L'Histoire d'Obi (The Story of Obi)

by Lilith Sedai (lilith_sedai@hotmail.com)

ARCHIVE: TOTO. M_A, SWAL, and Jedi Hurtaholics will be allowed to archive after a one-month TOTO premiere. THIS STORY MAY BE GENERALLY ARCHIVED BY PERMITTED GROUPS ON OR AFTER OCTOBER 15, 1999. Others ask.

CATEGORIES: Alternate-Universe -- Well, if it makes you feel better to say so Hurt/Comfort -- partly Angst -- definitely First-Time -- yeah. And second... third... etc.... Fetish/Kink -- BDSM (especially Dom/sub relations) Point of View -- third person omniscient narrator.

RATING: NC-17 for explicit m/m sexual activity

WARNINGS: see disclaimer, below

SPOILERS: for Jedi Apprentice books 1 & 2

SUMMARY: Obi-Wan neglects to pay careful attention to a briefing, agrees to accept an unusual mission assignment, and lets himself and Qui-Gon in for more trouble than either of them bargained for.

FEEDBACK: Yes, please. But don't bother to flame me about the bondage. I already know I'm a sick little monkey. No need to rub it in. Flames will only be used to heat branding irons.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: To Smutster Queen Kirby, for extensive, multiple, and thorough beta readings, hand-holding, lavish praise, and invaluable advice, without which this story would never have made it past a PWP! To Saraid, for permission to use the Grand Dance. To BlackRose and Analise, for the scrumptious illustrations of Obi-Wan enslaved. To Marnee and Lorelei for grammar betas and months of encouragement, and to them and LapisLaz, Iroshi, Enju, and Kalia for extensive IRC coddling, plot assistance, and much-needed goading. Finally, thanks to all of the above for putting up with my agonized squealing and foul temper every time this thing stalled on me. You have my unending thanks, ladies. :)

DISCLAIMERS: Welcome to the story that devoured my life.

Legalities: George, I've given you plenty of money in my life and got none in return and never will, so please don't be a sore winner.

Copyrights: All artworks archived with this story are the sole property of their creators. Please do not reproduce them without contacting those creators and asking for permission.

Bondage: I cannot promise that all elements of my story will be pleasing to all persons. There are a variety of consensual graphic images herein that contain some elements of masochism. I am told the story is emotionally intense. You may find that you'll be more comfortable if you read it in small increments and take reality-breaks.

For those knowledgeable of the bondage genre: Yes, I borrowed a bit from Gor, but since Norman hates all Gor fanfic, I ultimately decided against making this the crossover it began its existence as.

Part 1-- Beginnings

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn stood shoulder to shoulder, listening to the Council's briefing on their upcoming mission. Mace Windu leaned forward, measured sentences leaving him one after another. Only half-listening, Obi-Wan catalogued them. Slavery, it seemed, was one disturbing element of a new planet that wanted to join the Republic for trading purposes. Since slavery on Ria had religious overtones and the Republic officially supported religious freedom, their petition would be investigated for consideration rather than rejected outright. It fell to the Jedi to determine if the society were suitable despite it. Unfortunately for the Riadans, slavery had both sexual and labor-related aspects, neither of which boded well for their admission into the Republic.

Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Obi-Wan stifled a sigh. Plain-vanilla missions, one after another. All as boring as they could possibly be. Diplomatic receptions. Guided tours. Polite formality. He stifled a yawn, blanking his mind so that the Jedi Masters would not be able to read his boredom...

... and suddenly, unsure of how much time had passed, he realized that Mace was speaking about an entirely different aspect of the mission. He had permitted his thoughts to wander too far and missed the last several minutes of the briefing.

"It is particularly important to your personal safety that you conduct the roles we have prepared for you in a manner consistent with Riadan culture," Windu was saying soberly. "The Riadans have never before attempted extraplanetary contact. As a result, their worldview is understandably somewhat provincial and perhaps even xenophobic. They will find it difficult to comprehend the existence and respect the values of cultures other than their own. Because of this, their ambassadors have not yet been given any information regarding the political and social conventions of the Republic. After meeting with the Riadan Ambassadors, the Supreme Chancellor concurred with the Council that it will be easier for you to obtain a true impression of their culture if they do not know how to tailor their appearances to meet your expectations."

The Councilor shifted slightly to escape a stray beam of sunlight, continuing. "Also, our initial observations of the Riadans indicate that they are a highly volatile people, a warrior people. You must earn their respect and trust so that they will be open with you about their culture. This may not always entail typical diplomatic tact," he warned. "Confrontation may become a necessity from time to time." His eyes flickered at Qui-Gon, a slight wryness visible in them that suggested he believed the Jedi Master would be more than capable of handling such a requirement.

He continued. "The cultural restrictions they voluntarily place upon their weapons technology forbids you to carry energy weapons, including your lightsabers. The level of technological development on Ria has not progressed beyond simple radio reception and transmission. The Riadan King's ship was furnished to the embassy as a diplomatic courtesy by the Senate so that trade negotiations might proceed. You will return with it." Qui-Gon nodded and Obi-Wan followed suit hastily, pretending he understood what was going on.

Windu paused, seeming uncharacteristically worried for a moment before his normally smooth façade reasserted itself automatically. "The Riadans know little of the Republic and nothing of the Jedi. Therefore, the Council has decided that you must operate as though undercover, only revealing your Jedi powers if it becomes absolutely necessary." Windu sighed.

"The roles I have described for each of you have been researched as carefully as we were able, but it is possible that there are gaps in our knowledge, likely serious ones. Little is known of Ria. You were hand-picked for this because of each of your personalities, your strength in the Force, and the depth of your Master/padawan commitment -- especially the level of cooperation and trust between you." He hesitated, eyeing Obi-wan meaningfully. "Also, Obi-Wan, you were chosen because of your high level of combat readiness and your physical beauty."

Only Mace Windu could have pronounced such words and make them sound uncomplimentary. Obi-Wan suppressed a smirk and a flicker of worry. Beauty? Why? But the Councilor was summing up.

"The Council feels that, together, you are the Jedi team best equipped to confront this mission and deal successfully with the special challenges and dangers it may bring." He leaned back in his chair.

Obi-Wan felt a flicker of worry, but shrugged it off. The Council was almost always overcautious.

"Accept this mission do you, Obi-Wan Kenobi?" Yoda focused on him almost suspiciously, as though the small Master guessed he had been woolgathering. Obi-Wan nearly jerked with surprise. By custom, it was the Master who accepted or declined the council's assignments, not the padawan.

"Yes, Master Yoda," he heard himself say smoothly, automatically trying to cover up his lapse with a polished front of reliability. Besides, Qui-Gon had only rarely declined mission assignments, and those for reasons of prior commitment.

"Hmmmf. Thought that you would, I did," Yoda remarked cryptically, shifting his feet and settling his robes. Obi-wan hazarded the tiniest glance at Qui-Gon, who stood placid, face entirely inscrutable. Obi-Wan again felt a shiver of unease shoot through his spine. There was a dynamic here that he did not like, some silent thing. He reached out for a sense of Qui-Gon's emotions, but his Master's emotional aura was cool and smooth as usual, revealing no more than Windu's or Yoda's. He felt a sinking sensation in his gut. Master Mace had tried to warn him, but he had acted in haste and shame, and had dived straight into some unknown responsibility that he would likely wind up regretting sorely.

Oh, well. He had committed them. Qui-Gon would simply have to catch him up on anything important when the time came. Maybe Obi-Wan would even be lucky enough that his ignorance would not be exposed. Yeah. And Hutts would sprout wings and fly.

As padawan, it was his duty to care for the luggage, loading it aboard the hoverskiff that would carry them to their transport. Obi-Wan had done it a hundred times, but this time there seemed to be several more, and much heavier, trunks than usual. Still, he resisted using the Force, preferring to hone his physical strength with honest labor. His muscles strained and sweat darkened the cloth under the sleeves of his robe as he piled the trunks in the cargo bay, listening to various metallic clankings from some of them. He made a mental note to ask Qui-Gon exactly why he had filled his luggage with metal.

"It isn't all metal." Qui-Gon had overheard his grumpy muttering. "Some of it's leather." His Master chuckled, a deep throaty sound with overtones of unease that made Obi-Wan begin to wish he'd listened far more carefully to Master Mace's briefing.

"And it's not my luggage." Qui-Gon laid his hand on his apprentice's sweating back. "It's yours."

Obi-Wan straightened, blinking at Qui-Gon. "It is?" he asked uncertainly.

"I have warned you before about allowing your mind to wander during briefings, Padawan." Qui-Gon's eyes sparkled with mischief. "You declined your rightful option to turn down this mission. Now ... we must accept the consequences." Qui-Gon smiled. He decided to keep those consequences to himself for just a little longer. It would teach Obi-Wan a valuable lesson about paying attention, and there seemed little chance of serious repercussions from his padawan's ignorance since the role set out for Obi-Wan meant Qui-Gon would be totally in command of their activities on this mission. The voyage to Ria should give them a few days for Obi-Wan to adjust to the idea of what he had unknowingly undertaken. Qui-Gon settled his palm on his padawan's shoulder, gently leading him to their seat in the hoverskiff.

Obi-Wan swallowed nervously, sparing a single backward glance for the trunks he'd placed in the cargo bay. There was no time to investigate their contents now. He followed his Master on board, mentally chiding himself for his willful negligence.

He had a bad feeling about this....

Part 2 -- Initiations

They arrived at the transport from Coruscant in plenty of time. Qui-Gon led Obi-Wan toward the large, flat vehicle, keeping up a serene commentary to soothe Obi-Wan's nerves. "Remember, Obi-Wan..." Qui-Gon began earnestly, and his padawan rolled his eyes.

"Feel, don't think. Trust my instincts," Obi-Wan cut his Master off with amusement, mimicking Qui-Gon's intonation of the oft-repeated phrase. "Yes, Master. I will, Master."

Qui-Gon noticed one of the boarding guards directing a narrow look at Obi-Wan and realized his padawan was out of character. "That's not all," he said sharply. "You must remember to live in the moment. Let the Living Force guide you, padawan. You have not paid enough attention to your responsibilities recently and are not adequately prepared for this journey."

Obi-Wan wilted visibly and the guard relaxed. Qui-Gon released a sigh. "Keep silent until we are in our cabin," he directed.

"Yes, Master."

Obi-Wan was simultaneously relieved and made uneasy by their arrival at the sleeping quarters. Their luggage was within, and when Qui-Gon excused himself to use the small 'fresher cubicle, Obi-Wan was on his feet immediately, reaching for the lid of the topmost trunk, disengaging the lock with the print of his thumb and throwing the top back.

"What the...?" The chest was filled with leather straps and buckles and bits of metal and chain. He scuffled through it, bewildered. One piece seemed identifiable -- a pair of metal wristlets something akin to restraining cuffs, but with a three-inch length of free chain between them and with crude iron locks.

The rest of it looked like refuse from a tack-room. He lifted a piece of leather, wondering what kind of creature it had been made to harness. Far too small for a tauntaun or most other riding beasts. In fact, it might just fit around his own chest. He drew the leather against himself, testing its size, and his frown deepened. Tossing it aside, he tried one wrist carefully in the manacles. They fit as though made to his measure.

He tossed them away, too, and snatched out another item. A large round iron ring with a far smaller ring attached, inscribed with unfamiliar alien writing. Its usefulness had originally escaped him, but now his eyes picked out a join, hinge, and keyhole. Obi-Wan swallowed again, wondering about the diameter of his neck and the diameter of the circle in his hands, suddenly and inexplicably certain that they were equal. That would explain the glint of humor in Qui-Gon's eyes earlier....

Surely this couldn't be. He was just being paranoid. No, he wasn't.

He set the ... collar ... aside and dug deeper in the box, pulling out a random array of straps that he could not sort into any coherent shape or guess a use for. Then there were more cuffs, these of leather, and a set of two that were big enough for ankles, and two that looked large enough for thighs -- wild-eyed, he flung an accusing gaze at the door as it opened and Qui-Gon re-entered the sleeping chamber.

Decorum be damned.

"What the hell is this stuff and who is it for?" He already knew the answer.

Qui-Gon gazed at the mess on the floor surrounding Obi-Wan and his mouth quirked, ever-so-slightly, as though he would have liked to smile. He reached into the pocket of his robes and withdrew a set of documents, holding them out to Obi-Wan.

"Slave papers, proving ownership of Obi-Wan Kenobi?" Obi-Wan sputtered, the documents rattling between his hands. In spite of himself, he was very nearly stunned with disbelief. The words on that document would be regarded as legally binding on a hundred worlds.

Qui-Gon moved to the side, reaching for and retrieving one of the discarded items, reading over his padawan's shoulder as Obi-Wan began to snarl the words aloud.

"'Obi-Wan Kenobi, pleasure slave, is hereby certified the sole and exclusive property of Master Qui-Gon Jinn....'" He faltered to a halt. Pleasure slave?

Obi-Wan ceased breathing suddenly as cold metal closed around his throat with an audible click. Qui-Gon's hands slid to his padawan's shoulders, even as Obi- Wan's darted up to tug at the obdurate, unyielding metal that fit snugly around his throat. Qui-Gon's voice was warm in Obi-Wan's ear.

"I thought you were weary of routine diplomatic missions, Obi-Wan." His low rumble of a voice was filled with teasing, and Obi-Wan could almost see the mischievous half-smile his Master wore.

"I am, but--!" Obi-Wan realized his voice was a squeak. He fell silent. He remembered enough of the briefing to understand what such a role would imply. He simply had not realized that he was to play the part of Qui-Gon's slave, though he was forced to admit reluctantly that it made sense, given the inequality of their training relationship. What disturbed him was that according to the information he had caught during the briefing, he would be expected to labor and obey -- and since he had been labeled a pleasure slave, a large portion of his labors were understood by the Riadans to be confined to his Master's bed.

Obi-Wan struggled to squelch the panic he experienced at being collared. The realization of the role he was now expected to fulfill worsened it, filling him with ambiguous emotions that he was afraid to examine under his Master's alert eye. To be Qui-Gon's slave. His pleasure slave. A delicious heat shuddered through him, spiking hard in his loins, and he swallowed thickly, trying to quash the flow of lust before Qui-Gon could read the signs of it in him. Though Obi-Wan knew he could never deny his Master anything he wanted, he also knew that Qui-Gon would never dream of touching him in a sexual way, especially not during a mission ... best not even to let himself consider it. Qui-Gon's intuitions were razor sharp, and he was fully capable of reading more in the flicker of his apprentice's eyelash than another man would comprehend from an impassioned confession.

Obi-Wan chose to focus on his fear instead. His fingers knotted to fists as well as they could around the tight, wide band of the collar, testing its unyielding strength.

"Take it off," he requested, proud of how steady his voice remained. "I wasn't ready."

"I'm sorry, Obi-Wan. I cannot." Qui-Gon moved from behind his padawan, looking into Obi-Wan's eyes. "This is a Riadan transport, with a Riadan crew. We must assume our roles immediately." Qui-Gon's eyes now held genuine sympathy, the earlier amusement fled in the face of Obi-Wan's obvious distress. "It is bad enough that you boarded the ship while speaking your mind freely. One of the guards noticed your..." Qui-Gon hesitated, searching for the proper word, "impertinence." Qui-Gon sighed. "I would not want to be forced to punish you publicly."

"Punish me?" Obi-Wan realized he was squeaking again, and realized that Qui-Gon was so close that he could feel the older man's warmth against his face, feel Qui-Gon's breath on his cheeks. He let his tongue flicker out and nervously wet his lips.

"As Master Windu warned us, the Riadans are ... harsh people, and demanding. They have been seen to punish displeasing slaves frequently, claiming it deepens their slavery and enhances their performance. I do not know what that punishment entails, but I believe it is something we both would prefer to avoid." Qui-Gon spoke sincerely. "So I suggest you attempt to appear fully pleasing."

Obi-Wan felt his mouth go dry, both from the force of his ... his Master's ... closeness and from the implied threat that it might not be possible to avoid punishment for public error. "How -- how," he struggled to modulate his panicked tones, "can I do that?"

Qui-Gon shrugged, simply but eloquently. "Proper behavior. Proper attire. Your behavior must be obedient, attentive, and efficient. Your attire...." For the first time, a true look of discomfort crossed Qui-Gon's face. Obi-Wan wasn't taking this with his typical aplomb, and it began to worry him. He'd expected this to roll off Obi-Wan like water from a duck's back, but it hadn't, and it was about to get worse. Sighing mentally, Qui-Gon took the plunge. "Riadan slaves are typically kept only minimally clad."

Obi-Wan, still standing with his hands clutching his collar, stared with disbelief at Qui-Gon, wondering just exactly what "minimally" meant. Jedi, though enlightened, were secretive as a rule, and therefore typically very protective of bodily modesty. Obi-Wan was no exception, particularly since he had begun to grow aware of his strong sexual feelings for Qui-Gon, who was reaching for the flaps of Obi-Wan's outer robe even as his padawan dithered.

Before Obi-Wan could react, Qui-Gon's big hands caught his wrists, pulling his apprentice's palms away from the collar and letting them fall. His long blunt fingers gently slid beneath the edges of Obi-Wan's cloak, brushing against the tunics that covered his chest, gliding up to his shoulders, pushing back the heavy material. Though Obi-Wan was still clad in three layers of tunic, trousers, boots, socks, and underwear, he felt horribly exposed already, exposed and vulnerable. He felt as though the metal collar locked on his neck had glowing neon arrows pointing toward it, and he shuddered involuntarily as Qui-Gon's fingers accidentally brushed the skin above it as they withdrew and let his robe slide to the deck. Qui-Gon, undressing him. His knees quivered, and he swayed almost imperceptibly, but the Jedi Master sensed it.

Qui-Gon hesitated, pulling his hands away. He hadn't meant to touch Obi-Wan; his hands seemed to have moved of their own accord. The startled, vulnerable expression in his padawan's crystalline eyes was intoxicating. Qui-Gon could not begin to analyze the depths of emotion he could read there. Though apprehension was uppermost, there was also Obi-Wan's trust for him, and something he could not quite put his finger on, somewhere in the depths.

Qui-Gon resisted the unworthy impulse to interpret it from the perspective of his own experience and his own needs. Obi-Wan was almost irresistible in his uncertainty, but Qui-Gon steeled himself, as he had done ever since he had first begun to realize that he had inappropriate feelings for his young padawan. Without ease, but with the quiet determination of long practice, Qui-Gon set aside his forbidden desire. Obi-Wan needed him to be strong and reliable now. He could not let his unworthy emotions victimize the vulnerable apprentice who stood before him, his throat locked in a slave collar with Qui-Gon's name inscribed upon it in the tiny, graceful, flowing characters of Riadan script.

Obi-Wan was still hesitating to undress, perhaps trying to read Qui-Gon's eyes while Qui-Gon was lost in his. Slowly, stilling a tremor in his fingers, Qui-Gon reached again, tugging the stola out of Obi-Wan's belt on either side of its heavy buckle. He could almost drown in the energy of the living Force that surrounded him and bound him to his apprentice at this moment, the depth of the young man's trust singing and vibrating around him until he thought he might begin to glow. With both arms, he reached forward, lifting the cloth from around Obi-Wan's neck, ensuring that it did not snag on the collar.

