August 9, 1999
"Sar Jai Gonn, allow me to present my Champion, Ben Ken'ba."
Sea-change eyes met those of the deepest cerulean and held, both gazes measuring, weighing, revealing nothing of the thoughts in each man's mind.
"Sar Gonn." The words were offered with a bow though Ben's eyes never left the stranger's. He was big, almost as large as Malanese had been, and while he was dressed in the latest fashions of the court there was an aura about him that told the fighter that this man could be dangerous if he so chose. Brown hair threaded with silver hung to his shoulders, brushing his midnight blue cloak and framing a strong, handsome face. The sprinkling of grey in the other man's mustache and beard, as well as the fine lines around his eyes set his age at around forty-five - a prime specimen without a doubt. The only questions that remained were who was he and what did he have that the Bitch wanted?
"Champion Ken'ba." Although nothing in the younger man's expression or demeanor gave evidence to his scrutiny, Qui-Gon nevertheless felt a push at his mind, one that he easily deflected, the untutored probe sliding over his shields like water flowing around a boulder. "I am grateful that your injuries did not prevent you from attending the festivities."
Something flickered back of the fighter's eyes at that and one corner of his mouth lifted in a caustic grin. "I would never miss the opportunity to attend one of Elini's gatherings. They always prove to be highly amusing."
The Empress's brown eyes thinned to baleful slits at the familiarity of the address. Plainly if tonight did not knock some of the arrogance from Ken'ba's attitude she would have to take other measures. "I will leave the two of you to your conversation. Do enjoy yourselves." Accepting their bows and salutations, the woman swept away, her string of courtiers following in her wake like scavengers shadowing a predator in the hope of a meal.
"Care for a drink?"
Ben procured another stim-stick and placed it between his lips, then offered one to the other man. At his refusal, the champion shrugged, shifting the small rectangle to the corner of his mouth so that he could speak. " Forgive me if I must decline. I have an aversion to partaking in any of the Empress's refreshments."
Qui-Gon's brow furrowed, his eyebrows raised in partially feigned surprise. He would have thought the fighter would have gladly enjoyed all the privileges that came with his position. But then there seemed to be quite a bit about the younger man that was not what it seemed to be. "No need to apologize, everyone has their own preferences in these things. Tell me then, where do you prefer to go when you enjoy a meal or a drink?"
Folding his arms over his chest, his expression impassive, Ken'ba's blue-green eyes flicked over the taller man's body. "There is no need for this dancing around, Sar Gonn. You have something I need, and you know it. What I want to know is what you require in exchange for it."
"Why don't you tell me what you are willing to do to get it." He really didn't mean to bait the other man, but some inner voice kept prodding Qui-Gon in this course of action.
"What's the point in that?" Ben asked dryly. "What I want has no bearing on this, what I need does."
"Humor me then. I'm curious to know how much value you place on this object."
Ben laughed at that, the harsh exhalation causing an uneasy ripple to run through those guests nearest to their position. "I suppose you could say at this point in time I value it more than my life, not that I believe that to be worth much any longer. If you're interested in finding out just how much I believe that to be, come with me. There's something I have to do before we get down to the specifics of your payment."
The small, nondescript speeder angled out of the main flyway, cruising onto a less traveled thoroughfare. The buildings that loomed around it were shabby but clean, the neighborhood on the lower end of the riches scale but not yet fallen into the morass of the slums.
The single question the gladiator had asked once they were alone was in regard to what his guest was doing on Golgatha. Qui-Gon's answer had apparently satisfied his curiosity as he hadn't said a word for the rest of the trip, his concentration seemingly on piloting the craft toward its destination.
"I take it this is why you told me to change," Qui-Gon ventured, eyeing the tidy but run-down stone facades as they slid past, moving deeper into the warren of twisting streets. He was now dressed in a version of his normal garments - boots, trousers and a tunic; all in natural tones rather than the rich colors his borrowed persona garbed himself in.
Ben gave a noncommittal grunt and veered down another side street, easing the speeder into a slot outside an unassuming shop. The fighter still wore leather, but the cut was both less formal and less revealing, while the color was a dusky gray. The silver and crystal trappings were gone, replaced with more functional versions of the accessories they had represented - only the rings and earring remained the same.
Qui-Gon had counted at least five weapons visible on the other man's person and he was sure that there were at least that many more located in hidden sites on the fighter's body. You have done some foolhardy things in your life, the Jedi told himself ruefully as he opened his mind up to the Force, searching for a sense of danger regarding the situation or location. But this certainly ranks near the top of the list.
