Let No Man Put Asunder:

Part 2

by Juli

Continued from Part 1


There is no emotion, there is peace.

Qui-Gon snarled as the thought of the Jedi adage disturbed his meditations. After leaving the Council Chambers, the Master had attempted to follow Obi-Wan and Palpatine to the healers but had been thwarted by a contingent of guards securing the passageway. Similarly, the corridors leading to the senators' quarters were cordoned off, with no hope of overcoming the Force- resistant troops stationed there.

The Council was taking no chances of further confrontation.

Left with no way to physically reach his distressed padawan, the distraught Jedi had attempted to reach Obi-Wan through their master/apprentice bond. With effort, he could faintly get a sense of the younger man, but an odd buzzing prevented him from any true communication.

Coming to the reluctant conclusion that perhaps his own high emotions were interfering with the training bond, Qui-Gon had proceeded to a favorite garden spot to meditate. Despite his angry words earlier to Yoda, Qui-Gon knew that meditation was the one of the better ways to access the Force. The tall man was not averse to use any tool that might aid him in his quest to reach Obi- Wan.

There is no passion, there is serenity.

Unfortunately, the litany of Jedi principles that normally helped him ease into the proper level of tranquility needed to focus were instead inflaming his already precarious emotions. "Peace" and "Serenity" seemed like fatuous concepts compared to Obi-Wan's situation.

Giving up meditation as a lost cause, the big man rose from his knees and, after a quick check to verify that his teaching bond with his student was still blocked, Qui-Gon headed for the training circle.

Meditation was only *one* way to enhance one's connection to the Force. Although it was used less often by most Jedi, focusing one's concentration via physical exercises rather than mental disciplines brought about similar results. In fact, Obi-Wan was more inclined to use katas and the like to commune with the Force as it suited his more active nature. Another master might have insisted that the young man meditate more and physically train less.... but Qui-Gon Jinn was not the typical Jedi master and had encouraged Obi-Wan's technique.

At the moment, the thought of using Obi-Wan's methods made the older man feel more connected to his beloved student and he hurried to make his way to the training area. Qui-Gon noticed with grim amusement that the other Jedi and Jedi-in-training were careful to give him a wide berth as he passed through the hallways. No matter, he truly didn't feel like company anyway. At least, not their company.

With dawn so newly come, there was not much competition for space and Qui-Gon quickly found an out-of-the-way corner to begin his exercises. The big man tuned his lightsaber to a training level and soon his muscles flowed in the familiar repetition of Obi-Wan's favorite kata.

His rage, however, the Jedi master held close to his heart. Although anger was a path to the Dark Side, the big man had an uneasy feeling that he would need its energy before this situation was put to rights.

********************************

Like his teacher, Obi-Wan was finding it difficult to enter into a meditative state. Unlike Qui- Gon, however, the apprentice didn't dare resort to physical exercises to find his focus. If he moved around too much, it might wake Palpatine and that was an occurrence to be avoided.

The young man bit his lip as his eyes darted over to sleeping chamber's entryway. Palpatine and the Jedi Council insisted that this was a soul bond, the one he was truly meant for. If that was the case, why did his toad of a bondmate... repulse him so? Frighten him, for all that he'd trained for years to work past fear? For that matter, Obi-Wan had been taught all his life that "appearance matters not." Why, then, did he mentally insist on referring to his mate in unflattering terms?

Why didn't he enjoy the physical mating?

Along with the rest of his class of blushing and giggling padawans, years ago Obi-Wan had been taught the rudimentary facts of coital activity. Over and over again, it had been stressed to them that nothing done in the process should hurt. In fact, if the bragging of his agemates was to be believed, sex was supposed to be one of the best sensations ever experienced. Just as sex with another person was supposed to be much more enjoyable than simple masturbation, sex with a soul mate was said to be better than any other coupling.

Sex with Palpatine was so far from enjoyable that it was difficult to believe that it was even the same act as had been described to him. And his body's hurting was nothing compared to the pain of knowing that now having his soul intertwined with Qui-Gon's was now forever refused him.

The padawan clenched his hands into fists and used them to repeatedly pummel his thighs. "I can't believe this is happening," he murmured softly.

"Really, Pet? Doubting our connection so soon? I would have thought last night's activities would have made more impact than that."

At hearing Palpatine's smug voice, Obi-Wan scrambled from the floor and whirled to face his mate. He was a Jedi, how could the politician sneak up on him like that?

The senator smiled at the younger man's discomposure and finished belting his silk robe as he entered the room. "I was surprised to wake and not find you in the bed. Couldn't sleep?"

"I-, I needed to clear my mind. I was trying to meditate." Obi-Wan snapped his mouth shut, not having intended to explain himself to the other man at all.

"That's quite all right," the senator fully entered the room to begin circling the apprentice, sizing up the padawan with his eyes. "There will be plenty of time for bed games later."

That's what Obi-Wan was afraid of.

Palpatine watched while a blush traveled up from Obi-Wan's neck to the tips of the young man's ears. "Well," he continued, briskly. "Not all of us can spend the day sitting around, staring at nothing. I have duties to attend to at the Senate..."

Palpatine stopped close to the apprentice, running the back of his hand along the younger man's cheek. Smiling when the padawan jerked away, he continued. "As much as it grieves me to be away from you this morning, Poppet, I do have responsibilities. As do you."

"Yes, my studies..."

"Have been put on hold for the time being," Palpatine readily inserted."

"But-" Obi-Wan was beyond speech. Wasn't denying him Qui-Gon enough?

"Really, child, it should come as no surprise." Palpatine watched as the apprentice attempted to stutter his defiance. "You are now the soul bonded mate to one of leaders for the Republic's governing body. You have more important tasks ahead of you."

