Ben awoke to cramped muscles vying with his empty stomach for the honor of causing the most pain in his body. Long-standing habits brought him fully awake, especially when he didn't readily recognize his surroundings. The small movements roused his bedmate and when Qui-Gon opened his eyes, looking at him inquiringly, memories of the previous day's events crashed down on Ben like an avalanche.
"Good morning." The Jedi's greeting was soft, his slight accent making the words almost lyrical. A low rumbling accompanied this, and Qui-Gon chuckled. "It seems that we missed a few meals. Do you think you can eat something?"
Ben's stomach joined in the chorus, answering Qui-Gon's question before he could. "At this point I think I could eat a raw slug-bat if you offered it to me." Grimacing at the lingering aches in his muscles, the fighter slid from the bed, shedding the clothes he had slept in without a thought for where he was.
Qui-Gon watched his bondmate intently for the span of several heartbeats, then threw back the blankets and stood. His clothes weren't in much better shape then Ben's. The turmoil of the previous day had left both of them sweat-soaked and exhausted, and neither had had the energy even to undress when they stumbled into his rooms and collapsed on the bed.
Hunger warred with the desire for cleanliness, defeating it soundly for the moment. There would be time for a bath later, first, they both needed to eat.
The Jedi stripped off his soiled garments, donning a pair of sleep pants and a robe. A soft growl of frustration drew his attention to Ben and Qui-Gon looked over at the younger man.
There was a look of mixed anger and embarrassment on the fighter's face and a small muscle jumped alongside his right eye.
"What is it, a'shera?"
Ben looked down at his discarded garments, then back at Qui-Gon. "Do you have something that I can wear until these are cleaned?" The question was plainly not easily voiced. Even though he had come to trust his mate, Ben still didn't like asking anyone for anything.
"I believe that I can find something." As the Jedi spoke, he rummaged in the closet on the far side of the bed, finally pulling out a dark green robe which he offered to the fighter. "Try this on, it's probably big, but it will do while yours are being cleaned."
"Thank you." Ben pulled on the garment, the heavy fabric somehow comforting to his senses. When he realized it was because the robe carried Qui-Gon's scent with it, the fighter bit back a sigh of resignation before following the other man out to the main room.
As Qui-Gon busied himself with reviewing the files covering what had happened while he had been on Golgatha, Ben sat, chin resting on his folded hands, studying Obi-Wan's - his - old lightsaber, comparing it to the sword resting next to it.
Both were weapons that required fluid grace and deadly precision in their wielding. In a skilled set of hands, the durasteel blade could slice through flesh, bone or armor as easily as the blue beam of energy could. As far as stopping blaster bolts however . . ., though it was technically a defensive weapon, Ben knew just how dangerous a laser sword could be in the hands of a trained combatant.
The fighter shook his head, then growled in annoyance as his hair dropped down to obscure his vision for the fifth time in as many minutes. Will have to take care of that, he muttered to himself, instinctively wanting to get rid of anything that might give someone else an extra handhold on him during a struggle.
"Would you like me to get that out of your eyes?"
Qui-Gon's question took Ben by surprise and he looked up to find the older man watching him, fighting a smile as the errant lock of hair slid down Ben's brow again.
"You can cut hair too? My, my, the Jedi possess talents I wasn't even aware of. Is this something they teach you after you've become a knight?"
"What, a'shera?" Qui-Gon chuckled, laying aside his datapad and rising to his feet. "You don't believe me?"
Ben almost snapped at the older man to stop calling him by that name. Lover, heartmate, beloved, it meant all those and more, the remnant of an almost forgotten dialect the Jedi master had learned long before Obi-Wan Kenobi's birth.
No matter how much the younger man felt he understood what had happened, the fact that Qui-Gon could accept it all so easily still rankled. "If you scalp me, then I get to have a go at you with the scissors afterward."
"As you wish, a'shera," the Jedi replied mildly, hiding a smile as he walked into the sleeping room and collected a pair of scissors and comb from a drawer in one of the chests there.
