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Chimera [2.15]

Author: Jedi Rita
Rating: R
Summary:   Siri faces her own demons in the aftermath of the failed mission.
Disclaimer: All hail George Lucas and Jude Watson! They make the money, not me.
Note:   Thanks to the QAJ team for holding my hand through this. Special thanks to Elocin for helping me out when I got stuck. And thank you thank you to our Dear Readers for giving me an extra week to get this finished.


I huddle in my bed, covers pulled tight around my neck, and watch the flash of light against the wall. A storm is raging outside, light flashing and wind howling. I'm scared and I want the crèche master, but we're not supposed to cry. "Bruck?" I call out to the figure in the bed next to mine, but there's no answer. "Bruck! Are you awake?" I shout out loud, but my words are drowned out by the wind rattling the windows. Mustering my courage, I leap out of bed and pull the covers off Bruck, but a flash of lightning reveals the bed to be empty. "Bruck, where are you?" I cry, but there is no answer. I run from bed to bed, flinging away the covers, but I find no one.

Panic claws its way up my throat, and I run down the long hall between twin rows of beds, crying, "Bruck!" But the end of the hall keeps moving farther away. Shadows move just beyond my line of vision, but when I turn my head, I see nothing. "Bruck, where are you?"


I spin around. Obi and T'nell are dancing at Rising. Over the flashing of the strobes, the lightning continues to crash around us, but Obi and T'nell don't seem to care, their bodies pressed together, hips grinding as they dance. I shove hard at Obi, pushing him away from T'nell. "What did you do with Bruck?" I demand.

"I didn't do anything! He did it to himself!"

I flail at him, but he remains out of range of my fists. "You got him sent to AgriCorps."

"Better him than me," Obi retorts.

"He's my friend! You have to help me find him."

"You don't want to go to AgriCorps, Siri. Believe me. Better him than you."

"I don't care! I'm going after him."

I turn to go, but Obi catches my arm, lightsaber in hand. "No, I'll go for him. Better me than you." Obi's shirt is gone and I can see the bruises on his wrists and jaw. "Better me than you, Siri," he says again. His eyes are dead. I can see it. I can see those bruises. Bruises everywhere. "Better me than you."

I back away from him, stumbling. The lightning flashes around me. I can hear the cyclone raging outside. It will hit any minute now.

I lurch awake, trembling. The covers are tangled around me, and my heart is pounding furiously. I untangle myself and swing my legs over the side of the bed, running my hands through my tousled hair while I will myself to calm down. When I think my legs will support me, I shakily get to my feet and sneak into the 'fresher, trying not to wake my master up.

I don't bother to turn the light on. I don't want to see my reflection in the mirror, looking like shit. Bags under the eyes, pale skin, that "caught in the crossfire" look - not unlike the Obi-Wan in my dreams. I definitely don't need to be reminded of that.

I reach for the faucet and turn on a slow trickle of water, holding my hands in the flow. I run my damp hands over my face and the back of my neck. It refreshes me for a moment, but then I just feel wet and sticky.

I hate these dreams. Almost every night it's the same thing. I never manage to find Bruck, and I wake up in a panic in the middle of the night. I have to fight the urge to call him up right then and there. Of course he's safe. Now.

But it still scares the shit out of me every single time.

I turn off the faucet and wipe my hands and neck with a towel before heading back to my room, glancing at the door to my master's room as I pass. I can't kid myself that she doesn't hear me. She worries about me, but I'm hoping that tonight she won't come out and try to comfort me. It never does any good. It makes me feel ashamed for having these nightmares, even as I'm desperate to just crawl into her lap and be held like a crècheling.

But I'm a senior padawan, an adult. I'm far too old to be frightened by bad dreams. No one will hold me anymore.

Late next morning, I palm open the door to the training salle where Obi-Wan told me to meet him. Immediately I'm greeted by the hum and clash of lightsabers. I quietly lean against the wall to watch.

Force, it brings back memories: Obi-Wan and Bruck sparring, their rivalry every bit as fiercely competitive now as it was when we were initiates. They're both soaked in sweat. Obi-Wan's expression is focused, but Bruck is clearly angry. He stumbles, barely managing to parry a blow to his neck. He's backpedaling now, Obi-Wan driving viciously at him. Obi's expression may be calm, but the blows he's delivering indicate that he's clearly throwing everything he's got at Bruck. I thought he was supposed to be tutoring Bruck, but he looks like he's out to destroy him.

I'd heard that Bruck had really improved in the last week or so, but for whatever reason, he's not doing well now, and his temper sure isn't helping matters. He twists and ducks, managing to break free of Obi-Wan's assault, and he swings wildly in an attempt to hit Obi's back. But Obi smoothly pivots and meets Bruck's blade, flicking his wrist and sending Bruck's saber flying to clatter against the wall.

Obi-Wan is still calm, but his lip curls in self-satisfaction, and Bruck's eyes blaze in response.

"You're letting your frustration get the better of you," Obi-Wan says, his voice maddeningly cool. "If you're losing ground, you should disengage and collect yourself. Don't try to press the attack, you'll only --"

"That's exactly what I was trying to do!" Bruck fumes. "You're not teaching me anything. You're just fooling around!"

"I'm trying to --"

"I don't know what they think I can learn from you anyway." Bruck's eyes harden. "Oafy-Wan."

I shake my head. I can't believe Bruck would pull up that old taunt, it's so childish. He must really be pissed, and he never was good at controlling his temper. But it's Obi's reaction that really surprises me. His calm is instantly shattered, and he snarls, "Clearly you're more interested in a different kind of training. Maybe I should start calling you Fuck Chun."

