Chapter Three

"When I tell you to," Qui-Gon whispered as they approached the gangway.

She did, the minute he pulled out his lightsaber and it sprang to life in his hand. With a shriek, one of the spider guards scuttled up behind her, but Qui-Gon was there first, decapitating and kicking it against the next one.

She stood at the airlock, ready to palm the switch the minute he crossed the threshold. When that moment came, he was beset upon by three of the little monsters at once, all of varying sizes. Tengri watched the blur of the battle, faster than her eye could follow, as her Jedi sliced and diced the monsters into oblivion.

A final step backward, a final kick of the last bug remnants off of his leg, and then Qui-Gon was beside her. Tengri slammed her fist into the lock, and it hissed closed. Little bits of mandibles and legs slid into the general cargo area, but Tengri didn't mind. Qui-Gon was safe, they'd made it to the ship, and there were no spiders inside...were there?

The thought chilled her blood as Qui-Gon sprinted for the controls.


Skidding to a halt at the bulkhead, he whirled at her panicked command.

"How do you know they're not on board?"

"Because I'd feel them through the Force," came the terse answer. Continuing on to the control room, he left her alone with the body parts.

Edging past them and feeling less bold now that her Jedi was gone, Tengri determined there was nothing for it. Skulking down the corridor, she checked her cabin first, then gathered her courage to dare stick her nose inside his cabin.

It looked every bit as austere -- and empty -- as she had hoped it would be. Nothing squealed and attacked her, nothing hung from the ceiling waiting to pounce on her. Breathing a sign of relief, she went in search of her savior.

Sitting down in the chair opposite him, trusting that he didn't care that she was sitting on his cloak and knowing that they'd likely be pursued, Tengri asked, "How can I help?"

He hunched over the controls -- a big man in a small space, with his knees butting against the panel. He didn't answer until the ship had lifted off.

"Watch that button," came the order, with a brief gesture to something on her left. "It's the deflector shield."

He had only just started the calculations to Coruscant when she had to interrupt him. "We're hit. Down to twenty-five percent deflector power."

Shoving out of the chair, Qui-Gon climbed into the turret to begin their defense. Looking up into the gun cage and watching him for a moment, she bit her lip and eyed the computer he'd left. Taking his place at the console, she looked at the coordinates, read back the calculations he'd completed, and then set to work. The deflector monitor blinked faster. Down to twenty percent... ten... five....

Her fingers danced over the keyboard even as she decided not to tell Qui-Gon of the growing emergency. A lucky strike can kill you just as dead at twenty-five percent as it can at five... she realized. Adding to the pressure he's been under all day isn't going to make him shoot with any more accuracy, or the bugs stop coming.

She shot the Marauder into hyperspace just as the monitor went solid. Zero deflector shields. But it doesn't matter, now. Unless Coruscant is so angry with what I've done that they fire on us.

* * *

Climbing down from the gun cage, Qui-Gon waited until he reached the deck before moping the sweat from his brow.

"You finished the coordinates?" he asked, somewhat breathless and all but weaving on his feet.

"Yes, but the deflectors are gone. We should reach the Coruscant system tomorrow." Leaving his captain's chair, she gestured toward the calculator. "You can check my numbers if you like."

His warm chuckle startled her. "My lady, I don't care if you sent us to the Outer Rim; we're safe, the danger has been left behind, and--" Belatedly, he noticed the blood streaked across his deck, pooling around her bare feet. "Tengri, you're hurt."

Her gaze followed his downward. "Am I? I can't feel it."

It was then that she cracked, and he saw it happen. She'd been so terribly brave, so grown up, he should have known it would happen. Sinking down onto the floor, she stared at him only to begin shaking and sobbing as though her heart would break.

"Wha... What's wrong with me?"

"There goes all of your adrenaline." Squatting beside her, he stroked back her muddy hair. "It's probably draining right out of your toes."

His levity made her cry even harder.

"Sweet Tengri... Come here." Scooping her into his arms, he carried her out of the control room and into his cabin.

"I'm sorry...."

