Obi-Wan wasn’t sure which was heavier: the silence in the mine, or the weight of the slave collar around his neck. Qui-Gon was at the locked door, glaring at it as if the Force could allow him to melt a hole right through it, no matter how resistant it was to lightsabers.
Two days doing hard labor in an entirely different mine under miles of ocean, followed by a vigorous fight against Qui-Gon’s ex-Padawan, was catching up to Obi-Wan in a big way. Even a twelve-year-old Jedi initiate’s stamina wasn’t boundless. Now they were trapped in a mine filling with volatile gasses primed to explode, and Xanatos had made his escape once again. If only they had some way to open the door. Lightsabers wouldn’t cut the metal – Xanatos had planned ahead, it seemed - but maybe the concussive force of an explosion? Only, they didn’t have any explosives.
Obi-Wan had a horrible idea.
He swallowed hard, reaching a hand up to the damned slave collar he’d been forced to wear during his stint in the mines. “Master Jinn?” he called out softly, somehow finding the formality appropriate.
Obi-Wan squared his shoulders. He reached for the Force, let it flow through him, give him strength. “I know how to get the door open.”
Qui-Gon shot him a look, half suspicious. “What?”
Obi-Wan stepped forward, a little slow as the bizarre nature of his last few days caught up with him. “Stand back. I can get the door open.”
Master Jinn was many things. Slow was not one of them. His eyes tracked right to the explosive collar, then widened. “No,” he breathed, shaking his head abruptly. “Don’t you dare.”
“Why not?” Obi-Wan asked, stubborn and resigned. Angry, too, even though he knew he shouldn’t be, even though anger was what kept getting him into trouble.
Really, what did it matter now? At least this way he could do something useful with his life. He stepped up to Master Jinn and glared at him. “Why not?” he repeated in a near-growl. “Xanatos has to be stopped. You’re the best choice to do that!” Obi-Wan shook his head at the horrified look Master Jinn was giving him, because of course the Jedi Master would never approve of something so mad. “I’ve explosives right here, and the cost is minimal –”
“The cost will be your life!”
“So?! You won’t have me as a student, Force knows nobody else will teach me, and right now, I’ve got the only damn key to let us out of here, so what else is there?” His voice almost caught at the end, but at least he could cling to his temper, mix that with his need to do something, to stop that lunatic, and he could only hope that somehow the combination could approximate Jedi serenity enough long enough to fool Master Jinn.
He could see grief darkening the man’s eyes, and he braced himself. He wasn’t sure if it was the thought of having to – to do something about Xanatos, or perhaps the unlikely chance that Master Jinn might care about Obi-Wan’s future –
No, no it couldn’t be that.
“Stand back,” Master Jinn growled.
Obi-Wan stood straighter. “No.”
Qui-Gon stood still for a moment, then walked forward, eyes never leaving Obi-Wan’s. The man reached out slowly, until his fingertips almost brushed against the collar. Obi-Wan’s eyes went wide as something cold and impossible whispered around his neck, a sensation of fury and hate building in the Force. It wasn’t something Obi-Wan had ever encountered at the Temple, but he’d seen enough evil and hate on his trip to Bandomeer to know how darker emotions felt in the Force. He swallowed again, not daring to move as Qui-Gon – Qui-Gon’s eyes changed. Blood-tinged yellow bled into the blue, and the Dark side started to rouse.
He wanted to run – but where to, further into the mine? Instead he remained frozen in place as blue-violet sparks hissed from Qui-Gon’s fingers.
The metal around his neck warmed, letting out protesting hisses and pops, then a few light streams of acrid smoke. Qui-Gon convulsively clenched his hand into a fist, then back open, brusquely opening the now inoperative collar with the Force, and catching it as it fell.
Obi-Wan’s hand few up to his throat as the Master Jedi took his arm and moved them both back from the door. “Master Jinn?” Obi-Wan dared to squeak. That earned him a glare from those horrible eyes, and a hint of a snarl.
“Not. Now.” When they were a reasonable distance from the door, Master Jinn threw the collar, guiding it with the Force until it thunked against the locked metal door. His other hand rose, and more lightning ripped through the air. No mere sparks this time, but true Force Lightning, the Dark side snarling through the mine as bright fury lashed into the explosives and set them off.
When the dust cleared, the door was gone.
The Dark side was not.
