A Warm Place

by Jane St Clair

Rating: R-ish. NC-17 if you're feeling sensitive
Spoilers: vaguest possible for ANH
Codes: Q/O pre-slash, pre-TPM
Archive: I'll send a clean copy to M_A, otherwise by permission
Feedback: brings joy! (3jane@chickmail.com)
Summary: Qui and Obi spend quality time together in the course of a trip. A spot of voyeurism occurs. Obi-Wan goes in for body art. Certain possibilities are raised. Sequel to "Floating World."

Disclaimer: And Jane, outside summarizing Proust, what are your hobbies? Well, writing fanfic, acknowledging that all parts of Star Wars belong to Lucasfilm, and praying that they don't sue me. Oh, and strangling animals, golf, and masturbating.

Sex disclaimer: <sigh> You're gonna kill me for this, but . . . well, there's a kiss, and that counts forsomething, right? Also, autoerotic practices and voyeurism are explored in some detail. For those who can't cope with such things (m/m things, though innocent ones), you've made a wrong turn somewhere and you're really seriously lost.


The body calligraphy is based on poems by Ono no Komachi (c. 850 AD), and the translation structures were created by Jane Hirshfield in her book, "Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry."

Title filched from Nine Inch Nails. Inspiration filched from same.

Obi-Wan quotes from the Dhammapada (9:145 and 15:205), though the lines have been slightly altered to fit the context.

This is *not* the end. Yes, Jane's really gonna try to stretch it out to more than two stories. Nagging will encourage her, and also reassure her that anyone cares.


In my new robe
this morning --
someone else.

- Basho (trans. Lucien Stryk)

Later, he remembered fires.

He slept in one of the out-buildings of the guard station on Brikalla. It was only a loose wooden shack with too many drafts, made to keep out heavy, vertical rain rather than driven snow. There was no glass in the windows, and the shutters were slatted, so that while they broke the back of the wind, they failed to keep it out. In the mornings there was snow piled in the corners of the room.

At intervals through the building there were fire-bowls, but the light they cast was brilliant, and at night, they were extinguished. The only heat came from the barrel-stove in the sleep-room. Muted coals in the pre-dawn hours. In place of individual beds, there was a ledge padded with furs and blankets that ran the length of the room. The guards slept curled together, heads toward the fire bin, like soft litter animals.

He was an outsider, though, and they never invited him into those fetal embraces. He slept an arm-length away, adequately covered in his Jedi robe and the fur layers but always concentrating to preserve his body heat. It was he who woke in the night and stirred the barrel coals, added more wood, and paced the length of the room, touching the too-thin walls and feeling the thrust of the wind against them.

Stillness frightened him more. When the wind didn't blow, the room was filled only with the guards' breathing and small cracks as the wood burned down. Everything silvered by dawn. He'd woken with frost in his hair, watched as always by his alien- curious companions.

There'd never been a winter like that, he was told. The guards were willing to talk to him in daylight, while they were walking the borders. They were used to the snow, but even they found the cold oppressive. He could understand that, at least. Every time he inhaled to speak, his teeth hurt, and he thought that the skin of his hands might be permanently raw. A long-term posting there wasn't something he could imagine. He'd been five weeks on the frontier, the ceremonial watcher whose presence there smoothed the treaty negotiations three hundred miles south. He watched, he waited, and nothing came except snow and the increasingly dim light through the spreading pines.

It was already dark when he came back to the station. The guards had eaten earlier and were sitting on the floor near the fire bowls, playing dice games and drinking tea. Someone handed him a bowl of soup and some bread. He ate at the abandoned table, watched occasionally by the others but more often ignored. When he was finished, he retrieved one of the handful of texts he'd brought with him and read until the fire bowls were extinguished.

The delicacy of pure mathematics swallowed the cold and the ashes that settled on every surface, the quiet voices of men disputing the value of a throw. Numbers moved in on one another and changed slowly. All the shapes of the room reduced to the geometry of fractals. Even after the lights were out, he stayed with one hand gripping the edge of the data board and the other tracing numerals out on the rough wood surface of the table.

He had to find his way to bed by touch. The door to the sleeping room was unbarred, but he didn't know if they had been waiting on him or someone else. If a messenger was coming, he might not arrive until late in the night, and no one would lock the door against him.

His robe whispered against the floor-mats as he padded through the dark space, only occasionally catching firelight in its folds. No one flipped back a top cover in invitation to him. When he was out of the guards' reach, he leaned back against the ledge to pull off his boots, crawled into bed fully clothed, and buried himself in the almost-warm layers.

Fire-flare for a moment against his eyelids, and a soft crack. Drifting on the edge of the night.

Fingers against the back of his neck.


He'd fallen asleep, but he didn't know when. He had to uncurl himself from the ball he'd rolled into, and only then could he look up into his Master's face. Qui-Gon Jinn crouched in front of the sleeping-ledge. He was impossibly huge in that compact space, so that Obi-Wan had to adjust his bearings to include him.

"Master." Mahstah. His accent sounded like a child's in the room's stillness. His neck still tingled where his Master had touched him.

"The negotiations concluded yesterday morning. There was a Republic shuttle making the north run, and they offered to bring me this far." Delicate smile, almost hidden in the shadows of his beard. "Hello Padawan."

"Mmm." He wasn't awake, not really. There had been no urgency in the touch that roused him, and the explanation would be as valid in the morning, when he could understand it. Now, he was only very tired, and chilled where patches of bare skin brushed the air. To his right, the guards had simply admitted the additional bodies of the couriers, shifting a little to make room and then falling back to sleep. It seemed like such a good idea.

