rhoddlet: (sw - the dream within a story)
[personal profile] rhoddlet
Star Wars fic is excruciatingly difficult for me to write. I have no voice for it. The characters are not easily manipulated. The canon is enormous and fluid. The storylines that suggest themselves to me come in two sizes: huge and extra-huge, and since I've spent my entire ficwriting career on things of about two thousand words or less, I am about ready to rip my eyes out.

I swear to God. I am never writing for a fandom where I actually give a damn about the characters again.




Qui-Gon Jinn is not fond of running negotiations, but he is, in all truth, fairly good at it: for one thing, he radiates calm and assurance. He likes solving knotty problems and situations. He likes listening and does it well. He socializes better than most Jedi do; he is always eager to encounter new people and new races, remembers names easily, has passable command of a half-dozen or so languages, and possesses an iron stomach that can handle a week of conference room water and fancy diplomat food. When he needs to call upon it, Qui-Gon also has the size and physical presence to intimidate almost anything short of a Wookiee.

His Padawan did, in fact, once tell him that he looked like a Wookiee. During one particularly hairy set of negotiations on Phaloh IV earlier in the year, Qui-Gon called for a half-hour break to settle tensions, then went back to his quarters and began pacing and fretting. His Padawan was sitting on the bed, reading briefing materials. After five minutes of Qui-Gon's relentless pacing, the Padawan looked up over the edge of his datapad and pointed out, in an ever-so-slightly exasperated tone, that what with Phaoloh IV's exceptionally dry climate, the static electricity generated by Qui-Gon's pacing was making his hair stand up.

In fact, Xanatos said, his master rather looked like Wookiee.

Qui-Gon stopped pacing. He eyed his Padawan. Xanatos eyed him back. Qui-Gon finally cracked a smile, then a broader one, and ten minutes later, he was back in the negotiating room in a far improved mood.

That was eight months ago. That was before Telos.

Now, they are on Kir'Jath, and they are after Telos. There is another pair of Jedi on this planet with them. Sahr Delba, Jedi Master. Obi-Wan Kenobi, his Padawan.

***

For the last leg of the hyperspace journey, the Jedi rode a cargo transport ship -- large hangar bay, mostly empty except for a few cases strapped into webbing on one side. No bedrooms, no cabins, fuel problems with the original transport that the Council, so Delba set off with his Padawan and came back with this.

Xanatos took the farthest most corner, the one closest to the cargo door. Qui-Gon set himself up in a niche in the doorway and watched Delba work with Kenobi: Kenobi was so new that his Padawan braid curled underneath one ear. He still had Corsucant paleness -- a dozen years or so of growing up inside the temple with only scheduled field trips kept you much lighter than a field Jedi. With near-humans, even without the padawan braid, you could almost trace the length of their field service by how tan they were.

Delba had his Padawan turn the energy made on his lightsaber off, and then he set Obi-Wan to a set of footwork exercises. The lightsaber was to be used only as a counterbalance, as a weight. At one point, after realizing the Obi-Wan was depending more on physically reproducing the movements and focusing less on the flow of the Force, Sehr ordered a sweating, panting Obi-Wan to close his eyes and repeat the exercise.

Xanatos had fallen asleep in the corner. Consequently, after that, Qui-Gon and Sehr Delba were the only ones in the cargo bay with their eyes open. Qui-Gon watched as Sehr Delba slid a long, doubtful glance over to Xanatos, leaning against the wall and wrapped in his robe.

Qui-Gon and Xanatos wore the same color robes. Xanatos had made the choice a year and a half ago -- he pointed out that they were virtually the same size and build. Qui-Gon had two inches of extra height, but Xanatos liked wearing his robes a bit long, anyways, so there was no point to distinguishing between their informal work robes.

Delba looked at Xanatos in the corner. Then, he looked at Qui-Gon. Qui-Gon looked back at him, and Delba eventually bowed his head and looked away since he was only a Knight, and Qui-Gon had been a Master when Delba was still a padawan, barely out of Youngling pants. Qui-Gon remembered meeting Delba around the Temple as a small child. He remembered meeting Delba as teenager.

For a while after that, the only sound in the cargo bay was the thrum of the engines through the walls and the panting of Obi-Wan, standing in the middle of the cargo bay for a moment, still blindfolded, wondering what he should do next.

***

"This is Kir'Jath," Gallia had said as she brought up the three-dimiensional holovid of the planet. "A medium-size habitable planet of the Larren system. Kir'jath has been, throughout its geological ages, a dry desert planet. Almost all of its liquid water was sealed in enormous, aquifers deep underground. There were also substantial polar ice caps."

