by Julie the Tall Terror firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: Sequel to "If I Don't Catch You" and "I Won't Fail You". You must read those stories to fully understand this one. Anakin is 14 years old and has learned and suffered much during his first year as a Padawan, but now he must face a greater challenge, regaining Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's trust. Rated PG-13 for violence Begun on February 19, 2001 and completed on March 30, 2001 Revised December 2001
Dedicated to my wonderful brother, Jonathan, who suddenly gave me a new monitor and wouldn't let me pay him for it. :)
Alternate site with fanart for this story at: fanfic.theforce.net
Part 1 of 4
Anakin Skywalker dismally stood on the ship's platform staring out at a typical Coruscant morning. The cheery sun glinted off the polished ships that filled the skylanes. The expanse of metal towers was no more appealing than the dunes of Tatooine had been, but at least all the activity gave him something to watch.
I really don't like this. Anakin did his best not to let his anxiety show on his face. Who am I kidding? I absolutely hate this.
Anakin gave up trying to look strong and just sulked. He knew he deserved this after his behavior on their last mission. Outright disobeying your masters on your very first mission with them was unheard of and for Anakin it had been a colossal mistake that had nearly ended with his death. He'd hoped that perhaps the Council would decide that his suffering at the hands of a Sith would be considered punishment enough. But no, until it was decided that he was trustworthy enough to obey, Anakin would not be allowed to leave the Jedi Temple.
And now Master Qui-Gon was bidding them both farewell, leaving on a mission without either of them. And what was worse, Obi-Wan would be doing the same thing in a few short weeks. Leaving him alone..
"It will be over before you know it, Ani," Qui-Gon responded to the teenager's mood and the reason behind it.
Obi-Wan put his hand on Anakin's shoulder. "I don't like it either," Obi-Wan murmured. "And you aren't making this any easier on yourself, Ani."
"I know," Anakin mumbled. "But he's leaving now! He won't be here when the Council interrogates me!"
The two of them watched sorrowfully as the sleek Republic ship took off. Obi-Wan sighed. Anakin looked at him waiting for a reply. Obi-Wan is probably dreading having to cope with me alone. He's always had Master Qui-Gon to help keep me out of trouble before.
"You know neither of us may defend you, Anakin," Obi-Wan reminded him.
"I don't see why I have to face them alone."
"You will be fine, Ani. They just want to hear what you remember of the Sith actions and what the Sith told you. The Council will not judge you."
Anakin looked at him askance. "It doesn't feel that way."
"Don't worry about it. You've stood up to the Council several times before."
"Yeah," Anakin answered. "But I hadn't done something wrong those times!"
"The Council will not even discuss that, Ani. The purpose of this session is only to determine what goals the Sith may have concerning you."
"And to make sure I'm not buying into it," Anakin smarted back.
Obi-Wan looked at him coolly, but did not reply. He didn't need to. Anakin blanched.
"I'm sorry, Master," Anakin slumped. I really need to keep my mouth shut. The last thing I need to do is drive off my only ally currently at the Temple.
"Ani, the Council members know you better now that they have each instructed you. They will not be so quick to think the worst of you."
Yoda will, Anakin thought wryly.
"Not even Master Yoda," Obi-Wan finished.
Oh, I'm glad I didn't say that out loud.
Anakin nearly tripped as he entered the apartment. He looked down at the dangerous object in annoyance.
"Kaely! Quit running in front of people's feet! You'll be crushed."
The tiny pink droid pretended not to hear him and continued speeding around on the floor and back under the sofa she'd shot out from under. She darted around the room whistling and peeping under the furniture. Anakin trudged quietly to his room to collect his lesson assignments for the day.
Anakin paused to look at the book of old Jedi prophecies lying on his desk. No, now is really not a good time to read the rest of it. If I even think about that today, the Council will find out and Obi-Wan will be in big trouble for giving it to me. Too risky.
He returned to the main room with his datapad and a stack of datacards and began working. Kaely tried to get his attention by bumping his boots and whizzing around the low table he was sitting by. After trying to ignore her antics for several minutes, Anakin finally gave in and picked her up.
"You want up here?" he asked and placed Kaely on the tabletop. She chirped her thanks and began examining the cards he hadn't used yet. After a moment she emitted a puzzled beep.
The little droid waved the card she was holding in her grasping arm and twittered again. Finally, by using the Force, Anakin managed to grasp what she was saying.
"I know its lunch time. But I have to go meet the Council this afternoon, so I'm doing my lessons now instead."
Kaely flashed her little yellow eyes and whistled again at him.
"I know, but I'll be fine. And anyway, if I don't do it now I won't have any time to work on fixing your repulsor lifts."
Kaely squealed with glee and began to hum a quiet but cheerful tune to herself.
Anakin quietly walked alone into the Jedi Council Chamber. It was the first time the whole Council had seen him since Anakin was rushed to the infirmary just two weeks before. A few had managed to visit him while he was recovering from his surgery and after his dip in the bacta tank, but even they were surprised when Anakin approached.
Anakin Skywalker's whole being was actually passive. They had worried that his abduction and torture by the Sith would antagonize, anger, and spur him to vengeance. Or even worse make Anakin over-confident, after all, he had killed one of the Sith.
Instead, his capture had apparently resulted in a dramatic change and they were unprepared for the docile teenager who stood before them. His normal brash attitude and cool self-assuredness was gone. The entire Council gave a collective mental sigh of relief. They had spent the last week debating over what they would do with a reckless and dangerous Anakin Skywalker, yet they never reached a decision. So now the Council was stuck with a new dilemma. What to do with a humble Anakin Skywalker and how to keep him that way?
"How are you feeling, Anakin?" Mace Windu asked him kindly.
"Much better, sir," Anakin answered meekly. His whole demeanor was despondent.
"We'd like you to tell us everything you remember about the Sith's actions and what they said after you entered the ship."