It only took one motion of his arm for Obi-Wan to flip the sleeping-fur back. The invitation was traditional and innocent, and Qui-Gon would almost certainly take the offer for what it was. For a moment, shadowed eyes pinned him where he lay, then the man stood, making a swirl of dark cloth that blocked the glow of the barrel fire. In a handful of simple movements, he removed his boots and swung a knee onto the sleep-ledge, then settled beside his apprentice. Obi-Wan twisted the bedclothes around them both and settled his head against his Master's chest. It wasn't the fetal curl he'd made earlier, but the warmth of a second body was Force-given in the chill.

Qui-Gon's clothes smelled of closed spaces and smoke, and they were very cold. Obi-Wan wondered, vaguely, how long the older man had stood outside to chill himself like that, how much longer he'd crouched over his padawan before he woke. The cloth warmed under his touch almost immediately, but the cold seemed to transfer to the palms of his hands, tingling on the bare skin for a long time while he settled into the angles of the larger body. He was barely half-conscious, and all his instincts were focussed on nestling. Qui-Gon's clothes and Qui-Gon's body making a single, comforting unit in combination with his own.

Qui-Gon said, "I thought we would take the river-barge. I haven't given you enough attention lately, and the journey would give us some unstructured time together."

Obi-Wan stood on the guard station's porch and watched snow fragments sift down from the trees and the roof. Earlier, he'd performed katas on the curiously-bare ground. Hours of wind had swept the powdered ice into concentrated drifts against buildings and between the trees, exposing huge sections of earth. Dried grass making flares of brown and red. He'd finished, turned, and seen his Master watching him from the shadowed door.

Just a bare moment to settle himself into that gaze. His status as Jedi Padawan meant that he was always being watched. He waited for corrections, calmly, absorbing both his master's face and the Living Force around him, alive even in this frozen world of forest and clearing. Nothing came. Qui-Gon only nodded to him, half a smile that Obi-Wan answered with a bow low enough to let his braid sweep within a hand's breadth of the ground. Glorying like a warm animal in that small approval.

A tiny, welcoming gesture had brought him to his Master's side, and he'd grounded himself there, waiting undemandingly for whatever Qui-Gon had to tell him.

He wondered about this strange little world that had never been colonized. Space-farers had arrived there nearly a hundred years ago and had been met by a civilization in its iron age that was organized, territorial, and shockingly unsurprised to see them. Later, the Republic had learned that the Brikallans were astronomers, talented lens-makers who had been bending light to their will for generations and who had catalogued the nearby portions of the Republic for several centuries. They were established merchants, and more than willing to grant trade enclaves, but they had allowed little or no technological encroachment into their society proper. Brikalla remained the only pre-industrial society in the Republic; what mechanization they had was used only for creation of complex clockwork toys sold in the Palace-sector of the capital.

In the past fifty cycles, there had been three hostile attempts to incorporate the planet into one of the larger commercial powers. All three had failed, but after the third Brikalla had appealed to the Senate for economic exclusivity. Jedi protectors were sent for the period between the granting of that right and the time of its becoming law. One in the capital to smooth the paperwork and final arrangements, one walking the ancient border between Brikalla's agrarian society and its nomads. Days or even weeks travel apart, but still close enough that Obi-Wan could feel his master's Force-signature simply by stilling himself and reaching for it.

That signature swelled around him now, a whisper of energy that sifted through his clothes and hair like an affectionate touch. He found himself leaning into it, cat-arching back to catch the feeling's edges. If Qui-Gon noticed, he didn't comment. He hadn't turned the single time he spoke; the landscape seemed to have absorbed his whole attention.

Grey sky in the last hour before full darkness. Obi-Wan had wanted to make the border-walk once more, anchor it in his brain so that later he'd be able to draw up all the parts of the landscape and the light. He'd done it before as a memory exercise, reconstructed for himself precisely some place he'd visited three or four years ago. Patterns of tree-branches projected onto a tiled floor that he could use for a meditation- image in the frozen hold of some emergency transport.

His Master had let him go without question. They'd eaten together and discussed the Force-structures of abstract mathematics. He thought there might be something inherently mystic about the shifting absolutes of numbers, a reality without a form, and he'd been digging through calculus and philosophy texts for half a year in search of some previously-made connection between the two. He was only gradually realizing that it wasn't there, and that when he was ready Qui-Gon would probably suggest the subject as a long-term project for him.

Brushing his fingers over the unfinished wood frame of the guard house. Reaching for the
//cold-smell smoke luminous Force-clarity//
of this place.

Years as a Force-user gave him the reflexes to cushion the door before it could make a sound. He hadn't realized that anyone would still be in the dining room. The space was only dimly lit, and warmed by a single brazier beside the table. One of the guards was stretched face-down on the unfinished wood, most of the way to asleep, with his face pillowed on his arms. The pale- gold surface of his skin was vaguely luminous.

The man seated at his side was almost fully clothed, only bare- footed and bare-armed. One blunt-fingered hand rested in the small of the exposed back; the other stirred a glass well with the tip of a brush. He lifted the brush, finally, and touched it to a shoulder blade, traced a narrow, precise line down for the length of a finger, then looped gracefully upward. He'd done it several times before Obi-Wan realized he was writing. The brush- strokes gradually formed symbols from the Brikallan alphabet, running down both sides of the slightly hollowed spine.