Qui-Gon drew back, folding the cloth again and again, until it was a small roll in his hands. He stepped away, struggling to maintain his composure, and used the Force to call Obi-Wan's robe to him, shaking the wrinkles and floor-dust from it, tucking it carefully away in his own belongings, trying to deaden his ears to the rustling that had begun behind him. Then he tried not to notice the clunk of heavy boots and the patter of skin against metal deck-plating. There was another clunk, softer -- Obi-Wan's belt, hitting the floor next to his boots. More rustling, just a whisper now, and then it stopped, and there was the faintest of sounds, that of skin against skin as a body straightened and held itself upright, clad only in air.

And his collar.

Qui-Gon swallowed his emotions down tight, refusing to examine them before he willed them to numbness and turned, his expression bland and placid. With the self-restraint gained in the lifetime training of a Jedi Master, he hardly glanced at Obi-Wan even as he stepped toward the young man and began to gather some of the things Obi-Wan had scattered about. They would soon be in constant contact with Riadans, and Obi-Wan had to be readied.

Qui-Gon decided it would be best to adhere to the strictest letter of the appearances required by the roles they had to play. If he kept Obi-Wan fully nude and in bonds, the young man's beauty and apparent helplessness would be so enticing that he could hardly help but please even the most fastidious Riadan Masters they might encounter.

Even the fleeting glimpses that penetrated his stoic inattention were nearly enough to set his skin aflame. Obi-Wan stood straight, collared, his eyes closed, as though by failing to witness his own shame, he could prevent Qui-Gon from seeing it. Qui-Gon's hands were shaking openly now, and he was glad that Obi-Wan's eyes were shut, glad that his own hands were concealed within the belly of the opened trunk, selecting a pair of leather wristlets.

"Don't be afraid, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon knew his voice was too husky, almost hoarse. "Your body is nothing to be ashamed of." Gently, he reached and took Obi-Wan's left wrist, trying not to let himself see more than the limb he now held, and slid the leather cuff about Obi-Wan's surprisingly narrow wristbone, tightening the strap and buckling it. He swallowed thickly, still struggling to contain his emotions and hide them even from himself. Then he took Obi-Wan's right wrist and treated it similarly, but he removed the short length of chain that would have bound his padawan's arms tightly behind his back.

He caught up the simple leather harness from where Obi-Wan had dropped it and opened its buckles, studying it before draping it experimentally over the young man's body. His padawan flinched from the first touch of the cool leather, but then stood still, permitting Qui-Gon to fit the straps tightly but carefully to him. Two broad, plain brown leather straps curved over his padawan's shoulders, connected by a narrow breastband just below the collarbone and a wide iron-studded waistband that circled around the young man's middle slightly above the navel, tightening via an adjustable strap and buckle in the back center. There were more pieces that could be affixed to the harness if Qui-Gon wished for it to confine Obi-Wan's upper arms and thighs, but he left them in the chest, satisfied that the chest harness was sufficient to give Obi-Wan an illusion of covering.

The young man was trembling slightly, and Qui-Gon strove not to touch his skin more than was unavoidable, almost afraid that a spark might crackle between them from the electricity of the tension building in the room.

At last the harness was affixed, and Qui-Gon forced himself to add the final touch, clipping a thin leather leash to the ring in Obi-Wan's collar. Qui-Gon swallowed, trying to bring moisture into his dry mouth. Experimentally, but very gently, he pulled the leash taut. Obi-Wan's eyes opened, the blue hazy, almost dazed, and he stared at Qui-Gon as though he had forgotten everything that was occurring, perhaps even his own name.

Qui-Gon forced himself to speak. "I must greet the embassy. Await me here, my padawan. Review the data files for our mission with your role in mind."

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan's voice was low and nervous, but sweet, and Qui-Gon felt it tug at him powerfully. He hesitated for a moment, but his presence was required by the Riadans. The process of diplomacy must begin.

Resolutely, Qui-Gon dropped the leash and set forth, leaving his padawan behind him.

Obi-Wan was relieved beyond belief when Qui-Gon finally turned from him and strode out the door of their quarters. His Master's eyes had weighed even heavier than the collar about his neck, and he was glad to have a little time to recover his composure and grow used to the sensation of his nudity before Qui-Gon returned. Obi-Wan moved himself experimentally, feeling the weight of the bonds he wore, feeling the unaccustomed brush of air against his bare skin.

Hesitantly he wandered into the 'fresher cubicle, seeking a mirror. Fortunately there was a wide full-length mirror on the back of the door. He blinked at the reflection that faced him inside it. He looked like he felt ... very unusual. He looked as though the hard edge of Jedi confidence and competence had been shorn from him, leaving a younger, more uncertain man. He tilted his head experimentally, lifting his chin and letting his lips part. The effect increased.

Obi-Wan supposed this was a good thing; body language was a very important part of any charade. Standing before the mirror, he forced himself to relax, to feel submission and supplication, to feel the weight and constraint of the bonds on him. He moved experimentally, changing the way he stood, changing the way he felt, changing the way he breathed. Closing his eyes, he stood for a long moment, letting the careful changes settle into him. He summoned the most vivid mental picture of an angry Qui-Gon that he could muster, taking his inspiration from the memory of a confrontation that had occurred over a rather appallingly idiotic adolescent infraction. He pictured how his Master's handsome features twisted in disgust, the blazing blue eyes narrow as the Jedi, furious, bent a fierce glare on him. Obi-Wan shuddered involuntarily, opening his eyes, and saw a terrified slave looking out at him. It was damned convincing. He shook it off a touch smugly, satisfied. He could do this, then.

Obi-Wan laughed suddenly, realizing that his own vulnerability had somehow restored his self-confidence. An interesting paradox. Leaving the cubicle, he searched for and found the data reader Qui-Gon had recommended, absorbing himself in the information it contained, re-evaluating it from the perspective of the slave he was to be.

Qui-Gon strode down the narrow corridor. A guard met his questioning eyes and directed him aft, and Qui-Gon followed the crisp gesture until another guard shunted him aside into a set of quarters that were twice the size of the ones Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had been given. A small, very short, very fat, white-haired man sat there, smoking a pipe peaceably, attended by two advisers and a small scattering of slaves.

The information given at the briefing had identified the Riadan officials for the Jedi Master: the heavy older man was Ahar, King of Ria, the younger one his son Qal, and the third was a broad, dangerous-looking man who had been identified to him as Corm, High Priest of the Riadan Temple. Qui-Gon knew that Ahar and Corm had been instrumental in funding the development of receiver and transmitter technology that had permitted the Riadans first to discover the existence of extraplanetary intelligence and later to make the efforts to contact it that had eventually led to diplomatic overtures between Ria and the Republic, beginning with the Chancellor sending a transport to bring the Riadan diplomats to Coruscant and culminating in the Riadans' request for trading privileges. The primitive communications equipment that had made this possible was the finest technological achievement of Riadan society, but the effort to reach beyond their boundaries and attract Galactic notice had been a naive one at best. The Riadans were lucky that their experimental transmissions had been intercepted rapidly by an exploratory expedition that had quickly recognized their planet and populace as a long-forgotten humanoid resettlement project and wisely steered them toward contact with the Senate. It could as easily have been received by pirates or gangsters who would have taken great pleasure and profit in exploiting the vulnerable planet and its populace.

The Jedi Master bowed formally, hands clasped inside his sleeves, aware of the aura of mystery lent by his flowing cloak and deep cowl. A slave moved forward, offering him a drink, and Qui-Gon accepted, touching the beverage to his lips ritually, not really tasting it.

"Welcome aboard, Ambassador Jinn." Ahar took the long, curved pipe from his lips and lazily tapped out the ashes into a bowl held aloft for them by a kneeling young boy. "I trust your quarters are to your satisfaction."

"Yes, your Majesty." Qui-Gon bowed again, slightly deeper. "Quite." He stepped further into the room, giving the high priest and the king's son brief nods of their own.

"It is borrowed hospitality," Qal commented, a touch of bitterness accenting his low voice. "But we are honored to offer it nonetheless."

Qui-Gon did not miss the narrow, slitted stare Corm cast at the young man. The King, tamping new-grated leaves into his pipe, missed the small interaction. Qui-Gon filed the dynamics of the discussion automatically, gauging the power of the three men, watching its balance. A great deal of tension here, instability. Rivalry.

"My son, Qal," Ahar murmured, neutral. "My steward and closest advisor, the High Priest of the Riadan Temple, Corm." He nodded toward the men respectively, and Qui-Gon met Qal's firm nod and accepted Corm's strong handclasp.

"We have much to discuss." Qui-Gon spoke smoothly. "It is an honor to meet you."

"And you, Ambassador Jinn." Corm's smile was oily. Qal merely nodded, somber.

The small pleasantries finished, Corm opened his arms expansively, partly blocking Qui-Gon's view of King Ahar. "On behalf of his Majesty, Ahar of Ria, I wish to invite you to the public feasting tonight in the audience chamber, Ambassador Jinn," Corm offered with the smooth confidence of long practice.

Interesting. Qui-Gon angled his gaze toward the priest without turning his body from the monarch, letting his eyes meet the shorter man's. Interesting indeed, that the King did not extend the invitation himself. From another ruler, Qui-Gon might have thought it a calculated insult. Here ... he was not so sure. Ahar was absorbed in his pipe, sucking a small flame into the bowl, working to create a smooth draw. Qui-Gon wondered not at all idly what the leaf he smoked might contain.

"I would be honored to attend." Qui-Gon directed his bow to the King rather than to Corm, and was not surprised to see a brittle flicker of anger in the priest's eyes. Subtle dynamics of power. Might the priest supply the leaf the King used? It was not an idea to be dismissed lightly.

"Ready yourself, then, Ambassador Jinn." The King was finally satisfied with his pipe. "Return to your quarters and freshen yourself. At the eighth hour we shall enjoy a fine meal and entertainment, and with our slaves we shall enjoy together the bounty that nature has provided. Tomorrow there will be time to begin the process of diplomacy." The King gave Qui-Gon a broad wink, and then shared a smile with the priest. Qal, who had receded subtly into the background, did not quite hide his scowl.

"Yes, your Majesty." Qui-Gon bowed his way out and returned to Obi-Wan.

When Qui-Gon let himself in to their quarters, he found his padawan lying curled on the single narrow sleeping couch, poring over the information in the data reader. The Jedi Master jerked his eyes away quickly, having half-forgotten Obi-Wan's state of near-undress. There were perhaps thirty minutes left until the eighth hour, and that time suddenly seemed very lengthy, since it was to be shared with a chained vision of youthful masculine beauty whose near-nudity made Qui-Gon extremely uncomfortable at best.

He tried not to glance at his padawan. He'd placed the leather harness on the young man in hopes of giving Obi-Wan a comforting illusion of clothing, but if anything, the leather straps emphasized his padawan's nudity, enhancing it in a degrading way. Qui-Gon decided he would remove it ... as soon as he worked up his courage to touch Obi-Wan again.

Obi-Wan immediately flipped the off-switch and set the reader aside. He glanced back at Qui-Gon, shyly shifting to bring his legs together, and the Jedi Master was unsurprised when Obi-wan rolled from his stomach to his back, a little too casually gathering the blanket with him and swathing his lower body in it.

"You will attend me at the feasting tonight," Qui-Gon instructed. They must begin acting the role in their quarters, as well. Given the uneasy balance of power between the Riadan rulers he had met, it would not be surprising if a variety of intrigues were in process aboard the ship. Such intrigues would inevitably be brought to bear upon the newcomers. Qui-Gon cast out with his senses, searching for surveillance. Not yet. Good. Their earlier discussion had not betrayed them, then.

Obi-Wan nodded seriously, stretching his shoulders. Qui-Gon moved and retrieved the data reader his padawan had set aside, packing it away in a trunk with their lightsabers and emergency medical equipment. They must not be observed using technological devices on board.

He began fidgeting with their belongings to pass the time, and Obi-Wan rose to help him unpack, as a good slave should. Qui-Gon was able to withstand perhaps two minutes with his beautiful, naked padawan at his side before he retired to the 'fresher for an unnecessary wash.

He emerged punctually, leaving just enough time for them to find their way to the feasting chamber. Obi-Wan rose from the sleeping couch to meet him, and Qui-Gon avoided the young man's eyes, reaching instead to clasp the wrist manacles behind Obi-Wan's back by reattaching the short length of chain. Quickly he unbuckled the harness he had placed on Obi-Wan so recently, uncomfortably avoiding the question in Obi-Wan's eyes as he tossed it aside onto the narrow bed. Then he wordlessly took up the leash he had fastened earlier to the ring in Obi-Wan's collar. It extended between them as he stepped forward.

Obi-Wan, too, was subtly relieved that the silent, uncomfortable period of time was at an end. His relief was short-lived, though, as the extent of the leash was reached and he was forced to follow across the cabin and through the door. Obi-Wan centered himself psychologically, deliberately separating his identity and Qui-Gon's from the roles they now played. He was his own man, free, and could stop the charade or take control at any time. His nudity was only part of that charade; the leather restraints he wore touched only skin, not soul. Qui-Gon ... Qui-Gon was his Master, but Obi-Wan was not a slave. Obi-Wan would be protected, not abused.

The stolen moments of meditation helped him regain clarity. Obi-Wan felt himself striding more confidently, but he was also aware that the walk was not his usual gait. As he had observed in the mirror, there was something different about him now, something that reached further than the absence of the boots to which he was accustomed. Something that his intuition told him had to do with the collar around his neck, and the way Qui-Gon had fastened it upon him without waiting to obtain Obi-Wan's permission. Something that had to do with the way Qui-Gon's fingertips had tried to avoid his flesh, but had failed, and had very nearly burned Obi-Wan each time they touched him. Something about how Qui-Gon had buckled the leather harness onto his body as though to make an excuse for touching Obi-Wan ... and then had removed it similarly, without explanation. Something that he had heard in his own voice when he had last spoken, acknowledging Qui-Gon's control ... surrendering his own will ....

Obi-Wan shivered, and not from the unaccustomed chill of air on his skin. He felt ... open, somehow. More vulnerable than mere nudity made him. He felt that somehow, when the collar had clicked quietly on his throat, he had ceased to be Jedi ... but as he formed the thought he realized that it was incorrect. Perhaps he felt that his Master had ceased to be Jedi -- no, not that either. He was what he had always been and always would be, and Qui-Gon had not changed either. Not precisely. What he felt was the shifting of their relationship, the setting aside of the formality of Master and padawan, baring something that was inherent in what he and Qui-Gon were together. Something that had always been present, but effaced.

A pretense had been shed, along with his clothing. An acknowledgment had been added, along with his collar. And Obi-Wan understood, with a low, quick intake of breath, that he had always striven to be fully pleasing to Qui-Gon, that Qui-Gon had always subtly commanded him ... that he had always been a willing slave to Qui-Gon's kindly but stern Master.

And something else had been revealed, too, by the roles they had not assumed but acknowledged -- something that Obi-Wan could only blame on the Riadan mindset into which he must sink: the demand for sexual expression as a part of the bond between slave and Master. The Riadan cultural roles they adopted were forcing this aspect on him, and on Qui-Gon as well. That was what had changed Obi-Wan's stride, made his hips flow like liquid, made his body tingle with an awareness of every sensation from the cool metal of the collar, to the dampness of sweat starting inside the broad leather cuffs, to the smooth flow of air around his body, to the faint hint of Qui-Gon's natural scent carried back and swirling around him.

Obi-Wan found himself reminded of a test he had passed only a year ago in his training. He had been taken to the lowest levels of the Jedi temple, far below Coruscant's surface. There he had been told to enter a dank, forbidding cave. Asking what awaited him inside, he was given the ritual response "Only what you take with you." He'd faced his fears and finally triumphed over them in that cave, after many long days and repeated tries. Now he had the same sensation of prickling nerves, and understood that something waited for him here, something he had brought with him into this situation, something that would have to be acknowledged, come to terms with, and embraced in order to be overcome.

His long-suppressed feelings for Qui-Gon. They were what he brought with him into this role, Obi-Wan realized. He felt a surge of pride and relief as he began to understand the test he faced. One step of the process was complete. Now he must come to terms with what he had brought into this situation, allow himself to experience it. He felt a tightness in his body dissolve, one he had carried so long it had become second nature to him, realized only when it was released -- the necessity to keep hidden his long-unspoken desire for his Master. He welcomed the freedom to work through it now, under cover of their roles, without fear of discovery and rejection.

With his acceptance of himself and his role, he felt the paradigm shift within him. Obi-Wan Kenobi was Qui-Gon Jinn's slave.

The short journey was over after another few steps. They entered a common area of the ship, its tiered floor filled with seating laid out in a circular pattern. Men sat upon cushions on a series of rings ranged about an open area. Obi-Wan blinked -- there were dozens of women attending the men carefully, all collared as he was, most not as severely bound as he. All were either nude or only barely clad in transparent silks, and all were quite possibly the most lascivious beings he had ever seen. Slaves -- pleasure slaves, carefully trained in all the arts of lovemaking.

Obi-Wan gulped, not quite sure where to look first, the mass of voluptuous female flesh at once tantalizing and embarrassing him. He decided to set that aside for the moment, focusing on the Masters instead. The men all seemed quite crude compared to Qui-Gon, none of them so tall nor so sturdy as his Master. They treated the slave women with a casual regard that spoke of long familiarity. The women, for their part, scurried about, serving wine and meat and being lavishly fondled. There were two female Masters as well, and a small handful of male serving slaves attired much like himself attended them. He noticed no other pairings of male Master and slave, and he bit his lip a little nervously, hoping there was no cultural gender taboo that would forbid his being Qui-Gon's favored attendant.

Qui-Gon moved toward an unoccupied position, the leash catching Obi-Wan off-guard and jerking him forward. Qui-Gon did not look back. Neither did he slow, and Obi-Wan stumbled to catch up. A few rude snickers greeted his clumsiness. Obi-Wan glanced about clandestinely, searching for more male slaves. There were a few, clad in rags, doing heavy work such as carrying large wine-casks, but none were with ....

"You keep a male pleasure slave?" A rough laugh came from behind them, and Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon step to one side. He followed hastily. "Those are rarely seen in company of a strong man such as yourself. Free women use tamed male slaves, but ...." The man shook his head. "Do you not find women superior?"

Qui-Gon shrugged eloquently. "A slave girl has her attractions," he admitted. "But it is more of a challenge to master a man. And the reward ...." Qui-Gon extended a broad palm and slid it smoothly from the base of Obi-Wan's spine to the nape of his neck, bending his head forward, his long fingers twining into Obi-Wan's short hair roughly. "The reward is worth it." His deep voice grew rough, predatory.

Obi-Wan jerked involuntarily with surprise at the words, touch, and tone, and Qui-Gon's fist tightened in his hair, shaking him. I'll just bet it would be, Obi-Wan thought dizzily, his scalp tingling under the pressure of Qui-Gon's long, blunt fingers, and then he experienced a cascade of relief that his Master was not making the effort to reach his mind through those hard fingertips. He had to remind himself that Qui-Gon was acting, but it was increasingly difficult.

