A/N: Enjoy. This chapter means a lot to me - I've planned for it for so long, and it is both a shatterpoint and a thematic centerpoint in the entire story. So thank you for being here.
Music for this chapter: Winters On Subway (Michael Kamen)
Qui-Gon finds him in a run-down bar in the shallow underlevels, next to an empty transport dock that looked like it was used only by traders who cared less for dock-safety and more about goods transfer.
The few patrons there at this late hour look up at the Force-pushed slam of swinging door against the establishment wall, and seem to collectively decide right there and then that it might be better to call it a night. The barkeep melts into the shadows of the whisky cabinet farthest from the single, shadowed figure remaining at the bar.
Xanatos does not look up from his half-full bottle of Whyren's Reserve, despite the sudden, complete silence. He pours himself another full glass, slowly – a little too slowly to be just for care or for show – and knocks it back in one sharp jerk of his head as Qui-Gon stops by his chair.
Xanatos slips a bloodied hand into his clothing and places two items on the bar, next to his bottle.
Then he pours himself another drink.
There is silence for a long heartbeat as Qui-Gon takes in the items laid there – a bloodstained lightsaber, still familiar despite its sanguine covering, and a smooth, oval stone of translucent sable shot through with crimson.
Xanatos raises his glass to his bloodless lips, tilting his head back as if to down it in one again, and Qui-Gon snatches the glass and hurls it behind the counter.
It misses his former padawan's ear by less than a fingersbreadth. The shattering glass is as loud as a blaster-shot.
Xanatos pauses for a moment, staring at the pool of golden liquid spreading on the grimy tiles, and then flicks his hand at the barkeep. "Another glass," he rasps, as if he has no care in the world.
The barkeep does not move from his shadowed corner.
A sigh. Xanatos raises his head, blue eyes number than Qui-Gon has ever seen them. He opens his mouth. "Barkeep. Another–"
"Where is Obi-Wan?" The words are low. Barely-controlled. Qui-Gon's hand is clenched on the stained wood of the counter, now.
Xanatos gives the barkeeper another long stare, then seems to give up and reach for the bottle instead. He takes a long, leisurely swig from it before replying. "And here I thought my bond with you was weak."
Qui-Gon's hand smashes into the bar, leaves a splintered dent, and the barkeep makes a run for the door. "No games, Xanatos. Not now."
"Damn," Xanatos murmurs, having saved his bottle by mere chance of taking another pull. "It's been a decade. Barring Naboo, the last time we saw each other you'd just murdered my father - and now we're here and the only thing you can talk about is my replacement." He barks a laugh that sounds more like a cough of pain. "I should have expected it."
"Tell me where Obi-Wan is," Qui-Gon repeats, in a voice devoid of emotion.
Xanatos lowers his bottle from where it was a handspan before his chin, due to there now being a lightsaber in the way. He looks up, exquisitely slowly, and meets Qui-Gon's gaze with eyes already dead. "Sold him to a slave-trader," he says simply. "Shouldn't you have sensed–"
Qui-Gon grabs him by his lank black hair and smashes his head into the counter – then holds the hissing blade by Xanatos's face, directly over the broken-circle scar on his cheek. "You lie," Qui-Gon snarls, even as the bond at the back of his mind hums once as Obi-Wan's end grows fainter, still. Not dead or severely injured, not by far – but this is the vague blur of distance.
He knows, then, that his former padawan does not lie.
Qui-Gon closes his eyes, in pain inexpressible.
Xanatos coughs once.
Blood spatters over Qui-Gon's blade, vaporising instantly and filling the air with a metallic tang.
Xanatos lifts his head off the bar with what seems like a gargantuan effort, runs a shaking hand over his lips, and flicks blood onto the splatters already drying on the bar surface. "Blast," he mutters. "Alcohol sped things up."
Qui-Gon deactivates his lightsaber. Pushes his former padawan upright to face him, and stares as the black cloak falls aside to reveal the wounds in Xanatos's side – the blood coming sluggishly, ever-so-slowly.
He brings his comm up to his lips, and calls for a backup unit of Jedi healers, even as his right hand slides to Xanatos's neck to assess the character of a pulse that is barely there.
