"Chosen"

 

Part One: "Taking, Turning."

___

 

The dark man did not come entirely unannounced.

 

There had been signs, whispering in Obi-Wan's mind like black wings, filling him with nameless dread, but he had not seen their significance. He was alone, on a difficult mission, assailed with violence and injured. He had seen his premonitions of darkness as weakness and his own fear of failure.

 

He had ignored them, and know he could die for it.

 

"Why are you here?" he said, feigning lack of concern. He focused his sluggish senses, taking the measure of his lightsabre, of the distance between him and his Master's enemy. A few moments before, his grip on consciousness had been tenuous; now, he was fully awake, but still the Force eluded him.

 

Xanatos's lips curled into a feral smile. "To show you something."

 

Obi-Wan fought rising fear, knowing all the while that fear could be fatal. Everything he veiled under a pretence of calm, learned well from his Master. He reclined on the couch, one arm casually flung over its back, one booted foot resting on the other knee.

 

His eyes, though, were steel, demanding the necessary answer to the question he would not ask. Asking put him at Xanatos' mercy, needing something from the other man.

 

Xanatos gave way first, but it was not a defeat; any triumph Obi-Wan might have felt when he heard Xanatos' answer, when he saw the object that the dark man held in his hands.

 

"Do you know this?" Xanatos asked, his voice low and honeyed.

 

Qui-Gon's lightsabre. Obi-Wan swallowed hard, the pain from his head injury hammering with renewed intensity. No Jedi would be willingly parted from his lightsabre. Qui-Gon was either captured, or dead.

 

"How?" he asked, the word little more than a horrified exhalation of breath. He was asking now, petitioning, showing fear. But Xanatos had the advantage, and he could not deny it. False bravado was shameful; no Jedi acted thus out of pride. If he had to debase himself before this man to save his Master, then he would do so.

 

Xanatos laughed. "He came for you after all. He came to help you, but who will help him?"

 

*****

 

Earlier:

 

Qui-Gon sighed, rubbed a hand over his aching head.

 

"No, Anakin," he said, with a calm he didn't feel. "Try again."

 

Anakin glared at him, not even attempting to conceal his resentment. "I could levitate everything in the Temple if I wanted to."

 

"Yes," Qui-Gon said, folding his hands in his lap, a picture of serenity. "But I am asking you to levitate this glass, and to hold it."

 

It was not supposed to be a difficult exercise. The initiate raised the glass and held it there by the power of his will, while his Master asked him to perform various tasks, from moving it through an intricate series of obstacles, to mental calculations. But, while Anakin raised the glass with brutal ease, he was incapable of finding the calm centre of control that allowed him to maintain it. They boy always wanted to be moving, to be achieving. He was phenomenal in strength with the Force, barely a novice when it came to control.

 

Once again, Qui-Gon wondered, with aching dread, whether he had done the right thing, two years before on Tatooine. The right thing for the boy, of course, for slavery was an abomination. But to bring him here, to train him...

 

Many lives had been changed by his chance encounter in Watto's junk shop. For himself, he had mapped out the next fifteen years of his life, committed to a padawan when he had thought Obi-Wan would be his last. For the Jedi, too, something had shifted irrevocably in the moment he had defied the Council about the boy... and won. He had made enemies, and the news had spread, and there were many who no longer looked upon the Council as infallible, for had they not almost cast out the Chosen One?

 

<No.> He sighed, heavily, ignoring, for now, the shattering of the glass, the angry footsteps as Anakin left the room unbidden. It had not been the wrong decision - could not have been. Such potential, such strength... Far better that the Jedi at least attempted to keep him on the path of the light, than let the darkness mould him for their own.

 

Oh, but it was difficult; it hurt.

 

He longed for Obi-Wan - for a padawan he could trust, could rely on, could learn from as much as teach. He longed for that easy silence between them; Anakin was forever talking, swirling with emotions.

 

But they had so little time, now...

 

*****

 

He keyed in the communication code with caution, knowing that Obi-Wan's situation was delicate, that he might not appreciate interruptions.

 

The mission, to oversee a troubled referendum on a world considering joining the Republic, had been given to both of them, initially, but he had asked the Council if Obi-Wan could handle it alone. He had meant it as a gesture of trust in his padawan, so close to becoming a Knight, and Obi-Wan had smiled, finally, now, able to accept the gift in the way it was intended, and promising Qui-Gon with his eyes that he would live up to the trust bestowed on him.

 

While Obi-Wan was away, it would also give Qui-Gon an opportunity to train Anakin. Only eleven, Anakin was not yet old enough to leave the Temple and become a padawan, but it was generally accepted that, once Obi-Wan had passed his trials, Qui-Gon would take Anakin as his padawan learner. In expectation of this, he gave Anakin occasional lessons, preparing both himself and the boy for their future together.

 

"Obi-Wan," he greeted now, smiling unconsciously as his padawan answered his communication.

 

"Master." Obi-Wan smiled in reply, but there was something...

 

"You're hurt, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon leant forward, nothing existing for him at the moment but his padawan's need.

 

"It's..." Obi-Wan seemed to be about to say 'nothing' but then he shrugged ruefully. "I'll live." He gingerly touched the back of his head, and winced. "Someone made an assassination attempt on the prince. It was... thwarted."

 

"By you. You risked yourself again." Qui-Gon knew he should feel pride - a Jedi should always be willing to die for others - but all he felt was hot anger.

 

He would never forget how Obi-Wan had nearly died on Naboo, killing the Sith Lord, and then saving him, Qui-Gon, almost at the cost of his own life, using all of his strength in healing him, in keeping hold of his fading life force and nurturing it back to life. That alone should have been enough to make Obi-Wan a Knight, except that he was too young. Exceptions could have been made, but Obi-Wan was the first to accept that he did not yet have sufficient practice in diplomacy.

 

And Qui-Gon had sensed another need, too, though he had never spoken of it. Obi-Wan had been scarred by the whole experience, and by the discovery of Anakin. He would have seen an early elevation to Knighthood as being a rejection - his Master getting rid of an inconvenient apprentice so he could train his Chosen One. Perhaps Obi-Wan had deserved Knighthood, but he had not yet been emotionally ready for it.

 

He was now. Soon...

 

"But I'm not badly hurt," Obi-Wan said now, placatingly, though his drawn face, the dark circles under his eyes, showed that he was hurt more than he was admitting - or more than he knew. "And the mission is accomplished." A luminous smile. Perhaps Obi-Wan was just trying to ease his Master's concern, but the smile looked genuine. His first really challenging solo mission, and he had succeeded. "Apparently, many people thought that I was trying to replace their prince with a puppet, and that Republic membership would erode their traditions." A self-deprecating smile, though the triumph shone through in his eyes. "I convinced them otherwise."

 

"I am proud of you, my padawan," Qui-Gon said, gravely. He had not said it enough in the past; Obi-Wan's fear of rejection after Naboo had shown him that all too eloquently. "I miss you. Anakin is... difficult. When are you coming home?"

 

Obi-Wan sighed, and the smile faded from his eyes, leaving him looking hurt and very weary. "They have asked me to stay for a few days, now the elections are over. I feel I ought to." He looked as if he would have said more, but stopped himself just in time.

 

"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon promptly, gently. For the most part, they had the easy companionship of equals. He longer kept secrets from his apprentice, no longer treated him as a child by protecting him from difficult truths and burdens. He expected no less from his padawan.

 

"I..." Obi-Wan looked almost apologetic. "This head injury. I... I'm having trouble healing it. I can hardly feel the Force. There's something..." There was honest fear in his eyes. "I don't know."

 

Qui-Gon paused, considered the fine line between over-protection and neglect. "It would not undermine your success if I came to you now, Obi-Wan," he said, at last.

 

Obi-Wan's eyes lightened with relief, then hardened with resolution. "No, Master. It will be gone in the morning. There's no need for you to come."

 

"Let me judge the need, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, then wished he hadn't when he saw the hurt in his padawan's face. He sighed, wearily. "Please let me know if it gets worse, Obi-Wan," he said, letting his concern and love show in his face without reserve. "I don't want to lose you, my padawan."

 

"Nor I you, my Master," Obi-Wan murmured.

 

*****

 

Xanatos laughed. "He came for you after all. He came to help you, but who will help him?"

 

Obi-Wan stood up, forcing himself to stay steady past the dizziness that assailed him at the movement. "What do you want from me, Xanatos?" he said, lacing his voice with studied contempt.

 

The dark man's grip of Qui-Gon's lightsabre never wavered. "You," he said, as lightly as if the word was of no import at all. "You for him."

 

He would do that without a moment's hesitation. On Naboo, his last thought before sinking into unconsciousness was that this was death - that he _had_ died so that his Master would live. He had not once doubted his actions then, not would he now, except... "Your hatred was always for Qui-Gon. Why would you want me instead? You would take me only so you can hurt Qui-Gon more, by letting him see me suffer before you kill him."

 

"Perhaps." Xanatos smiled, the scar on his face twisting. "But can you risk it? Qui-Gon is in a place you will _never_ find, not without me."

 

He ran through possibilities in his pain-dulled mind. He could fight Xanatos, and die, and then Xanatos had won. He could fight Xanatos, and win, but lose Qui-Gon -  and, injured as he was and without the Force, winning was not a likely outcome.

 

He raised his head, held his enemy's eyes defiantly. "I will come."

 

******

 

Xanatos stopped. "Here," he said.

 

Obi-Wan blinked stupidly. The walk through the woods had drained him of the little strength he had possessed. Dizziness half blinded him. Several times he had stumbled, tearing his flesh and clothes on eager rocks, grasping thorns. Always before him the implacable back of his Master's old apprentice, Qui-Gon's lightsabre held before him like a beacon.

 

He swayed. He dug his fingers into his palms, seeking strength to stay upright. "Here?"

 

Xanatos gestured, and the air seemed to ripple. Where before there had only been bare forest, now there was a small ship, resting between the trees. "My ship," Xanatos said, simply. "Your prison."

 

"Qui-Gon", Obi-Wan mouthed, desperately. He fought past the pain in his head, seeking the thin tendrils of the Force that were all that were left to him. He sought his Master, and felt nothing. But when Xanatos turned towards him, grinning, he held an alien lightsabre in his hands, nothing like his Master's at all.

 

It had been an illusion; it was a trick. All he wanted to do was sink to his knees and rest, abject and defeated. All he _could_ do was fight.

 

Through despair, through pain, something of the Force remained to him, weak but adequate. As he ignited his lightsabre and assumed a defensive position, he knew that, while he was going to his death, he would at least die fighting.

 

Red fire impacted against his blue blade, strong and terrible. Through his weak grasp of the Force, he felt the other man's hatred, his confidence. It assailed him more than the weapon.

 

"You can not win, Kenobi," Xanatos sneered. "You are dying - bleeding beneath the skull. It is more than you can heal. It stops you using the Force."

 

Another blow, and another, high then low. It was all Obi-Wan could do to stay on his feet, yet somehow he exceeded that, returned blow after blow, using instinct more than the Force. Although he knew suddenly that Xanatos has caused his injury, he would _not_ hate this man. Pain was threatening to destroy his control; hatred, too, would be more than he could stand. He could barely use the Force, but the small amount he could muster would remain true.

 

"Even if you had the Force, you would not win." A slashing blow to the legs. Only a desperate, sickening twist prevented Obi-Wan from losing a limb. He was breathing heavily, vision almost obscured by dizziness, though seeing still through his other senses, and the tenuous Force. "You know such a small part of it. You know _nothing_ to equal the strength of the Dark Side."

 

And, as he spoke, Xanatos raised his hand and unleashed a bolt of lightning at Obi-Wan's chest. Weak, he flailed, managing to deflect some of it on his lightsabre, though the impact jolted his wrist with an audible snap, a red dart of agony. The rest hit him full on the chest, burning him, throwing him back as if he had no more strength than a child.

 

He fell.

 

Xanatos smiled in triumph. He raised his hand again, palm outwards and fingers spread. Red fire clung to it like an aura.

 

He was going to die. Hurt and bereft, Obi-Wan thought he would welcome death. He closed his eyes.

 

Xanatos laughed. The red fire gathered.

 

He was going to die. He was going to die, and Qui-Gon would remain unwarned, and Xanatos would taunt him with how easy it was. The Dark Side could _not_ win. It has strength, but no discipline; he had learnt that two years ago when, facing certain death himself, he had leapt back from the brink, and slain the Dark Lord, grown careless in his triumph.

 

Like a beggar pulling his rags close, Obi-Wan reached for his tattered remains of the Force, and pulled them in with all his strength. He used none of it for his own healing, or to give strength to his exhausted body. Instead, he reached outwards, probing the other man for weakness.

 

He found it.

 

Quick as thought, he transferred his lightsabre to his left hand and struck out with all his might, slashing at the hand that held the red-bladed weapon. There was no resistance; before Xanatos was fully aware of his intention, the deed was done. Weapon, and hand, fell to the rain-soaked ground of the forest.

 

"You may have strength," Obi-Wan said, struggling to his feet as rage and agony burned in his enemy's eyes. "But no control."

 

Like the Sith on Naboo, Xanatos's strength came all from emotion - from hatred, from triumph, and now pain. Emotion burned like a flame, giving strength to the Force, but at the same time it drowned out everything else. Xanatos was heady with power, neglecting defence, neglecting awareness of the nuances of his surroundings.

 

"There is no true strength without discipline," Obi-Wan said, grimly. He needed to speak, to feel the steady rhythm of words, like a drum-beat focusing his strength. Without it, he felt he would drift away entirely. "My Master taught me that." He lunged forward again, burning cloth and skin as his weapon slashed his opponent's side.

 

"Ah, but you will suffer for that..." Xanatos's voice was a feral hiss. His very eyes seemed to blaze like coals.

 

Red fire blazed, again and again. Red fire, but for Obi-Wan, there was only darkness.

 

*****

 

He woke to a touch on his face, almost a caress, and an insistent urging in his abused mind, coaxing him back to life, urgent. There was no love there; as the pains of his body hit him full force, he heard quiet laughter. But the touch was gentle, and who else would touch him so?

 

<I told you not to come> he chided, silently. Then, <I wanted you to come.> Aloud, he murmured his name: "Master."

 

A rough thumb stroked his cheekbone, and fingers sank into his hair, nails in his scalp. "Yes." Sibilant and gloating.

 

He remembered - fragments only, clouded and painful. Xanatos. This was Xanatos. His Master's lightsabre, but that was a trick. A severed hand on the forest floor. Red fire filling the world, and blazing now in his head, eating sense and memory.

 

"No." He wondered how his voice could sound so firm. He was no Jedi; he was scared, and so hurt. "Qui-Gon is my Master."

 

Xanatos with his lightsabre...

 

<An illusion> he reminded himself.  He would do so again and again; truths were so hard to keep hold of, and memories slipped from his mind like water.

 

"Not any longer." Xanatos' eyes narrowed. "You will come to call me Master."

 

Obi-Wan knew suddenly, terrifyingly, that if he met those eyes, he would break. They would lock eyes like they had locked lightsabres. Hurting, without the Force, he would give first, yielding one more victory. He covered his sickening realisation with disinterest, barely glancing at the man's face, studying instead the stone floor beneath him, the shackles on his hands, the chain that ran from his neck to a ring in the wall.

 

He was bound, but not defeated. "You will not turn me," he said, all casual steel.

 

Dimly, through the edges of his pain-obscured vision, he saw fingers closing around the chain. The slightest pressure pulled at his throat, barely any pain at all. The smallest, most innocent of augurs of torments to come.

 

"But I do not wish to turn you," Xanatos said, voice like black silk.

 

Another tug, like stroking fingers of discomfort and no real pain. Though every beat of his heart made his head explode with pain, his breathing was true. He doubted that would last.

 

But Obi-Wan said nothing. Xanatos would tell; he had sensed the man's arrogance before. In the silence, he mustered a failing tendril of Force and reached out to the lock on the collar round his neck, but all it told him was his lack of strength. He could not escape.

 

Xanatos has told him that he was dying.

 

"I had this house built," Xanatos said, almost casually, as if telling a story to a child. "There was another house standing here before. It was not to my taste." Absently, the fingers tightened on the chain. "Of course, I had the old house completely demolished before a single stone of this one was laid..."

 

Fear like a wave crested, then broke. Demolished. He was to be broken utterly. A blank, broken formless lump of clay, with nothing of Obi-Wan left about him, for Xanatos to form as he wished, in his own dark image...

 

He flexed his left hand impotently; the right one was paralysed with pain, broken as Xanatos wished to break him. His throat was dry; fear fluttered in his heart, making the pain in his head grow to a crescendo, a cacophony.

 

He was enough Jedi to keep the fear from his eyes, to stay true. He would not be broken. He would not. But, oh, the pain, the fear, of the breaking...

 

"You are dying," Xanatos said, mildly. When there was anger in his voice, then Obi-Wan had won a victory, upset his plans, made the emotion overwhelm his control. The last time Xanatos had shown anger, he had lost his hand.

 

There was no anger in his voice, in his eyes, in his sense. Calmness meant victory.

 

"You are dying," he said again, with a smile. "I alone keep you alive, barely but enough. There will be no ending to this but your breaking." He narrowed his eyes. "When you beg. When you want nothing in the universe other than for the pain to stop. When no debasement is too low for you." A smile. "When you call me Master."

 

"Qui-Gon is my Master." Obi-Wan drew the Force around him like a cloak, woefully inadequate but there was comfort in it still. "I will not break."

 

Xanatos raised his right hand like a talisman, portentous. "The longer you hold out, the worse the pain. A lifetime of pain. There will be no end but your breaking."

 

Obi-Wan swallowed hard. He floundered with his mind, desperately seeking that still centre of calm that he had always known. He did not need the Force to find mental peace, to subjugate emotion. But without the Force there was no respite from the pain, and the pain was like a fiery barrier in his mind, keeping him from reaching that place of peace.

 

There would be nowhere to hide from the torment.

 

"You cut off my hand." Xanatos' voice was ice. "I have a new one. A special one."

 

A flicker of the Force, and from the fingers of Xanatos' artificial hand slipped claws, deadly metal and half as long as his fingers.

 

"It is fitting that you are the first to feel it..."

 

There was no refuge. With his left hand, Xanatos held onto the chain; the slightest of struggles would choke him. Light shone cold on the knife-sharp claws.

 

<I will not scream> Obi-Wan repeated, like a litany in his tortured mind. <Will not.>

 

Xanatos' dark hand moved like a lover, caressing his chest, the muscles of his stomach.

 

*****

 

Eyes closed, Qui-Gon was a statue. He had accepted the messages of his senses - accepted them, and moved past them. Now there was nothing for him but the Force, like a quiet ocean with him as its still centre. He had no emotion. The Force ebbed and flowed. He could lose himself in this, and had done so, many times, returning from a trance to find that hours had passed.

 

He did not have hours.

 

Urgency gave him strength, though there was no room here for fear, for grief. The Force spoke most clearly to those who felt nothing. If he felt fear, the answer would slip from his hand like a receding wave, and be lost to him.

 

<There> he thought, after a long time.

 

He felt no triumph.

 

"Xanatos," he said, aloud, emotionless.

 

Drained, suddenly, he opened his eyes. The Force slipped away from him; he saw only an empty ornate room, yielding no clues to anyone who had only eyes to see with.

 

Emotions that he had denied flooded him. He sank to his knees, cold with fear, dark with grief.

 

"Xanatos," he said, again, and clenched his fist.

 

*****

 

Awakenings were always the worst torture, and always the same.

 

First flickerings of consciousness, and the knowledge that he was cherished, that his Master was close - <I told you not to come. I wanted you to come.> Then came to pain, and, with it, memory. His Master's lightsabre...

 

<An illusion> He would forget, and relearn, the truth with every awakening. <An illusion. My Master is not dead.>

 

It gave him no comfort. It was Qui-Gon whom Xanatos hated. He, Obi-Wan, was on no use except as a means to hurt his Master. He was the bait; Qui-Gon, if he came for him, was the prey.

