Archive: M/A and my site (Mom's Kitchen at www.squidge.org/~foxsden)
Category: Drama, Action/Adventure, First Times, Romance
Warnings: None (unless you're turned off by prostitution)
Summary: Who is the mysterious smuggler Jinn, and why is he being chased by telepaths?
Disclaimer: What, you think I own these guys? Do I even look like George Lucas? If this is not what you expected, please alter your expectations. No such thing as random coincidence. No such thing as too much lubricant. (Thank you, Mark Morford.)
Notes: Oh me, oh my. So many people to thank for this one! First, to my lovely twin, Mac, for foisting the damn bunny off on me in the first place (wait, why am I *thanking* her?! [g]). Emu, who read it before it was quite done, threatened me into finishing it because she thought it was so good, then demanded I re-write the ending. Thanks, I think, Birdy. [g] Hilary put up with my hair-tearing and swearing at MuseBoy, and even provided a sounding board -- thank you so much, hon. Cuimne gave me invaluable advice on the first chapter in a beta, despite having too much to do, and I love her for it. And, of course, Fox (what, you thought I'd forget?) who beta'd the first chapter for me from my computer room after taking my kid out shopping. Greater love hath no woman...
Please note... this bears NO resemblance to The Bourne Identity other than a silimarity of names. I've never seen the damn thing. So there. [g]
It was cold and wet in New Jarra, not to mention dark -- now. He had been running all afternoon into the night, and the alley he ducked into smelled of piss and vomit and was, if possible, colder than the street. But it was safer than being in the hazy light of street lamps, so he pressed his back against the slick, nasty wall and tried to calm his breathing, listening for the footsteps that dogged him.
How do you avoid telepaths? They can hear your thoughts; they know where you are and when you're coming and can find you no matter how you try to hide. He dredged up a scrap of knowledge gleaned from somewhere -- get a phrase or a jingle into your head, like something from the vidads, let it run over and over, and it'll block them out. He tried to remember that terribly obnoxious little song he had heard at the cafe where all this began -- *Do you like the taste, do you like your caf hot and sweet...*
Footsteps on the sidewalk outside the alley made him tense. He forced the jingle to run over and over in his brain, concentrating on it, barely breathing as he waited for the sound to retreat, which it finally did. *Do you like the taste, do you like your caf...* There was a faint gleam from the other end of the alley, so he made his way carefully towards it, listening intently and humming under his breath.
It was obvious he'd been moving steadily towards the seamier side of New Jarra all afternoon as he'd run, and now, it appeared, he'd pretty much hit rock-bottom. Observing the street from the safety of his dark, stinking haven, he noted with relief that more street lamps were off than on, and the slowly moving vehicles were definitely not after anything more than a cheap date. Streetwalking pros stood on the corners, cruised the sidewalks, stood in the middle of the street waving down prospective customers, and he breathed a sigh of relief. *Do you like the taste, do you...*
"Move it, honker, you in my space," a flat voice said from behind him, making him jump.
He turned quickly and spotted a young man, obviously a pro, barely dressed in laced-up, tight-fitting leather pants and not much else. What might be blondish hair was plastered to his head, melting into the makeup, which was melting off his face. He stood, hand cocked on one hip, and took a drag from his smoke. "You deaf or something? I said move it. I don't deal with no territory shit. You find another alley, cos this one's mine, you bag?"
He grimaced. "What if I'm not selling but buying?" he asked, his eyes scanning the street warily.
The other examined him through narrowed eyes, moving a bit closer to see him better. "You gotta be shitting me," he said. "You couldn't buy you a half cup of cold caf."
*Do you like the taste, do...* "You have a place?" he asked abruptly. There was a definite tingle of apprehension at the back of his brain, and he'd learned to listen to those little nudges during his afternoon on the run. "How much for the night?"
"Honker, you can not be affording me," the pro said, smug and sure. "'Specially not all night."
There -- down at the far end of the street, two familiar bulks were checking out the street. *Do you like the taste...* Reaching into an inner pocket of his worn leather jacket, he pulled out a handful of bills. "This enough for you? Now, do you have a place or not?"
His eyes widened as he took in the bundle, and he said, "Whoa boys, the honker be loaded. Yeah, that'll... what?" The pro followed his gaze and glanced behind him. With a sharp inhale, he hissed, "Tips. Shee-it. They after you? I don't need no..."
"Look, I'll pay, I'll pay double, but I need to get off the street. Please."
Evidently there was something in his voice or face that convinced the young man, because he made a sour face and rolled his eyes. "I be such a goddamn soft touch. Look, I know how to distract those," he said, and slid to his knees.
'Do you like...' "What the hell?" The pro had unlaced his trousers and was teasing his reluctant flesh with chilly fingers.
"Relax, honker, they don't like to listen in to this, they be goddamn prudes." Then, he put his mouth to use, and all speech -- save for some groaning -- ended for a while.
The streetwalker was good -- he could grant that fact through a breathless arousal caused by little nips, licks and heavy suction. His brain simply could not maintain the jingle through the overwhelming pleasure of what the pro was doing to him -- cold fingers teased his balls and a hot, wet mouth sucked on him. "Oh, damn," he groaned, leaning back against the brick wall of the alley, letting himself go weak in the knees and focusing solely on the mouth sucking him off.
It lasted forever -- it lasted only a few minutes, and he was coming with a series of sharp grunts into the pro's mouth. His brain felt utterly fried, definitely short-circuited, incapable of thinking even his name, should it have been demanded of him. "Gods, you're good at that," he managed to mutter, trying to pull himself back together.
"I be the best on the street, honker," he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and standing. With a quick glance around, he continued, "Fifty."
Swallowing and finally managing to get his brain back online, he said, "I told you, I'd pay you double for all night, if you've got a place. Tell me you're not interested." There was no sign of the telepaths, but they wouldn't be gone long. They were dogged and determined and had been after him all afternoon -- and he didn't have a clue why.
"I don't need no trouble from the tips, honker," was his testy reply. "Them scary bastards can rearrange you head for you. Just gimme fifty and walk, bag?"
"Triple," he said, his weariness catching up to him. He needed a place to crash and he needed it now. "Come on, I know you won't make that on a night like tonight."
Clearly waffling now, he made a face and pulled on his hair. "Goddamn. I be such a stupid slut. You be gone by sunrise, you bag? And you better have eight hundred on you or you dead shit. C'mon." Turning, the pro walked -- or rather, slinked -- away, and he followed warily. No one appeared to be paying them any attention, and their entire conversation had been conducted in low voices that no one could have heard over the sound of the rain and the vehicles on the street.
They walked to a building just off the pro's street, one that looked only slightly more reputable than its neighbors. He used an identicard on the front door, and waved his companion in sourly before leading him to the back and down a flight of steps. The IC opened another door, and they were in a small, slightly seedy apartment.
"Is this building crowded? All the units rented?" he asked, and the pro looked at him strangely.
"Yeah, honker, it be crowded, lotsa minds to confuse them. What'd you do to get the tips so interested in you? Wait," he said immediately, holding up a hand, "I don't wanna know. You gimme eight large now, and we be flush."
Pulling the bills out of his jacket, he noted that the amount would leave him with very little ready cash -- but he still had the rest of his stash. He shivered as his wet clothes clung to him.
The pro snatched the money, then looked at him critically. "Get you clothes off. I don't got nothing big enough for you to wear -- you a big boy, honker -- but I don't pay for heat. I'll crank it while you clothes dry -- you underwear dry?"
"Yeah," he replied, stripping gratefully out of his damp clothing and jacket, leaving his boots by the door and wistfully wishing for a hot shower -- best not to press his luck, though. "And don't call me honker," he added lightly, handing the bundle to the pro with a lopsided grin.
"You got something else for me to call you?" the pro said, carrying the bundle of clothes back and pausing to adjust a wall-mounted dial.
"Jinn," he replied, rubbing his arms briskly. He'd kept his undershirt and shorts on, but they were very light and the room was only gradually heating. "And if you're taking them to a lavatory, I'll follow."
The pro waved him back, and Jinn followed him down a short hallway to a very welcome toilet, located in a small WC. His clothes, he noticed while washing his hands and splashing water on his face, were being hung up in the lavatory, dripping into the tub. "Thanks," he said, nodding at the clothes, and the pro snorted.
"Crenudo take care of paying customers," he said.
Jinn blinked. "Crenudo? What kind of name is that?"
"It be my name, *honker*," Crenudo replied frostily. "You got a problem with that?"
Jinn smiled and shook his head. "Sorry. I've just never heard that name before."
"Well, you have now," Crenudo said, as he unceremoniously, unashamedly stripped out of his clothes. "Bed through there. Go on."
Feeling a bit uncomfortable, Jinn followed Crenudo's instructions and found himself in a tiny bedchamber. A large, neatly-made bed dominated the room, and looked incredibly inviting. "I don't have to stay in your bed," Jinn said, realizing the apartment was too small to have more than one bedchamber. "If you've got a sofa, I can take that."
"You pay," Crenudo said behind him, and Jinn turned. "Bed come with the pay."
The pro was naked, and vigorously drying his hair with a towel. He was a well-made young man, shorter than Jinn -- but most men were -- compact and well-muscled. His skin was a healthy-looking light olive color, and his hair was indeed a sandy-blond, although his pubic hair was darker, so the blond color may have come from a bottle. He looked much better without makeup smearing his features. "Here," Crenudo said, handing the towel to Jinn. "Dry that mop you got before you hit my bed."
Perching gingerly on the bed, Jinn used the towel to blot most of the water from his long, silvered hair, regretting that he didn't have a comb or brush -- or a clean change of clothes. He hadn't intended on being on the run or he would have packed a satchel. "Is there a place around here where I could buy some second-hand clothes?" he asked Crenudo, who was brushing out his own hair.
"Yah, you can go to Burbie's. I tell you where 'fore you leave. You leave first thing in the morning, you bag, *Jinn*?"
"Yeah, I'll leave at first light, I promise," Jinn replied, smiling wryly.
"Good. You pay don't cover rent." Crenudo pulled the covers down on the bed, forcing Jinn to stand. His hair by that time was at least mostly dry, and he looked around for a place to put the damp towel. "On the chair," Crenudo said, pointing. When Jinn laid the towel across the back of the chair, he turned back to the bed to find Crenudo waiting for him. "Well, get down," Crenudo said with a frown, indicating the bed.
Cautiously, Jinn lay down on the bed, to be joined immediately by Crenudo, who unceremoniously pulled Jinn's flaccid penis out of his shorts. "Wait!" Jinn said in surprise, then groaned as Crenudo started a slow jacking motion. "It's... wait... what are you... You don't have to..."
"You pay. Fuck come with the pay, Jinn," Crenudo said, displaying a sheath in one hand while the other continued to gently pull on Jinn's slowly hardening flesh. "'Sides, you a big boy, Jinn, and I could use some of that meat. Been a while."
"It's going to take me longer," Jinn gasped out, his eyes rolling up as Crenudo licked the slit of his cock. "I'm not as young..."
"Good," Crenudo said with a grin. "I like to ride a good long time."
"Then..." With a quick movement, Jinn pulled his shorts down. "You'll need more than that to get me hard so soon after the last time," he said, letting his legs relax open.
Crenudo grinned and put the sheath on Jinn's belly. While one hand continued a slow jacking, his other began rubbing up and down between Jinn's legs, his fingers teasing at the entrance to his body. "Yeah, that's good," Jinn groaned as one of Crenudo's fingers gently pushed inside him.
Between the finger inside him and the hand on his penis, within a few minutes, Jinn was more than hard enough for the sheath. Crenudo rolled the silicone down Jinn's cock, licking his lips in anticipation, while Jinn simply lay flat and panted, incapable of moving. Without further preparation, Crenudo straddled him, steadied his penis with one hand, and sank down, driving Jinn's cock deep inside his body.
"Gods!" Jinn gasped. "You're tight!"
"I ain't no coin pro," Crenudo said with a lazy grin. "You a big boy, Jinn. Feel good." Remaining upright and still, impaled on Jinn's hardness, Crenudo began pulling at his own not inconsiderable length, which stirred and began to grow. "This gonna be good. Lift you knees, Jinn."
With an effort, Jinn lifted his knees and Crenudo leaned back against them, rolling his hips in a slightly circular motion. Still pulling at his now-hard cock in a slow rhythm, Crenudo let his eyelids sag. "Uh. Good." He didn't speak for a while, apparently enjoying the sensation, then he glanced down at Jinn. "Why the tips after you, Jinn? You steal something from them?"
"I... don't know..." Jinn said, fighting to get his mind moving. Crenudo was incredibly tight and was doing something inside with his muscles that felt absolutely fantastic. "I don't know why... they're after me... all afternoon..."
"You dunno why?" Crenudo asked, his voice incredulous. "They already fuck with you mind or something?"
"I... I hope not..." Jinn replied, then grunted as Crenudo bounced on him once. "*Fuck* that's good," he groaned. After a moment, he added, "I was supposed to meet a buyer, at Cafe Friend, and they tried to grab me instead." Almost automatically, he arched up into the tightness.
It was Crenudo's turn to groan. "Don't do that, I don't wanna spill yet," he gasped, his hand on his cock stilling. "Buyer for what? What you do, honker Jinn?"
"Smuggler," Jinn replied, letting his eyes close. "Deliveries for a fee," he added with a breathless chuckle.
"You smuggling for the tips? Honker, you in deep shit then," Crenudo said. He leaned forward slightly and began a long, slow, up-and-down motion. "You dead man moving, Jinn, you work for the tips. Ever-body know that."
"Didn't know they had telepaths when I took the job," Jinn said shortly. "You here to talk or fuck?"
Crenudo grinned at him. "You don't mess with the tips, Jinn. They rearranged Little Venna and now she can't do nothing. Them scary bastards."
Eyes blinking open in puzzlement, Jinn looked up at Crenudo. "They did what?"
"Rearranged. Burned out. Her brain go into bye-bye land, and now she sit and she drool. You don't fuck with tips, Jinn."
Jinn absorbed that in silence while Crenudo began to pick up his pace, beginning to ride in earnest. He threw back his head and gasped, his hand almost a blur of motion on his rock-hard cock. "Yeah, good, Jinn, you good," Crenudo said, his voice deep and throaty. "You gonna make me come, make me come good."
Crenudo propped himself with his hand on Jinn's chest, and Jinn lifted it back up, holding it tight. "Lean back," Jinn said, and began shoving up as Crenudo slammed down. After only a few of those movements, Crenudo started to grunt and spill his load. Jinn's eyes rolled back in his head and he came, hard, his spine arching and his butt cheeks clenching as the wave rolled over him.
When he managed to pull the random pieces of his brain back together, Jinn found himself with a lap full of sleepy, sated pro, and a mess on his belly and undershirt. With a wistful smile -- not even opening his eyes -- Crenudo slid sideways and managed to land the right way on the bed. He immediately began to snore lightly.
Shaking his head wearily, Jinn removed the sheath, tied it off, and tossed it in the general direction of the trash basket. Then he used the towel to clean himself off, pulled his shorts back on and slid under the sheets.
He was asleep before his head hit the pillow.
Jinn awoke with a start, hearing a banging of trash cans and the roar of a truck outside the window. He looked around, confused, until he remembered -- the night before, the pro, and a hell of a good fuck. Crenudo was still snoring next to him, looking absurdly young and angelic.
The telepaths -- the 'tips' as Crenudo called them -- were still after him, and he had to figure out what to do. Jinn used the toilet and then the sink in the lavatory to clean up, all the while puzzling over the situation in his mind. He hadn't been doing anything but waiting for his buyer to show at the cafe; he was on time, not even early. The buyer was late. Or... maybe the buyer had been on time, and something about Jinn had freaked him out. But what? He cast his mind back to the day before, at Cafe Friend...
Navist wasn't a planet Jinn had been to frequently -- once or twice at the most. Mostly because of that, he wasn't wanted on this planet or even in this sector; his record was clean, he was good. He'd been contacted through the usual channels and offered a significant sum for a job that wasn't even illegal -- well, not on most planets, but apparently it was on Navist or they wouldn't have needed him. He was asked to deliver some crystal, some chips, some data parts, and some very oddly shaped equipment, which possibly might be used as weapons, he supposed...
He landed on Navist in the early morning, New Jarra time, on the date specified. His ship was put into standard quarantine -- he'd been warned about that -- and searched. He had legitimate papers with him and managed to convince the authorities he was only on Navist for pleasure, not business, no sar.
By mid-morning, he'd broken through all the bureaucracy; and, after securing his ship and his load, he pulled up the information on his reader where and when he was supposed to meet his contact -- the Cafe Friend, one hour after mid-day. He was being paid top-dollar for a load that wouldn't even have gotten him glanced at on, say, Tatooine... which was exactly the kind of job he liked: lucrative and safe.
The Cafe Friend was crowded with mid-day eaters, but he finally got himself a table in the back that allowed him to watch the crowd coming in and going out. His contact was expected momentarily, and Jinn had the pass-phrase. All he had to do was wait.
And wait he did. Several times, he thought that perhaps this person or that was his contact -- he would get a stare and an expression as if someone were wondering if they knew him. But each time, the person or persons would drift off. After an hour, Jinn was becoming concerned... he had plenty of money, having exchanged some of his valuta at the port authority for local cash, but he needed to sell his load.
