Obi-Wan came slowly awake, with the sound of Qui-Gon's heartbeat in his ear and his Master's scent in his nostrils. He carried the smell of melted liquid cable and singed tarp as well, which was acrid and very unpleasant, but Obi-Wan could ignore that for the sheer joy of having his Master alive and relatively well again. Gradually, the younger man came to realize that his leg was flung over Qui-Gon's, his nose was against his neck. His arm was resting across the huge chest, while his fingers were tangled in the silvery mane. As for the Master, he was lying on his back with his arms around Obi-Wan, embracing him tightly and allowing no room for escape. And he was deeply asleep.

//Not dead. Just asleep.// Obi-Wan smiled against Qui-Gon's collarbone.

Taking a deep breath, he considered drawing away, only to decide against it. To do so might wake his Master, and they had both been so exhausted that Obi-Wan was loath to do anything to disturb the older man's rest. Thankfully, Qui-Gon man wasn't gray anymore; he looked normal. He felt normal. His skin was warm, and it felt good for Obi-Wan to be where he was. It didn't seem that Qui-Gon had any objection to his nearness, either, so why should he move? Come to that, what was there to object to? They were in bed, it was true, but they were only hugging... weren't they? Same as they would do, standing up, from time to time, right? Perhaps they were a bit closer, but not that much...

//Not that I'd object if we were....// Obi-Wan blinked at the thought. //Where did that come from?//

Someone had stripped him down to his skivies. That same someone had lost his own robe and tunics, boots and leggings. He'd also obviously climbed into bed with Obi-Wan, and one or the other of them had wrapped themselves around the other to end up like this when they awoke. Tightening his fingers, Obi-Wan clutched a little harder at his Master and closed his eyes again. Breathing deeply, he filled his senses with his Master's scent, drew it hard into himself so that it filled and calmed him. //How many years have I done this without realizing it?... Loved the smell of him, the breadth and height of him, the way he moves and the way he speaks. The lessons he's taught me, the ways he touches me. All of that, along with his just existing? As long as he's just in this world, everything is fine in my world.//

//I almost lost all of this without ever really having had it -- or realizing what I had,// Obi-Wan reflected, daring to slide his hand down and caress the older man's chest. // I thought he was gone -- one mistake, and he could have been gone. All of his warmth and his hugs. His laughter and his voice. His rare smile and his touch. His wisdom. His just being here and our being together. I thought I'd never hear him speak again, or comb out his hair, or have him braid my hair. Thought we'd never share a mission together again, or a cup of tea, or a quiet conversation. Never to wake up and see him again, to hear his quiet, 'Good morning, Obi-Wan.' I thought I'd never have him to care for, or him to care for me again. I thought I'd lost all of this. All of him, and his love. Because I do love him. Gods, I love him so much that it hurts.//

"What time is it?" His Master's voice rumbled beneath Obi-Wan's ear. A large hand moved over his back, caressing in lazy, soothing circles. Otherwise, the older man didn't budge.

"Soon time to get up, but not quite yet," Obi-Wan murmured, fast feeling boneless under that hand.

//He loves me...// he thought in quiet revelation. //And I love him, too. Have for years.//

It didn't come as any sort of shock, didn't demand that Obi-Wan act upon it immediately or do anything different from what he was already doing. He didn't want to shout it from the rafters, or even to announce it to Qui-Gon. It was enough to just be with the man in this moment, to enjoy their closeness, the intimacy they shared. It was enough. At the same time, he wanted to stay in this man's arms forever, to know more about what it was like to love and be loved by such a man.

That hand was still rubbing his back. Obi-Wan snuggled a bit closer on a sigh and began finger-combing the thick mane. Turning his cheek, Qui-Gon rubbed his beard against that hand, laid his fingers across Obi-Wan's arm and left them there.

//He let me sleep on his shoulder,// Obi-Wan reflected. //And he's touching me.// In all of their years of serving missions together and sharing a bed, this had never happened before. //Why now?// he wondered. //Did I turn to him while I slept? Did he pull me to him?//

"You were crying and whimpering in your sleep," Qui-Gon rumbled. "I felt your panic and grief through the bond, and my touch was the only reassurance you'd respond to."

