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End Game

Author: Emma Grant
Rating: NC-17
Summary: The conclusion of the botched undercover rescue mission.
Archive: MA and QAJ
Disclaimer: We're playing with other people's toys, but we always put them back nicely.  No money made, of course.
Feedback: Sure
Note:  Thanks to the QAJ gang, as always!  This is the last episode of an action-adventure storyline, and I'd like to know what people think about seeing these boys in action.  Also, please welcome Elocin Oco and Clara Swift to the QAJ writing team!  They'll be writing the next episode, and I can't wait to see what they come up with.

[When we last left our heroes: Unbeknownst to Xanatos and Siri, Obi-Wan has been captured by the slavers while Xanatos was waiting for his appointment with Jassock, the head of the criminal organization. Obi-Wan and Siri had gone to visit the captive Bruck Chun in hopes of learning more about his situation, but were forced to split up.  Obi-Wan's lightsaber set off the weapons sensors, and he was trapped by the slavers.  Later, Bruck was coerced into breaking Obi in as a sex slave.  No one else knows of Obi-Wan's fate yet...]      


I cough, and Tam smiles at me from behind his desk before returning his attention to the terminal screen before him.  I slump down in my seat, not having to feign frustration and boredom.

Jassock's kept me waiting for almost an hour now, and her assistant -- though pretty to look at, certainly -- has been quite unhelpful.  We made small talk for a while, and he offered a few transparent excuses for Jassock's lateness.  Eventually he found a way to keep himself busy, leaving me to stew in my chair in silence.

It's more than a little unnerving to be kept waiting like this.  What sort of game is Jassock playing?

Perhaps it's time I started playing as well.

I stand, fixing the top of Tam's braided head with a glare.  "If Jassock is no longer interested in doing business with my employer, I'm wasting my time.  I'm sure this news will not please him."  Putting a touch of offended frustration into my tone is far too easy.  

Tam looks up at me, features smooth and expressionless.  "I've already told you -- something came up.  She had to attend to it personally.  I'm certain she won't be much longer now, if you--"

"I'll be on my ship, if she decides she wants my money," I snap.  I leave, but not before catching a smirk on his face.  I wonder what it might mean all the way back to the ship.

"That didn't take long."

I turn to see Jal leaning against the wall of the cargo hold.  The grinding of the closing ramp makes attempts at conversation pointless, so I just look at him instead.  His hair is damp and he's changed into some of my clothes since I left.  They hang loosely on his gaunt frame, giving him a fragile appearance.          

He was always bigger than me, years ago.  I was a skinny kid, and he was beautiful, strong, tall.  He could pick me up easily, press me into the wall and fuck me there, standing up, as if it took no effort at all.  I met him just after he'd been made a knight -- he'd earned that title after an infamous mission for which he'd gone undercover as a high-class pleasure slave.  Most of the stories I'd heard about that mission turned out not to be true, of course.  It occurs to me that I now have the chance to ask him questions about that mission, questions I've wondered about for years.  I have the chance to do a lot of things, don't I?

The ramp seals with a loud clang, and silence consumes the chamber.  Jal smiles, almost as if he's aware of my reminiscing.  His mere presence in the room is nearly enough to distract me from the mission -- from my duty.

"Have you heard from either of them?" I ask, pulling my commlink from a pocket and switching it on.

"No," Jal says.  

I enter two codes in turn.  "Their commlinks are off," I mutter, staring at the small display.

"It's only been an hour.  They're probably taking their time with Bruck."


"Olin," he shrugs.  "My padawan.  I haven't been able to say his name aloud for a long time."

"How does someone who's supposed to be dead acquire a padawan learner, anyway?"

Jal grins.  "I'm afraid I can't tell you that, Xan."

I feign offense, crossing my arms over my chest.  "I have a class 2A security clearance, I'll have you know!"

"Oh, I know," Jal replies, winking.  He sighs, and then looks away.  "I know."

I bite my lower lip and let the silence stretch between us.  

"I did look for you," he says at last, answering the question I've been afraid to ask.  "But even with my level of clearance, it was difficult to find you.  After I came out of a deep assignment about nine years ago, I heard you'd gone undercover.  I thought we might make a good team, and I pulled as many strings as I could, but..."  He shrugs, looking at me again.  "You certainly know how to disappear into the system when you want to."

