Betrayed

It was another dirty, noisy spacedock. Obi-Wan reflected that in his seven years as a Padawan he had seen enough of such spaceports that, should he ever need another career, he could qualify as a janitor for any spacedock in the system.

He kept his thoughts to himself, however, as he followed his Master through said dock to find those who would be meeting them. The centralised government on Dartoin was sending its military to serve as liaison, as this was, so the Jedi had been told, a military problem.

Several crates of matibutyloxide had disappeared during transport to a military base. The compound, more commonly known as Mati-Bam, was, as its nickname implied, an explosive. It was a moldable, slightly sticky compound whiose properties made it possible to shape it and put it almost anywhere.

A dab of paint, and it was also very easy to hide.

There were no clues as to who had done it and the government was worried. Terrorists would be thrilled to have the compound, but none of the known subversives seemed to have possession of it. The government was stumped, so someone had called in a few favors and thus, here were the Jedi. Qui-Gon had said nothing about the mission during their trip other than to caution Obi-Wan to keep his lessons in mind.

Obi-Wan hadn't yet decided what that otherwise-silence indicated unless his Master simply didn't know enough about the mission to give him any specific reminders. Dartoin was not a planet the Jedi had been to in several generations and the files on its society and customs were sketchy. They knew it was a typical inner-system planet, reasonably technologically advanced and populated mostly by humans. For particulars they might find anything, but there was no reason to think they would find anything unusual.

As they left the main hanger, Obi-Wan spotted four uniformed figures facing their way. The one in front came to attention as they drew near, and snapped a quick salute. Qui-Gon nodded his head slightly, in ackowledgement. "Colonel Dering?"

"Yes," the man replied without a glance towards Obi-Wan. The other three soldiers were watching Qui-Gon and the area around them. Obi-Wan did nothing to get their attention. He listened as the Colonel introduced his other men, and invited them to accompany them to Headquarters.

Obi-Wan began to feel slightly invisible as they made their way across the capital city. Colonel Dering spent the time giving the Jedi Master a brief update on the seriousness of the situation -- giving no details but stressing who, in which governmental positions both here and on Coruscant, wanted this mission completed quickly.

It wasn't until they arrived at the large, bland building that Obi-Wan realised just what his status for this mission was to be.

Colonel Dering turned to look at him for the first time, but spoke still to Qui-Gon. "I'm sorry, Master Jinn... but regulations prohibit a minor from entering our military installations. It won't be possible for your apprentice to accompany you on our investigation of this theft."

Obi-Wan hid his surprise. He felt Qui-Gon's surprise, but his Master merely nodded. According to Jedi standards he was not technically a minor -- but obviously Dartoin had differ standards. Obi-Wan didn't attempt to correct the man.

The Colonel went on. "We have made arrangements for you to stay at the hotel across the railway." He pointed at a more or less non-descript building across the way from where they stood. Public transport rails were interlaced between them, and Obi-Wan wondered how one was supposed to get across from one building to the other. There were no bridges, and the trains were speeding by with barely a break between them. Colonel Dering continued, almost condescendingly, "Perhaps he could speak to the hotel clerk. I imagine they have maps of the city; he could find something... educational to do while we're working."

Had Obi-Wan not felt his Master's own brief displeasure at the man's words, he would have spoken up then. Instead Obi-Wan said nothing as Qui-Gon turned to him. "Go ahead to the hotel, Padawan. You may consider your time your own. Learn what you can."

Obi-Wan accepted his Master's directions with a short bow then walked away to find passage across the array of rails. His Master's instructions could be taken as Colonel had intended -- if you didn't know Qui-Gon Jinn. Obi-Wan knew what he had meant. Regardless of Colonel Dering's instructions, Obi-Wan would *not* be left out of the investigation; he would simply be investigating from the other side of the fence. Or railway, he amended.

He heard and felt Qui-Gon going with the officers into the building. His Master was calm and focused. He seemed mildly put-off that Obi-Wan had been summarily sent away, but Obi-Wan believed it to be more for the attitude shown towards a youth than any discomfort for losing his apprentice's presence at his side.

Obi-Wan smiled to himself as he considered his role in their mission. Learning what he could meant spending time with the locals, hanging out where he could overhear gossip. *That* meant hanging out where people went to unwind.

It wasn't often he got anything resembling time off. Even when they spent time at the Temple between trips, there were exercises and lessons to be had. Hanging out with other Padawans and the youngest Knights ended up being impromptu sparring sessions and bullsessions which instructed as much as entertained. But now, even though he was working, he would have to work by relaxing and hanging out.

As he surveyed the area around the railways, he frowned. There was no obvious way across the rails. There were no people making their way, to show him where to go. Seeking the Force, he quickly found what he sought and he followed the path it showed. There was an underground tunnel beneath the railways which, once one saw it, was still well-hidden from view.

The hotel was clean and very impersonal. It appeared to cater to planetary-locals rather than foreign visitors. Obi-Wan assumed most aliens ended up at places nearer the spaceports. This might work better for him in obeying his Master's command to learn more about the theft. One of the few things they had been told was that security at the spacedocks made it almost a given that the theft was by locals and that the Mati-Bam was still planetside.

Obi-Wan went to the front desk and was greeted with a warm, polite smile. "How may I help you, sir?" the man asked him in what almost sounded like direct contrast to the way he'd been dismissed by the officers.

"Good afternoon. I am told we have been given a room -- the name will be Master Qui-Gon Jinn."

The man began typing on a small pad. "Yes, Master Jinn--"

Obi-Wan smiled. "I am Obi-Wan Kenobi, his apprentice. My Master will be checking in later."

It was interesting, from an objective sociological viewpoint, to observe how the man's demeanor changed. It was slight, and nothing one could point out to claim offense.

But it was clear. Obi-Wan was no one this gentleman had to impress. Obi-Wan resisted the urge to roll his eyes and levitate the man.

But he got a key, signed his name, and informed the man there would be no luggage -- apparently a novel concept. Obi-Wan went to find the room, leaving the man still standing there, blinking in bewilderment. They had the room for a week; Obi-Wan had to stiffle another urge to tell the man that Jedi often worked naked and they didn't have any taboos about that, did they?

Checking the room out took little time. Wandering through it, Obi-Wan acquainted himself with the available amenities, including the view from the window. There were no air-borne transports, but the streets were full and the windows he could see into showed scores of people going about their daily business. Standing there, he considered what he should do next.

'Learn what you can.'

Easily said, but where to begin?

They had been given very little information concerning the theft; they had been told, upon receiving their assignment, that the Dartoin seemed to be trying to keep the theft covered up. That was understandable; there was no need to cause panic if the matibutyloxide could be retrieved without it.