Startled, Obi-Wan reached for the bond, only to find it was totally open. Neither of them were bothering to shield. "Did you hear what I've been thinking all this time?"

"You were thinking rather loudly, Obi-Wan." He pressed a kiss to the top of his Padawan's head. "I do love you. And I didn't mean to frighten you so badly. Please forgive me."

Obi-Wan wrapped his arms around as much of the man as he could. "Not your fault. And I love you, too, Master."


Showers had been gotten, new uniforms had been pulled from the satchel to replace the ones the two Jedi felt they'd been living in, or had been dead in, for days. Obi-Wan was merely unduly grubby, but Qui-Gon was singed and severely wrinkled, courtesy of his Padawan's diligent efforts at Master binding,. All in all and after their nap, the two Jedi had seldom presented a more disreputable pair. Qui-Gon had claimed first shower rights, which Obi-Wan was more than happy to accord him. Ridding him of the smell of the crisped cable was a most urgent wish for both of them.

Once both were clean, Obi-Wan had surreptitiously watched Qui-Gon dress, had noted the slower movements, the careful meditative breathing. //He's conserving energy already. This doesn't bode well for the night.//

Rummaging through a small storage case, Qui-Gon sifted through their collection of shared toiletries and retrieved his hairbrush. Moving to his Master's side, Obi-Wan pulled the brush from Qui-Gon's unresisting fingers and nudged the older man toward the bed.

"Sit and rest, Master. It's my turn to care for you."

Nodding on a sigh, the Master did just that. Setting aside the brush for the moment, Obi-Wan entangled his fingers in the thick, still slightly damp mane of hair, now smelling of familiar soap, and massaged the older man's scalp before moving on to his neck and shoulders. The muscles loosened reluctantly after a brief argument.

"Do you still want me to take the lead this evening?" Obi-Wan asked as he combed through his Master's hair. Taking the hair-tie Qui-Gon offered, he replaced the one that had been lost, and then smoothed a hand up Qui-Gon's forehead and back across the hair behind in a final benediction.

"Yes," Qui-Gon said after a moment's reflection. "You'll need to continue taking the initiative throughout this mission, as I've a limited amount of energy to spend at the moment." He sighed, then nodded assertively -- or tried to, yanking at his hair gathered in Obi-Wan's hand.

"I suspect that's an understatement." Obi-Wan let affection color his tone. "I've seldom heard you admit to being vulnerable."

"It's a wise man who knows his limits. And a wiser one who keeps from falling on his nose in front of the dignitaries. Stasis took more out of me than I'd care to admit, Obi-Wan."

The older man turned in place and looked up at his Padawan. Embarrassment and a certain amount of guilt reflected in the blue eyes, and Obi-Wan couldn't resist hugging the older man tightly.

"I don't think the technique was designed to be used for quite such a length of time, Master. You did what it took to stay alive, and I'm grateful you had the strength and skill to manage it. Though I suspect that once our report to the Council concerning this hits the corridors of the Temple, you'll find that you've added to the Legend of Master Jinn yet again with this one," he couldn't help pointing out with amusement. "I'm comfortable with seeing this mission through, so don't worry about it. I thought I was going to have to do it solo anyway. Having you just sitting there is a vast improvement on my expectations for the evening. Give me a moment to tend to this," he indicated the waist-length strands of loose hair from his Padawan braid, "and I'll be ready to go."

"Very well. I'll wait for you in the other room."

Retrieving his outer robe, Qui-Gon settled it across his shoulders as he left the sleep-chamber. Traversing the small, dark suite, he made a study of the few strange objects d'art and had only just reached the double doors when something hurtled through them.

A Dug slammed itself into Qui-Gon's thigh, only to bounce off and skid back the way it had come. Struggling to regain its balance, the long-faced creature stared at Qui-Gon's kneecap, which had made solid contact with its elbow, and then looked up. And up. And up.

