ARCHIVE: M_A, SWA-L
CATEGORIES: First-time, drama, romance
NOTES: This story was first published in the zine Rituals and Meditations, and if you want a copy with artwork, go smile at 10-Eye Press. This version differs a little from the zine version, and for that I want to thank Lori, who gave me the most insightful feedback I've ever had on a story - and then said, 'Well? Are you going to change it?' Other acknowledgements and thanks are at the end of the story.
DISCLAIMER: George Lucas owns these lads, and would disapprove greatly of the uses I put them to, I'm sure. But they're just so tempting...
WARNINGS: None, oddly enough.
FEEDBACK: All welcomed, as negative or positive as you care for, to: Gloriana.Reginata@virgin.net
SUMMARY: The Ritual of Acquiescence proves difficult for both Padawan and Master.
Ko: an ancient Chinese measure of time, which varied over the centuries from a fifth to a quarter of an hour.
Compay: Cuban slang for 'compadre', friend.
Compay segundo thus means second friend, but it is also used to mean second voice, or harmony in a duet. Hence, its adoption as a nickname by the most famous 'son' musician in Cuba, Compay Segundo.
"This shouldn't take too long, Padawan. Just drop your leggings and lean over the desk for me, would you?"
Qui-Gon's voice was unruffled, calm. Even Obi-Wan, who knew him so much better than most, couldn't detect any disturbance in the bigger man.
He couldn't pretend to such normality, so he said nothing as he stepped over to the large, wooden desk. The sun shone into his eyes through the wide window in front of him as he stood there, fumbling with the catches to his leggings. He'd stripped for many friends before, if never for his master, but this time an unfamiliar clumsiness impeded him.
"Shall I take off my boots?" He was pleased that he managed the sentence without his voice cracking; he'd even matched Qui-Gon's prosaic tone.
"No need. The heels will help, given the difference in our heights. In fact, I should take mine off instead."
While Qui-Gon was turned away undoing the catches on his own boots, Obi-Wan took the opportunity to push down his leggings till they bunched around his knees, keeping his back to his master. "You don't believe in much ceremony, do you?"
Qui-Gon chuckled. "I'd hardly have thought this required formalities, Padawan. Right, are you ready?"
Obi-Wan bent over, resting his forearms on the wood. It was warm from the sunshine, rich with the smell of beeswax. He closed his eyes so he didn't have to see his own face reflected in the highly polished surface.
"Spread your legs a little wider." Qui-Gon's voice came from close behind. Obediently, he shuffled his knees further apart in the tangle of cloth.
"That's better. Tell me if the jelly is too cold, Obi-Wan." A slightly antiseptic smell wafted toward Obi-Wan, then one finger slipped between the cheeks of his bottom, smearing lubricant around the opening to his anal passage.
It was chill, but he answered quickly, "That's fine," then bit his lip as Qui-Gon began to push the finger in.
"Just relax, Padawan. This isn't too bad, is it?"
"No, Master." He knew he hadn't managed to keep the strain from his voice when Qui-Gon laid one large, warm hand on the small of his back under his tunic, and began to stroke in soothing circles.
"Stop me if I'm going too fast," Qui-Gon said, mild concern in his voice.
"It's alright, Qui-Gon."
"Hmmph." But Qui-Gon did not push the issue, much to Obi-Wan's relief. His master was silent for the next few minutes, slowly penetrating the sphincter which opened reluctantly under his touch. Obi-Wan tried to ignore the sensation, reciting mentally his schedule for the rest of the day, his plans for the evening...
"I'm going to put in another finger now, Obi-Wan. Tell me if anything hurts, even in the slightest," Qui-Gon said gently.
There was more cool jelly, and then the pressure against the ring of his anus increased. It was uncomfortable, but Obi-Wan had no intention of bringing this to a halt.
Once he had gained entry, Qui-Gon began to flex his fingers, titillating the host of nerve endings just inside. He slid in and out, spreading his fingers till Obi-Wan finally felt a soft-coiled arousal stir in his belly. Involuntarily, he arched on his toes, pushing against Qui-Gon's hand.
"Good, that's it." Qui-Gon's approval was as stimulating as his hand. "One more now, and then we'll get it over with."
Another thick finger entered him and he clenched his fists. It wasn't pain, but his body was not happy either, and that despite the fact that, for a nineteen year old, his range of sexual experience was reasonably wide. He didn't think his master would hurt him, yet the sexual stimulation Qui-Gon was giving him hadn't quite managed to banish the sick feeling in his stomach.
But this was what they were here to do; best to get it over with as fast as possible. He drove himself back against Qui-Gon, pushing up to his master's knuckles in one swift thrust that drew a gasp from him and a hiss of surprise from Qui-Gon.
"Easy, Obi-Wan! Not so fast."
"I thought you said it wouldn't take very long," he spoke through clenched teeth.
"We have as much time as you need." Qui-Gon was clearly worried now, withdrawing his fingers back to the first knuckle.
"I want you to do it, Qui-Gon," he lied. "Please would you stroke me some more?" It had been better when he let his body take over, responding to his master's practiced touch.
"Of course, Padawan," Qui-Gon complied willingly, twisting his fingers slowly round in the tight channel. Obi-Wan noticed, however, that the hand at the base of his spine had shifted to stop him making any more sudden movements backward.
He lowered his forehead to the desk, breathing shallowly as those fingers caressed him, sliding gently in and out, a little deeper each time. It wasn't long till Qui-Gon nudged his prostate, sending a shower of sparks through his body. He gave a low moan.
"Yes. Let me do that again for you." The restless fingers brushed over the tender spot once more, and Obi-Wan thrust his hips back, vaguely realising that the restraining hand had gone. He was much looser, the physical discomfort almost gone -- but something still felt wrong. Something was missing, something was out of place, and his stomach was beginning to knot up again, but not with lust.
Qui-Gon was finger-fucking him steadily now, building up a rhythm of quicker strokes interspersed with long, slow movements mimicking the ones Obi-Wan expected when he was finally entered. Against the curve of his buttock, he could feel Qui-Gon's penis, swollen to a fullness he could only guess at. But it wouldn't be so bad, he was sure. It would soon be over.
"Are you ready, Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon's voice was hoarser than before. At his padawan's affirmative grunt, he slowly manouevred his fingers out of Obi-Wan, letting the puckered opening wink shut. "I just need some more lubricant."
Obi-Wan stayed still, face hidden on the curve of his arms. He listened for the small sounds coming from behind him, of Qui-Gon loosening the fastenings on his leggings, of the cap of the tube clicking shut. The sunlight shone warm upon his back, painting a lozenge of heat along his spine. In the darkness of his closed eyes, bright-coloured spirals swirled, a magic kaleidoscope. If he could just concentrate on them for the next few minutes, and forget what was going on...
Qui-Gon's hands settled on the cheeks of his bottom, wide thumbs spreading them apart. He felt a sudden rush of cool spill down his crack as the lubricant there was exposed to the air. Then something large and blunt pressed against the newly-stretched ring of his anus, cold jelly slicked over a hot hardness.
Qui-Gon let go of his hips, hands coming down on the desk to either side of Obi-Wan as he braced himself. Something feather-light brushed against Obi-Wan's neck. He felt a puff of air tickle the tiny hairs there as Qui-Gon's voice said right behind him, "Now, Obi-Wan," and then that cobra-headed cock thrust against him, gaining first entry.
Obi-Wan's eyes flew open. The tip of his master's member was lodged in him, but the ring surrounding it was contracting fast, trying to expel it. Desperately he tried to summon the control to relax it, but he couldn't. He heard Qui-Gon grunt behind him, felt the big body shift position slightly, muscles coiling, then the powerful surge--
He cried out as the heavy cock knifed into his tightly resisting body.
"Obi-Wan!" Qui-Gon pulled back immediately, and Obi-Wan collapsed on the desk, stomach flat on the hard surface. "Are you alright?" Worry harshened the words, but Obi-Wan could not answer them. Icy waves were travelling up his spine: he had broken out into a sweat beneath his tunics and his anus was clenching in spasms that left him shuddering.
Qui-Gon's hand returned to his lower back, massaging the rigid muscles there. "I am so sorry, Obi-Wan. I thought you were fully prepared--"
"I was," Obi-Wan interrupted raggedly. "I don't know why it surprised me, but it won't be so much of a shock again. Could we continue, please, Master?"
"I don't think that would be wise," Qui-Gon withdrew his hand and stepped back. "Pull up your leggings, Padawan."
"No, Qui-Gon, don't stop! I want to get this over with!"
"Pull up your leggings and go and wash yourself. Do as I say, Padawan." Obi-Wan hadn't heard Qui-Gon's voice so quiet and implacable for a long time.
Catching his breath in short, jerky gasps, Obi-Wan pushed himself up from the desk, dully noting the sweaty palmprints he had left on the gleaming surface. Qui-Gon was already walking towards the kitchen, no doubt to wash himself there. Holding the catch for his leggings in one hand, Obi-Wan fled down the hall to the lavabo they normally shared.
Force, that had been disastrous. Sitting down on the seat of the pissoir, leggings discarded on the floor, he winced at a sharp reminder of the force his master had just unleashed against his body. His wretchedly unwilling body.