But everything they *did* know was dependent on working with the military -- who they ought to meet and which installations they would examine for clues. Access and introductions were to be arranged by their liaison as well. None of that would do Obi-Wan little good on his own. Obi-Wan smiled. It wouldn't stop his Master from expecting results. Even if he weren't successful, Obi-Wan needed to do *something* if only to demonstrate his ability to conduct such investigations. Preferably the right something.

He closed his eyes and used the Force.

Bringing up an mental impression of the mission, Obi-Wan focused on his goal of locating the matibutyloxide, then relaxed and waited.

He felt a stir.

As if following some indistinct impulse, he turned and removed his robe. He folded it and left it on the bed. Next came his outer-tunic, tugging the ends free from the belt and lifting it over his head. Part of him was wondering why he was doing this. The rest trusted the instinct which said it would be necessary.

Dressed in only his tight undershirt, pants, belt, and boots, he left the room. Force-trained instinct led him out of the hotel, down the street, and into the city. He walked quickly, knowing his destination was some distance to the north, though he had no idea exactly where or even what that destination was.

He went past what appeared to be respectable businesses, more huge, sprawling offices, and restaurants geared for the respectable working class. He stepped across an invisible border, though, when he crossed another mishmash of railways and found himself somewhere else.

The buildings here were dirtier and more run-down. Bright, gaudy signs proclaimed the names of the businesses here, and the people on the sidewalks were dressed and coifed to impress another sort of mentality than respectable and conservative. At one shop with clothing displayed in its windows; Obi-Wan heeded a wordless instruction from the Force, and stopped and went inside.

He had no idea what he was looking for, but his instincts guided him and he found himself looking at a rack. He reached out and picked up a vest. It was long and full... Obi-Wan realised that if he wore it, it would hide his Jedi's belt and lightsaber completely. He bought it and put it on.

As he continued on his mysterious way, he realised the colours and mismatched prints of the vest eased him into the crowd more than his clean, white Padawan's uniform had. Another block away and he no longer saw those brief glances that asked who was he, and why was he on the wrong side of town.

He walked on, and the city grew more run-down. Both buildings and people showed less and less pride -- or just time and money -- invested in their upkeep. There were people his own age on the sidewalks now, he suddenly realised. Youths, and old people who acted like they had no where else to be.

Obi-Wan frowned, and was wondering why he had been brought here when he spotted his destination. It was a small building with wildly painted walls and a heavy-looking, recessed door. The sign above it said only "Sutden". He had no idea what that meant, but he knocked. A slit opened and two red eyes peered out at him.

"Yeah?"

For a second Obi-Wan had no idea what to do. Mind trick? It didn't seem appropriate, somehow. Instead he narrowed his eyes, tilted his head slightly, and said in a confused tone, "I'm sorry... I'm not sure this is the right place."

There was silence, and Obi-Wan wondered again what he was doing. The Force was unhelpful, his instincts simply telling him to go inside.

The person staring at him through the slit in the door suddenly laughed. Obi-Wan heard a click, then the door was swung open. A hand motioned him inside. As he stepped through he realised there was a forcefield across the threshold; as soon as he was inside the music, smoke, and heat blasted him.

A club. Obi-Wan grinned. He hadn't been clubbing in months, since the last time he and four other Padawans had snuck out of an evening training session and headed for the surface of Coruscant.

The club the Jedi Padawan usually went to, however, was much tamer than this one appeared to be. Bodies were jammed together on the dance floor, often not so much in pairs than in melding and gyrating groups. The music pounded at his temples and chest, and vibrated into his feet through the floor. The smoke and scent of who-knew-what hung in the air, obscuring the ceiling and, he suspected, everything else once it had been stinging his eyes for a while.

Obi-Wan smiled. All right, Force! Even working, he could have some fun, here. The type of place his Master would barely approve of, for pure entertainment. Obi-Wan moved towards the dancefloor, trying to make out individual bodies in the jumbled mass. Arms, heads, and swirling colours made him give it up and he pressed on.

The Force nudged him, and he angled towards on section of the dance floor. There was a boy there who looked to be about his same age, though there were lines on his face and emotions flowing from him which made Obi-Wan realise the boy was no innocent, nor did he care to be.

Obi-Wan went up to him and the boy smiled. He reached out, tugged at Obi-Wan's arm, and pulled him closer into the swirl.


Obi-Wan had no idea how long they had danced. Fast, furious music had pounded out song after song, often with no real breaks inbetween. Obi-Wan never tried to exchange words with the boy, knowing any reply would only be heard with the help of the Force and for some reason he did not want to reveal himself.

Fortunately his training held him in good stead, allowing him to breathe evenly and feel only the slightest exhaustion when his acquaintence finally dragged him away from the dancefloor. They wended their way through people, chairs, and tables. At one the boy snagged a cup and downed whatever was inside before continuing on.

Obi-Wan found himself being taken into a long hallway, and suddenly the music was dimmer, the smoke thinner, and the crowds... occupied. Couples, trios, and something he didn't want to figure out, were lined up along the walls. It was obvious what they were doing.

What he was about to be doing. He had only a moment to ask himself if this was *really* what he wanted to be doing, when the boy turned and kissed him.

His body answered the question with a resounding 'yes!' as he returned the kiss, both with mouths wide as they grappled for something purely physical. Anything more was something they wouldn't get in a dirty hallway with a stranger, but neither seemed to mind. Obi-Wan held his companion still with his hands on the boy's face, continuing the hungry kiss. He asked himself, asked the instincts which led him here, if this was, in fact, where he was meant to be.

'Yes.'

'Huh,' Obi-Wan thought. 'Long as I don't have to explain it to Qui-Gon.'

He let the boy drag him towards the wall, leaning himself up against it and pulling Obi-Wan to press up against him. 'Never let it be said I ignored the will of the Force,' Obi-Wan said to himself as he felt the boy's erection already hard against Obi-Wan's hip.

Obi-Wan ground his hips against the boy's, hearing the groan and realising only then that they had yet to release their kiss. He leaned away, gasping for air, and felt hands digging into his arms and yanking him back.

The boy was desperate, Obi-Wan could feel it pouring out of him as strongly as the hormones urging them both into the wild embrace. Hands began tugging at his clothing; the mouth locked on his own began biting, teeth pulling at his tongue. Deep inside his lover's throat Obi-Wan heard the urgency building in soft moans and growls.

Obi-Wan responded equally, fighting his way past a tight belt and loose shirt tails to find skin. He grabbed onto bony hips, pulling them towards him. The boy's mouth found his again, demanding more even as he moved again to bite at Obi-Wan's jaw and neck. Obi-Wan gave all he could, pressing himself closer and grabbing his companion roughly, yanking at the waistband and nearly slamming the boy back against the wall.

That was apparently just what his companion was waiting for. Spurred into a near-frenzy, the boy had his pants open and was shoving Obi-Wan's hand down inside them before Obi-Wan could think.

