This one hurt to write, and we argued a lot along the way. That was your fair warning.
On the other hand, I wrote bits of it while sitting next to a rock pool looking at limpets and little fluffy blue sea-creatures and adorable snails and cormorants – the cormorants were in the sky, obvs – and a purple hermit crab. Qui-Gon approved.
We’re back to third-person for the grand showdown, and… I think I’ll leave the intro now so you can just jump right on in.
Qui-Gon looks up then, shaking his head to clear the mist from his vision, and sees Xanatos standing in the doorway, lightsaber ignited, blue eyes ice-hard as he stares down Dooku.
Dooku is amused. “Do you ever give up?”
There is blood on the floor again, and Qui-Gon realizes that it is leaching from his ears and nose. Oddly enough, it does not seem to hurt.
“No, we don’t,” a different voice answers Dooku, light and clear, and then Nasriel’s cold fingers close on Qui-Gon’s arm. “Are you okay, Master?” Four days ago, when he had no chance of meeting Dooku’s elusive Master, and every chance of meeting a sudden and violent death, he would have been glad to see Nasriel. Tonight, when he has so nearly finished what he came here to do, her presence and Xan’s are intolerable.
“No,” he says impatiently, and she is so surprised she pulls her hand away. “Go home.”
And then the room is full of blazing power again, and Nasriel screams as the lightning takes her and forces her to her knees. Reaching for the Force for the first time in weeks, annoyed that Dooku feels the right to damage his Padawan, Qui-Gon finds only the liquid darkness he has so strenuously resisted. Can it really be so bad if he uses it for just a moment…?
Nasriel flies across the gallery, connecting with the wall, then the floor, the impact making a sickening crack that Qui-Gon does not really have time to hear, because the Dark is enjoying this new development, and howls with delight when he tries to shake it off and finds he cannot.
Xan glares at him and edges slowly over to Nasriel, not lowering his guard or taking his eyes off his former Master and Dooku, as he crouches to check the unconscious Padawan’s pulse. “What the kriff was that for?” he snarls.
“Is she dead?” Dooku enquires.
“You wish,” Xan replies acidly. “So. Qui-Gon. I’m here to ask you if you’re coming home, because that’s what Sriel wants. Whether she’ll still want it when she – if she comes to, I don’t know. But I said I’d come, and ask, so I’m here. What do you want to do?”
“Xanatos, get Nasriel out of here. Go home.”
“On the contrary, Xanatos,” Dooku says. He has yet to move from his place by his desk. “You may leave Nasriel with her Master and return to the Temple.”
Xanatos hesitates then, corralling a loose strand of his long dark hair, smoothing it back – a nervous habit he never quite lost. “What’s Tahl going to say?” he asks at last.
“She’ll understand,” Qui-Gon lies.
“She’ll kill me.” Xan’s analysis is more accurate. “Listen, Qui-Gon, I don’t know what you’re playing at, but do you seriously believe I won’t follow your excellent example and track my Master to the farthest corner of the Galaxy in a crazy gambit to convince him to come home? Look at yourself. You’re Dooku. You’re exactly what you’ve spent… longer than I’ve known you… maybe your whole life… trying not to be. I don’t deserve that, Master. Neither does Bi‑An, or – or Feemor – and sure as kriff Tahl doesn’t deserve it.”
Dooku paces forward, so that he stands between Qui-Gon and Xanatos, but doesn’t look at either of them, instead keeping his gaze down. “You don’t mention the girl.”
“She’s not dead, but she’s dying,” Xan says bluntly. “One more day and I don’t think she’ll care what he does. I wanted Nasriel to go home, get to the healers. She said she’s not going back until she’s seen Qui-Gon again – and she’s willing to die for that. Stubborn little schutta… she gets it from you, Master.”
Something moves in the shadows beyond Dooku, something that scrapes on the tiles and glints dully where the light hits it. Raising his lightsaber, Xan scowls into the darkness.
Indeed, in the green glow of the upheld ‘saber, three droidekas grind into readiness.
