With No Reprise
Written by LuvEwan
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me. Title taken from the Jesse Harris/Norah Jones song The Long Day is Over.
As soon as I thought of this little idea, I knew I had to dedicate the story to diane. The biggest Qui-Gon lover I know!
A Master glimpses more of what he never wanted to see in his former teacher.
His dreams were hazy-but it was a pleasant haze, more a cloud of cotton candy than swelling black rain.
Yes, he had to admit, that was the proper description. Fluffy, flyaway images spun in colorful sweetness. It was a change for him. For most of his life, especially the lonely intervals, sleep brought unsettling memories bathed in sickly hues. Nightmares. Mistakes played over in a cruel loop.
But tonight he was floating along, the only recollections with him that of a dark hotel room lit by a glowing holo screen, watching a crazed monster chase a mismatched group through deserted fields, listening to his apprentice's animated reactions to every twist and scream.
Qui-Gon Jinn woke slowly, his eyelids bobbing up and down, his vision coming in slits of shadow. The heavy aroma of salt intermingled with sugar and cinnamon streamed through his senses. Undoubtedly, Obi-Wan hadn't spared a morsel, but the scents lingered, a gentle reminder of the evening that the Master welcomed.
He opened his eyes fully, squinting in bleary shock at the static crackling on the forgotten screen. Qui-Gon grumbled something unintelligible, and lifted a hand to switch off the annoyance.
Obi-Wan stirred, took a quick, sharp inhale of air, then released it in a sigh.
Qui-Gon's fingers stalled. The square radiated a tender effulgence, despite its artificiality, and spilled to caress his apprentice's features. The sleeping youth's head was turned toward him, a very slight smile holding faint to his mouth. In the blurry mosaic of gray and shadow, the long cheekbones were defined, the cleft deepened. And, less prominent, was the fine crease between his closed eyes.
For now, the line was an occasional thing, a sign of distress or foreboding or, as currently displayed, deep thought.
But with time and the Order's shuddering definition of 'experience', Qui-Gon had an almost fearful inkling that the tiny wrinkle would pass over into permanence. Yet, for all his worry, Qui-Gon found himself matching the smile his Padawan wore. The coarse, battle worn fingers that had been outstretched toward the holo screen moved to ghost across the space linking Obi-Wan's brows.
A thickening album of days had brought subtle changes to the boy's countenance. A diminishment of the round shape, a stronger setting of the already powerful jaw. Still young. Still a portrait of innocence-and mischief.
Qui-Gon shifted with a small grimace as his back protested the chosen pallet of rest. They had been free of mission duties for the evening, and spread a blanket over the lush carpeting, covering it with an assortment of snacks ranging from fried (grease-soaked) potato skins to sprinkled confections and carbonated, syrupy beverages. The film was a favorite of the planet and a staple of network evening programming. Qui-Gon was hesitant; he considered horror a generally cheesy genre populated by overacting and underdeveloped writing. His Padawan had taken in the opinion with a long-suffering expression, then calmly responded 'My Master, the critic.' Qui-Gon answered the brilliant grin with a chuckle-then caved in, promising that the next time such an opportunity presented itself, they would view a documentary.
'I'll remember to bring my eyemask and a sedative.'Was the dry reaction.
So they sat cross-legged at their makeshift, moonlit picnic, drinking and eating, laughing and talking and-just once-blurting a surprised little cry at the unfolding action.
By the time the credits scrolled, Obi-Wan was snoring, curled on his side. Qui-Gon had brought up his hand to turn the box off then, but the younger Jedi's eyes snapped open, a burst of aquamarine in the yellowed dark.
"Fooled you." Obi-Wan whispered in a sleep-cracked voice.
Qui-Gon laughed. "Apparently. From whatI could tell, you were dead to the world." His mouth curved in a sly smirk. "And drooling, too."
The eyes widened a little, and Obi-Wan quickly wiped the gathering puddle from his chin. "Hmph."
"I take it you weren't impressed by the scare tactics of the film?"
Obi-Wan rolled onto his back , looking up at the man with a lopsided smile. "Me? A seasoned Jedi?"
"Regardless," The boy continued, "I can't be shaken by mauls from a monster in a fake fur suit."
"Oh?" Qui-Gon looked genuinely intrigued, "And what about that little scream towards the end?"
