Micah managed to keep his reaction under control, limiting his response to Siri Tachi’s brand new padawan braid to just a lifted brow. The initiates turned to see what he was looking at, and there was an immediate hubbub as everyone tried to congratulate her at once.
Obi-Wan Kenobi followed several other students in, stumbling to a halt when he spotted Tachi. He went ashen, and didn’t seem to recover any of the remarkable self-control he’d shown so far. Not good.
“Kenobi!” The kid jerked as he looked over at Micah, who gave him a pointed look. “Feeling under the weather?” He tried to keep the tone sympathetic but still a warning.
“Uh, uh no, Master Giett.”
Not good enough. Micah walked over to check the kid’s forehead – maybe a little clammy, but not a hint of fever. He scowled. “Sorry, Obi-Wan – off to the Healers. No sick students in this classroom.”
He couldn’t decide if it was reassuring or not that Obi-Wan almost tripped over his own feet on the way out. Had to help make it more convincing to the other students, but Tachi threw a suspicious glance at Kenobi’s departing back.
Micah made sure to congratulate her as he started up the lesson, hiding his internal flailing under routine and trying to figure out what the blazes he was going to do.
He still hadn’t come up with a good plan by the time class ended. Glancing at the time, he swore under his breath. In his distraction, he’d allowed the class to run long, and he’d be late for Council if he didn’t get a move on.
Master Tyvokka gave him an arch look as he slipped into his chair, which meant the meeting started off with Micah feeling like a crècheling who’d just missed getting caught. The tedium of routine was surprisingly useful, calming Micah’s nerves and giving him the opportunity to work different angles of the Tachi problem. That was all well and good until a discussion started about the trickier or more delicate missions that needed the Council’s attention.
Given how the day was going, he felt he shouldn’t be surprised when Qui-Gon was immediately named for one of the messier ones. The problem, of course, was that the man was perfectly suited for it. A planet was trying to resolve something too vague to be called a civil war, with at least four clashing factions. There was a strong cultural divide along frustratingly rigid lines and disagreements going back for generations. It was unlikely that the assigned diplomats would need to fight, but the situation was tense and fragile.
Including travel, it would take at least a month to resolve, and that was only with actual divine intervention. Anything from three to four months was more likely. Worse, there was no one else readily available that he could suggest as an alternative. Tyvokka had just gotten back, the language barrier could be a massive hindrance for the Wookiee Master, and they just couldn’t afford to have the head of the Order traipsing off like that for so long, so soon. Master Terwyn would be well suited, but she was already on a mission, and Knight Preet was on sabbatical. There was Tahl, but she was...still figuring things out, plus sending her solo into this sort of mess....no. Just no. Sending Tahl with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan would probably just compound the mess.
There wasn’t even a useful protest about the potential danger, since it wasn’t any more dangerous than the missions Obi-Wan had been on already.
The instant the meeting was over, Micah ducked out and tried to be subtle about hauling ass to Qui-Gon’s rooms. There was a small window of time between the end of meetings and the assigned missions being sent out, and he wanted to be the bearer of bad news. There were slightly higher odds that he could get Qui to see reason and not pull a runner or something else incredibly stupid.
When he saw their faces, he couldn’t help but think it was a very good thing he’d gotten there as quickly as he did.
“We need to talk to the Council,” Qui-Gon declared, grave and determined and enough to make Micah want to beat his head against the wall. “We hadn’t quite figured out how to say things so we didn’t barge into the meeting that just ended, but the next one is early tomorrow and we need you to schedule a time slot for us to address them about Siri.”
“No,” Micah declared, trying to gently shove Obi-Wan towards the sofa. “Absolutely not. Sit.”
“We can’t just let Dooku– ”
Micah poked Qui-Gon in the chest, cutting him off. “I agree, but this just got messier and panicking won’t help. Sit.”
At least his insistence seemed to get through. They sat, but Qui-Gon kept glaring at him. “You think we shouldn’t go to the Council.”
