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Hello, everyone! Once again, I’m back, after dropping off the face of the ether. Sorry about that… we were processing apples from the orchard behind our house (which, sadly, does not belong to us… :’-( ) and making some into applesauce and some into apple butter and some into fruit leather, and then we were canning it, and then we were making clothes and costumes for Halloween, and all in all I was too busy to update, besides which I had no place to put my laptop, since there was sewing paraphenalia covering the dining room (which gets used for sewing much more frequently, by the way X-P) table, and canning paraphenalia on the kitchen table, and the lap desk is kind of cumbersome, besides which I hate using the mouse pad attached to my laptop… yeah… Sorry about that little rant. KRAYZEEEEEEEENESS.

This chapter: Qui-Gon has a talk with Padme, Obi-Wan looses control and self-depreciates (seriously, what is it with his lack of self-esteem?!), and memory takes a hold, linking the past to the present, and the future.

[11/2/2013: Changed tagging to reflect current story status; aka, completed.]

Chapter XII

                Qui-Gon relaxed once the ship was in hyperspace. He walked back to the small salon. “Your highness. We’re well on our way to Naboo.”

“Thank you, Master Jinn,” the young queen said, her eyes sparkling with joy. “But please, don’t call me by my formal title. I’m not the queen, not yet. Until my inauguration, I’m not the queen. I’m just plain Padme Naberrie, from Ikili-in-the-Hills.” Qui-Gon nodded slowly, not making any moves in one direction or the other, keeping his face neutral. Padme Naberrie seemed to be studying him. Suddenly, she burst out, “You’re not really like Obi-Wan.”

The next moment, her face was the picture of shock. Apparently, she hadn’t intended to say that out loud. Qui-Gon burst out laughing. “I should hope not! Not all Jedi are alike, Miss Naberrie.” The young girl blushed.

“I’m sorry, that was rude of me,” she backpedaled. Still smiling, Qui-Gon shook his head.

“It was honest. Obi-Wan would probably say that we are two of a kind.”

“I’m guessing that Obi-Wan can be blunt, too, though.”

“Brutally honest at times,” Qui-Gon affirmed.

“Well, in that case, we’re three of a kind.” Qui-Gon laughed again. “What are the other Jedi like?” Padme asked.

“Some of us would say that Obi-Wan is one end of the scale and I’m the other,” Qui-Gon replied without really replying. “If you look at us, it’s a bit of a minor wonder of the galaxy how we get on so well.”

“You complement each other,” Padme said. Qui-Gon smiled.

“You sound very certain of that, Miss Naberrie,” he said.

“Of course!” Padme said eagerly. “I can just see Obi-Wan running off to get things done, hitting up all the villains, and finishing with a flourish, while you’re his ballast, the safe haven.” Qui-Gon smiled at how sure she sounded. And she was right.

“You should have been a Jedi,” he said. “Your observations of Obi-Wan are absolutely correct. He has a lot of fire; he needs someone who compliments that. He’s all fire and water, whereas my element is earth.”

“That fits,” Padme remarked. “I think… well, Obi-Wan… he just gives me the impression of tightly controlled power and energy. He has… an aura… I think that’s the right word. The first time I met him, I was a bit disappointed, under all my other distress. I had… a feeling that something was outside the room, though I was too upset and buried in my own worries to think about it at the time. And then, when he came in, my first subconscious thought was, ‘That’s it?!’”

Qui-Gon laughed. “He does seem a bit small for his presence, doesn’t he?” Inwardly, Qui-Gon was a bit surprised. Obi-Wan did make impressions, but he had never heard of anyone perceiving him through extra-sensory perception. Quickly, he probed Padme’s Force-presence. She was slightly more sensitive to the Force than the average human, but still nothing particularly out of the ordinary. “So, you’re saying you actually sensed him without sight, hearing, touch or anything like that?”

“I know it sounds crazy…” Padme said. “But yes, I think I did.” Qui-Gon smiled.

“I don’t think it’s crazy. Often, that’s how Jedi tell where the others are.” Padme’s eyes widened.

“But, I’ve never…”

“I don’t think you have any Jedi abilities,” Qui-Gon said. “But Obi-Wan has a very deep and particular connection to the Force, and perhaps that’s what alerted you to his presence there. On some level, we’re all able to feel the Force. Some of us are just stronger with it than others, have more of a natural talent.”

And some of us, Qui-Gon added mentally, are talented beyond belief.

