A honkin' huge update. ;) We're done, people! Done!
Jedi-Keliam-Kenobi: Thank you. :D Took me a while to update, I know, but hey! We're all done now. ;)
LOTRFaith: And here we go again, even. :O
You really nailed Obi-Wan's situation, I think. Regardless of whether it's directly his fault, he still has to partway deal with the fall-out of his counterpart's actions. Haircut and shave ... Maybe a trim. ;) He probably has cleaned himself up, I just didn't mention it. I actually think he looks a little unkempt in AOTC, but in ROTS he looks – so Jedi, with the hair and beard. ;) Your questions about Tatooine are answered in the story, I'm happy to say. ;) Enjoy!
Audreidi: Thank you. ;) Getting this mammoth done will be – unbelievable. It is unbelievable.But it's happening. ;) I'm glad you're enjoying. :D
Eowyn Skywalker: The Trials are funny things – people have wondered for years what they actually are, and that was the best I could come up with. I agree, the duel scene is great – HHP actually wrote that part. And sorry for the typo. ;) And I love alternate realities. They're just ... great. :D Thank you!
The Maelstrom: Okay, blushing now. You're quite right. I need to go back and correct that. But as for Siri leaving the Order, it turned out, did it not, that she was merely on an undercover mission? I thought that was established in the first JQ, and she was in a lot of the books after that. I haven't read any post ROTS material, however.
Kat: Thank you. :D It took me a while to decide how to make Obi-Wan's arrival public, and I finally settled on a memo – my co-writer took it from there, though, and really made it great. :D Anakin's trials are finally realized, as well. ;) (And aww, poor Siri. :p )
Sandman: Thank you. :D Glad that you're enjoying.
Jandalf: LOL, all right. ;) My co-writer wrote the duel – I love it, too. Siri managed to work herself in there, quite in a way I didn't expect ... Anakin's trials are dealt with. ;) And no more leaving you hanging!
LadyArian: I'm SO sorry. But I hopethe finishing of this storyassuages your murderous rage. ;) ;)
All that said ... thank you all for being persistent, for reading this story through all it's various trials and long periods without updates. This story would not have been finished without you. I hope you enjoy this last part, and HUGS to all. :) I'll miss you!
And thanks to vaderincarnate and HappyHobbitPadawan, my darling co-writers throughout this experiment. Your contributions to this story made it what it is. (Take that as you will!) HHP, thank you for the wonderful ending line to this story. It was a joy working with you on these last portions. :)
The moment he stepped foot on Tatooine, Anakin knew he would never complain about the coldness of space travel again. The heat that blasted him seemed like a smothering cloak, weighing down his limbs and slowing his thoughts. The sun burned the patches of his tender skin that were not covered by the baggy garb he wore to blend in with the planet's native population.
Worst of all though was the sand. No matter how he walked it seemed to work its way into his boots, grating against his flesh. He knew that if the wind picked up, the sand would blow into his hair and his eyes and he would be even more miserable.
Anakin quickly tamped down on his thoughts. It was not a line of thinking a Jedi should be having in the middle of an important mission, least of all a Jedi undertaking his Trials. And particularly for the focus he needed while on this world.
For the moment, he was alone, making his way through various back alleys of the main city of Mos Eisley. He had split from Obi-Wan and Xanatos after they had left the ship; the Force had called him away, urging him on, and his mentors had understood. So Anakin strolled through the maze of buildings as he felt himself gently guided on by the Force. The atmosphere of the city was intriguing: there was a sense of anticipation – the Senate vote would rely on the outcome of their mission, if Xanatos reported that a sufficient percentage of the population voted to join – but there were also snaking tendrils of darkness. Greed and iniquity were in strong force here, courtesy of the criminal population he knew that had dominated the planet since time immemorial.
As he emerged into a plaza he came to a halt, for the whispering currents of the Force suddenly swirled in intensity. He glanced around and relaxed, letting the Force flow through him. It was startlingly easy – he could feel its power so clearly here, and he didn't know why. He quickly glimpsed what he believed he had been searching for.
Gathered beneath a threadbare awning – which did little to fend off the blazing light of the suns – was a small handful of people. The focus of their attention was a middle-aged woman, with kind yet careworn features and intense brown eyes that never left her audience as she spoke with them. At first glance he felt that there was something familiar about her but he could not determine what. Anakin sidled closer to catch what she was saying.
"We need the final tallies by this evening. We're counting on the support of your communities to help us all. Semiri reports that Eisley goes well, as does Anchorhead. I'll be speaking with Drelk again, but just in case he won't listen your districts will be very important. Any questions? Good. We'll reconvene tonight."
The small group quickly dispersed, leaving the woman alone. She leaned against a small table as she picked up a datapad and examined the screen. It was several moments before she looked up and saw Anakin.
"Are you from one of the outer communities? I have not seen you before at any of our meetings." She studied him, confusion fleeting through her features before her face smoothed once more into one of warm welcome.
"No, I'm a new arrival," Anakin told her, and added genuinely, "but I am interested in the welfare of this world."
She nodded, seeming to trust his words and accept him. "Cliegg should be along in a few moments. We have a meeting with a local rival with whom we're hoping to reconcile our concerns tomorrow. It was going to be today, but things came up."
"Cliegg - is that your son?"
"My husband. Well, not technically. We've never bothered with formally declaring. The local government, if it can be called that, is too scattered to listen to needs like that. They were more concerned with sharing profits with the Hutts. Cliegg bought my own freedom from Gardulla the Hutt many years ago."
"You were a slave?"
"Yes, and there are still many slaves here. It's one reason why I want to join the Republic and be governed by their laws. So many here deserve a better life."
"You seem to be active in doing that," Anakin remarked.
She smiled. "For years I never thought it would be possible to change things on this world. Yet only within the past few months have I seen a new way. A man met with some of us to explain how we could organize and petition to join the Republic. The criminal factions are strongly opposed and wield great power on Tatooine, but Thani helped us to realize that if we stick together it may be possible to defeat them."
"Thani?" Anakin bit back a smile; he was still not used to hearing Xanatos' undercover name. Besides being the capital of his home planet, it was similar to the nickname Qui-Gon sometimes still called him.
"Yes, a tall man, with black hair and keen blue eyes. Have you not spoken with him? Everyone sympathetic to our cause seems to have come across his path at least once. He is elusive, though." She paused, once more studying Anakin. "You remind me of him."
"I do?" Anakin raised an eyebrow.
"Not in your appearance, but in your bearing. I feel that you are both good people. Ones that we can trust."
"Thank you, ma'am."
She blushed suddenly. "I am sorry - how rude of me – I never introduced myself. My name is Shmi."
"I am Anakin," he returned, offering his hand in greeting. He was not worried to be going by his real name as that had been decided by Xanatos at the start of the mission. But Shmi's reaction to his name had him suddenly doubting that decision.
"Anakin?" she gasped. "Anakin? I thought at first ... but it seemed too good to be true ..." She moved forward, reaching out a sun-browned hand to gently caress his face.
Uncertain but not frightened, Anakin did not pull away from her touch.
"I would know you anywhere," she whispered. "My Anakin. My son." She closed her eyes, a single tear sliding down to her cheek.
Anakin started at that. He knew he had been born on Tatooine, but had no memories. He had never given his origins much thought, as the Jedi were all he needed. "You're my – mother?" Anakin spoke the words so haltingly, so unfamiliar with the name, that Shmi suddenly jerked her arm away from him, wiping the tear away. She took a step back, her eyes misty, yet she smiled.
Something about her suddenly triggered him to recall the dream he'd had that morning, the one that he'd had for years. "You're the presence in my dreams," he said slowly, his eyes glazed over as he delved into a memory. "I don't know where I am, but I'm safe." He reached out and lightly took Shmi's hand between his own. "You kept me safe when I was little."
"When I was scared ... hurt. You were there."
"I was your mother. I loved you. Of course I took care of you. And look at you now - a Jedi. All grown up, and helping to keep others safe yourself." She lowered her voice to not let mention of his title fall on passersby ears. Although Anakin's appearance did not match those of the Jedi, Anakin knew Shmi was perceptive enough to figure out that he was undercover, and was there to help Tatooine.
"I am a Jedi," he affirmed in an equally soft tone. He paused, not certain how to say it but deciding being forward would be the best way. "I am a Jedi, and that is where I belong now."
"I know, I know," she reassured him, once more reaching out and touching his face before taking a step back. "I had you for a precious short time, but I knew when to let you go."
They shared a smile, and Anakin suddenly knew that things were as they were meant to be.
"Shmi!" a rough, weathered voice called out. Shmi turned from Anakin with a smile on her face, and her visual search soon ended – coming to rest on an older man, with a grizzled look about him. He was dressed as a farmer, but moved in an easy way. She glanced back at Anakin quickly, as if reassuring herself that he was real, that he was standing there.
"That's Cliegg," she said softly, watching Anakin's eyes.
Cliegg came forward through the dissipating crowd. He gave Anakin a cautious, wary look, but said nothing, merely sweeping Shmi into a gentle hug.
Shmi kept her hand on Cliegg's arm. "Cliegg, this . . . this is Anakin," she said with a blinding smile.
Anakin nodded in greeting. "A pleasure to meet you, sir."
Cliegg squinted. "Anakin? You're Shmi's son?"
"It would appear so," Anakin said, feeling more than a little awkward.
Cliegg hesitated for a moment, then gave him a warm smile. "Then welcome to the family, kid. I thought the Jedi took you?"
"Gave," Shmi murmured.
"They did," Anakin confirmed. "I don't think we should speak of that here, though." He gestured with his eyes at a group of scruffy-looking men. Even if those close by would be willing to pass over the fact that a Jedi was nearby, those men would probably not. They stood outside of one of Mos Eisley's many bars, and they were giving Shmi and Cliegg a very unfriendly look.
Shmi glanced over, and her lips pursed. "Slavers," she said bluntly. She looked at Cliegg. "Let's go home. My business here is done," she said more gently.
Cliegg nodded. "You're welcome to join us," he said, looking at Anakin. Shmi smiled. It was a graceful, humble expression on her face.
Anakin hesitated a moment, then nodded slowly. "If it's no trouble."
"Of course not," Shmi assured him. She gave him that look again, that so clearly spoke of her mingled joy and disbelief, like she almost didn't dare believe she had her son.
Cliegg saw it. Anakin saw that, and when their eyes met, there was a sudden silent agreement between the two men: keep Shmi happy.
"We live out by . . ." Shmi began.
The night was uneventful. Over dinner, Shmi – and more subtly, Cliegg – interrogated Anakin over his life, what it had been like, how he was. Shmi seemed to want to know everything. Somewhere during the conversation, Cliegg had finally relaxed; maybe it been during the story he told about giving tours of 'Thani's' rooms. Anakin thought Cliegg might have believed that he would hurt Shmi in some way, in being distant from her.
He didn't know that Anakin already felt like Shmi's son. He just didn't know the fact of it – he felt it. She was his mother, and while before it had always merely been a word, now there was fact and emotion tied to it.
He rather thought that the way he and Owen, Cliegg's son – his stepbrother! – had hit it off had helped. Suddenly having a new family member – albeit one he had known had existed, somewhere – was a bit of a shock for Cliegg, but he was adapting very well in Anakin's opinion. Shmi was blissful.
Anakin bedded down for the night in the garage. He had suggested it, and despite Shmi's . . . mothering, that's where he had slept, for what little he had slept. He hadn't wanted to put the Lars family out of their beds, and he knew he wouldn't sleep much anyway.
He woke well before sunrise. He went outside, deactivating and then reactivating the house alarms, but not going beyond the outer perimeter of alarms. Tusken Raiders rarely came close to the farms, but that was partially because of the precautions the farmers took.
He looked up at the night sky, feeling the cool air of night swirl around his body, seeping through his clothes. He didn't shiver, though. He just sat down and looked up. Even in the Outer Rim, the stars were bright. A little sparser, perhaps, but still bright.
He breathed deeply. It was like he was flying, here. It was so strange and new, but exhilarating. He didn't know what any of this had to do with his Trials yet, but he was sure there was some connection. The Force was strong with him. He wondered if that was because he was here, in his birthplace, or if it was because things of great importance would happen soon. He could see nothing of the future; it was hazy, unclear.