Obi-Wan drew himself to his full height. "I am a Jedi."

"No, not yet. Perhaps never." The senator tisked at the young man's dismay. "Now really, Kenobi, is this all about you? *You* want Qui-Gon. *You* are a Jedi. Have you yet thought about what this circumstance means to me?"

Obi-Wan just shook his head as Palpatine stalked him across the room. "Don't be so selfish, Obi- Wan. Look at you, Pet. Look at me. Don't you think a man of my years and maturity would prefer a partner with a little more depth? Someone with a little less flash and a little more substance?" Palpatine stopped, standing close enough to the younger man that their breath intermingled. "Jinn should count his lucky stars that you are bonded to me, rather than to him. In time, he'll realize that he's well rid of you."

Turning from Obi-Wan's slender form, Palpatine headed back towards the sleep chamber. "Breakfast should be arriving soon, Precious. Do be a good boy and bring it in when it does." The senator turned for one last comment. "Normally there's scones in the morning. Perhaps we can find an alternative use for the butter, hmmm?" Smiling as the understanding dawned in the young man's eyes, the senator exited the chamber.

Trembling, Obi-Wan could only stand, mutely, and wait to carry out Palpatine's instructions.

********************************

Thrust. Withdraw. Repeat.

Thrust. Withdraw. Repeat.

Qui-Gon had given his body over to the training kata, realizing for the first time how its movements mimicked that of the sex act.

Thrust. Withdraw. Repeat.

Of course, considering that as Obi-Wan's twentieth birthday had approached, the majority of Qui-Gon's thoughts had seemed to lead to the topic of sex, it could be just the way he was perceiving this particular exercise at the moment...

Thrust. Withdraw. Repeat.

Then again, maybe not.

Thrust. Withdraw. <SNAP!>

A barest whisper from the Force warned him of the attack and Qui-Gon whirled to face his opponent. "Mace? What are you doing here?" he asked, even as he brought his lightsaber up to counter the move.

"I could ask the same of you," the Jedi Council member replied. Both men backed off but kept in a defensive crouch. Mace nodded over to the group of Jedi who were trying to observe without being obvious. "They got worried and contacted me."

Another flurry of lunges and counterattacks followed, ending up with their sabers crossed at the hilts. "What, haven't they seen a Jedi master practice before?" Qui-Gon growled, glaring at Mace over their crossed wrists.

His old friend snorted indelicately. "Not for two hours. On the same kata. Without stopping, even for a breather."

"Soft, the lot of them," Qui-Gon claimed, breaking the impasse and making an attack of his own. Soon the Jedi masters were moving at speeds almost too fast for the eye to follow. Even though they were Jedi, however, the two men were still human and could not keep up both the pace and the perfection forever.

"Bah!" Mace hissed, as Qui-Gon's saber burned the back of his neck.

Qui-Gon stepped back, panting only a little from the exertion. "I see our audience isn't the only Jedi getting soft around here, Mace." Realizing that the other man wouldn't be able to continue, the bearded Jedi walked to the edge of the exercise circle to fetch towels. Returning, he handed one to his friend. "Are your Council duties eating into your training time?" An ice-blue gaze swept up and down Windu's form. "It doesn't suit you."

Mace used the towel to wipe the sweat from his bald pate. "You always were better with a saber than I was."

Qui-Gon looked up from wiping his face. "And you didn't use to procrastinate."

"Procrastinate? What makes you think I'm putting something off?"

The taller man smiled humorlessly. "You're the junior member of the Council, Mace. You didn't come here for a workout or because of any misplaced concern about me. Out with it."

Mace reached over and clasped his hand to Qui-Gon's shoulder. "My concern about isn't misplaced, Qui. I'm worried about you."

Qui-Gon shook off the hand, then abruptly bent to retrieve his saber. "Save your concern for someone who needs it. Like Obi-Wan." Seeing the dark-skinned man flinch when he said his padawan's name, Qui-Gon pressed the issue. "It's about Obi-Wan, isn't it? Is he all right?" Re- thinking his own wording, Qui-Gon held up his hand to forestall Windu's answer. "Of course, he's not all right. Let me rephrase the question. Has something else happened? Palpatine hasn't... harmed... him again, has he?" The tone of the last question made it clear that if he had, then the senator's days were numbered.

"No, no, it's not that," Mace hastened to clarify. "But you're not going to like it..." Windu braced himself before continuing. "The Council has decided to suspend Obi-Wan's status as a Jedi apprentice." Seeing the added grief on the taller man's countenance, Mace added a sincere apology. "I'm sorry, Qui-Gon, I truly am... but Obi-Wan is no longer your padawan."

Thanks to the warning given the evening before, the pronouncement shouldn't have been a surprise, but Qui-Gon was still startled. He'd never thought the Council would have taken this step. Never.

Back ramrod straight, the tall Jedi glared down at the only Council member unfortunate enough to be in his presence at this moment. "It is the Council that will be sorry, Mace."

Mace Windu drew back, eyes never leaving his old friend's face. "Is that a threat, Master Jinn?"

Qui-Gon looked genuinely surprised at the other man's question. "A threat? No. Merely fair forewarning to you on the possible ramifications of this decision."

With that, Qui-Gon turned to gather up his training paraphernalia. Mace, wasn't used to being dismissed so summarily and felt the need to prolong the encounter.

"It had to be done, Qui-Gon," he explained to the other man's eloquently turned back. "The common people are hesitant enough about the Jedi as it is. Many even fear our abilities. Do you know that some call us 'wizards?'"

"And what does that have to do with Obi-Wan?"

