The setting was becoming increasingly familiar. Once again they were facing the Council, and once again Maul was hanging on to Obi-Wan for dear life, although the Masters were in a good mood today.
"We have discussed this matter at great length," Master Windu said. "We will remove the inhibitor if you agree to a mind probe. We need to be absolutely certain that you do not wish harm to the order. After that, you will stay at the Temple until we are sure that you are not a danger to society."
This was not unexpected, but still Maul's grip on Obi-Wan's arm tightened.
"I agree, provided you only go where you need to go."
Oh, hell. But Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan would happily pick up the pieces, as always.
"That should be understood," Master Billaba said.
"Good. Will you do it now?"
"Are you certain you do not want to wait until you are better?"
"At the moment I cannot tell if you are Councilor Gallia or Councilor Billaba. Does that answer your question sufficiently?" Brutal honesty was an excellent tool sometimes, Obi-Wan thought.
"It's Master Billaba. And yes, I think the answer is sufficient. If you would relax now…"
Which was easier said than done, if the mental turmoil Obi-Wan got from Maul was any indication. On instinct, he pried his arm loose and offered his hand to hold on to instead. Qui-Gon had moved closer, too, and put his hands on Maul's shoulders from behind, in an invitation to lean back and let go if necessary.
With their combined effort they actually made him relax.
The situation was embarrassing, his façade of control was crumbling rapidly, to a point where he relied on Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan for help, and everyone in the room knew. Still he tried to do as he was told; the body warmth from the two Jedi reassuring him.
He closed his eyes and tried to meditate, and then a slow ripple disturbed the blank surface of his mind.
Images from his time on Hoth – had that really been only a month ago? – were discarded quickly; they were making good on their promise. Fast forward to his conversation with Qui-Gon on the ship.
"You are not the same man who wished destruction and death to all the Jedi. You do not wish death upon me, do you?"
"No, I don't."
They dug deeper there, were looking for any kind of deception, and couldn't find it, because he'd been honest then. And now that he knew the Jedi better, he had even less reason to hate them. Pompous as they sometimes were, their level of bigotry wasn't higher than any other institution's, and most importantly, it wasn't their fault. Whatever had gone wrong with his life, it wasn't their responsibility, as Sidious had wanted him to believe.
They wandered along that stray thought to the beginning, humid heat enveloped him and in the sky there hung a fat moon…
… Satiya had left. He whirled his sword through the air, chopping at a mental image of the traitor. He'd woken up this morning to a cold bed, and he'd found her note on the table, spouting some 'it's not you, it's me' nonsense, but probably she'd just gotten bored with him. All plans forgotten, all dreams buried. The desert had swallowed her, like it had swallowed Helal, who was off on some spiritual business with his old tribe.
Just when he needed them, both had left, so here he was, to fight on his own, without a lover promising to kick everyone's ass and without a teacher willing to give advice. His mother was not much help, she never was much help… You can't expect your uncle to pay for university, he's already saved us from being beggars, so it's completely alright to waste your talent by working in his factory as a security guard… He took aim and cut a moth, that trundled in front of him on it's quest for a light, into two equal pieces.
There was something else in the air. He spun around and let his blade hover at the throat of a stranger, a gray haired human with a black cloak and a benign smile.
"Creeping up on me is not advisable," Khameir said, and lowered his sword.
The stranger's smile grew even wider. "Yes, yes. I was privy to your little trick just now. You have an extraordinary talent."
"It is not very useful, though," Khameir said, eyes narrowed.
"Oh, it is. It also proves that you are the person I am looking for."
"You have a job offer?"
Another of those wide smiles. "I have far more to offer than a mere job."
Interesting. Khameir invited the stranger into the hut; originally Helal's, but his for the time being.
"So what is it that you're offering? And who are you, anyway?"
"I shall tell you my name if you agree to be my apprentice… and I offer power."
"What kind of power?"
"Oh… you must have realized by now that you are different from other people. You have quicker reflexes. You know the outcome of a coin toss, or who is lurking around the next corner. The truth is that you are Force-sensitive."
Khameir blinked. It wasn't a surprise, really, it simply felt like he was finally remembering something he'd known for a long time, and forgotten.
"The Jedi, in their arrogance, have refused to train you", the stranger said.
