The Heart Bond

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: This story exists because of saraid, who gave me both the plot bunny and permission to use the Grand Dance. Thanks to all the folk on IRC, who traded off duties threatening me to get this fic done. *g* Thanks especially to Tera and Kalia, who helped me get over a couple of tough snags in the story line.

To Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Grand Dance was joy. He was never more at home than when he moved through its steps, never more at peace than when he executed its moves. When he performed it, the Force flowed more smoothly around him and through him, and he felt more connected with his Master than at any other time.

To some Jedi, the Grand Dance was a skill. To others, an art form. To Obi-Wan, it was a form of meditation so deep it verged on prayer. Thus the Padawan was glad when Qui-Gon informed him that they would be practicing the Dance, for he had a troubled heart.

As always, Master and Padawan began slowly. In the beginning, it was merely a physical exercise. The exertion heated Obi-Wan's muscles, cleared his mind and, as his body remembered the motions, allowed him to stop thinking and let his body take over. He relaxed his mind, and the Force moved more freely through him, guiding him. Obi-Wan closed his eyes and allowed it to guide his actions, hardly aware that the speed of the Dance had nearly tripled from what it had been when they began.

Fingers of power brushed across Obi-Wan's soul like the caress of a lover, soothing the aches of heart and body alike. His frustration at not completing an exercise earlier, his concern over his Master's recent introspectiveness, the ever present ache of longing...all of it was drawn away by the touch of the Force. The feelings would almost certainly return. They were a part of him, after all. But for now, Obi-Wan was at peace.

As the Grand Dance reached the speed of an actual battle, the Force twined itself about the bond between Padawan and Master. The bond grew stronger, more complete, allowing Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon to move as one, to share thoughts and emotions, to draw strength and to give strength.

They were moving faster now than ever before. The hiss of a lightsaber blade only millimeters from skin, the leaps and the speed all drew gasps from the audience that had gathered in the training room to watch. Obi- Wan was oblivious to it all. He was aware, with a growing sense of wonder, only of the increasing strength of his bond to Qui-Gon. As his mind reached out to Qui- Gon's, it no longer seemed important that there were things he didn't want his Master to know. The Force was with him and, trusting it completely, he reached out for his Master as he had never dared to before...

...And sensed Qui-Gon reaching for him as well. The joy of discovery strengthened Obi-Wan, and his mind brushed his Master's. There was a moment when love rushed into the Padawan like the high tide, when he felt his own love being accepted, when they were one.

Then a wall slammed down between them, wrenching them apart so brutally that an actual physical pain tore through Obi-Wan. His awareness snapped back to his body and he realized that the Dance was over. He had been literally knocked off his feet by the suddenness of his separation from Qui-Gon. Blinking to clear his eyes, Obi-Wan saw that Qui-Gon, too, was sitting on the floor in a dazed heap.

Tentatively reaching out, Obi-Wan found the wall still raised between himself and his Master. They were cut off from each other more completely that they had ever been, even before Qui-Gon became his Master. Confused and hurt, Obi-Wan looked around for the source of the block and found Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, a Council Member, regarding him dispassionately.

"Come," he said to the two of them, "I have called the Council together. You must come before them."

Obi-Wan, slightly disoriented by his Master's absence from his mind, climbed to his feet and glanced at Qui- Gon for explanation. The other man met his gaze briefly, and Obi-Wan was startled to see deep sadness there.

It was only when he and Qui-Gon followed Ki-Adi- Mundi into the Council chamber that Obi-Wan realized the seriousness of their situation, though he still didn't know what that situation was. In the space of fifteen minutes, the entire Council had assembled. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon moved to stand facing the senior Council members as Ki-Adi-Mundi took his seat. Yoda regarded them intently, with perhaps a touch of sadness. "Know what you have done, do you?" he asked.

"No," Obi-Wan said, even as his Master answered yes.

"Began a Heart Bond, you did," Yoda explained. Obi- Wan remained confused.

"Master Qui-Gon," Mace Windu said, leaning forward slightly, "you know that such a bond is forbidden between Master and Apprentice. Yet you reached for it!"

"No!" Obi-Wan objected. "I don't understand what we've done wrong, but I know that I reached for my Master."