Mace grabbed the opening that Qui-Gon gave him, small as it was. "Our affiliation with the Senate is reassuring to the general populace, that Jedi powers will be held in check. Balanced out by the rules of the Senate. But a senator soul bonded to a Jedi-in-training would be too much power gathered in one place, the system of checks and balances would be undermined. Jedi have to respected, held sacrosanct. Given his bond with Palpatine, Kenobi's connection to the Jedi had to be severed, for the good of the Republic."

"If the general populace fear us, all the more reason to come out of our lofty ivory tower and interact more directly," Qui-Gon countered. "The citizenry fear Jedi because they don't know us. That's easy enough to fix."

Mace threw his hands up in disgust. This again. For years, Qui-Gon had been championing the notion that the Jedi should move about in the Federation more... and act less on the Senate's whim. "What would you have me do? Throw out thousands of years of Jedi tradition?"

"No," Qui-Gon spat back. "only the parts that don't make sense anymore."

The two old friends glared at each other for several heartbeats. Mace felt his anger drain away as he realized that the anger in Qui-Gon's eyes only thinly veiled the deeper pain the other man was experiencing. How many times during their friendship had he seen that pain, caused by an incomplete soul bond keening for consummation? How many times had he offered his own body for Qui-Gon's use, knowing that it wouldn't be the union that his friend needed, but hoping that it would help drown the ache for a time?

Shaking his head, Mace laughed softly and bitterly. "Look at us, old friend. What happened to us?"

"'Us,'" Qui-Gon echoed, not taken in by the other man's bid for nostalgia. "I rather find that I miss my friend, Mace Windu. Do you know him? He always had a hard head but always kept an soft spot in his heart. He's been replaced by Jedi Councilor Windu... and that's a fellow I'm not sure that I like at all."

Silence was the only answer Mace could make to that.

Qui-Gon shook his head as he continued, even as he headed for the exit. "Sometimes, Council Windu, the most evil thing a man can do is ignore what he knows to be right. The good of the many does not always override the good of the one." The bearded Jedi paused for one last parting shot. "I have no intention of allowing the good of the one to be ignored in this case. Not when the individual suffering is Obi-Wan Kenobi."

After his old friend was gone, Mace stood and stared at the empty door for several heartbeats. "Damn you, Qui-Gon. Is it too much to ask that you think of the Code. Just once?"

But it was a long time, indeed, before Mace could dispel the sense of disquiet that the whole conversation had provoked.

********************************

Palpatine was right.

Obi-Wan huddled in on himself, for the moment all alone amongst the stained sheets of the senator's bed. The other man was in the fresher, getting ready for his day's work. Thoughts of Palpatine inevitably drew Obi-Wan's eyes over to the abandoned breakfast tray and the apprentice winced at the all-to-recent memories the sight provoked.

He'd never be able to look at a tub of butter the same way again.

Resolutely, the padawan brought his mind back to the issue at hand. Of all the things that Palpatine had claimed, of all things said in his oily bureaucrat's voice, only one statement had rung true... Obi-Wan *had* been focused too much on himself. During this whole mess, he'd only thought of how the soul bonding with Palpatine affected *him.* Not Qui-Gon, who'd been anticipating their soul bond as with as much delight as he had and must be hurting every bit as much as his student right now.

It galled Obi-Wan to realize it, but Palpatine's rant earlier had made him realize his own selfishness. Of course, the senator had been talking of himself and not Obi-Wan's teacher, but an odd thing had happened as the politician talked. While the bureaucrat had prattled on about a partner with more maturity and depth, Obi-Wan had gotten a distinct mental picture of Qui-Gon, writhing with pleasure underneath the pistoning hips of Jusicad Palpatine. Since Obi-Wan was reasonably certain that such a scenario had never occurred in real life, it stood to reason that the image was originating from his unwanted link with Palpatine.

Contemplating what to do with the information kept Obi-Wan's mind distracted during the rest of the morning's events, a fact for which he was profoundly grateful. He now knew intimately what the senator was capable of and he would be damned if the man was going to get the chance to do the same to Qui-Gon.

"Why the frown, pretty Pet?" Obi-Wan looked up to see Palpatine leaning against the doorframe, watching him.

"N-nothing." Damn, what was the matter with him? A heartbeat ago, he was thinking of vivisecting the senator before he managed to touch a hair on Qui-Gon's head, but in the man's presence, he became as timid as a cradlemouse.

"That's good," the senator left his station by the door and strode over to the bed. "I was afraid you were annoyed with me for having to attend to my duties and abandoning you."

"N-n-o," was all the apprentice could managed to stutter, shuddering as the older man's hand languidly caressed him from bare shoulder to rounded buttock.

Palpatine saw the way his new mate recoiled from his touched and allowed himself a satisfied smile. "It saddens me to have to leave you right now, Poppet, but I do have Senate matters to attend to." He gave one last fond pat to Obi-Wan's hip before getting up, but paused as though an idea had just occurred to him. "I know, to make this separation easier for both of us, stay in bed all day. Just like you are, naked and ready. I'll get comfort knowing that, as busy as my schedule is today, you are here, just waiting for me to get back. Right, Precious?"

Obi-Wan's mouth fell open in dismay and Palpatine swooped in to steal a slack kiss. Pulling back, the older man traced the padawan's lips. "Tempting, Pet, but I really must run. Now, remember, stay in the bed."

Then, in whirl of rich fabric and throaty chuckles, the senator was gone.

Almost in a stupor, Obi-Wan blankly stared at the space where Palpatine had last stood. An unfamiliar lassitude had washed over the young man during their short conversation, causing him to blink in exhaustion. He shook his head, trying to dispel it, but only succeeded in rattling his brains a bit. What was wrong with him? First, uncharacteristic timidity and now this?

