Body Title: Following Your Heart

Author: valsolo

Genre: Romance/ Adventure

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: This is written for pure fan enjoyment and is not meant to infringe upon the rights of George Lucas. I just appreciate his creations!

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Chapter 1--

"Final count stands at eleven this time around, sir." The young man stood at attention waiting for acknowledgment from his superior. The leader of this small group was silent as he made the mental calculations in his mind. Eleven would bring in a nice pile of credits, but he craved much more than this shipment would garnish. Realizing that his subordinate was still standing there, he quickly dismissed the eager-to-please boy.

"Yes, of course. Very good, Deek. Tell Yung we're ready to lift off for Kessel as soon as possible. We have goods to deliver and credits to collect." Deek turned to go but was stopped by an added command. "And bring me the holoprojector. I need to contact the boss."

A chill ran up the spine of the young man at the mention of the 'boss'. It always did. Even though Deek had only seen him in holograms, the dark figure emanated evil, it seemed.

"Yes, sir." Then he turned and speedily moved to accomplish his assigned duties, all the while trying desperately to ignore the eleven cries for help coming from the ship's cargo hold.

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Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi strode swiftly down the corridor of the Jedi temple headed toward the Council chambers. He was racking his brain trying to figure out what Anakin could have possibly done this time to warrant such an urgent request from Master Yoda and the others. His young padawan was so often finding trouble, and Obi-Wan was always the one saving his hide. Even after six years together, his young charge was still prone to flights of fancy far too frequently for his master's liking.

Obi-Wan was already mentally preparing himself to defend Anakin to the council as he rounded the last corner and came face to face with those immense wooden doors. He would never forget each visit he made there, especially the last he had made with his own master, Qui-Gon. Shaking off the haunting memory, he took a deep breath and opened the door.

"Ah, Jedi Kenobi, come in," came the aged voice of Yoda. Obi-Wan looked around the circular chamber at the faces of the wizened Jedi Masters. His goal was to sit in one of those seats someday, but he was beginning to doubt the likelihood of that dream due to one mischievous padawan.

Obi-Wan bowed in greetings to the assembled group and waited for the certain chastising.

"Jedi Kenobi," Master Mace Windu began after an awkward silence. "We have summoned you here at this time to discuss a problem which demands our immediate attention."

'Here it comes,' Kenobi thought as he lowered his head and stared at his black Jedi boots. Every time he entered this room he felt like a young padawan being scolded. The frustration came from knowing he was not the perpetrator but was still being held accountable for Anakin's actions.

"We have received a message from a planet close to the outer rim that is quite disturbing, and they are requesting our help."

A look of confusion shone on Obi-Wan's face as he gradually realized that this had nothing to do with his padawan. Master Yoda easily picked up on Kenobi's relief and couldn't resist a comment.

"Ah, relieved you are, eh? Expecting something else you were." A chuckle came from the elfin creature. Obi-Wan blushed at being read so easily. "Please, continue, Master Windu," Yoda conceded.

"The planet Teemar is home to a wide variety of species, a cosmopolitan type world, if you will. However, recently there have been several mass kidnappings of non-humans. The crimes are believed to somehow be connected to a human supremacy group."

"Those types of groups have been around for quite some time," Obi-Wan stated.

"Yes, but what makes this even more disturbing is that the kidnappers are targeting children." Mace paused to allow the seriousness of the situation to soak into Obi-Wan's mind. "We have reason to believe that the children are being sold as slaves, and what is more unsettling is that it may all be linked to the government here on Coruscant."

Obi was definitely listening now. Over the past couple of years he had noticed subtle changes in the attitudes of some towards non-humans, but had tried to ignore it in hopes it would pass. Now upon hearing that defenseless children were the victims of this growing prejudice, he was intent on helping in any way he could. It was the right thing to do.

