Summary: In the aftermath of Naboo, Obi-Wan, Anakin and Bail must struggle to cope with the changes in their lives and forge new bonds.
Note: This story is set in the same series as Labyrinth and Batter My Heart, and as such depicts Obi-Wan and Bail in a romantic relationship. If that bothers you, go read something else.
Bail Organa sat on the riverbank by his family's manor, watching the setting sun bathe the river orange while he waited for his guests to arrive. Now was not exactly a good time for him to be hosting visitors. The Republic suddenly and unexpectedly found itself with a new Supreme Chancellor. Bail was not at all sorry to see Finis Valorum go. The man was competent enough, but he lacked vision and influence. Of late Valorum had been more of a figurehead rather than the true leader that the Republic needed to guide it out of the bureaucratic morass where it seemed to be stuck. Bail heartily wished his senior colleague, Bail Antilles, had won the election, and not just because he was a fellow Alderaani. At least Ainlee Teem had not won. Teem would have provided leadership, all right, but not the kind Bail wanted. Instead the new Chancellor seemed to represent a compromise, but compromise not was not what the Republic needed, and Bail doubted whether former Senator Palpatine would prove to be any more effective than Valorum at gaining control of the Senate. Bail barely knew the man, but he hoped he would be better than Valorum.
In the aftermath of the sudden election and Antilles' defeat, the Alderaan senate office had decided to keep their senior Senator on Coruscant to keep an eye on the change in government, while Organa had been sent home. Technically the Senate was in recess, but Organa was on Alderaan to confer with his own government about future strategies. So it was indeed not a good time for him to host visitors. On the other hand, he could really use the distraction, especially the kind of distraction Obi-Wan Kenobi always provided.
And there was news as well. Obi-Wan had requested to stay up to several months, and he was not coming alone. Since Bail had last seen him, Obi-Wan had been knighted, and he would be arriving on Alderaan with a new padawan of his own. That seemed highly unusual to Bail, and Obi-Wan confirmed that he had quite a story to tell, but he did not want to convey it over the commlink, so Bail had to wait to hear what changes had been wrought in his lover's life. At least, he reflected, someone he knew had cause to celebrate recent events.
The sun had set, and the evening air was growing slightly chill when a river taxi veered out of the central current and headed toward the Organa dock. Bail stood up, watching the taxi as Obi-Wan's beloved features emerged out of the twilight gloom. The Jedi's face was composed and calm as they pulled up to the dock. No doubt he was taking his knighthood with extreme seriousness, Bail reflected. He knew he could coax a smile out of the Jedi, but before he could even make an attempt, a small figure bounded out of the taxi and landed on the dock.
"Thanks, Mazie!" the boy shouted to the taxi pilot. "Maybe next time we can go faster!"
"Whenever you want, kid," she called back as Obi-Wan exited the taxi with a great deal more reserve than his Padawan had demonstrated.
The boy turned on Bail. "That was rugged! Do you have a boat?"
Amused, Bail answered, "Yes."
"Can I learn to pilot it?"
Before Bail could answer, Obi-Wan pointedly cleared his throat, giving the youngster "the look." "Bail, this is Anakin Skywalker, my Padawan learner. Anakin, meet Prince Bail Organa, Senator of Alderaan."
"Nice to meet you," Anakin gushed, starting to hold out his hand for a shake, then he stopped himself, muttering, "Oops!" before bowing at the waist.
Barely containing his smile, Bail returned the bow. "It is a pleasure to meet you as well, Anakin."
"You're really a Prince?" Anakin asked, and when Bail nodded, Anakin added, "I already know a Queen."
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan rebuked.
But Bail did not mind. "I'm afraid we have no queens on Alderaan, but I hope you'll enjoy our stay despite that lack." This greeting seemed to puzzle Anakin, who gave the Prince a confused look. Bail continued, "Welcome to my family home. We'll get you in and settled, and by then dinner should be ready. Are you hungry?"
"Are you kidding? I'm starved!"
"Ah yes, those Jedi never let you eat enough."
Another puzzled look. "They let me eat all I want."
Something about the boy's comment struck Bail as strange, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He didn't have much time to ponder it, though, for as they approached the house, Anakin stopped in his tracks, his jaw dropping in amazement. "That's your house?!" he exclaimed.
