Qui Gon Jinn had been back on Coruscant for two days when the council meeting was called, and he had jumped so enthusiastically at the chance to leave the healers’ care that only his remaining injuries kept him from doing so literally. Still, he made his way slowly towards the council chamber, acutely aware of his own lingering discomfort, and the possible consequences of abusing his body unnecessarily.
His slow pace gave him time to enjoy his reacquaintance with the peace of the temple. The gardens pressed against the edges of his awareness on all sides, imbuing him with a serene sense of the living force. Beyond them, the whole of Coruscant hummed with the warm feel of millions upon millions of inhabitants, animals, plants, buildings, cars, paths, and everything else, interacting and communing with one another. The busiest planet in the galaxy - naturally, this was where the Jedi would build their temple. It was beautiful and ugly and overwhelming and peaceful all at once, in a way that sang to him, encouraging him to feel the connections in the world around him.
So wrapped up was he in the familiar comforts of temple life that it was a bit like a mental slap in the face to feel from behind him a sudden wave of recognition and dislike. Unaccustomed to sensing such levels of vitriol within the temple walls, sheer surprise had him wheeling around to see who it was before he caught himself.
There was nothing familiar about the young man he found himself facing. He was tall and thin, with the unnatural muscle structure of someone conscientiously compensating for long periods of time in low-gravity environments. Reddish blonde hair was shaved into a neat cut that only emphasized the long planes of the face beneath it. The clothing was clean and neat, but lacked any design that would link it to a particular planet. It could have been purchased at almost any bazaar in the galaxy.
“Good evening, Master Jinn.” Well, whoever the man was, his dislike wasn’t a case of mistaken identity, and it wasn’t evident at all in his cultured, diplomatic voice.
“Good evening.” He returned politely. “I’m terribly sorry, I don’t believe I recall...” He let his voice trail off suggestively, hoping that the stranger would take the hint and introduce himself.
“That’s more than alright, I expect you meet more strangers than I meet Jedi knights.” the man rejoined easily enough, but Qui Gon sensed a wave of outraged validation from him. “I was hoping,” he continued, “that you might point me towards the council chamber. It’s been some years since I was last in the Jedi Temple.”
“Of course.” Qui Gon agreed. So, this gentleman was the reason for his summons out of recovery. “I’m headed there myself, you are more than welcome to accompany me.”
“Much appreciated.” The stranger returned, falling easily into step with him. “I’d forgotten over the years how beautiful this place is.” The words were light and diplomatic, but the wave of awe and appreciation that accompanied them gave them the weight of sincerity, and Qui Gon had to smile.
“I forget myself, sometimes.” He admitted. “I’ve only just returned.” He turned them down another hallway, which would come to an end at the door to the council chamber. “When were you last here?” Perhaps if he had a timeline, he would be able to recall where this man knew him from.
“I.... I suppose it’s been about seven years.” The man said, looking startled by his own words. He chuckled a bit. “How time flies.” Seven years. What had he been doing seven years ago? The man could hardly be much older than twenty, not many children would have been allowed to visit the temple.
Of course! In a sudden cold flash of realization, Qui Gon realized who he was talking to. He supposed he couldn’t be blamed for missing it; his interaction with the boy had been short, and time had changed him in so many ways... 7 years ago, he had turned down a 13 year old boy as padawan, because he felt that the child was too aggressive to become a jedi knight. Yoda had suggested that he might have other, more personal reasons for the rejection, but Qui Gon had refused to cave, and he had not been asked to consider a padawan since.
Obi Wan Kenobi saw the recognition in his face and smiled ruefully. “My apologies, Master Jinn - I should have simply introduced myself. I am here in an official capacity, and I was... reluctant to have my past here come into play.”