"Where do I fit into all of this?" he asked with a raised brow, his face in that typical Jedi scowl. Over the past year he had let his hair grow to just above his shoulders and for the first time chanced growing a beard. Anakin had teased him a bit at first, but Obi-Wan now felt quite comfortable with his new look.

"We want you to travel to Teemar and investigate this disturbance. Find out the facts and report back to us. We will then decide what steps to take next in this matter." Mace Windu leaned back into his chair, his fingertips pressing on one another in his familiar pose.

"When do Anakin and I leave?" Obi-Wan asked, ready as always to do his duty.

"Skywalker will not be accompanying you this time," Ki-Adi-Mundi informed him.

"What?!" Kenobi asked in surprise.

"Decided we have that this would be a good opportunity for you to take a small break from your padawan," Yoda began.

"Yes," Windu continued. "We have felt the strain the boy puts on you from time to time, and we feel that you deserve a respite from your responsibility to the 'chosen one'. The council also feels that the issues this mission deals with may ignite the passions of the boy, seeing as he himself was once a slave. It will be better for him to remain here at the temple where he can continue his training under our strict supervision."

Obi-Wan stood silently contemplating all that had been said. Were they really giving him a break? So many times he had wished for just a day without the responsibility that was Anakin Skywalker. Now here was his chance. He had never been alone on a mission. Could he do it on his own? Did he have a choice?

"Okay," he said. "When do I leave then?"

"Tomorrow morning. May the Force be with you." Those final words from Master Windu heralded the end of this meeting, so Obi-Wan bowed once more before leaving the council chamber.

His Jedi cape flowing behind him, Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi walked pensively back to his quarters. His first order of business was to inform his sixteen year old padawan that he was being left behind. Knowing full well Anakin's love of adventure and space travel, Kenobi knew this would not be a pleasant task.

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"... and that is how a mynock eats. Pretty disgusting, huh, class?"

A light knock sounded, and the young teacher moved to answer the door. "Okay, boys and girls, I want you to continue working on your independent reports. You each have your data pads, so I expect you to use this time wisely." The students nodded and got to work. She beamed with pride at her class. They had come a long way in her time with them, and she had become so attached. The happenings of the past few weeks made her even more protective than usual of these precious treasures entrusted to her care.

Poking her head out the door, she was surprised to find the school chairman in the hall.

"Chairman Calder, what can I do for you?" the teacher asked stepping into the hall. A class full of ears and other listening appendages strained to hear the conversation taking place outside when the door was shut.

The short corpulent man looked nervous as he wiped away a few sweat beads from his brow. "They are sending a Jedi Knight here to investigate the..... incidents."

"Well... that's wonderful, right?" she asked, confused by the man's anxiety. "I thought that was why you sent for them, sir."

"Yes, yes, of course," he said absently. "The Jedi will be arriving after school today. I would like for you to meet him at the spaceport and see that he makes it to his hotel. Then please bring him here to the school for a meeting with the proper authorities and myself."

"Me?" she asked. "But I had plans for this evening, sir---"

"Miss Zendar, I hate to impose, but this is urgent business... the children, you know."

The children. Well, now she felt two inches high.

"Yes, of course, sir. I'll just cancel. It won't be a problem."

"Thank you, Miss Zendar." With that, the nervous little man left, and the young teacher returned to her classroom where a room full of children were desperately pretending to be hard at work.

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Obi-Wan Kenobi had plenty of time to rehash his parting words with his padawan during his flight to Teemar. Anakin had been quite upset that he would not be going on this mission with his master. He was young and hungry for adventure and didn't really understand why the council would deny him this opportunity. Obi-Wan had tried over and over to explain, but Anakin, in his youthful pride, refused to see the reasoning behind the decision.

"You're really going to leave me here, Master?" Anakin had finally asked when he realized his ranting was getting him nowhere.

"The council has already made the decision, Anakin. It is my duty to obey them."

"Duty! Hrmph!" exclaimed the boy. "You're tied to duty, aren't you, Obi-Wan? Don't you ever just want to throw caution to the wind and let yourself go? Do something not sanctioned by the all-powerful council?"

