Anakin very seriously wondered if Jedi were closet sadists. He'd always hated formal functions, no matter which side of the Force he'd served, and now he would be expected to attend a minimum of three such functions and even more formal dinners within the next year. Not for the first time, he wondered if Obi-wan had sent him back in time as an act of revenge, because no one should have to face these prospects.
To make matters worse, he had spent more than twenty years eating out of a tube, not having to worry about consumption of organic matter where anyone else could see. The concept of politely eating in front of others had never been a strong suit of his anyway (no matter what Padme and his mother had done to try and teach him manners) but now he would have to learn how to and—worse—demonstrate. And there were so many things to remember. The salad fork was the third fork from the plate on the right, and should always be used even when other utensils besides forks and spoons weren't the norm. The chopsticks were always to be used when rice was served unless it was from Chandrila or Markon or about a hundred other worlds, in which case one had to use the fourth spoon from the left.
He really had to talk to Yoda or Yaddle and get out of this stupid Senate program before his situation got much worse (although he couldn't see how that could happen at this point) and he decided to destroy everyone just to be rid of the frustration.
"Initiate Skywalker, in the case Pantoran Chateau, common in formal situations recently, is served, because you will be under age, what will be your response?"
Anakin stared back at the Jedi instructor, Knight Sar Labooda, a human female with a calm demeanor and a rather large abundance of patience. She had black hair, light brown skin and watched every child she addressed as if they were an equal. Anakin vaguely remembered her from his training the first time around and had always liked her.
That didn't make him enjoy this mandatory class that was not only pure torture, but (as far as he was concerned) nothing more than a space-filler that took up even more of his rather limited time.
Still, the part of him that had somehow retained some pride wanted to answer correctly and so he thought about his answer. Rejecting anything outright at a function or a dinner was nothing short of a taboo. It would be highly offensive, unless you did so in the proper manner (which, of course, changed with every situation).
"They would not offer such to a child," he said finally.
She nodded, but her movements indicated that he'd only gotten part of the answer. "They shouldn't," she amended. "But that doesn't mean that they won't. Sometimes, servants forget. They won't be used to serving under-aged younglings." At that point she turned and addressed the rest of the class. "What I want you to remember is to not make a scene. If you refuse outright, it will undoubtedly get back to the host or hostess, and that is the best case scenario. One of the other guests could overhear you and call you out on behalf of the host or hostess. Many planets even allow for a duel of sorts, which some people may actually be looking for. A fight against a Jedi, even a youngling, could give them a lot of clout in certain circles.
"So, while the law will permit you to refuse, it would be best to point out your age when you do so, remind them that the law does not permit your ability to partake of the drink (you can also use personal beliefs when you get older, at least in this case), apologize and thank them for asking. Be as polite as you can be. Make sure you smile and it has to look as real and natural as possible. This will point out that the mistake is not on your part while simultaneously stating that you do not bare any ill will towards the servant or the host or hostess."
With that, she shot a warm smile at Anakin before turning to someone else. "Initiate Bocrum, what is considered appropriate for a Jedi to wear to a formal event?"
"Wow," a hissed word filled with amusement had him turning to see Coira grinning over at him. "Who would have thought that there is a subject Anakin Skywalker doesn't naturally excel in."
Anakin shot her a dry look.
She raised her hands in surrender. "Hey, I was just saying. It's nice to know you're human too."
Uncomfortable, Anakin turned his gaze away from her. "I'm not perfect. Not even close. Besides, what about our Force Techniques class?"
The blond waved her hand dismissively. "You'll get that eventually and you know the theory better than the holo-text."
"Shh!" Maelee hissed at them from the seat in front of Anakin. Coira maturely stuck her tongue out at her friend's back. The former Sith repressed a sigh. Sometimes having to remain in the company of children was nothing short of trying.
"Besides, I never said you were perfect," Coira said, her voice lower than before. Then she paused and seemed to think about it. "Okay, maybe you seemed like the perfect Jedi initiate before. I thought for sure you and Olin would be friends."
