There is no post of senator for Konohagakure or the planet Earth from which the shinobi hail. They are not inducted into the republic in the thirteen years the galaxy has known of their existence. More, no jedi nor any other member of the republic has ever visited their planet or even knows of its direction save that it is somewhere beyond the outer rim. They are every bit the shadows they claim to be, seeping in from the edges of the known galaxy, until you turn and there they are on Tatooine as if they had been there all along.
Similarly, with a single decision from a divided senate, from the chancellor who seems to gain more and more control over, they are gone as if they were merely smoke cleared with a breath of wind.
All gone, of course, except for Tobirama Senju who seems content to stay until the bitter end.
Qui-Gon sighs, wiping a hand over his face, for once that fluorescent diner charm of Dex's doing nothing to either invoke nostalgia or soothe his nerves. The booth seems empty, Obi-Wan is gone to Utapau on a desperate mission to find and kill Grievous after his escape from the battle over Coruscant. Anakin Skywalker, his shinobi partner Itachi Uchiha, and all the other hired Konoha ninja have been dismissed and returned to Konoha on behest of the senate unwilling to pay for their services, Obito Uchiha and Lee Eru both missing in action for years now, his own Master Dooku a sith apprentice and dead by Anakin's hand, and only Tobirama Senju remaining the seat across from him with an overpriced glass of imported Corellian whiskey.
It is almost shameful how Qui-Gon wishes he could partake in that drink, that merely releasing his tension, his fear, his anger, and his dread into the force these days is simply not enough.
Tobirama, with a rather knowing edge to his smile, lifts a second, empty glass towards him in offering.
"No thank you, my friend," Qui-Gon states, leaving Tobirama to tilt his head back and throw back the drink. As always, it is a strangely fascinating thing to watch.
Each shinobi he meets is a little different from the next, and Qui-Gon, per his own brand of unorthodoxy when it comes to the jedi code, has met far more of them than the typical jedi.
Lee and Obito, master and apprentice, he has come to realize in the years since, were stranger and far odder than he had realized. Even by their own people's standards they are something extraordinary, powerful almost beyond imagination, and so often misunderstood. They are the sword and shield but also something softer that years for the bright innate wonder of the universe. People with a great capacity good but with perhaps a greater capacity for evil, even if they never choose to partake in it.
Tobirama Senju, though, is his own creature as well. At a glance he resembles a jedi, one haunted by war perhaps, but he wears their pragmatism and stoicism. Obi-Wan, as he grew into knighthood and then mastery, often reminds him of Tobirama Senju. Aggressively negotiate, it is a term he thinks Tobirama has understood long before Obi-Wan coined it.
The man is not quite reserved but there is an air of sobriety about him that is almost intimidating. Yet, there are times such as this, where you can see how the world has worn down the soul of this man.
It is in the small things, the shadows beneath his eyes, and the liquor he will occasionally pour down his throat.
"So, the senate sessions have been that fruitful," Qui-Gon concludes slowly, with a kind if pained smile of his own.
Tobirama merely spares him a look as if the answer is self-evident, and the sad thing is, it truly is. Qui-Gon does not think there has been a truly productive senate session, one informed by anything other than fear or greed, in over thirteen years.
The invasion of Naboo by the trade federation, there were no separatists then, it would be ten years before the separatists would unveil themselves on Geonosis, and yet all the same Qui-Gon would pinpoint the first sign of their troubles being that invasion of Naboo.
So much had happened then.
The shinobi revealed themselves, the sith apprentice was found and then dead with his master still unknown, and then Anakin Skywalker…
"I often wonder why they even bother having me attend," Tobirama remarks, interrupting Qui-Gon's reminiscing, "I am an ambassador, not a senator."
Qui-Gon does not know either, Tobirama is as he says not a senator and holds no vote in the senate, and yet he is offered a seat in Naboo's box all the same in honor of the friendship between Naboo and Konohagakure. There he sits, a senator but not, impotent next to the proud senator Padmé Amidala who like all the rest of them watches the republic crumble from within.
He unnerves many but, Qui-Gon believes that there are some who also find odd comfort in a shinobi's presence. Tobirama has become an icon of sorts, the kinder if odder face of Konoha, a hint of the divine wind of the force that had once saved Naboo from annihilation.
