Qui-Gon knew as soon as he stepped into the nightclub that, despite its obvious attempt at creating an upscale atmosphere, the crowd was just as drunken, rowdy, and unsavory as any of the clubs in what most would consider the bad parts of Coruscant. They were better dressed, to be sure, but it was all appearance. No substance.
The Jedi temple might as well be on the other side of the galaxy, for as little as it's sacred walls and serious inhabitants meant in a place like this.
That was why Qui-Gon liked it. It was always good to be reminded that places like these existed, lest he become to comfortable, cloistered away with his fellow Jedi.
He moved through the suffocating crowd with no particular destination in mind, allowing the Force--or was it simply the current of the crowd?--to guide him. Women and men danced around him, the metal bands in their hair flashing with reflected light as they gyrated. Others sat alone and drank, as the various dealers lurked nearby seeking out easy targets. There was little out of the ordinary but somewhere, an altercation was brewing. He followed his senses toward it, into the belly of the nightclub where the crowd there had hollowed out a circle. Two men, one human and one reptilian, stood facing each other. Qui-Gon calmly found a place for himself among the spectators.
Both men were obviously intoxicated, though the human seemed more steady. The reptilian, on the other hand, lurched forward awkwardly, swinging one of his long, heavy arms at the human. The human calmly stepped aside, his arms held up defensively. He made no move to strike. Twice more, the reptilian attempted to hit the human, and the human dodged easily. On the reptilian's final attempt, the human side-stepped again, then swung his leg around into the reptilian's knees and knocking him to the ground. The human smirked at the crowd, giving a little mock bow. He did not notice the female reptilian coming up behind him until she had hit him hard in the back of the head, causing him to stumble forward. He landed against Qui-Gon's chest.
The young human stared up at Qui-Gon for a moment before he swung around to face the approaching reptilian. He moved toward her, but Qui-Gon stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
Qui-Gon looked serenely at the reptilian female and waved his hand. "The boy is not worth your time."
She stopped and tilted her head, her slit eyes focused on the young human. "You are not worth my time," she snarled.
"You will take your friend home."
She straightened her neck resolutely. "I will take Pag home." She backed away and helped Pag off the floor. The crowd which had gathered to watch the fight was quickly dissipating into smaller groups. The young man swerved around to face Qui-Gon again and narrowed his eyes up at him in an attempt to focus his vision.
"Who are you?" He shouted over the thumping music. His accent was upper-upper-middle class. Not surprising. Despite his valiant attempt at a rough-and-tumble facade, his skin was smooth, his hair thick and soft, and his natural scent was buried under some fragrant concoction which probably cost the boy's parents enough to feed a small family for a week.
"I am Qui-Gon Jinn," he answered.
The boy looked toward the reptilians, who were making their way out, then back to at Qui-Gon. "Why'd you do that?"
"She had a blaster."
He raised an eyebrow, a dramatic expression with his features. "Don't Jedi have better things to do?"
Qui-Gon's lips twitched. "Possibly." Then, he looked up, toward the man approaching them. The man was tall, though not as tall as Qui-Gon, and his black hair was slicked back with a substance that made it shine like the metal bands in the light. He grabbed the boy's arm and twisted him around to face him.
"Obi-Wan, what have I told you about--"
Obi-Wan held up his hands in retreat. "I'm sorry, Mika. He wanted to fight. What was I going to do?"
Mika curled his lips into a laugh, his eyes flicking up and down to look Qui-Gon over. "That's all right, my friend," he said through his teeth. "Just try to wait at least a week before the next one. My father doesn't want his customers distracted from their drinks too long."
"You may find yourself with less trouble," Qui-Gon said, "if you do not allow blasters on your premises."
Mika's smile faded. He kept his eyes on Obi-Wan. "You?"
"No," Obi-Wan answered immediately. "He said Pag's girl had one. Ask him."
"We do our best to keep weapons out of our establishment, Jedi," Mika said. His straight teeth glinted in the neon light. "But we can only keep our sensors up to date, which is about three steps behind black market weapons manufacturers. Now, if you'll excuse me."
Obi-Wan watched Mika drift through the crowd toward a back room. "So, can I buy you a drink for saving my life, Mr. Jedi?"
"Seems a fair trade," Qui-Gon said.
