What if Qui-Gon had not accepted Obi-Wan as his Padawan, all those years ago? And what if things had gone horribly wrong because if it.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: To Linda Campbell, for Beta-Reading, title-approving, and for helping with such dark stories! NOTE: It will help if you've read the first two books of the Jedi Apprentice series, but it's not necessary."When the Dark Wood Fell Before Me"
The boy was familiar. About 17 or a little older perhaps. Long light brown hair, caught up in a pony tail. Not overly tall, not overly stocky... He was dressed in unrelieved black from head to toe - black boots, black trousers, black shirt. His eyes were blue-grey...
...and cold. Cold as the ice they resembled.
Qui-Gon shivered. The feeling of familiarity persisted though. He knew this boy. If he could just focus, he would remember...
Unfortunately, focusing was beyond difficult just now. He was in too much pain. He couldn't concentrate, could barely see. It was taking all his powers just to remain conscious.
They had shot him not once, but twice, in the leg. The same leg. In almost the same spot. The twin blaster bolts had caused untold damage to nerves and muscles and were sending a tidal wave of agony rolling over him with every movement. The wound could be healed - probably - if he could reach those equipped to deal with such an injury. But he was a long way from Coruscant -- and a long way from safety.
Nevertheless, he was a Jedi Master. Under normal circumstances he would have been able to focus the Force, to deal with the pain and find a way to escape...but the binders around his wrists that crackled and hummed and sent random bursts of electricity arcing through his body, combined with the drugs they had pumped into him...no, he couldn't reach the Force, couldn't move, could barely think. Somebody had obviously told these raiders how to capture and hold a Jedi, in frightening detail...
He had been sent to the Acarian sector by the Jedi Council, to help track down and deal with space pirates - raiders that had spent years pillaging and plundering this part of space. Actually, he had volunteered. Qui-Gon hadn't admitted that he had been motivated in part by guilt, but the Council had known. And they had said nothing.
There was nothing to say. Vayrann and the others were dead and it was his fault. Much as he would like to, he could not turn back time and change the past.
Four years. Qui-Gon's pain-wracked mind wandered back, seeking an escape from the agonizing present. Four years ago. He had still been smarting from Xanatos' betrayal, even though more than enough time had passed for Qui-Gon to put that betrayal behind him. But he hadn't, hadn't even tried. He had allowed himself to dwell in the past and in the hurt. He had refused to take another Apprentice despite the best efforts of Yoda and the others.
Four years. He had been ordered to Bandomeer. He had suspected a scheme on the part of the Council to push him into accepting that young boy...Kenobi...as his Apprentice. But he would not be pushed. He had found another, more urgent mission elsewhere and the Council had agreed to it, reluctantly. Qui-Gon never went to Bandomeer. Jedi Knight Vayrann had gone in his place.
And died in his place.
Raiders had attacked the transport ship, killing everyone on board. The passengers and crew, the boy, Vayrann... And it was Qui-Gon's fault.
No-one blamed him, he knew. There was quite probably nothing he could have done; if he had been there he would have died too, or so the other Jedi had told him, over and over. No, nobody blamed Qui-Gon. Except himself.
He had evaded his responsibilities. Had taken the easy path out of selfish motives. And he had to live with the consequences. Qui-Gon had never been able to ignore the feeling that he was meant to be on that ship, to die with the others if necessary, or to somehow save them. The Force had laid out a path for him and he had refused to walk down it...
Qui-Gon shook his head slightly, wincing as the pain redoubled. Why was it all coming back to him so clearly now? Something inside him answered his own question - because these raiders who had captured him were the same ones who had destroyed the transport ship all those years ago. They had killed Vayrann, Kenobi...all of them.
Obi-Wan Kenobi. A jolt ran through the Jedi. That was why his mind had been reliving the past. The boy in black standing before him was Obi-Wan Kenobi.
But Kenobi was dead.
Qui-Gon remembered the boy. He had been almost thirteen. Young, eager to please, doing everything within his power to become a Jedi, to be chosen... There had been a training duel with another hopeful candidate. The boy was reckless, taking unnecessary risks, impatient -- yet somehow reminding Qui-Gon of himself. Kenobi had won the duel. Qui-Gon had been impressed though he had taken pains not to show it. But in the end, the boy had lost. Qui-Gon had not taken him as his Apprentice, had not gone to Bandomeer with him...