“I think going to the Council is useless at best.” He tried to ignore Obi-Wan’s betrayed look. “First off. Let’s pretend that for whatever reason, the Council doesn’t believe you. How can you be Sith, the Sith are long gone. Dooku couldn’t be Sith, for all the reasons you hashed through with me. You’ve Fallen. You’re a danger to your padawan.” Oh good, that made Kenobi go white, and Qui-Gon’s death glare intensified. “You’ll have to run, and I won’t be able to do anything for anyone.” He squelched down the possibility of the Council killing Qui on the spot, though he suspected Qui-Gon realized that well enough.
“Second. If they do buy it? You’re right there. Dooku isn’t. In the best case, you’ll be tied up with questions, and someone’s sent off to fetch him and that poor sap fails to bring him back. Siri might not even know why her new Master up and wanted to leave the temple immediately, but there’s a lot of places without communications they could disappear into.”
Kenobi’s stubborn look was heart-breaking, particularly given that the blood hadn’t made it back to his face yet. “You could ask Dooku to meet us there-”
“And if he smells a rat? I don’t usually talk to him, and he knows I’m Qui-Gon’s friend. Me asking him to show up at a Council meeting could make him run.”
There were times when he regretted the need to be ruthless. It wasn’t really the way Jedi should be, but situations demanded it of them far too often.
Making Kenobi’s face crumble like that, and watching Qui-Gon’s grim determination waver should never have been called for.
“...I could face him- ”
The sheer stupidity there made it easy to roll his eyes. It also confirmed that Qui-Gon was not thinking this through. “A full-fledged Sith battle in the middle of the Jedi temple. Yeah, that’s going to make the Council hear you out. And what if he uses Siri as a hostage, or she gets in the middle of it?”
Qui-Gon sat back a bit, frowning down at his knees. Micah dared to hope that he’d talked some sense into his friend.
Qui-Gon looked at Obi-Wan, who straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin, determination written all over his face. Here was a student who would follow his Master to the ends of the galaxy.
“We have to try,” Qui-Gon said, turning to face Micah again. “You can send an official Council summons to Dooku – he doesn't have to know it’s you. If he brings Siri with him, you and Obi-Wan can keep her safe, should something go wrong.”
Some days, the urge to throttle his best friend was almost too much. “The Council won't listen-”
“We have to try, Micah,” Qui-Gon repeated. “You listened. Maybe I’ve been underestimating the Council all this time. Maybe I’ve let Dooku poison me too thoroughly. And if they won’t listen....” He shook his head. “If we can shove enough proof in their faces, they’ll have to believe us, at least about Dooku. We can get the girl away from him, and Dooku will never get to corrupt another student again.
“And,” Qui-Gon glanced at Obi-Wan, and then back at Micah, “if we have to run, you can always ‘accidentally’ let us escape.” There was a shadow of a grin under Qui-Gon’s beard, much to Micah’s frustration. The man had obviously made up his mind.
Obi-Wan wasn’t sure if he was relieved or a little disappointed to be sent off to fetch food from the commissary. He knew that Master Giett was liable to use the opportunity to try yet again to convince Master Qui-Gon not to reveal themselves, but it wouldn’t work.
It was still weirder than he expected, to walk through the Temple and realize that within a rotation they might all think he was the enemy. This was almost worse than the persistent background worry that someone might find out. Since retrieving food had been a pretty overt cover for space to argue, Obi-Wan took a detour to the Room of a Thousand Fountains. A part of him wanted to pretend, for just a little bit, that everything was still fine, with no Sith or Dark side or drama pervading his life.
The rest of him wanted a moment of peace to cling to, a strong memory just in case things didn’t go well. If worse came to worse, then at least this time he would be leaving the Order of his own free will – and he would not be alone.
A few minutes of absorbing the peace next to one of the fountains left him feeling much better. He was trying to figure out if he needed to give the masters some more time – a bit of meditation might not go amiss – when a voice behind him made him jump.
“Loafing around, Kenobi?”
He was on his feet before he thought through all the possible retorts, and nothing seemed appropriate as he faced Siri. “No, I – no.” He had no idea what to say. As much as he wanted to just grab her by the hand and take her back to Master Qui-Gon, there were so many ways that could go wrong he didn’t even dare try.
“Glad you’re feeling better,” she said, enough bite to her voice to make it clear that if anything, she was a little scornful.