"Oh for Force's sake, old man," Xanatos chuckles, in the mad, mad giggle of a man who knows he is done for. "I'm dying. I've just won my last victory against you. You'll never see your padawan again – but it won't be like what you did to me." His eyes slide viciously upwards to meet Qui-Gon's. "I saw my father die with my own two eyes. But you, Qui-Gon – you will search, and search, and you will find nothing, until the moment you feel that training bond snap at last, and know that somewhere out in the galaxy, Obi-Wan Kenobi is dead." Xanatos barks a laugh that turns into a shudder of pain. He comes out of it with expectation in his eyes – welcoming any blade that should end him, finally.
Qui-Gon stares at Xanatos for a long, long moment, one hand fisted in his collar and the other at his shoulder. The Force is a mix of Unifying and Living, as it always has been, but now it tumbles in and out of itself in a roiling cauldron – the slow bleed of the Living Force out of Xanatos's form, and the cascade of the Unifying Force out of memory, where a black-haired padawan beamed at the praise of his master for a well-executed kata.
Qui-Gon pulls Xanatos off the barstool. The younger man raises a weak hand to grasp at his wrists, but this does nothing to stop Qui-Gon as he gently maneuvers his former padawan to sit on the floor, head against the barside.
"ETA fifteen minutes," a metallic voice sounds from Qui-Gon's comlink. "Patient status?"
"Get here in five," Qui-Gon says tonelessly, as he places one broad hand on Xanatos's wounds and applies pressure.
Xanatos's breath hitches at the new pain, and he stares up at Qui-Gon. "What…are you…doing?" he gasps.
Qui-Gon's face is still a blank mask, but his hands are steady. "Don't move," he orders. "You'll lose more."
"I…I don't understand," Xanatos whispers, more blood seeping over his lower lip with each word. "I just sold your padawan into slavery."
"You did," Qui-Gon replies with a cold edge to this voice, hands tightening further at the younger man's side.
"You should want to kill me."
"Revenge is not the Jedi way, Xanatos." The name slips off Qui-Gon's tongue before he can stop it; it is not padawan, but it is the first time he has addressed his former padawan by name in a long time. Or uttered such a teaching to him.
Xanatos's gaze spears right through him. "That doesn't mean you don't want to kill me."
"Perhaps I do," Qui-Gon murmurs. "But perhaps I also do not." He bows his head, takes a shuddering breath of his own.
Those deep blue eyes flash into circles of ice. "You're a coward. You couldn't kill me after winning the duel on Telos, and you can't kill me now."
Qui-Gon does not reply.
"Why…why won't you give me this?" Xanatos breathes, a trickle of blood seeping from the corner of his mouth. "Why deny me even this, when my victory over you is so complete?"
"Xanatos," Qui-Gon says, staring at where blood wells up over his hands, still, no matter the pressure he places on the rent flesh underneath. "Xanatos," he repeats.
Xanatos's lips work, and he spits a mouthful of blood right into Qui-Gon's face.
Qui-Gon flinches. Red seeps into his beard. But he takes a breath, and tries again.
"Xanatos," he says, quietly, raising his head. "I loved you as a father would a son."
The Force freezes in place.
"This…this isn't fair," Xanatos whispers, and for a moment, it is as though he is fourteen again, and has just gotten out of his third fight in a week with another padawan his age; and Qui-Gon the doting master who tried so hard to believe the best of him. "I hated you," Xanatos says, and he is the sixteen-year-old who pressed the burning, broken ring into his cheek on Telos. "I still hate you."
"I know you do," Qui-Gon says.
Xanatos's breathing is coming quicker, now. Shallower. "Why…aren't you…going after…him?"
"You will die the moment I remove my hand," Qui-Gon murmurs.
"Then…let go," Xanatos counters, breath rattling in his lungs.
Qui-Gon's smile is brittle. "Perhaps I still can't bring myself to let you go."
Xanatos's chest rises, falls. It does not rise again, despite the widening of those dark blue eyes and the struggle within them.
Qui-Gon's other hand darts forward, cusps the back of Xanatos's neck. Lowers him fully to the floor. "Breathe," Qui-Gon says, and it is phrased like an order, whispered like a plea. His thumb brushes over the broken-circle scar on that blood-smeared cheek.
Xanatos stares up at him, eyes blinking slowly, sluggishly.
The Force answers Qui-Gon's call, pulses into the wound in Xanatos's side, swells in every cooling cell.
Cold, bloodless fingers are curling in Qui-Gon's sleeve, plaintively, and the Force flickers at their calling. Qui-Gon reverses his hand, grasps them tight, feels the barest spark of the Force flick from palm to palm.
"I have you," Qui-Gon says, even though he does not, and he knows it.
Xanatos's eyes are growing wet.
