A/N: The first part of this -
this first post, here - was originally posted as a vignette. I decided to expand
upon the fic. :) (No idea why.) This first part was beta'ed by LadyPadme
way back then (as a vignette). :) PadawanKitara kindly beta'ed the rest.
The cloaked figure kept to the corners and dark shadows of the buildings, running lightly along alleyways. His shoulders were hunched down protectively, his arms held curved in front.
It was raining heavily, making the normally dark and dirty Corellian city of Mangeht appear even grungier. Mangeht was known for its total dislike of any government entities, and their interference. Here, everything was a matter of survival and money, never ethics.
It was a good hiding place for a Jedi and his charge.
The watching man would never have believed the cloaked figure was Obi-Wan Kenobi, had he not seen the Jedi's face purely by accident. Obi-Wan had been crouched on the ground, his dirty, torn cloak pooling around him in the sewer water in which he knelt, resting. His arms had been curled around something he was holding, his back hunched over it protectively as he gazed down. His hood was drawn down very low.
He had only been passing Obi-Wan when Kenobi shot a wary glance up and around; just as quickly he looked back down, and that brief appearance of his face vanished. He had seen the ginger hair, streaked with a few brushes of gray, stuck to the Jedi’s face with sweat and rain. The blue eyes, normally full of serenity and sometimes even a gentle humor, were dark and nearly unreadable, showing only worry and paranoia.
Though paranoia was a good thing to have these days, even for those that the newborn Empire had no interest in. He himself had held to wariness, had used what remained of his wealth from the days of the Republic to make himself a haven where he would never be found.
He should just leave the Jedi alone. It was none of his concern.
But something within him held him back from doing that. When Kenobi had risen from checking whatever he was holding, the watching man had followed him, keeping his distance carefully. Obi-Wan could very well sense the presence of a tail if he wasn’t careful enough. The Jedi was skilled, and more importantly, he had something – whatever that bundle was – to protect.
Jedi took those things seriously. The watching man knew that very well, for the same principle had been drilled into him. For a time, he had lost that. Perhaps . . . perhaps he had found it again, in this ridiculous shadowing he was doing.
Even as Obi-Wan kept to the shadows, his follower did the same. He trailed at enough of a distance that he could barely see the Jedi. He would often glance at his surroundings, knocking his long black hair out of his eyes, and wonder where indeed the Jedi was going.
That was how he saw Obi-Wan’s other stalker.
He doubted this other one had his own such harmless intention – curiosity, really – as he followed Kenobi. This new stalker was clearly a bounty hunter, perhaps even one of those hunting specifically for Jedi. The camouflaging matte color of the Twi’lek’s clothing spoke of experience, as did the easy, silent way in which he moved and the distance he kept from his target. Jedi could only sense so far, and Obi-Wan might not catch the bounty hunter’s presence in time - especially if the bounty hunter used the tranq gun he was holding. It looked to be of the type that shot darts that exploded into mist when caught in heat – like the heat of a lightsaber, for example.
Yes, the bounty hunter might very well succeed.
To the watching man, the question was, what was he going to do about it? He owed nothing to Obi-Wan. Nothing at all. He had never harmed the boy.
But Force knew he owed so much else, for his crimes against innocent beings and whole worlds.
Before the thought had finished and fully formed within his mind, the watching man had sped up, now stalking the bounty hunter instead of Obi-Wan. The hunter would become the hunted. He came up to the bounty hunter's side. His hand slipped to his dark belt and his matte black lightsaber hilt, which had been hidden with the ease of long experience. His long fingers closed around it and his grasp firmed.
He moved past empty, precariously balanced boxes without making a breeze in his passing. His muscles were tense with the effort of maintaining complete control. His dark hair fell into his eyes, but it didn’t matter. The Force around the watching man was alive with tension, to which, of course, the bounty hunter was oblivious.
The watching man's breath stirred the back of the bounty hunter’s clothes. The bounty hunter whirled, his lekku’s hitting the side of his own face, his boots scuffling. There was a brilliant flash of a violet blade that dimmed when it intersected with the bounty hunter’s body. The Twi’lek’s red eyes blinked, and his mouth gaped open with the laxness of death.
The man didn’t bother to halt the Twi’lek’s fall.
Unfortunately, the interchange had made noise. Obi-Wan, his senses already attuned, heard it even from where he stood. He had already paused when he had heard the sound of a lightsaber igniting. He had stopped in the street, his back to the dingy wall, covered with the marks of different gangs and criminal affiliations. His blue eyes were wide and held steady on the man who had saved him.
The watching man straightened slowly from his combat ready position, looking into the Jedi’s eyes. He said nothing. There was nothing to say.
Obi-Wan opened his mouth for a moment, then paused. As he did so, the bundle in his arms made a noise. It was the soft sound of a baby gurgling. Hesitating and looking down, Obi-Wan jiggled the baby to calm it.
Only meters from Obi-Wan, his rescuer now knew the bundle for what it was, a blue eyed young infant. Mere weeks old, he guessed.
Kenobi was gazing at him again when the rescuer's eyes lifted from the baby. He couldn’t sense the baby through the Force – the Jedi was shielding its presence that strongly. The wary look in Obi-Wan’s eyes gentled as he looked at the man standing before him. A smile touched his cracked lips, and something like joy crossed his face and brightened his eyes with tears. Or . . . perhaps it was hope?
Hope for what? That he had saved Obi-Wan's life? He himself was nothing. He was not as Obi-Wan was, he was not a Jedi. Not one of the hunted – if anything, he was one of the hunters. But now, one who no longer cared to hunt, no longer cared to kill. One who no longer cared to know the darkness so intimately it crushed his soul. He know he had done evil things, wrong things, and he knew – he hoped – he would never do that again.
He wasn’t a do-gooder. Was he? He looked at the child Obi-Wan held. Once, he would have cared nothing for that little death. If there ever was such a thing as a little death. His business schemes had killed many, he was certain, and among those killed there were surely children. Death had taken his father and given him darkness. That one death . . . had led to so many.
Obi-Wan spoke firmly, quietly. His voice was hoarse, unsteady. It revealed his exhaustion as much as the gauntness of his face did. “May the Force be with you, Xanatos.”
Then Obi-Wan turned and walked away, leaving Xanatos behind. His steps, while still furtive and silent, had more . . . energy in them. As Xanatos watched, Obi-Wan pulled his hood down farther, and hunched himself over the tiny child he held, once again as he went. Wherever it was that was his destination.
How long had it been since anyone had said that to him? Had wished him to know the Force? Since long before the death of Qui-Gon Jinn, Xanatos imagined. Since his fall to the Dark Side. Since before Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan – a mere child then – had believed him to be dead. Since he had taken up his father's path, of selfishness and greed. Why had Obi-Wan said it? What did it mean?
Why was he crying? Tears leaked from his dark, midnight blue eyes, rolling down his face and off his chin. Guilt had weighed down his soul for years. And he had risked his own life, his disillusioned soul, in the protection of innocence, of an infant. Truly the most innocent of any creature.
Perhaps Obi-Wan had meant it. Had meant the words that could affect a fallen Jedi so. Perhaps it was message, that he was not completely lost from the Light Side, that the Force could be with him. That Obi-Wan believed him to not be lost. If he was not lost – if he could find that light again, and keep it – if he had found it again – those words would be true. The Force would be with him, would lighten the dark corners of his mind. Perhaps he could do as he did with Obi-Wan, and help, and by those actions know the Light again.
May the Force be with you.
And maybe he would find his redemption.
It was the absence of the light pitter-patter of rain that alerted Obi-Wan to the presence of the intruder. He had little money on him, and was forced to resort to ‘lodgings’ that were protection from the heavy rainstorm, and not much else. There was no door, and the room itself was small, smaller than many cells. From the smell of the place, it had been used by vagrants from time to time, when the ‘owner’ wasn’t around to charge.
Throughout the night, Obi-Wan stayed awake, listening to the pitter-patter of rain falling outside the door. When the sound quieted, he knew immediately that something had to have interrupted the steady stream of water.
He soundlessly and quickly rose to a sitting position, lightsaber in one hand. A figure stood outside the door, wearing a dark and heavy cloak with the hood pulled down. A brief flit of panic wormed its way into him as he wondered if the Twi’lek that had been killed a few days ago had accomplices. But as Obi-Wan watched, tense and ready to fight, the man threw back the hood, and took a cautious step in after a moment of edgy silence.
Obi-Wan exhaled in something akin to relief. A strange reaction, but considering the events of a few days ago . . . well. The encounter with the former Jedi had been full of mixed feelings – fear, relief, hope. Xanatos was looking well, if not exactly worry-free. His black hair was only slight damp, and fell past his shoulders. His midnight blue eyes stared at Obi-Wan deeply, his face tilted downwards, giving him an even more intense look. The broken circle scar was faded, almost invisible, something Obi-Wan hadn’t noticed before.
The other thing he realized was his failure to realize who Xanatos was before he pulled back the hood. Obi-Wan’s control of the Force, his trust in it, was slipping. It was something he had first recognized days before, but he was filled with fresh dismay.
Xanatos, looking awkward, finally broke the silence. He jerked his chin at the bundle besides Obi-Wan. “Is that the child?” he asked.
“Yes,” Obi-Wan replied cautiously. Luke lay beside him, sleeping, curled up in Obi-Wan’s cloak. It left the Jedi rather cold, clad only in a black tunic, pants, and his boots, but it kept Luke very warm, and that was the most important thing. Especially as young as Luke was. He would also have to get more milk for the boy soon, and that didn’t promise to be easy.
Obi-Wan sighed, after another minute of silence as Xanatos . . . fidgeted. “Why don’t you just tell me why you’re here, so I can sleep?”
“I . . .” Xanatos hesitated. “You’re not going to sleep anyway,” he finished with a bit more confidence.
Obi-Wan gave Xanatos his best flat expression, refusing to blink at the silly dodge. “I don’t know what you expect of me for what you did –” What was this? Had saving Obi-Wan been part of some plot after all? He had not thought so at the time, but the knowledge that Xanatos’ had saved his life – and Luke’s – was days old, and wariness took over.
“I don’t expect anything,” Xanatos said hurriedly. “I – I didn’t have an ulterior motives, Obi-Wan.” He paused uncertainly, looking absurdly vulnerable to Obi-Wan’s cynical eyes. “It was just . . . coming, sooner or later.”
“You mean – the fact that you aren’t dark?” Obi-Wan asked curiously, not really relaxing but more willing to listen to what Xanatos had to say. His interest at Xanatos’ presence and attitude was growing by the moment. He had pushed the incident where Xanatos saved his life out of his mind, focusing on other things instead of pondering how out of character it was for the man. Not to mention his curiosity at the man’s survival.
Xanatos nodded. He cautiously took a few more steps into the shelter, eyes flitting around and finally resting on Luke. Not looking away, he spoke. “I came because you looked like you needed help.”
“And what brought you to that conclusion?” Obi-Wan replied instantly.
Murky, dark eyes flashed up and met Obi-Wan’s icy ones. “Quit the pride, Obi-Wan. It doesn’t become you.”
“Go to h –”
“I’m sorry,” Xanatos jumped in, looking suddenly contrite, wincing, and making a complete turnaround. “I didn’t come here to fight with you.” He paused, but Obi-Wan said nothing, feeling suddenly tired and foolish. “You’re not staying in this dump to lay low. Not with a child.”
Obi-Wan sighed, angry at himself and frustrated with Xanatos. He rested his elbows on his knees, and put his face in his hands, rubbing it roughly to get some feeling. “No. You’re right.” He was being prideful; foolish. He looked up. “So you’re willing to help, then.” Without even knowing what I’m doing? Obi-Wan wondered.
Xanatos nodded again, somewhat hesitantly. The man was acting truly odd, at one moment seeming eager to please and the next falling back to his old, taunting ways.
The Jedi restlessly rubbed his fingers against one another, trying to stave off numbness. Luke slept on obliviously. “So you really have turned from the Dark, then,” he said, not quite a question, but seeking confirmation nonetheless.
“Apparently,” Xanatos whispered, eyes lowering. “Apparently,” he repeated, with a shaky smile. He met Obi-Wan’s gaze. “What do you need?”
“A ship and money,” he said shortly.
“I can provide both,” Xanatos said firmly. “I have a few here, and money accounts just about everywhere.”
Obi-Wan nodded slowly. “Thank you,” he said quietly. He paused, looking away, thinking fiercely. He knew there was something he should be doing, but he didn’t know what it was. Nearly wincing at the internal struggle, he finally reached out for the Force. It came, as it always had, though Obi-Wan’s bitterness at it – it and it’s prophecy, at not telling the Jedi what was to come – lessened the strength of his connection.
His next words fell from his lips loosely, unleashed. “Come with me.” He looked into Xanatos’ astonished eyes. “Come with me, to where I’m going,” he said carefully.
“Why?” Xanatos whispered, and Obi-Wan could see his hands were clenched into fists.
No backing out now, Obi-Wan thought. He felt he could probably trust Xanatos, and the Force was urging him to do so, but . . . “How long has it been, Xanatos, since you were at the Temple? Since you touched the Light fully?” He paused, letting that sink in. “You fell, Xanatos. You don’t recover with a snap of your fingers.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“You need someone to guide you back to a firm path, Xanatos; someone of the Light. I don’t see myself as the best candidate for the job, but I’m the Jedi who’s around,” Obi-Wan said matter-of-factly.
Xanatos still looked shocked, but he finally acknowledged Obi-Wan’s point with a nod. “And what’s in it for you?” he asked eventually, some suspicion in his eyes.
Obi-Wan pursed his lips, thinking, but decided to go for honesty. “If . . . if even you can turn from the Dark, then maybe Vader can.” He ignored Xanatos’ look of confusion. “Maybe . . . there’s hope.” His lips twisted into something resembling a smile, even as he forced searing tears back. Anakin, once again in the light? It seemed too much to hope for. Only the passing of years would tell. But hadn’t Xanatos also been lost? He could not help but compare the two, as he had done days earlier. “And besides,” he said, cocking his head, considering the former Jedi before him, “is it not my duty?” he finished dryly.
Xanatos looked at the baby, then back at Obi-Wan. “Then let’s go,” he said softly.
“If you were dead, or rather, thought to be dead, how did you retain your wealth?” Obi-Wan asked curiously.
Xanatos glanced back at him, trying to read the expression on the Jedi’s face. Obi-Wan looked back at him calmly, showing none of the animosity of earlier, nor the broken exhaustion of when he had first met him on Corellia. He seemed rather on edge. However, considering what was happening to Jedi all over the galaxy, Xanatos wasn’t surprised. He still looked rather . . . scruffy, but a shower at Xanatos’ apartment and a change of clothes made him look like a normal citizen instead of a homeless man. The baby was remarkably well-behaved during the whole process, thankfully. Xanatos hadn’t had to do much – just sit there and watch it while Obi-Wan got some food and clothing.
“I had a paper heir created. One that didn’t really exist – ‘he’ inherited everything, and he was really me, so . . .” He shrugged. “Getting it so that I didn’t have to appear in court was a little more difficult than expected, especially as big as Offworld was then, but a few well-placed bribes took care of that. I had to sell the company, of course – running it was too . . . public.” Xanatos took a quick look at Obi-Wan again.
Obi-Wan merely nodded. The baby gurgled, and Obi-Wan absentmindedly soothed it with a few quiet words, gazing down in quick flicks. His eyes were constantly roving, never keeping still, and Xanatos could tell he was mentally assigning possible threats and escape routes in the spaceport. Xanatos hadn’t noticed anyone giving them particular attention, just the usual motley crowd of businessmen and everything else. The spaceports were unusually busy, as well, crowded and dirty, and following anyone would be difficult without a lot of help.