Obi-Wan translated the symbols automatically, letting his brain sort the information while his attention remained glued on what he was watching. Just once, the writing man bent and ran the tip of his tongue along unpainted flesh.

On the left side
black hair 's   messiness    (obj.) without knowing
                tangling            without caring

when lying prone    first    stroked
person  !   longing

On the right side
very  extremely    longing    time   --

hiogi nut  's   night  's  clothing  (obj.)

KAESHITE             ZO       KIRU
turned inside out    !        wear

Even after years of exercises in deciphering languages and poetry, it took him long minutes to assemble anything meaningful from what he'd read. Only when he withdrew his attention from the men at the table was he able to decipher the inscription.
Lying alone                     When my desire
my black hair tangled,          grows too fierce
uncombed,                       I wear my bedclothes
I long for the one              inside out,
who touched it first.           dark as the night's rough husk.

Chewed wood painting over skin. Obi-Wan knew he should withdraw, but he was fascinated, and his feet were rooted. While he watched, the blunt fingers finished the last character and set down the brush, then traced delicately over the ribcage to rest on the guardsman's heavy, oddly still shoulders.

He hadn't realized that there were lovers amongst the guards. And in fact when he thought about it, he realized that the calligrapher was no one he recognized, that he must have been part of the courier party that had arrived with Qui-Gon. The touches between the two didn't speak of a new relationship, though. They must have been lovers long before this visit. And if the other was a messenger, then they must live apart for most of the year. The thought stilled him. He was grateful that he had not interrupted, and ashamed of watching what was almost certainly a too-rare encounter between them.

When they began to make love in earnest he shook himself and withdrew. There was no way he could walk to the sleeping chamber without rousing the house, so he stepped back outside, and muffled the swing and impact of the door. The snow had stopped, but there was a low, insulating cloud-layer that still blocked out the stars. He walked along the cleared paths as far as the boulders that were clustered above the river gorge, and lifted himself up to sit on one of them. Wrapped his robe more tightly around his body and waited.

Even in the cold, Obi-Wan found himself drifting. Sleep would be dangerous considering the chill and his precarious perch, but he managed to slip into a surface meditation. Let the image of the two in the dining room resolve itself for him. When he rose out of the trance, he was calmer, and the light arousal that had clung to him had dissipated. He sat watching the guard house until the light sifting through its shutters died, then walked back. When he opened the door again, there was no one on the other side of it, and he was able to walk to the sleep chamber without disturbing anyone but himself.

Qui-Gon had described the barges to him, and he'd understood them intellectually, but he'd still envisioned something that more resembled a broad, shallow-bottomed boat. His Master's description hadn't been a lesson, not precisely. Not something it would save his life to know. Just words surrounding him in the darkness when he'd finally come to bed.

He had time to come to a full understanding of the craft in the first two days they spent aboard it. It wasn't a boat in the way he understood boats. A raft, rather, with stabilizing pontoons on each side and a delicate rudder-system that allowed it to follow the gorge-currents rather than striking the cliffs. The deck was flat and uncontained; only barrelled supplies provided something of a barrier between living bodies and the water. There was tiny shelter at the back where the boat-man lived. Iron pan in mid-deck in which they could build the only fire.

It was an engineless craft, and he couldn't imagine how it travelled upstream. He'd asked, finally, entirely bemused by the impossibility of it. It didn't, the boatman told him. Each barge was constructed in the glacial forests and floated down to the capital, where it was dismantled and the wood re-used. North-bound trade moved by trade-road or by sea. Seventeen trips in the boatman's career, coloured by the liquid green and bordering rock.

Obi-Wan had been sensitive to light changes since he was an Initiate, and he found now that daylight tended to rouse him even before the boatman rolled out of his own blankets. The barge was lashed to a series of iron rings driven into the cliff wall; it shifted lightly under him as small river-waves rolled under it. He was starting to realize the extent to which this was a water- country. Everything grew in ankle-deep pools. Even the forests at the river's origins soaked in an impossibly shallow lake that extended for hundreds of miles and stayed frozen for almost two thirds of the year. Blues and greens farther south; ice-blue on the frozen edges. He'd patrolled one of the few dry places, and even there the norm had been torrential rainfall.

The unexpected frost coloured everything in the gorge. Steam off the water condensed on the rock face and froze. It only took a light touch with the Force for Obi-Wan to locate the geothermal vents that heated the river so that not even the surface would freeze. Such a thin crust on this planet. The water around him steamed constantly. Only the Jedi-cloak kept him dry; he found he was unwilling to strip it off for more than a few moments at a time. Only to wash down fast in the hard air, and later to keep its sleeves out of the way while he re-built the blaze in the fire-pan.

He sat in front of the pan now, cupping dried leaves in his palm and inhaling a little while he waited for the open pot to boil. He wondered if the cold had penetrated his Master, if he should be protecting the older man a little while he captured these last few minutes of rest. If he had any right to interfere in the body-life of a Jedi Master.

He let the water boil for half a minute before he poured the crushed leaves into it. Waited after that until the colour changed and the tea-smell drifted to him easily. Lifted it off the hook with a carefully wrapped hand and laid the pot on the deck boards, bowed a little over the liquid and swept the fumes over his face with a light, double-handed sweep. Caffeine and warmth moved with it, waking him fully and reassuring him of the absence of danger in the drink. The search for contamination was the first ritual element that Master A'aren had introduced into his knowledge of tea-making, and he did it now with as little thought as any part of his pre-dawn routine.