"Tall Jedi..." the creature hissed to himself. "Jedi two...." Eyes narrowing, it peered around Qui-Gon's legs into the sleeping chamber. "Young Jedi? When did new Jedi arrived? Nothing was I told of new Jedi," he growled.

"No new Jedi have arrived," Qui-Gon advised him mildly, leaning over slightly to at least try to address the Dug directly. "I was invited with my Padawan."

"No, Young Jedi we have and Dead Jedi we have. Not you. You are who?" he demanded.

"Master Qui-Gon Jinn," he replied smoothly, bowing to the glowering creature. "I arrived with my Padawan and I've been resting in the most comfortable quarters provided by the House of Ahn. I apologize for missing your earlier visit."

"Deadmaster!" The long jaw dropped, the hooded eyes widened. And then the Dug hit reverse, running backward, using all appendages available. And then the Dug fell down, staring up in shock from flat on his back.

Qui-Gon regarded him mildly, waited for him to regain his stance. Huffing, the Dug leaped to its hands and waved its feet. Nostrils quivering, with his lip stuck out in an sulking pout, the Dug growled. "Dead Jedi."

He bowed and repeated himself. "I am Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, and I assure you that I am very much alive."

"NOT alive. Dead." The Dug turned his attention to Obi-Wan, who had immediately appeared at his Master's elbow and was bristling with protectiveness. "You lied."

"I never said that he was dead," Obi-Wan murmured smoothly, in his best seductive negotiator voice. "I said that he wasn't feeling well, that he was resting. I believe you were the one who decided that he was feeling dead."

"The House of Ahn appreciates it not when its sympathy and trust are toyed with, Jedi." He caressed his nose beads. "Dead Jedi feeling still just a little dead maybe?" the Dug said hopefully, clearly seeking some sort of compromise.

"I am very tired," Qui-Gon inserted.

"But he's on his feet, and he's eager to do his part for your festival."

"You said no talk with Deadmaster," the Dug accused. "I said Deadmaster not attend festival."

"Dead ones, no," agreed Obi-Wan. "This one is not dead, obviously. And he was sleeping.

"Dead," the Dug growled. "Dead in reports. Dead in chambers. Dead you agreed."

"Check the records," Obi-Wan urged. "I doubt there is any official record of the death of a Jedi representative."

"Dead you agreed!" the Dug howled, weaving from hand to hand, toes flexing and unflexing in agitation. "Wrapped up and strapped up as cargo!"

"He wasn't feeling well, and we wanted to keep him out of the sun."

Qui-Gon shot Obi-Wan a startled look over that lame explanation, then stepped in before the conversation got any more outlandish.

"But as you can see, I got better," Qui-Gon inserted. "And I would welcome the opportunity to talk with you on any subject of your choosing."

The Dug wheeled around the two Jedi, glaring and sniffing at Qui-Gon from all sides, then wheeled back the way he had come, all the while huffing and snarling to himself. Leaping up onto the couch, he stretched himself as tall as possible, and peered up at Qui-Gon who still towered over him. "You are very tall Deadmaster."

"I am," Qui-Gon agreed.

"Too tall. Much too tall. How then you learn flowing letter arts from Dugmaster?"

"I was only as tall as you are when I began studying."

The head lowered, nostrils and eyes narrowing as he stared at Qui-Gon's boots. "Feet too big. Too big for brushes."

"My Master found my fingers to be satisfactory, even though not traditional," Qui-Gon replied serenely, though Obi-Wan could hear the suppressed laughter under the words.

"Prove you are this Master. Show me your art you will. At festival."

Qui-Gon bowed slightly. "Of course. We will let my Padawan handle the other matters tonight, so that you and I might talk. You and I will discuss this traditional Dug art forms, and perhaps you can show me your style. It has been long since I have had the opportunity to watch a master scribe at work.

