A little peace offering to keep our One Path readers happy since I'm sure you're all getting impatient. I haven't had time to work on the next chapter, but here's a little something that demanded to be written. It's set just after chapter 36, The Skywalker Special. You might have wondered exactly what went on between lunch at Dex's and when Padme got home. Now you know. This sprang from an email conversation with my friend, Sarah (aka Polgarawolf)originally, but most of the insanity is mine. I'm not posting this as a chapter of the fic since it happened so long ago within the continuity of One Path that it would make no sense, but I felt it needed to be available to readers somehow because of the insight it shows into the relationships between Anakin, Obi Wan and Ani, and exactly why it is that Ani refuses to give up on his uncle.
Obi Wan and Anakin walked out onto the balcony where little Ani was playing under the ever-watchful eyes (or at least optical sensors) of Artoo and Threepio. His back was to them, and each leaned on opposite sides of the doorframe, quietly grinning as they watched him guide a pair of model Jedi starfighters through an intricate series of swoops, dives and turns around Artoo, who had apparently become a Separatist battle cruiser. The aerial display was accompanied by a string of sound effects as Ani pretended to shoot at either the "cruiser" or the imaginary droid fighters that were tailing his pair, and Artoo responded by swiveling his head to follow the model craft and transmitting short bursts of static at them.
"Oh! Be careful, Master Ani," warned Threepio. "Your Uncle Anakin's fighter is about to be hit!"
"Don't worry, Threepio," Ani said as the fighter in his left hand was suddenly struck by a burst of Artoo's static and went spiraling toward the droid's leg. It was of course able to pull out before being smashed to bits, and seemed no worse for wear, but Anakin pushed himself off the doorframe, tucking his middle finger behind his thumb as he walked up behind Ani and gave the boy's ear a light flick.
"Hey!" Ani twisted and craned his neck up at the Jedi Knight. "What was that for?"
"You made me the one to get hit," Anakin shook his head. "That's supposed to be your father."
"Dad got hit the last three times. It's only fair, Uncle," Ani sighed.
"Oh, yes," Obi Wan spoke up dryly. "Quite fair."
"I think that's about par for the course," Anakin shrugged.
"Oh, you do?" Obi Wan challenged.
"Well, now that you mention it, maybe it is a bit of a modest estimate," Anakin pulled on his lower lip thoughtfully.
"Is it?" Obi Wan rolled his eyes.
"Hmm. You know, Ani, I'd say your dad takes at least five hits for every one of mine," decided Anakin.
"He does not!" Ani laughed.
"Thank you, son," Obi Wan nodded.
Anakin flicked his finger against the back of the four-year-old's head. "Hey, I'm the one who's there, remember. I should know."
"Yeah, but you 'zaggerate everything," shrugged Ani dismissively.
"Oh, I do?" Anakin peered over his shoulder at Obi Wan, arching his eyebrow.
"Kids say the strangest things sometimes," Obi Wan smiled in return.
"So do their fathers," countered Anakin.
"So do their adoptive uncles, and their mothers, and their grandparents…" Obi Wan looked around innocently.
"Oh, yes. I suppose we'll never know where he picked that one up, will we?" Anakin asked.
"It's not likely," Obi Wan shook his head.
"Not likely at all," agreed Anakin ironically, and his lips curved in a half-hearted smirk.
Ani shook his head at them and returned to his game. Anakin crossed his arms and watched with a smile until "his" fighter took another hit. Then he bent down and swept the boy off the ground, flipping him easily in the air in order to hold him by the ankles.
Laughing and shrieking protests, Ani struggled for a few seconds, then let go of the toys he was still holding, turned his wrists and grasped Anakin's ankles in return. The Knight clomped noisily around the balcony for a while, then turned to Obi Wan and tilted his head.
"Hey, did you see where Ani went?"
"No, I didn't…did you lose him?"
"I must have," Anakin frowned, tromping back into the apartment.
"I'm right here…" giggled Ani as the two men wandered around peeking behind furniture and calling his name.
Finally, Anakin turned a startled look at the floor and exclaimed, "Hey, here he is!"
"Well, how did he get down there?" Obi Wan shook his head. "Really, Anakin. Can't you be more careful where you put my son?"
"I'm sorry, Obi Wan, he's sneaky," apologized Anakin, hefting the boy upward, tossing him around, then flipping him over his right shoulder. "Whoops!"