With great trepidation, Anakin began to relate what had happened. "I was hit from behind in the cockpit. I never sensed her attack at all. I don't know how long I was out, but I do know that she drugged me. When I woke up I tried to leave the ship's cabin she'd put me in. But the Sith beat me until I passed out."
In almost a whisper he said, "She probably killed the other pilot."
Anakin's voice had grown softer and softer. Realizing this he took a deep breath and plunged onward, "Everything after that is very blurry. I don't think she drugged me again. She didn't need to. She put pressure on my mind and fogged me up so much I could barely concentrate."
Master Tiin leaned forward. "What about your mental shields?"
Anakin stiffened and his voice was strained as he answered, "They weren't good enough. I remember waking up several times, and trying to heal myself, but each time I became too aware, she'd lash out at my mind and I'd pass out again."
"Did you attempt to leave the room again?" Master Depa asked softly.
"As this happened, how felt you?"
The look Anakin gave Yoda held none of the brazen impudence that the Council had come to expect from the boy. Rather Anakin was contrite and subdued.
"I was very confused, and I kept feeling like I was doing the same things over and over. Which now I know I was. I never got a chance to get past realizing why I was in pain before the Sith would attack again."
Anakin waited for the inevitable response. This is the perfect place for Master Yoda to say, 'About this, how feel you now?" Anakin thought glumly. Yoda, without fail, took every opportunity to test or question Anakin. But to his great surprise, the old Jedi Master seemed to take pity on him and remained silent.
"What do you remember next?" Eeth Koth inquired.
"I woke in that strange cell. It was completely dark and I felt awful."
Mace leaned forward in his chair. "Were you able to heal yourself then?"
"I," Anakin paused to take a deep breath. "I didn't really try much. I was too tired. But I was able to walk a little, but then I had other things to worry about."
"I couldn't sense anything outside of the cell at first, I couldn't even tell how thick the walls were. Kaely found the only door, which was in the ceiling. And -"
Anakin lost his voice again. But the Council waited patiently for him to continue. The teenager's stress and nervousness rolled out from him in waves.
"And then I realized that all of my mental shields were down for the first time. I couldn't remember when they'd fallen, or even how. But what bothered me most was that it took so long for me to notice."
"Did you escape then?" Depa's soft voice was somewhat soothing.
"No, I didn't get a chance." Anakin paused and frowned. "That's when the Sith came."
"What did she say to you?" Mace prompted him.
"This time it was a man's voice." Anakin's frown deepened. "I think that maybe it was a different person?" He looked at Mace in confusion.
"That is likely. We do know that there were two Sith inside when we arrived," Mace answered.
"What did he say to you?" Ki-Adi Mundi asked repeating Master Windu's question.
"He rambled on about a lot of things. He said that I was going to be his apprentice. I told him I wasn't. And then after that I tried to ignore him and refused to answer anymore. Eventually he gave up talking."
Anakin waited and hoped that they would accept his response and move onward. However, Yoda wasn't going to let him evade the question.
"All his words, we must know."
This was what Anakin had been both dreading and hoping for. I want to tell them. I really do. I need to know! However, Anakin was afraid of what response the Council would give him. Over the last month, he had done his best to avoid even thinking about it. But when he heard the Sith say those exact same words and make those terrible claims it had shaken Anakin to the core of his being.
Taking another deep breath, Anakin did his best to answer them in a calm voice. "He called me the Chosen One."
The reaction of the Council was more than Anakin expected. Not only did they all tense up and a few gasped in shock, but Yoda actually looked stunned. Over the past year, Anakin had surprised each of the Council members so many times it had almost become a game. But today it wasn't funny.
If this bothers them so much then it must.... Anakin didn't dare finish his thought.
The Jedi Masters still didn't answer. They must be talking to each other telepathically. Will they actually explain what this whole 'Chosen One' stuff means or will they avoid the question? They really don't want to tell me, do I even want to know why?
Anakin thought about what else that Sith had said and cringed. They have just got to tell me. I don't want to believe that guy is right, but what if he is?
"Said more of this, the Sith did?" Yoda's voice was strained.
Anakin tried to relax. If they thought what I just told them was a shock, they will keel over when I say this.
Anakin composed his words carefully. "He also said, 'a balance is achieved by two powers opposite one another. How can you bring balance to the Force if you only know the Jedi way? It is impossible.'"
Anakin shifted his feet slightly and settled for a long wait. The Jedi certainly were taking their time silently discussing it. As the minutes grew longer, he began to worry, What if they just send me out of the chamber? It could be days before they decide what to tell me! I wish I could hear what they are saying to each other.
That idle thought caught his interest. Nah, it wouldn't work. They'd sense me trying to snoop and not only would I never hear anything, I'd be in big trouble. He suppressed a sigh. I've messed up enough lately. And like Obi-Wan said, I don't need to make things worse for myself.
Anakin watched as Yoda's eyes seemed to glaze over and the other Jedi focused intently on each other. I can almost tell who is arguing with who just by the Force resonance their communications leave behind.
Anakin concentrated on Yoda's presence in the Force, waiting for a responding sensation from one of the other Council members to try to guess who he was talking to. Anakin knew that Yoda didn't like him and seemed to disagree with everything he wanted. Anakin waited and felt the response come from Adi Gallia, Odd. She usually agrees with Master Yoda.
Again the tiny vibration in the Force came from Yoda, and this time a different sensation came from Yaddle. Ah ha! Anakin was delighted as he learned to identify which impression was which. Master Yaddle always takes my side.
As the time grew longer and longer, Anakin became less worried that they would send him out without explaining and more worried that they'd make him wait where he was all afternoon. The Force could only hold one up so long and already his legs were beginning to ache. Trying to ignore it, Anakin continued to watch the holo-ball match going on around him. So far it looked like four definitely agreed with Yoda, three completely disagreed, and the other four he wasn't sure about. Maybe they are still undecided.
