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The hologram of the council (and Qui-Gon) vanished, leaving Venge to scowl at his Healer.

Abella merely stood, implacable, syringe in hand. “Time’s up, you need to sleep. We can either do this here, or somewhere you can actually lie down.”

Venge hated the sense of vulnerability that came with sedation, but after three days awake and a blast of dioxis to the face, even he was ready to acknowledge that it was time.

“Understood.”

“Guess I’ll leave this here then,” Vos announced from the doorway, holding a container.

“What’s that?” Venge asked, eyes narrowed. He hadn’t had the best luck with boxes recently.

“A Force artifact – MonMassa sent it with that last shuttle, she wants you to take a look at it. Don’t worry, the paperwork’s in order and everything.”

“Is it a Sith artifact?” Venge asked, curious despite himself.

“Not that anyone at the temple could detect, apparently” Vos shrugged, depositing the box on Venge’s desk. “Guess MonMassa just wants to make extra sure.”

Abella plucked the file of flimsies up from where it was affixed to the container. “Huhn, it’s from Naboo.”

“Naboo?” Venge asked, immediately suspicious. Was this some trap Sidious had left behind?

“Had to go through a lot of red tape to get here, it looks like,” Abella said, paging through the flimsies. “It’s some kind of historical artifact, and had to clear customs coming and going.” Catching herself, she put the file down. “But you can look at it later. Right now you have a date with a needle.”

“I should at least make sure that it is not, in fact, a Sith trap,” Venge said, flipping the catches and lifting the lid. The artifact lay quietly in a bed of foam. It wasn’t very big, egg-shaped and small enough to hold in his hand. It appeared to be a black opal, small spatterings of light twinkling in its depths like stars.

Venge scowled and probed it with the Force. There was something strange about it, but it didn’t seem to be of the Dark Side. It certainly didn’t bear Sidous’ taint, or even Maul’s.

Gods. Maul. He’d come so close, so damn close, to losing Qui-Gon that day. Had lost him, Before.

Tracing the odd flow of the Force around the object, Venge brushed his fingers lightly over it.

*

Obi-Wan stood behind the last energy barrier as his Master and the Sith came together in a rapid exchange of blows. The Sith’s red saberstaff whirled, driving Qui-Gon onto the defensive. Helpless frustration boiled inside Obi-Wan as he watched the fight shift visibly in the Sith’s favour. Qui-Gon was tiring more quickly than the Sith, and had lost Obi-Wan’s blade at his side. Obi-Wan didn’t need a Force vision to know what was coming, and every part of him cried out against it.

The only warning was the barest ripple in the Force, like the first drops of rain before a monsoon. Darkness and rage exploded into the chamber, dwarfing even the Sith’s cloying presence. The Sith weathered it better than Qui-Gon, almost managing to get past the Jedi Master’s guard in the moment of disorientation caused by the new flood of dark wrath. Only a desperate block saved Qui-Gon’s life.

But it left him open, guard down, as the Sith brought his red blade around whip-quick.

“Nooo!!” Obi-Wan cried in denial, heart clenching cold and tight.

His cry echoed, only it was not an echo.

The Dark Force coalesced and struck, sending the Sith flying across the open maw of the melting pit.

A second Sith, who Obi-Wan would swear on the Force had not been there a moment ago, knelt with arm outstretched in front of the energy barrier that kept Obi-Wan so damnably trapped.

*

Venge’s shields were in disarray, Fire’s rage spilling out of him like water. He felt as if he’d gone ten rounds with a rancor and the world wanted to spin and list drunkenly around him.

However, most of him was failing to take in anything except Qui-Gon in danger, facing off against Maul. Alone.

Over his. Dead. Body.

Bullying shaky legs into cooperation, Venge stood, shedding his cloak. His shields clamped into place as he ignited his lightsaber.

*

Of all the things Qui-Gon Jinn had lived through, being saved by one Sith from another Sith was by far the strangest.   And the newcomer could only be a Sith, for all that he dressed in Jedi robes. Even without the rage beating painfully at his shields, there was no mistaking the burning yellow eyes or the sense of Darkness that permeated every move the newcomer made.

And yet the new Sith’s ‘saber was a pure, unexpected blue.

Qui-Gon met the human Sith’s gaze, and for a moment there was something other than hatred there, something fierce and determined.

“A test?” the Zabrak Sith snarled from the opposite end of the melting pit.