 

He would not break. If Qui-Gon came, as rescuer or captive, he would not find his padawan broken or tainted. He would not break, though blood from his lacerated body had turned the room one red. He would not break, though his damaged brain still bled, taking him ever further from the Force, from truth, from sanity.

 

He would not break.

 

"The resolution of a fool," Xanatos said softly, from the unobserved shadows, after one awakening, most recent and worst. Last time had been the claws without respite and with no words. Even unfettered, he would have lacked the strength to raise as much as a hand.

 

A clawless hand closed round his chin, pulling him close to his enemy's marred handsome visage. "Do you understand what I ask of you? Do you?"

 

He choked. When he could speak, with scoured voice, he gave his answer: "to break me, then reform me as a creature of darkness. To make me betray the Jedi who raised me, and my Master who has loved me, as you did."

 

Provoking anger was a dangerous game. Anger gave Xanatos strength, yet it also gave him weakness born of lack of control.

 

But Xanatos' lips only curled in cruel amusement. "No. I only seek to make you learn the truth."

 

He raised his hand, and in it he held an object of dull metal, like a lightsabre handle. Still smiling, he pressed the cold metal against Obi-Wan's deeply slashed chest, above the heart.

 

Obi-Wan fought rising fear. He would find peace from this - he had to. Peace...

 

The soft hiss as a lightsabre ignited, and the all-consuming agonising red fire penetrating his heart... He anticipated it, heard it in every rasping breath he took. Pressed cold against his chest, showing him an image of his coming death in every beat of his heart.

 

His captor's face would be the last sight he saw, but he would die unbroken.

 

He met his murderer's eyes, and this time he did not waver. He had sought some sort of peace, and found it. He had withstood torture and remained true. If death was to come now, then he would die as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi and servant of the light. Death was his victory.

 

"Ah, no." Xanatos smiled. "Not that."

 

His flimsy construct of peace crumpled; shame twisted in his stomach, leaving his nauseous. He had no Force. Xanatos could violate him, invade his mind, and he would be impotent, ignorant. His mind was no longer his own; his body was Xanatos' for him to abuse at his will.

 

<But that's not me> The thought was both desperate reassurance to himself, and a challenge. The Jedi taught that the body was but a frail receptacle for a man's true essence. That essential part of him - his spirit - remained his. Xanatos could plunder his surface thoughts and torture his body, but inside he was free, inviolate.

 

He _had_ to believe that, or he was lost...

 

He gathered all his strength, put all his defiance into his eyes...

 

... and all conscious thought was flayed from his mind.

 

Pain like he had never felt before, never imagined.... Molten metal coursed through his veins. The world sheeted red. Ah, but he could not withstand this - could not. He screamed. Not to scream was an impossibility. Oh, that he could feel such pain and still live... This was dying by inches. This was bones pulped, brain ripped to shreds, skin torn from his living flesh without mercy.

 

"No!" he cried, perhaps. His voice was not his own; his mind was not his own.

 

"No?"

 

A soft mocking voice, a caress, and the pain fell away. Soothing balm to his tortured lacerated body,  pain a distant memory. Pleasure coursed through his veins. This was not just the surcease of pain; it was ecstasy.  His body arched, pulling against the collar, but even that was a caressing lover's touch. Perhaps he was moaning. Perhaps... A starburst behind his ecstatic closed eyes, whirling towards fruition. Ah, but he needed release - craved it... <More> his whole soul cried out. That he could live with such ecstasy...

 

It disappeared. He had been close, so close... A moan, almost a sob, escaped his lips.

 

Slowly, terribly, conscious thought returned, and the pains of his injuries - so small now compared with that terrible all-encompassing agony. He was sweat-soaked and drained. He was shaking.

 

"A neural stimulator." Xanatos gestured with his eyes to the device, but he did not remove it. There would be more. "It can trigger intense pleasure, or intense pain, at my will. Which do you prefer?"

 

Blood trickled down his lip. He literally bit back a sob. Agony was pure. But the pleasure... Ah, the pleasure...

 

To feel no pain from injuries was wrong. To feel that nothing mattered in the world but getting _more_, when it was a torture and a violation, and against the Code...

 

Silent sobs tore at his chest.

 

"Perhaps you need a reminder."

 

An explosion of agony. His back arched; he was literally without breath. It was a sun exploding. It was nails driven into his eyes, and tears of fire. It was burning, burning...

 

... seeking, craving more. Ecstasy so intense that he could not mark the moment when the agony ceased and the pleasure took over. To feel this more, for longer, he would debase himself and beg, would do anything. It was... No. Claws ripping at his skin. <No> he moaned, even that thought ripped from his mind with immense effort. <No.> This was shame. His was debasement, and violation. This was betrayal. This was darkness.

 

Ecstasy swelled. His voice laughed, throaty and joyous. His mind screamed <No! Not this!>

 

And everything fell away. He was flat on his back, lacerated chest heaving with exertion, fresh pain at his wrists where he had fought his bonds. Ah, but he could not face that pleasure again - _could_ not, or he would be lost. He would beg aloud. He would beg for more, and sell his soul for sensual satisfaction.

 

He would be lost.

 

"Which do you prefer?" Low and insistent.

 

Then, after the silence of his ragged breathing, "shall I use a higher setting?"

 

He dug his nails into his palms. <Let it be pain> his whole soul was crying, pleading. Pain was pure, unsullied. Pain did not tempt him to lose himself. Pain was an enemy he could fight. Pleasure was.... Oh, but pleasure made the true enemy himself.

 

He could not bear it.

 

The universe exploded with ecstasy. He was ripped apart. <More> his treacherous body begged, writhing. <More....> He strained at his chains, curled his fingers into claws. With the tiny part of conscious mind that was left to him, he clawed at what he could reach, reopening wounds, slaking his body with blood. He needed pain - needed it. But it was nothing; bleeding lacerations were like a silken touch. Moments later, even that tiny fragment of consciousness was ripped away, by agonising intense pleasure.

 

But his eyes were open.

 

Every moan was a defeat; every second of pleasure was a failure. He writhed deeper and deeper into his shame. His body, his mind, his whole being was subsumed in the ecstasy, yet, at the same time, it knew the truth. His eyes were open; even as he longed for more, he knew the truth of his defeat. This was the most bitter gall of torture.

 

He knew what he was lost. Yet, knowing it, he was powerless to stop. The ecstacy, ah, the ecstacy...

 

"Which do you prefer?"

 

With the device inactive, he felt barely alive - as if he had never lived until he had felt such overwhelming sensation. His throat felt scoured. Had he screamed in pain, or shouted in pleading abandonment?

 

"Which do you prefer?"

 

But how could he say it? He saw the truth of this lesson, and the crux of his defeat. Pleasure could be a pain far worse than any agony. Yet pleasure and pain were diametrically opposed. There had been a transition when he had not even noticed the change.

 

"They teach you that the light is good, and the darkness is evil. They are opposites." Xanatos' voice was quiet, gentle musing, as if talking to himself. "Yet there is no difference at all. Pain, or pleasure... What do you prefer?"

 

But how could he say  it? To say that he preferred the pain was to accept darkness over light. It was to betray everything that made him what he was.

 

"I prefer the light," he said, and flinched.

 

Was it hours? Years? He was flayed and hung between the stars, hurtling from agony to ecstasy in an endless succession, screaming until his voice gave out, world bleeding red. The words had no meaning. In the end, there was no difference in the sensation. He grew to love the pain and hate the pleasure. Both were alike exquisite torture and white pure light. Agony hurt his body, but his soul was untainted; pleasure raked like claws across his spirit.

 

Eternity spread before him. This was death...

 

"Which do you prefer?" Quiet.

 

He lay as if boneless on the floor.

 

"Pain," he said, at last.

 

Pain was pure. There was no shame in pain.

 

Evil felt no shame.

 

"I prefer the pain," he said, and wept.

 

*****

 

Broken, he was left. Xanatos left him. Alone, he mustered his strength, tried to tell himself that it had been one small defeat. He still intended to fight. He still resisted the darkness, and called Qui-Gon Master.

 

But now he knew that he _could_ be broken.

 

He longed for Qui-Gon. <I'm not strong enough> he sobbed, inside. <I will fight, but I can't... I can't live through that again.>

 

He became aware of a presence, then. A presentment only - a shadow of a man. He was wrapped in a dark cloak. He was mirage and illusion, of less form than a hologram. Yet he was there, and vibrant. There was more sheer presence about this shadowy projection than any man he had met.

 

"You know who I am?" the man said, although it felt more like a question directly carved into his mind than any normal speaking.

 

He thought - only a few seconds, and then he knew. He had fought one of this kind on Naboo. "You are Sith. You are Xanatos' Master."

 

"Not for much longer." The image smiled, like the grinning of a skull. "I am your Master."

 

"Xanatos says the same. Does he disobey you?"

 

He wondered how he could speak so firmly, how he could be broken one hour and defiant the next. All he knew was that everything - _everything_- depended on it.

 

"I am your Master," the presentment said, and his words were a compulsion.

 

He swallowed hard. Sweat burst forth on his palms. He felt the words like a pin, impaling him like a dead insect on a board. "He... He will not break me," he managed, floundering.

 

But he was as if naked before the Sith. He could see his thoughts, his memories, as if he was of no more substance than the air. His earlier defeat was known. _He_ knew it, and nothing would be the same again.

 

The Sith Lord smiled.  "Perhaps not. But he will deliver you to me, and _I_ will break you as if you were nothing more than a twig in autumn. And, in the end, you will be willing. You have power, but only I can show you what it is."

 

How could he resist this voice? He felt he was falling off a cliff, falling, falling... He lunged desperately for the safety of a ledge, and caught hold, painfully, precariously. "Only strength to resist you."

 

Dark amusement darkened the Sith's sense. "He said the same, but now he serves me. I serve no Master, he said. Only darkness brings freedom, he said, as I ripped his mind from him. Who is his Master now?"

 

"But, still, he disobeys you." Ah, but how could he do anything other than fight, to provoke - to invite death and freedom? "He seeks revenge against Qui-Gon. Is that your command?"

 

The Lord laughed - a dreadful cold sound, like physical pain. "Then you can discipline him, when you serve me."

 

He wanted to say 'never.' He wanted to raise his head and defy. But all protests were as dust in his throat, and the Sith Lord was gone.

 

*****

 

"Qui-Gon is here," Xanatos said, with studied unconcern, at last.

 

It was enough. For unknown hours - days? - Obi-Wan had drifted in a sea of semi-consciousness, tormented by memories of pain that was pleasure and pleasure that was pain, and the words of a Sith Lord who was not there at all. From Xanatos, too, there had been no fresh assaults. It had been as if both of them were patiently, passionately waiting for this moment.

 

Obi-Wan struggled to instant awareness. He floundered, searching for his Master with his maimed sense, but finding nothing, nothing. In his mind, he was still alone.

 

"I have brought you where he most would expect to find me," Xanatos said with a smile. "He will see how you have fallen. He will be scared to attack me, lest I kill you. Then I will kill him."

 

The words had the veracity of a vision. Cold fury rose in him, like the blue-white blade of his lightsabre. He would risk anything, suffer anything, to spare his Master from pain.

 

He pushed himself into an awkward sitting position, throat straining against the collar, head reeling with dizziness. "Why are you doing this?" he rasped. "Is it vengeance, or is it the command of your Master?"

 

Xanatos stiffened. "I have no Master," he said, too casually. "The Jedi are all rules, all hierarchy. I left that all behind. I call no man Master."

 

"But you do." Even after everything, Obi-Wan could use his eyes as a weapon. He held the other man impaled on his truth. "What did he ask of you? To bring me to him? To sign your own death warrant. 'Two always there are.' So where will you fit in when he has me?"

 

Xanatos raised his hand. The claws sprang forth, glinting as dangerous as his eyes. There was true anger there for the first time in this prison.

 

"My Master cares for me, and is coming for me, even though he must know it might kill him; your Master will kill you when he has me." He laughed. "And you try to tell me that the Dark Side is preferable."

 

Fury shone in his captor's eyes like red fire. "Then I will kill you, and he will never have you - neither of them."

 

Obi-Wan laughed. He felt purged of fear, of doubt. He had found his way. Just the knowledge that Qui-Gon was close, and he knew he _had_ to act like this. He had failed in the past, but one failure did not condemn him to a lifetime of failure. That was past; today he could still save a life. He would provoke Xanatos to kill him, allowing Qui-Gon to fight him in fair fight, not manipulated into surrender by threats to Obi-Wan's life.

 

Or he could free himself.

 

"You? Free yourself?" Xanatos laughed, with an edge of hysteria in his voice. "Your brain is damaged. You have no Force."

 

Obi-Wan clenched his fist. "I have the will."

 

He had nothing left to him. His mind was maimed; the Force was denied to him. All he had was his desperation - his love for his Master, his intense resolution that Qui-Gon must _not_ be trapped. He cast aside the teaching of a lifetime, for what place had that now? He had been taught to eschew emotion, to act only on the dictates of the Force. But the Force had been taken from him, and only emotion remained.

 

<I _will_ escape. I have to> he thought, with all the fire of his determination.

 

For his whole life, emotion had existed only to be addressed, and discarded. Now, he cherished emotion, nurturing it, using it as a flame to his power.

 

It was all he had.

 

"Master," he said, aloud. He saw his Master, green blade in his hand, face resolute and full of love, ready to stand and die for him. He saw his Master's broken body, killed because he dared not fight the man who held a weapon to his padawan's throat.

 

He saw his Master's love, and Xanatos' hatred. Outrage blazed in him like a white flame. This was not right. With every fibre of his being, every emotion in his body, he felt it. This was not right. This. Must. Not. Happen.

 

And everything else fell away. Nothing existed but the emotion, and the blazing sense of justice.

 

He was dimly aware of flames bursting from his fingers, of his bonds falling away as if they were made of paper. He was dimly aware of standing to his feet, blazing fire from his hands, soaking the fire into his veins like lifeblood, giving of strength. Power infused him.

 

It was not the Force, not as he understood it. All his teachings told him that this was the Dark Side. It was power born of emotion, but it did not feel evil. It freed him; it saved Qui-Gon. There was nothing more he would do with it.

 

Even Xanatos, cowered at his feet with wide terrified eyes, he would not kill.

 

He reined in the flames, crouched down, reached out a bloody broken hand. "I will not kill you for vengeance," he said.

 

These words at least were his own; the power was nothing he could understand. There was nothing of hatred, of vengeance, in it. He acted only out of a burning desire for justice, to save his Master.

 

He did not understand it; he could not question it, or he would lose it.

 

"I do not wish to kill you," he said, again. He had learnt at least one lesson he would never forget: dark and light were entwined. Like pleasure and pain, darkness and light were two sides of the same coin. No turning was irrevocable. "It is not too late for you."

 

Xanatos' face twisted in denial. His body appeared broken. Had Obi-Wan done that, unwitting, in his outburst of inexplicable power? If so, then he was as guilty, as damned, as if he had succumbed to the Sith.

 

He did not understand it. This was beyond understanding, far beyond conscious thought.

 

Obi-Wan laid a shaking broken hand on Xanatos' scarred cheek. "Once you had a Master who would die for you. It is not too late. They are wrong." He thought of the teachers at the Temple - teacher he had never once questioned until now. He felt he had been given an extra sense. Things clouded were no clear to him, though there would still be so many questions, afterwards. "Once you succumb to the Dark Side, it is not irrevocable. It is never too late for redemption."

 

Just for a second, Xanatos's face softened, as if torn. A desperate longing passed over it, like a cloud over the sun, passing and then gone. Then it hardened, and was the Xanatos Obi-Wan had always seen, cold with hate, eyes burning.

 

Xanatos raised his hand. Red fire blazed on his fingertips, gathered, then launched itself direct at Obi-Wan's face.

 

Obi-Wan deflected it with his palm was if it was nothing more than air. It rebounded, impacted on Xanatos' chest, and sent him reeling, face warped in agony, robes burning.

 

Sorrowing, Obi-Wan stood up. He felt a small spark of life linger in the other man, but weak, wavering. Slowly, wondering, he raised his broken hand, fingers poised. He knew suddenly that he could, with the movement of a single finger, kill.

 

Xanatos's eyes pleaded with him, silently. He was broken, now. <Kill me> he said. <Don't let _him_ find me like this.>

 

Obi-Wan felt tears in his eyes. It was so hard to maintain. Power was dissipating. He was hurt, close to death, almost broken.

 

Yet he mustered the last fragment of his failing strength, this new and strange power he had tapped. "Find peace," he whispered, moving his hand across Xanatos' body like a benediction. "Make peace with your true Master."

 

As Xanatos died, Obi-Wan sank to his knees. There was nothing left to him. Nothing at all.

 

*****

 

He had felt no surprise to sense him here. Obi-Wan was bait, of course. From the moment he had first sensed his former apprentice's presence, he had known it would come to this. Xanatos would hide somewhere easy to find, aiming to lure him, Qui-Gon, to find him.

 

And there he would try to kill him.

 

He had sensed Xanatos from the moment he had landed in this city, Xanatos' father's home. That hurt him still. He had expected to sense Obi-Wan. Xanatos had no place in his mind now. If Xanatos was here with Obi-Wan, then it was his padawan he expected to sense.

 

But he had sensed nothing of Obi-Wan - nothing at all. Xanatos' hatred burned like a brand, red and painful in his mind. As he had drawn closer, then he had sensed something of Obi-Wan, but it was nebulous, like a ghost, only. Although he had reached out to his padawan until he was weak and exhausted, he had felt no answering recognition. Obi-Wan was not dead, but deaf to the nuances of the Force. The weak presence that he sensed felt horribly maimed.

 

"Obi-Wan," he called, again, as so many hundreds of times before.

 

And, suddenly, there was an answer. His padawan's sense blazed into a terrible, blinding light. It was power - power as he had never felt. It burned, unnatural. If this was the Force, it was nothing like the Force he had known and studied all his life.

 

He fell to his knees. His head was being split apart. He clenched fists to his forehead, rocking, agonised...

 

Agonised.

 

"Obi-Wan?" he tried, desperately.

 

Nothing.

 

"Obi-Wan?"

 

And, suddenly, that terrible power fell away. It remained as an undercurrent, but gentle, like soothing water. Above it all was compassion - intense, white-hot compassion.

 

He wept.

 

"Obi-Wan?" he tried again, voice hoarse, mind reeling. This was nothing, nothing he knew.

 

And then he felt a new presence - a presence long unfelt. A boy, headstrong but free of evil. A boy, brightened by his love. <Master?>

 

Tears bathed his cheeks. He raised his arms, reaching for the boy who still lived in his memory. "Xanatos," he said, aloud.

 

And, when he died, the wound was healed. Part of his mind, still raw and bleeding, where Xanatos had forever lived. In one heartbeat, it was healed, cured. His mind was whole; the past held nothing that could scar him.

 

He was healed; he was weeping, weeping, for a boy he had once loved...

 

... and for a young man he still loved.

 

"Obi-Wan." He pushed himself to his feet, feeling only an intense emptiness where he had just felt unspeakable power.

 

He staggered, a tear-obscured  clumsy run, pushing people aside as he passed them, focused only on the aching emptiness in his mind that was his bond with his padawan.

 

He ran along passageways, through doors, down stairs...

 

"Obi-Wan..."

 

And his padawan was in his arms, enfolded in them, held close to his heart and safe. His padawan, deeply marked with cuts, covered with blood. His padawan, whose brain was so deeply wounded that he might not live.

 

His padawan, who had shown power such as no man had ever known before.

 

His padawan.

 

*****

 

Part Two: Healing, Purging

 

*****

 

<A dark-clad man, with hidden face and a terrible power in his very fingertips. Jedi fall before him, their weapons extinguished, all movement ripped from their limbs. He dispenses death with his will. This is dissolution; this is the end of everything.>

 

Qui-Gon Jinn was no oracle. A few times only had he seen the future, and it had been glimpses merely - fragments conveyed in dreams. Some had come to pass - small foretellings only, of no consequence. Others had shown possible futures, but choices had been made and different paths taken, and only his vision had remained to show what could have been.