Obi-Wan's gaze fell from him. "I… dropped my drink."
The playfulness to the man's tone caused Obi-Wan's smile to double in shine. "What? Will you not be satisfied unless I say I wet my pants?"
Qui-Gon snickered, stretching out somewhere nearby the Padawan and cushioning his head with his arms. "Of course not."
"Okay then. Subject dropped."
They lay in silence for only a moment, then, glimmering with a gleeful curiosity "DID you wet your pants?"
Qui-Gon smiled at the fresh memory, trailing his fingertips through the copper spikes languidly. It was easy to forget, in the pulse of a battle, in the fever of serving hard justice, that Obi-Wan remained a child, barely sixteen. Others of an identical age were living strikingly different lives. Some carefree, some burdened by poverty and duty.
And they all deserved nights such as the one he had shared with his student. Each had earned the right to a jitter after a frightening film, with the close presence of someone offering ready reassurance--and a joke or two.
But, Qui-Gon thought that maybe it was every person's belief, when in his position, that the child under their wing deserved it just a tad more than the rest.
He was leaning into a doze when the room's communicator called shrilly. Qui-Gon was up in an instant, practically sprinting through the darkness, relying on the Force to lead him through the strange, alien layout to silence the blinking comm.
"Qui-Gon Jinn." Barely above a whisper.
And the reply was more bone-rattling than any second rate film beast. "Ah. Qui-Gon. I'm glad to hear your voice. I had convinced myself the clerk had suffered serious injury to his brain, and given me insufficient information regarding your room number."
Qui-Gon's forehead crinkled. Of all the people he would have expected… "Master, I-I have to say I'm surprised. How did you know I was here?"
The inflection lost none of its aloof regality, though it reverberated through a machine. "A complete coincidence, I assure you. I had light business to take care of nearby, and heard through the grapevine you and your apprentice were assigned a mission on planet. I've attempted contact twice during the course of the evening," An edge of rebuke sharpened the tone just slightly, "But I didn't receive a reply."
Qui-Gon winced. "I apologize, my Master. I was-busied."
"I see," But the man didn't seem convinced. "Are you still absorbed in whatever was so pressing?"
The younger of the Masters was forced to throw up intense shielding to block the regret from reaching the other's sensors. It wasn't that he loathed meeting with his former teacher. He was simply quite weary…too weary to sit as audience to the man. He swallowed a sigh. "No."
"Splendid." There wasn't outright delight in the word, but it was more than Dooku usually allowed. "I'm at the ground floor now, partaking of the café's wine. It's rather good, if you'd like to join me."
For a split second, Qui-Gon felt the decidedly un-Jedi like impulse to feign some exotic sickness. But he knew his wily mentor wouldn't believe he was suddenly covered in a green rash with warts on his tongue--he'd tried that before. He had been fourteen, of course, and had gathered a bit more credibility since then. But there was really no excuse not to meet with the man. If nothing else, it would save his conscience the guilt. "Certainly, Master. I'll take only a minute to make myself presentable."
The communication ended in Dooku's usual manner, clipped and cool, without much sentiment. Qui-Gon brought his hands to his hips, heaving a breath.
His Master had been a highly respected member of the Jedi Order, possessing a level of intelligence rivaled only by his mystery, both worn around him like a raven cloak. During Qui-Gon's years as an initiate, Dooku was an enigmatic vapor, drifting in and out, testing the waters of the youth's aura, it seemed. Their relationship had never been one-sided, in that the graceful, towering figure was always prepared with an admonishing word or cleverly disguised encouragement. Qui-Gon was immensely grateful for the tutelage he received.
But there was a division between them now, a breach that had placed the two loyalties of his life on opposite ends. Namely, when the great Master Dooku left the Jedi, taking with him considerable skill and brilliance, leaving behind a controversial reputation in the silvery halls of the Temple. For Qui-Gon, the choice had been a spirit-wrenching one, but inevitably, his deepest bonds were those with the Force itself, and to a lesser extent, the group that lived to serve it.
He expected to be shut out. When he informed the man of his decision, Qui-Gon had watched a brittle mask pass over that slender, refined face--quickly deserted. 'I cannot force you to abandon that which has been your focus so long, my Padawan. But perhaps," Shadows had flickered in the narrowed gaze, "Someday, you will understand my reasons…and share them."
