Summary: Action/Romance: Just another mission for Qui Gon and Obi Wan as they deal with rare jewels, pirates, kidnappers, and two lovesick sisters. (sequel to my story "Saber Dance")
Author's note: I did what I did in this piece under the claim of 'Romantic License'.
Disclaimer: I write purely for my own amusement and occasionally that of others. Infringement of any copyrights held by George Lucas is not my intention.
"I don't understand this," Obi Wan was saying, breaking into a jog every few steps to keep up with Qui Gon as he strode into the hangar and over towards the waiting cargo ship. "Is it possible we've become famous somehow?" he teased with a hint of a smile. "Why else would the owner of this vessel specifically request us by name to the Council for this mission when any Jedi would qualify? This will be simple compared to what we were originally assigned."
Qui Gon glanced back at his young apprentice. "Perhaps someone whom we helped once...recommended us. I honestly don't know. It is uncommon, but not unheard of. What I don't understand is why the council agreed to this person's request when we had already been assigned to Polovia. Then to go so far as to cancel that assignment at the last minute when they knew we had been preparing for it for two weeks and then assign it to another team."
Qui Gon stopped walking abruptly and faced Obi Wan, shaking his head in disbelief. Obi Wan took the opportunity to catch his breath. He drew up beside his master and merely nodded in agreement, letting Qui Gon rant. The Jedi Master's eyes were dark and his expression conveyed his irritation. "To protect and to serve people is one thing. To protect and serve their materialistic wealth is another." He turned suddenly and continued on to the waiting ship. "They don't need Jedi to guard a shipment of jewels. A security force from the Republic would suffice."
It was obvious to Obi Wan, his master was more than a little miffed. He could sense it and he also knew Qui Gon had a habit of lengthening his stride whenever he was upset. He glided effortlessly through the large hangar now, his dark robe billowing out behind him, snapping softly in the air with each sharp turn he made.
Though puzzled by this turn of events, Obi Wan didn't mind the last minute reassignment.
"Master, the Council did mention their plotted course would take them through an unsecured sector and the cargo of jewels could attract the attention of pirates. There has been reported activity there," Obi Wan relayed, trying to placate Qui Gon with the possibility of having to protect the crew and passengers.
"That's another thing," Qui Gon said, stopping again and facing Obi Wan. His apprentice almost ran into him. "What kind of navigator takes a ship full of precious jewels through an unsecured sector?"
Obi Wan drew in a long breath, shifted the bag he was carrying over to his other shoulder and fought a smile. "A naive one?"
Qui Gon put his hands on his hips. "We can only hope the rest of the crew isn't that inept."
Obi Wan couldn't remember the last time he had seen his master this incensed. "I'll take a look at the charts when we get on board. Maybe I can find a better route. Aurelia is where the jewels are going once we load them from Istse. That's where the mine is, but that system is still secured. So actually we will be going from one secured system to another. I believe it is around the planet Dorvan that we might run into trouble. There has to be a way around it."
Qui Gon turned and gazed at the cargo vessel looming before him. He nodded. "It's a small ship, few passengers, not very affluent looking. Maybe pirates won't consider it worthy of an attack."
Obi Wan smiled slightly. Qui Gon seemed more concerned now than angry, as he began regarding their mission in a new light. Defending passengers from danger was much more worthy of Jedi Knights than merely babysitting pretty rocks. Obi Wan remembered when they were back on Coruscant at the Temple, after just having been told of the sudden change of plans, Qui Gon had muttered something about wasting his time with this assignment. Needless to say, they had left the Council on less than cordial terms. Obi Wan trusted the Council, however, and knew there had to be a better reason to assign them here besides public relations. The threat of piracy might be more imminent than first suspected by either Jedi.
Walking side by side now, at a much more reasonable pace, Qui Gon and Obi Wan started up the boarding ramp and entered the ship. The pilot was waiting with a protocol droid. He smiled broadly as they approached.
"Ah, welcome aboard the Decipher, distinguished Jedi envoy," the pilot greeted. "As I'm sure you know, this ship is owned by the Alcor Crystal Company." He gestured grandly about him. "All of us on board here are employees of Orman Gemstone, a division of the Alcor Company. I am your captain, Rolak Fostey. This is HJK-260. We are very pleased your council has allowed you to grace us with your presence. The shipment of uncut star allees we are about to receive is the largest and finest our mines have produced. It is very reassuring to us to know you are here to assist us in seeing these gems reach Aurelia safely."
Obi Wan could feel Qui Gon bristle beside him. His master took a deep steadying breath and gestured at Obi Wan. "This is Obi Wan Kenobi. I am Qui Gon Jinn. We are here to see that you and the other crew members and passengers reach Aurelia safely, not the gems. Since we are here, and might I add under duress, I want it made clear that I will not be putting my apprentice or myself in harm's way for the sake of cargo, no matter how large or fine it may be, or how vital to the financial security of your company--"
"Orman Gemstone," Captain Fostey supplied.
"--Orman Gemstone," Qui Gon finished.
Captain Fostey gave his droid a wary look. "As you wish, Master Jinn. Though ensuring the safety of one will inevitably ensure the safety of the other." He bowed slightly. "We place our ensured safety in your hands."
Defused once more, Qui Gon returned the bow. "Thank you Captain. Now if you'll excuse us momentarily, perhaps HJK could show us to our quarters? Then, my apprentice would like to have a look at your navigational charts. We would also require...Did you say Orman?"
Captain Fostey nodded. He didn't understand the two Jedis' suddenly shocked frozen expressions.
"Orman," Obi Wan repeated with a barely contained smile. "Master, I think I know why we were specifically requested for this mission."
Qui Gon closed his eyes and passed his large hand over them in exasperation. When he spoke, his voice was strangely subdued. "Captain, by chance do you happen to have a listing of your crew and passengers?"
The captain nodded at HJK-260 and the droid stalked off to the bridge, returning with a small data pad in his hand. He handed it to Captain Fostey who in turn, gave it to Qui Gon.
Qui Gon took it, glanced at it and handed it quickly back. Obi Wan looked over at him questioningly, but Qui Gon ignored him.
"We will be leaving shortly. Please ready yourselves for departure," Captain Fostey told the Jedi then spoke quietly to HJK. The protocol droid suddenly stepped forward.
"This way sirs." The droid started off. Qui Gon and Obi Wan bowed once more, then turned and followed HJK.
Obi Wan couldn't wait any longer. He locked his eyes on his master, grinning wildly.
"Well? Are they here?"
Qui Gon sighed heavily then nodded. Inside, his heart twitched.
Mandie Orman crossed the room to answer the soft metallic knock on the door of her quarters. She glanced back at the handsome young man seated in a chair by the door that adjoined her stepsister's room.
"Excuse me, Corbin," she addressed him politely. He merely smiled and shrugged, content to remain where he was.
Mandie opened the door. The droid HJK-260 stood there, facing the other direction. When he heard the door open, he turned. "Pardon me, Miss Orman," HJ began. "I was told to notify Miss Tia when the Jedi had arrived. I am unable to locate her. Would you, by any chance, know of her whereabouts?"
Mandie's heart began racing. She shook her head quickly. "Ah...No. I don't. Sorry. But I can tell her if I see her." Suddenly all she could think of was 'he's here, right now, right this very second....'
"Very well, Miss, but be sure to inform her. She was most emphatic about knowing the minute they arrived," HJ went on.
"Where...where are they now?" Mandie asked, her mouth feeling curiously dry.
"I have just shown them to their quarters on B deck. I am to return there shortly to take Jedi Kenobi to the bridge."
Jedi Kenobi, Mandie repeated savoringly in her mind. She sighed softly and licked her lips unconsciously. "Thank you HJ. I promise if I see Tia, I'll tell her Obi Wan is here. Um...I mean the Jedi." HJ bowed and stalked off. Mandie closed the door.
Her mind was spinning. It had been so long since she had last seen him. My first kiss, she thought. When they had parted seven months ago, she was certain she would never get to see him again, but her memories of the special evening they shared on the terrace had always kept him close to her heart and her feelings for him had deepened. To the point where Corbin, her current boyfriend, was not measuring up.
"I don't understand why we have to have Jedi on board," Corbin muttered, interrupting Mandie's thoughts. "We've never had Jedi on our cargo ships before."
Mandie turned to face him. In truth, she had forgotten he was still sitting there. "This is an important shipment, Corbin. And without a real navigator or a first officer, Tia thought the Jedi could help us out."
"You could have easily hired a navigator or pulled a first officer from another ship. I understand your sister had to pull quite a few strings to get these 'wizards' here in the first place. And what exactly are they good for anyway? They're creepy if you ask me."
Mandie walked over to him, struggling to control her rising irritation. "They are not. They are quite clever actually and very skilled warriors." She looked down at him and frowned. He gazed back at her with deep set dark eyes. Like all Aurelians, Corbin had long hair and sharp attractive features. Looking at him now, Mandie could understand what had attracted her to him in the beginning. If only his personality matched his dark good looks. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think you were jealous."
Corbin reached up and took Mandie's hand. "Damn right I'm jealous. You don't have to defend them so wholeheartedly, I might just get the idea that you are intrigued by them. Maybe one of them has already cast a spell on you, hmm?" He tried to pull Mandie onto his lap but she resisted. He frowned. "Look, I take it back. It's just that you're my girl, and I know how these mysterious types tend to attract you."
Mandie smiled slightly. "You're not mysterious, and I was attracted to you," she soothed, but was careful to use the past tense. She let him pull her down to his lap and put his arms around her. The last thing she wanted was for him to start any trouble because he felt jealous. She knew, as a salesman, Corbin had a vested interest in the shipment, but she wished he hadn't insisted on coming along. Their relationship was getting sour fast and he refused to notice her lack of interest. And when Mandie had found out Tia had managed to enlist the aid of two familiar Jedi, Mandie would have done anything to keep Corbin away.
"That's better," he whispered in her ear. He kissed her cheek. "If I catch one of those Jedi even looking at you..."
Mandie rolled her eyes.
Once the ship had gone into hyperspace and Obi Wan had left for the bridge, Qui Gon began to walk slowly through the ship's interior, familiarizing himself with the layout and location of different facilities. He made his way to the empty cargo hold and inspected it, telling himself it was important to see that everything was in good working order. Deep down inside, he knew he was searching the ship for a different reason.
He made his way back onto the upper decks, gliding soundlessly through each hall, passing each door with a new sense of purpose. He stretched out with the Force, heightening his senses, wondering if he would even remember the feeling of her presence. It had been a long time since he had last felt it.
His thoughts drifted back despite his best effort to keep them at bay. He remembered the way she felt in his arms, the way she moved with him as they danced, and the way she seemed to absorb him into herself as he kissed her. Her parting words were a promise never to forget him. His very presence here was proof that she had kept her promise.
He hadn't forgotten her either. Her presence occurred to him faintly at first, but with assured familiarity. She was coming towards him, but he could not see her yet. He stopped walking and waited in quiet anticipation.
She turned the corner and stopped cold when she spied him. Her large gray eyes shined and a slow smile crept over her face. She sighed deeply and moved towards him.
"Qui Gon Jinn, my, my, my. You're even more handsome than I remembered." She stopped directly in front of him, her eyes sweeping down the length of him admiringly.
Qui Gon smiled easily. "Hello Tia." She looked just as beautiful now in her simple uniform as she had in the formal gown at the reception so many months ago.
