Title: Follow You Down
Category: Songfic, Drama, Adventure, some torture and LOTS OF ANGST, A sort-of sequel to JA 15, will be AU when JA 16 comes out.
Spoilers: Yes, for JA 15 "The Death of Hope"
Disclaimer: All recognizable Star Wars characters are the exclusive property of George Lucas. All others belong to me. The song "Follow You Down" is by the Gin Blossoms and belongs to them and whoever holds their copyrights I guess. I have no official permission to use any of this stuff, but I'm not being paid for it either, so it's all okey-day.
Feedback: Yes Please! Let me know I'm not writing in a vacuum, okay? =D
Time Frame: Directly following JA 15, so Obi-Wan is 16.
Warnings: Some very dark, heavy stuff here. In this story we get to look into the face of darkness and see if we can escape, so, take that as you will and read at your own risk. =D Also small, minor mention of drug use.
Summary: The emotionally devastating aftermath of Tahl's death sends Qui-Gon on a dark and dangerous quest that will in all likelihood end in his own destruction and fall. The only thing that might stand between Qui-Gon and the darkness that wants to have him is his apprentice Obi-Wan, but when even the Council thinks Obi-Wan should leave, will the Padawan risk his own life, future and soul to try to save his Master?
-Follow You Down-
Did you see the sky, I think it means that we've been lost
Maybe one less time is all we need
I can't really help it if my tongue's all tied in knots
Jumping off a bridge is just the farthest that I've ever been
Anywhere you go I'll follow you down
Anyplace but those I know by heart
Anywhere you go I'll follow you down
I'll follow you down but not that far...
Obi-Wan shivered slightly and wrapped his arms around his chest, hugging himself against the bone-rattling cold of the air, and the creeping chill of his own thoughts.
*"There is only revenge..."*
Qui-Gon's words echoed in the 16-year-old apprentice's head. He had never thought to hear something so totally antithetical to the Jedi way from someone he admired and respected so much. He understood that Qui-Gon was hurting and told himself that his Master did not really mean what he had said. It was the grief talking. The grief of losing Tahl, Qui-Gon's lifelong friend.
Obi-Wan clearly remembered his own, devouring grief over Cerasi's death, remembered the numb, depressed senselessness he had fallen into for days and days... and he had known her for so short a time, Qui-Gon and Tahl had been friends their whole lives. But it was more even than that. Obi-Wan had not realized it until that fateful moment when he entered the room to find Tahl dead, but his Master had been in love with Tahl.
Obi-Wan could still barely believe it. He had simply never thought of Qui-Gon that way, although he didn't know why. Yet it was so easy to see, looking back in retrospect, Obi-Wan wondered that he had not realized it sooner. It made him hurt even worse for the pain Qui-Gon was now going through. He had never been in love. He could not imagine the feeling of loss. But he was sure it was devastating.
Yet... there was no death, there was the Force. Wasn't that what he had been taught all his life?
It had been almost three weeks since Tahl's death, but the ominous hint of steel which had entered Qui-Gon's eyes that day had not left. If anything, it had grown harder and darker.
Obi-Wan hugged himself tighter. It was as if the man he had known for the past three years was gone, or at least incredibly buried within a shell of his own making.
Closing his eyes, Obi-Wan leaned back against the icy wall of the cargo bay. His breath fogged and hung listlessly in the frozen air. The cargo bay of this robo-freighter was not heated because it was not intended to be transporting organic life forms. However, these automated freighters were the only thing going in and out of the Phrygian system right now.
Phrygia Prime was under a complete quarantine. The Mixolydian plague had ravished the planet, claiming hundreds of lives. A strict ban on travel to and from the system had been enforced to keep the outbreak contained. Only completely robotic freighters carrying food, medicine and other necessaries from Republic Aid and Disaster Relief organizations were allowed in or out.
Thorough cleansing by intense micro-waves was preformed upon every craft exiting the system before they were allowed to leave, killing any biological life aboard. To the Republic Quarantine Committee, this meant that the virus did not spread. To Obi-Wan all it meant was that there was no chance in any of the seven hells that they were going to be able to get off Phrygia Prime once they were there.
He had pointed that out to Qui-Gon, perhaps a trifle tersely due to the recent tension growing between them, but his Master had ignored him. After all, what did Qui-Gon care if they ever got off again? If they were right and Balog was there, then Qui-Gon's purpose, his one goal ended on Phrygia. Obi-Wan shuddered and it had nothing to do with the cold.
--Two Weeks Earlier, the Council Chamber, Jedi Temple, Coruscant--
Yoda shook his head, but it was Mace Windu who spoke.
"This is madness, what do you hope to accomplish beyond destroying yourself?"
Qui-Gon's flickering, blue image stood before them, his back ramrod straight, hands tucked into his sleeves, his face betraying nothing.
"I am not asking the Council's permission," Qui-Gon said simply. "I am informing them of my decision."
"Your decision to cast aside all you have learned, hm?" Yoda looked deeply disturbed.
"The situation here is under control, another Jedi team can be brought in to settle the final matters," Qui-Gon's voice was resolved. "Balog has left New Apsolon. I have gained information about his whereabouts and intend to follow."
"For what purpose Qui-Gon, justice, or revenge?" Plo Koon asked the question that was on all of their minds.
Qui-Gon's answer chilled them all. "I'm not trying to justify myself to you. I am reporting on events, that is all."
"Beware the Dark Side Qui-Gon," Adi Gallia said softly, never having thought she would have had to say those words. "You are walking the thinnest of threads, do not let it claim you."
Qui-Gon said nothing, but the determination in his eyes did not change. He had failed Tahl. He had known what was going to happen and had not prevented it. He had failed her then, but he would not fail now. He *would* avenge her death, he *would* bring her killer to justice, no matter what price he had to pay.
A momentary silence stretched over the room. It was not a comfortable one for any of them.
"I don't suppose it will do us any good to forbid you to go," Mace Windu said with a heavy sigh. It never had before.
"No," Qui-Gon shook his head, an almost hint of a smile briefly touching his lips, before vanishing instantly. "I am taking myself out from under the authority of the Council. What I will do, I do on my own responsibility alone."
"You wish to leave the Order?" the question was blunt.
Qui-Gon hesitated, but only for a moment. "No. But if I have to, I will."
"And Obi-Wan? Take him with you you will?" Yoda's eyes were accusatory. "Drag the boy into the destruction you are rushing towards?"
"Obi-Wan will return to the Temple," Qui-Gon shook his head. "I know you will see to his training and should the need arise..." Qui-Gon suddenly found himself unable to finish the carefully rehearsed words. Unable to speak of the possibility that a new Master would have to be chosen for his Padawan because he had died, or worse, fallen too far away to ever go back.
"No!" Obi-Wan's young voice suddenly interrupted the proceedings. Up to that point he had stood quietly behind Qui-Gon, and out of the discussion, but now he stepped forward, into the range of the holo-transmitter and into the view of the Council.
"With all due respect Masters," he bowed his head deferentially. "My place is with my Master, I will not be sent back to the Temple like an errant initiate."
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon's voice was sharp and the Council could see Obi-Wan flinch slightly, but the boy stood his ground.
"I'm not going back. You can't make me. If you leave me I'll follow you. You know I will," Obi-Wan spoke his open defiance calmly. What would Qui-Gon do? Lecture him about obeying orders? Given the present situation, that would be ridiculous.
"Padawan Kenobi, do you realize what you are choosing?" Mace Windu's voice was hard.
Obi-Wan took a deep breath. He knew he could be slitting his own throat. Three years ago on Melida/Daan he had made the choice to defy orders and leave the Jedi Order completely. It had been a mistake. After some weighty misgivings, the Jedi had eventually accepted him back. The Padawan doubted they would do so a second time.
Yet he had to do what he felt was right. He had learned much since Melida/Daan, about choices, responsibility and learning what path he was meant to follow. Right now, he felt that this was his path. He would remain by his Master's side, whether Qui-Gon wanted him or not. He had accompanied the Jedi Master to Telos to find Xanatos when the Council bid him stay; he would do no less now. He could do no less. If Qui-Gon were left alone now, he would surely be lost, Obi-Wan felt certain of it, and he would not let that happen. He would not see his Master lost to the Dark Side, no matter what he had to do to prevent it, or what he had to risk giving up.
"I realize that my duty is to my Master. Our destinies lie along the same path, at least for now."