Obi-Wan made his way to the bar, and Qui-Gon followed. The boy moved easily through the crowd, smiling a greeting to someone who passed him. Qui-Gon sat at the bar and watched Obi-Wan order for him. The bartender giggled and flirted with Obi-Wan, but Obi-Wan seemed either oblivious or accustomed to her overtures.
"So, do Jedi spend a lot of time in derg-hole nightclubs?"
"I suspect that if we did, you would have run into a few of us before now," Qui-Gon said.
Obi-Wan laughed. "True." The bartender gave them their drinks, and Obi-Wan immediately took a sip from his. "It's good. Shouldn't have too much of a kick, even if you aren't used to drinking."
Qui-Gon picked up the glass, but didn't drink from it. "I suppose you have already had quite a few of them then."
"No, the disgusting hard stuff got me here. This is to sober me back up," he said, grinning.
"Right." Qui-Gon watched Obi-Wan drink for a long, quiet moment. "You know the owner here?"
Obi-Wan nodded. "Sure. I used to come here when me and Mika were kids. His dad is great. We go way back."
"You and Mika were childhood friends?" Qui-Gon set the glass back down. Obi-Wan didn't seem to notice that Qui-Gon hadn't yet taken a drink.
"Yeah, he's not bad. I mean, he's always got his eye on bigger, better things, which means sometimes he spends time with the wrong people. He comes off as kind of..." Obi-Wan made a vague gesture. "But he's great."
Qui-Gon nodded slowly.
"We're not the best of friends anymore. He has another crowd."
"That must be difficult," Qui-Gon said.
Obi-Wan shrugged. "Not really. Our friendship was doomed to fail as soon as he started wanting to do something with his life. You know how it is."
"Still, I would imagine that it is uncomfortable when his new friends come here."
"His dad doesn't like them," Obi-Wan said. "They go to some place in Askarti. I went there once, but it wasn't really my thing. It's, like, underground, so it's constantly cold."
Qui-Gon was quiet for a moment, then stood. "I'm afraid I must take my leave. It was good to meet you."
Qui-Gon moved through the crowd toward the exit. He looked back and found Obi-Wan's eyes on him. Obi-Wan grinned and reached for Qui-Gon's untouched drink.
When Qui-Gon stepped out into the streets again, the Dark Woman joined him. She looked up at him, waiting for his report. All business, as usual.
"Do you know of an underground club in Askarti?" Qui-Gon asked.
The Dark Woman shook her head. "We should be able to find out quickly enough. Your ability to get information out of these... people will never cease to amaze me, Qui-Gon."
"We should hurry," Qui-Gon said, and he got into their speeder.
Obi-Wan could smell something. Fire? It seared his lungs, made him want to gag, but he couldn't. He reached forward into the darkness. Something there was wet, so he jerked his hand back. It was stained red. He stared down at it and, slowly, the darkness surrounding him was drowned out by a blinding light.
"Wake up, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan squeezed his eyes shut, and turned away from the unbearable sunlight. His mother shook his shoulder gently.
"Wake up, honey. Remember, the Berrans are coming by for brunch and your father wants you presentable."
"I don't feel well," he muttered.
She sighed. "I wouldn't imagine so."
Obi-Wan rolled onto his back again and looked up at her. She was always prettiest in the mornings, when she wore white. As the day progressed, she changed her clothes as was customary on her home world, but he thought she looked best in white. "Don't worry, Mom. I don't need a lecture. I'll be ready."
"I wish you wouldn't stay out so late." The deep line of worry between her eyebrows was more visible than usual.
She brushed his hair back from his forehead. "Promise me that you'll get out of bed if I leave the room, Obi-Wan."
"Promise," he said, half grinning.
When she left, he pulled his pillow out from under his head and put it over his face. His head was killing him. He groaned, trying to will himself to sit up. If he just closed his eyes for a moment...
Was it fire, or is it some kind of chemical? Fire wouldn't get so deep into him. Or maybe it would. He'd never breathed in fire before. He started to reach forward again, but remembered--
"Obi-Wan!" His mother tore the pillow away from his face, and the light poured over him again. "It's been an hour. They'll be here soon, so you don't have time for a shower. Just... try to clean yourself up."
"Sorry." He rubbed at his eyes.