Qui-Gon watched the man examine Obi-Wan, noted the narrowing of his brows at the unmarred perfection of his padawan's thigh. "He is a new slave, not yet branded. I keep him under strict discipline, though."


This time Obi-Wan jerked harder, trying for a moment to escape the fist in his hair, needing to look at Qui-Gon for reassurance, but unable to escape the firm hold. Qui-Gon had chosen a place for them to sit, and his Master seated himself without releasing Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon's strong muscles tightened, and Obi-Wan quickly found his cheek pressed to the floor, his body prostrate.

"You are not being fully pleasing." Qui-Gon's voice was harsh and dangerous, warning, and Obi-Wan felt himself acquiesce immediately before that tone of threat. His bones felt like jelly. Qui-Gon's hand rose from him, but Obi-Wan did not dare to stir from where he had been put. It occurred to him for the first time that Qui-Gon, not unlike Obi-Wan himself, might encounter difficulty in maintaining the boundaries between role and reality.

"Kneel," Qui-Gon barked sharply, and Obi-Wan jerked himself upright. The stranger was still standing over him, looking down at him speculatively. "A well-endowed specimen," the man pronounced him grudgingly. "Strong." Abruptly he kicked Obi-Wan's knees apart. "Kneel like the woman you might as well be, boy! And do not look a free man in the face!"

"He will be punished," Qui-Gon intervened smoothly. "I shall see to it." Inwardly he groaned. A rule that had not been part of their information. What if Obi-Wan broke another such rule, and Qui-Gon were not able to intervene?

The Riadan man was moving off, distracted by a serving slave, and Qui-Gon released a long, slow sigh of relief. This was quickly becoming too dangerous to suit him. Even as the thought formed, another Riadan approached Qui-Gon. "Your slave. Is he free for use?"

"I beg your pardon?" Qui-Gon had a sinking feeling.

"Strong male pleasure slaves are uncommon, and he is a pretty one," the man laughed. "Will you permit him to be used?"

"Jor!" A sharp voice scolded, approaching quickly. "These are our guests from the Republic. They aren't yet fully familiar with Riadan customs." Qui-Gon immediately recognized Corm. He winced as he realized how right the high priest was and he spared a mental curse for the inadequate information they'd been given -- a lack that Corm was at least partly responsible for.

Qui-Gon turned his eyes on Obi-Wan, setting his expression in what he hoped was an appropriate one for a Master judging his property. Obi-Wan was sitting back on his heels, his eyes fastened to the tile floor, his knees apart where the first Riadan had set them. "He has not been fully pleasing, and is under discipline," Qui-Gon volunteered to Corm.

"Ah, you are depriving him until he begs." The Riadan priest shooed Jor away, and seated himself as Qui-Gon frowned at his padawan. "That is well. I spoke with Chancellor Valorum before leaving radio range of Coruscant. He endorsed you personally as his diplomatic envoy." Corm smiled at Qui-Gon, who nodded acknowledgment pleasantly, once again filing away the evidence of Corm's unusual power.

Sensing Qui-Gon's divided inattention, Corm spared another glance at Obi-Wan. "A wise choice of discipline," he digressed. "And an impressive piece of slave flesh. A pretty one. And spirited." Qui-Gon realized that Obi-Wan had lifted his eyes and was glaring at the high priest in a decidedly non-meek fashion.

"Obi-Wan!" Qui-Gon snapped, and his apprentice's eyes jerked to his, half abashed and half sullen. Qui-Gon reminded himself that the display of temper was an act.

Corm observed the interplay with apparent amusement. "He has a strong face, a manly face. Most boys who are used as pleasure slaves by men are ... less masculine. Your will must be strong, to tame such a man." His tone was amiable, almost instructive, and his sharp eyes glanced shrewdly between Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon.

Obi-Wan's eyes never wavered from Qui-Gon, even as his Master's hand rose. The crack of Qui-Gon's backhand on his cheek was like a thunderclap, and he dropped swiftly, the motion neatly telegraphed from the well-drawn punch. Qui-Gon made a good show of following through, and Corm slapped his knees with approval. Qui-Gon sighed. Obi-Wan had barely had time to react; he took pity on his apprentice and removed the wrist restraints when Obi-Wan struggled back to his knees, his eyes now properly centered on the floor.

Obi-Wan rose, palm covering his cheek, rubbing as though to take the sting away. Then, to Qui-Gon's surprise, relief, and partial amazement, Obi-Wan moved to his side and nestled the slapped cheek against his ribs, fawning.

Qui-Gon remembered, a little belatedly, that he was supposed to take such conduct for granted, and he laid his palm on Obi-Wan's sleek side, returning his attention to Corm. "He is young, and though we have been together for years, I have only recently collared him," Qui-Gon explained. "He is new to his slavery, but he will learn it in time." He made the comment offhand.

Obi-Wan needed to hide the fact that his cheek was not red and swelling, so he slid his arm around Qui-Gon's waist and buried his face in his Master's robe. It smelled good, the scent of Qui-Gon that had teased him earlier now filling his nostrils. He breathed deeply, snuggling in and hardly realizing he had done so until Qui-Gon's warm palm found a place on his side. He could feel his Master's pulse beat in that palm, a little too quick. Well, for that matter, Obi-Wan's own pulse was also rapid. He peeked a bit, looking around the room, taking a lesson from the slaves assembled. Hiding a grin, Obi-Wan squirmed a bit lasciviously against Qui-Gon, curling his body around his Master like a cat.

Settled, he began to listen to the conversation, still nuzzling his face into Qui-Gon's ribs periodically. This role restrained him, but it granted certain freedoms as well, and Qui-Gon could hardly blame him for getting into the part, particularly since his Master was doing as much himself.

"When Qal intercepted the first communications on his radio apparatus, King Ahar decided it would be well to enter into a trade agreement with the Republic," Corm was saying. "We have much to offer. Precious metals and crystals, agricultural products, fine spices. Our artisans and craftsmen are highly skilled, as well."

"And in return, you would like technology?" Qui-Gon guessed.

Corm was silent for a moment, and his voice was disappointed when he continued. "We... choose to maintain our current level of technological development," he hedged at last. "Swords are more civilized than energy weapons, we believe. If you kill a man with a sword, you must mean to do it." Obi-Wan's curiosity was piqued, and he wished Qui-Gon's database of information had included more about such an unusual cultural belief. No wonder they'd been forced to leave their lightsabers hidden.

"We can offer art, culture, medicines, rare metals and alloys." Qui-Gon tried alternatives, and Corm nodded, seeming more satisfied this time.

"And it appears our populations may be compatible as well," the man commented cheerfully, gesturing at Obi-Wan. "If his body is any indication of what is typical of the Republic's citizens."

"There are a variety of humanoid species, and many are capable of interbreeding," Qui-Gon explained, noting how Corm's ears seemed to perk at this information. The Jedi Master slid his hand over Obi-Wan's flank, pretending to be distracted to gain time, until a moment later he realized he actually was distracted, listening to Obi-Wan groan softly at the touch and feeling his apprentice arch into his palm. Caressing him had obviously been a bad idea.

It took effort not to yank his hand away as though he'd been burned. It also took effort to make himself stop the gentle motion of his palm across his padawan's smooth skin.

Qui-Gon took a deep breath, stilling his hand by brute force of will and trying to ignore Obi-Wan's leg, which slid over the pillow, whispering against the silk, to press against Qui-Gon. This was getting out of hand, in more ways than one. Qui-Gon would have to increase his self-discipline.

"Is it possible that your humanoids and Riadans could interbreed successfully, produce offspring?" Corm speculated, his tone idle, but Qui-Gon caught a quick gleam as his eyes flashed toward the only partly-distracted Jedi Master.

"It could be." Qui-Gon had the means to rapidly determine if it were, but he decided not to reveal this to Corm. He reached and accepted a cup of wine from a passing servant girl. Corm was beginning to give him a decidedly uncomfortable feeling.

Qui-Gon sipped his wine, listening to the Riadan priest begin to prattle casually about a variety of irrelevant topics, including the expertise of the dancers, which girls might provide his guest the best pleasure, and what cultural attractions Qui-Gon might choose to visit on Ria. After a time of making appropriate responses, Qui-Gon grew tired and the cups of wine he had drunk began to tell on him, particularly since no meal had yet been served.

"I believe my slave and I shall retire," he commented.

"But you have not yet been feasted. And there is to be dancing," Corm objected jovially.

"I had thought I might discipline my slave," Qui-Gon confided, seizing on what he thought might make his best excuse for a hasty parting.

Surprisingly, Corm gave him a broad grin and a conspiratorial wink. "But that is no reason to leave!" Corm gestured expansively. "After the dancing, we shall all 'discipline' the slaves, here, as we are!" Corm smirked, a little too toothily for Qui-Gon's satisfaction.

"Our customs are rather different," Qui-Gon committed dryly, feeling Obi-Wan go tense where his padawan lay curled around him.

"But he is only a slave and a slut, he is not deserving of privacy or modesty," Corm laughed. "Look at him press against you. He is slave-hot and ready for you to use in worship of the bounty of nature, as the gods decree. If you are concerned that it is not proper for a man to use a male pleasure slave publicly, I assure you that it will occasion little comment. Or you may use one of my own girls."

Qui-Gon automatically reached to soothe Obi-Wan's fears, and then realized that Corm had read the gesture as a caress, interpreting it to mean that Qui-Gon had relented. "There are those who would like to see him perform in the furs," Corm confided. His eyes glittered as he surveyed Obi-Wan.

"His use is mine!" Qui-Gon snapped, his big hand curling about Obi-Wan's upper arm. Obi-Wan felt his heart stop and wondered distantly if it would resume beating. Qui-Gon's tone held definite elements of jealousy, and his hand was fierce, protective .... Obi-Wan was startled and aroused to sense possessive energy, an actual sense of ownership, radiating from his Master. Of course he expected that Qui-Gon would not permit him to be taken. But the emotions in that voice and in Qui-Gon's aura ... he could not help responding to them.

Obi-Wan drew himself to his knees, draping himself against his Master's back and letting his arm fall over Qui-Gon's left shoulder. His spine felt fluid, his body warm, and he bent to Qui-Gon's neck, smoothing the long silver-touched hair aside and trailing his lips softly against the moist skin beneath. Qui-Gon caught his dangling arm, pressing it against his chest. Obi-Wan lifted his face, dared to give Corm a glare.

He knew they were the perfect picture of Master and slave.

He also knew that he could, later, pretend to Qui-Gon that this had only been an act, designed carefully to convince Corm of their charade. But for now, Qui-Gon's throat was under his lips, and his body was pressed against his Master's, and Obi-Wan lost himself in the moment as Qui-Gon so frequently admonished that he needed to do. Obi-Wan pushed his pelvis rhythmically against Qui-Gon's back, biting delicately at his Master's earlobe, trailing his hand across Qui-Gon's belly as low as he could reach.

Qui-Gon's eyelids fell closed and he sighed, a hollow, bone-deep exhalation that was as ragged as his nerves. In a moment, he was going to forget that Obi-Wan was pretending; he was going to haul his padawan over his shoulder by that arm whose hand was apparently struggling to reach his penis, and he was going to ravish Obi-Wan right here and now -- no doubt to Corm's great delight.

The moment was broken as a final party of Riadans entered the room and moved to sit in the empty space at Qui-Gon's side. The Jedi Master nodded at Qal, recognizing him formally, and received a polite nod in turn. Qal ignored Corm, seating himself on a broad cushion. Two slave girls knelt gracefully at his side, but Qal gently brushed one back, focusing on Obi-Wan.

"Exquisite, Ambassador Jinn!" Qal's eyes were warm for the first time as they surveyed the padawan. "I applaud your taste."

Qui-Gon nodded politely, accepting the compliment, and felt Obi-Wan raise his head.

Qal paled and swallowed convulsively, his hands closing in his lap. His tongue dampened his lower lip, but he seemed unable to rip his gaze away from what he saw before him.

"Obi-Wan!" Qui-Gon warned, knowing that his headstrong padawan had met Qal's eyes. The young man turned his face into his Master's neck, breaking the spell, and Qal reached for wine, gulping gratefully. Qui-Gon could sympathize. He too knew the devastating effect of his Obi-Wan's beauty and the spell of his clear eyes.

At last the feast was served.

Qui-Gon decided that it would be best to put Obi-Wan to work. He hoped that he would thereby cut down on the erotic distraction of having his padawan pressed against him. So far he had been able to accomplish a little productive diplomatic interaction with Corm, and he hoped to achieve more.

He was at least partly right. Having Obi-Wan serve him dinner did cut down on the direct physical stimulus. However, Corm was involved with enjoying his meal and the girls who served it to him, so Qui-Gon no longer had the outlet of diplomatic chat to distract him from watching Obi-Wan. Even Qal was enjoying being fed by two of his own slaves and being served wine by a third. Despite his repeated glances at Obi-Wan, he did not seem disposed to talk of business during the meal.

Qui-Gon noticed that Obi-Wan was thoughtfully watching the slave girls, particularly those adjacent to him and his Master, and his heart skipped a beat and then quickened as he recalled that Obi-Wan had always been a quick study.

The meal was served on platters. Obi-Wan accepted Qui-Gon's portion from a beautiful slave with long dark hair, her hips wrapped in a narrow band of blue gauzy fabric. Obi-Wan lowered the tray gently to the low table that lay before his Master's pillows. A pitcher of wine was also provided, and a goblet.

Mimicking the girls, Obi-Wan carefully poured the wine. Then he lifted the vessel with the palms of both hands and raised it as though to drink. Instead of drinking, though, he tilted his head, eyes closing and gently, reverently, sensually, pressed the rim of the goblet first against the slightly rippled plane of his belly and then raised it to brush his lips against the roundness of the cup. Then, bowing his head, he extended the wine toward his Master with both hands. "Wine, Master?" Obi-Wan breathed, his intonation as honeyed as though he were offering his body, and not the sweet Riadan wine.

Qui-Gon managed, somehow, to accept the goblet and drink without spilling it. He gulped a little too thirstily, though he knew the wine was potent the moment its aroma arrived at his nostrils.

Obi-Wan's lips were almost curved, a sort of secret smile, and as he turned away his eyes were meekly downcast. Qui-Gon struggled not to look too openly at his padawan's lithe form. The clean, smooth lines of Obi-Wan's body were, in their own way, equally as beautiful as the curves of the slave girls, he noted distantly. No, more beautiful, for they belonged to someone he knew and loved.

Obi-Wan's back bowed as he leaned over the tray, and the muscles in his shoulders slid smoothly against one another as he set aside the wine pitcher. Qui-Gon was frozen, only able to watch Obi-Wan, and he knew he was staring at his apprentice like a drunken lecher ogling a tavern barmaid.

But Obi-Wan was not shrinking from Qui-Gon's regard, his entire attention seemingly fixed on preparing his Master's meal. He selected a slice of ripe fruit, and instead of proffering it on the eating utensil that had been provided, lifted it to Qui-Gon's mouth with his fingers.

Qui-Gon accepted it, thinking it better not to quibble. The fruit was luscious, sweet and spicy. He could not help but notice that its thick, sweet juice had trailed its way over Obi-Wan's fingers.

Obi-Wan proffered a second slice, and Qui-Gon reached to take it with his own hand, but Obi-Wan's hands danced away, and Qui-Gon sighed again, letting his hand drop into his lap.

When the third slice came, Qui-Gon was ready. His hand snapped out and caught Obi-Wan's wrist, holding the morsel steady. Letting his eyes meet Obi-Wan's, Qui-Gon slowly leaned forward and drew the fruit slice into his mouth ... along with Obi-Wan's sticky, sugared fingers.

If Obi-Wan were going to play this to the hilt, then by the Force, so would he.

Qui-Gon took his time, sucking Obi-Wan's fingers luxuriously and then licking them, cleaning them of every trace of fruit juice. Obi-Wan's eyes, their blue darkening with shock, remained locked to his. At last Qui-Gon released him.

Obi-Wan drew his hand back, and this time he got down to business, his bluff called by Qui-Gon's sensual action. He meekly surrendered the eating skewer to his Master and subsided, sinking back on his heels, pouring wine and serving more fruit and meat when told.

Qui-Gon asked for wine rather more frequently than was strictly wise, unable to get either the vision or the taste of Obi-Wan out of his mind or his peripheral vision. He finally forced himself to focus on Obi-Wan's padawan braid, dangling against the young man's bare chest. That served to keep him sober enough.

For his part, Obi-Wan took care to watch the girls serving around them. By watching, he could better learn how to perform his duties, and besides, the sight of so much lush female flesh helped him keep his mind off his Master -- and gave him an excuse for arousal when he couldn't. Normally, he would have been appalled at the degradation these rituals represented, but at the moment he found himself incapable of objecting. Obi-Wan had been trained not to reject cultural rituals without giving them due respect, and serving his Master in this capacity stirred new and disturbing sensations in him that were a far cry from the unpleasant reactions he would have expected a slave to experience.

His own intuitions were teaching him now that just perhaps this was one custom that was at least partly misunderstood.

Finally Qui-Gon was finished, and Obi-Wan gathered up the remains, following a few of the servers and depositing the tray in the kitchen, even helping the male slaves to move the heavier tables, to clear the floor for dancing. When he finished and turned his attention to Qui-Gon, what he saw made him fairly bristle. Three of Prince Qal's most beautiful female slaves had draped themselves over his Master, and were fondling Qui-Gon quite thoroughly. Meanwhile, the Jedi looked like the Hutt that devoured the womp rat, smugly enjoying the attention.

Obi-Wan stalked back toward his Master, trying to decide what to do. He couldn't let Qui-Gon sense the truth of his jealousy. Nor could he use the Force to shove the slave girls aside, though he was tempted to do so.

But wiser counsel prevailed. As a slave himself, he was bound to ignore -- or even to abet -- that which brought his Master pleasure. And certainly the girls seemed to be doing so. Obi-Wan was running out of distance as he walked, for the room was fairly small. He had almost arrived at Qui-Gon when his Master looked up.

"Ah, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon spoke casually. "I have no further use for you this evening. Return to our quarters and await me in our bed."

For a moment, Obi-Wan stood blinking, thinking his Master meant more than he said, teetering on the edge of believing he was truly expected to provide service there as well...

...then reality set in, and he understood Qui-Gon was using this as a convenient escape from the embarrassment of having to endure his padawan's overplayed attentions ... or just an excuse to be free of Obi-Wan so that he could enjoy the attention of Qal's girls. His comment had merely been a veiled instruction to rest.

"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon's voice rumbled, carrying a threat. "Go." His hand lifted, and Obi-Wan groaned inwardly as the Force washed over him, just enough to get him moving. Obi-Wan trotted obediently back to his Master's chamber for the night.

Qui-Gon indeed heaved a sigh of relief, but in ridding himself of one problem, he had obtained three others. Pushing one of the girls aside gently but firmly, he reached for another goblet of wine. He preferred that beautiful women give him attention because they found him attractive, not because they were required to do so.

Corm was watching him again very alertly, and Qui-Gon pretended he hadn't noticed. However, the pressure to observe cultural conventions was extreme, and he eventually surrendered to it.