“Your death,” the human Sith corrected, hatred twisting his features.

The Zabrak took a Force-enhanced leap over the pit, saberstaff coming down viciously onto empty air as the human Sith twisted out of the way.

Taking the opportunity to get his breath back, Qui-Gon watched the furious exchange of blows, conflicted. The human Sith was holding his own, for now, but even though neither Sith was fresh (though Qui-Gon had no idea what the human Sith might have been doing before this), he could see the strain starting to tell on the human already.

Perhaps the most surprising thing was that the newcomer was using Jedi fighting styles – slightly changed and with other forms blended in, but still recognizable. One more curiosity to add to the mix, but not immediately important. Qui-Gon breathed deep, readying himself. If the human Sith fell, Qui-Gon would have to take up the fight again, and Obi-Wan was still behind the energy barrier, his frustration a sharp presence in the Force.

The two Sith came apart after a brutal exchange of blows, sending the human skidding in Qui-Gon’s direction. The man caught himself on his hand and knees, lightsaber held steady even as sweat beaded his face and his lungs worked like bellows.

Again that look at Qui-Gon, hatred gone for a split second before the Sith gathered himself to rush his Zabrak counterpart.

Flickers of burning rage slipped out from the human Sith’s shields as he threw himself at the Zabrak, lightsaber almost a blur as he lashed out with more strength than precision. The red saberstaff licked through the newcomer’s guard, tracing along the human Sith’s lower abdomen in a glancing strike that he seemed not to feel.

Or simply chose to disregard, Qui-Gon realized as the human Sith used the opportunity to catch the Zabrak along his shoulder, eliciting a hiss of rage from the black-clad Sith.

The newcomer was going to sacrifice himself. Qui-Gon felt the realization crystalize as the two Sith circled each other, both now breathing hard. Rage and caution filled the Zabrak’s movements. For all the human Sith’s incredible shielding, the occasional flash of rage that made it through was shot through with something like satisfaction and …. joy?

Surely Sith didn’t revel in sacrificing themselves?

*

Venge knew he was too exhausted to win. In that moment, it didn’t matter. Fire raced through him, shoring up his flagging reserves. If he could keep the duel going long enough for the energy barriers to cycle again, releasing the padawan. If he could injure Maul enough to give Qui-Gon the edge he needed. It would be worth it.

Again he threw himself forward, ‘saber up, to engage Maul’s deadly saberstaff.

And then Maul was twisting away, saberstaff blocking Qui-Gon’s green lightsaber.

A new surge of energy flowed through Venge as he harried Maul from one side, while Qui-Gon engaged him from the other. Retreating, Maul managed to extricate himself from between them.

There was no time for words as Venge found himself side-by-side with Qui-Gon, fitting their movements into a synchronous whole, Qui-Gon’s style less polished than Venge was used to but intimately familiar nonetheless. Still, while there was something to be said for a unified front, that was not what fighting Maul required.

Darting forward, Venge exploited an opening to slash alongside Maul’s side, slipping under the saberstaff as it hissed through the air above him. Once more on opposite sides of the Sith, Venge pressed his attack, holding nothing back, tying Maul’s attention to him.

He could only keep it up for a few seconds. That was all Qui-Gon needed.

*

The human Sith fought alongside Qui-Gon like they’d been doing it all their lives, and when he broke off to slip past the Zabrak, Qui-Gon knew almost instinctively to pull back for a moment until the human had the Zabrak’s attention pinned exclusively on him.

Killing the Zabrak Sith from behind might not be the noblest act, but it worked. Qui-Gon’s lightsaber cut through the Zabrak’s torso and twisted around to block the last, automatic strike of the red saberstaff.

Anger was the last thing he felt from the Zabrak as the bisected Sith crumpled to the ground.

The human Sith’s lightsaber cutting into the corpse of the Zabrak was a surprise, even with his rage everywhere.

“Never again. Never again,” the Sith said as more and more rage spilled past his shields. He raised his lightsaber again, cresting a new wave of fury.

“Stop,” Qui-Gon said, not sure why he thought the Sith would listen to him.

Lightsaber still raised, the Sith’s yellow eyes snapped up to fix on Qui-Gon.

The energy barriers cycled again, and without looking, Qui-Gon held up a hand to stop his padawan from doing anything foolish.

*

Obi-Wan was confused, to say the least. Every instinct was screaming at him that the human Sith was at least as dangerous as the Zabrak Sith had been, and needed to be killed. And yet his Master was alive now because of that Sith.

