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  By Apache

Rating: PG, one instance of profanity and an ending that may shock some...
Disclaimer: usual copyright disclaimers
Author's Note: the quote about 'a lie murders...' is adapted from one of Merlin's lines in the movie 'Excalibur.'  Happens after "Well Begun"

     Heads turned surreptitiously to look at the tall young man as he swept through the hallways of the Republic's administrative offices.  The flowing, earth-toned Jedi robes that were so inconspicuous in most parts of the galaxy were utterly distinctive here, where expensively cut, sharply tailored, and brightly accented clothing tended to be the norm.  The Jedi's long, confident stride was also a distinct contrast to the hunched scurry that characterized the civil servants.

     Most of all, it was his bearing, some quality in his mere presence, that said that this particular Jedi was not one of the Senate's resident scholars, or even a visiting healer, but rather an active Jedi knight. 

     There were mixtures of interest, speculation, fear and attraction in the glances aimed at him, but no one tried to stop him with either a word or a touch.   Even the people who worked with Jedi fairly frequently were reluctant to approach a knight without a really good reason.  Besides, there was no knowing what kind of mission he might be bent upon.

     Qui-Gon Jinn was on his way to have lunch with the recently- appointed Deputy Third Minister, Finis Valorum.  They had lunched together a few times at irregular intervals, depending largely on the Jedi's presence or absence on Coruscant.  Qui-Gon knew that the deputy minister still didn't know what to make of him.  But it was also true that he did not know what to make of the young politician.  

     Through each of their meetings, Jinn's feelings had told him that he was dealing with a kaleidoscope, and perhaps one that was consciously selecting what patterns of light and color it wished him to see.  Yet in each conversation, there would be a fragment of thought that Jinn found resonant, even appealing -- but only a fragment, and then Valorum would disappear into jokes.

     This time, Finis had invited the Jedi to eat in a dining room reserved for officialdom, on the theory that really good food relaxed almost anybody.   He was already there, waiting and brooding. Will he show? ... Of course he'll show.  The chance of any Jedi ever breaking any commitment, however inconsequential, was close to nil. Yeah, but I don't think he likes this.  Or *me.*  

     There were many, many histories of the Jedi; Jedi scholars and healers and even knights were scattered around the galaxy.  Yet no one, Finis included, felt like they really knew anything about them.  The greatest mysteries of all were the knights, the ones who combined the passive discipline of submission to the Force with the extraordinary skills of their warrior tradition -- what were they like on the inside?  Jungle, desert, fractal, nuclear flame?  No one knew. 

     Finis wanted to know.  Somewhere inside all that drapery is a human guy.  He sleeps, he gets up... he doesn't shave.... Finis sighed, thinking over their previous meetings.

     The young Jedi always responded politely, if rather perfunctorily, to every topic of conversation Valorum introduced, but rarely led the conversation anywhere himself.  His answers were informative but impersonal. Valorum persisted in throwing out bits of his own life as lures, but so far nothing remotely personal had come out of Jinn. 

     And then there's the great stone face....

     The man might have been an advertising holo for self-possession.   Jinn's overall expression rarely altered much from what Finis and his young colleagues jokingly called Generic Jedi -- anyone who'd ever dealt with any Jedi in any capacity knew the look.  Except his eyes... stuff happening there. 

     Finis made a bit of a game of trying to decode the nuances.   Disinterest and mere courtesy were rounder-looking, concentration more triangular.   What the mouth did was not necessarily a real smile.  But if there were crinkles or crow's feet, it *was* a real smile.  Jinn's eyes mostly looked gray, but smiling made them seem blue.  They also went bluer when Jinn went out of focus to think about something carefully.   Eyebrow movement was frequent but still inscrutable.  Humor, concern, dismay?  How would I know?

     In fact, as far as he could tell, mostly he just bored the Jedi.  