As Obi-Wan's hand closed on the hard, hot cock, the boy tensed and grabbed Obi-Wan's head. A tongue pressed inside Obi-Wan's mouth, and every stroke of his hand was matched by a thrust of the tongue. Obi-Wan heard himself moaning, speeding the motion of his hand and closing his eyes as his mouth was similarly plundered.

Obi-Wan heard muffled shouts of passion; he could smell the sex and sweat from the other lovers around them. He grew distracted, and realised dimly that this was not the place he would have chosen. He continued the motions regardless, and the boy suddenly let go and leaned his head back. His eyes rolled as he shouted.

Obi-Wan held him there, one hand on the boy's shoulder and his legs on either side of his lover's. The boy shouted again, his body shaking, and suddenly he was coming in violent spasms.

Hands gripped at Obi-Wan's shoulders, hanging on tightly as the orgasm ripped through. Obi-Wan watched distantly, his own arousal having died somewhere unnoticed along the way.

He watched, oddly amused and not so oddly dispassionate, as the boy slumped against the wall. For several moments he stood there; Obi-Wan felt the tremours in his legs as he fought to stay on his feet. Obi-Wan left his hand and legs in place, holding his companion up until he opened his eyes.

Dazed, almost happy eyes looked at him a moment later.

"Wow. Thanks."

Obi-Wan half-smiled. "You're welcome."

"Oh, hey lemme..." the boy caught Obi-Wan's hand as he reached down to re-fasten his clothing. He stepped away from the wall and grabbed a towel that had been hanging on a bar. It was filthy, and smelled of semen and musk and a dozen other things.

But Obi-Wan let his companion wipe off his hand with a corner of it, and said nothing.

"I'm Dirion." The boy held out a hand. Obi-Wan took it with the hand which had just been wiped clean.

"Ben."

Obi-Wan blinked, wondering why he'd given the name. It was a nickname he'd used as a child, when he'd crawled around the Temple pretending not to be the Jedi student everyone expected so much of, but just a little boy who wanted to find out if he could climb on the statues in the gallery without breaking anything important.

But something had made him do it, no doubt the same something that had brought him thus far. Obi-Wan just returned Dirion's grin.

"Cool. Come on." Dirion led him back into the main room, into the pounding music and smoke. They didn't head for the dance floor this time, instead they stopped at a table. There were four other kids there, who greeted Dirion with waves and smiles. Dirion didn't introduce Obi-Wan over the noise.

Obi-Wan wondered how they were going to communicate at all, then realised quickly -- they weren't. No one tried to say anything; they just sat back and consumed whatever appeared on the table before them, dialed up from a screen in the center of the table.

One girl and boy across from him alternated drinking with necking, and the other two just watched the crowd and exchanged bored looks with the others.

Obi-Wan wondered what the point was.

Dirion handed him a mug of something. It smelled like vinegar and was neon blue. Obi-Wan checked his instincts -- surely he wasn't supposed to drink it?

Dirion was looking at him expectantly. 'This had *better* lead to something good, Force,' Obi-Wan groused and took a deep, quick swallow.

It tasted like vinegar -- until it hit his stomach. Then it burned and the fire spread all the way to his fingertips. Obi-Wan blinked, and grinned at the mug. "Wow."

He felt Dirion nudge his arm, and looked up to find the boy grinning widely. Dirion raised his mug in a toast and Obi-Wan clanked his own against it. This stuff could taste as bad as it wanted to. Obi-Wan had a feeling he was going to love it.


When Obi-Wan opened his eyes, he decided that, yes indeed, he was going to love it. He had never in his life been so drunk, remained in control, *and* avoided a hangover the next day.

However, when he checked his wallet, he discovered he was about twenty credits poorer. The drinks were not cheap. He wondered whom he had bought drinks for, since he was fairly sure he'd only had three.

He was fairly sure he had remained reasonably coherent, but then again, he didn't recall how he'd undressed and climbed into bed. He looked around and saw the hotel room he and Qui-Gon had been given.

His Master was not present, and by the luminous dial of the timepiece, Obi-Wan saw it was late afternoon. His Master was probably somewhere working with Colonel Dering. Obi-Wan pushed himself upright, hoping he could find a gallon of water nearby -- the only symptom he'd noticed so far -- and saw a folded piece of paper.

"Padawan -- please shower before coming to bed tonight. Call when you awaken."

Obi-Wan sniffed himself. Ew. He smelled like Sutden.

And there was only one bed....

Obi-Wan sighed, laughed ruefully, and dragged himself out of bed. He would have to make sure he came home slightly less drunk, tonight -- he glanced out of the window -- tomorrow morning.

It didn't take him long to get showered and dressed in clothing which his Master had obviously sent through the 'fresher and folded for him. He grimaced. This was not the way he wanted to spend their stay here, even if he *had* had a tremendous amount of fun once he'd downed his first mug of whatever. Dirion had dragged him back onto the dance floor at some point; later they had all gone upstairs where the forcefields had made it possible to talk.

There hadn't been much talk, but Obi-Wan had found he had enjoyed the company. Much different from that of his age-mates at the Temple, and vastly different from his nearly-constant companion, Qui-Gon Jinn.

He called his Master on the com-link and got a beeping, which told him Qui-Gon did not wish to be disturbed. There was, however, a recorded message.

"Obi-Wan, as of yet we have found nothing. Let me know if you find anything of use."

Obi-Wan recorded a message in reply, letting his Master know he would do so. Then he checked his belt, ensuring he had done nothing too stupid and left something important behind, then, with an excited grin, headed out of the room.

The walk to the Sutden was as long as before, but he knew his way this time and the Force did not cajole him to hurry. When he arrived, Dirion and the others were hanging outside. Dirion grinned when he saw Obi-Wan.

"Hey! Benabi!" Dirion turned his name into some slang Obi-Wan didn't understand, but the arm around his shoulders and the escort towards the door, he did.

Dirion took a credit-piece from each of them and dropped them in a box. The door was opened and they all filed inside. Obi-Wan noted that his first visit must have been 'on the house' and was glad to know how to get in on his own.

Dirion kept his arm on Obi-Wan, and guided them all upstairs. They found chairs and settled in: Dirion and Obi-Wan together, Muria and Deli together, and Cora and Stufio sitting apart.

Cora sat heavily, then sighed. Obi-Wan felt somewhat sorry for her, but knew she had made her own choice to come this evening. Cora was pregnant, and if his instincts were at all accurate, she was due within a month.

He surreptiously sent her a gentle wave of support with the Force, subtly so that she would not notice anything more than a relaxation explainable by simply sitting down. He watched her smile grow more genuine, then Dirion was handing him a mug and asking for a five-credit piece.