"Decided you are?" Yoda inquired, yet his look was strangely... neutral. Almost as if he could read Obi-Wan's thoughts on the matter, but Obi-Wan supposed he was seeing what he wished to see.
"Yes, Master Yoda, I'm sorry, but I am. I will not leave Master Qui-Gon to face this alone." Obi-Wan meant so much more then just the physical danger that Qui-Gon stood to encounter.
"Made, your choices are, both of you have," Yoda sank back in his chair, shaking his head. "Dissuade you we cannot. Guard yourselves, danger there is. Darkness there is, seek to have your souls it will. Let it win you must not."
Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan both nodded simultaneously and the transmission was unceremoniously severed.
Mace Windu sank back in his seat. "I fear Qui-Gon is already lost to us, and through his own stubbornness Obi-Wan will follow the same path."
Yoda shook his head slowly. "Hurting Qui-Gon is, angry. But turned... not yet. On the edge he is. Perhaps..." he looked thoughtful. "Perhaps the only thing to stand between Qui-Gon and darkness, Obi-Wan is."
Mace shook his head uncertainly. "He should have returned. He is too young, too impressionable to be subjected to this. If chooses to leave now, perhaps he will never be able to return."
"Perhaps," Yoda admitted slowly. "But pure his heart is. Seek to save his Master he does. More good can he do Qui-Gon now than any of us."
Depa Billaba shook her head sadly. "Yes, but at what price to himself?"
The question hung in the air, but there was no real answer that they could give to it. There was silence for a few moments as the Council gravely pondered the sad events of the past week. One of their own had died, and now perhaps they would lose two more, either to death... or to worse things.
Slowly, one by one, they disbanded silently, leaving only Yoda remaining in the vaulted chamber, staring blankly at the empty spot on the floor where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's images had been.
"May the Force be with you both," he whispered softly. "And may it return you to us again."
"You should have gone back," Qui-Gon told Obi-Wan unequivocally after terminating the conversation with the Council.
Obi-Wan folded his arms; more than a little irritated by Qui-Gon's behavior, but hiding it fairly well. "My place is with you."
"I don't need someone to take care of me," Qui-Gon snapped, surprising Obi-Wan and himself. He hadn't meant to come across quite so sharply.
"I don't want to take care of you Master, I want to help you, but you won't let me!" Obi-Wan's frustration bled into his voice.
Qui-Gon sighed softly. "You can't help me. No one can."
"Because you do not let them," Obi-Wan said quietly.
Qui-Gon turned away. Obi-Wan may or may not be right, but it didn't change anything. He knew what he had to do and he would have no peace until he accomplished his goal.
"You should go back," Qui-Gon said calmly. "You're throwing your future away."
Obi-Wan wanted to scream. Didn't Qui-Gon understand why he was doing this? It was nice to know that Qui-Gon had at least considered the Padawan's future, but what about his own? Was the Jedi Master so ready to throw his own future away? And did he honestly expect Obi-Wan to stand by and let him?
"I'll go back when you do." Obi-Wan could be every bit as stubborn as his Master.
Qui-Gon was silent for a moment. When he finally responded his voice was devoid of emotion.
"All right then, come, we're wasting time."
||END OF FLASHBACK||
Obi-Wan opened his eyes, letting the memories drain away from him. They had chased Balog through a dismal array of grimy underworlds and seedy spaceports as the former Absolute leader tried desperately to shake his relentless Jedi pursuers.
Obi-Wan could not remember the last time he had eaten. Sleep was an even more foreign concept. He had never hoped to see such a motley cross-section of lowlifes as they had been wading through for the past several weeks. The two Jedi kept a hectic schedule. Days and nights passed by in a blur, leaving Obi-Wan feeling drained and exhausted. Sometimes they had been on no less than three different planets in the space of a standard day-cycle.
Qui-Gon regularly did not eat or sleep for days. Obi-Wan knew the big Jedi was running himself into the ground, and Obi-Wan was not far behind. He had long known he was not yet able to match his Master's stamina and endurance, but Qui-Gon had always been considerately careful to not push his Padawan past what he knew to be the boy's limits. That is, he had been before. Now Obi-Wan wondered if sometimes his Master forgot that he was even there... or perhaps... the young Jedi swallowed hard. Perhaps Qui-Gon was actually *trying* to lose him.
If Obi-Wan had thought Qui-Gon remote and distant when they first met, the Jedi Master was now all but unreachable. Obi-Wan knew Qui-Gon's actions were born out of a pain so deep that he could barely comprehend it. The big Jedi was a man of deep feeling; Obi-Wan had found that out in the years they had been together as Master and Padawan. Where everyone else saw defiance, stubbornness and a dangerous anger, Obi-Wan could see blinding pain that hid, just under the surface, driving these acts and this relentless search that the Council condemned. He only wished that his Master would let him help. Qui-Gon needed healing, not revenge, to sooth his broken heart. But he wouldn't let anyone near, wouldn't let anyone help him...
Obi-Wan curled his fists into frustrated balls. Every time he tried to reach out to Qui-Gon he was rebuffed, rejected, shut out. He knew it was nothing personal, Qui-Gon was pushing everyone away from him. However, that knowledge did not make the repeated rejections easier to deal with emotionally.
So now they were on their way to Phrygia Prime, the next, and apparently last leg of their long and draining quest. In a last, desperate attempt to hide from the doom that he felt sure was following him, Balog had smuggled himself onto the quarantined world where he felt sure he would not be followed, or at least that's what the Jedi's last sources had told them.
The Mixolydian plague was deadly, there was no known cure for it and no vaccination against it that had permanent effects. There was a drug, that offered a limited immunity to the deadly virus, but it was good for a week at a time only, before it would have to be renewed. Doubtless, this is what Balog had done for himself. It was the same thing the two Jedi had done.
The only problem was, the drug was new and relatively unstable. No one knew yet what repeated usage might do to the body, or for how long it would continue to remain effective. It was a move of obvious desperation and anyone would have to be mad to follow.
Obi-Wan grinned mirthlessly. So, maybe they were mad. If Balog thought to lose them by this, he had sadly misjudged Qui-Gon's obsessive drive. The Padawan was glad to be close to the end of this horrible journey, but he feared just what the end would bring. Once they found Balog, what then?
He was afraid that Qui-Gon intended to kill Balog when they found him. To kill out of anger and a yearning for revenge would destroy Qui-Gon, but Obi-Wan no longer felt sure that he could stop this from happening. In his exhausted, hungry, freezing state, he no longer felt sure about anything except that he would follow his Master anywhere, even if it was only so Qui-Gon would not be alone. Yet there were depths to which even Obi-Wan knew he could not go. If Qui-Gon should choose the dark road... Obi-Wan could not follow him down that far.
Obi-Wan took his head in his hands. He could not consider those possibilities! He could not imagine losing Qui-Gon to darkness! The very thought threatened to shake everything he was and everything he believed in. This whole situation was taking an incredible toll on the young man's strength and spirit.
Wearily, Obi-Wan's gaze drifted over where Qui-Gon sat, unmoving, five feet and a million light-years away. The chill was growing unbearable, but if Qui-Gon felt the cold, he did not show it. He seemed lost in thought and barely aware of his apprentice's shivering presence.
Obi-Wan tried to keep his teeth from chattering. He was bone weary and had not slept in so long he had forgotten exactly just how long it had been. Sleeping in these freezing conditions however, would be a mistake. Their thermal wraps and Force-enhanced abilities to cope where the only thing standing between the two men and hypothermia.
The cargo didn't need heat, and sustained only a thinly breathable atmosphere to ensure the best results for the precious cargo of food rations and medical supplies. Obi-Wan had heard stories about people trying to smuggle themselves in these types of freighters in an attempt to escape the law, or oppressive political regimes. Most of the people he'd heard about had died in the attempt. Of course, none of them had been Jedi. Obi-Wan hoped that difference was enough. This was not really the way he wanted to end his life.
They had been in this small cargo hold for the better part of six hours and were still three hours away from their destination, according to the figures they had obtained before smuggling themselves aboard. Obi-Wan was so tired. So tired...
Qui-Gon stared into space, his tall frame crunched into the small, dark confines of the cargo freighter. His mind seemed strangely numb, but it had nothing to do with the cold. He vividly remembered the look he had seen in the eyes of that one woman as she knelt over the still body of the man she had loved in a forsaken, dusty gorge on New Apsolon. Remembered his own cruelly prophetic thoughts at that moment. Yes, that had become him. Funny, he couldn't even remember their names. He was usually very good about remembering things like that. Yet now, it seemed that it barely mattered, nothing mattered.
