Gladiator 8: 
The Sheltering Sky 
~ The Sojourner 4 ~ 

By Rina

12/5/99

Disclaimer: Don't own them, George Lucas does. If I did they would have had a much happier ending! The planet Golgatha as well as the general idea of the Arena and the Games are borrowed from Simon R. Green's Deathstalker series - no copyright infringement intended as no money is being made off of this.

Pray for the living 
Mourn those who die 
Fear things brought to light 
'Neath the sheltering sky
     ~old Golgathan verse

"What happened?"

The healer held her ground in the face of the Jedi Master's wrath, studying him coolly. Her demeanor was a reminder of what his own should have been, but that knowledge didn't phase Qui-Gon in the least.

"Why wasn't I informed?" Somewhere along the way to the infirmary, the raging emotions arcing across the bond had gone quiet. Unreasonable panic tore through Qui-Gon until he realized the link was still there, simply quiescent.

"He did not wish to have you here. I saw no reason to argue the point." The healer looked toward the doorway to her right and her eyes darkened slightly. "I had no idea that he was going to have such a reaction..."

"He just had fifteen years of memories thrust on him. What did you think was going to happen? Or did you even stop to consider the implications?" Qui-Gon asked tightly.

"If you were so worried about him, then why didn't you make it your business to be here?" Her lips were pressed together in a thin, disapproving line as she spoke, informing the Jedi of her displeasure. "Arguing this matter will not help things here. It is possible that your presence will assist in bringing your bond-mate back to consciousness though. Is this something you're prepared to attempt, Master Jinn?"

Qui-Gon nodded, the woman's indirect comment adding to the ever-increasing burden of his guilt. If I had been here, this might not have happened. If I hadn't been so stubborn and short-sighted on Bandomeer his life would be different, better. Long sessions of meditation and counseling had finally brought the Jedi Master to grips with the betrayal of Xanatos, his former padawan, but the emotional turmoil that gripped Qui-Gon now made that time seem an initiate's exercise.

Xanatos had knowingly brought on his own folly; Ben had had no hand in his capture and enslavement. To lose one's memory, one's sense of self in that manner... Just the thought of it made Qui-Gon's gut twist in nausea. Could I have continued under those circumstances? he asked himself, feeling the turmoil sink more claws into his mind when he couldn't form a definite answer.

"If you would take me to him, I would greatly appreciate it." His words were quiet, but sincere. The healer studied the tall Jedi for a long moment, then acquiesced. Turning, she lead him down the corridor to one of the treatment rooms, the still, silent form lying on the bunk in it, and the ever-vigilant rows of monitors that watched over him.

The healer checked her patient's vital signs and sighed. "No change yet. His body is fine but as for his mental state... I hope your presence is of some help to him." A slight bit of disbelief colored her tone, but the woman only tapped in a few adjustments on one of the screens before walking to the door. "If you need anything, contact one of the staff, all right?"

Qui-Gon nodded, then bowed. "You have my word that I will, Healer." Once she was gone, he drew the room's single chair near to the bedside and sat, looking down at Ben's sleep-slackened face. There was something inherently wrong with the lax muscles and pale skin tone. The fighter, even when at his most controlled, vibrated with life and the Force. Raw energy and passion hummed through him, drawing the attention of even the most Force-blind individual. Now it was as if he wasn't there at all. As if he had retreated to some distant corner of his mind in hopes of never seeing the day again. It was wrong. Even as Ken'ba lay unconscious after his poisoning on Golgatha and the ambush at his villa, Ben was still there, connected to Qui-Gon's mind through the intricate network of their bond.

"I am sorry," Qui-Gon whispered, leaning in, his eyes fixed on the slow rise and fall of the younger man's chest. "You should have not have been subjected to that, not alone." He reached out, his hand closing around the cool, dry skin of Ben's palm, squeezing lightly in the hopes of some response.

Nothing changed. The near-silent blips from the monitors continued unabated, their pace neither slowing nor speeding up, a maddening cadence of a march toward death.