Bruck leaps on Obi, swinging his fist in a blow that Obi only barely manages to duck. Obi's hands reach for Bruck's neck, and the two of them fall to the floor, pummeling and grappling with one another. If any of the masters were to see this, they'd both get in trouble. I'd better try to break it up.

I head into the fray. Obi is on top of Bruck, and I try to get a headlock on him and pry him off. They're both yelling obscenities, far too angry to fight effectively. I can't get a grip on Obi so I lock my arm around his neck, pulling, but he barely notices.

"Stop it, you idiots!" I grind out between clenched teeth. I climb on Obi's back, trying to upset his balance.

A blow Bruck meant for Obi lands on me instead, and I'm seeing stars. My grip on Obi loosens, and I slide off him.

"Shit! Oh, shit!" I hear Bruck say through the ringing in my ears. They've stopped fighting and are both hovering anxiously above me.

Obi's hand is on my neck, trying to steady me. "Way to go, Chun," he snaps. "Give Siri a concussion."

"Don't exaggerate, Obi," I say. Using his arm for leverage I manage to sit up.

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" Bruck's babbling and I realize he's panicking. I don't think Obi's noticed yet; he's still focused on me.

"I'm all right, Bruck. You just took me by surprise," I tell him. I work my jaw carefully, just to make sure.

He's still babbling, and Obi finally notices. Some of Obi's anger drains away, and he looks upset.

I catch his eyes. "Go on. I'll meet you later."

He glances quickly at Bruck, then nods at me, clearly shaken by Bruck's reaction. He collects his saber and gets to his feet, glancing back at us before palming the door open and leaving.

"Siri, I didn't mean to hit you," Bruck cries.

"I know. It was an accident."

"It wasn't an accident! I was trying to hit Kenobi. Gods, I'm so fucked up. Everything's fucked." I just sit there next to him, ignoring the ache in my jaw. The panicked look leaves his face, but he looks terrible. "He's going to report me."

"No, he won't. He wouldn't look much better than you. Honestly, Bruck, you're not twelve anymore. You can't lose it like that."

His eyes narrow. "You always take his side."

I sigh. "I'm not on anyone's side."

"We used to be friends, Siri."

"We still are friends." He scowls and looks away, rubbing at his neck where Obi-Wan had a grip on him.

We sit in silence for a few minutes. I hope he's calmed down. It's still so hard sometimes for me to believe it's really him. I thought he was in AgriCorps all these years. I was devastated when he left, and I blamed Obi-Wan. It took me years to forgive Kenobi for finding a master when Bruck hadn't.

"I used to look up to you," I say it last. "I thought you'd be the greatest Jedi ever. You were everything I wanted to be."

"Still feel that way?" he shoots back bitterly. "Fuck Chun. Some Jedi I turned out to be."

"You're a great Jedi."

"Yeah? Getting my ass kicked by Kenobi? I can barely even hold a lightsaber properly."

"You have other skills."

"Like being able to deep throat a Devaronian?"


He looks away. "I'm no good, Siri. And now my master's dead. What's going to happen to me?"

I rest my hand on his shoulder, squeezing lightly in what I hope is a comforting gesture. "You'll find a new master. Maybe Xanatos --." He snorts in response. "What? What's wrong with Xan?"

But he says nothing, and for a long time we just sit in silence.

At last he quietly says, "Maybe I don't want to be a Jedi."

His words shock me. Even if he's just speaking out of frustration, that's not something you joke about. I don't know what to say.

"I mean, look what it's done to me already," he continues. "I've been working undercover as a slave since I was fourteen. What kind of a sick Council would put a kid through that?"

"But Bruck --." I struggle to find my voice. "We're Jedi, that's what we do."

His eyes find mine, piercing me. "Do you have any idea what I had to do as a slave, Siri?"

My throat grows dry. I don't know, but I've seen enough of the galaxy's dark side to have an idea. "No," I admit.

"No one should have to experience it."

"Of course not. But millions of beings experience it everyday, slaves who are helpless to stop it. That's why we take such risks and endure what we have to, to help those who can't help themselves --"

He stands, his expression bitter. "Noble words, Tachi. But it still means forcing children into slavery and abuse. Maybe I don't want to be the Council's whore, anymore. Maybe it's time for a change."

I watch him as he crosses the room to retrieve his lightsaber. He sounds so resolute, as if he already has a plan. "What do you mean?"

He turns to me. "Maybe this senate investigation can help us."

"Bruck -- they have no right to intervene in internal Jedi affairs."

"They do when the system doesn't work! Who here is going to protect me, Siri? Or you? Or Kenobi, for that matter? What happened to could've been you."

A sick feeling rolls through me, and I squeeze my eyes shut. Just like in my dreams. It could've been me -- Bruck might have had to do those things to me, and I'd be the one walking around with haunted eyes, like Obi.

"But the Council doesn't care," Bruck continued. "They only care about the mission."

"That's not true!" But my protest is weak.

"And now my master's dead, and what's going to become of me? Senator Palpatine is the only one who's shown any concern for me. When I gave my report to the Council, they just sat there and listened, so stoic, so fucking calm. But Palpatine was distressed. He was outraged -- over what happened to me. He wants to protect me, while the Order just pats me on the back and says, 'Good work.' This committee will stop it."

I'm shocked. "This committee was called because of you? This is your doing?" He nods. I can't believe it. I had no idea he was the reason why we're all under investigation. "How can you want that, Bruck? Don't you know what this will mean? You'll have to tell them everything that happened to you!"

"Fine! Let the whole galaxy know! I'm not the one who should be ashamed. It's the Council that should be ashamed of what they made me endure. Let the whole galaxy know the truth about the Jedi Order."