Undecided about what? Anakin mused. The Council could be debating about what to tell him or what to not tell him. Or perhaps whether or not the Sith was right. I don't want him to be right. That guy was creepy, his old apprentice almost killed Master Qui-Gon and his new one tried to cut my arm off. And then after I killed Darth Edacaf, her master nearly killed me. I don't want anything to do with him.
Anakin shifted his feet again. This patience thing is getting really hard.
He looked up at Master Depa Billaba.
"You look pale." She directed her words more to Anakin, but looked at Mace Windu.
Yup, they are going to send me out.
"The remainder of your report must wait for another day," Mace said, dismissing him.
"Yes, sir." Anakin bowed dutifully and began to walk out of the chamber. Just as he passed the doors Master Yaddle spoke up.
"Well, he is not," she said firmly and hopped off of her chair.
She wasn't the only one to get up, but despite her short legs and being the farthest away, she reached Anakin first. He was kneeling in the hall where she'd sensed he'd stumbled and fallen. The small Jedi Master put one of her tiny three fingered hands on his shoulder.
He tried to look up at her but his eyes refused to focus. Anakin slumped unconscious to the floor as a wave of dizziness hit him.
Master Healer An-Paj looked up in surprise as Mace Windu entered into the infirmary carrying Anakin. His patient had been doing well and improving greatly after he'd released him from the Healer Ward a week ago. The blue healer hadn't expected to see Anakin again until his next check up in two days.
Master Windu walked calmly to him and An-Paj could perceive that the boy was not in pain or visibly injured. Just out cold. From the entrance, a few of the other Council members stood waiting.
"He passed out in the hall," Mace explained as the healer led him to an empty examination table. He placed Anakin on it and stepped back with a grim expression on his face. "We have already called Obi-Wan."
An-Paj worked quickly and efficiently to determine the cause while Mace retreated to the waiting room. Anakin was very pale, but was breathing normally. Just as the healer submitted a blood sample into the medical terminal for testing, Anakin stirred.
"Anakin, open your eyes."
Squinting, Anakin obeyed. He looked around him in confusion for a moment before trying to sit up. Master An-Paj helped to steady him.
"What have you been doing today?"
"Not much," Anakin muttered. "I haven't been over-exercising or anything like that."
Master An-Paj's antenna twitched in puzzlement. "Then why are you so exhausted?"
The boy shrugged off the question. "I didn't sleep well last night."
Master An-Paj was unconvinced. Taking a look at the terminal's readout of Anakin's vital signs and test results he frowned. He sat down and began to call up more information and typed in a code.
"You didn't eat lunch today did you?"
A faint look of guilt crossed Anakin's face. "No, sir. I didn't"
"I'll return in a moment, Anakin." An-Paj stood up and left to talk to the Jedi Masters waiting outside.
When An-Paj returned to the waiting room, only Obi-Wan was there. The young Knight was sitting calmly in a meditative state. He slowly opened his eyes as he sensed the healer approach and he then stood up.
"Hello Master An-Paj."
"Good afternoon, Obi-Wan," An-Paj returned pleasantly. "Your Padawan will be fine."
The blue healer glanced around the empty room in a silent question.
"I told the Council I'd inform them if Anakin was seriously ill," Obi-Wan explained. "I didn't sense any danger to Ani."
"You are correct. Anakin is not ill, yet." An-Paj pursed his lips in mild irritation. "He is exhausted, dehydrated, and has not eaten in the last 24 hours."
An exasperated look crossed Obi-Wan's face briefly before he calmed himself. "That shouldn't have happened. He did arise early this morning, but I assumed he'd made his own breakfast when he didn't join Qui-Gon and I."
"Anakin is very troubled about something today, surely it wasn't just this questioning by the Council?"
Obi-Wan shook his head, "Normally that would be so, Anakin is never daunted by the Council. However, today's session was very different and Qui-Gon's departure only made things worse."
"He left on a mission without either of you?" An-Paj frowned in surprise.
"And I will leave in a week," Obi-Wan told him soberly.
Obi-Wan only nodded. An-Paj's face was equally grim, but he understood the reasons.
"I must remember to admonish the Council for not noticing, until after they'd made Anakin stand for hours, that he was unwell," An-Paj declared as he lead Obi-Wan to Anakin's examination room.
The terminal was still activated. Out of boredom, Anakin slid off the table and sat at the view screen. On the display was a list of his vital statistics that An-Paj had recorded. Though he recognized most of the words, he didn't understand what the numbers beside each name meant. Idly, scrolling through the computer terminal's menu controls he found an option to check his statistics against an average human Padawan.
Ah, this is really good for the healer Padawans when they are learning to treat others. Choosing the correct species and age he watched as a second list of numbers appeared beside his statistics. This is neat! Anakin scrolled through this list looking for what didn't match up. Blood pressure, blood sugar level, iron level, midi-chlorian count....
"I heard Yoda talk about midi-chlorians, and I was wondering, what are midi-chlorians?"
Qui-Gon looked down at the small nine year old boy, "Midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that reside within the cells of all living things and communicate with the Force."
"They live inside of me?"
"In your cells. We are symbionts with the midi-chlorians."
"Symbionts. Life-forms living together for mutual advantage. Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force."
The memory shook Anakin as he gazed at the numbers on the screen in front of him.
Normal midi-chlorian count for a human Jedi: 13,000 to 17,000
Midi-chlorian count of Anakin Skywalker: 24,000
Anakin suddenly remembered to breathe. He began combing through the menu, looking for anything about midi-chlorians he could find. Anakin didn't let himself think about whether or not he should be doing this. As he divulged deeper in to the system he never gave a second thought to the fact that Master An-Paj had used his own code to access the more secure sections of the database. And that he had trusted a Jedi Padawan would not even think to take advantage of it.
As it was a medical terminal, it had access to a staggering array of information, much of which Anakin had no way of understanding. But the search option was very helpful when he asked for the highest midi-chlorian counts ever recorded.
