There was no reason to feel threatened, but Ben couldn't rid himself of the feeling that he was going into hostile territory. Bant, the padawan who had been Obi-Wan Kenobi's best friend during his time at on Coruscant, had cajoled him into joining her in the dining hall for the morning meal. 'To catch up,' was how the salmon-skinned Mon Calamari had put it, the only thing that Ben felt he was catching was the inquisitive looks from the beings at nearby tables.
No visible danger, but still undercurrents flowed fast and thick around them and more then a few hushed conversations were silenced as they passed on their way to a small table off to one side of the cavernous room.
Ben sat with his back to the wall, eating his meal without really tasting it as his eyes scanned the room. Like so many things about the Jedi Temple it was familiar, but then again not, like a picture viewed through a warped glass.
"If Reeft was here, he would be glad to see that you aren't eating," Bant said, drawing Ben's attention back to her. His gaze centered on her chest before he raised it, cursing the duality of what he knew versus Obi-Wan's memories. To his way of thinking, Bant was a ten year old initiate, the way she had been when he saw her last. Though from a tall people, she had still been several inches shorter then Obi-Wan. To look across at her now and find himself having to tilt his head upward was another reminder of the time that had been lost.
"Reeft could get his own food," he answered, washing another bite of the mildly spiced egg dish down with a swig of steaming tea. How many more of Obi-Wan's friends were going to 'stop by' for a visit today? And how long would it be before he blew up at one of them for insisting that he be the young man who had been lost so long ago?
"You never minded sharing with him before, Obi-Wan."
"Ben," the fighter corrected shortly. "And you're going to find that I'm a lot of things that Obi-Wan wasn't. If that causes you a problem, I'll take my leave of you now."
Bant shook her head at that, reaching across to place her hand on Ben's arm, then pulling back as he jerked his arm out of the way. "Please forgive me, Ob - Ben. I should not expect for you to take up as things were before, I was just so happy to hear that you were alive and to see you again..." The apprentice broke off at that and began twisting her napkin in distress.
His inner consciousness prodding him to behave, Ben forced himself to relax back into his seat once more. "Finding a past you never knew existed isn't easy on anyone involved and then being dropped into the midst of it... It's not what I had imagined for myself."
"And what had you thought your future would bring."
Ben smiled cynically at that, the hard-edged fighter slipping his bonds for a moment. "Death. It was the only certainty of the Arena."
The padawan's skin flushed darker in an expression of her shock and her large eyes grew even wider. "But certainly - Master Qui-Gon didn't say anything to my master. . . "
After letting the young woman flounder around trying to rectify the situation for a moment, Ben took pity on her. "The story is not Qui-Gon's to tell. Not to you, your master, or anyone."
"What about the Council?"
"If they want to know, they can ask me." The fighter pushed his plate away, ending the conversation. A glance around the room showed that it was emptying out though those seated nearest to them seemed much too interested in their conversation for his liking. "So who is your master?" he finally asked, unable to quash the bout of curiosity.
Bant looked relieved at the change of topic and leaned forward, her whole demeanor lightening. "Knight Jercole. Do you remember him?"
Ben did - or rather Obi-Wan did, vaguely. Jercole had passed his trials not long before Kenobi's twelfth birthday, his had been the last knighting ceremony that Obi-Wan had seen.
"How do you like it?" Thankful that years in the Empress's court had taught him to mask his true feelings, Ben kept the question neutral. While in all honesty he wasn't envious of his friend's fortune, the part him that had been Obi-Wan was hurt and more than a little jealous.
"It's different then I ever imagined," Bant answered quickly. "I guess we all had visions of what it would be like to be an apprentice, but the truth of it is both better and worse then I expected."
Ben made a noncommittal noise, and she continued. "He's teaching here this half-year so we aren't out in the field. Before that we spent two years on Verakn VI trying to settle their succession dispute. I saw things then I wouldn't have believed."
Kill someone you thought was a friend and then talk to me about things you can't believe, Ben thought sarcastically, wondering if Bant had always been that innocent or if he was simply that jaded now. Forced to admit it was probably the latter, the fighter revised his opinion of the apprentice slightly. Successions could be brutal, so it was possible that she had seen some of the horrors people could perpetuate against each other.
