Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Star Wars...
Chapter Summary: They've reached Bandomeer but things are looking grim. With an invitation from Xanatos that might or might not be a trap and Obi-Wan still recovering, events are about to take a sharp turn into the unknown. Yet despite all odds, during his time there, maybe Obi-Wan can finally make his first major change for a better future.
Chapter 5 – Bandomeer
I have been looking forward to this day.
Qui-Gon had lost count of the number of times he had gone over the message but that, and his memories, had been the only things to keep him company for the last few days.
They had finally reached Bandomeer, a little worse for wear but in one piece.
Qui-Gon glanced up at the sleep-couch next to him. They had been quartered in the guest chamber of the Bandomeer governor's official residence. Upon their arrival, Qui-Gon had informed said governor that the boy was simply resting after a hard journey, not wanting to have Obi-Wan carted off for examination. Bandomeer medical facilities weren't places Qui-Gon wanted to spend more time than necessary in.
But it had been three days and while there had been life at the other end of their bond, Obi-Wan had yet to wake up.
Qui-Gon had debated on whether or not he should contact Yoda but had decided against it in the end. Yoda would ask after his mission and Qui-Gon would have to tell the Master about Xanatos. The letter could be a mere taunt, a cruel game his former Padawan was playing with him, and it wouldn't do to involve the Council in it.
There had also been the nightmares to worry about, visions perhaps but nothing that was clear to him.
And worst of all, he had been spending the past few days waiting for Obi-Wan to wake up because on some level, Qui-Gon wanted the boy's advice, to ask what Obi-Wan thought of it all.
It was unsettling how much Qui-Gon counted on the boy's judgement. Perhaps it was because they had been through everything from pirates to draigons together and Obi-Wan had yet to let him down but Qui-Gon was hard-pressed to retract the trust he had given him. Now that he was more amenable towards the boy, no longer trying to look for Xanatos in the twelve-year-old, Obi-Wan's steady presence was something he instinctively knew he could depend on. The boy's puzzling affinity with the Force didn't hurt matters either.
'Do you always brood so much, Master?'
Qui-Gon started, gaze snapping to Obi-Wan's still face as their bond sparked. 'Obi-Wan?'
A hmm of acknowledgement followed. 'Sorry, you were broadcasting. I think you might want to put up some shields on your end until you can cut the bond.'
A part of Qui-Gon flinched at the very thought. He had first laid eyes on Obi-Wan when the boy was nine and Yoda had dragged him to the Initiates' side of the Temple. Though he had refused to accept it, he knew the bond had already been formed back then.
'That won't be necessary,' Qui-Gon replied, drawing closer to the sleep-couch. He paused, and then amended neutrally, 'Unless you wish to, in which case-"
'Master,' Obi-Wan cut him off, voice quiet but somber. 'I have wanted to be your Padawan for a very long time. ...I mean you do realize what this would mean if you don't break it, don't you?'
Qui-Gon was silent for a long while. Could he risk it? Could he take on another Padawan when he had sworn not to do so ever again? Obi-Wan was very mature for his age; sometimes, Qui-Gon almost forgot it was a twelve-year-old he was interacting with. Obi-Wan wouldn't have to depend on him entirely for guidance, and while it was a selfish thought, Qui-Gon couldn't help but be grateful for that. Someone with a good sense of right and wrong would be easier to take care of. Yet... what if he failed, again? What if Obi-Wan turned and Qui-Gon would, once again, be helpless to stop it?
'You're brooding again, Master,' Obi-Wan interrupted, cutting through the doubts that swirled in Qui-Gon's mind. 'You don't have to decide right away. I think I'm just grateful you're thinking about it at all.'
Qui-Gon heaved a sigh. It wasn't fair to the boy that he could be giving him false hope. 'I apologize, Obi-Wan.'
Qui-Gon straightened when Obi-Wan replied out loud, eyelids fluttering open as he finally woke up.
"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon rose to his feet, peering down as the boy stretched.
Obi-Wan offered him a tired smile. "Do you have some water?"
Qui-Gon was already reaching for the bottle he had placed within easy reach. Helping him sit up, Qui-Gon frowned at the trembles that wracked Obi-Wan's frame as sipped at the liquid.
"Just tired," Obi-Wan answered his unspoken question. "Leave me alone for a week and I'll be fine."
Qui-Gon just frowned harder. "What is wrong with you?" He asked, his words softened with concern. "Is it... psychic shock?" He was no healer and Obi-Wan's case wasn't exactly common.
Obi-Wan shook his head. "Used up too much energy," He explained, leaning back against the arm of the couch before adding dryly, "No pirates or draigons to fend off back at the Temple."
Qui-Gon cracked a smile. "True, though I would think the Masters there provide sufficient practice."
Obi-Wan released a raspy laugh, fatigue clouding his features but looking better than he had overall.
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes but Qui-Gon couldn't help asking in the end. "Obi-Wan, that vision you sent me, of the cliff, it was a vision, was it not?"
Obi-Wan glanced over at him, oddly apathetic for a long moment before nodding once. "I am somewhat prescient," He revealed, though Qui-Gon had the distinct feeling that Obi-Wan was holding something back. "Have been for quite a while now."
Qui-Gon nodded thoughtfully. He didn't particularly like dwelling on dreams but Obi-Wan's vision had been exceptionally clear, and the boy had obviously known its importance when he had shown it to Qui-Gon.
"Do you think you could get up?" He asked now. "We have a meeting with the governor soon. I've told her you were resting but she'll want to see you."
Obi-Wan nodded in return but his gaze turned inward, looking at something Qui-Gon couldn't see. He had seen this expression once before, on that day in the wating area outside the training room, yet he still had no idea what to make of it.
"I'll get dressed," Obi-Wan threw back the blankets, hands shaking with the effort, and Qui-Gon almost ordered him back to bed. But the boy was on his feet soon enough, and Qui-Gon found himself helping him to the 'fresher with a set of clean clothes.
Waiting until the door closed, Qui-Gon picked up the letter Xanatos had sent him.
I have been looking forward to this day.
Qui-Gon really couldn't say the same.
The meeting with the Bandomeer governor went exactly as Obi-Wan expected. The golden threads had stopped shifting for now though each still led to a dozen different outcomes that this mission could end in.
It wasn't a comforting thought.
"I will be going to the Eastern Enrichment Zone after all?" Obi-Wan enquired aloud, standing quietly near the door of their temporary quarters.
He watched Qui-Gon hesitate before nodding firmly. "You are not to get involved," The Master said firmly, though it lacked the dismissal Obi-Wan had heard the last time Qui-Gon had said it. "It is too dangerous, and you are still recuperating."
Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon still half-expected him to protest but he had no time for that. The Force was getting restless again, worried about the future, about the Dark, about the result of this mission, and it was making Obi-Wan's head throb.
With a mental grimace, he sank down into the nearest chair, dropping his head into his hands.
He jumped when a hand dropped gently on top of his head but relaxed almost at once when he recognized Qui-Gon.
"Obi-Wan, are you certain you will be alright?" Qui-Gon's eyes had darkened with worry. "I cannot help you if I don't understand your condition."
Obi-Wan smiled in spite of his exhaustion. It was amazing what life-or-death situations could do for relationships.
"I'm fine," He assured, pulling himself upright. "I'm just tired. Honestly, a bit more rest and I'll be back to normal."
Some of the tension seeped out of Qui-Gon's shoulders but they still seemed heavy with apprehension. Obi-Wan's eyes flickered to the bag where he knew his Master had stored Xanatos' missive.
He would have to play his cards carefully. Qui-Gon couldn't find out about his gift just yet, and while the Master seemed to know Obi-Wan was hiding something, he was also convinced of Obi-Wan's prescience. That would have to do for now.
Since he had first glimpsed Bandomeer in the other world, Obi-Wan had spent long hours meditating on it and had finally decided that preventing as many deaths as possible would be his first goal, preventing Xanatos' escape would be his second. Hopefully, he would be able to do both.