She sighed again. "Oh and that voice. How many times in these past seven months I longed to hear you say my name." She reached up tentatively and touched his hair. "How did you know I was on board? You must have arrived just before we took off." She frowned suddenly. "Useless droid, I can't trust him to follow a simple request," she muttered more to herself than Qui Gon.
"Captain Fostey happened to mention Orman Gemstone. Then I asked for a list of passengers."
Tia looked disappointed. "Damn, I wanted to surprise you."
Qui Gon laughed. "If it's any consolation, I was quite surprised. And even more surprised to see your name listed as a crew member."
"Yes, well," Tia shrugged. "We lost two officers to another shipping line at the last minute and I had to step in as navigator for this trip."
Qui Gon's brow furrowed. "You're our navigator?" He shook his head. That explained a lot. "Have you ever navigated prior to this?"
Tia gazed up at him innocently. "Well, no, but I'm studying to be a navigator. So I do know more than an ordinary civilian."
"Did you realize you had plotted a course through an unsecured sector? A sector that has reported pirate activity?" Qui Gon inquired. Tia smiled, looking at him as if he were actually whispering sweet nothings in her ear instead of criticizing her capabilities as a navigator. Qui Gon sighed, feeling himself being drawn closer to her, his eyes locked on hers. It seemed she was even more beautiful than he remembered. Valiantly trying to stay focused on their current navigating problem, he turned away from her and began walking slowly down the hall. "I hope you won't be too insulted then if I have Obi Wan plot a new route for us," he continued. "He's on the bridge now, going over the charts. If there's a better route, he'll find it."
Tia came up beside him. "Well good luck to him, then."
Qui Gon was surprised by her reply. "Why do you say that?"
"Simply because, there is no other way to go. I plotted the most straightforward route I could. From here to Istse, to Dorvan, to Aurelia."
"Dorvan? But we're not going to Dorvan. Dorvan should be avoided at all costs."
Tia shook her head. "We have to go to Dorvan. We have to take Corbin Roos there."
Qui Gon stopped walking and faced her. "Who is Corbin Roos and why do we have to risk being attacked by pirates to take him to Dorvan?"
"Corbin is one of our rising young salesmen. He insisted we go to Dorvan so he could take some samples to the palace in the capital city. He's hoping to spark enough interest in the star allees to establish a name for us there. As far as we know, no other gemstone dealers cater to that sector. It could mean a lot of revenue for us," Tia explained.
But Qui Gon was already shaking his head. "Absolutely not," he stated emphatically. "If he wants to play door-to-door salesman in pirate-infested quadrants, he can do it with a ship that is not under my protection. It's too dangerous to venture near Dorvan, and that's not a good enough reason to risk our lives."
Tia opened her mouth to protest, but then smiled instead. "Ooo, I love that commanding tone of yours," she teased. She sidled up to him and slipped her arms around his waist. "I get to see a whole other side of you here. I knew requesting the help of the Jedi would spice things up a bit."
Qui Gon gazed down at her, fighting a smile. "I'm not here to 'spice' anything up," he replied. "My presence here was specifically requested by a certain person or persons that for the time being shall remain nameless, to see to the safety and well being of this vessel and that is exactly what I intend to do." He slowly wrapped his arms around her back, pulling her tightly against him.
"That certain nameless person is very grateful for your presence," Tia replied. She gazed longingly at him. "I missed you," she whispered suddenly. "That's why I asked the council specifically for you. But we also needed help. We needed protection. The cargo is valuable and we knew things could go wrong. My father asked me to personally oversee this shipment. And more importantly, Mandie is with me. I knew this trip might be risky but she goes where I go. We were supposed to get a security guard or two from Istse to accompany us to Dorvan and Aurelia, but I wanted more. I wanted us to feel absolutely safe and in capable hands. I wanted Jedi."
Qui Gon sighed. He lowered his head. Tia parted her lips invitingly, her eyes closing slowly drawing him closer and closer until his mouth was on hers, kissing her with tantalizing thoroughness. It felt as right and as sweetly satisfying as the last kiss they had shared on a dance floor many months before. That time between them seemed to disappear as if it never existed.
Mandie walked determinedly towards the bridge. She couldn't wait any longer. She wanted to see Obi Wan. Unfortunately, Corbin insisted on going with her. She tried to tell herself it was better to see him with Corbin along, than to not see him at all. She turned and looked back at her boyfriend.
"I'll only be a minute. I just want to welcome him on board," she explained. "HJ said he was on the bridge so he must be busy doing something. I'm sure he won't really have time to talk to me. Can't you just wait for me back in the room? When I get back, we'll go get something to eat, okay?" She thought it was worth one last try to ditch him.
"Maybe I'd like to welcome him on board myself," Corbin replied.
"Fine," Mandie said and sighed heavily. Maybe it won't be so bad having Corbin meet him. Maybe she was expecting too much anyway. Maybe Obi Wan wouldn't care that she had a boyfriend now. Maybe he wouldn't even remember her.
She paused before opening the door to the bridge and took a deep breath.
"Why do you seem nervous?" Corbin asked taunting her.
Mandie glared at him and opened the door and ran right into Obi Wan who was apparently on his way out. He caught her, steadying her with his hands on her shoulders. He smiled, then laughed.
"Mandie!" he greeted, his hands still resting on her arms. "Funny how we keep running into each other. Literally!"
Mandie smiled back at him, drinking in the sight of him with her eyes, trying to ignore Corbin's irritated glare. "Hello...so we meet again," she responded. She wished she could just throw her arms around him and cover his face with kisses.
"Seems you two have met before," Corbin said flatly. "I take it this is one of the Jedi." He stepped forward and scrutinized Obi Wan.
Obi Wan stepped back and gave Mandie a questioning look. Mandie sighed. "Obi Wan, this is Corbin Roos. Corbin, this is Obi Wan Kenobi. Yes, he's one of the Jedi."
"Pleased to meet you," Obi Wan said and extended his hand to Corbin who purposefully ignored it and instead put his arm possessively around Mandie. To make matters worse, Corbin forced a laugh and shook his head.
"This is our all-powerful Jedi Knight? This is our protection? He's just a boy!"
Obi Wan shifted his weight to one hip and folded his arms across his chest. He raised his brow. "I'm almost seventeen. And I'm apprenticed to a Jedi Master. I am not a Knight...yet." He couldn't understand the open hostility he was sensing in Corbin, who couldn't have been more than a couple of years older than he was. He had only just met him and had done nothing to provoke such feelings, but then he took in the way Corbin was holding Mandie and began to understand. He sighed heavily.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Apprentice Obi Wan," Corbin continued. "I guess from what I had heard about you Jedi I rather expected some noble, statuesque being who commands by mere presence."
"Apparently you haven't met Qui Gon," Obi Wan said in a quietly measured tone. He faced Mandie again and smiled slightly. "It was nice to see you again. But if you'll excuse me, there's something I need to do." He slipped past them and hurried away.
Mandie sighed in frustration. "That was rude," she said, her face flushing with anger. She jerked herself free from Corbin's grasp and pointed her finger threateningly at him. "I'm going to find him and apologize for you. Don't follow me! And you can forget about having dinner with me tonight! I can't believe I ever liked you!" She turned on her heel and strode down the hall.
Corbin sighed and swore under his breath, slamming his fist into the wall.
Obi Wan needed to find the ship's navigator. He couldn't change their coordinates without the system's codes and he also wanted to find Qui Gon and go over the new course he had plotted before actually entering it into the ship's computer.
Once he felt he was far enough away from the bridge, he slowed his pace and bowed his head, trying hard not to let his rising anger and humiliation get the better of him. He tried to clear his mind, gathering the Force around him like a protective blanket, focusing on its calming and reassuring presence to heal his slightly wounded pride.
He stopped walking and leaned against the wall, pulling himself deeper into the Force, letting it fill him completely. He closed his eyes, meditating on its serenity.
Vaguely, he heard footsteps approaching. The sound seemed distant, but the lifeforce he felt was actually standing right in front of him. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.
Mandie was staring at him, shaking her head. "I'm really sorry for what happened back there," she said. "I don't know what came over him."
"I do," Obi Wan said plainly. "He was feeling inferior. He needed to find some way to make himself appear better than me and more appealing to you." He sighed and locked eyes with her. "Is he your boyfriend?"
Mandie hated to admit it at this point, but nodded slowly.
Obi Wan could feel how upset Mandie was and it helped a little knowing it was for his sake. "It's all right. Really." He offered her a small smile. Mandie smiled back. "Since he likes you, I know he at least has good taste." Now Mandie laughed. Obi Wan remembered what a pretty laugh she had. He was glad he was able to make her laugh now. She seemed so depressed and miserable before.
Mandie took a deep breath. "I don't want to be with him anymore. Sometimes he can be really sweet and other times a total jerk. He joined the company a few months ago as a salesman. That's how I met him. I was the one who trained him. Working together like that, we got to know each other really well and started making a point of seeing each other outside of work."
Obi Wan shook his head. "There's no need to explain, Mandie. It's not like we were ever committed to each other. Just because I kissed you, doesn't mean I have any claim to you."
Mandie looked back at him unhappily. "I know. I know." She bowed her head to study her hands that were fitfully twisting her shirt tails. "I don't know how I ended up with someone like Corbin. Maybe it's because he is the only other guy who has ever shown any interest in me besides you." And I know I can't have you. Even though you're the one I really want, she thought to herself.
Obi Wan sighed, reaching for her. She readily went to him, settling herself against his chest as he folded his arms around her. She lay her head on his neck and he leaned his head upon hers, closing his eyes. "I'm sorry you're unhappy. Is there anything I can do?"
"I could use a hug," she replied, her voice muffled against his shoulder.
Obi Wan smiled and hugged her gently, nuzzling her hair, enjoying the warm feeling of her in his arms. He began rocking her soothingly, pleased that she felt so comfortable with him still. It was as if they had picked up right where they had left off.
"Ah Miss Tia! There you are!" HJK-260 hailed as he spied Tia and Qui Gon walking towards him down the hall.
Tia frowned at the droid. "HJ where have you been? You were supposed to let me know when the Jedi arrived on board," she reprimanded.
The droid didn't understand why she was still unaware of this fact when she was walking right beside one of them. "Pardon me, Miss Tia, but haven't you noticed you are in the company of one of the Jedi at this very moment?"
"Yea, very funny HJ. Look, we have to find Mandie and Corbin, have you seen them? Neither one is in the room. We have to tell Corbin we won't be going to Dorvan after all."
"They were in their room the last time I saw them, Miss Tia. Oh, but that was some time ago, I'm afraid," HJ replied. "Shall I search for them now?"
Tia nodded. "If you find them, just tell Corbin I need to talk to him. We'll be on the bridge."
"Yes Mistress, I shall find them, don't you worry!" HJ assured and hurried off in the opposite direction.
Tia smiled and shook her head. "The galaxy's most unreliable droid, but he is a sweetheart and he does try."
Qui Gon grinned. "I could ask Obi Wan to rewire him for you. He'll be of better service no doubt but he'll lose that rustic charm."
"No thank you. I prefer him just the way he is," Tia said. "Speaking of Obi Wan, I'll need to give him the codes if he is going to take over navigating. Where is he?"
"He should still be on the bridge," Qui Gon told her but the closer they got to it, the more certain he was that his apprentice was not there. He stopped walking and turned around. "No, he's not here. I'll check our room. If he shows up after I'm gone, tell him to stay put until I get back here."
Tia nodded. "Anything..." she teased, reminding him of his own answer to her request for a favor back on the dance floor of the reception hall. She smiled up at him coyly and slipped inside the door to the bridge.