I cross the small room and take him into my arms, crushing him against me.  He's thin, almost feminine in my arms.  I'm a few inches taller than I was before he left, and it feels strange to be the bigger one, to be the one holding him.  He curls into me, tucking his head into the curve of my neck.  His hair smells of soap.  I tighten my arms and close my eyes.

We stand there for a long time before I release him.  I kiss him once, and he keeps his eyes closed.  His reddish blond hair falls messily around his face, and I tuck a few strands behind his ear.  He opens his eyes and smiles.

I exhale.  "I'd better try to comm them again."

Jal kisses me, deeper this time, pulling me back against his body.  "If we keep comming them, they'll think it's an emergency," he whispers between kisses.

"True," I say, and it comes out more like a whimper than a word.  He's right, of course.  I'm overreacting.  We should just wait for them to contact us.  I kiss him again, feeling his lips slide open under mine, the tip of his tongue warm against my own.  

"How will we keep ourselves..." A small gasp as I squeeze his ass. "...occupied?"  

I pull him up, bracing him against the wall, and he wraps his legs around my waist.  I kiss him hard, wanting to devour him at this moment, as if this is my only chance.  The harsh sounds of our breathing mingle with occasional grunts and groans, echoing throughout the cargo hold.

"Wait," he pants, pushing me away as best he can.  I attack his exposed throat instead.  "Xan," he whines, "can we please do this on a bed?  I'm not up for a rough fuck right now, I'm--"

I cut him off with a gentler kiss, tugging softly at his lips.  He slides down the wall when I release him, threading his arms around my neck and smiling.  "You grew," he whispers, looking up at me.

I can't resist grinding my groin against his.  "You noticed."

He laughs.  "How many years has it been, anyway?"

"Too many," I say, pulling him towards the corridor.  He follows me, twining his fingers through mine.  The sight of it makes something twist inside my chest.  I was in love with him, but it was half my life ago.  Why am I feeling like this now?      
We make love slowly, carefully.  It was often that way with him, back when I was 17 and inexperienced.  He found me in a dance club I'd snuck into, and took me home with him.  He was my first blow job, my first fuck, my first... everything.  

We relive all of those firsts on the bunk of my cabin, each taking his turn sliding smoothly into the other.  We don't even bother with barriers -- it's probably too late anyway, after what happened between us back at the brothel.  He straddles me, one hand braced on the wall, using it for leverage to fuck me slowly.  He's so thin I could count his ribs.  I count freckles instead.  

"Xan," he pants, pushing down until his ass rests on my thighs.  I smile at him, until I see the pained expression on his face.  "I..."  He closes his eyes.

I sit up and put my arms around him, pressing my face into his chest.  He shifts, wrapping his arms and legs around me, and I move slowly, using my hands and my thighs to pull in and out of him.  His cock rubs against my belly, and his breathing stays ragged.  

I'm on the edge, and I find I want to stay here -- balanced, holding Jal and being held.  His fingernails dig into my shoulders, and he gasps, arching his back.

I feel his orgasm from the inside, and let myself be pulled along.  Simultaneous orgasms are rare for me, but so is this silent kind, so intense I forget to breathe until my lungs begin to burn.  

Jal is still trembling, and I don't have to look up to know he's crying.  I squeeze tighter.

"I'm sorry," I whisper.  "I can't begin to imagine."

He doesn't reply, so I just hold him.

Jal is licking a hot stripe down my spine when I hear the commlink buzz.

"Finally," I mumble, calling it to my hand.  "Yes?"

"Annix!  Is Ben there?"  Siri's voice sounds unusually tense.

I feel Jal's hand on my shoulder.  "No," I reply.  "He was with you the last time I saw him."

"Blast it!"  The pre-arranged signal for switching to the secure channel.  I swallow and enter the code.

"Siri, what happened?"

"He went into the slave pen for our appointment with Olin--"

"Alone?"  Jal hisses.  I turn to see an expression of panic on his face.  

"--and he hasn't come out.  It was only supposed to be for an hour."

"Fuck.  Siri, see what you can find out.  Go back down there and--"

"No!"  Jal takes the commlink from my hand.  "Get back to the ship, Siri.  Don't attract any attention if you can help it, but get the hell out of there."