“I see them,” Qui-Gon assures Xanatos. The darkness becomes thick and choking, prodding him into action, an obscene parody of the Force’s familiar gentle guidance. Suddenly droidekas are the least of his problems.
As it seeped into him over these days at Aduba, unresisted by the Light, the darkness, a half-dead nightmare fueled by pain and hatred, became him. And what the ravening darkness hates most is light, in the form of the two Jedi in the gallery. In the years that follow, Qui-Gon will never be sure whether it is himself or the person of the Dark Side that lashes out at Xanatos. Certainly, something in the Dark is aware that the younger man is its prey; prey that somehow slipped its clutches all those years ago on Telos – but Qui-Gon only knows that while his web of blue lightning meshes around Xanatos, the light dims a little, and the pain abates.
“Oh, kriff off, Qui-Gon!” Xan shouts, not for the first time in their acquaintance, and raises his lightsaber to ward away the worst of the lightning. The attack drives him back against the wall, and Qui-Gon follows, feeling the shadows lengthen around him, feeling the light begin to ebb away again.
Taking another step back, Xanatos trips over Nasriel’s legs, causing her to stir momentarily, and him to sprawl suddenly on the floor. In the last instant between falling and imminent death, while lightning still flames around him, Xan has one more thing to say.
“Maybe you don’t care that you’re turning into Dooku. But can’t you see he’s using you?”
The dark wants to finish the Jedi immediately, but Qui-Gon looks back at Dooku, and sees he is standing motionless. Waiting. Does he really want Xan and Nasriel dead, or does he just want Qui-Gon to kill them? Xanatos takes advantage of the momentary distraction he has created, to grab Nasriel, hefting her over his shoulder in a clone-carry and making for the door.
“We’re going now,” he says. “Come along if you like.”
And the droidekas open fire, and Dooku is laughing at something and unhooking the curved hilt of his lightsaber, and the door slams open again and Qui-Gon runs – or perhaps it doesn’t happen in that order at all.
He follows Xanatos through the silent streets of an occupied town at night. On the outskirts, the familiar boxy shape of Morningstar looms out of the darkness, outer airlock door still open, even though the engines are humming and the ship is almost ready to leave.
Scrambling through the hatch, he fetches up against the thick transparisteel of the inner airlock door, and waits for Xanatos or Nasriel to let him in. Due to Morningstar’s varied uses and cramped quarters, the airlock has been designed to serve as a makeshift brig in extreme circumstances – as such, there are no controls of any kind inside the lock, and the chamber is large enough to sit in fairly comfortably.
For the same reason, Qui-Gon suddenly remembers as the outer door clicks shut behind him, this area is interlined with thanatosine – ‘death-stone’ – an odd substance with the property of entirely blocking anything it surrounds from the influence of the Force. There is the usual sickening jolt as reality shifts, as the connection to Force and self and Galaxy at large is severed, but this time, in the moment of disorientation, of isolation, there is also a crushing relief: the Dark is gone, its grip on him broken. Whether it will try to claim him back later… is a question for later. The door is closed on Aduba. There is no going back now.
Qui-Gon waits, in the echoing silence of the Force’s absence, through the dual disruptions of takeoff and the jump to lightspeed. A few minutes – or hours – later, Xan appears abruptly from the cockpit, and activates the airlock comlink.
“You all right?” he asks, voice and eyes hard. He is angry, and Qui-Gon supposes he has a right to be angry.
“I think so, yes. You two?”
“Concerned but not overly surprised that you tried to kill us. Couple blaster burns. Having a little difficulty seeing straight – Sith lightning’s a vetch that way, isn’t it, Master? I don’t suppose you’d know… not usually being on the receiving end!” Xan sighs, his fury either spent or filed orthodoxly away, to be calmly considered and released later. “Sriel’s a mess, but nothing the healers can’t fix.” He glances aft toward the bunk, a flicker of undisguised worry crossing his face. “I hope.”
Nasriel’s voice murmurs something in the background, and Xan turns to answer. “He’s here, kiddo. Wait a moment, okay?”
“Is Nasriel all right?” demands Qui-Gon.