Where in all the heavens had that come from? It wasn't even as if he were unaroused, though a few of his friends had admitted to no sexual response during the entire procedure. Oh, his master would tear strips off him. To be so unaware of what his body was saying as to let Qui-Gon hurt him... And, earlier, he had deliberately misled his master about his level of preparedness. He had had ample opportunity this morning to voice any misgivings which might have led to this fiasco. No, Qui-Gon would not be pleased.
Now he had some idea of what this Ritual was meant to test. How could he have been so blind to his own concerns about it?
He'd been like that rather stupid tribe they had come across on Tremansis IV, inhabiting a valley near the nesting site of a pack of carnivorous wyvers. They denied all knowledge of the beast, could not recognise its spoor along the forest tracks, interpreted its cries in the night as those of hunting birds. And if their children vanished on the way back from the fields, or if a hunter failed to return from a foray into the jungle, they told tales of ogres on the mountain, and invented lies about the habits of neighbouring clans. All not to recognise what they were truly living in the midst of.
He'd known he would have to do this ever since he became sexually awakened; in fact, he had known it from rumour long before. But when he was fourteen Qui-Gon had sat down with him and explained it in detail, answering his questions patiently. Yes, he would put his cock into Obi-Wan, but only when Obi-Wan had completed all the intermediate katas. No, he didn't expect this to be before Obi-Wan was twentyone, at least. He'd been two years off, as it turned out -- or had he deliberately given Obi-Wan a later age so he wouldn't worry if he landed up behind schedule?
Qui-Gon had reassured him that it shouldn't hurt; by then, Obi-Wan would probably have had a lot of practice at it. (His master had got the second part correct, but in the first, he'd been sadly mistaken.) All the human padawans did it, Qui-Gon confirmed, even the ones with female masters. They used a dildo -- an artificial cock; Obi-Wan would find out about those, too, as he got older. (And he had.) Qui-Gon had even said that many of the non-human padawans performed the Ritual as well, if they came from species who included penetration in their mating rituals, and for whom it held psychological significance. Other Jedi species had other rituals, some testing mental states too alien for even Qui-Gon to grasp.
He remembered questioning the concept of 'psychological significance'; and the ensuing assignment Qui-Gon had set for him, perusing semiotics texts for the ways in which various humanoid cultures had symbolised the sexual act. The idea of his master penetrating him hadn't worried him at the time: it was just one of the many tests padawans went through on the long journey to knighthood.
And after that initial surge of curiosity, Obi-Wan had rarely considered the Ritual at all. It wasn't too long before he was researching into the practice of penetration of his own accord -- and, in due course, concentrating on the application of his studies with his normal intense focus. If the thought that his master would one day have sex with him had occurred then, it wasn't very important. Didn't he have sex all the time?
He was more circumspect now, but he got in enough regular practice to make his reaction a few minutes ago even more perplexing. Perhaps Qui-Gon's casual attitude to the whole thing had sparked off some deep-seated anxiety. He'd been sitting at the breakfast table, yawning and dishevelled, watching his master cooking on the wide range when the subject came up...
The big hands had virtually engulfed an egg as Qui-Gon cracked it against the side of a cup.
"You did that last kata very well, Obi-Wan. I've talked to the training master, and we've agreed that your formal lessons can end now."
A glow of accomplishment had filled his sleepy brain. From now on he would train with Qui-Gon alone, their time spent in teamwork on missions; there was no more need for courses at Temple with other masters. He would also start to assume more responsibility from Qui-Gon, giving greater input into the missions under his master's guidance.
He would be a senior padawan, at last.
"It's at just the right time, Obi-Wan. The Council wants to post me to Malabar, to keep a discreet eye on the disarmament process there."
"That's going to be a long, nasty job, Master."
"Perhaps as much as a Standard Revolution."
"A full year?" Obi-Wan looked up, startled. "The Council's willing to assign a Master like you there for a year?" Qui-Gon's many successes in the field, both on his own and later with Obi-Wan in tow, had spread his name far beyond Jedi circles. He was now the Chancellor's obvious choice for any mission where the Senate wanted to show they meant business. But a discreet eye was Senate parlance for undercover work. To have Qui-Gon -- and his formidable reputation -- effectively hors-de-combat for an entire year must mean the Council took the situation on Malabar very seriously.
"The civil wars there have finally deteriorated to the stage where they threaten the stability of that whole sector," Qui-Gon replied. "The Senate has managed to get agreement from the four main governments for a ceasefire, but Mace's intelligence shows that the concentration of heavy weaponry is increasing even while disarmament supposedly takes place. Various of the factions are also beginning to plunder nearby planets to finance their arms purchases. The mining operations on Dinuvia have already suffered two disruptions to production from raids in the last quarter."
"I could see why the Senate might be concerned about that," Obi-Wan said, pouring cold juice into a glass.
Qui-Gon was adding odd ingredients to the eggs, his hands deft as he sorted through the various jars in the cupboard. "Their concerns are justified. The price of Dinuvian crystal is already rising on the materials markets. If the situation continues, it won't be long before other commodity prices increase, too. The situation on Malabar must be contained, if not settled. Preferably, for good."
"If you managed that, Qui-Gon, you'd be famous all over the galaxy," Obi-Wan said, a hint of envy in his voice.
"That's hardly relevant," Qui-Gon said in casual dismissal, waving the salt cannister over the eggs.
Obi-Wan bridled at that. "If I could be known as the one who saved an entire planet from the war it had been wallowing in for centuries, I would consider it a worthy memorial, Master."
Qui-Gon frowned. "You're assuming anyone would be grateful for it, Padawan. In my experience, civil war breeds only bitterness, even in its ending. And Malabar is a very embittered place."
Obi-Wan sipped his juice as he watched Qui-Gon beat the eggs briskly. Inwardly, he was grimacing at the idea of a year on a planet that was nothing more than a war zone, surrounded by treacherous ingrates. He'd thought their recent assignments taxing; this sounded to be much worse. "Weren't you posted there with Xanatos once?"
It was a moment before Qui-Gon replied. "Yes, Xani came with me." He paused to rinse off the fork he'd used on the eggs. "That must have been twelve years ago. It wasn't a Senate mission, though; the Council sent us in an unofficial capacity to bolster local groups trying to establish safe havens for refugees. It came to very little, but I still have valuable contacts there, who'd be willing to pass me off as a mercenary for hire. That should get me into the circles who are building up the weapons caches."
Qui-Gon sighed as he set the skillet to temperature. "It's going to be a very isolated mission, Padawan. Contact with the Temple won't be easy: anything that endangers my cover must be minimised."
"Your cover?" Obi-Wan finally noticed that Qui-Gon wasn't referring to them both. "Surely I'm coming with you?"
The note of indignant query had Qui-Gon smiling. He poured the mixture into the pan, stirring it attentively as Obi-Wan tore a hunk of bread from the fresh, hot loaf.
"Well, it's not the assignment I would have chosen to start your senior padawanship with, but the Council has little choice in the matter. I'm the best one to go, and they would prefer me to have somebody to guard my back. The only benefit is that, by the end of it, you will have gained very valuable experience." Which meant a mission even more difficult and gruelling than Obi-Wan had first thought. "As long as you've finished all the elements of your intermediate course, then yes, you will be free to come with me. You'd best submit that exercise in military logistics to Master Lao-Ma tomorrow morning. That's your last theoretical subject complete, isn't it?"
Qui-Gon tossed the skillet with an apparently casual flip of the wrist, landing the eggs neatly on Obi-Wan's plate. "And can you wash yourself well after breakfast, Padawan? Particularly your genitals. I'd like to complete the Ritual of Acquiescence before you go off to classes."
"I believe it's the only one of the physical exercises we haven't covered." Qui-Gon turned away to put the unused eggs into coolstore. "It shouldn't take more than two ko. I'm due at a seminar on Ethical Dilemmas later this morning." He sat down opposite Obi-Wan, scooping a large chunk of mushroom onto his fork. "If that's alright by you."
"Oh, uh, of course, Master."
Qui-Gon laid down his fork, the mushroom left untasted. "Obi-Wan, do you have concerns about the Ritual? I know we haven't discussed it recently, but surely you realised you were close to that stage--"
Obi-Wan quickly interjected, "I hadn't thought about it much, to be honest. But it's no big issue. Today will be fine."
Qui-Gon relaxed back in his chair, a wry quirk to his lips. "It must be said there are advantages to having an experienced padawan, even if it does mean he comes in at three in the morning..."
"If you slept a little sounder, I wouldn't disturb you," Obi-Wan protested, rubbing sleeping dust from his eyes. It was too early for this conversation.
"If I slept a little sounder, we would both have been cremated on Gauda Prime." Qui-Gon's riposte was muffled by a forkful of egg. "Still, I'm glad you're not too nervous about this, Padawan. When I had to do it for Xani, it took me three days to calm him down enough so we could get through it. But he was a good two years younger than you."
"He'd got this far at seventeen?" Obi-Wan was frankly shocked. He'd considered himself well advanced as far as most of the human padawans went.
"He spent rather more of his adolescence working, and rather less socialising," Qui-Gon's voice was dry.
"No wonder he needed calming down. Doesn't sound like any fun at all," Obi-Wan muttered into his juice.
