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Conversations [2.16]

Author: Emma Grant
Rating: NC-17
Summary:  Xan's conversations with several people in the days leading up to the Senate sub-committee hearing leave him with more questions than answers.
Disclaimer: Most of these characters belong to other people. Their creators probably wouldn't recognize our versions of them anyway...
Note:   Thanks to the readers for being so patient. This ep is a week late, due to RL end-of-semester craziness! Thanks to the QAJ gang for their comments and suggestions, as always.


"Troubled, are you?" Master Yoda chews thoughtfully on the end of a flavored kwali stick, large eyes fixed on mine.

"Yes, Master." I duck my head just enough to escape that piercing gaze. It doesn't prevent him from seeing , though. "I have grave concerns about the Senate investigation."

"Suspicions, have you, about the committee's intentions?"

"Yes. I can't explain." I wish I could, but it just keeps coming back to a feeling I have that something isn't quite right.

Yoda contemplates this for a moment, eyes drifting away. "Spoken with Senator Palpatine, have you?"

"No," I reply, too quickly. Yoda's eyes flick back to mine. "I don't trust him, Master."

"Respected, he is," Yoda replies, expression unchanged. "Concerned for our younglings, he claims to be."

"Yes, I've seen the holo of his press conference," I reply, unable to keep a touch of bitterness out of my tone. Time to get this over with. "Master, I wish to ask for your advice in this matter." Yoda continues to stare at me, unblinking. "I take full responsibility for what happened on the mission to Gollin 3, of course. And I am prepared to testify that I ordered Obi-Wan to go into the cell block armed."

"But you did not," Yoda remarks.

"No," I say. In fact, I thought I'd locked up the weapons. Bloody brat just didn't listen. "But I was in charge of the mission. What happened was my fault. If the Senate is looking to blame someone for corrupting padawans, then the credit, so to speak, stops with me."

"Suspicious of the Jedi, the Senate is," Yoda notes, voice maddeningly calm. "If contradictory the testimonies are, more suspicious will they be. Dangerous, the situation has become."

I sigh and pull my knees into my chest. I always feel like a child in Master Yoda's small quarters, sitting cross-legged on the floor and drinking tea from tiny cups. He has a way of pointing out the flaws in my logic, just like my teachers always did.

That is, of course, why I am here.

"So I should simply tell the truth?" I ask. "No matter how damning the details are, taken out of context?"

"Unusual times these are," Yoda replies. "Be truthful, we should, when all others would hide behind lies."

Typically cryptic for Yoda. I can't help but smile. "Yes, Master," I sigh. I bow my head and stand to leave.

"Take a padawan, you should," Yoda remarks casually.

I grit my teeth. First Qui, and now Yoda -- I thought I might be able to escape my thirties unscathed. "I am considering it, Master. The boy I brought to the Temple seven years ago--"

"Nearly of age, he is. Headstrong, difficult. Turned away from him, others have."

I can't help but sigh. "I know. I had hoped he would find a more conventional master, but..."

"Waits for you, he does."

I wince. "I haven't visited him since my return." Things are moving far too quickly. I can barely deal with a disastrous mission, running my seminar, and being the target of a politician -- must I add taking on a padawan to the mix?

"Excellent point, Padawan..." I stare blankly at the smiling Twi'lek seated next to Siri at the conference table.

"Irunel," she supplies, tossing one slender head-tail over her shoulder. "Ava Irunel."

I nod, and she blushes a darker shade of blue. Attendance at my undercover ops seminar increased dramatically once word of the botched undercover mission -- and the subsequent senate subcommittee hearing -- spread. There are so many people attending now that the ones who aren't ten minutes early have to stand in the back of the room. Some of them seem more interested in flirting with me, Obi, or Siri than in learning anything.

"I disagree," Siri says, leaning back in her chair. I gesture for her to explain, and she pauses before continuing, as if collecting her thoughts. "The Eshekhi Protocol doesn't cover cases of mistaken identity. It only applies when the government in question takes into custody Jedi there on official business. That includes undercover ops under some circumstances, but if they arrest you for doing something illegal, thinking you're a criminal, you have no claim."

