Anakin Skywalker landed his modified Delta-7 Aethersprite on one of the Royal Palace's small platforms with practiced ease. He glanced down to adjust his chrono to Naboo time, noticing the lateness of the hour with surprise. It wasn't so much that the half a standard hour he was behind was cause for concern. He wasn't adhering to any set time schedule. It was just that he couldn't believe he'd let even a few precious minutes get away from him on this trip.
Once again he was forced to acknowledge an aspect of himself that had brought him more reprimands than he could remember. His passion for flying could pull him out of the real world to the point where nothing else mattered. Each and every time that particular quirk surfaced – and it had done so countless times in Anakin's young life – Obi-Wan would seize the opportunity to expound upon the perils of idle distraction.
Although his Master wasn't with him today, Anakin couldn't keep a familiar litany from replaying in his head: "Be mindful of the present, my young padawan. You simply cannot allow yourself to be pulled into oblivion whenever it suits you. Some day the price will be higher than you want to pay."
It was one of many bits of Obi-Wan wisdom he'd committed to memory over the years. On rare instances like this, when he found himself apart from his Master and engaging in activities he shouldn't, he would repeat such mantras to himself. They served as something of a self-imposed penance. Not that it ever changed his course of action. Somehow, just knowing he'd endured the requisite reprimand made him feel less guilty.
Only today he didn't feel a bit better. Oddly enough, the wisdom of Obi-Wan's admonishment – heretofore a mystery – now seemed crystal clear. The loss of the time itself was punishment enough. Today of all days he couldn't believe he'd let even a minute get away from him. He just hadn't been able to resist angling his starfighter for an extra pass over the city. The lure of Theed's pale pink marble and sparkling waterfalls had called to him like a long-lost friend.
Over a decade had passed since he'd first set eyes on Naboo's capital. It remained unchanged, timeless as ever, and he couldn't deny the urge to spend a few extra minutes drinking in the familiar beauty. The boy he'd been so long ago would have done the same. Despite being irritated at the time lost, he had to admit that he was glad, perhaps even relieved, to discover some part of that youthful innocence still dwelt inside him.
All those years ago the fascination had been understandable. Tatooine, the planet of his birth and the only world he'd ever known, was nothing but an arid, endless ocean of sand. Naboo, verdant and green, had been the exact opposite and to Anakin it had seemed almost magical.
In the years between then and now he'd been privileged to travel to many amazing worlds. Most held wonders as majestic and awe-inspiring as those before him today. Still, no matter how impressive their architecture or advanced their technology, those places didn't affect him like this one. Just a few short minutes soaring above Theed had done more to push the shadows of intergalactic conflict from his mind than long hours of meditation. Even the Jedi Temple's incredible Room of a Thousand Fountains had nothing on Naboo's natural marvels.
Every trip to this living, breathing planet only served to emphasize to Anakin the disparity between Naboo and his native homeworld. In his mind, there was nothing of beauty to be found on Tatooine. In fact, just over a year ago he'd left that dead chunk of rock behind for what he prayed was the last time.
All that remained for him there were crude memorials to bondage, loss and his own darkest failure. The few happy recollections he had of his mother, Kitster and Qui-Gon Jinn were tucked carefully away in a bright corner of his heart. He'd tried very hard to bury the harsher memories - of slavery, sandpeople and death - back on the Lars' homestead in that shallow grave. He couldn't afford to give the bitterness they engendered a place in his life. Especially not now, when so many of his dreams seemed on the verge of coming true.
Speaking of dreams, he shook his head to clear the darker thoughts. Tatooine should be the last thing on his mind today. He was finally here, on sparkling Naboo, to see the woman he loved more than any other being in the universe. Now was a time for reveling in the present, not dwelling on miseries of the past.