"Reach for each other, you did," Yoda said sagely. Master Windu sighed, as if this merely compounded the offense.

"Such a bond is discouraged between two Jedi, and is forbidden between Master and Padawan," Windu went on. "Jedi cannot be allowed to place each other over their duties. A Master cannot take advantage of his Padawan," a brisk hand motion silenced Obi-Wan's objection, "and a Padawan cannot tie himself so completely to his Master."

"All of this you knew," this to Qui-Gon.

"My heart reached for him," Qui-Gon admitted, "there was little thinking in it."

"And that is the problem," Master Ki-Adi-Mundi replied, his voice calm. "You know what must happen now."

Obi-Wan's eye widened, his heart beating faster. He glanced at Qui-Gon only to see his Master bowing his head in resignation. The wall still stood between them, and it was then that Obi-Wan realized his mind would never touch his Master's again. He did not need to hear Mace Windu tell Qui-Gon that he would leave for Imbuloc without his Padawan to know it. He did not need to be told that Master Sarii would be his Master to know that the Council was taking Qui-Gon from him. It was all there in his Master's sorrowful, resigned expression.

As Qui-Gon turned to leave the Council chamber, Obi- Wan touched him on the arm to stop him. Then, uncaring of the Council, he wrapped his arms about his Master in goodbye. "You will always be my Master," he whispered into Qui-Gon's ear. Then they were pulling apart, Qui-Gon touching Obi-Wan's braid in silent acknowledgement of his words.

Silence reigned among the Jedi in the Council chamber until Master Sarii arrived to take Obi-Wan into her care. Sarii was not human. She was a tall, slender alien with milky white skin and vivid red hair. On her, the Jedi robes looked more like a gown. She beckoned, and Obi- Wan followed her quietly.

"I hope you understand the Council's reasoning on this matter, Padawan," she said, her voice melodic. Obi-Wan did not answer. "It was the wisest choice."

"Perhaps, Baan," Obi-Wan said quietly, using the formal address of her people rather than 'Master', "but it was not the right choice."

"You should call me 'Master', Obi-Wan," she said gently.

"You are not my Master."

Those were the last words he spoke that day.

That night, in his room, Obi-Wan composed himself to meditate. He calmed his mind easily, all thoughts focused on his meditation. Reaching out with his mind, the Padawan sought his Master. As he had hoped, the block that Ki-Adi-Mundi had placed between him and Qui-Gon had been dissolved, leaving distance to keep them apart. Knowing that Qui-Gon was beyond his range, Obi-Wan poured his strength into their tenuous bond. The Force was with them, he knew.

Three weeks later, Master Sarii spoke with Ki-Adi- Mundi, Mace Windu and Yoda. "I do not know if I can continue training Obi-Wan," she said, tiredly. "He does as he is told, but only in response to a direct command. You may have noticed that he has ceased eating with the others. This is because, unless I directly order him, he takes all his meals in his rooms. He will not converse freely with me, instead responding only to questions. And he refuses to call me 'Master'. He will only address me as Baan."

"Dislike you, he does?" Yoda asked, his tone concerned.

"No, it's not like that," Sarii frowned, shaking her head. "It's more like he is unwilling to acknowledge me. I sense no anger or hatred in him. To be honest, he is more in touch with the Force than any Padawan I have ever seen."

Master Windu frowned. "Do you think his feelings for Qui-Gon were interfering with his potential?"

"I think not," Yoda said. "Inspired, he is, to contact his Master."

Sarii nodded. "He spends every evening in deep meditation, but he keeps himself tightly shielded. I do not know what he does. In truth, I have not touched his mind at all."

"No? You haven't formed a bond with him?"

"He has not allowed me to, Master Windu. The one time I confronted him, he told me quite calmly that I was not his Master, would never be his Master and thus had no place bonding with him. He felt this so deeply that I became convinced it would be an invasion of his mind to press for it."

While the four Masters discussed him, Obi-Wan was once again meditating. Over the last weeks, he had felt his bond to his Master growing stronger. The night before, he'd discovered that he was not the only one pouring strength into the bond. Qui-Gon also reached for him nightly. Tonight, his mind at the very end of its range, Obi-Wan felt a vague sense of alarm. Danger. No fear, but there was never fear. The peril was enough.