The pain that burned inside his heart drove him relentlessly. He knew he was pushing himself and Obi-Wan very hard, but if he stopped, if he slowed down... then he had time to think. And thinking brought only heartache.
He felt lost. Maybe he wanted to be lost, because maybe it would hurt less if he just accepted the ice that was creeping into his soul.
Qui-Gon's eyes flickered momentarily over to Obi-Wan. The Padawan sat, hunched over and hugging himself against the cold. The boy was drawn and haggard, and Qui-Gon was sure that he himself looked no better. He was sorry Obi-Wan had chosen to follow him on this quest. His own fate mattered little to him now, but Obi-Wan's was a different issue. The boy deserved the full, rich future that his dreams and his talents could give him, not this.
It was true, despite his protests; some part of Qui-Gon had felt glad when Obi-Wan chose to come with him. But it was selfishness Qui-Gon knew, because the Padawan's presence gave the hurting Master a certain level of stability and... comfort. As the chase dragged on, Qui-Gon regretted Obi-Wan's presence, because he feared he was going to lead the boy to his own ruin, but Obi-Wan still refused to leave.
Qui-Gon sighed. The boy was stubborn. If only he would give up and leave Qui-Gon to the fate that was waiting for him. Obi-Wan's presence was a hindrance, because it kept pulling Qui-Gon back towards life, towards hope, but Qui-Gon's hope had died... so what was there?
Qui-Gon suddenly became aware that Obi-Wan was shivering uncontrollably. Bringing himself back to the moment, Qui-Gon's brows furrowed as he realized that the apprentice was losing his battle with the cold.
Obi-Wan's mind was hazy and he felt himself slipping towards a sleep he knew he must resist. Suddenly a new warmth spread over him. For a moment, panic blazed through the padawan, because he was very aware that when you were freezing and suddenly started feeling warm again, it usually meant that hypothermia had taken hold and you were on your way out.
The young Jedi's eyes flew open, but he was relieved, if slightly surprised to find that the warmth was coming from Qui-Gon, who had moved to sit next to the shivering boy and wrapped Obi-Wan inside his over-cloak with him.
Obi-Wan exhaled deeply, allowing himself to relax against Qui-Gon's frame. It was nice to know that Qui-Gon did remember he was there and still must care at least a little about him. He had begun to feel increasingly as if his Master resented his presence.
Qui-Gon helped Obi-Wan maintain his body heat, and allowed the boy to drift into a light doze. Goodness knew the young Jedi needed some rest. Qui-Gon sighed softly into Obi-Wan's hair, which rested directly under his chin as the boy slept against his chest. Had the Force blessed him or cursed him with this boy? Every time he was ready to give up everything, there was Obi-Wan, making him want to live again. Making him remember that not all the love in his life had died with Tahl. Right now, he didn't want to remember that.
Obi-Wan awoke groggily several hours later to find Qui-Gon shaking him.
"Wake up Padawan," Qui-Gon said, crouched on his knees, his hand resting on the hilt of his lightsaber. "We have arrived on Phrygia Prime."
I know we're headed somewhere, I can see how far we've come
But still I can't remember anything
Let's not do the wrong thing and I'll swear it might be fun
It's a long way down when all the knots we've tied have come undone
Anywhere you go I'll follow you down
Anyplace but those I know by heart
Anywhere you go I'll follow you down
I'll follow you down but not that far...
Obi-Wan held his arm still as Qui-Gon administered another shot of the anti-toxin. Two weeks. They had been on this miserable, death-ridden planet for two weeks now.
Obi-Wan felt sick at heart over the sheer magnitude of the misery and death they had seen here. At first it had hurt to see it, now it numbed him. He wanted to get out of here more than he had ever wanted to escape any place in his life. He didn't know if it was a warning of the Force, or just his own, overworked feelings that whispered to him that death and ruin awaited them on this planet. Whatever the cause, the feeling was beginning to fill his heart like the stench of death that filled the air above the dying cities of Phrygia.
If Qui-Gon felt the warning, he said nothing.
They had been able to confirm that Balog had in fact, come here, but then he had dropped out of sight and although they had been all over the small planet, they had yet to catch a glimpse of him.
"Maybe he's already dead, Master," Obi-Wan suggested, rubbing his arm lightly where the injector had made it sore.
Qui-Gon shook his head, administering a similar injection to himself.
"He's still alive, and I'm going to find him."
"Why?" Obi-Wan asked, unable to hold the question back any longer, even if he did fear the answer.
Qui-Gon was silent for a moment as he rolled down his sleeve. "Because I must."
"But *why* must you?" Obi-Wan wasn't about to give up that easy. "You have always told me not to act unless I could feel the Force guiding, I don't feel the Force here Master, and neither do you."
Qui-Gon's eyes hardened slightly. He had his own doubts and demons to fight; he didn't need Obi-Wan constantly questioning him as well.
"No one is making you stay Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said coolly.
Obi-Wan recoiled slightly, stung by what seemed to him a callous insinuation that his presence was unwelcome to Qui-Gon. He had given up everything to stay with his Master, and Qui-Gon didn't even want him?
"No one except the Republic Quarantine, that's all," the apprentice laughed mirthlessly.
Qui-Gon turned away. Guilt assailed him. He had brought Obi-Wan to a place that could very possibly kill them both. He had not only failed Tahl, but now he had failed Obi-Wan as well. Just as he had failed Xanatos and everyone else he had ever cared about in his life. Grief squeezed him like the hug of a gorgodon, threatening to crush the life out of him.
"I didn't ask you to come," he whispered, his back to Obi-Wan. "If I could send you back, I would."
It was too much. Obi-Wan had discarded his own future to follow this man to hell so that his Master would not have to walk these burning paths alone, and all Qui-Gon could think was how much he wanted to get rid of him?
Pain hazed Obi-Wan's vision and stole his breath away. He suddenly felt once more like the un-cared for, rejected Initiate that no one had wanted before he began his apprenticeship with Qui-Gon. Now Qui-Gon no longer wanted him either. The padawan bit his lip. He had forced himself on Qui-Gon and the Master resented his presence. A small, cruel voice whispered to Obi-Wan's heart that perhaps Qui-Gon had never really wanted him at all and had secretly resented his presence all along. He knew that wasn't true, but it hurt all the same.
Obi-Wan choked on the painful lump that rose in his throat and anger washed through his being despite his attempts at control.
"I came here because of a man whose commitment and wisdom touched and changed my life, showing me everything that I hoped I could someday become," Obi-Wan's voice shook slightly. He was still talking to Qui-Gon's back. The big Jedi would not even turn to face him!
"But I don't know you anymore Master! You've let grief and anger into your soul and are doing everything you've ever taught me not to do! Tahl is dead, Qui-Gon. You cannot bring her back to life, and you dishonor her memory by letting the man she loved be destroyed!"
Qui-Gon rounded on Obi-Wan so fast that the apprentice took several quick steps backward. For an instant the flashing anger in Qui-Gon's eyes made Obi-Wan's heart race and he thought the big Jedi was going to strike him.
"Get out!" Qui-Gon snapped, his jaw clenched in anger. The boy's words had cut much too deep into the pain that was devouring him.
Obi-Wan balled his fists at his side, hurt and anger warring inside him. He had tried to be understanding, he had tried to help, but Qui-Gon had refused to let him. Suddenly the boy found himself stumbling backwards as if an invisible hand had smacked into his chest and flung him into the door. Startled, Obi-Wan nearly lost his footing.
"Get out!" Qui-Gon repeated, still livid.
Again Obi-Wan felt the invisible power nail him against the door at his back. He wasn't really hurt, but shock burned its way through the young Jedi like a physical pain as he scrambled to get his shields up. Qui-Gon was Force-shoving him.
Stunned, angry, hurt and afraid, Obi-Wan palmed the door open. There were unshed tears in his eyes that he could not hide.
"All right Qui-Gon, you want me to leave, I will, and I hope I never see you again!" the boy choked out around the sorrow that was clenching his throat shut. "Go ahead and destroy yourself! I hope you do!" He didn't mean the words, not really, but at the moment he didn't care. Storming out the door Obi-Wan literally ran away from the small hostel in which they had been staying. If he could have slammed the door behind him, he would have. Instead, the door merely calmly shut itself automatically, seeming a bizarre contradiction to the emotional explosion that just ruptured the room.
