DEDICATION: To Ki, who knows why.

Warnings: Only for one of the JA books, and that's a passing mention of a somewhat minor character's death. I don't think anyone here will care.

Oops, thought of a warnaing. A main character death happens later in the story. At the risk of wrecking the story, I'll say that this death will probably upset you, but it might also be reassuring to know that I only do happy endings. Please trust me and keep reading; I promise you won't be disappointed.


"There is a fellowship more quiet even than solitude,
and which, rightly understood, is solitude made perfect."

–R. L. Stevenson
Travels with a Donkey: A Night Among the Pines


Obi-Wan's Master woke him with hand on his shoulder and a slight jolt through their training bond as dawn's first light crept across the Temple gardens.

"Follow me, Padawan." Traditional words, their meaning seared into the obedient soul of the young man who threw back the covers and did as his Master bade.

Qui-Gon wore a Master's formal robes this morning, clothed in white from head to toe. Obi-Wan paced three steps and slightly to his Master's side, naked as the coming ceremony demanded. He was eighteen now, halfway through his apprenticeship and considered an adult. This morning would see Qui-Gon guiding him alone through the formal Temple ritual acknowledging that. Afterward, he would be welcomed as a senior Padawan, able to depart from his Master's side at least part of the time. Able to select his first lover and to live separately with him or her, should he choose to do so.

Beyond that, the mantle of adulthood mostly meant more responsibility and more to learn. Lessons and missions would both be more difficult, and Qui-Gon would systematically surrender more and more preparation and reporting duties, in order to prepare Obi-Wan for his eventual, solitary life as Knight. Sometime over the next month, the Padawan would precede his Master into the Council Chamber and deliver his first mission report with Qui-Gon standing silently behind him. The position was symbolic, foreshadowing what would surely come: the Apprentice would overtake the Master.

Obi-Wan was meant to do this, as were all Padawans. He had prepared all of his life for the moment when he would do this. Ten millennium of Padawans before him had done it, including his own Master, but this Padawan felt a deep wrenching inside whenever he thought of the moment when the overtaking would actually occur, and no longer be just symbolic. But the morning of his eighteenth naming day wasn't the time to reflect on such things; there would be time enough to ponder and meditate and try to make peace with them over the remaining years of his apprenticeship.

Naked, the Padawan followed the Master. With his hood raised and his hands tucked serenely into his robes, Qui-Gon led the way out of their private chambers and through the Temple corridors. Pacing exactly three steps behind the Master, Obi-Wan kept his head bowed and his eyes firmly focused on the hem of his Master's white robe. He followed unwashed from his sleep-time, his braid fuzzy and parts of it in tatters. He followed as an obedient child, symbolizing the unawakened, ignorant, unrealized potential of the Initiate he had been before Qui-Gon Jinn had claimed him.

//Only one other has ever followed him like this,// Obi-Wan thought in wonder. //Xanatos never made it this far.// The one who had followed Qui-Gon on this journey had retreated from Temple life upon his knighting; he had abandoned his name and claimed a monk's sanctuary at a Temple halfway across the galaxy, called The Henge. He had retreated, the better to study the living Force.

Obi-Wan had sometimes wondered after the unknown Padawan, but Qui-Gon had never spoken of him and had no contact with him. In seeking to join the Force while still in this life, a Jedi contemplative monk abandoned all that had come before and asked to be abandoned by all of those who had loved him. That included his Master. If Qui-Gon was saddened by this, he had never revealed it to Obi-Wan.

Knights and Masters and senior Padawans stopped the two Jedi on their journey, so that what should have taken only a few minutes took most of the morning. Congratulations and compliments were offered to Qui-Gon, honoring him for raising such a Padawan as Obi-Wan. Solemn bows were exchanged, Master to Master. The knights and seniors whispered good wishes into Obi-Wan's ears and tugged on his braid; some offered to be his first this night. Obi-Wan bowed his thanks briefly to each one, never speaking a word in return or removing his eyes from the hem of his Master's robe.

//My focus is my Master, and I follow you.// Each time they were stopped, Obi-Wan calmly sent the traditional words through their bond. Each time there was no reply, as was also traditional.

Word would spread throughout the Temple this day that Padawan Kenobi was halfway through his apprenticeship, word that he was sexually available now. He hadn't known so many had been waiting for this day. Part of him was flattered, while another part of him found the prospect of so many hands and minds wanting to touch him just a bit intimidating.

//The choice is yours always, Padawan.// Qui-Gon broke the silence between them, reaching beyond Obi-Wan's dissolved shields to offer a mental hug. //You never have to do anything with any of them that you don't want to do.//

//Yes, Master. Your words give me courage. //

//And some reassurance, I hope.//

Obi-Wan basked in the warmth radiating through the bond. It felt almost as if his Master had ruffled his Padawan's hair, much as he used to do when Obi-Wan had been younger. The Padawan in question didn't remember this as part of the ritual, but that was fine. Ever the rebel, Obi-Wan doubted that Qui-Gon could have refrained from inserting some sort of his personal touch into this very special day.

Obi-Wan's stomach was rumbling and wanting breakfast by the time they reached the brass doors leading into the Masters' private bath. Pushing through the doors, Qui-Gon shrugged out of his robe and handed it to the attendant waiting patiently nearby. Peeling off his belt, tunics and leggings, the Master handed them to Obi-Wan, who folded them neatly before handing them to the same attendant. Qui-Gon's white dress boots were removed and set aside for his return. Approaching his Master once he'd shed his clothes, Obi-Wan dared to reach up and remove the last remaining piece of apparel–the brown leather hair-tie--before his Master could do so. An arched eyebrow questioned him.

//An adult I may be on this day, but I'm not ready to relinquish tending your hair, Master.//

The blue eyes holding his grew tender. A saber-calloused palm caressed his cheek. "Thank you, Obi-Wan."

The Master led the way out of the foyer and into one of the private baths. The tiles were cool and damp beneath Obi-Wan's feet, cris-crossed with cracks and appearing nearly as old as the Order itself. Steam rose from the water, gentle ripples caressing the sides of the bath. Fragrant oils and herb sprigs floated on its surface. Qui-Gon took the stairs down into the water without hesitation before turning and opening his arms.