Anakin could not help his cringe. Had he really been acting like Ferus Olin? The stick-up-his-backside, obsessive compulsive brat with a hero complex surpassed only by his over-active sense of guilt?
This time he actually groaned and lowered his head to his desk. That sounded far too familiar as of late. Why did she have to compare him to Ferus Olin of all people? Still, he consoled himself in the fact that Ferus would ever be found racing in an illegal grunge circuit on a regular basis. He also doubted that the boy would be contacting bounty hunters or fighting the call of the Dark Side at any (and every) given moment...but the similarities were still all too obvious.
Ferus had always been aloof and distant from his peers. He believed so strongly in the Jedi Order that he took the Code as law, and his pride would never let him do anything but his absolute best on everything, no matter the consequences. While Anakin did not believe in the Jedi Order or the Code, he could see how people might think that he did. He'd been trying so hard to make sure that the Council saw him as an upstanding Jedi and recovering darksider that he wouldn't (couldn't) allow himself to not be perfect in everything he did.
Maybe he really did need to relax a bit.
Or maybe he could worry about relaxing when he finally took care of Sidious.
"You know, I meant it as a compliment," Coira sniffed from her seat.
"Initiate Marous," Master Labooda asked, head turned in their direction and a disapproving scowl on her face (which, interestingly enough, did not match the twinkle of amusement in her eyes). Coira jumped, eyes fixed on the dark-haired knight.
"Yes Master Labooda?"
"Could you repeat what Initiate Bocrum just said?"
Coira glanced at the boy, a Rodian, who had just been speaking. Then she looked back at the master and straightened her back.
"Of course, Master. As Initiates, we are not considered full Jedi, and as such we cannot wear the normal Jedi Robes to more than a formal dinner. For the functions, we will be required to wear something befitting the station of the event. For the dinners, our Jedi robes should suffice unless we are informed otherwise before hand. If we are to appear in the public view, the Jedi Robes should be sufficient as well, unless it will be at the aforementioned functions."
The Jedi Knight looked impressed despite herself. Anakin could relate. He had not expected his friend (he internally cringed at the word, it still felt so...strange to even think it) would be able to answer the question. Of course, she could have just assumed that the other boy had given the correct answer and thus she could repeat it herself. He wondered, not for the first time, if the girl everyone had gotten to know was just a facade. Sometimes he caught glimpses of someone far wiser and more observant than even Hale, let alone the other children.
Of course, if that were the case, then she was a far better actor than Anakin would ever be. Then again, he wondered why a Jedi Youngling would put forth such an act and could think of no reason. Not that it really mattered anyway. Jedi were just as diverse in their personalities as any other organization in the Galaxy. Perhaps it was an inherited inclination?
With that thought, he dismissed the idea and turned his attention back to the teacher.
"Well done, Initiate Marous, but in the future, I would still appreciate your attention."
Coira blushed and looked down as a few snickers sounded throughout the room.
"Yes, Master Labooda."
She said nothing more for the rest of the class.
Anakin sat in his Luke Lars disguise, absently sipping at the drink he'd ordered so as to blend into the crowd (not the easiest of gestures as his arm extensions made movement from the table to his head more than a little awkward). It was of little consequence to slip the straw under his mask to take in the warm beverage. He sat on the street outside a small cafe in one of Courscant's small business areas as he waited for his contact to arrive.
In truth, he already knew said contact was there and watching him, but was content to wait. He would show himself soon enough.
It took the man almost twenty minutes to finally decide to grab a seat across from Anakin casually. When he did, Anakin didn't even look up from the data pad he'd taken to reading.
"Would you like to order something?" he said, still keeping his eyes on the data pad.
Anakin knew that tone of voice from his service with the clones. With a sigh at the upcoming confrontation, he shut the data pad down and set it on the small table, finally turning his attention to the man in front of him.
He knew the face. Everything from the skin tone to the glare in those brown eyes. This person, however, did not hold the genial familiarity Anakin remembered from Rex and Cody, nor did he have the respect a General would command from the other troops. No, this was the original template—the man behind the clones.
"Jango Fett, I presume?"