Qui-Gon did not move for several moments, but stood as if rooted to the spot by his own swirling emotions. In those few moments it seemed that the downward spiral both he and Obi-Wan had both been involved in hit rock bottom. Their lives had unraveled to this point, the knots that had been their handholds slipping out one by one and threatening to plunge them both into the abyss from which there was no return.
Qui-Gon stood still until the rage that had exploded unbidden inside of him had drained away. Force... what had he done?
Sinking to his knees, Qui-Gon buried his face in his hands. He was losing himself. The anger he was allowing to exist was slowly taking over him. Part of him desperately wanted to call Obi-Wan back, to go after the boy and apologize, but he did not. It was better this way. Better for Obi-Wan to leave him. Obi-Wan would only be hurt by continuing to remain on this ill-fated quest, because in the end, Qui-Gon knew what he would have to do. It was better that Obi-Wan not have to see that. Not have to witness his own Master's fall. If he loved Obi-Wan, he could have no more to do with him. And Qui-Gon did love Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan wondered the streets aimlessly until his own anger had cooled and receded into a dull, aching void within his chest. He deeply regretted his parting words to Qui-Gon. Of *course* he didn't hope that Qui-Gon destroyed himself, that was exactly what he *didn't* want! So why in the galaxy had he said something so cruel?
Obi-Wan grimaced. Maybe he was so busy looking at Qui-Gon's odd actions and problems that he was missing his own. Was he so caught up in his own feeling of self-righteousness that he didn't recognize the dangerous pain and anger creeping into his own soul?
The crumbling, run-down streets of Phrygia spread around Obi-Wan like the wasteland of his ruined life. Even the formerly nice areas of this city had become dilapidated as plague ravished the planet, destroying it as certainly as the anger and pain that was striving to destroy the two Jedi whom fate had brought here. However, this was the bad section of town and the filth and decay was even worse than elsewhere. This was not a particularly safe place to be, but Obi-Wan was not concerned for his own safety.
Slumping down to sit on a dirty curb, Obi-Wan rested his chin in his hands. He had failed his Master and now he could not go back. What in the galaxy was he going to do? He had turned his back on the Jedi to follow Qui-Gon, and now Qui-Gon had turned his back on him, leaving the apprentice trapped on this dying planet with nowhere to go and no one to turn to.
Maybe he would die here, the thought crossed Obi-Wan's mind grimly. That would be fitting somehow, a meaningless end to a worthless life. Maybe he wanted to die.
Someone sat down next to Obi-Wan and the young Jedi forced himself to look up. A young girl, probably about his own age sat next to him. Her black hair flopped in her face and her shabby clothing was suggestively scant. Phrygia was a colony world. The original inhabitants had long ago been driven away and the settlers where mostly of human descent.
"Hey kid," the girl said in an over-friendly voice, wrapping an arm around Obi-Wan's shoulders. Her slightly glassy eyes suggested that she was high on something. "You look down."
Obi-Wan shrugged her arm off. "This world is dying in case you hadn't noticed," he said bluntly. He doubted she would really comprehend much of anything he said.
True to his suspicion, the girl just laughed as if he'd said something funny. "Everything dies, I die, you die... we all die..." her voice was slightly singsong.
"Here, wanna hit?" she offered him a small twist of spice. It wasn't glitterstim, but Obi-Wan knew it was some kind of narcotic.
"No," Obi-Wan pushed her hand away. He wanted to be alone. "Go away."
"Poor boy, so blue! Come on, it'll make you feel better!" the girl teased, waving it in front of him.
"Don't have to worry, I've got plenty," she continued on, oblivious to Obi-Wan's desire for solitude. "They ran out of medicine down at the center, so they started giving this out instead. Heaps and heaps of it down there," the girl said pleasantly.
Obi-Wan grimaced. So, the authorities had given up trying to cure the dying populace and now hoped only to drug them into a happy oblivion so they did not feel the suffering around them as they all slid slowly towards their doom. The padawan had never felt more hopeless than he did right now.
While he was sitting there, considering the sad state of things, the girl next to him unexpectedly snapped the spice twist in two, releasing its potency, and pushed it into Obi-Wan's mouth.
Obi-Wan gagged in surprise and tried to spit it out, but it was too late. The broken twist dissolved on contact and the euphoric thrill of the drug raced through his system, hitting his senses with an artificial feeling of giddy lightness. Obi-Wan fought his body's reaction at first, but then he gave up and let it run its course. What did it matter anyway? It certainly wasn't an unwelcome thing to not feel bad for a few minutes, even if it was only an artificial change.
"See?" the girl giggled, watching Obi-Wan's eyes glaze over as the potent spice did its job. "Feel better, dontcha?"
Obi-Wan shrugged; a little disorientated and confused. "I guess."
The spice was incredibly potent. Something inside Obi-Wan shouted warnings as it stole his control away from him, but the drug had him too far gone to fight it now. It felt blessedly good to not hurt, to be rid of the hopelessness gnawing at him, but he knew it was a fake release only. A small part of Obi-Wan's mind shuddered to think what undesired side effects the spice could have on him, but there was really nothing he could do about that now.
"Anything else you want?" the girl asked with a suggestive smile. Pulling Obi-Wan's head over she kissed him, pushing him so that they both fell backward.
Completely stunned and feeling like he was running five steps behind everything, Obi-Wan felt the girl pull him down to the ground and roll on top of him as she kissed him.
Force knew Obi-Wan's body wanted to respond to her, to the drug pumping through his system, but it was wrong. He knew it was wrong.
Pushing her away he pulled himself unsteadily to his feet.
"What'sa matter?" the girl tried to follow him, running her hands over his arms and chest.
Obi-Wan backed away trying to escape her touch and shaking his head, horribly disorientated and confused. How had he let himself get to this point? What was happening to him?
"No, no, I'm sorry. Please, please leave me alone," Obi-Wan felt that he had to get out of there and get out of there fast or he was going to lose the control he was struggling to regain. Tearing himself away from her advances, Obi-Wan ran away down the street quickly.
Confusion pumped through his veins as the spice-haze clouded his brain and made him unsure if anything he saw and felt were real. Obi-Wan ran and ran until he could not run anymore and then he slumped to the ground, leaning against a wall and breathing hard. The spice was starting to wear off and the crushing depression that drug's heady high left in its wake was even worse than what Obi-Wan had been feeling before.
Leaning his head forehead against the wall, Obi-Wan tried not to give into the sobs which wanted to claim his young body.
He was so out of it that he never felt the man approach him from behind until the cool, smooth circle of a blaster muzzle was pushed behind his ear, right by the base of his braid.
"How nice to meet you all alone little Jedi," a harsh, familiar voice sneered.
Obi-Wan jerked and looked up to see Balog's anger-pinched face glaring down at him. An instant later the blaster behind his ear discharged and Obi-Wan felt a blinding flash of searing pain, and then nothing.
How you gonna ever find your place?
Running in an artificial pace
Are they gonna find us lying face down in the sand?
So what the hell now we've already been forever damned
Anywhere you go I'll follow you down
Anyplace but those I know by heart
Anywhere you go I'll follow you down
I'll follow you down but not that far...
When Obi-Wan woke, his body was on fire and his head throbbed. Sheer pain was emanating from behind his left ear and he groggily realized that he must have been hit by a stun bolt at close range. The memory of Balog's face leering over him rose up in his memory and the young Jedi's eyes sprung open.
Obi-Wan groaned slightly as the light momentarily blinded him and made his reeling head swim some more. He just bet that a good portion of his current problem was being caused by a spice hangover as well as the stun ray. How could he have been so stupid as to allow this to happen to him?
As his swimming vision finally cleared, Obi-Wan found that he was dizzy for another very good reason. He was dangling upside down by his ankles from the exposed rafters of a small, shabby room. His hands were bound behind his back and hung outward from his body at an uncomfortable angle, making his shoulders ache. The tail of his padawan braid brushed the floor several inches below the apprentice's inverted head.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Obi-Wan tried to ease the pressure of the blood that was pounding in his temples. He wondered how long he had been hanging like this. From the way his body hurt, it felt like it had been a long time. The cheerful thought came to his mind that he had heard people could die from being hung upside down too long. But no, if it was Balog who had captured him, then he had worse things to worry about.
"So, you're awake." Balog's voice jerked Obi-Wan's eyes opened once more. From his vantage point, all Obi-Wan could see were the older man's boots, but he could hear the raw hate in Balog's voice.
