She rolled over and buried her face in his chest. It was morning but her aching muscles refused to allow her to get up.
"Laying here will just make them stiffer," a deep voice rumbled through her head.
She grinned and pressed a kiss to the hollow of his chest. Sliding her knee between his legs, she rubbed against the organ which lay peaceful until her touch began to lengthen it.
"I'm certain." She grinned playfully.
"Evil woman." Qui-Gon bent and tilted her head up so he could get a good look at her face. He smiled at the passion burning in her eyes and bent to capture her lips in a fiery kiss.
After a few intense moments, he pulled away. "Anakin will be here shortly. He's almost finished with his testing."
"You will need to go with him?"
"Yes, I have to make sure that the Council knows how important it is to train him."
"Don't you think Obi-Wan will have a problem with this?"
"He understands." Qui-Gon slid her leg off him and moved to get out of bed.
She knelt and wrapped her arms around his neck as he swung his legs over the side.
"What, Li?" Qui-Gon murmured. "You know I must..."
"I know, duty before anything else. I've learned that over the years." She sighed, lowering her eyelids to slits so that he would realize that she was mad.
"I think he doesn't and you need to talk to him. To him, it feels like you no longer want him."
Qui-Gon turned suddenly concerned eyes on his lover. "Has he spoken to you?"
"Just in passing today."
"What did he say?"
"It's more of a matter of what he didn't say and the tone in which he said what he did."
Qui-Gon sighed. "Damn. I don't want to hurt him. He is ready for the trials. Ready for the lesson's life without my guidance will teach him. He can learn no more from me."
"Tell him that. Explain it more clearly." She pressed a kiss to his shoulder blades, her tongue tracing small circles along the taut skin there. "Give him the courtesy of a private conversation explaining why before you drag him in front of the Council and further humiliate him." Her lips moved to his neck but he pulled away, startled by her words.
"Does he think I have done that?"
"He feels that you are abandoning him, yes."
"I'll take care of it." He moved to stand but her hands on his shoulders stopped him.
"Take care of me first." She smiled when he craned his head to look into her eyes.
He snorted. "I did last night, and this morning. Or have you forgotten already?"
She slid off the bed and circled in front of him, wrapping her arms around his neck. Her breasts were at eye level and she knew he would be unable to resist them for long. Before he could speak, she reached down and cupped his balls, twirling them around her fingers, rubbing them gently. He sighed, his will power had just been crushed and he wrapped an arm around her back, pulling her into him. The impact knocked him over and she straddled him with ease.
"I know you must be going, but I don't know when this mission will be finished and I want to feel you one last time before you go." She slid her hand down his chest, her nails scraping lightly against the skin sending shivers down his spine.
She pinned his arms to the bed with the Force knowing full well that he could get up if he wanted. She was banking on his desire to remain in the bed. She played with the curls before scraping her nails along the base of his cock. His hips arched off the bed at the sensation. When she took him in a firm grip and began to slide her hands along the thick shaft, he found it difficult to hold back a groan. She stroked him quickly, premature pearly beads slipping from the tip and slicking her hand.
"Li, stop," he groaned. He didn't want it to end too soon, not until she had taken her pleasure.
"I will get mine, love. Have no fear." She lifted her hips over the handful of throbbing muscles that she held, and lowered herself onto him. He slid as deep as she could take him, willing her muscles to relax. She rode him slowly for a few minutes, alternating leaning over him and leaning away. He took advantage of both positions, licking and sucking at a rosy nipple when they dangled like melons in front of his face.
When she leaned away, his hand slid between their joined bodies. The rough pad of his thumb found the bundle of over-stimulated nerves and began slow circular motions. Soon she rode him harder, thrusting down as hard as he thrust up. She spiraled towards the brink, his hardness stretching her and filling her to completion. Her pace increased until she came with a shout, collapsing onto his chest. He waited for a few short moments before rolling her over, careful to keep his hardness buried deep.
When she recovered, she opened her eyes and shot him a sly grin. "Take your pleasure love, I know you need to leave."