Rising from his place on his knees, facing the starlit window of his quarters, Obi-Wan donned his cloak, clipped his lightsaber to his belt and picked up a small bag that lay, already packed, at the foot of his bed.

Blast the Council. His Master needed him.

Obi-Wan's absence was not discovered until the next morning, when Sarii came to his quarters to find him after he had not appeared for training that morning. She was about to contact Yoda when Mace Windu touched her mind in summons. Arriving in the Council chambers, she was informed that Master Jinn had disappeared from his quarters on Imbuloc, where he had been investigating the theft of an artifact sacred to two cultures.

"Masters," she said respectfully, "this news solves a mystery of my own. Obi-Wan has disappeared from his quarters. His bed has not been slept in."

"We called you here because we felt this might be a danger," Ki-Adi-Mundi said.

"But we had not expected him to already be gone," Master Windu said, his brow creased. "We ourselves did not receive this news until this morning, yet you say he left last night." Sarii nodded.

"Know the purpose of his mediations now, we do," Yoda nodded.

"Is it possible to sense another a such a distance?" Sarii asked, astonished.

"Distance matters little in concerns of the heart," Ki-Adi- Mundi replied. "And they were bonded more closely than any Master and Padawan I have seen. If they reached for each other..."

"Touch, they could," Yoda finished.

"Shall I go after him?"

"No. It is not necessary. We know where he has gone."

Obi-Wan lay on the tiny bunk of his cramped compartment in the freighter. It had been the first ship leaving Coruscant for a planet anywhere near Imbuloc. As it was, he was going to have to either hire a pilot or find another ride from his current destination, Mahdiw. Closing his eyes, Obi-Wan reached for Qui-Gon and was able to sense his Master more strongly. A disturbing impression of being unable to move came to him but, thankfully, no pain.

The trip to Mahdiw went uneventfully, but their arrival was not so smooth. Just as Obi-Wan was about to disembark, a squad of obviously military men marched up to the hatch. "Unit one," their leader directed, "secure the crew and any passengers. Units two and three, search the ship."

"Excuse me, sir," Obi-Wan addressed the leader politely, "but might I ask what you're looking for?"

The leader glanced at the Jedi in irritation, but answered. "The merchant that owns this ship is suspected of smuggling. We're searching for the illegal merchandise." His question answered, Obi-Wan obediently followed the soldier that directed him to an empty cargo bay. As he walked, his cloak billowed out slightly and the soldier, glancing his way, stiffened noticeably. The soldier motioned briskly with one hand, and Obi-Wan abruptly found himself held tightly between two of the soldiers.

"Sir!" his guide said, "I think this one is a Jedi!"

"Your evidence, Unit leader?" the Squad leader asked. In answer, the Unit leader pulled back Obi-Wan's robe to reveal his lightsaber. The Squad leader nodded briskly. "Take him to a shielded cell. And make sure there are always at least three of you watching him! They can't play their Jedi tricks on that many at once."

Obi-Wan forced himself to let go of his fear and his anger as quickly as they came to him. He could not afford such emotions. They would break the tenuous contact he had with his Master. The Force was with him. He would find a way out of this.

Nearly a day later, in a cell that prevented him from reaching out with the Force as surely as dark emotions did, Obi-Wan was not so sure. He was watched by three guards in 2-hour rotations. At the moment, one of them was wearing his lightsaber as a trophy. It was not his situation, however, that worried Obi-Wan. It was the delay. There had been a spike of pain along his bond to his Master more than an hour before. How much longer did Qui-Gon have?

Startlingly, Obi-Wan felt a gentle tap at his mental shields. Lowering them invitation, he received a greeting.

//Hello, Jedi. I am the prisoner across from you.// Obi- Wan looked up to see a young humanoid woman dressed in a green jumpsuit with a stylized gold sun over her heart.


//My abilities are my own,// she answered. //They do not come from the Force. Thus the shields do not affect me.//

//Why have you not freed yourself, then?//

//Even before you arrived, they had two guards on watch. I'm a pilot, not a warrior, and I'm sworn not to use my abilities to control.// She smiled at his ruefully. //But I can open a path through the shield for you. Together we might prevail.//

//Why are you here?// Obi-Wan asked, reluctant to free another, but drawn to by his desire to join his Master.

