Dooku feared him. It was mostly in an abstract, condescending way – the attitude of one who was always the master to an apprentice. Turning to the Dark side had made Dooku even more aloof and certain of his superiority.
Qui-Gon was certain that at least part of it was due to the fact that he was still not fully devoted to the Dark side. He'd committed many little sins over the years in Dooku's eyes, but lingering in the gray border between the Light and Dark, without ever really dedicating himself to either side-
He was considered weak for his refusal to choose. He was considered dangerous for his willingness to learn. He hovered above an abyss Dooku was comfortably within, and his eventual fall might very well come with enough force to shake his former master's place.
So Dooku played power games, and threatened him in snide little ways, and Qui-Gon... waited.
For what, he wasn’t sure. In many ways, he felt as if he was going to be waiting forever, for something that he knew would never come.
His current circumstances weren't helping, obviously. Dooku was off doing little lackey things for the real Sith Master Qui-Gon wasn't supposed to know about, and he'd left his former padawan to guard an obnoxious little hold on the far side of the galaxy.
From hordes of rampaging nerfs, or something.
For the third day in a row he'd completed his blade meditations, patrolled the hallways of the small, moldering keep, and found himself utterly at loose ends.
Boredom, he was familiar with. Boredom, he could deal with. His problem was not boredom. It was the quiet little whispers through the Force, hints of portents never understood, muddied by the Dark or perhaps highlighted, he was never quite sure.
He was starting to wonder if he was quite mad. Perhaps lingering on the cusp between Light and Dark pulled one too far in opposite directions, the winds of madness buffeting one until finally it would only take one last, little push to-
The Force rippled, then screamed around him. He dropped to his knees, almost blown down by the psychic explosion. After a breathless moment of eternity, the sensation of howling Darkness quieted, leaving... something behind. It was difficult to judge distance, but Qui-Gon thought it might be within the keep itself, though at the point furthest from where he now knelt.
It was a ball of Darkness like he had never felt before. It radiated, throbbed through Dooku's hold, vibrant with rage even through the Darkness that Qui-Gon had grown accustomed to.
If this was not Dooku's master, then this surely would be another of his Tests. With a feral grin, Qui-Gon unhooked his lightsaber and ran.
Well, this was a fucking hell-hole. Venge rolled his shoulders and glared around. Wherever he was, it was dank, dark, and seething with the Dark side. He'd just dropped into a Sith lair. While it didn't have the rank power behind it like Sidious', he was not anxious to stick around any longer than he had to.
The attack almost came without warning, only the faintest whisper in the Force prompting him to whirl about, lightsaber raised as a Sith-red blade crashed into his. It was a fast, sloppy block at an awkward angle. Instead of merely staggering, Venge went over backwards, barely managing to turn it into a tuck and flip that had him bouncing to his feet across the room.
His opponent was fast, and skilled. The Sith was already lunging at him, pressing the attack, and a part of Venge was glad. To be able to just fight, with clear battle lines and an obvious opponent – this was far better than the last reality, and it wasn't even raining.
They fought back and forth across the large room with its stone walls and old hanging banners, evenly matched with blades. The Sith was in black – how original – with long, draggled steel-gray hair. His opponent didn't seem hampered by it as he ducked and dodged, making spectacular use of the fourth form.
A niggling thought at the back of Venge's brain crystalized into sick, unwilling realization as the Sith avoided a blow that Venge would have sworn the old man couldn't predict. He watched the Sith extend the move into a graceful sprint along the wall, kicking away from it to slam into Venge, who went flying one way as his lightsaber went another.
Venge was left dazed and breathless, but not by the blow. He spun to his feet in a defensive posture, staring at the Sith in front of him. The acrobatics on the wall had cleared the man’s hair away, leaving a gaunt face shadowed by an equally gray beard. His eyes were red-rimmed sulfur yellow and his blade was red, but this was unmistakably Qui-Gon Jinn.
No! The automatic denial roared up from deep inside, raging through his mind. Venge dropped his shielding as this Sith version of his mate swung, clearly moving to take a leg or two in one swift blow. The Sith staggered under the sudden wave of Dark rage, scoring the floor as Venge darted away. He'd almost reached the far side of the room where his lightsaber lay, before Qui-Gon was there, shouldering him into yet another wall.
I’m getting REALLY sick of this. Venge Force shoved the man away, only to find when he turned that Qui-Gon had used the Force to pull Venge's lightsaber to him.
"Missing something?" Qui-Gon asked in a raspy voice without much humor, holding up the appropriated hilt.
The Fire in his blood howled at the soft question. This was not his Qui-Gon – this Sith, this fake. It was wrong, horrifically wrong, and clearly this poor imitation could feel the emotional turmoil.