She wrapped her legs tightly around her as he began to thrust slowly, building a rhythm she caught easily. Soon he slammed into her, driving toward completion. He would have drawn it out, savored every tortuous moment before coming within her, but he didn't have the time. Already he would arrive late.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, murmuring, "Come, love. Come for me."
"How about in you?" he rasped, each word punctuated now with a grunt.
"Even better," she agreed and arched her hips again as his cock slammed into her and exploded. His hot seed filled her and she sighed in contentment.
He collapsed into her arms, weakened by the powerful climax, and rained kisses over her forehead, eyelids, and cheek before settling on a long, luxurious kiss. A long, tight embrace later and he had dressed and gone out the door, leaving his young lover lying sated in a bed they would never share together again.
"I'm coming with you!" Li'wa hissed at Qui-Gon as he packed his meager belongings into a small sack.
"No, you are not. The Council has asked Obi-Wan and I to escort Amidala back to Naboo and we cannot refuse."
"I'm not asking you to refuse. I am asking to go with you."
"You can't. You have a mission..."
"I can get out of it," she snapped before he could finish.
"Li," Qui-Gon turned around, his gaze calm. "We agreed long ago that our relationship would not interfere with our lives as Jedi Knights. What has changed so suddenly now?"
She knew his concern genuine, but Li'wa wasn't ready to relay her fears to him. Each time he left her, she feared he would never come back. The source seemed some terror buried deep within her, but she could not pinpoint it with any more accuracy.
"I don't know," Li'wa said quietly, turning to stare out the Plexiglas at the traffic littering the Coruscant sky. "I just think..."
"Feel." He wrapped his arms around her waist and drew her into a deep embrace. "Don't think."
She turned in his arms and wrapped her arms around his neck. "You're going to defy the Council again and train that boy, aren't you?" She smiled, trying to break some of the tension in the air.
"I won't directly train him. But I will tell him to be mindful of everything he sees and to watch carefully."
"You'll train him," she stated, smiling at his pretty way of saying, 'Yes, I am going to defy the Council.'
"Directly or indirectly, you're taking responsibility for this boy against the Council's wishes." She scraped her nails against the roughness of his beard.
He closed his eyes, luxuriating in the feel of her hands on his skin.
"I'm going with you," she whispered, pressing a soft kiss to his lips.
"No, you are not." He chuckled. "But I'll be glad to leave you with a memory that should hold until I return."
He lifted her into his arms, devouring her mouth in a sensual kiss. Carrying her, he walked to his bed, laid her on the clean sheets, then leaning over her. She wasted no time separating the folds of his tunic to reach the bare skin of his muscular chest.
Lifting his head to gaze into her eyes, he whispered a quiet, "I'm sorry," before passing a steady hand across her eyes.
Her eyes widened before she fell into the deep, Force-induced sleep.
"I love you, Li," Qui-Gon stood and straightened his tunics. "But this is a mission I must complete on my own. Maybe someday you will understand why."
"Master, she will kill you," Obi-Wan didn't bother to look up from the data pad he was reading.
"Oh?" Qui-Gon set his pack down and took up his own data pad. He took his seat next to Obi-Wan, pretending to look intently at the small screen displayed before him.
"You used the Force to knock her out. You will never hear the end of it." Obi-Wan sounded amused and Qui-Gon frowned.
"Obi-Wan, you hadn't your personal affairs your way, and I will handle mine my way."
"You certainly handled her earlier. I think the whole Temple knew what you were up to." Obi-Wan held back his laughter now and Qui-Gon sighed.
"I think only you felt that Padawan. There are some things that a Master cannot hide from his apprentice, and such feelings are one of them." He stared at his Apprentice. "But you would have had to be specifically attuned to my actions as well."
"Well, I wasn't..."
"Obi-Wan, I need to find you a woman. Peeking in on mine just will not do." He had such a calm demeanor Obi-Wan couldn't tell if his Master was serious or joking.