A doorway flickers in Qui-Gon's mind – the entrance to a bridge he thought long faded away, that he thought finally snapped and frayed away when he brought Obi-Wan to Ilum. A single, dimly glowing thread is all that connects him to Xanatos, now, the barest ember in the remains of a fire that the wind is gathering to snuff out at last.
A tear slips out of deep blue eyes below him as Qui-Gon hears a whisper flicker across his mindscape, like a breath barely formed into syllables.
It is a name.
Of a ship.
The ember snuffs out.
The blue eyes are empty, now; seas that no longer shift, a night sky devoid of the stars that once shone in them.
Qui-Gon extends a shaking hand, and closes them.
Then he drags himself to his feet and comes face-to-face with Obi-Wan's lightsaber hilt, still on the bar alongside the river stone and a half-finished bottle of Corellian Whisky.
Qui-Gon stares at the hilt and the stone. He cannot bring himself to pick them up.
He hears rather than senses the team of healers arrive. They pull him away into a corner, gather around the body by the counter. Someone is speaking to him, scrubbing his hands clean as they do. Words like "shock" and "unresponsive" and "dead on site" are thrown around.
Qui-Gon looks down as Xanatos's blood is cleaned from his fingers, and wonders at the meaning of blood on his hands.
But he has the name of the ship. Obi-Wan's ship.
That is all he needs to begin.
Qui-Gon stands, abruptly, strides over to the lightsaber and stone, and sweeps them into his grasp without a word.
Then he strides away.
Alone in his darkened apartment at 500 Republica, the shadow stiffens.
He snarls, an animalistic noise of rage. Lightning lances out of his fingertips and splinters his desk into smithereens.
This is not a failure, no…but a grievous setback.
Even through the rage, he glimpses the flicker of movement.
"Come," the shadow barks, harshly.
A small hand of red and black skin glints in the pale light of Coruscanti night as the child pads into the room, silent, and drops to his knees. "Yes, Master," a voice says, well-trained to hold only fear. Fear for the one he calls master.
The shadow speaks, like sand gringind over a coal fire. "Do you remember your former handler, child?"
"He has failed me, tonight. But he was not my student. You are." The voice grows colder, ringed with venom. "Should you ever fail me so, you shall find yourself no more than this." A pale hand gestures at the minefield of splinters that was once a fine wood desk.
"Yes, Master," the child repeats, staring at the carpet, where his shadow stretches across the floor – the juvenile horns of his head the merest stubs.
"Then go," the shadow hisses.
In the silence, afterwards, the shadow puts on his other face – the face of a kindly, well-respected Senator – and goes to inform housekeeping.
Exhaustion gnaws at Feemor's consciousness, but he scrubs a hand over his face and continues to wait. The giant, bronzium statues at the top of the steps leading down to the Temple Plaza are his only companions; it is by now late enough that even the crowds that throng the plaza are beginning to thin.
He has been standing here for nigh on two hours, now; on returning to the Temple, he had first seen Huei and Ezhno to the healers, then back to his and Huei's quarters. And then he had allowed them to make a shared blanket fort without complaint. There was no point in separating them, not after the events of the day; they were both quite determined to wait up for Obi-Wan when he left them, but this way when they inevitably fell asleep at least they would not wake up alone.
Feemor sighs into the night wind.
A solitary figure in a brown hood slips out of the crowd's edge, and Feemor tenses until he recognises the loping, long-legged pace of his former master.
And then something inside him freezes again, because Qui-Gon is alone.
"Master," Feemor says as Qui-Gon ascends the last few steps to him.
Qui-Gon looks at him, face half-hidden by his hood. Then he takes two steps forward and pulls Feemor into a hug.
"Qui-Gon!" Feemor exclaims. For a wild moment he wonders if the older man has been drugged, somehow; hugging is certainly not within Qui-Gon Jinn's normal personality.
"Thank you for being here, Feemor," Qui-Gon rasps, and Feemor is struck silent as effectively as if he was hit on the head.
He knows, then, that this is bad.
So Feemor does the only thing he can – he returns Qui-Gon's embrace, and waits until his former master is ready to speak.
Qui-Gon eventually does, once he has stepped back.
Feemor nods at the right places. He doesn't quite trust himself to speak.
"I've told the Queen and First Duke of Stewjon," Qui-Gon whispers. "They deserved to hear it from me."
Feemor helps Qui-Gon up the steps, and heaviness settles over his heart.