"I would like to come with you," Obi-Wan said and forged on before Qui-Gon could object. "But I know you will not agree," He paused, trying to find the right words. He couldn't reveal everything; the futures were shaking and if he told Qui-Gon outright, the man would either not believe him and anything else Obi-Wan said would be doubted, or he would believe him and work according to Obi-Wan's visions. There wasn't a single future down that path that didn't end up with Bandomeer blown out of the galaxy.
"Then could you promise me one thing?" Obi-Wan stared hard at his Master whose features were completely emotionless now. "Evacuate the Home Planet Mine, before you meet with Offworld. Clear the main administration building as well, and the dwellings surrounding the mine. Can you do this?"
Qui-Gon studied him for a long, strained moment, and Obi-Wan gritted his teeth as the golden strands wavered, pulsing one after the other as they waited for Qui-Gon to make a choice. Would his Master make a leap of faith here? Trust Obi-Wan on his word alone? Or had the events on the Monument and on the island not been enough?
"Something will happen?" Qui-Gon enquired, eyes narrowed.
Obi-Wan nodded, hands clenching unconsciously.
"And you can't tell me?"
A vehement shake of his head. "It's... not clear." That was as close to the truth as he could get.
The silence stretched far into painful but Obi-Wan couldn't look away. Even if Qui-Gon refused, he wouldn't look away. He wouldn't back down, not in this.
It actually took a few seconds for the affirmative to sink in and by then, Qui-Gon had already turned away again, resuming his packing.
"Wait-" Obi-Wan staggered to his feet, gaping openly as all the golden threads save one snapped and disintegrated. The only one left forked in dozens of different directions, almost blinding in their intensity as they waited for the next choices to be made. "Yes?"
Qui-Gon paused, glancing back at him with a sardonic expression. "And here I thought I would never be able to surprise you."
Obi-Wan's mouth snapped shut and he spent the next few moments watching Qui-Gon gather his belongings.
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon shouldered his pack before picking up Obi-Wan's as well. "If it is important enough that you would insist on an evacuation, I would rather not risk something happening to all those miners." His expression became stern. "But do keep in mind that visions aren't always dependable."
"Oh," That made sense. Obi-Wan smiled. "Yes, Master, I will. And thanks, Master."
Qui-Gon gave him a mild look of amusement. "I agreed to save lives, Obi-Wan. It's what Jedi do after all."
As he watched a black plume of smoke rise towards the grey skies, Qui-Gon sent a burst of heartfelt thanks down the mental link to Obi-Wan. He was pretty sure the boy wouldn't be able to respond at this distance but it would have to do for now until Qui-Gon could thank him properly. Had Obi-Wan not asked him to evacuate the mines, hundreds of miners would be dead right now and they would be clearing out bodies instead of rubble.
"How did you know?" Clat'Ha stepped up beside him, relief in her voice as she kept a wary eye on the distant figure of Xanatos. "SonTag almost didn't go through with it but I bet she's thankful now."
"Jedi have visions," Qui-Gon replied, purposefully vague. It wasn't that he didn't trust Clat'Ha; the woman had proven herself ten times over, but he'd rather not let any attention fall on Obi-Wan at the moment, especially with Xanatos in the vicinity.
"Well maybe you'll have one of Offworld sabotaging our mines," Clat'Ha said almost hopefully, fingering her blaster.
Qui-Gon said nothing, keeping an eye VeerTa in case she decided to attack Xanatos again.
He turned to find SonTag striding towards them, a grimace painting her features. VeerTa came with her and Qui-Gon watched as Xanatos disappeared from view, heading in the opposite direction.
"We have news of the cause," SonTag announced softly. "It wasn't Offworld. There was a mixture of gases in a sub-level tunnel."
VeerTa gritted her teeth. "That's impossible!" She spat out. "We have sensors-"
"The sensor was inoperative," SonTag said. "Strictly a mechanical failure. The engineers are certain of it."
"So it's our fault?" VeerTa asked numbly as Clat'Ha stared in disbelief.
"I'm afraid so," SonTag nodded. "Unless someone sabotaged the sensor...?"
VeerTa shook her head. "The mine is under twenty-four hour guard," She shuddered. "If Qui-Gon hadn't warned us, we'd have lost so many people."
"Well, there's something else," SonTag glanced over her shoulder at where Xanatos had been. "Xanatos has offered the resources of Offworld to help rebuild the mine. Money, droids, anything we want to get the mine back up again."
"So he was sincere," VeerTa said, surprised.
Qui-Gon looked away, careful to keep his face blank.
I can take care of myself for the time being, Master; don't worry about me. Be careful.
Those had been the last words Obi-Wan had sent to him over their bond before Qui-Gon had seen him off but they rang forebodingly in his mind. Obi-Wan was going off to the Eastern Base; surely there wouldn't be any danger there.
But Obi-Wan had implied it, and if there was one thing Qui-Gon had learned about the boy, it was that Obi-Wan never did anything without reason. He was far too careful for that.
Qui-Gon knew Xanatos was playing games with him so he understood the very real danger here, but what did that have to do with the Eastern Enrichment Zone?
"Qui-Gon? We're heading in," SonTag called and Qui-Gon nodded his acquiescence, following them inside even as he wracked his mind for the pieces of this puzzle.
Obi-Wan blinked, stirring from his meditative state at Si's voice.
"Si," He smiled, rolling his shoulders to release any remaining stiffness. "Lunchtime?"
The Arconan nodded, two trays of food balanced in his hands as he joined Obi-Wan on the grass.
Obi-Wan had refrained from poking around. He already knew what he would find here and he didn't need to drag Si all over the place for no reason.
"We think you are up to something again," Si observed.
Obi-Wan shot his friend a wry look. "Si, you should know by now that I am always up to something."
"True," Si agreed easily. "But we think you are up to something dangerous. You have that look."
"I do not have a look," Obi-Wan denied indignantly.
Si grinned. "You do. We recognize it after all the times you had it on during our trip to Bandomeer."
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes but cracked a matching grin as they dug into their meals again. He could afford to have a little fun before Xanatos arrived.
"Maybe we should come with you," Si suggested nervously.
Obi-Wan shook his head as he checked his 'saber. "I need you to stay here. If I don't come back tomorrow, you have to contact Master Jinn for me."
Si hesitated but nodded reluctantly in the end. "All we must tell him is 'Offworld is involved with the AgriCorps and Xanatos' mark is on a box inside an area in the annex sectioned off with the Force'. I hope you realize that we barely understand half of this message."
Obi-Wan tossed a grim smile in his direction. "Better that you don't. Then you'll have deniability rights. Besides, with any luck, you won't have to repeat it to anyone. I'll be back by dawn."
"And if you are not?" Si demanded as he followed Obi-Wan to the door. "Do we tell Master Jinn that you are missing? I suppose he will take this very well."
Obi-Wan smothered a smirk. He should've expected Si to learn sarcasm from him. At the doorway, he turned back and considered his words.
"Tell him..." Obi-Wan wavered. "Tell him to remember what I said right before we parted ways. And then tell him 'five years'. Can you do that?"
Si nodded solemnly. "Be safe, Obi-Wan. We will be waiting for your return."
Obi-Wan shot him a last smile and then slipped out into the night. If everything went according to his plan, he would capture Xanatos tonight.
Slipping through the door into the annex, Obi-Wan waited with bated breath for the footsteps that would signal Xanatos' arrival. Sure enough, seconds later, a noise sounded behind him and he whirled, cloak flaring around him as he looked upon his Master's second Padawan for the first time in real life.
The Force pulsed uneasily around him, drawing away from Xanatos as darkness ran through it, making Obi-Wan shiver.
"Who are you?" He asked if only to keep up appearances.
"A friend," The hooded figure replied. "Someone who was once just like you. I used to be his apprentice too." He threw off his hood. His blue gaze was warm and friendly. Obi-Wan felt sick.