"Now, Obi-Wan," she said. "This is important."
"Can't Eurig and Jon suck up enough for all of us?"
She pressed her lips into a thin line. "I'm not having this out again."
"I know," he said. "I'm sorry." He pushed himself up into a sitting position. His skin felt too tight around his skull, but after a moment, he was able to push away the pain. It was a talent he'd always had, and it came in handy.
"Wash up," she said. "You need to be downstairs in thirty minutes. Thirty."
She sighed and headed for his closet. "Don't promise me when it doesn't mean anything, Obi-Wan."
Without a word--he knew it was too late for them--he went to the adjoining bathroom. He splashed water onto his face, then looked up into the mirror. His reflection peered back at him with black rimmed eyes. He stripped off the clothing he'd fallen asleep in the night before and hung them on the towel rack. With a damp sponge and some soap, he wet his skin, scrubbing out as much of the street grime and smoke as he could manage. He had no time to properly wash his hair, so he ran a wet comb through it until it was tamed enough for company. Mouthwash and face gel was good enough to hide the last evidence of the previous night. He used to use it to keep his parents from asking questions when he was younger, but now that he didn't bother.
When he came out into his room again, his mother was gone, but she had left an outfit laying on his trunk. He frowned. A green shirt, his least favorite, was sitting on top of the pile. Of course, his mother knew that he hated the shirt, but she insisted that it brought out the color of his eyes. He had some making up to do, so he put it on, along with the stiff-legged slacks she'd left and headed downstairs feeling vaguely presentable.
His mother and father were already on the enclosed veranda preparing the table, and his brother Jon was in the parlor with a book. Jon was not as good looking as Obi-Wan, and he was a great deal more reliable. Only two years the elder, and he'd already been working for their father for four years. Jon glanced up at Obi-Wan while Obi-Wan lingered by the veranda doors, watching their mother lay out the silverware.
"I'm surprised to see you up."
Jon had seen him come in earlier that morning, when he was getting breakfast. He'd always gotten out of bed at ridiculously early. "Eurig would've thrown a fit if I missed another one of these."
"Calling him that instead of Father does not make you more grown up, Obi-Wan. I hope you know that."
"Being condescending doesn't make you grown up, Jon. Hope you know that," Obi-Wan shot back.
"Right." Jon closed his book with a world-weary sigh. "Stop lurking and go out there. Mother told me to let her know as soon as you came out, so that you wouldn't sneak out. Again."
"I only did that one time. Am I allowed to get a glass of water first?"
Jon stood. "No. Come on."
Obi-Wan opened the door for Jon, then followed him out to the table. Their mother smiled at them, and their father did not look away from the HoloNet News. Obi-Wan pulled back one of the chairs and slumped into it. The mid-morning sun burned his eyes.
His mother pulled his hair back off of his shoulders and combed it with her fingers. "You need to get a haircut soon, sweetie. It's getting long."
"I like my hair," Obi-Wan muttered. He tilted his head back to look up at her. "Could I have some water? Jon wouldn't let me get it."
"If you sit up straight."
Obi-Wan pushed against the edge of the table to right himself. She rubbed his shoulder, then left the veranda. Jon and their father were already rambling on about something on the news. Crime syndicates in the city, blah blah. Nothing new. When his mother came back, Obi-Wan focused on his water, blocking out the voices of his family
Before long, his father's boss arrived with his annoying wife and doubly annoying daughter. Berran was a relatively big name on Coruscant, and since he'd hired Obi-Wan's father, the Kenobis had moved to a better house in a better sector full of better establishments. In exchange, the Berran's friendship was thrust upon the Kenobis at least once per month, though Obi-Wan was fairly certain he was the only one in his family who minded it. The rest of them treated it like a holiday.
His mother had laid out heaps of food, none of which Obi-Wan was particularly interested in eating. However, it had been stacked on his plate at some point, and he stabbed at it with his fork while the others talked about the recent merger of such-and-such and so-and-so. Obi-Wan simply did his best not to become physically ill at the smell of food.
He jerked his head up. Mr. Berran. Mr. Berran was speaking to him. Wonderful. "What?"
"How old are you now, son?"
"Eighteen," Obi-Wan answered, trying to ignore the bit of egg clinging to the corner of Mr. Berran's mouth.
