To all those who've been ostrasized or abused because of their different ways of loving. The list is far too long.
To their families, friends, and lovers.
Mace lit the wick of the floating oil lamp, then settled himself cross-legged before the simple block of cream-colored stone. An oval basin had been cut into the block and filled with water. Vibrations from within the tower, from the constant traffic clogging Coruscant's skyways, sent ripples rolling across the water's surface. The tiny globe-shaped lamp bobbed and drifted. Tracking the tiny light helped him quiet his conscious mind.
Gradually, the stresses and tensions that made up the everyday life of a Jedi Councillor--project deadlines, an audit from the Senate's finance committee, missing Jedi, squabbles among the ranks--fell away and Mace sank deep into the calmness of his center.
Jedi were not prone to sectarian religious worship. Awareness of the Force blurred lines that seemed immutable to those without Force-senses. The Code took the place of theology, and under most circumstances, Mace felt content with that. Other times...well, sometimes even the most stalwart of Jedi needed to anthromorphize. He visualized the twelve-rayed star, symbol of Iola, the protective spirit of his homeworld.
Iola, strengthen those who walk in the Light. The path ahead is paved with thorns, and those I must send will bleed grievously before they reach safe haven once more. Let the wounds not be in vain. Iola, I know you to be one with the Force. If you are moved to hear the words of a wayward son, be with those in need.
Silence, now, in his heart, in his mind. He embraced the quiet, letting it soothe his nerves. Little by little, Mace became aware of his surroundings once more: the chill of the stone floor beneath him, the dryness of the air, the scent of the lamp oil. He opened his eyes. He focused first on the stone block, then allowed his eyes to be drawn up along the graceful arch of pale stone behind it. He exhaled and stepped back into the present.
Immediately, he heard the muted rumble of traffic, the perpetual sound of the fountains. His time-sense told him that he had spent a half-hour in meditation--and that he had ten minutes before his working lunch with Qui-Gon Jinn. Mace got to his feet and doused the lamp. His dark brown robe lay neatly folded on a nearby bench. He shook it out, then pulled it on, smoothing the folds.
Nine and a half minutes.
Mace left the Place of Reflection, heading towards his office. He'd timed it well; this level of the Temple saw little activity this time of day. He could get back to his workspace without running the gauntlet. Every time he appeared in one of the Temple's public areas, he inevitably encountered a dozen different variations of, 'Master Windu! I've been looking for you!' or 'Councillor, might I have a moment of time,' and his all-time favorite, 'Mace, did you authorize this?'
Serving on the Council would be so much more pleasant if we could get rid of the beauracracy, he thought, pressing his hand flat against the palm lock. The door slide back and he strode in. The antechamber, usually occupied by his aide, was empty. He'd planned for that as well, sending the young Choovian on an errand that would take most of the afternoon. In his main office area, he found a flat gray chip case on his desk, delivered by his aide prior to leaving on his next assignment.
Oh, good. We can get started as soon as Qui-Gon arrives.
The mission to the Bahari system--and its preparation--required absolute secrecy. Even Qui-Gon's Padawan would not know of the mission, until they'd boarded the ship and broken orbit. Right now, the Temple's general populace believed Qui-Gon had been lassoed in--er, volunteered--to help Mace sort through the staggering project requests for the next academic cycle. That story wouldn't hold up for long, once the academics began comparing notes.
It doesn't have to hold up for long...just long enough.
Mace sat down behind his desk and opened up the gray case. Inside it were datapads, chip cases, and a sheaf of hardcopy documents. He frowned at the last. All of the mission-prep material should have been encrypted in secured pads. He reached for his comm-link and keyed in his aide's page-code.
"Daka," came the prompt reply.
"Daka, did you get the hardcopy from Master Jinn?" Mace asked.
"Master Jinn wasn't available when I went to pick up the materials, Councillor, but his Padawan let me into his office. The case you sent me for sat atop of a pile of of hardcopy files. I assumed they were part of the material and put them in with the rest." A pause. "Did I perform incorrectly, sir?"
