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Soldier, Poet, King

Chapter Text

 

A man who's pure of heart and says his prayers by night

may still become a wolf when the autumn moon is bright.

If you could only see the beast you made of me

I've held it in but now it seems you've set it running free.

Howl, Florence + the Machine


 

The massive, pyramidal structure of the Malachor Sith temple looms before them, and Padawan Kenobi can’t shake off the unease that seems to have settled into his bones. This is a planet where Jedi have not set foot for a thousand years. Darkness hangs over the air like a cloak, and the frozen remains of both ancient Jedi and Sith warriors dot the landscape like grotesque statuary. There is no light here in the caves below the planet’s thin surface; their path is lit only by what can squeeze through the cracks in the surface crust and the glow of Qui-Gon’s lightsaber. Obi-Wan’s own hangs unlit at his waist.

“Careful, Padawan.” Qui-Gon reprimands when Obi-Wan trips over a disembodied arm in the darkness.

“Sorry,” Kenobi whispers, irrationally afraid of disturbing the dead. He edges closer to his Master when he rights himself, both for security and to fend off the chill that permeates the air around them. “I don’t like the feel of this place.”

“You shouldn’t,” Qui-Gon tells him. “This place is an affront to everything the Jedi stand for.”

Obi-Wan wants to snap that he knows this, wants to ask why the Council assigned them this mission if it’s such an abhorrence, but holds his tongue. The Darkness of this place is putting him on edge, and it is not his place to question the decisions of the Council—his Master does enough of that for the both of them. Instead, he turns his head to study his Master.

They’ve come to a stand-still at the foot of the temple, and Qui-Gon stares up at its peak with a scowl. There’s more grey in his hair than there was when he first took Obi-Wan as his Padawan, and there are wrinkles around his eyes that suggest that the darkness of this place is straining on him as much as it is Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan only notices these things because he has stood at the man’s side for years now; to the untrained eye, he still looks the part of cool and confidant Jedi Master, though.  Obi-Wan may disagree with a number of his Master’s decisions, but he still has great respect for the man who chose to train him against all odds. Qui-Gon is reckless and fanciful and values the will of the Force over the Council’s decisions, but he is also clever and loyal and compassionate—a pillar of strength within the Living Force. Even now, on this wasteland of a planet, at the very doors of their enemy’s fortress, he does not shy away from what must be done.

“How are we supposed to get in?” Obi-Wan asks, his gaze flicking away from Qui-Gon to scan the smooth stone that makes up the side of the temple. There is nothing to indicate a door of any kind, beyond a small groove in the stone just around waist height.

Qui-Gon makes a considering noise, then steps forward to study the strange groove in the otherwise flawless stone surface. From his belt he produces something that looks vaguely like a holocron. Unlike the Jedi holocron that Obi-Wan has seen, which are square and usually blue in color, this particular one is pyramidal and a deep red. It all but emanates darkness from where it rests in Qui-Gon’s palm.

“Is that—?” He asks as Qui-Gon slots the object into the groove with a click.

“A Sith holocron, yes.” The Master says, stepping back a few paces and pulling Obi-Wan with him.

The very earth seems to shudder, and Obi-Wan grabs hold of Qui-Gon’s sleeve to keep himself balanced. As they watch, a slab of stone at the center of the temple slowly rises, revealing a passageway. It is as ominous as everything else they’ve seen so far. Something from within glows faintly red, and Obi-Wan can’t help but be reminded of the gaping maws of dangerous fauna, poised to devour unsuspecting prey.

Qui-Gon steps toward the tunnel, collecting the holocron as he goes, and Obi-Wan falls into step behind him. The Master returns the holocron to his utility belt, and they walk in silence for a few minutes.

“How did you know that would work?” The Padawan asks, curiosity finally getting the better of him. He trails just behind his Master as they make their way through the temple’s halls. The walls are decorated with carvings and words in a language long forgotten; their footsteps echo loudly in the eerie silence.