Obi-Wan handed it over. This trip could easily become expensive. It was a good thing he didn't have to worry about where those credits came from. He brought the mug to his lips, reminded himself that after the first three swallows the smell, taste, and tingling on his tongue would no longer matter, and took a drink.

"Gaugh!" He waited as the blue liquid drained into him. "What is this called, anyhow?" Obi-Wan was glad they'd gone directly upstairs this time. He needed to find out why his instincts had insisted he meet them, and he couldn't do that by dancing and having casual sex in the back hall. He was pretty sure, anyhow.

Dirion grinned. "Blue Vinegar."

"You're kidding." Obi-Wan looked at the mug. It was apt, he'd grant that. But surely it had a *name*. Something obscure, or exotic, or....

"What else *could* you call it?" Stufio interrupted his thoughts.

Obi-Wan conceded he had a point, and took another drink. One more swallow and he'd be enjoying it. He hoped he would be able to stop in time to remember his Master's instructions to gather information. And shower.

He took a third drink and smiled.

"Ben, why haven't we seen you around Sutden before?" Deli asked, her bright eyes shining with interest, but, Obi-Wan had a feeling, little intellect.

"I didn't know it was here," he replied with a faint smile. "Until yesterday."

"Oh. Are you from north?"

Obi-Wan didn't have a clue what she meant, but he shook his head, fairly sure that whatever 'north' was, it wasn't Coruscant.

She frowned, and Dirion looked at him and asked, "What do you do, then? If you don't work down here; you don't live down here?"

"I'm a shoemaker," Obi-Wan replied impulsively, with a smile.

Deli wrinkled her nose. "A shoemaker?"

Dirion and the others laughed, Muria rolled his eyes. "He's not a shoemaker, Deli. Droids make shoes."

Deli nodded, eyes going wide as she looked at Obi-Wan. "Wow... that's deep. So you feel like a droid? Call yourself a shoemaker."

Obi-Wan controlled his reaction to that; the others did not. They laughed delightedly, but Deli hardly seemed to notice. She continued bouncing her head slightly up and down, as if weighing the matter in her head and helping it to settle there.

Obi-Wan took another drink of his blue vinegar. The conversation turned, then, to the droids and drones of the world. Brainwashed printouts, Muria called them, people who could have had a life but chose to bend their heads to society. They all agreed with him, and for the remainder of the night they catalogued the ways in which their lives, hard and unsure as they were here in the northern edge of the city, were better because they were free.

Obi-Wan found it fascinating, even found himself chiming in at times, relaying in vague terms the way he'd been ignored and disregarded simply because of his age. It was nothing like what the others were describing, but he had seen enough that he could relate to what it might be like.

Finally they called it a night -- Dirion found they were out of credits and Obi-Wan had no intention of revealing his own cache. He was still reasonably in control, and if he stayed here he'd just have another drink, and then he'd probably end up flinging himself at his Master in drunken lust.

He stopped at that thought. Then he shook his head, laughing at himself. If he had tried such a thing that morning, Qui-Gon would have said something. In his note, at least, politely but firmly correcting him.

Like telling him to shower first.

Obi-Wan stopped again.

Nah.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes briefly, then said cheerful goodnights to his companions, and headed back to the hotel.

He was able to make his way with a good measure of steadiness, entering the hotel with a breezy smile for the front desk clerk and finding the correct room without any trouble. He did check the number on his key three times against the door, just to make certain.

When he opened the door, he looked carefully around for his Master. He saw no sign of him, and stepped inside cautiously. He stifled the urge to call 'yoo-hoo,' and contented himself to searching the small room.

He relaxed when he found Qui-Gon was not there. Heading towards the bed, Obi-Wan wanted to crawl underneath the blankets and pass out for a while. Halfway there he recalled his Master's orders, and reversed his steps for the bathroom.

He dropped his clothes on the floor -- tripping himself up only three times. Once with his pants, once with his boots, and once with his belt. As he stepped out of the fastened belt, he looked at it and tried to figure out why it seemed so weird.

He shrugged and headed into the bathroom. The shower stall was in the corner, two large towels were hanging over the bar nearby. One towel was slightly damp. Obi-Wan grinned and took a towel, setting it on the counter nearer the shower door. Reaching in, he turned the water on, adjusted the temperature, then stepped inside.

He found soap -- at least something that bubbled and foamed when it got wet -- and Obi-Wan began lathering himself vigourously. He got his face, arms, and shirt all washed before he tried to start in on his legs. He kept losing his balance, though, and finally took a handful of the soap with the Force, and applied it to himself while bracing his arms against the shower walls.

'Jedi training,' he thought smugly. 'Comes in handy.'

It wasn't until he tried to rinse his legs that he realised he was seated on the floor with no recollection of how he had gotten there. He shut off the shower with the Force and felt around for the towel.

He blinked when he got a faceful of fluffy, absorbant cloth. He started to dry himself off, then he noticed that the towel was damp and realised he must have already dried himself off.

Grinning at the efficency he'd shown, drying off so quickly, he struggled to his feet and looked for the bed. He frowned when he found that it was nearly on the other side of the room. With a sigh, he began the long trek over.

He finally caught up with the intinerant piece of furniture and lay down. Snuggling something soft and warm, he passed out.


When he opened his eyes he found himself staring at the ceiling, wondering why his eyes felt like sand had been poured in them. He rolled over on the bed and snagged a pillow, trying to go back to sleep.

Then he opened his eyes again.

He hadn't been snuggling Qui-Gon last night, had he? That warm, soft thing he'd grabbed onto? Which had muttered something about soaking the sheets, before Obi-Wan has lost complete consciousness?

Obi-Wan sighed. Apparently three was still too many blue vinegars. Two, he told himself. Tonight it will only be two. He levered himself upright, looked around for the note he knew somehow would be waiting for him.

'I should thank you for taking a shower. Next time wait until I return so I can ensure you survive it.'

Obi-Wan buried his head in his hands.


That night Obi-Wan kept himself to only two mugs of blue vinegar. His new friends didn't comment when he refused a third, and Obi-Wan got the oddest feeling that any behaviour at all would be accepted. They teased each other -- Deli for taking everything seriously, Dirion for picking up strange boys in the club -- but they apparently accepted it all without deridation.

It was a feeling that grew stronger as the third evening progressed. They sat upstairs again, and Obi-Wan tried his best to say nothing that was an outright lie. However, neither did he offer any real truths about who he was or why he was there. The one time he considered telling them, his Force-trained instincts slammed into him so fast he'd accidentally gulped the last of his blue vinegar in one swallow.

He had blinked, wished the Force would take to leaving messages with a service, then dove back into a conversation about what he thought was a local band, but might have been a cash crop.

He and Dirion spent several hours on the dance floor again, though Dirion didn't invite him into the back hall again. Obi-Wan wasn't entirely sure if he were relieved, nor if Dirion were waiting for *him* to do the inviting, next.