He gave her a blank stare before remembering Master Giett’s excuse earlier, and he flushed. “Oh, yes. Thanks. Ah, congratulations, by the way.”
“Thanks,” she echoed, sounding just as believable.
The silence stretched out, uncomfortable and surreal. “I’m not jealous,” Obi-Wan blurted out. Siri gave him a look, and he shook his head. “I’m not. I’ve just...heard some things.”
“What is your problem, Kenobi?”
“It’s not a problem! I’ve just heard that Master Dooku doesn’t– doesn’t always do things the approved way– ”
“You’re Qui-Gon Jinn’s student, and you’re complaining about doing things the approved way? Please. Are you jealous, or is this some weird thing where your master is jealous? Tell you what, you mind your business and I’ll mind mine!” Siri whipped around and started to stalk off.
“Just– just trust your instincts, please?”
She made a gesture that might have been an indifferent wave, or something much ruder.
Micah tried once again to scrub exhaustion off his face, for all that he knew it was useless. He’d hoped to present a strong front to Qui-Gon, but Qui-Gon had fought good sense and reason until after a tense meal. Obi-Wan’s little revelation about his encounter with Tachi hadn’t helped a damn bit, though Micah could only sympathize with the teenager. He couldn’t quite imagine being thirteen and stuck in the middle of trying to save an age-mate from a Sith.
Micah hadn’t slept too well after all that ‘vigorous debate’ and having to craft an anonymous message from the Council to Dooku. Hoping against hope that a few hours' sleep would make Qui-Gon more inclined to see sense, Micah got up early in order to give one last try at talking his friend down from this particular metaphorical ledge.
When Obi-Wan opened the door, all Micah could do was wearily wish that whatever was going on, he could stop being so behind the curve. Kenobi looked miserable – not the resolute kind-of-upset-about-potentially-overturning-his-life, but more things-went-seriously-tits-up miserable. Micah could barely wait till the door closed before blurting out, “What happened?”
“We got a com call about an hour ago.”
Oh no. “Dooku?”
The boy nodded. “It’s a kind of...empty message that looks like a normal apology for not stopping by, but he and– and Siri are needed elsewhere. Master Qui-Gon seemed to think there was a lot of gloating in it, but– but I’m not sure I saw any of that?”
No, if Dooku was as sly as Qui-Gon seemed to think, then– Wait. “Where is Qui-Gon?”
Kenobi didn’t seem disturbed as he sat down. “He went to check the Temple’s departure logs, found they left very early today, and then he went to the salles.”
On the one hand, Micah sympathized with Qui, and appreciated the man not wanting to inflict all that Darkness on poor Obi-Wan. On the other, he seriously wanted to hunt the man down and drag him back to his padawan by the ear. “Are you all right?”
The silence was not a good sign. When Obi-Wan looked up at him, it was with tragic nerf eyes. “Master Giett, do you think this is because I talked with Siri?”
Oh, Force. Forget the ear, Qui-Gon would be lucky to come back at lightsaber point.
Soothing and reassuring a distraught Obi-Wan had Micah in quite a snit by the time he tracked Qui down. It was at an ass-end of the Temple, down several levels into the old, empty corridors where nobody much ventured anymore. Built before the last reconstruction, the little sparring rooms not only closed but locked. Micah had no qualms about using his Council codes to override that, and he ducked in.
Against all his first instincts, he closed the door behind him. Darkness burned in the room, anger and agony twining through the air, and as Qui-Gon’s movements brought him around, Micah saw actual Sith eyes for the first time in his life. Corrupted yellow within a band of red, Qui-Gon’s gaze flicked to Micah, then dismissed him, focusing again on the movements of the spar.
Swallowing hard to dislodge his heart from his throat, Micah reminded himself that this was Qui-Gon. His friend, who would never hurt him.
Qui-Gon clearly wanted to hurt something, though. He fought against empty air, but Micah could see the absent opponent in the space left by Qui-Gon’s strikes, blocks, and dodges.
Finally, with a cry, Qui-Gon stopped, blade extended in a death-strike. The tableau held for a moment, Qui-Gon’s stance rock steady, even though he was sweating and panting for breath. Micah was frozen to the spot, much as he hated to admit it.