"Bruck --"

"Just remember, Siri. It could have been you." He looks at me, but the fire has gone out of his eyes, leaving only a deep sadness.

He clips his saber to his belt and walks out of the room, leaving me alone with my own dark thoughts.

By the time I leave the training salle, I'm not in much better shape. My mind is spinning with thoughts that only contradict one another. Bruck is overreacting. He's exactly right. It's our duty as Jedi to take risks. No one should ask us to do these things. The Senate has no right to interfere... but if not them, who will?

I walk blindly down the corridors, not aware of whom I'm passing. I don't know where it is I want to go. I only know where I don't want to go. Not to the dining hall. Not to the Room of a Thousand Fountains. Not to Obi's quarters or my own. The Temple suddenly seems like a prison, but I'm afraid to leave it.

Slowly I become aware that someone is calling my name. I blink and turn to see Keli running next to me, matching my pace. I stop, and he dashes on a couple of steps before catching himself and backtracking to me.

"You've been so hard to find lately!" he pants, his face lit in a bright smile. I stare at him as if I've never seen him before, and all I can think of is how young he looks. His smile wavers when I remain silent, and he asks, "So how are you doing?"

I turn away from him and start walking down the hall again. "Fine."

He trots at my side. "Yeah, good." He knows I'm not fine. "Listen... I know you've been busy lately, but I was kinda hoping we could maybe spend some time together? My master and I have been given a mission, and we ship out next week."

Dread knots up in my stomach. I'm not really ready to deal with Keli yet, but if he's going to be gone a long time.... "What kind of mission?"

He shrugs. "I can't talk about it. But I'll be gone for a while."

He looks so hopeful. He's said he loves me, but I haven't been able to say it back, even though.... "Look, Keli, I just don't know. Okay? I've had a horrible day, and all I want to do now is get some sleep."

He slumps and the light goes out of his face. For a moment I want to kiss him and make him light up again, but I don't. Nothing seems the same anymore. I'm not the same. "Sure," he says, "I understand. Maybe later." He kisses me on the cheek and walks away.

I slump down, letting my head thud against the wall. He seems so much younger than me. When did that happen? When did I get so fucking old?

The crèche dorm again. The storm rages outside, and I go on my fruitless quest to find Bruck. I see Obi and T'nell at Rising, Obi's skin covered with bruises. He's bleeding from his mouth. He looks worse than ever before. "Why did you fight him?" I ask. "Why do you hate him so much?"

"I had no choice," he answers, as blood trickles down over his chin. "It could have been you."

"What do you mean? You would have fought me instead?"

But he doesn't explain, just repeats over and over again, "It could have been you, Siri. It could have been you."

I back away from him, stumbling. The lightning flashes around me. I can hear the cyclone raging outside. It will hit any minute now. I hear someone calling, "Siri!"

"I'm coming, Bruck," I shout. I run down halls that twist and turn but lead nowhere. The wind howls behind me, but I stay just ahead of it.

At last I reach the door of my quarters, and I slap the panel hard. The door slides open and I rush inside. "Master! I can't find Bruck!"

"I'm here, Padawan."

I open the door to my master's bedroom. All the Council are gathered in the room, their hoods up. I push my way forward through the assembled crowd. It seems like it takes forever, but finally I reach the center of the room only to find a funeral pyre, my master lying on top of it. She looks so serene, but her robes blacken and burn around her.

"No!" I shriek, as I run forward to snatch her from the flames....

"Fuck." I sit up and pull my knees to my chest. It's only a dream. That fucking dream. I know I'll never get back to sleep now. I look at the chrono and see that it's actually not that late. I had turned in early, hoping to sleep this feeling away. I could still make it to Rising, maybe find Errie. Maybe I can go home with her tonight. Maybe she can be the one to hold me.

Within an hour, I'm seated at the bar, rapidly downing my third drink for the night. I've been on the look out for Errie, but after a walk through the crowd, I decided it was best to settle at the bar. Over the rim of my glass I watch T'nell and Obi dancing. They go out almost every night. How can they stand it? Obi looks like he's having fun, but I'm not sure if I believe it. It's hard to tell with him these days. He certainly seems recovered from the incident earlier today.

Someone perches on the stool next to me and says, "Hey."

I turn and see Bruck. What the hell is he doing here? "Hey yourself."

He grins and plucks the drink out of my hand, taking a sip. "How's the jaw?"


"I noticed your little love puppy isn't here. Is he away on a mission?"

I don't want to be reminded of him, because then I'll have to think about why I'm avoiding him. "No," I lightly dismiss. "He's been so clingy lately, it gets on my nerves. I came here without him. No doubt it will piss him off."

His expression turns skeptical. "You look like you're the one who's pissed off." He takes another sip of my drink and hands it back to me. "And you'll get pissed if you keep drinking these things."

"That's kind of the idea," I quip. If I drink enough of them, maybe I'll stop dreaming.

He studies me. "We don't have to stay here, you know."

So that's what he's after. "Bruck," I sigh, "I'm not in the mood to get laid tonight."

He frowns, and I realize my remark hurt him. "That's not what I meant. I meant we could hang out somewhere else."

I swiftly down my drink to hide my embarrassment. Bruck enjoyed a bit of popularity among the padawans when he first got back, but he and I haven't had sex yet. I don't really want to have sex with him. It just seems wrong on so many levels, even though I had a bit of a crush on him when I was a kid.

I don't know what to talk about with him anymore. I don't know what to do around him, but since my nightlife seems to center on him these days, why not make the most of it? And while I'm awake, too. Shooting a grin at him, I say, "Yeah, let's get out of here. Fuck this place!" I hop off the barstool and he returns my smile. But before we can even take a step toward the door, something over my shoulder catches his attention.

