(peeks in sheepishly) Yes, I know, I know! It's been ages! But I have been completely and totally swamped, since it's my very last quarter of college. I graduate very very soon, I just have to make it through finals! Anyway, hope you can forgive this super super late epilogue; I kept meaning to post it, and I kept getting too busy to do anything in the evening save homework and whatnot. (bows and scrapes)
Well, as much as I hate to end things, here we have the last segment of the story, and as for a sequel? I don't really think it needs one. I have a tiny one in mind of the Jedi on vacation, but we'll see if I write it. I'm so exhausted and stressed that any semblance of a muse has deserted me.
Finally, a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who has reviewed. I love each and every one of you, and I can barely begin to express how touched I am by your responses to this story. They've been wonderful, and made me grin so hard my face hurt.
And now, without further ado, the end of Shadows of the Future. Thanks again!
Time: A week later
Mace Windu leaned back in his chair in the Council chambers, outright scowling at the hologram that stood before him, his hand clenching around the datapad in his grasp. Only he and Yoda were present, as it wasn't really a Council meeting. He and the old Jedi Master tried summoning Qui-Gon to speak with them about Anakin, only to discover that he had been gone for the past few days, heading out on a new assignment. They lucked out in contacting the ship he was currently on, catching it during an interval between hyperspace jumps, and so Qui-Gon stood before them, in hologram at least.
"Now," Mace began, rubbing his temples slightly. "Would you like to remind me how you wound up assigned to a mission, even when we supposedly grounded you until this whole thing got straightened out?"
"I really don't understand, Mace," Qui-Gon said, his face schooled into a perfect frown, and unfortunately, he was far enough away that they couldn't read his words with the Force. "I thought everything was clear. I'm sure you have the mission details in front of you."
Mace knew he was lying somehow. He just had to be. "So you get a message from the Council informing you that you've been assigned to Iia'wah, a small planet that just happens to be one of the biggest resorts in the galaxy, and you immediately jumped on the first transport, first-class I might add, without consulting us."
Qui-Gon opened his mouth to make some kind of statement, but Mace held up a hand, forestalling any comments.
"Yes, I know it sounded urgent, and yes, I know it had full Council approval," Mace snapped. "You don't need to remind me of that bit. But humor me, Qui-Gon. What exactly is your mission supposed to be?"
"Local scientists feel that there might be some adverse effects on the population of N'wolc fish, what with all the tourism and such," Qui-Gon said without batting an eyelash, though Mace swore he saw the man shift a little in guilt. "I've been sent to examine the claims made by certain environmentalists and see what I can do to smooth things over between the opposing parties."
"I'm sure you were," Mace said through clenched teeth. "But such a thing can't possibly take an entire month, and somehow you have been assigned there for the next four weeks, not including travel time. You'll be gone for a month and a half, Qui-Gon, traveling on a luxury space ship, staying in a private, first-rate beachfront apartment, with all expenses paid by some environmentalist organization. Who authorized this? Which Council member sent you this message?"
"Mace," Qui-Gon began, sighing a little. "I already told you it wasn't from anyone in particular. It was a general Council message, the same as we always get, so I can't tell you who decided to send it to us. I assumed it was a basic, routine negotiation, requiring no debriefing, and was meant to help ease my padawan and me back into service. Aren't some of them assigned at random anyway?"
"But your name should've been removed from such a randomization," Mace said, watching as Qui-Gon shrugged a little. "It just seems awfully convenient, that you've been assigned to a resort planet for the next six weeks, and one that's going to be out of reach for the entire time you're there due to some kind of local electrical storm."
"Which is precisely why we're going to be there for a month, as ships can't depart until the storm passes," Qui-Gon replied, glancing at something off-screen. "I only have a few more minutes, I'm afraid, so we'll have to shorten this up."
Mace grumbled a little, and Qui-Gon tilted his head slightly to one side, looking thoroughly confused. "I don't understand why you keep interrogating me, Mace," he said, his voice pitched perfectly to match his expression. "Why are you so upset by this? It was most likely a computer malfunction; you said yourself there were no signs of tampering with the system. It was all done through the proper channels."
"It's a mistake that turns out to be very favorable for you and inconvenient as hell for the Council," Mace snapped and Qui-Gon raised his eyebrows.