Berran laughed as if Obi-Wan had said something funny. "So, when will I be seeing you around the office?"
Obi-Wan stared forward, trying to think of a reasonably socially adjusted thing to say. The only thing coming to mind was never, if I can help it, but he was smart enough to keep that to himself.
Finally, Obi-Wan's father spoke up. "Obi-Wan isn't quite as ambitious as his brother."
"Is that the case?" Berran said. He had not taken his eyes off of Obi-Wan.
"Well, what do you want to do with your life, then?" Berran asked. When Obi-Wan didn't speak immediately, he said, "Come on, don't be shy. What do you want to do with your life?"
"Enjoy it," Obi-Wan answered.
It was quiet for a long few moments, except for the sound of silverware scraping plates. Then, Berran laughed again. "Guess you're right about your boy, Kenobi."
Obi-Wan looked down at his plate, then to his mother. "May I be excused for a minute?"
Her expression was blank, the way it got when she didn't want to look upset in front of company.
"I need to go to the bathroom, okay?" he snapped defensively.
Reluctantly, she nodded. Obi-Wan was on his feet and in the house quickly. He ran upstairs to his room and changed out of that horrible shirt and those ugly trousers into real clothes.
He was gone before anyone came up to look for him.
A crowd was growing outside of a nondescript stairwell in the Askarti sector. Two Jedi were still there, clearing out what could be used for evidence in the future. The three they had come for were already gone; two local criminals involved in interplanetary smuggling and one bounty hunter, waiting to be sent back to his home planet where he committed his first documented crime. Qui-Gon stood just inside the circle of spectators, making sure none of them made a move to enter the club.
The Dark Woman emerged. She glowered down at one of the younger spectators who was looking up at her in awe as she approached Qui-Gon. He knew by the look on her face that the news was not good.
"You didn't find anything," Qui-Gon said. It wasn't a question.
"Is there a particular reason you're so concerned about this Mika Rissyn?"
"The information came from a friend of his."
The Dark Woman quirked an eyebrow. "There is no evidence that the boy is dangerous. He seems to be nothing more than the spoiled child. Did you trick this friend into saying it?"
Qui-Gon shook his head.
"Then why are you concerning yourself? We've gone through everything necessary on this ridiculous mission. Let us return to the Temple."
She did not leave it up for debate; she turned and walked away from him, the crowd parting as they passed. Qui-Gon sensed something wrong, something he couldn't quite define. There was a time when he would have impulsively followed the feeling, but he had learned that empathy seldom served him well.
Qui-Gon followed behind the Dark Woman, his attention above the street at the scrolling business news on the holoboard. He cared very little for the happenings of the business world on most occasions; a possessionless Jedi had little need for it, but something--
He reached forward and put his hand on the Dark Lady's shoulder, stopping her. "Something is wrong. We need to get back to the temple. Now. "
The nightclub wasn't open yet--lunch wasn't even over--but the people who worked for Mika's father knew Obi-Wan by sight. He'd even gotten two drinks from the girl who was in early to clean up. She stood near him, disinfecting the same part of the bar for a long time. He didn't look up at her, except when she handed him the drinks, so she eventually wandered away. At some point, a buzzing neon hologram flicked on, reflecting off of the metallic face of the bar, and Obi-Wan realized it was almost opening time. He dropped some credits by his glass and stood.
A strong hand clapped down on his forearm and pulled him back. His muscles tensed automatically, but he forced himself to relax. He knew who it was.
"Mika," he said, before facing his friend.
Mika narrowed his lips in a grin. "Going already? We're about to open."
"That's the point." Obi-Wan managed a crooked smile. "Not in the mood for company, really. I was just going to take a walk somewhere where people don't know me."
"Ah." Mika focused his eyes on something over and beyond Obi-Wan's right shoulder. "I'd think they would blur together for you. It looked like you'd been drinking quite a bit last night."
"A little bit, yeah." Obi-Wan smoothed his hair down. He remembered the highlights from the night before. A girl flirting with him so hard she was practically in his lap, Pag arguing with him, Pag starting a fight... "Sorry about the fight, but you know Pag."
"Yes, I do." Mika quirked an eyebrow. "And who was your friend?"