"Join me in my world, Obi-Wan Kenobi." His eyes sparkled. A crooked smile teased the corner of his mouth.

Obi-Wan couldn't help it; he grinned. Most Jedi ritual was solemn and serious, but Obi-Wan thought perhaps this one wasn't meant to be so. He managed to look puzzled. "Am I just meant to enjoy this, Master?"

The eyebrow again. "Something about becoming an adult should be enjoyable. After all, you've survived puberty and having me as your Master for nearly six years. Surely that's worth some reward? Relax, Obi-Wan," came the command, confirming his hopes. "We're away from prying eyes and judgmental Masters. Let me serve you for a change, hmmm?"

The older man reached for the floating tray containing a generous assortment of soaps, shampoos, and sponges. Moving closer, Obi-Wan had the unique experience of letting his Master bathe him from head to foot. He sighed and almost purred as those long fingers worked their magic. He let the rough hands guide him down into the water and floated on his back at their command, basking beneath his Master's ministrations and committing every touch to memory as Qui-Gon began humming a series of songs they'd both had to learn for their last mission. He was cleaned and also shaved, finding it hard not to laugh when his Master apologized for being so awkward with the ritual, primitive razor.

"Here, let me before you cut my throat," Obi-Wan protested. "You've been away from it too long with that beard."

With a chuckle, Qui-Gon complied. Afterward, the Master wrapped him in a large towel and leed the way into an antechamber to dry Obi-Wan off. A haircut followed, with Qui-Gon rebraiding the Padawan braid and adding a green tie to the collection.

"You're an adult now," the Master said softly.

//Are we done?// Obi-Wan wondered, until Qui-Gon pressed him down to lie on the low table he'd been sitting on. He obeyed without question, rolling over when his Master encouraged it and wondering what came next.

He didn't have long to wait, as warm oil was trickled onto his back and strong hands began kneading his shoulders. Humming began, low and thrumming as it was transferring through Qui-Gon's hands, and Obi-Wan sighed at the touch--both physical and emotional--that let him know his Master was contented to be doing this and only this, in this moment. They'd massaged each other many times, but this was different. Lowering his shields just a bit, Qui-Gon let his apprentice feel the love and warm regard the older man held for him.

"I love you, too, Master," he murmured against the table.

Qui-Gon leaned over him, his breath close in his ear. "Hush, Obi-Wan. There will be no giving, no serving me today. Today, you will take--my gift to you."

A love fierce and protective and proud billowed through the bond then, bringing tears to Obi-Wan's eyes. Raising up on the table, he gasped beneath the intensity of feeling and twisted around, tried to see Qui-Gon's face at the same time he reached out to him. Clasping his hand around Obi-Wan's, the Master knelt beside the table and braced his forehead against his Padawan's.

"I am very proud of you. And I am proud to be your Master," the older man said softly.

"Master, I...." There were simply no words. Not for this depth of caring. //No one has ever... before....//

//I do.//

The tears fell freely then, catching Obi-Wan unawares and making him weep as Qui-Gon continued the massage. He'd never been touched like this, never expected the floodgates of an insecurity earned six years ago on Bandemere to come crashing open. Never expected his Master's touch to heal the doubt and pain he'd always suspected but had never acknowledged was there. Obi-Wan knew that every physical being stored hidden emotions; what he didn't know was how tense such hiding had made him. How it had turned him inside out and made him a stranger to himself in some respects. How easily his Master could tap into that emotion, dig into it as easily as the older man's fingers dug into Obi-Wan's shoulders and back and thighs. How Qui-Gon could shake it loose and make his Padawan deal with it now, on this table, on the day he entered a new world with a new life.

Obi-Wan sobbed beneath that touch, howled the small miseries and grievings of his childhood. He cried out the pain he'd found at Bruck Chun's words and deeds, wept in mourning for the boy who had been, and the bitterness and distance Obi-Wan hadn't been able to heal before Bruck had died. Gone... all dissolved and were gone... beneath a series of aromatic oils and demanding fingers that touched him endlessly and patiently with a healing sort of love that he'd never before imagined had been there.

//Does every Padawan go through this?// he sent through the bond, not yet trusting his voice to speak for him.

//Most every one,// came the gentle reply. //I certainly did. Let it wash through you, Obi-Wan. Let it carry you away.//

He did. He surrendered to his sorrows and sadnesses, forgotten desires and dead dreams, to regrets and doubts about himself and the Order... even about the Force itself. Obi-Wan journeyed on the pain into a turbulent river of emotion so swift and deep that he thought he might never come home again. He sank and floundered and sobbed, with his Master's touch steadying him through it all. He cursed and spat and mourned forgotten hurts until the turbulence and the tears finally... finally... finally eased. Until the river within him ran cleaner and brighter and the healing could begin. So many memories, so many emotions, all buried inside. Revealed and released this day.

Gradually, his soul calmed and Obi-Wan washed up on a lighter shore where he gradually became aware of his Master's hands massaging his buttocks and lower back. The older man was still humming--something Obi-Wan didn't know, now. The Master's touch was steady and firm, moving lower to tend the thighs and the caves, onward to caress the feet. Feelings of love and acceptance finally seeped past the grief and managed to make it through the bond. With a sigh, Obi-Wan rested his head on his arms and opened himself to his Master's peace. Absorbing it into himself, he made it his own and built a home for it in his own heart.

"For all that you are Jedi, you are not expected to be perfect, Obi-Wan," came the low murmur. "Growing up hurts, sometimes more than young hearts and souls are prepared for. Masters know this. They know also that some wrongs cannot be righted--like Bruck's death. Bad things happen, and there is not always a happy ending or even a happy beginning, but we will try to make it so for you here, today."

Long fingers moved up his spine and into his hair, an back down again. "You know that pain and loss and mistakes like these do not make you a bad person. It only means that the world is a turbulent, confusing place, and you can only do your best. You cannot control it, no one can do that. You can only control yourself."

A hand came to rest on the back of his neck. Warm and kind, that touch seeped into his very bones. "As a Jedi, you will survive the sadness of galaxies and still be able to smile, Obi-Wan. You will be a good man and a strong warrior."