Had it only been an alliance of convenience? Would the remaining Sith turn on them next? His Master’s raised hand held him in place, but Obi-Wan tightened his grip on his lit ‘saber as the Sith’s rage filled the chamber.

The Sith’s eyes, a corrosive yellow, were fixed on his Master, making Obi-Wan itch to throw himself between them. He’d failed to help his Master with the first Sith, he would not fail him again.

The Sith breathed out harshly, tension going out of him in a rush as he slumped, swaying. Pounding rage cut off as if blast shields had come down, abruptly and completely. He all but staggered backwards, away from Qui-Gon, and Obi-Wan slowly sidled up to his Master.

Mumbling something, the Sith shook his head slightly. Obi-Wan wondered pessimistically if they’d traded a vicious Sith for a crazy one.

“Who are you?” Qui-Gon asked, deactivating his lightsaber.

Oh Force no, his Master was going to try to reason with a Sith. Brilliant. “Master,” Obi-Wan said in an insistent undertone, hoping to bring his Master back to his senses.

“Do you need help?” Qui-Gon continued.

“This- this is Naboo. This can’t be Naboo,” the Sith said, louder now.

“Can you tell us your name?” Qui-Gon asked.

“It’s impossible. This didn’t happen anymore,” the Sith said, sounding angry and bewildered.

“What didn’t happen?” Qui-Gon asked with the endless patience he was known for.

The Sith stared at them, shock still plain on his face. Fumblingly, he deactivated his lightsaber. And vanished.

*

Several long hours later, Qui-Gon Jinn stared sleeplessly at the ceiling above his bunk. It had been a chaotic day from start to finish. Even after the defeat of the Trade Federation, there was still cleanup and rescue operations to attend to, not to mention reporting back to the Jedi Council. They’d had to repeat the part about the Zabrak Sith several times.

But not the second Sith. Somehow, Qui-Gon had found himself leaving out any mention of their unexpected ally. Obi-Wan had given him a sidelong look for that, but had kept his peace.

Partly, it was too unbelievable – a Sith, helping Jedi? And then disappearing, Force-presence and all? No, better to discuss it privately with Yoda.

Then there was Qui-Gon’s offer of aid to the Sith. It had seemed like the thing to do at the time, but perhaps… Well, the Sith had ignored the offer anyway.

Qui-Gon turned, sighing. To his annoyance, he found himself quite unable to sleep. Giving up the attempt, Qui-Gon pulled on his boots and went for a walk.

The palace was quiet now, the hush of night laying thick over Theed. Letting his feet take him, Qui-Gon wandered aimlessly.

The first hint of Darkness was subtle and faint, but once he realized exactly what he was sensing, it was easy to track. Would this be the second duel Qui-Gon took part in today? Eying the door in front of him, his hand hovered over the lightsaber at his belt.

The Darkness was evident, but somehow not malevolent. There was no pity in it, certainly, and it was a far harder, deadlier version of the Force than he was used to, but he sensed no malice.

He stepped forward, and the door swished quietly open, revealing a small infirmary.

Qui-Gon took in the figure half-slumped over the countertop at the back of the room, several vials clustered in front of him.

It was a bit surprising that the soft hiss of the door hadn’t alerted the unexpected guest to his presence, but something in the droop of the figure’s shoulders spoke of exhaustion. Qui-Gon let his hand drop away from his lightsaber, and cleared his throat.

Tired yellow eyes fixed on him, yet there was no alarm or even much awareness in that look. “Qui-Gon.”

It was an easy acknowledgement, as if the Sith knew him, and rather expected him to be wandering by and poking his head into the infirmary.

Outside of a hectic duel to the death, this was the first time Qui-Gon had had the opportunity to study the man. Copper-blond, almost red hair hung to about his jaw, which was starting to show stubble, and dark smudges under the yellow eyes emphasized the overall air of exhaustion. One half of the Sith’s face was red, as if with extreme sunburn, but the blood still visible in one eye indicated something more deliberate.

Something about him seemed very familiar, but Qui-Gon couldn’t place it. “Well, you know my name. Might I know yours?”

Straightening out of his slump, the Sith’s gaze sharpened with awareness, and Qui-Gon could place the exact moment when realization dawned. “Kriff!”

“I mean you no harm,” Qui-Gon said, steady and calm, hands open.