Anakin turned. He hesitated, then: "Mom?"
Shmi smiled, even gave a little hop in her robe. She took a few quick steps up to him, and then sat by him. Anakin looked her over in concern. "You're cold," he said, and shrugging out of his robe despite her protests, he put it around her shoulders.
"It's heavy," she commented.
"I realized exactly how heavy during the afternoon heat," Anakin said dryly. "What are you doing up? I thought you were asleep."
"I was," she said, raising her eyebrow. "I thought you were asleep. It's not safe to be out here at night, you know."
"I don't sense any danger," Anakin assured her.
She breathed deeply, something magical in her eyes, then gently touched his face. "You can sense many things, I imagine. I always knew you were special, since I first carried you."
Anakin smiled. Then it faded, as a sudden thought occurred to him. "What about my father?"
Shmi looked at him searchingly. "You have no father. I carried you, I gave birth to you. I can't explain it, but you were a gift, Ani. As I told the Jedi who took you to your new life."
"I – I don't have a father? But that's not possible." He shook his head in disbelief.
Shmi nodded. "I can't explain it, but I know it's true."
And the Jedi know, Anakin thought. I don't. Didn't. And Obi-Wan – "They never told me."
Shim frowned. "Maybe they didn't think it wise."
Obi-Wan must have known. And Yoda, at the very least. Did Xanatos know? What was he? "Maybe."
Shmi settled her hand on his. "Don't be angry, Ani. I've seen the way you talk about them, the things you say. They love you. I'm sure they did what they felt best."
Anakin nodded slowly. "Yes," he agreed quietly.
"Will you come inside?" Shmi asked, with a gentle smile.
Anakin felt the corner of his mouth twitch. "Let me guess. You'll only come inside if I do," he said.
"I think I get my stubbornness from you," he said, rising to his feet and helping Shmi to slowly rise.
"I hope you got some of my better qualities as well," she replied dryly.
Anakin just smiled.
At least it wasn't so hot in the morning, Obi-Wan mused. At night, it was cold; during the day it was hot. There wasn't much in-between to be had. Though he wondered why people didn't just do everything at night, lack of light or not; it was so much cooler, and he'd always found cold easier to handle than so much heat you could cook on the street.
Xanatos was disgustingly adjusted.
As if hearing his thoughts, Xanatos shot him a smirk.
"So, where are we going?" Obi-Wan asked as they dodged in and out of early-morning foot and vehicle traffic.
"I don't know yet," Xanatos admitted. "I'll sense it when the time comes, though."
"You intend on wandering around until something comes to you or something happens? The Force will call in its time."
"What, afraid of a little heat?"
Obi-Wan merely gave him a calm, cool look, and set about adjusting the temperature of his body with the Force.
It was mid-morning with the meeting settled into place. It would take place in Mos Eisley – admittedly not the best place on Tatooine, but one of the biggest and most important. So to Mos Eisley they went.
Anakin accompanied Shmi and Cliegg to the meeting with the 'rival' Shmi had spoken of earlier. His name was simply Gardaro. He wasn't a slaver, or even a particularly bad criminal, though he probably did a few illegal trade practices here and there. That was part of what made him such a problem, Anakin learned. He didn't want Tatooine to join the Republic; he was afraid of losing business. The slavers and smugglers supported him because he didn't support the Republic, and he was just looking out for himself in the whole issue. But as their leader, their representative, it was his choice. Appealing to his sense of morality would probably be pointless, and he wasn't such a criminal that he could be ignored, or dealt with by the tribunal that had been set up by citizens of Anchorhead with the help of a mysterious man called Thani.
The meeting took place in a shaded square. Most of the tables had been pushed to the side, leaving a single table and a lot of space in the middle.
At least, it would have been a lot of space. The small meeting turned out to be more; supporters had shown up on both sides.
At one side stood some shady-looking sorts, and on the other were some decidedly nervous but determined farmers and honest businessmen.
Anakin muttered, "I've got a bad feeling about this."
"It'll be fine," Shmi reassured him, but she also looked concerned. Cliegg just looked proud of his wife.
The crowd grew quiet in anticipation as Shmi and Gardaro greeted each other and took their seats facing one another at the table. The bystanders drew in slightly to hear better; Anakin and Cliegg stood directly behind Shmi, mirroring the stance of several of Gardaro's men.
Shmi spoke first. "Gardaro, have you come to a decision?" Her tone was soft and calm, betraying none of her nervousness or her eagerness.
Gardaro leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. He was a large, gruff-looking man, but seemed to possess a natural charisma that was undoubtedly responsible for him being the leader of the criminal element in this city. "Well, I have to say that my mind hasn't changed since our previous meeting." A murmur rolled through the crowd.
"So your vote will be for Tatooine to remain separate from the Republic?"
"Exactly." He tilted his head. "You see, I don't trust the Republic. They've never been interested in us before. We've done fine on our own. Don't need some distant politicians meddling in our affairs."
Shmi leaned forward. "So far, we've managed to get nearly the majority of Tatooine's citizens to support joining the Republic. You are a ... representative of the final group we need. If the rest of the planet supports this move, why not you? What have you got to lose?" When Gardaro did not answer, Shmi pressed on, addressing the crowd around her. "We only to stand to gain if we join the Republic – all of us. Think of the poverty on this planet, the unhappiness and uncertainty you see in your neighbors as you pass them on the street everyday. All of that can be eased if we become a member of the Galactic Senate. They will be obliged to help us." She paused, her eyes searching Gardaro's face. "Don't you want a better life?"
Her rival leaned forward, poking a finger at his chest. "Honey, I've got the good life."
Anakin tensed as he sensed a sudden dangerous undercurrent shoot through the crowd. He watched as several farmers moved forward threateningly.
"You live the good life at the expense of us all!" one of the farmers spat.
"And you blame your own incompetence at making a living on me?" Gardaro leaned back again nonchalantly. "You're lucky I haven't chosen to crush your businesses for your disrespect."
"Well, why don't you try?" In a moment, blasters and other weapons were drawn on both sides.
Gardaro smirked. "You amuse me."
The farmer took another step forward, his blaster trembling in his hand. "Why don't you see how well I amuse you with a blaster bolt in your heart?"
Shmi stood up and began to move to speak with the angry farmer.
The movement saved her life.
A poorly aimed bolt shot out of the blaster and clipped Shmi in the shoulder, where her chest had been only a second before. Before she could cry out, Gardaro leapt to his feet and grabbed her, pulling her backwards and placing the barrel of his own blaster at her temple.
"If anyone even thinks about assassinating me again, she dies!" Gardaro snarled. He held Shmi in a firm grip. For her part, she remained calm, although it was obvious she was in tremendous pain. The sleeve of her dress was quickly growing dark.
Blood pounded in Anakin's ears. He suddenly found it difficult to breathe. His thoughts were fixed on Gardaro, consumed with the notion of how easy it would be to reach out with the Force, wrap a tendril around the criminal's neck, and squeeze . . . Shmi was hurt, but how badly was difficult to tell with all the blood.
The Force swirled around him powerfully, overwhelmingly, and he knew it would be easy. To end this all here and save his mother. His jaw clenched, his fists tightened, and the Force seemed to sizzle in readiness.
No. There were bigger things at stake, bigger than he was, bigger than Shmi. All of Tatooine depended on this moment. He had to do what was right, what was expected – and required – of him. He had to do his duty.
The wave of darkness rolled away as quickly as it had come, leaving only serenity and determination in its wake.
Anakin stepped forward, both hands open in a gesture of peace. "Please! Stop this." The crowd grew quiet again at the new voice. "We will get nowhere by fighting."
"And who would you be?" Gardaro sneered.
Anakin paused. "I am Shmi's son."
Gardaro shook Shmi. "I didn't know you had another son, honey."
Anakin calmly moved toward him, speaking softly. "I have been away for a long time. I went in search of a better life." He turned slightly to address the whole crowd. "And I return now at a time when you all have the possibility for a better life. Look around you!" His gesture indicated the alleys that surrounded them: filled with dark corners, rubbish, and nervous citizens moving quickly to avoid thieves and slavers. In the distance, a baby could be heard crying. "Is this what you want for your home?"
Gardaro was silent – listening – but Anakin knew that appealing to his moral sense would not win him over. The Padawan changed tactics. "If Tatooine does join the Republic, I won't lie – slavery will be abolished and illegal trading will be looked down upon. But this doesn't mean you will be jobless, without a means to support you and your family. The Republic welcomes your services as lawful businessmen. It can help you make that transition."
Anakin's voice was persuasive, mirroring the tone he had heard Xanatos use in negotiations. Yet he was careful to leave out any Force suggestion – these people had to decide for themselves. "I know many of you are embroiled in conflicts with the natives of this planet, the Sand People. The Republic will be obliged to help you settle those conflicts." He searched his memory of what he had read about these clashes. "The Republic peace keepers are experts at solving these types of land disputes. And yet this will only happen if you all choose to join the Republic. Think of the benefits, for all of you."
Gardaro shifted his weight, although he did not relax his stance. Yet many of his comrades had already lowered their weapons, listening intently. Anakin decided to play his final card.
"The Hutts mostly control this planet," the Padawan continued. "They must require a fair chunk of your profits, do they not?" Another murmur rolled through the crowd, on both sides. "I can assure you that whatever taxes the Senate will require will be far less than what the Hutts take from you now." He met Gardaro's eyes. "And the Republic does not take assassination lightly." Not quite an offer of protection, but close enough.
Gardaro finally lowered his weapon but kept a hand on Shmi. Yet Anakin still detected some distrust in his eyes as the criminals glanced at the farmers across from him. Similar doubt was mirrored in the gazes of the farmers.
Anakin spoke again before the moment was lost. "And you," he addressed the farmers, "you will have to compromise too. If one side agrees to give up their illegal trades, then you must understand that you are agreeing to live with these people. They will be your fellow citizens, and deserve your respect. You will be living under the banner of the same planet." He turned his gaze back to Gardaro and his men. "Even if you choose now not to join with your neighbors, you should know that nearly half the planet already supports joining the Republic. I can only imagine that that number will grow in the future. Nothing remains the same forever. You can't stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting. Why not embrace it now, when you stand only to benefit from it?"
Anakin sensed it then – a growing acceptance from one side, and a cautious resignation on the other. Yet both sides expressed hope. Anakin felt the Force swirling around him, pulsing with the life-forms all about him, life-forms he hoped would soon see a better future.
Gardaro finally released Shmi. He was a calculating man, and it showed in his eyes. But he was a practical man as well. Shmi gasped and stumbled toward one of the chairs. Cliegg rushed forward to help her.
Anakin picked up the datapad that Shmi had set on the table at the start of the meeting. He held it out to Gardaro. "Will you agree to join the Republic?"
After a moment's pause, the man accepted the datapad. He glanced at the screen, then used the stylus to sign his name.
"Thank you," Anakin told him sincerely as he took the device back. Gardaro's only response was a grunt as he turned and walked away, his men following him. The rest of the crowd began to disperse as well.
Anakin tucked the datapad safely away in his pocket. He would need to get it to Xanatos soon so that the Senate could be informed of the majority on Tatooine and the Senate vote to accept Tatooine could go forward. But now that the danger had passed, he could afford to focus his attention on Shmi.
Cliegg had already cut away her sleeve, exposing a nasty-looking wound. Dipping lightly into the Force, Anakin could tell that the wound was not deep or dangerous, despite its appearances.
He knelt beside Shmi. "How do you feel?"
She smiled faintly. "I've survived worse." She reached out and took his hand between her own. "I'm so proud of you, Ani."
"And I'm proud of you, Mom." He smiled, wondering if she could see the tears that he struggled to hold back. He supposed she could.
"You should probably get some bacta on that."
Anakin started at the familiar voice behind him. He quickly rose to his feet. "Thani," he greeted Xanatos. Obi-Wan stood beside him, smiling. "You arrived just in time," he added dryly.
"Anakin," Xanatos dipped his head in acknowledgment, ignoring the remark, and greeted the others. Then he turned back to Shmi. "I have a proper medical kit on my ship, if you like."