“Ancient records indicate that Sith holocron may function like keys, in certain temples. I had no way to know for certain if it would work as such here, but the Council believed it prudent that we take one with us, so we may err on the side of caution. This particular holocron has resided in the Black Vaults below the Jedi Temple since it was recovered in the last great Sith war.”

“What’s on it?”

“Who knows,” Qui-Gon says with a wry grin. “Only a Dark Side user can open a Sith holocron. As such, no Jedi has been able to open it and uncover its secrets.”

“Oh,” Obi-Wan mutters. He questions the merit of taking a holocron filled with unknown and potentially dangerous information away from the safety of the Jedi temple, but again, it’s not his place to question the decisions of the Council.

When they round the next corner, the hallway before them abruptly splits off in two different directions and Obi-Wan is spared having to brood on the subject for a few heartbeats. Both Master and Padawan still just before the split. Qui-Gon studies the paths, the scowl returning to his face as he does so.

“Sith adhere to a Rule of Two,” Qui-Gon explains without prompting. He had long ago learned of his Padawan’s inquisitive nature. “One Master and one Apprentice. When the Apprentice grew strong enough, they would kill their Master and take on a student of their own…”

A sigh.

“I suspect this to be a test of sorts. I don’t like the idea of splitting up, but it is unlikely we will be able to reach the heart of the temple by taking one path alone.”

“I am nearly a Knight now, Master,” Obi-Wan is quick to assure, “I can handle anything this temple may throw at me. There is nothing that the Darkness can tempt me with.”

“Of course, Padawan,” Qui-Gon says, and Obi-Wan thinks that there is a wariness in his Master’s eyes that doesn’t belong there. His smile is almost sad. “But take this with you. Just in case.”

The Master retrieves the holocron from his utility belt and presses it into Obi-Wan’s palms. It’s unusually warm to the touch—a sharp contrast to the chill that’s managed to sink into the Padawan’s very bones.

“You may need it more than I,” Jinn explains, watching Obi-Wan carefully pocket the small device.

Obi-Wan makes to reach for his lightsaber, but is halted by a firm hand on his shoulder. His Master is still wearing that sad smile, and his brows are creased with concern.

“Master?”

“Be safe, Padawan,” is all Jinn says, squeezing Obi-Wan’s shoulder gently before stepping away and proceeding down the right tunnel.

Obi-Wan ignites his saber, and begins down his own tunnel.

__

Obi-Wan expects his next step to land on solid stone, as the others before it have, and is understandably startled when the ground beneath his foot gives way—crumbling and falling into a yawning abyss. His lightsaber slips from his grip, thankfully deactivating in the process, but there’s no way he can scrape together the concentration to summon it back to his hand in this situation. There is the brief sensation of falling, and for a single, terrifying heartbeat Obi-Wan believes that this Force-forsaken temple will actually get the better of him. And then—

Nothing.

There is no wind rushing in his ears; no stomach-churning feeling of weightlessness. His robes are drawn tight around his throat and chest, but he no longer feels like he’s tumbling to his demise. Something flickers in the Force nearby. He can’t quite pin it down, the presence slipping between his fingers like sand every time he reaches for it.

“Try not to move,” A sudden, unfamiliar voice says from somewhere behind him. Obi-Wan jerks in surprise, earning a displeased hiss from his potential rescuer and another snarl to be still, and then he’s being hauled backwards and up onto solid ground. His lightsaber is, unfortunately, not so lucky, dropping into the seemingly bottomless crevasse and swallowed by the Darkness.

It’s another moment, once he can feel smooth stone against his knees and palms, before Obi-Wan can force his mind, near whited-out in terror, to cooperate. He’s in a potentially (or not-so potentially, as it did just try to kill him) hostile Sith temple, separated from his Master, with a complete stranger. And now he’s unarmed. This is exactly the kind of situation that Qui-Gon had wanted him to avoid when he asked Obi-Wan to stay safe.