"No need to be sorry, dearest. What you're feeling is perfectly natural. You've survived a terrible ordeal and stayed strong throughout it. Now that it's over, your body's reacting by trying to release all of the tension and fear you felt. Just let the emotions flow, it's what you need. But we also need to tend to your hurts."

He settled her in his bath before rummaging in the emergency locker as she continued crying. By the time he'd assembled the necessary supplies, she was only hiccuping.

"I feel so... so silly."

"You don't look very good, either."

She blinked at his tone, then grinned to see him smirking through the grime as well. "You need a shower."

"Ladies first. Just as soon as I look at your legs." He tried to leer at her, but she was believing none of it after what they'd been through together, and she just smiled at him.

"That's it," he mumbled, getting out the antiseptic and the sterile pads before kneeling at her feet. "I'm losing my touch."

The next few minutes were filled with silence, as Qui-Gon cleaned and dressed the cut on her thigh.

"Where did this come from?" she asked, as though noticing it for the first time.

"The King's personal physician insisted on testing to see if you were dead, and I wasn't fast enough to stop him. I'm sorry for that, Tengri. You'll always have a scar, I'm afraid. There's no helping that, but at least I can make sure it doesn't get infected."

"Thank you," she said softly, bending her head close to his for a better look at the injury. "Are you all right?" she suddenly thought to ask.

"Mmm. Just a couple of bruises." He shrugged. "It's good to be on the right side of a lightsaber."

Finished with her leg, he rocked back on his ankles and tipped up her bare feet. Whistling low, he picked a bit of moss from between her toes. "Tengri, it looks like you've been walking on broken glass."

"What?" Wrenching one of her feet out of his grasp, she turned it so she could look at it herself. "Oh. Yuck."

"Come now, give it back." Recapturing her foot, he proceeded to clean it, and the other as well. "You'll be happy to know they looked worse than they are. Just a few cuts. Just what you get for running about in your bare feet."

"As if I had a choice. As if I could run in any of those princess shoes my mother insisted I bring."

Letting got her foot, he returned it to the floor and its rightful owner. "You'll be good as new in a few weeks, though I expect you'll be walking softly for the next few days."

"Qui-Gon," she said softly, placing a hand on his shoulder to stop him when he would have gotten up and started clearing the supplies. "I slept through a great deal of what you did for me, but I stillk now that you've saved my life." Boldly, she cupped his face in her hands. "I want to thank you, but I don't know how."

He sat very still as her fingers continued probing his features. At first, he thought she intended only to stroke down his face and be done with it, but a few more caresses convinced him that she was all but mapping as she went.

"Tengri, what are you doing?"

"Making memories," she whispered. "When we're far apart from each other, I want to be able to close my eyes and see your face and remember every detail of what you look like."

"Ah, yes. One filthy, muddy, slimy Jedi at your service." Evading her hands, he rose to his feet and bowed elegantly before her. Bits of mud flaked off of his hair, sifting down onto the floor between them, followed by heavy, muddy strands flowing over his shoulders. He ran his hands through the hair, pushing it away from his face and dirtying his hands once more.

The look of disgust he gave the dirt made Tengri laugh. Placing his hands against the wall on either side of her head, Qui-Gon loomed over her.

"Making your memories would probably be infinitely more enjoyable -- for both of us -- if you did it when your hands were clean." Bending quickly, he placed a quick kiss on her forehead. "Take a shower, Tengri. The gods know you need one."

With that, he left her to her privacy. Getting to her feet, she let the rags of the gown she was wearing fall to the floor. As she turned on the water, she laughed outright to see the imprint of his muddy hands on the wall, right where he'd placed them. Carefully she placed her smaller hands inside the muddy prints, staring as the mark of his large hands extended far beyond her own.

I don't think I'll wash those off.

* * *


Turning from the porthole he'd been staring out of while waiting for her to finish showering so that he could follow her, the Jedi smiled to see the princess shuffling toward him dressed in nothing but the largest towel she could find.

"I have a small problem. All of my clothes were left... back there. Do you have something I could wear?" she asked shyly. "Anything? I'm not picky, really, just something more... uh, secure than a towel?"

