Authorís Note: A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... Well, five years ago, an author named Rina started a series. Twelve stories later, she put it aside because other bright and shiny boys had caught her eye, though her first series was always near and dear to her heart. Lately, sheís had the urge to revisit Ben and Qui-Gon, and hereís the first of her return stories. Many thanks to Ori for the beta and harping for more Ben and to all those who still remember this series :)
The Jedi Council and various masters and knights hand-picked for the duty watched from behind one-way, Force-shielded transparisteel as two men sparred in the room beyond them. The session had been long and, as the shorter of the two fighters used a variety of dirty tricks, bloody. Through it all, though, the concentration of the two combatants never wavered, creating a battle that was as much a dance as a competition.
"Believe your padawan is ready, do you?" Yoda queried, looking up at Adi Gallia, his tone and expression both neutral.
Her gaze leaving the combatants, the Jedi master nodded. "The past year has done much to teach my apprentice control of his emotions. As you have seen, he no longer reacts to goading with anger, and he has learned that in life one is not always the victor in competitions."
Her gaze drifted back to the sparring room where the shorter of the two men had just disarmed his opponent in a move that also sent the white-haired apprentice crashing to the padded matting.
Waiting until Bruck Chun accepted the hand Ben Keníba offered and stood, Mace Windu spoke. "It is the feeling of the council that your padawan has passed his final test. Are the others in attendance in agreement with this?"
A chorus of ĎAyesí followed, and Adi Gallia smiled, pride in her apprentice showing in her bearing. "When shall he be invested?"
"Once his meditations are completed. You may inform him, and, Qui-Gon, please convey our thanks to your bonded for his assistance today."
"I will, Mace." Bowing to the council members, Qui-Gon followed Adi out of the room and down the short corridor to the sparring room. Ben and Bruck were discussing their match while tending to their injuries and drinking water. As always, the sight of his lover made the Jedi masterís pulse rate speed up, and he picked up a towel, handing it to Ben, their fingers brushing together as the cloth was passed over.
"Padawan Chun, please come with me," Adi said formally.
Bruck was on his feet in an instant, darting a concerned look from his master to Ben and Qui-Gon. He got his curiosity under control in an instant, however, and masked his worry under calmness. "Yes, Master," he replied, picking up his lightsaber and clipping it onto his belt, then gathering his other equipment and following her out of the room.
Ben watched as the other pair walked out the door, then looked up at Qui-Gon, one eyebrow raised inquiringly. "Whatís going on?"
"That is for Padawan Chun to find out," Qui-Gon answered, offering Ben a hand up off the floor and smiling when his bonded accepted the help without question or complaint. The past year had been one of many discoveries for them both, and while Ben had settled into life at the Temple with a minimum of fuss, there was still a restlessness about him as evidenced by his sometimes violent practice sessions here. "Though the Council does thank you for your assistance today."
"Jedi mysteries," Ben sighed, shaking his head and chuckling, pulling Qui-Gon in for a kiss before attending to his own gear. "I should be used to them by now."
"Knowing you, aíshera, I fear that you will always be too inquisitive for your own good."
"True, but I canít change the way I am, as you well know."
"A very valid point, nor would I want to change anything about you." Qui-Gon brushed a hand over Benís short, rusty-colored hair, trailing his fingertips through the white patch on the younger manís temple. There were things he would have changed if he could, but, if that was the case, where would they both be now?
"Youíre brooding again. Do I have to distract you?" Ben interjected a note of boredom into his voice, though in truth, Ďdistractingí Qui-Gon was anything but that.
The Jedi master gave a small smile. "If you feel you must. My duties are done for the day, as are yours, I believe. Perhaps a quiet meal in our rooms and a relaxing evening?"
"Quiet and relaxing arenít quite what I had in mind," Ben commented, slinging his bag over his shoulder and starting toward the door. Looking back over his shoulder, he sent a delicate Force-powered caress toward the older man.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Qui-Gon took a deep breath and released it. "I believe that youíre correct in this matter, aíshera." He opened his eyes and found he was looking at an empty doorway; Ben, having taken his agreement for granted, was already headed for the lift and their rooms.
The evening meal eaten and the dishes cleared away, Ben stretched and moved behind Qui-Gon, wrapping his arms around the Jediís waist and resting his head on his shoulder for a moment before letting go. While the fighter still wasnít good at overt displays of affection, he was finding them easier to give, and the knowledge that each hug pleased his bonded made them worthwhile.