"Completely understandable.” Qui Gon returned with a smile, though he sensed that some of the emotion behind Kenobi’s deception was pettier than he was admitting. The level of dislike was surprising, given how long it had been. Qui Gon himself barely remembered the incident, and while it had obviously been a far larger turning point for Obi Wan than for himself, surely the man should have made peace with it by now. He had turned down Obi Wan as an apprentice, and the next day the boy had been sent off.... to AgriCorps, he thought. Yes, Bandomeer. Of course, he remembered clearly now. The boy had been sent there mere days before the planet had been destroyed - a mining accident close to the planet’s core had set off a chain reaction. Qui Gon had never heard whether Kenobi had made it off safely, and was glad to see him well. He had clearly found a path to walk in life, and the lingering resentment he held towards Qui Gon years later reassured him that he had made the right choice in turning the boy down as a padawan. Everything had worked out for best, it seemed. “It’s good to see you again, Obi Wan.” he told him.
“Likewise, Master.” Kenobi returned politely, and this time there was no sincerity beneath the words at all. Without further conversation, he pushed open the doors into the council chamber. Qui Gon followed him in, and was surprised to see that the rest of the council was already there. He quietly took his seat, leaving Kenobi to take the center of the floor.
For a moment the young man looked uncertain which way to face, surrounded as he was on all sides. After a moment, he seemed to get his bearings; he turned towards Yoda and bowed respectfully. “Master.” He greeted him.
“Hmph.” the old man replied testily. “This is all the greeting you have for me, old friend?”
Obi Wan grinned, affection flowing from him, as Yoda stood to embrace him. “It is wonderful to see you again, Master Yoda. You’re looking fantastic - I wouldn’t believe you were a day over 700!” he proclaimed, and the ancient master huffed with what was meant to be exasperation, but was clearly amusement.
“A sense of humor you seem to have developed, young Obi Wan. Work to improve it, you should.” Qui Gon felt the sparks of recognition go off around him at the name; clearly his fellow council members knew no more about the purpose of this meeting than he did. Mace Windu was attempting to catch his eye from across the room - Qui Gon let his gaze slip away, careful to keep his expression pleasantly bland.
“Familiar, you all are, with Master Kenobi’s work?” Yoda enquired of the room at large. There was a general murmur of assent, though Qui Gon was caught by surprise. Master of something, then, though it was clearly not the Jedi title.
“I’m sorry to say I am not.” he interrupted politely, and Yoda nodded at him.
“Unsurprising, this is. Undercover, Master Jinn has been,” he explained to Kenobi. “Out of touch he has been, these past three years. A brief introduction, perhaps you could give?”
“Yes, of course.” Obi Wan inclined his head graciously. “It’s not terribly relevant to the matter at hand. I’m an engineer, working with an organization called LogistiCorps. We attempt to help planets integrate droid technology in such a way as to replace slavery within their institutions without severe economic backlash.”
“I understand that ‘working with’ is a bit of an understatement, Master Kenobi.” Jedi Koth spoke up, respect clear in his voice. “You’ve founded the most successful emancipation movement of the era. The Jedi recognize your accomplishment.”
Obi Wan nodded his head graciously in Koth’s direction. “I am familiar with Jedi policies on unasked for interference, and I assure you I have not come to beg for help with that particular battle. I’m here to request,” the man looked uncertain, “... well, that you take on a student.” he admitted, shifting a bit.
“You’ve found a force-sensitive child amongst your freed slaves?” Poof questioned, suddenly becoming interested in the proceedings. A wave of humor passed through several of the masters - it was a familiar amusement, Poof never pretended much concern toward matters outside her own expertise.
“I have.” Obi Wan confirmed. “Though I am no expert, growing up in the temple left me familiar with how force sensitivity presents in children. I hope you will believe me when I tell you that this boy is... extraordinary.”
“In what way?” Windu asked, his voice neutral. He suspected something, Qui Gon could sense, but was unable to ascertain exactly what. No doubt it would become clear in due time.
“His mastery of the force is instinctive and complete.” Obi Wan replied, and there was no uncertainty in his tone. “Everything in the way he moves, the way he relates to the world around him, is imbued with the force. He is connected with it in a way that I have never seen before.”
“How old is this child, Master Kenobi?” asked Mace, and the question fell into place with the suspicion that had been emanating from him. He was right, Qui Gon realized, this was the source of Obi Wan’s hesitancy.
“He is.... older than the Jedi typically accept, but not unreasonably so.” Obi Wan admitted. “He’s six now. But, you must meet him, Master Windu, and you will see - the boy is too powerful to be left untrained.”
“Brought him with you, you have?” Yoda demanded the room’s attention.
