The Jedi Temple Murders

by analise & Kirby Crow

Email: or

Archive: MA, Nesting Place, SWAL, TOTO, all others please ask

Pairing: Q/O

Rating: NC-17

Category: First time, pre-TPM

Warnings: No spoilers, rape, murder

Disclaimer: Characters belong to Lucas and gang. We're only borrowing them.

Summary: Young Obi Wan Kenobi is forced to relive a horrific experience when someone begins killing Padawans in the Jedi Temple, and not even his Master can save him.

Author's notes: If you want, you can think of this as our Halloween offering. And we are going to post three parts a day....because we're EVIL. In the Halloween spirit after all....

Kirby:I would like to take this opportunity to thank analise for granting me the great pleasure and privilege of collaborating together for this project. It's been a learning experience and a blast! Thanks again, chickiepie!

analise: -ahem- I hate to have our author's notes turn into a mutual stroke-fest, but there you have it. Writing with Kirby was pure joy. No one's got her talent for prose. We spent a lot of time on this puppy and I couldn't be more thrilled with the results! I'm actually sorry that we're done! Have at it!

You can check out the cover art at:

It began, as most things do, quite innocently. I only wanted to talk to him, to ask some questions. To perhaps find out why. It was only once he opened his vicious little mouth and spewed his foul accusations and his blame at me from those harlot's lips that I knew what had to be done.

It was ridiculously easy. He was no match for me. I didn't even need to use my hands, just wrapped the Force around him and pushed his head under the waters of the moonlit fountain.

For some reason I thought that it would be bloodless. It wasn't. I had not counted on the fact that he would attempt to use the Force as well, creating a compression inside the field I enveloped him in that burst his eardrums and the delicate membranes in his nose and eyes, tinting the waters a faint pink. The Force retreated at my command, and his corpse floated up from the water, doing that slow, lifeless roll in the water to turn, staring with still, shattered eyes at the lightless sky. If I did not act quickly, this was the way the Jedi would soon find him.

The body I could hide, but there was nothing I could do about the blood in the water. I would have to leave it and hope the water filters concealed in clever niches in the curved, low walls of the fountain would eliminate it.

The Code calls for self-reliance. Following that rule, every Jedi facility with a suitable climate is equipped with a cistern. The water is collected on the roofs of the main and outlying buildings and directed by a catchment system of diverting gutters into a great cistern positioned near the agricultural area. In this area are the pretty strolling gardens and the large crop fields where food is grown. The water is only used for irrigating plants. Conceivably, something hidden in the cistern could go undiscovered for weeks or even months.

I favored the idea. It seemed almost poetic, to think that this wasted life would serve some purpose after all, even if that function were only to nourish lowly food plants and thus, in the long view, his fellow students as well.

Levitating the body to the top of the rounded cistern was simple. Removing the heavy, torus-shaped capping block in the center of the lid was harder, for it is always more difficult to manipulate unseen objects. Inevitably, though, the cap was moved and the body pushed down into the concealing depths.

It was near dawn by the time the block was back in place. I took one last look around the garden.

Now I only had to be alert and very careful, for the Jedi are swift at sniffing out patterns and intent.

I should know.

A slight breeze curled up and around the lip of the low wall, bringing the musky, brown scent of gava grass newly threshed and the grainy texture of air warmed by an autumn sun. He could just make out the figures of the creche children far out in the fields, finishing up the last of the harvesting for the season. Small brown-clad bodies bobbing up and down as they gathered up the shorn grass, shaking the grain out over their baskets with a charming mix of a child's awkwardness and the control of a budding Jedi. Squinting out at them through the morning sunlight he suddenly found that he could no longer remember what simple labor felt like. The tedious, predictable repetition of a task that held no threat of losing life or limb.

A faint smile touched his lips as he imagined himself walking out into the fields and helping the children gather up the grain. His apprentice would likely never let him hear the end of it. Inscrutable Jedi Masters were supposed to stand quiet in their omniscience, gazing out over the flocks of the learning and offer gems of wisdom every once in a while.

An outright chuckle rumbled up from his chest then. Indeed.

As it was, he was feeling cooped up on Coruscant. They had been here too long for his liking. And while it was pleasant out in the deceptive beauty of the Temple's compound, his senses still yearned for the unpredictability of the Universe.


But there was Obi Wan to consider, and his training. He took his Padawan's education too seriously to neglect it. And every once in a while the youth needed the structure of what the Temple could give him. Field experience was nice, but it did not always lend towards such things as honing fighting skills. Contrary to popular belief, most missions were peaceful diplomatic events. Much to the disappointment of the newly Apprenticed.

His eyes flicked back from the shorn fields to the grassy sward where said apprentice was currently sparring energetically with another Padawan, one of Obi Wan's close friends. An unexpressed sigh broke somewhere deep inside him as his eyes drank in the beauty of his apprentice's movements. He had the body and the sensibilities of a dancer, his motions fluid and graceful as he thrust, parried and dodged. There was a huge grin on the youth's countenance even as sweat dripped down into eyes fired with the thrill of the contest. The other Padawan was giving as good as he got, attacking and withdrawing with perfect precision. An excellent match...but he predicted that Obi Wan would win. Obi Wan always made a point of winning.

The vanities of youth, he thought with an inner smile. And the boy had the right to be vain. He was beautiful and he knew it. Qui Gon fought back the familiar stirrings of desire that always awoke when he watched such swordplay, telling himself that he could enjoy the sheer animal beauty of his apprentice without resorting to lustful contemplation.

Still, it was difficult. Very difficult. His Padawan had long blossomed into an extremely attractive young man and he had found it increasingly hard not to simply reach out and touch. Wrong. That would be wrong, he told himself calmly. He is your student, and you would like him to remain so. An invisible shiver passed through him at the thought of being without the boy. Not worth the risk.

Even so, as the crisp morning light caught in the gold-washed highlights of Obi Wan's hair and shimmered off the sweat-slick planes of his bare torso, he knew it was only going to get worse before it got better. He simply couldn't control the rising feelings like he could with so many other things.

And the biggest problem was that he didn't want to.

"You Padawan looks to be in good form." The voice rumbled quietly in his ear and he turned his head to see the tall, stately form of Mace Windu move to lean against the wall to his right. Qui Gon let a proud smile curve his lips as he nodded, forcing his desire down deep in the presence of a Council Member.

"He is. He practices a great deal." Qui Gon murmured, tucking his hands into his sleeves.

"It is his devotion to you that drives him." Windu said softly, dark eyes flicking back and forth as he watched the two Padawans spar. "You must be careful with such a gift as that. It can easily turn to worship."

That lifted his eyebrows. It was a strange thing to say. It was a given that a Padawan would try to rise to the standards of his Master. Anything less would make a mockery of the apprenticeship.