"Um. Sheela, Shilly... 'sh' something. You know me and names."
Mika was sort of smiling, but there was something more in the expression that Obi-Wan couldn't quite read.
"Really," Obi-Wan said. "I'm sorry about the fight. It won't happen again, I swear."
"Obi-Wan." Mika leaned close to him and spoke quietly. "You should go home.
Obi-Wan frowned. He tried to ignore the nagging feeling that something was seriously wrong. "My parents are driving me crazy. I need to walk it off before I face them again."
"You should go home," Mika repeated.
Obi-Wan's skin prickled, and he took a step away from Mika. "Okay. I will. I'll see you around, Mika."
Mika's lips curled into a smile.
Obi-Wan backed away a few steps with a smile plastered on, then turned and left the nightclub. In the street outside, the afternoon light and the shadows cast by the vehicles zipping through the sky were stark in contrast; he couldn't make his eyes focus on anything. Someone ran into his shoulder, hard, and cursed at him in a language he didn't understand. He stammered an apology as he finally found a taxi stop. He pressed the button to hail one of the taxis down.
Once home, he punched in the security code and entered the house. Someone would see that the landing door had been opened and would be up soon to yell at him about brunch. All he wanted to do was sleep this bad feeling. The upstairs console was in the hall, next to his parents' room. He'd learned long ago how to hide recent door activity. He moved his hand up toward the alphanumeric pad, then stopped.
The front door downstairs was open. The light next to the alert was red, so it had to have been open for an hour at least.
Mom's droid usually got to an open door after ten minutes.
Obi-Wan let his hand fall back to his side.
His mother would be in the kitchen now, preparing dinner with her droid. She liked pretty extravagant meals, and she worked on them all day some days. Maybe they'd gotten busy. Maybe they hadn't noticed the door. He took a deep breath and headed down stairs, going two stairs at a time. Jon's book lay open on the couch in the parlor. No one was there.
"Hello?" Obi-Wan called. "I'm sorry about the brunch and everything. I'll make it up." He glanced out the window at the veranda. He could only see half the table from where he was, but the plates and food were still out. He paused, then he opened the door. His mother's droid was in the corner, against the railing. Its arms had been pulled out, and it was deactivated. He ran and knelt in front of it. The head was in good enough working order, he just had to flip a switch to turn it back on. The eyes lit, and it began to chatter. It sounded like Basic, but it didn't make sense like Basic.
Obi-Wan cuffed it in the side of its head. "Shut up. Tell me what happened."
"They tore off-off-off my arms," it stuttered. "Where are-are my arms?"
Obi-Wan's skin was cold. He hit the droid in the chest. "Shut up. Where are they? Where are my parents? Where is Jon?"
"They took them to the kitchen--"
Obi-Wan turned the droid off again, and he was on his feet. Through the parlor, into the dining room. There was a scratch on the imported hardwood floor and another one in the molding along the floor. He stopped. Three of the chairs were missing. He rested his hand on the cold surface of the table. His mother liked open spaces, they reminded her of her home planet, so there was no doors between most of the rooms, only doorways. From the table, he could see part of the counter and half of the pantry. He took a slow, long breath.
If the intruders were still there, Obi-Wan would have no defense.
He began to walk. Slowly, he could see more of the counter, more of the pantry. The preserver and the processor. A chair leg. A chair back. An arm. Wrists tied back with some black cabling. He stopped again. It was Jon's arm, his wrists, his hands. The fingers were stubbier than their mother's and more slender than their father's, and he could see the cuff of the blue shirt Jon had been wearing rolled away from his wrists.
Time sped up again, and Obi-Wan ran. He slid to a stop on the smooth floor of the kitchen. All three of them where there: Jon, Eurig, and his mother. No one else. They were all tied to the dining room chairs with black cable. They were placed in a triangle. Jon's back was to Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan could see the gaping, blackened hole in his hair. What hadn't been burned out was on the floor and on the counter behind him. Obi-Wan had some on his shoes. The same thing had been done to his parents; he could tell by the black burn marks around their mouths.
Someone had tied them up, put a blaster in their mouths, and shot them. The blaster was still there, on the floor in the middle of their triangle. It didn't look very big for the hole it had made in Jon's head.
