Geri K: I think Obi-Wan would be too skeptical to believe he was actually hearing Qui-Gon. Maybe in time.

Jedi Master Misty Sman-Esay: Missions are definitely a time to provide growth for our masters and their padawans.

Chapter 25

Shallow breaths came rapidly, punctuated every so often with a constricted cough that seemed to shake the boy's entire body and rob him of any truly meaningful sleep. Obi-Wan sat down on the side of the small sleepcouch, reaching out to press the back of his hand to his apprentice's flushed skin, grimacing at the heat still radiating from his body. Ben was usually very healthy and this was the first time in Obi-Wan's year as a master that he had to care for an ill padawan. Although he was doing all he could under the circumstances, knowing that Ben was miserable made him feel helpless.

"Master?" Ben whispered groggily, stirring.

"Shhh. I didn't mean to wake you." Obi-Wan soothingly smoothed back dampened chocolate brown spikes, sending healing currents of the Force through his apprentice's feverish body. "The next session starts soon. Is there anything you need before I go? Are you hungry?"

Ben let out a groan, burying his face in his pillow. "Throat hurts too much," came the muffled reply.

"It was worth a try," Obi-Wan said. He had attempted unsuccessfully to entice Ben's appetite, finally shifting his battle to keeping the boy hydrated with juices and water. "I left you something to drink right here." He wasn't sure if the slight movement was a nod or a grimace.

"Master … Sorry, I'm not much help this time."

"I have no doubt you would drag yourself out of bed if I asked it of you, but I don't think you would stay conscious long enough to be of help." Obi-Wan smiled, trying to catch a glimpse out the nearby window. "Besides, the last thing you need is to be out in this climate. I would get a severe scolding from the very nice healer that was here last night."

"There was a healer here?"

"Yes. You don't remember?" Obi-Wan pressed a hypospray to the side of Ben's neck. "We just need to keep the fever down and this will run its course. I'll be back at our first break to check on you." He pulled the blanket up to Ben's neck, tucking it in around him, giving one last worried glance as he shut the door to the bedroom.

He picked up his robe and was about to exit their quarters, when he heard the chiming of the com panel. Dropping his robe back to the sofa, he activated the transmission.

"I was hoping to catch you before you left for the day. Haven't you finished negotiating that treaty yet?"

Obi-Wan let out a weary chuckle. "No, but at least I got them back to the table to talk some more. That should account for something." Two weeks had turned into two months with the negotiations being cancelled twice over various disagreements. "And now Ben is sick. It's not serious, but he feels awful. I think we will head back to Coruscant after this one."

"Sounds like a good plan." Xanatos looked away as though he were checking to make sure no one was around. Anakin and I are leaving. We have a stop to make on the way back to Coruscant, but will see you when we get back."

"I hope all goes well."

"So do I."

The holographic image of Xanatos flickered out of existence and Obi-Wan paused for a moment to take a deep, cleansing breath. As he put his robe on, he pushed the door of Ben's room open slightly to check on the sleeping padawan one last time, realizing for the first time how scratchy his throat felt. He left the building where their assigned quarters were located with a new resolve to get the two parties talking.

A peal of thunder echoed through the sky, a sound he had heard almost daily since he had arrived. "Not good," he muttered to himself, hurrying to pull his hood over his head as the sky opened up and drenched him with a deluge of cold rain.


The knocking on the cockpit door was louder and more frantic this time than last and Xanatos tried his best to ignore his impatient padawan.

"Master … Master … I know we just came out of hyperspace and we haven't been in space long enough to reach Coruscant. Is something wrong?"

It hadn't been easy to keep Anakin Skywalker out of the cockpit for the duration of their trip, the padawan seeming to almost taking his exclusion as an insult.

"Anakin, I assure you, if there was something wrong that I couldn't handle, you would know," Xanatos called through the door.

After gaining clearance to land, he settled the small transport down in the hangar, pausing as he powered the engines down. He had planned for this moment, pictured it, and now that it was upon him he of course wondered if he was truly doing to right thing for Anakin. Opening the door to the cockpit, Xanatos looked down to find Anakin sitting on the other side with his arms crossed over his knees, practically sulking. "Is something wrong … why did we set down?"

"Get your things, Padawan," Xanatos said, still giving no clues about their location. "We are making a stop before returning to Coruscant."

Curious, Anakin quickly pulled on his robe and grabbed his travel bag before meeting his master at the door to the landing ramp. Xanatos took a deep breath before speaking. "As you know, it is the Jedi custom for a master to give his padawan a gift on his thirteenth life day. This is a little early, but the timing was best."

He opened the door that led from the ship and Anakin fell into step behind him as they made their way down the landing ramp. At the doors to the hangar, a hot dusty gust of breeze blew past causing both of them to shield their eyes from small granules of gritty sand. When it had passed, Anakin surveyed the street for barely a few seconds, his recognition instantaneous.