He decided that tonight was too soon to worry about it. Instead he concentrated on simply enjoying himself and waiting for some clue as to *why* he was here simply enjoying himself.

When the group left that morning, stumbling outside Sutden to blink dazedly into the sunrise, Obi-Wan re-considered his plan once more.

Maybe only *one* blue vinegar.

He considered calling Qui-Gon to come pick him up and save him the trip back. He was drunk, he *knew* he was drunk, and the hotel was at least an hour's walk away.

On the other hand, he had so far missed getting lectured on the proper behaviour of a Jedi Padawan with too much time on his hands. Obi-Wan sighed, waved goodbye to his friends with promises to meet them again that night, and turned towards the south side of the city.

As he walked, he debated stopping and calling his Master. Eventually he decided that he didn't need to risk annoying Qui-Gon -- besides which he had managed this far without much more than falling into a wall, handing out what he thought was a one-credit piece to a begger but must have been more from the old man's response, and losing his lightsaber.

He'd found it on the other side of his belt, but for a heart-pounding moment he'd been sure his Master was going to kill him.

It wasn't until he reached the hotel and had to let a staffmember open the front door for him that he thought maybe calling Qui-Gon would have been better.

He stumbled in, ignoring the expression on the clerk's face -- Obi-Wan certainly wasn't helping his reputation any. *That* thought stopped him short, and he suddenly and sincerely regretted having done this. Unfortunately he *hadn't* realised he was so drunk until it was too late.

'Should have found out what blue vinegar was, before drinking,' he told himself in his Master's tones. Just because you're acting like you're on vacation is no reason to stop being a Jedi. Especially when you aren't really on vacation.

Feeling worse now than he had tripping over the rails and bruising his knee, Obi-Wan made his way meekly to the hotel room. As he felt for his key, the door opened and Qui-Gon looked down at him. Obi-Wan blushed and looked at the floor.

Qui-Gon took him by the shoulder and guided him inside. Obi-Wan tried very hard not to trip over anything, and failed miserably. Qui-Gon kept him on his feet, however, and steered him towards a chair. Once seated, Obi-Wan relaxed the part of his concentration he'd been trying to use to retain his balance.

Qui-Gon sighed, and crouched before him and picked up Obi-Wan's foot. Obi-Wan blinked as Qui-Gon removed his boot. He watched as his other boot was removed, then when Qui-Gon reached for his vest, asked, "Master? What are you doing?"

"Avoiding damage to yourself and the hotel room," came the reply.

Obi-Wan tried again. "Aren't you... mad?"

Qui-Gon gave him a look which Obi-Wan couldn't, in his current state, decipher. But he said, "No, Padawan. I believe you have already come to whatever conclusions I would have counselled you to find."

Obi-Wan flushed, knowing his Master was right. He just wished he had come to those conclusions earlier. Yesterday, if not the day before. He realised his Master had stripped him of all but his pants, and was now trying to pull Obi-Wan to his feet.

"Master?" he asked, trying to help by standing up. Qui-Gon caught him and gave him a look which said the help wasn't helping.

"Yes, Obi-Wan?" he replied patiently, however.

"Do you love me?"

"Of course, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said as he propped Obi-Wan upright with the Force, and removed the last of his clothes.

Obi-Wan leaned into the wall behind him, thinking that it *felt* like his Master, and not just any random Jedi's manipulation of the Force. He smiled, but shook his head. "No, I mean, do you love me?"

He found himself naked, and giggled. This was going well. Naked, Qui-Gon on his knees before him.... Wasn't there supposed to be something else, though? One of them should say something.

"Come, Obi-Wan. You will need a shower before you fall asleep."

Obi-Wan didn't think that was quite it. Qui-Gon took him by the arm and gently half-steered, half-carried him towards the bathroom.

He did his best to help with the shower, until Qui-Gon firmly took Obi-Wan's hands and placed them at his sides and told him to stand *still*.

Finally, after being washed and dried -- making him feel like a five year-old, which made him giggle again -- his Master aimed him for the bed. Obi-Wan yawned and went willingly, grabbing at Qui-Gon's arm as he laid down.

"Do you?" he asked again, closing his eyes and revelling in the touch of his Master's hand on his face. He sighed, and the next thing he knew he was alone in the room, alone in the bed, and the sun was going down again.


On the fourth night, and every night for a week after, Obi-Wan drank no more than a half mug of Blue Vinegar. He shared it with Dirion or Stufio, after having read up on the properties of the drink.

He had also taken his Master's advice -- yet another note, when he had awakened the evening after being given his shower -- and eaten a large breakfast/dinner and performed his meditations before leaving the hotel. It served to center him, and provide him with the fortitude to withstand the alcohol.

For a week he spent his time with Dirion and the others at Sutden, dancing, talking, and drinking. Each morning he made his way -- soberly -- to the hotel and snuck into the room without waking Qui-Gon. At least Qui-Gon let him think he wasn't woken as Obi-Wan came in, showered, and climbed carefully into bed.

Each evening when Obi-Wan opened his eyes there was a new note, telling him nothing had been found. Obi-Wan left his own notes, saying the same thing. Obi-Wan was beginning to think the Force had misled him -- rather, he had misunderstood its direction, or missed whatever he had been there for when it had happened.

But every time he thought of not going back to the club, his instincts prodded him. So he went, he partied, and he waited.

Dirion had finally gotten tired of waiting for him to make the next move, and dragged him off the dance floor one night and into the back hall. The hallway looked exactly the same as it had the first time, though the bodies were, he hoped, different individuals. He noticed that some of the doors along the hall were open.

Dirion dragged him towards one open door and let out a gleeful yelp when it proved to be empty. He took them inside and closed the door firmly. "Do you mind?" Dirion asked as he stepped forward.

"Why should I mind?" Obi-Wan asked, surprised. Dirion was undoing his pants, leaving them up, but open.

"Don't know," Dirion winked. "But it's polite to ask." He laughed, then launched himself at Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan caught him, and found himself being groped by hands and mouth. It was rather like being mauled by a large cat -- without the claws, and with some rather arousing noises coming from his companion. Obi-Wan grabbed onto Dirion and pulled him closer, feeling behind him for the bed as he manoeuvred them backwards.

Dirion didn't seem to mind, or notice, the motion. He just continued his assault on Obi-Wan, apparently intent on devouring every inch of Obi-Wan's skin. Obi-Wan stopped trying to control the direction of their movement and fell back onto the bed. Dirion landed inbetween his legs and grinned down at him, eyes fairly glowing with arousal.

Obi-Wan swallowed nervously. As Dirion grabbed his hips and yanked his pants down, exposing him from waist all the way to the knee, Obi-Wan whispered a short entreaty that he survive whatever was about to ensue. Then he grinned.

Or that he would at least die happy.