"Yes, thank you, Thani," she replied. She got to her feet with the help of Anakin. "We can meet you at the homestead, if that would be all right?"
Xanatos smiled and nodded. "We won't be long."
Anakin handed him the datapad with the signatures on it, correctly assuming that Xanatos meant to contact the Jedi and Senate with the news when he returned to the ship for the bacta. The Knight paused a moment as he took the device, grasping Anakin's arm with his free hand.
"Well done, Anakin." He grinned. "Well done."
Anakin bowed his head. "Thank you." He watched as Xanatos and Obi-Wan hurried off to ensure stragglers dispersed with everyone else, not wanting another incident before they could even send the votes off, then turned to help Shmi. As he considered the woman, he realized that she'd had a major role in bringing the planet together. She might very well go down in Tatooine history.
Well done indeed.
The curious stragglers were easily run off, with assurances that their concerns would be dealt with at a later date. Obi-Wan ended up doing most of the work; Xanatos could hardly talk, his mind still on what Anakin had done.
"He passed his Trials, didn't he?" Xanatos said suddenly.
Obi-Wan glanced at him, walking back to Anakin's family, then said, "You're only figuring this out now?"
Xanatos grinned. "It was well done."
"It was more than that. Sometime over the past few days, Anakin formed a connection with his mother, but he balanced it with his Jedi duties back there. He put his duty first, and still cared for Shmi." He raised both eyebrows, waiting for Xanatos' response.
Xanatos nodded. "So he did."
"And then there's Padmé," Obi-Wan added offhandedly.
"What about Padmé?" Xanatos asked warily. He was as aware of the relationship as Obi-Wan, but while he wasn't sure it would go anywhere, Obi-Wan appeared to have a different opinion – and not just because his own Anakin had married the woman, Xanatos suspected.
Obi-Wan didn't answer. He walked over to where Anakin stood. Shmi was being treated by a local medic nearby, under Anakin and Cliegg's watchful eyes. She was pale, but smiling. Anakin looked fairly relaxed, though his tension sang in the Force; Cliegg didn't bother to disguise his emotions, or his protectiveness.
When Obi-Wan and Xanatos approached, however, Anakin left his mother's side, apparently satisfied with her treatment. He smiled at the two of them, but Xanatos felt a frisson of worry. He wanted to talk to them alone, or he would not have moved.
"What is it?" Xanatos asked Anakin.
Anakin cocked his head to the side, and began walking in that direction, away from Shmi and the others. "I wanted to ask you about something, as you can probably tell." He glanced at Obi-Wan. "Obi-Wan, too."
Obi-Wan simply nodded.
"What is it?" Xanatos asked, following Anakin to his right; Obi-Wan was on his left.
"Shmi told me about the fact that I . . . apparently don't have a father. And the Jedi knew this." He gave Xanatos a dark look, not with anger, but other emotions.
Xanatos blinked. "What?"
"Its part of the Chosen One prophecy," Obi-Wan broke in. "A part, I, ah, failed to mention." Xanatos couldn't help looking at Obi-Wan in surprise – they were going to discuss this now? Anakin may have taken his Trials, but for the time being, Yoda was still his Master, and they hadn't discussed how to reveal the existence of the prophecy to Anakin.
Anakin's eyes narrowed. "There's a prophecy now?"
"Yes," Obi-Wan said. "It's not a well known one, and Yoda kept the information from you – and the other Jedi – deliberately. For your sake," he added, watching Anakin carefully.
Xanatos mentally leaned back to watch. Obi-Wan and Anakin had a special connection, different than what he and Xanatos had, or even he and Qui-Gon.
"If you had known you were supposed to fulfill an ancient prophecy, it would have been a burden on you." He paused. "I know it was a great burden to the Anakin of my universe. I am glad Yoda was wise enough to keep it from you."
The faintly accusing look in Anakin's face faded at Obi-Wan's words. "What is this prophecy?"
"One of the reasons Yoda knew you were the Chosen One is because of your – lack of a father. The other is your very high midichlorian count, which you do know about. These things were set out in the prophecy, so when the time came, the Jedi would know who the Chosen One was," Obi-Wan began to explain. "The prophecy itself is actually fairly simple, or at least it sounds that way."
"That doesn't sound good," Anakin commented.
"Essentially, you're somehow supposed to bring balance."
Obi-Wan smiled and shrugged.
"How helpful," Anakin said sarcastically.
"For all we know, this isn't even something you have to try to do – your life will simply . . . go that way," Xanatos added.
"Balance," Anakin repeated. "What about your Anakin?" he asked, turning to Obi-Wan.
"I don't know. My Anakin turned; is that part of the balance? I don't think so, not after seeing you, knowing you, especially after what just happened in the square."
Anakin looked confused at that. Of course, he didn't know that the Jedi Council – certainly Obi-Wan and Xanatos – considered that to be his Trial. "But . . . then your Anakin hasn't brought balance?"
"I don't think so. But I believe he will." Obi-Wan's voice was softly sad. He shook his head. "I'm not even sure 'balance' means the same thing in both our universes. Or if it's immediate, or if . . ." He trailed off. "No one knows, Anakin."
"Not even me?" He exhaled roughly. "I certainly feel like I should."
"Perhaps that is how it is meant to be," Xanatos offered quietly.
Anakin didn't look convinced. "Perhaps."
Obi-Wan smoothly interceded. "Regardless, now is not the time for that discussion. Anakin, do you want to go with your mother back to the farm?"
Anakin nodded. "I'd like to. There's also the issue of signing Tatooine into the Republic – delegates will need to be sent, that will need to be taken care of."
"You should maintain a low profile," Xanatos said. "Even if the Republic finding out you were here doesn't affect the Senate vote, it's not a good idea. And it would be even worse if people suspected me, because they probably would consider my presence tampering."
Anakin nodded. "I understand." He paused, took a deep breath. "Thank you. Both of you." With a nod of acknowledgment – a bow would not be appropriate considering the circumstances – he walked away, back to where Shmi was being treated.
Xanatos breathed deeply. Obi-Wan shot him a curious but inviting look, to which Xanatos just shook his head. There was nothing to say. Everything was changing. Anakin was being Knighted – and definitely not in the manner he had anticipated. Of course, the Jedi Council would have to confirm it, but that was a matter of formality and nothing more to Xanatos' mind.
After a few moments of Obi-Wan's unobtrusive watching, Xanatos shot him a smile. "Everything's changing."
Obi-Wan just smiled.
It was early afternoon when they arrived home, at the farm. The heat had reached its zenith, and would stay there until the suns set and it began to cool down. All of them went inside, to air-conditioned rooms, with a relieved sigh. Anakin felt himself relax, and not just because of the absence of heat.
One of the first things he had noted about Shmi and Cliegg's home was that it was a home. There were chipped cups, mismatched dishes and pictures that made no sense to him – but probably did to the other occupants. The marks were individualistic to this place, and that made it a home.
Anakin settled in the kitchen with a sigh. Shmi had decided to lay down, to Cliegg's relief, and he was fussing over her, getting her relaxed, rereading and rereading the instructions from the Mos Eisley's resident medic – who was pretty good when he wasn't drunk, and he usually waited until the afternoon before starting for the day. Anakin stared at the wall with the most pictures, on the side of the kitchen. In most homes there would have been a window there, but on Tatooine, it was more practical to have things lowly set, underground or nearly so.
He could feel his mother in the Force with no effort – she was tired, enough to even admit it, but her condition wasn't serious.
Anakin turned, startled. Owen was standing by the open doorway. "No," Anakin said with a smile.
Owen grinned back in response and plopped himself down into the seat opposite Anakin. At first, Owen had been a bit wary around Anakin, but after a few questions with genuine interest on Anakin's part, they had found themselves comfortable with each other. Owen had a rare kind of steadfastness, especially for his age. In a sense, it reminded him of Qui-Gon, and he wondered if Qui-Gon had been like Owen at that age. There was a certain sense of both awareness and practicality there. Even as Owen listened to tales of adventure, he still loved his home – and knew it. And Owen had been excited to tell someone new about Beru, of course.
"I didn't arrive until after Mom was hurt, but I heard you went off with the two Jedi for a while," Owen offered. He had a prior engagement, or he would have been there with Cliegg and Shmi. He had started helping out with the farm a lot as he had gotten older, Anakin had learned, and he even hoped to open his own someday. It was looking more likely, with Tatooine joining the Republic.
Anakin nodded, seeing where Owen was going. "I'm fine. I'm not in trouble."
Owen relaxed slightly. "But there's something else."
"I suppose," Anakin said with a sigh, hating the indecisive answer. "It's just –" He stopped.
"Apparently I'm supposed to do something very important, for the Jedi, and not only do I have not the slightest clue what it is, neither do they," Anakin blurted.
Owen looked taken aback. "What kind of something?"
"Fulfill a prophecy," Anakin said with a wry smile. "It sounds so . . . holodrama." He gestured vaguely as if to encompass the entire genre of bad holodramas.
"Oh," Owen said. "Didn't they say anything helpful?"
"Well, they said that whether I know about it or not might not matter, that I'll do it because it's my – destiny, I guess," Anakin said with a tired shrug.
Owen nodded, then started smiling. "So, got any important events in your life right now?" he asked, lifting both eyebrows. "I mean, some coincidence, finding about this while . . ." He, too, gestured vaguely.
Anakin started at him, then laughed. "Damn, Owen. You should have been a Jedi." Owen was right. Coincidence? He didn't think so. His mother, Shmi, and Padmé . . . All of it. His Trials. Just thinking about Padmé took his thoughts in all sorts of new places. He smiled, and put aside some of those for later discussion with Padmé, and others, more serious, he would have to think about later.
"How's Shmi?" Anakin finally asked, relaxing.
"Mom's fine. She got settled down, then wanted to get up to check on –"
For Shmi, the dry, intense heat of Tatooine might be unpleasant, but at least it was familiar.
The suns shone with their usual intensity, glinting off the ships with a blinding glare. Cliegg was holding Shmi's hand tightly – but no more tightly than she held his. Anakin looked relaxed, Thani even more so, and Obi-Wan looked as calm as if this were like any other day.
But it wasn't.
Shmi was to be one of the signers of the document that would officially make Tatooine part of the Republic. She had been the one that had gotten the last, crucial part of Tatooine to agree to join. All of those that had started the groups that convinced Tatooine to enter the Republic would sign the document. It was common practice, if not tradition.
"You'll be fine," Ani assured her, probably noting her nervous look.
Shmi squeezes Cliegg's hand and then let go. His touch lingered for a moment; he still worried over her, though she was mostly healed since the injury two weeks ago. She walked up to Anakin. Her son. He smiled at her, and she thought, His eyes are no different. He's so grown up, so handsome, but those eyes . . .
Shmi embraced Anakin, and he returned it. "I'll be in the other ship," he murmured. "For political reasons for when we arrive. But it'll be okay, Mom. No need to worry."
"I know," Shmi said simply, and lay her hand on the side of her son's face. "I know."
Then, with a nervous smile for Cliegg, she stepped on board the Nubian ship that would take her and the other delegates to Coruscant.
Xanatos sat back and yawned, closing his eyes. Everything was going fine . . . just fine. He couldn't say how happy that made him, all considering. The past month had been nothing but things on top of other things on top of yet other more complicated things. Anakin was fine, if hiding something from him and Obi-Wan. Tatooine was joining the Republic – a successful mission there. Obi-Wan was fine, a miracle in and of itself.
Anakin's voice broke the quiet. "What?"
Xanatos' eyes snapped open. Obi-Wan and Anakin's voices had been a soft murmur before. He spun away from the dizzying view of the hyperspace field and looked back at Obi-Wan and Anakin.
Anakin looked faintly embarrassed when he glanced at Xanatos.
"What is it?" Xanatos asked.
"Nothing," Anakin replied automatically.
Obi-Wan glanced at Anakin, and said calmly to Xanatos, "I mentioned the fact that he has likely gone through his Trials."
"Likely?" Anakin interrupted, eyes narrowing.
"It has to be confirmed," Xanatos explained. "But Obi-Wan and I are fairly certain."
Anakin looked taken aback.
