Obi-Wan and the Bounty Hunter
No one normal lives inside the Jedi Temple
The door to the stairway burst open, Jango Fett hurriedly pushing the small boy into the stairwell before turning to quickly hit the door control. The door closed, shutting off the corridor from sight. Jango raised his blaster and fired a bolt at the controls. The panel sizzled, sparks of green and red flying into the air. In the small confines of the stairwell, Amaltha, Bruck, and Naarad exchanged puzzled glances.
"Why've you done that?" asked Naarad.
"It's to delay anyone following us," piped up Borondi. "That's right, isn't it Mr Fett?" The boy had looked scared when he'd first been pushed through the door, but now he looked pleased with himself.
Jango nodded. "Good boy, we'll make a bounty hunter out of you yet."
"Gee thanks, Mr Fett." Borondi face glowed with pleasure until he spotted Amaltha's repressive glower. Hastily, he wiped the gleeful expression from his face and avoided her eye.
Stowing his blaster back in its holster, Jango called out to Bruck and Naarad, "You two, take the lead. The rest fall in behind them."
Amaltha stayed at the rear of the group to help the smallest and slowest. Jango and Borondi waited, hanging back until the group had moved past them before dropping into step behind the older girl.
Amaltha looked over her shoulder. "What happened back there?" she asked Borondi. "Why do you think someone might follow us from that level?"
When the boy looked across at Jango, waiting for his permission before answering her, she felt a flash of annoyance. The man wasn't a Jedi, Borondi shouldn't be trying to copy him.
At Jango's nod, Borondi explained, "Oh, a vampire came from a side room and nearly caught us." The boy's eyes slid over to the bounty hunter. "We jumped back and bolted down the corridor, but he might've seen us." Although the boy was acting as if it wasn't a big deal, Amaltha had seen his frightened face when Jango had pushed him through the door.
Amaltha's sharp gaze went to the bounty hunter. "Was it worth risking everyone's safety to plant those explosives?" In front of her, a section of broken steps made a tiny Chadra-Fan stop suddenly and Amaltha had to make a fast sidestep to avoid bumping into him.
"Mr Fett knows all about causing confusion in the enemy ranks," Borondi jumped to the bounty hunter's defence. "He's done this for years. It's rude of you to question him."
Amaltha shot him another glare for interrupting. She wanted answers from the silent bounty hunter, not a boy who'd only just met him. She jumped over the damaged steps in front of her and reached back, lifting first the delicate Chadra-Fan and then a small human girl over the gap. Out the corner of her eye, she saw Borondi smiling smugly at the bounty hunter, which annoyed her even further.
Guiding the Chadra-Fan over more broken steps, she sensed Jango Fett watching her and a picked up on his irritation. Was he annoyed at her questions? Or did he blame her for the way the smallest children slowed them down? That wasn't her fault. Naarad would have helped but Jango Fett had sent him to the front and the other kids weren't big enough to help her. It wasn't easy to shepherd all the younglings and help the weakest on her own.
Awkward, self-conscious, and more than a little stressed, she snapped, "Buffy asked you to take us to safety. You never said anything about leaving us to plant explosives. I don't think it's fair that..." her words trailed away and she cringed. Was she really criticising someone who wasn't obliged to help them? He was only doing this as a favour to Buffy. The bounty hunter could walk away at any time and leave them to find their own way out.
She took a deep breath and added, "It isn't that I'm not grateful for your help. I'd just prefer it if we didn't keep stopping on every level so that you go off and... do what you do."
The bounty hunter's helmet completely covered his face making it impossible to see his expression or even be sure what direction he was looking in. From the way the dark 'T' section in the front faced her, she'd a feeling she had his full attention.
"Buffy asked me to take you to safety," he agreed. "And I'm gonna do my best to fulfil that promise. If that means takin' the time to set charges, then I'm settin' those charges." He leaned forward and surprised Amaltha by picking up the Chadra-Fan who was dithering over another broken section. Swinging the small bat-like child upward, Jango tucked the child into his left side, balancing the boy on his hip.