Qui Gon inhaled slowly and shook his head.
Mandie was ready to break up with Corbin. After seeing Obi Wan again, she knew her relationship with Corbin would never be right. It never had been right. In the short time she had spent with Obi Wan on this ship, he had shown her more compassion and tenderness than Corbin ever had. It was this new resolute attitude that enabled her to walk hand in hand with the handsome young Jedi towards the bridge. If Corbin saw her, she didn't care. She just hoped he wouldn't do anything stupid, like challenge Obi Wan to a duel or something over her. She didn't like Corbin anymore, but she didn't want to see him maimed or killed either.
Tia looked up as Mandie and Obi Wan entered the bridge. Obi Wan sighed in visible relief and walked over to the terminal where Tia sat.
"Hello again, Miss Orman," he greeted with a sweet smile. "Mandie and I have been looking for you. I have a new course ready to go, but I can't enter it in the ship's computer without your codes." He paused and frowned suddenly. "Have you seen Qui Gon? Mandie told me you were our navigator and she explained why we were going to Aurelia via Dorvan, but I don't know if Qui Gon knows this yet."
"Yes and yes," Tia smiled getting up and motioning Obi Wan to take her place. He slid into her vacated chair to begin reprograming their coordinates. She handed him a data pad with the codes listed on it. He accepted it with a grateful smile. "I did speak with Qui Gon and he knows I'm the navigator for this trip. We have already discussed everything and decided it would be best not to go to Dorvan. Not this time anyway." She faced Mandie. "Tell Corbin I'm sorry, but it's just too risky and this shipment of star allees is too valuable. It's best to just take them straight to Aurelia."
"I'm not speaking to Corbin at the moment," Mandie mumbled.
Tia tried to look distraught by the news. "What's this? Trouble in paradise? Or did you finally come to your senses and realize the likes of Corbin Roos can't possibly compete with this fine speciman of Jedi here?" She ruffled Obi Wan's hair and made him blush adorably. She grinned mischievously and reached over and pinched Mandie's cheek affectionately.
Now Mandie blushed. She would give anything to have her sister's confidence. "No, it's not like that. He's inexcusably rude and downright nasty at times. I don't want to be with anyone who's like that."
Tia gave Mandie a reassuring hug. "Well, good for you, Sweetie. I couldn't tell you this before but I never really liked Corbin. The man had no finesse."
Mandie smiled and shrugged. Her eyes drifted over to Obi Wan and he turned his head to face her and leaned back in his chair. Captain Fostey came over and gestured at the terminal screen.
"The new coordinates?" he asked.
Obi Wan nodded but his eyes never left Mandie. "Almost ready," he said.
"We're about to cut to sublight engines. We'll be coming up on Istse soon. I'll need the new course in the system before we take off again," Captain Fostey told him.
Obi Wan pried his eyes off of Mandie and faced the captain. "That won't be a problem." He turned back around and continued to enter the codes.
Tia noticed the way Mandie was watching the young Jedi. Something was going on between those two, she could tell. She had been teasing Mandie before, but she really hoped her little sister hadn't decided to break up with Corbin for Obi Wan. She made a mental note to talk to her later about the nature of the Jedi. Jedi were not the type of men you should fall in love with. Now if she explained this to Mandie and repeated it enough times, maybe she would begin to believe it herself.
Corbin Roos stalked angrily down the hall to his cabin. He hurried inside and went to the large chest at the foot of the bed and fished through the contents haphazardly. When he found what he wanted he carried it back to the bed and turned it on. The device began making a soft purring sound and on the side of it a red light blinked slowly. Once satisfied it was in good working order, he slipped the device under the bed and pushed it up against the wall.
He reached into the chest again and pulled out a tiny comlink. Activating this, he spoke quickly and quietly.
"The tracking mechanism has been activated. Our plan will be carried out as scheduled. We are coming up on Istse now and will have the jewels on board by 21:00 your time. Use the beacon to find the ship. Prepare to board as scheduled."
"Copy," a static filled voice responded. "Do your part as planned and this will be an easy take. Over."
Corbin smiled and adjusted the tone on the comlink. "No problem there," he said. "I've seen their security." He walked arrogantly over to his bed and stretched out. "Like you said, an easy take. Over and out."
Mandie was staring out of the main viewscreen on the bridge. The planet Istse was growing steadily larger and larger.
Obi Wan had just finished entering all the codes and altering their coordinates for the remainder of their journey and was leaning back in his chair taking a moment to study Istse as well.
The planet was blue and green with swirls of violet clouds mottling the atmosphere. It didn't look like the other mining planets that Obi Wan was familiar with, which always seemed so lifeless and colorless to him. This planet looked rich and vibrant. He turned to face Tia.
"Will we be going directly to the mines to get the shipment?" He was rather hoping to, so he could get a first hand look at the operation, but Tia shook her head.
"No. Everything is packed up and ready, awaiting our arrival on the port. Once we dock, we'll have a couple of hours off the ship while the gems are loaded and secured." She smiled warmly. "We should all go into town. Consider it shore leave. You and Mandie could go out to dinner and then visit the mines. Our mines are the finest in the galaxy. We have highly skilled miners working for us. It's incredible to watch them. Just by looking at a formation of rock, they can tell where the allees are. That's why they are also the most highly paid miners. Without them, we wouldn't have access to our gems and we know that. Our company takes care to show our appreciation. Going there would be very educational for you. Only be back here by the time we are ready to take off. I don't have a problem with that."
Mandie glanced back at Obi Wan and smiled. "That would be fun."
Obi Wan returned her smile but shook his head. "I don't know. Qui Gon might have a problem with that. I'm sure he'll want us to oversee the loading to make sure everything is properly secured."
Tia frowned. She dismissed the idea with a wave of her hand. "Don't you worry about Qui Gon. I'll take care of him."
"Problem with what?" the Jedi Master said as he strolled onto the bridge. Everyone turned to face him. His eyes swept around the bridge but no one answered him. He went to the viewscreen and stood beside Mandie. She looked up at him and offered him a shy smile. Qui Gon extended his hand. "You must be Mandie Orman." She nodded, still staring up at him. Her small hand all but disappeared in his. "I'm Qui Gon Jinn. I'm very pleased to meet you," he told her with a gentle smile. He paused, gazing steadily at her for a moment or two, then said, "And thank you, I'm very flattered that you think so." His smile increased two-fold as Mandie's eyes grew as wide as saucers and her jaw dropped in surprise. Her face turned bright red as she looked away from him.
"How did you know what I was thinking?" she whispered, her eyes plastered to the floor.
He leaned closer to her. "It was more a feeling accompanied by a thought. You were projecting it very clearly."
Tia was smiling, shaking her head. "I guess I should have warned you, Mandie. You have to watch what you think around these guys."
Qui Gon caught Obi Wan's admonishing expression and faced Mandie again. "I'm sorry," he told her. "I didn't mean to embarrass you. It's just that I found your...'appreciation' of me charming."
Mandie peered up at him and smiled. "You're welcome," she said quietly.
Qui Gon straightened and turned, stepping away from the viewscreen and over to Obi Wan. He peered down at the coordinates for the newly plotted route and nodded, placing his hand on Obi Wan's shoulder, conveying his approval.
"Now," he began, "What was it that I was supposed to have a problem with?" he repeated, resuming his authoritative down-to-business air.
Tia stepped forward. "We'll have some time on the planet surface while they load the cargo hold. I suggest we go into town and get something to eat besides cafeteria food and stretch our legs, what do you think?"
Qui Gon turned around to face her and leaned his hips casually on the console. "Why would I have a problem with that? You are free to go wherever you wish."
Tia squirmed slightly. "We wanted you and Obi Wan to come too."
"Our place is here with the ship," he replied without hesitation. He could feel his apprentice's disappointment, though Obi Wan's expression remained completely passive.
"Oh Qui Gon! Nothing is going to happen while they load the jewels and it will only be for a couple of hours. The jewels will be guarded by an armed security force while they are being loaded. Captain Fostey and HJ can supervise the loading. Please say yes?" Tia stepped over to him and subtly positioned herself directly in front of him, carefully pinning him against the console by straddling his left leg. She could look right into his eyes now without having to look up. She smiled slowly, her thighs almost touching his.
Qui Gon froze. Even though she wasn't actually touching him, just having her so close to him and in such a provocative position was making his mouth dry and his pulse race. He didn't dare move, but locked his eyes on hers, mentally cursing himself for letting her affect him this way. He took a deep breath to clear his muddled thoughts.
Obi Wan tactfully avoided watching this war of wills being played out to his left and cleared his throat. "Master, perhaps it would not be such a good idea for them to go off unescorted. You said yourself our first priority is to the safety of the passengers and crew, not to the cargo."
Qui Gon shot his apprentice a look of chagrin. The boy was right, as usual. Qui Gon sighed heavily, and began nodding slowly. "Very well," he conceded. He faced Tia. "If you insist on venturing off on your own, we do have an obligation to escort you," he told her through slightly clenched teeth.
Tia smiled triumphantly and stepped back, releasing her prisoner finally, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. "Good! It's all settled then."
Qui Gon quickly stood up and moved away from the console and Tia. He took advantage of his regained freedom to reestablish his authority.
"But one of us should stay with the ship," he said, fixing his eyes on Obi Wan. He could feel the collective sinking of hearts around him and suddenly felt like the most despised villian in the galaxy.
Obi Wan swallowed hard and faced his master. He nodded slowly. "I'll stay," he said quietly.
Tia walked over to Qui Gon and glared angrily at him. "How could you do such a thing? Let him come too."
Qui Gon straightened to his full height and put his hands on his hips, his dark blue eyes glimmering a perceptible warning. Obi Wan recognized that look and quickly interceded.
"It's all right, Miss Orman. We are here on assignment and Qui Gon is in a sense responsible for your cargo as well as the safety of all on board. He's right, one of us needs to stay here. That way, I can relay to him any details or complications I notice while he is away." Obi Wan held his breath as Tia and Qui Gon continued to glare at each other. He was infinitely relieved when Tia backed down this time.
"Oh all right," she said, not bothering to disguise her disapproval. She gestured at Mandie. "We'll be landing soon. Let's go get ready."
Mandie reluctantly started off towards her sister, looking longingly at the young Jedi still seated at the console. Tia took her hand and pulled her to her and hurried her off the bridge.
Qui Gon dropped into the chair next to Obi Wan. He closed his eyes, summoning every calming exercise he could think of to steady his screaming nerves.
Obi Wan glanced at him, trying hard not to smile.
"Thank you, Padawan," Qui Gon said suddenly and sincerely. He opened his eyes slowly and faced his apprentice.
"For what?" Obi Wan asked, trying to sound as clueless as possible. He had his master in a rare moment of obligation and he figured he might as well get everything he could out of it.
Qui Gon sighed, knowing exactly what his apprentice wanted of him. "For not questioning my decision. For volunteering to stay." He paused, a slow smile lighting his face. "For coming to my rescue twice. For sparing me the humiliation I would have undoubtedly brought on myself by choosing to confront Miss Orman." He reached over and squeezed Obi Wan's shoulder. "I couldn't have hoped for a wiser padawan. You showed great diplomacy just now. I'm very proud of you."
Obi Wan beamed. "Thank you Master."
Qui Gon leaned back in his chair. He looked drained. "That woman," he muttered. "Pulls my better judgement right down a black hole." He glanced at Obi Wan, shaking his head ruefully. "Women can be the most persuasive creatures, Obi Wan. You'll find yourself powerless to resist them at times. All your defenses are useless against their arsenal of weaponry."