It was no matter, he quickly decided, brutally shoving the fatigue aside for the moment. Since he seemed unable to function normally when Palpatine was around, he had to take advantage of every free moment while the man was gone.

Could Palpatine control him through the bond? Fine. It was time to find out if that trick worked both ways.

**************************

The Jedi Temple at Coruscant was riddled with spies.

Thankfully, for the sake of both the Order and the Republic that it served, the "spies" owed their primary allegiance, not to any enemy of the Republic, but to a certain bearded Jedi Master.

Even as a padawan, Qui-Gon Jinn had shown a tendency to accumulate strays. Some of his youthful naivete may have waned over the years, but his willingness to assist a creature in need remained. Had grown, in fact, as though the man's compassionate heart had expanded even beyond the norm in order to keep in proportion to his tall physique.

Most times, Qui-Gon was able to aid the unfortunates that crossed his path by alleviating their situation at the point of origin. But, in some instances, no other solution could be found other than to find them a new home. For more than a few of his rescuees, that new home was Coruscant itself. In fact, the sentient beings he assisted often found employment at the Temple or its surrounds.

His colleagues, and even his own padawan, might tease Qui-Gon about his strays, but the end result was that Qui-Gon had loyal friends not only in all parts of the Temple and but also scattered across the entire planet. There were times when having friends in low places came in handy and, in his desperation, Qui-Gon had every intention of taking advantage of the edge these "spies" gave him during the current crisis.

Comfortably seated at a worn, but clean, table tucked away in a nook of the Temple's cavernous kitchen, Qui-Gon looked at his two co-conspirators in satisfaction. Many members of the Jedi order took little or no notice of those that served them. Oh, his peers weren't ungrateful by any stretch of the imagination, just complacent. Yet another thing about Jedi that Qui-Gon longed to change . . . but, for the moment, the laxness of his peers suited his needs well.

"The boy didn't eat anything at breakfast or lunch."

The concerned tone brought Qui-Gon out of his contemplation of his Order's faults. "How do you know?"

Brab Connetti's blonde hair was starting to wash to gray, but twenty years ago it had been bright as a midday sun. Brab had been a mercenary then and Qui-Gon, posing as a soldier-for-hire for the sake of a mission, had served in the same unit as the Corellian. One day, they'd faced a particularly bloodthirsty band of pirates and Conetti's nerve had broken. Seeing comrades being slaughtered on every side, Brab had taken advantage of a minor head wound and feigned death, rising from the fallen only when the conflict had moved on. Brab's fellow mercs had taken exception at this sign of cowardice and moved to lynch him on the spot but Qui-Gon had intervened. Realizing from the self-loathing in Brab's eyes that the man regretted what he'd done, the Jedi master had brought him back to Coruscant, hoping that exposure to the Jedi and their ways would help the soul-shattered soldier rebuild his self-esteem. It had worked. Now, two decades later, the former warrior-for-hire ran the Temples kitchens with a military precision that would have made a general proud. More importantly, Brab could look at himself in the mirror without wincing at the man he saw there.

Brab placed a plate of steaming food in front of Qui-Gon, pointedly staring at the taller man until the Jedi sighed and picked up his fork. Satisfied that his friend would himself eat, the former merc explained. "You know that the senators are housed pretty close to the Temple, right? Well, all of us chief slop-slingers keep pretty connected too. I know the head cook over on the Senate side and I called in a few favors. Lancie gets a report from the server to Palpatine's quarters and I get a report from Lancie." Brab shook his graying blonde head in dismay. "I just wish I had more to report."

Qui-Gon touched the other man's arm in reassurance. "Thank you, Brab, any word at all is a kindness."

A snort of disgust was heard from their companion. "Kindness, my ass! Mealy-mouthed talk like that makes my tits ache. We don't need to know how much Kenobi is eatin', we need to know how to get him away from that pot-bellied padawan porker."

Both men turned to stare at Biidee Erat. Brab with disgust and Qui-Gon in an oft-repeated, but rarely successful, attempt to get the woman to curb her bluntness a bit.

Qui-Gon had discovered Biidee stowing away on his transport out of an outer-rim world. A close look at the young woman had shown why she was so desperate. A pregnant prostitute is not a money-maker and most brothel owners forced their chattels to terminate any pregnancy. Biidee had been determined to keep her unborn child and had managed to escaped her pimp's clutches. Impressed by her determination and courage, Qui-Gon had brought her back to the Temple, amid much rumor-mongering about who the father of her unborn babe was. It didn't help his reputation that when her son was birthed, Biidee had named him BiJinn to honor the Jedi that had saved both her and her child.

A dozen years had passed since he'd made that choice and Qui-Gon never regretted it, scandal or no scandal. Biidee had proven to be gifted with mechanical talent and she had quickly made her way up the ranks of those that tended to the Temple's transportation needs, despite her tendency to talk as though she were still in an outer-rim gutter brothel.

"If you're so impatient," Brab challenged, "what do you think Qui-Gon should do?" There was little love between the solder-turned-cook and the whore-turned-mechanic.

Biidee flipped her braids back and gestured around the room. "First thing a tech-head learns is to use the tools at hand." She smiled evilly. "First thing a whore learns is which body part is most important to the fellas. You," She pointed at Qui-Gon, "take that lit-up little stick of yours, cut Palpy's balls off and then drop 'em in one of Conetti's blenders. Then, *whrrrrrrr,*" Here, her hands made a whirling gesture, "Wha-la, you gots yerself some senator gonad puree." A glare was directed Brab's way. "That ought to be fancy enough even fer the likes o' you."