Obi-Wan backed away, bumping up against the counter. He felt like throwing up, but it was Mom's kitchen, so he didn't. He walked slowly out of the kitchen, through the dining room, down the hall, and he pressed the emergency button on the security console in the parlor. He sat on the couch next to Jon's book and waited for someone to come.
"Didn't expect to see you lot here. This is a local matter."
The young officer glared up at Qui-Gon, obviously possessive of her case. Qui-Gon had never quite understood this sort of reaction to Jedi involvement.
"This may be connected to an ongoing investigation," he said calmly. His eyes were on the structure behind her. It was a typical stacked private residence, in which many of the upper-middle class Coruscanti lived. And, yes, the last time he had considered the class structure of Coruscant, his little unwitting informant had been peering at him through the haze of intoxication. "I only want to know his name," Qui-Gon added.
She looked away from him, sighing. "Kenobi. They're the Kenobi family." She clenched her jaw. "If I tell you more, it could very well put the boy in further danger."
"The boy may need Jedi protection. Which is quite dedicated, I assure you."
She was quiet for a long moment, then turned her gaze back up at him. "Obi-Wan," she answered finally. "The surviving boy's name is Obi-Wan."
Qui-Gon closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. "I will need to see him."
The officer motioned for Qui-Gon to follow her, and he did. She opened the glass doors and led him into a large parlor, all earth tones, where Obi-Wan was sitting on a huge sectional.
"He's been there since we got here," the officer said, apparently unconcerned about whether or not Obi-Wan heard her. "We've tried to talk to him, but..."
Qui-Gon nodded. "May I have a moment with him?"
"I'm sure you're saying it like a question out of courtesy." She looked at the boy, then back to Qui-Gon. "I'll check in on how the guys are doing on the crime scene."
Qui-Gon waited until she was gone, then he approached Obi-Wan. The boy was clearly in shock. His skin was a shade too pale and his eyes glazed over, empty. Qui-Gon stood over him for a long moment before speaking.
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said gently. When Obi-Wan did not respond, Qui-Gon reached forward and touched him on the shoulder, using the Force to carefully soothe him. Obi-Wan looked up, furrowing his brow. "Hello again."
"What?" Obi-Wan frowned. "Again?"
He didn't remember. Qui-Gon opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. For now, what the boy needed was someone he could trust. If he remembered what part the Jedi had played in this... "I am here to help find out what happened to your family and to protect you."
"Protect me," Obi-Wan repeated, as if he didn't understand the words.
"Yes. Whoever did this may want to hurt you."
Obi-Wan leaned against the back cushions of the sectional. "Okay."
"I will take you to the Temple where you will be safe while we help you decide what to do."
Obi-Wan looked at Qui-Gon. What may have been recognition flickered in his eyes, but it seemed to only be a vague recognition. Qui-Gon wondered how often the young man drank himself into amnesia. No, that was not at question now. Qui-Gon stood straight.
"I will return shortly. If there is anything you would like to bring with you, you should retrieve it."
"Okay," Obi-Wan said, nodding slowly.
Qui-Gon left him in the parlor. It was easy enough to find the kitchen. These stacked homes were built very similarly, and he'd managed to find himself in a few before. The dining room table was covered with the officer's crime scene supplies. Qui-Gon glanced them over before going into the kitchen. The room easily fit five officer and two crime scene analysis droids. The woman Qui-Gon had spoken to before came over to him when he entered.
"Did you get anything out of him?"
Qui-Gon ignored her question. "Mika Rissyn did this. His father died yesterday; Look into his death and see if there are any suspicious circumstances. He sold his father's nightclub this morning, so you'll have to hurry before he makes his way off planet. I will be taking the boy with me."
She opened her mouth to speak, but Qui-Gon interrupted her.
"Work quickly. The Order will be in contact." He swept out of the room without allowing a response. He found Obi-Wan again, sitting on the stairs this time with a green shirt clutched to his chest. Qui-Gon knelt before him, so that they were eye-level.
"Are you ready to go?"
Obi-Wan's eyes flicked up, then away. He nodded. Qui-Gon placed a hand on Obi-Wan's elbow, leading him to his feet.
"Do you want me to hold that?" Qui-Gon asked, nodding toward the shirt.
Obi-Wan shook his head, and he began up the stairs toward the landing.