 

Only one vision, from the dark time after Xanatos, had possessed the power to disturb him, to have him shaking and terrified in bed, feelings as if his soul had been ripped to shreds.

 

<A dark man, cutting down Jedi. Dreadful movement, and he turns towards Qui-Gon Jinn, silent observer, and speaks. His voice is at once strange, and terribly known. "Master," he says, with awful fatality. "I am Chosen.">

 

"It is no vision," he had said, desperately, when his duty had forced him to seek counsel. "The dream reflects Xanatos, and my feelings about what he did."

 

Yoda had laid a gnarled hand on Qui-Gon's lowered head. "Vision, it is, and warning. Heed it, you must. Heed it always."

 

And, heeding it, he had refused to take another padawan, cutting himself from all companionship, rejecting Obi-Wan again and again, until the boy had faced darkness and death without flinching. Obi-Wan had proved himself free of taint; the vision had faded, almost been forgotten.

 

<"I am Chosen. You named me so, Master, though it was not you who chose me." Strange terrible sadness in the voice, even as the black-clad hands dispenses death, rips the Jedi Order apart and casts it aside like a rag.>

 

"Think on your vision," Yoda had said, after Naboo, talking as if only minutes, not a decade, had interrupted his counsel. "Think on it, ere the Chosen one you name him."

 

Qui-Gon had remembered forgotten fears. Anakin growing into a dark-clad man, that alien familiar voice being the adult voice of the boy he had just met. The boy's upbringing, free of the Jedi disciplines, made him vulnerable to temptation; his strength made him a prize that the Sith would give anything to obtain.

 

Yet he had grown since the days after Xanatos, when his vision had made him run and hide, refusing all padawans lest one of them grow into a dark man who called him Master even as the Jedi died in hundreds at his hands. He had grown, and he would not run. If there was danger of Anakin turning and destroying them all, then he would devote all his strength to ensuring that this didn't happen. Anakin was the Chosen One, born of balance. He was chosen for the light, not just the darkness.

 

"It is in our power to change the future," he had said, adamant. "The future is always in motion. Visions shows only one possible outcome and not the whole truth."

 

But Yoda had looked at the cold tile floor, and said nothing.

 

<A dark-clad man, with hidden face and a terrible power in his very fingertips. Jedi fall before him, their weapons extinguished, all movement ripped from their limbs. He dispenses death with his will. This is dissolution; this is the end of everything.>

 

*****

 

In the cellar that had been his padawan's torture chamber, Qui-Gon had held him close, holding him as if he could keep him safe for always.

 

Now, he could not touch him. He reached for him, hand held above that dear unconscious face, inches away. He trembled. He could _not_ move the hand closer; he dared not.

 

"Oh, Obi-Wan," he murmured, as his impotent hand shook.

 

His padawan had been so badly abused, his body so vulnerable and a heartbeat from death. Just holding him in the cellar, a dozen unhealed wounds had burst open anew, abraded by his tunic. Carrying him back to the ship, he had left a bloody trail.

 

Yet, at the same time, he had been so powerful. In that moment of contact, Qui-Gon had felt a power such as he had never imagined - a power, he knew, that could cause him to die in an instant, should the wielder so choose.

 

Frail, yet potent. A touch would break him. A touch would...

 

Qui-Gon gasped, swore by the Force. Horror filled him. "A touch would... provoke him?" he whispered aloud, like an indictment, a death sentence.

 

He was afraid of his padawan.

 

He had dreamt, in fitful sleep by Obi-Wan's bedside, of his old vision - of the dark man who called him Master. He had often wondered what came after that fragment. Did the murderer who called himself Chosen kill him? Did he kill his Master - or was he redeemed?

 

He was afraid.

 

Realisation gave him strength, breaking him free from his frozen impotence. Defiantly, almost brutally, he grasped Obi-Wan's hand.

 

Obi-Wan moaned, but could not move. Qui-Gon had used the Force to ease what he could, but Obi-Wan was still so close to dying. The bleeding in his skull had been stilled, but the blood already shed still pressed cruelly on his brain. His brain could not comprehend the Force. Only the most skilled of Jedi healers could heal such a wound.

 

But Coruscant was close now. They were expected, and awaited.

 

"Master?" Obi-Wan opened his eyes. His voice was like paper, and the muscles of his face were clenched in pain, but his eyes were strangely calm, sure. "Master. It was not evil, what I did. I know it."

 

Qui-Gon's eyes filled with tears. He could not smile, could not offer reassurance or love. "Sleep, Obi-Wan," was all he said.

 

A gentle wave of the hand, a soft compulsion, and Obi-Wan did.  

 

*****

 

A hand on his shoulder, holding him back. He felt fingers digging into his flesh, and a firm command in his mind. Caught off guard, he let his hand be pulled from Obi-Wan's, his padawan's limp fingers trailing, then falling lifeless to the floor.

 

"Come, Master Jinn. The Council awaits you."

 

He whirled round, eyes wild and furious. But, before he spoke, he took a deep calming breath, and another. Control had never been harder to maintain that this past week. "Is it necessary?" he asked, heavily.

 

Obi-Wan was being taken from him.

 

Ki-Adi-Mundi's eyes were stone. "It is, Master Jinn, and as a Jedi you should know it."

 

Qui-Gon looked at Obi-Wan's pale face as he lay on the litter. He saw pain-filled semi-conscious eyes, and strangers working on him. He saw him carried away from him, across the landing platform. He saw the limp hand still trail on the ground, then a healer's robe billowed and obscured him.

 

Ki-Adi-Mundi's eyes watched the same scene dispassionately. "Your thoughts dwell on your padawan."

 

Qui-Gon remembered him saying similar words to a young boy grief-stricken at being parted from his mother. There had been no empathy, no sympathy. Ki-Adi-Mundi had a unique insight into the Dark Side; his ability to detect it had earned him a place on the Council when he was not yet a Master, and had never trained a padawan. Qui-Gon had always thought him the coldest of Jedi. In himself, as in others, he saw any manifestation of emotion as dangerous, leading only to the Dark Side.

 

"They do," he said, defiantly. "He has suffered greatly."

 

"He will be cared for by the healers. They can do more than you." Ki-Adi-Mundi folded his hands. He spoke as if uttering an obvious, though unimportant, truth.

 

Qui-Gon closed his eyes. He felt the small flicker of the Force as his padawan gave in once more to unconsciousness. He would not be called for. For a while, at least, he would not be missed.

 

"Yes," he said, heavily.

 

And he turned his back and went to do his duty.

 

*****

 

He was in a circle of hard, probing eyes.

 

Earlier, in the ship, he had doubted, unable to offer the reassurance that his padawan had needed. Now, relating what had happened to the Council, forced by their questioning to clarify what he believed, he _knew._

 

<Master. It was not evil, what I did. I know it.>

 

"It was not the darkness," he said. He had said it before, to their questionings, but then it had been hopeful, almost a question, seeking their reassurance for something he could only hope. This time he was firm, and sure. "It was not the Dark Side."

 

"What do you know of the Dark Side?" Ki-Adi-Mundi leaned forward in his chair with cold scorn.

 

"Enough." Even with the eyes of the Council on him - and perhaps because of it - he shuddered. "I fought Xanatos on Bandomeer, and a Sith on Naboo. I have faced pure evil, and it was not like this."

 

Why had he not told Obi-Wan? Why had he not taken his hand and held it, and said, "I believe you, padawan, and I will make sure everyone knows it. You did not turn. I am proud of you."

 

Had ignorance blinded him to right? Had fear made him as cruel as Xanatos?

 

"Yet he used power." Ki-Adi-Mundi steepled his fingers. Two seats from him, Mace Windu mirrored the gesture, though there was a different message in _his_ eyes. Mace was considering the evidence; Ki-Adi-Mundi had already decided. "His injury precluded the use of the Light Side of the Force. The Light Side is born of the head. The Force speaks to our spirits, but only the discipline of our mind allows is to wield it with control, in accordance with the Code, transcending base emotion."

 

Qui-Gon tried to meet his eyes with defiance. He tried, but he could not. It was the truth.

 

"The Dark Side," Ki-Adi-Mundi continued, relentlessly, "is not of the head. It is unbridled emotion. It comes from the heart. It is feeling without conscious control, or restraint. It is strong, but without discipline. It is the antithesis of everything we believe in. It is evil. It is pure evil, and we must fight it with all our strength. This is our mission: to keep the Dark Side from taking hold."

 

Qui-Gon found himself wanting to laugh, having to fight it. The Council was an oasis of peace, all serene eyes and folded hands. Ki-Adi-Mundi's sense was quiet, unemotional, yet he was speaking like a street-corner demagogue, like a general on a battlefield.

 

And he spoke the truth. That was the sorrow of it.

 

Qui-Gon clenched his fist. "Yet he is not evil." He shook his head. "I can not explain it. I sensed power..." Oh, such immense, awe-inspiring _terrible_ power, shattering his whole world at its very core... He swallowed hard, clutched at control, and held it. "Power, but compassion. He did not kill by direct action, but merely reflected Xanatos' attack back at him, as all in this chamber have done themselves." He found himself close to tears. "In the end, he helped his abuser find peace, and healed a wound I have long borne."

 

He felt, perhaps, that some were moved by him. Mace Windu smiled slowly, with understanding; Yoda's enigmatic bright eyes showed something that could have been approval.

 

Yoda...

 

It grabbed him like a hand around his throat, choking and terrible. Yoda had aged terribly since he had last seen him. His face was lined with sorrow, and dreadful knowledge. He looked as if he was staring at imminent destruction, but powerless to stop it.

 

<What have you seen?> Qui-Gon wanted to cry, wildly, pleadingly. In a sudden moment of insight he saw himself through Yoda's eyes - heard himself open his mouth and utter words that Yoda had already heard in dreams of a future he intensely longed would be false. <Tell me what I say> he urged, silently. <Tell me what my next words will be, so I do not say them, so it does not come true.>

 

Yoda closed his eyes. "Inescapable, destiny is." Although Qui-Gon was sure his words were only for him, he spoke loud enough for everyone to hear. "But heavy its hand is. Heavy." He exhaled wearily. His face was tight with strain.

 

Ki-Adi-Mundi seemed to take his elder's words as a validation. "Our destiny is to fight the Dark Side. The task has landed on our generation. After a millennium, the Sith have returned. The Light is threatened. We lose more to turning with every year."

 

It was the truth. Ki-Adi-Mundi spoke only the truth. Why could Qui-Gon not tear his eyes from Yoda?

 

He was almost shaking when he made himself speak again, sure that his every innocent word was taking the Jedi closer to some terrible future, but powerless not to speak. "I am as sure as I am of my own life that Obi-Wan has not turned. I can not begin to explain what power he used, but it is wrong to condemn him out of ignorance, out of fear of what that power means."

 

Mace Windu's clear eyes met his. "He did not use the Light Side; the Dark Side is the only other power there is." There was a note of cool challenge in his voice. "There is nothing else it could be - one, or the other."

 

Qui-Gon felt his world tilt dizzyingly. He had spoken the words, said what he had said. Yet he had refused to see the full terrifying implication of what he believed. The Jedi were his life and his whole world view, and for millennia the Jedi had based everything on the knowledge that the Force, in its light and dark aspects, were _all_ power. They did not pretend to know all the mysteries of how the Force worked, but the underlying foundation of their belief was unassailable.

 

He had just assailed it.

 

"It was not the Light Side, _or_ the Dark Side." Ever afterwards, even when he had been proved wrong, he would remember the terror of that moment, and marvel at how he had kept his voice so level when he had felt he was drowning. "It was something else that we know nothing of. We are seekers. It is arrogant to assume that that there is nothing else."

 

Mace Windu gave a small smile, perceptible, perhaps, to none but his old companion at arms. The smile warmed Qui-Gon, and chilled him too. He looked like a teacher who had challenged his pupil, and gained the answer he sought to provoke.

 

<Why?> Qui-Gon asked with his eyes.

 

And Mace Windu's eyes softened, and there was kindness there, and fear.

 

*****

 

They stopped him, afterwards, the two of them who had shown most understanding, and most fear.

 

"You have foreseen this." Qui-Gon whirled round to confront Yoda, fighting Mace's resisting hand on his shoulder. "What is the end of it?" Anger washed away as quickly as if had come, leaving only fear and a desperate need. "What should I have said? How shall I act?"

 

Yoda's face was tight with regret. "Seen it, I have. Understood it, I did not... before today."

 

Qui-Gon dropped to his knees. "Tell me," he said, simply. "Show me."

 

Yoda's eyes never left his. Everything narrowed until there was nothing in Qui-Gon's world but those eyes. He could have knelt there for hours, or days. All he saw was the eyes, and the visions that flickered in his mind, sent there by the ancient Master.

 

<Himself, standing before the Council, defying them, and speaking the exact same words as he has just uttered. Yoda, observing him. He sees himself through Yoda's eyes, rebellious, opposing the Council when opposition wasn't necessary, but worthy, now, of respect...>

 

<A dark-clad man, felling the Jedi with a single movement of his hand... He realises, with a start, that this is his _own_ vision. Jedi fall. Like a camera panning away, he moves away from the dark man and see the bodies that lie throughout the Temple. One is Yoda's, another is Mace's. He knows that _he_ is to blame, for by a word he unleashed this, though he did not cause it. How far in the future it is, he can not see. He seeks pleadingly for answers in Yoda's mind, but it is closed to him...>

 

<A lush garden beneath a heavy blue sky. Obi-Wan is at his side; he is at Obi-Wan's. They have been together, here, for a very long time. Around them, a few Jedi are gathered, and their faces are warm with laughter. Beyond there, like spirits of the dead, are a thousand more, and they are laughing too. He realises, with sudden grief, that he has never heard such laughter when the Jedi have been gathered together, not for a long time...>

 

Tears poured down his cheeks. "Is that it?" His voice was scoured, his knees sore. How long had he knelt here, and for so little? "Two futures? Which one will unfold now?" He thought of the dark man, and Yoda dead, and shuddered. "Your vision showed me myself in the Council chamber, just now. Which future have I brought about?"

 

"Not for you, it is, to start us on the path," Yoda said, quietly. "No more can I tell you."

 

"Why not?" Qui-Gon cried. To show so much, but so little. To _know_, but not to tell...

 

And then Yoda touched his mind again, beckoning, inviting him in.

 

Awed, silenced, Qui-Gon accepted. He wandered though the Master's mind, accepting a communion closer than he had shared with any Jedi. Most doors were closed; Yoda shielded himself well. Still he kept secrets, and only showed what he chose.

 

But Qui-Gon understood.

 

Yoda was not sure of the future. Like Qui-Gon in his own vision, Yoda had seen only glimpses. But the visions he had shared were only a tiny number. There had been hundreds such, all combining to convince the Master that the end for the Jedi was coming. The only hope lay in apparent darkness. Decisions and actions apparently cruel would offer the only chance for redemption. Some deaths would be necessary, sacrificed so that a remnant, at least, of the Jedi could survive.

 

But he could say nothing. If the Council knew what was coming, seeking to prevent it they would act in a way that would hasten it, perhaps remove _all_ hope. They would seek to destroy the evil, not knowing where evil truly lay. They would be blind to their salvation.

 

If he, Qui-Gon, knew what was coming, he would balk at what needed to be done.

 

There would come a time when Qui-Gon would, with his words, knowingly cause the death of someone close to him, yet, in doing so, paving the way for the Jedi's salvation. This was truth. Yet it would only have meaning if he forgot all visions, and lived only in the moment, judging right and necessity by his own conscience. If he did it without truly feeling it was right, reluctantly following the script of someone else's vision like cold duty, then it had no meaning at all, and regret would lead him to darkness. Immediate danger would be averted, but in the end would come a darkness far greater.

 

It would only have meaning if he did not know.

 

"Judge, you must, by conscience," Yoda said, his voice sounding crude after the sublime communication of minds. "Everything you face, by right and wrong. Follow what you _feel_  to be right.  Bound by sentiment, you must not be. Destroy what you love, you might have to."

 

Qui-Gon was silent for a very long time. Hours had passed, perhaps. Mace Windu had gone, slipped away silently an unknown time ago. Did he know, too? Qui-Gon doubted it. He felt his fate was his alone.

 

He could not forget the hard cold eyes of the Council, and Ki-Adi-Mundi proclaiming Obi-Wan evil. <Must not be bound by sentiment...> He felt sick. Would there come a time when he would willingly cause Obi-Wan's death, or Anakin's? Was the murder of his padawan the apparent evil that could alone bring hope?

 

He could not believe that. He was adamant that Obi-Wan had not used the darkness.

 

"I will go to Obi-Wan," he said, at last, pushing himself to his feet. He was so weary. "You say I must not know, so all there is for me to do is forget. I will act as I think is right. I will see Obi-Wan."

 

"No." Yoda's voice was like steel. "That much I can tell you. Go to him, you must not."

 

Always, before, prohibition made him more determined. Now, he wavered. The sharing left him infinitely close to the ancient Master, attentive to his wishes even though they hurt him. "Why not?" he asked, simply.

 

Yoda looked at the floor. "With him, the healers are. In peace, their job they must do." His words were a compulsion.

 

Qui-Gon clenched his fists. After a long silence, he left.

 

*****

 

Long after Qui-Gon Jinn's footsteps had faded into silence, Yoda remained still.

 

"Forgive me," he murmured.

 

He had done what he had told Qui-Gon not to do. He had acted to push the future closer to his vision. He had knowingly acted wrongly, cruelly, hating what he was doing, because he believed that the outcome was necessary.

 

This cruelty would haunt him. But, unlike the danger he had seen in Qui-Gon's future, when remorse for a deed reluctantly done in obedience to a vision could lead him to the darkness, Yoda knew he was safe.

 

He would not live long, now.

 

Yet still, humbled for the first time in centuries, he begged forgiveness - of the man he had just lied to, of the Jedi who would die if Qui-Gon Jinn did what he must... of Obi-Wan Kenobi, whose true trials were still to come.

 

"Forgive me," he whispered.

 

******

 

He woke to the old familiar agony, and a voice.

 

"I will find the darkness in your soul, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

 

Cold fingers touched his temples, pressing relentlessly. He tried to push them away, but his hands were tied.

 

"I will find the truth."

 

And then he was raped.

 

A cold presence in his mind, ripping effortlessly through barriers he was too weak to maintain. His most cherished private memories were pawed at, and discarded as being of no importance. His joy at being accepted by his Master; the river stone he kept always close to him; his Master smiling in the sun... Precious memories soiled for ever by this alien, brutal touch.

 

"No," he moaned, in a broken voice. His brain was maimed; he was chained by weakness and physical restraint. All chance of fighting, of resisting, had been taken from him.

 

This was violation. This was rape.

 

Pain, exquisite pain, ripping at his soul... It was like booted feet trampling through his mind, plundering, destroying.

 

It was the smiling face of Xanatos.

 

It was the grinning red and black visage of the Sith Lord.

 

It was the creeping low voice of the Xanatos' Master.

 

It was worse.

 

He lost all distinction between his body and his soul; both alike were screaming in tortured agony. Scalding tears poured down his face; his whole being screaming in a wordless shriek of desolation.

 

"No! Please, no!"

 

He saw a clawed hand slash at him, and felt it lacerate his mind. He was cut open, bleeding tatters of his mind revealed to cold strangers.

 

This was betrayal by a thousand cruel deceiving hopes. He had thought his Master had come to him and held him close. He had thought himself rescued. He had thought himself in the hands of healers, and safe.

 

He knew, now, that he would never know safety again.

 

**

 

An eternity later, when the invader left his mind, casting him aside like detritus, he heard the voice again.

 

"He uses the darkness to hide the truth."