"I'm not really Qui-Gon's Padawan," Obi-Wan said instead. The thought still hurt, but not as much. Qui-Gon had finally opened up to him, at least a little. "And everyone says his last Padawan died."
"Is that what they say?" Xanatos asked. "Yet here I am. What else do they say?"
"That Qui-Gon's Padawan disgraced the Jedi," Obi-Wan answered steadily, gauging the man's expression. "And betrayed Qui-Gon."
Xanatos' eyes burned with blue fire. "Is that Qui-Gon's story?"
It bothered him, Obi-Wan could tell. No wonder Qui-Gon was always so worried about arrogance; Xanatos was full of it. He hated being seen in the wrong.
"I was his Padawan," Xanatos continued, the hard lines on his face easing. "So I know what you go through every day, Obi-Wan Kenobi."
Obi-Wan was hard-pressed not to scoff. He very much doubted Xanatos knew what he went through each day.
"I know what you wait for. His approval. His trust. But he keeps both from you. He keeps a skin of ice around himself. The more you try to please him, the farther away he goes."
Xanatos' voice seeped into Obi-Wan's ears like grease, and he could sense the Force-manipulation in his words. The Force surrounding Obi-Wan instantly reared, offended, and subtly ensconced him within its protective hold, barring Xanatos from reaching Obi-Wan without letting the man know.
Xanatos continued, oblivious to the annoyance welling up inside Obi-Wan. "Yoda praises him. The Galactic Senate depends on him. Everyone vies to be his apprentice. But he is the worst kind of Master. He denies you his trust. Yet he demands everything of you."
Obi-Wan pursed his lips, staying silent. In all honesty, Xanatos merely sounded jealous and childishly angry.
"I am Xanatos," The man took a step forward, blue eyes drilling into his. "Did he ever mention me to you?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. And why would he? He thought bitterly. You betrayed him and very near broke him.
Xanatos gave a sad, rueful smile, one that Obi-Wan could almost believe.
"No," The man said softly. "He would not. He built me up, kept me by his side, always with the promise that I would advance. Yet, in the end, he broke every promise. It will happen to you too, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan tilted his head, meeting Xanatos' gaze evenly. "Are you sure it wasn't you who broke every promise you made to him?"
Xanatos' eyes immediately flashed with suppressed anger before softening with understanding. "Of course, you would believe Qui-Gon's lies. Has he promised to consider being your Master?"
Obi-Wan stiffened. That was actually true.
Xanatos leapt on his reaction with the eagerness of a Hutt to money. "And you think he will keep his promise?" He shook his head sympathetically. "He will only leave you in the end, Obi-Wan. He isn't worth anything you give him."
Obi-Wan released a quiet sigh and then drew his lightsaber in one smooth motion. "Qui-Gon has his faults, I won't deny that. But you shouldn't blame him for the wrong choices you made in your life. Take responsibility for your own actions for once." He paused, examining the growing mix of disbelief and cold fury in Xanatos' eyes before saying simply, "To me, he is worth everything I can give him. That includes my loyalty. Now, if you'll be so kind as to stay still and let me knock you out, it'll make my night."
Xanatos remained silent for a moment longer before releasing a bark of humourless laughter. His expression twisted into something ugly and hard, and with a wave of his hand, five security officers burst in, blasters drawn. Another second and Xanatos had pulled out his own lightsaber.
"Well," He drawled, blue eyes no longer kind. "I was planning to have this go a different way but I see Qui-Gon has already affected you too deeply. It really is too bad. Had I been able to twist that loyalty to me, I daresay I might have even found an apprentice of my own."
"I think not," Obi-Wan offered a flat smile and then sent the Force, already more than eager to rid Obi-Wan of his enemies, roaring forward, rippling the very air as it slammed into the five unsuspecting officers. The men dropped like stones, unconscious before they hit the ground.
The immediate fatigue that followed was worth the thunderstruck astonishment that Xanatos was unable to hide for a fleeting second. Obi-Wan swiftly sent another wave at the man, hoping to knock him out as well, but Xanatos wasn't a prodigy for nothing. Rolling out of the way, the man leapt forward with lethal intent, and before Obi-Wan could blink, he found himself engaged in battle against him.
On hindsight, he supposed taking on Xanatos was plain egotistical on his part. He had depended on the Force and his gift for so long that he had ended up seeing more of the future than the present, and he knew Xanatos would not kill him here.
Maybe Qui-Gon was right, Obi-Wan thought grimly as he ducked a slash and parried a blow. He managed to strike Xanatos' briefly unprotected side, leaving behind a deep bloody gash, but that was all. I may be just a little overconfident.
He gathered the Force and tried to trip Xanatos up but the man only batted the attempt away and bore down on him again, a cruel smile twisting his lips.
"You might have made something of yourself with that talent," Xanatos jeered. "It is a pity all of it is wasted on the likes of Qui-Gon Jinn. You are nothing more than a waste of space if you side with him."
Obi-Wan didn't respond to the taunt; he had bigger things to worry about. Stumbling back as a particularly strong slash knocked his 'saber out of his hands, he only had time to grimace before Xanatos was bearing down on him, the butt of his lightsaber swinging in from his blind spot.
Damn, Obi-Wan thought as pain exploded in his head and darkness crept into his vision. Si is going to be pissed.
And then he knew no more.
Qui-Gon's visit to Offworld Headquarters had proven to be somewhat fruitful. Bypassing the security had taken a little while; Xanatos had always been clever and covering the transparisteel of his office with the special coating recently developed on Telos was exactly that.
And the two broken circles that formed the initials of Offworld Corporation. It seemed that Xanatos controlled Offworld after all. His former Padawan had always preferred stealth and trickery to achieve his goals and secretly owning such a large company would give him more room to manoeuvre.
All he had to find out now was what Xanatos was after.
"So Xanatos could be planning a great evil, you say," Yoda said. "That you have discovered this is good, Qui-Gon. Yet time to react, it is not."
"But I suspect he might be planning to take over Bandomeer," Qui-Gon protested.
"Slowly, you must move," Yoda said adamantly. "Proof of a plan you do not have. Read the files, you could not."
"I can read him. Xanatos."
"So certain, are you? Certain you always were about him."
Qui-Gon knew a rebuke when he heard it but Yoda wasn't finished.
"You have pushed aside your past for too long, Qui-Gon. Running from it, you are. Yet you can run a little longer before you turn and fight. Play along for now, you will. Give him room to make a mistake. Slip he will. The trick is to wait for it."
"Yes," Qui-Gon conceded with a sigh. "I understand." He began signing off, but Yoda held up a hand.
"Qui-Gon, one last thing I have," Yoda peered at him from the screen, unusually stern. "Young Obi-Wan, where is he?"
Qui-Gon blinked. "I sent him to the Eastern Environmental Zone. I'm keeping him out of danger."
He expected a reprimand; Yoda had been trying to get Qui-Gon to accept Obi-Wan as his Padawan for years now. Instead, the troll sighed in an almost defeated way.
"Keep him out of danger, you cannot," Yoda said, his words ominous. "Only protect him to your best ability, you can. Needs you, he does, Qui-Gon. And need him, you do. Independent, Obi-Wan can be. Independent, Obi-Wan has had to be. But change this, perhaps you can."
Qui-Gon frowned, trying to make sense of what the old Master was saying. "Are you saying he's in some kind of danger?" He tried to keep the spark of worry that had been nudging at him ever since he had sent Obi-Wan away out of his voice.
Yoda's eyes sharpened. "Worrying about your apprentice, are you?"
"I have not accepted him as my Padawan yet, Master," Qui-Gon replied coolly, and then mentally winced when Yoda's smile became sly.
Qui-Gon scowled irritably at the meddling old troll. "Goodbye, Master." And he signed off to the sound of Yoda's quiet cackles.
With a sigh, Qui-Gon ran a hand through his hair and then glanced over his shoulder when someone pounded on his door. Dread pooled in his stomach; he had long since learned that anyone pounding on doors equalled bad news.
Clat'Ha stood in the hallway. Her sleek red hair was awry and her green eyes were full of worry.