“You find a Sith in the infirmary in the middle of the night and you’re trying to befriend me?” the Sith said in a mix of disbelief and frustration. It was a more blatant outpouring than Qui-Gon was used to, but it was the last piece of the puzzle.

“Obi-Wan!?” Cold shock froze Qui-Gon in place. How had he ever missed it in the first place?

“No!” Obi-Wan jerked his hood up, hiding his face in shadow, but it was too late.

“Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon repeated, feeling as if he’d been punched in the gut. He didn’t want it to be true, but cloning couldn’t duplicate Force-sensitivity, which this Sith obviously had in spades. “What happened? Did. Did I-“

“Stop that,” Obi-Wan scowled, stalking over to glare up at his shaken Master. “I am not the Obi-Wan sleeping in the room next to yours. With luck, he will never need to be me.”

“But-“

“Qui-Gon Jinn, listen to me,” Obi-Wan said, yellow eyes boring intently into Qui-Gon’s. “You did not fail me. You never have. This is not like Xanatos.”

It was the absolute certainty Obi-Wan projected that managed to convince Qui-Gon in spite of himself. He nodded once, throat tight with conflicting emotions.

“Thank you,” Qui-Gon said after a moment of silence, running a hand over his face. “I- This is all very strange,” he confessed, releasing as much of his fear and anguish into the Force as he could manage.

“It is not the strangest thing that has ever happened to me, but it certainly makes the list,” Obi-Wan admitted, exhaustion creeping back into his voice. In fact, he seemed to be swaying a bit.

“Are you alright? I know you were hurt earlier. Do you need medical attention? Painkillers?”

Obi-Wan snorted. “A lovetap from Maul is the least of my worries.” He took a step back and stumbled, only Qui-Gon’s catch saving him from ending up on the floor. “Kriff.”

“What’s wrong?” Qui-Gon asked, putting as much authority into his voice as he could.

“Tired. Gods ’m so fucking tired.”

“Do you need a safe place to sleep?”

Obi-Wan was leaning against him now, his Darkness a humming presence in the air. Obi-Wan shook his head, words starting to slur slightly as he explained, “Tha’s not it. I physically cannot sleep, not with- Ugh, ’s complicated. I need a sedative to knock me out. Not one with phenol. Stupid allergy.”

Qui-Gon eyed the cluster of bottles on the countertop. “Have you found one?”

Obi-Wan nodded into Qui-Gon’s cloak. “Yes,” Obi-Wan said, breathing deeply as he rested more weight on Qui-Gon.

He desperately wanted to bombard Obi-Wan with questions; how could his padawan be both here and in sleeping in his quarters, what had happened to turn him to the Dark Side, how could he be Dark and yet still so much Obi-Wan?

Obi-Wan was in no state to answer much of anything at the moment though.

“What can I do to help?”

*

Jedi Padawan Obi-Wan woke up gradually, sore and still a bit tired after the events of the day before. Morning light streamed in through the windows, and Obi-Wan’s stomach told him in no uncertain terms that it was past time for breakfast. He could feel his Master’s presence through their bond but when he opened the door adjoining their rooms, he found his Master’s bed empty.

*

Venge snapped out of a restless unconsciousness, hand already reaching for his lightsaber before he remembered where he was.

Groaning, he slumped back onto the cot, letting the darkness be for the moment. The lack of windows had been a point in the room’s favour when he’d picked it – one less weak point. Being unconscious in the Cathedral was bad enough; being unconscious in an unsecured building with no allies to count on had almost been enough to make him forego the entire exercise. Almost.

He did have to admit, however grudgingly, that he felt much better after resting. His mind was clearer, and his body somewhat recovered.

And it wasn’t true that he had no allies.

Venge palmed the light switch, showing the small, mostly bare room. It was little more than a storage room with a cot, but it had the rather large advantage of being shielded – something he’d managed yesterday before fatigue had started to make his eyes cross.

Even crippling fatigue had a silver lining though. He hadn’t had to think about his situation too hard. He wasn’t sure he could face everything undone; him and Qui-Gon without their years together, Tahl and Micah dead, Rillian off gods only knew where, Sidious as Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. Swaying, he wrapped his arms tightly across his chest and shoved the agony back in its mental box. Not yet. He couldn’t fall apart yet.

Clipping his ‘saber to his belt, Venge pulled his shields into place and prepared to face the day. He managed to catch Qui-Gon as the man toppled backwards through the now-open door, so he thought the day was off to a rather good start.

