A/N: I fall asleep watching the movie 'Next' and this is what comes out. I really should fall asleep watching movies more often.
This first chapter is slow and probably THE most boring 2,500 words I've ever written. Involves a lot of setting up of this new alternate reality, and that's probably a good thing. I warn you now, don't get too emotionally involved in this story. The chances of my finishing it aren't very high. I have no follow though, I'm afraid.
Disclaimer: All characters and places you recognize belong to George Lucas. I'm just borrowing them, because I have absolutely nothing better to be doing with my life. Seriously.
Summary: Alternate Universe: 10 years after the purge of the Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn finds himself alone and disillusioned, trying to atone for past mistakes. Fate has bigger plans for the galaxy's most wanted man, however, and it might just take a 12-year-old boy to get him on the right path.
Promise of the Jedi
When it came right down to it, all refresher units were the same. It didn't matter the make or the model of the ship, there was only so much luxury one could add to a toilet and a shower. It also didn't matter how new the ship was; all ships had water that tasted like it'd been kept in a rusty containment unit for years. It was also all equally ineffective at washing out shampoo.
Of course it didn't help that he'd put too much of the goo into his hand. The amount poured was more habit than anything else, and not one broken on the first try.
He wished he could say that the hair cut had been necessary only because of the dirt and tangles that had occurred since he'd last had this opportunity, but after narrowly escaping that last bounty hunter Qui-Gon had been forced to admit defeat. His long hair and beard were too recognizable to keep.
When you're the most wanted man in the galaxy, familiarity will get you killed.
'A lesson learned too slowly,' the Master thought grimly, brushing a lock of stray hair back with a soapy hand. It fell forward again immediately, and he had to suppress another sigh of irritation. He'd told the droid to leave the front just long enough to tuck behind his ears. It shouldn't have been so difficult to understand.
The length of it mattered very little in the grand scheme of things, and Qui-Gon knew that. It was simply that it had been something familiar, nearly the last thing he had managed to keep from his past.
Complaining about it would neither rid him of the excess shampoo nor make his hair grow back any faster, so Qui-Gon proceeded to step fully under the spray and attempt to rinse it all out the best he could. There would probably still be bubbles later, but now at least it was clean and he was clean.
Clean and heading to Coruscant; the last place in the galaxy he wanted to be, but the place the only transport willing to carry a Jedi was heading. Years ago, it would have been considered an honor to have a Jedi on board. Now it was an act punishable by death, or worse, if caught.
Qui-Gon finished his shower quickly, and took the towel that had been hung nearby for his use. Some day, he would find a way to repay Senator Valorum for taking this risk, and for the small kindnesses the man had offered on the way. It was unexpected courage from the senator of the Lytton sector.
Once dry enough, Qui-Gon slipped into his clothing, which had been freshly laundered as well. That was a nice change. He couldn't remember the last time his tunics had been washed. The sleeveless under-tunic had also been completely replaced. How the senator had come across something in his size, Qui-Gon did not know, and found himself disinclined to ask. If Senator Valorum meant to betray him, at least he'd now be clean when he died.
If only the senator had thought to get him a new pair of pants. The ones he had were not his, originally, and were far too short for him. They barely fell past the tall Jedi's knees, covering the top half inch of his boots and no more. Perhaps while on Coruscant he could find some new ones.
Catching his reflection in the mirror as he slipped the grey poncho over his head, Qui-Gon made a face. "Master Dooku would be pleased. I've turned out to look just like him."
It was an accurate, if not entirely flattering description. With his new short hair and goatee, he could easily be mistaken for a younger version of his old Master. That could potentially work to his advantage. There weren't many Jedi left, but Qui-Gon's latest information told him that Dooku was still at large. Being mistaken for another Jedi was not ideal.
It was still better than being himself.
Dressed and feeling less like the outlaw he was with the dirt gone, Qui-Gon returned to the main cabin, where Senator Valorum was readying the ship for landing.