He waited impatiently for the sublight engines to power-down so he could finish his post-landing check. Drumming his fingertips on the console Anakin turned his sky blue gaze to the sweeping cityscape. He deliberately followed the curves of the green domed rooftops as they rose like waves toward the mountainside. Once again Theed's gentle grace edged its way into his war-battered soul. It was soothing, much like a warm breeze or the touch of his wife's hand.
An unexpected but welcome feeling of homecoming wrapped itself around him. This world was his. Just as much a part of him as Tatooine or Coruscant. The revelation was as gratifying now as it had been the first time he'd felt it - on his wedding day.
In those precious stolen moments after he and Padmé exchanged vows, they had embraced and watched the setting sun. As they gazed out over the lake they had exchanged gentle kisses and quiet promises. Anakin recalled whispering that one day they would build a home on the shores of that very lake. Padmé had embellished his vision with her own description of how their children would swim out to the island to play.
In that instant, in the waning light of the happiest day of his life, Anakin had first understood that his link to Naboo was real and permanent. After half a lifetime of emotional isolation the revelation had flooded his empty heart with hope. The scared little boy who lived inside him, the one always struggling to belong, finally had a place to call home. It had been an epiphany. One single joyous moment of illuminating discovery. There, on that balcony, his heart's most fervent desire had been met and he wanted nothing more than to stay there and share Padmé's life.
Returning to the cold anonymity of the Jedi Temple had proven a torturous exercise. Thankfully, his new wife had understood his conflict, perhaps even better than he did himself. In those emotionally charged moments when the dread of returning to Coruscant seemed overwhelming, Padmé had been the one to persuade him that his lifelong dream of becoming a Jedi had to be realized. She reminded him that they both had important roles to play in the future of the galaxy, roles that required him to fulfill his destiny and become a Jedi. Her encouragement alone had strengthened his fading resolve so he could return to the Jedi Temple and endure the long months apart from her.
Since that day neither he nor Padmé had spoken of the distant future. Both were well aware that the life of a Jedi forbade familial attachments and neither had any solutions to crossing that bridge. Over-speculating on the matter brought only frustration, so for now they stuck to what they knew was real. The knowledge that they belonged to each other, even in this bizarre, distantly estranged fashion, helped them keep their sanity.
For Anakin, living this new secret life had come with a high price. The loneliness of the past year without Padmé surpassed any he'd ever felt – even his first years at the Temple.
And his dreams… they were worse. He'd never been given to peaceful dreams and those he'd had of late were no exception. In his dreams Padmé was always running from him. No, not from him exactly. She ran from something he couldn't see, but always away from him. Her voice, calling his name in desperation, echoed through his nightmares. He'd long since lost count of the nights he would jerk awake, bathed in a cold sweat, unable to breathe. The only cure for this anxiety had been emergency transmissions to Naboo. Always he'd find that Padmé was well and safe, but the fear lingered for days. Often it would escalate into a burning hunger to see her that would drive all rational concerns from his mind.
He had tried deep meditation techniques to suppress the dreams. For a short time those methods worked. Recently, however, the dreams had returned, both stronger and with greater frequency. The inner turmoil they brought in their wake refused to be checked with simple reassurances. What was worse, the chaos of his thoughts had begun to manifest in tangible ways – impatience, anger and biting sarcasm directed at those around him.
The troops under Anakin's command felt the sting of his temper for even the most trivial of causes. Though he tried to curb the outbursts, his efforts seemed doomed to fail. It was no use. The more he worried about Padmé the angrier he became.
The Jedi Council couldn't miss the change in him. Master Yoda, in particular, had been increasingly vigilant where Anakin was concerned, never hesitating to personally confront him on the pitfalls of fear and aggression.
What had surprised Anakin most during all of this was Obi-Wan's loyalty. He often made excuses for his Padawan's mood swings, blaming them on sorrow and guilt over the death his mother. For a time the Council accepted the explanations. Though few Jedi had familial ties, they'd seen grief before and recognized Anakin's special circumstance. Lately, however, they'd been losing patience. All Jedi knew that anger was the quickest path to the dark side and it was becoming more and more obvious to all that there was more amiss in the Chosen One's world than the loss of his only parent.