"I'm not sure what you are saying, Mace." Qui Gon said, trying not to sound defensive. Had the solemn master just now sensed the inappropriate, lustful feelings that he had carried for Obi Wan? The thought had him fighting back a traitorous flush.

"Nothing that you don't already know, Qui Gon." He said slowly, still not meeting his eyes, instead focusing on the two young men as they lunged and parried. "I know you always do the right thing, old friend."

Why did that sound like a threat? He frowned and opened his mouth to demand an explanation, but was interrupted by a flurry of sound.

A shout from across the greensward attracted both Masters' attentions and Qui Gon pushed off the low wall, squinting to see what the commotion was. He could see that Obi Wan and his partner had stopped as well, young chests heaving with exertion as they craned their necks. In the distance a number of the creche children were gathered around what looked like the irrigation outlet. He could feel their shock and horror from where he stood.

His legs were moving before he even thought about it, breaking into a loping run towards the growing cluster of children, Mace just behind him. He could sense that Obi Wan and his friend were not far behind them.

He gently pushed through the gathering group, noting that one of the children had started to sob softly from somewhere near the front of the clot.

The irrigation system consisted of a large underground cistern that gathered fresh water during the rainy season and stored it for the small fields the Temple kept. A wide, long pipe, using only a single solar generator pumped water up from the cistern, expanding along the length of the field with numerous outlets that fed the rows. Usually, the children would go along the rows in the mornings and lift the little iron grates, letting the water spill into the fields.

Today they had lifted the gate and now it hung ajar, only a thin trickle of sluggish water dripping past what was clearly a snow-white hand, the fingers slightly curled in towards the palm, the short, square nails blue with death. Sediment clotted around the disembodied appendage, dead weeds wrapping around the wrist like a strange coil of jewelry.

Without any hesitation, Qui Gon dropped down onto his knees in the mud and peered into the gate, trying to see beyond the filthy white of the waterlogged arm that extended back into darkness. Mace stood back a little ways, his lips white as he stared at the hand.

"By the Force!" The exclamation was from Bacco, the youth Obi Wan had been exercising with, and he could feel the horror emanating from both Padawans.

"He's trapped in the main pipe there..." Qui Gon murmured. "Someone is going to have to go in through the cistern..."

"Who do you think it is?" one of the children whispered. Qui Gon snapped his head back to stare at the gaping group. He had forgotten about the children. Mace turned to the two Padawans, breaking out of his paralysis.

"Bacco? Could you take the children back to the Temple? And send Master Be'el." His deep voice was a study in calm.

Qui Gon nodded to himself. Master Be'el was the Jedi in charge of the Temple fields, and he would be the most likely to know how they might go about retrieving the unfortunate trapped inside the irrigation pipe. Bacco jerked his head in an affirmative and quickly began to herd the children away, many of whom had recovered from their initial shock and were now completely uninterested in leaving the morbid scene.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his apprentice crouch down beside him in the mud. At first he thought the youth was just getting a better look, but then he felt the colossal shock that rocked through Obi Wan's mind. He stared at his Padawan, seeing those chameleon eyes of his turn the cold blue of astonishment.

"What is it, Obi Wan? Do you know who it is?"

The youth nodded ever so slightly, his chin dipping just a touch, his eyes never leaving the anonymous water-swollen hand. His own hand reached out and pointed to a tiny mark just above the meeting of palm to wrist. It was a blue circle bisected by a black small it could have been a mole or a birthmark unless you looked closer.

Without a word, Obi Wan turned his own wrist over into the sunlight, showing his master the exact same marking.

"It's a tattoo." he said quietly. "We all got them...on Kithurrin together. Bacco too." His chin jerked slightly in the direction his friend had taken the children. "At Training Temple, when we won." he explained to his Master's inquiring look. "Bacco, Geen, me, Elspeth...and Sandor." He swallowed again, looking at the hand, clearly male, disqualifying Elspeth.

And they all knew what had happened to Geen.

Qui Gon put a comforting hand on the slumped bare shoulder. He stood, ignoring the mud that fell from the knees of his breeches. He could see a small group of figures walking towards them through the uneven ground of the field, led by the stocky brown figure of Master Be'el. Mace had turned from the scene and was walking to meet the powerful Veddian.

"Who was Sandor's Master?" Qui Gon asked quietly. He did not doubt Obi Wan, that the hand protruding from the pipe was who his apprentice suspected, but they needed to be entirely certain before he went off giving bad news.

"Master Conn" Obi Wan was still staring at the hand as if it was speaking to him.

"What is this?" Be'el's gravely voice broke through the quiet, his rough, textured face showing the Veddian version of a frown. The Field master was typical of his race, humanoid, brown textured skin, broad shoulders with long powerful arms that almost resembled tree limbs. In fact, many of the creche children whispered his nickname as Master Stump behind his back. He did look like nothing short of a tree trunk, bark and all.

Qui Gon stepped aside to show the pale evidence and he watched as Be'el's wide mouth dropped open in shock. Mace had come up to squat near the hand, closing his eyes as if he were reaching into the Force for answers.

"What...?" His voice had dropped to a whisper, his eyes wide. "How has this happened?"

"I think it's more important right now that we retrieve him from the pipe, Master Be'el." Qui Gon said gently. "How can we access this pipe?"

Yellow eyes blinked at him, almost uncomprehending and then he nodded, powerful hands clenching and unclenching in distress.

"Through the main cistern access. Someone will have to swim a ways towards the pipe and then crawl into it."

Qui Gon nodded firmly, intent on doing the deed himself. As if Be'el knew that, the Veddian shook his head.

"You will never fit, Master Jinn. The pipe is narrow. You are too broad." Big hands lifted to mimic the expanse of Qui Gon's shoulders.

"I will go, Master." Obi Wan's quiet voice cut through the murmur of the others who had gathered around the hand as if it were offering benediction. Qui Gon looked down into the pale features and opened his mouth to argue, then shut it again as he realized he had no reasons beyond selfish ones for why he didn't want his Padawan taking on the gruesome task. He could practically feel Mace's eyes burning into his back. Waiting.

As if seeing the reluctant acquiescence, the youth turned and set off at a quick lope towards the massive stone cylinder that housed the cistern access, his long braid flapping behind him.

Qui Gon turned to the gawkers and barked a sharp command to follow. Obi Wan would not be able to lift the stone cap alone.

So much can change in a year.

There had been five of them, then four, and now there were only three. And who knew what another two years might bring? Five. Ten. For the first time since he had learned to deal with what had happened on Kithurrin the year before, as he sat there on the top of cistern lid preparing to retrieve the body of his friend, Obi Wan experienced a singularly mature fear of the future and all the gaping pits that lay ahead.

Outwardly, Obi Wan's features were composed into a white mask of patient expression. Inside, his chest was one aching lump of pain

He tried to remember Sandor as a strong and competent apprentice, an opponent in the battle ring who gave no quarter, nor asked one. A dedicated Padawan. Instead, he felt water-softened hands on his back, heard Sandor's gently teasing voice in his ear as his swimming trunks were eased down his hips.