In all reality this was far outside his jurisdiction as a representative of the Council and Chancellor Valorum, but he had to find out more about Ben Ken'ba. Dark, but not of the Dark Side. Trained in the Jedi arts, but with a control that was surpassed by even the lowest level Padawan. Strong in the Force - hells, what he wouldn't give to be able to get a midichlorian count on the younger man.
"Stay here." Without a backward glance, Ben stepped from the speeder to the street and entered the shop.
"Like hell I will," Qui-Gon muttered, flowing out of the vehicle close on the other man's trail, intent on finding out what this visit was about.
"Are you an idiot or do you just have a problem following orders?" The question was asked as the fighter reached the doorway, before he signaled the portal open.
"I have been accused of both during my lifetime," the Jedi answered affably, making it clear from his stance that he wasn't going back to the transport without a struggle - one he doubted the younger man could win.
Ben raked a hand through his hair over the white streak at his right temple and growled out a curse. "Just stay out of the way, Sar Trade Representative. These people have been through enough."
The older man almost asked what Ben meant by that last comment, but refrained, guessing correctly that he wouldn't receive an answer. Nodding silently, he followed the fighter into the shop. Food stuffs and a variety of ready-to-wear garments seemed to make up most of the stock - what there was of it.
A tall, gangly man moved out of the shadows in the back of the single room, blocking their path. "They don't want to see you or your friend, Ken'ba," he spat, glaring at the visitors with disdain-filled eyes.
"They may not want to see me, but they will." Ben's answer was voiced in a soft, compelling tone and the self-appointed guard's stance wavered.
"They will..." His voice trailed off uncertainly, as if he was fighting an inner battle with his good sense.
"You have my thanks." Inclining his head to the still befuddled man, Ben stepped past him, moving up the narrow staircase, Qui-Gon trailing doggedly at his heels.
The situation was becoming more mysterious by the second, something that would have had the Jedi seething in frustration if he had allowed himself the luxury. Another blatant use of the Force, another revelation of Jedi training, and still he had no better understanding of who the younger man was than the first time he has seen him.
The knock on the door was answered by a portly, middle-aged man who wore his years with much less grace than the Jedi Master did. His expression flattened when he saw the fighter, expressing his anger, but he stepped aside to allow the two men to enter.
The shop-keeper's wife had no such restraint, however, and the palm of her hand connected solidly with Ben's cheek in precisely the same spot the Empress' had landed earlier that evening. "How dare you show your face here? If not for you this would never have happened!"
Bleak blue-green eyes turned winter desolate, a stark contrast to the vivid palm-print now standing out in relief on his cheek. "I cannot change what has happened, Sari." The champion's tone was quiet, even diffident, shocking Qui-Gon. "Please know that if it were possible I would. I can only offer you some manner of compensation, and this."
The woman flinched back as Ben touched her face with his fingertips and then her eyes went glassy.
"What have you done to her?" the shop-keeper roared, blustering forward, prepared to defend his wife.
Ben turned and placed his hand against the older man's face in the same manner. "Nothing that will harm her, I assure you." His eyes narrowed as they flicked to where the trade representative was watching, a stunned expression on his face. Ken'ba turned resolutely, heading for the back room.
Qui-Gon was tempted to follow, but he wanted to see what exactly Ken'ba had done to the couple before they recovered. A quick survey of the still quiescent minds revealed that the fighter had blunted the memories of their time as the Empress' "guests" and had banished all memory of this visit.
Folding his arms in front of him and pondering this event, the Jedi moved toward the inner doorway and peered inside. Ben knelt on the bare floor in front of a young woman seated on a narrow bed. She may have been beautiful under normal circumstances but currently her hair was a tangled mess and her face was blotched and swollen from blows and tears. Her hands gripped one of the fighter's with such strength that her fingers were white and tremors ran through her body. Her voice was hoarse and much of what she said was unintelligible but Qui-Gon understood enough of it to sicken him.
When he saw Ben raise his hand to touch the girl's face, the Jedi ducked back out of the doorway and returned to his earlier position by the still befuddled couple. He gave the fighter a questioning look when he emerged from the room - one that wasn't entirely for show.
A chilling glare and a curt wave were the only reply Ben gave before he stalked from the room, down the stairs, and out of the store. Barely giving his guest enough time to slide into the passenger seat next to him, Ben rocketed out of the space. They merged into the flow of traffic once again, this time heading away from the city and toward the rural districts.
"May I ask what that was about?"
"It didn't seem like nothing to me. What happened to those poor people?"
"Nothing." This time the word was accompanied by an instinctive push with the Force. "You needn't remember it."