His name was at the top of the list, by a wide margin.
The teenager spun around in the chair, but his eyes showed that he refused to be ashamed of his actions. So intent on his search, Anakin hadn't noticed the Master Healer return with Obi-Wan. It didn't take An-Paj more than a second to see what had occurred. Obi-Wan looked grim and waited for An-Paj to explain.
"Anakin, you are not allowed to know your midi-chlorian count, yet."
"I hear that said a lot, you know," A haunted look crept into Anakin's eyes as he began quoting the words he had heard far too many times. "Ani, you aren't permitted to know how to do that yet. You should not have learned this now. That was something you should not have heard about. You should not be capable of doing this yet. Know this, you should not!"
Anakin gave an irritated snort and looked balefully at Master An-Paj and Obi-Wan. "Can you at least tell me why I'm not allowed to know?"
The Master Healer gazed sadly at the frustrated and angry teenager, but had no response he could give. Anakin could sense Obi-Wan's emotions in an upheaval through their training bond.
Anakin nodded. "I didn't think so."
"Padawans are not permitted to know until knighthood. Its not just you." Obi-Wan turned to the blue healer. "His punishment for breaking into your files is your decision, Master An-Paj."
"Anakin must rest for the remainder of the day. I will call you tomorrow about it. Will you be informing the Council or would you rather I did?" An-Paj asked.
Anakin stared at Obi-Wan and waited anxiously for his answer.
"I will tell them."
Obi-Wan looked at his Padawan curiously. Anakin was actually cheerful about his return from the infirmary. Noticing Obi-Wan's feeling of puzzlement through the training bond, Anakin grinned smugly.
"Yes," the teenager said. "I don't mind my punishment."
"You aren't just saying that because you are done for today, are you?"
"Nope! I'm looking forward to going back tomorrow."
Obi-Wan stared at him. It was the truth. Anakin was happy and truly content with the consequences of his behavior yesterday.
"I had no idea you enjoyed emptying bedpans and scrubbing floors, Ani," Obi-Wan said while looking at him askance.
Anakin tried not to roll his eyes. "Its not as degrading as some of the other stuff I've had to do in the past."
When Obi-Wan didn't answer, Anakin did roll his eyes. "Would you rather I acted all sulky and mad? Aren't I supposed to be accepting and calm? And anyway, its not like I don't deserve it."
Staring at him, the only response Obi-Wan could think of was, "I am pleased that your attitude has improved."
Anakin smiled serenely and continued to follow him.
"But I know you are hiding something," Obi-Wan added suddenly.
Anakin put on his best innocent expression. Obi-Wan suddenly stopped outside one of the training rooms. Anakin looked at the door and then back at him in dismay.
"Master...," Anakin began frowning at the sparring room in front of them. Anakin hadn't fought with a lightsaber since his gruesome duel with a Sith and had been dreading this part of his training for a week.
"Yes, yoy must train," Obi-Wan said. "That Sith nearly killed you, despite your skill in Force-shielding, Ani."
Anakin sighed dismally and followed him into the room.
"And if you'd fought better with your lightsaber you might have actually had a chance to escape."
Anakin cringed at the stern tone of Obi-Wan's voice.
"Ani," Obi-Wan continued to lecture, but in a softer tone. "We almost lost you. So far, you have given at best only half-hearted efforts towards your saber training. Qui-Gon and I have let you and for that, I apologize. From now on your training will focus primarily on lightsaber fighting."
Anakin's head was bowed and his eyes didn't look from the floor. "What about my recovery from my injuries?"
"We'll be careful not to overstress your heart. However, we both know you have nearly returned to full health and the remainder of your time recuperating will be just a cover story."
Anakin could not disguise his wince. I really do regret disobeying. And I'm sure I'll never do it again! I've learned my lesson. He thought irritably. But is only reply was, "Yes, Master."
"Now, since you currently are still recovering, today you can limit practicing to only your katas. However, tomorrow we will begin working in earnest."
"Good morning, Master An-Paj!"
The Jedi Healer glanced up at the blond head looking inside his office doorway. "A pleasant morning to you as well, Padawan Skywalker."
Anakin smiled brightly and continued down the hallway with his bucket and mop. An-Paj listened as the teenager called out greetings to every healer and Padawan he saw as he made his way down the corridor. Like the day before, they answered him with puzzled replies. Obi-Wan had warned him that Anakin's suspicious behavior had not changed after he left the infirmary the day before. And here An-Paj could see that if anything, it had increased.
A loud squeal of delight echoed suddenly thorough out the hall.
"Anakin!" A very boisterous female voice yelled.
Anakin Skywalker did an excellent impression of a nerf in front of landspeeder lights. He froze as a trio of girls practically danced over to him. The instinct to run was very hard to fight.
Fighting the urge to flee, Anakin instead put on a broad, fake smile and waved at the girls. Just keep on walking, ladies. Go right past me, please!
The cyan-haired girl stopped right in front of him and gave Anakin the distinct impression that she would have hugged him if she could have gotten away with it. The other two were close behind her and they all began talking at once.
"Where have you been?"
"Are you feeling better now?"
"Everyone's noticed you never come to the Dinning Hall anymore."
"Will you be at Swim Club tomorrow?"
"Whoa," Anakin broke in. "Slow down. I'm recovering okay, but I have to do chores here for awhile."
The girl with the curly blue hair eyed the mop in his hand. "Whatever did you do to get bucket duty?"
"Poked around where I didn't belong."
"Well that's a relief," the redhead said with a sigh.
"Yes," the Twi'lek gushed. "We were beginning to think you were avoiding everyone!"
Anakin smiled brightly. "Well, I have to get back to work!"
"Oh, we can help you get done faster!"
"Thank you, but I have to work here all afternoon."
"Are you sure?"
The girls truly looked disappointed. Anakin gave them what he hoped was a reassuring smile. "I do appreciate the offer. See you later."
