The Other Side of the Code

By Padawan Zol-Tan (zoltan@wattosjunkyard.com)


-----


Obi-Wan awoke slowly, disoriented. He looked up at an unfamiliar ceiling that blurred and writhed before his eyes. He tried to sit up, but binders around his wrists, ankles, and neck pinned him to the hard slab on which he lay. He should have been afraid, he knew, but his mind refused to function. He had probably been drugged, or concussed. He tried to look around, but turning his head made the world spin dizzyingly and woke a sharp pain at the base of his neck. It had been a blow to the head, then.


Gradually, memory began to return. He had been on a mission, the why he couldn’t recall, and everything had been going smoothly. Then he had sensed danger, just too late. He had been surrounded by strange armored warriors. He had fought well, but then he had been separated from Qui-Gon and...


Qui-Gon! Where was Qui-Gon? The last Obi-Wan had seen of him, the Jedi Master had been fighting easily and confidently, but after Obi-Wan had been outnumbered and knocked out and the enemy had focused entirely on his Master, who knew? Obi-Wan tried to reach out with the Force to him, but he couldn’t focus through the pain and dizziness.


He heard a door slide open and looked reflexively towards the sound. The movement made his vision cloud over, and for a moment he felt like he was falling, then the feeling passed and gradually the patterns dancing before his eyes receded. He took a shaky breath and tried to focus on the figure standing before him.


It was a slender humanoid, one of the same group that had attacked him and Qui-Gon, judging by the black streamlined armor. The being was masked so that Obi-Wan could get no impression of gender, or even species.


“Where am I?” he asked, wincing as his voice rang through his skull, spreading his headache around to the backs of his eyeballs.


There was a pause as Obi-Wan’s captor translated the question into its own language, whatever that might have been. “Here,” it answered after consideration. With the helmet’s voice-scrambling mechanism, it was still impossible to determine anything about the creature behind the armor, but Obi-Wan thought he picked up a hint of smugness in the tone.


Obi-Wan sighed, although it was closer to a growl. He was in no mood for cryptic answers. “Where is Qui-Gon?”


Another pause, one that seemed to last forever. “Close,” answered the helmet. “Alive.”


Obi-Wan closed his eyes and let himself relax with a sigh of relief. He hadn’t even noticed himself straining against the binders that held him in place, but there were little grooves on his wrists from the metal. Qui-Gon was alive and nearby. That, at least, he could take comfort in. But he could have been wounded, Obi-Wan realized slowly. Probably had been, knowing Qui-Gon; he never surrendered without a fight, especially it there was a life to save, especially when it was his Padawan’s.


“Is he hurt?” asked Obi-Wan, fearing the answer, scarcely daring to hope.


For a long time there was no answer, and Obi-Wan gathered breath to ask again. Then the creature said, “He is hurt a small.”


Obi-Wan paused, puzzled. The alien’s grip of Basic was so shaky, and Obi-Wan was still having trouble focusing through the concussion. He tried to concentrate on the alien’s words, make sense of them. “Hurt a small”... a small... a little... not a lot. That was it. Qui-Gon was not badly injured. Obi-Wan almost smiled. Of course, there was always the chance that his captor lied, and the Padawan’s grip on the Force was not yet strong enough to tell, but he could still feel his training bond with Qui-Gon and the presence at the other end of it, even though he could not tell what his Master felt. For now, he would have to trust in fate.


“Why am I here?” he asked, feeling that it didn’t really matter -- he was there and could not escape, not in his present condition. But any information he could squeeze out of the alien might help him and Qui-Gon. Once he could touch the Force again, he could use it to communicate with his Master and tell him what he had learned, if anything.


“Stop questions,” said the alien, voice neutral through the mask.


Obi-Wan took a deep breath. His enemies had something to hide, otherwise they would either answer him or they would have started out by forbidding him to question them. Perhaps he could take advantage of the alien’s shortcomings in communication, ask just the right questions for the alien to betray some secret unconsciously. Now if he could only *think!*


“I am hurt,” said Obi-Wan carefully. “May I request a healer?” Hopefully this would lead him to knowing what was intended for him; if they allowed him a doctor, they meant to question him or use him for something involving physical strain. If not, they probably meant to use him for ransom or to get at someone else, possibly the Council.


“Stop questions,” repeated the alien, a hint of impatience beginning to color its voice.


Obi-Wan cursed inwardly. How could he learn anything if they refused to answer him? “May I have a healer?” he repeated stubbornly.


The alien didn’t even answer this time, but in a lightning blur of movement drew a weapon and held its muzzle at Obi-Wan’s temple. Obi-Wan heard the click of the safety catch releasing. The Padawan sighed and closed his eyes in defeat, forcing himself to remain calm and conscious. His head throbbed in time with his pulse, and bright spots of light played in his peripheral vision. Clearly he would just have to be patient and wait until either he could communicate with Qui-Gon or his captors decided to reveal his part in their plans.


Obi-Wan shivered slightly. He felt so alone without his Master and the Force, so vulnerable. He couldn’t think, couldn’t move, wasn’t allowed to speak. He wanted so much to have his lightsaber in his hand again, to cut away the binders that held his arms pinned by his sides and fight his way past the alien and the guards that probably lurked outside the little cell. Then he could save Qui-Gon and escape, be free again.


Obi-Wan reprimanded himself sharply, shattering the vision. He was nearly eighteen, far too old for childish imaginings. He would have to rely on cunning and patience, not brute strength. Both he and Qui-Gon had always known he was a fighter, far more comfortable with a lightsaber than a diplomatic handshake. His negotiating skills were his greatest weakness. This much had been clear from the beginning of his Apprenticeship and Qui-Gon had accepted him even so, determined to turn the boy into a diplomat, confident that he could. Well, it had been almost five years, and Obi-Wan was still so much more a fighter than a peacemaker. Well. No time like the present.


The alien, fairly certain that Obi-Wan would cooperate now, replaced his weapon back in its holster. The firearm did not look familiar from the glimpse Obi-Wan caught of it and was almost certainly not a standard Republic blaster. Strange, the mission had been to a thickly populated planet well within the Republic. The planet’s name still eluded Obi-Wan, as did the reason for the mission, but he was reasonably certain the voyage had not been considered dangerous.


He wondered if he might be in the custody of pirates, but dismissed the thought; if they had been pirates, he would be in a torture chamber by now, or a morgue, and they certainly wouldn’t have given him news of Qui-Gon.


No, whoever it was who held him and his Master, they were not experts at taking prisoners, and they almost certainly had something to gain from keeping the Jedi alive. Obi-Wan tried to mentally list those who might profit from taking to Jedi prisoner and failed. There were so many people who carried grudges against the Order, whatever the reason, and who might seek to wield power through them. Perhaps a better question would be, who was foolish enough to try?


The alien spoke something into the comm unit in its helmet, then left the room by the same door it had come in by. The Padawan tried to follow it with his eyes, but the dizziness washed over him again, and he felt consciousness begin to elude him. Finally he gave up and let it slip away. Obi- Wan fell into cold darkness with something akin to relief.


*****


Qui-Gon paced gingerly back and forth in his cell, trying not to jostle his injuries. They were not severe. Just a few cracked ribs and a dislocated shoulder, and the latter he had already reset and sent on its was to healing. He was disoriented and queasy, and his connection to the Force was close to gone. He had clearly been drugged, and whatever it was, he had been given a fairly powerful dose of it.


His captors were not much help. They had forbidden him long ago to ask questions, and those he had been able to ask they had answered in monosyllables, revealing little. Qui-Gon suspected their ineptitude in the language was not entirely genuine.


He had tried meditation several times, but every time he let himself be drawn into the Force, all he could feel was the confused darkness at Obi-Wan’s end of their training bond and the drugs he had been given clouding his mind. He had tried to reach out to the world outside his cell, to find out where he was and who held him prisoner, but the darkness from Obi-Wan’s mind clouded his, and the Master could not concentrate.


All he could think about was Obi-Wan. It was clear that the boy was hurt, both in body and in mind, possibly concussed, maybe even brain-damaged. And Qui-Gon could not reach him, no matter how hard he tried. Whatever had happened to Obi-Wan, it had effectively broken his connection with the Force and with Qui-Gon. The elder Jedi had to tell himself over and over to stay calm and not let his fear for Obi-Wan gain mastery over him, but it was difficult. Obi-Wan, despite his maturity, was still very much a child, half-trained and still dependent upon Qui-Gon for guidance.


The door to the cell slid open and Qui-Gon looked up, ignoring his neck muscles as they protested sharply against the sudden movement. One of the aliens stepped into the cell, ducking slightly so that his helmet would not scrape the doorframe. Qui-Gon thought ruefully how satisfying it would have been to see the creature hit its head, then chastised himself sharply. He was supposed to be beyond malice.


The alien looked at him, head tilted slightly in what might have been thoughtfulness. Qui-Gon shuddered and wished he could see the alien’s eyes.


“Qui-Gon Jinn,” the alien rasped, “come.”


Qui-Gon followed complacently, unfazed that the creature knew his name. That tended to be the first thing an enemy tried to find out in order to gain the upper hand. Qui-Gon didn’t mind. In his experience, it was just another clue that his enemies dropped for him, seemingly insignificant now, but later, perhaps, it would help him in discovering who the aliens were and what they had planned for him and his Padawan.


As soon as Qui-Gon left the cell, two other armored creatures appeared and forced his arms behind his back, clapping binders around his wrists. He neither resisted nor flinched, even though his injured shoulder exploded in pain. He was blindfolded as well, then pushed roughly across a smooth floor, destination unknown.


Even without his sight, Qui-Gon was able to get a fairly good picture of where he was. Judging by the echoes of his footfalls, he was in a long straight corridor, narrow, with high ceilings. The Force, or at least the part of it not clouded by the alien sedatives or overshadowed by the darkness that leaked over from Obi-Wan’s injured mind, told him that the corridor was lined with doors, each leading into a hangar or storage room or similar corridor. He sensed the presences of thousands of the aliens, but could pick up no trace of intention or emotion from them. He shivered.


The air smelled of cleaning solvent. These, then, were careful creatures, meticulous in the care they took of their ship. Qui-Gon hesitated mid-thought. How did he know it was a ship? He probed his senses, becoming more and more in touch with himself. His shoulder hurt and he was dizzy. //Yes, I knew that.// He was cold. //That, too.//


Qui-Gon looked deeper. The echoes of his footfalls, the clean chemical air. Still deeper. A faint vibration through his boot heels. Yes. That was it. He had felt the vibration of the ship’s engines.


It was a large ship, judging from the frequency of the vibration and the number of aliens he sensed around him, and a high-class one, judging by the smoothness of the flight and the quality of the artificial gravity -- on lower-class ships it was prone to minute fluctuations, even though most people never noticed them.


The aliens on either side of him took hold of his arms, pulling him to a stop. They had reached the end of the hallway. Qui-Gon was a little disappointed; he hadn’t had time to concentrate on the locks on his binders. Perhaps he would have another chance later, when he was better prepared.


As Qui-Gon heard one of his captors punch a code into a control panel, he realized that the confusion coming from Obi-Wan had grown stronger. The boy was nearby.


A door in front of Qui-Gon slid open and he was ushered through it. He bent slightly without thinking about it and felt the top of his head just barely scrape the doorframe. In spite of himself, he smiled a little, remembering his disappointment when the alien had failed to hit its head, wondering if it felt the same way now, hoping it did.


He felt a tugging at the knot on his blindfold, and then Qui-Gon was blinking in the light of a small square room. There was no furniture, only a small control panel on the wall near the door. One of the aliens touched it and the top half of the wall in front of Qui-Gon slid away, revealing a view into another room through a thick window.


The room on the other side was a twin of the cell Qui-Gon had been held in, the walls painted a neutral white, but with a hard slab of a bed in the middle of the room. Obi-Wan was shackled to it. A lump rose in Qui-Gon’s throat as he looked at his Padawan. Obi-Wan was pale and shook slightly, his eyes half-open, staring glassily at nothing. He had been stripped of all but his pants and undertunic and metal binders around his wrists, ankles, and neck held him to the slab, which was tinted slightly brown with dried blood under the boy’s head, and the close-cropped hair was stiff with it near the base of the skull.


Someone, another armor-clad figure, came into Obi-Wan’s cell and shook the Padawan viciously by the shoulders. The boy stirred, mumbling something Qui-Gon could not hear through the glass, and seemed to wake up a little. Obi-Wan looked around and his eyed rested at last on the window. His brow furrowed as he tried to focus, then a look of surprise crossed his face. His lips moved, calling out to Qui-Gon although the Master couldn’t hear him.


//I’m here, Padawan,// thought Qui-Gon, hoping his Apprentice’s mind was clear enough to hear him. //I’m fine.//


Obi-Wan smiled slightly. He had heard, but he did not try to respond, still too weak.


Qui-Gon turned to the aliens. “What do you want from us?” he asked, trying to keep his voice neutral. It was becoming increasingly clear to him that they planned to use the Apprentice to wring information from the Master. It wouldn’t work, of course. It had been tried before, several times, in fact, and the Jedi had always escaped.