The trick didn't work, but Qui-Gon decided that there was no reason for the other man to know. Letting his eyes go blank, he nodded. "Nothing to remember about it." That said, he stared out the transparisteel window of the speeder, playing the mind-wipe victim with what he thought was credible skill. After all, I've seen the effects of them often enough to emulate them. This thought almost caused him to chuckle, but the Jedi reined the impulse in by thinking about the family they had just left.
This said, Ben shut down the speeder and keyed the doors, letting the cool, fragrant night air roll into the transport.
Where "here" was, Qui-Gon had no idea, though he had kept track of the route they had taken. "Home?" he asked, unfolding himself from the low seat and gazing around the shadowed compound.
Lights came on automatically as they approached the arched entry, giving the Jedi a clear view of the younger man's scornful expression as well as the vivid bruise on his left cheek. "A place to stay, nothing more."
"Should I take that to mean you don't consider this home or that this abode is not it?"
They crossed the threshold and stepped inside, the heavy door closing soundlessly behind them. A short hallway opened up into a spacious room minimally decorated with neutral shaded furniture but devoid of any other accessories. Ceiling high windows lent credence to the fact that there must be a spectacular view from them during the day, but currently all that could be seen was the pressing blackness of the night.
Ben shrugged again and popped another stim-stick between his lips, causing Qui-Gon to add another mark to the running tally he had been keeping since noticing the younger man's seeming addiction to the things. "Is a place to stay. Could be gone tomorrow if I lose, so why call it a home?"
"Why not?" the older man parried, glancing back over his shoulder at the fighter as he wandered around the room, trying to get a feel of the space and the man who lived there. Unfortunately, not much was forthcoming regarding either.
Ben gave a disgusted snort at that and spat the used dispenser toward a small container near the sofa. "What is the point of this Sar Gonn? We both know why you're here. We both know I'm not going to say no."
Qui-Gon's lips parted to give voice to his protest - there was nothing he wanted from the fighter, no matter what the other man thought. If the drug in his possession was that necessary to Ken'ba, he could have it. It was not the Jedi's place to police others' customs or addictions.
In a move too quick to track, Ben was on the larger man, pushing him back against the textured mortar of the wall. Strong fingers tangled in free-flowing hair, drawing Qui-Gon's head downward. Lips that had given expression to a sardonic sneer moments before now claimed and seduced the Jedi's mouth. Taking advantage of his momentary shock to invade and plunder the cavern beyond, the fighter's tongue slipped past the barrier of teeth to stroke and slide against Qui-Gon's in an intimate, knowing exploration.
The Jedi gathered his strength and the Force to push the younger man away, not wanting to injure him, but determined not to give into this assault. Setting his hands on Ben's shoulders, Qui-Gon opened his mind, preparing to plant the suggestion that these actions stop. He sent out a slim probe, then broadened the connection when it easily slipped past the other man's erratic mental defenses.
What followed next was a psychic concussion the likes of which the Jedi Master had never experienced before.
Just get it over with, at least he isn't hard on the eyes. With that thought, Ben propelled himself toward the older man, intent on a fast and furious bout of sex that would render Jai Gonn open to the suggestion that it was time to leave as soon as it was over.
Mouth locking over the trade representative's, Ben attacked the other man's lips, demanding surrender and nothing less. There was a moment of total acceptance, then the larger man tensed, beginning to pull back. Growling in the back of his throat, the fighter concentrated the way he had with the merchant and Ben struck, feeling a moment's triumph before his mind was consumed in a flash-fire of sensation and emotion.
The contact felt as if it lasted an eternity. Both men were suspended in the abyss of the other's consciousness, each aware of his own existence but totally immersed in memories both foreign and tantalizingly familiar. Connections formed and were ripped asunder only to snap back into place the second after dissolution. Truths were revealed and forgotten, motives catalogued and discarded, until all that remained was the pure essence of fire that burned at the center of the beings known as Ben Ken'ba and Qui-Gon Jinn.
Consciousness returned with a mind-rending jolt and with it came a rush of unrelenting lust - both bodies demanding nothing less than a joining as complete and overwhelming as that of the minds had been.
No longer trying to escape from the shorter man's grasp, Qui-Gon dragged Ben closer, arching his hips into the demanding press of fighter's body, feeling the near-frantic strength of Ben's hands in his hair pulling them even closer together. Something had been loosed in both of them by the brief mental contact. Primal urges that had long been chained and repressed were now free, their single mandate the complete and total destruction of any remaining barriers, be they mental or physical.