"Master Qui-Gon, Sir?" Anakin stepped into the room smiling from ear to ear. "Look at what Padme' gave me."
The boy held out a small object and Qui-Gon turned his complete attention to the boy at his feet. Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and returned to reading.
"Why, it looks like a miniature dried banga rose." Qui-Gon smiled. The box in which the miniature flower rested looked no longer than his index finger, the rose inside, no larger than his thumb. "The wooden box housing it appears carved, mostly likely, from an old tree, while the covering glass looks like an ancient firing process probably only known to Naboo."
"It's so pretty. No one's ever given me anything like it before."
Qui-Gon smiled, turning the small gift over in his large palm. Padm had truly given the boy a beautiful gift. The Master couldn't help but think there the gift held some sort of symbolic meaning behind the obvious. Along the small box's sides, intricately detailed carvings of nature's scenes depicted the wild, untamed regions of Naboo. Even the small glass cover bore carvings. Detailed waterfalls fell down the length of the sides into a small equally intricately carved pool at the bottom.
"It's very beautiful, Ani." Qui-Gon smiled. "Keep it close to you always."
"Yes, Master Qui-Gon." The boy cast a curious look at Obi-Wan before bouncing out the doors to show a certain Gungan the beautiful gift.
"He's not going to take me away from you," Qui-Gon stated quickly, determined to get the details of what he and Li'wa had talked about out in the open as soon as possible.
"I know." Obi-Wan didn't look up from his data pad.
"You're ready, Obi-Wan. Ready to take your place within the ranks of Jedi Knights. You can learn no more from me." Qui-Gon took a deep breath and continued. "I should have told you before we met with the Council of your readiness and my desire to take on Anakin as my Padawan."
Qui-Gon reached out and touched Obi-Wan's shoulder, drawing the young man's gaze from the data pad. "I'm sorry."
Obi-Wan smiled slightly. "Thank you, Master. I'm honored that you think I am ready."
"Let's put this behind us for now. We need to concentrate on the mission ahead. When we return, I promise you we will sit down and discuss all my faults in great detail."
Obi-Wan chuckled. "Thank you. I think I'll enjoy that."
"Brat," Qui-Gon muttered, but Obi-Wan could see the beginnings of a smile quickly smothered beneath his Master's nearly always-serious gaze.
"Wish to follow you do?"
Li'wa stood before the Jedi Council, very aware that she projected her unhappiness to every Council member. She didn't care. "Yes. You promised that you would discover this mystery man who attacked Qui-Gon on Tatooine, but you've done nothing. And now you've sent him back to Naboo into the middle of a war."
She knew it unfair of her to judge them and she also knew they could severely reprimand her for speaking this way to a Council member. But she only spoke the truth, from her point of view.
Not to mention that miserable man used the Force to knock me out so I wouldn't follow him to Naboo. She kept that comment silent, but from several curious looks some of the Council members gave her, she realized she hadn't kept it as silent as she would have liked.
"Love him you do. Admirable it is. Destiny will he find there."
"Whose?" She stared at Yoda, oblivious to the eleven other people in the room. "His? That boy's? Obi-Wan's?"
"We will discover who attacked Qui-Gon, it will take time." Windu answered this time, his tone even.
"I want to go. I can't help but feel that he will need me."
"Unusual this is. See this, I did not."
"I'm leaving today, with or without the approval of the Council."
"You will do no such thing," Ki Adi Mundi spoke for the first time since she had entered. "We do not need another Knight on Naboo."
"Yes, this has not been approved," Deppa agreed, her kind eyes regarding Li'wa with compassion.
Li'wa whirled, her eyes flashing red fire at the Jedi Knight. "Then you will bind me here and now."
"Look into this we will, decide we will tomorrow." Yoda's voice soothed her anger momentarily.
She sighed, aware she needed to learn to control her temper. Qui-Gon constantly worked with her on that. He might defy the Council on a regular basis, but he did so without resorting to threats or downright hostile comments.