A vicious kick in the stomach made Obi-Wan's sore muscles spasm painfully, knocking the breath out of his body as he swung backwards from the force of the impact.
Twisting his wrists, Obi-Wan tried to bring the Force to bear on the ropes that held him, but his brain was still muddled and the pain in his body was disrupting his connection. He could feel the Force, but it slipped uselessly between his fingers when he reached for it. Balog kicked the apprentice sharply in the face and the shock of pain from the blow totally shattered whatever concentration Obi-Wan had. Blood trickled from the corner of the boy's nose and mouth, running down his face the wrong way because of the angle he was held at.
"Why couldn't you just leave me alone you stinking Jedi? Why?!" Balog demanded, lashing out to catch Obi-Wan in the stomach again.
Obi-Wan stifled a moan, momentarily doubling-over upward until gravity pulled him out straight again despite the pain.
"You just had to keep following me, didn't you? You forced me into this hell-hole and even then you leave me no peace!" the angry man raged, punctuating his words with more abuse towards Obi-Wan.
Blood ran freely down the side of Obi-Wan's face and into his hair from a gash that Balog's boot had opened on the side of the teen's chin. Air came in short, gasping breaths through his clenched teeth.
"Y-You killed a Jedi Balog," Obi-Wan said coldly, trying to keep the pain out of his voice. "And who knows how many others. You can't expect to escape the consequences."
"Oh yes I can," Balog swore, kicking Obi-Wan sharply between the shoulder blades. "Because now I've got a bargaining chip. I've got you."
Obi-Wan laughed bitterly. "You've got nothing Balog. My Master won't deal with you. He wants to be rid of me nearly as much as you do. Kill me and do him a favor," the young Jedi spat out. Perhaps he did not really think that Qui-Gon would actually wish him dead, but the hurt in his voice was very real anyway. It gave Balog a moment of pause, but then the man's eyes narrowed shrewdly.
"Nice try kid," he shook his head. "But you don't get off that easy. I think you underestimate your Master. He will come, and when he does, I will have no need to negotiate." Balog grinned evilly and realization dawned on Obi-Wan. This was a trap for Qui-Gon and he was the bait.
Obi-Wan struggled hard with his bonds, twisting his wrists until they bled. "You won't get away with this Balog!" he said, not caring how unoriginal it sounded. "It is you who underestimate Master Qui-Gon! He will never fall for your trap. He will know you are lying!"
Balog smiled ruthlessly. "That's the beauty of it kid, he'll never talk to me. He'll never know what I'm planning, he may never even know I'm involved until too late."
Obi-Wan looked confused. How exactly was Balog expecting Qui-Gon to find them?
"You," Balog said simply, enamored with the genius of his plan. "You will lead him right into my clutches."
"Never," Obi-Wan refused stonily.
"But you'll have no choice," Balog was grinning again, Obi-Wan could hear it in his voice. "Since I have recently found myself pursued by a pair of Jedi, I thought it prudent to do a little studying up on them," he explained pacing around Obi-Wan.
"I found out some most interesting things about your kind, but I was especially intrigued by the idea of your Master/Padawan bonds. They say you can feel each other, so I wonder, can you feel each other's pain? I think you can."
Obi-Wan took a deep breath, attempting to repress his body's desire to shiver, he was afraid he knew where this was going.
"I think that if he feels you in pain that precious Master of yours will come running double quick. And I'll be waiting for him."
Obi-Wan heard Balog pick up a large object off a table, but could not see what it was. His body tensed as Balog's wicked plan became clear.
"I won't let you succeed," Obi-Wan said, trying to draw on his reserves of calm. "What you don't seem to know is that I can shut our bond down on my end. He'll never know a thing."
Balog looked patronizing. "I'll bet. But can you, under a healthy dose of Force suppressants? I don't think so."
With a rush of alarm, Obi-Wan realized that his difficulty in accessing the Force had not been due to his physical state as he had thought. Balog must have given him something that did not completely cut him off from the Force, but severely weakened his ability to access it or bend it to his will. Balog was devilishly clever. He must have known that if he blocked Obi-Wan from the Force entirely he would have risked blocking the connection he wished to use as well, so he had merely rendered Obi-Wan incapacitated and unable to even shut down his own, open connection to Qui-Gon.
"The suppressant I used will dampen the effect of your bond a little, I am sure, but that just means I'll have to work you a little harder to make sure it gets through, doesn't it?" Balog's laughter was cruel.
Pressing the modified electro-jabber in his hand against Obi-Wan's side, Balog let the jolts of paralyzing pain rip through the young Jedi, making him convulse, before calmly removing the 'jabber and applying it to Obi-Wan's other side.
Obi-Wan bit his lip, summoning all his strength to deal with the torture, still desperately attempting to tamp the possibility of any of this getting through to Qui-Gon. Unfortunately, his efforts were in vain. He could not even summon enough control to send a warning.
Balog tortured the boy mercilessly and eventually Obi-Wan could no longer stifle his cries of pain. He wished he would pass out, but Balog was too cruel to allow him that. He needed Obi-Wan aware and in pain for as long as was physically possible to accomplish his purpose.
"You see Jedi?" Balog hissed, relishing the apprentice's screams. "Soon you will be glad that he comes, yes? Then you can both die and find release."
Qui-Gon had felt the surge of danger and warning sweep over him and knew instantly that Obi-Wan was in trouble. Then their bond had gone eerily silent, suggesting that the boy was either unconscious, unable, or unwilling to communicate with him.
Despite what he thought about their separation being for the best, Qui-Gon would never abandon Obi-Wan if he were in trouble. The Master had searched, but found nothing. Obi-Wan had disappeared without a trace... just like he had told him to do. Qui-Gon clenched his fists. If anything happened to Obi-Wan now, because of him, Qui-Gon knew he really would be lost because he would have totally, utterly failed everyone he had ever cared for. Worse than failed them, he had caused their demise.
Then, hours later, it had started. He had felt first confusion and distress and then pain emanating from the open end of his connection with Obi-Wan.
//Obi-Wan where are you? What's happening? Where are you?!// he called again and again, but there was no answer, only more pain, building, growing, becoming unbearable in its intensity.
Qui-Gon did not know if he could not get through to Obi-Wan because of whatever was happening or because of the rift that had come between them. But he did know that he had to find Obi-Wan and find him soon or the boy would not make it.
Reaching out to the Force to try to hone in on Obi-Wan's location, Qui-Gon was surprised to find that it responded sluggishly to his call. But then, he should not have been surprised. He knew that if he turned his back on the Force, it would turn its back on him. He knew his disturbed emotions and anger robbed him of focus, but he could not let any of that interfere right now. Not when Obi-Wan's life could depend on it.
Having to work a lot harder than he liked, Qui-Gon eventually was able to track the source of Obi-Wan's presence down to a row of deserted, worn-out apartment buildings overlooking a gloomy avenue. The sagging structures towered some twenty stories high. It was eerily quiet here because the plague had cleared this entire section of the city out and there was no one alive in these buildings. No one, that is, except Obi-Wan and whoever else was with him.
Qui-Gon's steps slowed. He did not know what kind of situation Obi-Wan was in, but it was obviously a volatile one and he had to be wary of a trap. After all, barring accidents or random acts of violence by local scum, there was only one person on Phrygia who would have an actual reason to wish harm upon he or Obi-Wan.
Qui-Gon's blood boiled at the very name. If that man had hurt his Padawan, it only gave him more reason to make sure that he never hurt anyone again.
Obi-Wan was barely conscious. The pain was terrible, but almost as bad was his own feeling of failure. If he had been more attentive and not let himself get all messed up with that girl, Balog would have never been able to capture him.
Suddenly, the pain ceased and Obi-Wan sobbed shakily for breath, his body trembling uncontrollably.
"He's here," Balog said with satisfaction, looking at a surveillance view-screen showing Qui-Gon's distinctive form slip silently in through the building's front door, 22 floors below them. The building's electric lift had stopped working years ago and the only way to reach the upper floors was the creaking set of staircases that connected every floor to the one above it.
"Go on up the stairs fool," Balog murmured as Qui-Gon disappeared from view up the staircase. "Your doom awaits you."
Balog moved to the window. "I must be going now. You see, this building is rigged. As soon as anyone sets foot on the fifth flight of stairs this whole place is going to blow sky high, sending both you and your Master to join that Force of yours."