"No. No, he wasn't fun." Qui-Gon swallowed the last mouthful of egg, and put his knife and fork together. "Clear up for me, would you, Obi-Wan? I need to prepare my notes for this seminar. If you could be ready for the Ritual in, say, four ko?" Obi-Wan nodded agreement as Qui-Gon passed by his chair. "Don't eat too fast. The chickens aren't coming to reclaim those eggs, Padawan." A familiar hand ruffled his hair, and then Qui-Gon was gone, the door from the kitchen closing softly behind him.
Obi-Wan swallowed down the sick feeling in his stomach, and swept his uneaten plate of food into the recycler. What a morning to have a hangover.
Except it hadn't been a hangover. Washing himself thoroughly before he was due in Qui-Gon's study, Obi-Wan had become more and more nervous. Some small part of him was protesting that he simply did not want to do this. He'd told it to shut up. He'd reasoned with himself that this was hardly a major event. He was just going to be fucked by his master, that was all. It might take no more than a few minutes: all that was normally required was for Qui-Gon to enter him and ejaculate.
His master was a virile, sexually active man. Obi-Wan didn't see the attraction himself, but the older man didn't lack for partners. He was almost certainly a proficient lover; Qui-Gon was, after all, proficient at most things. He wouldn't hurt Obi-Wan.
But he had, and it had all been Obi-Wan's own fault.
Sucking in his breath between his teeth, he pushed his finger slowly into his entrance, sending a warming healing into the abused flesh. When he withdrew it, there was a slight tinge of blood. Oh, that had hurt a great deal. But his pride was about to hurt a lot more. Quickly rinsing the whole area to get rid of any trace of the jelly, Obi-Wan dressed in a fresh set of leggings and went to face his doom.
He found Qui-Gon washing his hands over the kitchen sink.
"Don't you have to leave for that seminar now, Master?"
"I've cancelled it." Qui-Gon's voice was flat as he dried his hands on a towel. "You and I have some things to discuss, Obi-Wan."
Uh oh. "I ought to start work on that exercise for Master Lao-Ma, to get it done by tomorrow. Couldn't we talk later this even--"
"I suppose not. Alright, Master, I know I deserve to be told off," he said resignedly, and was surprised when Qui-Gon shook his head.
"Oh, Obi-Wan. Do you think I only want to scold you?"
He looked up at the sad expression on Qui-Gon's face as his master stood there, feet still bare on the cold stone floor, his hands held out to his padawan.
Obi-Wan took one step forward and was enfolded in his master's embrace. Burrowing into the layer of tunics surrounding the big, warm body, he whispered, "I'm sorry, Qui-Gon. I was so stupid -- "
"Hush, Padawan. It was my fault, too. I should have seen you were upset." Hands smoothed his hair, cradling his head. "Did I hurt you badly?"
"No, Master," his voice was muffled against the fine linen. "It was easy to heal."
Qui-Gon's hands tightened for a moment, then eased their grasp. "Come, Padawan. We do still have to talk about this -- and I want to stand somewhere warmer."
Obi-Wan gave a reluctant laugh. "I suppose we'd better move then, before I step on your toes."
Qui-Gon led him out into the sunroom, as they called the little ledge of balcony covered with glass to shelter it from the winds swirling around the high towers of the Temple. Despite knowing it was foolish, Obi-Wan was relieved that Qui-Gon hadn't chosen the study as the place to continue the conversation. They pulled cushions off the chairs and sat on the ground, legs crossed, facing each other.
"The Ritual of Acquiescence has a long history," Qui-Gon began, surprising Obi-Wan, who had expected a string of awkward questions to be launched at him. "Its exact significance is not clear, though most think of it as a ritual of submission. By allowing your body to be entered in so intimate a fashion, you are showing your complete submission to the authority of the Jedi order over you, just as you submit your heart and soul to them during your Trials. This is why girls undergoing the Ritual are also penetrated anally, rather than vaginally, thus emphasising the element of subjugation over the element of sexual stimulation. Or, so goes the theory."
"Which you don't accept." Obi-Wan was well-used to his master's methods of argument: whenever Qui-Gon mentioned theory, it was a foregone conclusion that he had his own, radically different interpretation.
"Now, Padawan, have I ever taken the simple line?"
Obi-Wan smiled even as he shook his head reprovingly. "Never, my Master."
"So, how much do you remember about the origins of the Ritual?" Qui-Gon asked.
This was where the inadequacies in Obi-Wan's preparation would be shown up. "Only that it's very old. Wasn't it already archaic when Master Tobian came across it?"
"Yes. According to the historian Horatius, the people of Dahometh still practised it then, but in a debased form: Tobian had to go back to much older texts to study it properly. The rite which was finally absorbed into the Jedi rituals reflects the older, more potent tradition. Dahometh culture had once been incredibly rich, though it had been decaying for many years when the Republic stumbled across the planet. They tended to madness, you know."
"Oh," Obi-Wan said.
Qui-Gon smiled. "That does not make their achievements less valuable, Padawan," he chided gently. "They have left us a great legacy, though sadly few amongst them can now even speak their own language, much less the archaic form the Ritual texts were written in. You have read a little of their later philosophers, haven't you?"
Obi-Wan wrinkled his nose. "A little. In the original Dahometh," he added hopefully, as Qui-Gon tutted in remonstrance. "And some translations of the Ritual texts. We covered Declan's thesis of its significance, too. She definitely saw it as a ritual of submission, Master; what is your view, if you don't accept hers?"
"The question is rather, what is yours?"
About to dash into a quick reply, Obi-Wan paused.
"I was telling the truth this morning, when I said I hadn't really thought about it," he finally answered.
Qui-Gon sighed. "It is true that some of these older, ritual exercises can be seen as rote learning. But, Padawan, if you approach them with nothing in your mind, then nothing is what you will get out of them, even though theoretically you have mastered them. Now, I know it is not possible to approach every exercise this way: we would none of us have reached knighthood if that were required."
This wry admission surprised Obi-Wan: Qui-Gon rarely gave less than his entire commitment to whatever they did, and expected the same from his padawan. Qui-Gon continued, "Inevitably, there will be some exercises that mean nothing to you, which you complete at a mechanical level only. But before consigning a ritual to this class, should you not have considered it in more detail?"
"I find it hard to explain my carelessness here, Master. I thought so little about it, that I wonder if I was ignoring the whole issue on purpose, blocking it out of my mind."
"Do you find it such a horrifying idea, Padawan?" Qui-Gon's voice was gentle as he reached out to brush a finger against Obi-Wan's chin. "I understand that my -- body size -- might seem a bit formidable..."
Obi-Wan had never heard Qui-Gon use a euphemism to him before. He immediately decided he didn't like it and wouldn't tolerate it. This was a discussion between adults, after all.
"No, Master, the fact that you have a big cock has nothing to do with it." Qui-Gon's grimace acknowledged the hit. "Your -- body size -- is very impressive, I'm sure, but I have had large enough experience now to cope." Their eyes met, Obi-Wan's daring Qui-Gon to challenge him on the point; but his master leant back, expression contemplative rather than combative.
"Then what else may have upset you?"
"It just felt wrong. I don't know. I -- you were so casual about the whole thing."
"I am sorry if you felt slighted, Padawan. I honestly didn't think formality here would be very important to you, given your large enough experience."
"I don't sleep around that much anymore," Obi-Wan said, somewhat defensively.
"That is just as well," Qui-Gon's voice was dry. "If you hadn't channelled some of that enthusiasm back towards your work, you would be nowhere near this level today."
"Yes. Well. I suppose that was the other thing, too." Qui-Gon looked questioning. "Your saying how much time you had taken with Xanatos."
"You said you spent three days preparing for the Ritual with him. I got about three minutes."
A frown passed over Qui-Gon's face. "To some extent, Padawan, that has been the outcome of circumstance. If it were not for the deadline for this mission... But you need not begrudge Xani that time. It took him much mental effort to accept the need for the Ritual at all; for him, it was very much an issue of submission, and a submission he found painful, at that." His master looked away, watching the craft wheeling in the sky around them. "You have never had his problems with authority, Padawan. Normally I would have expected you to be lecturing me about how important the Ritual was, to uphold Jedi tradition."
"It's not the idea of the Ritual itself that's upsetting me, Master," he said slowly. "It just feels as if something's wrong. As if it would be easy to get right, if I could find the answer. Like those pictures with hidden faces: once you've seen the face, you wonder how you could ever have missed it."
"Well, Obi-Wan, I fear you will have to spend much of today looking for that face. Our time is short, whether or no we would prefer it otherwise." Qui-Gon stretched his long limbs, then settled back onto his knees in his customary stance for meditation. "I want you to spend the next few hours exploring the significance of this Ritual for you, Padawan. But I want us to start by opening ourselves as much as we can to the auguries of the Force. It is possible, after all, that your reluctance stems from some foretelling of danger on this mission."
"I hadn't thought of that." Obi-Wan, too, settled himself into his favourite meditation pose, each ankle high on the thigh of the other leg. Qui-Gon normally claimed that his own legs were too long to make that position comfortable.