Another memory. The flash of hurt in the boy's eyes. Loss. Unhappiness. Sorrow. A dream stolen away...
There was no sorrow in the boy's eyes now. There were no emotions at all. Only a cold, frightening blankness. Qui-Gon tried to focus on him, trying to ignore the pain in his shoulders -- caused by hour after hour with his arms stretched tight above his head, bound by chains and the binders. It didn't help. Nothing helped. But even the pain paled before the wordless accusation on the face before him.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi." Qui-Gon had to swallow several times before his voice would work properly.
The boy didn't blink, didn't look surprised. He merely nodded and said: "Qui-Gon Jinn." His voice was a mocking reflection of the Jedi's own.
"Yes." Nothing else. No accusation, no questions, just silence. And hostility, suddenly beating out from Kenobi's slight frame, like heat from a small sun. Qui-Gon shut his eyes for a moment, unable to face the boy. It didn't help.
When he opened them again they were no longer alone. The leader of the raiders -- Danaire Shevann -- strode into the small cell, followed by several others that Qui-Gon recognized. They were the ones who had captured him when he had arrived on Acaria. The stunted man on the left had shot him...twice. Qui-Gon suppressed a small flicker of anger that flared up inside him. Beside him, Kenobi smiled slightly, mockingly.
Shevann closed the distance to the two of them and put a hand on the boy's shoulder. Kenobi didn't quite shrug it aside, but his muscles tensed beneath the hand. A flicker of something went through his eyes, then they reverted once more to shards of ice -- blank, expressionless...and waiting.
"Well?" Shevann asked, staring at the chained Jedi.
Qui-Gon stared back. He had read reports of the man who commanded the raiders, but this was the first time he had seen him. Danaire Shevann was taller, more muscular, and much younger than Qui-Gon. He exuded power - the kind taken by force and forged by the pain of others. A faint scar silvered his cheek. It would have been easy enough to eradicate, Qui-Gon thought, but the raider obviously kept it for a reason...that told him something about the Raider. The Jedi frowned, struggling to maintain his concentration as another arc of electricity shot through him.
"Well what?" Kenobi was saying. His voice was carefully emotionless, but Qui-Gon could detect a quiver of...something else...underneath it. Hatred? Fear? Impudence? He couldn't tell.
Shevann's grip tightened on the boy's shoulder. It must have been painful, but Kenobi did not flinch. "Have you scanned his mind yet?" the Raider asked, his voice a growl.
Kenobi turned away, using the motion to break Shevann's grip. "I haven't had a chance yet. I just got here." Insolence hovered on the edge of his voice.
Shevann's eyes narrowed, but he let it go. "Well you're here now boy. So do it."
Once again, a flash of some nameless emotion went through Kenobi. Qui-Gon frowned. Usually he was much better at reading people than this, but the boy seemed to be so tightly shielded, so controlled that nothing came through. After his initial hostility, no unconscious movements betrayed Kenobi's feelings, no stray thought leaked from his mind. It was if he wasn't really there. And yet Qui-Gon could sense myriad emotions seething, just beneath the surface. What would it take to set them free, he wondered? Then Kenobi turned his blank eyes on the Jedi...and Qui-Gon abruptly decided he didn't want to know. There was something...frightening...in those blue eyes.
Qui-Gon took a deep breath. "There is no emotion, there is peace," he told himself firmly. "There is no fear..." But he couldn't quite dispel the tremor of disquiet that ran through him. "What happened to you, Obi-Wan?" he thought unhappily. What had the Raiders done to turn the eager thirteen-year-old into...this?
He wasn't going to get an answer now, Qui-Gon realized. As he watched, Kenobi's eyes darkened slightly...
...and the power of the boy's mind surged up over his own, like a tidal wave - unstoppable, uncaring... Qui-Gon tensed, his mental shields going up automatically. They weren't going to be enough. The sheer power of this untrained boy's mind was overwhelming all of Qui-Gon's defences and his shields were crumbling, one by one. Sweat sprang out on the Jedi's forehead and his fists tightened, straining against the chains. Darkness seemed to rise up before him, waiting hungrily just outside his ever-thinning defences...