The boatman came forward and offered stiffened hands to the small fire. Obi-Wan reached forward and closed his hands over the reddened ones. He could feel the small aches of arthritis shivering through the Living Force, reached to calm them in pure reflex. It wasn't until he released the hands and found the boatman staring at him that he realized that he'd been healing, and that the swollown joints were half the size they had been.

He dipped and handed the man a cup of tea. Watched the fingers close around it and then flex as he waited for red pain that wasn't there.

Small nod. "Thank you, Jedi Kenobi."

"You're welcome." He dipped a second cup and took it with him.

His Master was still asleep, curled in the layers of blankets and his robe in the shelter of the cargo barrels. Even fully awake as he was, Obi-Wan found he wanted to crawl back into the embrace he'd been cradled in while he slept. The shared body-heat and Force-energy had dissipated all but the faint edges of the cold, to the extent that getting up had brought physical pain. It would be so easy to just reinsert himself into that warmth and be held all through this day and the next night, to abandon his reading and their lessons and drift. The boatman barely needed them, and in the time until the river-station, there was little enough to do.

"Master." He brushed a hand over the long hair and waited for Qui-Gon to wake.

Qui-Gon surfaced, arched under the layers of his bedding, and sat up, focussed on the apprentice kneeling in front of him. Obi-Wan bowed, brought the tea-cup to his lips to show it was safe to drink, then offered it to his Master with both hands. Qui-Gon took it and drank. Closed his eyes at the warm rush. Before the cup was empty, though, he handed it back to Obi-Wan and waited for the younger man to finish the drink. Stood when the tea was gone and walked to the fire.

Long days like that. Obi-Wan had rarely been allowed this kind of intense attention from his Master in the field. Qui-Gon made a place for Obi-Wan in the curve of his arm and held the younger man against him so that both of them kept their faces to the fire. One text or another always open in the Master's lap. Qui- Gon's voice warm in his ear explaining the deeper layers of interpretation and meaning of this latest book.

The water was always at the fringes of Obi-Wan's attention, the Force whispering that he should love it while he could. His vision in the dry garden still nagged at him. He'd meditated on it in the silence of the guard station, but it hadn't resolved into any more than what it was -- a fragment of a possibility that spoke of grief and infinite dryness. One that made him lean into the shelter of his Master's robes.

And still the fire. It got colder, and he found himself sitting within arm's reach of the fire basin for more than half the day. They slept there in the night. Qui-Gon's body wrapped around his and his head on his arm, hearing the water shift under the thin surface of the barge. He woke in the night and watched the coals glow. His Master behind him was a solid warmth, and big hands stroked his chest and abdomen gently, soothing him.

The light was different inside the river-station. It filtered through wood and glass so that in daylight, when the lamps were out, the indoors was a warmly-wrapped twilight. Wooden chairs and benches around the common room with drying clothes thrown over them. In the back, there were the sharp scents of raw supplies: dried vegetables, hemp sacks of seed crop, fuel oil stored carefully in glass sealers and arranged on the shelves. Radiek's soft throat-singing while she did accounts in the faint light that filtered in.

Two days ago, when they'd pulled the barge in to the floating wharf, both the vessel and mooring had been rimmed with ice. The gorge had widened finally, and there was enough of a shore to anchor a dock and a few wooden buildings. Obi-Wan had stepped off the barge and staggered for half a step before his balance readjusted to stable ground. His Master hadn't touched him, but he could feel the warm body just behind him, watching. He'd focussed on Qui-Gon's limpid self-ness instead of the change in footing and made the next step without falling.

Since then, it had snowed. Huge, soft-limbed trees hung over the compound and sheltered it, but less and less of the ground was bare, and Obi-Wan was more and more grateful for the temporary bed he had indoors. Even the small mat and blanket by the fire were luxurious after days on the river. A dozen or more people slept in the common room. He immersed again in the communal sleeping-life that had sheltered him since childhood, and in the silent minutes when he couldn't sleep he let the swelling sense of it fill the air around him. Snow falling from the trees to hit the roof tiles. Breath in the dark.

He drifted and woke in the small hours and rolled over, reaching through the Force for his Master's presence. There beside him, on his side, keeping Obi-Wan's body between his own and the fire. The coal-shimmer flicked across the grey hair, stroked the heavy cheekbones and the twice-broken nose, and he reached out a hand to follow it. Traced the profile and the hairline of Qui-Gon's beard with a fingertip, too delicately to wake the man. Close enough to feel his breath. Afterward, he laid with his head on an outstretched arm, just watching, until he heard Radiek stir and turned to look at her. She blinked at him unfocusedly, then more alertly, then shrugged, turned towards the fire-warmth, and returned to sleep. And he'd stayed watching her in the dark until the small rise of her lungs under her ribs became the focus for a long meditation that lasted nearly until morning.

Obi-Wan didn't know what to make of her, this river-merchant who watched him constantly. A half-dozen Brikallans lived in this place full-time and maintained its buildings and supplies, and the stock rooms were hers. The first day, he'd seen her pouring honey with the concentration of an elderly knight returning to a long- perfected exercise. He had flickers of her presence whenever he was within sight of the supply house. Grey-eyed, black-haired woman with long streaks of grey in her hair and black flecks in her eyes. Even Qui-Gon had given her the respect due to a master. When Obi-Wan had hand-clasped her in greeting, his fingers had run over the matrimonial tattoo that coiled on the back of her hand.

He felt her watching him in the courtyard as he did katas, and now in the common room, where he was curled reading by the fireplace. It shook him more than it should have. If he was to be Jedi, he should be able to tolerate being a curiosity.