Chuckling, Balog opened the window to access the fire escape outside. Suddenly, a strong set of booted feet kicked him straight in the chest, knocking him backward.
Balog reeled back and fell down. Before he could recover himself Qui-Gon had swung in through the window and stood over him.
"You look surprised Balog," the big Jedi said, a deadly ice in his eyes. "Were you expecting me to take another route?" Qui-Gon did not know about the booby trap, but when the Force had warned him against the stairs, he had listened.
"You know, the window on the third floor lets you out onto the escape as well, and you can go up or down." Qui-Gon had moved with incredible speed to make it up the narrow rungs of the fire escape as swiftly as he had.
Cursing, Balog drew his blaster and whipped off a fast series of shots. Qui-Gon's lightsaber was in his hand in an instant and he deflected the bolts of energy, using the Force to rip Balog's blaster out of his grip. Scrambling backward, Balog rolled over quicker than sight and grabbed Obi-Wan's head, which still dangled directly above the floor. Pressing a needle against the boy's neck, Balog threatened to jab it into Obi-Wan's soft flesh.
"Stay back Jedi!" he warned. "There is enough Mixolydian virus in this needle to overcome any antidote. The boy will die a horrible death and you won't be able to save him!"
Qui-Gon's eyes blazed dangerously, but he powered down his lightsaber. "Let Obi-Wan go."
"Drop your weapon, put your hands up against the wall," Balog demanded.
"Don't do it Master, he means to kill us both!" Obi-Wan warned, his voice still thick with pain.
"Shut up!" Balog cuffed Obi-Wan sharply on the side of the head. In that instant of distraction, Qui-Gon sprung into motion. Tugging the needle away from his Padawan's neck with the Force, Qui-Gon closed the distance between them and kicked the hypo out of Balog's hand, sending it flying across the room to smash into the wall and shatter.
Balog leaped to his feet. Using Obi-Wan like a pendulum, he pushed the boy forward, slamming him into Qui-Gon and using the momentary distraction to jump out the open window.
Taking a moment to cut Obi-Wan free, Qui-Gon was out the window after him in a flash.
Dragging himself to his feet, Obi-Wan forced his protesting body to follow. Sticking his head out the window he looked around just in time to see Qui-Gon's boots disappearing above him onto the roof. That must be where Balog had gone too.
Swinging out onto the narrow rungs of the escape, Obi-Wan began to realize just how much he hurt as he forced his arms and legs to carry him upward. His hands trembled on the rungs and his head spun dizzily, but there was no way he was going to leave Qui-Gon alone to face Balog. The wind outside was stiff and fierce, threatening to blow the young Jedi right off the side of the building. Wisely refusing to look down at the ground, dangerously far below, Obi-Wan clung tenaciously to the thin rungs and moved steadily upward.
Hauling himself up onto the roof, the apprentice saw Balog flee across a narrow piping structure that created a sort of bridge to one of the adjacent building's roofs. Pulling a second, concealed blaster from his belt, Balog blasted the bridge that he had just used, leaving a gaping drop 15 meters wide and 23 stories deep between the two buildings.
Running to the edge, Qui-Gon did not hesitate, but easily leapt the distance, landing sure-footed like a cat.
Obi-Wan sped after his Master, not realizing until he attempted to use it that the Force was still not entirely at his command. He tried the jump, but nearly as soon as his feet had left the ground he knew that he was not going to make it.
Qui-Gon felt a flash of alarm and whirled around quicker than sight. He hadn't realized Obi-Wan was following him, but he saw the boy leap, and knew he was going to fall. The young Jedi would never survive the impact this far above the ground. Reaching out with the Force, Qui-Gon jerked Obi-Wan the rest of the way across the distance.
Obi-Wan landed hard on his stomach on the rooftop and Qui-Gon pulled him to his feet. Obi-Wan couldn't meet his Master's eyes.
"I'm sorry Master, I'm sorry," he breathed raggedly, realizing he may be costing them the time needed to catch Balog.
Qui-Gon just squeezed his arm. Obi-Wan was trembling both from his narrow escape and the pain he was still dealing with. Force! The boy felt so week under his touch; he was in no condition to be chasing around like this.
"Stay here Obi-Wan!" Qui-Gon ordered, before sprinting off again. He was not going to lose Balog now!
Obi-Wan bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. "Like Sith I will," he murmured at his Master's retreating form, defiantly pulling himself to his feet.
Qui-Gon chased Balog across that roof, and the next. There were only so many rooftops that were near enough for Balog to make the crossing and none of them had any access to the buildings below. Eventually they ended up going in a giant circle until Qui-Gon cornered Balog against the edge of a roof overlooking the same one they had started upon.
Suddenly vaulting over the edge, Balog jumped, despite the five-story difference between the two buildings.
Balog landed on the roof, but his leg twisted under him and snapped in a hot blaze of pain, bringing him down to his knees.
Qui-Gon jumped lightly down behind him and Balog attempted to wheel his blaster around but a powerful Force-shove disarmed Balog and knocked him flat on his back.
"You can't run from me anymore Balog," Qui-Gon's voice was frighteningly cold.
Balog could not go anywhere fast with a broken leg, he knew the Jedi had him. "Go ahead Jedi, kill me," he taunted. "Kill me and break everything in that precious code of yours."
"I intend to," Qui-Gon said, his voice low, but incredibly menacing. He lifted his lightsaber in one fluent move.
Balog flinched, instinctively raising his arms over his head, for all the good it would do him.
Suddenly Qui-Gon found his blade sharply checked by another beam of light. Blue light.
Obi-Wan stood over Balog, his lightsaber clutched firmly in his hands. "No Qui-Gon! I won't let you do this!" he said firmly.
Qui-Gon was surprised, but did not back off. His blue eyes snapped fire. "Move Obi-Wan," he commanded.
"No! You don't want to do this! Please Master! It's the Dark Side, don't let it have you!" Obi-Wan pleaded fiercely, his hands trembling on his lightsaber hilt from both emotion and his weakened state. He could see the darkness swirling around Qui-Gon like a storm, threatening to consume him, to take away the man Obi-Wan knew and replace him with a twisted shadow of himself, like it had done to Xanatos and too many others.
The look in Qui-Gon's eyes frightened Obi-Wan more than anything in his life had ever frightened him before. He could still see Qui-Gon deep in the depths of those blue pools of ice, but he was teetering on the edge over an abyss of darkness and one more step would finish him.
"Get out of my way Obi-Wan, I'm warning you," Qui-Gon said dangerously, yet Obi-Wan could see the struggle behind his eyes.
The young Jedi held his ground, his lightsaber still in the defensive position. He had to hope that Qui-Gon would not fight him, because Obi-Wan knew he stood no chance against the older Jedi in his current state. The wind whipped around their ears, making Qui-Gon's long hair blow around behind him and whipping Obi-Wan's braid about his neck, seeming to add to the chaotic, desperate feeling of the moment.
"You'll have to kill me too Master," Obi-Wan said quietly, but firmly. "And I know you won't. This isn't you Qui-Gon, fight it!"
The battle within Qui-Gon was great. Obi-Wan was right, even in the grip of his burning desire to take Balog's life, he would not strike at his padawan, but he would not let the boy stand in his way either.
Obi-Wan nearly lost his footing when he felt the wave of Force-power slam into him. But he had been expecting it this time and managed to hold his ground, repelling the Force-shove his Master had directed at him. For a few brief moments their wills clashed as it became a silent struggling match.
Beads of sweat ran down Obi-Wan's face. He was under no illusions. He was no match for Qui-Gon when it came to brute strength and control, especially with his connection to the Force not yet completely back up to par. Yet still he struggled to hold his ground as Qui-Gon's relentless will tried to push him back, away from Balog. However, it didn't even seem to be Qui-Gon's will anymore, it was almost disattached from him as if the darkness swirling around were spawning its own malice and using Qui-Gon as a conduit. The darkness had not yet entered his heart, but it wasn't far from it.
Obi-Wan knew he was loosing this battle, his feet began to slide backward and he felt his tenuous control crumbling under the onslaught. But he could not loose the battle for Qui-Gon's spirit. There was only one possible way left to stop the horrible transformation that wanted to take place, Obi-Wan realized suddenly. The grim revelation hit him hard because he knew it meant going down that path he had never wanted to take. It would mean forfeiting his own life, his own soul... yet suddenly, Obi-Wan found that he was ready to do it. Obi-Wan was already willing to trade his life for Qui-Gon's, now he realized he was willing to trade his soul for him too.