...and Qui-Gon's last barrier fell...
Darkness rose up before Qui-Gon - too powerful, too strong to stand against. The last of his mental shields crumbled and vanished...
...And then nothing. The darkness seemed to hesitate for a moment then it pulled back, coiling into the shadows, watchful and waiting.
Shaken, the Jedi opened his eyes slowly...and met Kenobi's pale gaze. For a long moment the boy stared back at him, unblinking, then Kenobi was turning away, running an unsteady hand across his forehead. "It's no use," he said to Shevann, his voice shaking just a little. "He's too strong. "I can't get past his shields."
Qui-Gon kept his face carefully expressionless, not allowing the surprise that was going through him to show. His shields were gone. Completely eradicated. The boy's power, combined with the drugs and the pain he was experiencing had left Qui-Gon completely vulnerable. All of his secrets had been there for the taking. So why had Kenobi pulled back? What had stopped him? He shot another quick glance at Kenobi before Shevann moved across his line of vision. Qui-Gon hastily averted his eyes and stared impassively at the raider. At least, he hoped it was impassively...it was hard to be stoic when one's leg felt like it was on fire.
"You've disappointed me, Obi-Wan," Shevann said quietly, not looking away from Qui-Gon. Behind the raider, Kenobi stirred slightly but did not respond. Shevann sighed then continued. "Still, it doesn't really matter. It just means we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way. It will take longer. That's all." Then he smiled. It was a predator's smile.
A tremor went through Qui-Gon. He could guess what the 'old-fashioned way' was. And he was suddenly convinced that Shevann's smiling was a bad thing.
He was right.
Pain. Too much pain for one man to bear. Too much to still remain sane. And yet he had no choice. There was nothing else he could do except bear it. And wait.
Hoping was the most difficult. Despair licked at the edges of Qui-Gon's soul like black fire, and even the Jedi code he had been repeating to himself like a mantra ever since Shevann's men had started, did not help.
In the end though, they left him alone. Alone in the dark. Alone with the pain. Qui-Gon sagged in his bonds, striving to clear his mind, to centre himself, and focus on the Force. To not think. To not remember...
Time passed. Or perhaps he had lapsed into unconsciousness. Whichever it was, Qui-Gon became aware of his surroundings again with a start. A light draught of air touched his skin and he licked dry lips. With a groan he straightened, easing some of the weight from his wrists and shoulders and clenching his teeth as the blood began to flow sluggishly through his arms again.
The heavy door to the cell was swinging open. A brief, wild surge of fear shot through Qui-Gon, but he banished it instantly. Whatever was to come, he would face it - without fear, without hatred. He was a Jedi. They could kill him, but they couldn't change that. They could never change that. He was calm again by the time the door opened.
Obi-Wan Kenobi stepped through then turned and quickly shut it behind him. He paused, studying the chained man before him, then he shook his head and frowned. "What is it with you Jedi, anyway?" he asked tersely. "They torture you and...and you don't seem to care. Anyone else would have given in hours ago. Why won't you just tell them what they want to know?" Something almost like anger flickered through his voice and his fists clenched.
The Jedi blinked, wondering at the boy's emotional outburst. But his words were carefully composed when he replied even though his voice was weak. "You should know the answer to that, Obi-Wan. You spent 13 years training with us. Have you forgotten everything?"
Kenobi took several quick steps across the cell, coming face to face with Qui-Gon, fury radiating from his body. "I've forgotten nothing," he said in a deadly whisper. "Not one single moment of the past 17 years. I remember it all."
If Qui-Gon hadn't been chained to the wall he would have taken a step back. Nevertheless, he continued on, heedless of what might happen. After all, there was nothing worse any of them could do to him. He had already lived through the worst. "What do you remember?" he asked simply.
The boy stared into the older man's eyes for a long moment, and Qui-Gon began to wonder if he would answer him. Finally, though, he replied. "No," Kenobi said harshly. "I'm not going to lay out my life story so you can find a way to use it against me. I'm not going to wade through 17 years of bad memories so you can get inside my mind." He paused then glanced away. "Believe me -- you don't want to get inside my mind."