"I have no less than three remote sniper droids honed in on your position and I myself have at least a half dozen thermal detonators on my person." Anakin found himself impressed that the man could sneak that many into this kind of a guarded area. Then again, it was Jango Fett. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't just shoot you where you sit."
Anakin shrugged nonchalantly. "Because I want to offer you a job."
Fett's eyes narrowed.
"I know you recently came into more credits than I could possibly give you, but I'm sure that will not be the only aspect about this assignment that you will find appealing."
"And just how is it that you know everything about my life up to and including my latest Job?" Actually, he'd stated in his missive that Jango would undoubtedly consider going into retirement after he finished with said Job. Considering that it was the job that would lead to him becoming the Clone Template if Anakin had his timing right, it was indeed a logical conclusion. Still, no one should know about that. 'Should' being the operative word.
Anakin scoffed. "Please. I know your reputation. You are not the only one with contacts. In any case, I see little reason to broadcast your secret. I would much prefer to keep my life and my anonymity."
"Anonymity?" It was Fett's turn to scoff. "A little difficult to do if you have a bounty on your head."
That surprised the former Sith. "I do? Already?"
"Yeah. I may just claim it and turn you over to someone who will make sure you don't spill any of your secrets."
So Jango knew that Sidious wanted Anakin. That meant he couldn't reveal himself as a Jedi. If that got back to Palpatine, it would be as good as signing his death certificate file. Well stang. He'd wanted to be up-front with Fett. The last thing he needed was for the bounty hunter to find out his identity as a Jedi and come after him out of revenge or contempt. Now he couldn't mention his status without risking that very scenario. Still, he wasn't about to go and panic. He'd had far too many years of dealing with Palpatine and his hands to allow that kind of lack of control.
"Would you at least like to hear my job offer?"
"You're not being carted away right now."
Anakin saw the point, although he was sure he could take Fett if he had to.
"Very well. I am looking for someone to help with a...venture of mine."
Beneath his mask, Anakin smiled and leaned forward. "I know you served a stint as a slave. I was born one. There is little I hate more than slavery. As such, I am looking to pay you to travel to the outer rim planets and...relieve the slave owners of their property," he spat the word, having no problem showing his contempt as it would only strengthen what he wanted to portray. "I will not be able to pay more than your regular fee, but it will also be an ongoing assignment.
"I actually have a list of slaves and slave owners you can start with." He'd made a compilation of several different slavers throughout the galaxy and many of the slaves he knew would be bonded at this point in time. His mother was on the list, but there were enough slaves from Tattooine and other planets that it shouldn't bring attention to her—and consequently, him. He handed a data chip over to Jango, who plugged it into his com and studied the information suspiciously.
"There are two columns on the list. The right side is a list of owners who tend to treat their slaves well. I will mostly buy the slaves from them with my own funds. The left side, however, I will permit you to be more...creative with."
"No one 'permits' me to do anything," Jango shot angrily.
Anakin shrugged. "Then take it as a suggestion. Whatever you wish. In any case, that is why you should not collect the bounty on my head. In the long run, this will be far more beneficial to you and me and the galaxy at large."
Jango sat back in his seat, still scrutinizing Anakin warily. "You do realize that your one-man revolution ultimately won't make a difference, right?"
Silence fell for several seconds as the weight of the man's words rested on his soul. "I know. More than you can imagine, I know," he finally said softly.
"You make no sense. If you know it won't make a difference, then why do it? Why pay me to do it?"
Anakin shrugged. "Maybe it won't bring about some revolutionary change in the entire galaxy, but those slaves that we free? It will mean everything to them."
At this, the bounty hunter shook his head. "Great. I'm dealing with an idealist."
Under his mask, Anakin smirked. "I have been called worse." Jango studied him for several more seconds, weighing the offer in his mind. Anakin saw no reason to rush him.
Finally the man came to a conclusion as he shrugged and leaned forward. "Alright, you got yourself a deal. I'll keep you a secret as long as you give me a job."