Dirion fumbled around in his back pocket and brought out a small packet. He tore it open and squeezed something onto his fingers. Obi-Wan stared, bringing his knees towards his chest without needing to be asked. He was getting hard, and tried to relax. From the way Dirion was eyeing him and panting, it wasn't likely he would take the time to do this slowly.

Obi-Wan felt two fingers push inside him and he cried out. He tried to move his legs up to wrap around Dirion's waist to pull him closer, but his pants, still down around his lower legs, got in the way. Dirion laughed, and responded by wriggling his fingers.

Obi-Wan cried out again. He moved his hips, trying to push against Dirion's hand. Dirion placed his other hand on Obi-Wan's stomach, holding him down. Obi-Wan inhaled sharply, and suddenly he was being stretched.

He tried to whimper, tried to make any sort of noise that Dirion could take as encouragement. Instead he could only breathe and grab onto the blanket underneath him, twisting the cloth in his fists as Dirion jammed his fingers in deeper.

It occurred to him that in his readings on Blue Vinegar, there had been a small notation to the effect that the liquid heightened certain sensory experiences. Obi-Wan hoped this was one of them, for if this were unenhanced, the rest of the sex would surely kill him.

He finally gasped and shouted, "Do it!" in a moment when Dirion held his fingers still. Obi-Wan didn't know why he'd done it, didn't care, he just wanted more of what Dirion was momentarily not giving him.

Dirion leaned over him, and nipped at his neck. Obi-Wan growled at him.

"All right, all right! Give a guy a second...." Dirion grinned at him again, and Obi-Wan tried to think of a way to make him shut up and hurry.

Before anything came to mind, Dirion was kneeling on the edge of the bed. Obi-Wan felt a pressure against his anus, then he was being split open. Dirion slid in ungracefully, without any warning or gentleness. He went in as far as Obi-Wan's body would allow, then he pulled out, and thrust in again.

Obi-Wan cried out and tried to move, tried again to relax. Dirion began thrusting a little faster, all the way, then all the way out. Obi-Wan bit his lip as his body screamed for more and did his best not to use the Force to give Dirion a push. Or a pull. Or push and pull, a hell of a lot faster than he was already thrusting.

Then Dirion was pressing down on him, covering Obi-Wan with his body, and slamming hard inside him. Obi-Wan pushed his hips upwards, rubbing against Dirion as best as he could, trapped there underneath him. Dirion suddenly began screaming, crying words Obi-Wan couldn't make out. They didn't matter; he was finally thrusting faster, and Obi-Wan felt himself about to come. All he needed was one... more....

Dirion froze above him, trapped in the tension of his orgasm. Obi-Wan whimpered, still left hanging, and tried to reach between their bodies to grab himself. Dirion moved again, thrusting once, then he started to slip forward. Obi-Wan nearly screamed in frustration as he tried to squeeze his hand in between their bodies.

After another moment Dirion opened his eyes and took Obi-Wan in his hand. Within seconds Dirion had jerked him off, bringing him to orgasm that left him panting, aching, and feeling very, very empty.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and wished he were someplace else.


Obi-Wan didn't stay long at the Sutden that night. When he left, no one remarked on it, simply saying good-bye and see you tomorrow and not asking why so early.

He headed back to the hotel, early enough this time that he was able to catch a ride part-way on the train. He wanted a shower, suddenly feeling a desperate need to scrub himself clean under water as hot as he could stand.

He sighed at himself, knowing that there was nothing to be upset about. It was nothing, really, just casual sex with a casual friend. No reason to be upset, certainly no reason to be ashamed.

But he wanted to strip himself down and hide under a blanket, and tell himself that it hadn't happened. Whatever he was doing, he trusted his feelings. They were telling him he was still on the right path. Path to what, he didn't know. But he had done what needed doing, even if he hadn't a clue what that could be.

Subdued, he made his way to the hotel room he shared with his Master, and keyed the door open. He found Qui-Gon sitting in meditation in the center of the room.

Obi-Wan took a deep breath, and found himself relaxing. He left his Master in meditation, though, and headed for the shower. He dropped his clothes in a pile just inside the door, and was glad to see they had been provided with fresh towels.

He turned on the hot water and stepped under the spray; then he sat down on the shower floor and let it wash over him. He felt exhausted. His brain was fuzzy, and he was tired and sore and empty.

He grabbed the soap with a slight extension of the Force, and brought it down to himself. He lathered it up and washed as best as he could without standing up. His limbs were beginning to feel like they were filled with wet sand. As soon as he had everything soapy that he could reach, he tilted his head up and let the water rinse him clean.

He sat there, eyes closed, for what felt like an hour. It probably wasn't, because the water was still hot when he finally shut it off. Obi-Wan struggled to his feet, grabbed for a towel and tried to dry himself. He found it a too daunting of a task, with his whole body now feeling like he'd spent the day sparring with three Master Jedi. He wrapped the towel around his waist and headed for the bed.

"Padawan?"

"Yes, Master?" Obi-Wan curtailed his bee-line for the bed, and turned towards Qui-Gon. He propped his eyes open through sheer willpower.

Qui-Gon said nothing, but smiled slightly. "Nevermind, Obi-Wan. I shall just leave you another note."

Obi-Wan nodded, and took three steps, and fell onto the bed. It was soft, and warm, and smelled of his Master.

He fell asleep with a smile on his face, not sure the next morning if he'd dreamt the brief touch on his head.


Obi-Wan avoided going anywhere with Dirion but the dance floor after that. Dirion didn't seem to mind, at least he didn't mention it. Obi-Wan wondered for about the dozenth time what Dirion was up to. Perhaps he was simply up to nothing, Obi-Wan realised, and was taking things as they came. 'Party now, worry later,' seemed to be the motto of a lot of the people frequenting the Sutden.

One night Stufio nudged him. They were all sitting upstairs, listening to the music and sharing mugs of daffa ale. No one could afford the Blue Vinegar tonight, not even Obi-Wan. He hadn't wanted to ask Qui-Gon for more credits, so he was down to making his last ten stretch as long as he could.

He looked over at Stufio, and found the other boy giving him a decidely measuring look. "You wanna know something, Ben?" Stufio asked after a moment.

"Sure," Obi-Wan shrugged.

"You're pretty tight with Dirion," he continued. "I figure that means you're ok -- he's got good instincts about people. You're no drone."

"Thanks." Obi-Wan had no idea where this was going, but he knew by now what drones were and knew his friends disapproved of them.

Stufio nodded and sidled closer, dropping his voice. "You wanna know something?"

Obi-Wan didn't point out that he'd already been asked, and already said yes. Instead he nodded.

"We've shown 'em." Stufio smiled, satisfied, and leant back.

Obi-Wan blinked. "Shown who?"

"Them." Stufio picked up his mug and took a long swallow.