It was both blessing and benediction. He fell asleep shortly after that, while Qui-Gon fell silent and continued to simply touch him. When he awoke, it was to find his Master sitting nearby and watching him. Once more, Qui-Gon was dressed in his robes. Frowning slightly, Obi-Wan sat up.

"Why didn't you wake me?"

"I'm in no hurry to see you grow up." Love and pride was in that voice. Reaching forward, Qui-Gon ran his fingers down the long braid that trailed nearly to Obi-Wan's waist. "It's time to get dressed now, and to break our fast."

Obi-Wan chose his first sexual partner that evening, a dark-eyed knight whom he had admired for most of his life. Tawn was even-tempered and tall and broad-shouldered, a well-muscled, gentle giant of a man who'd helped Obi-Wan strategize against Qui-Gon in free-form combat over the years. Practicing with the knight at every opportunity had made Obi-Wan better understand why his large Master moved as he did, while Tawn in his own turn had been flattered that Qui-Gon Jinn's Padawan had thought his battle techniques close to the great Master's in any way, shape or form. But so shy was Tawn that, even after knowing Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan for years, he could barely speak in the older man's presence.

"You're being rather stupid you know?" Obi-Wan had told him a few months before. "My Master will talk to anybody who will talk to him. In a lot of ways, he's just a man."

"No, he's not," Tawn had said softly, not meeting Obi-Wan's eyes. "You saw that when you were an Initiate, same as me. One day, maybe you'll see it again. For now, though, maybe we should just practice whatever kata he's got you doing this week."

Deflect and distract... They worked well for Tawn in the salle as well. Come to that, they worked well for Master Jinn, too. //I think I'd better work on those,// Obi-Wan realized and he had, for years. But both Knight and Master could still distract and best him. //Maybe I'll win in another six years,// he had reflected. //After I'm knighted.//

Knight Tawn and Padawan Kenobi shared an interest in history and war strategies as well, and had been friends since Padawan Tawn had taken his turn at child-care in the creche. He'd told Obi-Wan the first stories he had heard about what really happened to apprentices on missions. Looking back, Obi-Wan was sure that the creche masters would have thought Obi-Wan too young to hear such things; they would not have approved of Tawn's often blood-thirsty or gruesome tales of what fieldwork was really like. But forewarned had been forearmed in Obi-Wan's case. He'd sought out Tawn after returning to the Temple with Qui-Gon from Bandemere, had lain in the grass with him in the south garden after late evening meal, staring at the stars and telling Tawn about what he'd experienced with Qui-Gon Jinn.

"Because of the stories you told me, I didn't just stand there and gawk and die when the draigons attacked us."

"What did you do?"

"I had my lightsaber out and ready. I didn't panic, and I grounded in the Force. I remembered most of what you told me about killing them, that they attack in pairs and you can't let them get behind you. I even managed to call Qui-Gon and tell him that we were in danger."

"You called him?" Tawn blinked. "You had a comlink?"

"No, I called him through some sort of a bond. But we didn't have a bond..." Obi-Wan frowned. "Anyway, he heard me and he came. I think I did all right."

Tawn went very quiet. "You did more than all right," he said softly. "Master Jinn heard you before he created a bond with you, and he chose you has his Padawan."

"In the end, yeah."

Tawn laid a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Obi-Wan, listen to me. Jedi Masters don't go around hearing just anyone, any more than you or I can pick up on someone's thoughts if we don't have a bond with them. What you did is very unique. You must know that."

Obi-Wan shrugged. "It didn't feel unique. I needed help, and he came."

Tawn had just shaken his head then, had asked politely about some other feature of the impromptu mission, and the conversation had flowed on.

Obi-Wan left his eighteenth birthday part in Tawn's smiling company, with his Master's permission to not come home that night and a swagger in his step that hadn't been there the night before. The two Jedi half-undressed, kissed and caressed and half-petted in Tawn's quarters until the knight drew back and stared at Obi-Wan with a strange look in his eyes.

"This doesn't feel like you thought it would, does it?"

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Not really, no," he admitted. "This isn't working, but it's not your fault. I want... you know I want do. I just--"

"You just can't." The knight caressed Obi-Wan's cheek with the back of his hand. "If it's not right, it's not right, my friend. You must wait until it feels right."

A few minutes more, and Tawn turned Obi-Wan out gently into the empty corridors; it was third hour and everyone was asleep except the droid-driven maintenance and cleaning crew, which didn't give the solitary Padawan a single look as he straggled past them. His erection wasn't just flagging, it was entirely gone--embarrassing proof enough that Tawn simply wasn't the one for him.

//Will there ever be one?// Obi-Wan thought mournfully. //I was really looking forward to this, and I wanted him earlier, so what's the problem?// He kicked the solid titanium door to the quarters he shared with Qui-Gon before palming the lock and wandering balefully inside. //This is great, just great. You're an adult now, Kenobi, but I'll bet you still can't get laid. Too bad Bruck's not still around, he'd get a lot of mileage out of that.//

His Master found him meditating on the mat he'd brought with him from the Initiate's quarters six years before. Obi-Wan wasn't surprised when Qui-Gon's immense shadow loomed beside him, or when the older Jedi knelt and squeezed his shoulder.

"Padawan, you've been bleeding agitation and unhappiness over our bond for about an hour now. Did Tawn hurt you?"

Obi-Wan shook his head miserably. "Tawn would never hurt me. In this case, he didn't even really touch me. Master, is there something wrong with me?"

"Of course not. What would make you ask such a thing?"

"I wanted Tawn to make love to me, and I wanted to make love to him. But when it came right down to the touching.... Master, I just couldn't. I couldn't feel anything, and these weird thoughts kept running through my head. Like that he smelled different, and he was thinner than I thought he'd be, and his hair was stiff... and other things. I couldn't.... you know. It wasn't too hard for Tawn to figure out, so he gave up. He said that I need to wait for the right person. But Master, I thought that Tawn was the right person. So how am I supposed to know when it's the right person?"

"The touching will feel right," Qui-Gon said softly, rocking back on his heels, "and you'll get lost in it." His fingers caressed soothing circles over Obi-Wan's collarbones. "For some Jedi, touch is more than just physical, and I suspect that you're as I am: physical touching will never be enough, you'll have to share some sort of bond with whoever you make love with."

"You're like that?"