"Si Treemba just contacted me with news," She said. "Obi-Wan has disappeared."
Si Treemba had a message for Qui-Gon, to be delivered only to him, and the Arconan had refused to say a word until he reached the Eastern Environmental Zone, which was where Qui-Gon was heading now.
But first, he had a former Padawan to confront.
He had no substantial proof that Xanatos was involved but every one of his instincts was telling him that this was true. Yoda had told him not to confront Xanatos directly, and Qui-Gon really should contact the Council for further instruction, but he was tired of being played with. Now that Xanatos had taken Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon couldn't just stand aside any longer.
It took all his patience to wait outside Offworld's largest azurite mine on the outskirts of Bandor until dusk but he reminded himself of Obi-Wan's words, that the boy could take care of himself until Qui-Gon arrived, and it wouldn't do any good to charge off like a fresh Padawan with only partial information.
Finally, he saw Xanatos leave the small cramped administration building nearby, and with all the miners and workers retired for the night, he and Xanatos were alone.
Stepping out into his former Padawan's path, Qui-Gon observed the lack of surprise on Xanatos' face. His apprentice would never allow an open display of emotion if he could help it.
Qui-Gon didn't waste time beating around the bush. "Where's the boy?" He asked frankly.
Xanatos flung one side of his cloak behind him. His hand rested casually on the hilt of a lightsaber as he smiled humourlessly at him.
"Ah, is he so important to you, Qui-Gon?" Xanatos began to circle him. "Yet I distinctly remember the hard man I know you to be. After all, we were friends at the end, more than Master and Padawan."
"Yes," Qui-Gon agreed, tracking him, moving with him. "We were."
"All the more reason for you to betray me," Xanatos sneered. "To you, friendship is nothing. You enjoyed my suffering."
"The betrayal was yours," Qui-Gon replied calmly even as his heart clenched painfully. "As was the enjoyment of suffering. That is what you discovered on Telos."
The sneer grew more pronounced. "Yes, your new apprentice thought much the same," Xanatos revealed offhandedly. "What was it again?" His voice pitched to a spiteful mockery of Obi-Wan's voice. "'To me, he is worth everything I can give him. That includes my loyalty.'" Xanatos scoffed and drew his lightsaber in the same breath. "Isn't that sweet?"
Qui-Gon's jaw tightened but the ache in his heart involuntarily lightened at the words. What exactly had he done to earn something like that from Obi-Wan?
"Enough," He growled softly, igniting his own 'saber. "Tell me where he is."
"I think not," Xanatos denied, and then they both shot forward, clashing together in a flash of light.
Xanatos had not lost his fighting edge. He had only grown more powerful, moving with economy and grace.
But Qui-Gon had taught this man since he had been a child. Their lightsabers tangled, buzzing furiously. Qui-Gon felt the charge in his arm, but didn't waver. Xanatos kicked out with a foot, but Qui-Gon was expecting it, and moved aside. Xanatos lost his balance, almost falling, but recovered in time.
"Your footwork has always been your weakness," Qui-Gon remarked dryly as he dealt a blow to Xanatos' shoulder. Xanatos twisted away, but not before Qui-Gon saw him grimace with pain.
Perhaps it was the taunt or the fact that Qui-Gon had finally caused him real pain, but a heartbeat later, Xanatos had whirled the other side of his cape behind his shoulder and a second lightsaber was suddenly in his hand.
Qui-Gon had already known Xanatos had Obi-Wan so the boy's 'saber didn't cause more than a slight stirring of annoyance on Obi-Wan's behalf. Instead, his gaze was drawn to the scorch mark in Xanatos' side, still healing.
"Yes, a lucky blow courtesy of your new Padawan," Xanatos said, catching the focus of Qui-Gon's attention. "His performance in battle is commendable. Pity he's wasted it all on you."
No, not a pity, Qui-Gon thought, a sudden but fierce pride flooding his chest as he pressed forward.
He was fighting the past. His past. Perhaps he could defeat Xanatos, but the battle would not be won. Only the future mattered now. Obi-Wan was the future.
The past could wait.
Qui-Gon paused, knowing Xanatos was ready to escalate the fight. Ready to deliver a death blow if he could.
Suddenly, Xanatos whirled around, took three long steps toward the slag heap in the clearing, and pushed himself off, flying through the air with both lightsabers slashing toward Qui-Gon, every muscle ready to drive the blow home.
He met empty air. Qui-Gon twisted away, grabbing Obi-Wan's lightsaber from Xanatos' unprepared grip.
Then, for the first time in his life, Qui-Gon ran from battle. He had to find Obi-Wan. The cold wind whistled past his ears as he crossed the mine yard at top speed.
He heard Xanatos' voice rise from the mist.
"Run, coward! But you can't escape me!"
"It appears that I have!" Qui-Gon shouted back, mouth twitching despite the situation. Obi-Wan would've found it amusing as well. The boy found the strangest things comical.
Xanatos' laugh was chilling. "Only for now, Qui-Gon. Only for now."
"Do you think you could get me into the explosives room? There's a box with a broken circle on it in there."
Obi-Wan stepped out onto the metal deck and stared down at Guerra. The Phindian who had half-befriended him looked back with a mixture of disbelief and amusement.
"I hope that's a joke, Obawan," Guerra bounced up. "You get thrown off the platform for stealing!"
"I'm not going to steal anything," Obi-Wan promised. "I just want to look."
Guerra smiled. "Great idea, Obawan! Let's go!" He lay down again. "No so, I lie. I stick out my neck for nobody, remember?"
Obi-Wan tilted his head. "What if I knew a way to dismantle your electro-collar? We could steal a boat and make it back to the mainland."
Guerra gave him a sidelong look. "If this is true, why does your collar hum, my friend?"
"I can do it," Obi-Wan said. "I just need to heal a bit more."
"I trust no one," Guerra said softly. "Ever. That's why after three years I am still alive."
Obi-Wan gazed steadily at him before reaching out with one hand. His head still throbbed and the Force warned him that he would not be able to this again anytime soon but he needed to gain Guerra's trust.
Touching the collar, he focused the Force into it, carefully manipulating the circuits, and with a twist of his wrist, the collar flashed once and fell silent.
Head reeling, Obi-Wan barely noticed Guerra jerk upright, gawking openly at him in unconcealed amazement.
"Will you help me now?" Obi-Wan asked again.
Guerra gingerly touched his collar as if expecting it to explode. "It is a trick?" He breathed, eyes wide.
"No trick," Obi-Wan denied.
Guerra stalled, frowning a little. "The guard will never give up the keys. It's against regulations."
"Just leave that up to me," Obi-Wan said.
"I need to do some extra checking," Guerra told the guard. "I need the keys."
The guard rose, lifting his electro-jabber in a threatening gesture. "Get lost or you're over the side!"
A part of Obi-Wan's mind scoffed at the repetitive threat.
"That might not be a bad idea," He said instead, layering his voice with the Force. "We should check the supplies again."
"Might not be a bad idea," The guard repeated tonelessly, tossing Guerra the electronic keys. "Check the supplies again."
Guerra stared at Obi-Wan. "What did you do, Obawan?"
"Never mind," Obi-Wan said wearily. "Hurry."
Guerra led him to the explosives' room. He opened the door and Obi-Wan hurried inside, making a beeline for the box. He couldn't open it without alerting the guards but...
Pulling a chunk of the ionite he had slipped into his pocket from the mines when no one was looking, he slipped it behind the box, using the Force to magnify its effect. The ionite was small, the supply in this mine nowhere near as large as the one Qui-Gon would've been in but it had been mixed in with the azurite and he could tell the difference between the two. Hopefully, it would be enough to stop the device.
"I hear footsteps," Guerra whispered from behind him. "They're running. It's the guards! Must be a silent alarm on the door."
Obi-Wan stood up calmly, job done. "I know."