Suddenly switching his grip on his lightsaber, Obi-Wan angled it downward.
"All right Qui-Gon, you want him dead?" the apprentice half shouted over the building roar of the wind. It now seemed that the turbulence was being caused by the struggle between dark and light that was occurring on the rooftop rather than by any natural climatic elements.
"It's worth that much to you Master? Then I'll kill him! This slime has murdered innocent people, stolen my Master from me, made my life hell and delighted in torturing me for hours! I've got just as much right to want him dead as you do!"
Qui-Gon was taken off guard by the abrupt reversal of positions, but he knew the padawan was deadly serious, he could see the dark power now swirling around Obi-Wan, seeking its way inside him. Seeking to devour him just as he had watched it devour Xanatos. Obi-Wan was consciously choosing to let it have him. The moment was so horribly, eerily familiar Qui-Gon felt chills shoot up his spine. He had never thought to see that darkness he had seen in Xanatos' eyes cloud Obi-Wan's bright face, but now it was there all around the sixteen-year-old, waiting for him to strike the deathblow that would let it claim his entire life and destiny forever.
Obi-Wan raised his lightsaber. "I've got plenty of reason, but that's not why I'm going to kill him Qui-Gon," his voice dropped, his knuckles whitening on his lightsaber hilt. Obi-Wan could no longer control his own terror at the thought of what he was about to do, so he gave up trying and felt a sense of empty futility claim him as he prepared to strike. What did it matter? What did anything matter anymore? He'd already been forever damned.
Obi-Wan locked eyes with his Master one last time before stepping off the edge of the abyss. "I'm going to kill him so you can't."
Anywhere you go I'll follow you down
Anyplace but those I know by heart
Anywhere you go I'll follow you down
I'll follow you down but not that far...
I'll follow you down
Follow you down.
"I'm going to kill him so you can't." The steely declaration rang in Qui-Gon's ears.
Obi-Wan's eyes locked with Qui-Gon's for one terrible instant and blinding realization washed over the Jedi Master. Obi-Wan was choosing the darkness because he believed that by so doing he could save Qui-Gon from that fate. If he let the Dark Side claim him, it might leave Qui-Gon alone, and if he killed Balog, then Qui-Gon's reason to turn would be gone.
Only it wouldn't be. In his heart Qui-Gon knew that if he was forced to watch Obi-Wan slip away like he had Xanatos, then his own ruin was sure. It was all familiar, all too familiar and the very familiarity of it blared like a wake-up call in Qui-Gon's brain. Had he not seen the devestating work of the Dark Side already? How then, could he walk towards its clutches so willingly? How could he have come to this point he had always dreaded the thought of, where he was about to lose Obi-Wan to the same darkness that had claimed his former Padawan?
Obi-Wan's blade sliced down towards Balog's neck.
"Obi-Wan, NO!!!!" Qui-Gon shouted, horror at what was about to happen shaking him out of the darkness he had been letting himself fall into. Suddenly he saw it all now, he saw clearly what the end results of the choices he had been making was going to be. He had known he was going to lose himself, but he had never figured on taking Obi-Wan with him. How could he have come this far? How could he have been ready to give into this horrible darkness that he hated? He could see his own folly now, but had he finally seen the truth too late to save Obi-Wan?
//NO!!!// Qui-Gon screamed silently at the darkness that clutched at him. //No you will never have me! And you will not have Obi-Wan!! Do you hear me? NEVER!!//
Desperate to stop what was about to happen, Qui-Gon flung his arms out in front of him, summoning the Force at his call.
Obi-Wan was not prepared and the immense power of the blow that slammed into him threw him backward. His lightsaber twisted out of his grip, disengaged as he fell. The young Jedi hit his head on the lip of the railing around the roof and slumped to the ground.
Bright flashes crowded Obi-Wan's vision and the pain to his battered body was excruciating. Much worse though was the knowledge that he had failed. He had not been able to stop Qui-Gon. He had lost everything.
A few moments later Obi-Wan felt Qui-Gon's hands gently trying to help him sit up, but he pulled away from their touch, unable, unwilling to look up and see what the man who he loved like a father had become. He was sure Balog was dead, and while that in itself would cause Obi-Wan no serious amount of grief, the padawan knew it spelled ruin for his Master.
"Leave me alone, or kill me, I want to die," Obi-Wan's voice was small, weary and lost.
"You're not going to die Padawan," Qui-Gon noted painfully how Obi-Wan flinched at that word.
"Look at me Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon commanded, his voice soft, but firm. When Obi-Wan did not respond, Qui-Gon took the boy's bruised and bloodied chin in his hand and gently forced Obi-Wan's head up.
Obi-Wan was surprised that while he saw great amounts of pain and searing guilt written behind Qui-Gon's eyes, there was no darkness there, not even the shadow of it.
"Balog lives," Qui-Gon said softly, his eyes begging Obi-Wan's forgiveness. Forgiveness he knew he didn't deserve.
Obi-Wan's body relaxed and he slumped back against the lip of the roof, his breath hitching in a strange way that was far too close to sobs for his liking. He felt strange, weary, lightheaded... He was relieved that Qui-Gon had resisted, had fought the darkness and won, but now he felt his strength ebbing away from him slowly.
Qui-Gon was concerned by the boy's obvious injuries, concerned by the damage he knew he had inflicted when he threw Obi-Wan off of Balog, but he was even more concerned with the damage that had been done to Obi-Wan's spirit. Today the padawan had been through far too much for his still tender years and experience and the fear that this was going to leave the young Jedi scarred for life clutched tightly at Qui-Gon's heart. His own scars were going to take a long time to heal, but they never would if his reckless, destructive actions had wounded Obi-Wan for life.
"Obi-Wan, I'm sorry," Qui-Gon's hands trembled as he tentatively reached out to touch Obi-Wan's hand. "I'm so sorry," his voice caught, then broke and Obi-Wan was surprised to see tears on Qui-Gon's face. "I almost lost you, I almost lost myself, and it's my fault. You were right Obi-Wan, you were right all along and I didn't want to listen to you. Then when I saw it... the darkness on you... I understood. I remembered what I should have known all along. Please forgive me padawan, I've got no right to ask, but please try to forgive me."
"Don't..." Obi-Wan tried to wipe away Qui-Gon's tears, but found he didn't have the strength to lift his hands. "*I'm sorry.* I didn't... know what else to do. I didn't... I'm sorry!" A few tears traced down Obi-Wan's cheeks as well, but he didn't even feel strong enough to cry now. His head hurt so badly and thinking was difficult.
"Shh, shh, it's okay," Qui-Gon soothed, hesitantly pulling Obi-Wan towards him. When Obi-Wan did not resist, the Jedi Master gently folded the young man into his arms. "I know why you did what you did. It worked Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon almost could not keep speaking. "I'm just sorry you had to pay such a terrible price to get my attention."
"Y-you're not angry Master? You're not going to send me away again or let the darkness take you away anymore, are you?" Obi-Wan asked hesitantly, fear showing in his pain-glazed eyes. If Qui-Gon had looked closer into them, he would have seen that Obi-Wan's pupils were tight with pain, and did not dilate in response to the light around them the way they should, but Qui-Gon did not notice that yet.
Obi-Wan's body was tense with fear, unable to believe so easily after the long weeks of trial and hardship that everything really was okay again. Or at least, was on its way towards being okay. Qui-Gon smoothed the boy's hair gently.
"No Obi-Wan, I'm not. I will never, ever, send you away again or look so deeply into the face of darkness, I promise you that Padawan, and you know how I feel about promises," Qui-Gon's lips quirked into a pain filled half-smile.
Obi-Wan sighed in relief. "Then I'm happy Master... Master, look!" Obi-Wan suddenly shouted, pointing at where they had left Balog, all but forgotten.
Balog had worked his way to the edge of the roof and now quickly swung down onto the fire escape, navigating it awkwardly with his broken leg. Fairly throwing himself into the same window he had exited from not long ago, the man scrambled for the stairs, forgetting everything in his blind pain hazed panic, but certain that the Jedi were right behind him.
Obi-Wan struggled with his weak body, attempting to sit up on his own power. "He's getting away, we've got to-"
"No, Padawan," Qui-Gon's arms held him firmly. "Let him go," he whispered.
That was when Obi-Wan knew that Qui-Gon truly had conquered the war he had fought with the darkness. Obi-Wan smiled, sinking back against Qui-Gon's chest.