After placing those items on the table, he headed into the bathroom in search of more items, leaving Ben to stare after him with a sort of incredulous wonder. He was actually going to do it . . .
Wondering if he was being played for a fool, the fighter picked up and examined the scissors Qui-Gon had placed on the table. They were old, burnished with years of use, and bore many nicks and scratches. They had their own story, but it was one that Ben was not privy to, nor was sure he wanted to be.
"They were a gift," Qui-Gon said as he came out of the other room, carrying a towel and a basin half-filled with warm water. "From my master when I took my first padawan."
"Congratulations," Ben responded dryly. "I'm sure they were what you always wanted." He held himself still as Qui-Gon draped the towel around his shoulders, then dipped the comb in the water and ran it through his hair. Although he resisted it, the soothing motion of the comb stroking through his hair relaxed Ben and he slowly tilted his head back to make the Jedi's task easier.
Noting that his bondmate had lost some of the tension that seemed a permanent part of him, Qui-Gon continued to work the comb through Ben's now damp hair, keeping away from the bare patch and angry looking scar that marked the place where the memory blocker had been removed.
"It is something of a tradition uniting Master and Padawan," he began, speaking quietly, timing his words to the sweeps of the comb. "Almost a ritual you could say, passed down from those my Master has trained, to their pupils, and on to the next generation."
Ben made a soft noise to indicate he was listening and Qui-Gon continued, the repetitive motion of his hands broken only when he reached for the scissors and began trimming back the fighter's hair.
Locks of reddish-brown fell to the pristine white of the towel, making Ben think of blood on a field of snow. For a moment, his vision doubled and he felt the whip of a harsh wind, saw the crystalline brightness of the hard pack beneath his feet, smelled the coppery tang of the gore that was splashed across the bright landscape.
With a shudder, he came back to himself, the vision leaving only questions in its wake. Whose blood was it? Where had he been? The scene wasn't anything he recalled from either of his lives, and it left the fighter with an indistinct feeling of foreboding.
"Ben? Do you need to rest?" Qui-Gon had felt the shudder as it passed through his mate and he paused, worried about pushing the younger man's strength beyond his limits this early into his recovery.
"I'm fine, it was nothing." Ken'ba's words were clipped. He twitched his shoulders, sending the clumps of hair to the floor where they looked far less menacing then they had when contrasted against the white fabric.
"Are you sure? If you would like, I can call the healers . . ." Qui-Gon stopped in mid-sentence as Ben twisted in the chair and glared at him. "Just a suggestion, a'shera. Now, if you will turn back around, I can continue."
The last of the unease brought on by the vision left him. Ben attempted to relax again, concentrating on the soft sounds of the Jedi's work. The whisper of the comb through his hair, the snick of the scissors and running through them, melodious droning of Qui-Gon's voice as he continued to explain the significance of the ritual haircuts.
"...the braid represents the twining of the three together. Master, Padawan and the Force, winding together, bound as one. When apprentice passes their trials, the last act of their master as their master is to sever the braid, marking the end to their relationship as student and teacher."
The Jedi fell silent at that, his fingers sliding over and through the patch of hair behind Ben's right ear, twisting the strands as if to make them into something they weren't and could never be. The younger man waited for a time, waiting to see if Qui-Gon would continue then, when he didn't, reached back and prodded him in the thigh, rousing the Jedi from his reverie.
"Planning on finishing this anytime today or are you so fascinated with my hair that you can't?"
The loose braid that had formed under Qui-Gon's fingers came undone, too short to stay together without some form of tie holding it that way, but not before Qui-Gon recognized it for what it was. With an almost brutal movement, he cut off the lock, leaving it as short as the rest of Ben's hair, the look of the fighter, not a padawan.
Ben turned again, looking up at Qui-Gon, his brow creasing at the strange expression on the other man's face. The bond between them pulsed with a myriad of emotions, but they were too conflicted to be of any help to Ben. "Looks that bad, does it?" he queried, attempting to move them past whatever it was that had shaken the Jedi so.