     In the executive dining room, the interest level was a little more sophisticated, but still present.  A few people craned to catch a glimpse of the Jedi's lightsaber as his long cloak flowed and ebbed with his strides, but they looked away before taking the chance of meeting his eyes.  And a few were actually looking at Valorum as well, since he was marked for either success or self-ruin, either of which would be interesting and therefore made him possibly worth knowing.
     The glances continued at intervals as they were seated and told the steward what they wanted to eat.  And the way some of the other diners _didn't_ look at them was almost equally telling; they were being discussed. 

     Beside, the two young men made a pair worth looking at.  The Jedi's face was roughly made, framed by loose, light brown hair that looked like what it was, a padawan haircut being allowed to grow out, and a somewhat scruffy beard that was still filling in.  The politician was sleekly groomed and possessed of a startling male beauty --  rich black hair, fine features, the full, pursed mouth that was a family trademark, fair skin and vivid blue eyes.

      One person peeled off another table and came to visit.   "Hey, Finis, what's new?  Who's your guest?"

     "Qui-Gon Jinn of the Jedi, meet the deputy Minister-at-Large, Teo Skora.  Teo, meet Qui-Gon Jinn."  The smile that accompanied this introduction was about half grimace.

     "He sending you on a mission somewhere?" The question was punctuated by a chuckle, but the young woman's eyes betrayed real interest. 

     Valorum answered, a strain in his voice.  "We're having lunch."

     "Perhaps you'd like to join us," Qui-Gon said politely.

     Valorum became a still life.  Teo Skora's eyes became genuinely amused. 

     "Finis would never want me that near him with a knife," she joked. 

     Qui-Gon's face froze as well.  Valorum drew a bit of comfort from seeing the young Jedi thrown off balance, even for the smallest fraction of a moment.   No Jedi training in how to handle inadvertently asking the jilt-ee to join the jilt-er, eh?  Oooops.

     A large Chkk came up behind her.  "Valorum."   That was the greeting. "Cooking up another escapade?"  His voice had undertones of contempt.

     "Jedi Knight Jinn, Minister-at-Large Ekkrimsa." Valorum's voice was so carefully correct it was almost oily.

     Qui-Gon rose and bowed respectfully.  "An honor, Minister."

     "Jedi, huh?"  The Minister wasn't very interested; there was no way he could use or influence one.  "Come along, Teo."   Their food was arriving; Ekkrimsa was blocking the server.  He looked down at Valorum.  "We'll have to all get together for dinner sometime soon.  Call my office."

     Finis smiled and waved as Ekkrimsa and his aide walked away, but he muttered through his teeth, barely loudly enough for Qui-Gon to hear, "not in this lifetime-- *chom ba depepta, sleemo*..."

     A split second later, Valorum winced. He darted a glance at Qui-Gon.  "You understand Huttese?  O-o-o-f course you do.  Sorry about that."

     Qui-Gon smiled politely. "A creative combination.  Not words you expect to hear on Coruscant." 

     "Yeah." Valorum snorted. "Which is why I use them.   Picked it up flying between the Rims.  I kinda like the language, actually -- lets me vent a bit without getting fired.  Like about Ekky.  He hates me just because I'm no use to him, never will be.  I hate him back for going through life thinking that way.  If I knew some way to get the Chancellor to dump him, I'd use it.   Teo..." Finis sighed.

     "Teo hates me except when she loves me.  Which is another reason Ekky hates me, actually -- he'd like to get next to her and it's never going to happen."

     The Jedi made no response.

    What's he thinking now?  Valorum ran through several possibilities ranging from outright disgust to potential agreement on the merits of Ekkrimsa, but all there was to go by was that polite smile.  He rubbed the bridge of his nose.  "So you know those words, eh?  Ever use them?"

     "They don't entirely tend toward the preservation of peace and justice," the Jedi said dryly.

     "That's not a no," Valorum said hopefully.

     "It's a definite not yet," said Qui-Gon. "I'll be sure to let you know immediately if I ever find myself using those words to establish a truce."