Then the Sith tilted his head, lifting a brow in a way so familiar that the Fire's fury was matched by an almost shattering homesickness. "Will you tell me of your master, or do I have to get it out of you one bit of limb at a time? We can do this as long as you'd like."
"My master? Who the fuck do you think that is?" In all his time, across several realities, he hadn't run across anything quite this surreal.
Nor so quietly, strangely terrifying.
The fake Qui-Gon shifted his stance in a way that would allow him to lunge at Venge no matter which direction he moved in. "Whoever holds Dooku's leash."
Venge snorted. "Guess again."
It was only his long familiarity with Qui-Gon – the real one – that let him escape without losing anything more than some hair. He spun away, avoiding the brutal overhead blow that followed.
"No! He sent you! I know it!" The blows became faster, more erratic. "Give me a name, Sith! Tell me who I'm going to kill next!"
Great, he’s insane. "For the last damn time, you have no quarrel with me!"
Venge misjudged and took a sudden elbow to the ribs. He flew across the room with a Force assisted push.
"No quarrel?" Qui-Gon snarled, eyes blazing yellow. "No quarrel?! Your master seeks the destruction of the Republic!" A loose bit of stonework ripped free of its mortar and flew towards Venge’s head. He dodged, only to have to deflect another. "Your master seeks to drown the galaxy in Darkness!" Most of the side wall catapulted towards him. "Your master killed my padawan!"
Darkness billowed throughout the chamber, swirling around the two Sith like a half-maddened beast. Venge snarled right back, narrowing his eyes as the Dark side of the Living Force flowed from Qui-Gon, snapping and slashing at him.
Venge lifted a hand and rushed the older man, using the Force to grab and slam Qui-Gon against the far wall. He charged the rest of the way with Force-enhanced speed, stopping only when he had Qui-Gon pinned bodily against the stone. "That happens. People die. What makes you the center of the universe?" The Fire raged in his blood, screaming for this imposter to shut up, to stop whining, demanding his Qui, his mate.
The yellow-eyed Qui-Gon slumped down, body limp in defeat. He was the center of mine, the Force whispered to him, across a bond that did not exist.
The desolation, the exhaustion of living for revenge he almost didn't think would come, the pain of loss and isolation and ever-present darkness – it was all written across his face and humming through the Force. Venge hesitated, beating back the Fire as he glimpsed the subdued gleam of Light hidden in the core of the man before him.
Qui-Gon looked up, and his expression changed from defeat to chalk-white shock.
It was impossible. Perhaps Qui-Gon really had gone mad. It was only this close, seeing the strange Sith's face, that he could tell. The changeable eyes had gone as yellow as his own, though they lacked the blood-red outer ring. The face had matured into strong, bold lines. The hair had gone from short-cropped red to a copper-tinged blond that brushed his jaw.
"Obi-Wan?" he breathed, wondering just what in Chaos was going on, just what strange hell this was. Was this some sort of test, a Dark illusion to torment him? Was this truth, phantasm, or something worse?
The Sith pulled back, snarling a little before stalking away. "Venge."
Qui-Gon slumped against the wall for a moment. Drawing on the Force to give him strength, he pushed himself upright. "Strange name." He pulled his shoulders back, glaring at this Sith – Obi-wan? It cannot be he would not I SAW HIM DIE I felt him pass on what IS this?
This "Venge" snorted and kept moving, prowling around Qui-Gon. He was used to this sort of power game, but rather than cede the high ground, Qui-Gon paced 'round the room as well, the two keeping a steady distance between them.
"And what do they call you? Darth…?"
Qui-Gon snorted right back. "Wraith," he admitted with a slight eye roll, never taking his eyes off this stranger. "My former master has a flair for the dramatic."
Not-Obi-Wan smirked back, a dark and feral expression that looked strangely at home on his padawan's older face. "Melodramatic, more like. Would 'Wight' not be more appropriate, if he was insisting on undead?"
Qui-Gon tilted his head in a silent question, not sure he was catching the joke. A pun of some kind?
"Darth Wight. It fits you. Neither dark nor light." There was a spark of mischief in those yellow eyes, and the glimpse of Obi-Wan under the Sith jarred the humor out of Qui-Gon.
"Venge," he snarled, darting a lightning pace forward, lightsaber - when had he retrieved that? - in hand but unlit. "Do not mistake me for someone from your past." They locked eyes. “Or from your reality. I am but a weary traveler, looking for a less hellish place to rest on my way home."