He switches off the commlink and turns to me.  "Ben's in trouble, Xan.  I should have seen this coming."  He clenches his hands in his hair, face twisted into a grimace of frustration.

I swallow down a lump of panic.  "It was a trap, then.  Jassock knows."

"That you're a Jedi?"  Jal rubs at his face with his hands and exhales.  "Yes, I think she does.  You buying me was probably all the hint she needed."

"So I should have left you there?" I snap.  I can't help it.  Jal's going to blame me for this, just like Obi-Wan--  

"Obi-Wan," I whisper, feeling a sickening fear for the first time.  "What have I done?"

Jal studies my face.  "Is he your padawan?"

"No.  He's Qui's."  We haven't had a chance to talk yet, to catch up.  Everything's happened so fast.   

"You're helping Qui train his padawan?"

"No!" I say, a little too quickly.  "No, we're...  I thought it would be good for Obi to get some undercover experience, so I brought him along."  

"Still, it's good to hear you're close," Jal says.  "I know what he meant to you when you were a padawan."  

"You don't know the half of it," I reply.  I'm not ready to think about Qui now, or Jal, or what this -- whatever is happening between me and Jal now -- means.  It's only been a few hours, but my feelings for him have come tumbling back with startling intensity.  

There'll be plenty of time for thinking later, though.  Obi-Wan and Bruck should be my main concerns at the moment.  "I'll tell you the whole story when we get back," I say.  "I promise."

Siri's face is growing paler by the second, and Jal's pacing isn't helping.  I press the heels of my hands into my eyes.


"How long has he been there, max?" I ask.

"Three hours," Siri says.  "I shouldn't have let him go alone.  It didn't feel right."

"Don't second-guess yourself, Siri."  Jal's voice is calm.  Masterly.  It makes me smile.  "It was his choice to put himself in that situation.  Bruck has survived enslavement for three months now.  I imagine Obi-Wan will be able to endure whatever they can do to him in a few hours."

I take a deep breath, reaching out to the Force for serenity.  It doesn't work, so I get angry instead.  "Now that they know who we are, we can't afford to wait," I say, trying not to sound as frustrated as I feel.  "We need to break them out as soon as possible.  Ideas?"

Jal looks at me for a moment.  "I know how to get into the cell block.  I can get to them."

"You're not going back there," I tell him, crossing my arms over my chest.  "Absolutely not."

"Xan, I know that building.  I lived there for a year.  I know where they're holding Bruck."

"If you know so much, why is Bruck still there?"  I regret the words instantly, but they hang in the air.  I can't take them back.

Jal shakes his head.  "He was lured in by a pretty face.  It turned out that Jassock had her eye on him for months.  I protested, of course, and she offered to pay me for him.  I told her I'd think about it, and..."  He pauses, jaw tensing.  "And then I tried to break him out."  

"And you were caught?" Siri asks.

Jal nods.  "They keep very sophisticated weapons sensors in that area.  I had a supposedly-undetectable blaster, but it triggered the alarms."

He doesn't have to tell us more.

"So you'll have to go in without a weapon?" Siri asks.

Jal nods.  "There are other types of weapons, you know.  I'm pretty sure I can get into the cell block.  I'll have to wait until the middle of the night shift."

"You're not going alone," I say, though I know he will, no matter what.

"I'll need cover," he says.  "That's where you two come in."

I glance at Siri.  Her lips are pressed into a thin line.  She looks at Jal and nods.  Jal turns to me.  

"Are you certain this is the best plan?" I ask.  "A few hours ago, we decided to be patient.  Are we acting too rashly?"

"A few hours ago, we didn't know Jassock was going to add more Jedi to her collection.  You and I are hardly prime candidates."  He nods his head towards Siri.  "But she'd fetch a great price.  The padawans are what Jassock wants."

I glance at the chrono on the control panel.  "We have four hours to get ready.  Is it enough?"

"It has to be," Jal sighs.  He turns to Siri.  "You're a code breaker, right?"  She nods.  "I'll tell you everything I know about the system."

He starts talking technobabble, and Siri nods, asking questions occasionally.  I listen for a few minutes, until I realize I'm only focusing on the way Jal's lips are moving.  I head to the weapons locker.  Jal may be going in unarmed, but Siri and I will need all the firepower we can carry.