"Then I will wait until tomorrow," she snapped. Bowing slightly to Yoda, she acknowledged none of the other Masters as she exited the chambers.
"Over it will be tomorrow. Hate us she will."
Windu cast a curious glance in Yoda's direction. The diminutive Jedi Master had seen something that he had not revealed to the Council. Mace knew better than to ask what it was. The rest of the Council remained silent, unsure of what to make of the diminutive Jedi Master's comment.
"Oh, Sith!" Li'wa grumbled as she walked into her quarters and surveyed the damage.
The gift Qui-Gon had given to her before he left the first time sat in the middle of the floor, still encased in its box. The paper it had been wrapped in, however, lay in shreds all over the floor.
"Damn you, cat! Can't you leave my papers alone!" she hissed and stalked into the bedroom. She looked in every hiding place she had discovered the cat loved to hide in, but couldn't find the little hellion. Casting a look at her desk, she found more papers scattered about the desk and floor, their ends chewed into little shreds.
"I thought you'd gotten over this!" she growled, more determined than ever to find the black Sith. She picked up bits of chewed paper on her way through the room, tossing them into a pile on the bed. When she couldn't find the black ball of fur, she sighed and laid across the bed in an undignified huff. No sooner had she hit the bed than she discovered two sets of claws imbedded in her back. The cat had been resting under the coverlets on the bed after her paper snack.
"Damn it!" She chased the cat into the sitting room where the black ball disappeared in the smallest crevice she could find. Li'wa sunk into the sofa, uninterested in chasing the little hellion around the room any longer.
As she closed her eyes, visions and images assaulted her, ones she never thought she would ever see... a grand army facing off against the Jedi Knights, their lightsabers bouncing harmlessly off the armor. Li'wa shuddered as one by one the Jedi fell, unable to find the weakness in the armor. She couldn't see herself or anyone she knew in the battle. Which meant that they had already died or been otherwise occupied.
She searched her mind for a time frame, but found nothing. Yet something made her certain that this vision revealed a possible future. The armor looked to be an updated version of the armor-clad warriors who had attacked her and Qui-Gon over ten years earlier. Another vision flashed before her eyes. This one presented the incarnation of a child's worst nightmare. Red eyes glared at her, his evil smile sending chill's down her spine.
Images flashed before her eyes faster than she could grasp them, but pain and despair accompanied them. Her eyes snapped open and she launched herself to her feet, nearly squashing the cat who decided it was now quiet enough to come out from hiding. She ignored the pain from the claws that sunk into her bare feet and opened a comm channel while changing.
"This is Li'wa Bucali. I need a fast transport ready immediately." She thought for a moment and then decided that if going against the Council would save lives, than she would do it. "This is an urgent mission for the Council. Don't breathe a word of this to anyone."
"Yes ma'am," crackled over the comm unit just before she cut the transmission. The door slid shut behind her, blocking out the cat's steady mewling. The Sith cat knew that something was not right...
She cursed herself for not defying the Council sooner, then braced herself against the seat as lasers and torpedoes exploded around the small ship.
"Land us as close to the palace as possible," she ordered the pilot and he complied wordlessly.
"Would inside the hanger do?"
"What?" She stared at the man as they descended into the atmosphere.
"My scanners read that there is no activity."
She leaned back, concentrating. A sharp pang deep in her heart made the decision for her. "Yes, land in the hanger."
The battle had purposely been moved away from the vital areas of the palace. As the ship landed, she ran down the ramp before it hit ground. She rested her hand on her lightsaber, her eyes searching the debris and bodies for clues. What had been so urgent as to drive her here against the Council's will? She had acted on her feelings and emotions, something Jedi learned not to do. Her gaze caught the open doors across from the hanger and she walked towards it, her eyes narrowing.
As she approached, she noticed two brown cloaks lying next to each other on the floor. For a moment, her heart trembled, thinking they had both been struck down where they stood. Then she noticed the black cloak several feet in front of her. She rushed around the cloak through the open doors, her cloak billowing out behind her. She ignored the Captain's cry for her to stay with the ship.