“Wh- Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon blinked the sleep from his eyes. “I fell asleep?”

“I am glad you were able to rest,” Venge said earnestly as he righted the Jedi. Qui-Gon had insisted on standing watch while Venge was unconscious. Venge hadn’t exactly been happy about it, but trying to convince a Jedi to leave a Sith to their own devices was fruitless at best.

Apparently sleep had claimed Qui-Gon in the end, though not before he’d pulled a nearby bench in front of the door, putting himself between Venge and any potential danger.

It also let Qui-Gon know that Venge had not left the room. Venge approved of the easy practicality of it.

“I should also perhaps mention that my name is Venge, not Obi-Wan.”

Qui-Gon gave him a searching look. “But you are Obi-Wan?”

It was entirely too early in the morning to get into the twists and turns of his identity. Venge shrugged, shoving the bench back to its original position for something to do. “I was. ‘Venge’ is my name right now. Besides, you already have an Obi-Wan, it would get confusing.”

“I do already have an Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon acknowledged, “and yet here you are. How is that possible?”

“It should not be,” Venge said, aggrieved. “This is not my past.” Please, Force.

“How so?”

Venge turned to face Qui-Gon, straightening his shoulders. “Obi-W- I was already Knighted when Qui-Gon and I faced Maul.

And yet even that was not the whole truth. What the fuck was his life? Venge wondered if he’d be the first Sith to fall dead of temporal frustration.

“You believe this to be an alternate reality to your own then?” Qui-Gon asked, frowning.

It was such a simple question. Such an obvious question. For a moment there was only surprise.

His heart felt abruptly too large for his chest. Venge sat down rather hard on the bench. Fear crumbled like ash as hope kindled in his chest, mixing oddly with Fire’s ever-present rage.

Not time travel. An alternate reality.

“That is a distinct possibility,” Venge said, feeling like he could breathe for the first time since he’d arrived.

*

Obi-Wan gave up trying to meditate. The breakfast he’d fetched had long gone cold, and still no sign of his Master. They had a meeting with Queen Amidala at noon, so presumably his Master would be back before then. Their bond was calm, so it was only his own insecurity and paranoia that was making him fret, he told himself.

It was still a relief when the door hissed open to reveal his Master, at least until Obi-Wan saw the hooded figure past his Master’s shoulder.

“Obi-Wan-“

“Master! Behind you!” Obi-Wan shot out of his seat, going for his lightsaber.

“Obi-Wan, no!”

He wasn’t sure he’d even seen the Sith move, but the next thing Obi-Wan knew he was down on the floor, legs taken out from under him neat as you please, and the Sith was pinning him to the carpet, hands locked tightly on his wrists.

“Stop.” The Sith glared at him from the depths of the hood, enhancing the glowing yellow eyes. “I am not here to harm you or Qui-Gon.”

“Master, help me!” Obi-Wan said, looking to his Master for support.

“Venge has given me his word that he means us no harm. We’re at least going to hear him out,” his Master replied, obviously unhappy but not budging.

Obi-Wan stared up at his master in disbelief. The Sith released him, and Obi-Wan scrambled up, hand going to pat his lightsaber, which was indeed still there. The Sith hadn’t even bothered to remove it.

“You can’t be serious, Master. He’s a Sith! How can you trust his word?”

“Because I am you.” The Sith pulled back his hood. Now that it had been pointed out, Obi-Wan found his own face behind the scowling expression and yellow eyes.

“No.”

“You can feel the truth of it, if you pay attention,” the Sith said, not seeming terribly pleased about it.

It was him. As a Sith. Somehow, he was looking at a version of himself that had turned to the Dark Side.

“No, that’s impossible. Master, I wouldn’t-“ Obi-Wan looked desperately to his Master, not knowing if he wanted to reassure or was seeking the same.

“Calm down, Obi-Wan,” his Master said, and for some reason that only made the panic kick up another notch.

“Any Jedi can fall,” the Sith cut in, voice harsh. “You are not a special fucking snowflake, Kenobi.”

Icy fear warred with anger and denial in Obi-Wan’s stomach. “I would never dishonour my Master like that-“

“Qui-Gon was long dead by the time I turned,” the Sith said angrily.

“D-dead?” Obi-Wan faltered, his stomach flip-flopping. “When, how did-?”

The Sith’s mouth tightened into a thin line, but he said nothing.