//For smuggling, of course. Although I was smuggling people.//

//People? What had they done?//

//Fallen in love,// she answered, her tone sad. //The religion of this planet condemns same-sex couples to death. I was trying to see them to a safe haven.//

Her answer struck a chord in Obi-Wan. He did not know if she had drawn a scenario to which he would be sympathetic from his mind, but he trusted the Force to guide him. //I do not know if I have the strength,// He admitted. //I will try.//

//There is no try. Isn't that a Jedi saying?//

//So it is,// Obi-Wan replied. //You will have to disable the guards shortly after you are released. I don't know how long I'll be able to hold them.// Then he lay back on the narrow sleeping ledge in his cell and composed himself. Drawing on the Force, he reached out to wrap confusion around two of the guards. That he managed, but he reached the end of his strength when attempting to influence the third into releasing his fellow prisoner. //Master!// he called out in desperation, trying desperately not to let his fear of failure sever their bond.

A sudden surge of strength came to Obi-Wan along their connection, and in one mental lunge the Padawan forced the third guard to the control panel. Urgency overcame finesse, and the man simply slapped at the controls until the containing forcefield was deactivated. Obi-Wan mentally collapsed, hoping he had done enough.

A gently touch on his arm assured him that he had. "We have to go, Jedi. We have less than two hours before the new shift arrives."

Opening his eyes and rising, he said, "My name is Obi- Wan Kenobi."

"And mine is Liza Torat," she smiled gently. They left the cells, Obi-Wan pausing briefly to retrieve his lightsaber from one of the guards that Liza had stunned with their own weapons. They moved through the guard station at a run, Obi-Wan tiredly pushing attackers back with the Force. They were out in the streets by the time a squad armed with full powered blasters were in pursuit. Liza moved as if to take cover behind a building, but Obi-Wan stopped her with a wave of his hand.

"Keep going!" he called, igniting his lightsaber. "I'll protect our rear." She threw him a questioning glance, but continued running down the open street. Obi-Wan turned to run backwards, allowing the Force to guide his movements. Blaster shots arched towards them, but they bounced against blue fire and were sent back to their source nearly as fast.

It seemed like they had been running forever when Liza grabbed Obi-Wan by the arm and jerked him to the side. Glancing around, he saw that they were in a corridor of a ship's hangar. "Up," Liza said, gesturing to a vent she'd opened on the ceiling. Obi-Wan nodded and sprang up easily, catching the edge and pulling himself into the narrow ventilation shaft. He turned, held his hand out to Liza and helped her pull herself up into the space. Squirming as silently as possible along the smooth, cold metal, the two of them passed over the heads of the guard that had been set on Liza's spaceship.

Reaching a vent not far from Liza's ship, the two fugitives looked down and saw the guards that had been pursuing them arguing with those that had been posted around the ship. "We have to go now," he whispered to Liza, "while they're distracting each other."

"They'll hear us the minute we hit the floor!" she hissed.

"We'll never have a better chance," he replied, his voice calm though he was trembling with fatigue. With that, he dropped from the vent, hitting the floor with a dull thud. Even as the guards turned to fire at him, Liza was jumping down behind him. She broke into a run towards her ship, trusting Obi-Wan to guard her back as he had done in the street.

Obi-Wan was so tired that the Force seemed to rasp over his mind instead of flowing smoothly. Every motion of his lightsaber was an effort, every step a struggle. When his heel met the ramp descending from the open hatch of Liza's ship, he simply fell backwards onto it. As she raised the ramp, bringing him into the safety of the ship, a last blaster shot burned its way across his shoulder. It was too much. Obi-Wan slipped into unconsciousness.

Qui-Gon filled his dreams. Mostly, he held his Padawan, comforted him and gave him strength. Near the end of the dream, Qui-Gon gently kissed Obi-Wan's forehead and released him. When he awoke he was lying on a bunk in one of the ship's cabins, dressed only his trousers. His shoulder was swathed in white bandages. Rising, he carefully pulled on his robes, leaving the cloak hanging on a hook near the bed.

