscrossing the sky. Why does he get under my skin so easily?
"I'm sorry, Qui," I hear him say after a moment. "I didn't mean to offend you. But it is possible."
I press my forehead against the transparisteel. "Even if it were possible, the committee would never accept it. The results of a mental scan are considered authoritative."
"Are you so comfortable letting it go, knowing that he may be guilty of such a crime?"
I turn back to face him. "I don't have much of a choice. The committee is considering charging Obi-Wan."
Xan scowls. "For what?"
"For his inappropriate relationship with Bail Organa. It doesn't look very good, you know."
He nods. "Ah, yes, of course. The old 'no attachments' rule. What do you think?"
"About Obi-Wan and Bail? I don't know, honestly. I can't say for certain that my perspective on the matter is unbiased."
"Because your feelings for Obi-Wan have clouded your judgment," he states softly. "Ironic, isn't it?"
He's right, of course. "It gets even better," I say. "The committee expects me to advise them about the relationship, so that they can make a decision."
"Ah. So if you tell them that you believe the relationship is inappropriate, they'll ban Obi-Wan from having any contact with him." He waves his hand in a flippant gesture. "You'll have him all to yourself again, without having had to be the bad guy."
"That is quite enough," I half-growl. Is he trying to pick a fight with me tonight?
"But it's the truth, isn't it?" he replies, standing. "You believe it's an attachment. You don't trust him to use his own judgment."
"And why should I? After all, look what happened to you." I regret the words instantly, but I also realize that they are true. That is indeed what I am afraid of -- that I will lose Obi-Wan as I lost Xanatos.
"I see," he says tightly, crossing his arms over his chest. "It still comes back to that, doesn't it? I'm truly sorry, Master, for any disappointment I have caused you."
"I was never disappointed in you, Xan; only in myself. I showed poor judgment in taking you to bed after that mission."
"And what fine judgment you've shown with Obi-Wan. Perhaps if you'd started fucking me when I was sixteen, we wouldn't be in this mess now." He tilts his head, smirking defiantly.
"He was seventeen," I grumble.
"Oh, so sorry."
"What do you want from me?" I moan. "Why do we keep arguing about this? I thought we had agreed to put the past behind us."
"We did," he says, voice trembling slightly. "You brought it up, not me."
Shit. I sigh and struggle to calm myself down. This is not what I had in mind tonight. "Xan... I am in love with him. That isn't something I can stop doing just because of you."
"I'm not asking you to stop loving him," he replies quietly. "I'm only asking you to consider the possibility that you could love me as well." He takes a deep breath, and then releases it slowly. "I want to be much more than a regular fuck to you. That's all I've ever wanted."
I honestly don't know how to respond to that. I do care about him. I want to love him. Am I capable of loving more than one person at a time?
"Forget it," he says crisply, shaking his head and looking away. "This isn't going to work. I want more from you than you're willing to give. I can't..." He takes another deep breath and runs one hand through his hair. "Good night, Qui-Gon." He heads for the door.
A voice in my head cries, Stop him, but I am fixed to the spot, and I can only watch as the door closes behind him.
My heart sinks as silence fills the room. I do care about him, and it does feel like it could grow into something more. I'm tired of being Obi-Wan's back-up fuck, and I want to be someone's first choice for a change.
Xan wants me. I'm his first choice. At least, I was until a moment ago.
Two minutes later, I am pacing in front of the lift, willing it to come faster. I have no idea if Xan went back to his quarters. I can only hope. His commlink is off. I thought of leaving a message, but what I have to tell him I'd like to say in person.
A small hum indicates the lift is approaching, and I dash forward just as the doors slide open.
I nearly knock Xan off his feet.
"What are you--" we both begin, and then stop as we realize -- he was coming back just as I was going to look for him.
Everything I had planned to say has evaporated completely. I can only stare at him blankly. The lift doors slide closed behind him. He stares at me, opening his mouth as if he is about to speak. But he doesn't say anything either.
The lift speeds away and the corridor is quiet once more. We stare at each other. I swallow hard.
Breathe. "Xan, I--"
My words are cut off by his mouth smashing against mine, his body slamming me into the wall. I am stunned into immobility for a second -- his hands are everywhere, groping me blindly with more raw passion than I've felt from anyone in a long time. My mind swirls as the realization of what is happening sets in. I kiss him back.
Then his hand is inside my leggings, stroking my cock into sudden hardness. I whimper fairly loudly into his mouth, and he strokes faster -- too fast. It occurs to me that we're in a corridor, and that someone could happen upon us at any moment. I push him back enough to break the kiss, stilling the motion of his hand with mine.
"My quarters," I whisper roughly, nodding in the general direction.
He nods, and we walk briskly -- and uncomfortably -- down the corridor. I palm the door open and back through the doorway, grasping the waistband of his leggings and pulling him in with me. The feeling is almost overwhelming -- I haven't wanted someone this badly in a long, long time. His eyes blaze with desire in a way I realize I've only imagined before. I worry for a split second that this is happening too fast, that he could still change his mind, and that this isn't really going to happen.
Then he smiles, a rather wicked grin that makes my cock twitch. He steps forward, and I close the door behind him.
FIN (Until September...)
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