Though he was grateful to Obi-Wan for defending him to the Council, Anakin knew his Master was no fool. One of Obi-Wan's greatest gifts as a Jedi was his sensitivity to even the smallest fluctuations in the Force. Not that he needed that particular talent to feel his apprentice's pain. Anakin knew the fury and confusion radiated from him in waves. Only someone Force-blind would miss it.
Though Obi-Wan continued to support him to the Council, it was clear that his Master's patience was wearing thin. He had long-since dropped the veil of pretense when they were alone together and his constant questions were becoming more and more pointed. In just the past few weeks Anakin suspected he might have guessed a part of the truth – that Padmé was somehow at the heart of his Padawan's emotional upheaval. In recent arguments the elder Jedi never missed an opportunity to mention that Anakin hadn't been himself since he'd been assigned to protect Senator Amidala over a year ago.
To counter Obi-Wan's insightfulness, Anakin simply refused to talk about his feelings and began erecting strong mental barriers. Ironically, the further he retreated the more Obi-Wan pressed and the more strained their relationship became. Tension finally stretched to the breaking point just before he left Coruscant yesterday. Details of the argument still burned in his mind…
They'd run into each other in the deserted Temple Hall just as Anakin was about to descend the main stairway. Obi-Wan had just returned from a skirmish on Sullust only to be told by the Council that his Padawan had been granted a leave of absence. Knowing his Master was a stickler for protocol, Anakin imagined he had been far less annoyed about the leave being granted than he was about not being consulted. Whatever the reason, he'd been noticeably angry and had skipped the part about asking for an explanation. Instead, he'd immediately launched into a lecture about disrespecting his authority.
Still reeling from his most recent nightmare, Anakin's patience had snapped. He'd flatly informed Obi-Wan that he didn't need permission and refused to reconsider leaving. The heated clash that ensued was cut short when Obi-Wan muttered that he'd rather not have a Padawan at all than one that adamantly refused to learn his place.
Just recalling those words brought the same chill to Anakin's heart that he'd felt the moment Obi-Wan had uttered them. They only served to confirm what he'd always suspected and put a voice to his greatest fear. His own Master didn't want him. From the sound of it, he had never wanted him.
Anakin remembered feeling the words like a slap across the face. He'd actually recoiled as if physically struck before trying valiantly to mask the anguish he knew was written on his features. It hadn't worked. Obi-Wan saw the shock and disillusionment clearly. It had drawn him up short.
The moments that followed would be etched on Anakin's memory forever. Obi-Wan had grasped his shoulders tightly. "I'm sorry! You know I didn't mean that!" Two pairs of blue eyes met, one begging forgiveness, the other radiating devastation.
Anakin shrugged free and denied the apology. "Of course you meant it!" He hadn't even tried to hide the bitterness in his voice.
"No, I didn't! I was just frustrated and angry! I can't reach you anymore!" Obi-Wan was almost shouting, uncharacteristically loud in his effort to convey his remorse. "You have to tell me what's going on! I love you, but I feel like I'm losing you. I have no idea what to do!" It was the first and only time in Anakin's recollection that his master had ever admitted such helplessness. His desperation was evident, both from the hint of panic in his voice and the tears of frustration in his eyes. "Please, Anakin!"
The demons driving Anakin had almost been hushed in that moment. His Master did love him! Of course, those words had been spoken over the years, but always with affection, impatience or Obi-Wan's characteristic long-suffering sigh. They were hallmarks of the camaraderie they shared. Somehow, though, the words had lacked intensity and therein dwelt the problem.
In Anakin's experience, love was not a comfortable emotion. Rather, it was a passionate driving force that didn't always fit neatly into a box. It was single-minded loyalty marked by a willingness to sacrifice. Mostly, though, it was about loss and the fear of losing. The emotions he now sensed coming from Obi-Wan were all that and more. The confusion and frustration he recognized. They were old friends. This time, however, a new feeling flooded in alongside them. Fear. Real fear that Anakin would be lost to him.