He remembered Sandor standing waist deep in water scintillating with rainbow light, holding a bottle of Kithurr ale, howling at the sky. Geen, drunk as a Correlian, trying to remember an obscure passage from some awful Veddian poetry and comparing it to Obi Wan's eyes. Geen had once tried to teach him Veddian, laughing at his attempts, coaching him to wrap the guttural, half-choking glottal stops around his tongue. But Geen had had a talented tongue, and Obi had been clumsy as Elspeth as she held on to Bacco, both tipsily negotiating the slippery rocks from the falls to the cave.

That cave.

Obi Wan closed his eyes, losing himself in the moment. He could almost see Elspeth and Bacco coupling in the dappled shadow of the waterfall, their nude bodies dewed with spray. Geen's hands on his face, his hips, those full lips kissing him with a skill he had thought both impressive and unlikely in a Padawan of their shared years. But Obi Wan had his own secrets. He never questioned Geen on his adeptness in matters of sex, and in the end they had had so little time together after all...

The sound of someone calling his name pulled him out of his reverie before it could take him down dark paths he had no wish to travel again. Paths he had forced himself to forget. He peered over the lip of the cistern and looked down. "Yes, master?"

"Catch" Qui Gon tossed up a length of knotted rope. Obi Wan caught it neatly. The Jedi Master looked up at his Padawan with worry in his eyes.

"Someone else can do this task, Obi Wan," he said simply, leaving the offer hanging in the air. I know he was your friend. It doesn't have to be you. No shame. The last, unspoken words were both reassurance and admonition.

Obi Wan shook his head. "I'll do it," he said. The helpers sent from the Temple had gotten the capping block lifted and rolled away. Obi Wan peered down into the depths of the primary cistern. The musty smell of stale water drifted up to him. Beyond the few cloudy feet illuminated by the intruding sunlight, the collected groundwater was dark and impenetrable. A few stray dead bugs floated on the surface, their shells black with mildew.

Qui Gon sighed. "I'm coming up," he announced.

Obi Wan shrugged and sat, his hands tugging off his tall boots. By the time he had gotten the sweaty leather peeled away from his legs, Qui Gon had climbed the ladder and Obi Wan was skimming his breeches off, folding them in a neat pile with his other clothing. Obi Wan took up the length of rope and unwound it, then looped it several times over his shoulder. One end of the rope he knotted slip-fashion and slid it over his wrist, pulling it tight. He made another slip knot and kept it wide and loose over his hand. This would be the end he would attach to Sandor's body to pull him out of the pipe.

Qui Gon kept his eyes averted from Obi Wan's nude body, focusing instead on the long-boned white feet. As always, he was acutely aware of Obi Wan's physical beauty, but to acknowledge it in that moment would, under the circumstances, have been almost obscene. And Mace was still watching him like a hawk. It was making him angry in a time when he needed to support his student.

Obi Wan sat on the lip of the round hole revealed by the capping block and dropped his legs in, testing the temperature of the water. His blue eyes squinted, trying to fathom the waters beyond sight. He reached out slightly with the Force, but could register nothing beyond the bland and featureless emanations of single-celled life.

No. Wait.

There was something down there. He closed his eyes, concentrating, until an image came to him. A huddled black lump of cells, silenced and inanimate, yet lingering like a phantom limb.

With a chilling start, Obi Wan realized that what he was sensing was all that remained of Sandor's aural field. His corpse.

He shuddered, and behind him Qui Gon frowned, quite sure that a mistake was being made.

"Pad--" he began, and got no farther, for Obi Wan pushed up with his arms, lifting his bare rump off the lip of the cistern, and plunged feet-first into the water.

The water closed over his head, pushing into his nose. He opened his eyes, seeing white blobs around him and darkness below and little else. He closed his eyes, reached out with his senses and jack-knifed, diving. His ears popped when he reached the concrete bottom of the cistern, pressure pushing down on the top of his skull. He felt around with his hands, the rough surface scraping his knees and palms briefly before he found the circular, meter-high pipe that led into the twin-branching pipe that in turn led to the secondary underground cistern and the outflow pipe.

It was the outflow pipe he needed to find. Obi Wan steeled himself and crawled, frog-like, into the pipe. It branched in twain some three meters ahead, and Obi Wan, operating now on Force-sense alone, chose the left pipe as being the one that held Sandor's body

Obi Wan swam ahead, blind, trying to feel ahead with his hands, shying away from the slimy walls of the narrow pipe. The pipe narrowed abruptly, and claustrophobia belatedly set in. Obi Wan felt his heart speed up, although, thanks to his Jedi training, he still had plenty of air. The confines of the space were not all that troubled him. Somehow, just knowing that there was a body in the passage with him was frightening, sending an eerie shiver down his spine that he was helpless to ignore.

He tried ridiculing himself. It was only water after all, and a corpse was only decaying matter. He was being childish.

He had just started to feel better when the trailing end of the rope touched his ankle. He kicked violently, bumping his head on the pipe, for the first time realizing how frightened he really was. There was blackness all around him. His heart began to race, adrenaline pouring into his body, and suddenly the need for oxygen was acute.

And then the boots touched his face.

Obi Wan half-shouted in the water, bubbles rising from his mouth to tickle his nose, and pushed back with all his might, his hands slipping on the curved walls, almost losing the precious lung-full of air which was all that sustained him in the water, the only thing between him and drowning.

Panicked, he called to Qui Gon-without even thinking, and instantly his master was there, in his mind, demanding that he leave the body and come up for air.

Master! he called, thrashing in the dark.

I am here, Padawan. Obi Wan heard clearly, a figure of rocklike strength and reassurance standing in his mind. Waves of calm seemed to press in through his skin. I am with you. Leave the body. Come back

No. Obi Wan willed himself to control, comforted by the familiar mental presence of his master. He let his body go limp in the water, reaching out to feel the shape of a pair of boots jammed into the end of the pipe. He felt higher along the shape of the boots and registered the contours of human legs.

I'm alright, he sent through their shared link. I've got Sandor. I just... got spooked for a minute.

Completely understandable. Now get out of that damned pipe.

Coming, master, Obi Wan quickly slipped the knot over the booted ankle of his fellow apprentice and drew it tight. He retreated back up the pipe, playing out the rope as he went. When he was free of the pipe, he halted, kneeling on the bottom of the cistern floor, and tugged hard. There was no hesitation. The body slipped free of the confining pipe like a worm out of an apple. It chuted out into the expanse of the primary cistern, and only when Obi Wan felt the bulk of it nudging him did he push up strongly with his legs, arrowing for the surface.