"I'm not letting you go this easy a'shera," the Jedi continued, moving closer and placing his other hand on Ben's chest, over his heart. "You may fight me every step of the way, but I am going to find you and bring you back. Obi-Wan Kenobi was not a quitter and I refuse to believe that Ben Ken'ba is either. I will find you - or we will be lost together..."

Qui-Gon closed his eyes at that, centering himself in a quiet place in his mind. The Force swirled around him, vibrant colors and harmonies that spoke of everything and nothing in the same instant. Without direction the energy simply flowed, coursing through all life, feeding and being fed by it in return. Slowly, meticulously, Qui-Gon gathered the power into himself, preparing for the task at hand. This would not be easy, but he would see it through. It was the least he owed his soulmate.

The Force responded to Qui-Gon's call, curling around him, spiraling closer, shrouding his body in a cocoon of warmth and life that tantalized the eye with hints of visibility. A subtle nudge of direction and the power spiraled down Qui-Gon's arm, gathering near his hand, waiting to be released to do his bidding. Qui-Gon opened his eyes, his gaze locked on Ben's immobile features. He moved, raising his hand to the other man's face. The moment his fingers touched the fighter's cheek, the Force arced between them, carrying the Jedi's consciousness deep into Ben's mind, following a single silver filament deeper and deeper into the morass of his memories.

For Qui-Gon it appeared as if he was speeding down a fragile thread toward an ocean of blood. Violent waves churned at the shore of the tiny island in the midst of the gore-filled sea, and that was where he knew he would find Ben. Increasing his speed, the Jedi hurtled toward his bond-mate, touching down on the dark sands, then feeling them crawl up his legs, enveloping him in another wave of memories.

Pain. He knew that if he didn't dodge in time there would be more of it. While he wasn't sure why he knew this, the boy acted without questioning it, diving to the right, feeling the rough abrasion of the grains of sand against his skin.

A heavy practice sword sliced through the air over his prone body, then reversed, dealing him a sharp blow between the shoulder blades. "What good does dodging do if you lay there afterward?!" the instructor ranted, aiming another blow at the boy's back.

He rolled again, coming up into a crouch, his eyes tracking the blunted durasteel blade with animal cunning as it swooped down yet again. Timing his lunge perfectly, he grabbed the bar in mid-swing, using its momentum to wrest the practice weapon from the larger man's hands.

The attack was without forethought or plan. Here was a chance for retribution. The opportunity to repay a portion of the indignities that had been heaped on him for as long as he could remember. Giving voice to a rough snarl, the boy launched himself from the ground, hammering at the other man, feeling the bones of his opponent's forearms shatter underneath the force of his blows.

Yes! Revenge at long last. Once he was done here he would... Blinding pain centered over his right eye sent the boy to his knees, moaning and retching as he struggled to get past it, to let it go - to what he had no idea.

"Nice move, Ken'ba," the shadowed form at the edge of the training ground chuckled, his deep bass rumble barely audible over Ben's gasps for breath. "It may save you from the pleasure domes after all."

A rough hand grasped the hair at the back of the boy's head, tilting his face upward. "It's almost a pity though. You're pretty enough to command a high price."

Ben staggered to his feet, keeping a grip on his weapon as he did so. He glared at the Arena's head trainer, but remained silent. The scarcely healed welts on his back attested to the fate of those who talked back to Garmen or disobeyed him in the least.

"Go clean yourself up, boy. Important patrons are visiting and they've asked to see some of our new recruits fight, you among that number."

Clinging darkness surrounded him, dragging at his clothes, threatening to choke the life from him with the oppressive weight of the other man's memories. There was more to see. Qui-Gon knew that now, as well as the fact that he couldn't begin to try and draw Ben back to the present until this macabre play had run its course.

There was a single detail that struck home with more force then the others; this was no play. The horrors and degradations he was witnessing were Ben Ken'ba's life. The life he, Qui-Gon Jinn, had left him to.

A new tendril of memory lashed out, ensnaring the Jedi, pulling him deeper into the tortured remnants of Ben's soul with the promise that Qui-Gon would experience all the other man had.

"You may rise, my Champion, and receive your reward."