The aliens did not answer, only signaled to their compatriot in the cell. It reached into a pouch on its armor and produced a small, ordinary-looking tool. It flipped a switch on the handle and a thin needle-like arm slid from the other end, glowing faintly blue with electric energy.


Torture. They were going to torture Obi-Wan and force Qui-Gon to watch, to *feel* every pain. And they wouldn’t even tell him why or give him even a chance of preventing it. Qui-Gon had to stop them. He couldn’t let them do that to his Padawan, his Obi-Wan. As the alien advanced on the defenseless boy who watched its approach with a confused kind of acceptance, Qui-Gon leapt for the door, although he knew in the back of his mind that he could not escape.


Sure enough, he was tripped and thrown to the ground before he could even reach the hallway. And then the aliens yanked him to his feet again and held him up before the window. Qui-Gon twisted in their grasp, lashing out with his feet and the Force, but they seemed impervious.


At length, one of them took a small tranquilizer from its belt. As the low-power energy beams washed over Qui-Gon he fell limp in their arms, his muscles suddenly unable to work.


The aliens turned him to face the window again as the torturer held the little device up to Obi- Wan’s left foot. A long white spark leapt from the needle and Obi-Wan flinched, squeezing his eyes shut and biting his lip. Then, without so much as a pause, the alien moved the device over to the other foot. Even from where Qui-Gon stood he could see the boy’s muscles spasming as the spark hit them.


Then came the calf muscles, then the thighs, then the torso, muscle by muscle, until Obi-Wan screamed in agony. And Qui-Gon was powerless. Completely and utterly powerless to do anything but watch as tears of pain flowed down his Padawan’s face and the screams became breathless sobs, gasps that begged wordlessly for mercy.


He couldn’t stand it. Qui-Gon thought his heart would tear in two within his chest. His mind reeled, searching desperately for a way to save Obi-Wan from this horrible torture, finding none. He tried to reach Obi-Wan across their bond, but waves of pain and fear and desperation flooded him, and he could do nothing but battle against them and try to lend the boy what strength he could.


Finally, the torture was finished. The alien switched off the little device and bent over the shivering, sobbing form on the slab. It punched a few buttons on a control panel on the edge of the bed and Obi-Wan’s binders slid open, leaving him unfettered, almost free.


For a moment Qui-Gon did not understand. Then he felt something rise within him, some dark and terrible strength; they were giving Obi-Wan the chance to escape, knowing he could not. It was hate he felt, Qui-Gon realized. He hated these faceless, emotionless aliens with every ounce of his soul. He knew it was wrong, that as a Jedi he should be above hatred, but he could not push aside the white-hot rage that threatened to posses him.


He didn’t want to. The thought horrified Qui-Gon, or the part of Qui-Gon that wasn’t caught up in hating the beasts who were torturing his Apprentice. What he wanted was to give himself to it, to let it give him the power he needed to destroy these monsters, to watch each of them die in the same pain Obi-Wan was living in.


No! This was not the way to win. Qui-Gon wrestled his hatred brutally into the back of his mind. He had to stay calm, stay strong. That was the only was he could help Obi-Wan. He knew it in his mind, but somehow, for the first time since he had taken Obi-Wan as his Padawan, Qui-Gon Jinn began to doubt.


*****


The pain had been close to unbearable, but he had borne it, somehow. He hadn’t had much of a choice, really. Even now his muscles were agonizingly tight, spasming viciously. He had tried to focus on easing the pain, but his concussion hadn’t allowed him. If anything, its effects were worsening.


He knew they had made Qui-Gon watch. Even through his own pain and confusion he had felt Qui-Gon’s presence, crying out along with him at every shock. In ways, that had only made it worse. Because he knew it wasn’t him they were torturing; it was Qui-Gon, and it was a far more effective torture than anything physical.


Then they had released him. He had felt and heard and saw the binders slide away, and there was nothing he could do. It would only be a few quick steps to the door, and he knew that it would be unlocked. But he couldn’t take those steps. His legs refused to obey him. He tried briefly, but the pain only increased tenfold as he tried to move his tortured muscles.


Still, he tried. He tried to force himself beyond the pain, into the numb, purely spiritual strength of the Force, but he couldn’t do it; he was in too much pain, and the world seemed to spin every time he moved his head. Finally he gave up, despairing. It was no use. He might as well surrender now and let the Force take him. But then, what about Qui-Gon?


Dimly, Obi-Wan heard what sounded like a grate sliding open in the wall that separated him from Qui-Gon. He struggled to control his breathing, which came in rasping agonized gasps, but it was so hard -- his body barely answered his commands anymore, and the haze in his mind was becoming a dense fog. He wanted to slip again into peaceful darkness, but knew if he did that it would not take long for sleep to progress into catatonia, then easily into death. And he was a Jedi. He did not give up.


“Obi-Wan?” The voice was hoarse and thick with emotion, but thoroughly recognizable.


“Master,” he breathed, then convulsed in agony as his diaphragm took the excuse to knot up again. He struggled to ease the pain for Qui-Gon’s sake as much as his own, but his power over himself had been reduced to nearly nothing. When the pain finally eased a little, he lay panting, trying desperately to force his muscles to relax.


“Don’t try to talk,” instructed Qui-Gon.


//Don’t worry,// thought Obi-Wan, biting his already-bloodied lip as another wave of pain came and went.


“Be strong, Obi-Wan. Try to heal the concussion first, if you can. Then you can focus on the rest. They haven’t told me anything of why we’re here or what they want yet. They will probably try to torture you again soon, Padawan.” Obi-Wan winced a little at the pain in his Master’s voice as he said this.


“I’m working on a way out,” continued Qui-Gon, “but not having much success yet. Try to stay in touch with the Force. I have faith in you, Obi-Wan.” There was a pause, words that Obi-Wan couldn’t make out exchanged behind the wall. “They won’t let me talk to you anymore. May the Force be with you.”


The grate slid shut, and Obi-Wan felt his Master’s presence moving away, then he was alone again. He was afraid. That had not sounded like the Qui-Gon he knew. It was the same voice, but it sounded unsure, frightened even. He wished he had been able to reach Qui-Gon, to tell him that he was all right, that he would do what his Master told him and bear any torture they could think up like a Jedi, that he knew Qui-Gon would think of a way out, and that he had faith in him. But he could not, not even mentally. All he could do was listen and hope and obey.


‘Heal the concussion first.’ Well, that should be simple enough if he could only concentrate. He began to sink inside himself, slowly easing his mind into a trance. It was hard. His body was in agony, and his mind not much better. Slowly, carefully, he began to sink deeper, leaving the physical pain behind, dismissing it as insignificant.


The trance was slow in coming, slipping away every time it came close, but Obi-Wan persisted, smothering his frustration, and eventually he felt his physical self seem to disappear almost entirely, becoming only a series of nerves and muscles having little connection with Obi-Wan.


He focused on his brain, swelling from the knock to the back of his head. The swelling should have gone down by now. Perhaps it was more severe than he thought. No matter. It had to be healed, and it would be.


Obi-Wan began to focus on the swollen tissue, told it over and over to relax, to return to its proper size and shape. Almost imperceptibly, it began to obey. The excess blood started flowing out and the pressure eased a little. Still, Obi-Wan hung on to the trance, supervising and aiding the subsiding of the concussion. He had to be careful, or the healing would progress too quickly and might only increase the damage.


He was beginning to grow impatient and lose his grip on his non-corporeal self, but he forced himself to stay calm and not worry about time, and bit by bit, so slowly it was barely noticeable, the healing progressed and the swelling ebbed, and Obi-Wan’s concentration began improving. Soon the empty, confused fog was nearly gone.


But Obi-Wan was growing weak. The torture had clearly affected him even more than he thought, contributing to mental as well as physical exhaustion. Just a little further and the rest of the damage could repair itself. He knew, though, that if he ended the healing trance too soon that the concussion would only return, possibly worse than it had been before.


So he hung on, forcing the swelling down in minuscule fractions until he was sure it could heal itself the rest of the way, then he let go and came back to his body with a start.


For a moment, the pain overwhelmed him and he could do nothing but shiver and try to breathe deeply. Eventually he gained control of himself enough to let the pain ebb down to a manageable level. At least the dizziness had subsided and his vision was somewhat clearer; the trance had been a success.


He reached out tentatively to the Force. It was there, close, but not quite within his grasp yet. Well. That could wait. Now he should try to discover where he was and who held him hostage.


Clearly they were not with the Republic. Nor were they pirates, as he had speculated before the torture. What did that leave? Whoever they were, they seemed fairly wealthy -- the quality of their armor and facilities was good enough not to be widely available. Not, then, some small rebellious movement bent on gaining power by exploiting Jedi.


Obi-Wan thought back to his brief conversation with Qui-Gon. The aliens had asked no questions. That, to Obi-Wan, was the strangest detail of all. Why torture someone if there was nothing to gain from it? It was an especially stupid and dangerous move when a Jedi was the tortured -- if a Jedi were to turn to the Dark Side as a result, his captors would be as good as dead.


Wait. What if that was, in fact, their goal? It seemed implausible, but all the evidence, as well as the Force, pointed towards it; they were trying to turn Qui-Gon.


But why? And why the fully-trained Master instead of his more unstable and impressionable Apprentice? That was its own answer: because he was the Master, and therefore the more powerful of the two. Besides, once the Master was turned, there was a good chance his Padawan would follow. And Qui-Gon, with his reputation as a maverick and a rebel, would seem the perfect candidate to one who did not know him.


But that still did not answer the question of why anyone would want to have a Dark Jedi, a veritable Sith, on their hands. They would be sure to die. Well, following that vein, who would be so willing to die for a cause? A Jedi, of course, but that was out of the question; these people’s methods were not those of Jedi, not even evil ones.


Who else, then? A cult, perhaps. Yes. That was it. A cult bent on resurrecting the Sith. Obi-Wan didn’t know how he was certain, but it was not wise to question the Force, and the Force told him his guess was right. Besides, it sounded like the sort of thing a cult would try to do. Obi-Wan admonished himself for that thought. He should not make fun of other people’s beliefs and ways of living; the Jedi themselves were widely considered a cult, and a rather fanatic one at that. Even so, he could not quite repress a smirk.


He had to warn Qui-Gon, the Padawan realized belatedly. Clearly his brain was not quite functioning right yet, or he would have thought of it sooner. He did not doubt that the aliens would fail to turn his Master, but he needed to tell him anyway. Perhaps then Qui-Gon could find a weakness in the plan and they could escape.


Obi-Wan remembered with growing apprehension the note of uncertainty in Qui-Gon’s voice when they had talked through the cell wall earlier. Had they already reached him? Obi-Wan felt fear begin to manifest itself in his brain, pushed it reflexively away. Qui-Gon could not turn. He was... well, he was Qui-Gon. Still, Obi-Wan knew he could not let them do that to his Master again.


Slowly, a plan of escape began to develop in Obi-Wan’s mind. He would use the Force to pick the locks on his binders as soon as he could, then he would wait until they brought Qui-Gon into the little viewing room again to witness them torture his Padawan, then Obi-Wan would break free and together he and Qui-Gon would escape.


It was a reckless plan, he knew, and one that could easily fail and result in his death. But they would not kill Qui-Gon -- they needed him. Even so, it was dangerous; In his present condition, Obi-Wan didn’t know if he could concentrate enough to pick one lock, much less five. And if he was killed, Qui-Gon might be pushed over the edge and into the Dark Side, and if that happened... Obi-Wan decidedly did not want to think about it.


For now, he would need rest so that he could contact Qui-Gon and work on the binders later. Obi-Wan closed his eyes and focused on his breathing, deep and slow and even, trying to accept the pain in his muscles. Even so, it did not take long for sleep to find him.


*****


Qui-Gon knelt on the floor of his cell, hands resting on his thighs, back straight, eyes closed. He was disturbed. He had felt hate, the pull of the Dark Side, for the first time since he and Obi-Wan had defeated Xanatos in the mine, what was it, five years ago? He knew he must accept those feelings, then put them aside and move on.


True, these creatures were evil, probably in league with the Dark Side, but the proper response to evil was not hatred. That only led to more evil, and so the circle stayed unbroken. The only way to truly destroy evil was to combat it without fear or anger. Qui-Gon knew this. It had been drilled into his being since before he could remember, and he had seen proof many times that it was true. Why, then, was it so hard to believe?


Because they had Obi-Wan. Because, for whatever reason, they were making the boy suffer in order to torture Qui-Gon, and because they would continue to do so either until Qui-Gon could escape with his Padawan or until Obi-Wan died. It would be so easy just to give in to the anger and let the Dark Side destroy the evil aliens for him. After that, it would be simple to free Obi-Wan and escape, and refuse the Dark Side again, forever.


No. He knew that once he had embraced the Dark Side almost nothing could save him from it; it would eat away at him, slowly, until he gave himself to it forever. He had seen it happen before, with Xanatos. Qui-Gon shuddered to think what would happen to Obi-Wan if he chose to follow his old apprentice.


Suddenly, Qui-Gon felt a slight tug at the edge of his mind. Obi-Wan! He reached out for his Padawan, found him.