Far from mollified by Qui-Gon's flattery, the Dug nervously stroked his beads with calloused fingers. "If you cannot show this, Deadmaster you are not. Insult we will claim. Dead Jedi in palace without permission, new Jedi arrive without permission. Complaints we will lodge. Terrible insult it is to be dragging dead Jedi around this place." The Dug leaped backward, landing on his hands and whirling. "Festival begins now and you will both come. Deadmaster and gentle Jedi. Come now. Too much time wasted on Jedi silliness. The moon rises soon."

He wheeled down the hallway so quickly that Obi-Wan used the Force to call his cloak to him, rather than spare the seconds it would have taken to snatch it up. Qui-Gon preceded him out the door, hair flowing in the breeze, his boot-heels ringing on the tile. From the pace he set to keep up with the Dug, no one would have suspected the Master's fatigue. Hurrying to catch up, Obi-Wan paced up beside the older man, spared a glance upward.

"I hope he doesn't call me 'deadmaster' at the festivities. I don't want to hear you try to explain this again," Qui-Gon commented as they pursued the vizier. Obi-Wan could hear the slight choppiness to the sentences, heard also the increased rate of Qui-Gon's breathing.

"You'll tell me if this is too much and you want to leave early?"

"Of course, Obi-Wan. Please don't fuss."

//Don't fuss in public,// Obi-Wan translated the order.

"Yes, Master." Bowing his head, he fell back the required three steps and followed Qui-Gon as a proper Padawan should. Yes, his Master had asked him to lead the mission, but at the moment said Master had a point to prove: he wasn't dead, wasn't weak, and he could damn well keep up with a bead-clattering, cart-wheeling Sith of a Dug on his way to a planetary celebration. He would not reveal his weakness in public, would not put the Jedi to shame in any way. As for Obi-Wan, he knew the years and the care that had gone into the cultivation of this Master's image; he would support Qui-Gon in any way that he could, without taking offense that his leadership of the mission had been bumped to the side for the moment.

//Balance is part of the foundation of our relationship,// he remembered, //and my Master is busy creating order from the chaos his death caused. He's busy helping to restore my credibility in the eyes of the Dug-vizier as well. Remind me to thank him for that, later.//



The festival turned out to be simply that: a city-wide festival celebrating Dalcarta's entry into a new era. The Royal Family made an appearance on a dias high above the huge Hall into which the nobility had been crammed -- all of the nobility. Obi-Wan wondered briefly if they could all breathe, so closely were they packed. Surrounded by their Dug officials, they smiled on the Jedi but did not ask to meet them.

//Perhaps it’s impossible to get them out, now they've all been wedged in there,// Obi-Wan reflected absently, his mind wandering due to hunger and fatigue as he followed the broad shoulders of his master. //The royal garments are undoubtedly severely wrinkled, so perhaps they'd rather remain in there?//

He shook off the wayward thoughts, recognizing them for what they were: products of a mind too long awake. Whatever the family’s reason for staying still, that was just fine with Obi-Wan, it was one less obligation not to have to meet them. The Dug-led parade halted abruptly before the dais, which Obi-Wan noted just in time to keep from squashing his nose into his master's back. A brief bow before the dias was all that was required before the vizier led his robed guests to a table piled high with a selection of delicacies and rare meats.

An embarrassingly loud rumbling noise announced that Obi-Wan's stomach had suddenly remembered the preceding three days of neglect, and he suddenly found himself all but drooling on the hem of Qui-Gon's cloak, so hungry was he. A feeling of approval reached back with a friendly nudge through the bond; Qui-Gon was pleased to know that he was willing to eat tonight. More than willing, actually, as another rumble threatened to be heard in the silence of their entry.

Hopping up into his chair with a confusing tangle of limbs, the Dug settled ungracefully into his seat. Once balanced, he draped a foot over the back of it and gestured imperiously to the Jedi with the other foot, pointing to the empty seats next to him. "You waste too much time tonight. Too slow. Sit. Eat. Festival begins."