He cuddled one girl close, letting her kiss him. Her skill was exquisite; Qui-Gon had never been kissed so, and certainly he had never held a trained pleasure slave. He almost groaned to find himself trembling with readiness when she finally drew away.

But it was empty readiness. There was tension and desire, but his heart was untouched. Obi-Wan could accomplish more with a single glance .... Qui-Gon resolutely turned his thoughts away from the unbidden image of his padawan awaiting him, nude, in bed. Well, since he was apparently expected to participate in a mass orgy, he could comfort himself for now with the knowledge that he wouldn't have to force himself on his own padawan, since Obi-Wan was safely away and there were lovely, willing girls available and happy to serve.

It was quite late when Qui-Gon, drunker than he'd been since the night he'd passed his Knighthood trials, finally staggered toward the quarters he shared with Obi-Wan. He shuffled into their quarters, scrubbing a hand through his hair wearily. His mouth already tasted like a troupe of traveling Gungans had spent a week encamped inside, and the girls had tormented him with lust all evening, until he'd become convinced of the sincerity of their desire and the inevitability of the ritual. He'd finally permitted himself to choose a slave girl and lie with her, participating uneasily in the communal orgy.

He turned, his hand reaching for the switch to illuminate the room, and froze. Obi-Wan lay at the foot of the big bed, curled into a fetal position, still entirely nude except for the bonds he wore. Qui-Gon blinked against the dimness, bringing up the illumination quickly so that he could see what had happened to his apprentice. Apparently, Obi-Wan had met with someone on his way back to his Master's rooms. Even using the Force, it would have been difficult for him to array himself with the bindings that had been put on him.

The harness had been replaced on his padawan and Obi-Wan's hands had been fastened to the sides of his thighs, palm-outward. The ring on his collar had been looped with rough vegetable fiber and lashed to the harness between his thighs, holding his head down almost on his knees. He had been gagged, as well, fine silk cutting into the corners of his mouth.

He was chained to a ring set in the bottom of Qui-Gon's bed, not even granted a pillow, his body lying on the bare deckplates. He was sleeping, though unquietly, his padawan braid fallen across his face.

Qui-Gon leaped forward, at Obi-Wan's side in an instant, his hand catching Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Padawan!" He could hear the slur in his own voice. Obi-Wan tried to lift his head and failed, blinking owlishly in the light. His hands closed and opened again, nearly the only motion he was capable of performing. Qui-Gon hastily untied the silken gag and threw the thing on the floor with a muttered oath.

"Nobody..." Qui-Gon hesitated. "Nobody hurt you?"

"No." Obi-Wan's voice was slurred, from sleep as much as the bruising gag. "A guard escorted me back to your quarters and prepared me to await you." He could have freed himself with the Force, but he had chosen not to in case the guard had decided to return to the room and check on him.

Qui-Gon fumbled hastily with hands made clumsy by alcohol, releasing Obi-Wan's head from the harness, freeing his wrists, unchaining him from the ring, stripping the harness from him. Obi-Wan stretched painfully, and Qui-Gon hastily unfastened the remainder of the restraints, tossing them aside. "I shall be more careful in the future to watch over you, padawan," Qui-Gon promised regretfully, watching Obi-Wan rubbing his wrists to encourage circulation. He reached a hand to Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan automatically caught it, letting himself be lifted upright.

Obi-Wan blinked. A scent that was most definitely not his Master's clung to Qui-Gon's hand, a waft of perfume and muskier odors. Obi-Wan dropped his Master's hand instantly, staggering a little against the bed as his abused muscles protested. Qui-Gon had sent him away, and taken a slave girl in his stead. His eyes traveled upward, finding that Qui-Gon's clothing was rumpled and his face and other visible skin thoroughly stained with rouge. To another Jedi, Qui-Gon should have presented a most entertaining picture.

To Obi-Wan, it was a crushing, if half-expected, disappointment. It sent a spike of furious jealousy through him that he could not ignore. "Shall I fetch a basin for you to wash your face, Master?" He could hear the absence of politeness in his own voice, but Qui-Gon was either too drunk to notice or merely chose to ignore it. Absently the Jedi Master scrubbed his sleeve across his mouth, staining it and examining the stain with a distracted expression. He looked positively satiated. Obi-Wan could feel his teeth grinding, so he stalked into the bathroom.

"This stain will have to be removed," Qui-Gon mused when Obi-Wan returned with the basin.

"Do it yourself," Obi-Wan snapped. "You put it there."

"So I did." Qui-Gon seemed to find that vastly amusing in spite of Obi-Wan's anger, and he attempted to take the bowl, almost sluicing its contents all over the bed. "But you will remove it, padawan."

"Sit down, please," Obi-Wan growled from between clenched teeth, retrieving the bowl and enforcing his command with a sturdy Force-push. He didn't want to smell that feminine stink all night and remember that it meant he had been rejected. He began scrubbing at Qui-Gon's face angrily with the damp towel he had brought. He couldn't get all the smell off; that would require an all-over wash. Obi-Wan wondered if he would have the patience or stamina to try to get the big drunken oaf undressed and into the shower. Most likely not without getting inside it with him. Sighing, he scrubbed at the worst surfaces, the slave makeup quickly destroying the towel and giving a red tint to the soapy water.

"Carefully, there!" Qui-Gon's hand caught his wrist, moderating Obi-Wan's movements with effortless ease. The young man was left with no choice but comply. In a few moments he gave up and sullenly tossed the stained rag into the basin.

"You haven't cleaned my robe." Qui-Gon's hands were at the fastening of his belt and he was having some trouble with it; apparently the idea of a shower had occurred to him as well, even though Obi-Wan had just gone to the trouble of washing his face separately. "Have it done by the time I get out." He gave Obi-Wan a slightly fuzzy but stern look from under lowered brows, weaving his way into the 'fresher cubicle.

Obi-Wan snatched up the robe, fuming, chafing against the casual menial commands. He stood there quivering with anger, hands fisted in the cloak for a long moment, and then seated himself on the edge of the bed, his anger dissipating, leaving misery in its wake.

It took only a slight application of water and a brush to clean the sturdy fabric. Blinking back stinging tears, Obi-Wan draped it over the table to dry. He was just finishing when Qui-Gon emerged from the shower, wearing a towel and nothing else.

"Obi-Wan, are you well?" Qui-Gon's eyes were muzzy; he barely seemed able to stand, but he laid his hand on his padawan's shoulder. Obi-Wan shrugged it off angrily, jerking away, refusing to look at the huge, rangy body of his Master, refusing to endure the desire it would kindle in him even though he was annoyed.

"With your leave, I'm going to bed," Obi-Wan stated flatly. He turned his back firmly to Qui-Gon and began plumping his pillow, then flung it against the wall at the innermost edge of the mattress.

There seemed little else to say, and Qui-Gon abruptly realized that once again, there was only one bed in the quarters they had been assigned-- apparently slaves were not usually granted sleeping amenities, but he and Obi-Wan would manage adequately. He lumbered over and got out his padawan's sleeping tunic, draping it over Obi-Wan's shoulders. He rummaged a bit in the luggage for his apprentice's sleeping trousers, but when he did not find them immediately, he gave up. Qui-Gon pulled out a pair of sleeping trousers for himself instead and began the hazardous process of attempting to balance well enough to step into them and pull them up. One layer of cloth would surely be enough to separate them.

Obi-Wan pulled his tunic closed automatically, his expression grudging. He felt strangely uncomfortable with the clothing settled on his body. It was as though in resuming even this part of his identity, he lost a part of the freedom that he had obtained through the pretense of slavery. He felt as though the tensions he had released were flowing back into him, and he regretted it. On top of his dismay at Qui-Gon's womanizing, the additional unhappiness was almost too much to be borne. A flicker in the Living Force drew him from his bout of self-pity.

"Surveillance," Obi-Wan suddenly commented in Huttese, the word sounding like a cough.

Qui-Gon flinched. In his eagerness to free and cover Obi-Wan, he hadn't bothered to remember to check for that -- and the alcohol probably wasn't making his decisions any smarter, either. This whole scenario made him highly uncomfortable, he had to admit. Things were far worse than he'd been led to believe at the briefing.

Obi-Wan tilted his head back, seeking reaction to his announcement in Qui-Gon's eyes, the tunic falling open, revealing the flat planes of his belly.

Qui-Gon knew he wasn't up to the mental gymnastics of a veiled conversation now. Sighing, he let his silence and a resigned nod change the subject. He gestured Obi-Wan onto the narrow sleeping couch and let himself fall into it next to his padawan. "I am too weary to discipline you as you deserve, boy," he grumbled.

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan hesitated for a moment, on the verge of saying more, but then settled into the bedding, his back to Qui-Gon's, keeping as much distance between himself and the older man as the narrow bed permitted.

Soon, the two were asleep.

In the morning, Obi-Wan wakened, startled, hearing the door of their chamber open. A young slave boy wearing fairly conservative garb of white slipped in, deposited breakfast, and bowed his way out the door. Qui-Gon also stirred at the intrusion and woke, scrubbing sleep from his eyes. Obi-Wan scrambled out of bed, and Qui-Gon groaned, covering his eyes with his hand. His padawan still wore only the short tunic, which did not quite cover his hips when he bent. Or other things.

Accepting this mission had been a dreadful mistake, on a number of levels, most of which Obi-Wan was apparently blissfully indifferent to. Qui-Gon groaned again and buried his head under a pillow. Scattered memories grazed at his consciousness, not least among them the angry fire in Obi-Wan's eyes at the conclusion of the previous night's escapades. No wonder Obi-Wan had been angry with him ... he'd been a drunken fool, and a domineering one, at that. But his padawan's wrath seemed subdued in the light of day, though there was a pall of silence still gathered about him.

Obi-Wan knew his duty and was not slow to perform it. He returned to Qui-Gon with breakfast and fed his Master solicitously. Qui-Gon felt too bad to do much about it; in spite of his attempts to speed his metabolism, the Riadan wine packed a powerful punch, and his head was throbbing. Suddenly he realized that Obi-Wan's eyes were twinkling, his normal humor returning; his padawan was making him lean forward a little bit more to capture each bite, until his neck was extended to its full reach.

Qui-Gon sank back against the pillows, his own humor rising, and refused to reach for the next bite. Obi-Wan brought it to him anyway, spooning up some of the sweet porridge laced with dried fruit and delivering it to Qui-Gon's mouth dexterously. Qui-Gon was keenly aware of his padawan's collar and his eyes could not avoid Obi-Wan's barely-concealed body, glimpses of which were randomly visible when the cloth fell open as Obi-Wan moved.

Qui-Gon suddenly found that he could not taste the food he was eating. Whatever magnetism Obi-Wan had managed to muster the previous evening was now doubled. His padawan's eyes were heavy with sleep, his hair tousled, his posture indolent. The young man's motions were languid, and he was careless of his near-nudity. The faintest rosy marks remained at his wrists, reminders of the restraints he had worn. Qui-Gon's lust swelled at the memory of Obi-Wan lying bound, awaiting him at the foot of his bed. A slave, awaiting his pleasure, who had no choice but to accept that his Master had gone elsewhere to sate his needs.

No. His padawan, whom he was sworn to teach and protect. Qui-Gon blinked at his own stray thoughts with surprise. He was tired, that was it. Qui-Gon had not slept well, particularly after Obi-Wan had slipped into dreams. His padawan had rolled and snuggled close to his back without realizing. Obi-Wan's silky warmth had overcome the relaxing effects of the wine Qui-Gon had drunk -- Qui-Gon's body had responded helplessly when his tunic had fallen open, leaving his chest pressed against the Jedi Master's bare back. Qui-Gon had lain awake for most of the night, struggling against his renewed desires, trying to find the detachment for proper meditation.

Obi-Wan slept like a baby after Qui-Gon removed his restraints. His sleep left him refreshed and optimistic. The day before, he'd had little time to ponder Qui-Gon's reactions, absorbed in reacting to situations himself. But today ....

Today anything seemed possible, and at the very least, Obi-Wan would be able to enjoy the freedom he had found -- the freedom this charade of slavery gave him to express the sexual feelings he had for Qui-Gon without fear of censure. Well, relatively little fear -- he had learned rejection the previous night, and he still feared it. He must keep in mind that it was all an act on Qui-Gon's part, and that he was supposed to be acting, too. He must fulfill the demands of their mission. He had to keep in mind that his Master would not touch him, and keep his jealousy in rein. Or ... or he could try to make himself so tantalizing that his Master could not resist. The extra element of genuine sensuality between them could only enhance the plausibility of the facade they were creating.

Obi-Wan swallowed thickly, feeling the collar heavy at his throat. His hands went to it instinctively, fingertips tracing the Riadan letters for Qui-Gon's name. He had already imitated the other slaves outwardly, but he could feel an understanding and sympathy for their condition settling into his bones, and from there it was working outward to permeate his thoughts and actions. Slaves must be accustomed to living with fear of the fickleness of their Masters, and they must also work to entice by being fully pleasing, by being the lascivious, sensual, erotic creatures they were. By being ... owned, and possessed in every way. Every way.

Obi-Wan looked away from his Master's recumbent form, heat settling into his loins. He could do as the shamelessly wanton slave girls he had seen did. He could make it clear to his Master that Obi-Wan was indeed his, that Obi-Wan might be used as Qui-Gon pleased not only for mundane tasks, but also for .... Qui-Gon stirred, and Obi-Wan knew that the time for thinking was finished. Now he must feel, and live in the moment. He must follow the Living Force, let the incredible sexual energy and love that pulsed within him speak, at last, to Qui-Gon Jinn.

Obi-Wan set the breakfast tray aside and stretched like a cat, deliberately in Qui-Gon's full view, aware that the shifting lines of his open tunic exposed him beautifully. There were still a few kinks in his back from the guard's cruel restraints, but they faded slowly as he moved his body, flexing and tensing each muscle. Then, movements relaxed and indolent, he retrieved Qui-Gon's clothing and laid it out for his Master, who still lounged in bed, his arm now flung over his eyes, his breathing visibly shallower than it had been.

Qui-Gon seemed determined to try to ignore him, so Obi-Wan bustled about, doing the chores he imagined a Riadan slave would customarily do in his Master's chamber. When he finished, he decided to bathe. Quietly Obi-Wan shucked off the tunic he wore and stepped into the 'fresher. Inside, he shaved carefully, neglecting to close the door fully. Then he stepped into the stall and enjoyed a long water shower, pleased that the transport was an elite-class that provided such rare luxuries - it was a special diplomatic courtesy extended because one of the Ambassadors was the Riadan monarch himself. When he was clean he stepped out into the main room, rebraiding and tying the padawan braid and tossing it over his shoulder.

Sure enough, Qui-Gon was peeking, the faint glimmer of eyes just visible beneath his lashes, and Obi-Wan was pleased that he had not worn the towel he had brought out to dry himself with.

So much for morning meditation.

Qui-Gon lay silently. Again Obi-Wan did not permit himself to think. Instead, he turned slightly, till he was cleanly visible in profile, drying himself thoroughly and slowly. There was no visible reaction. Growing impatient, Obi-Wan decided to take more aggressive steps toward getting Qui-Gon out of bed so that they could begin their day, a day Obi-Wan devoutly hoped would end far differently than the previous one. Finishing, he arched and sighed, and then moved back to the bed. Lifting the covers, he slid himself over Qui-Gon to his own place. As his body thoroughly brushed against his Master's, he uttered an exaggerated sigh and closed his eyes, moving into his spot on the mattress, but leaving a casual arm draped over Qui-Gon's belly and making sure that his bare flank pressed against Qui-Gon all the way down.

Before Obi-Wan could settle his head comfortably on the pillow, his Master was out of the bed and into the 'fresher cubicle like a jack-in-the-box, clothes in his fist.

Qui-Gon swallowed hard, closing the door to the 'fresher as though barricading himself from danger. Was his padawan deliberately attempting to drive him mad? His mind was inflamed from the sight of Obi-Wan slowly, carefully, sensually chasing every last gleaming drop of water from the entirety of his glowing skin with the soft, absorbent towel. He remembered Obi-Wan suggesting that they might be observed. Obviously, Obi-Wan believed that; he was merely acting accordingly, being the sensual pleasure slave even in their private chamber. And Qui-Gon wasn't playing his role of the demanding but appreciative Master well at all.

Before witnessing the evidence he had just seen, Qui-Gon would not have seriously entertained the idea that Obi-Wan might be enjoying this charade, but that Obi-Wan was up to something was now undeniable. Perhaps he was trying to avenge himself for Qui-Gon not warning him about the mission when his Master had known that Obi-Wan wasn't paying attention to the crucial information in their briefing. Or ... or perhaps Obi-Wan had other motives, motives of desire for his Master.

That was a possibility Qui-Gon had not previously permitted himself to consider. He frowned slightly, resistant to the notion in spite of his own long-standing and long-suppressed yearning for more than the relationship between himself and his apprentice could offer. This mission was not the time or place for the exploration of such feelings, even if Qui-Gon had believed it was right to make such a journey into intimacy with a half-trained padawan learner -- which he definitely did not.

He had always been grateful that his apprentice had never even seemed to want to do so. During the mid-teen years when growing padawans typically pestered their Masters with awkward crushes and painful confessions, Obi-Wan had been clear-eyed and politely professional. The perfect demure propriety of his past behavior left Qui-Gon completely unprepared to deal with the sudden maddening eroticism of this young houri who now confronted him wearing his padawan's face.

Qui-Gon used his time in the shower to meditate undisturbed, and emerged in full control of himself. As he stepped out, his clothing in place down to the thick brown robe Obi-Wan had cleaned the previous evening, Obi-Wan was lying in the bed, eyes downcast, thinking, right knee drawn up and the tunic casually draped, exposing the entire left side of his body. Qui-Gon let himself glance and felt no reaction to the enticing pose. He felt quiet assurance that he was now better prepared to privately take on the role he had so far left behind himself when entering these quarters he shared with Obi-Wan. He was ready to be the stern slave Master, without losing his Jedi serenity.

Qui-Gon sat and ate his breakfast in silence, ignoring Obi-Wan as the young man lifted himself gracefully from the sleeping couch and moved to serve him. He made quick work of his food and then rose. "I want you to attend me today as I talk with the King," he stated, moving abruptly for the door.

"Yes, Master." The sweet lilting accent caressed his title, investing the two simple words with volumes of meaning.

Damn. And double-damn.

Obi-Wan's mild, submissive response sank into him like a lightsaber might pierce a training target, the bright jet of fire settling in his groin. His padawan had somehow managed to destroy his hard-won composure instantly. Qui-Gon had no idea how his Obi-Wan did it, but he had always been able to accomplish the task in one fashion or another, and usually he chose the most unfortunate of moments for his little unwitting conquests. Qui-Gon felt his fists clench in his sleeves, but he refused to let his eyes seek his student's. Simply turning to leave, he let Obi-Wan heel him without a leash, resisting the impulse to enjoy carrying out the part of mastery more than was strictly necessary.

The tiered room was much quieter this morning, occupied solely by the ship's complement of diplomats and their attendant slaves. Qui-Gon could not help but notice both Corm's and Qal's appreciative glances at Obi-Wan.

"Ambassador!" Again Corm took the lead as though it were his due, stepping forward to greet Qui-Gon. "I trust you had a pleasant evening." His eyes flickered amusedly to Obi-Wan, who blushed, retreating slightly behind his Master's shoulder.