//Master,// said Obi-Wan. //I’m all right.//


The link was very weak, and Qui-Gon could just barely hear the boy’s mind-voice. He would have to hurry before the link snapped.


//Obi-Wan. We’re aboard a ship, probably in deep space by now. It’s large and there are many aliens. I cannot sense their thoughts through the Force.// This last fact was clearly disturbing; Qui-Gon could clearly feel Obi-Wan’s surprise and unease, weak though their link was.


//They mean to turn you, Master,// said the boy. //Don’t give in.// The connection was beginning to fail. //Next torture...// came Obi-Wan’s mind-voice, faint and choppy. //Be ready.//


Then the link snapped.


Qui-Gon opened his eyes and rose stiffly from his meditative position. Be ready. That meant Obi-Wan had a plan for escape. A reckless one, knowing Obi-Wan, but better than nothing. Qui-Gon smiled inwardly. Obi-Wan was so much like Qui-Gon had been in his youth, passionate and reckless almost to the point of irresponsibility. It would get him in trouble one of these days, but it might also save his life.


Qui-Gon’s smile changed slowly to a frown. Had he done the right thing by training Obi-Wan as he had, doing little to discourage his impatience and emotion, training him to be a maverick and a rebel, just like Qui-Gon himself? He really didn’t know how to teach him any other way.


Besides, if it hadn’t been for Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan would be a farmer, and both of them knew the Agri-Corps was no place for one of Obi-Wan’s strength and devotion. He would be a great Jedi Knight someday. If he lived that long.


Qui-Gon repressed a shudder. He knew the thought was not irrelevant -- the Force told him there was a good chance that his Padawan might not survive the escape attempt. And Qui-Gon would live. There was no doubt of that. It was little comfort to know he would survive while Obi-Wan’s fate still hung in the balance. Still, even if Obi-Wan did die, he might take another Padawan, train this one right.


But no. If Obi-Wan died, Qui-Gon would never take another. Ever. He couldn’t, knowing he had failed two Padawans in a row.


Wait. What was he thinking? Obi-Wan would not die, no matter what the odds against him. He was too strong, too smart, too full of life and promise. Besides, he had a plan, and, Force willing, would be able to carry it out. Clearly, he had already healed most of his concussion and was regaining his Force power. That boded well for his chances if the link with Qui-Gon had not depleted his strength too much.


Qui-Gon spun around as the doors to the cell swished open behind him. An alien stood in the doorway, the same tall one that had come for him last time. It ushered Qui-Gon silently out of the cell, and the Jedi was immediately bound and blindfolded again and ushered through the hallways towards the torture observation room.


This time Qui-Gon was careful to mark the route mentally and remember which doors led to hangars or escape pods. He hoped Obi-Wan had been able to prepare himself for the escape. He would probably try to unlock his binders with the Force, and that would take time and concentration.


Speaking of which, Qui-Gon should probably unlock his own binders so that when the time came, he could be ready. He focused all his attention on the cuffs that held his hands behind his back, calling on the Force. It came to him easily and he moved it to the binders, using it to feel the structure of the locks. When he had a perfect mental picture, he moved in, using the Force to make minute adjustments to the locks, one part at a time, until they sprang open. He was just in time to muffle the click. It was tempting to break free then, and try to break free of his captors, but Qui-Gon restrained himself; he would wait for Obi-Wan.


The aliens pulled him to a halt as they reached their destination and the Jedi heard the doors slide open again. The blindfold was yanked from his eyes as the doors closed behind him and he blinked in the light.


The window to Obi-Wan’s cell was already open, and Qui-Gon felt his hatred of the aliens begin to resurface as he looked at his Padawan. The boy was pale and haggard, with dark circles under his eyes, his brow creased with concentration.


He had not unlocked all the binders yet, Qui-Gon realized with horror. They had come too early. He needed to distract the aliens until Obi-Wan could finish with the locks. But how? He could not risk a struggle -- they’d only tranquilize him again, and then there would be no hope of escape.


Make it look like an accident, then. Qui-Gon drew in a sharp breath, as though shocked at the condition of his Padawan. He forced the breath to catch in his throat and began coughing violently like he had choked. He sagged in the arms of his captors, gasping for air, though he didn’t need it.


The aliens waited patiently. Qui-Gon finally felt Obi-Wan touch his mind, a signal that the boy was ready, then he straightened slowly, pretending to catch his breath as the torturer stepped up to Obi-Wan.


The boy looked no different than when Qui-Gon had come in, except for a subtle change in his expression, a confident glow that only Qui-Gon could have recognized.


//May the Force be with you, Padawan,// thought Qui-Gon. There was no direct answer, but the corner of Obi-Wan’s mouth twitched upwards ever so slightly, as if to say, “It always is.”


The torturer pulled another gadget out from a hidden pocket and flipped a switch. The device sprouted all sorts of hideous blades and clamps and the alien slowly lowered it towards Obi-Wan’s face.


Without warning, the Padawan struck, breaking easily free of his bonds and rolling off the slab, bringing one foot up to kick the alien under the chin as he did. Simultaneously, Qui-Gon threw his own binders to the floor and struck out with the Force, knocking to the floor the creatures that held him.


The third alien, the tall one, attacked, but Qui-Gon dodged easily. Even unarmed, Qui-Gon was more than a match for any one of the aliens.


But not for any three. Even as he heard and felt the door to Obi-Wan’s cell forced open, all three of Qui-Gon’s captors attacked him at once and he was overcome. One pressed a button on the wall pannel and alarms began ringing all over the ship.


//Go!// Qui-Gon called to Obi-Wan, but the Padawan was already forcing open the door to the observation room. Qui-Gon struggled fiercely, but to no avail. He heard booted feet approaching.


//Padawan, this is an order!//


Obi-Wan hesitated at the door, just a little too long. Qui-Gon heard the sounds of a fight outside, felt his Padawan’s despair and shame as he was overpowered.


The door slid open and Qui-Gon saw Obi-Wan held still by five armored aliens, a blaster pointed at his temple. The creature holding the blaster began to squeeze the trigger and Qui-Gon felt his hate rise and offer itself to him as the only option.


Obi-Wan saw the change in his eyes.


“Master, NO!” he cried, but it was too late.


Striking out with all his rage, Qui-Gon knocked aside the guards holding him like they were feathers. He flung out him arm, Force-bashing the creature with the blaster before it could shoot. The alien flew backwards, slamming up against the wall, then falling to the floor, unconscious.


Obi-Wan saw his chance and broke free of the creatures holding him as Qui-Gon ran out into the hallway.


With a quick snap of his new power, Qui-Gon broke the neck of one alien, called another’s blaster to his hand and shot it in the chest, then the others, one by one, as they tried to flee.


He laughed as he did it, both at their feeble attempts to escape him and at the comical way Obi-Wan just stood there, with his eyes the size of small moons and his mouth hanging open.


When the rest of them were dead, Qui-Gon walked over to the one that had wanted to kill Obi-Wan, lying unconscious where it had fallen. He looked at it for a few long seconds, coldly, then he took careful aim and shot it between the eyes, leaving a neat little hole burned through the middle of its all-too-inefficient helmet.


Then he tucked the blaster into his belt and turned to Obi-Wan.


“Too bad I didn’t have my lightsaber,” he remarked, his eyes sparkling with grim mirth. He laughed as Obi-Wan sank to his knees, sobbing.


*****


It couldn’t be true. Obi-Wan had to be dreaming, or hallucinating from the effects of the receeding concussion. Why Qui-Gon? Of all people, why Qui-Gon?


Obi-Wan looked up sharply as he felt Qui-Gon move closer. His Master bent down to him and wiped a tear from his cheek, an expression of care written on his features, but no deeper. Obi-Wan realized that he was afraid of Qui-Gon; something in the Jedi’s Force signature was not right, and there was a coldness in his eyes that Obi-Wan had never seen before.


“More soldiers will be arriving any minute,” said Qui-Gon. “We’ve got to be ready for them.” So saying, he moved over to one of the dead aliens, the tall one whose neck he had broken, and began dragging it towards the observation room. Obi-Wan could not help but remember the muffled crack as the creature’s spine snapped, then the horrific triumph on Qui-Gon’s face. He had enjoyed it. He had truly enjoyed taking a life.


“Master,” called Obi-Wan in a strangled voice, confused and afraid.


“Come on, Padawan,” answered Qui-Gon briskly, looking back briefly over his shoulder at Obi-Wan.


The Padawan hesitated. His instincts cried out that he should not follow Qui-Gon, but he knew he wouldn’t stand a chance against the soldiers, unarmed and weak as he was. Besides, wherever Qui-Gon had gone, he had to get him back. Obi-Wan hesitated only a moment, then followed his Master into the little room, shutting the door behind him.


“Master,” he said again, gathering his courage. “Don’t do this. You are a Jedi. Come back.”


Qui-Gon looked up from unfastening the plastoid armor and appeared for a moment to consider. “Obi-Wan,” he said at last, “you don’t understand. I could never protect you as a Jedi. But now I can.” His eyes turned dark with hatred as the memory came back to him. “They tortured you. I cannot forgive that.”


Obi-Wan swallowed. “You have to. I accepted the dangers of this life when I became your Padawan. I’m all right.”


Qui-Gon narrowed his eyes a little and Obi-Wan felt the power of the Dark Side force his diaphragm to contract a little. The muscle, still weak from the torture, began spasming again, and he crumpled to the floor with a groan.


“That doesn’t look like ‘all right’ to me,” remarked Qui-Gon.


Obi-Wan struggled for breath, forced himself to stand again and look at Qui-Gon. The Master had finished unbuckling the armor and was pulling it on over his robes.


“Qui-Gon,” gasped the Padawan, “can’t you see what they’re doing to you? They want to resurrect the Sith.”


Qui-Gon turned to face him, tightening the straps on the breastplate. A strange thoughtful look had come over him, and it made Obi-Wan’s blood freeze in his veins. “You know, Apprentice,” said Qui-Gon slowly, putting odd emphasis on the last word, “there are always two Sith...”


For a moment Obi-Wan could not speak. Had he heard right? Was his own Master offering him a position as a Sith?


“No,” whispered Obi-Wan.


“Please, Master, come back.”


“They won’t kill us, you know,” said Qui-Gon casually. “Not if you come with me. Think of it; they would be our servants, and we could have the whole galaxy...”


“No.”


“No more Jedi self-denial, no more solving other people’s problems...”


“Master, I will not turn.”


“Then you are no longer my Padawan,” snapped Qui-Gon. Then his tone softened somewhat. “I always knew it would be this way in the end, that you would betray me. You promised, Obi-Wan, to obey me and to follow me. And now you are turning away from me.”


The soft sadness of Qui-Gon’s words hurt Obi-Wan deeply. Was it a betrayal not to follow Qui- Gon into the Dark Side? Force knew he loved his Master with a son’s devotion, but perhaps that wasn’t enough. Perhaps he needed to prove it to Qui-Gon with a leap of faith, to show him that even the Jedi Code could not keep him from his Master.


Obi-Wan shook his head, ignoring the wave of dizziness. What was he thinking? His first duty was to the Jedi, no matter what, and the best thing he could do for Qui-Gon would be to try and get him back, save him from the Dark Side.


“Master,” he said carefully, “you know this is not the way. If you want to protect me, come back to the Light Side. You’re only betraying yourself, and me, if you do this.”


“So be it, then,” said Qui-Gon, his voice cold again. “I was afraid you would choose to leave me. It is, however, your choice. But I wish you would reconsider.”


Obi-Wan looked at his feet, finding he could not answer. He couldn’t help feeling a pang of shame at Qui-Gon’s words.


They heard the tramping of feet outside in the hallway.


“Stay here,” instructed Qui-Gon, and opened the door before Obi-Wan could stop him. Then he stepped out into the corridor to face the aliens.


One alien stepped forward, blaster aimed at Qui-Gon’s heart. Qui-Gon moved his hand a fraction of an inch and the alien twitched, then dropped its weapon, clutching at its throat.


Obi-Wan could feel the Dark Force fill the room, squeezing around the creature’s neck, cutting off its air supply. He could feel also Qui-Gon’s quiet triumph and enjoyment as he slowly killed it, letting his anger posses him.


Obi-Wan found he could not move. He was frozen with horror, unable to come to the creature’s aid or even to speak. He could only stare helplessly as the alien fell to its knees, then onto its face and lay still.


Qui-Gon looked up from the body. “I am Sith,” he said, his voice echoing through the halls with chilling strength, devoid of compassion.


Suddenly Obi-Wan knew he had to escape, he had to get away and think of some other way to stop Qui-Gon before it was too late, when he could have the advantage. He looked frantically around the small room as the aliens one by one lay their blasters at Qui-Gon’s feet and knelt before him.


The grate into the ventilation system caught his eye. The opening was small, so Qui-Gon would not be able to follow him, nor would the aliens with their bulky armor. Quickly, silently, he unfastened the bolts with the Force and let the grate drop into his hands.


Just then, Qui-Gon turned, apparently sensing Obi-Wan’s use of the Force. He snatched a blaster from the pile at his feet and pointed it unwaveringly at Obi-Wan’s chest.