Neither man needed any further urging. Offering a formal bow to the others seated at the long table, Qui-Gon removed his cloak, draped it over the chair, and took his place at the Dug's right hand. Obi-Wan followed suit, managed a gracious smile at the vizier, who was already hunched over his plate, and took his place beside Qui-Gon. The food was astonishingly good, the wine even better, and the conversation was stimulating in its own way, even if the table manners of some guests were rather startling. The vizier managed to utilize whatever appendage was available, so that if his hands were employed in eating, a foot might be used to replenish his plate. Obi-Wan chose the concentrate on his own plate and very pleased stomach and ignore the reaching toes altogether.

Both Jedi managed to sustain a conversation with a number of their dinner companions, despite the Dug's constant monopolization and interrogation of the older Jedi on ancient calligraphic techniques of the Jedi. Their dinner companions -- mostly young humanoid men and women, whom the vizier introduced as handmaidens and assistants serving the Royal Family -- waited with practiced politeness for the vizier to subside and ponder Qui-Gon's latest historical point before beginning their flirting, which was easily accommodated by both Jedi.

Qui-Gon was every bit the regal, dashing Master as they desired him to be, letting no trace of his fatigue show as he listened attentively to whatever was said to him and included all of their table companions in his replies. Obi-Wan followed his Master's lead easily, inserting commentary so that their replies became one long narrative, as if composed by one person. Their audience listened with rapt attention, much to the annoyance of the vizier, who clearly resented having 'his' dinner guests usurped. Qui-Gon seemed oblivious to the knowing glances exchanged from time to time between several of the handmaidens, but Obi-Wan was not. //Nummy Jedi,// he could almost hear them thinking. //Who knows what we’re hiding under our robes.//

//Everywhere we go, it's the same,// Obi-Wan realized. //What I didn't notice before is that my Master makes it a habit to encourage those impressions to serve particular missions, and the will of the Force. He doesn't fight against them or try to change them or explain them away. He makes room for them and works around them. In this case, he's using them to build good will between the Jedi and the beings who have the ear of those who rule Dalcarta.//

The dancing began shortly afterward, with Qui-Gon expressing his regret that he didn't feel well enough after their journey to join in. Handmaidens and attendants scattered about the room, chattering and laughing and selecting their own partners. Qui-Gon's gaze nudged Obi-Wan to offer his hand to the nearest assistant and accompany him onto the floor. The vizier was more direct. Reaching behind Qui-Gon, he gave Obi-Wan a thump in the shoulder with his foot. "Mingle, you promised. Mingle you will. You go be pretty Jedi out there. Dead-- Ah, Tall Master and I have words to share."

Obi-Wan scrambled to his feet and sketched a hasty bow. Soon, the only ones left at the table were Qui-Gon and the vizier, who offered a sly smile. "Now you show what Dug Ki taught you."

Sticking a filthy-looking finger into Qui-Gon's wine, the vizier Dug began scratching an ornate line of Duggan text across the table cloth, using the long nail as a quill. Qui-Gon watched politely as the wine characters spread out and bled into the tablecloth. The Dug carefully drew on, muzzle nearly brushing the table and frequently refreshing his writing implement by dunking it back in Qui-Gon's goblet. Finally he sat back, satisfied.

"Now. You translate now. You answer what I wrote. You prove you know what you know."

//Translate upside down and sideways, I notice,// thought Qui-Gon, ignoring the slight headache beginning behind his eyes. Glancing sideways as he heard Obi-Wan laugh, he saw that his Padawan was occupied with gently refusing the proposition of the partner he'd selected, as the man was trying to convince him that his hands should go here and here during the dance, rather than on the more publicly acceptable parts of his anatomy. Confident that his Padawan could handle the situation with his normal diplomatic aplomb, Qui-Gon shrugged to himself and stuck his own finger into the blood-red wine to almost lazily began translating what the Dug had written.

He could barely work, so close was the vizier's muzzle to the table as he keenly watched the Master work, breath puffing against his fingers as the nostrils flared and narrowed with his agitated breathing. Another dirty finger went into the wine; the vizier wrote again. Again, Qui-Gon translated and responded with more elegant calligraphy.