The book refused to surrender to him, and he gave up on it finally. Radiek nodded when he walked past her to the door, but it could have been a gesture of anything.

Outside, the chill was stronger. There was a thin layer of snow on the ground, but other feet had marked a path through it that he was able to follow. Higher up the cliffs, there were supposed to be hot springs. He hadn't been really warm in weeks, and the thought of a bath in hot water, even with cold air around him, was irresistible. Stillness in the air, radiating off the trees and projecting rocks. Small animals shifted in the darker bush. Higher, the path was marked with flat stones, and he followed these to the hollow in the cliffs.

His cloak made a layer of warm armour for him while he undressed. The stone around the bathing pools had been carved out into a bath a pair of benches, and there was a half-wall shielding the place from view. He only let the warmth of the garment fall the instant before he stepped into the water, and then there was only time for a quick, hard flare before he sank into

//bright pain mineral smell swelling over the rocks hot, hot so hot pleasure running up him like orgasm to twist through his shoulders and lock his jaw for the long seconds before he cried out//

Nothing had felt this singly good in as long as he could remember. The steam folded around him as he stepped deeper, so that by the time the water brushed at his thighs he was bodily warm and could hesitate for a moment before sliding his genitals and hips under the surface. The ecstatic pain ran up him again and he had to breathe through his teeth until it eased, but then he was able to relax, finally, and catch palmfuls of water to splash over his torso and shoulders.

The minerals dissolved in the water cut through to his sinuses and made small pains there. He reached down to rub at his calf and let his face skim the liquid's surface. The Force reaching out to him and he answered it without conscious thought.

. . . opening suddenly into this cave, and he was able to straighten, finally, and stare at the paintings of a history of sentients, marked out in plant-pigments and chalks and what he thought might be blood. Images of caravans trailing across the edge of the Dune Sea, pack animals strung out behind wagons and what must be mechanical transports. Hand to hand battles. Dances of mating. The arc of a gliding ch'ara as it banked over a promontory.

He walked past these, touched them carefully, absorbing the Force-history embedded in them. Stepped precisely around the bits of ceramic that lay on the floor, avoided the thin bones of desert creatures that had died to feed the planet's sentient life. Brushed his mind across an early piece of metalwork and felt its use as a carving tool and weapon and art instrument.

Then he came into the lower cavern and learned why the Jawas had told him that this place was sacred.

Water slipped away for half a mile across the dark. He could feel it reaching down below the level of the desert to an almost- forgotten water table. There were no pictures here, and no debris. Even the entrance would have been impossible to find if the little ones hadn't told him where it was. It was a fortune, the most water in one place on the whole planet. Not a thing for outsiders to know. They'd told him of it, finally, after fifteen years of caring for their injured, and he hadn't realized until he stepped it that it was the most valuable thing they had.

Shimmer of the water in the Force-light he conjured. Afraid to touch it and needing to touch it because he hadn't been really wet since he came here, and they'd given this to him so he could reach out and sink his hand into its depth . . .

Obi-Wan pulled himself together and felt snow fragments brush across his shoulders. Quickly, he bent his knees and submerged himself until only his nose and eyes were above the water, then tilted his head back to soak his hair. It felt so good, and he was still drifting on the edge of the vision. He could only hold onto images of desert and water and gratitude now, but he thought more might come back with silence and meditation. He got out, finally, and wrapped himself in his cloak until he was dry enough to dress and walk back.

"Where is your lover, Jedi Obi-Wan?"

"Hmm?" Radiek had handed him tea when he came in, and shooed him to the fire. Her fingers on the back of his neck told him what she thought of his running around in the cold with wet hair, but he refused to flinch from her. She'd turned his chin up so she could look at him, then disappeared, come back with the wooden- handled teapot and a second cup for herself. Then sat, curled her feet under and watched him until his drink was half-gone.

"Where is your lover? He has been gone since early morning."

"Master Qui-Gon went up the cliffs. He said he wanted to exercise and meditate and . . . oh, I'm sorry, Lady, I believe we haven't been clear. He isn't my lover."

She cocked her head. "May I ask you why? I think he loves you a great deal."

Obi-Wan paused, centred himself. "Those who make channels for water control the waters; makers of arrows make the arrows straight; carpenters control their timber; and Jedi control their own minds." Pause. He'd answered similar questions before. Then as now he'd tried not to be cryptic, and failed, and reached for words less rooted in the code. "I'm not ready. If I am to offer anything to a lover, I need to possess myself first."

"You do not yet?" She leaned forward and refilled his teacup.

He sighed. "I do. But he remains my Master, and to a great extent the centre of my universe, and to make him my lover is not a thing to be done lightly." Sipped at his tea. "Jedi relationships are delicate things. Some Jedi prefer to live alone. Others live in extended bond-units, like large families, with teachers and new students and old students and current lovers all sharing space. Master Qui-Gon and I are closer to the former. There has only ever been the two of us since I became his student." Thinking of the quiet ghost of the failed padawan, and of the faceless lovers whom it had taken him so long to recognize. No other strong presences had ever invaded. And their living-place was open-air as often as not, and only infrequently on Coruscant. "My Master has had lovers occasionally, but they have never joined us."

He flushed then, and bit his tongue a little in self-reprimand. Wondered how long it had been since he'd had a friend outside the order, that he was willing to offer these secrets to a stranger. But another Jedi would never have questioned him.

"And your lovers, Jedi Obi-Wan?"