The doors led to a series of walkways and catwalks suspended over a large, endless reactor far below. Li'wa searched them, knowing that she would find them here. She heard the sizzling sounds before she saw the flashes of light. Two lightsabers could be seen at the far end of the catwalk. The blade color could barely be made out due to the distance, but she could tell it was Qui-Gon's.
She walked toward them, searching for Obi-Wan. If he didn't fight beside his Master, something must have happened to separate them. She only hoped hadn't been death that had done the deed. Then she saw Obi-Wan in the distance, Force-jumping up from whatever lower catwalk he had been on. He didn't hesitate before he ignited his lightsaber and raced down the corridor after his Master.
Li'wa broke into a run, desperate to catch him. She could see Qui-Gon pushing his opponent back. With a start she recognized the being from her dreams... the one whose eyes and smile could send shrills of terror into the most calm and serene Jedi Master.
A field ignited between the combatants and soon separated Qui-Gon and his opponent. Unfortunately, the force field also kept Obi-Wan from joining his Master as he skidded to a halt behind one with Li'wa trapped behind the last. She searched for a way to disengage the shields, but to no avail. She would just have to be patient.
She remained quiet, watching and waiting, knowing if she cried out she would distract the men. Beneath her stillness, she trembled with nerves. Through their link she sensed Qui-Gon... and his fatigue. He knelt now, pulling the Force to him, carefully choosing his next avenue of attack and taking what little time he had to rest and gather his strength.
When the beams disengaged, he launched to his feet, lightsaber whirling. Having found a new reserve of strength, he pushed the evil one back. Obi-Wan's body blocked her line of vision as he rushed to the end of the corridor. He didn't make it before the laser walls activated once again. She made it past two of the walls before they separated her once again as well.
She could do nothing but watch helplessly as her love battled with the dark one. Now and then he appeared to gain ground, but then the being would take a step back and gather himself again. The memory of her vision back at the Temple slammed into her senses, reminding her of why she had rushed to Naboo. Had she been here sooner, Qui-Gon would not fight this demon alone. She would have been beside him, preventing the inevitable from happening. For now she understood what the vision had meant... a future without the man she loved at her side.
She bounced with anticipation, no longer able to keep still. She couldn't watch, unable to help. Crying out would distract him and alert the evil one to her presence. Qui-Gon no longer held the winning advantage, but neither did he lose. Until the evil one executed a move that would have been praised in the Temple training arena. The move, an intricate combination of dance and talent, would have been welcomed had it not caused such pain to someone so close to her heart.
The being blocked a blow aimed for his head, and Qui-Gon overcompensated the distance between them because of his fatigue. The dark one used the center of his double bladed lightsaber to strike Qui-Gon across the face, knocking him off center, breaking his already fragile concentration. Whirling with his back to the Jedi Master, the evil one confidently executed a perfect back thrust, catching Qui-Gon in the midsection.
The look of shock and disbelief on Qui-Gon's face was the exact picture from her vision and stunned her into immobility. She cringed when he fell to his knees, the pain from the blow causing a wordless cry. He struck the floor with a loud thud and she fought back the angry tears threatening to spill from her eyes. Only a gasp could pass her lips, her heart stopping for a moment, until he lay motionless on the cold metal floor.
She faintly heard a scream in the back of her mind, but she dismissed it until she saw Obi-Wan bouncing impatiently on the balls of his feet, ready for his confrontation with the dark being. Confidence spread across the room like a wave. The man who had struck down her lover projected his arrogant self-assurance to Obi-Wan, making him tense with eager hatred.
*Get him, Obi-Wan. Because if you don't. I will.*
Before she could regret her hateful thoughts, the walls fell once again and Obi-Wan launched himself at his opponent. She raced as fast as her legs would carry her, but didn't make it past the last barrier before it slammed down in front of her face. She hissed, watching Obi-Wan's struggle. Watching the hatred flash in his eyes with every blow. That hatred controlled his movements. Fluid though they may have been, Li'wa knew that his hatred would be his downfall.