"Even if you were acting under orders?" I ask.

Siri makes an exasperated sound. "If you break their law, they have a right to arrest you."

I glance at Padawan Irunel, but she's staring at the table, a bewildered expression on her face. Obi-Wan is studying his hands -- I doubt he's even been listening. No one else seems willing to argue with Siri. She's become quite a powerful force in this group, which isn't a good thing when she's wrong about something.

"We're out of time today, but I'd like to continue this discussion next time we meet," I tell them. The room is immediately filled with the sounds of chairs scraping on terraplast and whispered voices starting up conversations. I lean back in my seat and watch them file out in small groups.

Obi-Wan pauses at the door, as if he wants to say something, but he stays silent. His eyes catch mine for a moment, and then he glances at Siri, who's still seated at the table. She's entering some notes into her datapad, an intense expression on her face. She was always a good student before, but she's become incredibly focused these last few weeks -- since we returned from the mission. When I look back to the door, Obi-Wan has gone.

"Do you have a minute?" Siri asks, head popping up from her work.


"Sure," I reply, surprised. Siri rarely talks to me one-on-one.

"I was wondering..." She blushes and stops, as if working up her courage. "This isn't related to the seminar. It's a personal question, so you shouldn't feel obliged to answer, of course, if it makes you uncomfortable, or--"

"What is it?" I ask.

Siri takes a breath. "They teach us that attachment -- that love is wrong, and I was wondering... You have different views on so many things, and I wondered what you thought about... that." She blushes even further, adorably. It's an uncomfortable topic, to be sure. Jedi Masters have been known to require serious meditation before giving groups of initiates "the talk" about emotional bonds that can develop between individuals, if one isn't too cautious.

I, however, am an uncommon Jedi, and I find the topic strangely un-embarrassing. "I should probably recommend you ask your master about this," I tease.

Siri shoots me a mild glare. "And get a lecture?"

"You don't think that's what you'll get from me?" She shakes her head, and I find myself smiling in response. I'm both flattered and frightened that these padawans look up to me. How and when did I gain so much respect? "Honestly, I think it depends on the situation. Some padawans are emotionally mature enough to let sexual relationships grow into something more. Some aren't."

Siri frowns, and I wonder if I'm making any sense at all. I've hung around Rising enough to know she's asking these questions for a reason.

"Let's take an example, shall we? Suppose there are two padawans who've been seeing each other for several months. They've had the usual sorts of sexual experiences together, and then one day they start to realize that they're beginning to feel something for each other. Perhaps it's because they weren't careful enough, and one day things just went too far. Perhaps it's because one of them had a traumatic experience, and turned to the other for comfort."

"I get the point," Siri grumbles.

I smirk. "I was talking about me , actually."

"Oh," she replies, blushing even more.

"I met Jal when I was younger than you are now. He was a new knight, and had some training to complete before he began working alone, so he was at the Temple for a while. It happened slowly at first -- I became less and less interested in fucking around, or even in sharing him with someone else." She nods and bites her lip, as if this all sounds familiar. "Qui and I went on a short mission -- I don't even remember where -- and things went very wrong. We barely escaped with our lives. When we came back, Jal was gone -- on a mission -- and I had no idea when he'd return. The days went by, and I kept feeling more and more desperate. Qui encouraged me to go out and blow off some steam, but nothing seemed to help." I glance at Siri to see that she's paled a bit. "When he finally returned, I nearly attacked him. I couldn't bear to be an arm's length away, or to let him out of my sight. Even going to classes was torture."

"Because all you could think about was him, and when you would see him again, and how all you wanted was to..." Siri trails away, swallowing. "So is it a bad thing?"

"I don't know," I tell her. "If it distracts you from your work, from your training -- then perhaps it is. But if you can manage the emotion, through meditation, for example, it can make you stronger -- more empathetic. A better Jedi, in my opinion."

She blows out a breath I hadn't realized she was holding. "He's away on a mission now, and I haven't heard from him for days, and I keep having these horrible dreams."