No. There was no mistaking that temper, even as Qui-Gon felt the Dark side pulse and ripple around them, obedient to this Sith Lord. "Then who were you, Darth Venge?"
Ah, a flinch. Interesting. Qui-Gon sidestepped, twisting his path back around the way it had come, and he was intrigued by how this man matched his pace. "Once upon a time in your reality?"
"Reading me bedtime stories, Master?" The barb was well played, eliciting an answering flinch from Qui-Gon. "Why does it matter?"
Qui-Gon could not keep his hands from clenching into fists. "Why something happens matters a great deal. Without a reason, there is only Chaos."
They stopped at the same moment. "And how did you fall, Qui-Gon Jinn? What led you back to your master, and the Dark side?"
Hearing himself damned in that voice, a deeper purr than his padawan could have ever managed, struck deep. "You died. On Naboo, at the hands of a Zabrak." He took a deep breath, letting the cold comfort of rage and fury coil through his bones.
He lifted his chin, letting his padawan clearly see the glowing yellow of his eyes. "I was caught behind an energy shield, and I could not stop his fatal blow. When I reached out to the Force, it was the Dark side that tore him limb from limb. 'An apprentice for an apprentice,' he mocked me as he bled out. I made him suffer… and I would do it again. If it could bring Obi-Wan back, I would do it a thousand times over."
Through the Dark emotions holding him still and straight, he could see Venge go eerily still. Venge’s head tilted slowly, a feral reproduction of Obi-Wan's thoughtful pose. "Interesting. I lost my master the same way, but I waited for the shield to fall and fought him blade to blade. You used the Dark side?"
Qui-Gon’s hands trembled. "How did you fall?" The tilted look remained, until Qui-Gon lunged forward, a confused mess of rage, regret, and misery narrowing his vision as he rushed at Venge. "Tell me!"
Venge seemed to disappear, he moved so quickly. When Qui-Gon reached where Venge had been, he turned to find the Sith already across the room, maintaining their original distance from each other. "I followed my padawan."
For a moment, he wondered if this Venge knew some Force technique to rip the air from someone's lungs. Padawan? Obi-Wan's- if Qui-Gon had died, then- "Anakin?" he managed to whisper.
There was the faintest quirk of an eyebrow. "If he is here, I-"
"No! Are you mad?" Qui-Gon slumped again, finally able to breathe at something approaching normal. Obi-Wan… Anakin… "Well. Aren't we a set."
Qui-Gon looked up at him with an almost heartbroken expression. "I don't suppose you have any good news from your reality?"
Venge only pondered for a moment. "Well, my Qui-Gon is a great fuck."
He had the great pleasure of watching several impossible expressions replace the heartbreak. "Wha- but- " Qui-Gon's mouth moved silently a few times. "That's Attachment!" he wailed like a youngling being sent to bed.
"How much of a Jedi are you?" Venge meant for it to be more caustic, disdainful, but curiosity got the better of him. He started pacing again, but when Qui-Gon seemed too baffled to keep up, he simply strolled back and forth in front of the man.
At least Qui-Gon never took his eyes off Venge, even scandalized as he was. The look of shame - pinked around the edges with embarrassment, overshadowed by bitterness - was a surprise. Then Qui-Gon did that disturbingly magnificent lift of the chin again, hiding the gauntness of his face. "Why?"
"Because I can never figure out how stupid a particular Jedi Order is going to be." The pacing went from posturing to needing to burn off anger – a fiercer, more brutal stalk. "Where I am from, padawans are not supposed to get Attached, as they are considered to be at a stage too volatile to allow for objective handling of such bonds. Adults, however, are believed to be competent enough to have friends and lovers. My Jedi at least acknowledge that they are in an Order, and all the cohesion that that entails. Do yours expect all their members to be solitary little beacons of detachment in a garden together?"
From the stunned look on Qui-Gon's face, probably. Venge hated this reality already.
It was beyond unreal. His padawan, far more rule-abiding than Qui-Gon would ever be, was moving like a jungle cat, back and forth and furious enough to show fangs and claws. Venge was advocating letting oneself create close connections to others, to favor a select few over the greater good.
That sounded like something he would say.
Admittedly, without any mention of fucking.
Now, wasn't that a mental image he had longed for.
Qui-Gon shook his head, long diplomatic practice making it seem like a slightly surprised denial rather than a motion to clear his mind. "It seems neither of us is quite what we expected. How much of a Jedi are you?"
Venge snarled. "Enough that I do not wish to be here any longer than I have to. This is one of Dooku's ridiculous hideouts? It cannot possibly house Sidious."
Qui-Gon could practically feel the Sith glow in his eyes flare as the eager rage welled up within him. "Is that his Master?"