Obi-Wan looked to the man he’d begged to be his teacher. Qui-Gon Jinn lowered his arms, eyes still Sith yellow, refusing to look at him. The hints of something cold and dangerous that Obi-Wan had sensed both times he and Qui-Gon had fought alongside each other, and the flat refusals to consider Obi-Wan as a potential padawan, it all made sense now.
Except it didn’t.
Because that would mean Qui-Gon Jinn was Fallen.
“Come, we’re not safe yet,” Qui-Gon growled. He had to tug at the still stunned Obi-Wan to get him started, but two hustled through the smoking remains of the door and up the narrow passageway. As soon as they were back to the main corridor, Qui-Gon activated the first emergency siren they passed. “There.” Obi-Wan blinked and stared at the grimly satisfied tone from Master Jinn who no, could not be Dark. “The lift. Quickly!”
The man stopped so abruptly, it was only his size that kept him from being bowled over as Obi-Wan ran into him. Yes, the lift was right there, but Master Jinn was staring at an innocuous box discreetly left in the corner near the lift.
“That box.” Master Jinn’s voice sounded off, both suspicious and a little haunted.
Obi-Wan glanced up at Qui-Gon, and it was a relief to see the yellow was gone from the man’s eyes. Turning his attention to the box, Obi-Wan frowned. “It’s like the one I saw in storage. And on the mining platform.”
Qui-Gon gestured for Obi-Wan to stay put as he went over to the box. He knelt down, popped it open, then hissed a curse even as he rocked back on his heels.
The hell with staying put. Obi-Wan got close enough to see over the man’s shoulder. He took in the complicated mess of wiring and a timer counting down, something straight out of a holodrama. “A bomb?” he said in disbelief. “But...”
Qui-Gon’s shoulders had slumped a little, but at Obi-Wan’s voice they straightened. “I have to disable this.” He took a deep breath and peered inside the box, eyes tracing the twisting lines. “I can do it, but I don’t know if I’ll be in time. Get moving.”
Obi-Wan stared at the four minutes remaining on the timer – if it was even accurate, for that matter; who knew what a madman like Xanatos would do? For all they knew, it could explode on the three minute mark, or – hells, anything. “How long do you need?” he asked hollowly, voice sounding dull and odd to his own ears.
“Go!” Qui-Gon snapped, which was answer enough.
He shook his head even as Master Jinn was tracking wires, probably following the Force as he picked his way through them. He was moving with speed and precision gifted by the Force, but even with that.... “How long?”
Master Jinn made an angry, frustrated noise, though he didn’t slow. “About fifteen minutes unless I get lucky, so go. Get the miners away – I don’t want them dying to guard their damn ionite.”
The Force shivered through Obi-Wan, and he stared. “Ionite? This is an ionite mine?” Why the blazes had no one said? He looked around the tunnel, recalling the horrible story he’d heard on the mining platform. There’d been some truly gruesome details about a slave who’d died because traces of ionite had shorted out some of his equipment.
“Obi-Wan, go!” Qui-Gon shouted, still bent over the bomb.
“Is there ionite close by?” he snapped back, because maybe, Force willing, there was something he could do.
Master Jinn finally looked up, the expression on his face virtually a plea to the gods. “Obi-Wan!”
“It’s important!” Something to his tone must have gotten through. Qui-Gon hesitated, looking a bit taken aback.
“Yes.” He nodded down the corridor. “Those chunks of metal are ionite.”
Obi-Wan turned and ran without a word, tapping in to the Force to give him speed and keep him steady. He gathered up as many rocks as he could quickly find and easily carry. He was fairly certain some of them were just rocks, but he didn’t have time, and at least some of them had to be metal.
He dumped his haul by the bomb, encircling the box with them and wincing at the increasing, high-pitched hum the bomb’s mechanics let off as more and more of the metal surrounded it.
Finally, the timer stuttered, blinking erratically before it went entirely dark. Obi-Wan slumped back on his heels, letting out a relieved sigh. When he looked up to meet Qui-Gon’s stunned gaze, he shrugged. “Ionite has a neutral charge. It shorts out most electronics.”
Qui-Gon stared at him a moment more, then nodded. “Well done,” he declared softly, also settling back. “Very well done.”
It was two exhausted Jedi who stumbled back into their room, physically and emotionally wrung out. The two of them had spent the rest of the day talking to the miners, as well as locating and dismantling the rest of the bombs Xanatos had left scattered all over Bandomeer. Obi-Wan debated the merits of a long shower over collapsing straight into sleep. It was only when the door closed behind them that it occurred to him through his haze of fatigue that he should be worried. He was now alone in a small room with a user of the Dark side.