Biidee gifted Brab with another glare, hands on her hips as she defied the man to belittle her suggestion. To her surprise, however, the former merc scratched his chin thoughtfully for a few moments before grinning widely and clapping her on the shoulder. "Now, *that* plan's got real potential." He turned to their mutual friend. "What do you think, Qui-Gon?"

Despite the seriousness of Obi-Wan's predicament, Qui-Gon couldn't help but smile. What his comrades lacked in tactical finesse, they made up in enthusiasm. Palpatine didn't stand a chance.

"As tempting as Biidee's suggestion is," Qui-Gon replied, "We have to keep in mind that Obi- Wan has some sort of bond with the senator." When his companions looked confused at his caution, he explained. "While I don't think it is a legitimate soul bond, there's no telling what kind of connection Palpatine has forged with Obi-Wan. Until we know for sure, we have to assume that anything that happens to the senator might be reflected back on Obi."

"Oh." Brab was silent as the possible repercussions Obi-Wan might suffer due to the proposed action became clear to him. Shifting in his seat, the chief cook very carefully crossed his legs.

"Oh," Biidee echoed. Then she grinned. "That wouldn't work at all. If'n I'm readin' things right, yer plannin' on 'sheathin' yer lightsaber' with Kenobi, right? Kinda important fer him ta still be fully functional."

Qui-Gon winced at her wording but stepped on Brab's foot before the other man could chide the woman for her attitude. He well knew that the more vulgar Biidee got, the deeper the concern her crudeness covered. "Well, I wouldn't quite put it that way, but, yes, I have long believed that Obi-Wan and I were soul mates."

Silence reigned in the room for a few minutes, then Brab tentatively cleared his throat to gain his companion's attention. "You know, there is that banquet tonight, to welcome the Iffas into the Federation. The kitchens have been preparing for it all week. All of the senators will be there..."

"...and it wouldn't be at all unusual for Jedi, especially a Jedi well-known for diplomatic skills, to be present." Qui-Gon finished for him.

Biidee joined in the planning. "You'd be needin' a way to get off-planet real quick-like. Knights are always flittin' on an' off Coruscant. I think I could arrange fer a transport to be waitin' fer ya."

"And I could get you the banquet's schedule, maybe sneak you in by the servant's entrance. That way Palpatine wouldn't be alerted ahead of time that you intended on snatching Obi-Wan."

Qui-Gon quashed his rising excitement over the tentative plan to regain his padawan. As much as he longed to remove Obi-Wan from Palpatine's hurtful presence, he had to be sure that these loyal friends knew the possible danger they were getting in to.

"Brab, Biidee, I can't tell you how much your assistance in this matter means to me," Qui-Gon fixed his stare onto his clasped hands. He knew that if he looked at the other two while saying this, that his eyes would be filled with longing. In fairness to them, he couldn't influence them with his *need* to help Obi-Wan. "But if you do this, you should know what it might mean. Palpatine is a member of the senate. If something should happen, I would no longer be in a position to protect you. You might be banished from Coruscant or worse..."

"Don't be a bigger ass than you have ta, Master Jinn," Biidee said with exasperation in her voice. "BiJinn's trainin' in the Music Guild now, ain't nobody gonna touch him there. 'Sides, I don't know about His Nibs here, but weren't fer you, I'da spent the rest o' my life on m'back and BiJinn woulda never even been born. Count me in."

Brab cleared his throat. "Agreed. You looked past the fact I was a coward and saw the man behind my fear. I'll never forget that. Never." He stretched out his hand to the Jedi master. "I'm not much, but whatever I can do to help you, I will."

Biidee added her hand to Brab's. "Ditto what blondie said."

Qui-Gon swallowed down a sudden spate of tears and covered their hands with both of his own. "Thank you. I just wish Obi-Wan knew that we had such loyal friends."

"Do you want me to try and get a message through to him?" Brab offered.

The Jedi master shook his head. "No, I think we dare not. Palpatine's a canny one. We can't afford him being tipped off too early."

Biidee spoke in an uncharacteristically soft voice. "Ain't there anyway you can get a message to 'im?" She looked at the two men earnestly. "I been there. Hurtin' and alone and not knowin' that the hurtin's gonna end. Obi's a good kid. Don't seem right, him not knowin' help's on t'way."

Qui-Gon took her words to heart. Yes, he owed it to his beloved to let him know that he'd soon have him free. But how to do it so that Palpatine wasn't alerted to the plan? His rescue team was already comprised of an acknowledged coward and a reformed prostitute. Who could he use as a messenger that would be every bit as unlikely to be thought of as a conspirator? The Jedi master thought a moment more and then grinned.

He knew of just the perfect messenger.

************************************

In the senator's quarters, a young man lowered his head in shame, his bright red-gold hair dulled by the malignant atmosphere of the chamber. Despite his attempts to stifle them, tears adorned Obi-Wan's cheeks. Glad for the first time during the whole debacle that his master was not at hand, and therefore not present to witness his student's weakness, the apprentice wiped the tears away and braced himself.

Over and over, the padawan had sent his spirit questing along the soul bond he was forced to share with Palpatine, determined to discover what the senator's plans were for Qui-Gon. Time and again, however, the young man had been forced to withdraw. The miasma of darkness that permeated Palpatine's side of the bond had sickened Obi-Wan, literally and figuratively.

One more time, then.

Body swaying with effort, the Jedi-in-training sent his mind spiraling down. He was exhausted, but repeated attempts had made the process rote. Within heartbeats, he was at the level where he could see the silver cord that represented his soul ... and the black, tarry rope that was Palpatine, firmly twined around it.