He didn’t have to. Obi-Wan only needed a moment to put it together. “Yesterday,” he said numbly, answering his own question.

“I was supposed to die facing the Sith?” Qui-Gon asked, the picture of calm acceptance.

“You were not ‘supposed’ to fucking die,” Venge snarled at Qui-Gon, his hands clenching into fists. “You may be a blind fool sometimes, but perhaps if you’d been alive I wouldn’t have fucked everything up so badly with Anak-“ the Sith’s mouth snapped shut on his tirade. Shaking with the anger that was starting to leak from under his shields, the Sith turned from them and crossed his arms, visibly trying to contain his rage.

Anakin. Oh, Force. Obi-Wan could just see it, a young boy too strong in the Force to ignore, too old to be an Initiate, saddled with him, a Master who was barely even a Knight. But he would have done it. If Qui-Gon had asked it of him, he would have done it.

“I’m sure you did a fine job of training the Chosen One,” Qui-Gon said.

Venge whirled around, his lips skinning back from his teeth in a mindless snarl. Obi-Wan saw the Sith’s fist come up, and couldn’t make himself move to stop it. He found he didn’t want to.

Obi-Wan could almost hear the strain as the Sith’s rage battled his control. He didn’t know where the control was coming from – he certainly didn’t have it now, and would’ve punched Qui-Gon without a second thought if the rage he could sense from the Sith had been his.

His master didn’t even move out of the way, only standing there as if daring Venge. Slowly, inch by inch, Venge lowered his fist, rage disappearing under his shields again. Obi-Wan was starting to suspect that the rage never actually went away. At last, Venge let out a ragged breath and lifted his head.

There was no warning, then, when Venge hauled off and punched Qui-Gon on the jaw, a precise, calculated hit that left Qui-Gon stumbling back, shocked.

“The Chosen One,” Venge spat the words as if they were foul and rotten. “You never stopped to think, did you?   So sure, so eager.”

“He will bring balance to the F-“

“Stop. Just stop.”

Obi-Wan was torn between jumping in to help his Master and cheering on this warped version of himself who could get through his Master’s stubbornness. It was an unnerving realization that he liked some parts of himself as a Sith.

“What you have failed to consider, Master Jinn, is the meaning of ‘balance’.”

“I assure you I’ve given it quite a lot of thought,” Qui-Gon said in his best ‘superior Jedi Master’ voice.

*

It was maddening to have Qui-Gon there and yet not have him at all. Venge loved Qui-Gon Jinn, even this version, with all his desperate optimism and hardened heart. Yet he ached for his own Qui-Gon, whose strength was less brittle, whose love was more open.

“I assume you refer to the Unifying Force and the Living Force?” Venge asked bitingly. “No, do not bother to argue your point, I have heard it before,” he interrupted Qui-Gon before the man could do much more than open his mouth. “Now you will listen to my argument.

“If there were no Jedi, would the Light side of the Force cease to exist? Would life, joy, hope, and love be gone from the universe?” Eying the stubborn set to Qui-Gon’s bruised jaw, Venge snapped out, “Kenobi, answer!”

“Uh? I-… “

“Answer the question, Kenobi. Would the Force cease to exist if there were no Jedi?”

“No, of course not,” Obi-Wan answered, sounding uncomfortable at being put on the spot. Well, too bad.

“And if there were no Sith,” Venge kept going, meeting Qui-Gon’s stare, “would the Dark Side cease to exist? Would hate, fear, death, and jealousy be gone from the universe? Kenobi, answer.”

“I. I don’t suppose so, no,” Kenobi admitted.

“No,” Venge echoed. “The Dark Side is more than just an aberration in the Force. The potential for it exists, as it does for the Light Side, everywhere, in all beings. The Prophecy speaks of balance. Long have the Jedi assumed that ‘balance’ meant the supremacy of the Light Side of the Force. But what if there is another, much more basic interpretation?

“Since the Force is made up of the Light,” Venge held out one hand, palm up, “and the Dark,” Venge held out his other hand, closed tight in a fist. “Which would you say is ascendant right now?”

“The Light,” Obi-Wan blurted out, eyes wide when Venge glanced his way.

“The Light,” Qui-Gon concurred, nodding stiffly.

Venge raised his open hand and lowered his fist.

“Then, in order to restore ‘balance,’ what must happen?”

Both Jedi stood mute, unwilling to voice the obvious.