“You can use the ’fresh–” Qui-Gon’s tired voice cut off abruptly.
Obi-Wan followed Qui-Gon’s gaze. The man strode towards the bed he had claimed. Just visible from his angle, Obi-Wan could see a piece of flimsiplast pinned to the pillow by a vibro-shiv.
Qui-Gon leaned down and roughly pulled the paper off the knife. He read it, then sat down on the bed with a thump. His elbows rested on his knees, the message dangling almost limply from one hand as the other came up to swipe over his face.
Obi-Wan went over, tugging the ’plast out of Qui-Gon’s hand.
If you are reading this, I suppose I underestimated you. I won't next time. I enjoyed our adventure together, Master. I am certain you will have the pleasure of meeting me again. Obi-Wan blinked. Xanatos had even signed it, adding in all sorts of flourishes to his name.
Huh. He’s crazier than I thought.
At a loss for anything else to do, he sat down beside Qui-Gon. He could sense nothing from the man in the Force. Obi-Wan wasn’t sure if it was because he was too tired to read the Force well, or if Master Jinn’s shields were just that good.
After a moment, emotion twisted Qui-Gon’s face and his hand flew to the knife, yanking it out of the pillow. He hauled back and threw it viciously. It drove into the wall with enough force to stick there, shaking with the force behind the throw.
Ah. Shields, then.
Qui-Gon sat back, resting his face in one hand, shoulders slumped. “You should go clean up,” he declared, voice dull and flat.
Obi-Wan had so many questions, so many things he wanted to say or ask about, that he couldn’t settle on one. Xanatos. Bandomeer. The hows and the whys. What actually happened down in that mine. In the end, he went with the simplest of the lot. “What are you going to do with me?”
Qui-Gon looked at him, sighed. “Nothing in particular,” Qui-Gon finally declared, voice quiet and weary. “The better question would be, what are you planning to do?”
He blinked. “Oh.” He didn’t seem able to come up with a good answer. The issue was so large, so complicated, so impossible. Obi-Wan sat there for a long moment, struggling to find anything, be it a product of his own logic or something from the Force.
Qui-Gon shook his head wearily. “Go shower.”
It was easier to obey than to work out the right thing to do.
The hot water eased some of his aches, giving him at least the sensation of a second wind, though Obi-Wan still felt raw and wrung out. At least by the time he was done, he felt slightly less like death warmed over.
Qui-Gon was still sitting on his bed when Obi-Wan got back. After a moment’s hesitation, he sat down next to the exhausted, listless Master. Qui-Gon didn’t look dangerous. It was surreal, to say the least. “You asked me what I was going to do. Why?”
Master Jinn didn’t look at him. “Because, unless you’ve developed a very convenient case of selective amnesia, you know about...that. About me.”
“Yes, but...” Obi-Wan hesitated, then shrugged, feeling thoroughly at a loss. “What can I do?” He’d failed. On so many levels, he had failed. He was no padawan, just a washed-out initiate with a temper, and what other options did he have besides the Agri-Corps?
Qui-Gon was giving him a guarded, wary look. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know?” He was tired, he was confused, and the universe was feeling stranger by the moment. “Some answers might be nice? Are you Fallen? Something else? Why save my life – more than once?” The questions started tumbling from his mouth once he began putting them out there, and it was like he couldn’t find the brakes. “How does Xanatos really fit into all of this? What – arghh, what’s going on?”
Master Jinn was no longer looking at him, instead staring down at his hands again. “Xanatos...knows less about me than you do,” he answered evasively. “He’s mad. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.” Qui-Gon sighed and scrubbed his face for a moment. He looked older than he had just three days ago. “For myself, I suppose ‘Fallen’ will do.” He stared at the wall listlessly. Shook his head. “It’s as accurate as anything else.” He took a deep, bracing breath. “And why would I not save your life?” The look he shot at Obi-Wan was a strange mix of wary resignation and weariness.
Qui-Gon seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was a Darksider, or that he should want an inconvenient witness conveniently dead. It went against absolutely everything Obi-Wan had learned of the Dark side, and every single story about Darksiders, from history or myth. Yet here they sat, both still alive. “I...I don’t know. You used Force lightning. Doesn’t...I mean, the stories all say that those who use Force lightning are evil.” It was Obi-Wan’s turn to try to inhale serenity. “But you saved my life.” His voice somehow didn’t crack, though it was subdued. “It would’ve been easy to let me die. I was volunteering, for the love of the Force! I...don’t know what to think.”