"What is it?" Obi-Wan asked, his voice tinted with concern.
"I just – I don't feel like a Knight," Anakin confessed. "And I don't think any confirmation will change that."
Xanatos was about to give a quick reassurance, but stopped when he saw Obi-Wan's smile. "What?" he said to Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan cocked his head, shooting Xanatos a quick, amused look. "That's how I felt. I told Garen that, and he laughed at me. Said I'd get used to it – and I did, eventually. But there was never any moment where I just realized I was a Jedi Knight."
"So you think it will just take time?" Anakin asked curiously.
"Everyone is different," Obi-Wan said slowly, "but yes. This is a big change for you, and it hasn't even been confirmed yet. Don't worry about it."
Anakin looked unsure. Xanatos gestured in Obi-Wan's direction. "What he said," he said casually.
Anakin smiled. "Okay, okay, I get it," he said, raising his hands. "So when do we arrive?"
"Fifteen minutes sooner than it was fifteen minutes ago," Obi-Wan responded without a hint of sarcasm.
Anakin sighed. "Hey, do you think I could maybe fool with the en –"
"We're coming in the back way?" Anakin sounded . . . miffed.
"It's a bit necessary, Anakin," Xanatos replied in a tone that just barely stopped short of a pat on the head.
Obi-Wan watched in silent amusement.
"Why – oh. Because the Jedi weren't supposed to be involved in Tatooine joining the Republic in the first place." The young Jedi winced. He'd been told that.
Xanatos nodded. "Exactly. Especially me. You were involved very briefly, I was there for months. And while I think most of the citizenry would deny knowing me, well . . . this thing is hardly going through by a majority as it is."
"This might be a nicer universe, but politics is no different," Obi-Wan commented.
Anakin grimaced. Xanatos felt a twinge of something there, something personal, but Anakin offered nothing, and he wasn't going to ask.
Shmi and the other delegates from Tatooine would be the signers at the main level of the Senate. The delegates would sign official documents, and Tatooine would officially be part of the Republic. While in transport back to Coruscant, Padmé and other supporters had voted Tatooine in, should they choose to accept the invitation, as was planned. As soon as those documents were signed, ships would be taking off for Tatooine for aid. Two Jedi were also being dispatched, though Xanatos would have to brief them before they left. The Jedi were, of course, going to go undercover. Senator Amidala had been insistent on the issue of aid vs. oversight, and the Jedi's presence was going to be subtle.
"Eager to be off, Anakin?" Obi-Wan queried.
Anakin shot him a nervous glance. "Well, sort of."
"Not because of the Council –" Xanatos began.
"No. There's . . . someone I want to meet at the Senate." Anakin smiled a touch dreamily. "She's going to be there."
Obi-Wan nodded in complete understanding, though it took a moment longer for Xanatos to catch up, so unused to the idea of Anakin – having a relationship, a serious one, and him actually knowing about it.
"I see," Xanatos said.
"Try not to look so disapproving, would you, Xanatos?" Anakin shot as he jumped out of the ship, not even waiting for the ramp to fully extend.
Xanatos grimaced, seeing Obi-Wan trying to look innocent and unaware out of the corner of his eye. But when Xanatos made to head off after Anakin and warn him not to be seen, Obi-Wan lightly touched his arm. Xanatos sighed. They both left the ship at a more sedate pace, moving away from the Senate – they could leave for a bit, and the Council needed to be briefed, not only on the outcome of Anakin's Trials – and why they were back so soon – but also on the fact that Anakin had exposed himself as a Jedi. And might expose himself even more, Xanatos added mentally.
They moved quickly through the halls of the Temple, using the various walkways above and through the gardens to make their way quietly.
As it turned out, that wasn't necessary.
Halfway to their destination, the Council met them.
Mace Windu spoke first. "We have felt a divergence in the Force."
"Passed his Trials, Anakin did," Yoda stated authoritatively.
Xanatos nodded. "Yes, Masters." He glanced at Windu. "A divergence?"
"Interesting word choice," Obi-Wan commented.
"Why?" Xanatos asked warily.
"It was the one Qui-Gon used when he found Anakin, in my universe," Obi-Wan said calmly, watching the Council. "You feel it, don't you? Even if we don't, yet. Something important is about to happen."
Windu pursed his lips.
Xanatos spoke up. "The prophecy?" he asked, slightly alarmed.
"Perhaps so," Obi-Wan said, nodding.
"Humph," Yoda interjected wisely. "Take it as Jedi, we will, and act appropriately."
"Whatever this important event ends up being," Windu finished. He glanced at the other Jedi Council members, then apparently came to a decision. "We are heading to the signing. It feels like the locus. Xanatos, you had better stay behind, to preserve your identity as Thani."
Xanatos grimaced. He didn't like that at all, he wanted to be there for Anakin, but Windu was right. "What about Qui-Gon?"
"Already there," Obi-Wan said, to Xanatos' surprise. Obi-Wan shrugged. "I can feel him. He's not nearby, so that's where he must be."
Windu nodded slowly. "Obi-Wan is correct."
"Very well," Xanatos said. "May the Force be with you."
Obi-Wan and the Council headed to for the signing.
The signing would occur within the Senate halls. While a majority number of Senators would not be present, a larger than usual amount would be. Due to the nature of Tatooine's citizenry, its induction had been a matter of heated debate. At Senator Amidala's reversal, and support, it went through, but it was still a precedent and an important one. And like all newsworthy events, Senators made sure they were visible.
Especially Jar Jar Binks.
Anakin knew Obi-Wan and Xanatos had let him go to Padmé for several reasons. One, the Senate would know of his involvement on Tatooine sooner or later, so if the Tatooine delegates recognized him – possible, from what he understood, as the incident had been reported to other delegates across Tatooine – in the long run it wouldn't make any difference, though some trouble was possible in the present. Secondly, more importantly in his mind, Obi-Wan had a rather different opinion than most of the Jedi Council on attachment and what, precisely, that meant, and Xanatos and company were willing to follow his lead for the moment.
He was glad of their trust, as well as their concern.
Even so, most of his thoughts were on Padmé. Of their conversation before their last dinner, of the feel of her lips, of the quickness of her mind . . . He had stayed most of the night, talking to her, and even spending some time with Eirtaé and getting another perspective on the enigma Padmé Amidala could sometimes be.
The Senate building wasn't even half-full, but considering its size, even a little full was a lot of people. He saw rows of Royal Guards around the Tatooine delegates and the signing area, adjacent to the giant Senate hall. He saw groups of Senators, as well as the many holonews reporters following their every move. He saw several preening for them, including Senator Jar Jar Binks, the delegate of Naboo's Gungan population to the Senate.
Padmé stood in one such group, watching the signing with a serene expression. To his surprise, she wore the dress she had on when they had first met, in Palpatine's office. The lavender color suited her perfectly, bringing out the lush tones of her face and eyes . . .
She was beautiful.
Anakin tried to keep along the sidelines of guards, keeping his gaze on Padmé, hoping to catch her eye.
Dimly, in some other part of his conscious mind, he watched the signing itself.
Chancellor Palpatine stood across from the delegates, smiling broadly and welcoming them into the Republic. The delegates looked like they were about to faint, even the normally stoic Hammerhead. A Wookiee – how she, it was a she, had ended up on Tatooine was a mystery – roared with approval with each signature.
Shmi signed the last. As the last group to vote for joining the Republic, it was hers.
The Senators clapped, and Shmi sheepishly slipped back into the crowd of delegates, face flushed.
Padmé was smiling, and finally, her focus no longer necessary, she looked around at the happy crowd.
She stopped when she saw Anakin. Not just halted, but her entire body went still for a moment as their eyes met. A slight, very slight smile spread over her face. Bail Organa, another Senator, went over to her briefly and they spoke, but her eyes kept flicking over to meet Anakin's.
When the other Senator finally left with a smile, Anakin gestured for her to come over.
A pause, a hesitation, and with graceful excuses, Padmé left the celebrating crowd.
The corridor was dark, but empty. Padmé betrayed her nervousness at being so public with little glances to the side, but when she met Anakin's eyes – all else faded. She relaxed, and instead of the passionate, formal Senator, only Padmé remained, passionate and wonderful and . . .
Anakin smiled, exhilarated, and stepped forward, throwing his arms around her and bringing her to him. She kissed him hard, and he inhaled roughly, closing his eyes.
When they let each other go, they were both breathing heavily.
Padmé laughed lightly, looking into his eyes and quickly regaining her equilibrium. Anakin just tried to breathe. He loved her. How he loved her. "I'm guessing it went well," Padmé murmured, a demure smile lurking at the corners of her lips.
Anakin nodded. "Yeah, it did. Xanatos thinks my Knighthood will be confirmed . . ." So many things had happened, more than that, he could hardly speak. "And my mother, I met my mother."
Padmé drew back slightly in surprise, but her mind was already working and puzzling out Anakin's reactions. "Shmi? The last one?"
"I discovered a lot," Anakin whispered, looking into her eyes, wanting to see understanding and comfort.
Padmé's smile faded, happiness being replaced with concern. "And?"
Anakin shook off feelings of sadness and uncertainty. "And what?" Anakin breathed, and kissed her again. Broke it off to say – "I love you." And another deeply felt kiss.
Which was unkindly interrupted by a loud shout.
"Corruption! Corruption! Within the Senate!" Jar Jar Binks ran forward in the lank, long-loped way of the Gunguns, pointing at Anakin and Padmé, who quickly stepped away from each other. Anakin's eyes widened further at the crowd of reporters at Binks' heels. There were flashes and waving eyes and antennae everywhere, each with a greedy, news-breaking look in their eye – or equivalent.
Padmé raised her chin, her posture became firmer and more correct, if that was even possible, and she met Binks head on. "I don't know what you mean, Senator," she said coolly.
Binks narrowed his eyes at her. "Yousa having an affair! Dat Jedi is involved with the signing of Tatooine into the Republic!"
A reporter hurried past Binks, having forced the others away by her sheer body mass. Still, the others stayed behind Binks, making Anakin wonder if the Gungun had planned this. "Any comment, Senator?"
Padmé went very still for a moment, and Anakin could feel her mind racing. "Yes. Yes, I do have a comment to make. My decision to support the signing of Tatooine into the Republic was based purely on my belief that it would be best for Tatooine and the Republic."
Binks fumed for a second. "Jedis not supposed to be involved!" he insisted.
Padmé's eyes narrowed, and Anakin felt her focus tighten on Binks predatorily.
"Jedi go where needed," Anakin interceded, knowing this was an utter disaster. Xanatos was going to murder him. He didn't even want to think about the Council – and that they would know about Padmé, if they didn't already. "Are not the citizens of Tatooine any less sentient beings than those in the Republic? Our service on Tatooine was purely on that basis." Whew. That sounded good.
Another reporter jostled forward, antennae waving frantically. Its voice rose above the rest, tense with excitement at the possibility of a scandal, any scandal. "What of your relationship with a Jedi Padawan? What –"
"I'd like to know that as well," Mace Windu's dry voice interrupted. The reporters, who had been tempted to swarm forward on Anakin and Padmé, parted for him almost wordlessly, the respect he commanded hushing them instantly. His calm expression and simple appearance were powerfully striking, and the half the reporters focused on him, and the rest on a reaction shot.
"I love her," Anakin proclaimed, stepping forward and meeting Windu's dark eyes.
Padmé stepped forward, but she faced Anakin. Her voice was low and soft, meant for his ears, and for those others that heard . . . it was still for him. "And I love you," she whispered.
He looked into her eyes. So dark and beautiful, rich in vitality and emotion. He touched her face, drawing his callused hand along the smooth skin of her cheek.
The sound of running feet dragged Anakin's eyes away from Padmé. Xanatos stopped when he saw the two of them standing together, the mass of reporters, Binks, and a glowering Mace Windu. Xanatos carefully paused, drew his cloak around him, and gave Anakin a look that would have melted Yoda on the spot. His old friend was not his friend in that moment, but a Jedi, and that authority showed in his eyes.
Obi-Wan arrived a moment later, much more quietly, walking up behind Xanatos, his hood down and somehow, his very appearance muted.