With only one child needing help from Amaltha the group picked up the pace. Despite that, Jango had a feeling it wasn't going to be enough to avoid trouble. Sooner or later someone would come looking for them, yet he knew pushing the already nervous kids wouldn't help them reach the next level any faster. These stairs were lethal. All they needed was a frightened child falling and hurting themself to delay them further. So Jango bit back on his impatience, carrying the smallest child and constantly monitoring his helmet's built-in 360 degree monitor for potential enemies.
They'd gotten further than Jango had expected before sounds of a low hammering and then a loud bang came from below. The sound echoed around the stairway and made several of the kids squeak with fright. Having half-expected it, Jango sighed.
"Someone's tried the door," he said, trying to sound as if it was nothing to worry over. He didn't add that the vampires were probably already in the stairwell. There was no need to scare them any more than he had to. Keeping a firm grip on the Chadra-Fan, he discreetly pulled out a blaster with his free hand and kept it down by his side. In front of him, the kids had slowed.
"Keep moving! Naarad and... er, you."
"Bruck," the blonde boy replied, with a fast glance back over his shoulder.
"Bruck," muttered Jango, committing the name to memory. "Keep up the pace, but stay on the alert for anyone above you." The vampires might have messaged ahead and sent someone to wait for them.
"Yes, sir," Bruck called. "We're almost at the next level."
"You can see the door already?" asked Jango craning his neck, trying to look over the heads of the kids in front of him. He couldn't see anything, not even with his helmet's infa-red and heat-vision.
"Not yet," Bruck called back cheerfully. "But the Force is telling me it isn't far."
Next to him, Naarad nodded, his green lekku twitching in nervous agreement. "Bruck's better at it than me, but I sense a change of level too."
"Hmm," The bounty hunter replied non-committally. He'd known for a long time that members of the Jedi Order had sets of skills and abilities that a non-Force user lacked. Since this gave them an advantage over him it wasn't something that filled him with joy and wonder, especially since he and the Jedi Order were usually on opposing sides. Even now, working with them like this didn't sit well with him.
Jango looked up at the sea of frightened young faces. Kids, these were just kids, he remindedhimself. They weren't even proper Jedi. They were the Temple's cast-offs by all accounts. He'd taken the time to question Borondi and the boy had described the agri-corps and how they'd been 'chosen' to join it. The Order had taken innocent kids and condemned them to a life of unpaid .farm worker.
Family bonds were strong for the Mandalorians. Why had Borondi been given away? He was a bounty hunter and had a hectic lifestyle and he'd still not see a son of his in the Jedi Order. Those bownucks might have the Republican law on their side but he'd still kill any Jedi knight or master who came to his door trying to steal one of his away.
His hand gripping the blaster handle tightened and he'd the urge to reel off a bunch of blaster bolts at the walls. Realising he was becoming rattled by something that was never destined to happen, he took a deep breath and let out a chuff of self-deprecation. He needed to get this together. This wasn't helping.
Making sure all signs of anger was absent from his voice he said, "Come on, Jedi-kids. No dawdling. Oh-Be-Waiting-For-A-Long-Time will be wondering where you are."
A couple of kids threw him a grin and the little Chadra-Fan made a chuckling sound in his throat at how Jango had garbled Kenobi's name. Within the confines of his helmet, Jango's lips twitched in response. If he could get them moving he'd make more jokes than a Corellian smuggler who'd drunk too much whisky. Not that there was much to joke about. Although Jango's helmet hadn't relayed information to confirm it, his instincts told him that there was someone on the stairs behind them.
As Bruck and Naarad rounded the next flight of steps, the doorway to the next level came into view. Eager to leave the stairway, the pair picked up their pace, darting forward and extending the gap between them and the main group. They were almost at the door when Bruck's senses screamed. Grabbing Naarad's shoulder, he pushed the wide-eyed Twi'lek boy back down the steps.