A server cleared away their dishes and the conversation vanished as if it had been carried off as well. After several aborted efforts to begin again, Bant sighed and checked her wrist chrono. "I am sorry that this didn't work out as I had hoped, Ben. I feel that I know you, but I don't. I suppose that my only thought was that my friend was back, not of what he had been through." Tears glinted in her eyes, dulling their silvery shine. "I have a sparring session, but if you would like, I can show you back to Master Qui-Gon's rooms first."
Guilt was an emotion that Ben wasn't over familiar with, but he recognized it for what it was when it nudged him. "Is it an open session?"
"Wha - Yes it is." The Mon Calamari looked cautiously optimistic at the question.
"Would you mind if I joined you? I haven't had a good workout in too long." It was as close as Ben got to an apology and he hoped that Bant understood it was offered as such.
"I'd like that," she smiled. "And after, perhaps we can talk more - to try and get to know each other again?"
More talking. Ben almost grimaced, but hid it as he rose from his seat. "Let's see what the day brings, all right?"
"Enjoy the wine, did you?"
Qui-Gon could have sworn that his former master was smirking as he asked this, but the aura of the Force that surrounded the diminutive Jedi remained as serene as always.
Very little seemed to bother the oldest Jedi. In fact, Qui-Gon could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times he had seen Yoda upset over an occurrence. It was with a twinge of guilt that he remembered one of those times involved his refusal to take Obi-Wan Kenobi as a padawan.
"The wine was an excellent vintage, Master. Thank you." Perhaps one of the reasons that little surprised Yoda was because he had such a strong sense of the future. When the outcome of an action had already been laid before you, there was little chance of shock.
Yoda settled himself onto the low, concave chair and directed Qui-Gon to the one opposite it. The lighting in his quarters was dim as always and the higher humidity made Qui-Gon's robe sag limply over his large frame. "Enjoyed it your bondmate did as well?"
After taking the offered seat, folding his long legs beneath him to get comfortable, Qui-Gon nodded. "He seemed to."
"And what came after?" The wizened face creased into a grin and his eartips swiveled forward until they were upright.
"I do not believe that is any concern of yours, Master."
"Concern it is when involves the health of your bond it does! Learn to live with it you both must or grave danger awaits. There is much anger in young Kenobi. He will need you to balance and overcome it."
"Ken'ba," Qui-Gon corrected.
"Ken'ba, Kenobi, the same he is with the Force. Strong he was and strong he remains. Focus he needs, just as diversion you did."
"I don't quite follow you."
"Blame yourself for what happened to him you do, just as you blame yourself for the loss of Xanatos. Motivates your actions these things do. Learn to live with them you must."
"I..." Qui-Gon rested his elbows on his knees and stared into his master's pale eyes. "I was told much the same thing yesterday."
"Ha!" Yoda chuckled and slapped the side of his chair, enjoying his former padawan's discomfort. "Good for you he is, and good for him you are also. Teach him to trust, Qui-Gon, and a strong ally you will have in the years to come."
"Another of your visions, Master?" Qui-Gon asked wryly.
The elder Jedi looked off into the distance, his eyes going unfocused as he looked with his sense of the Force and not his sight. "Blood and betrayal I see, but from it will come unity and new life. Believe what the Force tells you, not what you is before you."
Qui-Gon had heard enough of these prophecies that he knew better then to take them literally. "That sounds more like you are discussing the past rather then what is to come. Are you sure that isn't what you saw?"
Yoda gave a disgusted noise and waved his hand in the air. "Too grounded in the here and now you are. Never could I teach you to learn from what might come."
"We all have our strengths, Master. It is well that I recognize mine as well as my deficiencies."
Qui-Gon inclined his head, smiling fondly at the being who was a mainstay in his faith in the Force. "I had only the best instruction in that field of study."
"Easier to handle when younger you were," Yoda sighed, reaching for his datapad. "Now then, off with you. I have much to do and others wish to speak to you. Your bondmate I wish to see before the evening meal. Tell him this."