“I have, Master. He is aboard my vessel.”
“Examine him, we must, to confirm your report. If as powerful as you say, he is, the Jedi council will discuss his future here.” Yoda thumped the ground with his cane in emphasis of his next words. “A great man you are, Obi Wan Kenobi, but dictate the actions of the Jedi, you will not. Our own decision, we will make.”
“Yes, of course, Master.” Obi Wan agreed, looking chastised. Frustration rolled off him in waves - he was clearly not used to being around Jedi, if he thought his smooth control of his expression could conceal anything.
“Accompany you to your ship, shall Master Jinn and myself.” Yoda declared. “Meet back here, the council will, if we deem it necessary.” And that seemed to be the end of it.
Qui Gon had assumed that Kenobi would travel in a small personal transport vessel. He was startled to be led to an enormous cargo ship.
“We trade through Coruscant for a couple of the more advanced droid components.” Obi Wan answered the unasked question. “There wasn’t any point in making an extra trip all the way out here.”
“Very sensible.” Qui Gon agreed calmly, and felt the wave of irritation from Kenobi in response. The man seemed supremely annoyed that Qui Gon didn’t exhibit any clear villainous behavior. No doubt he’d seemed as such, to a thirteen year old boy whose dreams he was crushing.
“Anakin will be in the engine room, at this time of day. Analise, our engineer, is somewhat taken with him. She lets him muck around with things, in the name of furthering his education.” Obi Wan led them through the maze of hallways with ease, throwing the words over his shoulder casually. A ship this primitive likely didn’t have any sort of private comm system, Qui Gon knew. It would be shipwide announcements or nothing, making it inconvenient to call Anakin to them.
“He’s interested in mechanics, then?” That spoke of an affinity with the unified force, rather than the living force.
“Yes, he’s a bit of an engineering prodigy. You’ll see for yourself, in a minute.” Obi Wan assured him. “He occasionally comes up with design modifications that we implement.”
“He’s six.” Qui Gon protested mildly. Talented or no, the boy was limited by the mental development of his age.
“I know.” Obi Wan replied wryly. “It makes me feel positively inadequate. I suspect it must be force-related... he doesn’t understand the science of it all, he just - sees the ways in which things are connected.”
An instinctive use of the unified force might give him a knack for seeing how things were connected within the machinery, but he couldn’t possibly understand the underlying principles well enough to improve upon existing designs. Kenobi had to be exaggerating in his eagerness to have the boy accepted to the temple.
Obi Wan abruptly turned into a small alcove, and a lift opened. “Engineering’s through here.” He informed them cheerfully. There was an uncomfortable jolt upwards, and the door opened into a massive room.
“Analise!” Obi Wan’s bellow brought a young green woman skittering down from the rafters, landing gracefully in front of them. Qui Gon didn’t recognize the species - someone from an outer planet, most likely. His host, he noticed, had assumed an almost military pose of command, his shoulders stiffened and his face stern.
If the engineer was startled by Master Yoda’s unusual appearance, she gave no indication of it. “Master Kenobi.” she bowed respectfully to him, and there was an underlying wave of awe to the words. Obi Wan’s crew thought very highly of him, if she was any indication.“I wasn’t expecting you until later, sir, we’re still running through the -”
“Don’t panic, you’ve got at least 8 more hours until take off, Lieutenant.” Obi Wan interrupted her. “I just wanted to know where you’ve stowed our prodigy - he’s got visitors.”
“Oh!” Now she did look startled. “These are - oh! He’s right over -” her head twirled further on her neck than was typical in humanoids as she scanned for the boy. “I’m sorry, I left him RIGHT there, but he’s off moving as soon as I take my eyes off him. Give me just a moment.” She made as if to run off in search, but Obi Wan restrained her with a light hand on her shoulder.
“Relax, Analise. No one can keep track of him when he doesn’t want them to. However,” and here Obi Wan’s voice got slightly louder, “I am quite aware that he is nearby and listening, and if he doesn’t come down and join us IMMEDIATELY, there will be consequences.”