Windu spoke. "We will not have this discussion here," he said after a moment, voice calm and even like durasteel.
Obi-Wan threw back his hood and stepped forward. "Why not?" he said loudly, gaze calm but challenging. "This is as good a place as any."
"Not when it comes to the manner of one of our own," Windu said with a pointed look in Obi-Wan's direction.
"Who is dat?" Binks interrupted, but no one paid him any mind. The reporters jostled for a better look at Obi-Wan.
"Well," Obi-Wan said quite calmly, a smiling lurking at the corner of his lips, "I think that a public forum is, in fact, a good place for this. Get it out into the open." He glanced at the reporters, who knew history – or a scandal – of some type was occurring, and clearly thought better of interfering and freshly informing those in this delicate situation that they were there.
Anakin watched in something that was a mix of astonishment and horror, though something like anticipation was building. And he had something to say, still. "I know about the Chosen One prophecy," he said bluntly, meeting Windu's eyes again.
"Anakin –" Windu began, taking another step forward.
"Let him speak," Obi-Wan interrupted.
Xanatos shot Obi-Wan a dark look, and Obi-Wan gave him a slightly apologetic one in return.
"The prophecy is about balance," Anakin said quietly, nevertheless being clearly heard. He paused. "It's kind of funny, but I was talking with my step-brother about it, and he's the one that got me thinking about what it could mean, in this time, in this circumstance . . . for us." He glanced at Padmé, seeing her remain composed, and when she caught his eye, she smiled ever so slightly.
"The prophecy does not give you leave to disobey the Code, Anakin," Windu said repressively.
Yoda stepped forward, startling everyone with his sudden appearance. "Know what the prophecy is, we do not."
Anakin took a deep breath, touching the Force and letting it flow through him, calming him, giving him the words he needed. "I've thought about this," he said simply, no command in his tone. He met Obi-Wan's eyes, suddenly remembering Xanatos saying that Obi-Wan had said the Force actually felt different here. "The Jedi and the galaxy affect the Force. How we, the Jedi, relate to both the Force and the galaxy determines where we are headed." He paused, uncertainly. "Are we merely an Order that continues on, blindly forging ahead, ignoring the rest of the galaxy – or changing it to suit our opinions on ourselves?"
"Are you saying the Jedi are not in true connection and obedience to the Force?" Xanatos asked, ignoring the presence of the reporters now.
Binks hopped from one foot to another agitatedly.
"I'm saying we follow tradition for the sake of tradition, and that's just blindness," Anakin said, blunt and nervous about being so. "Where will it lead us?"
"To me," Obi-Wan murmured, his eyes dark and aware. Anakin knew he meant that in more than one way – himself, his counterpart, and his universe.
Windu shot Obi-Wan a disturbed look. His gaze was unsettled when he returned to Anakin, but he was listening. "If this is the time . . ." he said softly.
Encouraged, Anakin continued. "Owen asked me something pretty simple. He asked me if there's a reason all that's been happening to me, in my life, is happening for a reason." He turned to Xanatos. "And is it not so, Xanatos, that the threads of life are interweaving? The Force is all-encompassing."
"You're saying it's no accident that you fell in love with the Senator?" Xanatos asked.
"Such similarities," Obi-Wan muttered, to the understanding of only the Jedi present.
Yoda caught on even quicker. "Perhaps time it is, to review the Code through the Force."
A reporter finally broke the quiet. "Are you saying the Jedi Order is going to rethink the rules on attachment?"
Windu opened his mouth to speak, but to everyone's surprise, Anakin got there first. "The Jedi Order needs to re-involve itself with the Force, not follow so closely to tradition." He sighed. "Perhaps attachment is part of that." He looked at Padmé, who was giving Binks a dirty look. "I hope so."
A moment of reflective silence, and then: "Jedi interference!" Binks shouted, pointing at Xanatos. "I knows yous!"
"How would you know, if you hadn't either been to Tatooine yourself – or were involved in some aspect?" Padmé interceded for Xanatos. "Senator Binks," she said slowly, drawing herself up, causing the reporters to focus on her again, "I personally have a hard time believing your motives would be as humanitarian as that of the Jedi."
Binks had a look of utter surprise. "I –"
Padmé turned to the reporters. "I'm sure the Jedi will be releasing a statement soon." She glanced at Anakin for a moment, then continued, "In the meantime, there will be no more to see here. However, I'm sure Binks has a lot to talk about, and you a lot of questions to ask."
The reporters focused on Binks like he was fresh kill.
Xanatos was trying to repress a grin, and Obi-Wan was not trying to stifle his.
Padmé took a step forward, and that was all it took for Anakin to break his paralysis, moving over to the other Jedi.
"Master Yoda –" Anakin began.
"Speak on this in the Temple, we will," Yoda said firmly, tapping his stick on the ground.
Surely the twinge Anakin felt in his shins was imaginary.
"I agree that would be best," Windu said dryly.
Padmé moved to Windu, however. "I thought the involvement of the Jedi was supposed to remain unseen," she pointedly. "I was assured of that."
"This may be for the best," Obi-Wan said, smiling at Padmé. "That the involvement come out now instead of later. Perhaps," he added, "it is not only the time of the Jedi to reconsider certain matters under question."
Padmé bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement. "Binks' blunder will help assuage our own problems," she admitted. "If gathering many new ones for consideration."
"I see sludge reporters lurking," Xanatos remarked, eyeing their surroundings. "We had really better go." He looked calm, Anakin noted with some relief. Perhaps he would back Obi-Wan – who was backing him. He believed everything he had said was true, but under the watchful, intelligent eyes of twelve Jedi Masters . . .
"Perhaps Padmé should stay," Obi-Wan offered apologetically. "To deal with the matter we have so ungraciously given her."
Anakin turned to her. She met his eyes calmly, deep affection in her eyes. She brought her hand to the side of his face, and he placed his hand over hers, turning his face to kiss her palm. "I meant it all," Anakin whispered. "This won't change."
Windu twitched, but said nothing.
"I know," Padmé said simply. "I love you, Anakin."
He kissed her, deeply, not lingering despite the intense desire to do just that, aware of Yoda, Windu, Xanatos and Obi-Wan waiting. Her kiss was warm and sweet, and somehow everything felt – all right, now.
Her touch lingered, then with a brief smile, Padmé became Senator Amidala before his eyes, and she turned away to deal with the political mess they had caused.
He turned to face the Jedi.
Xanatos shook his head, suddenly amused. "No comment."
Without another word, they proceeded back to the Temple.
The group of Jedi made the trip to the Council chamber quickly and quietly, eager to escape the hungry attention of the reporters. Anakin, for his part, was eager to evade them as well, although he was less certain that what would go on in front of the Council would give him any less reason to want to escape.
Masters Mace and Yoda were the only two Council members present when they reached the chamber. The Councilors quickly settled into their regular seats, and Xanatos and Obi-Wan stood on either side of Anakin. To Yoda's left sat Qui-Gon, who had not been there when the reporters had descended upon Padmé and Anakin, but he had heard the news and hurried back to the Temple. As a long time friend of Anakin, and one of the few who had been privy to all the recent goings-on in Anakin's life, the Padawan was glad he was there. If only Qui-Gon would drop the severe expression he wore that mirrored the others'.
"Anakin Skywalker." The Padawan's gaze snapped back to Mace. The tall Councilor leaned forward, leveling him with an intense regard. "How long has this relationship with the Senator been going on?"
"Just a few days, Master."
"Did it occur to you that it might not be ... wise to pursue a relationship with a Senator, that it might put the Jedi into a compromising situation?"
Anakin shifted his weight. "Being with Padmé never felt wrong. Being with her ... it just feels so right, more than many things I've ever done. I asked you, Master Windu, just a few days ago whether you trusted in the Force, even when it seemed what you were doing seemed completely crazy at the time."
"Like dragging an unconscious Jedi Master through the Temple?"
"Yes," Anakin went on, ignoring Qui-Gon's suspicious look. "The Force never let me know that I should stop seeing her. In fact, I think I'm meant to. I can't really explain how I know that; I feel it, in the Force. And ever since my mission to Tatooine, and learning about this prophecy, it's felt even more clear."
"Hmm." Yoda resettled his chin on his gimmer stick, apparently willing to let his Padawan continue his explanation.
"I already told you that this prophecy is not a reason to ignore the Code," Mace said.
"But I think it is," Anakin replied quickly. When the Master narrowed his eyes, Anakin looked to Obi-Wan and Xanatos for help. They nodded to him, urging him to continue. Anakin took a deep breath. "I believe the Jedi need to change in order to maintain a balance. If we allow ourselves to grow separated from those we serve ... how can we truly serve them? How can we count ourselves among ... the living if we don't allow ourselves to feel deeply? Perhaps, a day may come when we're able to put aside a citizen's existence in the belief that it's for a greater good. Our sense of tradition, developed in a time of different needs, will hurt us and the Republic we serve."
"How terribly true." Obi-Wan spoke softly but everyone turned his head toward him. "That realization came to my Jedi far too late. Not only did we fail allow ourselves attachment – of which I believe some moderation should be sought – we failed to accept what else is intrinsic to our very core: our darkness."
Anakin shifted slightly, remembering his brief moments of rage when he saw Shmi hurt. He had known his ability, his power then, but he had done what was right. He had not allowed his fear or discomfort of his own potential for darkness to turn him aside.
Obi-Wan looked briefly at Qui-Gon before continuing. "You can no longer be blind to what makes you a living being. Jedi have passions and failings just as any other creature. Self-righteousness will only serve to hinder you." His voice grew contemplative. "There is much to be learned from the Tatooine situation. In order to join the Republic, everyone had to accept their neighbors who made up their community: some of whom were criminals."
"Perhaps these new views can apply to the Republic as well as the Jedi," Xanatos spoke. "Tatooine is a planet that has needed much help for a long time. Yet many Senators opposed us helping out there, and opposed the Republic accepting Tatooine as a new member without a majority of citizen support. If we hadn't interfered, who knows how long it would have been before Tatooine would see Republic aid."
Mace nodded slowly. "So all of this ... is meant to be a lesson for everyone, not just the Order." He steepled his hands in front of him. "But there is still the matter that, despite our realization of these events, many Senators will be unhappy with our secretive involvement, and one of our own's involvement with a particular high-ranking Senator."
Anakin blushed suddenly at the mention of Padmé. "If I may say, Master, I think Senator Amidala is more than capable of explaining our motives to the Senate and helping them to see a new way of doing things. Padmé herself, as you know, was reluctant to accept Tatooine without a majority citizen vote, and doubtful of Jedi interference at first. Yet now that she has heard from us, and seen the signers, I believe she is a ... convert to our new cause, if you will." His eyes glazed over for a moment as he stared into the distance. "And she is very passionate when she believes in something, and charming too, I feel she will easily be able to calm tempers and doubts over our situation." Anakin blinked and brought his focus back to the Councilors.
"Very well," Mace nodded to him. Then his gaze flickered to Xanatos. "Yet there still is the issue that you, Knight Xanatos, ended up at the Senate when I believe you had been told to stay behind?"
"I was following the Force," Xanatos answered smoothly.
Mace sighed. "That seems to be a popular excuse these days," he grumbled. He turned to Master Yoda. "Are we finished here?"
"No, one last item, there is – Skywalker's Trials." Anakin heart began to pound when Yoda pointed his gimmer stick at him. "Passed them, you did" – Anakin let out the breath he'd been holding – "and ready to accept you into Knighthood we are. Ready you feel, or is there more mischief you wish to cause, hmmm?" Yoda's eyes twinkled.
"Thank you, Master Yoda," Anakin smiled, and bowed. "I believe I feel ready."
"We'll have your ceremony soon, then," Mace said, smiling slightly. "And yet why do I feel that my most difficult days as Councilor are just beginning?"
Dusk was falling outside the grand Senate building. The light of the halls was similarly in that in-between place between the lights turning on for the night, and depending on the light of the day. Despite the busy and often hurrying Senators and their aides scurrying about, that gave the whole place a hushed and serious feel. Or perhaps that was merely Padmé's own worry shading her perspective.