Warn him you mean, Qui-Gon told himself, imagining Ben's reaction to whatever pronouncements Yoda would have. "As you wish," he said, standing and bowing toward the small being.
"It is good to have you back, Qui-Gon," Yoda smiled, glancing up at his former student before turning his attention back to the report in front of him.
"Thank you, Master."
As he stretched out, Ben watched the padawans as they sparred with each other. Most of the apprentices were practicing with their lightsabers, but a few were working on hand-to-hand moves and it was those who held the fighter's interest.
Picking a pair at random, Ben focused on the larger of them and slid into motion as if he were the one who was fighting. Block, jab, side-step, a try at a throw... There. An opening that the young man's opponent failed to take advantage of but that any seasoned fighter would have seen.
Falling back into the rhythm of the match, Ben only watched three blows before another defensive lapse showed itself. He shook his head in disgust, wondering how any of these students lived through their lessons.
"Ben? Is there something wrong?" Bant asked, powering down her violet lightsaber as she stopped by his side.
"Who teaches you hand-to-hand?"
She tilted her head, glancing toward the pair he had been watching. "Our masters when we're in the field, Master Alemin here at the Temple. Why?"
"And they don't bother to... Never mind," he sighed. Getting involved in a debate over this matter was a futile effort at best.
"Don't what, Ben?" Some of the other padawans had stopped working and were drifting closer, interested in the conversation.
Innocent as babes. Ben looked around at the curious faces, feeling that strange duality again as he recognized - or thought he did - several of the older students. "What do you when someone doesn't fight by the rules?"
"I've never..." Bant exchanged puzzled looks with the others before turning her attention back to Ben. "What do you mean?"
"Cheats? Fights dirty? Violates your code?"
"But no one here would do that," she exclaimed, horrified.
"Jedi do not cheat," one of the young men asserted. His pronouncement was followed by a murmur of agreement from the others.
"But those you may be fighting one day probably will." Ben sighed at their naiveté. "Anyone care to volunteer for a demonstration?"
"I will." The dark-haired padawan Ben had been watching earlier stepped forward. "You're Kenobi. I heard about you, some off-world killer or something."
"Or something," the fighter replied wryly.
"Don't think I'm going to take it easy on you because you aren't one of us."
"Renes..." Bant broke off as the circle around the two men widened and she was pushed backwards.
"I wouldn't dream of asking you to." The anticipatory looks around him reminded Ben of the spectators who attended the Games primed for bloodshed. Jedi are subject to the same emotions as all other beings. That fact had certainly been brought home in the way Qui-Gon reacted to their bond.
"It's all right Bant," he assured the Mon Calamari. "No one is going to get hurt."
"So you say now." With that, the padawan launched himself at the fighter, aiming a series of blows at his face and body.
Ben blocked the hits, then kicked out at his opponent's knee, spinning when the padawan side-stepped the movement, grabbed his foot, and twisted it. They circled each other warily then, watching for openings and opportunities.
Another exchange of blows that left the apprentice with a bloodied nose and Ben with a split lip followed, but still neither could claim an advantage in the match. The whispered comments from the others in the room grew gradually louder, until the apprentices were shouting advice and motivation.
The next time they closed, Ben let the apprentice grab his left arm, dragging him closer. Then, even as the other man was beginning to grin at his apparent victory, the fighter twisted, sweeping his foot behind the padawan's as he rammed his elbow into his gut, bringing his fist up into his face to finish the match.
As Ben straightened, he was greeted by silence and shocked stares from the other young Jedi. His opponent lay curled on the ground, moaning, his arms wrapped around his stomach.
Least I didn't kill him, Ben muttered to himself. Jinn never said anything about not beating the shit out of someone. He studied the apprentices, noting that most of them refused to look him in the eye and that even Bant looked wary.
That hurt, but, being used to a solitary lifestyle, it was a pain that could be dealt with and exorcised. "That was what I meant," he said, glancing back at the dark-haired youth, then starting for the door.