"There's someone on the other side of the door," Bruck hissed, motioning for the rest of the kids to stay where they were.
A heartbeat later Jango was at his side, having handed over the Chadra-Fan to the Amaltha. The bounty hunter already had both his blasters drawn as he moved stealthily upwards, placing himself in front of them.
"A vampire?" Jango asked. He'd set his blasters on full power. Buffy had told him that vampires needed beheading to keep them dead. As far as he was concerned, once he'd finished blasting bolts into their faces they wouldn't have a head.
Bruck shook his head. "I don't know. It feels shadowed, sort of how the vampires do." He shook his head again. "Something doesn't feel right."
"But it might not be a vampire?" Jango pressed. "Could it be your Jedi?"
"I'm not sure," Bruck admitted. "I've heard some of the masters can hide their Force presence."
That didn't give the bounty hunter much to go on. "Guess we'll have to wait 'n' see." His fingers twitched, ready to blast the next creature who came into view, yet knowing he needed to hold back in case he mistakenly killed the contact. Stang! He really preferred the role of a hunter rather than the hunted.
Whoever lingered on the other side of the door must have used the control button. There was a soft hiss and the door opened to reveal...
Only semi-darkness lay beyond the doorway. The distant echo of hammering, low voices, and the smell of starship fuel floated down the stairway from the hangar bay. Jango's fingers rested on the triggers of his two blasters and he was just about to creep upward when a shadow moved in the opening.
A moment later a figure stepped into view. Dressed in an oversized dark robe, their hood pulled over their head casting deep shadows across the visible sliver of a pale face. They tilted their head, eyeing the group and noting the blasters trained on him. Slowly, the man raised his hands and tossed back his hood. The face of a young and handsome man was revealed, auburn hair, bright piercing blue eyes, and a gentle smile.
"I mean you no harm," he said quietly. "I'm exceeding pleased to see you."
Jango recognised the Jedi from both the Outlander club, where he'd first made contact with Buffy, and from the Temple roof when he'd tried to abduct her. This was the knight who constantly shadowed her and had gotten in his way more than once.
"Guessing you're Oh-Be-Found-Wanting?" Jango drawled, throwing his shoulders back and looking him in the eye. He lowered his blasters slightly, but didn't put them away.
"My name is Obi-Wan Kenobi," the Jedi replied evenly, refusing to be riled by Jango.
He made a small and stiff formal bow of greeting to the Mandalorian. Jango noted how he warily kept his eyes trained on him despite the respectful greeting.
Obi-Wan continued, "I'm a Jedi knight working in partnership with Buffy Summers. I'm here to take the children that are currently in your care."
The man had a very strong Coruscanti accent. Jango had heard Obi-Wan speak before, but previously he'd either been drunenly slurring his words or shouting as he deflected blaster shots. Now it was far more pronounced, precise, and... karking irritating. At least to Jango. With his 360-degree vision, Jango watched the children step out shyly to greet the Temple Jedi.
"Why, hello there." Obi-Wan treated the youngsters to one of his warmest and most reassuring smiles. Even Jango felt the effect of its charm and the kids lost their haunted look. It was almost as if the mysterious Force had reached out to wrap a comfort blanket around them.
Jango watched as each of the kids, even the smallest, made the Jedi knight a formal bow in turn.
Introductions out the way, Obi-Wan rubbed his hands together. "Now, what we must do is get you all safely away from here. There's no need to worry. I have a ship nearby. It's simply a case of keeping our heads low, being silent footed, and staying under-cover. Come with me and -."
"I'm thinkin' there's someone on the stairs behind us," Jango interrupted. He disliked this clean-cut Jedi instinctively. How did Buffy put up with this laserbrain who liked talking so much? "You take the kids. I'll deal with them."
"Very well," Obi-Wan replied. "I've secured a transport ship. It's the one furthest from the control room and closest to the docking bay entrance. Meet me there once you've... taken care of your business." He motioned to the kids to pass him and then, giving the bounty hunter a level look, he lowered his voice, "Try not to alert the entire mountain to our presence. I've still not heard from Buffy and we aren't leaving without her."
