Author's Note: Everything happened inTPM except Anakin was not accepted by the Order and was sent back to his mother on Tatooine. The story picks up ten years after TPM and so Anakin and Padme are the same age as they are in AOTC.
The bustling traffic of speeders and pedestrians flowed through Mos Espa surprisingly smoothly. The streets were usually accident prone but today was different somehow. People pushed and shoved, especially the slaves, to get where they were going. Some headed to work, others returned to their owners, while even more looked for someone to hustle. Because the traffic was relentlessly heavy, dust was a serious problem. However, many simply wiped their eyes, their clothing, and whatever items they carried and continued on their way.
The city itself was not an establishment to be proud of. Slavery on Tatooine was still the most prominent source of income and Mos Espa was a prime market for buyers and sellers. Gambling was not only a nasty vice for many in the city but also provided an underground marketplace that overwhelmingly fueled slavery. Thieves and swindlers ran rampant and it was often difficult to differentiate between them and all other occupants of the city. It was the perfect resting place for transgressors with little to no interference from Tatooine's makeshift government or the rest of the galaxy.
Anakin Skywalker reluctantly left the safety of his speeder and ventured quietly into this world. He stepped swiftly to the edge of the street having learned that it was better to go as unnoticed as possible in Mos Espa.
His grip on the paper he held tightened when a passer-by unnoticing bumped into him. Despite his best efforts, the paper floated out of his hand and into the street. Cursing under his breath, he jogged into the street, narrowly dodging traffic, and promptly swiped the paper back into his anxious hand. He quickly removed himself from the traffic's path and back safely to the side of his street, chuckling at his good luck. He didn't know what he would have done if he had lost that paper. He had had no choice but to head into the city in search of a lost part for the droid he was repairing and the paper that now rested safely in his hand contained the serial number. He hated having to enlist the help of competing repair shops, but the city was his last option.
He decided it was safer tucked into his pants pocket and after the action was finished, he patted his pocket to make sure it was really there. Satisfied with his finding, he continued on his way.
The first mechanic had never seen the part before. The second and the third informed him that it was more likely for Mustafar to freeze over than to locate that part. Unable to admit he was fighting a losing battle, he went to every mechanic and repair shop in the city except one. When he came up empty-handed at every corner, he grudgingly headed toward his final option.
Watto's shop hadn't aged a bit. In fact, he even had a new young slave-boy running his doing his biding. Anakin had to repress a moan of agony when Watto appeared from the back room to greet his customer.
The plastered smile of welcome quickly faded from Watto's face as his eyes squinted in recognition. Then a genuine smile appeared. "Ani, is that you?"
Anakin nodded curtly as he approached the counter. "I'm looking for this part."
Watto's smile faded at Anakin's cold tone and he simply nodded, taking the paper from Anakin's outstretched hand. He gestured for the slave-boy, who had retreated to the corner at Anakin's arrival, and gave the small paper to him. While the boy ran to check the records, an awkward silence emanated in the room.
Watto fluttered nervously behind the counter while Anakin refused to make eye contact with him. Watto cleared his throat and attempted a conversation.
"I was real sorry to hear about your mother."
Pain flashed through Anakin's eyes and he bit his lip to suppress his reaction to Watto's seemingly heartfelt regards.
Somehow, he managed to choke out: "Thank you."
Watto nodded, grateful for a response and decided to continue the conversation, oblivious to Anakin's discomfort. "I always knew she would do well with…uh…Cliegg. He married her, didn't he?"
Anakin nodded, swallowing what little pride he had left in that moment.
Watto finally realized that his topic of conversation was a sensitive one for Anakin and he dropped his attempts. His eyes lighted up when the boy finally returned and whispered the results of his search in Watto's perked ear.
"We don't have the part here but I did find one on Fehern. Do you want me to order it for you?"
Anakin grimaced. If he ordered the part from Watto, it also meant he would have to endure Watto again. But he needed this part and Watto had found one for him, which he knew had not been an easy feat. With a heavy heart, Anakin nodded his consent.