The harsh sound of tearing fabric rent the air as Ben shifted his grasp to grip the taller man's tunic and pulled, baring the broad planes of Qui-Gon's chest to his hungry touch. Cool air whispered over the half-healed cut on his back as his vest was stripped from his body and discarded, leaving his torso bare.
Hands clutched, fingers digging into skin stretched taut by straining muscles. Teeth closed over flesh, tasting, marking, branding sensations into synapses dangerously close to overload. Somehow the need to move was communicated across the nascent link and the pair shifted, stumbling through a wide archway to the bedroom beyond. A wrong step sent a stab of pain through both men as Ben's injured knee protested the angle at which it was bent. Qui-Gon reacted without thinking, taking more of the smaller man's weight. The move turned into a controlled fall as the fighter attempted to recover his balance, but only succeeded in causing them to collapse on the nearby bed.
The shift in position was fine with Ben and the pain in his knee receded to a forgettable level as he concentrated on the feel of the other man's body beneath him, heated satin covering powerfully bunched muscles. Their trousers were a frustrating impediment to completion, but one that was easily dealt with, leaving the last remnants of their clothing in a tangled knot of leather, fabric and boots at the foot of the bed.
"Now, damnit." Qui-Gon had no idea if he said the words aloud or simply thought them, but somehow Ben understood the combination plea and command. The lips feasting on his neck were torn away and the Jedi's whole body stiffened as a hot, hungry mouth closed over his erection.
Relaxing well-trained throat muscles, the fighter lowered his head until his nose brushed the dark curls at the older man's groin, each breath filling his nostrils with the scent of sweat and arousal. Long, blunt fingers ran through his hair, cradling his head and urging him onward. Ben complied eagerly, swirling his tongue around the pulsing flesh as he reached for a small container of lubricant on the bedside table and flipped it open. The body beneath him spasmed as he pressed an oil-slick finger past the tight circle of muscle guarding its one unexplored entrance. An echo of bone-searing pleasure streaked across Ben's nerves, making his cock twitch in reaction and with a demand to be sheathed in that clinging heat.
A second finger gained entrance, drawing a hoarse groan from Qui-Gon's constricted throat, a sound that deepened as the other man's mouth suddenly vanished, leaving his shaft desperate for the humid warmth it had been bathed in. Any protest he would have made was forestalled by the sight that greeted him as his eyes slitted open.
Ben Ken'ba knelt between his splayed legs, the beauty of his bared body both beautiful and terrible to behold. A look of concentration so intense that it was almost painful masked the younger man's features and his hands worked in tandem, one spreading a coating of oil over the length of his erection while the other continued to stretch and stimulate the larger man's body.
Another half-felt brush of contact and Ben's eyes snapped open, their blue-green color lost in the inky dilation of his pupils. "Now." The word emerged as a husked out growl that was timed with the sudden withdrawal of his fingers.
Before the trade representative could react, his legs were shifted to the other man's shoulders and his whole being centered on the solid length that was slowly filling him.
There was a second of complete and utter stillness then a frantic, almost desperate rhythm asserted itself. There was no leading and no following, control was taken and received without words, changing hands with the speed of a thought or the subtle pressure of a touch.
For this fleeting, eternal moment, two entities were fused into one. Victim and conqueror, possessor and possessed. Minds, hearts, and souls searching for that perfect culmination. It came far too soon, though anything longer would have resulted in madness, bringing with it a shattering of unity and a return to the solitude of the self.
Both physically and mentally exhausted, the two men had no recourse other than to submit to the demands of their bodies and succumb to the lure of oblivion, collapsing where they lay twined together. For the moment, at peace.
Ben stood at the window, naked, eyes focused on the horizon as the rising sun burned away the mists and cover of the night, baring all before the brutal glare of its rays. Deeply ingrained instincts had roused him from his slumber while the sky had still been dark and no amount of pacing or inner debate had been able to explain away what had occurred earlier.
Long held convictions warred with recently reopened scars, shredding the chill distance that normally blanketed the fighter's emotions and thoughts. A soft footfall behind him and Ben turned, looking over his shoulder at the sleep and sex rumpled form silhouetted in the doorway.
Jai Gonn returned the scrutiny steadily, his bearing regal despite the fact that he too had left his clothing in the bedroom.
Fingers closing tightly over the small glass cylinder in his hand, Ben completed his turn and advanced on the other man, his steps slow and measured, his expression wary. Stopping within a half-meter of the larger man, Ken'ba tilted his head back enough to meet his eyes and spoke. "Who in the hells are you?"
A ghost of a frown darkened Qui-Gon's eyes, then was gone, vanished like the mist outside. "I believe I could ask you the same question."
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