The man turned and smiled at Qui-Gon, his blue eyes lighting up when he saw the new look. "You appear to feel much better, Master Jedi. I trust everything worked well for you."
"Yes, thank you, it was more than adequate." Wonderful probably would have been a better word, but Qui-Gon doubted that anyone who lived in the obvious luxury Valorum did would understand. "I cannot thank you enough for all you have done for me, Senator."
"Not all of us have forgotten the debt the galaxy owes the Jedi, Master Jinn," the man said mildly, his smile kind. "Your days as peace keeper were not so very long ago."
"Ten years," Qui-Gon answered. Ten years that seemed more than a life-time. The galaxy was so different now, under the iron fist of the Emperor and his apprentice.
Senator Valorum looked obviously surprised at this before he turned back to driving. "Has it been so long already? I must be getting older indeed if a decade seems so short."
Qui-Gon chose to say nothing to that. If the man's white hair was any indication, he was quite a bit older than the Jedi, and Qui-Gon himself would be reaching fifty very soon. It would be impolite to insult his gracious host.
"I'm sorry I could not take you some place better," the Senator said after a pause. "I had already filed my flight plan, and it would seem strange if I were to change it at the last moment."
"I am just grateful to get away from that place." It was the truth. Anywhere, even to the capital of the Empire, would be better than a place he'd been discovered. Coruscant, at least, was populated enough he could blend, could hide. The lower levels welcomed people like him—the hunted and the homeless. With any luck—something he, admittedly, rarely had—the Emperor would not think to look under his own nose.
"Out of the frying pan into the fire," Valorum cheerfully quoted. "We're approaching the fire now, Master Jedi, so I suggest you hide. We'll be landing in about twenty minutes, and everyone should be off the platform in fifteen after that."
Qui-Gon nodded, gracefully getting to his feet. "I am forever in your debt, Senator."
Valorum waved him off, turning his attention back to the controls. "Consider it my way of trying to restore the Republic."
Finding that there was nothing he could say to that, Qui-Gon retired to the sleeping quarters. No one was expected to search the ship, but if that should change the Jedi Master preferred to have some fighting room.
He did not sit on the sleeping couch, instead opting to kneel on the floor for some light meditation. Now, more than ever, he would need the help of the Force.
Currently, there was a whisper of danger there, but that was nothing new. The threat of danger and darkness had been a constant since the Order fell and the Empire came to power. It was only when the feeling intensified that Qui-Gon would grow worried.
He kept his meditation light, not daring to create more than the slightest ripple in the Force around him. Qui-Gon preferred not to make the hunt for him any easier, when he could help it. There was much work to do before he could be caught.
When the appropriate length of time had passed, the Jedi Master slowly stretched out his awareness, just enough to check the platform. True to Valorum's prediction, it was empty. It appeared things might be going in his favor, for once.
The thought only served to make Qui-Gon more alert than before. Things always started going right just before they got worse, in his experience. Being on Coruscant meant that the amount they could worsen was nearly endless. Not a pleasant thought. It was impossible for a being to be on alert all the time, he knew that. He still was going to try.
One quick motion assured him that his small side pouch, including the lightsaber he kept hidden there, was firmly attached. Adjusting his drab and travel-worn clothing to be as unnoticeable as possible, the Jedi Master stepped off to the planet he had not seen in ten years.
Coruscant was even busier than he remembered, which surprised him. Why would so many beings wish to be so close to the center of evil?
He supposed it did offer some measure of protection. The small armies that offered the Empire resistance were unlikely to ever make it this far in. Evil might be here, but war was not. When you were a refuge that meant everything.
The Jedi Master did not look around as he exited the platform. Partly because he did not want so seem confused or lost, but mostly because he could bare it. They were so close to the Senate building, and if he looked west he would see the Temple. Or the place the Temple should have been.
The lingering taste of smoke and death in the air was his imagination. Probably.