Obi Wan laughed. "Take heart, Master. After Miss Orman, any pirates we come up against will be a breeze."
Qui Gon smiled. "Bring on the pirates!"
Mandie was grateful to find her room empty when she arrived. She wasn't ready to face Corbin yet. She went over to the adjoining door that allowed her access into Tia's room and opened it. Her step sister was trying to change her clothes, muttering angrily, and cursing under her breath. Mandie smiled, leaning against the doorframe.
"...Stubborn, arrogant, heartless, dense..." she was saying. She spied Mandie and waved her inside. "How could he?" she continued. "He's just plain mean." She noticed Mandie wasn't bothering to change. "You're not going to wear that are you?"
Mandie shrugged. "I really don't feel like going out, Tia. I think I'll stay on the ship."
Tia smiled at her knowingly. "I understand." She tossed her uniform onto her bed and pulled a dress from her wardrobe and slipped into it, wrapping it around herself and tightening the belt. "If Qui Gon wasn't so hard on Obi Wan, we could have had a lot of fun going out together, but I'm sure Obi Wan won't mind having to watch the ship as much if you stay with him."
"Qui Gon's only looking out for us," Mandie offered. "Don't be angry with him."
Tia sighed. "Oh, I'm not really. Besides, all he would have to do is smile at me and all would be forgiven. Of course, I can't let him know that."
Mandie nodded. "Gosh, you never told me how good-looking he was." She giggled suddenly. "That was what I was thinking when I first saw him. He said he felt it. I was so embarrassed, but I'm glad he thought I was charming. I think he's pretty charming himself. No wonder you were in a daze for weeks after that reception."
Tia sighed. "Was I? I don't remember." She suddenly laughed. "Hey, Obi Wan isn't very hard on the eyes either. I'd swear he's grown some since we last saw him. The uniform he was wearing then didn't do him any justice. He looks much better in that loose tunic. He's got a great neck. It was a shame to hide it."
Mandie grinned. "Yea, you're right." She grinned even more, remembering how she had laid her head on his neck when he hugged her. His skin was so warm and soft against her cheek and the hair on his chest had tickled her nose. She sighed wistfully.
Tia caught Mandie's dreamy expresssion and finished dressing, checking her hair quickly in her mirror. Then she turned to face Mandie. Perhaps now would be a good time to have that discussion concerning Jedi. "So, what's going on with you and that comely Mr. Kenobi?"
"Are you asking me if I like him?"
Tia put her hands on her hips. "Well do you?"
"Yea, I like him alot." Mandie eyed her sister warily. "So?"
Tia frowned. "So, just make sure it stays that way. For goodness sake, don't go falling in love with him or ask him for any kind of commitment. He's a Jedi, Mandie. Remember that. These guys are already committed--to being Jedi. They can't commit to a relationship, so it's best to not even try to start one. Stay friends, have fun with him if he's willing, but please, please, don't fall in love, okay?"
Mandie lowered her head and studied the floor. "Okay," she sighed. Her heart felt very heavy suddenly.
Tia reached over and gave her little sister a hug. "Well, I'm off. If you see Corbin, try to explain to him about Dorvan, okay? Tell him, he can go there once we reach Aurelia. At least we won't have to worry about the star allees this way."
Mandie nodded reluctantly. "I suppose someone needs to tell him soon."
"He'll be disappointed, but I'm sure he'll understand. Tell him the Jedi insisted we avoid Dorvan at all costs. There's nothing we can do about it."
Mandie frowned. "Oh, yea, that will go over well with him. I'm sure he'll understand," she said sarcastically. "He was really mad that the Jedi were even on board. I have never seen him so angry. You would have thought he would have welcomed the extra security but he was...furious when he found out you had contacted the Jedi Council for their help."
Tia shrugged. "That is strange. But I wouldn't worry about it too much. After all, we are talking about Corbin here." She smiled and waved. "Well, I'll see you tonight. Have fun."
"You too," Mandie said as Tia hurried out the door.
Obi Wan found a suitable perch outside the ship's cargo hold on a platform of crates covered by a tarp and made himself comfortable. From where he sat, he could watch the ship being loaded and had a good view of the entire port. He studied the personnel loading the jewels and the faces of the guards so he would be able to sort out anyone later he didn't recognize. He noted all the entrances to the port, as well as blind spots and possible trouble spots that had the least security. All in all the port was impressively well maintained and the security was tight. Not very surprising really, considering the planet's main export was rare uncut gemstones.
Qui Gon came up beside him and sighed. He looked as though he would rather be the one watching the shipment being loaded than the one escorting two beautiful women out to dinner. He made a sweeping gesture, taking in the well-organized and highly guarded activity around them.
"All this for jewels," he said quietly. "Not food or bacta or anything necessary. Just jewels."
"It's enterprise," Obi Wan responded solemnly. "It's how the Republic functions." He shifted slightly to face his master. "At least it hasn't been established with slave labor."
Qui Gon looked over at Obi Wan, his heart twisting at the boy's words. Obi Wan had been enslaved himself once on an offshore mining operation on the planet Bandomeer when he was only twelve. Long after the nightmares stopped, an occasional memory still surfaced to haunt him.
Obi Wan continued. "Miss Orman told me they are the most highly paid miners in the galaxy. She spoke of them like they were actually skilled craftsmen. It was nice to hear the owner of such a lucrative business speak so highly of the workforce."
Qui Gon smiled reassuringly. "I'm sure it was. And that's nice to know." He folded his arms across his chest, burying his hands in the voluminous sleeves of his cloak. "This is quite a shipment. I didn't realize it would be as substantial as it is. Piracy could certainly put a dent in their revenue."
"There is really no reason now to suspect an attack," Obi Wan told him. "We'll be well out of range of any pirates lurking in the unsecured sector. The route to Aurelia should be uneventful."
Qui Gon spied someone coming down the boarding ramp of the ship. "Who's this?"
Obi Wan frowned. "That's Corbin Roos."
Qui Gon looked over at Obi Wan. "You say that in such a way as to lead me to believe you have met him but didn't exactly care for the man."
Obi Wan nodded. "To put it nicely, yes, you could say that." Obi Wan leaned towards Qui Gon and lowered his voice. "He's doesn't care for us either, let me warn you."
Qui Gon merely smiled. "I wonder if he is aware of our change in plans." He watched Corbin stop at the bottom of the boarding ramp and look around. Corbin spied the two Jedi and started towards them. Obi Wan moaned.
"You there," Corbin hailed. "How dare you?!"
Qui Gon sighed and stepped forward slightly. Obi Wan was grateful. He didn't want to have to deal with the likes of Corbin again.
"Is there a problem, Young Man?" Qui Gon asked innocently. He knew very well Corbin had to be referring to the altered coordinates.
"You're damn right there is!" Corbin snapped. He strode quickly up to the Jedi Master, challengingly, but was put off momentarily by Qui Gon's stature and build. To recover, he shot a disgusted look at Obi Wan. "You authorized the navigational change, didn't you? That's what you were doing on the bridge. Captain Fostey just informed me. It was nice of someone to. It would have been nicer if someone had consulted me on this before." Corbin was so angry, his face was turning red and the veins on his forehead were sticking out.
Qui Gon very subtly moved to stand in between his apprentice and the irate man. "There was no need to consult you. We very simply analyzed the situation, came to the correct conclusion and acted upon it."
"Without my approval!" Corbin shot back.
Qui Gon exchanged looks with Obi Wan. "We had the approval of the owner of this vessel the moment we were assigned to this mission and we had the immediate approval of the acting navigator, even though we did not need either to do what we did and we will continue to do what we deem necessary to ensure the safety of this ship and all on board."
Corbin was livid. He shook with barely controlled rage. He looked Qui Gon up and down a few times as if assessing his chances of surviving a confrontation, then turned with a growl and stalked off.
Qui Gon shrugged. Obi Wan stifled a laugh. Noble, statuesque, commands with mere presence, yep, that's my master, he thought proudly, recalling Corbin's description of what a Jedi was supposed to be,
"You handled that very well, Master."
Qui Gon inclined his head in acknowledgment of Obi Wan's compliment. "Thank you, Padawan." His eyes followed Corbin as he exited the port. "Keep your eye on that one. I sense there's more to him than his ill-temper. He could be trouble."
"Yes Master." Obi Wan spied Tia descending the boarding ramp and gestured towards her. "There's Miss Orman." His eyes swept appreciatively over her as she stepped off the ramp. "Looking very becoming I might add. Are you sure you won't consider trading places with me tonight?" he said teasingly.
"Don't tempt me," Qui Gon responded brusquely, but Obi Wan noticed he was fighting a smile. Qui Gon turned away from his apprentice and faced Tia as she walked over to him. She did look very nice. He wondered if he should say so. Perhaps it would help cool her presently hot temper.
"There's been a slight change of plans," Tia was saying. "Mandie doesn't feel like traipsing through town so you're stuck with just me this evening, MASTER Jinn." She stressed his formal title as well as all its implications.
Qui Gon closed his eyes briefly and took another deep breath. He'd be damned if he would tell her she looked nice now. "After you," he said simply, gesturing her forward.
Tia glared up at him and started off. His present dispassionate demeanor made her even more angry at him than she already was. He could have at least tried to sound a little anxious about going out with her.
Mandie skipped down the boarding ramp shortly after Qui Gon and Tia had left the hangar. Obi Wan shifted over and made room for her to sit beside him. He offered his hand to help her up and she climbed up next to him. He smiled at her and leaned into her a little bit.
"You didn't have to stay with me. You could have gone with Tia if you wanted," he told her.
Mandie shook her head. "I didn't want to. I wanted to be with you." She leaned into him as well and he put his arm around her shoulders.
"Well, I'm glad you did," he confessed, and lightly kissed the top of her head. He noticed how Mandie had snuggled up against him and had snaked her arm beneath his cloak to wrap around his waist. He sighed contentedly.
"You haven't seen Corbin lately have you?" Mandie asked. "Tia wants me to find him and tell him about Dorvan."
Obi Wan made a face. "He was just here. He already knows."
Mandie sighed. "Was he upset?"
Obi Wan nodded. "You could say that."
"He...didn't do anything stupid, did he?"
"Nah," Obi Wan assured her. "I think Qui Gon was able to stave off any notions of stupidity Corbin might have entertained." He shook his head. "Sometimes I wish I had the kind of presence Qui Gon has. I wish I was tall and strong and noble-looking. It wouldn't be so bad, but I look younger than I really am and I'm too short for my age. Maybe I should grow a beard, what do you think?" He sighed. "But, I probably shouldn't dwell on such superficial characteristics. And as Master Yoda always says, size matters not."
"Well I think this Master Yoda is right," Mandie agreed. "It's not how tall or strong you are that matters, it's who you are. Besides," Mandie's eyes slowly drifted from his face, down his neck. He did have a sexy neck. "I think you're very handsome, Obi Wan," she sighed. She looked up at him adoringly.
Obi Wan smiled slowly. "I'm glad you think so," he breathed. Mandie nodded. He touched her face with his free hand and tilted her head back, his gaze piercing.