Finally, two large men walked into the cafe and began looking around. Jinn noted that several people got up and left in a hurry as soon as they noticed the pair, which concerned him. It concerned him even more when the men -- they were so obviously hired muscle it wasn't even funny -- immediately began making their way back to him. He'd been forced to leave his blaster at the port authority's office, and his other weapons onboard his ship, and all he had with him was a very low-tech knife. These two, however, carried small blasters prominently displayed.
Tossing a couple of bills on his table -- and not taking his eyes from the thugs who were heading towards him intently -- Jinn stood and began to walk to the front of the cafe, navigating a path that would allow him to avoid the two working towards him. When they changed direction to intercept him, he began speeding up. So did they. He was just at the door when...
Jinn froze in the process of pulling on his pants. The hired muscle had tried to read him, telepathically. He remembered, distinctly, feeling the creepy presence of their probe in his mind. But how could he have felt that? He was no telepath. He shook his head in puzzlement.
He'd immediately dashed out the door, as soon as he was aware of what they were trying with him, and the two men had followed. They'd chased him all afternoon, but he'd always managed to stay a few steps ahead of them, somehow, and then he'd met Crenudo. The pro had said the telepaths were 'prudes' and didn't like reading someone involved in sex -- more likely they had a problem seeing a mind in the throes of passion. Orgasm, it seems, might be a good way to keep them off his back. Not that he'd want to be in perpetual orgasm...
A quick glance into the bedchamber confirmed that Crenudo was still asleep. Tired of his circular reminiscences, and feeling a little like he was snooping, Jinn went into the kitchen and looked around -- a prominent feature was an elaborate caf machine and after glancing in the cupboard and seeing the various blends there, Jinn figured that the pro must be a caf addict and wouldn't mind him brewing some. After a few minutes to figure out the machine, he had a heavenly aroma filling the apartment.
"Grull save me from early risers," a raspy voice said, and Jinn turned to see Crenudo -- still naked -- standing in the doorway of the kitchen, scratching his crotch lazily.
"Sorry," Jinn said, pouring himself a cup of caf. "I'll be out of your hair shortly, but I didn't think you'd mind if I brewed some for you before leaving."
Crenudo snorted. "I should charge you extra," he said, rolling his eyes. He accepted a cup from Jinn and then doctored it with honey and milk. "When you go out the door, you turn left," he said after a sip. "Go two blocks, turn left across the street, and walk a block to the next street. Burbie's is on th' corner. You can't miss it."
Jinn nodded, finishing his cup of caf. "Thanks," he said. "For everything," he added, but Crenudo just shrugged.
"You pay. Don't hurt none to be civil too." He grinned lasciviously at Jinn. "Not like I got nothing out of it."
Jinn grinned back, and, giving in to temptation, reached out and ruffled Crenudo's longish brush cut in passing. "Hey! Watch the hair!" he said, ducking and laughing. "G'wan now, git."
Jinn took the hint and got.
Burbie's had what he needed, at a price he could afford -- barely. He got a new set of clothing and underwear, but kept his leather jacket and boots. The old man behind the counter had no problem with letting him change in the back to his new clothes; in fact, he didn't seem surprised which indicated to Jinn it was a fairly frequent event. Jinn stuffed his old clothes in a small knapsack he also selected in the store, and paid, eyeing his dwindling supply of local cash with a grimace.
Tucking his long hair under his new hat, Jinn walked back outside and contemplated his options. Though he was no longer in the worst side of town, it was still low-rent, which meant cheap eats. A cafe across the way -- a true greasy spoon -- beckoned and he realized he'd had nothing to eat for almost a day. At the early hour, it wasn't crowded, and he took a booth in the back after buying a newschip to plug into his reader.
The news was depressingly boring... nothing at all about him or his shipment... he suddenly sat up straight, causing the waitbot serving him to jump. The shipment! He hadn't met with the buyer, which meant that it was still on his ship -- hopefully still on his ship. He didn't think anyone could get to it through his security system, but if the buyer was behind his attack... he needed to check, and doing so might give him an idea who was behind all of this. First order of business, then, would be to try and get to his ship. Perhaps he could find someone else to buy his load. And if not, then he would get the hell off this ridiculous planet and space the damn shipment, buyer or no.
The spaceport was clear across town, and New Jarra was hardly a small burg. Keeping out of the way, and on the less populated, less monitored paths, meant that it took Jinn until lunchtime to get there. And when he did, he found his ship under government quarantine with an armed guard.
That was the beginning of what would turn into an extremely frustrating day for him. He was unable to get to his ship (at least it looked as though it had not been breached, but if the government were getting into the act, who knew how long that status would remain quo); he could not contact anyone on his list of contacts for the planet, since he had no idea who would be on what side; and there was no one he could yell to for help. It wasn't unusual for him to be alone, but generally he had some sort of backup in place should the worst happen.
At least, he thought he did. But thinking about his past made his head hurt, and that made him worry that maybe the telepaths had gotten to him after all.
By the late afternoon, he had almost given up. He had tried to buy a ticket off-planet, only to find there was a security lockdown and only citizens of Navist were being allowed to leave -- and only then after a lengthy interview. As a last resort, he'd gone to a mid-town governmental center, hoping to bribe or swindle something -- information, at least -- out of someone about his ship, or even play the wounded, legitimate alien who merely wanted to get away from the place. It was while he was wandering the corridors, searching for the proper cubbyhole of the bureaucracy, that he'd come upon the two men who had tried to finger him the day before. And, what was worse, he discovered they were wearing uniforms.
The hired muscle telepaths were cops. Just terrific.
By early evening, he had been driven to return to his savior of the evening before out of sheer desperation. Crenudo was not happy to see him standing outside his door. "How you get past security door?" he demanded, then immediately held up his hand. "No, forget it, don't wanna know. I told you, don't come back."
"I didn't want to, Crenudo," Jinn said softly. "I don't have a choice. I can't get to anything, and I can't even check into a hotel -- they're all looking for me."
"You can't stay here!" Crenudo hissed. "I gotta work, Jinn! I don't need no pimp!"
"Then tell me where else I can go," Jinn said, letting some desperation bleed into his voice. The pro had been a pushover the night before, but he suspected it would be a different story today. "I don't know this town or this planet, and I don't have anywhere else to go!"
Crenudo, his face twisted up into a grimace, banged his head on the door gently for a minute. Suddenly, he stopped, looked up, and his eyes narrowed. "Right. You come with me now. You make me lose my spot on the street, honker, you pay big time." He turned, grabbed his jacket and stepped out into the hallway with Jinn, pulling his door closed behind him.
"Where are we going?" Jinn asked, following him outside.
"I got a friend, he teach over at the U. Self-defense. He be a bigger sap than me, but he can help you maybe. He used to be a whatayacallem, a Jedi-thingy."
"A what?" Jinn asked, frowning.
Crenudo was pressing a call on his reader. "A thingy. Jedi. You know. Them brown robes from off-world. He used to be one." An autocab pulled up and the door opened. "In you go, Jinn."
Jinn kept his face averted from the camera pickup in the autocab during the short ride to the New Jarra University. "You pay me back, honker," Crenudo muttered, shoving his credstick into the reader as they climbed out. Jinn wordlessly peeled off the last of his ready cash and gave it to Crenudo; then the pro led him to an older building on the edge of campus, one that looked like a gymnasium.
There was a class just ending in the large, echoing room, one made up of all sorts of people, even some non-humans -- a rarity on Navist. Music was playing, a soft, gentle melody, and the class was obviously cooling down from a hard workout. Everyone was red-faced and sweaty, even the leader of the class. "That him," Crenudo said, indicating the leader, and Jinn looked him over carefully.
He appeared to be a very young man, in his early twenties, which would put him even younger than Crenudo appeared to be. He was about the same height as the pro, with red-blond hair pulled back into a short ponytail. He didn't look like anything special, but from the muscles outlined under his sweaty shirt, he was quite well-built, and from the size of the class, he appeared to be able to teach effectively. "Is he any good?" Jinn asked Crenudo softly.
"Yeah, he good," Crenudo said, and Jinn thought he detected a note of pride in the pro's voice. "He the best."
Then the music ended, and the class was applauding and breaking up. The teacher gave some last minute instructions and bid them goodbye, then made his way to Crenudo. "Udo!" said, embracing the pro enthusiastically. "I haven't seen you in ages! How've you been? Have you had any problems? Come on back and have a cup of caf." The first thing that Jinn noticed was his accent, which was lovely and definitely not Navistim. From off-world, then.
"Nah, I be good, got no time for that, you know that. You look good too," Crenudo said, his face coloring slightly. "Listen, I got a honker here, he be in trouble, needs help. I think, maybe the Jedi-man could help?"
The instructor rolled his eyes. "Udo, I'm not a Jedi," he said with the long-suffering patience of someone who has argued the point many times. He turned towards Jinn expectantly.
"This be Jinn," Crenudo said, and Jinn shook the hand the teacher offered him. "Jinn, this be Ben Kenobi. Jedi or not, he be able to help you, I'm thinking. Ben-boy, this honker got the tips after him, and I done know how much you hate them."
Crenudo left immediately for the street, and Jinn noticed how much that bothered Kenobi, for all he tried to hide it. Leading Jinn out of the building and across the quad to a run-down student apartment, Kenobi chatted lightly, keeping up a pretense that they were friends while glancing around uneasily, warily.
"You don't have to risk yourself for me," Jinn said, as Kenobi was obviously making for his own place.
"Any friend of Udo's is a friend of mine," he replied, ushering Jinn into his modest apartment on the top floor of the three-story building. "He said you needed help."
"I do, although I wouldn't necessarily say 'friendship' when discussing our relationship," Jinn said dryly. "He saved my ass last night, which makes him at least an ally in my book."
"Udo's good for that," Kenobi said with a wry grin. "He thinks it's a weakness, and he's always yelling at me for taking in 'strays' as he calls them. Can I offer you caf? Or would you prefer tea?"
"Tea sounds wonderful, thanks," Jinn said, glancing around the little apartment. It was a mess -- not actually dirty, but there were books, clothing, papers, readers and other miscellaneous junk scattered everywhere.
"Sorry about the mess," Kenobi said cheerfully, clearing an extra chair at his small kitchen table by merely dumping the contents of it to the floor. "I've been just too busy to keep up with housework lately." A large ginger cat stalked into the room as if he owned it and got under Kenobi's feet, talking to him in a gravelly voice. "Yes, Yoda, I know, I'll feed you, just a moment."
"Yoda?" Jinn asked, amused to watch the cat trying to trip Kenobi up and failing.
"Named after someone from my past, in the Temple," Kenobi said shortly.
"Long story," Kenobi replied, dumping some vile-looking stuff into a bowl and putting it on the floor in front of the cat, who pounced on it. "I think you've got one too. The tips are after you?"
Jinn scrubbed his face with his hands, indecision warring with need. "I hate to get you involved, I didn't want to get Crenudo involved..."
"Don't worry about it," Kenobi replied, putting a cup before Jinn. He indicated the sweetening and milk cups, then took a place opposite with his own cup. "I'm not a fan of those overbearing mynocks. They apparently think they own New Jarra, and can do as they please. They're wrong."
"Well, they've been after me since yesterday afternoon," Jinn said. "I was supposed to meet... someone, a client, at a cafe. The client never showed, and these two enforcer types did instead. I -- I could feel them in my mind. Somehow. I took off, they went after me. Luckily for me, I found Crenudo, and he took me in."
"You felt them?" Kenobi asked, frowning. "In your mind? Are you a telepath?"
"No," Jinn replied, surprised at the vehemence of his denial. "Not that I'm aware, anyway. I have no idea what you're thinking, for instance."
"Well, that makes me feel better," Kenobi said, smiling wryly. "I'm not sure my Jedi training was enough to continue helping me shield properly."
Exasperated, Jinn propped his elbows on the table. "That's the -- what, fourth time? -- I've heard that word tonight. What in the name of all that's holy is a Jedi?"
Kenobi froze in the process of taking a sip of his tea. "You don't know the Jedi." It was more of a statement than a question, but Jinn shook his head impatiently.
"Where have you been all your life?" Kenobi asked with a lopsided grin. "The Jedi are all over the place -- well, they're not welcome on Navist, which makes it nice for me, but they're everywhere else. They're the peacekeepers, the negotiators... they work for the Republic."
"Well, maybe that explains it," Jinn said, frowning into his teacup. What Kenobi was saying had a familiar ring to it, but he couldn't place where he'd heard it before. "I don't get in-galaxy very much. I live out here on the rim."
"Still... I'm surprised you've never heard of them." Thoughtfully, Kenobi put his cup on the table and regarded it. "I was raised by them, trained by them, until I was fifteen. Then I washed out, and was sent to Dulloba to work on the farms there."
"What do they teach?" Jinn asked, then grinned when the ginger cat leapt to Kenobi's lap.
"Yoda, you are the pushiest feline... They teach pretty much everything. Sciences, humanities, xenography, fighting, diplomacy... if I hadn't washed out, I'd probably be an apprentice by now. They do the Republic's dirty work for them. Settle disputes, get treaties signed, strong-arm planets into joining the Republic. That kind of thing."
"And you wanted to be one of these, these Jedi?" Jinn said, cocking his head.
"Well, yeah, or so I thought," Kenobi replied with some bitterness in his voice. "I must not have wanted it very much, though, since I failed at it."
It was fairly obvious that the subject was a sore one, so Jinn moved on over it. "How did you end up here, then? I thought you said you were on Dulloba."
"I was." Kenobi looked up and smiled disarmingly. "The Jedi are good for one thing, at least -- teaching. I got a degree by testing for it, then got a job through the 'net tutoring out here on Navist. Seemed like a good deal at the time -- no Jedi, nothing to remind me of my failure, you know? I'm in the process of getting my advanced degree -- I'll be a full teacher soon. If this place doesn't go to hell at the hands and minds of the tips first."
Ben Kenobi was aware of the fact that the man sitting opposite him -- introduced merely as 'Jinn' -- was trying to direct the discussion away from himself. He was a fair reader of people, though, and instinctively trusted Jinn. Well, perhaps 'trust' was too strong a word. Udo vouched for him, said he was in trouble, and he certainly looked it. When Udo walked into the dojo, Ben had been thrilled to see him -- it had been a long time since the young pro had been around and Ben feared for him. When he saw the tall, handsome, bearded man behind Udo, he wondered... but when Udo said the man was in trouble with the tips, all of Ben's concerns went out the window.
Because Ben Kenobi hated the telepathic mobsters who appeared to be intent on taking over New Jarra -- and possibly Navist. Hated them with a passion that his Jedi teachers would have tisked over. In Ben Kenobi's book, any enemy of the tips was a friend of his.
Jinn was looking at him curiously. The fellow looked much worse for the wear -- his clothes were obviously second-hand and rumpled, ill-fitting. He was a big, tall man, and when he had taken off his fedora Ben had been surprised to see a waterfall of brown, lightly silvered hair, which reached to Jinn's collar. But it was his voice that sparked the most interest in Ben -- Jinn's accent was similar to his; he was obviously not Navistim, and obviously far more cultured than his clothing let on.
He was also most attractive, but Ben brushed that aside, irritated that his libido would interfere with his thoughts. "What do you mean, about this place going to hell, Kenobi?" Jinn asked.
"Call me Ben, please," Ben said, trying to gather his wayward thoughts. "What I meant was that the telepaths and their bosses seem to be intent on taking over. The police don't seem to want to do anything about it..."
"That's because your *tips* are the cops," Jinn interrupted him softly. When Ben just stared at him, blinking, Jinn continued, "Like I told you, I was supposed to meet a -- a contact. At Cafe Friend -- I met with those two big muscle types instead -- the ones that chased me? Later, well, earlier today, I went to the governmental center downtown, and saw the same two -- in uniform."
Ben just stared at him, aware that his heart was pounding and his mouth was dry. "Are you sure?"
"Quite." Jinn gave him a sympathetic glance, then looked down at his cup.
"What did they look like?" Ben demanded. "Can you describe them to me?"
Jinn closed his eyes, frowned and leaned back in his chair. "They were big; one was almost as tall as I am. Muscles. The tallest man was olive-skinned and had receding, bottle-blond hair, but the back of it was long and worn in a ponytail. The shorter was fairer skinned, and had dark hair, worn short. He also wore dark glasses with thick, black frames, even indoors. He had a scar on his face."
"Right here?" Ben asked, drawing a line from his left eyebrow half-way down his cheek. When Jinn nodded, he cursed softly. "Rooge and Keps. I've run into those two before... they always work together, and they're *not* cops -- at least they weren't -- they work for Mogrit."
"Who?" Jinn demanded, frowning. "Who did you say they work for?"
It was Jinn's turn to start swearing. "Damn. That's who I was supposed to meet. I was set up!"
"It sounds like it," Ben said, sympathetically. "Look, I'm not native to Navist, but I love the people here, I feel like a native now even if that's not what I am. Mogrit is a local boss who recently -- so I heard -- merged with a few others from up and down the western seaboard. They're doing something... I don't know what and I don't want to know. I just want them gone. The Hutts have nothing on these people for ruthlessness."
"Fuck." Jinn jumped to his feet and began pacing. Yoda's head came up from Ben's lap and he watched their visitor carefully... Ben petted him to calm him down.
"The problem is these damn telepaths," Ben explained. "They started popping up all over the place a bit before I arrived, a year ago. At first, it was petty crime, and the newsfeeds were all over it, how telepaths were a new wave of terror." Ben shook his head and sipped his tea. "Gradually, all the furor died down. Now, anyone who makes a comment about telepaths is thought to be a loony. There aren't any telepaths, don't you know that? It's a myth." Ben looked sadly up at Jinn. "Only it's not."