 

                Qui-Gon moved through the corridors of the Imperial palace like a wraith, silent, with practiced ease and unremitting purpose. Suddenly, ahead of him, there was a startled gasp in front of him, and a very small person darted out before him, scuttling into the shadows beyond. On instinct, Qui-Gon leaped forward and grabbed the offending shape. Pulling the child back into the light, Qui-Gon found himself staring in honest surprise into the face of a three-year-old human boy with huge, frightened, blue-gray-green eyes. He was thin, too thin, not chubby like most children his age, and had thick, ruffled dark chestnut-auburn hair. Qui-Gon relaxed. The child shrank away from him, fearfully. Qui-Gon smiled reassuringly at the little boy. “It’s all right, don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.” Stars above, this child glowed like a beacon in the Force, a blaze of pure silver. An untrained, instinctive Force-probe came across his senses, and Qui-Gon almost laughed. He was being evaluated by an untrained three-year-old. Emerald and sapphire mingled in a captivating swirl in those perversely huge, expressive and completely adorable eyes. They studied him for another excruciatingly long moment, then the boy lowered his eyes and reached a decision, satisfied.

                “Mama’s hurt,” he whispered. His voice was a treble, soft toddler lisp, with just a hint of a familiar aristocratic-yet-pragmatist accent. Qui-Gon suddenly felt a sharp premonition, but he pushed it aside. “Can you help her?” the child continued. Qui-Gon didn’t hesitate. It wouldn’t interrupt his search too much, and he had a feeling that if he hesitated, it would be too late. Besides, there was something about this boy…

                “Lead on,” he said. Instantly, his small guide took off at a rattling pace that amazed Qui-Gon. Hastily, they made their way towards the slave quarters and into a room, bare, dilapidated, and sparsely furnished. It was unoccupied save for a figure that lay on its back, perfectly still, on the bed. The little boy hurried to the prone figure’s side.

                “Mama?” he said, in a broken whisper. The young woman moved, pushing herself up in bed.

                “Master!” she exclaimed, her clear sweet voice soft, weary. Qui-Gon walked forward, three long strides swallowing up the distance between them.

                “Sharya,” Qui-Gon breathed. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry it took so long to find you.”

                “Well, at least,” Sharya breathed, “you were in time… for my son.” She grabbed the little boy’s hand and placed it in Qui-Gon’s. “Master, this is Obi-Wan. Please, don’t just leave him here. He must be trained as a Jedi.” Sharya leaned close. “Because he is the Chosen One.” There was no sharp inhalation of shock, no quick, excited searching of the Padawan’s face. Qui-Gon merely gripped the slender, white, six-fingered left hand in his.

                “You’re sure?” he asked, searching her eyes. Sharya blinked, then sighed, closing her eyes.

                “Yes,” she said, voice assured. “I am vowed to perpetual virginity, Master, and I have kept my vow.” She coughed a little, uncertainly. “Thank heaven… you got here in… time…”

                “Sharya?” Qui-Gon asked. She slowly slipped back down, settling into the pillows, and gave out one last, long breath. The warrior and wanderer had departed on her final journey. The silence was broken by a pained cry as young Obi-Wan sensed his mother’s death. The three-year-old sank down to the floor and began to sob. Qui-Gon closed the beautiful hazel eyes for the last time and hurried to comfort the child. “Hush. There, there, now,” he soothed. “It’s all right, everything is going to be all right.”

                “Are you going to take me away?” the boy asked, his huge sapphire eyes awash with tears. “I won’t leave Mama,” he whispered firmly. Qui-Gon smiled sadly.

                “Don’t worry, little one. Mother’s only gone away to live far, far away, but she’ll be with you too. She’ll never leave you, Obi-Wan, and someday you’ll see her again.”

                “She’ll be with me?” the little boy whispered. Qui-Gon smiled again.

                “Always.”

“Master Jinn?” Padme’s voice broke through Qui-Gon’s reverie. He straightened up.

“Yes?”

“I was…” she looked away, unable to finish.

“Wondering?” Qui-Gon supplied. “About what?”

“Well, I was just… unsure about… well, Obi-Wan was saying that he hoped to instate me properly as Queen, according to the rules of democracy…”

“He informed me of his plan,” Qui-Gon said. “Go on.

“Well, it’s just that…” Padme shrugged. “I wasn’t sure about the political dynamics of this, is all.” Qui-Gon laughed softly.