 

Footsteps receding. They untied him then; resisting, feeling, was an impossibility.

 

He would never be clean again.

 

**

 

"You are marked."

 

Obi-Wan was distantly aware of sheets in his tightly clenched hands, and a pillow beneath his cheek, but they was not reality. The healers' chamber in the Temple was like a ghostly overlay on his true surroundings - a hallucination born of wild hope. Reality was a Sith dungeon. He was bound in chains, and impaled.

 

"You are marked by darkness."

 

It was the nightmare red and black demon-face from Naboo, but the voice was the Sith Lord who had called him his own, and the clawed hand belonged to Xanatos. Blood from the talons poured to the ground like an effusion.

 

"You are marked for darkness." The gaping hell-mouth laughed; the clawed hand pressed almost gently, flat against his breast bone. Mesmerised by horror, his eyes followed that hand.

 

"Here." Almost lovingly. "We are here."

 

He screamed.

 

**

 

He screamed.

 

Sheets tangled in his feet and he fell, sprawling on the sterile floor, broken hand stretched futilely before him. His head throbbed mercilessly. Too weak to stand, he crawled. He was moving through thick water, every inch feeling like a mile. Images of blackness hovered at the edge of his vision.

 

<You are marked>

 

Dreams told truths, sometimes.

 

<You are marked for darkness.>

 

Long tortured minutes of crawling, and he was there. Excruciatingly, he pulled himself to his feet, and looked.

 

He saw himself in the mirror, the same as always, though paler. His eyes were pools of darkness, all pupil. There were smudges beneath them, and dark blood encrusted on his chin.

 

"I am Obi-Wan Kenobi," he said, aloud, knowing he was taking his last look on the man he had always thought he had been.

 

Dreams told truths.

 

Taking a deep breath, shaking, he looked down at his naked chest, criss-crossed with angry half-healed wounds - a tracery of red lines. If he had wanted to, he could have told the story of each one - "this he did slowly, with a smile; this one came suddenly. I remember the blood well from that one and drip on the floor like a flower."

 

<You are marked.>

 

It was there, cut across his heart, amid a dense tracery of random wounds. Four deep strokes, curving, and another bisecting them, still black with weeping blood when all the other wounds were half-healed over. Wet blood glowed like liquid darkness.

 

"No," he sobbed, brokenly.

 

It was the sigil of darkness - the word "Sith" in their own ancient language.

 

He was marked.

 

Sobbing, desperate, he clawed at his chest, using his nails. He ripped and tore. Half-healed wounds burst open and blood slaked his body.

 

It was not enough. It would never be enough.

 

He collapsed, broken, in a pool of his own blood. Shudders racked him. He wept with helpless self-loathing.

 

In the doorway, the Temple guards watched him. They did not move.

 

**

 

He lay on the bed where they had put him; all volition had been ripped from him.

 

He felt purged by fire. As the blood had flowed from his lacerated chest, all delusions had left him. He had thought himself safe and cherished by his Master, but that was a delusion born of misguided hope. He had thought himself chained again in some Sith prison, but that was a delusion, a dream.

 

Now, he knew the truth. He was in the Temple, and he was darkness.

 

He made no effort to call for his Master. Xanatos' turning had deeply scarred him. How he must be suffering now that he had lost another padawan to the darkness. He would be hunched in anguished meditation, locked behind his walls. If Obi-Wan was suffering, Qui-Gon was suffering more. It was wrong to call to him, and cruel. He would make no claim on him. Qui-Gon needed to be freed, to grow past him, to heal.

 

He was cold. He made no effort to reach for a blanket.

 

When he was younger, studying alone from books and other teachers when his Master was away from the Temple, he would sometimes wrap himself in Qui-Gon's robe. It was not the physical warmth he sought, or not solely. Qui-Gon's robe was imbued with the sense of his Master. Wearing it, Obi-Wan felt cherished, strengthened. He had thought Qui-Gon didn't know.

 

It was only years later that it occurred to him to wonder why Qui-Gon always went on solo missions in his spare robe, and left behind his well-worn one.

 

Somehow, this realisation had warmed him even more.

 

They had never spoken of it.

 

He wept. He wanted warmth. He wanted his Master's robe. He wanted to be a small boy wrapped in the cloak of a man who loved him.

 

He wanted...

 

"Master," he cried, with broken voice. "Master."

 

No-one came.

 

**

 

Strong hands held him. He felt a touch on his forehead. His cheek was pressed against someone else's heartbeat.

 

"Obi-Wan." Quiet, reassuring voice.

 

He struggled to open his eyes, but even that small movement was almost beyond him. "Master?"

 

"No." The voice was rueful, but there was anger in the clear dark eyes. "But he will come to you. You are safe."

 

He couldn't stifle a sob. What did Master Windu know of what he was, or of darkness, or betrayal?

 

He fluttered his hands incoherently, conveying nothing, but meaning everything. <My chest> he meant. <The mark. The darkness.>

 

Strong hands closed round his face. "He will come, Obi-Wan. Never doubt that. He will dare all for you."

 

Then, gently, the hands soothed him towards sleep. This was not his Master, and he knew it, but, like his Master, there was strength there, and compassion. Even if he could not trust him, he lacked the strength to fight.

 

The last thing he heard before unconsciousness claimed him was Master Windu's voice blaze forth in fury. "You are healers," he shouted. "You disgust me."

 

And then, as quiet and far away as a whisper in a storm: "heal him."

 

******

 

He was hurled against the wall and held there, angry fists bunching his robes at his throat.

 

"Why?" Mace Windu hissed, his eyes like fire.

 

Qui-Gon felt an answering anger, mirroring the outrage in his friend's eyes. He lashed at the restraining hand. "Explain yourself, Mace."

 

"No. You explain yourself, Master Jinn." Mace invested the title with a deep sarcasm. "Explain why you have cast your padawan aside. Explain how you could allow what they did to him."

 

All fear fell away like water. "Obi-Wan." He grasped Mace's arm, fingers digging in to his flesh. "What have they done? How... how is he?"

 

Mace Windu gave him a long searching look. Then, slowly, he released his hold. His arms fell to his sides, hands clenching and unclenching uselessly. "Not good, Qui-Gon," he said, at last. "Physically, he is out of danger, now. But mentally... " He shook his head. "He is... traumatised. He believes himself deserted, and deserving it. He believes he is tainted with darkness."

 

Fear like a grasping hand closed on Qui-Gon's heart. He remembered the calm sure eyes of his padawan on the ship, confidently stating that he had not acted evilly. "He was not like that when I left him," he said, uselessly. Then, with a sudden spark of anger, "Master Yoda told me not to go to him." He raised a shaking hand to his temple as realisation dawned. "I... I think he used the Force on me, as a compulsion."

 

Mace Windu closed his eyes in thought. When he opened them, they were dark and rueful. "Master Yoda always had reasons for the way he acts." He did not sound convinced.

 

Qui-Gon clenched his fist. He would demand answers later, not resting until he was given satisfaction, but for now - for always - Obi-Wan came first. "I will go to him."

 

Mace Windu lowered his eyes. "You should know something."  He almost seemed scared to be the bearer of this news. To Qui-Gon's suspicious eyes, afterwards, it would come to look like shame. "They kept his brain injury unhealed, until I made them heal it. Three days, Qui-Gon. Three days in agony, unable to think clearly, unable to fight what they did."

 

Everything froze. Qui-Gon was unable to breathe. He felt as if the whole universe had paused in silence to hear this atrocity. "What did they do?" he whispered at last, when he could.

 

Mace Windu looked broken, as if his whole world had shattered. "They raped his mind, Qui-Gon. The healers. Ki-Adi-Mundi. _Our own._"

 

Qui-Gon's knees buckled.

 

******

 

It was the hardest thing he had done. Inside, he was a swirl of emotion, fury and horror surging as they never had before. Outside, he was all strength, and quiet control. Not the slightest hint of anger could seep along to link to the wounded young man he held in his arms.

 

He felt he had become two people - Qui-Gon Jinn, and Master.

 

"I am here for you, Obi-Wan," he murmured, stroking his padawan's hair. "I love you, and you are worthy of anybody's love. You are not tainted."

 

<That they could _do_ this> he raged. <He had been tortured, and the Jedi only tortured him more.>

 

"Let me in," he urged, gently, reaching out a soft mental touch. Obi-Wan's brain injury was healed now, and he could use the Force, but it still hurt him. His presence was very weak. It took an hour of cajoling before Qui-Gon could feel his padawan, very tentatively, greet his Master through the Force.

 

That touch nearly undid him.

 

<Oh, but for this - for him - I _will_ have redress.>

 

Ki-Adi-Mundi's brutal presence was written all over his padawan's mind. He felt bleeding trampled walls, and wounds where cherished memories had been ripped away and discarded. He felt pain, and desolation. He felt evil, but it did not come from Obi-Wan.

 

He felt darkness.

 

"I will feel nothing you do not ask me to," he whispered, speaking softly with his mind. He saw the violation of his padawan's mind at a surface touch, only. Beyond that he would not look - that would be a repeat of the rape.

 

He wondered if Obi-Wan would ever let him into his mind again, even just sharing a warm memory or a cause of a smile.

 

He clenched a fist. Obi-Wan started, feeling the soft hand behind his hair turn into hard knuckles. It took all Qui-Gon's control to relax that fist, to make a gentle nurturing palm.

 

Obi-Wan swallowed painfully. "I... wish you to look," he said, brokenly, as if he had been so violated that one more intrusion could not hurt him. "I want you to judge if I am tainted."

 

"I do not need to violate you to see that," Qui-Gon said, hotly. He held him close. "I felt your compassion for Xanatos. I felt you guide him towards redemption, and heal the wound he caused in his mind. And I have known you for ten years, Obi-Wan. I know what you are made of, and it is _not_ evil."

 

His words hid shame. If he could have said all this on the ship, before Coruscant, could much have been avoided? Was he as guilty as Ki-Adi-Mundi?

 

But he had not raped the mind of a wounded man. It was expressly against the Code. To verify truth-telling, a Jedi accused of a crime could request that his mind be entered and sifted for the truth, but the procedure was always undertaken with a heavy heart, with healers and witnesses to guard against undue trauma, and always with consent. What Ki-Adi-Mundi had done was a crime, to the Jedi, more terrible than murder.

 

<And he will pay for it> he swore, by the Force.

 

"I thought that." Obi-Wan's voice was small. "I thought it was not evil. But Xanatos taught me many things. He taught me that I can not always judge the difference." Tears of silent desolation ran down his cheeks. "Darkness does not consider itself evil. I could consider myself right, yet still be committing wrong."

 

<As _he_ did.>

 

"The Master who tested me considered me evil." Obi-Wan's voice was dull.

 

Qui-Gon closed his eyes, and said nothing of his anger, of his emerging resolution, though he could not stop some of his sense of wrongness seep into his voice. It _had_ to.  "He did not test you, Obi-Wan. He violated you. You _know_ how the Jedi rule against that." A small broken nod. "Whose judgement would you rather trust, Obi-Wan - a Master's who could do that, or mine?"

 

"I have been taught to trust all Masters."

 

Qui-Gon was close to tears. His anger and his desperate reassurance were coming together, impossible to keep apart. He could not comfort Obi-Wan more without revealing his outrage and the decision that had driven him to; he could not reveal his decision to Obi-Wan, in his weakened state, without further wounding him. Obi-Wan was not strong enough to be exposed to anger.

 

Instead, he soothed him wordlessly, feeling like a traitor to a young man already grievously betrayed.

 

Only when Obi-Wan slept did he take him in his arms and gently carry him from the chamber, past protesting guards and healers. Voices called after him.

 

He did not look back.

 

******

 

"He raped his mind," Qui-Gon protested, fists clenched in tight fury. "Was that at your will?"

 

Often before he had opposed the Council, but never like this, never with raised voice. Never, too, over something so fundamental. He knew where this path would inexorably lead him, yet he did not falter.

 

He was righteous.

 

"I know the wiles of the Dark Side," Ki-Adi-Mundi replied, with tight control. "It was necessary. No other way would have sufficed. Our danger is severe. It demands that we take desperate measures. We must no longer flinch from using the methods of the enemy against the enemy."

 

"Obi-Wan is _not_ the enemy." It was desperate protestation, torn from him with emotion. He struggled and moderated his voice, knowing that the Council would only respect him if he did not _feel_ - if he did not act from love, and pain, and compassion. "Obi-Wan is not the enemy," he said, again, tight with forced control. "He was cruelly tortured. I brought him home, thinking that in the Temple he would find peace and healing. Instead, he was tortured again by those who claim to work for the light."

 

"Perhaps he has tainted you, Master Jinn." Ki-Adi-Mundi's voice was cold and unyielding. "Perhaps you, too, are marked by the darkness by your unnatural love for your padawan, against all duty."

 

It all Qui-Gon's strength, all his years of mental discipline, not to crack at that. He took a deep breath, and another. When he spoke again, he could not hide the tension in his voice, but the fury he kept hidden tight within himself. "I love him as padawan. He is mine to protect and keep safe. Should not all Masters love so?"

 

"No." Ki-Adi-Mundi's eyes were stone. "We take children from their families before they form a bond there. We train them from the moment they learn to think. We allocate them a Master to teach them, but all know that their duty is to the Jedi. There must be no personal ties. Love can be perverted and lead to darkness. Love is a weapon the enemy can wield. A Jedi who feels love, for family or friend, Master or padawan, can come to prize that person over duty. A Jedi must let their parents die, or their padawan die, without a moment's regret, if that is the will of the Force."

 

"Is that what you think?" Qui-Gon wheeled round the room, holding each Council member's gaze mercilessly, impaling them with his outrage. Mace was not there, and neither was Yoda. A few others looked uncomfortable. Most, though, had eyes as cold and hard as Ki-Adi-Mundi's.

 

Qui-Gon wanted to sink to the floor and weep. He wanted to scream. This was the end of everything.

 

"Is that what you think?" he repeated, quietly, with fatality. "Then it is you who are tainted. You..." He spread his hands, encompassing the whole Temple. "Us, the Jedi, who are tainted with darkness. Have we come so governed by fear of the darkness that we have lost the light? Have we become so afraid that any emotion, however compassionate, however good, is suspect because it _might_ lead to the Dark Side? Has our fear made us torturers, who can rip a padawan's mind to pieces because he just _might_ be tainted by the darkness?"

 

He found he was weeping, great racking sobs punctuating his words. He was dimly aware of contemptuous eyes on him - eyes of a men and women who had never cried and never loved and never known joy.

 

And he had been a Master; he had taught this lie. His own hands had ripped Xanatos from his mother's breast. He had killed Xanatos' father because the man was cruel, and then blamed Xanatos for hating him for it. He had taught Obi-Wan, again and again over the years, to rise above emotion, not to be led from his duty by anger at one evil-doer, or compassion for one sufferer.

 

"I am guilty," he said, aloud. "I can do it no longer."

 

"You are tainted, Qui-Gon Jinn," Ki-Adi-Mundi denounced him, as he strode from the chamber. "Tainted. You can not protect him, or yourself. The light _will_ triumph."

 

He closed his eyes, and prayed that it would.

 

******

 

He rang the bell.

 

As the clangour of the bell resonated in the hall, and passed throughout the Temple in the Force, Qui-Gon Jinn stood, head high, and waited.

 

This was the Moot - the Jedi assembly hall. By right, all Jedi could strike the bell on the dais and summon the entire Order to the hall. The bell was imbued with the Force; its call would reach across the galaxy and speak its summons even to Jedi on far planets. Only the Jedi based in the Temple would attend, but all others stay alert, attentive. At the end of the convocation, the bell would be struck again, delivering the outcome through the Force to all distant listeners.

 

In this way, news of the coming of the Chosen One and the return of the Sith had been delivered. Injured on Naboo, Qui-Gon had felt through the Force the resonances of the bell as the Council announced its acceptance of Anakin, and warned of the old enemy reborn.

 

That had been the only time the bell had spoken in his lifetime.

 

"Are you sure?" Mace Windu grabbed his arm. Like Yoda, he looked terribly aged, and sorrowing. These past days had undone so many. Before it was over, many more would suffer. "Have you thought on this."

 

Qui-Gon took a weary breath. "I am sure." Then he shook his head. He wished he was a padawan, with a Master to lean on. He was so alone in this. "I am not sure. I _feel_ that this is right."

 

"You will risk the Jedi Order for one padawan," Mace said heavily. For a moment, he looked as if he hated Qui-Gon.

 

Qui-Gon shook his head. "It is not for him. You saw how they treated him, all in the name of light. If the Jedi Order can do that and still call it right, then it does not deserve to exist."

 

The grief in Mace's eyes showed that he knew the truth, and hated it. Yet still he argued, like a man trying to stop the incoming tide, knowing it was inexorable, knowing that it _had_ to come in, but unable to give up. "And if the Jedi are the last bastion against the darkness, as Ki-Adi-Mundi thinks. What then?"

 

He felt as if he was dying. Oh, that this could happen in his lifetime, and that he was the one to strike the first blow.

 

"I believe that this is what Yoda saw," he said, heavily. "He said he could not tell me, or I would balk at what needed to be done. He said I would, with my words, destroy something I loved, but that I _had_ to do it. I... I believe he was talking about the Jedi." He felt sick inside, horrified by what was to come.  "The only hope for redemption lies in apparent cruelty and darkness, he said. I believe that he means that the only way to save the Jedi for the light is to destroy what it has become, to purge it."

 

In ones and twos, and groups, Jedi started to arrive in the hall. Qui-Gon fell silent. For a long time, he and Mace looked at them, cherishing the sight of them. Both knew that this could be the last time they would meet here. Qui-Gon knew, too, that this would be his last day in the Temple. Perhaps Mace Windu knew that he would die.

 

"But I can not think of that," he said, at last. "Yoda said that, too, when he with-held the truth from me. It is impossible to second-guess a vision. I am not doing this because it is foretold; I am doing it because I _feel_ it is right. After seeing Obi-Wan, I can no longer believe that the Jedi serve the light - that their way is the right one."

 

"I... I wish I could hate you." Mace's voice was quiet, broken. He was no longer the Master Qui-Gon had always known. He would have no-one after this - his place on the Council forfeit, and without a padawan. The Jedi had been his life. Qui-Gon had always been rebellious; he had less to lose.

 

In Yoda's vision, Mace Windu had been amongst the dead.

 

"It is time," Qui-Gon said, at last, squeezing Mace's shoulder in farewell and benediction. 

 

******

 

He spoke simply, imbuing his words with the Force and with the strength of his feeling. He told them what had happened to Obi-Wan, violating him yet again by exposing his pain in public, adding another shame to his soul. He told them what Ki-Adi-Mundi had said, and how he had replied. He argued that the Jedi had become so governed by fear that, unknowing, they had become as cruel as the Dark Side.

 

He said his piece, and no more. They were Jedi, capable of making their own judgements. He would not seek to force them to his opinion.

 

He saw sympathy in some faces, and felt aching pains - of padawans who missed their parents, of Knights who had been forced to sacrifice comrades to duty.

 

He felt a surge of intense agreement, and saw Anakin's face, bright with power and longing, ready to wage war on the Jedi who had taken him from his mother.

 

Qui-Gon's heart twisted. He knew that this was right, but what were the consequences? If it was not for Yoda's warnings, he would never have expected his words to cause a revolution. He would have expected to go into exile alone, leaving the Jedi with something to think about, but leaving the Order intact.

 

The vision of the dark man who called his Master was still a constant pain in his soul. <Do not, Anakin,> he urged, silently, though the boy, not yet bonded to him, could not hear him. <Do not.>

 

"This is not the Jedi Order I thought I knew," he said, ringingly, sorrowingly. Deliberately, he reached for his belt and removed his lightsabre. He knelt down, and presented it to Mace Windu. "I can no longer serve."

 

The muscles of Mace's face were tight and strained. "I accept your resignation, Qui-Gon Jinn," he said, solemnly. "Go well, and with my blessing."