"I can't even get to my ship," Jinn muttered, still pacing. "The government has it in lockdown. How am I going to get off this planet?"
"And I heard there's a security check in place for all commercial flights as well," Ben added with some measure of sympathy. "You are well and truly stuck here, my friend." Ben watched as Jinn finally sat back down and put his head in his hands. "But you're welcome to stay with me until you figure out what to do, Sar Jinn."
"It's just Jinn," Jinn said, after a moment. He tried to put a lopsided grin on his face and almost succeeded. "And after what you've told me, I'm even more reluctant to stay with you and get you into more danger."
"So what are you doing to do, run to Mogrit?" Ben said sharply. Abruptly, he made up his mind and tossed caution to the winds. "I don't know what you did to piss them off, but you did something, and that makes you a hero in my book. Look. The sofa turns into a bed, and it's not all that bad. Stay the night, and see if things look better in the morning. You've obviously had a hard couple of days."
"You don't even know me," Jinn said softly, cocking his head to the side and staring at Ben. "Why would you want to trust me in your home?"
Ben waved his arms in a grand gesture, taking in the whole apartment, such as it was. "It's not like there's anything of value here for you to steal, I don't make enough money for that." He grinned. "I'm just a sucker for sob stories, like Udo is."
"How the hell did you and he meet, anyway?" Jinn asked, apparently amenable to letting the subject drop, at least for now. "I can't see you moving in the same circles."
Laughing out loud, Ben said, "What, I don't look pretty enough to be a pro?"
That flustered Jinn, and Ben snickered. "I'm teasing you. We met through the self-defense class I teach. I've been trying to reach out to the lower levels, help those who don't know enough to help themselves." His mouth turned up in a wry, self-deprecating grin. "I guess the Jedi gave me something, then, a sense of moral responsibility -- to help the weak? Hey, speaking of which, are you hungry, by chance? I've got plenty to eat here, and I could use a snack..."
"If it's not too much trouble," Jinn replied, swallowing. Ben could see that the thought of food made his stomach rumble, and felt bad about not offering sooner.
"No trouble at all." Ben stood and began putting together a large sandwich and a salad, chatting about his self-defense class. "Udo was quite different when I met him," he said. "I hope that my class made a difference in him -- it certainly got him off spice and away from that bastard he lived with. I just wish I could get him off the streets now."
Standing, Jinn moved to the counter to help with the salad. "He sounds like a pet project of yours," he said, his voice dry.
"One of many such, I suppose," Ben replied with a little laugh. "I can't just sit and do nothing, you see? It isn't in my nature." He shoved the plate containing the sandwich at Jinn. "Here, you take this and get started, I'll finish the salad."
It was a companionable meal, for all it was silent while Jinn demolished the food put before him. He acted like he hadn't eaten in a tenday and that made Ben worried. Seeming aware of his lack of attention, Jinn looked up as the last scrap disappeared down his throat. "I'm sorry for being so focused -- I was hungrier than I realized. Let me help you clean up."
"Oh, don't worry about it," Ben said, smiling. He stood, dislodging Yoda again, much to the cat's displeasure "It can add to the atmosphere. I've got early class tomorrow, and a tutoring session at noon, but I'll be home in the early afternoon. I was planning on doing a thorough cleaning then."
"What type of tutoring do you do?" Jinn asked. Ben glanced at him, and he seemed genuinely interested.
"I do private tutoring for various subjects, ranging from mechanics to poetry," he replied, accepting a plate from Jinn and putting it in the sink. "But what got me off Dulloba was a job tutoring the daughter of Emmit Hale, the computer mogul. He has an estate on Navist -- probably for a tax break or something -- and his daughter is autistic. She lives here all the time, and he wanted someone to help her take advanced courses at the university." Ben grinned. "She's a good kid, a savant -- she can communicate beautifully through computers but can hardly talk aloud. We got along, and I was hired permanently."
"Sounds like you lucked out, Ken-- Ben," Jinn said, and Ben grinned in approval at him. "How long ago was this, then? It doesn't sound like you've been here very long."
"No, less than a year, actually," Ben replied, frowning. It *had* only been a year, hadn't it? It seemed like less time... much less time... but that couldn't be right...
"And you were one of these... Jedi... before?" Jinn continued, and Ben shook his head, wrenching himself back on topic.
"Well, no, I washed out," he said, then grimaced. It seemed he'd have to talk about it after all. "If you're not taken as an apprentice, you're shipped off. I drew Dulloba. It was sheer luck that Hale Enterprises was actively looking for someone to tutor Betha. And I like it here on Navist. Well, I *have* liked it." He looked up at Jinn -- he was one tall man, he was. "Come on, I'll give you the coin tour and get you situated. When I get back tomorrow, we can discuss your options."
"All right," Jinn said, proffering his hand. "And thank you, Ben."
"You're welcome," Ben replied, shaking Jinn's hand and smiling cheerfully.
The sofa bed wasn't all that bad. Kenobi had shown him where things were in the apartment, and then pulled out the bed and retired himself. Jinn was so exhausted from being run pillar-to-post all day, he figured he would have been able to sleep on a rock, so the sofa-bed was as good as a feather pillow.
True to his word, Kenobi left early the next morning. Jinn awoke to the feeling of being stared at, and found Yoda the cat sitting on the arm of the sofa looking down at him when he opened his eyes. "I don't know where he keeps your food," Jinn said to the feline, who sniffed in disdain and leapt to the floor.
Grateful for tea instead of caf, Jinn brewed himself a cup, and then -- partially out of lack of anything better to do and partially because he simply could not stand a mess -- he began to clean Kenobi's apartment. There was a small washer/dryer combination in the hall closet, and Jinn used it to clean his clothing while he took a shower -- then, because he was on a roll, began washing other clothes he found laying around the apartment. That seemed to clear up a lot of space, so he kept going -- organizing and stacking papers, sorting out books and putting them on shelves, and getting rid of what seemed to be months worth of dust. Yoda sneezed explosively several times then ran and hid under Kenobi's bed.
By lunchtime, the apartment looked much more civilized, and Jinn was dressed in his original clothing -- clean and feeling much better for it. He fixed himself a small snack and sat down at the table to review his options.
He had no local cash left. However, he did have fifty partially cut diamonds and about twenty ounces of platinum -- and no way to trade it in without being traced by the government, who appeared to be in league with the telepaths. Merely cleaning Kenobi's apartment didn't go very far towards paying the young man back for the risk he was taking by sheltering Jinn, so perhaps he'd take some of the diamonds or platinum in trade. And maybe he knew a way to transform them into local money in a way that wouldn't be traced back to Jinn.
About an hour after mid-day, Kenobi breezed into the apartment and stopped dead. He blinked, looked around, then checked the number on the door. "I am in the right place?" he asked incredulously.
Feeling slightly abashed, realizing that Kenobi could have been seriously upset by his actions -- no matter how well intended -- Jinn scratched the back of his neck. "Ah, well, I got started, and, well... just kept going." Kenobi blinked at him in shock. "Well, it's the least I can do for you," he added defensively. "Sorry."
Shrugging, Kenobi seemed to accept it. He pulled off his jacket and draped it across the back of a chair. "No, it's all right; thank you. I'm sure the dust creatures are quivering in fear. I brought a newschip home," he said, tossing it to Jinn. "Thought you might want to keep up with it. There's nothing about you in there that I could see, anyway."
"Thanks," Jinn said, accessing the chip in his reader. "I thought about this all day and I have no idea what to do here," he continued, watching as Kenobi made himself a meal.
"I confess I didn't have much time to think about it today," Kenobi admitted, sitting at the table. "But I did a bit last night -- and though I know you don't really want to talk about it, you really need to tell me just what you're doing on Navist and why you were supposed to meet Mogrit. Maybe I can help if I know more."
Jinn stared at Kenobi and blinked. "And you wanted to know if *I* were telepathic?" he murmured, and Kenobi ducked his head. "All right, yes, you're right. On all counts. I was meeting my contact -- Mogrit, allegedly -- because he had ordered some goods and I was delivering them."
"Goods?" Kenobi asked, his eyes bright as he studied Jinn.
"Goods," Jinn replied firmly. Then he sighed. "Miniature circuit boards, duranium crystal, plasteel tubing--"
"What kind of duranium crystal? How big?" Kenobi interrupted him sharply.
"Sapphires, emeralds, and tourmalines mostly, a few other types... ranging in size from six to nine carats." Kenobi started to swear under his breath and Jinn frowned. "What? It's not even contraband... What do you know about this crystal that I don't?"
"There's only one use in the whole galaxy for duranium crystals of that type and size -- other than for jewelry, and they're rarely if ever used for that," Kenobi said harshly. "Lightsabers."
"What?" What the hell was a lightsaber?
"Jedi use them," Kenobi explained. "They're a signature weapon -- there's whole classes in lightsaber technique, building, maintaining and using at the Temple. The reason those crystals are used in them is that they're a focusing device for mental acuity -- helps you access the Force more clearly."
"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about," Jinn said, blinking -- although, the words set up a strange resonance in his mind somewhere... "But let's say you're correct, and this crystal was going to be used to build these things -- lightsabers," he continued, forestalling Kenobi with a raised hand. "What difference does it make? Is it illegal for non-Jedi to have them?"
"I don't think so, no," Kenobi said, his brow furrowing in thought. "But..." After a moment's thought, he reached into his pocket and drew out his teleunit, then punched some numbers. "Sheree? Ben. Are you at home? No, I want to use your dataset for some research. Great. No, I'll be off by then. Thanks, I owe you one." He closed the unit and looked soberly at Jinn. "Come on, there are some things I want to check."
Jinn followed Kenobi out of his apartment and down one floor to another apartment, which opened at Kenobi's IC. This one was much bigger, neater, and obviously owned by a female. "Sheree is a good friend, she watches Yoda for me when I have to be away overnight. We can use her dataset until rush hour, when the price goes up, which gives us--" he looked at his reader-- "three hours. It's in here."
Whatever Ben Kenobi did for a living, he certainly knew his way around computers. In less than an hour, he'd hacked into the leading newsfeed's files, and set up a search around the word 'Jedi.' Concurrently, he began a hack into the government's files for recently intercepted shipments from off-world. Jinn watched in awe, realizing he had a true master before him.
A beep alerted them that the newsfeed search had ended, and Kenobi switched tasks. Most of the articles found were innocuous, but one made Kenobi freeze in shock. He enlarged it, then sent it to a chip while he continued to worm his way into the governmental files. Jinn grabbed the chip as it loaded and fed it into his reader, opening it up to read.
The headline screamed: "Jedi Blamed in Deadly Attack."
There was something about Jinn that bothered Ben, though he couldn't put his finger on it. The man was obviously telling the truth as far as it went, but Ben could tell he was still withholding information and that worried him. But Ben was curious by nature, and a mystery such as this was turning out to be something he simply could not leave alone.
The worst of it, of course, was seeing a headline he had somehow missed several months back, accusing the Jedi of massacring most of a village on an island in the far south archipelago. He couldn't face that immediately, so after a quick skim he turned to his other search -- and immediately noticed something odd. There was a lot of information on retained and destroyed contraband of a certain type -- his search had a built-in sorter -- up until a little over a year ago. This included duranium crystal. However, all of that trickled down and then stopped completely not quite a year ago.
And yet, Jinn said he'd just been commissioned to deliver more duranium crystal -- for Mogrit.
After a second's thought, he went back to the newsfeed hack and added a search for Mogrit -- adding Rooge and Keps as an afterthought, not even sure why he was doing so. He let that search run while he went back and tried to find any information through the government on Mogrit's 'business' and why he'd be employing telepaths. And that's where he hit a brick wall. After being chased by a particularly virulent agent, he gave up and withdrew completely from the government files, then checked the newsfeed. There were several stories -- but none of them newer than half a year. He loaded them all to a chip, along with the data he'd rescued from the government hack, and shut down Sheree's dataset.
"I take it this probably wasn't done by your friends the Jedi," Jinn said soberly, holding out his reader for Ben to see. With severe trepidation, Ben took the reader and read the story.
"This is *patently* untrue," Ben shouted, wanting to throw the reader across the room. The story was worse than the headline -- most of an entire village in the petroleum-rich southern archipelago destroyed by lightsaber-welding aliens. "The Jedi would *never* do something like that."
"Are you sure?" Jinn asked him carefully. "I mean, it sounds from the description you gave me that they work for the highest bidder -- and the petroleum reserves in that area are..."
"No." Ben slapped his hand on the desk, then rose. "We need to clear out of Sheree's apartment. Come on."
All the way back up to his own flat, Ben fumed. There was *no way* the Jedi were responsible for this. None at all. And yet, the story said the attackers had weapons that sounded suspiciously like lightsabers, and... "Damn. *Damn.* That's it." Ben threw open the door to his apartment and slammed it behind himself and Jinn. "That's why Mogrit is importing duranium crystal... he's wanting to pretend to be Jedi."
"That makes sense," Jinn said slowly, frowning. "But why? You said Jedi weren't even welcome on Navist. Why would he want to give them a bad name if they've already got a bad name here?"
Ben turned and looked at him in confusion. "I -- I don't know," he said. "It doesn't really make sense, does it?"
Jinn put his hand on Ben's shoulder and squeezed. "There has to be a reason, Ben. And we'll have to find it -- because no one else will."
"We should take it to the authorities," Ben said, pacing over to the window.
"The *authorities,* as you say, are in the pocket of the people behind it," Jinn disagreed. "I brought my cargo here in good faith, and normally I wouldn't care a whit about what gets done with it after it's off-loaded. But this -- if they're using it for wholesale slaughter, I won't be a party to it."
Something in the way Jinn made that declaration cleared up a point for Ben. He turned and crossed his arms over his chest. "You're a smuggler," he said, suddenly certain of it.
Jinn had the grace to look abashed, and that made Ben obscurely pleased. "Yes," he said softly. "I prefer to say I'm in the import-export business," he added wryly.
Ben was not amused. "You smuggle contraband -- illegal items -- to people on planets that have barred it. Gods, for all I know, you could also smuggle people -- slaves."
"I have never smuggled slaves," Jinn said firmly, drawing himself up. "And I never would."
"You smuggled duranium crystal here!" Ben accused him.
"And it's hardly illegal anywhere!" Jinn replied. "Not only that, but I had no way of knowing the purpose it would be put to. You can hardly blame me for how people use an item."
"They've been used to kill!" Ben said hotly.
"So could a nail file!" Jinn retorted. "Should I refrain from ever importing them as well?"
There was nothing he could say to that. Ben turned away, still angry, but aware that Jinn had a point -- not that he liked it. "Look, Ben," Jinn said, coming up behind him and touching his shoulder again, "I admit I'm not the most -- legal of people." Ben could hear the smile in his voice, and despite himself, he smiled as well. Damn, but Jinn was a compelling man. "But I have my own moral code. I would never do anything like what's being done here. There are plenty of innocuous items that can be imported for a fee. Right now, I'd like to make sure that this Mogrit doesn't get his hands on my cargo and get more of that crystal. And I don't have a clue how to do it."
Ben sighed and scrubbed his face with his hands. "I don't either," he said.
"Then we need to figure it out," Jinn said. The supreme confidence in his voice made Ben turn and look at him, incredulous.
"We do?" he asked, his eyebrows arching.
"Of course," Jinn said calmly. "Like I said, if we don't, no one will. I can tell how much the thought of your Jedis' reputation being tarnished like this bothered you -- that gives you incentive, as much as the thought of my being manipulated gives me incentive." He suddenly frowned and slammed one fist into the opposite hand. "I want to find out why I was attacked. I want to know why I was setup -- there was no reason for it. My price was good. All they had to do was pay -- why drive me underground? Why send telepaths out after me..."
"Telepaths," Ben whispered, a second revelation making his mouth dry and his heart pound.
Jinn touched his arm, concerned. "What?" he asked.
Since his legs suddenly felt rubbery, Ben carefully walked over to the sofa and sat heavily. "Telepaths. Don't you see? Jedi are Force users. How do you fake a Force user? Telepaths."
"Now you're going to have to explain what this Force is," Jinn said, sitting on the chair opposite him. "From the way you used the word 'temple', I thought your Jedi were some sort of religious fanatics."
"They're not *my* Jedi," Ben said automatically, then blinked. "The Force is that energy which binds the universe together. Those of us that are Force sensitive can use it to do many things, such as manipulate the minds of those less intelligent or acute, read emotions and sometimes primitive thoughts, move objects--"
"How is that different from what a telepath or a telekinetic does?" Jinn asked, obviously confused.
"It's in the use of the Force," Ben said, frowning. "I don't believe that you need to be Force sensitive to be a TP or a TK, but you must be Force sensitive to be a Jedi -- your midichlorian level must be above a certain level. The Jedi serve the Force, serve the light, that which is good. A TP who is not Force sensitive..."
"Would have no such compulsion," Jinn finished for him, thoughtfully.
"Then we should alert your Jedi," Jinn said thoughtfully, scratching at his beard.
"No." Jinn looked at Ben in surprise -- hell, if Ben could have looked at himself, he would have done so in surprise as well. "I -- I can't. I won't. I'm no longer a part of them."
"No. I agree that we should find out why Mogrit is doing this, and try to stop him somehow, but I won't have anything to do with the real Jedi." Where was this coming from? He thought he'd parted on good terms with the Jedi, he thought he'd come to terms with what he was now...