“You threw her at a wall.” Xanatos is icily polite, and overall Qui-Gon thinks he prefers Xan’s anger to his cool restraint. “Do you think she’s all right?”
“I’m fine!” Nasriel calls, and the rest of what she says is lost by the comlink.
“Not now!” Xan softens, then, and sounds almost kind as he continues. “Five minutes by the wall chrono, and then you can come. This isn’t a forever, kid – we’ll have plenty of excuses to be at Mi’s later.”
“Where are we going?” Qui-Gon asks. It is uncomfortable talking to Xan like this – the younger Jedi has always been inscrutable to some degree, but usually there are the little eddies of emotion, the edges of thoughts, to lessen his inherent unpredictability.
“Malastare.” And yes, that was unexpected. “I’m dropping you at the Black City, and I’ll call Mi at Sunrise House to let her know you’re there. Then I’m going home with Nasriel, and hoping I’ll only have to explain damage, not death.”
“Where have you been – before you came to Aduba?”
“Four weeks at Sempidal.” A pause to let Qui-Gon remember where Sempidal is and what its climate is like. “On patrol. Usually fighting tinnies or hiking from dawn to dusk, sometimes fending off attacks at night as well.” The pause again. Qui-Gon is thinking of the time he and Nasriel were stationed at Hoth – that lasted exactly two weeks before he called the Temple for a transfer. And there is more sunshine even at Hoth than at Sempidal. “We couldn’t really have left before we did, anyway,” Xan explains. “Didn’t know where to start looking for you.”
Something is wrong. “I gave Nasriel enough in the image that she only had to describe it roughly and Feemor would know exactly what building to send you to.”
“Feemor’s dead,” snaps Xan. “Yoda had to reshuffle the mission roster when you left, and he went off on your mission. Blown up. Your Sep friends mined the hyperspace lane to Moddel. You should have died, not Feemor.”
“When?” Does Xan really wish he were dead? Wrong question. Feemor is dead. He had assumed there would be time – sometime – to seek out his first Padawan, to apologize, reconcile. Feemor died thinking him a traitor… and suddenly Qui-Gon’s focus shifts. He has spent so long working out how to turn the whole ‘Sith mess’ into an advantage that he forgot how it would look to the others. Xan rightly feels betrayed. Yoda? Mace? Obi-Wan? Force, Tahl.
“Day after you disappeared,” Xan’s voice breaks in on this stunned silence. “It’s been… a pretty rough few weeks, Qui-Gon.”
“Been five minutes!” Nasriel announces triumphantly from around the corner, and appears suddenly beside Xan, smiling slightly, shy but hopeful.
“What kept you?” Qui-Gon asks lightly.
“Um… I couldn’t…” Nasriel’s face falls, and she stumbles through the answer to a question he hadn’t meant to ask. “We were at Sempidal and… I can’t see like the guys can, it took me ages to even pick up the image you gave me. I’m sorry, Master, I let you down, but… it was so hard!”
“Did you do your best?”
“Well, then.” Qui-Gon smiles, aware of the wry twist of what he is saying and how he is saying it. “You did your best, so you didn’t let me down. If your best isn’t good enough there’s only so much you can do about it. Good job, Nasriel.”
When the Padawan drops abruptly to her knees, pressing closer against the transparisteel, he notices the blood, soaked through her tunic, making it stick and hang oddly over her arms and shoulders. And she’s gotten so thin…
“Can I come in?” asks Nasriel.
Qui-Gon looks to Xan, who shrugs. “Sure.” A minute later, Nasriel is curled up next to her Master, tucked snugly between his body and the wall, with her head in his lap and his arm over her. She sighs contentedly, and falls asleep again almost at once.
Xan is still standing in the passageway, leaning against the airlock door, scowling.
Qui-Gon turns back to him with a logical argument. “Nasriel doesn’t have time to go all the way to Malastare and back, Xanatos. She’d be dead before you made it into the Core. Trust me on this. We… understand each other.”
“If I land at the Temple with you on board you’ll be arrested in no time flat. You know that, right?”
For a minute, Qui-Gon considers this, gazing down at his sleeping Padawan. “It’s more than worth it,” he says at last.