A good luck charm, almost, but not one that has brought the force's benevolence to them.
Tobirama then stares across at Qui-Gon, pondering. Tobirama has been doing this often lately. Perhaps because even after all these years, after all that the second hokage seems to remain ageless and suspended in the force, Qui-Gon is the closest thing he has to a friend among the jedi. Then again, Qui-Gon is the closest jedi to pretty much any shinobi who wanders into the galaxy, from Tobirama Senju, Lee Eru, to Itachi Uchiha. Qui-Gon Jinn is still, after all these years, being used as a template jedi for these people, and they still don't quite understand the irony of that.
Finally, Tobirama says quite seriously, "Jinn, our forces would have been pulled even if the funding had not been."
Qui-Gon almost wants to smile, shinobi always insist on very serious conversations in Dex's. Lee had often send her most troubling statements inside of these very booths. Once, years ago, she had stated here that Senator Palpatine was the sith master. Qui-Gon had not believed her then, not when the man was elected chancellor either, now though…
Now the man's presence presses upon the jedi temple like a shadow they cannot shake off. Now his spies are presumed to be everywhere inside their own walls. And he could merely be a politician, perhaps even a despot, but a feeling of dread blooms in the living force and Qui-Gon often wonders if Lee Eru is doomed to be the prophet no one recognizes until it is far too late.
But he doesn't know, can't, perhaps know. So, he must sit here in fear and anxiety, waiting to be sent again to the front, or else waiting here for the armada to appear once again on Coruscant's horizon.
Waiting, it seems all Qui-Gon does these days is wait.
"Why is that?" Qui-Gon asks instead, and Tobirama Senju does not smile, instead his strange red eyes seem to burn.
"You have always been a friend to our people, Qui-Gon, you and your apprentice," Tobirama states, plainly, using Qui-Gon's first name as he and his people so rarely do, "Lee once offered you sanctuary in Konoha, I believe it is time to take that offer."
Qui-Gon pauses and remembers that no one has ever been to Konoha, no one except Anakin Skywalker who didn't return for ten years. No jedi, no sith, no member of the republic or galaxy has ever stepped foot on the planet Earth let alone inside the Village Hidden in the Leaves.
Years earlier it had been so much easier, simpler, to shrug off that offer. There had been no war then, no heavy presence of the sith, Master Dooku was still a jedi then… It had seemed a joke, almost, from Lee Eru's lips. A sign of friendship, fondness, but nothing he had ever expected to take seriously and another sign that she simply did not understand the jedi order.
Didn't understand that even Qui-Gon, black sheep that he was, forever denied a seat on the council and often branded a borderline heretic, wouldn't simply leave the order. Certainly not flee it for the safety of a shinobi village of all places.
Yet now his mouth is dry, and he finds that though it hangs open no words can exit his throat. That dread, that horror, of the living force is blooming within him once again and the scent of its petals is that of charred flesh from saber burns and the iron of blood.
Tobirama stands, takes Qui-Gon's hands in his with a small, weary, and almost pitying smile as he says simply, "Think about it, quickly, because I will be leaving soon as well. And after me… After me there will be no one."
Master Yoda is sent to Kashyyyk, jedi masters are, in fact, sent almost everywhere in the galaxy as the separatist cause has spread like a cancer through the republic.
However, Qui-Gon is not the commander his former padawan now is. Qui-Gon has very rarely been entrusted with clone troops in this war, and instead has acted as the shinobi have in the latter half. He is too old for war, too unorthodox, and is instead kept inside the jedi temple and then quickly dispatched here and there to throw at a problem that can only be solved by Qui-Gon, the living force, and a few strays.
As a result, Qui-Gon has both seen little of the war and far too much of it. He is suspended between the bloody moons, between his former padawan covered in burns of blasters and the grease of slain droids, and the unnerving quiet of the jedi temple empty of all but a few masters and the wide-eyed initiates who may very well find themselves drafted into this conflict.