"Oh, were you hoping to be assigned to Iia'wah?" Qui-Gon asked, and Mace swore the man was fighting off a smile. "Well, my time is up Mace, so unless you're going to order us back to Coruscant, I won't be speaking with you until the mission is over."
"I have no reason to recall you, aside from my own irritation over the situation," Mace grumbled, "which, unfortunately, is not a reason to do anything. Go enjoy yourself on your so-called mission, and if I find any reason that you haven't done a spectacular job, you'll be assigned to the worst places for the rest of your career. I'll make certain of it."
Qui-Gon dipped his head in a manner that suggested understanding, but Mace knew he saw another almost-smile flit across Qui-Gon's face.
"It might not be my place to remind you, Mace," Qui-Gon said as he reached off-screen for the holocomm switch, "but jealousy leads to the Dark Side."
Qui-Gon looked up then, the smile finally quirking his lips. "And it really doesn't suit you."
He was gone before Mace could make some kind of retort, who had to settle for huffing angrily and glowering at the place the hologram had been.
"How do you think he did it, Yoda?" Mace asked, turning to the other Master. "How do you think he managed to snag that particular mission, one that wasn't even on the listings until a few days ago?"
Yoda gave a small shrug. "Know, I do not, but matters, it does not," he replied, gesturing to the datapad in Mace's hand. "Other issues, we have, that need attention."
Mace sighed, releasing the last of his frustration before flicking the datapad on and scrolling through its contents. "We have a meeting later this afternoon that will need to be rescheduled, as Qui-Gon took Kenobi and Skywalker with him on his mission. Perhaps we should discuss more about Palpatine during that time?"
Yoda nodded, and Mace went about altering the agenda, sending a message to all the Council members, despite the niggling sensation in the back of his mind that he was missing something vital. He had no idea what, though, unless it had to do with how Qui-Gon managed to snag a mission that was more of a vacation –
"Kenobi," he whispered, his eyes going wide and the datapad slipping from his fingers. "Kenobi was on the Council. He knows all our codes. He could've done this, and we would have no way to know otherwise."
Yoda merely raised an eyebrow, however. "Prove that, we cannot, and jump to conclusions we should not."
Mace sighed a little as he retrieved the datapad, part of him certainly irked. The worst part was that Yoda was right; there was nothing he could do to prove it, no matter how right his reasoning felt.
"Speaking of missions," he began, trying to force his mind off the issue with Qui-Gon. "Master Ithara has made his report from Naboo…"
"Anakin, do stop pacing," Obi-Wan called to the boy, not looking up from his datapad. "You'll wear a path in the carpet."
He saw the boy stop abruptly from the corner of his eye, Anakin's head whipping up to focus on Obi-Wan, who lounged on the couch in their private cabin aboard the luxury space cruiser Ocean Light. His head was propped up on a pillow while he braced his bare feet against the opposite armrest, and he relished the way the cushions molded to his body. The Council chairs were made of the exact same material, and he'd always wanted to steal his so he could be comfortable in his apartments.
Pity it had been firmly adhered to the floor.
"Will I really?" Anakin whispered, his tone alarmed, and Obi-Wan finally looked up from his reading to give Anakin a subdued look of incredulity. Anakin scowled then, realizing Obi-Wan had been kidding, and resumed his path, scuffing his soles against the carpet as he went.
"You will if you keep that up," Obi-Wan said as he set aside the datapad and sat up, moving to sit cross-legged on the couch. He held out a hand then, beckoning the boy towards him. "Come here, Ani."
The boy huffed a little but moved forward to take Obi-Wan's outstretched hand, his expression a rather anxious frown. Obi-Wan pulled Anakin forward then, snatching him up and settling the boy in his lap, which Anakin allowed, uttering none of the protestations Obi-Wan had been expecting.
"You don't have to worry, Ani," he said as the boy leaned against him, resting his head right below Obi-Wan's collarbone and shutting his eyes. "Qui-Gon and I aren't going to get into any trouble over this. At worst, we get called back to the Temple, but they can't punish us for what clearly was a program malfunction."
He could feel Anakin frown. "But won't they be able to sense you lying? I mean, because it wasn't a program malfunction. You're the one who manipulated it so Qui-Gon would get the assignment."
"Then I get a reprimand from the Council and they change their security codes," he said, shrugging a little as he tightened his arms around the boy. "Nothing they can threaten me with would frighten me, Ani, so I suggest you stop worrying."