"Hmph. Hmmmm, yesyes...."

Grabbing the tablecloth, the Dug pulled it closer, dragging it along with the various abandoned place-settings across the table. Two goblets overturned and there was the delicate sound of utensils striking the stone floor, but the Dug remained oblivious to the carnage. Pulling the tablecloth closer still, the Dug growled and hunched over the letters, peered at the writing. Finally the narrow face lifted from the table and swung toward Qui-Gon, glaring irritably.

"Preserve this we will, in our archives. Verifications."

Qui-Gon barely had time to snatch up his goblet and Obi-Wan's before the vizier began reeling in the long banquet cloth as servants scrambled to recover the plates and goblets as they traveled down the table.

"Yes, we keep. Even if you are too tall."

"I am honored, gracious vizier," Qui-Gon answered automatically, his attention once more on the dance floor and focused on his Padawan. With a huff and a final glower, the Dug wadded up the cloth and clutched it to his chest with one foot.

The assistant had given up trying to get Obi-Wan to seduce him and had wandered off for easier prey. In his stead had come a group of handmaidens, who were engaging Obi-Wan in what seemed to be an intense conversation. Obi-Wan was laughing down at one that seemed the ringleader. His stance was relaxed, his head slightly bent as he listened to whatever she was saying over the driving beat of the music. Straightening, he smiled and shook his head in denial before finding Qui-Gon with his eyes. Not yet finished with her argument, the handmaiden laid a hand on Obi-Wan's chest, pushed lightly, and offered another comment.

Shock filled Obi-Wan's eyes as his smile drained away. Still, he stared at his Master, and Qui-Gon felt startled surprise streak through their bond. A sudden grin split Obi-Wan's face in the next moment, and he laughed outright. It was a shout of such joy that Qui-Gon was at a loss to understand its source. Obi-Wan murmured something else to the woman, something that made her smirk as he offered a formal bow to the group and returned to Qui-Gon's table. Once there, he leaned over Qui-Gon and reached for his glass of wine, only to have his Master stop him.

"My wine was claimed for our writing, Padawan. I've been drinking yours."

"So?" //We've shared canteens, well-water and cups too often for me to worry about your spit at this late date.// Leaning over Qui-Gon's shoulder, he sipped at the wine.

//Well said, Padawan. I just thought that if given the choice, you might choose otherwise.//

//Given the choice between sharing with you or His Toes, I would definitely choose you.// Replacing the glass, Obi-Wan didn't stop leaning against his Master, but looked down at the bundle of tablecloth the Dug was still muttering over. //Is he in raptures, or does he just look it?//

//I think he likes my writing style,// said Qui-Gon, dipping his finger into the wine and straightening a section of the neighboring table-cloth to begin writing something that was not Dug. //What was the handmaiden saying to you?//

//She... thinks we belong together.//

Qui-Gon momentarily stopped his calligraphy. //But we *are* together.//

//She meant... more together than we are, Master. She doesn't understand... a great many things that I'm not inclined to explain.// Obi-Wan's hands tightened on his shoulders as Qui-Gon wrote on. //What are you doing?//

//Something I memorized a long time ago. It's in Raelic. Can you read it?//

He translated silently before trying it out across the bond, calling up his Initiate lessons in Raelic and knowing that if he messed this up his Master would probably send him back for more lessons. //'The path to love isn't always a choice,'// he said slowly, //'and sometimes it is a journey rather than a destination....'//

Obi-Wan smiled softly. Abandoning the bond, he whispered into his Master's ear. "I know this quote."

"Then tell me the rest of it, and I will write it for you," Qui-Gon murmured.

Obi-Wan laid a hand on the Master's wrist, feeling the lean muscles tense as continued writing under Obi-Wan's direction. "'The journey can be postponed. You can lose faith in it or even despair that love exists. But none of that is permanent; only the path is.'"

Qui-Gon finished the lettering with a flourish and turned his head to lock gazes with Obi-Wan. So close were they that the younger man could see the flecks of dark blue in Qui-Gon's irises, the distinctive pattern of breaks beneath the skin of the nose that had been so badly set.