The Padawan can hear his rescuer panting somewhere behind him with the exertion of pulling him to safety. Around him, the Force is still flickering in that strange and somewhat unsettling way. The adrenaline from his near-death experience is draining away as his heartbeat steadies and his thoughts clear; the shout that caught in his throat when his fall began slips through his teeth as a choked sob—whether it is of fear or relief, even Obi-Wan doesn’t know.

Forcing his body to move, Obi-Wan shifts until he can get a good look at his savior.

His rescuer is a human male, likely only a few years older than Obi-Wan himself. Blonde hair tumbles down to shoulders in unruly curls, and dark, battered robes, vaguely similar to those worn by the Jedi, pool on the floor around him. He’s kneeling on the floor a few paces behind Obi-Wan, hunched over and supporting himself on his palms while he catches his breath. One of his hands, the Padawan notes, glows strangely in the dim light of the tunnel. It takes him a moment to piece together that the limb must be artificial. When the man looks up to meet Obi-Wan’s gaze, his eyes are a deep blue.

“You should be more careful,” The man says, a teasing lilt to his voice despite still being out of breath. There’s something strange about that, but Obi-Wan isn’t sure what. “This place is dangerous.”

“So I’ve noticed,” Obi-Wan responds, pushing himself to his feet in attempt to appear even somewhat intimidating. Qui-Gon often teases him that he could not intimidate a mouse droid with his young face; he desperately wishes he still had his lightsaber. “Which begs the question: who are you and what are you doing here?”

The man smirks and, too, rises. He’s got a good few inches on Obi-Wan, the padawan notes unhappily. So much for intimidation. “My name is Anakin Skywalker, and I’m exploring these ruins.”

His words ring true in the Force, and though Obi-Wan can’t sense any ill intent from the man, he can’t help but be suspicious. “Seems like a strange place to explore. Surely there are other, safer places you could have gone?”

“Of course. But I have unfinished business in this place,” The amused smirk Anakin had been wearing up to that point slowly drops from his face, brows creasing with whatever memory is playing behind his eyes. “I had to leave pretty quickly, the last time I was here. I was injured.”

“One would think that you would learn your lesson the first time.”

The smile Anakin gives him is painfully forced. “One would think.”

The brief silence that falls between them is awkward, and Obi-Wan finds himself shifting restlessly from foot to foot. He needs to move forward, needs to meet Qui-Gon, but now there is quite literally no path for him to take now that the floor has caved in. He can’t see where the tunnel continues on the other side.

And then there’s Skywalker. Obi-Wan can feel the hairs on the back of his neck pricking under the other man’s gaze as the Padawan studies the crevasse before them. The man’s breathing has, for the most part, settled now, but there is still something off about it. Each breath is shaky and uneven—the pauses between them too long, like he’s having to remember to take each one.

Obi-Wan turns back to face the other man, and for a heartbeat thinks he sees gold in Anakin’s eyes. By the time he blinks, however, they are blue again.

“Are you alright?” He asks.

“What? Oh. No, I’m fine. It’s just been a while since I’ve done this,” Anakin murmurs distractedly, still studying Obi-Wan closely.

Done what? Breathe? Obi-Wan wants to retort, but Anakin speaks again, effectively derailing that train of thought.

“What are you doing here? I mean, where are you going?”

“I’m searching for the heart of the temple, though it doesn’t look like I’ll be getting there any time soon.”

Anakin considers him for a moment more before saying, “I’m heading there as well. Come on, we’ll go together.”

“And how do you expect to get there?” Obi-Wan looks pointedly at the gaping hole in the floor before them.

“There are other paths.”

With an encouraging gesture, Skywalker turns away and sets off in the direction Obi-Wan came from. The padawan looks between his retreating form and his blocked path, then follows after him. He needs to meet Qui-Gon, and he clearly isn’t going any further on this path. Besides, Anakin seems… alright. He isn’t triggering any of Obi-Wan’s instincts, at least. He saved Obi-Wan from falling, and doesn’t seem to be up to anything. Just an adventurer in the wrong place at the right time. If he knows another path to the heart of the temple, it would be foolish to waste that knowledge.