“Are you going to tell anyone?” It was a surprise, that Master Jinn’s deep voice could be that quiet.
“I should, shouldn’t I?” Obi-Wan asked, bewildered. “But I’m just...I’m just a washed out initiate.” His voice turned bitter in spite of himself. “They’d all think I was just trying to get back at you.”
“You might get lucky,” Qui-Gon pointed out, sounding hesitant even as he tried to – well, what the hells was he trying to do? “Someone might believe you. Enough to start investigating.”
Master Jinn’s confidence in the Jedi Order was painful. Obi-Wan gave a resigned shake of the head. “No, they wouldn’t. They didn’t even ask me why I’d gotten into a fight with Bruck. They just expelled me. I had a month to go, and–!” He bit back more, taking a deep, shuddering breath. “Nobody would believe me. I’m going to be...stuck on Bandomeer...” Force, he was crying. He knew he was stripped down to the bone, his emotions volatile and close to the surface. Trying to wrestle himself back under control, he took a few furious swipes to clear the tears from his eyes. His voice wavered when he could manage to talk again. “You were my last chance.”
Qui-Gon went rigid, back straight and expression cold. “You understand why I can’t,” he snapped, voice harsh.
Obi-Wan nodded even as he swiped away more tears. “I’m sorry. I'm sorry, I'm- I'm trying to accept it. I am. I know I don't have to be a Je- a Jedi, to be a good person. A farmer is a good thing to be. A valuable thing to be. I just...” Words failed Obi-Wan, and he trailed off into silence.
“All you’ve ever wanted, was to be a Jedi.” Qui-Gon filled in, quiet and subdued.
Obi-Wan nodded, biting back tears as much as he could. He was surprised at the warm arm that wrapped around his shoulders. The sleeve was grimy and smelled of sweat and dirt, but Obi-Wan leaned into the solid weight of Qui-Gon Jinn, hiding his face against the sweat-stiffened tunic.
“I would teach you if I could,” Qui-Gon finally said, voice still soft.
“Pity?” Obi-Wan snapped, feeling the unfairness of his situation keenly.
“Don’t sell yourself short. You’d be a very good student, I think.” Master Jinn’s voice turned harsh. “I, however, am a very poor teacher.”
That finally managed to shock Obi-Wan. “No you’re not, you’re a respected Master-“
“Xanatos.” Qui-Gon delivered the word with bitter finality. “I...thought I could train him as a Jedi. I was clearly very, very wrong.” He glanced down when Obi-Wan made an inquiring noise, and shrugged. “Maybe...I don’t know. Maybe I was simply blind to his faults. Maybe I...influenced him, somehow. Maybe my shielding wasn’t good enough, and prolonged exposure to my….my nature, corrupted him. Or maybe I’m just missing something.”
Obi-Wan’s curiosity ate at him until he broke the fragile silence, pulling away enough to look Master Jinn in the eyes. “Please. I promise I won’t tell. What...what are you?”
The pause was long enough that he thought Qui-Gon was silently refusing to answer. “A Sith,” Master Jinn finally declared, damning himself with his own reluctant words. “I’m a Sith.”
Obi-Wan went quiet and still, struggling to accept what he’d suspected but refused to believe.
“Reconsidering that promise of yours?” At least some of the wry humor had come back to Master Jinn’s voice.
Obi-Wan gave a convulsive shake of the head, somehow managing to squeak out, “How?”
The muscles in Master Jinn’s jaw tightened, then he glanced away. “It is a long story. Not one I’m especially fond of.”
“Is...is that why you only come to the Temple once a year?” Force, so many strange little things were slotting into place, and in part it made him shiver, but a half-mad idea was starting to form in the back of his mind.
“In part.” Master Jinn sighed and looked back at Obi-Wan. “I can do more good out on the fringes, where Jedi go less often. My life is a small thing to risk, for that.”
The silence hung between them, just long enough for that mad little idea to fully form. Obi-Wan reached out, gripping Qui-Gon’s tunic enough to make his knuckles turn while. “Take me as your Apprentice.”
“What?” The harsh question snapped through the room as Qui-Gon went rigid. Obi-Wan sat up a bit to face him, but he didn’t move away.
“I...You said you can’t teach a Jedi.” Force, how was his voice so steady, so certain? “So don’t teach a Jedi.”
“No.” Master Jinn snarled a little as he pulled back, but not pulling out of Obi-Wan’s hold.
