Title: "Unto The Next Generation"

Author: Aeshna (aeshna@kelmaith.demon.co.uk)

Summary: in a galaxy where things worked out a little differently, a Master finds a Padawan.

Disclaimer: not mine, alas, no matter *how* many toys I buy. Everything here belongs to George.

***

Dawn broke in slivers on Coruscant, the sunlight slipping between the polished spires to touch the glass and metal and stone beyond. Transport canopies flashed brightly as they moved between the towers in their constant streams, plexiglas and chrome reflecting the daybreak as the polluted colours of morning crept across the sky.

In the lower meditation gardens of the Jedi Temple a young knight watched the sunrise, silently observing the way in which nature and artifice combined to create a strangely hybrid beauty. It had been over two standard years since his last visit to the Temple that had raised him and he had felt the need to view once again the dawn that had been so familiar for so long, letting the light tell him that he was *home* at last, for all that he was far from the world of his birth. As a Jedi, he was a nomad, a wanderer, going where the missions and the Force led... but there was always the faint pull that led back to the galactic capital, to the only true family he had. It was a comfort, knowing that he always had a place to return to.

Two years. And he had barely seen Coruscant in the two years before that, since his knighting. He smiled slightly, thinking that the Council had been doing their utmost to test both his worth and his patience with the string of petty disputes and minor planetary upsets he had been assigned to. The last six months had seen him paired with another knight, working to track the leaders of a smuggling ring. Their success, far earlier than anticipated -- although he was the first to admit that it had been more down to luck and the stupidity of an overworked underling than any real talent on their part -- had earned him this recall and the suggestion that perhaps it was time he took on an apprentice.

The knight sighed and pushed himself up from his meditative posture, brushing dirt and leaf fragments from his leggings with slender hands. The sky was almost fully light now and behind him he could feel as much as hear the rhythms of the Temple as its inhabitants greeted the day, the routines of this place almost as old as the Order itself. Pulling the brown expanse of his cloak around him he walked slowly back into the broad corridors, letting instinct lead him in the direction of the dining hall and breakfast as he once again turned his mind to the thought of taking a padawan.

It wasn't that he had never expected to take an apprentice, but he just didn't feel *ready* for it, for the responsibility of guiding another's life. He wasn't even five years past his own knighting. He wondered what his Master would have to say on the matter, but he was halfway across the galaxy with his current padawan, mediating in some dispute or other and quite beyond the uncertain questioning of his former charge. He could talk to one of the other Masters, he supposed, but suspected that he would merely hear the usual refrain about pairings being "the will of the Force". Just get on with the choosing, in other words, and worry about the responsibility once you have it.

It wasn't a thought that he found particularly comforting.

His own apprenticeship hadn't been easy -- a temperamental child, he had often had difficulty curbing his impulses and emotions. Looking back, he wondered at his Master's patience with him and wondered if he could show that same patience with a pubescent child, all hormonal turmoil and graceless limbs. He snorted, thinking it more likely that a brat on his level would drive him to turning long before he got to cut their braid. His own Master had handled him with an amused care and affection, riding out his moods and his momentary passions and slowly forming him into the Jedi he was today. There were times when he still missed the training bond they had shared but, if he were honest with himself, the thought of forming a similar bond with an as-yet unknown child filled him with trepidation.

He shook his head in half-amused disgust at himself -- he could charge into blaster fire and burning buildings without a thought but he found twelve year old initiates frightening. Some Jedi Knight he was....

Breakfast was a swift affair -- not yet feeling inclined towards company he had retreated to a quiet seat to remind himself why he had never enjoyed morning meals in the Temple dining hall... although even their worst attempts were still an improvement over his Master's idea of cooking. Swallowing the last of the bland but nutritive mush, the Knight ran his fingers back through hair now long grown out of the padawan crop and pondered his next move.

Being sensible, he ought to return to the temporary room he had been assigned on his arrival the night before. He had stopped there barely long enough to dump his few possessions before finding his way to the meditation gardens and he should probably return to try to sleep and to readjust his internal clock to the length of the Coruscant day. But there was also the nagging awareness that the older initiates would be in one of the main training halls now, taking their morning exercise and trying to impress any unattached knights that might be present. He'd have to face them sooner or later. And it wasn't as if he had to choose one immediately....

Pushing himself to his feet, he set out to find some children to observe. Might as well show willing before his nerve broke completely.

The initiates were working through a second level kata when he arrived, their concentration obviously split between their careful movements and the small group of adults sitting off to one side, some talking quietly amongst themselves while the others watched the children in turn. The knight spotted a familiar face amongst the viewers and made his way across to her, aware of the small eyes that tracked his every movement.

"Zahavi?"

The other knight, a human female, blinked and then grinned up at him. "Well, here's a face we've not seen around in a while. When did you get in?"

He returned her smile. "Late last night. I've been in the gardens; I wanted to watch the sun rise."

Zahavi shrugged. "Looks the same as it does every day."

"Not when you've been off-world for a couple of years."

"That long?" She shook her head. "I lose track. I used to know where just about all of our year group had been sent, but it's getting harder to keep up with everything. At least you're still alive -- you heard about Nol-Aua and Stehn?"

"Landslide on Haloun-Six. I heard."

"And just a year after Jarn'lek...." Zahavi sighed, then brightened. "So, what brings you back to Coruscant?"