Anakin carefully concealed his wince as all three girls loudly chorused their farewell and left the infirmary giggling about it.
"Is cleaning the floor is more appealing than being with your friends?"
Anakin turned around to see An-Paj standing behind him. The teenager shrugged his shoulders and hoisted his buckets.
"It is for now."
An-Paj was disturbed at the forlorn tone of Anakin's voice. "You cannot avoid them forever, Anakin."
"Yes, sir. I know." Anakin moved past him down the hall, "I just need time to think of how to explain things without really telling them what happened." Grimacing, he mumbled, "Like the Council and my Masters want me to."
Anakin stood outside of the closed door. He wanted to leave and he wanted to hide. However, he wasn't allowed to do either. Obi-Wan had given him a direct order.
Earlier that morning...
"Master, please -"
"No, Ani. This has gone on long enough, you must face this."
"I just need a little more time."
"You've had weeks. If you haven't determined how to handle it best by now then you are not going to. And yes, An-Paj told me about how you've been using your chores in the infirmary as an excuse to completely avoid everyone. What were you planning to do when your punishment was over? Absurdly disobey again or intentionally injure yourself just to keep away from your friends?"
As Obi-Wan continued to lecture in an exasperated tone, Anakin's eyes never left the floor.
"You need to talk to them, and to get past this today. You will go to the Padawan's Dinning Hall and you will stay there long enough to eat an entire meal. Sneaking in and out is not an option."
I really wish I knew how to make myself invisible. Anakin continued to stare at the door. Why is this so hard? Just pull the handle! he berated himself.
Suddenly, Anakin tensed up. He could sense a few Padawans approaching the other side of the door. As they came closer and closer, Anakin could only stand frozen in place. He knew he couldn't hide and he couldn't leave.
The door shook.
"Huh?" a muffled voice said through the doorway.
"What's wrong?" another asked.
"The door's jammed."
"Let me try."
The whole framework jostled slightly as a strong Padawan pushed on the door with the Force.
"It's really stuck."
"Maybe they are going to get rid of this exit and make it part of the wall?"
Anakin gave a quiet sigh of relief as he felt the teenagers leave to go to another door out of the Dinning Hall.
You coward, Anakin growled irritably to himself. Holding the door shut so they couldn't see you was just idiotic.
Anakin once again resumed gazing blearily at the doors. I wish Kaely were here. She'd fuss at me and just pull it open and then I'd have to walk in and get it over with. But Kaely couldn't fly again yet and so was still in the apartment.
Again, Anakin felt people coming to the door. He tried not to do anything. With all his might he held back. And when he sensed them about to touch the door....
I am so pathetic.
Miserably, Anakin waited as he sensed the second group also walk away in confusion. If someone would just come down this corridor to enter the Dinning Hall, then I wouldn't keep driving myself crazy like this.
Initially, Anakin had thought it would be a good idea to wait until the last minute to go to lunch. He'd hoped that by then most of the Padawans would be finished and leaving. That way he'd only have a few dozen to contend with. But now he wondered if arriving early would have been better. Nah, they wouldn't have let me leave and then everyone would have gotten a chance to attack me.
Steeling himself, Anakin slowly pulled the door towards him and peeked inside. The normal roar of the crowd didn't change rhythm, so Anakin slipped around the edge. Hugging the wall he tried his best to go unnoticed. This was not an easy feat when most of the people around him were sitting and Anakin happened to be rather tall for his age.
Of course it didn't work. Between squeals from the girls and loud yells from the boys and a variety of alien sounds, Anakin thought his ears would burst. Before he knew what was happening both of his arms had been grabbed and he was practically dragged to a table and gently but firmly placed in a chair.
The noise really was deafening as everyone was asking questions at the same time. Anakin's first friend at the Temple, Elbaima, wove his way through the mass around him. He saw Anakin's face grow redder and redder in mortification and decided to take action. The dusky toned boy clamored up on the table and quietly gestured for silence.
It took a few minutes for the excited teenagers to realize that Anakin wasn't going to answer them. They finally began to reduce their babbling enough for Elbaima to actually speak.
"That's enough. Anakin doesn't need to be stampeded."
Anakin tried not to smile at the looks of embarrassment that crossed the nearest teenagers' faces. He glanced up in surprise as Elbaima stepped off the table and all eyes returned to him. The room went dead silent.
"Well, I." Anakin paused to keep his voice steady. "I am doing better. I was stabbed pretty badly on my last mission with my masters. I'll be stuck here for awhile until Master An-Paj says I'm healthy enough to go on missions again."
Instantly, the rush of questions resumed. If Anakin could have crawled away he would have. They wanted details. Lots of details. And that was the one thing he was not allowed to do. The Council had absolutely forbidden him from telling anyone about those Sith, or to even refer to an evil Force-user. Naturally, that meant he couldn't tell them that he was stabbed by a lightsaber either. To Anakin's relief, they had ordered him to not tell anyone that he had been kidnapped at all.
The crowd quieted somewhat as several people began asking one identical question, "What was that glowing you did?"
Anakin very carefully schooled his features. This was a question he'd been expecting for over a month. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan had taken him on a mission the day after his glowing incident in this very Dinning Hall, so the Padawans never got a chance to ask him. Anakin had plenty of time to mull over this on the ship and during the long, boring days on their mission. And a week and half before while lying in bed after his surgery, he'd again thought about what they would say and what answers would satisfy them.
For all that time, Anakin had never found a way. And so, he decided to just play dumb. In his most nonchalant tone Anakin answered the eager audience.
"Oh, that. I don't know why that happened. It was very strange."
Again they barraged him, wanting him to explain how he felt, if it hurt, and what he remembered about it. If I could, I'd just tell them I don't remember much. That would get rid of them, but that's not true, I remember it all too perfectly.
The roar reduced to a mild rumble abruptly as one voice rose above the others. "Give him some space! He didn't come here to be interrogated."