“How do you always do that?” came a light voice from above, and then a grubby blonde boy had dropped down in front of them, in a manner similar to Analise’s. Everything about his movement spoke of force control - the slow speed, the graceful twist to the landing, the not entirely gravity-compliant way that he straightened.
“Anakin, I asked that you be clean for today.” Obi Wan stated firmly. His tone was more what would be used to address a military officer than a six year old, and Qui Gon, who had always avoided children but had a vague idea of how they ought to be treated, felt himself bristling slightly, but Anakin didn’t appear to mind in the slightest. He grinned sheepishly at the older man, running his grubby fingers through his hair in an effort to straighten it.
“I know, I’m sorry Obi. It’s just that Rokil bet me ten credits I couldn’t upgrade the rear power converter faster than he did the forward one -” Obi Wan put out his hand in a silencing gesture.
“Yes, alright Anakin, I’m familiar with your attempts to render Rokil penniless. I’d like to introduce you to some people.”
“Hello Anakin, my name is Master Jinn, and this is Master Yoda.” Qui Gon spoke up, feeling it was time to start directing the conversation in the proper direction. Anakin stared at him for a moment, goggle-eyed, and then gave a bow.
“Greetings, Masters.” he responded formally, and then ruined the effect somewhat by beaming at them and continuing, “you’re Jedi knights, aren’t you?”
“Indeed we are, youngling.” Yoda spoke up. “help out often in engineering, do you?”
“Analise says I'm good at it!” The boy's voice rang with pride, Qui Gon noted with some concern. It was natural for the lad to enjoy showing his skill, and Qui Gon couldn't fault him for it, but pride created opportunities for resentment and unfriendly competition. At six years old, perhaps it was too late to instill caution in him. Still, he had to suppress a smile as Anakin grabbed Master Yoda's hand, tugging him toward the bowels of the engineering room. “Come see what I'm doing with the rear power converter, I'm rewiring the relay to -” Yoda followed obligingly, appearing interested in what Anakin was saying, and Qui Gon turned to Obi Wan.
“He is certainly charming.” he admitted, uncertain why he suddenly was so reluctant to express approval of the boy. Was it the force guiding him, or was he merely responding in kind to the dislike Kenobi felt for him? He would have to meditate on the subject, when the opportunity arose. He did not like to think his judgment could be so easily affected, but he was – uncomfortable, in Kenobi's presence. He felt guilty, though he did not believe there was cause for it.
“He always has been.” Obi Wan agreed, allowing a brief smile. “Unfortunately, my presence is required for several of our trade transactions. Analise, if you could assign someone to see to our guests' needs...”
“Yes, of course!” The engineer agreed at once.
“Well then.” Obi Wan nodded his farewell. “I'll take my leave. I hope I will hear from the council by morning.”
“I imagine the matter will be decided this evening.” Qui Gon replied to the unasked question, remembering the time frame Kenobi had given to his engineer for take-off. No doubt it was expensive to keep such a large ship docked on Coruscant for extended periods of time. An emancipation movement was unlikely to have credits to spare.
“Excellent.” Obi Wan replied, and exited the room with the military posture that Qui Gon was coming to expect of him. It struck some chord within him to see it; to know that his decision seven years ago had turned a hopeful young boy into the hardened man he now saw. But it was foolish to dwell on the past at the cost of the present. Qui Gon shook his head once to clear it and turned to catch up with Yoda and Anakin. Analise hurried along behind him. “I'll send someone after you with tea, Master Jedi.” she chittered at him, snagging a crewmember by the arm with a sharp look to indicate that he was the 'someone' in question. “Arman can show the three of you to a conference room, if you'd like somewhere quieter to talk...” and somewhere that was less in the way, Qui Gon realized, hearing the hidden hope in her tone.
“That would be perfect, thank you Analise.” he assured her. “I do understand how tight your deadline is, there's no need to stand on formality with us.” She shot him a grateful grin.
“Well then, Jedi, I'll be off. Have fun with our Anakin, he's an absolute doll!” And she skittered away so quickly he could barely follow it.
“We're to be shown to a conference room in a moment, Master Yoda.” Qui Gon repeated dutifully upon catching up with his master and their potential new pupil. Anakin's face fell so quickly it was almost comical.