"Wait..." At the half-gasped exclamation, Ben stopped, looking back to see the other man staggering to his feet.
"Can't go - Need to show me the counter to that," he rasped, straightening up and wiping the blood from his face.
Unbelieving, Ben stared at the padawan, then at the others in the room.
"Please, Ben," Bant added. "I know I'd like to learn how to defend against that move - and any others you can teach me."
"As would I." The apprentice he had fought held out his hand in a gesture of peace. "I'm Renes Fel. Sorry for what I said earlier."
Slowly the others stepped forward, offering names and questions, then the training began again.
The thunder of the water of the shower drowned out whatever noise Qui-Gon may have made when he entered his rooms, but Ben was aware of his arrival due to the heightened awareness of the bond they shared.
The chance to stand and let the steaming water pound down on his back and neck was a luxury the fighter had seldom allowed himself on Golgatha. Even with alarms and sensors, the echoing confines of a bathing room were not somewhere to be considered safe. Here however... Odd as it seemed and much to his disgruntlement, Ben felt at ease here.
A silent probe of a question nudged at his shields and Ben straightened, turning his neck to let the water massage out the tightness in his shoulder. Too long without a good workout. He shouldn't be this sore from what he had done in the training room. "Come in." He rolled his neck again, allowing the spray to reach the other side, wondering why the other man simply hadn't walked in.
"I didn't want to barge in on you," Qui-Gon stated, telling Ben that his question hadn't been so silent after all.
"Not anything you haven't seen before," Ben shrugged, reaching his arm over his head to try and pop the stiffness out of his shoulder.
The Jedi chuckled at that and peered around the edge of the enclosure, his eyes narrowing as he took in the new batch of bruises on the younger man's body and his swollen lip. "And I hope I get to see it again in the future without the colorful additions. Mind telling me what happened?"
"Met some of Kenobi's old friends and ended up practicing some hand-to-hand with them. You Jedi are suckers for dirty tricks." Ben turned to glance over at Qui-Gon, but he had vanished from sight once again. "Someone needs to show those kids what an opponent who doesn't give a crap about your 'Code' can do or they're going to be in for it."
"Interesting comment..." Qui-Gon mused, his words sounding slightly muffled.
Ben moved to look out of the sandstone enclosure, but found himself turned back to the wall by the now half-clad Jedi. "Your pants are getting wet," he growled, biting back the groan as Qui-Gon's strong fingers dug into his knotted muscles.
"They'll dry. You need to relax some, a'shera. It looks as if those 'soft Jedi students' gave you a workout."
"Can't... demonstrate moves without... taking a few hits." Ben's words were punctuated by soft grunts as the massage progressed from his shoulders up to his neck.
Qui-Gon murmured his agreement and continued the massage, working his hands lower as the taut muscles relaxed beneath the motion.
The tingling heat generated by the older man's hands confused Ben until a bit of probing proved to him that Qui-Gon was using the Force in his work, encouraging the circulation in the injured areas to lessen the bruising and stiffness. As Qui-Gon's hands moved downward, Ben groaned deep in his throat. Although the rest of his body was well on the way to feeling boneless, his cock was now hard and aching. The need thrummed across the bond and Qui-Gon's hands faltered for a moment before gliding around to encircle and stroke Ben's shaft. The fighter arched into Qui-Gon's touch, his need tearing a desperate moan from his throat. His back arched and his fists clenched against the smooth stone wall as Qui-Gon slowly pumped his erection.
Giving in to the need that swept over him, Ben spun, dragging Qui-Gon down to ravage his mouth while their hips bucked together. The soaked fabric of the Jedi's leggings was only a thin barrier between them, but Ben wanted it gone. He let go of his handhold in the other man's hair to rip at the bindings to his pants. Together they were pushed them down past Qui-Gon's hips and to the floor where they lay in a sodden heap.
Desperation colored their movements as they came together again, hands clawing, hips straining, lips and teeth closing over whatever flesh was available. Chance aligned their shafts together and the two men locked into that position, thrusting and rocking together as the water cascaded down around them, rendering them oblivious to the rest of the world. Heat spurted between them, the flash-fire of orgasm racing across the bond, causing both men to climax at the same time.