"I - " Qui-Gon began, before walking over to the sofa and sitting heavily. "You have every right to hate me, you know."
The fighter stood, letting the towel drop to the floor. Running his hand through his now shortened hair, he sighed inwardly. Not this again. What was it going to take to convince Qui-Gon that he did not hold him at fault for what had happened?
"Why? Because you gave me a bad haircut?" Ben's stab at humor was met with a blank stare, making him want to growl in frustration.
"If I had accepted you, your life would have been different." Qui-Gon stared at his hands as he spoke, refusing to look at his bondmate, lost in a maze of possibilities that had been sacrificed before any of them could live to fruition.
The sharp smack of Ben's palm hitting the small table alongside the couch caused Qui-Gon to sit up and stare at the younger man, waiting for Ben's response. Whatever retribution he saw fit to hand out, it would be merited.
Seeing the acceptance and resignation in the older man's blue eyes, Ben snarled a curse and leaned in closer. "If, if, if! Is that all you can think about? You made a choice, deal with it! I survived. I'm not going to live the rest of my fucking life with you whining about something that happened a lifetime ago. I can live with it. You had better learn to Jinn, or mark my words, you're the one who's going to end up dead because of it."
Qui-Gon was unable to say anything, his body shocked into immobility by his bondmate's sudden verbal attack.
"So you're just going to sit there?" Ben railed, straightening up and flinging his hands into the air in disgust. "I'll bet that's what you did after whatshisname - Xanatos - turned, too. Just sat there moping and whining about how it was all your fault, how you should have seen what was going to happen."
"I should have..." Qui-Gon started, only to be cut off by the fighter's continuing diatribe.
"Poor Qui-Gon Jinn. The galaxy's problems all come to rest at his door. If a bird dies on Dantooine, it's your fault. If a star goes super-nova on the rim, it's your fault. I'm surprised you've lasted this long with the weight of the universe on your back."
"Enough!" Qui-Gon roared, lunging off the couch and grabbing Ben by the shoulders, shaking him so that his head snapped back and forth. The younger man made no defensive moves during the attack, only smiled slightly as Qui-Gon's fingers dug into his arms.
"I do not take the blame for everything that happens in the Republic. I cannot control what has happened in the past or what others do! I'm only one man, I can only do what I feel the Force tells me to do!" He stopped then, panting heavily, his loose hair hanging in his gleaming eyes, making him look like a madman. "Why are you laughing at me, Ken'ba?" Qui-Gon bellowed, giving the shorter man's arms another shake. "What is so Force-be-damned funny?"
A soft chuckle escaped Ben's lips and he looked pointedly downward to where Qui-Gon's grip was turning his skin white. After the Jedi released him, Ben coughed and flexed his arms, knowing he was going to have a set of deep bruises there the following day. "You are what is funny, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. That and the fact that I now know what I need to do to get you to listen to me."
"What?" The other man's answer could not have confused Qui-Gon any more then if he had started singing a Rodian love song. "Make sense Ken'ba, or leave it be."
Ben dropped onto the sofa and lounged there indolently, looking up at the Jedi's looming figure. "Do you truly believe that it what happened to me is your fault?"
"That is not what I asked you. Do you believe that you were the cause of the direction my life has taken? Yes or no question, Qui-Gon."
"I - No." The last was admitted grudgingly and Qui-Gon's shoulders slumped as he spoke the word. "I did what I thought was right at the time."
"Do you believe that it was your fault that your apprentice turned?"
The older man closed his eyes and a shudder ran through his powerful frame. "No. It was his decision alone."
"Amazing," Ben drawled, "the man can be taught even at his age."
Qui-Gon inhaled deeply, then turned and walked over to the window, staring out at the vista beyond and the countless ships that darted through the skies. He stood there for what seemed an to Ben eternity. It was only after close inspection that the younger man noticed that Qui-Gon's shoulders were shaking slightly.
Wondering if they were going to have a repeat performance of the drama they had just enacted, Ben rose and strode to Qui-Gon's side. "What? Decided that you are the bearer of all the woes of the universe?" he asked, determined to get the Jedi off his self-destructive track. "May I remind you that if it wasn't for you I would more than likely be dead or still under the Bitch's command?"