 

Then, to Qui-Gon's astonishment, the other Master also knelt, Qui-Gon's lightsabre held before him. "I return it to you, Qui-Gon Jinn. You still walk in the light. Though the Order has changed, you are a true Jedi  in mind and soul."

 

Qui-Gon's eyes clouded with tears. "Thank you," he murmured, for none but Mace to hear.

 

"You will need it to defend him," Mace replied, eyes dark with warning. "This will only confirm their belief. They _will_ come for him, and you."

 

Qui-Gon nodded heavily. "I know."

 

He felt the burden of fate on his shoulders.

 

He stood up, and returned the lightsabre to his belt. His eyes found Anakin's. <I do not ignite it> he urged, with his mind. <Mark this.>

 

And then he struck the bell.

 

******

 

Obi-Wan was sleeping, and there was nothing peaceful about the way he rested. He moaned, in the grip of dark dreams. As he tossed in the bed, sheets abraded half-healed wounds.

 

Qui-Gon was glad that he had missed the summons.

 

"Obi-Wan." He touched his padawan's cheek gently, and sent a tendril of Force into his mind - another sin against him. "Obi-Wan. Wake up."

 

Obi-Wan's eyes fluttered open. "Master."

 

His eyes were no longer tormented. Qui-Gon had carried him to his own chamber and laid him in his own bed. Just before he had gone to face his destiny in the Council chamber, he had paused, then removed his robe and laid it across his padawan's body. In his Master's bed, Obi-Wan now clutched that robe in white fingers as if his life depended on it. 

 

"I am no longer your Master, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said, sadly.

 

A small intake of breath, then silence. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, turned away to face the wall. "You don't want me as padawan," he managed, at last, weakly.

 

"No." Fierce. He cupped Obi-Wan's face in his hands. "You are still my padawan, if you wish to be. But the title of Master is no longer my right. I..." He took a deep breath. This news could shatter Obi-Wan's tenuous recovery, he knew. "I am no longer a Jedi. I have resigned."

 

Quiet consideration, then, "why?"

 

<Because of you.> Ah, but he could not say it, could not lay that guilt on Obi-Wan's damaged soul. Instead he echoed the words he had already spoken to Mace Windu, but shielding his padawan, still, from the full implications. "Because I saw how they treated you, in the name of light. I saw them so cruel in condemning you, when you did not - do not - deserve it. If the Jedi Order can do that and still call it right, then I do not wish to be part of it."

 

Obi-Wan was silent.

 

"I can not stay here, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon touched his padawan's hand. "I must leave Coruscant." He did not dare to breathe; he could not meet Obi-Wan's eyes, for fear of hoping too much. "You do not need to follow me. I know that you have only ever dreamed of being a Jedi, and, if you follow me, you will never fulfil that dream."

 

For second, minutes, Obi-Wan was silent. "I will come with you," he said, at last. A strange rueful smile that made Qui-Gon's heart twist to see it. "It seems that they have already decreed me to be no Jedi." Still no sign that he entirely disbelieved their judgement. "I will come."

 

Qui-Gon smiled, the first sincere smile in what felt like a lifetime, though it had only been a few days - a few days for his world to collapse. He believed that, had Obi-Wan chosen to stay, he would have been killed, or destroyed. Yet, after the violation, he had no right to coerce his padawan. Obi-Wan needed to be given full power over his own choices - his healing depended on it. He would rather Obi-Wan die than be coerced again.

 

"I am glad of it, padawan," he said, the smile still on lips. "But I regret that this has become necessary."

 

Obi-Wan threw back the sheets and stood. He clutched the robe close to his body, but stood tall. He looked at once like a very small boy, and the man who had wielded such power. "Can I go to my room and collect my things?" he asked, like a child - a boy having to leave the only home he had ever known without chance to say farewell to beloved places and friends, or time to collect possessions he cherished.

 

It was _that_ that undid him.

 

He wept.

 

******

 

He had expected resistance. When they got to the docking bay without being apprehended, he dared to let himself hope.

 

Just as they reached Qui-Gon's personal ship, they were stopped.

 

Ki-Adi-Mundi himself, with purple lightsabre ignited and death in his eyes.

 

Qui-Gon drew his weapon. "Obi-Wan," he commanded. His padawan was in no condition to fight, weak still in mind and body. "Get into the ship. Now."

 

And then, for the first time in his life, he fought another Jedi in earnest, and to the death.

 

******

 

Obi-Wan clung to the entrance hatch for support. He felt that only this, cold metal of the ship, was keeping him upright.

 

His Master was fighting for his life.

 

Each time the weapons engaged, he felt it like a pain in his soul.

 

His Master... He had always been linked to Qui-Gon Jinn. He felt his exertions, his desperate desire to keep his padawan safe, his growing exhaustion as all his blows were parried. He felt his horror, too, at what he had to do. A lightsabre did not give easy wounds. To save Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon would have to kill his opponent, but the idea of killing another Jedi repulsed him. This was the reality of the decisions he had made. This was more than he had prepared himself for.

 

Every blow made his Master's soul bleed.

 

And the other, Ki-Adi-Mundi... He knew him now. The Master had left something of him in his mind when he had violated him, like a rapist planting a child in the woman he raped. They were linked with a terrible, perverted link. He felt the man's narrow passion. He felt his obsession. He felt the darkness that masqueraded as light. He felt how the man's single-minded desire to eradicate the darkness had grown into an evil as cruel as the Sith.

 

Every blow made Ki-Adi-Mundi feel the satisfaction of duty performed.

 

This was wrong. He felt it suddenly, intensely. This was wrong.

 

Refraining from pushing forward an advantage, Qui-Gon was pushed back. Sweat stood out on his face.

 

Obi-Wan's wrist was still healing; he could not hold his lightsabre. He was still weak. If he fought, Ki-Adi-Mundi would overwhelm him as if he was no more than a child, and use his safety as a weapon against his Master.

 

He could not fight, not as a Jedi.

 

But he was no longer a Jedi.

 

Before, in the cellar, he had used the power without really knowing how, knowing only that Xanatos _had_ to be stopped. He felt the same passion now. Ki-Adi-Mundi was wrong, and he had to be stopped. Qui-Gon had to be saved.

 

And Ki-Adi-Mundi had raped his mind, and abused him...

 

"No," he said, aloud. He clenched his fist. No. Ki-Adi-Mundi had abused him, but he must not act out of vengeance. Ki-Adi-Mundi had abused him, but that was of no account, not now. What mattered - what he felt with all the fire of his determination and passion - was that Ki-Adi-Mundi threatened Qui-Gon, and the Jedi.

 

And, this time, the power came easily, blazing from deep within him like an explosion of light, spilling from his fingertips. With it, he entwined the Force he had always known, able, this time, to wield it. Combined, the two powers were intensely focused, unequivocally light.

 

Holding tightly to the metal with one hand, knowing that he would put all the strength that kept him alive into what he was going to do, he raised his broken hand.

 

Power blazed.

 

******

 

Qui-Gon's weapon fell from his nerveless hand.

 

It was his vision. Oh, by the Force, it was his vision...

 

He laughed, tears streaming down his face. If he had not laughed, he knew he would have screamed.

 

It was his vision.

 

Obi-Wan was clad in a dark robe, no longer dressed as a Jedi. His hood was up. The flames that blazed from his fingers cast a deep shadow, and his face was obscured.

 

He was the dark man from his dreams.

 

Wherever his hand pointed, Jedi fell. Ki-Adi-Mundi first, then the dozens of Temple guards he had summoned to aid his arrest. They fell before Obi-Wan's will as if they were no more than leaves scattered in the wind.

 

And yet they lived. Ki-Adi-Mundi lay as if frozen, eyes still aware, though lacking all volition. Beyond him, it was as if an invisible shield had been erected just beyond the fallen bodies. Guards and Knights ran into the docking bay, but when they hit that shield they froze, some still standing, like insects caught in amber.

 

And still they lived. Qui-Gon had sensed no deaths. He had not even sensed any distress.

 

"Obi-Wan," he gasped. He fell to his knees, awed and trembling.

 

Any moment now. Any moment now, Obi-Wan would speak in that terrible alien voice and call him Master, and call himself Chosen.

 

"Obi-Wan," he managed, again. He reached out his hand. He could no more move than that.

 

"Master." But it was Obi-Wan's voice as he always knew it, shaking with strain and close to collapse. "Come. Please..."

 

And, feeling as if he had lost everything, and gained everything, he obeyed.

 

******

 

end of part two.

 

******

 

Part three: "Hiding, wielding."

 

__

 

There would be no homecoming for him.

 

As the ship heading into an uncertain future, Qui-Gon Jinn knew he would never see Coruscant again.

 

He felt only a dull regret. He did not weep.

 

******

 

This time the vision came in a waking dream, as he guarded his padawan, his saviour.

 

<A dark-clad man, with hidden face and a terrible power in his very fingertips. Jedi fall before him, their weapons extinguished, all movement ripped from their limbs. He could dispense death with his will, but chooses not to, for he is not of the darkness, although he uses the darkness. This is dissolution; this is the end of everything.>

 

Obi-Wan, standing at the entrance to the ship, wielding the fire of his will. Jedi falling, but unharmed, and only for defence.

 

He had thought it a vision of a terrible future - of a Jedi turned Sith and killing out of capricious cruelty. He had seen the black clothes and the fire - weapon of darkness - and judged by what he had always been taught. He had seen Jedi falling, and never considered that it could be just.

 

He had not known that fire could be wielded without causing pain.

 

He had not known that the darkness could be wielded in the cause of light.

 

<The dark man speaks, and it is as if all veils are lifted. The voice is Obi-Wan's, untainted and as he had always known it. "Master," he says. He sounds as if he bears the universe on his shoulders, and will not lay it down, though the burden is killing him by inches. "I am Chosen. I am Balance.">

 

The vision faded, but the face before him was the same. Obi-Wan, his face strained even in such deep exhausted sleep, and pure.

 

Obi-Wan, his Chosen One.

 

******

 

They would come for him, he realised, much later.

 

Had Mace Windu known when he had returned his lightsabre, in blessing and warning? "You will need it to defend him," he had said. "They will come for him." Qui-Gon had nodded, thinking that the threat came only from Ki-Adi-Mundi and his followers, convinced that Obi-Wan was an evil who needed to be eradicated.

 

But the Sith Lord would come too.

 

On Naboo, on Tatooine, Qui-Gon had assumed that the Sith Lord came for Anakin, immensely strong and named as Chosen. Xanatos' interest in Obi-Wan he had arrogantly assumed came from nothing more than a desire to hurt him, Qui-Gon, through his apprentice.

 

He had been doubly wrong.

 

The Sith Lord knew what Obi-Wan was; the Jedi did not. In his knowledge, the Sith would come for him, seeking to control him and coerce him and turn him. In their ignorance, the Jedi would come for him and seek to destroy him.

 

Obi-Wan was Balance. He alone of anyone in the history of the Jedi had wielded power born of emotion, yet in the service of good. He alone had used the Dark Side and the Light Side simultaneously, in overwhelming synthesis, remaining untainted and true.

 

He was a treasure beyond price, able to save or destroy the Jedi.

 

He was Obi-Wan, padawan, terribly burdened and hurt.

 

Qui-Gon, no longer his Master by either right or greater strength, knew that he could no longer keep him safe.

 

******

 

He did not fight when they came for him. Mace Windu had seen what had been done to Obi-Wan Kenobi's mind in the name of the light, and had heard Qui-Gon's words, but there were _Jedi._ He moment he accepted that they could mean him harm would be the moment his life ceased to have meaning.

 

"You are in league with them." Ki-Adi-Mundi's accusing finger shook. His face was tight and exhausted, as if he had fought a battle and only just survived. "You helped them escape."

 

"If you mean Master Jinn and his padawan," he said, calmly, deliberately giving Qui-Gon the title he no longer held, "then the answer is yes. As a Jedi, I could not stand by and let a young man be so abused."

 

"He is tainted." Ki-Adi-Mundi balled a fist. "He has forfeited all rights. He taints all who are in contact with him. His Master, and now you, are proof of that."

 

"I saw no taint on him, except the taint of how you treated him."

 

He was intensely aware of the eyes of the whole Council upon him, and the empty chair where Yoda should have sat. He was flanked by Temple guards. When they had come, they had made no attempt to remove his lightsabre. He know now, with a sick feeling of realisation, that this attempt would come soon. He saw it in Ki-Adi-Mundi's eyes.

 

"You could have stopped Qui-Gon Jinn, when he spoke his lies in the Moot." Ki-Adi-Mundi's eyes went cold and deceiving. He must have thought Mace a fool, he realised, if he thought he would not see the lie, the attempt to manipulate. "Accepted his lightsabre when he handed it to you, taken him into custody, and publicly repudiated his lies. We expected that of you, when we saw that you were there. Instead you return his weapon, which he used against me, and allow his lies to spread unchecked."

 

Mace  clenched his fists. He felt suspended in time, watching everything dissolve before his eyes, and given the gift - the awful responsibility - of being able to affect it with his words. "But it was not lies," he said, low and measured.

 

Even with the evidence, even having felt the reek of Ki-Adi-Mundi's invasion in Obi-Wan's mind, he had not fully accepted it until now. Strange how stubborn the teachings of a lifetime are, demanding him that he believe truth was as he had always known it, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

 

Knowing that by doing so he would forever damn himself in Ki-Adi-Mundi's eyes, he laughed, harsh and terrible. "It was not lies," he repeated, wildly. "It is not just about Obi-Wan. Today it is Obi-Wan; tomorrow it could be anyone, cruelly tortured on the merest suspicion that they are of the dark." And it would be him, he knew now. He was signing his own death warrant with his words.

 

Yet he continued, belatedly joining his voice with Qui-Gon Jinn's, when he should have echoed his every word in the Moot, not merely handed back his weapon with quiet benediction that no others could hear, then walked away in silence.

 

"This is about _everything_ we are. We can no longer claim to serve the light. What future do you wish for us, Ki-Adi-Mundi? A life of suspicion and fear, whispering anonymous accusations that anyone who displeases us is of the darkness? Refusing to help people for compassion is an emotion and emotion could lead to the Dark Side? Ruled so by fear of the Dark that we no longer possess anything worth fighting for?"

 

"You show yourself tainted by your words," Ki-Adi-Mundi said, with finality. His eyes were closed to all arguments.

 

In the Council chamber, other heads nodded.

 

He held their eyes, each of them in turn. "All of you?"

 

He saw no support in any of their eyes. But perhaps they were wiser than him, biding their time. When his eyes landed on Yaddle, and on his own padawan, Deepa Billaba, he felt a gentle flicker of warmth in his mind, like a supporting hand at the small of his back.

 

All other minds were cold, surveying him with the sorrow and distaste that he, too, would have felt towards one of their number who had turned.

 

He had gone too far to return. Ki-Adi-Mundi had drawn a weapon on Qui-Gon, he knew, and fought with intent to kill. He would do no less against him. All Mace Windu could do now was make his end meaningful.

 

He did not know how to do that.

 

He felt as if someone else was speaking into his mind, low and soothing, counselling despair. <The Jedi are over> it was saying. <Everything you have fought for your whole life is a lie. What can you, just one man, do? If you think that you can do something, you torture yourself with guilt and responsibility. Despair. It is easier. Despair...>

 

His knees sagged. He wanted to heed that voice, oh how he wanted to... He would let them kill him now, and, beyond death and at one with the Force, the Jedi would be as he had always imagined them.

 

<Despair. Yes...>

 

<No.> Another presence in his mind. It was not as strong as the darkness, but he reached out towards it, like a drowning man reaching for a proffered hand, and his own light merged with the light it offered, and the despair faded away. <Good. Good..>

 

He felt succour, deep in his mind. There were no words, but the message was unmistakable. <Be true. One good you have done today.> An image of Qui-Gon Jinn, holding the lightsabre he had returned to him, fighting for the safety of himself and his Obi-Wan, and then their ship departing. <One more is still to come.>

 

And then there was an image of the children. Tiny children in the nursery, and older ones in the Temple teaching rooms, learning that it was shameful to love the memory of their families, and that it was wrong to feel. Children, in the future, being taught to denounce their friends for crying, because fear, even in a child of two, was a sign that the darkness might have taken them.

 

Children. Future.

 

He knew what needed to be done. Knew, and mourned it deeply. It would be his final, irrevocable, acceptance that the Order, as he had always known it, was dead. 

 

He was to rob the Jedi Order of its future.

 

<Strength in the Force I have, to buy you time for this. Strength in the arm to buy their escape...> A sense of sad regret. <...I have not.>

 

Released, he opened his eyes, surprised to find that barely seconds had passed. Master Yoda stood in doorway, leaning heavily on his stick, but his eyes bright with determination. One hand was raised, fingers outstretched.

 

Ki-Adi-Mundi leant forward in his chair, as if mesmerised.

 

There was no time for farewell, for thanks.

 

Mace Windu turned and ran. No-one stopped him.

 

******

 

"We have expected this." Osaka, the Master in charge of the young initiates, greeted his coming with a tight intake of breath, and a tightening of the muscles around her eyes. "Master Yoda... hinted such."

 

He could read her, though not by her sense. Any Master who worked with children had to be masters at concealing what they were feeling. Small children had not yet learned how to protect themselves from the disturbing effect of other people's emotions. Teachers had to project strength and understanding at all times, however disturbed they were.

 

It was not by her sense that he read her overwhelming shock and horror; it was by empathy. He felt the same himself. How could anyone not feel so?

 

"We have the ships ready," she said, simply. Behind her, in an open doorway, a small child hovered, his face white and pinched, a pack held limply in his hands. As Mace watched, a teacher came to him and knelt beside him, sending love and comfort through a gentle hand on his head.

 

Mace Windu, who had never cried, felt tears in his eyes. There was still hope, still parts of the Jedi wholly without taint.

 

He swallowed hard. He wondered what the children had been told. "We should leave," he said, heavily. He lowered his voice. He wondered what had happened to Yoda. Was he dead? Where they coming for him - coming for the _children_? "Can any be spared from the care of the children to fight at my side, if we are attacked."

 

Not even Master Osaka could keep the deadly horror from her face at that. None of them have ever thought that they would have to draw weapons against their own. How could they have?

 

"A few," she said, tightly. "Some of the older children, perhaps, if they knew what was at stake, but it is not right to ask them, not right to make them do this." For a moment, she looked as if she almost hated him, for making her suggest it.

 

Mace touched her arm. "It is not right that they have to flee," he said, gently. "What is worse - that they are asked to stand and do nothing while their Masters are slain by other Jedi, or that they draw their own weapons against their attackers, Jedi though they be."

 

She was silent. There was no answer she could give - no answer that was not impossible. There _was_ no good answer to this. Their whole world was shattering; nothing that had ever seemed true and right would be true again.

 

"Where shall we go?" she asked, at last, accusingly. "Where is there safety for a child who has to be told that the Jedi - his whole life - are not longer worthy of his respect?"

 

"Naboo."

 

Mace whirled round. He had not heard Anakin Skywalker's approach. The boy was intensely strong in the Force, able to perform marvels when he wished, though his teachers' eyes always held a deep unease when talking about him.

 

"I was in the Moot last night. I heard what Qui-Gon said." Anakin's eyes blazed with indignation.

 

Mace remembered, with shame, the role he had had in breaking the boy's heart two years ago. Had he been on the same path as Ki-Adi-Mundi, then? Would he, too, have crusaded in ignorant damnation,  were it not for a hint from Yoda and the sight of a young man's damaged mind?

 

"We need to stay out of the way until the Council is defeated, and replaced," Anakin said. It was all so simple for the young. "Then we can be Jedi again, with the Jedi changed." His eyes burned; he clenched his fist. Mace knew that this boy had been called the Chosen One to his face, and knew well that he was destined for greatness. He could almost hear the boy's unspoken words: <_I_ will change them. _I_ will create the new Jedi Order.>

 

He shuddered.

