Thewatersedge

Summary not available.

The Water's Edge

by obaona, vader_inarnate, and Happy_Hobbit_Padawan

The warehouse was not extremely large; it was designed to hold small but fragile cargo. It had been well built, made of steel with a foundation of duracrete. But the years and wars had taken their toll on the building; the duracrete foundation was crumbling, the steel walls were dented and had jagged holes. The most intact part of the building was the slowly deteriorating roof.

At least it keeps the rain out, the man mused. He sat on the floor of the mostly empty building, his black shirt and pants worn but still intact. He clung to an old, worn brown robe with rough hands like it was life itself. Shifting where he sat in a meditation pose, he wrapped the robe around his body, putting his arms through the loose sleeves and pulling it tight.

He gazed up at the roof, where a distant pattering sound could be heard. Little drops of water fell on his face, wetting his shoulder length ginger hair and trailing down unshaved cheeks like tears.

He turned his face down, letting the water fall on his thick hair instead of his face. Weary blue eyes blinked, looking at the stained duracrete floor. He sighed.

Finally, he rose to his feet, shaking unsteadily. His stomach growled, reminding him that he had to go out and find food soon. His cheekbones were clearly visible, his skin drawn and pale. He had been running for a long time on this miserable planet, shifting from location to location. The Empire had come and taken it easily – not that the government officials had put up much of a fight. The Empire settled down in the industrial oriented planet and suddenly he found himself trapped. A Jedi Knight, trapped within the Empire.

He frowned slightly, walking forward among empty boxes, rags from other homeless occupants – now gone – and other debris. He growled as he did not find what he wanted. How could he have just thrown it so carelessly when he come here? His lightsaber was his life. Blue eyes restlessly searched the area.

He closed his eyes for a moment. Then, with a growl of frustration, he kicked a box. Then his hand swept out, knocking over other boxes. Soon, he was kicking and striking out with both hands.

There was the sound of glass shattering when an empty bottle shattered at his touch. Shards of glass flew, striking the man’s hands and arms. He hissed, drawing away. The pain told him he would likely have to pick out the shards.

He closed his eyes, making a sound almost like a sob. Quickly, though, self-control returned. He sat down, sighing softly. He gazed at his bloody hands and began picking out shards.

Blood. The sight seemed to draw his eyes, his attention. Like an arresting fascination.

Swiftly, he closed his eyes and turned his head away. He should not think of such things. “Come on, Obi-Wan. Get a hold of yourself,” he whispered hoarsely, so unused to speaking.

Ignoring the pain in his hands and tiredness of his spirit, Obi-Wan turned back to where had sat. He walked over and slipped again into a meditation pose. It was the only thing that brought him any peace.

Since Anakin’s fall.

Vader, he reminded himself. His name was Darth Vader, not Anakin Skywalker. Anakin was dead. So much easier to think of it that way. Dead, not turned to the dark.

As he had only a few times, Obi-Wan allowed himself to remember. He remembered the shock he had felt at Anakin’s marriage. The sense of betrayal. He accepted that pain, and went on. He remembered how Anakin changed, how helpless he had been to stop it because of the war. He remembered Palpatine, his rise to power and his self-declaration that he would be Emperor. He remembered the fight with Anakin, where he had thought his Padawan dead – only to wish later that he was. He remembered Padmé, her belly swollen with pregnancy, going into hiding to have her children. He remembered that with a sense of hope; she was with Yoda. The old Jedi Master, Obi-Wan knew, was more than capable of taking care of the former Senator.

He remembered that bill that was signed that made the very existence of Jedi a crime.

Tears flowed down his cheeks as memories, long repressed, came to the fore. But his eyes snapped open when the Force suddenly screamed to him of danger. It told him that he had to move, and quickly.

He rose to his feet with a grace not apparent before. He stretched out with the Force, thinking of the options he had.

There weren’t many. Vader was here; he could sense the Sith’s presence, a dark malevolent thing that made Obi-Wan feel like he was suffocating. He extended his search, knowing that Vader would not come alone. Yes. There were stormtroopers, their minds alert and focused.

They were focusing on his location. It could only mean one thing; they knew exactly where he was. Which led to another conclusion – this had all been planned out. Vader knew that Obi-Wan would sense his presence, and by extension, that of his trained killers.

Hopelessness pervaded Obi-Wan’s body. Turning away from the facts that the Force presented to him, he focused on his physical surroundings.

The smell of garbage. He was living in garbage. Fainter, he could smell the cleanness of rain. Little light came into the warehouse, and the clouds further depleted it. Obi-Wan stared into the shadows.

He looked down, gazing at his bloody hands, the color almost black in the dim light.

He stepped forward, a slight sheen telling where to go. Soft, worn boots hit the floor soundlessly and he crept past boxes without disturbing them, like a ghost. He knelt gracefully and picked up a silver cylinder.

His lightsaber. The familiar grooves and etches were comfortingly familiar; the heavy weight a balm to his soul.

He thought for long moments, his eyes rested on the lightsaber. What would Vader do? How would he kill Obi-Wan? Would they fight first, would Vader take him fairly? He was fairly certain that Vader could defeat him now, his skills honed by killing Jedi; it had been Padawans, at first, then he had graduated to Knights and Masters. He thought of how much Vader hated him, hated him for taking away Padme, hated him for – failing. Hated him for putting him in that horrid, black armor. For making him a monster to his own wife. Would Vader kill him?

Or did he hate Obi-Wan enough to prolong it instead? What if he took Obi-Wan to Palpatine, to show that he had truly turned? What if. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, his grip tightening on his lightsaber until his knuckles were white. He looked ahead in the Force and saw his capture, saw his torture. His begs for mercy.

The Force screamed at him to leave, that danger was coming. The sense of threat became more intense, like the fierceness of battle adrenaline. But Obi-Wan remained eerily calm, steady and unmoving. He didn’t hurry, but he did not pause. He hefted the lightsaber, testing its weight. Remembering, letting painful memories fall into the past.

The Force told him to live.

But he didn’t want to live. He wrapped both hands around the hilt of the lightsaber, and turned it inwards, so the blade would come out into his chest. He pressed the hilt to his chest, directly over his heart, a firm circular weight. He spared a thought for the irony of dying this way, the same way his Master had fallen.

His thumb found the ignition switch. He began to press down –

And there was only darkness.

 

It was sunny. By the Force, it was actually sunny.

The cream-clad figure in the doorway blinked several times, trying to accustom his midnight-blue eyes to the sudden brightness, and grinned. It was almost never sunny on Coruscant. There were places on this planet, he had been told, where the sun never shone. Slums on the lower levels, hidden forever from daylight, where a subhuman species was rumored to lurk, living on whatever fell from up high. Even on the higher levels, sunlight was a rarity, thanks to sudden, unpredictable storms. People spent most of their time indoors, many here never seeing the sun, even here, but by choice rather than necessity.

And it was sunny.

He glanced surreptitiously around as he moved to the edge of the catwalk, just to make sure that no one was watching. There was not anything wrong with enjoying the weather, per se, but some might object it while he had other things to do. More important things, they might argue, but sometimes just enjoying oneself was pretty important, too.

Leaning against the safety railing, he inhaled deeply, simply enjoying the tangy fragrance of the air. He would not have dared do this anywhere else on the city-planet, as crowded and polluted as it was, but this place, fondly referred to as the “Jedi Quarter” was different. The district that housed the ancient Jedi Temple had always, or at least to all living memory but perhaps Yoda’s, been beautiful, serene, as different from the rest of Coruscant and as frigid Hoth from tropical Naboo.

The Temple, he had been told, while rivaling only Ord Mantell in beauty, far surpassed any other place in splendor. The catwalk he was standing on, for example, connecting two of the Temple’s five graceful spires, soared over a magnificent botanical garden, featuring plants from every imaginable corner of the Republic.

Coruscant was a nice planet, all in all, as long as you shirked the lower levels. But none of it was as... green. No other place on the giant city-planet of Coruscant was so vivid, so alive. This was far from the untamed beauty of places like Dathomir, of course, but with a natural beauty, nonetheless, from a harmonious blending of all possible plants the Republic had to offer. Like those within Temple itself, a mixture of everything, from everywhere. Humans, of course, but so much more, too.

There had been a time, he had been told, when the Temple had been smaller, consisting of only the five towers, not the elaborate grounds it contained today. Not so anymore. The Jedi were the protectors of galactic peace, defenders of the people, and loved as such. The grounds had been the gift of the Republic, a private district of Coruscant reserved for Jedi and Jedi alone.

It was good to be home. Especially so after being away for as long as he had, he reflected. That feeling would, he knew from experience, quickly wear away as the weeks wore on, until he was just itching to be on the move again.

Xanatos smiled, running a hand through his long, dark hair. It had taken a while for him to adjust to having long hair, especially after the short Padawan haircut, but it was simply a part of him now. Most Jedi, he had found, wore their hair long; all except Master Windu, actually, but then again, his hair problems were nearly legendary with the Temple youth.

He regretfully pulled away from the railing, casting one last look over his shoulder. Today was his first day back home, and he had things to do, things that had piled up during his long absence. He needed to find Qui-Gon, first of all, and--

“Xanatos!” a voice called out from somewhere behind him, followed quickly by the staccato thuds of running footsteps.

“Ani!” he exclaimed, whirling around to face the younger man. He quickly pulled the boy into a rough, fraternal embrace before thrusting him back to get a better look at him. “Look how you’ve grown! It’s been, what, three years now?”

“More,” Anakin Skywalker corrected with a grin. “Closer to five, actually.” He had grown. A lot. He was taller now, taller than most men Xanatos had ever seen, tall enough, even, to give Qui-Gon a good run for his money. Dressed in the traditional, drab Jedi robes, cream-colored, as usual, he looked more like a man now than ever. The innocent little boy was still there, though, still there in the infectious grin, the twinkling blue eyes.

“So it has,” he agreed. “Tell me: are you a Knight yet? Or still the little troll’s Padawan?”

Anakin ruefully stuck out his tongue. “Still a Padawan,” he admitted with a wry grin. “But Master Yoda thinks I’ll be ready for the Trials in only a few weeks! You’ve made it back just in time.... You are staying this time, aren’t you?” he asked cautiously.

“Don’t worry,” Xanatos reassured him, hastily patting the younger man on the shoulder. “I wouldn’t miss your Knighting for the world. I’m not going anywhere soon, Ani.”

Ani grinned teasingly. “You’re the only person who calls me that, you know. I’m just ‘Anakin’ to everyone else.”

Xanatos chuckled. “I’ll try to remember that. You’re not a boy anymore.” This boy, no, young man, could easily have been his own Padawan, he reflected. He had known Anakin for most of his life, had already been a Knight long before Anakin was ready for apprenticeship. The Council, though, having decided that Anakin was too powerful to be trained by a mere Knight, had apprenticed him to the disgruntled Master Yoda instead. Anakin, Yoda’s newest apprentice in a long, long time, had been subjected to all his little petulant fits and frequent whacks of the legendary gimmer stick.

Looking back, Xanatos had to admit that the Council was right. He would not have been ready to take the boy, would have botched his training miserably. And Anakin’s power, already potent, would have been terrible if supplemented by the corruption of the Darkside.

He knew what the Darkside could do. Kenobi--

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Anakin asked, lifting his face and arms to the sky, eyes closed. “It’s finally sunny! And I can see the sky!”

“Yes,” Xanatos agreed with a smile, leaning on the railing, back to the gardens but still carefully watching the boy with midnight-blue eyes. “It sure is lovely, isn’t it? I’ve been craving sunlight for weeks now.”

“Where did you go?” Anakin asked curiously, looking back down at him. Down. Five years ago, it would have been Xanatos who was looking down. Things sure changed a lot in five years. People, too, hopefully. “Where you just got back from, I mean?”

“Kamino, actually. I thought it’d be nice, a little rain after spending the last few months on Tatooine, right? Turns out, no one ever thought to tell me that it never stops raining on the Force-damned planet!”

“Lucky,” Anakin sighed gloomily, leaning forward on the rail, gazing at the long expanse of green. “I can’t wait until Knighthood! Master Yoda may be a good teacher and a powerful Jedi, but he sure is boring.”

“Action? Adventure?” Xanatos queried, smirking. “Heh, a Jedi craves not these things.”

“No, stop!” Anakin commanded with a little laugh. “I’ve heard that more times than I can count!”

“I’m sure you have,” Xanatos agreed. Living with the old troll must have been a living nightmare for the impetuous Skywalker. Truth be told, Master Yoda was a bit stiff; tedious, even. Anakin, on the other hand, was... not, to say the least.

“I can’t wait until my Knighthood, Xanatos,” Anakin confided. “I’ll be off this rock before you can say ‘Kashyvyk’!”

“That’s what you say now,” Xanatos warned, “but just wait until you actually get there. Things always seem a bit better when you don’t have them yet.”

“Says the man who takes three times as many assignments as anyone else in the Temple!”

Xanatos smiled wryly. “True,” he admitted. His restlessness was somewhat of a legend in the halls of the Temple nowadays. Before this morning, he had not set foot inside for years. “I’m sure it wears off in time, though.”

Anakin sighed morosely, gazing at the greenery below. “That’s exactly what Master Yoda says.”

“If Master Yoda says it, then it has to be true.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. He didn’t know about the time that I replaced his gimmer stick with bitterroot. It took him three days to figure it out. I personally think the centuries have killed off his tastebuds.”

Xanatos raised an eyebrow, suddenly very, very happy that he had not taken this boy as a Padawan. “I see.” Whose living nightmare was worse, he wondered, Master Yoda’s or Anakin’s? “How many hours of meditation did you get for that one?”

“Nine,” Anakin admitted. “But that’s not the point. Besides,” he added, “the years haven’t done anything about Master Dooku’s wanderlust. He’s been off for almost as long as you have. Qui-Gon, though....” he trailed off, looking uncomfortable.

Xanatos could not blame him. They both knew exactly what had killed Qui-Gon’s love of adventure. Just as they both knew exactly why Xanatos had been away for so long. The last time he had tried go come back, things had not been exactly pleasant between him and his still-grieving Master.

That had been five years ago. Ten years since--

No, he would not think of that. What was done was done, and he would be a fool to want to change it now. He had had no other choice at the time, dammit, but, looking back, sometimes he just had to wonder.

“How is he, by the way?” Xanatos asked carefully, after a tense moment or two of awkward silence. “Qui-Gon, I mean? I haven’t seen him in ages.”

“Oh, he’s all right,” Anakin responded with a vague wave of his hand. “I think teaching suits him. He missed you, though. Talks about you everyday.”

“He... he does?” Xanatos repeated, dazed. “I thought he might--”

“Oh, he got over that a long time ago,” Anakin assured him quickly. “He’s been over it for years now. He was asking the Council when you’d be coming home for months. The only reason he wasn’t there to meet you at the landing bay, actually, was because he couldn’t find anyone insane enough to sub for his class. They gave him the rowdiest group of initiates at the Temple, just out of spite, I think, but I heard that he’s got them pretty much under control now...” Skywalker rambled on, even though Xanatos had not really heard anything past the first sentence.

Xanatos felt a smile slowly creeping up his face. His Master had forgiven him, then? “Where is he? Why don’t we go see him?”

Anakin blinked, startled. “N-now? He-he’s teaching a class! He should be done at about--”

“Now,” Xanatos insisted, firmly pulling the younger man back towards the door. “Let’s go.”


 


"Xanatos, wait up!" Anakin called running after him.

Xanatos ignored him, if anything only going faster as Anakin struggled to keep up. They were in the Temple, going as fast as they could yet not quite sprinting. Although Anakin was easily the taller of the two, he reflected sourly, Xanatos’ state of near-panic gave him quite an advantage speed-wise.

Qui-Gon's door was just ahead. Xanatos strode over and put a hand on the door panel. “Wait!” Anakin called again, in a vain attempt to stop him. Force, but Qui-Gon hated being interrupted...

To Anakin’s surprise, though, Xanatos did not barge in. He was just standing, still standing at the door when Anakin caught up, panting and more than a little winded. When he caught his breath, he glanced up, only to see Xanatos still mesmerized-- and gazing through the glass and into the classroom. Anakin shot him a strange look and snapped his fingers. “Hello? Coruscant to Xanatos? Come in, Xanatos!”

No answer. Anakin shrugged and peered in above the older man’s head.

Qui-Gon was sitting on the floor with his group of initiates, his voice softly floating over them as the varied hopefuls listened with rapt attention. They had pushed the desks back to the wall, leaving an open space for them to sit. He was telling them a story, some story about the defeat of the Sith long, long ago, making the tired tale come to life for the younglings. They gathered around, all sitting on the floor, all eyes shining with wonder and awe.

“Force, I wish we could hear what they were saying!” Anakin exclaimed to no one in particular. Xanatos turned his head, arching an eyebrow, and gave him a very strange look. Anakin blushed. “Oh, I forgot about that,” he admitted. Xanatos nodded wisely but did not comment as Anakin reached out to the Force.

"Are you ready for the story, children?" Qui-Gon whispered, leaning in as if he was going to tell the children a wonderful secret.

"We're ready, Master Jinn!" one of the children piped, a tiny- even by initiate standards- youngling with waving red lekku.

"Shh!" Qui-Gon ordered, glancing quickly around. Anakin stifled a laugh. He made it seem like such a wonderful secret, this tired old tale. "You don't want anyone to know that I've been telling this to you, hear?" he asked. "This material is much, much more than the Council thinks you're ready for, but I know you will be able to understand. So you can’t just go telling one of the Council members about this, okay? Is that clear?"

The initiates nodded silently, their eyes still shining with awe. "We're ready, Master Jinn," the first one repeated, whispering this time.

Qui-Gon smiled. "Of course. Now, you all know what happened after the battle on Ruusan one thousand years ago, correct?" Nods. "Does anyone want to tell me?" A blonde human girl quickly raised her hand. Qui-Gon nodded at her, "Yes, Kiely? Would you like to tell us what happened?"

"The planet of Ruusan was the last great battlefield between dark and light," she answered primly. Ah, the class brain, Anakin thought with a smile. "The Sith brotherhood of darkness battled with the Jedi army of light and lost. Only one of the Sith survived: Darth Bane. Darth Bane established the rule that there would only be two living Sith at a time: a Master and an Apprentice."

Qui-Gon nodded. "That's absolutely right. Does anyone else know what happens next?" No one answered. "Anyone? No? Well, that's all right. I'll tell you now. Are you ready?" Eager nods. "Are you sure? Well, if you're absolutely sure, lean in very, very close, and I'll tell you." They all scooted closer. Despite himself, Anakin found himself leaning in, too, even though he had heard the story countless times.

"After Darth Bane established that rule, the Sith went into hiding. Because Bane and his apprentice were the only Sith now, hiding was easy, as compared to trying to hide the legions of the Sith Empire before. Bane wanted, above all, secrecy so that, when the time came, the Sith would be ready to overwhelm their Jedi rivals.”

Silence. “So what happened then, Master Jinn?” one of them finally asked breathlessly.

“Are you sure you want to know?”

Nods.

“Certain?”

More nods.

“Well, it would have worked perfectly if it the Sith hadn’t made a crucial mistake,” Qui-Gon paused significantly for a moment as the younglings waited with bated breath. “About two hundred years later, the Sith Master Darth Nacht made a drive for power before he was ready-- and failed. Have any of you heard of Alderaan?”

They shook their heads.

“No?” Qui-Gon asked, arching an eyebrow. “Are you sure? Well, Alderaan was a beautiful planet that was destroyed in the conflict. Alderaan was the place where the Jedi clashed with the Sith Master and Apprentice, finally exterminating the Sith Order once and for all. The clash between light and darkness made the beautiful planet completely uninhabitable, impossible for any creature to survive upon. ”

Silence. Then, after several long, drawn out moments, a child spoke. “Wizard!” one of them breathed. Anakin giggled. A few of the other Padawans had picked up on his speaking habits and it looked like that had passed on to the initiates, as well. “They destroyed the entire planet?”

“The entire planet,” Qui-Gon confirmed. “The planet of Alderaan-- once legendary for its beauty and peace-- is no more.”

Utter silence as the gathered initiates contemplated the full meaning of this. “Wizard,” one of them finally whispered again in awe.

To Anakin’s surprise, Xanatos abruptly turned away and started walking back out the door. Oh, Force, not again... “Wait!” he pleaded, catching up with the older man and grabbing his arm. “Where are you going?” he demanded harshly. “You wanted to see Qui-Gon and--”

Xanatos did not even look at him. “He’s happy,” he muttered.

“What?”

“He’s happy,” Xanatos repeated again, utterly emotionless. “He doesn’t need me. He’d be much happier without me.”

“What do you mean? Of course he needs you! He--”

“He doesn’t need me!” Xanatos exclaimed, whirling around to face Anakin. His midnight eyes blazed with a flurry of emotions, hurt, sadness, self-hatred. In his fury, he seemed to be taller, more menacing than he actually was. Anakin took an involuntary step back as he finally realized why Xanatos was one of the most feared, respected Jedi in the galaxy-- until Xanatos deflated, the anger gradually seeping away.

“He doesn’t need me,” he repeated softly, yet again. “He hated me from the moment I took my lightsaber and-- he hates me,” he finished sadly, catching himself from revealing any more. Not that Anakin needed to know-- the entire Temple knew about Xanatos and Qui-Gon’s disagreements. “Qui-Gon’s perfectly fine without me. He’d be so much happier if I would just disappear from the face of the galaxy.” He smiled suddenly. “So maybe I will,” Xanatos murmured. “Maybe I will.”

Anakin blinked in surprise, letting his arm drop. If he did not know better, he would have said that that almost sounded like--

Xanatos quickly jerked away, striding once more down the hallway, his heels clicking sharply on the cold tile floor. “Wait!” Anakin begged again, running to catch up. “What do you mean?” he demanded, struggling to keep in stride.

Xanatos did not slow down, not even looking at the younger man as he opened the door. “The Council has offered me another mission,” he explained, finally meeting Anakin’s gaze with infuriatingly calm midnight eyes. “All I have to do is accept, and I’ll be off-- away from Coruscant, away from the Temple, away from Qui-Gon. He doesn’t seem to need-- or want-- me,” he finished bitterly. “We’ll all just be happier if I just disappeared.”

He started walking again, only to have Anakin leap into his path, blocking his way. “You said you’d be here for my Trials,” Anakin reminded him accusingly. “You can’t just go and--”

“Ah, Xanatos,” a little voice called from somewhere by his knees. Anakin looked down quickly, and, sure enough, there was the little troll himself. “Found my wayward Padawan you have, I see, hmm?” Yoda queried, simultaneously poking Anakin with the stick. “ ‘Back in five minutes,’ said he. ‘Worry not, Master Yoda!’ Hmmph!” Yoda snorted his disdain, whacking Anakin with the stick once more.

“Master Yoda!” Anakin exclaimed. “I was just--”

“Just escorting me to the Council,” Xanatos interrupted smoothly. “I decided to accept the mission.”

Yoda raised an eyebrow. “Accept it you will, then?” he queried. “Glad of that I am. For this mission, need our most experienced knight we do, Xanatos,” he declared, patting Xanatos on the knee. “But seen your Master have you? Seen Qui-Gon you have not for over five years, yes?”

Xanatos gulped, even as Anakin smirked. “Um... I was--”

“So see him you must!” Yoda announced happily, rapping his stick on the floor. Anakin stifled a giggle at the chagrined look on Xanatos’ face at that announcement. “Escort you to his office Anakin will,” he decided. “And then finish his meditation this boy must,” Yoda added, poking Anakin again and looking at him meaningfully with liquid green eyes.

Anakin groaned dejectedly, and it was Xanatos’ turn to smirk.


 

Three more minutes, Xanatos thought to himself, checking the chrono once more. Three more minutes.

He got up from his chair and started pacing around the office. Qui-Gon’s office, while neither large nor elaborate, carried a distinct charm that quite a few more spacious areas lacked. Decorated entirely in the soft creams and earth-tones that Jedi tended to favor, it was furnished for comfort, rather than vanity. It might have been the office of a middle-class businessman, and no one would be able to know the difference.

If not for the keepsakes on the walls, that is.

Xanatos smiled, stepping a bit closer to inspect one of the decorations on display. He remembered that one. It had been a gift for Qui-Gon’s birthday, a silly little thing he had seen on display in a store window and bought on an impulse. He sincerely doubted that Qui-Gon had ever found use for a snuffbox, but it had seemed like a sensible purpose at the time.

Next to it, an old holo of Qui-Gon and Xanatos in much happier times, leaning on one another’s shoulders, both grinning broadly for the holopic. Xanatos frowned, peering closer. Was his Master giving him bunny-ears?

And, next to that, another picture with Qui-Gon and another young man, smiling and--

Xanatos jerked his gaze away, looking at the chrono instead. Two more minutes, he thought to himself.

He smiled ruefully. Force, but hadn’t he checked less than a minute ago? He could just hear his Master’s voice now, reminding him, just as he had so many times before--

“Impatience is handmaiden to despair, and despair is of the Dark Side.”

Wait a moment. Was that voice in his head, or was--

Xanatos whirled around to face the door, where, sure enough, Qui-Gon Jinn stood. He had aged over the past ten years, looking as if twenty years had passed rather than only ten. Perhaps that was to be expected after what he had been through, but it still gave Xanatos’ heart a pang to see his teacher and mentor looking so different. His long, once-chestnut hair had grayed quite a bit, and his beard, too, had turned silver, lending him the aristocratic air that gray hair always seemed to give. The fine web of wrinkles on his face had deepened and spread, showing new lines of sadness, but, at the same time, the distinct lines that came from smiles and laughter too.

“Master,” Xanatos greeted softly. He walked over to his mentor, teacher, friend, wanting so much to hug him, start sobbing like a small child, and apologize for everything that had happened in the last ten years--

He shook Qui-Gon’s hand. “How have you been, Master?” he inquired politely, pitching his voice evenly, not revealing any of his long pent-up emotions. Just the student and the teacher. Not a son and father, not a--

Qui-Gon grinned at the title. “I’m not your master anymore, Padawan,” he reminded him.

“I’m not your Padawan anymore, Master,” Xanatos returned.

They both chuckled a bit at that. “True,” Qui-Gon admitted with a wry smile. “So- how are things in the galaxy lately?” He asked this in the same tone Xanatos just used. Polite, civil, but nothing more.

“Oh, not bad,” Xanatos replied. “The same as usual-- peaceful, quiet, for the most part. The Council was hard-pressed to keep me busy,” he admitted.

The galaxy had been peaceful for centuries. Even Master Yoda could scarcely remember a time when the Jedi had been called on in force, though they kept up their lightsaber skills and martial arts. The Sith had long ago been defeated, the Dark Side long ago put into a swift retreat; now was a golden age for the Republic, for the Jedi. Jedi were still needed, of course, as peace-keepers, as negotiators, and it had been in this function that Xanatos had served during his self-imposed ten-year exile.

Qui-Gon nodded. “That’s nice,” he replied vaguely.

An awkward pause followed, neither man knowing quite what to say or where to look. Xanatos shifted slightly from foot to foot.

“Would you have a seat?” Qui-Gon finally offered. Xanatos nodded, not quite trusting his tongue. They both sat down on opposite sides of the wide desk. More silence. “Care for a drink? I have blue milk, tea, and water.”

“Water,” Xanatos replied hoarsely. He needed it. Even though he had faced quite a few dangers during his time away from the Temple, his throat had never felt quite so dry.

Qui-Gon nodded curtly and pushed a button on the desk. A moment later, a kitchen droid entered, bearing a cup of clear, cold water. Xanatos chugged it down without pause.

It did not help.

They just sat for a few more minutes in silence before Xanatos finally decided that he had had enough. “Qui-Gon, I--”

“Xanatos--”

They stopped and looked at each other somewhat sheepishly. “You first,” Qui-Gon offered.

Xanatos nodded, licking dry lips. “Mast-- I mean Qui-Gon, I just wanted to tell you-- to tell you--” he stopped, not knowing how to continue

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. “Of course,” he replied wisely. “I never thought I’d hear you trying to apologize, Xanatos-- I'd always rather sincerely doubted that you would. You’re probably one of the most stubborn Jedi in the order. But you are trying to apologize, aren’t you?”

Xanatos nodded dumbly. “Exactly,” he admitted. “I guess I’m not that good with apologies, but after everything that’s happened between us during the last ten years I thought--”

This time, it was Qui-Gon who cut him off. “You don’t have to apologize, Xan,” he interrupted, using the childhood name that Xanatos had not heard in ever so long. “It wasn’t your fault. It had to happen, I know that now; I knew it then, too, but couldn’t accept it right away. I’m the one who should be sorry for driving you away from your home, from your life.” He smiled ruefully, holding his hands out, palms up. “So-- will you forgive me?”

Was it true? Could it be true? He had spent the last ten years trying to run away from his past, from his actions. Was it finally over? Xanatos stared at his teacher for a long moment-- and threw his head back with a laugh. “How about we just both be sorry together?” he suggested.

Qui-Gon smiled. “Deal.” He offered his arms for a hug-- and Xanatos hugged him back.

It was good to be home.

 

For what seemed like the hundredth time that day, Xanatos nodded wisely with an understanding smile on his face. He had spent the last two days working on a labor dispute on the mostly industrial planet of Wekkeran. The dispute involved the workers at the component factories – they made computer parts of droids – and their bosses, who were unwilling to concede everything. Negotiations had begun a month ago, but no progress had been made. It was a fairly routine matter, but the last time it happened, several years ago, massive riots had resulted. The droid and computer manufacturing business was very important on Wekkeran – they had no virtually no tourist industry, though it was a pleasant enough world, so their entire economy depended on it.

Xanatos sat at a long, oblong table made of sleek black stone native to the planet. With him were the delegates from both sides of the dispute, sitting at opposite ends. Xanatos sat in the middle, and off by himself as he was here as an objective person.

Currently, the leader of the workers was letting his fury build into a full tantrum – and it was not the first time that day he had done so. He stood and waved his fist in the air, presenting an intimidating figure with dark bushy eyebrows set above menacing eyes. The executive of the company regarded him with glacial coolness. Xanatos, with his tall but slender frame, did not appear to present much of a threat so he was mostly ignored.

Closing his eyes in irritation, Xanatos let his focus wander.  A smile touched his classically featured face as he remembered what had happened at the Temple just before he left on the freighter – the ship that would get there the quickest –  to reach Wekkeran.

Qui-Gon. After so many years of Qui-Gon’s never ending grief and pain, Xanatos resentment of Qui-Gon’s treatment of him – and Xanatos’ own guilt for his actions – peace had been made between them. It gave Xanatos’ spirit a strange buoyancy, which held even with bickering parties shouting nearby.

The table trembled with a powerful thump. Xanatos’ eyes snapped open and he would have gone for his lightsaber, hanging loosely at his belt, but he did not sense any danger. He raised his head and looked up at the furious man – the workers’ leader. Rean was his name – Xanatos had always been good with names, a useful skill in a Jedi.

“What’s so damn funny?”

Xanatos blinked slowly and let his smile widen. Not deliberately antagonizing the man, but Xanatos did not care for missions requiring more diplomacy then lightsaber action. A quirk of his personality. “Nothing,” he said calmly. “Merely remembering a . . . pleasant event, as this discussion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.”

Rean just looked at him, surprised at the strange response.

Xanatos stood, pushing back the plush chair. He cast his eyes around the table, meeting each gaze. “Gentlebeings, perhaps we should continue this tomorrow,” he suggested, resisting the urge to use the Force to ‘persuade’ them he was right.

Fortunately, the whole group reluctantly nodded, shooting each other glares as they did so. They didn’t want to agree on even that small thing, Xanatos thought sadly.

Once he made sure the delegates got to their respective rooms without a fight breaking out, he headed for the outdoors rather than his own room. While the room was plenty comfortable, with plush and elegant furnishings, he wanted to take a walk. He couldn't talk to Qui-Gon, there being no Holonet connection yet between the recalcitrant Wekkeran and Coruscant.

He was fairly certain he wouldn’t be bothered, even though there was little doubt in his mind he would recognized as a Jedi. With the cream tunics, dark brown, heavy robe and a lightsaber, he could hardly be mistaken for anything else. But people respected the Jedi, and in many cases they respected and cared for the Jedi enough to leave them alone. Xanatos hoped that was the case on Wekkeran.

Wekkeran was a predominantly human planet anyway, with no sentient native species. If he wrapped himself in his robe entirely and hid his lightsaber, he might not be recognized as a Jedi.

Plan made, Xanatos pulled his cloak tight and walked out of the building. He strolled past offices and small cafés, looking for something but not quite knowing what. He soon walked past the busy center of the city to a more outlying area. His plan was successful and he wasn’t bothered by any of the passerby.

When he found the park, he knew that this was where he wanted to be. It was exactly the kind of park Xanatos liked, with plants and shrubbery growing wildly but with some people trimming it back occasionally, keeping track of what was there. The air was fresh and the area a soothing green – and no dangerous animals and plants to worry about, the best thing about a park.

He walked deeper into the tiny forest, until the floor was merely dappled with sunlight, most of the light blocked by the old, gnarled and massive trees. He walked down a pebble pathway, mind wandering and relaxed. He was nearly in a meditative state. Soon, he heard the slow, bubbling sound of rushing water, which meant a river was nearby. Musing that it might be nice see, he let the path lead him.

And the Force guided him on gently.

 

He was falling. It was merely an instant, a feeling of total weightlessness with the rush of air. Then he hit something hard which gave a moment later, surrounding him in a rush of cold. Shock made his body limp. Was this death?

Obi-Wan’s lungs demanded air and his body began to kick instinctively, disturbing the water. His eyes snapped open, but he could only see blurry colors of blue, wavering and shifting. His eyes stung and he squinted, blinking rapidly. He kicked again, one hand stretched out for that light. His robe became entangled in his legs but he kept kicking, completely frantic.

He had wanted a quick death – which this was not.

Finally, his body began to weaken and his struggles lessened. The light was steadily approaching. The light grew almost unbearably bright and then the water parted and cold air hit his face.

He inhaled, gasping. His arms, heavy with damp clothes, came up and he began to paddle. The blurriness of his vision began to fade. Blue bordered with brown. He focused. The shore of the body of water was fairly near. He weakly began to push himself forward with slow strokes.

Soon, his hands hit the wet dirt, which he clenched in his hands, the sand easily slipping out. He loosened his grip and pulled himself on the shore, his lower legs still in the water. His mind dazed and confused, he looked around at his surroundings.

It appeared to a forest. And a peaceful one at that. Large, ancient trees were rooted deeply in the ground, surrounding the area. He tried to look past the trees, but all he saw were more trees. The area was fairly shadowed with the heavy canopies that the trees provided and thick moss lay on the forest floor. Small mammals scurried and birds hopped from branch to branch, taking no notice of the man lying on the ground.

Then there was the lake. It was completely surrounded by the forest, a startling deep blue against the dark, vivid green. He stared at it, mesmerized. The lake was not very large, being small enough that he could see the other side, but when he stared into its depths he realized it was quite deep. The center of the lake looked almost black it was so dark a blue, so deep were its waters.

What was this? Was this death? He had his lightsaber – that was gone now, he realized, lost in the lake somewhere – and he had been pushing down on the ignition button. Then – he was here. In the lake. So was the lake death? If that was the case, where was he now – on the water’s edge?

Whatever it was, it was peaceful. Calm and soothing to his tense nerves. He had a huge temptation to simply lie down where he was and sleep. He had lost blood from the shards of glass, and he was not sure how much. On top of that, he had not eaten in several days and the constant running had worn him down. He was tired.

But he couldn’t rest, he realized with a sense of panic. Vader. Where was he? Panic quickly began to drown out reason. He stumbled to his feet, the heavy wet cloak dragging. He quickly yanked the thing off his shoulders, though he kept a good hold on it. The tattered piece of clothing was the only thing of value he possessed anymore.

His breath coming in quick pants, he looked around – for what, he didn’t know. But he quickly saw something which disturbed him, his Jedi senses catching what was barely visible.

A trail. It was unmistakable. Trailing off as it reached the edge of the lake was pebble pathway, not recently used from what Obi-Wan could tell but clearly taken care of it so the pebbles wouldn’t scatter.

The Empire. He had to leave, the Empire would be here.

He looked around for his lightsaber, turning his head away from the path. Where was it? It took a few long moments for his mind to catch up to his instinct to get his weapon. It was in the lake somewhere and possibly damaged anyway.

He turned back to the pathway without thinking at the barest scuffle of a boot, dropping into a defensive stance as he did so.

Standing there, at the end of path, was Xanatos. He was dressed, ironically, in Jedi robes and tunics, the colors automatically calming Obi-Wan – the face automatically doing the opposite. It was as he remembered: pale, perfect skin offset by midnight blue eyes, a classically featured face that spoke of aristocratic bloodlines, and thick, straight black hair that fell to his shoulders. Yet something was missing.

Xanatos stared at him with a look of shock on his face. His hands were held loosely at his sides but his body had clearly tensed. His spine straightened and he stepped back slightly, one hand calmly taking his lightsaber from his belt.

Obi-Wan could only stare in stunned disbelief at the formerly dead man.

“Kenobi,” Xanatos said softly, his eyes narrowing with suspicion, disgust, and the faintest stirrings of hate, swiftly repressed.

Obi-Wan licked his lips and would have stepped back – except he had no place to go, except the water. He dropped his cloak, preparing.

“I thought you were dead,” Xanatos said emotionlessly. Still not igniting his lightsaber. Did he realize that Obi-Wan was unarmed? Perhaps he didn’t and that was why he hadn’t attacked yet.

“I thought the same of you,” Obi-Wan said, with some degree of calmness. It was a skill he had thought lost. But the calm was only a veneer. Fear and panic were waging a battle for supremacy underneath. His Jedi control had long since been shattered by his experiences.

Confusion flickered in Xanatos’ eyes at Obi-Wan’s words. Keeping his lightsaber low and not ignited, he began to approach Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan flinched, wavering on his feet like a frightened animal. The hate had completely faded from Xanatos eyes, leaving confusion and curiosity.

When Xanatos was in striking range and had still not attacked, Obi-Wan threw himself at the former Jedi. Xanatos stumbled back a step, taken by surprise. He almost ignited his lightsaber, to spit Obi-Wan, but he stopped and threw it away, far out of reach except for the Force. Then he met Obi-Wan’s attack head on, determination hardening his face.

Obi-Wan’s only thought was of taking out Xanatos quickly. Evidently Xanatos, whatever his plot was, didn’t want to kill Obi-Wan, since he had thrown his weapon – an advantage – away. The idea that Xanatos might not want to hurt him simply because it would be wrong barely even registered in his mind and was dismissed at conception.

Obi-Wan first used his legs, trying to swipe Xanatos off his feet. Xanatos easily jumped over the attempt, but he was less well prepared when Obi-Wan found a pain nerve in his leg and squeezed. With a yelp, Xanatos skipped back, surprise in his eyes.

But he didn’t hesitate to come after Obi-Wan again. Two things quickly became apparent to Obi-Wan: first, that Xanatos wasn’t using any dirty fighting and second, that Xanatos was clearly in good shape. Unlike Obi-Wan, who was running on his last burst of energy.

His concentration, degraded by lack of sleep and food, finally slipped. Up until then, their fight had been purely physical. Obi-Wan had used every dirty trick he could think of, no small number, yet still not all of them, as his mind was befuddled and confused even as he fought. It was clear, though, in the fight that Obi-Wan was not at his physical prime. And even worse, Xanatos seemed to realize it – but he didn’t take advantage of it. In fact, as soon as Obi-Wan saw the realization enter Xanatos’ eyes, pity soon followed. Which only caused Obi-Wan to fight harder, with a snarl. But his strength was fading and Xanatos was still strong.

Obi-Wan tried to hit Xanatos on the side of his neck, a stunning blow, but Xanatos sidestepped with a move he had never seen before and had caught his wrist before he knew what was happening. Then Xanatos swept one leg under Obi-Wan’s, bringing him down.

Xanatos forced Obi-Wan to the ground, straddling him. He used his legs to keep Obi-Wan from kicking him and his hands held Obi-Wan’s wrists firmly.

Obi-Wan struggled, not even using any skill now but simply squirming, desperate to be free. Low sobs escaped his throat as he was firmly held down.

Xanatos, holding Obi-Wan’s wrists, brought them up and slammed them back down again, shaking Obi-Wan violently. “Kenobi!”

“No! Get off, get off!” Obi-Wan yelled, gasping. Panic flooded his mind. Only a few months before, he had gotten careless from exhaustion and a squad of stormtroopers had managed to capture him temporarily. They had taken his lightsaber and proceeded to beat him mercilessly, taunting him and playing with him. When they had held him down and then dangled a Padawan braid in front of him, as a trophy, he had snapped.

None of the stormtroopers had survived. And Obi-Wan was left with a fear of being unable to move – of being helpless. But he feared himself most of all.

“No, no, no don’t,” Obi-Wan said, babbling and incoherent, his only thought to get away. He tried to buck Xanatos off but his weakened effort failed.

Confusion and pity swirled in Xanatos eyes, mere feet from his own. Then the emotions faded from Xanatos’ eyes, to be replaced with a calm focus. Suddenly, a wave of Force strength went over him, smothering and holding him still.

Obi-Wan had time to register the invasion of his mind, the touch deftly seeking to make him lose consciousness, before he succumbed to the darkness.

 

Despite looking quite thin, Kenobi was actually quite heavy, as Xanatos discovered. Especially for a long walk. And it was a long walk back to the freighter he had come to Wekkeran on. He was fairly certain the pilot would be willing to take Xanatos and his guest back to Coruscant, even with the inconvenience it would cause. The man had told Xanatos when he came aboard how honored he was to meet a full Jedi Knight, and how his sister’s life was saved by a Jedi.

There was never any doubt in his mind he should take Kenobi back to the Jedi Temple. He just couldn’t leave him here. Though what to tell Qui-Gon worried him. What would his old Master think?

Time to worry about that later. First, he had to get Kenobi back to the ship. Fortunately, the spaceport was on the outskirts of the city so the residents wouldn’t be so bothered by the noise and bustle. In the event of bumping into anyone, he could probably come up with a good excuse to explain carrying a wet, unconscious man.

He walked through mostly deserted streets and roads, taking the longer but less occupied route to the spaceport. He called upon the Force to give him strength and by the time he did reach the spaceport and the freighter, he was barely breathing hard. And he was in a good mood – he had gotten strange looks but the lightsaber had kept the few people he saw away. They probably thought it was official Jedi business and that they shouldn’t interfere.

The freighter was one of the smaller, commercial craft. It would have bays of varying sizes, designed to carry any kind of cargo. Augmenting one to fit one, dangerous human male wouldn’t be difficult, and since the owner and pilot of the vessel had been dropping off material, there would be room.

As Xanatos approached, the pilot wandered out. He was not a young man, in his middle forties with an ordinary face and brown eyes and hair, but he had lively spirit and kind smile. Xanatos had instantly liked him. He walked down the ramp of his ship with an inquisitive smile.

“Knight Xanatos?” he inquired politely, casting Kenobi, who lay over Xanatos’ shoulder, a look.

Xanatos shifted his burden. “I have a huge favor to ask, Bethos.”

Bethos grinned. “Anything,” he promised simply.

Xanatos was touched at the utter trust in the man’s voice. “My . . . friend here needs to be brought to Coruscant. Immediately.”

“Ah!” Bethos said, instantly understanding. “You would like me to bring him back? It would be my pleasure. I have nothing waiting here for me anyway.”

“Thank you,” Xanatos said with a relieved smile.

Bethos nodded and stepped to the side of the ramp, waving Xanatos to go up and inside. Xanatos did so, easily compensating for the high angle, even with Kenobi over his shoulder. He began walking down one of the corridors, to the back where the cargo bays were.

“You want to put him in your cabin, Knight Xanatos?” Bethos called from behind him. Xanatos could hear his footsteps echoing behind him as Bethos followed.

“No,” Xanatos said, and paused. “I’m afraid the situation is more complicated. He’s not a threat – not with me here, as I’m coming along, but he might not want to go to Coruscant willingly,” he admitted. What an understatement, Xanatos thought with a wince. It was not precisely a lie, but his words were definitely skewing the real issue. But, he rationalized, Bethos would be safe with him on board – especially now, with Kenobi unconsciousness.

“Ah,” Bethos said, sounding uncertain.

“It’ll be all right,” Xanatos grunted. He slammed his hand against a control of one the smaller cargo bays, meant to carry the very delicate items. The large door opened and Xanatos let his burden slip the ground. Kenobi fell gracelessly, not catching himself. Still unconscious, he thought with satisfaction.

The small cargo bay was about ten by twenty meters wide. The floor was metal, as were the bulkheads, but there was temperature control and around the bay itself were inertial dampers to protect the cargo. It would do perfectly.

Turning from Kenobi, Xanatos looked at Bethos and put a hand on his shoulder. “It’ll be all right,” he repeated.

Bethos smiled uncertainly, but Xanatos could sense his worries gradually fading. “Well then,” Bethos said with a forced casualness, “I’ll go back to what I was doing.” He cast one last look at Kenobi and left.

Xanatos sighed and looked down at Kenobi, trying to decide what to do next. He scanned the unconscious man, taking a more professionally objective look, to see if there were any life threatening injuries. It appeared not, though Kenobi was thin, probably starving and malnourished. His face was drawn and pale beneath the ragged, unkempt beard, his eyes looking like dark bruises. He looked like a man driven to the edge of sanity.

Xanatos shook his head, sighing. He let one hand stroke his chin, even though he had never allowed himself to grow a beard, finding the things itchy and scratchy. He stared at the man sprawled gracelessly on the floor a moment longer. Kenobi was still in wet clothing. When Xanatos had happened upon him, it had looked like Kenobi had just crawled out of the lake.

He was going to have to get the man out of those wet clothes. Of course, he needed something to put him in afterwards, too. And rope. He knelt down one last time, checking Kenobi’s pulse, which was weak but steady, and how close he was coming to be conscious. A deft touch with the Force and Xanatos knew that Kenobi would still be out for a couple of hours.

With that, he turned from Kenobi’s still form and left, walking down the corridor to his own small cabin. He had left some of his belongings there, hoping – optimistically, as it turned out – that he would be able to help along the negotiations quickly and leave when the freighter did. Now he and Qui-Gon had healed – at least partially – their relationship, he wasn’t quite so eager to leave on missions constantly, though he doubted he would ever stay at the Temple for a long period. And, Xanatos admitted to himself, he was almost afraid that if he was gone for too long that Qui-Gon would change his mind.

Stop acting like a child, Xanatos told himself sternly. Qui-Gon would never do such a thing.

Frowning, Xanatos stepped into his cabin through the small hatchway and grabbed his bag, which had everything he normally didn’t carry around with him, like breathers and such. It held a change of clothing and everything else he might conceivably need, including – ah yes. Rope. He picked that out and threw it on the bed, after testing it by pulling it taut. It was strong.

After that, he pulled out a pair of pants and a loose, cream tunic. It would not be very warm, but Kenobi wouldn’t freeze. Especially since Xanatos had gotten his ragged cloak, dripping wet, and brought that along as well. He wasn’t sure why he had done so, but it felt right.

Having gotten his things together, he closed the bag and walked swiftly down the corridor back to the small hold where Kenobi was. Never pausing, he threw his supplies to the floor and got his knees by Kenobi. He was soon grasping the black, clinging tunic and pulling it off over his head, lifting Kenobi’s arms to help.

Once he had, he stopped. Kenobi was thinner than he had realized and definitely in need of a good meal. His ribs were clearly visible, even with a hard layer of muscle. More surprising were the scars. There were numerous, many old and faded. It appeared Kenobi had been shot, burned and slashed many times over the years. He didn’t remember him being so marked before.

Pausing and taking a deep breath, he stripped him the rest of the way down. As Xanatos had half suspected, the rest of him was in similar condition. Thin and scarred. It was disturbing to see, especially in such a peaceful time – oh, Xanatos had his scars from battles, but he was a Knight who tended to take more violent missions anyway. Where had Kenobi been?

Pushing away his thoughts, Xanatos quickly maneuvered the unconscious man into his own clothing. Even with that small change, he looked better and Xanatos unconsciously smiled.

Leaving Kenobi barefoot, he took the rope and unraveled it. Using his a knife in his boot, he quickly cut off long strips. With one he tied Kenobi’s hands behind his back, a thorough and tight knot. It would grow tighter with struggling. With another strip, he tied up Kenobi’s feet in the same manner.

He paused and regarded the unconscious man for a moment. Then, making a fast decision, he took a strip of Kenobi’s wet clothing and gagged him. After all, he didn’t want to leave Kenobi able to scream for help. Bethos, not realizing the danger, might go and see him, and with Kenobi’s Force abilities that would be disastrous.

Xanatos then looked around the small cargo bay, searching for any means of escape. There were none. There wasn’t even a way for the door to open from the inside. Nodding to himself, Xanatos left and locked the hatch behind him.

Now to deal with the labor dispute he was here for.

 

He couldn’t move.

That was the first thing he noticed, waking up to a massive headache. He was bound hand and foot, he realized, fighting down a swiftly rising panic as he struggled to free himself. Bound effectively enough so that the struggling only tightened the knots, not loosening them at all. He opened his mouth to shout out in protest-- and realized that he was gagged, too.

Slowly, slowly, ever-so-slowly, Obi-Wan fought down the panic that had immediately risen at his realization. This phobia of his, spawned from his time on the run and in hiding, was not doing him any good. Stop that, he chided himself silently. You need to keep your head.

Maybe he was insane. That would explain everything. One moment he had been sitting in an empty warehouse, a lightsaber in his hand and at his chest-- and the next, he had been in a lake. In a lake, of all places. He stifled a giggle at that, fearing that it would lead to further hysterics. Running from Imperials for a few years could surely drive a person mad; he just hoped that whatever looney bin he ended up in served decent meals.

Several Jedi calming techniques later, he was calm. Or as calm as he could be under the circumstances. Taking a deep breath, he silently looked at his surroundings, scanning for anything he might use to get out.

He discarded the idea of escaping from the bonds immediately; Xanatos, no matter what else he was, was most definitely not incompetent. Cruel, yes. Evil, perhaps. But not stupid. The knots holding his arms and legs had been looser at first; his struggling had tightened them so that they were now quite snug, still not cutting off the circulation to his hands and feet, but snug nonetheless. Actually, the bonds surprised him, not seeming quite in character with the Xanatos he knew and loved oh-so-very-much; he was bound, but not bound to anything. Not to any of the numerous outcroppings in the hold, not to the walls, and not, even, to himself, hands tied to feet.

Obi-Wan shook that thought away. Xanatos would have his reasons.

He mentally took stock, blue eyes carefully scanning the room. A cargo hold, he decided. A small one, at that: no more than ten by twenty. Smooth metal, no exits. The only door looked impossible to open from within. The interior of a small ship, then. Not a Star Destroyer by any stretch of the imagination, that much was certain. A smaller ship-- a freighter perhaps. Though Force only knew what the fallen Jedi was doing in a freighter.

His robe was lying on the floor, he noted with relief. Funny, but that had almost been his first reflex, to look for his robe. The ragged, tattered old thing lay next to his still-sopping clothes, he noticed in surprise. The cream-colored clothes he wore now were not his own, cream where his had been black, but other than that obvious difference, they were almost the exact duplicates. The old ones were still wet, though, meaning that he had not been out of it all that long. A few hours, at most.

Perhaps he was a prisoner, then; perhaps Xanatos would turn him over to the Empire. Obi-Wan shuddered violently at that sobering thought. He would not put it past Xanatos to pull such a trick-- Jedi were wanted. It would not be out of character for Xanatos to turn him over, if only to save his own skin. Palpatine would surely gleefully accept-- the tyrant had wanted him from the beginning. The problem with this scenario was that Xanatos was not that stupid. Palpatine would betray him at the first chance.

How had he survived? Obi-Wan wondered. Xanatos had fallen into an acid pit on Telos-- Obi-Wan had seen it happen before his eyes. He still remembered that, even after everything that had happened: the look of pure hatred on Xanatos’ pale face as he denied Qui-Gon’s last offer-- and dropped into the burning liquid. That image had been superimposed into his mind, just as Anakin’s last moments as Anakin had been, before he had physically fallen into the lava pit, the good man that had been Anakin Skywalker dying in the flames, just as Lord Vader had been born.

Well, he laughed silently, why not? Anakin had survived-- why not Xanatos? Poetic justice: he escaped from one fallen Jedi, only to fall into the clutches of another. He wasn’t quite sure, as of yet, which one was worse, but had no doubt that he would find out.

As if on cue, a sudden rattling at the door signaled Xanatos’ arrival. Obi-Wan turned, as well as he could while bound hand and foot, to face the door. He forced down another bubble of fear as he watched expectantly for the once-Jedi to enter. Xanatos and he had never been on the best of terms. Far from it. Devious and cold-hearted, Xanatos had been a model of everything a Jedi should not be. And he’d be the Force-blind son of a gundark if he thought things would change now, when he most needed an ally.

The door opened.

 

Xanatos smiled slightly, whistling an off-key tune, as he unlocked the door to the cargo hold, juggling a plate and cup as he went. The meeting had gone well indeed, an interesting and somewhat shocking, but good, development in what as otherwise shaping into a rather unpleasant mission. The company had offered generous terms that even the outspoken Rean could not refuse, despite his bluster. The union would sign, no doubt about that. That message to the company's CEO must have done some good, after all.

His smile widened into a grin. Yes, this was turning into a fine day indeed. If only he could ignore the guest he had in the cargo hold, it would be perfect.

In the end, he gave up trying to open the door while juggling Kenobi’s food. He lifted a booted foot and simply kicked the door inwards, and with a judicious use of the Force he kept it open so he wouldn't be unintentionally locked in. That would be embarrassing. The grin evaporated as soon as he entered the room.

Kenobi lay on the floor awake and glaring at him with cold blue eyes. Despite himself, Xanatos was the first to drop his gaze. He had not beaten the younger man out of any particular skill, he knew. It had been a one-sided battle; Kenobi half-starved and panicked while Xanatos was at the peak of his strength. In any other situation, Kenobi would have won and, more than likely, their roles would have been reversed.

Or worse. Kenobi probably would not be feeding him.

"Food," he snapped curtly, carefully placing his burdens on the ground, quite aware of Kenobi’s continuous gaze. The icy eyes tracked his every movement, watched him as he gingerly lay the plates on the ground and walked over to the bound figure.

Xanatos regarded the man slowly for a moment, taking in the sight of his emaciated form again. He slowly shook his head in wonder. How did this happen? he wondered. The galaxy was peaceful; a man of Kenobi’s talents would be more than capable of surviving, even if ... well, even if he were dead, as Kenobi was supposed to be. There were ways around that particular problem, though.

"You need food," he remarked suddenly. A massively stupid comment, but no matter. "I’ll take out the gag so you can eat," he decided, carefully reaching down to remove it, Kenobi’s eyes tracking him all the while.

As soon as he took it out, a long stream of curses erupted from the other’s mouth. Xanatos watched in fascination as Kenobi attempted to insult the last five generations of his ancestry in record time - with as many languages as possible.

Xanatos raised an eyebrow. "What language was that last one?" he interjected. "Something about my paternal grandmother and a bantha?"

Kenobi cut his tirade short. "Alderaanian," he grunted, before launching into another set.

Alderaanian, Xanatos mused, rubbing his beardless chin thoughtfully as Kenobi reached new heights of creativity. The language of Alderaan had been all but lost, gone when the planet had been rendered uninhabitable centuries ago, but was still used infrequently. Perhaps it should not have surprised him that Kenobi knew the language, but Kenobi had never been one for linguistics in his years at the Temple, choosing to forego it in favor of lightsaber training.

He dismissed the thought offhand. Knowing how to curse in a given language wasn’t the same as knowing the language itself, after all.

It took a few minutes for Kenobi to run out of inspiration, after which he simply began to repeat himself. Xanatos gave him a few moments to finish before cutting in. "Are you done?" he asked mildly.

Kenobi shot him a dark glare before finishing off with a few more graphic threats and insults. "Yes," he finally snapped. "Quite finished." Some shame entered his eyes, at acting so immaturely – surprising to see. On the other hand, he looked calmer, as if releasing his anger that way had helped.

Xanatos smirked a bit but wisely chose not to comment. "Food," he said again. "You look like you haven’t eaten for months." He turned away, carefully removing the cover to reveal the food he had managed to smuggle away from his last meeting.

It was not a feast by any stretch of the imagination. The main course was more liquid than solid, the drink more solid than liquid, thanks to not-so-rich union members. But, most importantly, it was edible.

Icy blue eyes fixed themselves on the plate, taking in the sight of what might have been the first true food they had seen in weeks, before being rudely jerked away. "What did you put in it?" Kenobi grated through clenched teeth, forcing his eyes from the tantalizing plate. "Sedative? Poison, perhaps?"

"Of course not!" Xanatos snapped. The mistrust in those blue eyes touched him in a way he couldn’t quite explain. "You judge me harshly."

"I’ve learned to not put anything below you," Kenobi retorted. "Why am I here? Did you plan on selling me out to Vader, then? To save your own wretched skin?"

Vader? Xanatos thought, carefully trying to gauge Kenobi’s mental stability. Who’s Vader? Kenobi had not been insane before, but Force only knew what being dead did to a person’s mental health.

"Uh... of course not," he attempted weakly, not quite sure what he was being accused of. "It’s just food. Here, want me to prove it?" Xanatos picked up an eating utensil, speared a bit of meat, and carefully put it into his mouth. "See?" he asked, feigning a liking for the stuff. "Not bad at all." He resisted the impulse to gag on the garbage, forcing a wide smile and rubbing his stomach in fake enthusiasm. "Delicious!" Nutritious, anyway, Xanatos thought to himself with a private grimace.

Kenobi’s eyes narrowed in suspicion again, though they fixed again on the tempting meal before him. He yanked them quickly away. "I still won’t eat," he declared.

Xanatos’ eyebrows shot up. "Won’t eat?" he repeated dangerously. "Yes, you will."

"No," Kenobi announced defiantly, "I won’t."

"You seem to forget, my friend," Xanatos grated, "who, exactly, is bound and who, exactly, is not."

"You won’t do it either," Kenobi told him, with all the stubbornness of a young child. Taking control of the situation in the only way he could. "You can’t make me eat it!"

Midnight eyes narrowed ominously as Xanatos leaned in to stare into the younger man’s face. "No one," he whispered, "no one tells me what I can or cannot do. No one."

"Prove it."

Xanatos quickly spun around to grab a spoon. "Fine!" he shouted in frustration, trying to shove it down the other’s throat. Force, if he didn’t want to eat it, he’d make him eat it.

Kenobi leaned back, twisting from side to side and struggling to keep the food away from his lips. He tossed his head left and right, the long ginger hair flying everywhere. "Nonononono-- UUMPH!" he choked, the spoon finally making it in to his open mouth.

And he spat it back out, straight into the other’s face.

 

Obi-Wan had to a laugh at the sight. Xanatos’ aristocratic, handsome face was covered in the goo, his eyes closed from shock and the expression frozen on his face… well, the expression was hilarious. When the older man turned away to wipe the stuff out of his eyes and preserve as much dignity as humanly possible, a giggle escaped despite Obi-Wan’s best attempts.

And the giggle quickly escalated into a fit of hysterics.

Oh, dear Force, what was going on? He had just spit a liquidy excuse for food into a dead man’s face. A dead man. And not just any dead man, mind, but one whom he had seen die before his very eyes. One moment he had been sitting in a warehouse with Vader and his stormtroopers ready to swoop down, and the next he was in a lake.

Through teary eyes, Obi-Wan watched, helplessly giggling all the while, as Xanatos’ eyes widened in shock. To his surprise, there actually seemed to be a hint of compassion in the once-Jedi’s eyes. Or pity. Or a mixture of both. Neither fit into the profile he had long ago formed of the fallen Jedi, though, an abnormality that would have given him cause to think in most circumstances.

A series of quick slaps interrupted his laughter. "Kenobi," Xanatos ordered, "Cut it out!" Xanatos took the younger man by the shoulders, roughly shaking him in an attempt to quell his hysterical outburst.

Despite himself, Obi-Wan could not restrain the laughter erupting from somewhere inside of him. " ‘Cut it out!’ " he repeated, still giggling derisively, "Why should I? My entire world has just been turned upside down and I’m talking to a dead man who’s going to turn me over to the Emperor and his lapdog! Why by all the nine Sith hells should I want to calm down?"

Another series of slaps managed to temporarily stop the fit. "Calm, Kenobi," Xanatos ordered, trying to support the weakened man with a strong arm behind his back. "Calm," Xanatos repeated, looking genuinely worried at the other's welfare.

It took a few moments for Obi-Wan to regain any appearance of sanity. Deep breaths, Kenobi, he chided himself. Just think of Vader’s respirator: in-- out-- in-- out... Odd, but the thought of that sound usually calmed him more than anything else. Kept him from hyperventilating, at any rate. "I’m fine," he finally managed. Xanatos nodded curtly and quickly let go, dropping him as if he were a hot iron. Obi-Wan drew in a sharp breath as his bound hands hit the floor but tried to keep his eyes on Xanatos. Strange, but it almost seemed as if the former Jedi feared him. "Thank you," he attempted hesitantly, inbred good manners coming to fore even with this person.

Xanatos nodded curtly. "You’re welcome," he responded shortly.

Silence as the two looked at each other, each contemplating their private pasts. Finally, Obi-Wan broke the silence. "You’re dead," he told the other simply. "I watched you die."

"As I watched you die," Xanatos responded softly.

"This is insane!" Obi-Wan finally exploded. "You shouldn’t be here! I shouldn’t be here! You’re dead! Any moment now I’m going to wake up, or find out what in heck the ‘afterlife’ is like. Maybe I’ll meet Qui-Gon there - maybe I’ll see you there, too," he added derisively. He laughed a bit at his private joke, but it quickly subsided. Xanatos had stiffened suddenly. "What is it?" Obi-Wan asked, gazing quizzically at the other man. There was something new here – something important.

"Don’t say that name," Xanatos responded softly.

"What name? Qui-Gon’s?"

"That one. Don’t say it. Ever."

"Why not?"

Xanatos turned to look him in the face, midnight blue eyes blazing with a fiery intensity that rivaled even Coruscant’s glow. "How dare you even ask that," he hissed. "You. Of all people."

"Wh--"

"Shut up!" Xanatos ordered, cutting him off with a wave of his hand. "You don’t deserve to be able to speak his name, did you know that? Did you know how you broke his heart by leaving him, by leaving the Order, by becoming what you chose to be? Do you?"

Xanatos continued, raging now and not allowing Obi-Wan to get a word in edgewise. "Hadn’t I told him that it was a wrong decision to take you? To take you? It was always about little Obi-Wan Kenobi, the trainee that managed to stand up to the others, to hold his own with the big people. Oh joy. But did he ever look beyond that? Did he ever think about how you managed to hold your own? Morals and honor and light have very little value when you’re the scum of the earth, isn’t that right?

"We all tried to warn him. All of us: me, the Council, … Tahl, even," he added, voice cracking slightly, "And he would always listen to Tahl, in everything else if not in this. We tried to tell him that this was the biggest mistake he could possibly make. And, Force, didn’t we all pay for it.

"Your betrayal scarred him deeply, Kenobi. And I don’t think you ever realized how deep. Even after you died at my blade, he mourned. I have no idea why, but he did. It wasn’t his fault, it was yours; your decisions, your choices. Your darkness. Your punishment.

"He blamed me for a while, you know," he continued almost conversationally. "I blamed myself, too, always wondering what I might have done differently. If, perhaps, you weren’t quite beyond redemption as you appeared to be. I came to accept it in time; Qui-Gon came to accept it about a week ago.

"And now, now that we have finally begun to build our lives anew without you, to rebuild on the shadows of broken hopes and dreams, you show up again," he finished, glaring at the shocked figure on the floor. "You’re dead. I killed you myself. How in all nine Sith hells did you survive? And why, by the stars, did you decide to show up now?"

Obi-Wan stared at him for a long moment. Is it possible? he wondered. Is it even remotely possible? Looking at the other man, still livid with righteous anger, he had to wonder.

Suddenly, he threw his head back with a harsh laugh. "Now I understand!"

"Understand what?" Xanatos snapped.

"We’re both insane!"

 

Xanatos had long since concluded that Kenobi wasn’t the best of people, but it really surprised him that the fallen Jedi had become insane. Kenobi had been perfectly mentally stable – he was just evil, that was all. And that was why this Kenobi was so confusing.

Because this Kenobi didn’t appear to be very evil. He threw hysterics and kept ranting about someone called Vader, but that was not evil. It was not the darkness that Xanatos was familiar with. He didn’t try to manipulate Xanatos, as he would have before. He didn’t try to invade Xanatos’ mind with the Force, as he would have done before. In fact, the idea didn’t even seem to occur to him.

What was going on?

Xanatos breathed deeply, trying to release the tension in his shoulders. He stood in the middle of his small, gray cabin aboard Bethos’ ship, attempting not to pace. Pacing, he could almost hear his Master reminding him, was a waste of energy. He should channel it into more useful things.

Maybe I should channel it into beating Kenobi, Xanatos thought most uncharitably.

After a few moments of Sithly consideration, Xanatos dismissed the thought. He could never do such a thing. He was like his Master in that sense – he couldn’t be ruthless. He had a compassionate side – rarely seen in him, unlike with Qui-Gon – that couldn’t be stifled or ignored. Even when he wanted to do just that. Kenobi, he remembered, had been quite ruthless when it suited him.

This is getting me nowhere, Xanatos thought, frustrated. Finally, he acted as he knew he should have in the first place. He knelt in the middle of the room, on the hard floor, and meditated. Meditation was something that, as a Padawan, he had loathed. Floors were often hard and uncomfortable – making it difficult to get up when the meditation was over – and it was hard to both concentrate on not thinking and to not think at the same time.

Years passed, however, and he became a Knight. He found now that while he didn’t enjoy the hard floor part, becoming one with the Force was soothing. Not only that, but being attuned to the Force had often kept him alive – he could hear the faintest whispers of warnings that it gave him when his own thoughts no longer drowned out the whisperings of the Force.

He wondered if Kenobi meditated.

Falling deep into the meditative state, Xanatos let go of his frustrations, fears and hate. The Force soothed him with waves of comfort.  When he had achieved a state of attunement, he let his mind go back and dwell on those things that now haunted him.

In a word, Kenobi. When Qui-Gon had first taken Kenobi as his Padawan, Kenobi had been young, only ten years old. He had been skilled with a lightsaber and had stood up to people older than him. Admittedly, Xanatos hadn’t liked him at first. He wasn’t sure why, not then, and had finally decided it had more to do with jealousy than any real cause. Kenobi made his Master happy in a way that Xanatos hadn’t seen since his own Knighting.

Kenobi grew, as all the young do. He grew fast and quick witted, strong and confident in his abilities. He also grew arrogant and, in the end, that led to his fall.

Xanatos swiftly drew away from that memory. He had long since gone over it again and again, and it would not help him now – would probably only hinder. Instead, he drew his mind to the current day – and the current Kenobi. This Kenobi was as different from the one that he had known as night was of day. Where the first Kenobi had been confident, this one was beaten; where the first had been arrogant, this one was broken. It was like they were two different people.

Two different people.

What if they were two different people? Was that possible? Kenobi was dead – Xanatos had seen him die, had killed him himself. There had been a body. There was evidence of his death.

Still deeply enmeshed within the Force, it guided him to a memory.

Years before, when Xanatos was still a Padawan, he had had to take a class in theoretical physics. It had been a boring class, all about numerous strange phenomena in space. Finally sensing his students’ boredom, the teacher had mentioned another theory. The theory of alternate universes. A theory that stated with each decision made or not made, a new universe was created where just that thing did happen. Say, a man asks a woman to marry him. She says yes. According to that theory, another universe would have been created at that moment – a universe where she could have said no, maybe, or numerous other possibilities.

Mind awash in the wonder of the possibility, Xanatos thought, Is that possible? Is that why the Force has guided me to this memory – to tell me the Kenobi in that cargo hold is not the one I knew?

Falling out of his meditation, all Xanatos could think was, By the Force. What if that’s it?

 

 

Obi-Wan tried to get comfortable. It wasn’t easy on hard, metal floor but he was doing the best he could. He lay on his side, but with his arms pulled back the arm he laid on would quickly grow numb. So he ended up shifting his weight from side to the other quite frequently in an attempt to stop that from happening.

Which resulted in no sleep.

Not only that, but his stomach was protesting his treatment of it. His mouth watered for a taste of that gruel that he had spit out. He had thought that he would eventually get over not having any food, that his body would accept it wasn’t getting any, but such was not the case. The craving for it only became more insistent.

Tired, miserable and hungry, Obi-Wan struggled not to cry. Xanatos was gone; there was nothing for him to rail against. And when there was nothing to fight against, there was nothing to fight for.

Giving up, Obi-Wan let a few drops of precious water escape. He watched as they fell off his eyelashes onto the floor. His arm was going numb again, but he didn’t bother to move.

Then there was the harsh, scraping noise of the cargo door opening. Obi-Wan opened his eyes. He didn’t have adjust for light – the lights in the small cargo bay never turned off. Or at least Xanatos hadn’t bothered.

Xanatos walked in. He looked as he had before, wearing Jedi robes and tunics with a lightsaber clipped to his belt. His long hair fell to his shoulders. Obi-Wan realized what was missing – not what was strange – but missing.

The half-circle. It had been burned into Xanatos’ cheek at his father’s death, when he rejected Qui-Gon and fell to the dark. But it was gone now. What had happened? Had the acid burned it away and he hadn’t bothered to replace it when he got the new skin?

Xanatos stepped closer and Obi-Wan unconsciously flinched, no longer trying to keep a brave – or insanely brave – front. The dark blue eyes deepened in compassion.

“Obi-Wan?” Xanatos said softly, uncertainly. He slowly knelt by Obi-Wan’s side and touched his shoulder. Xanatos had never called him Obi-Wan before.

Obi-Wan just looked at him, too exhausted to do anything else.

Xanatos hesitated. “I still have most the gruel. Do you think you would not spit it in my face now?” he said simply. He didn’t say it teasingly, but he said it with no hint of hate, either. He had before, when he had made his insane accusations. Which Obi-Wan still didn’t understand. But it was hours later and he couldn’t bring himself to care enough to ask about it. Xanatos had left immediately after Obi-Wan became further hysterical, when he stated they were both insane.

Obi-Wan nodded. “Please?” he said quietly. Not sure what to do, or say.

Xanatos didn’t require anything else. Made no sarcastic comments. He walked out of the bay and returned minutes later with the gruel in hand. He set the bowl on the floor, and then walked over to Obi-Wan. He put one hand around Obi-Wan’s elbow and the other at his back, helping him to sit up. Awkwardly, Obi-Wan tried to help.

Once Obi-Wan was settled, Xanatos took the eating utensil and gingerly lifted it to Obi-Wan. He shot Obi-Wan a half smile as he did so, the uncertain look still in his eyes.

Obi-Wan didn’t why he was uncertain. Xanatos had always been a very confident person. At least as he remembered him – and everything he had ever believed in seemed to be gone now. Lost in the insanity of his own mind.

Xanatos silently fed him. However, Obi-Wan could eat only half of what was available before his stomach warned him against having more. He desperately wanted more, but he realized that his stomach must have shrunk through the months of being half starved, and he shook his head at the food.

“Full?” Xanatos asked, shoving the food to the side.

Obi-Wan nodded warily. His stomach was warm and that was quickly spreading throughout his body, making him sleepy. But he kept his gaze on Xanatos. With food came strength – and a returned paranoia.

Xanatos looked at him for a long, drawn out moment. Obi-Wan stared back silently and with as much calm as he could manage. What he did manage was more of a blankness. Obi-Wan had suffered small bouts of hysteria before, though always when he was alone and relatively safe from capture. His loss of control in front of Xanatos had been . . .  unusual.