"My fantasies take up relatively little space." She gave him a long look that demanded to know how old he was. He offered one back of blank serenity. He was willing to let her read his remark any way she chose. Rather less willing to explain the intricacies of coming to adulthood as a Jedi, the hours of meditation and gradual centring in and understanding of his body.

Radiek kept watching, but he chose not to answer her, and gradually the demanding look withdrew. She stood, touched his hand briefly, and went back to her accounts, leaving him with the teapot by the fire. When the light struck her shirt, he thought he could see something dark and almost moving underneath, like the twist of a snake.

Obi-Wan set the dishes aside and folded himself down on the warm boards. His cloak was within reach, folded over the chair he'd been sitting in, but here at least he didn't need it. Heat streaked out from the coals more thinly than it had in the water, but it kept him steady while he calmed his breathing and heartbeat. He focussed in and stroked the Living Force, let it swell around him and gradually strip away his layers of conscious thought. At the back of his mind, there was the knowledge of Radiek's presence, and Qui-Gon's continued well-being, but neither rose to more than a whisper, and he was able to simply breathe.

It was darker when he surfaced from his meditation, and there were more people in the room, though none close. Two men at the table, Radiek's husband with his back to the wall so that the remaining light flooded past him and struck his wife. Her eyes on Qui-Gon, and Qui-Gon's on him.

Obi-Wan stood and bowed to his Master where the man sat reading by the fire, almost within arm's reach. Crossed to stand above the river merchant. The light angled through her shirt, and he could see the patterns marked out on her skin vividly, even through the fabric. Her husband nodded to him and stepped past, caught the woman's eye for a moment and offered her a look that Obi-Wan couldn't read.

He reached and traced the line of colour to where it disappeared into her sleeve. Traces of plant-life and colour that were the fringe details of a larger pattern. She didn't flinch from the touch. Watched him with eyes like his Master's until he spoke.

"Could you do this for me?"

The storeroom table was built in the same design as those of the guard station, slabs of wood laid together and polished until the most dangerous edges were rubbed away. The smoked glass of the oil lamp in the corner shot light flickers across the wood's irregularities. He hadn't planned on stretching so nearly naked across that roughness, but the discomfort was minimal, and he was able to still himself under her touch.

Radiek's hard fingers ran alongon his ribcage and collarbone, probed the muscles that traced down his back. He felt her reading the variations in skin texture and the places where soft hairs changed the surface texture.

"Do you understand why you are doing this, young one?" she asked.

"I do." He could remember the body-marks of knights in the Temple, could remember being an Initiate and brazenly asking to have the marks explained. The patience of a knight who traced each tattoo and scarification, explained how she'd chosen each of them to mark a decision or moment of change. Her knighting had been a formal act -- her hair had been cut and she had ritually parted from her Master. Three weeks later, in the midst of her first mission, she'd finally woken and for the first time not reached for that comforting presence. At the end of the mission, she found a tattoo artist in the under-level of the spaceport. She came home with the contrasting red and white flowers of the high meditation garden marked on the insides of her wrists.

He'd had the discretion, at least, not to ask her why she'd chosen that design. The explanation, if she'd even chosen to give it, would most likely have been longer than the story she'd told him and more complex than he would at the time have been able to process.

"And you are sure of the design?"


He'd seen hers when she led him in here. She lit the lamp and undressed with her back to him. The oil flared and he could make out the coiling dragon that ran from her shoulders to the tops of her thighs. Then as the light steadied and spread, the details of sentient life that surrounded it. Gesturing beings buried in plant life. Scales suggesting a second dragon contained within her body. The image shifted as she turned, almost disconnected from her skin, and he saw the scales traced over her breasts and belly, just brushing the tops of her thighs in front. And she only watched him while he studied her, and dressed again only when he nodded to say he had seen as much as he could.

"And the placing?" More firmly, this time.

"Yes. Most Jedi tattoo their hands first, but mine marks a private decision rather than a public break. And it is to remind me of the possessor of my body." He twisted up to look at her, but she smoothed him back on the table.

"All right, young one. Lie back and relax. Let me work."

He'd been naked before, but rarely in front of a stranger, and the touch of this woman's hands so close to the centre of him was something he had to consciously release. Out of his line of vision, he could feel her shaving away the few hairs that spread so far out on his hip, soothing the skin afterward with a touch and something delicately cold.

It was going to take hours to do it correctly; most of the night. Obi-Wan let himself fall again into his own breathing, moving deeper than the flashes of pain that ran up him as the first needle punctured the skin. His breath and his heartbeat, his body reacting a little to the foreignness of the ink. Breathing deeper until he had only the faintest sense of the burning in the hollow of his left hip and the weight of Radiek's hand high up on his leg.

He drifted into the vision more delicately this time. What he gained first was the delicate light that lingered after sunset, long blues and their reflections in sand hollows. Then gradually stars, and a knowledge of the constellations they formed, then the rules that let him navigate by them. A perfect understanding of where he stood, in the middle of this flat place where the dunes didn't reach. Hardpan still forming mirages in the almost- dark.

Desert cold pushed against the remains of his cloak. It was old, not his, one of Qui's, cut down to let him move freely and slightly ragged where he hadn't hemmed it well. His own raggedness had gradually brought some of the others to trust him. Sometimes Jawas came and asked to be healed. Occasionally Sand People did. He'd come to expect the ringing of glass with each of his movements, bottles in his pockets striking each other even when he only carried basic analgesics and antibiotics. Hours in the front room of his house coaxing the infection-killers out of small desert plants. The smell of their leaves stayed under his nails for weeks.