 

"Na... Naboo," he stammered, then clutched for control, and found it. "Why?" All he could think of was that Qui-Gon Jinn had almost died there, and the presence of a dead Sith perhaps still haunted that place.

 

"Padme will look after them."

 

He frowned, then remembered. Padme. Queen Amidala. A Queen intensely grateful to the Jedi, who had made a promise to return that aid if it ever lay in her power to aid the Jedi. A beautiful planet, good for children.

 

And the home planet of the Supreme Chancellor. If necessary, they could appeal for the protection of the Chancellor himself. Even the Jedi Council would hesitate before going against the direct orders of Chancellor Palpatine.

 

He took a deep breath. "Naboo," he said, heavily.

 

******

 

Was this how Qui-Gon Jinn had felt?

 

Heavily, feeling as if, after this, he would have nothing left to live for, Mace Windu drew his lightsabre.

 

Over half of the children were already on board. One ship, with the youngest of children on, had already taken off. Behind him, Mace was dimly aware of teachers shepherding their frightened charges onto the safety of the second ship, and the third. Even when they were on board, they were not safe. Ki-Adi-Mundi had sent a hundred Jedi after him.

 

A hundred... His hand trembled at the immensity of it. A hundred.

 

They would not kill the children, surely. The children were the future. If Ki-Adi-Mundi had ordered them to kill the children, no Jedi would have responded. But he, Mace Windu, and the other teachers... "They are tainted by evil," Ki-Adi-Mundi would have said. "I know it is hard for you to fight people who have always thought were your own. I know some of you were _taught_ by these people when you were young. But evil can not be allowed to go unchecked. It is regrettable, but it is your duty to stop them."

 

A hundred had listened. If he had asked the entire Jedi Order, would _any_ have refused? When would it get to the point at which Jedi started remembering Qui-Gon's words and saying, "No, this is gone too far. I can not accept that these people are of the darkness. I will not fight them."

 

When they did, blood would be shed. This could only end in death.

 

"Stay back," he urged, now, meeting the eyes of the Jedi who ran towards him. "I mean no harm. I will not fight you, unless you threaten the children."

 

He remembered this man was a child. He had taught him, occasionally, when his Master was away. He saw the sorrow and disgust in his eyes. He saw the guilt, the outrage, at what he had been ordered to do.

 

But he did not see him flinch. Ignited weapon in his hand, he struck at Mace Windu, the two blades engaging violently.

 

<We caused this> Mace thought, heavily. He remembered teaching his own padawans how a Jedi should always be willing to do a mission that personally revolted them because it was their orders. He taught them that personal loyalties had no place against duty.

 

He - every Master - bore the guilt for what would happen this day.

 

Beside him, Master Osaka died, cut down by three young Knights who had all once been her charges. One of them wept. "She was evil," he wailed. "She was tainted by darkness. She threatened the children with the self-same darkness. She...  But she was always kind to me."

 

Mace parried blows. He was distantly aware of another ship taking off. Only one to go, and the children would all be safe.

 

"I wish to save them," he urged, breathlessly and tiring. His opponent was young, and Mace was fighting two battles - to save his own life in this duel, and to save the life of his opponent. He would not kill. "They killed Osaka, three against one. Is that the sort of Jedi you want to be?"

 

The young Knight struck another blow. "Darkness seeks always to seduce us," he gasped. "You taught me that, before you were turned. I can not listen to you."

 

He lunged, fast, one and two. With the first blow, he disarmed the young man; with the second, he grabbed his arms and twisted them behind him. He held him, not harming him, but hissing urgently in his ear. If, with his words, he could change just _one_ mind, then there would be hope. If one could be moved, others could be.

 

"I am not turned," he said, softly, holding him with his gaze. "Do you think the darkness could claim so many? Teachers you have known, who have cherished you? Or do you not think, rather, that darkness lies in giving orders to young Knights, that they should kill those who taught them." His voice threatened to break. "Three against one, with Osaka. Yet Jedi do not kill."

 

He turned, then, moving with the young man, forcing him to see the scene in the docking bay. Several teachers lay dead. Some of the older initiates, too. None of their assailants had died, for the teachers and children had never fought to kill, only to protect those weaker than themselves.

 

"Where is the evil here?" he hissed. He could not even remember the young man's name, though he was relentlessly breaking apart everything he had ever believed in - of the sanctity of the Jedi, and that orders always came from the light.

 

Understanding came painfully to the young man's eyes. "Not you," he rasped. He clenched his weaponless fists. "Master Jinn was right. I... I will tell the others, if I can. Not yet, or they will think you have tainted me, when they will probably kill me too. But in time, when it will be more effective."

 

Relief left him as drained as if he had fought a duel with a Sith. He sagged. He let the young man go, and watched as he picked up his weapon, and returned it to his belt.

 

"Master Windu!" He heard Anakin's voice, calling for the ship. He did not need to turn around to know that all the children were on board. They were waiting only for him.

 

He took a step back. Wearily, he ignited his lightsabre. While he had held the young man in his death grip, no-one dared to attack him. Now, they closed in on him. Many now stood shame-faced, refusing to fight; some were openly weeping. He was distantly aware of the young man's eyes on him. <I can not stop this now, but I _will_ tell> he was saying, ruefully. <Whatever happens today, this is not how it will end. I will make them all regret this, and see it as wrong.>

 

<No> he willed at Anakin, wondering if the boy's immense strength allowed his to hear it. He felt the boy's intention to come to his side, his conviction that he alone had the strength to make a difference. He feared, suddenly, the manner of the boy's aid.

 

He held his weapon before him, in defensive pose. He did not strike. He could have saved himself, retreating to the ship with the others fighting at his side, protecting each other. He could have saved himself, and departed without a legacy. Instead, he had stayed in the open, speaking to the young man he had fought, convincing him of the truth.

 

He did not regret it.

 

As four lightsabres struck at him, he did not regret it.

 

"Go!" he shouted, to Anakin, as he fell. He used the Force to push him back, and to shut the door of the ship.

 

The last thing he heard was the sound of the departing ship. The last thing he saw was the young man's eyes, promising to make his death have meaning.

 

And then there was darkness, and, on the other side of the darkness, truth.

 

******

 

Obi-Wan's eyes fluttered open. He did not look rested, although he had slept deeply for over twenty four hours.

 

With a pang, Qui-Gon wondered if he would ever be able to truly rest again. His would be a lifetime forever hunted, forever haunted by responsibility.

 

And Qui-Gon would be at his side for as long as Obi-Wan needed him.

 

Smilingly ruefully, he squeezed Obi-Wan's hand, and told him so, though he was unsure how much of the truth Obi-Wan yet understood.

 

"Master?" Obi-Wan said at last. He raised his hand and looked at it, almost as if his own hand was his enemy. "I... I used it again."

 

"You did." Qui-Gon nodded. "And not for evil. You saved my life, and killed no-one."

 

Another image to add to the terrible series of images that would forever live in his mind. The sight of Obi-Wan, limp beside Xanatos' body; Ki-Adi-Mundi's cold denouncing eyes; Obi-Wan, one hand white and clenched on the metal of the door, the other raised in an outpouring of astonishing power.

 

And the small sound he had made when he had at last been able to extinguish the power, and had slumped bonelessly to the deck.

 

Qui-Gon swallowed, wondering if his words would end up as cruel as anything Ki-Adi-Mundi had done. Ki-Adi-Mundi had tortured Obi-Wan with lies, making him believe he was evil; it fell to Qui-Gon to torture Qui-Gon with the truth. It might be, he knew, that Obi-Wan would prefer to be damned, than to face this destiny.

 

"Do you know what the power is, Obi-Wan?" he asked, at last. Weak, he felt a wild hope that Obi-Wan would say yes - that he understood all, and Qui-Gon did not have to be the one to tell him.

 

Obi-Wan closed his eyes. He seemed so frail - such a vulnerable mortal frame to be the channel of such power. But Anakin had been smaller, and, until now, Qui-Gon had considered him Chosen. "I... I think so," he said, hesitantly. He looked afraid, as if Qui-Gon would find his attempt to explain it presumptuous.

 

Qui-Gon caressed his hair. "There is no need to apologise, beloved one. I do not seek to test you. I know you are free from taint."

 

A small exhalation, and the slightest sign of relaxing. Yet, as Obi-Wan painfully pulled himself into a sitting position, he still looked as if he was expected an execution. "It was... the Force, but... but darkness, too. It was..."

 

It undid him. Obi-Wan was still a padawan. It was wrong - _wrong_ - to put him through this - to make him speak aloud theories that were so utterly contradictory to everything he had ever been taught, when he was still unsure of them himself.

 

When he still feared that he was tainted...

 

"Hush." Qui-Gon pressed a finger against Obi-Wan's lips.  "I will explain what I believe."

 

Obi-Wan's gratitude was unmistakable, and Qui-Gon mourned another betrayal of his padawan. Had it been _so_ hard for him to break the news to Obi-Wan that he had preferred to torture him so, just to spare himself the responsibility of the telling?

 

"I felt the power," he began, slowly, never taking his eyes of his padawan's face, "partially the first time, because your power was only partial. In the docking bay, it was complete, imbued with the Force you have always known. I felt it. I understood it."

 

Obi-Wan's eyes darkened with shame. After that, he refused to meet Qui-Gon's eyes. Another legacy or Ki-Adi-Mundi, and his own betrayal. Obi-Wan was so quick to believe that understanding was the same as condemnation.

 

Yet he continued - he had to. Comfort lay in full explanation, not meaningless reassurances given without full reasons.

 

"All Jedi learn that the Force has two aspects - the Light and the Dark. To be at one with the Light, we eschew emotion. Only when we are sure that our motives do not come from emotion are we able to use the Light Side to its full potential. Mental discipline is the chief of Jedi skills. With our minds, we subordinate our desires, our fears, our anger. Only with mental control can a Jedi come to his full strength."

 

Obi-Wan's fingers entwined in the sheets. He looked frozen.

 

"The Dark Side," Qui-Gon continued, "is the other side, opposite in every way. It is born of the heart. It is the power of desire - of fear, and anger, and longing. As a storm is far more violent than a calm sea, the Dark Side is stronger than the Light in terms of brute strength, but it is without control and discipline. In the matter of control, the Light is stronger than the Dark. That is why the Jedi have never conquered the Sith, and the Sith have never triumphed over the Jedi. Both sides have strengths, but both have weaknesses."

 

Obi-Wan looked as if he was not breathing, suspended in time, his fate being decided by his Master's words.

 

"I believe..." He took a deep breath, marvelling at how calm his voice could sound, when he was about to expound theories that were contrary to millennia of wisdom. He was like a man who, in a monotheistic religion, offered incontrovertible proof that God did not exist. "I believe that we, the Jedi, have been wrong. We claim that we seek to do the will of the Force... But the Force contains both Light and Dark, both together. The Dark Side is the Dark Side _of the Force._ It is part of the Force; it should be part of the Jedi. We have claimed to follow the Force, but we have closed ourselves off to half of its nature, and grown to condemn any attempt to use that part of the Force as a lapse, to be repented of, or punished."

 

So much to come to, from just one vision calling Obi-Wan Chosen. He spoke with more confidence that he felt; visions could lie. But he had touched Obi-Wan's mind when he had wielded his power, and could not deny its source. Everything flowed from there.

 

Everything flowed from Obi-Wan.

 

"Your power is from the Balance." Obi-Wan was still as death. Was he killing him with words? "I don't know how you did it - if you have learned a skill that we could all possess, of if you have a unique gift." The latter, he thought, though he hoped - prayed - that something was true of the former, or there was no permanent hope for the Jedi, or for him. "You wielded the Light Side and the Dark Side together. You used the Force out of intense emotion, with the strength of the Dark Side, but wielded it with the control of the Light Side, and your own innate goodness."

 

He held Obi-Wan's hand tightly. He felt tears start in his eyes. "In the whole existence of the Jedi, they have only used half of the Force. I believe... Why does the Force have a Dark Side if we are not supposed to embrace it, tempering it always with the Light so we are not overcome?"

 

Obi-Wan was silent for so long that Qui-Gon was sure he had slipped into unconsciousness. Yet, at least, he spoke, his voice low and strangely unemotional. "Xanatos showed me the way. He taught me that pleasure and pain are not opposites. He taught me that pain can be good, and pleasure bad." Oh, but Qui-Gon's heart twisted at that. Words said so simply, but a reality so horrible in its implications. "He taught me until I... I could not tell which was which. Light... Dark... When it comes to the truth, we are all.... grey."

 

<Did you understand it, even then, and wrestled with beliefs that overturned everything you had been taught, alone?> Qui-Gon wanted to ask, but couldn't. He thought perhaps that he had. On the ship to Coruscant, he had been so sure that his power had not come from evil. It was only at the Temple that he had been taught that, to the Jedi, grey was still accounted tainted.

 

Instead, he faced the rest of the truth - the truth that needed to be told.

 

"Obi-Wan," he started, uncomfortably.

 

For the first time in long minutes, Obi-Wan looked at him, eyes wary with sudden fear.

 

Qui-Gon managed a smile. "No. Not that." He didn't know what Obi-Wan feared, but gave reassurance anyway. <I will not leave you. We are not pursued. You are not tainted. I do not blame you for my exile.> "I need to show you something."

 

Softly, he pressed his hand against Obi-Wan's brow, and haltingly, intuitively, Obi-Wan places his own hand on his Master'. Images could be shared like this, sometimes, when the need was great. Obi-Wan's mental shields were still weak from the assault on his mind, and Qui-Gon mourned the need to add another invasion, even one performed with consent. But it was necessary. Obi-Wan needed to _feel_ this as truth, not just have the word of his Master, who could be wrong.

 

He showed all visions - his old one, and new, and Yoda's vision of the Jedi laughing as they surrounded Obi-Wan on some lush planet. He added no commentary, except a gentle <This I misinterpreted> when the dark man spoke in an alien voice.

 

"But you have not named me Chosen," Obi-Wan said, in a low voice, when the sharing ended. Other than that, he seemed strangely comforted, though whether by that glimpse of the future Yoda had seen, or by the trust his Master had evinced in him by sharing, Qui-Gon could not tell. 

 

Qui-Gon held Obi-Wan's hand in both of his own, as if swearing as oath. "I do so now, Obi-Wan."

 

"Oh." Nothing else. No sign of fear, or awe, or triumph.

 

Anakin had swelled with pride, he remembered, when he had been told. He had whooped, and told tales of the battles he would wage and the victories he would win.

 

Obi-Wan only looked small, and a little defeated. "I do not know how to teach," he said, at last. "I can fight, a little."

 

In the lingering afterglow of their mental contact, Qui-Gon caught an image - nothing more than a shadow - of Obi-Wan fighting a Sith Master, and fearing it terribly.

 

He felt cold. "I can teach." Not a flicker to show that he had seen Obi-Wan's fear, and how it chilled him. It had the mark of prophecy on it. "I can show you how."

 

Teacher, and fighter, perhaps - that was the destiny of the Chosen. Ten thousand Jedi to be taught about the Balance. There would be some who would never accept Balance and would wage war. There would come a time when, in defence, Obi-Wan would have to kill. 

 

Obi-Wan was silent. There was an air of uncertainty about him.

 

Qui-Gon frowned. "I _will_ stay with you," he said, impulsively. It was so soon, still. Obi-Wan had wielded such power. It was easy to forget that just a day earlier he had been broken, weeping, and sure that he was forever damned, and despised in his Master's eyes. "I will stay at your side."

 

And perhaps that was _his_ destiny - Master to the Chosen One. For his sake, and what he stood for, he had set the Jedi on the path of their own destruction. For ever afterwards, he would guide him and lend him his strength through the burden that was ahead of him. And he would do entirely it because he was Obi-Wan, and not because he was the Chosen One.

 

"You have always been my Chosen, Obi-Wan," he said, gently. "Never forget that."

 

Obi-Wan smiled.

 

******

 

They travelled slowly, neither of them knowing their destination. For Qui-Gon, it was a chance to talk. He had hoped Obi-Wan derived as much comfort as he did from the talking, but, from the second day, he knew that he did not. While Obi-Wan smiled with genuine gratitude at some things his Master said, more often than not he seemed to derive comfort only from solitude, and silent meditation.

 

Several times, he just disappeared. The first time it had happened, Qui-Gon had felt cold dread clench his heart. Obi-Wan had sat there before him, still breathing, but there had been nothing of his padawan in that body. He had gone so far inwards that he was unreachable, undetectable.

 

He had scarcely dared to breathe. He had not dared shake his body, to attempt to reach him through the Force. He had just clenched his hands until the knuckles were white, and waited.

 

Over an hour before Obi-Wan had returned. He had not spoken of what had happened, and Qui-Gon had not dared to.

 

He knew the result, though. Every time Obi-Wan left, he returned stronger, more sure of his new powers.

 

One night, Qui-Gon had a nightmare of his padawan's very soul scattered through the Force and lost there forever, while the Sith Lord destroyed his body.

 

He made advances, offering to talk. Obi-Wan was serene, and rebuffed them with a pretence of interest polite smile. Even when talking, his sense was not really in the ship.

 

After Naboo, when both of them had still been healing, Qui-Gon had once found his padawan in the grip of a nightmare, sobbing his Master's name again and again. "I can't keep up with you," he had confessed into his Master's chest, afterwards, still half in sleep or he would not have been so bold as to confess, though much damage would have been prevented if he had confessed earlier. "You run away and away, and I can't keep up with you."

 

Images had come with the confession: himself and the Sith Lord, closely fighting, disappeared through the laser walls while Obi-Wan ran to catch up; Obi-Wan in the Council Chamber, hearing his Master choose another over him; Obi-Wan, as a boy, trying and trying to gain Qui-Gon's acceptance, offering his all and being rebuffed.

 

Qui-Gon had never thought that he would be the one plagued by the same nightmare.

 

The night after dreaming of his padawan's soul scattered on the wings of the Force, he saw Obi-Wan, striding the galaxy wielding his immense power, healing all wounds, alone. He called no man Master, for he surpassed them all. No-one without his gifts could succour him or give him anything he needed.

 

Dimly, this Obi-Wan remembered a man he had once called Master, whom he had discarded as he had discarded his Jedi robe, long ago.

 

This dream disturbed him more, and that was his guilt, his failing. He should have been more disturbed at the dream that showed Obi-Wan's death, but instead he wept at the thought that one day Obi-Wan would not longer need him - that he would have walked into exile from the Jedi, only to remain alone.

 

"I am sorry, Master," Obi-Wan said, quietly. He was fingering the hem of his tunic, as he always seemed to do now when most immersing himself in the Balance.

 

Qui-Gon's head snapped up. He could feel the anger bubbling underneath, and knew that it would burst forth if Obi-Wan just said the word. If Obi-Wan, with his terrible dangerous power, had been looking into his mind unbidden, or seeing his dreams... He thought the unfinished threat with all his mind, almost meaning Obi-Wan to hear it.

 

"As you did." Obi-Wan's eyes were clear and unshadowed. They spoke of the time Qui-Gon had sensed the images of his nightmare after Naboo, and the time, on this ship, when he had sensed Obi-Wan's fear of fighting the Sith Lord, and a hundred hundred other times. "A Master senses a padawan's surface thoughts, when they speak of fear, and things he needs help with. It is only because he cares, and wishes to keep him safe."

 

"You are not my Master." Almost churlish. In many ways, Obi-Wan was, and that rankled more than it should.

 

"I do not wish for you to feel pain, and I have caused it." Still that incessant twisting of the material. It spoke of fear, Qui-Gon realised, suddenly, then wondered why he had never seen it before.

 

"No." He shook his head, wearily. "You and only you can find out the... the mysteries of your new abilities. I should have expected that you would learn more from meditation than from my words. I was wrong to expect more." He gave a wry smile. "I knew I was going to lose you soon, to Knighthood. I knew there would become a time when I could no longer teach you. I... I did not expect to go so quickly from Master to..." Another smile. It was all he could do. "To nothing."