Mace hesitated. If the printed material proved to contain any of the Bahari material, Qui-Gon would be at fault for failing to observe proper security procedures, not Daka. If they turned out to be his Padawan's final paper on the singing crystal gardens of Mikahza, better his aide be spared the embarassment.
"No, Daka, I only wanted to verify the source. Carry on."
"As you bid, sir."
Mace cut the link and set the unit aside. Best to deal with immediate problem first. He picked up the sheaf of printout--flashfiber, he noted with approval. Unlike chips or pads, flashfiber paper could be ignited with just a small spark. It burned hot and fast, making it ideal for 'read once and destroy' material. He looked over the first few lines, trying to get an idea as to its contents.
It is not for the Padawan to counter
the Master. I know this, I believe this--and yet I did not gainsay
Mace frowned. What the--? Damnit, had Qui-Gon ignored orders again and briefed Obi-Wan ahead of time? If so, childhood friend or not, he'd issue a formal reprimand against the other Master. The Bahari situation was just too cursed volatile, their window of opporunity too small to risk. Frowning, he continued reading.
He came to me, came and confessed. I can still see the light in his eyes, the fine tremor in his hands and lips as his body thwarted his tightest control. I kept to the Code, and told him such things were not possible between us. I kept the Code, not out of slavish devotion to custom and What Is Done, but because he was young. Too young.
He defied me. Oh, nothing blatant, nothing that would draw even the slightest murmur or questioning glance from the Council or any of the Order's conservative majority. But they did not see him in our quarters, never glimpsed the thoughts and images in his mind when his shields "accidentally" slipped.
I am a Master. My control has been tested against countless stressors, through agony and depravation, through humiliation, and rage--but it was not enough against one Padawan determined to prove how much he loved me.
Mace set down the page, his stomach twisting. Qui-Gon...you didn't...couldn't have... Almost against his will, he began reading again.
The memory is days old now, but still my hands shake. The taste of his skin, the warmth, the soft sounds he made when I touched him...
Mace dropped the paper as if it had burned him. Qui-Gon, and--? His mind refused to wrap around the words, the images. It--it violated every standard of decency, everything taught by the Masters, the Code, the very foundation of their Order! His friend had learned that Code alongside him--had this deviance possessed him even then? He heard the door open, and looked up to see Qui-Gon entering with two trays.
"I can't swear this is much better than Tebit food, but--" Qui-Gon broke off, noting the stunned expression on Mace's face, the emotional chaos he was surely leaking into the Force. "What is it?"
He couldn't speak, only lower his gaze to the papers on his desk. Qui-Gon stilled, as if turned to stone. His friend--this was his friend?--set the tray down and picked up the pages. He barely looked at them--but he had written those...those...
"Where did you get this?" Qui-Gon asked, his voice a shade too soft.
Mace cleared his throat, straightening in his seat. "Your desk. You weren't there--Daka thought they were part of the material."
"I see." The older Master carefully tamped the pages together, straightening them, then set them aside.
"I don't understand, Qui-Gon."
"What don't you understand? That I love my Padawan? That I expressed that love physically, or that I would express love with another man?"
The older man's voice never wavered, never slipped out of its customary cool control. 'I am a Master.' Well, my friend, so am I. And I have a Master's duty to the Code.
"Physical love between men is a blatant repudiation of the Living Force."
The deep blue eyes narrowed a fraction, the only acknowledgment of the hit. Qui-Gon Jinn felt the Living Force in ways few could measure, much less duplicate. To say he denied it... Still, Qui-Gon didn't flinch, or look away in shame.
"Is that your personal opinion, Mace,or do you have any concrete proof that my behavior is wrong?"
"Light and Darkness, you stand there and calmly admit to it!" Mace shook his head, as if that could drive the sound from his ears. "You said it yourself, he is too young-- your own words, Qui-Gon! You took a boy to your bed, a boy who had been set in your charge, to whom you had a sacred obligation to teach and protect!"