I nod and look down. I still dream about Jal, too. "It is , of course, a violation of the Code of Behavior for padawans. But we both know padawans routinely break that particular rule."

"But I've tried so hard not to let it happen," Siri mumbles, leaning her forehead against her palms. "I never thought I'd be one of those... you know."

"I know," I sigh. "What's the word for it now?"

"Foppy," she says. "As in: I can't believe I've been acting so... foppy about Keli Briggs."

"We used to say freaky ," I grin. Funny how padawan slang can change so quickly. "Does slack still mean--?"

"Yeah," she says. "But it's actually kind of fashionable to be slack at the moment, so people are going around pretending to only be into boys, or only into girls." She rolls her eyes. "So I think the meaning's changed a little since you were a padawan."

"Back in the glory days of the Republic," I snort.

"Sorry. You don't look that old, really. I mean--"

"Quit while you're ahead, Siri."

She grins, but it fades quickly. "I'm sorry about Knight Benyat. I can't imagine how you must feel."

I shrug. This isn't something I want to discuss with a padawan I barely know. "When's Keli due to return?" She shrugs, and her forehead wrinkles again. I cringe -- so much for making her feel better. "You two make a very cute couple," I remark. "I wish I could recall the night I spent with you." Unfortunately, I had a little trouble with recreational chemicals those first few weeks after I returned.

She doesn't smile. "How do you know if you're in love?"


"You just know," I sigh. She's silent for a moment, and I stand up in an effort to break the tension. She doesn't look up. I begin to wonder if I've made things worse. "Want to go get a cup of caf, or something?"

She nods.

"Oh, Force," Qui hisses, and pushes into me.

It's been a long, slow burn tonight, and I think we're both ready to come. My hands slide down his back and I try to tug him closer, deeper -- though it's a pointless gesture. I can feel the press of his pelvis against my ass, and the pressure of his cock inside me that indicates this is as close as we get.

He kisses the tip of my nose, and I open my eyes. I hadn't realized I'd closed them. "You all right?" he asks.

I nod, biting my lower lip as he shifts his hips back a little. "You're fine," I whisper. "I like it deep like that."

He grins. "I love that about you, you know."

"And here I thought you loved me for my mind," I retort. "I think I'm offended." He slides out slowly and pushes in again, and I gasp.

"Still offended?" he whispers.

"Oh, yes," I reply. "Do it again."

He moves slowly, steadily at first. I squeeze my thighs and tug at any place on him I can reach, trying to push him to move a little faster, fuck me a little harder. It's only after I actually say the word "harder" that he gets the message.

"Had enough of that, then?" he grunts, bracing his elbows on either side of my torso.

"Just... yeah," I reply, reaching between us to position my erection so that his stomach will rub against it as he moves.

I don't think I ever imagined it would be like this between us -- so comfortable and normal, so hot and yet so simple. The rush of hot breath against my ear is a familiar sensation, one I think would get me hard even in the Council chambers. The scent of his sweat mingling with my own will permeate the sheets for hours after he's gone. I'll probably jerk off in the morning with my face pressed into the pillow, just breathing it in.

Two weeks ago, I wondered if it was over between us. Now I wonder what the fuck I was thinking. How can my desires be so fickle? How could it be that I love Qui so much, and yet I was planning to bring Jal back to the Temple and...? What would have happened between me and Qui, if Jal hadn't been killed?

Qui's breathing is rhythmic and shallow, and his movements steady. I was momentarily lost in thought, and am no longer on the edge. It feels incredible, but it won't quite be enough to make me come. I try to work my hand between our bodies to touch myself, but he's already coming, grinding into me. He stills, chest heaving. I shift my hips beneath him as best I can, hoping for a little friction.

"Here, let me," he whispers, pulling out and moving to the side. He takes my erection in hand and strokes it evenly, the motion aided by sweat.

"Oh... you..." It's funny how I can still think clearly, but my mouth doesn't seem to want to work properly. "Faster," I whisper, and he complies, speeding his movements. Another minute and I come into his hand, almost silently. He wipes his hand on the sheet -- he knows I don't mind -- and settles against my side. I hear a soft snap as the barrier is pulled off. His fingers trace a design on my chest.