"I think, Master," Obi-Wan ventured, suddenly a little nervous, "that you and I may possibly on the same path."

The calm in those blue eyes didn't shift to alarm. That calm held Obi-Wan as it had held him through countless storms and battles, emotional as well as physical. The Master embraced and guarded the apprentice's fragile hope, and let a slight smile curve the corner of his mouth.

"Yes," was all the Master said, too softly for anyone else to hear.

The one word was more than enough. A jolt of energy streaked down Obi-Wan's spine, curved beneath his tail-bone, and shot between his legs. The arousal hit him faster than any that had ever come before, as if the Force itself had entered him and he was being filled to an almost painful hardness. He felt his cheeks flush, his hands grow damp. His breathing quickened and he shifted his stance to accommodate the demand between his legs.

"Dance with me." Obi-Wan offered his hand, palm up.

A brief nod of acceptance, and then his Master was rising, all willing, dignified grace. Taking Obi-Wan's hand, Qui-Gon let himself be claimed and led onto the floor. Once there, however, he reached for his Padawan to slide his hands across the small of Obi-Wan's back and pull him close. Obi-Wan's arms went around the taller man's neck, his chest braced itself against his Master's, his cheek rested happily beneath the bearded chin as his thighs and stomach and erection found a home and an answering need against Qui-Gon.

Still, Obi-Wan didn't make the mistake of thinking the dance was any more than it was. They'd danced like this before – though not quite so close – many times on many planets as local custom had demanded, and would again, no doubt. But never before had they danced with such a heated, physical awareness of each other, nor had Obi-Wan ever been this close to his Master with such a deep awareness of how fragile their life together was.

Closing his eyes, he savored the feel of the hard body moving against his. Savored the open bond thrumming between them, so deep and comorfortable. Savored the sheathed power, potency and strength of the man he realized now that he loved. Obi-Wan reveled in his right to be in his Master's arms. Reveled in his need for him and let himself feel all that such need implied. Yes, Qui-Gon was celibate and had been for years, and his Padawan respected that commitment, but right now they were together, and that was the memory Obi-Wan would cherish, no matter what happened or didn't happen between them afterward.

"Your Master is magnificent," the handmaiden had told him earlier. "You must find him a wonderful lover."

For the first time, Obi-Wan had seen Qui-Gon through her eyes. The rank of Jedi Master was mysterious, elevated. He wore his authority and confidence as effectively as he wore a cloak, and his aura was all too masculine. Obi-Wan had seen the holopics and knew all too well how a reed-thin Padawan with nondescript features had grown into a regal Jedi. Qui-Gon's shoulders were broad, his waist slender, his long legs well-muscled. His was a warrior's attitude and body, but he also oozed enough charm when he wanted to that he could set a dozen simpering handmaidens to drooling. Yes, he was exhausted from being in stasis. But he was still magnificent. More than that, part of him belonged to Obi-Wan.

//Is it even permitted for a Padawan to desire his Master?// Obi-Wan wondered. In all of the wide-roaming, revealing conversations he and Qui-Gon had had about sex in the past, the question had simply never come up. //Why not? How could I be so oblivious to him? Did I think he was out of reach to me? Was I blinded by the master/student dynamic that's always been between us? Or was I simply blinded by the familiar? He's been in my life since I was twelve. Until this mission, I thought he would always be there. Now, I know how quickly that could change. Now, everything is different.//

The dance ended eventually, and Obi-Wan stepped back. Sliding his hand down his Master's arm, he didn't give the older man the chance to move away, but captured his fingers and held on.

"Do you think it's time to leave?" Obi-Wan asked, letting his eyes reveal his concern, rather than his desire.

"I believe so," came the murmured answer. Glancing over Obi-Wan's shoulder, Qui-Gon smiled at someone and gave a slight bow. Turning, Obi-Wan saw that the handmaidens he'd been speaking with earlier had reassembled and were standing there grinning at both of them. "Shall we make our excuses and withdraw, Padawan?"