Xanatos gaze drifted from Obi-Wan face to his body. As the fallen Jedi’s eyes traveled, they softened and changed. Finally, he came back to Obi-Wan’s face. The uncertainty in the midnight eyes had faded a bit, to be replaced by curiosity. “May I ask you something?”

“Depends on what it is,” Obi-Wan said, licking his lips. Suspicion flared in his mind.

Xanatos seemed to sense it. He drew back and his eyes fell. He frowned and then looked up. “It’s a simple question. Something I’m sure you won’t mind answering.”

Obi-Wan’s eyes narrowed, but he said nothing.

“How old were you when –” he paused. “When Qui-Gon took you as his apprentice?”

Obi-Wan looked at him curiously. That was unusual question to ask – Xanatos knew that, he had been half responsible. He didn’t know why he was asking – but it seemed a harmless enough question. Obi-Wan was aware that sometimes interrogators started off that way – with easy questions – that was why military personnel were required to answer with only their name, rank, and serial number.

Xanatos looked at him almost pleadingly. A truly strange thing to see on his face.

“Just before my thirteenth birthday,” Obi-Wan answered finally.

The older Jedi drew back, shock in his features. And a growing realization – of what, Obi-Wan couldn’t guess. “Thirteen,” Xanatos said faintly.

“Yes.” Warily.

“And . . . how did I die?”

Obi-Wan’s answer was immediate, but soft in tone. “You fell into a pit of acid.”

Xanatos’ eyes snapped up, something changing in those midnight orbs. His mouth opened, but he said nothing. Then, finally, something unexpected came out: “Do you want a blanket?”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said, watching Xanatos curiously. “Thank you,” he added automatically.

Xanatos nodded, mind clearly elsewhere. Then he left. He was gone for longer than before, when he had gotten the food, and just as Obi-Wan was beginning to wonder if he would come back he did. Xanatos walked in without saying anything and settled the blanket around Obi-Wan’s shoulders carefully. Then he nodded to himself and left, with a simple, “Good night.”

“’Night,” Obi-Wan muttered, long after Xanatos had left.

He slept.

 

“Let me help you with that,” Kenobi offered, earnestly leaning forward as Xanatos tried to open the door while juggling a food and eating utensils.

“You’re tied up, remember?” Xanatos grunted as he finally managed to boot the door open. “I don’t think you can help with no hands.”

“Oh.”

Xanatos gave him a tight smile before carefully setting the platter on the ground. He looked up again, gave Kenobi a little nod. “How are you feeling?” he asked. “Did you sleep well?”

“Well enough,” Kenobi answered, lips quirking up just a bit. “I’ve slept better, I’ve slept worse. Probably the best I’ve ever slept with both hands bound behind my back, though.”

“That’s nice,” Xanatos responded vaguely, carefully spooning a mouthful of gruel into Kenobi’s mouth. The food was just as bad as yesterday’s had been, most likely, but it was all they had at the moment. “Sorry,” he murmured softly as he watched Kenobi thoughtfully swirl it around his mouth before swallowing. “It’s not much, b--”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Kenobi responded quickly. “I’ve had worse.”

“Indeed,” Xanatos responded with a raised eyebrow. “One would be under the impression that you’ve been through a lot,” he added carefully, watching the other man’s face. He had no idea what Kenobi had been through; if what he thought was correct, this Kenobi might have gone through Hell and back again, for all he knew.

“You have no idea,” Kenobi responded with a grimace. His ice-blue eyes seemed to grow misty for a moment as he continued, “Though I’m not sure it will get any better.” Kenobi cast a suspicious side-long glance in his direction before opening his mouth for another bite.

Xanatos nodded but didn’t respond, looking at the bowl and idly swirling its contents. If Kenobi didn’t want to trust him, it wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t been particularly inclined to trust Kenobi at first either. And without Kenobi knowing what he knew, trust would be much harder to earn. “Do you want to feed yourself?” he asked suddenly, looking up into Kenobi’s face. “I can untie you, you know.”

Kenobi choked in surprise. Carefully setting down the food, Xanatos roughly reached over to pound Kenobi’s back before the younger man finally managed, “What?”

“Do you want me to untie you?” Xanatos asked. “You would have to promise not to try to escape, of course,” he added as an afterthought.

“You would untie me?” Kenobi asked, sounding amazed.

“Yes... if only to avoid having to feed you,” Xanatos quipped with a small smile. “I have other things to do, you know.”

Kenobi regarded him intently for a moment before nodding slowly. “Deal. I swear by Qui-Gon’s memory.”

Qui-Gon’s memory? Xanatos thought, thunderstruck. Qui-Gon? Dead? How-- He shook his head irritably, earning a quizzical stare from Kenobi. Time enough to think about that later, he thought to himself. Setting the food down again, he crawled over to Kenobi’s other side, where the younger man helpfully offered his bound hands to be untied. Carefully slipping long fingers into the rope, he twisted and tugged at various strands, hoping that he was actually loosening rather than tightening. Almost... no, not that one... got it... there!

Kenobi carefully withdrew his hands, wincing a little as he rubbed his wrists. “Thank you,” he said simply.

“You’re welcome.”

After all, trust has to start somewhere.

 

Obi-Wan took one last glance towards the sleeping quarters, checking once more to be sure that Xanatos was asleep. He sent his thought out, stretching out to the Force to carefully feel the other man’s presence-- peaceful and serene. From it, one would never suspect what evil atrocities the man was capable of when awake.

But now Xanatos slept.

Obi nodded once in satisfaction and quietly made his way down the dimly lit hall. He tried to ignore the little twinge of conscience he felt at doing this, at leaving. Just a while ago he had promised not to leave-- he had promised Xanatos that if he were released from his bonds, he would stay aboard the ship, would not go anywhere. Would not try to escape, as he was doing now.

Stop that, he told his stinging conscience. I have to do it.

You’re breaking your word, it reminded him huffily. Just because he’s a liar and an oathbreaker doesn’t mean that you have to stoop to his level.

Shut up.

Besides, he wasn’t really escaping. He was just... borrowing the ship. He wouldn’t leave it, he’d just make sure that it... ended up in a different location.

See? he asked his conscience. I’m not really breaking a promise at all.

It stayed silent, but the stinging sense remained.

Obi-Wan carefully made his way to the cockpit, trying to make as little noise as possible and succeeding only partially. He winced at a particularly loud squeak against the floor. For some reason, he found, it was during times that he most needed to be quiet that the universe in general seemed to be working against him.

A few minutes and a few hundred near-heart-attacks later, he made it to the freighter’s cockpit, immediately dropping in to the pilot’s seat. The freighter, evidently, had been put on autopilot as the ship’s small crew slept, helped by a bit of patented Jedi encouragement.

He hadn’t dared to help Xanatos in the same way-- perhaps at another time he would have, but not now. He was still recovering from his various ordeals and didn’t trust his skills at such a time. The possibility that Xanatos would feel his tampering was all too real.

“Let’s see,” he murmured to himself, looking over the control panel. Speed. They were going at about .9 over lightspeed, an above-average speed, from what Obi remembered. More than that-- remarkable. Astonishing, even. That speed was... was unheard of! Would be unheard of for another twenty years, at least.

After a moment of thought, Obi-Wan shrugged the matter off. Only the Force knew what kind of... improvements may have been made on freighters with the... more creative captains on the wrong side of the law. Smuggling had increased in the years of Imperial dominion, something that Obi found deeply amusing. The more Palpatine tightened his grasp, the more the people rebelled. Like sand slipping through his fingers.

Fuel. Decent. Not nearly enough to make it to the Outer Rim by any stretch of imagination, but more than enough to make it to most Core worlds.

Life-support. A bit cool for his liking, but he could deal with it.

Weapons. Powered down. Not nearly as many as he’d expected on what was probably a smuggler’s ship, but he had learned to not expect very many of his expectations to be confirmed.

Doors. Shut.

Destination. Cor--

Obi-Wan’s eyes snapped wide open, his breath quickly hissing out in shock. Coruscant. Imperial Center. Xanatos had planned to take him to the Emperor- to Vader- all along then. The friendly façade, the strange behavior, had been exactly that, then-- an act. A pretense to gain his trust. And, like a fool, Obi-Wan had believed him.

Stop, he ordered himself, quickly cutting off the flowering rage before it could fully blossom. He seemed to anger more and more quickly these days, perhaps a result of his years on the run, but all the same a matter that caused him infinite worry. It doesn’t matter anymore. You can fix it...

Quickly, he skimmed his mind for a place to go. Coruscant, of course, was out of the question. As was Dagobah-- he didn’t want to lead the Empire straight to Yoda...

Alderaan, he decided, quickly punching in the coordinates. He had always loved Alderaan-- the peaceful, quiet planet under the jurisdiction of the Organa line. Bail had been a friend for years; they had fought together in the Clone Wars, had been comrades in arms for a time. Like Ana-- he cut off that thought before it could completely form.

“Alderaan, here I come,” he whispered, his finger hovering over the switch--

“There’s nothing there, you know,” a voice remarked from somewhere behind.

Obi-Wan whirled quickly around to see Xanatos leaning casually against the door-frame, seemingly at his leisure. “You,” he hissed, raising an accusatory finger. “You were planning to sell me out to the Empire all along!”

Xanatos raised an aristocratic eyebrow, looking mildly surprised with his arms still crossed over his chest. “Empire?” he queried, looking oddly confused. “There’s an Empire now, too?”

A cold shudder worked its way up Obi-Wan’s spine. “The Empire,” he ventured, suddenly uncertain. “The Galactic Empire. Surely you know...?”

Xanatos shook his head. “No. The only thing you’ve mentioned is someone by the name of Vader.”

“You were going to give me to Vader?” Obi-Wan demanded, leaping at some other way to explain things. Force, but nothing makes sense...

“No. I’ve never heard of him.”

“But we were going to Corus--”

“So that I could bring you back to the Temple,” Xanatos finished for him with a small smile. “I’m sure the Council will be most pleased to see you again. And--”

“The Temple was destroyed,” Obi-Wan interjected weakly, closing his eyes in vain against the memories. “Vader destroyed it. Everyone in it.” He had avoided thinking of it for so long, but now the ghosts of the pasts swam up to meet him, their faces, their voices. He struggled to repress those memories, to lock them away again...

Obi-Wan’s eyes snapped open. There’s nothing there, you know.... “Alderaan? What happened to Alderaan?” A thousand possibilities flooded his mind, each more terrible than the last. The plan had been to give the Padmé’s girl-child to Bail to raise as his own, to hide from her own father. Leia. Had Vader found her, then? Found her and exacted his vengeance on the planet, pounding it with his turbolasers until-- “What happened?” he demanded again, grasping at the pilot’s seat with a white-knuckled hand. “What happened?”

“Alderaan has been uninhabitable for centuries,” Xanatos told him quietly, eyes intently focused. “It was the final battleground between the Jedi and Sith, and the resulting devastation rendered the planet totally impossible to live on for any species in the galaxy.”

Obi-Wan frowned. Maybe he is insane after all. “What galaxy did you come from?” he demanded. “Have you been hiding under a rock? Alderaan is one of the most beautiful planets in the known galaxy.”

Xanatos quickly strode forward and grasped his shoulder, locking gazes, midnight blue meeting ice over the distance of only a few centimeters. “No,” he said softly. “The question isn’t where I came from-- it's what universe you’re from.”

 

“When will your Trials be, Anakin?”

“A few weeks at most, Chancellor,” Anakin Skywalker answered automatically. That particular inquiry had become almost routine in the past few days as the promised deadline grew increasingly nearer. Though he would probably never willfully admit it, Anakin was apprehensive about the approaching date. The bar was set pretty high for him, especially as Yoda’s first padawan learner in decades, he knew.

“Are you nervous?”

“A bit. Master Yoda thinks I’m ready, though.”

They were standing in the office and gazing out the wall-sized window, the magnificent view of Coruscant’s lights spread out before them. Nighttime on the city-planet was a wondrous thing, glowing with the sparkle of millions upon millions of lights. The city didn’t truly come alive until after dark-- that was when the fun began.

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine chuckled. “My, my time does fly now doesn’t it?” he asked with a laugh. “It seems like just yesterday when Yoda first accepted you as a padawan. Your patience has paid off.”

“Your guidance more than my patience,” Anakin countered.

“Perhaps,” Palpatine agreed with a self-deprecating smile.

Anakin clasped his hands behind his back, content to watch the city-scape from his comfortable viewpoint. Palpatine’s office was large, of course-- opulent and elaborate in every sense, as much so as Qui-Gon’s office was plain. The desk and chairs themselves sat atop a small dais, giving it an almost throne-like appearance when one entered the door. The giant table itself was stone, heavy obsidian rock that gleamed in whatever places were not covered by the paperwork that seemed to clutter every politician’s desk.

“I’d rather thought that you were ready a while ago,” Palpatine continued thoughtfully, giving the soon-to-be-Jedi-Knight an appraising look as the both turned away from the window and walked towards the door. Anakin needed to get back to Master Yoda after all-- his training had only increased with the impending date of his Trials-- and surely the Chancellor had things he needed to do as well. “But who am I to argue with Jedi?” Palpatine queried with an ironic smile. “I’m just your lowly friend and mentor.” Anakin had to grin a bit at that-- not everyone had the Supreme Chancellor’s esteem, after all. Palpatine, though, had seemed to take a particular interest in him of all the Jedi, even when he had been brought to the Temple as no more than a young child.

There was a reason to that, Anakin knew-- someday he would find out.

“I have said it many times,” Palpatine continued as they descended the steps. “You are the most gifted Jedi I have ever met.”

“Thank you, Your Excellency,” Anakin interjected with a small bow in his direction.

Palpatine smiled, stopped walking, and put a hand on the younger man’s shoulder. “I see you becoming the greatest of all the Jedi, Anakin,” he said with an encouraging smile, squeezing Anakin’s shoulder just a bit. “I believe in you, Anakin; I just know you can do it.”

For some inexplicable reason, Anakin Skywalker shivered suddenly with a distinct sense of déjà vu.

 

“I find this very hard to believe,” Kenobi told Xanatos bluntly. He sat in the only chair in Xanatos’ cabin with his legs curled up in an unconscious, defensive posture. Xanatos was fairly certain that Kenobi wasn’t aware of it. Nor was he aware, Xanatos was sure, of how vulnerable it made him appear.

“Really?” Xanatos asked, raising an eyebrow. “It’s a perfectly valid scientific theory – though your presence would seem to indicate it is not so much of a theory anymore.” Xanatos sat on the bed, hands resting loosely on his thighs, leaning forward in a deliberately non-threatening manner. Kenobi was quick to be suspicious of him – no reason to simply make the matter worse.

Kenobi laughed shortly, cutting himself off. The sound had no humor in it. “Alternate universes? An infinite number of possibilities, and I happen to get stuck in one not my own?”

“Yes,” Xanatos said patiently. “Or at least I think so.” He fell silent, and watched the former Jedi – Jedi? – absorb the information. Kenobi curled up tighter, and a line appeared between his brows. His arms were wrapped around himself. There was no cockiness, no swagger in this Kenobi, as there had been in his own.

Kenobi let loose a soft sigh. He seemed to consider his next words, his mouth twitching slightly as if mentally rehearsing what to say. Then he turned his gaze onto Xanatos. “That doesn’t explain why I am here. Only the . . . confusion that we both have about the situation.”

Xanatos leaned back slowly. “Well, considering you popped into my universe instead of vice versa, I would guess only you could answer that question.” He kept his tone matter of fact, sensing that the situation was fragile, though he wasn’t sure why.

“You think I know?” Kenobi asked, an edge of disbelief in his voice. He straightened slightly. “I didn’t do anything to make this happen,” he said sharply, eyes narrowing.

“Perhaps you weren’t aware of it. Where were you? A scientific installation, perhaps –“

“No,” Kenobi said, cutting him off with a word and a sharp gesture. “I was in an abandoned warehouse.”

Xanatos blinked. Abandoned warehouse? What kind of life did this Kenobi lead, anyway? “What were you doing?”

Kenobi shook his head, a distant, knowing pain entering his eyes. Haunted. “Nothing. Nothing that matters anyway.” His voice was quiet. Then he looked down into his lap. Yet something in his manner hinted of more. There was a slump in his shoulders, and his throat worked – but no sound came out. And those startling icy blue eyes would not meet Xanatos’.

“Kenobi,” Xanatos said simply – indeed, not sure what to say – with a gentleness that surprised himself. What had this man gone through? He didn’t trust him, still, but he admitted to himself that he didn’t know this man. Or his circumstances. He was not to judge. It was not the Jedi way.

The former Jedi looked up suddenly, eyes blazing with some indefinable emotion. Hurt? Fear? Anger? Despair? Xanatos could not tell. He could look at that face, the hair loosely hanging around his face and the wild, unkempt beard. He looked not unlike a crazy homeless man, especially in the simple, rough clothing that Xanatos had provided.

The icy blue eyes shifted. A faint, bitter smile touched his lips, a hint of irony in the twist. “I was trying,” he said, the last word softly and sadly spoken, “to kill myself. To put my lightsaber through my heart. And the next thing I know, I’m falling into a lake.” The eyes were raised, finally. They held only a distant calmness now.

There was a short silence, filled with conflicting emotions. “Obi-Wan,” was all Xanatos could utter, shocked and saddened. His hands gripped his thighs, and his entire body was tense with his emotions. “You tried to kill yourself? Force – I don’t know if it’s different in your universe, but here we are all taught that that is not a viable option. Never to be used – even in the most vile of circumstances.”

Kenobi let out his breath in almost a harsh pant. “You know,” he said, with a sudden, defensive fierceness, “I don’t think you really know what a vile circumstance is like.” He raised a shaking hand to his face and turned away.

Xanatos could only watch in a mixture of horror and pity. He leaned forward, trying to meet his eyes, but Kenobi would not look at him.

“Sometimes,” Kenobi began softly, “when something so horrible, so vile happens, you go on because you’re strong.” He lifted his head, still not meeting Xanatos eyes. Looking somewhere else, a place that only he could see. “Because you know it’s right, because you know it’s your duty. I think I lived most of my life that way. And then . . . then there are the times that something happens . . . and you just don’t know what to do. Its like every motivation, every energy has been drained from you.”

A single tear made its way down Kenobi’s cheek, noticed only by Xanatos.

“Sometimes you go on because that’s all you can do – there seems to be no other path, no other option that you will allow yourself.” A harsh sob escaped Kenobi’s throat. “And I – I just can’t do that. Not anymore. I did it for so long . . . for all these months. But I just don’t have the energy for it anymore. I just can’t bring myself to care. I just wanted to end it.”

He turned and faced Xanatos. “I wanted to die – and then the damn Force or whatever happened takes even that away!” He slumped in his chair, despair radiating from him, and put his arms over his head.

Xanatos was at a loss. What was he supposed to do? What should he do? He had never been faced with a suicidal, traumatized Jedi before. Such thing simply didn’t happen. Violence and death happened to Jedi in his universe, yes – but it did not lead to such as this.

Finally, trembling slightly and muscles fighting each other in his uncertainty, Xanatos rose. He walked over to Obi-Wan – and he couldn’t help but think of this man as such now – and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan looked up. His face was wet now, but he didn’t shake with tears. His eyes held a disturbing blankness, with an undercurrent of despair and confusion. He sat there, still and quiet, as if he would never move.

Xanatos knelt by him. “Perhaps this was meant to be,” he said softly, meeting those eyes. “Perhaps you were meant to be here – to heal. Because you’re safe now.”

Obi-Wan met midnight eyes that showed only kindness – and he crumpled. Whatever had held him up before, had given him that strange stillness and icy demeanor – it fell apart. He lay his head on the arm of the small chair, his body twisted into the small space it provided. Xanatos hesitated, and then put his hand on Obi-Wan’s tousled head, trying to project comfort and understanding through the Force.

Xanatos knew it was those last words that had done Obi-Wan in. Words he probably hadn’t heard in a long time, if what he had seen was any indication. Xanatos spoke again, in an attempt to reassure. “You’re safe now.”

 

Coruscant loomed. It was similar to what Obi-Wan had known, except it had less population and therefore was less of metropolis, though it was by no means a rural world. It still shone silver from orbit and had the many space lanes of ships coming and going but unlike the Coruscant Obi-Wan had known, this one had a tiny spot of green, barely visible.

Obi-Wan, Xanatos, and the pilot Bethos were all in the cockpit. Obi-Wan stared in fascination.

A gentle hand touched his shoulder, and Xanatos spoke. “You see that green spot, there?” he said, pointing to a spot near the curve of the planet.

Obi-Wan nodded.

“That’s the Jedi district. Not only do we have the Temple there, but we have a large area surrounding it that is mostly gardens,” Xanatos said softly. Bethos was ignoring their conversation, instead focusing on guiding the freighter through the lanes of space traffic.

Obi-Wan was glad Bethos was ignoring them. He didn’t care to explain how he, a Jedi, would not know anything about the Temple and the surrounding area. In fact, Obi-Wan felt uncertain – to a degree that he had not had in a long time. As a Knight, he simply hadn’t been allowed the luxury of it. Uncertainty could easily lead to self-doubt, and that was a dangerous thing for a man who often had to act quickly and surely.

Xanatos seemed to sense it. Those midnight blue eyes – familiar, but strangely different – met his when he turned his head. Xanatos was standing behind him, letting him get the better view. Xanatos smiled at him, with no malice. It still felt strange to Obi-Wan, even though he knew that this Xanatos and the Xanatos he had known were practically two different people.

Since Obi-Wan’s breakdown – he still thought of that with shame, even though it had been days – Xanatos had been nothing but supportive and caring. He was fairly certain the Jedi did not entirely trust him, but he no longer seemed to bear him animosity.

“What will –” Obi-Wan stopped, hesitated.

Xanatos seemed to know what he would ask. “This is a very complicated situation,” the Knight admitted, looking intently into Obi-Wan’s eyes. “Everyone at the Temple knows you as a Dark Jedi – and a dead one at that.”

Obi-Wan felt his eyes widen. He was dead? And he turned? He turned to face Xanatos.

Answering his unasked question, Xanatos said simply, “Yes, that’s what happened. And because of that . . . people might react to your presence in a – not very welcoming matter.” Xanatos gave him a slightly mischievous smile at that understatement.

“But . . .” Obi-Wan frowned. “Can’t I just walk with my hood up?”

Xanatos looked at him with – pity? “No. Especially not with that rag you call a robe.” He hesitated. “I know I’m taller than you, but one of my –“

“No,” Obi-Wan said, cutting him off. Xanatos had offered earlier to let Obi-Wan have one of his robes, but he had refused. That robe, besides his lightsaber, was all he had left of the Jedi. It was silly and to a certain extent sentimental, but he didn’t care. He didn’t want to lose it.

Xanatos nodded, looking resigned. “All right.” He paused. “Anyway, as I was saying, that wouldn’t work. I don’t know about your Temple, but we greet each other in the halls. And anyone who runs into you will want to say hello.”

Obi-Wan nodded, taking in that change. His own Temple was very quiet. People did not speak to each other in the halls often, to retain a sense of tranquility. Everything was very ordered. He had a feeling this Temple was going to be very different from what he knew.

“I’m going to sneak you into my rooms,” Xanatos stated simply.

Obi-Wan blinked. “I see.”

“Just until I can talk with Yoda – I trust the old troll to be reasonable about you.”

Obi-Wan looked at him in shock. Old troll? That was – that was – disrespectful in the extreme! Seeing the look on his face, Xanatos burst into laughter and clapped him on the shoulder.

“It’ll be all right, Obi-Wan, you’ll see.”

 

Xanatos hummed quietly, oddly content. He almost felt like he was on a mission and, in a way, he was. He and Obi-Wan were creeping through the back hallways of the Jedi Temple. Though rarely used, the air was only a musty and the floor was barely covered with a layer of dust, not as thick as it could have been, since Padawans sometimes went down here for dares or other reasons.

Over the past several hundred years as the Jedi had grown, the Temple had been expanding on, including the massive gardens which covered kilometers. But the growth of the Temple hadn’t been handled in the most efficient of ways; rather growing like a plant would in odd and uncertain directions. Which left some parts of the old Temple little used, as the architecture of it made it difficult to get to and move around in. Fortunately for him and Obi-Wan, this old part of the Temple led very close to Xanatos’ quarters. He had discovered this passage when he was a mere Padawan, and he knew that he could make it this way.

Obi-Wan followed him silently. Very silently, Xanatos noticed. This Obi-Wan always walked lightly, as if he were always walking on eggshells. He moved in such a way it was like even the air simply parted for him, leaving nothing in his wake.

Taking another glance at Obi-Wan, Xanatos was glad he had decided to get to his quarters this way. Obi-Wan’s wild appearance would only attract notice, even if they didn’t recognize him immediately because of the long hair and beard – something that their own Obi-Wan had never graduated to.

Obi-Wan’s eyes met his, then quickly glanced away. He looked somewhat panicked and out of place.

“It’s all right, Obi-Wan,” Xanatos whispered, a little concerned.

Icy blue eyes met Xanatos’ midnight blue. Obi-Wan nodded. “Its just . . . weird, I guess. Seeing . . .” He paused. “This.” The word was softly and sadly spoken.

Xanatos opened his mouth to reply but stopped when Obi-Wan jerked, eyes becoming alert and body tensing. Pausing, Xanatos listened.

Footsteps. He cursed mentally. And he recognized those footsteps – it could only be Anakin. He had completely forgotten that he had told Anakin about this place.

“Go hide somewhere,” Xanatos whispered. “I’ll be right back – I just need to distract him.”

Obi-Wan nodded. “Okay.” The fear had faded from his eyes.

Xanatos nodded shortly and left, no longer disguising the noise of his own footsteps. He made it part of the way down a darkened hallway when Anakin called his name.

“Xanatos!”

He turned to greet the Padawan. “Anakin,” he said simply.

Anakin stood a few meters away, wearing just the normal Jedi tunic and pants with the soft boots. He folded his arms and grinned, looking around. “What are you doing down here?” he asked, walking forward to greet his friend. “And you got back awful quick.”

Xanatos shot Anakin a quelling look. “Yes, Ani – Anakin. And what are you doing down here?” he asked pointedly.

Anakin flushed and looked down.

“Escaping from Yoda?” he prodded.

“He’s going nuts over this whole Trial thing,” Anakin admitted, looking sheepish.

Xanatos let out an exasperated laugh. “He’s supposed to go nuts over this whole Trial thing. And anyway . . . he’s just preparing you.” He paused and raised an eyebrow, then slapped Anakin’s shoulder in a friendly way. “Besides, don’t you want to take your Trials?”

Anakin looked up, shocked. He rubbed his shoulder. “Of course!”

“Then you get to suffer.” Xanatos grinned.

“Thanks,” Anakin said ruefully. He turned to go, then looked back curiously. “You never answered my question.”

Xanatos hesitated, not sure what to say. He couldn’t tell the truth, that’s for sure. He and Qui-Gon were close, and he knew that Anakin knew of Kenobi and what he had done. He just couldn’t take that kind of chance.  “My mission turned out to be surprisingly easy. They decided to finally cooperate,” he said finally, forcing a smile. “So I got back early.”

Anakin nodded. “Right.” Xanatos could see that the young Padawan didn’t believe him, but Xanatos was a Knight and while Anakin was close to being one, Anakin was not yet his peer. And Xanatos carried the weight of greater age and experience anyway.

“I’ll see you later, all right? I’m sure Yoda will let me distract you from your meditation long enough,” he said, smiling.

“Right,” Anakin said, glumly this time, no doubt remembering afresh that he was supposed to be doing just that, not wandering around the lower levels of the Temple. But he gave Xanatos a last grin and walked away, towards the upper level near where he lived.

Xanatos waited until Anakin was out of sight before he turned and searched for Obi-Wan.

 

It smelled like home.

That was the first thing he had noticed, and it brought tears to his eyes. The smell was mostly clean and pure – with a hint of mustiness – with that little touch of the air converters that every building on Coruscant had to keep the air clean. Like his own Temple, this one was plain, elegant in its simplicity. Jedi did not accumulate possessions, so there were no odd smells.

Even the hallways that he had seen were like before. High and arched and wide. Royal blue carpet on the floors and long, sweeping windows. Though these were dark with plant life that was smashed against the nearly air tight openings.

Obi-Wan leaned against the wall, and slid to the floor until he was sitting. Xanatos had told him to hide, but being uncertain of where he was, he had not wandered far. He was sitting just at the edge of the entrance to another hallway, having instinctively searched for a place where he couldn’t be cornered.

Strangely, though, he wasn’t concerned about that. He felt safe here. It was so much like home, he had to keep reminding himself that it wasn’t.

With shaking hands, Obi-Wan raked through his hair, letting his elbows rest on his knees. He let his eyes drift shut, letting the familiar smell and feeling of the Temple soak in.

“Obi-Wan?” Xanatos’ voice, calm and comforting. He found himself more and more at ease in the Jedi’s presence, anymore.

He opened his eyes. Xanatos stood before him, watching him curiously, hands folded within his robe. Obi-Wan slowly rose to his feet.

“We’d better get to my quarters, Obi-Wan,” Xanatos said. As he was about to turn so Obi-Wan could follow, someone spoke.

“What is going on?” Faintly disbelieving.

Obi-Wan’s head whipped around, every sense going on alert. He became aware of the slight smell of another person – familiar – the faint echoes of footsteps that he heard but ignored in his presumed safety, and the soft sound of breathing.

A mere thirty meters away, Anakin Skywalker stood. He looked the same as Obi-Wan remembered. Tall, good looking. Confident, with a Padawan braid hanging to his shoulder.

Anakin. Vader.

 It was him.

“Anakin!” Xanatos exclaimed in an almost panicky tone, trying to discreetly block Obi-Wan from view with his larger frame. Obi-Wan stayed, frozen in shock. Why is he here?

“I thought you were going up to the Temple,” Xanatos said conversationally.

“I was,” Anakin responded warily. Obi-Wan couldn’t see the look on his face, but could easily guess from the voice at the confusion that must be evident on the young and innocent-looking features. Innocent. Ha. “But then I decided to come back and wait for you. Xanatos?” he asked quizzically. “What are you hiding? Who are you hiding?”

“No one,” Xanatos responded quickly. Too quickly, Obi-Wan thought.

Anakin was not convinced. “I don’t think so,” he said, accusatory and curious. Hurt, too, if Obi-Wan could read the emotions in his voice. “Don’t you trust me?”

“Of course, Anakin,” Xanatos responded immediately. “I just don’t want you to--”

Anakin took another hesitant step closer. Obi-Wan tried to peek, only to be shoved back with the touch of a Force-push, this time landing on his rump. “Tell me, Xanatos,” Anakin pleaded, stepping closer and closer yet.

He was right in front of Xanatos now, the both of them face to face. “I can’t do that, Anakin,” Xanatos told him firmly, still attempting to hide an uncooperative Jedi behind his back. “Go back. Please.” Pleading as a friend, not a superior.

Anakin shook his head. “I can’t do that,” he told him stubbornly. “We’re friends, Xan, and friends stick together. If you’re in trouble with the Council--”

“No, Anakin, please--” Xanatos pleaded.

Anakin took that opportunity to dodge to the right of the older man. Xanatos tried to unsuccessfully block, but not before the boy saw Obi-Wan sitting on the floor.

“You.” The word was spoken disbelievingly, not in anger but in fear. And he spoke it. Anakin... Vader... Obi-Wan sat on the floor, unable to move for his shock.

Obi-Wan stared back with a mixture of shock and fear, the quick throb of his heart pounding in his ears. Anakin Skywalker. Darth Vader. The former a friend, a son, a companion, a partner... the latter his mortal enemy. More than that – the latter had already destroyed his life, had already taken away everything he held dear.

Anakin is dead.

There was something distinctly wrong with this, but his befuddled mind couldn’t quite grasp it at the moment.

“Vader,” Obi-Wan finally hissed, lurching drunkenly to his feet. If he was going to die, let him die like a Jedi. “So Xanatos betrayed me after all,” he added, shooting a glare at the dark-haired man.

An-- Vader blinked. “What?” he demanded, dumbfounded. “What are you talking about?”

“You--”

“Obi-Wan,” Xanatos said firmly, placing a hand on his shoulder. Obi-Wan whirled around to face the other man. Xanatos looked at him gravely, the faintest bit of confusion swirling around in midnight eyes. “This,” he said, as if speaking to a particularly slow child, waving a hand towards Ana-- towards Vader, “is Anakin. He--”

“I know who he is!” Obi-Wan exclaimed, pulling away. He backed himself up to the wall, frantically eyeing both of them with no small amount of fear and anger blossoming in his heart. “I know very well who he is!” he repeated, wildly looking from one to the next.

The Padawan tried this time, reaching a hand for him--

“Stay away from me!” he demanded immediately, trying to back further up and only succeeding in hitting his head. “Don’t touch me!” A-- Vader looked confused, puzzlement and a bit of hurt apparent in his eyes. But he wasn’t supposed to see Vader’s eyes... The suit, he finally realized. He doesn’t have the suit. He needed the suit, Obi-Wan knew, needed it after he had fallen into the pit. What is going on?

“Obi-Wan!” Xanatos’ voice cut sharply in, startling him enough so that he turned around again. Xanatos slowly raised both hands in a peaceful gesture, adapting a carefully calculated non-aggressive stance. “No one is going to hurt you,” he pleaded, holding his hands out. “Just calm down.”

“Calm down?” Obi-Wan repeated almost hysterically. “You want me to calm down?” He shook his head quickly, trying to clear his head. Nothing was making sense. Vader without his suit, Xanatos alive...

“Obi-W--”

“Stay away,” he hissed forcefully, his whisper as final as any shout. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. About him,” he added, jerking his head towards the Padawan.

Xanatos looked hurt. “Obi-Wan... I thought you trusted me,” he finally managed.

“That was before I knew you were selling me out!” Obi-Wan finally exclaimed, livid with anger. Xanatos had been planning to sell him out to the Empire, then-- even during those long days they had spent on the ship. A good actor, that man. But Obi-Wan quickly deflated, gradually slumping downwards. “You promised me...” he whispered brokenly. He finally broke down and started weeping, holding his face in his hands to hide the tears. Even so, his mind kept working, kept thinking, kept looking for a means to salvage some sort of good from this disaster.

“What’s wrong now?” Xanatos groaned, bending down to try and comfort. One step closer--

Obi-Wan leapt, grabbing Xanatos’ outstretched arm to pull himself up. Xanatos fell with a little yelp of surprise as Obi-Wan smoothly grabbed the other man’s lightsaber, yanking it off his belt with a decisive motion.

He lit it up, watching the blue blade spring to life. Obi-Wan turned to the Padawan, smiling slightly, an intense, slightly even maniacal smile, as he raised the lightsaber. An-- VADER had been caught by surprise, was still struggling to get his own lightsaber off of his belt. Without the mask, it would have been so easy to persuade himself that this wasn’t the monster he was to dreaming of, hearing about in recent weeks. Nevertheless, Obi-Wan hefted his blade, preparing to bring it down, ridding the galaxy of this abomination once and for all--

He never felt Xanatos’ stunning blow to the head as the other landed a hammer-blow with the Force. Obi-Wan sank into blissful oblivion long before he ever touched the ground.

 

Xanatos stared at Anakin for a long, drawn out moment. Anakin lay sprawled on the ground, having leaped back even as Obi-Wan had fallen. Obi-Wan lay at his feet, clearly unconscious from the blast of Force-strength Xanatos had directed at him.

Anakin panted for a moment, then he stumbled to his feet. “I – I’m going to go find my Master,” he half stuttered, shaken.

Xanatos stood silently, watching him with his thoughts racing. He had fistfuls of his robe clenched in his hands, and he stood with his legs slightly apart in a position ready to move.

“Anakin,” Xanatos called. He paused, licked his lips and continued. “Wait, please.”

Anakin stopped his careful retreat and turned slowly. He raised a hand and pointed at Obi-Wan, lying on the floor in a no doubt uncomfortable position. “He just tried to kill me.”

“I know, Anakin,” Xanatos said as soothingly as possible. He reached a hand out, beseeching.

Anakin’s eyes glanced from Xanatos to Obi-Wan. “You’re protecting him.” He took a deep breath, then met Xanatos’ eyes again. “I trusted you, Xanatos – but what the hell are you doing?”

The older Jedi winced at the past tense. “I am not yet undeserving of that trust, Anakin. Please, let me explain.”

Hesitantly, Anakin nodded. Xanatos let out a breath as the moment of indecision passed. “All right. Let’s hear it.” He didn’t move from his position.

Xanatos took a deep, calming breath, calling upon the Force for guidance. It gave him a gentle nudge to talk – and so he did. He told Anakin everything, moving his hands eloquently to illustrate his points – how he met Obi-Wan, his travel back to Coruscant and the Jedi Temple, and everything he knew or speculated about this alternate Obi-Wan Kenobi.

By the time he was nearing the end of his explanation, Anakin was right next to Xanatos, slightly behind him yet examining the unconscious man on the floor inquisitively. Anakin had never been one to let his fear get in the way of his curiosity.

“He isn’t dark, Anakin,” Xanatos stated, facing Obi-Wan but talking to the young Padawan. “I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. He never turned in his own universe – I’m certain of that.” He glanced back at Anakin. “Don’t worry, he’s thoroughly knocked out.”

Anakin nodded, giving a rueful grin, but he didn’t move.

Xanatos gave him a sympathetic look in return. He didn’t blame the Padawan. Obi-Wan was really quite dangerous when he wanted to be. He had all the grace of the other Kenobi, but his had been refined to a razor edge with a dangerous gleam.

“Why are you certain he never turned? That he is a Jedi, really? I mean, he turned here why didn’t he there?” Anakin asked, clearly noting Obi-Wan’s bedraggled appearance.

“I suspect his universe differs from ours pretty drastically. He seems to be continually surprised by the slightest bit of kindness or respect from the average person. And he’s very paranoid about being taken to someone called Vader. And the Empire, whatever that is.” Xanatos paused. “He just . . . reacts differently. To everything. And we know the Kenobi of our own universe is dead.”

Anakin nodded, saying nothing. He grimaced slightly. He had known Qui-Gon since he was quite young, and loved the man like a father. The young Jedi knew just how much Kenobi’s turn had hurt the Jedi Master.

“He doesn’t react in anger, either – fear, more likely,” Xanatos added.

Anakin put his hand on Xanatos’ shoulder. “Fear leads to anger,” he said seriously. Then he lost the serious cast, giving a big grin. “As Yoda and his stick are so fond of reminding me.” His smile faded. “But are you sure we can trust him?”

“Trust him? No. I don’t know how he’ll react to anything – his attack of you proves that. But I think he was attacking you because he felt threatened.” Xanatos sighed, wrapping his arms around himself thoughtfully. “He was hysterical.”

Anakin nodded. “So what do you intend to do with him, then?” They both looked down at the unconscious Jedi. “Take him to the Council? I mean, it’s hardly safe to keep him just anywhere – I’m sure they’ll find a good place for him –“

“No.”

Anakin blinked, turning his head so he could meet Xanatos eyes. “What?”

“I won’t have him locked up somewhere. Or interrogated so the Council can determine if he’s a darksider, just because he was one in this universe.” Xanatos turned, his midnight eyes fiercely meeting Anakin’s. He gripped the young man’s shoulders. “It would destroy him. He is so very fragile, Anakin – you didn’t seem him before.” Xanatos shook his head. “He lived in a horrible place, he couldn’t take another bad experience.”

Bright blue eyes looked earnestly into Xanatos’. “What then?”

“Yoda. Yoda will know what to do. You said you were going to go and tell him – just do so.”

Anakin opened his mouth, then shut it slowly. Xanatos’ hands dropped from his shoulders. “Oh no,” Anakin muttered. “I forgot. Yoda isn’t here.”

“What?” Xanatos exclaimed.

“He’s on sabbatical. Just for a while, he’ll back before my Trials. He has me training with other Masters in the meantime, said it would go for me to have different perspectives. . .” Anakin looked at Xanatos, who was staring at him intently, looking none too pleased.

“Damn,” Xanatos said. “I have a bad feeling about this.” A pause. “When does he come back?”

“Two weeks.”

“Damn,” Xanatos repeated flatly.

“We could go the Council –“

“No!” Xanatos said, shaking his head violently, energy returning. “Let me ask you a question – how many Council members does Qui-Gon know? And how well?” He knew the answer, of course – very well, and most of them.

Anakin stared at him, and Xanatos could almost see his mental processes working. “They would react badly to another Obi-Wan. They remember all too well how Qui-Gon was hurt. They wouldn’t hurt Kenobi deliberately, but he wouldn’t be treated kindly.” He spoke slowly, working it out in his head.

“Good job,” Xanatos half-whispered, mind mostly absent. “You’ll make a good Knight.” Turning away abruptly, he tore a hand through his hair. He felt frustrated. “We’ll have to hide him until Yoda gets back. It’s the only way. If we don’t, the Council will destroy Obi-Wan – unintentionally, but irrevocably so, I think.”

“Hide him? Hide him where? Your quarters?” Anakin asked incredulously, throwing out his arms.

Xanatos casually turned to face Anakin. His slow, mischievous smile was his only answer.

“Oh no.”

“Oh yes,” Xanatos replied. “Obi-Wan was brought here by the Force to heal – and that’s what he’s going to get. And you’ll help me.” A fierce, determined light had turned on in Xanatos’ eyes. They could hide Obi-Wan, he knew they could. Difficult, yes – impossible, no.

The Force has no limits.

 

“Maybe the Force has no limits,” Anakin grunted as he deposited the still unconscious form of Obi-Wan on the bed, “but my back sure does.” The Padawan groaned, gingerly rubbing at his back. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you? You knew he was heavy, even though he looks light,” Anakin accused, turning around to face the other man.

Xanatos looked at him smugly. “But doesn’t it give you nice, warm fuzzy feelings to know that you helped a fellow Jedi in need?” he asked innocently, just a trace of mockery coloring his light tone. He stood with both arms crossed across his chest, a beneficial smile gracing his aristocratic features. The perfect picture of kindness, Anakin thought sourly. All he needs is a choir of heavenly angels.

“No,” Anakin responded bluntly. “Not when the fellow Jedi is a few times heavier than I was expecting.” He straightened with a small groan. “Ow, that hurt.”

Midnight blue eyes crinkled with mirth. “You volunteered,” he pointed out. “Not me.” Xanatos shrugged. “I can carry him the rest of the way if you want. It’s not all that far to my rooms.” They had stopped at Anakin’s room as a little reprieve, a chance for Anakin to straighten his back and rest a bit; Xanatos had decided that it would be far safer hiding Kenobi in his own quarters.

“Yeah, well, I still think you set me up,” Anakin pouted peevishly. He walked forwards to sit on the bed, nearly tripping on Kenobi’s tattered robe in the process. Evidently, he’d dropped it on the way in. Anakin tossed it onto the bed with a grimace. “Oops.”

Xanatos said nothing, but his faint smile was answer enough. Instead, he paced around the room, gazing at the various little artifacts and treasures – junk – that Anakin had already accumulated. It had been a nice enough place before, Anakin reflected, but lacked a personal touch.

The room was not exactly small, but wasn’t large either. Keeps the rain out, it does, Master Yoda had told him, emphasizing his point with a poke. Learn to be grateful for what you have must you, Padawan Skywalker, hmmm? Of course, he was pretty lucky to have a room that kept out the wet. Master Yoda had never been fastidious about keeping dry, as his frequent visits to swampy Dagobah proved.

Anakin followed Xanatos’ eyes about the room as the other man noted his various little keepsakes. A crumpled essay on the desk. A random blue sock on the floor. A long forgotten magazine. And – “I see you’ve kept up your little ... obsession, Anakin,” Xanatos commented mildly, picking up a scrapbook from the desk. “I don’t believe I’ve seen that holo in the tabloids yet, but she looks as lovely as ever.”

“Give me that!” Anakin protested, grabbing the book back and hugging it protectively to his chest. Though he didn’t dare to raise his furiously blushing face to meet the amused smile he knew he would see, Anakin could already picture the look on the Knight’s face. “It’s just a ... hobby,” he muttered defensively. “It’s not an obsession.” The scrapbook contained holos of Anakin’s favorite holoactress, Raayna Daudier, a hobby he’d been kept up for years.

“Of course,” Xanatos commented with a touch of humor. “Of course.”

A sudden thought struck, and Anakin looked up with a broad grin. “Besides, do you know how many of my friends have... an obsession with you, Xanatos? Your adventures and exploits are actually quite famous by now. You’re only the most active Knight in the Temple and, from what I hear, one of the cutest as well,” he added, giving the superlative a high-pitched accent and watching for his friend’s reaction.

The older man paled sharply and took a small step back, the smug smile quickly disappearing. “You mean your friends have a crush on me?” he choked.

“That’s one way of saying it,” Anakin returned with a grin, jumping up from the bed to jovially clap his hand to the other’s back. “You’re quite well-loved by the Temple’s female population.”

“Oh dear Force,” Xanatos groaned, turning away and hiding his face with his hands. “You can’t be serious.”

“Quite serious,” Anakin returned, attempting to hide his grin. He clucked he tongue in mock sympathy, patting Xanatos’ shoulder. “Poor Xan. Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone understands the intricacies of the female heart, no matter how long they’ve been Jedi.”

“I’m going to get you for this,” Xanatos threatened, his voice muffled from behind his hands.

Anakin smirked. “Vengeance is of - ”

“Shouldn’t you be in class, young Padawan?” Xanatos asked suddenly as he turned back around, lowering his hands and raising an eyebrow. “It would be highly unpleasant if one of your tutors decided to come looking for you here.”

Anakin made a face. “Yes it would,” he admitted with a wry grin. “I don’t think Soara will be too happy with me if I show up late.”

“All the more reason for you to go now,” Xanatos told him, striding to the door. “I’d be most displeased if you were punished on my account,” he said with a faint smile.

Anakin hesitated. “Are you sure you don’t need me to stay?” he offered. “I can help.”

Xanatos shook his head. “No. What would you tell them? When you’re supposed to be with a tutor, you stayed in your rooms to help with a mysterious not-dark Jedi from an alternate universe? I don’t think so.”

“I can tell them - ”

“Anakin,” Xanatos sighed, attempting to look stern, “why do I get the feeling you just don’t want to go?”

Anakin looked at his feet, flushing slightly. “Maybe,” he muttered. “Just a bit.” He was nervous, true, and the unusual amounts of attention being heaped upon him by tutor after tutor was making him a bit uncomfortable. “Sometimes there’s just too much. I need to get out, or else I’ll suffocate,” he admitted, finally looking up into a surprisingly understanding set of eyes.

Xanatos nodded. “I understand. I was a Padawan once, too, remember?” he asked with a small smile. “It’s hard, but I know you can do it.”

Anakin nodded. “Yeah, but sometimes...” he trailed off, not quite knowing what to say. “They’re pushing really hard, Xanatos, and I’m not sure I’m going to fulfill their expectations.”

“You will, Anakin,” Xanatos promised, putting a fond hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I know it.”

Anakin nodded and walked towards the door again. Just as he was about to leave, though, he poked his head back in to give Xanatos a small smile. “Really?” he asked.

“Really really.”

 

As soon as Anakin left his room, Xanatos turned towards the figure sprawled across the messy bed. Force, how can he be almost a Knight when he can’t even clean? Xanatos thought. He sighed deeply, then stepped over to the unconscious man.

Anakin’s quarters were on the lower levels of the Temple, as befitting his station as a Padawan Learner. Xanatos, as a Knight, had quarters that were higher up. Several levels, in fact, if he was remembering correctly. He spent so little time there he had to remind himself of where it was occasionally.

Moving carefully, Xanatos put one arm under Obi-Wan’s legs and one under his back. Then he lifted the unconscious Jedi. Anakin was right; he was heavy. Too bad the boy had had a tutorial . . . being higher in rank was nice sometimes.

Two old-fashioned stairwells – used as backup for the lifts, and therefore rarely used – and floors later, Xanatos was at his quarters. It had been difficult, having to use the back entrances to everything while carrying Obi-Wan.

But he had not been seen.

Brown and cream. Sometimes Xanatos thought the Jedi were colorblind. His quarters consisted of two rooms, joined by a common room with a small, efficient kitchen. The extra room was for anything he wanted, but could be used as a Padawan’s bedroom, if he ever took one. The common room was actually fairly large and comfortable, and couch and big easy chair sat forlornly in the middle.

With a grunt Xanatos slammed the door shut behind him. He’d managed to use the Force to open it, by pushing against the opening panel, so he wouldn’t have to put Obi-Wan down and risk being seen, but kicking the control so it would shut was just so much easier.

Xanatos stepped forward and lay Obi-Wan on the couch. Despite the wild beard and hair, he looked surprisingly serene while he slept. Well, recovering from being hit so hard.

Sighing, Xanatos turned away. He ran a hand through his hair and stroked his chin thoughtfully. What to do now? He couldn’t have Obi-Wan killing Anakin. Grinning wickedly, he thought, Though a few excuses, some paperwork and everything would be nicely wrapped up . . .

Stop it, Xanatos told himself. His exhaustion was getting to him, letting his thoughts wander in ways it wouldn’t normally. Obi-Wan had intended to kill Anakin, and the anguish he had felt Obi-Wan experiencing hadn’t stopped the man from trying to kill Anakin.

The truth was, Xanatos simply didn’t know what would set Obi-Wan off. And he didn’t know because he knew nothing of Obi-Wan. But he was also pretty sure that couldn’t be helped. Obi-Wan was so fragile – he had wept when he thought Xanatos, a man he barely knew, had betrayed him. True, he had almost immediately afterwards snatched Xanatos’ lightsaber, but he doubted the despair he had sensed was faked.

What a mess.

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Xanatos walked past the couch to the kitchen. He glanced over the silver surfaces, than began searching for something that Obi-Wan could eat. Something bland and simple.

He found it quickly with some crackers and soup that he didn’t remember putting there. Qui-Gon, perhaps. His old Master was sometimes too caught in the moment, but he had his moments of thoughtfulness. Xanatos smiled, fondly remembering. Qui-Gon.

Qui-Gon!

The crackers fell to the floor, shattering and making a mess. The soup, thankfully, remained on the counter, as he hadn’t been holding it.

Qui-Gon was coming – he was sure of it. By now his old Master would have discovered that he was home, and he was no doubt planning on welcoming his former apprentice. He could be here any –

Bzzzt.

The door.

Ignoring the crackers on the floor, Xanatos scrambled across the kitchen to the couch, swooping up Obi-Wan in one smooth movement. He ran to his own bedroom – yes, yes, he could keep Qui-Gon out of there – and dumped him on the bed.

Bzzzt.

Obi-Wan groaned, his legs and arms twitching.

Xanatos stood still for a moment, frozen in horror. Was the Force against him or something? He stared at the slowly awakening Obi-Wan Kenobi for a long second. The blue eyes had just fluttered open when Xanatos reached his decision. He grabbed his lightsaber hilt and smacked Obi-Wan with it on the forehead.

It hit with a thump. Obi-Wan fell back, unconscious again.

Bzzzt.

“Coming!” Xanatos called out loudly, hoping Qui-Gon could hear. He quickly grabbed a blanket off his single, small wooden dresser and threw it on top of Obi-Wan. He ran out of the room, then skidded to a stop and came back. He took the heavy blanket off of Obi-Wan’s face. It wouldn’t do to suffocate the poor fellow.

He ran out of the room again. Crackers on the floor. He hesitated, then bolted forward and slammed his palm against the panel that would open the door.

The door opened and there Qui-Gon Jinn stood. His hair, peppered liberally with gray and white, was held back with a tie, and his hands were enfolded within a soft, dark brown robe. He looked every inch the Jedi Master.

Xanatos gave him a weak smile, and shoved a lock of black hair out of his eyes with his hand. “Hello, Master.”

“Qui-Gon,” the other corrected warmly. “Hello, Xanatos – it is a pleasure to see you.”

Xanatos nodded and smiled.

A moment passed.

“May I . . . ?” Qui-Gon politely inquired.

“Oh! Of course,” Xanatos said, and stepped aside. As Qui-Gon moved past him, he grimaced. Wonderful. Just wonderful. His Master was here at the same his un-turned, un-dead apprentice from another universe was. Disaster.

He shut the door.

"Have a seat, won’t you Qui-Gon?" Xanatos managed, forcing a smile and waving in the general direction of the chair. "I’ll... I’ll... why don’t I get us something to drink?" he stuttered. He hadn’t been prepared for this, not at all, but now he had to make the most of it.

"Of course, Xanatos," Qui-Gon replied with a raised eyebrow, casting a careful eye over the room. He nudged the robe – Obi-Wan’s robe, Force dammit! – on the floor with his toe. "Tell me, Xanatos, when was the last time you got yourself some new clothes?" he queried, raising an eyebrow at the worn out, shabby garment.

"I don’t remember," Xanatos replied sheepishly, still inching for the kitchen door. "It’s still serviceable, though," he added, stopping his retreat with one hand on the door, ready to open it and escape inside.

"It seems a bit short for you," Qui-Gon observed. "What, have you been saving it since your Padawan days? A security item? Most children tend to keep their blankies and stuffed animals, you know," he asked, looking up with twinkling blue eyes, waiting for a response to his attempt at a joke.

Xanatos chuckled weakly.

"You'd be much wiser to just throw this out," Qui-Gon suggested.

"NO! You can't!" Xanatos protested without thinking. Qui-Gon looked up, startled. Xanatos blushed. "Erm... I... I'll... I'll be right back," he finally managed, ducking into the kitchen and quickly palming the door shut.

He collapsed against the door as soon as it closed, slowly sliding down to the floor. "Oh dear Force, what am I going to do?" he moaned, burying his head in his arms. "How did I ever get stuck with this mess?"

Just lucky, I guess, a snide whisper in his mind provided helpfully.

Oh, just shut up.

"Qui-Gon cannot go into the bedroom," Xanatos reminded himself firmly. Seeing Obi-Wan again after all these years - alive, unturned - would... well, be detrimental to his health, to say the least. Xanatos didn't really want to think about it. And the effect on Obi-Wan would be even less predictable, dangerous even, judging from what he tried to do to Anakin. He couldn't let it happen.

I won't let it happen, he told himself firmly, looking up from his arms in resolve. He could stall, could keep Qui-Gon busy. He was a fair liar and actor, he knew. It came from practicing in any sort of mission he could find, including espionage every once in a while. Though he had never been too adept at lying to his master, he could manage -

"Yaah!" Xanatos yelped, falling backwards as the door he was leaning heavily on suddenly whooshed! open behind him. Before he could recover, Xanatos found himself laying on his back and staring up at Qui-Gon's smiling, upside-down face. Very up. "You're too tall from down here," he informed his former master petulantly without thinking.

Qui-Gon chuckled. "You're too short," he countered. "Maybe it would help if you decided to sit up." Xanatos had never been short – not really – but it was an old joke between former master and apprentice. He’d been a short boy up till his late growth spurt, but even then he’d never quite caught up to Qui-Gon. The older man still found it infinitely amusing.

Xanatos grimaced ruefully as he attempted to scramble up. Force knew that he wouldn’t have fallen flat on his rump in normal conditions, but his nerves weren’t in the best shape. He’d never really succeeded in lying to Qui-Gon before – and certainly not about something as important as the man lying in the other room.

It was strange – he’s managed to trick some of the galaxy’s sleaziest criminals and most notable politicians, but he couldn’t bring himself to lie to Qui-Gon. Maybe it was just a leftover habit from Padawan days, but Xanatos had always found it infinitely arduous to lie to his former Master. Especially now, when they had finally begun to rebuild those broken bonds of trust and companionship.

He looks strange upside down. Xanatos observed. Maybe it's the beard. It looks like his hair is standing on end from here... Xanatos ruefully rubbed his head, sticking an arm out under him to get into an upright position. "Ow. Next time knock, wouldn't you?" he asked, sitting up. "I'm going to need my back later." And that didn't help my backache at all, he added silently.

Qui-Gon smirked slightly, bending down to offer a hand. Xanatos took it. "Why were you on the floor anyway?"

"I was... er - "

"Were you having problems in there, Xan?" Qui-Gon asked with a small smile. "You never were very adept in the kitchen, as I recall."

"I was doing just fine!" Xanatos protested indignantly, pulling himself up and putting his arms on his hips. "Until you opened the door and scared me half to death!" He glared up at Qui-Gon, the look quickly dissolving into a grin. He could never stay mad at the man, especially now. Not after so long. "Besides," he added with a wink. "My culinary skills came directly from my dear Master."

Qui-Gon raised an eyebrow. "How can you cook while sitting on your backside by the door?" he asked in amusement, crossing his arms across his chest in an attempt to look severe. "Silly me, I was under the impression that you had to be standing to cook." His smile disappeared slowly, a small frown appearing in its place. "Xan, is there something wrong?" he asked in concern. "You seem a bit... on the edge. Do you need help in the kitchen, maybe?" he added, taking a step forward.

"I was... I just... Don't go in there! Wait - "

Qui-Gon looked in before Xanatos could stop him, grinning broadly at the mess on the floor. Xanatos hadn't cleaned up the crackers yet. "You're having a little trouble?" he asked wryly.

"I'm perfectly fine!" Xanatos finally yelled, grabbing a wooden spoon from the counter and brandishing it at the taller man. "Get out of my kitchen!"

"Yes, Mother," Qui-Gon quipped before ducking out the door and out of range of the spoon.

The door slammed shut behind him. "And stay out!" Xanatos yelled through the door. He wasn't sure, but he thought he could hear some muffled laughter from outside.

Xanatos dropped the spoon with a sigh as soon as Qui-Gon was gone, surveying the kitchen thoughtfully. He didn't have very much, granted, but he was sure that he could make a delicious meal with whatever he had. In fact, a cookbook helpfully lay right on the counter. A sign from the Force, Xanatos told himself confidently. Maybe things are going right after all... I'll show him. I've survived countless missions, what could possibly go wrong?

Hmm, he thought to himself, thumbing through the book. Cooked arqet in sauce? This looks good...

 

"What's that?" Qui-Gon commented fifteen minutes and several burnt servings of meat later, glancing in wry amusement at the plate Xanatos offered before looking up to meet his brilliantly blushing former apprentice's eyes.

"Crackers," the younger man responded shortly. "Take it or leave it."

"Were you having a little trouble in there?" Qui-Gon asked, eyes twinkling in suppressed mirth. "I thought about going in to check on you when the smoke started streaming out from under the door, but I had no wish to be accosted by a wooden spoon. I get more than enough of that from Yoda."

"Funny," Xanatos grouched. "It was going just fine until the meat started burning in the oven."

"Yes, it usually seems to be going wrong at that point," Qui-Gon told him helpfully, his twinkling blue eyes the only sign of his merriment.

"Ha ha," Xanatos grumbled, setting the platter down on a small table. Because his sparsely furnished rooms offered little in the way of a dining area, Qui-Gon sat on the easy chair, leaving him with the couch. "Whoever wrote that recipe, anyhow?" he complained.

"They don't put them into cookbooks unless they usually work out in the end, dear former Padawan," Qui-Gon commented diplomatically.

"Well, they should have better directions, then," Xanatos pouted, putting his legs up on the couch.

"Yes, bachelor-proof ones," Qui-Gon agreed, barely holding back a laugh. "You didn’t put the oven on a higher temperature in hopes that you could get it to cook faster, did you?"

"Ha ha. You’re a funny man, Qui-Gon," Xanatos snapped, reaching for a cracker and dunking it into the dip. "Funny, funny, funny."

"I try," Qui-Gon replied. He took a cracker from the proffered tray, ignoring the dip. "Very healthy," he commented, raising an eyebrow. "No wonder you complain about my height if you managed to live on these."

"At least it’s vegetarian, so we know no pathetic lifeforms died to provide us with such a lovely meal," Xanatos quipped, earning a playful swat in his direction. He popped the cracker into his mouth. They were actually pretty good, he reflected.

"Funny," Qui-Gon snorted. "Funny."

"I try," Xanatos responded brightly, reaching for another cracker. They weren’t bad, after all – just a bit dry, perhaps. And the sauce was a bit spicy, but he’d live.

Qui-Gon laughed despite himself. "So," he asked, turning to look at his apprentice. "So. How was your mission? Routine, I take it? You returned fairly quickly."

"Yes, fairly," Xanatos replied with a smile, taking a bite of his chip. If you count rescuing a drowning dead man from a lake, getting food spat into your face, and having to hide the said man in your rooms, then yes, fairly routine. "The problem almost managed to solve itself, actually," he admitted.

Strange thing, though, the sauce on his tongue seemed hotter than before. He pursed his lips thoughtfully, focusing on his taste buds. It was almost as if –

Qui-Gon’s sudden laugh took his attention away from his tongue. "Yes, they sometimes seem to do that, don’t they? Do you remember the time on Xarrai when – "

"You mean the time you fell off the speeder and accidentally knocked out one of the guards? And the negotiators finally came to the city to see the Jedi fool?" Xanatos supplied. Yes, he could feel it now, the dip was actually getting spicier by the moment. His tongue was burning up now –

"Yes, that time," Qui-Gon admitted. "You found it rather amusing, if I recall. I – "

My tongue is on fire.

"Aaaah!" Xanatos yelped, leaping up from the couch to make a mad dash for the kitchen. His tongue was burning, a rapid fire that quickly spread down to his throat. Water. I need water. Waterwaterwaterwater – He quickly switched on the faucet, foregoing a need for a glass and just tilting his head to the side to quickly gulp in as much of the wonderful liquid as possible.

Qui-Gon chuckled quietly behind him. "Spicy, Xanatos?" he asked mildly. "I thought you knew that the Woene tribes are fond of hot foods. They tend to start out seeming rather mild and gradually grow hotter."

"I never thought I’d want to see water ever again after Kamino," Xanatos admitted, surfacing for a moment before ducking his head back to lap at the stream of running water. Oh stars this feels good.

Once again, Qui-Gon laughed quietly. "I don’t mind spices, after all, but they’re bantha hunters who take great pride in their courage. During the off-seasons when the bantha aren’t around they tend to test their courage in other ways. Tastes rather good once you get used to it, actually."

Stars, he sounds like Anakin's know-it-all protocol droid. Xanatos didn’t answer, just continuing to gulp at the water instead.

With a faint smile, Qui-Gon took a step forward, helpfully thumping the dark-haired man on the back and causing him to gag on the stream of liquid. "Funny, Qui-Gon! Funny!" Xanatos managed to sputter, coughing and nearly choking on the water. He glared up at his former master. "Funny," he spat.

Qui-Gon somehow managed to keep a straight face. All those years of Jedi training had to be good for something, after all. "I try," he responded.

"You’re an evil man, Qui-Gon."

After a moment of suppressed laughter, Qui-Gon glanced down at his shirt. "Darn," he muttered in chagrin. "I don’t suppose you have a shirt my size somewhere? I need to go soon, but your sudden screeching made me drop my dip on my shirt," he commented ruefully, pointing at the red stain. "I’ll just go into your closet and check, shall I?" Qui-Gon added.

Xanatos’ head shot up. NO! "Qui-Gon, wait!" he shouted. To his dismay, Qui-Gon was already out of the kitchen, in the hallway – Within a few seconds, Xanatos was racing out to pounce on the larger man, just as Qui-Gon was about to palm the door open.

Both collapsed in a pile of arms and legs, Qui-Gon utterly startled. "What was that for?" he asked, attempting to free himself by wriggling free. He glared at Xanatos, waiting for an explanation as the younger man sheepishly got to his feet. "What are you trying to do, Xan?" he demanded sharply.

"I don’t want you to go in there! It... it’s a mess!" Xanatos improvised. His eyes widened sharply, startled by his own stupidity. Oh dear Force that’s the worst excuse I’ve ever come up with.

Qui-Gon stared at him suspiciously for a long moment, looking carefully into his eyes, as if to gauge his sincerity. Xanatos struggled to contain the urge to gulp. He couldn't lie to Qui-Gon. Not well, he knew. He prepared himself for a tongue-lashing, drawing back just a bit -

To his utter amazement, Qui-Gon slowly nodded his head. "I see," he finally responded, raising an eyebrow. "At least you didn’t try to mindtrick me like last time."

"I was twelve!" Xanatos protested. "And it was a mess!"

"Yes," Qui-Gon agreed. "So maybe it’s better that I don’t see how much worse it’s gotten in time. Actually, I find the prospect rather frightening," he joked, casting a mock wary glance at the door. "Who knows what may have been spawned from your dirty socks? You might even have something alive in there. I’ll just wait for you in the common room then," Qui-Gon decided, already on his way out.

With a sigh of relief, Xanatos opened the door and entered, carefully shutting it behind him. Obi-Wan, he was grateful to see, was still well into his little nap of sorts, looking oddly peaceful as he lay there unconscious. He didn’t look very peaceful at any other time, Xanatos reflected. Maybe getting knocked out was good for him.

Probably not.

To Xanatos’ relief, though, Obi-Wan’s presence in the Force was faint, hard to find even if you knew what you were looking for. The man was shielding himself unconsciously, Xanatos suspected, a result of however long he’d spent on the run in his own universe. It was a reflex that Xanatos was very thankful for at the moment – Force only knew what Qui-Gon would have done had he sensed his wayward apprentice’s presence.

Xanatos shook his head sadly, letting out a small sigh as he thoughtfully studied the other’s peaceful form. He would have a lot of explaining to do after this, he knew. It wouldn’t be easy to explain to his former master what he’d been hiding. At least part of the reason Qui-Gon was willing to so easily accept his pathetic excuses, he suspected, was to avoid further conflict. Qui-Gon wasn't stupid, after all, and his excuses were pathetic, to say the least. Breaking Qui-Gon’s already fragile trust, even for his own good, was a difficult decision at best.

After giving Obi-Wan’s still form a quick once-over, Xanatos turned to his closet, thoughtfully pursing his lips. He didn’t have very many shirts Qui-Gon’s size, if he had any at all. In fact, the only shirt he could remember possessing that might be big enough was –

Xanatos grinned. Oh yes. Perfect.

The wicked grin was still in place by the time he strode back into the common room, hands clutching the shirt behind his back. Qui-Gon stood up when he saw him, smiling. "I’m afraid I’m going to have to go now, Xanatos," he apologized, slightly embarrassed. "I’m meeting Mace for a while after this, and I can’t really be late, you know."

"I found a shirt, Qui-Gon," Xanatos told him brightly. "It was hiding in the back of the closet."

"Oh that’s good," Qui-Gon said in relief, evidently not noticing the mischievous smile coloring his former Padawan’s face. He reached out a hand for it. "I’ll be grateful if you loaned it to me temporarily. I’ll send it back to you after I – " His mouth dropped open in horror when he saw the offered shirt. "You can’t be serious."

"Quite serious, Qui-Gon," Xanatos responded impishly. "You said you needed a shirt after all. I don’t have very many shirts in your size."

"That isn’t the one I left here that ... that one time, is it? It must be decades old by now!"

"Yes, the time you got drunk and took Master Yoda’s dare." That had been rather interesting, Xanatos reflected. Though he hoped never to see the drunken male members of the Jedi Council in his quarters ever again, it provided enough blackmail to last him quite a while... not that he’d ever even consider using it, of course, but you could never be too careful.

"Didn’t you have any others?" Qui-Gon asked pleadingly, looking at the shirt as if it were a rabid nexu. "I don’t think that – "

"Sorry, Qui-Gon," Xanatos interrupted, forcing it into the other’s reluctant hands. "You don’t want to be wearing a stained shirt when you meet Master Windu, do you?" he asked in mock worry, putting a hand to his cheek in anxiety. "What would they say?"

Qui-Gon scowled. "Funny, Xanatos," he replied, taking the garment. Carefully, Qui-Gon held it up to the light for inspection, squinting as he looked for any stains, holes, or any other reason to refuse it. He didn’t find any, to his dismay and to Xanatos’ glee. "Funny," he repeated with a dark glare for the younger man.

Xanatos grinned. "I try."

In an astounding display of Jedi control, Xanatos didn’t burst out laughing until Qui-Gon was well out of sight. Though Qui-Gon's robe covered most of the children’s illustrations of incredibly cute looking fuzzy Wookiees, he couldn’t keep it on forever...

 

The long hallways of the Jedi Temple were large, elegant, and somewhat intimidating. However, having lived and walked among them his entire life, Anakin didn’t really notice. He walked past the elegant archways, heading for his own room. The royal blue carpet was soft beneath his booted feet, providing a cushion for his every step – especially appreciated after that tutorial with that crazed woman. Genius fighter his –

His comm chirped. He stopped, wincing, then took the comlink off his belt, taking the time to massage a cramp in his calf while he did so. “Skywalker,” he said curtly.

“Anakin, I need your help,” Xanatos’ voice told him, sounding rushed and nervous. Quite unusual for the normally confident knight. Anakin sighed.

“With what?” Anakin asked tiredly.

“What do you think?” Xanatos replied, with an edge of impatience. Then there was a pause, and a sigh. “Look, I really do need your help. I need you to watch him for a few hours.”

Forgetting the cramp in his leg, Anakin flitted his eyes around, checking for nearby people, then hissed into the comlink, “Are you insane? I’m not going to be by myself with an undead lunatic that wants me dead!”

Xanatos voice went soft and persuasive – a voice that had cajoled and persuaded many planets into treaties and truces. “I’ll tie him down,” he told Anakin encouragingly, nearly wheedling.

Anakin squeezed his eyes shut, thinking. Could he really refuse his friend? Xanatos and Qui-Gon had been his friends for many years, and had helped him many times along the long, troubled, and weary path to Knighthood. What was one undead lunatic against all that?

“All right,” Anakin conceded, breathing deeply. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Then he shut off the comlink, heaving a deep sigh. He massaged his aching calf muscle a moment longer, then set off for Xanatos quarters.

It took him several minutes longer than it would have taken him with his own place, since Xanatos lived higher up then Anakin, a lowly Padawan, did. The training rooms that Soara had used were on the lower levels of the Temple. She used them for the simple reason that she found the different obstacles and various odd objects that turned up far more realistic for a place where one would actually fight. And Anakin had to admit that made sense, even if his calf muscle didn’t think so.

By the time Anakin reached Xanatos’ door, his muscles were really aching, and begging mercilessly for a shower. Gritting his teeth, Anakin called upon the Force and let it relax and soothe his muscles.

Just before Anakin was about to slap his hand against the control panel for the door, it opened. The tall, dark eyed Jedi looked him in the eye and stated simply, “He’s tied up. Now – I’ve got to go to a mission debriefing, for the Jedi team that’s going to be following up on the treaty.”

“He’s secure?” Anakin asked, still somewhat unsure.

Xanatos nodded. “Yes. Try and keep an eye on whether he broadcasts his emotions or thoughts into the Force – I doubt he will, since he didn’t while he was unconscious, but . . .” he trailed off. Anakin nodded. “And I’ve got to go now,” he said, flashing a quick grin then slipping past the Padawan.

Anakin watched him move away quickly, moving with speed without really appearing to hurry. He would have to drag how to do that out of Xanatos sometime – he still got stopped by Knights and Masters who told him to slow down. Deciding he couldn’t ignore where he was for any longer, he entered the apartment.

Simple, plain, and largely undecorated. Just like Anakin remembered it. He was pretty sure that Xanatos had no clue that Anakin used to bring Xanatos’ fan club members here for a certain fee . . . it had been quite lucrative. Of course, he couldn’t do that now. He was an adult. A Jedi.

Anakin snorted. He stripped off his robe and threw it over the one couch that dominated the living room. He ignored the small kitchen and went to Xanatos’ bedroom, where he was fairly certain the former Jedi would be.

And he was. Obi-Wan Kenobi lay sprawled across the bed in an uncomfortable position. True to his word, Obi-Wan was firmly tied to the bed, his arms tied to the headboard with a twisted rope. A gag was in his mouth, for good measure. All Anakin had to do was stay out of the range of the man’s legs, and he would be fine.

His calf muscle gave a sharp, stabbing pain in reminder. Wincing, Anakin left the room.