His head broke water. Qui Gon had hold of his shoulders and was pulling him up and out before he could help himself, uncaring of either Obi Wan's feelings or of how it might look to the watching Temple Jedi, Mace be damned. Obi Wan's distress was visible. Despite the heat, Obi Wan was shaking in great trembling waves, his eyes glued to the head of the body that had floated up from the bottom, face-first, the ravaged features of his dead friend staring skywards.

Qui Gon slipped his own dark robe from his back and folded Obi Wan in it like a child, leading him away.

Qui Gon took the low, wide stairs up to the Moot Chamber three at a time, his long strides eating the distance as quickly as he could without running. To say he had been reluctant to leave his shaking, ashen apprentice alone in their quarters would have been an understatement. He had almost refused the summons entirely, ignoring the message that had been flashing with mild reproof at him from the comm in the corner.

It had been Obi Wan himself, still shivering like a foal in winter, who had insisted with his pale, haunted eyes.

Go, Master. I want to know what happened to Sandor...I have to know.

He had been unable to deny the request, clearly written with need, and he had taken the time only to help the youth into a steaming shower, silently promising to be back as soon as he could.

The wide doors were open, gaping like a dark maw. The Moot was a massive chamber that occupied the very center of the Temple. It could easily hold upwards of five thousand Knights and Masters at any given time, stacking them in concentric circles around a dipped central table.

Today, only a dozen Masters stood around the central table, none sitting, all agitated. He revised his initial impression a moment later when he saw that one was indeed sitting, small and nearly hidden by one of the large chairs that crouched in intervals around the table. Master Conn, he suspected, a sharp pang flash-firing through him as he suddenly imagined himself in her place. His apprentice torn from him in such a cruel, meaningless fashion.

Aching in empathy, he ignored the quiet clusters of Jedi who stood in cliques around the oval table and went to crouch next to the tiny, frail, old woman's chair.

"Master Conn?" he asked, not touching her with mind or body, simply letting her know that he was there. The grief was rolling off her in waves, and he could almost feel her mind casting about for a youthful presence who was no longer there.

"I knew, you see," she whispered, looking down at the younger Jedi who squatted by her chair with reddened, rheumy eyes. "I could feel it in my bones that something was going to happen. He asked if he could visit his family for just a few days...they're here on Coruscant...and I agreed. He's worked so hard, such a sweet, cheerful boy..." her voice broke off momentarily and he waited for her to regain control, letting one of his hands cover hers. It trembled like a frightened sparrow in his grasp, fragile as a cobweb.

Once again, Qui Gon was assailed with the terrible notion of being in her shoes. The spot that he could feel, even now, the warm corner of his heart that Obi Wan always seemed to shelter would it be to lose that? It would be so...cold.

She peered at him then, narrowing her tear-puffed eyes slightly. "How is your Padawan? I understand that he was the one who retrieved my app --- my Sandor, from the cistern pipes." Her old voice was raw with a pain that showed no sign of dissipating. "I knew they were friends, from their Trial on Kithurrin. Sandor spoke of him often. That must have hard."

Qui Gon shook his head sadly. "I don't know. He's had a shock. I think he'll be alright." He was interrupted then by the sound of someone's lightsaber handle rapping on the polished stone of the huge table.

He forced his knees to unbend with a little pop and, not leaving Master Conn's side as he turned to face the speaker. Master Windu stood there, looking grim and even a little angry...his dark eyes flashing a look that Qui Gon had seen across the Galaxy. 'Not In My Town' the look said. The Jedi were not used to this sort of thing coming within their Temple compound walls.

A few more Jedi entered up at the wide doors and hurried down the steps to join their brethren. Qui Gon recognized the broad form of Master Be'el moving powerfully down the Moot steps and he made a mental note to have a word or two with the Field Master. It was possible the Veddian, being in charge of the fields and the cistern, might know something more.

"Please everyone, please," Windu's rich voice called out, quieting the murmurs that still riffled through the room like wind in weeds. A moment later the cavernous room was silent with waiting. "I'm sure you've all heard about Sandor Nir-Pellos by now. And I think you know why this meet was called."

Still silence. The Jedi in the room all understood. There was no need for useless exposition. Nearly every Master in the room was currently training a Padawan, this murder affected each of them.

"I think I know what you're all feeling, and though I do not have an apprentice," Mace murmured, the acoustics of the Hall sending his words out as if he were standing only feet away from each of the them, "I feel it too. But anger will serve none of us. We must channel those energies into action. We much discover who has dared to breach our walls and murder one of our own."

"Have the medical droids discovered anything from the Padawan's body?" Master Illior called out from his place across the length of the table.

"So far, nothing. They have only just begun. Pertinent info will be handed out when it is found." He thinned his lips. "But for now, we need to know if any of you know of a reason that Sandor might be a target. Did he have gambling debts? A jilted lover? Did he have enemies? His Master claims that he was preparing to go out into the city, but he clearly never made it past our gates. These are the things that I need all of you to focus your attentions on. There is no secret that can withstand our combined efforts to ferret it out."

His quietly fierce eyes swept around the room again, lighting on each of them.

"And we need to know if this was an attack against Sandor, or against us. The difference between these two motives should be clear to you. Recall your own students." Qui Gon was still doing just that, his heart pounding slightly harder as he tangled with the thought that there might be a hunter out there who'd gained a taste for killing young Jedi. He could see that more than one of the Masters in the room were having the same thought.

The distinctions would have to be made. Not just for Sandor, but for all of them.

The wet tile felt hard and slick beneath his cheek as he pressed his face up against it. Water, hotter than he could normally stand, pounded down on his flesh, bringing a blotchy red flush to his skin. It wasn't hot enough. Nothing would ever be hot enough again.

He could still feel the cold ice of the cistern water surrounding him in the darkness, his friend and onetime-lover attached to him with the obscene likeness of an umbilical cord. The black, inky water...the whitened, ghastly highlights of Sandor's water-puffed features as he'd slowly spun face-up under the filtered spotlight of the cistern's opening.

Obi Wan felt his breath hitch again and he wasn't at all sure that he wasn't crying under the driving water. The hands of a ghost trailed their way over his back, skimming the slight flare of hip and the more wanton curve of buttock. No, two ghosts. Geen was kissing him softly, black hair falling in a spill of wet silk across his forehead as green eyes sparkled with lust and mischief. Sandor was murmuring in his ear, pausing to nibble the tender lobe from behind, his strong hands sliding up and down his body in a caress meant to drive him wild.

The water of the shower became the memory of a falling river...echoing and splashing on the rocks at the entrance of their mossy cave with a muted roar. Softly, more delicate sounds of slow, patient drips pat-patted into the carpet of moss under their feet...splashing onto their already sleek, wet bodies.

The sounds of Elspeth and Bacco, their soft gasping cries, were fading under the onslaught of the double attentions being focused on him. He felt burningly alive, his whole being throbbing with a need he'd not believed himself capable of.