She stepped into a lift and gazed out at Coruscant. Hectic, technological, bright, hectic . . . She missed Naboo suddenly, and wished for her and Anakin to be able to share the beauty of her home world.
Palpatine had asked to meet with her, and had mentioned that there would be Jedi present. She still had not yet heard back from Anakin, since he left her to deal with the Jar Jar Binks mess. That had been resolved to Padmé's great satisfaction. She doubted Binks would be reelected next term, and the reporters he had first tried to attract, he was now trying to avoid. Reporters with a headline to fill just didn't have mercy.
Exhaling, Padmé stepped out of the lift. To her surprise, down the hall were four figures in Jedi robes. She stopped momentarily, then quickened her step.
The tallest figure turned around and threw back his hood.
His bright blue eyes twinkled with happiness, and, abandoning Jedi dignity, he ran to her. His lips met hers and his arms came around her strongly, and Padmé wanted to shout in joy. After a lingering moment, he drew away slightly, meeting her gaze. "I love you," he said softly.
"What did they say?" Padmé whispered.
"They've agreed to reconsider the issue," Anakin said, smiling. "And I'm rather confident they will." And it shone in his eyes, too, a steady sort of strength. Again, as when he had returned, something newly mature was in his eyes. Still, something about him still carried that boyish playfulness.
"Good," was all Padmé could manage to say, the eloquence she was so praised for failing her.
"Anakin," a voice called. Mace Windu was watching the two of them, no trace of disapproval in his eyes, but no approval either. Obi-Wan turned slightly, his hood still up, but she could see a curve of a smile regardless.
Xanatos looked exasperated. "Are you coming?" he asked, and without waiting for a reply, he turned to enter Palpatine's office. Obi-Wan followed, face unseen, and Master Windu waited patiently for Anakin and Padmé to catch up.
Unseen by anyone in the distance, Anakin carefully wrapped his hand around hers, and they slowly walked together.
Somehow, he felt the time for his action was over; he was content to listen and watch, as these friends, unique reflections of his own, forged a new path here, in their universe. Obi-Wan stood in the back, hood up, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. He knew Xanatos hadn't failed to note that, but the Jedi had not chosen to comment or interfere, nor would he, Obi-Wan felt.
Palpatine sat behind his desk calmly, seemingly not bothered by Obi-Wan's presence, despite some rocky beginnings.
Mace entered last, after Anakin and Padmé. That couple seemed even more serene, despite Mace's careful observation of their interaction.
Padmé spoke up first. "Hello, Chancellor," she greeted, and Palpatine rose, taking her hand. A nod to the Jedi sufficed.
Palpatine sat down again. "Have you spoken with the representatives from Tatooine?" Palpatine asked.
Padmé nodded. "In order to get the necessary votes to agree to join the Republic, groups have already formed all over Tatooine. They've agreed to continue using those groups to create a stable government, with help from the volunteer Legislative Assembly, and of course, that of the Jedi, if they are so willing." She shot Xanatos a look, which he returned innocently.
"But you're still displeased," Palpatine prodded.
"I was assured that the Jedi presence would remain unknown," Padmé said dryly, "which clearly hasn't happened. The Republic involving itself in this kind of situation still bothers me, being so close to conquest, but these people also need our help. It should not become a habit, and each situation is different. That, I pray, the Jedi realize." A harder look at Xanatos.
Xanatos pointed at Mace. "He's on the Council, why am I getting these looks?"
Anakin unsuccessfully tried to repress a smile, though it quickly faded at Mace's kick-your-ass expression.
"We are aware of that, Senator Amidala. Many factors led us to send Xanatos to Tatooine, and it would seem that Tatooine was a great deal more important than any of us realized. Perhaps that is why the Force led us there to begin with," Mace said, glancing at Anakin.
Padmé softened, probably remembering Anakin was born there.
"I've always felt that the Republic does not involve itself in the Middle and Outer Rim as much as it should, even among its member planets," Xanatos spoke up, serious now. "That is not to say more bureaucracy is needed," he added wryly, "but the Republic has a habit of ignoring the plights of those out of sight, and if we continue to follow that path, those plights will come up on us unexpectedly."
Padmé bowed her head in acknowledgement.
"I agree with Knight Xanatos," Palpatine said. "As such," he said, shifting his gaze to Padmé, "I have drafted a new bill, permitting the study of Mid to Outer Rim worlds and a committee to make sure those issues are addressed."
Padmé lifted her head, saying nothing.
"I am in need of a second," Palpatine said quietly. "And a head of the committee who is passionate about the subject. The politics we so readily detest only work because of those who do this for the greater good."
Obi-Wan caught Anakin nudging Padmé. She looked up at him crossly, and – was that a wink?
"Very well," Padmé said at last. "It's certainly a cause I could support – and that way the Republic would not take over worlds that neither desire nor need it."
"I also plan on asking the Council for their help in the matter," Palpatine added, turning his attention to Mace. "Jedi travel widely; their opinion would be highly respected."
"Such would be useful," Padmé agreed.
"We will consider it," Mace said simply, "and I doubt anyone will be in opposition."
No, there probably won't be, Obi-Wan thought. Yoda was remaining in deep meditation with some of the other Council members, and some field Jedi, on the subject of attachment, but even that issue, spreading widely among the Temple, would not interfere or take away from the Jedi's dedication to serving the greater good.
"So," Palpatine said delicately, "is the matter of Tatooine and the Jedi resolved?"
Padmé nodded reluctantly, still not very pleased with the Council's actions, but accepting them. Anakin, Obi-Wan noticed, did not even flicker in disapproval, even though it concerned something so close to his heart, and something he had reason to feel strongly about. The Council sending Xanatos to Tatooine had not helped his mother, but other former slaves and those that still remained as slaves.
"Good," Palpatine said with a smile. He paused. "Now, I must ask – I have heard that you are waiting to be confirmed as a Knight, Anakin."
Anakin grinned sheepishly. "They have, Chancellor."
"We're all quite proud of him," Obi-Wan finally offered, startling Padmé, who had forgotten he was there.
"Can I assume there will be a celebration soon?"
"Yes," Xanatos confirmed before Anakin could answer with 'I don't know.' "There is. Qui-Gon's been planning this since forever," he said with a snort.
Probably so have you, Obi-Wan thought with a small smile.
"And everyone is cordially invited," Xanatos added, smiling deviously at Anakin.
Anakin looked like he was trying to remember every wrong thing he had done to Xanatos, and how it could all backfire spectacularly.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, content.
Obi-Wan's Temple had possessed gardens, and this universe had all of those gardens and more. He wasn't familiar with this one. Rather than being private, balconies overlooked it from nearby apartments. Xanatos and Qui-Gon stood in one, watching over the gathering. Obi-Wan knew they had been keeping track of him, but he didn't mind.
Obi-Wan wandered away from Anakin and one of his friends, a Padawan by the name of Tru. The Jedi no longer gave him wary glances, but seemed to have accepted his presence as normal, and the Padawans and initiates had followed that example with great ease, most not being familiar with Obi-Wan's dark counterpart to begin with, beyond the story.
Obi-Wan could see Bant in the distance, slowly making her way to Anakin, probably to offer congratulations, stopping from time to time and talking to a Padawan or Master.
Still, he was surprised when she came up to him. She had been one of the first Jedi he had seen when he arrived at the Temple, but he had never spoken to her.
Bant halted before him, her large Mon Calamari silver eyes calm. "Hello, Obi-Wan," she offered.
"Hello," Obi-Wan said, bowing his head.
She cautiously sat beside him on the bench. Most of the Jedi wandering about were either running, talking, or shooting sneaky looks at Anakin that the boy was failing to see. "Did you know my counterpart?" she asked.
"Yes, I did," Obi-Wan said, unsurprised by the topic. "She and I were best friends." He paused. "She taught Anakin to swim."
Bant smiled. "As I did here," she said after a moment. "I knew your counterpart, though in the later years we never spoke. I was wondering . . . do you plan on staying with us?"
Obi-Wan met her eyes. "Would it bother you if I did?"
"No," Bant said with no hesitation. She took one vaguely hand-shaped flipper, and pushed Obi-Wan's chest. "You are a Jedi. This is the Jedi Temple. Stay in the Temple, Jedi do," she added with a flare of humor.
Obi-Wan slowly grinned, but then it faded. "I'm not sure I'm meant to stay, as much as I love it here." He looked at Anakin, who was, with some difficulty on the part of the throwers, being thrown into the small pond in the middle of the garden. Xanatos was watching from a distance, of course, seemingly innocent of the whole affair, still watching from the balcony. "I think I've done what I was meant to do."
Bant paused. "Did you enjoy the journey?"
"It is something I will always carry with me, no matter how long that is," Obi-Wan said softly. "Perhaps that is what the Force meant for me."
Bant nodded slowly. "Perhaps so. And they, I think," she gestured at the dripping, glaring Anakin, the amused Qui-Gon, and the staggeringly innocent Xanatos, "will always carry their walk with you in them."
"Wise as always, Bant," Obi-Wan said with a smile.
"Of course," Bant returned, taking the compliment as just due. "Perhaps you should take this time and use it wisely. I sense – something approaching."
"You just talked to Yoda, didn't you?" Obi-Wan asked suddenly.
Bant gave a startled laugh. "He senses it as well," she admitted ruefully. "I was one of the field Jedi chosen to meditate over the issue of attachment."
Obi-Wan nodded. "May with the Force be with you on that," he said, completely serious.
"We will need it," Bant said simply. "Go. I think Yoda would have it that way, though he's with the others now."
Obi-Wan rose, and smiled at Bant, taking one of her hands and kissing it lightly, ignoring the fishy smell. "Thank you."
Xanatos slowly climbed the stairs to the balcony above the gardens. Below the celebrations and laughter from Anakin and his friends floated up, the sounds softened due to the gentle roar of a waterfall on one side of the balcony. The deck was empty, save for one – Qui-Gon. The tall master leaned over the railing, smiling at the scene below.
Qui-Gon did not speak until Xanatos stood next to him. "So, I'm self-righteous now, is that it?" His tone was not harsh, but pensive.
"So you've finally admitted it." Qui-Gon's startled look softened when he saw Xanatos' smile.
The master turned back to the gardens below. "Perhaps I was blind. There were so many things I hadn't wanted to see in him. Maybe if I hadn't been so stubborn – so self-righteous, I admit – I could have seen his fall. Kenobi needed more than what I gave him."
"You don't know that you could have stopped it. If I've learned anything recently, it's that some things are meant to be."
"But I drove you away, too." The lines of Qui-Gon's face were etched in pain. "I hurt you, Xanatos, and then when I met Obi-Wan, I hurt him as well. And I was wrong."
"News flash – you're not perfect." Xanatos put a hand on his shoulder. "And neither am I. No one is. It's a big, complicated world out there," he gestured widely with his free hand, "and we are complicated beings. We all have failings; many times in our lives, we will fail. But we have to accept it, in order to move on, to live. Maybe if you had known your potential for darkness, and come to terms with that, maybe you could have helped Kenobi. It doesn't really matter now; what's done is done, the past must remain so." His voice softened. "And all I know is that I am so happy to have you as a friend again. I know that that is right."
Qui-Gon placed his hand over Xanatos' for a moment, his smile and shiny eyes all that needed to be communicated.
They both looked down at the celebrations below. Anakin and Obi-Wan were sharing a joke with another Padawan. There was such a lightness to Obi-Wan's bearing, a joy almost. Yet there was something else also. Stretching out with the Force to increase his senses, Xanatos still could not put his finger on just what it was.
"You feel it, don't you?" Qui-Gon spoke softly. "Something about him feels ... complete."
Xanatos nodded. Yes, that's what it was. A wholeness, and almost – an end. "He's going to be leaving soon, isn't he?" It was a question out of hope and dread.
This time it was Qui-Gon who put a hand on Xanatos' shoulder. "I believe so. I think ... he has taught us all that we needed, for ourselves and for him. He has other places he needs to be now, take what he has learned from us."
"I'm going to miss him."
"I know." Qui-Gon pulled Xanatos into a hug. "Me too."
"Mind if I join you?"
Both Xanatos and Qui-Gon jumped at the new voice. Once again, Xanatos found himself chagrined at not noticing Obi-Wan's approach.