It was the fear that Anakin understood best. In his experience, fear and love had always been close allies. To love someone was to fear of losing them. For the first time in over a decade Anakin truly understood his Master's feelings. In fact, they seemed to mirror his own. Finally, a sentiment from his teacher passionate enough to be worthy of the relationship they shared! In the midst of his turmoil, Obi-Wan seemed to have dropped the façade of indifference he always wore like a cloak. For a few unguarded moments, intentional or not, he'd given Anakin a glimpse into his heart.
It was like giving food to a starving man. Since their relationship began Anakin had yearned to feel such intensity from his Master. During many of the loneliest times of his life it had been his heart's desire. Someone to love him unconditionally. Someone who would move heaven and earth to keep him safe. Someone to rescue him from slavery. Someone to love him as his mother had.
Now was as close as he'd ever felt to believing Obi-Wan could fill that void. The knowledge brought a rush of relief unlike any Anakin had ever known. The man he loved like a father valued him the same way! In that moment it would have been easy to convince Anakin that their relationship could stand the ultimate test. The truth.
The cold resolve he had clung to for so long faltered. Confiding in Obi-Wan would be such a relief! It would be a welcome end to the year of self-imposed exile. A year he'd spent constantly on his guard. To finally live without guilt and the fear of the consequences of discovery…
Wait! The truth about his love for Padmé? No! He'd kept the secret this long, and for good reason! He willed himself to remember what was at stake: their marriage, his future as a Jedi. He had to protect those things.
Sure, Obi-Wan's feelings were on his sleeve at this moment, but he suspected they could easily return to the same hidden, duty-bound place as before. One thing was certain. Obi-Wan's allegiance to the Jedi Order, first and foremost, could not be denied. In the end, that obligation would surely outweigh his Master's loyalty to him.
As a last resort, in what could be considered a serious breach of protocol and privacy, Anakin tried reaching out with the Force to see if the truth could be found in Obi-Wan's mind. There it was. That strong sense of duty, of what was right. Ultimately it would cause Obi-Wan to reveal his secret to the Council, even if it cost him his Padawan. That sense was all Anakin needed to know to rededicate himself to his purpose. There was far too much at risk to lose his focus at this point!
Even so, it hadn't been easy. He'd spun away from his Master, turning to grip the durasteel staircase railing. How he'd despaired of ever feeling worthy in the eyes of the man he'd grown to admire more than anyone else! All the years they'd spent dancing around each other, trying to love each other at arms length.
Fighting back tears, whether of regret or pain or relief he couldn't tell, Anakin had struggled to remain upright as waves of profound sadness crashed over him. It took several deep breaths to regain his composure. In those moments he knew what it was he had to do and the burden of it cut his heart to shreds.
He remembered standing with his back to Obi-Wan, forcing words through his lips. "I'm sorry Master, but it's too late for talking." He'd drawn on every ounce of control he possessed to school his features into an implacable mask before turning to face his mentor. "I'm leaving for Naboo and it doesn't matter how you feel about it. The Council agrees that I need this time away and they obviously want what is best for me." This last implied that the council had his well-being in mind even if his master did not. "If there is more to say it will just have to wait until I get back."
By the time Obi-Wan raised his eyes to meet his Padawan's cool gaze his own wall of reserve had been back in place. "Anakin, please reconsider. I sense that if you leave now things will change forever between us."
"They already have. Things have been changing between us for a long time, Master. Perhaps it's time we acknowledged that fact." Anakin drew himself up to his full height and looked down at his mentor. "I've never been the kind of Padawan you wanted. You said so yourself just now, but I've always know it to be true."