Mandie angled herself to face him more directly. Obi Wan sighed as he stared into her deep green eyes. He lowered his face to hers, nuzzling her cheek. She closed her eyes and parted her lips. Encouraged, he brushed his lips across hers in a tentative, teasing kiss, then opened her mouth further by sliding his jaw gently against her chin, pressing her lips into his by tightening his arm around her and cradling her head in his hand. He held her to him, savoring all the tremulous sensations flowing through his body and absorbing all the surfacing emotions he felt emanating from her. He heard her whimper softly and felt her weight settle in his arms. Mandie put her hand on his neck, then let it slide down to his chest. She slipped her hand between the folds of his tunic and began slowly dragging her fingers through his chest hair. Obi Wan closed his eyes and moaned faintly
Mandie's mouth moved to the hard muscle on the side of his neck. She nipped at it, then bit it, pulling on his skin gently with her teeth. She stroked his flesh with her tongue, sucking and chewing at the same time.
Obi Wan felt tiny bursts of stinging pain and waves of penetrating pleasure. The small section of his neck that she tortured was getting hot and numb and he didn't think he could stand much more of this peculiar and intimate kiss. Finally, he pulled away from her, his neck throbbing, his mind reeling and covered her mouth with his.
The Jedi kissed her harder, wanting to feel more of her, wanting her even closer to him than she already was. Obi Wan shifted slightly and eased her back, carefully supporting her with his arm until she was laying beneath him, and positioned himself over her. He passed his hand slowly over her breast, then down the length of her torso as she folded her arms around his neck, drawing him more tightly against her. He felt her leg move over his thigh encouragingly and he couldn't resist moving his hips a little, gently rubbing himself against her. Obi Wan felt her tremble slightly. He felt like his own body was waking after a long deep sleep, searching and hungry, craving more of her than he had any right to take.
Mandie whimpered and sighed, her mind swirling with desire. I want you, I want you so much, she thought to herself, reveling in the sensation of the weight of his body stretched out over hers. If he wanted her to, she would give herself to him without hesitation. She would do anything to make him her own. Anything to keep him close to her.
An unwelcome thought suddenly struck her, filling her with a sad hopelessness. Mandie realized that no matter what she did or said, he would never belong to her. He never could.
"You're so beautiful," Obi Wan whispered, peering down at her. Mandie opened her eyes and looked up at him, longingly, then turned her face away from him. Obi Wan was startled by the sadness he suddenly sensed from her. "Mandie...?" He softly kissed her eyes and stroked the side of her face with his fingertips. "What is it? Tell me."
Mandie shook her head, and suddenly pushed him off of her. Obi Wan sat up and looked at her, confused. She jumped down from the crates and began walking away.
"Mandie!" Obi Wan called. She didn't stop. Obi Wan sighed heavily. He began to wonder if he had correctly interpreted what he had sensed in her. What could he have possibly done to make her sad? One minute she was the personification of passion and the next minute she was sad. It didn't make any sense. Maybe she was actually angry, or disappointed, or she had gotten embarrassed, considering they had chosen a rather public place to start doing the things they did. Obi Wan looked around. The crew was almost done loading. Only a few crates remained outside the ship. There wasn't anyone suspicious or new lurking around. No one seemed to have noticed anything or if they did, they didn't show any signs of caring one whit. Obi Wan jumped down from the crates and sprinted up the boarding ramp.
Tia and Qui Gon hadn't spoken a word to each other since they had left the port. Tia had hired transportation to an exclusive hotel that boasted the finest restaurant in the city. She strolled in like she owned the place (Qui Gon wouldn't have been surprised if she had) and over to the maitre.
"Ah, Miss Orman!" he greeted. "How lovely to see you again. We heard you might be gracing us with your presence and reserved your favorite booth for you by the window overlooking the bay."
Tia smiled widely. "Why thank you! How considerate of you, Lemme!"
"Not at all," Lemme said, taking her hand to usher her inside. He spared a disquieted look back at Qui Gon who trailed after them, looking around, taking in the scenery. "Is he with you, Miss Orman?" Lemme lowered his voice considerably in case the man following her was not with her after all.
Qui Gon heard him anyway and furrowed his brow. Tia glanced back at the Jedi with an amused look.
"Yes, Lemme. He's with me. He's...my bodyguard."
Lemme nodded, but tried to avoid getting too close to Qui Gon. "Very well, Miss Orman." He leaned over her as she sat down at the booth that had been reserved for her. "Will he be dining with you as well?"
Tia looked up at Qui Gon and pretended to think long and hard. Finally she nodded. "I think so, Lemme. When he doesn't eat, he gets mean. I had better feed him tonight." Her eyes twinkled mischievously.
"Of course, Miss Orman, I'll send the waiter right over!" Lemme said and hurried off.
Qui Gon squeezed into the seat across from Tia and sighed heavily. "You enjoyed that exchange far too much," he began, sounding insulted.
Tia started to laugh and shook her head. "I'm sorry, Qui Gon. I just couldn't resist. Poor Lemme. He obviously failed to recognize your unpretentious Jedi vestments."
Qui Gon pulled his cloak tighter around him, sulking. "He was looking at me as if I were a common thug."
Tia gazed at him and smiled. "Maybe it's the long hair. Or the beard. Who knows. I don't think you look like a thug."
"You could have reassured him. You didn't have to lead him on at my expense," the Jedi continued. He locked his eyes on hers and held her gaze steadily. "And when was I reduced to the role of your bodyguard?" he asked quietly.
Tia frowned and reached across the table and touched his arm. "You know I was just teasing, Qui Gon." She blinked a few times, confused. "Why would something like that bother you?" He didn't answer her. His face was expressionless, but his gaze was still piercing. Tia sighed. "When Lemme comes back, I will properly introduce you, I promise."
"Thank you,"Qui Gon said and took a deep breath. He leaned forward slightly. "Now, why have you been angry with me tonight?"
Tia shrugged. "I'm getting over it. I'm much too fond of you to hold a grudge. I just thought you treated Obi Wan unfairly back on the bridge. You need to remember, he's only sixteen. He has a young heart and a young mind, Qui Gon. But you seem to disregard that about him. It's always duty first, even where he's involved. Don't you ever just let him have fun?" She bowed her head and studied her nails, unable to look Qui Gon in the eye suddenly. "Thankfully Mandie stayed behind. She's a sensitive kid and she knew Obi Wan was disappointed."
"Oh and I didn't?" Qui Gon asked. "I knew he was disappointed. I felt it in my heart. But the reality of our situation doesn't provide me with the luxury of indulging him. Someone had to stay with the ship. You never know what might happen. Thankfully, he's wise and responsible and knew I was right."
Tia felt increasingly uncomfortable. "I just don't understand you. How can you be that way with him? You treat him like an assistant even though you're raising him in a sense. I thought he would be more like a son to you."
Qui Gon took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "He is like my son. Our bond transcends blood ties. We're connected, he and I, in ways you could never understand. We know each other better than a father knows a son. We're good friends. But he is also my pupil, my partner, and my assistant. And he is a Jedi, in the finest sense. He knows what is expected of him if he wants to achieve Knighthood, so there is no animosity between us. He trusts me, like no one has ever trusted me before. I would never do anything to harm him. Ever."
Tia frowned deeply then chewed her lower lip fitfully. "Do you ever tell him that?"
Qui Gon paused. "I'm certain he is aware of my feelings towards him. We are completely devoted to each other. I am dedicated to teach him everything I can. He is dedicated to learn from me."
"Forgive me," Tia whispered. "I can see now that I've made a mistake. A really big, stupid mistake."
Qui Gon felt a surge of her emotions and struggled to sort out what exactly she was feeling all of a sudden. He knew she was referring to something besides her misinterpretation of his relationship with his apprentice. "What is, Tia? What are you talking about?"
Tia shook her head. "I'm really sorry, Qui Gon."
"Why are you apologizing?" he questioned her, thoroughly baffled. "You didn't do anything wrong."
Tia looked over at him longingly. "I thought I understood, but I didn't. I thought I could handle it, but I can't." She stood up suddenly. "I think I need some air," she announced.
"I'll come with you," Qui Gon offered quietly.
"No! Please," Tia replied, almost panicking. "I don't want you to." She turned from him and walked quickly out of the restaurant.
Qui Gon waited only a moment before picking himself up and starting after her.
The sun had set and it was dark now. Qui Gon paused just outside the restaurant and looked around. He didn't see Tia. He cleared his mind of all the thoughts racing through his consciousness and gathered the Force to him, sending it out to locate her. He sensed her just a few streets away from him and started off in that general direction.
He was surprised she was able to get that far from him in such a short time but he wasn't alarmed, certain he would overtake her before long. The sense of her presence was growing stronger and getting clearer. But something wasn't quite right. He forced himself to calm down and focus more directly on her exact location.
Her fear hit him like a shot from a blaster. It was then he heard her scream. Startled, he broke into a run and yelled her name.
She didn't answer. Qui Gon fought the panic threatening to overwhelm him and concentrated on where she was. His own fear for her was inhibiting his ability to utilize the Force. He stopped suddenly and closed his eyes, allowing the Force to think for him. She was here. Right where he was standing. He opened his eyes but couldn't see her. Still, the sense of her presence was so strong, he knew she was very close.
"Tia? Answer me!"
He heard another scream, muffled this time. Then someone cursed, followed by a flurry of blunt sounds. Qui Gon turned around sharply and Tia suddenly burst out of the shadows towards him. Someone was pursuing her, but stopped short when they saw the Jedi. Qui Gon felt the being's lifeforce and the darkness and evil that surrounded it. For some reason, it held a glimmer of familiarity. He drew his lightsaber and pulled Tia up against him.
Qui Gon faced the being in the shadows, certain he was looking in its eyes. Human, he thought. It's human.
The person seemed reluctant to give up on Tia so easily. He stood waiting and watching, as if wondering what the Jedi planned to do next.
Qui Gon waited too. He tucked Tia under his arm and squeezed her tightly in a reassuring hug. His mind was clear now and all his senses sharply alert. He heard the quiet whispering of the Force in his blood and found himself reacting before he realized why.
The human in the shadows suddenly began shooting at the Jedi, aiming carefully to avoid hitting Tia.
Qui Gon easily deflected each blast back into the shadows . Tia screamed again and buried her head against Qui Gon's chest. She felt him suddenly relax and heard the raspy hiss of his lightsaber being deactivated. Tia summoned the courage to look up.
"He's gone," Qui Gon announced, taking a deep cleansing breath. He released Tia and stalked around the shadows where her pursuer had just been.
Tia looked around wildly. "Did you kill him?"
"No, he just left."
Tia stood back, trembling and panting, trying to recover from her ordeal.
Qui Gon returned to her and pulled her into his arms. He stroked her hair and whispered to her, sending her waves of reassurance with the Force. She steadily began to calm down, but Qui Gon could sense she was still very shaken.
"What happened?" he asked quietly.
"Someone grabbed me, just outside the restaurant," Tia said and sniffed back tears that threatened. "They threw me into the back of a speeder and drove off." She wiped at her eyes and winced.
The pain Qui Gon sensed from her startled him. He tilted her face up to him and tried to examine her in the light of the moons. Her right eye was swelling and even in the darkness, Qui Gon could see a black circle forming rapidly over her right temple. He immediately began checking her over for other bruises or marks. She didn't seem to be seriously hurt, but she was banged up to a certain extent.
"I managed to jump out of the speeder, but the guy came after me," Tia continued. "He caught me and hit me. He began threatening me. He spoke Basic so I understood him clearly. He kept saying I was too valuable and he wasn't going to miss a chance like this," she relayed.