"You know, Obi-Wan," Xanatos said lightly, "you're going to have to teach me how to sneak up on someone so expertly before you –" His voice broke off as he found himself unable to finish.
"Before I leave?" Obi-Wan completed the thought for him. He smiled faintly, neither of them speaking of how they felt the impending departure, intensifying in the Force. "I know it has to happen sometime; there's no sense in denying it." He looked down on the festivities below. Anakin was now in a tug-of-war with Tru, trying to toss his friend into the pond as well. "I would have no problem staying here, if I could. I've learned so much, not just about myself, but about everyone in my life, even if the people I've met here are different in fundamental ways." He turned to look at his two companions. "I can't say that my initial meeting with either of you didn't cause me pain, pain borne of both fear and grief – but I wouldn't give up my experience here for anything."
"Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon began, but Obi-Wan spoke over him.
"Qui-Gon, I know you still carry guilt over what happened, in the Garden of Stones, but I think you helped me more than hurt me. I know it. I think your slap upside my head," Obi-Wan smiled wryly, "was what I needed. Perhaps we all just needed to see thing clearly ... for you, and this world, hopefully you'll be better for it. As for me ..." Obi-Wan's voice trailed off as he thought for a moment. "It doesn't change what's already happened. I can't go back and make things right. Too much evil has already happened. But I think, maybe, things will be all right after all. I can only hope so."
The three were silent as they all pondered the world Obi-Wan would return to. Xanatos clearly remembered the half-starved man nearly driven to the edge of sanity. Certainly, Obi-Wan had faced his demons and was much stronger emotionally and mentally, but he would be thrown back into a world of darkness that meant him as much harm as it did before he had escaped it.
Qui-Gon was first to break the silence. "I can tell you also still carry a heavy burden of guilt for what happened in your universe. Yet despite what happened, and why, I know that you have done much good here. Xanatos and I had begun to heal our own relationship, but I think it was the chain of events surrounding your arrival that secured it."
Xanatos smiled. "Well, you know, conspiring to keep secret the undead lunatic has a way of bonding people." While the three shared a laugh, he glanced down at the scene below once more. Anakin had succeeded in throwing Tru into the pool, but unbeknownst to the new Knight several more of his friends came from behind him and pushed him again while he gloated over Tru. "It's kind of strange, how it all seems so clear later on. When I first saw you standing at the water's edge, I had no idea what was going on. Yet time has revealed what was to be, and the Force's will. And now, as the Jedi and the Republic embark on a new way of doing things, I think ... I think many of us will still be learning from you for a long time to come."
Obi-Wan nodded humbly. "I certainly hope I haven't been wrong in my assumptions and advice to you all."
"I don't think you are," Qui-Gon assured him, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I think the Force brought to us when we needed you. And we should trust in the Force above all else."
The three once more settled in to a companionable silence. Footfalls on the stairs, a galloping pace, signaled Anakin's arrival. Although the boy had perfected his own sneaking ability through a variety of pranks over the years, the boy could certainly make his presence known when he wanted. The boy burst onto the balcony in a flurry of squishing boots and flicking water droplets.
Xanatos raised an eyebrow. "Anakin, you look rather ... wet. Playing in the Temple's pools again?"
Anakin pointed a finger at him, sending several drops of water his way. "I knew you were behind it!" he crowed.
"Me? Toss you into a pool? I'd never do something like that," Xanatos scoffed, his lips twisting in mischief.
"Really? And just what sorts of things would you deign to do?"
Xanatos shrugged. "For instance, give out the code to your rooms to your most prank-loving friends."
Anakin paused. "You wouldn't."
"Of course not!" Xanatos smiled widely and winked. "That would be far too fair a turn for you giving tours of my quarters while I was away."
Anakin's eyes widened. "You really did it, didn't you?" He glanced out over the balcony, realizing that many of his friends had left a while earlier. "Why, you –" The boy turned and ran, bounding down the steps three at a time in his hurry.
"Xanatos," Qui-Gon chastised softly, sighing. "Xanatos. My dear old Padawan. I don't know how I managed to survive raising you." He sounded exasperated, but a small grin graced his features.
"Did you really give out the code to his room?" Obi-Wan asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Of course not." Xanatos grinned wickedly. "But I can't wait to see his expression when he searches his room for non-existent booby traps." He paused for a moment, looking at his serious-faced friends, and then sprinted after Anakin, hearing Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon chuckle at his swift departure. Yet soon they were following him, at a more sedate pace, of course.
Xanatos carefully ducked into Anakin's apartment. Still rather messy, he noted, but at least the holos were indeed gone as the Padawan – er, Knight, he still had to get used to that – had promised.
He found Anakin in the fresher, cautiously testing the shower faucet. Anakin sighed with relief when just water came out. He grabbed a clean towel and began to dry himself from his dip in the pond as he joined Xanatos, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in the common room.
"That wasn't very nice," he grumbled to Xanatos finally. "Make me worry over nothing."
Xanatos shrugged. "Who says there's nothing? You know, you'll probably be surprised by something when you least expect it."
Anakin glanced suspiciously around him as he pulled off his outer tunic and tossed it across the room. "I'd offer you a place to sit, but first ..." He quickly grabbed a pile of clothes, papers, and books from the sofa and threw them in a corner. The other Jedi remained standing, with doubtful expressions in their eyes. "I swear, there's nothing alive in the cushions." He lifted up each of the cushions and peered underneath, coughing slightly from the dust. "See? It's safe." He patted the couch and gestured for them to sit.
Obi-Wan was the first to take the offer, gracefully stepping forward and settling onto one end of the sofa. Qui-Gon soon followed. Xanatos, not taking any chances, grabbed a chair from the kitchen and placed it in front of the couch as Anakin settled his long frame on the floor, apparently preferring a damp carpet to wet furniture.
"Obi-Wan, I have to ask," Xanatos said, gesturing around the room, "was your Anakin messy too? Is this some sort of unfortunate fate no adolescent can escape?"
"Anakin's first priorities were definitely not keeping his room in order," Obi-Wan smiled fondly in remembrance. "But I think if he'd owned his own ship he'd have had no problem with keeping it neat."
"He liked to fly?" Anakin asked, a curious tone to his voice, but also a subtle yearning.
"He was a great pilot for one so young. Of course, that wasn't surprising, considering his ability."
"I haven't gotten much chance to fly on my own," Anakin said thoughtfully. "Master Yoda doesn't like to leave the Temple much."
"Well, I'll be sure to speak with the Council and have you assigned your own ship for your first mission, all right?" Qui-Gon said, laughing.
"I still can't believe it," Anakin said as he wrung out some moisture from his shirt. "I'm a Knight now."
"Trust me, if they'd had room inspection as part of the Trials you wouldn't be."
"Oh, shut up, Xanatos," Anakin groaned. "Come on, it's not that bad, is it?"
"I suppose if it doesn't bother you its fine," Xanatos replied dryly. "Just remember, if your Padawan ever goes missing, check under the laundry pile first."
"Speaking of Padawans, I'd always imagined you'd have one by the time I was Knighted, Xanatos."
"I don't think I'm really cut out for teaching," Xanatos replied, a bit grumpily. That was one topic he was rather happy to steer clear from.
"I think you'd make a good teacher," Obi-Wan told him softly, startling Xanatos. "It can be rewarding, yet challenging."
"I'll give it some thought," Xanatos lied, not really desiring the incredible responsibility and daunting task. He shifted his weight.
The whole room fell into an awkward quiet. They all knew what they wanted to say, but no one wanted to be the one to say it.
"How will we know how you're doing?" Anakin finally blurted out. "After you leave this universe, I mean?"
Obi-Wan seemed relieved that they had finally come to the topic. He leaned forward and tried to smile reassuringly. "Oh, I'm sure you'll know. I don't think the ... distance of a different universe can affect the friendships I've formed with all of you."
"I know I only met you recently, but honestly, it's seems like I've known you all my life. I don't want you to leave." Even though he had just been made a knight, and was nearly twenty years old, Anakin seemed like a child again, as innocent and plaintive as any initiate. And yet his words were the words they all wanted to speak. "Will we ever see you again?"
Xanatos watched as Obi-Wan seemed to search his mind for the right answer, the comforting one. When he spoke it was honest. "I believe that if the Force willed it that we all were to meet each other, then yes, I think that someday we will see each other again. I do not believe the Force is limited to one dimension." He sighed, not a sad one, but more ... contented. "And, my friends, I'm suddenly feeling the need to be alone – I must meditate."
Anxiety surged through Xanatos; he knew that it was almost time.
The four of them got to their feet. Qui-Gon was first to pull Obi-Wan into an embrace; neither could find more words to say, only a smile. Yet that seemed to carry everything necessary: caring, concern, the connection they had painfully forged. Then Obi-Wan hugged Anakin, who looked almost lost when he stepped back.
"It just doesn't seem right, leaving you alone, to deal with what's happening in your universe," Anakin admitted. Xanatos and Qui-Gon were silent, feeling the same thing, but knowing the answer in the irrevocable way of time and experience.
Obi-Wan did his best to ease Anakin's concern. "I was not brought here without reason; you, perhaps of most people here, know that. And I won't go back without taking something with me. I've learned and changed, too. I'm ready to face it again."
Anakin's head hung in mournful acknowledgment.
"Now, don't tell me you and Padmé don't have celebratory plans for later?"
"Well, yes." The new Knight blushed slightly.
"Then go enjoy yourself, Anakin. Think of your future, and hers, not mine. I will be all right."
Finally Obi-Wan turned to Xanatos, who found himself having trouble with his own emotions. He had become incredibly protective of the man in the short time he'd known him. He knew he had to let go, not out of any adherence to a Code but of acquiescence to the Force. But still he fought back tears as he hugged Obi-Wan farewell.
"So sad to see me go, are you?" Obi-Wan said softly, with a hint of humor in his voice. "Think how much more peaceful things will be; no more dragging bodies around the Temple in secret."
Xanatos chuckled through his tears. "I'll only do so once a year from now on, in your honor."
Obi-Wan smiled. Then with a final glance back at them all, his expression turned serene and he quietly slipped out the door.
The three remaining Jedi each took a seat on the sofa. They spoke no words, just relied on each other's presence for comfort.
They stayed that way for a long while.
Obi-Wan once more headed for the Gardens. Not the Garden of Stones or the one in which Anakin's knighting ceremony had been held, but a large garden at the far side of the Temple. The middle of the garden held a large lake, and it was to this shore that Obi-Wan walked.
The garden was deserted, except for the few birds that made their homes in the tall trees. The lake was round and clear, and Obi-Wan settled on his knees at the water's edge. He slipped into meditation easily. His breathing slowed and focus sharpened. He felt the Force flow through him, strong and insistent. As he fell deeper and deeper into the Force, his mind settled on memories of the past several days, and his new trials to come.
He would have to face Vader, he knew that – whether in that warehouse, if indeed he returned there, or at some point in the future. Either way, it was an inevitable confrontation: one can only defeat Darkness by facing it.
Yet if there was something he had learned recently, it was that people he thought he knew, who had seemed the same, could be very different. If Xanatos hadn't turned, if the Senate could change, if Anakin could remain a good kid and conquer his complicated issues; and if the confrontation with Vader was unavoidable – then perhaps the outcome was not. Perhaps – perhaps there was hope for Vader. Perhaps it wasn't too late, after all. The possibility hovered at the edge of Obi-Wan's mind, its potential tantalizing yet seemingly far away. This universe had changed in a few weeks, but Obi-Wan felt that a new understanding in his own might take decades to accomplish.
Yet still, a new hope entered his heart.
For one last, lingering time, he brought himself to think of his new friends, reaching out in the Force and sensing the essence of what they were as only a Force-sensitive could ever feel another being. In Qui-Gon he sensed steely strength and sorrow gentled by contentment and peace. In Anakin, sadness, but no regret – his relationship with Padmé would not be tainted with secrecy and danger, and Obi-Wan felt they, and their children, would accomplish great things. Xanatos he touched last of all; his friend seemed to react for a moment, feeling Obi-Wan's glancing touch, then he relaxed. Such understanding Obi-Wan had never felt before, but he had found it in Xanatos.