Obi-Wan looked at his padawan as if he were speaking a foreign language. Anakin chuckled.

"No, I guess you don't. You really should try it sometime."

"Try what?"

"Following your heart instead of your bloody mind all the time!"

Anakin loved his master, but was often frustrated by his constant devotion to the straight and narrow. Obi-Wan needed to live a little, and that thought helped Anakin to calm his own disappointment. He knew his master felt an overwhelming responsibility for him and that his devotion had rescued Anakin many a time. Yet the young padawan longed to see his master taste a bit of life among the ordinary.

Let myself go.... Obi-Wan mused to himself as he sat in meditation on the transport. When had he ever had the opportunity? First he had spent most of his youth keeping tabs on his impulsive master, and now he was forever keeping tabs on his impulsive padawan. He had never gotten a chance to follow his heart, as Anakin had said. No, he had long ago given up any notion of a normal life, and settled on the reality of his Jedi calling which promised to be filled with business instead of pleasure.

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Sari Zendar sat at her desk watching the last child gather his things and leave. The room was a mess from their afternoon science experiment, and she groaned when she realized she wouldn't have time to clean up before leaving for the spaceport.

"Hey, beautiful!" came a voice from the doorway. She turned to see a handsome face, and suddenly her mood was lightened. "Ready for tonight? I hear this place has the best Mon Calamari seafood you've ever tasted." His dark brown eyes twinkled as he came toward her desk, and she almost forgot her call to duty.

"Oh, Jaik, I'm so sorry, but I'm going to have to cancel."

"What?" the man said as his face registered shock. He wasn't used to being 'canceled'.

"Chairman Calder asked me to do him a favor. Well, he didn't really ask..... Anyway, I have to go to the spaceport and pick up a Jedi that Coruscant is sending to investigate the kidnappings." A strange look flashed across Jaik's face at the mention of a Jedi.

"They're sending a Jedi?" he asked. "Whoa! That was fast!"

Sari began to gather up her belongings as she continued to speak. "Yeah, well, it's about time the government took an interest in this type of crime. Our children are in grave danger, and we don't have time to waste. Anyway, I am sorry to break our date. I was really looking forward to it. I will take a rain check though."

She was so very self-confident. That was one of the things that had first drawn him to her. Even though he had had more elegant and beautiful women in his time, something about Sari made her more desirable. She was a challenge... a nice diversion during his stay on Teemar. This was to be their first date, and now it was postponed due to the arrival of a stuffy old monk.

"I could go with you," he suggested.

"No, that's okay. I have to take him to his hotel and then bring him back here for a meeting with the authorities and Calder. I have to sit in on it, too, since I had some of those kids last year." Suddenly she stopped and her eyes began to tear. She dropped her head to regain her composure, then lifted her chin up with a forced smile.

"No, I don't want to ruin your evening, too. Let's just make it another time, okay?"

"Sure," he conceded with a forced smile of his own. "I'm going to hold you to it." Then he turned and left the room with a much disappointed young woman watching his exit.

"I'm giving up that for a night with some boring old guys?!" Only for the kids, she assured herself. She would do anything for them.

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Sari surveyed the spaceport lobby looking for the Jedi. It shouldn't be too hard to spot one, she thought. The stream of people exiting the newly arrived transport began to trickle off, and there was still no sign of him. Sari was just about ready to call Chairman Calder with the bad news when one last figure strode down the entrance ramp. He was dressed in a long black cape with the hood pulled over his head, and the way he walked so confidently into the lobby made all those around stop and take notice. Surely this was the man, Sari thought.

She began to walk towards him, hoping her guess would be right. It was getting late, and the others would be awaiting his arrival at the school. He must have sensed her purpose for he stopped in front of her and lowered his hood. Sari was taken aback by his appearance. He wasn't old at all, but closer to her own age, she guessed. And he was quite attractive, albeit a bit unkempt with shoulder length red hair and a closely cropped beard. The eyes, though, were what struck her first... so piercingly blue with just a hint of green. He was not what she had expected. The man spoke, and the sound of his lush accented voice was quite disarming.