Obi-Wan had folded his arms in front of his chest, a motion Anakin had seen many times before. In the past it had seemed a calculated gesture, meant to emphasize his superiority over a problem or situation. This time Anakin saw through the affectation to what it really was: an unconscious gesture of detachment to guard his own feelings.
It was effective. Anakin felt Obi-Wan's mental step back. Everything from the crossed arms, to the slant of his hip, to the tilt of his head conveyed aloofness, but now Anakin recognized the pretense. A part of him wanted to reach out to his Master, to apologize for hurting him.
Only one thing stopped him. Padmé. She was relying on him to guard their future. He must not forget what he was fighting for!
Thankfully, the invisible barrier Obi-Wan had hidden behind for years was back in place and stronger than ever. Anakin felt a surge of relief. The temptation to confide was gone. There would never be a better opportunity to set fire to the bridge between them.
Obi-Wan finally spoke. "Well, I can see you won't be swayed on this issue." Anakin said nothing, confirming the statement with a slight negative motion of his head. "There's nothing left to say then." They stood there, eye to eye.
The elder Jedi seemed to be waiting for a response. Anakin waited for…he didn't know what. For the first time in eleven-years Anakin couldn't feel his Master through the Force. To guard his own feelings Obi-Wan had withdrawn from him completely. Even the camaraderie they always shared felt absent. Well, that was what he'd wanted, right? A gradual dissolution of their intimate Master/Padawan bond?
He turned to go only to be brought up short by a final word from Obi-Wan.
"Wait!" There was urgency in the command. "There is one more thing." Anakin stood motionless, waiting, eyes downcast. Obi-Wan paused for a moment, as if weighing what he wanted to say in the silence. Finally, he settled for "May the force be with you."
Anakin acknowledged the blessing with a nod, but did not voice it in return. The rift that had grown between them for years had finally become a chasm of his own making and it cut to his very soul. He dared not turn around lest his master see the silent tears that ran down his cheeks. He'd left quickly, without another word.
He didn't remember the walk to the hangar deck. All he recalled was climbing into his fighter's cockpit, burying his head in his arms and giving in to the sobs that had all-but choked him during their confrontation. For those brief isolated moments Anakin allowed himself to mourn the loss of the most important friendship in his life. Then he'd used the sleeve of his robe to wipe the tears from his face, straightened in the pilot's seat and resolutely squared his shoulders. Within minutes he'd fired up his starfighter's engines and roared into space.
Many hours later, here on Naboo, Anakin found he had greater clarity of thought. The lengthy, isolated flight had given him time to sort through his feelings. He knew he'd hurt Obi-Wan deeply, and vice-versa, but there was no point in regretting what he wouldn't change. There simply was no other course of action that would have protected both his marriage and his dream of becoming a Jedi Knight.
It had been clear from the events on Geonosis that neither Obi-Wan nor the Jedi Council would ever tolerate his love for Padmé. He could still remember his Master's shouted warning moments after she fell from the gunship: "You will be expelled from the Jedi Order!"
In those brief, conflicted moments he'd been utterly powerless to save the person he loved most. Just as powerless as the second his mother drew her last breath in his arms. It was a feeling he never wanted again. It was that simple. He wouldn't give up Padmé and he had to become a Jedi. It was the only way to prove himself worthy of his mother's unwavering faith. Leaving her on Tatooine all those years ago, leaving her to be tortured and killed, could not be made an empty sacrifice.
If the cost of fulfilling his goals was his relationship with Obi-Wan, then so be it. He was no stranger to loss or sacrifice. This, too, could be endured.
A flashing light from the dash and its accompanying monotonous beeping pulled Anakin from his murky introspection. He was glad of it, too. What awaited him here on Naboo was far too good to waste time dwelling on things which were not.
He rushed through the rest of his post-landing check before opening the cockpit and pushing himself from the pilot seat. Dropping to the ground beside the ship, he just managed to pitch his flight gloves and headset back inside before the hydraulic hood snapped shut.