"Are you always this obsessed?"
"On this matter, yes."
Venge was already shaking his head. "Suicide some other way. Sidious makes Dooku look like a child's rag doll dressed up to play Jedi and Sith. Attacking him will only piss him off and feed him a nice snack."
"You think I care about that?"
The younger man glared at him. "You would feed him more power?" He started stalking forward, and this time Qui-Gon did not retreat. "Are you so obsessed with one dead padawan that you would risk making a monster stronger, a monster that will "drown the galaxy in Darkness," and slaughter any child he encounters unless they would be more fun to twist into a monstrous toy?"
They were almost nose to nose, and Qui-Gon glared into his eyes. "Then help me. Isn't that how the Sith do it? Secret alliances with other Sith? Or was your padawan too monstrous a toy to dare try?"
Venge pulled back abruptly to avoid hitting the man. This Qui-Gon had sharper edges than he expected, taking his mate's insight and honing it razor thin. He hadn't realized he'd put that much emphasis on Sidious' habit, but apparently it had been enough. "You know nothing about that."
"No? Perhaps I am not the only one obsessed with a padawan."
They glared at each other for a long moment, the Force rippling around them in their agitation. A part of Venge wanted to laugh. The Fire wanted him to attack. He stood still, trying to breathe through the rage. "He got me to fall. He was behind the fall of my– Anakin, Dooku, and possibly even Xanatos." Oh, and he was viciously glad to see that flinch. "Where I am from, he brought down the entire fucking Republic. And you want us to waltz in and invite ourselves TO FUCKING TEA?"
"No. But this is what I've spent the last–"
"The hell with that! I am trying to get home! To my family!"
"Then help me avenge mine! If you won't fight with me, give me a name, weaknesses, theories, anything!"
Damn him, damn Force Storms, damn Sidious, damn it all to hell. Venge missed his mate, their padawans, the feel of them through the Force, the banter and the joy. Yet here was this haggard man, with Sith-yellow eyes and his mate's face, asking him to do something absolutely mad. With a face like that before him, he almost desperately wanted to. It was not his Qui-Gon, but…
"I am not joyriding around realities to help kill him everywhere I go."
"So you're saying-"
"Nothing of the sort!" Venge spun away and with a small roar, sent a blast of the Force at the crumbling wall. The stones exploded from their positions, hurtling through a corridor and another room behind it. The debris took down several battle droids in a shower of sparks and protesting metal.
Venge stood there, panting, wild eyed, reminding himself that one Sidious was more than enough for any one lifetime, that he was already on number two and he was not about to make that three. "I fought him once, at home. I... look, it involves time travel. The second time has been rougher. He is not yet dead, and that is another reason I have to get home." Venge's breaths were the only sound aside from sparking droids.
Finally, Qui-Gon sighed. "Then a name. I swear to you, on the Force, that I will not be reckless."
Qui-Gon didn't think it would be enough, but it was all he had. He watched the other Sith who stood, head bowed. His eyes were almost closed, sending strange amber shadows along his cheeks.
Qui-Gon almost staggered. He could hear the Force agreeing, faint but strong and right in a way he had not heard in so long.
The single most powerful man in the entire Republic was Sith.
"Force." He put a hand against the wall, needing the support.
"You thought I was keeping quiet to spare your tender fucking sensibilities?" Venge swung around to glare at him. "He has more money than the Hutts, he runs the entire fucking Republic, he has influence in almost every powerful faction in the galaxy, and he is the most powerful Sith in centuries. Worse, he is a master schemer, the kind with plans within plans a dozen times over. You could work against him for a lifetime only to find that you were working against yourself all along." Venge paused to let that sink in. "There. You have your name. Now point me towards the nearest 'fresher and get the fuck out of my way."
Qui-Gon could tell he surprised Venge by complying. He didn't mind; if nothing else it gave him time to re-center himself. He ended up cross-legged in the opulent sitting room of his quarters, trying to meditate. It had been.... quite a while since he'd done this.
It didn't work, but it gave him time to sort through Venge's... situation. Time travel. Different realities.
Well, my Qui-Gon is a great fuck. Qui-Gon snorted and shook his head. Beyond the very strange, obvious points to that, "is" was a strange choice of word. He'd lost his master– Qui-Gon's breath hitched without him meaning to. He could hardly imagine it. Obi-Wan, trying to deal with a fresh knighting, a brand new padawan, and his master's death, all at once. It must have been an awful, confusing mess.
Time travel. Fighting a Sith lord, and-
Qui-Gon found his arms had moved, wrapping around his stomach. He was bent over, shaking, crying. He had to fight to keep control of himself.