He does not dread telling the children, because it will come no matter whether he dreads it or not, like every other trial Jedi face – but for the moment, he is glad it is late, and that this will wait till morning.
Dooku plucks a single sliver of metal-edged crystal from the ground, and examines it with a frown.
"You are sure Padawan Tori said Sith holocron?" he directs at the figure behind him. Rather surprisingly, he says Huei's name without a single hitch.
"Quite sure," Mace says, not a drop of exhaustion bleeding into his tone, despite the long day he has had. Behind him, the crack in the wall leading back to the outside world is illuminated in the strong, steady white light of multiple portable lamps. The two Jedi crouch in a space no more than six paces wide, bordered with rubble on all sides except one. If there was a Sith Temple here before, there is no longer one now.
"We did feel a tremor of quite significant magnitude up in the Temple a few hours previous," Dooku murmurs. "There is enough dark energy still clinging to this shard that I can confirm that when whole, this object would have been a dark vessel indeed. Whether it was Sith or not, I cannot say; but were it to shatter, it could quite feasibly have caused a large explosion."
"Enough to vaporize…this, I presume," Mace says with distaste as he regards the burnt husk of some unknown creature, still stuck halfway out of the rubble furthest from the entrance. "But enough to collapse this chamber?"
"Perhaps. If this place was designed to keep it from being taken."
"I see," Mace says, as Dooku collects the pieces of the holocron in a pouch.
Once they are out again and the lights of the underlevels are only a hundred paces in the distance, Mace motions the construction team into place and steps back.
"We are sealing it, then," Dooku says as one worker begins pumping grade-A duracrete into the crack in the wall. He does not sound pleased.
Mace turns to him with a raised eyebrow. "It may be collapsed, but it may have been a Sith Temple nonetheless. It is better to leave these things untouched."
"We may have found things of value in our fight against the Sith there," Dooku murmurs, frowning.
"Spoken like a true Sentinel," Mace says. "But that is courting danger. And there have been no Sith in millennia."
"We Sentinels believe that one may only obliterate the darkness by chasing it," Dooku counters, a hint of steel in his voice.
"Perhaps," Mace replies, but the exhaustion is there, now. "But we must all be careful not to overestimate our ability to resist the temptation. I know most of all." His hand flickers absentmindedly over his lightsaber as he does so.
If Dooku notices, he says nothing. His hand hovers at his belt with the remains of the holocron, instead.
"My condolences, by the way."
"What for?" Dooku murmurs, glancing at his chrono.
"Xanatos DuCrion," Mace says. "Your grandpadawan. I assumed you were told."
"I was," Dooku says, as he turns to go. "But he was no grandpadawan of mine."
If Mace raises his eyebrow at this, he keeps his mouth shut.
Obi-Wan shudders into wakefulness.
He is cold. He is so, so cold.
Aside from the aching of his head and right shoulder, here is a hard lump at the place where his neck meets his left shoulder. Still half-awake and shivering uncontrollably, Obi-Wan reaches up and finds a solid bump under his skin.
"Don't freak out, kid."
Obi-Wan scrabbles backwards until his back comes into contact with hard durasteel.
"Hey, hey, take it easy," the voice says, gently. Obi-Wan shakes the panic out of his head, and finds a kindly-looking elderly male Dresselian staring back at him, silhouetted in grimy yellow light where he is sat on bare durasteel.
And behind him and stretching down and to Obi-Wan's right, dozens of sentients of different species and ages, all huddled in the dim half-light of a scant few glowlamps. The walls and floor of this chamber are of solid durasteel, except for a door-sized gap to Obi-Wan's left, which is sealed with durasteel bars. Beyond that, there is a corridor caked with grime.
The whole structure is vibrating with the characteristic hum of hyperspace travel. Above that, there is the odd snatch of muttering in a dozen different languages, as the passengers huddle beside each other, some sleeping, some speaking in soft voices.
Obi-Wan turns back to the Dresselian with wide eyes.
Perhaps his confusion shows in his gaze, because the Dresselian sighs, and pats his knee comfortingly as he speaks. "You were unconscious when they brought you in, boy. You must be new to the ship. That implant of yours still looked a bit red earlier."
Obi-Wan stares, one hand still rubbing the bump where his neck meets his shoulder.
The man frowns, golden eyes crinkling at Obi-Wan's silence. "Still in shock? Don't worry, none of us here will harm you – in this hold, at least. Can't speak for the handlers."
Obi-Wan taps his mouth, and slowly shakes his head. None of this is making any sense.