Siri excuses herself, leaving me and Jal alone in the cargo hold.  He watches me for a moment.

"Are you ready for this?"

"Yes," I say, though the tremble in my voice immediately contradicts the meaning of the word.  I chuckle at myself, and he grins at me.  It's strange how we tend to use humor to distract ourselves in tense situations.  I shrug, smiling.  "I'm just worried.  How's your neck?"

He touches the back of his neck gingerly.  "Still hurts.  But it's worth it to be able to feel again."

He made me cut the implant out, even though I argued against it.  He had a point, though -- he couldn't go back without being able to access the Force, and we couldn't take the risk that they'd be able to trigger the pain node.  Ideally, it would have been done by healers at the Temple, with appropriate tools.  And anesthetic.  

Siri held his bound hands instead, while he bit down on his own tunic.  And I dug that implant out of his neck with a kitchen knife.  Our med kit turned out to be fully stocked with infection-prevention agents and enough synthskin to cover the wound.

"No residual effects, then?"  I clamp down on a desire to cross the room, to kiss him, to hold him.

"Not really," he says.  A small smile blossoms on his face.  


He crosses the room, stopping right in front of me.  "You're far too easy to read, Xan."

I struggle not to smile.  "Oh?"

He leans forward, brushing his lips against mine softly.  "I suppose I should be flattered that you still feel so strongly, after all these years.  Not to mention that I'm hardly in top form these days."

I stroke his cheek and press my forehead against his.  The thoughts come, beyond my control to stop them, of what might be.  Jal moving into my quarters.  Making love all night.  Sparring together.  Becoming working partners.  

"I'm sorry," I whisper, nuzzling his nose with my own.  "I don't want to presume."

He kisses me gently before stepping away.  "We have a job to do," he says.  "We'll have plenty of time to talk when it's done."    

Siri's cough announces her entrance, and we step further apart.  She quirks an eyebrow at us, clearly amused, but says nothing.

"Ready?" Jal asks.

We head towards the city center on foot, no one speaking during the ten minute walk.  Jal fingers the pocket of his jacket, perhaps going over the plan in his mind.  I was surprised to learn that he knows quite a bit about explosives.  He had an expression of sheer glee on his face when I showed him the small supply of plastic explosive in our weapons cache, and he immediately calculated the amount he would need to blast open the ceiling of the cell block.  

He catches me staring at him and winks.

We enter Jassock's complex by the back door, and Jal leads us through a maze of corridors to the service lifts.  We get off on one of the sub-basement floors, moving as silently as possible.  Jal knows where the security cameras are and directs us to crawl on the floor to avoid their range, when necessary.  

He stops suddenly, glancing at the ceiling.  There's a vent above our heads.  He studies it for a moment, and then resumes walking.  Siri and I exchange a glance.  

"Here," Jal whispers, pointing at a non-descript console on the wall.  Siri steps forward and produces a multi-tool from her pocket.  The panel comes off, and she studies the circuit board for a moment.

She turns to Jal and nods, then begins working on the circuit board with the multi-tool.  Jal pulls me back down the corridor, to the vent he stopped at before.

"I need you to cover me from here," he says.  His commlink buzzes, and he glances at the display.  "She's already disabled the security system."  He whistles in admiration.  "Give me a boost?"  

I have to smile at the lop-sided grin on his face.  He steps into my clasped hands and I push him up, using the Force to keep him aloft.  He touches the vent panel, concentrating, and it opens for him.  He looks down at me and nods.  I push up with my hands and the Force, and he vaults into the vent.

"I won't be long," he whispers, peeking over the edge.  

"May the Force be with you," I reply, grinning.  He winks and disappears.

This has been the longest ten minutes of my life.  I hate waiting.  I hate not being in control of a situation.  I'm the one in charge of this mission, and Obi-Wan is my responsibility.  It should've been me who crawled into that vent, me taking the risk.  

I've never been very patient, despite the Jedi training.

My commlink buzzes.  "Annix?"  Siri's using the secure frequency, but she's still cautious.  At this point, I imagine the pseudonyms won't make a difference if we're overheard.