Qui-Gon spoke into the sudden silence. "Then why did you come? Did Shevann send you? Or have you decided against it?" There was nothing but tired curiosity in his voice.
Kenobi frowned and looked back at him. "Decided against what?"
"About telling Shevann what he wants to know. Why I'm here. What my plans are. You...could have told him at any time. We both know it. So why didn't you?"
Kenobi turned disbelieving eyes on him. "Do you think I didn't tell Shevann what was in your mind, because I wanted to see you tortured first?"
Something went through the boy's blue eyes. Was that pain? "No," he said in a strangled tone. "I didn't." Then he pulled a key from his pocket and stretched up, undoing the chains binding Qui-Gon's wrists.
The Jedi would have sagged to the floor at his sudden release if the boy had not caught him. Quickly Kenobi put an arm around Qui-Gon's shoulders and helped him down to a sitting position, then drew away as quickly as he could...as if even that slight touch was distasteful. Not caring, Qui-Gon leaned his aching head back against the cool stones of the cell wall, closing his eyes against the agony his movements had caused. He drew several deep breaths, trying to draw on the Force to control the pain. Now that the bursts of electricity from the binders had ceased and the drugs had worn off slightly, he succeeded, at least in some small measure. But it would take time before he had full control again...
Kenobi stirred and shook himself, as if sensing Qui-Gon's manipulation of the Force, then he reached out one foot and nudged the Jedi in the leg. "Get up," he said harshly. "I'm setting you free."
Qui-Gon opened his eyes and looked up at the boy but made no effort to stand. "Why?"
Kenobi hesitated. "I have my reasons."
The boy's eyes narrowed. "Just that. My reasons."
"How do I know this isn't a trap?"
"You don't. Look, do you want to get out of here or not?"
Qui-Gon sighed wearily. "Yes," he said simply. "But you're going to have to help me. I'm not up to any heroic escapes just now."
Several emotions flickered over Kenobi's face. Impatience, frustration, fear. For a long moment he did not answer, glancing instead over his shoulder at the closed door behind him. Finally, annoyance written in every line of his body, he bent down and hauled the Jedi unceremoniously to his feet, draping one of Qui-Gon's arms across his shoulders. "All right," he said grimly. "I'll help you off this island. But that's the last help you'll ever get from me. The last help any Jedi gets. Is that clear?"
Qui-Gon turned his head and met cold eyes. "Yes," he nodded. And then he was trying not to wince as Kenobi half-dragged him toward the door. As they crossed the cell floor, the Jedi wondered again if this was a trap, some new plan of Shevann's to make him talk... And then he gave up wondering. It didn't matter. Inside this cell lay only more pain and certain death. Outside...well, who knew what it held? And it was better to die trying to live, rather than chained to a wall waiting for death to come to him...
The distant orange sun was setting as Qui-Gon and Kenobi left the raider's stronghold. The sun's rays set the mist rolling in from the sea on fire and lit the sky with strands of gold. Nearby, waves crashed against the rocks while seabirds screamed overhead. The air was cold and sharp, and filled with the smell of the sea.
"So this is what freedom smells like," Qui-Gon thought vaguely. Actually, it was difficult to form any coherent thought patterns at all. The journey up from the bowels of the stronghold, keeping to the shadows and striving to be silent, had been difficult. Beyond difficult. Several times he had wondered if he would make it, despite Kenobi's help, but he had not given up. He could not. As a Jedi, he didn't know how to surrender. Nevertheless, without the boy he could not have completed the journey, no matter how much strength of will he had.
The pain in his leg had worsened, if anything, and the effects of the raiders' torture had left him alarmingly weak. Still, now that he was outside -- Qui-Gon straightened a little, easing some of his weight from the boy's shoulders, and drew in a deep breath, savouring the cool air that was free of the stench of evil that had marked the raider's stronghold. The Living Force flowed around him like the seabreeze and he could sense a myriad of lifeforms nearby -- fish swimming through the darkness below, birds sailing on the wind up above, tiny lifeforms living in between the damp crevices of the slippery rocks... Power began to sing through him and he hastily reached out for it, welcoming it, making it his own. When it recognized and answered him, he diverted it to his injuries, or at least to those hurts where it could do the most good. The damage to his leg was simply too severe. It was beyond whatever self-healing skills he possessed. Nevertheless, it was with a clearer head and much more confidence that he stepped away from Kenobi's support, balancing on one leg against the wind sweeping in from the ocean.