As the thundering of their pulses slowed and the warmth of their seed was washed away by the spray, Ben and Qui-Gon remained locked together, their minds still entwined. Finally, Ben inhaled deeply and raised his head from the taller man's shoulder to stare into his eyes.
"What is it, a'shera?"
Ben stretched, the movement sliding his body along Qui-Gon's body and bringing a slight smile to his lips. "I was just wondering how long it was going to be before we were going to be able to touch without the need to fuck each other's brains out."
The older man laughed aloud at that. "I have no idea, perhaps when you talk to Master Yoda this afternoon, you can ask him."
"I may... I don't recall agreeing to talk to him." As he spoke, Ben pulled away from Qui-Gon and stepped out of the stall, grabbing a towel and wrapping it around his waist.
"He would like to speak to you alone. He has a great fondness for you." Qui-Gon wrung out his hair, then followed his bondmate into the bedroom, drying off as he went.
"He had a fondness for Kenobi you mean."
"No, for you. If you don't want to go, you don't have to. I will send your regrets." Qui-Gon moved to key the comm pad, but Ben stopped him before the motion was completed.
"I didn't say I didn't want to, I'm just not thrilled with plans being made without my knowledge."
The Jedi chuckled, then brought Ben's hand up to his lips. "Thank you."
Ben scowled and rolled his eyes toward the ceiling at that, then pulled his hand away so that he could begin dressing.
In the two weeks since his arrival at the Jedi Temple, Ben had developed a rough schedule designed to keep him from going stir crazy while Qui-Gon was in his endless rounds of meetings involving the situation on Golgatha.
Most days involved several hours in the study of astrophysics, a subject that had fascinated him as a boy and, as he found out, still held great interest to him. Next came practice and sparring with the ever-broadening circle of apprentices who came to learn his 'street tricks'. The attendance of the sessions fluctuated from day to day depending on what classes were going on and who had been sent on a mission, but the core group of twelve attended whenever they were able.
Afternoons were given to talks with Master Yoda, something that Ben viewed with a perverse anticipation. The old Jedi offered him no slack when it came to dealing with his past. On one memorable occasion, he had dumped Ben on his backside when he erupted in a fit of temper at something.
Evenings were spent with Qui-Gon or Bant and some of the others. The Mon Calamari had even managed to get him to go out shopping once by wondering aloud when his clothes were going to fall off him.
As alien as this all was to his life on Golgatha, Ben found himself feeling comfortable with it - and he found himself more at ease with his bondmate and the others then he ever felt possible.
"You're shifting your weight too soon, it's telegraphing what you're going to do." The explanation was given patiently as he corrected the young boy's posture, then watched him repeat the move on his larger partner. "Better, that was better." The blond youth, one of the youngest included in the sessions, beamed as if he'd been given a prize instead of a word of praise, then went back to his work.
The door slid open and Ben glanced over to see who was coming. A trio of young men swaggered in, laughing at something that had been said before they entered.
At the sight of the white-haired man in the center of the group, Ben froze, his face twisting as he recognized another person from his past - one he had hoped never to see again.
"Ben? How was that?" The question went unanswered while the fighter tracked the newcomers as they crossed the room.
"Hey, Bant, heard you started some class with my old friend Oafy-Wan. That a joke or what?"
"Bruck, I wouldn't..."
The mention of the hated name was all the confirmation Ben needed, and his hands clenched into fists though he tried to remain calm and detached.
"That must be him over there, certainly not any Jedi, that's for sure." Sneering at his old nemesis, Bruck muttered something that had both his friends snickering then looked back at Ben disdainfully.
The years may have added inches and muscle to the other man, but the same haughty glimmer lurked in his dark brown eyes. His long padawan braid trailed down his chest, the beads and ties marking his rise through the levels of apprenticeship. From the number of them it would not be long before Bruck Chun became a Jedi Knight.