"I am. Desiring and satisfying that desire will never be enough, because you'll be looking for--and will need--something more than just desire. Tawn is a good friend, and you find him attractive. But you do not share a bond with him."


Obi-Wan thought for a moment, while Qui-Gon shifted to a more comfortable position beside him and waited for the next question.

"Is that why you're celibate, Master?"

A brief nod. "There are worse things than waking up alone, Obi-Wan."

"Like what?" Obi-Wan could hear the sulking tone of his own voice. "Being a virgin for the next ten years or longer?"

"Like waking up next to the wrong person," Qui-Gon said adamantly, as if he spoke from bitter experience.

Obi-Wan knew better than to question his Master further. The details, if forthcoming, would not be pretty. Neither would they encourage Obi-Wan toward sexual activity, he was certain. Celibacy may have been right for his Master, but Obi-Wan just couldn't see himself stopping before he'd even started.

"So... I just need to keep looking for the right person?"

"I'd say so." Reaching out, the Master hugged him tight. "I'm sorry your first night didn't work out, it's never easy when that happens. But get some rest, now. You can keep looking for the right person in the morning, I think."

"Yes, Master." Rising from the meditation mat, Obi-Wan offered a brief, almost formal bow of thanks to the older man before wandering off toward his sleep chamber, and shedding his tunic as he went.

Closing his eyes, Qui-Gon waited a few minutes and then felt along the bond. Smiling, he nodded satisfaction to discover that Obi-Wan's restless need had entirely dissolved. A few minutes later, when Qui-Gon checked on his Padawan, he found him sleeping peacefully.


If Obi-Wan could have slammed the door, he would have. As it was, he had to settle for stalking into their quarters, flinging down his cloak, and storming into the food prep area in search of a cup of something slightly stronger than tea.

"Good morning, Padawan," said Qui-Gon from where he sat in the common area, enjoying his tea and his Master's-quarters view of the Temple gardens. "The croisids are in bloom."

"Good for them."

Qui-Gon put down his tea mug and folded his arms. Tilting back in his chair, he ignored the croisids and focused on his Padawan. "Bad night?"

Adding hot water to complete his mug of instant cha, Obi-Wan didn't bother looking up.

"What makes you ask?" he all but growled.

"Let me give you list," Qui-Gon said mildly. "One: you've been tending those croisids for the past half-season, trying to convince them to bloom, but now you don't give a Sithly damn for them. Two: you come stomping in after having been out all night. Three: Your robes are rumpled and you smell of sex, yet you look thunderous. And so, I ask again: bad night?"

Obi-Wan wrinkled his nose at himself. "Let me shower, and I'll be back to tell you about it."

Nursing his cha, Obi-Wan retired to the 'fresher. A few minutes later, he returned, washed and dried with his waist-length Padawan braid still dripping. He'd also pulled on a set of his Master's old exercise sweats and was looking a bit lost in them. Qui-Gon thought that he could recognize the choice of apparel for what it probably was: a security blanket that wrapped all the way around his Padawan, almost as good as being hugged by the Master himself. As this particular Padawan was twenty years old rather than twelve, Qui-Gon thought that he understood hugs could not be asked for, not any more.

//A pity, that,// he thought to himself, carefully shielding the bond. "Tell me about last night."

"You know I've been trying to find someone to share with, someone to satisfy the hunger, the emptiness I feel?"

Qui-Gon nodded.

"I was with Sh'Taka last night," Obi-Wan all but spat. "Master Rucktal's Padawan? It's not the first time, as we've been seeing each other on and off for about the last two seasons. She's nineteen and beautiful and no innocent, but it's all about what *she* wants and how I'm expected to give it to her."

"I'm not sure I understand--"

"Do you know how this Temple sees you and me?" Obi-Wan norrowed his eyes and leaned forward, plunked his empty mug down on Qui-Gon's table. "You're some fantastic legend in everyone's eyes. You're the best warrior in the Order, almost preternaturally wise, devilishly handsome, wickedly attractive. 'Nummy,' they call you, and that's a quote. Since I'm lucky enough to be your Padawan, I get some of those projections, too–mostly the devilishly handsome, wickedly attractive, nummy projections because no one's going to say I'm anywhere near the best warrior in the Order. But it's really amazing what their imaginations come up with, Master. It's happened time and time again, with men as well as women. and I've *had* it. I've had their ideas for a perfect evening, too."

Qui-Gon nodded in what he hoped looked like a sage, wise way, regardless he didn't have a clue yet as to what precisely had set off Obi-Wan.

"I'm well aware of the matter of being a supposed legend," he murmured. "It has inconvenienced my own relationships at times as well. And you shouldn't underestimate your warrior capabilities, Padawan. But what has all of this to do with last night?"

"I'll get to that. Sh'Taka usually dresses so that she feels pretty and sexy, with a ton of perfume that makes me sneeze. In return for this visual and olfactory feast, I am to bring her gifts and bestow compliments. Which I did. 'You look gorgeous, here are some chocos for you, I don't know where on Coruscant I can take a lovely thing like you, everywhere is so unworthy....' I know all of the lines and how to kiss her so that her makeup's not destroyed, how to smile just so and hold her just so. I know all of the tricks and female expectations, Master. I'm even pretty good at fulfilling those expectations, but sometimes it's just too much. Last night was definitely one of those times."

Slumping back in the chair, Obi-Wan planted his feet before him and stared out the window before continuing. "I was going to take her to Gyrations, but one look told me that she was expecting something a little different. So I took her to The Phoenix. Romantic restaurant, great food, it's dark and intimate and it cost two hundred credits a visit. Just like I knew she wanted. We got a table for two in the back and some decent wine. I tried on some flirting and intimate talk, at which I'm lousy--the intimate part, anyway. I'm betting at the flirting."

"Nonsense, Padawan. You're an excellent diplomat."

"No, Master," he argued. "It's not like diplomacy. This is a woman. A human woman."

"Ah. I see."

"Afterward, I forgot about Gyrations because she didn't want to dance–not like that, anyway. So she's hanging all over me and invites me back to her place. She has that glint in her eye that says we're going to bed. No problem with that, I'm looking forward to it. She dims the lights, puts on some music, we snuggle and kiss and then we're headed for the bed...." Obi-Wan looked at his Master. "Are you as bored with this as I was?"