 

"I..." There was no blood left in his hands. On the tunic, holding so tightly that his whole hand was shaking, his fingers were all white. "It scares me. I have to learn the ways of the Balance by myself. If I am indeed Chosen, that is how it must be. I... I throw myself into the Force and lose myself and it teaches me. Every time I learn more. But..."

 

He stopped, stupidly. He started at his blanched hands as if he only now recognised them as belonging to him, then turned a pale desperate face upon his old Master. "Could you hold them, please?" As simple as a child.

 

Almost weeping, Qui-Gon did, raising Obi-Wan's screaming hands and enclosing them in his own. Obi-Wan was sitting; Qui-Gon kneeling before him. Between them, their hands were clasped like a covenant.

 

"It scares me to do it," Obi-Wan murmured. "I lose myself. Every time, I become more Chosen, and less Obi-Wan. Each time, I fear that I will never come back. Every time, I know I _must_ go back, for I learn more each time.  There is only one thing that gives me the strength to do it, and that is knowing that you are here, Master. I will safe with you here. I know that you will catch me."

 

There was so much he should have said. <You are safe with me> with a strong soothing touch. <I will always catch you.>

 

But how could such things? He no longer had the strength to make such promises. Obi-Wan would face foes and challenges that far surpassed Qui-Gon's strength.

 

Sorrowing, he held his padawan's hands tight. "I will always be here at your side, Obi-Wan."

 

It was the only thing he could say that was not a lie.

 

******

 

After that, they felt more peace. Obi-Wan talked more, sharing the things he learned, though they meant little to Qui-Gon, without his padawan's gift and comprehension. For his part, Qui-Gon supported Obi-Wan during his absences, holding his empty body and anchoring him with his love.

 

"It does make a difference," Obi-Wan said, hollow-eyed and weary after a long absence in the Force. "I don't know if it really helps me find my way back, but just knowing that you are there, anchoring me, lessens the fear of losing my way."

 

Qui-Gon never overcame that fear. The nightmare of Obi-Wan's soul scattered on the Force, unable ever to return to his body, haunted him every night.

 

"Where shall we go?" he asked, after one return, unable to express what he really wanted to say - that he feared every day that Obi-Wan would die, and longed to have the power to do more than just hold him while he fought his battles alone.

 

"Kirrian." Obi-Wan's voice was like an intonation.

 

He started. A prophecy? A vision of some destiny to be fulfilled? Obi-Wan never ceased to surprise him.

 

Obi-Wan shrugged. "I looked at the charts earlier. It's on our course, it's close, the climate is suitable, there are no Jedi there, but it is in the Republic," he counted off on his fingers. "Neither of us have connections there, so it will be a long time before they look." He gave an impudent smile. "No reason."

 

Qui-Gon laughed. Oh, but this warmed him like nothing else. He had grown accustomed to living with the Chosen, burdened saviour. He had forgotten what a joy Obi-Wan, irrepressible padawan, was.

 

"No." Obi-Wan was still smiling, though his smile turned rueful. "I will not be unchanged. How can I be? But I am still human. Never let me forget that. Remind me to laugh." He raised an eyebrow, archly. "Remind me to tease you mercilessly. Remind me that these things are as important as contemplating the Force. Remind me that I am human." His face darkened. "Ki-Adi-Mundi forgot."

 

Qui-Gon responded to the humour, not the sudden darkening at the end. He thought it was what Obi-Wan needed - what _he_ needed. "Impudent boy, to speak of teasing me. Respect my grey hairs." He shook his head, in mock disapproval, and pulled Obi-Wan towards him by his braid. "That I could have produced such a padawan."

 

If there was still laughter, he thought, then there was hope.

 

His sleep, that last night before Kirrian, was free of nightmares.

 

******

 

He almost laughed when Obi-Wan paused, halfway through picking up his pack, and spoke.

 

"Hello." An impotent clenching of his fist. "You were killed." His face twisted in sorrow, and guilt. "I'm sorry."

 

He laid down his own pack. Behind him, the golden sunlight of Kirrian streamed through the door. He could see dancing motes of dust, but not a flicker in the air where Obi-Wan was looking so intensely.

 

Had he lost everything - lost all ability and usefulness?

 

Obi-Wan shook his head, sorrowing. "He can't."

 

He closed his eyes. Better that way than to see his failure in the empty sunlight of the cabin.

 

He heard Obi-Wan's footsteps. "Master. May I?"

 

He nodded uselessly, not knowing to what he was consenting; he trusted his padawan that much.

 

Obi-Wan's cool hand whispered against his forehead. He felt the faintest, most exquisite, of touches at his mind. "It's Master Windu," Obi-Wan murmured, though whether aloud or like a caress in his mind, he could not tell. "Use the Force you know, but you have to _want_ to see him, too. Mourn him. Think of what he did for me, and your gratitude. Use the Force, but long to see him too."

 

Those were only the words. The touch in his mind told him so much more. It guided him, gave him strength. It showed him the paths to travel, and took him to the brink, then left him there so the final achievement was his, of his own volition and unaided.

 

He opened his eyes, and amazement flooded him. It was like a light coming on his soul. He wept; he laughed.

 

Mace Windu shook his head. "Laughing at my death, Master Jinn. You were ever the rebellious one." But he did not mean it, and both of them knew it. Mace was one with the Force now. More even that Qui-Gon, he would know the significance of what had just happened.

 

"They killed you."

 

Sorrow was uppermost now, though the awe still bubbled underneath. It was such a small thing - just the ability to see one dead man. Yet he felt it like a whole new facet of his perception. This was a tiny fragment of what Obi-Wan was experiencing. How did he not just die with the awe of it?

 

Mace nodded. "Ki-Adi-Mundi. He told them that you were tainted, and that I was too. The Temple was no longer a place for children. Yoda gained me the time to help them to safety, but I was killed while doing so. Master Osaka too."

 

Qui-Gon clenched his fists. "But the children are safe?"

 

Mace nodded. "On Naboo. I have seen them. Anakin Skywalker is there too." He frowned. "That boy has the potential for darkness, Qui-Gon."

 

He had been about to protest that this no longer had meaning - that Light and Dark were no longer valid distinctions, but he saw Obi-Wan nodding, consideringly. He prompted him with his eyes.

 

"There is still Light, and Darkness, Master." Obi-Wan seemed nervous in the presence of the other Master. "We should aim to balance them always, and accept our own darkness and turn it to good ends. But Darkness is still a danger, if we fail to temper it with Light, and act only on our desires without considering what is right." He shuddered. "Evil still exists, Master."

 

Qui-Gon thought he had looked upon true evil, and it was called Ki-Adi-Mundi. His motivations had been entirely of the Light, but the results were unequivocally evil. He knew that Obi-Wan spoke the truth. He knew also, sickeningly, that when he had described the Dark Side to Obi-Wan, saying how it was all brute strength without discipline, he had been describing Anakin.

 

"He is not Chosen," he said, now, echoing his thoughts aloud. "Not Anakin."

 

Mace Windu's eyes widened with surprise. He followed Qui-Gon's gaze, and looked at Obi-Wan, and started visibly with shock.  So not all mysteries were revealed after death, then. Qui-Gon almost smiled at that. For years, he had wondered if his old Master watched him from beyond death, infinitely wise and knowing all mysteries, shaking his head at the pitiful amount his old padawan really knew. 

 

"Yes." Mace smiled. He looked as if a heavy burden had been removed from his shoulders. "You're right, Qui-Gon. He is." He gave a low chuckle. "One way or the other, you are determined to be Master to the Chosen One."

 

Then he glided forward, until he was so close to Qui-Gon that he felt he could have inhaled his amorphous substance in his breath. <Can you find the ability to speak alone, so he can't hear?> he said, into Qui-Gon's mind.

 

Qui-Gon searched, plucked at the new-found ability, and found that he could. <He could hear if he wished> he said, frankly. <I think he can do almost anything.>

 

<Yet he will not. That is why he is Chosen. What hope is there for the galaxy if the Force's Chosen One can not even be trusted not to betray his Master?> Mace's sense darkened. <And do not grow to think that he can do everything, Qui-Gon. You will kill him if you do.>

 

<Kill him?> Fear only intensified his ability. He could hear Mace's words as easily as breathing.

 

<The Sith Lord is coming for him - that much I can see, though no more. Do not think that he will defeat him easily or without cost, and do not let him think that.>

 

He could taste his dread, like metal in his mouth. There was so much he wanted to ask, but he knew now that the dead did not have all the answers, and had always known that they were prohibited from telling the living most of what they did know. He could not ask if Obi-Wan would triumph, for that was a future not yet determined. He could not ask how he could help Obi-Wan when the confrontation came, because he knew what the answer would be.

 

<Nothing. Just be to him as you have always been - his safety, and his home. Give him strength, though it might seem to that he is too powerful to need it. Be his anchor.>

 

<And afterwards?> Defiantly, he spoke as if Obi-Wan's victory was certain. Just the two of them on Kirrian was sufficient refuge if they were merely hiding, but Obi-Wan had a destiny and responsibility. <Naboo? Coruscant?>

 

<Do not draw the Sith Lord to the children> Mace was adamant. <Stay here. _If_ he is defeated...> He did not like that stress. <Only then I would advise Naboo. But find a source on Coruscant you can trust.> With a flicker of his mind, Mace showed his final battle, and the face of his opponent changing from horrified enmity to understanding. <We started something, you and I between us. It may be that Ki-Adi-Mundi's days are numbered. There may come a time when it is safe to return. There may come a time when you _have _ to return, to wage war.>

 

Qui-Gon clenched his fist, and wished for his lightsabre. Fighting Ki-Adi-Mundi was understandable. Fighting Jedi, he could take his place at Obi-Wan's side, weapon in hand, and be useful.

 

When Obi-Wan fought the Sith Lord, he knew, there would be no help he could give.

 

He saw in Mace's eyes that at least one possible future shown in the Force was that Obi-Wan would die, and Qui-Gon would have to watch it, powerless and grieving. Unable to see it, he closed his eyes.

 

And if Obi-Wan died, all hope for the Jedi died with him.

 

If Obi-Wan died, Qui-Gon would have nothing left in his life - nothing at all.

 

But he would mourn an impudent, loyal, courageous boy, and not a saviour.

 

When he opened his eyes, Mace was gone, and Obi-Wan was looking at him mournfully and with compassion. "He was your friend." A quick touch on his Master's hand. "I am sorry you lost him."

 

And Qui-Gon could not tell him that Mace was not the man he was mourning, not at all.

 

******

 

Days passed, and Kirrin's long nights, and Qui-Gon began to think that his padawan was already dead.

 

On the ship, that last day, he had laughed a while, and smiled, and shown glimpses of the Obi-Wan he had always been. Now, it seemed as if there was nothing of that Obi-Wan left. He had _become_ his power. He was Balance personified. He used incredible powers without any effort, as if it was as easy to him as breathing - which perhaps it was. Unlike the first two outpourings, he no longer even needed to feel deep emotion for the power to burst forth.

 

He offered to teach his Master. After that effortless touch that showed him how to see Mace, Qui-Gon declined, surprised at the fear he felt. Intellectually, he could accept that everything he had ever known about the Force was wrong, but he had practised it too long to change now. More than ever, he felt that his role, his destiny, was not to wield the power of Balance, but merely to support Obi-Wan as _he_ did so. The power was taking Obi-Wan over, leeching his humanity from him. 

 

"Keep me human, Master," he had begged, before the last spark of joy had been extinguished under the onslaught of learning wisdom and responsibility. "Remind me to laugh."

 

Qui-Gon would never forget that.

 

One night, he awakened to find Obi-Wan standing in the doorway of the small cottage they had rented, staring at the stars.

 

He swallowed hard. The old nightmare image of Obi-Wan's soul scattered across the galaxy like stars, irretrievably lost...

 

"Obi-Wan?" At last, when he could speak.

 

Obi-Wan spoke distantly, as if more than half in sleep. "I was talking to... someone. Someone in Naboo."

 

"You are _here_," Qui-Gon said, sharply, to cover his fear.

 

<Stay here> he wanted to order. <Forget that you are Chosen. Lay aside your power like a cloak; you can put it on again later, if you need to. Smile, and laugh, and be Obi-Wan again - Obi-Wan who can still be comforted by a Master.>

 

He said none of it, and Obi-Wan would not have done so even if he had asked. He doubted he would have heard it.

 

<Remind me to laugh...>

 

"Oh, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon murmured under his breath. He made no attempt to hide it from Obi-Wan, though he knew the young man would not hear. He heard little, saw less. Qui-Gon wondered if, soon, he would have to feed him and dress him, like a baby, Obi-Wan so lost in contemplation of the Balance that he forgot he had a body. "Obi-Wan. I will..."

 

Only the knowledge that the Sith Lord was coming stopped him. If this was Obi-Wan's way of learning, then he would need all his strength. Power, not laughter, would defeat the Sith.

 

But, after the Sith, Qui-Gon would be Master again, and would compel Obi-Wan to lay aside his burden and be human again, and his Obi-Wan, and laugh.

 

<Soon> he promised, silently.

 

******

 

<Soon> Obi-Wan heard. Even as he wondered what it meant, he knew.

 

<Soon.> A voice he knew, and had never been truly free of since he had first heard it. <Soon, little one, frail one, wretch. Soon I will come for you.>

 

He was coming; he scared him. How could he tell his Master, for his Master would want to protect him and fight with him, and there was no way his Master could survive.  This Lord was ten times the apprentice he had sent to Naboo, and even he would have killed Qui-Gon.

 

He was alone. He would fight him alone, and be prepared to die alone.

 

Every waking hour was a screaming terror, now. He threw himself into the Balance, learning all he could about the power there until he lost all sight of the place where Obi-Wan finished, and the Balance started. He _was_ his power, now. Where once he had possessed laughter, now he possessed responsibility, and a terrible burden. He felt power flow inside him where he had once had blood.

 

He longed to be Obi-Wan again.

 

He spent so long cast on the mercy of the Force, learning wisdom, that he almost forgot that he had a body to return to. Even when he was in his body, it felt unnatural, as if he had returned to the wrong skin. Perhaps that was deliberate - the Force's way of compelling him back, exhausted as he was, to learn more.

 

One day, perhaps, he would simply be too drained to return. Qui-Gon still held him, acting as his anchor, but often, now, he slipped away from his body partially, while still functioning, and Qui-Gon could not know, and did not anchor him. He functioned on two levels then. One was cast on the mercy of the Force; the other begged silently, impotently, for Qui-Gon to see his need, to be his Master again, and forbid this.

 

<I can not learn more> he pleaded, almost sobbing. Not because there was no more to learn - oh, how much more there was to learn - but because it was too much, it would kill him.

 

If he was to die, he wanted one day - one hour - of freedom again, to remind himself of why life was worth fighting for.

 

<Please...>

 

There was no answer.

 

******

 

<I am coming.>

 

Closer now, and he saw images of the Sith, in the shadows of the rain clouds above him, and the dancing leaves in the evergreens.

 

<I am coming for you. Balance?> A harsh laugh. <You think you can maintain your precious Balance, when I am close. One word from me, and you will fall. You have been marked as Sith, and Chosen to effect the ruination of your world.>

 

The presence followed him, ghost-like but still there, even when he lost himself in the Force. _It was there._ Why couldn't Qui-Gon come with him, or follow him, if his destroyer could, so easily.

 

After that, as it recognising his taint, he no longer felt the call into the Balance. He remained stubbornly in his own body, learning nothing more of his power. It was what he had begged for, but not like this. He wanted release, not to be cast out for bringing the darkness in there with him, unbidden.

 

For being tainted.

 

He was no longer under the illusion that the Sith Lord would kill him. He knew now that his fate would be infinitely worse. The Lord would turn him, and wield him as a weapon, until, by his own warped volition, he would destroy everything he had ever loved.

 

Chosen, for destruction.

 

Bound in his own body, power held tightly around him like a shroud, he found himself tortured by dreams. He would wake up clawing at the air, seeking a escape from the winding sheet, and finding none.

 

And, always, the voice. <I am coming.>

 

******

 

Qui-Gon felt his soul was weeping; his eyes were dry, scoured dry of all tears.

 

Obi-Wan had seemed serene and otherwordly in power, and he had thought that was bad. Now, Obi-Wan was tortured, as if his power was a shirt of nails. It had changed in an instant, almost as he had watched.

 

His sleep was racked with screaming nightmares. "I want to leave. I want to leave. I want to leave..." A sobbing incessant litany, as he clawed the empty air, seeking an escape that never came.

 

At last, and only after his chin ran with his own blood, Qui-Gon had thrown back his own covers, and slipped in to Obi-Wan's bed. He was taking a huge risk, he knew; it was likely that Obi-Wan would react to his arms as another chain that bound him, and his panic would increase. But he had to do it - could live with himself no other way.

 

"Obi-Wan," he soothed, as if to a baby. He stroked his hair, his shoulders, his back. He did not have anything like Obi-Wan's skill in the Force, now, but he had been a Jedi Master. It was time for him to stop despising the Light because it was not the Balance. He could aid Obi-Wan in a very real way, even though the Force he used was only half the truth. So he reached out, now, with his mind, projecting love and safety and peace.

 

And Obi-Wan responded. He gave a low moan. His struggles ceased. In time, he fell into a sleep that was not peaceful, but was free of torture.

 

In the morning, when Qui-Gon awoke, Obi-Wan was regarding him with sorrowing, grateful eyes.

 

"Anakin is here," he said.

 

******

 

The boy brought him back to himself, partly. The Sith Lord still spoke to him, still tormented his mind like claws on bleeding flesh, but he could not show his pain before Anakin.

 

Anakin kept him sane. Qui-Gon had helped - ah, how he had helped. He did not think that he would have survived that night without his Master. But Qui-Gon made him a child again - a padawan longing for the comfort of his Master. He gave him safety, which was what he longed for; he did not give him strength, which was what he would need.

 

With Anakin, he had to hide his many frailties, and appear strong, and without fear. It was not the truth, but, perhaps, if he acted the role long enough, at least some of it would come true.

 

He did not have long, though.

 

"I guided him here," he said, in response to Qui-Gon's shocked question. "He left Naboo, and was lost. I told him where to find you."

 

"You should not have done that." He was grateful, intensely grateful, that, although Qui-Gon had seen how far he had fallen in the night, he still did not treat him as if he would break at any angry word. He felt humanised. He felt like a padawan again, feeling emotions any man could feel. He could have cried out with relief.

 

He lowered his voice, though there was no need; Anakin, with the enthusiasm of the young, had run off the explore. "He still thinks he is the Chosen One. Everyone has told him. He thinks he is so strong. He _is_ so strong. He saw what happened to Master Windu, and set off alone to return to Coruscant for revenge. He really thought he could save us all. He would not have, but, by doing so, he would have damned himself."

 

"But why here?" Qui-Gon was looking upon him as if he was a stranger. His voice grew sharp. "So you can tell him yourself that you have taken the title he thought was his? I would not have thought you so vainglorious. Because you think that not only can you defeat the Sith Lord yourself, but you are powerful enough to protect a child while you do it?  I would not have thought you so arrogant."

 

His knees sagged. He was distantly aware of it, and glad at it. This, too, was a human reaction. "You know," he said weakly. He had not told his Master about the voice he had heard, and his certain knowledge of the enemy who was so close now.

 

"Oh, Obi-Wan." Qui-Gon was shaking his head again and again, uselessly. He looked lost. "I'm sorry. You are none of those things. You have been given a terrible burden, and shouldered it without thought for yourself."

 

Oh, but he was wrong. How intensely he had longed for freedom, for the chance to laugh without care, as other men could... How dearly he longed to be able to consider only himself...

 

"I told him," he said, rather than talk about these things, " because I know what it is like to hear that your Master no longer wants you, because you are not Chosen. I thought it was wrong to leave him without a word. I thought he needed to hear your reasons from you, and hear that you still love him."