Jinn interrupted his confused train of thought. "Then, if you're sensitive to this Force, you should be able to do the same thing as the telepaths who chased me, yes?"
"I --" Yes, he should, Ben thought to himself in surprise. But he couldn't. "I can't. Not any more." For the first time in months and months, Ben wondered why he hadn't felt the Force with him, in ordinary, every-day ways. He used to live with it, didn't he? He used to feel it in everything he did. But now...
Jinn was looking at him curiously, his eyes holding concern as well. "That's all right," he said softly. "We don't need it. What we do need, however, is a miracle."
"Well, then, we'd better get working on that miracle," Ben said, noticing that his head hurt, for some reason.
It took the rest of that day and part of the evening to put together the evidence gleaned from Ben's 'net hacking. It wasn't sufficient, either -- there were holes that were maddening.
"Look," Ben said, sometime during that frustrating time, "I can probably hack you a way to get you to your ship, get you off the planet. This isn't your fight."
"It's not yours either," Jinn retorted. "You're as much Navistim as I am. But this has gotten me more than inconvenienced... it's gotten me angry, and I want answers. I want to know why I was setup, dammit."
"I'm more Navistim than you are," Ben replied mildly. "But all right. I see your point. We're all that stands against this plot, whatever it is, apparently. And I'm just not capable of seeing it half-done either."
On a large piece of paper, they'd charted what they had found out. It was a confusing array of lines, arrows, people, places and things, but there was a pattern -- they just had to find it. It kept leading back to Mogrit, however, which was frustrating, as there was so little information on the man.
Finally, late in the evening, Ben tossed his pencil down and stretched, cracking the vertebrae in his back one at a time. Jinn glanced at him appreciatively -- Crenudo had been a well-made young man, but Ben was exquisite. And not nearly as approachable, unfortunately.
"I've had it," Ben said, scratching his head vigorously. "I need to go to bed. Tomorrow's a light day for me -- I've got to go turn in a paper and then, in the afternoon, visit with Betha." Suddenly he looked over at Jinn, a devastated look on his face. "And you can't even leave the apartment. Shit. I'm sorry. What do you need me to do?"
Jinn snorted in amusement. "It's all right," he said. "Although... I have a terrible feeling we're going to need some cash -- just in case. And I have no more local money. Do you think you could..." With some trepidation, he pulled out his pouch of diamonds. "I exchanged a few of these at the port authority office when I arrived. I obviously can't now. Do you know of a place to exchange them?"
"Are those... diamonds?" Ben asked, blinking. "How did you..."
"They're good universal currency," Jinn explained. "I also have some platinum, but diamonds are usually easier. But, you see, they know that's what I'm carrying, and if I go some place to trade them in..."
"You'll be ID'd," Ben finished for him. "I understand. But I have *no* idea where to go... wait. I can call Udo tomorrow. He'll know if anyone does."
"That's probably true," Jinn replied with a wry grin. "He seems to know the worst of places."
"Would you like an ale?" Ben asked, getting to his feet and moving to the coldbox. When Jinn nodded, he pulled two bottles out and gave one to Jinn. "Udo -- well, Udo is Udo. He has a sad story. I've heard most of it, but he was either high or in the depths of withdrawal when he told it, so he doesn't know that I know... if that makes sense." Jinn smiled and nodded, taking a pull from his ale. "So how did you end up as a smuggler, Jinn? I mean, you're hardly what I'd call the prototype."
"I'm not?" Jinn asked, raising one eyebrow. "Then what *is* the prototype?"
"Oh, you know, what you see on the vids," Ben chuckled. "You're far too urbane and educated, for one thing. You're not scruffy enough, for another. Despite what you were wearing yesterday."
"I'll have you know those were the highest-class second-hand clothes, purchased from a fine establishment called Burbies," Jinn replied with patently false haughtiness. Ben laughed, and after a moment, Jinn joined him.
"Seriously, how did you end up doing this? And is it fun? Do you have a lover in every port, like some of the vid-heroes do?" Ben sounded depressingly eager, and Jinn sighed inside.
"Oh, I'd like to be like them, then," Jinn snorted. "I -- " he blinked, realizing he was finding echoing nothingness where he expected things to be. "I've been a smuggler for as long as I can remember," he said, almost automatically. He frowned as he realized he could remember -- hardly anything. Desperately, he began wracking his brains for his past, only to find -- nothing. Nothing far back at all. What had he been doing a year ago? Where had he been? What was his last cargo before Navist? What was the name of his ship? His home planet? He began to hyperventilate and his heart began to pound as he vainly searched his head.
"Jinn? What is it? What's wrong?" Ben stood, walked around the table and leaned in, touching Jinn's face in concern. "What's the matter?"
"I -- w-what would be the signs that my mind has been tampered with?" Jinn managed to ask, his voice a harsh whisper.
Ben paled, and he licked his lips nervously. "I don't know..." he said. "Why do think...?"
"I don't remember," Jinn said. He couldn't raise his voice any louder. "I don't remember! Anything, Ben! I can't remember anything!" Desperately, Jinn grabbed Ben's forearm and clung tenaciously.
"You can't remember -- what? What are you trying to remember?" Ben asked him gently, crouching down before his chair.
"What my last cargo was," Jinn replied. He was becoming hysterical, he could see the signs, yet he felt powerless to stop it. "What I was doing a year ago. Where my home planet is. Who sent me the information to come to Navist with my cargo. The name of my ship! I remember what docking bay she's in, and I remember the code pass-phrase I was to use to establish my contact and how much I was to be paid -- but I can't even remember the name of my fucking ship!"
Abruptly, Ben stood and pulled Jinn's head into his stomach, making soothing noises and patting his back and head gently. Jinn felt himself falling apart, felt the seeds of paranoia and panic take root, and tried desperately to stop them from growing. Wrapping his arms around Ben, he clung to his presence, focused on the kind young man's scent and aura, and began counting backwards in Huttese in an attempt to calm himself.
Eventually, one of his methods worked, and he was able to take in great gouts of air, shakily releasing his strangle-hold on Ben. "I'm sorry," he said roughly. "That... that rather snuck up on me."
"Yes, I would agree," Ben said. He looked at Jinn carefully before moving away and sitting back down. "Are you all right now?"
"I think so," Jinn said, taking a deep pull from his ale bottle. "But apparently I'm rather terrified that I've been tampered with."
Ben swallowed. "It sounds like that... might be possible," he agreed. His voice was steady, but the eyes that looked at Jinn were worried. "But you can still function," he continued, steadily. "And you have no compulsion to avoid harming Mogrit. That's a good sign."
"Yes, I suppose," Jinn said dubiously. "Crenudo said something about a friend of his that had been... tampered with. I think his exact words were, 'now she sit and she drool.'" He stared across the length of the table at Ben. "I don't want to end up like that."
"Little Venna," Ben said, his eyes wide. "I thought it was spice that burned out her brain." He chewed on his lower lip, then, with one huge gulp, finished off his ale. "This is becoming -- frightening. We need to stop them -- from whatever they're doing."
"Yes," Jinn agreed, doing his best not to shake.
Neither man slept well that night. In the morning, after breakfast, Ben called a morning-surly Crenudo and got the name of a place that would take the diamonds for cash, no questions asked. It wouldn't be top dollar, but Jinn told Ben he didn't care. Mid-morning, Ben left to turn in his paper and trade in some diamonds, telling Jinn he didn't expect to be back for several hours, which left Jinn to his own devices.
One of the items Jinn found when he'd cleaned Ben's apartment was a map of the campus of New Jarra University. He noticed that the library was only a short walk away and decided to risk it... he was hardly the hacker that Ben was, but a public terminal would allow him to do some checking, some research, at least.
And it felt wonderful to be outside again.
The day was much better than it had been -- bright and sunny. New Jarra was entering a fall season, and the deciduous trees that lined the campus streets were a riot of color. Jinn tucked his hair up under his fedora again and strolled, enjoying the cool breezes, the pleasant atmosphere, and most of all, the fact that he wasn't being chased.
The library at NJU was large and airy, and had several private booths for 'net access on public datasets. Jinn chose one near the back that allowed him a fairly unimpeded view of most of the library, and began surfing. The newsfeeds were first, and he could find nothing on his name or on the spaceport, particularly his ship's dock. After long, frustrating minutes, he turned to the history portion of the 'net and called up the Jedi.
There was acres of information on the topic. He chose one that looked to be complete and opened it, began reading, and realized he couldn't follow it at all.
Frowning, he went to a search engine and tried to call up another article. It was the same thing... he'd open the article, try to read it, and fail every time. His mind would wander; the words would make no sense; his head began pounding. Finally, he gave up in disgust, and tried to call up information on Mogrit.
There he had more success. Anthen Mogrit was known on Navist as a philanthropist and a 'self-made' man. A native of the central plains city of Keewanil, he'd moved to New Jarra to start his own business, something to do with computers. By all accounts, it was wildly successful, even though he was in direct competition with Emmit Hale and Hale Enterprises. In the breathless prose of an early profile article, the author claimed that Mogrit was Navist's own version of Hale, someone who would definitely go places. "Straight to hell," Jinn muttered, skimming the article for any other piece of relevant information.
Reading about Mogrit made Jinn curious about Hale, especially since Ben worked for the man. There wasn't half the information on the reclusive Hale as there was on Mogrit, however. Hale had a country estate on Navist as large as the campus at New Jarra University, and it was where he spent his time when not on Coruscant, Correllia, Malastaire, or other central worlds. Hale Enterprises was a quietly lucrative company, and just as quietly philanthropic. Jinn approved -- he preferred his charity not come at a price, thank you very much.
Perhaps Hale might be an ally against Mogrit, then, Jinn considered, before calling up more information on Mogrit. A recent photograph made him sit up straight -- he recognized the man. He was one of the people who had nearly approached him in the cafe the other day, but had turned away before speaking. He was with another person too... a man?... someone whose face Jinn was having problems recalling, no matter how hard he tried.
That led to another thing that began to bother him... why would Mogrit -- by all accounts the head of his organization -- be the one to meet with a low-level smuggler like Jinn? Why not send a flunky? What was it about Jinn's cargo that was so important to Mogrit that he'd want to come meet with Jinn himself? And who was he with... could that person have been the one to alert Mogrit that Jinn was a problem? And why would they consider Jinn to *be* a problem in the first place?
Every question led to ten more, and Jinn's head was beginning to pound again.
Finally, Jinn picked a few of the more promising-looking articles and downloaded them to his reader for later perusal. Then he went to shut down the dataset but stopped, thinking. Reluctantly, he returned to the search engine and put in the name, 'Ben Kenobi.'
There wasn't much there. His student ID -- his major, education -- his address, the courses he taught for his instructors (two), and an advertisement for his tutoring sessions and his self-defense class. For someone who had to have been on campus for a fairly long time, it was extraordinarily vague. Jinn frowned and went to the beginning of his record, only to find it merely eight months long. Less than a year.
Ben had said he was sent to Dulloba when he was fifteen -- according to his records, he was twenty-three now. It took him seven years to get off Dulloba? There was a lot of time there that was unaccounted for.
It was just another puzzle piece in a mosaic that was becoming increasingly difficult to figure out.
Rubbing his aching forehead, Jinn shut down the dataset and stood, stretching. He'd spent more time hunched over it than he thought, and the noon-time crowds were beginning to filter in. The library boasted a pleasant socialization area just inside the front doors, which was now crowded with students chatting, laughing and surreptitiously eating (against the clearly-posted library rules). Jinn grinned to himself -- a campus was the same in every part of the galaxy. Then he paused... as flashes of memory of another place -- a school? -- filtered into his brain.
Before he could lock down the memories, trace them to their source, he stiffened in shock. One of the two men who had followed him the other day was talking earnestly with one of the library workers. Unbidden, that damn jingle he'd tried to fix in his brain came back, and he found himself humming as he quickly and quietly made his escape... *Do you like the taste... Do you like your caf hot and sweet...*
How had they tracked him to the campus? Jinn broke into a gentle lope as he left the library and headed back to the apartment complex. He would have to be very careful that no one followed him -- he would not put Ben into further danger, no matter what.
Ben hadn't slept well. The demons haunting Jinn morphed into his own evil spirits, which led to frantic dream chases around and around -- the Temple, his weak memories of Dulloba, the time he couldn't remember before coming to Navist...
It wasn't just Jinn who was missing something from his memories. But if Ben were tampered with, and there was no reason for him *to* be tampered with, then that meant that most of the citizens of New Jarra -- of Navist! -- might have been *adjusted* by the telepaths. There were millions of people in New Jarra, probably billions on Navist, for all it hadn't joined the Republic yet. The idea was simply inconceivable. Ludicrous.
He toyed with the idea over a quiet breakfast with Jinn, and kept thinking about it all the way to his instructor's office, where he was to drop off a paper. Emerging from the building into the late morning sunshine, he noticed a strange man hanging around -- someone obviously not a student. He was tall and dark-skinned and turned away whenever Ben looked at him. Every molecule in his brain screamed *danger!* to Ben, but he forced himself to calm -- there was no reason to believe that the telepaths who had chased Jinn would be after Ben -- especially not so soon.
Still, he quickly made his way to the public lot where he stored his vehicle, checking behind him frequently for followers. When he didn't notice anyone for a while, he breathed a bit easier.
The pawn shop Udo had referred him to was on the demarcation line between the old city and the new. During the day, it would be fine, but he wouldn't have wanted to risk it after dark. The shop had bars on the windows and doors, and a large, retractable plassteel wall that would cover the entire front of the shop after hours. The proprietor was a seedy as the neighborhood, but the shop itself was blessedly empty.
"I need to sell some gems?" Ben said, approaching the counter.
Behind the thick, clear barrier obviously meant to deter projectile weapons, the proprietor glared at him. "What kind 'o gems, college boy?" he asked. His voice sounded like sandpaper on a rough surface.
"These. Diamonds." Ben dropped two of the gems -- he carried four -- on the counter, and the wizened man inhaled.
"Where'd you get these, boy?" he asked, pulling the mat that fit under the barrier towards him, and examining the rocks as carefully as he could through the thick, scarred plastic.
"That's none of your business," Ben said, trying to sound righteous. "They're mine, and I want to sell them. Now, how much?"
The proprietor hemmed and hawed, spent an inordinate amount of time examining the gems with an electronic loupe, and tried to offer Ben an amount less than half their worth (or at least less than half what Jinn had gotten for them at the port authority). Ben was not so stupid as to not haggle, however, and finally managed to get an amount close to what Jinn had originally gotten, on two of the stones. That was a sufficient amount to last them several days, and Ben settled the deal with a reluctant handclasp.
Leaving the shop with relief, it took Ben's eyes a few moments to get used to the bright sunshine again. When he had acclimated, the first thing he saw was the big, dark man from campus, standing across the street from him. This time, the man didn't look away as Ben eyed him, and in fact, began to walk towards him.
Frozen in shock, Ben couldn't move for a moment. Then he began to back away and look frantically around, getting his bearings and trying to locate his vehicle -- which was parked down the block. His follower sped up too, but suddenly a horn blaring made both men jump -- a large garbage truck was bearing down on Ben's pursuer, and the driver was hanging out his window, swearing at the man in the street, who leapt away, back to the other sidewalk. That gave Ben just enough time to jump in his vehicle and take off. He watched in his rear-view mirror as the dark man standing on the sidewalk receded behind him.
He would not have wanted to come up against that man alone and unarmed, for all he taught combat classes. He looked to be easily half again Ben's size, and moved with the sinuous grace of a trained fighter.
Worried, Ben broke all speed records getting back to his apartment. He needed to talk to Jinn as soon as he could, to let him know that they were under suspicion, found, tracked -- whatever you wanted to call it. The last time he had commented on how much he wanted to get rid of Mogrit and his band of tips, he hadn't counted on this!
He made it back to his apartment, and parked his vehicle right out front, something he wouldn't normally do since the parking regulations forbid long term parking there. He literally leapt from it, dashing as fast as he could into his building and up the stairs. He hardly stopped to let his IC be read before throwing open the door and yelling, "Jinn!"
The apartment was echoingly silent. No Jinn anywhere. He ran through the apartment, checking all the rooms before racing back out into the main room --
-- And running headlong into a tall, strong body. He yelped and jumped back, petrified for an instant before realizing it was Jinn. "What is it?" Jinn asked him, steadying him his hands on Ben's shoulders.
"Followed! I've been followed," Ben gasped out. The door to the apartment was wide open. "A man, one I've never seen before. I saw him at my professor's office, and he followed me to the pawn shop."
"What did he look like?" Jinn demanded, releasing Ben and grabbing his pack.
"Tall, broad, very dark-skinned; he had on a long, leather jacket and a hat -- like yours -- and he wore tall boots," Ben said quickly. "What are you doing?"
"Pack. Quickly. We need to get the hell out of here. Now!" Jinn slammed the door to the apartment and strode to the kitchen, where he began pulling food off the shelves.
Ben ran back into his bedroom and began shoving clothing into a duffel bag. His adrenaline levels were surging and his heart was pounding out of his chest. "Are you ready?" he heard Jinn call from the main room as he ran into his bath.
"Almost!" Not bothering with the niceties, he merely shoved his toiletries into the bag and pulled the drawstring shut, then dashed into the living room again.
Jinn caught him by the upper arm. "Is there another way down besides the stairs?" he asked quietly.
Ben blanched. "Uh... yes! The freight elevator. It's slow so no one uses it. This way."