Removing the dark leather gloves had revealed his new artificial hand. Almost idly Anakin examined it, making a fist before opening and spreading his fingers. Already he could tell this version was light years better than the first. This time the synth-skin had been grown from his own cells. In all ways it seemed identical to his real hand, with one exception: even with the more advanced technology its movements were still perceptibly stiffer and less flexible. Perhaps it was fixable. He'd already promised himself a few special modifications after the war and the changes he had in mind should improve its function significantly. If he had to live with an artificial limb he was determined it would serve him better than the original.
For now, though, what free time he had was used to upgrade his starfighter. It was important to keep her at peak performance for upcoming missions. He ran his fingers over the edge of the ship, acknowledging his affection for the beautiful craft. It was a proprietary fondness; rather like what he'd always felt for the droids he built.
The stock Delta-7 had been a gift to him from the Council, a reward for acing his flight finals shortly after Geonosis. OK, so maybe "gift" was too generous a word. He'd shamelessly pleaded with them to be allowed to save the small fighter from the scrap heap. Master Adi Gallia, certain the craft was possessed by a Sith spirit, had been determined to melt her down.
It wasn't just that her maintenance records had been atrocious. To put it bluntly, every single thing, mechanical or electrical, that could go wrong on a starfighter had gone wrong on this one. Nothing had ever happened during training maneuvers, though. No, this little lady waited until the most critical point in any mission she was flown on and then went haywire. She'd left many a Jedi stranded in the midst of a firefight in some far sector of the galaxy. When Anakin heard about her he couldn't help laughing. He'd known they were meant for each other.
Under his careful refitting she became the shining star of the Jedi fleet. Weeks of painstaking rewiring had made her even more reliable than Commander Gallia's modestly customized fighter. A larger power coil from the salvage yard had been reworked and now gave the sublight engines amazing speed capability. Front scoops and wing extensions made her extremely maneuverable in planetary atmospheres. The standard pair of dual laser cannons had been replaced with multidirectional quad laser turrets. He'd even managed to add a couple of proton torpedoes – munitions typically reserved for larger vessels. She was a force to be reckoned with in any space battle.
If all of that wasn't enough, the old TransGalMeg Industries hyperdrive ring had been discarded in favor of mounting the ring's same lightspeed-capable engines directly under the main body of the fighter. She was, in Anakin's proud estimation, the first light fighter in the galaxy with hyperdrive capability.
The hyperdrive mod had earned Anakin high praise from the Delta-7's original designer, Walex Blissex. Once rumors of the modified ship reached his ears, he'd quickly made his way to Coruscant. He was determined to meet the young man who had managed in a few short months what the industry had been trying to achieve for generations. He spent hours with Anakin, listening intently, sketching diagrams and taking notes. Then he'd quietly packed up and returned to Kuat Systems Engineering to begin work on a new fighter prototype.
The hyperdrive upgrade aside, Anakin was most proud of moving the R4-P unit to the main body of the vessel, to just in front of the cockpit. This allowed the use of a full size astromech, rather than the truncated, hard-wired version seen on the regular Delta-7's. As a result, the droid could free itself from the body of the ship to make repairs. Such a thing came in handy on war-torn worlds where mechanics and repair bays were in short supply.
Plus, let's face it, with her sparkling blue and silver polished finish, she was just flat prettier than any other Delta-7 in the Jedi fleet.
All of these amazing modifications paled in comparison to the fact that she'd saved Anakin's sanity on many occasions. He always had her to turn to on the nights couldn't sleep. Fixing her up had given him a respite from the nightmares, at least for a while. Speaking of fixing…
"Arfour, see if you can track the source of that stutter in the sublight engines while I'm gone. It's driving me crazy." The droid chirped affirmatively back at him from his cubbyhole position on the ship, then whistled an inquiry.