Guerra gave him a wide-eyed look before shouting, "He's in here! I found him!" He turned to Obi-Wan sadly. "Even though I'm in danger, I would never betray a friend. So-"
"Not so," Obi-Wan finished for him as the guards rushed in. With the last of his strength, he threw a Force-illusion over Guerra's collar to make it look like it was still working. He didn't even flinch when the first guard brought his electro-jabber down on Obi-Wan. Pain and exhaustion sent him crashing to his knees. He felt himself being carried to the lockup and thrown in.
"Penalty for stealing is being thrown overboard," He heard a guard say.
"My shift is over," The other one replied with a yawn. "Tomorrow morning is soon enough."
"Where is Si Treemba?" Qui-Gon demanded as he strode into the Enrichment Dome.
The Meerian sent to meet him hurried forward. "I am RonTha. I'm happy to welcome-"
"Where is Si Treemba?" Qui-Gon interrupted crisply, trying to keep the impatience from his voice.
"Here, Master Jinn," Si Treemba darted out to meet them, exhaustion lining his features.
"You have a message for me?" Qui-Gon asked, his tone softening slightly.
Si Treemba nodded. "Obi-Wan said 'Offworld is involved with the AgriCorps and Xanatos' mark is on a box inside an area in the annex sectioned off with the Force.'" He peered up at Qui-Gon. "We are told you would know what he meant."
Qui-Gon nodded absently. He had already found out about Offworld's involvement with the AgriCorps and Xanatos' mark must mean the broken circle, which proved Xanatos' personal involvement, though what other significance it had he wasn't sure. And the area sectioned off with the Force would most likely be the same as the one he had found in Xanatos' office.
"Did he say anything else?" Qui-Gon asked hopefully. Perhaps Obi-Wan had left a clue for him to follow.
Si Treemba nodded once more. "He also said to tell you to remember what he said right before you parted ways. And 'five years'."
Qui-Gon frowned. Obi-Wan had said he could take care of himself for the time being, which could mean the boy was alright for now but would need help soon. He shook his head. He had no idea why he was reading so much into Obi-Wan's words.
"'Five years'?" He enquired instead, disappointed. "I have no idea what that means."
Si Treemba hesitated before offering, "Actually, we think he might mean the deep sea mines. We have thought over this for a long time. We were to tell you this if he did not return. If he did not return, he would give a clue as to where he would be taken, no?"
Qui-Gon stared. Of course. Where better to hide Obi-Wan than on a deep sea mining platform?
"Find me an AgriCorps boat," Qui-Gon ordered RonTha.
"But it is against proto-" RonTha's voice faltered under the impact of Qui-Gon's icy glare.
"Yes, immediately," He agreed meekly.
Qui-Gon gritted his teeth as he gunned the motor, eyes focused entirely on the slight figure of Obi-Wan on the edge of the platform with guards prodding at his back. He was still too far away; his only hope was that Obi-Wan would survive the fall, and he'd be able to pick him up.
Heart contracting in pain, Qui-Gon opened their bond as far as possible, crying out down the link. 'Obi-Wan!'
He waited with bated breath for an answer, any answer. And it came.
'Master, what took you so long?'
Qui-Gon couldn't decide whether to scold or throttle the boy for sounding so flippant when he was about to jump to his death. 'Is now really the time to joke?'
A thrum of quiet laughter trilled down their bond. 'What better time is there? When I die, Master, I promise you I will die with a smile on my face.'
Qui-Gon could barely breathe. What was the boy spouting?
'But not today,' Obi-Wan added almost as an afterthought. 'Look below me.'
Grabbing a pair of electrobinoculars, Qui-Gon looked first at Obi-Wan before trailing his gaze downwards.
Someone had fashioned a kind sling out of a spun carbon tarp. He was tying it to the struts that supported the main platform. As Qui-Gon watched, two long, flexible arms shot out, positioning the sling in midair.
'Meet you inside, Master,' Obi-Wan promised, and then he was falling, face grim but composed, free of terror, already so like a Jedi. There was an escape route, true, but any normal twelve-year-old would still be panicking.
Then again, Qui-Gon thought sardonically as he sped closer to the platform. Obi-Wan has never been normal.
He watched as Obi-Wan seemed to grab on to thin air and pull himself to the left, shifting in mid-fall. He bounced onto the middle of the sling. In another second, long arms shot out and pulled Obi-Wan to safety.
As the guards shouted in fury, Qui-Gon pulled up, bobbing in the sea as he quickly threw carbon-rope over one of the struts and tied the craft securely. Then he threw another rope on the platform where Obi-Wan had disappeared. He tested it, then climbed up.
Obi-Wan was racing down the hallway with the long-armed creature when Qui-Gon leapt over the railing and the grin the boy sent his way was the best thing Qui-Gon had seen all week.
"I hoped you would come," Obi-Wan said warmly.
Qui-Gon nodded, ignoring the choice of words for the moment. "Almost too late. Hurry."
"This is Guerra," Obi-Wan introduced, pointing to his rescuer.
"Bring him. The guards are coming," Qui-Gon said urgently. "They saw what happened." He pulled up short momentarily, eyeing the Force-illusion around the Phindian's collar. "Is that-"
Obi-Wan waved a hand and the illusion dropped. "Already shut it off. Let's go."
Qui-Gon reached out and snagged the boy by the back of his tunic, concentrating the Force on Obi-Wan's collar. He sent neutral energy to the transmitter before shooting him a stern but exasperated look.
Obi-Wan blinked sheepishly. "Forgot."
Qui-Gon just sighed and shook his head. "We'll have to find a way to remove it on the mainland."
"That's where the transmission signal is," Guerra explained. "The guards in the security office on the Bandor loading dock carry the transmitter."
All three suddenly wheeled around when the lift opened and blaster fire zinged past his ear.
"You'll be needing this," Qui-Gon said to Obi-Wan and tossed him his lightsaber.
Two lightsabers hummed in unison as they turned to face the guards. The four Imbats hesitated. They had never seen such weapons, but, still infuriated at Obi-Wan's escape, they rushed forward.
Qui-Gon leapt onto the railing, somersaulted in the air, and landed behind them. Obi-Wan charged from the front. They moved in a graceful duet, advancing, retreating, forcing the guards back toward the lift tube and deflecting blaster fire with ease. It was moments like this that Qui-Gon wondered what he had been thinking when he had decided to leave Obi-Wan behind.
"More guards coming, Obawan!" Guerra yelled.
Fifteen guards shot out of the stairwell at the far end of the platform, firing as they ran.
"Time to go," Qui-Gon called out. Obi-Wan sent his agreement through their bond but spun on his heel and threw out his hand, redirecting blaster fire away from Guerra's unprotected back. For a heartbeat, Qui-Gon could swear Obi-Wan's eyes flashed a brilliant gold.
"Here!" Obi-Wan bounded over to Guerra and pressed a blaster into his hand. Up the stairwell. And hide. In an hour, your collar will be deactivated for good. Trust me."
Guerra considered Obi-Wan for a long moment before heading for the stairs. "I trust no one," He called back but bared his yellow teeth in a wide grin. "Not so, Obawan! I trust you!"
Qui-Gon watched Obi-Wan flash an answering grin over his shoulder before vaulting over the fallen guards. He climbed onto the rail and jumped towards the rope, sliding down and landing in the hydrocraft.
What was it about the boy, Qui-Gon mused as he followed, that drew people in left, right, and center?
As soon as they were out of reach of blaster fire, Qui-Gon set a course for Bandor. Obi-Wan sat at his side, looking ahead and chest still heaving with exertion. He looked just as tired as when Qui-Gon had left him a week ago, maybe more so.
"You said you hoped I would come," Qui-Gon remarked quietly, not quite sure why he was following this line of thought in the first place. "Not knew, but hoped."
Obi-Wan turned to look at him, his eyes soft grey with lassitude but still alert. "Everyone has a choice," He said quietly. "You could've chosen not to come."
"And why wouldn't I?" Qui-Gon challenged, voice going flat.
"Xanatos," Obi-Wan said, almost as if he was musing to himself now. "He's the deciding factor, isn't he?"