Maintaining firm control on his gag reflex, the padawan reached out a mental "hand" and forced himself to touch the dark strand. This was the point where he'd always faltered before. The evil feeling emanating from the black portion alone was enough to stagger Obi-Wan. In addition to the emotional response, however, he also had to deal with the onrush of mental images that accompanied the contact. Together, the sensations had been enough to overwhelm him and thus- far successfully thwart his information-gathering attempts.

Suspecting that he was near his physical limits, Obi-Wan realized that this would be his last attempt for the time being and Force only knew when Palpatine would leave him alone long enough to try again. Steeling himself, the apprentice resolved that this time he would succeed. No matter what happened.

With new resolve, the young man reached out...

Contact.

Immediately, the padawan was engulfed in a sense of corruption. Prepared as well as desperate, he didn't let the sensation deter him, hanging on to the black rope with mental "fingers" that shook with exertion. From his morning's experience, he knew what was coming next and readied himself for the ordeal.

Sure enough, the visions quickly followed. Palpatine waylaying him in the garden and roughly mounting him. Being forced to lie to the Council, and having the venerated Jedi leaders believe the false claim. Striking out at Qui-Gon when his master tried to pry him from Palpatine's arms. The way his throat convulsed with retching as the senator released his seed deep within his mouth.

It was like being violated all over again.

Obi-Wan sublimated his anguish, waiting until the ugly mental pictures had run their course. Surely, this was just the surface. Surely, if he could just hold on long enough, other visions would unfold. Visions that would give him a clue as to Palpatine's master plan.

There.

Obi-Wan got just a brief glimpse of an image that involved his master. Qui-Gon. An ancient prophesy. A trap...

Before the padawan could make sense of the vision, he felt the presence of another mind. Obi- Wan rapidly made a mental retreat from his spiritual rapport with the bond. There could only be one other individual that could access the soul connection, and he wasn't ready for Palpatine to know of his probe just yet.

Obi-Wan opened his eyes to find that it was already early afternoon. The information he'd gleaned from his deep meditation was vague at best, but it was clear that he needed to warn Qui- Gon of an impending trap. The young man quickly swung his legs out to the edge of the bed. There was no telling when Palpatine would be back, he'd have to hurry.

To his dismay, though, his body wouldn't respond when he tried to leave the bed. Repeatedly, the young man moved to get up, but something prevented him from doing so. He would start the motion with every intent of rising, but as soon as his body began to lift off the bed, he would suddenly get as limp as a puppet who's strings have been cut.

"... stay in bed all day. Just like you are, naked and ready..."

Like a ghost, the memory of Palpatine's words from that morning haunted Obi-Wan. He'd heard the senator's directive, but had ignored it, already planning out in his mind the investigation of the soul bond. To his chagrin, it seemed as though he should have listened more carefully.

Exhausted from wrestling with the soul bond, desperate to warn his master of a trap, and humiliated at his forced obedience to his rapist's whim, Obi-Wan collapsed down onto the bed.

This time, he didn't even attempt to stifle his tears, until unconsciousness mercifully claimed him.

**********************************

In the end, it was Obi-Wan's courage that gave him away.

Like a bloated spider, over the years Jusicad Palpatine had woven a tangled web of schemes and machinations, all carefully designed to increase his power whilst maintaining the facade of a dedicated public servant. Although his plan to trap the Chosen One was the nearest and dearest to the senator's heart, he had other intrigues to oversee. The licensing of a newly formed Trade Federation might seem like a niggling bureaucratic detail, but he had long-range plans for that particular group... plans that he dare not leave in the hands of anyone else.

So it was that Palpatine ignored the first few tentative brushes against his soul's connection with Obi-Wan Kenobi. He'd expected the apprentice to test his spirit's confinement, so the explorations didn't really surprise him. Like a caged avian, the Jedi-in-training would soon learn, however, that flutter his "wings" all he like, he well and truly belonged to Palpatine now. The soul leash saw to that. The padawan would soon give up...

....except that he didn't.

After giving Obi-Wan's explorations only cursory attention, Palpatine had returned his focus back to the Senate's proceedings. It was only hours later that he realized that, far from dwindling away in defeat, Obi-Wan's probes were becoming stronger. It was almost as if the young man wasn't trying to escape the tethering of his soul, it was if the padawan was searching for something more specific...

This behavior was unexpected and far more aggressive than Palpatine had anticipated.

The politician sat back in his senate chair, elbows resting on the chair's arms and hands casually raised, fingers steepled in front of his face. He knew from past experience that this pose gave the illusion that he was avidly listening while allowing his mind to roam free.

This time when the questing touch came, Palpatine was ready. With mental "eyes," the senator watched as Obi-Wan delved into their souls' joining. With something akin to shock, the senator came to realize that the padawan was slowly but surely using the connection to gather information. In fact, the young man was sifting the impressions he gleaned, latching on anything having to do with Qui-Gon Jinn.

Astounding.

Tethering a soul in an enforced joining was devastating, a rape that went far beyond the physical. As the harnesser, not only could Palpatine gain access to his unwilling mate's mind and body, he could also pull from the leashed soul the energy needed to control his involuntary partner. The combination should have quickly left the apprentice a mindless, emotionless husk, capable only of spreading his legs upon his new Master's command. In fact, Palpatine had been counting on just that end result. Wearing his heart on his sleeve as he did, Qui-Gon would naturally be protective of his student, a trait that would be magnified by his attraction to the young man. The keystone to his plan was that and witnessing the boy's rapid deterioration into a shell of his usual vibrant self would provide the impetuous that Palpatine was counting on to trap the Chosen One. Jinn's reaction would be the emotional trigger needed to lure the big man over to the Dark Side. Or, failing that, that his outrage would cause Qui-Gon to lower his own mental defenses enough for Palpatine to apply the spiritual manacles to the Jedi Master.