Sandor was kissing the back of his neck, sliding his palms up Obi Wan's slender form, capturing his arms and lifting them up and over, curling them back behind the strong column of his neck. Geen had given off nibbling and sucking at his mouth, and as Sandor had held his arms up, arching his body out, Geen had moved lower.

It was as clear as yesterday, Obi Wan thought, his eyes still closed as he brought the inside of his tattooed wrist up to his mouth, tasting the sweet/slick texture of the shower water on his skin. The pair of his friends had taken it in their heads to seduce him and he had gone, oh-so-willingly....the pleasures of that wet, moss green afternoon a permanent fixture in his head.

Until the nightmare that had followed.

His reddened eyes glanced down to see that, even lost in the ecstasy of that long ago afternoon, his sex lay flaccid and unmoving. He squeezed his eyes shut painfully, choking back a sob. He could never forget. He had tried and tried to force himself to only remember the pleasures of that Cave, but the demon of his past, the pain, the shame and the grief, would never leave him.

Sandor had known. He had been the only one left. And somehow, knowing that --- knowing that he was gone --- he felt terribly, terribly alone.

Qui Gon entered the room just as Obi Wan was exiting, naked and dripping, from the bathroom. Qui Gon snatched up a towel and hastily tossed it at his apprentice, averting his eyes.

"Have you been in the shower all this time, Padawan?" he asked, surprise coloring his tone.

Obi Wan nodded shortly. "Needed to clear my head. I'm fine now, Master." Then he shook his head and his eyes misted over with darkness. He sat heavily on a chair near the window overlooking the gardens below, the towel half-heartedly wrapped around his hips. "What happened in the Moot Hall? Do they have any idea who could have done this?" His voice was low and monotone.

The youth was staring at the floor now, his hair dripping sporadically on the light carpet. Qui Gon took up another towel and walked over to Obi Wan and began absently toweling his apprentice's short hair dry. Obi Wan sat there like a child, allowing himself to be attended to.

"We're working on it, Obi Wan," he said softly, stroking the end of the fluffy towel across the back of the young man's neck, lingering on the twining, golden braid that marked Obi Wan as an apprentice of the Jedi.

Qui Gon gingerly dried the braid, too, trying to skirt his mind away from the thought that such a mark might now be a target. It was useless conjecture, he told himself firmly. No need to work himself up over a baseless fear.

"You knew him well, Padawan?" he asked gently, recalling Mace's words in the Hall. They needed to find the motive behind the murder before they could weigh the danger to the rest of the compound. To their apprentices.

He personally had recalled Sandor only slightly, and had no idea that his Padawan had formed a friendship with the young man. Conn had said they knew each other from Kithurrin. Obi Wan never spoke of his Trial there. All he knew was that his apprentice had been in the winning group. His hands draped the towel over Obi Wan's shoulders and rested atop the damp cloth. He could still feel the warmth of his apprentice's skin through the soft fabric, and his proximity was sending soft, inappropriate tendrils of desire through his body. "You don't have to talk about it if-"

"No. I do. I want to find out who did this as much as anyone." The voice was low, but no longer tight. Obi Wan leaned back, almost unconsciously pressing into his master's hands and Qui Gon obliged the unspoken need for tactile comfort by beginning a gentle massage.

The damp head tilted forward slightly in relaxation as Qui Gon found hard knots of tension buried in the taut muscles.

"I knew him. you remember when I had to do my survival Trial on Kithurrin? You weren't there, you'd had to do a solo mission at the time. Most of us were there alone, with only a few supervising Masters. Master Windu was there... Master Be'el, a couple others. Most of it was just solos and meditations, but a week was dedicated to these war-games where we were broken into two groups of five. We were chosen as the hunters and the others were the runners."

The rangy shoulders shrugged slightly under his hands and he made a small noise of dismissal.

"It's not important what we were doing. It's just that that was where Sandor and I became....friends. And Geen." The young voice caught a little on Geen's name, stumbling imperceptibly before he went on. "Bacco and Elspeth were part of the group too, but they were off on their own most of the free time. See, when we beat the other group, Master Be'el and Master Windu gave us a day or two to just relax and enjoy Kithurrin without too much supervision. We had a pretty ....great time." His Padawan's voice was dull and flat and colored with just a hint of despair, not giving Qui Gon the impression that it had been all that great of a time after all.

He was remembering that period fairly clearly now. It had been the first extended separation that he'd had with Obi Wan since he'd chosen him as his apprentice. He recalled that he'd thought the time apart would be good for him....that it might help him clear his mind of the inappropriate desires that did not seem to be diminishing in him.

It had worked just up until the moment he'd seen his apprentice again. Obi Wan had been....

"That was where Geen died, wasn't it?" he asked suddenly, remembering the terrible state Obi Wan had been in when he'd seen him the day of his return to Coruscant....the scandal of a dead Padawan. His apprentice had taken months to recover from the suicide, walking the Temple grounds like a ghost. Pale, drawn and haggard. He'd slipped in his studies and his training.... and there had been nightmares. Terrible ones that had had Obi Wan's screams echoing through their quarters at night.

He had never talked about it. At least not with Qui Gon.

A shudder ran through shoulders suddenly as tight as if he'd not been kneading them all this time. The youth pushed up and out of the chair, leaving Qui Gon only holding the damp towel. The boy stalked to the window, the elegant lines of his body silhouetted in the early afternoon sun.

"Yes." The word was clipped, pained. Qui Gon extended a tendril of comfort and found himself sharply cut off as Obi Wan's shields slammed tightly down around his mind. He could make out a slight quiver in the slender frame from where he stood. There was something that Obi Wan clearly did not want to talk about. He considered digging a bit more, and decided against it. There was no need to open an old wound when there was a fresh one to worry about.

"Sandor?" he prompted gently, trying to steer the youth back from an obviously tender subject. He couldn't contain a momentary tingle of sudden jealousy at the feelings his Padawan obviously had for these two friends in particular. It was inappropriate of him, he knew. Obi Wan was a naturally loving, loyal person. It was one of the many qualities that he himself loved about the boy.

And he had no cause or right to be jealous of his vibrant young apprentice loving or being loved by those his own damned age.

"Yes. Sandor. Well, Kithurrin was where I got to know him. And we'd stayed friends after that. That's all." The words were tight and his Padawan refused to look him in the eye.

He knew without asking or probing, that Obi Wan was not telling him something. He narrowed his eyes at the boy, thinking of the connection of the tattoo. He trusted this young man more than he'd ever trusted anyone else, but it was so clear that he was hiding something. It cast suspicion on him even in the loving eyes of his own mentor. How would his reticence look to the eyes of others? Someone ready to find the story behind this terrible deed at any cost? Someone like Master Windu?

He knew Mace. The man felt things like this as a personal affront to him, to the Jedi as a whole. If his old friend had any one failing it was that he became shortsighted in the face of things he had no control over. And he tended to like to think that the Temple was a place of perfect order.