"I wouldn't have expected to see you here, Ms. Naberrie," he says.

I turn and see Errie standing behind me. I'm not sure if I'm relieved or annoyed to see her. "I come quite often," she replies, stepping closer and sliding her arm around my waist. "How are you, Padawan Chun?"

I glance back and forth between them. "You know each other?"

"Sure," says Bruck. "She's an intern in Senator Palpatine's office. I met her there the other day."

I freeze. Palpatine's the one who's called for an investigation of our mission. Now I remember the name that appeared on that memo. Padme Naberrie. Errie. My Errie.

Suddenly I feel sick. "You're part of the investigation?"

She nods. "Yes. But we really shouldn't talk about it here." She nuzzles my neck. "That's business, and you are definitely pleasure."

I shrug away, anger pouring out of me. "I'm business now! How could you get involved with this, knowing I'm a Jedi?"

Errie looks at me in shock. "How could I not get involved when I heard what happened to Bruck? Padawans are being sent into dangerous situations without proper training. You were sent! What happened to him could happen to you --"

"Stop!" I hiss. I'm shaking so hard my teeth are chattering. "You have no idea what you're talking about. You don't know anything about me."

Her eyes harden. "You don't know anything about me, either."

"That's because you've been lying to me."

"I've never lied! If you'd asked me, I'd have told you anything. But you've never asked -- not what my full name is, nor where I'm from nor what I do. I might be married, for all you know! But you've never cared. I'm just a fuck to you! But I --" She stops herself, clamping her mouth shut. A strange expression washes over her face, almost as if she's about to cry, and she shoulders past me, running away.

"Shit!" I swear. I'm furious, but I don't know if it's at her or myself.

Bruck places a hand on my shoulder. "Sorry about that. I didn't realize she was your girlfriend."

"She's not my -- I mean, she's just --" -- what? A fuck? Can I really say that after I've fucked her a dozen times? "Dammit!"

Bruck looks away where she ran through the crowd, worrying at his lower lip with this teeth. "Are you going after her?"

"Why should I?" I snap. I'm already feeling guilty. First Keli, now Errie.

"Well, she's... I mean...." He looks like he's about to go after her himself.

"Shit!" I swear again, storming after her. I'm not too gentle as I shove people out of my way, Bruck following closely behind me. I scan the crowd, but I don't see her anywhere, and I push my way outside, stumbling out into the night. The music subsides as the door swings shut behind me, and I shake my head to clear it. Glancing up the street, I see Errie walking along the sidewalk, head down, arms wrapped round herself. "Errie!" I call out.

She stops but doesn't turn around. I hurry to catch up with her. Bruck is hanging behind, giving us a bit of distance, but he's still too close. I take her elbow, and she half turns toward me, her head down. "Errie... you should've told me. It's just that -- this isn't any of the Senate's business. We don't need those politicians butting in, telling us what to do."

She looks up at me then, her eyes flashing. "It's not butting in! It's about trying to protect Jedi padawans who are exposed to danger."

"But that's our job," I protest. "We don't need babysitters."

"It's not about babysitting. The Senate has an obligation to keep tabs on what is going on with the Jedi. If there is abuse --"

"Abuse?" I retort. "You don't know what the fuck you're talking about."

"You're right, I don't!" she shouts back. "The Jedi are too secretive. Who knows what's going on in your Temple? The Senate needs to know."

"The Senate needs to mind its own fucking business!"

She regards me coolly, her eyes glittering in the light of the passing traffic. "Parents voluntarily turn their children over to the Jedi, an organization funded by the Senate. We have a duty to ensure that those children aren't put into unnecessary danger."

"That's bullshit!"

"What about Bruck's parents?" she asks, her voice quiet. "Would they want their son to be forced into sexual slavery, even for a good cause? What about your own parents, Siri?"

I look away, my throat dry. I know what I'm supposed to say in response, but I can't quite bring myself to.

She steps closer to me, her dark eyes unnaturally large in her pale face. "I know that there's great risk in being a Jedi. I know that every time you leave on a mission, I might not ever see you again. But I just want to be sure that the risks you take are worth it. I want to know that you're prepared for them."

I suddenly think of Obi-Wan, taking his lightsaber to the brothel and getting caught. I think of seeing Bruck for the first time, after believing he was in AgriCorps all those years. I think of Keli. To my horror, I feel tears in my throat, and I swallow hard. "I still don't like it," I manage to say.

"I understand."

I doubt she does. But then, I don't understand her either. "It's just that...this really isn't a good mission for the Senate to be investigating. Things happen on missions. They go wrong. It doesn't mean that our reason for being there was wrong."

"I know. No one is making any accusations, Siri. The committee has no jurisdiction. We're simply gathering information." Her hand slides around my waist as she gazes up at me. "We're just trying to help."

I close my eyes and sigh. Senate help is not much help at all. But I swallow my comment about self-serving politicians. I had guessed that Errie was a Senate aide. I can spot one at a hundred paces. They flock to clubs like Rising, but they always give out nicknames. I don't know who they think they're hiding from. But I've had a lot of fun with Errie. She's not as obnoxious as some of them are.

Opening my eyes, I look down at her beautiful face. There's a vulnerability in her expression that's strangely endearing, as if she really cares what I think. I brush a lock of hair back from her forehead, tucking it behind her ear, then run my thumb over her jaw. Tipping her chin up, I lean down and kiss her. She's all soft and fragrant, like a bouquet of rare honey roses. So unlike a Jedi. Her mouth opens beneath mine as she makes a quiet sound deep in her throat, and her arms twine gently around my waist, pulling me close.