"It might be linked. After all, the one is dependent on the other. I will stay with you and meditate for now, but I must go to see the Council later this afternoon. Padawan," and here Qui-Gon sounded uncertain for the first time that day, "would you be willing to try again this evening, if your meditations fail to show any reason not to?"
"Of course! You said it yourself, Master. Our time is short."
"But you will tell me to stop if you need me to?"
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan replied, abashed.
"Nor will you let me hurt you?"
"No, I won't." He was thoroughly ashamed of himself now.
"And, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon caught his chin in one large hand, tilting his head up till their eyes met, "you won't betray my trust in you again?"
"No, Master," he whispered, desperately sorry for the pain he saw in that steady blue gaze.
"Good." His chin was released. "Now, let's to work -- or, rather, to thought, which is harder yet."
Smiling at each other, they settled into meditation.
The light supper he had eaten lay gently on Obi-Wan's stomach. Walking back along the corridors, his breath came a little faster than normal, but there was none of the sick queasiness of the morning. Perhaps it had just been a hangover, after all, for he knew his master was in their rooms, waiting.
Waiting, and probably ready to take him through the Ritual again.
Their long meditation had yielded no forebodings of doom, either from Obi-Wan's drifting on the tides of the future, or from Qui-Gon's intense immersion in the present. If anything, Obi-Wan would have said the Force came to him cleaner, stronger, sweeter than it had for some while.
Qui-Gon had left him soon after the noon hour, called to Council. Obi-Wan used the time to think more about the Ritual of Acquiescence. He had previously ranked it on a par with the more tedious of the physical exercises, such as spending four sleep-deprived nights in succession guarding a locked door with nothing behind it, or the Sloth Kata, boring and muscle-destroying at the same time.
Now he was forced to reconsider. Despite his experiences of the morning, he was surprised by Qui-Gon's remarks about Xanatos' resistance to the Ritual. At first he wondered whether Xanatos, showing greater insight even at so young an age, had merely acknowledged emotions Obi-Wan was hiding from himself.
But the longer he meditated, the more that notion seemed wrong. He was not Xanatos. He did not share that tragic young man's self-centred worldview. He had a deep understanding of his place in the Jedi order: it was there that he belonged, with every iota of his being, and he had no wish to rebel against it. Indeed, if he had any complaint against his master, it was Qui-Gon's constant urge to such rebellion. As for physical submission, isn't that what he did every day, straining muscle and sinew in katas, risking his life in the field? The idea of encoding that submission in one symbolic act seemed more than right: it seemed comforting.
He hadn't realised that before. He could actually enjoy this Ritual, participating in it rather than simply experiencing it. Instead of bringing nothing to it, he could bring his sincere love for the Jedi, and his love for his master. Ah, that felt better.
Appreciating that he had made great progress, he allowed himself to relax back out of the meditative trance, becoming aware of the delicate tones of sunset, the sky over the balcony a fragile eggshell blue tinged with gold. Massaging cramped limbs, he hobbled through into the salon, determined to put in an hour's work on Master Lao-Ma's exercise before supper. But, before he left for the research stacks, he composed a brief message for Qui-Gon:
If it pleases you, your padawan would like to
assay the Ritual of Acquiescence with you
And if Qui-Gon took his small hint from the formality of the note, perhaps tonight would be very different from this morning.
Now, on the way back to his rooms, Obi-Wan vowed that in one way it would be very different indeed. He would pay attention to any disquiet he experienced, giving his master ample warning. He would not betray Qui-Gon's confidence in him.
Walking into their tiny hallway, he was surprised to see only one light burning in the salon, the tiny table lamp by his own lounging chair. Beside it there was a message; unlike his earlier, data-coded note to his master, this was hand-written. Obi-Wan held the rough-pressed silk paper, shot through with golds and greens, in the pool of light, struggling to decipher Qui-Gon's bold but erratic hand.
If it still pleases you to assay
the Ritual of Acquiescence
this evening, I have laid
out suitable attire on your
bed. I wait upon your
And that, Obi-Wan thought with a shuddering breath, represented a gauntlet thrown down in challenge, as well as an awful pun. A tiny spark of desire began to grow in his belly. Suddenly he was aware that his master was very close, probably in the room just beyond, probably equally aware of his own presence. Qui-Gon had said that the element of sexual stimulation was not the core of this Ritual; Obi-Wan had virtually ignored that comment, since he had never approached it in a sexual light. Now, he was not so sure.
Despite his sudden surge of anticipation, Obi-Wan took his time dressing in the garment Qui-Gon had laid out for him. For one thing, it was very complex, with ribbons and archaic fastenings that challenged Obi-Wan's knot-tying skills. For another, he decided to bathe first, wallowing in a tub of water scented with hazzanut oil and crushed basil leaves. He was normally too impatient for the long baths his master enjoyed, but tonight it seemed apt to prepare himself carefully.
Guided by the same instinct, before he dressed he anointed himself with a thick cream, pushing it deep inside. It was cool to touch but would warm within his body. When Qui-Gon came to prepare him, there would be no shock of cold gel to make his body contract. To his satisfaction, he felt no more than the normal pressure around his probing fingers as he worked in the cream.
This was going to be fine.
Struggling to secure the final sash around his waist, he wondered how Qui-Gon intended to get this convoluted costume off him. But one step towards the mirror gave him the answer. The robe -- for it fell to the floor in stiff folds from the waist, more like a robe than a jacket -- had great slashes up the sides to his hips, held closed now by tiny ribbons. Just a glimpse of thigh showed as he walked toward his staring image, but if those ribbons were undone...
His heart was beating a little faster now. Under the robe, he was naked: the shifting of the heavy material against his bare skin made him far more aware of that than his leggings ever had. He stared at his reflection, taken aback by how little like his normal self he looked. Qui-Gon had chosen a rich blue for him which shone beneath the lights, bringing out the hint of red in his hair. He was shod in silk slippers rather than workaday boots, and of his own initiative he had twined a blue ribbon from the costume into his braid.
He was as ready as he could be. Time to end his master's long wait. Walking back across the darkened salon, he reached out to locate Qui-Gon. Oddly enough, he sensed the older man, not in his own bedroom where Obi-Wan had expected him, but in the formal dining room. That was in keeping with the general atmosphere, he supposed. He felt Qui-Gon respond to the questing touch, coming more vibrantly into focus. Obi-Wan guessed his master had spent the time waiting in meditation, though before he could reach the dining room doors Qui-Gon was fully alert, expecting his entrance. Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan pushed open the doors.
It was quite a sight that met his eyes. The room was lit with candles, burning in candelabra ranged round the walls. The heavy wood table was shrouded in a deep red cloth; the chairs had vanished, but a smaller sidetable had taken their place. On it there was a silver tray bearing small glass jars. And, standing in the flickering light, Qui-Gon waited with hands held loosely by his side.
Just as his own reflection in the mirror had not matched the Obi-Wan he met there each day, so Qui-Gon also appeared a stranger to Obi-Wan's eyes. His master, too, had discarded boots for silk slippers, and wore a robe similar to Obi-Wan's but of a deep green, which brought out the silver in his beard. He had wreathed silver cords through his hair, which was swept severely back from his face and tied in one elaborate braid. He, too, looked exotic and alien, his features harsh without the softening frame of hair.
But there were two important differences between them that struck Obi-Wan immediately. Qui-Gon's hands sparkled slightly in the shifting light of the candles: he was wearing microgaunts, gloves no thicker than a molecule, used for delicate work where a sense of touch was essential but the wearer wanted to avoid actual contact. And his robe was not slit at the sides, but opened up the front.
Taking a deep breath, Obi-Wan stepped forward. "Good evening, my Master."
"Good evening, my Padawan." Qui-Gon surprised him then by bowing deeply, his long body sweeping a curve through the air as his hands came to clasp in front of him. When Qui-Gon had straightened again, Obi-Wan was quick to return the gesture, the tip of his braid brushing the parquet floor.
"I thank you for the kindness of your presence here." There was no emotion in Qui-Gon's voice, but Obi-Wan noticed that he had tucked his hands into the long sleeves of the robe, a gesture many Jedi adopted to hide telltale body signals.
"I thank you for your invitation."
Qui-Gon took a step forward, freeing one hand to indicate the silver tray. " If it would please you, this is a beverage for you to partake of."
Finally Obi-Wan recognised the words they were exchanging. It was another ritual: not a Jedi ritual at all, but the formal betrothal ceremony of the Shue people of Nappa Minor. He had studied it for a mission which had never taken place; Qui-Gon had commiserated the lost effort, but said that no knowledge was ever useless. Once again, his master had proved himself right in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Cudgelling his brain for the correct response, he hazarded, "If you would partake of it with me, my pleasure would be complete."
Judging by the sudden twitch of Qui-Gon's lips, Obi-Wan guessed he had just made a fatal breach of protocol, but after a moment his master triumphed over the urge to correct him. The big man picked up a flask of purple glass from the tray, pouring out thimblefuls of a thick, mauve liquid into two silver cups. With deliberate movements, he returned the flask to the position from which it had come, and lifted the small cups from the tray, his hands virtually eclipsing them from view.