"Whoops? What do you mean, whoops?" demanded Obi Wan while Ani hung off Anakin's shoulder, laughing hysterically.
"I think I lost him again," confessed Anakin.
"Anakin. You have to stop losing him. Padme is going to be home soon," sighed Obi Wan.
"Well, I guess we'd better find him then," Anakin said thoughtfully.
"I guess we'd better," Obi Wan feigned impatience.
They looked around again, with Ani continuing to kick his feet and call for their attention. Neither man paid any attention until he began to whack Anakin in the backside, laughing, "Uncle! Anakin! I'm right! Here!"
"Ow!" Anakin stopped short.
"What's the matter?" asked Obi Wan.
"Something's hitting me…?" Anakin said worriedly.
"Hitting you?" asked Obi Wan.
Ani gave him another smack. "Uncle!"
"On my butt! What is that?" Anakin asked.
Obi Wan took a few cautious steps and peered nervously around his friend's back, widening his eyes at the sight of his son. "Oh my…Anakin…"
"What is it?" Anakin asked again.
"It looks like Ani," Obi Wan reported with a wince.
Anakin spun his whole body around. "Where?"
"Well, he was here," Obi Wan coughed.
"See, I told you he was sneaky!" Anakin sighed.
"I'm over here…" Ani called, breathless with laughter.
"Where?" Anakin asked.
"Maybe you should use the Force," Ani suggested ironically.
"Good idea," nodded Anakin. He stood still for a moment, then swung Ani back off his shoulder, cradling the boy with one arm under his knees and the other around his shoulders. "Oh look! Here he is!"
"Well, you'd better give him to me before you lose him again," Obi Wan told him.
"Right," Anakin nodded, then took a step backward and lightly tossed the boy to his father.
Ani shrieked, Obi Wan caught him easily, and he burst into a fresh round of hysterical giggles. "That was fun!"
"Do you want to do it again?" asked Obi Wan.
Ani nodded eagerly. "Go back more."
"All right, a little," Obi Wan agreed, taking another step away from Anakin.
They tossed him back and forth for a while, until Ani's squirming made Obi Wan lose his grip, and Anakin quickly stepped closer to grab the boy's ankles. Then, he moved back again, winking at Obi Wan as they stood with the struggling four-year-old stretched between them.
"Swing me! Swing me!" urged Ani, who hung between them with complete trust.
It took them only a few seconds to get a rhythm going, and they quickly had him swaying to and fro like a human hammock. He continued to wriggle unconsciously with childish excitement and mirth, but the two Force adepts kept him secure by tacit agreement. At least, they did until the loose shirt he was wearing slipped up enough to expose his belly.
"Obi Wan!" Anakin laughed. "I see Ani's stomach!"
"I think we're going to have to tickle him!"
"I think you're right--"
"Noooooooooo," Ani shrieked. "Don't tickle me!"
He squirmed so much that his left leg slipped out of Anakin's grip, and as the Knight tried to catch him again, his free foot accidentally kicked Anakin's wrist. With both legs unsupported, he was left to dangle from his father's hands, but he never felt a moment's fear. Anakin hurried over beside Obi Wan, and after a bit of jostling Ani around, both of them took an arm and a leg, supporting him more firmly and thus preventing him from struggling loose.
Too late, Ani realized what they were up too. He let out another shriek as Obi Wan and Anakin dropped to the floor. He struggled valiantly, and even made an attempt to scramble up and crawl away from them, but his two oversized playmates caught him easily and soon tickled him into submission. This progressed into a half hour or so of wrestling, until Obi Wan finally surrendered, rolled back to his feet and headed for the couch.
"Come on, Dad, you can't quit now!" Ani urged, bouncing back to his feet. He shook his tangled red mop out of his eyes and looked pleadingly at his father.
"I'm tired," Obi Wan laughed. "You two can wrestle around and I'll watch."
"Well, you know, Ani," Anakin observed, "he is a lot older than we are. It's not fair to expect him to be able to keep up."
"Ohhh," Ani frowned, nodding thoughtfully. "Right, I didn't think of that."
"Oh, that's nice, Anakin. Very nice," sighed Obi Wan.
"Well, it's not my fault you're not as young as you used to be, is it?" Anakin smirked.
"Don't worry, Dad," Ani grinned. "We love you even if you are old and tired."