Xanatos went ahead, smoothly cutting a path through the people, Obi-Wan effortlessly following. Obi-Wan remained silent, asking little, and Xanatos decided to wait until they were on board the ship before asking the questions he had. Obi-Wan hadn’t even asked how Xanatos had found him, but Xanatos was overflowing with questions – the most important being the identity of the child.
The ship he had chosen was a beautiful ship of Nubian design. It was, like other Nubian ships, very sleek in appearance, weapons and other devices hidden beneath the hull, ready to unfold for use in a moment’s notice. The others of her class were usually brightly colored, but the one belonging to Xanatos was a shiny silver and matte black.
Obi-Wan blinked when he saw it, looking rather surprised. Xanatos repressed the urge to ask what he was thinking, and silently led him into the interior of the ship. It was actually not a den of decadent luxury, like Xanatos would have insisted upon years before. As the years passed, and he grew sick of his darkness – and he did grow sick of it, eventually – he grew to like the sparse, elegant lines of it. He had bought it on a whim, but he used it most commonly these days. Despite that, he knew the Empire wouldn’t know of it – Xanatos had stayed hidden throughout the years with total success. And he had no doubt Obi-Wan, like all the other Jedi, was running from the Empire and its bounty hunters.
“There are three rooms, a dining area, and the cockpit,” Xanatos said as he stepped through the hatch into the cockpit, briefly explaining what the ship had. “The cargo area has all the supplies you need – including baby formula – and hard credits.”
Obi-Wan nodded. “Thank you.”
“We’ll take off in a moment,” Xanatos added, looking at the controls and then heating the engines. “Where are we going?” he asked, finally facing Obi-Wan.
The Jedi was expressionless, composed. “Yekken, for now.” Yekken was a planet Mid-Rim, small population, famously lax spaceport laws. It wasn’t precisely a haven for criminals, but those who didn’t want to be found.
“Not our last stop.”
Obi-Wan shook his head. “We have to make sure we aren’t followed or that there are any records of where we go. That Twi’lek you killed might have friends – or enemies who were smart enough to keep up with what he was doing.”
“Got it,” Xanatos said, turning back to the controls and setting the coordinates as he prepared to take off. “You better go and strap down, not that I expect there will be any trouble.”
“All right,” came Obi-Wan’s quiet voice. He heard footsteps going away, and tried to focus on lifting off. Wondering, privately, what he was doing. What had possessed him to search the streets for days, trying to find Obi-wan? Xanatos had turned to the Light because he could no longer stand the Dark – somehow, as the years had passed, he had started to remember his days as a Jedi. Some dim remnant of light had remained in him, and taken root. And he began to take a careful look at himself. What he found was a continually desperate attempt to sate himself, to make himself happy with power and wealth. It didn’t work, and when he realized it never would . . . The Light brought its own problems, of course – guilt chief among them.
But why Obi-Wan, of all people? He was practically blindly following the man. A man younger than him, a man he hadn’t seen, hadn’t spoken to in twenty years. He had seen sound bites of Obi-Wan, of course, very briefly when the younger man was a General in the Clone Wars, but that was it.
Why did he feel like Obi-Wan was his last hope to make peace with himself?
“Obi-Wan?” Xanatos wandered down the narrow corridor, peeking around sleek doorways into rooms. At the last one, he finally found the Jedi.
Obi-Wan was sitting at the table, the chair facing the doorway. He was looking down at the baby, giving him the most curious look of apprehension even as he rocked the child. The baby was awake; his little hands balled into fists and waving around, blue eyes wide.
“Ready to get started, Xanatos?” Obi-Wan said without looking up.
Xanatos shifted his weight. “Well . . . I was actually going to ask what next.”
Obi-Wan looked up at him, breathing deeply and blinking exhaustion away. “Come here.” Noticing Xanatos’ hesitation, his lips quirked into a smile. “I don’t bite,” he said, amused, but not attempting to irritate Xanatos. The older man just took a deep breath.
Xanatos stepped over cautiously. “What?”
Obi-Wan gestured with his chin at the baby. “Take him.”
Xanatos blinked. “I didn’t sign on for baby-sitting –”
“You remember,” Obi-Wan said smoothly, “what I said about putting you back firmly on the path of Light? Well, guess what – this is it.” He raised an eyebrow. “Now take him.”
Wondering when he had agreed to this, Xanatos held out his arms, obeying. Obi-Wan placed the baby in them, changing the position of his hands to support the child properly. Xanatos held the child stiffly.
Obi-Wan laughed. “You look like he’s your executioner. Relax. Hold him close. And don’t forget to support his head,” he advised.
Shooting Obi-Wan a glare, Xanatos held the child closer to his chest. The baby looked up at him curiously, his eyes shockingly blue. Then he suddenly gave Xanatos a toothless grin, mouth open, and waved his fists at the former Jedi. It was such a look of pure, ridiculous happiness Xanatos felt himself answer it with a faint smile.
Then he looked up at Obi-Wan. “What does this have to do with me keeping to the Light?” Xanatos asked, giving a sigh.
“Everything and nothing,” Obi-Wan replied with a small smile.
“How helpful,” Xanatos muttered, gazing down at the child again, who grinned again at the attention.
“You’re already in the Light, Xanatos. It’s just a question of deciding if you want to stay there. And you haven’t decided, yet,” Obi-Wan said softly.
Xanatos shifted his eyes to meet Obi-Wan’s. “Then why trust me with this?”
Obi-Wan broke their gaze, turning it to the baby. “Trust has to start somewhere,” he said simply. “And so does he,” he said, stroking the child’s head, a sad smile touching his lips. “And you,” he added, just as cryptically, meeting Xanatos’ dark eyes again.
“What does that mean?” Xanatos asked, frowning, eyes narrowing.
Obi-Wan shook his head, not really in any kind of negative, more as if answering a thought. “His name is Luke,” he said at last, the sadness changing to affection.
Xanatos stared at the Jedi, totally confused. “Luke, eh?” The baby – Luke – grinned up at him. He sighed. “Luke.”
“Obi-Wan? Obi-Wan?” Xanatos called out in the echoing confines of the room. How in the galaxy did Obi-Wan just go off and disappear? Xanatos got distracted for a moment by Luke as the two had silently sat, and then the man was just gone. Still holding Luke, Xanatos looked around corners and into the rooms, searching for the man. Luke gurgled, and Xanatos rocked him. “Shh. I’m trying to find someone who can actually take care of you,” Xanatos whispered to him.
He finally found him in the cargo bay. The bay was, for a ship of this one’s size, fairly large, and the supplies Xanatos had ordered did not fill it up. He noted immediately that the supplies had been moved, pressed up against the wall. In the middle, there was an empty area, which held nothing, save for Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The Jedi’s eyes were closed, serenely, and his longish ginger hair fell over his face as he spun and jumped, going through a kata with an un-ignited lightsaber. Xanatos was familiar with the form, as were all Jedi – it was one of the first taught to Padawans. It had the unique quality of being useful, no matter your skill. There were always more ways to perfect the kata and Jedi would spend their entire lives doing so, becoming more skilled at it. It was not possible to master the kata; merely know it better.
Obi-Wan must have wandered around, and recognized this space would be useful for practicing, Xanatos realized.
Xanatos waited until Obi-Wan was finished before interrupting, taking note of how gracefully the Jedi moved. But he also saw something else – the tiny slips and stumbling. That Obi-Wan knew the kata well was not in doubt, but he didn’t move as if the Force flowed through him. Frowning, Xanatos stretched out with the Force – his own attempt less than graceful, as the Light was not to be bullied and forced, but taken in and accepted – something he had little practice at.
Firstly, Obi-Wan was exhausted. It was very obvious to Xanatos, who was watching through the Force; it showed in every line of his body, every twitch of the other man’s muscles. Xanatos didn’t even know why he was attempting a kata in that condition. And he was not touching the Force – at least, not with any more skill than an initiate. When Xanatos had first met Obi-Wan he had more closeness to the Force than this.
Obi-Wan finally stilled, panting lightly.
The Jedi wearily opened his eyes.
“Are you all right?” Xanatos stepped closer, aware he looked concerned and not really caring that it could be perceived as weakness, as he would have before.
Obi-Wan’s tired blue eyes flicked to Luke. “He’s fine?”
“I think so,” Xanatos replied, letting his eyes narrow. “Hungry, I think. You’re the one that isn’t looking so well.” He shifted his hold on Luke, bringing him closer absentmindedly.
Obi-Wan nodded. “I’ll go get some milk for him,” he said, turning to one of the supply crates.
“Obi-Wan, what is the matter with you?” Xanatos asked bluntly, curiosity getting the better of him. “I may have been dark for quite a while, but even I can sense . . . the wrongness.”
The Jedi halted, still facing away. “I . . .”
“I doubt anything you say can shock me,” Xanatos said quietly, encouragingly.
Obi-Wan finally turned, his boots scuffing the floor. He walked right up close to Xanatos, staring into his eyes, his own face full of sadness. He looked lost, uncertain, but the effect was subtle, controlled.
He’s gotten taller, Xanatos thought inanely when he realized Obi-Wan could look him directly in the eye.
“How do you think,” Obi-Wan said softly, appearing to search for words, “Qui-Gon handled it when you turned?”
Xanatos jerked, briefly shutting his eyes. Qui-Gon. His old master. Dead. Gone. “Not well, I imagine, in the beginning,” he said quietly, surprised at the change of subject, but willing to answer. And he had a feeling it did have something to do with the state Obi-Wan was in. “By the time he accepted you as his Padawan . . . he was a lot better, I think. I could tell even then.”
Obi-Wan didn’t move except to look away. “I can’t figure it out,” he whispered, a hint of helpless confusion in his voice. “It just won’t stop hurting. I can’t stop doubting the Force.” A single tear slipped down his cheek – not a messy tear, just a single clear one, so small as to pass almost unnoticed. His eyes held a desperate confusion.
“Obi-Wan . . .” What the hell? Did Obi-Wan, like Qui-Gon, have an apprentice who had turned? Xanatos didn’t keep up much with the Jedi, or Obi-Wan, over the years. Not even really news that turned up on holochannels. Shaking away his own confusion, he said briskly, “Take him,” and pushed Luke in Obi-Wan’s direction.
Obi-Wan numbly obeyed, taking Luke and pulling him tight against his chest. He looked up at Xanatos from the child, clearly about to ask a question, but Xanatos spoke before he could.
“When I turned, I did so partially for the power, and partially, well, to punish Qui-Gon – for killing my father,” Xanatos began quietly but matter-of-factly. “I know I succeeded. Can you imagine my fury when you appeared and messed up everything? I had him well on his way to driving himself to an early death on dangerous missions when you came along.” Xanatos gave a snort.
Obi-Wan blinked, giving a tired half-smile, more out of befuddlement than any real amusement. “What?”
“It’s taken me a while, of course, but I finally figured out how you managed it.”
“Managed what?” Obi-Wan asked, bemused.
“You made him care,” Xanatos said simply. “When I turned, he shut people out. He tried to stop caring, because he’d been burned, and . . . well, I guess that’s the natural reaction.” Xanatos shrugged, and stepped away, running a hand through his hair and thinking.
He saw Obi-Wan nod out of the corner of his eye.
“And you see,” Xanatos said, jerking himself from those memories – they still had some power, even after so long – and turning back to face Obi-Wan, “you care. You still care, I should say. If that weren’t the case, you would have left me. I gave you the opportunity, and you didn’t.” He shrugged again. “My point is, yeah, it hurts, but the way I see it, you’re already on your way to healing from . . . whatever.”
Obi-Wan blinked. “But –”
“Now, I don’t know the circumstances of what is bugging you – your apprentice turning, or whatever, but that’s the way I see it,” Xanatos said smartly. He paused, cocked his head. “Now why am I, the really screwed up one, telling you this stuff? Seems like it should be the other way around . . .”
Obi-Wan laughed, looking rather amazed. “I still win the never-turned-to-the-dark-side prize,” he replied, still appearing rather taken aback.
“Ah, well,” Xanatos said, and smiled, pleased with himself.
“Though . . .” Obi-Wan said thoughtfully, giving Xanatos a dubious look, “it seems to me you’re already learning, Xanatos. Helping others is definitely part of the Light Side path package.”
Xanatos put his hand on his forehead, and looked at Obi-Wan suspiciously. As Obi-Wan turned away, to get milk for Luke presumably, jiggling the baby, Xanatos spoke. “Why do I get the feeling you’re making this up as you go along?”
“Because I am,” Obi-Wan called back with a light tone, glancing at Xanatos. “I don’t see any textbook around on the subject, do you?”
Xanatos sighed quietly, so Obi-Wan wouldn’t hear, even as he watched the Jedi hold Luke in one arm and scan the titles of the packing crates, fingers of his other hand skimming lightly along the top as he searched for the correct one. “Great, Qui-Gon took a good, respectful fourteen year old boy and turned him into a smartass.”
Luke turned out to be a fairly easy child to take care of, Xanatos discovered. Sure, he had to be changed – that was always disgusting – and fed every few hours, but he was mostly calm, preferring to look at the world around him with quiet curiosity. In between the feedings and Obi-Wan’s baby advice, there wasn’t much to do on board but think until they arrived at Yekken.
Xanatos didn’t particularly want to think about himself, so he thought about Obi-Wan instead. Luke was there, of course, but besides the mystery of why Obi-Wan had an infant in his possession and where he was going, there wasn’t much there to ponder over.
Obi-Wan had changed a great deal from the teenage boy he had first known. At the time, Xanatos hadn’t thought of Obi-Wan as more than an irritating obstacle. Then when he became Qui-Gon’s Padawan, his feelings toward the boy fledged from irritation to hatred. He insisted on following Qui-Gon, and that very fact made Qui-Gon pause, think. And that made Qui-Gon dangerous.
When Xanatos’ attempt to destroy the Temple failed, he came up with the plot to fake his death, planning in the beginning to attack the Jedi again at a later date. He had to practice Force manipulation for months in order to get it right, and even then, he barely made it out of the acid before his control collapsed.
Then there was Obi-Wan. Even back when Obi-Wan was little more than a child, he had shown a quiet confidence that things would work out. He viewed the world through earnest eyes, through the eyes of a Jedi. Sometimes, Xanatos would catch Qui-Gon looking at the boy with a sort of wonder, as if he was seeing the galaxy through the eyes of a child.
The way Obi-Wan was now reminded Xanatos of war-torn soldiers he had once hired as his personal security for Offworld. That slightly emotionally glazed, cynical look that said they viewed everything from a distance, and didn’t believe in any of it a whit. From Xanatos’ vague memories of the Clone War, which he had not been involved in, Obi-Wan had fought in it, so that explained his emotional detachment, to some degree. The lack of Force skills, however, was baffling. He had expected Obi-Wan’s skills to grow as he matured, not this. Even war, death . . . did not explain it, not fully.
Obi-Wan entered the room, Luke in his arms. “He’s being stubborn, won’t take a nap,” Obi-Wan explained, sitting down opposite Xanatos’ in the recreation room’s other chair.
Xanatos nodded, looking everywhere but Obi-Wan. The lounge was decorated similarly to the rest of the ship, except the smooth lines were in creamy and rich tones of ivory and burgundy. There were only two plush chairs, a few tables, and a large holoscreen on one wall with a couch across from it that Xanatos suspected he would sink into and disappear if he ever sat on it.