Then he unexpectedly sank to his knees in one flowing gesture, still holding the cups carefully level. It meant he had to tilt his head to meet Obi-Wan's eyes, an unusual state of affairs for the pair of them. He extended one cup, hand held up for Obi-Wan to accept the offering, the other cup cradled against his chest. "I would join with you in this drinking as I would join with you in the flesh of your body."
Gods. How could Obi-Wan have forgotten. The betrothal ceremonies were always completed by physical intercourse between the engaged couple; a couple who, typically, had never met each other before that day. The one providing the dowry usually penetrated the other in the presence of both their families. At least Obi-Wan was being spared the witnesses.
With a helpless sense of inevitability, he conceded that there was no more formal way Qui-Gon could have asked him to complete the Ritual of Acquiescence. He knew his answer -- now, if he could only remember how to phrase it.
Qui-Gon was waiting; there was a slight tremor in the hand holding out the silver cup.
"Uh -- if the drink you offered me were as sweet as honey, yet it would not rival the sweetness of our joining." Carefully he took the vial from his master's hand. Qui-Gon's eyes closed in relief, shoulders relaxing; then he brought his own cup to his mouth with both hands and sipped the liquid, head bowed in front of his padawan.
Slowly Obi-Wan lifted the vial, stopping for a moment to inhale the perfumed odour. It smelt of crushed violets and aniseed, with a heavy, sweet undertone that mingled with the smoky scent of burning tallow filling the room. One small taste confirmed his suspicions: the mixture was cloying on his tongue, meant to be sipped slowly.
So he stood, taking in the sickly drink in small tastes, while his master knelt at his feet. Glancing at Qui-Gon between tastes, Obi-Wan felt the tense anticipation rise again in his stomach. There was something so erotic about standing here, formally dressed, drinking with ritual restraint, yet aware that in the next few minutes the huge man kneeling before him would tip him over the table and... he shuddered, but not in dread this time. He wanted to dispense with these formalities now; he wanted to feel Qui-Gon's fingers in him.
Abruptly he put the vial back down on the tray. Qui-Gon's eyes shot open in surprise, growing even wider when Obi-Wan unceremoniously took the second cup from his fingers and placed it on the tray, too. Obi-Wan nearly laughed at the surprise on his face.
But he didn't want to pull completely out of this strange semi-fantasy. "While the drink you offered me was as sweet as honey," he improvised, "still our joining will be sweeter."
He heard the click of Qui-Gon's tongue against his palate, a familiar reproof for his impatience. But it seemed his master was willing to follow his lead, for Qui-Gon reached out to take between finger and thumb the bottom ribbon securing the left slit up Obi-Wan's robe. "If it would please you, I would take this ribbon as a token of our joining."
"It would please me for you to have my token." The whispered response appeared to satisfy Qui-Gon. Delicately, he pulled at the length of ribbon, freeing it from the cloth and letting the robe swing slightly open. Then he reached over to the right, and took hold of the bottom-most ribbon there.
No, surely he wasn't planning on a question and answer for every ribbon. They would be here till tomorrow morning, at that rate. Qui-Gon looked up, his mouth about to open -- and Obi-Wan glared at him till he shut it again. Shaking his head in resignation at his padawan's reproachable behaviour, Qui-Gon tugged gently at the length of silken tie till it came free in his hand. He let it fall to the floor.
One by one, he pulled each ribbon loose, and for Obi-Wan it was an exquisite torture: the brush of warm fingers against his calf, the back of his knee, his thigh; the rustle of cloth shifting as more of his body was exposed. Qui-Gon did not deliberately part the panels of his robe, but Obi-Wan was achingly aware that he could have. That he could reach one of those large hands under the soft material and run his hand up over Obi-Wan's now prominent erection...
But that was not what Qui-Gon was here for.
The last ribbon discarded, Qui-Gon moved to his feet, the long robe making his movements seem flowing and free. Standing, he towered over Obi-Wan once more, no longer supplicant but leader. Those blue eyes took in Obi-Wan's flushed cheeks, then dropped lower. The bulge in Obi-Wan's robe must have satisfied him, for he made one step back and held out his hand.
"If it would please you, I would lay your body down for our joining."
"It would please me to give my body over to you, for you to lay it down." Obi-Wan rested his fingertips on Qui-Gon's and stepped forward, treading over the ribbons that lay like cornflower petals on the rich wood floor. He let the big man lead him to the table, hands outstretched, each step more like the steps of a dance, with Qui-Gon's eyes never leaving his face as they moved in measured pace across the room. Obi-Wan was acutely aware of that piercing look. The tension in his stomach was getting far worse, and with surprise he recognised that it was comprised only of lust, not fear. The fingers brushing against his would soon be stretching him for something larger. He planned to enjoy every moment of that touch.
There was a part of the ceremony here which he was supposed to do, but he couldn't remember what it was. Instead his attention was caught by the expanse of table in front of him, draped over with a heavy, quilted satin which would pad the hard surface for him. At the other end, beyond the cloth, candles in an ornate branching candlestick dripped white wax onto the gleaming wood. He took his hand from Qui-Gon's and turned to stand in front of the table, the edge of it hard against his risen cock. He leant over, stomach and chest on the cloth, arms stretched out in front of him. Slowly he let his weight be taken by the sturdy support beneath him, relaxing torso, hips and knees. He closed his eyes with a sigh.
"If it would please you, I am laid here for your eyes to partake of me." He was almost surprised that the hazy, dreamy voice was his. Those words must have come out of some deep well of memory.
"It would please my eyes to partake of you, for no sight could be sweeter." Qui-Gon's reply was slightly strained, but Obi-Wan didn't want to open his eyes enough to check his master's expression. He felt the man move round to stand behind him; then there was the sensation of the cloth against his heels being lifted free. Slowly Qui-Gon rolled up the whole back panel of the robe in one fat tube, successively baring calves, knees, thighs and then buttocks to the air.
Hands fumbled along his ribs, securing the roll of cloth against the small of his back with spare ribbons. Obi-Wan vaguely remembered that he had wondered what those were for, when he was trying to put this thing on. The weight of the bunched cloth against the base of his spine was oddly comforting. "If it would please you, I am laid here, for your hands to partake of me." Yes, those were the right words.
"It would please my hands to partake of you, for no feeling could be sweeter." This time he knew he hadn't imagined the hoarseness in Qui-Gon's voice, but that felt right, too. His master should be aroused by the sight of his muscled legs, the plump curves of his bottom. So what if Qui-Gon had seen these things many times, in changing rooms or close quarters on missions? So what if his master had been unmoved by them before? Here and now, it was right that Qui-Gon should lust to touch him, just as he had discovered a lust to be touched.
A delicate hand brushed the back of one knee. How could such big hands be so gentle, Obi-Wan thought in wonder. The fingers trailed up, just inside the curve of his thigh, and suddenly a spear of desire shafted through Obi-Wan, from his stomach down to his curling toes. He shifted his knees further apart, hearing Qui-Gon's breath catch. The new position meant his cock was being compressed against the table, welcome pressure as his torso bore more of his bodyweight. Now Qui-Gon had freedom of the space between his thighs, could stroke from balls to spine if he so chose.
Obi-Wan wanted to beg a further touch, but he knew better than to interrupt the Ritual. When Qui-Gon set his mind to doing a thing properly, that was how it was done. So he suffered in silence the brushstrokes against his inner thighs, the tickle of the fine hairs on his balls, the tentative pressure against his perineum. All delightful, all pure pleasure, and Obi-Wan could not understand how he had ever considered this Ritual just another exercise to be gotten done with. He wanted it to go on forever, just like this, but then again if Qui-Gon didn't do something more soon...
Oh. One probing finger slipped up into his crease, circling his anus. He pushed down with all the muscles in his abdomen, trying to open the tiny pucker himself to welcome that finger in. An even more tantalising brush against the tender flesh -- and then it had slipped past the tight ring, and Obi-Wan was contracting all his muscles to pull it deep within himself.
"Shh." He could hardly hear the soft whisper above his head. "I'll take it out--"
"More!" Force, was that his voice, so harsh and commanding? He gasped a deep breath to calm himself. "If it would please you," he managed, "I am laid here to be opened by your touch."
He heard Qui-Gon's own breath catch before he replied, "It would please me to open you further for my touch." The subtle difference between question and response had Obi-Wan shaking.
But that was as nothing to the shudders which started to rack him when Qui-Gon began to move his finger, a slow push against Obi-Wan's flesh and an equally slow pull back to the tight ring. Obi-Wan was torn by a need to spread his legs further yet, to get Qui-Gon as deep into his body as he could; and to pull them back together, to feel the friction more strongly. But he doubted his master would countenance any movement at all, so he lay quiet, aching for each sensation. Wanting more.
Finally Qui-Gon moved position, keeping his finger in place but shifting close enough that Obi-Wan could feel the pressure of his body, Qui-Gon's robe soft on his bare leg. One big hand came down onto the table near his head as Qui-Gon braced himself on the surface. Obi-Wan reached out for it, curling his fingers round the warm skin.
Qui-Gon stroked deep within him, brushing against his prostate, and in the spangle of pleasure that darted through him he lost the moment when a second finger joined the first. All he knew was that there was a delicious stretching adding to the sensations overwhelming him. Separating, easing, coaxing: they sought to soothe even as they stimulated.