"I'm not sure I follow you."

Obi-Wan growled. "It's *expected,* Master, and so damn trite! Shaa knows she's sexy as hell, so I'm expected to be sexy by association and fall in with her little planned scene. Know my lines, give the command performance. I'm supposed to remove her clothes tenderly and caress her gently and make love to her all the fucking night long! To her sweet murmurs of gratitude and appreciation. Which. I. Did. Let me make that perfectly clear. I DID IT!

"This morning, we wake up and I see that her makeup's all over the place and making her look like some psycho-healer's 'Vhat does dis look like to yew?' psychoanalysis primitive inkblot, and we've both got morning breath, and she's got her face shoved into mine in the bed, so that I can see where her brown roots are starting to show through the blond. THEN she starts this conversation that demands that I *still* be attention and sensitive and PROMISE TO BE WITH HER FOREVER! We're going to bond after I'm knighted, right? We'll serve together on missions and never know a moment without each other, and ... and I'm sitting there panicking because I'm not feeling any of this! No matter how hard I try to feel something, Master, it's always the same. It's empty and lonely, even when I'm inside of... whoever. It's not real, and it's certainly not forever. That's how it feels."

Shooting out of the chair, Obi-Wan went to stare out of the window and banged his fisted hand on the plasteel that it boinged.

"I'm Qui-Gon Jinn's Padawan, and since you're the perfect Master, I'm the perfect Padawan by association. You're celibate and they know it, so the aegis falls to me. Warrior, lover, friend--Hey, you name it and they think you've molded Obi-Wan Kenobi into it. Half of the time, I think my lovers are in bed with you as well as with me. Sh'Taka's not the only one, either -- they all project what they're feeling so I know. It's not 'There's Obi-Wan, I really like him.' It's 'There's Obi-Wan-Apprentice-to-Master-Qui-Gon-Jinn-the-Sexiest-Master-in-the-Temple-and-his-Padawan's-not-bad-either.' They all want to find out how 'not bad' I am. Most of the time, I think it's because none of them can get to you."

"No, Obi-Wan...." Qui-Gon whispered.

"It's all right, Master," Obi-Wan turned and leaned against the glass, slid down so that he could sit on the thick sill and lean forward, steepling his fingers. "It's been that way for a long time and I can handle it. It's all just a fantasy on their part, and I know it. They don't know you, they don't know me, they just think they do. Attitudes like that can be amusing at times and work to my advantage, too. I get lots of attention, lots of practice with the other senior Padawans and even some Knights who want to test my mettle--sexually or otherwise--and I think that's a good thing. That's not why I'm upset."

He drew a deep breath and locked his gaze into Qui-Gon's. "Sh'Taka was terribly responsive last night, but it wasn't enough. *Why* isn't it enough, Master? Why don't I feel for her the way she feels for me? Being with her last night felt good, but I sure as the Sith hells don't want to bond with her."

Qui-Gon sat quietly for a moment, holding Obi-Wan's gaze and absorbing all that his Padawan had said. Sifting through the emotions battering through the bond, and considering the words that had flowed from the young man's heart, Qui-Gon was determined to choose his words carefully.

"I want you to focus solely on Sh'Taka for now, to the exclusion of every other lover you've had."

"Yes, Master."

"I want you to look back on your friendship, and then at your romantic relationship. Who is giving and who is taking?"

Obi-Wan released a long breath. "It's mutual mostly," he said slowly, "but it's still empty."

"What do you mean by empty?"

He shrugged. "Just physical on my part. Nothing seems to go further than this superficial sexual dance with anyone."


"I know what you're going to say: focus on her only. But Master, there's a pattern here and I can see it. It's been there for a couple of years, and whether it's Sh'Taka or someone else, it's all the same. There's nothing special about their presence in my life or mine in theirs, but Sh'Taka's not the only one who's thought that we're having this glorious romance and are Force-bound to live happily ever after. I've replaced each lover with another lover and hoped that one was it, but the same dance goes on and on and on. That's why I'm so upset this morning. I don't reveal my most intimate self to any lover, and I suspect that I really don't want to. They don't want to, either. This dance is just too impersonal, and I'm finding that I'd rather sleep alone." Abandoning the window-sill, Obi-Wan sank down to sit on the floor. Drawing up his knees, he let his wrists settle there.

"Padawan, you are dating other Padawans," Qui-Gon pointed out. "Your expectations for a permanent mate are just a little high, and you *must* give this time."

"How much time?" Obi-Wan asked sullenly.

"Once you're a knight, there will be time and opportunity to deepen your relationships. Right now, you're to concentrate on your training, and so are your Padawan lovers. If your lover happens to be a wise Knight, he or she will know that your focus needs to be elsewhere. They will not seek more than you're able to give right now, as a deeper relationship would only distract you and incur my wrath. Try to simply have fun, explore and enjoy yourself for now. I know that it's lonely at times, but it won't last forever. Keep things casual and... dance out of reach."

With a groan, Obi-Wan rested his forehead on his knees. "It's hard, Master. I want... so much more."

Reaching over, Qui-Gon ruffled his hair and tugged on the braid. "As do we all, my Padawan."

He tried to take his Master's advice, but it didn't work. Not really. Something within him cried for a deeper connection, and the more he reached for that connection, the more he hurt when it didn't come with any lover.

"I don't want to keep taking lover after lover," he said when Qui-Gon gently probed for an update a few weeks later. They were off on another mission, sleeping out under the stars and stealing a few minutes of private time to talk before dawn broke and they continued the relocation of war refugees from one village to the next. "Trying to keep things on a casual, physical level just frustrates me. Not only that, I feel used by them and like I'm using them in return."

"What of Sh'Taka?"

Obi-Wan rolled over and stared up at the stars. Part of his mind set about matching the overhanging starfield with the one he'd studied a few days ago in the Temple's map room in preparation for their mission. At the same time, he replied to his Master's question. "I'm not comfortable with Shaa one-on-one any more because of her expectations. And I hurt her about a week ago after saying that I didn't want anything more emotionally entangling than what we already have. She heard, 'I just want to be friends,' and boom! It was like a blast door slammed closed between us. Hoth is warmer that Sh'Taka is to me right now."

"How unfortunate that she chose to react that way."