Inside, Khameir could feel an invisible fist clench. All this time, he could have been living with the Jedi… but instead, he was slavering away on this dust ball, with no chance of ever getting off.
The stranger inclined his head, as if agreeing to that thought.
"I offer to teach you. Better, I will show you how to use and unleash the power you have, not like the Jedi, who are weak and afraid of what they could do and squash their hate and anger. They forget that there is only power, and those too weak to use it… Together, we could rise to greatness and rule this galaxy."
They sounded like a holo vid about supervillains, Khameir thought idly. But it was tempting, getting out, doing something that presented a challenge… "What do you ask in return?"
"Hard work and obedience."
Khameir nodded. He could do that, if he knew it paid off later.
"I can see you are not as hot headed as most people your age. I will give you time to ponder this. My ship will leave the space port tomorrow at sunrise… be there if you choose to take matters into your own hands. You do not need to bring anything."
The stranger rose and swept out, cloak billowing.
Staring at the open door, Khameir did his pondering. It took approximately five minutes. There was no reason for him to stay on Iridonia; and now that he knew about the Force, there was simply no way to ignore it. He had to train, he had to live up to his full potential. It was something he owed himself.
He had a little doubt about 'ruling the galaxy', because he didn't like to deal out orders, but he supposed he would get used to the idea. He was only eighteen, after all…
Cold fingers explored that thread, impersonal eyes watched parts of his training, and turned every feeling he ever had about it upside down, pain, pride, humiliation, self-doubt.
Finally, they surfaced again, and his mind was left undisturbed.
The grip on his shoulders tightened, and only then he realized that he had sagged. He struggled to get his back straight again. Force, he was tired.
"The inhibitor will be removed as soon as Healer Ba'Khadije clears you for surgery," Mace Windu said.
It was back. The almost otherworldly awareness trickled into his mind as he left the realms of dream behind, showing him Force signatures. Two in the vicinity, several others outside the room… it was Obi-Wan's room, he remembered, it smelled familiar, comforting… they had knocked him out here, too, to spare him the sterility of the Healer's wing.
All around, these others were, and they felt foreign, they burned with a calm, bright light, whispering about peace and serenity and duty and compassion.
Years ago, he might have thought to be a falcon among pigeons… but that was wrong, they had strength, too… power over yourself rather than power over others… he would never be able to follow them there, not completely, too wrapped up in the world and his senses… speaking of which… he needed to know where he was.
And he pulled the Force to him and soared.
Ripples in the Force suggested that Khameir was slowly drifting toward consciousness. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon drew closer to the bed – now they would see if the former Sith had been redeemed. Mace Windu, Yoda, as well as Depa Billaba and Ki-Adi-Mundi were waiting outside, just in case.
Still, the explosion of triumph, sheer joy and the mental 'Yesss!' that accompanied them hit Qui-Gon somewhat unprepared. It danced around the room and spread as if to hug the Temple; only after long moments it subsided, which was unusual, but then, Khameir had never had Jedi training. He had never been supposed to let his feelings go.
And thus the emotional torrent faded slowly; it was almost as if it was, bit by bit, dragged inside again and maybe stored somewhere for later examination and exploitation.
Only then Khameir opened his eyes and maneuvered himself in a sitting position. He seemed to stare into nothingness for a while, then shook his head and fixed his eyes on Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. The sight was somehow even more eerie than before, now that he could focus again on images. Blind persons should not be able to look into your eyes, yet he did.
It would take a lot getting used to.
"Good morning, Khameir," Qui-Gon said.
"Yassina kept me out on purpose, didn't she?"
Bedside manners obviously were not Khameir's thing. The healer had had no qualms about sending the young man into surgery as soon as the Council had allowed it yesterday, although it felt longer, because Qui-Gon had sat here most of the night.
"I do not think so. How are you feeling?"
"Quite well, thank you." There was something wrong here. "Although I would appreciate it if you left me alone for a while."
I don't like this, Master. Obi-Wan obviously found this request somewhat suspicious, too.
"No, I will not leave," Qui-Gon said. You go, Padawan. I will leave the discovery of plots gladly to you, but this is a job for the Living Force.
Khameir glared at him.
Qui-Gon waited until Obi-Wan had exited before he sat on the bed.