     That should have been a joke, but the Generic Jedi smile never wavered.  Valorum shook his head. I don't care what he says, I think they get Inscrutability lessons.  He cast around for a topic, rubbed the bridge of his nose again, and thought of one.
     "Can I ask you, how'd you get this?"  Finis tapped the side of his own nose.  The Jedi had a distinctive and unrepaired broken nose, an extreme rarity on Coruscant. "And why'd you leave it?" 

     To Valorum's surprise, this question brought a wide grin out of the serene young Jedi.  "Judge me by my size, do you?"  he said cheerfully.

     Valorum was puzzled. "Well, yeah, for"

     The Jedi ran his fingertips along the bridge of his nose, feeling the bend and flattening of the cartilage underneath.  "Master Yoda broke it.   I kept it because the lesson was . . . an important one."

    And something more, Valorum noticed. Something he doesn't want to say to me.  He took a stab at it.  "And maybe to rub his nose a little in the fact that he defaced his apprentice?"

     The grin disappeared.  "No," Qui-Gon said.   "That would be wrong."

     "Excuse me," Valorum said quickly.  "I meant no offense."  Was this guy telling the truth? Probably; he's a Jedi.   But they don't just teach them Inscrutable, they teach them Strange.  Starting when they are very, _very_ young

     He took a bite of fruit, casting around in his mind for another topic of conversation.  The Jedi wasn't helping; he was simply and quietly digging into his lunch.

     "Speaking of truces," he essayed, "inviting Teo to sit down was a masterstroke.  It was almost an historic occasion.  Plus, you almost won bets for half the junior ministry."  He rubbed his jaw. "I think they thought you were my date.  Teo's talkative, and old Ekky is positively mean concerning anyone he doesn't own.  That'll give all the old twitterers something to twit about."

     The Jedi smiled.  "You wouldn't wish to disappoint them."     But this time the Generic Jedi smile really was concealing an inner feeling:  dismay.

     One reason he was leery of this particular Valorum was that publicity followed him like a gnat chasing rot.  Finis appeared to be the most gifted in his generation of a famously gifted family, but was also said to be among the most dissolute.  His name appearing in gossip linked with Valorum's as a romantic item was not something Qui-Gon Jinn would enjoy. 

     Then, of course, there was the ancillary question of whether this was Valorum's way of working up to a declaration of interest.  He did seem to date pretty much anything that moved... 

     The politician was pondering, too.  Disappoint them?   Insult, joke, sincere remark?  Valorum had no clue.  None of the above? 

     "Of course, you're not my usual type," Finis rattled on.  Somewhere inside this guy there has *got* to be a normal human reaction.   He affected a big, false smile.  "And you're not yet on record about what your type might be."

     The Jedi said nothing, and his face was completely neutral.

     Finis Valorum was a trained negotiator.  He knew how to pull a stone face, knew what an expressionless mien meant in dozens, even hundreds, of cultures.  It didn't help. 

     Both in the military and in law school, Valorum had been taught that the only way to repair a total lack of information was to get some.  He pressed ahead.

     "Ever been to Zero?  A bunch of us are going tonight; why don't you come with?  Come on, a night out with the boys and girls."   Zero, named for Coruscant's galactic coordinates -- zero/zero/zero -- was the current hotspot for the more expensive young social set.  "I promise you won't get debauched unless you want to be."

     The Jedi raised his eyebrows slightly. 

     Valorum wasn't sure if this meant confusion, amusement, surprise, disdain, or some entirely other thing.  He picked disdain.  Okay, eyebrows at half mast means disdain.  He decided to ignore it.

     "Come on, you can't tell me you do drunken carousing at the Jedi Temple.  Come see what normal people -- well, no, that's a lie -- come see what drunken young idiots with a ton of money do for fun."