Qui-Gon inclined his head. "I heard you bumped into him."
"In a manner of speaking," Obi-Wan agreed wryly, before admitting, "I may have underestimated him. ...And overestimated myself."
Qui-Gon studied the embarrassment etched on the twelve-year-old's face along with the spike of shame that ran along their bond.
"Well, at least you're modest enough to admit it," He pointed out mildly. "Xanatos can be arrogant, but he is also exceptionally clever."
Obi-Wan nodded contritely, leaning back against the side of the boat with a slight frown.
Almost tentatively, Qui-Gon ventured, "You exchanged words before you fought. Xanatos seemed infuriated by what you said."
Obi-Wan actually flushed red at that. "Ah, he mentioned that?"
"In a butchered attempt at imitating your voice, yes," Qui-Gon confirmed.
Obi-Wan coughed, shifting uncomfortably. "I've already told you I want to become your Padawan," He muttered quietly as if that clarified everything.
"And why would you want to do that?" Qui-Gon found himself asking. "I'm sure Xanatos' recount of me wasn't kind."
"He told me you betrayed him," Obi-Wan revealed placidly. "That he was your apprentice, and he trusted you, but you destroyed that trust in the end."
Qui-Gon twisted around and observed the young face beside him, not a single hint of doubt shadowing its features. "I assume you didn't believe him?"
Obi-Wan shrugged, plucking at the sleeve of his tunic. "You don't seem like the type to betray a Padawan," He said. "And it seemed rather redundant to mistrust you after everything we went through on the Monument and the island just because someone I don't even really know decided to make his own opinion of you known."
Qui-Gon stared at him. "You have a rather odd outlook on life, Obi-Wan."
To his surprise, the boy actually spluttered a laugh that didn't quite reach his eyes. "You have no idea, Master."
Qui-Gon wanted to question this statement but Obi-Wan had already glanced away and the shore was coming up. If he was going to clear things about Xanatos with Obi-Wan, it had to be now.
"Obi-Wan, I think I should tell you about Xanatos," Qui-Gon started. "You should know about him now that you're involved in this. I should have told you before."
Obi-Wan turned back, attentive but unruffled as Qui-Gon told him of his former Padawan. He recounted the young boy he had brought to the Temple, intelligent with the qualities of a leader. He described Yoda's hesitations, the old Master's misgivings that Qui-Gon had mistaken for lack of confidence in his own judgement. And how glad he had been when Yoda had suggested one last mission for Xanatos, that Qui-Gon would finally be able to prove to Yoda that he had been right about Xanatos.
"You see my failing here." Qui-Gon stated gravely, watching as Obi-Wan nodded, eyes compassionate and lacking of judgement.
Qui-Gon continued, relaying Telos and Xanatos' father, Crion, the power Xanatos saw his father wielding, and the resulting anger against the Jedi and Qui-Gon for taking him away and depriving him of a different kind of power.
"I did not doubt Yoda's wisdom," Qui-Gon sighed, staring out at the surrounding gloom. "I did what I knew I should. I stepped back. I did not attempt to guide Xanatos. He was ready to make his own choice."
"He made the wrong one," Obi-Wan said softly, cutting to the crux of the matter.
Qui-Gon inclined his head and described the civil war that followed, the army Xanatos led, and the last battle fought at the governor's quarters where Crion was killed.
"I killed him," He said solemnly, craning his head around to gauge Obi-Wan's expression. "In front of his son, I dealt the killing blow. My lightsaber sliced through the ring on Crion's finger. As he lay dying, Xanatos picked it up from the fire where it had fallen. He pressed the hot metal to his cheek. I can still hear the sound of the burn. You can still see the scar."
"A broken circle," Obi-Wan said, still unsurprised. A part of Qui-Gon wondered if he had already known all this. Yet that was impossible. Xanatos would not have told and no one else knew of these events in detail.
"Do you see my failing, Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon asked this time, gaze heavy. "Do you still wish to be my Padawan after all that?"
Obi-Wan's eyes sharpened, melting into the blue-green they usually were. "Of course," He said sharply. "Maybe you could've been more attentive, seen Xanatos' faults instead of ignored them, but only Xanatos can make Xanatos' decisions. You can only guide him to the best of your ability. In the end, he's the one who has to choose."
Qui-Gon looked intently at the twelve-year-old sitting serenely at his side before turning back to face the front, relaxing as the silence became more companionable than oppressive.
Only one thought occurred to him at this point: Yoda was going to have a field day when they got home.
"Guerra is free," Qui-Gon said as he pressed the button on the transmitter. "Now let's see if we can get that collar off."
Qui-Gon placed his large hands around Obi-Wan's collar, searching for a catch or seam. He could not break the collar, or twist it apart. He set his lightsaber to low power and tried to cut it, but could not.
"I need a high power, and that would injure you," He said grimly.
"Or behead me," Obi-Wan pointed out cheerfully.
Qui-Gon smiled dryly down at the boy. "I'm starting to realize you have a morbid sense of humour, Obi-Wan."
"About time, Master," Obi-Wan shot back without missing a beat.
Qui-Gon sighed and shook his head, tossing the transmitter to him. "Better hold onto that until it's off then. Now let's get back to Bandor."
"And Xanatos," Obi-Wan added. It wasn't a question.
"And Xanatos," Qui-Gon agreed as they clambered into an Offworld security landspeeder.
Dirt and gravel flew in their faces as Qui-Gon swerved, dived, reversed, and hung stationary, all to evade the deadly laser cannon Xanatos was aiming at them. He roared into the yard of the Home Planet Mine, but no one was there to help. Everyone was in the mine, working to repair it. There was no time to call VeerTa or Clat'Ha. Behind them, they could hear Xanatos approaching.
Qui-Gon jumped out of the landspeeder, calling on Obi-Wan to do the same.
Xanatos headed for Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan at top speed. Qui-Gon unsheathed his lightsaber and dealt Xanatos a glancing blow ah he sped past, but the impact sent Qui-Gon spinning backward, and he felt his shoulder wrench in pain. Almost immediately, he felt the Force swirl around the injury, but Qui-Gon glanced back sharply.
"Save your energy," He warned, waiting until Obi-Wan reluctantly retracted the Force. "You'll need it later."
They could not fight Xanatos while he was on that vehicle, and when Xanatos turned and roared back towards them, they had no choice but to dash into the mine entrance.
As they did, Qui-Gon had a sudden flash of chilling knowledge. They were doing exactly what Xanatos had planned for them to do. They were playing his game.
"This way, Master!" Obi-Wan sprinted on ahead, never even giving the other tunnels a passing glance. Qui-Gon hesitated only briefly before following, the Force humming its agreement in his mind. There was another lift tube at Core 6 and it would take them around Xanatos.
The lift tube stood at the end of the tunnel. They jumped in and Qui-Gon pressed the number of the deepest level, Core 6, with only a cursory glance at Obi-Wan.
"How did you know?" Qui-Gon enquired, his mind backtracking through the last few days. "How do you know these things?"
"Prescience," Obi-Wan said, but his gaze evaded Qui-Gon's. "I get flashes of the future."
There was no more time to question the boy as the doors opened and they stepped out into the tunnel. They both turned to the left but Obi-Wan seemed to be looking for something specific.
"Did Si mention the box to you?"
Qui-Gon frowned. "Yes, the one with Xanatos' mark on it."
Obi-Wan nodded distractedly. "There was one on the deep sea mine as well, and another in the Eastern Environmental Dome. I'm pretty sure they're bombs."
Qui-Gon's blood ran cold but before he could think more on it, the dark stretch of the tunnel made him pause.
He peered ahead. "VeerTa said this tunnel was completely blocked. Why-"
Suddenly, a shadow detached from the wall of the tunnel, and Xanatos stood before them.
"You make so many mistakes, Qui-Gon," He said, mouth twisting into a cold smile. "It's a wonder you're still standing. First you deactivate the transmitter so that I'll know exactly where you are. Then you enter this mine, which is exactly what I wanted you to do. And then you assume that I don't know about the north lift tube."