“Don’t move,” he suggested.


Obi-Wan searched the Force around Qui-Gon, but could sense only the chaotic rage that emanated from his Master. But there was something in Qui-Gon’s face, a slight tightness around the lips, that told Obi-Wan that the blaster was a lie. Qui-Gon wouldn’t kill him. He couldn’t. Not yet, at any rate.


Obi-Wan smiled a little and leapt up to catch the edge of the grate and pull himself in, but not fast enough. He heard the blaster fire and felt a searing pain across his left hip. Panic washed over him for a second and he halfway threw himself further down the tunnel.


Qui-Gon had shot him, only a glancing blow, but a shot all the same. His life was now in danger and he did not want to die. Obi-Wan’s pulse beat in his ears, drowning out all other sounds as he pulled himself through the narrow ventilation tunnels, not knowing where he went and not caring; he had to get away, that was all that mattered.


Finally the adrenaline wore off and he lay panting, feeling the cool metal of the tunnel against his face and chest. The fear for his life faded, leaving shame in its place. He had panicked. He had abandoned rationality and honor just to save his life. And he had known, even so, that Qui-Gon would not kill him. If that had been the case, he would have been dead by now.


He wiped a shaky hand across his brow. He had never panicked like that before, even in the early days of his Apprenticeship. Why now? True, he was lost, betrayed perhaps, and almost totally helpless against an enemy he did not think he could bring himself to fight, but even that was no excuse. He was a Jedi Padawan. He had been trained since infancy not to fear death, to face it cooly, rationally, and all for nothing.


Maybe Qui-Gon had been right. Maybe he had lived too long under the jurisdiction of the Code. Maybe in living the Jedi life he was betraying himself. He knew he should not be thinking these thoughts, but he couldn’t help it. What if, after all, he was wrong? What if all his training and belief went for nothing? What if the Jedi themselves were nothing?


His faith was shaken to the roots. Qui-Gon had turned and left him behind, marked him as a traitor and a coward. It hurt, but Obi-Wan knew there was truth in it. He felt a tightness in his throat, heralding the approach of tears.


//Go ahead, Jedi,// he told himself bitterly. //Cry. Just like the child you are.//


In spite of himself, he had to let the tears come. Angry, grief-stricken, alone, afraid, he wept.


*****


Qui-Gon watched as the boy struggled away down the ventilation shaft, his brow furrowed. He could understand why Obi-Wan was being so blind; the ways of the Jedi had been drilled into his mind since he had come to the Temple as a child, as Qui-Gon had. Now if only he could teach his Padawan that he had been wrong, that this was the true way. He sighed. Obi-Wan would not turn easily, but it could be done. The boy would thank him later.


“I want him found,” he told the crowd of aliens. “Do not harm him, though. I want him alive, conscious if possible.”


One of the aliens stepped forward, bowed, and began barking orders to the others. They scattered; like insects, Qui-Gon thought. They were unworthy. But they could be easily disposed of once he had what he wanted.


Qui-Gon reached out and snagged the arm of the commanding alien as it started to leave, wondering vaguely how they distinguished rank amongst themselves when they all wore exactly the same armor. Well, that didn’t matter.


“Take me to the bridge,” he commanded. The alien bowed low and began walking. Qui-Gon followed silently, thinking.


He could feel Obi-Wan’s fear nearby. Wherever the boy was, he was close. After all, he could not have gone far with the blaster wound. Qui-Gon frowned. He hadn’t wanted to shoot Obi-Wan, but he had to ensure that the boy couldn’t meddle in his affairs, and show him that he meant business.


A day ago he would have died rather than hurt Obi-Wan, but he had been weak then. He still cared, of course, and if anyone else had tried the same, he would have killed them, but Obi-Wan had needed the lesson. He needed to learn that the Dark Side was stronger, that he could not escape it. A hard lesson to learn, perhaps, but Qui-Gon could not let the poor boy go about for the rest of his life clinging to weak ideals. No, this was the best way -- the only way -- to make Obi-Wan see.


But Obi-Wan could wait. Now there was strategy to attend to. The Jedi had to learn that they were wrong, that he was stronger and would never have to listen to them again. But not yet. He would have to build his strength little by little and keep a low profile until he was strong enough to take out all the Jedi at once. That would require strategy and cunning.


First he would have to choose a planet, preferably a small, unimportant one, but one close enough to Coruscant that he could keep an eye on the activities of the Jedi without drawing attention to himself. He could gain local support, not, of course, revealing himself as Sith until he had a sufficiantly loyal following. Then he could do the same with other planets of the same status until he had tantamount to an army.


This, of course, would only be the first step, and would probably take several years, but that was all for the best; it would give him time to learn more about the first Sith and about the Dark Side, and to thoroughly renounce his Jedi beliefs. He would also have to train Obi-Wan in the ways of the Sith so that they could defeat the Jedi together, as Master and Apprentice.


Qui-Gon smiled crookedly. It was so perfect. He hadn’t felt this energized, this enthusiastic in years. Truly this was where he belonged, what he was destined to do. The Sith had been gone for over a thousand years, and now it was finally time for them to emerge again, and he would lead them. Everyone would know him and fear him, and he would have everything he had never had as a Jedi. Finally, he had found his place.


The alien opened a chrome door and ushered Qui-Gon in. The bridge was small but well- equipped. The crew looked up as he entered, then stood hurriedly, bowed, and left. Then his escort followed, leaving him the entire bridge. Foolish little creatures. Didn’t they understand that with just the flick of a switch, Qui-Gon could kill them all? And eventually, when they were no longer of use to him, he would.


But for now, he needed to plan out his strategy further. Qui-Gon sat down in front of the nav computer and brought up the star chart. He focused in on the area immediately surrounding Coruscant. Nothing there that would offer enough protection. He broadened the scope, examining the systems one by one, reading through the brief descriptions of population, government, and economy.


One planet in particular drew his attention, but he could not say why. It was a small, fertile planet by the name of Naboo. One of its officials held a fairly high position in the Senate, so it should have considerable galactic importance, and therefore be a poor candidate for Qui-Gon’s plan, but for some reason it drew his attention anyway, sent odd tremors through the Force.


Well, if the Force wanted him to set course for Naboo, so be it. He would more than likely find out why later. He punched the planet’s coordinates into the computer, noting with considerable disdain that the original course had been straight for Coruscant. The aliens had wanted to attack the Council immediately, the small-minded fools. They, like so many, had been underestimating the Jedi. Well, that was one mistake Qui-Gon would not make; he knew the Jedi, and he knew himself. He would not attack until success was assured.


Qui-Gon leaned back in his chair and let the Force come to him. It swirled around him and through him in beautiful dark chaos, threatening to sweep him away into itself. He tapped into it, fighting against its rougher currents with unadulterated joy. The danger of it gave him strength, and he welcomed it.


He should find the boy, he thought at last, reluctantly. He stretched out with the Force, searching. He felt the aliens about the ship, their minds still disturbingly unreadable. He would have to see about that later. But now, Obi-Wan. He felt along the training bond and found his Apprentice’s presence. The boy was afraid, lost probably. He was also shielding himself.


Qui-Gon frowned. He could never teach the boy if he couldn’t touch his mind. He summoned the strength of the Dark Side and attacked Obi-Wan’s mental shields. They were surprisingly strong, held up by desperation, but they began to crumble, one by one. Obi-Wan’s position grew constantly clearer, and Qui-Gon could read his thoughts easily.


Suddenly, Obi-Wan’s mind-voice rang in Qui-Gon’s head, shaky with fear and horror. “Master, please don’t do this...” he begged. There was such emotion in the boy’s voice, and he sounded so young, so lost, that Qui-Gon hesitated. He knew it was best for the boy to do this, but surely there had to be some other way.


Suddenly, Obi-Wan’s presence vanished from Qui-Gon’s mind as the boy sensed his Master’s hesitation and snapped up his shields again, pushing Qui-Gon viciously from his mind. Qui-Gon cursed vehemently. How could he have been so weak as to let that happen? He cursed again and stood from his chair, a little shaky from the effort of fighting Obi-Wan. The boy was stronger than he had thought. This would be difficult.


Qui-Gon strode to the door and opened it, punching the control panel buttons harder than he needed to. An alien was waiting outside.


“Get me my lightsaber,” he ordered.


The alien tilted its head, confused.


“My weapon,” hissed Qui-Gon, losing his patience fast. “Now!”


The creature understood finally, just as Qui-Gon was about to break every bone in its stupid body, bowed low, and hurried off down the hall. Qui-Gon returned to the bridge and began pacing back and forth, fuming.


How could he have been so blind as to fall for a trick like Obi-Wan’s fake innocence? It was clearly his old Jedi self resurfacing. //Will I never be rid of you?// he thought at it, but got no answer. His throat was tight with rage, mostly at himself. Yoda would have told him to set it aside and not let it influence his thought. Willfully, he fed his anger, letting it grow until it almost possessed him.


//Take that, my old Master,// he thought bitterly. //I’ll deal with you soon enough.//


He spun around, feeling a presence in the door. One of the creatures stood there, holding out his lightsaber uncertainly. The thing was afraid, Qui-Gon realized with pride. Well, let it tremble.


He called the lightsaber to his hand, igniting it in air, and gave it a few tight practice swings, skillfully avoiding the machinery packed in around him. His knowledge of Obi-Wan told him that the boy would soon try to stop him, probably through some act of sabotage, and if he knew Obi-Wan’s style, he would attack the primary engines, leave them stranded in space. That way they would be forced to call for help and betray their position, call attention to themselves. Good old Obi-Wan.


“Take me to the engine room,” Qui-Gon ordered. “And post a guard in here.”


//You will not be able to beat me, Padawan,// he thought privately. //I know you too well.//


*****


Qui-Gon had to be stopped. There was no doubt in Obi-Wan’s mind of that now. He had felt Qui-Gon’s mind breaking into his, felt the feral, uncaring power that drove his Master. He had almost broken under Qui-Gon’s attack, but Qui-Gon had pulled back and let him escape. That, above all, told Obi-Wan he had to stop Qui-Gon now; the Master he loved was still there, and was fighting the Dark Side, but he was losing.


Every second Obi-Wan could feel his Master’s presence growing more and more remote. The training bond itself was beginning to fray. Once it was gone, there would be no hope, for Obi-Wan or the Jedi. That was why he had to hurry. He hastily concentrated on his wounded hip, stopping the bloodflow with the Force. The healing was patchy, but it would have to do until he could find an opportunity to go into a trance; now he could not afford to waste any more time.


There was also a larger problem at hand: Obi-Wan knew neither where he was or where he should go. He had to do something to disable the ship before Qui-Gon could reach wherever he was going, but what? And how was he going to do it without knowing the layout of the ship?


He should probably sabotage the ship somehow, its engines or power source, so that the damage would take long enough to repair that he could turn Qui-Gon back before he slipped too far away. Maybe if he destroyed the primary engines, maybe the secondary ones, too, just for good measure... Yes. That would do it; the ship would be completely disabled, and would have to call for help. That would not only buy Obi-Wan time, but it would serve to alert someone else to their presence.


It was a perfect plan, except for one thing: it was too obvious. Qui-Gon would expect it and be ready for it. After all, he had trained Obi-Wan, and knew how he thought. Obi-Wan sighed in frustration. Qui-Gon had been living with him for five years, studying his behavior and style closely, honing it until he knew it as well as his own. How could Obi-Wan outwit that?


He would simply have to stop thinking like himself.


//All right, then,// he thought, //what’s the last thing I would do in this situation?// Obi-Wan was tempted to laugh at how paradoxical the question sounded. How could he not think like himself? He racked his brain for answers, but every solution he came up with was still his, and still painfully transparent. Perhaps if he tried thinking like someone else.


//What would I do if I were Master Yoda?// he asked himself. //Probably whack him over the head with my gimer stick,// he answered. That wasn’t very helpful, but, he knew, neither was it what Master Yoda would really do; he’d only hit Qui-Gon *after* converting him back to the Light Side.


Obi-Wan was losing patience with himself. A life and death situation, and all he could manage was cheap humor. If only his hip didn’t hurt so much. The blaster wound still blazed agonizingly every time he moved, and he knew that without medical attention it would only get worse. Sometimes it was tempting just to give up and let himself be taken, let the Jedi deal with Qui-Gon. But he couldn’t give up. He wouldn’t.


Suddenly Obi-Wan knew what he could do, the one thing Qui-Gon wouldn’t expect; he could surrender. It was a risky plan, possibly even a suicidal one, but if he succeeded, he could catch Qui-Gon unawares, make him underestimate him, think he had already given up and, Force willing, he could turn him back. If not, he might at least get a good chance at sabotage. How exactly, he wasn’t sure, but, Force willing, he would think of something.


For now, he had to let himself be caught. He would have to find an area without too many aliens, or he would have no chance of escape. He would also have to surrender far from where Qui-Gon was to give himself time to prepare for his Master when he came.


Obi-Wan closed his eyes and took several deep breaths, focusing on the Force, although his command of it was still shaky at best. He reached out with it, and before long he found Qui-Gon, a strong, dark presence. It disturbed him to think that this was his Master, the man he had trusted with his life for years and still did, apparently.