"Of course. How remiss of me not to think of it earlier."

She followed him back into his cabin, where he dug out one of his undertunics and a rope belt from something else for her to tie around her middle.

"Thank you." Disappearing down the corridor, she headed for her own cabin to change.

Scratching bits of itchy dirt from the base of his neck where his long hair was plastered against it, Qui-Gon headed for his own shower. Once in the bath, he chuckled to see that a second set of dirty hand prints were now between his upon the wall. Small, dainty, feminine handprints.

He didn't wash them off, either.

* * *

Emerging from his shower, Qui-Gon slipped into a floor length robe and exited his cabin while toweling his hair dry. The smell of something hot and ready to eat filled his senses, making him aware of just how hungry he was. Coming into the main area, he found Tengri waiting for him. Eyeing his tunic on her, he saw that it made for a more than modest covering, reaching the middle of her thighs.

She stared at him so intently that he had to ask. "What, did I miss a spot?"

"No. It's just... Even though I've only known you a few days, I guess I've grown used to thinking of you as always looking like a Jedi. It's strange to see you in just a robe, barefoot, and without your lightsaber."

"If you're feeling insecure, I could go get it."

She grinned at him.

"I don't think I'll be needing it at dinner, will I?"

"Um, no." She shoved the salad bowl at him. "Shall we eat?"

Filling his plate, he ate a few bites -- enough to shut up his grumbling stomach -- before gesturing at her with his fork. "I'm very sorry that I had to cut your hair."

"Don't be." She sounded as though she meant it. "I'd rather have my life." Leaning across the table, she caught a handful of his damp hair and spread it between her fingers. "Besides, you've got enough for both of us."

"Mmm. Do you want me to clean yours up later? Even it out, at least?"

"That would be nice, if you promise to use a pair of scissors this time." They ate in companionable silent for a moment, until she asked, "Why are we going to Coruscant?"

He shrugged. "I don't think it's safe to take you back to Prascene. Coruscant is my home, and I can easily continue to protect you while we negotiate things with your brother and... the others. The Senate is also there, should we need to involve them."

"You mean, Coruscant is where I'll stay until Vol or my brother or perhaps the Senate decides where I can go, what I can do, and the life I'll can allowed to live?" She shook her head. "Maybe I should have set a course for the Outer Rim." Tears filled her eyes. "I thought when you rescued me that I could rescue my life, too. I suppose it's just a wayward dream to hope that, one day, I'll actually be able to live my own life?"

His hand covered hers on the table. "It's not a wayward dream, just one you must work to fulfill over the next few days. I do not believe it's unattainable."

She smiled through her tears. "That means a lot to me, you know?"

Lifting her hand, he pressed his lips to her fingers. "No matter what happens, Tengri, please know that I care for you."

She nodded understanding, her eyes shadowed with sadness even as she gently pulled her hand away. "I know. You can't help it. It's what you've been trained to do."

He fell silent at that remark and contemplated his plate for the rest of the meal. It was just as well; Tengri wasn't in the mood for any more conversation.

It figures... she thought. Just when I find a man I'm actually attracted to and would love to build a life with, it turns out that he's aeons older than me and out of reach because he's a pure and noble Jedi. But that doesn't matter because it's been decreed by my royal birth that I don't get a life, anyway. Maybe I should have stayed with the spiders? Even if they ate me, at least I'd be out of this misery.

Qui-Gon left the table once he'd finished, so Tengri took it upon herself to clear away the remains of the meal. Turning from the servo-droid that accepted the dirty plates, she nearly walked into the Jedi who had crept up on cat-feet and was standing very close behind her. He showed her a pair of scissors accompanied by a tumbler of water and gave a half smile. *Snick-snick,* said the scissors.

"Are you ready?"

Nodding her assent, she perched on the edge of table, which was the only place where what remained of her hair would be completely accessible to him.

"Hold these, please?" Placing the scissors in her left hand and the water in her right, he lifted her hands so that they were level with her shoulders. "Don't move."

"Is this an old Jedi battle position?"