Instead of reacting as expected to the mental and physical assault, however, Obi-Wan had apparently not only had maintained part of his strength of will, but was also clever enough to use the unwanted connection to spy on the senator's plans. Indeed, now that he was aware of the padawan's fumbling, it was obvious that the young man had forged a two-way connection from what was supposed to be used solely for Palpatine's benefit. Apparently he had miscalculated by underestimating the apprentice's strength and determination. A mistake and possibly a costly one at that.

Palpatine didn't like making mistakes.

"Senator Palpatine, what are your thoughts on the Trade Federation issue?"

The resonating tones of Orn Free Taa's voice brought Palapatine out of his reverie. Belatedly, he realized that he'd lost track of the other senator's pontificating. No matter, really. He'd written Free Taa's speech himself - and was certainly paying the corpulent politician enough to deliver it convincingly.

"I think we must consider the awarding of trade routs most carefully," he began, launching into his own carefully prepared sermon on the subject.

He'd just wrap this up quickly... and then deal with his wandering soul mate.

************************************

The Waterfall Garden was adjacent to the Room of a Thousand Fountains and was one of Yoda's favorite mediation venues. Still, Qui-Gon entered it carefully. The Garden wasn't only a favorite of Yoda's and, although Qui-Gon was here to ask for assistance from the Garden's other most frequent denizen, neither did he want the creature to take him by surprise.

Therefore, the big man entered the Garden slowly, his footsteps cushioned by the thick carpet of grass as he moved carefully through the seemingly tranquil setting. As he did, the Jedi Master forced himself to relax his shoulders, releasing his tension into the Force. He was here, after all, to seek the aid of a friend. If not his own friend, at least, the friend of his master and of his own padawan.

"Hullo! Hullo!"

The shrill voice came from above and behind him. Qui-Gon turned to face the creature he'd come to see, but even his Jedi reflexes weren't fast enough. Before the first word of greeting was over, Qui-Gon felt tiny hands grab the portion of his hair that was pulled back from his face. By the time the second "Hullo!" was complete, the tail of hair had been pulled up and over his head. When the maneuver was complete, the voice's owner was dangling upside down from it, acting for all the world as though Qui-Gon's hair was its personal swing. Far from happy, Qui-Gon was still relieved that he hadn't been facing the creature for its arrival. Otherwise, he knew from experience, his beard would have been serving the same function.

"Awww...," the swinger pouted. "All scowly! Sky-Eyed Highthing not happy to see Dew Blossom?"

Dew Blossom. Standing, the winged creature wouldn't even come half-way to Qui-Gon's knee. Colorful wings sprouted out of the back if its blue, vaguely humanoid body, making the little creature appear to be a large insect. Called a sapiopod, Dew Blossom was the last of its kind known to exist. Given its solitary status, Yoda had granted it sanctuary at the Temple centuries ago. It was not only the only sentient being Qui-Gon knew that was smaller than the diminutive Jedi Master, but it was also the only creature he knew to be older than Yoda.

Not to mention the fact that it was twice as annoying.

Dew Blossom relinquished its grip on Qui-Gon's hair and fluttered in front of the bearded Jedi Master. "Sky-Eyed Highthing look sad. Dew Blossom sing, make happy!"

"No! No, that won't be necessary," Qui-Gon quickly replied. The only thing worse than Dew Blossom's greetings was its singing.

The sapiopod had been the bane of Qui-Gon's own apprenticeship. Yoda had befriended it and spent as much time with the creature, insisting that his padawan do the same. Like many species of feline, Dew Blossom had sensed that Qui-Gon wasn't terribly fond of it, immediately cementing his status as its favorite human. Much to Qui-Gon's dismay.

"Confused Dew Blossom, you have," Yoda had teased him when he'd complained. "So tall, you are. Thinks you a tree, it does. Stop growing, you should and its attention elsewhere will go, hrrmmmm?"

For his part, Qui-Gon had tried to bear Dew Blossom's attention with as much grace as he could muster. It was only when he had his own apprentice that he'd realized the valuable lessons of patience and tolerance that interacting with the sapiopod had taught him. From then on, he made sure to follow Yoda's example and see to it that his apprentices spent volumes of time in its presence.

Dew Blossom fluttered around Qui-Gon, peering behind him and next to him, even going so far as to stick its head inside the Jedi Master's cloak, obviously in search of something that the big man was missing. "Where Red-Gold Highthing? Pretty one want to dance with Dew Blossom?"

Despite his worry for his padawan, Qui-Gon grinned at the hopeful tone in the tiny creature's voice. The early period of Obi-Wan's apprenticeship had been fraught with stress and misunderstandings. That, coupled with the missions that had kept them off Coruscant, meant that it had been some months into their Master/Apprentice relationship before Qui-Gon could bring the teen to the Garden and introduce him to Dew Blossom. But when he finally had managed to bring the two of them together, their meeting had been pure magic.

Qui-Gon had been immediately abandoned as Dew Blossom's favorite person... in favor of his student. Somehow, the sapiopod had sensed Obi-Wan's love of acrobatic moves, especially the airborne ones, and the two quickly bonded. That initial meeting had been the first time that Qui- Gon had heard his overly-serious padawan laugh, and upon hearing the sound, the Jedi Master instantly forgave Dew Blossom for all of its annoying idiosyncracies. After that, many a golden afternoon had been spent watching the teen and the sapiopod take to the air, at times with a gleefully shrieking Dew Blossom clinging to Obi-Wan's braid like a living kite.

Despite its age, Dew Blossom had a certain innocent quality and Qui-Gon hated to inform it of what had happened to its friend. "I'm sorry, Dew Blossom, Obi-Wan won't be able to dance with you for a while." Seeing the sapiopod cock its head in confusion, he tried to explain. "Do you know that Obi-Wan and I were waiting to become soul mates..."