The presence was close, but moving further by the minute. He felt Qui-Gon searching for him through the Force and tightened his shields. If he was discovered now, all would be lost. He felt Qui-Gon’s presence grow suddenly fainter as he took a lift down to the ship’s lower levels, probably towards the engine rooms.


Obi-Wan realized apprehensively that he had been able to sense no emotion from Qui-Gon, a sign that Qui-Gon was also blocking him out. And then there was that growing void in Obi-Wan’s self where the training bond had formed; he could feel it unraveling one tiny piece at a time. Qui-Gon was pulling away, and faster than Obi-Wan had anticipated. He had to hurry.


He pulled himself laboriously through the maze of the ventilation shafts, looking for a likely place to surrender himself. He was painfully aware of the way his breath echoed off the metal walls of the tunnel; he no longer even tried to keep it in check. It was all he could do not to cry out every time he moved, for his muscles still ached from the torture, and the passage was so narrow that he was continuously banging his wounded hip against the wall. Even worse, his headache was beginning to return. He hoped he was not undoing what progress he had made with his concussion, but even if he was, there was nothing he could do about it now, so he pushed the thought from his mind and concentrated on pulling himself forward, one inch at a time, always calling on the Force to lend him strength.


Soon he saw light ahead, shining onto the dusty metal floor in pale checkers. He pulled himself up to it and peered cautiously out through the grate. Outside there was a narrow hallway with a small round door across from Obi-Wan’s hiding place.


Despite the ship’s unfamiliar architecture, this was poignantly recognizable; it was an airlock, and it led to an escape pod.


He could leave. Now. He could just climb into the pod and escape. After all, Qui-Gon might already be too far gone for him to save alone, especially injured as he was. And if he escaped, he could enlist the help of the Council. It would be so easy. And with Qui-Gon preoccupied with searching for him, his chances of escaping in the pod were fairly good; after all, Qui-Gon certainly would not expect it from his Padawan.


But there. That said it all. His Padawan. *Qui-Gon’s* Padawan. That was reason enough to stay. He owed it to his Master, if not to himself and the Code. He could not leave Qui-Gon, not after five years, not after all they had been through together. Still, something within him cried out that he would not get another chance at escape, and that he would die if he stayed. Ruthlessly, Obi-Wan pushed the thought away. If he started doubting himself and his beliefs as a Jedi now, he really wouldn’t stand a chance.


But it was hard to leave the grate that led to the escape pod. He had his entire life before him if he took this path, and if not... Obi-Wan took a deep breath. He had told Qui-Gon that he had chosen the Jedi path with full knowledge of the dangers it held for him. Now he had to honor that choice.


//There is always another choice,// said a voice at the edge of his consciousness. Obi-Wan thought he detected a sneer.


//I don’t know what you are,// he answered it curtly, //but I will not listen to you.//


He heard thin laughter. //I am you, Obi-Wan,// the voice said. //You have no choice but to listen.//


It was true. This was Obi-Wan Kenobi talking, arguing with himself here in the ventilation shafts of an alien ship, charged with a mission he could not see himself completing. And he was right; there was always another choice, even if he didn’t see it. Maybe he was meant to take the escape pod and warn the Council. Maybe it was too late to save Qui-Gon, and this was the only way to stop him. Maybe if he chose to stay on the ship and face his Master he would condemn not only himself, but thousands of innocents to death.


For a while he struggled with himself, hanging in the balance between his loyalty to Qui-Gon and to the Jedi, maybe even the galaxy. And always the circular airlock doors stared benevolently into his face, waiting and inviting. He knew that if he left the ventilation system now, he would have no choice but to use them.


Finally, with a great effort, Obi-Wan forced himself to turn away and leave the airlock behind. He searched the Force for an answer as to whether he was doing the right thing, ready to turn back at the slightest hint, but there was nothing, only a grim sense of foreboding, and a terrifying sense of uncertainty; even the Force did not know, this time. He was on his own. Obi-Wan clenched his jaw and crawled on down the passageway.


*****


Qui-Gon stopped suddenly. Something was wrong. Obi-Wan was not coming. By now the aliens’ drugs had worn almost completely off, leaving Qui-Gon open to the slightest twinge in the Force. Obi-Wan’s presence shone in his mind, a bright beacon, surrounded by the Light Force.


Qui-Gon frowned. The boy’s presence should have been coming nearer as Obi-Wan made his way through the ship’s ventilation system, but instead it moved further away by the minute. Obi-Wan had anticipated Qui-Gon’s plan. The former Jedi chastised himself harshly and silently. He should have known better than to expect Obi-Wan to take so obvious a course of action against one who knew him as well as Qui-Gon did.


Qui-Gon felt a twinge of pride. He had trained the boy well, shaping him into a cunning warrior and strategist. But Obi-Wan was still no match for Qui-Gon, especially now that the latter had the help of the Dark Side. The boy clearly had a plan, that much was easy to sense; Obi-Wan still had not mastered the art of hiding his thoughts, but then, he had never needed to before.


It was also clear to Qui-Gon that this plan was sketchy, and that Obi-Wan himself had little faith in it. It would not be long before the boy slipped and revealed himself. After that he would be easy to turn. Qui-Gon could feel his inner turmoil, his confusion and fear, his anger at Qui-Gon for deserting him. No, it would not be long before Obi-Wan joined his Master on the Dark Side.


But for now, Qui-Gon would wait; patience had always served him as a Jedi, and now it would serve him as a Sith. Amazing how close the two sides were, when one really thought about it. Only one difference; the Jedi denied the evil within them, neglected it and crushed it, cutting themselves off from their own inner strength. The Sith, on the other hand, recognized it and used it. They were whole, they knew themselves unashamedly and totally.


Qui-Gon looked over at the alien beside him. It stared inquisitively at him, wondering why he had stopped. Qui-Gon realized suddenly that he could sense its thoughts. Its mind was a tangle of stray thoughts and chaotic Dark Side emotions. It was nervous and proud to be the one chosen to escort the Sith on his mission to find the other of his species. It was also terrified that it would make a mistake and be killed. Qui-Gon smiled.


Strangely enough, the creature was not Force-sensitive in the least. But the desire to serve, along with the creatures absorbtion in the Dark Side, was incredibly strong. Qui-Gon probed deeper, reading the creature’s entire history and personality like a book. There were no shields to keep him out, at least none that posed a challenge, and so he looked deeper, seeing its innermost desires, the secrets that none but it had ever known until now.


It was a beautiful and thrilling sensation, knowing everything there was to know about another being, the radiant appeal of the forbidden. Any Jedi who had even thought seriously of doing such a thing would have spent weeks in meditation, trying to uproot the influence of the Dark Side from his soul.


But Qui-Gon had no regret. If the beast could not defend its own thoughts, that was its fault. Besides, its purpose in life was to serve; it knew this itself, and a slave is its master’s property, to do with as he chooses. Qui-Gon released the mind of the creature, for he had seen all there was to see there, and it no longer interested him. It was time to turn his thoughts back to Obi-Wan.


The boy was still levels above him, but had stopped moving. His inner struggle had increased tenfold, and it was clear that he was on the brink of a crucial decision. Qui-Gon opened himself to the Dark Side and moved mentally closer, eavesdropping on the thoughts and feelings that leaked through his Apprentice’s pitifully feeble mental shields.


The boy was caught up in a conflict of his loyalties to the Jedi and those to Qui-Gon. He had the chance to leave, and he was on the very brink of taking it. He had found an escape pod, then. Qui-Gon moved closer, careful not to let Obi-Wan sense him.


It would only take the slightest nudge to tip the scale, if he could make the thoughts seem like they were Obi-Wan’s. Qui-Gon moved in, just barely brushing the edge of the boy’s mind with the suggestion that if he ran away now, the Qui-Gon he knew would be irretrievable, the Master he loved and respected gone forever. But if he stayed, then he might have the ghost of a chance of turning Qui-Gon back.


Slowly Qui-Gon worked that thought in with the boy’s, subtly adding conviction to Obi-Wan’s confusion. It was strenuous work, and once or twice his Padawan nearly sensed him, but each time he simply moved aside, letting Obi-Wan’s confusion provide his cover. And always he kept thinking at the boy, //He is your Master. Don’t leave him.//


Finally, slowly, Obi-Wan’s conviction grew, feeding off of Qui-Gon’s thought, the one that might as well have been his own. Then Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan move on through the corridors of the ship’s air vents. He smiled.


*****


Obi-Wan peered out through the grate into the corridor outside, his eyes fixed on the door of the electro-lift on the opposite side of the hallway. This was what he had been searching for. He could sense an alien drawing close, but for the moment the passageway was empty. He dexterously removed the grate, taking care not to make too much noise as he used the Force to lower it to the ground. Then he backed up to where the passage leading to the grate intersected with another. He pulled himself into that shaft, careful not to strain his hip lest he should undo the healing he had preformed in such haste.


Then he slid forward along the shaft until the passage leading to the grate lay right behind his feet. He could feel the alien soldier’s presence drawing constantly nearer. At this pace his timing should be about perfect. He eased back around the corner, feet first this time, and dropped out of the vent onto the floor below, landing on his uninjured leg.


The shock of hitting the floor sent a jolt of pain through his hip, but he ignored it as best he could, leaning up against the wall for support just as the alien rounded a corner and came into sight. It pulled its blaster, staying at a good distance from Obi-Wan.


The Padawan held up his hands in a gesture of surrender, watching as the alien took out its comlink.


//Yes,// he thought to himself. //Come on. Call him.//


The creature punched a code into the unit then said, “My lord, the boy is found.” It then replaced the comlink in his belt and moved closer to Obi-Wan.


Obi-Wan swallowed. If this plan failed... He clenched his teeth. It would not fail. He had to triumph in this, or Qui-Gon would be lost for good. Looking forward in his imagination to the next few hours he winced. Even if all went well he might not be able to hold out long enough to get back to Coruscant before he was turned or passed out from his injury. But he could worry about that when the time came. For now he had to deal with the alien.


With a lightening-fast swoop of the Force, he wrenched the creature’s blaster from its hand and called it to his own. The creature froze, startled. Obi-Wan searched for the switch to turn the blaster’s setting to stun, never taking his eyes off the alien, but the weapon was covered in switches and knobs, none of them familiar.


Qui-Gon’s presence drew nearer every moment, ascending rapidly up the electrolift that hummed across the hall. Obi-Wan reached out to the Force, letting it guide his hand to a knob at the top of the blaster. He turned it all the way to the left, then, holding his breath, pulled the trigger.


A wave of low-power plasma spewed from the mussle of the blaster, hitting the alien full in the chest. It crumpled to the ground. Obi-Wan reached out with the Force, afraid that he had made a mistake, but he still sensed life from the creature. He let out a deep sigh of relief. He wanted to avoid killing these creatures if he possibly could; it was a little too easy to see himself destroying them as Qui-Gon had.


His Master was close now, only about two floors away. Obi-Wan leaned up against the wall beside the lift doors, waiting. Only a few more seconds. He knew he would have to hurry once Qui-Gon was unconscious, sabotage the ship and then escape with his Master somehow, and worry about turning him back later.


But by that point it would probably be impossible. Qui-Gon would awake. He would be angry at Obi-Wan, would have no further use for him. Even captured he would have more command of the Force than Obi-Wan. He would kill him. His own Padawan. Obi-Wan knew this with a chilling certainty. He would sign his own death warrant the moment he pulled the trigger. And it would not be a pleasant death; Qui-Gon would have little trouble breaking free of whatever bonds Obi-Wan could manage. Then he would torment his Padawan, grind his helplessness and failure into his face, then kill him, slowly. And he would enjoy it.


Obi-Wan’s hand moved back to the knob on the blaster. It would be so much easier this way, just to kill Qui-Gon while he had the chance. He could evade the aliens easily enough. Or maybe he wouldn’t have to. Maybe he could lead them instead. Surely they were only misguided. They could be turned, led back to the Light Side. They would follow him. All he had to do was squeeze the trigger...


The lift doors opened and Obi-Wan twisted the knob back to kill, barely thinking about what he was doing. It would be better this way, better for the Jedi, for Obi-Wan, even for Qui-Gon. He took aim as his old Master stepped out, pointing the blaster at the spot where he knew the unsuspecting man’s heart would be.


A boot emerged from around the corner, a leg, a body, all covered in shining black armor. Then, calmly, Obi-Wan fired. There was a flash of light, a thud as a body hit the ground, silence. Then he realized. The blaster fell from his fingers and his legs gave beneath him. He had killed Qui-Gon.


*****


Qui-Gon watched as the alien guard fell in front of him. Ironic that it had squabbled for the honor of escorting Qui-Gon, stood there smiling beneath its helmet as Qui-Gon had quietly arranged for its death. How strange, he thought. One wouldn’t think someone as strong as Obi-Wan would be so easily manipulated. Perhaps, then, Obi-Wan was not as strong as he seemed.