Dipping his fingers into the water, he massaged through her hair, wetting it in preparation of cutting it. She went against the movements at first, refusing, in her disgusted mood, to give in to his caring. Discerning this, Qui-Gon changed tactics and began massaging her neck and shoulders, digging his fingers into rigid muscles and commanding them to relax. Half of it hurt, but half of it felt glorious. All but purring beneath his ministrations, she tipped back her head and closed her eyes.

"I'll bet that you give fantastic back rubs."

Leaning down, he spoke against the shell of her ear. "As a matter of fact, I do. Would you like one, later?"

She shivered under his onslaught, but was still unwilling to admit how he'd gotten to her. His affection was, after all, just part of his determination to 'do his duty. ' "Um... No, that's all right. I think a haircut is about all I can handle right now."

"Mmmm," he said in a tone that sounded more like, 'We'll discuss it later.'

When he stopped rubbing her shoulders and began combing her hair, Tengri felt more than a little disappointed.

Well, what did you expect? she growled at herself. It's not as if you encouraged him to keep touching you. He makes advances -- at least, I think that was an advance? -- but you rebuffed him. What's an honorable Jedi going to do, force himself on you? Not likely.

Qui-Gon trimmed swiftly and efficiently, as though he'd had many years experience.

What? she wondered, do the Jedi cut each others' hair?

In only a few seconds, he was back to ruffling her shorn locks through his fingers, this time in an effort to dry it. There wasn't much left; it obeyed him quickly.

"All done." He rested his hands across her shoulders, gave them a final squeeze before taking back his comb and tumbler.

A soft chiming from a wall console made them both turn. Giving a deep sigh, the Jedi set aside his grooming tools and crossed the room to the comscreen. He paused for a moment, as though knowing that he did not want to have this conversation, and then drew a deep breath before reaching out to punch the button that would activate the link. Mace Windu's stern face appeared. Beside him, standing on a dais, was Yoda. Qui-Gon offered a bow. Without preamble or greeting, Mace growled.

"You've pulled some fast ones in the past, Qui-Gon, but this is the absolute limit. I trust you will make it clear to us how such a simple mission could have dissolved into total chaos?"

Not giving Qui-Gon the chance to offer any explanation, Windu plowed on. "Do you realize the death and destruction you've caused, how much you're going to continue to cause? Not only have you decimated Prince Vol's personal guard, but you've ignited an interplanetary war. Vol has declared war on Prascene, which hasn't a clue as to what's happened. Prascene has informed us that not only will it defend itself, but it's making plans to attack the Jedi on Coruscant as well. What the hell do you think you're doing, running off with the Princess like this? You will turn your ship around and take her back, right now."

"Am I to be given the opportunity to explain my actions, or has the Council already damned me?" Qui-Gon asked mildly.

"Explain you will," Yoda spoke for the first time, all but slamming his cane through the dais. "And now."

"Princess Tengri was not advised of certain facts before the King required her signature. Upon her arrival on Erachnis, she was made aware of these facts and realized that she could not honor her part of the agreement."

"Sign, she did," Yoda pointed out sternly. "Back she must go."

"The Princess was misinformed; the document is not legal," Qui-Gon said stubbornly. "She has asked for my help. As a Jedi, I am obligated to assist her. I will not take her back."

Windu's face clouded as his old friend bowed calmly and reached for the console.

"Qui-Gon--" he warned, a scant second before the Jedi cut him off. The link was severed, the conversation was ended.

Turning, the Jedi met Tengri's stricken gaze.

"They've declared war on my people," she said. "I can't let others die because of me. I have to go back."

"No, you don't." All Qui-Gon did was raise his hand and come to stand before her, but Tengri perceived the depths of his defiance and his determination. "I didn't save you from Vol only to have you go back and sacrifice yourself to him. As citizens of the Republic, we're all required to abide by its laws. Those laws decree that total disclosure must be part of any legal agreement. Your brother broke that law, which renders his precious agreement null and void. Once this has been made clear to the Council and the Senate, Vol will back off and abandon this war."