     The Jedi smiled slightly.  It was not an eye-crinkle smile.   "Deputy Minister, I once attended a funeral that made anything that could happen at Zero look like a tea party.  It is a large galaxy, and we do get out of the Temple from time to time."  The smile widened, though it was no friendlier.   "And perhaps you would be surprised by what does happen within its walls."

     Finis sighed.  "I'm sure I would.  Just looking for a reaction.  You know, a couple syllables here and there to liven up my day."

     "Then my reaction will not have disappointed you."

     "Not at all." Finis smirked.  "At least now I know that it *is* possible to annoy a Jedi."

     This time the smile was genuine.  "Minister, sometimes the Jedi even annoy each other."

     "That *is* a relief," Valorum grinned. Reward the smile.  C'mon, Jinn, loosen up.  "You sure you don't want to come?" 

     Qui-Gon was sure, and becoming surer by the second.   "Deputy Minister, why do you wish me to come?  Do you think it would be good for me?  Do you want to observe what happens to Jedi restraint in a setting where excess is encouraged? Is it a desire to exhibit me to your friends?  Shall I simply follow you at a polite distance and be inscrutable?"

     "I don't want a pet Jedi," Finis snapped back.   Inwardly, he was cringing.  Inscrutable?  Did he read my mind?   Shit shit shit.  Also, he noticed that Jinn had tacked on "deputy" this time.  Demoted...

     "Which raises the question of what you do want."

     Valorum's temper flashed.  "What I told you.  An education, an understanding.  For which I will trade you mine, as it develops -- *if* it develops."  He swallowed hard, and his eyes narrowed. "If you want to call me a liar, Jinn, let's hear it now."

     Qui-Gon was both motionless and expressionless in that maddening Jedi way.  "I beg your pardon," he said calmly. 

     "For what?" Valorum's voice was cold and level.

     "Deputy minister?"  Oddly, what he was seeing, rage, was not what he was sensing through the Force.

     "What do you want me to pardon?  State your terms."

     Qui-Gon considered.  This was a good question, actually, and not one that most people would think to ask.  "For angering you.  For appearing to call you a liar."

     "Hah!" said Valorum, dropping the icy demeanor.   He waggled a finger at the Jedi.  "Hear this, Jinn:  never, ever apologize to a politician for calling him a liar.  Any pol who isn't a liar is a fool.  So if you get pushed about it like I just pushed you, they just want you in the position of having to apologize.  It's a power play."

     Qui-Gon nodded.  "An interesting lesson," he said neutrally.

     Valorum sat back and folded his arms.  "Would you be willing to promise never to lie to me, if I asked it of you?  Or a Senator did?   In our official capacity?"

     Qui-Gon didn't have to think long.  "Yes.  There could be times of having to withhold or delay a truth, but yes."

     Now Valorum nodded.  "That's what I thought.  Your life demands that you tell the truth.  Your life also _permits_ you to tell the truth.  Mine demands that I be willing to lie, it permits me to lie pretty much at will, it sometimes emphatically does not permit me to tell the truth, and every now and then it flat out demands that I lie."

     The Jedi's eyes grew thoughtful as he assimilated Valorum's words, comparing them with his feelings.  Despite the constantly changing array of faces Valorum showed to the world, Qui-Gon's sense of the deputy minister so far was that Valorum was not a liar.  It was curious to have the man himself insisting otherwise.

     Valorum leaned forward again.  "Jinn, what happens if you lie?  Does it screw up your whole relationship with the Force?"

     Qui-Gon shook his head.  "It's not that simple.   The Force can lead you into a situation where a lie is needed for a good reason."

     "How do you know?"


     "Instinct?"  Valorum was confused.   "Force-instinct?  How does it work?"

     The Jedi stopped to think.  Valorum dug into his food, watching the man's face and trying, without success, to find an expression he recognized.

     It struck Valorum that the young Jedi's eyes, as he looked inside himself for a way to describe the indescribable, were the most unguarded he'd ever seen them, thoughtful yet almost casual. He likes this question?  He likes this answer? ...He likes his food? It was curious, Finis reflected, that there seemed to be something sad, even delicate, lurking behind that gaze -- what could happen to a Jedi by the age of 23 to make for eyes like that? 