Even now the boy was half kneeling, half lying on the floor, not daring to look at the body he thought was his Master’s. Qui-Gon stepped around the corner, staring down at his Padawan coldly. The boy did not look up immediately, thinking Qui-Gon was an alien come to kill him. At that point he probably would have welcomed it.


Qui-Gon’s brow furrowed. He hoped he had not overestimated and driven the boy too far. Obi-Wan was no use to him broken.


Finaly the child looked up, confused. His eyes widened as he saw Qui-Gon, amazement, joy, fear, and anger playing through them and over his face. Qui-Gon held out a hand to him silently. Obi-Wan started to reach out then hesitated, drawing back and lowering his eyes.


Qui-Gon crouched down, taking the boy’s chin gently in his hand, lifting the boy’s face to look into his.


“It’s all right, Obi-Wan,” he said softly.


“I tried to kill you,” said Obi-Wan, and his voice cracked over the words.


“Yes. Now you see what I have been trying to show you. You cannot fight this, my Padawan. It’s a part of you. Sooner or later you must give in.”


“No,” he said, but his conviction was slipping.


Qui-Gon made a minute mental adjustment, letting his shields slip ever so slightly, letting Obi-Wan sense the fraying bond between them. The boy looked anguished.


“Don’t make us loose this, Obi-Wan. Come with me.”


Obi-Wan clenched his jaw, clinging desperately to his teachings, and did not answer.


“Don’t be stupid, Obi-Wan. You would have killed me. It’s too late to resist. It will only hurt us both.”


Obi-Wan started to speak, but the words could not get past his throat. Qui-Gon began to grow impatient. He began to touch the boy’s mind again, using the same route he had used before to slip past Obi-Wan’s meager defenses. //Why not?// he thought for Obi-Wan. //You don’t have much to lose.//


//Only myself,// answered Obi-Wan, slipping, not realizing that the voice in his head was not his own.


//You’ve been willing to sacrifice yourself to keep Qui-Gon before,// retorted Qui-Gon in his Padawan’s voice.


//That was different!// Obi-Wan’s distress and pain were tangible, and Qui-Gon absorbed them, letting them feed his own power. It was a strange and beautiful sensation.


//Was it?// he asked simply. There was a long, long pause. Qui-Gon quietly watched Obi-Wan’s thoughts. Every time loyalty to the Jedi arose in the boy’s mind, Qui-Gon quietly turned the thought back or added his own to it, twisting it, telling his Padawan that the only way he could save the Jedi would be to live, to go with Qui-Gon until an opportunity presented itself to turn his Master back.


Slowly the balance began to tip. Obi-Wan began to incorporate Qui-Gon’s suggestions into his own thoughts, to stop arguing with them, to change his own thoughts to match them. Qui-Gon smiled slowly as Obi-Wan came closer and closer. Once he had the boy in his power he could have everything, go anywhere, do anything, and no one could stop him.


Suddenly Obi-Wan faltered, paused. He stared at Qui-Gon, a look of intense betrayal and *understanding* stealing over his face.


For a moment Qui-Gon was puzzled, then it hit him. He had still been in Obi-Wan’s mind as he thought of using the boy. Obi-Wan had simply overheard. He cursed inwardly as Obi-Wan’s shields slammed up, pushing Qui-Gon with surprising force from his mind. He backed away, dragging his useless leg across the floor behind him, searching with one hand for the blaster.


Qui-Gon called it to his hand and rose. He pointed it at Obi-Wan, his finger touching the trigger. Obi-Wan froze, a look of defiance on his face.


“Go ahead,” he said hoarsely.


Qui-Gon moved the blaster slowly, altering his aim from Obi-Wan’s chest to his wounded hip. The Padawan’s eyes followed, and Qui-Gon heard his sharp intake of breath.


“Come with me, Obi-Wan,” he said coldly. “Don’t make me take you by force. I will not kill you. I need you. How easy will you make it for yourself?”


Obi-Wan backed up another foot or so. The blaster followed his movements, trained unerringly at his hip.


“I will not turn,” he said quietly.


“Yes. You will. It’s just a matter of time and procedure. Now. Will you come with me willingly and have the bennefits of this ship’s medical facilities, or must I do this the hard way? I don’t want to hurt you, Obi-Wan.”


“Only because I’m valuable to you.” The words stung, backed by Obi-Wan’s determination.


Qui-Gon pulled the trigger, watched detatchedly as Obi-Wan screamed, curling around the injury. A trickle of blood seeped out from between his fingers. Eventually he managed to catch his breath and look back at Qui-Gon. His eyes were glazed with pain, and he radiated hatred.


“You manipulated me,” he gasped, his face twisted with pain and rage.


“Yes,” agreed Qui-Gon.


“You used me.”


“Yes. And I shot you. Twice. I only regret that I didn’t hit you harder the first time.” Obi-Wan’s stubbornness was beginning to peeve him.


The boy squeezed his eyes shut, curling into a tighter ball. “I will fight you,” he whispered, more to himself than to his former Master.


“Obi-Wan. You’re only causing yourself undue pain. We both know you can’t win, so give up. You’re just making a fool of yourself.”


No answer.


“Obi-Wan, making a martyr out of yourself isn’t going to help anyone, not even your precious Jedi. They won’t even know, and once you’re dead there will be no one to warn them.”


“If I turn there will be no one to warn them either.” The reply was little more than a whisper, but there was a kind of strength in the boy’s voice.


“What are you trying to accomplish? If you’re trying to impress me, it’s worked. I’m impressed. Trying to save the Jedi is a lost cause. You’re a sensible boy, Obi-Wan. Even the most devoted Jedi won’t pursue a course this hopeless if he has another choice. So be a Jedi, Obi-Wan.” He couldn’t keep the mockery out of his voice, but the boy didn’t seem to notice.


“You’re lying,” he pointed out, beginning to uncurl, still clutching his wounded hip.


Qui-Gon snarled. He couldn’t afford to waste time like this. If Obi-Wan wouldn’t come of his own accord, then he would have to be taken by force. And if he broke... He could be disposed of easily.


Qui-Gon reached into the boy’s mind again, not bothering to be subtle this time, bending it to his will, crushing his Padawan’s resistance. It was easy. Obi-Wan was weak, distraught, his connection to the Force slipping as he hung in the balance between Dark and Light. It was barely a fight.


Obi-Wan gasped and fainted. Qui-Gon smiled.


*****


Obi-Wan awoke in a bacta tank, disoriented and groggy. What had happened? It had been something important, he knew, something he had said or done.


Oh, yes. He had promised himself to the Dark Side.


It seemed ridiculous somehow, remote. He didn’t feel the revulsion he knew he should have felt. He didn’t feel anything.


Memory slowly returned as the med droid drained the bacta tank and the monitoring alien soldier left to fetch Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan remembered clearly now the blaster in his hand, the body of the alien that he had mistaken for Qui-Gon, the agony in his hip as Qui-Gon had shot him again, his Master’s mind invading his own, smothering his resistance, molding his thoughts. It seemed silly that he had ever dreamt of resisting. He couldn’t win fighting, and he couldn’t be expected to succeed where Qui-Gon had failed. Better just to give up.


The bacta tank was opened, and he slid out onto the floor, unable to support his own weight. He watched expressionlessly from his new viewpoint as Qui-Gon came in, picked him up off the floor, wrapped a towel around his shoulders. He was laid on a narrow cot.


“Feeling better?” asked Qui-Gon.


“Yes,” said Obi-Wan neutrally.


“As soon as you recover your strength you can begin your training.”


“Yes, Master.” Somewhere deep in Obi-Wan’s mind this almost disturbed him.


“I look forward to it.”


“As do I, Master.” He answered like a robot, knowing what he was supposed to say and saying it without pausing to think what it meant, like lines from a play he knew by heart and had grown bored with.


Qui-Gon was silent for a while, thinking. Obi-Wan lay watching him because it was expected, not quite seeing.


“Drop your shields, Obi-Wan,” ordered Qui-Gon thoughtfully after a long silence.


“Yes, Master.” Obi-Wan obeyed, baring his mind to Qui-Gon, feeling his Master sifting through it.


Qui-Gon frowned. “What do you feel?”


Obi-Wan paused, searching. “Nothing, Master.”


The frown deepened. “The Force?” he queried.


Again, Obi-Wan looked within himself.


“A little.”


Qui-Gon sighed, releasing with effort the tension that had built within him. “With time.”


Obi-Wan didn’t answer. He felt Qui-Gon’s frustration and his fear that he had destroyed Obi-Wan totally. He wondered vaguely if there was anything he was supposed to do about it.


“Stay here,” ordered Qui-Gon. “I’ll be back.”


“Yes, Master,” said Obi-Wan obediently as Qui-Gon turned and stormed out. He stared at the door long after his Master had left. There was no reason to look anywhere else. An alien came in and helped him into a suit of black armor. He complied, doing what was necessary and no more. Then he sat down and waited for Qui-Gon to return.


*****


Qui-Gon prowled outside the medical bay, pacing back and forth restlessly. He should probably just kill the boy. He was no good in this state, and without the Force he was nothing. Qui-Gon needed an Apprentice, not a mindless slave. He cursed himself for his earlier impatience with the boy.


And yet there was still a little hint of something there, hidden where perhaps not even Obi-Wan could find it. There had been shields that Obi-Wan had not dropped, although he had done all he could. Qui-Gon suspected that behind them his Obi-Wan still lived, still fought. That was why he still had the Force. Damned stubborn boy.


The only trick would be getting him back without destroying him completely. And he was fragile. One push to many and he would be lost. Qui-Gon would have to be careful, subtle, and not let his temper get the better of him. He shut his eyes and reached out to the Force for stability. It offered only strength, agression. He growled slightly. If there was anything he missed about the Light Side it was the calm it offered. For now he would have to settle for the callousness the Dark Side could give.


He came back in, found Obi-Wan dressed in the black plastoid armor, sitting up straight on his cot, staring at the wall. He turned as Qui-Gon came in.


“Do you remember when you first became a Padawan?” he asked without pretext.


“Yes, Master.” There was no hint of interest or emotion in Obi-Wan’s voice.


“What did you feel?”


“Joy. Like I belonged.”


A chill ran up Qui-Gon’s spine, and he shook it away. Obi-Wan’s voice was flat, uncaring, like he was a puppet, reciting lines fed to him by someone else. He decided to try again.


“And what did you feel when I turned?”


“Fear. Sorrow. Loss. Guilt.” It sounded like a shopping list.


“Why?”


“Because you were my Master and I loved you.”


“And now? What do you feel for me?”


A small furrow appeared between Obi-Wan’s brows, then smoothed itself away. “Nothing,” the boy replied.


“Obi-Wan, look at me.”


The boy complied, looking not so much at Qui-Gon as through him. The blue eyes were clear, empty. No hint of emotion or even thought stirred behind them.


“What will it take to make you feel again?” Qui-Gon asked softly, chilled for a moment by the remote void of his Padawan’s presence.


The boy glanced away, but it was a calculated movement, intended merely to convey that he was thinking as he should have been. His eyes snapped back up to Qui-Gon.


“Nothing will,” he said, completely earnest, incapable of lying.


“Search yourself, Obi-Wan. You are still fighting me.”


Obi-Wan was silent for a time. “I see nothing, Master.”


“Then let me show you.” Qui-Gon probed Obi-Wan’s mind, found the tiny corner where the shields still kept him out, guided what was left of Obi-Wan’s conscious mind to it.


“There. What I need is for those shields to drop.”


“Yes, Master. I will try.”


The empty blue gaze turned inward again and Qui-Gon watched as Obi-Wan fought himself, trying to force his own shields down. But this Obi-Wan, the empty puppet that Qui-Gon saw, was nothing. He was too weak to fight, too mindless. He only tried because Qui-Gon had told him to and he saw no reason not to comply. He didn’t know how to argue, or even how to think. He just obeyed.


Qui-Gon took the boy’s limp, clammy hand, strengthening the mental connection with physical contact and joined the battle, searching the shields for a flaw, a weakness he could squeeze past without hurting the fragile sliver of Obi-Wan they guarded. There was none. It was like trying to fit in between the stones one of the Temple walls.


There had to be a way through. He threw memories of their past together at the shields, visions of dangers they had passed through and good times they had shared. There were so many, and all of them bounced off the shields, leaving not so much as a scratch. Obi-Wan had sunk so deep into himself that Qui-Gon began to think he might be trapped there.


He searched deeper into his past, digging out emotions he had buried under his devotion to the Dark Side. The time Obi-Wan had decided to renounce the Jedi for the cause of a group of children on a war-torn planet, the despair Qui-Gon had felt when Obi-Wan handed back his lightsaber. The pride when that lightsaber had been built, pride that he had never fully showed Obi-Wan. The paternal love he felt for the boy yet could scarcely express, the awkwardness he had felt around his Padawan, unsure whether he should stay remote from him and be just a teacher, or whether he should show how he felt, expose all his own flaws and become a father. The fear that Obi-Wan would betray him as Xanatos had.


He tried not to look at these as he threw them at the shields, but he felt himself beginning to relive the past, to sink back into who he had once been, to think again about the Code, almost to regret. The shields fluctuated, faltered for the briefest second, then rebuilt themselves. He was starting to break through.