One last wisp of feeling, then he let them go, to live their lives in their time and place, as he had to with his.
As he sunk deeper into the Force, his hands held on his chest in a meditative pose, he felt the Force swirl around him in a mounting purpose –
And there was only light.
Obi-Wan's passing was not like one of death; that Anakin sensed immediately. His friends remained quiet, sitting together, and the young Knight suddenly knew he was the only one to actually feel Obi-Wan returning home.
The Force seemed almost . . . satisfied. Anakin's connection to the Force had always been very strong – that was why Yoda had taken him as his Padawan. But there was something different about it, too. He had never felt the Force like his age-mates had. A strange gift, indeed, but a good one. It flowed through him like he was an extension of its will. As all Jedi were, of course, and yet . . . there was a difference. What kind of difference that would make in the future, Anakin was not certain, but he was eager to find out. His destiny awaited – and not only in those warm, brown eyes he so loved.
Qui-Gon's eyes met Anakin's, as if the Jedi Master had sensed something amiss. Sensing the same, Xanatos looked at Anakin curiously.
"It won't be easy, but there's hope," Anakin said suddenly. "I feel it."
Neither Qui-Gon nor Xanatos answered. They just smiled.
Anakin slowly sighed, and with all he was, he wished Obi-Wan well – and for his counterpart, he wished him to know love, like Anakin had known.
It was damp.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and steadily rose to his feet. Something within the jungle chirped. He looked around, examining where he was. It was . . . very wet, certainly. But without even trying he could feel the Force thrum deeply. Obi-Wan's mouth quirked into a smile, remembering Yoda joke with the younglings about moving the Temple to such a place as this.
His eyes narrowing, Obi-Wan turned. In fact . . .
"Master Yoda," he whispered.
The old Jedi Master hobbled forward out of the mist, his movements nevertheless sure and strong despite the cane.
"Master Obi-Wan," he said, and there was a twinkle in his eyes. "Glad, I am, to see you well."
"I as well, Master," Obi-Wan replied softly.
"Sense a ripple in the Force, I did. Arrive by normal means, you did not."
Obi-Wan's mouth quirked into a smile. "No, Master."
The old being sighed. Obi-Wan saw many things in those ancient eyes, reflected a thousand times more than his own. How much burden did the Master carry? As life continued, the life of service seemed to carry heavier on Obi-Wan's shoulders, and the little ironies and gifts of the Force seemed all the more noticeable and important.
And the Force whispered something to Obi-Wan. A bit of warning, a bit of pain.
"Master, what has happened?"
Yoda met Obi-Wan's worried eyes with a calm gaze. "Talk, we must."
"The Force works in ways we can't understand," Obi-Wan murmured, staring off into the mists of Dagobah.
"Yet act, we still must," Yoda prodded, settled on a rock opposite Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan glanced at him, then acknowledged the point with a nod. The Jedi had done the best they could, the best they knew how with all the wisdom they possessed. "Attachment is risk, I know that, but it can be a strength." The strength of feeling between Qui-Gon and Xanatos, that ability to have such depth in their compassion ... of course, it had led to Obi-Wan being attacked, that dangerous attachment. And the pain he still felt ...
"Strength it will be for young Skywalker?" Yoda queried, knowing, certainly, how Obi-Wan would respond.
Obi-Wan grimaced. "If he finds out ... if we don't tell him, such attachment could lead to dangerous places."
"Yet still, teach him of it not, you desire?"
He met Yoda's old, wise gaze. "I sense that it must be so, Master. I don't know why. Are my feelings wrong?"
Yoda sighed. "Know no more than you, I do."
"I'm sorry, Master," and Obi-Wan wasn't even sure what he was apologizing for.
"Hmph," Yoda said, but not roughly; more like an expected, comforting response.
Obi-Wan smiled faintly. "I have nothing left but trust in the Force, Master." And somehow, as a part of that, Obi-Wan knew Siri had waited . . . and was waiting, perhaps, in some blessed part of the Force. Peace had settled in Obi-Wan when he had realized that. She had done her duty.
Yoda nodded tiredly. "Then trust, we will."
Well, last time he got dumped in a lake; damp wasn't so bad, Obi-Wan supposed. And he would be leaving soon, for a place that was the exact opposite of wet. Perhaps the Force had more of a sense of humor than he realized, in choosing where he would be. Kamino, the lake, here . . .
"Take my ship, you will?"
"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said, turning to face Yoda. "I don't believe you'll need it," Obi-Wan said with painful honesty. Dagobah was where Yoda would stay, he sensed. It was the perfect hiding place for the old Jedi Master, and he was sure that considering Yoda's nature, he would love it here. Perhaps Obi-Wan would learn to love Tatooine, and its own stark beauty.
Yoda humphed, gazing up at Obi-Wan with a solemn face. "Remain here, I will, in preparation for the son."
Obi-Wan nodded. "I'll watch over him well, Master." He paused. "And when he comes here . . ." He sensed that Luke would. Somehow.
"Discussed this we have. Decided, I have not," Yoda said grumpily.
Obi-Wan smiled slightly. "Attachment did not break me, Master," he said softly.
Yoda's ears flattened at the reference to Obi-Wan's discovery of Siri's death, but he said nothing. It was up to Yoda now what to do when the time came. He had explained his reasons, though without telling Yoda everything that had happened to him over the months. The old Master didn't need to know that, and it felt like a precious secret to Obi-Wan. A gift. One he wanted to keep to himself, as selfish as that was, something to remember with fondness as he hid.
Obi-Wan didn't believe that Padmé was the cause of Anakin's fall, either. Perhaps, in some way, she would be his way back to the Light, even beyond her death. For that, too, had been confirmed by Yoda.
There were so many dead.
Obi-Wan's memories of the other universe, with his friends, had not faded, but they had been tempered by Yoda. And the old troll was right, in some ways. Obi-Wan had tried, at the last, to save Anakin, and that had resulted in a greater crime – Anakin's eternal imprisonment in that suit. Had that made the transition to Vader easier?
By the time the twins were old enough to be trained safely, would anything of Anakin remain? Could he take that risk? Would Yoda?
He didn't know.
But hope remained.
Xanatos strode down one of the Temple's corridors, humming to himself. It was good to be back home again after a mission. It had been his first since his trip to Tatooine for Anakin's Trials a little over three months ago. He was eager to see Qui-Gon again, and speak to Anakin on how his first mission had gone on as a Knight.
The dark-haired Knight spun on his heel to see Anakin jogging up to him. "Anakin! How did it go?"
Anakin grinned, a bit breathless from his sprint to catch up to Xanatos. "It went well. War on Reglai 6 averted." He lowered his voice. "And I got to fly my own ship." A full-blown grin came to Anakin's face, as he had evidently discovered the joy of unsupervised flying.
Xanatos laughed as he clapped him on the back. "That's the way to do it, Anakin, always focus on the most important aspects of a mission."
Anakin shrugged good-naturedly as they continued down the hall. "So where's Qui-Gon?"
Xanatos pointed ahead. "Teaching a class. I'm a bit early, but I wanted to catch him before he left for lunch. Care to join us?"
"Sure!" The two of them stopped outside the classroom and peered in through the glass partition. "Still teaching that history class, I see."
"Hmm," Xanatos replied quietly, watching as Qui-Gon held the rapt attention of the class. "I guess the munchkins haven't scared him off yet."
Anakin laughed softly. "Just think, give them a few more years and one could be your Padawan."
"Aw, kids aren't so bad."
"I was quite familiar with your ... antics while you were growing up."
"Really, Xanatos, just how many pranks did I play on my own Master?"
Xanatos looked over him, Anakin's eyes projecting all innocence. Xanatos shook his head. "Too many to count, you know full well, you little terror." He turned back to the classroom. "Hey, where'd Qui-Gon go?"
"What?" Anakin frowned as he craned his neck to see in. "I think – ah!"
The door before suddenly opened and an arm shot out and grabbed a hold of both their tunics and dragged them inside. The door shut quickly and the lock clicked into place ominously.
"Class," Qui-Gon's soft but commanding voice spoke to the whole room, "we have some special speakers today!"
The class erupted into cheers.
Xanatos stood frozen in place as the class gazed at him. Anakin was equally still beside him. That was until Qui-Gon pushed them both to the front of the room.
"Class, let me introduce Knight Xanatos and Knight Anakin."
The students chorused a greeting. Xanatos gave them a weak smile, while Anakin appeared to regain equilibrium faster, smiling easily and casually, though Xanatos suspected he was plotting ways to get out of the situation.
"Qui-Gon, just what do you think you're doing?" Xanatos hissed at him out of the corner of his mouth.
Qui-Gon gave him a hearty pat on the back. "Let's just call it some on the job training. Now sit." He pushed him and Anakin into chairs that faced the class.
Qui-Gon once more addressed the students. "Do you have any questions for our visitors?"
A dozen hands shot up. Xanatos looked at Qui-Gon, who gestured for him to take over. Xanatos then looked at Anakin for help, but he suddenly seemed interested in picking a piece of lint from his robes.
Xanatos sighed. He turned back to the sea of waving hands. His gaze focused on a small girl at the front of the group. He pointed to her. "Yes?"
She beamed excitedly, then composed herself before speaking. "Is it true that Master Obi-Wan disappeared into the Force?"
Xanatos sighed again, this time mentally. He realized that most of the students would recognize him as the Knight that had been involved with the mysterious second Obi-Wan. "Well, child, that's a complicated question, and well, um ... "
Another student spoke up, a boy at the back of the class. "Is he going to haunt the Temple now? Some say that he'll come back to scare bad Padawans into doing good."
Xanatos looked at Anakin suspiciously, wondering if he was responsible for such rumors. Once more, Skywalker's face was schooled into a picture of perfect innocence. He looked to Qui-Gon, who was maddeningly patient, waiting for Xanatos to answer.
The young girl saved Xanatos, answering her classmate. "But this Obi-Wan can't haunt because he didn't die; the Force called him to another place, right?" The girl, rather adorable with bright blue eyes and blond ponytails, looked questioningly at Xanatos.
He nodded, rather impressed at the youngster's astute observation. She had a sharp mind, something he'd look for in a Padawan (were he to take one, he reminded himself). "Very true, young one." He settled back into his chair as a new thought came to him. "But this is all very complicated for this class. Would you like us to tell you a story instead?"
The class nodded enthusiastically, though the one blond girl looked like she didn't want to be so easily distracted. Anakin shot him a look of panic – he didn't know any stories to tell. Xanatos winked before turning back to the students. "Now class, you should know that I was once Master Qui-Gon's Padawan, and Anakin here has known him for a long time. Would you like to hear some stories about Master Qui-Gon?"
The class cheered its approval. Out of the corner of his eye, Xanatos saw Qui-Gon's jaw drop, ever so slightly.
"Well, let me begin with this incident with a Wookiee t-shirt and a meeting with the Council ..." as he launched into his tale, Xanatos thought to himself that maybe this teaching thing wouldn't be so bad after all.
Tatooine really wasn't such a bad planet, Obi-Wan thought to himself. Despite the heat, despite the desolateness, despite the criminal element it housed, the Force had deemed it fit to drop him here, amid miles and miles of sand.
But he knew why.
A short distance from him, near enough to see but far enough to not be seen, a small homestead sprung from the seemingly endless desert. Inside he sensed a Force-presence, bright and beautiful and innocent. He had felt it before, when he had delivered Luke to the grieving arms of the Lars, who had just lost the aging Cliegg. He had been unable to follow them to Tatooine from their appointed meeting place on Alderaan; the stormtroopers had been on his trail.
But now the Empire's killers, and Vader, had lost his scent when he had suddenly disappeared from their trap. He suspected, with a hint of satisfaction, that it would forever remain a mystery how Obi-Wan had been in that factory and then escaped. Now, he was free to watch over Luke from a respectful distance, not wishing to incur Owen's wrath.
Yet Obi-Wan was willing to wait, years if need be, if the Force willed it. He knew the future lay here, on this planet seemingly out of the way of Vader's focus. He was safe, as was Luke, as long as Vader feared to return here. One day, he knew, that would change, and he would be called upon to do his duty.
And he would be ready.