"Quite," Qui-Gon answered neutrally. "The feasting and entertainment were superb." He gave Qal an acknowledging bow, and the Prince returned it with a more genuine smile than any he had produced the previous day.

Observing the activity of the assembled slaves, Qui-Gon turned slightly to Obi-Wan. "Assist in serving," he ordered.

"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan darted away, following several young men toward the kitchen alcove.

The interaction was businesslike and professional. Qui-Gon's previous impressions of the power dynamic were borne out in the light of day; Ahar seemed content to listen while Corm took the lead, and Qal merely simmered in the background. Simmered, that was, when he wasn't watching Obi-Wan with politely veiled hunger.

Qui-Gon subtly plied Corm for information on his goals for Ria's interaction with the Republic, until lunchtime. The meal was served, simple fruits, bread, and cheeses, and Qui-Gon watched from the corner of his eye as Obi-Wan gave a petite blonde serving girl a furious look, baring his teeth to warn her away as he took the tray himself and began to serve his Master.

The slave girl shrugged at Obi-Wan saucily and trotted away, hips graceful and back straight.

Qui-Gon was swallowing a piece of fruit, almost finished eating, when Qal filled his palm with cheese cubes and held them out to the slave girl who had brought their meal. Delicately she bent over his hand, feeding. Qui-Gon blinked, astonished. The girl was ravenous, eating neatly but swiftly, and Qui-Gon realized that this was the extent of her meal. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he made a second connection, and his eyes drifted to Obi-Wan, who knelt silently beside him, his head bowed.

His padawan had not eaten since they came on board. And it was because Qui-Gon had not thought to feed him. No wonder Obi-Wan's temper had been high! I'm a lousy Master, Qui-Gon thought dismally. He remembered Obi-Wan kneeling at his side the previous night, serving him that very morning, never taking a morsel, never speaking, silently imitating the slaves he had observed so carefully.

Qui-Gon looked over the remainders on his tray, ashamed that they were so sparse. A few grapes, a cube of cheese, and a crust of sweet, crumbly yellow bread that had been near-burnt.

He steeled himself, reaching out and taking up the cheese, turning to Obi-Wan. "Eat," Qui-Gon's voice was gentle, apologetic, and Obi-Wan raised his head. "You were so silent I had near forgotten you." Obi-Wan did not move his hands to accept the cheese, and Qui-Gon felt his own adam's apple bob as he swallowed nervously, extending his palm as he had seen Qal do.

Obi-Wan leaned forward over Qui-Gon's palm slowly, his head bending. Qui-Gon's eyes drifted closed, and he exhaled helplessly. Obi-Wan's mouth closed over the cheese, his lips brushing his Master's palm as he ate what had been offered him.

Qui-Gon cleared his throat, forcing his eyes to open, and picked up the grapes, pouring them into his palm at once. Obi-Wan bent again, not lifting his head until he had taken and eaten them all. Qui-Gon's breathing was shallow and strained by the time he had finished, and he held himself still only with a supreme effort of will.

Then he placed the bread out, ashamed at its condition but not wishing to deny Obi-Wan nourishment. Obi-Wan bent forward for a third time, taking it deftly in his teeth, biting off small pieces of the crust, chewing and swallowing. Qui-Gon watched him, mesmerized, hypnotized by the play of the small muscles in Obi-Wan's neck and jaw as he chewed slowly, his head very slightly bowed. And then ... Qui-Gon's free hand clenched helplessly into his robes as Obi-Wan's tongue flickered forth, thoroughly licking the crumbs from his Master's palm.

Willing his hands not to shake, Qui-Gon gave Obi-Wan the remainder of his fruit juice, perhaps two mouthfuls, holding the cup as Obi-Wan swallowed, the muscles in his throat again contracting beautifully. Obi-Wan's hands rose to steady himself, the fingertips of the left barely touching the side of the cup, and the palm of his right resting lightly against Qui-Gon's extended arm.

"Your slave begs for use," Corm commented casually.

Qui-Gon flinched, almost having forgotten the others' presence in the heat of his reaction to Obi-Wan.

"Look at the way he hides his eyes as I speak," Corm pointed out, amused by Qui-Gon's surprise. "Look at the way he moves his body. The way he bends his head to feed and caresses your palm with his tongue. The way he is conscious of your gaze and holds himself proudly, yet vulnerably, before you. Your discipline is harsh for him." Qui-Gon automatically glanced at Obi-Wan, who did not dare raise his head to meet his Master's eyes, terrified that he had indeed given himself away, as Corm had observed.

"I do not mean it to be so." Qui-Gon reached and slid his fingers through Obi-Wan's soft, cropped hair gently.

"But it is so," Corm protested genially. "You send him from your furs publicly. You deny him clothing and food. You do not use him for pleasure -- I can read the signs in you both," he chortled, not intimidated by Qui-Gon's swift lowering of brows. "You even dry your hands in his hair," Corm pointed out, and Qui-Gon guiltily realized that must be what it looked, and probably felt, like he was doing.

"Come here, slave." Corm addressed Obi-Wan sharply as Qui-Gon's hand fell.

Automatically glancing at Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan moved hesitantly forward and knelt before the seated Riadan priest. Helpless and seething, Qui-Gon watched as Corm's expert hands tested Obi-Wan's muscular arms and legs, trailing professionally over his bare flanks. His padawan stiffened, but held himself straight under his own Master's eyes, not resisting. And then, without warning, Corm swiftly administered a slaver's caress.

Obi-Wan cried out, muscles jerking, as a rude finger tested him from the back and a hand closed over his front, both skillfully fondling his most sensitive areas. Tears of shame filled his eyes, but he could not escape. He was held fast for a moment, squirming frantically, his body beginning to respond involuntarily to the shocking, intimate touches, but before he could muster the Force to shove Corm away, Qui-Gon was there and his tormentor was jerked upright by the fabric of his shirt and flung against the wall, several feet from them.

The serving girls scattered, crying out with alarm, and Corm put his hand to his weapon. Ahar just chuckled mildly and sucked at his pipe. Qal leaned forward, wrapping his arms around his knees, watching intently.

Obi-Wan's eyes went wide as he realized that Qui-Gon had just attacked the High Priest of the Riadan Temple on his behalf, quite possibly destroying their mission. Qui-Gon's huge hands flexed as though he would like to do more, but he held himself rigidly in check.

The Jedi Master slowly reached down to his padawan and drew the young man against him protectively, his eyes staring a promise of murder at Corm. The High Priest rose, smiling thinly, eyeing Qui-Gon in turn, hand on his sword-hilt. "He wears silks of white, then, as I suspected," Corm commented insolently. "That is to say, he is a virgin. But very sensitive, highly responsive. He will be a hot slave." Corm smiled slowly, watching Qui-Gon's rage grow, entirely unaware of the consequences of so infuriating a Jedi Master. Then he shook the incident aside, backing down with a shrug.

"I apologize for touching your slave without permission, Qui-Gon Jinn. My curiosity bested me, and I did not realize you would object." Corm drew a white silk scarf out of his pocket slowly and shook it out for Qui-Gon to observe. "You should protect him, if you wish to reserve his instruction for yourself. Twine the scarf into his collar. It will mark him, tell others he is to remain untouched."

Qui-Gon accepted the scarf, his baleful gaze never leaving the priest. Corm's smile widened. "Perhaps you should carry arms, if you think you might wish to challenge an opponent," he suggested.

"You do not wish for me to challenge you," Qui-Gon informed him, his voice a deadly certainty. "I am a Jedi Knight and a warrior, Your Eminence."

"And I, too, am a warrior," Corm returned sharply. "I serve the cause of peace on this mission, Jedi Knight, but before I ascended to the priesthood, I was captain of the Chronian guard in Agus Ria, and I will not be easily taken in battle, should it come to that. But it need not. Come, he is only a slave. Let us set aside my rudeness." Corm bowed, a mocking light flickering in his eyes.

"He is my slave," Qui-Gon corrected Corm, voice still deadly velvet. "But for the sake of peaceful relations between our governments, I shall let this pass. Once."

Qui-Gon turned his attention to Obi-Wan, who was just beginning to recover his composure. As Obi-Wan made himself release Qui-Gon and step away, the Jedi Master found himself pursuing, very gently tipping up his padawan's chin with his forefinger and thumb. He leaned forward, faintly amazed at himself, and brushed a soothing kiss across Obi-Wan's lips.

He let his hand fall and stepped back again, finding Obi-Wan frozen once more with shock, his eyes closed, his lips barely parted, his chest rising and falling rapidly. Qui-Gon wished he, too, had leisure to indulge in a moment of withdrawal from the world, to analyze what was happening to him, to figure out why he had just thrown propriety to the nine Sith hells and kissed his padawan learner, to understand all the reasons why he wanted to reach out and kiss him again, to discover if Obi-Wan would melt beneath his mouth ....

With a great effort, Qui-Gon wrested control of his wandering mind and began to lace the white silk scarf into Obi-Wan's collar, as the High Priest had suggested. Obi-Wan stood perfectly still, lashes closed, and permitted it, tilting his head once to brush his smooth cheek against the bristles of Qui-Gon's short beard when Qui-Gon bent forward to reach behind his neck.

Qui-Gon swallowed thickly and tied the scarf in place, and then guided Obi-Wan to return to his place with him. A slave was clearing away the tray, which Qui-Gon suddenly realized he had knocked flying when he leaped to Obi-Wan's defense. He seated himself slowly, and Obi-Wan knelt beside him, glancing at Qui-Gon's eyes for the first time since the flurry of activity had begun. Obi-Wan's face was troubled, his shamed gaze revealing his vulnerability, and Qui-Gon opened his arms, inviting his padawan into their circle.

Obi-Wan slipped into his lap gracefully and without fuss, pressing his face into Qui-Gon's hair, and Qui-Gon held him, raising his eyes to the diplomats to gauge the severity of his infraction, hoping against hope that Mace had been right about their reaction to confrontation.

It seemed so.

Ahar tapped out his pipe, dismissing the incident, and continued, ignoring the remnants of Qui-Gon's anger. "I expect that you have trained your slave strictly," he mused. "He has many marks of a well-trained slave. Sensuality, vulnerability ... the grace with which he moves, his musculature ... superb."

"Indeed," Corm inclined his head politely in agreement.

Qui-Gon nodded tightly, acknowledging the compliments on Obi-Wan's behalf. The priest was still eyeing the young padawan appreciatively, and the longer he did so, the more certain Qui-Gon was that he did not like the man at all, and did not forgive him his transgression, even for the sake of diplomacy. It had been a deliberate taunt, man to man, designed both to test and to torment.

Qui-Gon stroked Obi-Wan's spine gently, reassuring the young man. He felt his hand move instinctively to shield Obi-Wan's most vulnerable, exposed area from Corm's intrusive eyes. Instead of tensing and jerking to escape as he had done when the priest touched him there, Obi-Wan inhaled softly as the edge of Qui-Gon's palm briefly brushed against him in its journey to conceal. The Jedi Master could feel Obi-Wan catch his lower lip between his teeth where his face lay against Qui-Gon's neck, and his padawan shifted slightly, ending by pressing even more tightly against him.

"Perhaps you will have him dance for us, as a favor to the throne," Qal suggested suddenly, distracting the Jedi Master from his torrent of confused half-thoughts. "As the slaves danced before you left last night."

"He is not trained in dance," Qui-Gon objected automatically.

"His legs are a dancer's ... or a warrior's," Corm pointed out, his eyes predatory as they devoured Obi-Wan. "Perhaps you have trained him in arts of war, Jedi."

"Is such forbidden to a Riadan slave?" Qui-Gon inquired warily.

"By no means." Corm shook his head. "There are many fighting slaves on Ria. Perhaps I should arrange a combat, eh? Wagers might prove profitable. Your slave against a champion of King Ahar's choosing."

Qui-Gon shifted uncomfortably, certain of Obi-Wan's ability but unwilling to risk his student against an unknown quantity with unfamiliar weapons unless it were unavoidable. "No," he decided.

Corm was visibly disappointed.

Obi-Wan raised his head, but hesitated, licking his lips nervously, hoping to save the worsening situation. Qui-Gon recognized that he wanted to speak. "Yes, Obi-Wan?"

"The katas, Master." Obi-Wan lifted his eyes. "I may perform a kata, if it pleases you."

It did not. The mere thought of Corm's hungry eyes watching Obi-Wan's nude body as he went through a training kata--! And those of two dozen other men ... and of slave girls ... he could almost hear Yoda's voice, the litany varying slightly as was appropriate to the occasion: "Jealousy comes from fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." It was a mantra no Jedi student ever forgot. Sometimes, Qui-Gon had heard it in his nightmares, a never-ending progression in which every emotion twisted itself in knots until it finally led to the Dark Side.

And adjacent to his jealousy, there was another less dark emotion: intrigue. Powerful, incandescent, and overwhelming. The urgent desire to see what Obi-Wan now offered to do.

He had never watched Obi-Wan -- or anyone, for that matter -- perform the katas nude. The very idea of watching Obi-Wan do such a thing sent blood surging through Qui-Gon, and it lingered in embarrassing places. Not for the first time in a long life, he had occasion to bless the loose, layered Jedi robes he wore. He shifted Obi-Wan slightly, moving the young man away from his impending erection as he considered the offer.

Qui-Gon hesitated, and in hesitating, was lost.

"It's settled, then," Qal announced with pleasure. "Will you require equipment, slave?"

"A sword, Master."

Again Qui-Gon experienced a severe jolt of jealousy, hearing that word -- his word -- addressed to another man by his Obi-Wan.

Qal was nodding. "You shall have a practice sword, slave."

"Yes, Master."

Qui-Gon gritted his teeth and pressed Obi-Wan's face into his shoulder to silence him. Once again, he felt those even white teeth, this time nipping him very gently.

Troubled, Qui-Gon gazed down at his padawan, wishing he had never permitted Obi-Wan to obligate them to this mission. There could be no situation that would cause a greater risk that Obi-Wan might learn of the inappropriate secret desires Qui-Gon harbored than this ruse, where those feelings must be at once tempted, expressed, and denied. There was no doubt about it -- the mission was not going as smoothly as Qui-Gon might have hoped.

He set his doubts aside, forcing himself to focus on the afternoon of talks that stretched before him.

He saw to it that Obi-Wan received a good dinner that night, and plenty of liquids, so that he would be strong for the kata and would not waver. He was not quite sure what Obi-Wan intended to attempt. However, Qui-Gon was sure that whatever it was, it would be unforgettable.

He could hardly keep his mind off the upcoming performance, and when the time arrived, he was tense with anticipation. Obi-Wan rose lissomely and stepped forward into the lit circle, turning to face his Master, gazing into the flickering amber light of the torches the Riadans always set about in special stands during periods of dancing and entertainment, preferring the smoky golden illumination to the sterile white glow of artificial shipboard lighting. The torchlight shone beautifully on his skin, highlighting his muscular body with exquisite detail. "For your pleasure, Masters, I shall perform the saber kata designated the Grand Dance of the Art of War." He saluted, swinging his practice sword in a slow arc over his head, stirring the long gold ribbons that hung fluttering over the cleared area.

Qui-Gon slid his hands up his sleeves to hide the fists that formed, the white knuckles almost cracking. It was not a kata designed to be performed solo, but Obi-Wan could do a version of it alone. The Riadans would not recognize the difference, but he would. He would know that in Obi-Wan's mind and heart, he too danced in the circle of light. He would know that it was the imaginary specter of his body within millimeters of the bare flesh of his padawan. He would know that Obi-Wan was one with him, even in his absence. He would know that Obi-Wan performed this dance for his pleasure, and his alone, no matter who might be present to see.

Corm watched Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon tightly from where he sat behind Ahar on the raised and cushioned royal dais, flanked by the sullen Qal and seven serving slaves. Corm smiled, noting that the King was once again enjoying the sweet smoke of his ever-present pipe. The King gestured vaguely with a fat, beringed hand, and Corm nodded with exaggerated reverence, signaling for the musicians to play. He would now discover the extent of the boy's ability, and from it, take a true measure of the men Valorum had sent as ambassadors to Ria.

Within less than twenty-four hours, he had been able to determine that Obi-Wan Kenobi was not a seasoned slave, though in many ways he seemed a natural one. Corm suspected that he was a fighter in his own right, a pupil of Qui-Gon's, one bound to his teacher with love and desire that had apparently been but sparsely returned to him, the disparity creating in him the natural desperate submission of a love slave in need.

Corm smirked slightly. Obi-Wan Kenobi, he suspected, was a dangerous warrior. As such, he would bend his back willingly before one man only: his love-Master, his teacher. Before any other, he would probably die rather than submit. It was conjecture, based merely on the look in the boy's eyes and on his carriage, but Corm trusted his instincts. They had always given him useful knowledge, and Corm filed his guesses away for future reference along with the unexpected occurrence of the afternoon, when he had tested Obi-Wan. It had happened swiftly, but Corm was also a warrior, with razor-honed reflexes, and he knew his hands had been peeled from the boy and pushed away even before Jinn touched him, catching him and flinging him with strength unnatural for even such a large man.

He had heard rumors of such during their short time on Coruscant, where he had dropped prompting words into sharp ears, seeking information about curiosities that might be valuable to slave traders and breeders on Ria. While the Supreme Chancellor had busied himself with Ahar, Corm had made several contacts of his own, secretly obtaining valuable information about the Republic. Among the most fascinating things he had learned of was the existence of the Jedi and their special powers. He had instantly realized the immense potential for profit that could be his if he succeeded in breeding those powers into his slave stock.

The Republic's ambassadors to Ria had not originally been formally identified as Jedi, but the invisible forces that had seized him when he had administered the slaver's caress to Obi-Wan had convinced him that one or both of the men must have Jedi powers. Consequently, he had not been surprised when Qui-Gon revealed that he was a Jedi Knight. Turning his eyes on Obi-Wan, Corm smiled narrowly. If the young slave were truly a competent, highly trained fighter, it was entirely possible that he was also well-trained in the Jedi mind arts. If that were so, purchasing or otherwise obtaining him from Jinn could prove convenient and potentially very profitable for Corm.

Yes, these two were dangerous. Very much so, far more than they appeared, even if not as much as the rumors had indicated they might be. One of his more highly placed contacts had warned him of the Republic's tendency toward squeamishness regarding the matter of slavery, and had spoken contemptuously of the sanctimonious morals of the Jedi. Jinn might discover his plans and take exception to them. He would have to be very careful -- it could be difficult, as well as inconvenient, to eliminate the Ambassador and his slave.

Even as he wondered at the extent of Obi-Wan's abilities and the level of expertise implied by the title "Jedi Knight," the dance began to answer him.

Obi-Wan lifted the crude wooden blade in salute, his eyes seeming to penetrate the darkness and find Qui-Gon's, and then he drew the blade into the starting position, poised above his head, and his lashes closed. A long moment passed, the changes in Obi-Wan's body extremely subtle, as he sank into the fantasy of partnership.