In its excitement, Dew Blossom took off in a loop-de-loop. "Dew Blossom knows! Dew Blossom knows! Two then one, be all cuddle mates!"

"Well, it didn't quite work out that way... Obi-Wan's become soul bonded to Senator Palpatine."

The sapiopod's surprise was such that it stalled mid-flight and only Qui-Gon's quick thinking kept it from taking a plunge to the ground. Holding out his hand, the Jedi Master caught it safely. Dew Blossom recovered quickly, standing on the palm of Qui-Gon's hand, the delicate nature of its wings belied by the fierce anger in its eyes at the news.

"That not right!" It claimed. "Red-Gold Highthing belong with Sky-Eyed Highthing. Everybody know that! Oooh.... Dew Blossom much vexed!"

It was funny, Qui-Gon reflected, how the fury of such a tiny creature made him feel better.

The sapiopod made as if to launch itself out of Qui-Gon's hand. "Dew Blossom fix..."

"Oh no you don't, Bug," Qui-Gon cupped his hands around the sapiopod, gently preventing the creature from leaving. "I think there is more to Senator Palpatine than first meets the eye. We will have to go carefully - there's too much chance you could be hurt." Seeing the stubborn set to its tiny features, he hastily continued. "We're going to rescue Obi-Wan tonight and your assistance is vital to our plan."

"Dew Blossom help!"

"Yes, I knew you would," Qui-Gon quickly outlined the need to get Obi-Wan a message. "So, you see, we need you to tell Obi-Wan that help is on the way. Do you think you can find Palpatine's quarters, sneak in, and give Obi the message?"

Dew Blossom took to the air again. "Can do! Can do! Dew Blossom find Mucky-Dark Highthing's place, tell Red-Gold Highthing not worry."

Qui-Gon winced at the creature's shrill voice. "Thank you, Dew Blossom. Now, can you do it quietly?"

The sapiopod landed on a nearby stone bench, making a show of tiptoeing across its length. "Dew Blossom all stillquiet," it whispered. "Mucky-Dark Highthing will be all fuss fusted, not even know Dew Blossom there!"

"Very good. Thank you," Qui-Gon's words of appreciation were short, but heartfelt.

"Dew Blossom go now," it said, catapulting itself into the air once again. "Sky-Eyed Highthing not worry either. Will fix, will fix."

Qui-Gon watched the winged creature until it was out of sight, his spirits rising even as the sapiopod climbed higher into the air. Force willing, Obi-Wan would soon be freed from Palpatine's control.

In hindsight, however, the Jedi Master realized that he never once questioned whether or not the Force was willing...

************************************

Deep in the bowels of Coruscant's historical repositories, a hooded figure haunted the ancient Jedi records. There was little chance that he would meet another soul in this dusty and forgotten place, but he had to be careful. It wouldn't do at all for someone in his leadership position to be observed perusing the few remaining texts that contained information about the Sith...

**********************************

In the shadowed recesses of a seldomly used corridor, a cloaked figure detached itself from the darkness that gathered between the buildings; just one more sliver of gloom in the dim evening of Coruscant's artificial twilight. Joing the striding figure that was rapidly making its way down the deserted passage, Maul was careful not to look at his master. One day he might be the equal of the Sith lord, but this was not that day.

Palpatine acknowledged Maul's presence with a brief sideways glance, pleased at his student's deferential demeanor. Unlike some apprentices he could name, the Sith-in-training, could follow an order.

"I am pleased with your progress," the senator said, finally breaking the silence. "You have done well, my young apprentice, in arranging the xxx's formation of the Trade Federation."

"Thank you, my master," Maul kept his countenance neutral, knowing that his tatoos would betray any facial expression. Despite the waves of agitation he could sense flowing off his teacher, Palpatine appeared to be in a good mood. This was not an entirely welcome state. People had been known to suffer because of Palpatine's good moods. Master or no, Maul had no intention of being one of them.

"I have decided that you are ready to meet your first Jedi.:

"Master?" Maul came to a complete stop, the need for clarification outweighing the risk of offending his teacher. "Are we prepared to reveal ourselves to the Jedi?"

Maul was lucky. Palpatine already had a recipient in mind for bearing the brunt of his current humor.

"Not *the* Jedi," he corrected the other man, "*a* Jedi. I think it is high time our pet padawan had the opportunity to meet a real student of the Force."

As the full meaning of his master's words penetrated his understanding, Maul smiled.

**********************************

"Hello! Hello!"

The stridently cheerful voice drove off the last vestiages of Obi-Wan Kenobi's dream. The apprentice was not at all sorry to see it dissipate. Even though the vision was vague, it disturbed him. Nebulous impressions of pulsating light. His master's voice, thin with strain. And superimposed over everything... Palpatine's triumphant laughter.

Obi-Wan fought the stifling blanket of unconsciousness, a sense of urgency driving him. Heaving eyelids were finally convinced to lift and the young man struggled to focus his groggy gaze on the tiny face peering intently into his own.

"Hello! Red-Gold Highthing all wakey-wakey!"

Obi-Wan's battered mind could not at first comprehend the sapiopod's presence. "Dew Blossom? What are you doing here?"

"Aw... Red-Gold Highthing not be all cranky-pants! Dew Blossom fly long way to see pretty one..."

~ to be continued ~


Author's Note:    Despite my best intentions, this story was never finished. I'd intended to, but it's been years now and it looks less and less likely that it will happen.  <sigh>  My apologies!  I've the wrong personality, I discovered the hard way, to write a WiP.

 

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