"I'll keep it in mind." Jango sneered, finding it hard to keep civil. He didn't like the Jedi - any Jedi - it wasn't personal. Not after the way these emotionless robots slaughtered his people, all in the name of their precious Republic.
"See that you do," Obi-Wan said coldly and gave a slight motion with his hand.
Jango heard the unspoken threat in his voice. With only four words he impressed on Jango that if he drew the attention of vampires and threaten Buffy's escape in any way he'd provoke the Jedi's wrath.
It almost had Jango wanting to obey him. He blinked away the odd feeling. Retribution? Revenge? That was a surprise. He already knew the Jedi Order weren't the unbiased pacifists they portrayed themselves as and that as fighters they had a streak of beskar running through their blood. To be threatened like this though... That was something new. It seemed this Obi-Wan Kenobi had something going on that was darker than normal.
Buffy's verbal slip and then long-winded denial over Obi-Wan being her boyfriend came into his 't the Jedi forbidden to have relationships? Was that true? He wasn't sure. The Jedi kept themselves to themselves and no outsider really knew all that what went on behind closed Temple doors. Jango frowned. As far as he knew, the only non-Jedi living in the Temple were Buffy and Andrew Wells. That didn't tell him much. Neither of them were normal people. They'd arrived from another dimension, Buffy was an accomplished fighter band also supposedly Palpatine's love interest. Andrew was... something else entirely.
The first night he'd met Buffy, at the club on Coruscant, she'd left with a drunk Jedi. He'd intended to follow them, but as he'd crossed the floor he'd been waylaid by a rowdy Andrew and his friends. The blonde boy become very vocal, loudly demanding his autograph and then asking to have a holopic taken with him. Jango had refused. That hadn't been the end of it. The chubby blonde had followed Jango, yelling that he was his biggest fan and that he'd seen all his fights on YouTube. A crowd gathered eyeing him with interest and it had shaken Jango. He was incognito, he wasn't supposed to be recognised. He'd tried to stay low after that and not approach Buffy openly, in case Andrew spotted him. Of course, that hadn't worked out well either. When he'd released the kouhans on her Kenobi had run over and leaped onto the hovering droid. He'd had to shoot it to dislodge him. Then another Jedi had chased him shooting lightning bolts out his fingers. Jango could definitely say that the Jedi Temple housed a lot of strange people.
As Jango mused, Obi-Wan turned away, no doubt thinking the conversation was over. The bounty hunter stared at the Jedi's arrogant back thinking of all the times he'd gotten in Jango's way. Turning his back on Jango like that was either a brave or foolish move to make. Surely he knew his danger? Jango's finger slid across the firing button of his blaster. A little bit of pressure and there'd be another dead Jedi to add to his kill count. Except... he wouldn't do it. He lowered the weapon. He'd given Buffy his word that he'd look after this guy and a Mandalorian's word was his bond.
Kenobi turned his head then and gave the bounty hunter a dark smirk from over his shoulder, letting the bounty hunter know he'd been aware of him all along.
"Follow me," Obi-Wan told the kids and, without looking again at Jango, walked off.
This left the bounty hunter alone in the stairwell, with whatever it was that had been chasing them.
Apologies for the lateness of this. I've had a difficult week with one thing or another and been struggling. I eventually realised I was trying to fit far too many things into one chapter and so I decided to break it down into smaller chapters rather than one huge confusing one. I always knew (almost two years ago) that these chapters were going to complicated (not to mention I wanted to balance the action and the humour).
Hence, slower output. Hopefully, you will all stick with me? I have plenty more twists and turns to come yet. Not only with this arc but also the next one and then the...
I think you will enjoy what I have in store.
Thank you for the reviews (some of you have reviewed every single chapter!) and thank you to the reader who gave me a shiny new recommend!