Some of the tension dropped from Qui-Gon’s shoulders, and he stalked towards the wall, where a towel and water bottle lay. He picked up the bottle, but didn’t drink. There was a beat of silence as something twisted in the Force. Micah jumped as Qui-Gon flung the bottle across the room to crash into the opposite wall.
What the hell was he supposed to do with that? Micah wavered, wondering if he should leave Qui-Gon alone for a while.
Putting his back to the wall, Qui-Gon slid down until he was sitting, arms hanging limply by his sides. “Why, Micah?” Qui-Gon asked, apropos of nothing. The eyes he lifted to meet Micah’s were blue again, and full of pain. “Why am I always such a failure?”
Micah really needed to get utterly plastered tonight, or at least find some way to work through the emotional swoop-ride these two kept sending him on. Not the easiest thing to do, riding the tail end of an adrenaline rush, but he wasn’t a Jedi Master for nothing.
He retrieved the water bottle to buy some time, then sat down next to Qui-Gon and handed it to him. He still didn’t know where to start, but Qui-Gon took the matter out of his hands.
“I hate him so much. I hate that he can predict me like this. I hate that he’s always two steps ahead of me and gods I hate that that poor girl is going to get dragged into all this. Obi-Wan at least knew what I was when he chose this, and I’m still so afraid that I’m going to ruin him, too. Did I do the wrong thing? Was I selfish, when I allowed him to convince me- Force, listen to me. He’s a child, and I ‘allowed him convince me’? I wanted to take another student. I did this.”
“I destroyed Xanatos without even meaning to, what will happen to Obi-Wan- ”
“Qui-Gon!” The near-yell got the man’s attention, at last. “Okay, yeah, it’s a mess, but it’s not your mess.” That made Qui-Gon’s brows furrow, so Micah quickly continued. “I mean, your part of it isn’t a mess- No, hear me out. If I thought for one second that you were a danger to that kid, I’d have run to the Council in a heartbeat. Some shitty stuff is happening, but you are not responsible for Dooku’s choices and fuckups.” He held Qui-Gon’s gaze until the idiot nodded. More in defeat than acceptance, but it was a start.
Micah was so out of his depth with these two. He dearly wanted to drag Tahl into things, to get her insights and advice, but she was way too smart not to start asking all the wrong questions if they only gave her part of the situation. Telling her the truth was not an option. Micah had only been willing to listen by the slimmest of margins, and asking for that kind of luck to happen twice in a row…no.
He took a sip of his beer, plotting. Qui-Gon was frowning down at his drink, and the kid’s fruit juice stood forgotten on the coffee table.
Obi-Wan sat, one leg bouncing in agitation, hands folded in front of him.
“Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon said quietly, putting one hand on the kid’s shoulder.
“It’s all my fault!” Obi-Wan burst out.
Qui-Gon leaned in, talking to the kid in quiet tones. Micah listened with half an ear, and it seemed to be a more coherent and elegantly worded rehash of what he’d told Qui-Gon in the salle, which, okay, fair enough. It was where the conversation went after that that worried Micah; Obi-Wan was determined not to let Siri Tachi be taken in by Dooku, even if it meant going to the Council. Qui-Gon, while not as gung-ho about it as his Apprentice, wasn’t exactly refusing flat out, either. Sith or no, these two were some of the most self-sacrificing Force-users Micah had had the exasperated pleasure of knowing.
Clearing his throat to get their attention, Micah sat forward. “So, I have a question. Why do you have to tell them – us – everything?”
“Hm?” Qui-Gon frowned.
“I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but you could, y’know, tell some selective truths.”
Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. “Lie?”
“Ehhh,” Micah did a hand-waggle, “not lying. You wouldn't be saying anything that wasn't true. Just... look. Don't go up there and tell the big unbelievable truth. Go to...Mace, say, and tell a small, believable part of it. Plant the seeds of doubt."
Qui frowned. "And what seeds would those be?"
“You trained under Dooku – you know his methods.” Micah shrugged. “So tell Mace that, given some of the lessons you got from him, and what happened with Vosa, you're worried that Dooku might have been...influenced, by the research he's been doing on the Sith.”