For a moment Ben wondered if that was even possible. It seemed much simpler and more practical to collapse on the Sands next to the man he had defeated. A man he had viewed, if not as a friend, then at least not an enemy, before this battle.

Nelm Ranorsh had not gone down easily. The Empress' past champion had held the position for a year and was determined not to relinquish it. Unfortunately for him, the Empress' guard had told Ben in exquisite detail what the family they held would suffer if he didn't fight - and fight well - today.

Cracked ribs grated together as Elini Nepasa's new champion pushed himself off his knee to stand. Blood dripped into his eyes from the gash on his forehead and a steady stream ran from the wound on his left arm.

"It is an honor to serve you, my Empress." The words threatened to stick in his throat, choking him with their perjury. There was little honor in his life, and serving the Bitch leeched that small bit away faster then rain sucked into arid land.

"Present yourself in my audience hall, once you have been attended to, for your reward."

"As you wish, Empress." Breathing shallowly to keep the world from graying out around him, Ben pivoted, his eyes sweeping over Nelm's broken body. The blood pooled around the other man was slowly sinking into the sand. It darkened as it spread, extending hungry, grasping tendrils toward the Arena's new champion, seeking to bind him tighter to the hell of life on the Sands.

As he moved toward the cavernous exit, Ben left his own crimson trail in his wake. The uneven, clotted spoor to him, a sign of failure as much as victory.

Qui-Gon's control was tested as he relived the "reward" Ken'ba was given after that battle. After the banquet and toasts, the Empress presented her barely healed champion to a cloaked figure - a gift designed to win the influential man's favor and good will.

The rest of the night was filled with torture beyond anything Ben had ever encountered in the Arena. Bound by powers he didn't understand, the fighter was subjected to the stranger's every whim and desire, all of which involved mental or physical pain.

How much can one man take before it is too much? Qui-Gon asked himself. His body ached with the shared memory he had just witnessed and for the first time, he doubted his ability to bring his bond-mate out of this state.

No. He would not lose Ben this way, not after everything the younger man had been through. He would show him there was more to life then betrayal and pain - more to an old Jedi Master then had been revealed before.

Gathering his sense of self, Qui-Gon gradually extended it, forcing light into the darkness, guiding Ben's memories closer to the present, reaching for the flare of awareness that fled deep within the abyss of the other man's mind.

This had to work. If it didn't... Well, then Qui-Gon would think of another way. He could not allow himself to admit failure.

Blood, pain, death. Two and a half years worth.

Solitude. A bone deep loneliness that no one was allowed to penetrate. No one that is until...

"Sar Jai Gonn, allow me to present my Champion, Ben Ken'ba."

Confusion, anger, acceptance, resolution. All these swirled together, defining the images that accompanied Ben's first meeting of the "trade envoy".

Overwhelming lust that demanded everything and accepted nothing less in return. It was a different kind of slavery, to his body this time instead of another person and Ben hated it for that.

There wasn't time to try to understand it. A new threat appeared and was dealt with, this time with the help of another at his side.

Darkness, oblivion, waking to see the Jedi at his side. Bewilderment. Waiting for Qui-Gon to name his price for his assistance. Shock when that moment never came.

The fierce joy of sparring, not for battle, but to test his opponent, followed by the need for domination that had sent both of them to their knees on the practice mat. Ben claiming Qui-Gon in the most primitive, animalistic way imaginable.

The last battle. The distraction of the Jedi's presence diverting his attention enough that he misjudged his opponent's intentions. Regret, self-recrimination.

Revenge, leading to unexpected freedom.

The agony of the trip to Coruscant, nerves shrieking, demanding the boost of adrenaline they were accustomed to. The slow, grudging trust that developed as Qui-Gon worked through the withdrawal with him, asking nothing, offering everything.

The morning they woke together...

Another night. One where Qui-Gon lay him back on the bed and worshiped his body with lips and tongue. Each scar traced, each line of muscle mapped and each ridge of bone explored until Ben was trembling, on the verge of bolting, unable to take intimacy of it any longer.