Qui-Gon realized he was holding his breath, soaking in the sight of his padawan, arms and legs flexed, generous sex bare but unashamed, body taut and poised. Then, so quickly that only Qui-Gon knew it was coming, Obi-Wan flashed the wooden blade downward and pivoted, circling, dodging a blow that Qui-Gon knew he would have aimed, slicing down against an unreal parry, spinning past a body that was almost tangibly present in the tension of Obi-Wan's reactions to it. Obi-Wan almost seemed to use the absent body for momentum, interacting with it, flinging himself against it, attacking without ever piercing it, moving so rapidly and smoothly that his motions were dreamlike.

Qui-Gon was rapt. He had never seen Obi-Wan perform this dance from a distance; always he had been an active participant. Though no one else could, Qui-Gon could see a Force aura take shape, Obi-Wan's thoughts and emotions faintly embodying the absent sparring partner, and as they turned and clashed, ever more swiftly, he could make out its features. It was, of course, himself.

As the minutes passed and the kata speeded subtly and constantly, sweat began to pour from Obi-Wan, gleaming on his flanks and his chest, his body glowing from exertion, his eyes closed and face perfectly peaceful. Perspiration flew from his body in a fine spray that caught the light as his body snapped from position to position in fluid motion.

Qui-Gon felt his spirit lightening in his body, moving outward to join Obi-Wan's dance, to take his place at Obi-Wan's side, embodying the Force aura Obi-Wan spun with the strength of his concentration on the kata, but he resisted the pressure, keeping his eyes open to drink in the sight ... and slowly the kata ended, but the dance did not. It changed, subtly, as partnership became submission to the opponent's greater will. Obi-Wan held his sword before his body low, in both fists, seeming constrained to the mode of attack, even as he responded to the unfettered attacks of the unseen sparring partner.

The effect was almost unbearably sexual, and now rather than holding his own, Obi-Wan seemed battered by his ghostly opponent, toyed with, hardly worth notice. The attacks upon him spurned him with competent rejection, leaving him vulnerable and beautiful, helpless to resist, and yet required to do so. Qui-Gon realized he had bitten his lip at the symbolism, staring down with anguish, his heart torn by the change. He wondered if Obi-Wan realized that Qui-Gon could see who and what his padawan battled in his heart. Perhaps not; it was unlike Obi-Wan to reveal so much of himself inadvertently.

The battle continued, the futility of Obi-Wan's attempts to defend himself growing greater until he sank with exhaustion. And then it happened -- the blade was caught by his unseen opponent, twisted out of his hands, clattering as it was thrown aside. But Obi-Wan was not yet defeated. He leaped to his feet and the dance began anew, his body arcing and leaping as he sinuously dodged the imagined attacks that wove their invisible net around him. But he was doomed to fail. The ribbons that dangled about him, once so artfully avoided, now seemed his opponents as well, the gauzy fetters clinging to the sweat that covered him, tangling about an arm or ankle as he sidestepped, whipping about his thigh during a pivot. He faltered, relentlessly pursued and caught, his struggles valiantly continuing until he was snared and enmeshed in a graceful tangle of shining golden bonds. At last he fell to his knees, hands bound behind him, bending back to bare his throat, helpless before his insubstantial attacker. Defeated, unable to resist, he abandoned himself to the threat of the blade in ecstatic, erotic surrender.

Qui-Gon sat absolutely still as the men and women surrounding him, including the slaves, beat their open palms against the left side of their chests in enthusiastic applause. Even as Obi-Wan knelt alone in the ring, his dance finished, his chest heaving for oxygen, there was the sense of the other presence about him. Then his eyes opened, and the spell shattered, the ribbons sliding away from his body and puddling on the floor as he rose.

Qui-Gon realized he too was drenched with sweat. Rising, he strode downward, the crowd parting before him, and swept Obi-Wan into the wing of his cloak. Without a word, Qui-Gon led him away.

The Jedi Master's head was swirling as he made his way toward the door. His only thought was of Obi-Wan, of gently receiving and soothing the fragile emotions the dance had expressed to him, of responding to the yearning story of failing self-confidence and rejected love that Obi-Wan had just told him so eloquently and wordlessly.

Running headlong into Corm was a rude awakening from the erotic dream Obi-Wan had woven.

"Most enjoyable!" The High Priest beamed at him, and Qui-Gon nearly growled at the shorter man, clutching Obi-Wan to him beneath his cloak. Obi-Wan's arms circled his body; he was attached to Qui-Gon like a limpet, his feet barely touching the ground, his face buried in his Master's broad chest.

"A fine dancer, and well-trained. He dances his need well before us." Corm leered, and Qui-Gon's patience snapped.

"If you will pardon me, Your Eminence." A Force-enhanced shoulder moved Corm out of his path.

"Your need is also on you, I see," Corm's smile turned nasty. "Then perhaps at last you will not decline to avail yourself of the pleasures of this willing warrior you pretend is your slave."

That stopped Qui-Gon in his tracks, and his eyes rose, gleaming dangerously under the cowl of his hood.

"Come now, Jedi." Again, Corm was not deterred by the Jedi's most dangerous look. "The boy is clearly yours, yes, but it is also clear that he is a skilled fighter and that you are reluctant to treat him as a full slave. It is a trick on your Senate's behalf, sending the two of you in this guise. You are both warriors, spies who plan to seek the secrets of our government for the Republic's benefit."

"I have told you before that our customs are different from yours," Qui-Gon kept his voice smooth. "We are here only to determine if it is desirable for the Republic to extend trade courtesies to your people, not to seek political secrets." He swallowed, feeling dryness in his throat. "That I have not ... used ... Obi-Wan for my pleasure does not mean that I am a spy, or that he is."

"It is true," Qal intervened. "Ambassador Jinn told us yesterday that Obi-Wan is a new slave. Allowances should be made." The Prince stood nearby, arms folded.

"A new slave does not worship his Master so." Corm refused to be placated, lowering his brows and shooting Qal a threatening look. "Why is their relationship incomplete?"

Qui-Gon felt his throat threaten to close as he explained himself to Corm. "I have ... kept Obi-Wan myself for six years, since before he was thirteen, and he has been in service to my order since he was little more than a babe in arms. I trained him in the kata you saw tonight. He ...." Qui-Gon swallowed harshly. "He is my student, my ward, my responsibility ... my possession. I have not yet chosen to make him my lover."

"Lover." Corm seemed to taste the word. "An odd term for a Master to use."

"And yet, I am his Master." Qui-Gon met Corm's eyes directly. "In all things, I have always been so."

Obi-Wan murmured acknowledgment and seemed to try to burrow into Qui-Gon.

"But though you master his will, you have not taken him. You are not fully the master of his body." The Riadan Prince grudgingly agreed with Corm.

"Exactly." Corm was insistent, and the tone of his voice reminded Qui-Gon strangely of a Jedi Master attempting to instruct a recalcitrant pupil who failed to see the obvious. Qui-Gon was reminded suddenly of the religious aspects of sexual slavery on Ria, and began to wonder if the men he faced thought they were making a conversion.

"You have seen the papers," Qui-Gon rumbled. "I own his body."

"But you do not make him your slave." Corm shook his head flatly. "He does, by his own choosing. And choice ... well, that is not a slave's option."

Qal merely looked embarrassed and apologetic, shrugging at Qui-Gon. The Jedi nearly growled with frustration. It was true and it was obvious to men who had made a religion of owning and training slaves that Obi-Wan was not one, not in the fullest sense of the word.

Corm was shaking his head decisively. "If you do not prove that you are the boy's Master, then I cannot accept that anything you have told us is truth presented in good faith. You will both be imprisoned and tried as spies." Corm approached, contemptuously twitching Qui-Gon's cloak aside to bare Obi-Wan. "Look. He is not even branded!" He let the flap of cloth fall again.

"Slaves are not branded in the Republic --"

"They are in the sovereignty of Ria," Corm enunciated clearly, his tone warning. "There are irons aboard, Qui-Gon Jinn, and those who know how to use them."

Corm reached into his belt, producing an odd object that made Qui-Gon's eyes narrow. "There are whips aboard, as well. Your slave has not been pleasing, Jedi. He has stared contempt into the eyes of a free man without permission, mocking me with his gaze even after you reprimanded him."

"This is unnecessary!" Qal exploded suddenly. "He is a new slave, from a different culture! He does not yet fully understand the rules of our --"

Corm ignored him bluntly. "It is my right to request satisfaction, and your duty as his owner to give it." Corm shook out the object, a short handle with five wide leather blades splayed at its tip. "If this is in truth your slave, Jinn, you will be able to punish him."

"You go too far!" Qal hissed. "His slave is Ambassador Jinn's own to discipline! The boy has been danced hard, and given us all much pleasure. He has satisfied the gods!"

"Shall we consult your father?" Corm's words held a vitriol that forced Qal back a step. "He has not satisfied me. Your father will recognize my rights!"

Qal ducked his head, defeat and anguish plain on his face, but Qui-Gon had no leisure to feel gratitude for his attempt at intervention. Corm tossed the whip and Qui-Gon caught it reflexively. His pleasure in Obi-Wan's kata had turned to lead in his belly, and he gazed down at the top of his padawan's head, forced to resign himself to the inevitable.

Gently Qui-Gon unwrapped his cloak from Obi-Wan, meeting his apprentice's now tear-bright eyes. Obi-Wan turned his head, reaching for Qui-Gon's hand, and took the handle of the leather-strapped whip between his teeth, as he had seen a displeasing slave girl do the previous evening, offering it to his Master.

Qui-Gon reached out with a trembling hand, his palm curving over Obi-Wan's jaw and left cheek, caressing him. In spite of strict rules against influencing the minds of powerful dignitaries in the course of diplomacy, he could use the Force to overwhelm Corm's mind, make him call off the whipping. But Corm was not the entire problem. Qui-Gon felt many hostile eyes on him. They were eyes that would record and report back to their government and spread the word that the Jedi were spies, tricksters, not to be trusted. Even if he were willing to risk it, not even the legendary Qui-Gon Jinn could hope to influence so many minds at once. He was loath to do this thing, but it was better than branding ....

Corm triumphantly led them across the room to a frame with manacles attached to loose straps that dangled at four points on its edge. Even the King roused himself, hoisting his bulk from the floor and shuffling lazily through the discarded piles of ribbon as he crossed to observe.

Qal shouldered a guard away and gently worked to fasten Obi-Wan into the rack. Qui-Gon watched closely as the Prince tightened the leather manacles until they bit into Obi-Wan's skin. "They must be secure so that they will not shift and tear his flesh," Qal muttered, sensing the Jedi's frown. He finished, hesitantly caressing Obi-Wan's forearm before stepping back, his eyes deeply sad. The young Prince then turned away, gliding silently from the room.

Obi-Wan swung in the frame, offering no resistance, holding the whip between his teeth, his too-calm eyes locked on Qui-Gon, ignoring Ahar and Corm entirely.

Corm reached for the whip, and Qui-Gon elbowed him aside. "Obi-Wan is mine," he reminded him in a rasping voice. "You will not touch him."

Corm nodded his approval as Qui-Gon reached and Obi-Wan dropped the whip into his palm obediently. The Jedi Master paused, gathering himself, reaching out with the Force. He could feel the curve of Obi-Wan's back, the vulnerable ribs, the dip of his spine above his hips, the pulse and surge of the young man's life.

Letting the blades of the whip fall free, he swung it for a moment, as though testing its heft. He met Obi-Wan's eyes, a moment of intense silence passing between them, and stepped around the rack. Qui-Gon sank into the Force, gathered it, and extended it in a thin net over Obi-Wan's back, even as he drew back the whip and it whistled through the air, the thongs curling around Obi-Wan's ribs with a smart crack.

The hiss was his only warning, and tongues of flame licked his ribs lightly. Obi-Wan winced and jerked, swinging in the straps, but he remained silent. If it was to be no worse, he could bear it easily in spite of the shame of his helplessness and his horror at being struck by his beloved Master.

Corm scoffed. "Such a blow would not even punish a woman, Jinn. Strike him, or it will be done for you."

Qui-Gon felt his jaw lock, and directed the anger into the second blow.

The hiss again, like a nest of vipers. Angry ones, this time. Obi-Wan could sense Qui-Gon's bitter emotion, and it startled him, disrupting his center just as the blow landed, the sensation like fine wires slicing at his flesh. He grunted desperately, angry pink welts beginning to rise where Qui-Gon had struck him.

The Jedi Master felt sweat beading on his brow, struggled for calm. This must be done. There was no way around it. He felt his jaw cramp with grim tension. His arm flew back again.

SNAP. The rhythm had varied, catching Obi-Wan off-guard, a blaze of pain renewed in the stripes of the previous blow and added in those of this one. His throat spasmed. Sweat began to pour off him in rivers, as he struggled futilely for control. He could hear laughter ... directed at him? How could Qui-Gon do this --

CRACK. This time he had no defenses prepared to meet the blow, and a strangled cry escaped him. His back was aflame, and his face reddened with mortified shame as he heard the echo of his own gasp and realized how it must have hurt his Master to hear him cry out, even though he knew that sounds of pain would be necessary to satisfy Corm of the beating's adequacy.

Again, the hiss and slap of leather flaying skin. This time he bit his lip, tasting blood but muffling the cry that threatened to emerge, swelling in his chest. How long would it go on? How many more blows could he take before he shamed himself, shamed his Master by breaking into screams, by begging him to stop ....

"Master!" His cry was too late to forestall the next lash, keenly flaying pain from him. He could not keep silent, and he cast about for something to shout that would satisfy Corm's cruelty. "I will not fail you again!" Obi-Wan trembled, cringing from the sudden wave of anguish his call provoked in Qui-Gon, simultaneously knowing that it would seem to Corm that he feared more blows. Corm was laughing, and Obi-Wan bowed his head, trying to escape from the mockery in the man's eyes, from the remainder of the beating, but there was nowhere to go.

A seventh crack, and Qui-Gon's pain echoing his own, enhancing it ... it was too much! His own pain he could bear, but his Master's ... tears began to stream freely down Obi-Wan's face; he sobbed, horribly ashamed.

"I love you, Master," Obi-Wan gasped through his tears, lifting his face, struggling to see Qui-Gon, to reassure him, but his bonds prevented it.

Three further blows fell, delivered with desperate, savage speed, tiger-claws raking him left-right-left, the power of the impacts nearly wringing his hands in the wristlets. Obi-Wan wept, sagging, beaten.

Qui-Gon finally let the whip drop, exhausted and shaking. That had to satisfy Corm; he could not strike his apprentice again. He reached forward, feeling the heat rise from Obi-Wan's back as he loosened the straps and pulled them from the bloodless grooves in Obi-Wan's flesh. He caught his sagging padawan, holding him close. Obi-Wan was sobbing quietly, not completely in pretense, and he collapsed into Qui-Gon's arms, kissing his neck and chest desperately. Qui-Gon's anguish nearly suffocated him, and he gathered in his padawan carefully, trying not to touch the abused, flaming flesh of back and ribs.

Corm nodded sharply, grudgingly satisfied. "Let irons be heated," he directed his men.

"No." Qui-Gon stepped forward, pitching his words for Corm's ears only. He put all of the Force at his command behind the word, his fingers moving, hand rising toward the Riadan as though in casual protest. "Republic slaves are not branded."

"Republic slaves are not branded," Corm agreed fuzzily. "Put away the irons." Qui-Gon gently gathered Obi-Wan against him and led him away toward their quarters.

He had buffered the blows with the Force as much as he dared, only permitting enough contact that the angry weals would rise, showing that the whip had actually touched Obi-Wan. Though his apprentice had endured worse single injuries in training sessions with stinging charges from remotes and practice sabers, those were not so prolonged, personal, or humiliating as this beating had been. Obi-Wan was a fine actor, he decided, letting just enough of his genuine anguish show that Qui-Gon had not had to thin the buffer to make his padawan's reaction seem more real to Corm. Qui-Gon tried to reassure himself that Obi-wan had been carefully trained and was capable of taking far worse in utter silence, should he choose, dispersing his pain into the Force.

A worse, and more practical, problem was Qui-Gon's conviction that now more than ever, they must not let down the facade they maintained, even for an instant. If they did, Obi-Wan might find himself lying under a branding iron. They already teetered perilously close, and for only the slightest of infractions.

He led Obi-Wan back to their assigned quarters, whispering encouragement into his ear along the way. "A little further, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon whispered, drawing him close as they made their way down the narrow corridors, as much to shield him from the lustful eyes of the guards as to comfort him.

For appearance's sake, he pretended a carnal aspect, clutching his padawan to him roughly. It took little effort on his part to make the pretense, but Obi-Wan grunted in pain at the contact, flinching, and Qui-Gon realized that his apprentice was badly demoralized. Some amount of healing, both physical and psychological, would have to be done before they could continue with their mission.

Once in their quarters, Qui-Gon set to healing Obi-Wan's back, bathing his insulted flesh with Force-energy and encouraging a quick recovery with much-eased pain.

The burning heat of the beating dissipated almost completely, leaving only the angry swollen welts on the very surface of his skin, but Obi-Wan continued to keep his face averted from his Master, shamed. I told him. I said it. The thought was worse than the beating, worse than a thousand beatings. He could not lift his face, was mortified by the admission and the way that it had been wrung from him, and he was terrified to meet Qui-Gon's eyes lest he find only rejection and pity waiting there.

Qui-Gon tried to turn him over, to cajole the young man to look at him. "Padawan," he began.

And then the thrice-damned door chimed.

Qui-Gon surged to his feet and slapped the button to open the door. "What now, Force curse you?" he thundered, but was utterly silenced by the sight of a cringing slave girl, trembling at his feet, her forehead touching the floor only an inch from the tips of his boots, her hair flowing over the deck, her shaking arms lifting up a sealed note on a golden salver.

Qui-Gon felt like an inexcusable brute for perhaps the tenth time that day, and miserably wondered what had become of his control. He took the note and broke Ahar's royal seal, opening it to find an invitation from the King. A summons, really, informing Qui-Gon that his presence, and that of his "pretty slave," was still expected for the remainder of the festivities. It fairly reeked of Corm's influence.

Qui-Gon looked from the trembling girl at his feet to the trembling apprentice in his bed. Was this ordeal never going to end?

"Obi-Wan," he sighed, "We must go. We are summoned."

His padawan laboriously drew himself to his feet, making a visible effort to compose himself. Qui-Gon moved to the young man's side, laying his hand on Obi-Wan's forehead, using the Force to perform a calming on the boy. After a long pause, Obi-Wan's eyes rose to his at last, reddened but calmer, resigned to endure.

Together, they allowed the girl to lead them to the feasting chamber.

Setting aside his empty goblet of wine and surveying the crumbs that remained of his and Obi-Wan's meal, Qui-Gon sighed. The moment he had dreaded (and guiltily yearned for) had arrived. He had to prove his claim that Obi-Wan was his, in all ways, or be accused again by Corm, and then they would be imprisoned and perhaps slain. At the very least Obi-Wan would be branded. Of that he was certain. He vowed never to let it happen.

Qui-Gon glanced about himself uncomfortably, conscious that Obi-Wan was waiting with silent awareness for the next step. A slave girl took the remains of their dinner, replacing it with a tray containing a selection of the Riadans' preferred ... religious aids ... for use in the upcoming service to the gods. Around the room, Masters and slaves were finishing their meals and beginning to writhe in embarrassing and fascinating contortions as they worshipped their chosen god, their passions honed by the sensual beauty of Obi-Wan's kata. Cries of pleasure were already beginning. Qui-Gon knew that to refuse to participate would be fatal.