Whatever his motives, Qui-Gon hardly believed he would join Dooku now. The avenues he traveled were shadowed, and Qui-Gon was firmly devoted to the Light. He could admit his own weakness…he could not function in the cold of gray. Yet, he would never reflect on his instructor as 'lost', though there were those that believed just that.
There were also those who would adamantly object to his acceptance of the invitation. Well, I'm already reputed as something of a maverick. Might as well take advantage. The thought brought a wry smile to his face, as he moved to a private room to change into his tunics and cloak. Obi-Wan would be appalled.
The amused expression eased, until he was almost frowning. Qui-Gon knew he himself would not waver in his views on the Jedi and politics, a score of years and countless missions secured his standing on such things. But Obi-Wan was still impressionable, at an age where rebellion came as naturally as a breath. There were few sources of confusion that Qui-Gon could shield his young protégé from.
In this, he could. Dooku had never spoken a word to Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon, with a twinge of irrational shame, would ensure that was unchanged.
He strode into the living room and looked down at the boy, sleeping under the soft glare of the holo screen. The Master gave him a small, imperceptible push toward deeper levels of rest, and hoped it would be enough to keep him oblivious to the Master's midnight departure.
With a last, sweeping glance at the room, he headed for the café.
(Former) Jedi Master Dooku stood when he saw his one-time apprentice approach, his ever formal attire smoothing out of its own accord, fluid and dark and seamless.
The light pooled in the striking lines that assembled the man's facial structure. Strong, lean bones drew out his cheeks, his chin and forehead. The cropped, white hair's severity was lessened by touches of smoky color. He had always been a figure of intensity. Handsome, even after the pull of difficult years.
The café was empty, awash in warm, liquid amber, with high, stylized stools and glass tables. Qui-Gon's boots clicked against the polished tile. He reached Dooku and immediately bent in a bow. "My Master."
Dooku did not return the gesture, but then, the younger man had not expected him to. Instead, his mouth stretched in a sardonic smile. "It pleases me that you have retained your manners, my friend. With the current state of the Order, I was worried you might allow your character to be degraded."
There it was. The first jab at the Jedi. Qui-Gon compressed his lips for a moment, then, "There is very little in the Universe that could inspire me to forego such customs, Master."
The comment was received with a wider smile.
In unison, they sat.
Qui-Gon took a few minutes to study the cultured countenance, finding it to be as valiant-and detached, as ever. "I trust you are well?"
A rich chuckle. "Did you think I called you here to inform you of some dreadful turn in my health?"
"No," Qui-Gon smiled, "But is there a specific reason?"
"Do I require one?"
The Master's pallor actually neared a flush. "Of course not." He took a sip of the wine provided for him, pale red in a delicate chalice. "But I admit, I was taken off guard. "
"Indeed. It's unfortunate that we so rarely can enjoy one another's company, my Padawan."
The voice was a deep, distinct rumble, and Qui-Gon was pleased to identify a note of genuine regret within it. "I'm sorry, Master. But, as you know, certain duties can consume your life, leaving very little time for outside endeavors."
The elegant man smiled, a sliver of obsidian jewel glinting in his eye. "Your apprentice," He said knowingly.
Qui-Gon wished with private fervor that he had not just chafed at the word, as spoken by his Master. He nudged a smile to a slightly unwilling mouth. "He demands every ounce of my attention, it seems."
Dooku took a shallow drink. "And you have no problem giving it to him, I'd wager."
"Of course not." Qui-Gon didn't chuckle, but the mirth was warm in his inflection, "On his worst day, he's a source of great amusement."
"I wouldn't know." A tension stretched suddenly, taut, between them, though the face was almost kind. "I have yet to meet the scamp."
"I would have brought him along, Master, but it was a long day for us and I didn't want to disturb his slumber." Qui-Gon's eyes flicked down to the swirling depths of his chalice.
"A long day to be sure. Tell me, Qui-Gon, do you still hold the same affinity for Taliam cream soda?"
Qui-Gon laughed out loud-perhaps to shield his disconcertment from outside sensors. "Perceptive as ever, aren't you? I suppose I should clarify. When I said 'slumber', I should have said 'sugar coma'."