Venge raised his closed fist until it was even with his open hand in silent, unwanted answer.

Lowering his hands, Venge glanced at Obi-Wan. “If your Master is right and this is an alternate reality to mine, then I may be wrong in this. My experience may not apply.” He turned his gaze to Qui-Gon. “But you should still be cautious. Trace the Prophecy back, verify its authenticity.

“To the best of my knowledge, the Prophecy of the Chosen one is not a Jedi prophecy.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

Venge lowered his eyes. “Anakin is very powerful, and if given the chance he could be one of the greatest Jedi in the Order. A prophecy is only a prediction, a possibility. Do not put him on a pedestal. Do not blind yourself to his needs or to his pain, or the prophecy may indeed come to pass.”

Venge gave the two Jedi some time to absorb his words. It was the least he could do, seeing as he was about to turn their world upside down. They might decide later not to believe him - he was after all a Sith - but he had to try.

“Perhaps we should be seated. There is more you need to be aware of.”

He would give them the information that might be relevant to their upcoming struggle, if they did not choose to simply face Sidious, and maybe even if they did. Dooku’s defection, the Separatists, Palpatine’s true nature. War. Order 66.

It was going to be a long morning.

*

“Master Jinn, are you well?” Queen Amidala asked the Jedi Master seated across from her. At least this meeting could be informal, unlike many of the rest she had to attend today.

“Yes, your majesty. Merely yesterday’s events catching up with me,” the Jedi Master smiled, though truthfully he was almost pale enough to match Amidala’s official facepaint. “I’d like to introduce a friend,” he continued, gesturing to a hooded figure standing behind him, next to his padawan.

“This is Ben Lars. He helped us defeat the Sith yesterday.”

“You have our thanks, sir,” Amidala said, inclining her head slightly. Lars bowed respectfully, but remained silent.

“Ben is searching for a Force artifact he has reason to believe is on Naboo, possibly in the palace itself. Would you grant permission for him to search for it, accompanied by either my padawan or myself?”

Something about the way Lars kept his hood up made Amidala cautious, but Master Jinn was vouching for him, and the Jedi had been instrumental in Naboo’s victory. “That is acceptable, provided one of my handmaidens accompany you on your search.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” Jinn inclined his head.

*

It took them the rest of the day to find the artifact, tucked away in the decorations at the base of an elegant statue.

That evening, Venge sat, staring contemplatively at the large black opal. During their discussion that morning, he’d discovered that not only was MonMassa not on the council, but that as far as Qui-Gon knew, the Shadows had been disbanded several centuries before. It was discouraging news, but with the information Venge had provided, the problem was hopefully not insurmountable.

It also pointed to Qui-Gon’s theory being correct – that this was, in fact, an alternate reality, and not just time-travel.

“So I guess this is it, you’re going home?” Obi-Wan asked, only the faintest trace of unease still in his voice.

“I truly hope so,” Venge said. “Any last questions before I leave?”

Qui-Gon remained silent, but Obi-Wan bit his lip, worrying it for a second. “Venge. How can you be a Sith, but not evil? That’s not possible, is it?”

He never had gotten around to that, for all that they'd talked for what felt like forever. Besides, if they managed to keep Anakin from turning to the Dark Side, it might never become an issue for this Obi-Wan. Forewarned was forearmed, though. “You are asking in case you must ever make this choice.”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan admitted, raising his chin half-defiantly.

“Luck. Quite honestly, luck. I had someone looking out for me, though I was not aware of it. If I had remained in Sidious’ power even a day longer…” he shook his head, “On a slightly more useful note, if you are ever faced with using the Dark Side, simply touching it or even using it does not make you evil, though by its very nature it is easy for it to become so. It is an extremely dangerous weapon, akin to giving a lightsaber to an untrained youngling – wield it if you must, but do not lose yourself in it.”

“Well that’s encouraging,” Obi-Wan grumbled.

“Will you ever come back here?” Qui-Gon asked.

“I do not think so,” Venge admitted. It was altogether too strange. “Though, if you ever need my help, I suppose you know where to look for me. May the Force be with you.”

“May the Force be with you,” Master and Padawan returned, voices overlapping.

Venge thought of home, of Qui-Gon and Anakin and Rillian and all his Shadows, and brushed his fingers across the artifact.

*

Obi-Wan stared, still somewhat dazed, at the empty space where his Dark double had stood just a second before. “What I want to know is how we’re going to explain all this to the Council.”