He found Liza in the pilot's chair. The ship must have been set on automatic, because she was leaning back in her seat, watching the stars. She turned to look at him as he entered the room. "Feeling better?"

"Yes, considerably. How long did I sleep?"

"A couple of hours. You Jedi heal fast."

Obi-Wan nodded absently and reached for his Master. Only to find that they were nearly out of range. "Liza! Where are we going?" he asked, forcing himself to calmness.

"To Coruscant, of course," she said, confused. "I thought you'd want..."

"No. We can't go back. I have to get to Imbuloc," Obi- Wan said intensely, not sure if the mind trick would work on a telepath, but willing to try. He just hoped it wouldn't be necessary.


"My Master is in danger on Imbuloc. He needs me, I must go to help him."

Liza regarded him intently for a moment before turning to the controls and reprogramming the autopilot. "You called out to him just before we escaped, didn't you?"

"Yes," Obi-Wan admitted. "He lent me strength that he could little afford giving. I only hope that I will not be too late."

"If he is your Master, why are you not with him?"

"It's a long story."

"We have time," Liza pointed out. "And I want to know what I'm getting into." Obi-Wan hesitated, but had to admit that she was right. She needed to know, so he settled back to explain.

In the end, Obi-Wan's story served only to cement Liza's determination to help him. She had, after all, recently failed in a much similar mission. She wanted, she told him, to make amends in her heart for that failure.

As they drew closer to Imbuloc, Obi-Wan's bond to Qui- Gon grew stronger and more definite. During the day, his Master's emotions flowed to him, unshielded, along the bond. They could not afford to close their minds to each other even the slightest bit, when their connection was so thin. At night, Obi-Wan dreamed of Qui-Gon. Sometimes his Master would lend him strength to heal. Sometimes Obi-Wan would lend Qui-Gon strength of spirit.

Liza and Obi-Wan were less than a day from Imbuloc, the Master/Padawan bond nearly as strong as it had been when they were last together, when Obi-Wan reached for his Master and found a shield instead. After being in touch with Qui-Gon for weeks, after sharing every thought for days, the shock was severe enough that the Padawan actually gasped.

"What's wrong?" Liza asked, turning away from the controls. She had put the ship on manual when they entered Imbuloc's system, just in case.

"Something is very wrong," Obi-Wan murmured. "My Master has shut me out. He has shielded his mind against mine. He is trying to protect me, I know it."

"We'll be there soon," Liza said firmly. "Just hang on for a few more hours."

Imbuloc was a beautiful world. It's skies shone lavender instead of blue, though it's atmosphere was friendly to humans. The cities of one of the resident cultures rose in delicate, twisting spirals to brush the clouds. The multicolored tents of the other culture, a nomadic people, decorated the hills just beyond the city.

Liza applied formally for permission to land and received it quickly enough. Obi-Wan could not see the beauty of the world. It reminded him of his Master's mission, and that reminded him of Qui-Gon's pain. And his withdrawal.

The city dwellers and the nomads of Imbuloc both held the Summer Crown sacred. In the name of peace, it was long ago decided that the Crown would be kept among the nomads on evenly numbered years and among the city dwellers on oddly numbered years. This was the last month of an odd year, and the Crown had disappeared from its place in the Palace.

The nomads were immediately suspicious, and accused the city dwellers of hiding the Crown so that it could not be returned to the nomads. In response, the city dwellers insisted that the nomads, impatient, had taken the Crown early. Finally, the King of the city dwellers appealed to the Jedi Council for help. Qui-Gon was dispatched. Now, Obi-Wan was unsure of how he'd been received, or how he was going to explain his presence. He left the ship, Liza remaining aboard in case they had need of a quick lift off. Hurrying towards Obi-Wan was a distinctly avian alien with apparently functional wings fluttering nervously behind its shoulders. "Welcome sir, sir..." it piped musically, sounding distinctly frightened.

"Kenobi," Obi-Wan supplied, feeling that it would be unwise to provide his rank.

"Sir Kenobi. I'm Minister Threeel," it placed one hand on Obi-Wan's arm and guided him hurriedly from the landing platform into the building. "I'm very glad you are here. Master Jinn thought he had found the Summer Crown when he disappeared. He said he just had to confirm his information! And now it's only days until the Crown must be handed over and no one knows where it is!" As it spoke, the Minister's voice rose until Obi- Wan had to suppress a flinch at the high pitched whistle.