Once the transaction was finally complete, Anakin practically sprinted out of the shop after shoving his receipt roughing in his pocket. He started jogging back to his speeder but once he remembered he had parked it on the other side of the city, he picked up the pace in an urgent need to get out of the city.
Images of his mother swirled around in his head and he shook it in a desperate attempt to force the painful memories from his consciousness. Her voice calling to him…holding his hand moments before she died…smiling calmly up at him. She had been so sick and when she finally passed, he found himself sighing with relief that it was over for her. She had found rest in a life full of labor and toil and he knew he would be forever grateful to Cliegg for giving her a taste of happiness while she was still alive.
He was jerked from his memories when a small female body collided with his. She almost fell but his arms quickly caught and steadied her before she tumbled over. She kept her head down and he almost caught a glimpse of her face when her hood slightly rose which she immediately shifted back in place.
"Sorry about that, miss." He offered politely.
She started to reply but then decided otherwise and promptly continued in the opposite direction as him. As he watched her retreating form, he shook his head at the woman's rude inability to provide a response to his apology. But by observing her more carefully, there was something familiar about her that he couldn't place, reminding him of a distant memory that still managed never to stray far from his thoughts. He couldn't decide if it was the way she walked or her mysteriously distinctive scent or even the feel of her in his arms. No…what would she be doing in Tatooine? It wasn't her. But he was sure he had never seen her in Mos Espa before because she stuck out like a sore thumb. As he took one last glance before climbing in his speeder, he silently prayed that nothing bad happened to her while she was there. A lone woman in Mos Espa wasn't hard to miss and she looked like she didn't know where she was going.
For a split second, he considered catching up to her and offering to take her wherever she needed to go. But before he could make his decision, his comlink beeped loudly.
"Anakin? Where are you? You should've been back an hour ago!"
"I know Owen. It took a lot longer than I thought it would."
"You found it though, right?"
Anakin laughed and nodded. "Yeah, I had to order it though. It should be here in about a week or two."
"That's great news. Now Zambo can finally get off our backs about fixing that rackety old droid. Where'd you find it from?"
Anakin paused for a moment before answering coolly: "Watto's shop."
The relieved smile fell from Owen's face. "Oh…I'm sorry you had to go there. Last resort, huh?"
Anakin smiled bravely. "No other choice, brother."
Owen shook his head before saying his goodbye. Once the transmission ended, Anakin placed the comlink back into his speeder. He took one last look for her, hoping that she was still lingering, but unfortunately for her, he feared, she had long disappeared into the crowd.
"Anakin, did you sign up for the Boonta Eve Classic yet?"
"I did yesterday but I should've waited until my pod was completely repaired."
Cliegg nodded and placed a sympathetic hand on Anakin's shoulder. "I know, son. You know I would help you get a new pod in a heartbeat, especially after you almost crashed in the Mos Espa Open, but we just don't have the credits for it yet."
"I know, I know. Don't worry about it. Owen and I are going to working on it day and night until it's as good as new."
Cliegg chuckled good-heartedly. "Well, if anyone can fix that piece of junk, it's you two."
Anakin playfully hit his arm. "Hey…that's my baby you're talking about!"
"Oh yes…the same one that almost killed you, right?" Cliegg retorted.
Anakin shook his head and held up his hands in defeat. "Alright, alright. Don't you worry, Cliegg, because we're going to fix it up so good it's going to purr…mark my words, Cliegg, and by the way, I'm going to win the Classic too."
Cliegg chuckled heartily and threw the towel he was using at Anakin. "Is that right? Well, it's your turn to make dinner so you better get going so you can work on your garbage."
As Cliegg contentedly walked away, Anakin muttered under his breath that his baby was anything but garbage then switched on the holonet before dutifully starting dinner. He listened inattentively to the boring news from around the galaxy but his attention perked up at the mention of Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and he hung on every word. Apparently, Kenobi and his apprentice had had a close call with some of the Separatists but were now resting safely at the Jedi Temple.