"My parents' house, actually. I don't usually live there."
"That whole house is just for your parents?"
"They often have a few guests staying with them."
"How many, fifty?"
"Not quite so many," Bail answered with a smile.
"I bet fifty people could live there. Maybe a hundred."
"That's enough, Anakin," Obi-Wan rebuked.
"What?" Anakin protested in irritation. "I never saw such a big house."
"It is not polite to point that out."
"We'll discuss it later."
"We're always discussing things," the boy muttered.
Bail bit his lip hard to keep from laughing. He enjoyed the boy's refreshing candor, but it was clear Obi-Wan did not. Again something about the situation struck him as strange. Obi-Wan's behavior was unusually sedate for someone just made a knight, and he exhibited a decidedly cool demeanor toward his new Padawan. Were things always so awkward between a newly-bonded master and apprentice? And Anakin's exuberance did seem a little out of place for a Jedi, even a fresh-faced initiate. But Bail was no expert on the subject, so he ought to just stick to playing the host. "I wasn't sure what to do about housing arrangements, so I put you in the guest wing in adjoining rooms sharing a bath."
"That's fine," was Obi-Wan's succinct reply.
Bail led them into the house and to their rooms, Anakin expressing amazement at everything he saw. When he entered his room he immediately climbed up on the enormous bed, testing it with an experimental bounce. "I get this whole bed to myself?"
"You certainly don't have to share it with anyone," Bail quipped.
Anakin grinned, climbing to his feet and jumping on the bed
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan rebuked sharply.
"Oh, leave him be," Bail chided. "I'm a veteran bed-jumper myself. He won't hurt it." Obi-Wan gave him a stern look, and Bail realized that perhaps he should not be giving parenting advice.
Anakin had already scrambled off the bed and run to the window. "I can see the river!" He turned excitedly to Obi-Wan. "Will you teach me to --." Abruptly he stopped, his enthusiasm visibly leaching away, as his gaze dropped to the floor.
"What is it, Anakin?" Obi-Wan prompted.
The boy fidgeted with the long sleeves of his tunic. "I just -- I'd like to learn to swim is all," he said, subdued.
"I can teach you," Obi-Wan offered.
Anakin looked up, cautiously hopeful. "Thank you, sir."
"Didn't you learn to swim at the Temple?" Bail asked.
"I haven't been there long enough."
"What --?" Bail began, but Obi-Wan placed a hand on his wrist, stopping him. Anakin noticed the gesture, and something indefinable hardened in his eyes.
By now Bail was completely confused and brimming with questions, but clearly now was not the time to ask. "Shall we go on down to dinner, then?" he offered.
The two Jedi seemed grateful for the diversion, and they followed Bail out of the room. They walked down the hall in silence, broken only when Bail observed to Obi-Wan, "It's strange seeing you without your braid. I'll miss it."
Eyes staring blankly ahead, Obi-Wan observed, "I'm no longer a Padawan."
The comment stung like a rebuke. Of course Bail knew that, but the braid held a special meaning for him. Obi-Wan was perfectly aware of that, yet he refused to acknowledge it. Was it because his new Padawan was present, or was Bail now being relegated to the past along with the braid? Surely not, and yet -- why *had* Obi-Wan come here after all? Wistfully, Bail asked, "What did you do with it?"
Obi-Wan hesitated. "I gave it to my master." And he had, after a fashion. He had laid it on Qui-Gon's funeral pyre. He hadn't had time to tell Bail about that yet. Tonight he would, after Anakin went to bed. In the meantime, he had to continue this awkward charade.
"I suppose that's tradition?" Bail asked, and Obi-Wan nodded. It was always tradition, Bail reflected. Very well, he could create traditions of his own.
They entered the dining room, where the two Jedi were enthusiastically greeted by Bail's parents. Anakin almost jumped out of his skin when he saw Radha. She was older and darker than his mother, but with her long hair bound up, and her warm loving eyes, she reminded him enough of Shmi to momentarily disorient him with overwhelming emotion, and he surreptitiously moved closer to Obi-Wan's side, clutching at the long folds of the knight's robe.