"Do you know about Jedi meditation, Khameir?"
"Only in theory. Your objective is to release all emotion to the Force."
"Exactly. It is a little like watching clouds. You watch the emotion drift across your mind, you examine it closely, your reasons for feeling it as well as the potential consequences of giving into it. Once you have done so, it has drifted from the surface of your mind and is released to the Force."
"I want you to try this with the pain, the loss you are currently feeling. I know your instinct is to draw it into yourself and use it somehow, but I believe it will not do anything but make you bitter and turn you back to the Dark Side."
"The Council might accuse you of collaboration." Tactics of evasion, lesson one.
"They might. But I do this to help you, and I ask you to let me help. It would break my heart to see you throw away all your potential."
Khameir kept silent for a while.
He'd hoped to deal with this alone – as he'd always done – and had asked Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan to leave so he didn't have to concentrate on his shields.
But of course, the Master had figured him out. And what if Qui-Gon was right?
Khameir would not stop to use the Dark for his purposes; anger was an excellent motivator, and offered an even better way to deal with physical pain. But this was not anger, it was grief, and what if it did become bitterness and ate him up from the inside?
He'd known a person like this, and he'd always sworn he wouldn't make the same mistakes. He would not become like his mother, who had collapsed slowly from a perceived betrayal instead of just looking for his damn father and giving the man a piece of her mind.
"What do I do?"
Qui-Gon instructed the younger man to sit in a meditating position and give him his hands.
"Show me what it is that you have lost."
A garden tinged in blue light from a sunblind. A middle-aged man covered in bright green tattoos standing in front of a pink hut. He was missing a foot. Twin suns setting, making the sky and the ocean burn. Orange eyes checking him out from behind the safety of a veil. The desert and the black mountains, volcano country, in the distance. Being able to climb onto the next tree with a book and loose yourself for a while. Whitewashed houses against the brown rock, hiding their lush gardens; more eyes, laughing yellow, coy green, sparkling violet…
Never had Qui-Gon imagined Iridonia to be so colorful.
But it went on still. The lights of hyperspace, Coruscant like a blob of rust before the stars, a girl with flaming red hair in a park somewhere smiling at him; watching a pair of mismatched Twi'Lek girls – pink and yellow – doing their shopping.
What is it that you would do about it? Qui-Gon asked along the connection.
Revenge. Start training, build a new lightsaber, go off after Kala and torture her to death, slowly. What a pity the scientist was already dead. Maybe wreaking havoc on Darvin Four next.
Would it help?
I don't know.
And if it doesn't help?
More anger. Hurt them like they hurt you.
Is that how you would like to spent your live, bringing destruction, killing everyone who just looks at you the wrong way? Would that make you happy?
The images faded and left behind a lake lying still under a bone colored moon. So it had not been clouds but maybe sea monsters… all in all, a lake was a more adequate metaphor for the mind than the skies.
Feeling better now?
It will continue to hurt for a while. You will need to meditate on this again.
I know… Thank you.
"You're quite welcome."
Qui-Gon rubbed the bridge of his nose and wondered how long this insight would last with Khameir. The young man was still on a kind of power-high, after all.
Khameir grinned. The Jedi were a lot wiser than he had wanted to believe, and, at the same time, more stupid. Like your average sentient being.
Just for the hell of it, he summoned a fresh shirt and donned it, before climbing from the bed and steering his way to the door, light-footed and in his usual, long missed stride.
He was peripherally aware that Qui-Gon sported a rather silly smile, like a proud parent watching their infant walk for the first time.
Outside, he manoeuvred through the Masters, wishing them a good morning – he needed some caf before he decided how much gratitude was in order.
They seemed slightly startled by his politeness. They had expected him to be more Sithly, while Qui-Gon expected him to be more like a Jedi. Expectations, expectations. He wasn't yet sure what he would actually do now that freedom lurked around the corner… he was only sure that he would surprise them all.
They say that no feedback is a kind of feedback, too, but I find it quite hard to, let's say, read from it. Maybe I should have done some pouting, but I think that it rather lacks in style.
I'd really like to know what you people think about this… I'm also taking criticism.
Anyway, I might consider writing the surprise mentioned above, but I want to know if it's worth the effort.