“There’s no need to worry, your highness. Sometimes even I don’t quite follow Obi-Wan’s thoughts very well, either. At times, it’s as if he’s something completely different from me…”

“Yes,” Padme said thoughtfully, “I had that feeling a bit too… but then he was also capable of so much compassion…”

“Obi-Wan is special,” Qui-Gon said, “like I said before.”

Siri came looking for him.

Or rather, she was about to, when the doors to the cargo bay slid open and two of the Red Guards dragged him in and flung his inert form on the ground. Siri, who had dived into hiding behind the boxes of supplies the instant she heard them outside the door, slipped out of her hiding place the moment she was sure they were gone, and rushed to Obi-Wan’s side. Hurriedly, she checked his pulse. It was even and steady, and his breathing seemed fairly strong. He was completely unconscious, however. Siri gently turned him over, then brushed his wayward shoulder-length ginger hair out of his face. Oblivious to the world around him, he looked so innocent, so much younger than he really was. However, there was a subtle twist of the lips that spoke of suppressed pain. Siri looked down at him for what seemed like a long time. He was handsome, but the Sith tattoos that were spread across the left side of his face marred it somewhat. Siri felt toward him like she had felt to very few in her life. Almost protective, almost… something else. She didn’t dare to say what.

Something had happened. At last, Siri took in a deep breath, then grabbed his shoulder and began to shake him. “Hey. Wake up. Come on, Obi-Wan, you have to wake up” Even in sleep, Obi-Wan’s reaction was instantaneous. His hand snapped up, closing, vice-like, around her wrist, as his eyes opened sharply. He saw who it was who had aroused him, sighed, released her.

“I’m sorry,” he said apologetically. “I didn’t mean to alarm or hurt you.” Siri gave a low sigh of almost relief. In the moments before he was fully awake, it was dangerous, perilous even. Survival instincts took precedence. Evidently, living all his life in the midst of the Sith had taught him harsh lessons.

“Do you miss your mother?” Siri asked, on an impulse. Obi-Wan sighed.

“Yes. But, of course, I barely knew her. I was so young when she died. For twelve years, I never laughed or smiled, except when I was with my master, and I rarely spoke.”

“What changed that?” Siri asked.

“A woman called Shmi Skywalker, who was brought to the palace one day. With her kindness, she began to break down the chill around my heart. She was good enough to consider me as her own son. If there is anyone there who deserves to be free, it’s her. Her, her son Anakin, or one of the future Sith apprentices there.” Siri gave him a confused look.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” she said. “A Sith is a Sith is a Sith. They’re all the same.”

“No, they aren’t,” Obi-Wan argued. “Some of them aren’t really evil. They use the Dark Side, yes, but they have never been given the choice to use the Light. They are only doing what they’ve been taught. How can they do anything else, without someone to teach it?” He shook his head softly, falling into silence. Siri stared at him in awe, eyes widening in realization.

“That’s why you stayed,” she said in a near-whisper. Obi-Wan dropped his head, thick auburn hair falling across his face, obscuring his expression. Siri was still staring. “You wanted to try.” Obi-Wan bowed his head, resting his forehead against his knees.

“Better to redeem than to destroy,” he said, so softly that she could barely hear him. “We should never condemn those who fail in haste; we don’t know all their circumstances. We don’t really understand.” He shifted slightly, not raising his head. “It might be a good idea for me to pretend to be unconscious when the guards come back.” he said, half-wistfully.

“It might,” Siri said slowly. She peered thoughtfully at him, sideways. “Do you ever rest?” Obi-Wan laughed ruefully.

“My master wants to know the same thing,” he said with the same half-uncertain, self-depreciating humor Siri had been so bewildered by before, lying down. His eyes flickered shut. Siri stared, wondering if he was really unconscious, or still awake and watching her with some sense that was perhaps, even inexplicable by the Force itself. His abilities seemed uncanny at times, as uncanny to her as those of an ordinary Jedi would have been to a layperson. “Stop thinking so loudly,” Obi-Wan chided her from his prone position, “you’re making it hard for me to think.”

By the time the guards returned, the ship had made the odd jerk that signaled they were coming out of hyperspace. Obi-Wan had never liked the feeling of accelerating into hyperspace or leaving it much; for the first few seconds it felt as if he was being jerked abruptly through a ray shield, or was in an abruptly-dropped elevator, and the next few minutes his core temperature would fluctuate oddly—probably due to the sudden changes in the flow of the Force. Obi-Wan grabbed the long concealing cloak from the peg in the slave quarters as he was marched off. The guards shoved him into place behind the emperor and he dutifully followed the man down the ramp.