"I know nothing about the traditions marking a Padawan's passage to knighthood, but we thought it was something to celebrate," Bail said as he seated himself across the table from Obi-Wan. "I know you don't like a fuss, but you're going to get one anyway. We have all your favorite foods here," he indicated the table laid with the savory dishes, "and...." With a flourish he lifted the cover off a dish to reveal a cake, decorated with the words, "Congratulations Knight Kenobi."
Obi-Wan was overwhelmed. He had not been expecting this at all. Normally the passage to knighthood was marked by great celebration, but that had been skipped in light of Obi-Wan's tragic loss. In fact he had barely had time to think about his new status, so occupied he had been with reports to the Council and getting settled with his new apprentice. He had not wanted a celebration, but this -- this was different. This was comfortable. He hadn't even realized how much he did want it.
Bail studied Obi-Wan carefully, alert to any sign of the Jedi's displeasure, and when Obi-Wan favored him with the tiniest of smiles, Bail beamed before turning his attention to the boy. "Nor have we forgotten you, Anakin. It is an important day for you as well." He handed the boy a tiny wrapped package.
Anakin took it in surprise. Gifts had been extremely rare on Tatooine, and he had already discovered that gift-giving was generally frowned upon among the Jedi. He glanced cautiously at Obi-Wan who only smiled and nodded his head. "Go ahead," he encouraged. Obi-Wan was just as curious as Anakin to see what Bail had given him.
With four pairs of eyes on him, Anakin carefully unwrapped the paper to reveal a little box with a hinged lid. He snapped the lid open, and inside nestled on a scrap of silk lay a blue bead veined with gold. Anakin sensed Obi-Wan's pulse of pleasure at the gift, but he had no idea what it meant or what it was for. "Thank you," he said dutifully.
Obi-Wan smiled. "It's for your braid," he explained. He took the bead and slid it onto Anakin's short padawan tail. "Don't go jumping around, now, or it will fall off," he cautioned. "We'll get a band to fix it in securely tomorrow."
Anakin fingered the cool bead, wanting to run immediately to a mirror and see what it looked like. "Thank you!" he beamed brightly at the Prince.
"You are most welcome, Padawan Skywalker." He gave Anakin a quick wink before lifting his wine glass. "And now a toast: to Obi-Wan Kenobi, who was the finest Jedi Padawan of my acquaintance, and will now be the finest Knight of my acquaintance. You are a credit to your Master and to the entire Order." Obi-Wan's gaze dropped to the table at that, and Bail assumed he was uncharacteristically overcome. Touched, he continued, "And to Anakin Skywalker, who will no doubt be as fine a Padawan as his master was. I wish for you both a relationship as long and prosperous and close as Obi-Wan's bond with Master Jinn. All we lack is his presence to make our celebration complete--" Bail stopped. Something was wrong. Obi-Wan clutched the edge of the table, his head lowered, breath ragged. Anakin stared up at him in concern.
"Ben?" Bail asked in alarm.
With a supreme effort of will, Obi-Wan got himself under control. "I'm sorry," he murmured. He raised his eyes to meet Bail's, and his control threatened to collapse once more. "Excuse me." He rose shakily to his feet and stumbled out of the room.
Anakin turned to watch him go, then looked back at Bail. "Qui-Gon is dead," he said simply.
The words echoed hollowly inside Bail's chest, and his legs gave way beneath him as he fell heavily into his chair. "Dead?" Why hadn't Obi-Wan said anything? Why had he allowed Bail to go on? What had happened? That thought revived his concern for Obi-Wan, and he stood up.
Radha nodded to him. "Go on, Bail. We'll take care of Anakin."
With a faint nod, Bail followed Obi-Wan out the door, leaving his parents and Anakin alone at the table.
They sat in silence for several moments, each surveying the interrupted feast on the table. At last Radha roused herself. "Did you know Qui-Gon?" she asked Anakin.
"Yes," he said, trying hard not to cry. He wasn't supposed to cry. Obi-Wan never did.
"Then it is your loss as well. We're so sorry. Qui-Gon was a good man."
Anakin stared at his empty plate, which blurred before his eyes. His mother gone, Qui-Gon dead, and his new master cold and unfeeling. He knew Obi-Wan would do his duty. But who would care about him?
Radha knelt next to him, her arms held out. "Come here, my boy."
With a sob, Anakin buried himself in her arms.