“What are you thinking about?” Obi-Wan asked finally, readjusting Luke on his shoulder. The boy settled right down, and from that Xanatos’ surmised he was being stubborn about being left alone to sleep. It would seem that at a very young age, Luke had already learned how to be a manipulative kid.
“You,” Xanatos replied blandly, letting his eyes wander over to meet Obi-Wan’s steady, curious gaze.
“Oh?” Obi-Wan blinked.
“Well, I hardly want to wallow in guilt or whatever you’d think was appropriate,” Xanatos said, raising one eyebrow. Before Obi-Wan could respond to that baiting comment, he continued. “I realized you are quite adept at not answering my questions and confusing me entirely.” And that fact made him uncomfortable, not that he was about to admit it.
A deceptive Jedi was not a good sign.
Obi-Wan cocked his head, slumping comfortably back into the seat. “I’m not misleading you on purpose,” he said simply. Luke put his thumb in his mouth.
“Maybe not consciously, but certainly on purpose,” Xanatos retorted.
Obi-Wan sighed. “They are certain things I cannot speak of, you understand,” he said matter-of-factly, firmly. He shrugged slightly, not meeting Xanatos’ dark eyes, hesitating for hardly a moment. “Ask.”
Xanatos raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t expected Obi-Wan to accede to his request so easily. “All right. Why is your connection to the Force so . . . clumsy?”
The color of the Jedi’s eyes faded to a soft gray as he looked down, eyes almost closed. “I’ve lost faith, in the Force, I suppose. I can hardly bear to touch it anymore – it feels painful.” His eyelids flickered downward, and he watched Luke, who obliviously slept through everything.
Xanatos blinked, frowning. “You’ve – how did that happen?”
Obi-Wan looked at him tiredly. “You remember my question to you, about Qui-Gon?”
“Your Padawan fell, then?”
Obi-Wan gave a faint snort. “He did a lot more than that. Have you heard of Darth Vader? I assume so.”
Xanatos nodded blankly, shock tingling throughout his body. “That is your apprentice?”
“He might as well be dead,” Obi-Wan said flatly, giving denial of Xanatos’ use of present tense, looking away again, gazing at something he could only see in his mind.
“But he’s not,” Xanatos said, feeling like he was on to something. “And . . . I’m not either,” he added quietly, a question to his tone while he was really seeking confirmation.
He found it.
Obi-Wan shot him a startled glance, his grip on Luke tightening. Luke squirmed, and then settled down when Obi-Wan obediently loosened his hold. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “You’re not.”
Xanatos nodded slowly. “I think I’m beginning to understand.”
Obi-Wan finally met his gaze squarely. “Think so, do you?” A flame burned in those eyes – not of rage, but not something entirely of the Light, either. Challenging and daring him to just say it, and accept the consequences if he did; it dared Xanatos to speak of what he believed of Obi-Wan’s motives.
Xanatos lifted his chin, calmly. “Allow me to guess, then. You feel like the Force betrayed you, by letting your Padawan fall, by not warning you, by not warning the Jedi.”
“Well . . .” Obi-Wan paused, contemplatively, sighing. The fire in his eyes dimmed. “That is certainly true, but not entirely the reason I have difficulty touching the Force – though it is a good part of it.” Obi-Wan paused again and acted busy by adjusting the sleeping Luke. “When I fought with him . . .” He shook his head.
“The battle was more than physical?”
Xanatos fell silent, not sure what else to ask; or even ask if he should anything at all. Obi-Wan had been surprisingly forthcoming, though he had seen something in those blue eyes that disturbed him. So, evidently the battle had affected Obi-Wan’s ability to touch the Force in some fashion – it must have been some battle, to do that. He had never heard of such a thing. And that was only part of it? Maybe touching the Force reminded him of things he would rather not remember, and therefore he responded as if it was painful? Force, he needed a psychiatrist . . . or a degree in psychiatry.
“And what of you?” Obi-Wan returned, attentive, at Xanatos’ silence.
Xanatos smiled ruefully, jerking himself from these thoughts. “Well, the short version is I taught myself to keep liquid away from my body with the Force – which worked, thankfully, with acid. Testing that wasn’t fun. The skeleton you saw was provided by one of my dead workers.”
“Short version,” Obi-Wan said, slowly. “Well, that doesn’t cut it,” he said matter-of-factly, shooting Xanatos’ a little smirk.
“Persistent?” Xanatos asked with a grin. He folded his hands in front of him and looked down, sighing and letting the smile fade. “This is the time for explanations, is it?”
“Well, I’d prefer it if you returned the favor,” Obi-Wan replied cautiously.
Xanatos looked up, meeting the Jedi’s eyes. “When I faked my death, I did so with the intention of coming back, surprising and killing all of you. Qui-Gon most of all,” he began slowly. “I wanted revenge. The fact that I was continually hindered didn’t deter me in the least.” He sighed again, and let his head fall back.
“But something must have happened. For you to just – change your mind about everything,” Obi-Wan pressed.
Xanatos pinched the bridge of his nose, searching for words to express what had happened. “When people thought I was dead, and I sold Offworld, I had a lot of time on my hands. Oh, I plotted evilly,” he shot Obi-Wan a crooked grin, “but I found myself with a lot of unexpected free time. So . . . I got hobbies.”
Obi-Wan looked surprised, drawing back slightly, but didn’t interrupt with questions or disbelief, to Xanatos’ relief.
“I learned, basically. Jedi training covers the basics of most everything, but I got into the nitty gritty details of things like astrophysics, economics, and art. I found a lot to enjoy, and in doing so, I eventually just lost interest in getting revenge.” He shrugged. “I know it sounds weird, but that’s the way it happened, sort of. It was like doing evil became a habit to me, comfortable and familiar. Faking my death and everything that happened to me afterward broke that habit, and I was . . . relieved.”
“Is that when you realized you were sick of the lifestyle you had been living?”
“It was around that time, and it was a pretty gradual process. At first, I just didn’t think about the changes in my actions, but every time I got the opportunity to get back at the Jedi, or you and Qui-Gon, it would come back again. That’s when I realized I was getting turned off of it. And I’d see things, and think . . . and understand, I guess, like I used to when I was a Padawan. I was starting to see again things from that perspective again, of doing the right thing. Because I couldn’t – wouldn’t – go back to what I was, to that unsatisfying life.” Xanatos swallowed. “That’s also when the guilt began.”
“So you do feel guilt,” Obi-Wan said quietly.
“Of course I do,” Xanatos snapped.
Obi-Wan winced. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I meant, I thought you were just pushing it away.”
Xanatos shrugged, letting his irritation fade and turning away into memory. “I suppose I do, to some degree. But it’s not like I don’t know what I did was wrong. I knew it even then, really, I just didn’t care. I was selfish, ultimately, and arrogant. I thought I knew best, that I was wise and I knew better than the Jedi, and I wanted power for myself. I wanted, don’t you see? It was all about me.”
Obi-Wan didn’t answer to that, and Xanatos didn’t look at him.
Of course, what kind of answer could he really give? None, really, Xanatos thought. There’s not much to say to someone who admitted he had done great evil because he was a selfish, arrogant piece of Hutt slime.
“There’s nothing I can say to that,” Obi-Wan said softly, startling Xanatos.
Xanatos looked up at him, wondering how Obi-Wan had spoken directly along his own thoughts, and saw only a gentle sadness in Obi-Wan’s eyes.
“It’s saddening,” Obi-Wan said even more softly, “the things beings can do to each other out of such common emotions.”
“Like Vader?” Xanatos questioned, and then continued without waiting for an answer. “I – we – fell into it on our own. I can assure you that I knew full well what I was doing, and any attempt to convince myself of otherwise is no more than self-delusion. A person might be able to rationalize the actions that led them toward evil, but the truth is they still chose it, and whatever events led up to it, they stepped into that pit willingly.”
“And?” Obi-Wan asked his voice little more than a whisper, evidently seeing Xanatos was heading somewhere.
“Your apprentice made the decision he did; nothing excuses it – and that little thing called free will means it’s not your fault,” Xanatos added, seeing the opportunity to drive his point home, while still answering Obi-Wan’s question about himself. Why he had the urge to help Obi-Wan . . . well, Obi-Wan had said it was a Light Side thing.
Obi-Wan laughed harshly. “And how the hell do you know that? That I couldn’t have changed –”
“Oh, I know, Obi-Wan. Qui-Gon could have done everything right – which he didn’t, by the way – and I could still have fallen. It was my choice to make. You can guide someone, and if they’re willing you can guide them to right actions, but they can still make the wrong decision,” Xanatos said firmly. “I’m not saying things couldn’t have been different if you had done things differently, but that’s true of everything. Things could be worse, even.”
Obi-Wan exhaled sharply in response. “I suppose.”
Xanatos snorted. “That’s a real firm response.”
“Oh, shut up,” Obi-Wan said testily, glaring at Xanatos. It looked rather ridiculous, though, with Luke in his arms. Especially with a tuft of Luke’s light blond hair sticking up, his thumb in his mouth. It presented quite the adorable picture, at odds with the look on Obi-Wan’s face.
“Losing our Jedi calm, are we?” Okay, maybe that was going a bit far. “Sorry.” He waved his hand in dismissal. “Anyway.”
“It’s okay,” Obi-Wan said, calming, but with a glitter still in his eyes. He took a deep breath, no doubt releasing some un-Jedi-like emotions. “So . . .” he began casually.
Xanatos stood up. “Maybe I should go do something else for a while,” he suggested, beginning to turn away.
Obi-Wan’s suddenly thoughtful voice stopped him mid-way. “All right. But I have a question for you.”
“Do you know how Qui-Gon died?”
Xanatos spun around. “What kind of question is that?”
Obi-Wan looked at him calmly. “Close to ten years passed from your – disappearance, to his death. I was wondering . . .” He shrugged. “Did you know?”
Xanatos looked away, a horde of emotions filling him. For the most part, he was able to remember Qui-Gon in a detached way, but not always. It suddenly struck him that both him and Obi-Wan had really been his Padawans. Like his children. How strange, really, how little they knew each other. “I knew when he died, yes,” he said at last. “But how? No, I was never told. The Council classified it, you know that. I only knew he died on that mission to Naboo.” He sighed. “And that the Sith returned then – or that’s when the Jedi became aware of it.”
Obi-Wan nodded slowly. “Did you –”
“Please don’t, Obi-Wan,” Xanatos said, looking into crystalline blue eyes.
“Sooner or later you’re going to have to,” Obi-Wan said just as quietly. “He’s too entwined in the reasons for your fall.”
“Later,” Xanatos requested quietly. He walked forward, and stopped at the doorway, hand resting on the edge of the entrance, then looked back.
Obi-Wan nodded, and said nothing.
Thank you, Xanatos thought, and left, unable, but still wishing, he could leave the memories behind just as easily.
You look so much like your father, Obi-Wan thought days later, holding a sleeping Luke. The boy was swaddled in blankets, little thumb stuck in his mouth and eyes tightly shut. He looked nothing like Obi-Wan’s last memory of Anakin, of course. Luke’s hair was lighter, too, though no doubt it would darken as he got older. The eyes, he thought, were probably the most similar thing. But there was something else, something that just hit Obi-Wan in the face and said, this is a Skywalker.
It was faintly disturbing. It was like he couldn’t help but see what the child could become, a thing of evil, of great evil – like his father – instead of what the boy was. An innocent child, free of his parents’ faults or virtues; no decisions, right or wrong, yet made.
Obi-Wan sighed, and got up from his bed to put Luke in his makeshift crib. Luke didn’t wake as he lay him down.
“I swear, Obi-Wan, you’ve been giving that kid the weirdest looks.”
Obi-Wan turned at the quiet words, somewhat surprised Xanatos had actually spoken. He had known the former Jedi was there, but had foregone letting him know. Xanatos had been very quiet the past few days, since their talk in the recreation room, perhaps wishing to avoid the inevitable talk Obi-Wan wanted to have with him about Qui-Gon. About everything.
Xanatos leaned against the frame of the door, dark hair falling into his eyes as he tilted his head down, though his gaze was steady on Obi-Wan. “Why is the kid so important? I know he’s not just some initiate, someone you helped.”
“He’s Ana – he’s my apprentice’s son,” Obi-Wan said simply, turning away to look over the side of the crib again. He felt more than heard Xanatos walk up to stand beside him.
“He had a kid? He had a kid and he turned?” He could hear the surprise in Xanatos’ voice, like he found the combination unfathomable.
Obi-Wan looked up. “He was married. For several years, until the Jedi – and I – found out about it.”
Xanatos looked shocked. “So it was a result of his attachment to her – the marriage and the kid.” He blinked, shaking his head. “Keeping all that from the Jedi Council? The boy certainly did not lack for courage.”
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. “Rebellion, more like,” he said dryly. He hesitated, and then rushed on. “Vader is powerful, everyone knows that. But he’s more than just powerful, Xanatos.”
“Then what is he?” Xanatos asked quietly.
Pushing the Chosen One prophecy out of his mind, Obi-Wan said, “He can’t be defeated by any of us. We’ve all seen that.”
“In the future? But how can –”
“We know,” Obi-Wan said, cutting him off with a gesture. “It doesn’t matter how.”
“But Luke – his son – might be able to stop him, is that what you’re thinking?”
Obi-Wan nodded. “It’s not entirely selfless, the Jedi’s protection of him. If Vader were to find him . . . I can’t imagine the damage he could cause.”
“So Luke is powerful like his father,” Xanatos stated.
Nodding again, Obi-Wan felt a glimmer of apprehension, suddenly remembering Xanatos wasn’t that far away from being a dark Jedi, and how dark Jedi always craved power, in any form.
Xanatos sighed. “Well, that explains that, I suppose,” he said, turning away for the doorway. Still walking, he continued, “I came to tell you we’re almost at the planet. We’ll arrive in another hour or so. It will be nighttime, planetside.”
Obi-Wan looked at him, seeing him standing outside of the doorway. “Thank you.”
With a slight bow, Xanatos started walking away.
“Is that all you have to say?” Obi-Wan asked quietly.
Xanatos turned back for a moment, just one dark blue eye gazing at Obi-Wan as he briefly got back in sight, half of his face showing. “Well . . . I do think this all sounds horribly epic and important, but there’s nothing I can do about it, is there?” And he was gone.
Obi-Wan rolled his eyes and a smile determinedly quirked the corners of his lips.
Once out of sight from Obi-Wan, Xanatos picked up his pace. He reached the cockpit quickly, and within moments was sitting in the pilot’s seat, pulling up files and requests and deleting them. Let Obi-Wan stay with Luke for a few moments longer, Xanatos thought.
“I knew it,” Obi-Wan said, coming from nowhere, his tone dark.
Xanatos jumped. Obi-Wan leaned over Xanatos’ shoulder, looking down at the screen. It displayed a request for all files on Obi-Wan Kenobi and related individuals – like Anakin Skywalker. And Padmé Amidala.
“You can’t have expected me not to be curious,” Xanatos said, eyeing Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan’s face was flushed with anger, and his jaw was clenched. “What did you find out? What if the Empire tracks your search? Xanatos –” He turned angry eyes on the former Jedi.
Xanatos held up his hands. “The company I chose is professional and discrete. They won’t be found. And I’ve told them to stop looking.” He rose out of his seat. “You haven’t been telling me everything,” he added, with jolt of guilt that for the most part, he had feared to ask, even as he tried to maneuver Obi-Wan out of the cockpit to somewhere he could calm the Jedi down with more safety.
Obi-Wan didn’t move. His expression calmed dangerously, and without another word, he struck Xanatos – doing so with enough force Xanatos was rocked back.