"Youíre tense. Lie down and Iíll work on that."
Knowing that his lover would be leaving on a mission the next day had Ben slightly on edge also, but as it was a situation that had happened before, he knew he could survive it.
"Youíre perceptive, my love," Qui-Gon murmured, turning and walking toward the bedroom, pulling off his tunic as he did so, the muscles flexing under his tanned skin with each move.
"Arenít I though," Ben chuckled, following behind, removing his own shirt and boots before climbing up onto the bed to straddle Qui-Gonís prone form. Taking the vial of citrus-scented oil from the night table, he poured a bit into his palms and went to work, probing tight muscle groups with his fingers and palms until they relaxed and he could feel the tension seep from Qui-Gonís body.
Sighing, Qui-Gon turned his head to the side and glanced back at his lover, smiling at the look of concentration on Benís face. "You know, you could become a rich man if you decided to sell this particular skill of yours."
Ben smirked but continued working at a spot just below the older manís shoulder blade. "I somehow doubt many people would trust me enough to let me get them into this position, and those who did would probably be looking for a different kind of treatment than massage."
Qui-Gon made a soft sound of agreement. "Though you would be surprised at the number of people who trust you. You certainly have won the padawans over."
"Ahh, but itís the knights who seem a bit more immune to my charms." Ben smiled a bit cynically and sat back, trailing a hand along the gleaming lines of Qui-Gonís broad back. "Except for one particular one."
"And who could that be?" Qui-Gon managed to turn over without causing Ben to lose his seat and pushed up onto his elbows, his blue eyes twinkling with humor.
Ben shook his head and raised his eyes to the ceiling. "As if you donít know." Leaning in, he bracketed Qui-Gonís head with his hands and kissed the Jedi, their lips falling open and their tongues sliding together with the skill of long acquaintance and the knowledge of what the other enjoyed.
"Well, reminding me never hurts," Qui-Gon finally chuckled once he could speak again.
"And how would you care for me to remind you?"
"By continuing what you are doing, of course."
Ben rolled his eyes and shook his head. "You are a fool, Jinn," he sighed.
Qui-Gonís eyebrows rose. "A fool, am I?"
"Now youíre a fool who sounds like Yoda."
Qui-Gon broke into laughter at that comment, then pulled Ben closer and rolled them over so that he was looking down at his bonded. "What I am is a fool who will miss his bonded while he is gone," he murmured, pulling back to study the picture Ben made against the dark green sheets.
Ben quirked a small grin. "Then perhaps you should show your bonded just how much you will miss him."
"An excellent idea, aíshera," Qui-Gon smiled, leaning in for a kiss. "And I intend to do just that."
"Ben! Have you heard the news?"
Ben looked up from his noontime meal and saw his friend Bant hurrying toward him, her salmon-colored skin flushed with excitement. Heíd been avoiding the rooms he shared with Qui-Gon as much as possible the past few days, so was eating in the mess hall. It felt to ridiculous to admit to not wanting to be alone there, but it was the truth.
"What news would that be?" he asked, looking up from his half-eaten meal.
"Bruck was knighted!" she exclaimed, sliding into the seat beside him and nodding when he looked at her incredulously.
"When did this happen?"
"This morning! Rense told me heís been meditating the past two days, and once he awoke, the Council knighted him!"
Ben quirked a small smile. "I didnít think Jedi were supposed to get so excited about such things."
Bant fixed him with an implacable silver-eyed stare. "Are you making fun of me, my friend?"
He blinked innocently. "I would never do such a thing, Bant. Now tell me, are we civilians able to offer our congratulations to the new knight, or is he above such things now?"
"Of course you can congratulate him! As a matter of fact, the senior padawans are planning on taking him out into Coruscant this evening. Would you care to join us?"
Ben mulled the offer over before nodding. "I had better; someone has to keep you lambs out of trouble."
Bant made a low clucking noise in her throat. "Lead us into trouble, more likely."
Flashing, multi-colored lights reflected in a glass of ruby-red wine, the reflections sending waves of motion over the tabletop as the heavy beat of the music in the club caused the liquid to vibrate. Ben leaned against the cushioned back of the semi-circular seating grouping, watching the padawans enjoying themselves and attempting to get the new knight drunk.