Qui Gon sighed. "Sounds like he intended to kidnap you and hold you for ransom," he told her solemnly. He put his arm around her and looked around. "I don't think we should risk trying to make it back to the ship tonight. I think we should go back to the hotel. We can see to your injuries and get you something to eat and let you rest. I'll stay with you. Then in the morning we can head out and return to the ship. I'll contact Obi Wan and tell him what happened and not to expect us back tonight. I'll also tell him to keep a close eye on Mandie. Make sure she stays on the ship."
Tia looked up at him horrified. "What, do you think this person might go after Mandie too?"
"It's possible. If he knew about you, I'm sure he knows about Mandie."
"Oh, Qui Gon, we have to go back tonight then! We can't just leave her alone like that!" Tia protested.
Qui Gon shook his head. "She's not alone. She has Obi Wan," he told her calmly.
Tia's brow furrowed. "You must have an awful lot of faith in that boy."
"I do. And he's not so much a boy anymore. He's almost a grown man. Obi Wan would give his life for Mandie if he has to. He'll take care of her. He'll protect her."
His voice conveyed such absolute certainty and cool confidence, Tia's cause for concern seemed unwarranted. She sighed and smiled up at him. "I understand. Really I do," she whispered and stretched up to kiss his cheek. "And I trust you too."
Qui Gon took Tia back to the hotel.
Lemme spied them in the lobby and hurried over with a shocked expression.
"Miss Orman, gracious! What happened?"
"I'm all right, Lemme. I just...fell out of a speeder." Tia tried futilely to repair her torn dress and tried to hide her blackened eye.
"We'll need a room for the night and food brought up," Qui Gon told Lemme. "Can you make arrangements for us?"
Lemme nodded. "I'll see to it personally." He turned quickly and started towards the guest register desk, but Tia suddenly called him back.
"Lemme, I didn't introduce you properly before," she said, gazing up at Qui Gon. "This is Qui Gon Jinn. He's a Jedi Master and a very dear friend of mine. He is to be treated with the respect worthy of someone of his status." She reached over and took Qui Gon's hand in hers and squeezed it tightly. She was pleased when he smiled at her and squeezed it back.
Obi Wan strode through the ship's narrow halls, peering into each open door he passed, stretching out with the Force to try to find Mandie. The girl had a knack for disappearing with clinical efficiency.
The droid HJK-260 turned down the hallway and headed towards him.
"Excuse me, Sir," he hailed. "But you wouldn't have seen Mr. Roos anywhere by chance, would you?"
Obi Wan shook his head. "No. You haven't seen Mandie recently have you?"
"Not since this afternoon," HJ told him.
Obi Wan sighed. "Well, if you do see her, tell her...oh, never mind." He cursed under his breath and started back up the hall. HJ went in the opposite direction.
You really blew it this time, Obi Wan told himself. What were you thinking? What were you thinking with? Certainly not your brain! She just couldn't get away from you fast enough. She doesn't want anything to do with you anymore. Can you blame her? You selfish, insensitive, unworthy lech! She deserves better than you!
He couldn't seem to insult himself enough on her behalf. He was in the process of trying to think of new and more creatively derogatory terms to hurl at himself when he suddenly heard Qui Gon's voice calling to him over the comlink. He yanked it off his utility belt and responded.
Obi Wan was startled. How could he have known she was missing? "I...I'm not sure."
"Find her and stick with her, no matter what," Qui Gon stated emphatically.
"What's going on?"
"Someone tried to kidnap Tia tonight. He failed so I feel it's possible he may try to get to Mandie instead. Don't let her leave the ship and don't let her out of your sight. I don't want to try to make it back to the ship at this hour with that kidnapper still out there. Tia has been through enough for one night. We're at a hotel now. We'll be back at the ship in the morning."
Obi Wan's heart skipped a few beats. "Is Miss Orman all right?"
"She's more shaken up than anything. Some nasty bruises and abrasions, but nothing I can't take care of."
Obi Wan took a deep breath. "Tell her not to worry about Mandie. I'll look after her."
"I already have," Qui Gon said and signed off.
Obi Wan returned the comlink to his belt. He bit his lip and looked around hopelessly. His desire to find Mandie had doubled now. He had already searched the ship twice. But she had to be somewhere close. He could still sense her.
There was one way he could keep her here even if he couldn't find her. He walked quickly over to an intercom panel and pushed the access code to the bridge.
Captain Fostey answered. "Bridge. Fostey speaking."
"Captain, this is Obi Wan Kenobi. There's been a change in plans. Miss Orman and Qui Gon are staying in the city for tonight. Miss Orman has been injured and Qui Gon feels it is best for her to stay put. We need to seal the ship for the night however. We need to account for everyone on board and seal it as soon as possible."
"Seal the ship? We won't be leaving tonight? When did all this come about? I wasn't informed!"
"Well I was," Obi Wan said somewhat impatiently. "Account for everyone and seal the ship!"
Captain Fostey sighed. "Well, everyone is already accounted for except for Miss Tia, Master Jinn, and Mr. Roos. Actually everyone then except for Mr. Roos."
Corbin could be out all night, it was too risky to keep the ship open just for him. "Mr. Roos is accounted for. Seal the ship. I'll take full responsibility."
"Very well, Obi Wan Kenobi. I hope you know what you're doing."
Obi Wan turned off the intercom and sighed. "I do too."
Mandie curled up tighter against the crates and wrapped her arms around her knees. It was starting to get cold in the cargo hold, but the quiet darkness was comforting. She wanted to be alone for a bit to think. She knew Obi Wan was probably looking for her, but she needed to stay away from him for a little while. She couldn't think very clearly when he was near her. She was confused and didn't know what she wanted anymore.
She wished Tia was back. Tia could help her sort through what she was feeling. Tia would know what she should do. Mandie sighed heavily. She wanted to talk to Tia more than anything.
Maybe she was back and Mandie just hadn't realized. Stiffly she climbed to her feet and started for the passageway which would lead back into the ship.
A loud grating noise suddenly filled the cargo hold. Mandie covered her ears and winced.
"What in the world?!" She looked around quickly, then heard a bang and a soft hiss of air. Her jaw dropped. They had sealed the ship! They must be getting ready to leave, she thought. She hurried over to the passage and had just reached the door, when it opened suddenly and Obi Wan stalked in. He sighed heavily when he saw her and put his hands on his hips.
"This was the only place I hadn't searched yet," he said with an irritated edge to his voice.
Mandie avoided his eyes. "Well, I was just on my way out so if you'll excuse me," she murmured. She started for the passage but Obi Wan quickly stepped forward and caged her to the doorframe with his arms.
"Oh no you don't!" he hissed. "Do you have any idea how long I've been looking for you? Is this what you do, run away and hide whenever you're upset? Worry people sick to punish them for upsetting you instead of discussing your feelings like a rational adult?" He glared at her, but she still would not look up at him.
"No," Mandie replied in a small voice. "I didn't mean to worry you."
Obi Wan sighed heavily and dropped his arms, leaning back against the doorframe opposite Mandie. "I'm sorry. Sometimes my temper gets away from me. It's just that I was getting worried. I needed to find you." He lowered his eyes briefly and tried to think of an easy way to break the news about Tia to her. "Mandie, something has happened... While Tia and Qui Gon were in town. It seems someone tried to... kidnap Tia."
Mandie's eyes shot up to his. "What?!!"
"She's okay, she with Qui Gon," Obi Wan hurriedly explained. "They're staying in town for the night and I've ordered the ship sealed. Qui Gon thinks there's a possibility whoever made this attempt at kidnapping Tia, might try to come for you."
Mandie shrunk against the wall. "Poor Tia," she whispered. "How horrible!"
Obi Wan sensed Mandie's fear. "Really, she's all right," he assured her. "She's safe, and you're safe and nothing is going to happen to you, I promise." He reached out tentatively to touch her face, but decided against it and pulled his hand back.
Mandie caught Obi Wan's hand and squeezed it. She stepped over to him and put her arms around him, burying her face in the collar of his cloak. Obi Wan sighed heavily as he held her and kissed her hair. "It's all right," he whispered.
"I know," she breathed. "When you hold me, I feel so secure. You make everything all right again."
Obi Wan frowned. "Do I?" he asked quietly. He couldn't believe that, even though he felt the sincerity behind her words.
Mandie looked up at him. Obi Wan shook his head and pulled away from her. He took a couple of steps back and sighed.
"You're just as unhappy with me as you were with Corbin. I can feel your confusion and your uncertainty towards me." He bowed his head and turned away from her. "Listen Mandie, I want to apologize for the way I behaved earlier. Back in the hangar. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable or sad or whatever it was that made you leave. I realize now I was completely out of line and I promise I won't touch you like that again. I'm not really sure what came over me, but I would have stopped if I had sensed you wanted me to."
Mandie shook her head. She crossed her arms and lowered her eyes. "No, Obi Wan, don't apologize. It wasn't that I wanted you to stop touching me. I love it when you touch me. That's not why I ran off." She paused and took a deep breath. "I'm unhappy because it occurred to me back there that I wanted more from you than you're willing to give me."
Obi Wan didn't understand. He couldn't think of anything he'd ever deny her. He resisted the urge to face her. "I'm willing to give you all that I can, Mandie."
"I know," she sighed. "And I have no right to ask you for more than that, but with the way I'm starting to feel about you, I know I'm setting myself up to be hurt."
Obi Wan turned then and came up beside her. She was withdrawing from him, pulling her feelings deep inside of her. It was as if she were trying to distance herself from him emotionally.
"Is that why you are afraid to care about me?" he inquired. "Mandie, I would never intentionally hurt you. Can't you tell how much you mean to me?"
Mandie leaned into him slightly. She reached up and put her arms around his neck. "That's just it, you mean a lot to me too, but let's face it. After we get to Aurelia, you and Qui Gon will leave for another mission, probably across the galaxy and that will be that. We'll never see each other again. You'll meet other girls in other systems and I will just be the one you knew from Aurelia."
Obi Wan smiled reassuringly and put his hands on her waist. "A different girl in every port, is that what you're thinking? Well, it's not like that at all. And no matter what, you'll never be just 'the girl I knew from Aurelia.' You are the first girl I ever wanted to kiss, the first girl I ever lost my heart to...the first girl I ever tried to make out with on tarp covered crates in the middle of a hangar bay," he added with an impish grin. Mandie laughed and blushed prettily. Obi Wan rubbed his cheek against hers affectionately and kissed her forehead. Mandie smiled and hugged him tightly.
"I've learned never to say never," he continued. "If we want to see each other again, we will."
"I want to believe that," she whispered.
"You can. I'm sure we will meet again. I don't know how or when," he assured, "But we will, someday." He laughed suddenly. "And knowing your sister, I wouldn't put anything past her!" Mandie nodded in wholehearted agreement and laughed too.
Obi Wan felt the heaviness in her heart lift and sighed. He hugged her back, holding her tightly against him as an unexpected wave of emotion came over him. He realized how important Mandie was becoming to him and how it scared him to think she could be in danger. He empathized with Qui Gon about Tia and his heart went out to his master.
In the hotel room he was sharing with Tia, Qui Gon finished off the last of the tart red fruit that had accompanied their meal and eased himself down on one of the large room's beds. He leaned back against the headboard and stretched out his legs with a contented sigh.
Tia was showering in the bath, giving him a moment alone with his thoughts. He closed his eyes and submersed himself in a meditative state; something he had precious little time for lately. He drew from the Force, letting it fill him and connect him to everything in the room. He could feel his body relaxing and all the tension and emotions of the day slipping away. In its place grew a blissful serenity and welcome silence.
"Qui Gon!" Tia called from the bath, sticking her head out the door.