There was a muffled sound beside him. Qui-Gon turned his head. Kenobi was staring at him, an odd expression on his face. "I can sense what you're doing," he said bitterly. "But I can't do it. I don't know how."
Qui-Gon met the accusing gaze unflinchingly. "You never learned. It's difficult. It's only taught to Padawans after they achieve a certain level of control."
Kenobi blinked then turned back to the sea, laughing sharply, a quick burst of noise that did nothing to hide the pain underneath it. "I don't know why I expected sympathy from you," he said, almost to himself. "I should have known better."
"Would sympathy change anything?"
The laughter died away. "No. I suppose not." Kenobi hunched his shoulders against the wind then shot the man a quick glance. "Come on. The ship is this way." Without waiting for an answer, he reached out and took Qui-Gon's arm, helping him manoeuvre across the slippery rocks. Together they moved along the shore as the last rays of the sun dipped below the sea.
Twin moons had risen quickly and were lighting their path when Qui-Gon and the boy eventually came to a halt. There had been no pursuit -- their escape must still be unnoticed, although how long their luck would hold remained to be seen. Qui-Gon stopped, drawing in a few quick breaths, then stared at the means of their escape, bemused. Whatever kind of a ship he had expected, it certainly wasn't this. It was a small sailing boat, built for crossing oceans, not the stars. He turned to Kenobi, frowning.
As if reading his thoughts, Kenobi smiled mockingly. "Don't worry, Jedi," he said, reaching down to untie the rope that led to the boat's prow, "this isn't some intricate trap. This really is the way out."
Qui-Gon took a few limping steps away from him and eased himself down to a nearby rock, clenching his teeth against the pain. "I need to leave the planet, not sail to the next island."
Kenobi nodded. "Sure. But the way off the planet is on the next island."
"I don't understand. Surely the raiders would keep their ships close at hand. I can't see them all sailing away across the ocean every time the authorities show up. In fact, I don't understand why they came here in the first place."
"Because it's unlikely. And easy to defend. And yes, there's a whole fleet of starfighters on the other side of the island."
"But it's also rather well-guarded. Of course, if you'd rather try to take on 20 or 30 well-armed..."
"All right." Qui-Gon interrupted. "I see your point. "Then where are we going?"
The boy ignored him. Instead he beckoned Qui-Gon toward the now untethered boat. With a muffled groan, the Jedi clambered back to his feet and limped toward the vessel.
"Get in," Kenobi said. Wordlessly, Qui-Gon did so, watching as the boy put his shoulder against the hull, pushing the craft deeper into the ocean. The boat rocked, moving as the waves took it, becoming a living thing with the sea. Qui-Gon braced his good leg against the side of the boat and reached a hand out for Kenobi, who had waded in waist-deep, while steadying and turning the boat. The boy hesitated, then slowly reached up and took the Jedi's hand. With a heave, Qui-Gon pulled him in.
Kenobi instantly pulled his hand away, as if the touch had burned, then moved hastily toward the stern where he began unfurling the sail. For a long moment he was silent while he tied the ropes off then he spoke over his shoulder, answering Qui-Gon's question. "We're going to one of the other islands. There's a starship there. It will get you off the planet."
Qui-Gon narrowed his eyes, his suspicions returning with a rush. "Then why isn't it guarded too?"
Kenobi brushed his hair back absently as the boat surged forward, the sail snapping in the breeze. The shore began to recede, disappearing into the darkness faster than Qui-Gon would have expected in a boat this size. Kenobi steered through the night confidently, as if he had made this trip a thousand times. Perhaps he had. For a long moment the only sounds were those of the sea, the wind, and the boat, slicing through the waves.
"The ship's not guarded," Kenobi said eventually, continuing the conversation as if it had never ceased, "because the raiders don't know that it works. They think it's just an old wreck that they abandoned."
"And does it work?" Qui-Gon's voice was carefully neutral.