*Obi-Wan. Control it. Use it against him, not against yourself. Be at calm. Peace.*
She could see that she reached him, but it was too late. Their blades clashed and Obi-Wan grunted his anger. Obi-Wan's last, powerful attack provided all the dark one needed to catch him off guard and use the Force to push the anger-consumed Padawan into the molten pit.
Li'wa opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. She couldn't speak. The two most important men in her life had just been killed before her eyes. It would be her turn to carry on the battle with a weakened foe. She concentrated, gathered the Force around her and waited for the walls to go down once again. As she prepared, she noticed the black-clad figure move to look over the pit. Before Li'wa could believe what was happening, she noticed Qui-Gon's lightsaber fly through the air into Obi-Wan's outstretched hand.
He somersaulted over the horned ones head and sliced him neatly in two before he could react. Obi-Wan didn't hesitate before he extinguished the lightsaber and rushed to his Master's side, cradling his head like he would a newborn babe. The barrier holding Li'wa back disappeared and she rushed forward, tears already slipping from the corners of her eyes.
Li'wa knelt beside her love, just as his hand slipped from his beloved apprentice' cheek, taking a tear with it. She reached up and brushed her palm over his forehead, still warm and clammy from the battle. She brushed away the stray strands of hair, her other hand gripping Obi-Wan's where it rested over the fatal wound. Wordlessly, she leaned forward and rested her head on Qui-Gon's chest, the tears refusing to let up. She drenched his tunic, already wet with sweat, before Obi-Wan moved slightly by her side.
She looked up at the boy, who desperately tried to remain strong. But he was still a boy who looked as if he had just lost the most precious thing in his life. And he had. Qui-Gon had been a father to Obi-Wan for most of his life. There was nothing... no amount of words or apologies that would ever change that fact. Qui-Gon had been much the same to Li'wa when he had been her Master, fresh after becoming Knighted himself. Li'wa slid her hand up Obi-Wan's arm to retrace Qui-Gon's last trail down his Padawan's cheek.
"Let go," she whispered.
Only the hum of the plasma wall activating and deactivating broke the silence. He closed his eyes, fighting against the unbelievable emotions assailing his senses. He shook, with fear, rage or anguish, she wasn't sure. Time stood still as they sat there, holding the man who had meant more to them than anyone else had or could ever be.
As the reality of the situation sunk into Li'wa's mind, she began to tremble. Her hands quivered as she took her love's head from his Padawan's grasp, holding him as she had many times before. Only those times, he had been awake and smiling, the blue eyes bright with mischief. Now, she would never again see that calm, azure gaze as he watched her, the delight in them when he laughed, usually at some foolish thing she'd come home mad about. The desire and passion reflected in them when they made love.
"No," she whispered, the painful facts slamming into her mind. "No, no, no." She swayed, her words punctuated by deep, soul-shattering sobs.
Obi-Wan looked up first as the footsteps approached. He could hear their voices, mingled with awe and shock. He didn't know how much time had passed, but soon, the small security detail parted and Amidala stepped through, a charged and grinning Anakin following. The boy seemed a bundle of energy, jumping, and replaying the last events of his miraculous shot to anyone who would listen. Only his voice echoed in the large room as the security detail moved around the melting pit. Padme' made no effort to stop his chatter, determined to see what had happened.
Dead silence followed the revelation of the duel's end. Anakin fell left silent in mid-comment, his eyes widening in shock. He snapped his mouth shut and shook his head, muttering incoherently to himself. Padme' Amidala knelt beside Obi-Wan and took his hand in hers, offering comfort where she could. With her other hand, she brushed her palm against Qui-Gon's forehead in a gesture of respect. Li'wa continued to rock slowly, cradling her love.
"No!" Anakin wailed, sliding to a halt beside Li'wa, his small hands and fingers looking fragile and frail next to Qui-Gon's large frame.