The passage Anakin leads Obi-Wan to is hidden behind a jagged rock formation and nearly invisible to the untrained eye. It’s also incredibly dark, even compared to the already dim temple interior. Obi-Wan desperately wishes for his lightsaber back.

“What’s the matter?” Anakin asks when he notices Obi-Wan’s hesitation. “Afraid of the dark?”

The teasing look is back in his eyes, and Obi-Wan scowls at the man in return. “No. I just don’t think it wise to enter a potentially booby-trapped tunnel without being able to see what’s in front of us.”

“Come on, it’s perfectly safe! I’ll go first, if it’ll make you feel better.” A pause, and with a suggestive waggle of his eyebrows, Skywalker adds, “I’ll even let you hold my hand.”

Obi-Wan barrels past him and into the tunnel without another word. He can hear Skywalker laughing as the other man follows behind.

__

There is light at the end of the tunnel, and Obi-Wan heaves a sigh of relief. His back is aching from the hunched position he’d had to take as the tunnel’s ceiling steadily grew lower and lower, and he feels a vindictive spike of pleasure in knowing that Anakin must be in even more discomfort thanks to his greater height.

Oh thank Force, he thinks he hears the man mutter when they’re finally out, but he isn’t really listening.

The room they’ve entered is undoubtedly the one they are looking for: a vast chamber, awash in red light. Pillars made of the same dark stone as the walls form neat lines through the room, holding aloft a ceiling so high that Obi-Wan can’t even make it out. Not an inch of this place is spared from carvings: geometric designs, ancient text, and pictures.

Two men in combat, back to back, cutting down a field of opponents; a figure in an insectoid mask, surrounded by bodies, kneeling before something hunched and robed; two children, one in the arms of a bearded man under twin suns and the other held by a couple before a vast mountain rage.

There are many, many more.

A choked noise comes from somewhere, and Obi-Wan turns to watch Skywalker run the fingers of his flesh hand almost reverently over a carving of a young woman standing before a crowd in what appears to be celebration. At her side are a young man and a boy—the only figures in the carving not smiling. Anakin traces each figure in turn, a strange tilt to his lips and an unidentifiable emotion behind his eyes. He’s murmuring something, too soft for Obi-Wan to make out the words, even with his Force-enhanced sentences. Around them, the Force is turbulent.

He doesn’t linger on Anakin’s strange behavior long, though. There, in the center of the room, is what they came for: the holocron. The small pyramidal device is almost an exact match to the one in Obi-Wan’s bag, if only a bit larger and more orange than red, when he pulls the temple’s holocron out to compare them.

Anakin is still standing over by the wall, investigating the carvings.

Qui-Gon has yet to arrive.

It worries him. What if Qui-Gon ran into trouble, like they did? What if he’s injured, bleeding out in some hall somewhere? What if he’s dead?

No, Obi-Wan would know if he died. Their Master-Padawan would surely alert him to that. But the Force is so wild here. When he closes his eyes and reaches for Qui-Gon, it feels like there’s static inside his mind; it feels like something’s interfering, like when someone else is trying to broadcast on the same com frequency.

“Are you going to stand there all day?”

Obi-Wan starts, so lost in his head that he’d missed Anakin’s approach. The man hovers over his shoulder, eyes flickering between the Padawan and the holocron.

“I should probably wait…” Obi-Wan mumbles, thinking it wise not to go touching Dark Side artifacts without a Master, or at least an experienced Knight, present. But there’s still static in his mind, that image of Qui-Gon injured in the temple’s shadowed halls makes a reappearance, and suddenly retrieving the holocron himself doesn’t sound so terrible. The sooner he takes it, the sooner he can get to his Master.

When Obi-Wan reaches for it with his free hand, he meets an invisible field that keeps him from touching the holocron. A sharp sting races up his arm and he draws his arm back with a pained hiss.

