The two Jedi climbed out of the blue and white wedge shaped fighter onto the salt flat. Anakin shot a sidelong glance and a grin at his companion. "Nervous?"
"Yes, blast you." Obi-Wan answered, tucking his hands in his sleeves and scanning the homestead with a wary eye. "Why did I let you talk me into to this?"
Anakin's face suddenly turned serious. "My feelings say you need to know your family."
Obi-Wan sighed. "And I trust your feelings, so here we both are. Shall we get on with it? Some situations do not improve with keeping."
At that moment a young woman in dun colored tunic and skirt emerged from the entrance dome, a basket on her arm. She stopped to stare at the fighter and the Jedi, then came towards them.
Beru had been going out to feed the nunas, flightless burrowing birds kept for their eggs and meat, when the sight of the spaceship and two brown robed figures wiped her farm chores right out of her mind. One was obviously Anakin, but his companion was shorter than Master Qui-Gon and taller than Padme, who was it?
She started talking the minute she was within earshot. "Ani, we got your message that you and Padme were safe. Is it true the Republic is at war?"
"I'm afraid it is." he said. "But nothing much is happening at the moment, so Obi-Wan and I thought we'd take advantage of the lull to make a visit."
Obi-Wan! Beru looked at Anakin's companion and was metaphorically stopped in her tracks by a shockingly familiar blue gaze. He did have Cleig's eyes - and Owen's - just as Padme had said, but she couldn't see any other resemblance.
"This is Beru, your brother Owen's girlfriend." Ani was saying. And Obi-Wan gave her a half-smile and quick, deep bow.
'Why I believe he's shy!' she thought in surprise, and felt a sudden surge of sympathy for her new brother-in-law to be. It couldn't be easy to face the family he'd never known - even for a Jedi Master.
"I'm very pleased to meet you Obi-Wan." she told him. "I'm so glad you decided to visit, Padme and Anakin have told us all about you." actually she was a little uneasy, even apprehensive. She had a feeling this wasn't going to be an easy reunion - for any of them.
A few minutes later Shmi was embracing her son, laughing, in the homestead's sunken courtyard. "Three visits in two months, Ani, you'll spoil me!"
"Don't get used to it, Mom, only the Force knows when I'll get to visit again, what with the war and everything." Anakin warned, then turned to pull his companion forward. "This is Obi-Wan."
He bowed again. "A pleasure to meet you at last, Madam Lars, Anakin's told me so much about you."
Anakin laughed. "Constantly and endlessly!"
"Please call me Shmi," Shmi said warmly, and Beru knew she too had picked up on Obi-Wan's tension. "Cleig and Owen are out in the fields, making the rounds of the vaporator units but they'll be back for lunch." she said. "Please come and sit down. Would you like something cold to drink?"
"Yes, please." said Anakin.
"No thank you." said Obi-Wan. They looked at each other.
"Yes." said Anakin with some emphasis.
Obi-Wan sighed. "Yes. Thank you, Shmi."
"Where is Padme now, Anakin?" Beru asked once they were settled in a rather spartan living room with glasses of some chilled blue liquid in their hands.
"Back on Naboo, putting the planet on a war footing." Anakin replied.
"I hope she'll be all right." Beru worried.
"She should be, she's got a whole army to take care of her." he said reassuringly.
"It's all so dreadful." Shmi said unhappily. "Is Tatooine likely to be invaded?"
"I'm afraid its real possibility, Shmi." Obi-Wan answered.
Anakin gave him an incredulous look. "You gotta be kidding, who'd invade this dustball?"
"Tatooine's location makes it strategically valuable." Obi-Wan pointed out chidingly. "It would be the perfect base for attacks on Rodia and Zolan, or Triffis and Naboo. We might want to use it ourselves as a launch point for invasions of Gall, Excarga and Moonus Mandel."
Anakin looked dismayed. "I hadn't thought of that."
Obviously. Obi-Wan turned back to Shmi. "Any military action will concentrate on the port cities. Remote homesteads like yours should be relatively safe but you might want to set up some kind of shelter just in case ground fighting should surge this way."
The women looked at him in fear and Anakin gave him a ferocious glare before telling his mother: "Take it easy, Mom, probably nothing like that will happen."
Shmi took a deep breath. "No, Anakin, Obi-Wan is right. It could happen and we should prepare ourselves."
Obi-Wan's respect for Ani's mother - his stepmother? - rose. Unlike her son she was clearly not given to wishful thinking.
Obi-Wan heard voices in the courtyard and stood up, so did Anakin. A moment later two burly men with round, rugged faces, one middle aged one young, entered.
"Anakin! I thought it must be your ship -" the older man began, then he saw Obi-Wan and stopped, staring.
"Cleig, this is Obi-Wan." Anakin said, a touch of anxiety in his voice.
'A little late for second thoughts, Ani.' Obi-Wan thought wryly as he made his usual deep bow.
Cleig walked towards him until they were almost nose to nose, his face grimly unreadable. Obi-Wan sensed shock and turmoil. 'Maybe this wasn't a good idea.' Padme had been right. It gave Obi-Wan an odd frisson to see his own eyes staring at him out of a strange face. 'This is my father.' he told himself, and tried to feel something other than mild curiousity tinged by apprehension.
"You favor your mother." Cleig said, almost harshly.
'And how does one answer that?' Obi-Wan wondered wryly. His diplomatic training hadn't covered this situation! "That's very interesting." he said at last, and saw Anakin cover his eyes with his hand.
"This is your brother Owen." Cleig gestured abruptly towards the younger edition of himself standing in the doorway.