Anakin cocked his head to the side. "While I appreciate that more than you know, I must ask; why are you accepting this so easily?" He'd honestly expected Jango to put up more of a fight.
At this, Jango smiled wryly. "I never was the 'retirement' kind of guy anyway. This'll keep my life from getting boring. Oh, and part of my price will be you telling me how you knew so much about Galidraan."
Again, Anakin shrugged as if to say 'why not'. Actually, he'd been expecting this. "I have contacts in the Jedi Temple and met members of Death Watch. I heard that you single-handedly destroyed their threat. Congratulations. They received their just desserts."
Jango's eyes narrowed. "And you got all of this from your Jedi contacts?" Anakin did note a flare of anger surged through the Force when he said the word 'Jedi'. He couldn't say he blamed the man much.
"Among others," the former Sith said nonchalantly. "Although the Jedi were my main sources."
"Hmm," the man replied. Then he reached out and took the chip Anakin had set on the table before.
"That is also your wages for the first target and my contact information when you will be requiring funds for slave purchase."
The bounty hunter raised an eyebrow, now looking more amused than anything. "You do realize how easy it would be for me to simply steal your money like this."
"That is why I wanted you. I know the code of the true Mandalorians. You will honor your agreement to the best of your abilities, and I will honor mine. Although I will say," and with this he leaned forward, projecting his sincerity through the Force. "If I do find that you have double crossed me, you will regret it. There will be no place you can hide that I will not find you, and if you are lucky, you will die quickly."
Jango actually chuckled at that. "You mean it too. Alright, but I'll say the same to you. You double cross me, and I'll hand you over for that bounty faster than you can blink. Supposedly they want you alive or dead—preferably alive, but accidents happen." Anakin nodded in appreciation. Another reason why he liked working with the Fetts, they never backed down and always supported their claims either with action or proof.
"I believe we have come to an agreement."
"We have," Jango said with a nod before standing up. He looked Anakin up and down once more before he turned and walked away. Anakin watched him go. Then he calmly finished his beverage and headed for the nearest public lift. An hour later, he was sneaking back into the Temple feeling rather pleased with himself. It may not be much, but he'd done something, and that was always better than just waiting and doing nothing.
The masters still hadn't contacted him. Anakin figured that they were still arguing as to whether they should waste their valuable time on a formerly dark initiate and hadn't yet reached a conclusion. Still, he did find immersing himself in the Force to be much easier than it had been just a week before. It had gone from nigh impossible to highly improbable. At this point, though, Anakin was just happy to take a step in the right direction.
He sat calmly on his bed and focused on releasing all of his emotion to the Force. Doing so daily was a common Jedi practice and highly encouraged (although not often enacted) in the younglings and Padawans. As per a suggestion Girth had made during their session, Anakin made an effort to identify each feeling and try to determine what had caused it before letting it go. Doing this made the task of releasing them far easier to accomplish somehow, which in turn made his likely hood of achieving a trance all that much more possible. He wasn't anywhere near where he had been as a Knight or even a Padawan in his previous life, but the progress was heartening.
He found his newly acquired sense of satisfaction to be rather strange. It wasn't a feeling he often came across. In his life before, whether due to Palpatine or his own sense if inadequacy (or both), he had no doubt he would only feel more and more frustrated that he wasn't where he wanted to be—where he had been once. Now, though, he knew his limits, and the fact that he was growing at all was in and of itself a miracle.
As Darth Vader, he hadn't been able to really push himself physically. Strengthening his robotic limbs through practice wasn't possible, and his breathing apparatus had barely allowed him to talk as it had been so necessary to continually pour oxygen down his burned, scarred lungs. Adjusting and pushing his body simply hadn't been an option. He'd tried to keep his skills up, but he knew that over time they had diminished somewhat.
Now he could keep learning and growing and just being able to see what he'd accomplished simply hadn't been something he'd been able to experience in years, and so he found his old sense of impatience was now practically non-existent (at least when it came to this particular subject, it still existed towards many other subjects).
He also noticed that his newly found sense of patience seemed to give him control the Dark Side had never shown him. He was truly beginning to understand why simply powering through every obstacle was not always the best option, whether he had access to said power or not.