We're both silent for several minutes -- so long I think he's gone to sleep.

"Want to talk about it?" Qui asks. His voice rumbles in his chest, low and gravelly.

I sigh. He always seems to know when something's bothering me. Sometimes I wonder if there's some sort of latent training bond between us, something that was never properly severed. "I don't know. Maybe."

He snuggles more closely against me. "That means yes, you do."

"I suppose." I keep my eyes closed and wrap my arms around him. "What do you think of Bail Organa?"

I can feel the frown against my shoulder. "Why do you ask?"

"I have an appointment to meet with him tomorrow morning," I reply, stroking his shoulder lightly. "I assume he wants to talk to me about the hearing. I don't know why he'd want to see me beforehand, though."

"Do you think it has something to do with Obi-Wan?" Qui shifts his position, and the mattress dips.

"I was wondering that myself. He didn't mention Obi in his message."

"Obi hasn't mentioned him either, not in the last few days." Qui exhales. "He was unhappy about Bail accepting a position on the committee."

"So what do you think of him, then?"

Qui hesitates for a moment. "To be honest, I'm not certain. He's a politician, and he's Alderaani, and my padawan is in love with him. I've seen him play the doting boyfriend with Obi, and I've seen him working a crowd at a function with the poise and scrutiny of a senator twice his age."

"I take it you don't like politicians?" I smirk.

"I don't trust them. And I don't trust that politician with Obi-Wan."

"I think Obi can take care of himself, Qui," I mutter, aware that I probably sound jealous.

Qui props himself up on one elbow and looks down at me. "You know as well as I do that their relationship is far too serious for a padawan of Obi's age." He shakes his head. "Organa is going to hurt him eventually, and I can only hope it happens sooner than later."

I watch his face for a moment. "Are you certain you're not blinded by your love for Obi-Wan? Perhaps you're jealous, and your negative impression of Organa is an unfair one."

Qui frowns at me. "Give me some credit, Xan. I'm not a lovesick padawan."

"No, you're a lovesick Jedi master ," I retort, rolling away from him and sitting up. I don't know why this bothers me. It hasn't mattered before. I knew what I was getting into.

Qui straddles me from behind and pulls me back against his chest. "I love you," he whispers.

"I know," I reply, closing my eyes. His lips trail down my neck, and his fingertips flutter across my chest, dragging across my nipples teasingly. "I just wish I knew what Organa wants to talk to me about."

Qui flops back onto the mattress behind me with a groan. "I wish you knew too, so I could have your attention."

I turn to him. "You've had my attention for the last hour and a half! How can you possibly be up for more?"

"I haven't had your complete attention," Qui retorts. "That's why it took an hour and a half."

"I'm surprised you're not exhausted, then," I tell him, stretching out beside him. "I mean, at your age--"

"Fuck you," he grumbles.

"You already did," I quip, nipping at his shoulder.

He smiles. I pull the sheet over us, and we're both quiet for a while.

"My master is back on Coruscant," Qui says.

For a moment I think I must have drifted off and started dreaming. "Sorry?" I reply, yawning.

"Dooku is here. I've been talking with him."

I stare at the ceiling, wondering how long this has been going on. "I thought he left the Order years ago."

"He did." Qui is silent again, and I have the impression there is something more he wants to tell me. After a long moment, he blows out a breath. "I spoke to him this morning, actually. He's very interested in this senate hearing."

"So's everyone else," I snort.

"He believes the committee has a political agenda."

"Really ?" I retort. Qui ignores my sarcasm.

"He has some very interesting theories about Senator Palpatine's motivations," Qui continues. "I think you should talk to him, Xan."

"To Palpatine?"

He elbows me. "No, to Dooku."

The room is quiet again, except for the rustle of sheets as Qui shifts into a more comfortable position. "All right," I reply. "I'll talk to him. It would be good to see him again, anyway." Qui kisses my cheek and falls back against the pillow. "Are you staying?" I ask.