"Minister Threeel," Obi-Wan said, inwardly relieved that he had been handed an explanation for his presence, "It would be more efficient for me to find Master Jinn than to repeat his entire investigation."

"Of course, of course, anything you need." Minister Threeel complied.

"Take me to Master Jinn's quarters," Obi-Wan commanded, clasping his hands inside the voluminous sleeves of his cloak. Minister Threeel bobbed his head and led the way itself.

It turned out that Liza, when she had been granted permission to land, had be granted permission to dock directly at the Palace. Threeel preceded Obi-Wan through a series of high ceilinged hallways and showed him to the suit of rooms that had been assigned to Qui- Gon.

"Thank you," Obi-Wan said. "Please ensure than I am not disturbed during my search". Threeel heard the dismissal in his voice and bobbed its head deferentially before hurrying away. Stepping into the sitting room, Obi-Wan could sense little of his Master's presence. He checked one door and found the bathroom, checked another and found the bedroom. Though the bed was made and his things were arranged neatly, Obi-Wan could sense Qui-Gon much more strongly here.

He moved to the center of the room and knelt, closing his eyes in concentration. After their years as Master and Padawan, Obi-Wan knew the signature of Qui-Gon's life force nearly as well as his own. After the last few weeks, he felt he knew it better. So, drawing on the force, he cast his mind out to find his Master.

The trail was surprisingly clear. Obi-Wan was hardly aware of his surroundings as he rose and followed the faint imprint of his Master. He remained focused on Qui- Gon as he walked, head bowed, hands clasped. Knowing that his Master's presence would be strongest in the place he had been most recently, Obi-Wan was surprised to find himself at the door to another suite of rooms in the palace. He was only a short walk from Qui-Gon's own quarters.

Remembering that Qui-Gon had disappeared just as he was going to confirm his suspicions regarding the theft of the Summer Crown, Obi-Wan raised his hand and knocked on the door. A human man answered. "Can I help you?" he said politely. Despite his outwardly calm demeanor, Obi-Wan sensed a great deal of fear in the man.

"I believe so. I have reason to believe that Master Jinn visited you shortly before his disappearance."

"I don't see why he would have," the man replied, still standing in the doorway.

"Nevertheless, I would appreciate it if you would allow me to come in and speak with you for a moment," Obi- Wan pressed, conscious of the fear building in the man.

After a moment of hesitation, the man stepped back. "Of course. Come in. I fear I have not introduced myself. I am Merchant Teran Fild. Would you sit?"

"That won't be necessary," Obi-Wan commented. His Master had definitely been in this room recently. "May I ask, Merchant Fild, your purpose on Imbuloc?"

"I'm here to negotiate with the Imbuloc trade commission regarding a monopoly of mine," the Merchant said, licking his lips in an unconscious nervous gesture.

"Have you been successful?" the Padawan asked, clasping hands behind his back and walking a circuit of the room.

"The negotiations are still in progress," Fild said. "What, exactly, does this have to do Master Jinn?"

"I was just wondering," Obi-Wan said casually, touching the knob of an inner door, "what motive you could have for kidnapping a Jedi Master." He used the Force to open the lock of the door and turned to see that Fild had drawn a blaster. "You display an alarming lack of knowledge regarding the Jedi," he commented, lips quirking a little, and with a gesture the Force tore the blaster from Fild's shaky grip. It smacked into Obi- Wan's palm and he turned and pushed open the door behind him.

Qui-Gon lay unconscious on the large bed that the room held. He was not bound, but Obi-Wan could tell that he'd been struck on the head at least once and that he was currently drugged. Any other injuries were not apparent, and the shield his Master had raised between them remained.

Behind Obi-Wan, Merchant Fild was frozen in indecision, obviously unsure of how to handle a fully alert and aware Jedi. Even if he was only a Padawan. Obi-Wan saved him the trouble by moving with Jedi speed to inject him with the next dose of whatever drug he had prepared for Qui-Gon. He then quickly called Palace security to the Merchant's rooms and went to check on his Master.