"Clear."  I've been keeping my senses extended, and no one's come within 20 meters of my position.  I can feel Siri's emotions spike a bit.  "What's wrong?"

"I'm not sure.  The security system just got busy, but it doesn't look like the disturbance is anywhere near us."

I pause and reach out a little further.  "I don't sense anything unusual."

"I'm going to try something.  Hang on."

The comm goes silent.  I close my eyes and concentrate on Jal's presence in the Force.  I can feel him, further away than I expected.  He's tense.  He's worried.  He's excited.  He's angry.  

"There," Siri says, voice slightly distorted by the encryption algorithm on our commlinks.  "I think I covered my tracks better.  If they knew what to look for--"

The sound of a distant explosion rumbles through the ventilation shaft, and everything changes.  I can hear an alarm blaring somewhere below, and the surge of surprise I feel from both Siri and Jal is intense -- too intense.  I pull back in response, trying to center.

I can feel a strange wave of foreboding, something dark and muddled, growing closer.  

The commlink crackles.  "The system's lighting up all through this section.  I think they know we're here."  Siri's voice drips of forced calm, Jedi style.

"Hold your position," I tell her.  "We'll stick to the plan as long as possible."  Jal will get them out, and I'm covering the escape route.  I'm not moving from this spot if I can help it.  Siri's position at the security panel will give us information we'll need to get out of here.

"A unit's been dispatched to your location," Siri says.  "Need any help?"

I pull two blasters from their holsters and stretch out my senses once more.  "I can handle it," I tell her, and slip the commlink into a pocket.  I feel them coming, befuddled minds of hired help, a few still strung out from the endless party.  It should be fairly easy to escape their notice.  I learned to cloak myself years ago, and it's easy enough when the people you're hiding from don't know what to look for.

Hiding from other Jedi -- now that's a challenge.  A possible topic for my seminar, now that I think of it.

I can hear them drawing closer, clipped voices muttering to each other.  Their footsteps ring through the corridor, amplified by the metal paneling.  I pull the Force cloak around myself and heft the blasters in my palms.  

Three.  Two.  One.

They burst around the corner, seven men of varying height and species, glancing wildly around.  Their guns are drawn.

"Look," one of the men grunts, pointing to the open vent above my head.  "That's how they got in."

A tall green-skinned man -- apparently the leader of the squad -- shoves one of the smallest men towards me.  "You, get up there.  Find them."

The small man's eyes fly wide open.  "Are you outta yer skull?  There's no tellin' how many Jedi are up there.  I'm not goin' alone."

"You won't be alone.  Jacks'll go with you."  The leaders shoves another grubby being forward.  "You two go into the shaft and trap 'em.  We'll go down to the cell block.  We'll have 'em surrounded."  A few of the men slap the unlucky ones on the back as they continue down the corridor.

"How the hell are we s'sposed to get up there?" the grubby one asks, scratching his crotch absently.

"I dunno," the other says, stepping closer to me and staring up, mouth hanging open.


I move slowly so as not to draw their attention, and level the blaster at the small one's chest.  

"Bet they're goin' after the new one," he grins, still looking up.  "He sure was a sweet piece of ass."

"A real screamer," the other quips.

I grit my teeth and drop the cloak, shimmering into their field of vision.  "Was he, now?"

They both stagger backwards in surprise, reaching for their blasters.  Not quickly enough, though.  Two quick shots aimed at their heads take them down easily.  

I pluck the commlink from my pocket and step over the smoking corpses.  "Siri, status?"

I hear blaster fire in response, and muffled shouting.  I hesitate -- I need to keep this exit clear for Jal and the padawans.  It's their best escape route, since the rest of that security squad is heading down to the cell block to head them off.  

I know Siri can handle herself, but it sounds like she's single-handedly fighting off that squad right now.  I sprint down the corridor, checking the power levels on my blasters as I go.  

I hear the firefight a full minute before I see it.  Three men are firing madly at a closed door.  Two are lying still a short distance away, apparently dead.  Three quick shots take two more of them down.  The third turns to look for me, firing blindly.  I smirk at him -- blocking the shots from a single blaster is a simple exercise in Force control.  I extend my hand and focus on drawing the energy bolts to my palm, from which they bounce harmlessly away.  I walk slowly towards the man, the green-skinned leader of the group.  He doesn't yet realize this fight is over.  