The holovid waved, flicked, and now showed floodwaters tearing down a plain.

"Four years ago, an asteroid nudged Kir'Jath into a closer orbit around the system's sun that melted the ice caps. It also catalyzed increased volcanic activity that has breached the aquifers, and it now rains on Kir'Jath two hundred days out of their four hundred day year. Their cities, towns, villages have all been destroyed; the remnants of the population have retreated to the high mountains. The planet would have died, to the last sentient being, without steady aid from the Republic."

Now, the holovid showed supply ships dipping into the planet's stratosphere. Enormous Republic fleet sheeps, towing mile-long cargo-containers behind them.

"However, the tectonic shifts have resulted in the formation of new, massively valuable mineral deposits of all kinds. The Kir'Jath want weather control satellites. The Trade Federation wants their minerals. There are rumblings in the Senate that Kir'Jath has lived for long enough on the genorisity of other systems; in one of the Senate's subcommittees, there has been a motion to end aid to the planet.

"Kir'Jath only has stores to survive for three weeks after the cessation of aid. You will not be alone in this; there will be other Jedi there to assist you."

Gallia looked at Qui-Gon. The briefing room was dimmed around them; the only source of light was the blue-tinted holovid on the table between them. There was a little reflected light from the metallic elements in Adi's headpiece. Some from the polished top of the table. A little from her eyes because of the nightvision membrane that Corellians had layered along the inside of their pupils, and Gallia had asked Qui-Gon to leave his Padawan outside.

After that, she sent her own Padawan outside to preserve appearances, but nevertheless.

The last time Qui-Gon had been in this room while he was waiting to go before the Council to debrief them on Telos. This was, after all, an antechamber and waiting room for the Council, which lay on just the other side of the door.

Xanatos behind, the Council before.

At the end, Qui-Gon rose, bowed deeply to her, took the briefing holovid, and slipped into the hallway outside to meet his Padawan.

***

Even if water wasn't pouring out of the sky during the evening, the ground was a muck by then, and there were only so many lessons that Qui-Gon could come up with for fighting in the rain and that Xanatos hadn't yet mastered. There were also negotiations during the day, an insufficiently long lunch break, wrangling all afternoon, absolutely no chance for doing things earlier, and as a result, starting the fourth day of negotiations, after the evening meal, Qui-Gon began giving Xanatos his evening workouts in an empty hallway.

Xanatos arrived to his second workout with an escort, though. After that day of negotiations, Trade Federation leaders had pressed samples of their weather droids into the hands of all present. It was a small token intended to show both the power and the good faith of the Trade Federation. Qui-Gon had known what it was before opening the package and left it well alone, but Xanatos had opened his, and he subsequently had been unable to persuade his personal sample that he wasn't a planet in need of watering.

It kept following him around, trying to mist him and sending out little bolts of electricity when anyone besides Xanatos touched it. When he batted it away, it would come bobbing back to him, and in order to get any work done that night, Xanatos had to lock it in an unused storage room.

***

Sahr Delba's impatience would occaisionally show in the second week: "You'd think that with only twenty-one days of supplies after the cessation of aid and the Hutts beginning to poke around, all of the parties would be a little more inclined to come to an agreement."

They were sitting in Delba's personal quarters. Since the tea on the planet was so abysmal, he was serving Qui-Gon part of a private stock that had come with him to the planet.

Qui-Gon nodded, said nothing, and focused, instead, on having another sip of tea.

***

On the fifteeth day that they were on Kir'jath, it stormed. There had been rain every day, but on the fifteenth day, there was one of the furious, torrential downpours that were washing Kir'jath's sole remaining dry land -- what had been its mountains -- into the sea. Unending rain. Lightning. Massive food-related riots in one of the other refugee settlements that necessitated the Kir'jath leadership leaving negotiations for the day.

Qui-Gon went looking for a place to meditate and ended up finding Obi-Wan instead: even before negotiations were cut short by the riots at Kel'Opp and Kel'Tay, he had been in a foul mood. It seemed that Obi-Wan had, during the morning, massively disobeyed an order to practice meditation instead of his lightsaber technique. He had then refused to admit his disobedience, and Qui-Gon found Obi-Wan sitting in one of the unused rooms.

Obi-Wan's punishment for disobedience had been to scrub down, with brush and bucket, the floors of an entire wing of empty rooms and living areas. There had been a great deal of immigration flight from Kir'jath and this diplomatic centre had originally been a residential complex, so there was plenty of ground for this. There was also a symbolic fit in the punishment, too. After all, Obi-Wan had apparently refused to practice the Sixth Meditation, one that was associated with water.