     "You feel it," Jinn said.  "There almost is an analogy to the physical kind of instinct."  He laced his fingers together and looked at them. 

     Qui-Gon's voice took on a teacherly quality.  "There is an old saying that a lie murders a small fraction of the Force.  It is not meant literally, but it teaches us that words are acts.  A word must be used as carefully as an action, a lie must be considered no less carefully than a death."  He glanced over at Valorum.  "Every choice is also a risk, every action.   There is always danger."

     "Once again, how do you know if you're doing it right?"

     The Jedi's eyebrows flickered up.  "The Force tells us."  He frowned.  "We must remain receptive, centered, even passive to know -- to have clarity in the Force."  His lips curved, and he looked down at his hands.  "I must."

     Passive?  This highly trained warrior whose lightsaber was even now resting at his hip?  Finis hadn't really dwelt on it, but despite his own military training, the young man in the capacious cloak could probably not just kill but dismantle him, bare-handed.  And then there was the weapon -- a meter of pure energy that could easily cut through anything from animal tissue to solid rock.   And what about that 'I must'?  A story there?

     Valorum shook his head.  "Passive," he said softly.

     Jinn glanced over at him.

     "Not one of my talents," Valorum said, relaxing.   "Passivity.  Makes me crazy -- up and doing, that's what I like.   Drives me nuts in other people, too -- you get an order, you carry it out.   You have a job to do, you get to it. Yet here you are saying it's crucial. If you asked me, I'd say I hated passivity."

     The Jedi smiled.  "Perhaps that's why I didn't ask you."

     "That and the fact that you have yet to ask me *anything*," Finis said.  It was only half a joke.  He saw an opening.   "Which leads me back to -- seriously, don't Jedi _want_ anything?"

     "Desire interferes with perception, minister."

     "No kidding," Valorum was amused by his phrasing.   "For example, my perceptions of Senator Carida's daughter Init are so scrambled they hardly bear talking about.  I mean, have you _seen_ her?"

     The Jedi remained impassive; Valorum gave him a slightly sour look.  "Or do you even notice the pretty girls and boys?"

     "You want one simple answer to unlock a whole soul, deputy minister." Qui-Gon smiled at him, but this smile was nothing more than the Mildly Friendly format of the Generic Jedi face. "Even non-sentient life forms are rarely easy."

     "Hey, me, I _am_ easy," Valorum joked.  "Ask anyone."  He grinned. "Ask Teo.  Or do Jedi try to not even think about sex?"

     Qui-Gon gave him a funny look.  "Deputy minister, you patronize me.  You want me to be all one thing -- some delicate, fascinating creature of the deep woods, or a solitary religious fanatic, or a singleminded warrior.  But we are as various and changeable as everyone else.  Perhaps more so because our focus is on responding to and serving the living moment."

     Valorum leaned back in his chair, smiling. "_Good_ avoidance there, Jinn.  A completely elegant, enormously interesting answer, and totally non-responsive to the question I asked.  We'll make a pol out of you yet."   Watching Qui-Gon's face, he laughed out loud.  "You're thinking that would be a fate worse than death." 

     "No," said the Jedi calmly, then his eyes gleamed.   "But I could have been."

     A joke! Valorum grinned, then spoke thoughtfully.   "Look, Jinn, I truly don't think I _want_ you to be anything.  My problem is, I can't _tell._  I watch you eat food.  Did you like it?  How would I know?  I understand Wookiee table manners better than yours."

     It made Qui-Gon laugh.  "I'll try to be more expressive."  He brought out a pretty good version of a Wookiee word for 'happy,' blending a warble and a hoot.  Most of the room turned and stared.

     Damn! Valorum laughed too.  "You're a man of many talents, young Jedi -- some of these folks have been out cold since the Keek Administration."