He stops firing at last, yellow eyes narrowing.  "What are you?" he snarls.

My anger overtakes me before I can stop it, and the man slams against the wall of the corridor.  The blaster clatters to the floor and his hands grasp at his throat in a futile attempt to loosen the invisible stranglehold he feels.  

I step closer, unable to keep the cruel smirk off of my face.  "I think you know the answer to that question," I whisper, watching as his eyes begin to bulge.  "I want the last thing you think of to be the slaves you've tormented, the lives you've taken."  I tighten the stranglehold with a flick of my wrist, and he makes a gurgling sound.  "Are you thinking of them?" I hiss.

He only chokes, eyeballs protruding from their sockets now, skin turning a strange brownish color as he asphyxiates.  His knees buckle and he collapses to the floor.  My outstretched hand forms a fist, and I hear the satisfying crack of his trachea.  He kicks once more, and stills.  

I look up to see Siri standing in the open doorway, pale and wary.  She swallows, visibly steeling herself, and walks past me to the security panel.

"More squads have been dispatched to the cell block area," she says, voice calm despite the fact that her hands are shaking.  She doesn't look at me.  "I'll continue to monitor from here."

I nod, though she can't see it, and stride back down the corridor.  I'm sure I'll regret that display later, but there isn't time for it at the moment.

The bodies of the thugs lay where I left them, and the corridor is quiet.  I continue walking towards the lifts, confident that this exit will remain clear.  And less certain that it will actually be used.

The lift takes me to the fourth sub-basement level, and the doors open onto an empty corridor.  I can hear the sounds of an intense firefight not far away.

"Xan, there are more security forces coming that way," Siri's voice crackles.  "There's nothing more I can do here.  They've found me and locked me out of the system.  Where do you want me?"

I pull the commlink from my pocket.  "Get down here.  Cover the--" I look around "--A-10 stairwell.  That's our best chance of getting out."

"Affirmative," she says.  

The firefight is just outside the cell block.  I run towards the crowd, firing both blasters simultaneously, and see several security officers drop before the others realize what's happening and begin to return fire.  Deflecting all of that fire at once requires more concentration than I am capable of, and I duck into a doorway for cover.  

I pause, reviewing the mental picture of the corridor and the relative positions of the security officers.  Jal and the padawans are on the other side of that fight.  If I can draw the attention of as many of the troops as possible, they'll have more of a chance.  

There is some shouting down the corridor, and the blaster fire ceases.  That can't be good.  I squint around the corner.  

A small cylinder rolls down the corridor towards me.  I sprint away, using the Force to accelerate as much as possible, but the shock wave from the explosion still knocks me off my feet.  

I find myself lying on the floor, face pressed against the cool steel.  I stand, shaking my head to clear it.  I have no idea how long I've been unconscious -- seconds?  Minutes?

It must have been a stun grenade.  I was beginning to wonder why they seemed so willing to destroy their own facility just to keep us from escaping.    

I hear another explosion in the distance -- back near the cell block -- and head in that direction.  I see Siri crouching in a doorway, wrapping a strip of her own shirt around a deep blaster wound in her forearm.  Her eyes dart up when she sees me, and I fire down the corridor towards the source of the energy bolts flying this way.  

"All right there?"  She nods, though the grimace on her face says otherwise.  I glance down the corridor.  The haze from the blaster fire and explosions makes it difficult to see.   "Get back to that stairwell," I tell her.  "Make certain it's clear.  We'll be joining you shortly."

She nods and slips away.  I jog back down the corridor, stretching out my senses as I do.  I feel nothing but the confusion of a mass of frightened beings, all firing madly in self-preservation.  I don't feel Obi-Wan, or Jal, or Jal's padawan.  

The haze is lit up like a dance club from all the blaster fire.  I stop just outside the fray and reach out with the Force, searching for minds weak enough to control.  I find two almost instantly, and turn their guns on their comrades.  The sense of chaos in the corridor increases, and the men start shouting at each other, confused and frightened.  I close my eyes, and look into the haze.  I see the two guards I'm controlling standing back-to-back and firing madly around them.  I see bodies dropping and guns pointing back at the traitors.

And I see two padawans staring into the haze, blasters poised... hesitating.