"If it's all right," he mumbles. "I've missed waking up with you the last few mornings."

"Yes, well, your bed's a little small for three." I think I managed to keep the bitterness out of my tone.

"That's why I'm here, you know. I wanted to spend time with you, without Obi."

I sigh, knowing that means he's also spent time with Obi, without me. I can live with the arrangement, though.

I've been in senators' offices before, and they're often garish, reeking of power and prestige. Senator Organa's suite, in contrast, is decorated in a simple, elegant style. His assistant is sitting behind a large desk in the reception area, staring at a monitor. Her dark hair is swept back into a tail at the nape of her neck, and her expression is one of intense concentration. I clear my throat, and she glances up at me.

"You must be Jedi Xanatos," she says, smiling tightly. "The senator is expecting you. He's in a meeting with his colleague from Alderaan at the moment, if you'd like to have a seat." She gestures towards a stiff-looking sofa. "Tea?"

"Yes, thank you," I reply, sitting. I'm early, of course -- mostly because I was terrified of being late. Public transport around the senate complex can be quite busy, so I gave myself quite a lot of time to get here.

A few minutes later, she brings me a cup of tea and settles behind her desk once more. Her fingers tap quietly against the control panel. I glance around as I wait, studying the art on the walls and the plants scattered about. There are a few holocubes on the table before me -- probably popular periodicals. I reach for the closest one and the door to Organa's inner office opens. A man appears, wearing elegant robes of office, his face wizened and aristocratic.

"Thank you, Senator Antilles," I hear, and Bail Organa appears in the doorway. The older man smiles warmly at him as he exits.

"Xanatos," Bail says, smiling at me. "Thank you for coming."

I stand and cross the room to bow. "The pleasure is mine, Senator Organa."

He clasps my hand and grins. "Bail, if you please. Come on in."

His office is simple and functional in design. Holographic scenes of famous Alderaani landmarks hang on a few walls, and a large window looks directly into the next building.

"Not much of a view," I quip.

"Junior senators never get the good offices," he laughs. "Although, if the Barilian in the office across the breezeway forgets to close his blinds, I get to watch him fuck his assistant on occasion."

I laugh out loud before I remember I'm in a senator's office, and then I just stare at him, incredulously.

"Sorry," he says, wincing. "That wasn't very professional, was it? I've picked up Ben's sense of humor, I'm afraid."

I shrug and smile. I assume "Ben" is Obi-Wan, since that was his code name on the undercover mission. I'd wondered where it came from, but I would never have guessed it was a nickname given to him by a lover.

"Well, let's get to it, shall we?" Bail gestures to a chair by his desk, and I sit. He sits as well, and takes a deep breath. "I've received some information that is... well, a bit disturbing, and I wanted to tell you before the hearing. I suspect there are some members of the committee who would have preferred the Jedi to be blindsided, but--" He breaks off and stares at me.

I realize I'm gaping at him in a most un-Jedi-like manner. "I'm sorry," I say, embarrassed. "I'm just surprised you'd want to tell me ."

Bail nods. "Ben -- Obi-Wan is a bit sensitive about the committee issue these days. It's a topic we tend to avoid. You aren't as intimidating as the members of the Council, and I..." He pauses, and almost looks embarrassed. "I've heard a great deal about you, and Obi-Wan speaks so highly of you. I suppose I thought I could trust you."

I clench my jaw to keep it from dropping again. Obi-Wan thinks highly of me? A senator of the Republic would be intimidated by the Jedi Council?

"And you were in charge of the mission that inspired this investigation, so I thought you had a right to know." Bail taps his fingers on the desk. "We've received information from an anonymous source in the Temple that the Jedi keep complete records of all missions. And that these records include surveillance holos and videos, when those are available."

I nod, not certain where this is going. "Yes, that's true. Part of mission protocol is to collect that evidence, whenever possible. It's important to review in cases where the outcome of a mission is questionable, or if there are conflicting reports, or--"

"Or if there was sexual abuse of a minor involved?" Bail interjects.