"I wish I could believe you, Qui-Gon, but I don't, and that's not your fault. You see the galaxy in terms of black and white, right and wrong, while people like my brother and Prince Vol are masters at playing in the shades of grey. You can serve and protect me, but you can't protect me from politics. And this is a matter of politics, not justice. It's not part of the Jedi way."

Gently, Qui-Gon took her face in his hands. "Tengri, I know that you've obeyed political authority all of your life. That's all you know, all your father and your brother ever allowed you to know. It was convenient for them to keep you where they wanted you. But you have a choice now. That choice is not part of the Jedi Code; it's part of being a sentient being living under the rule of the Republic. It's why the Republic exists, why the Jedi exist, to prevent those in power like your brother and Vol from trampling the rights of others."

Her eyes swam with unshed tears as she struggled to absorb the concepts he was trying to impart. "But my 'changing my mind,' as you call it, is hurting other people."

"That is not true," he advised her gently. "Did you tell your brother to declare war? Or deliberately incite Vol to attack? Everyone chooses their own path; the path your brother and Prince Vol have chosen is one that will hurt other people. They have the right to change their minds and stop the fighting. The question you must answer to your own satisfaction and happiness is whether you will let others manipulate you along that path as has happened in the past. Just because someone tells you that you must do a thing doesn't mean that you must do it."

She narrowed her eyes. "Something tells me that the Jedi Council would not agree with you."

"The Council does not have all of the facts, any more than you had all of the facts when you signed that agreement. You speak to me of shades of grey, and I understand what you are saying. But Tengri, there are no shades of grey in this situation. Either you were completely informed by the King or you were not: black or white."

"I wasn't informed!" she reasserted. "Do you think I would have gone quietly if I'd had so much as a hint of what I was walking into?"

She shuddered at the renewed memory of the ordeal so recently passed, and he reached out to rest a reassuring hand atop hers. Hers disappeared beneath it, she noted absently.

"Then it is your right to maintain your self-respect and your life's path by telling the Council what you have told me. It is your right to be assertive -- like a Jedi -- as opposed to being aggressive -- like your brother and Vol. Do you understand?"

"I think so. You're saying that I have the right to be who I am without changing my ideas or behavior to satisfy someone else, and let the chips fall where they may?"

He nodded.

"Do I have any other rights I don't know about?"

"You have the right to defend yourself or ask the Jedi to do it for you if you don't feel that you can."

She grinned up at him, images of spider corpses in her mind. "I think I got that part." On impulse, she threw her arms around his neck, having to hop up to do it and drawing down his head to hug him tightly. "Thank you, Qui-Gon. I know that I keep saying it and the words seem so empty, but--"

He opened his mouth to reply, but she interrupted him.

"And don't you dare tell me that you're just doing what you've been trained to do! I don't want to hear it. For just a minute, I want to pretend that I matter -- me, Tengri -- more than your precious Jedi Code."

She still had him around the neck; he didn't dare pull back. The fire in her eyes was daring him to say what she didn't want to hear. For a moment, his sense of humor almost got the better of him and he was tempted to do just that.

Her outrage trembled through the Force, easily discernible and totally honest. Beneath it flowed something else -- a wistful yearning that he had no trouble comprehending with his experience of women. The part of him that was just a man responded to that wistfulness; he wanted nothing else in that moment but to please her.

"You matter, Tengri," he said softly, sliding his arms around her waist and stepping forward so that their bodies touched. So slender was she, and so big were his hands, that his fingertips met at the small of her back. Ignoring the surprise in her eyes as she was brought up hard against the first male body she'd ever been so close to, Qui-Gon breathed against her mouth.

"You can't possibly know how much you could come to matter to me."

Pressing his lips lightly against hers, he deepened the kiss when she didn't resist or pull away. Her fingers clenched in his hair, she moaned against his mouth. It was all the encouragement Qui-Gon needed, regardless part of his mind was shouting that to kiss this woman was conduct unbecoming of a Jedi. He'd ignored that voice countless times before, and would again if the gods were willing.

Tengri certainly was. Arching against him, she broke the kiss only to whimper, rethink her angle of attack, and initiate the next one.