I shift my control of the gunmen to one part of my mind, and focus on Obi-Wan with the rest.  I can feel the implant in his neck that's blocking his access to the Force.  Just a few nights ago, I pushed past Jal's implant to communicate with him, and I know I can do it again.  I fill that part of my mind with thoughts of Obi-Wan, every good thing I've ever felt towards him.

It doesn't work, so I switch strategies, focusing instead on every moment that he's ever pissed me off, every moment he's ever smiled that cocky smile.  Every moment I've known that Qui was thinking of him, even while he was fucking me.  

I know the moment I've pushed through, and I channel everything into a single word: "Run."

I shift my focus back to the men I'm controlling.  They shout hoarsely, drawing the attention of the others for a crucial second.  Obi-Wan emerges from the haze, followed by another young man.  They run towards me.  

I point towards the stairwell Siri is guarding.  "Take the stairs," I pant.  "Get back to the ship."  They stare at me in response, not moving.  "Move!" I hiss.  "I'll go back for Jal."

Obi-Wan's hand clasps my forearm.  "Xan..."

"He's dead," the other padawan says.  

I blink at him in response.  That's not true.  It can't be true.

"Let's go, Xan," Obi says, pulling my arm.  The other boy heads towards the stairwell, and Obi pulls me behind him.  

I let go of everything -- the men whose minds I was holding, the control of my anger that I've barely contained for the last hour.  I hear the din behind us turn to a roar as the remaining guards realize what's happened.

"Run!" Obi shouts at me, jerking my arm.  The other boy has disappeared into the stairwell.  I run blindly, letting myself be pulled, through the doorway, and up a flight, running--

"Wait!" I shout, mind beginning to catch up to reality.  "We can't just leave him.  We have to go back."

Siri turns to stare at me, and Obi-Wan's eyes are full of sympathy.  "Xan, there's no use."

Some distant part of my mind is beginning to deal with the reality that Jal is dead, but the rest is focusing on tradition, practice, ritual.  The Code.  "He deserves a pyre," I say, and the words sound pathetic even to my ears.  I'm sure that this will seem ridiculous to me later.  

Jal's padawan strides down the stairs and looks me in the eye.  There is no sympathy in his face, only cold impatience.  His dark eyes narrow.  "It would take some time to pick up all the pieces," he says.  "Jal would want us to escape.  He sacrificed himself for it."  With that, he turns and sprints up the stairs.  Siri glances at me once before following him.  

"Xan, please."  Obi-Wan's hand is extended towards me.  "There's nothing to be done.  We have to go."

I hear the sounds of the remaining guards below, and I follow him.

We run to the ship, sprinting through the dark streets of the city.  We managed to lose our pursuers before we left the building, but there is no doubt in my mind that the local authorities will be anticipating our departure.

I pull out my commlink and press the slave controls for the ship.  By the time we get to the hangar, the ship is hovering, engines roaring.  Another code typed in lowers the ramp to an easy height for us to vault up.  The slave circuit engages the thrusters as soon as we're all on board, and the ship begins to rise through the atmosphere.  

I scramble to the cockpit, followed by three padawans.  I slide into the pilot seat and don't bother strapping in before I return control of the engines to the panel and push the engines hard.  The hull whines against the atmospheric stress as we press up.  A few fighter patrol ships follow and fire at us, but the shields hold.  I push the engines as much as I dare.

"Siri!" I shout.  She appears at my side, clinging to the pilot's seat.  "I need you to calculate the coordinates for the hyperspace jump manually.  I can't spare any power for the navcomputer."

"Right," she says, half-falling into the seat beside mine and studying the controls.  She opens a drawer and pulls out the star chart, unfolding the large document before her.

"Any time now," I say, starting the hyperdrive sequence.  "Just get us out of the system."  The sensors are blaring now -- apparently sub-orbital security has picked up our trail.

"Okay, okay," she says through her teeth.  "Here."  She feeds me the coordinates slowly, and then the trajectories and, after a moment's thought, the hyperspace entry vector.  Once they're entered, I punch the drive.  Stars blur into lines through the view panel, and I belatedly remember to warn the boys over the intercom.      

Jump made and ship safe, I slump into my seat.  Siri works on the calculation for the next jump, which will get us a good part of the way to Coruscant.