Obi-Wan looked at the others to see if anyone had any idea what Stufio was talking about.

"Them, the drones. The government. The ones who want to turn us all into mind-slaves," Cora explained. "They think we're useless the way we are. But we've shown them we're not."

"How?"

The four exchanged looks, then Dirion stood up. "We'll show you."

They took him north, towards the edge of the city. None of them said a word about where they were going, or why, but Obi-Wan had a feeling it was something important.

They reached a block of warehouses, most of which appeared abandoned for their original purpose. People had turned them into living quarters, rigging power lines and scavanging throw-aways for materials. They went inside one building which appeared sparsely populated -- it looked to Obi-Wan like it was about to fall down.

Dirion took a handlight off his belt as they made their way inside, and led them through the debris and partially blocked hallways to a room. He shone the light on several new, gleaming, stacked crates. Each was marked "Med. AA4 Cofurs."

Obi-Wan felt his stomach hit the floor.

He'd just found the Mati-Bam.

Dirion was explaining. "I work for this trucking company, and they make this big deal about how I'm not good for anyone but lifting boxes. On account I dropped out of their high and righteous schooling."

Obi-Wan nodded. He knew what had happened, now. The military shipped certain dangerous items 'undercover'. Labeled as medicines for a rural base in Cofurs, the Mati-Bam had vanished during shipment.

Dirion continued, "We figured we could show them we have brains; we have initiative. We just don't agree with them about what to do with our lives. So we took some crates, and figured sooner or later they'd come crawling around, asking where it is."

Muria shook his head. "Only they hain't, yet."

Obi-Wan sighed. Brains, that was questionable. But it was clear they had no idea what they'd stolen. "What do you intend on doing?" he asked, in case they were ready to give up the prank and return the goods.

Dirion shrugged. "Leave it, I guess. Show people what we've done," he added with a grin.

"I'm sorry." Obi-Wan took his com-link out. Before he switched it on, he added quietly, "If you leave now, they won't find you when they arrive."

The five stared at him in varying degrees of shock. Deli seemed the least surprised... but that was likely due to the fact that she really didn't care *what* was going on. Dirion seemed mostly disgusted as he turned immediately on his heel and strode out. Deli and Stufio followed, looking betrayed as well as puzzled.

Cora and Muria waited in the dark as Obi-Wan opened the com-link.

"Yes, Obi-Wan?"

"Master, I've located the Matibutyloxide."

There was a moment of silence. Then, "Where?"

"I believe it would be easiest if you simply tracked my via the com-link," Obi-Wan told him. He had walked here and could give directions, but didn't know what sort of address the military liaison would consider useful.

"We're on our way," Qui-Gon said. Obi-Wan left his com-link open and set it on one crate. He reached out and took Cora and Muria by their arms and guided them carefully towards the door.

"Wha--" Muria began, and Obi-Wan stifled the noise with his hand. Neither tried to say anything more until they exited the building.

Obi-Wan let them go, then, and started to tell them again to leave. Before he could, Cora cried out, clutching her stomach. Muria and Obi-Wan both grabbed her arms. Obi-Wan could feel the ripples in the Force -- she had gone into labour.

"Get her in there," he directed, nodding towards a nearby building -- not the one they'd just come out of.

Cora was moaning again, each sharper cry allowing Obi-Wan to time her contractions. They half-carried her into the building and through the first open door. Someone lived here, but was not home at present. They placed Cora gently onto the pallet on the floor, and Obi-Wan told Muria to find anything he could which was clean.

He laid Cora back against a bundle of something, using it for a pillow. All the while he spoke to her, calmly as he could, and prepared to deliver the child.

"I'll send Muria back for the com-link, and arrange for you to be taken to a hospital. There might be time--"

"No!" she interrupted. "No, please, I can't. They'll taken him away from me."

"Cora," he began again, trying to soothe her.

"No. You don't understand. They'll take him and make him one of them. I can't... I know I can't keep him but I've already...." She stopped, fighting the pain again until Obi-Wan used the Force to calm her. She panted, closed her eyes for a moment, then looked at him squarely. "I've already arranged for him to go to the underground clinic. He'll be adopted by a family that's approved. A family that believes, like we do. They might not have money or a pension from the state, but they'll have jobs and a home. And they'll have their freedom. My son will, too."

Obi-Wan nodded, knowing that, for the moment, keeping her calm was more important than arguing the child's welfare. Besides, he realised as she let him lean her back again, she was likely right. All that he had heard and seen in his admittedly short time in the north, told him that she was right. The south part of the city was wealthy, secure, and lifeless. The north was dirty, poor, and thrived with energy.

"All right," he told her. "He shall not be taken. I promise." The words were out before he realised he meant them. Just as he had let them escape the military's recovery of the stolen explosives, he would do what must be done to preserve her son's freedom.

Muria came back, then, with a towel and a pitcher of water. He set them down. "You need water, right, to birth a baby? They always say you need water."

Obi-Wan smiled. "Thank you, Muria. Now, please, sit at her head and hold her." Muria did as instructed, and moved to sit beside Cora where she could lean against him.

Obi-Wan propped her legs up, still speaking calmly and encouragingly to her. He continued to use the Force to guide her pain away, letting through only the urges her body was sending to give birth. He detected no signs of distress from the baby, and was glad to realise the birth would be an easy one. Relatively speaking, he amended, glancing at their surroundings.

He picked up the towel Muria had brought and saw that it would not do. Obi-Wan pulled his vest off and removed his shirt, which was mostly clean -- it had at least been sanitised earlier that evening when he'd run it through the 'fresher. Obi-Wan spread it across his knees in easy reach. Then he returned all his attention to Cora.

With Muria holding her, the Force to shunt away the pain, and all the medical training he'd received at the Jedi Temple, the birth was almost a breeze. Cora remained quiet as the labour intensified, straining to push and hanging onto Muria's hands. Obi-Wan monitored the child and Cora closely, and soon Obi-Wan saw the baby's head crowning.

Before he knew it, he was holding a screaming infant in his arms and grinning like he was the father, himself. He suddenly remembered he needed to cut the cord, and tried to think of what there was available.

Of course. He knotted the cord, then removed his lightsaber and dialed it down to almost nothing. With the shortened blade he cut the cord easily. He shut the saber off and handed the baby to his mother.

He ignored the look he was getting from Muria and got to his feet. "Wait here," he said, and headed out of the room.

His Master would be here soon, and they had little time to get Muria and Cora -- and child -- out of here. He got as far as the main door, before he felt his Master's presence. As well, he heard the engine of a military car arriving. He ducked back and ran down the hall.

"Muria, you've got to get them out of here. The gats are here; hurry!" He helped Cora get to her feet, holding onto her as Muria tried to get her moving. Obi-Wan sent her what energy he could, helping her to recover more quickly. Then he sent them down the hall in the other direction, trusting Muria to know the best way out of the area.