He returned with a chair he had found in the kitchen, which had been suspiciously messy. Not to mention a big, stained shirt, which would never fit the slim Xanatos, lying on one of the chairs. Puzzled, Anakin ignored it and grabbed another of the sleek, comfortable chairs. He dragged it into the bedroom, sat it by the doorway but in the room, out of the way, and sat.

Looking at him now, Anakin wasn’t sure how he had recognized the turned Jedi. The Kenobi he had seen in pictures and heard of in hushed tales had been strong and healthy, with a good face and athletic body.

Obi-Wan – he differentiated the two of them in his mind that way, Obi-Wan being good and Kenobi being bad – was not that way at all. He was very thin, obviously so even under the loose clothing and blanket. The long hair and wild beard were different as well, nearly disguising his features.

Nearly.

And yet, obviously these two men were different, if everything Xanatos had told him was true. And Xanatos was no fool. If this Obi-Wan truly was from another universe, then Anakin was very inclined to believe him, strange as the tale might seem. He wondered, as he was sure Xanatos wondered, what that other universe was like. What other path the universe could have taken.

His jumbled, musing thoughts were interrupted by a low moan. Anakin tensed in his chair, looking intently at the slowly awakening man. Obi-Wan moaned again, then his eyes fluttered open, the look in them dazed and confused. Almost immediately, though, his eyes scanned the room – and fell upon Anakin.

To say that he tensed was an understatement. He yanked his wrists down – as much as he could, at any rate – arched his back in an attempt to get himself free, and kicked. After a few minutes, however, he subsided, panting heavily. His eyes were wide and wild, and were kept on Anakin’s face.

Anakin cleared his throat uncomfortably, but didn’t rise from his chair. “Hello.” He paused. “We, uh, haven’t been formally introduced. I’m Anakin Skywalker. And I – know who you are, so no need to . . .”

Obi-Wan stared at him without blinking. It was so direct and intense that it was unnerving.

Staring back at Obi-Wan a moment longer, Anakin realized that even if he had had anything sane or civil to say, he couldn’t speak with the gag – and Anakin was afraid to take it off, fearful of Obi-Wan bringing some currently unwanted attention to Xanatos’ quarters.

Finally, seeing the fear and distress still present in Obi-Wan’s still face and wild eyes, Anakin spoke. “I’m not going to hurt you.” Obi-Wan didn’t give any sort of nonverbal response. “Xanatos told me about you being from a parallel universe. Whoever you’re afraid of, or why ever you wanted to murder me on sight, I’m . . . not him.” He smiled feebly. “I’m just Yoda’s Padawan, is all.”

Obi-Wan blinked slowly. The terror and strange intensity of his stare seemed to lessen a bit with that tidbit of knowledge. Heartened and rather hoping that he would not have to spend the next few hours enduring that frightful stare, Anakin continued speaking – telling Obi-Wan about himself. Anakin.

He told Obi-Wan about his first memory – being in swimming class in the Temple. He told him how much he liked water back then, playing in it and feeling it in the Force. He told him of how he came to be Yoda’s Padawan. Even Yoda’s doubts and reluctance to take him as an apprentice.  He spoke of years of training, missions, and friends. He told Obi-Wan about his crush, about the Jedi. He spoke of himself, his private fears and thoughts, not even knowing why he would reveal so much of himself to a man he wasn’t even sure was sane. And yet . . . the Force seemed to indicate it was the right thing to do.

He didn’t mention Qui-Gon. He told Obi-Wan about his favorite swimming instructor – who was still a friend of his – Bant Eerin. Bant had once been one of Kenobi’s friends, but the friendship had fallen apart by the time Kenobi had been a Padawan for a few years. He didn’t mention any of that, though. Nothing about the other Obi-Wan Kenobi, dead and turned.

He watched Obi-Wan as he spoke. With each passing word and amusing tale of Anakin’s hijinks, he calmed. Bant’s name made him tense – not with fear, but pain. Anakin watched his eyes carefully as he talked – Obi-Wan could hide little in those eyes. Impassivity was a Jedi skill, but it seemed it was one that Obi-Wan had lost.

Anakin told Obi-Wan of his hopes and dreams of Knighthood. And it was that final, little thing that made the last of whatever ghost that haunted Obi-Wan’s eyes whenever he saw Anakin fall away.

He almost missed it, it was so slight. A single, small tear fell down Obi-Wan’s face. Anakin was so shocked he stopped speaking. He studied those clear eyes carefully, and found some unidentifiable, but strangely gentle emotion in them.

Slowly, Anakin walked over to Obi-Wan. He carefully loosened the gag, which had been hastily made of a rag. When he took it off, Obi-Wan said nothing for a moment.

“I’m glad it turned out well somewhere,” Obi-Wan whispered finally, hoarsely, with a voice full of regret.

Anakin didn’t know what to say. Only hours before – and hours had passed in the telling of Anakin’s life – this man had wanted to kill him. This change was as surprising as it was inscrutable. He had seen a shift in those eyes, and he didn’t know what it meant. But he knew that Obi-Wan would not cause him harm. The Force, its nudge gentle but firm, told him that. Finally, in response to Obi-Wan’s confusing statement, he nodded.

“I’m glad too,” Anakin said simply. He smiled, and Obi-Wan gave the slightest, barely perceptible smile in return.

 

If there was one thing Xanatos hated about being a Jedi, it was the Force-damned paperwork.

Not in the literal sense, of course. But though he could successfully handle just about everything they threw his way, from diplomacy to espionage to, as Anakin was so fond of calling them, “aggressive negotiations”, somehow, standing in front of the Jedi Council made him blush and stammer worse than Obi-Wan’s lurid threats and insults ever had. There were times when he thought he would rather navigate blindly through a black hole than spend just those few crucial moments before the severe faces of the Council to tell them about his missions and the results.

They weren’t even hard, these little debriefings; he just didn’t like them. One of his friends had laughingly summed it up quite succinctly; he had a bad case of chân ði – “itchy feet” in some language he couldn’t remember at the moment. Much as he grumbled and groaned about it, though, Xanatos had to admit that the friend had been right. Having to stay in one place – if only long enough to tell the Council what he’d been up to and assure them he hadn’t broken too many major rules along the way – was irritating. He had long ago fallen in love with the feel of the road beneath his feet, metaphorically speaking. He worked by himself, depended on himself, and liked it that way.

But - once again - he had somehow survived it without embarrassing himself too badly. It had taken longer than he had expected, and he had to continually remind himself not to stutter through his story - the portion of the story he had decided to tell, at any rate – and his palms had been clammy with cold sweat by the end of it, but Xanatos knew that he had been a good enough actor to pull it off.

A few of them had thought something was bothering him – Master Windu pulled him aside afterwards to ask if he felt sick – but they trusted him. He was their Knight, after all, the most active Knight the Order had in these days of peace. Legendary, almost. It gave him an odd sort of pang to betray that trust, a duller version of the sharp pangs he got from lying to Qui-Gon, but he would do what had to be done. There was no help for it.

And even if they did suspect, none of them would think he was hiding a long-dead dark Jedi in his rooms.

Xanatos sighed, running a hand through his dark hair. Surely they knew I lied, he thought to himself. But there’s nothing to be done about it now. Soon, Master Yoda would be back from his leave of absence, and then . . . he didn’t know what. Something, surely, but he hadn’t tried to think that far ahead yet. Taking a little bit at a time, that was the key.

Master Windu, though, had found Qui-Gon’s Wookiee shirt episode incredibly funny.

"I hope you stay a bit longer this time, Knight Xanatos. If only because Qui-Gon needs an extra bit of excitement in his life, you understand," Master Windu had told him with a grin, the white of his teeth contrasting vividly with his dark skin as he clapped the younger Jedi on the shoulder. "I can't remember the last time I saw him so happy; he couldn't hide that, even if he was flushing darker than a Tatooinian sunset."

A faint smile lit up his face at the memory as Xanatos descended the last few stairs to his floor. Though simply taking the lift would have been much easier while not carrying Obi-Wan’s limp form, Xanatos found on the way to the Council rooms that a fairly large gaggle of female Padawans was lying in wait at the lift entrance. How they had known what floor his room was on he had no idea, but he had the feeling that he might have a long chat with a certain Padawan Skywalker about it sooner or later.

Xanatos absently leapt over the second topmost step, a habit he had somehow never let go of. The step wasn’t fixed in place, loose where the others were steady. He had learned that the hard way more than once.

It had been twilight by the time he finished with the Council. The skies were dark and onyx, the stars present but invisible against the backdrop of Coruscant’s lights. A blanket drawn across the sky, almost, but the neon lights more than made up for it. Almost as if the world had been turned upside down – the skies were ebony while the earth glowed.

The halls were quiet by this time in the evening. Most of its occupants – those not away somewhere in the galaxy – were eating or resting. The Padawans would have finished their classes by now, perhaps working on the next day’s assignments as the adults enjoyed their temporary silence. A strange parody of domestic life to an outsider, perhaps, but as close as one could get to it in the Temple.

He smiled slightly as he put his palm on the pad. Domestic? Perhaps his age was finally starting to catch up with him. No one else would refer to a life of Jedi training and missions as the typical domestic scene, though it certainly seemed so after so long away. The Temple was his home, the Jedi his family. And no matter how much he denied it, no matter how his wings ached to fly away, it would always be that way.

“Anakin?” he called as he strode it, quickly surveying his quarters to see if Anakin had succeeded in destroying anything. The boy had a talent with that kind of thing. A long black smear marked the kitchen floor, but that wasn’t Anakin’s fault . . . Cooked arqet in sauce should come with a warning label.

“Anakin?” Xanatos repeated, forehead wrinkling slightly in worry. Why wasn’t the boy answering?

For one impossibly long moment, he permitted himself to wonder. To wonder, hypothetically of course, what would happened if someone were to stumble into his quarters and find an “undead lunatic” guarded only by a Padawan, albeit a powerful one. To wonder how quickly it would take for the said “undead lunatic” to be brought before a member of the Council and –

Spurred on by fear and dread, Xanatos found himself dashing into the bedroom, hoping that Obi-Wan was still tied to the bedposts, that Anakin had just stepped out to the bathroom or outside for a breath of fresh air –

He didn’t find what he feared, to say the least.

Obi-Wan was peacefully sleeping again, the ropes that bound his arms lying in coils on the floor. His gag had been removed and his quiet breaths came in rhythm with the serene rise and fall of his chest. To Xanatos’ surprise – and relief – he looked far more composed now than Xanatos had ever seen him. Like some internal conflict had somehow been resolved, almost. He brushed that thought aside.

Anakin, though . . . Xanatos smirked as he watched the Padawan snore, leaning on the bed from a chair he had gotten from Force-knew-where, with his head pillowed on one of his arms, the other hand protectively hovering near the sleeping Obi-Wan. Tired from his studies, probably, Xanatos mused to himself, watching the scene for a moment. Force knew that Soara’s tutorials weren’t the easiest offered in the Temple, though they prepared the soon-to-be-Knights astonishingly well.

But to Xanatos’ considerable surprise, Obi-Wan wasn’t the only one peacefully sleeping. Anakin seemed perfectly content to doze within an arm's reach of the undead lunatic he’d been dead set against watching not so long before. With a certain degree of sadness for disturbing the peaceful scene, Xanatos found himself walking over to wake up the Padawan.

“Anakin,” he called softly, kneeling down and gently shaking the other’s shoulder. “Anakin, wake up.”

“Lemme ‘lone, Mastr ‘oda” the Padawan muttered sleepily, shifting slightly.

Xanatos smiled, slightly amused at the Padawan’s sleepy confusion, but shook the boy’s shoulder harder nonetheless. “Anakin,” he repeated, more firmly this time. “Wake up.”

“Wha?” Anakin asked sleepily, raising his head from his makeshift pillow and blinking blearily. “Sure, Mastr 'oda. But just give me another few minutes, and I promise I’ll be – ”

“Ashamed you should be,” Xanatos teased, grinning despite himself. “Fallen asleep while guarding undead lunatic you should not have, Padawan Skywalker,” he mimicked, a fair imitation of the old troll’s own unique way of speaking. “Five hours of meditation you should have for this, hmm?”

Anakin’s head jerked up, blue eyes suddenly wide with surprise. He relaxed visibly when he saw the other man’s grinning face. “Not funny, Xanatos!” he snapped irritably, reaching his hand up to wipe at his sleep-blurred eyes. “You scared me half to death!”

Xanatos sent a roguish wink his way, earning a swat in his general direction. The boy was still much too sleepy to hit him anyway. “Thought you were guarding him,” he said laconically, raising an eyebrow.

The boy flushed, turning his head away slightly. “I was . . . we were talking, but he fell asleep and I kind of...” Anakin trailed off, blushing furiously at Xanatos’ teasing.

“Kind of . . .?”

“Kind of fell asleep,” Anakin finally finished in embarrassment.

Xanatos smiled slightly. “Getting ready for Trials is hard work, hmm?”

Anakin blinked at him, startled. “What?”

“I took them too, remember?” Xanatos rebuked him teasingly. “Qui-Gon obsessed over it for months, trained with me nearly every day for a month or so before he was finally ready to let me try it. It almost seemed like he was more afraid of my failing the test than I was. Almost,” he admitted with a self-deprecatory smile.

“How was it?” Anakin asked curiously. “The Trials, I mean. No one else will tell me.”

“Well,” Xanatos answered solemnly, “I’m not allowed to tell you the specifics, but I will tell you that Qui-Gon always told me it’d be the hardest test I’d ever take unless Master Yoda asked me to take a turn with the younglings.”

“And was it?”

Xanatos winked. “You’ll just have to wait and see,” he told him grin.

Anakin made a face. “Helpful, Xanatos,” he pouted petulantly. “Really helpful,” he mock-growled, sending a swat in Xanatos’ direction. His aim was better this time, catching Xanatos’ shirt as the older man dodged out of the way.

Still smiling slightly, Xanatos pulled himself up from the floor with a grunt, reaching to the bed for support. “Stars, maybe my age is finally catching up to me,” he groaned, rubbing his back. It still ached from carrying Obi-Wan’s limp form up the stairs, though the sharp pain had dulled to a throb. Force knew that he wasn’t as spry as he had once been, at any rate.

A soft snort reached his ear. “You’ll be old the day Master Yoda stops speaking backwards,” Anakin predicted with a sigh.

Xanatos stuck out his tongue. “When the downhill side of forty you reach, look this good you will not,” he declared with injured pride. “And I’ll bet that my fanclub would still be able to beat yours,” he added with a wink.

“Not likely,” Anakin countered. “Blondes have more fun.”

The dark-eyed man ruffled the other’s hair, to Anakin’s protest. One of the strange things about the boy, he supposed. You always just instinctively wanted to ruffle his hair – he kept that innocent boyishness even when he stood taller than you. “You keep telling yourself that,” Xanatos said with a smile. “Though with your luck you’ll probably be bald by then.”

Anakin’s eyes widened in mock-horror, a dramatic hand going to his cheek. “No!” he cried in terror, falling from the chair to the floor in a faint. The grin was back within three seconds, though, when Anakin had to sit up to laugh lest he choke himself.

That would be the perfect ending to a perfect day, Xanatos thought sourly, though he couldn’t quite keep the laughter from escaping. “Yes, Master Windu, Anakin Skywalker just happened to die laughing in my quarters. Yes, Obi-Wan Kenobi was there too. No, I feel fine, and I'm sure don’t need a trip to the medbay. Psychiatric ward, you say? No, but thanks for the offer.”

It was fun bantering back and forth with Anakin, he reflected. One of the better things about staying cooped up in the Temple. He only wished he could do it more, but now probably wasn’t the best time. It just figured that things would happen now, though. The Force didn’t seem to want to let him have a vacation, even when at home.

“- - times.”

Xanatos blinked, turning his attention back to the Padawan, who had quickly gotten up from the floor with nary any stiffness to be seen, spry and flexible as a water reed. “Pardon?” he asked. “What did you just say?”

“I said that Obi-Wan looked like he’d been through tough times,” Anakin repeated, yawning widely and reaching for the ceiling.

Xanatos stared at him for a few moments until the Padawan finally dropped his gaze, blushing. “Eh . . . and how long did it take you to figure this out, Anakin?” Xanatos asked carefully.

“That’s not what I meant!” Anakin snapped back, still flushed.

“Then what did you mean?” Xanatos asked softly. This was important, somehow, he could feel it. The Padawan had found some connection or clue he’d missed.

Anakin appeared to take a moment to gather his thoughts. Xanatos privately marveled at that – apparently the old troll had taught him something after all. “I know that some terrible things happened to him in his own galaxy,” he began slowly, gathering words as he went, “but there’s something more there. Something . . . I don’t know. But he’s not like one of those survivors we pick up on routine missions. There’s something different, something haunting him, Xanatos,” Anakin continued softly. “I don’t know what it is, and I’m not sure I want to, but I’m willing to bet that a fair amount of it is guilt.”

A moment of silence.

Xanatos dropped down to the side of the bed, his thoughts whirling and his legs unsteady. Is that it? he wondered. What had Obi-Wan done there that could plague him enough to attempt suicide? he pondered somewhat uneasily. His own Kenobi had done plenty in his lifetime worth a few eternities of grief, but this Obi-Wan was different. Xanatos knew that, felt it in his bones, heard it whispered to him through the Force. So what had the man done? Or, perhaps, what had he not done?

“You don’t believe me.” Anakin’s sad voice cut through the turmoil of his thoughts. Xanatos quickly glanced up, seeing Anakin’s woeful and somewhat embarrassed expression.

“Oh, I believe you,” Xanatos reassured quickly, holding his hands out helplessly. “It’s just a lot to think about, you know,” he added.

Anakin nodded slowly, the ghost of a grin making its way up his face. “’Fraid I can’t help you there, Xanatos,” he apologized, affably clapping the other man on the shoulder. “I promised Chancellor Palpatine I’d see him this evening before I bedded down for the night.”

Xanatos frowned slightly but didn’t protest. Though he wasn’t quite sure if it was just a reflex from spending such an inordinate amount of time near various politicians, he found that he just didn’t like them. Perhaps the Supreme Chancellor in particular, merely because the pure fact that he was the Chancellor meant that he was the best at what he did. And Xanatos was world-weary enough to know that politicians wore away that baby-kissing veneer rather quickly after they were elected into office.

“Well good luck with that then,” he finally offered, hoisting himself from off the bed. “Though you should probably already be in bed,” he added sternly. “Soara wouldn’t appreciate you dozing off in lightsaber training tomorrow.”

Anakin winked, already nearly out the bedroom door. “Who needs sleep anymore?” he called over his shoulder just before disappearing around the corner.

The door's soft whoosh signaled Anakin’s departure several seconds later. Xanatos smiled, a tad sourly. Boys will be boys. He stretched again, trying to work out the crinks in his back after carrying Obi-Wan up the stairs, turning around at the hips –

– and yelped when he saw a set of blue-gray eyes looking at him. “How long have you been awake?” Xanatos demanded as soon as he recovered the greater portion of his dignity. Stars, but Obi-Wan had scared him. His sudden awakening was fit for something he’d see in one of those cheap holodramas. The man’s eyes would open and stare at you in the darkness until he got up and started forward with sharp, pointed teeth and a demented grin –

Force, my imagination runs wild sometimes.

Obi-Wan smiled, a genuine smile, as he sat up in bed. “Not too long,” he assured the dark-eyed Knight. “It’s just come to be a habit of sorts to keep quiet when I wake,” he explained with a slightly self-deprecatory smile.

Xanatos nodded. He could understand that. After all, surviving in whatever hell Obi-Wan had come from was bound to program a few tricks into the human psyche, just to stay a step ahead of . . . whatever was following him. Uneasily, his thoughts were drawn back to Anakin’s theory of guilt. Stars, I hope he didn’t hear that. “When did you wake up?” Xanatos asked warily.

“I just heard something about Palpatine and that was it.”

Xanatos nodded in relief, too absorbed in that transient feeling to notice the slight change in Obi-Wan’s eyes at that name, the impression that the eyes had somehow gotten colder and more resolved to do . . . something. It had passed by the time he looked up.

The undead lunatic had changed in the last few hours, Xanatos noted. Nothing immediately perceptible, but he seemed more at ease than he had before Anakin had spoken with him about whatever they talked about. It lifted Xanatos’ heart just a bit higher to see that the healing process had at least been started.

“Can I ask you something, though?” Obi-Wan asked nervously, absently twisting the blanket between his hands.

“Sure, just shoot.”

“What are the . . . the Jedi’s feeling about . . . about . . . has Anakin met his mother?” he finally blurted out, eyes wide with what seemed like apprehension. Expecting the worst, Xanatos thought absently.

He frowned, thinking. “Anakin’s mother?” he repeated slowly. “I don’t believe so. Anakin was just a child when we found him on Tatooine. Just barely walking.”

“And his mother? Was she a slave?” Obi-Wan pressed.

Why does he have such an interest in Anakin’s family?

“Slavery is illegal in the Republic,” Xanatos responded in finality, not mentioning that Tatooine wasn't in the Republic, trying to close it to further discussion. The subject of family bothered him – not bothered, exactly, but made him uncomfortable. The Jedi were his family, and he had never had cause to look for anything different, though he didn’t know how it had been for Obi-Wan before. And such a personal question seemed odd to ask – he would rather know why Obi-Wan wanted such information.

But Obi-Wan only responded with a quiet “Ah,” leaving Xanatos with dozens more questions than the ones he’d just answered.

 

When Xanatos finally left, saying something about sleeping on the couch for the night, Obi-Wan lay flat on his back, staring at the ceiling.

Palpatine, he thought to himself in the darkness. He's here, too.

Strangely, that thought didn’t bring any hate, just, mostly, a profound sense of sadness and regret. Perhaps he was just too burned out to feel any hate towards anyone. Not far from the realm of possibility, that.

A faint, very thin something brushed by his hand in the dark. Obi-Wan frowned, attempting to find the thin strand of something in the darkness, feeling around the bed until he had found it and held it up to his eyes for inspection.

A hair. A single short blonde hair.

“I won’t fail you again, Ani,” he promised quietly in the dark. “No matter what.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi fell asleep that night in the Temple he had called home for decades; home but not home, more than a galaxy away from his own. His last thought before he dropped into sleep was to wonder if they still kept the spare lightsabers in the same place.

 

“I’m sure that would be acceptable to the Jedi Council, Chancellor,” Anakin said with a warm smile. He knew Xanatos didn’t care for Palpatine that much – not that Xanatos cared for any politician, really – but he believed the Chancellor to be a good and honest man. He had never seen anything to indicate the man was otherwise.

“My dear boy, Palpatine will do,” Palpatine said in a patient tone, smiling. He sat behind his black, curved desk, which was littered with information pads. His office was austere, as befitting his station, but there were occasional warm touches like flowers and a few personal items. “I’m actually glad the Council is so interested in the war situation on Reglai 6. Their wisdom has always been greatly appreciated by this office.”

“We live to serve,” Anakin said with a hint of humor. He sat across from the Chancellor, in one of the plump, furnished chairs. It was a deep maroon color, contrasting nicely with the gray of the walls and the dark elegance of the desk.

“So you will inform them of my visit tomorrow morning, to discuss Reglai 6?” Palpatine asked, searching for a confirmation.

Anakin nodded. “I’ll tell them before I lay down for the night, Chan – I mean, Palpatine.” The Padawan smiled a bit nervously, still somewhat intimidated by the position of the Chancellor. “They’re usually up late anyway, discussing the decisions of the day.”

Palpatine smiled and rose. Anakin followed his example and bowed deeply, folding his robe around himself.

“I wish you the best of luck with your Trials, Anakin,” Palpatine offered.

“Thank you, Ch – Palpatine,” Anakin replied, blushing the slightest bit.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Palpatine said, nodding slightly. He smiled at Anakin, who smiled back. Then Anakin turned and strode out of the room with long, confident strides, eager to get some rest after what was a long, long day. He glanced back as he was leaving to see Palpatine set himself back at his desk. He realized that the Chancellor would likely work long into the night. Palpatine was a dedicated man.

 

No one would argue with the fact that being a Jedi was a dangerous occupation. They were well trained for it, of course, but the fact remained; it was dangerous. And sometimes mistakes would happen and lightsabers would be lost or destroyed. It was avoided, of course – a lightsaber is like an extension of a Jedi’s body. A weapon that the Jedi depended on with their lives.

Spare lightsabers were kept only for emergencies. Older Masters who stayed at the Temple, preferring to not go on missions anymore, usually built them. Building a lightsaber was always a difficult task, and for each it generally took about a month. Sometimes a Jedi did not have the time to build another after losing one, so they simply used a spare lightsaber until they had time to build their own.

Obi-Wan, of course, knew exactly where the spare lightsabers were kept. He had used them himself, on occasion. The lightsaber that had been thrown to him on Geonosis had been such a lightsaber, and it had worked well enough. Though  . . .

He quickly left that line of thought.

Being out in the Temple was a risk, a big one. But he didn’t see how to avoid it. He had promised that he would not fail Anakin again. And in order to avoid failing Anakin, he needed a lightsaber. One always needed a lightsaber when going up against a Sith Lord.

It saddened him that the Jedi of this universe didn’t realize what Palpatine was either. He wondered, often, how he and the other Jedi could have been so blind to not see Palpatine for what he was. To actually believe that he was on their side. It was not only horrifying, it was humiliating. And he was certain that Palpatine had enjoyed every moment he fooled the Jedi Council, every time he undermined a Jedi mission and then gave such ‘sincere’ sympathies. It made Obi-Wan feel ill.

One good thing about the Jedi Temple was that its residents didn’t bother each other. If privacy was wanted, it was granted. Obi-Wan knew that wasn't the case here, hence Xanatos' worry, but with the proper use of the Force and a hooded glare, he was fairly certain they would leave him alone. Making his way unseen was a skill Obi-Wan had developed quite extensively. So he grabbed one of Xanatos' robes – leaving his own behind with a pang deep in his chest – and threw up the hood. His hands went into the opposite sleeve, and then he was the very picture of a Jedi wishing to be left alone. He wrapped the Force around himself in a roll of indistinctness.

He kept to the side of the long halls, keeping his eyes on the rich, dark blue carpet. To his side, he could see a wall, elegantly carved pillars appearing every once in a while. Occasionally, he would glance up to make sure that he was heading in the right direction.

It was on such a glance that he saw Bant Eerin.

In his universe, they had been the best of friends since the crèche. While she was a Mon Calamari – a native of the ocean world by the same name, with an appearance to match – and he a human, that had never altered their relationship in the slightest. It had never mattered. He could remember, vividly, her teaching him to swim when he was three years old. Swimming came easily to her, as she was an amphibian, but Obi-Wan was, in the beginning, afraid of the water. It was she who had coaxed him in, had taught him the joy of floating free.

He remembered her death quite distinctly. She had become a diplomat under the unlikely tutelage of Mace Windu after Tahl's death, and she often went on missions. After the destruction of the Jedi Temple, which she had barely survived, she had gone into hiding with many of the other Jedi. But fear over what would happen to Jedi collaborators was her downfall – she was turned in by the very people she hid with, and Darth Vader killed her. Obi-Wan supposed it was poetic justice that the traitors who had given her location to the Sith also died by Vader’s hands.

When he saw Bant Eerin, alive and well, her silver skin glowing with a pink tinge, and her large, gray eyes soulful and calm, he looked down and felt tears sting his eyes. He squeezed them shut, never varying the pace of his walk. She, too, was all right here. Alive. Free.

He had not lied when he said to Anakin that he was glad things had turned out good somewhere. It didn’t lessen his guilt, but it gave him some peace. And he needed all of that he could get – otherwise, he would fear for his own mind.

Bant Eerin passed by Obi-Wan without blinking, intent on her destination. Obi-Wan let out a small sigh of relief, and resisted the urge to move faster.

Regardless, he found his way to the spare lightsabers soon enough. As he had suspected, they were in the same place they had been in his universe, under the training rooms, near the middle of the Temple. He quickly ducked into the small, rarely used room. He didn’t knock back his hood, but let his fingertips trail along the rows of ready, available lightsabers that lay on long panels along the wall. He reached for the Force, still instinctively shielding.

He stopped, his fingers lying still on a single lightsaber. It had evidently been used in the past – it had score marks from blasters, dents and scratches from being dropped and hit against a hard surface. It was scarred.

He picked it up gently, testing the weight. It was heavier than his had been, but the weight felt right anyway. He gripped both hands around the long hilt. Yes. It felt right.

With a cold, determined smile, Obi-Wan left the room full of lightsabers.

 

Xanatos was beyond frantic in the beginning.

He had been virtually hysterical.

Obi-Wan was gone. Not out for a walk, not hiding under the bed, not in Anakin’s quarters – gone. He could be anywhere at this point, even off world. 

Xanatos had woken up on the couch, disoriented at first. Then he remembered, and went to check on Obi-Wan, who should have been sleeping peacefully in Xanatos’ bed. And of course, he wasn’t.

For the next several minutes, Xanatos had frantically searched his apartment, as if he would suddenly find the undead Jedi under a pillow cushion. No such luck, of course. After finally managing to calm down somewhat, he took a quick shower and got dressed. The Jedi Council hadn’t called him. Rumors weren’t going wild. He could only conclude that wherever Obi-Wan was, the Jedi still did not know he existed. Feeling a little better, he then proceeded to walk along the halls of the Jedi Temple, searching for some faint ghost of Obi-Wan’s presence.

Some of the other Jedi walking the halls looked at him oddly, which was only reasonable. Xanatos was keeping close to the walls, figuring that Obi-Wan would have done the same. He would stop occasionally and search with the Force for a whiff of the Jedi’s presence, closing his eyes and focusing.

So far, nothing. In fact, searching the halls was rather pointless. Xanatos had no idea why Obi-Wan had left, or where he was. His motivations were a total mystery to Xanatos. Every time Xanatos thought he had a hold on Obi-Wan’s mind – had some clue as to why he acted the way he did – the damaged Jedi would prove his assumption wrong. All he really knew was that Obi-Wan felt guilty about something, had feared and hated Anakin, and was extremely dangerous.

Guilt.

What does one do when feeling guilty? Try to not feel guilty. Well, how does one accomplish that?

By atoning for whatever was done wrong. By fixing the error. By undoing the mistake.

Oh, Force.

And just what was Obi-Wan going to try to prevent? He had no idea. He had no way of knowing. But he had a feeling it was going to turn into a messy situation.

“Xanatos!”

The dark-haired Jedi nearly whirled, but managed to turn sedately. In the next moment, he was glad he did so. Anakin and Chancellor Palpatine stood side by side about ten meters away, Anakin dressed formally in his dark brown robes, and Palpatine dressed in a much more elaborate and richly colored robe. His white hair was brushed back, and he smiled at Xanatos.

Giving Palpatine a small smile and Anakin a not-right-now look, he came over to the two men. He stepped by Anakin, and bowed to the Supreme Chancellor.

Palpatine nodded a greeting. “Knight.”

“Chancellor,” Xanatos murmured in response. He shot Anakin a half-frantic look, and received a baffled but worried look in return.

“I’ve heard much about you from Anakin, Master Xanatos,” Palpatine said warmly. He said everything warmly and sincerely, Xanatos noticed. Sometimes he was glad Palpatine wasn’t a Jedi. He just never did like the man.

“Complimentary, I hope,” Xanatos said, while wishing the man would shut up and leave already. What was he doing here anyway? He shot Anakin a dark look and hoped Obi-Wan wasn’t around. He couldn’t very well drag the lunatic back to his quarters while the Chancellor watched.

“Of course,” Palpatine said with a smile, a twinge of genuine amusement in his eyes.

Anakin cut in smoothly. “Chancellor Palpatine talked to me last night, remember Xanatos?”

Xanatos just looked at him, not bothering to completely disguise his irritated look. Sometimes that boy had abominable instincts. Didn’t he realize Xanatos couldn’t deal with Bantha poodoo politics right now?

Anakin hurried on. “He’s going to discuss Reglai 6 with the Council today,” he explained. “I was just taking him to the Council’s chamber.”

The older Jedi looked around. They were in a more deserted area of the Temple. And this certainly wasn’t the fastest way to the Jedi Council chambers.

The Padawan noticed. “I was showing him some of our training rooms beforehand,” he added. “He told me he was curious.”

Palpatine nodded and gave a look of concern. “I certainly hope Padawan Skywalker is not in trouble for allowing me to visit some other areas of your Temple, Master Xanatos.”

“No, of course not,” Xanatos hastily assured him. “I just . . . have an errand to run. If you would excuse me?”

“What kind of errand?” A smooth, calm voice. Extremely familiar.

Obi-Wan.

Xanatos’ head turned to face that voice of its own volition. Obi-Wan stood less than a meter away, to the side of the Jedi and the Chancellor. He hadn’t noticed him moving out of the corner of his eye. Fortunately, Obi-Wan seemed calm enough. He wore one of Xanatos’ robes, his hands in his sleeves and the hood thrown back. His hair was still wildly long, but appeared to have been brushed back. He looked remarkably sane, and Xanatos felt himself relax a bit.

Obi-Wan stepped closer, and turned to Palpatine. “Chancellor,” he greeted calmly, bowing his head slightly.

Then his hands fell from the sleeves they were in, and a lightsaber appeared in his right hand. Without hesitating an instant, he ignited the lightsaber, stepped forward and swung down towards Palpatine’s neck, all in one smooth, practiced movement.

Also without hesitating, Xanatos also moved. Three steps forward and his body crashed into Obi-Wan. A flying kick hit Obi-Wan’s wrist, but the Jedi didn’t lose his grip on the weapon. When Obi-Wan hit the floor, Xanatos used all of his strength and muscle to keep the wildly struggling man down and the dark green lightsaber away from his body.

Palpatine stumbled away, his movements stiff in shock.

In perfect instinct or a prodding from the Force, Anakin also acted. But he didn’t act the way one would think. He stepped forward, knelt by Obi-Wan and Xanatos, and looked into Obi-Wan’s wide, blue eyes. He held his neck out, near the blade of the lightsaber.

Xanatos looked on in horror.

Obi-Wan let go of the lightsaber.

It fell to the floor with a dull thunk, and Anakin swatted it away with his hand. Xanatos didn’t pause in his attempts to subdue the Jedi – Obi-Wan, in fact, was going to kick Xanatos off at any moment and Xanatos knew it. He was no real match for a rested Obi-Wan.

“Obi-Wan!” Anakin said, staring into Obi-Wan’s eyes. “Stop.”

Xanatos also spoke. “I don’t know why you tried that, but I think you misunderstand something,” he said, voice forcibly kept even and calm.

Obi-Wan didn’t relax, but he did cease struggling temporarily. “You don’t understand,” he whispered. His kept his eyes on Anakin, but Xanatos could see the haunted sorrow in them regardless.

“Explain it to me,” Anakin said gently. His voice was soft, comforting. For that instant, Xanatos didn’t see the prankster, rebellious Padawan that Anakin so often was, but a gentle and kind man who would soon be a Jedi Knight.

Obi-Wan glanced over Anakin’s shoulder to stare at Palpatine, whose face had drained of color. His hands shook, but otherwise he didn’t move or speak, consciously or unconsciously ceding control of the situation to the Jedi. When Palpatine stayed still, very still, Obi-Wan slowly relaxed and turned his head back to Anakin.

“He’s a Sith,” Obi-Wan said simply.

Anakin’s eyes widened, and he hesitated. “No, Obi-Wan, he’s not. He was a Sith in your universe, but not here.”

Obi-Wan shook his head mutely, tears filling his eyes.

“Here, Palpatine almost came to the Jedi Temple, but his parents wouldn’t let him go. He was nearly a Jedi, and all his life he has been friends with the Jedi who originally found him. He’s not a Sith, Obi-Wan. It’s all right.” He looked at the Jedi from another universe intently, and added, “I’m very sure of this, Obi-Wan.”

Obi-Wan closed his eyes, then nodded.

Anakin licked his lips, then spoke again, with much less surety. Xanatos said nothing, merely let him continue. He could feel that this was an important moment, and that he should be silent. The Force seemed to almost have been waiting for this moment. “You looked at me, before you tried to kill the Chancellor.”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan whispered.

“You knew me, didn’t you?”

Another very soft, “Yes.”

“I was important to you.”

Obi-Wan smiled, but there was no happiness in it. Just regret and sadness. His body relaxed further under Xanatos. “He was my apprentice.”

“And . . . the Sith hurt him?” Anakin guessed quietly.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and let out his breath in a harsh pant. “He’s dead now. Dead. Nothing else. Gone,” he added vehemently. He shook his head, tears finally falling. Then he abruptly moved, and threw Xanatos off of him with apparent ease. Xanatos tensed, regaining his footing and he saw Anakin do the same. But Obi-Wan didn’t attempt to attack the Chancellor again, though Palpatine backed up again regardless, hand moving towards his robe for a comm. Obi-Wan sat up and pulled his knees up.

Anakin approached him warily, but with softness and a desire to help in his eyes. He crept up to Obi-Wan and put an arm around his shoulders. “It’s okay, really. You just wanted to protect me, right? But its okay, Obi-Wan – it's safe here.”

Obi-Wan nodded. Anakin held him closer, and kept speaking, trying to keep the dangerous Jedi calm. Keeping him under control this way was the best method of doing it – Xanatos doubted that even together they would have been able to keep Obi-Wan from killing Palpatine. And killing Palpatine would have left . . . a mess. One that even Yoda wouldn’t have been able to fix. It would have been a mistake – but not a mistake that could be easily let go.

Xanatos shivered at how easily this could have gone wrong. Shaking his head, he rose to his feet carefully, testing his ribs. They were probably cracked, but not broken.

He looked at Palpatine, who still stood mutely, pale and somewhat frightened. He walked over to the Chancellor, took the unused comm out of his hand, and gave him a wan smile, wondering how he was going to do this. “We have to talk.”

 

Not good, not good, Xanatos thought hurriedly to himself, quickly ushering the Supreme Chancellor down the hall and away from the other two. Hopefully, Anakin would be able to handle the . . . well, it wasn’t fair to call him a lunatic, now that they had some sense of what had happened to him. Hopefully Anakin would be able to get Obi-Wan back to Xanatos’ quarters without a problem.

Xanatos, though, had a larger problem to handle. The politician, thankfully enough, had been in too much shock to make a fuss when Obi-Wan had appeared and the resulting events, and Xanatos had to hope that he would remain so for a good while – long enough for him to explain, at any rate, and talk Palpatine into keeping quiet about it. Though he wasn’t exactly sure how he was going to accomplish that.

Oh, Force, be with me now . . . he prayed silently, nearly shoving the older man towards his door. Luckily, no one was in the area to see the Council’s pet Knight kidnapping the Supreme Chancellor . . . but stranger things had happened. One of them was sitting in the hall with a Padawan at the moment.

Something was bothering him about that. There was something distinctly wrong about what he had just seen and heard, something that didn’t fit together with the rest of the picture exactly right. But try as he might, Xanatos couldn’t figure out what it was – it kept dodging away just as he tried to grasp it, hiding in plain sight. It was something to do with Anakin, he could just feel it.

There’s something . . .

Palpatine seemed to have regained some measure of dignity by the time Xanatos smacked the door control, though his eyes were still wide with shock and no small amount of fright. The Chancellor, dressed in the royal blue of his station, looked a decidedly pasty white as he leaned against the wall for support. He brought a shaky hand up to his hair, absently smoothing it back in a gesture of nervousness.

“Master Jedi,” he started, his voice nonetheless completely unaffected by whatever emotions he might be feeling, a talent no doubt developed from his decades of public speaking. “I assure you that your . . . your . . . that the man in the hallway was acting in violation of several ordinances of Republic law and that he will be – ”

“Chancellor,” Xanatos broke in quickly, carefully trying to gauge the man’s emotions. Dammit, but the Jedi had done a good job teaching him how to shield when he was younger – nothing leaked out of the man, not the slightest hint of fear or surprise. And his reverting to politician-speak wasn’t helping. He would have to be careful, here. “Chancellor, meaning no disrespect, but I don’t think you have a full understanding of what is going on.”

Palpatine stared at him incredulously for a moment – and let out a short bark of laughter. The Chancellor’s face was a waxy white once more, save for two spots of color on his cheeks – though Xanatos couldn’t quite decide if that was from fear or rage.

“A full understanding of what is going on?” he repeated, his voice climbing several octaves and a few decibels along the way. “Master Jedi, I am more than old enough, I assure you, to remember exactly what kind of a person Obi-Wan Kenobi was in his heyday. Do you know how many Jedi that man has killed? Do you remember?”

“He thought you were a Sith,” Xanatos interjected. He wasn’t the sort of person to be easily intimidated, but the Chancellor had managed to work himself into a spitting rage.

“A Sith!” Palpatine sputtered. “How could he think that? Where did he get the gall to accuse me of being a Sith after all he’s done? He’s a murderer! A Jedi-killer, even more! You, of all Jedi, should be perfectly aware of what that man is!”

“I would think that I knew that, Chancellor,” Xanatos snapped back, his ire towards the politician rising despite himself. Force-dammit, but he hated politicians, especially those who thought they knew more than they did. Though perhaps in this case – he quickly cut off that line of thought. “Have you forgotten that that particular Kenobi is over ten-years dead?” he said, trying to make the Chancellor think rather than react.

“Accounts of death can be exaggerated,” the Chancellor sniffed imperiously. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

Xanatos closed his eyes with a sigh, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Chancellor . . . he died at my blade, remember?” he reminded him softly. “I think I know when someone’s dead.”

“You evidently didn’t do a very good job with it,” Palpatine retorted sharply. “He seemed very alive a few moments ago, especially for a man who’s been dead for over a decade.”

“Trust me, Chancellor,” Xanatos assured with a grim smile, “when I killed him I was in a state of mind where anything less than ‘a very good job with it’ wouldn’t have been nearly enough.”

That statement was true in its own way, Xanatos supposed. From the vaunted ‘certain point of view’ – though Force knew that he hadn’t been feeling very forgiving when he’d met with his own Kenobi that one final time. Because even Jedi could be pushed past their limits. Because some things . . .

Some things are unforgivable. Who had said that to him? Qui-Gon? He couldn’t remember.

Palpatine seemed a bit disconcerted by his remark, Xanatos noted with wry amusement as the man again ran a hand through his already ruffled white hair. Force knew that the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic rarely had to discuss the technicalities of killings and whether or not one could tell if they were really dead. The man had never held a lightsaber in his life, so far as Xanatos knew, even during his brief training at the Temple, to give him some basic control of his abilities.

“If he was already dead,” Palpatine hesitantly started after a long pause. “If, mind you,” he added, probably loathe to admit a point to the other man. Politicians were rarely ever wanting to concede anything.

One of those odd little diplomatic quirks, Xanatos thought absently.

If he was already dead,” the Chancellor continued, “how do you explain the man who tried to kill me, who coincidentally looked exactly like a certain Obi-Wan Kenobi, except for a hardly-disguising beard? A clone? A human replica droid? A vengeful spirit, perhaps? Or some ‘Jedi thing’ that I wouldn’t understand?”

Xanatos smiled slightly despite himself. If Palpatine was willing to admit that there was something wrong, that was the first step, wasn’t it? “Why don’t we sit down to talk about it?” he suggested, waving towards the table and chairs. A kitchen was rather informal for a meeting with the Supreme Chancellor, but it would have to do. “It’s a rather long story, all told, and I wouldn’t want your feet to get tired before your meeting with the Council . . .”

 

By the time Xanatos finished his story, starting from his diplomatic mission to the striking workers and ending with the hallway encounter, Anakin and Obi-Wan had joined them, the former occasionally whispering words of comfort to the other, as Obi-Wan would tense at certain points of the story, reacting to whatever memories it brought up. Palpatine himself seemed to be too caught up in the story to notice anything else, interjecting with a few interested questions here and there and an occasional monosyllable.

The two of them – Anakin and Obi-Wan, who seemed strangely right together – stood along the wall, behind the Chancellor and out of his sight, as Xanatos finished the story. Xanatos nodded at him when he came in, but Palpatine had not noticed the Padawan and his companion’s quiet entrance.

Obi-Wan, for his part, seemed to have taken the unsuccessful assassination attempt and the Chancellor’s innocence in this galaxy in stride, Anakin reflected as he listened to Xanatos tell his story. The man had listened quietly to Anakin’s assertions that they could trust the Chancellor, mutely accepting his word – or trying to at least. Anakin, for one, had noticed his flinch when he saw the politician in the room, but Obi-Wan seemed to be acting remarkably . . . well, remarkably normal, which Anakin took to be a good sign.

Of course, he seemed pretty normal just before he tried to slice the Chancellor’s head off with a lightsaber, too, a little voice in his brain noted.

Shut up, you.

“So you think he’s the equivalent of our own Kenobi from an alternate timeline?” Palpatine asked once the Knight had finished his tale. “But this time a good guy instead?”

“Depending on how you define good,” Obi-Wan commented with an odd half-bitter smile, exciting a small yelp of surprise as the Chancellor finally realized his presence. “Maybe just ‘not bad’,” he suggested with a forced, more friendly smile.

Palpatine had drawn back from the man when he’d heard him – though unconsciously or not Anakin didn’t know – and Anakin could easily sense Obi-Wan’s muscles tightening as he stared full upon the Chancellor’s face again. He quickly reached out to put a hand on the other’s shoulder, attempting to pacify but ready to hold back if need be. “Steady,” he murmured softly. Did Obi-Wan not consider himself a good Jedi, but not a bad person? Yet another interesting piece of the puzzle that was Obi-Wan.

Xanatos managed a distinctly forced looking smile at Obi-Wan’s comment. “A not-all-that-bad guy, then,” he amended, shooting Anakin a questioning glance. “But certainly not as bad as our own Kenobi.”

“I . . . I see,” Palpatine finally answered, jerking his eyes away from Obi-Wan to look at Xanatos again. The Chancellor’s normally impeccable hair was disheveled from his absently nervous gestures, and even as Anakin watched he ran a frustrated hand through again. “And in your . . . in your galaxy I was a Sith, then?” he asked Obi-Wan, turning again to look.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan answered neutrally, eyes unfocused – or focused on something else, perhaps. “Your counterpart conned a young Queen into getting him into the office of Supreme Chancellor and used his emergency powers to declare himself Emperor of my galaxy. Jedi were outlawed and are hunted down like animals by . . . by his servants.”

Obi-Wan seemed strangely calm as he said this, Anakin reflected, even as his eyes widened in surprise to even that meager portion of Obi-Wan’s story. Though it was inconceivable that the Jedi would ever be thought of anything less than benevolent protectors in this galaxy, Obi-Wan had told it so matter-of-factly that his listeners had little choice but to take it as fact. That dead sounding recitation was very convincing.

He didn’t notice the man’s hesitance to name the Emperor’s servants.

“But surely you know now that I’m not the man you thought I was?” Palpatine pressed.

A moment of silence before Obi-Wan hesitantly answered. “From what Anakin told me,” he started, “it doesn’t seem like you’re . . . like you’re a Sith. But, then again,” he added with a sad smile, suspicion lingering in his eyes, “you might just be a better actor than mine was.”

Palpatine just nodded mutely, appearing to consider the man’s words as the others waited in tense silence. “I see,” he finally commented yet again. “I see.”

Another moment of tense silence. Obi-Wan seemed to be strained to a breaking point and Xanatos only slightly better. For Obi-Wan, though, Anakin doubted that he could even begin to imagine the amount of resentment and fury the undead lunatic had invested into this man with the Chancellor’s face . . . only to find that the two were wholly different. And the miracle was that he was managing to make conversation with him now, with only a Padawan’s word to back him up.

He trusts me, Anakin realized uneasily. It wasn’t a reassuring revelation. In fact, it made him feel – responsible. He trusts me enough to believe me about this, of all things . . .

“You understand, of course,” Palpatine began, looking sorrowfully at Xanatos, “that I’ll be obliged to tell the Council about this matter when I see them this morning.”

The Knight’s eyes widened in surprise and fear. Even now that Obi-Wan seemed more than well-equipped to handle himself, Anakin could easily see that Xanatos was still feeling protective of the man. Whatever the man himself thought, Xanatos liked to look after pathetic creatures as much as his Master did. It was something Qui-Gon had given to all his Padawans. Almost all. “The Council?” he sputtered.

Palpatine smiled thinly. “Yes, the Council,” he affirmed. “You might not think too highly of politicians, Knight Xanatos, but I keep my promises and in these matters . . .” He raised his hands, open-palmed, in a gesture of helplessness. “There’s no choice in the matter,” he sighed. “It would be a betrayal of my office if I didn’t.”

“But Chancellor Palpatine!” Anakin protested, speaking aloud for the first time in their conversation. Palpatine jerked his head around in surprise, just noticing again that the Padawan was present. “The Council is too close to Qui-Gon to make a rational decision, can’t you see that?” he begged. “At least wait until Master Yoda gets back, and we can decide what to do from there.”

“I can’t do th – ”

“Please, Ch – I mean, Palpatine?” Anakin pleaded, nearly begging as he tried to put his crystal-blue eyes to work as he had as a toddler. “Please?” The Chancellor, for some reason, had decided that he was going to mentor Anakin. And even if Anakin still felt uncomfortable – or a little awed – he knew Palpatine considered him a good friend.

The Chancellor opened his mouth to answer, frowning in disapproval – and shut it again. He sighed peevishly. “Anakin, you know that you’re the only person in the galaxy that can do that to me, don’t you?” he snapped irritably. Anakin had never asked him anything of his magnitude before. “And you realize that you’re asking me to indirectly break a few of my vows of office? And that I have a very, very bad feeling about this?”

“I know,” Anakin replied with a relieved smile. “And I’m eternally grateful for it.”

“Only until the next time you need something from me,” Palpatine retorted. He sighed, again throwing up his hands helplessly and glancing at the ceiling for guidance. “Why did it have to be him?” he asked no one in particular.

“Thank you, Palpatine,” Anakin said, giving the man a dazzling grin.

“Don’t mention it,” Palpatine ordered. “Literally, don’t mention it,” he added tiredly.

“Yes, sir.”

Papatine sighed again, putting a hand up to his head again, but this time catching himself before he could muss his hair up even more. “I supposed you’ll be taking me to Council chambers, then?” he asked with a tired smile.

“Of course . . . that is if Xanatos doesn’t want to?” Anakin added, turning to the other man.

But Xanatos was staring back and forth between Obi-Wan and Anakin with a dawning expression of realization lighting up his face . . . “No thank you, Anakin,” he managed with a wave of his hand. “I . . . I think I’ll just stay here.”

 

When Anakin and the Chancellor had left, leaving Xanatos and Obi-Wan alone in the room again, Obi-Wan was finally able to let his muscles relax. Being in the same room as Palpatine – any Palpatine – was . . . was, well, an extremely tense situation. In fact, even knowing that the man was walking around freely had his adrenaline charging. It took a great deal of his shattered Jedi calm to restrain the urge to go and kill the man as he had been intending not long before. Though he believed Anakin – wanted to believe, forced himself to believe – there was only so much he could do to counter his ingrained loathing of the man.

“Water?” Xanatos offered suddenly, perfectly polite.

Obi-Wan looked up, startled. “No, but thank you,” he managed.

Xanatos nodded once before getting up to get himself a glass from the kitchen. His hand, Obi-Wan noted, was shaking and spilling a fair amount of the liquid as he tried to fill the cup. The dark-haired Knight took a long gulp before setting the glass back down and rejoining Obi-Wan. His eyes had a distant look, as if he were pondering some abstract subject, but his expression had a look of faint surprise.

Silence for a few moments, each lost in thought. Then – “He turned, didn’t he?” Xanatos finally blurted out, meeting Obi-Wan’s eyes. The Knight’s gaze was wide-eyed and shocked, an astounding change from the calm he usually portrayed. “Your Padawan? Anakin? He turned, didn’t he?”

Obi-Wan, for his part, was equally surprised, faint, unwanted memories stirring at the other Knight’s words – and he pushed them down, fiercely. “How – I mean . . . why do you ask?” he said, nearly tripping over his own words in confusion over what to say.

Xanatos smiled a little guiltily. “It just didn’t make sense,” he told him with a sheepish grin. “I was thinking about it, but didn’t realize what it was even though it was dancing right in front of me. Hiding in plain sight – ”

like the Sith

“ – and I finally asked myself why you’d want to kill your own Padawan, if you still loved him enough to spare his life when he held his neck between your saber and the Chancellor’s – a Sith’s, from your point of view - throat. It was the only thing that made sense.” Xanatos looked at the other man searchingly, not exactly seeking confirmation, but something more elusive.

Of course it was, Obi-Wan realized vaguely, not looking at the other as the restless memories again started to stir – happier times, times when his own Anakin had been as wide-eyed and innocent as this one, when their problems seemed so pale in comparison to his galaxy’s future . . .

“You don’t have to answer, of course,” Xanatos interjected gently, shaking him from the once happy memories, that only gave a distant sense of grief anymore. “I just can’t imagine Anakin ever – ”

“You’re right, though,” Obi-Wan interrupted, looking down for a moment, trying to compose himself enough to meet Xanatos’ too kind gaze. “But . . . I’d rather tell you another time.” Another time, after the memories can rest in peace without any interruption from an innocent, blue-eyed gaze. He trusted this Anakin. He saw what his own Anakin had once been – and while it was painful, he didn’t want to miss it either.

“Of course,” Xanatos agreed softly, nodding his head. “I’m sorry I brought it up, it just seemed so strange for me to think of Anakin – Anakin –”

“It was hard for me, too,” he said softly. Still is.

Silence again as the two men thought about each other’s answers and Obi-Wan found himself wondering, again, why his Anakin had become what he had become . . . and, for the first time in a long time, if there was anything he could do to reverse the process. Surely not all of that innocence – that goodness – was lost?

“Can I ask you something?” Obi-Wan queried suddenly.

“Hmm?”

“Why is Palpatine Chancellor here?”

Xanatos blinked at him, frowning slightly at what he undoubtedly thought was leading to another discussion on the likelihood of this Palpatine being a Sith. “Didn’t Anakin tell you? He was elected, the normal way . . . mostly because the other option was far worse,” he added, sighing.

“Who was the other option?” Obi-Wan asked, unable to imagine a Chancellor worse than his own Palpatine; though this Palpatine probably deserved the benefit of the doubt, Obi-Wan couldn’t entirely get rid of that feeling yet.

“Binks,” Xanatos grunted, hoisting himself up from the chair. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go grab something for us to –”

Binks? Jar-Jar Binks?” Obi-Wan asked in horror. “Please tell me you’re not serious!”

Xanatos turned again, looking at him strangely. “Of course I’m serious. He has savvy, sly political brain under that green skin and Gungan syntax, you know.”

“My Jar-Jar –”

“Oh, did you have a Jar-Jar Binks in your galaxy, too?” Xanatos asked in mild amusement. “Well, don’t tell me about him. Just about everything in your galaxy seems about ten times worse than they are here, so I really don’t want to picture that Gungan . . . now I’ll get us some food, shall I?”

 

The night was very silent. The inhabitants of the Jedi Temple lay down in their beds, or cocoons, respectively, and their minds were silenced by the calm of sleep. The very air became hushed, and that breath of silence echoed throughout the long, graceful halls.

For Obi-Wan and Xanatos, it was peaceful.

Anakin had left a few hours before. He lived alone in his Padawan quarters, but nevertheless the Jedi Council would often check up on him in Yoda’s absence, and having him sleeping over at Xanatos’ home would arouse too much suspicion, so Anakin left as night fell, with a promise to return. He had taken Palpatine to his Council meeting hours earlier. It would seem that the politician's face held him in good stead – the Council didn’t come to Xanatos’ door.

Together, Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Xanatos had eaten a small, simple meal. They sat at Xanatos’ small table, which was jammed into the corner of the kitchen. It was slightly cramped, with three men sitting about it. Xanatos and Anakin bantered, with Obi-Wan mostly silent, apparently content to listen. No one spoke of anything important. And no one said anything at the few silent tears that dropped from Obi-Wan’s sad yet serene blue eyes. They allowed their silence – and the beauty of their acceptance – speak for itself.

It spoke well.

Xanatos eventually decided to sleep on the couch. If Qui-Gon dropped by, it would be difficult to explain why he was sleeping there, but it would probably be more difficult to explain Qui-Gon's once-dead apprentice lying there instead. Uncertainly, Obi-Wan took the bed. Xanatos got him heavy blankets. It wasn’t particularly cold, but the heavy comforting weight would be familiar, as it would be to any child wrapped up securely.

Obi-Wan smiled at Xanatos sleepily. Everything he did was still hesitant, uncertain – except when he was trying to kill someone, apparently. He knew his duty as a Jedi well –  it seemed to Xanatos – but apparently dealing with any kind of emotion was very different from that. Gently, he tried to nudge Obi-Wan into a full sleep.

Obi-Wan blinked at him, his eyes wary, but said nothing.

Xanatos smiled faintly, wryly. “See you in the morning.”

“Good night,” Obi-Wan replied, relaxing his mental shields and allowing Xanatos’ touch to give him sleep he desperately needed. He was already beginning to fall into sleep. One would think that after such an experience as Obi-Wan had had he would be wide-awake, but Xanatos rather suspected that it was exhaustion that overtook Obi-Wan, and the man was also smart enough to take sleep when he could.

With a smile and a nod, Xanatos left for the couch. He left the door open. It didn’t take him long to find another blanket, and he kicked off his boots and settled down on his side on the couch. He had slept in worse places. And in more dangerous places.

He hoped Obi-Wan slept through the night. He knew the Jedi tended to have nightmares, even if they didn’t always wake from them.

 

It was night. The time one generally slept. Or meditated. Or stayed quiet. One of those, for the sake of those that could actually sleep, at any rate. Qui-Gon lay in his bed, in his large apartment. The bed was a longer one, an easy fit for his large body. There was an advantage to having so many species in the Order – besides the obvious advantages of having so many varied, unique individuals with different perspectives – and that was all sizes of beds. The neutrally colored sheets and blankets weren’t bad, either – they were amazingly soft, if bland in appearance.

He closed his eyes resolutely, even though there was no difference between that and having his eyes open, when his window was shut and all the lights turned off. He stretched out with the Force, trying to seek calm – and therefore sleep – that way. The strong Living Force in the surrounding gardens often calmed him.

Qui-Gon cherished the near-jungle of the Temple gardens. The Temple was surrounded by them, enfolded in life. At this time of year – early spring – it was especially so, with the first real growth of the year for many of the summer plants. Of course, some of the plants did bloom in winter, but the majority of them did not.

As a result, this time of year on Coruscant always seemed special to him.

All the joy he would normally feel at the surge of the Living Force was doubled by his reunion with Xanatos. His former apprentice was clearly now a Knight in his own right, perhaps even ready to take an apprentice of his own. He remembered, sadly, how they had last parted, ten years ago, at Kenobi’s death.

Death. What a simple way of putting it.

His apprentice, Obi-Wan, had turned to the dark. Qui-Gon no longer shied away from that reality. It had happened, no matter the reasons for it or the consequences of it. He had tried to deny, in the beginning, the gradual signs that Obi-Wan was falling to the darkness, succumbing to its seductive call. The bursts of anger, he had explained away by simple adolescence. The pure ambition, he hadn't recognized disguised in enthusiasm.

The fact was, he wasn’t even sure Kenobi knew what had been happening to him. It was so gradual – and started on such slight things. Taking a correction the wrong way, letting that slight bitterness stay. Letting a stray thought continue.

Qui-Gon doubted it would ever be understood how a person fell to evil.

Maybe that was why it was so difficult for him to believe that Kenobi had fallen. That the boy he had loved as a son had given himself to evil, to the Dark Side of the Force. But nothing could explain away what he had done to Xanatos.

He could remember the events so clearly, even after ten years. The murder of dozens of Jedi, including some members of the Jedi Council. The pure hatred, hidden in Kenobi’s eyes. The shocking discovery of the murderer's identity; the realization that Xanatos had known before any of them, and had gone after a fleeing Kenobi.

Qui-Gon didn’t see the majority of the fight. He did see the slight slip in Kenobi’s nearly perfect form – a battle stance Qui-Gon had drilled endlessly into him. Into all his apprentices. He remembered Xanatos’ complete lack of hesitation, the disgust and horror – grief, even? – on his face when he cut through Kenobi’s body, the full force that he possessed behind the strike.

He remembered the look of Xanatos’ face when the former apprentice had realized his Master was there. The grief, the sympathy, and the sorrow. The pity. He remembered walking over to Kenobi’s body, and touching his face, still and innocent in the repose of death. Xanatos’ gentle hand on his shoulder –

And he struck Xanatos, knocked him to the ground. Raged at him, with tears running down his face. Surely there could have been another way . . .

He knew now that wasn’t the case. Kenobi had chosen his own path, and he had chosen the consequences thereof. Xanatos had acted as a true Jedi Knight, and defended the helpless from what Kenobi would no doubt have inflicted on them. And when Qui-Gon struck him, Xanatos never attempted to explain. Afterward – after months of contemplation – Qui-Gon realized Xanatos never would. He had acted in the manner befitting a Jedi, and he would not apologize for that.

If there was one bad thing Xanatos had picked up from his Master, it was his arrogance.

Of course, he was right, but still.

Almost five years of meditation, thought, and self-discovery had led Qui-Gon to the knowledge that Xanatos had been right in what he did. It was still sorrowing, that five years ago Qui-Gon had not been able to admit that, when Xanatos came to him. Soon after that he came to the realization that Xanatos would never be sorry for his actions, and that he had no reason to be, even more. He wanted to tell Xanatos that – heal the break between them – but Xanatos was quite the expert at avoidance. He was pretty sure Xanatos hadn’t gotten that from his Master. Ten years was far too long a time; he didn't know how he had gotten through life without the easiness, the affection between him and Xanatos.

Qui-Gon smiled into the darkness. He and Xanatos had been very close once. He hoped to have that again – that trust, that love, even. He had raised Xanatos, even as he had raised Kenobi. And Xanatos was still here. Xanatos was . . . . Xanatos. Qui-Gon would never cease to love the boy. Just as he would probably never cease to love Obi-Wan, no matter how much it hurt.

No attachments, his ass.

You aren’t sleeping, Qui-Gon, he thought. He sighed, the sound loud in the quiet room. He tried to quiet his thoughts, like he did in meditation, but it wasn’t working. The Force refused to be still, and he couldn’t block it out. Besides, meditation hadn’t put him to sleep since he was a Padawan. It made him think, instead, and he was already doing that.

With a mental sigh rather than a physical one this time, Qui-Gon threw off his sheets and blankets and swung his feet out of the bed. His bare feet hit the carpeted floor with a thump. He rose slowly, stretching. Scratched his beard absentmindedly. Felt a gentle, mental nudge from the Force to move.

“Lights, low,” he said gruffly. The lights obeyed, and he squinted for a moment before his eyes adjusted. He grabbed a robe and threw it on, pulling it up tight to his neck and throwing the hood up. Then he slipped on his oldest, most comfortable-nearly-falling-apart boots.

And he left for the gardens that had always given him solace before.

 

Obi-Wan rarely remembered his dreams in any great detail. Jedi did not often dream, and when they did, the dreams were either blurrily unclear or else visions sent from the Force. It was rare to receive a vision that way, however.

His dreams were mostly formless.

Before coming here, to this alternate universe, he had often dreamed of endless sand, moving like a sea – or a river – toward one place. And then he saw it fall off an endless cliff, like a waterfall of dulled particles. Everything was pulled along in its ruthless, inevitable sway.

He always woke from that one gasping.

But this time he dreamed of something different.

It began simply enough. He was a Padawan again, with a youthful, innocent face and wry grin. He had a Knight’s tail, and the braid swinging over his shoulder. Strangely, in his dream he saw Anakin there as well, at the same age he was. Anakin smiled at him, then turned away to see something Obi-Wan couldn’t, his smile fading and horror replacing it. Then he looked back at Obi-Wan, and opened his mouth to say something.

Darkness enveloped Obi-Wan's vision. It was as if he had blinked, and everything had changed. He saw Vader where he and Anakin had once been. A still figure lay on the floor, a Jedi cloak disguising the person’s identity.

Then Vader turned away from the body, to stare into Obi-Wan’s dream-eyes. He slowly took off the mask, piece by piece. The miracle of technology came off with startling ease, and as Vader took each piece off he dropped it and moved to the next. Finally, the face behind the mask was revealed.

It was himself. Obi-Wan. With a pale, death-like face, his blue eyes stared at him darkly, and a smile twisted his scarred face. The body was Anakin.

He woke. Awareness returned fully and suddenly. His body was twisted in the heavy blankets, and he was sweating heavily. He panted, and licked his dry lips.

He didn’t even want to think about what that dream could mean.

Running a hand through his tangled hair, he kicked off the blankets with his feet. He took deep, calming breaths, and then he put his head in his hands, which were still trembling. The bed seemed to stink of his fear. With a sudden shiver, Obi-Wan rolled off the bed and onto his feet.

It felt good not to be on the bed. Still breathing deeply, he walked out of the open room. Of course, it was very dark, but with the Force it wasn’t difficult to navigate. He let his fingertips trail on the walls and furniture. He could sense Xanatos, still asleep, on the couch. Feeling his way with his hands and with the Force, he went to Xanatos.  When his hand encountered hair, he stopped, mentally debating whether or not to wake the Jedi.

Slowly, the hand withdrew. Obi-Wan let his senses expand to cover more of the Temple, trying to tell if anyone had sensed him. He doubted it, since Xanatos hadn’t woken, but to be safe he checked. To his relief, he found that most everyone was asleep or in deep meditation. There were no spikes of alarm or alertness.

Instead, he sensed the vibrancy of the Temple gardens. The feeling of life had been present in his Temple, but there it was strengthened, overwhelming. It made him feel like he was in the middle of a jungle, not on a city planet. Sometimes, that sensation made the whole situation feel unreal. Or too real – the differences between his universe and this one were still strange and startling. So close, yet not quite the same.

As Obi-Wan let the Force fill him, it swept into every part of his mind. Before he was aware of moving, he was in the hallway, just outside of Xanatos’ apartment. For a moment, uncertainty of what he was doing entered his mind. The Force reacted strongly, leading him on more firmly.

He went.

He let his eyes drift shut, and held his arms open. The Force was alive, so present. He didn’t notice the coldness of the floors, or the gentle air currents when he went through this Temple he didn’t know, his steps unhesitating and sure. Through the Force he knew the way.

When the Force released its trance-like hold on Obi-Wan, he was in a garden. Moonlight hit the ground in slivers, like shards of a knife hitting the darkness. Darkly rich colors surrounded him; green, blue, red, and orange. The ground was wet, and he was damp from a lightly falling drizzle, which was almost a gentle mist. The moon peeked out from behind heavy clouds, lighting them eerily. Plants reached high up, then drooped down over pebble pathways.

Hesitating for only a moment, Obi-Wan walked down one of the pathways before him. He didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t see the actual Temple – he was completely surrounded by plant life and artificial pathways. It was disorienting.

He ignored the rough feel of the walkway beneath his feet, and walked further into the garden.

 

Why did it have to be raining?

Well, Qui-Gon admitted to himself, it wasn’t quite raining yet. But the steady drizzle spoke of rain to come, as did the heaviness of the air. Still, the rain had left the air as clean as if this were not a city planet.

He was in the Garden of Stones. Of course, it wasn’t made entirely of stones – but the architectural element was of carved stone and pebbled pathways. Heavy, drooping exotic plants lined the walkways. This garden wasn’t designed to be a place of meditation as much as one of quiet socialization – a place to meet someone on a walk to get some fresh air.

It wasn’t likely that he was going to meet someone at this time of night, however. It was still several hours until dawn would strike the Jedi Temple. In the meantime, Qui-Gon could and would enjoy the peaceful darkness, dimly lit by the faint lights of Coruscant and the moon. The combination of lighting sources created an eerie effect, almost as if the light was simply lighting upon everything in slashes of silver.

He breathed deeply, and was startled by a quiet scuffle, like the aimless noise of someone walking without quite being certain of his destination.

Somewhat startled by the interruption, he turned.

A figure stood there. Not too tall, but not short. No robe. Just a man in Jedi clothes, walking in the moonlight.

But he knew this man.

It didn’t matter that long, ragged beard disguised the face, or how the slant of the light created hollow points where the eyes should be. Or that the gait of the man was hesitant, the steps small and slow. It didn’t matter that this man no longer had the startling aura of youth that he had possessed through adulthood.

Qui-Gon Jinn would always know Obi-Wan Kenobi, no matter his age and no matter the time.

Obi-Wan spoke. “Master?” It was a soft breath more than an actual word. He took a hesitant step forward, and the light flashed in his blue eyes. Confusion swirled in them, to be quickly replaced by some strange, dawning realization.

This could not be. Kenobi was dead. He was part of his past, not his future. Not his present. Kenobi had passed into the Force, had received the consequences of his actions. Qui-Gon’s mind refused to accept the reality that was in front of him. A thousand possibilities and explanations whirled through his mind, none of them right.

“You are dead,” Qui-Gon said hoarsely, his voice low and emotional. He wondered if he was talking to a hallucination, something created by some deranged portion of his mind. Could he even talk himself away? “Leave me be.”

Kenobi’s face twisted in anguish, and pained understanding. “I –“

“I don’t –” Qui-Gon began. “What – what are you?” He reached for his lightsaber, only to realize that he had left it in his apartment, assuming safety in the Jedi Temple.

“I’m not what you think. I’m not him.” Kenobi’s hands clenched into fists, then relaxed just as quickly. His eyes dropped to the ground, hesitancy stirring in them.

“Then what are you?” Qui-Gon asked, still stunned, his voice hoarse.

“I . . .” Kenobi hesitated, then finally lifted his eyes to meet Qui-Gon’s. When the other man turned away, not wanting to meet that gaze, he missed Obi-Wan's flinch. “I am what could have been.”

There was a short silence.

It was broken by a strange, dark sound. Qui-Gon felt heat – anger – stirring inside of him, becoming more powerful with each passing moment. His body tensed with controlled energy, feeling fierce and unforgiving. He laughed. Then the anger seemed to fade. He stared into Obi-Wan's depthless eyes. How could someone look so innocent, so unscarred by the darkness that was within? Did Kenobi not even see it within himself? Qui-Gon saw nothing of the mocking he had known from his apprentice in those eyes. Those damnable eyes.

“I don’t understand how you are alive, Kenobi, but this fact remains: you turned.”

Kenobi stared at him, shaking now.

 

It was more than strange, seeing Qui-Gon again. It was disturbing. He wanted to touch him, to actually verify that the man was real and standing there. He seemed oddly big, bigger than any memory of him could ever be. Everything was starkly real, every smell and breath making an impact on Obi-Wan’s psyche.

Qui-Gon continued, relentlessly. He was a big man, and right now he was using his size to intimidate. He leaned forward, his mouth tight and straight, with his eyes full of pain, as much as Obi-Wan himself had. Obi-Wan found that ironic. “Whoever you are, whatever you are – you would spread darkness. You carry it within you, I know it. I saw it," Qui-Gon said.

Obi-Wan flinched. That . . . that couldn’t be true. He knew Anakin turned because of his failings – the fact that he hadn’t turned here, under Yoda’s tutelage, proved that – but his mere presence was evil? Surely he was not evil. He didn’t want to be evil. “I’m not him,” Obi-Wan repeated weakly.

“Force, what is wrong with you? Why deny it? Why even come here, why resurface? We thought you were dead!” Qui-Gon yelled, his fists clenched. He took quick steps forward, and before Obi-Wan could react, he struck Obi-Wan on the cheek. Obi-Wan fell hard, the breath nearly knocked out of him. The pebbles of the pathway were sharp and unyielding under his side. He turned his head to look up at his former Master.

Qui-Gon was pale and breathing heavily. His eyes softened with a look of guilt. “Perhaps you’ve even done it to me – no, no,” he whispered, his hands open and loose before him. Qui-Gon looked at his hands, as if puzzled. He knelt, and almost gently, took Obi-Wan’s face in his hands, easing the pain of the bruise. Obi-Wan held himself very still, feeling both frightened and uncertain. His instincts, from all those years as this man's Padawan, told him to obey. “Can’t you feel it inside yourself? I know you so well, Obi-Wan, why are you hiding it from yourself? Why did you come here?”