"He's a normal teenager, then."
"Well, I'm not sure how correctly one could label Obi-Wan 'normal'."
Dooku's willowy hands lingered on the glass lip. "His abilities are still impressive, I suspect. And evolving."
It took a great deal of strain for Qui-Gon to keep his wary breath gated. "He is a good apprentice." He didn't want the tiny taunt, the glittering speck of defiance, to show in his words, but they did. "And he will be a great Jedi, someday."
If Dooku was blistered by that, it was well below his former Padawan's notice. "Undoubtedly. If engorging oneself on nutrition-less slop and focusing one's attention on drivel have become touchstones of Jedi training, that is."
Qui-Gon hid his sour smile behind a quick, unsatisfying drink of wine. "I take it you don't approve of how my apprentice and I spent this evening."
"I am in no position to approve or disapprove, my friend. He is your student, after all. And my title among the Order is, willingly, nonexistent. But an outside opinion is not always a bad thing."
"A horror film and bag of potato skins is not going to corrupt his skills, nor his devotions." Qui-Gon countered calmly. "Previous to our mission, he won a very prestigious medal for his grasp of elevated katas. And for a Master to watch his apprentice succeed so purely," The smile was genuinely pleasant, "It was one of the best moments of my life…just as tonight was."
Dooku's laugh was veined with weary, smug exasperation. "He has you wrapped around his finger." In a smooth transition, the lines of humor disappeared from his face, replaced by shadowy pools. "And inevitably, your leniency will unravel what you have planned for his future."
Qui-Gon watched his former Master, swathed in the palette of a bruise, a corrupted clone of the man, and Jedi, he once was. The next words lashed through the most tender flesh of his mind.
"This coddling will ruin him, lest I remind you of your past…mistakes."
And Qui-Gon was on his feet. "I don't have time to listen to this. If our meeting was meant to be nothing more than a cataloguing of my faults, I have to wonder why you bothered at all, Master. Surely you could have recorded your tirade for me through a messaging service, to listen to at my leisure."
There was scantly a movement in the hardened features. "Melodrama does not become you, Qui-Gon."
At that moment, Qui-Gon would not have been overly shocked if his spine spiked in its rigidity, and tore through the base of his neck. In the emotionless tone of the cultured voice, he could hear the echoes of his childhood, his own apprenticeship. It painted for him with great, vivid strokes the scenes of loneliness and unbending structure, a life of training vastly different than he had expected-or wanted.
As an apprentice to a Jedi Master, Qui-Gon had been required to walk two steps behind Dooku.
But to the young Padawan-and even the currently seasoned Master-that distance always seemed to stretch out into a chasm. Count Dooku, as he was now called, demanded respect.
In his career as a mentor, Qui-Gon preferred to earn such reverence and obedience from his charge.
"I'm sorry that this is the way between us now." Qui-Gon murmured, slowly turning from the man, towards the darkened lobby. He had taken but a step when he was halted in his tracks.
"This isn't why I called upon you this evening, Qui-Gon. It…" Dooku sighed, "It wasn't my aim to alienate or criticize you. But you must realize that the path you take, the path you lead young Obi-Wan down, is the wrong one."
Qui-Gon squared his shoulders and faced the other man. "Is that so? Well, I'm already aware of your stance on that issue. My place, and my apprentice's place, is with the Jedi. That will not change." The smallest flinch crossed his eyes. "Not even for you, my Master."
Dooku rose with perfect grace and posture. "My entreaty does not stem from personal issues, Qui-Gon." He moved an inch toward the Jedi, and his voice softened, "Although, I would be lying if I said a small part of me wasn't hoping our old ties were still of importance to you."
"Of course they are," Qui-Gon replied. His hand nearly strayed to his chest, where a pang had tightened his lungs. "But there are others I am bound to."
"Yes, I know. And that is why I wish for Obi-Wan to join me--to join us."
Qui-Gon sealed his eyes. The words brought images of his Padawan, images tainted by darkness and twisted, unnatural fate…images which only solidified his conviction. "Obi-Wan is Jedi."
"Obi-Wan would do what you asked of him. Wouldn't he?"