But he could not bring himself to reach for Obi-Wan.

Qui-Gon was not sure what restrained him in the face of necessity. He knew Obi-Wan had acquiesced to this role, and adapted all too well to playing it, becoming mired in its demands, beginning to lose his identity, absorbing the degradation that was thrust upon him, clinging to Qui-Gon as his single anchor. He knew his padawan trusted him implicitly, and knew that trust had always been well-founded.

Until now.

The thought of touching his newly-beaten apprentice under these circumstances sickened him even as it aroused him almost beyond bearing. And the knowledge that Obi-Wan's trust was misplaced ... that pain burned Qui-Gon like nothing he had ever imagined, searing his gut like a saber-thrust through the body. Obi-Wan believed that Qui-Gon was his Master, his protector. Not a predator. He believed that Qui-Gon's touch would come of necessity and protectiveness, and not of desire and raw animal intent.

And it was not true. Qui-Gon shuddered as Obi-Wan's hand fell gently on his knee.

"Master," Obi-Wan prompted him, very softly.

This had to be done, the ruse must be carried through. His padawan's acknowledgment of the fact lent him the strength he required.

"Obi-Wan." My padawan. My love. My .... He could not permit himself to think it.

Qui-Gon reached for Obi-Wan, gathering him close, running his hand deliberately down the front of his apprentice's body and feeling the slow, responsive shiver that greeted the intimate touch. Obi-Wan's arms slid about his Master, and Qui-Gon gently lifted him and pressed him backward onto the luxuriant wooden frame piled lavishly with cushions and animal furs that had been provided to double as a sitting couch and a pleasure bed. He was uncomfortably conscious that Obi-Wan would still feel a slight sting of pain from his whipped back. "Trust in me," he breathed in Obi-Wan's ear, the lie almost burning his tongue. And in truth it was unnecessary except for self-punishment; Obi-Wan was as pliant as silk in his arms. There was not a hint of resistance in him.

Qui-Gon was glad that there was little necessity to remove clothing. Obi-Wan was purely bare beneath him, and he had no need to remove a stitch of his own attire. He had merely to pretend convincingly that he had done so.

He drew the furs about them, rolling Obi-Wan on top of him and then back onto the floor so that they were trapped in a sleeve of warm softness. Corm sat nearby, idly fondling a girl, the sweat-stained whip tapping idly at his thigh, but Qui-Gon ignored him, concentrating on Obi-Wan instead. His padawan's bright blue eyes were serene, gazing up into Qui-Gon's, and his lips were soft, parted, ready to be kissed, so irresistible that Qui-Gon tasted them lightly in spite of himself.

Sweet, warm satin, so subtly moist, so generously yielding. Faint warm breath on his cheek. The slight fullness of his padawan's lower lip as Qui-Gon pressed a little deeper, the soft sensation of the young, willing mouth parting beneath his own ....

Obi-Wan moaned, the barest whisper of a plea as his Master pulled away, and Qui-Gon felt his hands knotting in Obi-Wan's short soft hair as he lunged helplessly back into that welcoming, vulnerable mouth, ravaging it. He bit blindly at the mobile lips crushing beneath his, swirling his tongue over the flesh his teeth grasped, then felt their teeth click together as he drove his tongue into Obi-Wan's mouth, licking the tender flesh of his palate. He could taste Obi-Wan's sweat, sense his shock at the unexpected hunger in Qui-Gon's ravishing kiss. Qui-Gon hardened instantly, helplessly, teasing Obi-Wan's tongue with his own, feeling his padawan recover suddenly and flicker his own tongue lightly against Qui-Gon's, inviting him even deeper.

Force, but he could almost believe Obi-Wan truly wanted this, even as much as Qui-Gon did! And with that, he realized that Obi-Wan was hard too, squirming against him, uncomfortable from the pressure of Qui-Gon's weight trapping his erection against his Master's pelvic ridge. Qui-Gon shifted without thinking, and Obi-Wan sighed wordless thanks into his mouth.

Obi-Wan's hands slid over Qui-Gon's back, then dipped, moving to his Master's single tunic. Listening to the remaining shreds of his rationality, Qui-Gon reached to stop his padawan's questing hands, forcing himself to break the devouring sweetness of the kiss. "No," he whispered raggedly, but it was too late. Obi-Wan's palms were beneath his shirt, wandering hesitantly over his chest and around his ribs to his shoulders. Qui-Gon shut his eyes, battling for control. He forced himself to reach and gather his padawan's arms, dragging those seeking hands from his body, pushing the young man's arms above his head. He could not trust himself to maintain his control if Obi-Wan ... cooperated.

Qui-Gon reached for a set of wrist cuffs that lay in the tray and quickly clipped his padawan's wrists together, fastening them around the heavy iron ring bolted to the sturdy wooden frame of the couch, immobilizing the young man's arms over his head. He could not look into his padawan's questioning eyes. Obi-Wan again did not resist him, limbs moving with smooth sweetness, dwarfed in Qui-Gon's huge palms.

"Master," Obi-Wan murmured, his voice near breaking from an emotion Qui-Gon could not quite identify.

"Hush, my slave." Qui-Gon tasted the words at last, having avoided them until this moment, when they slipped out and caught him unawares, the breath in his throat catching at their conclusion.

Obi-Wan did so, sighing very quietly as Qui-Gon pressed against him and turned him to his belly. His Master's weight settled on his back, driving him firmly down into the furs.

Qui-Gon knew he was helpless to prevent Obi-Wan from feeling the thick hardness of his erection as the charade entered its final stage, as though the lad hadn't felt it already, but he also knew the depths of Obi-Wan's trust. Whether or not his padawan felt love and desire for his Master, Obi-Wan would accept this, as he had been doing already, without believing it a threat to him.

The young Jedi tried to breathe under Qui-Gon's weight, oxygen deprivation already making him light-headed. He very nearly cursed his Master's decision to bind him and turn him to his belly. He had hoped this might give him the excuse, the pretext he had needed to touch Qui-Gon, to kiss him, to discover the hard, scarred body of the Jedi who had owned him, he now understood, since he was barely out of his childhood. His dismay at his Master's restraint was cruelly sharp. Qui-Gon had not removed even a stitch of clothing; there was only rough fabric against his skin.

But disappointment aside, there was a pretense to be maintained, and though Qui-Gon's lips and teeth did not find the skin of his throat as his Master moved his face against Obi-Wan, the young Jedi squirmed and cried out as though they had, imagining the rough liquid texture of Qui-Gon's tongue and the pleasurable sting of his teeth. "Master, Master," Obi-Wan moaned, giving himself over to the fantasy, to the reality, bucking beneath Qui-Gon's weight. "Take me!" The words were tense, hissed between gritted teeth, and he drove his hips upward against his Master's body.

Qui-Gon's fist clenched in the furs and he drew a sharp breath, trying to ignore Obi-Wan's apparent enthusiasm. Even if his padawan actually believed he wanted this, now was neither the time nor place. The sooner this fakery was done, the better. He could delay the inevitable no longer.

Qui-Gon lifted himself on his elbows and slid upward, resettling with his weight only partly against Obi-Wan. He moved his hand to the closure of his trousers and fumbled there, so that it might seem to Corm that he opened them. He settled the white heat of his stiffness against Obi-Wan's hips, the swelling of his erection nestling into the cleft naturally even though the trousers restrained Qui-Gon and prevented contact. Obi-Wan uttered a shuddering sigh that ended in a pleading whimper. Where was the boundary between charade and reality? Qui-Gon could no longer trust himself to judge it.

He lifted himself slightly and thrust further upward, mimicking entry, and Obi-Wan cried out sharply, thrashing, struggling against the slave-ring, as his penis was ground into the thick furs beneath them.

Qui-Gon thrust again, sliding along the cleft, the rough cloth of his trousers chafing Obi-Wan's skin, but he couldn't help it, it was almost unbearable to him as well, binding his erection painfully and yet arousing him further.

Qui-Gon resisted the temptation to run his palms down Obi-Wan's sweating sides, resisted the need to kiss and bite the nape of his padawan's neck, and thrust again, grinding his hardness into Obi-Wan's softness. Again, and again, as Obi-Wan shrieked and wept beneath him, his passionate cries tearing through Qui-Gon's resistance, driving Qui-Gon toward madness.

"Yes, Master!" Obi-Wan arched his head back, desperately trying to reach Qui-Gon's lips, and Qui-Gon wondered dimly how his padawan had managed to move so far, pinioned under his considerable weight, but it was natural, also. For was it not perfectly right and unsurprising that Qui-Gon had rolled to one side so that his hand could fumble again at the fastening of his trousers, this time freeing himself? Yes. So right that his penis sprang free and nestled against Obi-Wan's flesh. So good that his padawan squirmed to open beneath him. So irresistible, the sensation of himself nudging between the smooth tight cheeks, pressing firmly to enter, excluded only barely by the resistant virgin tightness of the young man's body.

And Obi-Wan was crushed beneath him again now, whimpering and crying, pleading, as the thrusts began in earnest .... Qui-Gon froze, horrified, eyes fixed on the padawan braid trailing at the side of Obi-Wan's neck, recalling to him duty, responsibility, and the Jedi Code.

Obi-Wan's hips bucked, pressing backward as he struggled, the impatient motion threatening to engulf the erection that pressed against him, but Qui-Gon was already moving with Jedi reflexes, angling upward. His penis slid into the cleft instead of impaling his padawan, the mingling of disappointment and relief so unbearable that Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan threw their heads back and voiced their loss in separate cries of relief and despair, one hoarse and rough, the other desperately pleading. A grotesque parody of shared orgasm, it would have to be enough.

Qui-Gon rolled off Obi-Wan, shaking, not caring that the furs slipped away and left him bare to Corm's sight. He gasped for air. Obi-Wan lay trembling and sobbing at his side, unable to move away from the slave ring, his face averted.

"Get back to the room," Qui-Gon rasped.

"Master!" Obi-Wan lifted his face, his eyes filling with shining moisture.

"Do as I say!" Qui-Gon snatched Obi-Wan's wrists, freeing him roughly. Obi-Wan pushed himself to his knees, his mouth working, searching for words.

"Go!" Qui-Gon barked furiously, shaking with rage, and Obi-Wan scampered away.

Corm chuckled and clapped, pleased and convinced by the passionate pretense. "Bravo, bravo, my fine Jedi Knights!" Qui-Gon ignored him. As Obi-Wan stumbled from the room, covering his mouth with his hand, Qui-Gon reached out blindly, his hands closing on the waist of a passing slave girl.

She was warm and willing, clinging to Qui-Gon instantly, mouth sultry as it sought his, and he flung her to her back, plunging into her welcoming body without further preamble.

Qui-Gon's eyes closed.

The girl he had chosen was slim, her curves understated, and Qui-Gon realized it was not hard to imagine that the yielding body he penetrated belonged to a young man -- to Obi-Wan. There were, of course, certain differences, but Qui-Gon's mind nearly smoked from the vivid memory of Obi-Wan's touch, of the shape of Obi-Wan's body beneath him. Qui-Gon succumbed to the fantasy, hoping it would exorcise the desire that possessed him.

The memory of Obi-Wan beneath him was one that would never fade. Now, only minutes after reality, its shattered edges seemed sharp as diamonds. Qui-Gon could recall Obi-Wan's cries almost vividly enough to hear them echoing in his ears, and the woman's were lost beneath the memory. Obi-Wan, his skin hot and soft, yielding to Qui-Gon's hands, to his lips. A groan wrenched itself from Qui-Gon's throat. The woman arched into him as Obi-Wan had almost done during that last moment, and Qui-Gon growled, thrusts coming harder and faster. He could very nearly taste Obi-Wan's sweat on his lips instead of the girl's slave-rouge. Qui-Gon paused, sweat gathering in his long hair, plastering it against his throat.

He ignored the squirming slave girl beneath him as the forbidden fantasies rushed in like the tide. Oh, he was damned ... damned for wanting this, damned for indulging it, even in pretense! Giving up the last of his scruples, he permitted himself to picture how a willing Obi-Wan would arch into his thrusts, his fingers grasping, digging into Qui-Gon's arms, his hair teased into sweat-soaked spikes ... sweat trickling over the collar clasped tight around his throat, the collar with Qui-Gon's name inscribed upon it.

He remembered how the tight entrance to Obi-Wan's youthful body had felt at the tip of his pressing penis, how vulnerable Obi-Wan had been to him, how he had struggled, writhing as though he would push himself onto Qui-Gon's erection inadvertently in his distress. A hissing gasp escaped him. Now the Obi-Wan beneath him was not the willing creature of his previous fantasy. It was the panicked young man who had lain under him this very night, not certain if he was squirming to escape or to be taken. But this time, Qui-Gon did not control himself. Instead of angling away, he slid his palms under the imaginary Obi-Wan's hipbones and drove deep, sheathing his full length in a single thrust.

The slave girl, now on her belly beneath him, tossed her head with a wild gasp, but Qui-Gon did not hear her. Instead, he heard the voice of his padawan, crying love to him: Master. Master.

Yes. He was Obi-Wan's Master, in this and in all things, and Obi-Wan knew it in no uncertain terms, accepting Qui-Gon's driving thrusts with the same small, helpless, passionate noises Qui-Gon had infrequently heard him make in the night, in his sleep, when they were quartered together.

His fist closed in long, perfumed hair, but longed to close about a slender braid ... the woman was arching, gasping, murmuring heated endearments, clenching him with her skilled body ... but it was all Obi-Wan in his mind, his padawan now overcoming the shock, turning his face over his shoulder to growl soft, half-pained encouragement to Qui-Gon, shoving his hips back to take all of Qui-Gon's aching length, whispering tensely for his Master to thrust harder, faster ... the spark leaping from his eyes as Qui-Gon did so ... the hissing escape of his breath ....

Again, the girl screamed her passion, her submission, but this time, Qui-Gon heard her. Her, a girl, an anonymous slave. Not his Obi-Wan, screaming orgasm and love to him. He felt himself wilt in mid-thrust.

Qui-Gon was dazed, disappointed. In his passion he had entirely forgotten her. Now he released her, feeling emptiness close about him. He needed Obi-Wan's body in his arms. He needed sleep and a great quantity of wine to make him forget. Qui-Gon freed the girl and pushed her away from his aching flesh. She rose indolently, her eyes shining at him in spite of the brutal treatment he had given her.

"Fetch wine." Qui-Gon hurried her with a slap on her rump. He would drink, to calm himself and to permit Obi-Wan time to do the same. Then he would return to his room.

He did not notice Qal, who had returned to the feasting chamber after the beating was over and now sat trembling in a corner staring at the Jedi Master, his face white and wretched. The Prince rose on shaking legs and hurried away.

Obi-Wan wandered down the corridor, dazedly staring at nothing. The patter of his bare feet echoed hollowly in the empty space, emphasizing his solitude. He was not quite sure what had just happened, but he knew it was bad. Possibly worse than he and his Master could recover from.

It all depended on how Qui-Gon had interpreted what had happened, and what had caused his sudden anger. Obi-Wan could be certain on neither count, and he struggled against the temptation to jump to conclusions, instead framing a general apology, one that would be just ambiguous enough to cover everything without admitting anything. "I'm sorry, Master. This mission was unexpected, and the stress is getting to me. I'll ...." I'll what? Never do it again? Do it immediately? Forget this ever happened? All were possible responses, and he could not choose from them, not without knowing his Master's mind.

The rough guard who stood before the access hatch to the sleeping quarters eyed him, and Obi-Wan mustered the Force. He'd had to use it before, to keep the man from violating him, though he hadn't told Qui-Gon. A small push was all that was needed to persuade the man that he wasn't in the mood, and another kept him from chaining Obi-Wan as he had done before.

Obi-Wan was in no mood to spend the night on the floor, trussed like a crate of supplies for the sake of their cover, waiting for a Master who might not come back to him before morning, if then. He'd seen the look in Qui-Gon's eyes, and though he had never seen it on his Master before, he knew what it meant. It meant that his Master had been within a hair's breadth of having him, and that his level of sexual frustration was such that petty matters of politeness, Jedi ethics, or even simple squeamishness would not stand between him and release.

Only something exceptional could stand in the path of such desire.

Apparently, Obi-Wan thought wryly, he was rather exceptional. He wasn't sure, though, whether to be flattered or insulted.

He moved toward the 'fresher cubicle for a shower, but paused with the door only half-open. He was covered with Qui-Gon's scent and his sweat, the feeling of his Master's flesh still tingled on his body. He could not bear to wash it from himself. Not now, not when he was tormented by the dread that Qui-Gon would never touch him so again.

Obi-wan lay down in the bed. It too smelled of Qui-Gon. Giving in to childish impulse, he took the pillow his Master had used. Running his palm across it, he found three long hairs, one silver and two brown. He used the Force to braid them, delicately, and wound them about his finger. They wrapped it thrice, forming a near-invisible circlet. He tied it and sank down into the hollow his Master's head had left. Slow tracks of liquid slid from beneath his closed lashes. He was a mess, physically and emotionally. One of those things he had the power to remedy.

Obi-Wan smiled bitterly, his face still wet. If Qui-Gon's behavior of the previous night was any indication, he would have plenty of time.

Qui-Gon approached their quarters with slowing steps, but he could not prevent himself from arriving. After a moment, he forced himself to activate the door, stepping into the darkened room. He paused to get his bearings.

A soft noise greeted him, reverberated through him, and it wrung a small groan from his chest that dissipated inches from his lips.

Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon stepped forward in the small antechamber very slowly, hugging the shadows, until his field of vision moved around the corner, and his gaze fell on the bed. There was just enough light streaming in from the half-open door of the 'fresher for him to see clearly.

Obi-Wan lay spread-eagled, the sheets covering half his left leg and barely draped over the ankle of his right. The lines of his body were taut, his back slightly arched, his small tight muscles highlighted with glow and shadow. His left arm was flung out next to his head, his hand a tight fist on the pillow. His right hand was closed around his half-erect penis, stroking slowly.

Qui-Gon felt his mouth go dry, and he sagged against the wall helplessly as his knees threatened to give way beneath him. Of all the things he had failed to anticipate .... Obi-Wan, eyes shut, never noticed the faint flicker of his Master's shadowed presence.

He drew his fist up in a smooth, steady stroke that tightly harnessed all of the violent potential for energy in that taut, vital body, his thumb squeezing the vertical ridge that extended for the length of his penis, milking it gently. He stirred, his body rustling against the sheets as he snugged his hips down into the mattress, swallowing. The faint clicking of his throat reverberated through Qui-Gon, as did the slow intake of breath and the rise of Obi-Wan's slender but well-muscled chest.

The dim light from the door shifted on Obi-Wan's skin as the young man moved, briefly throwing his ribs into relief, pooling his face in shadow. His hand slid to the root of his erection and pulled upward again. Qui-Gon's eyes riveted to the hand's slow process, to the ridge of loose skin that pushed up in its path and then slipped through the clasp of Obi-Wan's fingers. Obi-Wan rotated his palm slightly at the top of the journey, smoothing the soft sheath of flesh around the crown, his breath escaping him in a deep, weary sigh.