The Force exploded around Obi-Wan. Even as he remembered from his days as Padawan, Qui-Gon’s Force presence was bright and powerful, although without the depth of Yoda’s presence. It flowed around Obi-Wan's mind and within it, breaking through shields as if they weren’t there. Shields Qui-Gon had taught him to erect, and shields he could therefore break down with equal ease. Some things didn't change, it would appear.

In breaking down those mental shields, Qui-Gon broke him down, and showed Obi-Wan himself. In some attempt to save what he believed to be his lost apprentice. To show him the truth. Even as Qui-Gon went into Obi-Wan's mind, Obi-Wan could see glimpses of Qui-Gon's true self. He didn't desire to hurt Obi-Wan – that wasn't his intention. He grieved for his pain. He wanted to save the boy he loved, the boy he believed to have turned. One could only defeat Darkness by facing it.

Every person had darkness – for those evil beings, they took that part and embraced it. Qui-Gon revealed that inner darkness and showed it to Obi-Wan. Not in any specific sense, of course. He simply sought the small, little inklings of darkness within Obi-Wan’s struggling mind and spirit, and shoved his own ‘sight’ to Obi-Wan.

This Obi-Wan, who was so fragile and weak. This Obi-Wan, who had never sought to deny the truth that he was an imperfect being. This Obi-Wan, who had only tried his best. Obi-Wan, who had his faults. Obi-Wan, who had anger. Obi-Wan, who had arrogance.

Along with that forceful insistence, came Qui-Gon’s thoughts that this truth was the only way to save his Padawan from the darkness, to force him to the light.

It drove Obi-Wan mad.

A person's mind is a personal thing. To touch a person's mind in any way – even in the Master and Padawan bond – was deeply intimate, and both parties had to be extremely careful. Minds are very fragile, a web of threads that can be undone by loosing only one. A word can hurt someone – but a thought could do so much more.

And after that, there was a dark silence inside his mind. Everything was so blank, so spiritless. So very quiet.

He heard Qui-Gon rise from his kneeling position. Felt a hand gently touch his head, with the intention to soothe. Qui-Gon's voice rose, distressed. He couldn't make out the words, though. It didn't seem quite important enough to link them together. Sorry? Leave? Love? Help?

The pebbled pathway was rough against his cheek, the tiny rocks pricking his skin. His breaths came smoothly and evenly. His arms were curled up at his chest, and the rest of his body was in a fetal position. Then, there was that gentle touch again. He sensed grief. Heard someone call out for help, felt waves of panic in the Force.

From the silent darkness his thoughts rose, perfectly light and clear.

Obi-Wan had taken Anakin as his apprentice as a gift to the person he loved as a father, to fulfill the wish of a dying man. Obi-Wan had seen a boy of potential, then. He had been blind, just as the rest of the Jedi were. Then he got to know the boy, learned his faults and witnessed his great joys. His personality, scarred with the caution of slavery but with a willing and cheerful heart all the same. But again, Obi-Wan saw as the Jedi did – a boy full of potential. Future power.

Not the boy, himself.

Obi-Wan held to the memory, teaching and words Qui-Gon for all these years, out of some misguided sense of obligation and duty. Qui-Gon had taken Obi-Wan as his apprentice when no one else would. In his mind, that sense of obligation never faded. But it was foolish – teaching and love are not things that must be returned, repaid. Qui-Gon gave Obi-Wan a gift, and Obi-Wan could not see the gift for what it was.

He never gave Anakin the right gift. And that gift was simple love and acceptance. It was a priceless gift – and one that a former slave had needed desperately.

Force damn his own blindness. Even years after his Master's death, Obi-Wan had not truly forged his own path. He had held to his Master's wisdom more than his own experience. He was not Qui-Gon, and Anakin was not Obi-Wan. What had been needed had been needed was what every relationship truly is and must be – was the recognition that their own relationship was unique, and special.

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon.

Anakin and Obi-Wan.

Qui-Gon didn't matter. The expectations of the Jedi Council didn't matter. The Chosen One prophecy didn't matter. None of it. At the core, there was simply Anakin, the boy that he loved as a son, and whom he had tried to blindly help but failed. It didn't matter if Anakin never became a Jedi. Anakin mattered. Anakin.

With that realization, Obi-Wan was free.

Years of the heavy weight of obligation and duty vanished, under the force of simple love. His duty as a Jedi didn't matter. And that weight was lifted. His seeking to give credence to Qui-Gon's beliefs and reputation didn't matter – it wasn't important. And that burden was lifted. The Force was still and silent in reaction to his newfound knowledge – content in what it had done, it almost seemed. Obi-Wan had learned.

It was raining. The drops fell gently and softly, like a hundred gentle kisses lighting upon him at once. The droplets fell from his nose and chin, running down Obi-Wan's limp body onto the ground. He opened his eyes.

The garden was vivid, every sensation and color strangely present, as if the rest of his life had been nothing but a faded dream, outshone by the light of reality. The ground was harsh, the rain gentle. His hands twitched, cold and numb.

"Obi-Wan?" It was Xanatos', with panic underlying the smooth velvet of his voice. There was a scrabbling sound, the pebbles being moved and shifted beneath the force of Xanatos' feet and his weight. "Oh, Obi-Wan."

Two hands, strong and steady, lifted him by his shoulders. He was shivering uncontrollably in the rain, which was gentle enough to be called a heavy mist, and pulled back to Xanatos' chest. The man's long fingers held him there, and Obi-Wan felt a gentle nudge of the Force – Xanatos clearly trying to ascertain if Obi-Wan was injured. Finding no physical injuries, Xanatos took a firm grip of Obi-Wan's limp shoulders and shook him, drawing him away so he could look into the man's eyes.

"Obi-Wan? Are you all right?" he asked, his dark eyes deeply concerned.

Obi-Wan nodded. Then, feeling more of a confirmation was needed, he added, "Yes. I'm fine."

Slowly, Xanatos shook his head. "No, you are not. I can feel you through the Force – your mind is . . . What happened to you? It's like someone burned your mind."

"Qui-Gon."

Xanatos' eyes, still meeting Obi-Wan's, widened. "He was here? He did this to you? Oh no . . . I'm going to get the . . . "

The words seemed to trail off as Obi-Wan murmured, "I'm free now." Xanatos, silent, held him closer and more protectively. Xanatos' breaths came in harsh pants, while Obi-Wan's remained even and calm.

He felt one of Xanatos' hands fumble around, then there was the beep of a comlink. Xanatos spoke into it, but Obi-Wan didn't pay attention to the words. Something about the Council, and not allowing something. Someone.

It didn't matter. Obi-Wan closed his eyes, and exhaled.

He was free.

 

Anakin was woken out of a deep and soothing sleep by the insistent beeping of his comlink. He had trained himself, as many Jedi did, to wake at the slightest thing. So naturally he woke up, threw off his covers, rolled over and off the bed and hit his head on the small table beside the bed while reaching for the noisy comlink.

He groaned, and felt his forehead to see if there was any blood. No liquid warmth, so he guessed not. His hand scrambled around in the darkness, finally hitting the comlink. With a sigh, he brought it to his face and opened the channel. “What is it?” he asked, crouching in the dark room of his quarters.

“Disaster,” Xanatos replied. His voice was low and had the tone of someone who was carefully controlling himself.

Irritation and any lingering sleepiness vanished. A dozen possibilities flew through Anakin’s head, but it was best to act on information. “What happened?”

There was a quiet sigh. “Qui-Gon happened. I woke up and found Obi-Wan gone. Took me a bit but I found him in the garden. He’s . . . injured. Qui-Gon has seen him and I fear he’s gone or is going to the Jedi Council.”

 “Injured? How?” Anakin asked, images of amputated limbs and other possible injuries whirling through his mind.

“I’ll explain later. I need to get him to my quarters, and I’ll deal with that,” Xanatos replied calmly. The lack of concern Xanatos had about Obi-Wan’s immediate danger was slightly reassuring, but only slightly.

Anakin took a deep breath. “What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know,” Xanatos replied, his voice sounding uncharacteristically uncertain. “Figure it out,” he briskly ordered, returning to his brisk, self-assured self. Nothing could keep Xanatos down for long. He would act, just to act.

The comlink beeped quietly as Xanatos cut off the channel. Anakin hesitated, then let it be. Placing the comlink on the small table he had hit his head on, he quickly changed into something more suitable for running around the Temple in the pursuit of keeping the Jedi Council unawares of certain things. He was still pulling on his boots while he was walking out the door.

A Jedi is trained to use the Force automatically; he can feel danger and react without thinking, or use a lightsaber to deflect blaster bolts. Reaching and using the Force to act and react is as natural as breathing to a Jedi. Anakin was no different.

He had known Qui-Gon for years, since before Master Yoda took him as a Padawan. He knew the man’s signature in the Force as well as his own master’s. So when he reached out with the Force to find him, it took a mere moment. He found Qui-Gon’s mind in turmoil. His mind was normally serene and quiet – difficult to find – but his emotions were blazing. There was confusion, anger, pain, but most of all a profound sense of worry and concern. He could also pinpoint, to some degree, Qui-Gon’s location.

Anakin opened his eyes. Qui-Gon hadn’t reached the Jedi Council yet – Xanatos must have found Obi-Wan mere moments after Qui-Gon had left. He was moving, just outside of one of the gardens.

The Jedi Padawan took off at a sprint.

While some of the Jedi Order was nocturnal, the majority was not, so the Temple went by normal day/night periods, concurrent with Coruscant’s. As such, the lights along the long, sweeping Temple halls were dimmed considerably. Dark, rich blue floors became near black, and ivory walls were sheathed in shadows. It was possible Anakin – or Qui-Gon – would run into someone, but it wasn’t likely. People did not often wander the halls at night, even if they were nocturnal; they were active, but were so in such a way as to not disturb those who were resting.

So Anakin was surprised to run into a Twi’lek Jedi. As he raced around a corner, he clipped the Jedi Knight on the arm. Responding instantly, the Twi’lek called Anakin to a halt.

Anakin turned and looked at the Jedi. He had no idea why the Twi'lek was awake, and he just gaped at him.

“Slow down, Padawan. You could hurt someone,” the Jedi Knight advised solemnly, his red eyes gentle. He was not much older than Anakin, but he carried himself with enough ease and confidence that Anakin knew he had been a Knight for some time.

Anakin nodded at him. “Sorry. My apologies. Uh – research essay due,” he said, scrambling for an excuse. As soon as the words popped out of his mouth, he flushed. What an obvious lie. Not waiting for a reaction, he turned away and, while he was in sight of the Twi’lek Jedi, simply walked quickly.

The Twi'lek Jedi shook his head and continued on, bemused at youngsters, thinking of his own Padawan days.

 

Obi-Wan.

His dead apprentice. Turned to the dark and killed for it. And yet . . . he was alive. His first reaction, besides the visceral love and hate, was complete and utter confusion. His mind had tormented him ruthlessly with possibilities even as they had talked. Why was his former apprentice here? Was he some kind of ghost, to drive Qui-Gon, the man who failed to save him, mad? And then the young man had said he was what could have been . . . and Qui-Gon had wondered if it that was it at all, if the strangely alive man before him was a second chance given to him by the Force itself. And if that was the case, what lesson or what gift could he give?

When he had reached out for Obi-Wan’s mind, it had been the most natural thing in the world, the nearly instinctive reaction of a Master who cared for his Padawan. He had felt furious, anger boiling within him. The emotion had been horribly strong, brought on by the sight of the young man giving him a blank stare, as if he had done nothing.

That was no excuse, of course. Qui-Gon had been angry, angry that the young man apparently saw nothing of what he had done. To Qui-Gon, to the Jedi, to the innocent people he had killed. And yet, that love that he had felt – that he could not help but feel for someone he had considered a son – was in the background of his mind.

Perhaps it was an odd combination of that anger and love that made him do what he did. Instead of lashing out in any kind of normal way, Qui-Gon had reached out and forced Obi-Wan to see the truth. But what was the truth? Qui-Gon had merely torn away misconceptions, thoughts and habits, and then spun that upon Obi-Wan and forced him to see. Whatever there was to be seen. And even Qui-Gon didn’t know what he had seen.

Truth was merely from your point of view.

He had felt Obi-Wan struggle in pain as he relentlessly tore through the young man’s mind. He had felt the young man resist and try to build up shields, but Qui-Gon was a Jedi Master with years of experience and knowledge. Obi-Wan had had little hope of fighting off the mental invasion. And he hadn’t been able to do so.

Qui-Gon had broken down his shields, one by one – normally a painfully process by itself – and then gone a step further to use the Force and shine its light upon everything like a flame, burning. But the odd thing was . . . he had sensed no darkness within Obi-Wan. Not beyond what every Jedi possessed, the potential for turning. Normally, such an act as Qui-Gon had done would have likely killed the person, or driven them mad. Upon someone who had no need of it, who was not turned, the consequences were unpredictable.

He didn’t know what Obi-Wan had seen inside himself, what truth Qui-Gon’s stupid actions had shown him. He had felt the agony of the young man fade into a gentle peace and soft, surprised realization, but he had no idea what that meant.

It could mean he was simply insane. He had felt the panicked struggle in the young man’s mind. He had felt the damaged remnants of Obi-Wan’s shields. He had felt the quiet desperation that had lurked beneath the surface. He had felt, at last, dazed pain and confusion brought on by the mental invasion upon a mind, and any mind is fragile.

He had hurt Obi-Wan. Hurt him.

As he held Obi-Wan in his arms, feeling the warmth and motion – breathing – of a living body, he had been torn. The young man had been nearly catatonic in his arms, only a slight awareness registering in eyes glazed with pain. Guilt had swept through the Jedi Master, and horrible self-recrimination. No matter his intentions, he had done something horrible. And even worse, Obi-Wan had not struggled at all, had not attacked him . . . if anything it was the other way around. Qui-Gon didn’t know who this boy was, if he was Obi-Wan in truth or some deranged insanity of his own mind, but that didn’t matter.

His first instinct had been to stay, to comfort the younger man through a pain he had caused. And for a few brief moments, he had done just that, holding Obi-Wan in his arms and telling him that he loved him, that it would be all right. But as Obi-Wan didn’t respond, and just lay there so quietly, he realized he had done damage beyond what he could correct on his own. And from that thought had leapt another – he had always gone to one person when he was in need, when he wasn’t skilled enough, and that was Master Yoda. Frantic with worry, he had kissed Obi-Wan’s forehead and promised he would return.

Tears, small and leaving just the barest trace of their passing, fell from Qui-Gon’s eyes and his cheeks to disappear into his beard. He was walking quickly, with panicked determination unusual for the normally serene Jedi.  His soft boots made no noise on the floor as he left the gardens to find help – any help. Thick, luscious plants and plain wall were passed without a second thought. He didn’t realize it, but he was unconsciously heading directly for Yoda’s quarters instead of just finding a handy comlink. Whenever he was in need of solace, he had gone to the old, wise Jedi Master in person. While not precisely possessing a human compassion, Yoda was a loving being, as all Jedi were to some degree. And he felt affection for his great-Padawan, and had always been there.

In his desperate fear for Obi-Wan’s sanity – and possibly his life – Qui-Gon simply forgot, as fallible beings do, that Yoda was still on Dagobah for his retreat. Confused and elated thoughts ran endlessly through his mind. Confused, for the fact that a man he had seen die was alive. He couldn’t deny that one fact, though why he was here was uncertain. Or even what he was, to have escaped the finality of death. But there was also hope for a new beginning. And Qui-Gon hoped that it was for a new chance that Obi-Wan was back. Anything else . . . was unimaginable.

His fist clenched, tears streaming down his face so quietly as to be mistaken for droplets from the rain outside, and body tense and alert, Qui-Gon kept walking.

 

It was drizzling again.

Loathe as he was to move Obi-Wan, Xanatos needed to get inside. Taking a deep breath, he shoved a wet lock of black hair out of his eyes and held Obi-Wan closer to him. The Jedi was seemingly content to be held in Xanatos arms, body lax and trusting as Xanatos held him in his lap.

Almost immediately after finding Obi-Wan, Xanatos had wrapped strong shields around the younger man’s mind, while trying to send healing strength. He had no idea if it would do any good, or would help at all in the case of such an injury as this, but he could not stand by here and do nothing.

Obi-Wan was still conscious. His eyes were open, though glazed. His focus seemed to be turned inward, and Xanatos could actually sense Obi-Wan thinking quietly, the thoughts so simple and serene that it almost felt as if he were unconscious. Xanatos smoothed his wet, ginger hair in an attempt to soothe, even though by all appearances Obi-Wan was in perfect peace. He wasn’t smiling, but there was no distress, beyond the pain of having a broken and burned mind.

Or nearly broken, Xanatos could hope, rather than completely.

Shifting Obi-Wan around, he got his arms under the Jedi’s armpits and lifted. Obi-Wan started to help him, struggling to regain his feet. Xanatos kept his arms steadying him. “We need to walk and get out of here, Obi-Wan. Get back to my rooms. Okay?”

Obi-Wan slowly turned his head, focusing his crystal blue eyes on dark, midnight blue ones. He nodded, and weakly put his arm around Xanatos waist as his legs nearly went out on him, wobbling. Obi-Wan blinked as water from his hair ran down his face, mingling with tears.

Xanatos let out a breath, taking the response as a good sign. He was still desperately concerned, and would be until he had a chance to check the Jedi thoroughly, but they needed to get to his apartments first. Once that was done . . . assuming they ever got that far, of course.

He didn’t know if he had acted quickly enough. As soon as he found Obi-Wan and been told that Qui-Gon had been the one to brutally invade his mind, he had called Anakin. He hoped that for whatever reason Qui-Gon had not yet been able to contact the Jedi Council by that point. Who knew what the Jedi Master was thinking, what he planned, and how the Council would react. If Obi-Wan had been fragile before, he was beyond that now.

Xanatos could only trust that Anakin could do what he himself had never been able to do – convince Qui-Gon to change his mind.

 

There was a certain kind of artistry to sneaking up on Jedi, Anakin had always believed. Sure, Jedi were well trained to be aware of their surroundings, to never be caught off-guard. But Anakin believed that Jedi training had certain flaws, one of them being a dependency on the Force to warn of incoming attack or . . . pranks.

It was amazing what one could learn from pranks. Anakin didn’t know why more Padawan’s didn’t participate. What a learning tool!

Anakin moved carefully, as he had taught himself to do – as a defense against being caught and having to meditate, of course. He held his robe up, bunching it up to his waist or thereabouts. If it dragged on the floor, it would make noise. He also reached out with the Force and quieted his steps even further. Then he wrapped the Force around his mind and body, and stilled the quiet – or loud, depending on the individual – ripples made in the Force by living things. Especially Jedi.

Qui-Gon was walking fast. If Anakin had to guess, he would say the older man was heading for Yoda’s apartments, but that didn’t make much sense. Maybe Qui-Gon wasn’t thinking, or was confused. Regardless, that’s where it looked like he was going. Which meant . . . he would be turning that corner.

Anakin crept a few meters and then stilled, lying in wait. Qui-Gon wore boots that were very worn, and hardly made a noise. He wore a heavy robe, over what Anakin guessed to be sleeping clothes. His long hair, normally tied back neatly, was in a wet, frazzled mess. He had a look of frozen concern – fear, even – on his face.

Qui-Gon stepped around the corner, spinning on his heel.

Anakin leapt out of his hiding place, lightsaber in hand.

Qui-Gon turned with abrupt speed, reaching for an empty spot where his lightsaber would normally lay, Anakin noticed absently.

And Anakin, moving faster and anticipating the reaction – having the advantage of surprise – hit him on his right temple with the hilt of his lightsaber. It connected with a dull clunking sound and a short, cutoff groan from the Jedi Master.

Qui-Gon toppled. Big as he was, it was a sight to behold. Before Anakin knew it he had two meters of solid muscle and Jedi-Masterly-ness to drag around. Hooking his lightsaber to his belt, Anakin knelt and grabbed Qui-Gon by the arms, ready to haul him to Xanatos’ quarters. How he would get there without being seen was a mystery even to him, but he would deal with that when it came.

“Hello, Anakin. Taking to kidnapping Jedi Masters as a new way of fun?”

Anakin froze, and looked up. He knew that voice. Standing perhaps a dozen meters away, just at the corner that Anakin had ambushed Qui-Gon, was Master Mace Windu. He was fully dressed, his dark robe open casually. One hand rested on his hip, near his lightsaber. He raised an eyebrow at Anakin, looking both aggressive and serene in a manner only he could.

What course of action remains? Anakin wondered for a moment. Then he took a deep breath, and having no clue to begin, he began. “Do you trust the Force?” Anakin blurted.

Windu raised an eyebrow. “I hope this is part of an explanation,” he said smoothly.

Anakin blinked, and then let go of Qui-Gon, gently letting him slip to the floor. “Do you believe that it’s possible . . . possible for the Force to – change things? Not simply by guiding, but by acting?” He paused, and Windu listened silently. The Jedi was an open-minded person, as many Jedi were, and he was at least willing to hear an explanation. “That sometimes, to make things go right, it will bring people together in ways unimaginable?” He paused yet again, and looked into Windu’s eyes. The man was suspicious, but Anakin could see that a realization that this situation was more serious than he had first realized was entering his eyes.

“Perhaps,” Master Windu replied, bowing his head slightly. He gestured at Qui-Gon, lying askew on the floor. “But why this?”

Anakin winced. “Have you ever done something not exactly right, but with good intentions?” He, too, looked at Qui-Gon. “I think . . . this is prime example of that.”

“I see,” Windu said gravely.

As Windu was about to continue, Anakin spoke. “Do something? Please. Listen to the Force. Does it tell you to trust me? What I’m doing?” I certainly hope so, Anakin thought. How could Obi-Wan being here be anything but the will of the Force?

Windu’s eyes narrowed, but then he nodded and his gaze became shuttered as he focused on the Force, quickly putting himself in its depths. Anakin could feel the man meditating, feeling along the paths of the future. He could tell no more than that, but he knew the Jedi Master was doing as he had requested, and he waited anxiously.

Windu opened his eyes, and with a dark, solemn gaze he focused on Anakin. “Foolish as this is seeming to me even right now, the Force agrees with you, Padawan Skywalker.” He sighed quietly. “Where are we going? Let’s get this party started.”

“Um . . .” Anakin cleared his throat. “Xanatos’ quarters.”

A raised eyebrow at that. Windu looked down at Qui-Gon, then moved to help Anakin carry him, Anakin picking the upper half up and Windu taking his legs. They looked at one another, and nodded as one, lifting.

In a relatively brief period of time, Windu gained a new appreciation for Anakin’s prankster skills, as they went through dusty hallways neglected by cleaning droids, narrow corridors, and up stairs, and all of that while carrying the heavy form of Qui-Gon Jinn. The only sound was the scuffling of boots, and a few quiet murmurs and grunts of effort or pain as they maneuvered. Qui-Gon received a nice memento from the trip as well: a big bruise on his hip from where Anakin and Windu had turned a corner a little more sharply than they had intended.

Finally, though, they reached the entrance of Xanatos’ quarters.

 

Obi-Wan had finally gone to sleep – or lost consciousness. In Obi-Wan’s confused and damaged state of mind, Xanatos couldn’t be sure. Either way, he seemed to be resting peacefully. Xanatos had helped Obi-Wan strip from his wet clothes, and Obi-Wan put on a pair of pants and a tunic, all dry. He had to roll up the sleeves, as Xanatos was taller and lankier than Obi-Wan, but he left the long pants as they were to warm Obi-Wan’s feet. Then Xanatos guided him to the couch, and within a few short minutes, Obi-Wan had fallen asleep.

Xanatos studied him silently for a moments, taking in the drastic changes that had happened – not so much in his life, as his viewpoint. He had once hated this young man, for turning to the Dark Side and hurting Qui-Gon, for being the ultimate cause of a separation that had lasted years. And yet – here he was, kneeling before what was, in essence, a possibility of what could have been. He felt anger at Qui-Gon, not Obi-Wan, and protective of Obi-Wan, not Qui-Gon. It was an ironic twist, but Xanatos felt the complete opposite was, in some ways, easier to handle. Instead of it being slightly off in such a way as to be hard to define, it was clear-cut and simple. Perhaps that was a mercy in disguise. He could think of the past, and wonder at the differences of the present, but he had to put that behind him now. There was no other choice – no other choice that he was willing to take, anyway. Qui-Gon did not need him, and Obi-Wan did.

Deciding that this was probably the best time to try examining Obi-Wan, Xanatos rested on his heels before the couch and relaxed, centering himself within the Force. Serenity filled him as he touched the endless well that was the Force, and it was with that calmness, with no lingering anger at Qui-Gon, that he touched Obi-Wan’s mind.

As he had suspected, Obi-Wan’s mind had been ruthlessly forced into. He could feel where Obi-Wan had resisted strongly, and heaped Force-healing on those areas. Then he focused more on Obi-Wan’s mind as a whole, attempting to restructure his shields, at least to some degree. Normally that was a thing you would never even attempt – it was very close to mind-manipulation. But sometimes Masters would do this with their young apprentices, to help them learn how to form strong, nearly unbreakable shields, and it was by that – by how Qui-Gon had taught him – that he helped Obi-Wan. He couldn’t help but find that ironic, and as he left the near-trance state he had been in, he sighed and rubbed his forehead.

Everything was just getting messier and messier. By the time Yoda returned, things might have gone irrevocably wrong. It certainly hadn’t taken long for his plan of waiting for Yoda to return to go downhill. What would there be next?

Sighing, Xanatos ran a hand through his wet hair. While Obi-Wan was dry and warm, he was not. He hadn’t changed his wet clothes, preoccupied with Obi-Wan. “Wouldn’t be good to be catching a cold now,” he muttered to himself, rising. He could practically hear his knees creaking.

The door buzzed. Knowing it was Anakin, Xanatos called, “Open!” and the door opened.

What was I thinking, Xanatos mused, feeling a headache coming on, that things couldn't get any worse?

“Xanatos,” Mace Windu said, his brows rising . . . to what would have been his hairline. “Obi-Wan?!” he added, clearly shocked. So shocked he let go of a clearly unconscious Qui-Gon’s legs, though he caught them before they hit the floor, an automatic correction worthy of a Jedi. Being one of Qui-Gon’s close friend, he had known Obi-Wan Kenobi well, and would certainly recognize him anywhere.

“Master Windu?” Xanatos squeaked. “Qui-Gon?!” he shouted, and looked accusingly at Anakin, his outraged, shocked, and horrified eyes speaking for his as yet still slack mouth.

“Xanatos –“ Windu began.

“Yes?” Xanatos said, stupidly.

“I can explain, really!” Anakin said, still holding Qui-Gon by the shoulders.

Anakin needs to explain?” Master Windu thundered, his deep voice truly sounding like a boom. His eyes narrowed and he was clearly non-plussed by the entire situation, but his legendary control remained.

Xanatos took a deep breath. Think, think, think, he thought. “Okay, come in, put Qui-Gon in my bedroom that would be easiest and Anakin you have some explaining but Master Windu I think you need it more and we really will explain everything,” Xanatos said in a rush.

“Mace?” a sleepy voice questioned.

Xanatos froze, then looked over his shoulder. Obi-Wan wasn’t quite sitting upright, propped up by his elbows. One hand was rubbing his face and his still wet beard, and his eyes were focused blearily and with great confusion on Mace Windu.

Windu gave Obi-Wan an intense look, as if he were thinking, What right do you have calling me that?

Xanatos winced. “Obi-Wan, go back to sleep,” he ordered, and promptly used a mind-trick on him, doing a half-wave in Obi-Wan’s general direction. Since he had been holding up Obi-Wan’s shields and was already, by his healing, intimately familiar with the younger man’s mind, it wasn’t very difficult. Obi-Wan blinked once, then lay back and closed his eyes, falling into a light slumber.

Anakin looked from Xanatos to Windu with a panicked expression.

“My bedroom,” Xanatos reminded them, nodding to himself. He paused, then finally thinking, he leapt forward to help. Mace Windu said nothing more, but he kept shooting Xanatos these dark, suspicious looks as they, some of the best in the Order – or potentially the best – clumsily got Qui-Gon into Xanatos bed. Xanatos gently smoothed back his former master’s gray hair, feeling a twang of guilt at the slackness evident in Qui-Gon's unconscious form.

Then he looked up at Anakin and Windu, both standing on the opposite side of the bed. Xanatos gave an embarrassed cough. "Um – I think perhaps we should adjourn to the kitchen, since it is, er, the only unoccupied area at the moment. It would do nicely for our explanation." The others nodded silently, Anakin looking uncommonly meek, Windu looking impressively unreadable.

They followed Xanatos out silently, but he could have sworn he heard Windu mutter something along the lines of, “The Force doesn’t pay me enough for this.” He winced at the attitude, but felt a faint sense of hope at the humor. Let me get through this, he thought.

The three men carefully arranged themselves around the small table. Anakin immediately looked down and traced the whorls in the wood with his finger. Windu put his fingers into a steeple, elbows resting on the table, and looked at Xanatos patiently.

And Xanatos launched into his tale.

 

Mace Windu leaned back, with a satisfied air. Anakin peeked at his face under his eyelashes, finger still tracing the slight whorls in the wood of Xanatos’ table. The truth was, Mace Windu had always intimidated him. Qui-Gon had often remarked on Anakin’s lack of fear, nervousness, or intimidation with the Jedi Council, but Master Windu was different. He always got the sense that Windu was more of aggressive warrior than the other Jedi, willing to do whatever it took – as the cheesy holo-dramas proclaimed often of their heroes – and generally unpredictable. So while he wasn’t intimidating when he was with the rest of the Jedi Council, renowned for their wisdom and mercy and all that, on his own he was downright scary.

He was glad that the Jedi Master had immediately looked to Xanatos for an explanation.

“Any other questions?” Xanatos finished. He had reacted with more calm than Anakin had anticipated as if it were not Anakin’s fault that he was having to explain this secret operation to someone not supposed to find out about it.

Windu considered thoughtfully. Xanatos didn’t rush him. Taking in all the information, to a degree that you were comfortable with, was very important to a Jedi and for Xanatos giving time for that was more automatic than an actual courtesy. Finally, the Jedi Master shook his head. “You explained it all in your story, really. How you found him, why you did what you did, why you made the decisions you have.” He paused. “All that’s left is considering the believability of it all.”

Anakin tensed.

Windu turned to look Anakin in the eye. Anakin’s finger, still tracing the patterns in the wood, froze. “I think I would like to hear you’re explanation, as a matter of fact.”

Reluctantly, Xanatos turned from studying Windu’s cool expression, and turned to search Anakin’s face for whatever clues he was failing to hide. “I would as well,” Xanatos said, facing the Padawan.

“Oh, come on!” Anakin said, eyes darting from one intimidating Jedi to the other. “You know how stubborn Qui-Gon is. Wherever he was going, do you think he would have been dissuaded?”

Xanatos frowned. “That would have depended heavily on his intentions, which you made no effort to learn.”

“I can guess,” Anakin replied, exasperated in spite of himself. He might be intimidated, but that wasn’t going to stop him, and he felt his rebellious nature stir. “I mean, sure. I walk up to him, demand to know his intentions towards Obi-Wan, he tells me he plans on telling everyone, or going to someone we don’t trust – “ he shot a nervous, embarrassed glance Windu’s way, “I try to knock him out, he beats me up, he goes and does whatever he was planning anyway, and the end!” He took a deep breath. “This way, we have control of the situation.”

Xanatos and Windu both looked dubious.

Xanatos broke the silence first. Shaking his head, he said, “I can see your point. But your plan didn’t precisely work out.” A glance similar to Anakin’s given to Windu. “You should have thought it through more carefully. At least – checked for others in the area.”

“I felt a disturbance in the Force, and I feel it was guiding me to Anakin’s location,” Windu interrupted. “This was meant to be, for a reason we have not yet discerned.”

Xanatos seemed to still at that. Anakin watched him carefully, searching for signs of what he was thinking, and thanking the fact he knew this man fairly well, even if he wasn’t often at the Temple. Xanatos’ lips tightened, but his hands consciously relaxed. Taking a risk?

“You have not yet told us your plans,” Xanatos said slowly, looking at Master Windu. “What you intend to do.”

Anakin and Xanatos shared a worried glance, a split-second of communication.

Windu didn’t answer for a long moment. His eyes fell half-shut, and his hands relaxed into a simple clasp. “I agree with your reasoning, as much as it pains me,” he said finally, shooting them both a chastising glance. “It is likely that the Council would have reacted in such a manner. As for now, I don’t believe that would happen.” A tense moment of silence. “But the Force has guided this to happen the way it has, and I, for my part, am unwilling to go against that. For the moment, I am willing to follow your lead.”

The younger Jedi both breathed a sigh of relief.

“But I do believe more thought and discussion is needed. And there is the matter of Qui-Gon, and what to do when he wakes up,” Windu reminded them.

Xanatos and Anakin nodded together. Xanatos didn’t look surprised, merely tired, but he had nearly forgotten about that – Qui-Gon waking up. They still didn’t know what had happened between the two of them, except that Qui-Gon had been nearly running somewhere, and Obi-Wan had been hurt. It wasn’t looking good. Even if the Council didn’t hurt the fragile man in an attempt to discover what was going on, Qui-Gon might. More so than he already had.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Xanatos said reluctantly. “All of it – telling the Council, Qui-Gon, the rest of the Temple finding out.” He paused.

Windu and Anakin leaned forward, and Xanatos continued. In hushed whispers so as not to wake anyone up sooner than they wanted, they planned and plotted – for the moment, co-conspirators in the plan to keep Obi-Wan sane and healthy.

 

It was nearly morning. Light barely stronger than the inherent light of Coruscant’s massive buildings began to play across higher surfaces. Because of the way Coruscant had such high buildings, often the light would hit those higher areas first, and ‘dawn’ would occur hours before the light hit the lower spires. Combined with the never-ending glow of Coruscant’s busy streets, it gave an odd twilight effect, except in the deep of night or the middle of the day.

Although Xanatos was a full Knight, he had quarters in the lower areas – nearer to where the Padawans away from their Masters slept – because he was so rarely on Coruscant, and it was even more rare for him to be there for an extended period of time.

Xanatos, therefore, could barely detect the little, clean and colorless sprinkling of light that played across the kitchen window. He stared out at it calmly, sighing.

Anakin and Mace sat across from him, in the same chairs they had been in for hours. All of them had gotten up at various times, of course, to stretch or get something to eat. But for the most part there had been only serious conversation, intense enough they didn’t think of such needs often. Anakin looked haggard, not used to going without sleep. Being a Padawan, and Master Yoda’s at that, he did not often go on offworld missions and didn’t have to deal with sleep deprivation. He didn’t know the various little tricks of dealing with it. Mace Windu faired better; he looked as fresh and energetic – if the enigmatic Jedi Master could even be called ‘energetic’. He was an intense individual, known for balancing out his serious attitude with playful jokes.

“I don’t think there is any doubt,” Xanatos said finally. “We’ve argued over this for hours – over the nature of the Force itself, what it would do and why. We have meditated enough to make even Master Yoda happy.” Anakin cut off a chortle. “The Force seems to be leading us very clearly in this matter. We all feel it.”

Mace said nothing, merely looking thoughtful.

“It was meant to happen this way. For whatever reason, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are meant to work this out,” Xanatos continued. He glanced at Mace. “Even now, we all – even Anakin – can feel the Force guiding us not to tell the Jedi Council, or anyone else.”

Anakin shot Xanatos a half-hearted glare at that remark concerning him, but he was really too tired to argue. The Padawan sighed. “For what it’s worth, I agree. Think of all the events that led us here. I mean, I don’t think it quite happened as planned . . . what with Qui-Gon nearly attacking Obi-Wan, but . . .” He shrugged. “And the Force – its like an itch in my mind, the feeling is so strong.”

Mace spoke finally, setting an elbow on the table and looking contemplative. “I agree, as well, young Anakin,” he said, casting Anakin a surprisingly supportive look.

Xanatos spoke quietly. “Then it is agreed. It’s the will of the Force – Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon aren’t allowed to leave this apartment until Yoda comes back.”

Their eyes met. And all three nodded.

 

It was light when Obi-Wan woke. He opened his eyes, then had to blink rapidly at the bright, startling early-morning light. Squinting, he looked around. He was on Xanatos’ couch, in clothes clearly not his own – not that anything here was really his, anyway. Patches of brilliant light from the kitchen window fell into the living room through the doorway, leaving sharp shadows in its wake.

He felt weak and exhausted. His mind was weary, and he found it difficult to think clearly. He felt as if he had been running in his sleep, much like the times when he used to have relentless nightmares of Qui-Gon’s death or Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side. When sleep had offered no solace. He rubbed his face again, his rough beard lightly scratching his palm. He sat up slowly, feeling muscles in his back complain. He pushed his hair out of his eyes, then carefully focused on Xanatos.

Xanatos sat a few feet from the couch, his legs crossed and his eyes closed. He was in a meditative position. Obi-Wan guessed he was using the Force to replenish himself. If one were skilled enough in the Force, one could meditate and use the Force to rest, rather than sleep. It was something a few Jedi did regularly; most – Obi-Wan included – preferred the satisfaction that sleep brought.

Xanatos opened his eyes, the only part of his body to move in reaction to Obi-Wan. He didn’t look like he had changed – his tunic and pants were slightly muddy, though his hair was brushed back neatly and he seemed clean otherwise. Obi-Wan wondered what had happened; he could definitely feel that something had. He had a few vague memories of Xanatos taking care of him, reassuring him, and strangely enough, an image of a familiar bald head. But that was all.

"How are you feeling?" Xanatos asked softly. His dark eyes glanced over Obi-Wan, lingering over Obi-Wan’s eyes and face as if to see what Obi-Wan was thinking and feeling.

Obi-Wan thought before answering, taking stock. He felt weak and lightheaded, and he had a headache. But his mental state was . . . clear. He felt as if he had been swimming through muddy waters that had kept dragging him down, and he had finally reached the shore. "I have a headache," he offered finally.

Xanatos' eyes flashed with concern. Moving gracefully, as if he hadn’t been sitting in the same position for hours, he rose to his feet and then knelt by Obi-Wan. "Anything else? Do you remember what happened last night?" he asked gently.

Obi-Wan opened his mouth, then closed it. Suddenly, his throat felt dry and parched. "I – yes. I went out in the middle of the night, and Qui-Gon found me." He shut his eyes for a moment, then opened them, forcefully banishing the look on Qui-Gon’s face when he had seen Obi-Wan.

"Do you remember what he did to you?" Xanatos pressed, still looking concerned.

"Yes," Obi-Wan said slowly, realizing that Xanatos must be worried that Qui-Gon had damaged him in some way. "He . . ." Obi-Wan trailed off, unable to vocalize it.

Xanatos spoke softly. "I know he took down your shields, and went into your mind, but I don’t know why."

"To make me see," Obi-Wan said matter-of-factly. Xanatos opened his mouth to speak, but Obi-Wan overrode him. "He was confused, you see. He thought I was his Obi-Wan, and he thought that by making me see myself, the truth of what I am, I would finally realize my mistakes, and ‘return’ from the Dark Side. I . . . think we were both very confused, Xanatos. The past and present had blurred for both of us."

Xanatos eyes narrowed. "You seem very accepting of what he did to you."

Obi-Wan laughed shortly, with real humor. It was light, barely there, but its presence was undeniable, and such an emotion was almost odd for Obi-Wan to feel, after months of depression with only a kind of dark humor enabling him to cope. "He – did what he did, yes, and he was responsible. I wouldn’t say he was out of his mind. But, strangely enough, it worked. Don’t you see? I didn’t see what he wanted me to – because I am not the Obi-Wan he knew, his Obi-Wan. But I saw my mistakes nevertheless."

Obi-Wan’s voice softened. "He saw his Obi-Wan, and I saw my Master. That’s why . . . I didn’t resist, as I probably would have otherwise."

Xanatos looked away, clearly thinking about Obi-Wan had said. He seemed to understand Obi-Wan’s point, but concern darkened with anger still remained, to a degree. Obi-Wan was silent, letting him think about it.

Then Xanatos’ dark blue eyes widened, and he looked over Obi-Wan’s shoulder. The younger Jedi hesitated for a moment, a prickling sensation on his neck, then slowly looked behind him.

Qui-Gon stood there. He wore the sleeping clothes and loose robe that he had on when Obi-Wan had last seen him. His hair was a mess, tangled and falling into his face with straight slashes of gray. He held himself upright tensely, his fists clenched, but his eyes showed confusion, worry, and a burgeoning outrage.

"Where am I?" Qui-Gon began. "Why did Anakin knock me out?" He paused, his eyes glancing at Obi-Wan, the blue orbs showing hurt, confusion, and most of all regret. "Obi-Wan . . . ?"

Obi-Wan looked at Xanatos, bemusement and curiosity in his eyes.

"Anakin knocked you out because you were going to the Council," Xanatos replied, calmly. "And then he brought you here." He glanced at Obi-Wan quickly, then continued. "I need to explain. I’ve known about Obi-Wan for a while now – in fact, I found him. Anakin found out when we came here, to the Temple. Mace also knows, because he found Anakin dragging you down the hallway. No one else in the Temple knows."

Qui-Gon’s eyes narrowed, his initial confusion and concern about Obi-Wan overridden by the fact that Xanatos and others close to him knew about Obi-Wan before he did, and had not informed him. Typical of him to react in such a fashion, Obi-Wan thought. ‘Why wasn’t I told?’ While his Qui-Gon had always been gentle and understanding with Obi-Wan himself in similar situations, he hadn’t been nearly as lenient with others. For example, the Xanatos of his galaxy. Or the Council.

Perhaps realizing this, Xanatos spoke. "This Obi-Wan is not our Obi-Wan. He is not the same person. He’s not a clone. He’s . . . what could have been, a possibility that simply didn’t happen here. Everything he knows and remembers is different from what you and I know."

That’s a remarkably understandable way of putting it, Obi-Wan thought.

"And one more thing," Xanatos continued, expression fierce and unyielding. "Neither you nor Obi-Wan is leaving this apartment until Yoda comes back. And no one, and I mean no one, is going to know that Obi-Wan is here."

"What?" Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan said in startled unison, both of them staring at Xanatos with comically similar expressions of disbelief.

"It’s what the Force has willed," Xanatos said staunchly.

And that’s good? Obi-Wan wondered.

"Xanatos –" Qui-Gon began, his voice deepening in an unconscious effort to intimidate. Obi-Wan had already decided to obey. The Force willed this, and quite frankly he was tired of fighting it. And the Force, after all, had saved his life, and brought him Xanatos and Anakin. Had shown him the possibilities that he had never imagined in his own universe.

"Obi-Wan, stay here," Xanatos ordered, casting him a stern look. Without waiting for any kind of response, he took Qui-Gon’s arm and dragged him forcibly into the kitchen, past the narrow doorway and out of sight.

Moving slowly and carefully, Obi-Wan put his head in his hands, closed his eyes, and listened.

Shouting. Two voices, both male, both demanding, both confident. Outrage in one, determination in the other. More yelling. A short silence, and a muffled exclamation against the Force, and where it should put itself.

Obi-Wan allowed his senses to relax, reaching out for the Force. It soothed him, and its very stillness told him not to act.

Bzzzt. Obi-Wan’s eyes snapped open at the sound, which he was quite familiar with. It was the comm unit buzzing. Someone was trying to reach Xanatos. Obi-Wan raised his head, just in time to see Xanatos come out of the kitchen and hit the receive button.

It was Mace Windu. "Xanatos, you have a problem. The Council wants to speak with you about that mission and the labor concerns. Apparently it fell apart shortly after you left, and they want your opinion. I tried to dissuade them, but they feel it wasn’t a difficult mission and you don’t need time to rest, and I felt it unwise to push."

Xanatos exhaled sharply. For a moment, Obi-Wan felt sorry for him. What fun it must be to have to deal himself and Qui-Gon. And Anakin. And the Council. "I’ll be right there," Xanatos said sharply, and cut the transmission. He walked over to the door, and opened the touch panel that would normally open and close it. He fiddled with the wires briefly, then reattached the panel. He then turned and faced Obi-Wan. Again, like before, he glanced beyond the younger Jedi.

Obi-Wan turned slightly, and saw Qui-Gon standing in the kitchen doorway, staring at Xanatos.

Xanatos spoke clearly and calmly. "Neither of you is leaving," he said, looking from one Jedi to the other. "Obey the Force, and we’ll all be fine." Then he slapped his palm against the touch panel, the door opened, and he stepped out before either one of them could say a word or otherwise react.

There was a short moment of silence and stillness. Then without looking at Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon stepped forward and put his hand on the touch panel. When it failed to open, Obi-Wan realized what Xanatos had done. He had wired the door so that it could only be opened from the outside now. Obi-Wan did not know how to reverse Xanatos' rewiring. And, he mused, if this Qui-Gon was anything like his Qui-Gon, he doubted whether he could rework the wiring, either.

Qui-Gon was still for a moment longer, then without turning, he asked, "Are you all right? Did I – hurt you?"

Yes, you did, but that’s another story altogether, Obi-Wan thought. "I’m fine," he said, clasping his hands in front of him and leaning against the back of the couch.

"Good," Qui-Gon said softly. "Good." He turned slowly and looked down at Obi-Wan for a long moment, his eyes dark and anguished, some deep, unnamed pain etched in his aging face. Then he straightened, and without a word, walked out of the living room.

Obi-Wan blinked.

Qui-Gon came back in a few minutes, looking much more composed. He started to throw aside papers, keepsakes, datapads, systematically going through every single thing in the living except for the couch Obi-Wan occupied. Qui-Gon was tossing Xanatos’ apartment. For . . . what?

Suddenly, with a stark realization that hit so late because of his mental state, he knew what Qui-Gon was looking for.

Obi-Wan got up and moved aside, saying nothing. Qui-Gon picked up the cushions and pillows, rapidly searching. Obi-Wan wondered what he expected to find there. If Xanatos had hidden the means to unlock the door – and no doubt there was something, somewhere – he surely hadn’t had the time to put it in the couch.

After ten minutes of watching in silence, Obi-Wan spoke. "I thought," he said drolly, "that you were one who always followed the will of the Living Force, no matter what." And he raised an eyebrow and waited.

Qui-Gon turned slowly, and looked at him. "I will not be locked up."

"So it only counts if it’s convenient?" Obi-Wan queried, knowing he was baiting, but suddenly unable to find within himself the will to stop. It was as if all his frustrations, all his disagreements that he had never been able to resolve – because he was a Padawan, and had to obey, and then because Qui-Gon had died - had decided to erupt. Qui-Gon was here again; this was a second chance that the Force had brought him - he might never get another one. Why hold his emotions in?

"Be quiet," Qui-Gon ordered, uncertainty showing in his eyes. He knew he was wrong, and Obi-Wan was right, but things were rarely so simple as that, not when human emotions were involved.

"Why?"

Qui-Gon breathed in, slowly and with great control. "Xanatos may not realize it, since he doesn’t know you – or my Obi-Wan – as well as I do – did, but you’re a great deal more like the Obi-Wan I knew than he thinks. Full of anger and rebellion, and that is what leads to the Dark Side."

That stung. "You," Obi-Wan replied, "are judgmental."

"Judging someone is only wrong if I’m not right," Qui-Gon snapped. "Just like at Regas VI."

Obi-Wan paused, blinking. "Regas VI?" he asked blankly.

They looked at each other. Obi-Wan suddenly had the uncomfortable realization that he had mistaken this Qui-Gon for his Qui-Gon, his beloved master, the one he thought he knew as well as his own self, the one with whom he had shared thirteen years of his life. The one who, in his arrogance, had requested Obi-Wan with his dying breath to go against the Jedi Council’s wishes and train a boy who Obi-Wan had felt should not be trained. Obi-Wan finally realized the burden that he had carried as the Padawan of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, together with the honor. But . . . this Qui-Gon was not the same man.

He saw a similar knowledge enter Qui-Gon’s eyes. They looked at each other for a moment longer, then turned away, each filled with the aching knowledge that the past had not really come alive; this really was not a second chance. It was only a reflection of what could have been possible in their past.

Suddenly, they both felt ashamed. They hadn’t been acting like Jedi, they had acted like young initiates overflowing with emotion and pent-up hurt.

Hesitantly, Obi-Wan went over to the couch, and started to put the cushions back in place. Qui-Gon moved to help, and they bumped.

"Sorry," they both muttered, not looking at each other.

The living room rearranged to its original state, they sat down on opposite sides of the couch. Strangers, oddly familiar to each other, yet not so.

And the uncomfortable silence stretched between them and grew.

 

One can only have total silence for so long, at least when one is not alone. Such as was the case with Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, both having decided that they were going to stay, and act like proper adults. Their silence had lasted half an hour– such endurance – before Obi-Wan succumbed to the discomfort.

They sat together on opposite ends of the couch, not looking at each other, when Obi-Wan spoke: “Thirsty?” he asked suddenly, his voice almost seeming to echo in the still room.

Qui-Gon blinked and looked at Obi-Wan, surprise showing in his eyes. Obi-Wan returned Qui-Gon's gaze, with what he hoped was a calm, friendly look. Qui-Gon had been bombarded with quite a bit of information to assimilate: his discovery and realization –  Obi-Wan, who in his memory should be dead – couldn’t be easy, especially with what had happened before. On top of that, there was Qui-Gon's own realization of where he was. Quickly, Obi-Wan focused on Qui-Gon again, preferring not to dwell on that experience – and the epiphany it had brought.

Slowly, Qui-Gon nodded. "Yes." He smiled slightly, nervously, seemingly relieved that they were at least attempting to communicate civilly. “I know Xanatos always has a variety of drinks stocked here,” he added in another gesture of friendliness, an offer of information.

Obi-Wan nodded back, feeling ill at ease. “Um, thanks.” They looked at each for a moment longer, both visibly restraining the urge to fidget, and then Obi-Wan turned awkwardly and went to the kitchen.

He quickly looked around, finding the refrigerating unit easily enough. The door slid open at the touch of his hand, and he looked inside. It was fairly barren, and showed little of the wear that was expected. He could guess that Xanatos didn't stay at home much. In fact, he’d have to ask about that. Everything was so confusing here, and he had a feeling most of it was because his lack of knowledge concerning relationships here.

However, Qui-Gon was right, the refrigerating unit had a variety of drinks. Somewhat to Obi-Wan’s surprise, some of it was indeed alcoholic. Some really alcoholic. Including . . . Obi-Wan raised an eyebrow. Corellian Reserve? That was a fine drink. Some things were the same in every universe, he mused. Hesitating for a moment, Obi-Wan grabbed the ale by the neck bottle and shut the unit’s door.

Qui-Gon was where he had left him. The older Jedi sat with his elbows on his knees, his brow furrowed in thought. His eyes were dark and downcast, only a sliver of dark blue visible. With his Qui-Gon – then Obi-Wan trampled down thought. This wasn’t his Qui-Gon, and acting like he was – trying to predict what he would do – would be unwise, as prior events had shown.

Obi-Wan cleared his throat softly. “Would this do? I have no idea why Xanatos has it, but . . .”

Qui-Gon looked at the bottle, then laughed at loud. Obi-Wan jerked, startled at the unexpected . . . joy in that sound. “Yes,” Qui-Gon told him. “I gave it to him, as a coming home gift. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. He rarely drinks alcoholic beverages, in fact he only does so when I do, or one of his friends does.”

“Oh,” Obi-Wan said blankly.

Qui-Gon hesitated. “Anyway,” he added in a lower tone, “I’m sure we could both use it.”

Obi-Wan nodded silently at that. He put the two glasses he had found on the small, low table before the couch, and then opened the bottle. He poured them each a drink. Both simultaneously raised their glasses, and, similarly, sipped to savor the taste first, before gulping the entire content down in one shot.

Almost immediately, Obi-Wan began to feel better. He said so.

Qui-Gon smiled wryly and poured the glass to half-full.

“So . . . a coming home gift?” Obi-Wan ventured.

“Yes,” Qui-Gon replied thoughtfully, his eyes glazing as he thought back to. . . whenever. Some occasion only the two of them remembered. “He’s gone often, you see, always on a mission. Partly his personality, partly to avoid me.”

Obi-Wan blinked. He had thought the two of them were close. After all, Xanatos had asked Qui-Gon to stay here, with little or no explanation, and the Jedi Master had obeyed. That indicated a good degree of trust. He moved to ask another question, but Qui-Gon continued on, oblivious.

“We were estranged for ten years. And then – Xanatos came to me, after his last mission – actually, his next to last – and was going to apologize. But I knew he was right, and had known for . . . a while. A long while. I kept trying to talk to him, but I guess he figured it would be ugly, since we’re both stubborn and often convinced we’re right. Honestly, I never thought he would apologize.”

“For what?” Obi-Wan asked curiously, wondering what could have caused a rift in such a strong relationship – the strength of their relationship evidenced in that they had resumed it with such apparent ease after ten years of estrangement.

“Killing you,” Qui-Gon said casually, taking another long swallow.

“Oh!” Obi-Wan replied intelligently.  Not sure what to say, he cast about for something else to discuss, and looked around at the furniture and knickknacks. For the first time he noticed something was wrong. Well, not wrong, but fascinating, really. When his head moved, his eyes wouldn’t follow immediately like usual. It took time for his eyes to catch up. Or maybe it was his brain, since he imagined it would look odd to have his eyes rolling around like that.

Qui-Gon unknowingly distracted him from this revelation. “What about you? Xanatos told me . . . about the whole alternative universe deal.” He paused. “Alternate, that is.” Qui-Gon glanced at his drink suspiciously.

Obi-Wan filled his glass again. “Well, you got killed by a Sith Lord, first of all. Your own damn stupidity – running ahead of me.” Obi-Wan shook his head. “Anyway, I got stuck with this kid who was meant to be your apprentice – the counterpart of Anakin, actually.” He paused, pondering why Qui-Gon didn’t know this after forcing his way into Obi-Wan’s mind.

“Oh?” Qui-Gon asked, looking at him curiously.

Obi-Wan nodded in an exaggerated manner. “Yes!” He continued on without thinking, finding nothing unusual in acting so . . . uninhibited in front of a man whom he had just fought. The double of his master. “I trained him, right, but I didn’t do such a good job, and he became the Obi-Wan of your universe. ‘Cept he’s not dead, yet. I’m not sure how to feel ‘bout that – I did love the boy, you know . . . When I was coming here he was  coming after me,” Obi-Wan admitted, getting absurdly teary. He was feeling rather – drugged.

Qui-Gon patted him on the shoulder awkwardly, and Obi-Wan rubbed his eyes. “S’ok. It was his choice. Your training might have influenced him, let him get away with things he shouldn’t have – like sneaking out at night –“ at this, Qui-Gon’s expression grew contemplative, “but he made his own decisions. The responsiblilil . . .” He stopped. “It was his decision,” Qui-Gon reiterated. He looked at Obi-Wan encouragingly. “You’re a good man, even if I’m a mite suspicious of you. I learned that when I was . . . in your head.”

Obi-Wan blinked at the mention, and at the almost apologetic tone. Manfully, though, he continued on with his story. Something was wrong, yes, but he still needed to get this out. “So the Force just grabbed me, and threw me into a lake. I had just gotten out when Xanatos walked by.” He chuckled. He chuckled. "Believe me, the surprise was enough to throw me out of the water."

"Why? " Qui-Gon asked curiously.

"I watched him – I mean his counterpart – commit suicide by diving into an acid pool," Obi-Wan said nonchalantly.

Qui-Gon nodded in exaggerated sympathy. "You’re universe has some serious issues," he said tactfully.

 

“Oh, it is,” Obi-Wan agreed, visions of the last time he had drunk Corellian Reserve floating in his head. “You should see some of the entertainment we’ve got.”

Qui-Gon nodded wisely.

The silence between them was growing more comfortable and warm by the minute. “I feel odd,” Obi-Wan finally admitted.

“As do I,” Qui-Gon replied, as if sharing a secret.

“You don’t think we’re drunk, do you?” Obi-Wan ventured uneasily, looking deeply into Qui-Gon’s eyes.

Qui-Gon shook his head. “Surely not. I feel . . . rather free and strangely at ease, but that doesn’t mean I’m drunk,” he replied calmly, in the characteristic manner of someone who has had more alcohol than was responsible and was in the process of denial – which denial inevitably lasted until the next morning in the ‘fresher unit. “Besides, this ale doesn’t have a very high alcohol content. And we would have noticed, wouldn’t we? I mean, we’re trained to notice such things, to make the alcohol be . . . be . . .”

“Metabolized?” Obi-Wan said, leaning forward intently.

“Tha’s it!” Qui-Gon said, raising a finger in the air in triumph, and causing Obi-Wan to flail back, momentarily startled. “We weren’t that distracted by . . . our mutual situation,” he said with the air of someone who knew what he was talking about.

Obi-Wan nodded, reassured. And they both smiled idiotically at each other, looking deeply into eyes that were very familiar – eyes that neither had ever hoped to gaze into again.

 

“Again, Anakin,” Soara said, frowning as she circled Anakin in the training room. The room was in one of the lower levels of the Temple; it was dusty and littered with obstacles. Soara, a compact woman with the reputation of being a startlingly fast, effective fighter, preferred the training grounds to be here because they were similar to what one would encounter in real life. She often had her students practice outside of the Temple. This time, however, she had chosen to stay on the Temple grounds.

Anakin’s clothes clung to him, damp with sweat. His hair was wet with perspiration, and he was panting lightly. He wore a pair of training pants and a long tunic, but was barefoot as part of his training – one didn’t always have shoes, after all. He nodded at Soara, who looked at him calmly and without any indication of what she was thinking.

Anakin began the kata again. It was not a terribly complex one, nor difficult, but Soara liked to look at a fighter in the most basic of fighting techniques, and see the core of the problem, rather than just seeing a series of infinitesimal mistakes. She was helping  prepare him for the Trials. The fact that he was practicing lightsaber techniques made him wonder, yet again, what the Trials were like. He had always thought the Trials tested a person mentally and emotionally, rather than physically.

As he mindlessly – and he knew he should be focusing on what he was "here and now" – went through the kata, he thought of Obi-Wan again. He had to admit, with time he had become more and more fond of the undead lunatic – he couldn’t recall another time in his young life when he had made such a deep connection with a total stranger. Their talk had revealed more of Obi-Wan’s true character than he probably realized, Anakin thought. And Anakin wondered if his counterpart in Obi-Wan’s universe had ever known how much Obi-Wan had loved him. He wondered how he could have turned if he did.

His thoughts wandered away from Obi-Wan, turning to Xanatos and Qui-Gon as well. They were all together, stuck in a small apartment. He wondered how that was going. Qui-Gon was a stubborn man. He was usually right, but in the long run that didn’t help things when he wasn’t right. And if he thought he was right about Obi-Wan, he wouldn’t budge from his position unless Master Yoda mind-tricked him with the truth. Or a miracle happened.

With that thought, a memory kicked in and he half stumbled during the middle of the kata. He then picked it up again without a word while his mind raced. Miracle – oh, Force. He had thought it would take a miracle to make Xanatos loosen up, and to act out of control. Jedi Knights were always so controlled, even when they were the victim of a prank, so Anakin had decided to try another technique as part of his ever-expanding experiments on his Jedi brethren.

Spiking his drink.

Well, it was in his alcohol, right? The good stuff. Xanatos didn’t drink often, except with his friends, so Anakin had figured any traces that could lead to Anakin had spiked the liquor would be long gone by the time Xanatos really drank it. Qui-Gon, however, drank sometimes, and had given Xanatos that Corellian Reserve, as a make-up gift for their years of being bitter strangers. Anakin had figured that there was a good chance Xanatos would have that ale sooner or later. So, Anakin had put a little extra good stuff in his ale. Just an innocent prank, right? Xanatos wouldn’t stay mad for very long, Anakin was sure. And then…. with the arrival of Obi-Wan, it had completely slipped his mind.

But they – they being Xanatos, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan – wouldn’t drink, would they? The situation was far too tense for that. Yes, that was it. Too tense. He couldn’t imagine the results if they did . . . he put some pretty strong stuff in there. It could test the drinking skills of a Wookiee.

Worriedly, Anakin tried to focus on the kata. He finished clumsily, knowing he had done horribly and wondered what Soara was thinking.

Wiping his forehead, he focused on Soara. She crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow, circling him one last time before speaking. “Let’s try this again. Without being distracted, please . . . it’s skewing my ability to decipher your problem,” she said, with a hint of humor in her voice.

“I have a lot on my mind,” Anakin said half-heartedly. He gave her a weak grin.

“Again, Anakin,” she said patiently.

And Anakin began the kata again, trying his best to keep his mind focused on the present, and away from thoughts of Corellian ale.

 

Xanatos returned from his meeting with the Council to quite an interesting scene, to say the least.

The meeting had lasted longer than he had anticipated, with the Council going over every detail with him. Since Xanatos was not taking the new mission to Wekkeran – the Council had been very surprised, but willing to give their busiest Knight a rest at his request –  another Knight would have to be thoroughly briefed. As part of that, Xanatos not only went over the particulars of the mission, but his thoughts and impressions.

While Xanatos walked to his apartment, his mind was full of lingering thoughts on his last mission, mixed with worry and curiosity about what Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had done while he was gone. He was fairly certain Qui-Gon would stay – even if the Jedi Master looked for a way out of the apartment, he would probably not use it. Qui-Gon trusted him as he trusted few people, even after Kenobi’s death. He pondered on the different possibilities of what had happened while he was gone – the two talking, even.

But there are some things one simply cannot prepare for.

Xanatos slapped his hand on the control pad – which he had wired to respond to only an outside entrance – and walked into the living room of his apartment.

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were sitting on the couch, laughing. Their faces were red with – laughing? Qui-Gon had his hand resting companionably on Obi-Wan’s shoulder, and Obi-Wan was nodding in an exaggerating manner at something Qui-Gon had said.

They look like a drunk pair of good old friends, Xanatos thought, astonished.

Obi-Wan noticed Xanatos’ presence first, and his eyes wandered over. He hiccupped. “H’llo.”

“Hello,” Xanatos managed. He dragged his eyes from Obi-Wan’s merry face to Qui-Gon’s equally merry face. “Qui-Gon? Are you . . .”

“We’re not drunk,” Qui-Gon said, sounding remarkably coherent, even if he was speaking slower than usual. “Maybe a little . . .” He held up two fingers, and attempted to demonstrate how ‘little’ little was, but failed because his coordination was shot and his fingers would not hold their distance, and kept touching. “Little tipsy,” Qui-Gon finished.

“I can tell,” Xanatos said gravely. He paused. “Eh . . . I assume you had something to drink, then?”

Obi-Wan nodded. “To relax,” he said.

“You’ve relaxed quite a bit,” Xanatos observed, more to himself than to Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon.

They gigg – no, Jedi did not giggle. Especially not male Jedi, Xanatos told himself.

Coming to a decision, Xanatos quickly walked over to the two Jedi. “Get up,” he ordered, taking both by an arm. They bemusedly obeyed, and he led them into his bedroom. He stopped for a moment, dismayed, as he realized there was only bed. The spartan bedroom didn’t have anything else he could put Obi-Wan on either.

He shoved Qui-Gon onto the bed, and Qui-Gon, unable to keep his balance, fell over to his side. Leaving Obi-Wan standing, he took most of the blankets off the bed – difficult with Qui-Gon sitting on it, he soon realized – and threw them on the floor, then made Obi-Wan lay on the mess of blankets.

As soon as they lay down, they’ll fall asleep, Xanatos thought. Or such was his experience.

“Now sleep,” he ordered the both of them.

Qui-Gon blinked. “I’m not sleepy.”

“Yes, you are,” Xanatos replied firmly. He pushed the Jedi Master back on the bed, as he had managed to rise. “Now sleep.” Even Qui-Gon’s befuddled state, however, it didn’t quite work, and Xanatos received another confused look. “Please?” Xanatos asked, looking hopeful.

Sighing, Qui-Gon lay down. A gentle snore interrupted Xanatos’ sigh of relief.

Obi-Wan was asleep. He had curled up onto his side, his head on one folded arm. He looked surprisingly serene, and deep in sleep. Xanatos blinked, then smiled, turning back to Qui-Gon, who was just as quickly falling asleep – he wasn’t quite there yet, but the distant look in his eyes and the steady breathing indicated he would be soon.

Sighing softly, Xanatos left the room while thoughtfully and without anger contemplating ways to punish Anakin without leaving any marks.

 

Oh, Force – hangover, Obi-Wan thought. For a brief moment, just before he opened his eyes, he had come towards the dawn of being awake peacefully and without pain. It was only dimly light, but it was still more than enough to make him wince. He felt horrible. His head throbbed painfully, his mouth and throat felt dry and icky, and he felt stirrings of nausea beginning.

Sighing, and wishing only to get away from the hangover, Obi-Wan rolled over to his side and threw his arm over his eyes, trying to get back to sleep. Without minutes, though, his body was twitching, eager to get up even if his head wasn’t. He realized suddenly he hadn’t had proper exercise for days – no wonder he felt antsy. Sparring or practicing katas – one could never have too much practice – had always left him feeling centered.

With a deep groan, Obi-Wan heaved himself up, opening his eyes and wobbling rising in one swoop. He blinked at the figure lying on the bed. Oh, yes. He forgot about that.

“How long have you been awake?” Obi-Wan asked through the muck in his mouth.

A deep sigh from the figure on the bed. “Not long, and too long.”

Obi-Wan grunted in response, then stretched and ran his fingers through messy and tangled hair, trying to give himself some sense of cleanliness.

“I was thinking,” the figure said slowly. The form on the bed resolved into Qui-Gon as he threw the blanket off. He looked about as bad as Obi-Wan felt. Rather than looking like a Jedi Master, he appeared to be more of an old drunk with the long hair and beard.

Thinking? Obi-Wan thought, mildly surprised. “That the drink was drugged?” he said out loud, the conclusion coming to him as it fell from his lips.

Qui-Gon looked at him as if the thought had never occurred to him. “Well, of course. I was metabolizing the alcohol – but I never thought to look for anything else. It was Anakin, I suspect, on one of his prank sprees a few months ago.”

Obi-Wan simply nodded. That made sense – and he was also metabolizing most of the alcohol, only intending to relax – at least at first. And his own Anakin had loved to play pranks – he would imagine this Anakin was even more inclined to do it, not having the heavy past of his own.

“But that’s not what I meant,” Qui-Gon continued. “I was thinking about you, and your situation.”

“What part of it?” Obi-Wan asked wryly, well aware of how complicated the situation had become.

Qui-Gon laughed briefly, and they both winced and gave an aborted gesture to comfort their heads. “You – getting home. I imagine you haven’t thought much about it yet, with . . . keeping yourself a secret, Anakin, everything that has happened to you. I doubt you’ve even had time to consider it.”

Wisely not nodding, Obi-Wan murmured something affirmative. It was true – he hadn’t given it much thought. Other matters had taken precedence . . . and still did, really. But he still would have to deal with the possibility of being unable to return, or of figuring out how to do so. Or if even if he wanted to leave such a pleasant place. It would be easy to forget his past, to simply build a past anew by living here –

Stop it, Obi-Wan, he ordered himself. He had responsibilities. Responsibilities he had temporarily forgotten, at the point when Vader had been coming to capture him and he wanted it all to end. His attempt at suicide had been selfish, and even more than that it was not a solution to his problems, but merely an escape. He had never run before – and he would not be making that same mistake again.

Qui-Gon was continuing. “The Force wants you here, that much is indeed obvious. Xanatos was correct about that. But does it want you to stay here? Considering that it brought you here, it can bring you back, I would think,” he said contemplatively, rising to his feet with the same careful care Obi-Wan had. “I think nothing of this is coincidence – even us being drunk and drugged. Surely, such a thing wouldn’t normally happen. You come from a different place, a more dangerous one, and if you allowed this to happen to you normally, you would be dead, wouldn’t you?”

Obi-Wan blinked. “Yes, most likely.”

“The Force –“

“Often influences us in ways we don’t realize,” Obi-Wan finished.

“Yes,” Qui-Gon confirmed. He paused, his eyes flickering with a shadow of pain and loss. It vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and he looked hard at Obi-Wan, as if trying to erase the memory of the past and merely look at what this Obi-Wan was here, now.

Obi-Wan walked over to the window of Xanatos’ bedroom. Its tinted level was set high, so everything outside was darkened and blurry, though it was definitely day with the light orange touch upon everything. He guessed it be early morning. “I don’t think it will simply snatch me out of here suddenly, though,” he said finally.

“I don’t either,” Qui-Gon agreed. “There is . . . something to be done first.”

There was short silence while both wondered what that thing could be.

“I came here for a reason,” Obi-Wan began.

Qui-Gon nodded.

“To heal, Xanatos told me. But why should – would – that be all of it?” he asked, turning away from the window to look into Qui-Gon’s startled blue eyes.

“Anakin?” Qui-Gon said softly, a distant look in his eyes, and a growing tension.

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan murmured softly. He had watched his Anakin turn. This Anakin was about to face his trials. Simply because this time, this place, was peaceful didn’t mean something wasn’t approaching, something they didn’t know about, something they didn’t see. Something that wasn’t even the same as what the Jedi of Obi-Wan’s universe had faced – yet something just as important. Anakin was special – the circumstances of conception proved that, and he doubted they had been any different here. He would have to ask, but there was little doubt in his mind. Anakin was, and always had been, the turning point.

Anakin.

 

Xanatos was usually of the opinion that mornings were an invention of the Sith, but today he knew his normal disgust with it would not even compare to the spectacular hangovers two Jedi had coming.

Xanatos didn’t knock to announce his presence. He gently put his hand on the control panel, and the door slid open silently. Muted light cast everything in light contrast. Both Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were lying down, apparently sleeping. Except things were switched – Obi-Wan lay on the bed, his hand casually thrown over his head and leaning against the headboard, with a blanket lying lightly on top of him. His mouth was open slightly, and his chest rose with each even breath. Qui-Gon lay on the floor, curled up in all the rest of the blankets, most of the ones from the bed gone to make the floor more comfortable.

Obi-Wan continued to sleep as Xanatos entered, and he took the brief opportunity to take another close look at the Jedi. While he hadn’t completely recovered outwardly from being in his own universe, he didn’t seem quite so unhealthy. His skin had more color, and while he was just as thin, he appeared to be better rested. The circles under his eyes were gone. It was a remarkable change, especially considering these days in this universe had hardly been easy on him.

“We decided it would be best to continue sleeping away our hangovers,” Qui-Gon said quietly, startling Xanatos.

The younger Jedi jumped but made no sound, glancing quickly at Obi-Wan to make sure he was still asleep. “You startled me,” Xanatos said ruefully. Qui-Gon had sat up – brilliant, Xanatos, to have missed that – and was rubbing his face while trying to blink the bleariness out of his sharp blue eyes.

“What were you thinking?” Qui-Gon asked curiously, probably having noted the thoughtful look Xanatos had given him and Obi-Wan.

“Wishing for the days you could take peek in my head because of the training bond, Mas – Qui-Gon?” Xanatos reflexively replied.

“Not really. I peeked and found out things I’d rather have not known.” The Jedi Master grinned at his former charge.

Xanatos had to dip his head in rueful acknowledgement of that fact. “He looks better,” he said softly. “Then before, at any rate.”

Qui-Gon nodded slowly. “Good news.”

“Yes,” Xanatos said faintly, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “You look worse,” he added sardonically, turning his full attention to Qui-Gon. “Although remarkably well-adjusted to the situation.”

That earned him a dirty look. As much as a Jedi can manage while still looking serenely dignified, anyway. “At least when I admit I’m wrong, I don’t dig in my heels about it,” Qui-Gon replied, raising an eyebrow and giving Xanatos a pointed look. “And I’m glad to see that you don’t have living organisms beneath piles of clothes. Though I wonder if that’s because you haven’t gotten the chance to conduct your accidental experiments,” he added, with mock musing.