Behind him, Qui-Gon heard the hum of Obi-Wan's lightsaber.
"Which one of you shall I kill first?" Xanatos murmured, but his eyes were foucsed behind Qui-Gon. "You, or your new Padawan? He won't get lucky again, I assure you."
Obi-Wan lunged forward fiercely. He leaped onto a mining cart, which rolled toward Xanatos, but at the last moment, Obi-Wan sprang off. He flew over Xanatos' head, striking down with his lightsaber as he did so.
Qui-Gon heard the flesh on Xanatos' hand sizzle. Howling, Xanatos almost dropped his lightsaber, but caught it with his other hand.
Obi-Wan landed safely behind Xanatos. "Then I suppose it's just skill this time," He pointed out gleefully, much to Qui-Gon's exasperation.
Whirling so quickly Qui-Gon barely caught the movement, Xanatos sprang at Obi-Wan. The boy leaped back, slashing with his lightsaber at the same time.
Xanatos' attack missed him by a whisper. Qui-Gon was already charging forward, and Xanatos turned to parry the thrust. Their lightsabers tangled and locked, sputtering. Smoke rose in the tunnel.
Xanatos withdrew, leaping past Obi-Wan, and the two Jedi pursued him down the tunnel. The floor beneath them sloped sharply, and Qui-Gon realized that they were descending to a lower level.
"What did I say about overconfidence?" Qui-Gon reprimanded as they ran. "Didn't you learn your lesson the first time around?"
Obi-Wan turned an indignant look on him. "Master, he clubbed me over the head after he called me a waste of space. Wastes of space don't give him 'saber burns."
Qui-Gon sighed but didn't waste breath to reproach him. He had seen enough of the boy to realize that Obi-Wan knew how to balance maturity with a child's brashness.
Turning a corner, they just had time to see Xanatos disappear into a smaller corridor that led off the shaft. They hurried forward. The crosscut tunnel was narrow and dark and the glow lights here were set at a fainter setting. The ground dropped sharply downward. Xanatos was gone.
"He will want us to follow," Obi-Wan warned as they paused at the entrance.
"It's too late now," Qui-Gon decided. "He has chosen the field of battle, true, but we can defeat him."
Qui-Gon turned and ran down the tunnel after Xanatos. Obi-Wan following close behind.
They were deep in the planet's crust by now, close to the core. The heat was intense. Qui-Gon saw a faint sign glowing ahead.
VeerTa had lied to him. Or else she had not known this tunnel existed.
The tunnel opened out into a slightly wider one. The glow lights were brighter here. Immediately after they left the smaller tunnel, a hidden panel slid shut behind them.
They were trapped.
Then the lights went out.
The mocking voice came from out of the void. "I hope the two of you have time for a Temple exercise." Suddenly, in the darkness, the red glow of a lightsaber extended.
Qui-Gon didn't wait for Xanatos to strike. He moved through the blackness towards the glow. He could not see but he let the Force guide him. He could feel his opponent, feel the dark tremors of his evil, and he struck.
"Missed me," Xanatos said. "I was always best at the blindfold test. Remember?"
Obi-Wan moved off to the right, but instead of approaching in a classic pincer movement, Qui-Gon could feel the boy gathering the Force around him, reeling it in until it settled like a cloak around Obi-Wan, tightly reigned and ready to be released.
'I can drag him out but I'll only be able to hold him for a moment. Ready, Master?'
Qui-Gon hesitated. Would the boy have enough strength for something like that? Well, if the thinly-veiled Light almost glowing around Obi-Wan was anything to go by, then yes he did, but Qui-Gon didn't like the heavy strain he could feel from the boy through their bond. Still, this could be the only chance they had.
'Alright,' Qui-Gon sent back grimly. 'Give me a two-second window.'
'Yes, Master. And Master?'
'Try not to worry too much after this. I'll just be a little tired.'
That sounded alarmingly ominous to Qui-Gon but he had no time to ask further when Obi-Wan leapt forward and released the Force with everything he had, hurling the energy towards the darkness, and Qui-Gon caught a flash of shock on Xanatos' face as the Force struck, Light wrapping around the tendrils of Dark wreathing his former apprentice and dragging him out of hiding.
Qui-Gon didn't waste time admiring Obi-Wan's control. He lunged forward, lightsaber twirling, and slammed the butt of it against his former apprentice's head, hard enough to knock him out for a good long while.
Xanatos didn't see it coming and he crumpled to the ground, his 'saber clattering uselessly away as the lights blinked back on.
Qui-Gon had a heartbeat to breathe a sigh of relief before the screaming started.
Spinning around as his heart leapt into his throat, he hurried over to Obi-Wan, now curled into a fetal position with his hand clasped around his head and fingers clenched tightly in his hair, and dropped to his knees, hands hovering helplessly over the prone figure.
"Obi-Wan?" He called, and then tried reaching the boy mentally, but flinched back when all he met were the reinforced shields now firmly erected around Obi-Wan's mind.
What do I do? He wracked his mind frantically, gathering Obi-Wan in his arms as the boy screamed his throat raw. Obi-Wan had said not to worry but how was Qui-Gon not supposed to do exactly that?
Had he known this would happen? Had he been expecting this? Had he known and done it anyway to help Qui-Gon take down Xanatos?
As abruptly as the screams had started, they suddenly cut off, and for one heart-stopping moment, Qui-Gon thought the boy had died.
But no, Obi-Wan's chest still stirred with faint puffs of breath, and while the boy was limp in his arms, his body was still warm.
'Obi-Wan?' Qui-Gon prodded uncertainly, brushing the boy's hair back in an instinctive soothing gesture. 'Padawan?'
Nothing. The bond was as silent as the grave and Qui-Gon had to work to push the first stirrings of fear back down, settling his mind with a deep breath.
There was nothing he could do right now. His best option was to get them all out of here as soon as possible.
And hadn't Obi-Wan mentioned something about a bomb?
With a mental curse, Qui-Gon swept up all three 'sabers, tucking them away before scooping Obi-Wan up, being careful not to jostle him as much as possible. His gaze fell on Xanatos, and for once, all Qui-Gon felt was a deep sense of pity and mild sorrow, but none of the guilt and regret and anger that had dragged him down for so many years. He had other things to worry about now, more important things to take care of.
He placed Xanatos in a Force-sleep before binding his hands and legs for good measure and then lifting him in the air so he would float beside Qui-Gon as they moved.
And then he headed back the way they had come, but the entrance was still sealed. He knew he could escape through the lift tube that Xanatos had been planning to use but if there was a bomb here, he had to find it before it blew.
Placing Obi-Wan down and wrapping the boy up with his own robe, Qui-Gon looked around and crossed over to the panel next to the door. Several buttons glowed but nothing happened when he pressed them.
Reeling in his frustration, Qui-Gon glanced back at Obi-Wan. The boy was so still and he seemed even paler in the dim light.
Turning back, he noticed the Offworld secret logo on the seal panel.
One of the nightmares he had had before this entire debacle started came to the forefront of his thoughts.
The circle that brings the past to the future, yet does not meet. He must make the circle meet. He must bring the past forward. He must...
Qui-Gon quieted his mind, letting the Force fill him. Cautiously, he drew from what little remained of Obi-Wan's power as well, just a drop, and concentrated on the broken circle. He envisioned the circle moving, meeting, becoming whole once more. The past would meet the future and create the present. That was what mattered.
Xanatos was past.
Obi-Wan was now.
Slowly, the separate strands moved, making a perfect circle.
And the door slid open.
Racing back up the tunnel, Qui-Gon ignored the irritatingly calm voice that told him to evacuate. Tightening his hold on Obi-Wan, he scanned the boxes of explosives stacked against the walls, attention settling on one box resting on top.
Placing Obi-Wan down again, Qui-Gon unsheathed his lightsaber and, with great precision, cut the lock on it.