With a shake of his head, he acknowledged the last few emotions and was in the process of releasing them when he felt a presence brush his.
"Qui-gon?" he asked aloud, surprised.
Anakin, the man's voice reached him, full of a smile more metaphorical than anything else.
Why are you here? He figured the master's presence had something to do with Siri, but Anakin couldn't figure out what more they could do at the moment. Maybe the dead Jedi had some sort of deep wisdom he felt he needed to instill in the former Sith. Or perhaps he would have a different task to assign Anakin; some kind of training or task he would need for the future.
Or perhaps I am simply here to talk.
Anakin had the good grace to look marginally chastised. He must have been thinking rather loudly for Qui-gon to pick up on his thoughts. He almost brought up his shields, but stopped himself at the last moment. He had no objection to conversing with Qui-gon, and the mental shields would only make that more difficult. He braced himself to put them up at any moment if he felt it would be necessary, but otherwise fought his instincts and left himself open to the presence.
You have already come so far, young one.
The former Sith scoffed. I am not young.
You are younger than I.
By perhaps a decade.
A little more than that, Qui-gon's amused reply almost had Anakin rolling his eyes. Almost.
I doubt that such experience justifies your choice of address, he returned haughtily.
A warm chuckle from the deceased Jedi. Perhaps not. But as it is still true, I will continue to address you as I see fit, young one.
Anakin shook his head, not wanting to admit that the exasperation swirling inside of him had undercurrents of amusement. I will not concede or withdraw, but I would like to rest at some point this night, so please tell me what you wish to discuss."
I came in the hopes that you could share some stories with me about my former Padawan.
Anakin felt the small smile on his lips dissipate. The last thing he really wanted to talk about or examine at the moment was the jumbled mess of contradictions that was his general state of mind in regards to Obi-wan.
I won't ask for anything you do not wish to share, but I did catch a glimpse at one point of a nest of Gundarks?
The memories rushed back before he could stop them. The rest of that mission did not have the best of feelings attached to it (he still shuddered at the idea of the Zone of Self Containment, a state of being that blocked a sentient from feeling anything—he filed the reminder away for later comparison to the Jedi Teachings), but the particular part of the story involving gundarks did have its amusing moments, although at the time it had been anything but funny.
I always had to save him, Anakin started, feeling the pang of pain in his chest and resentment towards the memories grow, but ignored them. This Qui-gon hadn't been around for that and he wouldn't get to see it if Anakin wasn't Obi-wan's Padawan this time around. The least he could do for this man who had risked so much to rescue him from slavery was recount some harmless stories.
Very well, he finally conceded. That particular instance occurred after we crash-landed on a planet while...
Darth Sidious was displeased. As he had feared, the Bando Gorra brat hadn't been suitable to begin training at all. She simply didn't have the mental capacity and stability to handle some of the basics. He would be the first person to admit that many Sith Lords were not the most mentally healthy people (himself discluded, of course) but the girl had been so obsessed and fixated on her own shortsighted goals that she would not be teachable in addition to actually believing her plans could work in the long run when she really hadn't had the strength or power to do more than begin to bring them into play, no matter what she'd thought.
Which left him at square one in regards to an apprentice. Unfortunately, that hadn't changed in the recent months either. He'd figured that one perk to his election would be the opportunity to contact Dooku. It would be impolite for the former Jedi to not congratulate a friend on such an accomplishment after all.
He'd figured wrong. Apparently Dooku had absolutely no problem being rude when it suited him. Whoever this 'Luke Lars' really was (Vader or not) he had succeeded in cutting Palpatine off from Dooku. Oh, sure, there were ways around this. He could show up at Count Dooku's door, but that would be out of character and a little too obvious. He could issue a summons and have it sped through the courts, some sort of slight that they would need to discuss (and he actually had a few that would work, even if most of them were pushing the line or completely fake), but that would make Dooku too suspicious.