     Qui-Gon smiled comfortably.

     So he doesn't mind being a spectacle --there goes the deeply-repressed-Jedi-personality theory, Valorum thought.  Yup, I guess he just doesn't like me.  He sighed.  "Come on, let's go get some air, or we'll be comatose too."

     They walked together to a transit center where each could catch an airbus, Jinn back to the Temple and Valorum to a meeting.

     The two men fell into a easy stride together, an uncommon experience, and even a bit of a pleasure for each of them.  Both were long accustomed to shortening and slowing their paces for the convenience of shorter beings. Valorum had a long-ago mental picture of Jinn going by in the Senate halls at a deferential distance behind his master, Councillor Yoda; the then-teenaged Jinn was practically reduced to mincing. 

     The memory gave him a little stab, because it brought with it Valorum's thought at the time, which was that the tall boy was somehow so good-hearted about the silly mode of progression that he made it look like a great pleasure. 

     "Jinn, if I offended you with that Zero thing, I'm sorry.   That's not something I want to do." 

     "You do not offend me, minister."  Qui-Gon's head went up a bit. "It does sometimes seem as though you wish to."

     "Provoke you," Valorum conceded.  "I feel like I have very little sense of the guy inside the Jedi outfit, and I keep looking for him.  You know, poke a stick into the animal's den until it comes out?"

     "And bites you," said Qui-Gon.

     "If that's what it takes," Finis said seriously.

     "You, on the other hand, conceal yourself inside a fog of trivial talk."

     Valorum faltered in his stride and stared, eyebrows high.   "Well, crunch!" he said.  "Teeth!"

     The Jedi kept walking, looking straight ahead.  "You joke about everything, yet you are a serious man."

     "I'm glad one of us thinks so."

     Qui-Gon gave him a sidelong look that asked for a better answer.

     "Jinn, if the day dawns that I can't make a joke about anything, anything at all, you'll know I'm dead."

     The Jedi said nothing.  His eyebrows rose slightly, and he looked away.

     Disdain again? Valorum didn't think so.  Disappointment? He sighed.  Eyebrows are complicated.

     They didn't speak again until they were standing at the transit point, standing side by side and staring idly out at the cityscape.

     Valorum was mentally going over his schedule, which made him think of Zero, which reminded him -- "So... a funeral, huh?  Where was that?"

     "Aaeelok," Jinn said quietly. 

     His tone made Valorum wonder again --disappointment?   But that would mean he gave a shit.

     All Valorum said was, "Aaeelok?  No way-- the whole planet goes to sleep at sundown."

     The Jedi's face settled into its instructional calm.   "You are probably aware that on Aaeelok, the belief is that only males of the race transmit souls -- the gods send the souls to the men, who reincarnate many times, while the females are merely fleshly vessels where the new life incubates.  There are a great many rituals based on this belief, which are closed to outworlders." 

     Valorum nodded; this was schoolboy stuff.

     Qui-Gon continued. "As it happens, Jedi are not considered outworlders there, but rather sojourners, travelers who always have guest status. It is a grave insult both to host and guest if a guest does not participate in any important ritual to which the host is party." 

     Valorum nodded again.

     "All males present at the funeral of a male of the priestly caste are required to," Qui-Gon frowned slightly, "....mmm,  replenish the corpse so that it may travel to its next life ripe with many souls." 

     Valorum's eyes went wide, and he assimilated this information for a long moment.  Finally he said softly, "Force fuck me, Jinn, I think I might rather be me than you after all." 

     Qui-Gon nodded calmly.  "That is one possible response to the experience."

     Valorum's transport came first.  As the young minister climbed aboard, he said, "See you soon, Jinn."

     "I'll look forward to it." 

     Finis looked back in surprise. 

     Qui-Gon folded his arms into his sleeves and smiled blandly, but his eyes were gleaming again.  "Deputy minister, I didn't promise not to lie."


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