"Master." Anakin looked up, clearly puzzled. "This is Mos Espa." The Jedi master felt a multitude of emotions wash over his apprentice before the boy finally whispered, "Mom." Xanatos simply nodded in response as Anakin began to shake his head. "But the Council … how …"

"Let me worry about the Council." Xanatos squatted down in front of Anakin so that he could look him in the eyes. "Please understand Anakin. I have not been able to secure her freedom. She can't leave with us."

Anakin seemed to chew on the words for a moment before speaking. "But I can see her?"

"That's why we are here." Xanatos stood and pulled his hood over his head, motioning in front of him with his hand. "I believe you know the way, Padawan."

Anakin darted off ahead, practically running as Xanatos trailed slightly behind, able to keep up with long-legged strides. They reached the small slave dwelling and Anakin stood at the door for a moment, fingering the rough surface before raising his hand to knock.

"Coming."

The sweet, feminine voice seemed to bolster Anakin's impatience and he fidgeted in the seconds it took his mother to arrive. The door opened and there was a slight pause before Shmi dropped the rag she was holding and brought a trembling hand to her mouth. She looked to Xanatos as he pushed his hood back, tears moistening a gaze filled with gratitude, and then she turned her attention back to her son.

"Ani," she said, gathering him into a nearly crushing embrace, leaning down so she could rest his head against her shoulder. Her eyes closed and Xanatos seemed to see years lift from her worn features, an expression of contentment falling across her face. She held her son there for a moment before pulling back to look at him. "Oh Ani, I've missed you." Hands still resting on his shoulders, she surveyed him from head to toe. "And look how much you've grown." The three became aware that the moment was no longer private, the gazes of curious neighbors all fixed on them. Shmi retrieved her fallen rag. "Let's go inside."

Anakin grabbed up his bag and quickly started into the small dwelling, hesitating as he noticed Xanatos did not follow. He turned a questioning glance to his mentor.

"You can contact me if you need me, Padawan," Xanatos said, picking up his own bag.

"Where are you going, Master?"

"This is your time with your mother, and I don't want to intrude. I can get a room up the road."

"Nonsense," Shmi said, appearing back in the doorway. "You're family. Though, I can't offer you much but a spot on the floor in Anakin's room. That sleepcouch might even be too short for Anakin."

"Please stay, Master."

Xanatos nodded slowly, looking down the street. "I have a small amount of business to attend to, then I will be back."

Xanatos lingered for a moment after the door had closed behind Anakin and his mother, pulling his hood back over his head before he started down the dusty, congested street. His steps led him to the small shop belonging to Watto where he found the pudgy Toydarian hovering behind the counter. "Welcome. How can I help you?"

Xanatos pulled the hood back off his head, shaking the dust that had managed to get past the material out of his hair.

"Oh, it's you," Watto muttered, flying into Xanatos' face.

The Jedi master said nothing, letting the small sack of currency he pulled from his bag speak. "As agreed," he said, handing the bag to the alien.

"This isn't the amount we agreed on."

"It's half." Before the alien could protest, Xanatos spoke. "Half now, half when we leave – after you have upheld your side of the bargain"

"Yes, yes. I know. No interruptions." He followed Xanatos as the Jedi master began to leave the shop. "And send Ani on by to say hi … you know … the vaporizer hasn't worked the same since he left …"

Xanatos quickly turned on his heels, taking the Toydarian by surprise. "I don't want you anywhere near my apprentice," he said very deliberately. "You no longer have any rights to him. Do you understand? In fact, I would prefer to not see your ugly snout for the time we are here. That's the deal." Xanatos turned to leave again, stopping when he heard the creature's voice once more.

"There is something I need to tell you."

"What is it?" Xanatos growled, keeping his back to the Toydarian.

"Business you see … well, business … it's not been so good lately. I may sell Shmi."

Xanatos froze, then turned very slowly. "What ..?"

"Someone made an offer … a good offer … he doesn't have all the credits together yet, you know … might not for some time … but it's more than she would be worth in the markets."

"Who?"

Wattoo flapped forward angrily, waving his hands in Xanatos' face. "I have been patient with you Jedi … and your stipulations and your bargains … I don't give anyone the names of business contacts … that is, well, my business."

Xanatos grabbed the alien's clothing, pulling the small body bobbing through the air. "Who?" he said softly, but with a demanding tone, getting a hearty taste of the creature's fear.

"A moisture farmer … his name is Lars …"

"I would like for you to set up and appointment for me with this farmer." When Wattoo began to protest, Xanatos relaxed his grip on the tunics. "That's fine. I can ask around and find him on my own.

"I will make the appointment."

"Good," Xanatos said with forced cheerfulness. "I look forward to meeting him then."

Xanatos returned to the hovel, taking a deep cleansing breath at the door before Shmi answered. He carefully shielded his trepidation, determined not to spoil the reunion between his apprentice and the boy's mother. He would speak with this Lars and see how lenient the man was. There was no need to make rash decisions until then, yet he found his mind already churning with backup plans to secure her freedom if the situation would be harmful to her. He would meditate on it after Anakin had gone to sleep, but somehow he sensed that this was good thing and it puzzled him.