I hear a cough, and I break off the kiss, looking up to see Bruck standing nearby. He shrugs, glancing away from us. "I'm, uh, going to head on out. I'll catch up with you later, Siri."

"Sure. We'll go out another time."

"Right. Well, have a good night." He turns and walks down the street.

I look down at Errie. "You want to go back into the club?"

She hesitates. "Not really."

"Maybe we could just talk, then?" I suggest, and she smiles shyly. She's always pretended to be so bold and worldly-wise around me. This hesitant little Errie is kind of cute. Hooking my arm around her waist, I start walking her down the street away from Rising. "So, you're married, are you?" I tease. Her brows furrow, and my heart skips a beat. "Oh, shit."

"I'm not married," she hastily assures me. "But I am...sort of engaged."

For a moment, I'm actually stunned speechless. Okay, so maybe she's never actually lied to me, but that's a hell of an omission. "'Sort of' engaged?" I repeat, trying to sound casual.

"It's an arranged marriage. We're not supposed to get married for several more years. He's not from Naboo, thank heavens. I couldn't stand to marry a Nubian." She makes a face and presses herself against my side. "My parents would have never let me leave home if I weren't safely engaged. They're so conservative. For that matter, they would never have let me marry an offworlder, except that it's a very prestigious match."

I'm not really sure what to say to that, so we walk in silence for a while. She keeps one arm locked around her waist, while thoughtfully twining a lock of her hair around her finger. "You have no idea how lucky you are, really," she says at last, "being a Jedi. You have a freedom that I'll never know. You get to go places, determine your own future...."

"Excuse me?" I interrupt with a scoffing laugh. "A Jedi has no personal life. We have to follow the orders of the Council, go wherever they send us."

"But at least you get to go places."

"Right - criminal syndicates, slave rings." I stop myself, thinking again about that Senate committee.

She knows what I'm thinking, and her arm tightens around me. "All right," she says softly. "So there are some disadvantages, too. But at least you're doing something important to make a difference in the galaxy. You have no idea how much I respect that. I want to make a difference, too, in my own way. That's why I'm interested in politics."

I try very hard to restrain myself from making a snide comment."Right. But did you ever consider becoming a lobbyist instead?"

She laughs. She sounds so very young when she laughs. "I won't rule that out," she says. "But the senator I work for is very big on reform. He's going to make a huge difference in the galaxy. I think my fiancé will, too. I'm pretty fortunate, all things considered."

"Is your fiancé a senate aide, as well?"

"He's not an aide, he's a senator himself."

I make a face. "A senator? What, is he like fifty years old?"

"No!" she giggles. "He's quite young. Give me some credit, at least! He's not too bad, really."

"A young senator?" I rack my brains, trying to think of someone who might fit the bill. I assume he's a Human. Still, there are an awful lot of senators. "Where's he from?"


I stop short, my heart pounding in my ears. It can't be.

Errie looks up at me. "Do you know him?"

"I--," I cast about quickly for an answer. "He's - he's on this committee, isn't he?"

She frowns slightly. "Yes. But don't worry; he's not out to get the Jedi. He's dating a padawan himself."

I know. Oh, shit, I know.

The question is: does Obi-Wan?

I wake up late the next morning and almost miss my morning class. I sit in the back of the room and try to look studious, but I don't think Master Terrinalishu is fooled. I just hope she doesn't tell my master.

There are just too many thoughts running through my head these days. Just trying to list them all gives me a headache. Now this whole business with Errie makes the list even longer. I have got to talk to Obi-Wan. The first hearing of the committee is coming up soon, and we're just not prepared for it. Instead of paying attention in class or thinking about the things I don't want to think about, I make a list on my datapad of all the places where Obi might be so I can track him down.

When class is over, I slide out in a clump of students in order to avoid Master Terrinalishu, but as soon as I leave the room, I see Keli leaning against the wall across the hallway. I pretend like I don't see him, as if that might do any good. He's already pushed himself off the wall and is coming toward me, face beaming. "Hey, Siri! I was thinking we might -- "

"I can't," I cut him off before even hearing what he has to say."I've got all this homework. And there's this committee I have to write a - and Adi's giving me these extra assignments -- "

"Hey, it's all right," he says. He's crestfallen, but he's trying not to show it. "I know you've got a lot of things going on right now. I'd just really like to get together with you before I leave."

Dammit, now I feel guilty. Why is it that Keli always makes me feel guilty these days? "Yeah, we'll do that," I say.

He gives me a sweet little smile. "Okay, well, take care of yourself, all right?" He kisses me quickly before heading off down the hallway.

I sigh as I watch him go. If only he wouldn't be so pushy all the time. If only he'd just ignore me, like I've been ignoring him.

But is that really what I want him to do?

"Obi-Wan!" I call out, and he turns to me before heading into the dining hall. He proved harder to track down than I was expecting. Seems like when he's not in classes or drilling, all he cares about is fucking his master and Xan.

"What?" he asks gruffly. He doesn't exactly look pleased to see me.

"We've still got to talk about the senate investigation."

Obi scowls, and for a moment I'm afraid he'll brush me off again. But he doesn't. "All right," he says. "Let's get some lunch and find a place to talk."

We pass quickly through the dining hall, filling a bag with food, and head on out to the Room of a Thousand Fountains. Obi-Wan glances at me. "So did you get lucky last night?" he asks. "You disappeared from Rising."

"Yeah," I mutter. I don't really want to talk about that, though I'm dying to find out if Obi knows about what Errie told me last night.