"I'm glad you're okay Master," he said softly. "I've been really scared for you."
"I'm okay because of you Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon murmured, marveling at it. Once more he had been saved from darkness because of Obi-Wan. It hurt him to remember how he had resented the way Obi-Wan could draw him back to the light, he now realized it was the only thing that had saved him from what he had almost become.
Obi-Wan was shaking now and Qui-Gon knew he had to get him some kind of medical attention soon.
"So... tired, Master..." Obi-Wan mumbled, his eyes beginning to drift shut.
Qui-Gon felt an ominous flicker in the boy's presence in the Force.
"Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan stay with me!" he said, alarm growing inside him as he rapidly scanned the boy's body. Concussion. Obi-Wan had a severe concussion and he was going into shock. Qui-Gon scooped the boy up in his arms and stood. He had to get help, fast. He would not loose Obi-Wan now, because of something like this!
"Hang on Padawan, I'm going to get you out of here," Qui-Gon assured, heading for the fire escape.
"No!" Obi-Wan's eyes flew open with sudden remembrance. "Can't, can't go down the stairs..." Suddenly another realization hit him. "Balog! Balog went down there... bomb!"
As if in answer to Obi-Wan's words a horrible shuddering explosion shook the building, nearly throwing Qui-Gon off his feet. Black smoke and flames belched up from below, filling the air. The structure wobbled and then lurched dangerously to the side as it began to collapse in on itself.
Taking a running leap, with Obi-Wan still in his arms, Qui-Gon just made it off the roof to the building next-door when the roof they had been standing on moments ago disintegrated and the whole building crashed down, smashing into the buildings next to it. It was a good thing that these buildings were all empty.
With no time to stop and consider anything but motion, Qui-Gon raced from one roof to another, attempting to escape the domino effect that the fallen building had created with the structures adjacent to it. Suddenly he screeched to a halt, his boots scrabbling against the tiles of the roof underneath him as he backed up, faced by a sheer drop with no way off or over.
The building beneath him shook. There were only moments before it too came down. Summoning up all the strength he could muster, Qui-Gon took the only option presented to him. Clutching Obi-Wan tightly to his chest, he jumped into space, using the Force to fling them as far away from the doomed buildings as he could. He felt Obi-Wan stiffen in his arms, but the boy was otherwise too weak to react. Besides, Qui-Gon realized with a pang, Obi-Wan trusted him. Even after everything they had just been though, Obi-Wan still trusted him enough that if Qui-Gon leaped off a building, Obi-Wan would go without question. Qui-Gon had never quite seen this so clearly before. It was an awesome and slightly scary responsibility to have someone trust you that much. Qui-Gon hoped to be worthy of that trust. He hoped this desperate gamble worked.
The big Jedi knew they were falling too fast, he could not use the Force to cushion them with so much velocity behind their descent, so instead he pushed them sideways as the ground rushed up to meet them below. Then, with reflexes that only a Jedi could possess, Qui-Gon grabbed the arching neck of the lamppost he had been aiming for. Their downward momentum was checked abruptly and Qui-Gon's shoulder screamed in pain as it was nearly yanked from its socket by the force of it. Clutching Obi-Wan tightly, he refused to drop the nearly unconscious boy. Their momentum swung them around the pole in a circle, and Qui-Gon's fingers slid free, unable to hold.
They free-fell the last three meters to the ground, but their momentum had been checked enough. Qui-Gon was not able to land on his feet, but cushioned the impact with his own body so that Obi-Wan was not jarred.
Springing to his feet, despite the injuries he had acquired in the fall, Qui-Gon sprinted away from the doomed, empty district as the final avalanche of rubble from the disaster Balog had brought upon himself toppled into the street.
Obi-Wan tried to smile as he looked up into Qui-Gon's worried face. "Let's not do that again Master," he said softly, with a wry grin.
"Why? Don't tell me you were scared Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon teased, amazed that he still could after everything they had just been through.
"No," Obi-Wan shook his head slightly. "I just prefer to have wings when I try to fly."
They both chuckled and were once again surprised that they could. There was no denying what had happened. And no doubting that the effects of this long ordeal were going to take time to heal, but the important thing was that they *would* heal.
"I'll remember that Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said softly. "Now we're going to get you some help."
With the ravished state of the planet, Qui-Gon knew it would be almost impossible to get a doctor to see Obi-Wan, but that was all right. All he needed to do was get to some medical facilities, and he could take care of the boy himself.
A month later Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan finally found themselves back on Coruscant. It had taken a long time and a lot of help from the Jedi Council to get them off of Phrygia Prime and they had both undergone substantial quarantine and medical procedures to ensure that they brought nothing with them.
Now, as they stood in the middle of the Council Chamber Obi-Wan wondered why he had been in such a hurry to get back. He could not help feeling a little apprehensive, and he knew that Qui-Gon did as well.
They had both done quite a lot of healing since that fateful day on Phrygia when they had both almost been lost. They had spent a lot of time meditating and had been able to help each other more than perhaps anyone else could have.
Qui-Gon now knew that he would always carry the pain of Tahl's loss with him, but he would also carry with him his memories of her and the love they had shared, even if for so short a time. And one day, he *would* see her again.
Obi-Wan had also recovered remarkably well, not only from the concussion, but also from the wounds to his soul.
Now it just remained to be seen what the Council thought.
Qui-Gon squeezed Obi-Wan's hand silently. Obi-Wan glanced up and smiled softly when he caught his Master's eyes. Somehow they seemed to say that no matter what happened here, everything would be all right, because the worst was over. They had withstood the hardest test that any Jedi could face, and they had won. From now on, everything else would seem small in comparison.
The meeting went on for a long time and there were plenty of hard questions asked of both of them. Neither Qui-Gon nor Obi-Wan denied how dangerously close their escape had been, but it was obvious that they had, in fact, escaped.
In the end the Council saw it too.
"It may tend to defy reason," Mace Windu said dryly, although perhaps secretly a trifle amused. "But it is the decision of the Council that it is unnecessary to consider suspension for either of you. We will however, continue to monitor the situation for a time until we are sure this has had no lasting ill effects that are not yet apparent."
"Thank you Masters." Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan both bowed in appreciative acceptance, exchanging a brief, secret smile between themselves as they did. Sometimes they amazed themselves at just what they could get away with. This particular situation was not one they ever wished to repeat however.
Yoda pulled them aside privately afterward. Out of respect, both Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan dropped down to one knee so they could be on the same level as the small master. For several moments, Yoda gazed searchingly into Qui-Gon's eyes, then he nodded slightly, as if pleased, or satisfied.
"Good it is, to see you again Qui-Gon," he said, his meaning deeper than the mere words might suggest.
Qui-Gon smiled slightly, not missing Yoda's true meaning. "It's good to be back."
"A good job you did Obi-Wan, keeping your stubborn Master safe, hm?" An impish look, which on Yoda passed for a smile, crossed the diminutive Master's face.
Obi-Wan flushed slightly. "I must admit that my motives were very selfish Master Yoda," he confessed glancing sideways at Qui-Gon with a timid smile. "I simply could not imagine my life without Master Qui-Gon. I need him too much."
Qui-Gon seemed a trifle surprised by Obi-Wan's very open confession, but he had to admit that he was not at all displeased.
"Hm... maybe listen to me better now you both will?" Yoda cocked an eyebrow, obviously amused. "Told you once, did I not, that meant for each other you were?"
"I must admit Master," Qui-Gon nodded with a wry grin. "You were right that time."
"Oh," Yoda said with a grin. "See how you are I do! So just 'that time' it is?"
All three of them laughed.
"Well," Qui-Gon said innocently, but with mischief in his eye. "I do recall a certain instance on Malastare..."
Yoda thumped his cane indignantly on the floor. "Speak not of that we agreed!"
"You agreed," Qui-Gon pointed out. "I didn't say anything."
"If talk about that we do, then Ionia we could mention..." Yoda fought fire with fire. After all, he had a lot more on Qui-Gon than anyone could ever hope to know about him.
Qui-Gon shot the little green Master a dark look, as if to say that wasn't fair.
"What? What about Malastare and Ionia?" Obi-Wan inquired with interest, enjoying the moment of levity.
"Nothing!" Qui-Gon and Yoda said nearly in unison.
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. They may yet have a way to go, but he was confident that things would return to normal very swiftly.... Obi-Wan paused, considering just exactly what 'normal' usually tended to mean for he and Qui-Gon. Hm... maybe that wasn't such a good thing... =D