"Yes. I fixed it. I always was good at mechanics." Was that a hint of pride in the Kenobi's voice? He turned to the older man, a faint smile on his face and for once, no hint of bitterness in his expression. For just an instant, Qui-Gon could see the other Obi-Wan Kenobi, overlaying this one -- the cheerful 13 year old boy, a hint of mischievousness about him, a little recklessness, but nevertheless a good heart... And a wave of pain, so strong that it eclipsed anything he had felt up to this point, surged over Qui-Gon. "I did this," the Jedi thought in anguish. "Because of me that boy is gone, as surely as if the pirates had killed him. I did this..." The pain tightened around his heart and his vision blurred.
Something must have shown on his face, because Kenobi looked sharply at him. Then the familiar cynical mask was falling over him again. "Emotions, Jedi? I thought you didn't have to worry about those..."
Qui-Gon sighed. "We have emotions. We feel...sorrow, regret..."
Kenobi interrupted him, staring out to sea. "I feel hate. I hate Shevann."
He did too. The Jedi could sense the waves of hatred rolling across the night air, emanating from the boy. Some were directed at Qui-Gon, some seemed to flow back across the sea toward the raider's fortress, but the rest... Qui-Gon narrowed his eyes, reaching out with the Force...the rest were directed inward. Self-loathing was so thick around the boy that it seemed almost as if the Jedi could reach out and touch it.
"Well?" Kenobi was saying, "aren't you going to give me one of the standard Jedi lectures -- about hatred and fear, and how they lead to the Dark side?"
"Why should I tell you something you already know?" Qui-Gon asked mildly, easing his mental touch away from the well of darkness swirling around the boy with an inward shiver. "And besides," he continued, "it's not Shevann you hate. It's yourself."
Kenobi turned startled eyes on the Jedi. For a moment it looked as if he might argue, then his shoulders slumped and he looked down. "You're right," he said, his voice holding nothing but honesty and pain this time. "I do. I hate what I've become. But I hate Shevann and his pirates for doing this to me. And I hate the Jedi for allowing it to happen."
"Do you hate me?" Qui-Gon found himself tensing unconsciously against the boy's answer.
Kenobi glanced back up, meeting the older man's eyes. His hand on the tiller was shaking a little, Qui-Gon noticed absently. And his eyes -- it was difficult to see in the moonlight, but Kenobi's eyes -- they weren't icy anymore. A thousand emotions were swirling in those pale eyes, reflecting the starlight. But what those emotions were - Qui-Gon couldn't say.
"I should hate you," Kenobi said quietly. "You were my last hope to become a Jedi and you turned me away. If it wasn't for you I wouldn't have been on that freighter to Bandomeer. I've spent years telling myself it was your fault...but..." His voice trailed off.
"But?" Qui-Gon prompted gently.
Kenobi sighed and turned away, staring out into the darkness. "I don't know," he said, his voice anguished. "I just don't know anymore. I don't even know why I'm doing this..." He reached up with an unsteady hand to wipe away the sweat that had beaded his brow, despite the coldness of the night.
"Are you all right?" A flicker of concern went through the Jedi.
Kenobi shook his head, still looking out to sea. "No," he said. "I haven't been all right for four years."
Kenobi made a sharp gesture. "Look, I don't want to talk about this anymore. Just...shut up. All right?"
Qui-Gon hesitated, then leaned back. "All right," he said quietly.
An uncomfortable silence fell between them as the small boat moved deeper into the night.
Something was wrong. The boy was ill. Qui-Gon stared across the length of the boat at him, reaching out with the Force to try to determine what was causing his illness.
It had begun just over an hour ago. First tremors in Kenobi's hands, a faint tightness around his eyes...and now...now the boy was shivering uncontrollably, hunched around himself as if trying to drive the pain away by sheer force of will. It wasn't working. Nevertheless, Kenobi kept his hand on the tiller, steering the boat toward the distant island that was now visible through the darkness.
Qui-Gon reached out further with his mind. There was...an imbalance in the boy. Something serious. This was no mere case of seasickness. Something was very wrong. Frowning he climbed to his feet and ducked under the sail, gritting his teeth against the agony in his leg. It had stiffened up during the night, and the pain from the twin blaster wounds throbbed in time with his heartbeat. Still, the pain paled beyond what the Jedi could sense coming from Kenobi. Moving carefully he crossed the boat and sat down gingerly next to the boy, stretching his injured leg across the nearby seat. Hesitantly Qui-Gon rested one hand on the boy's shoulder.