Lust slowly easing into enjoyment again, Obi-Wan turned his face slightly towards Qui-Gon. He could just see the side of his master's averted face, bared as it was by his swept-back hair. Qui-Gon was utterly focussed, his brow furrowed as he worked his fingers into his padawan. Obi-Wan found it hard to reconcile the image. Here was his master, concentrating as he would on any problem Obi-Wan brought him. There, in his arsehole, were long fingers plying him open. How could the two be related? What part of this picture was he missing?
Obi-Wan lost the whole train of thought as Qui-Gon sent a third conqueror the way of the other two. This stretching hurt a little, Qui-Gon's knuckle thick in his narrow passage. Obi-Wan's fingers, which had lain loose on the hand beside him, closed instinctively. But Qui-Gon did not threaten to withdraw this time: instead, he stilled until Obi-Wan's fingers uncurled again. Then he began the slow push and pull once more.
There was a different intent behind the movements now. They were faster, slightly rougher against the tingling flesh just inside his anus, deliberately nudging his prostate at erratic intervals. Qui-Gon was edging closer to that narrow line between pleasure and pain, inciting Obi-Wan to a passion which could ignore the difference: a passion Obi-Wan welcomed eagerly.
He forgot to breathe. Incapable of words, he was desperately glad that he had Qui-Gon's hand beside him, letting him signal with squeezes and strokes and once with his nails how he wanted to be touched, how much more he could take. He was aching, he was wanting, his cock was weeping on the red satin beneath him: one hand was wringing the soft cloth in its grasp while the other clung to his master's. When Qui-Gon slowed, Obi-Wan wanted to scream denial. But he knew what the gently withdrawing fingers were asking of him.
He swallowed hard. Searching desperately through his shattered mind, he remembered how to make the words he needed. "If it would please you, I am laid here for your cock to partake of me. I am laid open for you to enter me."
Underneath his hand, Qui-Gon's formed a fist. Surely he wanted it as badly as Obi-Wan did, by now?
"It would please my cock to partake of you, for nothing in my life could be sweeter." The throaty response had Obi-Wan's stomach churning again. "It would please me to enter your body, opened only for me."
Traditional words, Obi-Wan belatedly remembered. Formality and tradition and ritual, but what did Qui-Gon himself really want? Obi-Wan had paid scant attention to that this evening.
While this thought flitted through his head, Qui-Gon was tugging at the ribbons securing his own robe down the front, freeing them with the hand that had just been inside Obi-Wan; the other was still firm in his padawan's grasp. He twisted his body round to stand between Obi-Wan's spread legs, bracing both arms on the table and enveloping Obi-Wan in a warm cocoon of silk and flesh. Against the back of his legs, Obi-Wan could feel the slippery cloth sliding, but against his buttocks, Qui-Gon's hot, sweat-dampened skin clung to his. And between them -- something oiled, something hot, something hard. Yes, Qui-Gon wanted this.
His left hand clutched at the fingers wrapped round his own; his right hand sought the same. Qui-Gon let Obi-Wan capture the fingers which had recently opened Obi-Wan's body: there was a musky smell to them, not strong but not the clean scent of Qui-Gon's own skin. Him. It was him, on his master's hand.
No. It wasn't on his master's hand. In the flickering light of the candles, he saw the glitter of the microgaunts. His scent was on the gloves his master wore as a barrier between Obi-Wan's flesh and his own. A formal barrier, one that allowed an illusion of intimacy without really granting it -- just as a Shue betrothal ceremony offered physical intimacy between strangers.
Which wasn't really intimacy at all.
And immediately upon the thought, the wrongness of what they were doing overwhelmed him, and his body began to tighten even as the tip of Qui-Gon's cock found his opening.
He had no idea how he managed the strength of will to say that. For a moment, he thought Qui-Gon would ignore him, would push into his rapidly contracting hole with a force of passion that would overwhelm his objection. Part of him was pleading with Qui-Gon to do just that, to just do it, and bring this whole charade to an end.
But then his master gave a deep groan and let his head fall forward between Obi-Wan's shoulderblades, thrusting his hips back and away. His nails were cutting into Obi-Wan's hands, even through the microgaunts. Obi-Wan stayed completely still, accepting the small, sharp crescents of pain, listening to Qui-Gon's ragged breathing. He screwed his own eyes shut, welcoming the darkness.
Finally Qui-Gon pulled away, turning his back to Obi-Wan as he tugged his robe around him. "Tidy yourself, Padawan," his voice was a rough growl.
"I'm so sor--"
"Quiet!" The sudden explosion shocked Obi-Wan. "Just tidy yourself. Please." The voice was gentler, but with such a note of strain that Obi-Wan hastily pushed himself upright, wrenching at the ribbons holding the back panel of his robe in place. Luckily they didn't snarl in his clumsy grasp; in an instant the panel had swung down to his ankles, and in another he had tied makeshift loops through the holes at the knees, securing them. Dully he noticed that his erection was starting to subside.
"I -- " What could he say? Qui-Gon must be furious with him. Obi-Wan had demanded more ceremony, and Qui-Gon had given it. Obi-Wan had dictated the pace, and Qui-Gon had followed it. Obi-Wan had asked for more, Obi-Wan had let them both get to the limits of their control -- and then he'd called a halt, for no obvious reason. There was no trace of the sick fear he'd felt that morning. There was no disturbance in the Force, no presentiment of danger. Just a knowledge that this was wrong.
He stared at Qui-Gon's stiff back. "I'll leave you alone. I am sorry, Master." He turned to go, but Qui-Gon's voice halted him.
"No, Obi-Wan. Don't leave just yet." He turned back to see that Qui-Gon was facing him now, every line on his face sharply delineated by the dancing shadows. His master took a deep breath. "You have nothing to be sorry for. It was just... a bit hard, that's all." Qui-Gon gave a wry smile. "Even Jedi Masters can find some things hard."
He stepped closer to Obi-Wan, peeling off the gloves and tossing them to the floor before taking Obi-Wan's chin in his hand. "Don't fret, Padawan, please. You always worry so much!"
Obi-Wan smiled reluctantly.
"That's better." Qui-Gon let him go. "Now, then. I am going to tidy up this room. You," he eyed Obi-Wan in a brisk, business-like fashion, "are going to bed. You are not to lie there searching your brain for what went wrong this evening. We'll tackle that together tomorrow. Just get undressed, purge your system of that wine, and sleep. Do you understand me, Padawan?"
"Right. Off with you."
By the time Obi-Wan reached the door, Qui-Gon was already extinguishing the candles.
"Oh, and Obi-Wan?"
Obi-Wan paused, his hand on the doorknob.
"Thank you," Qui-Gon said.
Obi-Wan ducked his head in acknowledgement before sidling out of the room. He didn't have to ask what Qui-Gon was thanking him for. He'd managed to stop Qui-Gon raping him: they both knew it.
Stripping off the gown, he crawled exhaustedly into bed, his mind racing in convoluted circles despite his master's bidding. Why had Qui-Gon worn the gloves? Why had it bothered him so? And what else was nagging at him?
Just before he sank into a troubled sleep, one answer came. The wine. He remembered now. It had been the proper Shue vintage, pressed from purple-skinned moonberries and tinted with violet flowers. It was quite rare, quite expensive -- and it was a mild aphrodisiac.
Obi-Wan unwound his limbs from his meditation posture, stretching each one slowly. He still had time for a few katas to warm himself up before breakfast. Getting to his feet, he extended one leg, bringing it up in minute increments till it was held almost parallel to his body, toe pointed over his head. A painful exercise at this pace, it was the first position of the Sloth Kata. The full thing would take nearly twenty ko, but he could probably finish the primary stanza before Qui-Gon appeared.
In the event, he had completed the second when his master palmed open the door to the balcony. Qui-Gon could not have been awake for long, since he wore only his old, faded cotton robe over his leggings and nothing on his feet. He leant against the sill, arms folded, watching Obi-Wan unfurl the fingers of one outstretched hand. It was the only motion Obi-Wan made, as he stood poised on tiptoe with the rest of his body perfectly still for the full four minutes the movement took.
He slumped into an ungraceful heap, groaning softly.
"Better finish off with a few Butterfly stretches, Padawan. You don't want every muscle in your body to seize up."
"Surely only the ones in my little finger, Master." But he hauled himself to his feet, working the knots out of arms and legs while his master continued watching, brow furrowing.
"Why the Sloth Kata? I remember having to bribe you into practising it with the promise of two desserts."
"I should have held out for three." Qui-Gon's mouth twitched. "I thought I'd give it another try. After all, I managed to pass over so many of the nuances of the Acquiescence Ritual. I wondered what I might have missed in this."
"And your conclusion?"
"I was right the first time. At least two desserts."
Now his master laughed aloud, the sound ringing out in the tiny glass-enclosed space. Obi-Wan was surprised to find a previously unidentified tension draining away from him. He hadn't realised how worried he had been at the thought of Qui-Gon's reaction to him this morning. The release from mental strain was even more enjoyable than the release from the physical stress of the kata. Until Qui-Gon said, "And what nuances of the Acquiescence Ritual have you discovered?"
Ah, now there was the tricky question. Obi-Wan sat down slowly, composing his limbs into his favourite position, ankles braced on his thighs. "I have some ideas about that," he said, tipping his head back against the balustrade to look up at Qui-Gon.