Child soldiers, he thinks, just like the shinobi. If this war persists they will become a hidden village in their own right, and those children shinobi that Qui-Gon sees passing through the republic bearing the ranking of knights will no longer be such oddities. And then the children will grow and become masters themselves, and when looking upon their next generation, like the shinobi will think nothing of the horror of inflecting war upon initiates.
Pushing them into the future that had been so haunting and terrible that Qui-Gon had insisted that Anakin going down that path, choosing the shinobi over the jedi, would inevitably turn him to the dark side.
War, Tobirama had once told him in blunt and brutal despair over drinks one night, was the price of chakra.
Qui-Gon often spends his time on Coruscant in the archives. He is not the only one who searches for solace, for answers, in the lessons of the jedi before them. However, he is the only one on Coruscant often enough to make a true habit of it.
Republics, empires, they have come and gone. The jedi have waxed and then waned, the sith the same, but both have survived throughout all those empires and republics. For thousands of years there have been both jedi and sith…
He reads prophecies, rereads the one he always thought was meant for Anakin. Anakin… He has not seen much of him, Obi-Wan has seen more of him since the war, but he and Anakin once spoke of the prophecy.
It was so very strange, Anakin, older then and a shinobi had stared at him as if he had known exactly what Qui-Gon meant without his having to say a word about it. For all that Anakin has not trained in the ways of the jedi or the force, he had such an instinctive grasp upon it, and nowhere is that more apparent than in his ability to tell the future.
Still, Anakin had grimaced for a moment as if in pain, then, putting his hands into his pockets in the kind of show of casualness that Obito would often put on, said quietly, "I… I really don't know if it was ever me, Qui-Gon."
"Perhaps," Anakin said, before Qui-Gon could interject, "If you look at it from the right angle, but I think I would have had… The potential, for it, but I also had the potential to become something truly terrible."
Anakin had left shortly after that, attempted to distract Qui-Gon by wishing him and the order well, and soon after the battle in Coruscant's orbit took place and then immediately after the dismissal of the shinobi forces by the senate.
Was it Anakin Skywalker? He wonders that even now, it haunts him that if Anakin had been a jedi perhaps none of this would have come to pass. Anakin seems uncertain of that, no, certain that his presence could have only made it worse. Was it someone else then, someone Qui-Gon had never met, or worse had met but then disregarded?
Was it Lee Eru?
Lee had seemed… So important, so odd and bright in the force, and Qui-Gon had had this certain feeling that she must not leave the galaxy. Yet she had, and in time it seemed as if the force had almost forgotten about her and her apprentice, as if they were a small and unusual accident that now having occurred need never be spoken of again.
Sometimes it seemed as if, in meeting and seeing Lee Eru, Qui-Gon had caught a glimpse of some inner working of reality that was supposed to have remained beyond his knowledge.
Still, Qui-Gon sits, and he thinks, and he ponders over what he is supposed to do now. The war has become not simply a dread shadow but an unstoppable machine that he cannot even dream of dismantling. The sith presence is tangible and yet still seemingly unknown, and if not unknown than untouchable by Qui-Gon. The force grows more muddled and unresponsive with every passing moment. The council descends into bickering, turn into soldiers and generals of the republic, and drives more and more of their own into the hands of the dark side while accomplishing nothing. Even if that frustration, that notion itself, was what drove his own master to the sith and makes Qui-Gon wonder in horror if he himself has always been skirting the edges of the dark side unwittingly.
The living force, sometimes whispering in his ear, insists that Qui-Gon is dead already.
Dead on Naboo, dead in that electrical room in Lee Eru's place, dead and gone with a grieving Obi-Wan Kenobi left in his stead to train Anakin Skywalker as a padawan. Watching from the force, unseen and unmarked, as the republic dismantles itself and all Qui-Gon's hopes run dry.
Qui-Gon often reminds himself that he survived, survived for thirteen years past that day, and yet that still doesn't stop the unwavering and horrifying certainty that steals over him that he should be dead already.
That his being alive now is nothing short of a miracle, nothing that could have been accomplished save the intervention of the shinobi.
Still, for all the archives discuss sith of the past, for all they discuss the trials and tribulations of the jedi, the unresolved prophecies that hang in the air, Qui-Gon has not yet found a solution among their stores.
He is not sure, that at this point, he expects one.