Whenever he had been on planet in the past, Qui-Gon had spent a lot of time in the lower levels. He had always made it a point to have friends down below. They were useful in a crisis, with resources the Jedi sometimes could not find, and with information they were willing to give him. Briefly, he allowed himself to wish that he knew which of these friends were still alive; which ones could still be trusted. He let it pass. There was no point in wishing things were different than they were.
At any rate, if there were any of his former allies who would still fit both those categories, he didn't wish to drag them into the danger his mere presence brought. Even if the Empire didn't look, he was always hounded by bounty hunters. There had been too many casualties already.
He would have to keep his head down and find his own accommodations. Food and shelter would require credits, which he didn't have at the moment. The first logical step, then, was to find a way to get some. There was the usual way of the lower levels of course—stealing, plundering, and illegal trade. Qui-Gon knew the system well and would have an advantage there.
However, he had not yet caved in to the darkness of the world around him. Even without the Order, he was still a Jedi. He would not give in to the darker side of the Force.
Of course, that limited his money making options to one. Finding a job. It wasn't an idea Qui-Gon particularly liked, as it meant he would inevitably have to get to know beings, which automatically put them in danger. It also meant that, should he have to flee quickly, there was someone who would be left behind. It left a trail.
It was that or starve to death, though, and he had no intention of going out in such an inglorious way after he'd fought so long and hard to stay alive.
The crowds thinned as Qui-Gon descended, one level at a time. There were some levels where even he, a Jedi Master, dared not go, but he still wanted to be as far from the surface as he could. Down countless stairs and lifts. Down to where there was no sunlight. Further than he'd travel as a Jedi. To where there was no need of Sith to bring evil. It came here alone. It was born here.
Qui-Gon had lost count of exactly how many levels down he had traveled, but he guessed it to be about thirty. That still left twenty below him, but if he went much further down he doubted he would be able to find any honest work at all.
He was still on Coruscant, but it may as well have been a different world down here. There was no sunlight down this far, the only illumination coming from the flickering lights and advertisements on the sides of buildings. None of these offered any heat, and it was colder down below than Qui-Gon had ever realized.
It was still crowded, but these beings were nothing like the glittering world of those above. There were not entourages. No fast paced speeders. Just people with worn and ragged faces, shuffling about with their shoulders hunched and eyes downcast.
Qui-Gon swiftly adopted a similar pose, not wishing to draw attention to himself. There was very little risk of this, really. No one so much as glanced in his direction. They had their own misery.
He followed the flow of the crowd, and though he kept his eyes down he missed nothing. He had come down in some kind of business center, most fortunately. Clubs and casinos lined the walks; their brightly colored and flashing signs attempting to draw in what the worn down and dank buildings would not.
As seedy as these places looked, Qui-Gon was glad to see them. Those types of places were always in need of security, and he was large enough that they might higher him on as lower staff to deal with small humanoids while larger aliens took care of…other, larger aliens. Barring that, it would not be difficult to persuade one of the owners to do so without raising any suspicions. The pay would be barely enough to sustain him, but he didn't need much, anyway.
His blue eyes scanned every building, attempting to find the one that looked the most profitable. In reality they all looked very much a like, and Qui-Gon couldn't help wondering how any of them stayed in business this far down when there were so many similar establishments above them. It probably had something to do with the cheaper real estate.
The ripple of the Force that came from one of the buildings nearly winded him.
It wasn't all that intense, really, but more the fact that it had happened at all. It was not the uncontrollable waves of an untrained Force Sensitive being; the kind that got them killed or taken. These were small ripples of someone in control of what they were doing. Not a master, no, but the level of at least a Jedi Initiate.
Qui-Gon turned his head in the direction his sense told him they had come from. First he saw the casino. Then he saw the help wanted sign.
A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips. "There are no accidents," Qui-Gon muttered to himself as he cut across the walkway. Seems he'd found himself a place to work.