He reached deeper, recalling the brief surge in the Force he had felt the first time he had seen Obi-Wan after Xanatos’ betrayal, the one that he had ignored, the one that had told him that this was the boy he would take as his Padawan, this one and no other, that this was the boy who could make him whole again.


Even as Obi-Wan’s shields weakened, Qui-Gon paused. Make him whole again. Suddenly he felt a deep longing for Obi-Wan’s company, for his trust. He pushed it aside violently, telling himself that he was a Sith and that Obi-Wan hated him now. He must not let himself be pulled back, not now, not after he had come so far.


He focused all his attention on Obi-Wan’s shields, slipped through the tiny cracks threading across them, and saw his Padawan, unprotected, facing him defiantly like an animal at bay.


//Obi-Wan,// he called. //Come back to me.//


//Get out of my mind,// ordered Obi-Wan, his mind-voice remote but surprisingly strong.


//Please, Padawan.//


//Never.// Somehow Qui-Gon sensed that this was not an empty promise.


//Don’t fight me anymore, Obi-Wan,// he entreated.


//You cannot turn me, Master.//


//Then why do you still call me that?// retorted Qui-Gon sharply.


He sensed Obi-Wan’s surprise, a burst of shame. //Because you are,// he said hesitantly. //But I can still fight you and win, even if it means I have to die.//


//I know. But you don’t have to. Those emotions I showed you were true. And if you join me I will never hide them from you again, Padawan.//


Obi-Wan paused, and through the desparation and rigid determination, Qui-Gon could feel an urgent longing, a need for the bond they had once shared. //It doesn’t matter,// said Obi-Wan, but the lie was obvious, and they both knew it.


//I don’t want to fight you, Obi-Wan. I want to have you back.//


//Then you come with me.//


//No. I don’t need you that badly.//


Obi-Wan almost laughed. //Well, at least I know how you feel,// he said bitterly.


//But I don’t know how you feel, and neither do you. Please come back.//


Obi-Wan was silent for a long, long time. //You value your cause more than you value me,// he stated, but it was more of a question.


//Yes,// answered Qui-Gon reluctantly, //but I need you for my cause.//


//You would rather see me dead than let me escape.//


//Yes.//


//You feel nothing for me anymore.//


He took a deep breath. //Nothing. The Qui-Gon you knew is dead, Obi-Wan. But I am still here.//


Qui-Gon felt Obi-Wan absorb it, accept it. The Sith watched, helpless, knowing he had made a fatal mistake. All the boy’s fear and anger slowly slid away, leaving only a deep sense of loss and a quiet determination.


//Then kill me.//


//What?//


//Kill me. If you’re not my Master, then you shouldn’t have a problem with it. And I will not turn.//


//Very well,// said Qui-Gon grimly, knowing he had lost. And he called to the Dark Side, letting it feed off his anger at the boy and at himself for feeling again.


He gathered it to him and it came easily, heightening every sense, flowing through his veins. He reached out physically, taking Obi-Wan by the shoulders, strengthening his grip on the boy’s mind. He centered in on Obi-Wan’s presence, hating him. The boy had mocked him, defied him, and now by the Force he would pay.


Qui-Gon surrounded the boy with the Dark Side, cutting off escape from his own body. Even as a ghost Obi-Wan would be able to touch Qui-Gon and mock him. His soul must die along with his body. He closed the net of the Dark Side around his struggling Apprentice. Obi-Wan fought for all he was worth, but it would not be enough. The battle was already lost.


Gradually, Obi-Wan’s presence grew dimmer, smothered by the Dark surrounding him, struggling for life. The boy’s body sagged in Qui-Gon’s grip, his eyes dim and clouded. Still Qui-Gon closed the net, feeling a grudging respect for the dying soul; Obi-Wan still fought although he knew it was hopeless, not giving up, not wishing for mercy.


At the last moment, as the last spark of Obi-Wan’s mind flickered and began to succumb to the darkness, Qui-Gon heard a voice in his mind, very faint, barely recognizable: //I forgive you, Master.//


He stopped, pulled back, watching with amazement the tiny flame of Obi-Wan’s life as his Padawan struggled to hold onto himself. How could he forgive? He was dying, his soul and body both. How could he look into the face of his murderer, his betrayer, and forgive?


Then Qui-Gon remembered. He had once felt for Obi-Wan what the boy felt for him even now: love, loyalty, devotion. Time was when he would have died for Obi-Wan gladly and without a second thought. But that time seemed remote now, uncomprehendable, unimportant.


He should finish it. Now. That much was obvious.


But if it was so obvious, why was he hesitating like this? Why were all these feelings flooding him now? He recognized them as the ones he had shown to Obi-Wan to lure his shields down. Yet now they were only in his own mind, playing on his emotions like a musician plays a familiar instrument. He remembered, and more, he *felt.* He didn’t just recall the awkwardness, the love, the trust and dependancy; he felt them, there and then, as real as they had ever been.


And he looked at himself and for the briefest moment, he saw. But even the briefest moment was enough. Horror filled him, and he released his hold on Obi-Wan, watching stunned as the boy slumped limply to the ground, staring calmly into nothingness.


I’ve killed him, Qui-Gon thought. Force, I’ve killed my Obi-Wan, my own Padawan.


The Dark Side saw him pull away, struggled to hold onto him, but he slipped easily past its grasp, all his attention focused on the crumpled body at his feet. He no longer felt the Dark Side, but it felt him, and it attacked him before he could stop it.


He cried out, clutching his head as the evil power surrounded him as it had his Padawan, cutting him off from the Force, from everything. And then it began to squeeze, suffocating him. He fought desperately, more for Obi-Wan’s sake than for his own. He had betrayed his Padawan. He deserved to die and would welcome death, but curse him if he wouldn’t go down fighting. He owed Obi-Wan at least that much.


He strained against the ever-tightening net, but he was losing ground fast. And the Dark showed no sign of weariness or weakness, but grew stronger by the minute, feeding off his fear and despair. This was no way to win.


He drew back briefly, taking the time to focus himself, centering on his training, on his Jedihood. He slowly released his anger and sorrow, letting his care and respect for Obi-Wan take their place. And slowly, slowly, the Dark Side’s advance stopped, finding nothing to take hold of.


For a short eternity nothing happened, then Qui-Gon began to push, lightly at first, then with increasing force against the net that held him. The progress was slow, but little by little the evil tide began to subside.


Qui-Gon forced himself not to get impatient. “There is no anger, there is peace,” he repeated over and over to himself. “There is no ignorance, there is knowledge. There is no passion, there is serenity...” He stopped. He could not say the last verse. Not now. Because he would doubt, and he would start to feel the emptiness where Obi-Wan should have been. That would have to be later. Now he had a battle to fight.


It seemed to take forever, but at last the dark power encircling Qui-Gon drew back, disgusted, and left him altogether. He sighed and relaxed. The emotions threatened to flood back all at once, but he kept them at bay. Not yet. He had to know first.


He reached down hesitatingly to the body on the floor, feeling for a pulse. Nothing. No breath, no heartbeat, no sign of life whatsoever. A hot tear rolled down his cheek. He had failed his Padawan.


But there was still something holding off his despair, too faint at first to be recognizable. It was not denial; he knew how that felt. But there was... something. He reached out, touching the Light Side again with mixed hope and shame, searching.


Obi-Wan was still there. The presence was faint, weakening fast, but it was there, hanging on to life more out of reflex and habit than the desire to live. Qui-Gon did not hesitate, but threw himself after it, catching and hanging on despite the Padawan’s struggles.


He placed a hand on the boy’s still chest, willing the heart to beat, Forcing the air in and out of the lungs, all the time holding onto his apprentice’s spirit, anchoring it to the body, feeding it his own strength.


And gradually, reluctantly, Obi-Wan responded, and his body breathed of its own accord, the blue eyes fluttering closed, falling into something resembling sleep. But he was still too far gone, his grip still too shaky--if Qui-Gon let go now Obi-Wan would just slip away again. So the Master continued to act as anchor, letting his own strength flow into the boy’s body and mind, urging him with all his will to live.


Finally, when Qui-Gon thought he could hold on no longer, Obi-Wan came, sliding back into himself and rooting himself there. Qui-Gon felt the boy’s shields slam up and he was thrown violently from Obi-Wan’s mind. He collapsed, exhausted, next to his sleeping Padawan and settled back to catch his breath and wait for the boy’s return to consciousness.


*****


Obi-Wan moved tentatively, confused. He felt awkward, as though he had forgotten how to use his body. He tried to open his eyes, but nothing happened. His mind was blank, empty except for the residue of some strong emotion. Memory was shady, elusive.


He relaxed, waited. Slowly he began to feel himself again. He opened his eyes slowly, blinking up at a ceiling he didn’t know. There was a face, too, that of a middle-aged man, bearded, long gray-streaked hair tangled about his shoulders. The expression on his face was familiar to Obi-Wan, but somehow he could not put a name to it.


“Obi-Wan?” The man’s voice was deep and lilting. Something about it, the way it pronounced his name, stirred Obi-Wan’s memory, connecting voice to face. This was... someone important. Someone he had cared about, perhaps, back when he had existed. There had been something wrong about him before, but what Obi-Wan still could not remember.


He concentrated until he remembered how to look confused and did. He didn’t know if he could remember how to speak. The bearded man’s expresion deepened.


“Obi-Wan,” he repeated. “It’s me. Qui-Gon.”


Qui-Gon. What an odd name. And yet... strangely familiar. Yes, this Qui-Gon had been important to him. A memory tried to surface and he waited for it, but somehow it could never quite reach him. He felt a vague sense of something. Annoyance. That was what it was called. Perhaps that was the emotion written across the man’s face. No, that was something else.


He moved again, his right arm, a sloppy random movement just to prove to himself that he could. Qui-Gon saw and his expression changed. He still was not... happy, if that was the word, but he looked slightly closer. There was still a line between his eyebrows.


“Do you remember anything, Padawan?” Qui-Gon asked.


Another familiar word. Padawan. One almost similar to his name, one that had been almost as much, he thought. Padawan. The sound was definitely familiar. He repeated it over and over to himself, dragging memories to the surface. He was this Qui-Gon’s Padawan, or had been, and that was important. He was vaguely pleased with himself for recalling.


He realised he had not answered the question. “Master?” he said slowly, forming his lips carefully around the word. His voice sounded strange to him, louder somehow than he had expected, and unshaped, clumsy as his movements had been.


“I’m so sorry, Obi-Wan.”


Sorry. It was not a pleasing emotion, but it was a familiar one. Obi-Wan began to wonder if he wanted to remember at all if so much sorrow was to be involved. What did Qui-Gon have to be sorry for? It was something horrible, said Qui-Gon’s face. Another memory tugged at Obi-Wan’s mind. He saw corners of it as it struggled to be known: fear, loss, betrayal. He felt what seemed to be a hollow place deep in his chest.


Betrayal. That feeling, more than any other, pulled at him. He let it, having nothing else to do. Betrayal. Qui-Gon had betrayed him, somehow. He had been Qui-Gon’s Padawan. He sank deeper into memory, almost curious now.


He saw the vague outline of a metal hallway. Things were lying in it, bodies. Qui-Gon was there. He looked happy, but somehow not happy at all. Obi-Wan felt pain, his own, and remembered tears. They had been hot and bitter, leaving little tracks down his cheeks. There had been many of them. Somehow they came alongside the concept of Padawan.


But lately there had been more, and they had hurt more. The empty place in his chest gaped at him. Qui-Gon had betrayed him. He began to remember what that had been. He had loved Qui-Gon, and when he had been a Padawan there had been no emptiness. Then Qui-Gon had left him, had hurt him, and then he had known the tears and the emptiness.


Yes. He remembered now. And one memory followed another, filling his mind until he could barely see any of them. He was Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi Padawan. Qui-Gon Jinn was his Master. He had fought hard for that. Then Qui-Gon had turned away from him and embraced the Dark Side. He had tried to kill Obi-Wan.


He looked up at Qui-Gon again. Memory rushed him, let him see those concerned, gentle features twisting into an expression of hatred. He set his jaw and turned his face away, feeling the sting of tears. He felt Qui-Gon hesitate halfway to touching him. He felt Qui-Gon’s pain, but he could not bring himself to look at his old Master.


“Obi-Wan, I...” Qui-Gon trailed off. “I’m sorry,” he whispered at last.


“Why couldn’t you just have killed me?” muttered Obi-Wan, a tear trickling down his cheek, pooling beside his nose. Force, it hurt so much!


“Obi-Wan, please. You... I thought you had forgiven me.” There was pleading in the voice, and heartbreak. Qui-Gon hated himself, the Padawan realised.


“I had,” he answered slowly, still staring dedicatedly at the floor. “I do.”


Qui-Gon placed his hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. Without thinking, Obi-Wan shook it off. He winced as he felt Qui-Gon’s anguish, mirroring his own.


“I wish I could trust you,” said Obi-Wan quietly.


“Obi-Wan listen. Please just let me take you back to Coruscant. You’ll be killed if I don’t. Once we get there I’ll petition the Council to assign you another Master. Please, Obi-Wan, just trust me that far.”