They made their way out of the building unseen, and climbed into Ben's vehicle, Jinn grunting and groaning a bit at how he had to twist his large frame to accommodate the tiny interior. As the pulled away from the curb with a slight screech, Ben caught a glimpse of a familiar dark figure again in his rear-view mirror, walking towards the apartment building.
"They'll be able to identify your vehicle now," Jinn said softly. Kenobi glanced at him. "If there's a way we can use another, it would be prudent."
Nodding nervously, Kenobi said, "Yeah, you're right, uh... yes. I've got it covered." He yanked out his teleunit and, when they came to a stop at a signal, punched numbers. "Cory? Ben. Yes, I know. Listen, I have a way for you to pay off that debt you're always claiming you have... yeah. I need your transportation. You can have mine, it's running all right... no, nothing... nothing, *really*. I just... just need it for a few days. Is that all right? I'll leave it in the same place I usually do. Thank you. This wipes it out, Cory, really. Thanks." Glancing behind him, Kenobi made a sharp right turn onto another street, where he pulled into a public parking lot.
He punched some more numbers. "Sheree? Ben. Can you look after Yoda for a few days? No, that'd be okay, he'd love it. Thanks. I'll call you later and explain. Thanks." He tucked his unit back into his pocket then turned to Jinn. "Cory and I have access to each other's wheels... long story. We park in the same lot -- he'll find mine. Come on."
Jinn unfolded himself from his cramped position and followed Kenobi across the lot, checking carefully around himself as he did so. There were some pedestrians in sight, and a few other people pulling into or out of the public lot, but none of them raised any warning flags in his mind. Shortly, they were at an even smaller vehicle, much to Jinn's displeasure, but it was one that no one knew they had.
Kenobi seemed to be intent on driving, and appeared to know where he was going, even if he seemed nervous. //Well, he has a right to be,// Jinn thought to himself, wondering at his own calm in the face of what had happened. "Do you know where we're going? Do you have an idea how to get around these people?"
"Yes, a little," Kenobi said, jittering in place. "I was going to head out to the country, to Hale's estate, and talk with Betha about this. I think..."
"Calmly, Ben," Jinn told him, laying his hand on Kenobi's arm. "We're fine for now. And that's an excellent suggestion. I found some information at the library earlier today which pointed toward speaking to Hale as a possible ally against Mogrit."
"Hale's off-planet," Kenobi said, shaking his head. "But Betha might be able to help us."
"We'll take each moment as it comes, then," Jinn said. "Don't go buying trouble. Live in this moment, not the next."
"Yes, sar," Kenobi said, grinning, and Jinn could tell he had calmed down significantly. There was still no sign of pursuit, luckily. "It's a two-hour trip out of the city to Hale's estate. I'm sorry Cory's coupe is so small... I think the seat adjusts a little. It's underneath, in front."
Twisting his body into a highly unnatural position, Jinn managed to locate a catch which pushed the seat back far enough that his knees were no longer up around his ears. He sighed in relief. "I might last now," he said, and Ben chuckled.
The journey was long enough that Jinn had enough time to tell Ben about his trip to the library, and how one of the telepaths from Mogrit had shown up. Ben swallowed down his resurgence of nerves at the news, wondering first how Jinn was being so calm about it and second why *he* felt so nervous. He could handle himself -- the Jedi had taught him that. When he stopped to think about it, he realized his nervousness came partially from Jinn's own panic of the night before, and the possibility that Jinn's mind -- or, for that matter, his own -- had been tampered with.
Physical threat he could deal with. Mental threat made him break out in a cold sweat. And he wasn't even quite certain why.
Before he realized it, they were pulling up to the lavish estate Emmit Hale maintained on Navist, and the security bots were swarming around the coupe. Ben had taken some of their travel time to tell Jinn what to expect, and his description was completely accurate: "Greetings, Sar Kenobi, you are one hour and thirty-seven minutes early for your appointment; this is not your usual vehicle; you have an unidentified human male accompanying you."
"Yes, CP-32, this is Sar Jinn, and I will vouch for him. We need to visit Betha Hale. Can you refer me to Allanz, please? I'll submit to the usual security check."
"Please direct your vehicle to the enclosed area, Sar Kenobi, and you will be joined shortly."
As Ben pulled Cory's little coupe over, Jinn spoke quietly. "I suppose I should leave my weapon here."
"You have a weapon?" Ben said, blinking in shock. "A blaster?"
"No," Jinn said, smiling wryly. "Though there were times lately I wished I had. I was forced to leave most of my things aboard my ship. I do have a very low-tech knife with me, however."
"Oh," Ben said, still surprised how Jinn could still surprise him. "Yes, you should leave it in the car. You can put it in the little compartment here."
They only had to wait for a few minutes before Allanz, Betha's nurse/companion/caregiver/guard/anything else she needed to be, joined them. Ben climbed out of the car and shook the tall, red-haired human's hand. "I know I'm early, Allanz, but something's come up and I'm... well, I'm in a bit of trouble." Turning to his companion, who was carefully extricating himself from the vehicle, Ben continued. "Jinn, this is Allanz Fortier -- I told you about her. You never want to get on her bad side."
"Oh, no, Ben, have you taken in yet another hardship case?" Allanz murmured before reaching out and taking Jinn's hand. "Nice to meet you, Sar Jinn."
"Sorry, Allanz, I guess I have," Ben said, coloring slightly. "Jinn is a... well, he's an import/export specialist," Ben said, grinning at Jinn, who smiled back. "He was supposed to meet with our favorite person three days ago, but that person instead set his dogs on him."
"Mogrit?" Allanz said, blinking between the two men. "What happened?"
"I was asked to deliver certain goods to Sar Mogrit three days ago," Jinn explained in a soft voice. "Instead, I was chased all over New Jarra by two telepaths who -- who may have done something to my mind." Jinn maintained a composed face at Allanz's shock over his words, but Ben saw his hands shaking minutely. "Ben here has taken me in, and unfortunately he seems to have drawn some of their fire. I'm hoping to make sure he's safe before I try to leave the planet."
"Now, wait just a minute," Ben interrupted hotly. "I thought we already discussed this. I want Mogrit stopped too. I'm going to help you, and there's nothing you can do to stop me."
Jinn studied him for a moment, taking a deep breath and letting it out as a sigh. He also took a moment to push the away the irreverent thought that Ben was really breathtaking when angry. Then he turned to Allanz. "Is he often like this? I've only known him for a few days, but it seems to be the pattern."
Allanz grinned at both men. "That would be an affirmative. I'm sorry, Sar Jinn, but I do need to search you before I can allow you into the compound. You too, Ben -- you know the drill."
"It is always a pleasure to have your lovely hands on me, Allanz," Ben said with a silly, lewd grin, before shooting Jinn a frown.
Allanz laughed and frisked them, quickly and efficiently. "You're fine. Come on with me; we'll take the cart up to the main house. So, tell me how you got involved in this one this time, Ben."
They chatted amiably all the way to the house, avoiding serious topics. Allanz left them in a sitting room, saying she was going to go check on Betha. As the door closed behind her, Ben turned to Jinn. "You're not going to get rid of me, you know," he hissed. "So don't try."
"Ben, I'm just..."
"No! This is my fight, now, too. I won't let you go it alone." He took a deep breath. "Besides, if they've tampered with you... they might have tampered with me, too. I..."
"Ben?" Allanz stood at the inner door, beckoning them. Jinn gave Ben a look that promised mayhem -- eventually -- and went with him into the inner room.
Kenobi had warned him about Betha Hale, but the sight was still a shock. The child was about twenty standard years, but she was the size of a ten-year-old. She lived in her modified wheelchair -- when she wasn't in PT -- because her torso was so badly twisted it would not sustain her properly. Her neck was wrenched back, and her face was in a perpetual grimace -- but Jinn could see the beauty that lay within her poor, abused body. Her smile might have been more of a grimace, but it was a smile nonetheless.
"Ben!" The vocoder's voice was almost -- but not quite -- human sounding. Jinn could see her hands and fingers -- the only part of her not warped, according to Kenobi -- flying over the modified keypads her father had designed for her.
"Hello, beautiful!" Ben said cheerfully, taking the only seat. They were in a booth, protected from Betha by a thick sheet of transparisteel. (Earlier, while describing Betha to Jinn, Kenobi had told him, "She'll only allow her father, her sister Branny, and Allanz to touch her. I think I might be able to now as well, but I love her too dearly to hurt her in the trying. Besides, they've been with her most of her life -- Allanz has been working for the Hales for close to fifteen years -- and I've only been around less than a year.")
"You flatterer," Betha was saying, but her body was squirming in delight at his words. "I know you, Ben Kenobi, you just want something. So, who's that tall drink of water behind you?"
"This is Jinn," Ben said, grinning at Betha. "Jinn, this is the one, the only, Betha Hale. The loveliest and smartest computer hacker in the galaxy. Isn't that right, Betha?"
"It's not going to get you anywhere, Ben," Betha said. The vocoder could not translate her giggles, but Jinn could see her body shaking with them. Ben was good for her and with her, Jinn decided, which made a lot of sense. The young man wasn't just pretty, he was actually, truly *good*. "Just come right out with it."
"Well, actually, it's something you'll enjoy," Kenobi said. "Because it deals with one of our most favorite people, Mogrit."
Jinn saw Betha stiffen at the name. "In *that* case," she said, "whatever it is, is free. What's going on?"
Kenobi glanced up to Jinn for confirmation, and Jinn nodded to him to tell the tale. So Ben told Betha -- and, by extension, Allanz -- the whole story, up to and including their suspicions about the duranium crystal use and the mysterious third man who had been tailing Kenobi. Jinn added his own questions and surmises here and there as well, especially those dealing with his possible tampering. Allanz looked grim and Betha was completely still by the end of it. "Sar Jinn, are you certain you've been tampered with?" Betha asked.
Jinn leaned forward to speak into the microphone. "It's just Jinn, dear lady, and that's the only thing I can assume. I have large, gaping holes in my memory, and I don't know how they got there."
"Oh, I like this one, Ben, you'll need to keep him," Betha said. Jinn could see her coloring in pleasure. It was such a damn shame such a lovely young lady couldn't be normal all the time, Jinn thought sadly. He smiled at her through the glass. "Well, then, Jinn, let's start with your cargo. Ben said it was mostly machine parts and crystal. Do you remember what parts?"
"That, I do recall," Jinn said confidently. He closed his eyes for a moment, then rattled off the various amounts and specs for plasteel tubing, micro circuit boards, miniature power supplies and all the other items which had been on his manifest.
"Sounds like lightsaber parts to me," Kenobi said. His face was white and Jinn frowned to note he was shaking slightly. Jinn put one hand on his shoulder comfortingly.
"Yeah, it does," Allanz -- surprisingly -- said.
"Tell me about the crystal, Jinn," Betha said, her hands flying over her keypads. "What type, and how big? Was it flawless and cut?"
"Ninety-six gems," Jinn said. Kenobi inhaled sharply and Jinn glanced at him but he was staring through the glass at Betha. "Thirty-nine sapphires, forty-two emeralds, ten tourmalines and five topazes. They were all cut and flawless."
"That's it, then," Betha said. "You would be Mogrit's best supplier with that kind of haul, and he's going to want to get his hands on your cargo." Her fingers skittered across the modified pads attached to her wheelchair, and her eyes looked at something in front of her, below the level of the glass. "Your ship is still in lock-down. How long did you pay for port fees?"
"Only half a tenday," Jinn replied grimly. "I wasn't even expecting to be that long. What will happen when my fee time expires?"
"Your ship will go on the auction block -- of course, it *shouldn't* go immediately, they *should* try to find you first, but I'll bet they won't. And I know who will be the highest bidder, too. We need to get to that cargo before Mogrit does." It was Allanz who spoke, and when she had finished, she looked down at Betha. "And you need to wrap this up, sport. PT time."
"Allanz!" The vocoder couldn't properly display vocal emotions, but there was enough anguish to make both men smile.
"Sorry, brat. I'd show you where the doctor tore me a new one after he found out I'd let you skip the morning session for a few days last week, but there are gentlemen present. Fifteen more minutes." Allanz smiled and winked at Ben and Jinn through the glass.
"You are no fun any more," Betha said, obviously trying for a pout but the vocoder made it come out bland and actually funnier because of it. "Oh, all right," Betha said, once she had stopped laughing. "Jinn, I'm betting the reason Mogrit himself wanted to meet with you was because the level of your crystal is far better than anything he could get either on the open market or the underground market. I'll double check myself on the 'net, but I feel a hundred percent on this. Do you remember your supplier? I'm wondering if the tips were trying to rip that out of you."
"Yes, I do," Jinn replied with a small amount of surprise. "His name is Mace and he's--"
"That's all right, I don't want to know," Betha interrupted him. "But I think that's a good sign that you remember him. Everything I've studied about telepathic abilities says that most TPs are butchers, unable to surgically remove anything. I would imagine these throwbacks that Mogrit is employing would be about the same." Her fingers were still moving rapidly all over the keypads, and her eyes were focused on what must have been screens in front of her. "I think your best bet would be to try to get to your ship and get the crystal -- at least -- off of it. You might have a decent bargaining position with it. You definitely don't without it."
Jinn looked down at Kenobi, who gazed soberly back at him. "If that's what you suggest, my dear, then that is what we shall do," Jinn replied, bowing slightly to her.
Betha wiggled in pleasure. "Yes, you definitely have to keep him, Ben," she said, and Kenobi grinned. "Once you get the gems, you'll get Mogrit's attention for sure. If you're lucky, you might be able to prove what he's doing with them, which means the Republic goons would have to get involved, which might mean the end of that slimy bastard. Would you mind if I told Daddy too? He's due back in two days, and he might be able to help." After they nodded assent, she twisted her body slightly so she could see Allanz. "Fooshie, do you still have that super-secret private love-nest apartment downtown near the port?"
Allanz looked at her charge, obviously aghast. "You weren't supposed to know about that!" she said, putting her hands on her hips and glaring.
"Oh, please," Betha said, and Jinn could tell she was rolling her eyes. "I know *everything*, Fooshie. Can Ben and Jinn borrow it for tonight?"
"Why?" Kenobi asked, clearly lost.
"Because I can hack into the port authority's system long enough to get you a break in their security at a specific time, but I can't guarantee Mogrit's security," Betha explained patiently. "That son-of-a-mynock won't use droids, he only uses real people, and there's too much randomness in that."
"You be careful hacking into governmental files," Kenobi warned her soberly. "I was chased by a couple of pretty nasty IAs yesterday."
"Oh please, Ben. I eat those apps for breakfast," she said. "In fact, I probably wrote most of them. Or Daddy did. Don't worry about me there. Worry about me breaking into Mogrit's system."
"Betha!" Both Kenobi and Allanz reacted that time, and Betha gave Jinn a clearly mischievous look.
"See? I'm just surrounded by protectors," she said. "Don't worry, I've been trying off and on for years to get into his files, and I haven't succeeded yet. He doesn't even know I've tried. And some day, I'll break through."
"Not before you give me enough gray hair to require a dye job," Allanz retorted, and Betha tilted her head to smile at her guard. "Are you done? Because we need to get to the pool."
"I think so. Ben, let's coordinate times, and you tell me when you want that break in security. Then Foos-- Allanz can give you her key to her place, and if it doesn't work, you'll have a hole to hide in, and you can call me to set up another time. This is so secret agent! It's more fun than I've had in days!"
Allanz gave Betha a quelling glance, which Betha ignored blithely. As Betha and Kenobi talked, firming up their plans, she came through the inner door to hand Ben an electronic key and a piece of paper with an address on it. "I don't know why I expected it to stay secret," she said ruefully. "I guess I'm just more naive than I thought."
"Thanks, Allanz," Kenobi said, taking the key and the paper and standing to give her a hug. "Pass that on to that girl in there, all right? And we swear we won't mess up the place."
"You'd better not!" she laughed in reply. "I've signaled Junior to meet you in the sitting room; it'll show you out. Nice meeting you, Jinn. I hope everything goes all right."
"Thank you," Jinn replied, shaking her hand warmly.
"She's a lovely young lady," Jinn said, squeezed back into the small vehicle and on the way back to New Jarra.
"Betha is special," Kenobi agreed. "So is Allanz. Hopefully, you'll get a chance to meet Emmit too. The whole family is wonderful, as far as I can tell. I was damned lucky to get that job working with Betha."
"Which reminds me," Jinn began. For some reason, since his breakdown the evening before, he had felt much calmer, much more in control -- as if his subconscious knew something he didn't. Whatever the reason, he was happy for it.
Ben was glancing at him as he drove. "Yes?"
"You were about to say something as we were called into see Betha, and I have a feeling I might know what it is," Jinn said. He saw Kenobi lick his lips nervously. "When I did a search on Mogrit and Hale, I also did one on Ben Kenobi. There are times missing from your life too, Ben."
"Wait..." Ben's brow wrinkled in a frown. "That... yes, I was going to tell you that I think the same way as you, since I found... gaps in my memory. Weird gaps. But... That doesn't make sense. There should be *records* of me, even if I don't remember!"
"There is a large gap between the time you say you went to Dulloba and the time you were hired by Hale Enterprises," Jinn said softly. "This leads me to wonder -- if we are being tampered with, is that person also tampering with our records? If *you* have been tampered with, why? Something here doesn't add up, Ben."