“Ha!” Obi opined.
“‘Influenced,’” Qui-Gon said dryly.
“It’s true,” Micah pointed out, “and it avoids getting you two in hot water.”
Qui-Gon frowned. “What if Mace doesn’t act on my ‘confession’?”
“Hey, not for nothing, but I am on the Council. I can bug him about it if I need to.”
“Huhhmmm. That...might work,” Qui-Gon said, a look of dawning relief spreading over his face. Probably because he didn’t have to throw the kid under the bus, if they did it this way.
“What are friends for?” Micah asked with a grin, then took a moment to contemplate the insanity that was his life. “And it will never stop being weird that apparently the answer to that is 'helping your Sithy friends escape the notice of the Jedi Order.'”
Qui-Gon worked hard to keep everything tight under his shields. He’d spent extra time meditating and reinforcing them before the meeting time he’d arranged with Mace. Still, he paused to take a deep breath before tapping the door chime.
“Enter,” Mace called. Qui-Gon stepped into the small office, bowing before sitting in one of the guest chairs.
“What is it you wanted to speak to me about, Master Jinn?”
He told himself it was his imagination that Mace said his name with a hint of disapproval, but it was impossible to know for sure when his nerves were so on edge. “I hoped I might speak to you in confidence, Master Windu.” Mace raised a brow, either in surprise or annoyance, at the respectful form of address, which Qui-Gon was not in the habit of using. Either way, he couldn’t afford to bog down in his anxieties now. “I have some concerns about Dooku taking on a student, but I have no idea where I might take them.”
Startling Mace took some doing, and even this didn’t quite manage it. He leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands before him. “I’m not sure I understand.”
Qui-Gon navigated his way through the carefully crafted ‘confession.’ The three of them – Qui-Gon, Micah, and Obi-Wan – had brainstormed every angle they could find, with Qui-Gon giving most of the input and Micah providing most of the suggestions on how to phrase things to keep Qui-Gon out of trouble. They’d run it through a few times, with Micah tossing in unexpected questions to try and throw Qui-Gon off, keeping him on his toes and ready to improvise. Now that the meeting was happening, Qui-Gon was only too glad that Mace wasn’t breaking out any insightful questions – it was nerve-wracking enough to get the standard scrutiny and slow nods. Even so, with every word, he half-expected Mace to ignite his lightsaber and denounce Qui-Gon as a traitor to the Order and the Force.
Somehow, miraculously, he managed not to stumble as he delivered his veiled warnings about Dooku’s ‘questionable’ training practices and talked with mild concern about what Obi-Wan’s agemate might be exposed to under Dooku’s tutelage. His words sounded hollow to his own ears, and he hoped it was only his own anxiety twisting his perception, torn as he was between terror and outrage.
Mace said nothing the entire time, listening with an intense air and slightly narrowed eyes. When Qui-Gon finished, the silence was thick for a long, stressful moment.
Then Mace nodded. “I appreciate your candor. This sounds like something I should discuss with some others on the Council. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”
It was a dismissal if Qui-Gon had ever heard one. He was light-headed with stunned relief as he saw himself out, hitting all the proper civilities by rote. He made it to the lifts without incident, without the Guardians descending upon him, and once alone in one, he slumped against the wall. Still feeling light-headed and now nauseous as well, he focused on breathing. Just breathing. If he didn’t, he knew his lungs would hitch into something like a giddy – hysterical – laugh, or an angry sob. Both, perhaps. Dear gods, he’d just gone and told the head of the Order that Dooku was mucking about with the Dark side. Oh, it’d come off like concern that the old bastard was dabbling with dangerous forces like some ignorant youngling, but it was absolute parsecs beyond anything Qui-Gon had allowed himself to imagine telling anyone.
He had told Mace. No accidents, no well-intentioned apprentices, just Qui-Gon, finally speaking out. Dooku might have gotten away, he might have taken Tachi with him, but for the first time, Qui-Gon had support at his side. If he could tell Micah the truth, if he could begin the first tiny steps towards the Order uncovering Dooku’s true nature–
Gods, it would be more than a victory; it would be the end of a nightmare.