"Why didn't you go out with Keli?" Obi asks. "He's starting to pester me about you, and it's getting on my nerves."

I sigh. "I know. This boyfriend thing can be kind of obnoxious."

He doesn't say anything, and I wonder if he's thinking about his senator. My girlfriend's fiancé. This is so fucked up.

Neither of us speaks the rest of the way to the Room of a Thousand Fountains. We find a secluded spot on the bank of the lake shielded by trees, and we settle down onto the grass, opening our lunch bags and tucking in. Childish laughter drifts across the surface of the lake toward us. Probably a bunch of initiates are playing together somewhere. A lump forms in my throat, and I have to look away from Obi in case he sees my eyes tearing up. It's this dream I keep having, where I'm in the crèche again. Even though the dream is frightening, I wake up yearning for the safety and security I felt when I was a small child, when all my friends constantly surrounded me. We took our meals together, played and slept together. The crèche masters brooded over us like mother hens. We were cared for. But now all my friends are scattered across the galaxy. When was the last time I saw Aalto or Tibia? When will I see Keli again? Or even Bruck, once he gets a new master? Are any of them safe?

I force the tears back down, and I clear my throat and look back to Obi-Wan. He's munching on a sandwich, staring out across the lake. I wonder who he's thinking of? "You know, Bruck thinks maybe it's good that the Senate has authorized this investigation."

He whips around to face me, eyes wide. "How can you think that?"

"I don't think that; Bruck does. He says maybe there's something wrong with sending such young padawans out on dangerous missions like that."

"We're senior padawans, Siri," he points out. "We're not young."

"Bruck was only fourteen when he started doing this undercover work," I quietly say. "And even though you and I are senior padawans, we kind of botched the mission, didn't we?"

He flinches, going pale, and I curse myself for my choice of words. I know he blames himself for the mission's failure. "It's not your fault, Obi. What if I'd been the one to go instead? I'm sure I would have gotten caught, too. Neither of us really knew how to cope with that kind of undercover work. And if it had been me...." My hands start to tremble, and I clasp them tightly together in my lap. "Bruck was my friend," I whisper. "If it had been me...."

Obi's hand rests on my shoulder. "You wouldn't have been stupid enough to try to smuggle your saber in."

I look up at him, ashamed that he's the one comforting me. It should be the other way around after what he went through. "What really happened to you in there, Obi?" I shouldn't ask. What little I know has given me enough nightmares. But it's the things I don't know that torment me the most.

As usual, though, Obi's expression closes up, and he looks away, his hand dropping for my shoulder. "I don't want to talk about it."

"But maybe you should. Maybe it will do you good."

"I already talked to the healers, Siri."

"That's not what I mean. You need to talk to a friend. Or what about your boyfriend? He's on the committee too, isn't he?"

Anger clouds his face and he snarls, "That's none of your --"

"But it is my business, Obi!" I retort. "I was on that mission, too. And Bruck. And Xan! And we're all going to have to testify before that committee, the one your boyfriend is on! This is why we need to talk now! We can't all be freaking out in front of the committee like this!"

"There shouldn't be a committee in the first place!" Obi fumes.

"But there is one, and wishing won't make it go away!" I stop, struggling to collect myself. This is the problem right here: my emotions are all over the place, and we can't let the committee see us like this, at our worst.

Taking a steadying breath, I try again. "None of us like it, but the committee is here, and the investigation will take place. We need to view it positively and try to work things to our advantage."

"And how the hell does it work to our advantage?"

I pause, thinking over what Errie had said to me the previous night."People don't know very much about the Jedi. Many are afraid of our power, and they view us as secretive. Our mission could come across as every lurid fantasy everyone has ever had about Jedi padawans. I sure don't want some pervy senator whacking off to visions of me posing as a sex slave." Obi turns even paler at that and looks like he might be sick.

"But that doesn't have to be the way we present it," I hastily add."We undertake the dangers in order to protect the innocents, all the people out there who are forced into slavery, whom the Senate ignores because they're too wrapped up in their own power plays. We're the ones doing the Senate's dirty work, cleaning up the mess they refuse to deal with. If we take these drastic risks, it's because the Senate forces us to. If they don't like it, they have no one to blame but themselves."

I fall silent. This is what I desperately want to believe, but I need someone else to believe it with me. Bruck won't, and I can blame him. He lost his master. Xan won't either, at least not at my urging. He's too angry about the investigation, and he doesn't think we should have to answer to anyone other than the Council. But maybe Obi will see it this way. In some ways, he's the one with the most to lose. He's the one whom they'll blame. And he'll have to talk about all this in front of his boyfriend.

He heaves a deep, soul-weary sigh. "You're right."

My eyes squeeze shut as I melt in relief. "Errie told me a little yesterday about how the committee is supposed to work," I begin. "They're just going to gather information, nothing more. Maybe you can talk to your boyfriend and find out what questions they might ask, what kind of information they want. Then we can figure out what we'll say."

"Bail isn't on Coruscant right now, though."

"So? Can't you contact him?"

"I --" He hesitates, as if he might protest, but then he nods. "I can try."

He sounds reluctant, though, and I wonder if they've been having problems. Once again I think about what Errie told me last night. "How are things between the two of you?"

"They're -- fine," he says, and frowns, realizing how bad that sounds. He gives me an appraising look, as if wondering how much he can tell me. "You're kind of in the same situation, though, aren't you?"

My heart pounds in my ears. I'm not exactly sure what he means. There are just too many possibilities. "Am I?"