The small tremors increased in frequency and amplitude, and when Qui-Gon finally looked at him, Ben was stunned to see that the other man was laughing.
"Are you insane?!" he snapped as the Jedi began laughing aloud, finally having to lean back against the transparisteel behind him for support when his knees threatened to give way.
"No," Qui-Gon choked out around another round of mirth. "But I finally know what I have to do to make you smile."
Unable to formulate an answer to that line of reasoning and not sure that he wanted to try, Ben shook his head, muttering to himself as he scowled at his bondmate. "You are insane, Jedi. I'm going to take a shower. This damn hair is starting to itch. If you've gotten a hold of yourself by the time I'm done, maybe we can talk."
Qui-Gon nodded as he pushed his hair back out of his face, regaining his composure. "As you wish, a'shera," he whispered into the silence after Ben had left the room.
Coruscant could not be said to have seasons as most other worlds in the galaxy did. The planet was totally climate controlled and the temperature from pole to pole only varied by a few degrees at the outside. No clouds shielded the planet from the sun's rays, but they were not needed. Filters screened out the harmful radiation, converting it into power for the massive city below.
No clouds, no natural horizon to speak of, no weather . . . The more he knew of the place, the less Ben liked it. There were too many artificial distractions, too many weak points. The fighter leaned on the railing that fenced in the small balcony off Qui-Gon's rooms, watching the fading sunlight and the bright lights of the ships passing by, trying to familiarize himself as much as he could with this place that had been and was now once again his home.
"Anything of interest going on out here?" Qui-Gon asked, passing through the connecting door, carrying glasses of wine for both of them. "Here," he added, handing one to Ben. "I thought we both deserved these after the last few days."
"Good thing you didn't say month, or we would have needed a barrel each at least," Ben murmured, tasting the dark burgundy then taking another, deeper sip. "Good stuff, there more where this came from?"
"I'm not sure, you'll have to ask Master Yoda that question. It was a gift from him." Qui-Gon didn't add that the old Jedi Master had sent the bottle over that very afternoon without a word of explanation.
"Think I can live without knowing then." While Yoda no longer seemed as all-powerful and all-seeing as he had when Obi-Wan had lived in the temple, Ben found it impossible to totally rid himself of the awe his younger self had felt for the oldest of the Jedi.
"I've found that to be the safest course to take at times when dealing with my former master." Qui-Gon smiled and leaned against the railing alongside his bondmate, tilting his head to watch the younger man. The setting sun turned Ben's skin golden and banished the shadows of violence that lingered in the fighter's eyes.
Feeling the tug of attraction through their bond, Ben drained his glass, but continued staring into it, weighing the question he wanted to ask.
"What do you want to know?"
Damn, the other man read him too easily. "How do you know that this just isn't the remnants of the training bond? What makes you so sure that we're tied together forever?"
After the fighter finished his wine, Qui-Gon took Ben's glass and placed them both on the small table nearby. When he leaned on the railing once more, he covered one of the fighter's hands with his. At his touch, Ben was unable to stop the harsh intake of breath as desire surged to the forefront once more.
"That is how I know, a'shera. A training bond is just that. Master and padawan share emotions and, at times, thoughts, but that is all. It cannot and will not cause one to desire the other, to do so would be a corruption of all the Jedi stand for. There have been cases where, once an apprentice has been knighted, the bond has changed and deepened, but it almost never happens while they are still in training."
Heat. Strength that complemented and augmented his own abilities. Need. Security. The weight of Qui-Gon's hand on his communicated all that and more to Ben and he nodded in understanding. "Then if I had become your padawan..."
"Until you had passed your trials, there would have been nothing more between us," Qui-Gon said gently.
After a long silence while he tried to decide if that would have been a positive or a negative, Ben gave up. It was in the past and had never happened anyway, what was the point of worrying over it? Twisting his hand, he closed his fingers around Qui-Gon's, brushing their palms together as he did so. "So then you and your first apprentice..."