Xanatos could only give him a look of surprise. He touched his lip, looked at his fingers, and saw blood.
So did Obi-Wan. He looked ill for a moment, then whirled and left the cockpit.
Oh no, Xanatos thought. “Obi-Wan!” He followed, moving at a half-run, trying to keep up with Obi-Wan.
He found Obi-Wan in one of the empty quarters, throwing up in the refresher.
“Obi-Wan?” Xanatos touched the younger man’s shoulder gently. No reaction, though Obi-Wan seemed to be finished vomiting. He just stared straight in front of him, at nothing. Xanatos hesitated. “You should wash your mouth out,” he suggested.
Obi-Wan looked up at Xanatos, still leaning over the refresher unit, with sad, gray eyes. “Sorry,” he said simply.
Xanatos tried to give him a little grin, though he was more than a little baffled and frightened. He had not expected Obi-Wan to react so violently – to either Xanatos’ search on him, which could have admittedly led the Empire to the two of them, or to Obi-Wan striking out at him in the first place. “Wash your mouth out,” he advised, again.
Obi-Wan nodded, and quietly obeyed. After splashing water over his face, he blinked, looked at Xanatos, and said matter-of-factly, “Luke’s crying.”
“He is?” Xanatos said reflexively. He reached out with the Force, and realized that Luke was indeed crying. He could feel the child’s distress in the Force, probably having picked up on Xanatos and Obi-Wan’s volatile emotions.
“I’ve got to go calm him down,” Obi-Wan said blankly, running his hand through his hair. He walked around Xanatos, who without a word followed him. Obi-Wan walked over to the child without any hesitation his stride, and Xanatos moved to stand beside him.
Luke’s face was red, and he cries were astonishingly loud – Xanatos realized the ship must have better sound-proofing between cabins than he had thought. Obi-Wan picked him up gently, and talked to him quietly, just saying reassuring words over and over. Luke calmed down slightly, but still cried.
After a moment’s thought, Xanatos reached out with his hand and the Force, touching the child’s mind as he stroked the small head, and sending out soothing waves of emotion. Calm.
A look of self-disgust briefly passed over Obi-Wan’s face, but was gone merely a moment after it appeared. But Xanatos still saw it.
“You sensed his distress,” Xanatos pointed out softly.
“What?” Obi-Wan blinked.
“There was no way you heard him with anything but the Force,” Xanatos said, knowing perfectly well what Obi-Wan was thinking. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he did.
Obi-Wan opened his mouth, and then shut it, a thoughtful expression taking over the blank one. He looked down at Luke. “My control of the Force is so lacking,” he said, nearly inaudibly, “that I can’t even control my emotions anymore.”
Xanatos raised an eyebrow. “You mean this?” he said, gesturing loosely at his bloody lip.
Obi-Wan nodded. “What you did was stupid, but I shouldn’t have hit you.”
“Well . . .” Xanatos shrugged. “I don’t blame you for hitting me. I’d probably have done worse.”
“That’s so comforting,” Obi-Wan said dryly, rocking Luke.
“Yeah, but . . .” Xanatos stopped, thought carefully, and then finished, “but hearing Luke is a start, isn’t it? You must have reached out for him without thinking, to see if he was all right.”
“True,” Obi-Wan said softly, gazing down at Luke again. Emotions passed over his face, to quick to read. After a minute, he looked up at Xanatos. “We should meditate,” he said.
Xanatos was taken aback. “Meditate?”
Obi-Wan gave a sure nod. “Yes. Both of us – though for different reasons.” He gave Xanatos a slightly challenging look, and Xanatos wondered briefly how he could bounce back from the depression he had sensed so quickly. Of course, Obi-Wan was constantly doing that – being distressed and then just as quickly turning to humor.
Xanatos sighed, having misgivings – not having meditated in, oh, twenty years or so. “All right.” He paused. “What do we do with him?” he said, glancing at Luke.
That made Obi-Wan pause, and he looked into Luke’s startling blue eyes for a long moment. “He’s up anyway; we’ll take him with.” His mouth twitched. “After all, he has to start meditating sometime.”
Xanatos resisted the urge to roll his eyes. But at least Obi-Wan was sounding more like himself. Though . . . like Xanatos even knew.
As Obi-Wan led the way out, a cooing Luke in his arms, Xanatos gave a heartfelt sigh.
Xanatos looked, Obi-Wan rather thought, like he was going to have to do something horribly unpleasant.
Apparently noting Obi-Wan’s silent appraisal, Xanatos looked over at him and lifted a dark eyebrow. “Obi-Wan . . . do you really think this is going to work? I don’t think I can just meditate at the snap of your fingers – or anyone’s,” he said, appearing reluctant.
“Of course you can,” Obi-Wan said confidently. “Maybe not well, but once a skill is learned, it’s never forgotten, even if little practiced.”
“Not practiced,” Xanatos corrected with a sigh, looking away again.
He and Xanatos sat across from each other in the cargo bay where Obi-Wan had earlier practiced a kata, their legs folded beneath them. Obi-Wan held a lightly dozing Luke in his arms. Xanatos was subtly fidgeting, and letting his dark hair fall around his face in a childish attempt to disguise the fact that his concentration was nonexistent.
“Why don’t you take Luke,” Obi-Wan suggested, face carefully neutral.
Xanatos looked at him like he was a little off his rocker, but willing to humor him. He half-rose, holding out his arms, and Obi-Wan gave Luke to him. Xanatos held the boy stiffly for a moment, but then – like the other times – he relaxed and held the child close. Obi-Wan smiled faintly.
“Now close your eyes,” Obi-Wan instructed softly.
“I know, Obi-Wan, I’ve done this before,” Xanatos replied, shooting him a look of irritation, and then obediently closing his eyes.
“I know,” Obi-Wan said calmly, voice low and soothing. “Humor me.”
“When have I not?” Xanatos muttered, which Obi-Wan ignored.
Obi-Wan took a deep breath. He hoped he could do this. He hadn’t meditated properly in months, and he needed to do so now. Not only for his own sake, though that was certainly still the case, but there was something he needed to test. He waited several minutes, relaxing, beginning to enter a state of mind where he could focus. He closed his eyes, and began speaking.
“There is no emotion; there is peace.”
Let the emotion go.
Let go of the anger, the hurt, the sadness, and the sense of betrayal - even the anguished love that had tormented him since Anakin’s fall. He took each emotion, lifted it up, and examined it. Then he let it go, like a piece of paper drifting in the wind. The Force took it, and that paper dissolved within its never-ending boundaries.
He felt Xanatos struggling with guilt, anger, and grief. He could see flashes of Qui-Gon, Jedi, other victims of his plots enter Xanatos’ mind, and sensed the man wilting beneath the onslaught. Things that were normally repressed were brought to the forefront of his mind.
“Let it go, Xanatos. Feel it, touch the Force, and release it,” he said, never opening his eyes. He let Xanatos feel his own reaction, and his success.
He heard Xanatos exhale, and then there was a tense moment. And there was peace.
“There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.”
This was going to be a hard one. He reached out for the Force, tentatively touching its eddies and currents; it responded as smoothly as it always had, and he breathed a sigh of relief. It rushed across his mind, and he felt pain – its touch was unfamiliar, still, and it hurt. It was difficult and agonizing, and Obi-Wan didn’t know if it would ever be otherwise. But it was there. He could feel it.
There is no ignorance within the Force, when its currents flow through you and around you, and you follow. When you trust in the Force. Obi-Wan had no choice but to trust; he knew no other way. He knew he had to trust. Suddenly and without warning, the Force crashed upon him in a wave, overwhelming his mind, and he struggled not to react, to accept.
And there was knowledge.
Obi-Wan could feel the Force flowing through Xanatos, as it was through him – but he could also sense Xanatos’ concern. No trouble with that part, Xanatos? Obi-Wan thought. To trust the Force when you did not trust yourself . . . it made sense, he supposed.
“There is no passion; there is serenity,” Obi-Wan said, not really in response to Xanatos’ concern, but moving on.
Passion – the uncontrollable force of whatever emotion you are feeling. You have to be serene, to be in control of yourself, unaffected by those volatile emotions. Not even reaching out for the Force this time – he was already within it – he let go of those things which caused such overwhelming emotion. He exhaled, and trusted the Force, letting go of the things he suspected and the things he knew would come to pass. He had no control, and by acceptance he would have control of the only thing he could control – himself.
As he calmed even further, he sensed Xanatos calm as well. Obi-Wan was leading the meditation, in a sense almost smoothing the path for Xanatos to walk upon. He waited as Xanatos struggled with it for a moment longer, and then relaxed.
“There is no death; there is the Force.”
That one was easy. Obi-Wan had faced many times, and he held no fear of it. He knew when he died he would join the Force. What that would mean, what that would be like, he did not know, but it didn’t matter. He knew the Force, and he knew he would be part of it, and to simply touch the Force was to have peace, knowledge, serenity. To be part of it would be a gift, when the time came. He let go of the knowledge of his own mortality; it meant nothing. There would be no end, just a change.
Conversely, he sensed Xanatos fight with it. He feared death. The death of others had meant little to him, but in a sense, he had felt their deaths postponed his own. Within the Dark Side, there was always fear. He had feared death, and he had used that fear; but now it haunted him. He had used the Dark Side to gain wealth and power, thinking little of the future – certainly not what would await him should he die within the Dark Side, becoming part of it. It had all been an attempt at escape, starting with fear and fledging into selfishness. He had watched himself fall, and done nothing, because he believed power would grant him what he wanted, forever.
Obi-Wan felt all of this. And he felt Xanatos let go of that fear at last, and accept what was to become of him in the end, as would become of everyone. He felt him accept as he had accepted the guilt.
He opened his eyes. Xanatos was hunched over, holding Luke, eyes still squeezed shut, though a few, small tears slipped past. Obi-Wan’s hands lay loosely on his knees. Despite the relaxed posture, his body ached, and he suspected it had been some time since he and Xanatos had sat down, together. He watched Xanatos for a moment, until the older man opened his eyes at last. Luke slept on.
There was peace between them. It filled the air, their sense of the Force, overflowing into them. Meditating in groups was done for that reason. When Force-users meditated together, it intensified the effects. Obi-Wan hadn’t felt that in a long time, even before he had lost faith in the Force.
“I’d forgotten – missed - that,” Xanatos whispered brokenly, midnight blue eyes covered with a sheen of tears and delayed reaction.
Obi-Wan nodded slightly. “As had I,” he said with equal quiet. He sighed, easing his shields up, regaining the . . . separateness of before. He felt Xanatos do the same, and waited until both were less vulnerable.
“What is it?” Xanatos asked, carefully adjusting Luke so he lay on his shoulder.
Obi-Wan smiled faintly. “You’re really learning to read me well.”
“I . . .” Obi-Wan paused, searching Xanatos eyes for something other than calm, and found nothing. Reassured, he continued. “I had us meditate together – with Luke – for reason.”
“And that would be?” Xanatos pressed.
“I wasn’t sure,” Obi-Wan began, looking at Luke. “At first. If I was really sensing what I thought I was sensing.” He met Xanatos’ eyes. “You and Luke have a connection, a bond; stronger than the one we’ve been developing with each other.”
“What?” Xanatos said, looking alarmed. He looked down at Luke, and almost seemed to jerk away for a moment.
“When we meditated,” Obi-Wan continued calmly, “I tried to sense Luke and you, to see if that connection was real. It was beautiful, Xanatos,” Obi-Wan said softly.
Xanatos looked bewildered. “I don’t want a bond with this child.” He held Luke stiffly, again.
“You already have one, Xanatos. Don’t you understand? When I sensed the two of you, I felt it was meant to be. The Force is bringing you together, though I don’t know why. There’s such a sense of . . . completeness, when I look at the two of you,” Obi-Wan said gently. He hesitated. “A lot like what Qui-Gon and I had.”
“I see,” Xanatos said, still looking startled.
Obi-Wan cocked his head. “I doubt it.”
Xanatos closed his eyes briefly, and Obi-Wan felt him instinctively reach out for the Force to calm himself. “Then what am I missing?”
“You wondered if you could stay in the Light,” Obi-Wan said nearly inaudibly. “I told you had to walk the path firmly. And the reason why you didn’t is because you had little reason. Attachment has its purpose, whatever the Jedi may think, Xanatos.” He waited for the realization he knew would come.
“I have a reason now,” Xanatos finished, stunned understanding lighting in his eyes. He looked down at Luke.
“You’ve sensed it, whether you’ve admitted it to yourself before or not. You calmed him so easily, earlier.”
Xanatos held Luke tighter, gazing down at the little face with perfect intensity.
“He is your path in the Light,” Obi-Wan said, turning his eyes on Luke as well. “And you . . . the two of you – are my way back to the faith I have lost.”
“How?” Xanatos whispered, still looking down at the child that would save them both.
Obi-Wan didn’t answer for a long moment. It was all so clear in his mind now. There is no ignorance; there is knowledge. What he had seen before was a disconnected web of events, unraveling as the Darkness ripped it apart. But he was wrong. The threads of life were raveling, connecting in ways unforeseen into a future that is affected by both free will and the threads that ultimately had to lead to balance.
“By being who you are,” he said at last.
“We’re refueling,” Xanatos said, interrupting the steady stream of silence that had existed between them since landing on Yekken. He didn’t turn from the ship’s controls. He heard Obi-Wan walk up behind him a few moments before, though he hadn’t given any sign of it. The quiet between them was not precisely awkward, more like unsure. “Should be able to leave and go anywhere mid-Rim or outer-Rim in a few hours.”
“All right,” Obi-Wan said softly. “I have to go and contact someone,” he said after a moment. “Is it okay if I leave Luke here?”
“Sure,” Xanatos said, curiosity piqued about who Obi-Wan was contacting, but knowing better than to ask – or use other methods to find out. He swiveled his chair to look at Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan smiled. “Thanks.”
Yekken’s spaceports were the cosmopolitan areas of the world. The rest was largely insulated, but the spaceports kept things thriving, ultimately. It wasn’t too difficult for Obi-Wan to get unrestricted, untraceable access to the Holonet; such things exist in places like Yekken.
He rented a motel room, and placed the transceiver on the floor. He wouldn’t need the place for more than an hour or two, though he had rented it for the day. He put in the coordinates needed, and then waited, sitting on the stained carpet – not without some misgivings concerning the state of his cloak.
Yoda had ordered him to check in when he felt he was safe. For some reason, the old Jedi Master considered it paramount that he know Obi-Wan and Luke were safe, even though Obi-Wan knew perfectly well Yoda could do nothing about it, assuming Obi-Wan was able to contact him if things did go wrong. They had gone wrong, slightly, otherwise Xanatos would never have been in a position to save Obi-Wan, but things were back on track. Obi-Wan didn’t understand the reasons behind the order, but he would obey and assume there was a reason. He knew there must be one – Yoda was not inclined towards dangerous sentimentality.
Within minutes, a tiny, three dimensional image of Yoda popped up. Obi-Wan knelt before it so that he would be within the image. “Well, you are?” Yoda asked.
“Safe,” Obi-Wan confirmed. “No sign of Imperial patrols or anyone on my tail.”
Yoda nodded wisely. “With you, the child is, or at the specified place?”
Obi-Wan hesitated. “Master, a bit has happened since you sent me off.” Well, might as well get it over with in one fell swoop. “Xanatos is alive, he’s turned from the Dark Side, and he’s helping me.”
Yoda’s ears went completely flat, something Obi-Wan had never seen before. He looked as taken aback as Obi-Wan had ever seen him. “Deceptive is the Dark Side,” he intoned. “In great danger the child is,” he added, hitting the ground with his stick with such force Obi-Wan could hear it over the holonet link. “An unacceptable risk this is.”