“Here, let me help,” Anakin all but croons, directing Obi-Wan to follow his lead when he reaches up toward the holocron.

This time, with both their hands reaching out, they pass through the barrier with ease. They tug the holocron free, and Anakin relinquishes his grip on the device when Obi-Wan tries to pull it closer for inspection.

The new holocron, much like the other, is warm in his palm. This one, however, seems to pulse with a slick, oily Darkness far stronger than holocron one they brought with them. Obi-Wan wants to drop it, if only to be spared the mental sensation of inky black oozing through his fingers.

A hand lands on his shoulder—too small to be Qui-Gon’s. Anakin.

“Well done, Obi-Wan,” Skywalker praises, giving the Padawan’s shoulder an encouraging squeeze, “I bet Master Jinn will be proud to find you’ve beaten him to the holocron.”

Obi-Wan opens his mouth to tell him that it likely won’t be so, that his Master and the Council will likely lecture him on this as soon as they return to Coruscant, when the realization washes over him like a bucket of cold water.

He never told Anakin his name; he certainly never told him about Master Jinn.

Wrenching himself from the man’s grip, Obi-Wan spins in time to watch Anakin’s expression change from something that might be considered fond to disappointed realization as the other man puts together the pieces of Obi-Wan’s sudden rejection.

“Oh,” Anakin sighs, “I’ve ruined the surprise, haven’t I?”

There’s the sound of hurried footsteps on stone, but it feels a thousand miles away. In the moment, the Force is clearing, and with it comes a tide of Darkness the likes of which Obi-Wan has never felt before. The blue in Anakin’s eyes flows like water down a drain, replaced by the harsh gold Obi-Wan had seen earlier, but written off as a figment of his imagination.

“Who are you?” Obi-Wan snarls, trying put space between himself and Skywalker. A fruitless endeavor—for each step backward, Anakin takes one forward, until Obi-Wan can feel the rough, carved stone of a column at his back and there’s nowhere else to go.

“I told you the truth, Obi-Wan. My name is Anakin Skywalker.” Anakin purrs, grin predatory. “But if you prefer, you may call me Darth Vader.”

All at once, Qui-Gon’s words come back to him. The Master and the Apprentice; how he couldn’t get past the barrier to the holocron alone. The implications of his actions make him nauseous, and Obi-Wan regrets every decision he’s made up to and including parting ways with Qui-Gon at the fork in the path.

He’s in a hostile Sith temple, separated from his Master, and he’s unarmed. And oh, that perfectly friendly stranger that saved him? He’s a kriffing Sith Lord.

This is definitely not what Qui-Gon meant when he told the Padawan to stay safe.

“Obi-Wan!” A familiar voice shouts, and the Padawan nearly sobs with relief at the sight of Qui-Gon Jinn emerging from another hall, green ‘saber alight in his hand and no worse for wear.

“Master!”

His view is blocked, however, when Anakin—Vader—steps between them.

“Get away from my Padawan,” Obi-Wan hears Qui-Gon snarl.

“Stay out of this, Jinn,” Vader snaps, and Obi-Wan desperately tries to think of a way to keep this situation from escalating.

He can’t be certain, but Vader doesn’t appear to have a weapon. At least, Obi-Wan hasn’t seen any of the tell-tale signs of a hidden weapon, anyways. That isn’t to say the Sith is unarmed—he’s heard enough stories about the terrifying things the Dark Side can make its users capable of doing. Qui-Gon isn’t going to back down without a fight. Not after Xanatos. The Master takes the challenges of Dark Side users personally, now. This is going to escalate, and quickly, if Obi-Wan doesn’t stop it.

If only he could think of a way to incapacitate Vader long enough for Qui-Gon to subdue him. But Obi-Wan, too, is unarmed and Vader is larger than him and—

And Vader has a weakness: his labored, awkward breathing.

All it takes is one strong, properly placed hit and the Sith is on the ground, gasping in attempt to replace the air that rushed from his lungs on impact.