He sighed silently as he eyed the stiffly stubborn set of his apprentices shoulders. His Padawan still had not looked at him.

The door chose that moment to chime, startling both of them slightly. Obi Wan finally looked around, face pale and eyes haunted before he took his mostly naked frame and vanished into his own small quarters. Leaving Qui Gon to get the door.

He already knew who it was.

Mace tended to be very predictable.

Obi Wan let his back fall against the door as soon as it slid shut, his eyes closing tightly.

There was no way he could have told his Master about that day.

That day.

It still stood out in his mind as one of the most painful paradoxes of his life. How such pleasure, could morph into one of the most horrifying, shaming moments of his life. He fought with his knees to keep from sliding his back down the door. The pain was still as fresh as it had been a year ago. Time had not healed any wounds whatsoever.

And now Sandor.

Was this one somehow his fault as well?

The murmur of voices on the other side of the door reminded him that they had a visitor and the irrepressibly curious part of him couldn't resist pressing an ear to the door and listening.

It was Master Windu, he recognized the slow, methodically intimidating tones right away. His master was silent as the other talked and he quickly calmed his thoughts, cloaking himself to be as small and unobtrusive as possible. Eavesdropping was not very Jedi-like, but he wasn't feeling all that honorable at the moment.

"....alked to Master Conn for confirmation. She has reluctantly admitted it."

"I don't see how young Sandor's sexual activities, promiscuous or not, have any bearing on this tragedy." His master's voice was calmly logical.

"That's a foolish thing to say Qui Gon, and you know it. We should both be aware, by now, of the fact that most crimes are committed in the heat of anger or passion." He nearly spit the word out. "If this Padawan was loose between the sheets, then we can compile a list of likely suspects immediately... and a motive." Master Windu's voice was hard as nails, a thread of contempt woven into it. Contempt? Sandor was one of the nicest, most sweet-tempered people Obi Wan had ever come across.

"I'm just not entirely certain that we can use that tack until we have a little more to go on...." Qui Gon said softly, and Obi Wan knew immediately by the tone of his Master's voice that his master already suspected that his Padawan might have been more than just `friends' with Sandor.

Mace seemed to sense it too.

"What are you trying to protect, Qui Gon? Was your Padawan involved with this boy?"

Obi Wan felt his skin crawl. This was just the sort of thing that he had never wanted to face. Sandor's death had brought those foul memories back like garbage rising from the bottom of a swamp. It would be a hundred times worse to reveal his shame, Force help him, in front of the Council.

And that's what it would come to. He was sure of that.

Swallowing bile in a throat suddenly dry, he quickly shed the towel from his hips and dressed hastily, nearly pulling his boots on the wrong feet before he got himself together.

A moment later he was slipping quietly out the small door that connected his own tiny quarters to the hallway, ditching all decorum and running down the passage to the lift.

And so he did not hear the soft knock on the connecting door between his quarters and the main common room. Nor did he see both Qui Gon and Master Windu enter his quarters a moment later to find him gone.

I can see him, form dappled in the noonday light of the lower courtyard as he runs. There is an urgency, a fear clinging like a miasma to his graceful form. I can taste him again, feel his pain and his terror. For a moment, just a moment, he reminds me of....

I stop that train of thought abruptly, closing my eyes with the remembrance of pain. When I open them again, he has vanished among the colonnade of the inner walkway, headed for the Eastern wing. I can feel a skittering of his intentions. He plans on talking to the others.

He is afraid and distraught.

For a moment I drink in the chaos of his mind, shivering to think that it was I that might have caused it. I know that it was this one, foremost of them all, that shoulders most of the blame. That is why he will be last of all, so that his terror and loss might grow to meet my own. So that he might know what he has done and suffer for it.

I savor the sensation for a moment. The taste of my own need.

I am so hungry. The first was delicious. The next will be better.

The Temple was eerily quiet as he ran through the common ways. All classes had been cancelled and the training fields were empty. Master and Padawan alike had retreated into both meditation and seclusion. It was something of a tradition to reflect on life when one of their own was lost.

The peace of mediation was the last thing on his mind. Instead his head was filled with a swirl of fear, grief and confusion. Mace's words continued to echo in his ears.

"....we can compile a list of likely suspects immediately...."

His teeth were clenched so hard a tension headache was forming behind his eyes. Such a list would bring the dead back to life in the worst possible way.

The tattoo on the inside of his wrist seemed to burn at him accusingly. He clearly recalled that day, the bite of his sunburn on the back of his neck and the tops of his shoulders, the sound of his friends' laughter in his ears, the mixed smells of the marketplace they wandered through. It had been Geen who had suggested the tattoos. A reminder and a badge of their triumph. The sting of the laser needle as it bit into his flesh and Sandor's good natured ribbing when Elspeth had balked at the sight of the sharp implement.

His steps slowed and then stopped, leaning his frame up against the cool marble surface of one of the columns that lined the walk. He had thought this was all behind him. The tattoos would never come off, but he'd hoped the memories would fade. And now they were going to be resurrected in the worst way. His shame was going to be exposed. He didn't think he could look his master in the eye, watch those features fill with pity and horror.

He didn't think he was strong enough to bear that.

The sky was darkening above the temple, preparing for a midday storm, and he watched as the clouds gathered. Master Windu was going to find out about Kithurrin. Of that he was certain. The thought made him feel queasy and frightened. It occurred to him bleakly that he should tell his Master. If it was going to come out anyway, it might be better to tell Qui Gon now.

He closed his eyes then, feeling the wind pick up and rustle in the treetops of the colonnade trees. His master. What would he think? What would he do? A tiny shiver ran through his frame as he considered the thought of his Master turning away from him in disgust. Right now he reveal his soul to the man who had come to mean everything to him. But he didn't dare. The risk was too high. A single tear slipped, unnoticed, down his cheek. There were times, some more than others, that he wanted nothing more than to slide into his Master's strong embrace. To let those arms shut out all his worries and fears, to let those shoulders take on the burdens that his own felt too weary to bear.

To let those hands slide up the back of his neck, through his hair, tilting his jaw back....

"Did you do it?!" The sharp words rapped him out of his forbidden fantasy, startling him enough that he gasped out loud. His eyes snapped open to find Bacco standing in the shadows of the colonnade across from him. The purpling sky lit the flagstones of the walkway in an odd greenish light, and far off he could hear the rumble of thunder.

His friend, who only just this morning had been laughing as they sparred, was looking at him now with suspicion. His own eyes widened slightly and he took a step forward almost without thinking.

Bacco took a step back.

"What are you talking about?" Obi Wan whispered, his thin voice almost lost in the sound of the rising wind.

"Sandor, of course." Bacco said, licking his lips nervously, his eyes boring into Obi Wan's. "It was Elspeth who figured it out. She said that you and Sandor were the only ones left who really knew what happened that night....with Geen."