The moon rose while he waited, thinly luminous after the daytime brilliance of two suns. He'd only been out here a few times since he'd settled on the edge of the Dune Sea, fifteen years ago. The desert dwellers had no interest in a place this empty; their gift to him had been the water. It was only the outworlder in him that reached into empty places. There were half a dozen living scents coming on this wind. Different sand-layers and traces of moisture, plants from the highlands, herd animals in the distance. Wells.

Before he died, he was going to understand how winds could carry a trace scent for hundreds of miles. Why they swirled in the high atmosphere and fell suddenly. How the sand could rise into air that seemed breathless and become a storm in the time it took to rip his attention away from whatever lichens he was scraping together.

A pair of Sand People lurked at the edge of his vision, their Banthas quietly nose to tail. Their stillness, watching him. Waiting to see whether he would go back or whether he had finally gone mad and intended to keep walking until the desert swallowed him.

The Obi-Wan in the river-station surfaced through the vision slowly, finally asserting himself enough that he could reach within the vision. Breathing. His prescience closed around him. He reached into the remainder of the Moment and sifted through its faces. Sandstone, small moulds, plants that lived in shallow, damp spaces. His house with its cache of Jedi life hidden under the old clothes and apothecary's tools and his own voice whispering through it, repeating Qui-Gon's years of admonishments when there was no one else for him to talk with. Oils catching the light on the windowsill . . .

The Moment broke and he lost what details he was still grasping at. Settled back into the pattern of his breath and rose out of the meditation.

Radiek was gone, and he was curled alone on the table with his cloak wrapped around him and a second quilt layered around it. His hip burned faintly, and screamed in the tones of raw flesh when he moved. He thought it must be almost morning.

He wasn't tired. His stillness only lasted as long as he needed to heal the skin and assure himself that infection hadn't seeped in while he slept. Then stood and stretched, dressed and padded out through the common room to the door. In the instant before he stepped outside, he had a sense of his Master reaching for him. He sent back wordless reassurance and stepped into the cold.

In the hard chill, everything had crystallized. The thin layer of snow on the path crunched under his boots and hard bits of ice fell from the trees as he brushed them. He'd been right in thinking that it was nearly morning -- there was a rising brilliance on one horizon -- but the stars on the opposite edge of the sky hadn't faded yet. Mostly what he had was an increasing sense of colour. As he walked, the shades of the tree needles became distinguishable, and he could see iron traces in the rock.

The hot springs were more than welcome by the time Obi-Wan reached them. The warmer air closed around him as he stepped into the stone hollow, unreasonably hot after the ice-chill he'd walked through. Even when he dropped his cloak and tunics, he wasn't painfully cold, only tightly aware of his own skin. Feeling its small shivers as he pulled off his boots and leggings and folded them onto a stone bench.

The steam felt ecstatically good. After a moment's thought, he reached with the Force and ignited the two nearest fire-bowls, letting their glow push towards him. All of his skin reaching for that warmth.

He'd been half-hard since he woke, and he hadn't taken time yet to either deal with the erection summarily or will it away. The warm air was smoothly electric now, and he wanted to appreciate it. He settled with his knees spread on the stone and rested for a moment, letting awareness creep into the limits of his skin. Then brought a hand up and traced his throat, feeling its muscle layers and the tightness of the larynx under his fingers. He raised his other hand and ran both over his face, rubbing gently from the tips of his brows down to the jawline.

Gravity tugged the stroke farther down, and he left his body follow as the fingertips brushed along his clavicle and chest, circled the nipples delicately without pinching or even exerting pressure. Steam trailed after each of his movements, small disturbances making thinly white swirls in the air. Thin as human breath on his skin while he traced down his ribcage, teasing over each bone, and ran the heels of his hands down his front until they rested on his thighs, just framing his erection. Paused like that, inhumanly still, and let the need for a more intimate touch run up him. Breathing into it.

Obi-Wan was shaking when he finally let his hands fall into the hollow of his legs. He kept one hand there, teasing the skin of his scrotum while he stroked along his cock with the other. So good, rubbing along its underside, feeling the hard vein and the change in texture as the shaft gave way to the head. He hissed a little when he rubbed one fingertip into the tiny hole at the tip. Raised the liquid he'd collected to his mouth and licked it, processed the taste, returned the hand to his flesh and stroked harder.

He let the other hand loose and slid it up to tease the limits of his pubic hair. So good, it felt so good. He hadn't been able to give more than a cursory attention to his body in weeks. By now he was aching for his own attention, having to remind himself where his pleasure-centres could be triggered, which touches he truly enjoyed as opposed to those that would bring him to orgasm most quickly. More water-warmth on his back as the steam thickened and his skin was electric and every touch on his body was intimately his own.

When he reached across to brush at his left hip, he found the tattoo was a radiant centre. He touched it and arched back, hissing through his teeth. Bright and sensitive. Every other part of his body connected to that recently-healed patch of skin. He rubbed the mark harder in time with the strokes along his cock. Twisted his hips into the movement. He needed it hard, *now*, thrust into his hand and stroked his body, loosed whatever flashes of fantasy were lurking in his mind. Let

//faceless bodies from half a dozen worlds vivid brown eyes from some forgotten vid veined hands of his first crush as they closed over the shaft of a 'saber solstice kisses his Master's touch in the night stroking comfort into his mind and body touch of the tattoo artist on his naked hip brilliance of the Force and his own hands//

the images out and then let them go, felt the Force accept them, rubbed hard under his glans and came.