"Oh," the man says, eyes widening in realisation. "That's…that's not a bad thing. Depending on the master, some like it if they're guaranteed no talkback. Keep your head down, and do the work, and it won't be too bad for you."
An inkling of what this dawns at the back of Obi-Wan's mind, and his head turns automatically to his left, trying to examine what he cannot see of the lump in his nape.
"Hey, you don't want to do that," The Dresselian scrambles forward and grabs Obi-Wan's wrist. "You've probably got a newer implant, but it's still wired as usual to blow if you leave whatever area its keyed to, or if you tamper with it too much. Best to leave it alone."
Obi-Wan stares at his wrist, and notes the hard calluses that line the palm and fingers that clutch it.
He raises his head, a question in his eyes.
His companion's features soften in sympathy.
"Oh, you're completely new," the man gasps. "I'm sorry. I hadn't realised because you don't look that different from the rest of us."
Obi-Wan blinks down at his filthy tunics and cloak, and back at the other passenger's ragged clothing – and then down the rest of the hold.
Only now does he understand the scent of unwashed bodies and misery.
His next breath chokes in his chest as the full reality of his present situation crashes down upon him.
A grimy hand, surprisingly gentle, grasps at his cheek. "Boy! Look at me."
Obi-Wan raises moisture-filled eyes.
"You'll be fine," the Dresselian says, calmly, as if he has said these words a hundred times before – and he probably has, Obi-Wan realises with a jolt. How many young sentients captured for forced servitude have listened to these steadying speech, now?
"You're young," the Dresselian continues, gravelly voice steady. "You're strong, if your wrist was anything to tell by. You got any talents in writing, music, crafting?"
Obi-Wan nods, slowly. Slides his flute halfway out of his sleeve. Mimes writing.
The Dresselian smiles, and it is such a heart-warming thing, to see a sincere smile, that Obi-Wan feels his pulse calm.
"There we go." A hand pats Obi-Wan's shoulder. "If you can read and write and play music, and have the muscle for labour, your price will shoot up before you know it."
A shudder runs through Obi-Wan at the word price.
"I'm sorry," the gruff voice says. "But it would be better if you thought of more ways to make yourself valuable from now on. It'll keep you alive. I haven't got much time left."
Obi-Wan looks at the Dresselian anew.
"I'm getting old," the he says, simply. "I never learned to read. I can't do the work I used to. My eyes are going. I have no family. My father's father was a slave, as I was told – but I have left no children to be forced into servitude. For that I am thankful."
Obi-Wan reverses his hand and takes the elderly Dresselian's in his own. He cannot speak, but hopes to convey what he can with a small smile.
"Oh, you have a kind heart," the Dresselian says, wrinkled face smiling at him. "Take care to guard it, boy, and you will find yourself able to survive."
And with that, the Dresselian sits back in his spot next to Obi-Wan, wraps his rags tighter around himself, and begins humming a song.
Obi-Wan curls up tighter against the chill, and stares at his boots. There is a hard, flat object still tucked in his left boot, where the ankle meets his shin. He is confused for a moment as that, but then he remembers, and is glad that he still has Ben-Avi's sign-language datachip and reader.
And Huei, and Ezhno, and Garen and Reeft and Bant and Tahl and–
Obi-Wan grasps at the Force, the only thing still familiar to him. It has that frozen, suspended quality of hyperspace, but it is there. His training bond is a whisper at the back of his mind – even if Qui-Gon were at the end of it, he is too far off, and the bridge between them stretches on and on until it disappears into a mist of stardust.
He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes to stop the tears from leaking out.
Close on the heels of despair comes anger.
At Xanatos, for doing this to him. At the Force, for allowing this to happen.
Obi-Wan takes a breath. The Force is still there, despite his sudden resentment at it.
He does not understand. Is the Force not meant to unify? Have the Jedi not beaten back the Sith again and again in war after war, millennia upon millennia? Has Obi-Wan not done his duty and done it well – destroyed the Sith Holocron, prevented Xanatos from taking it?
What do you want from me, he cries at the Force, which even now runs around him and through him.
Memory awakens in the back of his mind – not by his own recall, but by the gentle prompting of the Force.
He remembers the history of the Jedi.
How many of his Order have fallen for less? Have given up their lives to a cause greater than their minds could comprehend, not for whole armies and systems, but for a single life, a small village, or an unknown person who would never tell their story to another ever again? How many Jedi have died nameless, graveless, drowned in mud or buried under water too deep to ever retrieve again?