Obi-Wan made another bow. "I understand congratulations are in order. You are a fortunate man."
That got a grin out of this new brother of his. "I think so." he said, looking at Beru.
"Oh, I agree." Obi-Wan said, and smiled back.
Cleig blinked. Owen's smile broadened, delighted by the compliment to his intended. Beru blushed prettily.
"You two must be hungry," Shmi said quickly, before the new, relaxed mood had a chance to shift. "Let's go eat."
Seated at the head of the table in a narrow dining room open to the courtyard. Cleig turned to Anakin to ask "Where's Padme, son?"
"Home on Naboo by now." he answered. "By the way, Mom, I gave Threepio to her."
Owen snorted. "Poor Padme. What'd she do to deserve that?"
Anakin bridled. "Threepio's a good droid."
"Ani, he never shuts up!"
Obi-Wan smirked. "I see I'm not the only one to find Anakin's droid - trying."
"Threepio was a willing worker and very useful to me." Shmi said, trying to make peace.
"Mom, he never shut up!" said Owen, pained.
"All too true." said Obi-Wan and glanced sidelong at Anakin, beside him. "Was it two days or three before Master Windu asked you to get him out of the Temple?"
Anakin glared. "He just pointed out that a Jedi doesn't have much use for a Protocol droid." he turned to Shmi. "So I gave him to Padme. And she said she'd fix him up with some shiny new plates fit for a Queen's droid."
"I'm sure Threepio will like that very much." his mother answered with a quelling look at her stepson.
Beru turned the subject. "Dad," she said to Cleig, "Obi-Wan says Tatooine might be invaded."
"You're kidding!" said Owen but Cleig frowned at his long lost son.
"You think so?"
"Unfortunately yes. Tatooine would make a fine staging base for both the Separatists and ourselves. I'm afraid it's very unlikely it will be overlooked."
Owen gave his brother an angry look. "You've got a whole galaxy to fight in, why'd you have to bring your war here?"
Obi-Wan spread his hands. "Believe me, Owen, I don't want to. I would much rather not fight here - or anywhere else for that matter. Unfortunately the Separatists are unlikely to allow us that luxury."
"Obi-Wan's right." Anakin said gloomily. "Tatooine is within striking distance of at least three Separatists worlds and four loyal ones - including Naboo."
Cleig's frown deepened. "What about the Hutts?"
"They're an economic rather than military power," Obi-Wan answered, "I doubt they could put up any real resistance to either the Separatists or the Republic."
"Most likely they'd make a deal." said Anakin.
"I agree." Obi-Wan said promptly, then gave his fellow knight a considering look. "It might be wise to make sure it's the Republic they decide to deal with."
"Mmmm." Anakin nodded, looking grim.
Owen rolled his eyes. "Wonderful. First he takes on Tuskens, now the Hutts!"
"Getting involved with the Hutts is never wise." Cleig warned.
"Oh I agree!" Obi-Wan said fervently. "But leaving them free to join our enemies might be even worse."
Lunch finished the men prepared to go back to the fields and the woman clearly had their own work to do. Obi-Wan wondered what he and Anakin were going to do with themselves. Fortunately Anakin had an answer.
"Need anything fixed?" he asked with a grin.
"Of course." said Cleig wryly.
"Right. come on, Obi-Wan, I'll show you the workshop."
The workshop doubled as the family garage, with a four-seated speeder parked in a side space and a retractable metal roof overhead.
Anakin shut the door behind them then advanced on Obi-Wan, studying the tools on the work bench. "'That's interesting?'" Anakin quoted disbelievingly. "That's all you could say - 'that's Interesting!"
"What should I have said?" Obi-Wan asked coolly, putting a welding stylus back in its holder.
"I don't know!" Anakin ran his hands distractedly through his brush of hair. "Yes I do. You should have asked what your mother was like!"
Obi-Wan arched his eyebrows. "Did she have a beard too, for example?"
Anakin breathed out a gusty sigh and ran through the calmness regimen once, then twice for good measure. "You're impossible, you know that?"
"So I've been told - usually by you. And may I say that's a case of the rocket tube calling the reactor hot if ever I heard one!"
Anakin laughed. "Okay, so we're both impossible. But ease up a little will you, let some of that famous Kenobi charm show."
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes. "I don't have any charm!"
"Oh yes you do, so switch it on will you? But don't aim it at Beru, I don't think Owen would appreciate it."
"Now don't start that again!" Obi-Wan snapped - charm nowhere in evidence. "I get quite enough of this 'ladies man' nonsense from Jacen - !" He broke off abruptly.
For a moment neither man spoke, each wrestling with his own emotions. Obi-Wan's apprentice, Jacen Darklighter, had also been Anakin's best friend - and he had died on Geonosis at the hands of the Sith Witch taking a blow meant for Anakin. 1
Obi-Wan's face went blank, then mask-like. He let out a careful breath and turned away to switch on worktop diagnostic screen.
Anakin activated the demagnetizer and started waving micro tools through the field. "I don't know about you," he said quietly, "but not talking about it isn't helping me a bit."
Obi-Wan turned back to him. "Anakin, there's nothing to say. Dwelling on our grief is not going to help us move on. We must let it - and Jacen - go."
"I know, I know. I've heard it all from Master, and from Master Yoda too." Anakin mumbled, looking concentratedly at the demagnetizer. "I hate it! I hate losing people."
"I'm not fond of it myself." Obi-Wan answered.
NOTE: See my AU 'Attack of the Clones' for details. (adv.)