Qui-Gon rushes forward and Obi-Wan moves to meet him, but suddenly neither of them are going in the direction they intended.

Obi-Wan’s muscles seize as if by their own accord, freezing him in place, helpless to do nothing but watch as his Master is sent flying across the vast hall. Qui-Gon hits the wall with a horrible crack and slumps to the floor, limp.

Panic floods Obi-Wan’s mind, and he reaches desperately for the Master-Padawan bond that ties him to Jinn. With Vader no longer using the Force to mask his presence, the strange static in Obi-Wan’s mind has cleared and he can reach Qui-Gon. He’s not dead—just unconscious, thank the Force.

From the corner of his eye, he can see Vader struggling to his feet, breath ragged, one palm extended as he holds Obi-Wan motionless in his grasp.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that you’ve always been horribly crafty,” Vader coughs. He makes his way over to Obi-Wan slowly, still recovering from the hit. “You know, you’re making this so much harder than it has to be.”

“And what is this, then?” The Padawan asks. “Are you going to kill me? Kill my Master?”

“No, I’m not here to kill you. I need something else from you.”

“I will never be your Apprentice!” Kenobi spits.

This draws a laugh from Vader, eyes sparking with a joke only he is privy to. “Oh, I don’t want that from you either.”

Before the Padawan can ask another question, Vader plucks the holocron they just collected from Obi-Wan’s unresisting palm.

“This. This is what I came here for.”

Obi-Wan desperately struggles against Vader’s grip when the Sith begins to move toward Qui-Gon, but he’s too powerful. The Sith kneels before Jinn, reaching out with his flesh hand and pressing his fingers to the Master’s neck, checking his pulse. Apparently satisfied that the man isn’t dead, he collects Qui-Gon’s lightsaber from the floor where it’s fallen and thumbs it on.

“I’ll assume, since you brought one with you, that you know Sith holocrons can be used like keys.” Vader takes his time in his return, sauntering back to stand before Obi-Wan once more. He holds up the holocron in his mechanical hand. “This holocron goes to one lock in particular. In the wrong hands, this temple can become a powerful planetary weapon, capable of so much destruction…”

“I had originally planned to destroy the temple. I’d never be able to get to the holocron on my own, and have enough thermal detonators back in my ship to turn this place to rubble. Dangerous, but effective. A waste of what other resources may be found in this place—the history it contains. Your arrival made that unnecessary.” This time, Vader’s smile is soft and genuine. It makes Obi-Wan’s skin crawl. “I suppose I should thank you for that, old friend.”

There are about a hundred different layers to that sentence, and Obi-Wan would dissect them all if not for being suddenly released from Vader’s hold. The Padawan throws himself backwards just as Vader lashes out with Jinn’s lightsaber. The holocron the Council gave them slips from Kenobi’s grip, and the other clatters to the floor in singed pieces.

“There is some power that no one should possess,” Vader softly growls.

Obi-Wan can barely bring himself to breathe when Vader bends to collect the Council’s fallen holocron, as though afraid any sudden movement cause the Sith to turn on him. Jinn’s lightsaber slips from Vader's fingers and falls to the floor, forgotten.

“I hope you don’t mind if I borrow this?” Vader asks. Clearly rhetorically, as Obi-Wan would never give a Sith Lord anything, let alone something from the Black Vault.

And just like that, Vader is gone, striding off without so much as a goodbye. Obi-Wan is frozen in place until the sound of the man’s footsteps have faded away to nothing. Then, he’s rushing to Qui-Gon’s side, his Master coming around with soft groans of pain.

He and Obi-Wan have failed missions before—have been the subject of the Council’s disapproval more times than the Padawan can count. This, however, is going to take the cake.

__

Outside the temple, Vader makes his way back to his ship, quite pleased with how the day turned out. He’d successfully sabotaged Malachor’s planetary weapon, gained a new holocron, and gotten to see a young Obi-Wan in the process.

He doesn’t notice the hooded figure that stands just shy of the temple’s peak, watching him as he goes.