Jedi seek no glory. They do what they must for the Force, and let results speak for themselves.
So, there remains a question, but it is not the one he cried at the Force, in despair and in bitterness.
It is What good will the Force make out of this, and how will it use me?
In the far corner of the hold, a woman screams.
Obi-Wan's eyes snap open, and he reaches for a 'saber that is not there.
"Oh, poor woman," his companion sighs, beside him. "A difficult thing, to carry a child with so little food. An even more difficult thing to birth it, here. All of us had hoped the child would wait until a new master chose them before it came."
Another scream rends the air. There is a flurry of motion far off in the murky light.
Obi-Wan's skin prickles. He is no healer, to be sure – but what he has learned of basic sentient biology and childbirth has long settled into his heart that women were warriors, all. But to give birth here, in this filth, with no healer or medicine, nothing to soothe the pain or aid the health of her and her child…
The stone flute in his sleeve warms, a sudden flare of Force-borne heat not of his own making.
Oh, he thinks. Oh.
Very well, then.
He pushes himself shakily to his feet, and perhaps he does not notice the buoying up of the Force under his weight, but as he picks his way across the hold, between sleeping children and wary-looking adults, some awake but others in varying appearances of disease – his feet grow more sure, and his heart strengthens as he draws his flute from his sleeve.
As he draws closer, Obi-Wan finds his path blocked by a determined-looking elderly human woman who glares at him as if he were a thief.
"Not one step closer," she snarls. "What do you want?"
Obi-Wan inclines his head respectfully, raises his flute, and indicates the group of huddled women behind her, beyond which he assumes the actual childbirth is happening.
The elderly woman skewers him with a sharp gaze, and lingers on the braid behind his ear.
The woman in labour screams again, a horrible, drawn-out thing that tapers off into little gasps.
The elderly woman closes her eyes. Opens them again, fierce. "Fine," she growls at Obi-Wan. "It might help distract from the pain." She reaches forward and grasps Obi-Wan's elbow in a sharp-nailed, iron grip. "You will sit here," – she forces him to the ground two paces from the group of women – "and look that way." She pushes his chin none-too-gently towards the rest of the hold, away from woman in labour. "Now do what you offered and play."
Some of the other inhabitants of the hold are looking towards them, now – some drawn by the woman's screaming, some disturbed from sleep by Obi-Wan's steps as he passed carefully by them.
Obi-Wan looks firmly over all their curious heads, raises his flute to his lips, and takes a breath.
The first notes are halting. Broken. He is unbalanced, and he knows it; these past days have been a maelstrom unlike any other he has experienced. But here, in this dank, dirty hold crammed with three hundred or so sentients, the woman behind him fights in an agonized battle he knows he will never be able to fully understand.
This is the most he can do here, in this moment; and it is enough.
The notes flicker into a melody, and the melody into a song; the Force warms his hands and heart, and the passengers of the hold shift; those who were not staring before do now, and those who were asleep awake and scrub hands over their eyes to watch him.
The scattered murmur of conversation dies away completely, until the only sound in the hold is that of crystalline flute-notes, and to Obi-Wan, the endless, flowing river in the Force.
Behind him, the woman's pain shimmers bright in the Force, but it diminishes, if only slightly.
She fights on, as Obi-Wan plays.
Coruscant Prime rises bright and merciless on another Coruscanti day.
Huei Tori stands in Chancellor Valorum's office like a statue of the Jedi of old. Expressionless. Unmovable.
He had insisted on coming to the Senate Building this morning, despite Feemor's protests. There was something missing from the Temple, now that Obi-Wan was taken, and Huei needed to…not be there.
At least the Chancellor has been kind.
Huei hears the door to the Chancellor's office open, and the Chancellor's familiar boot-steps enter, followed by another person whose stride and voice is unfamiliar.
"Ah, Bail," the Chancellor says, voice getting closer. "Let me introduce my young aide – Huei Tori, Jedi apprentice. Huei, this is Bail Organa, a member of the noble house of Organa, Alderaan. This is the first day of his Senate apprenticeship."
Huei inclines his head in the general direction of their voices. "It is good to make your acquaintance."
"I am glad to meet you, Jedi Tori," a warm voice says from somewhere a little above and to the front of him – a voice a little older than Huei, but not overmuch.
"Bail will be working with Minister Kenobi for the time being," the Chancellor says. "I'm sure you two will be bumping into each other quite often."
Huei forces down the lump in his throat at the reminder of Obi-Wan, and nods.