Obi-Wan shook his head. “No, Master. Xanatos and the child have bonded.”
“Possible, that is not,” Yoda stated with finality.
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. “Nothing is impossible, merely highly improbable. You’ve told me that often enough.”
Yoda sighed, and didn’t say anything for a moment. “A strong bond?”
“Sure, you must be, of Xanatos’ intentions.”
“I am, Master.”
Yoda searched his face for something for a few long seconds. “Feel this in the Force, do you?”
“Yes, Master,” Obi-Wan replied softly.
“Healing, you are?”
Yoda said nothing for a long minute. “At the specified place, you are not?”
“Not yet. We are on our way. I don’t anticipate trouble. And Xanatos is with me, as well, so that’s added protection for the child.”
Yoda sighed deeply. “Everything is possible within the Force.” He sounded like he didn’t quite agree with the Force in the instance of Xanatos, but was reluctantly accepting what had happened.
Obi-Wan didn’t answer, just dipped his head in acknowledgement.
“May the Force be with you,” Yoda said at last.
Obi-Wan looked up, and tears were pricking his eyes. He blinked rapidly. This was probably the last time he would ever talk to Yoda. If they ever spoke again, it would be in a long, long time. When Luke was of age to be trained – when he was old enough that the little training he would no doubt receive would be enough for him to go on. As soon as his training began, time would start running out. “And you, Master.” He paused for barely a second. “I will miss you, Master.”
Yoda’s eyelids lowered. “And I you, young one.”
And the connection was cut.
It was about half an hour after Obi-Wan left that Xanatos found the glitterstim packet. It was a small thing, a few centimeters wide and long. Of course, even a small amount of glitterstim was potent – especially when expertly distilled, as Xanatos knew this to be.
He had, after all, bought it. He used occasionally, as many people of his stature did. He used it less frequently these days, but the high often helped him forget. And he wanted to forget . . . well, Xanatos wasn’t stupid, so he only let himself forget sometimes. Glitterstim had a number of qualities, including temporarily giving some degree of telepathy to users so naturally inclined. That aspect meant little to Xanatos, but the other aspects – the sensation of freedom, the absolute carelessness – were more appealing.
He had found it tucked between his bed and the wall. Was it such coincidence that his hand had happened there? That he found it as he worried over Obi-Wan’s safety – over what Obi-Wan was doing out there? What if Obi-Wan was using him?
He sat on his bed and stared at the packet of dark glitter. It was a little spot of darkness, lying in the palm of his hand. Just a little spot.
Luke was asleep; Xanatos had checked on him not fifteen minutes before, and he was sleeping very soundly. It was a rare occasion, really – Luke usually would not sleep without either him or Obi-Wan very close by.
The packet, to Xanatos, represented his difficulty. It was just a little bit; but he knew perfectly well what a little bit could do. If he took the packet, the constant guilt and struggle would be gone. He wouldn’t be worrying about anything. He wouldn’t be thinking about his Dark Side actions.
It was like anger. It brushed everything aside for a while, giving him a rush of a sense of control and focus. When he was angry, it pushed away all those things that he didn’t like to think about – others, the right thing to do, his duty. It was, he supposed, a selfish anger. Because when he was angry, he was thinking about himself, not others. Didn’t he deserve a little thought for himself every once in a while? Anger helped him do that. Anger burned away the guilt. But with each act of anger, he had to have more anger to cover the guilt of the first act.
But wasn’t that little bit of bliss worth it? If he didn’t take it, if he didn’t turn, he would still have this constant struggle to do what he knew he should be doing. But if he did take it, that would go away for a while. And yes, he would have to take more for it to work again – more anger, more glitterstim – but at least he experienced some reprieve. Even if it was brief.
He stared at the packet.
Luke’s mind flooded his with warmth as the child woke. Xanatos nearly dropped the packet. Luke wasn’t crying yet, just waking up and looking around. His nap was over. Tears stung the back of Xanatos’ eyes. Luke. He felt an overwhelming sense of affection for the child, and then looked at the packet – his temporary bliss – once again.
It was with shaking hands that he dropped the packet into the refresher unit and flushed it into the ship’s septic tank.
Then he went to hold Luke.
As soon as Obi-Wan stepped onboard Xanatos’ ship, he felt something was wrong. Or perhaps not wrong, but certainly not right. Forcing down fear, he went to where Luke’s makeshift crib was. Luke wasn’t there. Telling himself not to panic, he went to the recreation room – and halfway there remembering to touch the Force and feel for Luke and Xanatos’ presence.
So he wasn’t surprised when he found Xanatos settled into one of the recreation room’s main chairs, Luke awake in his arms. The child was waving his little fists energetically, looking at the world around him.
Luke was fine, Obi-Wan realized. It was Xanatos he should be concerned about.
Xanatos jerked up his gaze, startled. He must have been intensely focused on Luke. “Obi-Wan.”
“Are you all right?” Obi-Wan asked as he moved forward. He knelt by Xanatos’ side, giving Luke one more quick look-over and then turning his full attention to Xanatos.
Xanatos opened his mouth to respond, and then seemed to reconsider and shut it.
“Xanatos . . . what happened?”
“You were right,” Xanatos muttered lowly.
“I was?” Obi-Wan blinked.
Xanatos shot him a sad smile. “About Luke being my path to staying in the Light. He saved me when you were gone. And he doesn’t even realize it,” he said with a laugh, not quite humor in it, but something more akin to amazement.
“You were tempted by the Dark Side?” Obi-Wan asked, feeling like he was missing something. Surely it couldn’t be easy to be tempted by the Dark Side alone on a ship. Well, almost alone, but Luke didn’t quite count.
Xanatos stared ahead sightlessly for a few moments. “In a way.”
“Xanatos, what happened?” Obi-Wan repeated.
“Did you know that I used to use glitterstim a lot?”
Obi-Wan slowly shook his head.
“Even when I first tried to kill you – and Qui-Gon – I was using the stuff. Not so much then, though. Later on, just before and right after my faked death, I used it a lot; daily.”
“You were an addict,” Obi-Wan said softly.
Xanatos looked down. “A willing one. With my Jedi abilities, I would have been able to overcome any physical addiction.”
Obi-Wan glanced at Luke. “Are you still an addict now? I haven’t seen you use.”
Xanatos shook his head, still not meeting Obi-Wan’s eyes. “No, I don’t think so. I purged the physical addiction out of me. I’ve used maybe twice in the past year, though,” he admitted. “I know – knew – it was wrong, but it helped me deal with things, you know?” Xanatos didn’t really wait for a response before continuing. “I found a packet today, of the stuff.”
“Where is it?” Obi-Wan asked, alarmed, his body tensing to go find it and throw it away.
“The septic tank.”
“Ah. Uh, is there any more elsewhere?”
Xanatos shook his head. “No,” he whispered. “I think I’d remember. Unless I put it here when I was using, which is unlikely.”
Obi-Wan nodded blankly.
Xanatos finally shifted his gaze to meet Obi-Wan’s eyes. His dark blue eyes were sad, with a strain of bewilderment. “I thought to myself, before throwing it away, that it’s just a little. It couldn’t hurt. But it always does, doesn’t it? It’s like the Dark Side. Once you touch it . . .”
Understanding came to Obi-Wan finally. “Forever will it dominate your destiny,” he murmured.
“Yes,” Xanatos said simply. “I almost made that mistake. Almost. Luke waking stopped me.” He paused. “How long would it have been, I wonder, before I decided just a little bit of the Dark Side wouldn’t hurt? Especially if I was hyped on drugs.”
Obi-Wan sighed. “But . . .”
“I came so close, Obi-Wan.” Xanatos’ breath hitched. “I’m not sure you can trust me. Maybe Luke is the only way I can keep the Light, but hell, should I even be trusted with the responsibility of a child? Do I deserve it?”
“You made a choice,” Obi-Wan said firmly. “You chose not to take it.” He paused, struggling to find the words. “Deserve? Do any of us really deserve all the second chances we are given? You made the right choice, Xan,” Obi-Wan finished, shortening Xanatos’ name for the first time.
“It was so hard,” Xanatos breathed, taking no notice of Obi-Wan use of his name.
“Yes, it is,” Obi-Wan said softly. “We’ve all experienced that, fought it, and made our choice. The Dark Side doesn’t give you choices – it influences you, it controls you. But the Light is all about choices. You have to make that choice, every day, not to use it – glittersim, the Dark Side, whatever. Its call will lessen in time, but the choice will always be yours.”
“Did Anakin want to not have to make this choice? Was it too hard for him?” Xanatos asked. Obi-Wan could see a glimmer of tears in his eyes, and knew his question was not to make Obi-Wan think as so many of them had been, but a true question. He wondered if it really was possible for him to keep the Light.
“I think it was. I think Anakin is more a slave now than he ever was. He chose not to have choice.” Obi-Wan halted, and then continued more softly, “So did you. But you realized your mistake. And yes, I think it will be harder to avoid that pit because you did once fall. But I believe it can be done.”
A tear traced a path along Xanatos’ cheek. “It’s hard,” he said again.
Obi-Wan nodded. “Peace will come with time, Xanatos. You must trust in that, as must I.”
“You think I can do it?” Xanatos asked with undercurrent of fear in his voice.
“Yes,” Obi-Wan said simply.
Xanatos said nothing. But his silence was as if he could think of nothing to say.
“Our meeting was no accident,” Obi-Wan said quietly. “I don’t think any of this has been.”
“My path to the Light . . .” Xanatos breathed. Obi-Wan imagined an intricate web of actions and choices, to lead . . . to the future, he supposed. To some point. He wondered if Xanatos saw that as he did.
“And my path to hope,” Obi-Wan finished, “which you already given me. That choice is possible, Xanatos.”
Xanatos slowly smiled, and it was a smile of triumph over his fears – a small one, indeed, but there nonetheless.
“So tell me,” Xanatos asked, settling into the pilot’s seat, “where are we going?”
Obi-Wan sat down in the co-pilot’s chair, eyes flicking around nervously, with what Xanatos sensed was old habit. Xanatos waited patiently for him to calm down. The older man sensed that trusting him was rather difficult, though Xanatos wasn’t sure it was because of Xanatos’ past, or something else entirely.
“Tatooine,” Obi-Wan said at last, looking out at the star field, the stars unmoving little points of light that seemed so firmly set. Luke lay asleep in Obi-Wan’s arms. The stubborn boy refused to sleep without one of them around, as usual. So, by mutual agreement they had decided to give themselves a break for a few days and give in to the little manipulator. That it would probably backfire later went unsaid and little considered.
They were leaving Yekken, and would have a few minutes before they were out of it’s gravity field and able to enter hyperspace.
Xanatos raised an eyebrow. That old dust ball? “Tatooine it is,” was all he said, putting in the coordinates for another system, called Xobholme. They would jump off from there to Tatooine. That way it would be nearly possible to track them once they entered hyperspace.
As he was setting the coordinates, however, a message flashed across the small screen in front of him.
“What is that?” Obi-Wan asked, trying to peek by leaning to the side.
Xanatos looked at it for a long moment, and then said, “It’s a report. You know how I told the discrete company I hired to check you out to stop? Well, they finally got the message. They’ve stopped investigating, but they still sent me their results.” He paused, and looked over at Obi-Wan, who looked merely surprised rather than upset. “This is it.”
“I don’t think it will have anything in there you don’t know already, but we should probably take a look,” Obi-Wan advised.
“Why?” Xanatos asked, startled.
“We should know what they know,” Obi-Wan said calmly. “In case anyone ever finds it.”
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow.
Xanatos turned back to the console and busily finished inputting the coordinates, and then making the final jump to hyperspace. As soon as the stars became blurred and distorted, Obi-Wan got up. He held Luke out, and Xanatos automatically took him.
“I’m to go meditate,” he said. “You can put Luke to bed whenever. We can look at the report later. Just make it available to the other consoles, okay?”
“No problem,” Xanatos said.
Xanatos leaned over the small, makeshift crib. It was something that he and Obi-Wan had made – one of the first things they had done while onboard the ship as they both recognized Obi-Wan and Luke might be there for some time. While Xanatos had ordered a crib along with other baby necessities, he and Obi-Wan had found putting the thing together was less than easy. He smiled, closing his eyes for a moment, as he remembered.
“I don’t think that goes there.”
“It does now.”
Eventually, they had given up on the project, after much frustration and a few mutters from Xanatos about manuals and turning to the Dark Side, which Obi-Wan pointedly ignored. In the end, they had done what many would consider more complicated – they built a crib from scratch. The sides were huge bolts welded together with Obi-Wan’s lightsaber, padded with the non-toxic inner-wall warmth cushions. Everything had been assembled with the spare parts for the ship.
There had been something satisfying about completing it. And when they set Luke in it, he had grinned toothlessly. It was a moment that stood alone, unsupported and not weighted by the past.
The crib served its purpose, anyway.
Luke lay in it as Xanatos stared down. His eyes were shut, and he was deeply asleep. His little hands were slightly curled, and he was lying on his back. Xanatos had spent some time with the child, waiting for him to fall asleep so he could leave. Obi-Wan was off meditating somewhere, choosing to give Xanatos some time alone. They had spoken little since the talk after Obi-Wan had returned, the exchange in the cockpit notwithstanding.
Xanatos could still feel Luke in his mind, a constant warmth. Everything he sensed from the child was remarkably simple, yet clear and full of Light. He was sure that as Luke grew older, that would change – the emotions and things he would pick up would become more complex, and the sense of Light muddled, perhaps, as each person does struggle with the Dark at some point.
And yet, here Luke was. He felt an overwhelming urge to protect the child, to take him away where he would be safe. A thousand reckless and ridiculous possibilities for keeping him safe flashed through his mind, as quickly discarded as they were thought of.
This must be love, Xanatos thought. And it’s so easy.
“I regret now,” Xanatos said softly, “that I never had a Padawan.”
He heard a rustle, and the sound of footsteps as Obi-Wan stepped nearer. Obi-Wan joined him at the crib, resting his arms on it as he leaned over and rested his weight against it, as Xanatos was. His cloak fell around him; that was what Xanatos had first heard, the quiet noise of the worn fabric as he moved. The crib could certainly take both of their the weight, what with the industrial strength bolts they had used to not only make it, but set it against the floor.
Xanatos glanced at him, sneaking a look. To his surprise, Obi-Wan was smiling.
“There’s nothing like it,” Obi-Wan said softly. He paused, expression gentling, becoming calmer. There was no sadness in his words or face, just introspection. “Every Jedi Master breaks the rule. There most certainly is attachment. I think they know – knew - that, actually. What I feel for Anakin, even for Luke – and what you feel for Luke. It can’t be avoided.”
“Then why have the rule?” Xanatos asked quietly.
“Balance, I suppose. To make sure it does not go too far. There can be turmoil, which is often the case with attachment. But not so strong it cannot be controlled.”
There were a few moments of silence. “I don’t think a rule can lessen attachment,” Xanatos said at last.
“Ah – no, true.” Obi-Wan shrugged. “I’ve long decided it’s a subject I don’t care to argue, or even to think about. I just try to deal with it. That’s more than enough work for me,” he said with a smile, this one tinged, finally, with sorrow.
Neither said anything more for a time, just standing there and watching Luke breathe. Inhale, exhale. The gentle rhythm of his breathing lulled Xanatos, made his thoughts drift.
“I did love him, you know,” Xanatos said abruptly.
“Not as much as he loved you.”