Qui Gon's eyes popped open. So much for silence, he thought and swung his legs over the side of his bed. He rose slowly, stretching before making his way over to Tia.
"What's the matter, Tia?" he sighed.
She smiled sheepishly. "Well, this somewhat impromptu sleepover you insisted on has left me with a tiny dilemma."
Qui Gon smiled back at her placatingly. "And what would that be?"
Her smile turned mischievous. "I've nothing to wear now," she whispered.
Qui Gon frowned. "What about your dress?"
Tia shook her head. "It's filthy and it's ripped. When I took it off for my shower, the damn thing practically disintegrated."
Qui Gon thought for a moment, then began pulling off his cloak. "Here, wear this. It's not exactly clean, but it will keep you warm...and covered." He handed it to her through the partially opened door.
Tia's eyes sparkled with delight as she accepted it. "This is all very well, but what's Obi Wan going to think when I show up back at the ship tomorrow wearing nothing but your robe?" she teased.
Qui Gon grinned. "It's just for tonight," he explained. "We'll find you something else for tomorrow."
Tia immerged from the bath, wrapped in the Jedi Master's cloak. She walked over to her bed, a quarter of the cloak dragging on the floor behind her, her hands hopelessly lost somewhere in the middle of the sleeves. She presented such an amusing and endearing picture, Qui Gon couldn't help but laugh.
She looked back at him, feigning insult, as she sat on the edge of the bed. Modestly trying to keep the cloak from shifting, she lay back against the pillows and closed her eyes with a soft sigh.
"I feel a lot better," she murmured.
"Good," Qui Gon said quietly. He looked at the now vacant bath longingly. He could almost feel the pulsing hot spray of water scouring away the last of his stress. Reaching a quick decision, he leaned over and began pulling off his boots. "I think I'll shower too. I won't be long, I promise."
Tia opened her eyes and peered over at him. "Oh, go ahead. I'll be fine." She watched as he removed his belt and draped it over a nearby chair, then began to unwind the sash from around his waist.
Tia sat up now. This was becoming more interesting with each passing second. Her eyes grew wide as he pulled off his tunic and she wondered how much more of his clothing the Jedi was going to remove in front of her. She bit her lip hard as she drank in the sight of his exquisitely sculpted chest, broad muscular shoulders, and his tapered narrow waist. She had always assumed he was fit, but she had no idea he looked like this under all those robes.
Qui Gon looked up at her curiously. He couldn't interpret the barrage of feelings he suddenly sensed from her and decided her current anxiety must stem from some residual vulnerability she may be feeling from her ordeal with the kidnapper. "I'll only be a minute or two," he assured her again. He reached up behind his head and pulled out the black band that held his hair back from his face. He tossed it on an end table.
Tia's jaw slackened and dropped. She watched him drag his large hand through his hair a few times, tousling it in a very appealing disarray and thought she had never seen a man do anything sexier. He grinned at her, turned, and finally disappeared behind the door to the bath, leaving Tia feeling quivery and weak.
She sunk back against the pillows and closed her eyes tight. Had he purposefully done that just to torture her? Was he punishing her? Well, she refused to give him the satisfaction. She wasn't even going to give him a second thought, she was just going to roll over and get some sleep.
She sighed and tried to clear her mind, but images of what was taking place on the other side of the door to the bath kept flashing through her mind. She squirmed uncomfortably, pulling the cloak tighter around herself as she heard the water being turned on. She wondered if he had suffered this much through her shower.
Think of something else, Tia commanded herself. Unconsciously, her hand went to her bruised eye and rubbed it softly. That brought unwelcome images of the attempted abduction to mind. She could still feel that man grabbing her and throwing her into the speeder. Her jaw still ached where he had hit her. Fear began rising inside her again as she realized how easily the kidnapper had plucked her off the street and what would have possibly become of her if Qui Gon had not found her.
A sudden unexpected clatter in the hall outside the room startled her and made her sit up. She waited and listened, then sighed, dismissing it as a service droid or something. She chided herself for being so jittery and tried to lay back down.
Okay Tia, go back to thinking of Qui Gon in the shower. Don't think about what almost happened tonight. Don't think about the kidnapper, don't think about being shot at---
Another unexpected sound from the hall had her on her feet and skipping over to the door of the bath. Even though she knew the Jedi was only in the next room, he seemed too far away. She opened the door, flew inside, and closed it quickly behind her.
The bath was steamy and warm and had an immediately soothing effect on her. It was only then that she became aware of exactly what she had just done and her stomach suddenly knotted with a totally new anxiety. Slowly she turned around.
Through the mist and the cascading water sheeting the clear shower walls, she could just barely see him, but she knew he was looking at her. Tia closed her eyes tightly as she waited for him to yell at her for so rudely invading his privacy and banish her back into the living room, but instead, when he finally did speak, his smoothly melodic voice only conveyed quiet concern.
"Tia, what is it? Why are you frightened?"
Slowly Tia opened her eyes, suddenly feeling foolish and very embarrassed. "I heard noises. I kept thinking about the kidnapper and I...didn't want to be alone out there." She swallowed hard and stepped a little closer to the shower. "Look, I know it's silly but I couldn't help it."
"It's all right," he told her.
Tia sighed, relieved. He wasn't angry and he didn't think she was being foolish. She stepped even closer.
She could see him better now and made a half-hearted effort to resist the urge to really look at him but nevertheless, found her eyes drifting downwards.
"You are gorgeous," she whispered. Her heart began to pound, her mouth went completely dry, and her knees felt weak. Breathe Tia, she told herself, and inhaled deeply, gasping for air.
This is a dream, she thought. I'm merely conjuring up this vision of male perfection that's standing before my eyes. She became even more convinced she was dreaming when the Jedi opened the shower door and held out his hand to her in a silent invitation.
Tia stared at his hand momentarily shocked, her mind racing. Okay, she began trying to think clearly. This is my dream and I can make it go one way or the other. As her mind struggled to rationalize the consequences of either route, her hands moved to open the cloak wrapped around her and pushed it off her shoulders. It fell heavily to the floor and she stepped clear of it and towards him. She took his hand and he gently pulled her into the shower and under the hot stream of water.
Corbin slammed his fists against the side of the sealed ship and cursed soundly. Things only seemed to be going from bad to worse.
He turned, knowing it was futile to try to get inside the ship now. All he could do was wait. He was aware of the fact that Tia and the Jedi Master had gone to a hotel, since he had followed them, and knew the ship wasn't going anywhere without them. So there would be no chance of him being stranded here.
He sat down on the ground and pulled his coat tighter around him. Damn Jedi, this was all their fault. Everything had been planned to perfection. Once the ship had entered into the Trade Federation's unrecognized and unsecured route surrounding the planet Dorvan, it could have easily been overtaken and its cargo confiscated. It would be during this unfortunate attack that the lovely Orman sisters would have been abducted and held for a significant ransom which their very rich and very powerful father would have quickly paid. Now nearly every plan had to be changed. There was little chance Corbin's consorts could find the ship and attack it if it was not going to Dorvan and his last hope for a ransom had just been thwarted as well. No jewels, no ransom, no nothing.
He sighed heavily and flexed his hand. It was sore from striking Tia. His eyes went to the grazing burn on his coat sleeve from having his own blaster fire being shot back at him. If it weren't for that irksome Jedi, he would have at least gotten Tia. Taking Mandie would have been simple. Before, she would have willingly and trustingly gone with him. Now, because of that irksome Jedi's sidekick, she wanted nothing to do with him anymore. To make matters worse, she never left the boy's side. The only thing left to do if he wanted to salvage any of this was to dipose of those Jedi.
Obi Wan looked around him as he waited for Mandie to open the door to her room. He felt something. A mysteriously unsettling darkness that was perplexing to him. Mandie glanced back at him and sighed heavily.
"What are you looking for?" she asked him. She ushered him inside the room and quickly powered up the lights. He glanced around quickly.
"I sense something. A disturbance in the Force," he relayed. "It wasn't there a little while ago."
"Well you're making me nervous," Mandie told him and crossed her arms over her chest.
Obi Wan came up behind her and tucked her up against him and lay his cheek against hers. "I'm sorry. I don't mean scare you. You really have nothing to worry about. The ship is sealed and no one can get in. I won't let anything happen to you, I promise. It's just that I've learned to trust whatever I feel."
"What is it you're feeling?" she asked anxiously.
Obi Wan smiled easily and nipped her earlobe playfully. He could interpret her question in one of two ways. He chose the less obvious meaning, hoping to lighten her mood. "Can't you tell?" he whispered seductively in her ear. Mandie laughed and leaned back against him and he hugged her tightly. "I'm hungry," he added in a matter-of-fact tone.
Mandie smiled. "I'll call the kitchen and have them send something up for us as soon as I contact Tia. If they are at a hotel, it's probably the Pivoine. That's the one we always stay at whenever we come here." She pulled away from Obi Wan and crossed the room to the holoprojector. "The number code is in this directory. I'll only be a minute. I just want to talk to her and see if she's all right, okay?"
Obi Wan nodded but said, "You don't have to contact her. I'm sure she's fine. Qui Gon is with her and he'll protect her. I'm sure what I'm sensing has nothing to do with her."
Mandie shrugged. "I know. It's just that I would feel so much better if I could just talk to her for a little while. You understand, don't you?"
Obi Wan smiled. "Of course. Take all the time you want." He began strolling leisurely around the room. "I've gone without food this long, I can certainly last a few more minutes." Mandie grinned and turned her attention to the holoprojector.
Obi Wan continued wandering around the room as he waited for Mandie to finish her calls, examining the contents and Mandie's personal effects. A flicker of blue-white light on top of Mandie's vanity dresser caught his eye. He walked over to it and saw several pale blue gemstones slightly smaller than the palm of his hand. He picked one up and studied it curiously.
Depending on how he turned the stone, it would catch the light and refract it in tiny beams of varying colors. They glittered delicately in his hand as he gathered them up for closer inspection. Obi Wan thought he had never seen anything more exquisitely beautiful before. The way they were cut reminded him of focusing crystals and by holding a stone directly in front of the light and turning it, the tiny beams of color extended or retracted like minature lightsabers.
He was so mesmerized by the crystals he didn't realize Mandie was standing next to him until she spoke.
"They're beautiful aren't they?"
He looked over at her. "Are these star allees? Is this what we're transporting?"
Mandie nodded. "Yes, but these have been cut and the ones we are taking to Aurelia are fresh from the mines." She picked up one of the gems as Obi Wan returned them to their place on her vanity and held it up to him. "This one is my favorite. It's such a light blue it's almost white. It catches the light better than the others and the colors it casts are more intense." She brought it closer to his face. "Look at that, it's the same color as your eyes. Maybe that's why I like it so much."
Obi Wan blushed in spite of himself. "I've never seen jewels of this quality before. They really are lovely."
Mandie lifted Obi Wan's hand and dropped the star allee onto his open palm. Then she closed his fingers around it. Obi Wan looked back at her stunned.
"I want you to have this one," she whispered.
Obi Wan was already shaking his head. "That's very sweet and generous of you, but I can't possibly accept it. It must be...worth a fortune."
Mandie shook her head. "No, these particular ones are beautiful, but they're relatively worthless."
"Worthless?" Obi Wan looked at the glittering jewel in his hand and sighed. "How could something like this be worthless?"
Mandie smiled. "Well, I mean worthless in a monetary sense. Worthless but not useless."
Obi Wan glanced up at her. "I don't understand."