Kenobi jumped at the touch. Qui-Gon could feel his mental shields trying to come up, and sensed his failure. Now that he was in physical contact, the sense of "wrongness" about him was much stronger. Qui-Gon's eyes narrowed. He was no healer, but...carefully he reached out with his mind...
...And pulled back, stunned, turning startled eyes to the boy. Kenobi was staring back at him, his face etched with pain and his eyes burning. "Now you know how the raiders control me. Why I do what they want. Why I could never escape..."
Kenobi stared unblinkingly at the dark waves around them. Finally, after an eternity, he spoke. "It's called Erebus. It's a narcotic. And yes...I'm addicted." His voice was strangled, as if it was costing him his very soul to say the words. Qui-Gon moved as if to touch him again, but Kenobi flinched away, closing his eyes. "If I do what they say, when they say it, they give me the drug. If I don't..." His voice trailed off.
Somehow it was almost a relief. At least this was something he could deal with, could try to put right... The healers on Coruscant would find a cure, he would help the boy... He said as much, out loud.
Kenobi shook his head, chasing away the pleasant illusion. "No." He gasped a bit, obviously trying to find some way to deal with the pain. "You don't understand. You don't know what I've done..." The anguish in his voice was almost palpable.
Qui-Gon touched him again. This time the boy didn't pull away. "It doesn't matter. You had no choice..."
"It does matter! I killed Vayrann..."
Qui-Gon stilled, shock rippling through him. "What...?"
There were tears in Kenobi's eyes now, glinting like shards of ice in the moonlight. "I killed Jedi Vayrann. He...the pirates...I..." He shook his head, unable to go on.
But Qui-Gon could see the memories, flashing through Kenobi's mind. The boy's mental shields had collapsed completely and waves of pain and guilt were streaming from him.
Torture, drugs, a fog of pain and confusion. Anger, hatred, fear...the Dark side closing in around him. And then an escape, one way out of the darkness. A raider, standing in the way -- one of the people who had hurt him, who had killed the passengers and crew of the freighter -- and the boy had lashed out with the weapon he had suddenly found in his hand...
...and Vayrann was dead.
Mistaken identity. An error, caused by the drugs and the pain...but it had destroyed Kenobi's soul -- and given Shevann the key to controlling him, to using his powers. No longer caring if he lived or died, with one foot already on the path to the dark side, Kenobi had taken the path of least resistance, had stopped fighting the raiders... believing there was nothing left to fight for.
Nothing left to save.
The boy was crying in earnest now, great sobs ripping from his throat. Unthinking, Qui-Gon gathered him up in his arms, holding him tightly, wishing desperately that there was something he could do to change what had happened, to take away the boy's pain.
"I'm sorry." Kenobi's voice was muffled. "I'm so sorry. I never meant..." He choked, the words catching in his throat.
"It's all right. It's all right. You...you couldn't help what happened. It was Shevann's fault, not yours."
"Yes. You are not to blame..."
"I pulled the trigger. I watched him fall. Who else is there?" Kenobi pulled abruptly out of Qui-Gon's arms and took a deep, shaky breath, wiping the back of his hand across his eyes, visibly trying to regain control of himself. Realization hit Qui-Gon. "That's why you're helping me escape," he said. "You're trying to make up for what happened four years ago..." It wasn't a question.
For a moment he thought the boy would deny it. Kenobi's shoulders stiffened and his jaw clenched, then he sagged as another spasm shot through him. "Yes," he said simply.
A strained silence fell. Then Qui-Gon pulled himself together. "Listen to me," he said intensely. "It was not your fault. Nobody will blame you for what happened. Come back with me to Coruscant. The healers will help you and you can start over. Begin again."
Kenobi shook his head, looking away. "It's too late." There was nothing but pained acceptance in his voice now. Qui-Gon opened his mouth to continue, to convince the boy somehow, but Kenobi forestalled him. "We're here," he said, pointing to the rocky island looming up before them, a shadow against the darker sea. The sound of the hull scraping on rocks beneath them punctuated his words.