They did so, only to be dismissed with a distracted wave by the Dug who'd obviously gotten what he wanted: official documents and a bit of linen for his archive. The Jedi retired from the Hall, and Obi-Wan finally relinquished his hold on his Master's hand as they wound their way through the corridors. They traveled in silence, arriving at their suite of rooms to discover that the hover-sled had been removed in their absence, along with the debris of the broken tarp-cocoon.

"Thank the Force for small favors," muttered Qui-Gon, pulling off his dress tunic and falling back on the bed to tug at his boots.

Kneeling at his Master's feet, Obi-Wan gently released the buckles and slid the boots off. Sitting up on his knees, he met Qui-Gon's gaze squarely and rested the palms of his hands on the big man's thighs. There had never been secrets between them. With the lack of shielding through the bond, Obi-Wan knew that his Master already had to be aware of how he felt. Still, the words needed to be said.

"Master... I want you."

A battle-calloused hand cupped his cheek. Gentle blue eyes bore into his. "I know, Obi-Wan, and I am flattered. But I also know that these are new feelings, born with this night. Perhaps you should meditate on your wanting until you know exactly what it is you want of me. I'm not rejecting you – far from it. Instead, I am asking that you come to know your own heart and mind. Look at your feelings and see what it is, exactly, that you're feeling."

The hand cupping his cheek went on to caress his jaw. Obi-Wan shivered at the touch and closed his eyes when long, warm fingers explored the soft skin beneath behind his earlobe.

"Can you do this for me?" Qui-Gon pursued.

Bowing his head, Obi-Wan nodded and ducked away from his master's hand. "As long as you don't distract me like that and make me think of other things, I can do anything." He offered a half-embarrassed grin before setting Qui-Gon's boots aside. "Thank you for not just telling me, 'Gods, no, Padawan, what are you thinking?'"

"I couldn't do that," came the solemn reply, "for it's not what I feel. Come to bed, Obi-Wan. We will hold each other and take solace in the touching."

He couldn't strip down fast enough. Teeth were cleaned and lights were turned down in record time. He all but leaped into the bed, with Qui-Gon laughing a protest only to open his arms. He felt young and silly and didn't care as he shifted lower in the bed to accommodate his Master's length, then dove for the arms that welcomed him without hesitation. Resting his head on his Master's arm, he turned his head and pressed a kiss to the older man's shoulder, nuzzled at his chest hair and finally settled in.

Qui-Gon took the abbreviated exploration in his stride, stroking through his Padawan's spiky hair and pressing small kisses to his forehead and temple. Sliding his free hand across Obi-Wan's hips, he pulled him closer, cradling him against his own erection and stroking down the younger man's flank.

"Easy," he murmured when Obi-Wan hissed and began rubbing himself against him. Sliding a hand around to the small of Obi-Wan's back, he caressed in small circles and used the training bond to seek out his apprentice's nerve endings and slow their impulses. "Open your mind to me, Padawan. Let me in."

He dropped his shields at the request every bit as quickly as he would have dropped at an order given by Qui-Gon during battle. Reaching for his Master, he met him halfway on a mind-plan of their own creation. The bond vibrated around them, bleeding off the intense desire until only a steady, intimate touching was left. His Master engulfed and surrounded Obi-Wan, wrapping him in a cocoon that was far more pleasant than the one he'd subjected Qui-Gon to.

"I wish it could always be like this," Obi-Wan murmured on the edge of sleep, his fingers entwined in his Master's hair.

Qui-Gon knew he should disentangle those fingers. If he didn't, he'd lose more than a few hairs when Obi-Wan turned over. Regardless of the threat, he let the fingers stay where they were because it pleased him to have Obi-Wan need him so. The older man waited a few clicks, until he was sure that Obi-Wan was asleep. Pressing a kiss to his forehead, the Master pulled Obi-Wan ever closer and settled in with him tucked beneath his chin. "I wish it too, my Padawan."


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