Kenobi sighed. It was a shaky, frustrated sound, and it echoed how Jinn felt. They traveled in silence for a while, until Kenobi slowed down and turned into a large, well-lit shopping area. "What are you doing?" Jinn asked him.
"You need more clothing," Ben said simply. "This is well away from New Jarra, and should be safe. We have plenty of time before we need to be at the port."
"Are you trying to tell me something, Ben?" Jinn asked, amused despite himself.
Kenobi just laughed. Jinn decided he liked the sound -- very much -- and would like to continue hearing it.
It had grown much colder in the last few days, as fall on Navist wore on. Ben huddled in his coat and jammed his hands deeply into his pockets, wishing he had remembered to bring his gloves before he ran pell-mell out of his apartment. He spared a brief moment to worry about Yoda-cat, but then let it go; surely Sheree was taking good care of the cat. Or vice versa.
They stood in a shadowy corner of the port complex, well away from the docking bay in which Jinn's ship currently resided. There was the usual pedestrian and vehicle traffic around, gradually dying off as darkness descended. Tomorrow would be a rest day, which gave them hope -- if they failed this night, they would have a good chance -- maybe better -- of succeeding tomorrow.
He checked his chrono again -- it was just about the time that Betha had specified. He nudged Jinn, who nodded.
Silent, they drifted across the open space and, hugging the shadows of the far wall, walked carefully down the road to the bay in question. There were others around who were being as careful as they were, obviously trying to avoid any attention. They conspicuously ignored each other.
There were pros out there too, less obtrusive and obviously of a higher class than Udo, and Ben had a sudden pang of memory -- he knew that Udo would be out this night on the street, and it was getting cold. He hoped his friend was at least dressing warmly now.
Finally, they stood just across from the proper bay. The armed guards were due to be 'distracted' by a general alert within the next few moments, which would hopefully give them their chance to--
Jinn had been leaning slightly against Ben, and suddenly, he stiffened. "What?" Ben whispered. Without warning, Jinn yanked him around, leaned him back against the wall, and kissed him.
Stunned, shocked, and suddenly, tremendously aroused, Ben froze, his mind in a whirl of frantic thought -- the loudest of which was telling him that Jinn tasted unbelievably good and he should do whatever was necessary to keep the man's mouth on his. Before he could do more than react, Jinn pulled away abruptly and looked down at him. "Telepaths," he hissed, and kissed Ben again.
Ben couldn't even get his mind in gear to become worried. He was astonished at how much *body* was there was to Jinn, all of it hard and hot and pressing him up against the wall. A soft moan broke out of Ben, and he wound his arms around Jinn's neck and held on. With a start, he realized it wasn't to just deceive their possible watchers -- and Jinn couldn't have been acting, either, at least not once he heard the moan, for he proceeded to nearly crush Ben, he was holding him so tightly. His mouth opened and Ben took the bait, thrusting his tongue into Jinn's mouth as Jinn did the same with his.
When they became almost frantic in their arousal, dry-humping each other against the wall, sanity finally broke in. With a whimper of loss, Ben reluctantly pulled away from Jinn's hot mouth, but didn't relinquish his hold, pulling Jinn even more tightly against him, if that were possible. Through the muzzy haze of his intense arousal, Ben looked over Jinn's shoulder and saw Rooge and Keps standing in the bay doorway, talking to the guards. "Let's go," he murmured to Jinn.
Jinn shuddered hard, once, as he got himself back under control. Then he grabbed Ben's hand and quickly pulled him down the street to the area where they had left the vehicle. Ben tried to keep his mind off the idea of telepaths as they hurried -- and it wasn't too hard, since he had a perfect view of Jinn's backside as they practically ran to the coupe.
What was he thinking? Where had this sudden, almost painful, arousal come from? Just one kiss?
Ah, but it was a wonderful kiss, his brain supplied helpfully, and Ben told it to shut the fuck up as he jumped into Cory's coupe and screeched off towards Allanz's hideaway.
Jinn spent the short trip to the hideaway they were borrowing in painful torment -- both physical and mental. Mental because he was chastising himself over and over for allowing himself to become so aroused, so needy in such an utterly ridiculous -- not to mention dangerous -- situation. Physical because he had an erection that could drill rock and the tiny vehicle had less than adequate space to adjust himself properly. He tried to think of cold, wet spaces, and counted backwards in Malastairian, but it didn't help.
The reason why was sitting next to him. He knew he was attracted to Kenobi; the young man was beautiful in an exotic, purely magnetic, animal way. But he was also fast becoming a friend, not to mention one Jinn was putting into danger, and a physical relationship now was simply not right in Jinn's book.
As soon as he'd seen the two telepaths that evening, that ridiculous jingle had popped into his brain... *Do you like the taste...* and it hadn't taken long for him to determine that yes, he certainly liked the taste. And that he'd like to taste more. As soon as possible.
He squirmed again on the seat and watched the scenery flowing by. At least his ruse had worked and they hadn't been noticed. He hoped.
"We aren't being followed, are we?" he asked Kenobi.
"Not that I can tell," Ben replied shortly. He was doing his own version of squirming, which told Jinn he was just as uncomfortable with the situation.
The address given them by Allanz was a high-rise building only a little ways from the spaceport. It had underground parking, and on the piece of paper she had given Kenobi, she had detailed instructions on how to enter the garage and where to park. They emptied the car and walked to the bank of elevators, and Jinn actually felt lucky that they were joined in the lift by several people. It meant he could refrain from jumping Kenobi -- at least until they got into the apartment.
No. He would control himself. He would. This was a dangerous situation; it was not a game, not something to take lightly.
Kenobi led him to the proper door and used the electronic key on it, waving him through first. Jinn had about two seconds to take in a lavish, beautifully appointed living room before a strong hand grabbed his upper arm and threw him back against the -- thankfully, closed -- front door.
The air whooshed out of him and Kenobi was suddenly in his face. Oddly, for being as short as he was, he was able to nearly cover Jinn with his body.
"*Why* did you do that?" Kenobi demanded. His eyes were frighteningly intense and focused on Jinn's.
Gasping for breath, Jinn reached up to push Kenobi away, but instead, pulled him closer. His body, apparently, had other ideas than his head. "Distraction," he muttered, breathing heavily in a way that had nothing to do with the lack of air in the apartment. "The telepaths... can't read through sexual excitement..."
"Is that the only reason?" Kenobi hadn't let him go, hadn't backed away, and Jinn jerked his gaze from that sensuous mouth to Ben's eyes. It didn't help.
"Hell, no," he said harshly, shoving his hips forward into Ben's. Both men groaned.
"Then you can feel it too?" Ben asked, his eyes glittering. "This pull between us? It's like you're a magnet and I'm iron filings."
"Fuck that," Jinn said, and, bending his head slightly, took Ben's mouth hard. He was met by equal or greater force, and their tongues fought for control. Wrenching his mouth away, Jinn buried his face in Ben's neck and bit, then sucked, hard, relishing the groans he caused. "Where's the bedroom," he asked, whispering directly into Ben's ear. "I need to feel you, now," he added hoarsely.
Ben stiffened and inhaled sharply at Jinn's words. He pulled back and locked gazes with Jinn. Had there been any material between them -- even plasteel -- it would have melted. "We'll find it," Ben said, his voice low and hard.
The bedroom was not quite sybaritic, but it was close -- not that Jinn noticed. It had a large bed, and they pushed each other onto it, still kissing frantically, roughly. Ben flipped him over somehow and climbed on top of him, pushing his jacket and shirt aside to get to skin. Jinn let his fingers burrow into Ben's layers -- neither of them had removed his coat -- desperate to know if the rest of his skin felt the way the skin of his neck and face did -- soft and smooth.
His frantic maneuvers eventually managed to get through clothing to skin, but the sound of ripping fabric and buttons flying off brought some needed sanity to both of them. They broke their kiss and Ben dropped his head into Jinn's neck and panted. Jinn was doing a bit of panting on his own, and his arousal was becoming quite painful.
"Sorry, sorry," Ben was whispering, and Jinn lifted his hands to run them through Ben's hair. He pulled the tie out and reveled in the softness of the reddish gold mass.
"All right, it's all right," he mumbled, kissing Ben's ear. "I am too," he added, instinctively knowing how Ben was feeling -- lost, aroused, confused, so very hungry. "Let's try for more gentleness," he added softly, carefully pushing Ben's jacket off his shoulders.
"I don't want gentleness," Ben whispered back. "I feel like I've been wanting you for years, and I just can't take the waiting any more."
"I know," Jinn said, surprised to find he did know. "We're safe here, for now, we can take it slower. We can try, anyway," he added wryly, fingering the mark he'd left on Ben's neck.
Ben's own fingers were busily trying to get to Jinn's buttons without tearing, and Jinn helped by rolling them so that they were on their sides, face to face. He took Ben's mouth again, consciously trying for sweetness instead of rapacious hunger, and found his attempt met and doubled by Ben. To his surprise, his arousal surged even higher at the sensation, and he moaned. "Please," he murmured. Ben didn't seem able to reply.
It took some conscious effort on both their part, which was difficult given the shaking of their fingers and bodies, but they managed to get their clothes off, leaving them torn and pulled inside-out in a heap spilling off the end of the bed. Skin to skin was so much better, and Jinn couldn't stop sweeping his hands up and down that golden body covering him. Ben kissed him like a man starving for it, tasting him deeply again and again.
"Now, *please*," Jinn said finally. His eyes were screwed shut and his entire body thrummed with the need to have this young man inside him.
"*Gods* you feel good," Ben muttered, sweeping his hands up Jinn's flank. Rolling to the side produced groans on both parts as their erections ground together -- briefly, shockingly -- and then Ben put his warm hand directly on Jinn's penis, squeezing it.
"Wait! I can't..." Jinn gasped and held back his orgasm through a titanic effort of will. "I want you inside me... I want to come with you inside me..."
After a momentary paralysis and a sharp intake of breath, Ben abruptly sat up. "There must be something," he muttered, looking around the room. He reached over and opened the drawer of a bedside table, then chuckled. "Several colors and flavors, too," he said, holding up three tubes. He chose one almost at random and tossed the others over the side of the bed.
"Roll over," he said to Jinn, helping him roll to his side, facing away from Ben, who spooned up behind him. Jinn pulled his top leg up with one hand on the knee, giving Ben access, which he took eagerly.
"Hurry," Jinn whispered hoarsely. He didn't know how long he could last at this level of arousal; he nearly felt like he was going to shake himself apart.
Ben was quick but he was thorough. He pressed his slick fingers inside Jinn gently but insistently, rubbing and thrusting until Jinn had to tug on his balls to prevent an eruption. "That's enough," he gasped. "Please, now!"
"A sheath," Ben said, his fingers stilling. "I need a..."
"Just... please. Just do it," Jinn begged him, tightening the muscles of his ass around the fingers inside him.
Ben gasped, then swallowed heavily. His fingers slowly withdrew and Jinn heard the sounds of the tube being squeezed and then the blunt, hot head of Ben's penis was at his opening, demanding entrance. Jinn took a deep breath, and as he let it out, he pushed back, even as Ben pushed in.
The burn was exquisite, the pain just enough to derail his incipient orgasm. Ben was huge, almost as well-endowed as he was, but he pressed in relentlessly, until, with a shuddering groan, he came to a stop with his balls pressed against Jinn's ass. "Gods," Ben muttered, rubbing his forehead on Jinn's broad back. "Not gonna last," he continued, his warm, still-slick hand reaching around and finding Jinn's erection unerringly.
"Do it," Jinn encouraged him again, and that was all the incentive Ben needed to begin a pounding, deep thrusting. They found their rhythm quickly, Ben's hand echoing what his cock was doing, until his thrusts became erratic and he began to keen. His hand on Jinn tightened and that was all Jinn needed; he came finally, blazingly, with the feeling that a star had just gone nova in his head. He was vaguely aware he was shouting something, but he couldn't have said what it was for diamonds.
The relief he felt after the arousal that had been so great put him into an instant floating doze, from which he fell asleep, regardless of the wet spot directly under him or the fact that Ben was still buried deeply within him.
Jinn awoke feeling comfortable and warm -- and missing something. After a few moments of disorientation, he realized where he was and what he was missing, or rather who he was missing. Ben was not in the bed behind him. He had a dreamy recollection of his young lover being pressed against him for hours as they slept, but now that he was awake, there was no Ben.
He shook his head to get the muzziness out of it, and rose from the bed. He noted with some surprise that he had been covered by a blanket, and assumed Ben had done it while he slept. The thought was oddly comforting.
During his stop in the WC, he heard a voice coming from down the hall. It was Ben, speaking into his teleunit while he stood nude in the lavish kitchen, brewing tea. The entire apartment was excessive, and Jinn was grateful they had the use of it. But his first thought was of his first sight of Ben -- and what they had shared the evening before.
"Don't take any risks," Ben was saying emphatically into the unit. He saw Jinn come into the room and gave him a distracted smile before continuing. "Betha, I'm serious. This is not your fight, and your father will have my ass if something happens to you. Not to mention how badly I'd feel."
Jinn walked up behind Ben and wrapped his arms around him. "Yeah, well, I know," Ben continued, using his free hand to caress one of Jinn's arms, "but I'm telling you to be careful. Put Allanz on. All right." Ben let his head fall back against Jinn's shoulder and sighed. "Yeah, we're here, and thank you so much for this, Allanz. I can't begin to tell you how much I owe you for this... No, you'd better believe it. All right. Are you sure...? Well, all right. Take care of our favorite troublemaker. Uh-huh, I will. Bye."
He turned off the unit and tossed it to the counter with a clatter, then stood still for a few moments, wrapped up in Jinn. "This scares me half to death," he finally murmured, and Jinn's arms tightened fractionally around him.
"This feeling... this thing we have between us?" Jinn asked, although he almost instinctively knew what Ben meant. Even now, he felt it, a hunger that burned low in his belly for Ben.
Ben nodded wordlessly. After another silent moment, he said, "I don't do this, you know. Take people to bed like this. I hope I didn't..."
"It was wonderful," Jinn said softly, quickly. "You were wonderful." Bending his head slightly, he kissed the mark he'd made on Ben's skin the night before. "Was that Betha?"
"Yes, she wanted to know how we were doing. She's going to set up another try today, but not until later, after lunch." Ben hadn't tried to pull away, and Jinn was glad... holding him felt delicious and he felt his arousal stirring again, something that amazed him.
"What time is it now?"
"Early. Very early. We have lots of time," Ben replied, his voice husky. "There was another call too... I need to tell you." Ben swallowed hard, and Jinn squeezed him gently once. "Udo called. It seems... it seems there's a reward out on you. He wanted to warn you. Us."
"Yes. Not from the police, of course. Udo doesn't think anyone saw you with him, but he... he was worried someone had. He was relieved that we weren't at my apartment." Ben sagged a bit in Jinn arms. "He wasn't worried about himself. Just us. But if anyone saw you with him..."
"I don't think anyone saw me," Jinn said hastily. He released Ben and turned him so they were face-to-face. "But that's the way he is. You know him better than I do, I'm sure."
Ben's eyes slowly came up to meet Jinn's. "He was the one who taught you... that... about the tips, wasn't he? What to do."
Jinn forced himself to continue looking into Ben's eyes. He felt unaccountably sad, for some reason, that he and Crenudo had had sex. He hadn't even *known* Ben then. "Yes," he said softly.
Ben bit his lower lip and nodded his head slowly. "That's how you met, then? You... bought his services?"
"Not exactly," Jinn replied. He swallowed. "I was on the run, and accidentally ended up on his turf... his alley, I think he called it. I needed a place to stay, those two were too close. I asked him if he had a place, and told him I would pay for it, which I was ready to do." Taking in a big breath of air, Jinn slowly let it out. "I didn't do it for sex. I wouldn't have taken advantage, but -- well, as he put it, I paid, and it came with the pay." He wanted to add, I'm sorry, and he wasn't even sure why.
To his relief, Ben didn't try to pull away from him. He remained in Jinn's arms, absently running his hands up and down the arms holding him. "It's all right," he finally said. "I don't even know why I feel... so odd about it. Almost jealous. It's not as if I have a hold over you."
"I wouldn't mind it if you did," Jinn said, quite reflexively, not realizing what he was saying until it was out, and then not caring that it was. "I'd... I'd like you to have a hold over me."
Ben's face reflected incredulity and shock. "What is happening to us?" he asked, in a whisper.
"I don't know, Ben, I truly don't know..." Jinn replied, feeling helpless. Then he gave in to temptation and kissed him.
The kiss quickly proceeded from gentle to ravenous, and before Jinn knew it, they were once again devouring each other. Yanking away from Ben almost hurt, but Jinn made himself do so. He grabbed Ben's hand and tugged him back into the bedroom, back into the bed they had made for each other.
Ben lay on the soft bed in the elaborate apartment, with his lover wrapped around him. His lover... a man he had only known for four days! Four days... four days of running, and fear, and trepidation, and anguish, and some of the best sex Ben knew he had ever had. He had let Jinn -- this man he had known for only four days -- into his body, and he knew he had never done that before. But it had been wonderful, Jinn had been wonderful, so tender and gentle and...
And he was insane. Completely insane. How had this happened to him, normal, ordinary Ben Kenobi -- just a student at New Jarra University, a tutor and mentor and self-defense master -- how had he suddenly become something out of the romance vids? With a gorgeous lover who was taking him into danger as well as loving him senseless? It was completely insane.
"You're thinking far too hard, my Ben," Jinn's voice rumbled from somewhere around his breastbone.