Actually, Palptine wouldn't be surprised if Dooku knew of his secret identity already. He just didn't have the proof necessary to take his suspicions to anyone, which gave Sidious time. This was a good thing, because he would have to do something drastic to get a hold of the man if he did not come to his senses soon.
He had a few contingency plans in place. Even now he could go and find another Zabarak, or a Nightsister from Danthomir. He was scoping out the Jedi younglings for future apprentices and would have a chance to personally observe them, but again that left him without an apprentice now. Darth Sidious could wait, and he would not rush into a decision that would prove to end badly in the future, but he still found the situation frustrating.
Then again, he functioned better under pressure anyway. It was in his nature and always had been. He enjoyed rising to the challenge and turning problems he faced into advantages. This small setback was no different.
With a new sense of determination, he retrieved his data pad holding the list of all the known Force sensitives in the universe and started at the beginning again. He would find an apprentice worthy of his legacy, and the Galaxy would tremble before their combined might.
Ok, a few things (sit back, this is going to be a long, but rather necessary author's note). First, I found a job. However, it's going to be taking up a bunch of my time so...no guarantees when it comes to updates in the future (if you haven't noticed, this one took a while). Also, I've been running into a few blocks, but Batfan7 is being awesome and giving me ideas and being a great bouncing board and has already helped me out immensely, so you guys can thank her for even being able to get this out at all.
Next, about the story. A lot of people have been asking me why the story is so slow. Well, there's a great line/idea from a book I read once called 'Cracked'. It was about a drug abuse clinic and memoirs from a doctor who works there and the problems they run into on a regular basis. It wasn't dramatized and...well, that was the sad part. Good book. I recommend it (although it does have some language in it). Anyway, the author said that people drop their friends or family members off for a weekend and then expect them to be as good as new. Mental health doesn't work like that. People aren't cars you just give to the shop for maintenance, and fixing mental problems takes a while. Sometimes people have to work at getting over their problems (be they addictions or mental problems) for a lifetime. Success requires a strong basis, and that's what I'm building here.
Okay, I'll admit I sent Anakin back in time to sit back and laugh at him in a situation he couldn't handle. It was an amusing idea and I wanted to explore it and see where it went. However, ultimately I do want him to succeed. I'm not sure how well he will succeed or if he'll survive. Really, I don't at this point, but I'm trying to do it right. There are still a few things I have to have him at least start before I feel we'll be on track enough for me to time-skip. I mean, we still have to address the fact that he doesn't know Leia is (was? will be?) his daughter or if the Council will make him go to the Senate Building and if he does go to the Senate I'll have to set that up and if he doesn't I'll have to set that up and then there's Siri (who is ending up playing a much larger part than I originally planned for, dang it) and Obi-wan and Jango and Dooku and...well, have you ever seen an acrobat juggle 8-10 pins at once? That's about what Anakin's doing at this point and I feel if I time skip, it will be a cheap way out and that I will be dropping several pins to do so. At least at this point.
SO, general outline for the future (without any spoilers, don't worry), I plan on putting in a few more set up chapters (and I'll TRY to get in some action, but no promises) and then there will be a minor time skip, the climax and conclusion of this story and the set up for the third and final story, which will come after a fairly major time skip. It may not make it to AotC timeline, but it will be close. That book/story should finish off the entire storyline, tie up loose ends, set the stage for the changed future of the Galaxy, etc.
The third story will have a lot more action in it, at least from what I'm planning right now. Lots of rushing around the Galaxy looking for things and destroying things and fighting people and trying to stay alive and trying to prevent wars...you know, typical Star Wars kinds of things. The end of this story should go rather quickly too. It will have a lot of action in it and a lot of things happen that...well...won't be pretty (for the characters at least ;) ), so I'm going to apologize again for the story being so slow, but it IS necessary.
Finally, I have to say I'm a bit flabbergasted. I just realized that this story has over 1000 watchers. One...freaking...thousand...*DIES* I never thought I would get so many! I'm almost as shocked as I was when I found out my Danny PhantomxRise of the Guardian one-shot crossover had more than 800 favs. It's just...unprecedented! *hugs you all* Thank you all so much!