"You think I killed Sandor?" Obi Wan couldn't keep the incredulous note out of his voice, and he felt the urge to giggle hysterically. "How could you even suggest that? How could Elspeth?"

For the first time since he'd been confronted, Obi Wan saw a flicker of the friend he'd known pass across the dark features. It told him that Elspeth was the one who had come up with the crazy accusation. She had always been the one with the wild imagination. But it still hurt unbearably that she would think such a thing. And that Bacco would go along with it.

"You never said what happened that night, Obi Wan." His own voice lowered, and he stepped closer, glancing around almost furtively. "All we know is that Geen killed himself. And that something happened up there in that cave that neither you or Sandor would talk about. What were we supposed to think? You both tell us that he jumped, but how do we know that's what happened? And now Sandor is dead. That just leaves you."

Obi Wan's mouth was dry as he looked at his friend. Bacco was afraid of him. Afraid he might be next? He let himself lean weakly back against the column just as the rain started to fall in a rush of hissing water, spilling over the covered roof of the colonnade and rattling the leaves of the trees. The light went gray, shades of monotone.

He had never felt so alone in his life.

The tapping of footsteps on the flagstones had both of them breaking eye contact and moving apart almost furtively.

"You just stay away from both of us, Obi Wan. Until you tell us what really happened to Geen that night, there's no way we can trust you. And if anything happens to me or to Elspeth, we're telling the council everything."

And then he was trotting away, leaving Obi Wan alone in the rain.

A temple guard passed by, obviously the source of the footfalls, nodding pleasantly at the pale apprentice. Obi Wan did not move. He just stood against the column like he was part of the statuary and looked out between the raindrops.

Obi Wan had not been in his room. That alone was enough to urge Mace's suspicions up another notch and Qui Gon had done his best to waylay them.

"Sandor was his friend, Mace. He's understandably upset. Don't let his grief condemn him in your witch hunt."

Mace had not taken kindly to the term 'witch hunt', but at least it had allowed his old classmate's attention to focus on him instead of Obi Wan.

He had walked with his old friend as far as the Fountain before letting him go on alone, still trying to decide if he needed to go after his apprentice. He could sense that the youth was within the Temple grounds, perhaps over in the East Wing.

Instead, however, he took a deep breath of the silence that hung on gentle golden currents of sunshine in the wide empty courtyard. He could see clouds gathering on the horizon, but for now the air hung with the damp heat that preceded a late summer storm. Flowering vines surrounded the area, giving off a gentle fragrance and dotting the green walls with color. Insects buzzed gently here and there on a mild, warm, autumn breeze. A black-winged guldin whistled cheerfully from somewhere within the surrounding plant life. It was very peaceful here without the usual bustle of daily life at the Temple. Peaceful enough, perhaps, to clear his mind of its labyrinthine twists of conscience and worry.

Obi Wan was hiding something from him. Something was weighing heavily on the spirit of his young student. Something important. And something that had to do with the murder. Sandor's death had put the tight, fearful look onto his cheerful, unflappable Obi Wan's face.

It wasn't that the boy didn't have his secrets. Everyone did. And there were certainly things that he didn't want his Padawan to know about him. But this was different. Was it possible that Obi Wan guessed? That he had slipped somewhere? Was the root of this the fact that the apprentice had sensed his master's desires?

He sank heavily to the stone side of the circular fountain, watching the tiny golden p'ribbs flicking here and there in the clear water. He had been so careful. But had there been a time within the last year that his apprentice had not been foremost in his mind? And it was not just his well-being or his studies that occupied the youth's mentor. It had been the curve of muscle where it met bone and the slope of a steep jawline blending into a smooth column of throat. It was the crinkle of skin at the corner of a smirking mouth and the sparkle of humor in an every-colored eye. It was the sound of a smoky, irrepressibly cheerful voice and the lift of a single mocking eyebrow.

He trailed his hand in the water idyly, cupping it and bringing it up to splash on his face. There was no way to stifle it, this thing that had settled deep in his heart. He was going to have to admit to himself that he was, deeply, terribly, inappropriately in love with his own apprentice.

Perto the light, letting the excess water drain through his fingers. He recognized it right away. It was one of the distinctive beads that apprentices wove into their braids. Each one had a tiny marking etched into the smooth surface that branded it specific to a Padawan. He didn't know what each one was, but he could already tell from the faint miasma of fear that clung to the bead, that it had been Sandor's.

He frowned. Sandor had been drowned here? Why then, had he been dumped in the cistern?

"Master Jinn?" The voice was slow and thickly accented. He turned his head, curling the bead into his palm. Master Be'el stood there, looking as sad and serious as he ever did. Qui Gon seemed to remember a time when the Veddian had not been so solemn. At the moment, he couldn't think what had happened.

"Yes, Be'el? I was going to come look for you." He managed a smile and scooted over slightly on the fountain ledge in invitation. The tall alien did not sit. Instead he tucked his hands into his sleeves and bowed his head at Qui Gon.

"How is your apprentice? That was very brave of him to go into the cistern." The gravelly voice eked each word out separately and Qui Gon wondered vaguely how a young Padawan might go mad waiting for him to finish a sentence. He knew that even he often irritated Obi Wan when he seemed to not be getting to the point quick enough.

"He is -- he was -- friends with Sandor. It was hard for him. But I am proud that he had the courage to face such a task." They were simple, surface words, but he meant every one of them. "I think that Master Conn is having a harder time of it. It must be terrible to lose a Padawan." Even as he said the words, he wanted to choke them back. He had just remembered that Be'el's Padawan had been Geen. And that that had been the time when the Veddian had become so sad. Obi Wan had mentioned that Be'el, had been one of the supervising Masters on Kithurrin at that terrible time. It had been whispered that he had been out of his mind with grief when he'd seen Geen's body.

To lose a Padawan to sacrifice or danger or even, Force forefend, the Dark Side was one thing, but suicide.... Qui Gon couldn't even comprehend what that must be like.

Be'el seemed to sense his horror, and he waved him off gently, moving, finally, to sit down next to the younger Jedi. One bark-skinned hand pressed momentarily over Qui Gon's in empathy.

"Not to worry, Master Jinn. Some wounds never heal, but they do grow more bearable with time. Geen was a sweet boy. He felt things very strongly. He did not deserve to die so young." There was an uncomfortable silence between the two masters for a moment before Be'el took pity on him. "And what was it that you wished to speak with me about?"

Qui Gon nodded, tightening his fist around the bead and then opening it to show the Veddian.

"I found this in the fountain just now. It definitely belonged to Sandor. I had meant to ask you how you thought that the capping block could be lifted alone from the cistern, but now I also ask you why you think someone might move the body there."

The Veddian stared at the bead without touching it for a long, long moment. So long, in fact, that Qui Gon worried he had slipped into some sort of trance. Until he spoke.