"You always did have more than one trick," He murmured, sparing a glance back at his former Padawan. "You always had a back door."
He lifted the lid carefully. Just as Obi-Wan had guessed, it was an ion bomb, the most destructive explosive in the galaxy.
There was a bomb in the Eastern Zone as well as the deep sea mine. Qui-Gon was willing to bet that there were more stashed all over Bandomeer, and if this was set off, the chain reaction would destroy the entire planet.
He frowned and examined the clock. Odd. The numbers counted down to the second but they were off. There was still seven minutes but the seconds slipped by much more slowly. Had Xanatos made a mistake or had someone tampered with it?
Either way, he would have time to disable it and that was what mattered.
Eight hours later, Qui-Gon finally stumbled back to his temporary quarters. He had revealed the entire ploy to Clat'Ha and SonTag, learned that ionite had a neutral charge and made instruments stop, gotten VeerTa arrested for aiding and abetting, received the message that Guerra and the rest of the miners were free, gotten his hands on a Force Inhibitor and shackled Xanatos with it before leaving him in a Force-sleep with a twenty-four-hour guard, and was currently in the process of tackling his last and most important problem.
He had tried to wake Obi-Wan earlier, ignoring even SonTag's questions in favour of getting the boy to a bed before contacting Yoda. There were no healers for Jedi on Bandomeer and his best bet would be the old Master.
Unfortunately for him, the troll had been maddeningly unhelpful. Yoda had looked so grave upon hearing of Obi-Wan's condition that Qui-Gon had had half a mind to simply drop everything and return to Coruscant at once, but Yoda had only shook his head and told Qui-Gon to let the boy rest. The order had floored him and he had tried to argue, but Yoda had been adamant and had seemed very certain of Obi-Wan's eventual recovery so, in the end, Qui-Gon had grudgingly backed down.
Now, in the privacy of his quarters, Qui-Gon settled wearily next to the still-unconscious twelve-year-old and tried to reach him through their bond again. It had worked last time and it was the only thing he could think of that might help.
'Obi-Wan, you must wake up,' Qui-Gon chanted as he had several dozen times already. 'How do you expect to become a Jedi if you're sleeping all day?'
Qui-Gon paused. He had already made up his mind, perhaps even as far back as before he had reached the deep sea mine, moments before Obi-Wan had jumped. He remembered the unwavering loyalty Obi-Wan had shown, the trust he had given, time and time again, on the Monument against the pirates, on the island against the draigons, on Bandomeer against Offworld, and always with Qui-Gon against Xanatos.
'Wake up, Padawan,' He pleaded quietly. 'I need you to wake up for me.'
'...Can't keep my Master waiting then, can I?'
Qui-Gon almost slipped off his chair at the faint but definitely amused voice snaking back along their bond. The mental link shone as the strongest shields in Obi-Wan's mind slipped away and the whisper of stray thoughts echoed back to Qui-Gon.
'You're awake, thank the Force!' Qui-Gon slumped back, relief draining him of the last of his energy. 'Padawan, I order you to never do something like this again.'
"Don't think I can promise that, Master," Obi-Wan's voice was thin with exhaustion but his eyes were open and staring steadily back at Qui-Gon.
Qui-Gon leaned forward, not bothering to hide his smile. "Then at least warn me before you go around collapsing for no discernible reason."
"I did warn you," Obi-Wan protested weakly. "I specifically told you not to worry."
Qui-Gon raised a skeptical eyebrow. "How exactly do you expect me to do that when you were screaming at the top of your lungs?"
Obi-Wan frowned. "Oh, well that would explain why my throat is sore."
Qui-Gon grabbed a bottle and helped the boy drink for the second time in a week.
"Why did you collapse?" He asked, tone measured.
Obi-Wan stilled, head tilting back to stare at the ceiling. "What did Master Yoda say?"
"His usual cryptic sermon," Qui-Gon replied with uncharacteristic annoyance. "And I suppose it would be pointless to ask how you know I contacted Master Yoda?"
Obi-Wan didn't retort with his usual sarcastic wit or even an apology. Instead, he picked at a loose thread on the blanket that covered him, gaze turning inward in a way that Qui-Gon was starting to hate. Wherever Obi-Wan went when his expression became distant, whatever he was seeing, affected him more than Qui-Gon liked, and he couldn't follow his Padawan in these moments.
"He mentioned you had a powerful sense of prescience," Qui-Gon started again, softening his tone. "Unrivalled by even him, but that it was better not to ask."
Obi-Wan's shoulders tensed as his fingers ran along the edge of the blanket. "I can't tell you everything," He said, and Qui-Gon felt his heart clench at the mournful tone his voice had taken on. "Not for awhile."
He turned a sad smile on Qui-Gon. "That's going to affect any relationship we have, isn't it?"
Qui-Gon stared back, silent for several breaths as he watched his Padawan mentally withdraw into himself.
"I think," He said at last, keeping his voice light. "After everything that's happened, and Yoda's agreement on this matter, trusting you isn't going to be as hard as it could be under any other circumstances."
The light slowly returned to Obi-Wan's eyes as the boy searched his face for any sign of deceit.
"'Padawan'?" Obi-Wan finally queried, the beginnings of a genuine smile playing on his lips.
"You did say you wanted to become my Padawan," Qui-Gon reminded. "That hasn't changed, I hope?"
Obi-Wan's expression was brilliant as Qui-Gon received a vehement denial in return.
Qui-Gon had refused to let him do any heavy-lifting in case he collapsed again so Obi-Wan was forced to sit tight on their ride home as Qui-Gon triple-checked every safety measure placed on Xanatos. His Master wasn't taking any chances.
The other world had literally exploded in a tidal wave of gold as soon as Xanatos had been caught and Obi-Wan had been swept away with it, tumbling through futures that would now never come to be and futures newly created.
Telos would remain safe from Xanatos' greed and revenge, and Bruck Chun would most likely not turn – that was still to be decided. Bant would be safe from both their clutches and Xanatos would never be able to harm anyone in the Jedi Temple anymore.
On the other hand, Xanatos was still alive. He had not committed suicide nor had he been killed by Qui-Gon, which were the most likely outcomes prior to this change.
Changes. Choices. Everything always came down to choice.
To be completely truthful, Obi-Wan had expected Qui-Gon to deal a fatal blow back in the mine when he had dragged Xanatos out. It had been the most probable conclusion in that instance; the golden thread leading down that path had been almost blinding in its intensity.
Yet it hadn't happened. Qui-Gon, for whatever reason or no reason at all, hadn't killed Xanatos and they were now bringing him in to stand trial before placing him in prison. There were several futures where Xanatos would escape, but just as many where he wouldn't, and Obi-Wan wasn't sure what to make of it all.
Obi-Wan looked up, already smiling as his Master sat down beside him and the ship prepared for takeoff.
"Don't think too hard, Padawan," Qui-Gon teased. "You might hurt yourself and I don't want to be carrying you into Coruscant when we arrive."
Obi-Wan scowled good-naturedly but relaxed into a grin soon enough. "Of course not, Master. We both know I'm the one who's going to have to help you off this ship after all the running around you've been doing. Bad back and all that, right?"
A hand came down on his head, firm but gentle as it tugged on the beginnings of his Padawan braid.
"Are you calling me old, Padawan?" Qui-Gon demanded, mouth twitching.
"I wouldn't dare, Master," Obi-Wan retorted, straight-faced. "I wouldn't want to put your sensitive self-esteem at risk."
Qui-Gon stared in disbelief before shaking his head. "Rude brat," He muttered, but there was a note of fondness in his voice that several dozen other Obi-Wans in several dozen other futures would never have heard for years to come.
We're going to be alright, Obi-Wan thought as he relaxed against his Master. Come hell or high water, we're going to be fine.
Finished! So that's my take on Bandomeer. I thought this chapter was a good example of how Obi-Wan can still make mistakes even with his gift, and that sometimes – Xanatos being the case in point – he can depend too much on it.
Leaving a review on your way out would be much appreciated!