Obi-Wan made a dismissive gesture. "Dating isn't worth the grief, and neither's trying to satisfy this biological urge that I feel. I think I'd be happier without trying, really."

Qui-Gon rolled over. "What will you do now, Padawan?"

"I've decided to limit my activities to group outings."

Qui-Gon thought about this. "No more overnight adventures? With anyone?"

Obi-Wan shook his head, knowing Qui-Gon would see it in the half-moonlight.

"It sounds like you've decided to become celibate."

"Doesn't it just, Master." He sighed.

As Qui-Gon drifted off to sleep, he wondered how long this resolution would last.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan hadn't been back on Coruscant very long before Mace Windu decided that it was time for him to descend from the stuffy Council Tower and coax his friend into an impromptu outing at Gyrations. Qui-Gon tried to protest, insisting that he'd rather spend the night at home with one of the antique books he'd acquired on his recent travels, but Mace wasn't having it.

"If you refuse, I'll just come over and ply you with Alderbaarian wine and endless Council questions until you give in, Jinn."

Knowing a threat when he heard one, Qui-Gon decided that concession was better than obstinance or refusing to answer the door. He knew that, in this current mood, Windu would just use his lightsaber to melt the lock anyway. And so the austere Master found himself in the company of others as they laid claim a shadowed corner booth and table that was blessed with many libations, reminiscences, and Temple gossip to which Padawans are not privy.

But there were Padawans nearby. After all, this *was* Gyrations, the hottest club catering to the Jedi since before Qui-Gon himself had been a Padawan. He'd burned up the dance floor with many a companion in preparation for an even hotter return to the Temple... but that was then, and this was now, and Qui-Gon's dancing days were long over. He no longer knew the current tunes, singers or groups, and the service droids no longer stored his name and account as a frequent customer. Still, he was glad he'd come. It wasn't often that he got to spend time with Mace, Depa, or Adi. It wasn't often they regaled one another with mishaps and memories enough to make them laugh until their ribs ached. How long had it been since he'd laughed like this, anyway? Well, since Obi-Wan had told him that joke.... He immediately shared said joke with the others, then launched into explaining to the two female councillors where it was that Mace had lost his virginity.

"You two actually did it in Yoda's quarters?" Depa asked, disbelief coloring her quiet voice.

"I was younger than him and under curfew," Qui-Gon protested. "Where else could we do it?"

"Yes, but... in a swamp?"

"Yes, Depa," Mace said solemnly. "Qui-Gon topped me, and I got mud in places I wish I didn't have."

Laughter peeled out, with Qui-Gon joining in. "You must admit that it was just as much fun removing the mud afterward."

"More fun if we hadn't been caught," Mace growled. "I'm surprised Yoda let me on the Council."

"And I'm surprised he hasn't forced me onto it."

"Wait a minute," Adi demanded. "If you're younger than Mace and he was still a virgin, what were you, Qui-Gon?"


He didn't think he could still blush, but they made it so. Their laughter died down in time for him to hear a girl's shrill voice proclaim, from another table and loud enough to carry over the music to anyone within fifteen meters, "I don't care if you *are* a Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're still a man, and men are *always* aroused by the mere thought of sex!"

"That's not true, Sh'Taka."

The Master turned his head to see Obi-Wan seated at a table close on the edge of the dance floor. Surrounded by other Padawans and even Knight Tawn, Qui-Gon's Padawan was still looking more than a little lost and hurt at the attack that was obviously aimed only in his direction. For all that the girl was making generalities, it was plain she was speaking solely from her hurt, which she felt Obi-Wan had caused.

"You'd never fail to take advantage of any opportunity to make love with anyone!"

The others at the table gaped at her in disbelief. Had she just accused Obi-Wan Kenobi of being promiscuous? Was her intended revenge to turn the truth inside out?

//If Obi-Wan doesn't want her, then obviously she thinks that he has no honor and wants everyone else?// thought Qui-Gon. //The Sith hath no fury like a woman scorned.//

Without missing a beat, Obi-Wan protested, "Shaa, I am *not* just an appendage of my penis!"

Tawn chose that moment to rise. "Excuse me, all of you."

Bowing a bit stiffly, he exchanged a sympathetic look with Obi-Wan, but nonetheless deserted his friend's table for another one deeper in the shadows and some distance away from the quarrel. A table frequented only by knights, Qui-Gon noticed, so Obi-Wan would not be welcome there. Turning his attention back to his Padawan's table, Qui-Gon monitored their bond. So far, Obi-Wan was being outwardly good-natured about the entire thing, as they were in public, but privately he was seething, and Qui-Gon could feel it. Honor and the gossip-chain was at stake, so much so that Qui-Gon sensed that his Padawan felt compelled to stay and answer as long as the attacks continued.

"It's plain that we've come in at the middle of the vid," Mace murmured. "Sounds like this isn't the first time Sh'Taka has hammered him. It must be 'beat up Obi-Wan night.'"

Qui-Gon waved him to silence as the argument resumed.

"Yeah, right, you're not an appendage. At least it's honest!" she sneered at him.

Obi-Wan leaned forward, shifting his glass out of the way and leaning on his elbows. "Look, I'm just like you in a lot of ways."

That brought a chorus of derisive cat-calls from the female Padawans around the table.

"It's true," Obi-Wan insisted. "I can be too tired for it, or too worried and stressed, just like you. I can care too much about who I'm with or too little, and I can be scared too, you know?"

"What would *you*, the great Padawan Kenobi, have to fear?" Shaa baited. "I'm sure that your Master's taught you well in all things."

"Yeah, it's for sure that Qui-Gon Jinn isn't scared in bed," chorused another Padawan.

"Oh, give me a break." Obi-Wan ran his fingers through his hair. "I don't know what my Master feels, I just know what I feel."

"Ok, so tell us, Obi; what do you get scared about?"

He played with the condensation on his glass a moment before answering. "I'm scared that I'm not going to get it right. That I won't get an erection, or that it won't last if I do. That I won't please my partner."

"Kenobi, all you have to do is walk into the room using that delectable swagger, and you've pleased me," drawled Bant, waggling a webbed hand at him. Raucous laughter met that announcement, with Obi-Wan laughing along with the rest of them.