"So you should. You've been meditating on the subject for most of yesterday."
"Without the progress I would have liked, as last night's failure shows. I'm sorry: I treated you very badly, Master."
"You apologised at the time, Padawan. And you were hardly to blame." Qui-Gon unfolded his arms and lowered himself down to sit opposite Obi-Wan, his long legs pulled up in front of him, bare toes uncurling on the warmed stone. "I'd far rather you stopped me then, than that we repeated the morning's fiasco. So what have you suddenly realised?"
Obi-Wan said slowly, "When I've thought at all about the Ritual in the last few years, I've always considered it in relation to myself: my role in the Order, my submission to the authority of the Council, my acceptance of everything that being a Jedi means." He lifted his head to look at Qui-Gon. "I forgot you would be involved, too."
"Masters do normally have some input into their padawans' training exercises." Qui-Gon pointed out drily.
"But this isn't a normal training exercise."
His master sighed. "So it has turned out not to be."
"Perhaps that's because I don't need to learn the normal lesson from the Ritual. You said that for Xanatos, like most padawans, this was a question of submission?" Qui-Gon nodded curtly. "I can't convince myself that lesson is relevant to me. If submission were the only issue, I could have passed this exercise years ago. So I can only assume I'm meant to learn something else."
He took a deep breath. "And I begin to think that 'something' has to do with you. I don't know if it's supposed to be like this, but your attitude matters to me. Yesterday I thought my problems were caused by..." he tried to formulate a tactful phrase.
"By my off-hand approach to the Ritual," Qui-Gon finished bluntly. "You can take me to task, Padawan. I thoroughly deserve it." He reached over to squeeze Obi-Wan's knee, then leant back against the wall.
"Not only that," Obi-Wan admitted sheepishly. "I was jealous, too."
"Jealous? You mentioned that yesterday, but I didn't think... Padawan, I've never known you show a tendency to jealousy before." Instead of giving the critical lecture on controlling emotions that Obi-Wan had half-expected, Qui-Gon looked concerned. He leaned forward to grasp Obi-Wan's knee again, this time keeping his hand there while he asked, "Have I been blind to your feelings for a long time?"
"Oh, no, not at all, Master," Obi-Wan laid his own hand over Qui-Gon's. "I don't know why I should suddenly react like that. To be honest, I've always pitied Xanatos, rather than envied him. He had so much and he threw it away, for a life of spite and greed. And it's not as if you draw comparisons between us when you talk about him."
Obi-Wan paused. "But you've never approached a training exercise this perfunctorily either. After all the fuss with Xanatos, why did you think I would need any less?"
"Because you are so different," came the flat reply. "With Xani, there was always some question of what came first: his loyalty to the Jedi -- or to himself. But with you... even when we disagree, you stand by me. I only fear sometimes that your loyalty to me is greater than it should be, Padawan."
Qui-Gon drew his hand away from Obi-Wan's and turned to gaze up at the passing traffic wheeling above them. "I had hoped that, even if you found the Ritual distasteful, such dedication to the Jedi would carry you through it. Though it pains me to admit it, I let myself be deluded by my hopes."
He rubbed his chin, the short hairs of his beard rasping beneath his touch. "In the end, Xanatos forced himself to submit to me. I don't think I hurt him, but it wasn't pleasant for either of us. I don't cherish the memory; I suppose I didn't want to contemplate the idea of going through the same thing with you."
Silence lay between them for a few moments. Then Qui-Gon stirred, leaning back against the wall once more and closing his eyes. "I fear, Padawan, that I wilfully ignored the approach of this Ritual, just as you did. It seemed so much simpler to -- to gloss over it. But in doing so, I have neglected my own roles, in the Ritual and as your Master."
"Calling it neglect is a bit harsh," Obi-Wan protested. "But I didn't want you to be," he took a deep breath, "so casual about fucking me. I did think I was worth more than that."
He waited for a moment, but Qui-Gon said nothing; he just sat with his head back and eyes shut, the sun playing on his face. Someone who knew him less well might think him half-asleep, dozing much like a sloth himself in the warmth. Obi-Wan, though, could see the slight tension in those wide shoulders. He knew his every word was being attended to, so he chose each one carefully.
"I want to thank you for the care you took of me last night. When I asked you for a little more formality, I never thought you would go to so much trouble on my behalf."
"It was hardly a trouble, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon's voice was gruff.
Obi-Wan had to smile. "Only my master could conjure Shue wedding gowns out of thin air and think nothing of it."
Qui-Gon shook his head dismissively. "I just hoped to make up for my earlier carelessness."
"I don't quite understand, though," Obi-Wan said. "Why the Shue ceremony? And, for that matter, why is there no -- well, ritual -- for the Ritual itself? Is that part of the test: that the things I'm supposed to do and say will somehow come automatically?"
His master smiled. "You see the concept of ritual too narrowly, Padawan. I agree, for many the very word 'ritual' calls to mind a prescribed order of words and actions. In echoing the actions of those who have gone before us, we make ourselves part of the community they represented. Yet this Ritual has no set of actions which must be performed, no script of long-dead words. Just one deed."
"And in the doing of that deed," Obi-Wan mused aloud, "the padawan becomes part of the community?"
"Exactly. But the method of that joining, the way it is accomplished, isn't set by rote. It must be as individual as the padawan himself; must be as unique as his relationship to the Order."
"And to his master."
"And to his master, as representative of the Order -- and as an individual who shares a history with him."
"Last night I wanted to pretend you weren't my Master." A bald admission, for an emotion which surprised even him. He couldn't remember a time when he hadn't wanted Qui-Gon as his master, hadn't thought of the man and the role at the same instant. "I wanted to pretend you were someone I hardly knew, not the master I've been living with for the last six years."
"I know, Obi-Wan." The words were gently said. "You are hardly the first padawan who finds it less difficult to accept the Ritual with a bit of make-believe thrown in." Qui-Gon shrugged. "It is an oddity of human nature that we find it easier to expose our deepest selves to strangers, with whom we have no bond and whom we may never meet again. With strangers, there are no consequences to such a revelation. Perhaps that is the very reason why the Ritual is usually between Master and Padawan: to make that exposure more complete and more painful. To give it true meaning."
"But in the Shue ceremony, we could both pretend to be strangers," Obi-Wan guessed. "Is that why you chose it?"
"Partly. It also has elements I find aesthetically pleasing."
Obi-Wan felt the morning sun warm on his back, remembered Qui-Gon's thighs hot against his the night before. Ruefully he admitted to himself that those were probably not the aesthetic elements his master had in mind.
"I hope you don't mean that dreadful wine. Otherwise my opinion of your taste has just dropped drastically, Master."
Qui-Gon pulled his robe around his knees, as if to ward off a chill. "No, I fear I share your opinion of the wine."
"So why did you feed it to me, then?" He asked the question lightly, but his heartbeat began to race.
Now Qui-Gon met Obi-Wan's gaze, eyes slitted against the light. He paused for a moment before saying deliberately, "In the Shue ceremony, two people who are complete strangers fuck. They don't fuck because either of them wants to do so. They fuck to symbolise achievement of a goal -- the union of their families -- and they use the wine to make it easier on both of them. Can you think of a closer parallel to our situation, Obi-Wan?"
The blunt honesty of this statement shook Obi-Wan. "But I'm not really a stranger to you! You don't have to drug me with some weird aphrodisiac to make sex between us palatable."
"No?" The line of Qui-Gon's mouth was tight. "Then what do I have to do, Padawan?" His gaze was piercing, almost accusing.
"I--" Obi-Wan faltered. "I did want to, you know." He had wanted to very badly, and his master's entry into his body would have been more than palatable, more than pleasurable. Until --
"Why did you wear the gloves?"
"The microgaunts?" Qui-Gon appeared disconcerted, as if he saw the question as a counterattack.
"Yes! Why did you wear them?"
Qui-Gon looked down at his hands, clasped in his lap. "I thought it might be easier for you," he said almost reluctantly. "If there was some sort of barrier between us. It seemed to help for Xani."
"Oh." Obi-Wan was taken aback by that; he'd been expecting something quite different. "So you wouldn't have minded touching me, then?"
"No, Obi-Wan! Of course not!" Qui-Gon was swift to pat Obi-Wan's hand, making contact flesh to flesh. "I'm so sorry if I led you to think that."
"Well, it seemed to explain why you wanted to get the whole thing over with so hastily." Qui-Gon winced. "After all, there's nothing to say a master should want to do the Ritual any more than a padawan does," Obi-Wan hastened to reassure him. "It's a duty for you, too, just as it is for me. I didn't expect you to look forward to it -- even if I was hoping you'd see it as a little more than just a training exercise."
"I was wrong to treat it that way," Qui-Gon said gravely.
"And I was wrong to try and force us into some silly, formal ritual," Obi-Wan said in requital. "But, Master, when you decided to agree with my suggestion, weren't you effectively letting me cheat? Letting me play at being a stranger to you, rather than facing the truth of what was happening between us?"
"We get by as we must, Padawan."