He reached for his glass, raising it to his lips, then froze as he caught sight of a familiar figure in the crowds. Rising to his feet in one lithe motion, Ben moved through the dancers without disrupting them until he cornered his prey at the bar. "Itís been a long time, Cratos."
The small, rodent-faced man looked up, startled. "Ben Keníba in Coruscant?" He attempted to cover his shock with a wide grin. "I never would have imagined seeing you here, my friend!"
"My friend?" Benís sandy eyebrows rose. "That isnít quite how I remember our relationship."
"What I do remember is that you stole my ship!"
Ben quirked a mirthless smile. "Considering how much you won by betting on me, Iím sure you were able to buy another."
Cratos scowled. "That isnít the point; you stole my ship!"
"Now youíre repeating yourself." Ben noted Bruck and several of the others drifting their way.
"Do you still have the Nova Dawn?" Catos begged. "I have information, you know."
"Yes! If I get her back, I can tell you things."
Cratos swallowed and glanced around the club. "Information about the person who sold you to the Empress."
Ben slowly straightened, his whole attention now focused on the small man. "Do you have proof?"
"That he was the one who sold you? No. That he has dealt in slaves in the past, yes."
Packing was a simple matter; finding an excuse to be gone from the Jedi Temple was more complicated - that was until a reason presented itself in the form of a newly knighted Jedi.
"Itís simple, Kenobi. I have a ship and time off; you need to go somewhere." Bruck flicked a glance down at the multitude of weapons on the table. "And quite possibly back-up. With Master Qui-Gon away, who would you rather have with you?"
Ben gave a half-laugh as he examined each knife in his arsenal before sliding them into hiding spots over most of his body. "There are quit a few before you, Knight Chun; you have no idea where Iím going or what Iím doing, so why do you want to join me?"
Bruck grinned and reached for a wicked looking knife the length of his forearm. "Because life around you is never boring, Ben, thatís why."
Ben looked up, his green eyes shadowed. "This isnít a game or a lark."
"Considering what youíre packing, I didnít think so."
"Damn Jedi, all the same," Ben growled.
Bruck smirked. "Iíll get my bag."
"The pre-flight is done; weíre cleared to go." Looking somewhat ill-at-ease in civilian clothes, Bruck dropped into the co-pilotís seat and strapped himself in.
"Good. It should take three days to get there."
"Any chance of telling me where Ďthereí is and what weíre going to do once we get there?"
Ben finished his last engine checks, his fingers dancing over the controls with practiced ease. "Gedra system out near the rim. Iím going to go see an old friend."
Bruckís white brows rose, and he rubbed at the bare patch behind his right ear where until recently his padawan braid had hung. "Why do I think this Ďold friendí wonít be happy to see you?"
Ben gave a mirthless smile. "Oh he may be - until I kill him."
"Ben, is there anyone you know who you havenít tried to kill?"
Ben thought about the question as he spoke to Coruscant central traffic control and engaged the engines, easing the ship off the landing pad and into the air. "Probably not, though the ones I like are the ones who are still alive."
He felt a small push of the Force as Bruck tried to read his mind; then there was a moment of silence. "Ben, youíre joking about that, right?"
"You tell me, Knight Chun; am I?"
Bruck busied himself checking readings that were all well within normal limits, and the silence stretched between them. "So, once we get into hyperspace, want to spar?"
Ben glanced away from the traffic around them to study Bruckís careful non-expression, then nodded curtly. "Sure, we both need it."
"Thatís where weíre going?" Bruckís tone held worlds of disgust. "It looks colder than Hoth in winter."
Ben scanned the monitors impassively, looking for the beacon signal he knew was there. "It is. Thatís what makes this the perfect place for them; no one in their right mind would come here."
"Are you ever going to tell me just who Ďtheyí are?"
"Slavers." Ben looked over at Bruck, a resigned expression on his face.
"Slavers? No wonder you brought me along, youíll need all the help you can get if weíre going to get out of this alive."
Ben shook his head slowly, hearing the pinging noise as the scanners found the beacon signal. "Thatís not quite right, Bruck."
The Jedi looked confused by that remark. "Care to explain?"
"You arenít back-up; youíre a gift." Before Bruck could react, Ben bashed the side of his head with his lightsaber hilt, knocking the other man unconscious. After slipping a Force-blocking band around Bruckís head, Ben restrained his hands and feet then settled back into the pilotís seat and contacted the base below.
"Youíre a gift and the start of my revenge," he murmured to the now silent ship.
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