“They weren’t living, precisely,” Xanatos retorted. “And I was twelve. What is this thing with me about when I was twelve?”

Qui-Gon shook his head, bemused, then immediately Xanatos could see him regret the action as he winced, moving a hand carefully to his head. Xanatos couldn’t prevent the immediate satisfaction – nor the spark of guilt at having felt satisfaction.

“Well, the mind trick attempt is a great story,” Qui-Gon said with an easy grin. “Was it Obi-Wan you were hiding in here the other day?”

Xanatos cocked his head to the side, and let his smile give the answer.

Qui-Gon nodded without much surprise. Xanatos stepped over to him, and held out his hand. Qui-Gon began to rise, then sighed and took his former Padawan’s hand. He rose slowly, using Xanatos’ support as needed. Rubbing his back and grimacing, he admitted, “He got the floor first time around, and he’s in worse shape. It seemed fair.”

Xanatos shook his head. “And I’m sure you’re the one that suggested it. No doubt you’ll feel better once you get up and stretch.”

As the two left the room, Qui-Gon cast another long look at Obi-Wan, who still lay asleep, surprisingly resting so deeply he wasn’t woken by the friendly, if sometimes pointed, banter between the two men. The older man’s gaze softened. Xanatos wasn’t sure what he was seeing, but he hoped it was reality and not something else. He really needed to find out what had happened last night. Qui-Gon had gone from shocked, defiant, and confused to calm and ordered in one night, and he had no clue how it had happened. He doubted his explanation of events had been enough, and had fully expected to come home to a disaster. Which he had, but not the kind he had totally expected. In fact, it could be termed a useful disaster.

Shrugging slightly to himself, he led the way out of the room.

 

When the door slid shut behind Qui-Gon, Xanatos walked away to the kitchen, which was only a few steps away. Qui-Gon followed at a much slower pace then Xanatos, then halted, leaning slightly against the wall. Even though not a morning person, he was still doing better than Qui-Gon.

“Do you want some water?” Xanatos said from the kitchen, hardly speaking above normal volume.

Qui-Gon nodded, forgetting that from his vantage point outside out of the kitchen, Xanatos couldn’t see him. He put a hand on the wall and leaned against it, feeling tired. Not a good sign at this time in the morning.

“Where is Anakin?” Qui-Gon asked, as Xanatos returned with a glass of water.

“He’s meeting Palpatine. Apparently he’s also going to meet some Senator that the Chancellor is fond of,” Xanatos replied simply, handing Qui-Gon the water.

Qui-Gon humphed and took a sip of water. Paused. Took a few large gulps. He saw Xanatos smirk out of the corner of his eye. Probably remembering all the times Qui-Gon had mercilessly gotten the young man to get up after similar stupid stunts when was a Padawan, and the total lack of pity the Jedi Master had displayed. Qui-Gon sometimes wondered if that was the reason Xanatos so rarely drank.

“Water helps,” Xanatos said knowingly.

Qui-Gon grunted in response, and finished the glass. Xanatos nudged him in the direction of the couch, and Qui-Gon took the hint, stepping over there while wistfully looking at the empty glass. He sat down gratefully, letting himself relax. Xanatos got him more water without being asked, then returned and sat to face the Jedi Master.

“So what happened last night?” Xanatos asked, hands folded and expression open.

Qui-Gon pondered for a moment how to begin. He didn’t even think of trying to lie, either directly or omission. He became thoughtful, looking away from Xanatos’ expectant face as he sought the words he wanted. “I tried, briefly, to get out of the apartment. Obi-Wan and I . . . spoke. About my attempt to leave, and related things. We reacted, treated each other as if we knew each other – I ended up mentioning something that had happened, and he didn’t understand. He didn’t remember.”

Qui-Gon looked up at Xanatos to see if he understood. All he saw was gentle attention. Xanatos was listening.

“I suppose I finally truly realized that Obi-Wan – this Obi-Wan – is not who I remember. They may share physical appearance, even basic personality traits, but their lives were completely different. They made different choices, and became different people for it.” He paused. “When I look at Obi-Wan now, I don’t see a dead, turned Padawan that betrayed me. I see a man haunted by events in his life – he told me of his Anakin’s fall – but going forward nonetheless. I see someone who tried his best, who tried to do what was right. He may not have always succeeded, but he tried.”

He looked at his former Padawan. Xanatos smiled, not with triumph but simple gladness that Qui-Gon saw things as what they were. Well, how he saw them, anyway.

Xanatos asked another question after a moment of comfortable silence. “What about before Anakin knocked you out and brought you here? I never got a full explanation from that from your point of view.”

Qui-Gon shook his head, nearly dismissing the subject. It wasn’t something he really wanted to speak to Xanatos about. “I wasn’t acting rationally, for certain. I have – never truly been rational, when it comes to Obi-Wan, I'm afraid. When I realized what I had done, that I had hurt him perhaps seriously, I left to go find Yoda, to get help of some kind. I had forgotten he wasn’t here. That was when Anakin came upon me.”

“Hurt him seriously?” Xanatos asked, giving him a sharp look and narrowing his eyes. He seemed to letting go the lack of explanation about Qui-Gon’s motivations, focusing on what was more immediately important. “From what I can tell, there seems to be no permanent damage. He seems to be pretty accepting – forgiving, even – of what you did, as well.”

Qui-Gon nodded thoughtfully. “I believe he’ll be fine. He seems to be remarkably stable.”

Xanatos raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t have thought that, considering his condition when I found him.”

The other man shrugged. “He seems to have found peace, then. That’s what I sensed last night, after I woke here in the apartment.”

Xanatos ran his hand through his hair. Sighed. “The man is baffling,” he muttered.

Qui-Gon laughed. “Yes. But I suppose it’s been a good thing, if what you say is true and he was in such bad shape before.”

“Well, yes,” Xanatos replied, with a twist of his lips. They shared a companionable moment, both pausing, gathering thoughts. “Did you find anything else out while you were, er, intoxicated?”

“Intoxicated – I believe that Anakin is to blame, yes?” Qui-Gon murmured, resting his elbows on his knees.

Xanatos nodded. “No doubt. I’ll deal with that issue later, have no worry.”

“I’m sure you’ll do a fine job, Xanatos,” Qui-Gon replied with humor. “You really should take a Padawan. I have no doubt you’d handle the punishment part just fine.”

The younger Jedi stiffened at the mention of taking a Padawan, then relaxed. Qui-Gon looked at him curiously, unaware Xanatos was touchy about that subject. Perhaps it was the talk of Anakin falling, in Obi-Wan's universe. “Perhaps. Regardless . . .” the younger man trailed off.

“He mentioned his Anakin turning. Apparently the Anakin of his universe was his apprentice. I find that . . .”

“Odd?” Xanatos finished. “As did I. Obi-Wan seems rather young for such a responsibility. Our Anakin is being trained by Yoda, simply for his incredible potential. I don’t understand why the Council would drop someone like Anakin into a young Knight’s lap.”

Qui-Gon grimaced. “He mentioned something else, as well, later on in the night. I just remembered – forgive my befuddled mind. He said something about Anakin grieving for his mother.”

Xanatos blinked. “You know, he asked me if Anakin knew his mother. He also mentioned slavery – seemed to think that Anakin’s mother had been one. Do you think that was the case in his universe?”

“If it was, how would Obi-Wan know?” Qui-Gon questioned. Even they, as close to Anakin as they were, did know the condition of Anakin's mother, merely that she had lived, perhaps was living, on Tatooine. “Jedi are taken from their parents at a young age. We know Obi-Wan was, so the rule must not be any different. I think he would have mentioned it otherwise, for certain. So how could Anakin grieve for what he didn’t know?”

A moment of silence. Xanatos spoke slowly, the words coming easily – a conclusion they had both reached. “He did know his mother. And she must have died . . . perhaps even as a slave. Force, what a disaster. Family bonds are strong. They can override common sense so easily.”

“So then why was Anakin trained in the first place?” Qui-Gon asked, giving voice to the obvious question. He remembered their talk – of that the fact that there was no coincidences, and perhaps even as Obi-Wan was meant to be healed in this universe, he was meant to help them. Perhaps he was meant to help them with Anakin – a boy he had seen the worst of, had known so very well. Someone their own Anakin shared things with, both in personality, and just possibly, their pasts.

Xanatos gave him a look of utmost seriousness, a disturbed look in his eye. “I think we need to learn more about Anakin’s past. Because I think there’s something we’re missing, and we shouldn’t be missing it.”

Qui-Gon exhaled slowly, a conscious effort at calming control. “Agreed.”

 

There is something ethereal about mornings, she felt, even here, among the metallic and harsh towers of Coruscant. As the faint light became a true dawn, bright and artificial lights were outdone by soft yellow light that cast everything in gold, colors fading and merging into browns and auburns, soft pinks instead of red, as if the leaves of fall had descended upon the world.

At least, that is how she chose to view it. To see beauty in what others would call unyieldingly bright and edged was perhaps a private delusion, and in her line of work one that could hardly be acquiesced to without the possibility of ceasing to see reality at all. It was too easy to see things as one would prefer.

Padmé Amidala, though, did not believe that she was seeing something that wasn’t there – merely something that was hidden.

“Up already, milady?” said her handmaiden, who walked smoothly into the room. In her arms she had a royal blue simmersilk dress. Simmersilk was normally something reserved for dances, or formal occasions not related to work. However, the design of the dress was simple, elegant, and fitted just so, making it appropriate for work and social gatherings.

Padmé smiled at Eirtaé, who returned her grin easily. The young woman had been one of Padmé’s handmaidens when Padmé had been the Queen of Naboo. She, along with a few others, had followed Padmé when her term expired, and she ran for the Senate. Eirtaé had been the only one of her handmaidens to naturally look so different from her, with blue eyes and blond hair. She had changed her eye and hair color while playing Padmé’s handmaiden on Naboo, but that was no longer necessary. Indeed, rarely were the protective and deceptive measures of handmaidens needed anymore.

Padmé had become queen when the last king, King Verdun, was found to be corrupt. In a nearly unprecedented move, the people of Naboo voted a fourteen year old Padmé Amidala in to office. Some argued it was merely a fluke, a slight risk in peaceful times. But Padmé had proven herself well, being just and deliberate and wise not only in her decisions, but in her choice of the people who carried out those decisions for her. Busy and difficult as this life often was, she didn’t regret taking the leap. It was her gift, to be able to do this.

“I wanted to get an early start,” Padmé replied finally, at last fully turning away from the window. Her apartment had an excellent view of Coruscant, and while she would normally enjoy it, today she had quite a few things to do in the morning. “I’m meeting Palpatine again this morning. Apparently he’s bringing a young man with him, a Jedi he is most impressed with,” she added.

Eirtaé’s eyes twinkled, and the corners of her lips turned up in a smooth curve. “A young man, milady?” she prompted, lifting her eyebrows.

Padmé laughed lightly. “A Jedi,” she reminded, shaking her head slightly. Her curls fell over her shoulders as she leaned over to look at the dress Eirtaé had chosen. It was strikingly beautiful.

“Will of the Force I chose that one, milady?” Eirtaé teased gently.

Padmé shot her a chastising glance, mellowing it with a smile. “You won’t be satisfied until I’m married with two children, will you?”

Eirtaé grinned. “Serving Naboo and the Republic is not mutually exclusive from having a life outside of it. There are other things beside work.”

Padmé shook her head, not in defiance as much as in wistfulness, and let her hands run over the smooth material of the dress. “Not today.”

 

It was, Anakin thought, a good day. Well, any day with no angry Xanatos was a good day. Either the drink had not yet been touched, or Xanatos hadn’t yet figured it was him. He was hoping for the former, but couldn’t help worrying about the later. Regardless, it was also a bright and sunny day, the sky uncharacteristically clear and blue.

Anakin chose to take one of the Temple speeders to his meeting with Palpatine. They were slow and unwieldy – practically asking for an Anakin-style upgrade – but they were reliable. Apparently there was a Senator the Chancellor wanted him to meet. Anakin wasn’t sure why – he didn’t have much to do with politics. He had, however, agreed to it without argument. He knew he still owed the Chancellor one about not telling the Jedi Council anything concerning one undead lunatic.

As he flew to Palpatine’s office – rather recklessly, but still plenty within the speed limit – he thought about Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and most particularly, Xanatos. He was silently hoping that no one had stumbled upon that ale he had spiked. Of course, Xanatos hadn’t called him or asked to speak with him, so that in and of itself was a very good sign. That didn’t stop the bad feeling he had about it, but it made him feel slightly better otherwise. Even if they had stumbled upon it – as his bad feeling indicated – maybe Xanatos wasn’t too angry.

Well, at any rate, Xanatos wouldn’t be able to reach him for a few hours, so he had little to worry about for those few hours. He would worry about it later, when he actually was in a worrying situation. For now, he would not worry about the future at the expense of the moment.

Parking the speeder and walking the Senate office building took no time at all. He did it all very automatically, having done it before. His thoughts were preoccupied with musings on his upcoming Trials, Obi-Wan and his issues, and just generally the whole mess. As he came up the lift, though, he began to get a nervous, tense feeling in his stomach.

Resolutely, he tried to shake it off. He looked outside, to the towers and spires of Coruscant. Sunlight filtered through them, marking them with sharp contrast in the long shadows of morning. It was just a meeting with Palpatine and some obscure Senator. He had nothing to be nervous about. He didn’t sense anything in the Force.

The lift doors opened. Anakin walked through, and quickly made way to Palpatine’s office. Most of the level was for his use, anyway. He walked past the secretary, giving a wink to the Twi’lek young woman as he went by. She knew him well, and let him pass without protest, even giving a smile of her own. The door to Palpatine’s office gave a chime as it announced his presence, and Anakin walked in.

To come face to face with an angel.

 

The young Jedi that had entered the room unannounced was a young man, perhaps younger than herself. He wore his blond hair in the typical style of a Padawan, was tall, and had well formed features. Surprising, that Palpatine would be impressed with one so young. He was also giving her . . . a very odd look.

He was very still for a moment, then bowed to her and gave Palpatine a half-smile. “Milady. Chancellor.”

“I am Senator Padmé Amidala,” Padmé said, introducing herself.

“Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Padawan extraordinaire,” he replied breezily. He took another step forward to her side, then took her hand and gently kissed it, lingering. Padmé flushed hotly. That was most definitely not normal protocol.

She couldn’t quite restrain the amused twitch of her lips, though, and she received a blinding smile. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance,” she said formally.

“As am I,” Anakin replied. He gave her a studied look, the odd expression fading from his face. He had the clearest blue eyes she had ever seen. The intensity of them surprised her, but it seemed to match the confident aura he exuded.

Palpatine clapped his hands together and said brightly, “I knew you would hit it off.”

Not taking her eyes off Anakin, Padmé replied, “It’s been less than a minute, Chancellor – one could hardly tell.”

“Nonsense. I have good instincts about these things,” Palpatine replied confidently. Neither of the room’s other occupants were looking at him.

Anakin smiled at her. It was such a perfect smile, and she had a feeling it was purely honest in its pleasure.

“Nevertheless,” Padmé said, drawing her eyes from Anakin and focusing on Palpatine, “you surely have a reason for having us meet beyond you thinking we should be friends.”

“Of course he does,” Anakin responded. “He’s a politician.”

Padmé looked at Anakin, letting her eyes narrow. “Ah, Jedi Skywalker?”

She had to give him credit – despite nearly implying an insult, he met her eyes squarely. “I mean that, of course, in only the most flattering way to you, milady. If not to the Chancellor.” He winked and gave a short bow.

Palpatine laughed.

Padmé felt herself relax, inwardly chastising herself for getting tense at all. She didn’t know why she had, really. As Anakin had stated, she was a politician, and politicians are diplomatic and thick-skinned by necessity. Besides, he hadn’t really said anything at all. She smiled at Anakin. And again, received that dazzling smile in return.

“My dear Senator, I simply thought you might appreciate having a friend who is on Coruscant. I know you miss your home, Naboo,” Palpatine said charmingly, interrupting Padmé’s thoughts.

It was difficult focusing on the Chancellor, but Padmé managed. “Oh? And this would have nothing to do with the fact that I am in the middle of a disagreement with the Jedi Council?”

Palpatine gave a look of pure innocence. It was astonishing the man was able to carry it off so well.

Anakin jumped in. “The Jedi Council? I wouldn’t worry about them, milady. I would think you would merely have to charm them into whatever you wanted,” he said with a grin.

Padmé laughed. “Is that so?”

“Would a Jedi lie, milady?” Anakin replied, humbly lowering his eyes.

“I can see I’m not needed here, whatever my reasons were for this meeting,” Palpatine interceded dryly.

Both Anakin and Padmé flushed, becoming aware of their flirting. Padmé noticed him eyeing them both for a moment, his eyes becoming vague and unfocused.

Then he brightened. “I have some things to do, meetings to attend – and I know your morning is free, Senator Amidala. Anakin, perhaps you would keep the Senator company for a few hours?”

Anakin kept his eyes on Padmé, his gaze intent. “If my milady wishes,” he murmured.

Padmé nodded, slowly. “Very well,” she said, with careful dignity. She shot the Chancellor a look full of amused suspicion, however. Then she turned to Anakin again and smiled, hoping to provoke that grin again. “I would like that.”

Palpatine smiled. “Then it’s settled.”

 

 “You know, that old troll is the cause of all our problems!” Xanatos said grumpily.

Qui-Gon laughed shortly, with little humor, and replied, “I’m well aware of his tendencies to be omniscient. I wonder why he did this.” He sighed, and paced behind Xanatos, who sat before the data screen in the Jedi Archives.

Xanatos stared at the screen as if he could change it by force of will. It lit his face in a ghostly blue glow, the small shadows making his face appear long as he looked down at it. The entire Archive was hushed and lighted just this side of dim, probably in one of Jocasta’s attempts to make people be quiet in there. The only distraction was Qui-Gon pacing behind him. While Xanatos was half joking about Yoda, then again, perhaps he wasn’t. First, Master Yoda was gone while Obi-Wan was here and in desperate need of him. Now . . . this.

Access Denied.

“It doesn’t make sense. Why would Yoda seal Anakin’s home records?” Xanatos asked. “What is in there?” He paused, then turned to look back at Qui-Gon, who was silent. The Jedi Archives were open to all Jedi. Very rarely was something sealed or classified. It was done only in cases where the privacy of the information was needed or important, such as certain ongoing missions or personal information the Jedi Council believed should be kept from the Jedi at large . . . or a Jedi in particular.

Qui-Gon looked back at him with an almost regretful look on his face. “If we are to find out before Yoda returns, there is only one person with any knowledge of the situation at all who can answer our questions.”

Xanatos sighed. “Obi-Wan.”

Qui-Gon nodded.

“I don’t relish the idea of asking him . . .” Xanatos begun.

“Because of painful memories,” Qui-Gon finished. “Yes. But remember – why is Obi-Wan here? We know that there must be another reason. I have a feeling that reason is entwined with Obi-Wan and his Anakin’s past.”

“Yes,” Xanatos agreed reluctantly.

There were both silent for a moment, Xanatos privately musing on how willing Obi-Wan would be to talk. How willing would he be to remember things he was just starting to forget? Everything in Obi-Wan’s universe was so hopelessly complicated and twisted. There was no reason to believe the situation of Anakin’s coming to the Jedi Temple in Obi-Wan’s universe was any different. And the fact that the other Anakin came to the Temple at an older age, in and of itself, indicated that it was.

“You think he’s still asleep?” Xanatos asked softly. They had checked on him before leaving, and left a note; he had been sleeping very deeply, almost in a trance-like state. For that matter, maybe he was trying to get rid of his hangover, instead of nobly suffering like Qui-Gon.

“I doubt it,” Qui-Gon said. “We’ve been gone for nearly an hour, with you trying to hack into the databanks.”

Xanatos flushed. “I was only trying to find a backdoor.”

“Hacking.”

“Taking advantage of a fault,” Xanatos retorted primly. He rose to his feet swiftly, and put his hands in his sleeves in an appearance of . . . sobriety.

Qui-Gon shook his head and gave a soft laugh. “How I ever survived training you . . .” he murmured quietly as he turned to go.

Xanatos voice floated from behind him, clearly exasperated. “Not me at twelve again - !”

 

“So what do you do, as a Jedi?” Padmé asked curiously, looking at Anakin, who sat across from her. She took a careful bit of the cikken fish, boiled in Chad seaweed oil. It had a delicate taste.

Anakin took a bite of his food, a hunk of meat from which he was steadily hacking off pieces with his bread knife. “Surely you’ve met Jedi before . . .” he said, trailing off with a smile.

Padmé laughed. “Of course. But surely all Jedi aren’t diplomats.”

Anakin gave her a wry smile. “No, that’s true. Thankfully for the sanity of some of us.”

“So do you go on missions with your Master?” Padmé asked curiously.

“Sometimes. My teacher is Master Yoda, and as you probably know, he rarely leaves Coruscant. I sometimes go with other Jedi, or missions here.”

“But not ones diplomatic in nature?” Padmé asked, arching an eyebrow.

“Oh, sometimes. I had to learn the basics,” Anakin said. “Yoda insisted,” he added with a touch of remembered annoyance. “But there are other things to do on Coruscant besides negotiate. The lower levels, for example, are dangerous places. Some criminal elements also try to work out of here, something we try to stifle as much as possible.”

Padmé nodded, looking thoughtful.

Anakin suppressed a mischievous grin and said casually, “Though, with so many politicians here, it’s hard to get rid of them all . . .” And nonchalantly took another bite of his food.

Padmé laughed. She had a wonderful laugh, light and cheery without being too girlish. And when she smiled, her entire face shone with it, each lovely feature transforming to express that joy. Anakin had to grin at the sight of it. Her happiness just seemed to spread and fill him too.

Before the moment could pass and become awkward, Anakin picked up where they had left off. “Jedi do many things, beside mediate disputes. We help wherever we are needed, whether it is helping a town evacuate a flood, or going undercover to break up a slavery ring.”

Padmé frowned slightly. “Slavery ring? That must be outside of the Republic, then.”

Anakin confirmed that with a nod. “Outside the Republic, there is little, if any, law. So technically it’s not even . . . espionage, or whatever you want to call it. And it’s the right thing to do. Thankfully, though, slavery is rare, even in the Outer Rim.”

“Yes,” she said softly, giving a faint, contemplative smile.

No, he wanted to see that grin again. “Enough of business. Palpatine mentioned that you miss your family? You represent Naboo, correct?”

“Yes,” Padmé said, and he could feel her mood lightening. “My parents, and my sister – I’m an aunt, these days,” she said with a laugh. “I adore my nieces. So, yes, I miss them, but I know I’m doing good here.” She paused. “I guess you wouldn’t know about your family, though.”

“The Jedi are my family,” Anakin replied calmly. It was a question he had gotten before, and he didn’t have to think about his answer – for that matter, he didn’t doubt it either. “An odd one, I’ll grant you that, but we love and care for each other. The Padawans are my siblings, the Knights my aunts and uncles, and the Masters . . .” Anakin trailed off, trying to picture Yoda as his parent and shuddering. “Well, so the analogy doesn’t always work,” he admitted ruefully.

Padmé put a hand over her mouth, but the corners of her eyes crinkled. “Yes, I suppose it doesn’t.”

“I’ve been lucky; I have lots of mentors,” Anakin continued, seeing her interest and amusement. “Besides Yoda, there’s Qui-Gon and Xanatos.”

Padmé made an inquisitive sound and took another delicate bite of her food. Anakin felt clumsy compared to her.

“Yes – they were Master and Padawan, though Xanatos is a Knight now. Actually, they just ended . . . an estrangement,” he added lamely, realizing in the middle of speaking that perhaps he shouldn’t go into all of that, especially with the undead lunatic around. He was surprised at his automatic inclination to simply tell her everything, as if they had known each other all their lives.

To his relief, Padmé merely nodded and didn’t ask for details.

“What about you?” he asked, turning the conversation away from himself. “What was your childhood like, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Padmé paused, as if to gather her thoughts, then began, “Well, certainly different from most. I have spent most of my life in service. I was fourteen when I was elected Queen of Naboo, and I spent years in the diplomatic and rescue services before that.”

Anakin blinked. “That is impressive. Not to insult, but why would Naboo elect a fourteen year old Queen?”

“You’re not the first to ask that question,” Padmé said wryly. “The last king was found to be corrupt. It was actually an emergency election, though they later reelected me for a second term – and my last. I was . . . very well trained, eager to serve, and I think Naboo saw that,” she finished.

Anakin bowed his head in acquiescence of that fact. “Still,” he said, “it is astounding. How did you become a Senator?”

“The current queen, Queen Sabé, asked me to do so. I accepted,” she said with a smile.

Anakin smiled back. The conversation drifted, then faded away, into a comfortable silence. They both ate for a few minutes, content to look at the skyline from the view of the high level restaurant. It often served the Senate, and as a result was particularly tasteful and had a better view than most. It seemed to Anakin like a good place to bring a Senator.

After eating, it was mutually decided that they would go on a walk. Padmé suggested the Coruscanti Small Garden, the less public of Coruscant’s two planetary gardens, and Anakin naturally agreed. And he had never gotten the opportunity to see the garden. He had heard it was very beautiful, though.

He wasn’t disappointed. The garden had a plant in every shade of red. Anakin would not have normally thought it such a lively color, but in the fresh, domed air and bright surroundings, it was vibrantly alive. Padmé, in her lavender dress, was a spot of peaceful calm in riotous color.

“Does this remind you of Naboo?” Anakin asked quietly, not really wanting to interrupt the peace of the moment, but curious. His curiosity usually got the better of him.

Padmé laughed, and shook her head, giving the vibrantly colored plants another look. “They’re beautiful, so in that sense, I suppose they do. But Naboo is a green planet.”

“I’ve never been to Naboo, nor heard of it,” Anakin admitted.

“I’m not surprised,” Padmé replied casually. “No wars, famines . . . floods. Peaceful place,” she said, shooting Anakin a smile. “We’re not well-known, in truth, though we were once known as Alderaan’s little sister for our pacifist ways.”

“Interesting title to have,” Anakin observed.

Padmé nodded. “Alderaan was, by all accounts, stunningly beautiful. The people would design and place their cities as to not disrupt the natural beauty of the planet. No one carried weapons, not even the police.”

Anakin was silent for a moment, digesting that, then offered, “I must visit Naboo, then, sometime.”

Padmé smiled at him. It was a simple smile, but Anakin felt his heart beat faster nonetheless. Even knowing her for such a short time, he felt deeply connected to her. Her every action, the way she tilted her head when acknowledging a point, the way she gestured to punctuate her careful words . . . it arrested his attention in a way he had never before experienced.

“I would like that,” Padmé said softly. “I’ve grown to like you, despite you being a Jedi.” She smiled, but a flash of frustration – not at him, but at some memory – showed in her eyes.

Anakin laughed. “Ah, yes, the argument with the Jedi Council. I’m sure you’re both trying to do what you feel is best,” he said.

Padmé raised an eyebrow, and said archly, “Practicing your diplomacy, Anakin? Placating me without stating your own position, or stating any position at all.”

He shrugged, flushing slightly. “I didn’t mean it that way. The truth is I know little about it at all, so it would be unwise of me to say anything.”

“True,” Padmé admitted. “I just feel that they are dismissing my concerns. I would like to see them at least answered.”

“What is the situation, then?” Anakin asked.

“There’s a planet called Tatooine in the Outer Rim. Its residents are hoping for Republic citizenship, but there is no formal world-wide government. The Jedi believe we should accept their application to enter the Republic and deal with all the problems afterwards.” Padmé shook her head. “If we simply step in, we will never stop controlling the situation for them. Help them, yes – but do everything for them? It’s a bad precedent, the Senate being directly involved in world affairs, even in a situation like Tatooine.”

Anakin considered her words for a moment, then admitted, “I see your point. But what about the citizens of Tatooine? I’ve heard of the place, and it’s often a hotspot for criminals in need of a layover. That can’t be good for the honest citizens. Perhaps they see the situation out of control, and no way to rectify it besides getting the Republic involved.”

Padmé shot him a sharp look. “Perhaps. I am thinking more of in the long term consequences, I suppose.”

“Long term consequences aren’t going to matter much to the citizens of Tatooine at this point. And whatever those long term consequences are, I’m sure they’d rather have those than the problems they have now.”

“Except for the consequences in the matter of Republic law as a whole," Padmé pointed out. "The Republic taking over a planet when only part of its citizens agrees to it - well, it’s too close to conquering it. Because in some sense, the criminals and those that serve them are also its citizens, are they not?"

“I hadn’t considered that,” Anakin acknowledged. “It’s a complicated issue, clearly.”

“Yes,” Padmé agreed. “Now if I could only get the Jedi Council to admit that there are other considerations, and perhaps if we do go in, we should take care as to how we do it,” she said dryly. “They are usually the first to compromise – or get you to see their way – but this time, they are being unusually stubborn.”

“How long has this been going on?” Anakin asked. “Master Yoda has been off planet for a while. Perhaps he could help.”

“Not long. When does your Master return?”

Anakin had to think. The past several days had been so confusing and hectic – full of discoveries, reunions, and undead lunatics trying to murder people – it was hard to remember it hadn’t been that long. “About a week and a half, I think.”

Padmé nodded. “The Senate doesn’t vote for another two. Perhaps some compromise will be possible.”

Anakin gave her a cheerful smile. The professional, intense expression on her face faded, and she returned the smile. Then she laughed.

“What?” Anakin asked.

“Just thinking of Palpatine. He might have wanted to simply ease my frustration at the Jedi by introducing us – he can be thoughtful, that way – but I think he’s also managed to get me to be more willing to see other points of view with this issue. I suppose the Council wasn’t the only ones being stubborn,” she confessed ruefully.

Anakin chuckled. “Politicians, I tell you. Always more than one agenda.” He pretended to look at her suspiciously. “Why did you bring me here again?”

“To seduce you, of course!” Padmé said lightly, nearly smirking, perfectly willing to join in on the fun.

Anakin grinned at her, but he couldn’t stop the thought that had popped into his head at her words: I’d let you. “Oh, really?” he said, eyeing her.

She blushed, a light stain of pink covering her cheeks. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“Sorry,” Anakin said, but he wasn’t sorry at all. Quite the opposite.

They smiled at each other, both a little uncomfortable but exhilarated. Anakin finally broke the awkwardly sweet moment. “Shall we?” he said, gesturing at the stone pathway they had stepped on.

Padmé gave him an attentive twitch of her lips, aware of the situation as he, and then nodded. They silently continued on.

 

The door to Xanatos’ apartment slid open silently, and with a somewhat apprehensive glance towards Xanatos, Qui-Gon stepped inside, eyes searching the premises. Xanatos followed, walking lightly and quietly. The living room was empty, and the muted morning light came in through the window in the kitchen, which had the door open to allow sunlight to filter in.

“Think he’s awake?” Xanatos whispered to Qui-Gon, leaning in almost conspiratorially.

Qui-Gon glanced back at him, wondering the same thing. And what it meant if he was still asleep.

“I’m awake.”

Obi-Wan strode into the living room from Xanatos’ bedroom as both Jedi, startled, turned their heads in his direction, easing apart from their stance at the same time. Qui-Gon had felt Xanatos’ nearly invisible twitch, but he had managed to keep himself from reacting at all. He hadn’t felt Obi-Wan coming. Stretching out with the Force, he quickly realized why: Obi-Wan was serene.

The calm spread out from Obi-Wan in a gentle wave, as quick and smooth as the sea; not loud, yet not silent. Serenity is not something that generally catches one’s attention, and such had been the case with Qui-Gon failing to sense Obi-Wan. It had been a simple lack of alertness. A Jedi’s presence was usually much stronger, more noticeable, and within the Temple walls the Jedi were often relaxed to such a degree.

“Good morning,” Xanatos said cordially, having already regained his inner balance. He casually walked to the kitchen with a roving eye that indicated he was hungry. He had been ravenous as a boy, when he was Qui-Gon’s Padawan. Most Padawans grew out of that stage. Xanatos hadn’t – he had simply learned to control it.

Obi-Wan nodded. “To you, as well.” He eyed Qui-Gon. “Though, not for either of us, particularly . . . at least at first,” he added wryly.

Qui-Gon smiled. “I’m glad I’m not the only one suffering from the effects. I would hate to think it was my age catching up with me.”

Obi-Wan gave a smile that was almost pained. “You’re not old. You’ll never be old.” He paused, thoughtfully, and gave a small grin. “Like Master Yoda.”

“That old troll?” Qui-Gon said with a laugh, relaxing into the easy conversation.

“Does everyone really call him that?” Obi-Wan asked curiously. “It’s very . . . disrespectful,” he added, with a note of something almost like censure. “Anyway,” he continued briskly, “if your Master Yoda is anything like mine, he could take us all in a fight, and give us a lesson about the nature of the Force in the process, no doubt.”

Qui-Gon dipped his head in acknowledgement. “Well, never to his face,” Qui-Gon admitted. “And yes, he is very similar to yours, it would seem.” He smiled. Every moment he could have such an exchange as this was something he treasured, even though this really wasn’t his Kenobi. And Obi-Wan was someone he was growing to respect in his own right, beyond what little he knew of the man’s past.

Obi-Wan smiled back, the expression easing the normal stiffness and wariness he usually presented to others. “So what is it that you wanted to ask?” he calmly asked, sitting down on the couch unceremoniously, and looking up at Qui-Gon.

“Ah . . .” Qui-Gon said stupidly. He hadn’t been expecting that turn of conversation, and for some reason, was caught rather flat-footed by it. How did Obi-Wan keep him off-balance so easily? His own Obi-Wan had never really possessed that ability. Yet another reminder this wasn’t ‘his’ Obi-Wan. “What makes you think we wanted to ask you something?” When in doubt, respond to a question with a question.

“Well,” Obi-Wan began matter-of-factly, “you just said ‘we’, and I indicated nothing of the sort that would say I was talking about Xanatos and you . . .”

Xanatos walked in with a muffin stuffed in his mouth. He made a muffled inquisitive noise as he chewed just enough to get the quantities of food past his throat, wolfing it down. “Mrrphm?”

“Eat properly, Xanatos, you sound like a Wookiee,” Qui-Gon said, his words sharp and his tone not at all.

Xanatos finished chewing and retorted, “I’m sure Ambassador Chewbacca would love to hear that comment.”

“I’m sure he would,” Qui-Gon responded, not blinking an eye. Chewbacca had a good sense of humor. At least, he thought so. Sometimes he wasn’t sure if he was kidding about those arm-ripping tales or not . . . well, he was a young Wookiee – especially for his position – so he likely couldn’t have ripped that many arms off in his relatively short life.

Jerking his meandering thoughts back to the subject, he focused on Obi-Wan’s next words.

“It’s only logical,” Obi-Wan said, “that you would have questions. If I’m correct, it has to do with Anakin,” he stated, ignoring the byplay between Xanatos and Qui-Gon.

Xanatos looked at Obi-Wan curiously. “Yes,” he said softly. “How did you know?”

Wondering why Xanatos had admitted what they were after, then realizing that he was being childish about wanting to keep it a secret even if you could sometimes get more blatantly truthful answers that way, Qui-Gon listened silently.

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan replied, leaning forward and fixing Xanatos with an intense gaze, “is important. That he is such here, as well, is no surprise to me.”

Xanatos returned the intense stare. “Because he is special . . . because his past is special.”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said quietly, his focus turning inwards for a moment, a hint of sadness returning.

“Yours fell,” Xanatos continued. “Does that mean ours is doomed to the same fate?” He was calm with his questions, not intending to hurt, but merely seeking information. But he watched Obi-Wan carefully, and Obi-Wan, in the minute tensing and relaxing, seemed to respond to the careful wording that Xanatos used. They watched the small reactions and inclinations in each other closely, and as they talked, found a rhythm to their conversation. In fact, they had been doing it since Qui-Gon had first seen them converse.

Qui-Gon watched the two of them interact, stunned by the intense sharing that was occurring in front of him. For a moment, he felt a sharp pang of regret and loss, that only across two different realities could these two incredible individuals meet. In Obi-Wan’s universe, Xanatos fell, and here, Kenobi had fallen.

“No.” Obi-Wan shook his head, that minute relaxing occurring again. “At least, I don’t believe so. Anakin turned for a variety of reasons, but I don’t believe fate – or destiny – was one of them.”

“Then what? Why do you know for a fact that Anakin is so important, in whatever universe he is in? Why is he . . . the turning point?” Xanatos was feeling Obi-Wan out, trying to understand. Qui-Gon had seen his former apprentice do this many times.

“The turning point?” Obi-Wan repeated, musingly. “That’s a good way of putting it.”

“Why, Obi-Wan?” Xanatos said intensely. He unexpectedly knelt by Obi-Wan’s side, his knees on the floor and his feet behind him in a classic meditative posture. But there was nothing contemplative about this.

Obi-Wan stared in Xanatos dark blue eyes for a moment. Then he turned away. “I can’t say.”

“Can’t, or won’t?” Xanatos returned instantly. Qui-Gon could see both of them tensing, Xanatos in protectiveness of Anakin, he believed, and Obi-Wan in . . . what, he could not say.

“I do not believe it wise,” Obi-Wan said steadily.

Xanatos rose abruptly. “And you are one to make such a judgment about wisdom, when your own Anakin fell?” He did not shout, but his tone was harsh and unyielding.

Obi-Wan flinched, but his hands remained loosely clasped in his lap, merely taking the blow. Oddly, that calming occurred again, and he merely looked up at Xanatos with a resigned expression.

“Padawan!” Qui-Gon said sharply, in his surprise and outrage falling back to the name he had so often chastised Xanatos with.

Xanatos turned away for a moment, inhaling and exhaling. “I’m sorry. That was inappropriate and hurtful.” He looked at Obi-Wan again, regret in his eyes. His hands twitched, as if to reach out.

Obi-Wan nodded. “But understandable. I know you care for Anakin deeply.” He looked at Qui-Gon. “Both of you.” He tilted his head, and smiled at Xanatos. Tensing, then relaxing. “Apology accepted.”

“Can you tell us why you don’t believe it’s wise to tell us anything of Anakin’s past?” Qui-Gon asked gently, entering the conversation fully for the first time. “Because you must have guessed by now that there are similarities in more than simple appearances. And we are unable to find anything about his past at all.”

“Their pasts would be similar in some ways.” Obi-Wan shook his head, not really a negative, but in doubt. “Of anyone, I know the situation . . . Anakin . . . the best. The situation he will face, or is facing. I saw my Padawan fall. I saw why he fell.” He sighed. “When I look back, I wonder how I could have changed it – but I know that I could have eased his burden. And perhaps that might have helped him.” He looked up, and his eyes were anguished.

Qui-Gon was struck by it. He nodded, silently, and breathed deeply. He knew, well, of the words and pain with which Obi-Wan spoke. He had often thought the same thing. He knew, now, of the things he had done wrong in training Kenobi, of the things he could have done differently. He knew it was impossible to say if that would have changed Kenobi’s fate, but it would have helped. He would not be such a failure.

“You’re not a failure, Qui-Gon. Unless you consider me to be one also,” Obi-Wan’s said, softly interrupting Qui-Gon’s thoughts, even seeming to know them intimately. Perhaps he did, because they echoed his own.

Qui-Gon looked up, having looked away in deep thought. He met the pained but serene eyes of Obi-Wan, and nodded. You’re right, he thought. I don’t believe it’s your fault, and that means Kenobi can’t be mine. Yet . . . we still carry the weight of not doing our best, of not perhaps giving that extra thing that could have tipped the balance. It is a troubled thing, debt and responsibility. And the unknowable.

And he saw that Obi-Wan understood that, too. The two men looked at each for a moment, from Qui-Gon standing near the doorway, to Obi-Wan’s slumped and relaxed posture sitting on the couch. The tension in the room, brought by Xanatos’ near accusation, had fully dispersed, but something darker – a grief that could not be let go – had replaced it.

“Can we stop the melancholy meditation?” Xanatos asked, a wry note to his voice, injecting a soft note to his joking words. He looked from Obi-Wan to Qui-Gon. “It gives me such indigestion before, say, noon.”

Qui-Gon laughed at Xanatos awkward attempt at breaking the sadness that seemed to have weighted down everyone in the room. And perhaps it was another apology, of sorts. Obi-Wan smiled. Xanatos gave a relieved twitch of the lips as some thought he had made him lift his eyebrows, then he focused fully on the other Jedi in the room.

“Well,” Xanatos said. “Anyone want any breakfast?”

“I would,” Obi-Wan said.

Qui-Gon nodded his agreement.

“Good!” Xanatos said with a cheeriness that was only slightly forced. He made to leave the room, but Obi-Wan stopped him with a word.

“Wait,” he said. He paused, considering, uncertainty showing on his face, and added, “When Yoda comes back, I’ll speak to him about it. If . . . anyone should know what I know, and suspect . . . Regardless, I suspect he knows as well.”

“Thank you,” Xanatos said, surprised. “Wait – you suspect he already knows?”

Qui-Gon leapt on that turn of words as well, though he said nothing and let his thoughts run wild. He was also surprised by Obi-Wan’s suggestion, but in his case it was because he had forgotten Yoda was coming back. And that all of this would, at some point, have to be explained.

Xanatos and Qui-Gon shared a look that spoke volumes about their frustration as Obi-Wan nodded.

“Old troll,” Qui-Gon muttered.

“Meddling,” Xanatos sighed in agreement. Sharing a sigh with Qui-Gon, he shook his head at nothing in particular, and went to scavenge up some breakfast for his guests.

 

Padmé settled down onto the park bench carefully, pulling her skirts close and leaning back. She let one arm drape over the back of the seat as Anakin lowered himself beside her, to her left, rearranging his robes with practiced ease. She looked at him, and smiled.

She felt extraordinarily relaxed and carefree. She felt as if every tension had seeped out of her in Anakin’s presence, and a curious light joy had filled her. The problems in the Senate hadn’t been forgotten, as much as dismissed from causing her worry. Talking, laughing, teasing . . .  these were things she hadn’t experienced since her last visit to her family on Naboo, and she had sorely missed them. And this – was even more than that, somehow. She felt close to Anakin, so close she knew she should be concerned. And yet, while she knew she might regret it later, she cherished that closeness and trusted it completely.

“I enjoyed this,” she said simply, softly, after a few minutes of tranquil quiet. Anakin looked at her as she spoke, and she noticed the look on his face was similar to what she felt. They were just – being. And it was wonderful. “Even if I am a bit tired after all that walking. All those Senatorial procedures don’t leave much room for exercise,” she added with a grin.

Anakin laughed, stretching his arms out in front of him, loosening the muscles after hours of walking. “Jedi exercise constantly. Fortunately, though, we heal quickly, or I’d still be limping from my last lesson.”

“You were hurt?” Padmé asked, becoming more alert.

He nodded. “Well, not really. I pulled a muscle. It wasn’t like I was shot or anything,” he told her with a mischievous grin.

Padmé relaxed. “It was a lesson for your trials?”

“Yes. Master Yoda is making me have tutorials with several Jedi in several disciplines in preparation.” He smiled, a bit weakly, she thought. It was not something anyone would notice – she had grown to see the tiny changes in expression and posture. As a Senator, of course, she knew and did this regularly, but with Anakin, it was like she had to adjust to the eddies of his emotions. She had enjoyed learning.

“Stressful?” she queried.

“Maybe a little,” he said, his smiling turning into a sheepish grin.

She nodded. “Of course, you’re handling it well, Jedi Skywalker,” she said with mock seriousness.

He grinned back at her. He loved teasing, and being teased. “I haven’t had time to think about it much, the past few days,” he admitted casually. Then, for a moment, he froze, as if he realized he shouldn’t have said that. It lasted barely a moment, and was a very subtle shift. She noted his conscious relaxation.

“Oh?” she asked, nonchalant but curious. “Something been happening that is of great interest, then?”

“That’s one way to put it,” Anakin said, lips twitching as if noting some irony she wasn’t aware of. It was also a dodge.

“Care to tell me about it?” she said, raising an eyebrow.

He started shaking his head negatively before she had even finished. “I know I shouldn’t,” he admitted, suddenly looking into her eyes intently, his smile fading into a more sober expression.

“You can trust me, Anakin,” Padmé said quietly, and took his hand. His calluses were rough against her questing fingertips as she made small, soothing circles in his palm. He looked down at their shared hands, then up at Padmé once again. She tried to express, through her eyes – or even through the Force, if he was looking at her through that – that he could trust her.

“I do trust you,” he said, his voice a roughened whisper. His gaze never left hers, and she didn’t let herself falter underneath the intensity of that blue eyed stare. “Probably more than the Council – or the others – think I should. We haven’t known each other for long, but you have a true, honest spirit, Senator.”

“Padmé,” she replied softly, in reminder. “And which will you follow, Anakin, your own feelings, or that of the Council?”

“Jedi are trained to trust their feelings,” he said quietly. He searched her face, and she kept still.

“I trust mine,” Padmé said, with equal quiet.

Anakin didn’t reply, but his breathing grew faster, harsher. Padmé felt the same happening to her. They both leaned forward, nearly simultaneously. As they crept ever closer, she watched his eyes, seeing every shift of thought in them, and she knew he was doing the same to her.

Then she closed her eyes, because she knew instinctively it wasn’t time to see now, but to feel. His breath was warm against her lips, and she inhaled and exhaled, breathing the air the other had breathed. His lips met hers in a gentle graze, and she felt the soft warmth, the realness of him. She heard him draw in a breath so abrupt it was almost like a sob.

And abruptly, that mere graze wasn’t enough. She pushed forward, and kissed him with sudden aggression. He responded instantly, without hesitation. Their lips met and caressed as if this was totally familiar, even as Padmé felt the rush and awkwardness of this . . . newness. But as one retreated for a breath, the other came back again with renewed vigor, as if they had done this thousands of times, and were as familiar with it as anyone could be.

Padmé pulled away swiftly, panting inaudibly, feeling an unexpected rush of doubt, of uncertainty about what they were doing. She opened her eyes, and looked at Anakin. His face was flushed, and his eyes glazed with the pure focus he had on her. She suddenly realized she was clenching his hand, that she still held, when his other hand came up to her face and caressed her cheek.

“Don’t,” he whispered, and it seemed to be the answer to all of her fears and doubts. Don’t doubt, don’t fear. And he pulled her back to him, for another, gentler kiss. Her other hand came to his face, as well, feeling the soft spikes of his hair, the nape of his neck. His hand explored the lines of her face, skimming gently over her eyes and brow.

When it ended, it seemed to be by mutual agreement. There was no abrupt finish, but a gentle, gradual letting go.

“I don’t know if we should have done that,” Padmé said softly.

“Should by whose standards? Should has nothing to do with it,” Anakin replied, his hand still lying on her cheek, even as hers was draped over the back of his neck.

They parted silently, his hand leaving her face to grasp her hand at his neck, and bring it forward in front of them. Their eyes never left each others. It was a startling intimacy, to look into Anakin’s eyes, without turning away, without pause. She wondered for a moment why society deemed it to be discourteous to look into another's eyes for a long time, when it was as liberating as this. Then she realized this wasn’t something she would want to share with just anyone.

Only Anakin, it would seem.

They stayed like that, silent and unmoving on the bench. The gloriously red garden around them sparkled like fire as the sun rose even further, the light intensifying and reflecting off of shiny leaves, a thousand refractions causing a thousand more in a dizzying array of living jewels, a wonderful cacophony of light.

But they stayed silent and serene within, holding hands, as if the whole galaxy had gone quiet and still just for them.

 

“So you slept well?” Xanatos asked Obi-Wan, plopping himself onto the couch. Obi-Wan could tell he was just making polite conversation, but on the other hand, he could sense a genuine desire to know in there, too. He wasn’t quite sure of the cause, but had a feeling it had to do with Xanatos’ continued protectiveness.

Obi-Wan let his head rest against the back of the couch. “Despite my drinking, yes. The hangover wasn’t even that bad.”

Qui-Gon sighed from his position near the apartment’s comm unit. “Youth,” he said, looking at the two young men on the couch, relaxed and languid after the full breakfast Xanatos had managed to scrounge up – with the help of Qui-Gon, of course, as Xanatos was hardly known for his cooking.

Obi-Wan was amused at Qui-Gon’s comment.

Xanatos looked like he was about to reply, probably rather heatedly, when the door alarm rang. They all paused, and simultaneously looked at the door. Obi-Wan was off and onto his feet, moving for Xanatos’ bedroom, before the other two could even suggest it. Xanatos raised an eyebrow, gave a little laugh and a shrug, then went to the answer the door. Ob-Wan caught a glimpse of Qui-Gon leaning back up against the wall as he left.

He shut the door of Xanatos’ room, and then pressed himself against it, listening closely.

Qui-Gon spoke first, surprisingly. “Hello, Anakin. Would you introduce us to your companion?”

Anakin’s voice came across as . . . love-struck, and it soon became apparent to Obi-Wan why. “Hi, Qui-Gon, Xanatos.” A slight pause. “This is Padmé.”

Obi-Wan’s eyebrows shot up and he listened more closely. He had been fairly certain the Anakin of this universe did not know Padmé, and he had carried doubts that she even existed here. All uncertainty was cleared away, though, when Padmé spoke, greeting the Jedi courteously. Not only her voice, but the way she used it, was intrinsically Padmé.

After the greetings had ended, a short silence fell. Anakin broke it with an abrupt statement. “Um, Xanatos, Qui-Gon?” Another pause, probably full of tension – Obi-Wan had no real way of knowing from here. “I told her – everything. About Obi-Wan. Everything.”

“Anakin – what possessed you –“ Xanatos stopped.

Obi-Wan heard no one interrupt, so he had probably halted on his own, too exasperated to speak. He could just imagine it. As for his own reaction, he found himself having a little grin. “Anakin,” he sighed very quietly, more amused than anything else.

He reached out with the Force, struggling to sense beyond what he was only hearing. The Force was not tense, precisely, but seemed more watchful, if one could describe the Force in such a fashion. It swirled around Anakin and Padmé strongly, linking the two of them in a way even Anakin probably didn’t sense. He felt affection, curiosity, nervousness . . . giddy tension between the two of them. Much as he had sensed from his Anakin, those years ago when he first met Padmé as an adult.

He felt he should step out – and there was no reason not to, as Padmé was already aware of him – but he hesitated.

Qui-Gon spoke into the bare second of hesitation. “Anakin, why –“

Why tell her? Obi-Wan finished mentally, though Qui-Gon would probably not have phrased it that way.

Before Qui-Gon could continue, Obi-Wan opened the door and stepped out, walking into the living room. Everyone glanced at him as he entered, but Obi-Wan focused on Padmé.

Her dark hair was bound up in an intricate gold filigree design with loose curls hanging loose, and she wore a smooth, lavender dress that seemed to emphasize her femininity. She managed to look somehow formal, despite that. She smiled at him, with a touch of uncertainty. “Master Kenobi?” Her brown eyes were warm, despite her caution.

Obi-Wan bowed. “Forgive me, I don’t know the proper address,” he murmured.

She smiled politely. “Senator – but call me Padmé. I don’t think we need to keep with formalities.”

Obi-Wan returned the smile and nodded. This Padmé had many similarities to the one of his own universe – though he sensed she was more like the Padmé of two years ago in his universe. At peace with herself, but busy with Senatorial politics. Aside from Mace or Qui-Gon, she appeared to be the most like his universe’s counterparts. In later years, of course, the Padmé of his universe had become tired, in some ways even cynical, though her caring heart was never crushed by the war, as many had happen to them.

“Forgive me,” Qui-Gon interrupted, with a trifle of an edge to his voice, “but I still don’t see why the Senator was brought into this – it is an added complication.” He nodded at Padmé. “No offense intended, Senator.”

“Has this been anything but complications?” Xanatos said dryly, rubbing his forehead. “It’s been one after another since I brought Obi-Wan here. What’s one more?”

Qui-Gon frowned at Xanatos’ flippant attitude, while Anakin relaxed slightly.

“I suppose,” Obi-Wan said quietly into the moment of silence, sure without intervention to explode into something definitely not calm, “no one has noticed that everyone I have met so far in this universe I knew in mine?”

Dead silence. The Jedi grew slightly withdrawn after a shocked moment, mentally adding this realization to their calculations. Obi-Wan waited for a moment for them to add it all up to that none of this had been any kind of coincidence. Padmé looked bemused by the whole thing.

“Padmé,” Obi-Wan said, “may I assume you represent Naboo in the Senate?” He smiled, and stepped closer, taking her hand.

“You may,” Padmé replied, with an amused tone. When Obi-Wan moved to lead her away into the kitchen, shooting her a polite, wordless inquiry, she inclined her head regally and nodded, allowing him to lead her off. They proceeded to give pleasant, polite chit-chat as the Jedi stayed left behind in more way than one.

Obi-Wan had Padmé go in front of him, and once there was a wall between Padmé and the rest of the Jedi, he heard as he passed through the doorway Xanatos letting loose a vile curse quietly, and starting to laugh.

 

Qui-Gon frowned at his former Padawan, not really shocked, but disapproving nonetheless. Xanatos shrugged in reply. Anakin looked anxious, and Qui-Gon refocused his attention on the boy.

“It felt right,” Anakin blurted before Qui-Gon could even ask a question.

“Oh, it did,” Qui-Gon said, folding his arms, while Xanatos nodded sympathetically. Qui-Gon gave his best disapproving-I-am-er-was-your-master look.

Xanatos walked right up to Qui-Gon, placed a hand on his shoulder, looked into his eyes and said earnestly, “Qui-Gon, you haven’t been on this roller-coaster that surrounds all of Obi-Wan's acquaintances for long yet . . . and as a veteran, let me say, just go with the flow.”

“Xanatos,” Qui-Gon said, shaking his head – but a smile determinedly twitching at the corners of his mouth.

“It did feel right,” Anakin interrupted plaintively. Then he cocked his head, raising an eyebrow. “I’m almost a Knight, right? So shouldn’t I be trusting my feelings?”

“Not at the expense of common sense, Padawan Skywalker,” Qui-Gon retorted. The boy wasn’t a Knight yet, and if such recklessness would become typical when he was a Knight, that hardly said he was ready.

Xanatos held up his hands. “I henceforth declare myself the expert on all of this. Obi-Wan . . . things.” Despite the joking edge to his use of words, his eyes were perfectly serious.

Qui-Gon was ready to disagree with this strongly, ready to state his greater experience in life and in the ways of the Jedi, but Xanatos held up a hand.

“No, no,” he insisted. The younger Jedi met Qui-Gon’s eyes fiercely, full of confidence, and none of the diffidence of an apprentice present. Qui-Gon knew he had the tendency to revert to dealing with his former Padawans as if they still were Padawans, if there was a situation needing careful control of supervision. Xanatos was quite likely very aware of this as well. “You haven’t been dealing with all of this as long as I have. Part of the whole reason most of this mess existed was because of you, and your . . . possible reactions.” His near-rebuke wasn’t harsh, but delivered almost apologetically.

Qui-Gon winced at the reminder of his dubious actions of earlier. Obi-Wan seemed to be fine, yes, but that didn’t mitigate his culpability.

“Everything is fine, as far as I’m concerned,” Xanatos emphasized, having won his point.

Qui-Gon lowered his head briefly in acknowledgement. But he then gave Xanatos a look that dared him to take advantage of it.

Xanatos looked at Anakin. “I still believe you should have mentioned this to us first, however. How long have you known Padmé?”

Anakin paused, face going blank in remembrance, then filling with something . . . glowy. “A day,” he finally admitted. “It feels – longer.”

Qui-Gon looked at Xanatos, feeling a flicker of alarm. Could Anakin be infatuated with the Senator? She was clearly beautiful and charismatic, and Qui-Gon could sense her good heart. No doubt Anakin could as well. The combination was undoubtedly alluring to the young man. Xanatos returned the look with one of equal wariness.

His admission having met silence, Anakin had focused back on the kitchen, and the quiet murmur of voices. “What do you think they’re talking about?”

Qui-Gon blinked. “I don’t know.”

Laughter from the kitchen interrupted their fresh worry.

 

“Xanatos’ pantry is rather bare, I’m afraid,” Obi-Wan said apologetically, waving at Padmé to sit down, “so I can’t offer you anything.”

Her eyes flashed with amusement. “Quite at home, are you?”

Obi-Wan smiled at the gentle teasing. They shared a moment of quietness, as the level of noise the Jedi were making in the other room increased slightly, before dropping off again. Obi-Wan could just barely hear what was being said – they certainly weren’t being loud – so he knew Padmé likely could not decipher what was being said at all.

“So,” he said nonchalantly, “have you kissed him yet?”

Padmé choked. For someone not even drinking anything, it was quite an accomplishment. “Excuse me?” she said, flushing deeply.

“Ah,” Obi-Wan said wisely. “You have.”

Padmé gave him a look of disbelief. “How did you –“ She stopped, closed her eyes briefly, and pressed a hand to her face. “Anakin and I . . . were a couple in your universe?”

Obi-Wan nodded.

She searched his eyes, all embarrassment gone from her own. Only serious questions remained. “Anakin told me of what happened to his counterpart.”

“And what does that mean, is what you’re asking?”

“Yes,” Padmé said, softly. “I hate to doubt Anakin, despite the little time I’ve known him, but . . .” Caution, not fear, was what showed in her eyes.

Obi-Wan shook his head, after giving a briefly sympathetic look. “It means nothing. The Anakin of my universe is quite different from this one, and so, to a certain degree, was your own counterpart. They – lived in different times.”

“And were different people as result?” Padmé shook her head. “But . . .”

“The capacity for evil exists in us all. The Xanatos of my universe was a horrible man, a Dark Jedi. He killed thousands – millions – and ruined worlds.” He paused. “But he’s a Jedi here, and even gentle, I would say.”

“And you yourself,” Padmé added, more to herself.

“It’s all possibilities.” Obi-Wan shrugged, and steepled his hands. “Regardless, the love of your counterpart and my Anakin was strong. It survived things you probably can’t imagine. I believe the same could happen here.”

“And you’re saying that our love is a good thing?” she asked steadily, not flinching from the use of the word ‘love’. “Anakin is a Jedi. I – know that. Despite . . .” she trailed off, blushing again.

Obi-Wan leaned forward, and willed her to meet his eyes. She finally did, and in them he saw a woman younger in spirit than the one he had known, but no less strong for all of that. “It is a good thing. I know that.”

Padmé leaned back slowly, and Obi-Wan matched her movement. She relaxed, becoming more thoughtful and less intense. “So it is meant to be?”

Obi-Wan shook his head. “By no means. Where things develop is up to Anakin and you. I know him better than I do you, and I can say he will follow through. What you choose is your decision, not that of fate or destiny.”

Padmé laughed shortly, turning away for a moment, a hint of distress in her eyes. “I just met him today. Can you understand? This is so sudden.” She met his gaze once again. “I never expected this.”

Obi-Wan spread his hands, and shrugged slightly, letting his eyes lower. “It’s always unexpected,” he replied with a resignedly amused sigh.

“And you would know?” Padmé raised an eyebrow, challenging.

“Maybe.” A near-smirk.

Padmé rolled her eyes, with no real irritation behind the action.

Obi-Wan grew more serious, and leaned forward. “All I ask is – don’t hurt him.” A faint frown, a brief surrender to the worry he felt.

She nodded slowly. “I won’t,” she promised. “I don’t think I can, not the way you’re thinking,” she said with a wry smile. “Maybe it’s not fate or destiny . . . but I don’t think it has to be. It’s strong enough on its own.”

“You’re wise,” Obi-Wan murmured, smiling.

“I try,” she said. She reached across the table, and took one of Obi-Wan’s hands, squeezing lightly. “I always thought it would be my father giving this kind of love advice, warning, threat – whatever you want to call it – to my beloved, not a Jedi laying down the law for me concerning the counterpart of his universe’s Padawan. But I’ll do my best to do the right thing, nonetheless.”

Obi-Wan laughed.

 

As much as Coruscant was a place of frenetic, white-noise life, Dagobah was a place of wild life apportioned in the random yet ordered ways of nature. It was not Yoda’s homeplanet, but centuries past, he and his Master had traveled here. They had meditated together, and ever since, Dagobah had remained a place to rebuild, to rest, for Yoda. The very lack of intelligent life was a relief, at times, especially for one such as Yoda, who could not help but see futures in the faces of the young ones he taught. Here, there was only the jungle, and it went on.

But it was time to go. Yoda knew that with all the certainty the Unified Force was capable of giving. It was before Yoda had planned, but he wasn’t entirely surprised by it. He had sensed a shift in the Force, not huge . . . yet somehow elemental. There was no turmoil, but a feeling of change.

He wondered, briefly, if Skywalker had anything to do with it. The boy was a focal point, of a kind that Yoda had never seen, even in his long life span. The Sith War had possessed many focal points – a younger, more reckless Yoda among them. But all of that power and responsibility that had been spread across both wise and hapless Jedi, chained by fate, seemed now to be combined into a single being: Anakin.

It was a puzzling fact, why it was so. Even the circumstances of Anakin’s birth, his possible destiny of fulfilling the prophecy of the Chosen One, did not fully explain it. For that reason and others Yoda had told no one of much of what he suspected. The next twenty years were of far too much importance for some young Padawan, not knowing any better, to tease young Anakin of something no one understood, and possibly unbalance it all.

Yoda sighed deeply, letting the Force flow through him. The simple acceptance of its flow made him stronger. He opened his eyes, and looked from his small mud home to the jungle, teeming with life. Thick moss covered everything, from the trees to the hanging vines, and small creatures chattered from their positions. He relaxed even further, letting the Force imbue him with as much of this planet’s signature as he could, strength against the nearly dizzying, chaotic and crowded life on Coruscant.

It was time to go home.

 

When all was said and done, Xanatos and Qui-Gon had to accept the fact that Anakin had told Padmé, and now she was involved as well. Obi-Wan had seemed to accept it the moment Padmé walked into the room, which rather confused Xanatos and left him suspicious. Besides that, Padmé and Obi-Wan had talked alone for several minutes while the other Jedi argued pointlessly, not to mention Obi-Wan’s thought-provoking comment about how he knew so many of the people in this universe from his own. Xanatos, with each passing moment, became steadily more convinced that Padmé and Anakin had possessed some kind of relationship in Obi-Wan’s universe.

It made Xanatos’ head ache. There was so much to consider, so many possibilities, and so many unknown factors that he was considering just giving up on trying to get it all straight in his head. Thankfully, however, the rest of the day remained calm, with no other surprises in store.

Padmé and Anakin eventually left together, to Qui-Gon’s disapproval, and Obi-Wan and Xanatos’ clear amusement at his disapproval. The two oblivious lovebirds planned to spend the rest of the day together, then get some rest and talk again tomorrow. Qui-Gon stated that it would be wise for the three of them to get some rest, as well.

So the rest of the day was something of an anti-climax – passing peacefully and in a leisurely vein.

Qui-Gon left after a few hours, having duties of his own to catch up with. Xanatos had cancelled many of Qui-Gon’s classes or given out-of-class assignments for the rest of the week, citing personal problems. Nevertheless, there were a few things for Qui-Gon to do. He had stayed at the Temple for several years, preferring the peace after learning to cope with Kenobi’s fall to the Dark Side, and he had certain routines set in place.

Xanatos had eventually contacted Mace and explained the situation further to him. At different parts of the wild tale, Mace had expressed disbelief, surprise, disapproval, and relief. In the end, however, he simply concluded he had missed a lot, but things seemed to have gone by just fine without him. For the most part. Xanatos felt bad, briefly, for Anakin, but figured the kid deserved it after the spiking the drink incident. Which he had never even got the opportunity to punish the kid for, after all that happened . . .

Xanatos didn’t have much to do, having already been called in for a debriefing by the Council. He had been busy and often off-planet for years, and no one would deny his request for some downtime.

Obi-Wan and Xanatos spent the rest of the day talking. He learned more of Obi-Wan’s universe, and in doing so, discovered how little he really did know. He learned of the Clone Wars, the Separatists movement, and how Palpatine planned it all to bring to power the Empire. The New Order. With Vader at his right hand. He was horrified by news of the galactic civil war, and asked how the Jedi handled it.

In response, Obi-Wan would only say, with a very quiet and sad look, “We’re keepers of the peace, not soldiers.” He said with an odd tilt to his voice, and from that Xanatos guessed it was a quote.

Regardless, the look in Obi-Wan’s eyes made him stop asking about the Jedi. He learned as much from what Obi-Wan didn’t say as from what he did and was able to catch by implication that many of the Jedi of Obi-Wan’s universe had been killed. Xanatos eventually guided the topic away from the more sensitive, recent events, and asked about Obi-Wan’s past.

He learned more of his counterpart’s fall, and Qui-Gon. He was surprised by the tale of how Obi-Wan became his apprentice – and wondered if such a thing would have occurred here. Yoda had never pressed all that hard for Qui-Gon to take another Padawan after Kenobi’s fall, but in Obi-Wan’s universe, he had pushed hard.

Through stories of Obi-Wan’s missions, he also learned that the Jedi of Obi-Wan’s universe were by their nature tougher, and had to be. Going on mission after mission wasn’t unusual, nor was it strange to not return to the Jedi Temple between missions. Xanatos had gone on many missions, but by his own choice, not out of necessity. The Jedi were not spread so thin here.

Obi-Wan, in turn, learned more of Xanatos’ universe. The story of how the Sith fell here had him enthralled, much to Xanatos’ pleasure. Through questions and personal stories of mistakes made and learned from they discovered the differences in the two Jedi Orders. Xanatos’ was more relaxed, more open, while Obi-Wan’s was tenser, more driven, and less open. They realized quickly that each had their own faults, however – Xanatos’ Order was little equipped for major disasters, and their Knights not so harshly and thoroughly trained. Obi-Wan’s Order, conversely, had more problems that needed healers of the mind as well as body, even though their Knights had training that was more comprehensive.

It was fascinating, and by the time night fell, both had much to ponder on.

Privately, though, Xanatos was pleased that Obi-Wan had handled stories from his past so well. The parts that caused him more distress Xanatos had to steer away from, but for the most part, Obi-Wan was open about events, and of course, curious about Xanatos’ own universe. He could practically see the wheels turning in Obi-Wan’s head as the younger man pondered on what he had learned. But overall, Obi-Wan seemed more stable, and as Xanatos had appointed himself guardian of Obi-Wan’s sanity, he was relieved and glad.

As the furor of day winded down, Xanatos contacted both Anakin and Qui-Gon, to see how they were and if there any more surprises he should know about. There were none, to his relief. He had this absurd feeling he should check in with them every hour to avoid any bombshell. From the flash of merriment on Obi-Wan’s face when he checked with them, Obi-Wan had probably guessed that fact.

Soon enough, though, it was time to go to sleep. It was hours past nightfall, and both men were getting tired. Xanatos gave Obi-Wan his bed, and took the couch. After Obi-Wan had left the room, he checked in with Qui-Gon and Anakin, who were also settling down for the night – Anakin alone, thankfully. He told them goodnight, then shut off the lights, taking note that the bedroom was already dark.

He found himself a pillow and a blanket, and curled up on the couch.

It had been a long day.

 

The night was dark and the air heavy with water vapor. Along with the heat, it felt suffocating, and the inky blackness of the woods only helped to bring the sense that they had stepped into the darkness itself.

 

Obi-Wan had long since abandoned his cloak, as had his companion, Garen. He and Garen had been friends for years, since before they were Padawans. He remembered his friend as a Jedi who had wanted to be a pilot and see the galaxy, a man full of a sense of adventure. The younger Anakin had often reminded Obi-Wan of him. It would have been wonderful to see his old friend, had it been under better circumstances.

 

Life and perceptions were becoming more and more hostile to the Jedi – and the Jedi had little energy or capability to deal with such, anymore. The war with the Separatists had waged for two years, with the Jedi at many of the front lines – or in some cases, all there was of the front lines. All of the Jedi could sense darkness coming ever closer, though no one knew of what kind, or how it would manifest.

 

Garen had been one of the Jedi ordered to create a route. The route – made by many Jedi, in bits and pieces – would make it possible for Jedi to move across the galaxy unnoticed, and was of vital importance. Obi-Wan, alone – his apprentice on some other mission for the Jedi – and without any other current duties, had been ordered to go to Garen to help.

 

When he had greeted his friend, he felt like he was looking into a mirror. The man’s eyes were flat and largely emotionless, an expression Obi-Wan had often seen in his own eyes – or that of other Jedi worn to the bone from long years of war. He was thinner than Obi-Wan remembered, his features even sharper than before. Blue eyes had seemed almost insanely glittery against the darkness of his face.

 

“Come,” Garen had said, voice low and hoarse. “Someone threatens to reveal this portion – one of the major portions – to the Separatists. We have to find out who it is, and stop them."

Obi-Wan had nodded. Garen didn’t offer to say how the information had slipped, and Obi-Wan didn’t ask. If Garen didn’t reveal it, then he knew that aspect had already been dealt with. Neither commented on how they would stop the leak. They didn’t know, and they didn’t really want to; reality was an easy thing to deny when it was just a single moment of clarity and knowledge, instead of so many little ones spread over time.

 

They found him within a few days. They slept on the streets or dirty motels, whichever suited their purposes best at the time. They mostly traveled, resting little, following the small leads they discovered, moving like ghosts from one spot to the next. The heavy forest surrounding the little inlets of civilization hung near, and made it easy to flit from one spot to another unseen.

He was a greasy man, was Obi-Wan’s first thought. Hair hung
lankly over dark, bulbous brown eyes, and ill fitting clothes were patched together on his body like a deformed quilt. His eyes moved constantly, never quite in sync with each other.

 

When questioned, he answered easily enough, until he realized who they were – or rather, what they represented.

 

He ran.

 

The busy streets, filled with numb addicts and hard people, were difficult to navigate, and he slipped into the forest before the Jedi could catch up. It really wasn’t a tricky thing to accomplish; the forest was thick and grew easily, often encroaching on towns and even cities. It was never more than a few hundred yards away.

The Jedi followed him, keeping in tune with each other with the ease of long practice and knowledge. The Force guided their steps, and hardly a branch showed their passing. Cloaks were discarded and mud smeared to make them dark and invisible. Here, in a place of frantic life, they were in their element. Trained as they were to survive in all environments, the Living Force would help them strongly there, more so than other places filled with empty cold spaces of technology and the white noise of crowded living.

 

They cornered him against a large outcropping of rock, seemingly just jutting out of the ground. He pressed himself against it, squirming, whimpering. Breathy apologies left his cracked lips.

 

“I’m sorry sorry so sorry, don’t hurt me, I’m sorry, I wouldna done it, sorry, sorry . . .”

The two Jedi stared at him silently, unmoving statues. The man wasn’t stupid enough to try and get past them, despite their seeming immovability. Obi-Wan looked at him and wondered, Is this sentience? This wild scrambling for life, for mercy? He could feel a similar war going on in his friend’s soul. What would they do with him?

 

Obi-Wan felt an absurd need to ask the man, but what would be the point of such an exercise? He would have sold the information, and they all knew it. And he might even try to sell it again, even after getting his wits scared out of him by two war-cracked Jedi. The route couldn’t move; this was the best path.

 

Obi-Wan looked at Garen. “And now?” he asked softly.

 

Eyes as dark as Obi-Wan’s own flicked from the whimpering man to Obi-Wan. He carelessly raised an eyebrow.

We need the route, he thought. The Jedi must survive. We can do so much good, we have done good for the past thousand years . . . we have felt the darkness coming, we know it is necessary. The Jedi are needed.

They are family.

Comprehension and acknowledgement passed between the two Jedi effortlessly. Obi-Wan switched on his lightsaber. After a moment, Garen followed. “May the burden be on both of us, with neither and both striking the killing blow,” Garen murmured softly. Obi-Wan nodded silently.

 

The man’s breathy pleas became wild screams for mercy, mercy. They did not echo in the still forest; deep growth suffocated all cries. Not only those of the whimpering man, but those that escaped tight throats.