That flatly practical tone sparked an ember of anger in Obi-Wan for the first time that morning. "Wasn't it you lecturing me yesterday about the shortcomings of a mechanical approach to this exercise? Talking about theoretical mastery?"
"Don't exaggerate the importance of it in your development, young man," Qui-Gon said quellingly. "The Ritual may be more than a training exercise, but do not blow it out of proportion, just because we find ourselves having to deal with it more quickly than I would like. You sound almost as if you were facing your Trials. How many of your friends have taken it so seriously?"
Obi-Wan knew very well that none of them had.
"But it was that serious for Xanatos." He didn't need to phrase it as a question.
"Are you Xanatos?" The curt riposte was enough to silence him.
"There's something else I want you to think about," Qui-Gon added, carefully not looking at Obi-Wan's crestfallen expression. "I would like to make an application to the Council this morning, for an alternative master to take you through the Ritual."
"No!" Obi-Wan's refusal was immediate and instinctive. He knew his face showed all his shock that Qui-Gon should even suggest such a thing; but, looking at his master's set expression, it was instantly clear that Qui-Gon would not respond to raw emotion. He had to fight this sudden determination of his master's on grounds of reason. Taking a deep breath, he marshalled his thoughts.
"Surely the Council will not allow any other master to take over the Ritual. Have they ever done so?"
"On occasion. Especially if the master and padawan are of different species."
"Which we aren't."
"They may still consider it. I would present the request to Yoda. He should be more open to persuasion than some of the others." In other words, Qui-Gon was hoping to manipulate his own master to push through a highly unorthodox petition. Ever the diplomat.
"I wouldn't have thought your credit with the Council was high enough to let this pass unnoticed. Won't they take you to task, even if they allow the suit?"
"And well they should wish to do so," Qui-Gon replied grimly. "You may not need to perform the Ritual at a sublime level, Padawan, but you should certainly manage to at least perform it with your own master." He rubbed the bridge of his nose as if to relieve an ache there, before doggedly continuing. "The Council is sure to want to attach blame to one or the other of us -- or both together. But they also want me to go to Malabar within the week. A motion of censure takes time they don't have, besides distracting me from necessary preparations: they will leave it until I come back. I'll worry about the future when it arrives, and not before."
If the threat of a comprehensive dressing-down from the Council couldn't sway Qui-Gon, he wasn't likely to budge for his padawan's arguments.
"But, Master, I can't see how anyone else could achieve what you haven't!" Obi-Wan was aware of the hint of desperation creeping into his tone, but chose not to quell it. Let Qui-Gon see how upsetting Obi-Wan found the idea. "Can't we just sort this out between us?"
"Yes, if we had the time!" Obi-Wan jumped at the sudden outburst. "If we had the three days I was able to give Xani, or the three weeks or the three months, or however long you need, Obi-Wan! I would give it to you and more."
Qui-Gon shut up as suddenly as he had begun. Taken completely aback by this flurry of emotion from his unexcitable master, Obi-Wan waited in breathless silence till Qui-Gon spoke again. This time he wasn't fooled by the impassive tone with which his master stated, "I want to be the one who takes you through the Ritual, Padawan. I want to find out what is wrong between us and amend it. But we simply do not have the time."
"Surely we could make time, Master?" Obi-Wan whispered. "We could do all this when we get back from Malabar; why are we trying to force it now, if it won't come?"
"Foolish boy! Do you never think?" Qui-Gon made no effort to hide the anger in his tones. "Why do you suppose they would let you go to Malabar, hmm?"
"I don't under--"
"Then attempt to do so." Qui-Gon pushed himself up in one swift movement, towering over Obi-Wan. "Until you can complete the Ritual -- with me or with someone else -- you are still an intermediate. I will go to Malabar, and you will be left here, Padawan."
"No! You can't go without me!" Obi-Wan struggled to his feet, wincing as pins and needles reminded him of the Sloth kata he had just performed.
"I will have no choice in the matter, and nor will you." Qui-Gon turned abruptly away and strode through the open door into the salon, leaving Obi-Wan to hop after him.
"But you need me at your back! Surely the Council will--"
"The Council will not let you come." The statement was flatly made, Qui-Gon not even turning to look at him. "I'll be under deep cover on Malabar: there'll be little opportunity even to practice katas, much less do any proper study. If you came, you wouldn't be able to return to the Temple for more formal lessons, perhaps for as long as a year. The Council were reluctant enough to consider a brand new senior going. If you're still an intermediate, they won't countenance it."
"No!" Obi-Wan thumped his fist against the door jamb, drawing Qui-Gon's gaze to him. "I've proved myself, Master! I already have more combat experience than half the seniors." He took a breath to calm himself. "Anyway, that's all irrelevant. You can't possibly go without backup."
"They'll appoint another knight to go with me."
"Someone who's never worked with you before? Who has no idea of your fighting style?" Obi-Wan asked incredulously. "And what about me? Do I just miss a year's training while you're away?"
Qui-Gon briefly shut his eyes, leaning his back against the wall of the salon. "No, of course you won't. Your time is too valuable to waste like that, especially at this stage in your life. They will appoint you a new master to complete your apprenticeship. You'll no longer be my padawan."
Obi-Wan couldn't believe he'd heard the words right. "No longer be your padawan? How could I ever not be your padawan?"
"Look on the bright side, Obi-Wan. You may find yourself with some nice, respectable master instead. For all I'd like to think otherwise," and the tone was very dry, "I may not be the right person to take you through to knighthood." Qui-Gon's mouth twisted. "It seems to be only my apprentices who baulk so thoroughly at this Ritual."
He held up a hand to quiet Obi-Wan's instant protest. "Which would you prefer, Padawan? Someone to take my place in the Ritual? Or someone to take my place as your master?"
"You know the answer to that!"
"Do I?" Qui-Gon leant back against the wall again, rubbing his eyes. "Perhaps the Council has a point. This mission will call for the utmost trust between us. We will be isolated, amongst enemies. We will depend solely on each other for all company, protection and solace. It's a heavy enough burden to push onto someone as young as you. But if -- for whatever reason -- you cannot trust me to perform so simple a thing as this Ritual with you, perhaps there is a good reason for us to be separated."
"I won't accept that," Obi-Wan said, low and fierce. "I'm your padawan, Qui-Gon Jinn. And I won't let any foolish fretting of yours, no matter how well-intentioned, come between us."
"It is hardly foolish, Obi-Wan. In truth, I have no idea whether our failure to finish the Ritual has any significance. It might only mean we are sexually incompatible; it might mean nothing at all. But in all conscience I can't just ignore it."
"I'm not saying you should ignore it," Obi-Wan argued back. "But you're talking about the mission requiring 'utmost trust', after saying you would take a complete stranger with you. That sounds fairly contradictory to me."
"Of course I wasn't planning to take someone else along," Qui-Gon answered impatiently. "The Council may appoint whomever they please; that doesn't mean I intend to accept a partner."
"The Council may appoint whomever they please as my Master; that doesn't mean I intend to accept anyone but you. So you'd best get us out of this mess, Qui-Gon. Because there is not a chance that I'll let you off on a dangerous mission like this on your own -- you'd better understand that. If I have to crawl aboard your shuttle, I'm coming with you. And if I have to go through the Ritual with another master, I'll do it."
They stared each other down for all of a minute before Qui-Gon sighed and let his head fall back. "Alright. I'll take you with me, but only if the Council agree. I'll send two petitions: one to appoint another master for the Ritual, and the other for them to consider letting you come as an intermediate."
His brow furrowed at Obi-Wan's obvious relief. "Don't get your hopes too high, Padawan. They are unlikely to agree to either. Then, I suppose, it's possible there's something in the Dahometh archives which might help: I'd best spend the day looking through them, just in case. But I'll send the message to Yoda asking for dispensation right now."
"Good." Obi-Wan knew his voice was gruff, but he was trying very hard to suppress the welter of conflicting emotions his victory brought. He'd won Qui-Gon's backing for his inclusion on the mission by acceding the point; yet the very thought of another master undertaking this most intimate act with him still seemed wrong. His own part in this failure rankled; the fact that it would be known to all the Council members made it even worse.
But Qui-Gon, forever the man to accept a situation and move on, was already pushing himself upright. "We won't know before tomorrow if the Council agrees. I suggest, Padawan, that you spend the night with more -- amicable? -- company. Practice as much penetration as you can. I know you've done it many times before, but perhaps putting yourself in the mindset with a friend more your own age will help."
"Yes," Obi-Wan responded slowly. "That might be a good idea. I'll see if Garon is in Temple tonight."
His master was already heading to the study. "Spend today updating yourself on Malabar; start with Mace's files in the restricted section of the library." It was a dismissal, Obi-Wan noted. "Before you go off, though, draw up a supply list of the things we may need. Not too much, but make sure you add in blasters, laser-rifles, perhaps some heavier weaponry. Our cover would be as mercenaries, so we must be seen to be properly equipped for a fight."
He stopped in the doorway, looking back at Obi-Wan with an odd expression on his face. "Mace was briefing me on the cover identities. He wanted a way to make it seem natural for us to sleep in the same room and guard each other's backs, given the danger. He suggested we should pose as lovers: it would convince other parties we couldn't be easily separated. Ironic, don't you think?"
The study door shut quietly behind him.