Now Mandie laughed. "Obi Wan! You of all people should recognize that cut. Didn't you notice when you turn it how it focuses the light into beams? Focuses?" she hinted.
Obi Wan's eyes grew wide. "Then it is a focusing crystal! I thought the cut was familiar but I've never seen one quite like this before."
"These are the finest and rarest of their kind," Mandie explained. "They condense the energy into a tighter, denser blade. It's stronger and more powerful but actually uses less of the power cell's energy." She paused and smiled at his dumbstruck expression. "After I met you, I studied up on the focusing crystals used in lightsabers and began campaigning the company heads to cut more of the star allees into them. Unfortunately for the Jedi, the star allees are more profitable when they are cut for jewelry so not many of them get turned into focusing crystals. Tia and I began working together and finally we got a shipment quota filled a couple of months ago and sent it to Coruscant to the Jedi Temple. They were very appreciative and contacted us to tell us if there was ever anything the council could do for us, all we needed to do was ask. Well, needless to say, when this shipment was scheduled, we decided to cash in the favor. That's how you and Qui Gon got assigned to us."
Obi Wan held up the crystal and rolled it slowly between his thumb and index finger. He spared a glance at Mandie who nodded encouragingly and smiled.
"Please accept it. I want you to have it more than anything," she said warmly.
Obi Wan swallowed hard and looked at her with rapidly watering eyes. "I...I don't know what to say. Thank you, Mandie. No one has ever given me anything like this before." He leaned over and kissed her cheek.
Mandie reached for him and pulled him into her arms in a tight hug. She marvelled at how such a simple and valueless gift had practically moved him to tears. He was so different from Corbin, who always measured everything by its monetary worth alone. She shuddered involuntarily just thinking about him. Where was he anyway? He had all but disappeared after their spat on the bridge.
Obi Wan pulled back and looked at her concerned, sensing her shifting emotions. "What's the matter?"
"I was thinking of Corbin and how different you are from him. Two polar opposites. And yet I found him just as attractive as you at one time."
Obi Wan feigned insult. "And how would you explain that peculiar phenomenon?"
Mandie grinned and pretended to think long and hard. "I will only say that I had a thirst in need of slaking and Corbin was like your average alehouse brew, filling and satisfying for a time, but only because the house won't serve up anything better. Then there is you, who is like a new type of fine wine, to be sipped and savored and brought out only at the finest of occasions and only be served to the most discerning palates. And as you know, Tia and I have acquired a taste for new wine."
Obi Wan laughed. "Thank you, I think." He looked at his crystal once more then stored it in a pouch on his belt. "Speaking of Tia, were you able to contact her? How is she doing?"
Mandie frowned. "There wasn't any answer when the hotel service summoned her room." She shrugged. "I don't understand. I thought they would have stayed put for the night."
Now Obi Wan frowned. "That is strange." He reached down and pulled his comlink off his belt. "Here. I'll call Qui Gon. He'll answer this. Then you can talk to Tia. Okay?"
Mandie nodded and smiled as Obi Wan turned on the comlink.
Qui Gon groaned. Half from the immense physical pleasure that was coursing through his body from Tia's gifted administrations and half from the thought of having to answer the comlink that was suddenly and insistently calling to him from across the room.
Reluctantly, he lifted Tia off of him and planted her on the other side of the bed. Then he rolled over and sat up.
Tia looked up at him surprised. "Where do you think you're going? What's that noise?"
"My comlink. I have to answer it. Obi Wan wouldn't be calling unless it was important," he told her. He gave himself a moment to gain control over his erratic breathing before standing up and crossing the room to his discarded utility belt. He pushed his long hair back away from his face, sighed heavily and turned on the comlink.
"Yes Obi Wan?"
"Oh Master! We were getting a little worried," the padawan's voice rang out. "Is everything all right? Mandie tried to contact Miss Orman earlier using the hotel service but there wasn't any answer."
There wasn't any answer because Miss Orman was busy, Qui Gon responded mentally. "Yes everything is fine," he told Obi Wan, glancing back at Tia.
"Mandie wants to speak with Miss Orman."
Qui Gon closed his eyes and sighed. "Very well. Hold on." He stalked back to the bed where Tia lay tangled in the sheets. He held out the comlink to her. She took it with a questioning look. "It's for you. It's Mandie."
Tia smiled, amused. Qui Gon eased himself down beside Tia and pulled her up against him. He brushed her hair off her neck and began nibbling her shoulder. Tia inhaled sharply and tried to fend him off for the time being. "Mandie, are you okay, sweetheart?"
"Tia! Thank goodness! Are you all right?" Mandie asked anxiously.
Tia sighed and stifled a moan as Qui Gon began kissing her ear and stroking her sides languidly. "Oh I'm fine...I'm great, really." The aroused and amorous Jedi was making it very hard for her to think and speak clearly.
"Obi Wan told me what happened. He said you were all right, but I just had to hear it from you," Mandie continued.
"Well, don't worry anymore...I've never felt better," Tia told her and smiled at Qui Gon. She rolled over and reached up to trace the curve of his lower lip with her index finger. "I'm glad you called though," she added, hoping to reassure the girl enough to get her to sign off. Qui Gon caught her wayward finger between his teeth and began stroking her fingertip with his tongue. Tia felt tingles shimmy through her, all the way to her toes.
"Oh I'm glad I called too," Mandie said.
"You get some rest tonight, I'll see you tomorrow morning," Tia suggested hopefully.
"Okay, good night Tia."
"Good night, Mandie."
Qui Gon reached over and snatched the comlink from her and quickly turned it off before anyone could say anything else. He tossed it on the bedside table, then turned back to Tia with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. "Now, where were we?"
Tia pushed him on his back and straddled his hips. "Right about here," she whispered. She leaned down and kissed him, slipping her tongue into his mouth and rubbing it savoringly over his. He closed his eyes and groaned deeply, folding his arms across her back.
Tia pushed herself up and bracing her weight on her hands against his chest, she shifted her hips, carefully positioning herself on him and slowly leaned back, pressing him into her. She drew a deep breath and released it gradually with a low moan.
Qui Gon looked up at her admiringly. His hands slowly snaked up her thighs to her stomach and over her breasts. He began caressing her, pinching her nipples and then rubbed his thumbs over the sensitized tips. Tia leaned into his hands and began rocking her hips against him, slowly and consistently. Her hands moved to his wrists and slid down the hard curves of his arms and over his shoulders. Qui Gon began moving with her, gauging her responses to the increased pressure, and settled into a comfortable rhythm.
"I always thought we moved well together," Tia panted.
"Yes," Qui Gon sighed. "From the way you danced with me."
"It's that perfect Jedi rhythm ...and timing."
Qui Gon groaned and growled and smiled. "Dueling...dancing, making love, it's all the same. Is that what you're saying?"
Tia grinned. "You do make love as well as you dance," she breathed shakily. Reaching down, she threaded her fingers through his hair and happily tangled them in his silky locks. She stretched out her legs and entwined them with his, forcing their hips closer together. She began grinding against him harder and faster.
"So do you..." the Jedi said and moved his hands to her waist, causing Tia to sit back on him and push him deeper inside her. His body began screaming at him for release but he refused to give into it just yet. He clenched his teeth in luscious torment.
Tia moaned and closed her eyes as he took her hands in his and laced his fingers through hers. Her mind centered on the delirious pleasure she was feeling and she marvelled at how right everything felt; how comfortable they were with each other. It was as though they had been lovers for a long time. He seemed to know her so completely. He knew just what to do, how to touch her, and what pleased her. What was even more surprising, was that Tia felt she knew him just as well. She knew exactly what he liked, but she couldn't begin to understand why.
Qui Gon could feel everything she was feeling. His heightened senses became sharper with each passing moment and he was aware of even the most subtle intricacies of the woman in his arms. He could sense her escalating passion and absorbed it into him, sending her waves of his own desire back to her. Her mind was completely open to him and he knew exactly what she was feeling and thinking. He felt so close to her from this mentally intimate connection, he relished it more than their present physical one. He only wished she could experience it with him.
She climaxed violently; waves and waves of release pulsing through her. The sensation of it pierced into the core of Qui Gon's mind and spun wildly through his body, causing him to quickly follow her.
They collapsed together in a satiated heap, panting and gasping for air. Tia laughed lightly, and kissed Qui Gon's chest. She lay her head down and could hear the pounding of his heart against her ear. He wrapped his arms around her back and squeezed her tightly. He took a deep lungful of air and released a steady gratified moan.
"I've never felt anything more beautiful," he whispered and kissed the top of her head.
Tia peered up at him and sighed. "I can't tell you how many times I have dreamt of this very moment," she said seriously, then smiled devilishly. "Basking in the afterglow with you lying naked and sweaty beside me."
Qui Gon laughed and began rubbing her back, his hands passing slowly from her shoulders to her hips. "I've dreamt of it too," he admitted. "Though I never truly believed it would happen."
Tia kissed him and stroked his hair. She gazed steadily at his face, committing every detail to memory. He looked so handsome and so sexy right now, she wanted to remember him this way forever. It would come in handy if he ever decided to pick a fight with her again. She reached up and trailed her finger down the bridge of his nose.
"I love your nose," she sighed happily. "It's so aristocratic. Where did you get a nose like that?"
Qui Gon smiled. "In a fight. A long time ago. It never properly healed."
Tia leaned forward and kissed it. "Don't ever get it fixed, okay? I love it just the way it is. I love your face. I love your whole body." She suddenly grew very serious. She looked into his eyes sadly and sighed. "I love you, Qui Gon."
He looked back at her with his usual passive expression .
Tia sighed again, frustrated.
"I know it was a mistake. But I just couldn't help myself," she told him, her eyes filling with unshed tears suddenly.
Qui Gon reached up and cradled her face with his hand. "Is that the mistake you were referring to back at the restaurant?"
Tia nodded reluctantly. "I know Jedi are deeply committed to their diplomactic, nomadic lifestyles, but I guess I didn't know how much it meant to you personally until you started explaining to me about Obi Wan." She paused and sniffed sadly. "I wanted you to love me too even though I knew how wrong it was. I gave Mandie this big speech earlier about falling in love with Obi Wan and how he would only end up leaving her and she'd only make herself miserable because he could never love her in return." Tia sighed heavily. "I should have listened to my own advice."
Qui Gon held her to him and kissed her softly. "I knew, Tia," he said quietly. "I sensed it. We wouldn't have made love if I believed you felt any different about me. But it's all right. "
Tia shook her head. "It's not all right, Qui Gon. How is it all right?"
"I love you too," he whispered.
Time blinked in that moment and was irrevocably changed from that instant on. Tia's jaw slackened and dropped. "Oh, Qui Gon...I'm so sorry," she told him.
He laughed lightly. "There's no need for sympathy, Tia."
She frowned. "As if it weren't bad enough that the remainder of my existence is going to be miserable and empty, now I've gone and made you fall in love with me and condemned your existence too!" She snuggled against him and lay her head on his shoulder with an exasperated sigh. "What are we going to do now?"
Qui Gon eased her off of him and rolled her over on her back. He stretched out on top of her and kissed her deeply. "Everything we have been doing," he said and then smiled tenderly. "If it's all we can do, it will have to be enough." He dotted her neck with soft kisses and trailed them down to her breasts as he suggestively parted her thighs with his legs. Tia grinned up at him, catching his innuendo. She closed her eyes and whimpered contentedly as he began nibbling on her skin. If this was all they could do, perhaps her existence wouldn't be so miserable after all.