"So what do you want from a night out, Obi-Wan?" Bant pursued, trying to rescue her friend and move the talk into safer waters.

"I want the same thing you want. To be respected, to be treated well. To be recognized as an individual whose feelings matter."

"Oooooh, he's such a serious Padawan," said Sh'Taka. "So much like your Master." Folding her arms, she glowered at him.

Pushing back in his chair, Obi-Wan folded his arms and glowered right back. "You're mad at *me*, Shaa, not at Qui-Gon. So why don't you just leave my Master out of this."

Qui-Gon knew that look well. It said, 'You've pushed too far, and if you keep going, you're going to see me explode.' //In defense of me? I think not.//

"Why should I leave Qui-Gon out of this? Is he your lover now? Are you sleeping with him? Is that why you said we could only be friends?"

"Stop it!" Obi-Wan growled, thumping down the chair and leaning over until he was nose to nose with his attacker. "My Master and I aren't connected at the hip or anyplace else. I told you that I only wanted friendship because you became a pushy little bitch who wanted more than I--"

"Obi-Wan, would you care to dance?"

A familiar voice over his head and a heavy hand on his shoulder announced his Master's arrival. Eyes widened around the table, and Sh'Taka slunk down in her chair, thoroughly cowed as a pair of cold blue eyes bore into hers. No one had known this particular Master was here; if they had, the topic of conversation would have been far afield–and far safer.

Obi-Wan knew what his friends had to have seen: Qui-Gon had stepped out of the shadows, regal and graceful and with more dignity than any man had a right to. Obi-Wan had seen what his Master had chosen to wear before leaving their quarters. Black: the man was all in black. Black leather trousers with a soft black pirate's shirt with an open neck and billowed sleeves, neatly tucked in at the waist. His silvered hair was lose and flowing, a thick mane over his shoulders, and he looked every inch the warrior of his own legend.

For the life of him, Obi-Wan couldn't move, couldn't even speak. //I've been rescued by him before, but not like this. What do I do?//

The hand on his shoulder tightened. Qui-Gon leaned down, his hair brushed Obi-Wan's cheek. His hand slid across to Obi-Wan's other shoulder. "Dance with me."

"Yes. Thank you for asking." Pushing back from the table, Obi-Wan all but lunged for his Master's hand, which was there for the taking. Holding it in a death-grip, he let the older man lead him onto the dance floor.

Qui-Gon guided him well away from the table and across the floor to stake a claim in the corner where they couldn't be heard and could barely be seen through all of the other couples dancing. The occupants of Obi-Wan's table were scattering as they suddenly had the urge to dance with one another, the better to keep their quarry under observation. Qui-Gon marked the location of each one through the Force, slid a hand around Obi-Wan's waist, and pulled him close.

Shivering, Obi-Wan tightened his grip, claimed Qui-Gon's shoulder with his free hand, and moved even closer. Their thighs were flush, their hips were plastered together. Qui-Gon spread his fingers hand in the middle of his companion's back, rested his cheek against the silk of his Padawan's hair.

"They weren't listening to you, Padawan, and you were sitting there looking far older and more discouraged than your years should allow," Qui-Gon murmured into his ear. Even with Force-enhanced hearing, he made sure that no one in the room would overhear his words. "I thought you needed rescuing. Forgive me if I was wrong."

Obi-Wan tightened his grip on Qui-Gon's shoulder. "You weren't wrong. There wasn't any way out of that argument, and Shaa just kept battering me with her anger. The others have their own expectations and fantasies, but hers are the worst."

"They're going to talk about this, you know?" Qui-Gon commented.

"I don't care."

"If you do, I can..." Qui-Gon started to move away, only to have Obi-Wan cling to him like a mynock on a starship.

"No, Master! Please stay."

They danced quietly for a moment, with Obi-Wan resting his cheek against his Master's chest. Qui-Gon felt him relax a little and rubbed his beard against his Padawan's temple. "Is this typical of the conversations you have with them?"

"Fairly. They tend to grill me about you, about what we do and don't do. They always have, but it's gotten really bad the last few years."


Obi-Wan nodded against him. "I don't think they care how I really feel, much less respect me. No one does that but you, Master. I thought things would be better if I just stuck to the group, but they're not. Shaa has them all stirred up. I've tried to ride it out, but it seems to get worse every time we're all together. They're centered on the sex, while I want...."

Qui-Gon drew back far enough to look down at Obi-Wan. "What is it you want?"

"Intimacy." He burrowed against his Master's chest as if trying to escape or to get closer, or to hie his embarrassment. Qui-Gon wasn't certain which. "Maybe I just want to cuddle up and fall asleep with a partner and save the lovemaking for the morning," Obi-Wan mused. "Maybe I want to be seduced. Or maybe I want to enact some fantasy and pounce on my partner like a lyrix on Yavin. It would be nice to have a choice."

Qui-Gon spread Obi-Wan's fingers out across the softness of his shirt.

"What we're doing now isn't bad at all," the younger man murmured. "I don't have any expectations or worries about what's going to happen when you and I leave this club. We're just being close and dancing, and it's a good moment. I can be in the moment with you, and you're happy with that. Why can't they be like you, Master?"

Qui-Gon's laughter rang out, making heads turn on the floor. Obi-Wan looked up at him, and he offered a crooked smile. "I don't think I've ever before heard a Padawan wish that their lover could be more like their Master."

"Yeah, well..." Obi-Wan shrugged. "You care about me, and you have manners. That's more than I can say about them." He tilted his head in the direction of his friends. "All they see is a functional penis, thrusting away. Why can't I be a human being, too? Someone with whom they're sharing something special, and not just sex?"

Qui-Gon looked down at him soberly. "That never happens in the Padawan pool. You have to wait for your knighting to earn respect among the ranks that have formerly known you from the creche onward."

"Familiarity breeds contempt?"

"Basically, yes. It's the same for all of us, Obi-Wan. They're not singling you out in that respect."

Obi-Wan settled against his Master's chest again. "Fine, but I'm not doing this again. I'll stay home and read reality particle concepts until dawn before I'll do this again."

Qui-Gon let his hand caress Obi-Wan's back, sent peace and affection through the bond. "Just live in the moment and don't think about that now." Pulling him closer, the Master commanded, "Just dance with me."