"Are you from the school?" he asked.

"Yes, yes I am," Sari managed to blurt out as she thrust her hand forward in greeting.

"I'm Sari Zendar, a teacher at the school."

Obi-Wan clumsily took her hand, not used to this type of salutation, and introduced himself.

"I am Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight. I'm pleased to meet you, Miss Zendar."

"Likewise Mr. Kenobi," she replied, as she slowly pulled her hand away. His hand is so warm, she thought.

"Please, just call me Obi-Wan." He chuckled at her address. "Mister makes me feel so old." She blushed just a little before quickly regaining her composure.

"All right then. Shall we go? They'll be waiting on us at the school. I can fill you in on some of the details on our way, if you like." The Jedi nodded his agreement and followed the young woman out of the spaceport.

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When they reached her speeder, he was quick to offer her assistance by opening the door.

"Thank you," she responded. "Not too many men around here do that anymore."

"That's a shame. I've always thought that politeness had its own rewards." He smiled and Sari's heart did a little flip. He was so attractive in an unusual sort of way, not at all like Jaik whose stunning good looks brought him stares amidst any crowd. And that voice....

"I'll take you to your hotel so you can get checked in, and then we'll head on over to the school. I'm sure you're tired, but I have no idea how long the meeting will last."

"Don't worry about me. Jedi are trained to handle exhaustion and hunger. So, what can you tell me about these missing children?" Obi-Wan shifted in his seat so that he could observe this young woman as she spoke. He had learned long ago that one could learn a lot by just listening and watching.

She was very open in sharing all she knew. After doing a light mind touch, he could tell she was telling the truth, that he could trust her. Even without the Force, he could tell that her students were her life. He chuckled inwardly as he realized how familiar that sounded.

He also found her quite attractive to look at. She was not overly made up with garish clothes and decoration, but instead dressed in a simple blue dress. Her near shoulder-length brown hair swept back away from her cheeks and displayed her pretty round face and big blue eyes. Just watching her talk and drive, he could tell that she liked to laugh a lot, which was quite a change from the inhabitants of the Jedi temple. She told all that she knew about the kidnappings and then began to tell him a little about some of the missing children.

"... and then he ended up turning in the best project in the whole class!" she finished with a huge smile. Obi-Wan couldn't help but smile, too, at her obvious delight, but then her smile quickly disappeared and was replaced by a quivering bottom lip. "If any harm has come to those children, I don't know what I'll do."

Instinctively, Obi-Wan's hand reached out and touched her shoulder in comfort. She turned and offered another sweet smile which was once again contagious. The Jedi slowly removed his hand as she continued with another story.

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After checking into his hotel, he returned to the waiting speeder and the young teacher. When they pulled up to the school, he was almost disappointed that their ride was over. He had truly enjoyed hearing her stories and listening to her pleasant feminine voice.

"Well, here we are," she said putting the speeder into park mode. Obi-Wan looked up at the ancient building in surprise. For some reason he had expected something a little more up to date than the antique in front of him. It was made out of some type of organic brick as opposed to the transparisteel so common on Coruscant.

"Impressive, isn't it?" Sari said sarcastically. "I really don't know how they expect us to prepare these kids for the future by supplying us with nothing but fossils to use. But that's a debate for another time."

Obi-Wan followed her into the school. He hadn't noticed until now how short she actually was. 'So small, but so dynamic', he thought to himself as he watched her curvy form walk down the hallway. Suddenly realizing that he was ogling her, he turned red.

'What are you doing?!' he scolded himself. 'This isn't like you at all. You're here on business, and it doesn't involve gawking at the locals.' He shook his head trying to snap himself out of it. Jedi Knights did not focus on such things... usually.

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