Anakin sighed heavily, his tension still coiling through the bond, which was exacerbated by his mounting fatigue. The ship's sleep cycle had been altered to match Iia'wah's earlier in the day, forcing them to wake after only a few hours of sleep, and Anakin had been rather irritable ever since, snapping at everyone without meaning to. Obi-Wan knew it was only natural, and he assured the boy he took no offence when Anakin apologized after the first time it had happened. After all, Anakin had only just gotten used to the Coruscant sleep cycle, and forcing him to adjust to yet another so soon was horrible for his temperament.
"Why don't you take a nap?" Obi-Wan suggested, not for the first time that day, but Anakin seemed more willing to listen. "I'll wake you up after twenty minutes or so, and then we can go get some food for our evening meal."
Anakin made no verbal response, but Obi-Wan felt him relaxing, a small sigh escaping from his lips. Obi-Wan couldn't help but smile at the sound, and as he adjusted his grip on the drifting boy, he began to do something most uncharacteristic of him.
He began to hum.
He wasn't sure what made him do it. He sang a little as a child, during the rhyming games he'd play with his age-mates, which didn't really count, as they weren't really songs. Once he was older, he only sung when he was certain no one was around; mostly when he cooked on his own, dancing around the kitchen as he practiced the skills Qui-Gon had been teaching him. He stopped all together after he hit his late teenage years, letting the pastime fade into childhood obscurity as the world around him grew harsher, his eyes opening with maturity.
It must've been over twenty years since any musical notes passed his lips, but there he was, leaning into the cushions of the couch, his eyes glazed over as he recalled a melody from his earliest, dustiest memories. He couldn't remember where he'd heard it, only that it was ingrained into his heart, and Anakin yawned discreetly as he listened. Obi-Wan watched the boy's eyes droop as he continued, and only once Anakin was fast asleep did he finally stop.
He hugged the boy gently then, and shifted ever so slightly so he could retrieve his datapad. He yawned a little himself, blinking as he focused on the words, which were steadily blurring before him…
Obi-Wan jerked upright at the thought, blinking when he saw Qui-Gon kneeling before him, a rather interesting expression adorning the older man's face. His lips were pressed into a thin line, his eyebrows knit together fiercely, but his dark blue eyes shimmered with mirth, utterly destroying the façade of seriousness.
Obi-Wan rubbed his eyes then, part of him wondering how long he'd been asleep, and he watched his Master stand and move away slightly, the mask slowly crumbling.
"I take it we haven't been summoned back?" Obi-Wan asked, his voice thick with lingering sleep, and Qui-Gon shucked his outer robe before draping over a nearby armchair. "Does the Council have any inkling of what really happened?"
"None," Qui-Gon got out, his tone jerky, as though he were constraining it heavily. "Mace was livid though. You should've seen his face."
Obi-Wan raised both eyebrows at that, and Qui-Gon moved to sit beside him on the couch. Obi-Wan stretched as best he could with Anakin resting in his lap, cracking his neck a little.
That's what I get for falling asleep in an awkward position, he grumbled a little, rolling his shoulders, and Qui-Gon finally grinned.
"Did you have a nice nap, Padawan?" he asked, leaning back and propping his feet up on the small, low table that sat before the couch.
"I suppose so," Obi-Wan answered, looking around for a chrono. "How long was I asleep? Did you just get back from talking with Mace, ah, Master Windu and the Council?"
"Yes," Qui-Gon replied, a few low chuckles escaping him. "It wasn't an official meeting, so only Mace and Master Yoda were present, but Mace kept asking me how I got assigned to one of the best resorts in the galaxy, with all expenses paid by an Iia'wah environmental society. I think he was hoping to surreptitiously assign it to himself."
"I always wondered how he wound up with the best missions," Obi-Wan said. "I would come back almost in pieces from a set of soured negotiations while Mace never seemed to acquire a scratch on his. I'd always assumed he was just better skilled."
Qui-Gon laughed. "The best part was Master Yoda. He was just sitting there, throwing Mace these annoyed glances every chance he got, and Mace remained completely oblivious. You could tell Master Yoda wanted to get on with business, but Mace just would not let it go!"
Obi-Wan laughed a little before turning his head to glance out their cabin window, the star lines of hyperspace rushing past. Qui-Gon was still talking, but the words seemed to wash right over him, his gaze a thousand klicks away.