When next they separated, both needing to breathe, Qui-Gon released her with a rueful smile and stepped back a few inches. The fire in his loins would let him do no less; he knew that she was too innocent for him to go any further down this path, too entangled by her own emotions and the many decisions that would change her life over the next few weeks. The last thing she needed to complicate life even further was an affair with a Jedi.

"That probably wasn't the wisest thing for me to have done," Qui-Gon admitted in a voice roughened by passion.

"No," she breathed, staring as though she was seeing him for the first time. "But I'm not sorry you did it. Are you?"


"" Tengri shivered slightly and wrapped her arms around her as though to hug the memory of his embrace to her. "You said that I have a choice? About everything?"

He nodded, half afraid of what she'd say next.

Licking her lips and frowning, she struggled to focus and bring the conversation back to the matters of consequence they'd been discussing. "Having a choice is part of Republic's code, not the Jedi Code?"

"It's part of both." Smoothing back his hair with shaking hands, Qui-Gon gathered his power and dignity like a cloak around him once more. "The former governs the latter. It's the code of most people in this galaxy who live normal, compassionate lives and allow others to do the same."

"My brother and Prince Vol are not most people," she pointed out. "In fact, it's arguable that those spiders are people at all, if you want to get technical. But whether they're bastards or bugs, I can still take my case before the Council and the Senate and nothing will change. I don't think my little efforts will stop anyone from fighting over me. If nothing else, it will be a matter of male ego."

Qui-Gon tried to think beyond his arousal. Moving past Tengri, he threw himself onto the bench behind the games console where their first encounter had taken place -- aeons ago, now, it seemed.

"What we need is a replacement," he announced. "Something Vol will take instead of you."

Sinking down on the chair opposite Qui-Gon, Tengri noticed how his hands were shaking, how he clenched his jaw and avoided looking at her.

I thought he just kissed me out of kindness, she thought, totally shocked to discover that it wasn't so. By the gods, I've got a Jedi wanting me!

The concept was both terrifying and empowering. For a long moment, she simply sat silently and watched Qui-Gon. She knew that part of him was trying to figure out a way to save her. Again. Another, very male part of him was clamoring to be noticed and acted upon. The battle wouldn't have been obvious to the casual observer, but Tengri had been with the lean Jedi long enough to realize that his little twitches and slight shifts were not usually part of the man.

He's definitely aroused, she marveled. She refused to look away, refused to feel embarrassed about something she'd helped create, something she realized she was very proud to have helped create. That mountain of a man right over there wants me... Me. Oh, wow.

As Qui-Gon still didn't seem to want to look at her, Tengri thought it was safe to stare, just a little longer. Make another memory, she prompted herself. The gods know he's not going to be in my life forever.

She studied him where he sat slouched, his long legs spread before him and totally encased by the soft, nubbly robe he wore. She noticed that he had the habit of wiggling his bare toes as he was lost in thought. Visually devouring his profile, Tengri traced it with her eyes until the image burned in her mind. Knowing firsthand the heavy texture of his hair, she remembered how it had felt beneath her fingers, memorized now how it flowed over his shoulders to frame a strong jaw with its soft brown moustache and beard.

She'd never known a man's beard could be soft; she'd imagined them all to be as prickly and hurtful as they looked. Her insides curled as she continued her exploration and studied Qui-Gon's lips -- the upper one so thin and subtle, the bottom one so eminently kissable. She remembered the small male noises he'd made while kissing her, realized that her own lips still tingled. Hugging the sensation to herself, she carried it with much reverence to the treasure chest of her heart to store it beside all of the other precious memories he'd given her. She'd changed a lifetime's worth over the past two days, scarcely recognizing the shy, introverted child whom Qui-Gon had led onto the Marauder.

"What we need," she murmured softly into the brooding silence between them, "is to give Vol a reason to not want me."

The Jedi turned his head, locking stormy blue eyes into hers. He still wants me, she realized, determined not to blush. Keep your mind on the present problem, not on what you wish could happen between you.