I blink at him. "If there are surveillance videos of sexual activity, we collect those as well. I'm sure you can imagine such items would be of value on the sex market. We don't want them to fall into the wrong hands."

"And those videos are archived and reviewed, as well?"

"Yes, of course."

"And the archives are accessible to anyone?"

"Unless the missions were classified, yes." Oh. I think I see where this is going. "So... it appears that anyone who wanted could have access to video footage of underage padawans in sexual situations. But that's--"

"Let me be honest, Xanatos," Bail sighs, leaning forward. "The fact that the Council keeps and reviews those materials is difficult enough, but we've been told that some of those videos are circulated for... other purposes."

"Other...?" I snort at him. "Look, I have no idea what you've heard, but--"

"In particular, there is a member of the Council who seems to keep a rather large collection of these items in his personal archive." Bail raises an eyebrow at me.

"There are Jedi whose job it is to monitor the welfare of padawans put in difficult situations," I retort, struggling to keep calm. "For all I know, there's a Council member who reviews those cases as well."

"But you must admit it does appear rather suspicious."

"To outsiders, who don't know our ways, yes, I suppose so," I reply. "But you know how we are. Promiscuity is the norm for Jedi. No one looks twice at sex, and the age of consent is generally considered to be fourteen standard."

"It is?" Bail asks, surprised. "It's eighteen on Coruscant, though."

"Yes, but it's overlooked. That law doesn't apply to Jedi."

"I sense a theme," Bail says, raising an eyebrow.

I shake my head and look away. I can't believe I'm defending the Jedi Order to a fucking senator! It's not as if I agree with everything the Order does. "I do understand how this might look, of course, and I appreciate the warning." I attempt a smile.

"I thought you had a right to know," Bail sighs. "Look, I'm on your side." I snort in response, but his expression is earnest. "I am , Xan, despite what you think. I only accepted this assignment because I thought I could help prevent this investigation from becoming a mynock-shoot. Palpatine's intentions are good, but--"

"Are they?" I interrupt.

Bail stares at me. "I believe so, yes. But I can't say that of everyone on the committee. There are at least two people who seem to have some sort of personal vendetta in mind. I think that's why Palpatine asked me to participate. He knows I... understand the Jedi better than most."

"He knows about your relationship with Obi-Wan?" I ask. Bail nods, though he seems uncomfortable. Quite uncomfortable, now that I think about it. "He isn't blackmailing you, is he?"

Bail's mouth opens and closes, and his lips press into a thin line before he smiles, unconvincingly. "Don't be ridiculous."

Something tells me my suggestion isn't ridiculous at all.

The Balilaka Tea House is an old establishment, the kind that primarily caters to students and artists. I chose not to wear Jedi robes here today, since it would undoubtedly have attracted attention. And I'm certain that's not what Dooku had in mind.

He's already seated in a dim corner, sipping from a cup that looks to be as old as he is. His hair is now completely gray, closely cut in an elegant style one often sees on holo-vid actors. He's dressed casually, though his clothes are clearly of exceptional quality. He simply exudes power and charm. I join him, sitting cross-legged on the cushioned floor at a low table.

"Hello, Xan," he smiles, extending a hand in greeting. His grip is warm and strong, and takes me back to the first time I ever met him.

I was a child, and he'd come to Telos to negotiate an agricultural import treaty between my father and the administrator of a nearby planet. I remember standing nervously behind my father, peeking around his robes at the strangely dressed off-worlders who'd come to speak with him. Dooku was pleasant and dignified, and made a strong impression on my father. Qui-Gon was a padawan then, not even twenty years old. I'd had no idea they'd be taking me away to Coruscant to become a Jedi, less than a week later.

Dooku pours a cup for me from the steaming kettle and pushes it across the table with one tastefully jeweled hand. "I come here quite often," he says. "There aren't many places like it on Coruscant."

"I like it," I reply, smiling. Master Dooku always had a way of making me feel at ease.

"I'm pleased to see you again," he continues. "You look much as I imagined you would, except for the hair."

I laugh. "I can't stand to wear it as long as Qui does, you know. You look well, Master."