"Is that a note of jealousy I detect?" the Jedi smiled, risking an eruption of the fighter's anger by leaning in to brush a kiss over his lips to erase the scowl that was growing. "No, Ylena was my student and I her teacher and at the time our hearts belonged to others, but she was and is a dear friend."
Ben made a small noise of agreement at that, not liking the fact that he felt relieved by Qui-Gon's assurance but accepting it.
"Not going to hit me? I must be growing on you." Taking his free hand, Qui-Gon traced a finger along Ben's cheekbone and was rewarded with a quickly in-drawn breath.
"Your head's too hard, what's the point in it?" the fighter muttered.
"That isn't the first time I've heard that and I doubt it will be the last." As he spoke, the Jedi continued his feather-light caresses. "May I kiss you, a'shera?"
Ben coughed out a laugh and looked at the older man incredulously. "Isn't it a little late to be asking that?"
"No. Now we know who we are."
The fighter almost asked 'Do we?', for while he knew more of his old life, he still didn't understand the Jedi in the least. Deciding to let it be for the moment, Ben tangled his hand in Qui-Gon's hair, stepping in to meet the taller man half-way as he pulled him down, granting permission and asking it at the same time.
As their lips closed together, smooth skin met rough bristles, the fine hairs tickling and teasing as their jaws worked. The contact was good, but it wasn't enough and their mouths fell open, tongues sliding together in an effort to taste and memorize everything about each other. Fingers clenched, grinding their hands together and soon their bodies were doing the same, drawn together by mutual agreement and desire.
Ben stripped out of his shirt and had Qui-Gon's tunic half off before the older man stepped back, struggling for control. "Not out here, not where any transport pilot can see, want you to myself."
Ben had been about to interject that he didn't care, but Qui-Gon's last words stopped his objection. "Inside then," he murmured, nudging his bondmate toward the door, then pulling the entry shut behind them.
A flicker of Qui-Gon's hand over a sensor darkened the room. Shadows cast by exterior lights leapt into stark relief against the pale walls. Two of the shades writhed together, entwined so closely that it was impossible to tell where one began and the other ended.
Near-silent gasps changed to throaty moans as the forms dropped to the floor, becoming lost in the thicker shadows cast by the furniture. A sharp gasp, a murmur of reassurance that bled into a low cry. All was silent after that save for the harsh breathing and slamming heartbeats that distinguished the men from their shadowy revenants.
"Jinn?" Ben yawned as he sat up in the bed and looked around, rubbing at his eyes and blinking away the fatigue when he realized that the other man wasn't anywhere nearby. Memories of the night before rose behind his eyelids and he couldn't help the satisfied smile that formed in response to them.
The things that man could do with his mouth . . . Some of them should be illegal and probably were somewhere in the galaxy. Ben chuckled at that and rolled over, arching his back in a feline-like stretch. But then, some of the things he'd done to the Jedi were probably illegal too, so who was he to talk?
"Where have you gone now..." he muttered, sliding from the bed, then seeing the datapad that had been left on the bedside table.
Duty calls. I have a meeting with the Council that will take up the morning. Take care and try not to kill anyone. I will see you this afternoon.~
"Think you're so funny, Jedi..." Muttering curses that somehow sounded more like endearments, the fighter pulled on his pants and trudged out to the kitchen, wondering what he was going to do with himself for the majority of the day. "No way in the hells I'm going to sit around on my ass waiting for him."
He had just brewed a pot of tea when the door chime sounded. After a moment's deliberation, Ben went to answer it and found himself looking up at a tall Mon Calamari dressed in the garb of a padawan learner. "He's not here, come back later..." Ben's voice died away as he was swept into an embrace that filled his nostrils with the scent of the sea.
"Obi-Wan, it is you. I can't believe it!"
It took all of Ben's control not to break out of the Jedi apprentice's hug as his reflexes screamed that it was an attack. When she finally released him, he took a step back, staring up into her huge, silvery eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, and what emerged was an undignified croak. "Bant?"
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