Once again the crowd backed down, however this time it wasn't Elbaima who came to Anakin's rescue. It was the very last person Anakin wanted to see, Lavir Ruoy.
Anakin looked up as the young man approached him through the sea of Padawans. As he expected, they all moved to let him through without even thinking. Anakin watched him with distrust and well-founded suspicion. Especially when he saw the small pin attached to Lavir's Padawan braid. Its green metal glinted under the Dinning Hall's lights.
He is still running the Elite, Anakin grumbled to himself. Of course he is! He loves the prestige and power it gives him over the rest of us. He wouldn't be able to cope without it.
That last thought made Anakin cringe. It was a painful reminder of how he'd obtained that information. Waves of guilt assaulted him as he recalled the memories and private thoughts he'd seen in Lavir's mind while the older Padawan was unconscious and unable to defend himself during that glowing episode.
The nineteen year old stopped and looked over the eager crowd haughtily. "You've asked your questions and Anakin has answered. Now, as he is still recuperating, he doesn't need the lot of you buzzing around him in this fashion."
"And someone fetch him a lunch, he came here to eat, after all," Lavir's command set everyone in motion. Most of them had finished eating and left, while the rest loudly returned to their own tables.
Elbaima sighed in relief. "Thank you Lavir. Crowd control is not one of my strong points."
Anakin looked at Elbaima in surprise, Even though he did get rid of everyone, there is no way I'm going to thank Lavir.
"Anytime," Lavir replied graciously. "If you don't mind, Elbaima, I'd like to speak alone with Anakin for a few minutes."
Anakin opened his mouth to object, but his friend was quicker. "Certainly," Elbaima said after he turned to give Anakin a smile. "I'm glad you are back again, Anakin. I'll see you later."
Anakin seethed. Lavir did it again, and I just let him.
While Anakin was trying to think of something to say that wouldn't come out as a growl, two Padawans approached. They eagarly brought him a tray over flowing with a bit of nearly everything being served. Anakin did his best to thank them politely and to not look dismayed when they left.
"Now," Lavir began when the others were out of hearing range. "I have a proposition for you."
"I'm not joining the Elite and that's final," Anakin replied sourly.
"I am aware you have no intention of changing your mind, but that is not what I've come for."
Anakin shoved the food on his plate irritably as he waited for Lavir to finish pausing dramatically. He does it pique his audience's curiosity. In the past when he has just gotten to the point, it didn't always sway who ever he was trying to convince. Anakin gulped as he realized he was relying on his ill-gotten knowledge again. I've got to be careful.
"I would like," Lavir resumed, "to spar with you on a regular basis, say twice a week or so. And later when you've fully recovered, every day when we both are not off on missions."
Anakin's jaw dropped. The audacity of this guy is really getting on my nerves! Anakin looked Lavir straight in the eye and said, "No."
"I'm sure your masters would agree that you would benefit from sparing with other Padawans."
"Master Obi-Wan wouldn't." Anakin smirked and then stopped as he thought more about it. Actually, Obi-Wan might, I need a better excuse.
"And besides," Anakin continued, "its no use talking about it now. I can't do anything that strenuous for a while."
Lavir gave him a sly look. "Really? Your master has sparred lightly with you every morning for the past three days."
"Are you spying on me now?" Anakin growled.
"No," Lavir replied loftily. "I just happenedWhile Obi-Wan gathered his things, preparing for his trip, to walk by that particular training room to reach the one my master and I usually use. The sign showing that your master reserved it is hanging outside in plain view for anyone to read."
With a glare, Anakin grabbed his half-eaten tray and stormed away. He was more than a little relieved that the older Padawan didn't follow and pester him further. When Lavir wants to know something, he finds out. Usually by sticking his Elite on the job if he can't do it. I'll have to be very careful. For the first time, Anakin did not regret that he had peeked into Lavir's mind over a month ago.
"So, how did it go?" Obi-Wan asked as Anakin hurried along the corridor to keep up with him.
"Exactly as I expected it to," Anakin grumbled.
Obi-Wan decided not to comment on the boy's sour expression. "They really mobbed you?"
"Yes," Anakin replied curtly.
While Obi-Wan gathered his things, preparing for his trip, Kaely buzzed over their heads, reveling in her new repulsor lifts. She'd been miserable while reduced to just running on her wheels for the past week after Obi-Wan had only partially repaired her. In gratitude, she hadn't tormented Obi-Wan the whole week. Though she had pestered Anakin incessantly to make her fly again.
Anakin was frowning heavily and brooding. Obi-Wan sighed as he realized that cheering his Padawan up would be a battle. "You'll be fine. And besides, I'm sure your friends will help you. And I'm sure Padawan Ecin will enjoy sparring with you. You really do need to practice dueling with other Padawans."
Anakin stared at his master's back in irritation. Well, I'd suspected he would think that was a good idea.
"And Qui-Gon will likely return before I do," Obi-Wan continued. "So, be prepared. He will expect you to have spent your time focused on your lightsaber practice."
Obi-Wan glanced backward at Anakin and the teenager quickly schooled his expression from the disgruntled frown to a look of thoughtfulness.
"Obi-Wan," Anakin said as nonchalantly as he could, "have you sparred with any of the Padawans only a few years older than I am?"
"No, why do you ask?"
"Just curious. I know that the ones really good at dueling will usually spar with knights and masters who happen to be passing through the Temple. You know, to improve their skills."
"Are you trying to say you want to spar against -"
"No," Anakin interrupted quickly. That's not what I meant at all! "I'm just worried about having to fight the older Padawans in the big Dueling Competition in a few months. I don't want to, well..."
"You'll do fine, Ani," Obi-Wan said reassuringly. His placid face suddenly brightened, "You should spar with the older Padawans during the times Qui-Gon and I aren't here. It would be good for you."
Anakin's jaw dropped. I should have kept my mouth shut and not given him ideas! "Uh, I can just spar with Elbaima Ecin. He's two years older than I."