 

The inevitability of what was to happen stopped neither party; the man continued in his cries for mercy, and the Jedi paid little heed. They had made their decision of who was more worthy of life. The whimpering man had lost out. They moved forward as one, and attacked him as one.

 

The screams did not fade into silence. The quiet was abrupt, no echoes lasting after the dying breath.

 

Garen found an old-fashioned, simple shovel from a shed down the hill. With it being down the hill, whoever used it would likely not go deeper into the forest or the shack would have been higher, and regardless, there would be little to find. Obi-Wan took the shovel without comment, and began to dig.

They took turns in the darkness, using the Force to feel their way, to know when it would be deep enough. Eventually they took the body and shoved it into the sloppy grave. The ground was more mud than dirt, as if the air had weighted it down with its own moisture. The ground had briefly refused to give up its charge, slumped against the rock wall, and they had to pull it hard.

 

The filling in of the grave commenced just as slowly, just as surely.

When they were done, panting in the smothering heat, they stood for a moment. Obi-Wan silently said a prayer for the man’s soul, and his own. Garen had a similar moment of quietness.

 

Then they moved to leave the forest.

 

They left all but a shadow in their hearts behind.

 

Obi-Wan never woke gasping or screaming. To a certain extent, he could control his reactions during sleep, and he always did so; it could mean death to cry in your sleep in the middle of a battlefield, and as such, it was something he had been trained to do while still fairly young – Qui-Gon’s Padawan. And he had lived little else but battle, the past few years.

So when he woke from a dream that was more a memory, he did so soundlessly. His breathing was rapid and shallow, and he had to force himself to take deep, even breaths. He lay in bed for a few minutes, recalling the dream. Except that it hadn’t really been a dream; it was something that had really happened. He had gone on that mission with Garen. Neither ever spoke of it again, telling the Council only that the problem had been solved, and the Council asked no further questions. Garen was killed some time later. 

Obi-Wan was the only one alive who knew what had happened in that forest.

The even more depressing fact of the matter was that it wasn’t a single event; it was joined by others hidden deep in Obi-Wan’s memory, normally out of sight and out of mind. He had done things he wasn’t proud of in that war. In a horrifying way, sometimes the things Palpatine did and said made sense to him. It was easy to understand why so many had gone over to his side, including his own apprentice.

Palpatine had offered a new way – a new order. He said the politicians didn’t care about the people, didn’t understand, and would only – in simple terms – screw things up more. He said a new way of life was needed. The people, desperate from years of war and heavy taxing, grabbed that new hope immediately. They didn’t see the things others did. They didn’t see that Palpatine’s new way would be worse than the old, and they didn’t understand that democracy was always fraught with the struggle to do the right thing. They didn’t see – they just wanted it solved.

Anakin hadn’t seen, either. 

Little light filtered in from the window in the bedroom, and what did was cast in blue from the shades that kept the bright light out. Ribbons of light and darkness lay across everything. Obi-Wan sat up, and ran his hands through his hair and beard.

He felt disturbed, unsettled. Not really upset, but . . . lonely. The darkness somehow seemed to add to that weight, as did the excellent soundproofing of the Temple from the rest of Coruscant.

And he couldn’t rid his thoughts of the dream. Nor associated memories that insisted on rising to the forefront of his mind. They simply stayed there.

With a feeling of stunned comprehension, he realized he didn’t really want to repress them anymore.

That realization made, he threw off the blankets and rose to his feet. Xanatos had let him borrow some of his nightclothes, and the light fabric left him feeling slightly chilly in the night air, present even here. He took his robe from Xanatos’ closet – he really had virtually moved in with the man – and wrapped it around himself. It still bore the marks from Obi-Wan’s time in his own universe – worn thin with stains and black scores from blasters.

He put his hand against the control panel for the door, and it slid open quietly. He walked to the couch, stepping around it. Xanatos lay on it, probably in not the most comfortable of positions, curled in a blanket, his black hair spread across a small pillow. His eyes were closed.

Obi-Wan knelt by him, carefully not touching him, as he didn’t want to wake him too abruptly. “Xanatos, can we talk?” he whispered.

Xanatos twitched, then his eyes opened fully. He almost immediately squinted. “Eh? Obi-Wan?”

“Can we talk?” Obi-Wan softly repeated, keeping his words barely above a whisper.

Xanatos nodded sleepily. “Yeah, sure.” He sat up blearily, rubbing his eyes. He threw his pillow on the floor and patted the area beside him. “Sit and tell mama what’s wrong,” he said with a grin.

Obi-Wan laughed. It seemed loud in the quiet night, and he toned it down almost immediately. Something about night just seemed to call for stillness and whispers.

Xanatos smiled, seemingly satisfied with his reaction. He gazed at Obi-Wan intently with his dark eyes, yet he didn’t seem to be pressuring for answers at the same time. He simply waited patiently.

Obi-Wan paused, gathering his thoughts and composure. “First of all, I really don’t want to burden you, but I feel like you’re the person to talk to,” he began.

“It’s no burden, whatever it is,” Xanatos replied, shaking his head. “Don’t worry about it,” he said quietly, briefly putting his hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder.

Obi-Wan nodded, fairly certain that was going to be his answer, and nevertheless having some uncertainty over it. “This is going to sound strange, but . . . I feel like you can understand me better, understand . . . I don’t know.” He bit his lip in an unusual outward show of his inner emotions.

Xanatos said nothing, waiting.

“I have to tell someone,” Obi-Wan said finally. He halted again. “You turned, in my universe.” He looked into Xanatos’ eyes. “You know – whether you did before or not –“

Xanatos nodded, understanding lighting in his eyes, and finished it. “I know the darkness I have within me, that I am capable of, yes. I think that may be part of every Knight’s true Trial, to understand that fact. The inner one we all go through.” He shook his head, and waved his hand. “Sorry, continue.”

Obi-Wan took a deep breath, closing his eyes. “The Clone Wars lasted two years. It was given the plural – wars – because of the way it was fought. Skirmishes, brief battles, and all of them for a different reason. A lot of them were results of earlier disagreements or wars. As such, a lot of them had bred in-depth hatred and were quite . . . brutal.”

He glanced over at Xanatos, to see his reaction – and saw only attentiveness.

“Those two years . . . Force, it seems like such a short period of time compared to the big scheme of things, but it was an eternity. I felt . . . tired, broken, so soon. Jedi aren’t meant for war, I think, because there are always innocents on both sides, but you have to fight anyway. Because you’re fighting for your side, and that’s the right one, isn’t it?”

Xanatos nodded, but Obi-Wan could tell he was listening to this intellectually. And he couldn’t, not if he was to really understand.

“As an example . . . I once saw a ten year old Rodian run up to a contingent of men under my command, and blow herself up, along with a good portion of my men,” Obi-Wan said matter-of-factly.

Xanatos winced, horror in his eyes.

“Everything happened so fast, in those days. If you couldn’t break down a rebellion or take a planet in a few months, it was abandoned. You had to move quickly. You had to do it with little or no resources, and few options to begin with. We were less than ethical, and so were they.

“It’s hard to describe how brutal, how vile the whole thing was. So many lives were lost. Billions, in that war. In two years.

But you see, that’s not all. We – the Jedi – were in the war, too. We wanted peace, but . . . that wasn’t possible. Not after the Separatists attacked, not after the slaughter at Geonosis.”

“Geonosis?” Xanatos interrupted.

“The beginning of it all. The plans all became apparent then. It was an ambush – about two hundred Jedi were killed in that battle alone,” Obi-Wan explained, able to do so with detachment after so long, and much meditation. "I went there in search of something else, and in the end it turned out to be not what I had expected –" He cut himself off, shaking his head. “That’s not important.”

Xanatos nodded, pursing his lips.

“As Jedi, we were to serve the Republic. When the war began, it was decided that we would help, because we were capable warriors. I think . . . I think that was a mistake,” he said hesitantly, staring away from Xanatos’ questioning eyes, into memories no longer so dim. “Regardless, many of us were inducted into the Republic’s military. I eventually became a General, and I served under the Alderaani Senator.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Xanatos blink, but he didn’t interrupt.

“War is . . . horrible,” he said at last. “And that war, I think, was not inevitable. Actually,” he added almost as an aside, “I think the Sith planned it.”

Xanatos opened his mouth, looking surprised, but closed it without saying anything.

“War is . . . fighting, killing. And we became soldiers in that war. The Jedi,” he said quietly. He finally looked over at Xanatos, who was clearly fully awake and concerned. “We did such horrible things in the name of necessity. A number of us even turned – dozens, I believe, though I think only the Council ever knew even close to the exact number. I heard of teams of Jedi sent to hunt those rogues down.”

“Obi-Wan,” Xanatos breathed.

“I came very close, I think, to giving into the darkness – not out of revenge or anger, like Anakin did, but despair. Despair has its own kind of darkness, you know,” Obi-Wan continued, unable, unwilling to stop despite the horror and pain in Xanatos’ eyes.

Xanatos put his arm around Obi-Wan, while staring into his eyes. “Enough, Obi-Wan. Don’t torture yourself.”

Obi-Wan shook his head, a few easy tears, leaving nearly no trace of their presence, falling down his cheeks. “I dreamed a memory, tonight. I was with a friend of mine, and I didn’t have a command at the time. We went . . . on this mission. To make a route that the Jedi could go through without anyone the wiser. The Council began to sense danger to all of us, the Jedi – the Sith, I imagine – and they ordered it made.

“I don’t even remember what the name of the planet was called. Or the name of the man we murdered,” Obi-Wan said contemplatively, the tears still slipping down. “We decided, together, that the lives of the Jedi were worth more than his. And while he screamed for mercy, we cut him down with our lightsabers. Garen – my friend – said we should share the ultimate responsibility, and so we struck him down together. And then we buried his body where no one would find it.” He paused.

“I remember . . . I remember afterwards, we couldn’t find a place to stay while we waited for the return of the Republic vessel, so we slept in the streets, in a back alley. We were filthy and tired, half-cracked mentally . . . and I remember thinking, is this what we are now? Because we certainly don’t seem to be Jedi anymore.” He laughed thinly.

“Obi-Wan,” Xanatos began, pulling Obi-Wan into his arms.

Obi-Wan continued in the barest whisper. “I thought to myself, then, that we had lost the right path, lost in the confusion of war and death. And we were deluding ourselves that we were better than them, better even than the Sith.” He turned his face away from the blank nothing he had been staring at, and met Xanatos’ eyes.

They were shiny with unshed tears.

“We were worse. They did evil in the name of evil; we did evil in the name of good.”

“Obi-Wan, that’s not true,” burst from Xanatos.

“And you know what I think now?” Obi-Wan asked relentlessly. “I see this place, so peaceful, and I know that someday there’s going to be war here, too. War like I’ve seen. Whether it’s in two years or two thousand. And I wonder, will you even be prepared? I know we weren’t. We didn’t know what we were getting into – we didn’t know that we wouldn’t be able to handle it.” He pushed away from Xanatos slightly, though the other Jedi never loosened his grip.

“Obi-Wan, you – the Jedi – were in a difficult situation, untenable even –“ Xanatos started, only to be interrupted.

“We didn’t know,” Obi-Wan insisted. “And we learned too late. Don’t you see? Our detachment – our aversion to attachment – cost us our ability to care in the middle of a war. You have to care in war, things have to be more important to you than being a Jedi, than doing your duty . . . because otherwise you lose sight of the things you’re supposed to be fighting for. We lost sight, and we lost ourselves, Xanatos. We became worse than our enemies in our struggle to be above it all.”

“Obi-Wan –“

“And I see the same thing here.” He paused, but Xanatos chose to listen. “I see . . . a peaceful, beautiful universe. And I know it’s not bound to last. Because sooner or later, as generations pass, things change. The galaxy messes up again and again. Sometime in the future, there will be a war. And the Jedi will be there. But . . . what will they be doing?”

Xanatos looked at him, speechless.

“You’ll make the same mistake we did,” Obi-Wan said softly. “Attachment is a great asset as much as it is a great danger.” He smiled sadly. “Difficult to live with, and yet the other option isn’t any greater.”

Xanatos was clearly in turmoil. Shock and horror were the dominant expressions on his face, but realization was quickly coming to the fore. “And what if you’re right?” he whispered.

Obi-Wan shrugged. “Balance means many things, I think. And I think it changes, from universe to universe.”

Xanatos shook his head. “What?” he said in confusion at the apparent change in topic, and Obi-Wan belatedly remembered he knew nothing of the Chosen One prophecy. Well, he would likely learn of it soon anyway.

“That,” Obi-Wan stated calmly, “is where Anakin comes in.”

 

The light of early morning dawn had barely broken the horizon when Master Yoda’s ship pulled out of hyperspace and whirred into the traffic lanes of Coruscant. The flow was light, as most were still asleep and the rush to reach jobs and run errands had not yet begun, and Yoda had no problem easing the craft into one of the Temple’s landing bays.

Master Yoda hobbled down the ramp, wearing his Jedi clothes and carrying just his gimmer stick – the only items he had brought with him to Dagobah. The wild swamp-planet was a place for meditation, for recuperation, and the old master had never felt a need to bring any of the technological trappings that were provided at the Temple. All of them reminded him of Coruscant, anyway, and the very reason for his sabbatical had been to leave Coruscant and all her distractions behind.

No one was there to greet him at the landing bay doors, as there usually would have been, Mace Windu most often. Yoda wasn’t expected back for several more days, and had decided to return unannounced. No need to wake anyone at this hour, nor did he desire an escort. And his cherished escape from the minds of those around him would be able to exist for a bit longer.

Besides, he would be able to drop a surprise inspection on his padawan.

Yoda’s ears twitched slightly in anticipation. Anakin Skywalker was nearly ready to become a Knight; Yoda had no doubt that he would pass his upcoming Trials. Yet the young man still had the tendency to find himself in the midst of a prank – or rather, involve those around him in one of his escapades. Yoda tapped his gimmer stick lightly, fondly remembering the time Anakin had replaced it with bitterroot. Yoda had noticed the switch nearly at once, of course, although he had waited several days before punishing Anakin. There had been no reason, really, but Yoda had secretly enjoyed seeing Anakin’s quickly-suppressed look of glee each time he thought the old master was still duped. Many times Yoda had contemplated returning the prank, perhaps dying Anakin’s braid a shocking color, like bright pink, or even green – Yoda had always liked the idea of master and padawan matching in skills as well as looks. But Yoda had opted to stay above the fray, maintaining his image as the serene, proper Jedi and perhaps boring master that Anakin believed him to be. His attitude perhaps served as a damper to Anakin’s naturally buoyant spirit, which Anakin fought subconsciously as well as knowingly as he devised his pranks over the years.

But there wasn’t any malice on Anakin’s part, there never was – just curiosity. The boy had always known the limits, was constantly testing them – but he did respect them. Not like – Kenobi. Yoda was uncertain why the memory of the fallen Knight suddenly sprang unbidden to his mind. Certainly he had never equated his own apprentice with Kenobi. Both were incredibly powerful, yes, and both were recognized as having tremendous potential at a young age, but that was all; Kenobi had gone down a path Anakin – and most others – had steered clear from. Rare it was in these times for a Jedi to turn, and less so for one so gifted and well-trained as Kenobi had been.

Kenobi had hidden his descent into darkness skillfully. Many had warned Qui-Gon about taking Obi-Wan as apprentice, and although Yoda had sensed that there was something truly amiss with Qui-Gon’s former apprentice, even he had been unable to grasp the extent of Kenobi’s fall, and by then it was too late. Kenobi was a promising Knight, one of the best, and he had used all his learning to accomplish the evil he had succumbed to. His first murders of Jedi Knights had been disguised as speeder crashes and freak accidents – a fall from a high catwalk, an accidental mixing of poisonous gases in a chemistry class. Only after Knight Tahl was found with a lightsaber wound through her heart did the Jedi believe there might be a culprit among them. Kenobi had eagerly joined the search for the villain as the Temple was locked down, and the Jedi grew increasingly desperate as they were picked off one by one.

Xanatos had been the first one to realize the truth, and had done what needed to be done. Yoda deeply regretted the dark-haired Knight having to kill his padawan brother, and could only guess at Qui-Gon’s pain. The loss of a padawan – to both death and the Dark Side – was one of the hardest trials any Jedi could bear. Especially when none of them – save for Xanatos, perhaps – had seen it coming, had not seen Kenobi’s slow corruption.

That was why Yoda had been so careful with Anakin, hiding the truth of the boy’s origins, never mentioning the padawan’s name in connection with the prophecy of the Chosen One. In the end, Kenobi had been driven by hate, ambition, and a desire for power – Force knew what knowing the Chosen One prophecy could do to Anakin’s mind set. Perhaps it was those worries that brought memories of fallen Kenobi from the depths of Yoda’s mind.

The diminutive master shuffled onward, heading toward the living quarters of the Temple. He began to head toward the padawan wing where he would find his apprentice, and then would head up to his own rooms on one of the higher floors. But the Force suddenly swirled around him, giving him pause. No, not yet. Not Anakin’s quarters. The Force wanted him elsewhere.

Easily setting aside his eagerness to check in on his padawan, Yoda let the Force guide him. Away from the center of the Temple, beyond the training rooms and cafeteria. Onward it pulled him, gently insistent, and he obeyed, curious yet wary.

 

"So, Anakin," Xanatos gently prodded, curiously studying Obi-Wan.

"Yes, Anakin," Obi-Wan sighed. He stared down at the mug of hot tea in his hands, seemingly drawing strength from its warmth to continue on with his story.

They were in one of the many gardens which encircled the Jedi Temple. After Obi-Wan’s recollection of his terrible memories of the wars, Xanatos had suggested moving to a more soothing area for the Jedi to continue his tale. Obi-Wan’s sudden change in tone concerning Anakin – and the uncertainty that had briefly flashed across his features – had led Xanatos to offer the weary man to take their discussion outside the apartment. Obi-Wan had been cooped up for several days, and Xanatos hoped that the change of scenery would relax him enough so he would continue to speak freely. Xanatos was confused and concerned at the revelations that Obi-Wan had already told him, and the dark-haired Knight was also looking for a change of scenery to calm his nerves. Besides, it was nearing dawn, and he had gotten little sleep – Xanatos needed a cup of tea and a walk to refresh him.

Now the two Jedi sat nestled in a secret corner of one of the gardens. The little space, dwarfed by an overhanging willow, was well out of the way of the general path. Xanatos had discovered the little paradise as an initiate, and he had often come there to meditate. When he became Qui-Gon’s padawan, he had shared the spot with his master, and the two had used it as their own special place. They hadn’t meditated together in years, of course, but Xanatos was certain that Qui-Gon had not forgotten it. In fact, he had sent his master a message inviting him to join them when he woke. Qui-Gon was an early riser – Xanatos grimaced at the memory of too many sunrises while on missions with him – and was expecting Qui-Gon to drop by later.

Xanatos was certain that no one else would interrupt them, for it was too early for most Jedi to be up – the horizon had only just begun to lighten – and he was certain he would be able to sneak Obi-Wan back to the apartment unnoticed. He knew a hidden passageway near to this spot in the garden which lead to one of the Temple’s many forgotten back hallways, and upon following it they would be brought very close to Xanatos’ quarters.

Obi-Wan shifted his weight on the grass on which they had sprawled. "Before you know about the Chosen One, and the prophecy, I should tell you about Vader. About how he came to be."

"Vader was the Emperor’s right hand man, the one who helped to hunt down the Jedi?"

"Yes."

"He was your apprentice. Your Anakin." At Obi-Wan’s curious look, Xanatos shrugged. "I figured as much. The way you spoke about them both ... your love. Your guilt. Your fear."

With an acknowledging nod, Obi-Wan leaned back, setting his tea down to lightly grasp a white flower that had sprung forth on the lawn. "Vader is Anakin; Anakin became Vader."

Xanatos furrowed his brow. "If Anakin is Vader, and Vader was trying to capture you right before you came to this universe, why did you tell me that he was dead?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi that I knew, is dead to me. When he became that ... that thing, he no longer existed." He gently twirled the flower in his fingers.

"So it was a spiritual death, then."

"It was, yes, but it was more than that. I saw him die. Physically. Much as I saw you – your counterpart die."

Xanatos sensed Obi-Wan’s reluctance to elaborate, but he pressed him, feeling that he had to know the details. "How did it happen?"

Obi-Wan sighed. "Lava. When I – when I realized that Anakin was in league with the Emperor, I confronted him. We had been called to root out separatists on a planet whose name I no longer remember; all I need to recall is the harsh environment, the rivers of lava than ran like blood across its cruel surface.

"I gave Anakin a choice. Either renounce his ties to the Emperor, and come back with me, or face the consequences." Obi-Wan gave a short, cynical laugh. "I actually thought he would listen to me, that I could bring him back. I had no idea how far down the dark path he had gone. When he drew his lightsaber against me, it was then that I sensed the depth of darkness in him, and realized that he had completely turned. And it broke my heart. I felt I had failed him. But I also knew I had a duty to do, a war to fight. The Dark Side had made him strong, but I had taught him all he knew, and I – I had him at my mercy. I pleaded with him. But he wouldn’t listen."

Obi-Wan’s voice became laced with anguish and regret. "We had fought right to the edge of one of the crevasses filled with molten rock. He had nowhere to go. Yet he refused to surrender. He tried to charge me – and I impaled his shoulder on my blade. I didn’t want to, you know – I couldn’t bear the thought of hurting my own apprentice, even as he tried to kill me. And it wasn’t a fatal wound, I was certain of it. But the look he gave me then ... so full of pain ... like I was betraying him. He stumbled backwards, forgetting where he was. I tried to grab him, but I couldn’t reach him in time. When I looked over the edge, his body had already disappeared into the lava." A single tear ran down Obi-Wan’s cheek as he crushed the flower in his hand. When he opened his trembling fingers, the broken petals fell limply to rest upon the grass.

"I don’t know how he survived," Obi-Wan continued in a whisper. "It was several weeks later when rumors of Vader began to emerge, the mechanical monstrosity that served the Emperor. When he helped to destroy the Temple, and hunted down the Jedi, I began to suspect who he really was. And I ran from him. I could sense him searching for me, wanting his revenge. I was terrified of him, of what I had done to him." Obi-Wan finally raised his eyes. Xanatos saw a wealth of pain within them. "It was horrible, having to fight to the death someone I had once loved and trusted. To see him twisted into a creature of darkness, a mere shadow of what he had once been – of what he could have been. I’ll never forget his expression as he fell backward. I’ll never forget the emotions I was feeling at that moment. I don’t know if anyone can understand that."

Yet Xanatos did know; Obi-Wan’s story brought back too many of the emotions of when his own Kenobi had turned, when he had wreaked havoc on this universe’s Jedi Order. A slight breeze swirled through the garden, ruffling Xanatos’ hair, and he was swept back into a memory.

Knight Tahl was dead. She had been Qui-Gon’s closest friend, his confidant, and now all the man could do was cradle her lifeless body back and forth, his large, gentle hand resting on her chest, carefully avoiding the scorched wound where her heart had been. Her comlink lay on the floor of the Jedi archives where it had fallen, having transmitted her final words – a confused cry of pain – before it was crushed beneath someone’s foot, the transmission fading away even as Tahl had slipped into the Force.

Xanatos stood silently, watching the scene in shock, unsure how best to comfort his old master. Kenobi stepped forward first and knelt down, whispering in Qui-Gon’s ear. The Jedi Master nodded through his tears and reached out a hand to squeeze Kenobi’s shoulder in gratitude.

Xanatos watched the exchange in silence, a host of emotions swirling within him. Jealousy at Jinn’s unquestioned faith in Kenobi that he himself had not been given; bitterness at Jinn’s continued refusal to consider Xanatos’ feelings of unease toward him. Grief at the death of a woman he’d been close to his whole life; and fear now that it appeared that the deaths at the Temple were deliberate. Uncertainty as to who might be targeted next, and despair at his inability to comfort Qui-Gon, the man who had been as a father to him.

In recent days a rift had grown between them; Tahl had come to Xanatos and begged him to once more plea to Qui-Gon to listen to him, to listen to their concerns about Kenobi. Tahl had sensed something wrong with Qui-Gon’s second apprentice, as had many over the years, and Xanatos had sensed a shift in the Force around his padawan brother, but there was nothing he could concretely pin down. And so Qui-Gon had rebuffed his warnings once again, refusing to see what others saw, hurt flashing in his blue eyes as he believed all those near him to be against him.

And now as Kenobi stood and looked right at Xanatos, a chilling look in his eyes – triumph? arrogance? challenge? – Xanatos wondered if the younger knight truly did know more about the recent events than he had led them all to believe. Kenobi had arrived first at the archives after both of Qui-Gon’s former padawans had received a distressed comm call from the master regarding Tahl. She had announced she was meeting an informant who claimed to have information on Knight Chun’s recent speeder accident, the latest in a string of explosions.

But Kenobi denied knowing anything about the intruder who had killed Tahl. At least, they all still believed it to be an intruder. As the Council gathered at the scene of Tahl’s murder, they realized that Tahl’s lightsaber was missing, and it was quite likely that the killer was now armed with the weapon of a Jedi. The Council preferred to believe that the villain was an outsider who had taken Tahl’s blade as a trophy, rather than a Jedi hoping to deflect attention from his own murderous blade.

As he listened to the Council members discuss the possibilities, Xanatos realized that they had conveniently overlooked the information that someone inside the Temple had lured Tahl to the archives; her mysterious summons had come from TooJay, the blind Knight’s navigation droid which never ventured outside the Temple. To believe that the murderer was one of their own was too terrible for many to contemplate, yet Xanatos could not help but notice the smug look in Kenobi’s eye. As Qui-Gon carried off Tahl’s body to the morgue, the Jedi were separated into teams to lock down the Temple and Xanatos reluctantly set off with Kenobi to secure one section of the building.

Yet despite their added precautions, several more Jedi turned up dead. At first, victims were Knights, but then several padawans and an initiate were found killed as Tahl had been. As many of their lightsabers were missing, too, the practice seemed more and more a trophy-seeking – or a taunt to the investigators.

Whether Jedi or not, the murderer disgusted Xanatos, and made him more than a little nervous. The padawans and initiates were terrified of traveling alone, and it was not uncommon for Masters to look over their shoulders. The Council was at a loss to catch the killer. Despite every advance in their investigation, the killer seemed to be one step ahead of them.

After Councilor Depa Billiba was found beheaded in her quarters – her weapon gone, as well – Xanatos decided to take drastic action. Using his engineering skills, he rewired the access panel to Kenobi’s quarters, allowing him to slip inside. After thoroughly searching his padawan brother’s apartment, Xanatos finally found what he was looking for: stuffed inside Kenobi’s mattress were a dozen lightsabers. Xanatos felt sick inside as he recognized Tahl’s weapon from among the cache. Even now, with the horrifying evidence in his hand, he found it hard to believe that Obi-Wan Kenobi had murdered so many; indeed, that he had murdered anyone. Such an event was unusual, especially within the Inner Rim, and among the Jedi it was nearly unheard of.

Replacing the lightsabers so they could be used as evidence later, Xanatos quickly rose and swept out of Kenobi’s quarters, heading for the Council chambers. But he froze as someone caught his eye at the end of the corridor: Kenobi. The younger Knight stood watching him, his tourmaline eyes cold as ice chips. And he
knew. He knew Xanatos had found the truth. With his lips curling into a hateful snarl, Kenobi turned and fled.

Xanatos dashed after him.

Coward, he thought as his feet pounded in pursuit of Kenboi. The notion that Kenobi might be drawing him into a trap did not cross his mind.

The corridors were nearly deserted, the majority of the Temple’s residents hiding in fear. Xanatos silently cursed the emptiness, hoping for someone, anyone to call for help. As he thundered after a rapidly disappearing Kenobi, he grabbed at his comlink and slapped at the buttons, barely noticing that he was contacting Qui-Gon. "This is Xanatos. Kenobi’s the intruder – the killer," he gasped. "Lightsabers in his room. He’s running. Heading for the roof."

Xanatos watched as Kenobi disappeared through the door at the top of stairs, entering the security codes that the two of them had installed on this section of the Temple only days earlier. Igniting his saber, Xanatos sprinted up the final few steps and burst through the door, ducking into a roll a split-second before Kenobi’s blue blade would have beheaded him. Sparks flew through the air as the blade impacted the metal door instead.

Rising smoothly to his feet, he brought his own blue blade up to deflect Kenobi’s second blow. The younger Knight became a flurry of motion as he attacked, and it took all of Xanatos’ skill to keep his hand on the hilt of his weapon. As Kenobi somersaulted over his head, Xanatos quickly spun and intersected Kenobi’s strike. For a moment their blades were tangled, and the two glared at each other across the crackling hum of their weapons.

"Why?" Xanatos whispered.

Kenobi smirked. "Because I could. To prove how weak the Jedi are – fools. And the greatest fool of all: dear Master Qui-Gon, who told me all I needed to know about the Council’s classified security decisions."

Xanatos grimaced. Qui-Gon had been stubborn in his request to lead the murder investigation, and the Council had acquiesced, letting the man know classified information, which he had apparently shared with Kenobi in his misplaced trust. That was how Kenobi had managed to stay ahead of them for so long. And it made his betrayal that much more painful.

"I’ll destroy you," Xanatos hissed, sickened at the fallen husk of the man before him.

A sly smile slowly spread across Kenobi’s face. "We’ll see. Won’t we." With a sudden movement he shoved Xanatos away and the fight began again.

Xanatos slipped into the Force, drawing comfort from it even as his concern over the duel grew. He and Kenobi had different strengths, but they knew each other’s styles and strategy intimately, having sparred together over the years at Qui-Gon’s bidding. And although Xanatos had years of experience to his credit, Kenobi was currently stronger, Xanatos knew – younger and more powerful. And Kenobi had an advantage Xanatos knew he would never have himself: the Dark Side. It swirled and writhed around Kenobi, twisting his aura in a hideous version of its former self. Now fully uncloaked, Kenobi’s Force-presence threatened to smother Xanatos.

The battle drew the combatants across the rooftop of the Jedi Temple, their paths crossing the shadows of the graceful spires which towered above. Coruscant speeder traffic continued oblivious to the battle raging below. Wind raced across the roof, impeding Xanatos as his blowing hair intermittently blocked his vision. The two Knights met each other strike for strike, blocking, parrying, deflecting. Xanatos drew on every lesson he had ever been taught, approaching the last reserves of his strength, and yet Kenobi refused to tire or lose ground, continuing to gain strength as he drew on the Dark Side. Despair began to grip his heart as Xanatos realized Kenobi might kill him here, and if no one had received his call for help, Kenobi would continue to terrorize the Jedi. An image of a group of frightened initiates flashed in his mind, a class that Xanatos had escorted through the Temple the day before. His resolved deepened, his grip on his lightsaber firmed.

No, he would prevail.

He had to.

Calling on the light side of the Force for strength, Xanatos continued to look for an opening, recalling everything he could about Kenobi’s fighting style. Yet a sudden downward strike scored a glancing blow on Xanatos’ shoulder, and he cried out as he twisted away. A brief look of triumph flashed in Kenobi’s dark eyes, and in his moment of arrogance he made his mistake – a drop of the shoulder, a slackening in his position.

Xanatos quickly seized the opportunity he knew would not come again. With all his remaining strength, Xanatos swung his saber, the weapon easily knocking away Kenobi’s, and the blade pierced the dark Jedi’s vulnerable mid-section, a killing blow. Kenobi’s saber clattered to the ground, followed by the dull thump of his body. His features, no longer twisted in hate, relaxed into the innocence that all had seen since he was a child.

Xanatos clamped a hand over his mouth, nauseous at the sight, horrified at what he’d had to do. A sudden pained cry behind him had him whirling. Qui-Gon Jinn stood there, disbelief etched across his features. The master strode forward on shaky knees, falling to kneel beside Kenobi. A trembling hand caressed the young Knight’s face.

Xanatos, once more uncertain how best to comfort this man, reached out to touch his shoulder, when suddenly the master struck out, knocking Xanatos to the ground. Hurt and shame washed over Xanatos as he glanced up at Qui-Gon, a hand pressed to his rapidly-swelling jaw, and wincing at the anguished rage he saw in the man’s face . . .


The memory grew too painful for Xanatos and he forced his mind back to the present. He once more focused on Obi-Wan, and his gaze was met with the blue-green eyes he had known so long ago, ones that had been briefly filled with such hate, and had caused such pain. Sudden doubt flooded him, a reflex action of self-preservation. But then he recalled the pain, fear, and despair that Obi-Wan had experienced, and he pushed the thought away; this was not the same man he had killed. And he had more in common with Obi-Wan than he had with Kenobi, despite sharing a universe with that fallen Jedi.

"I know what you mean," he said softly.

Obi-Wan looked at him, searching his face, seeming to understand that Xanatos had been lost in a memory brought on by the story of Anakin’s fall. And the realization dawned on his features that Xanatos really did know, that someone understood his own pain, shared his anguish. And it was a relief. He smiled.

Xanatos returned the smile. "I guess the Force had much in mind when it arranged for the two of us to meet," he said softly. He paused as he heard the whispering rustle of willow branches being gently swept aside signaling Qui-Gon’s arrival behind him. "I think we both needed to come to terms with our pasts."

Obi-Wan stretched, a silly expression on his face, as if wanting to shake off the seriousness of the conversation as the dawn rapidly approached. "I believe so. But I also like to think that the Force is not beyond a sense of humor."

A mischievous gleam appeared in Xanatos’ eye. "Pray tell, what devilish thoughts are you conjuring up?"

"Well, my being from another universe could have its advantages."

"Hmm," Xanatos murmured thoughtfully. "With your dystopia-enhanced skills and my good looks, we’d have no problem knocking off the old troll and taking control of this galaxy."

Xanatos was relieved to hear heartfelt laughter from Obi-Wan, but then he stiffened when Obi-Wan’s expression froze in horror, the younger man looking at something behind Xanatos. Whirling around, Xanatos’ eyes widened when his gaze settled on not the towering figure of Qui-Gon but the diminutive form of Master Yoda. Swallowing thickly, Xanatos briefly wondered how much Yoda had overheard and how quickly they would be able to explain the past days’ events before Yoda decided on drastic action.

The wizened master looked at them with narrowed eyes, his ears drooping in what Xanatos hoped was simply bewilderment. "Much to explain, you have."

 

“Master Yoda!” Xanatos yelped, twisting around while still remaining sitting to look more fully at the Jedi Master, appearing to be utterly startled.

Yoda honestly wondered if he had ever been more surprised. Yoda was old – not simply in age, but also in the depth and breath of his experience. As the centuries passed, he grew more adept at looking ahead in the Force, at trusting it to guide him and warn him. It often had to such a degree that even when something took the Jedi Master unawares, it didn’t do it for long, and not completely.

Yoda honestly wondered if he had ever expected to see something less. Xanatos and Kenobi, sitting in a garden, apparently joking about taking over the galaxy. And yet, there were things that did not fit the surreal scene, and that was Yoda’s second realization – after the fact that Kenobi was alive. First, there was Xanatos – the young man did not feel dark, or threatened by Kenobi’s presence. He felt no animosity. Xanatos was calm, slightly sad perhaps, but that was all. The scene indicated Xanatos was there of his own free will, as had the tone of his voice when speaking to Kenobi.

And Kenobi . . . Kenobi was strangest of all. The Force had guided Yoda here, to this exact spot, and the Force swirled around Kenobi like Yoda had not seen in any other person, save for Anakin Skywalker. Most importantly, Kenobi was not on the Dark Side – he knew that as well as he knew anything. He felt emotional exhaustion, physical exhaustion, and wild stirrings of hope and fear from the former Jedi, but no darkness. His sense in the Force was purely of the light.

So Yoda had taken no immediate action. The Force had guided him here, very clearly; it had not warned of trouble. He would trust it.

“I trust that have explanation you do?” Yoda added, putting down his stick and eyeing the two young men with all his the eight centuries long experience of looking down at misbehaving Padawans. He wasn’t entirely sure if these young ones were misbehaving, but he certainly suspected they were.

 

Shooting Obi-Wan a quick glance of worry, Xanatos said contritely, “Yes, Master.” Obi-Wan’s expression was unreadable, and Xanatos’ worry shot up further. “This is Obi-Wan Kenobi. But not ours, exactly.” Xanatos paused. “This is a long story, Master.”

Yoda’s ears lifted. “Time I have,” he stated, and moved closer, his large, wise eyes looking over Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan returned the frank assessment calmly. He was too calm, and it was making Xanatos nervous.

“Well, it started on my last mission . . .” Xanatos began.

And so he embarked on his really complicated tale. He left nothing out; he explained how he found Obi-Wan, how Obi-Wan reacted, the state he found him in . . . the malnutrition, exhaustion – both physical and mental – and various accidents and interesting twists on the way. He told him of his plan to wait for Master Yoda’s return, the reasons for that, and how it turned out. He explained about Qui-Gon, who, in Xanatos’ mind, was the most telling evidence that this Obi-Wan was not the Kenobi they had known. Of anyone, Qui-Gon would know without a doubt.

He left out Padmé and Anakin. He wasn’t quite sure, but he felt it was right, and he thought he might have felt Obi-Wan’s approval of the omission through the mental connection they possessed – and had possessed since Obi-Wan’s shields had been broken down.

Not everything was explained in detail, of course – Xanatos spoke briefly of the differences between the two universes, but didn’t tell of the memory Obi-Wan had just shared, and he skipped things like Qui-Gon’s death in Obi-Wan’s universe. It wasn’t central to the tale, though it was certainly important to the people involved.

Yoda listened to all of it in respectful silence. He showed surprise, deep thought, and disapproval at different parts of the story, but nothing more than that. He also cast Obi-Wan the occasional glance, eyes full of mysterious thoughts.

At last, Xanatos finished. He waited for Yoda’s full reaction, whatever it may be.

“Feel great affection for this Obi-Wan, you do,” was Yoda’s first comment.

Xanatos blinked, and looked at Obi-Wan. “Well, yes. I consider him a friend, now.”

Yoda nodded. Tapping his stick, he slowly walked over to Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan gazed him with total calm. Xanatos had been monitoring him throughout the whole tale, and while Obi-Wan had reacted minutely to different aspects, he could sense he was not disturbed by Yoda knowing any of it. Xanatos felt that was somewhat curious, as he had revealed some personal things about the man and such a reaction would be only natural, but Obi-Wan seemed to hold complete trust in the old troll, despite the fact that he knew full well how different people could be. Xanatos, of course, knew Yoda was trustworthy, but how did Obi-Wan?

The silence held for a few more moments, and then Yoda broke it. “Wish to examine your mind, I do.”

“What?” Xanatos said immediately, half-rising, looking at the two of them. “No!”

“It’s all right, Xanatos,” Obi-Wan assured him, never taking his eyes away from Yoda. “I consent,” he said, nodding at the wizened Jedi Master.

“Well, I don’t,” Xanatos said crossly. He turned to Yoda. “Master, respectfully, I don’t feel it’s wise for Obi-Wan to have someone else poking around in his head. He’s had enough of that, and while there’s been no damage that I can detect, that’s been astronomical luck.”

Yoda tilted his head in acknowledgement of his point. Xanatos felt a surge of relief, which was quickly dashed. “Be careful, I will.” He paused, tapping Xanatos’ shin, chastising. “It is necessary.”

“Why?” Xanatos challenged. “Do you not trust my opinion? Qui-Gon’s, for Force sake?”

“Be sure, I must,” Yoda replied calmly. “Devious Kenobi was. Sense the truth in your words I do, but that is not enough. Nor for the Council to trust.”

Xanatos mentally admitted Yoda had a point there, but he wasn’t giving up so easily. “Master, I feel this is unwise. And you are not as . . . experienced in this situation as I am.”

Yoda gave a half-nod. “Know that, I do. But trust the Force you must, as I do.”

There was a short silence at Xanatos digested this, unwillingly. “I don’t like this,” Xanatos said at last, shaking his head and drawing a hand through his dark hair. He turned his worried eyes on Obi-Wan, who finally looked away from Yoda. The younger man’s blue eyes held confidence.

 

Obi-Wan could feel Xanatos’ worry, but for whatever reason, the older Jedi wasn’t sensing in the Force what Obi-Wan was. After Obi-Wan’s initial shock at Yoda showing up wore off, he could feel the Force tense, but he knew instinctively it only peripherally concerned him. And if that was the case, then it could be about only one person: Anakin.

He felt Yoda realize this, as well; after all, Anakin was his Padawan. The Jedi Master might have also discovered other things that Obi-Wan could not sense, in his mastery of the Force. Yoda's request to examine his mind didn't surprise him, though the depth of Xanatos’ firm refusal did. He didn’t really think that Qui-Gon had damaged his mind enough to leave any permanent mark. In fact, since reconciling with Qui-Gon – so to speak – he hadn’t felt much pain at all. He was sure he could handle it.

And Yoda would not back down. He sensed Obi-Wan had something to do with his apprentice, and he wanted to find out what it was. His other reasons were valid, as well, but he evidently did not want to speak of it with Xanatos, clearly not knowing that Xanatos already knew Yoda had secrets concerning Anakin.

He looked at the dark-haired Knight that had so recently shared of himself – his pain, and his friendship with Obi-Wan. “I’m sure Master Yoda would not object to you monitoring the connection,” he suggested, plaintively.

“I do not,” Yoda confirmed, turning bulbous eyes on Xanatos.

There was a moment of hesitation, and a look on his face that suggested he was allowing this under protest. “Very well,” Xanatos said finally, giving Obi-Wan another worried glance and then settling into a meditation posture.

Yoda and Obi-Wan did the same, sitting across from each other, Xanatos perpendicular.

Obi-Wan touched the Force, letting it flow in him and through him, and then gradually let his shields lessen. They were still weak, mostly bolstered by Xanatos’ through their bond – at first fragile, but forming with greater strength as time passed – and taking them down wasn’t difficult. He kept his inner shields up, though, the ones so deep in his mind they affected his sense of the Force itself.

Yoda’s mental touch was as gentle and deft as he expected it to be.

His touch raced across memories of Qui-Gon, into Obi-Wan’s apprenticeship, and beyond. Lightly skimming the surface of Qui-Gon’s death, not really understanding the events but understanding the consequences. Then onto Anakin’s training, Obi-Wan’s feelings on the matter – love, fear, worry – into the agony of Anakin’s fall and the hunting of the Jedi. Yoda only glimpsed these events through Obi-Wan’s mind, in some cases not even seeing the individuals and only understanding the significance of places and reactions. Little fractures of the big picture. He stopped at the sudden shift in everything, when Obi-Wan came to the alternate universe, and then went back.

He delved deeper into Obi-Wan’s memory of Anakin, their first meeting –

They say the midi-chlorian count is twenty thousand. No one has a count that high. Not even Master Yoda.

Beyond. Anakin’s words, as a young teenager.

When I think of evil, I see that Sith Lord’s face.

 

Further, into memories tainted with Obi-Wan’s suspicion laced into them from the years just preceding Anakin’s fall.

Why? Why do as the Council says? Do you really think they’re always right?

Then into memories pushed away with an attempt at forgetting.

You did. You have attachment! Don’t lie to me, I’ve seen the way you look at her –

Obi-Wan twitched, physically and mentally. Xanatos stiffened, sensing it, ready to intercede and preparing with the Force to step between Yoda and Obi-Wan. Yoda turned away from that memory at Xanatos’ mental warning, the bristling of Xanatos’ power as he got ready to fight Yoda for Obi-Wan if need be.

I’ve seen the true path, Master. I’ve seen the power. Don’t you realize how foolish you’ve been, what you could have – her? Must you always be the right one, the one to teach –

Xanatos slammed a shield between Obi-Wan and Yoda, as Obi-Wan weakly attempted to throw up a shield of his own, emotions falling out of control and pain making him frail. Stop, he thought. Please stop.

“That’s enough,” Xanatos said roughly, rising to his feet and stepping to Obi-Wan’s side. Obi-Wan hung his head, hands clenching his hair, eyes shut. “Are you all right?” Xanatos asked gently, touching his shoulder.

Obi-Wan looked up. “Yes,” he said at last. His expression wasn’t calm, and while there was little distress on his face, he looked like he had been run over by a speeder. And that’s what it felt like, too. His eyes were red, his hair messed from gripping it so hard, and just plain exhaustion. Obi-Wan hadn’t expected Yoda to delve where he did, and how deeply. That last memory had been too painful to go through again, and Yoda damn well knew enough. And that other memory . . . no one knew of that. That little fracture of the truth would remain buried, where it belonged.

Obi-Wan gazed at Xanatos, who was glaring worriedly at Yoda.

“What was that?” Xanatos demanded.

“Touched sensitive memories, I did,” Yoda admitted. “Several.”

“That wasn’t necessary,” Obi-Wan said, giving Yoda as calm a look as he could manage.

Yoda managed to look enigmatic as he replied. “Necessary, it was, to fully understand. Not to not simply confirm.”

Xanatos raised an eyebrow, catching that. “Oh? Wasn’t that the whole point of this?” He glanced from Obi-Wan to Yoda. “Why do I feel like I’m missing something?”

“I expected him to look into my memories of Anakin – what I know, precisely, about him that you’ve been looking for,” Obi-Wan finally answered, turning his gaze to Xanatos. “And to confirm my story, of course. But that wasn’t all he did.”

“So what, then, were you seeking confirmation of, Master Yoda?”

Yoda’s ears flattened, and his answer was obfuscating. “Confusing, what I saw, and stop me, you did.” He looked at Obi-Wan.

“She is none of your concern,” Obi-Wan said with utter finality, with a dead, flat tone to his voice he hadn’t used in a long time. He could feel Xanatos’ confusion, and Yoda’s suspicion, though he knew Yoda trusted he had told the truth of himself and Anakin. He didn’t need to know Obi-Wan’s whole life story. He felt slightly withdrawn from Yoda, unsure.

Xanatos eventually sighed. “Well, whatever,” he said, exasperated. “Are you satisfied, Master Yoda?”

Yoda inclined his head. “Yes.”

“So what now?” Xanatos asked rhetorically, sitting back and rubbing his eyes tiredly.

The stuff I put him through, Obi-Wan thought guiltily, briefly, as yet another person answered Xanatos’ question.

It was Qui-Gon, of course. “Indeed, that is the question,” he said, walking into the private area. His gray hair was smoothed back, controlled, and his dark blue eyes serene. He looked well-rested, as opposed to the freshly ruffled other Jedi sitting in a semi-circle, and gave them a thorough once over, questions clearly ready to pop out of his mouth.

“I so feel like I’m in a holovid,” Xanatos sighed.

Obi-Wan couldn’t help but laugh resignedly at the sheer truth of the statement. Perfect timing, great drama, twists to the storyline . . . his life was certainly on its way to being one.

 

"We weren’t expecting you back so soon, Master Yoda," Qui-Gon greeted the wizened Jedi warmly, although his gaze quickly flickered back to Obi-Wan.

"Felt important it was to return soon, I did," Yoda replied, his gaze also coming to rest on Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan could feel that Qui-Gon was concerned about him, seeking to know if everything was all right. He smiled at Qui-Gon to allay the man’s fears, and the master nodded in return, but the unease did not leave his features completely. Obi-Wan could feel him stretch out through the Force, reaching toward him, trying to gauge his feelings. He didn’t enter Obi-Wan’s mind, but instead flitted about it, brushing lightly against the shields Xanatos had built, his curiosity evident – and then that gave way to sudden guilt.

Obi-Wan realized that Qui-Gon, being as close to Yoda as he was, probably guessed that Yoda would have examined Obi-Wan’s mind. And Qui-Gon was worried how that would affect Obi-Wan, since the master had so recently roughly entered Obi-Wan’s mind.

"What did you do to him?" Qui-Gon asked Yoda, maintaining his calm.

"Yoda needed to make sure of Obi-Wan’s identity and accessed his memories," Xanatos explained.

"Yes, but what did he do to him?"

"I’m all right," Obi-Wan said softly.

"He touched on some ... painful memories," Xanatos added, his disapproval evident.

"You are aware that he’s already been through much?" Qui-Gon directed his attention to Yoda, one eyebrow raised. Yoda blinked and looked away, seemingly chastised.

Obi-Wan was slightly alarmed at the way Xanatos and Qui-Gon were acting. He was grateful for their defense of him, but didn’t want them to gang up on Yoda, not when they needed the old master’s help.

"I’m fine, Qui-Gon," Obi-Wan insisted, pushing the recently resurfaced memories away.

Qui-Gon once more looked at him, seeking confirmation, and although Obi-Wan didn’t feel completely well, he hoped Qui-Gon would know enough to drop the matter. The master stared at him compassionately, but for an instant his eyes widened slightly – as if he recognized something – and then once more the serene mask of Qui-Gon returned and he nodded.

"So now what do we–" Qui-Gon was interrupted by a set of heavy footfalls approaching through the gardens.

Obi-Wan froze. In Xanatos’ apartment he’d been able to escape to the bedroom if someone had come to the door, but here in the gardens they were somewhat cornered and surrounded only by bushes.

An arm grabbed him and pulled him to his feet; Xanatos was dragging him toward a stand of Endorian blueberry bushes. Within a moment he had been squeezed between a tangle of leaves and branches. Obi-Wan had to fight back a giggle when Xanatos tried unsuccessfully to pull his hair free from several thorns. He had not followed Obi-Wan into the thicket, and was in the unfortunate position of being stuck – quite literally – in the open.

They both quieted as the footfalls approached their private clearing and stopped. Xanatos turned toward the other Jedi, trying to appear as collected as he could while stuck to a bush. His back was turned to Obi-Wan, as were most of the tangles in his hair, and the younger man saw him cross his arms over his chest in a nonchalant manner, as if it were perfectly normal for him to be in such a position. Obi-Wan gently reached out and moved some branches aside in order to get a better view of who had arrived.

He breathed a sigh of relief.

Mace Windu.

The dark-skinned Councilor nodded to the three visible Jedi. "I heard that your transport had arrived a while ago, Master Yoda. Welcome back to the Temple. I trust that your sabbatical was restful?"

"Restful it was," Yoda replied. "Yet glad am I to have returned when I did."

Mace furrowed his brow at the remark, and Obi-Wan realized he was trying to gauge the situation, to know if Yoda had yet been told about the arrival of the undead lunatic. Obi-Wan was uncertain why the others didn’t say so, but he figured they were privately enjoying Xanatos’ predicament, Qui-Gon especially, and didn’t want to break the spell.

Obi-Wan marveled at the interaction between master and Padawan here, in this universe. There was much respect between Qui-Gon and Xanatos, but there was also much light-heartedness. Emotions were more easily expressed here, including love for one another. His own Qui-Gon hadn’t been completely undemonstrative, but Obi-Wan felt he had adopted some of his own master’s somewhat reserved nature in bringing up Anakin.

Smiling to himself, Obi-Wan reached out and grasped the thorny branches holding Xanatos in place. With a sharp tug he pulled them free, eliciting a surprised shriek from Xanatos, quickly suppressed.

With Mace’s attention drawn to their corner, Obi-Wan gingerly stepped out of the thicket and bowed. "Master Windu. We were uncertain as to who might be coming."

Mace nodded in understanding, but still looked a bit bemused at Xanatos, who was running a hand through his hair. Mace turned to Yoda. "I know you have just returned, and have been ... apprised of our new situation, but the Council would like to meet with you. We need your advice on the Tatooine situation. Senator Amidala is calling another meeting."

Yoda sighed nearly imperceptibly as he rose to his feet. "Very well." He pointed his gimmer stick at the others. "Return to discuss this later I will."

Obi-Wan watched as the two Councilors strolled away. Soon the three were alone, but sounds drifted to them of others moving about the Temple; they had stayed longer than they had intended.

"This way," Xanatos said urgently, gesturing in the opposite direction the Councilors had gone. Following quickly, they soon came to a door at the edge of the gardens, and they traveled through a deserted hallway to find themselves not far from Xanatos’ quarters.

Qui-Gon walked ahead to deter anyone they might come across while Xanatos blocked Obi-Wan from view from anyone who might see them from a distance. As the two ducked into an alcove to wait while Qui-Gon spoke with a passing master, Xanatos turned to Obi-Wan with a small grin.

"Thanks for tearing my hair out back there."

Obi-Wan smiled. "I’m sorry. I was going to burst out laughing if I didn’t free you. I was almost hoping Qui-Gon would bow to Master Windu. It would have been interesting to see you follow his lead, taking the poor bush with you."

"Hmmm," Xanatos murmured as he peered back into the hallway to see if it was clear yet. "Forget anything I’ve learned about you in the past week. You are evil, Obi-Wan."

"Not so much as your Anakin," Obi-Wan said in a knowing tone.

Xanatos looked at him suspiciously. "What do you mean by that?"

Obi-Wan shrugged. "Anakin told me all about your fan club."

"Did he now?"

Obi-Wan bit back a smile. "He used to have quite a business of it, conducting tours of your quarters while you were away. I think it was the only way he was able to afford those holos with that actress he so loves." He sighed. "He told me it’s a pity you and Qui-Gon have made up. Now that you’ll be around more, he’ll have to find other places for revenue."

Obi-Wan laughed softly as Xanatos muttered something unintelligible and they continued toward the older Jedi’s quarters. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon had just entered when they heard Anakin calling Xanatos from down the hall.

"I’ll be back soon," Xanatos told them as he stayed out in the hall. As the door shut behind them, the last thing Obi-Wan heard was Xanatos saying, "Anakin. Just the Padawan I’ve been looking for . . ."

Obi-Wan walked to the couch and sank down into it. Qui-Gon followed more slowly, with a thoughtful expression on his face.

"I think I understand," Qui-Gon said slowly.

Obi-Wan looked up at him, his brow furrowed. "Understand what?"

"You’ve suffered much, Obi-Wan," Qui-Gon said softly, "anyone can see that. But there’s something else I see in your eyes ... something I saw in myself long ago ... and now I believe I know what it is."

Obi-Wan froze. Qui-Gon stared at him, his perceptive blue eyes seeming to pierce straight into his soul, seeing what was not supposed to be seen, or even guessed.

"You loved someone once," the Jedi Master said, continuing to hold Obi-Wan’s gaze. "And you lost her."

Obi-Wan shifted his weight, pulling his robe tighter about himself as he settled back into the embrace of Xanatos’ couch. "I have lost many that I once considered close to me, Master Jinn."

Qui-Gon’s eyes widened slightly at the use of his formal title and Obi-Wan’s subtle evasion. "I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to – "

"It’s all right," Obi-Wan said gruffly, "no harm done." He shifted again, dropping his gaze to the floor. He opened his mouth to say more, but then closed it. Some things were still best left unsaid, unremembered, for now.

Qui-Gon sighed. "There was someone special to me, too." His voice was gentle, softened as he delved into a memory. "Tahl and I had become very close over the years. I might even call her my soulmate, although our relationship remained strictly platonic." Obi-Wan spared a quick glimpse and saw that Qui-Gon’s eyes were focused in the distance. "I thought what we had was very special, and I often wondered if ... if our friendship would have been something that stretched beyond our time, beyond our particular circumstances."

Obi-Wan knew what Qui-Gon was asking. His voice was dry as he spoke. "You want to know if you and Tahl knew each other in my universe."

"Yes."

"My Qui-Gon and Tahl did know one another," Obi-Wan said. "They were rather close."

"Were?"

Obi-Wan flinched. "Tahl ... was killed while on a mission when I was an apprentice. My master had a difficult time dealing with her death."

"Oh."

Obi-Wan frowned. He wished Qui-Gon would pick up the conversation again. These one-word answers didn’t really suit him. At least, Obi-Wan didn’t want to have to speak more about these matters than was necessary. Too many painful memories burdened him. "What happened to Tahl here?"

"Tahl was killed as well," Qui-Gon said softly.

Obi-Wan flinched again. He didn’t really want to know the answer – he felt he already knew it – but he had to ask. "How did it happen?"

Qui-Gon shifted his weight, clearly uncomfortable. "She was killed by your counterpart."

"Oh." Obi-Wan grimaced. So he had been responsible for Tahl’s death in both universes. He supposed having an Anakin who didn’t turn and a Qui-Gon who didn’t die was enough to ask of the Force.

"Obi-Wan, you said your master had difficulty in coming to terms with Tahl’s death?"

Obi-Wan nodded. "It was the closest I’ve ever seen him come to the Dark Side."

Obi-Wan watched as Qui-Gon jerked slightly at the revelation. No doubt it was unsettling for the master to learn that his counterpart had been susceptible to falling, especially when he had taken Kenobi’s fall so hard.

"Perhaps there’s a little darkness in all of us, then."

Obi-Wan nodded, and although he sensed Qui-Gon was still unsettled by the revelation he knew the master had accepted it.

 

Looking rather out of breath and his eyes flicking from point to point nervously, Anakin said eloquently, “What?” Not waiting for a reply, he continued. “I heard Yoda –“

Xanatos waved a hand dismissively. “Already taken care of.” So to speak, he thought. Obi-Wan seemed fine, but he also seemed eager to avoid conflict. Ironically, that made Xanatos feel even more protective, and he rather suspected the same of Qui-Gon. Xanatos was less than pleased with what Yoda had done, and Obi-Wan’s reaction disturbed him, but that could wait for another time.

Anakin drew back, looking rather surprised. “What happened?” And then added curiously, a look lighting in his eyes that Xanatos knew meant Anakin had guessed there was a good story, “And what happened to your hair? It looks all –“

“A little of this, a little of that,” Xanatos cut him off, evasively. Smiling expansively, he put an arm around Anakin’s shoulders, walking him away from his apartment. Anakin permitted it, beginning to appear more nervous for himself than Obi-Wan. “So,” Xanatos said brightly, “I hear you did tours, Anakin.”

Anakin stopped walking abruptly, merely confirming with his reaction what Obi-Wan had said. Xanatos went further another step, letting his arm fall and turning on his heel to face the young Padawan. “Eh . . .” Anakin said intelligently, clearly scrambling. “I didn’t mean it,” he blurted, and winced.

Xanatos raised an eyebrow.

“The opportunity fell into my lap,” Anakin continued, eyeing Xanatos, clearly trying to judge his chances of squirming out of the situation. “Um . . . come on, Xanatos!”

Xanatos raised the other eyebrow.

“They’re girls!”

“Keep digging yourself in deeper.” Xanatos gave him an amused, but dark, look.

Anakin sighed, closing his eyes briefly. “Fine, then. Give it to me.”

“Give you what?” Xanatos asked with false curiosity, as he knew full well what Anakin was talking about. He folded his arms casually, and leaned his weight on one foot, body held to the side. The body language for total disinterest.

“Whatever Sithly scheme you’ve got cooked up,” Anakin replied calmly, even knowingly. “You wouldn’t have confronted me if you didn’t have one.”

“I wouldn’t have confronted you if you hadn’t blabbed to Obi-Wan,” Xanatos pointed out.

“Why, that –“ Anakin started, eyes narrowing.

Xanatos continued talking right over him. “In fact, I believe this is another opportunity for you, Anakin,” he said, stroking his chin thoughtfully in a conscious imitation of Qui-Gon, brows lowering, looking into Anakin’s intense, yet nervous blue eyes. Anakin seemed to unconsciously react, wilting a bit. The boy respected Qui-Gon as an elder more than he did Xanatos, despite the fact Qui-Gon probably knew the boy better. Xanatos had visited Ani frequently, but hadn’t lived there, after all.

“Oh?” Anakin said uneasily.

Xanatos nodded wisely. “Indeed. To be an adult; to keep childish things where they belong.”

“Childish things?” Anakin asked, looking even more ill at ease.

“Your holos,” Xanatos clarified. He didn’t stop at Anakin’s look of horror, continuing on, unable to keep the glee out of his voice. “You, my young friend, are going to give all those young ladies their money back. And you know how you’re going to get that money?” He paused, significantly, but Anakin just kept staring at him. “You’re going to sell all of your holodramas, all of your posters, everything you used that money for in the first place.”

Anakin took a deep breath. “That’s evil,” he said lowly.

“But you’ll do it,” Xanatos said firmly. “I think it’s a just punishment, especially given my Corellian Reserve.”

Another brief flash of horror. “Oh, Sithspit.”

“Yeah, that Corellian Reserve,” Xanatos confirmed, giving Anakin a look of admonishment. The Padawan guiltily dropped his gaze. “I’m sure if you cooperate,” Xanatos added, dropping his final manipulation/threat, “Yoda won’t have to find out that you drugged Qui-Gon.”

“Qui-Gon?” Anakin squeaked, eyebrows nearly meeting his hairline, suddenly meeting Xanatos’ eyes again. Xanatos almost felt sorry for the boy. Then he remembered the hair comment. 

“Now go,” Xanatos said with a shooing motion and a razor sharp smirk.

Anakin reluctantly began to back away, with an expression of defeat. At least the kid knew when he was beaten. Anakin turned, and silently began plodding to his quarters. As Xanatos was about to turn back to his quarters, Anakin’s voice stopped him.

“So what did happen with Yoda?”

Xanatos shook his head. “I’ll tell you another time.”

Anakin nodded, expression more serious. The childish delight, mischief, and horror was gone from his face as if it had never been, and Xanatos was suddenly reminded that Anakin was an adult, though one capable of indulging in certain pastimes as a teenager would.

Feeling a sudden rush of fondness, before Anakin could start walking away again, Xanatos spoke. “Besides . . . I’m sure Padmé will thank me,” he said with a smile. He couldn’t say he entirely approved of the relationship that was evidently developing – even if what Obi-Wan said was true, there were other things to consider – but he felt that it would move forward regardless of his disapproval or approval.

Anakin looked startled, and then flashed him a grin as he walked at a faster pace.

Xanatos shook his head to himself, and slapped his hand on the door panel to his apartment, where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan waited. He patted his hair, wondering whether it was very obvious that a bit had been yanked.

 

Padmé sighed softly, nearly inaudibly, as she settled into her seat, her long skirt settling a few moments after, with the light, ivory fabric seeming to float around her. The effect was deliberate, though she doubted such things would affect any Jedi’s initial preconception of her or their reasoning. Well . . . maybe Anakin’s, she thought with a mental smile.

Her office was, as all Senatorial offices were, within the massive Senate building. It was similar to all the other offices, though hers had a few holo-images of her family, and was decorated in a muted, soothing yellow. Hers had a startling view over the Coruscanti gardens. It was late morning, and the light seemed to be almost softened by the transition from morning to noon, giving the impression of ambient light.

The doors of her office opened with near silence; Padmé had told the maintenance crew to leave the slight swooshing sound, so she would know when someone entered.

She stood, smiling, as Master Yoda and Master Windu entered. “It is a pleasure to see you both again,” she said warmly, and she meant it. She respected the Jedi, for all that they were currently in disagreement. “Even under these unfortunate circumstances.”

Master Windu bowed slightly and Master Yoda moved forward, speaking. “A pleasure, Senator,” he said in his gravelly voice.

Padmé sat down again, and Windu and Yoda took the other chairs.

“We believe the issue you are concerned with may have been solved, Senator,” Windu began.

“Oh? You have new information on the matter?”

Windu nodded. “Yes. We have become aware that the citizens of Tatooine have begun to organize. A significant portion, in fact – the sixty percent required by Republic law to admit a planet to the Republic.”

Padmé was taken aback. “Even if that is the case, it does not solve the problem of the legality of the Republic personally overseeing a planet’s political and governmental system.”

“Humph,” Yoda said, tapping the ground with his stick.

Padmé turned to look at him questioningly.

“If organize Tatooine’s citizens do, mere help they may need, instead of complete oversight,” the wizened Jedi Master said. “Provide that help, the Jedi may. Instead of the Republic.”

Padmé’s eyes narrowed. She sensed something was going on here, even she wasn’t quite sure what. “You seem remarkably certain of all of this, Master Jedi.”

Windu stroked his chin, and said casually, “A certain individual of unusual mind may have helped matters along.” He straightened, and added, “Despite the heavy criminal elements of Tatooine, the moisture farmers and other outlying business and communities outnumber them. They are merely far more spread than the criminal areas.”

“Yet, there is still concern,” Padmé insisted, after recovering from Windu’s basic implication that they had sent a Jedi to speed matters along, maybe even organize a good portion of them. She remembered Anakin telling her that outside the Republic, there was no law, and Jedi could act more freely, as they were merely private citizens at that point. “What will happen to those criminal elements if Tatooine joins the Republic?” She shook her head. “They will not simply leave if Tatooine does join the Republic.”

“Powerful the citizens will be, if band together they do.”

Padmé leaned back and folded her hands. “You seem very confident of their abilities. I need more reassurance than that if I am to support this action.” She raised an eyebrow, and met Windu’s eyes, then Yoda’s. “In fact, it has not yet been confirmed that Tatooine’s citizenry are organized enough to hold such a vote, nor that they even have the capability of holding one with such resistance from certain elements of their society.”

“What kind of assurance would you need, Senator?” Windu asked at last, as Yoda frowned deeply.

“Send a Jedi team we will, if have your support we do,” Yoda said before Padmé could answer. Windu glanced at Yoda, but Padmé could detect nothing in his gaze as he looked at the older Jedi Master. “But remain unknown, it must. Lawless the outskirts may be, but consequences there are for our actions.”

Padmé nodded, taking a deep breath. “I understand, Master Yoda.” She paused, going through everything one more time in her head. “You have my support.”

“Thank you, Senator,” Windu said, expression as impassive as always. “We believe this will stop a major criminal layover.”

Padmé smiled slightly. “Yes, I know.”

“Important, it is,” Yoda said, tilting his chin upward and narrowing his eyes in thought. “Especially with you and young Skywalker.”

Padmé couldn’t quite keep the surprise off of her face – but then, she noted, neither could Mace Windu. Instead of really answering, she bowed her head. She hadn’t the slightest clue what to say. What did that mean, exactly? Her mind flashed back to her and Obi-Wan’s conversation about destiny, about her and Anakin.

“Humph,” Yoda said again.

Padmé rose, a hint which both Jedi took. They rose as well. “Thank you for your time,” she said.

Windu nodded, but Yoda merely gave her a speculative look, and continued to do so as both Jedi left. As soon as the doors shut, Padmé fell back into her seat, wondering what in the galaxy Yoda knew about her and Anakin. And what it all meant.

 

“Do you feel that was wise, Master Yoda?” Mace asked as they left the Senate building. Their pace was slow, and high above them, speeders flew by and spaceships landed. The gray courtyards were full of people, but they mostly ignored the two Jedi, as Jedi were a common sight in the Senate. “Telling Senator Amidala that one of our own was involved in organizing the citizenry?”

“Feel I do that keep it quiet, the Senator will. No reason she has to tell others,” Yoda said. He looked up at Mace, lifting his ears. “A trustworthy person she is, Master Windu.”

Mace nodded reluctantly. “Xanatos should probably know, however. As the one we sent, he is in the most danger from the criminals and warlords if it is found out.”

Yoda dipped his head. “Agree, I do.”

“I’ll handle it,” Mace promised.

 

“Hello, Anakin.” Padmé smiled. “Come in.” She moved out of the way, and Anakin stepped past her into her apartment.

He immediately took a thorough scope of the place, curious as to what it would be like. Somewhat to his surprise – and then his amusement that he was surprised – it was not at all opulent. The walls were a muted seagreen and the furniture was wood, darkly stained. Everything was made of classic lines. The entrance had a few knickknacks, pictures mostly, and beyond that he could see the living room. It had ivory, plush couches. But the overall impression was one of simplicity.

“What?” Padmé asked, eyes quickly examining their surroundings, a smile touching the corner of her lips.

“It fits,” Anakin replied instantly, without thinking, looking over at her.

Padmé raised her eyebrows.

Anakin felt a touch of mischief at her surprise. She probably had not been expecting him to even really notice their surroundings. But he had paid attention, as he felt was wise – a person’s place of living often told you things about their personality. Anakin moved a step closer to her, and took both her hands. He looked deeply into her eyes, meeting them without hesitation. “Elegant and beautiful. Like you.”

A slight tinge of pink rushed to Padmé’s cheeks, but a huge smile spread over her face. “Thank you,” she said, eyes ducking away. Anakin sensed her pleased embarrassment. After letting the moment linger, Anakin let go of her, and she stepped away, taking a deep breath.

“Lunch is this way,” Padmé said, gesturing to what Anakin guessed was the entrance to the dining area.

They both took seats, silently. Yet they watched each other, tracking the other’s movements, analyzing, wondering . . . Every look was full of inquisitiveness, amusement, and joy. Anakin delighted in her presence, and she seemed as equally interested in him. And she looked astonishingly beautiful. He couldn’t keep his eyes off of her, kept noticing little details he had missed at first glance. Her hair was up, with a few stray curls falling around her face and neck. The ivory dress she wore floated around her. It was form fitting underneath, plain, with a light layer of gauze over it with little sparkles entwined in the fabric.

“So, Anakin, did you have an interesting day?” Padmé asked, taking a bite of her salad.

“More eventful than interesting,” Anakin replied with a wry look.

“Oh? Care to explain?”

Anakin tried not to flush. He should be above blushing, being a Jedi and all. “Not really, if you wouldn’t mind.” He repressed a shudder at the memory of selling all his holos and trying to give money back to the girls he had sold tours to. The selling wasn’t so bad, the giving back was much harder. Most of the girls – women, and Jedi Masters, in some cases – refused to take it, even when he explained Xanatos and why he was doing it. After the first four comm numbers he received, he gave up on explaining, and graduated to pleading.

Rampant curiosity showed in Padmé’s eyes, but she merely nodded.

“And you? Interesting day?” Anakin asked, hoping that Padmé could restrain her curiosity, and also hoping he could help it along by changing the subject.

“Actually, yes,” Padmé began, “I talked with Master Yoda and Master Windu today regarding Tatooine. We were able to come to an agreement, of sorts,” she said with a smile.

Anakin grinned. “I’m glad to hear it. So Yoda was more amicable to compromise?”

“Not exactly,” Padmé said, taking another bite of her food. She eyed him for a moment, a studied look in her eyes. Anakin’s curiosity piqued. “New information arose, and that led to a change of position, I suppose you could say.”

Anakin nodded, catching on. He felt his face grow still, despite his efforts. “Whatever it is, I don’t know about it,” Anakin said, guessing where she was going easily. Qui-Gon’s often ready distrust of politicians sprang to mind. “I’m not privy to Council matters. And the only time I’ve heard of Tatooine is in connection with criminals staying there to lay low.”

Padmé looked taken aback by his curt, yet thorough response. “I’m sorry . . .”

Anakin waved his utensil. “It’s all right.” He looked down at his food.

An awkward silence reigned for a moment.

“So how is Obi-Wan?” Padmé asked, pressing her lips together for a moment and then consciously relaxing her expression.

“He’s well,” Anakin said, looking up, his expression changing to one more unperturbed. “I found out he’s a bit of a snitch, though,” he added, letting a hint of smirk enter his look.

Padmé laughed. “Really? Ah, how . . .” she said, her perfect brows lowering, and punctuating her point with a little wave of her fork.

Anakin stabbed the fruit on his plate. “I told him some of my wilder misadventures in the Jedi Temple, and he shared a few with Xanatos.” He winced. “Suffice to say, Xanatos wasn’t happy.”

“Ah,” Padmé said wisely. “They concerned him, did they?”

Anakin grinned. “Maybe a little,” he prevaricated with a slight lift of an eyebrow.

“I’m sure,” Padmé said with a laugh.

Another silence, this one more comfortable, settled in again.

“I was hoping,” Anakin began suddenly, “that we could visit the Coruscanti gardens again today, if you have nothing else planned. I enjoyed that, and I felt that you did too.”

“I’d like to do that again, too,” Padmé said softly.

The smile which rose to Anakin’s face seemed to spring there of it’s own will.

Padmé set her utensil down. “Anakin . . .” Her voice and tone were serious. “I won’t do that again,” she said simply, referring to her slip of earlier.

Anakin looked at her for a moment, searching those brown eyes, that concerned face, and remembered she was a politician once again. But he also sensed a goodness in her that he could not explain. Her presence brightened his. Indeed, there had been a misstep, but it was one she was willing to acknowledge.