"If luck is with me, I plan to be here several days." Although nuances of facial expression were lost on droids, Anakin cast a cynical smile at the little silver and black droid. "Of course, if Master Obi-Wan is right and there's no such thing as luck, I'll be called back to Coruscant in a matter of hours. This war is far from over and it's been a little too quiet lately."
Thankfully, he thought as he looked around the landing platform, things looked stable here on Naboo. Evidence of the conflict gripping the rest of the galaxy had yet to find its way to this sector. It was only a matter of time, though, if things continued on their present course. Countless loyalist systems were suffering even now. Ecosystems on entire planets were being ravaged by Separatist ground forces. The fact was undeniable - droid armies were ruthless when it came to persuading uncooperative systems to join their cause.
Despite the destruction, Anakin felt the Clone Army was doing its best on behalf of the Republic. Once deployed, they always managed to effectively shut down Federation and Techno-union ground forces. In space, too, their casualty count was usually a scant percentage of that of the droid army.
Unfortunately, however, wars of attrition were hard fought and even harder won. The trail of devastation both armies left in their wake was heartbreaking. A bloody scene from Chandrila, the planet he'd just helped save, replayed in his head. Civilian and clone casualties had been especially high on that world. Ground forces had all-but reduced their cities to rubble. It would take them a very long time to recover – if they could at all.
Once again Anakin deliberately forced his thoughts away from the current galactic political situation. He'd had more than enough of this war for the moment. It was time to focus on happier things, like the upcoming interlude with his incredibly beautiful wife.
Circling to the rear of the fighter, he opened a hatch and grabbed a small travel case from among the spare part canisters. It had been packed and stored there many months ago on the slim chance he could find a way to escape from duty. As Supreme Chancellor Palpatine always said, it seemed his patience was finally paying off. The thought triggered a small smile.
Snapping the cargo port closed, he returned to a small hidden control panel on the wing to set the ship's security code. He punched in a series of symbols, locking it completely against unauthorized access. It wouldn't do to have the idle curious snooping around inside a Jedi starfighter, even one that wasn't readily recognizable as such. You never knew when some flight-savvy kid might find a way in, take off and get into all kinds of trouble.
He smiled to himself and fell into idle chat with Arfour as he checked all the external hatches. He let the droid know which flight systems deserved a more critical once-over than usual and joked about some specific changes he'd made that needed to be un-made. Improvements were trial and error and the latter was all too common lately. Obviously he was distracted.
An observer might have found his interaction with the R4 unit a curious thing. Laughing and making conversation with droids was strange and pointless to most life forms. Not so to Anakin. He'd been talking to droids since his earliest days in Watto's shop and still counted them among his best childhood friends.
Obi-Wan had tried early on to divest Anakin of the habit. He felt, and rightly so, that it was a crutch the boy used to pull away from people. Unfortunately his Master's efforts had been off-set by lengthy flight training patrols with an astromech as his only companion. The habit was now set in stone and, though he would never admit it, Anakin still found the company of droids preferable to most sentient beings. They had few expectations and could not be disappointed. And they didn't mind idle speculation.
"It seems as if the Council bought the story that I needed a few days away from the battle to refocus and meditate." Arfour seemed to consider this before beeping a doubtful reply.
"Well, it is true. I just never mentioned I wouldn't be doing it alone." He grinned and adjusted his bag, pulling the strap high on his shoulder. "So you see, it's true, from a certain point of view." He couldn't prevent the touch of sadness he felt when he realized how easily he dropped Obi-Wan's philosophies into casual conversation. "And he thought I never listened."
As he turned to leave the platform he glanced back at the little droid. "You should take advantage of the palace's maintenance area while we're here. Get an oil-bath and have all that carbon scoring scraped off. I guess that last dogfight was pretty intense, huh?" The R4 whistled back in extreme agreement before engaging the fighter's repulsor lifts and turning it towards the hangar bay.
"You have my comlink frequency if there is an emergency, otherwise I'll see you in a few days." With that parting shot Anakin ran toward palace door. He'd kept Padmé waiting long enough.