Obi-Wan looked at him with no apology in his eyes. But his expression was gentle, for all of that.
Xanatos took a breath, and slowly began. “You were right when you said Qui-Gon was entangled in the reasons for my fall. He hurt me – unintentionally – and I wanted to make him suffer. So I suppose I fell for three reasons. The anger helped my grief, hurt Qui-Gon, and gave me the power for revenge.” He laughed hollowly. “I was such a fool, Obi-Wan,” he said regretfully. He shook his head. “I don’t think I ever would have fully turned from the Dark, if not for his death. Isn’t that ironic? I wanted him to hurt too much. Even after I lost interest in it all, I would tell myself, just wait. Just wait. He’ll find out you’re alive, and then . . .” He shrugged.
“It would be proper revenge?” Obi-Wan asked.
Xanatos nodded. “Yes.” He paused for a second. “Of course, then he died. I felt what remained of our bond just – disappear.” He turned to face Obi-Wan. Luke slept on, seemingly oblivious to their conversations. “How did he die, Obi-Wan?”
Obi-Wan exhaled roughly, and smoothed an edge of padding, which was a bit askew. “He was killed by a Sith,” he said, meeting Xanatos eyes. “As you no doubt suspected. We were fighting him together; I got kicked off a catwalk. Qui-Gon didn’t wait, though I suppose that was reasonable – we couldn’t let a Sith wander about, after all.”
“Did you kill him?”
Obi-Wan didn’t answer for a moment, eyes distant as he remembered. Then he continued. “We had been fighting him for several minutes already, by that point. I knew neither of us could defeat him alone, if we hadn’t already. I – we were cut off by a laser barrier. The battle was wreaking havoc on the security systems; they weren’t working properly, so they kept going on and off. We got separated.”
“He slipped?” Xanatos asked. He didn’t do so with particular gentleness, but he felt it was not really needed. Obi-Wan’s tone was more matter-of-fact than grieved. He had passed the point of turmoil of Qui-Gon’s long ago, finally gaining some measure of peace, it would seem.
“He was a second slower than he needed be. Didn’t see it coming quite in time,” Obi-Wan said.
“So that’s when he died?”
Obi-Wan shook his head. “No. A few minutes later. The laser barriers came down, and I fought the Sith.”
“He escaped?” Xanatos said, narrowing his eyes. He was sure Obi-Wan could practically see the murderous intent in his eyes, but he didn’t care at the moment.
“No,” Obi-Wan said, tilting his head to the side. “He kicked my lightsaber out of my hand, though I managed to cut his in half. He thought he had won, and I took advantage of his moment of distracted gloating.” Obi-Wan made a horizontal cutting motion. “Cut him right in half, with Qui-Gon’s lightsaber.”
Xanatos raised his eyebrows, but tension he had not known was there was released. “Good,” he said simply. “Qui-Gon’s lightsaber, not your own?” he added. “Poetic justice.”
Obi-Wan’s mouth quirked. “It was handy.”
Xanatos smiled briefly.
Obi-Wan put his hand on Xanatos’ shoulder. “Come on,” he said, “Luke’s asleep. What do you say we take advantage of it and relax?”
Xanatos finally gave a full grin. Obi-Wan smiled briefly in response, then turned and walked out. Xanatos followed, shooting Luke one last glance. Still deeply asleep, completely undisturbed by the emotions the two of them must have been projecting. Xanatos gently prodded that spot in his mind that said ‘Luke’.
Luke’s hands briefly moved, and he smacked his lips, though his eyes remained closed.
Xanatos smiled, and when he looked back, expecting Obi-Wan to be already gone, he found the Jedi leaning against the door frame, shaking his head.
“What?” Xanatos asked innocently.
“So it is different from what you expected?” Xanatos said, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, in an uncommonly ill-mannered gesture for him. He set down his Alderaani beer. He had finished nearly half of his, and Obi-Wan merely a third, the older man noted. He casually put his feet onto the small table that sat between them, jostling the bottle.
Obi-Wan looked at him warily from behind his glass. “What?”
“Taking care of a child,” Xanatos said. “I mean, you haven’t done it before, right?”
Obi-Wan sighed, taking his time in answering. Xanatos waited semi-patiently.
“It’s less complicated, but a lot harder, than I would have thought,” he said finally. “I mean,” he said, gesturing vaguely with his glass, “you have to feed him, change him, and pay attention to him. Well, that part is simpler than I thought. But then it’s harder, because there’s feeding him, changing him, and paying attention to him.”
Xanatos laughed. “But are you enjoying it?” he asked.
Obi-Wan shrugged, and sipped. “I suppose.”
“You’re not keeping him, are you? Don’t want to get too attached,” Xanatos said wisely.
Obi-Wan stared down into his glass. “I’m going,” he said softly, “to give him to people who can give him a normal life. That’s – that’s something no Jedi ever had. And considering what his life will no doubt be like, I think he deserves it.” He paused, and looked up. “Besides, Vader will never think to look for him on his home planet, with his step-brother.”
Xanatos choked. “What? Are you insane?”
“Vader hates that place,” Obi-Wan said finality.
Xanatos continued giving Obi-Wan a dubious look.
Obi-Wan shrugged. “What?”
“So then, where do I come in?” Xanatos said, not so deftly changing the subject. “I’ve got a bond with the kid. As you said, he’s going to have some life when he grows up and goes out into the big, wide galaxy.”
Obi-Wan set his glass down very carefully on the small table between their chairs. “I was planning on watching over him and guiding him without him knowing it, if possible.”
Xanatos nodded slowly.
“Really, though,” Obi-Wan added casually, “with your bond, you would be in more of a position to help Luke and remain unnoticed.”
“That’s true,” Xanatos said slowly, feeling along the bond he had with Luke.
Obi-Wan gave him a sharp glance, no doubt seeing the abstracted look on Xanatos’ face.
“Anyway,” Xanatos said, jerking his attention to his immediate surroundings, “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t I stay with you, with Luke, on Tatooine?” Obi-Wan opened his mouth, but Xanatos rushed on. “I mean, it makes sense. You came on board to make sure I stayed in the Light, and discovered that I have a bond with Luke – a bond that can help him, through which I can help him. And my path to staying in the Light is Luke.” He snapped his fingers. “It makes sense.”
Obi-Wan looked taken aback. Xanatos noted absently that his drink was gone, and moved to refill it.
“What? You thought you were going to have to spend eighteen years alone?” Xanatos asked.
“Well . . .”
“Well, now you don’t have to,” Xanatos said with a smile.
“But – your assets, you, won’t you be missed? And Imperial attention, I mean with two of us it makes it –”
“Everything I have is liquid. I’ve planned well for disappearances, etcetera. And how is a lone man, moving to a planet where no one wants to particularly live, stay inconspicuous? Or more inconspicuous than two men?”
Obi-Wan blinked. “I admit defeat.”
“Which beer is that for you again?” Obi-Wan asked suspiciously.
“My mental state has nothing to do with the validity or invalidity of my reasoning,” Xanatos stated firmly.
It was Obi-Wan’s turn to look at him dubiously. “I’ll ask you that again when you’re sober.”
Xanatos grinned and tipsily nudged the bond he had with Luke.
Obi-Wan rose with surprising grace and snatched the glass out of his hand. “We’re going to bed,” he said with finality, grabbing Xanatos’ arm and forcibly trying to lift him.
“Why, Obi-Wan, I had no idea,” Xanatos began with a teasing grin.
“Shut up, you smartass.”
The next morning, Obi-Wan woke with a distinct headache and a mouth that felt full of fabric. He rubbed his face, and got up out of bed, moving like of an old man, then his actual age.
“I’m an idiot,” he muttered, and wondered how Xanatos was faring. For that matter, Luke hadn’t woken him, and Luke never slept through the night.
He padded out of his quarters barefoot, and ducked into Xanatos’ bedroom. It was empty, and the bed was unmade. With a “Hmm, interesting,” he moved on to check on Luke, only to find that room empty as well.
Eyebrows raised, he finally went to the lounge.
And there they were. Luke was lying in Xanatos’ arms, and the man was leaning over him, whispering something, with a silly grin on his face. The silly grin gave away what he was probably saying.
Obi-Wan leaned against the doorframe, watching. Luke was wide awake, and he was waving his little fists in the direction of Xanatos’ face. Xanatos was close enough that Luke connected a few times. His long, black hair was tucked behind his ears, but clearly messed, and he was still wearing his sleep clothes. He didn’t seem to notice Obi-Wan’s presence.
Feeling a surge of irrational mischief, Obi-Wan suddenly gave a piercing whistle.
Xanatos jumped, his whole body moving, head rising and eyes darting about. Then his eyes closed briefly in relief as he sank back into the chair. “For goodness’ sake, Obi-Wan.” He looked down at Luke, whose face was twisting in preparation for a screaming that Obi-Wan knew he most certainly could not match.
Obi-Wan walked to them as Xanatos calmed the child, and leaned down to look at Luke.
Luke gave him a suspicious look.
Obi-Wan rose. “You been up for a while?” he asked, and then yawned.
“Yeah, Luke woke me,” Xanatos replied. “You, clearly, just got up,” he added, with a critical glance.
Obi-Wan resisted the urge to retort or give the man a dirty look. He breathed deeply, and then, walking past Xanatos, he plopped down onto the couch.
It immediately sank underneath him. In fact, Obi-Wan felt like he was sinking. The couch tried to reform around him, but Obi-Wan just tensed, and so it kept reacting, trying to make him comfortable even as he seemed to sink into it. Probably designed to accommodate anyone, but Obi-Wan felt like he was going to drown.
Obi-Wan scrambled out of it to Xanatos’ laughter. “Did you know it did that?” Obi-Wan accused.
“I suspected,” Xanatos said with a smile. “Never actually tried it. Nice, though, to have my suspicions confirmed.”
Obi-Wan gave him a dirty look, and with a few steps, sat into the lounge’s other chair, which had already been safely used.
“You want to throw in the frozen packet, or shall I?” Xanatos asked, referring to the frozen meals that they had been using. There were basic ingredients for food, but neither of them felt competent in using them and therefore just used the frozen packets. They were at least better than field rations, was how Obi-Wan viewed it.
Obi-Wan shook his head at the question. “I’ll do it. You’re holding Luke.” He sighed, and went totally limp in the chair for a moment, procrastinating.
Xanatos just nodded.
After a few moments, Obi-Wan slowly got up. As he began to head for the door, though, he stopped at a console.
“What is it?” Xanatos asked.
‘It’ was the report Xanatos had received the day before. Xanatos had, as he had promised, transferred the file to the other consoles on board. Obi-Wan stared at the blinking icon representing the file. The Force nudged him, and he got an absurd image of a treasure chest just waiting to be opened, it’s fortune revealed.
“It’s the file from yesterday,” Obi-Wan replied distractedly. “Where’s that datapad?” he asked, looking up.
“Table,” Xanatos said, jerking his chin at the small table between the two chairs.
Obi-Wan walked over and got it, then returned to the console, quickly downloading it to the datapad. As Obi-Wan walked back to his seat with it, Xanatos straightened in his seat.
“What is it? I mean, what’s the big deal?”
“I’m getting a nudge,” Obi-Wan replied, never looking up from the datapad.
“Nudge, eh? Nudges are good.” He squinted, trying to make out what the datapad said.
Obi-Wan frowned, quickly scanning the file. “I know all of this.”
“Do you? Let me see,” Xanatos said. He shifted Luke to his shoulder, and held out his empty hand. Obi-Wan raised his eyebrows, gave a half-shrug, and handed it over.
Xanatos’ eyes narrowed in concentration as he read it over. “Well, they were certainly thorough – birth records, medical records, everything you can –” He stopped.
“They found an anomaly.”
“What kind of anomaly?” Obi-Wan asked, feeling a spark of alarm.
“Well, they didn’t entirely analyze it . . .”
Xanatos looked up, and tossed the datapad to Obi-Wan. “Take a look. Things don’t quite match up. Purchases Amidala made, medical records are slightly askew . . . it looks like a rushed cover up job, to me.”
Obi-Wan frowned. “But it was a cover up job,” he said.
“Yes, that’s true, but what else are they covering up?” Xanatos cocked his head, looking at Obi-Wan, and waited.
Obi-Wan returned his attention to the file. The company had indeed been thorough, and there were, as Xanatos said, anomalies. In fact, there appeared to be a trend – the Jedi, or whoever had done this, had done so in such a manner it suggested – subtly – that Padmé’s condition in the files, her pregnancy, was altered. Obi-Wan stared at the information, willing it to tell him what it all meant. It had to mean something . . . the reason for Yoda’s ‘dangerous sentimentality’; Padmé’s huge belly –
“Oh, Force,” Obi-Wan breathed. “I wasn’t supposed to know about this.”
“Know about what?” Xanatos asked instantly.
“They altered it,” Obi-Wan said quietly, knowing he could trust Xanatos, pushing away that little tad of suspicion that seemed ever present. “It says Luke was a stillbirth, which he wasn’t. Vader knew Padmé was pregnant, after all. But . . .” He looked up at Xanatos. “I think Luke has a twin.”
Obi-Wan nodded, feeling a breathless sense of urgency. “When Yoda gave me Luke, and told me to hide him on Tatooine – something we had both agreed upon – he told me to contact him once Luke and I were safe.”
“You contacted Yoda on Yekken? Well, that explains where you went . . .” Xanatos said offhandedly.
Obi-Wan kept going, ignoring Xanatos’ remark. “I thought that was very odd – if Luke and I weren’t safe – if we were captured – we wouldn’t be able to contact him, and Yoda certainly couldn’t help anyway. What was the point of him knowing? If we were safe, making a transmission was just another exposure to danger. But don’t you see? It was for the twin. To decide what to do with the twin, he had to know.”
A moment of silence. “That makes a terrifying amount of sense,” Xanatos said simply.
Obi-Wan exhaled roughly. The sense of urgency was gone with the realization of what it all meant. “The twin is the backup plan.”
“Why the backup plan?”
“What?” Obi-Wan asked, blinking.
“How do you know Luke isn’t the backup plan?” Xanatos questioned. “Or is there a backup plan at all? Or –”
“Regardless of that, he’s our main plan,” Obi-Wan cut him off.
“Ah, well. True.” Xanatos shrugged.
Obi-Wan looked at Xanatos steadily. “Xanatos . . . we have to forget we ever know this. We must shove it so deep into the back of our minds no one will be able to find it. If we’re captured, if Luke is, then . . .” He trailed off meaningfully.
Xanatos nodded. “Got it.” He paused, and added plaintively, “Can we have breakfast now that the soul-shaking revelations are over?”
Obi-Wan sighed, and as a Jedi would, he merely smiled at Xanatos’ never ending attempts to sway and distract from anything serious.
From space, Tatooine appeared to be nothing more than what Xanatos had called it – a dust ball. It was a tan color, tinged with gray, and almost completely featureless from what they could tell. The viewport showed it all clearly.
Obi-Wan held Luke, unwilling to leave him alone during their descent. His eyes kept looking over the planet that would be his home for the next decade or two. A long time. He wondered how he would have gone through it sane, alone.
“Are you sure you want to do this, Xanatos?” he asked softly, turning to the older man.
Xanatos dark blue eyes showed nothing but a calm confidence. “I suppose this place will be as much my penance as yours,” he murmured. “Doesn’t look like much, does it?” he asked, turning his gaze to the planet hanging outside as well.
Obi-Wan focused on the stars surrounding the dismal-looking planet. “No, it doesn’t.”