"Xan, I can handle this," she says, glancing at me.  "Obi and Bruck may need medical attention."

"Sure," I reply, eyeing the burn on her arm.  But I push to my feet and leave the cockpit anyway.

The adrenaline from the last hour is starting to wear off.  I feel numb now, more than anything.  I know I ought to feel something else.  Jal is gone, and after everything that's happened the last few days, I should feel something.  

Obi and Bruck are sitting at the table in the main room.  I have a flash of sitting there with Jal only hours ago, but I push it aside.  The boys look up at me.

"Are you all right?" I ask.  My voice is tight, hoarse.  

"Yes," Obi-Wan replies, though his eyes are slightly glazed.  

"They set off our pain implants after the explosion," Bruck says, glancing sideways at Obi.  "Fortunately, one of the idiots blasted away the control panel in the firefight, so it didn't last more than a few minutes.  And Ben was shot in the leg."  Obi stares at him in surprise before examining his calf.  Sure enough, there's a bad burn visible through the vaporized fabric.  "Endorphins," Bruck mutters.  "Sometimes the pain implants were a blessing."  Obi stares at his wound helplessly.  

I find some salve for blaster burns in the med kit and help the two of them put a temporary dressing on their wounds.  Bruck takes care of himself, but Obi seems content to let me work on him.

I clasp Obi's chin in my hand.  "What happened to all the piercings?"

He attempts a smile.  "They didn't want me to have anything that could be used as a weapon.  Too bad, since I actually do know how to pick a lock with a tongue stud."

I snort and shake my head.  "Qui-Gon will be pleased."

Bruck sucks in a sharp breath and turns to stare at Obi.  "Fucking hell," he says.  "I knew you looked familiar."

Obi turns his head slowly, and they stare at each other for a moment.  Bruck seems to be Obi's age, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised they know each other.  

Bruck's expression turns into a smirk.  "You haven't changed, Kenobi.  Still the pretty boy, the center of everyone's attention."  His eyes narrow.  "But we both know what you're really made of, don't we?"

Obi-Wan's eyes flash anger, and then something else I've never seen on his face -- fear.  He glares at Bruck, but says nothing.

"Let's get you two settled in," I say, surprised by the venom in Bruck's tone and the palpable tension between the two boys.  It's been a difficult mission, so perhaps this will blow over when their emotions have settled down.  "You should rest."  

I put Bruck in my cabin.  I don't think I could sleep there, not now.  I don't want to think about what happened on that bed only hours ago.  Bruck sinks onto the rumpled bedding, closing his eyes.

"I'm sorry," I say.  I wish I could offer him something more, after everything he's been through.

His eyes open and he stares up at the ceiling.  "There's nothing to be done," he says, "so don't worry about it."  I watch him for another moment, and then leave, closing the door behind me.

Obi is staring at his hands when I return to the table.  I don't know what happened to him in those hours when he was held, but Bruck seems to be a significant factor.  I take Obi to his cabin and help him onto the bed.  He grimaces as I help him out of his boots, so I leave the rest of his clothes alone.  

"Xan, I'm sorry about Jal," he whispers, blue eyes wide in the low light.  "There was nothing we could do.  The explosion--"

"Not now," I say.  I'm not ready to hear this.  Hells, I'm not ready even to think about it.  I close my eyes against reality, taking a deep breath.  I feel Obi's hand close around mine.  I open my eyes.  He looks up at me sadly, and I realize that he knows.  He understands.  

I smile at him and kiss his forehead.  He seems to melt into the contact, as if my touch is healing.  He hates me.  What's happened to him?  

I stand and turn toward the door before I remember something, probably triggered by his sudden sweetness.  "Qui wanted to be sure I didn't forget," I start, and feel the emotion rise in my throat.  It takes a moment to press it back down.  "Happy birthday, Obi-Wan."

I close the door behind me and head back to the cockpit.  Siri touches my shoulder before excusing herself, having already programmed the jumps that will take us back to Coruscant.  

Back to the Temple.  Back to teaching a seminar on a subject I don't want to think about.  Back to a lover who isn't Jal, and never will be.  Qui will never understand me the way Jal would have.  

I settle into the pilot's seat, watching the starlines fly by.  I don't think I'll be able to sleep any time soon.


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