Anakin sighed and wiped his brow. There had been a time when all he had wanted was to be a Jedi. He had almost been given the chance, thanks to Qui-Gon, but it was not to be, as his mother had reassuringly told him. He knew how badly she had wanted that for him so that she would know that at least one of them had been able to break free from Tatooine. When the Council sent him back to Tatooine, he had spent the entire trip trying to decide how to tell her. It didn't help that he was freezing and without that soothing presence to blanket him. After he had broken the news to his mother, she had simply smiled and embraced him tightly to her bosom. At least everything had eventually worked out for them when Cliegg bought and freed them.
But that didn't stop him from wondering what would have happened to them if the Council had accepted him. Apparently, he was too old and too afraid. At the time, he had fiercely convinced himself that he wasn't afraid of anything. But over time, ten years to be exact, he had learned that he was afraid and that even a little fear was necessary sometimes.
At the same time, he was grateful that he had not been accepted into the Order. Even as a naïve nine-year-old, he could sense that Kenobi and the rest of the Council didn't trust him. He knew he wouldn't have been able to deal with that. To add to the argument, he had learned from the holonet and his own research about some of the Code's mandates. Almost everything he had found he couldn't agree with, especially the rule on attachment. His mother had raised him to embrace his attachments and the love he had for his family, which would have made attempting to abide by the Code a tremendous battle. After learning that, his regret in not being chosen had dimmed significantly.
But deafening news jolted him from his thoughts and his eyes fixed on the holonet as the words poured from the reporter's lips: "As we reported earlier today, Senator Amidala has been assassinated. The Senator's family had decided to keep the news private until her funeral procession in her home planet of Naboo just a few hours ago. But now, we've just learned that after the Senator's tomb has been broken into and her body is missing. We've already spoken to several members of the Jedi Order about this heart-breaking incident and they've sworn to find the culprit behind this civil tragedy who they believe to be involved with the Separatists…"
"Anakin! The food….Anakin, you're letting it burn!"
Cliegg and Owen pushed past a motionless Anakin to try to save their dinner, not noticing that his tear-brimmed eyes never left the screen.
Owen moved closer to the screen to see what had Anakin rooted to his spot. His eyes widened as the reporter began repeating what Anakin had just heard and his gaze automatically flew to Anakin's tense features. His clenched fist was pressed against his mouth as he desperately tried to register what had just happened.
At the sound of Owen's voice, Anakin's eyes flashed in coiled anger. "You knew about this and didn't tell me?"
Owen shook his head quickly. "No, I swear. I've been in the shop all day and Dad's been in the fields. I had no idea…I'm so sorry."
He moved to place his hand on Anakin's shoulder, which he angrily pushed away. "Just leave me alone for a while."
Anakin walked to the other side of the room with his shoulders heaving heavily and as Cliegg moved from the kitchen to the living room to see what was going on, he immediately noticed that Anakin was shaking uncontrollably.
"Anakin, what's the matter?"
Anakin just shook his head and wiped his eyes.
Cliegg looked helplessly at Owen who answered quietly: "Senator Amidala was assassinated and now her body is missing."
Cliegg's eyes flew to Anakin as Owen gently spoke and swallowed empathetically when Anakin covered his face with his hands, muffling a sob.
Anakin could take no more. Hearing it for the third time was torture and it felt like his heart just had been ripped open. He pushed past Cliegg's attempts to talk to him and tore away to his room. He slammed the door in agony and took a few steps into his room, each step more painful than the next. Somehow he made it to his most treasured possession and carefully grasped it. His fingers lightly traced her painted face, smiling at how happy she had been that day; even the glowing ball in her small hands hadn't been able to overshadow her mesmerizing essence.
He sighed and gently placed the picture back in its place. His eyes drifted back to it again and this time, he couldn't stop himself. His grief overwhelmed him like a tidal wave and the weight of it was too much to bear. His shoulders began to tremble and tears rolled down his cheeks as he finally allowed himself to feel the loss of the woman he had loved for ten years.