Obi-Wan glanced at him. “He’ll have people who will love him, people who will give him a stable childhood. Even if he hates it at the time, as I’m sure he will if he’s anything like his adventure-seeking father, he’ll treasure it in the future.” He paused and added, “I know I would.”
“They say you can’t miss what you never had,” Xanatos said softly.
Obi-Wan smiled slightly. “I don’t miss it. I simply know the difference – and what it does for a person. Growing up in turmoil . . . if I could, that would be the thing I would change for Anakin. No adventure, not even being a Jedi. Just a normal home. I think that’s what he needed.”
“And you didn’t?”
“I had Qui-Gon. And I’m not sure Anakin really ever knew he had me.”
Xanatos nodded faintly. “The aunt and uncle know you’re coming?”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan replied. “I contacted them earlier. They’re willing to adopt the boy.” He sighed, a tight feeling in his chest, and looked into Luke’s blue eyes. The boy; not Luke.
The desert planet grew bigger as they drew closer, overwhelming everything.
Beru Lars smiled up at Obi-Wan, the wind blowing her shortly cropped dirty blond hair into her face. “He’s beautiful,” she said softly, looking down again at Luke, who lay serenely in her arms, smiling up at her.
“So he is,” Obi-Wan said gently, looking down at Luke. He briefly touched Luke, his finger caressing Luke’s small hand. His expression was calm, but Xanatos could see his jaw was clenched. The dirty white, domed home stood behind Beru and Owen as they spoke with the two Jedi.
“We’ll take good care of him,” Beru said, looking from Xanatos to Obi-Wan.
Owen stepped forward. He was a sturdy man, Xanatos felt; dependable and strong. Beru seemed like such a wisp of a person, but he could sense a similar enduring strength in her. And she was immediately enraptured by Luke.
“His name is Luke Skywalker,” Obi-Wan continued, eyeing Owen.
“Are you sure that’s wise, him going by his father’s name?” Owen asked matter-of-factly. Xanatos sensed no malice or dislike from him, but he did sense a wariness, and determination.
“He won’t ever look here,” Obi-Wan said simply. “I know him. This place carries too many painful memories, things he wants to forget. And he has no reason to come here.”
“Luke should have something of his past,” Xanatos interjected, despite feeling like he shouldn’t step in.
“Here, Owen, hold him,” Beru said with a smile and an uplifted eyebrow, turning towards her husband.
Moving reluctantly, Owen held out his arms, apparently knowing better than to argue. At first, he held Luke stiffly, and Beru’s hands lingered protectively. But as he looked down at the child, his grip relaxed and he held the boy close. Something softened in his eyes. Then Owen looked up. “Something of his past,” Owen agreed. “But no more.”
“He’ll have as long a childhood as we feel is safe,” Obi-Wan said, bowing slightly, nearly subservient. Xanatos followed the action, as he was sure Obi-Wan wanted him to do so.
Owen frowned. Luke’s waving fists distracted him, though, and he gazed down again.
Beru smiled, and touched Luke’s head, the soft fuzz of his blond hair. “We’ll give him a home.”
Luke is three.
“Do you ever wonder what they’re up to?” Xanatos asked quietly, interrupting their shared meditation. Usually Xanatos was able to calm his thoughts, but Obi-Wan had already sensed that his thoughts would not be stilled.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes. He sat across from Xanatos in the little rock shelter they shared. They were slowly carving it out, and if they were here for long enough, each would have his own place to call home. At the moment, they had nearly a whole house carved out of the solid rock, but it was little else but rock. So, in the meantime, they lived together. Their new home – it stilled seemed new, for some reason – was little more than a hollow space, dirt, a heater and vaporizer to pull down water.
“The Jedi?” Obi-Wan asked.
“I don’t know,” Obi-Wan said softly. “Hiding, I imagine, same as we are.”
“You think they’re succeeding?”
“Some, I hope,” Obi-Wan replied, forcing down the pain he felt. “I don’t think about it much.”
Xanatos eyed him. Obi-Wan kept his face carefully blank.
“Now that you’ve had your moment of denial . . .” Xanatos said offhandedly.
Obi-Wan shook his head, repressing the smile that wanted to arise. “Oh, quiet,” he admonished. He paused, thoughtfully. “I sensed Yoda, a few weeks ago. I sensed . . . well, that he was quiet, if that makes any sense.” He shrugged.
Xanatos looked down, his face taking on a peculiar stillness that Obi-Wan knew meant he was considering something. As with Obi-Wan, the desert had yet to truly take a toll on Xanatos. His hair was beginning to be streaked with gray and white, of course, even as Obi-Wan’s had, but his finely featured face showed little sign of weathering. They both wore something akin to Jedi robes, something Obi-Wan insisted on. It looked oddly right on Xanatos, Obi-Wan thought.
“He’s probably gone into hiding,” Xanatos said at last. “And taking measures to ensure his presence goes unnoticed by the Sith.”
“Probably,” Obi-Wan agreed. “Anyway, what brought this up?”
Xanatos shrugged slightly.
“It’s Luke, isn’t it?”
Xanatos looked startled. “How did you know?”
“His presence in my mind is growing stronger,” Xanatos admitted. “And he’s still so young.”
“You see him often, that probably helps matters,” Obi-Wan murmured, briefly shutting his eyes, trying to hold on to the serenity of the meditation.
“The Lars have been good about that, though that will likely change as he grows older,” Xanatos said with a nod Obi-Wan caught the last of, as he opened his eyes again.
“You worry for him?”
“Worry is pointless,” Xanatos replied brusquely. “Will all the worry in the world change a thing, give me a moment more of time?”
Obi-Wan exhaled softly. Xanatos met his eyes, sadness within the dark blue depths.
“We have time yet,” Obi-Wan advised. “Let’s meditate.”
Xanatos nodded, then closed his eyes and lowered his head. Obi-Wan did the same. The Force flowed between them and through them, and serenity was regained.
Luke is five.
“What is that?”
Obi-Wan looked up from what he was doing, which was placing something in a wooden trunk. He was kneeling before it on the stone floor.
Xanatos walked over curiously. He and Obi-Wan had separate homes now, placed side by side, so he wasn’t always around to see what Obi-Wan was doing. Nevertheless, he tried to wander in whenever Obi-Wan wasn’t expecting it just to keep an eye on things. Although they often were in and about each other’s homes and personal space anyway.
Obi-Wan unfolded the cloth in response, and inside lay a lightsaber.
Xanatos raised an eyebrow. “I know you carry an extra one, for some reason, but –”
“It’s not an extra one,” Obi-Wan said, shaking his head. “I just let you think that.”
Xanatos adjusted his robe and sat down beside Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan maintained eye contact, waiting for more of a reaction.
“Obi-Wan,” Xanatos said resignedly, “I don’t think you’ll ever cease to surprise me.” He gave his friend a small smile and a pointed look.
Obi-Wan dipped his head in acknowledgment of the subtle rebuke. “It’s Anakin’s lightsaber.”
“Oh?” Xanatos’ hands twitched, and he leaned forward. “How did you get it? I mean, I know of your last fight with Anakin –”
“He left it behind, actually,” Obi-Wan said. “By the time I fought him, he was using another blade. This is the lightsaber he built before he met Padmé for the second time. His first.”
“I thought he lost it on Geonosis, like you did yours.”
Obi-Wan smiled. “He did, and yes, I did lose mine. It was never recovered and I had to make another. But one of the clone troopers found this and turned it in some time after the battle was over. Anakin had built another by the time it was returned, so I just kept it.” He picked up the lightsaber and looked it at closely, reminiscently. “I told him this thing was his life – he kept losing it, you know.”
“Hmm,” was Xanatos’ only response.
“I think I’ll give it to Luke, when the time comes,” Obi-Wan said softly.
Obi-Wan shrugged. He put the lightsaber down, and folded the cloth around it again. “It’s something of the man who was his father, I suppose. Not Vader, which is all he’ll have left of him otherwise.”
Xanatos nodded. “You really thought all this through, didn’t you? Coming here and everything else.”
“I had plenty of time to think about it while traveling.” He shot Xanatos’ a dry look. “Of course, you changed things a bit.”
Xanatos managed a slight bow while sitting. “But of course.”
Obi-Wan placed the lightsaber in the trunk. “Regardless, none of this is will be important for a while yet.”
“Unless you lose your lightsaber again and have to use his.”
“I’m not going to lose my lightsaber,” Obi-Wan said patiently. “Besides, I could make another.”
“Ten credits you’ll lose –”
Luke is nine.
Stepping lightly and surely, Obi-Wan stalked his prey. The level, smooth stone beneath his feet was the perfect thing to walk on; it did not try to hold his bare feet, and yet did not provide so much traction that noise was caused in that fashion, either.
Obi-Wan stepped around a smooth curve of an entrance, still stealthy. His prey was standing obliviously in the kitchen, cleaning dishes with a scraper and disinfectant as to not waste water.
Obi-Wan darted forward, grabbed a lock of Xanatos’ graying hair, yanked, and leapt back.
A shriek. Xanatos whirled, grabbing his shoulder-length hair protectively.
“Pada –” Obi-Wan started.
Xanatos began to reach for him, and Obi-Wan gave it up, turning tail.
“You are so dead!” Xanatos called after him, to the sound of Obi-Wan’s laughter.
Obi-Wan paused. Xanatos didn’t seem to be pursuing him. Most curious. The older man had certainly rued the day he had remarked that he was, in some ways, Obi-Wan’s student. A student of the ways of the Light, Xan was quick to point out, but Obi-Wan had already caught on to the possibilities. Padawan. Padawan braid. Xan’s long hair, as opposed to Obi-Wan’s short hair – or he surely would have been the victim of similar pranks. In fact, that was one of the reasons he kept it so short. But he knew Xan was too vain to cut his hair.
Two men living alone in a desert. What else were they supposed to do? Besides, of course, Xanatos’ rock sculpture made of pebbles – that always surprised Obi-Wan that Xan even had the patience for, as his friend was rather a live in the moment kind of person, as his old Master had been – Obi-Wan’s practicing of fine control with sand, and the sparring, of course. They had to do something fun to occupy their minds and keep each other sharp.
Obi-Wan was smiling as he stepped through the entrance to his home, another place carved out of rock, very similar to Xanatos’.
He was smiling, naturally, when a bucketful of sand mixed with kekark bugs – little creatures about the size of your fingernail with a nasty bite, native to Tatooine – fell over his head.
Obi-Wan fell back, surprised, sputtering and trying to brush the insects off even as irritating and coarse sand fell down his clothing. Along with some insects, of course. “Ouch!” he yelped as one of the creatures bit his neck.
Xanatos’ smug voice came from behind him. “You didn’t think I was making that motion detector for something serious, did you?”
Luke is twelve.
The sweltering heat of Tatooine was gone, replaced with the cold of night. It wasn’t too chilled yet. The twin suns had just set; the stars were just beginning to shine.
Obi-Wan stood across from Xanatos, lightsaber held loosely in his right hand. His short, grayed hair stuck to his forehead in wet strands. He was breathing lightly, evidence of some exertion, and he was favoring his right side. He was barefoot, as was Xanatos, and wore only a loose tunic and pants. His gaze was intense, as always.
Xanatos watched him carefully, noting – and knowing so very well – every twitch, every graceful switch of footing.
He lunged forward, lightsaber extended. Obi-Wan parried easily, but Xanatos tried something new. He kept going forward, and managed to expose Obi-Wan’s weak spot and get him in the side again.
He danced away, balanced on the balls of his feet, grinning. “You’re getting old, Obi-Wan.”
“That trick,” Obi-Wan said, “is only going to work once.” Then he added between breaths, “And I’m younger than you.”
“Ah?” Xanatos said, raising an eyebrow. “Prove it, old fellow.”
Obi-Wan attacked in a whirl of blows. Xanatos continually had to keep his lightsaber up on the defensive. Obi-Wan didn’t attack in anger, of course. He simply went about it in a business like manner, concentrated on what he was doing. Even Qui-Gon, Xanatos thought, didn’t fight with such calm.
A sharp pain blossomed in his side, and Xanatos staggered, keeping his blade up. Obi-Wan hit Xanatos’ blade with surprising force, then scraped down the edge of Xanatos’ blade, forcing Xanatos away and off balance.
Xanatos fell on his butt.
Between pants, Obi-Wan said, “Losing your balance, Xan? You know that’s a sign of a –”
“I get the idea,” Xanatos said dryly, waving away Obi-Wan’s comment.
Obi-Wan extinguished his blade and held out his hand, as he had done many times before. “You shouldn’t taunt me so, my old friend.”
Xanatos took Obi-Wan’s hand. “But it’s so tempting.”
“I imagine so,” Obi-Wan said, giving him a slight smile of amusement.
Xanatos rolled his shoulders, wincing. “Those practice settings hurt.”
“They’re meant to. Ready to go in?”
Xanatos nodded. Obi-Wan turned and started walking away, not far, to where their small domed homes were. Xanatos stayed a moment, looking at the stars, at the faint blue along the horizon.
He closed his eyes, though he didn’t even need to bother anymore. The extra focus wasn’t required.
“How is he?” Obi-Wan asked softly, coming from nowhere. Xanatos had thought him gone, but Obi-Wan continued to surprise him, even after more than a decade.
“Sitting down to dinner,” Xanatos whispered. “He’s frustrated, upset.” He soothed the emotions, not taking them away but giving the boy more ability to handle them. He did it smoothly, easily, his touch slight and deft. He needed little more than that, anymore. Luke learned from him without even realizing it, automatically using basic techniques Xanatos used on him and set in his mind.
Luke calmed. He could almost hear the boy asking for blue milk.
“I miss him,” Xanatos said quietly. Owen hadn’t let him visit Luke since he was five. He saw the child in Anchorhead, sometimes, but that was rare enough. Of course, he could always sense Luke’s presence in his mind. When he and Obi-Wan meditated, he let Obi-Wan sense it – sense the child of his Padawan.
It had left Obi-Wan nearly in tears more than once. He had so little of the small boy he had taken care of for many weeks; Xanatos, at least, had the bond. Owen grew more and more protective of Luke as time passed. He was determined to make the boy a farmer. He saw Obi-Wan and Xanatos’ as bad influences, dangerous. Owen attempted to keep them as far as Luke as possible, and often snapped at them when they were in town. Neither Obi-Wan nor Xanatos felt any anger at him, though – they both sensed the fierce love and fear in Owen’s mind. Beru was more accepting of the boy’s basic nature, and gave the two of them regular updates, even holo-images.
“He has a good life,” Obi-Wan murmured.
Xanatos opened his eyes to a dazzle of stars. “Even in all the petty angers and fears, the struggles and the wonderings about his family . . . I sense a solid base in him.” He looked at Obi-Wan. The dim light of the stars, which looked like harsh pinpricks of fierce light in the sky, barely caressed Obi-Wan’s weathered face. “You were right.”
“For which I am ever thankful,” Obi-Wan breathed, briefly shutting his eyes.
Xanatos’ turned to their homes, and this time, he held out his hand. “Come on.”
It was time to put thoughts of Luke aside. Luke only knew of them as crazy Ben and his old friend, Atos. That kept Luke away, as well. Xanatos had chosen the name Ben for Obi-Wan – though he insisted on calling him Obi-Wan, just to remind him of who he really was, he said. And had added that Obi-Wan could pretend he was only called Ben, if it bothered him that much. Ben Kenobi, an old fool, not Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan had suggested the name change, as a way to put away their old lives. And so Obi-Wan was Ben to the people of Tatooine, and Xanatos was Atos, the name Obi-Wan had chosen for him. Luke would not know either of them as who they truly were in a long time.