Ben ran his fingers through Jinn's soft, graying hair and smiled. "I am?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, you are," Jinn replied. He settled himself more comfortably, wrapped tightly around Ben's torso. "We're safe now, here. We have time before we must put ourselves into danger again. Live in the moment, Ben. I know I am."
"Are you happy in this moment, Jinn?" Ben asked, honestly curious. What could this man of mystery, this dashing smuggler, have found in plain, ordinary Ben?
"Yes, I am," Jinn replied, kissing the flesh under his mouth. "I am happier than I think I have ever been."
Ben tried to fight down a wide grin of happiness, but it blossomed anyway. After a few minutes of quiet, he said, "This is completely insane, you know."
"Yes, I know," Jinn replied, sounding smug and sure and almost carefree. Then he raised his head from Ben's chest and looked at him, suddenly very serious. "Come with me," he whispered. "When I leave this place. Come with me. Please."
Ben's breath caught in his throat and his eyes widened. He blinked several times, but his brain refused to start. "Yes," he finally breathed, knowing it was a true answer. "Yes."
They showered -- together, and Jinn taught Ben the joys of applying a slippery soap to a lover. Then they ate, on the specific orders from Allanz who had told Ben to eat whatever he found in the apartment before it went bad. She had waved off his offer to pay, saying that she would only have had to restock anyway.
By the early afternoon, they were dressed and ready to go again. Betha had told Ben to be at the port by thirteen-hundred, and said that she'd arrange for a distraction for as long as she could. Ben had told her about Udo's call, and, after she tapped into the public 'net she confirmed it, but said it could be used to their advantage. It being a restday meant that there would be fewer people about the port, and she hoped that the false rumor she planted in Old Town -- about Jinn being seen -- would mean that there would be no telepaths from Mogrit's crew to spot them.
They were in place by the appointed hour. There were only two guards around Jinn's ship, and shortly after they got into position, they heard the guards' teleunits chime with alerts. At first, they only glanced down, then, as the alerts kept coming in, they finally looked at each other, locked down the bay door, and began jogging down the street. Jinn and Ben hurried across to the door, and within a few moments, Jinn had opened the door with his knife, which turned out to be more than just a simple, low-tech tool.
They slipped inside and Jinn turned to Ben. "Stay here," he murmured. When Ben would have protested, he put his finger over Ben's mouth and spoke rapidly, softly. "I can get inside and grab the gems faster alone... with you, I have to explain who you are to the security system. Wait here. If someone comes back, come and get me -- we'll have to leave. I won't miss it."
Frowning, Ben still saw the wisdom in Jinn's words, and nodded reluctantly. But he kissed him briefly before letting him go and taking up a stand at the door, able to see outside.
Jinn raced into his ship, grateful to finally be back within it. The security systems were all intact and hadn't been tampered with -- to his relief -- and the gems were exactly where he had left them. He hefted the large bag over his shoulder, reset all the systems with new coding, and was back out the door faster than he would have thought possible.
He wasn't fast enough. As he stepped down the ramp, he was just in time to see a large black man throw an unconscious Ben into a vehicle, climb in after him and speed off.
Somehow, Ben knew he hadn't been unconscious very long. He came aware to the feeling that he was being driven somewhere, and quickly determined he was draped uncomfortably in the seat of a moving vehicle. Not with Jinn.
The vehicle came to a stop, and Ben erupted into motion. But his captor was far too quick for him, and he found himself pinned back to his seat by a very large, very cross-looking black man. "Stop that, dammit!" he yelled. "I've been chasing you all over town!"
"What do you want with me? Where's Jinn?" Ben shouted, struggling to get free. He looked frantically out the window of the vehicle, hoping to see a passer-by he could signal to help him, but the man had parked in a deserted alley, still in the port complex.
"Stop it!" the man yelled at him again, grabbing his flailing arms. Finally, he pinned Ben down with one knee on his groin, grabbed his chin with one hand and yanked it around. He looked Ben in the face and said, rapidly but very clearly, "Hyperdrive mechanics with plasma asteroids take movement time."
Ben's world wrenched, then tilted, dropping out from under him.
He blinked his eyes very rapidly, then swallowed.
His body went limp, and the big man holding him gradually released him, staring at him intently.
"Master Windu?" Obi-Wan Kenobi said, shaking his head to clear it. "What time is it?"
Jinn froze in a momentary panic as he saw Ben being ripped away from him -- shoved unceremoniously into a vehicle by the man Ben had described to him earlier -- then he sprinted for the doors, dashing through them in time to see the vehicle careen around a corner, two blocks down. With a fast look up and down the street -- no one else was in sight -- he quickly closed and re-locked the doors behind him and walked, as rapidly as he was able, back to where they had left Ben's vehicle. Ben's friend's vehicle. The vehicle he had no access to... well, no legal access to.
It was the work of a few moments to get the door unlocked and the gems stowed. He could even get the little coupe -- which was even more painful to drive -- started. But he had nowhere to go.
Ben was gone.
Jinn slammed his hand on the wheel of the vehicle, hard. He relished the pain, and in fact hit his hand several more times, until he was afraid that he might crack the wheel itself.
He was being an idiot. He had the gems, they had Ben. What he needed to do was to trade the gems for Ben, then. To hell with how they were going to be used... as far as Jinn was concerned, the whole fucking planet could blast itself up as long as he had Ben back. They'd find another way to get to Mogrit.
It was the work of a few minutes to hotwire the little vehicle and get it going. He headed downtown, towards the shopping district, which he knew would be crowded today, a rest day. He had plenty of cash, since Ben had sold some diamonds for him; he would find a public teleunit or access terminal and get Mogrit to meet him, to switch Ben for the gems.
Glad he had a plan, Jinn headed for a shopping plaza they had passed the evening before. It was an indoor/outdoor affair, with a large open-air plaza in the middle surrounded by cafes -- an extremely public area. It would do nicely. There was even a bank of shielded public teleunits at one end, near one of the cafes.
It was the work of a few moments to get Mogrit's telephone number. It took considerably longer to get through his network of secretaries, flunkies and security, but finally, it appeared he was through. "Mogrit."
"You have something I want back very badly, Sar Mogrit," Jinn began, without preamble. "And it appears I have something you want almost as badly. I believe it's time to deal."
"Who is this?" Mogrit said warily.
"You know bloody well who this is," Jinn snarled. "You stood me up at Cafe Friend a few days ago. I don't know why you set your hounds on me, and I don't particularly care any longer. I want my friend back, and if you want to see my cargo, you'll bring him to me, in one piece and unharmed."
"I don't believe we have anything to say to each other, Sar Jinn," Mogrit said. His tone was frosty. "Any cargo you may have is none of your concern any longer."
"I wouldn't say that, Mogrit," Jinn replied. "You might want to check to see if the bay had been left unattended for any time today. You'll find it was, for a period of time quite long enough for me."
Mogrit was silent for some time, but Jinn knew he was still there. "Where are you?" Mogrit finally asked.
"You know that too, you mutant bastard," Jinn said. He was shaking as he looked around the plaza at the crowds, but he didn't let any of it tell in his voice. "I want him brought here. You want my cargo. Fair trade. Then you let us get off this damned planet and we don't bother you ever again."
"Your friend... ah. Yes. The young man. All right," Mogrit said. His voice turned business-like. "Your friend for your cargo. Then you're gone. Seems fair to me. Hold on, would you please."
Jinn scanned the crowd again, but nothing seemed amiss. He knew he'd have a better chance in such a crowd than elsewhere, but it was still nerve-wracking, knowing that Mogrit was using telepaths.
"Sar Jinn?" Mogrit was back on the line. "I believe we have a deal. Please wait exactly where you are. My associates will bring your young man to you shortly. A pleasure doing business with you."
Jinn didn't even grace that with a reply; he disconnected savagely, wishing he could throw the unit across the plaza. Then he hefted his sack and moved to an empty table in the nearby cafe, ordering hot tea when the waitbot came by. He kept his back to the nearby wall, and scanned the crowd with his eyes, restlessly.
He didn't have long to wait. Across the plaza from his location, he saw the two large telepaths who had been chasing him enter, a slight figure walking mechanically between them. *Do you like the taste... do you like your caf hot and sweet...* Jinn stood slowly, making sure the two men saw him, and hefted his sack. They began walking his way. *Do you like the taste... do you like...*
Suddenly he frowned. The man between them was not Ben... it was Crenudo! "What the hell...?" he muttered, feeling his heart begin to race.
The shout from the opposite side of the plaza made his head whip around. Ben -- Ben! -- was running full-tilt towards Jinn, accompanied by the man who had kidnapped him... but he was not running from that man. Instead, he was directing him over to Mogrit's people and Crenudo. "*Ben?!*" Jinn asked, looking between the two men, seeing they were obviously together, which made no sense.
Ben skidded to a stop, nearly falling into Jinn, who caught him in his arms. "Thank... the Force..." he gasped, out of breath. "Is that... Udo?"
"Yes... what happened? What's going on?" Jinn was becoming increasingly confused, especially since the two telepaths were trying to retreat in the face of Ben's abductor.
"Jinn, listen to me," Ben said, quickly getting his wind back. He looked seriously into Jinn's face. "Hyperdrive mechanics with plasma asteroids take movement time."
A door, which had been closed tightly, opened.
"You understand, we can't order you to take this mission," Mace Windu said to Qui-Gon Jinn and his padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. "It's too dangerous, too much of an experiment."
"I afraid I don't understand the process, Master Windu," Obi-Wan said, glancing at his master for acknowledgement. Qui-Gon's own puzzlement was evident on his face. "Could you explain it in more detail?"
"You are aware of the workings of the human brain," said Ki-Adi-Mundi. "You humans have only two lobes, a right and a left. Connecting them is the corpus callosum, a thick bundle of nerves. In cases where that connection has been severed, the right side of your brain cannot associate with the left side, and is, in essence, isolated, since the left lobe contains all language skills."
Mace Windu nodded and picked up the thread. "It is impossible to 'read' the right brain alone, since it cannot actually communicate. Not with words, at any rate. You understand how it could be possible to communicate with that lobe through the other, though, correct?"
Both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon nodded. Obi-Wan was frowning in concentration -- he thought he could figure out where this was going, but he wasn't certain. Windu continued. "But the right lobe can and does retain information -- obviously -- and it is in constant communication with the left lobe. Were we simply to insert a post-hypnotic suggestion to you to 'erase' your memories or instill false ones, a good telepath would still be able to find out who you are, simply by querying the right brain -- although that it not exactly how it would look to the telepath. It's a way around a block, in essence, a way that we cannot allow to occur, especially in this case."
"But with the corpus callosum severed," Ki-Adi-Mundi continued, "the right brain cannot betray you. The post-hypnotic suggestion would remain intact to all incursions."
"But if our corpus callosum is severed, it cannot be repaired, isn't that right?" Qui-Gon said, frowning between the two councilors.
"That is the beauty of the process," Windu said. "It will not be severed -- not physically. It will only be virtually severed, both chemically and through Force manipulation. The right person saying the key phrase will both draw you out of the hypnotic suggestion and remove the artificial block, which means you will be instantly restored."
"Has this been tested?" Qui-Gon asked, his voice slightly hard, his eyes narrow.
"Yes," Ki-Adi-Mundi assured him. "We have tested it extensively on various humans of both genders, of several different ages and races. We have also tested it for increasing lengths of time, up to a standard year. None of the humans tested has had any adverse reactions to it."
"Then why both of us?" Qui-Gon demanded. "Why not just send me?"
"The mission is extremely dangerous," Windu replied. "You've read the specs. Navist is still technologically somewhat backward, and aggressively xenophobic. Mogrit is a bloodthirsty and vicious criminal, and we have no idea exactly how many telepaths he has under his control and command. With both you and your padawan there, we'll have a fail-safe." Windu leaned back in his chair and looked almost smug. "If something happens to you, we have Obi-Wan in place; we can remove his block, and he can find you using your link, and remove your block."
"That implies that Obi-Wan will be on the planet longer than I will," Qui-Gon said.
"Yes, we'd like to put him into place now, and send you in much later. His credibility established, he will be written off as harmless -- which, of course, he will be." Windu smiled reassuringly at the two Jedi. "We've thought of everything."
Qui-Gon shook his head, frowning thunderously. "Don't say that, please, Mace," he said. "There is no such thing as thinking of everything. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."
"Then we will have plenty of time to plan for every contingency before you go on-planet," Windu said. "Obi-Wan will be in place as a simple student, a failed Jedi padawan, someone Mogrit would not want to recruit but who will not pose a threat to him."
"A failed padawan?" Obi-Wan echoed. His voice sounded dismayed.
"It is a simple cover, Padawan Kenobi," Ki-Adi-Mundi reassured him. "And simple is better in this case."
Qui-Gon tucked his hands into his sleeves and looked as though he wanted to pace. "All right, let me get this straight," he said, taking a deep breath. "Obi-Wan and I will be undergoing this special treatment that will, in essence, turn us into other people -- and it will be a change undetectable to telepaths." Windu nodded. "Obi-Wan will be first, and will be in place, undercover, for almost a year before I am sent." Again, Windu nodded. "I will go in under the cover of a smuggler, with a large quantity of flawless, cut duranium crystal--"
"The quality and quantity of which will instantly endear you to Mogrit," Windu interjected.
"You hope," Qui-Gon replied acidly. "Once in his organization, I can begin to ferret out information, such as his suppliers, who he has on his side in the Senate, and such. But how am I to do that if I don't know who I am?"
"That is the job of the right brain, Qui-Gon," Ki-Adi-Mundi replied gently. "It will supply the left brain with the curiosity to find these answers, and sufficient dislike of Mogrit's methods to make you wish to stop him somehow. Regardless of the fact that the right brain cannot communicate verbally, it can and will take suggestion and orders." Ki-Adi-Mundi nodded. "And even with the corpus callosum artificially severed, there are ways for the right brain to get to the left. Just not as easily."
"And how long will *I* be undercover, then?" Qui-Gon asked.
"At least six months," Windu replied. "We don't want to give you more time since every day you're on Navist the chance that you will be recognized as a Jedi increases. The Navistim abhorrence of us is, in this case, good for us, as it increases your chances of not being discovered. Regardless, I will be on-planet too, not undercover but not as a Jedi, under a different name, to keep an eye on you in case anything goes wrong. We have covered every contingency, Qui-Gon."
Qui-Gon looked at Obi-Wan, who gave him a worried look back. "I will have to discuss this with my padawan before giving you our final answer," he said.
"That is understood," Windu said, nodding. "Please feel free to take the rest of the day. However, we would like to have your answer by tomorrow before late meal. If you will not be taking the assignment, we will have to find another pair."
"Understood. With the Council's permission?" Qui-Gon bowed,
as did Obi-Wan, and they left the chamber.
"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon blinked at his padawan as his eyes slowly focused.
"Yes, master," Obi-Wan replied, putting his hand gently on Qui-Gon's arm. The expression on his face was both ineffably sad and wistful, and Qui-Gon reached out to gently touch his cheek.
A sudden shriek from across the plaza brought them suddenly back to the present. Mace Windu was exchanging blaster shots with the two telepaths, endangering both their hostage and the civilians in the plaza, who were beginning to stampede away from the confrontation.
"We have to help Udo," Obi-Wan said, pulling Qui-Gon's lightsaber from his jacket pocket.
"Yes," Qui-Gon agreed, pleased to feel the weight of the weapon in his hand again. "Circle around and come up from behind. I don't think they know who you are yet; you might be able to get the drop on them."
"Yes, master," Obi-Wan agreed, and took off, hugging the wall as he circled around, helping the civilians out of the way of the fighters. Qui-Gon watched him go with pride, trying desperately to forget what it felt like to hold that lithe form in his arms, to bury himself within...
Shoving all that aside, he hurried to engage the telepaths, whom he could feel inching around his shields. Thankfully, he could feel the Force again, and it was responding almost joyously to his call. He used it to good effect, blocking shots and calming the panicking civilians. He reached Mace, who had taken a defensive position behind a concrete planter and was trading shots. "About time you got here," Windu growled without looking at him.
"I took the scenic route," he replied. "We need to get to the hostage. Obi-Wan is circling behind -- and we need to give him some cover, too."
"Fine. Let me get rid of this damn blaster," Windu said, trading the weapon for his lightsaber. "On three?"
"Three!" Qui-Gon said, and leapt out from behind the planter, his lightsaber on. Mace leapt out the other way, returning blaster fire with his 'saber very precisely, as he saw Obi-Wan behind the three men. He also noted the police arriving -- probably called by the mall security force and this time, on their side -- and a fast glance told him that Qui-Gon saw that as well.
Between Obi-Wan and the police behind them and the two Jedi in front of them, the telepaths didn't have a chance. One of them, the larger, tried to use Crenudo as a shield, but the pro dissuaded him from doing that with a swift knee to the groin. Obi-Wan grabbed Crenudo and took off, letting the police handle the two telepaths as he sheltered Crenudo and himself with his lightsaber. Qui-Gon turned his own off and joined them, followed by Mace, and they melted into the crowd, not wanting to stay to see what the telepaths told the police, not wanting to become wanted themselves.
Five minutes later, they were secure in the parking garage where Windu had left his vehicle and Crenudo was staring at Obi-Wan. "Ben-boy? You... different," he said, and Obi-Wan smiled sadly.
"Yes, I'm sorry, Udo," he said, hugging the pro tightly. Qui-Gon fought down a surge of unwarranted jealousy, and Windu turned to look at him curiously. "I didn't even know myself, that's how secret my mission was, but I'm really a Jedi."