Obi-Wan didn’t think he had ever heard Qui-Gon’s voice crack before, but it did now, half choking over the words “another Master.” Obi-Wan swallowed. Qui-Gon had come back. He had repented. He was there again, and he still loved Obi-Wan.


But that didn’t change the past. If Obi-Wan went back to Qui-Gon he would have to remember, every time he looked in his Master’s face, every time they fought back-to-back. He would have to relive it over and over, would have to wake up to look into the face of his nightmares. Qui-Gon didn’t deserve that, but neither did Obi-Wan.


He struggled to sit up, tried not to flinch as Qui-Gon helped him. “I’m sorry, Master,” he said.


“It’s all right,” Qui-Gon lied. “I don’t think I could have taken Xanatos back, even if he had come.”


“Yes, you could have. But I’m not you.” He sighed. His muscles were strangely tight, as if he were waiting for an attack. He forced them to relax, shivering. “I’ll come.”


He heard Qui-Gon breathe a sigh of relief and was almost startled by it. “Can you walk?” asked Qui-Gon.


“I think so.” Obi-Wan tried to clamber to his feet, but his legs gave beneath him. He tried again, fell. His arms were shaking with the effort of holding him up off the ground.


“I’ll have to carry you,” said Qui-Gon. “Will you trust me?”


Obi-Wan stared at the ground, humiliated, trying to convince himself that he wasn’t afraid. “Yes,” he said simply after too long a pause. I have no other choice, he added to himself.


Qui-Gon lifted him, struggling to hold Obi-Wan’s weight. The Padawan looked at him, at the set jaw, the shallow creases at the corners of the eyes that told him his Master, too, was fighting off fatigue. Obi-Wan tried to relax, but the tension in his muscles would not ebb, and he found himself wishing to be anywhere but where he was. Above all he wanted Qui-Gon to let go of him. Qui-Gon, he knew, sensed it. But there was nothing to be done except try to pretend he wasn’t bothered and keep his mental shields in place.


“How far to the escape pods?” he asked.


A fleeting expression crossed Qui-Gon’s face, guilt ot regret. “Not far,” he answered, regaining his composre, “but there’s a small hangar around the corner that will serve us better.”


“What’s wrong?” Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon didn’t need him to explain the question. He wished he could have sounded like he cared for Qui-Gon’s sake.


“I... Back when you were hiding in the air shafts, I felt you see the escape pod.” Obi-Wan had a sinking feeling in his gut. “I used the mind trick to convince you to stay.”


Obi-Wan was silent for a long time, listening to Qui-Gon’s footsteps echoing off the walls. A lump had formed in his throat, and he couldn’t push words past it. His mind whirled and he fought down the urge to fight his way out of his former Master’s arms and try to run. He knew that if he did, the decision would be made; Qui-Gon would not follow him if, choosing death, he ran.


He blinked rapidly. How could Qui-Gon have done that? He had invaded Obi-Wan’s mind, manipulated his thoughts. Obi-Wan knew he had done it when he had convinced the Padawan to kill the alien, thinking it was Qui-Gon. He had felt it then. But how many times had he not known? How many times had he been used, had his own thoughts been carefully and coldly inserted into his brain?


Again he fought back the urge to struggle, wondering if death would in fact be better than this. All the time Qui-Gon looked straight ahead, his face a still, composed mask, but Obi-Wan, through the ragged tatters that were left of their bond, felt his old Master hating himself. He swallowed. True that Qui-Gon had turned, had betrayed him, but he was back now, and still a good man. He deserved whatever comfort Obi-Wan could offer.


“Don’t blame yourself too much,” he said, trying to keep his voice from shaking. “The only reason it happened at all was that you were drugged. And wanted to protect me.”


“That doesn’t excuse it,” Qui-Gon answered a little harshly. “I am... was... a Jedi Master. I violated every rule we live by. And I nearly destroyed you.”


Obi-Wan’s breath caught in his throat. “Was?”


“I can’t just go back after this. I can’t let it happen again. It would be better if I just retired.”


“Where will you go?”


Qui-Gon shrugged. “The Agi-Corps, maybe. It’s a popular choice.” An attempt at humor, at familiarity.


Obi-Wan laughed a little, bitterly. “It’s vastly overrated.”


Qui-Gon smiled sadly. They had reached the hangar. Qui-Gon opened the hatch to a small shuttle and placed Obi-Wan gently inside. “I’ll be back soon,” he promised.


“Where are you going?” asked Obi-Wan, mistrusting.


“To stop the ship. We can leave the aliens stranded here until we can report them to the Council. I believe they will stay together and try to repair whatever damage I do.” He paused. “You can go on ahead if you want. I’ll understand. I can get another ship to Coruscant.”


“I can’t walk to the bridge,” reminded Obi-Wan coldly.


Qui-Gon winced. “I’ll take you,” he offered.


“No, thank you.”


Qui-Gon swallowed, nodded. He started to say something, then decided against it. Without another word he turned and walked out the door.


Obi-Wan looked after him for a long time. He wanted to trust Qui-Gon. He wished he could erase the past few days and start over again. Parhaps they could both request a memory wipe. There was the slightest chance the Council might even agree. But that would be the coward’s path out, and whatever else Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were, they were not cowards.


Obi-Wan looked at the floor. He knew he was hurting Qui-Gon. He knew his old Master too well not to see the pain in his eyes as his Padawan refused again and again to trust him. Qui-Gon didn’t blame Obi-Wan for it, nor was he disappointed in any way with him. Only with himself.


Obi-Wan should stay with him. The Order couldn’t afford to lose a Jedi like Qui-Gon. But he would have to remember every time he looked at Qui-Gon the sickening smile on his face as he smothered the life out of his own Padawan, his satisfaction as he held Obi-Wan at gunpoint. But he would also remember the shock and intense remorse as he realized what he was doing and the way his voice had broken as he suggested that someone else train his Padawan. He would remember the feelings Qui-Gon had shown him in the medical bay, the ones he knew Qui-Gon still felt.


And all his life as a Padawan he would look at his new master, Qui-Gon’s replacement, and he would think of the big bearded man reduced to nothing more than a farmer, and he would know that he had not had the courage to save his own Master from the fate his Master had saved him from even before he had known what the bond felt like. And he would wonder what his life could have been if he had chosen to try again.


The ship lurched as the engines suddenly cut off. Obi-Wan braced himself momentarily against the doorframe. Qui-Gon had succeeded. He smiled a little, happy that it made him glad, almost proud. That was another thing he would miss. The subtle, half-hidden pride that always radiated from Qui-Gon when he was around Obi-Wan. The Padawan scarcely noticed it anymore. Surely his new Master would feel pride in him as well, but it could never be the same.


Qui-Gon would be back soon. //I could do it,// thought Obi-Wan. //I could take him back. He doesn’t deserve this.// But there was still that empty place where the bond should have been. And he knew that even if they built it back somehow, that empty place would stay there, at least in his memory and his dreams. He would never be able to forget.


But he might be able to trust again.


Suddenly he heard blaster fire outside the hangar. His head snapped up and a surge of adreneline tingled through his body. Qui-Gon was in danger. The aliens had found him and realized that he was no longer their Sith. They were trying to kill him.


Obi-Wan struggled weakly to his feet. Unaided, Qui-Gon would surely die, and he would never seek the safety of the ship for fear of putting his Padawan’s life in danger. Maybe he even wanted to die. He certainly hated himself enough.


Obi-Wan had to help. He was unarmed and pitifully weak; he didn’t think he could even make it to the door, much less help Qui-Gon if and when he got there. He bit his lower lip. There had to be something he could do. He looked around. Nothing but storage crates and other ships, certainly nothing that would be of much use to Qui-Gon.


//Think, Obi-Wan!//


He could just barely feel Qui-Gon, fighting without hope beyond the hangar doors, weakening by the minute. He needed help, and soon. Obi-Wan surveyed the inside of the ship desperately.


There. Just a few feet down the hall. A manual fire extinguisher. Every ship had one by the entrance ramp, just in case. It was standard issue. He could have kicked himself for forgetting. He hoisted it off the wall, his arms shaking even with its slight weight. He drew on the Force, begging it for just a few moments of strength.


Then he held his breath and forced himself across the floor at an awkward limping jog, gripping the extinguisher with white knuckles. He was out of breath by the time he reached the door, his legs shaking violently and threatening to buckle, his face dripping with sweat. He tried to accept the fatigue and work around it, but it was hard, and his fingers shook as he pushed the control pannel next to the door.


The door slid open and for just a moment the aliens outside hesitated, startled. It was the briefest of pauses but it gave Qui-Gon the time to leap through the door. He ran a few halting steps then collapsed. Obi-Wan pressed the lever on the fire extinguisher unit, sending a thick spray of mist out into the hallway, blinding the aliens. With a quick surge of the Force he jammed the lever down then shoved the unit into the hallway and shut and locked the door. It would only be a few moments before the aliens found their way through the fog and unlocked the door, but it would have to be enough.


Obi-Wan, the last of his adrenaline beginning to give way to fatigue, limped over to Qui-Gon, who was pulling himself to his feet. He had taken a shot to the shoulder and was bleeding heavily, but he managed to clamber to his feet and drape his good arm about Obi-Wan’s shoulder. Together, each supporting the other, they ran to the ship.


Once inside, Obi-Wan made his way towards the bridge, leaning on the walls for support. They both knew Qui-Gon could not fly the ship one-armed, and they parted without a word between them. Obi-Wan was dizzy, barely able to stand by the time he reached the bridge. The control pannel spun before his face, but he forced it into focus and took the controls, piloting the shuttle away from the alien ship and powering up the shields.


Laser cannon plasma erupted around him, buffeting the ship as the aliens opened fire. He felt the shields start to buckle as he punched in the coordinates of Coruscant and powered up the hyperdrive engines.


//Please,// he prayed to whatever might listen, //don’t let us die now. Not when we’re so close.//


The ship lurched again and he was thrown to the floor. An alarm blared. The shields were nearly gone. He hauled himself up again, clenching his teeth with determination. He took hold of the lever that would send the ship into hyperspace. It was too soon. The hyperdrive engines were not yet at full power. Making the jump too soon could destroy the ship. But so could the alien’s blaster cannons.


He shut his eyes. //Trust in the Force, Obi-Wan,// he told himself, echoing innumerable teachers. Then he pulled the lever. The starfield before him exploded as the ship rocketed forward. There was the brief screech of toiling engines, then all was silent. He let out a deep sigh and sank down into the pilots seat, exhausted.


When he opened his eyes again, Qui-Gon was looking down at him, a bacta compress held on his shoulder. Obi-Wan twitched, his muscles tightening. Qui-Gon pretended he had not seen.


“Thank you, Obi-Wan,” was all he said.


“Master,” began Obi-Wan.


“It’s just Qui-Gon.”


Obi-Wan absently reached for the braid that dangled over his shoulder. It was still there. “Master,” he insisted, took a deep breath. “Don’t go before the Council.”


“What?” For the first time since he had turned back to the Light Side, there was a note of hope in Qui-Gon’s voice.


“I want to stay your Padawan.”


“Are you sure?”


“Yes. I’ve thought about it, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I want to trust you again, Master.”


Qui-Gon was silent. A tear rolled down his cheek, one of the first Obi-Wan had ever seen from him. “I don’t know if I can let you do that.”


“But why not?” Obi-Wan’s voice sounded strangely high-pitched to him, half-choked.


“I can’t let this happen again, Obi-Wan. And I would never be able to look at you without thinking of it.”


“Master Yoda would call it a valuable lesson.”


“Probably. But I would call it torture.”


Obi-Wan couldn’t answer. How could Qui-Gon do this to him? He had come so far, was willing to give so much to have his Master back, and now his Master wouldn’t come?


“But... but I need you,” he said in a small, quiet voice.


“I’m sorry, Obi-Wan. I truly am. But I can’t go back to the Jedi after this. You have to understand, I cannot just erase this from my memory. And I cannot spend every day of my life remembering what it was like to want to kill you. I can’t let that temptation arise again. Please try to understand.”


Obi-Wan looked out the window. So many stars, and his Master was leaving them all behind, turning his life into a barren, empty, meaningless existance.


“Then I will leave, too,” he said quietly. He cut Qui-Gon’s protest off with a look. “It’s my choice, and I can’t be a Padawan if I am not Qui-Gon Jinn’s. I’ll go somewhere other than where you go if you like, but I will not build a bond with or complete my training under another Master.”


There was a long, long silence. Obi-Wan could hear his breath filling his lungs, releasing slowly out his nose. His heart beat slowly and steadily. A little buzzing noise started in his left ear, trying to fill the silence. Then, finally, Qui-Gon spoke.


“Well,” he said slowly, “It doesn’t look like I have much of a choice.” He smiled, then, the gentle crooked smile Obi-Wan remembered, and placed a slender metal tube in his Padawan’s hand; Obi-Wan’s lightsaber. “I will try to live up to your expectations, Padawan.”


Obi-Wan grinned back, no longer bothering to hide his tears. “And I to yours, Master.”


The ship sped on, past thousands of stars, to the waiting Temple, home.



The End


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