Obi-Wan smoothed Qui-Gon's hair gently back from his forehead and reached out to tap gently on the mental shield that separated them. //Master, I am here. Let me in, allow me to help you to heal.// Qui-Gon blinked blearily, but the shields remained. //Do not protect me from you pain, Master,// Obi-Wan pleaded. //Surely our trials will be easier to bear if we shoulder them together.// Leaning down the Padawan pressed his lips to his Master's forehead. //Do not let the Council separate us. The Force is with us.//

That said, Obi-Wan opened his mind to his Master, touching his forehead to Qui-Gon's as if that would held him past the shield that stood between them. Perhaps it did, for Qui-Gon slowly allowed the barrier between them dissolve. Obi-Wan sighed as he felt an ache in his heart subside. He lent his Master his strength and together they cleared the drug from his system and eased the pain of the head injury.

Sitting up, Qui-Gon said tiredly, "The Merchant struck me before I even knew it was coming. Apparently my suspicions were correct."

"He stole the Summer Crown?"

"Yes. He is here on legitimate business, but he saw an opportunity to secure the Crown for a client of his and took it. It was only the distrust between the two cultures of Imbuloc, I believe, which blinded them to the true culprit." Qui-Gon stood, drawing on Obi-Wan's strength and went to the bedroom door. "Captain," he said to the senior of the Palace guards that had appeared, "I believe you will find the Summer Crown somewhere within these quarters."

"Yes, sir," the Captain said briskly, and directed two of his men to search the rooms while the other two removed the Merchant.

Minister Threeel arrived then, its nervous fluttering much calmed by Qui-Gon's discovery. "Master Jinn!" it piped, "It is a relief to see you well." It might have gone on, but at that moment one of the Palace guards called out and held up the Summer Crown. The Minister immediately went to take the Crown, a delicate thing woven of grass and feathers, into its possession.

"I think it is clear what the priorities are here, Master," Obi-Wan murmured.

Qui-Gon's eyes twinkled, and he turned to address the Minister. "Minister Threeel, I hope you will understand if my apprentice and I take our leave of you. It has been a tiring few days."

"Yes, certainly, of course," the Minister said distractedly, its attention on the Crown. As they left the room, the two Jedi heard it ask no one in particular, "Apprentice?"

Obi-Wan grinned a little and showed his Master the way to Liza's ship, promising an explanation when Qui-Gon cast a querying glance in his direction. Liza either sensed their approach or saw them on the ship's screens, for the hatch opened and the ramp lowered at they approached. Obi-Wan boarded quickly and led Qui-Gon to the pilot's compartment, where he knew he would find Liza.

"Master, this is Liza Torat, my ally. Liza, this is my Master, Qui-Gon Jinn," Obi-Wan said, a touch formally.

"It's an honor to meet you, Master Jinn," Liza said, smiling. "Obi-Wan speaks highly of you."

Qui-Gon bowed respectfully. "The honor is mine, Captain. You have my thanks for assisting my apprentice."

"Go," she said kindly. "Talk, rest. I will take care of our departure in an appropriately diplomatic manner."

Obi-Wan smiled gratefully at her and guided Qui-Gon back to his quarters to rest. The older Jedi sat on the bed and leaned against the wall, his fatigue showing for an instant. There was a moment of silence between them. "You should not have come," Qui-Gon said finally, sighing. "Your new Master will not be pleased. Nor will the Council."

"Master, how could I not come, knowing you were in danger, knowing you were hurt?" Obi-Wan said, concealing his hurt. "You are my heart." He reached up to brush his hand along his Master's cheek, his love clear on his face.

"Obi-Wan, this is exactly the reason we have been forbidden this bond. We cannot place each other first. The Council has ruled against us." Qui-Gon's tone was patient, his heart pained.

"After all the times you have defied the Council," Obi- Wan whispered, his voice anguished, "why must you heed them now?"

"Because they are right, Padawan. Because they are right."

Bowing his head in defeat, Obi-Wan rose to leave. He looked down at his Master, knowing that to leave this room was to leave him, and felt compelled to one request. "Qui-Gon," he said, for he would soon lose the right to call this man Master, "I have one request before I leave."

"Yes, Obi-Wan?"

"Kiss me," he said simply.