To their surprise, Crenudo grinned hugely at the news. "I done know it! I know it! You be Jedi boy, Ben-boy!" He threw his arms around Obi-Wan and hugged him tightly, laughing out loud. "I know you didn't wash out, Ben. You too good for the like of them."
Obi-Wan smiled, abashed, and gave Qui-Gon a glance that he simply couldn't decipher. "We need to get you off planet now, Udo," Obi-Wan said seriously. "Mogrit is going to be after you and we can't stay."
"No," Crenudo said with a smile, and touched Obi-Wan's face. "This my home, Ben. I stay here. And I gonna testify against them two honkers what took me. I be legal now, I got pro license and all, and not gonna let them stomp me." He looked seriously at Obi-Wan, then at Qui-Gon. "Little Venna need somebody to watch her. We be getting tired of them honkers taking over. Time we took back, you bag?"
Qui-Gon put his hand on Crenudo's shoulder and squeezed gently. "Yeah, we bag, Crenudo," he said softly. "You have the resources of the Jedi at your disposal, should you ever need it. Call and we will come."
Crenudo ducked his head, obviously touched. "Thanks, Jinn. You be taking care of Ben here. I be seeing you 'round." He gave Obi-Wan one more brief hug, a jaunty thumbs-up to Qui-Gon, and sauntered off.
Mace Windu turned and gave Qui-Gon a look that was all raised eyebrow and nothing else. Choosing to ignore it, Qui-Gon said. "What took you so long to get here?"
"I trailed you and your padawan all over this blasted town," Windu growled, leading them to his vehicle. "It was a lucky thing for you that I had that tap on your teleunit, Obi-Wan, or else I'd still be looking for you. The two of you led me on a merry chase."
"Ah, I see," Qui-Gon said, his hands on his hips. "And who was it who told me he'd worked out every contingency?"
"Get in the damn car," Windu snapped.
They were finally on their way home, aboard the ship Mace Windu had used to arrive, which was large enough for far more than three Jedi. Qui-Gon's ship had been covered by the Republic; it would take some time for the paperwork to clear, but eventually it would be returned to the Senate. The crystals were safely stowed, and Obi-Wan's hair was once more in a padawan's cut, to his relief. He was still missing his braid, but was already beginning to plot ways to get it Force-grown again.
Both he and Qui-Gon had written their separate reports, and submitted them to Windu in lieu of the full Council. A formal debriefing would take place after their return, which gave them plenty of time to relax after a very long and unexpectedly harrowing mission. The one thing that hadn't happened was that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had not talked at all about what had taken place while they were still only aware of themselves as Ben and Jinn.
They weren't supposed to have met while undercover... that was not in the game plan at all. It wasn't supposed to have happened.
But it had, and more than that had happened as well. Obi-Wan couldn't keep from thinking about their time in Allanz's apartment, remembering how it had felt to make love to Qui-Gon, and to have Qui-Gon make love to him.
He wanted it again. He never wanted it to stop, in fact.
Trying to meditate in his quarters and failing miserably, Obi-Wan stayed in lotus on his bed but opened his eyes while he thought. It was obvious that Qui-Gon had enjoyed himself as well, and he had reported feeling the same odd attraction Obi-Wan felt. Would it be too much to hope that Qui-Gon was still feeling the same way as Obi-Wan was? This was a new direction for them, but it wasn't as if Obi-Wan were a young, inexperienced boy. Even if it *had* been his first time -- 'on the bottom' -- in a relationship. He didn't want anyone else but Qui-Gon to love him that way, ever again.
Finally, he steeled himself, stood, and walked to the door. He would go and talk to Qui-Gon. What was the worst that could happen?
The worst appeared to be Qui-Gon standing on the other side of the door, looking surprised to see Obi-Wan standing there. "I'm sorry..." he said, blinking. "I..."
"I was... just coming to see you," Obi-Wan said, rather lamely.
"I was coming... to see you," Qui-Gon said in reply.
They stood there for a few moments, stupidly staring at each other, until Obi-Wan moved aside and waved Qui-Gon in. Ducking his head, although he didn't have to, Qui-Gon came into Obi-Wan's cabin and perched on the only chair, which was before the built-in desk. Obi-Wan sat back down on the bed.
"We need to talk..."
"We ought to talk..."
They chuckled, and Obi-Wan motioned for Qui-Gon to begin. "Obi-Wan," he began, uncharacteristically hesitating, "I wanted... well, I suppose I really wanted to apologize for what happened. No, wait, please," he said, holding up his hand as Obi-Wan took a breath to speak. His eyes, when they met Obi-Wan's, were troubled. "I am your master. I realize we weren't supposed to have been where we were, and that's something I plan on taking up with Master Windu -- at length." Obi-Wan winced and smiled slightly, glad he wasn't Windu. "But, my point is, I wanted... I didn't want you to feel... used. Abused," Qui-Gon continued, taking a deep breath but not looking away.
"Master..." Obi-Wan said softly, shaking his head.
Qui-Gon swallowed. "I -- I have been worried that you might have felt as though I had... taken advantage of you."
"No!" Obi-Wan said. He stood quickly and in two steps was before Qui-Gon, where he crouched, holding on to his knee. "That could never happen, Master. You could never... not even in such a situation. I *trust* you. In every sense of the word."
Qui-Gon took one of Obi-Wan's hands in his. Obi-Wan could see that he was touched, and smiled slightly. "My padawan," Qui-Gon said, bringing the hand he held to his lips for a kiss. "You are the best and the brightest the order has, you know," he said, running his free hand through Obi-Wan's hair and smiling. "I have never been so proud of you as I have been on this mission." Obi-Wan blinked and knew he looked as confused as he felt. "You told me, while we were still 'under', that you couldn't just sit and do nothing... that it wasn't in your nature. You were on Navist only as an emergency backup to me, and yet you still managed to touch so many lives." He snorted in amusement. "Even that damn cat."
"Yoda!" Obi-Wan exclaimed, blinking. "I had almost forgotten. And Betha... I need to contact both her and Allanz..."
"I've already done so, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, gently touching Obi-Wan's cheek. With the other, he kept holding to Obi-Wan's hand. "Through Betha's father, Emmit Hale. It turns out he was the instigator on this mission, the person who alerted the Jedi to what was happening there. I didn't know that until after you were in place... It was a long, weary and lonely time without you, padawan. After you left, I was told that the job Sar Hale offered you was done specifically so he could help us keep an eye on you. That you did so well with Betha was... merely icing on the cake. She's going to miss you."
"I'm going to miss her too," Obi-Wan said, absorbing this new information soberly.
"You have done so very well, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, in a low voice. "Very well indeed. And I would have not expected anything less of you."
"Even if we, uh, rather blew the mission..." Obi-Wan said, flushing with pleasure at Qui-Gon's words.
"*That* was hardly our fault," Qui-Gon replied, smiling. "And it's hardly something we can be held accountable for."
Rising, Obi-Wan turned away, a sad, half-smile on his face. "Unlike the other thing we did," he said softly.
Qui-Gon got to his feet and pulled Obi-Wan into his arms for a hug. "There is nothing for us to be held accountable for in that, padawan," he said softly into Obi-Wan's hair. "Nothing at all."
Obi-Wan wrapped his arms around Qui-Gon and held on tightly. "Not then, perhaps... but now...?"
Qui-Gon went very still, and his breathing became erratic. "It... is not forbidden..." he murmured, his voice very low. "But it is hardly encouraged. There must be... a strong bond..."
"Like ours?" Obi-Wan asked softly, his voice muffled against Qui-Gon's tunic.
"Like ours," Qui-Gon said with a quiet groan as his arms tightened around Obi-Wan.
"I can't say I've never thought about it," Obi-Wan mused as he buried his face in Qui-Gon's tunic. "But between training, and missions, and so many other things... I had never... really... I was coming to ask you to not let it be only one night," Obi-Wan quickly continued, trying to get it out in a rush, before his courage failed. "I... I want it again -- I want it -- for always, I think. What we had. Only as us, not as them." He pulled back slightly and looked up into Qui-Gon's face. "Does that even make sense?"
"Yes," Qui-Gon said roughly, "thank the Force." Then he bent his head and kissed Obi-Wan.
As 'Ben', Obi-Wan had enjoyed being the aggressor with the much larger and intimidating Jinn. But as himself, as Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, he wanted nothing so much as to let his Master take over, to let his Master master him. Especially if this would only be a one-time thing, which he hoped and prayed it would not be.
Qui-Gon, apparently, had no reservations about taking the lead now. Never breaking their kiss, he lifted Obi-Wan and turned him, laying him on the bed gently while he pulled at Obi-Wan's tunics.
Jedi tunics have no buttons to pop off. Which meant they were skin-to-skin much more quickly, enjoying the feel of each other. Obi-Wan lifted one of his legs and wrapped it around Qui-Gon's legs, pulling him down tightly, loving the feel of all that skin draped over him. Qui-Gon gently broke away from his mouth and began kissing his way across Obi-Wan's face, ending at his ear, which he gently bit and tongued. "I love you," he whispered, brokenly, and Obi-Wan gasped, closed his eyes and squeezed Qui-Gon hard, relief and happiness suffusing him.
"I've loved you for ages," he whispered back, and with a soft, desperate moan, Qui-Gon took his mouth again.
The next time Qui-Gon left his mouth, he didn't stop at his ear. He delicately kissed the mark he had made on Obi-Wan's neck, then began kissing and licking his way down his padawan's body. It was all Obi-Wan could do to remain still -- his hands clenched on the bed cover, he let himself simply feel as Qui-Gon made love to him, so sweetly, so intensely, so utterly passionately. The stops Qui-Gon's mouth made nearly drove him insane, and since Qui-Gon appeared intent on tasting every square inch of him, there were many.
Qui-Gon finally made it to Obi-Wan's rigid erection. He ran his tongue up the length and lapped at the slit and the moisture pooled there, ignoring Obi-Wan's frantic, straining sounds. He ran his tongue back down and tasted Obi-Wan's testicles, one after the other, hefting them gently in his warm hand. Then he opened his mouth and swallowed Obi-Wan whole.
Shocked, Obi-Wan arched and froze, his entire brain short-circuited by that hot mouth devouring him. His arousal at what Qui-Gon had been doing to him was so great that he felt his climax burning its way down his spine, poised to shoot out of his cock, and with a suddenness that astounded him, he came, wailing, in a spasm of ecstasy.
Swallowing every drop of Obi-Wan's offering, Qui-Gon caressed him with tongue and fingertip, soothing his overheated skin with murmured words of love and pleasure. Finally, Obi-Wan managed to begin breathing again, drawing in a huge lungful of air.
He focused his blurry sight on Qui-Gon, hovering a few inches over him, and lifted his head to kiss again, tasting himself in Qui-Gon's mouth. Qui-Gon moaned into the kiss and settled on top of him more firmly, nestling his own erection into Obi-Wan's hip and rocking back and forth on it.
"Wait," Obi-Wan gasped, breaking the kiss. "Please... want you inside me. Please."
Qui-Gon framed his face with his big hands and gazed tenderly down at him. "Are you sure, my Obi-Wan? It was your first time, wasn't it?"
"It was that obvious?" he replied, feeling self-conscious.
"A little..." Qui-Gon said, before kissing him again, deeply. "What a gift you are to me, my padawan..."
"*My* master," Obi-Wan replied, eagerly running his fingers up and down Qui-Gon's soft skin. "On the shelf," he murmured, pointing to the head of the bed -- which was at their feet.
Qui-Gon lifted himself enough to reach the small built-in shelving unit and chuckled as he spied the tube of sexual lubricant Obi-Wan had placed there. "I kept it, from Allanz's apartment," Obi-Wan said as Qui-Gon returned to his side, holding the tube. "I wanted it as a -- a remembrance. Of such a wonderful time."
"We shall have to send her a thank you note," Qui-Gon said, his eyes glinting mischievously. Gently, he helped and encouraged Obi-Wan to roll to his side, and then spooned up behind him.
As he had done the first time, Qui-Gon carefully and delicately opened Obi-Wan, kissing his neck and shoulder as his large, warm fingers played Obi-Wan like a virtuoso. Obi-Wan was limp after his first orgasm, which made Qui-Gon's job easier, but still, he took his time, spreading copious amounts of lube, and rubbing against Obi-Wan's prostate gland until Obi-Wan was hard and weeping again, trembling and begging incoherently.
Deeming him ready, Qui-Gon whispered into his ear. "It may be easier if you straddled me, love, so you can be in control," he said, and his words sent a thrill of lust through Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon settled himself on his back and his hands steadied Obi-Wan who climbed over him, kissing him in passing.
Obi-Wan wanted to watch Qui-Gon's face as he sank down, but the sensation of Qui-Gon's huge erection splitting him in two was simply too much. He hung his head and panted -- it hadn't felt this big the first time, but that had been different, for some reason. Qui-Gon's hands on his hips helped him control how quickly his body sank, and when Obi-Wan could pry his eyes open, Qui-Gon's face was effused with concern, love, and passion.
About half-way down, Obi-Wan leaned forward and kissed Qui-Gon deeply, letting his tongue play and distracting himself from the discomfort he felt. Qui-Gon met his kiss ardently, and his hands on Obi-Wan's hips caressed him gently. As the discomfort slowly subsided, something else took its place -- hot pleasure began to course up and down his body, making him shake, and encouraging him to sink lower.
Abruptly, Obi-Wan realized he was all the way down, Qui-Gon was all the way inside him. He opened his eyes wide and looked down at Qui-Gon, who met his gaze with love. "Good," he panted, and Qui-Gon nodded wordlessly.
He leaned forward again and Qui-Gon took his mouth again, commanded it, took possession of it. Obi-Wan couldn't remember ever feeling so loved and so wanted, and the sensation burned in his head.
Qui-Gon lifted his knees and Obi-Wan groaned at the feeling of fullness and how it expanded to his whole body. Experimentally, he tried flexing his muscles -- the gasp Qui-Gon gave him in reaction pleased him tremendously, as did the feelings inside. Then Qui-Gon started to lift his hips and to thrust, and Obi-Wan was lost.
Somehow he managed to pull away and sit more or less upright, held by Qui-Gon's hands in his. His head was thrown back and he let himself become a vessel of pure pleasure, joyful carnality, reveling in the intimacy of accepting his lover so. Then one of Qui-Gon's hands left his own and wrapped around his penis, squeezing gently and firmly, and that was the end.
They came, so nearly together as to make no difference, calling out each other's names and sobbing with the sheer bliss of it.
"So, you have no idea who that second person was at all," Mace Windu said, taking a sip of his ale.
"None." Qui-Gon shook his head and frowned. "It must have been a Force suggestion. I remember seeing Mogrit, and seeing someone with him, but that's all. The face is a blank, a blur. And that has to be the person who alerted Mogrit of my true identity. Or at least that I was a Jedi."
The three of them -- gathered around the table in the small galley -- fell silent while they finished their drinks. Coruscant was a day away. "Perhaps..." Obi-Wan began, and the other two looked at him. "Perhaps the healers who originally placed our block could help," he finished, looking at his master. "If it was a Force suggestion, that's enough like a hypnotic one that perhaps there's a way around it."
"That's a good idea," Windu said, nodding. "You should see them when we return, Qui-Gon. It's a good thing your padawan has a good head on his shoulders."
"It's a good thing he still *has* a head on his shoulders," Qui-Gon groused, glaring at Windu.
"I am not going to debate the issue with you any more, Jinn," he snapped in reply. "The precautions we took were sufficient. You got out alive and with valuable information." Windu's face was impassive as he returned Qui-Gon's glare. Obi-Wan looked down at the tabletop in order to hide his grin -- the battles between Qui-Gon and Councilor Windu hadn't stopped for more than a few moments all the way back. And the funny thing was, neither of them seemed to be truly upset -- Qui-Gon knew Obi-Wan could handle himself, even if he *wasn't* himself. Exactly. Anyway, Obi-Wan was beginning to think the whole thing was merely a form of entertainment for the two men.
"Besides," Windu was saying, "considering the fact that you haven't slept in your own bed since the beginning of our trip, I'd say you got far more than just information out of it."
Obi-Wan's head snapped up. He glanced at Qui-Gon to see a look he knew was reflected on his own face -- shock and surprise. Then Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. "That, Councilor Windu, is none of your business," he said softly.
Windu leaned back in his chair and raised an eyebrow -- and Obi-Wan could swear he saw a hint of glee in the man's eyes. "As a Council member," he drawled, "it is my duty to make sure there are no problems in any master-apprentice unit." He glanced at Obi-Wan and yes, there was a definite glint of mischief there. "And that extends to every facet of the, ah, relationship."
Obi-Wan could tell that his master was winding up for a big one, and decided -- on the spur of the moment -- to take the wind out of his sails. Perhaps the sense of mischief was catching. "Oh, I don't think you have *anything* to worry about when it comes to that part of our relationship, Master Windu," he said, as blandly as he could. Qui-Gon's head whipped around and he stared at Obi-Wan, gaping. "I'm certain we'll be able to, uh, *handle* that very well on our own."
He looked at Qui-Gon, and the smile he'd been fighting finally broke free. "Right, Jinn?"
Qui-Gon looked utterly astounded for a split second, then snorted with
laughter, trying to keep the chuckles back and failing miserably.
"Yes, I'd say that's correct, Ben," he managed to reply, and took Obi-Wan's
hand under the table.