“Thank you,” Anakin said at last.

Padmé smiled slightly, and Anakin could sense her still testing the waters, still observing.

Anakin could nearly sense the tense undercurrents in the room. He wanted nothing more than to get rid of them. He stood abruptly, and held out his hand. “I’ve eaten enough. What do you say we go?” he asked calmly, trying to show in more than a few words that she was forgiven.

“All right,” Padmé said, rising. She took his hand, and Anakin squeezed it lightly.

Then, gently pulling her to him, he kissed her lightly. His lips brushed hers gently, but he went no further. He broke off the kiss first, but when he moved to turn his head away, she followed him, eyes still seeking his, face merely inches from his.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

Anakin smiled.

 

As Xanatos stepped over the threshold into his apartment, in which he could see Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan talking quietly in the living room, he heard a soft call from down the corridor. Popping his head back out into the hallway, he was surprised to see Mace Windu striding toward him.

“Did everything go well at the meeting?” Xanatos asked, slightly concerned, as he invited the tall man to join him in the foyer of his quarters. The door slid shut behind them. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon glanced up, aware of their presence, but remained where they were while Xanatos and Mace talked quietly.

Mace shook his head. “No, nothing’s wrong. The meeting went surprisingly well, actually.” He lowered his voice. “But you should know that Senator Amidala now knows that a Jedi is involved in our efforts on Tatooine.”

Xanatos raised an eyebrow. “And who else knows?” It seemed to him that secrets these days had a habit of becoming un-secretive.

“No worries, Xanatos,” Mace reassured him. “Master Yoda and I feel she will keep the information to herself. We know how important this mission is, and how important your safety is.”

Xanatos nodded. He, too, felt that the Senator was dependable. Obi-Wan seemed to trust her completely on first meeting, and Xanatos was more than willing to have faith in his judgment. Besides, what was done was done.

“I’m glad you understand, Xanatos,” Mace continued. “She needed to know for us to be able to settle the issue of aid versus oversight.”

The door chime sounded, and Xanatos absently reached over and swatted the panel. Half-expecting to see Anakin’s tall form, he was surprised when a voice spoke from below and looked down hurriedly.

“Ah, together you all are,” Yoda said as he toddled into the room. “Important things have we to discuss, hmmm?”

Xanatos exchanged a quick grin with Mace before following Yoda into the central room. Xanatos thought with a certain amount of amusement that his plan was coming to fruition, in an odd way . . . the ‘dump everything into Yoda’s capable hands’. And now he didn’t feel so eager to do just that. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon were sitting on the couch, and both seemed relieved at the additional company. Xanatos filed away the disconcerted look in both their eyes for a future conversation.

Yoda settled on the couch between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan while Mace slipped into the overstuffed armchair in the corner. Xanatos quickly dragged out a chair from the kitchen and plopped himself into it.

The group was silent for several moments before Yoda spoke. “Much to say have you, Obi-Wan?”

Obi-Wan shifted his weight forward, seeming to compose himself before he spoke. Xanatos watched him carefully. He knew more of the situation than most, but there still were secrets, namely having to do with Anakin. “I know that ... my coming here might seem to be about me, and my need to heal, but I think there’s something more to it than that.” He cleared his throat. “Do the Jedi here – in this universe – know of the Chosen One prophecy?”

The others shook their heads, although Yoda’s eyes narrowed slightly. That was enough to get Obi-Wan’s attention, though. He looked down and to the side, at Yoda, and raised an eyebrow. Qui-Gon looked at the old master with equal interest.

“You are the only one aware of the Chosen One?” Obi-Wan asked.

Yoda paused before nodding. “Yes, know of it, I do. Most Jedi do not consider it a relevant prophecy, and no longer taught it is. Only one to study it, I am.”

Obi-Wan smiled faintly. “I think I understand why that is.”

Xanatos nodded to himself, making a few quick guesses. Obi-Wan saying Anakin was the key had to have something to do with this prophecy. Everyone else, though, was clearly puzzled and Xanatos remembered afresh that they didn’t know the whole story; they didn’t know of Obi-Wan’s speculations about why he was here. Not yet.

“Obi-Wan?” Qui-Gon asked, his brow furrowed. “I don’t follow.”

“Yoda is master to Anakin Skywalker. Surely Yoda would contemplate a prophecy that for all appearances seems to concern his Padawan,” Obi-Wan replied, looking over Yoda’s head at Qui-Gon.

“Anakin?” Qui-Gon asked again, clearly perplexed, only beginning to put things together.

Xanatos briefly wondered what rates Anakin could have charged for tours had he been known as the exalted ‘Chosen One.’ Unlike the others, he had heard of the prophecy. Oh, he knew very little about it – just that the Chosen One was important. He had skimmed it while looking for another prophecy he was supposed to do a term paper on . . . one that he had failed, if he was recalling correctly.

“Despite his fate in my own universe, Anakin had been considered rather special,” Obi-Wan explained. “I imagine that even here his history might designate him as someone unusual.”

“You sealed his records,” Xanatos blurted out, looking at Yoda, managing to sound faintly accusing and befuddled at the same time.

Yoda didn’t seem surprised that his actions had been discovered. “Never wanted to place more pressure on him, I have. Always known have I that his upbringing was crucially important.”

“Crucially important for what?”

“The fate of the universe,” Obi-Wan said simply.

Xanatos was doubtful. “How can one person be so important?”

Sudden grief flashed in Obi-Wan’s eyes, and he folded his hands together carefully before speaking. “You know what my universe was like, Xanatos. You know how much my Anakin – Vader – was responsible for. I know that without him ... had he not fallen, I don’t think so much would have been ripped apart. Something else may have happened entirely. Something good, even.”

“What exactly was your Anakin predicted to do?” Mace asked, finally jumping into the conversation after giving Xanatos a faintly accusatory look at not telling him things – such as Anakin’s sealed records. Xanatos shot a look at Qui-Gon, who shot a look back, and Mace noted both actions and then focused on Obi-Wan again.

“As the Chosen One, he was expected to bring balance to the Force,” Obi-Wan said softly. He spoke as if he were not really sure of his words. “There was much speculation as to what that meant, but most believed that it had something to do with the Sith who reemerged at the same time Anakin was discovered.”

“Why did everyone believe Anakin was the Chosen One?” Qui-Gon asked. “Who discovered these . . . qualities of Anakin having to do with his history, and who convinced the Jedi?”

“You did,” Obi-Wan replied wryly. A small smile flickered across his features. “Qui-Gon discovered the boy on Tatooine, and after finding him to be strong in the Force, tested him for midichlorians. His count was beyond any other Jedi we had ever known.” His gaze sought out Yoda, seeking confirmation.

Yoda sighed. “A most high midichlorian count Skywalker does have. A very powerful Jedi he is. Which is why careful with him we must be.”

“But surely not only his midichlorian count fates him to be the Chosen One?” Mace inquired.

Obi-Wan nodded. “You’re right. Qui-Gon had met Anakin’s mother, and found, as written in the prophecy, that it was likely that Anakin had been conceived by the Force.” He put up a hand, forestalling Mace’s inevitable objection. “I know how unlikely that sounds, but that was our only explanation.” Obi-Wan grew quiet for a moment. “But I think it’s the timing of his arrival that is most important. We found Anakin just as the Sith had begun their return to power – on the very mission we discovered the Sith, we discovered Anakin.”

“But if your Jedi were so convinced that Anakin was the Chosen One, and I admit that he does sound special, why didn’t he do what he was supposed to do?” Qui-Gon asked. He rested his chin in his hands, contemplative.

Obi-Wan considered for a moment. “Just because he was the Chosen One, it didn’t mean he would do what was foretold ... things can upset his path in life. He is susceptible as are we all.” Obi-Wan now leaned back against the couch, his eyes drifting toward the ceiling. “I think Anakin was tested, and tested the Jedi – and they both failed. I think Anakin is a test as well to this universe, though not necessarily in the same way. The test may be the same, but the situation is different. And I hope the outcome is far different than my own universe’s. I hope balance truly is found.”

“Do you think it’s possible that your arrival here may have in some way instigated this test you refer to?” Mace asked, a slight frown appearing on his face.

“I really don’t know,” Obi-Wan admitted. “But I find it interesting that I was hiding from my version of Anakin when I – when I was transferred to this universe. And Anakin was one of the first people I encountered here – everyone else I’ve met have been important to his life here. Also, Anakin’s Trials – his test as a Jedi – are very soon, are they not?”

“Hmm.” Yoda’s chin rested on top of his gimmer stick, his eyelids half-closed in thoughtfulness.

Xanatos thought back to his missions on Tatooine. It seemed that the desert planet had come up recently more than once.

“Anakin is from Tatooine, correct?” Xanatos continued after both Yoda and Obi-Wan nodded. “Tatooine is a planet that has become a focal point for the Jedi and Senate. Another interesting tidbit, wouldn’t you say?”

The group once more fell in a contemplative silence before Qui-Gon quietly broke the spell. “But what does all that mean? Why now? What is Anakin supposed to do?”

“I would think, that if my appearance and Anakin’s presence are in any way connected, that Anakin may have to correct or prevent here what went wrong in my world.”

“And how would go about doing that?”

Obi-Wan rubbed his eyes. “Since even I’m not sure how it all came apart so quickly, Anakin’s task here may be very different from what he was supposed to do – what we thought he was supposed to do – in my universe.”

“Anakin’s specific destiny may become clearer only later,” Mace pointed out, “but what do we do about it now? Should we tell the rest of the Council and the Jedi?”

“Or, more importantly, do we tell Anakin?” Xanatos asked, waving away Mace’s words.

“No,” Obi-Wan replied quickly. “I do not think that would be a good idea. Too much of a burden to bear.”

Yoda nodded in agreement, ears lowering and lips pursing, an expression that foretold a decision. “Anakin’s destiny for now a secret will be, but Obi-Wan’s arrival will be revealed.”

Xanatos looked sharply at Yoda. “Do you think that’s wise?” Visions of mass chaos flashed through his mind, the chaos of the past week except multiplied.

“Obi-Wan’s true identity has been confirmed with us,” Mace supported Yoda. “There is no reason why he should have to stay in hiding. It may well prove to be inconvenient, at this point.”

“Rational and compassionate Jedi are trained to be,” Yoda said with a nod. “With our affirmation of Obi-Wan’s identity, safe he will remain.”

Xanatos furrowed his brow at that remark. He trusted Yoda’s words, but he sensed that there might be another reason why Yoda wanted Obi-Wan’s appearance to be revealed. He wasn’t sure why that bothered him, but he knew now that Yoda was perfectly capable of keeping secrets – powerful ones. And secrets concerning Obi-Wan . . . he thought again of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s quiet when he came back after talking to Anakin. Maybe that had something to do with it? One could never tell what the old troll knew.

“That’s the problem with old trolls,” Xanatos muttered out loud. Obi-Wan shot him a curious look, and Xanatos dismissed his concern with a flick of his hand.

They got down to business discussing how, exactly, they were going to reveal Obi-Wan’s presence.

 

It all comes down to memos, sooner or later. From reports come memos, from memos come missions, from missions comes reports, from reports comes memos, Xanatos mused. The never-ending circle of memos.

But he supposed that in the end, what other way were they supposed to announce it? The Jedi Council wrote the memo with a full explanation, and then sent it out to the comm consoles of all the Jedi. Within minutes the first Jedi found it and read it, and within the hour everyone not previously occupied had read it.

The primary reaction was surprise and curiosity, with a certain amount of ambivalence.

Of course there would be ambivalence, Xanatos thought. It wasn’t every day that an undead lunatic cropped up into the Jedi’s midst. Yet the official memo had the Council’s stamp of approval, and none dared to question their judgment.

Xanatos was relieved now that Obi-Wan was a secret no more – he’d had enough of the constant strain over fear of discovery, dragging unconscious bodies through Temple corridors, and otherwise sneaky and furtive dealings. It just wasn’t his style. Well, he conceded, perhaps on undercover missions like Tatooine, but not at the Temple – not at home.

He also sensed how relieved Obi-Wan was about his existence becoming public knowledge, but Xanatos sensed anxiety, too. Obi-Wan’s nerves were to be expected. The Jedi had come from a universe where he had been hunted and hated for being a light sider, to a universe where he had been hunted and hated for being a Dark Sider. Yes, Xanatos thought wryly, remembering the earlier conversation with Obi-Wan in the garden – the Force seemingly was not beyond a sense of humor.

Xanatos decided that Obi-Wan needed to work out to burn off his excess nervous energy. Meditation would be the proper way, but Obi-Wan hadn’t had much exercise ever since arriving in this universe (aside from assorted assassination attempts on him, Palpatine, and Anakin) and the older Knight decided a sparring session between them would be ideal. It would work out those kinks and stress of the past week. It would also be the perfect chance for the rest of the Temple’s most curious Jedi to see Obi-Wan, which was why Xanatos had sent out a second memo shortly after the first. The main training salle, an hour past noon.

He hadn’t told Obi-Wan about that memo. No, he thought, Obi-Wan might decline the invitation then.

Xanatos smiled faintly, mischief twinkling in his eye, as he chose among the practice sabers which lined one wall of the salle. He picked up a sleek silver hilt that he knew would issue a deep-blue blade. After checking the feel of its grip in his hand, he nodded to himself then turned back toward the mat.

The room was nearly half-full now, with several Jedi pairs practicing in the smaller rings that encircled the main arena. Yet more Jedi – Knights, Padawans, and Initiates – crowded the bleachers that encompassed the entire room. More were present than on an average day (quite a few more, Xanatos noted) and Xanatos knew that his memo had been read by many. The crowd hummed with barely repressed anticipation.

A figure appeared at the arched doorway, and paused upon the threshold. Xanatos smiled a warm greeting to Obi-Wan as the younger Knight stepped hesitantly into the room, clearly surprised at the gathering.

The room went silent at his entrance, hushed whispers tittering through the audience, quickly suppressed as all heads turned toward the newcomer. Curiosity and wariness swelled in the room as the assembled Jedi’s attention focused onto a single point, then waned as courtesy took over and the Knights and younglings returned to their practice or their whispered conversations, allowing the newcomer a chance to walk freely across the room.

Anticipation remained, however, as carefully measured gazes continued to flicker in Obi-Wan’s direction as he gracefully stepped across the mat to join Xanatos by the equipment wall.

"This doesn’t happen to have anything to do with an incident involving a lock of hair and an Endorian blueberry bush, does it?" Obi-Wan murmured as he glanced over the weapons waiting in neat rows.

"Of course not," Xanatos quickly replied, hiding his mirth. "I just thought you’d appreciate a good workout." His voice dropped even lower. "And it was several locks of hair, mind you."

Obi-Wan seemed to fight back a grin as he gingerly lifted a steel-gray saber from its rack. He ran his fingers lightly over its surface, testing the weight in his hands, then stepped back and ignited the blade. A golden flame sprung forth, lighting up its bearer’s features. Obi-Wan deftly twirled the saber, getting a feel for the weapon, setting the air around him humming. At the end of one graceful stroke he paused, his gaze flickering between the blade, the audience, and Xanatos.

Xanatos understood the uncertainty in Obi-Wan’s eyes. For months, Obi-Wan had been on the run and hunted for a bounty, his lightsaber used as a means of self-defense. And in the years just prior to that time, he’d been a soldier, fighting not just for his ideals but his very survival. It had been a long, long time since Obi-Wan had picked up a lightsaber playfully, without the intention of killing his opponent, without the accompanying fear of death – and guilt.

The dark-haired Knight stepped forward and put a reassuring hand on Obi-Wan’s shoulder. "It’s all right, Obi-Wan," he said softly. "Allow yourself to have fun." He paused as he gestured for Obi-Wan to precede him into the central sparring arena, then added in jest, "And try not to lose too badly."

Any retort from Obi-Wan was lost as Xanatos’ own blade thrummed into existence and he took up a position opposite the younger man. Xanatos barely registered the excited flutter of the bystanders as he and Obi-Wan bowed and saluted each other with their sabers, then settled into a fighting stance.

As before, when they had first met beside the water’s edge on Wekkeran, Obi-Wan was the first to move. Yet unlike before, now he was centered, acting out of calm concentration, not desperation and fear. The amber blade swung in a tight arc toward Xanatos’ head, and the dark-haired Knight moved swiftly to block it. Their blades met for a mere instant before Xanatos swung around and came from the other direction. Obi-Wan easily parried the move, sending both blades twirling away from each other.

Now that each had made a move, the spar began in earnest. The two sabers, golden and sapphire, became blurs of light as the combatants settled into the give and take, advance and retreat, back and forth rhythm of saber play. In one moment Xanatos would have the upper hand, pounding down strikes upon a defensive Obi-Wan, who would then suddenly switch tactics and change the momentum of the match in his favor, chasing a defensive Xanatos across the mat.

It was in one such move – as Obi-Wan took an unexpected tactic, defending instead of attacking at a crucial moment – that Xanatos realized just how different their two universes were. Xanatos’ training came from theory; hours upon hours Padawans would learn katas, stances, and time-honored traditions. Obi-Wan’s strength lay in practical experience: where Xanatos’ technical ability might have been better, Obi-Wan reacted more quickly, inventing new blocks and strikes to flow with the fight.

And both were unused to the other's style; it was clear that Obi-Wan was not anything like the disgraced Kenobi. Their physical styles were not as similar as he had been expecting, Obi-Wan using Form III instead of Form IV – Xanatos noted that ruefully as Obi-Wan used Xanatos’ blade against him, scoring a minor hit on Xanatos’ shoulder – but their mindset and strategy were far more different. For that Xanatos was grateful; even though their training sabers could only uncomfortably heat flesh, Xanatos knew that Kenobi would have left him with far more slight burns, as he often did when they sparred as youngsters.

The sparring continued. Xanatos had originally been concerned about Obi-Wan’s endurance, but whatever his other universe had done to him seemed to have healed; both mentally and physically. Obi-Wan was quick and powerful, not at all like semi-deranged man he’d met days earlier. In addition to his renewed strength, Obi-Wan was fighting fair this time. Now that he wasn’t feeling that his life was threatened, Obi-Wan graced Xanatos with honorable tactics. However, even with Obi-Wan’s abstention from dirty fighting, Xanatos felt that the playing field might still not be level enough for him.


Realizing that the match’s outcome might very well not go in his favor, Xanatos focused on finding a weakness in Obi-Wan’s style, something he would be able to predict and exploit. After another change of momentum, Xanatos found himself gaining ground on the younger man, but still he could not crack through Obi-Wan’s blocks. His competitive nature coming to the forefront, Xanatos’ resolve firmed and he honed in on Obi-Wan’s forehand parries – yes, there, after a downward strike he left his stance slightly open ...

Xanatos struck toward Obi-Wan’s neck, but feigned quickly as the younger man brought his amber blade to met his blue; instead Xanatos swung round, kicking out with his leg, knocking Obi-Wan off balance, sending the younger Knight falling backwards, and then finally stilling as Xanatos’ blue blade came to rest at Obi-Wan’s throat: a winning move.

Obi-Wan looked up at Xanatos, both of them somewhat surprised and breathing heavily, and then Obi-Wan nodded his acquiescence of his defeat. Xanatos started to reach down a hand to help him up when he saw Obi-Wan’s gaze suddenly shift to something behind Xanatos, looking startled.

Xanatos swiveled and found himself staring into the intense eyes of Qui-Gon, whose emerald-green saber glowed at his side, the expression of the Jedi Master inscrutable.

For a moment, Xanatos was back on the roof top of the Temple; Kenobi lay fallen beneath him, struck down by his own hand, and Qui-Gon’s disapproval burned through Xanatos’ senses, bringing forth a phantom pain on his cheek. Now I’ve done it again, Xanatos mentally wailed. Qui-Gon has taken a liking to Obi-Wan; I shouldn’t have beaten him in front of the Temple; now Qui-Gon will hate me again, I’ll have to leave once more for years. His heart hammered in his chest, the past mixing with the present, clouding the future.

But Qui-Gon smiled warmly as he brought his blade up for a salute. "I daresay that this duel is not yet over." He nodded down at Obi-Wan. "On your feet, Obi-Wan. We’re not through yet."

Xanatos’ relief at Qui-Gon’s feelings was quickly overridden with the realization that the duel was going to continue – but two against one, and Xanatos was going to be the one.

Xanatos sprang backwards, preparing for Jinn’s first strike as Obi-Wan got to his feet, ready to take on Xanatos’ unprotected back side. Xanatos dove into the Force, frantically twisting and twirling, striking and blocking, and just plain ducking to avoid elimination. Not fair, not fair, he said to himself. I have an undead lunatic and the greatest swordfighter in the Temple against me.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan – Master and Padawan, and yet not Master and Padawan – had Xanatos worked into a corner, and Xanatos realized he was mere seconds from defeat. Yet then a new voice from the middle of the mat had them all pausing mid-stroke.

"I really think this battle needs at least one more." The youthful, mischievous yet confident voice of Anakin Skywalker drew gasps of surprise and delight from onlookers throughout the arena. The senior Padawan stood twirling twin purple lightsabers, an eager smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

Oh goody, Xanatos thought. Now I have the Chosen One on my side.

Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan quickly adjusted their positions to handle the addition of Anakin to their duel. Soon all five blades were spinning while four bodies danced in a deadly pattern across the floor.

"Thank you, Anakin," Xanatos breathed as he ducked a swinging blade, "I knew you’d always come to help your old buddy. I owe you one."

"Oh, you know," Anakin shrugged as he deftly twirled both his lightsabers, deflecting tandem attacks from the other team, "I was worried what effect your losing might have on your fan club. I didn’t want to hurt my future profits."

Biting back a retort, Xanatos settled into the new rhythm of their duel. Lunge, thrust, riposte, twirl, frantic dodging ... for several minutes the dance continued, until the combatants found themselves at a standstill: having lost one weapon, Anakin was at Obi-Wan’s mercy, and Xanatos’ blue blade was at Qui-Gon’s neck at the same instant – a draw.

The four quickly acknowledged the outcome, and got to their feet. They had the option to start again, but all declined – Xanatos, smirking to himself, figured Qui-Gon didn’t want to be seen losing to his former Padawan.

As they approached the stands, they were greeted with applause as the watching Jedi acknowledged the athleticism and skill they had seen, as well as welcoming Obi-Wan into their midst. The crowd slowly filed out as the four fighters sat on the benches, discussing the duel.

"Master Soara would be proud of you," Qui-Gon told Anakin.

"Proud of you, I am," came a voice from behind them.

The group turned to see Yoda approach with Master Windu beside him. The little green master reached out and fondly tapped Anakin with his gimmer stick.

"Proven yourself ready for your Trials, you have," the old master said.

"Really, Master?" Anakin responded, barely able to keep the nervous anticipation out of his tone.

"Agrees, the Council does," Yoda said. "Tomorrow, leave for Tatooine, you will."

"Tatooine?" Anakin was unable to keep the bewilderment out of his voice.

"Xanatos will brief you later today, after evening meal," Mace told him.

Xanatos was surprised at the decision, but realized that the future had to be faced. He also knew that Yoda had gone to meditate after their meeting earlier that morning, and Xanatos felt it was right to trust Master Yoda’s wisdom on the issue.

The group separated, with the Councilors heading back to their chamber, Anakin and Qui-Gon heading back to their own quarters, while Obi-Wan and Xanatos decided to use the public showers nearest the training rooms. After the two emerged, refreshed and in a new change of clothes, Xanatos felt an odd ripple in the Force around Obi-Wan, a somber wave of emotion.

"Are you all right?" Xanatos asked, stepping toward him.

"I’m fine," Obi-Wan replied softly, his hands folded into the sleeves of his robe as usual, but not hiding within it this time. He no longer needed to be secretive about his identity. "Thank you." He paused, and it seemed he was searching for something. "I need some time alone to think," he suddenly said.

Xanatos nodded, his brow furrowed, and Obi-Wan silently slipped down the corridor.

 

It hurt to look at him.

He sat in the little nook by the window, in the far corner of the indoor water garden, the falling light casting long shadows behind him. His features – his ginger hair, his beard, the curve of his cheekbones – were all softened, without any true edges. Even with the gray in his hair, the wrinkles around his eyes, he was still Obi-Wan, and he still looked young.

She knew it wasn’t really Obi-Wan. Not the one she had known, loved and despised. He was a possibility given life by some bizarre willing of the Force. Her Master had assured her that this . . . this was not really Obi-Wan. Not the one she knew.

She was struck by his posture, what that revealed. He was alone in the garden, but he had a certain tenseness to the way he carried himself. He looked drawn thin suddenly, unlike earlier, when he had been with Xanatos. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she knew instinctively they would be grieved, perhaps lost in some memory.

“Obi-Wan,” she said softly, stepping forward. She had to do this. He wasn’t her Obi-Wan, but he was Obi-Wan. That would be enough.

He turned, blue eyes startled. His mouth opened, but nothing came out for a long moment. “Siri?” he whispered.

With a nod, Siri Tachi stepped forward. She slipped a strand of her blond hair behind her ear, watching Obi-Wan carefully. The nervous motion, oddly, seemed to calm him.

“You knew him, didn’t you?” Obi-Wan said softly.

“Yes,” she whispered. She looked away, fighting with herself – knowing why she had come, but denying it still. What use was this? What use?

Obi-Wan said nothing, and Siri finally met his gaze again.

“I knew him when he was a child – when we were both children. I knew him as he grew up. I watched as he changed, as he grew to find enjoyment in dark things,” Siri said, voice rising, become more heated. She stepped forward, and Obi-Wan watched her warily. She couldn’t stop now. “I watched as he professed grief over the murders, and I knew it was a lie. I let him touch me even then, and I ignored the blood I saw in his eyes, because I thought, his hands are clean, aren’t they? Yes – I knew him. Oh, yes.”

“Siri –”

“I loved him, you know,” she continued smoothly. “I loved you.”

A shadow passed over his face. “And I used it,” he said blandly, expression quickly becoming impassive.

“Yes, you did!” Siri hissed. She let out a broken, raspy laugh. “You knew me so well. When I asked you of the murders, you kissed me. When I confronted you, you made love to me. And when I left you, you hit me.”

“You deserved it for your betrayal,” Obi-Wan said with a simple, arrogant twitch of his eyebrows. The gesture was dismissive.

Siri’s eyes flashed with hatred.

Obi-Wan gracefully unfolded his body and walked over to her. He used his height to intimidate, as he had so many times before – he had terrified her and protected her. He watched her carefully now, emotions hidden. “You were mine to use,” he said bluntly. “You were mine, how could you forget that?” he hissed.

With an inhuman scream of hatred, Siri leapt at Obi-Wan. Rather than turn to the side, Obi-Wan let her take him down. In the same movement, though, as she sought to bring her lightsaber to bear, he smacked it out of her hand. Unarmed, Siri used her hands and feet, rage making her movements sloppy and uncoordinated.

Dimly, she recognized that Obi-Wan was only defending himself.

With a great gasp and a single tear, the fight left Siri. Still on the floor, with Obi-Wan beneath her, she fell forward against him with a sob.

Without hesitation, he wrapped her arms around her and held her tight. For once, she did not remember the bruising strength of the Obi-Wan she had known. For once, she allowed the touch. For once and finally . . .

“I loved him,” Siri whispered, body curled against Obi-Wan’s, her head tucked under his chin.

“He couldn’t love you,” Obi-Wan said simply. “Not with what he became.”

And any obligation to still feel ends, Siri thought. “Yes.”

They stayed that way for a long time. The sun passed its zenith, and the room darkened as sunlight no longer directly came in. Siri relaxed fully into Obi-Wan’s arms – not the laxness of grief or exhaustion, but of simply being held. The Force was quiet, and so were they.

Finally, Siri pushed herself away from Obi-Wan. He let her go.

Kenobi was gone. Not simply dead, but even his touch was gone. He had left his imprint on her, and she had been helpless to fight against a ghost.

Obi-Wan . . . this Obi-Wan, had seen that.

He knew darkness, Siri thought, even if he was not of it himself. The realization brought a new thoughtfulness to her, and she looked at Obi-Wan, a question in her mind, but dying unspoken on her lips. Then she looked away.

“Her name was Padmé,” Obi-Wan said simply as Siri rose, a new calm and realization settling deep within her. “And she knew. She knew it all.”

“You helped her?” Siri asked quietly.

“I tried. She told me everything, and I tried. But that was all I could do – just as it was all your friends could do for you.”

Siri paused, mentally and physically. “But . . .”

“I used what she gave me to help you,” he agreed, a note of sadness and regret in his voice. “I hope that someday I will be able to use what I’ve learned here to truly help her.”

Siri nodded, and paused again, some desire to know more making her speak. “Did you . . .”

“Know your counterpart?” Obi-Wan finished. He looked away. “Yes, I knew her. Very well. I – I don’t know whether she survived,” he said, meeting her eyes again.

Siri gave a smile of equal parts pain and comfort. She took a single step forward and put her hand against Obi-Wan’s face. Then she kissed him softly. She wondered, briefly, irrationally, if it was her, the other Siri, who was kissing him in that moment. “Thank you. And if she lives . . . she’ll be waiting. I would.”

He closed his eyes.

Siri walked away, knowing she would never see him again – but this had been enough. For the both of them. A line from a poem ran through her mind, striking and haunting, but fading in a few moments to simply remain. An exorcism of the spirit, for both of them.

It’s over now

In a moment’s rest

Pass by

And left.

 

“Go on,” Xanatos said softly to Adi Gallia. The Jedi Master, a strong woman with delicate features, nodded briefly at him in acknowledgment. Their mutual watch ended, they parted silently, Adi going to her former apprentice, Siri Tachi. Siri stepped out of the room easily, her strides long and confident. But even Xanatos, who had never known her well, could see the burden lifted from her shoulders. There was a new lightness in her eyes that hadn't been present before.

She walked over to her Master, lip trembling slightly, and Adi enfolded her into a firm embrace. They stayed that way for a moment, and then Adi began to lead Siri away.

Xanatos waited until they were out of sight before entering the room.

He and Adi had waited outside, their minds attuned to the Force and focused on that room. Siri had told Adi that she was going to go there, to see Obi-Wan, and while Adi hadn’t felt it was such a great idea, she had nevertheless wanted to keep an eye on Siri – and Obi-Wan, if need be. She had instinctively realized it wouldn’t be an easy meeting for either Siri or Obi-Wan, so when Xanatos started to discretely follow Obi-Wan, Adi intercepted him.

And so Siri and Obi-Wan made their peace with careful, but non-interfering guardians watching from a short distance away.

Obi-Wan looked up with a surprised smile when Xanatos entered. He sat in the corner, in a nook, having been looking outside at the growing darkness. “Xanatos?” he queried.

“We weren’t watching,” Xanatos assured him. “Just . . . keeping aware, you know.” He gave Obi-Wan a lop-sided smile.

“Ah,” Obi-Wan said wisely. “Adi?” he guessed.

Xanatos nodded.

“I thought I saw her, but I wasn’t sure,” he murmured.

“Obi-Wan, are you all right?” Xanatos said, stepping over to Obi-Wan and carefully sitting on the small ledge next to him.

“Just memories,” Obi-Wan said with a gentle matter-of-factness.

“Siri is more than memories.”

Obi-Wan smiled. “As am I,” he admitted. “It was . . . odd, seeing her again. But she needed it.” He looked down. “She gave something to me, as well.”

Xanatos cocked his head. “And what would that be?”

Obi-Wan abruptly looked up. Xanatos could see small changes in his expression, too quick to read, a thousand reactions acknowledged and stifled in a moment. “I don’t know whether Siri is alive in my universe,” he said. “But if she is . . .”

If she is? Xanatos wondered. He thought of Anakin and Padmé, and moreover, Obi-Wan’s reaction to their relationship. Perhaps there had been something between the two of them, Obi-Wan and Siri, in Obi-Wan’s universe. Did that affect Obi-Wan’s viewpoint? Xanatos couldn’t help but doubt it. In fact, he doubted anything more than half-acknowledged wishes and emotion even existed to begin with.

Regardless, Obi-Wan seemed to be all right. There was a gentle sadness in him – Xanatos sensed that – but it didn’t seem . . . new. Remembered, rather.

Looking at the younger man, Xanatos was struck with the sudden recognition of a similarity and a memory in the same moment. His mind drifted back to the look of discomfort shared by Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon just before the meeting with Mace and Yoda.

"Qui-Gon ... knows."

Obi-Wan’s eyes widened slightly, then his features softened. "He guessed as much." He paused. "He would know."

"Yes, he would." Seeing that Obi-wan wasn’t becoming more open with his thoughts, Xanatos decided to keep the topic on Qui-Gon instead. "When you two were alone ... he seemed a little disconcerted after speaking with you."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I shared an experience of my former master, and Qui-Gon realized a side of himself was possible that he had not previously considered." He smiled tiredly. "I suppose it might be easier to think of a world where a dark Padawan stayed in the light, but to realize that darkness is near to yourself . . ." Obi-Wan let the implication hang in the air.

Xanatos furrowed his brow. He, too, had been unnerved when Obi-Wan revealed that his own counterpart had been dark. Yet unlike Qui-Gon - who admittedly had to have been affected by Kenobi’s fall - Xanatos had never completely ignored the potential within himself. He wondered if this, too, might have been a reason Obi-Wan’s universe had had so many troubles. They refused to see a part of themselves that was intrinsic to them. Xanatos made a mental note to discuss it with Qui-Gon when he got a chance.

"You know," Obi-Wan continued, "most people would think that coming to a universe that is so different from the one they have known would be a nightmare. To me, it has been a gift."

"Well, not everyone hails from the wretched world you came from," Xanatos quipped.

Obi-Wan smiled faintly. "Too true." He turned to look out at the gardens that nestled up against the window. The artificial lights had been activated in response to the encroaching night. "I should tell you that I feel that this mission with Anakin - everything will come to a head. I’m not sure how, but I feel it."

Xanatos nodded to himself, filing away Obi-Wan’s admission with his own recent feelings about the days ahead. "Understood." He frowned as he contemplated all that had been revealed in the meeting with Yoda. "The Chosen One will indeed be facing a trial . . ." he murmured.

"The Chosen what?" a youthful voice broke into his thoughts.

Xanatos whirled around to face the door. "Anakin! What are you doing sneaking around?"

"I’m sorry," the Padawan apologized, looking quickly from Xanatos to Obi-Wan. "Master Gallia told me I could find you here. We were supposed to meet after evening meal." He paused. "Unless this isn’t a good time?"

"No, now is fine, Anakin." Xanatos and Obi-Wan quickly rose. "Why don’t we head over to my office?" Xanatos paused to let Obi-Wan and Anakin ahead of him through the door.

Once in the hall, Anakin turned to Obi-Wan. "Would you mind sitting in on the briefing?"

Obi-Wan smiled, glancing at Xanatos before responding. "I would be glad to."

Xanatos marveled at the change that had overcome both of these Jedi in the space of so little time. They’d been faced with their worst fears, and dealt with them. He was especially proud of Anakin. The Padawan had truly grown in his experience with Obi-Wan. He is ready to become a Knight, Xanatos thought to himself as they entered his office.

 

Anakin felt nervous, jittery, and exhilarated all at once. It made for a heady combination, not to mention a queasy stomach. He had been preparing for his trials for weeks, and now that they were up and coming very quickly, he felt out of his depth. But he trusted his Master, Xanatos, and Qui-Gon; they said he was ready.

Xanatos sauntered into his office and plopped down behind the desk, getting comfortable in the excellent chair. A rather familiar chair, actually.

The office was typical of those in the Jedi Temple. The walls were neutral, with navy blue carpeting. The desk was made of clear material, with a small commstation atop it. Two plain chairs were set opposite the desk.

“When did you get an office?” Obi-Wan asked, after a quick glance Anakin’s way.

“After I told the Council that I would be staying on planet for a while, they let me have one,” Xanatos explained. Anakin wasn’t surprised; the Council had done the same with Qui-Gon, and in the end making him so comfortable in the Temple had ensured them that they would have a teacher for the young ones.

Now Anakin knew why the chair looked so familiar. “You stole Qui-Gon’s chair!"

Obi-Wan blinked and Xanatos grinned. “Well, Qui-Gon can always requisition another,” Xanatos said offhandedly.

“Another of the Series IX?” Anakin asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Well, he can do it better than I can, mere Knight that I am.” Xanatos gave them a look of pure innocence.

Obi-Wan shook his head silently and leaned back in his chair. Anakin smiled, musing that for all of his seriousness, Xanatos could and did act like the ‘young upstart’ Qui-Gon so often described. The moment of humor lightened the atmosphere for all three men, and they relaxed subtly.

Anakin took a deep breath. “So?” he said questioningly, then fell silent.

Xanatos studied Anakin for a moment, his dark blue eyes unreadable. “For all that we call this a briefing, there’s not much to brief you on, Anakin,” he began. “You know most of what you need to know to become a Knight. You already carry the knowledge and experience you need, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation yet.”

Anakin nodded slowly. That made sense. “But what will I do on Tatooine?”

Xanatos shrugged and replied ambiguously, “Find yourself.”

“Find . . . myself,” Anakin said flatly.

“What is the first thing that initiates are taught?” Obi-Wan asked, after exchanging a look with Xanatos. Anakin could read nothing in the Knight’s expression, but apparently Obi-Wan could. There was a look in both of their eyes – something that spoke of something Anakin couldn’t yet see, because he didn’t understand enough to see.

“That being a Jedi is more than carrying a lightsaber,” Anakin said cautiously. “It is a state of mind.”

Xanatos nodded. “The Trials are no more than a test to see if you possess that state of mind – or, in some cases, the Padawan truly learns that state of mind during the trial, though that’s rarer.”

Obi-Wan smiled. “That was me, actually,” he said, giving Anakin a reassuring look. “My last mission as a Padawan was my Trial for that reason.”

“Oh,” Anakin said. He knew that Obi-Wan’s last mission as a Padawan had been the one where the Sith had been rediscovered and his Master killed. “So the trials has less to do with the actual events, but is then a testing to see if the person . . . me . . . has the mind of a Jedi? What were all the lightsaber tutorials for, then?”

“Knowing how to use a lightsaber, knowing how to negotiate, how to be a diplomat – all of these things are important because they allow a Jedi to act with knowledge, not ignorance,” Xanatos explained. “But how a person uses that knowledge is what makes a Padawan a Jedi.”

Obi-Wan shifted in his seat, expression momentarily distant. “My Qui-Gon liked to argue that a non-Force-sensitive could be a Jedi, if they were trained right. Used to get the Council in a tizzy over the whole thing.”

Anakin’s mouth quirked. “Some things don’t change.”

“I’ve never heard him make that argument here, but it sounds like him, causing trouble,” Xanatos added, amused.

Anakin took a deep breath, getting back on the subject. “Why am I going to Tatooine, then?”

Obi-Wan and Xanatos glanced at each other so quickly Anakin almost missed it. “Because that is where the Force has told the Council you will have your trial,” Xanatos said simply. He hesitated, licking his lips in an uncommon display of nervousness that made Anakin’s nervousness ratchet up. “You were born on Tatooine, Anakin. When I told you that you were going to find yourself, I was, in a sense, speaking literally.”

Anakin slumped in his seat. “What will I find?” About myself? My past? And how will it dictate my future?

“I don’t know, Anakin,” Xanatos said softly.

“But you’ll face it, and deal with it like a Jedi would,” Obi-Wan said quietly. Anakin looked at him, meeting Obi-Wan’s fierce blue eyes. “You will,” he emphasized, voice gentle.

Anakin knew something else was going on here – something both Obi-Wan and Xanatos were deeply involved in, something having to do with him. He also realized that he wasn’t supposed to know it, whatever that thing was.

He could accept that. Sometimes it was not the job of a Jedi to fight, but to accept. The Force did not always tell one everything. He would act as a Jedi would, trusting in the Force and going forth.

“I’m ready,” Anakin said, and he meant it.

 

Padmé was making dinner. It was something she had done often when she was young, and she did expertly now. She got the fruit washed and chopped, covered in seasoned oil and herbs, then went to the next step all in the space of a few minutes. Even as Queen, when she went home her parents would have her help with making dinner and washing the dishes afterward. In hindsight, it had been a wonderfully grounding experience.

The door chimed. With a glance at Eirtaé, who was cooking the meat, she got up to answer it.

“Milady,” Eirtaé said worriedly, following.

“Go tenderize the meat,” Padmé ordered. “If our visitor got through security, I’m sure he’ll be a welcome guest,” she added with a reassuring smile.

Eirtaé nodded.

The door chimed again, and Padmé quickened her step. She opened the door.

Anakin smiled. His arms opened and she fell into them in one easy motion, the roughness of his robe still pleasant against her skin. He felt warm and solid against her – wonderfully so. She blushed a little at her thoughts, then shook it off, letting him go. “Come in,” she said simply.

He kissed her lightly on the cheek, then ducked in. Eirtaé peeked out from the kitchen, then smirked knowingly. “I knew that was the right dress,” she quipped before dodging back into the safety of the kitchen.

Padmé glared in that general direction anyway, but she couldn’t make it last.

Anakin raked his eyes over her. “You mean that one you wore when we met? I noticed,” he said with an intense stare and wide grin – with a hint of a smirk.

Padmé whacked his arm. “I’m glad to see you, but I wasn’t expecting you. You want to join us for dinner?”

Anakin hesitated, then nodded. “I’d love to. I did come for a reason, though,” he added, a nervous glint in his eyes.

Padmé nodded. “Something wrong?”

“No,” he assured her.

Without shifting her gaze from him, Padmé called out, “Stop eavesdropping, Eirtaé.”

Anakin laughed. “It’s all right,” he said with a quick look in the kitchen’s direction. “You remember that I was to take my Trials soon?”

“It got moved up?” Padmé asked. She tensed uncomfortably.

“Yes,” Anakin said. “I leave tomorrow. I’ll probably be back soon, but I wanted to tell you in person. If – if all goes well, I’ll be a Jedi Knight when I get back.” He sighed, and shifted his weight. “Eirtaé, you can stop listening in now.” There was a thunk from the kitchen, then silence.

Padmé stepped right up to Anakin, invading his space like she belonged there – which she rather thought she did. She put her hands on the side of his face. “Then this will be more serious,” she whispered.

“To the Jedi,” he added. “It’s already serious to me,” he said, turning his head and kissing her palm, eyes fluttering shut for a moment.

Padmé’s smile was gentle. She felt the same way. “Then what next?”

“I want to tell them, after I return. One way or another,” he said firmly. “Being a Jedi – is important to me. It’s what I am, and even if I never pass my Trials, it will always be a part of me. But, if things . . .” He paused and took a breath. “If things don’t go well, I’ll always be with you.”

And in that statement, implicitly stated: in death or life.

Padmé squeezed shut her eyes. “It will be dangerous?” she whispered. He just walked in the door and told her, and it was just so sudden.

“Maybe. I don’t know.”

Padmé shook her head. “When you’re back,” she said firmly, “we’ll tell the Jedi. About us.”

“And about it not changing, no matter what,” he said just as firmly.

“That’s more than enough for me,” she said softly, vision blurring for just a moment. She kissed him, long and hard, and it felt like a claiming; he was hers. A Jedi, but he belonged to her. Even as she was fierce, he was gentle, and the kiss ended that way, softly and lingeringly.

“You know,” Anakin added reluctantly, “we’ll have to do this again, in a way. I won’t always be on safe missions, in safe places. I’ll be traveling a lot, too.”

Padmé laughed. “You’re doing a good job of dumping this all on my head rather quickly, Anakin,” she said, but while there was a wry note to her words, there was no anger.

“I know,” he said, looking slightly embarrassed. He kissed her again, quickly and lightly. “I suppose it won’t be any worse than what you go through, with all those politicians. At least criminals are honest.”

Padmé choked. “Anakin –”

Anakin grinned.

“True,” she said at last. They both had their duty; hers to her people, to being a good Senator, and him as a Jedi, to serve all. Even were he not a Jedi, they would probably often be apart. Life was dangerous, too. And hopeful. “You’re worth it,” she said at last, “all of it.” Even the fear. She already knew that she was to him.

“I love you,” he said simply.

“Then have dinner with me. Be with me. Tonight.”

He nodded, and if he was a little breathless by the time Padmé let Eirtaé come back to set the table, Eirtaé wisely didn’t comment.

 

Anakin Skywalker had never enjoyed space travel. Ironic perhaps for a Jedi Knight who was fated to journey about the galaxy on various missions, but he disliked it nonetheless. Space was expansive, dark and cold – and despite how many layers of clothing he wore or how tightly he pulled his cloak about him, the chill seemed to seep into his very bones. He didn’t mind the destinations, the newness of it all, the learning – but the traveling, yes.

He had been lucky to apprentice under Master Yoda, who was notorious for his lack of off-world assignments. But now that Anakin’s Trials were underway, he accepted that the discomfort of traveling was about to become a constant in his life. He looked forward to experiencing new cultures first-hand and tried to focus on that thought instead of long dark days through hyperspace.

Turning over in his bunk in his little room aboard the craft that he, Xanatos, and Obi-Wan were taking to Tatooine, Anakin pulled the covers around him. As he drifted toward slumber his muscles relaxed and the datapad Xanatos had given him to read fell from his grip. In the quiet of the room - with only the faint hum of the hyperdrive to comfort him - Anakin’s thoughts turned to Padmé, and their parting. He suddenly realized the aching inside him was loneliness, and sadness flitted through his thoughts just as sleep took him.

He slipped into a familiar dream, one that had always come to him during stressful times.

There was darkness, with a bright light beyond and shapes silhouetted against it. The dark surrounded him was not threatening; it was comforting in a way he didn’t understand. There was a presence, too, one warm and familiar. It was never far from him, never far from him when he had hurts, when he had doubts. The presence was there: warm, caring, embracing. He needed the presence and gained strength from it. The presence had a name, which he could no longer remember, but it didn’t matter; all that mattered was that it comforted him and made him feel safe. It was all he needed.

 

The thrumming of the engines pulling out of hyperspace woke him, and the remnants of his dreams were forgotten as his thoughts shifted to his upcoming Trials. He stretched, and then quickly settled in a light meditation, trying to gain an understanding of the Force, which suddenly seemed to swirl powerfully around him.

 

Xanatos eyed Obi-Wan. They were wandering their way to Mos Eisley in a more roundabout way than Anakin – keeping an eye on him but also keeping some distance. Tatooine. Xanatos sighed. He remembered this place well, probably always would. Vicious gangsters, self-serving smugglers, and good people stuck in the middle of it. Not to mention the slavers. He hated slavers, and he didn’t care in that particular instance that hatred wasn’t a Jedi-like emotion.

But there were good people here. He smiled slightly. It was good that Tatooine would be joining the Republic. Living would improve for everyone. Except, Xanatos could hope, for those who didn’t deserve it, those who would continue to act immorally. He was glad his mission ended up having such a positive result, one way or another.

His feelings about returning to the place he had operated undercover for so many months were somewhat mixed. He wondered if he would see any of the rebel leaders who had taken up the fight against the slavers. He’d helped them, subtly – sometimes by just offering suggestions that would lead to other things – and he hoped they were well. And sometimes he had helped more openly. He’d been a bit discrete in his initial report to the Jedi Council about how much he had helped the farming communities organize the petition to join the Republic, though he suspected they knew the truth anyway. It had to be the citizens of Tatooine’s decision, though, and while he had pushed and prodded, they had made it. He was glad they made the right decision.

Obi-Wan, on the other hand, looked considerably more ambivalent about the whole thing. He squinted in the bright sunlight. Xanatos was accustomed to the harsh suns, even after his stay on Kamino.

“You’ve been here,” Xanatos said softly. He knew he would be easily heard; there was only the quiet whistle of the wind and the skittering noise of the sand shifting beneath their feet.

Obi-Wan nodded. “This was where Qui-Gon first fought the Sith. And where we found Anakin, of course.”

“But there’s something more?”

“Anakin’s mother lived here,” Obi-Wan said with a shrug.

“I know that.”

“She also died here,” Obi-Wan said with an uncomfortable look. “Anakin – didn’t react well. Padmé told me about it, after – well, everything. I think this was the beginning.”

Xanatos stopped walking. After a few small steps, Obi-Wan stopped as well, surprised. “You think Yoda knew?” Xanatos asked.

Obi-Wan shrugged. “Does it matter? Yoda knows that this is the place where Anakin’s Trials will occur – must occur, perhaps.”

“Because of Anakin’s mother,” Xanatos said softly.

Obi-Wan looked away and sighed. “He does not have such a strong connection to her as my Anakin did, but I have no doubt that connection still exists. When you consider what Anakin is – the Chosen One – it makes sense. This universe is largely more peaceful than mine. I wonder if he has ever truly been faced with the situation of losing someone important to him. Especially since he never went on regular missions, at least not as much as other Jedi.”

“Yes,” Xanatos said, finally.

They continued on for a few minutes that way; each lost in their own thoughts and worried, dependent on their perspectives of the situation, very different by the fact of their lives being very different. In one way, though, they silently agreed; they were concerned.

“I wonder what it’s like,” Obi-Wan murmured. “Living here. For so long.”

Xanatos nodded. He had lived here for months, growing to know the people and the way of its cities and outlying communities. But he had known that he would never live here, never truly make a life here, as others did, as Jedi never could.

 

The moment he stepped foot on Tatooine, Anakin knew he would never complain about the coldness of space travel again. The heat that blasted him seemed like a smothering cloak, weighing down his limbs and slowing his thoughts. The sun burned the patches of his tender skin that were not covered by the baggy garb he wore to blend in with the planet’s native population.

Worst of all though was the sand. No matter how he walked it seemed to work its way into his boots, grating against his flesh. He knew that if the wind picked up, the sand would blow into his hair and his eyes and he would be even more miserable.

Anakin quickly tamped down on his thoughts. It was not a line of thinking a Jedi should be having in the middle of an important mission, least of all a Jedi undertaking his Trials. And particularly for the focus he needed while on this world.

For the moment, he was alone, making his way through various back alleys of the main city of Mos Eisley. He had split from Obi-Wan and Xanatos after they had left the ship; the Force had called him away, urging him on, and his mentors had understood. So Anakin strolled through the maze of buildings as he felt himself gently guided on by the Force. The atmosphere of the city was intriguing: there was a sense of anticipation – the Senate vote would rely on the outcome of their mission, if Xanatos reported that a sufficient percentage of the population voted to join – but there were also snaking tendrils of darkness. Greed and iniquity were in strong force here, courtesy of the criminal population he knew that had dominated the planet since time immemorial.

As he emerged into a plaza he came to a halt, for the whispering currents of the Force suddenly swirled in intensity. He glanced around and relaxed, letting the Force flow through him. It was startlingly easy – he could feel its power so clearly here, and he didn’t know why. He quickly glimpsed what he believed he had been searching for.

Gathered beneath a threadbare awning – which did little to fend off the blazing light of the suns – was a small handful of people. The focus of their attention was a middle-aged woman, with kind yet careworn features and intense brown eyes that never left her audience as she spoke with them. At first glance he felt that there was something familiar about her but he could not determine what. Anakin sidled closer to catch what she was saying.

"We need the final tallies by this evening. We’re counting on the support of your communities to help us all. Semiri reports that Eisley goes well, as does Anchorhead. I’ll be speaking with Drelk again, but just in case he won’t listen your districts will be very important. Any questions? Good. We’ll reconvene tonight."

The small group quickly dispersed, leaving the woman alone. She leaned against a small table as she picked up a datapad and examined the screen. It was several moments before she looked up and saw Anakin.

"Are you from one of the outer communities? I have not seen you before at any of our meetings." She studied him, confusion fleeting through her features before her face smoothed once more into one of warm welcome.

"No, I’m a new arrival," Anakin told her, and added genuinely, "but I am interested in the welfare of this world."

She nodded, seeming to trust his words and accept him. "Cliegg should be along in a few moments. We have a meeting with a local rival with whom we’re hoping to reconcile our concerns tomorrow. It was going to be today, but things came up."

"Cliegg - is that your son?"

"My husband. Well, not technically. We’ve never bothered with formally declaring. The local government, if it can be called that, is too scattered to listen to needs like that. They were more concerned with sharing profits with the Hutts. Cliegg bought my own freedom from Gardulla the Hutt many years ago."

"You were a slave?"

"Yes, and there are still many slaves here. It’s one reason why I want to join the Republic and be governed by their laws. So many here deserve a better life."

"You seem to be active in doing that," Anakin remarked.

She smiled. "For years I never thought it would be possible to change things on this world. Yet only within the past few months have I seen a new way. A man met with some of us to explain how we could organize and petition to join the Republic. The criminal factions are strongly opposed and wield great power on Tatooine, but Thani helped us to realize that if we stick together it may be possible to defeat them."

"Thani?" Anakin bit back a smile; he was still not used to hearing Xanatos’ undercover name. Besides being the capital of his home planet, it was similar to the nickname Qui-Gon sometimes still called him.

"Yes, a tall man, with black hair and keen blue eyes. Have you not spoken with him? Everyone sympathetic to our cause seems to have come across his path at least once. He is elusive, though." She paused, once more studying Anakin. "You remind me of him."

"I do?" Anakin raised an eyebrow.

"Not in your appearance, but in your bearing. I feel that you are both good people. Ones that we can trust."

"Thank you, ma’am."

She blushed suddenly. "I am sorry - how rude of me – I never introduced myself. My name is Shmi."

"I am Anakin," he returned, offering his hand in greeting. He was not worried to be going by his real name as that had been decided by Xanatos at the start of the mission. But Shmi’s reaction to his name had him suddenly doubting that decision.

"Anakin?" she gasped. "Anakin? I thought at first ... but it seemed too good to be true ..." She moved forward, reaching out a sun-browned hand to gently caress his face.

Uncertain but not frightened, Anakin did not pull away from her touch.

"I would know you anywhere," she whispered. "My Anakin. My son." She closed her eyes, a single tear sliding down to her cheek.

Anakin started at that. He knew he had been born on Tatooine, but had no memories. He had never given his origins much thought, as the Jedi were all he needed. "You’re my – mother?" Anakin spoke the words so haltingly, so unfamiliar with the name, that Shmi suddenly jerked her arm away from him, wiping the tear away. She took a step back, her eyes misty, yet she smiled.

"Yes, Ani."

Something about her suddenly triggered him to recall the dream he’d had that morning, the one that he’d had for years. "You’re the presence in my dreams," he said slowly, his eyes glazed over as he delved into a memory. "I don’t know where I am, but I’m safe." He reached out and lightly took Shmi’s hand between his own. "You kept me safe when I was little."

"Yes."

"When I was scared ... hurt. You were there."

"I was your mother. I loved you. Of course I took care of you. And look at you now - a Jedi. All grown up, and helping to keep others safe yourself." She lowered her voice to not let mention of his title fall on passersby ears. Although Anakin’s appearance did not match those of the Jedi, Anakin knew Shmi was perceptive enough to figure out that he was undercover, and was there to help Tatooine.

"I am a Jedi," he affirmed in an equally soft tone. He paused, not certain how to say it but deciding being forward would be the best way. "I am a Jedi, and that is where I belong now."

"I know, I know," she reassured him, once more reaching out and touching his face before taking a step back. "I had you for a precious short time, but I knew when to let you go."

They shared a smile, and Anakin suddenly knew that things were as they were meant to be.

“Shmi!” a rough, weathered voice called out. Shmi turned from Anakin with a smile on her face, and her visual search soon ended – coming to rest on an older man, with a grizzled look about him. He was dressed as a farmer, but moved in an easy way. She glanced back at Anakin quickly, as if reassuring herself that he was real, that he was standing there.

“That’s Cliegg,” she said softly, watching Anakin’s eyes.

Cliegg came forward through the dissipating crowd. He gave Anakin a cautious, wary look, but said nothing, merely sweeping Shmi into a gentle hug.

Shmi kept her hand on Cliegg’s arm. “Cliegg, this . . . this is Anakin,” she said with a blinding smile.

Anakin nodded in greeting. “A pleasure to meet you, sir.”

Cliegg squinted. “Anakin? You’re Shmi’s son?”

“It would appear so,” Anakin said, feeling more than a little awkward.

Cliegg hesitated for a moment, then gave him a warm smile. “Then welcome to the family, kid. I thought the Jedi took you?”

“Gave,” Shmi murmured.

“They did,” Anakin confirmed. “I don’t think we should speak of that here, though.” He gestured with his eyes at a group of scruffy-looking men. Even if those close by would be willing to pass over the fact that a Jedi was nearby, those men would probably not. They stood outside of one of Mos Eisley’s many bars, and they were giving Shmi and Cliegg a very unfriendly look.

Shmi glanced over, and her lips pursed. “Slavers,” she said bluntly. She looked at Cliegg. “Let’s go home. My business here is done,” she said more gently.

Cliegg nodded. “You’re welcome to join us,” he said, looking at Anakin. Shmi smiled. It was a graceful, humble expression on her face.

Anakin hesitated a moment, then nodded slowly. “If it’s no trouble.”

“Of course not,” Shmi assured him. She gave him that look again, that so clearly spoke of her mingled joy and disbelief, like she almost didn’t dare believe she had her son.

Cliegg saw it. Anakin saw that, and when their eyes met, there was a sudden silent agreement between the two men: keep Shmi happy.

“We live out by . . .” Shmi began.

 

The night was uneventful. Over dinner, Shmi – and more subtly, Cliegg – interrogated Anakin over his life, what it had been like, how he was. Shmi seemed to want to know everything. Somewhere during the conversation, Cliegg had finally relaxed; maybe it been during the story he told about giving tours of ‘Thani’s' rooms. Anakin thought Cliegg might have believed that he would hurt Shmi in some way, in being distant from her.

He didn’t know that Anakin already felt like Shmi’s son. He just didn’t know the fact of it – he felt it. She was his mother, and while before it had always merely been a word, now there was fact and emotion tied to it.

He rather thought that the way he and Owen, Cliegg’s son – his stepbrother! – had hit it off had helped. Suddenly having a new family member – albeit one he had known had existed, somewhere – was a bit of a shock for Cliegg, but he was adapting very well in Anakin’s opinion. Shmi was blissful.

Anakin bedded down for the night in the garage. He had suggested it, and despite Shmi’s . . . mothering, that’s where he had slept, for what little he had slept. He hadn’t wanted to put the Lars family out of their beds, and he knew he wouldn’t sleep much anyway.

He woke well before sunrise. He went outside, deactivating and then reactivating the house alarms, but not going beyond the outer perimeter of alarms. Tusken Raiders rarely came close to the farms, but that was partially because of the precautions the farmers took.

He looked up at the night sky, feeling the cool air of night swirl around his body, seeping through his clothes. He didn’t shiver, though. He just sat down and looked up. Even in the Outer Rim, the stars were bright. A little sparser, perhaps, but still bright.

He breathed deeply. It was like he was flying, here. It was so strange and new, but exhilarating. He didn’t know what any of this had to do with his Trials yet, but he was sure there was some connection. The Force was strong with him. He wondered if that was because he was here, in his birthplace, or if it was because things of great importance would happen soon. He could see nothing of the future; it was hazy, unclear.

“Anakin?”

Anakin turned. He hesitated, then: “Mom?”

Shmi smiled, even gave a little hop in her robe. She took a few quick steps up to him, and then sat by him. Anakin looked her over in concern. “You’re cold,” he said, and shrugging out of his robe despite her protests, he put it around her shoulders.

“It’s heavy,” she commented.

“I realized exactly how heavy during the afternoon heat,” Anakin said dryly. “What are you doing up? I thought you were asleep.”

“I was,” she said, raising her eyebrow. “I thought you were asleep. It’s not safe to be out here at night, you know.”

“I don’t sense any danger,” Anakin assured her.

She breathed deeply, something magical in her eyes, then gently touched his face. “You can sense many things, I imagine. I always knew you were special, since I first carried you.”

Anakin smiled. Then it faded, as a sudden thought occurred to him. “What about my father?”

Shmi looked at him searchingly. “You have no father. I carried you, I gave birth to you. I can’t explain it, but you were a gift, Ani. As I told the Jedi who took you to your new life.”

“I – I don’t have a father? But that’s not possible.” He shook his head in disbelief.

Shmi nodded. “I can’t explain it, but I know it’s true.”

And the Jedi know, Anakin thought. I don’t. Didn’t. And Obi-Wan – “They never told me.”

Shim frowned. “Maybe they didn’t think it wise.”

Obi-Wan must have known. And Yoda, at the very least. Did Xanatos know? What was he? “Maybe.”

Shmi settled her hand on his. “Don’t be angry, Ani. I’ve seen the way you talk about them, the things you say. They love you. I’m sure they did what they felt best.”

Anakin nodded slowly. “Yes,” he agreed quietly.

“Will you come inside?” Shmi asked, with a gentle smile.

Anakin felt the corner of his mouth twitch. “Let me guess. You’ll only come inside if I do,” he said.

Shmi laughed.

“I think I get my stubbornness from you,” he said, rising to his feet and helping Shmi to slowly rise.

“I hope you got some of my better qualities as well,” she replied dryly.

Anakin just smiled.

 

At least it wasn’t so hot in the morning, Obi-Wan mused. At night, it was cold; during the day it was hot. There wasn’t much in-between to be had. Though he wondered why people didn’t just do everything at night, lack of light or not; it was so much cooler, and he’d always found cold easier to handle than so much heat you could cook on the street.

Xanatos was disgustingly adjusted.

As if hearing his thoughts, Xanatos shot him a smirk.

“So, where are we going?” Obi-Wan asked as they dodged in and out of early-morning foot and vehicle traffic.

“I don’t know yet,” Xanatos admitted. “I’ll sense it when the time comes, though.”

“You intend on wandering around until something comes to you or something happens? The Force will call in its time.”

“What, afraid of a little heat?”

Obi-Wan merely gave him a calm, cool look, and set about adjusting the temperature of his body with the Force.

 

It was mid-morning with the meeting settled into place. It would take place in Mos Eisley – admittedly not the best place on Tatooine, but one of the biggest and most important. So to Mos Eisley they went.

Anakin accompanied Shmi and Cliegg to the meeting with the ‘rival’ Shmi had spoken of earlier. His name was simply Gardaro. He wasn’t a slaver, or even a particularly bad criminal, though he probably did a few illegal trade practices here and there. That was part of what made him such a problem, Anakin learned. He didn’t want Tatooine to join the Republic; he was afraid of losing business. The slavers and smugglers supported him because he didn’t support the Republic, and he was just looking out for himself in the whole issue. But as their leader, their representative, it was his choice. Appealing to his sense of morality would probably be pointless, and he wasn’t such a criminal that he could be ignored, or dealt with by the tribunal that had been set up by citizens of Anchorhead with the help of a mysterious man called Thani.

The meeting took place in a shaded square. Most of the tables had been pushed to the side, leaving a single table and a lot of space in the middle.

At least, it would have been a lot of space. The small meeting turned out to be more; supporters had shown up on both sides.

At one side stood some shady-looking sorts, and on the other were some decidedly nervous but determined farmers and honest businessmen.

Anakin muttered, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“It’ll be fine,” Shmi reassured him, but she also looked concerned. Cliegg just looked proud of his wife.

The crowd grew quiet in anticipation as Shmi and Gardaro greeted each other and took their seats facing one another at the table. The bystanders drew in slightly to hear better; Anakin and Cliegg stood directly behind Shmi, mirroring the stance of several of Gardaro’s men.

Shmi spoke first. “Gardaro, have you come to a decision?” Her tone was soft and calm, betraying none of her nervousness or her eagerness.

Gardaro leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. He was a large, gruff-looking man, but seemed to possess a natural charisma that was undoubtedly responsible for him being the leader of the criminal element in this city. “Well, I have to say that my mind hasn’t changed since our previous meeting.” A murmur rolled through the crowd.

“So your vote will be for Tatooine to remain separate from the Republic?”

“Exactly.” He tilted his head. “You see, I don’t trust the Republic. They’ve never been interested in us before. We’ve done fine on our own. Don’t need some distant politicians meddling in our affairs.”

Shmi leaned forward. “So far, we’ve managed to get nearly the majority of Tatooine’s citizens to support joining the Republic. You are a ... representative of the final group we need. If the rest of the planet supports this move, why not you? What have you got to lose?” When Gardaro did not answer, Shmi pressed on, addressing the crowd around her. “We only to stand to gain if we join the Republic – all of us. Think of the poverty on this planet, the unhappiness and uncertainty you see in your neighbors as you pass them on the street everyday. All of that can be eased if we become a member of the Galactic Senate. They will be obliged to help us.” She paused, her eyes searching Gardaro’s face. “Don’t you want a better life?”

Her rival leaned forward, poking a finger at his chest. “Honey, I’ve got the good life.”

Anakin tensed as he sensed a sudden dangerous undercurrent shoot through the crowd. He watched as several farmers moved forward threateningly.

“You live the good life at the expense of us all!” one of the farmers spat.

“And you blame your own incompetence at making a living on me?” Gardaro leaned back again nonchalantly. “You’re lucky I haven’t chosen to crush your businesses for your disrespect.”

“Well, why don’t you try?” In a moment, blasters and other weapons were drawn on both sides.

Gardaro smirked. “You amuse me.”

The farmer took another step forward, his blaster trembling in his hand. “Why don’t you see how well I amuse you with a blaster bolt in your heart?”

Shmi stood up and began to move to speak with the angry farmer.

The movement saved her life.

A poorly aimed bolt shot out of the blaster and clipped Shmi in the shoulder, where her chest had been only a second before. Before she could cry out, Gardaro leapt to his feet and grabbed her, pulling her backwards and placing the barrel of his own blaster at her temple.

“If anyone even thinks about assassinating me again, she dies!” Gardaro snarled. He held Shmi in a firm grip. For her part, she remained calm, although it was obvious she was in tremendous pain. The sleeve of her dress was quickly growing dark.

Blood pounded in Anakin’s ears. He suddenly found it difficult to breathe. His thoughts were fixed on Gardaro, consumed with the notion of how easy it would be to reach out with the Force, wrap a tendril around the criminal’s neck, and squeeze . . . Shmi was hurt, but how badly was difficult to tell with all the blood.

The Force swirled around him powerfully, overwhelmingly, and he knew it would be easy. To end this all here and save his mother. His jaw clenched, his fists tightened, and the Force seemed to sizzle in readiness.

No. There were bigger things at stake, bigger than he was, bigger than Shmi. All of Tatooine depended on this moment. He had to do what was right, what was expected – and required – of him. He had to do his duty.

The wave of darkness rolled away as quickly as it had come, leaving only serenity and determination in its wake.

Anakin stepped forward, both hands open in a gesture of peace. “Please! Stop this.” The crowd grew quiet again at the new voice. “We will get nowhere by fighting.”

“And who would you be?” Gardaro sneered.

Anakin paused. “I am Shmi’s son.”

Gardaro shook Shmi. “I didn’t know you had another son, honey.”

Anakin calmly moved toward him, speaking softly. “I have been away for a long time. I went in search of a better life.” He turned slightly to address the whole crowd. “And I return now at a time when you all have the possibility for a better life. Look around you!” His gesture indicated the alleys that surrounded them: filled with dark corners, rubbish, and nervous citizens moving quickly to avoid thieves and slavers. In the distance, a baby could be heard crying. “Is this what you want for your home?”

Gardaro was silent – listening – but Anakin knew that appealing to his moral sense would not win him over. The Padawan changed tactics. “If Tatooine does join the Republic, I won’t lie – slavery will be abolished and illegal trading will be looked down upon. But this doesn’t mean you will be jobless, without a means to support you and your family. The Republic welcomes your services as lawful businessmen. It can help you make that transition.”

Anakin’s voice was persuasive, mirroring the tone he had heard Xanatos use in negotiations. Yet he was careful to leave out any Force suggestion – these people had to decide for themselves. “I know many of you are embroiled in conflicts with the natives of this planet, the Sand People. The Republic will be obliged to help you settle those conflicts.” He searched his memory of what he had read about these clashes. “The Republic peace keepers are experts at solving these types of land disputes. And yet this will only happen if you all choose to join the Republic. Think of the benefits, for all of you.”

Gardaro shifted his weight, although he did not relax his stance. Yet many of his comrades had already lowered their weapons, listening intently. Anakin decided to play his final card.

“The Hutts mostly control this planet,” the Padawan continued. “They must require a fair chunk of your profits, do they not?” Another murmur rolled through the crowd, on both sides. “I can assure you that whatever taxes the Senate will require will be far less than what the Hutts take from you now.” He met Gardaro’s eyes. “And the Republic does not take assassination lightly.” Not quite an offer of protection, but close enough.

Gardaro finally lowered his weapon but kept a hand on Shmi. Yet Anakin still detected some distrust in his eyes as the criminals glanced at the farmers across from him. Similar doubt was mirrored in the gazes of the farmers.

Anakin spoke again before the moment was lost. “And you,” he addressed the farmers, “you will have to compromise too. If one side agrees to give up their illegal trades, then you must understand that you are agreeing to live with these people. They will be your fellow citizens, and deserve your respect. You will be living under the banner of the same planet.” He turned his gaze back to Gardaro and his men. “Even if you choose now not to join with your neighbors, you should know that nearly half the planet already supports joining the Republic. I can only imagine that that number will grow in the future. Nothing remains the same forever. You can’t stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting. Why not embrace it now, when you stand only to benefit from it?”

Anakin sensed it then – a growing acceptance from one side, and a cautious resignation on the other. Yet both sides expressed hope. Anakin felt the Force swirling around him, pulsing with the life-forms all about him, life-forms he hoped would soon see a better future.

Gardaro finally released Shmi. He was a calculating man, and it showed in his eyes. But he was a practical man as well. Shmi gasped and stumbled toward one of the chairs. Cliegg rushed forward to help her.

Anakin picked up the datapad that Shmi had set on the table at the start of the meeting. He held it out to Gardaro. “Will you agree to join the Republic?”

After a moment’s pause, the man accepted the datapad. He glanced at the screen, then used the stylus to sign his name.

“Thank you,” Anakin told him sincerely as he took the device back. Gardaro’s only response was a grunt as he turned and walked away, his men following him. The rest of the crowd began to disperse as well.

Anakin tucked the datapad safely away in his pocket. He would need to get it to Xanatos soon so that the Senate could be informed of the majority on Tatooine and the Senate vote to accept Tatooine could go forward. But now that the danger had passed, he could afford to focus his attention on Shmi.

Cliegg had already cut away her sleeve, exposing a nasty-looking wound. Dipping lightly into the Force, Anakin could tell that the wound was not deep or dangerous, despite its appearances.

He knelt beside Shmi. “How do you feel?”

She smiled faintly. “I’ve survived worse.” She reached out and took his hand between her own. “I’m so proud of you, Ani.”

“And I’m proud of you, Mom.” He smiled, wondering if she could see the tears that he struggled to hold back. He supposed she could.

“You should probably get some bacta on that.”

Anakin started at the familiar voice behind him. He quickly rose to his feet. “Thani,” he greeted Xanatos. Obi-Wan stood beside him, smiling. “You arrived just in time,” he added dryly.

“Anakin,” Xanatos dipped his head in acknowledgment, ignoring the remark, and greeted the others. Then he turned back to Shmi. “I have a proper medical kit on my ship, if you like.”

“Yes, thank you, Thani,” she replied. She got to her feet with the help of Anakin. “We can meet you at the homestead, if that would be all right?”

Xanatos smiled and nodded. “We won’t be long.”

Anakin handed him the datapad with the signatures on it, correctly assuming that Xanatos meant to contact the Jedi and Senate with the news when he returned to the ship for the bacta. The Knight paused a moment as he took the device, grasping Anakin’s arm with his free hand.

“Well done, Anakin.” He grinned. “Well done.”

Anakin bowed his head. “Thank you.” He watched as Xanatos and Obi-Wan hurried off to ensure stragglers dispersed with everyone else, not wanting another incident before they could even send the votes off, then turned to help Shmi. As he considered the woman, he realized that she’d had a major role in bringing the planet together. She might very well go down in Tatooine history.

Well done indeed.