The thought of it made the remnants of Obi-Wan Kenobi that dwelt inside Ben almost physically ill. How is it that he can become a Jedi when I wasn't worthy? Shaking off that destructive line of thought, Ben studied the newcomers impassively. "Did you come to participate? Because otherwise you'll have to leave."
"And if we don't want to?" The padawan's posture turned slightly more aggressive, and Ben found himself responding in kind.
"Don't see what gives you the right to try to instruct any of us anyway."
"Stop it, Bruck," Bant frowned. "Ben is trying to..."
"Trying to worm his way back into the Temple? I heard he already managed to land in Master Qui-Gon's bed." Bruck smirked at that and elbowed the apprentice to his left. "Guess Jinn decided he was good for something after all."
The other two snickered, but the sound was more nervous then anything.
"Then I guess you shouldn't have any trouble taking me down, Padawan Chun." Ben's eyes flicked from the long, white braid to the earring dangling from the younger man's left earlobe.
"Not in the way you're used to anyway." Bruck handed his saber to one of his cohorts, then strode toward the center of the room.
"Oh, by the Force..." Bant murmured, watching Ben move into position opposite his rival. Grabbing the two padawans nearest to her, she leaned in to hiss into their ears. "Go get Master Qui-Gon and Master Gallia now." The two pelted out of the room, and she turned her attention back to the escalating conflict.
"So how was being a farmer?" Bruck asked as he circled to the right, gauging Ben's reaction time. "Heard you didn't last too long at it."
Ben didn't bother to answer. Taunts were something he was accustomed to. He was more concerned with his opponent's moves then his verbal attacks. A quick feint drew Bruck in closer and the two grappled, trading blows before breaking apart.
"Careful there, Oafy-Wan, don't want to mess up your pretty face. Qui-Gon might not like you as much then." Bruck's fist glanced off Ben's cheek, and the next caught him square in the mouth before he returned the attack with a blow to the apprentice's mid-section.
Ben spat out a mouthful of blood, then smiled at Bruck through red-tinted teeth. "Don't think he'd care much about that. If I were you, I'd be more worried about how badly getting beaten here is going to postpone you taking your trials. If they ever let you take them that is..."
Ben had no way of knowing that Bruck's final tests had twice been postponed before because his master said he wasn't ready, but the words acted as a goad to the apprentice. With a roar of rage, Bruck flung himself at the fighter, tumbling them both to the mat. Pinning Ben to the ground, he hammered his fists into any part of the other man he could reach, forgetting finesse in his desire to do the maximum damage possible.
Held down with the Force as well as brute strength, Ben twisted, searching for an avenue out. One arm was trapped against his thigh by Chun's legs, and the other was all he had to block the blows coming at his head and chest.
The gleam of the earring dangling from Bruck's ear caught Ben's attention and, with a flick of his wrist, he caught the jewelry, ripping it from the apprentice's lobe in a gout of blood.
The attack stopped as suddenly as it had started. Bruck howled, covering his ear with both hands. Taking advantage of the situation, Ben moved. He flipped the younger man to his back and loomed in over him, his forearm pressed to Bruck's throat, cutting off his air.
"Still think you can take me, Chun?" the fighter rasped, leaning in close enough to stare into the Jedi's frantic eyes and to hear his whistled attempts at breathing. "Let's see how you like what this farmer does to you now..."
Ben found himself forcibly pulled off the padawan's prone form and turned to face his angered bondmate. "What is going on?"
"Padawan, I would like to hear the same from you as well." Adi Gallia may have been shorter then her apprentice, but she pulled him to his feet with ease. Her baleful gaze had the majority of the other apprentices slinking for the door the moment after that.
Ben took a deep breath, then winced as pain tore through his right side.
"Take them both to the infirmary you will," Yoda commanded. As all eyes in the room turned toward him, the tiny master turned and started down the hall. "Speak of it there we shall."
"I don't see what good locking them both in the same room together will do."
"Other then leave me with a dead apprentice and you with a dead bondmate."
The two Jedi stood outside the room in which Ben and Bruck had been confined, both their expressions pensive. "Yoda..." they sighed as one. There was just no understanding him at times.
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