But nothing was enough to stifle the spark of defiance thinly veiled behind a mask of diplomacy. Obi-Wan carried himself straight and tall, self-assured and confident, as if he was one of the delegation instead of Sidious’ slave.

The welcoming committee was uninteresting, as was the extremely normal banquet that was to follow. Obi-Wan stood behind Palpatine’s chair, trying to keep from yawning with boredom. These visits were always the same; some rebellious, courageous souls sticking to the background, attending against their will; the others, obsequious, fawning Imperial sympathizers and sycophants of the crown, groveling before the throne of the Sith. Even simply making eye contact with anyone in the room would have been dangerous, more so for them than for him, since he was such a… favorite… with the Sith. If he made eye contact with a rebel, they might be executed. If he made eye contact with an Imperial, he might be beaten. It was simply easier not to take the risk, and so he kept his eyes downcast, but not without scanning the room thoroughly, without outwardly appearing to look, monitoring for potential allies and enemies, a habit he had learned by years of hard experience. Hard lessons had been taught him by years upon years of contending with the same enemy, and he would have been a fool indeed not to pay heed to them. Never let your guard down. Never leave an enemy in the room unwatched. He had learned his lessons well, as the Sith would one day know, to their cost.

Despite the fact that his eyes were downcast, he noticed that a few—or rather, more than just a few—of Sidious’ syncophants were ogling him appreciatively. Obi-Wan inwardly felt a rush of revulsion. He hated being stared at. It was at times like this that Obi-Wan wished with all his heart that he had been born plain. Good looks served no practical purpose whatsoever; thought it was true that “handsome is as handsome does”, he would rather not have been seen—flaunted—in this flagrant way. Slavery was demeaning. Slaves had no rights. They were considered non-persons, un-persons, less than persons, to be used, and used up, and thrown away on a whim, by their masters.

Once, when he was ten, Obi-Wan had been carrying a breakfast tray to an ageing Sith Lady; he had fallen and cut himself three times n pottery, ceramic, and glass shards, and once on the knife that had fallen from the tray. He had been given twenty lashes for nearly ruining his appearance, as if his other injuries had not been punishment enough for mere adolescent clumsiness. Obi-Wan wished he had been scarred across the face. Perhaps he might be left alone, then. He might not be classically handsome—his features were too angular to be classically handsome—but he still drew attention, and he hated that.

After the formal greeting, with all its flowery speeches, during the duration of which no one ever actually said anything worth saying, there was the formal banquet. Of course. Politicians were capable of many things, but not originality. Oh, goodness no.

Obi-Wan busied himself, by habit, monitoring the room the while. Two Bothans in the back corner—what exactly were they doing there? Other than making small talk, of course… A Nemoidian rapidly moving in the direction of being drunk to the nines. Oh wonderful, he was mixing his metaphors now. A Senatorial aide making love to another Senatorial aide. Naturally. People just had no decorum nowadays, though maybe his expectations were too high—the galaxy was ruled by the Sith, after all. Quinlan Vos wasn’t there, neither was the senator to whom Vos was an attaché. Pity, Obi-Wan thought. He truly enjoyed Vos’s company, no matter how much the Kiffar annoyed and/or embarrassed him.

He was startled by someone suddenly putting their hand on his arm, pawing lewdly at him. Quicker than thought, he subconsciously sensed a lurid intention and a reflexive Force-push batted the offender away like a fly. The gaudily-dressed woman flew backward, her head smacking against the wall with a sickening crack. There was a shocked silence. The crystal serving tray slipped from Obi-Wan’s hands and shattered into millions of sparkling fragments on the floor. Someone hurried to the woman’s side, checking for a pulse, but Obi-Wan already knew the truth. A wave of revulsion swept through him.

The woman was dead.

And he had killed her.

There wasn’t even outrage in Sidious’ eyes, merely cruel amusement. He laughed, clapping his hands three times, a vicious mockery of applause. Sidious laughed. Obi-Wan felt sick inside. “Well done, Korzu,” Sidious said, still laughing. Obi-Wan was still too much in shock to even make a scene. Slowly, people resumed eating as several other servitors whisked out, to sweep up the broken fragments of the tray, while a group of slaves carried out the woman’s body. Obi-Wan turned his face away from the debauchers. Sidious laughed again. “Your first kill! Isn’t it marvelous?” Obi-Wan fell to his knees and threw up, violently, though his stomach was all but empty.

No more. He could not take any more of this.

However this ended, he wanted out. Just away from Sidious, and the rest of the Sith.

Even if it meant he had to die.

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