"Yes. However, you are equally matched. You need to practice more with those who are better than you as well."
Their conversation ceased as they exited the building and walked onto an outdoor landing platform. On it was one ship, prepped and ready for take off. Anakin stared at it like it was a rancor and Obi-Wan just sighed. Anakin normally kept a good reign on his anger, but today he didn't bother to even try.
"Don't say it won't be long," Anakin said through gritted teeth. "Weeks are not a short time to me."
"I'll miss you, Padawan."
As the sleek ship took off, Anakin sat on the landing pad's deck in misery with only Kaely for company. He didn't move to go back inside for a long time.
Once again, Anakin stood anxiously waiting on a landing platform. However, this time he wasn't staring at the deck in agony, but at the sky watching for a ship. In his excitement, Anakin had come an hour earlier than Qui-Gon was to arrive.
Almost, just a little bit longer. Anakin squinted at the sky and pulled on the training bond. I can feel him! Master Qui-Gon's ship will descend into the atmosphere over the Pihs Tower.
For the past three weeks, Anakin's every thought and action had been overshadowed by his yearning for his masters to come home. Though he was living with his friend Elbaima and his master, Anakin spent little time with them. Anakin had practiced lightsaber fighting with him, but most of the day Elbaima was being trained by his master.
At first, Anakin had been pleased that Obi-Wan had not asked another Knight or Master to drill him in Force exercises while he was absent. Instead, he'd only instructed Anakin to practice his Force-exercises each morning focusing on saber katas.
I thought it would sorta be like a vacation. And it was at first, but I just got fed up with nothing interesting to do.
Anakin had intended to enjoy his spare time tinkering with his droid pieces and devising new attachments for Kaely. But his mind would unexpectedly wander to what his masters might be doing and where they were while he was alone at his worktable. As the days became weeks, Anakin had become completely miserable and not even Kaely could cheer him up. Yet, this morning that changed when he'd received the news that Qui-Gon was coming. It had irked Anakin that they hadn't told him until the day he was to arrive. But after the way he'd annoyed everyone with his impatience, Anakin wasn't surprised.
As Anakin watched the ship land and then Qui-Gon descend the ramp, his grin became broader. Only the presence of two others accompanying him, another master and her Padawan, prevented Anakin from jumping up and waving like a little kid. Qui-Gon spoke briefly with them as they were heading for the door before walking to Anakin.
"Greetings, Ani. You look well," Qui-Gon said with a smile. "Hello, little Kaely."
"I'm glad you're home, Master," Anakin beamed. Kaely cooed sweetly at Qui-Gon and flew to hover by his head as they turned to enter the Temple.
"I am much better," Anakin continued. "I have just one last check-up with the healers."
Anakin glanced anxiously up at Qui-Gon's face, hoping for a response. I know that I'm completely healed and that this last visit to the healers is only so Master An-Paj can be sure that I am. He must know what I want to hear. It's been over a month, surely that is long enough to be restricted to the Temple.
"Do you know when Obi-Wan is likely to return from his mission?"
Qui-Gon's question startled Anakin from his thoughts. "He'll be here tomorrow. He has been gone longer then I expected." Anakin looked wistfully off into space. And so were you.
Qui-Gon didn't comment on Anakin's implied statement. "How have you been?"
Qui-Gon's eyebrows shot up. Anakin smirked, but continued. "Not much has happened really. I did finally get the other Padawans to stop pestering me. Hopefully, the gossiping will die down soon."
"Oh, and, um," Anakin stumbled over his words for a moment. "I made a mistake."
His master only waited patiently for him to proceed without comment or prompting him. Of, course he wouldn't make this easier, Anakin sighed to himself.
"I found out what my midi-chlorian count is."
Anakin held his breath. He really had no way of anticipating what Qui-Gon's response might be. Master An-Paj had been disappointed and Obi-Wan had been very irritated. Qui-Gon's stoic expression never faltered and his emotions were locked tight. Odd. Anakin's eyes widened. Isn't he going to say anything?
"And how did you accomplish that?"
Anakin took a deep breath and spoke quickly to get it over with. "I snooped into Master An-Paj's files, and yes, I've already completed my punishment for that. Obi-Wan let Master An-Paj put me to work in the infirmary."
"Sounds fitting." Qui-Gon's voice was still completely emotionless.
"I guess so." A look of confusion passed over Anakin's face. "I really didn't mind it though. The healers do a lot of really neat stuff and when things were dull after Obi-Wan left, I sometimes stopped by to run errands for them."
A burst of something flashed across the training bond too quickly for Anakin to identify. What was that? Anakin stared at his cool and collected master in shock as he glimpsed a fleeting smile disappear from Qui-Gon's face. What is so funny?
"I'm sure Obi-Wan will be very interested to learn that you enjoy visiting the Healer Ward, Anakin."
Qui-Gon's smug tone of voice only puzzled Anakin further. Did I miss a joke?
Before Anakin could ask, Qui-Gon changed the subject. "Have you resumed your lessons with the Council yet?"
"No," Anakin replied curtly.
Master Qui-Gon frowned. "Have they said when they will?"
Anakin shook his head. "None of the Council has talked to me since before Obi-Wan went off on his mission three weeks ago."
Qui-Gon's stride slowed almost to a halt as he stared at Anakin. "How was your report to the Council the day I left?"
Qui-Gon stopped by an entrance to one of the many indoor gardens. Sensing Anakin's irritation and worry, he knew it would be best to stop and talk about this now, rather than wait until they reached the apartment. Anakin followed him in miserably and slumped onto a stone bench. In a strained voice, Anakin began to relate how the Council had reacted to his recollection of the Sith's actions and how they only sent him away without an explanation.
"When Obi-Wan left he thought that they would call me back soon, but they never have!"
As he finished, Anakin felt something in their bond that he had never felt before. Qui-Gon's expression and resonance in the Force was the closest Anakin had ever seen his master come to real fury. He stood up and briskly made his way to the exit. "Come, Ani. They will not continue to avoid you for another moment."