It is here, in the archives, that Tobirama finds him.
The man walks through the place with a wistful look in his eye, as out of place among the stacks as he has always been, and he says quietly, "I shall miss this place, when I return to Konoha."
He fingers the data pads, taking one as he sits at Qui-Gon's table, "So much history, so much knowledge and culture, will be lost to us when I leave."
"You truly believe your people will never return then," Qui-Gon states, because Tobirama had implied it but not yet outright said it.
Finally, after some consideration, Tobirama says, "It will be years before we can come back, decades perhaps, and then… Things change, there may not be jedi archives anymore."
Qui-Gon forces himself to smile, "We have survived more than a few wars and rebellions, Tobirama."
However, Tobirama just gives him this look, as if he already knows the republic is doomed and that this is why the shinobi are now gone. That when and if they return to this place Tobirama will expect to return to rubble.
Qui-Gon doesn't ask why he is so certain, so pessimistic, he does not dare. If the force will not present this future to him, the he does not want it from Tobirama's lips. Instead he asks, "Do you know when you leave?"
"Within the week," Tobirama says, "I came in part, aside from gathering last minute files, anything I can, to remind you to decide quickly."
"Just me?" Qui-Gon asks, not quite surprised, and not quite flattered, yet oddly feeling a hint of both.
"Kenobi as well, if he can be reached," Tobirama says with the slightest of shrugs and a sigh of exhaustion, "I… would offer to take the children but I know that even you would refuse."
"The children?" Qui-Gon asks, eyebrows raising, and wondering just what kind of a future Tobirama Senju is imagining for the jedi.
Tobirama Senju however does not back down as he did not back down in Dex's, if anything he seems more anxious than before, "Jinn, you are one of the few jedi masters left in this place, left on this planet. Your people are spread thin across the outer rim, each light-years apart from one another. If they sack Coruscant, then you have left your weakest and youngest members practically undefended."
Qui-Gon once would have denied the possibility, but the sight of Grievous ships over Coruscant hangs heavy in his thoughts and the force, that if Obi-Wan's troops had not driven them back that day they very well could have been looking at the sacking of Coruscant.
They would not have taken the temple, not with the clones defending and what masters were there barricading the gates, but all the same…
However, if they went to Konoha, then Qui-Gon was all but guaranteeing that each and every one of them would become a shinobi in the manner that Anakin Skywalker had. They would walk the path of darkness, war, and death whether they willed it or not. Even if they returned, in one decade or two, they would no longer be jedi.
And he couldn't…
Tobirama had known that Qui-Gon could not ask that.
All the man could say with a sigh is simply, "I will see you, one last time, before I leave. You have until then to decide."
In the end, it comes unnaturally quickly, or perhaps there is nothing quick about it. It has, after all, taken more than thirteen years to come to a head.
There is a troop of clones passing through Coruscant, a sight that would have been an oddity years ago, but now is a rather familiar one. They march as one, eerily in time with one another, their minds that of beings who are not quite yet men though have the earnest potential to be. Covered in white armor and helmets they look in and of themselves like peculiarly humanoid droids, which, Qui-Gon supposes is the intention.
To make the people of the republic forget that they are sending sentient men to fight and die in this civil war.
Qui-Gon watches from a balcony in the jedi temple, not quite a military parade, but instead a more pragmatic march to station and defend Coruscant's main ports. The jedi grow thin, they can no longer protect all air strips, and in their place the planet swarms with clones.
Tobirama, uninvited into the temple but here all the same, is meeting with Qui-Gon Jinn one last time before he departs. He is dressed in his combat gear, just as Lee Eru and her apprentice were all those years ago, and slung over his back is a pack that is entirely too small given the fact that it is likely carrying an entire city inside.
"I can't say I don't understand," Tobirama says, not even bothering to look at the clones but instead straight at Qui-Gon. He is, of course, speaking to the fact that in the week since Tobirama has left him to his own thoughts Qui-Gon has yet to take him up on his offer.
Tobirama smiles, ever so slightly, as he notes, "I'd likely do the same thing for Konoha, did, in fact."
"Oh?" Qui-Gon asks, glancing at the man as he leans over the railing and partakes in memories.