"And I still uphold that obligation."
"Teaching him to suck your cock is not what's meant to be in the lesson plans!"
Now he had his reaction: Qui-Gon's face went bone white, then splotched red. The large hands trembled, then slowly, deliberately tucked themselves into the Master's sleeves. A muscle in his jaw twitched. For a moment, Mace fancied he could hear the other man's teeth grinding. Mace forged ahead, keeping his eyes fixed on Qui-Gon's. His friend had been lost, somehow, but surely the man he knew was still there, could still be reached and brought back to the Light.
"Acts of physical love express the power of the Living Force in sentient beings. The fullest expression is in the siring and bearing of Life. Coming together with another for that purpose is one of the highest services to the Living Force. It is natural--"
Qui-Gon snorted derisively. "Natural? Mace, have you looked out the window? We are in the heart of a city that ate an entire world. Someone is wounded, we put them in a bacta tank and watch the flesh and organs regenerate. We vaccinate, craft a prosthesis to replace a lost limb or defective organ, perform surgery and transplants, slow aging with chemical treatments. All of the food consumed on this planet and half the worlds in the Republic is grown in vats. Worlds like Tatooine and Hoth are completely dependent on technology for their people to survive. Countless other worlds use irrigation and chemicals to draw crops from land naturally infertile--"
The biting sarcasm in the older Jedi's words could have drawn blood. He fair vibrated with fervent emotion.
But how pure could that emotion be, with this as one of the routes of expression? The Code said quite clearly, 'there is no passion, there is serenity.'
"--and feed millions in the process. Don't sit there and talk to me about natural, Mace, not when the first being who crafted a fishing pole, clothing, or kindled a fire stepped out of his natural place and created a whole new world."
"That is pride speaking, Qui-Gon. Pride that shifts focus to the being instead of the Force and its Will. That is justification and rationalization, not enlightened reason."
"Ah." Qui-Gon nodded thoughtfully. "So there is one truth in one situation, and another when circumstances change."
"Our only salvation is adherence to the Code," Mace argued. He could feel himself slipping away from his own center, that bright place of peace and serenity that allowed him to do all he must in service to the Order. "Qui-Gon...old friend...you know I must report this."
The dark blue eyes rested on his face for a long moment. How did the world appear, viewed through such eyes? Surely he did not see the same colors, the same light and shadow as ordinary men, or even other human Jedi. How else could he have turned away from the Code?
"I know you will follow the dictates of the Code and Council."
From any other's lips, that phrase would be a verbal gesture of confidence. Qui-Gon made it sound like the bleakest submission. Still trying to recover himself, Mace said nothing as Qui-Gon turned away.
"You know where to find me, Mace."
The door closed behind him, with a sound as final as any crypt closing.
Mace stared at the closed door for a long, long time afterwards. Then he looked down at the papers left so neatly on his desk. Flashfiber. It would be so easy...just one small spark, and the evidence would be destroyed. The public accusation would never have to be made. He could handle this quietly, arrange a long off-world mission for Qui-Gon, place Obi-Wan into a counseling center, arrange for another Master to oversee his training, if the Padawan could still be salvaged.
He could be silent. A co-conspirator. And violate every vow he made as a Jedi and a guardian of the peace and agent of justice.
Qui-Gon...oh, my friend, I don't want to do this, but you leave me no choice! The sanctity of our Code must be upheld, or the Order will be overwhelmed by the chaos that eats away at the Republic.
Taking a deep breath, he turned to his main communications console, the one tied into the Temple's own security net. Using his Councilor's code, he sent a priority message to the members of the Council, calling them to assemble for an judicial session. Then he contacted the Healers, arranging for two Master Healers to perform the required physical examinations. Mace didn't allow himself to think outside of the Moment. Duty was a Jedi's burden, and one must not bewail its weight. But deep inside, he grieved.