Qui-Gon regarded him intently for a long moment, and Obi-Wan returned his gaze calmly. Then the Jedi Master stood and moved to stand in front of his apprentice. Raising his hands to Obi-Wan's face, Qui-Gon gently turned it up and bent his head to press their lips together.

The simple touch of soft, warm lips was pure ecstasy. Before either of them quite knew what was happening, it deepened into a heated, tender exploration. Obi-Wan tasted his beloved, their tongues slipping by one another, their lips sealed together. Strong arms went around his back even as he pulled Qui-Gon closer by fistfuls of his cloak.

There was no protest in Qui-Gon's mind when Obi-Wan stripped that cloak from him. Nor when his belt dropped to the floor, nor when his tunic was shed. Indeed, he undressed Obi-Wan as eagerly, unable to deny the love that was in his heart. The new bond that had begun to be forged during the Grand Dance sprang back into life as if it had never been broken.

The slide of skin against skin sent shivers though both men and they finally had to break the kiss, even Jedi reserves of breath exhausted. Their eyes met, but there were no questions to be asked, no answers to be given. Their hearts were one, their desires the same.

Qui-Gon lay back on the bunk and drew Obi-Wan down atop him. Their injuries were forgotten in the rush of sensations. Obi-Wan kissed his Qui-Gon deeply once again before leaving his lips to place gentle kisses along his collarbone, descending off his shoulder to suckle at one tight nipple. Qui-Gon gasped, all pretenses of control lost. He arched into the warm, wet heat, his fingers clutching at Obi-Wan's shoulders.

The younger man switched his attentions to the other nipple, inwardly pleased with his Master's reaction. Qui- Gon writhed beneath him, his movements rubbing their loins together in a contact just light enough to be the sweetest torture. His hands ran up and down his apprentice's back, stroking lightly from Obi-Wan's shoulders down to his buttocks.

Obi-Wan leaned into the touch and, responding to a silent request, reached for the bottle of massage oil he had used earlier to ease the stiffness of his shoulder. Warming the oil with his hands, he prepared Qui-Gon with infinite tenderness, his touch gentle although he felt that both of them were eager for this. Soon Qui-Gon was pushing back against his touch, wordlessly pleading for more. Obi-Wan complied, the tight heat about his cock sending waves of pleasure burning through his veins, even as he sensed his Master's joy. Then the bond was complete, and he could no longer distinguish his emotions from Qui-Gon's.

Obi-Wan's thrusts stroked over Qui-Gon's prostate and they cried their pleasure together, clinging to one another as they reached their peak. The lovers called each other's names and froze for a moment as they came together. At last, resting in each other's arms in complete satisfaction, Qui-Gon murmured, "Padawan."

"Master," Obi-Wan answered. There was nothing more to be said.

To each other, in any case. There was a great deal to be said to the Council, as they discovered when they returned to Coruscant. They stood side by side before the Council, clasping each other's hand defiantly. Mace Windu sighed deeply. "The fact that Obi-Wan left Master Sarii to help you only illustrates our point, Master Jinn. Surely you understand this?"

"I understand that I would not have been able to complete my mission if Obi-Wan had not come to me," Qui-Gon said firmly, calmly.

"Allow this, we cannot," Yoda insisted.

"With all due respect, Master Yoda," Qui-Gon countered, "there is no longer anything you can to do prevent it, or to keep us apart."

Ki-Adi-Mundi inclined his head in concession of the point. "This is true. But know that you will never rise in the Jedi, Master Jinn, nor will you ever rise above the rank of Knight, Padawan Kenobi." Obi-Wan swallowed, but nodded. "You accept this?"

"I do. I would accept it if I had to leave the Jedi," Obi- Wan answered.

"Would you accept it if you were told not to return to Coruscant?" Mace Windu asked, his eyes sad.

"Is that your command?" Qui-Gon asked.

"It is."

Master and Padawan did not need to consult to know their answer. "Yes. We accept that."

"Then go," Windu told them. "Captain Torat has offered her ship to be your transport and your home, in times to come. We will keep contact, though you may not return."

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon bowed and left the Council chamber, sadness but not regret in their hearts.

"Strong, their bond is," Yoda commented when they had gone.

"Stronger than us," Windu replied.