The sound of laughter reached him and then he was standing on a landing pad, the city of Coruscant rising up around him. He hopped from a speeder and started racing towards the large group of people in the distance, part of him kicking himself for being late –
"Uncle Obi-Wan!"came the gleeful shout of a young boy of three standard years old, with honey colored hair and aquamarine eyes. He raced towards Obi-Wan, his older siblings hot on his heels, and Obi-Wan grinned.
"Ben!" he exclaimed, catching the child and lifting him into the air, spinning around, and finally clutching him in a warm embrace. The boy laughed musically, his little arms winding around Obi-Wan's neck, and he snuggled against the Jedi.
"One of these days you're going to be too big for that," Obi-Wan said, feeling the boy shake his head, and he glanced down at the other two children who raced up. One was a little girl with shoulder length, wavy brown hair, her face the child-like replica of her mother, and the other was a little boy, who looked just like his father, right down to the sun-bleached hair and crystal blue eyes. Luke and Leia tugged on his robes, trying to talk over the other one as they told him of the flight from Naboo, and how much fun their father's birthday party was going to be.
"Each time I see you two it gets harder to understand you," he said, grinning and kneeling to set Ben down so he could embrace the twins. "But it is wonderful to see you, even if it's only been a standard week."
"Feels like a month!" Luke exclaimed, as he and Leia did their best to choke Obi-Wan and make it seem like a hug. "But Dad did a landing that didn't upset Grandma's stomach! Isn't it amazing?"
"Isn't he always crashing ships when you two go on missions?" Leia asked as the twins released him. "Luke said he does, and Grandma almost made him let the autopilot do the landing, she was so worried!"
"I heard that, you two," came the dry voice, and Obi-Wan grinned up at the approaching man, who looked down at them with a rather unamused expression.
"Anakin," he said warmly, standing as the man returned his smile and drew him in for a firm embrace. "How does it feel to be twenty-eight?"
"The same as always," Anakin replied as Ben tugged on Obi-Wan's sleeve, and he lifted the boy onto his shoulders as the rest of the party approached. He grinned at Qui-Gon, who held Anakin's youngest child, a girl of one with springy blond curls and dark brown eyes. Obi-Wan saw Qui-Gon struggling with her a bit, as little Shmi had decided that Qui-Gon's hair would be a wonderful thing to chew on, and naturally the retired Jedi thought otherwise.
Obi-Wan's gaze then met Padmé's, who returned his smile. Her arm was linked with her mother-in-law, who Anakin went to Naboo to retrieve for the celebration. It had been a while since everyone in Anakin's family had gotten together, and it had been too long, as far as Obi-Wan was concerned.
I truly am blessed, Obi-Wan found himself thinking as they started for the set of air speeders waiting for them, joy permeating the area. He shut his eyes for a moment, relishing the way the Force curled around them, laughing happily right along with them –
His vision cleared and he opened his eyes, starting when he found Qui-Gon and Anakin staring at him, their eyes wide with mingling fear and concern. Anakin clutched his tunic front while Qui-Gon gripped his shoulder tightly, and he gave them both the best smile he could muster.
"Was…" Qui-Gon began, frowning. "Did you have some kind of vision, Obi-Wan?"
"You know who we are, right?" Anakin asked at the same time, and Obi-Wan sent a pulse of reassurance through both bonds, which made them relax visibly. Qui-Gon heaved a small sigh and Anakin sat back, releasing the death grip he had on Obi-Wan's clothes.
"It was nothing," he said, wrapping his arms around Anakin and leaning against Qui-Gon, but the boy reached up and touched Obi-Wan's cheek, wiping at tears Obi-Wan hadn't realized had fallen.
"Nothing?" Qui-Gon asked as both of them raised their eyebrows in similar, skeptical expressions.
"It doesn't seem like nothing," Anakin added, but Obi-Wan merely smiled.
"They're tears of happiness," he said softly, "because I know everything is going to be all right."
Anakin and Qui-Gon shared a rather confused look, but the boy tucked himself into Obi-Wan's hug, and the Jedi Master wrapped an arm around the two, drawing them into an encompassing embrace.
Obi-Wan's smile widened as he felt the Force twine itself around them, binding them with its bright, pleasant strands, and he shut his eyes, relishing the sensation. Everything was going to be all right, it whispered, its voice flooding him with its Light and comfort.
The shadow had been removed and everything would be all right.