Qui-Gon realized his mouth was hanging open and closed it with a sharp snap. Obi-Wan's left hand awoke and strayed downward, curling beneath his testicles and lifting them gently, fingering them slowly, his right hand sliding to the base of his penis again until the blade of his palm lay against the soft sac of skin, and then he pulled upward again, more sharply.

As he did, he arched upward as though his spine were boneless, inhaling and holding the breath, his hand repeating its swift transit. He was fully erect now, and the light caught faintly, shining on a drop of fluid at the tip. Qui-Gon could almost taste it, swaying forward involuntarily before he regained control and forced himself to remain hidden.

Obi-Wan shifted again, turning slightly to his side and drawing one knee up, his bare foot whispering along the pale sheets. Bracing on his left arm, he curled his body, his hand beginning to slide more rapidly and more loosely. Up and down it plunged, drawing Qui-Gon's tortured eyes along with it, the repetitive circuit hypnotic. The tableau lasted for perhaps a dozen strokes before Obi-Wan shifted once more, sliding into the half of the bed furthest from the wall. He lay back, his breathing swift and harsh, his hand abandoning his penis, which sagged to the side, neglected, as Obi-Wan simply spread himself on the bed and breathed.

Qui-Gon felt his brow crinkle slightly, wondering what his student was doing. Obi-Wan reached to his side and his palm slid over a pillow, almost reverently.

He gathered it up to himself gently, as though it were a living thing, bringing it close to his face. The slow, measured rise and fall of his chest spoke of deep breathing, though relaxation techniques were hardly to be expected during such a moment. Obi-Wan clasped the pillow to his chest, his arms sliding about it, snuggling it to him like a person's body, and his knees came together, leaning away from the light, as he rocked there, slowly, gently, for a long moment, enjoying the imagined embrace.

Obi-Wan's lips brushed gently against the pillow, and his arm stole down, the palm wrapping about his erection again. Face buried in the pillow, Obi-Wan began to stroke in earnest. The pillow muffled his groans, and Qui-Gon fought against his impatience to hear him, stepping forward without realizing it.

Qui-Gon felt his own penis stirring urgently, insistent for the completion of the act he'd failed to finish twice already this evening, and his palm strayed over his robes, clasping the swelling ridge that lay beneath. His head fell to his chest, his beard scrubbing faintly against his tunic, but his eyes stayed riveted on his slave, his padawan, peering over his aquiline nose, piercing beneath the low-pulled brows. His left arm curled around his body, much as Obi-Wan's curled about the pillow, the imaginary lover, the stand-in for whatever body he was imagining next to his own.

Qui-Gon's hand burrowed beneath his robe to free the straining flesh. Obi-Wan's climax would come soon, and Qui-Gon did not want to be left behind, or worse, caught. His hand closed around his own body, the skin exquisitely sensitive from thwarted desire. His penis was painfully erect, begging for attention. It would not take much. Obi-Wan would never have to know his weakness.

Obi-Wan's hips began to jerk, and he fell onto his back again, writhing, but still he curled around the stiffened organ that was the temporary center of his being, head and hips lifting from the surface of the bed, small tortured gasps muffled by the pillow he still pressed to his face.

Obi-Wan's gasps were not so quiet anymore, and the muscle in his arm was clearly ready to cramp; his grip must have been painful but he did not slow, using his hips instead, pushing upward ... faster ... harder .... Qui-Gon felt his testicles tighten in sympathy, his breath coming in hoarse groans that were lost in the helpless, half-strangled noises that Obi-Wan was making. He was just a heartbeat behind Obi-Wan, and the moment was coming fast.

And then the pillow rolled from Obi-Wan's face, forgotten in the heat of the moment, and his padawan's moaned words became audible to him. "Master. Ohhh ...." Obi-Wan's voice cracked with tension. He inhaled with a sharp hiss, shifting, and unbelievably the strokes whipped faster, harder. "Your slave ... Qui-Gon ...." Obi-Wan's head jerked to the side, his expression agonized. "Please!" The word was a whimper, escaping through clenched teeth.

Qui-Gon's fists closed, knuckles cracking as he struggled with the impact of the unexpected revelation. Obi-Wan wanted him. Wanted to be taken by him. Wanted Qui-Gon to master him as both man and slave.

A red madness of desire mingled with despairing anger at his padawan for bringing him to this pass flooded through Qui-Gon on the heels of understanding, eliminating the tattered shreds of his restraint and sweeping away the ruins of his control.

"Stop!" his voice grated harshly as he stepped forward. Obi-Wan shied violently, his lids snapping open, startled eyes deep and terrified, his lower lip beginning to tremble with excuses, denials. "If you are determined to be a slave, then remember that your Master has not given you permission to touch your body!" The sharp words forestalled any attempt at justification, and Obi-Wan swallowed hard, giving a single shamed nod, submitting to the reprimand humbly and without any attempt at defense. He bowed his head, the motion hiding his face in shadow. There was much of both the slave and the padawan in the simple gesture.

The perfect defeated acquiescence as Obi-Wan lowered his shame-filled gaze tore something open deep inside the Jedi Master, and he could resist no longer. His hands tore at his belt, his tunic, and his breath came ragged as he flung them away. Obi-Wan lifted only his lashes and watched, still as a startled deer, only his eyes moving, taking in the sight of Qui-Gon's uncharacteristic frenzy. His Master, magnificent muscular body gleaming in the bar of light from the adjoining room, stalked forward. His knee fell on the rumpled sheets. Obi-Wan felt himself go slack, felt his hand trickle from his lap to the mattress, his muscles tingling with sudden weakness, his feet sliding along the sheets as his knees sagged, even though there was no weight upon them.

Qui-Gon's hands closed on his shoulders, effortlessly dragging him up to meet a savage kiss. Obi-Wan's eyes closed, and he let his mouth melt under Qui-Gon's demand, opening eagerly to his Master's probing tongue. He could barely endure the sensation of Qui-Gon's leg moving over his body, his hips coming to rest on Obi-Wan's thighs, the crisp hair between his legs rough against Obi-Wan's still-unsatisfied penis.

"Raise your arms above your head." Obi-Wan complied, grasping the headboard, the fading rational part of himself faintly aware that Qui-Gon's childhood accent had emerged, as it occasionally did in moments of stress. The words, though harsh, were laced with its music, and Obi-Wan sighed with happiness, doing as he was told. "Don't move them until I say you may," Qui-Gon warned.

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan breathed, and Qui-Gon devoured the words from his mouth with another fierce, bruising kiss, teeth sharp on the fullness of Obi-Wan's lower lip, hands rough as they claimed Obi-Wan's body, ranging over him, exploring every bit of flesh, finding hidden sweetness. Obi-Wan moaned as Qui-Gon's mouth left his and found his throat, kissing about the collar.

"Part your legs," Qui-Gon commanded, and Obi-Wan obeyed immediately. Qui-Gon moved to kneel between them, savoring the sight of a single drop of fluid gleaming at the tip of the heavy erection that sagged toward Obi-Wan's tight belly. He tested the weight of Obi-Wan's sensitive testicles in his palm, stroked the soft, yielding skin over the taut flesh of his slightly curved shaft, traced a pulsing vein with his fingertip, forcing himself to wait, whetting his desire. It was far too late for second thoughts.

At last, unable to delay longer, he bent forward, giving in to the overwhelming temptation to taste his student's lust. Obi-Wan's eyes followed with disbelief as Qui-Gon bent close and touched his tongue to the salty droplet that had gathered. Qui-Gon could hear Obi-Wan's nails scratching at the headboard as his padawan struggled to be still. He slowly slid his tongue inside the tight sheath of skin, swirling it around the hot, damp hardness that lay within. Obi-Wan jerked, a hissing gasp escaping his lips.

Qui-Gon reached beneath his padawan's hips, drawing them up in a thrust as he slid Obi-Wan deep into his throat, listening to his apprentice's ecstatic whimpers. He wanted more, but his padawan was too close, and he did not want this to end yet. Not this way, not this time.

Obi-Wan suppressed a flicker of fear as Qui-Gon withdrew his hot, clinging mouth, terrified that his Master would stop himself again before it was finished, but he soon found his fears were unjustified. Huge palms caught his thighs, pressing them out and up until his knees nearly rested on his shoulders. Obi-Wan shivered with frightened anticipation, knowing what came next, still grasping the headboard as he had been told, aching with the need to be ravished. He clamped his teeth on his lower lip, stifling his cry as Qui-Gon started to press the head of his thick hardness into him without the aid of oil, his erection still partly slickened from his abortive coupling with the anonymous slave girl.

"Let me hear you!" Qui-Gon bit his calf fiercely, and Obi-Wan yelped from the bite, then uttered a strangled wail as Qui-Gon finished pushing inside him, physical pain mingling with the psychological ecstasy that comes from the end of unbearable tension.

"You are mine, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon's voice rasped, his eyes glittering down at his padawan with a mixture of pain, lust, and love. Obi-Wan thrashed helplessly, impaled. "My padawan, my slave ...." Qui-Gon pulled out and thrust again, hard, this time at an angle that sent an unexpected flare of pleasure lancing through Obi-Wan from inside himself.

"Yes!" Obi-Wan almost wept, trying and failing to twine his ankles behind Qui-Gon's neck. The angle was wrong for that, but Obi-Wan needed to draw him close, to urge the thrusts to resume, the friction of Qui-Gon's hard body against his erection maddening him. He rocked desperately, fastened to the headboard with bonds made only of Qui-Gon's will, and all the stronger for it.

Qui-Gon growled, his long hair falling about Obi-Wan's face and neck, curtaining them in a small enclosure together. He shoved again, harder and deeper.

Obi-Wan ignored the pain, focusing on Qui-Gon's hard wet mouth on his, opening his lips to accept his Master's tongue, greeting it eagerly with his own.

"Let go." Qui-Gon's hands released his thighs, and Obi-Wan pried his aching fingers from the headboard obediently as Qui-Gon rose to a kneeling position without disengaging from him, holding Obi-Wan's waist in the crook of a powerful arm, lifting Obi-Wan and letting him fall rhythmically, using his padawan's own weight to drive the building pleasure between them. Obi-Wan arched back, his braid trailing against the sheets behind his shoulder, his hands clutching Qui-Gon's flexed biceps, feeling the hard muscles roll beneath his palms as Qui-Gon labored to move him and yet restrain himself simultaneously, struggling to prolong the moment of Obi-Wan's willing slave-rape. But he could sense that Obi-Wan was also on the edge, the friction of the movement pushing him to succumb to climax.

"Wait!" Qui-Gon growled. "Not until I say!"

Obi-Wan nodded, belly tensing, accepting another thrust, struggling to dissipate the tension coiling deep in his loins. Then all tension was suddenly gone as Qui-Gon withdrew fully from his body. Obi-Wan uttered a disappointed moan and would have spoken, but his protest turned into a yelp of pain as Qui-Gon gripped his upper arm fiercely and with one lightning-swift motion neatly flipped him over onto his belly. Qui-Gon knelt between his padawan's legs, lifting Obi-Wan's hips and dragging the young man up and back to rest on his thighs. Gritting his teeth against the resistance of Obi-Wan's body, he spread him without finesse or care and entered him. His hands caught beneath Obi-Wan's hips briefly before moving to his shoulders, bowing the proud back as he began to thrust in earnest, spreading his knees so that there would be no friction on Obi-Wan's penis.

Obi-Wan gasped, a sound of real pain falling from his lips, but caught the headboard again, helping to add resistance to his Master's quick motions, enabling Qui-Gon to free a hand to skim over his arched back and forward, to his straining belly, and finally down to the nest of curls and the straining erection that waited for its Master's permission to expend its passion and expire.

Qui-Gon's huge hand enclosed him like the warm, tight sheath of a woman might, and Obi-Wan jerked, desperate to obey by waiting, clinging by his fingernails to control as Qui-Gon stroked him once, twice, and again, in time with the jerking of his hips, sagging forward over his padawan's back until the weight of his body began to press Obi-Wan into the mattress. "Now," Qui-Gon breathed in his ear, and Obi-Wan came, his shout of relief echoed by his Master's deep-throated roar as they succumbed to climax together. Qui-Gon's full weight fell on Obi-Wan's back, his lips nuzzling Obi-Wan's nape and his shoulders with a weary, sated hunger.

Still twined together, they quickly fell into the dark and dreamless oblivion of exhausted sleep.

Part 3 -- Acceptance

Qui-Gon refused to open his eyes. It was morning, and the day had to be faced, but not yet. Not yet. Force, what had he done? He felt his throat closing with shame.

Obi-Wan was entangled with him, wrapped about him, knee between his Master's legs, chest half-over Qui-Gon's, fingers tangled in his hair. He could feel the weight of the padawan braid flung across his chest as though it were a lead-lined conduit. Obi-Wan's breath warmed his ear, and his lips nuzzled against his beard as he mumbled in his sleep. It sounded like his name, little though Qui-Gon deserved that.

It was not only that he'd had transgressed a strict point in the Jedi Code by having sex with his padawan learner; Obi-Wan had made it clear he wanted that from Qui-Gon, at least -- but the way it had happened was unacceptable to the Jedi Master. He'd released the animal inside himself, abandoned his control. It was a thing that rarely happened to him normally, but on this mission he had constantly felt himself riding that ragged edge as he was forced to cope with the expectations Riadan culture held for himself and for Obi-Wan. He had spent so long denying his feelings for his padawan that he was unable to cope with them when they surfaced. His feelings had jeopardized not only their training relationship, but also their mission ... and last night, he had let himself cross beyond the point of no return for both. Disaster.

His apprentice stirred a little more, waking, and Qui-Gon dropped into a subterfuge of slow and easy breathing, emptying his mind in order to fake sleep. He needed another few minutes to himself before he could face Obi-Wan and observe the effects of what he had done both to them and to their training bond.

Obi-Wan continued to awaken. It was a process that involved much sighing and nuzzling. As the last dregs of dreaming faded from his mind, Obi-Wan began sleepily running his fingers over Qui-Gon's chest, slowly mapping the terrain of smooth skin, fading scars, and rough hair he found there. His touch was light, soothing, and appreciative. It bore no residue of resentment, uncertainty, or malice in spite of what he'd been through in the past two days ... two days that seemed to Qui-Gon as though they had taken months to pass.

Obi-Wan's diffident fingers eventually trickled down his belly and, after a savoring pause, took him up softly and began to study him with loving pressure. Qui-Gon suffered the pleasurable examination guiltily, wondering if he would be allowed to continue in his pretense of sleep.

His body responded, of course, to Obi-Wan's manipulation, his penis coming erect slowly. Obi-Wan smiled against his skin, and moved to brush a kiss against Qui-Gon's cheek. "I love you, Master," Obi-Wan whispered huskily into what Qui-Gon knew he assumed was a sleeping ear.

In spite of their strong bond of respect and trust, those words had never been exchanged between them before this mission. They dropped into Qui-Gon like a stone into a pond, sinking to his core, spreading ripples of shame throughout his body. Obi-Wan had said them before, during the beating when Qui-Gon had been so preoccupied by his own anguish that he couldn't take the time to ponder them -- he'd had to ignore them, to keep his sanity -- but now ... to hear them spoken while lying abed, bodies entwined in the morning aftermath of rough, frenzied sex, Obi-Wan half-draped over his Master, unaware that Qui-Gon might be awake and listening ... they resounded with simple, poignant sincerity.

His apprentice loved him. Qui-Gon felt anguish spike his heart. He had badly failed Obi-Wan as a Master by permitting them to undertake this mission with his padawan so ill-prepared, by collaring him, by permitting his tender young body to be displayed and touched publicly, by forgetting to feed him. But even after all that, even after Qui-Gon himself had beaten Obi-Wan and taken him brutally, the only things Obi-Wan offered were his deep, abiding trust and self-effacing love, and the bright, scintillating gift of himself. How long had that been there, waiting, only to arise now when they had no leisure to come to terms with it, when the tension its demands exerted on Qui-Gon promised to destroy both their mission and their training bond?

His padawan was moving now, considerately half-levitating over Qui-Gon in order to leave the bed without waking him. He heard Obi-Wan pad into the 'fresher, heard the door click shut behind him.

He had several minutes to compose himself, to find the words that must be said to his padawan. To try to become again what he had given up his right to be the previous evening. To give Obi-wan the support he had to have to survive this intact ... or at least salvageable.

Obi-Wan stood quietly before the mirror in the small room, carefully examining his body, even turning his back to survey the fading welts from the lash that had been applied to him. Qui-Gon had been too concerned with Obi-Wan's pain; if there were no marks on him today, Corm would surely notice that something was amiss.

But Obi-Wan was marked, and not merely upon his back. Wondering fingers rose to his throat, traced the dark print of teeth that lay there. On his upper arm and his hip were ten wide-splayed bruises, the exact size and shape of Qui-Gon's broad fingers. His lips were swollen, and there were miscellaneous bites, bruises, and tender red and pale purple patches scattered over his skin that he could not quite remember receiving. He had not been taken so much as he had simply been ... devoured. Even his thighs and calves had not escaped the inadvertent prints of Qui-Gon's strong hands and mouth. And he was sore elsewhere also, though it did not show so readily as the other marks, his body stretched and tender from accommodating his Master's rough entry.

He could read his body now, like a book that detailed the intimate secrets of Qui-Gon's desire for him, Qui-Gon's pleasure in him. The marks on his flesh were a calligraphy of lust that Qui-Gon had carefully inscribed onto him, the only recorded evidence of what had happened between himself and his Master.

He found that he loved looking at the visible results of Qui-Gon's loving on his flesh, and he touched a bite mark with trembling fingers. Its slight pain was an echo of pleasure, an echo of possession. It was a reminder that he was needed, and had been taken. It proved, in some subtle and disturbing way, that Qui-Gon valued him sexually, that his Master had wanted him so much that he had thrown everything aside and simply let himself take what Obi-Wan offered.

Obi-Wan realized that he never wanted these marks to fade from his body. He wanted them, needed them, to prove that he was desired, to prove that he had pierced that stolid, aloof barrier that had almost always stood between himself and Qui-Gon Jinn, since the earliest days of his near-thwarted apprenticeship to the Jedi Master. It had been years before Obi-Wan understood that Qui-Gon actually did truly want Obi-Wan as his apprentice, that he was not training him merely out of some measure of expedience or pity. And that understanding, when it arrived, had been purely intellectual, not emotional.

This ... this was something else entirely, and while it was not precisely the sort of emotional bond Obi-Wan had hoped for, it made him realize how thirsty his spirit was for indisputable confirmation that a deep, mutual emotional connection of some kind existed between himself and Qui-Gon. And now that that evidence existed ... he felt almost inordinate pride in the proofs of their lust manifested on him.

Obi-Wan swallowed, caught suddenly by the incongruity of the vast, terrible craving to be loved that was revealed at the core of his soul. It was terrifying, alien, insatiable, and its passion and need was a complete contradiction to his training in independence and to the Jedi Code, which decreed that a Jedi should feel peace and serenity instead of passion. He suddenly needed anchoring in his own true identity, and he knew of only one place to turn in hopes of finding it.

On to the next part