Anakin gawked as Master Qui-Gon breezed past the reception room and boldly shoved open the massive Council chamber doors. Without pausing or bothering to announce himself, Qui-Gon strode right in. The entire Council was assembled to hear from two teams who had just returned to the Temple. They all gazed at Qui-Gon's disruption with mixed reactions ranging from surprise to irritation.
Qui-Gon walked up to the mildly confused Jedi teams standing in the center of the room. "An urgent matter must be addressed."
Mace Windu's schooled features never wavered as he looked at Qui-Gon and then back at the teams. "Thank you for your swift report, Master Tuostuc Iuq, we must hear the remainder of it tomorrow."
The four Jedi quietly left the room, passing where Anakin hovered uncertainly by the entrance. They probably think something really important has happened for Master Qui-Gon to interrupt like that.
Qui-Gon gestured for Anakin to join him. As the doors closed behind him, Anakin scurried into the room to stand beside his master in awe. Wow! I can't believe he did that! I never would have dreamed of storming in here. And I don't think Obi-Wan would have either. He would have talked privately and quietly with Yoda or Mace.
Qui-Gon immediately got to the point. "This has gone on far too long."
"We have not yet determined what information is appropriate to divulge and what to withhold," Mace replied.
"You've had more than a month to discuss this." Qui-Gon's irritated tone conveyed his disapproval plainly.
"This is not an easy matter to decide," Mace retorted.
"If you haven't reached a satisfying conclusion by now, then you are not going to."
Anakin glanced at Qui-Gon sharply as he echoed Obi-Wan's words from three weeks before. Obi-Wan had insisted that Anakin couldn't keep waiting to talk to his friends. Anakin's stalling was useless and wouldn't help at all to continue. It was unnerving, and a little thrilling, to see the Council receive the same lecture.
"He is not prepared to deal with this situation as it is, later however - " Mace tried to explain.
Qui-Gon would not be placated. "Anakin needs to know all of it, now."
Yoda stiffened. "Dangerous that is!"
"And leaving him to speculate on what little he has already learned is not?" Qui-Gon countered.
Anakin did his best not to stare or react as they argued about him. I just want to get this over with.
Anakin sensed that it was time to end this, before his master got in trouble because of him. "Let's try something else," he blurted out.
The masters ceased their intense, but Jedi-like bickering to look at him. It wasn't Anakin's place to interrupt, but then nothing about this impromptu meeting was following protocol. Yoda and Mace in particular gave the impression that they were attempting to stare Anakin down for his outspokenness.
"I'll ask questions and you answer them. That way you don't have to tell me the other things you don't want me to know."
"Some of your questions might be precisely that," Ki-Adi Mundi pointed out.
"If he understands enough to ask the question, then clearly he is not only ready but must need to know the answer," Qui-Gon defended. Anakin smiled as he felt Qui-Gon's approval of his solution to this dispute shine through their training bond.
Mace glanced around the circle listening to the others' telepathic responses before settling back in his chair and clasping his hands together in resignation.
Anakin had to think very carefully. I haven't had any time to prepare and I never thought I ever get a chance to ask them questions now. I've got to be cautious to not give away what Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon let me find out.
"Am I right in just completely assuming that the Sith was lying to me?"
"Yes," Mace promptly replied. "You may ignore everything he said in regard to training you and his claims that you must learn to use the dark side."
Anakin very quietly sighed in relief. Though he tried to hide it, he knew that they all could sense him relax. Oh who cares? They are probably happy that I didn't want to do what that Sith said.
"Where did this whole 'balance the Force' idea come from?"
Mace looked to Anakin's left at Master Yaddle. She cocked her head to one side. "An old prophecy. Collaborated by many Jedi visionaries, it was. For centuries, true we have known it will be. Texts of this I can show you."
"How well known is this prophecy?"
"It is included, with many other predictions, in a class that those in their seventh or eighth year as a Padawan attend," Mace said.
"Perhaps Anakin should attend that class this year," Qui-Gon suggested.
Mace glanced at Yoda, who nodded. "Yes, that would be prudent."
"Also, um..." Anakin began with a hopeful look. "when I have more questions later, you will still answer them, won't you?"
"Yes," Yoda said in an unusually reassuring tone.
"How does the Sith fit into this? I know you all thought that they completely died out a thousand years ago, so what do they have to do with that prophecy?"
Mace looked rather like a schoolteacher about to explain the existence of air or gravity as he answered. "We know that the Chosen One will be the only person capable of vanquishing a great evil. The Sith are the most terrible evil we have ever encountered. Now that they have returned, we feel that it could only refer to them."
"Have any of you had visions of me fighting the Sith?"
"Too difficult to see." Yoda shook his head and looked at Anakin from under his drooping eyelids. "Well hidden the Sith are."
Yeah, I know that. I've been there, seen it, and barely survived to tell about it, Anakin thought sarcastically.
Yoda's eyes suddenly opened fully. "Seen visions of them, have you?"
"No, sir." Anakin was a little startled. "I haven't thought to try."
"Hmmm." Yoda resumed studying the Padawan intently.
Anakin looked suspiciously at the ancient Jedi Master. "How is this balancing supposed to work?"
"There have been many theories over the centuries," Mace replied. "Master Yaddle can supply you with the books about them. They are also discussed in that class."
They don't know the answer, Anakin sighed silently to himself. Why am I not surprised?
"How many of you think I'm this Chosen One, anyway?"
Silence filled the room and Anakin began to feel very exasperated. Well, what are they expecting? Obviously that was one of the things they didn't want me to know now. And from the way Yoda is staring at me, it looks like they didn't think that I'd ever ask it either.
Mace looked from one council member to the other, taking his time, and then turned his attention to Anakin. "Due to recent events, we all are certain that you are the Chosen One," Mace answered.
End Part One. Go to Part Two