"I'm looking forward to working with you," Bail says. "And call me Bail. We're not that far apart in age, anyway."
Huei finds himself smiling a little, despite the worry still in his heart. "As am I," he says. And, as an afterthought: "Call me Huei."
Ezhno stands next to Fyrnock as the mortuary staff wheel her brother's body back into the next room.
She does not weep, but her hands are fisted at her sides. She wears one of Ezhno's spare uniform jackets in the place of her torn leather one.
"'Ey Fyrnock," Ezhno says, in what he hopes is a calm, respectful tone – he has never truly got a hang of tones – "Don't worry 'bout the funeral, yeah? Master Windu said it's all 'andled and stuff."
She turns towards him with a face completely blank, and says, slowly, "I think I know what I'm going to do now."
"I'm going to find the other members of the Cruorven," she says, and Ezhno looks down at the back of his wrist – at the tattoo of the screaming sarlaac still etched there.
He meets Fyrnock's gaze again, finds her eyes determined.
"And I'm going to help them," Fyrnock says.
"I can 'elp with that, too," Ezhno offers, before he knows what he is saying. He simply…lip-read her words, and his mind responded. "If you don't…mind," he amends, head-stripes darkening to the shade of warm honey.
She seems to consider this for a moment, and then smiles the barest of smiles. "Thank you, Ezhno."
He smiles in return.
"Do you prefer one-handed swords, or two-handed?" Tahl asks as she crosses over to the weapons rack.
"One-handed, Master Uvain," Alephi replies, looking over the rack with an expert eye. There is a tight, almost mechanical order to her steps. It belies the control she is attempting to exercise over herself.
This training salle is empty, except for the two of them; Tahl had made sure of that.
"Here," Tahl says, and hands Alephi a wooden dowel. "We tend to use unetched dowels," she explains. "Lightsabers tend to be of similar shapes past the hilt."
"This will do fine," Alephi says plainly, and sinks into a ready stance, hair swinging over the shoulder of her reinforced coat as Tahl selects a longer, hand-and-a-half dowel from the rack and takes up position opposite.
"Until first contact?" Tahl says. She meets her opponent's gaze.
Alephi's brown eyes hold a wealth of pain – both old and new, and well-controlled.
Tahl watches her swallow.
"It's Obi-Wan's life-day," Alephi says, suddenly.
Tahl closes her eyes. "Yes," she murmurs.
Alephi stares at the dowel in her hand, and then raises her head. New fire is in her gaze. "On your mark?" she says.
Tahl nods. She knows they both need this. "On my mark," she says. "Begin."
They fly into movement.
"Know what you wish, we do," Yoda grumbles as he stares down Qui-Gon Jinn across a half-circle of larmalstone.
The rest of the Council remains silent. Qui-Gon does not.
"If you know it, then say it," Qui-Gon says, eyes flashing.
The Council chamber cools a few degrees.
"–Master," Qui-Gon amends, watching Yoda steadily.
"Qui-Gon," Mace says. It is a testament to their shared exhaustion that it is said placatingly, and not warningly.
"Wish to find Padawan Kenobi, you do," Yoda interrupts. His gimlet eyes are inscrutable.
Qui-Gon draws himself up. "Yes."
"Give permission, should the Council not," Yoda says, "Still go, would you?'
"Yes," Qui-Gon repeats, like a dead man's last proclamation. He reaches for his lightsaber, holds it out like an offering.
Yoda and Mace share a look.
Then Yoda sighs, and his ears droop. He looks, for a moment, all of his years. "Our permission, you have," he harrumphs.
"Thank you, masters," Qui-Gon breathes, bowing his head. He turns to go; his pack is in the hall, and he has a transport ready in the Eastern Hangar.
"Qui-Gon," Mace calls after him.
Qui-Gon halts, midway out the doors.
"You must return to the Temple every three months," Mace says. There is not a trace of give in his brown eyes.
"Yes," Qui-Gon says, and resumes his quick step.
"Every. Three. Months," Mace repeats, baritone voice like thunder.
Qui-Gon pauses. Turns slowly. "Yes," he repeats. "I will."
And then he is gone.
Obi-Wan lets the flute-song fade away the moment he hears a new note rise from behind him; a sweet cry, more beautiful than any music in the galaxy. A new Force-signature that had been muffled by another flares into full brightness.
Obi-Wan lowers his aching hands, and draws a careful breath into a throat completely dry. He simply rests there for a while, eyes shut, listening to the echo of the Force still singing.