"I mean, with Keli. This relationship thing can be rather hard. I can't always be with him when I want to. Either I'm away on a mission, or he's back on Alderaan. With everyone else that --," his voice falls to whisper, "-- that I don't have an attachment to, it's not a big deal if I go for a long time without seeing them. But I miss him when we are apart." He looks at me, begging for understanding. "Is that how you feel with Keli?"

Longing stabs through me. It really hurts, and all I can do is nod.

"Still," Obi continues, "at least you and Keli both live here at the Temple. It's not like you have to sneak out to see him."

I consider this. He doesn't sound very happy. "Is it worth it?"

For a long time he doesn't answer, just stares out across the lake, absently pulling up blades of grass. Then he sighs. "I just wish we didn't have to be so secretive. And what's wrong with having an attachment, anyway? You and Keli are fine."

"Maybe he has a reason for wanting to keep it secret," I suggest.

"He doesn't want his father to know. His father hates Jedi."

"Maybe he's got another lover on the side."

To my surprise, Obi laughs. "You don't know anything about Alderaan, do you? They're not like us. They believe in monogamy."

"Well, you don't know. Maybe... maybe he's engaged or something."

But Obi only laughs harder. "Do you have any idea how ridiculous you sound? Honestly, Siri, you're determined to believe the worst of him, aren't you?"

"No, I'm not," I lie. "But he's not a Jedi. He probably has all kinds of different customs from us."

Obi stretches out on his back on the grass, a contented smile on his face. I can't remember the last time I saw him smile. "He is different. That's part of what makes it interesting. Anyway, I can guarantee you he's not running around having a bunch of affairs."

I only smile and nod back. Poor guy. He's totally fucked. Obi's the last person I ever thought would fall in love with anyone. I just hope he doesn't get hurt too badly when he finally learns the truth. But I'm sure not going to be the one to tell him.

Obi starts going on about Bail Organa's many virtues, but all his talk makes me start to miss Keli. Obi's right about one thing: at least with Keli I don't have to navigate through different customs and mores. And I do miss Keli when we're apart.

After my talk with Obi, I spend the rest of the day skulking in the library, pretending to work on one of my class assignments. I'm not really a solitary person. Usually when I feel out of sorts, I want to be surrounded by friends who can distract me. But everything's changed since the mission. I look at everyone differently. When I see someone I know, I wonder how they will die, and when. I don't want to hear about when someone gets sent on a mission. I don't even want to hear about it when they get back. I just want to pass them in the halls and pretend like they never left.

It's not that I'm afraid of danger. Errie made such a big deal about the risks we take, but that's not what I mind. I even get a certain rush from the danger. It's death that bothers me. Yet I hardly know why. I've seen death before. I've had friends who went on missions and never came back. It's not like I even knew Master Jal.

But it's not Jal's death troubles me; it's Xan's reaction to it. Xan loved him. That's what I can't get over. He loved Jal. He was so glad to see him again. The way they kissed and touched each other drove Obi crazy, but me -- I hadn't really even thought about love like that before. And to see it on Xan's face, only to be taken away again -- I just couldn't bear it.

And Obi today, talking about his senator with a warmth that I don't usually hear from him. It stirred something in me, a longing that I'm afraid to admit to because of what it might mean. No, I know what it means. It's the implications I don't want to face.

That's why I've been avoiding Keli. I still want to avoid him. I want to just hide here among the stacks until he leaves on his mission. But what might happen to him when he leaves? What if he dies?

Yet even that isn't what troubles me most. All I can think of is Obi's words, "I miss him when we're apart." I can avoid Keli all I want, but in the end I'm only hurting myself more, because I could be with him. And yes, I do miss him when we're apart.

It's early evening before my increasing longing drives me out of the library. I check first in the dining hall, but Keli's not there. So I head for the commons.

And there he is, sitting and chatting with some of his agemates. For a couple of minutes I remain outside of his line of vision, just watching him. He's so young, so full of enthusiasm. He gestures wildly with his hands, sitting upright in his chair when he's excited about something. Then one of his friends clearly gets the better of him in their discussion, because he slumps down, hands covering his face, a caricature of defeat. It's always 110% with Keli. Sometimes that annoys me, but secretly I think it's cute.

I approach him from behind, my finger to my lips to let his friends know not to give me away. I lean over behind him and plunge my hands down the front of his tunic. "Hey, sexy," I purr into his ear.

He leaps at my touch and twists around to face me. "Siri!"

I suck hard on his earlobe before saying, "Did ya miss me?"

In answer, he tugs me around and pulls me over the arm of the chair and into his lap, kissing me while I squirm.

His friends groan and make catcalls. "Get a room, you two!" one of them says.

I break away from the kiss. "Brilliant advice. What do you say, kid?"

If his grin gets any wider, his face will split in two. "Your place or mine?"

I start to say his, but change my mind. My own bed has so many unpleasant associations these days. Maybe Keli can change that. "Mine," I say.

He leaps up and sets me on my feet. "Goodnight, little padawans!" he salutes his friends. "I've got a date to keep."

We head back to my place, hand in hand like two goofy teenagers. Which is what we are, I guess. Keli's still grinning, swinging my hand. "So how have you been?"

No recriminations. No questions about why I've been putting him off."I've been...." I hesitate. It's still such a loaded question, but there's one thing I can say for sure. "I've been missing you."

Not surprisingly, he likes that answer. His grin widens, and he squeezes my hand, all but skipping by my side. "I've missed you, too."

Why did I think he was annoying? His happiness is infectious, and I grin back at it.

We're both giggling and smiling by the time we reach my room. Adi looks up from the couch when we stumble through the door, arms around each other, and she greets us with a slight smile.

"Padawan Briggs," she says. "What a pleasure to see you."

"How have you been, Master Adi?" chirps Keli.

