Flying is, perhaps, not my favorite way of occupying spare time.
Well. Not that favorite is a salutary concept. It panders to the self, in its very definition, and that is one of the long shadows of greed. And spare time, for that matter, is not an idea with which I am well acquainted in practice. But I have always found hyperspace to be…unsettling. Anakin snores merrily away in the ship's bunk above me, one foot dangling temptingly over the cot's edge. My Padawan is at perfectly ease traveling at incalculable speeds through a nothingness emptier than mere void. He suffers no existential vertigo on this account.
I roll over, and – blast it. Ship's bunks are always so dreadfully uncomfortable, too. I wonder if there is some manufacturer's standard that the things must fail in order to be deemed wretched enough for inclusion in the sleeping cabins of a passenger freighter? It must be so; nothing else but calculated sentient malice could explain the excruciating knots and lumps beneath my back.
My mind drifts, idle as the nauseating swirls of the hyperspace tunnel outside. Thankfully this small cabin has no viewport. There are limits to human endurance.
"Master?" the boy said as we boarded, many hours ago. "Lorra and those guys didn't say goodbye to me or anything. They called me 'lord Jedi' and stuff and they didn't act like we were friends anymore. Like I was really different from them even though we're the same pretty much."
"You are a Jedi now, Anakin…. You will grow accustomed to the distance many people place between us and themselves. It might be that of respect, or contempt, but it will always be there."
It was not the most comforting answer. It was merely the truth.
He looked downtrodden, shuffling up the ramp ahead of me, small satchel slung over one shoulder. "Mom always said we should treat everybody the same, no matter whether they were free or slaves. Or even Jedi," he adds.
"Your mother was- is – a wise woman," I responded. I knew someone else, once, who preached much the same thing… and he too was wise.
"So… are they gonna have fancy desserts on the menu?" he asked, changing topic with the abruptness of splintered summer lightning. Anakin, Anakin. Always on the move.
I believe I said that it was of no consequence either way, since he would not be indulging is such frivolous gluttony. But somehow, by the time the cabin's illumination was dimmed for the night cycle, his tabards sported a most unbecoming smudge of dark caramel syrup and muja-berry sauce. Even now, I can't say where the negotiations went awry. And I suppose it does not matter, for this leave of absence is nearly done. We return to the Temple tomorrow, and to the serene rhythm of duty and training.
I shift about, vainly attempting to ameliorate the torturous discomfort of the thin mattress.
"Are you brooding, son?" Master Windu's baritone fills the cramped space with rumbling amusement, stern compassion.
Ha. I know better than to answer that inquiry in the affirmative. "Merely thinking."
"Dangerous avocation," he grunts.
Yes, well. "Will you report to the Council about the jabuur-weki, master?"
There is a significant pause. "No," he decides. "It wasn't an official mission. I'll tell Yoda, of course. And make an Archives entry. But I think it was an encounter ordained by the Force, a personal trial – for all of us. We must learn from it."
"Yes, master." My own assimilation of wisdom from the experience might be slow and laborious. Thus far, I have only got as far as a single blazing resolution: never to let Anakin Skywalker out of my sight again. And that stirs up unpleasant feelings. My failure in that regard has been remarked upon again and again by the Council. Indeed, by Master Windu himself . If –
"I've come to a determination," he cuts across my thoughts, in his uniquely blunt manner. "Your Padawan's habit of disappearing is something you will have to manage on your own. The Council can't waste any more time and energy hauling the pair of you in for reprimand every two weeks. Do I make myself understood?"
I am glad the dark conceals my budding smile. I do understand - every word which he has not spoken.. "Yes," I respond demurely. "Thank you , master."
He snorts. "Good," he says.
I exhale deeply. Perhaps I have not done so, not truly, since the day I bound Anakin's learner's braid the first time.
"He will bring you wisdom," Mace Windu adds, cryptically.
If wisdom feels like a migraine headache, then yes. He will indeed.
"Obi-Wan," he says, just as I feel I might drift into slumber at long last. "Tell me honestly. Do I want to know what arrangements you made with that scurrilous little opportunist on the Reservation?"
"Ah." And here I thought we were friends. Another lesson learned, Kenobi – do not rest on your laurels. Ever. " Honestly? I don't think so, master."
He chuckles softly, the Force warming the chill recycled air with his mirth. "I didn't think so, either. You really are a worthy student of that old barve."
That old..? Does he mean Qui-Gon? I – I- How dare he…and besides, "I beg to differ, with all due respect, master."
"Relax," Master Windu advises me. "I grew up with Qui-Gon Jinn. I knew him quite well. And I can assure you, he would be very proud. He said as much to me, once, years ago. He considered you the greatest gift the Force had ever bestowed upon him."
Oh. I… there is no answer to be made. There are gifts, and there are gifts. The Feorian women poured their hearts into the weaving they made for Qui-Gon, out of gratitude. I have on my person still one or two trifling souvenirs – a knife, a stone, an aching plenitude of memories – which I treasure, against all precepts, out of far more than gratitude. There are people and places all over the galaxy that still bear the blessed mark, and occasionally the scars, of this man who bestowed gifts without thought of future or self. But I alone have stood outside the economy of this exchange, he who possesses nothing to give, nothing to bestow, nothing to sacrifice except his own life.
Perhaps that was enough, in the end.
I clench my jaw tight, blinking. Master Windu says no more, and I sense that he has discreetly withdrawn his attention. I tighten my shields a notch further and nudge Anakin's foot with the Force, back into place beneath his pile of thermal blankets.
There are gifts and there are gifts, And it occurs to me that Qui-Gon understood better than I did what vital exchange of gratitude and devotion the long years might witness. And he did not leave this life without bequeathing his own last gift, one equal in measure to that rendered unto him. With his dying breath he gave me my inheritance.
I see that now, though the snores issuing from above me dull its bright epiphanic truth into a more tolerable irony.
"Wizard," the boy mumbles groggily before slipping back into his – doubtlessly high-velocity, questionably civilized – dream world.
And I close my eyes, content.
Despite the fact that we are flying.
With profound gratitude to the redoubtable Valairy Scot, whose keen editorial eye was an invaluable aid, somehting one should keep at one's side like a lightsaber. The good bits are better due to her efforts; and the bad bits… well, the author takes full responsibility.