LianneZ4 - It is going to take Anakin a bit more time to truly have the acceptance he shows superficially now.

Jedi Master Misty Sman-Esay - I think that Anakin does have a lot of insecurity about this and it will take time.

Betterways - thanks

beauty0102 - here is the next chapter

Chapter 27

The small homestead, nestled in a sea of sand, was humble and modest. Worn windswept walls baking in the heat of twin suns told a story of the harsh reality of life on the desolate planet. They had seen dozens of such houses on their trip, yet this one, clean and well kept, seemed to hold an air of pride. Xanatos hoped it spoke well of its owner.

He looked from the house to his young charge who sat in the stopped speeder at his side. Anakin appeared to be having second thoughts as he fiddled with the edge of his robe.

"I do need to speak with Mister Lars, but I will not insist on you accompanying me, Padawan. We can return to Mos Espa this evening."

"No, I want to meet them," Anakin said, stilling his fingers. "I just don't know what to say."

"I find that in those situations, it is better to remain quiet and allow others to speak."

A man with graying hair appeared at the doorway, squinting against the bright sunlight as he shielded his face with a hand over his brow. A youth with shaggy hair appeared at his side, mimicking his father's actions.

Xanatos got out of the speeder first, smoothing down the front of his robes. As he approached the pair, Anakin fell into place behind and to the right of him, head bowed slightly in humility as a learner's should be. His mentor paused, stilling his steps. "Perhaps you should be at my side for this, Anakin. It's hardly a mission … or the Council."

"It kind of feels like it, Master." Anakin walked forward a little, smiling as he joined his master at his side. They continued on to the pair observing them with open curiosity and a little apprehension. It had not taken Anakin long to become accustomed to the reactions people had towards Jedi – especially Xanatos Marojni.

His master was certainly an intimidating figure as Anakin remembered from the first time he had seen him at Obi-Wan's side. He was wrapped tightly in the Jedi master veneer of calm, his eyes filled with a scrutinizing intensity. Dark robes and sleek black hair combined to give him an air of something sinister. The boy, Owen, seemed to shrink back as they neared, his eyes falling to the weapons swinging from the two Jedi's belts.

Xanatos made the first move to break the tension. He stepped forward, extending his hand in greeting. "I am Xanatos Marojni," he said, dropping the formality of his title from his name. "And this is Anakin Skywalker."

"Pleased to meet you. Cliegg Lars … and this is my son, Owen." He looked towards Anakin, his features bending into a smile. "I've heard a lot about you … from your mother. It's good to finally meet you." He wiped a hand across his brow. "Let's get inside out of this heat."

They retreated to the cool comfort of a simple sitting room, staring at each other with awkward silence at first before moving on to small talk about the trip from Mos Espa. Anakin battled his impatience, knowing the questions he wanted to ask would be rude and abrupt without the customary chit chat. Did Cliegg really love his mother? Would he protect her and care for her the way she deserved? Would there be a place for him in this family? At a questioning probe through the Force, he gave a sideways glance to his mentor, glad that he was here. Xanatos was a much better judge of character and far wiser than he was.

"You have a good farm here. We passed several on the way out, and I didn't see the like."

"The Lars have been farmers for generations. It's a proud tradition." He shook his head slightly. "It took me a while to appreciate that in my youth and I went astray for a time, but returned to my roots." He let out a hesitant sigh. "Don't know if a Jedi could understand that."

"More than you might know," Xanatos offered.

"I don't regret leaving for that time. I wouldn't have met Aika and I wouldn't have Owen in my life now." He gave a squeeze to Owen's shoulder. "I thought this was all I … we would ever need … until I met Shmi."

He proceeded, at Xanatos' continued prompting, to speak about Shmi, pouring out his heart about his hopes for their future. Anakin glanced over at his mentor often, his curiosity piqued by the continual, probing tendrils of Force directed at the moisture farmer. Xanatos was scrutinizing him at a level that made no sense to Anakin. His love was obviously genuine, his entire aura brightening as he spoke of the woman he wished to make his wife.

"I can't promise her as easy of a life as she deserves after all she's been through, but I know I will be a happier man when she is at my side." He looked past them at the suns beginning to set on the horizon. "Owen and I should get evening meal ready."

"We can help," Xanatos offered.

"No. You two are our guests. Make yourselves comfortable here."

The father and son left the room, and Anakin watched after them making sure they were gone and out of ear shot before he spoke.

"What were you trying to find out Master?"

"I needed to know that he is trustworthy and truly loves your mother … he does."

"I've never seen someone so easy to read, Master. Should we be worried about that?"

"We are accustomed to being around other Jedi who constantly shield their thoughts as to not disturb the other Force sensitives nearby when we are at the Temple or beings who are on guard and defensive on missions. Cliegg Lars is an honest man. He has nothing to hide."

"And that's a good thing, right?"

Xanatos smiled. "It's a very good thing, Padawan."

The small talk continued throughout a simple meal as Cliegg explained much of what he did as a moisture farmer, a topic that kept Anakin struggling to keep his eyes open. He honestly couldn't understand how his mentor sat with an expression of keen interest on his face, even asking questions. Anakin knew his master well enough to know the Jedi had no interest in moisture farming. He bit down on his lip to stifle a yawn and realized from the slight curve of a smile on Xanatos' lips that it had not gone unnoticed.

"Shmi said that you were anticipating being able to marry by year's end," Xanatos said at an opening to change the subject.