The scalding wetness of Qui-Gon's mouth as he finally closed his lips over Ben's straining cock. The change from the leisurely exploration to fast-paced suction overwhelming him. Screaming at the ecstasy of it all, flooding the Jedi's mouth with his seed and their link with his pleasure.

Ben's astonishment when he realized that Qui-Gon had found his release simply in experiencing his.

Coruscant.

The Jedi Temple.

Learning the truth.

Remembering.

Light exploded through the darkness, and Ben found himself standing on a small, barren island in the middle of a blood-filled sea. He was not alone.

"Why are you here?" he panted, drained from the exertions of reliving his life.

"I came to find you." Qui-Gon's stoic calm seemed ruffled and there were lines of tension around his eyes that had not been there before.

Ben prodded the obsidian sand with his foot, then met the Jedi's eyes. "Why? It would be better for everyone if I remained. I'm tired of the killing, the lies. Here there is peace."

"Here there is nothing!" Qui-Gon snapped, waving his hand at the arid landscape. "Here is death!"

"And what makes you think I don't want that?"

"Damn fool. I never would have imagined you would give up this easily."

"Then what would you have me do?" Ben snarled, taking a step toward Qui-Gon, his body tensing in preparation to attack.

Qui-Gon extended his hand toward his bond-mate. "Come with me," he pleaded, knowing that if Ben refused, he wouldn't have enough energy for another try. "Come and start over."

"As who?" Ben questioned, steeling the muscles in his arm when his hand began to creep out to take the Jedi's offered grasp.

"As whoever you want to be, a'shera. Knowing your past may give you more insight into who you are, but it does not change your core self. Even having your memories stripped away could not do that. You still held to your values, your moral code, as best you could under the circumstances you found yourself."

Ben looked out over the red-tinged waters surrounding them, his eyes drawn to the half-formed faces visible beneath the rippling waves. Some had names, some didn't, but they all had one thing in common: he had caused their deaths.

"Explain that to those I butchered on the Sands."

"They made their choices, and for far worse reasons then you did. If you hadn't fought, other lives - innocent lives - would have been lost. How would that have served the greater good?"

"I'm not concerned about the greater good."

Qui-Gon extended his hand again, the offer more urgent this time. "Then concern yourself with living! Don't hide here! Each life has a purpose and you haven't completed yours, I can feel it. Come with me and we can find it, find your place."

"Would you be saying this if your life wasn't tied to mine?" The accusation was spit out between clenched teeth and the waves around the island grew in proportion to the fighter's anger.

"Yes," Qui-Gon sighed, his shoulder slumping in presumed defeat. Too much separated them; the gulf that spanned their lives was too wide to bridge with understanding, even with the bond.

Ben's hands clenched into fists as he stalked to the other side of their small refuge. He found himself wishing he had a sword, or a blaster, something, anything, to strike out with. His whole life had been a lie, a machination constructed by those who controlled him. First the Jedi, then the Agri-Corps, and finally the Empress and those who served her on Golgatha. Just once he wanted to live on his own, free from all tethers.

Even that was impossible with this damnable bond to Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn. He should hate the man, should blame him for creating the circumstances that had led him to this point in his life, but somehow, Ben couldn't. Beneath the anger, there was respect for the Jedi, and, along with the ever-present erotic spark that leapt between them, something more.

To stay meant death - defeat. To go, even with the bindings of the attachment to his soulmate, represented a victory. There might be some constraints but, as opposed to the ironclad restrictions of the Arena and his life there, they were minor.

Live or die? Stay or go? Decide, Ken'ba, it's time.

Ben looked over his shoulder at Qui-Gon, frowning as he noted the posture of the Jedi's shoulders. He believes that I will not go. And he will not fight me on this decision. Once again, Ben controlled the destiny of another person's life, and now, like the times he had fought to save those kidnapped by the Empress, he could not be the cause of another's pain.

The fighter's hand slowly unclenched, and he stared at his palms, hands that had spilled so much blood over the course of the past seven years. His steps as he walked back to Qui-Gon's side were slow but steady, as was his voice when he spoke. "It's time to go home."

~end~ 

  since 02-04-07

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