Chapter 27

Somehow Crion had managed to strike a balance between appearing over eager and consuming his evening meal at a faster than normal pace, though he wasn't sure why he bothered. His father seemed as eager to see his personal items as he was, and Crion was certain he would not be opening his parcel in private. Sure enough, Xanatos trailed him to his quarters where a simple parcel was sitting on the table in the sitting room. Crion sat down on the sofa, quickly brushing his hands down his trousers.

"I am surprised you aren't tearing into it," Xanatos quipped.

"I was actually hoping for some privacy," Crion snapped back. "A certain person in this room doesn't seem to know the meaning of the word."

Xanatos simply quirked an eyebrow before sinking down to the sofa next to him. Crion contemplated being stubborn and refusing to open the parcel until he was granted privacy, but Xanatos knew as well as he did that Crion wanted to open it more than anything.

"Fine," Crion breathed out as he cracked open the seal on the small crate.

The item on top immediately caught his attention. He picked up the painting, immediately remembering his master's fondness of the gentle plains on Reta III. It had been one of their few actual "routine" missions, meaning that nothing had gone wrong, no one had been injured, and they had actually taken leave and enjoyed the Retan wilderness. There was a brief sting of hurt that Obi-Wan had returned such a well-loved lifeday gift. Was it a message that his master was disappointed in him?

"Where is that?"

"Reta III," Crion answered. "I went there on a mission with Master Obi-Wan two years ago."

"Something so lovely deserves a better frame." Xanatos hesitated before adding. "I know a couple of artisans who could create something very unique."

Crion squelched a sudden flare of irritation. He had spent three months worth of allowance on this frame … for his father to criticize ... wait, the color was wrong. Crion flipped over the painting, grimacing at the sloppy globs of dried paste.

"If there is sentimental value attached to this frame, I understand …"

"No." Crion beamed a bright smile. His master knew him too well. There was something hidden in the truly atrocious frame. And he had sacrificed one of his most prized possessions to hide it. Crion blinked back the sting of tears. "I would appreciate finding a more suitable home for this. It is very special."

Crion sat the painting aside, and reached in to find his few possessions. The Jedi had little. What they kept was usually, though meager, brimming with meaning. There was a puzzle box filled with an assortment of trinkets collected to remember certain missions. He sat that next to the painting and found the awards he had earned from saber competitions.

"Wow."

Crion turned his head, sparing a glance to Xanatos. His father's whispered word had been breathed out reverently.

"This is no small feat," Xanatos added proudly.

"Master Obi-Wan has trained me well," Crion answered, giving credit where credit was due. "Though, I have never figured out why we have tournaments. Competion - winning – it all seems to go against Jedi ideas of humility."

"I see nothing wrong with recognizing hard work and achievement."

"Maybe."

Crion pulled out a collection of datachips in a small box. "These would be my lessons," he murmured as he set them aside. All that remained were his collection of holos. A few were of him and Obi-Wan, taken on various missions. There was another of him and Keyan after a recent saber tournament – a rare time when both had been at the Temple together. The next was of him and Sienn in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. He had to laugh. The holo captured them well. She stood behind him, arms wrapped around him, chin resting on his shoulder. There was a mischievous glint in her eyes, and if memory served, her next course of action had been to pull him, fully clothed, into the pond behind them. He let out a laugh. Force – he missed her.

"She's very beautiful." Crion groaned. He had almost forgotten Xanatos was there. "You two look happy together."

"We're friends – nothing more," Crion said in an even tone, hastily shutting off the holo.

"There is no need to be defensive about caring for her," Xanatos chided. "I am not your master or the Council, and I happen to believe there is nothing wrong with loving and caring for someone else."

Crion bit back the retort on his lips. He didn't want to argue with Xanatos. He wanted his father to leave so that he could find out what was hidden in the painting. One holo remained. Crion flipped the switch. A grin twisted his lips as he looked at his master standing next to him. Beside them was Anakin. Qui-Gon stood behind him, hands resting on the boy's shoulders. It was a family portrait of sorts … missing one person, Crion realized.

"I should go and leave you alone to arrange your things," Xanatos said in a strained voice as he hastily stood and started to leave.

"Goodnight," Crion said.

His father paused at the door and turned back for a moment. "Goodnight."

Crion waited until he was certain his father's presence was retreating. He quickly fumbled to pick up the painting his master had sent. His fingers found a shiv and gently placed it under the flimsi backing. Once he had cut it open, he reached inside and pulled out a folded letter. Crion opened the folded pages, warmth rushing through him as he caught sight of his master's neat, elegant handwriting.

Padawan,

I received your message. It was very clever of you to hide a message to me in a message to Anakin, and quite miraculous that Anakin realized it was for me.

Crion breathed a sigh of relief. Anakin had not failed him.

I am afraid that I must first play the part of the fussy and nagging master. Your first priority should be to take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating well and getting adequate sleep. Should you return to me in declined health, I am afraid I will be forced to leave you at Bant's mercy and forbid her to tell you stories about me.

A chuckle escaped Crion's lips. He truly missed his master's odd humor.

I imagine your father is quite confused. Qui-Gon spoke often with your mother while she was still alive. Though considerably misguided, it seems your father truly does love you. That you are butting heads does not surprise me in the least. According to Qui-Gon, Xanatos is a stubborn man, accustomed to having his every order obeyed. You, my young padawan, are likely his match if the grey hair at my temples is any indication (seriously, though I would not consider myself vain, to see so much grey at 30 standard years is a bit disconcerting. I truly hope you can leave your father equally grey). However, should your father choose to look through the stubbornness and bluster of a mouth that has seen its fair share of soap, he will see a poised, self-controlled, and devoted young man that I have had the pleasure of training for the last three years.

Crion felt his throat tighten and his eyes begin to sting.

It is unfortunate that you have had to face this challenge at such a young age. Part of me says that you are not ready, yet I must trust the Force's timing. What wisdom do I have to impart on you at this time?

- Hold fast to your training and to the Light even when you may see darkness.

- Your instincts are good, Padawan. Trust your instincts and do what you feel is right.

- ALWAYS remember that you are never alone. The Force is your ally. Trust it above all else.

Now as I close this letter, I have decided that giving you over to the Force's care may be one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I think that I would rather be back on Naboo fighting for my life and facing my own inner darkness.

Please know that I am fighting to bring you home. Your room will remain ready and a training salle reserved for your return.

May the Force be with you, Padawan.

Master Obi-Wan

Crion clutched the letter to his chest and began to look around for a safe place to stash it away. He knew he would read it over many times in the coming days. The activities of the day, working in the hot sun, and now the emotional toll of the evening weighed on him. Too tired to reach his room, Crion kicked off his boots and stretched out on the sofa, soon falling into a deep, content sleep.