"There was a man, long ago, who was close friends with my older brother, despite all the circumstances against them," Tobirama said, and the sunset reflected in his eyes as he stared out at the glittering city, "His name was Madara Uchiha and he was… much like your sith. I believe he was a good man, once, but hatred and anger poisoned him against the world. He betrayed his people, his own family, and my brother his only true friend. He unleashed a demon on our village with the intent of burning every one of us alive. My brother died putting that man into his grave, and my sister-in-law turned herself into a human sacrifice over the consequences of his actions."
He paused, frowned, allowed the words to linger in the air before saying quietly, "When it happened I didn't run, didn't even think to, and in the aftermath, I became hokage in my brother's place as I had never intended to."
"Tobirama," Qui-Gon says slowly, tasting the words and the doubt he can no longer simply release into the force, "If I abandon the order, if I leave…"
"You will live," Tobirama finishes for him, that small and simple statement meaning far more than it ever should, "That is what I can guarantee, perhaps the only thing I can guarantee."
And yet, Qui-Gon thinks, it is one thing to leave the order out of disagreement. He has in truth often been tempted to leave the order out of disagreement in philosophy and the frustration over what happened with Anakin. However, to leave out of cowardice, fear, and self-preservation?
He opens his mouth to state this, to damn himself to whatever awaits the order and the republic, but that is the moment of the beginning of the end.
The troopers all stop as one. They stand perfectly still if only for a moment, their minds utterly empty inside the force. Then, again as one, they turn away from their path through the square to the steps of the jedi temple. They take their blasters from the holsters at their hips, undo the safety, and before even stepping through the gates begin to fire on the civilians as well as into the temple itself where Qui-Gon can already hear the children screaming.
Because, he thinks in horror, it is only children and himself left inside of the temple.
He rushes down flights of stairs from a floor that is too high, Tobirama keeping pace with him as they go down and down, and in the living force there is a great cry of terror and pain as jedi masters are slaughtered by their own men while the children are slaughtered below. For every second Qui-Gon fails to reach them he can hear another pass from this world into the next.
And he does not know if it is the force, his imagination, or if he truly can smell the blood and burning skin from so many floors up as he sprints down the stairwell.
He glances at Tobirama, it is a quick look, and yet he feels a realization sinking into his stomach as he stares at the man's face. This is… This is the moment he will leave, he will not, cannot save the jedi order and he will leave now and never return.
Qui-Gon does not wish to die, but then he is dead already, and more he is a jedi who perhaps should crumble with his own people. Survive if he can, somehow get out and survive this with whatever good will is left in the force, but…
"Tobirama," he breathes, Tobirama glances at him, and his eyes are dark and unreadable and every inch a shinobi's eyes versus a jedi's.
Qui-Gon feels his heart pounding in his chest, his lightsaber burning as it is turned on, and he closes his eyes on whatever uncertain future he is condemning them to. And yet, he says, "Tobirama, take the children."
It is as if the force shudders. Suddenly, all those bright lights of the future, all the jedi those children could have been if they survived this, if they became fugitives of whoever now controls the clones are snuffed out.
And, just as with Anakin Skywalker, nothing knowable or familiar stands in their place.
But Tobirama is already gone, flying down the staircase past Qui-Gon, and Qui-Gon knows by the time he reaches the lower levels the man and many of the children will already be gone. Hopefully, all of them, realistically whoever the man can get to first.
Which will lead Qui-Gon to somehow get the rest out of the temple and out of Coruscant entirely before the sith make an appearance, whoever and wherever they linger.
And Qui-Gon, he can only activate his saber and release his anger, his fear, his grief, and his dread into the force. As always, even before his feet hit the steps of that lower floor, he wonders which chosen one he had missed.
Review Reply: Prompted by KYnR for the 400th review of "Finishing the Hat" who asked for a piece starring Tobirama with the trials and tribulations of being a senator for Konoha in the republic. Somehow, in my mind, that translated to adding to this piece to find out just what happens to Qui-Gon Jinn and the wrapping up after Konoha's departure from the civil war.
Thanks for reading and reviewing, reviews are much appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars, Naruto, or Harry Potter