“We work well together. If I stay here I’m going to, what, grow plants? I’m not meant for that.” Obi-Wan was certain of it. Now if he could just convince Qui-Gon Jinn.
The man looked like he thought Obi-Wan was at least half out of his mind. “Being a Sith is a bad thing,” Qui-Gon snapped back.
“But you’re not bad!”
Qui-Gon’s eyes narrowed and he nearly growled. “You are too ignorant to be spouting off –”
“You saved everyone today!” Obi-Wan’s grip tightened. “You saved the miners. You saved me. You didn’t have to come for me at all but you did. You didn’t have to defuse the bomb but you did. Even when you thought you’d die doing it!” Obi-Wan shook his head, not sure if he was flying on rage or certainty or desperation. “I’d rather learn from you – learn to be a –” his voice finally faltered, but he recovered quickly “– a Sith like you, than to go into the Agri-Corps.”
He could see, an instant before the man’s patience snapped, how far he’d pushed Qui-Gon. Hands like vices closed around Obi-Wan’s arms, pinning him in place.
There was Darkness everywhere. It had been directed earlier, in the mine, but now it was just there, something cold and bitter creeping around the room. Jinn’s eyes blazed amber. “You are ignorant, Initiate. You do not want to be this. Once you go down the Dark path, you are lost. Didn’t you pay any attention in your classes?”
Frustrated anger rose up in Obi-Wan, blotting out any trace of fear. He met Master Jinn stubborn glare for stubborn glare. “I did. Perhaps better than you! Two weeks ago, I was certain that to be of any use to anyone, I’d have to be a Jedi! It was all that I wanted! Two days ago, I was willing to accept that I don’t have to be a Jedi to be a good person, and as of two minutes ago, I’m not sure being Dark means I can’t be a good person either! If you’re faking everything you do to hide the fact that you’re Sith, then you’re doing a damn poor job of being evil, Master Jinn!”
Jinn pulled back, as did the rampaging Darkness. He looked...he looked a little flabbergasted, a little...lost.
Obi-Wan set his jaw, and pressed his advantage. “If I’m ignorant, then teach me! Maybe you do know something about the Darkness leading to evil or whatever. But in the meantime, I have evidence to the contrary right in front of my face, and I’m not going to stop my ears or close my eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist!”
The silence sat between them. Then Qui-Gon lifted his head. “And if I refuse you still?” he asked.
Obi-Wan sagged, biting back yet more pleas and arguments, until his urgency bled away with a sigh. He looked away. “Then I suppose I’ll be the best farmer I can be,” he said at last.
In his heart of hearts, he hoped it was a test. Yet he’d been refused so many times. If it wasn’t a test...then his words still held. He would tell no one. He would not try to expose Qui-Gon. Better that at least one of them continued to do good, do things more useful than grow grass.
Qui-Gon surprised him by reaching out and putting a large, rough hand on Obi-Wan’s head. “You’re scared.” His voice was soft.
If he’d still been at the temple, he would have known the right thing to say. But out here, things were different, more complicated, and sometimes there was no right answer. To all the hells with tests, with trying to please a teacher. He looked Qui-Gon Jinn in the eyes and let the truth out. “Of you turning me down again.”
Qui-Gon sighed deeply and sat back, staring at the knife still embedded in the wall. Obi-Wan watched him. His future balanced on this moment, and he knew it, just as he knew it was more than likely that it had been decided already, and this was simply more railing into the void.
“I don’t know if I can teach you to be a–a Sith like me. You would be my first Apprentice. This could all go horribly wrong.”
Obi-Wan’s heart leapt up into his throat, and his eyes went wide with hope. That...that was not a “no.” Force, please! Please!
Qui-Gon finally looked at him. “As long as you are aware of how dangerous this path is–”
“I’ll take the risk!” He bit his lip a moment later, mentally cursing himself for jumping in.
Qui-Gon kept looking at him, judging him. Weighing who knew what. Then his lips curled into a tiny, wry smile that had as much ruefulness as it did humor. “Then...I take you as my Apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
It took a moment to understand what he’d heard, and another moment to believe it was real, to let it settle in his bones. Obi-Wan felt like he could fly off in ten different directions. He lunged forward to hug Qui-Gon with fine disregard for anything like Jedi propriety or restraint. “Master!” he choked out, tears welling up in his eyes again.
“My Apprentice,” Qui-Gon rumbled back, returning the hug.