"Master Qui-Gon?" The boy gripped Qui-Gon's nearest wrist and squeezed, unwilling to believe that the man he had come to look upon as a father, had been ripped from his grasp so quickly.
The boy's innocent wailing caused Li'wa to look up from Qui-Gon's still features. She had met the boy a few times when he was on Coruscant but had not completely understood why Qui-Gon had taken him under his wing so quickly. Now she understood. Qui-Gon's death had devastated the boy as well. The Master could instill such loyalty in his friends. Anakin's head fell onto Qui-Gon's chest, his small shoulders shaking the limp arms as he cried.
Li'wa slid a hand over his shoulders in a gesture as comforting as she could manage. The scene filled with tears as Padme' spoke with her guard. She made plans quickly, without the consent of those closest to the fallen Jedi Master. Padme' would send him on his final journey in a ceremony befitting a ruler of Naboo, and no one would talk her out of the celebration that would honor his life.
Li'wa found the gardens splendid this time of night. The flowers bloomed and their fragrance hung in the air like a canopy. She walked along the cobblestone path in a daze, following the small stream as it bubbled over ancient stonework. The preparations had been made for Qui-Gon's funeral and the ceremony would start soon. She needed one last time alone before they slammed the final nail in the proverbial coffin into place.
Very few coherent thoughts would form at one time. She felt as if she floated over the small bubbling stream. Without feeling, without hope, without love. She felt numb. For what seamed like her entire life, Qui-Gon had been there for her. Nurturing, teaching, consoling, training and in the end, loving. The life of a Jedi Knight was not easy, he frequently repeated. And their life together had been far from easy. Their personalities clashed at times, reminding her how similar they were, in reality.
She'd loved him for years as his Padawan, and then years later as his lover. While not forbidden to marry, Jedi did not enter into it lightly. Li'wa never thought her life needed more for completion, but now she missed that one little signet. The proof, to anyone who looked, that she belonged to him and vice versa. She felt empty without him with only her memories of their life together. One of those memories centered on a garden similar to this one, but with a larger pool of water, big enough to swim in.
They had laughed and splashed themselves into exhaustion. He had first revealed his feelings to her that night. Making love beside the rippling pool, the cool air a contrast to the heat of their bodies, he told her he loved her. The Jedi taught their people to hold dear no tangible possessions, so Qui-Gon had made a wreath of colorful flowers and set them on her head. He had painstakingly twined much smaller ones into a ring, which she still kept inside a small ornate case in the Temple. It would have fallen apart too quickly if she had tried to wear it.
"Memories won't be enough." She sobbed into her hands and sank to the grass covered ground.
Blossoming Alderaanian short roses surrounded her, their sweet smell permeating her clothing. She wrapped her cloak around her body, collapsing into herself. She lay on her side, cradling her head in her hands as she wept. Memories of their lives together replayed through her mind in slow motion, tearing her heart even more. The good times, the bad, the painful, the funny, the reprimands before the Council that she became so used to having him return home to face. She couldn't stop the tears as they slipped down her cheeks. She fell asleep among the roses, exhaustion, emptiness and despair her only companions.
The bells chimed, deep, carrying along the wind and into the garden where she slept. Li'wa awoke with a start, hoping, praying that the events of the past twenty-four hours had been a dream. She moved to sit, groaning at the ache that had drained her body, both mentally and physically.
"I'm late!" She groaned, pulling herself off the ground and running toward the spherical funeral dome
She stood outside, waiting, gathering her thoughts, and centering herself and her emotions before entering. The deep chimes tolled once more and then stopped. She stepped into the dome, immediately assaulted with a myriad of emotions.
Duty brought many to this event, but most of those surrounding the pyre came due to the respect and friendship Qui-Gon had earned. The Jedi Council stood to one side, watching the proceedings quietly, their calm, serene faces a mask to the true emotions flowing through their bodies. The Queen and her entourage gathered at the front, their respectful stance and posture honoring the man who had died defending their people. Anakin and Obi-Wan had found a place between the Queen and the Gungan delegation, who had as much to thank Qui-Gon for as did the Naboo.