Then he hurried back to meet his Master, trying to banish from his mind all surface thoughts of the five, so Qui-Gon would not pick it up and mention them in front of the soldiers. He thought of the Mati-Bam and how Colonel Dering would react to its recovery by someone too young to have been cleared to search for it.

He found his Master waiting in the hallway outside the room where the Mati-Bam had been cached. "Padawan," his Master greeted him, then he handed over Obi-Wan's com-link.

Obi-Wan knew he was waiting for an explanation. 'They ran, I went after' was the first excuse that came to mind, but it entailed lying to Qui-Gon. That, he would not do. He glanced at Colonel Dering, who stepped out of the room wih a nod. Several soldiers were inside, Obi-Wan could see, some holding large portable lights.

"This is it. We'll move it out now." Dering glanced towards Obi-Wan, then said to Qui-Gon, "Thank you for your assistance."

Obi-Wan fought the urge to roll his eyes. He followed his Master out of the building, then stopped when Qui-Gon turned to face him. From his Master's expression, he knew Qui-Gon was aware that something more had happened.

"Where are the ones responsible for this, Padawan?" his Master asked.

Obi-Wan shifted from one foot to the other, then said simply, "Gone."

Qui-Gon looked down at him expectantly. Obi-Wan didn't say anything more. The soldiers were still moving about, carrying crates out to their truck.

Colonel Dering stepped up, then, and spoke once more to his Master. "It is all here, the crates are all unopened. I thank you, Master Jinn, for your assistance in retreiving the matibutyloxide. Do you have any information on the persons responsible for its theft?"

Obi-Wan stood patiently, wondering why the man could not even now look at him since *he* was the one the question should have gone to. Qui-Gon turned to him, but said nothing, a look of expectation asking the question again.

"I'm sorry, Master. Colonel Dering. I can't tell you who did it."

He saw the slight change in his Master's expression and winced, inwardly. Colonel Dering just scowled, and nodded. "I'll leave a team to cover the area, we'll find who did it. Master Jinn... with the matibutyloxide safely retrieved, your services will no longer be required. Hunting down thieves is a task we can handle, ourselves."

Obi-Wan hoped it was not, but he dared not do or say anything more than he had already done.

As the Colonel moved away, Qui-Gon turned his attention completely on Obi-Wan. "Why can you not tell them who stole the compound?"

Obi-Wan looked down, but when he would have spoken, another soldier walked near and he kept quiet. He couldn't risk them finding out that he knew.

"Padawan?"

Obi-Wan flinched. 'Not now, Master,' he wanted to say. But he couldn't even risk that much. Not with Cora and Muria still possibly too nearby.

But the tone of his Master's voice was enough to make him want to confess all, right there. Just to answer the disappointment, explain away his master's belief that he had chosen badly.

"Come, Padawan." Qui-Gon turned, and began walking away. Obi-Wan had to hurry to catch up and walk along beside him.

"Master," he began, as soon as they were barely out of the soldier's hearing.

"They were your friends?" Qui-Gon asked.

"Uh... yes, Master. The ones I meet at--" He glanced back to make sure, and bit his tongue. One of the soldiers was watching them go.

"I see."

Obi-Wan whipped his head around to stare, dumbfounded, at his Master's mild tone. Qui-Gon was going to accept it. He didn't like it, didn't approve, and thought -- for Obi-Wan knew how it must look -- that Obi-Wan had chosen his friends over the mission.

But he was going to accept it.

"Master, please," he begged, grabbing Qui-Gon's sleeve. "I didn't. It isn't how you think." They were half a block away, now, and unless the soldiers has listening devices, they could not overhear. Obi-Wan looked around again and decided that more distance was probably paranoid, but still not too bad an idea. He urged Qui-Gon to keep walking with him, farther away.

Qui-Gon followed, frowning. "Obi-Wan, what is going on?"

Obi-Wan began talking quietly, as fast as he could. "Master, I know who did this but I can't turn them in. You don't know what will happen to them!"

"On the contrary, Padawan, I know quite well. Colonel Dering was quite clear."

"He was? Then... then you know?" Obi-Wan shook his head. Qui-Gon *couldn't* know. "What did he say?" Obi-Wan asked, suspiciously.

"It depended, of course, on the motives of those involved. Imprisonment, had they planned on using the substance. Education and counselling, in any event. Nothing objectionable, Padawan. You need not protect your friends," he added, frowning still.

Obi-Wan shook his head. "That's not true. Master, that isn't what happens. I've seen it -- they showed me friends of theirs, people they knew, people they'd once known -- who'd been caught and 'educated'. They aren't educated, they're brainwashed. Turned into civil, obedient, mindless drones."

"They showed you this?" Qui-Gon didn't sound convinced, but Obi-Wan knew he would continue to listen.

Obi-Wan nodded. "I know how it must sound. But Master, I've been down here for two weeks, where the government can't always reach. They meant no harm by what they did. They didn't even know what they'd stolen! They don't deserve -- or need -- to lose everything. Their freedom, their minds...."

"Padawan, are you certain you are not over-stating their case?"

Obi-Wan stopped and stared at his Master. "Fifteen minutes ago I helped one of them give birth. I held her son in my hands as he took his first breath. If I thought for one moment he would be better off in the south, in... in *that*," he pointed to the sterile buildings towering in the distance. "Then I would gladly give you and Colonel Dering their names. I would have kept them there, for that matter, and let them be caught. But I do not. So I let them go."

Qui-Gon regarded him for a long moment. Obi-Wan continued to face him, not quite going as far as crossing his arms in defiance. Qui-Gon walked beside him silently, then asked calmly, "How is the child?"

Obi-Wan blinked. "Fine. Healthy, at least. They've... they've taken him to a clinic where he'll be given to parents who can care for him. Not...." He looked south. "Not state-approved, but good folk all the same."

"I see."

Obi-Wan waited. Qui-Gon no longer seemed upset, but.... "Master?"

Qui-Gon began walking again. But the tension and disappointment had faded and Obi-Wan found himself smiling. "What was it like?" came the unexpected question a minute later.

"Wha-? Oh! Master, it was incredible. Like holding the Force in my hands, only... only... I don't know. More so. It was..."

Qui-Gon laughed, once, as he trailed off.

"It was amazing, Master," Obi-Wan concluded, unable to fully express how it had felt. Even under the circumstances of the child's birth, and though he had had no time to reflect on it til now, it had been... amazing. "I can't describe it."

"Yes, Obi-Wan. I know."

"You do?"

Qui-Gon nodded. As they walked back towards the south end of the city, towards the spaceport where they would board their ship and head for home, Qui-Gon began to tell him of one of the times he had assisted at a birth.

Obi-Wan walked closely beside him, listening happily.