Obi-Wan hissed, swallowing any louder cries reflexively. He couldn't remember half a dozen times in his life that he'd had this kind of wonderful privacy to attend to his body, and by now the habit of quietness was ingrained. He stayed there, panting a little, with his knees spread, and after a moment dropped a hand back to stroke his balls gently as he calmed.

When he was sure of his legs again, he straightened and stretched. White cream on his hands caught his attention, just briefly, and before he rinsed the semen away he touched his tongue to a drop on the back of his hand.

//bright bittersalty taste sharp//

Then knelt at the edge of the pool and washed his hands, cupped water and raised them up, let it fall onto his face and shoulders. The heat-flare that followed that touch rocked him even in his almost boneless state.

He was waist-deep in the water, letting himself drift still with his palms just floating on the surface, when Qui-Gon stepped around the rock face. His Master nodded a greeting to him and settled on a bench to take his boots off, waving Obi-Wan away when he would have come out of the water to help.

"Don't, there's no reason for you to be cold. I'm quite capable of bending over and undoing a few buckles." He set both boots aside and peeled his tunics back. "I missed you last night, Padawan."

Not an accusation, or even a demand for an explanation. His Master's slightly crooked smile offered forgiveness for the small wrong of absence. Invited Obi-Wan to tell where he had been when he was ready. He suspected that his Master knew, and was only offering to listen if an ear was needed. Obi-Wan wasn't sure, yet.

Instead, he said, "Yes, Master. Good morning." Caught the flash of another smile and relaxed into the warmth.

He'd been naked with his Master before, but it struck him suddenly how unmarked the man was. He was crossed with scars, but as far as Obi-Wan knew, they were all from combat. If he'd ever chosen to mark himself, those symbols had long since been removed, and Obi-Wan was left with a Master who gave away little or nothing of himself. Everything in him buried. He wondered again how someone so private could have chosen him, who wore his feelings just beneath the surface of his skin.

The older man stepped into the water and bent his knees, leaned back to let his hair soak. Long muscles on his torso extended in the backwards arch and held for a long moment. Dark hair tracing the hollows where the skin stretched over bone. Obi-Wan had a sense that it was snowing again, but the flakes weren't reaching the ground. Colder suddenly, though, and when Qui-Gon straightened, Obi-Wan stepped forward into the warm curve of his torso.

Big arms came around him and held him there for a minute. Bright skin- and Force-touch along their contact. Then his Master's hands dipped down and caught water, brought it up and let it fall along his back. He reciprocated, warming and washing gently without moving away.

His Master caught his hand, eventually, and raised it a little, rubbing over the palm and back, and then the wrist. He watched Obi-Wan's face for something, and he gradually realized that Qui- Gon was looking for the as yet unseen tattoo. Obi-Wan stilled for a moment, then drew the big hand into the hollow of his hip and rubbed the fingers against it. Qui-Gon's hand rested on the tattoo even when Obi-Wan withdrew his own hand. He waited.

The other arm stayed around him, making a shell against the rising cold. When he shifted next, he felt his Master's face press into his hair. Narrow lips moving in it as he read the coiling text by touch.

(*When a man knows the solitude of silence, and feels the joy of quietness, then he is free from fear and darkness, and he feels the joy of the light.*)

Gold tracery around the red, delicate breath-measure symbols of Brikallan script, only legible to him and the natives and the handful of outsiders who knew the written language.

Qui-Gon dropped a hand to his chin and tilted his face up. Kissed his forehead, very carefully, and then his mouth. Brush of a tongue against Obi-Wan's lips, so quickly he almost didn't register it. His arms were still resting on his Master's hips, and he didn't think to raise them, so when the older man pulled loose, he was away across the pool before Obi-Wan could tighten his grip. He had another flash of the crooked smile as his Master dressed, and a moment in which that indigo stare locked on him.

"Enjoy the water, Padawan, but keep the hour in mind. We should leave at mid-morning."

He watched the dark shape of the man's cloak sweep around the rim of the stone and kept watching after it was gone. Even in the absence of that larger body, he could feel intimacy opening between them like fire.

The gorge broke open two days' travel south of the snow line, and they were wrapped in a country of dark water. The river spread into a delta, there were more boats, and people fishing on stilts in the shallows, but even after the shoreline rose, he could see the reflections of water-fields and lake strings that spread out along the coast. More salt in the air, though the water wasn't yet saline.

Obi-Wan was studying in the stern of the barge when the boatman whistled to him. The sun was only an hour up, and it was still cold. The river water and the ocean in the distance were both steaming. Qui-Gon was standing in the prow, and he opened an arm to enfold his student. Somewhere in the depths of that cloth was his Master's body-smell, and bright-sharp sap scent, and wood smoke. The hand on Obi-Wan's shoulder twisted a little so that the tips of the two longest fingers could stroke his neck. The other turned his head so that he could focus on the same view as his Master and the boatman.

The capital city spread open on one side of the river delta, and there were fishing boats coming up to it through the fog. Behind the cliffs, there was the spaceport, as hidden as anyone could make it, and no one was flying at this hour. Instead, there were boats, both on the river and on the salt-water basin that it poured into. Warm fingers still traced patterns on his neck. Brush of a kiss on the rim of his ear. On the bay, there were huge, low ships with their forward sails swallowing the rising light.


So . . . more? (Yeah, I know. I'm a tease. Encourage me anyway at 3jane@chickmail.com)