“A conference room? But I'll never finish before Rokil -”
“I'm afraid this is important, Anakin.” Qui Gon interrupted, already discomfited by the level of competitiveness the boy was showing. He did not want to turn down a student who was so clearly powerful in the force, not when the temple was stretched so thin, but it would be better to be short a jedi than to raise one who might turn to the dark side down the line.
“I know.” The boy agreed, though he sounded reluctant. “Only, give me just a moment, masters – the converter can't sit for too long the way I've left it, it'll destabilize.”
“Yes, of course.” Yoda agreed placidly. “Interested in watching you work, I would be.” Anakin perked right back up, and gestured in the appropriate direction. Qui Gon smiled ruefully – clearly he would not be winning any popularity contests aboard this vessel.
“See, I've left the cooling system down while I realigned the crystalline matrices.” Anakin explained chirpily, pointing at a series of crystals and wirings that looked vaguely familiar from Qui Gon's advanced engineering courses, what seemed like decades ago. Where had the time gone?
He watched peaceably as Anakin reset the system, paying less attention to the boy's explanation, which was riddled with back-planet slang in lieu of formal engineering terminology, and more to his force-guided movement. His hands moved almost more quickly than the eye could follow, manipulating delicate parts into position with unerring accuracy. It was almost like watching a dance, and Qui Gon allowed himself to feel the peace of it, of things coming together the way they wanted to, until suddenly it was all disrupted by a surge of energy building up -
“Anakin!” Qui Gon called out sharply in warning, but he was too late, the converter whirred back to life, and the fatal blast sprang forward -
- only to calmly divert its course through thin air, circumnavigating Anakin's hands where they continued to place the now live crystals in their appropriate places.
“Yes, Master?” Anakin was looking at him with a sort of sharp impatience that was reminiscent of Obi Wan, oblivious to the minor miracle he was creating, and Qui Gon pulled himself together.
“Nothing, my apologies. I thought you were going to get fried, for a moment.” He smiled at the boy, who smiled uncertainly back.
“The power converter will hold like this, Masters, if you want to move to the conference room now.”
They did so, but Qui Gon's mind was made up. He sat back quietly, letting Yoda ask the boy a series of questions about his life, barely listening as Anakin spoke affectionately of his mother. None of it mattered. The boy had to be trained.
“Too old. The boy is too old to begin his training.”
Qui Gon stared in disbelief at his master. “Surely you're joking.” He protested. They were alone in Yoda's private office – there was no need to involve the rest of the council unless he and Yoda were unable to come to an agreement.
“Joking, I am not. Danger I sense in him.” Yoda responded seriously, looking at Qui Gon with solemn eyes. Qui Gon waved this off as unnecessary drama.
“Yes, obviously.” He agreed. “The boy has more of a connection to the force than has ever been recorded in the history of the Jedi, and he has gone untrained for 6 years. To leave him untrained now would not correct the danger, Master, it would only enhance it. The boy already has access to his abilities – he must learn how to control them.”
“Firm guidance, he would need. Fit into the creche, he would not.” Yoda pointed out. Which was not the same, Qui Gon noticed, as disagreeing.
“All the same Master, we must take him in.” he responded, sticking with his original point.
“Disastrous, it could be, to place him with other crechelings.” Qui Gon found he could not argue that point. Anakin, though a charming child, was filled to the brim with a thirst to prove himself. Pride and competitiveness were strong forces within him, and they would not be easily trained out. To turn such characteristics loose on the unsuspecting younglings in the creche would interrupt their progress at a crucial age. Not to mention the fact that, despite a lack of formal training, Anakin was years ahead of his age group in ability.
“If to be trained at the temple, he is, a Padawan he must be.” Yoda continued implacably. “Volunteering, are you, Master Jinn?”
Dumbstruck, Qui Gon stared at the manipulative little green troll, whose eyes, he was convinced, were sparkling with triumph. There was no other Master for Anakin, he realized, cycling in his mind through the Jedi who were currently in Coruscant. It would be him or nobody, and it could not be nobody.
Yoda, he thought, had probably planned this entire thing out from the moment Obi Wan had hailed the temple. Bowing to the inevitable, Qui Gon inclined his head gracefully.
“If you feel it is the appropriate course of action, Master, I of course offer my services.”