"I don't know. There are several here at the Temple who could lift the cap alone, but it would be hard work. Master Yoda is one. There are others. I suspect that even you could do it, Master Jinn. Why the body would be moved from the fountain to the cistern I do not know. Perhaps it is nothing more complex than an attempt to hide it."

"Could the body have stayed hidden in the cistern for a long time without detection?"

"Oh yes. It was a fluke that Sandor was caught in the outflow pipe. Otherwise he might have simply decomposed in there with none of us ever the wiser."

Qui Gon tried not to let the gruesome imagery bother him, nodding instead.

"So, if not for a stroke of luck, we might never have even found Sandor's body." He muttered, closing the bead back into his hand. "I will take this new evidence to Master Windu. It might still bear enough of an imprint of the murder to help us. And at least now we know where Sandor was killed. Someone might have seen something."

Be'el nodded. "I was going to talk to Master Windu myself. I will take the Padawan bead to him if you wish."

Qui Gon looked at the sad Veddian and nodded, dropping the bead into his broad hand. "Thank you. I need to talk to my own Padawan now, if you will excuse me." Qui Gon rose, touched the other Master gently on the shoulder in thanks and strode out of the courtyard.

His Padawan was still not back when he returned, and he settled down on the meditation mat with a book to wait, wanting to be there when he got back. It was not immediately. In fact, the rain clouds had come and let loose by the time Obi Wan returned, entering the main room like a shadow in the gray light of the storm. Qui Gon eyed him covertly from where he sat, watching him as he stood disconsolately in the doorway for a long moment, water dripping from his soaked clothes. He had gone out without his robe.

"Obi Wan?"

The boy started slightly, the pale oval of his face turning to where his Master sat in a long shadow by the wall. For an instant he caught a grief and fear in those eyes that was so intense it startled him to momentary silence. It was gone so quickly, smoothed over so well, that Qui Gon was almost convinced he had imagined it. Letting Mace's suspicious mind get the better of him, no doubt.

"Yes Master?" The voice was low and slightly rough around the edges. Had he been crying?

"Come and sit here," he said softly, holding out his hand. Obi Wan came without hesitation, his slender fingers sliding into his master's smoothly, letting the older man pull him down to his knees alongside him. Qui Gon let his eyes caress the pretty features almost self-indulgently and then quickly berated himself for it. It was an age old habit of his, to admire, and then to quickly admonish. The entire action and reaction took less than a second. He sighed, squeezing the slightly trembling hand.

"I think you need to calm yourself, Padawan. I know he was your friend, but he has only rejoined the Force. You should understand this by now." Obi Wan nodded his head, not looking up at his master, though the youth's hand remained tightly entwined with his.

"I know it, Master. I'm sorry.... it's-" he stopped himself suddenly, as if he had only just prevented himself from saying something he didn't want Qui Gon to know. The older Jedi couldn't prevent the small crease from wrinkling his forehead. Indeed, Obi Wan was acting strangely. It was getting harder and harder not to wonder if there was more than just a sexual connection between the dead boy and his Padawan.

He pushed the predictable pang of jealousy aside impatiently.

"It's what?" he prompted gently.

Obi Wan suddenly pulled his hand out from between his Master's fingers, clasping it with its mate tightly in his lap. He shook his head, the long braid trembling with the motion on his shoulder.

"Nothing, Master. It's just hard, that's all."

Qui Gon kept his face impassive. Even without actually invading his apprentice's privacy, he could tell that Obi Wan was hiding something. From the moment that he had first laid eyes on the boy, Obi Wan had always been terrible at lying. And now, this was too serious to wait for him to reveal it in his own time.

He reached his hand out, gently hooking a long finger around the young man's jaw and tugging on his sweetly blunted chin until they were face to face in the deepening shadows. The rumbling, charcoal sky lit the room in a washed gray light.

"Obi Wan. You know you can trust me." The statement was to be his Padawan's last chance to tell him without a direct command. The wide blue eyes froze and Obi Wan's throat clicked in the silence just before a distant crash of thunder rattled the windowpanes.

"Of course, Master. I trust you more than anything else." There was something else, something deeper in those words. Something so thick and heady and sweet that it sent everything but Obi Wan into the limbo of 'not important'. He was drowning in those eyes, lost in the moment of that unbroken gaze. Sandor and Mace became distant buzzing gnats in his mind as he realized just how close he was to his Padawan. How warm Obi Wan's breath was as it caressed his cheek. How pink and tempting the sharp tip of Obi Wan's tongue was as it ran a moist trail across his lower lip.

A single inch more and he would be there, tasting that mouth, nibbling the smooth line of that perfect throat, drinking the spicy salt of his Padawan's skin, exploring every sculpted inch of jaw and brow. Soothing and stroking the weight off those young shoulders.

The youth's eyes were limpid in the dim light, his lips slightly parted, his breath coming a little faster. Was that desire reflected in those chameleon eyes? It couldn't be. The thought sent a new wave of heat through him. By all that was sacred, that mouth was so close....

It was Mace's face that appeared in his mind's eye then, frowning at him as he had that morning on the training field.


He wrenched himself up and off the floor with one awkward motion, trying to control his suddenly labored breathing. Obscene, he told himself. Vile. Obi Wan had lost a friend, possibly a lover, and all he could think of was how that mouth would feel against his own. How well the sweet curve of his back would fit into his palms.

"Master?" Obi Wan's voice was on the verge of breathless, confusion apparent. Had the boy felt any of what he was just thinking? Oh Force help him, he hoped not.

Qui Gon had moved to the window, his hands gripping the sill tightly as he kept his back to his apprentice.

"You must tell me anything that you think will help us find the killer, Obi Wan. If you know anything about your friend that will help, it is best if you tell me now rather than let the council find out later. That would look very bad. For both of us."

He added the last as a form of blackmail that he hated to have to use, turning to face his apprentice. But he knew Obi Wan, and the boy was as stubborn as any Hutt when he wanted to be.

To his horror, instead of the chagrined expression he'd expected, a single tear slipped down the curve of the young cheek as he pushed himself to his feet.

"It's nothing. Please master. You ask me to trust you. I need you to trust me. I know that Mace is already suspicious about me, because of Sandor's reputation, but I had nothing to do with his murder. You have to believe me. Please believe me."

It was a gasped plea, so heartfelt that Qui Gon felt his soul clench with the pain of it. He reached forward without even thinking, gathering the youth into his arms and holding him close, stroking his back.

"Of course I trust you. I don't believe for a minute that you're capable of cold-blooded murder. But I can't stop others from thinking that, especially if you don't let me help you with whatever it is you're not telling me." The words were muffled into the silky top of Obi Wan's head as he spoke them.

His apprentice broke out of the embrace as if those words had wounded him, leaving his master's arms empty as he turned away.

"There is nothing more to say that I haven't told you, master," his voice was firm, almost cold.

And it told Qui Gon without a doubt, that Obi Wan was lying.

Go on to the next part...