He desperately wanted to beg this Venge to teach him, show him what he knew. Yet, too much of Qui-Gon knew that to be blind folly. Time travel? To when? Naboo? Sooner? To some other reality, and some other Obi-Wan?
What would the point be? It would not be his Obi-Wan, his universe. Qui-Gon was not the man he had been, he could not simply traipse into someone else's life and-
What? Change it? Destroy it? Insert himself into it, certain that he knew better, or that because he had lived things once, he could avoid fucking them up again?
He was Dark. He might not have fallen all the way, but he was no longer a Jedi by any stretch of the imagination, and the Dark side did not willingly let go of those it caught. What right did he have to do such a thing?
No. Venge at least had some idea of what he was doing.
Qui-Gon let himself grieve. This was his reality, and whatever else happened, there would be no miracles in his future.
When he was finally somewhat composed, he straightened, trying to consider the situation strategically. Venge was here, and would leave. Qui-Gon, in the meantime, finally had the information he had been looking for. There was no reason to stay here any longer. He wanted nothing more to do with Dooku, and he was fairly certain that any information he gathered about the Separatist’s movements and plans was of minimal use.
Of course, where else would he go?
He did regret his promise, at least somewhat. Nothing reckless, and that would include deciding to pursue Palpatine on his own.
In short, he needed help.
Under other circumstances – involving a lot less of the Dark side, and a lot more being at home – Venge would have enjoyed the opportunity to take advantage of Dooku's lavish tastes. For a traditional, hide-bound Jedi, the Count liked his luxuries.
Admittedly, he'd been through enough realities lately that the chance to clean up and rest in relative safety even for a few minutes was not to be underestimated. Sith holding or not, Venge could feel that this Qui-Gon was... at least somewhat reliable. Enough so that he could take some time to himself.
Not to mention it was a damn fine 'fresher.
He wasn't really surprised to find Qui-Gon slowly pacing back and forth in the front area of the uninhabited suite. He just raised a brow and waited.
Qui-Gon stopped and took a deep breath. "I'm headed to Coruscant. I'm not doing anyone any good here-"
"I thought you said nothing reckless."
The wry grin under Sith-yellow eyes almost made Venge flinch. "And I am keeping to that, much as I might regret it. I'm not going to confront Sidious. Not yet, at least. If I do, it will be with planning and more resources than I have now." Venge could see the older man steeling himself. "But I can't be the only one to know this. If something happens... I need to tell Yoda."
Venge crossed his arms and glared. "I should care why?"
"If there is anything else I can do to make your journey easier before I leave, I'd like to know." Qui-Gon managed another wry grin. "If there's any more you'd like to share about Sidious, I'd greatly appreciate it."
It was just so disturbingly like Qui. The graciousness laced with humor. The clear desire for company. The thirst for knowledge.
Yet, there was also a thirst for vengeance. There was a brutality to this man that was not within his mate – above all, those eyes. Every time Venge looked at those eyes, something inside him almost screamed, terrified and furious that somehow, someone had twisted his mate into something Dark, as Anakin had been twisted into Vader. It was not his mate; it was not even like the Qui-Gon he had met on a previous world. No, this was a twisted reflection of what he so desperately wanted to see.
Something even deeper inside wondered if his Qui saw him the same way, as merely a perversion of Obi-Wan.
He didn't know how he felt, himself.
"Some ration bars might be good. So, when are you leaving?"
Qui-Gon nodded, then looked away. "As soon as you are ready to leave. There's a shuttle that should get me there within a day, and Dooku shouldn't be back until tomorrow at the earliest."
Well fuck. It would be a minimum of two days before he was ready to jump again, and it looked like he wouldn't be able to hide out here while he waited. Venge really, really hated this reality.
Qui-Gon waited, wondering just what had annoyed Venge now. "Fantastic," the man muttered. "Just what is it you are planning on telling Yoda?"
He blinked a little, caught off-guard by the change in topics. "I– that I had finally found out who-"
"Yes, yes, and he will believe that the Chancellor is Sith why?"
Qui-Gon knew he was missing something, but he had no idea what. "If he hasn't trusted my reports so far, then it doesn't matter much, does it?"
Venge glared at him, eyes blazing, and he had to wonder what drove the man to channel that much Dark energy. "And he will not think you are mad because…?"
Here he was again, tromping all over uncertain enough ground. "He's still the most likely to listen without trying to remove my head from my shoulders," Qui-Gon pointed out. "Beggars cannot be choosers."
They shared glares for a moment. Then Venge snorted. "Idiot. You told me nothing reckless, and I am going to hold you to that."
He didn't realize at first that meant Venge was going to come along.