Obi-Wan smiled. He didn’t take Xan’s hand, walking alone and yet with a companion. Separated, as he sometimes was, burdened by a guilt he could not help but feel and Xanatos could not take away, but not alone.
Luke is sixteen.
It was a hot day, as all days on Tatooine were, when Obi-Wan dug the grave. The suns shone down with fierce intensity, and with their two positions in the sky, they pretty much managed to hit everything was their heat and light. The gravestone was a simple, heavy rock. No one would take it – it was well-carved, yes, but heavy and useless for anything else.
“I could help, you know.”
Obi-Wan turned, having to look up as the grave was already a few feet deep. “If you do die out there, then . . .” Obi-Wan waved at the grave. “This will be real, won’t it?”
Xanatos smiled slightly. His midnight blue eyes were sad, and his starkly gray hair was pulled back, much in the same style as Qui-Gon had once worn. His Jedi robe hung on him easily, and not for the first time, Obi-Wan was struck by how like their Master Xanatos had grown to be.
“And?” Xan asked.
Obi-Wan let a small smile touch the corner of his lips. “Should you be digging your own grave?”
A brief look of pain flashed over Xanatos’ face, then he offered lightly, “Don’t be morbid.”
“I’m not,” Obi-Wan said softly, and kept digging.
The slight skitter of sand alerted Obi-Wan to the fact that Xanatos’ was approaching him. The older Jedi – and he was a Jedi, as much one as Obi-Wan ever was – came over to the side of the grave, and then sat down.
“I’m sorry, Obi-Wan.”
Obi-Wan looked up briefly. “We’ve already discussed this, Xan. Nothing to apologize for.” He smiled wanly. “We both know the Force works in odd ways.”
“I’m still making the decision to leave you here.”
Obi-Wan stopped digging, and placed his hand on Xanatos’ ankle, which was closest to him. “The Force tells me that this will help Luke,” he said fiercely. “What matters more – Luke, or my loneliness? I made the decision to spend twenty years alone. You made the decision to not let that happen. And now things have changed.” He softened his tone. “Go the Rebellion. They can use you.”
Xanatos nodded faintly. “What are you putting in the grave?”
“The things you aren’t taking,” Obi-Wan replied softly. “Clothes, other items . . . I’m keeping your pebble structure, though.”
“And I’ll have died in my sleep?”
“So far as anyone else will know,” Obi-Wan said, and threw another clump of hard dirt over his shoulder. With so little moisture in the air or anywhere else, it was hard going. He knew he would probably hit solid rock soon; he and Xan had put their homes in a rocky area for that reason, to have that stability against the sandstorms.
Xanatos watched in total silence as Obi-Wan dug his grave. When Obi-Wan hit solid rock, he fetched his lightsaber and cut through it, using the Force to raise the chunks of solid rock. Then Obi-Wan took a box, and gently placed it inside.
“This is creepy,” Xanatos finally murmured.
Obi-Wan smiled, and said nothing. The rest of the afternoon was spent filling the grave. Every foot or so, he would take his lightsaber and heat the sand, turning it into glassy clumps of fused rock. That would certainly discourage even the most persistent of scavengers, he thought. The grave would convince anyone who asked that Xanatos was indeed dead. A pyre, as normally done for a Jedi, wouldn’t work, Obi-Wan rather felt.
The twin suns began to set.
Xanatos stood at the cliff by their dwellings, a pack slung over his shoulder, staring at the sunset.
Obi-Wan placed his hand on Xanatos’ shoulder. Xanatos turned to meet Obi-Wan, and embraced him tightly. He even stroked Obi-Wan’s hair in an unusually strong display of affection, an affirmation of Obi-Wan’s being there. He let go in small moments, reluctantly, painfully. Through their bond, Obi-Wan could feel his anguish. Every line of the older man’s face seemed drawn into an expression of grief.
“Keep your hood up. And be careful. You can’t be seen,” Obi-Wan said quietly.
“I know, Mother.”
Obi-Wan smiled faintly.
Xanatos’ smile faded. “Goodbye, little brother,” he whispered. “I wish Qui-Gon could have seen us.”
“So do I,” Obi-Wan whispered, and he could not keep back the tears. They fell at last, making shiny trails down his cheeks.
Xanatos’ squeezed his eyes shut, and two tears slipped down.
“Go, my old friend,” Obi-Wan whispered. “I have not the strength.”
Xanatos nodded, breathing harshly, and turned to go.
“May the Force be with you,” Obi-Wan said more clearly, even through his tears. His voice rang out strongly, but it still scraped his throat, the words difficult to get out. He sensed they were a true farewell, unlike the first time he had spoken the words to Xanatos.
Xanatos turned to look at him one last time, and bowed, the bow of a Padawan to his Master.
Then he pulled up his hood, and left.
Luke is eighteen.
It was early morning when Obi-Wan sensed the Tusken Raiders. They were unusually close to his home – he and Xanatos had often scared them off with tricks, and the Tuskens believed them to be dangerous wizards – and he sensed they were on the hunt. They must have found someone they believed they could snatch, kill, or steal from, and followed him. It was really the only explanation.
Obi-Wan put on his tattered and worn robe, and threw up the hood to protect himself from the sun. His muscles ached slightly from his morning meditation – sitting on the floor – but the heat quickly soothed it. As he put on his robe, he briefly looked at his hands. Weathered and old, like the rest of him.
Obi-Wan snorted at himself, shook his head, and headed out.
When he sensed he was quickly approaching the traveler and the Tusken Raiders – also sensing time was of the essence – he stopped for a moment. He took a deep breath, and with the skill of a Jedi, he gave the call of kryat dragon. It was loud and booming, and had an odd, screeching quality that instinctively sent a chill up a person’s spine. Then he moved on again, and after a time, gave the call again, just to be certain.
He arrived in time to see the Tuskens run away. An astromech droid was present and he quickly reassured it with a few words in a cheery tone.
Then he got a good look at the traveler, who lay unconscious. Blond hair, bleached by the sun, tan skin and white, ill-fitting work clothing.
The boy’s eyes were closed, but Obi-Wan knew they would be blue.
As Obi-Wan knelt over Luke to wake him before the Tuskens returned, he paused momentarily and looked the boy over. Grown. Luke was nearly an adult, by most standards. And yet so young, so vulnerable. In his mind, he so often thought of Luke as that innocent infant he had so briefly been given the gift of taking care of, and even now, he saw shades of that child.
Both Obi-Wan’s mental and physical touches were gentle as he woke Luke with the Force, momentarily touching the boy’s forehead to strengthen the mental contact.
Luke opened his eyes; they were blue.
Luke sat at the first table he found, feeling a deep exhaustion and ache he felt all the way down to his bones.
His life had changed so much, so rapidly . . . he felt like he could hardly catch up. The Rebellion prepared around and in front of him for the battle they knew was coming. That everyone knew was coming. Even here, in the mess hall – who knows what it was used for before the Rebellion came and found it – preparations were being made. Soon, he would part of them, he knew. The Rebellion needed all the pilots it could get, and Luke would be one of them. And Leia was in the Rebellion, too, he thought with a very brief flare of happiness.
The brief fight in Han’s ship against the TIE fighters’ flashed into his mind every time he blinked. It was all images, moments and impressions. He could remember the thrill, could still feel it quietly waiting to be unleashed in his chest, and the fear and grief that had been so rudely shoved down, out of sight.
The gaggle of people in front of him blurred.
Grief. Now that was something he didn’t want to think about. He felt like he was drowning in it, and as long as he ignored it, he’d be able to breathe. The desolate plains of Tatooine were layered in his mind with the smell of burning, the blackness of charred bone. He should probably go and see if they were ready to do the briefing. It would take time to analyze the data Artoo had carried, of course, but surely not that long.
Luke jerked his gaze up, rapidly blinking. A Rebel stood before him – a much older man. His hair was nearly purely gray and white, half-pulled back out of his face, and his face showed his age clearly enough, though there was an odd, faded broken circle scar on his cheek. His eyes, though, were a startling deep blue and utterly clear.
“Uh, hello,” Luke said, taken aback at being addressed by name. “Who are you?” he queried, curiosity getting the better of his manners.
The man smiled wanly. “My name is Xanatos.” He paused, and added, “I’m a friend of Obi-Wan’s.”
That made Luke sit up. “You knew Ben? Did you know my father?”
“Yes, and no. I knew Obi-Wan very well.” He laughed suddenly. “Very well. And no, I didn’t know your father, though I heard a lot about him from Obi-Wan.”
Luke slowly sat back. “Oh.”
Xanatos eased himself into a seat by Luke. “I’m a Jedi Knight, like Obi-Wan. That’s how we knew each other.”
“You’re a Jedi, too?” Luke said, amazed. He smiled slightly, thoughts of other things, like his dead aunt and uncle, fading into the background of his mind.
Xanatos patted his side, and Luke realized he was carrying a lightsaber.
Suddenly, Luke wondered if Xanatos knew. “Ben – he –”
“He’s dead,” Xanatos said softly. “I know. I felt it.”
“He –” Luke started, trying to tell, trying to explain. For a moment he remembered how Ben had sensed the death of Alderaan. “Without him -” we wouldn’t have escaped, Luke finished mentally, but he couldn’t get the words out of his mouth.
Xanatos nodded wisely. “I know.”
And Luke sensed that he did in fact truly know. Something in the older man’s sad yet confident bearing told him so.
“Obi-Wan was like that,” Xanatos added. He looked at Luke closely, then put an arm around Luke’s shoulders. Luke tensed for a moment, wondering what the man was doing, but it felt right. The man’s mere touch was calming him. In fact, Luke felt a sharp and insistent urge to trust him.
“Ben’s dead,” Luke blurted. “How can he be dead? He was a Jedi . . .” He stared away, not wanting to meet those knowing eyes.
“Even Jedi die. But they’re never truly gone. He’s still with us, Luke. I couldn’t stand it otherwise.”
“How do you know?” Luke asked, looking up.
Xanatos gave a small smile, and let his grip on Luke’s shoulders loosen. The wrinkles around his eyes crinkled. He jerked his chin in a direction vaguely past Luke. “Look,” he urged gently.
Luke turned his head, confused, eyesight still slightly blurry.
Ben was there. So faintly he could almost imagine he was seeing it. Xanatos’ presence seemed stronger than ever – he had a presence like Ben did, that begged Luke to learn more, to know of the Force. He felt the Force, and he saw Ben. He looked exactly like he had in life, save for the fact that Luke could see right through him. His crystal blue eyes twinkled, and one hand lay by his lightsaber at his waist.
Luke glanced at Xanatos, wondering if he was hallucinating and looking to Xanatos for confirmation or denial.
The older man had a pain-filled smile. He wasn’t looking at Luke, but at Ben. As Luke watched, he took a length of his long hair that lay over his shoulder and tugged it.
Luke felt Xanatos turn his gaze to him, and met those dark blue eyes again for a moment. Some tension in the older man’s face had faded. When he turned back, Ben was gone. At least, Luke couldn’t see him anymore. He could still feel the force of Ben’s very . . . alive smile. “He’ll be there,” Xanatos said quietly. “For both of us.”
17 years after the Battle of Yavin.
Obi-Wan sat on his bed, smiling down at him. He looked rather like what Xanatos would have expected – aged face, brown robes, twinkling blue eyes. And of course, Xanatos could see right through him, and that blue glow was a bit off from most of Xanatos’ memories of the man.
“Why, hello Obi-Wan!” Xanatos said, looking around but not rising. It was still dark, and he was still in his apartment on Coruscant. The blinds were open, and faint glow from the never-ending lights of the city-planet filtered in. He and Obi-Wan were alone, to all appearances. “Fancy seeing you here,” he said gaily. “Anakin would be sorry he missed you.”
Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow, leaning back slightly, though he kept his hands on his thighs. “I don’t think so. I don’t want Anakin to see me for a while yet.”
“Ah, right,” Xanatos said wisely, nodding, trying to guess what in the galaxy Obi-Wan was here for. He hadn’t seen his friend for years, since both he and Luke had been visited by their old mentor, who told them he could no longer stay so close to the living. “You seen how Luke is? His kids? Leia, and that beau of –”
Obi-Wan waved his hand. “I know they’re fine. I’ve been watching over them.” He smiled again, watching Xanatos.
Xanatos nodded again, coming up blank. “So . . .” He looked around again, but found nothing out of the ordinary. “What made you come back?”
“I didn’t,” Obi-Wan said, perfectly unruffled. “It is you who are coming to me.”
Xanatos blinked and processed that fairly quickly. “I’m dying?”
Obi-Wan shrugged, and Xanatos could see a smirk lurking in the corners of his lips. “I figured you wouldn’t want to die in your sleep. Too peaceful.”
Xanatos hit the bed with his fist, his left hand passing through Obi-Wan’s thigh, to the man’s amusement. “But they’re going to think I died in my sleep!” he pointed out logically.
“But you won’t have, in reality,” Obi-Wan said persuasively, and then stopped, a bemused and fondly exasperated expression passing over his face. “You are being ridiculous.”
“And you treasure it so – admit it!”
“I admit nothing,” Obi-Wan said with a smile. He looked Xanatos’ over, who still lay in bed, not bothering to rise. “Are you ready?”
“Back pains, arthritis, Anakin’s grandkids climbing over me and their screams giving me headaches . . .” Xanatos said slowly, thoughtfully. “Hell, yes, I’m ready!” he said forcefully, with a grin. “Take me, O Ghostly One.” He gestured wildly.
“You’ve gotten crotchety in your old age,” Obi-Wan remarked.
Xanatos pointed at Obi-Wan. “Better than that old, quiet drunk thing you had going on.”
Obi-Wan laughed loudly, even throwing his head back a little. “You don’t need to say goodbye?” he pressed.
Xanatos shook his head, his smile gentling. “No. They know that I love them, and everyone has sensed my weakening.” He paused, and snorted. “The whole Jedi Order has, for that matter. Of course, there aren’t that many of them at this point, but still! That should tell you something about how obvious and unsurprising this whole thing is going to be in the morning.”
“You could always pull my ghostly trick if need be,” Obi-Wan murmured with a small smirk.
Xanatos nodded at that. “Indeed, I could.” He eyed Obi-Wan. “You’re getting more solid.”
And Obi-Wan was. The color of his face and robes were no longer so faded, and Xanatos could hardly see through him anymore.
Obi-Wan didn’t say anything. He merely smiled.
Xanatos knew he didn’t have much time . . . before he died, and experienced whatever death was. He let go of the urge to joke some more – to banter with his old friend. They would have quite some time, judging from things, and he had to know . . . had to be prepared. “Do you think I’ve done it, Obi-Wan?”
Obi-Wan cocked his head, puzzlement showing in his features. “Done what?”
“Redeemed myself,” Xanatos whispered, looking into Obi-Wan’s crystalline blue eyes.
“Can anyone redeem themselves, Xan?” Obi-Wan said softly, reassuring. It was a tone Xanatos knew well.
“But my crimes –”
“We all do wrong,” Obi-Wan said quietly, with a shake of his head. “And you’ve done plenty of right. You chose to do right.” He studied Xanatos intently for a moment. “You want to know if you have forgiveness.”
“Maybe,” Xanatos said with a faint smile.
Obi-Wan smiled. “Come,” he whispered, leaning forward to look into his friend’s eyes, “and ask him.”
Xanatos’ heart constricted, and he was sure it wasn’t because he was dying. His eyes were stinging with unshed tears by the implication of Obi-Wan’s intense words. Him. Qui-Gon. Slowly, his hand trembling ever so slightly, he held out his hand.
Obi-Wan took it.
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