"Dooku," he corrects. "I gave up that title years ago." I nod. I want to ask him why he left and why he's returned, but it isn't my concern. He invited me here for a reason. "I was pleased when Qui told me you would meet with me," he continues. "I have, of course, heard of the senate investigation into your recent undercover mission."

"News of the hearing is hardly confidential," I snort, "despite the fact that the details of the mission are. Unfortunately, secrecy only increases speculation and curiosity."

"The newsfeeds have been rather unkind to the Jedi of late," Dooku says. "And I do not think any of this is an accident."

"What do you mean?"

Dooku purses his lips. "Xanatos, what do you know about the Sith?"

"The Sith?" I repeat, startled. "The usual, I suppose. I thought they'd been extinct for centuries, though."

"I have good reason to believe they are not," he says, raising his teacup to his lips.

"And you think the Sith have something to do with this investigation?" It's all I can do not to laugh. The idea is preposterous.

"I understand your reaction," Dooku remarks, smiling. "However, I can assure you I'm quite serious about this." He leans closer, lowering his voice to a rough whisper. "Five years ago, I was contacted by a man who claimed to be the apprentice of a Sith. He was bringing me a message from his master. I thought it was a trick of some sort, intended to draw me into a trap. After all, I was quite successful working on my own, and I had enemies."

"And the idea is almost ridiculous," I say. "I wouldn't have believed it myself." I'm not certain I believe him , actually. Perhaps he's gone mad.

"And I didn't. In fact, I dismissed it altogether. But the man was rather insistent. He attacked me with a saber, and I barely escaped with my life."

I feel the blood drain from my face. "One can find lightsabers on the black market," I suggest.

"He fought as well as any Jedi I've ever known," Dooku continues. "And he was strong in the Dark Side."

I shake my head, unable to believe what I'm hearing. "Are you certain?"

He nods. "It wasn't the last time I was contacted. I began to study the history of the Sith, and to talk to other former Jedi. Many of them had been contacted as well."

I swallow and push my tea cup away. This is surreal, to say the least.

"I've been collecting information for the last few years, and all of it leads to the Senate." His eyes are dark and serious, and I find I can't look away. "If I'm right, the Sith have considerable influence there, and are perhaps controlling the Senate to an alarming degree."

"You think this committee hearing is part of that?"

Dooku pauses. "It's suspicious, at the very least. There seems to have been a systematic effort to discredit the Jedi during the last few years, and a small group of Senators have been involved in each incident."

"Surely you don't mean Palpatine!" I say. "He's been a tremendous supporter of the Jedi in the Senate."

"Until now," Dooku replies. "And what better way to undermine one's target than to befriend him first?"

I shake my head and look away. I've been away from the Temple for years, consumed by my own work. I wonder if I would have seen any of this had I been here. I look up again. "Does Qui-Gon know?"

Dooku nods. "He wants to take our evidence before the Council, but I fear they will not listen."

"He's probably right," I sigh. "They can't see much with their heads stuck up their own asses."

Dooku snorts in response, examining his tea cup. "I left the Order because I couldn't bear to live and work within the confines of the Code. There is much wrong in this universe, and the closed minds of the Council cannot see the darkness that is settling over us all." I shiver at his words, and he looks back to me. "Qui-Gon holds you in high regard, Xan. We could benefit from your help and experience."

"What can I do?"

"Those hearings are confidential, but you're going to be in the center of most of the activity. You can observe the senators involved, look for any suspicious patterns of behavior or questioning."

I nod. "I'll help if I can. But my primary concern, of course, is covering my own ass."

"Can't say I blame you," Dooku smiles. "They seem to be looking for a target."

Bail's warning about the Council member with an alleged cache of pornography floods my mind. "I think they've found one," I whisper. Dooku raises an eyebrow in response. I retrieve my teacup and refill it. "What do you know of a young Senator named Bail Organa?"

Dooku shrugs. "In his first term, showing signs of independent thought, despite his family's influence in his home planet's conservative political structure. Seems to be sympathetic to the Jedi." He pauses, smiling. "And of course, there's Obi-Wan. Qui seems quite concerned for his padawan."