This was the last room in the wing. Obi-Wan had finished scrubbing down the wing, and no, Qui-Gon hadn't explicitly gone out looking for Obi-Wan, but he had followed a thread of the Force here.

Obi-Wan didn't flinch or move. He was sitting outside the room, on the broad ledge that ran outside the window. He gave no sign, in fact, that he knew Qui-Gon was there. Rain was sluicing down Obi-Wan's head and shoulders and down the back of his robe, and after testing the ledge to make sure that it would hold his weight in addition to Obi-Wan's, Qui-Gon went out there and sat with him.

Used his hands to correct Obi-Wan's meditation posture at a few points. Listened to the rain, let it run down his back and arms and face, made sure that the blisters on Obi-Wan's hands weren't going to infect or weren't anything that proper Sixth Meditation pain management wouldn't solve.

Took in fresh air and listened to the sound of Obi-Wan struggling to control his heartbeats.

***

Xanatos had driven Qui-Gon down the length of the corridor, and Qui-Gon knew that he was one step, two steps at most, away from the wall.

***

Starting in the third week, there was no reason for either of the Padawans to be at the negotiations all the time. It was stultifyingly boring, for one thing. For another, Obi-Wan was too young to really grasp the subtleties, while Xanatos had sat through an innumerable number of similar ones. Consequently, Qui-Gon and Xanatos would have breakfast together; Xanatos would follow him to the negotiation chamber and remain there through the opening morning remarks and sometimes longer, but he would eventually slip off to get some drill work done in the courtyard while the weather was still clear.

On the twenty-third morning, Obi-Wan came out to watch Xanatos work through an advanced, modified sequence of Form IV. When Xanatos finished the sequence, he slung his lightsaber back onto the ring he had at his belt, came over, and began showing Obi-Wan a sleight of hand trick where he would make a stone disappear in and out of his hand. Up his sleeve, only to pop out at his collar or Obi-Wan's ears.

Obi-Wan seemed to be vastly unimpressed. He was eleven, after all. Not a baby. Such tricks were easy with the Force.

Xanatos smiled. He asked Obi-Wan to see if he was using the Force -- scan him. Pay attention to the fields.

Obi-Wan paused for a moment, and then his eyes widened. Xanatos wasn't using the Force at all. It was all sleight of hand. Movements of fingers and misdirection, and when Obi-Wan still had that awe-stricken expression a few seconds later, Xanatos laughed.

"Don't forget that," he said, ruffling Obi-Wan's hair. "One Padawan to another, don't let them convince you that it's always about the Force. You have to pay attention to other stuff, too." He flipped the stone to Obi-Wan, who caught it with both bands, and seemed torn between staring at it and staring at Xanatos in wonder.

"Did you know that Master Jinn has been here before?" Xanatos said, continuing to smile down at Obi-Wan. "He came here with his master when he was about your age. Back then, Kir'jath was a desert planet. No rain. Almost no water at all. Imagine that."

Shortly afterwards, there was a boom of thunder. Rain was coming, and the two of them ducked back inside. Xanatos was promising to show Obi-Wan how to do the sleight of hand-trick. Qui-Gon, though, stayed at the second-story window where he'd stood and watched them during the break in negotiations while the Trade Federation regrouped from the natives' offer of five year exclusive mining rights in return for blueprints to the weather-control station.

***

"You killed my father because he was going to kill hundreds of innocent people."

"Yes."

"And then I fought you because you had killed him."

"Yes. You were delirious and ranting when you drew your ligthsaber on me and attacked. I drove you to the edge of the platform, but I could not kill you. I let you stand up. You turned off your lightsaber, and we went back to the ship."

"And you told the Jedi Council that I had failed my Trial, but not that I'd failed it because I fought you."

"Yes."

"How did you convince them?

***

Xanatos was having dreams at night about his father. There were revenge dreams, and there were grief dreams. There were, quite frequently, ones where Xanatos would dream about himself, sitting in one of his father's rich homes, enjoying wealth and privilege and power. If Qui-Gon was being honest with himself, these made up the majority of Xanatos's dreams.

Nevertheless, there were still times when Xanatos would dream long, entirely made-up family scenes -- birthdays, parties, celebrations, fights. Things that he had never lived and would never have as a Jedi. Events that his sleeping brain invented from the snatches of popular media that he would catch here and there while on Jedi business, stories of personal life that he had overheard. Qui-Gon recognized, after a period of meditation on the subject, an incident that mirrored, almost exactly, a scene that they had once glimpsed through the window of a house while waiting outside for an informant.