 

The curious stragglers were easily run off, with assurances that their concerns would be dealt with at a later date. Obi-Wan ended up doing most of the work; Xanatos could hardly talk, his mind still on what Anakin had done.

“He passed his Trials, didn’t he?” Xanatos said suddenly.

Obi-Wan glanced at him, walking back to Anakin’s family, then said, “You’re only figuring this out now?”

Xanatos grinned. “It was well done.”

“It was more than that. Sometime over the past few days, Anakin formed a connection with his mother, but he balanced it with his Jedi duties back there. He put his duty first, and still cared for Shmi.” He raised both eyebrows, waiting for Xanatos' response.

Xanatos nodded. “So he did.”

“And then there’s Padmé,” Obi-Wan added offhandedly.

“What about Padmé?” Xanatos asked warily. He was as aware of the relationship as Obi-Wan, but while he wasn’t sure it would go anywhere, Obi-Wan appeared to have a different opinion – and not just because his own Anakin had married the woman, Xanatos suspected.

Obi-Wan didn’t answer. He walked over to where Anakin stood. Shmi was being treated by a local medic nearby, under Anakin and Cliegg’s watchful eyes. She was pale, but smiling. Anakin looked fairly relaxed, though his tension sang in the Force; Cliegg didn’t bother to disguise his emotions, or his protectiveness.

When Obi-Wan and Xanatos approached, however, Anakin left his mother’s side, apparently satisfied with her treatment. He smiled at the two of them, but Xanatos felt a frisson of worry. He wanted to talk to them alone, or he would not have moved.

“What is it?” Xanatos asked Anakin.

Anakin cocked his head to the side, and began walking in that direction, away from Shmi and the others. “I wanted to ask you about something, as you can probably tell.” He glanced at Obi-Wan. “Obi-Wan, too.”

Obi-Wan simply nodded.

“What is it?” Xanatos asked, following Anakin to his right; Obi-Wan was on his left.

“Shmi told me about the fact that I . . . apparently don’t have a father. And the Jedi knew this.” He gave Xanatos a dark look, not with anger, but other emotions.

Xanatos blinked. “What?”

“Its part of the Chosen One prophecy,” Obi-Wan broke in. “A part, I, ah, failed to mention.” Xanatos couldn’t help looking at Obi-Wan in surprise – they were going to discuss this now? Anakin may have taken his Trials, but for the time being, Yoda was still his Master, and they hadn’t discussed how to reveal the existence of the prophecy to Anakin.

Anakin’s eyes narrowed. “There’s a prophecy now?”

“Yes,” Obi-Wan said. “It’s not a well known one, and Yoda kept the information from you – and the other Jedi – deliberately. For your sake,” he added, watching Anakin carefully.

Xanatos mentally leaned back to watch. Obi-Wan and Anakin had a special connection, different than what he and Xanatos had, or even he and Qui-Gon.

“My sake?”

“If you had known you were supposed to fulfill an ancient prophecy, it would have been a burden on you.” He paused. “I know it was a great burden to the Anakin of my universe. I am glad Yoda was wise enough to keep it from you.”

The faintly accusing look in Anakin’s face faded at Obi-Wan’s words. “What is this prophecy?”

“One of the reasons Yoda knew you were the Chosen One is because of your – lack of a father. The other is your very high midichlorian count, which you do know about. These things were set out in the prophecy, so when the time came, the Jedi would know who the Chosen One was,” Obi-Wan began to explain. “The prophecy itself is actually fairly simple, or at least it sounds that way.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Anakin commented.

“Essentially, you’re somehow supposed to bring balance.”

“To what?”

Obi-Wan smiled and shrugged.

“How helpful,” Anakin said sarcastically.

“For all we know, this isn’t even something you have to try to do – your life will simply . . . go that way,” Xanatos added.

“Balance,” Anakin repeated. “What about your Anakin?” he asked, turning to Obi-Wan.

“I don’t know. My Anakin turned; is that part of the balance? I don’t think so, not after seeing you, knowing you, especially after what just happened in the square.”

Anakin looked confused at that. Of course, he didn’t know that the Jedi Council – certainly Obi-Wan and Xanatos – considered that to be his Trial. “But . . . then your Anakin hasn’t brought balance?”

“I don’t think so. But I believe he will.” Obi-Wan’s voice was softly sad. He shook his head. “I’m not even sure ‘balance’ means the same thing in both our universes. Or if it’s immediate, or if . . .” He trailed off. “No one knows, Anakin.”

“Not even me?” He exhaled roughly. “I certainly feel like I should.”

“Perhaps that is how it is meant to be,” Xanatos offered quietly.

Anakin didn’t look convinced. “Perhaps.”

Obi-Wan smoothly interceded. “Regardless, now is not the time for that discussion. Anakin, do you want to go with your mother back to the farm?”

Anakin nodded. “I’d like to. There’s also the issue of signing Tatooine into the Republic – delegates will need to be sent, that will need to be taken care of.”

“You should maintain a low profile,” Xanatos said. “Even if the Republic finding out you were here doesn’t affect the Senate vote, it’s not a good idea. And it would be even worse if people suspected me, because they probably would consider my presence tampering.”

Anakin nodded. “I understand.” He paused, took a deep breath. “Thank you. Both of you.” With a nod of acknowledgment – a bow would not be appropriate considering the circumstances – he walked away, back to where Shmi was being treated.

Xanatos breathed deeply. Obi-Wan shot him a curious but inviting look, to which Xanatos just shook his head. There was nothing to say. Everything was changing. Anakin was being Knighted – and definitely not in the manner he had anticipated. Of course, the Jedi Council would have to confirm it, but that was a matter of formality and nothing more to Xanatos’ mind.

After a few moments of Obi-Wan’s unobtrusive watching, Xanatos shot him a smile. “Everything’s changing.”

Obi-Wan just smiled.

 

It was early afternoon when they arrived home, at the farm. The heat had reached its zenith, and would stay there until the suns set and it began to cool down. All of them went inside, to air-conditioned rooms, with a relieved sigh. Anakin felt himself relax, and not just because of the absence of heat.

One of the first things he had noted about Shmi and Cliegg’s home was that it was a home. There were chipped cups, mismatched dishes and pictures that made no sense to him – but probably did to the other occupants. The marks were individualistic to this place, and that made it a home.

Anakin settled in the kitchen with a sigh. Shmi had decided to lay down, to Cliegg’s relief, and he was fussing over her, getting her relaxed, rereading and rereading the instructions from the Mos Eisley’s resident medic – who was pretty good when he wasn’t drunk, and he usually waited until the afternoon before starting for the day. Anakin stared at the wall with the most pictures, on the side of the kitchen. In most homes there would have been a window there, but on Tatooine, it was more practical to have things lowly set, underground or nearly so.

He could feel his mother in the Force with no effort – she was tired, enough to even admit it, but her condition wasn’t serious.

“Busy?”

Anakin turned, startled. Owen was standing by the open doorway. “No,” Anakin said with a smile.

Owen grinned back in response and plopped himself down into the seat opposite Anakin. At first, Owen had been a bit wary around Anakin, but after a few questions with genuine interest on Anakin’s part, they had found themselves comfortable with each other. Owen had a rare kind of steadfastness, especially for his age. In a sense, it reminded him of Qui-Gon, and he wondered if Qui-Gon had been like Owen at that age. There was a certain sense of both awareness and practicality there. Even as Owen listened to tales of adventure, he still loved his home – and knew it. And Owen had been excited to tell someone new about Beru, of course.

“I didn’t arrive until after Mom was hurt, but I heard you went off with the two Jedi for a while,” Owen offered. He had a prior engagement, or he would have been there with Cliegg and Shmi. He had started helping out with the farm a lot as he had gotten older, Anakin had learned, and he even hoped to open his own someday. It was looking more likely, with Tatooine joining the Republic.

Anakin nodded, seeing where Owen was going. “I’m fine. I’m not in trouble.”

Owen relaxed slightly. “But there’s something else.”

“I suppose,” Anakin said with a sigh, hating the indecisive answer. “It’s just –” He stopped.

“Just?”

“Apparently I’m supposed to do something very important, for the Jedi, and not only do I have not the slightest clue what it is, neither do they,” Anakin blurted.

Owen looked taken aback. “What kind of something?”

“Fulfill a prophecy,” Anakin said with a wry smile. “It sounds so . . . holodrama.” He gestured vaguely as if to encompass the entire genre of bad holodramas.

“Oh,” Owen said. “Didn’t they say anything helpful?”

“Well, they said that whether I know about it or not might not matter, that I’ll do it because it’s my – destiny, I guess,” Anakin said with a tired shrug.

Owen nodded, then started smiling. “So, got any important events in your life right now?” he asked, lifting both eyebrows. “I mean, some coincidence, finding about this while . . .” He, too, gestured vaguely.

Anakin started at him, then laughed. “Damn, Owen. You should have been a Jedi.” Owen was right. Coincidence? He didn’t think so. His mother, Shmi, and Padmé . . .  All of it. His Trials. Just thinking about Padmé took his thoughts in all sorts of new places. He smiled, and put aside some of those for later discussion with Padmé, and others, more serious, he would have to think about later.

“How’s Shmi?” Anakin finally asked, relaxing.

“Mom’s fine. She got settled down, then wanted to get up to check on –”

 

For Shmi, the dry, intense heat of Tatooine might be unpleasant, but at least it was familiar.

The suns shone with their usual intensity, glinting off the ships with a blinding glare. Cliegg was holding Shmi's hand tightly – but no more tightly than she held his. Anakin looked relaxed, Thani even more so, and Obi-Wan looked as calm as if this were like any other day.

But it wasn't.

Shmi was to be one of the signers of the document that would officially make Tatooine part of the Republic. She had been the one that had gotten the last, crucial part of Tatooine to agree to join. All of those that had started the groups that convinced Tatooine to enter the Republic would sign the document. It was common practice, if not tradition.

"You'll be fine," Ani assured her, probably noting her nervous look.

Shmi squeezes Cliegg's hand and then let go. His touch lingered for a moment; he still worried over her, though she was mostly healed since the injury two weeks ago. She walked up to Anakin. Her son. He smiled at her, and she thought, His eyes are no different. He's so grown up, so handsome, but those eyes . . .

Shmi embraced Anakin, and he returned it. "I'll be in the other ship," he murmured. "For political reasons for when we arrive. But it'll be okay, Mom. No need to worry."

"I know," Shmi said simply, and lay her hand on the side of her son's face. "I know."

Then, with a nervous smile for Cliegg, she stepped on board the Nubian ship that would take her and the other delegates to Coruscant.

 

Xanatos sat back and yawned, closing his eyes. Everything was going fine . . . just fine. He couldn't say how happy that made him, all considering. The past month had been nothing but things on top of other things on top of yet other more complicated things. Anakin was fine, if hiding something from him and Obi-Wan. Tatooine was joining the Republic – a successful mission there. Obi-Wan was fine, a miracle in and of itself.

Just fine.

Anakin's voice broke the quiet. "What?"

Xanatos' eyes snapped open. Obi-Wan and Anakin's voices had been a soft murmur before. He spun away from the dizzying view of the hyperspace field and looked back at Obi-Wan and Anakin.

Anakin looked faintly embarrassed when he glanced at Xanatos.

"What is it?" Xanatos asked.

"Nothing," Anakin replied automatically.

Obi-Wan glanced at Anakin, and said calmly to Xanatos, "I mentioned the fact that he has likely gone through his Trials."

"Likely?" Anakin interrupted, eyes narrowing.

"It has to be confirmed," Xanatos explained. "But Obi-Wan and I are fairly certain."

Anakin looked taken aback.

"What is it?" Obi-Wan asked, his voice tinted with concern.

"I just – I don't feel like a Knight," Anakin confessed. "And I don't think any confirmation will change that."

Xanatos was about to give a quick reassurance, but stopped when he saw Obi-Wan's smile. "What?" he said to Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan cocked his head, shooting Xanatos a quick, amused look. "That's how I felt. I told Garen that, and he laughed at me. Said I'd get used to it – and I did, eventually. But there was never any moment where I just realized I was a Jedi Knight."

"So you think it will just take time?" Anakin asked curiously.

"Everyone is different," Obi-Wan said slowly, "but yes. This is a big change for you, and it hasn’t even been confirmed yet. Don't worry about it."

Anakin looked unsure. Xanatos gestured in Obi-Wan's direction. "What he said," he said casually.

Anakin smiled. "Okay, okay, I get it," he said, raising his hands. "So when do we arrive?"

"Fifteen minutes sooner than it was fifteen minutes ago," Obi-Wan responded without a hint of sarcasm.

Anakin sighed. "Hey, do you think I could maybe fool with the en –"

 

“We’re coming in the back way?” Anakin sounded . . . miffed.

“It’s a bit necessary, Anakin,” Xanatos replied in a tone that just barely stopped short of a pat on the head.

Obi-Wan watched in silent amusement.

“Why – oh. Because the Jedi weren’t supposed to be involved in Tatooine joining the Republic in the first place.” The young Jedi winced. He’d been told that.

Xanatos nodded. “Exactly. Especially me. You were involved very briefly, I was there for months. And while I think most of the citizenry would deny knowing me, well . . . this thing is hardly going through by a majority as it is.”

“This might be a nicer universe, but politics is no different,” Obi-Wan commented.

Anakin grimaced. Xanatos felt a twinge of something there, something personal, but Anakin offered nothing, and he wasn’t going to ask.

Shmi and the other delegates from Tatooine would be the signers at the main level of the Senate. The delegates would sign official documents, and Tatooine would officially be part of the Republic. While in transport back to Coruscant, Padmé and other supporters had voted Tatooine in, should they choose to accept the invitation, as was planned. As soon as those documents were signed, ships would be taking off for Tatooine for aid. Two Jedi were also being dispatched, though Xanatos would have to brief them before they left. The Jedi were, of course, going to go undercover. Senator Amidala had been insistent on the issue of aid vs. oversight, and the Jedi’s presence was going to be subtle.

“Eager to be off, Anakin?” Obi-Wan queried.

Anakin shot him a nervous glance. “Well, sort of.”

“Not because of the Council –” Xanatos began.

“No. There’s . . . someone I want to meet at the Senate.” Anakin smiled a touch dreamily. “She’s going to be there.”

Obi-Wan nodded in complete understanding, though it took a moment longer for Xanatos to catch up, so unused to the idea of Anakin – having a relationship, a serious one, and him actually knowing about it. 

“I see,” Xanatos said.

“Try not to look so disapproving, would you, Xanatos?” Anakin shot as he jumped out of the ship, not even waiting for the ramp to fully extend.

Xanatos grimaced, seeing Obi-Wan trying to look innocent and unaware out of the corner of his eye. But when Xanatos made to head off after Anakin and warn him not to be seen, Obi-Wan lightly touched his arm. Xanatos sighed. They both left the ship at a more sedate pace, moving away from the Senate – they could leave for a bit, and the Council needed to be briefed, not only on the outcome of Anakin’s Trials – and why they were back so soon – but also on the fact that Anakin had exposed himself as a Jedi. And might expose himself even more, Xanatos added mentally.

They moved quickly through the halls of the Temple, using the various walkways above and through the gardens to make their way quietly.

As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary.

Halfway to their destination, the Council met them.

Mace Windu spoke first. “We have felt a divergence in the Force.”

“Passed his Trials, Anakin did,” Yoda stated authoritatively.

Xanatos nodded. “Yes, Masters.” He glanced at Windu. “A divergence?”

“Interesting word choice,” Obi-Wan commented.

“Why?” Xanatos asked warily.

“It was the one Qui-Gon used when he found Anakin, in my universe,” Obi-Wan said calmly, watching the Council. “You feel it, don’t you? Even if we don’t, yet. Something important is about to happen.”

Windu pursed his lips.

Xanatos spoke up. “The prophecy?” he asked, slightly alarmed.

“Perhaps so,” Obi-Wan said, nodding.

“Humph,” Yoda interjected wisely. “Take it as Jedi, we will, and act appropriately.”

“Whatever this important event ends up being,” Windu finished. He glanced at the other Jedi Council members, then apparently came to a decision. “We are heading to the signing. It feels like the locus. Xanatos, you had better stay behind, to preserve your identity as Thani.”

Xanatos grimaced. He didn’t like that at all, he wanted to be there for Anakin, but Windu was right. “What about Qui-Gon?”

“Already there,” Obi-Wan said, to Xanatos’ surprise. Obi-Wan shrugged. “I can feel him. He’s not nearby, so that’s where he must be.”

Windu nodded slowly. “Obi-Wan is correct.”

“Very well,” Xanatos said. “May the Force be with you.”

Obi-Wan and the Council headed for the signing.

 

The signing would occur within the Senate halls. While a majority number of Senators would not be present, a larger than usual amount would be. Due to the nature of Tatooine’s citizenry, its induction had been a matter of heated debate. At Senator Amidala’s reversal, and support, it went through, but it was still a precedent and an important one. And like all newsworthy events, Senators made sure they were visible.

Especially Jar Jar Binks.

 

Anakin knew Obi-Wan and Xanatos had let him go to Padmé for several reasons. One, the Senate would know of his involvement on Tatooine sooner or later, so if the Tatooine delegates recognized him – possible, from what he understood, as the incident had been reported to other delegates across Tatooine – in the long run it wouldn’t make any difference, though some trouble was possible in the present. Secondly, more importantly in his mind, Obi-Wan had a rather different opinion than most of the Jedi Council on attachment and what, precisely, that meant, and Xanatos and company were willing to follow his lead for the moment.

He was glad of their trust, as well as their concern.

Even so, most of his thoughts were on Padmé. Of their conversation before their last dinner, of the feel of her lips, of the quickness of her mind . . . He had stayed most of the night, talking to her, and even spending some time with Eirtaé and getting another perspective on the enigma Padmé Amidala could sometimes be.

The Senate building wasn’t even half-full, but considering its size, even a little full was a lot of people. He saw rows of Royal Guards around the Tatooine delegates and the signing area, adjacent to the giant Senate hall. He saw groups of Senators, as well as the many holonews reporters following their every move. He saw several preening for them, including Senator Jar Jar Binks, the delegate of Naboo’s Gungan population to the Senate.

Padmé stood in one such group, watching the signing with a serene expression. To his surprise, she wore the dress she had on when they had first met, in Palpatine’s office. The lavender color suited her perfectly, bringing out the lush tones of her face and eyes . . .

She was beautiful.

Anakin tried to keep along the sidelines of guards, keeping his gaze on Padmé, hoping to catch her eye.

Dimly, in some other part of his conscious mind, he watched the signing itself.

Chancellor Palpatine stood across from the delegates, smiling broadly and welcoming them into the Republic. The delegates looked like they were about to faint, even the normally stoic Hammerhead. A Wookiee – how she, it was a she, had ended up on Tatooine was a mystery – roared with approval with each signature.

Shmi signed the last. As the last group to vote for joining the Republic, it was hers.

The Senators clapped, and Shmi sheepishly slipped back into the crowd of delegates, face flushed.

Padmé was smiling, and finally, her focus no longer necessary, she looked around at the happy crowd.

She stopped when she saw Anakin. Not just halted, but her entire body went still for a moment as their eyes met. A slight, very slight smile spread over her face. Bail Organa, another Senator, went over to her briefly and they spoke, but her eyes kept flicking over to meet Anakin's.

When the other Senator finally left with a smile, Anakin gestured for her to come over.

A pause, a hesitation, and with graceful excuses, Padmé left the celebrating crowd.

The corridor was dark, but empty. Padmé betrayed her nervousness at being so public with little glances to the side, but when she met Anakin's eyes – all else faded. She relaxed, and instead of the passionate, formal Senator, only Padmé remained, passionate and wonderful and . . .

Anakin smiled, exhilarated, and stepped forward, throwing his arms around her and bringing her to him. She kissed him hard, and he inhaled roughly, closing his eyes.

When they let each other go, they were both breathing heavily.

Padmé laughed lightly, looking into his eyes and quickly regaining her equilibrium. Anakin just tried to breathe. He loved her. How he loved her. "I'm guessing it went well," Padmé murmured, a demure smile lurking at the corners of her lips.

Anakin nodded. "Yeah, it did. Xanatos thinks my Knighthood will be confirmed . . ." So many things had happened, more than that, he could hardly speak. "And my mother, I met my mother."

Padmé drew back slightly in surprise, but her mind was already working and puzzling out Anakin's reactions. "Shmi? The last one?"

"I discovered a lot," Anakin whispered, looking into her eyes, wanting to see understanding and comfort.

Padmé's smile faded, happiness being replaced with concern. "And?"

Anakin shook off feelings of sadness and uncertainty. "And what?" Anakin breathed, and kissed her again. Broke it off to say – "I love you." And another deeply felt kiss.

Which was unkindly interrupted by a loud shout.

"Corruption! Corruption! Within the Senate!" Jar Jar Binks ran forward in the lank, long-loped way of the Gunguns, pointing at Anakin and Padmé, who quickly stepped away from each other. Anakin's eyes widened further at the crowd of reporters at Binks' heels. There were flashes and waving eyes and antennae everywhere, each with a greedy, news-breaking look in their eye – or equivalent.

Padmé raised her chin, her posture became firmer and more correct, if that was even possible, and she met Binks head on. "I don't know what you mean, Senator," she said coolly.

Binks narrowed his eyes at her. "Yousa having an affair! Dat Jedi is involved with the signing of Tatooine into the Republic!"

A reporter hurried past Binks, having forced the others away by her sheer body mass. Still, the others stayed behind Binks, making Anakin wonder if the Gungun had planned this. "Any comment, Senator?"

Padmé went very still for a moment, and Anakin could feel her mind racing. "Yes. Yes, I do have a comment to make. My decision to support the signing of Tatooine into the Republic was based purely on my belief that it would be best for Tatooine and the Republic."

Binks fumed for a second. "Jedis not supposed to be involved!" he insisted.

Padmé's eyes narrowed, and Anakin felt her focus tighten on Binks predatorily.

"Jedi go where needed," Anakin interceded, knowing this was an utter disaster. Xanatos was going to murder him. He didn't even want to think about the Council – and that they would know about Padmé, if they didn't already. "Are not the citizens of Tatooine any less sentient beings than those in the Republic? Our service on Tatooine was purely on that basis." Whew. That sounded good.

Another reporter jostled forward, antennae waving frantically. Its voice rose above the rest, tense with excitement at the possibility of a scandal, any scandal. "What of your relationship with a Jedi Padawan? What –"

"I'd like to know that as well," Mace Windu's dry voice interrupted. The reporters, who had been tempted to swarm forward on Anakin and Padmé, parted for him almost wordlessly, the respect he commanded hushing them instantly. His calm expression and simple appearance were powerfully striking, and the half the reporters focused on him, and the rest on a reaction shot.

"I love her," Anakin proclaimed, stepping forward and meeting Windu's dark eyes.

Everyone quieted.

Padmé stepped forward, but she faced Anakin. Her voice was low and soft, meant for his ears, and for those others that heard . . . it was still for him. "And I love you," she whispered.

He looked into her eyes. So dark and beautiful, rich in vitality and emotion. He touched her face, drawing his callused hand along the smooth skin of her cheek.

The sound of running feet dragged Anakin's eyes away from Padmé. Xanatos stopped when he saw the two of them standing together, the mass of reporters, Binks, and a glowering Mace Windu. Xanatos carefully paused, drew his cloak around him, and gave Anakin a look that would have melted Yoda on the spot. His old friend was not his friend in that moment, but a Jedi, and that authority showed in his eyes.

Obi-Wan arrived a moment later, much more quietly, walking up behind Xanatos, his hood down and somehow, his very appearance muted.

Windu spoke. "We will not have this discussion here," he said after a moment, voice calm and even like durasteel.

Obi-Wan threw back his hood and stepped forward. "Why not?" he said loudly, gaze calm but challenging. "This is as good a place as any."

"Not when it comes to the conduct of one of our own," Windu said with a pointed look in Obi-Wan's direction.

"Who is dat?" Binks interrupted, but no one paid him any mind. The reporters jostled for a better look at Obi-Wan.

"Well," Obi-Wan said quite calmly, a smiling lurking at the corner of his lips, "I think that a public forum is, in fact, a good place for this. Get it out into the open." He glanced at the reporters, who knew history – or a scandal – of some type was occurring, and clearly thought better of interfering and freshly informing those in this delicate situation that they were there.

Anakin watched in something that was a mix of astonishment and horror, though something like anticipation was building. And he had something to say, still. "I know about the Chosen One prophecy," he said bluntly, meeting Windu's eyes again.

"Anakin –" Windu began, taking another step forward.

"Let him speak," Obi-Wan interrupted.

Xanatos shot Obi-Wan a dark look, and Obi-Wan gave him a slightly apologetic one in return.

"The prophecy is about balance," Anakin said quietly, nevertheless being clearly heard. He paused. "It's kind of funny, but I was talking with my step-brother about it, and he's the one that got me thinking about what it could mean, in this time, in this circumstance . . . for us." He glanced at Padmé, seeing her remain composed, and when she caught his eye, she smiled ever so slightly.

"The prophecy does not give you leave to disobey the Code, Anakin," Windu said repressively.

Yoda stepped forward, startling everyone with his sudden appearance. "Know what the prophecy is, we do not."

Anakin took a deep breath, touching the Force and letting it flow through him, calming him, giving him the words he needed. "I've thought about this," he said simply, no command in his tone. He met Obi-Wan's eyes, suddenly remembering Xanatos saying that Obi-Wan had said the Force actually felt different here. "The Jedi and the galaxy affect the Force. How we, the Jedi, relate to both the Force and the galaxy determines where we are headed." He paused, uncertainly. "Are we merely an Order that continues on, blindly forging ahead, ignoring the rest of the galaxy – or changing it to suit our opinions on ourselves?"

"Are you saying the Jedi are not in true connection and obedience to the Force?" Xanatos asked, ignoring the presence of the reporters now.

Binks hopped from one foot to another agitatedly.

"I'm saying we follow tradition for the sake of tradition, and that's just blindness," Anakin said, blunt and nervous about being so. "Where will it lead us?"

"To me," Obi-Wan murmured, his eyes dark and aware. Anakin knew he meant that in more than one way – himself, his counterpart, and his universe.

Windu shot Obi-Wan a disturbed look. His gaze was unsettled when he returned to Anakin, but he was listening. "If this is the time . . ." he said softly.

Encouraged, Anakin continued. "Owen asked me something pretty simple. He asked me if there's a reason all that's been happening to me, in my life, is happening for a reason." He turned to Xanatos. "And is it not so, Xanatos, that the threads of life are interweaving? The Force is all-encompassing."

"You're saying it's no accident that you fell in love with the Senator?" Xanatos asked.

"Such similarities," Obi-Wan muttered, to the understanding of only the Jedi present.

Yoda caught on even quicker. "Perhaps time it is, to review the Code through the Force."

A reporter finally broke the quiet. "Are you saying the Jedi Order is going to rethink the rules on attachment?"

Windu opened his mouth to speak, but to everyone's surprise, Anakin got there first. "The Jedi Order needs to re-involve itself with the Force, not follow so closely to tradition." He sighed. "Perhaps attachment is part of that." He looked at Padmé, who was giving Binks a dirty look. "I hope so."

A moment of reflective silence, and then: "Jedi interference!" Binks shouted, pointing at Xanatos. "I knows yous!"

Xanatos froze.

"How would you know, if you hadn't either been to Tatooine yourself – or were involved in some aspect?" Padmé interceded for Xanatos. "Senator Binks," she said slowly, drawing herself up, causing the reporters to focus on her again, "I personally have a hard time believing your motives would be as humanitarian as that of the Jedi."

Binks had a look of utter surprise. "I –"

Padmé turned to the reporters. "I'm sure the Jedi will be releasing a statement soon." She glanced at Anakin for a moment, then continued, "In the meantime, there will be no more to see here. However, I'm sure Binks has a lot to talk about, and you a lot of questions to ask."

The reporters focused on Binks like he was fresh kill.

Xanatos was trying to repress a grin, and Obi-Wan was not trying to stifle his.

Padmé took a step forward, and that was all it took for Anakin to break his paralysis, moving over to the other Jedi.

"Master Yoda –" Anakin began.

"Speak on this in the Temple, we will," Yoda said firmly, tapping his stick on the ground.

Surely the twinge Anakin felt in his shins was imaginary.

"I agree that would be best," Windu said dryly.

Padmé moved to Windu, however. "I thought the involvement of the Jedi was supposed to remain unseen," she pointedly. "I was assured of that."

"This may be for the best," Obi-Wan said, smiling at Padmé. "That the involvement come out now instead of later. Perhaps," he added, "it is not only the time of the Jedi to reconsider certain matters under question."

Padmé bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement. "Binks' blunder will help assuage our own problems," she admitted. "If gathering many new ones for consideration."

"I see sludge reporters lurking," Xanatos remarked, eyeing their surroundings. "We had really better go." He looked calm, Anakin noted with some relief. Perhaps he would back Obi-Wan – who was backing him. He believed everything he had said was true, but under the watchful, intelligent eyes of twelve Jedi Masters . . .

"Perhaps Padmé should stay," Obi-Wan offered apologetically. "To deal with the matter we have so ungraciously given her."

Anakin turned to her. She met his eyes calmly, deep affection in her eyes. She brought her hand to the side of his face, and he placed his hand over hers, turning his face to kiss her palm. "I meant it all," Anakin whispered. "This won't change."

Windu twitched, but said nothing.

"I know," Padmé said simply. "I love you, Anakin."

He kissed her, deeply, not lingering despite the intense desire to do just that, aware of Yoda, Windu, Xanatos and Obi-Wan waiting. Her kiss was warm and sweet, and somehow everything felt – all right, now.

Her touch lingered, then with a brief smile, Padmé became Senator Amidala before his eyes, and she turned away to deal with the political mess they had caused.

He turned to face the Jedi.

Xanatos shook his head, suddenly amused. "No comment."

Without another word, they proceeded back to the Temple.

 

The group of Jedi made the trip to the Council chamber quickly and quietly, eager to escape the hungry attention of the reporters. Anakin, for his part, was eager to evade them as well, although he was less certain that what would go on in front of the Council would give him any less reason to want to escape.

Masters Mace and Yoda were the only two Council members present when they reached the chamber. The Councilors quickly settled into their regular seats, and Xanatos and Obi-Wan stood on either side of Anakin. To Yoda’s left sat Qui-Gon, who had not been there when the reporters had descended upon Padmé and Anakin, but he had heard the news and hurried back to the Temple. As a long time friend of Anakin, and one of the few who had been privy to all the recent goings-on in Anakin’s life, the Padawan was glad he was there. If only Qui-Gon would drop the severe expression he wore that mirrored the others’.

“Anakin Skywalker.” The Padawan’s gaze snapped back to Mace. The tall Councilor leaned forward, leveling him with an intense regard. “How long has this relationship with the Senator been going on?”

“Just a few days, Master.”

“Did it occur to you that it might not be ... wise to pursue a relationship with a Senator, that it might put the Jedi into a compromising situation?”

Anakin shifted his weight. “Being with Padmé never felt wrong. Being with her ... it just feels so right, more than many things I’ve ever done. I asked you, Master Windu, just a few days ago whether you trusted in the Force, even when it seemed what you were doing seemed completely crazy at the time.”

“Like dragging an unconscious Jedi Master through the Temple?”

“Yes,” Anakin went on, ignoring Qui-Gon’s suspicious look. “The Force never let me know that I should stop seeing her. In fact, I think I’m meant to. I can’t really explain how I know that; I feel it, in the Force. And ever since my mission to Tatooine, and learning about this prophecy, it’s felt even more clear.”

“Hmm.” Yoda resettled his chin on his gimmer stick, apparently willing to let his Padawan continue his explanation.

“I already told you that this prophecy is not a reason to ignore the Code,” Mace said.

“But I think it is,” Anakin replied quickly. When the Master narrowed his eyes, Anakin looked to Obi-Wan and Xanatos for help. They nodded to him, urging him to continue. Anakin took a deep breath. “I believe the Jedi need to change in order to maintain a balance. If we allow ourselves to grow separated from those we serve ... how can we truly serve them? How can we count ourselves among ... the living if we don’t allow ourselves to feel deeply? Perhaps, a day may come when we’re able to put aside a citizen’s existence in the belief that it’s for a greater good. Our sense of tradition, developed in a time of different needs, will hurt us and the Republic we serve.”

“How terribly true.” Obi-Wan spoke softly but everyone turned his head toward him. “That realization came to my Jedi far too late. Not only did we fail allow ourselves attachment – of which I believe some moderation should be sought – we failed to accept what else is intrinsic to our very core: our darkness.”

Anakin shifted slightly, remembering his brief moments of rage when he saw Shmi hurt. He had known his ability, his power then, but he had done what was right. He had not allowed his fear or discomfort of his own potential for darkness to turn him aside.

Obi-Wan looked briefly at Qui-Gon before continuing. “You can no longer be blind to what makes you a living being. Jedi have passions and failings just as any other creature. Self-righteousness will only serve to hinder you.” His voice grew contemplative. “There is much to be learned from the Tatooine situation. In order to join the Republic, everyone had to accept their neighbors who made up their community: some of whom were criminals.”

“Perhaps these new views can apply to the Republic as well as the Jedi,” Xanatos spoke. “Tatooine is a planet that has needed much help for a long time. Yet many Senators opposed us helping out there, and opposed the Republic accepting Tatooine as a new member without a majority of citizen support. If we hadn’t interfered, who knows how long it would have been before Tatooine would see Republic aid.”

Mace nodded slowly. “So all of this ... is meant to be a lesson for everyone, not just the Order.” He steepled his hands in front of him. “But there is still the matter that, despite our realization of these events, many Senators will be unhappy with our secretive involvement, and one of our own’s involvement with a particular high-ranking Senator.”

Anakin blushed suddenly at the mention of Padmé. “If I may say, Master, I think Senator Amidala is more than capable of explaining our motives to the Senate and helping them to see a new way of doing things. Padmé herself, as you know, was reluctant to accept Tatooine without a majority citizen vote, and doubtful of Jedi interference at first. Yet now that she has heard from us, and seen the signers, I believe she is a ... convert to our new cause, if you will.” His eyes glazed over for a moment as he stared into the distance. “And she is very passionate when she believes in something, and charming too, I feel she will easily be able to calm tempers and doubts over our situation.” Anakin blinked and brought his focus back to the Councilors.

“Very well,” Mace nodded to him. Then his gaze flickered to Xanatos. “Yet there still is the issue that you, Knight Xanatos, ended up at the Senate when I believe you had been told to stay behind?”

“I was following the Force,” Xanatos answered smoothly.

Mace sighed. “That seems to be a popular excuse these days,” he grumbled. He turned to Master Yoda. “Are we finished here?”

“No, one last item, there is – Skywalker’s Trials.” Anakin heart began to pound when Yoda pointed his gimmer stick at him. “Passed them, you did” – Anakin let out the breath he’d been holding – “and ready to accept you into Knighthood we are. Ready you feel, or is there more mischief you wish to cause, hmmm?” Yoda’s eyes twinkled.

“Thank you, Master Yoda,” Anakin smiled, and bowed. “I believe I feel ready.”

“We’ll have your ceremony soon, then,” Mace said, smiling slightly. “And yet why do I feel that my most difficult days as Councilor are just beginning?”

 

Dusk was falling outside the grand Senate building. The light of the halls was similarly in that in-between place between the lights turning on for the night, and depending on the light of the day. Despite the busy and often hurrying Senators and their aides scurrying about, that gave the whole place a hushed and serious feel. Or perhaps that was merely Padmé's own worry shading her perspective.

She stepped into a lift and gazed out at Coruscant. Hectic, technological, bright, hectic . . . She missed Naboo suddenly, and wished for her and Anakin to be able to share the beauty of her home world.

Palpatine had asked to meet with her, and had mentioned that there would be Jedi present. She still had not yet heard back from Anakin, since he left her to deal with the Jar Jar Binks mess. That had been resolved to Padmé's great satisfaction. She doubted Binks would be reelected next term, and the reporters he had first tried to attract, he was now trying to avoid. Reporters with a headline to fill just didn't have mercy.

Exhaling, Padmé stepped out of the lift. To her surprise, down the hall were four figures in Jedi robes. She stopped momentarily, then quickened her step.

The tallest figure turned around and threw back his hood.

Anakin.

His bright blue eyes twinkled with happiness, and, abandoning Jedi dignity, he ran to her. His lips met hers and his arms came around her strongly, and Padmé wanted to shout in joy. After a lingering moment, he drew away slightly, meeting her gaze. "I love you," he said softly.

"What did they say?" Padmé whispered.

"They've agreed to reconsider the issue," Anakin said, smiling. "And I'm rather confident they will." And it shone in his eyes, too, a steady sort of strength. Again, as when he had returned, something newly mature was in his eyes. Still, something about him still carried that boyish playfulness.

"Good," was all Padmé could manage to say, the eloquence she was so praised for failing her.

"Anakin," a voice called. Mace Windu was watching the two of them, no trace of disapproval in his eyes, but no approval either. Obi-Wan turned slightly, his hood still up, but she could see a curve of a smile regardless.

Xanatos looked exasperated. "Are you coming?" he asked, and without waiting for a reply, he turned to enter Palpatine's office. Obi-Wan followed, face unseen, and Master Windu waited patiently for Anakin and Padmé to catch up.

Unseen by anyone in the distance, Anakin carefully wrapped his hand around hers, and they slowly walked together.

 

Somehow, he felt the time for his action was over; he was content to listen and watch, as these friends, unique reflections of his own, forged a new path here, in their universe. Obi-Wan stood in the back, hood up, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. He knew Xanatos hadn't failed to note that, but the Jedi had not chosen to comment or interfere, nor would he, Obi-Wan felt. 

Palpatine sat behind his desk calmly, seemingly not bothered by Obi-Wan's presence, despite some rocky beginnings.

Mace entered last, after Anakin and Padmé. That couple seemed even more serene, despite Mace's careful observation of their interaction.

Padmé spoke up first. "Hello, Chancellor," she greeted, and Palpatine rose, taking her hand. A nod to the Jedi sufficed.

Palpatine sat down again. "Have you spoken with the representatives from Tatooine?" Palpatine asked.

Padmé nodded. "In order to get the necessary votes to agree to join the Republic, groups have already formed all over Tatooine. They've agreed to continue using those groups to create a stable government, with help from the volunteer Legislative Assembly, and of course, that of the Jedi, if they are so willing." She shot Xanatos a look, which he returned innocently.

"But you're still displeased," Palpatine prodded.

"I was assured that the Jedi presence would remain unknown," Padmé said dryly, "which clearly hasn't happened. The Republic involving itself in this kind of situation still bothers me, being so close to conquest, but these people also need our help. It should not become a habit, and each situation is different. That, I pray, the Jedi realize." A harder look at Xanatos.

Xanatos pointed at Mace. "He's on the Council, why am I getting these looks?"

Anakin unsuccessfully tried to repress a smile, though it quickly faded at Mace's kick-your-ass expression.

"We are aware of that, Senator Amidala. Many factors led us to send Xanatos to Tatooine, and it would seem that Tatooine was a great deal more important than any of us realized. Perhaps that is why the Force led us there to begin with," Mace said, glancing at Anakin.

Padmé softened, probably remembering Anakin was born there.

"I've always felt that the Republic does not involve itself in the Middle and Outer Rim as much as it should, even among its member planets," Xanatos spoke up, serious now. "That is not to say more bureaucracy is needed," he added wryly, "but the Republic has a habit of ignoring the plights of those out of sight, and if we continue to follow that path, those plights will come up on us unexpectedly."

Padmé bowed her head in acknowledgement.

"I agree with Knight Xanatos," Palpatine said. "As such," he said, shifting his gaze to Padmé, "I have drafted a new bill, permitting the study of Mid to Outer Rim worlds and a committee to make sure those issues are addressed."

Padmé lifted her head, saying nothing.

"I am in need of a second," Palpatine said quietly. "And a head of the committee who is passionate about the subject. The politics we so readily detest only work because of those who do this for the greater good."

Obi-Wan caught Anakin nudging Padmé. She looked up at him crossly, and – was that a wink?

"Very well," Padmé said at last. "It's certainly a cause I could support – and that way the Republic would not take over worlds that neither desire nor need it."

"I also plan on asking the Council for their help in the matter," Palpatine added, turning his attention to Mace. "Jedi travel widely; their opinion would be highly respected."

"Such would be useful," Padmé agreed.

"We will consider it," Mace said simply, "and I doubt anyone will be in opposition."

Anakin smiled.

No, there probably won't be, Obi-Wan thought. Yoda was remaining in deep meditation with some of the other Council members, and some field Jedi, on the subject of attachment, but even that issue, spreading widely among the Temple, would not interfere or take away from the Jedi's dedication to serving the greater good.

"So," Palpatine said delicately, "is the matter of Tatooine and the Jedi resolved?"

Padmé nodded reluctantly, still not very pleased with the Council's actions, but accepting them. Anakin, Obi-Wan noticed, did not even flicker in disapproval, even though it concerned something so close to his heart, and something he had reason to feel strongly about. The Council sending Xanatos to Tatooine had not helped his mother, but other former slaves and those that still remained as slaves.

"Good," Palpatine said with a smile. He paused. "Now, I must ask – I have heard that you are waiting to be confirmed as a Knight, Anakin."

Anakin grinned sheepishly. "They have, Chancellor."

"We're all quite proud of him," Obi-Wan finally offered, startling Padmé, who had forgotten he was there.

"Can I assume there will be a celebration soon?"

"Yes," Xanatos confirmed before Anakin could answer with 'I don't know.' "There is. Qui-Gon's been planning this since forever," he said with a snort.

Probably so have you, Obi-Wan thought with a small smile.

"And everyone is cordially invited," Xanatos added, smiling deviously at Anakin.

Anakin looked like he was trying to remember every wrong thing he had done to Xanatos, and how it could all backfire spectacularly.

Obi-Wan closed his eyes, content.

 

Obi-Wan's Temple had possessed gardens, and this universe had all of those gardens and more. He wasn't familiar with this one. Rather than being private, balconies overlooked it from nearby apartments. Xanatos and Qui-Gon stood in one, watching over the gathering. Obi-Wan knew they had been keeping track of him, but he didn't mind.

Obi-Wan wandered away from Anakin and one of his friends, a Padawan by the name of Tru. The Jedi no longer gave him wary glances, but seemed to have accepted his presence as normal, and the Padawans and initiates had followed that example with great ease, most not being familiar with Obi-Wan's dark counterpart to begin with, beyond the story.

Obi-Wan could see Bant in the distance, slowly making her way to Anakin, probably to offer congratulations, stopping from time to time and talking to a Padawan or Master.

Still, he was surprised when she came up to him. She had been one of the first Jedi he had seen when he arrived at the Temple, but he had never spoken to her.

Bant halted before him, her large Mon Calamari silver eyes calm. "Hello, Obi-Wan," she offered.

"Hello," Obi-Wan said, bowing his head.

She cautiously sat beside him on the bench. Most of the Jedi wandering about were either running, talking, or shooting sneaky looks at Anakin that the boy was failing to see. "Did you know my counterpart?" she asked.

"Yes, I did," Obi-Wan said, unsurprised by the topic. "She and I were best friends." He paused. "She taught Anakin to swim."

Bant smiled. "As I did here," she said after a moment. "I knew your counterpart, though in the later years we never spoke. I was wondering . . . do you plan on staying with us?"

Obi-Wan met her eyes. "Would it bother you if I did?"

"No," Bant said with no hesitation. She took one vaguely hand-shaped flipper, and pushed Obi-Wan's chest. "You are a Jedi. This is the Jedi Temple. Stay in the Temple, Jedi do," she added with a flare of humor.

Obi-Wan slowly grinned, but then it faded. "I'm not sure I'm meant to stay, as much as I love it here." He looked at Anakin, who was, with some difficulty on the part of the throwers, being thrown into the small pond in the middle of the garden. Xanatos was watching from a distance, of course, seemingly innocent of the whole affair, still watching from the balcony. "I think I've done what I was meant to do."

Bant paused. "Did you enjoy the journey?"

"It is something I will always carry with me, no matter how long that is," Obi-Wan said softly. "Perhaps that is what the Force meant for me."

Bant nodded slowly. "Perhaps so. And they, I think," she gestured at the dripping, glaring Anakin, the amused Qui-Gon, and the staggeringly innocent Xanatos, "will always carry their walk with you in them."

"Wise as always, Bant," Obi-Wan said with a smile.

"Of course," Bant returned, taking the compliment as just due. "Perhaps you should take this time and use it wisely. I sense – something approaching."

"You just talked to Yoda, didn't you?" Obi-Wan asked suddenly.

Bant gave a startled laugh. "He senses it as well," she admitted ruefully. "I was one of the field Jedi chosen to meditate over the issue of attachment."

Obi-Wan nodded. "May with the Force be with you on that," he said, completely serious.

"We will need it," Bant said simply. "Go. I think Yoda would have it that way, though he's with the others now."

Obi-Wan rose, and smiled at Bant, taking one of her hands and kissing it lightly, ignoring the fishy smell. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

 

Xanatos slowly climbed the stairs to the balcony above the gardens. Below the celebrations and laughter from Anakin and his friends floated up, the sounds softened due to the gentle roar of a waterfall on one side of the balcony. The deck was empty, save for one – Qui-Gon. The tall master leaned over the railing, smiling at the scene below.

Qui-Gon did not speak until Xanatos stood next to him. “So, I’m self-righteous now, is that it?” His tone was not harsh, but pensive.

“So you’ve finally admitted it.” Qui-Gon’s startled look softened when he saw Xanatos’ smile.

The master turned back to the gardens below. “Perhaps I was blind. There were so many things I hadn’t wanted to see in him. Maybe if I hadn’t been so stubborn – so self-righteous, I admit – I could have seen his fall. Kenobi needed more than what I gave him.”

“You don’t know that you could have stopped it. If I’ve learned anything recently, it’s that some things are meant to be.”

“But I drove you away, too.” The lines of Qui-Gon’s face were etched in pain. “I hurt you, Xanatos, and then when I met Obi-Wan, I hurt him as well. And I was wrong.”

“News flash – you’re not perfect.” Xanatos put a hand on his shoulder. “And neither am I. No one is. It’s a big, complicated world out there,” he gestured widely with his free hand, “and we are complicated beings. We all have failings; many times in our lives, we will fail. But we have to accept it, in order to move on, to live. Maybe if you had known your potential for darkness, and come to terms with that, maybe you could have helped Kenobi. It doesn’t really matter now; what’s done is done, the past must remain so.” His voice softened. “And all I know is that I am so happy to have you as a friend again. I know that that is right.”

Qui-Gon placed his hand over Xanatos’ for a moment, his smile and shiny eyes all that needed to be communicated.

They both looked down at the celebrations below. Anakin and Obi-Wan were sharing a joke with another Padawan. There was such a lightness to Obi-Wan’s bearing, a joy almost. Yet there was something else also. Stretching out with the Force to increase his senses, Xanatos still could not put his finger on just what it was.

“You feel it, don’t you?” Qui-Gon spoke softly. “Something about him feels ... complete.”

Xanatos nodded. Yes, that’s what it was. A wholeness, and almost – an end. “He’s going to be leaving soon, isn’t he?” It was a question out of hope and dread.

This time it was Qui-Gon who put a hand on Xanatos’ shoulder. “I believe so. I think ... he has taught us all that we needed, for ourselves and for him. He has other places he needs to be now, take what he has learned from us.”

“I’m going to miss him.”

“I know.” Qui-Gon pulled Xanatos into a hug. “Me too.”

 

“Mind if I join you?”

Both Xanatos and Qui-Gon jumped at the new voice. Once again, Xanatos found himself chagrined at not noticing Obi-Wan’s approach.

“You know, Obi-Wan,” Xanatos said lightly, “you’re going to have to teach me how to sneak up on someone so expertly before you –” His voice broke off as he found himself unable to finish.

“Before I leave?” Obi-Wan completed the thought for him. He smiled faintly, neither of them speaking of how they felt the impending departure, intensifying in the Force. “I know it has to happen sometime; there’s no sense in denying it.” He looked down on the festivities below. Anakin was now in a tug-of-war with Tru, trying to toss his friend into the pond as well. “I would have no problem staying here, if I could. I’ve learned so much, not just about myself, but about everyone in my life, even if the people I’ve met here are different in fundamental ways.” He turned to look at his two companions. “I can’t say that my initial meeting with either of you didn’t cause me pain, pain borne of both fear and grief – but I wouldn’t give up my experience here for anything.”

“Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon began, but Obi-Wan spoke over him.

“Qui-Gon, I know you still carry guilt over what happened, in the Garden of Stones, but I think you helped me more than hurt me. I know it. I think your slap upside my head,” Obi-Wan smiled wryly, “was what I needed. Perhaps we all just needed to see thing clearly ... for you, and this world, hopefully you’ll be better for it. As for me ...” Obi-Wan’s voice trailed off as he thought for a moment. “It doesn’t change what’s already happened. I can’t go back and make things right. Too much evil has already happened. But I think, maybe, things will be all right after all. I can only hope so.”

The three were silent as they all pondered the world Obi-Wan would return to. Xanatos clearly remembered the half-starved man nearly driven to the edge of sanity. Certainly, Obi-Wan had faced his demons and was much stronger emotionally and mentally, but he would be thrown back into a world of darkness that meant him as much harm as it did before he had escaped it.

Qui-Gon was first to break the silence. “I can tell you also still carry a heavy burden of guilt for what happened in your universe. Yet despite what happened, and why, I know that you have done much good here. Xanatos and I had begun to heal our own relationship, but I think it was the chain of events surrounding your arrival that secured it.”

Xanatos smiled. “Well, you know, conspiring to keep secret the undead lunatic has a way of bonding people.” While the three shared a laugh, he glanced down at the scene below once more. Anakin had succeeded in throwing Tru into the pool, but unbeknownst to the new Knight several more of his friends came from behind him and pushed him again while he gloated over Tru. “It’s kind of strange, how it all seems so clear later on. When I first saw you standing at the water’s edge, I had no idea what was going on. Yet time has revealed what was to be, and the Force’s will. And now, as the Jedi and the Republic embark on a new way of doing things, I think ... I think many of us will still be learning from you for a long time to come.”

Obi-Wan nodded humbly. “I certainly hope I haven’t been wrong in my assumptions and advice to you all.”

“I don’t think you are,” Qui-Gon assured him, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I think the Force brought to us when we needed you. And we should trust in the Force above all else.”

The three once more settled in to a companionable silence. Footfalls on the stairs, a galloping pace, signaled Anakin’s arrival. Although the boy had perfected his own sneaking ability through a variety of pranks over the years, the boy could certainly make his presence known when he wanted. The boy burst onto the balcony in a flurry of squishing boots and flicking water droplets.

Xanatos raised an eyebrow. “Anakin, you look rather ... wet. Playing in the Temple’s pools again?”

Anakin pointed a finger at him, sending several drops of water his way. “I knew you were behind it!” he crowed.

“Me? Toss you into a pool? I’d never do something like that,” Xanatos scoffed, his lips twisting in mischief.

“Really? And just what sorts of things would you deign to do?”

Xanatos shrugged. “For instance, give out the code to your rooms to your most prank-loving friends.”

Anakin paused. “You wouldn’t.”

“Of course not!” Xanatos smiled widely and winked. “That would be far too fair a turn for you giving tours of my quarters while I was away.”

Anakin’s eyes widened. “You really did it, didn’t you?” He glanced out over the balcony, realizing that many of his friends had left a while earlier. “Why, you –” The boy turned and ran, bounding down the steps three at a time in his hurry.

“Xanatos,” Qui-Gon chastised softly, sighing. “Xanatos. My dear old Padawan. I don’t know how I managed to survive raising you.” He sounded exasperated, but a small grin graced his features.

“Did you really give out the code to his room?” Obi-Wan asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Of course not.” Xanatos grinned wickedly. “But I can’t wait to see his expression when he searches his room for non-existent booby traps.” He paused for a moment, looking at his serious-faced friends, and then sprinted after Anakin, hearing Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon chuckle at his swift departure. Yet soon they were following him, at a more sedate pace, of course.

Xanatos carefully ducked into Anakin’s apartment. Still rather messy, he noted, but at least the holos were indeed gone as the Padawan – er, Knight, he still had to get used to that – had promised.

He found Anakin in the fresher, cautiously testing the shower faucet. Anakin sighed with relief when just water came out. He grabbed a clean towel and began to dry himself from his dip in the pond as he joined Xanatos, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in the common room.

“That wasn’t very nice,” he grumbled to Xanatos finally. “Make me worry over nothing.”

Xanatos shrugged. “Who says there’s nothing? You know, you’ll probably be surprised by something when you least expect it.”

Anakin glanced suspiciously around him as he pulled off his outer tunic and tossed it across the room. “I’d offer you a place to sit, but first ...” He quickly grabbed a pile of clothes, papers, and books from the sofa and threw them in a corner. The other Jedi remained standing, with doubtful expressions in their eyes. “I swear, there’s nothing alive in the cushions.” He lifted up each of the cushions and peered underneath, coughing slightly from the dust. “See? It’s safe.” He patted the couch and gestured for them to sit.

Obi-Wan was the first to take the offer, gracefully stepping forward and settling onto one end of the sofa. Qui-Gon soon followed. Xanatos, not taking any chances, grabbed a chair from the kitchen and placed it in front of the couch as Anakin settled his long frame on the floor, apparently preferring a damp carpet to wet furniture.

“Obi-Wan, I have to ask,” Xanatos said, gesturing around the room, “was your Anakin messy too? Is this some sort of unfortunate fate no adolescent can escape?”

“Anakin’s first priorities were definitely not keeping his room in order,” Obi-Wan smiled fondly in remembrance. “But I think if he’d owned his own ship he’d have had no problem with keeping it neat.”

“He liked to fly?” Anakin asked, a curious tone to his voice, but also a subtle yearning.

“He was a great pilot for one so young. Of course, that wasn’t surprising, considering his ability.”

“I haven’t gotten much chance to fly on my own,” Anakin said thoughtfully. “Master Yoda doesn’t like to leave the Temple much.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to speak with the Council and have you assigned your own ship for your first mission, all right?” Qui-Gon said, laughing.

“I still can’t believe it,” Anakin said as he wrung out some moisture from his shirt. “I’m a Knight now.”

“Trust me, if they’d had room inspection as part of the Trials you wouldn’t be.”

“Oh, shut up, Xanatos,” Anakin groaned. “Come on, it’s not that bad, is it?”

“I suppose if it doesn’t bother you its fine,” Xanatos replied dryly. “Just remember, if your Padawan ever goes missing, check under the laundry pile first.”

“Speaking of Padawans, I’d always imagined you’d have one by the time I was Knighted, Xanatos.”

“I don’t think I’m really cut out for teaching,” Xanatos replied, a bit grumpily. That was one topic he was rather happy to steer clear from.

“I think you’d make a good teacher,” Obi-Wan told him softly, startling Xanatos. “It can be rewarding, yet challenging.”

“I’ll give it some thought,” Xanatos lied, not really desiring the incredible responsibility and daunting task. He shifted his weight.

The whole room fell into an awkward quiet. They all knew what they wanted to say, but no one wanted to be the one to say it.

“How will we know how you’re doing?” Anakin finally blurted out. “After you leave this universe, I mean?”

Obi-Wan seemed relieved that they had finally come to the topic. He leaned forward and tried to smile reassuringly. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll know. I don’t think the ... distance of a different universe can affect the friendships I’ve formed with all of you.”

“I know I only met you recently, but honestly, it’s seems like I’ve known you all my life. I don’t want you to leave.” Even though he had just been made a knight, and was nearly twenty years old, Anakin seemed like a child again, as innocent and plaintive as any initiate. And yet his words were the words they all wanted to speak. “Will we ever see you again?”

Xanatos watched as Obi-Wan seemed to search his mind for the right answer, the comforting one. When he spoke it was honest. “I believe that if the Force willed it that we all were to meet each other, then yes, I think that someday we will see each other again. I do not believe the Force is limited to one dimension.” He sighed, not a sad one, but more ... contented. “And, my friends, I’m suddenly feeling the need to be alone – I must meditate.”

Anxiety surged through Xanatos; he knew that it was almost time.

The four of them got to their feet. Qui-Gon was first to pull Obi-Wan into an embrace; neither could find more words to say, only a smile. Yet that seemed to carry everything necessary: caring, concern, the connection they had painfully forged. Then Obi-Wan hugged Anakin, who looked almost lost when he stepped back.

“It just doesn’t seem right, leaving you alone, to deal with what’s happening in your universe," Anakin admitted. Xanatos and Qui-Gon were silent, feeling the same thing, but knowing the answer in the irrevocable way of time and experience.

Obi-Wan did his best to ease Anakin’s concern. “I was not brought here without reason; you, perhaps of most people here, know that. And I won’t go back without taking something with me. I’ve learned and changed, too. I’m ready to face it again.”

Anakin’s head hung in mournful acknowledgment.

“Now, don’t tell me you and Padmé don’t have celebratory plans for later?”

“Well, yes.” The new Knight blushed slightly.

“Then go enjoy yourself, Anakin. Think of your future, and hers, not mine. I will be all right.”

Finally Obi-Wan turned to Xanatos, who found himself having trouble with his own emotions. He had become incredibly protective of the man in the short time he’d known him. He knew he had to let go, not out of any adherence to a Code but of acquiescence to the Force. But still he fought back tears as he hugged Obi-Wan farewell.

“So sad to see me go, are you?” Obi-Wan said softly, with a hint of humor in his voice. “Think how much more peaceful things will be; no more dragging bodies around the Temple in secret.”

Xanatos chuckled through his tears. “I’ll only do so once a year from now on, in your honor.”

Obi-Wan smiled. Then with a final glance back at them all, his expression turned serene and he quietly slipped out the door.

The three remaining Jedi each took a seat on the sofa. They spoke no words, just relied on each other’s presence for comfort.

They stayed that way for a long while.

 

Obi-Wan once more headed for the Gardens. Not the Garden of Stones or the one in which Anakin’s knighting ceremony had been held, but a large garden at the far side of the Temple. The middle of the garden held a large lake, and it was to this shore that Obi-Wan walked.

The garden was deserted, except for the few birds that made their homes in the tall trees. The lake was round and clear, and Obi-Wan settled on his knees at the water’s edge. He slipped into meditation easily. His breathing slowed and focus sharpened. He felt the Force flow through him, strong and insistent. As he fell deeper and deeper into the Force, his mind settled on memories of the past several days, and his new trials to come.

He would have to face Vader, he knew that – whether in that warehouse, if indeed he returned there, or at some point in the future. Either way, it was an inevitable confrontation: one can only defeat Darkness by facing it.

Yet if there was something he had learned recently, it was that people he thought he knew, who had seemed the same, could be very different. If Xanatos hadn’t turned, if the Senate could change, if Anakin could remain a good kid and conquer his complicated issues; and if the confrontation with Vader was unavoidable – then perhaps the outcome was not. Perhaps – perhaps there was hope for Vader. Perhaps it wasn’t too late, after all. The possibility hovered at the edge of Obi-Wan’s mind, its potential tantalizing yet seemingly far away. This universe had changed in a few weeks, but Obi-Wan felt that a new understanding in his own might take decades to accomplish.

Yet still, a new hope entered his heart.

For one last, lingering time, he brought himself to think of his new friends, reaching out in the Force and sensing the essence of what they were as only a Force-sensitive could ever feel another being. In Qui-Gon he sensed steely strength and sorrow gentled by contentment and peace. In Anakin, sadness, but no regret – his relationship with Padmé would not be tainted with secrecy and danger, and Obi-Wan felt they, and their children, would accomplish great things. Xanatos he touched last of all; his friend seemed to react for a moment, feeling Obi-Wan's glancing touch, then he relaxed. Such understanding Obi-Wan had never felt before, but he had found it in Xanatos.

One last wisp of feeling, then he let them go, to live their lives in their time and place, as he had to with his.

As he sunk deeper into the Force, his hands held on his chest in a meditative pose, he felt the Force swirl around him in a mounting purpose –

And there was only light.

 

Obi-Wan's passing was not like one of death; that Anakin sensed immediately. His friends remained quiet, sitting together, and the young Knight suddenly knew he was the only one to actually feel Obi-Wan returning home.

The Force seemed almost . . . satisfied. Anakin's connection to the Force had always been very strong – that was why Yoda had taken him as his Padawan. But there was something different about it, too. He had never felt the Force like his age-mates had. A strange gift, indeed, but a good one. It flowed through him like he was an extension of its will. As all Jedi were, of course, and yet . . . there was a difference. What kind of difference that would make in the future, Anakin was not certain, but he was eager to find out. His destiny awaited – and not only in those warm, brown eyes he so loved.

Qui-Gon's eyes met Anakin's, as if the Jedi Master had sensed something amiss. Sensing the same, Xanatos looked at Anakin curiously.

"It won't be easy, but there's hope," Anakin said suddenly. "I feel it."

Neither Qui-Gon nor Xanatos answered. They just smiled.

Anakin slowly sighed, and with all he was, he wished Obi-Wan well – and for his counterpart, he wished him to know love, like Anakin had known.

 

It was damp.

Obi-Wan opened his eyes and steadily rose to his feet. Something within the jungle chirped. He looked around, examining where he was. It was . . . very wet, certainly. But without even trying he could feel the Force thrum deeply. Obi-Wan’s mouth quirked into a smile, remembering Yoda joke with the younglings about moving the Temple to such a place as this.

His eyes narrowing, Obi-Wan turned. In fact . . .

“Master Yoda,” he whispered.

The old Jedi Master hobbled forward out of the mist, his movements nevertheless sure and strong despite the cane.

“Master Obi-Wan,” he said, and there was a twinkle in his eyes. “Glad, I am, to see you well.”

“I as well, Master,” Obi-Wan replied softly.

“Sense a ripple in the Force, I did. Arrive by normal means, you did not.”

Obi-Wan’s mouth quirked into a smile. “No, Master.”

The old being sighed. Obi-Wan saw many things in those ancient eyes, reflected a thousand times more than his own. How much burden did the Master carry? As life continued, the life of service seemed to carry heavier on Obi-Wan’s shoulders, and the little ironies and gifts of the Force seemed all the more noticeable and important.

And the Force whispered something to Obi-Wan. A bit of warning, a bit of pain.

“Master, what has happened?”

Yoda met Obi-Wan’s worried eyes with a calm gaze. “Talk, we must.”

 

“The Force works in ways we can’t understand,” Obi-Wan murmured, staring off into the mists of Dagobah.

“Yet act, we still must,” Yoda prodded, settled on a rock opposite Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan glanced at him, then acknowledged the point with a nod. The Jedi had done the best they could, the best they knew how with all the wisdom they possessed. “Attachment is risk, I know that, but it can be a strength.” The strength of feeling between Qui-Gon and Xanatos, that ability to have such depth in their compassion ... of course, it had led to Obi-Wan being attacked, that dangerous attachment. And the pain he still felt ...

“Strength it will be for young Skywalker?” Yoda queried, knowing, certainly, how Obi-Wan would respond.

Obi-Wan grimaced. “If he finds out ... if we don’t tell him, such attachment could lead to dangerous places.”

“Yet still, teach him of it not, you desire?” 

He met Yoda’s old, wise gaze. “I sense that it must be so, Master. I don’t know why. Are my feelings wrong?”

Yoda sighed. “Know no more than you, I do.”

“I’m sorry, Master,” and Obi-Wan wasn’t even sure what he was apologizing for.

“Hmph,” Yoda said, but not roughly; more like an expected, comforting response.

Obi-Wan smiled faintly. “I have nothing left but trust in the Force, Master.” And somehow, as a part of that, Obi-Wan knew Siri had waited . . . and was waiting, perhaps, in some blessed part of the Force. Peace had settled in Obi-Wan when he had realized that. She had done her duty.

Yoda nodded tiredly. “Then trust, we will.”

 

Well, last time he got dumped in a lake; damp wasn't so bad, Obi-Wan supposed. And he would be leaving soon, for a place that was the exact opposite of wet. Perhaps the Force had more of a sense of humor than he realized, in choosing where he would be. Kamino, the lake, here . . .

Tatooine.

"Take my ship, you will?"

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan said, turning to face Yoda. "I don't believe you'll need it," Obi-Wan said with painful honesty. Dagobah was where Yoda would stay, he sensed. It was the perfect hiding place for the old Jedi Master, and he was sure that considering Yoda's nature, he would love it here. Perhaps Obi-Wan would learn to love Tatooine, and its own stark beauty.

Yoda humphed, gazing up at Obi-Wan with a solemn face. "Remain here, I will, in preparation for the son."

Obi-Wan nodded. "I'll watch over him well, Master." He paused. "And when he comes here . . ." He sensed that Luke would. Somehow.

"Discussed this we have. Decided, I have not," Yoda said grumpily.

Obi-Wan smiled slightly. "Attachment did not break me, Master," he said softly.

Yoda's ears flattened at the reference to Obi-Wan's discovery of Siri's death, but he said nothing. It was up to Yoda now what to do when the time came. He had explained his reasons, though without telling Yoda everything that had happened to him over the months. The old Master didn't need to know that, and it felt like a precious secret to Obi-Wan. A gift. One he wanted to keep to himself, as selfish as that was, something to remember with fondness as he hid.

Obi-Wan didn't believe that Padmé was the cause of Anakin's fall, either. Perhaps, in some way, she would be his way back to the Light, even beyond her death. For that, too, had been confirmed by Yoda.

There were so many dead.

Obi-Wan's memories of the other universe, with his friends, had not faded, but they had been tempered by Yoda. And the old troll was right, in some ways. Obi-Wan had tried, at the last, to save Anakin, and that had resulted in a greater crime – Anakin's eternal imprisonment in that suit. Had that made the transition to Vader easier?

By the time the twins were old enough to be trained safely, would anything of Anakin remain? Could he take that risk? Would Yoda?

He didn't know.

But hope remained.

 

Xanatos strode down one of the Temple’s corridors, humming to himself. It was good to be back home again after a mission. It had been his first since his trip to Tatooine for Anakin’s Trials a little over three months ago. He was eager to see Qui-Gon again, and speak to Anakin on how his first mission had gone on as a Knight.

“Xanatos!”

The dark-haired Knight spun on his heel to see Anakin jogging up to him. “Anakin! How did it go?”

Anakin grinned, a bit breathless from his sprint to catch up to Xanatos. “It went well. War on Reglai 6 averted.” He lowered his voice. “And I got to fly my own ship.” A full-blown grin came to Anakin's face, as he had evidently discovered the joy of unsupervised flying.

Xanatos laughed as he clapped him on the back. “That’s the way to do it, Anakin, always focus on the most important aspects of a mission.”

Anakin shrugged good-naturedly as they continued down the hall. “So where’s Qui-Gon?”

Xanatos pointed ahead. “Teaching a class. I’m a bit early, but I wanted to catch him before he left for lunch. Care to join us?”

“Sure!” The two of them stopped outside the classroom and peered in through the glass partition. “Still teaching that history class, I see.”

“Hmm,” Xanatos replied quietly, watching as Qui-Gon held the rapt attention of the class. “I guess the munchkins haven’t scared him off yet.”

Anakin laughed softly. “Just think, give them a few more years and one could be your Padawan.”

“Right.”

“Aw, kids aren’t so bad.”

“I was quite familiar with your ... antics while you were growing up.”

“Really, Xanatos, just how many pranks did I play on my own Master?”

Xanatos looked over him, Anakin’s eyes projecting all innocence. Xanatos shook his head. “Too many to count, you know full well, you little terror.” He turned back to the classroom. “Hey, where’d Qui-Gon go?”

“What?” Anakin frowned as he craned his neck to see in. “I think – ah!”

The door before suddenly opened and an arm shot out and grabbed a hold of both their tunics and dragged them inside. The door shut quickly and the lock clicked into place ominously.


“Class,” Qui-Gon’s soft but commanding voice spoke to the whole room, “we have some special speakers today!”

The class erupted into cheers.

Xanatos stood frozen in place as the class gazed at him. Anakin was equally still beside him. That was until Qui-Gon pushed them both to the front of the room.

“Class, let me introduce Knight Xanatos and Knight Anakin.”

The students chorused a greeting. Xanatos gave them a weak smile, while Anakin appeared to regain equilibrium faster, smiling easily and casually, though Xanatos suspected he was plotting ways to get out of the situation.

“Qui-Gon, just what do you think you’re doing?” Xanatos hissed at him out of the corner of his mouth.

Qui-Gon gave him a hearty pat on the back. “Let’s just call it some on the job training. Now sit.” He pushed him and Anakin into chairs that faced the class.

Qui-Gon once more addressed the students. “Do you have any questions for our visitors?”

A dozen hands shot up. Xanatos looked at Qui-Gon, who gestured for him to take over. Xanatos then looked at Anakin for help, but he suddenly seemed interested in picking a piece of lint from his robes.

Xanatos sighed. He turned back to the sea of waving hands. His gaze focused on a small girl at the front of the group. He pointed to her. “Yes?”

She beamed excitedly, then composed herself before speaking. “Is it true that Master Obi-Wan disappeared into the Force?”

Xanatos sighed again, this time mentally. He realized that most of the students would recognize him as the Knight that had been involved with the mysterious second Obi-Wan. “Well, child, that’s a complicated question, and well, um ... ”

Another student spoke up, a boy at the back of the class. “Is he going to haunt the Temple now? Some say that he’ll come back to scare bad Padawans into doing good.”

Xanatos looked at Anakin suspiciously, wondering if he was responsible for such rumors. Once more, Skywalker’s face was schooled into a picture of perfect innocence. He looked to Qui-Gon, who was maddeningly patient, waiting for Xanatos to answer.

The young girl saved Xanatos, answering her classmate. “But this Obi-Wan can’t haunt because he didn’t die; the Force called him to another place, right?” The girl, rather adorable with bright blue eyes and blond ponytails, looked questioningly at Xanatos.

He nodded, rather impressed at the youngster’s astute observation. She had a sharp mind, something he’d look for in a Padawan (were he to take one, he reminded himself). “Very true, young one.” He settled back into his chair as a new thought came to him. “But this is all very complicated for this class. Would you like us to tell you a story instead?”

The class nodded enthusiastically, though the one blond girl looked like she didn't want to be so easily distracted. Anakin shot him a look of panic – he didn’t know any stories to tell. Xanatos winked before turning back to the students. “Now class, you should know that I was once Master Qui-Gon’s Padawan, and Anakin here has known him for a long time. Would you like to hear some stories about Master Qui-Gon?”

The class cheered its approval. Out of the corner of his eye, Xanatos saw Qui-Gon’s jaw drop, ever so slightly.

“Well, let me begin with this incident with a Wookiee t-shirt and a meeting with the Council ...” as he launched into his tale, Xanatos thought to himself that maybe this teaching thing wouldn’t be so bad after all.

 

Tatooine really wasn’t such a bad planet, Obi-Wan thought to himself. Despite the heat, despite the desolateness, despite the criminal element it housed, the Force had deemed it fit to drop him here, amid miles and miles of sand.

But he knew why.

A short distance from him, near enough to see but far enough to not be seen, a small homestead sprung from the seemingly endless desert. Inside he sensed a Force-presence, bright and beautiful and innocent. He had felt it before, when he had delivered Luke to the grieving arms of the Lars, who had just lost the aging Cliegg. He had been unable to follow them to Tatooine from their appointed meeting place on Alderaan; the stormtroopers had been on his trail.

But now the Empire’s killers, and Vader, had lost his scent when he had suddenly disappeared from their trap. He suspected, with a hint of satisfaction, that it would forever remain a mystery how Obi-Wan had been in that factory and then escaped. Now, he was free to watch over Luke from a respectful distance, not wishing to incur Owen’s wrath.

Yet Obi-Wan was willing to wait, years if need be, if the Force willed it. He knew the future lay here, on this planet seemingly out of the way of Vader’s focus. He was safe, as was Luke, as long as Vader feared to return here. One day, he knew, that would change, and he would be called upon to do his duty.

And he would be ready.

[finis]

|