"We are being optimistic. The suns have been hotter this year and that will affect the harvest, but hopefully, it will be enough."

Xanatos reached into his travel bag, pulling out a datapad and a small chip, and began to hand it to the farmer. "Master?" Anakin whispered. Xanatos tipped the pad so that Anakin could read it, leaving him confused.

"It isn't much," Xanatos said. "But it is our contribution."

"I can't accept this," Cliegg said, trying to hand the chip back to Xanatos quickly. Xanatos put his hand up, refusing.

"It appears we've been working towards the same goal. Perhaps it can cover what the harvest might lack."

"It is generous. Thank you." Obviously uncomfortable and uncertain what further to say, Cliegg looked out the window. "It's getting dark. We have a few chores to finish. Owen will show you to your room. Tomorrow, we can show you around."

They followed Owen to a room that was barely larger than the room they had stayed in at the slave hovel in Mos Espa. When alone, Anakin approached his mentor. "Master … how?"

"I'm sorry I couldn't share what I was doing with you, Anakin. It hurt that I had to be less than truthful with you about my contact with your mother, but I did not want her to distract you from adjusting to Jedi life. As far as the credits, I've cut as many corners as possible with our stipends over the last few years."

"Still … how did you get that much?"

"I invested it, of course." He bowed his head, nodding it slightly. "Though I had to swallow my pride to actually approach any broker with such a laughable amount. Fortunately, I chose someone with respect for the Jedi and he has been very helpful." Xanatos looked up again. "Obi-Wan has contributed as he was able."

Anakin bit down, nibbling nervously on his lip. "Master … I … I'm afraid I've said some things …"

"I know." Xanatos raised an eyebrow. "I trust that all rumors and complaints to your agemates about my miserly tendencies will desist, now?"

Anakin bowed his head. "Yes, Master." He looked up sharply when Xanatos let out a chuckle and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

Obi-Wan coughed roughly, a wheezy rumble churning in his lungs as he pulled soft, warm covers up around his chin in an attempt to ward off the chill that swept through his body, drawing him from a restless sleep. He snuggled down into the pillow, still feeling the weight of exhaustion. The sleepcouch that seemed to caress his body was a welcome reprise from the difficult negotiations of the day.

The up and coming "negotiatior" had brought the delegates to a point of agreement only to have one of the factions take issue over the observance of a local religious festival. The two sides had prepared lengthy – not that any orations in this culture seemed to be short-winded – statements and Obi-Wan remembered settling in to listen to them, despite the fact he couldn't remember feeling this awful since he was still a padawan. Although he recalled replying to both sides, it seemed odd that he didn't remember the busy day ending, or even getting ready for bed. He opened heavy eyelids and realized he was in his assigned accommodations, stripped to leggings and an undertunic. Quickly sitting up, he wished he hadn't as the room began to swim and he for the first time noticed a dull ache in his head.

The door whisked open as he settled back down to the pillow, and Ben approached carrying a tray with two glasses and a steaming kettle. "I wouldn't try to sit up too fast if I were you, Master."

"I figured that out the hard way," Obi-Wan said, making a second, slower attempt to sit up. "You shouldn't be up, Padawan."

"The fever is gone and I'm feeling a lot better." Obi-Wan raised a scolding eyebrow. "Don't worry, I am still resting, Master. I was just coming to see if you wanted something to drink."

Obi-Wan grimaced, the thought of drinking anything reminding him that his throat hurt. "I'm not very thirsty."

"You need to keep fluids down or you'll get dehydrated," Ben replied pointedly. Obi-Wan choked out a painful laugh. He had to admit that the imitation of his own words was highly accurate. He took a sip from the glass offered, finding the warm liquid much more soothing than he had expected it to be.

"Master, how long have you been sick?" The simple question reminded Obi-Wan of how many times he had been asked the same thing as a padawan, hiding how bad he felt so that he did not interfere the progress of a mission. It reminded him how good it was to be part of a team again. "You had to have been exposed to the virus around the same time I was."

"I started having symptoms the same night I brought the healers to see about you."

"And you didn't tell them?"

"I didn't want to chance driving the Tir'en delegations away from the negotiations again, though that's probably a given now." He touched the side of his head again, wondering if the painful bump he felt was his imagination.

Ben sat down on the sleepcouch next to his mentor, looking at the spot where Obi-Wan's hand rested. "You hit it on the corner of the table," Ben said, answering the unspoken question. When Obi-Wan furrowed his eyebrows in confusion, Ben continued. "You don't remember passing out do you?"


"Then you might also want to know that they signed the treaty."

"What? How?"

"Is seems you began to address them about the same time your fever started to really spike. You started to sway on your feet and abruptly collapsed." Ben patted him on the shoulder. "It troubled the delegates greatly that they had driven you to exhaustion and they decided they should put aside their differences … after they had you brought back here and called for a healer to come."

"Wonderful," Obi-Wan mused sarcastically as he closed his eyes. "I suppose our task here is done. Unless you are particularly eager to extend our stay, perhaps we should return to Coruscant."

"You're still running a fever, Master." Obi-Wan's lips twitched into a smile at the way his apprentice labored to hide his excitement over the prospect of leaving. "Maybe travel isn't such a good idea."

"I feel well enough to make the jump to hyperspace, and am confident you can handle much of the trip." He reached up to rest a hand on his apprentice's shoulder. "Let's go home."