A spark of real anger ignited in the Master. He forced his reply through grit teeth. "He is not so willful and blind as you would prefer to believe. And neither am I." Qui-Gon stalked forward, and clamped his hands on Dooku's shoulders, wrenching the dark eyes to his face. "What has become of you? You were a pillar of the Order, Master."
Dooku looked steadily into the open desperation and disgust. "When the base is rotten and unstable, pillars tend to crumble, my poor, misguided friend." He reached up to grip Qui-Gon's broader shoulders. "I know what the future holds for the Jedi. And it isn't bright."
The stability of Qui-Gon's expression wavered for a fleeting moment. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Dooku raised pale fingers to the bearded cheek in an uncharacteristically tender gesture, "That you and your young student would fare better to walk out of here, out of the Jedi, right now. I am offering you salvation, Qui-Gon. A reprieve from a terrible future. A chance to escape destruction."
Qui-Gon searched wildly for a slip in the façade, some sign that this was an elaborate ruse that played on his emotions. When he couldn't locate a single catch or seam, he turned away, eyes finding empty solace in the dimmed hotel around him. His heart jackhammered. No. That can't be true. How could he know? How could…
"I would not manipulate you. No matter what you think of me, know that I wouldn't come to you without just cause."
"No." The whisper was torn from Qui-Gon's very soul, and hidden ghosts began to stir within him, sending chills through his bones.
"You know I'm right, Qui-Gon. Don't you? You've sensed it as well."
Was that what came to him in the strange moments? Were the ragged fragments of massive desolation and blood-soaked sands echoes of an unrealized future? The nightmares that sliced through his sleeping mind?
His mouth was trembling, but he managed, "D-Do you know…will something happen to him?"
"Many things will happen to him." There was an almost mournful tinge to Dooku's tone. "The specifics are concealed in fog, but I'm sure I'm not the only one to witness such glimpses."
Qui-Gon bowed his head, and felt palms rest on his arms.
"You can take him away from that. I can offer protection for him and for you. The shields of my power surpass that of the Jedi. Obi-Wan would be safe from the incredible suffering that awaits him."
The Master jerked, mind consumed by shrieking screams that sounded from every piece of him, Jedi, apprentice, mentor…and a role that he never quite had the courage to identify. How could he desert Dooku now? How could he walk away with the knowledge he now possessed, when it could quite possibly spell the doom of his beloved student? "Is this the opportunity you've been waiting for, Master?" He wondered quietly.
"What? I don't--"
"When you came to me before, with the proposition of leaving the Order, you said that one day, I would understand and share your opinions." Qu-Gon glared at the man. "Now, have you finally found the perfect ammunition, the soft spot, the child 'wrapped around my finger' that has that desired ability to persuade me"?
"A weighty accusation." Dooku replied crisply. "And a foolish one. To deny the authenticity of my visions is to deny your own."
Qui-Gon's fingers dug against his temple. "Then I deny them. Then I deny that damned horror! Gladly."
"Then you resign yourself, and Obi-Wan, to unequaled torment."
Qui-Gon surged his energy into ignoring the foreboding tingle of the words, and began to run from the café again.
"Force willing, my Padawan, I will spare Obi-Wan the destiny you have allowed for him."
The Master was a blaze across the short distance, until he had fisted the velvet finery of his mentor's cape. "Over. My. Dead. Body."
And then he stalked to the lift, never daring to look back, for fear that he would catch the almost pleading look in those black eyes once more.
The hotel room was caught in the gray of pre-dawn, with a faint hint of sun seeping through.
Qui-Gon dropped his robe on a chair, not bothering to remove his boots or belt before resuming his place on the blanketed ground. Obi-Wan seemed to be in the same position as before, though his snoring had silenced.
The Master favored the slack figure with a smile, then closed his eyes. Immediately, his mind leapt into cruel action, replaying the encounter with Dooku, scrawling afresh the despair-wrought depictions of a far-off tomorrow.
"Where were you, Master?"
The clumsy whisper opened his eyes, and Qui-Gon saw the alert face of his apprentice. Here he was, the last vestige of Qui-Gon Jinn's life untouched and unmarred by Dooku's influence. Cerulean eyes independent of the man's intimidating stare, an honest heart unaware of the perils of betrayal. Dooku would not have any part of Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon would not abide it.
He rubbed his thumb, once, along Obi-Wan's cheek. "Nowhere important."