"A little well-earned rest and," he glanced across at the curious initiates, "a rather heavy-handed suggestion that I might want to consider taking an apprentice."

"I don't think you'll be short of volunteers," came the dry response. "It's a large group at the moment and I doubt we'll to find Masters for them all."

He turned back to her. "You're looking as well?"

"Me? No -- I'm helping to supervise at the moment. Just until I make my own little contribution to the creche at least." Zahavi smiled and patted her swollen stomach. "Then they'll have me back out in the fray again, possibly with one of these brats in tow."

"I'm sure you'll enjoy it really, 'Havi." He looked back out across the hall to where the initiates had moved into paired sparring, throwing themselves at one another with more enthusiasm than was strictly necessary for the exercise. "So, any recommendations?"

"For you?" She steepled her fingers, looking critically at the young forms tumbling around the floor. "Any preferences as to species?"

"Humanoid. Nothing too big or too likely to leave fur in the 'fresher."

"Funny. No wookiees then. Hmm."

"Not that I'm in any rush -- I'm just window shopping today."

"Don't interrupt; I'm thinking." Zahavi frowned, then pointed across the hall at a tall, slender boy with pale blue skin and a shock of yellow hair. "Sek-Luren there is a good bet. I'm surprised he's not been picked up yet, although Syvare was asking about him the other day. Then there's Daanje," a small, solidly built girl with shimmering green scales, "I think she'd be a good match for you although she's a little young yet. Oh, and Berven...."

The young knight let his friend talk, following her pointing finger with tired blue eyes but not feeling any connection with the children she pointed out. He wasn't certain what he was looking for but trusted that the Force would let him know when he found it. Perhaps his earlier misgivings had been correct and he just wasn't ready to take on a Padawan yet, no matter what the Council thought.

"And M'zeylan! How could I forget her? She'd be *perfect* for you!" Zahavi bounced lightly in place as she indicated a dark-haired girl intent on flooring the boy she was sparring with.

The knight looked down at the pair... and felt a sudden jolt of connection through the Force. So much for window-shopping. Zahavi looked at him smugly. "Told you so. M'zeylan is...."

"Not her," he heard himself say as his doubts and fears receded to mere background noise in his mind. "The boy."

"The boy?" Zahavi sounded aghast. "No -- he's too temperamental, too angry to really be padawan material. He'd run you ragged and probably turn before he hit twenty. Better to let him go to a less intense discipline."

"He sounds like me at that age -- give him a chance."

"You didn't turn."

"I had my moments," the knight said quietly, thinking of how close some of those moments had been. He looked down at the boy, as human as he was and whose awkward angles and height spoke of a recent growth spurt. The child's reddish-brown hair hung in his eyes as he narrowly avoided an attack from M'zeylan. "And I think he has potential."

"He's barely turned twelve -- he has months to find a Master yet. M'zeylan is older, running out of chances. She's more deserving...." Zahavi looked up, saw the expression on her friend's face and realised that she was wasting her breath. "You really want him, don't you."

He shrugged, then smiled weakly at her. "Will of the Force and all that."

"Well, if you're that certain that you know what you're doing, I expect you'll be wanting his name...."

The presence of an unknown and solitary knight in the initiates' dressing chamber was the cue for intense speculation, with the children trying not to seem too eager as they pressed forward to see who would be chosen, each hoping against hope that it would be *them*. It was a regular occurrence, this solitary selection, and each lived for the day when it would be their turn to find a Master, when they would finally get to wear the braid. As usual, they watched in silent fascination as the knight found his chosen quarry and led them from the room. Then they returned to their own routines, each wondering once more about the Master who would one day come for them.

In one of the small side rooms reserved for individual instruction, the boy did his best not to fidget nervously. The knight kept his face composed as he looked the child over, noting the rangy build that spoke of compact musculature to come, the obedient stance... and the blue-grey eyes filled with a desperate unspoken hope that he remembered all too well. Some things didn't change from one generation to the next and probably hadn't changed in the millennia that the Temple had stood in this place. The building was heavy with the weight of ages and the faint emotional imprints of a myriad moments like this, lost in time and yet still echoing into the present. Right now, the boy looked as though he could feel every one of them.

Reaching into the Force, the knight again questioned the link he felt to the child and again felt the subtle thrum of approval. Was this what he was supposed to feel? Was this the true foundation of a training bond? It *felt* right, but....

But nothing. He was a Jedi. He would trust in the Force.

Taking a deep breath he knelt before the boy, searching for the words that had meant so much to him so long ago and feeling his own lingering apprehension fade as he found them. Meeting the bright, hopeful eyes he smiled and felt the Force twine between them as he spoke the ritual phrase: "Obi-Wan Kenobi, if it is your wish, I would be honoured to accept you as my Padawan Learner."

The boy stared at him for a moment, eyes wide. "Oh, yes!" he squeaked before remembering himself and dropping to his knees, bowing his head before his new Master. "The honour is mine and I accept, Master...?" He trailed off, looking back up as a flush of embarrassment began to colour his cheeks.

Of all the things to forget.... The knight smiled warmly at his new apprentice and berated himself for his lack of manners. He reached across to run his fingers through hair that would shortly be cut back to the brush that denoted padawan rank, reassuring the boy that the lapse was not his.

"My name is Xanatos."