 

He found, to his surprise, that he was crying - and that, too, was something to be glad of. He had regained another scrap of his humanity. He had thought entirely as Obi-Wan, and not once used his power, ever since Anakin had arrived.

 

*****

 

The Sith Lord was open between them.

 

"I am afraid," Obi-Wan confessed, brokenly, though Qui-Gon felt he looked better than he had since he had arrived on Kirrian.

 

It seemed as if he had stepped back from the brink, and found, somehow, that all the power in the world does not suffice when you lack humanity. His mind no longer left his body. His power was less visible in him. Though still part of him, it was a part he was not using.

 

Then, chillingly, "I am glad I found this peace, before the end." A wry smile. "This is the Sith's doing, though he would hate to think that he did me a service by what he did. He made it so I can learn no more. He tried to follow me into the Balance, and his invasion closed that door. When I face him, it will be with what I possess now, and nothing more. I can spend the last day finding peace, not striving, always striving for more."

 

Qui-Gon did not understand. All he understood was that Obi-Wan seemed to find relief from it, and something approaching peace.

 

"I still feel fear, but not like it was. You saved me from the worst of it, last night." A sincere look of gratitude. "Anakin from the rest, though he does not know it. I have to be strong for him. It _makes_ me strong."

 

Qui-Gon wished he could contradict - could challenge to fatal finality of Obi-Wan's words, and assure him that they would have a future.

 

"Can you teach Anakin?" he asked, still seeking hope.

 

Obi-Wan shook his head. "In time, perhaps, a little. But he is not receptive. We talked, this morning. He is immensely strong, but he has so little control. If I taught him Balance, he would fall straight over into the dark. Balance is emotion tempered with discipline, darkness with light." He lowered his eyes, twisting again at the edge of his tunic. "Perhaps I was wrong to bring him here. The Sith could influence him too easily."

 

Qui-Gon nodded, regretfully. He had gently informed Anakin that he had been wrong about the prophecy - that Obi-Wan, and not Anakin, was the Chosen One. He had reacted... How could he had expected him to react any other way. "You are very strong, Anakin, and very special. I will still be your Master, if you have me," he had said, but Anakin had shaken his hand off, and run into the woods, crying with shame and anger.

 

Yes, he had made a mistake, too, telling him such a thing when the Sith was close, and Anakin would need all the control he had not be have his fear and anger used against him.

 

Beyond the trees, the sun was setting, washing the sky with red. Qui-Gon could not shake the conviction that this was the last sunset he would see with Obi-Wan at his side.

 

He couldn't suppress a tremor. "Come to bed?" he offered, shakily. Like the previous night, they would sleep together in the same bed, he had decided, drawing comfort from each other just as Obi-Wan always derived comfort from being wrapped in his Master's robe. He would be Obi-Wan's anchor, and home, offered him his own strength like a sacrifice.

 

Obi-Wan smiled, but shook his head. "Sleep with Anakin. He needs it more."

 

Obi-Wan had been nearly thirteen when he had come to him - too big to sleep in his Master's arms like a child scared of the darkness. Yet he had slept there a few times, when very sick, or injured, or traumatised, until old enough to consider he had to face his demons alone. If they lived through this, Qui-Gon knew he would never forget this lesson. No-one is old enough, or powerful enough, not to need the comfort of a touch and a word of love. At his most intensely powerful, Obi-Wan was also at his most vulnerable.

 

He wondered if Obi-Wan would sleep at all tonight. He wondered if he would awaken to find he had given his strength to Anakin when Obi-Wan was facing his final battle alone.

 

"He is still a day away," Obi-Wan said, awkwardly. He gestured at his head. "He speaks to me. We will still have a tomorrow. This is not a farewell."

 

That, and only that, made Qui-Gon consent.

 

******

 

Obi-Wan had never lied to his Master before.

 

He wondered if he could bear it,  he thought as he watched Anakin's troubled sleep in Qui-Gon's arms, if it should turn out that his last word to his Master was a lie.

 

<I am here. I am waiting.>

 

Wiping roughly at his eyes, he went out into the night to face his destiny.

 

******

 

"You came."

 

In a clearing, in the shadow of the moon, he was only a man. Obi-Wan felt only a distant relief at that. He had built the Sith up into his mind into a monster, far bigger than any man could be. But appearances were deceptive. This one man had power far greater than any foe he had faced.

 

But _he_ had power, too.

 

"I came." He raised his hand, not yet wielding power, but promising.

 

He could say no more. What could he say? He would make no empty threats or insults. Nor would he promise to kill this man. He was not yet satisfied that killing him would serve the Balance. He knew so little. Everything he knew of Balance was what he had learned himself. He had no teachers to ask, no millennia of wisdom to fall back on.

 

And if he judged wrongly?

 

"You are mine."

 

The Sith raised his hand. He had expected this; he had seen the red lightning arc from Xanatos' hand, a lifetime ago. The first time it had hit him; the second, he had learned how to deflect it with his own hand.

 

He braced himself for defence.

 

What he was not prepared for was the black miasma that issued from the Sith's raised hand. It was bats' wings fluttering round his ears. It was seductive, dreadful words, in crepuscular murmurings. It was the ecstasy of Xanatos' torture chamber.

 

It was Balance suddenly, terribly shifted.

 

<Come to the darkness>

 

Dark fingers invaded his mind and planted images. He was leading an army on Coruscant, and the man who had tortured him was squirming at his feet, broken and begging. Ah, but it would give him pleasure to crush him under his feet.

 

Throughout the Republic, men fell at his feet in terrified, hollow-eyed worship.

 

He clenched his fists. Speaking was difficult. "I... I do not want these things," he rasped. He thought he was sure.

 

"No?"

 

And the visions changed, and became his wildest dream. He saw himself both powerful and free. Hand raised and wielding power, but only at his own will, for his own pleasures and hatreds. He saw the simplest if things: himself lying in bed because he was tired, and because he had no duty; laughing as he turned away from a burden.

 

Laughing...

 

<Why take up such a burden?> the darkness whispered seductively. <Embrace your freedom.>

 

Oh, but he wanted to. So intensely, he wanted to... He fell to his knees. Visions tore at his mind, and he raised his hands, all thought of power forgotten, wanting nothing other than to dig his fists into his temples to ease the agony.

 

Darkness was freedom. He wondered why he had not seen it before. Darkness was emotion without control - desire with responsibility. It was unbridled laughter as well as unbridled fear. Why did the Jedi not teach that?

 

It was rest. It was freedom.

 

It was what he wanted.

 

"Yes," he said, aloud, yielding. "Yes."

 

******

 

Hours later, or perhaps seconds, he tasted earth in his mouth, acrid and damp.

 

He was prostrate, like a slave. He heard feet.

 

With agonising slowness, he wrenched his mind away from the intoxicating images of freedom. He knew he had made an acceptance, but his mind was aching and memories slipped from it.

 

"Who?" he asked, weakly.

 

"Your Master."

 

He frowned. This was not his Master. How could it be?

 

He dug his fingers into the soil. Truth and memory flooded his mind. "You promised me freedom." Ah, those images of freedom from responsibility, to love and laugh as he wished... Now he had seen them, he knew that he would never cease to mourn them for the rest of his life. "Freedom. Not to have a Master."

 

The steps paused. He felt a flicker of fear, amazingly, terribly. This man was afraid of him, he realised. He had the power to kill him. He could take the offer of freedom, kill the Sith who would make him Master, and then be truly free.

 

All he needed to do was will it.

 

Tears poured down his face. This was exquisite torture - to see the face of his future. Freedom and power, calling no man Master. What more could he wish for?

 

Still weeping, he pushed himself to his feet, and raised his hand...

 

And found that he did not want it at all.

 

He remembered the comfort of waking up in his Master's arms, and knowing that he had been cared for as he had slept.

 

He remembered throwing himself on the mercy of the Force, and doing so only because he knew that he had a home to return to, and that home was his Master's strength and care.

 

He remembered being chosen, and knew suddenly that _this_ had been his true choosing. Qui-Gon had taken him as padawan, and had chosen him, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

 

He shivered. Freedom, and power... but not loved. Men fell at his feet in fear, but none of them cared if he lived or died, or would mourn his death.

 

<I want to be loved> he cried out silently, shamefully. Even this was a decision born of darkness, he knew, and  selfish. In that moment, he did not resist the Sith because it was right, but because he longed for a future in which he was not alone.

 

"I will not accept," he said, clearly, saying nothing of this. "You show me freedom, then speak of Masters. You seek only to trick me. There is no truth in your promises."

 

Even the freedom of the darkness was no freedom, he knew. If he used his power of a tyrannical act - emotions without responsibility - then, too, he was binding his future. His actions, good or bad, determined how people viewed him, and their expectations bound his actions. A tyrant was little more free than a slave, bound by the consequence of his past actions, fighting every day to evade justice and live another day.

 

"There is no freedom," he said, aloud, raising his hand. "Yet that in itself is freedom." Clenched fist, and the fire of power pulsing from it like a promise. "I _choose_ my destiny, of my own free will. I choose to be Chosen, to assume that burden."

 

The Sith Lord raised his hand, and power arched from it, red and fiery.

 

Obi-Wan raised his hand to deflect it, but instead his own power, like a physical thing, seemed to reach out and engulf it, capturing the red fire, and pulling it inwards to his own body.

 

It hurt like a thousand knives.

 

"Oh." Stupidly. His hand pressed to his mouth, he almost fell.

 

And he understood.

 

"I do not fight," he said, thickly, as red fire seeped agonisingly into his body again and again. He spread his palms, lowered his head. "I will not  fight you."

 

******

 

Qui-Gon Jinn woke from a nightmare, and found that the nightmare was not over, not at all.

 

He was alone in the small house. Obi-Wan had gone, his bed not slept in, his last words to his Master a lie. And Anakin had gone, slipped out from arms that had wanted only to comfort him.

 

Qui-Gon called for his padawan, a mental scream.

 

Nothing.

 

******

 

"I will not fight you," he said.

 

"But I will."

 

He raised his head heavily, almost too weak even for that small movement. "Anakin." His tongue felt thick and swollen in his mouth.

 

Anakin stood in the middle of the clearing, fists clenched with silent determination, Qui-Gon's lightsabre held large and unwieldy in his hands. "_I_ am the Chosen One," he said, almost petulantly. "I have the strength to fight you."

 

Casually, as if swatting at a fly, the Sith Lord cast his aside with his power.

 

Anakin fell like a rag, and did not move again.

 

******

 

"This is how I fight you."

 

Obi-Wan pushed himself to his feet, though his limbs felt like water. Turning his back on the Sith Lord, he walked over to Anakin's side, and gently raised him. He was still breathing, not even badly hurt. With hand infinitely gentle, Obi-Wan stroked his forehead.

 

"Compassion," he said aloud. "Humanity. Care for individuals. Yes, even duty."

 

And then the Sith Lord  was upon him.

 

Cruel hands raised him; their touch seemed right. Harshly, as if the Sith realised that he could not destroy Obi-Wan with the Force, he used his frail flesh against him, backhanding him hard across the face and knocking him to the ground again, then kicking him hard in the ribs, again and again.

 

Blood flowed. Obi-Wan cherished this pain. It was more real, more _himself_, than the pain of that dark power being absorbed into his body. He would never forget that he was Obi-Wan, human, and frail.

 

He guarded his power deep within. He did not use it for himself, though he could have burst free in a heartbeat. Nor did he use it to ease his pain, and never would again, for pain, too, was of the Balance. Once he too unto himself only those parts of the Balance that pleased him, eschewing those that caused him pain, then he became as Ki-Adi-Mundi had become, blind.

 

Instead, he reached out a gentle tendril of power and caressed Anakin's unconscious mind, urging him to find peace. Anakin stirred, moaned, but did not waken.

 

"Come, my slave."

 

The Sith Lord pulled him to his feet, and he did not resist. Cruelly, harshly, he pulled Obi-Wan's hands behind him, binding them tight with ropes that were imbued with the Dark Force that was only one facet of the power at Obi-Wan's command. Yet he suffered himself to be bound.

 

He wanted to laugh. Could it be that the Sith, arrogant and blind as Ki-Adi-Mundi had been, did not see? That he thought his vanquished, and that this was not by his own choice?

 

"You will not laugh long, slave. I will break you."

 

The Sith Lord forced back his head, and claimed his lips and a hard kiss that had nothing of lust in it, but everything of possession, of deliberate violation.

 

Still Obi-Wan laughed. He thought that, if he did not, be would have cried. He was under no false illusions. He knew what he was winning by this, and knew too the cost he would pay.

 

A hard slap in the face, claw-like hands twisting in his hair and keeping him from flinching to save himself.

 

Could it really be that the Sith did not know?

 

He could not kill the darkness, for darkness was part of the Balance, part of himself. He could not kill the darkness without destroying a part of himself. He had no Master who could teach him this. He had seen it, suddenly, incontrovertibly, when the Dark Lord's power had been absorbed into his own body without weakening him.

 

Darkness was part of Balance, and part of him. He could not kill the Dark, nor was it right that Darkness was destroyed. His destiny was to create Balance. It would please the Sith to think he was his slave, but, though bound, it would be his own choice - his choice to accept his destiny - that bound him. Chained at the Dark Lord's side, he would absorb his darkness and temper it always with light. He would undo the Sith Lord's evil, binding the Lord to him as his slave as closely as he was bound to the Lord.

 

"Come, my slave." The ropes pulled tight, digging into his wrists.

 

And, willingly, Obi-Wan walked, though his heart was weeping blood.

 

<No, Obi-Wan.> Was it his imagination, the answering weeping in his mind?

 

<Master> he thought, sorrowing. <Always my Master, even now. But this is right. I can not destroy the darkness, for it _is_ me. Understand this, Master. Do not grieve. This is what I was destined for, when you named me Chosen.>

 

<But _I_ chose you too, Obi-Wan.>

 

He felt the touch of ghostly arms around him, and felt a small tiny comfort there, but nothing more.

 

Head held high, he walked.

 

******

 

<I can not destroy the darkness.>

 

He heard it all, and saw it all, standing useless and mesmerised by the horrible tableau. Obi-Wan bound, and willing walking to his doom.

 

<Obi-Wan> he called, pleading. <Obi-Wan. Don't.>

 

But how could he argue> How could he fight against such resolution, when Obi-Wan was Chosen, and he was only a Jedi, with no power other than merely the light?

 

How could he not?

 

<Obi-Wan.>

 

I am your Master, he thought, and your friend.

 

<Remember to keep me human> Obi-Wan had said - to keep him anchored in small joys, and friendship, and compassion, as well as his high destiny.

 

<I will keep you human> he vowed. <My padawan. Obi-Wan. My beloved one.>

 

Walking forward on silent feet, he picked up his lightsabre from Anakin's limp hand. He never took his eyes of Obi-Wan. <Love> he thought. <I would love to see you smile again as you did on Malastare when you were fourteen, and climbing trees>

 

He channelled the Light Side, for it was all he had ever known, and powerful in its way. He would never have Obi-Wan's power, but he had enough for this. <Darkness> he thought. <You are wrong, Obi-Wan. You can not kill darkness, but this... this is just one man. He does not personify Darkness. He is one man, and he wants to kill you, and a million more. I love you, and do not wish you harmed. I am a Jedi, and do not believe this man should live.>

 

"This is wrong," he said, aloud, as he ignited his weapon and swung it, in one quick movement. "This is wrong, and can not be."

 

And the Light responded.

 

******

 

He saw his Master's weapon in his hand.

 

He saw the Sith Lord smile, and prepare the barrage of fire that would destroy his Master.

 

<Balance> he repeated, like a litany. <Balance. To temper Darkness with  Light, and Light with Darkness.>

 

Qui-Gon dead. How was that right?

 

Arms cast wide on the Force, he cast his whole being forward, embracing the darkness, holding it close to him. The Sith Lord's powers were his own, though in this instant only, and not forever.

 

Frozen, his darkness swamped with light, his power tempered by something he had never known, the Sith Lord stood, impotently throwing death at Qui-Gon with his eyes.

 

******

 

Head severed, the Sith Lord fell.

 

What Qui-Gon had not expected was for Obi-Wan to fall too, like a puppet with its strings cut, as a cloud of darkness engulfed him, visible.

 

Qui-Gon could no longer see his face.

 

******

 

He felt he had died and been reborn again a thousand times before Obi-Wan opened his eyes, a whole day later. A spark of fear filled him, that the eyes he would see would be all darkness, and not human at all. But it was his Obi-Wan, weary and burdened with sorrow, who looked at him.

 

"I can not destroy the darkness," Obi-Wan said sadly, when he could speak. "I was right, as were you, Master. I took his darkness into myself. It was there when he died." He pressed a hand against his chest. "It is there still. I will never be free of it."

 

"Nor should you." Qui-Gon took his hand. He did not understand this yet - how could he? "You took the darkness into yourself, but will not be conquered by it. You will transform it utterly, forging it into something far greater." He was feeling his way in the shadows himself, unsure of these truths. "It was necessary. You have been a Jedi for your whole life. Perhaps you were unbalanced on the side of Light and needed this - needed him - to be complete."

 

Complete... Ah, yes. Complete, but less his padawan. He mourned this deeply. Less human. Less the man he had known, and more the personification of his power, his destiny.

 

Obi-Wan was silent for a very long time. "Was I wrong?" he asked, at last. "I took his power from him, and that allowed you to kill him. I never considered taking your power, to save him. Was I wrong?"

 

Oh, but it did his heart good to be asked again, to feel that this, at least, was a reassurance he could give.

 

"I speak not from Balance, but as a human." He took Obi-Wan's hand. "You said  was to help you stay human, but, in the end, even when assuming great power, you acted from your humanity - your love, and compassion. You tried to ease Anakin; you saved me from a man who would have cut me down without mercy, and found pleasure in it. Causing undue suffering, whether in the name of light or darkness, is wrong." He paused, looked at the ground. "He was Palpatine."

 

Obi-Wan's eyes widened. Then, frowning, "he had discipline, if he could conceal it so."

 

"He was still of the Darkness, Obi-Wan." Soft.

 

Obi-Wan nodded, sorrowfully. "Yes. He still lives in me."

 

"But so do I." Qui-Gon wrapped his arms round his padawan, half raising him and holding him close. "I only know Light. I can give you love, and strength, and succour. I can make you laugh. I can make you lay aside your responsibility and find the freedom that is everyone's right, once in a whole. I can make you be Obi-Wan, and glad to be alive. I can..."

 

"Be my Light." Obi-Wan smiled. His hand still pressed against his heart. "As he is my Darkness."

 

Gently, Qui-Gon kissed his hair.

 

There was so much to talk of still. Anakin, angry and shamed at being cast aside by Palpatine as if he was nothing, had left Kirrian, to return, not to Naboo, but to Tatooine. Qui-Gon knew he would be a potential threat, so powerful, yet smarting still with thwarted hopes. He could still turn to Darkness.

 

And then there was the future. Qui-Gon still clung to Yoda's vision, of Obi-Wan instructing Jedi under a blue sky, and the Jedi laughing. Was it Naboo, or Kirrian? It was not Coruscant, though Coruscant, too, would have to be faced some day.

 

"Master?" Obi-Wan frowned, still weak, able to sense his Master's thoughts at will, if he so chose to, but refraining, as he always would.

 

Qui-Gon shook his head. "Nothing, Obi-Wan. Rest." A light touch to his hair. Whatever else this young man was, he was Obi-Wan, and retaining his humanity was more important than any destiny. No, it _was_ his destiny - to wield such power and bear such a burden - to know both light and dark, yet still remain human, and humane.

 

He smiled. "Shall we climb trees together tomorrow, Obi-Wan, you and I?"

 

Obi-Wan gave a low chuckled. "You're too frail, old man."

 

A tug at his braid. "Impudent."

 

And, through the laughter, tears were falling.

 

****

 

END