Li'wa could not see Obi-Wan's face, hidden within the hood of his cloak. Anakin's face presented a vision of confusion and pain. Without the training to conceal and control his emotions, he openly winced as the senior ranking member of the Jedi Council lit the fires. Li'wa leaned against the stone frame, its coolness permeating her warm skin. She couldn't step any further into the dome. It seemed as if a solid invisible wall had been constructed to exclude her. She sobbed, gripping the stone for support as she swayed on her feet. She secured the hood about her face and stood tall, respect for the ceremony foremost in her mind.
When Obi-Wan turn to speak to Anakin, she noticed that his face held the pain and despair that she felt in her heart. She could not hear what they said, but she knew that it had now fallen to Qui-Gon's Padawan to train the young boy. Li'wa knew Obi-Wan would not refuse, even if he had to defy the Council to carry out his Master's final wish. She'd spoken very little to Obi-Wan before the Council sequestered him, but she had learned of Qui-Gon's final wish.
The Queen spoke a few respectful words in a language Li'wa did not understand. Tradition among her people, Li'wa assumed. The representatives honored the man lying before them in their own way. Whether they bowed, offered words of respect, a flower set upon the burning flames, each paid their respects as the fire burned away the body to ashes.
Li'wa stepped into the dome as the last of the representatives exited the opposite direction, leaving a select few within the warm walls. Amidala extended her hand to Li'wa and the woman took it without hesitation.
"I understand your pain. Please join us at the celebration tomorrow." She directed her words to Obi-Wan and Anakin as well as they stepped closer.
Li'wa shook her head. "I cannot..."
"Please, let me finish." Amidala smiled as much as the made-up face would allow. "The proceedings tomorrow will not only solidify the peace between the Gungans and the Naboo, they will celebrate Master's Jinn's life. We have honored his death here tonight and now tradition among my people demands that his life be so honored."
Li'wa took a deep breath, taking only a moment to decide. "Then, I will attend."
The Queen smiled. "A place will be set for you."
She turned to address Obi-Wan and Anakin. "A place has already been readied for you as well."
Obi-Wan bowed in respect, not trusting his voice and Anakin followed his example.
"I will leave you to your mourning." The queen released Li'wa's hand and did something uncharacteristic for a woman in her position. She stepped away and bowed, as much as the elegant dress she wore would allow. First to Li'wa, Obi-Wan and Anakin. Then, she bowed to the man who had died for her; to the pyre that now only contained his ashes.
The celebration consisted of a colorful array of native clothing, banners and streamers. The people of Naboo had dressed in their finest to celebrate the victory over the armies of the Trade Federation. Dignitaries of all kinds stood at the top of the dais waiting for the Gungans to arrive.
The people of Naboo had more to celebrate than this victory. For their representative in the Republic Senate had been elected Chancellor as well and the Naboo and Gungans would soon enter into a peaceful coexistence. Something that had not occurred for as long as the elders could remember. They exchanged the globe of peace and the crowed cheered.
Li'wa remained passive, watching the proceedings as if from a different existence. She stood there respectfully with the rest of the Council. But her mind and heart remained apart from the people of Naboo, still inside the reactor room where her heart and her life had been ripped from her soul.
She knew Obi-Wan felt the same, could see it in his face, in the false smile he projected for the people. Anakin smiled, taking in the excitement with a child's eyes. In his young life he had not seen a spectacle like this before. But an unnatural calmness surrounded him. The exuberant boy she had met on Coruscant had disappeared. His great loss had given him an aura of sedation. Tomorrow would be another day. They would return to the Temple and continue their duties. But their lives would never be the same again.
The Naboo day had dawned and stayed clear, the crystal blue sky a sight to see under more appropriate circumstances. As the holders released the birds of peace, Li'wa followed their ascent into the heavens. There, watching over her, she felt certain she saw the form of the man she had loved for so long. His azure gaze remained calm and bright as he watched over the celebration.
I will never forget you.