"Is he... do you have any reason to believe he'd be involved in any of this?"

Dooku purses his lips. "I don't know, to be honest. He's become one of Palpatine's group lately, but there's nothing to suggest his involvement with the Sith. Why do you ask?"

"I met with him this morning, and he told me some of the committee's concerns and intentions."

"Really?" Dooku asks. "Can you trust him?"

"I don't know," I reply, swirling my tea cup. "And I don't have much time."

I find Obi-Wan warming up in one of the training salles. According to the room schedule, he's teaching a sixth level lightsaber technique class here in half an hour. He nods at me in greeting while he moves, perhaps assuming I've just come to watch.

"You were a hard man to find this morning," I tell him, crossing the floor to stand over him as he stretches.

He smiles. "Sometimes I don't want to be found."

"Qui doesn't seem to have any trouble," I reply, but he says nothing in response. I sit on the mat next to him. "Are you ready for the hearing tomorrow?"

The calm façade seems to collapse. "I was trying not to think about it." He grimaces and closes his eyes. "I just have such a... bad feeling about all of it, you know? As if--"

"As if there's a hidden agenda? As if we're walking into a trap?"

He casts me a curious look. "Yes," he replies. "I thought it was just me."

"I don't think this is an ordinary investigation," I tell him. "I think there is something much more sinister going on."

"Sinister?" he asks, forehead wrinkling. "I'd believe there's someone with a vendetta against the Jedi, or trying to promote their own career, but--"

"Do you trust Bail?" I ask.

"I..." He swallows. "What are you suggesting?"

"Not what you think," I reply. "I met with him yesterday morning, and he told me that the committee is quite interested in the procedure of collecting surveillance materials involving underage padawans in compromising situations."

Obi-Wan stares blankly at me. "Why would that matter? Would they rather we left such things for others to find?"

"I think they believe the Jedi are exploiting children... sexually."

Obi-Wan's eyes widen. " Bail believes that?"

"No -- he's the one who warned me. I don't think he believes it, but..." I shake my head. "I've lived out there -- away from the Jedi -- for a long time. I know how people think. They won't understand this. It's going to be a scandal, and it will harm the image of the Jedi in the eyes of the people."

Obi looks shocked, but he doesn't argue with me. Perhaps he isn't as naïve as I'd thought.

"Why did he tell you ?" Obi asks. He doesn't say, and not me , but it's certainly implied.

I shrug. "You're his boyfriend. How should I know?" Obi snorts in response, and I sigh, frustrated. "Look, I just wanted to know if you thought I should trust him on this. I wanted to be certain it wasn't a diversion of some sort."

Obi shakes his head. "I trust Bail. I don't think he would make something like that up. I think he's trying to help." He exhales, as if trying to settle himself, and looks away.

"I think he may have been blackmailed into being on the committee," I say, "because of his relationship with you."

Obi's color drains away as he looks to me again. "Did he tell you that?"

"No. I suggested it, and he... well, he didn't deny it very forcefully."

"Shit," Obi mutters. "I didn't think of that."

We're interrupted by the sound of children's voices entering the salle, and we both stand. Time for Obi's class.

"I'll see you tomorrow morning, then," I tell him. "Perhaps you can work off some of your anxiety with these little buggers." Obi smiles, but it seems forced.

Just as I turn to leave, one of the children catches my eye -- a boy with a mop of blonde hair is mock-sparring with a Trawall girl who towers over him by a head. I pause to watch, and he turns at that moment and sees me.

"Xanatos!" he shouts, sprinting towards me.

Obi-Wan frowns at me. "You know him?"

"Long story," I reply. "I'm thinking of taking a padawan."

"Him?" Obi shakes his head. "You'll have your hands full."

The boy collides with me then, wrapping his arms tightly around my waist. "Did you come to watch me?" he asks, blue eyes wide. His happiness at seeing me relieves some of the guilt I've felt at not seeking him out since my return from the mission.

Maybe this is what I need. Maybe Qui and Yoda are right. I cup his head and smile back at him.

"Hello, Anakin."



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