Shifting her thoughts to what she knew of Erachnis, she spoke aloud. Between the two of them, perhaps they could come up with a solution. "The whill is their biggest export; they're very big on its being guaranteed pure."

"Pure?" Qui-Gon echoed, shaking his head as though he didn't understand the sudden shift in subjects.

"They control the diet and the conditions under which it's is produced. A cleaner diet and a calmer worker produces a cleaner product." She shrugged. "I thought it was marketing hype. I never realized it could be taken literally."

"So they've got a factory full of clean, happy spiders." The slightest tone of irritation layered the Jedi's voice, despite his training. "Anything else? Have you something to make the spiders happier? Excluding sacrificing yourself, of course. Or do you plan to go back and antagonize them all into acts of impurity?"

Her eyes widened into his as he shifted uncomfortably on the couch.

"Pure spiders -- that's it!" she all but shouted, sitting upright and nearly sliding out of the chair and onto the deck in her excitement. "If I wasn't as pure as their product, Vol wouldn't want me!"

Qui-Gon stared at her, his expression uncomprehending and this side of exasperated.

"Don't you understand?" she all but stammered in an effort to get all of the words out at once. "The agreement I signed had a clause in it that I didn't think twice about -- it didn't seem important, then, but it's the key to the entire thing. In exchange for the highest grade and an endless supply of whill, my brother offered up a virgin. If I'm not, then Vol won't want me, my brother's deceit will void the contract, and we won't have to present my personal reasons or choices or anything to the Senate, or to the Jedi Council. Unless we tell them, no one will be able to tell when you and I... when I stopped being a virgin. My brother certainly never asked me if I was. He just assumed. Maybe he was wrong." She smiled, all innocence.

"Your choice not to marry Vol won't matter," Qui-Gon said slowly and softly, thinking aloud, "because the King's intent to deceive will supersede any decision you made on Erachnid."


The solution seemed quite clear to her, and had merits outside the political arena, but Qui-Gon still didn't move, and the expression in his eyes was beginning to worry her. For all of his passion a few minutes before, he didn't look very willing now to pick up where they'd left off.

While I didn't expect him to leap up and ravish me here on the floor, she thought, I think that I'd appreciate a little more enthusiasm. I know that part of him was interested in me this way just a few moments ago. Maybe this isn't a great idea. But if it's not, why isn't he saying so?

Steepling his fingers, Qui-Gon looked away from Tengri, almost dismissively.

Sliding out of her chair, she knelt at his side to lay a hand on his sleeve. "Do you think it would work?"

Silent, unsmiling, he nodded.

"Then what is it? What's wrong?"

"We would still have to tell the Council and the Senate that you are not a virgin. Such would become public knowledge, and your reputation would be forfeit. Your brother and your mother know you well: the suspicion would exist that I have been your lover."

"Qui-Gon," she murmured, taking his chin in her hand and forcing him to look at her. "I don't care."

"You should," he said, almost wearily. His hand stroked over her hair, so short now beneath his fingers. "You deserve better than someone old enough to be your father. Your first time should be with a man that you love, not someone like me who is incapable of offering you his entire life. And it should take place because of that love, not as part of political maneuverings. What you propose is equal to giving yourself to Prince Vol: it appears that you simply find me less objectionable. I hope," the Jedi added with a sad half-smile.

"You risked your life for me back there," she pointed out, "so you've already offered me your life. And I do love you. No, don't interrupt -- I know what you're going to say. You're going to tell me that we've known each other only a few days, that I can't love you, that I'm too young, emotionally, to even know what love is. Perhaps you're right. But Qui-Gon, I'd rather lie with you tonight than face the authorities on Coruscant tomorrow with nothing more to defend myself than, 'I'm sorry, honored sirs, but my brother lied to me, and I've changed my mind about marrying a spider, and a Jedi Knight says that's all right for me to do.' You're of that world, but you know that I have no such guarantees. There's no guarantee that the Senate won't rule for Erachnis and I'll be sent right back there without you to protect me." Her smile was wobbly, but her eyes were hopeful. "Couldn't you stack the deck in my favor, just a little more? Please?"