A hand lands on his shoulder. He swivels his head.
"It's a boy," the elderly woman who had barred Obi-Wan's way before murmurs, smiling at him through a film of tears in her eyes. "Do you want to come and see? She said you could."
Obi-Wan lets himself be led into the circle.
The new mother's face is covered in a sheen of sweat, but she holds a squalling, red-faced babe in her arms, wrapped in cheap, grimy wool. She is staring at her child as if he is the most precious thing in the galaxy.
Obi-Wan swallows past a lump in his throat as he stares at them, and inclines his head in greeting when she looks up at him.
"You're the musician," she says, in a voice hoarse from screaming. Past her waist, hidden behind a makeshift screen of broken parts and a ragged cloak, other women are still bustling with activity.
"Thank you," she murmurs. "Your music helped me. More than you know."
Obi-Wan is about to turn away respectfully when one of the younger women grasps the new mother's hand and says, "What are you going to name him, Shmi?"
The woman – Shmi, Obi-Wan amends – smiles down at her child in her exhaustion. "My son," she says, as the first of her tears begins to fall, splashing over the face of the baby. "I wish you to be great of heart. Your name is Anakin."
Anakin is too busy crying to respond to his mother's words, but there is a low murmur of congratulations around them, and Obi-Wan finds himself smiling, despite it all.
As he works his way back to his spot in the far corner, hands reach over to pat his arms, and there are smiles all around, even on the grimiest, gauntest of faces.
"Well done, boy–"
"Loved your music–"
"Play some more for us later–"
Obi-Wan settles back into his corner, and finds that his heart has calmed, and he is as tranquil as he has ever been – a supernatural peace. This is still not fine, not in the slightest – but he is calm, and steady. Someone hands him a bottle of unidentifiable liquid, and he takes a long pull. It tastes of minerals and iron, but slakes his thirst.
A little while later, he is called back to Shmi's side. Apparently she would like to properly introduce her son to him.
"What is your name?" she asks, once he has settled down next to her. Her brown hair has been rebraided, and she has been cleaned up; the bundle in her arms is quietly snuffling.
Obi-Wan taps his mouth, shakes his head, and extends his square of grubby flimsi.
Shmi peruses the flimsi for a moment, and raises warm, earth-coloured eyes to meet his. "It is good to meet you, Obi-Wan Kenobi. I'm Shmi Skywalker."
Obi-Wan accepts the flimsi, and bows his greeting.
Shmi's smile grows wider at this courtesy. "Here," she says, shifting the bundle in her arms. "Would you like to hold him?"
Obi-Wan is sure his eyes are the widest they have ever been as the bundle is placed in his lap. His arms close jerkily over the weight as a small pink hand pokes out of the layers of cloth.
"Don't worry, there's nowhere to even drop him," Shmi says in a businesslike manner. She leans over to press her lips to her son's tiny forehead. "Anakin," she whispers, "This is Obi-Wan. Be nice."
As Obi-Wan brings the baby closer and stares at the little, scrunched-up face, small blue eyes open and a tiny hand reaches up to grasp his braid.
Obi-Wan finds himself grinning, and as his memory catches up with him, his smile grows further.
It is his life-day.
He is fifteen.
The child he holds shares a life-day with him.
Obi-Wan cannot voice the words he wishes to tell the baby in his arms, but he leans close, and brushes his forehead across the much smaller one. In this moment, he wishes, with all his heart, all the joy and happiness and health and love he can upon this child.
Hello, Anakin Skywalker, he says in his mind, though there are none that know his words except for himself. It is lovely to meet you.
And though perhaps Obi-Wan does not know it, the Force has unified once more, as it has always done.
Anakin Skywalker falls asleep with Obi-Wan's braid in his hand.
The transport races on, through hyperspace, to star-systems beyond.
A/N: And so we've finally reached the end of the fourth arc! The next chapter will be the beginning of arc five, but I'll be flying to Japan on Friday so it might not come as quickly as the last few chapters have been. There will be a few interludes timeline-wise between this arc and the next in Silent Measures, so we'll see how everyone else does in the usual inter-arc timeskip.
I've moved up the Star Wars timeline by one year - in canon, Obi-Wan is sixteen when Anakin is born, but here they're fifteen years apart.
Check out my blog on tumblr for progress updates and more Star Wars goodness! I also post many short fics over there, so if you want more of my writing there's a masterlist there. Thanks for reading, and for the many lovely people who are reviewing and favouriting. 3 See you next chapter.