"I've been well," she answers, folding her hands over her datapad. She's doing her "dignified master" routine, but I can see the sparkle in her eyes. I know she's glad to see me with Keli. "I had thought we might have dinner tonight, Padawan, but it's clear you have other plans."

"Sorry, Master. You don't mind, do you?"

She places her datapad on the table and gets to her feet. "Of course not, Siri. This will give me an opportunity to catch up with Master Mace. Ever since he was appointed to the Council, it seems that he can't do without the sage advice of his former ward."

"In other words, another bitching session about the Council?" I quip.

She arches an eyebrow at me. "Careful, Padawan. Don't make me assign you extra drills." She glances at Keli, then back at me. "Have fun, you two. And try not to break the furniture."

"Yes, Master."

She kisses me on the cheek as she passes me, and Keli says, "May I have a kiss, too, Master Adi?"

Adi kisses his cheek, then says, "I'll let Siri take it from here. Goodnight, younglings."

"Goodnight, Master," we both chorus as she leaves.

When the door closes, Keli grabs both my hands and pulls me to him."Think she'll stay out all night?"

I wrap my arms around him, grabbing his ass with both my hands. "She will if she can possibly help it."

Keli grins, then asks, "So do you think she and Master Mace are...?"

"Don't be disgusting!" I say, pinching his ass so he yelps. "Master Mace is practically her father."

"Too bad."

"Eww. I don't even want to think about it." I leer at him. "I'd rather think about you instead."

"Yeah? Well, I'd rather fuck you than think about you. Not that I mind thinking about you, but even when I think about you, I'm thinking about fucking you --"

"You talk to much, brat," I say before stopping his mouth with a kiss.

He responds eagerly, opening his mouth beneath mine, tongue sliding over my teeth as he grinds himself hard against my side. And he *is* hard, his cock digging almost painfully into me.

That's one of the nice things about having such a young lover. He's always hard. While fucking his mouth with my tongue, I unfasten his pants and push them down over his hips, sinking to my knees and taking him into my mouth. He leans over me, hands on my shoulders, saying, "Oh, yeah, fuck," while I work him. Within seconds he throws his head back and shouts, coming down my throat. I release him and lick my lips. He never lasts long the first time. The second time, however....

I slide up his body, gathering him into my arms as he slumps against me. His face buried in my shoulder, he moans, "Oh, I love you, Siri."

It's a light moment, not an emotional one. But it gives me an opportunity. I can say it now, and it won't be like some huge confession. But I'll have said it. So I do. "I love you too, Squirt."

He doesn't say anything, just pants against my neck, breath moist and hot.

The crèche dorm, the storm. My search for Bruck, and meeting with Obi-Wan instead. The bruises and blood, and his words, "Better me than you."

I run away, back to my room, to my master and safety, only to find Adi on a funeral pyre.

"No!" I shriek. I run forward to snatch her from the flames, but someone catches me and holds me back.

I stare up into the face next to me. It's Xanatos. "I'm so sorry, Padawan," he says. "There was nothing we could do to save him. I guess you're next."

I turn back to the pyre, but it's gone. I'm back in the crèche dorm. The wind has grown even louder, the lightning almost blinding me with its intensity. "Bruck?" I cry out. "Bruck, where are you?"

I wander down the hall to my bed, crying and calling out for Bruck. Huge, gasping sobs rack my entire body. The cyclone is almost here. I have to get to safety, but I must find Bruck first.

At last I reach my bed, but the cot beside it is now occupied. Relief floods through me, and I cry even harder. "Bruck! Thank the Force! We have to go, now!" I draw the blanket aside.

And stare into the lifeless face of Keli.

The cyclone hits the building with an explosion, sucking the breath from my lungs before I can scream, and I'm catapulted into wakefulness.

Gasping, I sit up in my own bed, in my own room. Next to me, Keli stirs and pushes himself up on his elbow, rubbing at his eyes. "Hey," he says, his voice slurred by sleep.

I raise a hand to my cheek and feel tears. It was just a dream, I tell myself over and over. Just a dream. A dream. But I can't shake that image of Keli's dead eyes, and I'm afraid to turn and look at him.

Keli's arm slides around my waist, drawing me to him. I huddle against his chest, hiding my face in the hope that he won't see that I was crying. He lies down again, pulling me with him, and his fingers run through my hair, soothing me. "You all right?" he mumbles, still not fully awake.

"Yeah," I breathe. At least my voice isn't shaking. "Look, just don't ask me about it, all right?"

He hesitates, stroking my hair. "Okay."

But I realize how unfair I'm being. For weeks I've been pushing him away, and I'm still doing it. I don't want to tell him everything, but I don't want to keep shutting him out, either. He deserves so much more than that. "I've been having kind of a rough time lately."

Oh, shit. Too much. The intensity of the dreams comes back, and I can feel the tears start to burn in my eyes. I bite hard on my lip, willing myself to calm down. When I finally can trust myself to speak again, I say, "Anyway, the important thing is that you're here. That's all I want. That makes it better."

He continues to run his fingers through my hair, petting me, holding me like a little crècheling. Now I'm the one who feels young, and he seems so much older than me. Or maybe I just want him to be, to pretend like the comfort he's offering comes from maturity and wisdom, and not just from the generosity of his heart. I want to be able to trust him, the way I trusted the crèche masters to make everything safe.

He shifts beneath me and presses a kiss to my forehead. "I'll always be here for you, Siri."

I concentrate on his hand in my hair, the sound of his heart beating against my ear. I flood my senses with his presence, his skin, his scent, his taste. Because I don't want to hear his words.

I don't trust them.



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