It was Qui-Gon who waded into the cold sea to pull the boat onto the shore, and Qui-Gon who helped the boy onto the island, despite his own injuries. Kenobi could barely stand now, leaning heavily on the Jedi's shoulder, his slight frame shivering incessantly. In the slowly gathering light his skin was waxen and spasms racked his body. Qui-Gon sent another questing probe toward the boy and flinched inwardly. He was in so much pain. Too much. The effects of the withdrawal were proceeding too quickly. He didn't have much time. The Jedi tried to share some of his own strength with the boy, using the Force to shore up Kenobi's waning energies, but it was swallowed up by the pain and darkness inside him, vanishing instantly. Qui-Gon closed his eyes briefly, then quickened his pace, struggling to bear the boy's weight.
He found the ship hidden nearby behind a large outcropping of rocks. It was a small Acarian fighter, old but in good shape. The spray from the sea had left it damp and glistening in the pre-dawn light, but it looked spaceworthy. The boy had obviously put a lot of effort into it.
How long had it taken, Qui-Gon wondered? Working in secret, restoring the old fighter... And why? If he could never leave this place because of the hold the raiders had over him, why had Kenobi done so much, risked so much, to build an escape he could never use? What had prompted him to do this?
"Hope," Kenobi whispered, answering Qui-Gon's unvoiced questions. "Hope that I could leave this place someday. Escape...Be free." He was seized by a paroxysm of coughing then he sagged in the Jedi's arms. Qui-Gon instantly lowered him to the rocks, sinking breathlessly down beside him.
"Listen to me," Qui-Gon said, injecting a note of forcefulness into his voice. If the boy wouldn't listen to requests, maybe he would heed a command. "You are going to escape. You're coming with me to Coruscant."
Kenobi coughed again, struggling for air. "Sorry," he whispered quietly. "Can't..." His breathing was becoming shallow, his pulse thready. Qui-Gon fought down the wave of panic that engulfed him. The boy couldn't die, not now that Qui-Gon had found him again. He wouldn't let him...
Kenobi was reaching inside a pocket, pulling something out with unsteady hands. Shock went through Qui-Gon. It was his lightsabre, the weapon the raiders had taken from him when he had been captured. He had thought it lost...
"Here," the boy whispered weakly. "You'll need it. Meant to give it back before. But...wanted to pretend...just for a little while. Remember what it was like..."
A tear was threading its way down Qui-Gon's cheek, unnoticed by the Jedi. "Why?" he asked hoarsely again. "How long has it been since you had the drug? You knew you wouldn't survive bringing me here... Why did you do it, Obi-Wan?"
The blue eyes were closing, slowly, reluctantly, as if fighting to hold onto the last of the light, growing brighter on the horizon. "Better...to die free... Like a Jedi..."
More tears were falling from Qui-Gon's eyes, mingling with the seaspray. One fell on the Obi-Wan's face and with the last of his strength the boy reached up to touch the Jedi's cheek. "Don't...s'better this way..."
Anguish tightened around Qui-Gon's heart like a vice. "I'm sorry, Padawan," he said, choking. "Please forgive me."
"Yes, Master." His words were barely audible. Then Obi-Wan smiled faintly, took one last shuddering breath, and went limp in the Jedi's arms. Qui-Gon closed his eyes, gathering the boy up tightly...and let the tears fall.
The sun rays spread slowly across the horizon, turning the dark sea a lighter shade blue, shot through with silver and gold.
On the rocky shore, Qui-Gon touched the torch to the wooden boat that had brought them to this island, staring unblinkingly at the pale form in the centre...watching as the flames began to lick at the body. One final push, and the boat was moving back onto the sea, the waves taking it and bearing it slowly westward. The fire rose higher as the craft moved away until nothing could be seen of it except the blaze. It became another beacon of light on the water, rivalling the rising dawn sun.
The tears were gone now, although the pain remained. As did the memories. The Jedi lifted his head, his hair streaming backward in the wind from the east. He paused for a moment, staring at the burning boat as it disappeared into the distance... and then with one smooth movement he activated his lightsabre and raised it, a final salute to the Apprentice he had never known.
"I will remember you, Obi-Wan. Always."
And then he turned and walked back along the shore alone as the sun rose in a blaze of light.