“Of course.” Yoda agreed, and did not even try to hide his triumphant smile.
They were waiting for him in the temple gardens. Qui Gon moved silently along the path, gathering his calm from the surrounding greenery. It was dusk, and he could feel the life around him making its customary shift, as things prepared to sleep or prepared to awaken. In a moment of whimsy, he wondered which he himself was about to do.
“Can't I just go home with you, Obi?” Anakin's voice piped out from the clearing ahead of him, where there was a line of benches by a pond. It was a common place to let visitors wait.
“This is a good opportunity for you, Anakin.” came Obi Wan's voice, stern and forbidding. Though he had not intended to eavesdrop, Qui Gon held back. Many children had doubts when faced with the reality of leaving their homes, but if Anakin was an unwilling pupil, it was best to know now.
“I don't want to live with Master Jinn. I don't like him.” Qui Gon was startled – it had not occurred to him that he might be the reason for Anakin's reluctance.
“Master Jinn is a good man, Anakin. You will learn a great deal from him, I am sure.” Obi Wan's voice was tired, but there was sincerity behind his words, a fact that Qui Gon found rather gratifying, given their history. He felt some of the guilt lifting off his chest.
“You don't like him either.” Anakin objected rather perceptively. “How can you tell me that he'll be a good teacher when you hate him?”
“I – I don't hate him, Anakin, although you're right that I don't like him much.” Obi Wan admitted. “I grew up at the temple, you know.”
“I didn't!” Anakin answered, sounding absolutely startled. “I mean, I knew you had Jedi training,” he backtracked hastily, “I suppose this is the only place it could have come from. But I didn't know know. You know.”
“Yes.” Obi Wan agreed, sounding amused. “Well, I did grow up here. For a long time, I wanted to be a Jedi very badly. I was -” he huffed out a laugh - “very passionate about the idea, which, well... you can see the irony in that, I think.”
“Uh huh.” agreed Anakin, who obviously couldn't.
“Qui Gon Jinn was my last chance. He saw something within me – an aggression, a streak of anger – and he turned me down. The next day, I was shipped off to Bandomeer to join AgriCorps, and a week after that I'd been kidnapped off the planet by slavers.” Obi Wan's tone was very matter of fact, and the emotion radiating off him was even more so. This was no longer a painful story for him, though it was a painful one for Qui Gon. He'd never known. He'd never checked.
No wonder Obi Wan still disliked him.
“That's awful.” Anakin replied, and Qui Gon was glad someone was there to voice it.
“It's not so awful, Anakin.” Obi Wan replied with a smile. “He was right, of course – I have a great deal of anger. The Jedi have a particular role to play, maintaining balance, and doing so requires a certain level of neutrality that I would never want to obtain. I fight for what I believe in, and I think I have accomplished a great deal.” He reached out and ruffled the boy's hair, a gesture of affection that must have been rare from him, judging by the blaze of delight that roared out from Anakin in response. “If I hadn't become a slave, I wouldn't have become a freedom fighter. Maybe I'd have never even met you.”
Anakin was clinging to Obi Wan's side, relishing the moment of open affection. “I think we'd still have met.” He murmured. “But, you make it sound so – useless, being a Jedi. I want to fight, like you!”
“It's not useless, Anakin. The Jedi play a crucial role.” Obi Wan looked at him seriously. “I won't force you to stay, if you believe you will be unhappy here. But you have a great deal of power, and with that comes a responsibility to master it. I believe you will grow into a better man with the Jedi than you would anywhere else.”
“I'll stay.” Whispered Anakin, sounding miserable. But a wave of determination flashed through him, and he continued, “I won't let you down, Obi Wan, I promise.”
Qui Gon thought that, given the emotion of the moment, the proper response might have been something along the lines of, “you never could, Anakin.” or, “no matter what, I'm proud of you.” but Obi Wan said none of those things, settling instead for a murmured, “I'm glad to hear it.” It seemed to be enough for Anakin, though, who was practically vibrating with determination to live up to his words.
Sensing that the moment was over, Qui Gon started forward, careful to rustle some leaves as he made his way into the clearing. It was time, he thought, to take possession of his new padawan.