Another time, there was a dream in which Xanatos's father rose up from the spot where he had been killed, and he looked at his son, spread his hands out, and said, "Qui-Gon, your master, killed me."

Then, Xanatos's father's corpse had turned and looked straight at Qui-Gon, standing there in the corner of the dream, cloaked in the Force and a Master's control, monitoring his Padawan's troubled sleep.

That was the end of the dream. Xanatos had slipped back into non-dreaming sleep after that, and Qui-Gon saw no more.

That had been the first and only time that any figure in Xanatos's unconscious mind acknowledged him. No other figure ever so much as glanced in his direction.

***

"Every time we come close, someone changes his mind or loses his temper." Sahr Delba leaned his head into his hand. The negotiation chamber was empty; overturned cups were on the table, and water from the overturned teapot was beginning to drip onto the floor. It was drawing up close to the middle of the third week.

"It's just uncanny."

Again, Qui-Gon said nothing.

***

"Look!"

Obi-Wan had a coin in his hands and was making it shine and weave and flicker in and out of existence. Sometimes, it was at Xanatos's ear or sleeve. Other times, it was lying in Obi-Wan's hand, shining in the sudden outbreak of good weather that had come on them towards the end of the third week.

***

Xanatos had pushed him back and back and back. From the start of the engagement, in fact, Qui-Gon had done nothing but retreat, and if they had been sparring indoors, his foot would have been bumping into the back wall.

This time, though, they were out in the open. Rain was coming down on both of them, and Qui-Gon had taught Xanatos everything he knew about fighting on wet ground, but Xanatos had forgotten, on some level, that this wasn't practice. As a result, Qui-Gon swept out with one leg, then followed that with an upward jab.

It was something that he wouldn't have had the room to do in the narrow practice corridors, and he aimed at the chest. He followed that with Force-shove to make sure that the body didn't slide down the lightsaber blade and fall on top of him.

Obi-Wan began to sob, and out of the corner of his eye, while he was still kneeling in the mud, Qui-Gon saw Delba reach down and stroke Obi-Wan's hair. The Kir'Jath representatives and the Trade Federation delegates were beginning to rouse themselves, shaking their heads and rubbing at their ears as though some sort of buzzing noise had finally gone quiet, and Qui-Gon watched as Obi-Wan leaned against his Master and fought to control his breathing.

Qui-Gon straightened up. He sucked in a deep lungful of air, murmured a few words of the Sixth Meditation, and then he reached over to close Xanatos's eyes.

***

"And you told the Jedi Council that I had failed my Trial, but not that I'd failed it because I fought you."

"Yes."

"How did you convince them?"

"I lied."

***

There had been a moment on that platform on Telos when Xanatos could have killed Qui-Gon: Xanatos hesitated, Qui-Gon shifted his stance, and the moment disappeared.

***

Three hours after Xanatos died, the Kir'Jath and the Trade Federation came to an agreement. Qui-Gon had chased all of them back into the negotiation room, then slammed Xanatos's lightsaber onto the table. The guards outside then reported that somebody had laid a dead body, wrapped in a brown, across the threshold of the room, and trapped between a dead body and Qui-Gon, twice as large as life even though he wasn't wearing his Jedi robe anymore, the Kir'Jath finally made a reasonable offer.

Later, it came out that the Trade Federation had a planted agent in the Kir'Jath delegation. They had wanted to drag negotiations out as long as possible in hopes that the Senate would cut off aid to the planet and the Kir'Jath would be forced to the wall.

As soon as a rough text of the preliminary agreement had been drafted, Qui-Gon left the diplomatic compound to bury Xanatos.

***

Wind from the transport's landing jets was whipping the rain almost horizontal, and despite the three new dots now drifting high in the sky, it was still miserably cold on Kir'Jath. It whipped through the weave of Qui-Gon's spare robe and straight into his face; it mixed with the water, and in a few minutes, despite the fact that he had his hood up, damp and rain would begin dripping down the back of his neck.

Obi-Wan stood next to his master, but just before the transport's landing pylons touched ground, he turned turned to Qui-Gon, reached up, and put into Qui-Gon's hands a few things that he'd been keeping.

A coin from Telos, worn around the edges from being passed in and out of sleeves and over and under fingers. A toy satellite that had run down out of batteries a week before.

Qui-Gon paused, looked at them, looked at Obi-Wan, then closed his fingers around the objects. Still holding them, he bowed to Obi-Wan from the waist.

***

The last section of the Sixth Meditation, the healing meditation and the one that Qui-Gon repeats to himself every night before he goes to sleep and dream, goes like this:

There is no death. There is no pain. There is only the Force. In the end, there is only the will of the Force.
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December 2010

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