They did just that for the next hour, never shifting from their spot until the music changed to a kind that Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon wasn't comfortable with. Leading the way from the dance floor, Qui-Gon turned to ask, "Do you want to go home or find someone else to dance with? I think Depa could accommodate you."

Obi-Wan shook his head and didn't relinquish the grip on his Master's hand. "Let's just go home."

Qui-Gon hesitated. "You should know that our leaving together will likely start strong rumors in your circle of friends."

"I don't give a damn," Obi-Wan ground out.

Qui-Gon nodded to Mace on the way by and followed Obi-Wan out of the club. His Padawan's friends watched them go, as Qui-Gon knew they would, and Bant's eyes were huge.

"So that's the way it is," Sh'Taka hissed as they passed by, not caring who heard her. A look from Qui-Gon quelled her. Momentarily.

"Did I take you away from something important with Master Windu?" Obi-Wan asked once they were topside again and waiting for a transport back to the Temple.

"Not at all. We were merely reminiscing about how Mace lost his virginity in Master Yoda's common area."

Obi-Wan laughed--a far more relaxed sound than Qui-Gon had heard from him in weeks. "Now there's a horror story you should tell me when we're seated around the campfire on Hemlagh during All Soul's Night."

"Yes, indeed." Qui-Gon stood with his arm around his Padawan's waist and braced himself as Obi-Wan leaned more heavily against him.

"Who was Master Windu with in Master Yoda's common room?"

"I'd rather not say," Qui-Gon muttered, just as the transport drew up.

"It was you!" Obi-Wan hissed, then looked suspicious. "Was it?"

"Onboard, Padawan." A hand at the younger man's elbow was all it took to steer him into the compartment. They found seats easily at this hour, with Qui-Gon's bulk taking up much of the small seating space on the general transport and Obi-Wan accommodating him, as usual, by sitting half sideways and plastering his back against the bulkhead. They could have taken separate seats, but that wouldn't have been nearly as much fun.

"Has Sh'Taka always been that competitive with you?" Qui-Gon asked.

Obi-Wan nodded. "Since I told her I wasn't looking for a permanent relationship, yes. She hasn't learned when to quit."

"Actually, she hasn't yet learned when to stop taking the initiative."


"On missions, you or I can make the first move in battle or negotiation, but I am still the leader," Qui-Gon explained. "I'm the only one in control, and we both know it. You respect it. As you've progressed in your apprenticeship, I've let you take the initiative more often. But my trust and faith in you took years to develop, because your skills took years to develop."

"Right. So what has that to do with Shaa?"

"It sounds like she has not had the patience to let things develop between you. She took the initiative at the beginning of the relationship, and she has never relinquished it. She wishes to lead the mission--the relationship--all of the time, and this makes you very uncomfortable. Obstinate about matters, even. Am I right?"

Looking stunned, Obi-Wan nodded.

"She has no authority of you, just as you have no authority over her. Now she is angry because you've repulsed her further efforts to take control," Qui-Gon continued. "She is still trying to shift the balance so that you are dancing to her tune all of the time."

Obi-Wan looked thoughtful for a long moment. "Do you think that's why you and I work together so well? Because there's plenty of room for both of us to take action or just let things develop?"

"Yes. I do. I think it makes for a much more peaceful relationship when neither Master nor Padawan is pushing the other to distraction. Though there have been times I've pushed you--"

"It was never a time when I didn't need to be pushed." Obi-Wan grinned. "We both know that. So why can't my relationships with others be like ours?"

"I suppose it is because some of the partners you've encountered haven't learned when to take control, while other lovers don't know when to stop. And speaking of stopping... here is ours."

Qui-Gon led the way from the transport, waiting as Obi-Wan caught up to him and walking beside him into the Temple proper. Nodding at the guards on duty, the two Jedi headed for the bank of lifts that would carry them to the Masters' Tower.

"There appears to be no balance in your relationships," Qui-Gon continued, once the lift had claimed them. "Early on, I learned that you crave balance and peace as much as I do. We've always gotten along in that respect. You don't create chaos from order, Obi-Wan. You don't become restless for no reason, and you have never sulked or thrown tantrums or lashed out at anyone in an effort to get your way."

"No, I just attract lovers who sulk and tantrum and lash out when I try to peel them off of me. That's a habit I'd like to break." Obi-Wan bowed at the door to their quarters. "After you, Master."

Going to the couch, Qui-Gon settled back on it, then promptly fell to removing his boots. Sinking his toes into the thick carpeting, he let his head fall back and let go a deep breath. "Now, that feels good."

Grinning to see how much pleasure his Master derived from the simple joys of life, Obi-Wan wandered into the food prep area to set water boiling for tea. A few minutes later, he joined the older man on the couch and handed him the old familiar, chipped mug that Qui-Gon liked so well.

"Thank you, Obi-Wan."

"You looked like you need this as much as I needed rescuing back there."

"How well you know me." Qui-Gon drank deeply before wrapping his hands around the mug and contemplating. "You know, Obi-Wan, an ancient Alderaanian poet wrote, 'The eyes are the scouts for the heart, and the eyes go forth to find an image to recommend to the heart.' The proper 'image' is a gentle heart--and gentle is a key word. That is a heart that is capable not simply of lust, but of love--two totally different things, as lust is simply the zeal of the loins to couple with another being. If you can find a gentle heart, you will find love, Obi-Wan. And so, look for the gentle heart."

"That's what I need," said Obi-Wan, staring across at his Master, tea forgotten. "That's what I've been looking for all this time, but didn't know what I was looking for. You know, I think that in your celibacy, Master, you have the right idea. How else can you focus on someone's heart?"

"How, indeed. But Obi-Wan, even if celibacy is the answer for me, it might not be for you. I think you might be confusing celibacy with remaining chaste until the right person comes along. If you find your celibacy taxing or frustrating, or worse than your current emotional predicament--"

"I'll take steps to correct it," he promised. "Adjust my definition and my behavior." Laying his hand across Qui-Gon's, Obi-Wan sent affection and gratitude through their bond. "Thank you, Master. You've provided a key that I think has been missing for a very long time."

Turning his hand, the Master enveloped Obi-Wan's. "As always, I am happy to be able to help, my Padawan."


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